Police nonprofit soliciting around Seattle mainly benefited fundraiser

police nonprofitEvery so often, the New To Seattle world headquarters gets a query about a nonprofit that hasn’t yet called to ask for money. This latest question came from someone in the Seattle area asking about the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, which had made a pitch for a contribution. “What is your opinion of these folks?” the email said. “I have given before, but your comments on this type of subject makes me ask.”

After looking at its most recent filings with regulators, for 2013, I have formed an opinion. It isn’t great, although I’ve seen worse in the law enforcement realm. Continue reading

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In hot weather, residents of A/C-less Seattle head for their cool basements

A/C-less Seattle

Seattle weather on Sunday, July 19 (via KOMO)

At a recent block party, some of my Seattle neighbors talked about how they made it through the recent string of hot nights. “We slept in the basement for a week,” one said. “It was fine.”

Now your image of Seattle might be that of a technologically up-to-date metropolis with all the modern trappings. That largely would be true. But one thing is in short supply: air conditioning. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 16% of all housing units in the Seattle metro area has central air, compared with a national average of 65%. (and 58% in the Philadelphia area, where I grew up). Among units occupied by renters, the local cooling rate is only 7%. One doesn’t see a lot of window units, either.

Fortunately for those in Seattle who live in a single-family house, there generally is a basement. And thanks to the coolness of the surrounding earth, the basement temperature during the summer is (in my experience) about 15 degrees cooler than the upstairs and the outside. So if it is, say, 95 degrees (the record-tying temperature on Sunday and the hottest day of the year), the basement will be a comfortable 80 degrees or so, and a lot lower at night. With no cost of electricity, either. Continue reading

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Will upzoning Seattle resemble no-zoning Houston?

upzoning SeattleSome 35 years ago in 1980, I moved from the East Coast to Houston as it was experiencing an epic boom. Houston was (and remains) the largest city in the U.S. without zoning. So in some of the older neighborhoods, I saw all kinds of anomalies, but especially multiple town homes or multi-family housing crammed onto a single lot. It didn’t always make for a pleasant streetscape. Few lists of well-planned or scenic cities have included Houston.

upzoning Seattle

Downtown areas of Houston (top) and Seattle

I’m wondering if Seattle–also in the midst of an epic boom–is about to go the way of Houston when it comes to land-use planning. A proposal leaked to The Seattle Times and now confirmed by city officials would do away with a central tenet of traditional zoning: Single-family-home areas in which just one living unit can be on a single lot.

A Seattle panel is recommending an almost-anything-goes approach. In effect, the plan would give a green light to developers to, say, buy and tear down an small, older house–or maybe a string of them on a block–and put up higher-density housing. Ed Murray, the liberal mayor, seems to have given this “upzoning” scheme his blessing, although it would need City Council approval. Continue reading

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When–not if–the Big One hits Seattle

big one hits SeattleConsider this a rare New To Seattle guest post, of sorts. Click here to read a story in the July 20 issue of The New Yorker by Kathryn Schultz. The not-so-understated headline:

Annals of Seismology


An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.

Not much for me to add here.

The same geology that makes Seattle very beautiful also makes it very dangerous.

Which is why, albeit with a ridiculously high deductible, I carry earthquake insurance.

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

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Nominee for ‘America’s Stupidest Charities’ list calls again in Seattle

America's Stupidest CharitiesHe went by Mike. Mike McCann. And he wanted money from me. Now.

On the phone recently, Mike said he worked for American Veterans Support Foundation, part of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation. Mike said the organization was based in Eatontown, N.J., did good work for veterans in need and was hopeful I could aid the cause. And oh yes, he was recording the call.

Mike had a smooth pitch. But then I asked him to spell his last name.

After a pause, he simply repeated his full name. No spelling.

I asked him again to spell his last name.

Another pause. “That’s okay,” he finally said. “We’ll call back at another time.” Mike hung up.

The likely reason there were pauses is that Mike actually was an interactive computer controlled by a handler monitoring the conversation and deciding on responses by hitting a keyboard. The handler probably decided to cut and run.

