REAL ID

The other day I was in line to pass through security at the Columbus airport when I saw a sign announcing that, effective January 22, 2018, drivers’ licenses from certain states will not be accepted at TSA checkpoints as appropriate identification.  According to the sign, licenses from Maine, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana and Washington are not compliant with something called the REAL ID Act.

REAL ID Act?  Of course, the name brought back memories of high school days, when your more daring classmates would proudly if furtively show you the fake ID they had acquired (featuring, of course, a name other than “McLovin”) in hopes of buying beer at the local carryout.  The TSA sign seemed kind of weird, and I found myself wondering why the federal government has a problem with the licensed issued by the “m” states . . . and Washington. So I followed the instructions on the sign and went to the tsa.gov website to see what it was all about.

It turns out that in 2005 Congress passed something called the REAL ID Act.  The Act establishes certain federally mandated minimum security standards governing issuance of drivers’ licenses and identification cards by states, and if the states are non-compliant, their licenses won’t be accepted for certain federal purposes — like passing through the federally operated security checkpoint at domestic airports.   (You also will need a REAL ID Act compliant drivers’ license if you want to get into a nuclear power plant, in case you were wondering.)  Ohio and a number of states are already compliant, still other states have received extensions to become compliant, and the four “m” states are noncompliant.

Why are some states resisting?  According to a member of the Maine state legislature, it’s because of concerns about privacy and the possibility that the Department of Homeland Security could interlink the information from the state drivers’ license bureaus to create a national identity database.  She also states that, to get a REAL ID drivers license, individuals must have their photograph taken with facial recognition software and have documents like a certified birth certificate and original social security card scanned into a database, where it will be kept for seven years — and, she notes, potentially would be accessible to hackers who are constantly trying to get to confidential personal information.  Her description of the bill, and the reasons for her opposition, ends on this ominous note: “And how much do you trust the federal government?”

I’m as interested in privacy as the next person, but it’s hard for me to get too excited about the REAL ID law.  Obviously, there is a need for identification cards, and all of the information that is collected as part of the REAL ID process seems to be already in possession of the federal and state governments, anyway.  I’m quite confident that the federal government knows what I look like (or could find out with a few strokes of a keyboard), facial recognition photos or not.  And since I have to fly frequently for my job, I need to have an ID card that gets me through security — so I’m glad Ohio licenses are compliant.

It’s troubling to think that people are so distrustful of the federal government that they would be concerned about a database that included photos and basic identification information, like Social Security numbers, that people routinely disclose on things like tax returns.  It says something about the fraying relationship between the government and the governed that the question of appropriate identification could be so controversial.

The Fall Of ESPN

Is ESPN the Blockbuster of broadcast TV?

Those of you who are over, say, 35 probably remember Blockbuster.  It was the place where you went to buy, or rent, new video releases.  For a time in the ’90s, you couldn’t go to any suburban strip shopping center without seeing a busy Blockbuster store thronging with people eager to get their hands on the new releases.  But then . . . things changed.  New methods of getting entertainment delivered directly to our houses were developed that made going to the Blockbuster store seem inconvenient, and expensive, and clunky, and kind of a pain in the ass.  And before you knew it, all of those Blockbuster stores were gone.

sc2ESPN seems to be following the same path.  From the new station that padded its programming with weird sports events like Australian rules football games, ESPN grew into a glitzy, multi-channel cable TV megaplayer that had an enormous impact on the sports segment of American culture.  Athletes would make a great play and mimic the Sportscenter theme song, hoping that their play would be broadcast on that nightly highlights show.  ESPN broadcast anchors became celebrities.  In 2011, ESPN had 100 million cable TV subscribers.

But then . . . things changed.  ESPN is down to 88 million subscribers, and those numbers continue to decline.  Ratings are down, and the channel has had to make some very public layoffs of some of its familiar on-air talent.  Even this NFL draft weekend, when the coverage on ESPN used dominate the sports conversation, ESPN doesn’t seem to be quite so significant anymore.  Why is this happening?  In part, it’s because people are giving up on standard cable TV in favor of watching content on the internet.  Cable TV packages are expensive, and watching events on the internet is free.  So why sign up for increasingly expensive cable TV programming with a standard package filled with channels that you don’t watch, when you can save that money and watch what you want on the internet?

Doesn’t that sound familiar, in a Blockbuster kind of way?

There are other proffered reasons for ESPN’s decline — the high salaries it pays on-air talent, the rising cost of obtaining broadcast rights for sports events, and even the theory that ESPN has increasingly injected “liberal” political views into its broadcasts, irritating sports fans with more conservative political views — but I think the real reason is the cultural change in people’s viewing habits.  When cultural shifts occur, companies can go from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the ditch in a hurry.

Who knows?  In a few years, even that iconic Sportcenter theme song might be as forgotten as the once-familiar Blockbuster logo.

Jabrill Peppers? Really??

I didn’t watch the TV broadcast of the first day of the draft.  Partly it’s because it always is a time of heartbreak for Browns fans, but partly on principle.  I’m supposed to get excited about the mere occurrence of the NFL’s mechanism for deciding which team gets to begin negotiations with which athlete?  Sorry, I’d rather do just about anything else.

So this morning, I checked to see what the Browns had done.  Hmmm . . . three first-round choices?  A guy who hopefully will provide some much-needed past-rushing skills to the defense?  OK, I get that.  A tight end?  OK, a bit more iffy, but if the kid is a playmaker, I suppose I get that, too.

peppers-celebratejpg-c2f7c7fec7e3927dBut Jabrill Peppers?  Really?

