No Comment — October 9, 2009, 3:21 pm

Is the Phone Company Part of the Government?

You might assume that in the American market economy, telecommunications service providers are private companies. But the Obama Justice Department, in a strange filing with a federal court in San Francisco, explains that the facts are somewhat different. In a sense, the Justice Department said, the telecom companies are just extensions of one big, happy government family: their communications with the government are interagency communications and are entitled to secrecy.

The communications between the agencies and telecommunications companies regarding the immunity provisions of the proposed legislation have been regarded as intra-agency because the government and the companies have a common interest in the defense of the pending litigation and the communications regarding the immunity provisions concerned that common interest.

Now Wired reports that federal judge Jeffrey White has ruled against this ploy, insisting that the government turn over its communications with the telecoms on a subject of vital public interest: securing legislation that grants the telecoms immunity for participating in an illegal surveillance scheme engineered by the Bush Administration. Rather than comply with the court’s order, the Obama Justice Department is now seeking an emergency stay while it continues the crusade for secret government that is immune to accountability for criminal misconduct. They’ve made such a commotion over this that expectations over the texts are now running high. Did they have a shared checklist on how to compromise or corrupt members of Congress? Was Justice promising to compromise criminal investigations in exchange for votes on the floor?

By the way, one telecom declined to participate in the Bush Administration’s warrantless surveillance scheme: Denver-based Qwest Communications. Within a short period of time, the Bush Justice Department opened a criminal investigation targeting the CEO who made this decision, Joseph Nacchio. He was charged and convicted of insider trading. This week, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from his conviction.

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Editor's Note

Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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