But I knew about the AVSF/NVVF. A lot, actually. That’s because it was the first nominee to a list I started last year of “America’s Stupidest Charities.” The criteria is simple: nonprofits that contact the New To Seattle world headquarters asking for money even though they already had been the subject of a negative write-up by the New To Seattle world headquarters. Can it get dumber than that?

My earlier description was negative for the same reason now. AVSF/NVVF blew almost all the money raised on fundraising costs and spent precious little on stuff that reasonably could be called veterans support.

So I hereby again nominate AVSF/NVVF for my list. Continue reading

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National prayer breakfast movement began in unchurched Seattle

national prayer breakfast

Abraham Vereide (via Wikipedia)

Seattle ranks high on lists of the country’s least religious cities. Sperling’s Best Places figures that only 38% of Seattleites profess a religious affiliation, compared with a national average of 49%. The Public Religion Research Institute reckons that Seattle, tied with San Francisco, is the country’s second most godless city (behind Portland, Ore.). Among the country’s 100 largest metro areas, Seattle/Tacoma placed No. 7 on a list of highest percentage of adults who have not attended any service in the past six months. That squared with a Gallup Poll that said only 2% of all Washington State residents attend religious services weekly, tying the state for next-to-last place (behind Vermont).

Still New To Seattle, I found it surprising and interesting to read in a newly published book tracing the intertwining of capitalism and Christian religion that the National Prayer Breakfast, the famous annual Washington, D.C. religious event attended by top governmental leaders, got its start 80 years ago as a local tradition in Seattle. And one grounded in conservative politics, to boot.

According to One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, by Kevin M. Kruse, the prayer breakfast movement was started in 1935 by Abraham Vereide, a Methodist minister in Seattle who went by Abram. Vereide gathered local business executives to pray and fight the worsening poverty of the Depression–as well as Communism, labor unions, anti-free market philosophies and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. Vereide’s conservative movement based on trickle-down economics and what he called the leadership skills of “key man” Jesus spread across Seattle, then to other cities and eventually to both houses of Congress in the Other Washington.

In 1953 Vereide was instrumental, along with Billy Graham, in staging the first national prayer breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel. The attendance of the new president, Dwight Eisenhower, insured its significance. More than 60 years later, the once-a-year National Prayer Breakfast is still going strong, held on the first Thursday of each February at the Washington Hilton. President Obama has been a frequent attendee.

Vereide is a figure largely lost to history, especially in Seattle. He is rarely noted here, even though he was a prominent pastor and founder of the local Goodwill Industries operation that nearly a century later still dominates the thrift store scene. Looking at Seattle Public Library databases, I can’t find a single reference to Vereide in the pages of The Seattle Times since the aftermath of his heart attack death at age 82 in 1969. Nor is there any mention of him at all on HistoryLink.org, the comprehensive online encyclopedia of Washington State history. Even the Goodwill Seattle website completely omits his name. Continue reading

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In Seattle Confederate flag is on open public display

Seattle Confederate flag

Confederate Veterans Memorial, Lake View Cemetery, Seattle.

In light of the Charleston black church massacre, South Carolina lawmakers have begun debating whether the Confederate flag–a favored emblem of accused killer Dylann Roof and the symbol of the pro-slavery South in the Civil War–should be removed from the state capital grounds in Columbia.

That also could be an interesting debate here in Seattle. For 89 years, one of the several versions of the Confederate flag has adorned the top of the Confederate Veteran’s Memorial in venerable Lake View Cemetery, located on Capitol Hill.

What, you don’t believe liberal Seattle has a monument to the racist forces of the Civil War, let alone an open display of its most famous symbol? Nearby is a photo of the monument that I took just this morning. The monument sits amid assorted Nordstroms, Dennys, Seattle mayors and the one-and-only Bruce Lee, the martial arts film star who married a Seattle girl.

Seattle confederate flag

Confederate flag engraved in cross atop the memorial

Also nearby is a close-up photo of the cross at the top in which the Confederate flag is engraved in metal.

