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Port of Seattle plan, Department of Commerce Spain agreement key step toward Land of OZ

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Lisa BrownLisa Brown

As states begin to compete to create the most attractive Land of OZ to lure investors and create new businesses and jobs, the state of Washington and the Port of Seattle have taken key steps in the past few weeks that could put them at the front of the pack employing the benefits of new federal tax law.
 
OZ refers to what is officially called Qualified Opportunity Zones that come about under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The QOZ provision in the legislation approved by Congress will permit those owing capital gains tax to delay, reduce or even totally avoid those taxes by investing in special funds designed to start businesses and provide other steps to help economically distressed communities.
 
Virtually every major accounting or law firm or wealth management company in the country has been inviting clients and prospects to learn all about the details of what have become known simply as Opportunity Zones, or OZ.
 
And while the message in many of those explanatory sessions by professional firms has been the prospect to create funds for investment in real estate projects, funds could be particularly appropriate for energizing the prosperity of small and diverse firms that have not had access to equity capital to grow and expand.
 
And that's where the recent separate initiatives by the State Department of Commerce and the Port of Seattle come into play in a manner that gives this region a leg up in that competition among states for attracting new investment to job creation.
 
Ralph Ibarra 
The development for the state was Spain's first-ever Memorandum of Understanding with a state to promote economic cooperation to benefit trade relations and boost business opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses in both Spain and Washington State.  
 
The agreement was signed in Madrid March 1 between Lisa Brown, the new director of the state Department of Commerce, and Maria Pena Matcos, chief executive officer of the public agency attached to Spain's Ministry of Industry.
 
The Port of Seattle's initiative was issuing a "Request for Qualifications" for a $200 million renovation of 29 acres near Pioneer Square in Seattle to provide for the port's fourth cruise ship berth that would accommodate super-size cruise ships.  
 
That parcel, for which the Port is seeking a partner, is located within an Opportunity Zone that extends across the property on which T-Mobile Stadium and CenturyLink Field are located and extends into the International District.
 
The Port's Request for Qualifications intriguingly contains the sentence: "It should be noted that Terminal 46 is located within a Qualified Opportunity Zone," suggesting it intends to use the tax-break incentive in seeking to attract a wide array of businesses to develop on the site, or nearby.
 
So what kind of developments are being created in other regions with Opportunity Zone funds? A potentially appropriate example was the announcement by a Scottsdale, AZ, based wealth development company called Caliber of plans for a new hotel development at Tucson Convention Center, which is in a designated OZ.
 
For Ralph Ibarra, president of DiverseAmerica Network, the agreement with Spain and the Port's announcement represent important steps to dramatically benefit small and diverse businesses.    

Ralph IbarraTo Ibarra, a consultant to the public and private-sector corporations and institutions who has brought long-standing support of small and diverse business to his consulting activities,
the agreement with Spain and the Port's announcement represent important steps to benefit small and diverse businesses.  

He sees both developments as important steps"particularly appropriate for energizing the prosperity of small and diverse firms that have not had access to equity capital to grow and expand."

In fact, Commerce Director Brown said her immediate priorities include helping address the sustainability of infrastructure financing programs and enhancing the agency's outreach activities - especially with rural and underserved areas - to ensure communities in need can access Commerce programs and services.
 
The statement put out following the signing of the agreement noted that it 'builds on a foundation of approximately $9 billion in trade activities currently taking place between Spain and the State of Washington. It acknowledges common strengths in aerospace, information and communication technology, cybersecurity, clean energy technology, life sciences, maritime, agriculture, and other sectors, and formalizes plans to explore opportunities for Washington companies in the Spanish market and establish future opportunities for Spanish companies to create jobs in Washington."

Ibarra, who chairs the Washington District Export Council, suggests Opportunity Zones "hold great promise to accentuate and expedite beneficial outcomes" from the Agreement with opportunities for Washington companies in the Spanish market and for Spanish companies to create jobs in Washington.

Ibarra brings some awareness of the extent of potential represented by the state's agreement with Spain since some years ago he prepared and escorted an aerospace manufacturing firm from this state to various meetings with Spanish aerospace companies at a U.S.-Spain Aerospace Industry Summit.

"And now, whether its Spain or Washington State, any individual relationship that comes about is going to need some sort of facility, whether distribution or manufacturing, in place and that's where Opportunity Zones can come into play to facilitate those relationships," Ibarra said.
 
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Recalling eastside business journal's impact - 20 years on from launch

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A LinkedIn entry from my son, Michael, noting the 20th anniversary of the launch of 
eastside business journal brought back memories of the effort to create the "local" business voice for Bellevue and other Eastside communities as they were starting to emerge as economic entities more independent from Seattle.

Eastside Business JournalEastside Business JournalMy decision, as publisher of Puget Sound Business Journal, to create a separate weekly business publication with its own staff, readership and highly focused coverage of business on the Eastside, as well as involvement with its business community, was a realization that a Seattle-based and focused publication couldn't build close relationships east of the lake.

Michael was an experienced young public relations and marketing professional when I convinced him to leave the public relations firm, The Fearey Group, to become general manager and overseer of a weekly start-up business newspaper.  

Microsoft was already more than a decade along in turning out young millionaires with its stock, as well as new software and computer products from its Eastside headquarters, and in fact, that year spun out its Expedia division into a separate Bellevue-based public company.

And the Eastside had become the global mecca for the rapidly growing telecom and cellular industry as home to not just McCaw Cellular and Nextel but also Western Wireless, which in 1999 spun off its star telecom subsidiary, VoiceStream, which has since become T-Mobile.

Willows Road, along with the west side of the Redmond Valley, had actually become the region's high-tech highway more than a decade earlier with a number of companies like Physio-Control and Rocket Research building their headquarters along the west hillside above Willows Road.

And of course, Kemper Freeman had already, for a couple of decades, been scaling the retailers' mountain and reigned as the most prominent retailer developer in the region.  

By 1999 he was on the way to creating a retailing center that would make his Bellevue Collection of Hotels, retailers, and restaurants leap past Seattle as a destination for shoppers and diners.

Of course, the EBJ launch came two years after Amazon's IPO changed the nature of Seattle's ability to compete with the tech growth on the Eastside, and soon surpass all in growth of revenue, profits and employment. Of course, now Amazon seems intent on possibly turning the Eastside into a second headquarters now that New York has been jettisoned.

Thus 1999 was an interesting time to seek to create a successful and impactful special-interest (business) publication in Bellevue and the Eastside, a time when two Seattle daily newspapers, The Times and Seattle P-I, made life difficult for the much smaller and profit-stretched Eastside Journal in the quest for readers and dollars from the Eastside.

