On The Road To CU Wisdom... Or At Least To Something

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A rash of thoughts while traveling the credit union road....

Among the things I learned while in San Antonio for the Texas league's annual meeting:

* Had Davy Crockett and the other defenders of the Alamo only hidden out near the attendee registration area of the Henry Gonzalez Convention Center, Santa Anna's army never would have reached them. Instead, they would have tired out from the walk from the hotel and instead turned back.

* Have times changed? Paul Mitchell, who was inducted into the Texas league's Hall of Fame, said what really attracted him to credit unions initially was the pay dangled in front of him: $75 a month.

* ABC News Reporter Sam Donaldson turned out to be a much better speaker than many people admitted they thought he would be (but then many expected his remarks to consist of him yelling "Mr. President! Mr. President!" over the sound of whirling helicopter blades).

Donaldson offered a number of insights, including one that sent a worried murmur through the crowd. Among those insights: he believes Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack," generally "gets it right" about the lead-up to the Iraq war; he called the Iraq war a "mess, and you know and I know it;" and he suggested the Hillary Clinton, despite her denials, shouldn't pass up an opportunity to be Sen. John Kerry's running mate.

But it was a response to an audience member's question that had folks talking to one another. After that audience member noted that he had recently been appointed to his local Draft Board, Donaldson, a native Texan, said an underreported story is that appointments are being made to Draft Boards all over the country. That, in turn, has led to some rumors about a return of the military draft, a proposal that got renewed life after Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel commented that it's something that needs to be talked about.

With many of those at the Texas meeting having children and grandchildren who are or are approaching draft eligible ages, the idea was not popular.

Donaldson said it isn't the Iraq war that is directly causing such discussion; rather it's any potential second front that could require more troops. What might cause such a second war to break out? Demand for natural resources, particularly oil, as China and other countries develop a thirsty demand for fuel, said Donaldson.

And what about Iraq? Can the idealistic hopes of the administration ever be achieved?

"If we leave now it's a lot of blood and money down a rathole," offered Donaldson. "I think we would be even less safe than before we struck. The odds are long, but not impossible. If we can leave Iraq with a government that represents the people, then maybe democracy will spread in the Mideast. But if we leave Iraq and say 'Good luck,' then we are more at risk. We need to get out-but we need to try to do it right."

* Also learned while in San Antonio of a robbery at a branch of Texans Credit Union. In a perverted tribute to member loyalty, the credit union later discovered that the getaway car had been financed earlier by Texans CU.

Among the things learned while driving recently through portions of Eastern Iowa and southern Wisconsin:

* Go to any national conference, and you'll get an earful of dire warnings about the threat to credit unions from the national financial "brands" and mega-banks. Not that those red flags don't belong on the pole, but it's apparent many of those sounding those warnings are city folks. Driving through Dubuque, Iowa and later, Madison, Wis., the profile of credit unions is high. In Dubuque, advertising and branches of Dupaco Community and Dutrac Credit Unions were prominent. In Madison, the same held true, with branches and radio advertising from the likes of CUNA Credit Union, Summit, Heartland and UWCU all to be seen and heard (of course, for credit unions, the "If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere" anthem plays loudest in Madison).

* While in New Orleans for a recent CUES Conference, didn't see any presence from credit unions.

* Speaking of Madison, I haven't had a larger hotel room in my life than the tri-level accommodations given me by the Residence Inn, where the room was larger than some apartments I've lived in. It was so nice I was prepared to sign up for the testimonial campaign, until I saw reported in local newspapers during my stay that there are new plans for the hotel: to turn it into low-income housing.

Among the things I learned while trapped in a plane on a tarmac as Delta Airlines' computer system crashed:

* It's wise to keep in mind that what the backoffice people (who don't deal with customers/ members) say may be passed along by the front-office people who do. Case in point, this message shared with passengers by the pilot:

"Folks, I've been in contact with our dispatch center, and they said, and I quote, 'We're trying to gin up the back-up system.'" That instills confidence.

Frank J. Diekmann is Editor of The Credit Union Journal. He can be reached at fdiekmann cujournal.com.

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