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The first rule of holes

By Michael R. Shannon
web posted December 13, 2010

The first rule of holes is simple: when you're in one, stop digging.

Currently Congress ranks at the bottom of Gallup's 2010 Confidence in Institutions poll with half of all Americans saying they have "very little" or "no" confidence in the body. Congress' reputation has even sunk below that of HMO's, which only a few years ago unleashed the drive–through maternity ward on an unsuspecting female populace.

In a November Rasmussen poll an even larger 60 percent of those surveyed believe Congress is doing a poor job, with only 11 percent giving good or excellent ratings. (It is unclear if the approving 11 percent spent the last few weeks underground with the miners in Chile or is currently on the Congressional payroll.)

Yet individual members of Congress continue to order more shovels.

The latest example is the recent passage of the CALM Act, sponsored by that paragon of legislation Rep. Anna Eshoo, D–Nugatory. CALM stands for (and I'm not making this up) Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation. In other words Rep. Eshoo has made the volume of your TV set a federal case.

It seems that as she watched TV at her parent's house, Papa Eshoo's elderly ears required the TV volume to be set on 'stun.' During a commercial break, in Eshoo's own words, a commercial came on that "blew us out of the house."

For a California Democrat, this is a two–fer: Eshoo is personally offended and the offense originates with a capitalist. Naturally, such an affront requires federal intervention.

People who live outside the Congressional bubble know loud commercials are a problem solved by the private sector with no government interference. The magic of the marketplace offers three methods that eliminate loud commercials, and each solution is so simple even a Congresswoman can utilize it.

The first is TiVo, which records TV shows and can be programmed to skip commercials altogether.

At my house we use the DVR that both Comcast and Verizon offer. This handy tool — developed with absolutely no federal direction, guidance or subsides — allows one to simply fast–forward through commercials.

Last is the remote, which comes equipped with a 'mute' button that eliminates sound. And for once I can give credit to wise bureaucrats at the Federal Communications Commission. When angry callers demanded the FCC send someone to adjust their volume control, they gently suggested using the 'mute' button instead.

(There is also a fourth method, the toilet flush, it covers up TV sound, but you usually have to leave the room to activate the option.)

Any of these free market solutions end the oppressive tyranny of loud commercials without requiring the involvement of a Member of Congress too dense to realize she's a parody.

Eshoo is a California Democrat and that explains a lot, but it does not account for what four Virginia Democrat Congressmen were doing cosponsoring her fit of pique during the current lame duck session. The Congressman who represents my home "independent voice" Gerry Connolly was joined by Rick Boucher, Jim Moran and Glenn Nye.

If Congress is going to federalize petty annoyances, let's go after the ones that will make a real difference in our quality of life: how about advertisers who appear in their own ads? Or do something about that double–beep tone that explodes in your ear just before the recorded receptionist turns you over to the live "agent."

And don't get me started on "press one for English."

Better yet, why not stop trivializing Congress and use the legislative process for important work, rather than trying to spread the balm of the Potomac on all life's irritations?

My suggestion to Congressional leadership next year is to put the kibosh on foolish legislation before it gets to the floor. Try to make it appear that Congress is under adult supervision and is working on the nation's priorities.

Leadership probably can't prevent members like Eshoo from submitting ephemera like the CALM Act, but they can make sure picayune bills do not receive a vote.

But, if leadership doesn't think improving the public's opinion of Congress is it's job and a bill like CALM slinks on to the floor, then members with a sense of purpose should go on the record and abstain. Vote present. Refuse to dignify this peevish meddling with your active participation.

This is a start toward climbing out of the hole and repairing the reputation of the institution.

In the meantime, I'm trying to decide who is more pathetic: The legislator who thinks regulating TV commercial volume is a legitimate function of government or the citizen who demands government intervene. ESR

Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He's a dynamic and entertaining speaker and can be reached at michael–shannon@comcast.net.

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