Log in
updated 2:54 PM UTC, Jul 28, 2018

FlynnsHarp logo 042016

The importance of local news and organizations that gather it need to attract greater focus

bank-phrom-Tzm3Oyu_6sk-unsplash
Having spent my first two decades in journalism working in the intensely competitive environment of a news service, it stirs concern as much as sadness to read that major newspaper chains are basically halting their use of the Associated Press (AP). What’s now the world’s largest news service seems likely to become smaller and less vital to the industry.
 
The role of a news service, with a global corps of reporters and editors, is to bring important information from the state, the nation and the world to readers of local publications or to listeners and viewers of local broadcast outlets. But that may soon become a journalistic yesterday.
 
In the days when there were two competing news services – the AP and the one I worked for, United Press International (UPI) -- the goal of “get it first but get it right” that permeated the competition ensured that no events that readers or listeners might need escaped those reporters. And they stood happily ready to call attention if the competitor erred on the “get it right” requirement, competition thus ensuring that error was guarded against.
 
Word that Gannett and McClatchy, two of the largest and most respected media organizations in the country, have decided to stop using AP and thus save the cost of the service, indicates an intent to diminish the amount of national and world news they’ll bring to their local readers.
 
Gannett, which publishes USA Today, may contend that the national newspaper will provide the necessary national and world coverage for its more than 100 daily newspapers and its broadcast entities. That remains to be demonstrated.
 
And the need for respected local and, for sure, national media has become more vital than ever with the emergence of entities, both national and local, for whom accuracy is intrusive on their goal of propagandizing for political or social causes.
 
The fact that propagandizing is accompanied by falsehood and fabrication helps make clear the need for respected media to remain financially healthy and viable. And that actually has begun to attract advocates.
 
A key advocate is Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, whose Local Journalism Sustainability Act was filed in 2021 with co-sponsors Sens.Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. The legislation, awaiting further action, aims to financially support local news organizations by providing tax credits to incentivize hiring more journalists, increasing circulation and attracting more advertising.
 
The new mantra for newspapers is “focus on local,” which is what newspapers have always done: run stories of interest to their local reader, even if the stories originated in Tokyo or Moscow or Washington, D.C., particularly if the stories from Washington focused on how Congress members debated and voted. Thus, stories were “local” if they related to the local readers’ members of Congress or Senate or debates that involved local issues.
 
Using dollars of any kind to enhance local coverage benefits the future of newspapers that make that investment.
 
And some investors are emerging to achieve that digitally. Thus I have begun receiving daily via email The Denver Gazette and the Salem Reporter, true local-news vehicles with news-gathering staffs and subscription charges promoted just like the New York dailies or the
Washington Post, or the Seattle Times.
 
In fact, Les Zaitz, the journalist who founded the Salem Reporter in 2018, was a former editor of The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper. His father, Clarence, was my friend and fellow UPI reporter and, subsequently, also an executive with the news service.
 
The decline of existing daily newspapers will likely leave similar opportunities for journalism entrepreneurs, including in places like Bellevue and the Eastside of King County, which the Seattle Times claims as its coverage and circulation area, a region once served by a quality daily newspaper for which the costs became unsustainable, then a quality weekly newspaper whose owners closed to save money.
 
Several Eastside communities, including Bothell Woodinville and Redmond, have local weekly newspapers. However, much of the area that will soon match Seattle's population remains without local media coverage, and that means opportunities for newspapers will eventually attract investors.
 
I was part of a team that sought to start an Eastside daily a few years ago. The effort by what we incorporated as Eastside Media generated a large amount of interest from key individuals and prominent business people across Eastside but eventually was shelved.
 
But it’s quite possible that if a federal program like Cantwell envisions existed when we were pursuing our Eastside Media effort, there might now be a newspaper, either print or digital, in existence on the Eastside.
 
And it's also likely that the level of Eastside local news being covered by The Times in such a competitive environment would be substantially greater.
 
As I indicated at the outset of this Harp,
competition drives coverage. And accuracy.
Continue reading
  150 Hits
  0 Comments
150 Hits
0 Comments

Bill Payne's celebration of life honored the man who had the largest impact on angel investing

cosmin-gurau-H9pOaHJT0_E-unsplash
Continue reading
  350 Hits
  0 Comments
350 Hits
0 Comments

Lee Hood, an architect of the human genome project known as HGP, envisions AI-focused HGP2

Screenshot-2023-09-07-at-12.00.42-PM

The Human Genome Project (HGP), the blueprint that represented a vital global contribution to the advancement of human health, marked its 20th anniversary this year with little notice or reflection.

Except, perhaps, for the publication by Leroy Hood, one of the key architects of that landmark project, of his book, The Age of Scientific Wellness, which may help open the door to HGP2.

Launched in October 1990 and completed in April 2003, the Human Genome Project’s signature accomplishment of generating the first sequence of the human genome provided fundamental information about the human blueprint. It has since accelerated the study of human biology and improved the practice of medicine.

It opened new avenues for research in fields such as personalized medicine, gene therapy, and genetic counseling. It has also helped us better understand the genetic basis of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Hood is actually Leroy Hood, M.D., and PhD. He got his medical degree at Johns Hopkins between undergrad and doctoral education at Caltech in Pasadena.

Hood was a professor at Caltech in the 1980s, where he developed automated methods for sequencing DNA, a process that was essential to the Human Genome Project, for which he was involved from the first meeting in 1985 at UCal Santa Cruz.

Hood was not some kid from a remote small town in Montana who found his way to a little-known small college near the mountains northeast of Los Angeles.

Caltech, officially the California Institute of Technology, is among a small group of institutes of technology in the United States and is ranked among the best academic institutions in the world. Hood, who had been guided by his grandfather and father to focus on science, was induced to go to Caltech by a teacher at Shelby High who had graduated from there and sought to convince his best students to consider going to Caltech.

And appropriately for the outcome, Hood took his advise.

Lee HoodLee Hood envisions a healthcare future guided by AI that will bring years longer healthy life.
Hood, co-founder the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology, also coined the term “P4 medicine,” which is the idea that healthcare should be “predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory.”

Hood envisions a healthcare future and his book details the path, with his Human Phenome Initiative mapping the way, to achieve his goal: “I want to see people move into their ‘90s (and beyond) excited, creative and functional.”

He sees the key change from healthcare of today to the healthcare of the future hinges on the optimization of individual wellness and early detection of wellness-to-disease transitions, offering the potential for reversal before the emergence of clinically diagnosable disease.

The 13-year Human Genome Project was launched by the U.S. Department of Energy, which pitched it to Congress in 1987, and the National Institute of Health. Both funded the $2.7 billion cost, with support from organizations in other countries.

Now Hood offers a look at HGP2, and he might suggest the 20th anniversary of the original HGP as a logical time to launch “2,” The Human Phenome Initiative.

That’s an ambitious plan conceived at Phenome Health, the nonprofit that Hood founded in 2021 to advance a science and data-driven approach to optimize the brain and body health of individuals.

This Project would analyze the genomes and phenomes of one million individuals across the US over 10 years with the individuals selected to reflect the racial and demographic diversity of the U.S. It’s an enormously ambitious endeavor that he believes will demonstrate to the world the power of P4 healthcare.

Hood notes that the realization of P4 health will depend on many moving parts, but no tool will be more important than artificial intelligence.
Systems are already transforming healthcare. But Hood sees those changes accelerating to such a degree that “AI will soon be as much a part of our healthcare experience as doctors, nurses, waiting rooms and pharmacies.”

“In fact,” Hood suggests, “it won’t be long before AI has mostly replaced or redefined all of those.”
And Hood’s view of the future is of one built on scientific wellness in which interaction with artificial intelligence will be a normal part of healthcare.

It’s no longer news that the medical profession is expecting AI to be part of the future of medicine.
But in his book and in a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal headlined “The AI will see now” and co-authored by Nathan Price, Ph.D., the co-author of his book, the pair make the point that doctors are turning to AI tools to help them make the best decisions for patients.

Price is Chief Science Officer of New York-based Thorne HealthTech, a health intelligence company focused on leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to map the biological features related to an individual’s health.

Offering interesting imagery to those aware of the mythological half-horse, half-human centaur, Hood said “We are fast approaching the time of centaur doctors. They will combine the best parts of human intelligence and AI assistance and be empowered to make bold medical decisions with far fewer unintended consequences.”

What Hood may have had in mind is that the most famous centaur in Greek mythology is Chiron, who was known for his wisdom and knowledge of medicine.

The Human Genome Project came about because of a fortunate convergence of focus of two important government departments whose leadership convinced the Reagan Administration and Congress of the project’s importance.

Hood will face an equally daunting challenge in the quest for funding for the Human Phenome Initiative. But we live in a different era in two important ways, one challenging and one fortunate.
Getting an administration and a Congress that are more focused on disruption than anything resembling cooperation and progress on something important to the future seems maximum difficult, in fact unlikely.

But on the plus side, we live in a philanthropic time when two women could either or both sign a check to match the cost of HGP2 with little pause and without the need for government,
With McKenzie Scott’s net worth of $64 billion and Melinda Gates’ $10.7 billion and both spending freely on worthy causes, it may be that all Hood needs is an audience to tell his story because he tells it well and with the authority of his accomplishments.

But congressional concern about keeping up with China has actually given the lawmakers something to agree on and may open another opportunity for Hood’s initiative.

The Global Technology Leadership Act is a bipartisan AI bill aimed at keeping up with China. It would establish an office that analyzes how the country is keeping up with China and envisions billions being spent on crucial technologies like AI,
.
Hood, who was a star high school quarterback in the small Montana town of Shelby and played halfback on Caltech’s football team, is proud of his athletic ability and his staying in condition. He has shared that though he is 85, his doctors say his biological age is 15 years younger.

He joked to me he actually played in 16 Rose Bowl games, to which any football-knowledgeable person would say, “can you explain that?”

Hood answered: “Caltech’s home field was the Rose Bowl, so each home game, we could look at the 200 or so fans on our side of the stadium and the 100 or so on the other side and focus on the thousands of empty seats and say ‘we’re playing a game in the Rose Bowl—a Rose Bowl game.

Continue reading
  816 Hits
  0 Comments
816 Hits
0 Comments

Don Bonker might have become the state's senior U. S. Senator but for encountering Patty Murray in the 'Year of the Woman'

FlynnsHarp_Post_Cover

Don Bonker might have become the state's senior U. S. Senator but for encountering Patty Murray in the 'Year of the Woman'

Bonker, a friend for more than half a century, might well have become this state's senior U.S. Senator had he not encountered Patty Murray in the race for the 1992 Democratic Senate nomination.

Bonker's political credentials as a seven-term Congressman from the Third District in Southwest Washington and a congressional leader on trade issues, were far more impressive than those of Murray, a state legislator.

But Murray had the benefit of being 'The Mom in Tennis Shoes" in the year Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer were elected in California and Carol Moseley Braun in Illinois as the first black female in the Senate, in what became widely known as "The Year of the Woman."

Those four women were sworn in the following Congress, the first time the Senate had welcomed four new women senators, all the result of people believing Anita Hill wasn't lying in her accusations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. So other men paid the price for Thomas in that political year.

Bonker's trade credentials, both those he earned during his 14 years in Congress from 1974 to 1988 and from his involvements thereafter, gained him broad respect in this country and abroad for his trade and foreign investment knowledge.

Mike FlynnDon Bonker

I got to know Bonker well from the late '60s when he was in his early '30s and an innovative auditor from Clark County, laying the groundwork for an intended but unsuccessful run for secretary of state. I was UPI's state political editor in Olympia in my late '20s.

We got together at many Democratic gatherings, I as reporter and he as participant, spending time together since we were usually the two youngest people in the room.

Later, after his first unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate when he lost the nomination bid to the late Mike Lowry, I had him write a regular trade-issues column for Puget Sound Business Journal.

During his tenure in Congress, Bonker authored and was a principal sponsor of significant trade legislation, including the Export Trading Company Act and the Export Administration Act. I had fun telling friends occasionally when Bonker came up in conversation that after he left Congress, we met for lunch and he gave me a photo of us that had been taken at a 1968 political fundraiser for Sen. Martin Durkan and that had hung on his wall during his years in Congress.

After sharing the story, I then added with a chuckle that the reason the photo with me had hung on his wall was because of the third person in the photo, then-Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, a Democratic presidential hopeful and one of Bonker's heroes.

Bonker, in recent years, had traveled back and forth regularly from his Bainbridge Island home to Washington, D.C., where he was an executive director and on the international advisory council of APCO Worldwide, global public affairs & strategic communications consultancy.

We hadn't visited for a decade or more when I suggested that we have lunch so I could learn about his then-newly published autobiography called Dancing to the Capitol. The book begins with what the foreword describes as "a wry take on his brief stint as a dance instructor, which gives the book its title and its spirit."

The foreword, by former Los Angeles Times editor Shelby Coffey who is now vice chairman of the Museum, describes Bonker as "a man of faith--often struggling with being both a Democrat and a Christian," and noting that Bonker helped bring the National prayer breakfast to international prominence.

