Well, I was in hiding but Paul Gentile, Editor of Credit Union Times, found me out. Paul asked, “What are you going to do about the debate?” I told Paul that suicide seemed to be the only honorable option left at this point. Paul, of course, said: “I thought you’d already done that!” Paul, then asked: “Really, what kind of feedback have you received on the debate?” Told Paul that the comments had ranged from “terrible, embarrassing and horrific” to “absolutely outrageous”. Paul said: “Well, everybody has a few critics. What did your friends say?” Told Paul that those comments were from my friends! Perhaps the best letter I received simply said “You’re an idiot and owe the Credit Union Movement an apology!!!” Have always admired folks who could write clearly. That’s pretty darn clear! Actually, I agree with the writer on both counts and would like to offer you an apology. But, first, let me ask for a bit of forgiveness. No, not for me; for CUNA, the GAC sponsor. It would truly be unjust to chastise CUNA for your displeasure for two very solid reasons. First, the idea of “the debate” was a good one! The results pleased no one; but don’t forget that you (and I) were rightfully very excited about the potential, the possibilities which the session might hold. Secondly, CUNA folks did try to counsel me. Even Dan Mica, with great astuteness and foresight, personally and actively pleaded for a civil, serious-minded discussion. I promised Mr. Mica that I’d try! Be angry, be disappointed, but be fair. CUNA did responsibly handle its role – okay? I do sincerely apologize to you for the poor performance at GAC. I fully intended to ruffle some feathers, but clearly they didn’t ruffle right. There is never any justification to insult and embarrass ones friends and colleagues. I very much regret the affront to your sensibilities. My error; my mistake, well noted! Having done what was necessary and appropriate, I would like to offer a bit of additional information; it’s meant as neither explanation, justification, nor excuse. I respect Ken Fergeson. He is a charming, personable individual with an exemplary record as a community bank entrepreneur and citizen of Oklahoma. As the elected leader and chief spokesman of the American Bankers Association (ABA), Mr. Fergeson obviously, also, enjoys the support of his banking peers. Although I had not met Mr. Fergeson prior to the GAC, I have followed him with interest for several years. What first caught my attention about Mr. Fergeson was an article he wrote for the ABA’s national biweekly newsletter entitled: “Credit Union Debate: Fight .” (ABA Bankers News – April 4, 2000). Kind of an ironic title, in retrospect, isn’t it! Know it’s difficult to keep up with all the credit union publications, let alone read the bankers stuff; but here are a few excerpts from Mr. Fergeson’s article. Mr. Fergeson begins by rhetorically questioning whether the banks should “quit” the seemingly endless, difficult fight against credit unions? But, then he concludes: “Just like credit unions, quitters are parasites. They live off the rest of society. They are non-productive and contribute nothing that is good for anyone other than themselves.” Mr. Fergeson then launches into a couple of paragraphs on the unfairness of the credit union tax exemption, concluding: “I am thankful that I live in a society that offers us a place to work and live in safety and freedom. Our country has a set of rules and laws that provide the basis for a civil society. However, the credit unions do not want to contribute to this way of life”. There’s more, but why bore you! It may also be of interest to some of you to know that the ABA’s National Conference of Community Bankers was being held the very same week in February as the GAC. In fact, Mr. Fergeson opened the ABA conference on Monday, February 23rd in Palm Desert, California by promising the announcement of a “special new project”, as part of the program for the following day. Mr. Fergeson then caught a plane for D.C. to visit with you and me. So, on Tuesday, February 24th as Mr. Fergeson was sitting on stage “in your living room” at the GAC; the ABA was announcing “Operation Credit Union” – complete with video and tool kit – to a standing ovation of community bankers. Are you really an unpatriotic, unproductive parasite? Is that an accurate description of your credit union, your staff, and the thousands of members you represent? But don’t take my word for all this. In your note of apology about the debate to Mr. Fergeson, perhaps you should request that he send you a copy of his article and the video. Don’t know how you feel about all this, but I think you know exactly how I feel about it. You know a man by his word. I respect Ken Fergeson. I take the man at his word. Any reason you don’t? Now, about those brothels . first, I would like to publicly declare, under oath, that I have never used such a “resource”; and, my wife wants me to tell you that, given my rapidly advancing age, future use is highly doubtful, if not downright laughable. Okay, really what’s this all about? It’s about “framing the message”. To this point in the bank versus credit union wars, we have permitted the banks to define the debate, to frame the argument – and