With inflation continuing to rise, the Federal Reserve considering an interest rate hike to do something about it, shortages of food, energy, automobiles and even microchips popping up everywhere, workers resigning from their jobs and refusing to find other ones, global supply chains ubiquitously malfunctioning, Joe Biden less popular than any other modern president, the Democrats shaking in their boots anticipating a rout in November because of it, hospitals overflowing with unvaccinated morons dying of covid and Putin working up the requisite level of insanity necessary for Russia to invade Ukraine, business has been brisk, and today was no exception. Working from home, fielding Zoom, WebEx, FaceTime and MS Teams video sessions all day, not to mention a number of plain old telephone calls, I put in a solid twelve hours of consulting. After which, a glass of Macallan 18 felt well earned, indeed. But I was barely halfway through it when my land line rang once more, and Caller ID revealed it was Agit Pai, former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Ah yes, I forgot to mention the hundreds of airline flights into US airports that have been recently cancelled world wide. There’s that, too.
Pai: Hello, Tom Collins?
Tom: This is he.
Pai: Oh, good. This is Agit Pai. I used to be…
Tom: I know – Chairman of the FCC. What can I do for you?
Pai: Um… I’m not calling too late, am I?
Tom: No, not really. I just finished my last… paid… consultation of the day a few minutes ago.
Pai: Ah, yeah, about that. Rand Paul told me that…
Tom: Yes, yes… the first one’s free. I assume you’re calling about the 3.7 to 4.2 gigahertz 5G wireless band airliner flight altimeter interference issue?
Pai: Uh… yeah… gee, sounds like you’re pretty up on the news, there.
Tom: Didn’t have to be.
Tom: Various clients have been complaining about it during my consultations all day.
Pai: Oh, really?
Tom: They fly a lot. And a couple of them work in the telecommunications industry.
Pai: I see.
Tom: And another one is a lobbyist for the airlines.
Pai: And they’re all kind of… upset, I guess?
Tom: They’re livid, actually.
Pai: Oh, no, that’s a shame. Um… what’s their take on the… uh… root causes?
Tom: Mostly, they’re hopping mad at some guy named Agit Pai. I don’t suppose you’d know anything about that, would you?
Pai: Well, uh… ah… I… I guess I would… I… suppose.
Tom: If you see him – like, maybe the next time you look in the mirror – tell him that I said they have some pretty choice words for him. Starting with their general opinion that he’s…
Pai: No, no. No need to go into that. You see, Mr. Collins, my problem is that since my resignation as FCC Chairman in 2021…
Tom: Right after Joe Biden became President of the United States.
Pai: Yeah, right after that…
Tom: Real quick, before he could fire you.
Pai: Well, I don’t know about that…
Tom: I do. He did. Plenty of people in Washington did. We all knew he was going to fire you.
Pai: Maybe, I…
Tom: You did, too. You just won’t say so.
Pai: Well, be that as it may, I’m a partner at Searchlight Capital now.
Tom: And how did that work out for you?
Pai: Just fine.
Tom: No problems?
Tom: Then why are you calling me?
Pai: Well, I mean, no problems until… lately.
Tom: “Lately” as in when?
Pai: Since, well, you know, since this… misunderstanding… occurred.
Tom: So, now?
Pai: Um… people don’t seem to be as… I don’t know how to put this, exactly…
Tom: How about “friendly?”
Pai: Well, I wouldn’t characterize it… that way, exactly. Maybe not quite as… warm as… you know… as before.
Tom: If any of them had to fly anywhere, I think I understand. What’s the matter, not getting invited to the right parties recently?
Pai: Um… well… yeah, you could say that.
Tom: The best people not returning your phone calls?
Pai: Yeah… kinda…
Tom: Not being carbon-copied on the juicy emails anymore?
Pai: Definite lack of juice in the email carbon copy department, yes.
Tom: And other things like that?
Pai: Yeah. Lots of other things like that.
Tom: And that’s why you’re calling?
Tom: Hey, tell me something – what is it with you, being such a tool for the right-wing conservatives?
Pai: Excuse me?
Tom: No, really – look how you got your appointment as an FCC Commissioner in the first place – Mitch McConnell recommended you to Barack Obama, didn’t he?
Pai: Uh, yeah.
Tom: And Obama went along with it because it looked like a win-win to him, didn’t it?
Pai: Now, just what do you mean by that?
Tom: I mean, you’re a minority, like Kamala Harris is, for instance, but there you were, smooching McConnell’s backside, spouting all the appropriate William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, Barry Goldwater inspired hokum, dancing the Republican tango with all the appropriate crypto-bigot members of Congress. You must have seemed like the perfect choice.
