An iffy charity make a short phone call to Seattle

iffy charityThe caller said he was Joel Collins from the Injured American Veterans Foundation. Then the line went dead.

This was the shortest telephone cold call from a charity ever to come into the New To Seattle world headquarters. Despite the call’s brevity, I’m pretty sure Collins was a computer-generated interactive voice ready to make an ask. He/it likely was controlled by some human telemarketer who was monitoring but somehow couldn’t hit the correct computer keys in time to keep the conversation going and get to the pitch.

‘Tis a pity for me, because I had sooooooo many questions. Quick research showed Injured American Veterans Foundation is a trade name of Healing Heroes Network, an eight-year-old Palm Harbor, Fla. “charity.” There’s a reason I use quote marks. My review of HHN’s most recent financial filing, for the year ending December 31, 2014, suggests only about 2% of the $3 million spent went directly to its stated purpose of  “providing financial assistance for quality care to military personnel injured in the line of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan since September 11, 2001.”

In fact, the overwhelming bulk of the money was spent on promotion, marketing, advertising, printed materials, management, overhead and fundraising. Indeed, the largest single recipient was, believe it or not, Facebook, paid $905,711 for what was described as “community outreach.”

I invite you to follow along my financial analysis by downloading HHN’s own tax filing at this link on the Foundation Center website. The information is terribly illuminating. Continue reading

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Disaster-prone Seattle produces a searchable map of disaster

Disaster-prone SeattleTo me, Seattle collectively is a town of secrets, somewhat bereft of candor. The widely used phrase “Seattle Nice” connotes a passive-aggressive culture in which the locals say one thing sweet, then do something else not so sweet. Then there the “Seattle Freeze,” the notion that Seattleites are uncommunicative and unfriendly to newcomers. I am not alone in seeing evidence of both concepts.

So it is refreshing to see the forthrightness expressed by the city government in an interactive Website that just went online. It’s called the Seattle Natural Hazard Explorer. The SNHE allows a user to zoom in and evaluate the propensity of a specific neighborhood or property for a host of natural perils. It’s even possible, as I did, to plot many hazards–among them, earthquakes, landslides, flooding, tsunamis and something especially scary called liquefaction–on the map and eyeball the entire city.

My takeaway: I live in one giant disaster-prone area waiting to happen. Continue reading

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In Seattle, my looooooooong chat with Amazon

chat with AmazonSeattle’s own Amazon.com prides itself on effective customer service. Can’t quite prove it by me recently.

I was having problems downloading the Kindle app onto a new Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Looking around the Internet, I discovered I was not the only one with this difficulty.

So I went to the Kindle part of Amazon.com and tried to get help via the chat function, in which Amazon representatives communicate with customers by exchanging written messages.

What ensued was an epic 94-minute-long chat in which I was in some kind of contact with 18 customer service associates, as they are called at Amazon (including a couple of duplicates and even no-shows). In the end I was told–stunningly–to go outside Amazon for help with its own Kindle product. My problem remains unresolved.

What follows is the transcript of the entire chat, as generated by Amazon and the copy that I copied and stored. (Don’t worry; the back-and-forth can be read in just a few minutes.) I fixed grammar, punctuation, typos and a few other errors. For clarity I put in boldface the appearance of each Amazon rep, in red a running count of the reps and in italics Amazon notifications. To me, New to Seattle, it’s pretty amazing. Continue reading

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Seattle predictions for 2016 (sort of)

Seattle predictions for 2016

George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart, 1797 (via Wikipedia)

This being late December, lists of predictions for the new year are all the rage. For the first time, I’m joining in. But being New To Seattle, I am confining my prognostications to the area.  And the calls I make generally shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Herewith, my Seattle predictions for 2016:

  • Seattle opens more off-leash dog parks than new schools.
  • Amazon.com start a service by which a new home can be ordered online.
  • Although constitutionally barred from running for reelection, President Obama comes to Seattle for another fundraiser without scheduling any free appearances open to the public.
  • Visit Seattle, which used to be Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, starts a new marketing campaign emphasizing Seattle gets less rain than Bangladesh.

