Plastics Bans Coming to an Airport Near You

by Robert McGarvey

SFO fired the first shot – on 8-19 it forbade airport shops, restaurants, vending machines, et. al. from selling plastic water bottles. We are instructed to bring our own refillable bottles and to grab our water at some 100 hydration stations.

Watch for this to spread to airports across the country and globally. Single-use plastics are cluttering our planet. Can we recycle our way out of this? Hah. “As investor Rob Kaplan of Circulate Capital recently told National Geographic, ‘There’s no silver bullet to stop plastic pollution. We’re not going to be able to recycle our way out of the problem, and we’re not going to be able to reduce our way out of the problem.’”

Much recycling is ineffective. Maybe even a scam. Just don’t use single-use plastics. That’s the exit and water bottles are a good place to start.

There’s a loophole in the SFO bans, by the way. Water can be sold in plastic bottles bigger than one liter, reports SFGate. My reaction to that is big deal. (1) What traveler buys a half gallon water jug? Not me. (2) It’s as easy to ban big bottles as it was smaller ones so if there’s a flagrant parade of giant jugs watch for a broader ban.

The bigger loophole is that the ban does not apply to juices, sodas, etc. It should.

Globally we use more than one million plastic bottles a minute. No one wants that much trash. Recycling efforts are noble but Sisyphean. Mountains of trash accumulate daily.

Repeat: no one wants this much garbage.

We can do our part. Personally as I walk around Phoenix where I live, I usually have a metal water bottle, stamped with the name of one resort or another, I couldn’t tell you which, or maybe it was a handout at a business meeting where, in recent years, there are ever more giveaways of logo metal water bottles. Point is: they are free.

It’s no big deal to carry a small metal water bottle in a carryon bag. For years I’ve carried a small travel umbrella (go to New York or Belfast enough and you’ll never fly without an umbrella). A water bottle is a little smaller and lighter.

Some pundits report that business travelers are grumbling about the SFO ban. Reported WAPO: “Although public reaction has mostly been positive, the news has resulted in some disgruntled business travelers who bristle at the inconvenience of having one more item to pack.”

I don’t get. What’s the inconvenience of toting a lightweight refillable bottle when measured against a planet that is choking with waste plastics?

Water bottles are just the first shot.

Color me also opposed to plastic straws which I never use. If you like straws buy a metal straw. They are cheap and small. California has a plastic straw ban (customers have to ask for a straw to get one); more states will follow. Plastic straws simply are bad. Something like 7.5% of the waste plastic in the environment is from straws and stirrers. Stop it.

I’m on record in my attempt to support the flygskam movement – but I am equally on record noting that it just isn’t easy to cut back on flying because our transportation alternatives suck.

It is easy to cut back – eliminate – a lot of plastic. I remember as a kid liking the feel of glass Coke bottles. Paper straws were fine too in that era (although I think reusable metal straws are a much smarter solution in 2019).

While we’re at this, ban single-use plastic bags too – as many nations already do. So does California. It’s easy enough to carry a small string sack, or cloth bag.

We can make a difference when it comes to plastics. I hear the pain when the talk is about flygskam. Single use plastics are different. They are easy to eliminate – we won’t miss them – and the planet will thank us.

You want some plastic in your life? Have at this.

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 48 Susan Mitchell on the Credit Union Underground

Circle the date, October 26. Las Vegas. That’s when Susan Mitchell, a longtime credit union consultant, is convening another meeting of the Credit Union Underground, this time in parallel with Money 20/20, probably the meeting of the best and brightest in the disruptive quadrant of financial services.  

The point of each Underground is collision with disruptors. A lot – maybe most – credit union executives cling to their individual comfort zones. But get with reality. Maybe half of today’s 5500 credit unions will go poof in the next decade.

Bye bye.

At the Undergrounds, attendees get exposed to disruptive thought – abut they also see they aren’t required to face the challenges alone, a lot of credit union people are in the same boat.