So I told Michael to come up with some events that EBJ could put on to attract visibility and support and promised to make sure PSBJ didn't do the events as a counter to keep EBJ from gaining a foothold, which interestingly PSBJ adverting and editorial leadership hoped to do. It was a competitor, after all.  

Thus I took the unusual business role of holding the big dog back so the puppy had a chance to grow.

For a newly minted young newspaper executive with a twenty-something staff and seeking to carve out readers and advertisers from a young, partly tech, audience, the logical event for Michael to create was one honoring youth.

So he launched Eastside 40-Under-40, geographically designated even though there was no other 40-Under-40 event in the Northwest. In fact, I don't think there was one on the West Coast at that time.

That eventually became the regional event run by PSBJ, with the "Eastside" dropped from the 40-Under-40 name.

One day in summer of 1999, I wandered over to Bellevue from my PSBJ office to check in and found folks on the staff en route to a day-long Going Public seminar that attracted a large audience of entrepreneurs, prospective investors and wealth managers to listen and learn from a panel of experts Michael had assembled.

Then Michael came up with a CEO interview breakfast event he dubbed Eastside Executive Forum, with his first interviewee being the region's then Beer Master, Paul Shipman, creator of Redhook.

Another CEO interview featured HomeGrocer.com CEO, Terry Drayton. Do you remember that Bellevue based company that sprang into existence with the first fully integrated Internet grocery that grew across the West and across the south before being forced by tight cash for growth to sell out in the fall of 2000 to competitor Webvan?

It wasn't long before the reality of having created a direct and growing competitor in basically the same market began to sink in for the parent company and EBJ and its staff were folded into PSBJ. Michael soon departed the media business to focus on a business-development career in other industries.

And with the demise of the P-I and the closing of the Eastside's daily newspaper, by then renamed the King County Journal, in 2006, and the recent dramatic cutbacks by profit-focused Sound Publishing as owner of the area's shrinking pool of weekly newspapers, memories of the local business newspaper that was have been stirred anew.

"A lifetime ago and yet there isn't a day I'm not reminded of something I learned in those years," Michael wrote in his LinkedIn message. "Thanks, Pop and EBJ Peeps."

The LinkedIn message got several thousand views and many comments, including this from the head of an Eastside wealth management firm.

"Michael: you and your team's work had a huge impact on the Eastside at a critical juncture of growth along every path - business, economic, community, stature, maturity, and poise. I miss the voice of EBJ. I relish my fond memories of all of your events and the friendships forged over robust dialogue."

 
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Cuomo blasts critics who doomed Amazon deal - "...stupid or liars..."

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New York Gov Andrew Cuomo has laid to rest any doubt that the political fallout from Amazon's decision, in the face of loud but relatively small opposition, to abandon its plan to bring its HQ2 to New York will drift across the national Democratic party landscape heading toward the 2020 elections.'
 
An open letter released last Sunday on Cuomo's web page was written by New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica who basically derided those whose opposition led to Amazon's decision as either stupid or liars.
 
As Mujica ungently said of opponents of the project who claimed Amazon was getting $3 billion in government subsidies that could have been better spent on housing or transportation: "This is either a blatant untruth or fundamental ignorance of basic math by a group of elected officials."
 
Mujica, whose letter has become fodder for blog comments across the political and economic spectrums, said there were three reasons the Amazon deal fell apart.
 
"First, some labor unions attempted to exploit Amazon's New York entry. Second, some Queens politicians catered to minor but vocal local political forces in opposition to the Amazon government incentives as 'corporate welfare.' Third, in retrospect, the State and the City could have done more to communicate the facts of the project and more aggressively correct the distortions."
 
On the third point is where Mujica took opponents of the project to task for his charge of "blatant untruth or fundamental ignorance."  
 
He explained that "The city, through existing as-of-right tax credits, and the state through Excelsior Tax credits -- a program approved by the same legislators railing against it -- would provide up to $3 billion in tax relief IF Amazon created the 25,000-40,000 jobs and thus generated $27 billion in revenue."
 
The fallout from Coumo's withering criticism of Amazon critics, through Mujica's superbly crafted narrative, coupled with the emerging influence of newly elected congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, could make New York ground zero for a major rift among Democrats, and not just those in New York.
 
Those elected officials scorned by Cuomo through Mojika's commentary, included Ocasio-Cortez, who has gathered growing support from elected Democrats on the left as well as left-leaning groups around the country, particularly after she promised that candidates like her will be on the ballot in an array of locations next election.
 
I looked through a variety of political and economic blogs about the Amazon debacle and found several that made compelling reading.

But the one that I found most compelling, though politically partisan, was from an economics blog called Marginal Revolution done by a couple of economics professors at Gorge Mason University in Virginia.
 
"I can only think that this is some sort of cognitive dissonance that prevents people of a certain politics slant from mentally processing words that go against a deeply held stereotype," wrote the prof, Alex Tabarrok. "Amazon is big. Bezos is rich. Obviously then the state gave them unique benefits. That's the only message that the left wing brain is neurologically capable of hearing, even though, in this case, it is the opposite of what happened."
 
His comment made me think his "certain political slant" likely fits both political fringes and it was then I realized it's been exactly a decade since the modern-day Tea Party came into existence, in either February or April of 2009, depending on which event its fans took to be the launch.
 
There obviously isn't going to be a liberal Tea Party, even if "neurological incapacity" can be found far out on either fringe. But what's happening in New York in the Amazon aftermath makes it clear there could be a mirror image of the Tea Party with the mirror folks shouting "yes, taxes!" in reply to the "no on taxes!" Or "more government" to"no government."
 
That's the "balance" of equally potent fringes which, even if each appeals to about 15 percent of their parties, will be reflected in pressures on the middle as the next election nears.
 
And because the liberal "Tea Party" mirror is coming about a decade on from the original, it will be affecting political positions more than in the past for Democrats. And thus it will be interesting to see how the positions of Washington State's two presidential wanna be's, Gov. Jay Inslee among the Democrat hopefuls and Starbucks' Howard Schultz as an independent, might change.

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Amazon/New York - Are the days of corporate incentives or breaks coming to an end?

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Watching the free-for-all of analysis and commentary over Amazon's misadventure romance with New York City, we're talking about the company now, now its CEO, over a second headquarters made me think of my senior-sprinter friend and author Steve Robbins. Although he is acknowledged as the most prolific author of management textbooks, he may now have an outline for one he's never written.
 
I'm referring to Amazon's unprecedented suddenly announced decision that it was no longer planning to build a second headquarters in a section of New York City's Queens neighborhood of Long Island City.  
 