Continue reading

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In Seattle, ’twas the night before something

'twas the night before

Prototype (via CNN)

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas*

‘Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through Seattle,
not a tunnel machine was stirring,
ready for battle.

The Viaduct was hung
on its pillars with care
in hopes that the Big One
soon wouldn’t dare.

The pols were nestled
all snug in their beds,
while visions of campaign gifts
danc’d in their heads. Continue reading

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Seattle’s United Way of King County still exaggerates

United Way of King CountyIt’s right up there on the website of United Way of King County. “On average, more than 98 cents of every dollar donated goes to meet community needs.” It’s a claim The Seattle Times swallowed in a recent editorial. “The United Way of King County puts 98 cents of every dollar raised into programs and services,” the paper opined two weeks ago.

Folks, I’m here to tell you that what still may be the nation’s largest United Way unit by donations is financially efficient, but not that efficient. UWKC’s true charitable commitment is, depending on which standard methodology is used, somewhere between 91% and 96%. Put another way, that means the inefficiency in UWKC’s operations is two to four times higher than what UWKC says it is.

As I have written before, UWKC gets its 98% figure by employing a unique accounting methodology that I call Leave Out Almost All Of The Bad Stuff For Public Relations Consumption. I never saw it before becoming New To Seattle, nor have accountants I have consulted elsewhere. And I’ve been writing about charities for a long time. Continue reading

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Scammers invoking the IRS inundate Seattle

IRS scam call

In the last month, I’ve gotten a half-dozen calls at the New To Seattle world headquarters purporting to be from the Internal Revenue Service saying that criminal charges have been filed against me for not paying back taxes. The encounters are so cheesy–caller ID numbers that make no sense, supposed agency employees who speak bad English and assertion of bizarre legal claims and procedures–that it’s hard to imagine people called are fooled by these scammers. But some recipients of these calls are.

I’ve written before about this problem in Seattle. Still, in the spirit of all the calls I get from sketchy charities, allow me to recount my latest encounter this morning with this growing area of chicanery. Continue reading

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A century ago, the Great Seattle Boom was much bigger–and sketchier

Great Seattle Boom

Hiram Gill (via HistoryLink.org)

In five years the population of Seattle has risen 9% from 608,600 to 662,400 (including me, still New To Seattle). That’s a hefty increase of 53,800, a compounded annual rate of 1.6%. The city certainly has been feeling the growing pains, thanks in large part to limited land forming an isthmus between two bodies of water and an infrastructure not really up to the task.

But that rate of growth is nothing compared with the epic boom that exploded hereabouts a century ago. From 1900 to 1920 Seattle’s population rose an astounding 290% from 80,671 to 315,312. That’s a compounded annual rate of 6.5%–four times higher than now.

Whereas the current population boom is fueled mainly by new jobs in technology, the one a century ago was a lot more primeval. Its roots were primarily gold and vice–the latter of which which led to the voter recall of Seattle Mayor Hiram Gill in 1911.

But of course, at the heart of both booms was economics. Continue reading

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Seattle homeless problem dates back to arrival of first gringos

Seattle homeless

Arthur A. Denny

Tomorrow is the 164th anniversary of the day the first group of gringos arrived at what would become the great city of Seattle. On November 13, 1851, the so-called Denny Party–10 adults and 12 children led by Arthur A. Denny, a 29-year-old surveyor from Cherry Grove, Ill.–pulled up around noon in a schooner named Exact on Alki Point, across Elliott Bay from the future downtown area.

Now, the 164th anniversary of anything generally occasions little notice. But I find it noteworthy given the current concern in Seattle about what to do about all the homeless folks. That’s because Arthur A. Denny et al. were sort of the original homeless folks of Seattle. Their initial lodgings starting that day consisted of a single unfinished log cabin without a roof–not exactly a home for the climate of Seattle, which gets pretty wet every year by, oh, November 13.