A Mitchell belief is that widespread cooperation helped build the credit union industry. And a renewed commitment to cooperation just may be its salvation.

Ask yourself this: what’s your institution’s purpose? Who did you help today? Whose life did you change?

Credit unions were created to help community members, to change lives. Are they still doing that?

And know that that is a path to survival. Purpose fuels existence.

This is a wide ranging podcast. Listen and you just may find your path to survival.

For Ramones, go here

Listen to the Mitchell podcast here:

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto

The Eyes Have It: Cameras Are Spying on Travelers

By Robert McGarvey

On a May 5th United flight from San Diego to Houston, an unnamed female passenger in first class entered the bathroom where she noticed a blinking blue light. She did not know what it was but she took the device to the flight crew. United Corporate Security subsequently determined it was a video recording device.

Then, per a document compiled by the FBI, “After viewing the information on the device, a male was caught on video installing the device in the first class lavatory of this particular flight.”  Apparently the man’s face wasn’t visible but – using his clothing and also jewelry – an ID was made. The arrest of Choon Ping Lee, who works for Halliburton, an oil field service company, followed.  

Creeped out? Justifiably. But here’s the grim reality: throughout your travels, very probably you are being spied on.  In some cases it’s by state sponsored security forces. In other cases it’s by miscellaneous creeps, perverts, and miscreants.

Does it really matter who?  Is it more comforting to know the Chinese government has eavesdropping devices in your Beijing hotel room – which it probably does and it also probably has your cellphone tapped – than it is to know that your Airbnb host is a perv who has cameras in rooms?

Guess what, it’s nothing new. In 1983 I co-wrote a book called The Complete Spy, which detailed the hundreds of legally available devices that let ordinary citizens spy on their spouses, children, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, you name it.  A theme of the book was that our privacy was evaporating and we seemed uninterested in fighting back.  

It is much, much worse today.

You don’t have to be Erin Andrews to have your privacy robbed. But a take away from the Andrews caper is that a determined eavesdropper can – with few roadblocks – easily spy on us in hotels.  And spying in hotels is surprisingly common

There’s even a claim that a hidden camera was found in a cruise ship cabin.

Why would anyone want to spy on me or you? Who the hell knows.  

Some nation states spy compulsively.  The Soviet Union and East Germany did it routinely (and if you visited either, you were eavesdropped upon. This is beyond question).  Today, Russia ranks high among nations that eavesdrop on foreign visitors. But China does likewise (maybe even more so).  The Saudis do too. Ditto the Israelis.  But you also hear about the French, Singapore, and many, many more nations. It’s not just nation states however.

As for who else eavesdrops in hotels, it can be anything from a business competitor to a jealous spouse or a just plain weirdo.  Remember Gay Talese’s The Voyeur’s Motel, where he documents a motel owner who systematically spied on guests.

Don’t say it can’t happen where you are staying.  Especially not because spying has gotten easier.

What’s new today is that eavesdropping has become very cheap and very low skill.

Around $40 will buy you a perfectly good spy camera.

For a few extra bucks, you can get a camera disguised as a clock or a bluetooth speaker.

Such cameras are usually wireless and battery powered. It takes essentially no skill to set up a camera.  

That’s a scary difference. A generation ago, cameras were expensive but also high maintenance.  Now cameras are installed by dropping them in place and, very probably, forgetting about them. Who needs to retrieve something so cheap?

How can you fight back?  The good news is that self-defense detection weaponry too is proliferating.

Now for Spy vs. Spy. There is plenty of technology that says it can find hidden eavesdropping technology and that has a prima facie credibility in that these devices typically connect via wiFi and/or Bluetooth. A device, or app, that hunts for Bluetooth and WiFi in the immediate vicinity may well pinpoint a nearby camera.

Some also hunt for a glint from the lens of a hidden camera and they just may find them.

But they may not, too. The better, pricier eavesdropping tools are built to foil the cheap detectors.

