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

Cancer Support Services logoSnap.

That was the closing sound of my Venus flytrap model of journalism–I just sit, wait and pounce when approached–around another candidate for my new list of “America’s Stupidest Charities.” That’s a roster I just started compiling of dodgy charities that cold-call the New To Seattle world headquarters asking for money despite a previous and critical post in this space about the same charity.

Earlier this week, the inaugural entry was the American Veterans Support Foundation, a d/b/a of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation. You can read earlier my post about the organization here. According to its own regulatory filings, nearly 90% of the cash collected from the public–$21 million of $24 million raised over six years–went for fundraising expense, mainly the fees of paid outside fundraisers.

The second candidate? (drum roll again, please): Cancer Support Services, of Dearborn, Mich. Continue reading

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

AVSF logoLast year, the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg, Fla. received a lot of attention–and this year very well may win a Pulitzer Prize–after it published a deeply researched list of “America’s Worst Charities.” The national roster of 50 was based on the large amount of cash raised over the years from the unsuspecting public that went not to good works but to the fundraisers. A number of the top entries–including Kids Wish Network (No 1), Cancer Fund of America (No. 2) and Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation (No. 11) –previously had been written up in this space, also in less-than-glowing terms.

Now, I can’t possibly hope to compete with the massive resources of the Tampa Bay Times and its journalistic partners, CNN and The Center for Investigative Reporting. Looking for suspects, their teams of reporters, producers and editors methodically and systematically scour scores of databases, make hundreds of calls, search thousands of documents and even fly journalists abroad (to check out, I might add, a charity in Guatemala that I mentioned skeptically in November.)

I, on the other hand, operate here on what I call the Venus flytrap model of journalism. That means waiting passively in one spot for critters to come my way, acting quickly, then resetting.

Still, there’s nothing to stop me from starting my own list. So here goes. I’m calling mine “America’s Stupidest Charities.” The criteria is pretty simple: questionable charities that contact the New To Seattle world headquarters asking for money even though they already were the subject of a critical NTS write-up.

The first candidate? (Drum roll, please.) The American Veterans Support Foundation, a trade name of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation. Continue reading

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With Seattle versus Denver, call it the Stupor Bowl

Super Bowl logoAs the celebration by Seattle of the Seahawks victory over the (locally) hated San Francisco 49ers was beginning last night, so were the jokes.

What to call the first Super Bowl match ever between the largest cities in the only two states to have legal recreational pot?

As a public service, New To Seattle has compiled some of the early contenders:

–Stupor Bowl.

–Super Skunk XLVIII.

–Bong Bowl.

–Pot Bowl.

–Super Bowl AK 48.

–Blaze Bowl.

Whatever the name, on Media Day, as one of my high school friends just wrote, the two teams can have a joint press conference, and during the game the two-minute warnings will have to be given at 4:20.

But remember, the game will be held in a stadium in a state where pot use is illegal, my native New Jersey. However, thanks to certain actions by the staff office of Governor Chris Christie concerning the George Washington Bridge, just a few miles away, the nickname “EZ Pass” is now available. Which might be what legal weed really is all about.

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Another sketchy charity trolls for cash in Seattle

AVSF logo The telephone caller to the New To Seattle world headquarters said he was raising funds for the American Veterans Support Foundation. He described the cause as a fully tax-exempt charity headquartered from where he was calling in New Jersey. The caller pressed me to pledge a small sum, throwing out the figures $45 or $55.

I asked his name. “Jim,” he replied.

What’s the last name, I asked.

“Jim” promptly hung up.

I continue to use quotes here because “Jim” was a computer-controlled interactive voice, and not a human at all.  Perhaps he didn’t want to admit he lacked a last name or a pulse.

Or maybe the artificial intelligence behind the computer sensed that the next questions would be even harder to answer.

