Dumb As A Telco . . .

Laura Rozen asks the blunt question: “Is Congress so venal and inept as to not fully learn and explain what is going on with telcos helping the government snoop on their constituents’ phone calls more than a year after this article came out?” Obviously, rhetorical.

Thoreau over at Unqualified Offerings notes the high stench, too. Jack Balkin reminds the Hill, “It’s the Secrecy, Stupid!”

What can the Stiftung say? We are dealing with institutions literally dumber than a brontosaur. Specifically, we have represented a telco or three in our time. Including during the digital wiretap (CALEA) process in the mid-1990s. Nothing above re the NSA is any different than the behind the doors situation during the CALEA period, Jerry Berman and CDT libertarian posturing notwithstanding. Although, the CALEA process at least was out in the open, while per Jack Balkin’s pithy observation, the new program was all done in secrecy.

re CALEA all the telcos cared about in the end was either avoiding new burdens or making sure they got paid for them. Same with Lucent and the switch makers. Sure, they resented FBI intrusions into ‘the cage’ — there is alot of monolithic/monopolistic territoriality that comes into play on both sides. Sure, they resented FBI attempts to outsource R&D on to them. But those internal conversations had zero to do with the public posturing and civil liberties, etc. All that complaining about ‘FBI punchlists’ etc. really came down to was to lock the FBI into clear lines for monetization and recoupment. We are confident the NSA situation played out pretty much the same.

We’ve never seen a telco — and we have represented all of them except the (formerly)MCI and Sprint competitive entry crowd (what’s left of it) — draw a line in the sand on constitutional grounds. Or walk away from contracts. Until Qwest.


Anyone from the computer industry’s early days remembers the refrain “nothing dumber than a telco.” Over the years, it’s still true. Oh sure, the TV ads are hipper. But the DNA hasn’t changed much. In the early 1990s, 1/3 the Amazon rain forest was cut for telco lawyers fighting cable lawyers over ‘video dial tone’ proceedings and many other meaningless regulatory posturings. And so on. With the 1996 Telecom Act, the telcos were determined to fight the 1983/84 AT&T break-up and preserve LATA and Inter-LATA financial structures, voice calling plans and strategies while the Internet loomed on the horizon like a tidal wave.

At the time (1996/1997) the Stiftung was in a position to be with a small, elite team to advise Ivan et al. and others to abandon voice and long distance as quickly as possible. They would soon be commodities — the future was digital traffic, maximizing revenue and transactions per unit. It was like telling a triceratops in Mexaco to look up at this big flaming ball coming down from the sky. That most of them rolled over for the National Security State is no surprise.

The Congress of Peoples’ Deputies’ spinelessness goes hand in hand. Which leaves the Nation in a weird political moment. None of its political institutions are capable of taking effective action to satisfy concerns seemingly of any real constituency. One cannot help but wonder how long this state of affairs can last.

[Update] See new item at Unqualified Offerings discussing new WaPo story on Verizon’s 2005 unhesitant compliance with government expansive inquiries. La plus ca change . . .


  1. Comment says

    Just for the record – Pelosi has lots of wealthy people in her district – from all backround. Cole pointing that out was an example of bad faith. The reason there are Armenians in her district, as opposed to Armenia, is because they escaped the genocide. Cole is not too bright – not nearly as bright as his neocon antagonists.

  2. Comment says

    re: Armenian genocide denial and cynicism – Here from Juan Cole’s Informed Comment:
    “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has a lot of wealthy Armenian-Americans in her district, pledged to push the resolution through the House …”

    Cole is opposed to the Armenian genocide resolution presumably because it will hinder prosecution of war he opposes. Thus – he is a good example of the type of liberal – wooley and inconsistant – who gets whupped by more intelligent adversaries (think Pipes or Hitchens).

    Sometimes we find Cole useful and informative, but he is flawed as an opposition articulator. His smug attitude and his propensity to give dumb ass comments is a big problem

    Sometime ago we recall Leon Hader (far smarter than Cole) put him in proper perspective.

    This is not to say there may not be good reasons to wait on the Armenian resolution – But Cole is the kind of American the Turks just roll – rather than respect. Cole is basically saying that Turkey will take itself out of NATO and set it self up for dismemberment – out of spite.

  3. Aldershot says

    Acronym Definition
    SNAG School Nutrition Action Group
    SNAG Seafloor Noise Advisory Group
    SNAG Senior Nevada Advocates on Guard
    SNAG Sensitive New Age Guy
    SNAG Society of North American Goldsmiths
    SNAG Student Nurses’ Association of Guam

    Hmmm…are so!

    Apparently, Hardee’s new breakfast burrito harbors 960 calories.

