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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
19 Apr 2014
Time for Decent Exposure

Of the 432 members today serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, he is 429th in seniority, having won a … Read More.

12 Apr 2014
If Hypocrisy Were a Felony

To be fair, most Republicans have never hidden their distaste for campaign-finance laws that place limits on … Read More.

5 Apr 2014
If Only One of Them Had Ever Run for Sheriff

In his 1972 epic on the origins of the U.S. war in Vietnam, the great journalist David Halberstam told of then-… Read More.

An Idea to Unite America


We finally have good news from and for our broken, polarized and dysfunctional capital city. One modest proposal from a small independent federal agency — with about half as many employees as the White House — has miraculously brought together in common cause beef-eaters and vegans, Fox News conservatives and MSNBC liberals, and even dog people and cat people.

By a 3-2 vote, this independent agency, the Federal Communications Commission, which is responsible for regulating communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable, moved to begin the process of lifting the ban on making phone calls from airplanes. The prohibition was first imposed some 22 years ago, when cellphones were as big as men's size 10 shoes, because of a fear that calls from planes would disrupt cellular networks on the ground, possibly even interfering with the aircraft's safe operation. But technological improvements have eliminated any mechanical need for keeping the ban.

In a rare example of popular spontaneous combustion, a genuine grassroots movement emerged in fierce opposition to the possibility of passengers on U.S. commercial airlines being subjected to even half a cellphone conversation. After a generation of being victimized by airline cost-cutting measures, from shrinking seat sizes and legroom to each ticket holder's overhead luggage space being confined to the dimensions of a Volkswagen Beetle's glove compartment, passengers were already sullen. The prospect of having to listen to some loudmouth's bragging — six inches from their ears — about closing the biggest deal in New Jersey transformed them into rebels.

Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., after introducing with his colleague Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the Commercial Flight Courtesy Act, which would permit silent texting and email but prohibit any phone calls, spoke for legions: "When you stop and think about what we hear now in airport lobbies — babbling about last night's love life, next week's schedule, arguments with spouses — it's not hard to see why the FCC shouldn't allow cellphone conversations on planes."

House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chair Rep.

Greg Walden, R-Ore., observed that "allowing cellphones on planes sounds like the premise of a new reality show: cage-fighting at 30,000 feet." An unlikely ally, Veda Shook, president of the labor union Association of Flight Attendants, backs the congressman's position, arguing: "We're trained to de-escalate. Why would you put something in the environment that can escalate? On an airplane, there's no such thing as a quiet car."

In fairness to the FCC, Chairman Tom Wheeler (whom I have known and liked for 40 years) testified, "I do not want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet more than anyone else." But he argued the ban is out-of-date and no longer a factor. Still, he applauded the announcement by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that he would look into using his statutory authority to ban in-flight calls.

If the FCC united multitudes in opposition to its green light to lift, from a safety perspective, the prohibition of in-flight phone calls, the commission recovered nicely by unanimously pushing the repeal of professional football's blackout rule, which for 40 years has prevented hometown fans from seeing their team's games on TV unless every seat in the stadium is sold. The repeal would put an end to team owners using this form of blackmail to sell seats.

So let us give the FCC the credit it has earned by acting boldly to unite — even if it is in opposition — our badly disunited country.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




3 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... Peace on earth, and in the air we may all share if people text and never speak... If you're like me, and cannot hear, then half the world knows what you mean even if you can't say what you just said...I don't mind this, and e-mail is bliss, but the thought of a phone call fills me with terror: there is error afoot; and I am its bearer...Some brutes are not made for the subtle speech, but I will take what I can reach, so give me a line that I can correct, where I can avoid unwanted offense, where I need not cuss, nor fuss nor swear, and simply share, and show my care...

You know; there was a time when my wife took care of all my business calls, and she was the only person I would ever talk to on the phone... I got so used to closing a phone conversation with- I love you- that I some times said it to complete strangers and friends... I had to start telling everyone to- be good, as if they weren't already... It is amazing how being good gets easier as running away gets harder...I guess I never expected anyone I knew to be good naturally... The people I most like are like Michael Keaton characters; irreverent, offering no respect and demanding none, witty, and living on their wits...If a sharp tongue cuts you out of too many jobs and too many good relationships, you learn to tone it down... In most places I am your usual bug on the wall, observing, being the designated drunk, having my two, and watching everyone else get giddy...I don't usually speak unless challenged, and often my impulsivity gets the better of me... There goes another friend, cut to the quick with their tail between their legs... Most of the time, my verbal comprehension is so low, and in normal speech my words fly out all out of order so that the last thing I want is to make a spectacle of myself on the phone... I get something out of words, but my education is books, and if I could write all my communication I would be joyful...
I actually like to overhear conversations, but the thought of some one hearing me is no fun...Hearing one half of a conversation is an open door to the imagination... Who is it, what do they look like, and what is the nature of their relationship??? I get to fill in the missing pieces, and play detective...And some people don't care who hears, and I respect a good conversation, even if I am incapable of one...
I see people like myself all the time without all the conversational ability on the phone or off, of a gorilla...I used to talk to everyone on the phone like they were another ironworker...I once hung up the phone after talking with my mother, and my wife said: Do you have any idea who you were talking to??? You just called some guy a mudderfugger... So he was...All my life I have been struggling to tell the truth, and as soon as I learn how I have to sugar coat it...
Too much of anything is obnoxious, and in a place where there is no retreat except a restroom the size of a kitchen sink, people can do without the phone... And some alerts and ringtones have got to go... My daughter has a talent for finding the most obnoxious ones on the planet, and she texts a lot...
It is cool that people, and especially youth are so connected; but do they connect with those who challenge them and broaden their horizons??? If all they need is confirmation that what they are doing now is omg so cool; then yes, they are growing up, with the support of friends, and that is, so cool...
I would probably have had a better life if I had talked about it first...At times I wish there were more people I wanted to call, a larger circle of friends; but I can't afford the friends I have...It isn't so much a matter of money, but of time... They're pressed, and I'm pressed, and everything is so rush rush... When did we quit being kids kicking back with a six pack and a porterhouse, watching the world go by???
Maybe I'm just out of practice... Maybe talking on the phone is like falling off a bicycle, and I just have to remember how...I wasn't always so terrible... I once called a wrong number, and caught a girl I didn't know on a slow night, and ended up with a nice date... I probably lost more dates on the phone than I ever made...
Maybe my wife is right when she hands me the phone; I just have to get out of my comfort zone...
Thanks...Sweeney, and Merry Christmas
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Dec 20, 2013 5:23 PM
I always thought that the reason for the rule that your cell phone had to be turned off was to force those who needed to make a call to use the expensive phone built into the seat.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Paul M. Petkovsek
Fri Dec 20, 2013 6:21 PM
Re: Paul M. Petkovsek;... Having witnessed a plane crash, still in flames, and after helping to clean up the wreckage, smelling the burnt upholstery mingled with the smell of burned and rotton flesh; one must also consider the respite from phones as an opportunity to connect with God...

Dear lord; Let me Pray: as I consider upon what a slender thread, and upon what tender emotions my life now hangs, let me forgive these vile and obnoxious creatures I companion through life so that you may see me willing to forgive, and worthy of a little more of life committed to your service, knowing I would deny you to your face, and assert always the value of technology if I could simply complete this ordeal of air travel... Amen...
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Dec 22, 2013 6:39 AM
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