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Got an ID for that beer, grandpa?

Benjamin Barber

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: Target's not worried about wider fallout from the credit squeeze. Not yet, anyhow. The discount giant reported robust second-quarter profits today. But executives did say they're going to be a bit more conservative with their sales estimates for the rest of the year.

Last week, commentator Benjamin Barber stopped at his local Price Chopper store in Massachusetts to grab some beer and groceries — where he had an encounter that gave him pause.


Benjamin Barber: At the register, a kid clerk muttered: "ID?"

"Huh?" I said.

"ID, you know, for the beer."

It dawned. He was carding me. "You think I'm under 21?"

"Yeah, naw, I mean, it's policy."

"What's policy, to card seniors?"

"We gotta card everyone. It used to be only to 40, but over in New York someone ran a sting or something. So now they make us card everyone. No exceptions. You got ID?"

I found out later they had carded my 82-year-old stepfather, too.

So I called Price Chopper corporate and, yep, it really is Price Chopper policy. Corporate told me they're worried about litigation, about new state laws like Tennessee's that mandate universal carding for alcohol purchases.

First, frightened officials close volunteer fire departments, then timid towns take away playground seesaws. Now, Price Chopper's carding cardiac patients.

Scared of lawsuits? Well, the customer doesn't count, so make the guys on walkers flash their photo IDs. All in keeping with that old un-American tradition of hanging an innocent man rather than letting a guilty one go free.

Worried a terrorist may board a plane with a knife? Screen old ladies and take away their nail clippers. Wanna catch a few bad guys? Criminalize the whole class they come from.

And then there's the corporate practice of infantilizing the staff to protect the company from the occasional mistake. Take away any judgment or discretion, immerse employees in foolish and inflexible rules, and then watch them act just as dumb as you treat them.

Blame the government. Blame the staff. Blame the consumer. But don't go to bat for customers by battling dumb state laws. Don't take responsibility for your staff by training them and backstopping them when they make a mistake.

Besides, America's seniors are getting screwed on health care, diddled on Social Security and double-crossed on pensions anyway. So go ahead: next time a Vietnam vet or a retired teacher wants a six-pack, card him.

Ryssdal: Benjamin Barber runs the nonprofit Democracy Collaborative.

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