The Cooperators Podcast Episode 10 Chuck Conner NCFC on Farmers and Cooperatives

No country produces the agricultural bounty that the US does. We eat better, at lower costs, than anywhere else – and most of that food is produced through farmer owned cooperatives. That’s why you want to meet Chuck Conner, CEO of NCFC, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

Ask Conner what the number one issue facing his members is and the answer is blunt: immigration. The estimate is that the nation’s farms are worked on by over one million workers lacking proper documentation to work legally in the United States. Take them away and, poof, there goes the agricultural bounty because those workers comprise over half of the workforce on farms.

“Congress can’t seem to grapple with this,” said Conner and he chose his words carefully. But also honestly.

Conner also tells in this podcast why a generation ago it was not common to proudly wave the flag of a farmers cooperative – and today that fact is proudly pronounced as more consumers want to know what where their food comes from.

Want to know how to keep eating right? Listen to this podcast as Conner takes us on a tour of agri-business for the past century.

CU2.0 Podcast Episode 31 Mike Reuter Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions

From the Ukraine to Ireland and Dominica, this podcast travels the globe with Mike Reuter, executive director of the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, as he shares stories of the challenges faced by credit unions and also the generous willingness of other credit unions executives to help. Exhibit one may be the rebuilding of the Dominica credit union sector after that island’s economy was flattened in a 2017 hurricane.  Credit union execs want to help and they do. It’s an inspiring podcast that shines a light on what’s special about credit unions. 

Stay tuned. In a week or two a second podcast will post with another WOCCU executive as we travel around the world to see the challenges internationally and how the US fits in.

Listening to “CU2.0 Podcast Episode 31 Mike Reuter Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions” at

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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

How to Cross Borders with Cannabis, Maybe

By Robert McGarvey

The sign smacked me in the face in Montreal’s airport: Crossing international borders with cannabis is illegal.

You won’t miss that sign. It’s big and there are many for instances.  I also saw similar in the Halifax cruise port.

Pot is legal in Canada but what you buy there you smoke there.

And as for cruising and pot, it’s a line by line thing but the country’s biggest, Carnival, has issued a definitive ban:

What happens if a guest gets caught smoking marijuana?

Any illegal substances will be confiscated and the guest will be reported to the appropriate authorities.  Additionally, the guest may be subject to a $500 charge, risks being disembarked from the ship and may not be allowed to sail with Carnival in the future.”

Welcome to the smoke gets in your eyes weirdness of today’s laws and rules where it may seem this all has become a Cheech and Chong movie.  In my other role as a credit union commentator I have created a two part podcast on Cannabis Banking where the problem is that in some states – California, Vermont, Maine and a number of others – marijuana is legal for adult use, no questions asked.  In most other states it is legal for medical uses and generally that requires a prescription from a physician. A state by state map is here.  

But and it’s a huge but cannabis is illegal under federal law and assets can be seized from those engaged in cannabis businesses.  Ouch. Yes, there are indications that the law won’t be enforced but this is a fickle Washington DC where things can and do change.  So the biggest financial services players are holding back from pot accounts.

Those uncertainties don’t directly apply to consumers – you and me – but they highlight exactly how confusing the legal realities around cannabis are.

For instance: question – is it legal to transport marijuana across state lines?  Say you legally score in Blythe CA  and you drive onto I-10 and head into Arizona.  The purchase was legal but Arizona allows only medical marijuana, so are you ok? In a word, no.  Here’s the legal reasoning.

Cautious experts even advise against crossing from one all legal state – California, say – into another – Nevada, say.

It’s not just leaf that’s involved. The Canadian government for instance warns against transporting cannabis oil cross border.  

At least some experts insist it is legal to fly in the US with cannabis oil however.

But the TSA says nope, don’t fly with pot or with CBD oil.  

Matters get murkier when international travel is involved.  The CDC has a useful sheet about travel with prescription medicine and, really, the same issues arise with Oxycontin, Vicodin, methedrine, and a bunch of sleeping pills as with marijuana and related products.  Just because you have a US prescription does not mean the drug is legal in your destination country.

Notes the CDC: “Medicines that are commonly prescribed or available over the counter in the United States could be considered unlicensed or controlled substances in other countries. For example, in Japan, some inhalers and certain allergy and sinus medications are illegal.”