Dial up the price of the detector to north of $50, or even better, north of $100 and your odds of finding spy gear escalate.

Experts also recommend an oldfashioned physical inspection. Look for what’s out of place – a blinking blue light in a United lavatory – and you’ll hit the bullseye without any tech.

But even with preventative steps, don’t count on having privacy wherever your travels take you.  For 40 years people have asked me what I do to avoid being spied upon. My answer has always been the same: nothing.  I assume I may be spied upon, I act accordingly, and if I am spied upon, so be it.

I really cannot think of any surer strategy. Especially not today.  

Practicing Flygskam in Phoenix – Really?

by Robert McGarvey

I am looking at my travel schedule and in September up pop a couple trips to Las Vegas. A trip to Santa Fe is also a definite maybe. Is it time for me to put up or shut up, to practice flygskam abstinence or just stay home?

In June I wrote – somewhat favorably – about flygskam aka flight shame, the Sweden born movement to scorn air travel that is fast trending across Europe. The core idea is that air travel is hideously polluting – and global warming is no joke. The ice is melting in the North Pole, South Pole, Greenland, you name it. And summer temps in Phoenix where I live crest ever higher (especially the daily lows which are higher and higher. It’s not unusual to walk out into 90+ weather at 6 a.m.) so for me global warming isn’t an academic issue. It’s in my face daily.

What can I do about it?

I can pollute less. Understand, I rarely drive and when I do it’s a 2017 BMW which runs very clean. Mainly I walk or take the light rail around town. Now I see a Washington Post piece headlined, “Europe’s flight-shame movement has travelers taking trains to save the planet.” I have to ask myself: what about me?

The Wapo story’s lead focused on one Johan Hilm, a Swede traveling from his home country to Austria. That’s a flight of about two hours. Mr. Hilm chose to take a combination of train, bus, and ferry in a journey that took more than 30 hours.

Explained the Wapo reporter, “one passenger’s share of the exhaust from a single flight can cancel out a year’s worth of Earth-friendly efforts.” He added: “so they are digging out their parents’ yellowing Europe-by-rail guidebooks and trading tips on the most convenient night train to Vienna. “

What about me?

A flight from Phoenix to Las Vegas is about 70 minutes, costs around $150, and, for me, the airport is maybe a 20 minute light rail ride from my door step which happens to be where the light rail stops. Talk about convenience. In a lifetime of flying I have never had it so good in terms of ease of airport access (and inside Sky Harbor is a well run place). That makes flying a slam dunk – except for the pollution and the global warming.

So I hunt online for a train and indeed there is one, also for around $150. There also are nine departures daily. Of course there are many more flights but with nine, a train departure will suit me.

But then there is the duration. The distance between Phoenix and Las Vegas is around 250 miles – the drive time is about four and one half hours. How long is a train ride? The quickest train is about 10 hours. The typical duration is 20 hours.

Read that again: 10 to 20 hours. For a trip you can make in a little over an hour by plane and under five hours in a car.

Is walking the only way left? That would take about 80 hours (plus sleeping and rest time).

But there is a flygskam style option: a bus. Trips take about five hours, there are nine departures daily, and price is around $25.

What about Santa Fe? Trains there take around 10 hours and cost about $135. A flight on American takes an hour and a half and a round trip costs under $200. A bus costs around $50 one way and the trip takes from 12 to 18 hours.

There indeed is the problem. Going full in with flygskam flight abstinence necessitates suffering. Standing up for the environment necessitates long flight alternatives that, at least with trains, often cost around the same.

The US is not alone in this. A UK Guardian writer recently noted, “Taking a flight from London to Edinburgh results in 193kg of CO2 emissions; opting for the train means you produce 24kg – that’s 87% less. But as I compared both prices and travel times for my journey, opting for air travel was not only quicker, it also cost much less. Later in the year I’d like to visit a friend in Barcelona: I can fly in November for £37; train travel is more than £250.”