But that was not the only local reminder of a dark period in American history. State Highway 99, which runs from Canada to Oregon through Seattle as Aurora Avenue N and the Alaska Way Viaduct, was once named Jefferson Davis Highway after the Confederacy’s president. A bid to change the name died in the Legislature in 2002, although it’s not used anymore. Continue reading

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Not far from Seattle, Spokane is perfect setting for Rachel Dolezal scandal

Rachel Dolezal scandal

Rachel Dolezal interviewed on the Today show

Spokane, Washington State’s second largest city after Seattle, is such a perfect setting for the saga of Rachel Dolezal. She’s the local NAACP chapter president who just left her position amid claims she falsified her racial background as well as hate mail she received. The long recorded history of the Spokane area is so full of sharpies trying to pull fast ones on innocents that Forbes in 2009 published a full-blown story calling the town the “Fraud Capital Of America.”

I was the writer of that article, published two years before becoming New To Seattle and taking up residence a mere 280 miles west of Spokane. I also was the author of two earlier lists published in the magazine recounting even more of the many scams that has given Spokane, shall we say, a special aura. The headline over the first list–way back in 2002–was “Probably Not Mentioned In Chamber Of Commerce Literature.” The second, published in 2006: “The Spokane Hustle Continues.”

All this deception and other questionable conduct took place in a metro area that, although the most populous between Minneapolis and Seattle, until recently had fewer than 500,000 residents. That’s a pretty small population base for so much smelly stuff.

Allow me to rehash some of this simply delectable material. Continue reading

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Seattle liberalism: illegal to smoke in parks, but no penalty

Seattle liberalismThe much-vaunted liberalism of Seattle is about to get an interesting test. The city is making it illegal to use tobacco in its many public parks. But violators will face no fine or jail time. Instead, they will get a talking-to by park rangers or police who–amazingly, if you ask me–also will try to persuade them into giving up their habit.

In 2010 Seattle parks barred use of tobacco within 25 feet of another park-goer. The number of $27 citations issued since then: zero.

Still, despite this total lack of enforcement, city officials deemed it necessary to ban use altogether. E-cigarettes and vape pens will be allowed on the theory they aid in smoking cessation.

But after complaints the rule might be used to harass the poor and homeless who sleep in parks–and apparently also need smokes to survive–the city Board of Park Commissioners really watered it down. There would be no penalty for violators, although repeat offenders could get hit with a trespassing charge. Continue reading

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Alaska-Seattle tension goes back a long time

Alaska-Seattle tension

Protestors surround yellow Shell oil rig in Port of Seattle (via KING5)

Seattle just can’t stay out of the national news. The latest bug light for media everywhere was the colorful flotilla of kayaks and other vessels last month surrounding a Royal Dutch Shell oil rig docked at the Port of Seattle intended for deployment in Alaska. Seattle environmentalists are trying to stop new drilling for oil in the Arctic.

Given that most of the gasoline sold in SUV-heavy Seattle comes from oil taken from Alaska, this protest registered a significant reading on my hypocrisy meter. But it’s also interesting from a historical standpoint. For upwards of a century Seattle has been telling Alaska what to do, and Alaskans haven’t been too happy about it. Continue reading

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Beacon Hill tops Seattle ‘hoods in letter carrier dog attacks

It was once the home of Amazon.com, whose old terracotta Art Deco headquarters building still sits majestically atop the narrow northern face. But Seattle’s long, skinny elevated Beacon Hill neighborhood just southeast of downtown now has a new distinction. Its dogs attacked more letter carriers than any other Seattle neighborhood during the latest yearly reporting period.

Of the 27 documented dog attacks during 2014 in Seattle on United States Postal Service workers–down one from a year earlier–four took place on Beacon Hill. Tied for No. 2, with three each, were Columbia City and West Seattle (which led this list two years ago). Four neighborhoods–Ballard, Central Area, Wallingford and Windemere–had two each. Seven other neighborhoods–Georgetown, Leshi, Mount Baker, Pinehurst, Rainier Beach, Ravenna and Wedgewood–recorded one each. Two incidents couldn’t be pinpointed. Fancy Queen Anne, which led last year’s list, had none.