I’m not saying this because Peppers attended That School Up North.  I’m saying it because I’ve followed the Big Ten, and I’ve watched Peppers play.  I think he is a reasonably good punt returner, but other than that I think he’s one of the most overrated players in college sports in the last five years.  Sure, he played a lot of positions — but how many big plays did he make in big games?  When the chips were down and Michigan was trying to beat Ohio State, what kind of contribution did Peppers make?  I think really good players tend to rise to the top in big games.  Peppers didn’t.

I hope I’m wrong, and Peppers is a combination of Eric Metcalf and Thom Darden, bringing punt-returning excitement and interception big-play potential to the Browns.  But right now, color me skeptical.  Peppers seems like an undersized guy who lacks serious “football speed” and made his rep scoring touchdowns and playing multiple positions against teams that weren’t very good.  In the NFL, on the other hand, he’ll be playing for a team that isn’t very good.

I’m sensing another wasted first-round pick, folks.

My Email From United’s CEO

At 1:37:54 a.m. this morning, I got an email from United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz.  1:37 a.m.?  Geez, Mr. Munoz is one hardworking dude!

united-airlinesMr. Munoz sent me the email to apologize for the disturbing recent incident in which a ticketed passenger was dragged from a United flight leaving O’Hare in order to allow a United employee to take his seat.  Mr. Munoz says the treatment of the passenger broke United’s promise to not only “make sure you reach your destination safely and on time, but also that you will be treated with the highest level of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect.”  That’s a bit of an understatement, Mr. Munoz!  Something that doesn’t square with the “deepest sense of dignity and respect” would be, say, getting wedged into a seat next to a smelly, morbidly obese guy wearing a tank top who intrudes into your personal space.  Being left bloodied and semiconscious as you’re dragged from your seat doesn’t even square with the lowest level of service or the shallowest sense of dignity and respect.

But let’s not quibble about words.  Mr. Munoz thinks the incident happened because United’s “corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values” and “[o]ur procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.”  He wants the incident to be a turning point for the company, so he’s changing United’s policies.  So now, United will “no longer ask law enforcement to remove customers from a flight and customers will not be required to give up their seat once on board – except in matters of safety or security.”   That seems like a pretty basic, but certainly appropriate, step.  United also will offer up to $10,000 to entice passengers to voluntarily rebook, and will implement a “new ‘no-questions-asked’ $1,500 reimbursement policy” for “permanently lost bags.”

Finally, Mr. Munoz wants me to know that United Airlines intends to live up to “higher expectations in the way we embody social responsibility and civic leadership everywhere we operate.”  The goal, he says, “should be nothing less than to make you truly proud to say, ‘I fly United.'”

I’m not sure I’ve ever said that I was “proud” to fly any airline — or for that matter to own any particular brand of car, or to engage in any commercial transaction with a large company.  I found the United incident unsettling, but it wasn’t going to keep me from flying United.  Let’s face it, we’ve all seen weird incidents in which overzealous people have overreacted and made really bad choices, and when the United incident occurred I figured that United employees would, if anything, overcompensate in the opposite direction and do everything they could to try to fix the company’s PR nightmare.

Mr. Munoz’s early morning email suggests that that effort is still underway.

As Browns Fans Contemplate Another First Round Pick . . . .

the-scream

If you didn’t know that he lived in Europe in the 19th century, you’d probably swear that Edvard Munch was a Cleveland Browns fan.

Why?  Because The Scream perfectly captures, better than anything else I’ve seen, the unique combination of horror, fear, disgust, and profound dread that grips Cleveland Browns fans as they contemplate the team making another first-round pick in the NFL draft.  Indeed, Munch even painted the disturbing, roiling sky behind the angst-ridden screamer in the Browns’ familiar orange colors.

If you’re a Browns fan, knowing that the NFL draft is only a few hours away and that the Cleveland franchise has the first choice to boot, you feel almost compelled to cup your face in your hands, let your eyes open wide, and howl out to the waiting world the deep anxiety and disquiet that you feel as you consider prior drafts and contemplate the likes of Gerard Warren, Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Kellen Winslow . . . and Johnny Manziel.

In fact, any fan of another NFL team would think of the ludicrous choice of “Johnny Football” and feel a perverse sense of comfort.  After all, how could this year’s pick possibly be any more wrong-headed and disastrous than that?  But this is the Cleveland Browns, remember.  With the Browns, all things bad are possible.

Go ahead, Browns Backers!  Tip back your head and wail for all you’re worth.  The NFL draft is here.

The Elephant Tranquilizer Tipping Point

It seems like America has been debating what to do about our drug problem for years.

drug-powder-skullWe’ve always had the contingent that urges no tolerance and vigorous enforcement of criminal laws, with swift and sure punishment of offenders.  We’ve got people who argue that some drugs really aren’t that dangerous, and that people who are addicted to other drugs really aren’t evil, they are just dealing with a kind of physical and mental sickness and deserve treatment, not prison.  And we’ve got people who argue that filling prisons with drug offenders doesn’t make sense from a pure economic standpoint in the current era of limited governmental resources.

But most of this debate centers on the people who are users.  What about the people who are profiting — the distributors and pushers and dealers, the people who import the drug and prepare it for sale on street corners?

The introduction of another new substance into our ongoing drug problem is just one more piece of evidence that those people are truly evil.  The new substance is called carfentanil, and it is a form of elephant tranquilizer that is toxic and deadly to humans.  Drug dealers are mixing carfentanil with heroin and selling it, producing a wave of overdose deaths across the country — including Ohio.  The substance is so deadly that even an amount equivalent in size to a few grains of salt can be a killer.

How can you defend someone who intentionally and consciously puts elephant tranquilizer into a drug, knowing that the addition dramatically increases the chance of death when the drug is consumed by human users?  How can you do anything except conclude that the person who takes that step is a monster, who deserves to be hunted down, prosecuted, and imprisoned for destroying people’s lives?