"He has been a key, if quiet, force for others of faith who contend in public life," Coffey wrote.

"My own achievements on international trade, human rights, preserving our natural resources happened only because of bipartisan support," Bonker wrote in his 2020 autobiography, "A Higher Calling: Faith and Politics in the Public Square."

I got together with Bonker for lunch again a year or so ago and invited Brian Baird, who became Third District Congressman a decade after Bonker left the office, to join us.

So I asked Baird this weekend for his thoughts on Bonker: "He was a friend. Mentor. Role model and outstanding public servant, who served our state in countless ways right to the end. He stayed engaged and informed and always found ways to make a difference."

Continue reading
  681 Hits
  0 Comments
681 Hits
0 Comments

Memorial Day salute to those who chronicle the deeds of sons and daughters who fought our wars

FlynnsHarp_Post_Cove_20230607-104817_1

Those who fight the wars that political devils create are sometimes also tagged as evil. But some journalists convinced that those warriors deserve to be remembered, chronicle their sacrifices and thus merit special recognition for ensuring that the sons and daughters who fought our wars are remembered appropriately.

That was the lead of my Memorial Day column of two years ago, which was a reflection on those who write of the warriors who fight our nation's wars to ensure their sacrifices are remembered.

That column included my longtime friend and former UPI colleague, Joe Galloway, whose three books and a movie about the battle of the Ia Drang Valley made him perhaps the best-known correspondent of the Vietnam War He died three months after that Memorial Day of a massive heart attack at the age of 79.

And it included my then-recently acquired friend, Scott Huesing, a retired Marine Corps major who guided his men of Echo Company through battle in the deadly urban battlefield of Ramadi during the Iraq War and then wrote about his experiences in Echo in Ramadi.

Huesing, in a small-world connection, but maybe not so small, explained to me when we met in San Diego in August of 2020 that as he wrote Echo in Ramadi, "it was the voice heard in Galloway's We Were Soldiers Once...and Young that left a great mark. It shared not just the stories of battle but of people. That power of human connection is so vital to me in all things."

Huesing's book became a number-one best-seller after it was published in 2018. It was described by a prominent reviewer as "so gripping it will be read by a generation of grunts and leaders, vividly depicting how, in crisis after crisis, mutual trust pulls a unit or a business through."

Huesing said he sent autographed copies of the book "to those I owed something, and Joe was one. Joe sent me a heartfelt note and a glowing review of my book. Although we've never met in person, Galloway and I understand the uncertainty of war and the most certain danger it brings close to one who endures the worst of what humanity provides, a connection that is something irreplicable"

Scott Huesing wrote of leading his Marines into war in Iraq in Echo in Ramadi
Scott Huesing

Now Huesing, 53, whose 24-year career in the Marines spanned 10 deployments and who led combat operations in 60 countries, seeks to help other veterans to become authors. One of those he introduced me to in an email exchange in which he described me as "fellow Marine and friend" was Andrew Biggio, whose book The Rifle. Was then about to go on sale days after that 2022 Memorial Day.

The Rifle is described as "an inspirational story and hero's journey of a 28-year-old U.S. Marine, Andrew Biggio, who returned home from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, full of questions about the price of war. He found answers from those who survived the costliest war of all — WWII veterans."

The promotion for his book goes: "It began when Biggio bought a 1945 M1 Garand Rifle, the most common rifle used in WWII, to honor his great uncle, a U.S. Army soldier who died on the hills of the Italian countryside. When Biggio showed the rifle to his neighbor, WWII veteran Corporal Joseph Drago, it unlocked memories Drago had kept unspoken for 50 years. On the spur of the moment, Biggio asked Drago to sign the rifle.

Andrew Biggio's The Rifle collected the stories of WWII vets who held and signed his M1 and relived memories
Biggio

Thus began this Marine's mission to find as many WWII veterans as he could, get their signatures on the rifle, and document their stories.

For two years, Biggio traveled across the country to interview America's last-living WWII veterans. Each time he put the M1 Garand Rifle in their hands, he recalls that their eyes lit up with memories triggered by holding the weapon that had been with them every step of the war.

With each visit and every story told to Biggio, the veterans signed their names to the rifle. 96 signatures now cover that rifle, each a reminder of the price of war and the courage of the soldiers.

Biggio noted that he realized of the WWII vets "they were leaving us at an alarming rate, and their knowledge was leaving with them."

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 325,574 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive, but around 296 die every day.

Biggio said the M1 being held by the veterans, who averaged 94 years of age, "acted like a time machine to take them back 75 years, and I asked them to tell me about their most stressful experiences." And thus, the book took form.

Biggio told me that about half of those whose stories are contained in the book have died since it was published. But among those still alive, most have become friends, and he has taken four or five at a time to France for book signings.

Now another group of interviews will be included in The Rifle 2, which is due for publication in September.

Biggio brought deeply rooted ties with the New England veterans community to the book project as the founder of Boston's Wounded Vet Run, a motorcycle rally nonprofit through which he's helped raise more than $1 million for wounded veterans.

Huesing has created his own non-profit to aid veterans. His is Save the Brave, devoted to providing companionship and stress-management tools to veterans with programs to address psychological and emotional challenges.

The most visible of those is Save the Brave Offshore, which provides offshore fishing opportunities for veterans at no cost, with Huesing sharing his view that nothing "can cure the effects of PTS better than connecting with fellow veterans in shared experiences on the water."

Continue reading
  516 Hits
  0 Comments
516 Hits
0 Comments

Cantwell's role in CHIPS bill passage was a revival of the dying art of seeking bipartisanship

uscaptialbldg
The ability of members of Congress, either House or Senate, to work across the aisle to gather support from the other party for a proposal that requires bipartisanship to move toward final approval seemed to have become a dying art in this era of stark divisiveness between the parties.

Thus the ability of Maria Cantwell, Washington’s junior U.S. senator, demonstrated an across-the-aisle ability that was key to the passage and presidential signing of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 to subsidize U.S.-made semiconductor chips led to a rare but welcome act of bipartisanship. The so-called CHIPS bill passed the Senate with a 64 to 33 majority, with 17 Republicans voting in favor, and passed the House with a 243-187 vote, with 24 Republicans voting for the legislation.

In a place where feelings rather than facts frequently guide decision-making, since feelings, after all, are what politics is all about, Cantwell used facts to overcome the politics that were in play in the Senate Republican caucus after GOP minority leader Mitch McConnell told his side they were not to negotiate on the CHIPS bill.

With a comment that had amusing implications, perhaps, as Cantwell is looked to in seeking bipartisanship on future issues, she remarked, “The leadership politics just got in our way, and we just had to figure out a way around all that. And so we did.”

The “way around all that” was teaming with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York to invite all 100 Senators to a classified briefing in a secure room on the national security imperative of passing a competition package before the August recess, a gathering that attracted about 60 Senators split equally along party lines. But she also credits Indiana Sen. Todd Young, who is completing his first term this fall, with his work on the Republican side of the aisle.
 
Cantwell had organized at least three previous classified briefings for members of the conference committee, but she wanted to hold one for all Senators to make a broader case for the legislation. The House held a similar all-members classified briefing on the legislation that week.

Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, and National Intelligence Director Avril Haines met with the Senators for nearly two hours, and the group of Senators reportedly asked 30 to 40 questions on the various national security implications of relying on chips made in China or Taiwan.

"Afterwards, I just remember members talking on the floor about it and saying, ‘Well if we can fall behind in one area, why can’t we fall behind in others?’ And so let’s get going,” Cantwell said.
 
“Today marks the start of the turnaround for U.S. chip manufacturing,” Cantwell remarked as the bill was signed. “More than a dozen companies are expected to make announcements in the next few months about expanding the chip supply chain in the United States,” she added.
 
“America wins, and workers win, and consumers win because every product dependent on semiconductors: cars, trucks, computers, phones, and farm equipment – will start to have a more reliable supply,” said Cantwell, who has chaired the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation since 2011, 11 years after she was elected to the Senate at the age of 42.
 
As the first woman to guide the important Senate committee, as well as being selected to co-chair the Senate Democrats’ new high-tech task force and earlier this year being named one of four “legislators of the year” by the Information Technology Industry Council, the lobbying arm of the high-tech industry, her leadership talents are being well recognized.
 
Maria CantwellMaria Cantwell found a way around leadership politics in getting across-the-aisle support for CHIPS semiconductor subsidyAnd an across-the-aisle leadership, as evidenced in the final steps on CHIPS would be a welcome re-emerged talent in the divisiveness-driven\ Congress.
 
In fact, one of her predecessors as Washington’s U.S. Senators was Warren G. Magnuson, who guided the Senate Commerce Committee for 22 years and was among the most respected members of what he liked to refer to as “the world’s most exclusive club” and he treated every member of his “club” as his friend.
 
Of course, your party must stay in control for 22 years to chair a committee for that long!
 
I’ve been a fan of Cantwell’s since I learned she was one of two Democrats among the eight votes against a measure called the America Invents Act proposed by President Barack Obama and supported by the vast majority of his Congressional Democrats. The measure, the first major change in patent law in decades, was touted as clearing the way for start-up and entrepreneurial innovation to find success against the tech giants by making first to file rather than first to use the new keystone of patent law.
 
Clearly, her high-tech background as an early employee and vice president of marketing at RealNetworks, a Seattle-based provider of artificial intelligence and computer vision-based products and an early pioneer in internet streaming-media delivery, gave her a unique understanding of the little guys’ tech struggle with the big guys.
 
I became aware of the act when I invested in a tiny company called VoIP-Pal, a penny stock company then based in Bellevue that had patents for most forms of voice-over-internet protocol, which by then had been, in essence, infringed upon by the major tech companies who were thus being sued by VoIP-Pal.
 
And the appeals board set up under the act could be, and was, composed of attorneys who had once been employed by one or another of the tech firms, Amazon, Verizon, T-Mobile, Twitter, or Apple, that were being sued for patent infringement.
 
So I began to search the background of the creation and passage of an act clearly doing the opposite of what it was promised to do.
 
As part of the research, I found a video clip of Cantwell giving a speech on the Senate floor in which she wound up with a heated comment: “This act is clearly favoring the big guy against the little guy,” explaining her “no” vote. In essence, leadership politics was getting in the way of doing the right thing.

A little-remembered example of her willingness to work across the aisle, even if it involved pushback against her leadership, was in May of 2010 when she joined 39 Republicans to block the Senate from ending debate on financial regulatory reform legislation, proving a “no” vote on the motion to proceed to a vote.
 
Despite the majority effort, Cantwell said she felt the bill, as it stood, failed to close loopholes in unregulated derivatives trading.
 
The bill then went back to the House, and as she recalls, “tough new rules on derivatives trading were added during conference negotiations.”

So now, as Cantwell is likely looked to for other cross-the-aisle initiatives, at least one comes to mind.

She promised some Senators concerned about the possibility of U.S. semiconductor manufacturers making investments in China or Taiwan for chip production that the CHIPS legislation provided “guardrails” allowing the government to “claw back” money if companies violate restrictions on investment in China. But it’s not unlikely that some subsequent legislation may be required to keep the companies on the straight and narrow.
 
Continue reading
  1793 Hits
  0 Comments
1793 Hits
0 Comments

Lynn Brewer seeks to assist two crises, global warming and aiding Ukraine, with hemp growing

HempField

I’ve known Lynn Brewer to be a disruptive influence since I first met her two decades ago, soon after she had left the then-iconic energy company Enron and become an in-demand speaker on why she became a whistleblower before the Houston-based giant’s bankruptcy.

But it’s intriguing to see her attention now focused on the kind of disruptions that could bring the type of changes that would have a positive impact on the crisis of global warming as well as the more imminent crisis of helping restore a war-torn Ukraine.

First, the global crisis, where her current effort is for sure disruptive in a globally beneficial manner, for the creation of what she has named the Autonomous Climate Technology Ecosystem (ACTE), for which she has a patent pending. ACTE was invented as part of her effort to focus on hemp for climate crisis easing.

ACTE, she explained, was created based on her days at Enron and her knowledge of trading carbon credits in the regulatory markets. The invention is designed to use technology to generate uniform carbon credit certificates.
 
“The uniformity of the certificates automatically generated using artificial intelligence and other climate technology to quantify and qualify the carbon sequestered allows these certificates to be actively traded by Wall Street.”

She foresees the use of drones, satellites, and probes to detect carbon data from grassland, forestland, cropland, settlements, wetlands, and agricultural by-products derived from industrial hemp, like straw, corn, or any other agricultural waste, to allow anyone who owns or leases land to request carbon credit certificate.
Lynn BrewerLynn Brewer seeks to create focus on growing hemp to help fight global warming and related project to aid Ukraine's restoration
“Rather than clear-cutting the trees and receiving, for example, $200,000 for the timber, someone can keep the timber and sell carbon credits derived from the carbon dioxide sequestered in the trees and potentially receive more than $1,000,000 for the carbon credits,” she said.  
 