Plainly we need more and better alternatives to planes if we in fact are going to use them. It is well and good to talk flygskam purity but until viable alternatives are on the table, only zealots will ditch air travel and cheers to them – sincerely – but I just am not sure I am ready for long, long train rides. I haven’t been on a long distance bus ride in maybe 45 years and can’t say I much liked it when I took them so I am not keen on that option.

Will I take the train to Las Vegas? Ask me later, I haven’t decided. And, frankly, I’m not quite sure how to explain to the client that the trip took many multiples longer and also cost the same as a flight. Maybe more. That just isn’t easy to justify.

But neither is contributing unnecessarily to global warming. There’s our dilemma. How do we get where we’re going while doing the least damage? How indeed.

CU2.0 Podcast Episode 46 Kirk Kordeleski on Doubling Your Size and More Good News

Can a credit union double in size in five years? You bet, says Kirk Kordeleski, a senior consultant with Best Innovation Group and before that, CEO of Bethpage Federal Credit Union on Long Island where he did exactly that.

Kordeleski points to Navy and also BECU as examples of other credit unions that have also experienced exponential growth.

How? That is why you want to listen to this podcast. He gives the recipe, in some detail, here.  Boiled down it’s think competitively and believe – really believe – you can use inherent credit union advantages such as tax exemption to take a billion or more in dollars of business away from money center banks who very probably won’t even notice it is gone.

There’s more in this podcast. Kordeleski also tells why this is a time of immense, perhaps unprecedented opportunity for credit unions. Use digital and use data to allow your institution to expand in ways that a generation ago would have been unimaginable.

The bad news: a decade from now the number of credit unions may be about half what it is today. Expect 2000 credit unions to vanish in the next decade.  You don’t want to be among them?  There are plenty of survival tips in this podcast.

Listen here. 

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 23 Brel Hutton-Okpalaeke NASCO on Student Co-Ops

Put Brel Hutton-Okpalaeke in your contacts if you are a college student searching for affordable housing. That’s because he is the director of development services at NASCO,  North American Students of Cooperation, where the primary focus is on cooperative housing, especially for students.

Now is the perfect time for NASCO – colleges have been raising student housing and board fees at a brisk pace and, unbeknownst to most, schools run those functions as profit centers. They are not usually loss leaders.  What’s more, schools know that while all eyes are on tuition increases – jumps in prices for room and board frequently are under the radar.

Enter co-op housing where, frequently, students put in work requirements and an upshot is that savings over university housing and board charges can be substantial.

The downside? It takes a number of years to form a new student housing co-op. Schools increasingly are hostile to such co-ops (they want the revenues!). And many cities and towns are downright hostile towards housing options for significant numbers of unrelated adults.

Add in difficulties in securing financing to pay acquire new housing.

That’s why NASCO is crucial. It helps students navigate these difficult, churning waters.

And know there are real plusses to co-op housing for students.  The format teaches how to function in a democracy and, for many, co-op housing is an introduction to cooperatives in general. A few years in a co-op house can lead to credit union membership, membership in food co-op, and maybe even membership in a worker owned cooperative business.

Hoteliers: Time to Give Us Keyless Entry

By Robert McGarvey

How many ways have hotel key cards failed us. I remember a stay at a Berlin hotel where twice in the space of the first six hours I was a guest I needed to replace the key card.

I remember long, long walks in a Las Vegas casino hotel to get a new card.

Ditto in Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC.

Key cards are failed technology. They just are unreliable.

And, worse, they can be hacked.

So is now the time – finally – when hoteliers will switch to room entry systems based on the cellphones we carry?

The New York Times believes just maybe. It related that “the number of hotels in the United States that have digital keys available rose from 6 percent in 2016 to 17 percent last year, according to a survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.”

