Last night, I read through an interesting set of papers prepared by the left-lurching Institute for Policy Studies. One of the papers, the titles of which I don’t have with me here at my neighborhood Starbucks (but will post later), was about the “true costs of the Iraq War.” The other proposed a “unified security budget for the United States.” I found both papers intriguing — though my own politics are actually more conservative than the writers of these interesting papers. But the approach each took was quite impressive.
What the paper on the true costs of the Iraq War missed though was that there has developed a “politics of distraction” which has created many other such costs for the nation. Speculating about alternative futures, or presents, is complicated but necessary when thinking about the opportunities costs of actions taken and not taken.
For instance, if America had not allowed so many of its defense-related financial and military resources to become bogged down in Iraq and the Middle East, my hunch is that we would be engaged in more vigorous confrontation with China. The Chinese leadership realizes this as well and thus has many incentives to do whatever it can to covertly supply reasons for America to remain distracted with Iraq and the Middle East problem that we now own. That doesn’t make China good, or bad — but it’s the smart thing for China to attempt.
Alternatively, America’s distraction with Iraq and U.S. foreign policy has diverted the gaze of the nation from other very important issues. In theory, the number of issues that this war has distracted us from could be infinite, but I believe that there are some biggies. To the degree that one agrees with this argument, the opportunities lost in many other spheres need to be added to the long list of financial costs and to the human lives ended and shattered by this war.
One area where I think that this is happening is in broadband deployment and information technology investment and innovation in the United States.
We entered an information age a while back — and blogging is part of that — but now the rate of new opportunities seems to be decreasing as the ecosystem supporting risk-taking innovators is being choked off by anti-competitive, monopolistic Baby Bells.
George Bush, it seems to me, is either paying no attention to his FCC Chairman’s paternalism towards the Baby Bells and the inaction of the anti-trust division of the Justice Department, or he is complicit in the foreclosing of America’s information technology leadership and future.
This article in USA Today captures one dimension of the battle between the Bells and local communities who are trying to invest in local infrastructure on behalf of their citizens and companies.
Here are the lead grafs:
To hear BellSouth talk, high-speed fiber lines are the way of the future. So why is it so determined to stop Lafayette, La., a rural community in the heart of Cajun country, from installing its own fiber?
Joey Durel, Lafayette’s mayor, has been asking himself that same question. His city plans to build an advanced broadband network to offer voice, data and video to its 116,000 residents. But local officials claim BellSouth is trying to kill the project. And they say it’s getting help from Cox, the local cable-TV operator.
“We have the opportunity to do something great for this community — and in a state that needs a big win,” Durel fumes. “They have to get out of our way.”
It’s the dark side of the fiber story.
The regional Bell companies have made much of their billion-dollar plans to run broadband networks across the USA. Yet they’re also quietly trying to erect hurdles that would make it hard — or expensive — for anyone to compete with them.
Besides municipalities like Lafayette, the Bells are going after their phone rivals, Internet carriers and major metro areas — anyone with an interest in building services that might compete with the Bells.
Critics say the Bells’ efforts are an attack on competition and that consumers could be the big losers.

The financial and political costs to America if telecom competition erodes further and Baby Bells are permitted to carve out spheres of impenetrable control and influence will be staggering.
As far as I’m concerned, while the President is off being a “War President,” he is neglecting vital issues at home.
America needs competition in the telecommunications sector, but Michael Powell and his staff are looking for their next job by giving favors to the firms undoing America’s IT ecosystem.
— Steve Clemons