I say suddenly announced because no one can be certain that Amazon's decision to turn away from New York was as quickly made as the announcement might suggest. Like the world third's richest company may have begun to have a change of heart soon after its early November announcement that unexpectedly there would another "second headquarters", adding Northern Virginia in the announcement that New York was the pick.
 
Is it possible Amazon execs hadn't thought things through about New York until Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blassio pointed out, as they welcomed the company, that New York is a union town? That fact had assumedly already been digested by a company that doesn't go for union organizing.
 
The business fallout from this may simmer for a time but will likely disappear. Bu the political fallout will likely continue for New Yorkers into the next general election and maybe beyond.

Meaning from a business sense, Amazon will likely be able to go on as if nothing happened. As a former top Amazon executive told me, "the world is a very big place. If one doesn't want us, others will."
 
But politically, the rift between the New York Democratic party power structure and the newly emerging powerhouse of left-wing forces, some elected and some not elected, will echo down the coming months.
 
I called my roommate from college days at Marquette, who retired after fashioning a prominent New York legal career, to ask him his thoughts.
 
"A lot of the politicians who were against the Amazon deal didn't represent the district so they had no skin in the game and Governor Cuomo is outraged at the politicians who had no constituent reason to get involved but screwed it up," he said.
 
"Regarding the idea that unions opposed Amazon, a non-union giant, coming to New York: that doesn't make sense," he said. "The municipal employees union was very opposed because they feared the multi-billion dollar package the city had put together for Amazon would come out of their salaries and future raises.
 
"But a majority of the unions are upset that Amazon walked away. Do you think any of the construction-related unions weren't excited about what the future held for them?"
 
The Amazon-New York situation represents the conundrum that areas seeking to attract new business face. If a city or state don't offer the incentives, they are often out of consideration.  If they do play the game, they are open to public pressure to back off.
 
A longtime business leader in this state, when I asked about that conundrum, told me he thinks the days of corporate incentives or breaks are coming to an end.
 
"This movement among millennials to the left is going to reset the political system, including things like corporate incentives," he said.
"The selection process was, in my judgment the height of corporate arrogance in a time when the tide is going the other way," added my business-leader friend.
 
"The variables which help strengthen public support for a company's actions are the goodwill a company builds in the community and the public support they build," he added. "Boeing has been a master at that, something they learned after the 1972 cutbacks from the demise of the SST."
 
So back to Steve Robbins and his management textbooks. I haven't seen Robbins, who moved from Seattle to Cleveland a few years ago and turned 76 last month, for a decade but was caused to recall his leaving me far behind in various 100-meter races in masters and senior games events. But fortunately, I got to talk with him after or over coffee about both writing and running.
 
I'd love to get hold of him now to get his view of the management aspects or lack thereof, that might have been in evidence in the non-dramatic drama of Amazon's decision.
 
I flipped through his nearly three dozen titles, of which he has sold 10 million copies and that have been translated into 20 languages, to see if any of the titles, all available on Amazon, might suggest he's already been there in the discussions and lessons in his management textbooks.
 
Robbins' books focus on conflict, power, organizational politics and interpersonal skills. Which of those were in evidence or absent, and to what extent, would make interesting cocktail lounge or boardroom, discussion.
 
I was intrigued at the title of one of Robbins' books: "Divide and Conquer: The ultimate guide for improving your decision making."
 
It occurred to me that the way Amazon left the New York political scene in taters definitely demonstrated an ability to divide, as was also evidenced in the embarrassing snafu of the Seattle City Council and its aborted head tax.
 
I'll leave the "conquer" to those cocktail lounge conversations.

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The Future Role Of Newspapers And To Whom It Really Matters

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A most interesting, and broadly important, corporate takeover battle is taking place in full national view but unfortunately, it's apparently attracting only modest attention from the general public, perhaps because of declining numbers of the public view the issue at stake as all that important.

That issue is the future of daily newspapers, framed against the hostile bid by Alden Global Capital, a New York hedge fund that has bought and then proceeded to suck the life from scores of newspapers in this country, to buy Gannett, owner of the country's largest newspaper chain.

If Alden's hostile takeover succeeds, the hedge fund's Digital First Media company would gain control of Gannett's 100-plus local newspapers as well as Gannett's flagship publication, USA Today. Digital First, which has a long record of stripping the staff and assets of newspapers, would become the largest newspaper chain in the country.

In the view of traditionalists, journalism, the kind that presumes investment in people and tools to deliver the kind of information that enables the informed public opinion that some of us believe democratic governance requires, would suffer another grievous blow at the hands of Digital First.

But the intriguing question is: does anyone other than those instilled with traditional journalistic mores, or moral compass, really care in an era of internet and social media and social network platforms that reach audiences with whatever information or messages they wish to receive or share. And there is coming to be an almost limitless number of those information alternatives, well beyond Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, each attracting not only customers but also ad revenue in increasingly clever and user-intrusive ways.
 
As far back as the turn of the last century, local daily newspapers were attracting ambitious men who wanted to own a lot of them. First, it was newspapermen like William Randolf Hearst and E.W. Scripps, and a small-town New York newspaper owner named Frank Gannett, who all had a personal zeal to expand their newspaper holdings as much for personal influence as for profit.

Soon companies that owned groups of newspapers, each of which could be expected to post profit margins approaching 50 percent, realized that as public companies they could return dramatic shareholders profits. Thus emerged newspaper companies like Knight-Ridder, McClatchy, Newhouse and Lee Newspapers and a host of smaller, lesser-known chains. And of course Gannett, the nation's largest.

But even the most committed newspaper groups, while pressing to maintain quality coverage for each of the communities they served, realized that delivering continually increasing profits required cost-cutting focus in all areas, not just logical ones like travel and meals and entertainment but also, inevitably, personnel.  

Then as daily newspapers began a long and slow but steady decline in circulation and advertising revenue, both the result of waning customer interest, newspaper acquisitions become appealing for far different reasons than the surging profits that once marked the industry.

So the sharks began to circle and there were a number who created profits by acquiring newspapers and imposing devastating cost constraints, which inevitably meant editorial staff reductions and thus the quality of the news coverage.

And Alden's Digital First found even greater investor appeal, realizing that after they bought a newspaper at a distressed price, they could not only reap the cash flow and lay off employees, but then sell the buildings the newspapers had owned. Thus disappeared or shrank dramatically dailies of onetime major prominence like the San Jose Mercury News, the Denver Post, the Orange County Register or the Oakland Tribune, which Alden merely closed.
At first, readers looked to television to provide news in a much more timely fashion than newspapers. Then social media platforms emerged to provide people with an outlet to feel like they could escape from the real world and interact with people who shared like minds and common interest on one of the web-based communities.   