For as I quickly learned after a little research, there is no charity officially named American Veterans Support Foundation–not in New Jersey (where I grew up) nor anywhere else. It’s instead a trade name used by a 22-year-old outfit called the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation.

Why do I call NVVF sketchy in the headline to this post? Besides the morphing name and the cranky computer, let me count the ways.

By its own financial and tax documents (which can be downloaded from here), NVVF spent barely a dime of every single dollar raised over the past six years on anything that reasonably could be called a charitable purpose. And that included a grant to a relative of the organization’s president. The rest of the donations pretty much were kept by paid telemarketers, one of which programmed “Jim” to chat me up.

As a would-be donor, would you want to know that very, very little of your gift to a charity with “veterans” in its name would help veterans?

Email addresses listed on the website didn’t work; my requests for comment bounced back. A call to a listed phone number was answered by a tape recording saying the mailbox was full and “please hang up,” which I did.

Even the location of the main headquarters seems elusive. “Jim” said he was at the national headquarters, which he placed in Eatontown, N.J., near where Hurricane Sandy smashed into the Jersey Coast two years ago. I don’t think so. Ten Internet phone directories contain no listing thereabouts. His caller ID suggested a phone number in the vicinity of Lexington Park, Md., in southern Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay. The NVVF website says Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Tax and regulatory filings say Alexandria, Va. with “an office of Special Projects” in Fort Lauderdale that “accepts telephone calls from the Foundation’s toll-free number.”

Not really. That’s where I called and was told to hang up. Continue reading

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Fresh attention to a Seattle inferiority complex

Seattle Freeze

Seattle Freeze

Since becoming New To Seattle in 2011, I have written in this space on several occasions–like here and here–about what strikes me as the city’s collective inferiority complex. Elements of it include the shun-thy-newcomer phenomenon known as the Seattle Freeze (which you can look up on Wikipedia), defensiveness about the weather and the passive-aggressive trait sometimes characterized as Seattle Nice.

On a number of occasions I even have gotten into civil but rather intense discussions about the inferiority complex issue with fellow (and usually far longer-standing) Seattleites who opined I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. Over and over, it’s been asserted to me that Seattle is a city supremely secure of its place. So I often argued alone.

That’s why for me it was so interesting to see above the fold on the front page of yesterday’s Seattle Times the start of an essay by lead columnist Danny Westneat about–Seattle’s inferiority complex.

His hook was all the insane hoopla in Seattle in the run-up to the NFC championship game on Sunday between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. “Reflecting On Our Bay Area Complex,” the print headline read. “Seattle’s old-as-dirt envy makes this much more than a game.” Accompanying the column was a huge cartoon taking up a full third of the page depicting a stressed-out Seahawks fan clutching a Starbucks cup whose eyeglasses reflected quintessential San Francisco sights like the Golden Gate Bridge, a trolley car, sun (that weather thing again)–and five Super Bowl trophies.

Westneat likened the Seattle mentality to what a writer in Brazil–another sports-crazy place–called that country’s “ongoing ‘stray-dog’ inferiority complex.”

Wow! Continue reading

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Seattle is world-class in many ways–including problems

Existing Route 520 Bridge across Lake Washington

Existing Route 520 Bridge across Lake Washington

Seattle has a world-class reputation as a place with scenic beauty, cutting-edge technology, clever businesses and smart people. Here’s some other world-class stuff. As I write this, a project to replace the world’s longest floating bridge is foundering due to bad engineering. The world’s largest tunneling machine is stuck under downtown going nowhere. Cost estimates to replace the seawall keeping world-famous Puget Sound from flooding downtown are going up. Efforts to rework a short stretch of a key city street near the word-famous houseboats are continuing into a fourth decade.

That’s $5 billion worth of world-class problems. It’s almost enough to make one Sleepless in Seattle. And not just because that 1993 movie was set on one of those houseboats.