The nifty interactive map above created with Mapalist.com (which is who wants a donation, not me) and Google Maps plots with the two exceptions noted above the precise location of each dog attack. Click on any bloody red box containing the deceptively cute dog to reveal the street address and gain the option to zoom in the neighborhood. You also can resize the overall map and move the field of view. Continue reading

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Yep, USPS still exaggerates Seattle letter carrier dog attacks

letter carrier dog attacksThe U.S. Postal Service is up to its old dog tricks, at least in Seattle.

As part of a long-running P.R. campaign against dog bites, the post office earlier this month released its annual national list of the cities with the highest number of dog attacks on letter carriers last year. According to the USPS, Seattle tied with Detroit for No. 13, listing 28 dog attacks. Seeking public awareness, it is in the USPS’s interest to make the situation seem as bad as possible.

And as part of my long-running New To Seattle campaign against false statements, I filed my annual Freedom of Information Act request with the stamp honchos in the Other Washington for copies of the incident reports. Unlike previous years, where there were long delays and even a refusal in providing the requested documents until I filed an administrative appeal brimming with ridicule and won an apology, this year the bureaucrats coughed up the paperwork in barely a week.

Guess what? The USPS again exaggerated the number of letter carrier dog attacks in dog-happy Seattle by including incidents occurring outside the city. The level of exaggeration this time was 4% (two years ago, it was 17%, but last year it was none). On top of that, none of the incidents appeared to be serious and several didn’t even involve bites. Continue reading

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NewToSeattle.com gets TV time for cancer charity fraud coverage

KIROSSThe big lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission and all 50 states against Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, Breast Cancer Society and Children’s Cancer Fund of America drew a fair amount of national media coverage. Looking for a local angle, one Seattle TV station, KIRO, came across some of my writings about cancer charity fraud after I became New To Seattle. Reporter Gary Horcher sought me out for an interview.

To see the clip, click here.

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


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Management of Costco No. 1 in Seattle apparently has a low opinion of its workers

Costco No. 1This was the scene for all customers to see near the check-out line today.

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Fraudulent cancer charities plaguing Seattle get nailed

fraudulent cancer charitiesConsider this a personal victory lap.

More than three years ago in  this space, I wrote about Cancer Fund of America, of Knoxville, Tenn., and its affiliate, Cancer Support Services, of Dearborn, Mich. I told of how only 40 cents of every $100 raised in cash–not 40%, 40 cents–benefited the afflicted, with the rest going for fundraising, management and overhead. I described a variety of questionable tactics to hide bad stuff and falsely make Cancer Fund and Cancer Support seem reputable and efficient as they trolled Seattle–and everywhere else in the country–begging for money.

I later nominated Cancer Support for my list of “American’s Stupidest Charities” for calling the New To Seattle world headquarters asking for donations even though I had described the organization in rather withering terms. Brilliant, Cancer Support was not.

Today, the Federal Trade Commission and the charity regulator of all 50 states announced in the Other Washington they had filed in Arizona federal court a civil lawsuit alleging fraud against Cancer Fund, Cancer Support, and two other nonprofits, Breast Cancer Society and Children’s Cancer Fund of America, plus several of their officials.  All defendants are part of an empire created by James Reynolds Sr. of Knoxville, one of the named defendants. Continue reading

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Is USPS still miscounting dog attacks on letter carriers in Seattle?

letter carrier dog attacksAh, the rites of spring. Longer days. Warmer temps. Blooming flowers.

And publication of the annual United States Postal Service list of  “Top Dog Attack Rankings By City.”

Seattle–home to three dogs for every two children–fared a little worse this year over last. According to the USPS, the city was tied for No. 13 with Detroit. Last year, Seattle was No. 15 in a three-way tie (with Philadelphia and St. Louis). But both years, the number of reported dog attacks on letter carriers was the same: 28.