The patent is key to a multipart effort Brewer has found herself immersed in this year and is an initiative to draw this country in line with the rest of the world in the growing of hemp, a plant that grows to be 15-to-18 feet tall with the majority of the leaves and flowers being grown at the top.

The hemp plant, used by humans for about 10,000 years as a source of food and building material and at one point the most dominant cash crop on the American landscape, was made illegal in the late 1930s because the plant is the source of cannabinoids and THC and an anti-marijuana campaign across America in the ‘30s culminated with the plant being classified as illegal.

One of the uses of hemp fibers is in industrial products, including building blocks, basically called Hempcrete, that resemble concrete blocks for construction but are deemed to be carbon neutral because they sequester carbon.  

Growing hemp is a process already years in development in many parts of the world, promoted by the EU across Europe, but legalized in this country only four years ago after more than 80 years as an illegal plant because hemp and marijuana both come from the cannabis plant. The industrial hemp plant must contain less than .03 percent of THC under regulatory guidelines.

In those countries where building with hemp is well underway, including South Africa, two Cape Town businesses are partnering to expand a five-story building to 12 stories by adding levels constructed with blocks from Afrimat Hemp.

“Our hemp is like bamboo, growing tall shoots that are not allowed to produce more than .03 percent THC and is not smoked!” Brewer explained.

In fact, developments relating to her hemp-growing initiative have come in a rush this year, including her patent, which she says will revolutionize the way carbon credits are generated.

First was the planting of 52 acres of industrial hemp in the town of Kittitas, not many miles from her home in Easton. By the time of the first harvest in a month or so, the stalks will have grown to 18 feet or more.

Peter WhalenPeter Whalen will partner with a Ukrainian Hempcrete builder in the first veteran's rehab center to assist Ukraine orphan-refugeesThen this spring, she was appointed to the State's Task Force for the creation of a Hemp Commodity Commission, whose launch is an indication that there is a monetary future for growing the hemp plant that has only been legal since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

An indication that her work isn’t going unnoticed is that she received an invitation to compete for Elon Musk’s Carbon Removal X-Prize of $100 million for carbon removal innovation, which is what hemp does in spades, sequestering two to three metric tons of CO2 per acre in the soil and up to 6 tons per acre in the plant.

“And,” Brewer explained, “These amounts accumulate in 90 to 120 days in the hemp, whereas a forest takes a minimum of 10 years to have the same sequestering effect.”

Evidencing an intriguing perspective on the profit value of helping save the planet, Brewer told me: “Buying and selling carbon credits should be as easy as ordering a product off Amazon.com. And anyone should be able to purchase a carbon credit certificate, whether it is a company that needs to offset its greenhouse gas emissions, a trader interested in market speculation, a broker selling climate-risk hedges, a young adult who wants to invest in the carbon credit market, or a grandfather who wants to buy a carbon credit certificate for his newborn grandchild.”

Now the Ukraine aspect of her focus. Brewer has put together a strategic partnership with Peter J. Whalen, a veterans advocate I’ve also written about, and who is proposing that his Invictus Foundation build treatment Centers of Excellence across the country for veterans’ rehabilitation from traumatic brain injuries. He is looking to use his wounded-veteran status to bring federal funding to a project in Ukraine.

Brewer contacted Whalen, a Vietnam veteran, after reading my column on him and learned he had been approached by someone in Turkey who sought to partner with him for building projects in Ukraine using Whalen’s wounded-veteran status to gather available federal funds.

Turns out that people around the world are looking for ways to get their hands on some of the millions of U.S. dollars that will go to aid Ukraine’s restoration.

“Why should we work with turkeys rather than directly with people in Ukraine,” Brewer remembers joking to Whalen. And thereby hangs the opportunity for her to introduce a Ukrainian builder named Sergiy Kovalenkov as a sort of new American hero once he gets to be known, as he will, as a co-founder of the U.S. Hemp Builders Association and now at work on building a facility in Ukraine to house orphans and homeless victims of the war.

Completion of his facility requires another $230,000 that Brewer has committed herself to raise, telling me she hoped to find opportunities to get people to donate pennies, dimes, or dollars to be part of aiding the Ukrainians.

Kovelenko is a Kyiv civil engineer builder who built the first hempcrete home in Australia.

Brewer describes him with a chuckle as “looking like he just walked off the beach at Malibu.” He's been building hemp homes for a dozen years with his company, Hempire, and will help develop a hempcrete building for Whelan’s first veterans center, which he hopes to locate on a 200-acre spot near Orting that is owned by the state.

In addition, Kovalenkov will be Brewer’s technical advisor for her hemp farm and negotiate deals, as with the French company that manufactures the block-making machine that Swiftwater will use to manufacture hempcrete blocks to use in building hempcrete homes that are pest resistant, mold resistant and fire resistant.

Brewer said her Swiftwater SPC (social purpose corporation), which is a division of her Swiftwater Holdings, “will take an investment position” in Whalen’s first center with her hemp to come from the acreage in Kittitas “sufficient to manufacture enough hempcrete to build the 15,000 square foot center from the 52 acres grown this year.”

“And the 200 acres that Whalen’s Invictus Foundation brain trauma centers will sit on would be sufficient to grow, with an agricultural designation, hemp that will be used for building transitional housing for veterans, with the first target being veterans among Seattle’s homeless population,” Brewer said.

 
Continue reading
  1603 Hits
  0 Comments
1603 Hits
0 Comments

Mariners owner John Stanton, 'first and foremost a fan,' excited about team's surge into All-Star break

Safeco-Field-Seattle-Mariners
As the Seattle Mariners commence the post-All-Star break half of a season that ended its first half with sizzling success unseen in this area for two-plus decades, analysts and sports writers struggled to determine what brought about the success of a team went from a disastrous season start to now the most interesting in all of Major League Baseball.

Certainly, watching the team’s commitment to victory as a group of young men and the emergence of a couple of all-star players who have been hits off the field as well as on have been satisfying for long-suffering fans.

But I think it’s equally interesting to catch the excitement of the guy who occupies the owner's box, seeing a team that is finally achieving what has (clearly) driven John Stanton since the direction of the franchise became his as owner six years ago, giving his community and its fans a winning team.

Stanton became the CEO and majority owner of the Mariners in April of 2016 after the ownership group he led completed its purchase of the Mariners from Nintendo of America, and later that summer, Major League Baseball formally approved the sale of the Mariners to Stanton.

John StantonJohn Stanton
Mariners owner John Stanton's site set on enjoying the second-half run as '...basically just a fan'
He had become an owner in 2010 with the purchase of the 10 percent that John McCaw had held since the original ownership group that was put together in 1992, headed by Nintendo of America, at a time when Stanton, a telecom innovator, and entrepreneur, wanted mightily to be involved as an owner but admitted he didn’t have the capital available to join the group at that time. He was launching Western Wireless and once told me he and his wife, Theresa Gillespie, were paying his 100-some employees out of their personal checking account.

Buying out one of the cellular-icon McCaw brothers was appropriate since Stanton had been the first hire for Craig McCaw in the mid-80s when he created McCaw Cellular and helped him grow the telecom company over the rest of that decade before leaving with Craig’s blessing to launch Western Wireless.

Over the next decade, Stanton’s leadership satisfied many shareholders of the wireless companies he created and guided.

Since I was among those shareholder beneficiaries, I offer a story I shared with Stanton 20 years ago about my wife and me deciding we had an interest in investing in wireless companies. So, we bought stock in Western Wireless in 1992 for $15 per share.

The shares grew in value into the $60s before Western Wireless spun off Voicestream Wireless, a subsidiary created in 1994, into a separate publicly traded company that was soon trading in the mid-80s, as I recall, making the Western Wireless and Voicestream shares together worth about $130.

When I visited Stanton at an event in the early 2000’s I told him, prompting a chuckle: “my wife and I burn incense each evening before your picture in thanks for the shares’ performance.”

Voicestrean Wireless, in fact, in 2002, was renamed T-Mobile as it became the Bellevue-based subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom and now has its name now on the Mariners’ domed stadium.

So now Stanton’s sights are focused on satisfying ticketholders, who apparently will be coming to T-Mobile Park in the coming days in stadium-filling numbers, reminding me of a quote I included in a pre-season column recalling that 1992 opening day and the new group of local owners that would save MLB for Seattle: “I am first and foremost a fan. I love the game and everything about it.”

Stanton told me in one of our interviews how he attended Seattle Pilots games as a 14-year-old watching his hometown team with his father in the team’s only year of existence and said he recalled crying when the Pilots left town for Milwaukee.

Now the Mariners, who brought a record of 22 wins in their last 25 games into this week’s All-Star break, head into the second half with a record of 51-42 and trail the Astros in the American League West by nine games.

Whether playoffs or further post-season activity lie ahead to remind Mariner fans and the communities the franchise serves of what the last playoff 21 years ago felt like remains to be seen.
 
There will be heroes who perform at the plate, in the field, and with their competitive zeal between now and October, and their efforts may restore memories of the achievements that long-time Mariner fans recall.
 
Continue reading
  2266 Hits
  0 Comments
2266 Hits
0 Comments

Leen Kawas' comeback: Managing General Partner of Propel Bio Partners, a new fund for life sciences start-ups

Propel-Life-Science-Fund
When I did a column five years ago citing a comment from Melinda Gates to a large audience of women that the technology industry was dominated by “a sea of white guys,” I noted that it was actually a woman, Leen Kawas, a then-32-year-old immigrant not yet a citizen, who was the dominant face of the biotech sector of technology in this state.
 
In recalling that column, I remembered making the point that Kawas was the beneficiary of a large group of investors who were believers in her, in her commitment and in her company, Athira Biotechnology, as she was at the leading edge of the emerging field of regenerative medicine, destined to halt or even reverse the progression of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
 
I revisit the column here because of the corporate rollercoaster ride Kawas has been on over the past 18 months, first preparing for and taking Athira public in October of 2020. Then being placed on leave in June of 2021 for obscure allegations relating to her doctoral paper at Washington State University nearly a decade ago, then being forced by Athira’s board to resign her CEO role last September after an investigation of the doctoral paper allegations was completed, but results never announced.

Remember this is the young scientist who was co-inventor of Athira's lead drug candidate ATH-1017 and also invented several of the innovative drug candidates in Athira’s pipeline.
 
Dr. Leen Kawas co founder and managing general partner of new fund Dr. Leen Kawas,
Co-Founder, Managing General Partner - 
Propel Bio Partners LP
Now comes news of Kawas’ giant of all comebacks, easing the anger toward the board of Athira that has been the shared emotion for most of that large group of investors who never wavered in their support of Kawas. Now, in essence, she is past the pain of Athira, realizing that what she and her patents put in place there is still likely to become the vital drug she and those who invested in her anticipate.
 
So now rather than building one vital world-changing biotech company, her future will be in helping numerous entrepreneurs, including biotech ones, build important companies.

It was announced in no less than the Wall Street Journal that Kawas is co-founder and managing general partner of a new investment firm called Propel Bio Partners LP, which will seek to raise a pooled investment fund of $150 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Of particular significance to the investor world, her co-founder is Richard Kayne, prominent Los Angeles-based asset manager, former Cantor Fitgerald principal, and founder of Kayne Anderson. He will be Propel’s general partner.
 
Propel says it plans to invest in life sciences companies at various stages of development, seeking “to help founders and management teams fulfill the urgent mission to advance human health with disruptive therapies and technologies.”

Propel Bio Partners has quickly attracted some who were early investors in Athira, originally named M3 Bio. Thus it was announced at almost the same time as news of Propel Bio’s formation that John Fluke Jr., who remains on Athira’s board, and Carol Criner, vice president of strategic accounts for the global enterprise solutions company HCL Technologies, were planning to invest.

“Leen is a visionary entrepreneur with a unique blend of drive, intelligence, and demonstrated business acumen. In six short years, she built a company from the ground up, taking it through the early stages of drug development, through its public offering, and into the final stages of developing its potentially game-changing therapy,” Kayne said.

“Under Leen’s leadership, I believe Propel is uniquely positioned to identify excellent opportunities to assist entrepreneurs along the path to success,” he added.

The investment firm’s team includes senior associate Dasom (Christine) Yoo, former Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center business development manager.

And its advisory board includes Ronald Lee Krall, former GlaxoSmithKline chief medical officer, and current NIH Foundation director,

“I am looking forward to providing promising and passionate entrepreneurs the same opportunity that Ric Kayne and others gave to me when I started Athira,” Kawas said in a press release announcing propel Bio's launch.

Richard Kayne prominent Los Angeles based asset manager will be new funds general partner Propel Bio Partners LPRichard Kayne -
prominent Los Angeles based asset manager will be New Funds General Partner Propel Bio Partners LP
In statements coinciding with the fund's announcement, several of those advising or investing in the new fund, including Fluke and Criner, who were early investors in Athira, made it clear that their involvement was an endorsement of Kawas as an entrepreneur, leader, and scientist.

Those who are longtime readers of The Harp may well recall that Kawas has been my focus on a half dozen occasions, dating back to when I met her in the fall of 2013 before she had been named M3 CEO.

