Volume XI, Issue 41 ~ October 9-15, 2003

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Burton on the Bay

Look Who’s on My Do-Not-Vote List

In politics there is no honor.
— Benjamin Disraeli, 1804-1881

I get to thinking about those words whenever the subject of the highly publicized Do-Not-Call List arises in conversation, the press, within my mind — or when the phone rings at suppertime. I’ll tell you why.

Do you, dear reader, realize that we’re among a handful of states that have no state law to protect us from unwanted telephone solicitations? At least four times, legislation has been introduced in our General Assembly to bring us on board, but the bills never got out of committee.

They were done in by intense lobbying — you know, free meals, drinks, handshakes and who knows what else. Maybe even something slipped into the open palm of the outstretched hand.

After all, it has been said by many people in many places for many years that We have the best politicians money can buy.

Nowhere can I find who those words were originally attributed to, and really it matters not. Just as they are, they signify the citizenry’s lack of respect for politicians — not only in this issue of living without intrusion but also in more weighty matters.

This is not to imply that all politicians, even those in our General Assembly, have an outstretched palm or are guilty of ignoring the wishes of their constituents for reasons of their own — or of their friendly lobbyists. But one thing is sure: Somewhere along the legislative path, our wishes too often amount to the glue on the old lick-it-and-hope-it-sticks stamps of the U.S. Postal Service.

Our Phones Keep Ringing
Currently, most states have written laws to save households from the annoying calls of solicitors. In six more states, legislation to that end is expected to be enacted soon. Maryland is on neither list. Obviously, our General Assembly thinks it’s more important that solicitors have the opportunity to pitch their wares over the phone than we have to eat a meal, read a newspaper, relax or whatever in peace and without intrusion.

Nationwide, the picture is murky as federal efforts to implement a Do-Not-Call List have been stymied by the courts. To its credit, our Congress wasted no time in trying to correct the snafu.

Still, in many if not most states, state legislation can override national rulings of free speech and whether the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to implement the list to which 50.1 million households signed on.

On the first day the opportunity arose to sign on the Leave-Us-Alone list, the Burtons of Riviera Beach forwarded their names. There was no hesitation because wife Lois and I figured the phone was ringing six to nine times a day with someone trying to sell us something or otherwise do business with us. There were fewer calls on weekends, but still enough to be an inconvenience.

Phones are still ringing despite the promises of many telemarketing companies that they will voluntarily stop calling people on the list. Just the other night at 9:02, there came a call to the Burton household trying to interest us in mortgage refinancing — and it was from a company we have never done business with.

We suspect we’re not the only ones, seeing that the daily press has noted that of the 13,000 telemarketing companies that have registered for the program as of October 1, only 400 had paid for the full list of names of those of us who seek refuge from nuisance phone calls. It almost makes one consider moving to Maine or Oregon, where state laws respect the wishes of citizens who have tired of the inconvenience of unwanted calls.

I wonder if the phones in the homes of our state legislators were and still are ringing as often. Or do they have their own Do-Not-Call list that telemarketers are more prone to respect seeing that they realize those said legislators would then realize what a problem calls of solicitation have become in Maryland homes?

A Modest Proposal
Not with me do the lame-brain excuses of our legislators — that curtailing unwanted phone calls will reduce business opportunity — hold water. Whose side are they on? Those of us who want to be left alone? Or those who could care less whether their solicitations are an inconvenience or not? I say that if you know the answer, it’s not a question.

Equally lame as excuses go is that of some legislators who would boast that, by doing in efforts to implement a Do-Not-Call List, we avoided a legal problem and expensive court action. Considering the current financial plight of Maryland, might I ask since when have our solons worried about digging us more deeply into the financial abyss?

In my favorite game of poker, there comes a time to put up or shut up. The same holds in the making of laws that accommodate the wishes of constituents who ask for nothing more than to be let alone. But in poker there are no lobbyists.

While on the subject of lobbyists, I’ve got an idea that could dig us out of at least a bit of the financial abyss we in Maryland find ourselves in these days. Why not scuttle our present legislative process and let the lobbyists make the rules? We’d save millions upon millions of bucks in the salaries and expense accounts of delegates and senators and their staffs — and we’d end up with the same laws.

Other than in the issue of slots (and that was closer than many of us realize), it’s difficult to recall when our legislators have displayed the backbone that runs from the base of the neck to the you-know-what of them.

Can 50.1 Million Americans Be Wrong?
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that under most of the state laws and also with the federal program, among the few exemptions from the Do-Not-Call List are politicians. Are we to believe their calls soliciting votes are less intrusive? And what is more annoying than the recorded political messages delivered when the phone is answered? Many of them popped up in the past election.

The daily press is not immune from criticism either. Editorially, its stance is lukewarm at best. The Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association calls for an end to the Do-Not-Call List. Can it be that those who roll the presses are thinking more about selling subscriptions and advertisements than in allowing their readers to eat a meal in peace? Again, if you know the answer, it’s not a question.

As the weekly Republican of Oakland in Garrett County noted in an editorial the past week, “The traveling salesman who is sent off one day and returns the next, can be charged with trespassing. Yet, until now, there is no regulation against trespassing via the telephone.”

Can 50.1 million Americans — the one in four households that took the time to call, fax or e-mail their wishes to be free of telephone intrusion — be wrong? Admittedly that’s not a majority, but it certainly represents a majority — seeing that most Americans either aren’t aware of their options or don’t express their wishes because they don’t think it will do any good.

Let’s get this program on track, then look to unwanted and unsolicited e-mails, faxes and junk mail, especially catalogs, which at this time of year come by the bushel basket. Wouldn’t life be a whole lot better? Enough said …



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Last updated October 9, 2003 @ 1:40am