The CDC advice is to contact the embassy of the countries you plan to visit and specifically inquire into bringing prescription drugs in.  Be persistent and specific. Some countries are more helpful than others.

Also consult the country by country reporting of the International Narcotics Control Board.  

Might it be simpler to travel with no drugs and to get a prescription from a local doctor on arrival (a hotel doc for instance)? Maybe yes.  But before counting on this ask your hotel about availability of a local physician and also find out if the drug you want is in fact sold in China, Russia, or wherever.  And bring a note from your physician that explains why you need the medicine.

All this also applies to CBD oil where matters get murkier still because some oil has essentially zero THC content (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) and other samples have measurable THC which could make the oil illegal. The zero THC oils *should* be legal just about everywhere but, remember, this is all the stuff of Cheech and Chong weirdness where nothing is really certain.

And the stakes get higher when international borders are crossed.

In much of the world marijuana and related products are illegal – or at the very least not legal.  

About now you need a big toke because all this vagary is driving you off the edge? Understandable.

Question: you want to use CBD oil when you are in county X – should you bring it with you or buy it there?  Consistent advice is don’t bring it with you. It very likely is legal where you are heading – here’s a list.  Everything from China to Ireland and Slovenia makes the list.  

But crossing the international border makes this a different, iffier matter.

Again, ask at the embassy – be persistent. And don’t be shy about asking for help at the hotel where you will be registered.

And if you say you remain confused, join the club.  It is confusing. But by asking lots of questions you very probably will stay on the safe side of the law.

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 9 Stuart Reid Food Co-Op Initiative

Want to control what you eat? Of course you do. Join a food co-op and become a member-owner.

Across the country there are maybe 350 to 400 food co-ops and, said Stuart Reid, executive director of the Food Co-op Initiative, many more are attempting to form. That’s his turf. The organization has helped some 140 food co-ops form in the past 11 years. Reid knows what a co-op needs to do to actually open and he tells how in this podcast.

A lot has to do with money but Reid tells how many would-be food co-ops are finding support from governments at various levels. That’s encouraging.

He also tells why food co-ops matter. It comes down to really serving the community and that’s what food co-ops do.

This podcast is everything you always wanted to know about grocery co-ops but didn’t know whom to ask. Ask Stuart Reid – that’s what I did and he gives the details.

In spots the audio quality is scratchy. It’s audible but it may sound like an old vinyl record on a wobbly turntable. Sorry. Just the vagaries of Voip.

Try and you’ll hear it all fine.

Listen up.

CU2.0 Podcast Episode 30 Brett King on Banking Tomorrow

You don’t want to listen to this podcast.

But you need to.

What banking futurist Brett King paints is a dystopian picture of financial services tomorrow where, increasingly, consumers want frictionless money transactions, they don’t give a hoot about banks vs. non banks, and they have no interest in a relationship with a one stop financial services provider.

Credit unions still think they are special. Think again, warns King.

What matters today is digital. Period. Sure, King, as the founder of digital bank Moven, has a bias.

But he very probably is right.

Financial institutions are getting left behind as the biggest banks get bigger – lots bigger – and fintechs gobble up profitable slices of the financial services pie.

Along the way in this provocative conversation, King talks about the new Apple credit card, why Apple Pay has stalled, and the inevitability of real time banking.

It’s a look into tomorrow.

And, yes, it may sound like a horror film.

But at least when you know what’s ahead you can start preparing for it.

Listen here.

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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.

Travel Companies Are Hacker Targets Because You Are

By Robert McGarvey

Probably your principal travel providers – airlines, hotels, online travel agencies, and the like – know a lot of information about you, very sensitive information, perhaps including passport number, driver’s license details, credit card information, and loyalty program details.

The bad news is that, increasingly, travel companies are hacker favorites, ranking second or third among the chief targets.

You already know that hotel restaurants, bars, and gift shops are under relentless assault – so much so that my loud advice is to never use a debit card in them, really try hard not to use a credit card, and pay cash to maintain safety.

And then there have been the many attacks on hotel loyalty programs.  

But what IBM is talking about is something different.  Sophisticated nation state players are suspected of hacking into travel company databases in a  search for information about travelers.

“I don’t see that slowing down any time soon. If you’re a nation state, you’re building large scale databases of people because the more you understand about people, the more you can manipulate and extort,” said Caleb Barlow, an IBM vice president, at a recent Amadeus event in Madrid.  