Because her drug was initially focused on Parkinson’s and my wife, Betsy, has been suffering with Parkinson's since 1999. I took to helping Leen meet potential investors through the fall of 2013 and all of 2014.

I told her "You are my company."

She liked to chuckle when she would tell people that I introduced her to the first 200 people she met in Seattle, Spokane, and Southern California, beginning even before she was formally made CEO in January of 2014, Among the first in Seattle were Fluke and Criner. Carol was the first woman I introduced Leen to and she became the first female investor and a mentor.

As I watched Leen's presentation ability, I quickly became comfortable introducing the young Jordanian woman to friends I felt could, if they wished to, ante up the $50,000 that was then the ask.

One was Richard Sudek, then recent past chair of the five-county Tech Coast Angels, which was the largest angel investor group in the nation. Thus at that point, he was likely the best known angel-investment leader in Southern California.

Sudek, who had returned to academia at Chapman University in Orange County, agreed in spring of 2014 to sit for Leen’s computer slide presentation and when she finished, Sudek, leaving me stunned, said: “If you have an advisory board, I’d be happy to be on it.” Sudek has never wavered in his support of her since then.

An accidental introduction allowed me to advise Leen that fate had already determined she would be a success. That came about at Suncadia when Leen was preparing for a presentation I had arranged for a board I was on and I went into the lobby to get coffee. Jim Warjone then retired as CEO but still chairman of Port Blakely Companies, saw me and we caught up for a few minutes since I hadn't seen him in several years. Then he asked what I was doing there and I told him, he asked if he could sit in on the presentation.

So he did and before long he called me to tell me he had decided to invest. He has shared with me several times in recent years when Leen comes up in conversation: "She is the smartest person I've ever met!"

At one point, Kawas cautiously explained to me M3’s focus had to shift from Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s because it was easier to raise money for a drug to reverse Alzheimer’s and the company was now in a multi-million dollar raise preceding its planned IPO. But she added that “as soon as we finish with approval for Alzheimer’s we'll be 60 percent of the way along when we shift our focus to Parkinson’s” and indeed the trials for Parkinson’s have already gotten underway.

As Leen and I became close friends because of our common goal, at one point she asked: “Can you invest?” So a couple of days later I wrote her a check. A few days after that she told me Fluke had agreed to invest and I asked her if she had deposited my check. She said she hadn’t and I said “if you don’t deposit my check as your first investor before you deposit Fluke’s then tear mine up.”

Now she was certainly aware that a guy with his own family venture fund was of greater long-term investment value than a retired newspaper publisher. Nevertheless, she deposited my check that afternoon, so I have been able to say I was her first investor. And as her image and impact become more far-reaching in the future with her new biotech fund, it becomes ever more satisfying to say that. Because we are close friends, Fluke has been okay but tends to look aside if he's around when I have occasion to tell someone that I am investor number 1.

By 2015, Leen was finding biotech executives and funders beating a path to her door so my introductions were no longer needed, but we remained friends as I was able to turn my attention to other things but watched as she continued to grow a cadre of followers, frequently those for whom Alzheimer's and Parkinson's had personally impacted their lives.

One was Michael Nassirian, a retired Microsoft key executive and an Iranian whose father, who had headed the Iranian oil company, had died of Alzheimer's.

When Nassirian heard Leen's presentation at a Bellevue Chamber event, he approached her after her talk and told her he wanted to be involved and asked how much she needed.

Because of the Leen connection, Nassirian and I have become close friends and meet regularly and I'm sure one of those future meetings will relate to Propel and the need for him to be involved.

When Leen was once asked at an event about what's the difference between the technology industry and biotech, the answer she gave may help guide the future conviction of entrepreneurs drawn to her industry and to her fund.

"Would you rather be part of the industry that will create new instruments that people will be able to hold in their hand or would you want to be part of an industry whose role will be to help create a new hand?"
 
Continue reading
  2106 Hits
  0 Comments
2106 Hits
0 Comments

Aggression in Ukraine ends 30-year ties between Washington State and Russia

Ukraine_Flag
Watching Russia in a warlike and aggressor role in its unprovoked war on Ukraine has likely brought a mix of sadness and regret for those who recall the time in 1994 that Boris Yeltsin, first president of the Russian Federation, stood before a Seattle luncheon audience of 800 that included ambassadors from many nations and shared his vision of a special relationship between this state and his nation’s Far East.

The unlikely but real relationship between a state and one of the world’s most powerful nations that began to develop more than 30 years ago and reached a high point in the ‘90s came to a sad but necessary end last week as both the state of Washington and the non-profit Council for US-Russia Relations ended ties with Russia because of its military aggression against Ukraine.

carol vipermanCarol Viperman - Founder, Foundation for Russian-American Economic CooperationGov. Jay Inslee last week ordered state agencies to cut ties with Russian institutions and the Council for US-Russia Relations condemned the “military aggression by the Russian Federation against the Ukrainian sovereign nation and people,” adding ‘We call for the earliest cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of Russian Federation forces from Ukraine.”

Derek Norberg, President and Founder of the Council of U.S.-Russia Relations, and Executive Director of its subsidiary Russian American Pacific Partnership (RAPP) said in advising me of the council’s action last week: “We are unable to continue, given the current situation.”

Although there was a trio of important events in that special relationship, mainly an economic one, for Washington State and the Russian Federation, the relationship was guided over two decades mainly by the Seattle-based Foundation for Russian-American Economic Cooperation and its founder and president, Carol Vipperman.

The first of those special events was the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle, which were never envisioned to be held in Seattle when media mogul Ted Turner, troubled by the political boycotts of the Olympics by the U.S, in 1980 and by the U.S.S.R. in 1984, decided to sponsor an international sporting event. The first games were held in Moscow in 1986 with the second destined for the U.S. four years later.
 
Even before the Moscow games opened, sports promoter Bob Walsh created the Seattle Organizing Committee to bring the games to Seattle. On June 19, 1986, the Committee won the bid from Turner for the 1990 games, outdoing five other cities that had hoped to be selected, and Walsh began putting together a $180 million production.

Seattle hosted those second Goodwill Games in July and August of 1990. Thousands of athletes from nearly a hundred countries competed at local venues, including the UW, the Tacoma Dome, and Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center that was built for the games. By then the U.S.S.R., was mid-way through its three-year dissolution that resulted in the emergence of 15 independent republics, including Russia.

The Games’ keynote address, a very brief welcome, came from Ronald Reagan, who had finished his second term just 18 months earlier. The Cold War was then almost over with what President Reagan had once described as “the Evil Empire” on the brink of collapse.

It was actually the year prior to the Goodwill games that Vipperman, a Seattle marketing consultant, was invited to join a U.S. group invited to go to Moscow and Leningrad to look in on newly formed cooperatives designed to pursue U.S. business approaches. She returned and launched the Foundation.

 
Derek NorbergDerek Norberg - Founder, President Council of US-Russia Relations“Remember April of 1989,” Vipperman replied when I asked her what her expectations were informing the foundation. “It would be seven months before the wall fell. We felt if we could do business together we’d be less likely to go to war.”

Derek Norberg, founder, President Council of US-Russia Relations
 
And so for the next 22 years, FRAEC would be a leader in the quest to build economic ties between the two nations.

Ralph Munro, then-Secretary of State, actually went to Russia on a people-to-people mission in 1983, a time when the tensions in the relationship between our two countries were at a peak.

“The Russians thought we were going to wipe them out,” Munro recalled. “All they seemed to want to talk about with an American was how we were going to kill them. Then I ran across people who thought there was hope.”

Then a year following the Games, as business relationships were being pursued both in the Russian Far East mainland and on Sakhalin Island, Alaska Airlines decided to commence summer service to the port town of Magadan, and Khabarovsk, the largest city in the Far East. Alaska eventually extended its service to five cities in the rugged Far East of Russia.

It's worth noting that Seattle is 500 air miles closer to Magadon than Moscow is. Vipperman said, “The Alaska flights were meaningful to both sides.”

Munro recalled taking eight to 10 trips to the Russian Far East, including one on which he “took the first boxes of Washington State Pears to that region and they went crazy for them.”

In 1992 the new Russian Republic opened its first consulate office in the U.S. in Seattle, with what was described as “jubilation.” Chicago, with a large Russian population, had expected to be selected, but it was Seattle.

“We got the consulate, and they gave us a consul general, Georgiy Vlasken, a visionary guy who wanted to make things happen,” Munro said.

Vipperman recalled that Vlaskin was “a vegan vegetarian and never drank,” which brought back an amusing memory of my encounter with him when Vlaskin invited me and three of my editorial people to come to his Capitol Hill home for a get-acquainted lunch.

As the four of us sat down, Vlaskin poured a vodka for each of us and offered a toast. As he drank down his vodka, I did the same. Then he poured another and drank it down, so I did as well.

It was a day on which I had to drive to the airport for an afternoon flight to Spokane so I was a bit edgy when he poured a third vodka for both of us and drank his down. I carefully downed mine and told him that was all for me.

When I later related the incident to Vipperman, she laughed and informed me he always had water in his vodka glasses.

Washington State’s relationship soon grew to include most West Coast states and several in other parts of the country.

“The vision was originally for Washington State and we led states by a long way in trade and commerce,’ Norberg of the Council of U.S. Russia Relations told me. “And we had the only operating joint U.S.-Soviet joint venture company, Marine Resources Co. International,” a company with which Norberg held a variety of management positions in the 1990s.In the late 1980s, Norberg worked on Soviet fishing joint-ventures in U.S. waters off Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

Ralph MunroRalph Munro - Former Secretary of StateNorberg’s Russian-American Pacific Partnership held its 26th annual meeting last July, a bilateral gathering that attracted 90 participants from both Washington, D.C., and Moscow as well as representatives from seven states and seven eastern Russian regions. Among presentations was one by John Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation, who said there are now some 1,100 U.S. companies operating in Russia.

Sullivan noted that “during times when our two governments do not see eye to eye on many issues, annual meetings like RAPP assume even greater importance. Such meetings between businesspeople, entrepreneurs, academics, and students, and regional and civic leaders serve to explore the many avenues for potential cooperation and provide ballast when the bilateral relationship is strained.”

Then came the Ukraine invasion. And that has left little but reflection.

“We have no interest in having anything to do with Russia now,” said Norberg. “I don’t think there’s going to be much return to anything normal. There’s no path for Russia to return, except without Putin.”

Alaska Airlines’ service to the Russian Far East was driven by both the pursuit of a business opportunity as well as our interest in building cultural ties between regions of the Far North,” said Joe Sprague, president of Horizon Air who was Alaska’s senior vice president for external relations when I did a column a few years ago recalling the Russian Far East service.

Alaska had to discontinue the connection in 1998 when the Russian economy collapsed. In an email to me for this column, Sprague said: “Regrettably, the business opportunity did not fully materialize and there were significant logistical challenges. It’s unfortunate because, as we see today, those bridges of understanding are more important than ever.”

Alaska’s innovative outreach to the Russian Far East actually went back almost two decades earlier, in the early ‘70s, when the Seattle-based carrier began charter service to the Soviet Union’s Siberia as a result of what has been described as “secret negotiations” between the airline and Soviet Authorities.

When the U.S. Department of State learned of the deal, it decided not to block the plan, indicating it didn’t want to create a negative response from the Soviet Union. It might also be assumed the agency wanted to avoid a negative response from Washington State’s two U.S. senators, Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson, then among the Senate’s most powerful members.

Joe Sprague - Horizon Air PresidentJoe Sprague - Horizon Air PresidentI have my own Russian memories since part of the Goodwill Games involved conferences and hosting Russians. Thus as the publisher of the Business Journal, I agreed to host a journalist. So Mikail (Misha) Bonderenko, a 39-year-old journalist who was actually the president of the young journalists of Europe, became not only part of the PSBJ staff for a couple of weeks, but also my family’s house guest.

Through him my wife and three kids had the unique experience of learning first hand about Russia and Russians since later Misha asked me if we would host his wife and 9-year-old daughter, Masha, and Dasha, who lived with us for a time as we introduced to the growing Russian community in the Seattle area.

Meanwhile, Misha and I created a Russian newsletter with the intent of keeping interested business people informed of developments in Russia.. But we couldn’t generate enough newsletter sales to keep him interested, in part because he had a career to build and I lost track of him.

Vipperman recalled for me winding down her organization in 2011 because funding, primarily from government sources, was winding down as relations between the two nations were deteriorating.

She recalled, “getting the most touching emails from people all over the world” when word of FRAEC’s closing spread.

But she said she remained hopeful about the future until returning from a photo workshop on Mt. Rainier “I turned the radio and the top item on the newscast was that Putin was going to run for president again in 2012.”

"I was glad no one was around to hear the four-letter words that spewed out," she chuckled.
 
Continue reading
  1492 Hits
  0 Comments
1492 Hits
0 Comments

New indoor track and downtown stadium add logic to a vote for Spokane as 'Sports town USA'

SpokaneWA
Madison, WI, home of the University of Wisconsin, wears the Sports-Illustrated bestowed crown, strongly disputed by several cities like Ann Arbor, MI, and Columbus, OH, as “Best Football Town in America.” There’s little dispute about Eugene, OR’s, claim to the title, ‘Track Town USA.” So comes now my sense that Spokane deserves the title. “Sports Town USA.”