Troubled public construction projects are hardly unique to Seattle. The cursed Big Dig project comes to mind in Boston at the other end of Interstate 90, which starts here next to the stadium where the Seattle Seahawks will play the New Orleans Saints tomorrow in a big NFL playoff game. But in Seattle there sure seems to be a lot of hurt all at once in a city that isn’t even among the country’s 20 largest.

It’s even hard to decide which debacle to describe first. They’re all so embarrassing.

I’ll start with the floating bridge that isn’t so buoyant. Continue reading

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Far from Seattle, a few thoughts on ‘American Hustle’

See update at end of story

In 1980, as a newspaper reporter on the Philadelphia Bulletin,  I appeared one day on a local “Meet The Press”-type TV show panel to ask questions of the guest. And it was quite a guest: Angelo J. Errichetti, the powerful mayor and state senator in Camden, N.J., the down-and-out city just across the Delaware River. He had just been caught in an FBI undercover sting operation taking a $25,000 cash bribe from an FBI informant and helping to arrange for various political associates–including a half-dozen Congressmen and a U.S. senator–to take bribes.  All of it videotaped, too.

Jeremy Renner as the Errichetti character

Jeremy Renner as the Errichetti character in “American Hustle”

Angelo J. Errichetti

Angelo J. Errichetti about 1980

Facing indictment in what was known as Operation Abscam, Errichetti couldn’t say much about the case. But at some point–I can’t remember if it was during the show taping or afterwards–I actually asked who should play him in the movie should one ever be made about the caper. As I recall, Errichetti chuckled, tried hard to think of someone, but couldn’t come up with a name.

Thirty-three years later, we have an answer. Veteran actor Jeremy Renner plays the Errichetti character in the new, well-acted movie “American Hustle,” which is based on Abscam. I’d say Errichetti got lucky, and not just because Renner is eight years younger than Errichetti was at the height of Abscam and better-looking while getting Errichetti’s Elvis-like hairdo down pat. The movie–astonishingly, to me–depicts Errichetti as a compassionate politician mainly concerned with generating jobs for people. The $25,000 cash he got in real life to influence peddle? Oh that.

Give me a break.

Even before Abscam, the profane, colorful, chain-smoking Errichetti I remember presided over a terribly corrupt political machine full of graft and flunkies in an aging industrial city going down for the count. One of his ward leaders personally threatened me with violence for investigative stories about the lackey’s quaint practice of occasionally being paid by the hour for two government jobs at the very same hour, one of those jobs being with Errichetti’s city government.  Errichetti himself was no stranger to the criminal legal process, having been acquitted in an earlier trial of official misconduct concerning public bidding laws.

As for the the movie’s narrative of Errichetti (renamed Carmine Polito) trying to do the right thing for his poor constituents, I can do no better than offer the summary of Errichetti in The Sting Man, Robert W. Greene’s extremely detailed 1981 book about Weinberg and Abscam:

The Mayor offered or gave Abscam agents hot diamonds, guns and munitions, forged CDs, counterfeit money, stolen paintings, leasing contracts, municipal garbage contracts, unregistered boats for dope-running, use of Port Camden as a narcotics depot, Atlantic City zoning changes, a list of 13 bribable state and city officials, the vice-chairman of the State Casino Control Commission, the Chairman of the New Jersey State Democratic Committee and, directly or indirectly, five United States Congressmen and a Senator.

Continue reading

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Bus video changes Seattle image from potheads to Bravehearts

Finally, a widely covered story about Seattle that doesn’t mention legalized recreational pot.

I’m referring to media attention of the King County Metro Transit surveillance clip, which you can view above courtesy of YouTube, showing passenger Casey Borgen on a West Seattle bus facing a gun-brandishing hoodlum robbing patrons of money and cellphones. Borgen grabbed the weapon pointed right in his face, then attacked the attacker, leading a counter-charge that resulted in what looked like half the passengers sitting on the assailant until the authorities arrived. I’d say the gunman, later identified as Trevonnte Brown, 19, is pretty lucky he wasn’t crushed to death right there.