Suddenly alternatives to conventional media like newspapers provided places to unplug from the grind of corporate America, family or whatever a person needed a break from, which was frequently the onslaught of information about wars, politics, disasters, or combinations of all three.

Meanwhile, most daily newspapers have fallen short in efforts to replace lost circulation and advertising revenue with revenue from digital news and product offerings. Though the device of luring readers to websites and then requiring a subscription in order to proceed beyond the first paragraph is benefitting those with higher-quality editorial offerings.  

So what of that conventional wisdom about the fate of newspapers holding the key to the health of democracy?  

Well, first those engaged in the demonizing of media for political reasons are having an active impact on the declining acceptance of newspapers. In addition, an article in Wired magazine last week included an article entitled "Journalism isn't dying. It's returning to its roots."

"If men like Ben Franklin or Samuel Adams, both newspapermen returned to today, they'd find our journalistic ecosystem, with its fact-checked-both-sides-ism and claims to 'objectivity' completely unrecognizable," suggested the Wired writer. Both founding fathers wrote under numerous pseudonyms and Franklin pioneered placing advertising nest to content.

"We take journalistic objectivity to be as natural and immutable as the stars, but it's a relatively short-lived artifact of 20th-century America," the Wired article continued. "Even now it's foreign to Europeans-cities such as London cultivate a rowdy passel of partisan scribblers who don't even pretend there's an impregnable wall between reportage and opinion."

The Wired article, written by Antonio García Martínez, who worked on Facebook's early monetization team where he headed its targeting efforts, suggests that "While the tone of journalism might be headed back to the 19th century, clearly the business models are not. Revenue-wise, the Great 21st Century Journalism Shakeout will likely end with smaller organizations inventing new business models that the villains-the internet and social media-enabled."
There's a local aspect to this column: it's the observation that this state benefits unusually from the number of local and family-owned daily newspapers operating here, compared to other states.  

But those newspapers in Spokane with the Spokesman-Review, Vancouver with the Columbian and Seattle with the Seattle Times, plus Yakima and Walla Walla that I also include as a local family owned since they are Seattle-Times owned, face dramatic financial challenges that do threaten their survival.

I also include the Lewiston Morning Tribune among the local, family-owned in this state because The Trib serves an audience across parts of Southeast Washington and the Palouse, through its Moscow-Pullman Daily News. And also because two of the stories about the community service that comes with local ownership relate to the late A.L. Alford and his son, A.L. "Butch" Alford Jr., former publisher, now president and chairman of TPC Holdings, an umbrella for the Tribune and Daily News. Butch succeeded his father upon his death in 1968 and passed the publisher Baton to his youngest son, in 2008.

Seems that years ago, The Trib was writing some stories critical of Potlatch, the then locally based lumber-products public company that was a major advertiser, when the CEO one day paid a call on publisher A.L. Alford Sr., and made it clear there would be no more Potlatch advertising in the Tribune unless the critical stories stopped. So the senior Alford, without further ado, asked his assistant to please show their guest to the door and the CEO, true to his word, stopped advertising and the critical stories continued.

A few years after he became publisher, Butch Alford was appointed to Idaho Board of Education and took the occasion to write a front-page column detailing his various business and community involvements and ties, explaining to readers that he felt it important that they be able to be aware if his newspaper's coverage seemed to be influenced at any time by his involvements and interests, so they could call him to account if it seemed appropriate.

Without offense to the journalistic stints of our founding fathers, I'd personally prefer that the future of newspapers was in the hands of those like the Alfords rather than Franklin. I only hope the future is not in the hands of Alden. Or Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.
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WA legislature and Congress in crosshairs over consumer privacy

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Lawmakers in both Washingtons are in the consumer-privacy crosshairs amid a growing awareness, and thus anger, of how little people are able to keep private about themselves.  
 
While both the Washington Legislature and Congress are deliberating bills the lawmakers hope can be crafted to satisfy both tech giants and consumers, there is an increasingly uncomfortable sense among legislators at both the state and federal levels that they had better not rile consumers further on the privacy issue.
 
And interestingly, part of the script for how this struggle between the tech industry and individuals over privacy plays out may be written in Washington state, either with the legislative tax hammer that is almost uniquely available in this state or by an emerging Bellevue company that hopes to take the privacy issue out of the hands of the tech giants.  
 
The tax tool is the state's business and occupation tax, a use tax on gross receipts rather than profits, which can and has been imposed in a punitive manner. The business start-up company is Helm, which has created a relatively inexpensive device, about the size of a router, that lets consumers send and receive emails from their own domain. More on both the b&o and Helm later.
 
At the federal level, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is proposing sweeping new legislation that would empower consumers to control their personal information, create radical transparency into how corporations use and share their data, and impose harsh fines, even prison terms for executives at corporations that misuse Americans' data.
 
As Wyden has put it: "Today's economy is a giant vacuum for your personal information - Everything you read, everywhere you go, everything you buy and everyone you talk to is sucked up in a corporation's database. But individual Americans know far too little about how their data is collected, how it's used and how it's shared,"  
 
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he expects the state legislature to address privacy in the upcoming session, saying he has begun discussions with tech leaders in the state "about a privacy policy that is consistent with innovation and also consistent with fundamental rights of privacy." And Inslee expressed confidence about getting a policy, probably in this session, that will be pleasing to innovators and consumers."
 
"Pleasing" to the big tech companies like Facebook, Google and hometown Amazon is an almost amusing word for a governor to use when "acceptable" to the tech giants is the best that is likely to happen with any state legislation that constrains the manner in which personal information is being collected and used.
 
That's particularly true with citizen pressure on lawmakers here and in other states after California's Assembly and Senate overwhelmingly passed a far-reaching piece of legislation called the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA). The measure largely mirrors protections offered to European citizens under the recently implemented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is likely to drastically change the ways that American companies store and trade in consumer information for Californians.
 
The law allows Californians to ask firms collecting and selling data: what do you collect, why and with whom do you share it? And it allows California residents to opt out of the sale of their data and to request deletion of their data.
 
And in addition to Wyden's zeal on behalf of privacy, the passage of CCPA is spurring the tech industry to seek Congressional action on something they could at least reluctantly accept to avoid what they are protesting as a possible "patchwork approach to privacy policy" if each state enacts its own version.
 
So in the event Washington lawmakers approve legislation that makes its citizens happy about new state protections for privacy, and then Congress approves a law that offers dramatically less protection that supersedes what states like California, and Washington, have put in place, how can this state preserve the protections it will have given its citizens.?
 
A suggestion, borne or my political-writing background: The state, led by its Democrat Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson, could put in place a privacy policy that companies would be told they must comply with or a special B&O tax rate of some compelling amount, maybe even 25 percent, will apply to those firms not honoring our privacy policy.  
 