    Thank you all for your insights on the Armenian resolution. And now it will be dropped…how inutterably stupid is the House leadership to have even brought it up? I heard it said best on another board, (paraphrase) politicians react to lobbying efforts; it wasn’t as if they were actually trying to do the right thing or had the moral standing to pass judgement.

    Anon, Lil’ Bush’s voice played in my head during your dialog.

  4. Comment says

    It’s getting boring noticing these things – (we are not activists or close to it) but it is bizarre noticing Matthews go after Hillary for her raising the issue of American fatness. Leave aside for the moment – this was the original basis for Huckabee’s claim to fame. Whatever – But Matthews was upset at Hillary telling these tough truths – he put it in a “nanny” context, which was absurd. HRC was truly puzzled by our national fatness and what to do about it – a far bigger danger than terrorism, btw.
    But Matthews loved it when the former steroid user, The Govenator, did the exact same thing as Hillary – He loved – Bet Matthews has no idea that acts this way. Oh – and it is very annoying when he claims to speak for “guys.” Total bs – and we are no s.n.a.g’s here with out feminist texts etc – Just total medicore bs

  5. Anon says

    “Of course, the Warlord didn’t know who the Armenians were when he expressed sympathy for them then most likely, and has only the vaguest idea of who they are now.”

    Gee Dubs: Dad – Uh, the Iranian hostage thing was under Carter, right?

    Poppy: Yeah

    Gee Dubs: So when did they change their name from Armenians
    to Iranians?

  6. Comment says

    Is there anything more pathetic than pumpkinhead Dan Burton denying the Armenian genocide – He has been a denier, in the past – Yet, he knows nothing about Armenia or anything else. He’s a total ignoramus and he just mouths what the Turkish lobby and its allies tell him. They craft it all to fit his blinkered and limited mind. Had we not invaded Iraq, Burton would say this would prevent Turkey from allowing us to transit Anatolia – You know he would. That’s why this timing argument fails – It’s always a bad time and we would have been lucky to listen to Turkey earlier and not invade Iraq anyway. Hey – Biden and others who are not so bright might want to vote a break up of Turkey – since it is potentially more fractious than Iraq. Would Biden do that? No – because Arabs are disrespected.

  7. Comment says

    We were unclear when we said above that they fail to appreciate political reality being fought over – We meant certain kinds of politics , very important politics of reccognition – when times are in flux. In other word – we think they spend too much time looking at maps and base locations and views of this despot or that chief – In doing so, they miss some important things – things that come back to haunt. As we noted – we could easily understand a Powell type listening to Gehlen because that was realistic – hard, but realistic. But then Powell would never learn his lesson once he realized he was not the hard bitten realist , but someone being played as a fool.

  8. Comment says

    Even though we agree with a lot of things Pat Lang writes and we respect his contribution – We think his dismissal of the resolution is instructive. Lang has a bias that many conservatives share – esp in the military. First of all, the hate the semi-balkanization of ethnic politics, whether it be for Armenians or others – But they also tend to see the world organically and fail to appreciate, as the neocons do, that much of our political reality is constructed and fought over. That’s why they lose politically so often. No doubt about it – the grown up thing to do is not to deny the Armenian genocide, but to sweep it under the rug. Just pretend and paper over. Afterall, there are lots of unrecognized genoicides and do you really want to encourage the trial lawyers? The Armenians have a far stronger claim on the word “genocide” (legally defined) than do many American Indian tribes. Yet some prefer that not be understood. Both on the left and the right. Many on the right would be onject to recognizing anyone’s genocide ( we are no speaking of Lang here, but Lang sure does no that many factual historical events are still officially denied) for these reasons – They are consistant, but they fail to understand the reality of politics – how important it is to fight for recognition, or be obliterated by those who don’t care/

  9. Comment says

    It’s also no accident that “Tucker” (who says he recognizes the genocide, but hates enthnic politics) was impressed by Bush’s “sorting out Ottoman history” one-liner. It’s just amazing. Carlson thought that was really clever – good use of words. Words designed to get the slobs to think of comfort furniture instead of burning Armenian bodies. Carlson thinks the whole world should be viewed thru his slow eyed meaningless worldview – Again, the neocons actually have coherent, if cynical, reasons for doing what they do – and they operate within this very hollow context

  10. Comment says

    That Corporal quote is the second major reason Bush ridicules (in a semi deniable passive aggressive way) the Armenian genocide by calling it “Ottoman” history.
    Afterall – the Armenians were wiped out and the Azeris are the ones who sit on oil and few of Bush’s gruesome “base” have any idea that Armenians were/are Christian – They have been “orientalized” into the “other.”