There’s nothing like flashy caught-in-the-act video to draw attention. This thwarted bus heist has been seen thousands of times around the world on YouTube, where the clip has been posted by multiple sources. (Indeed, the tape I linked to is from CCTV, which is the biggest TV network in China and whose main news show is said to get 500 million viewers a night.) Meanwhile, the world media have shifted, at least temporarily, from the narrative of Seattle the land of nerdy potheads to Seattle the land of Bravehearts. West Seattle leads the city in letter-carriers bitten by dogs, so it might figure that their human owners aren’t to be messed with, either.

“Seattle Metro bus riders overtake man robbing a passenger at gunpoint,” gushed a headline on the website of the London Guardian over a story that, like I did, linked to the video. “Heroic act,” proclaimed a headline in the New York Daily News. “Fearless Seattle bus passengers,” bleated the website of the New York-based International Business Times. “Bus passengers don’t wait for the cops,” admired the website The Blaze.

There’s been extensive coverage on national cable networks like CNN, which has been playing up Seattle marijuana for months. Other headlines I’ve seen at the New To Seattle world headquarters: “Everyday Heroes!” (Daily Grind). “Passengers subdue gun-wielding thief in Seattle” (WDAF, Kansas City). “Armed robber no match for smartphone-holding, earbud-wearing Seattle bus passenger.” (The Province, Vancouver, B.C.). “One for the good guys” (Vancouver Sun).

Interviewed this morning on NBC’s “Today” show–another indication of the story’s far-flung appeal–Borgen said he was acting on “pure instinct” but that grabbing at a gun in his face was a “bad idea.”

As you might imagine, Brown has been in jail since the November 25 incident. The video became public a few days ago when he pleaded not guilty at a court hearing to charges of first-degree robbery and attempted robbery.

No word on whether anyone involved in this caper had been smoking anything. Just sayin’.

To see reader comments, click on the headline at the top of this post, then scroll to the bottom.

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Unlike Kiev, Lenin statue still stands in Seattle

Lenin statue, Fremont Pl at Evanston Avenue N and N 36th Street, Seattle (via Wikipedia)

Lenin statue, Fremont Place N. at Evanston Avenue N. and N. 36th Street, Seattle (via Wikipedia)

News today that anti-government protestors in Kiev, capital of the Ukraine and once one of the old Soviet Union’s most important cities, tore down a public statue of Vladimir Lenin and gave it the Berlin Wall treatment puts Seattle in an interesting spot. There’s a Lenin statue here and it remains pretty popular, even though it depicts the revolutionary terrorist who founded the Communist Party.

The Seattle Lenin sits in the Fremont section three blocks north of the Fremont Bridge. The 16-foot-high statue by Bulgarian sculptor Emil Venkov was rescued intact from Czechoslovakia after the fall of the U.S.S.R.’s Iron Curtain a quarter-century ago by a resident of the Seattle suburb of Issaquah who perceived art.

In contrast to other old statues (mainly behind the Iron Curtain) of Lenin, who fancied himself an educator and a philosopher and tried to play down that killing thing, the image in Fremont is pretty warlike. Lenin is surrounded by representations of raging flames and other accouterments of war. This means it’s probably a more accurate reflection of history.

But against all odds in a city full of public art, Lenin of Fremont has become something of a tourist attraction. Daily, dozens of folks pose for photos taken by traveling companions, some risking serious injury or death by backing into busy Fremont Place to get the money shot.

Upon becoming New To Seattle two years ago, I was told that this was the only public Lenin statue in the U.S. But an acquaintance of mine from college just pointed me to a similarly reclaimed-from-the-USSR statue on top of an apartment building in New York City’s East Village. So politically liberal Seattle–which just elected a professed socialist to the City Council–loses that great American distinction.