Would Ferguson have the courage to confront major tech companies either located here, like Amazon or having a significant presence here like Google and Facebook? Given the fact that he'd like to be Inslee successor as governor and that his key role is first and foremost "preserving the rights of the individual," he could fatally impact his political hopes if he failed to follow the public demands on this issue. And in fact, if he failed to take a protective step demanded by citizens, they could use the initiative process to create a special b&o tax rate themselves.
 
This wouldn't be a law, since the federal government if Congress passes a privacy act, would likely have pre-empted states passing laws governing privacy. But legislation imposing a different b&o tax and the significantly higher rate has a long tradition protected by decisions of the Washington State Supreme Court.
 
Would what I am talking about be legal blackmail? Consider that there are almost three dozen B&O classifications with rates often unexplainable, like parimutuel wagering having a rate of .0013 and gambling contests of chance, .015. The latter, incidentally, is the rate for "service and other activities," which includes professional firms like attorneys as well as consultants-the rate I pay.
 
And how law firms came to be taxed at the highest rate is instructive for how lawmakers in Washington can use the b&o. In the 1993 session, lawmakers sought to extend the sales tax to the legal profession but the attorneys brought their lobbyists to the fray and successfully defeated the effort. Presto, came the highest b&o tax suddenly applying to attorneys, just about tripling their tax.
 
I once asked the late Gov, Mike Lowry if that came about as punishment by a Democratic governor (him) and Democratic legislature and he let out one of his classic shoulder bouncing laughs.
 
When I discussed the privacy issue with Bellevue-based research analyst Jim Hebert, he noted that Congress has been through a major privacy-invasion crisis and solution before. He was referring to the reforms in consumer credit law to combat excesses of the credit agencies.  
 
"The agencies collected information on you, kept it and sold it to banks and others, with statistics disclosing that 40 percent of the information was wrong and no one knew it," Hebert said.  
 
The outcome was legislation enacted requiring that all such data the credit agencies collect is now turned over to a third-party organization that polices the data's accuracy and makes it available to consumers.
 
"Credit bureaus weren't put out of business or even really damaged by the corrective legislation," Hebert noted.
 
So back to Helm, the Bellevue company that was the idea of  Giri Sreenivas and Dirk Sigurdson, two entrepreneurs who had sold a security startup and raised a $4 million seed round from top venture capital firms last year.
 
"Right now, nearly all of the data that comprises your online life is stored in a massive data center," Sreenivas wrote in a blog he posted. "You don't own it. You can't see it, you can't touch it - and you don't know who can. That dream of a device that would make data 'ownable' to the individual - not a stranger - is what led to Helm."
 
Their device connects to a home network and pairs with a mobile app that lets users create their own domain name, passwords, and recovery keys. Helm supports standard protocols and works with regular email clients such as Outlook or the Mail app, with encryption protecting the connection between the device and the apps.
 
A key challenge for privacy champions is the apparent uncertainty about the extent to which younger generations will care enough to get into the fray as opponents of the big tech data collectors, although a recent survey I saw said there's growing disillusionment among people in their twenties and thirties surrounding social media.
 
But in a comment that leaders of the privacy battle would find disappointing, one of the millennials in the survey was quoted as saying "I feel like our generation has been raised to not be so worried about online privacy because it just feels like there is no alternative. Ultimately I do value privacy in theory, but it feels like it's a cost of participating in society. Not just online."

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An amusing post-script to last week's column
 
An email from a Russian friend provides a post-script to last week's column in which I suggested the formation of a business that, for a fee, could crowd the fringe in congressional or legislative races, helping ensure the re-election of moderates of either party.
 
Natalia Blokhina, who helps guide a Moscow-based fund management company that invests in U.S. companies, as well as companies elsewhere, sent me an email saying it was an interesting column.
 
Because I sought to help introduce Natalia to companies in which her fund might invest, I emailed her back asking if her fund might be interested in being an investor if the idea of a Save Our Middle LLC took hold.
 
"It would be interesting to tell people we have Russian investors in our company," I joked to her.
 
"We wouldn't want to be involved in a political company," she replied quite seriously.
 
You can search the column I did about Natalia at Flynn's Harp: Natalia Blokhina.

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WA legislature and Congress in crosshairs over consumer privacy

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Lawmakers in both Washingtons are in the consumer-privacy crosshairs amid a growing awareness, and thus anger, of how little people are able to keep private about themselves.  
 
While both the Washington Legislature and Congress are deliberating bills the lawmakers hope can be crafted to satisfy both tech giants and consumers, there is an increasingly uncomfortable sense among legislators at both the state and federal levels that they had better not rile consumers further on the privacy issue.
 
And interestingly, part of the script for how this struggle between the tech industry and individuals over privacy plays out may be written in Washington state, either with the legislative tax hammer that is almost uniquely available in this state or by an emerging Bellevue company that hopes to take the privacy issue out of the hands of the tech giants.  
 
The tax tool is the state's business and occupation tax, a use tax on gross receipts rather than profits, which can and has been imposed in a punitive manner. The business start-up company is Helm, which has created a relatively inexpensive device, about the size of a router, that lets consumers send and receive emails from their own domain. More on both the b&o and Helm later.
 
At the federal level, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is proposing sweeping new legislation that would empower consumers to control their personal information, create radical transparency into how corporations use and share their data, and impose harsh fines, even prison terms for executives at corporations that misuse Americans' data.
 
As Wyden has put it: "Today's economy is a giant vacuum for your personal information - Everything you read, everywhere you go, everything you buy and everyone you talk to is sucked up in a corporation's database. But individual Americans know far too little about how their data is collected, how it's used and how it's shared,"  
 
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he expects the state legislature to address privacy in the upcoming session, saying he has begun discussions with tech leaders in the state "about a privacy policy that is consistent with innovation and also consistent with fundamental rights of privacy." And Inslee expressed confidence about getting a policy, probably in this session, that will be pleasing to innovators and consumers."
 
"Pleasing" to the big tech companies like Facebook, Google and hometown Amazon is an almost amusing word for a governor to use when "acceptable" to the tech giants is the best that is likely to happen with any state legislation that constrains the manner in which personal information is being collected and used.
 
That's particularly true with citizen pressure on lawmakers here and in other states after California's Assembly and Senate overwhelmingly passed a far-reaching piece of legislation called the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA). The measure largely mirrors protections offered to European citizens under the recently implemented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is likely to drastically change the ways that American companies store and trade in consumer information for Californians.
 
The law allows Californians to ask firms collecting and selling data: what do you collect, why and with whom do you share it? And it allows California residents to opt out of the sale of their data and to request deletion of their data.
 