Pai: In what way?
Tom: In that Obama was always trying to look “balanced,” so people wouldn’t be afraid of him being the first black president. It didn’t work, of course, but that’s what he was always trying to do. However, what I want to know is, what makes minority guys like you and, say, Clarence Thomas, for example, decide that emulating ignoramuses like Louie Gohmert and seeking the patronage of fascists like Rick Scott is the way to get ahead?
Pai: Well, uh… it worked for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, didn’t it?
Tom: And that’s how you got Donald Trump to nominate you for FCC Chairman? So he could brag that he made you the first Indian-American to hold that office?
Pai: It was historic, you have to admit.
Tom: So is this 5G versus the airlines imbroglio.
Pai: And your point is?
Tom: “Historic” does not equal “Good.” And after you got the job, I think you might have broken Trump’s own record for irresponsible tweets – you pumped out what, thirty-one thousand of them, was it?
Pai: I don’t know… who counts stuff like that besides fact checkers at the Washington Post?
Tom: And furthermore, you can’t be a stranger to having a lot of enemies.
Pai: Huh? What are you talking about?
Tom: You’re the man you destroyed net neutrality.
Pai: Net neutrality was a myth.
Tom: And then, after that, you made a snide YouTube video insulting everyone who opposed you.
Tom: Oh, come on, have you forgotten the video you made, prostituting your position as the FCC Chairman, using the staff and resources of the Daily Caller, a known conservative Republican partisan propaganda outlet?
Pai: Oh, that one. Hey, it was a joke, okay?
Tom: Seven Things You Can Still Do on the Internet After Net Neutrality was a joke?
Pai: We were making fun of all the fear mongering going around.
Tom: Oh, that’s rich – a member of the Trump administration supposedly acting against fear mongering. So tell me, what was that mess you were smothering with Sriracha sauce in Thing Number One, “You Can Still Gram Your Food?”
Pai: Um… I forget… a taco salad, maybe?
Tom: And whose dog was that in Thing Number Two, “You Can Still Post Pictures of Cute Animals Like Puppies?”
Pai: I don’t know… I think we borrowed it from a pet store or something.
Tom: And Thing Number Three – “You Can Still Shop for All Your Christmas Presents Online.” That’s the one where you’re dressed up in a Santa Clause suit wearing eclipse glasses and playing with a fidget spinner.
Pai: Like I said, it was for laughs.
Tom: You were the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Have you no shame, sir?
Pai: I… uh…
Tom: Have you no dignity? “You Can Still Binge Watch Your Favorite Shows,” with you superimposed on a clip from Game of Thrones? “You Can Still Stay Part of Your Fave Fandom” with you dressed up as Jedi, swinging a toy light saber around? “You Can Still Ruin Memes,” with you doing the Harlem Shake with a bunch of Daily Caller employees?
Pai: I was trying to make a humorous point, that’s all.
Tom: A humorous point? Would you like hear a serious counterpoint, perhaps a list of things that people can’t do and don’t have anymore because you killed net neutrality? Things like freedom of expression, freedom of content choice, equal access to vital services, equal download speeds, and equal opportunities to start their own Web business in an environment of free predatory competition by existing Internet giants?
Pai: Aw, come on, who needs that stuff anyway? Besides, net neutrality is ancient history.
Tom: Thanks to you it is. No doubt about it though, this business with 5G and the airlines is hardly the first time you have… shall we say… distinguished yourself. Remember that fiasco with the L-band spectrum?
Pai: Oh, gimme a break – the Ligado proposal was totally valid.
Tom: Not according to the Department of Defense. Here you were, the head of a major federal agency, and you couldn’t even coordinate with your fellow members of the same administration. You just went ahead and issued an order to proceed. Congress had to intervene to stop you from messing up our own armed forces’ global positioning system capability. Admit it – the whole L-spectrum initiative was half baked. And the whole 5G spectrum auction was just as much of a pathetic mess. The difference being, the 5G spectrum debacle didn’t just adversely affect one aspect of a particular federal department’s mission – that, maybe could be overlooked, particularly when it got nipped in the bud by a Senate committee. But you let the 5G spectrum deal roll out all the way, and there was nothing anyone could do to keep its consequences from being noticed outside Washington. I suggest you face it, sir – a lot of people don’t like you because they have very good reasons for it.
Pai: All right, maybe they do. How can I get people to stop blaming me for this 5G smart phones versus the airlines landing gear fight?
Tom: Oh, well, that’s easy.