At first blush, it certainly was ironic to erect an image of such a man of violence in a Seattle neighborhood that more than most fancies itself the center of peaceful, counterculture inclinations, as witnessed by the yearly clothing-optional parade to greet summer. But then again, maybe not. As I have written here before, Fremont is named after John C. Frémont, a war criminal from California who nearly 150 years ago became the Republican Party’s first candidate for president. The common theme I see here is killer politician. Maybe birds of a feather, Chicken Kiev-genus.

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Seattle’s United Way of King County still gilds the lily

UWKC logoFor the third time since I became New To Seattle, United Way of King County recently released yearly results claiming absolutely phenomenal financial efficiencies. And for the third time, I’m here to tell you the agency–the nation’s largest United Way unit by donations–has gilded the lily by employing convoluted, creative accounting to make that declaration.

To be clear, I mean gilded the lily exactly the same way Shakespeare meant it when he coined the sentiment in his famous, four-century-old play, King John “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily … is wasteful and ridiculous excess,” a character says. In other words, UWKC unnecessarily adorned something already pretty.

In its financial statement for the year ending June 30, 2013, UWKC calculated what amounts to its charitable commitment ratio–the percent of total expenses spent on the charitable mission as opposed to management, fundraising and certain other overhead–as 98%. Looking at exactly the same data but not competing in the tough world of nonprofit fundraising, I figured 91%.

The reason this is lily-gilding is that 91% is a very respectable charitable commitment ratio. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance says anything at or above 65% is okay. The average last year for all 1,300 United Way units was 86%. So that means UWKC claimed it had only one-seventh the overhead of all the other United Way units, which pretty much operate in the same workplace-deduction fashion.

Really? Maybe a little too good to be true?

Sit back and let me explain hothouse accounting, Seattle style. Continue reading

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For letter-carriers, West Seattle was a dog-gone neighborhood

USPS logoLast week, I showed how the U.S. Postal Service had greatly exaggerated when it declared earlier this year in a national press release that dog-loving Seattle (three dogs for every two children) was tied for No. 2 among cities in the number of dog-attack incidents involving letter-carriers. In its long-standing efforts to shame offending cities, the feds swelled the count 24% by including numerous incidents occurring outside Seattle city limits and even non-bites. On top of that, most of the incidents required no medical treatment. I obtained the 42 reports using the Freedom of Information Act and, after a ridiculous and unlawful delay, an administrative appeal in which I suggested the Postal Service was courting ridicule by protecting the privacy rights of canines. For my memoirs, I now have in my possession a number of written apologies from various Postal Service functionaries.

But this all begs important questions: Which Seattle neighborhoods were the most dog-dangerous to carriers for the federal fiscal year ending September 30, 2012? And what were the particulars? In its release to me, post office officials redacted precise addresses (plus names of victims and dog owners) on privacy grounds. But they left in the duty station of bitten letter-carriers, which helped identify the areas most hazardous to carrier health. Also provided were the narratives describing the gory details and occasionally the perp (“Jack Russell terrier,” “Italian greyhound,” German Shepherd,” “small golden brown dog,” “large chocolate brown Labrador/mix dog,” or–the closest to a human all-points bulletin–“mixed black, white and brown weighing approx, 35-40 lbs.”)

By far the worst neighborhood? West Seattle.

Yes, the water-isolated, culturally independent working-class neighborhood–Seattle’s oldest–across Elliott Bay from the downtown area was the location of nine of the 36 attacks occurring within Seattle proper. With only 13% of the city’s population, West Seattle had a full 25% of the city’s dog-on-carrier carnage, although one of the nine was a near-miss. Tied for second were Ballard–subject of many jokes–and the Central Area, historical center of Seattle’s black community. Each had six incidents. Fourth, with four, was Wedgwood, the middle-class northeast neighborhood named for the famous English bone-china maker. The other attacks were sprinkled across Seattle. Continue reading

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In Seattle, how billionaire Newhouse family stays that way

According to Forbes, the two Newhouse brothers, Si and Don, together are worth more than $15 billion. Here’s one reason why.