Of course, there are quirks in the implementation.  According to the Times, “Some [hotels], including Hilton and Marriott, only allow a single phone to receive a key during a stay, and other guests in the room receive card keys. Like the card keys, the digital keys can be used to access elevators, fitness centers, parking garages and other common areas. Some mobile keys require the user to touch a button on their phone screen to unlock the door, while others require that the phone be held up to the lock.”

Basically however this is all quite simple. Some electronic innards are built into the room lock and the traveler uses Bluetooth to open the door. Easy.  

Why is this taking so long? Why are the implementations often so wonky?

Partly it’s our own fault.  Many of us just don’t want to use our phone to open our hotel rooms (also cruise ships and, for the record, my key card failed on the last cruise I took in October 2018).  

A recent YouGuv poll found that only 29% of us say they would prefer to access a hotel room wirelessly – which means that 71% are content with the status quo, that is, keycard entry.

If you are in that hold out group, feast on the vulnerabilities of key card systems. Researchers have shown that with a one minute hack and a $300 RFID card read/write tool most hotel key card systems can be hacked.  Pull a room card out of the trash, reprogram it and, bingo, you have a master key card that will open an estimated 500,000 to one million hotel locks around the world.  

Feel safe? Sure, that vulnerability may have been patched by now but know that there are other vulnerabilities, other hackers, and a growing acceptance of the reality that keycard entry systems just don’t measure up.


Keycards also fail – frequently and annoyingly.  It’s just poor technology.  I cannot remember the last time I spent more than a couple nights in a hotel and didn’t need a replacement card. For a one night business trip, sure, no probs.  But for anything longer they can be counted on to fail.

Nobody in the office space, where keycards took hold perhaps 50 years ago, believes keycards have a long future.   Some of course are using biometrics for entry and others are using phones. In that world, keycards are heading towards extinction.

So why aren’t hotels stampeding to put keycards in their past? Probably it comes down to money or, rather, the reluctance to spend it.  Hoteliers, and the hotel owners, just are skinflints when it comes to investing in this kind of upgrade.

That’s despite the fact that, as reported in Hotel Management, “Mobile keys are the safest form of guestroom entry in hotels today. Unlike plastic keycards that guests often leave within easy reach, which provide immediate access to the guestroom when stolen, mobile keys offer several layers of security.”

Then there are environmental benefits in getting rid of oldfashioned plastic keycards. Hilton for instance estimates a savings of 40 tons of plastic due to get use of its Digital Key app.

Another, huge plus of using the phone to open doors is that it just may eliminate the check in desk and almost certainly will end the long lines.  A guest who has a reservation can just sign in via the phone and walk straight to his/her room where the phone should open the door.

Sign me up.  

I have used a keyless system to open up and start my car for at least five years. No fails. How convenient.

I want it in hotel rooms too and I want it now.

How about you?

CU2.0 Podcast Episode 45 Gary Oakland BECU

Call this the credit union oral history sequence – Blaine, Bucky Sebastian, now Gary Oakland who took over BECU, with around $700 million in assets, in the mid 1980s and when he left in 2012 it had become a $10 billion+ credit union, one of the nation’s very biggest.

How did Oakland do it? In this podcast you will hear his recipe for credit union success which, put simply, is make the member the center of this universe.  When the member is served, the credit union will thrive.

“It’s all about the member,” said Oakland.

Oakland sees a bright credit union future – but he wonders about the arrival of bank trained executives and how that background will impact credit unions.

A break that came BECU’s way was when the big bank in Washington State, Seafirst nearly went belly up in the 1980s – and was saved from that only when Bank of America took it over.  That gave BECU smoother sailing in its quest to be dominant in its state.

Oakland says he is proud that he left BECU with a small credit union attitude in a big credit union body.

It’s an inspiring credit union tale.

Listen up here.

Like what you are hearing? Find out how you can help sponsor this podcast here. Very affordable sponsorship packages are available.

Find out more about CU2.0 and the digital transformation of credit unions here. It’s a journey every credit union needs to take. Pronto