He added, according to Phocuswire reporting on the event,  “Not all attacks want to leverage the information straight away. Nation states might want to use it in 20 years.”

That has to scare you.  

Do you want a nation such as Saudi Arabia or Hungary or Russia to have your travel history and preferences at their disposal?

Do you want the US to have it?

A morsel of good news is that, recently, per IBM’s Barlow, many hackers have shifted from data exfiltration to cryptojacking, which is putting victim computers to use mining cryptocurrencies for money.  

Travel sites too appear to be victims of this. What impact might that have on travelers? Hard to say, since currency mining as such shouldn’t impact a consumer’s data. But when a hacker has control of the computers it stands to reason he/she would also pull out useful data to keep or to sell, simply to optimize the financial return of the hack.  So I don’t see cryptojacking as mutually exclusive with data exfiltration. Not hardly.

Exactly what can you do to protect yourself in an age where travel sites are getting hacked?

I play with the idea of registering under a false identity, using, say, a good quality but fake Irish driver’s license and a fake passport.  The problem of course is that fakes won’t pass scrutiny by government employees such as TSA.  At a hotel, sure, I believe fakes generally will work fine.  Note: I am not advocating scamming hotels, just creating false data trails that when stolen by a hacker will deadend.

But then there’s the problem of my data that already is in the system at multiple hotel groups, airlines, and assorted other travel vendors.  A new, fake identity won’t erase the past, accurate data.

So here’s what I am doing in response to the epidemic hacking at travel providers: going online, stripping out all data that isn’t needed and filling in false data where possible — challenge questions for instance. There is no need whatsoever to use your father’s real middle name in a challenge.  The only requirement is knowing what fake name you used.

My sense is that it is easier and safer to use substantial fake data with hotels.  Not so much with airlines.

And keep remembering that ever more travel company data is in the hands of hackers.  

Remember too that the hackers often appear to be highly skilled and that means the worse news is that very possibly there are plenty of hacks that so far have gone undetected. But our data may be leaking out.

That puts the burden on you.  Keep monitoring financial accounts and regularly – at least yearly – look at a credit report.  I also check my credit score monthly (free via various banks, credit unions, and credit card issuers).

But the sticky issue is if the thefts are by nation states with no intent to monetize the data via fraud it just may be impossible to divine what data has been copied.

That’s maddening.

But it also is reality.

CU 2.0 Podcast Episode 29: Freeborn on “Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union”

$100 million. That’s the projected three year budget for the CUNA “Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union” campaign.

Teresa Freeborn, CEO of Xceed Financial Credit Union, chairs the CUNA effort which she – make no mistake – sees as crucial in the longterm survival and prosperity of credit unions.

The campaigns blends research with marketing – much of it online – to reach out to a generation of consumers that simply may not even consider credit unions as a financial services option.

Ouch. It hurts to be ignored. But that is a credit union reality and that also is the why of the CUNA campaign.

A central mission of the campaign: raising consumer awareness of the benefits of credit unions as a different, better category of financial services providers. That’s ambitious. But it just may be critical in the industry’s survival.

In this podcast Freeborn tells the story of the campaign’s launch, it’s current status, and it’s hoped for future. She also blends in her perspective as the longtime CEO of a large credit union.

Listen up – your survival may depend on it.

Podcast here.

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 8 Alex Stone CooperationWorks!

Alex Stone’s business is this: helping new cooperatives to start and helping existing ones to mature and do better. That’s the core mission of CooperationWorks! where she serves as executive director.

How is she doing? The podcast opens with a simple question: how many new co-ops form in a year?  Stone explains exactly why that question is a lot harder to answer than you might think.

For Stone cooperatives got into her being early, during her student days at UC Berkeley where she lived in co-op housing and was also involved in a food collective.

Cooperatives, she saw, just work better in many cases.

That’s why she relishes her role in helping all kinds of cooperatives and in this wide ranging podcast she discusses worker owned cooperatives, housing co-ops, grocery co-ops and a lot more.

A key CooperationWorks! function is providing training to would-be cooperators and also board members. We just aren’t born knowing how to prosper in a cooperative system – but we can learn how to do it.

Another role of the organization is gathering data about co-ops but, as Stone readily admits, data is slim in many cases.

Buckle up for a fast ride into cooperatives today and tomorrow.