One of the newcomers, William Bell, later wrote that on that first rainy day the five women in the party “sat down on the logs and took a big cry.” It’s not hard to imagine why. Continue reading

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It was a dark and rainy day in Seattle (and now the news)

Weather forecast starting today on KING5.com

Weather forecast starting today on KING5.com

Kicking in a little later than normal, it looks like the dark and rainy season of Seattle–which is most of the year, actually–is finally beginning. After an alternating week of rain and sun, forecasters think there will be significant precipitation–with not much sun–for at least the next seven days.

Seattle remains the only one of the many places that I have lived in over the decades where “sunbreaks” regularly are part of a forecast (look at Sunday on the display above). The forecasters simply may be doing their best to bolster local spirits. The TV weather dogs probably could have stretched out that rain prediction for about eight months, and not be wrong any more than usual.

Seattle weather, especially the rain, has been fodder for late-night comedians. Many news outlets around the country had great fun a few years ago when Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn, the newly crowned Miss Seattle, got caught tweeting “can’t stand cold rainy Seattle.” The weather here is even the stuff of legend, almost a tourist attraction like the Gum Wall under Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. Indeed, a friend visiting recently from that desert known as Los Angeles actually stood in the rain on a downtown sidewalk for a moment, saying he wanted a true Seattle experience. Continue reading

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One Seattle ballot question will test intelligence of new voters

Seattle ballot questionIn the U.S., one big difference between state-level elections in the East and the West is the widespread presence in much of the latter of ballot measures. I don’t mean bond issues–they are found almost everywhere–but initiatives, referendums and proposals to raise property taxes. Products of the Progressive Era, ballot measures reflect a suspicion of and limit on elected representative democracy. Still, sorting out motives can be an illuminating and even entertaining endeavor that says something about the local condition.

For instance, one Seattle ballot question next week appears to me to reflect the belief by city officials that the hoards of young people moving to Seattle for all those high tech jobs actually aren’t all that smart. Continue reading

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A marketing plea to support OFFSIDE: A Mystery

This is a rare post on my part of unabashed OFFSIDE: A Mysteryself-interest.

As part of an effort to market my debut novel, OFFSIDE: A Mystery, please click RIGHT HERE. This will take you to a promotion page called Thunderclap. On that page, click one of the “support” boxes (Facebook, Twitter or Tumbler). You’re not under any obligation to buy anything (although I would be thrilled if you did).

The promotion folks with the book publisher tell me this will generate insane attention and, hopefully, a few sales. Thanks to all who visit or follow.

For those unfamiliar with the conceit of OFFSIDE, an adult referee of youth soccer in a ritzy Los Angeles suburb at the peak of the real estate bubble in 2006 is murdered. Suspicion quickly centers on a Latino coach with a gang background upset over an offside call by the ref, especially after footage of the rant pops up on YouTube.

The book contains a fair amount of social commentary and history about soccer parents, soccer, Southern California, finance and race relations. The reviewer at a Latina book blog in Los Angeles called OFFSIDE “enlightening and thought-provoking.”

Without giving away the ending, here are the novel’s last two words: “Alan Greenspan.” You can learn more about the book, and me, by clicking here.

It is, of course, a total coincidence that I have been a soccer referee for 18 years, long before becoming New To Seattle, and that part of that time, including the year 2006, was spent officiating in the Los Angeles area. Hopefully, the novel won’t be too personally prescient.

Meanwhile, the regularly scheduled programming here will resume soon.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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Sixth candidate in Seattle for ‘America’s Stupidest Charities’

America's Stupidest CharitiesThe telephone caller was working for the National Police and Troopers Association. He said the organization provided help to families of cops killed in the line of duty. Would I make a small financial pledge and return it in an envelope I would be sent? It certainly seemed like a pitch for a charity.

The caller said his name was something that sounded like Ken Doherty. But it might have been Ken Dougherty, Ken Daugherty or some other spelling. I didn’t know. So I politely asked him to spell his name for me.

Click.

Ken promptly hung up without uttering another word. Some questions, I suppose, are just too difficult.

