George W Bush was one of our worst presidents, but he did one really good thing: in 2003, he established the “do-not-call-registry” to prevent telemarketers from besieging people like me who work at home with unwanted phone calls. Fine. And it worked and was a very popular program. But then telemarketers started to get around it – Brigid and her sisters of Hell from Cardholder Services began calling several times a day along with other deplorables offering to pay my credit card bills and increase my life span.
The FTC began to be flooded with complaints that their vaunted registry wasn’t working, and in response they held a competition with a prize to the company that would come up with a good technique for filtering out marketers. The winner in 2013: a company called Nomorobo. But instead of acquiring their technology, the FTC allowed Nomorobo to sign up people like me. And they did so for free – while making money supposedly by selling their extensive lists of obnoxious callers. (I’m not sure, but I know they had some way to make money.)
I still got some calls, but Nomorobo pretty much worked. Every hour or so, the phone would ring once, and then stop — a sign that Nomorobo had blocked an unwanted call. But I had a new problem. Telemarketers would call my cell phone. I was recently sitting in a hotel room in Yerevan, Armenia getting calls from some fake number. Now the FTC was also supposed to police telemarketers on cell phones, but it wasn’t doing its job. What would happen? Today, I got the good news. Nomorobo is now offering technology to block telemarketers calling your iPhone. All you need is an app. But this time there was a catch: I had to pay a monthly charge to Nomorobo.
So let me sum this up. George W. Bush establishes this worthwhile registry, but it stops working well during the Obama years. The FTC responds by paying a company to develop a technology to make it work. Now I am supposed to pay the company to do the job that the Do Not Call Registry was established to perform. What exactly are my tax dollars going for? I’m not doing it. What’s next? Will some private company be calling me promising for a monthly charge to send troops to the Middle East to knock out ISIS—or to drive Putin out of the Crimea? Obama—you want to do something positive before leaving office. Besides pardoning Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Get the FTC to do the job we pay it to do.
John B. Judis is Editor-At-Large at Talking Points Memo. He was a senior editor of The New Republic and senior writer for The National Journal. He is the author most recently of The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics (Columbia Global Reports, 2016). He has written six other books, including Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origin of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014), The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (Scribner, 2004), The Emerging Democratic Majority with Ruy Teixeira (Scribner, 2002), and The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and Betrayal of Public Trust (Pantheon, 2000). He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, and The Washington Post. Born in Chicago, he received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in Philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in Silver Spring, MD.