And in addition to Wyden's zeal on behalf of privacy, the passage of CCPA is spurring the tech industry to seek Congressional action on something they could at least reluctantly accept to avoid what they are protesting as a possible "patchwork approach to privacy policy" if each state enacts its own version.
 
So in the event Washington lawmakers approve legislation that makes its citizens happy about new state protections for privacy, and then Congress approves a law that offers dramatically less protection that supersedes what states like California, and Washington, have put in place, how can this state preserve the protections it will have given its citizens.?
 
A suggestion, borne or my political-writing background: The state, led by its Democrat Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson, could put in place a privacy policy that companies would be told they must comply with or a special B&O tax rate of some compelling amount, maybe even 25 percent, will apply to those firms not honoring our privacy policy.  
 
Would Ferguson have the courage to confront major tech companies either located here, like Amazon or having a significant presence here like Google and Facebook? Given the fact that he'd like to be Inslee successor as governor and that his key role is first and foremost "preserving the rights of the individual," he could fatally impact his political hopes if he failed to follow the public demands on this issue. And in fact, if he failed to take a protective step demanded by citizens, they could use the initiative process to create a special b&o tax rate themselves.
 
This wouldn't be a law, since the federal government if Congress passes a privacy act, would likely have pre-empted states passing laws governing privacy. But legislation imposing a different b&o tax and the significantly higher rate has a long tradition protected by decisions of the Washington State Supreme Court.
 
Would what I am talking about be legal blackmail? Consider that there are almost three dozen B&O classifications with rates often unexplainable, like parimutuel wagering having a rate of .0013 and gambling contests of chance, .015. The latter, incidentally, is the rate for "service and other activities," which includes professional firms like attorneys as well as consultants-the rate I pay.
 
And how law firms came to be taxed at the highest rate is instructive for how lawmakers in Washington can use the b&o. In the 1993 session, lawmakers sought to extend the sales tax to the legal profession but the attorneys brought their lobbyists to the fray and successfully defeated the effort. Presto, came the highest b&o tax suddenly applying to attorneys, just about tripling their tax.
 
I once asked the late Gov, Mike Lowry if that came about as punishment by a Democratic governor (him) and Democratic legislature and he let out one of his classic shoulder bouncing laughs.
 
When I discussed the privacy issue with Bellevue-based research analyst Jim Hebert, he noted that Congress has been through a major privacy-invasion crisis and solution before. He was referring to the reforms in consumer credit law to combat excesses of the credit agencies.  
 
"The agencies collected information on you, kept it and sold it to banks and others, with statistics disclosing that 40 percent of the information was wrong and no one knew it," Hebert said.  
 
The outcome was legislation enacted requiring that all such data the credit agencies collect is now turned over to a third-party organization that polices the data's accuracy and makes it available to consumers.
 
"Credit bureaus weren't put out of business or even really damaged by the corrective legislation," Hebert noted.
 
So back to Helm, the Bellevue company that was the idea of  Giri Sreenivas and Dirk Sigurdson, two entrepreneurs who had sold a security startup and raised a $4 million seed round from top venture capital firms last year.
 
"Right now, nearly all of the data that comprises your online life is stored in a massive data center," Sreenivas wrote in a blog he posted. "You don't own it. You can't see it, you can't touch it - and you don't know who can. That dream of a device that would make data 'ownable' to the individual - not a stranger - is what led to Helm."
 
Their device connects to a home network and pairs with a mobile app that lets users create their own domain name, passwords, and recovery keys. Helm supports standard protocols and works with regular email clients such as Outlook or the Mail app, with encryption protecting the connection between the device and the apps.
 
A key challenge for privacy champions is the apparent uncertainty about the extent to which younger generations will care enough to get into the fray as opponents of the big tech data collectors, although a recent survey I saw said there's growing disillusionment among people in their twenties and thirties surrounding social media.
 
But in a comment that leaders of the privacy battle would find disappointing, one of the millennials in the survey was quoted as saying "I feel like our generation has been raised to not be so worried about online privacy because it just feels like there is no alternative. Ultimately I do value privacy in theory, but it feels like it's a cost of participating in society. Not just online."

-0-

An amusing post-script to last week's column
 
An email from a Russian friend provides a post-script to last week's column in which I suggested the formation of a business that, for a fee, could crowd the fringe in congressional or legislative races, helping ensure the re-election of moderates of either party.
 
Natalia Blokhina, who helps guide a Moscow-based fund management company that invests in U.S. companies, as well as companies elsewhere, sent me an email saying it was an interesting column.
 
Because I sought to help introduce Natalia to companies in which her fund might invest, I emailed her back asking if her fund might be interested in being an investor if the idea of a Save Our Middle LLC took hold.
 
"It would be interesting to tell people we have Russian investors in our company," I joked to her.
 
"We wouldn't want to be involved in a political company," she replied quite seriously.
 
You can search the column I did about Natalia at Flynn's Harp: Natalia Blokhina.
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Wrongful convictions 'fundamental failure of justice' - Mike Heavey

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Mike Heavey is a decorated Vietnam veteran, former Washington State legislator and retired King County Superior Court judge who each year marks his now 15-year remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma by climbing a mountain, with his 30-year friend, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, sometimes among the climbers.

But it's likely Heavey, 72, will want to be best remembered for his creation of an organization called Judges for Justice, which he formed in 2013 to identify wrongful convictions that leave innocent people imprisoned who can only be freed if someone makes the effort to have them exonerated.

Heavey's comments and the phrases that pepper them leave little doubt that the man who spent 14 years in the Washington State legislature and a dozen years as a superior court judge views the conviction and imprisonment of people who turn out to be innocent as a scar on the face of a nation.

"A wrongful conviction is a failure of the justice system in the most fundamental sense," says Heavey.
 
"Shocking crime generates fear in the community, fear generates pressure on law enforcement, pressure leads to tunnel vision and can create what we call a 'wrongful conviction climate' where the psychological drivers lead to tunnel vision and confirmation bias," says Heavey. The last is a term psychologist's use for the human tendency to interpret new information through the lens of existing convictions.
 
The case that launched Judges for Justice was one with the highest possible visibility, the trial, conviction, and imprisonment of his daughter's high-school friend, Amanda Knox. He got involved in the case of Knox and Raffaele Sollecito's in 2008, shortly after they were arrested for the murder of Meredith Kercher.
 
He said he found this case unsettling because his personal knowledge of Amanda, who grew up in his neighborhood, differed so greatly from the portrayal on the news. He began examining the case more closely and said he saw distinct indicators of a wrongful conviction.
 