Why Business Travelers Are Tired and Hungry

by Robert McGarvey

Two facts about my state when I return home after a multi night business trip: I am tired, exhausted if the trip has been over a week, and I am hungry for a decent meal.

You probably are too. Exhaustion and hunger are baked into today’s business travel.

Tell me again about the sybaritic joys of business travel.

I still hear people describing business travel that way. I just don’t see it in my life.

Did I ever? You bet. Forty years ago, when I was introduced to business travel as a cog in the oil industry, we lived pretty good. Our hotels were mainline brands – think Hilton and Sheraton and Hyatt — but we ate well indeed and we drank very, very well (too much, honestly, but this was the Mad Men era).

No more.

We stay in the same level hotels – in my world a J.W. is a stretch and don’t ever try for a Ritz Carlton – and the big brand hotels are fine, honestly, at least by my standards.

I do grumble about how little I sleep and I am not alone. None of us sleep well, apparently.

That’s partly why I am so tired when I return home after a trip.

A new Intercontinental survey reports that we sleep on average five hours and seventeen minutes per night on the road. Some of that sleep deprivation is just our discomfort in an unfamiliar environment but a lot of it is because our schedules are jammed nowadays. Yes, I am old and I recall when the work day on a business trip ended at 5 p.m. when it was time to occupy the hotel bar (and when employers did not question bar tabs, they just reimbursed them).

But we are in a different era where every business travel day is scripted and long.

But the impact on sleep is just the start of the impacts on how we live on the road.

What has really plummeted downhill is the eating and drinking.

I wish I could say, oh, on my latest trip to New York, I dined on a great steak at Wolfgang’s but that rarely happens (in fact I recall the last time I did, maybe seven years ago).

Time is the issue. Not so much money but time. It goes back to the heavily scripted days which, for me, usually start around 5 a.m. Why so early? There’s email that needs replies, new emails that need to be written, and I know if I don’t get them handled in the early morning they won’t be done. So I am accustomed to waking up when it’s still dark, fiddling with the inroom coffee maker, and getting on email.

About 7 a.m. I am out and looking for a bagel or a hard roll, usually for a solo breakfast, sometimes with a business contact.

Then on to meetings.

Lunch? You bet. According a report from business dining consulting firm Dinova, dining is the third biggest category of business travel expenses (after lodging and airfares); it totaled $77 billion in 2016. So eat we do on the road.

Eat what? Per Dinova, ” For many, local experiences and flavors top the list; a full 77% of business travelers said they prefer to ‘eat like a local’ while traveling. Another 52% said they search for restaurants that are popular with locals, and 49% research food that is unique to their travel destination.”

Sigh. Not me.

Sure, when I can, I head to Katz’s in New York for a pastrami, or I grab a hot dog at Pink’s in LA, or an Italian beef sandwich in Chicago.

But often I can’t. It’s about time. Time that I don’t have.

The Certify expense analysis report more accurately reflects where I eat. Starbuck’s is its number one dining venue. McDonald’s is number two. And I am baffled that my go-to doesn’t place in the top five: Subway. That’s where I eat pretty much every day on a business trip.

Could I expense more than I do? Yep. But I don’t have the time to eat fancier meals. Many nights I’ll grab a Subway sandwich and a diet soda, head up to my room, and work on email and blogs between bites.

Glamorous? If you say so.

But that’s my travel reality and it’s the reality of many of the travelers I know.

Ask me where I’ve eaten my best meals on business trips in recent years and the answer is loud: the Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas or Dallas, where I have supped many times.

How good is the food? Why ask me. I already told you what my best is and that should tell you my qualifications.

The Cooperators Podcast Episode 7 Frank Shipper on Worker Ownership

Worker owned businesses just are better.

Don’t believe me. Believe Frank Shipper, an emeritus professor at Salisbury University in Maryland and editor of a book, Shared Entrepreneurship.

Shipper is a scholar who has spent years studying worker owned businesses – both ESOPs and worker cooperatives – and he really is convinced that in many cases worker owned businesses just outwork their conventionally structured competitors.

Why aren’t there more worker owned businesses? Partly it’s ignorance. Most of us just don’t know that much about them, and many of us confuse them with communes.

There also are issues around raising capital, especially with worker cooperatives.

Shipper, for his part, has labored hard to dispel the ignorance.  And that’s what this podcast is about.