I am a long-time subscriber to the Newhouse media empire’s celebrated flagship weekly magazine, The New Yorker. Yesterday at the New To Seattle world headquarters, I received a mailing marked–in urgent all-capital letters–“EXPIRATION NOTICE.” Here’s the envelope, poorly highlighted by me:TNY envelope

Omigod! My subscription was about to lapse! No more “Talk of the Town.” Gotta do something!

I was all set to pay when my eye caught some extremely small type (similarly highlighted by me) on the side of the renewal form:TNY renewal

That’s right. My subscription still has nearly four years to run. It won’t expire until July 17, 2017. That’s even more than a half-year after the next presidential election in 2016, which to me seems a long way off.

I’ll leave it to readers to opine on whether this Newhouse ploy is sharp practice. Perhaps the bros are trying to make up for the scamster who nicked their Advance Publications for $8 million using just one email. Still, as the time value of money is taught in the business schools churning out all those finance folks trying to take over the economy, a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. Or in this case, a dollar in 1,341 tomorrows.

To see reader comments, click on the headline at the top of this post, then scroll to the bottom.

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Post Office exaggerates dog-attack problem in Seattle

USPS logoThere it was in the national press release the United States Postal Service issued with much ballyhoo on May 15. Seattle was No. 2 in the annual “Dog Attack City Ranking” list, with 42 incidents involving letter-carriers for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012.

Could it really be true that a city so full of sensitive, loving dog owners could be such an impediment to couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds?

After I wrote about the press release on the day it went out, one neighbor living a few blocks from me in the Magnolia neighborhood posted below my story his doubts. Letter-carriers almost always carry treats and “are our dogs’ favorite people,” he wrote. “With that in mind, I am very skeptical of the survey.”

As it turns out, my neighbor’s misgivings were well-founded.

New To Seattle was determined to, ah, sink its teeth into the truth. I filed an official Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Postal Service for copies of the 42 Seattle dog-attack incident reports.  After the lower echelons essentially blew off my request, I sent a formal administrative appeal to the agency’s top lawyer in Washington, D.C. I suggested officials were courting a P.R. debacle by lawlessly not complying with a lawful FOIA request for reports about something as mundane as dog bites. That got someone’s attention. It took nearly six months, but the feds finally coughed up the 42 reports, along with–count ’em–four written apologies for the delay.

Guess what? By my count (much of the data in the reports were redacted on privacy grounds), six of the 42 incidents didn’t even take place in Seattle, but rather in Shoreline or Bainbridge Island–which definitely are not part of Seattle. That means the Postal Service exaggerated the number of dog-attack incidents in Seattle proper by a whopping 17%. A correct count of 36 would have moved Seattle down the list from No. 2 (a tie with Chicago) to No. 5. Continue reading

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New cancer charity trolling in Seattle spent zilch of collected cash on mission

Official name of Cancer Support Fund

Legal name of Cancer Support Fund

This story has been updated with comments from the charity’s founder and president.

The cold caller on the telephone yesterday said he worked for AC Services of Southfield, Mich., was soliciting on behalf of Cancer Support Fund and wanted me to pledge money. He said Cancer Support Fund was based in Seattle. I’ve only been New To Seattle for two years, but I never had heard of Cancer Support Fund. That in itself wasn’t surprising. Across the country there are thousands of charities in this country containing “cancer” in their name.

But I knew something about AC Services, or Associated Community Services as its name is more fully rendered. So do some other journalists and the attorneys general of Michigan and Iowa. In fact, if you regularly visit this space, you might, too. To refresh your memory, just click here, here or here.

As it turned out, Associated Community Services is one of several paid charity telemarketers for Cancer Support Fund that collectively kept for themselves almost all the money raised from direct mail and calls like the one I got. By my review of the charity’s own publicly filed financial documents for last year, a full $88.10 of every $100 raised in cash was spent on fundraising.