But before the guffaws commence from those in the Puget Sound area where all the pro sports teams, as well as the collegiate Huskies, have large and super-loyal fan bases and tend to look down their noses at Spokane, or from California’s major cities with a similar nose problem, let me offer the points of my argument.

Stephanie Curran CEO of Spokane Public Facilities DistrictStephanie Curran CEO of Spokane Public Facilities DistrictThe idea actually came to mind as I watched high school and college runners from across the country at a track event at the city’s gleaming new indoor 200-meter track that boasts the nation’s newest and the West’s only hydraulic-banked running track, housed in the new Podium. That means the ends of the track are hydraulically elevated for sprint events and lowered for other events.

There should be little argument if Spokane claimed the title of the nation’s basketball capital. After all, it’s not only home to a Gonzaga Bulldog basketball team that dominates collegiate ranks, it also hosts on one weekend each year the 3-on-3 basketball tournament called Hoopfest which is the largest event of its kind in the world. Or as the event launched in 1989 touts itself, “the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament on earth,” attracting a quarter-million fans, 450 courts spanning 45 city blocks, and drawing 6,700 teams.

Then of course, for the world of runners, there’s the Lilac Bloomsday Run, the 12 kilometers, 7.4-mile run that on May 1 will mark its 45th anniversary this year, celebrating the 1977 launch of the event by Spokane resident Don Kardong, who had finished fourth in the marathon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. An amusing note is that Kardong had moved to Spokane only two years before the Olympics and was basically unknown in Spokane until his name came on television and Spokanites could watch and learn about him during and after the marathon.

An indication of Spokane’s ability to attract talent to its events, before Hoopfest began to attract global attention, is evidenced by the launch of Bloomsday. Kardong had hoped for 500 participants for the inaugural run and got nearly triple that. The second edition had over 5,000 and the third, in 1979, attracted 10,000 runners, with 50,000 spectators lining the streets.

As Stephanie Curran, CEO of the Spokane Public Facilities District that manages the new Podium and several other facilities, told me in an email: “I believe we are the model of how cities can grow and develop their public facilities,” pointing out that the PFD also manages a convention center, performing arts center, arena and new stadium under construction. “We literally manage one of every venue type. We are blazing a trail.’

Among the facilities under the oversight of the PFD will soon be the new downtown stadium to replace 70-plus-year-old Albi Stadium, located in northwest Spokane, which has primarily been the home of high school football over those seven decades.

Marty Dickinson chair of Spokane Public Facilities DistrictMarty Dickinson chair of Spokane Public Facilities DistrictThe Spokane Public Schools board, after three years of controversy that included an advisory vote in 2018 in which nearly 70 percent of the vote favored building a new stadium on the site of Albi Stadium, voted last April to approve construction of the $31 million, 5,000-seat stadium at the downtown site. Support, including financial concessions, from the downtown-business community’s Downtown Spokane Partnership as well as the PFD, tipped the scales in favor of the downtown location.

Curran, in praise of the stadium decision, said: “The School Board ultimately demonstrated bold leadership and made the best decision for the community. While not everyone agrees, I am confident in the end they will realize the opportunities the downtown location will provide will be amazing for our students and our community.”

The new stadium, being built across the street from the Podium, won’t just be the home to high school football, but to two new soccer teams, men’s and women’s teams in the United Soccer League, which touts itself as “the largest and fastest-growing professional soccer organization in North America.” Landing the two soccer teams was part of the downtown location payoff.
Spokane Sports CEO Eric Sawyer explained, of both the Podium and the new downtown stadium that opens next year: "we sat down a number of years ago to create a roadmap for sports in our region and a key conclusion was we needed a multipurpose sports complex to attract visitors in winter months. And realizing that Albi had to be replaced, there was a conversation on where to build a new one.”

“So we thought maybe downtown and make it something more than a high school football stadium so the final outcome of both the Podium and the new stadium was getting all the stars aligned,” explained Sawyer, whose non-profit marketing organization has a mission to recruit and develop sporting events.

He added that with those stars now aligned, he can look to retire next year when he turns 65.

The $54 million Podium, which sits high on a 15-foot basalt outcropping and overlooks downtown Spokane and is connected to Riverfront Park, opened in December and takes its next high-visibility step this weekend when it hosts USA Track & Field Indoor Championships that serves as the qualifying meet for the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, March 11-13.

Curran reflected in her email to me on the past that helped bring about the present and future.
“If you look at the history of Spokane and how Expo ’74 almost 50 years ago changed the trajectory of Spokane, I fully believe what we are doing in Spokane now, especially on the North Bank where the Podium, Arena, and Downtown Stadium are located, we are the next Expo (the World’s Fair for which Spokane became the smallest city ever to host the global event),” Curran said. “We are changing the trajectory of Spokane through Sports and Entertainment and driving money into our economy at the exact time it is needed post Pandemic.”

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, discussing the emerging challenge of rising home prices and national attention that are part of that trajectory, said “Spokane has been discovered.” And the PFD And Spokane Sports are seeking to do their parts in providing things for those in other parts of the country to discover.

If the line “a river runs through it” were ever applied to an urban area, it would nowhere have more import than Spokane. The entire downtown area of the city abuts the Spokane River, which not only has the largest urban waterfall in the nation there near downtown but attracts activities and recreation to the shore and thus to adjacent downtown. So the downtown core of Spokane is never going to be diminished by future events, as is being feared for Seattle and San Francisco as the remote-work and blended-work phenomenon takes hold. And additions like the stadium and the Podium only ensure the future of downtown as well as the city surrounding it.

With nearby ski resorts and numerous lakes in both Eastern Washington and adjacent Northern Idaho, outdoor sports and activities offer as much newcomer lure for Spokane as organized sports events. But reputations are built on organized sports.

Marty Dickinson, chair of the PFD, praised sports investment as “the great connector in our community.” Dickinson, who was executive vice president of Spokane-based Sterling Bank and its successor Umpqua Bank said sports “serves as a wonderful convenor of diversity, unifies us and inspires many and along with that it is an economic driver.”

Referring to the Podium, Dickinson, who now also chairs the Washington State University Board of Regents, said “being able to provide a public space of this quality and share it with so many while also continuing to drive economic vitality into our region is something that everyone is very proud of.”

Spokane Sports CEO Eric SawyerSpokane Sports CEO Eric SawyerBecause it’s an entity partly funded with taxpayer dollars, how they handle that responsibility is clearly a part of the PFD's success. And as Paul Read, publisher of the Spokane Journal of Business and PFD vice-chair, told me in a phone conversation: “I’ve always been impressed with their stewardship of the public dollars.”

While the leadership and vision of the PFD and Spokane Sports have written a success story for a city that is attracting attention as a place to live for those tired of the pace and costs of Seattle and California cities, it’s important for the city to recognize those whose belief in the place came years ago.

I’m thinking of Bobby Brett, one of baseball’s most famous brother acts, who guided the Brett brothers to buy the Spokane Indians, now part of the High-A West baseball league, 36 years ago and in 1990 added the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League to their Brett Sports lineup.

But back to the Sports Town USA premise, I tossed out at the top of this column. Interestingly the PFD CEO Curran told me in her email, not yet being aware of this column, she had thought about “Sports Town USA” and suggested it to the county commissioners. And she seemed enthused that they opted for the name Sports County USA.

It's an understandable decision for the elected commissioners since the city of Spokane Valley, with its 106,000 population, almost half of Spokane's 229,000, might feel somehow slighted and thus upset.

That would seem a remote concern. And sadly, "Track County USA," would seem less likely to gain much traction for the city’s image if it’s promoted around the country. Hopefully, the marketing people find a way to bring “Sports Town USA” to fruition.

The city merits that title and in fact, it will add to the growing attraction it has evidenced with potential new residents, including those from Seattle and the West Side, as well as California.
 
Continue reading
  1607 Hits
  0 Comments
1607 Hits
0 Comments

Google & Big Tech — New accusations of antitrust, privacy and possible criminal conduct abound

Big_Tech_antitrust_privacy_behavior_under_scrutiny

Monopolize and manipulate. Those are the antitrust accusations and charges of privacy invasion, and even illegal conduct, being tossed at Google and Facebook by a group of state attorneys general, a coalition of newspaper publishers and members of Congress, all of whom want to bring the tech giants to heel in one way or another.

But a suit against Google and its subsidiary YouTube by a Seattle-based firm whose business includes managing receiverships may prove equally interesting to watch as it unfolds.

And now add the suit filed Monday by Washington Atty. Gen. Robert Ferguson and attorneys general from three other states focusing on Google’s collection of local data that can be used to target advertising as well as build internet-user profiles, even those users who had acted on Google’s agreement to let them opt-out. Ferguson said, bluntly, Google’s conduct “is not only dishonest, but it’s also unlawful.”

The suit by Revitalization Partners, likely the first of its kind by a court-appointed receiver, alleges Google and YouTube infringed on a trio of patents held by a Bellevue-based company named AudienceScience Inc., which actually went out of business five years ago. 

Al Davis Revitalization PartnersAl Davis
Revitalization Partners
Revitalization Partners’ co-founder and principal Al Davis said his firm discovered more than 30 AudienceScience patents after being appointed by the court to manage the receivership process, which involves finding the best solution for the highest possible return for creditors.

A determination of patent infringement would likely mean financial penalties for Google and YouTube, though Revitalization Partners’ suit does not include a request for a specific dollar judgment.

But Ferguson’s suit specifically asks that Google be ordered to disclose the profits it made from using the tactics alleged and give it all back as well as pay a $7,500 fee for each violation. That would mean uncovering Google’s profits from the activity.

Davis noted that AudienceScience invented and patented many of the “foundational technologies” used across the digital advertising industry today, including the industry’s first of what are called “behavioral targeting products.” That means targeting advertising based on both user history and page views.

AudienceScience was a Bellevue company known for building software and tools designed to help major marketers buy digital ads programmatically, using a combination of automation and data. It closed its doors after it lost its long-time client Procter & Gamble.

“Now that we’ve received the necessary approvals from the Washington State receivership court to pursue litigation, we are in a position to execute and potentially recover a significant amount of value for creditors using these and other patents,” Davis said.

If you’ve ever had the sense akin to something like catching someone peeking in your bedroom window when, for example, ads for various San Diego hotels suddenly appear on your desktop after you’ve been looking up the website of a hotel in that city, you’ll understand what technology of user information to empower advertisers is all about. And why the effort to control it as an example of privacy invasion is beginning to attract such attention at the highest levels.

And how much the major tech companies have made off of providing information to advertisers on where visitors to the internet seek information, should that sort of financial information ever be ferreted out, could prove interesting to the attorneys general, publishers, and Congress in determining actions to impose limits on the activities of the tech giants.

Ferguson’s suit seeking specific profit information would be a key step in determining that information on the riches gleaned by actions increasingly viewed as privacy invasion and patent infringement.
.
According to material unveiled in the past few days in the case brought in Texas by the coalition of attorneys general, Google manipulated the system of buying and selling online display ads and deceived advertisers. Google dominates the online system for buying and selling online display ads.

If courts affirm such manipulation charges, it would mean more than just other media entities seeking to have their ads reach consumers were harmed but also consumers in general since such action inevitably leads to fewer product choices.

In fact, the Revitalization Partners suit against Google and YouTube isn’t the first on behalf of a small tech firm alleging Google infringed on its patents.

Coincidentally, another former Bellevue company named VoIP-Pal.com Inc. has over the past few years filed suits against Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other major tech companies alleging violation of the patents it holds on what’s known as Voice-over-Internet Protocol.

VoIP-Pal is a publicly-traded corporation that is actually a penny stock (hovering at a few cents a share) because it has never been able to monetize the technology of its patents and likely won’t unless the courts order the big tech companies to pay for using what VoIP-Pal contends it holds the patents for. It owns a portfolio of such patents.

For example, VoIP-Pal contends Amazon’s Alexa calling and messaging service uses VoIP-Pal’s patented technologies to direct voice and video calls and messages is an infringement on one of its patents. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision how much revenue would flow to VoIP-Pal from a court decision requiring Amazon to pay VoIP-Pal for Alexa’s technology.

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, after several years of deliberation, approved all the patents for the various technologies in the company’s portfolio and the entity known as the Patent Trials and Appeals Board, in an unusual decision favoring the “little guy,” rejected the challenges by the big tech companies to the validity of VoIP-Pal patents.

Observers of these types of litigations relating to patent infringement actions against the major tech firms know there’s a quiet desire not to have a suit by a small firm come before one of the Silicon Valley Federal judges.

But the federal judge in West Texas has a track record of the ruling, in patent infringement cases, in favor of the patent holder. VoIP-Pal recently moved its corporate headquarters to Waco, TX.

 
Continue reading
  1441 Hits
  0 Comments
1441 Hits
0 Comments

Tale of two cities and debate over a region's name

Seattle_v_Bellevue_banner
The congenial disagreements that I've had over the past couple of years with my friend John Powers, longtime economic development leader in this area, about our respective views of Seattle's future role in the region took on a bit of a new spin as a result of last week's Seattle elections.