    The Potter Barn never even had that rule – so it’s another example of Powell’s laziness. Picture Powell and Benchpress at Old Ebbits with Gehlen talking about the Armenians and quoting the Corporal – Doctor, we were trying to post that quote (some cynical and interested parties do deny the Corporal said that) when we kept logging off accidentally.
    Colonel Lang is just wrong on this issue – The cynics neocons will just use him and others like him – those who are used to thinking of Incerlik air rights as somehow connected to what it means to be an American – to push overall policies that they oppose.
    The fact is – recognizing the Armenian genocide (like Sarkozy does) is not without costs.

  11. Dr Leo Strauss says

    re the Armenian Deniers

    One of the Corporal’s lines to his inner circle was “After all, who remembers the Armenians”. This is something the Neocons/AEI/Hudson know full well, which makes the cynical abandonment of the Armenians for the current ‘project’ and the Realm’s alleged strategic imperatives all the more morally bankrupt.

    American ignorance of World Historical events is often the means of our manipulation — look at the British in 1914-17, etc. We agree with the postings here that abstract geopolitical analysis such as on Pat Lang’s site are too easily recycled and often burp forth unbidden; they have been ingrained in too many minds for so long. Just like Gates’ reduction of the issue to one of logistical imperatives. It’s one of the rare times we disagree with Lang. Of course, the Warlord didn’t know who the Armenians were when he expressed sympathy for them then most likely, and has only the vaguest idea of who they are now.

    The Democrats come out the worst. To raise the issue and then fecklessly refuse to see it through. Either one does or does not. There is no try, as the little green guy said. It summons forth memories of the worst aspects of the Peanut Farmer’s tenure.

    As for Powell, he represents all those who lacked the backbone to take a stand at the time when confronted with the fierce, testosterone certitude of the Neocon agenda. His constituency is literally the spineless and morally weak. Which is to say he speaks for and represents many.

    This is not casual blog invective. James Goldsmith, the former head of Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in DoJ, who along with Comey took a stand against the regime’s Imperative — and fought them to the point of willing to resign and go public unless the policy was altered — summed it up best recently. He said that the morally weak and vacant hide behind technicalities and ambiguity (in his case legal issues) and the real test is willingness to stand behind moral principle.

    The Benchpresser and General Jello are classic examples of what Goldsmith observed. It is not enough to dispense Pottery Barn rules. Or be ‘upset’ that torture is occurring. One must act. Otherwise, one is in the end just as complicit as those who carried the day on the policy dispute. (As for Tweety, he never took an overt, clear cut stand on the Neocons in a meaningful, prolonged way until September 2006).

  12. Comment says

    Pleas excuse all those typos – we had problems posting comments, so we just sent that too early – Speaking of General Jello – who really cares what he thinks. He should be discredited. At least the neocons believed in the war they were selling – Powell was far worse, far more cynical and lazy. Even now you often hear people like Tweety, say with a straight face, that Powell and Benchpress opposed invading Iraq. Yet – especially with Benchpress, he is on record supporting the war before it happened, in public, as an employee — He even signed that stupid PNAC statement calling for all sorts of war against Iraqm etc.
    So what does Tweety mean? He means that Benchpress, like Powell raising his eyebrows to Friedman, privately ridiculed the neocons – or whatever other reason you can think of.

  13. Comment says

    It’s no accident, as the neocons would say , that President Bush chose to stress the word “Ottoman,” when he ridiculed recognizing Armenian history (and the history of the brave Americans who assisted Armeniann when they were being wiped out).
    Bush knows that there is a slob element withing the movement that will associate the word “Ottoman” more with confort furniture than with near eastern history.
    Bush privately acknowleged the genocide when he was with Armenians in the past – But his public ridiucule and faciliation of denial, expose his hollowness once more.
    General Jello is another hollow man taking up the ‘grown up position of denial – It’s easy to imagine Powell get taken in by someone like Richard Gehlen, is it not?

  14. Comment says

    Also we keep hearing that this will piss of the Turks and make them act against our interests and theirs too. This is BS – We could just kick them out of NATO and derail what think hopes they have to get into the EU –
    Bush says he is agains those who say Arabs can’t handle democracy (yada yada yada) Whatever – But now he implies that the Turks, unlike the Germans and Japanese, cannot handle the truth about their previous criminal governments.
    That’s the implication – the Turks will go bats*** and suddenly go against their NATO obligations for no good reason save wounded pride. Total bs.

  15. Comment says

    That’s not to say we might not be wrong – but we’d like to err on the side of truth and justice. There is something really wicked about how people deny this colossal crime when the cameras are turned off. Some who do this – know what they are doing. The Colonel is not a denier – but his overall worldview is to be somewhat dismissive of this kind of politics and we ‘get’ that – But we think otherwise.

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