How much of those cash donations was spent directly on, say, cash grants? Of each $100 dollars, a mere 14 cents–not dollars, cents–or one-seventh of 1%. That’s really zero percent. And it’s a little hard to square with this language on the charity’s web homepage: “The Official Cancer Relief Nonprofit Organization …  Because we care, we share.”

And also as it turned out, Cancer Support Fund, which is only two years old and whose legal name is American Association for Cancer Support (AACS), is not based anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, let alone Seattle, like my cold caller said. Rather, it’s located in far-away Knoxville, Tenn. I wrung this little correction out of my cold caller’s supervisor, who came on the line to field my increasing barrage of questions.

However, you wouldn’t know any of these dismal numbers just by looking at the website of the Washington State Secretary of State’s Office, which is supposed to keep us knowledgeably informed in these matters. The folks in Olympia calculated AACS’s charitable commitment ratio at a lot higher 61%. That ain’t so hot, either–the watchdog Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance faults anything under 65%.

Why the discrepancy? I’m counting where the cash donations went (essentially, nowhere). But AACS was able to include in its financials receipt and distribution of a large amount of donated goods, or gift-in-kind. GIK costs almost nothing to procure, is prone to wild exaggeration in true value, and thus can make a charity seem a lot more financially efficient than it really is. In the case of AACS, there’s also a question of whether the purported GIK was off-point to the charity’s stated mission of, well, cancer support.

Sit back and let me explain. Continue reading

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Election leaves dynamic Seattle in quiet mode

Seattle City Hall (via Seattle.gov)

Seattle City Hall (via Seattle.gov)

If Seattle is a happenin’ place, you wouldn’t know it from election results this time. One-term Mayor Mike McGinn, a true liberal maverick and disrupter, lost his reelection bid to Ed Murray. He’s a long-time liberal state senator favored by corporate interests whose whole campaign suggested the boat won’t be rocked on his watch. The largely do-nothing liberal City Council won reelection.

Seattle voters–far more so than the rest of the state–rejected a proposed initiative that would have make it easier to collect citizen signatures in public places for future ballot questions.  That’s consistent with the belief of myself and others in the existence of the Seattle Freeze, a concept that describes interactions with persons New To Seattle and, I suspect, Old To Seattle as well.

True, city voters did favor labeling genetically modified food, which would have sent quite a signal across the country. But they apparently (votes are still being counted) were wildly outvoted on that by the rest of the state, which saw unprecedented amounts of out-of-state money and largely false advertising.

I think Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat got it about right today. Of the mayor’s race, he wrote, “The truth about Seattle politics is we don’t want a liberal bomb thrower. We want a liberal committee-chairer!” The people of Seattle strike me as a pretty self-satisfied bunch.

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In Seattle, voting on an initiative about … initiatives

no 517 logoyes 517 logoSome of you who visit this space regularly know that I became New To Seattle in 2011 from the Los Angeles area.  Two years ago this very week, I wrote that one thing I thought I was leaving behind–besides sun–was “the famously crazy California system of voter referendums and initiatives on inane, politically charged topics accompanied by big-money advertising campaigns full of outrageous omissions and deceptions.” I then confessed my utter lack of knowledge about my new place of habitual abode as I confronted a ballot full of questions about liquor, highway tolls and car taxes surrounded by lies, damn lies, and videotaped lies.

Things haven’t gotten much better for Election Day this year. As I wrote recently, one statewide ballot measure, requiring labeling of genetically modified food, is being waged largely through false advertising funded by vast amounts of special-interest money from out of state. In what looks like a Washington State-only scheme, there will be five non-binding, “advisory” votes on tax increases that the Legislature recently enacted. Their wording and meaning are so obscure–and meaningless–that state officials have been swamped by calls from puzzled voters.