In some respects, our discussions reflect primarily on who Seattle was, and its likely comeback, vs. a changing workplace dynamic and its maybe not comeback might be the tale of two cities.

Powers, whom I met 20 years ago when he was mayor of my hometown of Spokane and who then came to Seattle to head the King County economic development organization that he renamed Enterprise Seattle, has contended that despite the growth of the surrounding communities and counties, this region needs to remain "the Greater Seattle" area.

I have contended that it's time to focus on the fact this is the "Puget Sound Area," with the image of Seattle declining, and marketing material should acknowledge a Puget Sound designation.

John PowersJohn PowersBut the Seattle election results that suggest moderates may again be in the ascendancy in Seattle may have changed the tone of my conversations with Powers, who actually became a client of mine for a time after I retired as publisher of Puget Sound Business Journal and he was lured away from Enterprise Seattle to run Colliers International's Northwest operation. We've stayed close since then.

My view had seemed to gather greater credibility when Amazon CEO Andy Jassey, obviously throwing down the gauntlet to Seattle, told the Geekwire summit in early October: "We don't view Seattle as our HQ1 any longer. We view it as Puget Sound."

Jassy wasn't taking part in that "what should we call our region" discussion. But he might have been when he commented: "Bellevue, just east of Seattle, is where most of our growth will end up being." He added that he wouldn't be surprised if Amazon opened other offices in additional cities in the region.

But soon after Jassey's comments came last week's mayoral and a city council race and, of all things, a city attorney contest involving a former Republican who won. That allowed us to agree that, in Powers' words, it was "absolutely heartening" to see Bruce Harrell's overwhelming victory in the race to be Seattle's next mayor and the sense of the city's moderates emerging to actually make their voices heard.

For business and civic leaders in communities across Puget Sound who may have become convinced that the Seattle they watched warily over the past several years was on the verge of becoming a city living on the memories of yesterday's accomplishments, those Seattle election results had to bring a collective sigh of relief.

There was a particular satisfaction in seeing the photo of Harrell, son of a black father and Japanese mother, standing next to a hugely smiling Norm Rice, the black leader whose two successful terms as mayor saw him build back downtown, improve schools and reinvigorate neighborhoods.

Powers summed it up for me thus: "Bruce Harrell's Election bodes well for the entire region as 'Seattle Together' begins to tackle big challenges and moves forward to regain its footing and credibility. It will take time - resources - and a strong political consensus as well as the will to turn the situation around - but I do believe Mayor Harrell's election will be seen as the event that was the beginning of the turnaround."

But careful about giving way to optimism too soon, I told Powers in a post-election conversation. We have to see how Harrell as mayor handles the pushback that is sure to come from the group of city council members furthest on the political left, considerably to the left of Harrell.

It's pretty clear that the greatest opposition to Harrell is likely to come from council member Kshama Sawant. But then Powers offered: "Sawant's voice is going to grow feinter not louder." And she may be recalled in a vote on December 7.

And I suggested to Powers, who retired a year ago after nine years guiding the Kitsap Economic Development organization and moved home to Spokane, that Jassey may have inadvertently opened the door to that "Greater Seattle" vs. Puget Sound Area" discussion.

The elections were one of the things that have loomed on the horizon to determine what the future holds for Seattle's long dominance in the region's identity. The other, which hasn't gotten a lot of attention yet with the elections dominating the discussion, is the yet-to-be-released census data.

If the census data, to be distributed in depth before year-end, shows dramatic comparative growth of the Eastside vs, Seattle, it may require rethinking from both political and resource-allocation standpoints of the relative impact of the city vs. its Eastside suburbs.

The region is flush with communities whose ties with each other are at least as important to them as ties with Seattle, much as with the array of individual cities surrounding the Bay Area, which of course is a designation that has come to be globally recognized, as would The Puget Sound Area become.

In fact, I'd submit that the idea has been made much more logical by the post-COVID phenomenon of remote work, which is allowing a large percentage of workers once office-bound five days a week to now choose what appealing place they want to live. And it's likely to be true that communities around Puget Sound, along with more distant and more rural locations, will be in the running to create strategies to lure those remote workers.

And it's already clear that far fewer employees are likely to be working downtown, leaving a central Seattle that may well be far less a "where it's at" business community than it was accustomed to being in the pre-COVID time.

And it was amusing to see the PSBJ struggle over the "what's the name" issue over the weekend when under a headline that read "Seattle region office market's rent growth is tops in North America," the reporter wrote, "The Puget Sound region ranked No. 1 among North America's 30 leading tech markets for office rent growth."

Among those I visited with on the regional-name topic, I thought the best summing up for my side of the discussion came from a retired newspaperman, Peter Horvitz, who owned and was publisher for several decades of the Eastside Journal and the South County Journal, before succumbing to the inability to create a successful daily competitor of the Seattle Times. He thus understood the east-west competition in a more personal way than most business people on either side.

His summation of "the center of gravity has shifted away from Seattle" would draw a knowing acknowledgment from Eastside business leaders and a likely closed-lipped, reluctant lifting of eyebrows from many Seattle business leaders

"Despite what Seattle thinks, the growth has moved and won't be stopped," offered Horvitz, who himself moved with his wife recently to Florida. "It's important for people in positions of influence in the area to recognize the role the Eastside has come to play, a role that requires a rethinking of allocation of resources and where the political power rests."

And as with most Seattle vs. Eastside ideas, I had to ask Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, despite the fact that in repeated attempts over the years, I've never been able to get him to wax critical of Seattle, inevitably telling me "the leaders of Seattle were all friends of mine. I had dinner at their homes."

Of course, that reluctance to criticize has never extended to Seattle-born ideas that would impact the rest of the region, as with ST3, the light rail program for the region, the most expensive transportation program ever undertaken in the nation. Freeman paid for piles of research trying to defeat ST3 with the message it would never attract enough riders to cover the costs.

And merely because it will actually be completed doesn't mean Freeman might not be right in the end, particularly if remote work significantly decreases the number of people heading to downtown offices.

But Freeman did tell me for this column, "I can't explain how they've lost all the things that made Seattle great."

Then comes a vote for Powers' view from John Oppenheimer, founder, and CEO of Columbia Hospitality, the Seattle management and consulting company with a portfolio of more than 40 properties, hotels, restaurants, conference centers, and golf courses, in two dozen different communities, many of which could likely become remote-work success stories.

Thus he could be the region's key beneficiary of the growth of the remote-work phenomenon and the rise of Zoom Towns far from urban centers, although since his firm operates the World Trade Center as well as Port of Seattle conference facilities and owns part of the Four Seasons Hotel,

Oppenheimer would prefer to have economic health occur for both downtown and distant towns. And as he told me, "I'm very optimistic about downtown. Yes, we've had a period of shakeup, but the number of people moving downtown is increasing, the number of new apartment units is increasing and the inventory is on the rise. And the new convention center will add to the need for downtown."

I thought the best close for this column was to relate what's come to be a growing recognition of those from around the region, outside of Seattle, who, when in meetings in other parts of the country now note that when they say they are from Seattle, they catch themselves and correct if they are actually from Bellevue or Redmond, for example.

And one business person chuckled as he related an incident at the Canadian border as the border agent asked where he was from while looking at his driver's license. "Seattle," came the reply. "Then why does your license say Bellevue?"
 
Continue reading
  1477 Hits
  0 Comments
1477 Hits
0 Comments

Reflecting on AT&T breakup, the innovative success that followed

att

As Congress begins to finally consider action against the nation’s tech giants to control tactics being increasingly viewed as monopolistic and anti-competitive, those deliberations will prompt suggestions of breakup and that may prompt some to recall the mother of all breakups. That was the antitrust lawsuit against AT&T and the Jan. 1, 1984, divestiture of the telecom giant that was then the world’s largest corporation.

unnamed 11It may be instructive to remember what followed after AT&T was forced under a court order to give up its 22 local Bell companies, establishing seven Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) that became the key contacts with telephone customers.

The real sources of innovation that followed that end of monopoly communications came from new technologies, new firms, new platforms, and new business models from outside and inside the telecom world.

It’s likely a good bet that breaking the tech giants into pieces, particularly Google and Facebook, would allow innovators to emerge from among the pieces to create new products and new technologies, precisely what followed AT&T’s breakup.

 
Meanwhile, back then, cable TV was a flourishing young industry, full of small-town entrepreneurs and a few visionaries who were just beginning to think about scaling the business. Among those were the four McCaw brothers, sons of J. Elroy McCaw, a major figure in the broadcast industry who owned radio stations nationally and Ch. 13 television locally.
 
In 1966 Elroy McCaw sold his cable system in Centralia to his sons, including 16-year-old Craig. When the senior McCaw died of a stroke three years later, dozens of claims and lawsuits from creditors consumed the fortune he had amassed and the McCaw estate filed bankruptcy. That left his sons with only the small cable system but over the next few years, they turned it from a company with 2,000 subscribers to one with $5 million in annual income.
 
The McCaw brothers founded McCaw Communications and, with Craig taking the lead, began to explore cellular service.
 
unnamed 2There are multiple ironies in the tale of the McCaw brothers and AT&T links to their company, whose success helped make the Puget Sound region the global mecca for a new cellular communications industry, to AT&T.

The first came when Craig ran across an AT&T memo in which the company predicted the number of U.S. cellular users would be 900,000 by 1995. Thus, in what one writer called “the worst guess about future values since the Red Sox traded pitcher Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees,” AT&T buried the cellular program.
 
That set Craig on a quest for licenses for the cellular spectrum and within two years McCaw Cellular had purchased licenses in six of the nation’s 30 largest markets.
 
Using those as collateral and taking out loans to buy more licenses, he eventually wound up with billions of dollars of spectrum, outpacing the growth of the “Baby Bells” in the emerging markets.  After purchasing MCI Communications’ mobile businesses in 1986 and LIN Broadcasting three years later, McCaw Communications partnered with AT&T as a technology provider and introduced their Cellular One service in 1990 to create the first truly national cellular system and a brand that attracted numerous other cellular companies.

That led to the final irony when, in 1994, the McCaw brothers sold McCaw Cellular to AT&T for $11.6 billion, making Craig McCaw one of AT&T’s largest shareholders. The company was soon renamed AT&T Wireless.
 
In its earliest days, McCaw Cellular attracted some of the brightest young minds in the region and they put their own stamps on the industry, further cementing the Puget Sound region as a wireless mecca.
 
Mikal ThomsenMikal ThomsenFirst was John Stanton who, at 28, was the company’s first employee and quickly became COO and vice-chairman. He was soon followed by 27-year-old Mikal Thomsen and by the late ‘80s, with Craig McCaw’s blessing, the two, along with Stanton’s wife, Terry Gillespie, McCaw Cellular’s senior vice president and controller, began acquiring rural wireless properties.
 
As the three thus began a business and personal friendship that has extended across the decades, including ownership of minor league baseball teams, to their current investment firm Trilogy Partners and its global arm, Trilogy International, their several rural-focused startups soon merged to form Western Wireless Corp., which went public in 1996.

Western Wireless spun off its VoiceStream Wireless in 1999 into a separate publicly-traded company and it was purchased by Deutsche Telekom in 2001. Deutsche Telekom renamed VoiceStream Wireless T-Mobile USA in 2002. Western Wireless merged with Alltel Corporation in August 2005.

The T-Mobile Park, home of the Seattle Mariners of which Stanton is the majority owner and chairman, is a continuing testimony to the success of a group of young innovators who found an opportunity in the breakup of the world’s largest company.

So to those who would mouth dire predictions should Congress begin considering what should become of the nation’s tech giants, the counter should be “remember AT&T.”
 
Continue reading
  2272 Hits
  0 Comments
2272 Hits
0 Comments

New Alaska Air CEO Ben Minicucci eyes the future with optimism

alaskaAir_banner

As Alaska Air Group’s new CEO Ben Minicucci looks back on the emergence of the airline he now guides from the year of the pandemic that left uncertainty about the future of air travel, he says “we’re optimistic and well-positioned for the recovery and to seize opportunity.”

Minicucci, 54, assumed the CEO role less than two months ago with the retirement of Brad Tilden, who in his nine years as chairman and CEO built respect across the region and across his industry. Minicucci filled the key CEO in waiting role as Alaska president since 2016, the year Alaska acquired Virgin America at a cost of approximately $4 billion.

Ben MinicucciBen MinicucciOverseeing Virgin America’s operation under its own name and brand until it was fully incorporated into Alaska Airlines two years later fell to Minicucci, who served as Virgin CEO as well as Alaska Airlines president, overseeing the integration of Alaska and Virgin America’s operations, processes and workgroups.

Much of the opportunity he intends for Alaska to seize was put in place during the COVID year by Tilden, who remains as chairman, and Minicucci, foremost of those being Alaska joining 13 other airlines in a global alignment called One World, plus adding 42 new routes and extending Alaska service to a fourth country. But perhaps most importantly, Minicucci predicts Alaska will return to profitability by October.