But I already knew the general answer. That’s because I once wrote up in this space the NPTA, a trade name used by the International Union of Police Associations AFL-CIO. I called the organization “among the scuzziest” outfits trolling for money in Seattle. Why? It outrageously misrepresented what it did and spent next to nothing on anything remotely connected with good works.

Besides “scuzziest,” I now can make the IUPA/NPTA the sixth candidate for my long-running list of America’s Stupidest Charities. The criteria is pretty simple: charities that call the New To Seattle world headquarters asking for money despite being the subject of a previous critical post. Can it get any dumber than that?

(Maybe. This organization also is severely challenged by spelling. It can’t even agree on its own name. The official NPTA website home page calls it the “National Police and Troopers Association”–Troopers in the plural. But an official badge, reproduced above, that was on the site until a few days ago uses “Trooper”–singular. In his call to me, Ken He-Who-Can’t-Spell-His-Last-Name also used Trooper in the singular.) Continue reading

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From Seattle area, one on, one off, new Forbes 400 list

Forbes 400The new Forbes 400 list of the, well, 400 richest Americans was released today. Led again by Bill Gates, the Seattle-area contingent still numbers eight, including four of the top 26. But there’s been a slight change in the lineup.

Gabe Newell, the co-founder of Valve Corp., the video game store, is on the list for the first time at No. 307, with a net worth of $2.2 billion. He’s been on previous Forbes lists of the world’s billionaires (put at $1.3 billion in March, so he’s had a good half-year ride). But that list includes any billionaire. The U.S., on the other hand, is so lousy with billies that not all of them can make the Forbes 400. Continue reading

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Is the Seattle boom about to implode?

Downtown Seattle

Downtown Seattle

The latest national traffic congestion list just came out, and the Seattle area ranked No. 7. That’s really no surprise to folks who live in the isthmus that is Seattle. But it’s likely going to get a lot worse. People are pouring in here for jobs, and the infrastructure just isn’t ready for ’em. The city is becoming a poster child for inept urban planning.

In their infinite wisdom, city and state leaders are working on a project that will will reduce from six to four the number of lanes on one of the only two north-south limited-access roads in Seattle. (That is, if the project is every completed; this is the famous Tunnel Sinking Seattle.) While somewhat extensive, the mass transit system is slow and inefficient, even when mudslides don’t shut down the only commuter railroad from north of the city, as they have hundreds of times over the past decade.

Meanwhile, The Seattle Times just came out against a proposal on the November ballot to raise taxes for transit purposes. The paper pointed out the large number of mismanaged, delayed and over-budget infrastructure projects that adorn the Seattle area, like Starbucks coffee shops. Continue reading

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The Rime of the Seattle Mariners (reprise)

Rime of the Seattle MarinersThe firing today of Seattle Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik, whose seven-year reign produced five losing seasons and no playoff trips, called to mind my April 2012 post, shortly after becoming New To Seattle, about the seeming lack of local enthusiasm for the baseball team. The post seems worth repeating below.

————–

Okay. I grew up around Philadelphia, where rooting for the Phillies was an article of faith even though for much of my formulative years it was a crappy, disappointing team playing in a falling-apart stadium in a bad part of town. We talked baseball all the time, even when the Phils hit the National League cellar four straight seasons, including, in 1961, their epic 23-game losing streak. That’s still the MLB record for this century and the last. It wasn’t until 1980 that the Phillies won their first-ever World Series–two months after I had moved to Houston.

But there I had the Astros, which had a decent following and baseball’s first indoor stadium as a respite from the city’s drenching heat, rain and humidity. Later, I lived in other places where, despite ups and downs, baseball fanaticism was legendary: New York, Los Angeles and even Albuquerque. When I resided there during the 1994 major league baseball strike, the Dodgers triple-A farm team, the Albuquerque Dukes, won the Pacific Coast League title and a claim to be the best professional baseball team not on a picket line.

Then I became New To Seattle.