we’re losing. And, if we continue on the same course; we will, in my opinion, lose another, more important debate. The banks say: fairness, tax dodging, bigness, same as, no difference. We say: governance, structure, cooperative. We lose! We’ve got the best story, but they’ve got the best sound bites! Our message is the truth; their message sells! Only unpatriotic parasites wouldn’t want to pay their fair share of taxes – right? But, why brothels? Well, because as you’ve noticed, that kind of comparison upsets people. If you’re upset, think how mad the bankers are going to be! Bad strategy, bad tactics, bad taste? Maybe; but being called “a bad name” – if it’s bad enough – will generate a response. Comprendez? (Kind of like being called an unpatriotic, unproductive parasite – right?). When you force a response from your adversary, you’ve moved from defense to offense. You’ve started to frame the debate, to frame the message. Too uncivilized? Perhaps, but what’s your plan? We do need a new plan. Now, I’ll probably move ahead with the “banks as brothels” campaign. The T-shirts afterall have already been printed (see logo). We’re going to call it BAB’s for short. Don’t like brothels? Well, remember, you were given a couple of other choices in the debate – dairy farm, phone booth. Heck, compare banks to beauty salons if you feel more comfortable. Nothing offensive about comparing a couple of clip joints, is there? The “clippings” from the newspapers, afterall, are abundantly available. Who paid $1.5 billion to settle an anti-consumer stock trading scandal? The beauty salons! Who permitted insider trading on mutual funds? The beauty salons! Who set up the off balance sheet special purpose accounts for Enron? The beauty salons! Who set up out of state and out of country subsidiaries to cheat on taxes? The beauty salons! Who provides “rent a charter” to payday lenders? The beauty salons! Who has a well established reputation for shafting the American consumer? (Hope that’s a little better phrasing!) The beauty salons! Credit unions protect their consumer-member-owners! Who loses when the American consumer wins? The beauty salons! So, beauty salons okay for the squeamish? I still prefer brothels, because it portrays more succinctly the difference between credit unions and the ABA “Operation Credit Union” – type banks. There’s a lot of honest love in credit unions; most are still operated “from the heart”. In a brothel, there is no heart, no love; just cheap tricks and a cold, calculated transaction with another sucker. Getting mad again, aren’t you? Well, maybe you should write all this off to bad upbringing. Southern mothers may not be rearing their children right. The South is traditionally about courtesy and good manners; but all Southern kids are told two things about when decorum should be abandoned. They teach us this: “Never, ever start a fight. But if you have to fight; remember, anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for.” And, “Usually it’s foolish to strike first, but only a damn fool doesn’t strike back.” Don’t overlook my apology for the debate debacle, it was sincere. Any debate which ends up as a discussion of style and personality rather than issues is unquestionably a mistake of major proportions. But, let me ruffle your feathers one last time. There are, in my opinion, three types of credit union folks involved in the bank versus credit union wars: Those who would make peace; those who would make war; and those who sit on the fence, uninvolved, wringing their hands. You know where I stand – right or wrong. And, most honor should rightfully be given to those who try to fashion a just peace. Peace is hard work. Hope peace will prevail but I don’t trust our adversaries – I believe what they say. It’s the third group I’d like to ruffle. Those who watch but never really play. Osama bin-Fergeson and the ABA have told you what’s next. Why don’t you believe them? If you do believe them what have you personally done to make sure their vision of the Credit Union Movement doesn’t become a reality? But, then maybe you don’t think it’s about you. It’s somebody else’s problem, somebody else’s responsibility. If that’s your view, Martin Niemoeller (1897-1984) left you a personal message. Mr. Niemoeller was a very prominent Luthern minister in Berlin in the 1930s. The best and brightest in one of the wealthiest parishes. (And, after World War II, Mr. Niemoeller later became head of the World Council of Churches.) Mr. Niemoeller said this: “In Germany, first they came for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then, they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then, they came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then, they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me.” I do apologize to you for the debate – a disaster! I do not apologize to you for what I believe. The folks I work with and the members I work for are not parasites. Most are blue collared, rough hands kind of folks trying to make ends meet each month. The ABA is lying about who gets hurt if credit unions disappear. So what are you going to do about it? Only a parasite would let someone else do the dirty work – right? Need a BAB’s T-shirt, let me know.