McAdams On: Legislation
10/9/2009 12:41:22 PM
It’s that time of year when days get shorter and
lawmakers in Washington have less time to spend an enormous amount of money. The
pace of hearings accelerates and bills are churned out like sausage before
Oktoberfest. Irrational legislation based on what seem to be logical premises get
thrown into the mix. Such concepts often become law not because of contextual
merit, but because of what’s attached--earmarks.
Jim Harper of the Cato Institute maintains WashingtonWatch.com,
where he tracks every bill proffered in each Congressional session. Harper
holds an annual earmark contest, imploring followers to ferret out the pork
lawmakers tack onto bills for pet projects. Among the prizes for this year’s
sleuths, an Amazon Kindle, an iPod Shuffle and a “deluxe regular fruitcake.”
Readers tallied up more than 40,000 earmarks comprising billions in spending. The
allocations are all over the board. Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) is looking
to get $2 million for a contractor to keep track of the Navy’s stuff. That
Navy. The one with all the navigators. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is seeking
$2.5 million for pasteurizing egg shells to prevent bird flu just in case it
spreads on egg shells. It might be cheaper just to tell people to wash eggs
before they’re cracked, but that would make sense. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is
looking to take $9.5 million back to the great state of Montana for a
hypersonic wind tunnel. Surely the same effect can be achieved between
Constitution and Independence avenues.
The list clearly goes on. Not all earmarks will pass into law, but these things
do influence lawmaking more than the actual issues. There’s one guy on Capitol
Hill that works for the nation. The rest work for an individual state or a
portion thereof. The seeming debates on national issues seemingly followed by
the mainstream press are mostly the stuff of obfuscation. There are people who
go to Washington with every intention of being a pillar of integrity. A couple
of cognacs and a Cohiba later, and the shine wears off the windy car lot back
home. Then it’s game on; time to make a haul for the home constituency.
They call it “Potomac Fever” back in the ’hood. Some legislators get so addled
by it, they start believing themselves. Harper has a tagline for the fruits of
that condition--legislation that promises more than it can possibly deliver.
“And a pony.” E.g., “Congress will eliminate loud TV commercials... and give
you a pony!”
Frankly, I wish Congress would give me a pony, but I can’t imagine what the
poor creature would look like after being legislated into my care. (Shudders.) Neither
can I imagine how slapping a loudness law on broadcasters is going to make the
ad industry stop caterwauling. (The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation
Act made it past a House subcommittee this week. It would direct the FCC to
create a broadcast loudness standard within a year.)
Advertisers have a long and hallowed history of caterwauling. Outlawing it seems a
bit communist, or at the very least, ridiculous.
First of all, broadcasters have a clue. See, they are people, and they watch
TV, too. They don’t especially enjoy getting blown out of the room by a
hyperactive guy mutilating vegetables and shredding cheese. And they’ve
secretly been working on loudness levels for years. It’s just that there was a
digital transition in there. Despite that being legislated as well, it was one
giant-sized science experiment after which a lot of engineers are still
cleaning up. It was a little like going to the moon, but without the space
travel and those unfortunate Gosselin people. And remember, Neil nearly ran out
of gas before getting to the moon. That could have been a $24 billion
“woopsie,” as there were no Piggly Wigglies on the moon back then.
The DTV transition didn’t have a similar major-league near miss, but rather a
lot of smaller complications to mop up. Restoring reception to households that
lost it has been the primary concern. Making the audio arrive at the same time
as the video has been another, since the two are delivered separately in
digital transmission. That it happens at all is something of a miracle.
Loudness hasn’t really been the most pressing issue in broadcasting lately, but
it’s on the agenda. They’ll get to it without legislation. Honest they will. However,
the effort to criminalize loud commercials is instructive on many levels. 1)
Lawmakers watch TV. 2) They are annoyed by loud commercials. 3) They have not
learned, as my father did the first time he used a remote, to use the mute
Then again, the mute button has no earmarks.