Minicucci shared his thoughts on what Alaska has been through and how it is prepared for what lies ahead during a Microsoft Teams interview from his office at Alaska headquarters south of Sea-Tac International Airport.

He noted that leisure travel is returning before business travel, which normally is about 30 percent of Alaska business, with leisure having returned to pre-pandemic levels but business at only about 20 percent of the pre-COVID level. But he said “we expect business travel to ramp up to 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels by year-end.”

I suggested to Minicucci that while Alaska seems to have done a good job of coming back to prior levels as it relates to customer and financial performance, two key issues that could impact financial performance in the future have emerged for major companies to deal with.

First is the social issue of racial diversity driven by the Black Lives Matter unrest of the 2020 summer and the other is the political issue of demands from sectors of a divided nation for business allegiance, as in the flap over the Georgia election law.

In other words, I suggested that the racial divide and the political divide have added new and unanticipated challenges to the future direction of all major companies, and wondered how Alaska was preparing for them.

But it turns out that a focus on diversity is not new to Alaska, the company having been specifically focused on it for 15 years. Minicucci didn’t blow the companies horn about the partnership with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). I had to find it out after our interview. The story is that the partnership started 15 years ago, with Alaska’s initial support being for UNCF’s fundraising in the form of tickets and event sponsorships.

In 2017, UNCF became one of Alaska’s LIFT Miles partners, meaning guests could contribute airline miles alongside the company, “ensuring that travel does not hold young people back from pursuing their dreams” is the way Alaska’s explanation for the program puts it. “We are proud to partner with and support an organization whose mission is to build a robust and nationally-recognized pipeline of under-represented students who, because of UNCF support, become highly-qualified college graduates.”

“Throughout the pandemic we didn’t lose track of what’s important, leading with our values,” he said during our interview. “As we return to growth, it’s an opportunity to rebuild responsibility and embed those values even deeper in our culture, especially around our social and environmental commitments.”

“As a company, we know we are not yet where we need to be when it comes to racial diversity, but we are inspired and guided by our s to do the right thing,” Minicucci said.
Alaska has put in place a challenging set of goals relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion, starting with a commitment to ”increasing racial diversity of our leadership to reflect the racial diversity of our frontline workforce. Today, a third of our frontline and manager levels are racially diverse compared to 16 percent racial diversity within leadership.” Getting those into alignment is a five-year goal that Minicucci said will include determining compensation packages.

The company’s stated commitment is: “We believe that education is the great equalizer and a critical component on the path to equity. Now through 2025, we’ve set our sights on supporting community-based education and career development opportunities to reach at least 175,000 young people, with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Minicucci’s modest upbringing as the son of Italian immigrants who moved from their home country to Canada, where he was born, could have given him a personal understanding of education as the great equalizer. His mom had a fifth-grade education and his father had less so they pushed him toward education as the path to better things.

His “better things” leading up to his arrival at Alaska 17 years ago included getting his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the Royal Military College of Canada, after which he served in the Canadian armed forces for 14 years, then various roles with Air Canada.

With respect to the political divide, emerging now as the battle over voting laws that commenced first in Georgia and in which Alaska rival Delta Airlines found itself caught up, along with Coke and several other major companies in Atlanta, I asked Minicucci about how Alaska would respond if it finds itself squeezed in the divide. Delta and Coke called Georgia’s voting law unacceptable, which riled business groups.

“It’s a delicate proposition,” Minicucci said. “The way we have to think about these things is through the filter of our values, meaning through the eyes of stakeholders, including employees. It can’t be Ben’s personal opinion guiding those decisions.”

Finally, several recent additions to Alaska’s route structure are clearly focused on the growing importance of leisure travel, including the recently announced addition, beginning in the fall, of the tiny Caribbean nation of Belize, immediately south of Mexico.

Alaska will be disclosing tomorrow which cities will be serving Belize, the fourth country that Alaska will be serving from its West Coast hubs, and when tickets will go on sale.

With respect to new domestic routes, Alaska started non-stop service to Cincinnati last week as the 95th nonstop destination with non-stops to both Idaho Falls and Redding, Ca., starting June 17, bringing Alaska close to 100 nonstop destinations.

I was particularly intrigued by what the airline promotes as "the newest 'sun and fun' additions" to its route structure, non-stops connecting Los Angeles and San Diego with Kalispell, MT, and San Diego and San Francis with Bozeman. The new routes, which will operate through the summer, are the strongest connections yet for Alaska between Montana and California. Direct connections between Missoula, home of the state's major university, and Los Angeles and San Diego are already in place.

It’s clear the new connections are leisure-focused to Big Sky Country and the Flathead country of Glacier Park. But Bozeman and Kalispell have come to evolve as centers for entrepreneurs and angel investors, including a number from the California tech-investor centers.

And as another post-pandemic trend, remote work, continues to emerge, Alaska may find that enough remote workers are embracing Montana that what is clearly a leisure connection may develop a business role that the airline didn’t anticipate.
 
Continue reading
  2146 Hits
  0 Comments
2146 Hits
0 Comments

Two experienced women head Bellevue first-responder groups

BellevueSkyline2020

Two Eastside women with significant business backgrounds have recently assumed roles heading the non-profits that fund technology needs and community outreach programs of Bellevue’s first responders, both police and fire. This amid the challenge posed by the national movement to defund the police, a move that both view as not supported by the majority of citizens.

Villette Nolon, president and executive director of the Bellevue Police Foundation for only a few weeks, has made an intriguing transition into her new role having most recently served as the president and CEO of Imagine Housing, the Eastside’s leading affordable housing non-profit where she frequently worked with low-income families.

Villette NolonVillette NolonThat involvement helped her realize “the relationship between the community and the police is complicated but important.”

Nolon was long one of this area’s most prominent female angel investors, including chair and president of Seraph Capital Forum, the nation’s first all-women angel group, and a key executive with Angel Capital Association, the national association of angel investors.

Laura McCloud Mathers, President & CEO of the Bellevue Fire Department Foundation, was urged by Bellevue Fire Chief Jay Hagen to take the leadership of the foundation after she had been tapped as a consultant in December of 2019 to advise on how to create a foundation for the department.

Mathers, who had served as head of the Seattle Police Foundation for two and a half years while Kathleen O’Toole was chief, describes Hagen, who had spent 30 years with the Seattle Fire Department before being tapped to head the Bellevue fire department three years ago, as “an incredible leader, passionate in his commitment.”

Mathers’ background includes being the first membership director of the Columbia Tower Club, a key executive at the World Trade Center, and executive director of the Seattle Rotary Club.

“It is so sad that defunding the police foundations is a new racial justice target, putting pressure on companies to cut vital ties with nonprofit police foundations,” said McCloud. “Clearly they don’t understand the role of the foundation is primarily to ensure the police are well equipped with those things that will save lives and make the community safer for ALL!”

Nolon used as an example of the importance of the foundation’s work last month’s grant of $104,000 to police for what she described as “sorely needed new training and command system and a mobile wellness hub for officers, their families and retired officers to access health and wellness benefits the department offers.”

Mathers pointed to several examples of tools available to the Seattle police department as a result of community donations to the foundation, starting with AEDs for every patrol car, which she explained are “easy to use, low-maintenance defibrillators for people experiencing cardiac arrest while waiting for a medic unit to arrive.”
 
Another Mathers example:
Laura McCloud MathersLaura McCloud Mathers“Naloxone, a nasal spray that could be administered by officers to opioid overdose victims to bring back to life,” she explained. “SPD having Naloxone was initially a concern with the Seattle Fire Union - it was believed to be intruding on their scope of work. Fortunately, a meeting between Police Chief O’Toole and Fire Chief Scoggins put that to rest. “The union recognized the greater good for the community was for police to have it as they typically are at the scene before medics arrive – and seconds do matter between life and death.”

It might be suggested that those seeking to “defund the police” be made aware more forcefully of that point that police are usually at the scene of accidents or crises before the medics arrive and thus their services in such situations are vital, possibly even to the survival of victims.

The pushback against defunding the police may be getting underway, at least if the comment by New York mayoral candidate Eric Adams, a black former NYC police officer who see himself as the pro-public safety candidate who seems police as part of the solution. is any indication.

In an interview with New York Magazine published Tuesday, Adams said the "defund the police" movement is led not by people of color in the Big Apple, but rather by young white professionals.

Reflecting on her time guiding the Seattle Police Foundation, Mathers said:  “It was truly an honor to work with the many amazing men and women of SPD. I saw only big hearts and dedication to serving a community and improving lives. After seeing the evil of mankind perpetrated daily, they got up every day to face it again and pray they returned home safely to see their families again.”

Both are undertaking their roles confident that they’ll get more yes than no responses as they go about their fundraising duties in the Bellevue community.

 
Continue reading
  2388 Hits
  0 Comments
2388 Hits
0 Comments

Cody Peterson's disruptive inventions aren't unnoticed

rohinni_lighting_spool

Serial inventor Cody Peterson is surprisingly little known beyond the two industries his technologies have disrupted, though he's hardly gone unnoticed, being named “Most Creative Person” by Inc Magazine in 2012.

That was the year his first company, Pacinian, the Coeur d’Alene, ID, manufacturer of his lightest-weight-ever keyboard, as thick as a credit card, as well as touch-screen innovations, was acquired by Silicon Valley-based Symantic, a market leader in touch screen technology.

Now Peterson, 46, and his team at Rohinni, also a Coeur d’Alene company, are poised to change the entire lighting and display industry worldwide with the revolutionary development of mini and micro LEDs.

The LED industry is well aware of Rohinni, even if not likely aware of the extent of his intent for his invention’s “potential to be like GE or Phillips, changing every industry that uses light.”

Cody Peterson R and sons Brandon L and Reece CCody Peterson (R) and sons Brandon (L) and Reece (C)My bet is that most readers of this column and many tech-industry people, as well as potential investors, haven’t heard of Peterson whereas, were Rohinni located in Silicon Valley or East Puget Sound, media entities and wanna-be participants in the company’s growth would be beating a path to his door.

Instead, Rohini’s growth, as with Pacinian before it, has been in lab space in developer John Stone's Riverstone Development of condos, office buildings, hotels, and restaurants on the river. Over the seven years since it was founded, Rohinni has been under the supporting eye of patient and friendly capital, with Stone as a primary investor since start-up day, in a business environment where a guy who lets others wear the CEO title can focus on family as well as business.

With an emphasis on business acumen, Stone refers to Peterson as “the miracle from Idaho.”

Other investors, in addition to Stone, include Future Shape Principal Tony Fadell, the inventor of the iPod, head of iPhone development, and founder and former CEO of Nest.

Peterson, a mechanical engineering graduate of Washington State University, says that over the past three years, Rohinni has devised a mini-LED as a light source “that’s about one-tenth as thick as a regular LED and about six times brighter while costing roughly the same.”

“I don’t usually drink the kool-aid, but I know the benefits of what we created that the entire lighting industry will change direction and do what we’re doing,” said Peterson, a Native American who grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, MT.

Without disclosing individual clients, Peterson said: “Rohinni is dealing with some of the world’s largest consumer electronic companies to launch screens much, much brighter than anything in the market today, while also enabling them to use mini and micro LEDs to design lighting in ways never before possible throughout their product lines.”

And he predicts television screens with Rohini miniLEDs “will be 10 times brighter with one-tenth the energy.”
 
A major coup for Rohinni came two years ago when it announced a joint venture with Beijing Electronics (BOE, formerly Beijing Oriental Electronics Group), among the world’s largest suppliers of technology products.

A news release announcing the joint venture said: “With distinctive, high-performance displays in high demand and a requirement for competitive consumer electronics or industrial products, BOE and Rohinni will be forming a joint venture to produce ultra-thin micro LED lighting solutions for display backlights. Together, BOE and Rohinni will usher in a new era of displays with unprecedented speed, accuracy, and yields compared with existing manufacturing processes.”

Oh, and waiting in the wings for the unveiling is Peterson’s newest Coeur d’Alene-based company, Qurrent, and his invention, a 100 percent electric boat. basically an autonomous craft.

As the website for Qurrent explains: “For the last three years we have been using our development platform ‘Frank’ and have created the building blocks to provide a 100 percent electric boat. Qurrent provides a safer, newer, and zen-inspired experience through the use of all new technology and an AI-controlled system. we are enabling entirely new boating experiences never before thought possible.”

Never short of seemingly impossible goals, Peterson said during our interview: “You know what Google did with Google Earth (a 3D representation of Earth based on satellite imagery)? We can do that for the sea and the oceans.”

John StoneJohn StoneI actually went to Coeur d’Alene a couple of weeks ago both to meet Peterson with Stone’s introduction and to evaluate Coeur d’Alene’s potential as a prospect for the zoom-town-focused business, ZoomTown Communities, that a media partner and I are launching.

I learned Stone and Peterson have basically already helped make Coeur d’Alene a zoom town, boosting innovation, while coupled with a growing appeal to vacation and permanent residents from Seattle and beyond and condominium towers to house them.