In my 10 months here, the Seattle Mariners have been mentioned in my presence maybe twice. One was by an acquaintance who happens to own a small share of the team. I can’t remember the other instance, but I’m just being cautious. Continue reading

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Charity trolling in Seattle is sued for fraud by a donor

charity trollingThis could get interesting.

A Florida lawyer who got a telephone call asking for money on behalf of a charity frequently criticized in this space has filed a small-clams-court lawsuit alleging fraud and deceptive practices.

The civil lawsuit by St. Petersburg lawyer Matthew D. Weidner names Breast Cancer Research and Support Fund; its parent unit, Community Charity Advancement, of Pompano Beach, Fla.; and something called The Fundraising Center. The action, which alleges “furtherance of a fraudulent charitable solicitation scheme,” was filed on August 14 in the Small Claims Division of Pinellas County Court and carries the case number 15-006598-SC.

I sent a request for comment about the lawsuit to BCRSF/CCA through its website and will update this if I hear back. Based on my past experience with this charity, that’s not too likely. Continue reading

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The Miser–‘worst statue in Seattle’–is quietly replaced

The Miser

The Miser, formerly outside the Grand Hyatt Seattle

More than three years ago, as part of a series on local public art called “Monumental Seattle,” I wrote about “The Miser,” sitting just outside the entrance to the Grand Hyatt Seattle at 721 Pine Street. The bronze sculpture, fashioned in 1997 by Tom Otterness, whimsically depicted class struggle. A cartoonish tycoon hands a coin to a down-and-outer, with both standing on a globe supported by other tycoons. (For other installments of my public-art series, click here, here and here.)

I thought “The Miser” was brilliant. But not everyone shared my view. Paul Constant, a writer at The Stranger, the well-read local alternative weekly, had been offended by the juxtaposition of such political commentary with the fancy hotels and restaurants along one of downtown Seattle’s fanciest strips. He wrote in 2008, “The aggravating combination of weak satire and poor location makes this the worst statue in Seattle.”

Still, it came as a surprise last week when a visitor to New To Seattle posted this comment under my 2012 story: “Do you know where ‘The Miser’ went?”

I hot-footed it downtown to look. Gone! Missing in action! And, it turns out, recently replaced–quietly–by a more innocuous piece of art. Continue reading

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Seattle upzoning proposal collapses like the Mariners

Seattle upzoning

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (via Wikipedia)

Well, that didn’t last long.

Barely two weeks ago, I wrote about a radical proposal from a Seattle committee that would allow single-family homes virtually anywhere in this city of neighborhoods to be torn down and replaced with multi-family units. The upzoning proposal, intended to generate more housing at lower cost, was staunchly backed in its entirety by liberal Mayor Ed Murray and, it seemed, a majority of the liberal City Council, whose approval would be needed for zoning-rule changes. I suggested that Seattle, a city of neighborhoods, might end up looking like no-zoning Houston, and wondered if a homeowner revolt here might ensue.

It did.

Last week, Murray completely bailed on the Seattle upzoning bid. “I will no longer pursue changes that could allow more types of housing in 94 percent of single-family zones,” he said in a statement that killed the proposal as surely as the chances of the faltering Seattle Mariners making the baseball playoffs this year.

Murray blamed “sensationalized reporting by a few media outlets” for fanning a local uproar. Perish the thought that a dumb policy proposal potentially affecting almost every homeowner should be blamed. Continue reading

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NewToSeattle.com quoted on Seattle racial profiling

Seattle racial profilingIn its August issue, glossy Seattle Magazine contains a story entitled, “Is Nextdoor.com Becoming a Home for Racial Profiling?” The article, by Linda Morgan, focused on the growth of Nextdoor web sites in neighborhoods across the country and especially in Seattle. Nextdoor.com has partnered with the Seattle Police Department in what has been described as an effort to fight crime.

Back in March, I wrote here about a debate on Nextdoor Magnolia, which covers my neighborhood, that seemed to touch on Seattle racial profiling. My post somehow caught a wider attention.

The Seattle Magazine article can be read by clicking here.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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