Pai: It is?
Tom: For someone like you – head of the agency, ivy-league degree, former big-time US District Court law clerk – no problem. Just find a scapegoat in the Civil Service and blame it on them.
Pai: A scapegoat? Who?
Tom: Well, it’s not like I know everybody who was on your staff when you made those absurdly ignorant decisions, but I can describe them for you.
Pai: Okay, fine. Describe them.
Tom: First of all, you want a plausibly high-level level civil servant. No GS-11’s or anything like that. And you want somebody with an even GS number.
Pai: Even number?
Tom: Yeah. Odd numbers are the management, executive, decision-maker track. Even numbers are the technical track. The decision to specify a two-hundred megahertz buffer band between the 5G spectrum and the aircraft altimeter operation spectrum was obviously a technical decision, and a pretty significant one. Nobody lower than a GS-12 could possibly be blamed for messing up something like that, and I would seriously recommend that, purely for purposes of plausibility, you dig up a GS-14 to blame it on.
Pai: Um… yeah… suppose I can… think of… somebody... like that. Then what?
Tom: Then your explanation should be that they made a mistake.
Pai: A mistake? What kind of mistake?
Tom: Well, you see, that’s it, right there – it’s technical, and you’re not. You’re a big shot decision-maker. Who knows what they did wrong – maybe they divided where they should have multiplied; who cares? What you do is, say you were misinformed on the technical implications for the electromagnetic spectrum arising from superheterodyne effects in the two-hundred megahertz buffer band. And that’s all: you don’t need to say anything else.
Pai: misinformed… on the… technical implications…
Tom: You writing this down?
Pai: Um, yeah.
Tom: Good. Keep writing. “Misinformed on the technical implications for the electromagnetic spectrum…”
Pai: … electromagnetic spectrum…
Tom: “Arising from superheterodyne effects…”
Pai: How do you spell “superheterodyne?”
PaI: Wait a minute, slow down… I got the “super,” but what comes next?
Pai: Right, got it.
Pai: D… Y… N… E… okay. Arising from super… heterodyne… effects…
Tom: “In the the two-hundred megahertz buffer band.”
Pai: … two-hundred… megahertz… buffer… band. Okay. Got it.
Tom: Excellent. Now – memorize it.
Pai: But… what does it mean?
Tom: What does it mean? What do you care? You’re the big shot with the Harvard degree who got a J.D. at the University of Chicago and ran an important federal agency. You’re the guy who used his federal government Twitter account to make fun of airline engineers who tried to warn everyone about the technical implications for the electromagnetic spectrum arising from superheterodyne effects in the two-hundred megahertz buffer band, and you did it with brilliantly sarcastic stuff like, “Making more spectrum available for #5G and #WiFi will destroy weather forecasting, GPS, transportation safety, the power grid, public safety, aviation, and all that’s good and proper. Oh, and the government also isn’t doing enough to advance U.S. leadership in 5G and Wi-Fi.”
Pai: Heh. Yeah. That was a pretty clever one, wasn’t it?
Tom: Oh, yeah, real clever. So now, all you have to do is point the finger at some poor GS-14 who can be plausibly associated with committing the unforgivable sin of not talking you out of making a ridiculously stupid decision, and your sterling reputation will be restored. Capisce?
Pai: Oh, yeah, right. Find the scapegoat, point the finger, repeat the phrase. And I ruin their career so I can look good again, right?
Tom: Nah, you won’t ruin their career.
Pai: No? Gee, that won’t be much fun. How come?
Tom: It’s dollars to donuts his or her Division will circle the wagons and find a contractor to blame it on.
Pai: And that will ruin their career, right?
Tom: No, I’m afraid not.
Pai: Rats! What’s the point of being someone important like me if you can’t go around crushing some little guys once in a while?
Tom: Sorry, you’ll just have to grin and bear it. Engineers’ skills are actually worth something, you see.
Pai: Meaning what?
Tom: Meaning, whoever it is, replacing them will be more costly than whatever benefit could ever be derived from firing them. What’s more, it’s practically inevitable that the contractor’s boss will realize the whole thing is just a scam to make you look good, so at worst, it will get them transferred to another contract.
Pai: But nobody else will realize that?
Tom: None of the managers and executives will, but all of the technical people will know, naturally.
Pai: But they won’t say anything?
Tom: Of course not – they watch the managers and executives play games like that all the time and never say a word about it. Why should they bother?
Pai: Well, then, no problems.
Tom: None. Have a nice day, Honorable Chairman.
Pai: Former Chairman, actually.
Tom: Whatever. Goodbye.