Peterson’s contributions include not just Pacinian and Rohinni, and soon Qurrent, but also what he calls the Innovation Den in downtown Coeur d’Alene, a large old multi-story brick building that has 50 small offices to house start-ups and entrepreneurs.

He and a friend bought the century-old building that had sat empty for more than 25 years and four years ago Cody and his wife Danelle, his high school sweetheart from Cut Bank High School. opened Coeur d’Alene Coffee Company as an espresso shop in the Den that he and Danelle and sons Reece, 20, and Braden, 23, turned building it into a family project.

Peterson said Braden made a commitment to source and roast coffee for the Den and explained: “he started looking at ways coffee is made and devised a new, more automated way to create really good pour-overs without having the barista stand there the whole time. It was neat to see him apply those little nuggets I’ve hoped he would learn from me.”

The comment is a hint of the importance being a father plays in Peterson’s life. And the kinds of lessons he teaches include “if you have lofty goals you attract smart people,” and “don’t let anyone slow you down,” both lessons that have carried Peterson far, before he’s as widely known, as he is certain to be.

 

 

Continue reading
  2634 Hits
  0 Comments
2634 Hits
0 Comments

The saving of NatureBridge was one of the hero stories of 2020

Screen-Shot-2020-12-29-at-12.45.24-PM

Thanks to the commitment by Bellevue business leader Robert J. Holmes to helping kids experience the outdoors and to leaders of the Dean Witter Foundation and its support of environmental education programs, the survival of NatureBridge is one of the hero stories of 2020.

Throughout 2019, as in previous years, the NatureBridge campuses in various national parks were alive with activity with up to 35,000 students spending their days exploring the parks, engaging in scientific inquiry, and discovering their connection with nature.

Then came the pandemic and, like so many organizations and businesses, NatureBridge had to make the difficult decision to suspend in-person programming, threatening its ability to deliver on its mission and even threatening its survival after 49 years.

Robert HolmesRobert HolmesHolmes, CEO of The Holmes Group (THG) and a NatureBridge board member for whom the call of the wild has been a lifetime personal counterpoint to his role as a developer of both real estate and resort projects across North America, saw the closure as a "crisis."

So Holmes, who was president and CEO of Intrawest USA and president and CEO of Harbor Properties in Seattle before shifting to Bellevue where his projects have included Kemper Freeman's Bellevue Collection and whose resort projects have included the development of the Village at Mammoth, Schweitzer Mountain Resort and the Village at Whistler, was convinced he could guide a NatureBridge survival.

Beyond merely surviving, NatureBridge, with its goal of providing environmental education in national parks, has now launched distance learning programs in classrooms across the country to reach kids who may never visit a national park. So NatureBridge has been able to innovate and grow and is well-positioned now to weather the pandemic.

This all came about because Holmes, buoyed by his confidence in NatureBridge’s history of excellence and its strong leadership, called on his community to match his own contribution of up to $25,000. Not only did he get over $25,000 in donations but attracted the attention of Malcolm (Max) Witter, board member of the Dean Witter Foundation. a former Seattleite who now lives in the Coachella Valley.

For background, The Dean Witter Foundation supports specific wildlife conservation projects and seminal opportunities to improve and extend environmental education. The Foundation makes additional grants to launch and expand innovative K-12 public education initiatives and seeks to practice imaginative grantmaking in the fields of education and conservation.

So comes the personally satisfying aspects of this NatureBridge story, one that exemplifies that sometimes the writer gets to be more than an observer.

In April I did a column on Holmes, NatureBridge’s plight, and his personal call for a match to his $25,000.

I saw that Witter, who gets The Harp, had opened it so I emailed him to see if he would like to connect with Holmes.
He did and then discussed with fellow director Allison Witter Frey, a Seattlite and, like Malcolm, grandchild of Dean Witter.

they notified the remaining directors at The Dean Witter Foundation of the opportunity to help NatureBridge and Holmes’ two-for-one match. Between Holmes, Witter, and over 700 donors, NatureBridge raised $1.1 million in a few months.

Designed to support teachers and connect kids to nature, NatureBridge has been able to not only reach many of the students who were supposed to come to their in-person programs but also students who live hundreds of miles from a national park and might not ever be able to make the trip. Its leadership now sees the scale of impact as tremendous with this new online component.

And NatureBridge came to be able to conduct family camps in Yosemite, one of the four national parks where it looks to fully restore in-park programs once the pandemic permits. The others are Olympic, Golden Gate and Prince William Forest in Virginia.

So now as NatureBridge approaches its 50th year, it continues to make advancements in Distance Learning education. Its leaders know the pandemic will change the way they teach kids with quality distance learning experiences increasingly a part of high-quality education.

 
Continue reading
  2167 Hits
  0 Comments
2167 Hits
0 Comments

Snowflake celebration sets the stage for Bellevue Square 75th year

snowflake_banner

Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman Jr. is seeking to cap a year of COVID tragedy and accompanying economic devastation with a memorable Holiday Season event to set the stage for the 75th anniversary of his Bellevue Square Mall.

It was clear that in this virus-impacted Holiday season Snowflake Lane, which annually has turned downtown Bellevue into a month-long enchanted scene, had to be reimagined if it was to be held at all in 2020.

“I thought about not doing it this year,” said Freeman, the Bellevue developer whose Bellevue Collection of retailers, restaurants, and hotels forms the core of Downtown Bellevue.

Kemper FreemanKemper Freeman“But with all things that have fouled up people’s lives this year, we didn’t think it would be right to also take away something as symbolically important as Snowflake Lane,” he added. “So while we can’t have the parade and performance with dancers and drummers, every night there will be twinkling lights and holiday music.”

“And while we can’t do Santa,’ Freeman noted, “we have the best display of Christmas lights ever in our 14 years, stretching a mile all around Bellevue Square.

Freeman’s pleasure with the holiday display is clearly a way for him to close a disastrous year of the pandemic as well as economic distress it caused and that likely played a role in the social unrest that occurred.

All had a dramatic impact on his business and his city, particularly the severe damage suffered by many of the mall’s retailers at the hands of rioters who embedded in the ranks of peaceful protesters then hurried away from the crowds to break into the mall.

It was at a cost that he hasn’t yet fully calculated that he helped restore the retail life of the 230 merchants and shops in the mall.

Now Freeman is looking forward to the year of celebration for Bellevue Square, launched 75 years and two generations ago by Freeman’s grandfather, Miller Freeman, and father Kemper Sr.

Plans for the 75th-anniversary celebration are just being finalized by his staff, Freeman said.

Freeman, now 79, chuckled as he shared the story of how his grandfather stirred comments across the business community, which labeled as “Freeman’s Folly” his decision to buy 10 acres in 1944 for $40,000, land that became the start of Bellevue Square. Two years later he assisted his son, Kemper Sr., to launch the shopping center.

Now in addition to an upbeat focus on 2021 for the 75th, Freeman is also welcoming the renaissance of the campaign to raise the funds necessary to complete the Performing Arts Center Eastside (PACE), a campaign that has basically been in limbo for the past year and a half.

Cathi Hatch, the Vice-Chair of the PACE board and leader of the fundraising effort, noted that what was once planned as a $200 million facility to fulfill the arts and cultural needs of the Eastside has gone up substantially in cost but the final figures aren’t complete.

But she did note that a search for major naming rights will be underway in full in the new year. The center has been part of Freeman’s vision since he and his wife, Betty, donated the land on the northeast corner of Bellevue downtown’s central core, on the same block as the Bellevue Hyatt.

Completion of PACE after fundraising is finished, will be several years further out.
 
Continue reading
  2565 Hits
  0 Comments
2565 Hits
0 Comments

Lengthy effort to get documents in jobless-payment snafu leads to suit

washington-state-capitol

If the suit against the state Employment Security Department by a woman best described as a professional whistleblower is successful, it will be fair to say, objectively rather than as a political comment, that Gov. Jay Inslee is a slow learner. Only this time the failure to learn may cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.

Four years ago the recalcitrance of one of his department heads in dealing with a public disclosure request from the Seattle Times brought a court rebuke and a fine. Now a delayed public disclosure response related to the state’s unemployment disaster could bring the court down harder.

The failure of the governor to learn relates to the months-long effort by Lynn Brewer to get access to emails between Inslee and his now embattled Employment Security Department (ESD) Commissioner Suzie LeVine. Brewer gained prominence after leaving a budding career as an executive at energy giant Enron before its 2001 bankruptcy to become a high-visibility whistleblower.

Brewer has been seeking to determine the extent of responsibility by LeVine, and what Inslee knew, of the employment security disaster that rocked the state after COVID-19 struck. First thieves pirated $650-million in unemployment insurance from the state as people started losing their jobs by the thousands, then thousands didn’t get their unemployment checks, or got them dramatically late, as ESD tried to figure out how to avoid further fraud.

Now that State Auditor Pat McCarthy’s criticism of LeVine for imposing “significant constraints” on audit staff, including seeking to limit interviews and delaying access to documents, have become public, the media has come to be all over this. And that media scrutiny is bound to move upward toward Inslee.

In June Brewer was told that her public disclosure request for the emails between Inslee and LeVine and between the ESD director and her staff, because of the mountain of documents involved, couldn’t be honored until December 31, almost seven months later. Some might chuckle at the point that would be after the November election, perhaps ensuring that Inslee’s quest for a third term couldn’t be hindered by anything in the emails.

In her lawsuit filed a couple of weeks ago in Thurston County Superior Court, Brewer asks for a court order that ESD “has violated the Public Records Act” and asks for “an award of statutory penalties, fees and costs against the Department.”

I asked Brewer why she filed the suit given the promised delivery date ESD and she said first, that the delay was illegal and, second, there was only the ESD statement that she couldn’t get the emails before December 31, not that she would get them then.

The lesson unlearned relates to the fact that Inslee has been here before, four years ago with a different department, Labor and Industries, in a public disclosure request by the Seattle Times, in which it took The Times months to get the documents it sought.

In that 2016 decision, the state high court upheld a $546,509 superior court judgment against L&I, finding that it repeatedly delayed the release of records related to lead exposure at Wade’s Eastside Gun Shop.

The department, meaning the state, was ordered to pay the money to The Times, plus attorney fees because monetary penalties are possible under state law for the failure of agencies to respond to public disclosure requests in a timely manner.

The Times was moved to muse editorially after that 2016 victory: “The remaining questions are whether Gov. Jay Inslee will hold anyone accountable for this costly violation of state law and how the state will prevent this from happening again.”

For a longtime reporter, there’s a disappointment that this story has eluded the media for months, except for a drip here and a drop there, until McCarthy’s statements brought the media attention on LeVine and her agency, but not yet on the governor, into full force.

So now perhaps some reporter will ask Inslee: “Governor, when did you know about the auditor’s concerns and when you learned, why didn’t you say to your ESD commissioner, ‘get your act together, Suzie or you are gone?’”

It’s important to keep in mind that we are talking here about a prominent Democratic fundraiser since LeVine raised millions for every Democratic presidential candidate starting with Obama and extending through the candidates who ran in 2020.
And in fairness to the media, both print and broadcast, the coverage requirements of 2020 from the virus to the marches and riots to the economy to the tragic stories of the jobless left little space or time available for an investigative look at why the jobless disaster was unfolding.

I may benefit from having known Brewer for more than a decade, first as she gained prominence in the wake of the collapse of Enron. Her book Confessions of an Enron Executive: A Whistleblower’s Story chronicled her experiences and observations during her two-and-a-half years as a mid-level executive. Her duties included providing key personal briefings on new investments for Enron's now-infamous duo, CEO Ken Lay and President Jeff Skilling.

So she reached out to me after her husband’s and her request for unemployment got caught up in the ESD tangled web and I did a column in the spring and waited for other media to get on the story.

Lynn BrewerLynn BrewerAnd it’s important to note that, as is sometimes, unfortunately, the case these days, Brewer is not some rightwing agitator trying to get Inslee, whom she says she voted for twice, "but not this time because he's responsible for what happened to the unemployed."

In fact, she’s spent her years since leaving Enron after she became aware of the malfeasance of its leadership, speaking to groups and organizations around the world. Brewer was called upon not only to recount the lessons of her Enron experience but more importantly to her, is to share her vision of a way that provides the equivalent of a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" on the integrity of public companies.

And it’s with a combination of amusement and anger that Brewer notes the irony of last week’s anniversary of the 2001 fall of Enron when it went out of business as its financial illegalities were disclosed.

“This is a bigger disaster than Enron,” she told me. “Enron was a $600-million fraud on its shareholders. This is a $650-million fraud on taxpayers.”

“If the court decides there will be a per-page, per day, fine and ESD indicates there are tens of thousands of pages that had to be processed, you do the math,” said Brewer. “The state could be liable for millions of dollars because no one was in charge of this.”

 
Continue reading
  2955 Hits
  0 Comments
2955 Hits
0 Comments

52°F

Seattle

Mostly Cloudy

Humidity: 63%

Wind: 14 mph

  • 24 Mar 2016 52°F 42°F
  • 25 Mar 2016 54°F 40°F
Banner 468 x 60 px