He complained about the tactics of the Italian prosecutor, police and prison officials, saying Knox was "in grave danger of being convicted of the murder because of illegal and improper poisoning of public opinion and judicial opinion."
 
Heavey's ongoing criticism of Italian justice in Knox's case even included a Seattle Rotary presentation that embodied his criticisms. His comments and actions drew a rebuke from the Committee for Judicial Conduct, which said his actions "violated the judicial canons that require judges to 'uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary' and 'avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all their activities.'"

Heavey promised not to do it again, as he recalls.

On December 5th, 2009, Amanda and Raffaele were convicted of murder. Amanda spent four years in prison until, finally, on October 3rd, 2011; her conviction was overturned in an appel­late court. Amanda was free to go home to her family. She returned to her home in Seattle, Washington and published a memoir recalling her horrific ordeal.
 
The effort by Heavey and his nonprofit organization aren't viewed kindly by law enforcement and justice agencies in cases where he has gone on the attack and it is with his current campaign in an explosive case in Hawaii.

It's the case of Dana Ireland, the 23-year-old victim of a Christmas Eve abduction, rape, and murder on the Big Island in 1991. Three men were convicted of the murder and imprisoned.
 
But in a luncheon speech last month before the Exchange Club of Downtown Honolulu, with the picture of the beautiful young woman on the projection screen behind him, Heavey said the DNA evidence from the crime scene matched none of the men convicted.
 
Then for emphasis, Heavey said to the audience, "the man who left the DNA, he's the killer. And he's still out there."
 
The Big Island prosecutor and the Hawaii Innocence Project question his motives, but Heavey presses on with a campaign to reopen the notorious murder case.
 
In an interview this week for this column, Heavey flatly accuses the prosecutor and the Hawaii Innocence Project of seeking to cover up the fact that the DNA evidence that was uncovered was not disclosed before or after the trial.
 
That failure, Heavey contends, led to the fact that Frank Pauline, one of the three men convicted of the murder, was himself murdered in a New Mexico prison by a fellow inmate. Heavey and Pauline had had several contacts via email and telephone about the fact undisclosed DNA evidence from a bloody tee-shirt found at the scene of Dana Ireland's murder should have been made available to Pauline' attorney.
 
The fact that Heavey's efforts get strong pushback from the justice and law enforcement establishments is evidenced by the Hawaii Innocence Project filing a complaint with the Washington State Bar Association over Heavey's involvement in the case.
 
It was Heavey's work in another case that earned him a nomination for an award from the bar association, an award of merit for what the nomination described as his :"literally thousands of hours over the past four years to achieve the release of Chris Tapp, wrongfully convicted in Idaho of first degree murder and rape."
 
Thanks to Heavey's efforts, Tapp walked out of the Kootenai County jail in March of 2017, a free man after serving more than 20 years of a life sentence for a crime he didn't commit.
 
As to Heavey's long remission from the type of cancer that has claimed, among others, Paul Allen and Blake Nordstrom, he explains that
he decided he was going to do all that he could to get better. "I was going to maximize my ability to heal," he said.  
 
In addition to standard Western medical care, he read that diet had a lot to do with spontaneous remissions, so he changed the way he ate, replacing processed foods with fresh fruits and vegetables, and coffee with green tea. He prayed to maximize the spiritual side of healing as well.
 
"We all have a higher essence down deep, a healing force inside of us. Praying and meditating helps connect with that force," Heavey said.
 
Mountain climbing became a part of his "healing force" in 2006 when, at the age of 59, he climbed Mt. Rainier for the first time. "I had started hiking with friends after my cancer went into remission and years of back pain went away," he said.
 
He climbed Rainier every year for five years. He has summited Mt. Hood and Mt. Baker in Washington and Grand Teton in Wyoming. In 2013, he climbed to the "Roof of Africa," the 19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. "I like to climb because it means I'm healthy," he said.
 
Cantwell, who was elected to the state House or Representatives the same year Heavey was, has been part of the climbing team on several climbs, including Kilimanjaro, led by their mutual friend, Seattle investment advisor John Rudolf.
 
To emphasize the importance of his Judges for Justice efforts, which he says will take on a new case in Pennsylvania shortly, Heavey notes that a recent study of those freed after being imprisoned for crimes that they were innocent of finding that 117 of those exonerated had been on death row.
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High Court ruling outlawing death penalty stirs memory of hanging

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The Washington Supreme Court's decision to strike down the death penalty as unconstitutional brought back memories of the 1963 hanging of Joseph Chester Self, which I covered for United Press International as a young reporter. It would be the last hanging in Washington State for nearly 30 years.

Last week's ruling in which the court held unanimously that the death penalty was "arbitrary and racially biased" was the fourth time that a high court has decreed that Washington's death penalty was unconstitutional, for a variety of reasons, but capital punishment was approved anew after each of the three previous occasions.

And while the court's ruling last week included the comment "death as a penalty for crime is not in itself unconstitutional," and "We leave open the possibility that the Legislature may enact a 'carefully drafted statute," the decision noted that it would be very difficult to do that in a constitutional manner.

At the time of Self's execution 55 years ago, the state didn't have a gallows in the Old West style, but rather a large room at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, a "death chamber" as it was referred to, a short walk from Death Row where those sentenced to die awaited the outcome of their appeals process. It was later, to rectify a court decision throwing out the death penalty, that a legislature made fatal injection an option for the condemned prisoners.

Only men have been executed in Washington and, interesting in light of the court's statement about the death sentence being "racially disproportionate," of the 14 who went to their deaths between and 1947 and 1993, 13 were Caucasian, including Joe Self, and one was Hispanic.

Washington's governors have routinely passed on the opportunities over the years to interfere with the death penalty being carried out, until current governor Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on the death penalty and has now announced he would veto any effort to restore it.

Mike Lowry, who was then in his first year as Washington governor, was the last to weigh whether to permit a condemned man to hang, although two men were subsequently executed by lethal injection during Gary Locke's time as governor.

I once asked Lowry to recall that hanging and his thoughts about it. In the process of answering, he disclosed that a personal visit with the condemned man at the state penitentiary had been part of what he referred to as "the considerable time" he spent reviewing the case of Charles Rodman Campbell.

"I received delegations from opponents of capital punishment and, of course, from family and friends of the people he murdered," Lowry recalled. "In the end, I could not justify in my own mind reversing the 13-year legal process that included all the appeals that were made by his defense lawyers exercising his constitutional rights."

"One of the reasons I did not commute Mr. Campbell's sentence to life without the possibility of parole is that there was a very legitimate fear that he might try to kill a prison employee or other inmate," Lowry added.