There even will be an initiative on … initiatives! In many ways, Initiative 517, as it is known, is the most interesting of all the questions, and not only because it would amend a historic, century-old process (largely absent east of the Mississippi) born out of populist, anti-corporation politics. It’s because of one man little unknown outside of Washington State, but whose name here is a household word.

His name is Tim Eyman (pronounced EYE-min). He is a 47-year-old professional referendum-and-initiative campaigner. True, he has a conservative political philosophy–anti-tax, anti-big-government, anti-affirmative action–which the causes he pushes tend to reflect. But his main cause seems to be making a decent living for himself. From what I can tell, over the past decade or so, he has pulled down upwards of $1 million in fees for his services, and not always leveling with the voters and his political partners. Continue reading

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Elusive truths in Seattle-centered battle over GMO food labeling

no logoyes logo 2A huge amount of the food we eat contains genetically modified organisms.  That’s the only conclusion I can draw from the huge amount of money pouring into Washington State–mostly for Seattle TV advertising–fighting a measure on the ballot next month requiring GMO disclosure on most products. If enacted, it would be nation’s first such mandatory disclosure law and likely would prompt similar measures elsewhere and maybe on the federal level, too.

But to me, the biggest significance is what’s not being talked about at all. Continue reading

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In Seattle mayor’s race, candidates try to out-liberal each other

Mike McGinn

Mike McGinn

Ed Murray

Ed Murray

I don’t think there is a mayor’s race anywhere in America quite like the one we’re having right now in Seattle. The two candidates, who seem to have identical platforms, are trying to out-liberal each other, a far cry from the liberal-versus-conservative-versus Tea Party contests elsewhere. Mayor Mike McGinn, the incumbent, and State Sen. Ed Murray, the challenger, have both advocated tax increases, new spending, crackdowns on the police department, compassion for the homeless, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, construction of affordable housing and opposition to fossil fuel coal train shipments through town.

Sure, there are races around the county where one of the candidates is pushing the liberal line. The candidacy of Bill de Blasio in New York City comes to mind. But he’s vying against a genuine fiscal conservative Republican, Joe Lhota. Were he running in Seattle, de Blasio would be the most right-wing candidate in the race–by far.

Seattle is about to become the country’s largest city with legal recreational marijuana use (the state is still working on the final rules, which include mandatory labeling stating in all-capital letters that “THIS PRODUCT IS UNLAWFUL OUTSIDE WASHINGTON STATE“). It already is the only U.S. city big or small sporting a statue of Communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin.  Politically progressive proclivities seem to go back decades (starting at some point after the city ended its outrageous racial segregation). So maybe dueling tax-and-spend campaigns should be no surprise here.

But to me, still New To Seattle, I see a big contradiction between the progressive values–that’s the local codeword for liberal–being espoused in this campaign and the way Washington State in general, as well as Seattle in particular, organizes its fiscal affairs. To put it bluntly, no other state comes down harder on its poor. Continue reading

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Stephen Colbert gets a high on pot rules for Seattle

Stephen Colbert (via Wikipedia)

Stephen Colbert (via Wikipedia)

For national comedians, Seattle is the gift that keeps on giving. Just ask Stephen Colbert.

Recreational marijuana use, he said on last night’s “Colbert Report”, was just made legal in Colorado and Washington, “or should I say, Cheech-arado and Washing-Chong.”

“And,” he continued, “in all two of those states, the cops have stopped cracking down on sparking up.” He then played a CNN clip about how Seattle police handed out bags of Doritos–the legendary cure for pot-user munchies–at the Hempfest carnival in August. (Look, I didn’t say Colbert is on top of the news, but only that he is a comedian.)

“Police should not be encouraging drug use,” he declared in what might or might not be mock outrage. Colbert also criticized legalizing pot to alleviate government fiscal problems–clearly a factor in Washington State, which is imposing a 25% excise tax on sales. Continue reading

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