I say reported because, to put it bluntly, the USPS in previous years has had problems getting its numbers straight. It has counted as taking place in Seattle attacks that occurred outside the city and sometimes even on the other side of Puget Sound. For the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012, that artificially swelled the Seattle attack count by 17%. Seattle was ranked in a tie for No. 2 but should have been No. 5. Continue reading

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Scuzzy charity working Seattle calls for the fourth time

scuzzy charityI’m running out of words.

For the third time I’m nominating Breast Cancer Research and Support Fund, a trade name of Community Charity Advancement, for my list of America’s Stupidest Charities. Why? The Pompano Beach, Fla.-based organization keeps calling the New To Seattle world headquarters asking for money even though I have written it up multiple times using words like “dubious,” “sketchy” and even “skanky.”

These are not exactly terms of endearment.

They are, however, my opinions about a nonprofit that allowed paid fundraisers to keep almost all the cash raised, spent maybe 1% of that cash on good works, falsely claimed affiliations with reputable medical facilities and has all kinds of red flags in its filings and on its website. Continue reading

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State auditor indictment in Seattle is non-news nationally

state auditor

Troy X. Kelley, Washington State Auditor on leave (via Wikipedia)

With all the scandals and frauds seemingly popping up everywhere, maybe the American public–or at least the folks who edit the news for the American public–are just jaded. I can’t think of any other good explanation for the almost total lack of meaningful coverage outside the Pacific Northwest of the federal fraud, tax evasion and perjury indictment in Seattle last month of Troy X. Kelley, the state auditor of Washington State.

Searching through national news databases and the Internet, I found virtually no print coverage more than a couple paragraphs long outside of Washington State and its two adjoining states of Oregon and Idaho. One paragraph was the extent of coverage in The New York Times. Nothing came up in my searches of USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. The Associated Press transmitted nationally a lengthy story that seems to have found its way, generally in a shorter version, onto newspaper and TV station websites, but few hard copies or over-the-air broadcasts. Forbes.com, where I do some work, posted its own story.

State auditors are supposed to root out fraud and get to the truth of things, right? Be squeaky clean, right? So shouldn’t a federal indictment accusing a state auditor of outrageous flim flam and lying be a pretty good national story, if for no other reason than it rings the hypocrisy bell loud and clear? Continue reading

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Another sketchy cancer charity trolls in Seattle

sketchy cancer charityRegular visitors to this space know the New To Seattle world headquarters is no stranger to sketchy cancer charity telephone pitches. (See, among other posts, here, here and here.) But this was a first for me. Within just 20 minutes I received not one but two telephone calls from a fundraiser for the very same charity, which I had never heard of. It was an outfit called Breast Cancer Survivors Foundation, based in Aventura, Fla., a suburb of Miami.

The experience was the same both times. The caller, who went by the name Lisa Kent, had trouble understanding my rather simple questions and was a little off in some of her answers, as though she had a hearing or cognitive issue. She soon hung up.

Not a good way for Kent to establish personal rapport. But that would have been hard in any event, because Kent was not a person but rather a voice-responsive computer. She/it probably was controlled by a human “supervisor” listening in and hitting buttons to provide answers.

I proceeded to look up the financial filings of BCSF, which says its main mission is to provide mammograms for women who can’t afford them. As I read the latest annual filings, paid telemarketers kept for themselves 92% of money raised from calls like the two I got. Only 5% of the cash was spent on mammograms. Continue reading

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Comcast finally pays for years of bad service, in Seattle and elsewhere

ComcastCall this a victory lap.

The collapse last week of the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger shows what can be done when millions of consumers complain–formally, with regulators and lawmakers, or informally, by bitching to their neighbors, who it turns out have the same issues–about overpriced products accompanied by faulty service. Comcast needed approval for this combination from federal regulators, who indirectly are accountable to members of Congress. But what elected official would be willing to stand up and defend Comcast given this track record?

Since becoming New To Seattle, I have railed on in this space about Comcast, which is the dominant provider of Internet and cable TV service where I live. Continue reading

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