I chuckled at the thought that Inslee might have taken Lowry's example and met with either one of the death row prisoners or members of the family of one of the victims before rendering his far-reaching decision

Lowry, who died 18 months ago, conceded during our conversation that is was possible there would be other executions in Washington State, noting: "I feel for whoever is governor at that time and I hope he or she will explore every opportunity to find a solid justification to commute the sentence to life without possibility of parole."

In fact, Campbell, who was executed for the murders of two women and the eight-year-old daughter of one of the women, all of whom had their throats slit, perfectly fitted the profile of a killer who deserved to die, for those who believe there may be a societal issue, not merely a legal issue in capital punishment discussion.

The late true-crime author Ann Rule wrote a chapter about Campbell in one of her books and described him as "a killer straight out of a nightmare." And then-Atty. Gen Christine Gregoire observed after Campbell's execution: "The death penalty is not something to be taken lightly and should be reserved for only the most heinous crimes. If anyone deserved the death penalty, it was Charles Campbell."

Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote that "no penological goal" was served by capital punishment. But some would argue that capital punishment could also have a societal aspect, since academic discussions of the purposes of punishment always refer to five purposes, including retribution.

And as a friend who spent years in the prosecutor's office observed to me, "closure for the families of murder victims should be a very important consideration."

But the case of Joe Self perhaps fitted the Supreme Court's comment about the arbitrary aspect of the death penalty's imposition.
 
Self was convicted and sentenced to die for shooting a cab driver to death in a $15 robbery, the final criminal chapter in a life of otherwise petty crimes, none of which qualified as "heinous."
 
When he made the short walk from his death-row holding cell to the door of the chamber, he had long-since converted to Catholicism and he had willed his eyes to an eye bank.
 
Two other young journalists and I were among the group of about 35 people on hand for Self's hanging, by tradition just past midnight, "the first minute of the new day."
 
Self, Warden Bobbie Rhay, a Catholic priest who had become Self's regular death-row visitor, and a couple of guards entered a door to the cement balcony against the back wall of the chamber, with the witnesses looking up from below. They walked to the center of the platform and stopped as Self stood above the steel door through which he would fall to his death when the door was sprung open.
 
Rhay asked Self if he had any final words and the condemned man replied: "Ask me if I've said my prayers, warden."
 
With that, a hood was pulled over Self's head. A straightjacket pinned his arms to his body. Rhay flipped a wall switch, signaling three men in a room below the death chamber that they should each flip the switches in front of them. Only one of the switches activated the trap door, through which Self fell in a moment, his neck snapping before onlookers could even grasp what they had witnessed.
 
That only three reporters, all print journalists in their early '20s, were on hand (no radio or television news people and no seasoned reporters) to cover the execution was a commentary on the relative importance of a hanging then, though there was certainly media coverage in the weeks prior. After all, hangings occurred on average about once a year. But Self's would be the last for decades.
 
By the time 30 years after Self that another death row inmate was to be hanged, the attention was widespread and went on for weeks, and all three of us who had been at Self's execution found ourselves being interviewed by various media on "what it was like."
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An appropriate time for 'We The People' student focus on U.S. Constitution

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At a time when the U.S. Constitution has become the focal point of conversation and discussion across the nation, with an alarming amount of the discussion heatedly political, it's heartening to learn about the little-known competition among high school students across the country to create a deeper knowledge of the nation's founding document.

The program is called "We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution" with programs in all 50 states involving thousands of students in a national competition that culminates in the spring with national finals sponsored by the Center for Civic Education and conducted at the national conference center in Leesburg, VA.

The finals are designed to simulate a congressional hearing, presumably without the rancor that characterized the convention that adopted the constitution and that has been passed down through legislative bodies since then to the Congress of today.

I learned about the program from my granddaughter, Emma, then a senior at Portland's Franklin High School, a year before her mother, Oregon Supreme Court Justice Meagan Flynn, became part of an unusual lineup of coaches at Franklin. 

That team of coaches this year includes, in addition to Meagan, fellow Supreme Court Justice Rives Kistler, as well as a retired Oregon appellate court judge.

Grant and Lincoln high schools in Portland have carved out roles as perennially among the top three high schools in the nation with Grant finishing first in the national competition last year and Lincoln third.

There's little likelihood that when Grant or Lincoln teams return with their national recognition there are celebrations to congratulate the winners, or that the parents at those schools even know much about the event. Anyone aware of the importance of informed citizens in creating forms of governance would find that disappointing.

But apparently among the students at Grant and Lincoln, the old story of "success breeds success" is at work.

"They are very selective in who they pick and they have developed a strong draw to students,' Meagan said.

Washington State high schools lag far behind the performance of their Oregon counterparts. Six Washington high schools are involved in the constitution competition.

They are: Eastlake Evergreen, Heritage, Orting, Overlake, Tahoma (Tahoma frequently winds high on the list of national honorable mentions)

Students from the six Washington State High Schools participate in the We the People State Competition on the Capitol Campus in Olympia each spring.

About 40 Franklin students gather each Monday evening with 15 to 20 coaches and the high school's advanced placement teacher to go over questions and discuss aspects of the constitution.

The questions they deal with would make interesting fodder at adult gatherings if the idea of discussing the constitution in other than the occasional irrelevant conversations about getting a new one occurred to them.

As Meagan explained to me when I asked her how the evenings go, "We usually split into six individual units during the evening and help the kids work on their answers to the prepared questions or have them practice answering random questions about their topics.  In the competition rounds, they give their prepared answer and then spend six minutes fielding any questions about the topic that the judging panel wants to ask. The questions are mostly along the lines of taking a position and defend your answer with specific examples, rather than closed-ended questions."

The questions the students deal with are compelling and hopefully could prompt some of their parents to gather and say "hey, let's have a discussion about this."

Three questions gleaned from a multi-page list that the students deal with attracted my attention:

  - "How does the Constitution limit government power to protect individual rights while promoting the common good?"

  - "what arguments can you make for and against giving each state the right to send the same number of members to the Senate?

  - "If a law has been properly passed by the law-making branches of a democratic government, why should judges have the power to declare it unconstitutional? Do you agree or disagree with the position implied by this question? Why or why not?"

During the national finals, more than 1,200 students testify before a total of 72 judges, in panels of three. The judges are history, political science, law, and education professors, members of the legal community, and others with knowledge of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

According to the Center for Civic Education, "Since the inception of the We the People program in 1987, more than 28 million students and 90,000 educators have participated in the program and more than 30,000 students have participated in the national finals."

I asked Meagan what she views as the value of the program.

"It makes good citizens," she said. "Students learn about the Constitution and how it relates to current events and they learn to take information and form an opinion, based on facts."

I think we should form an adult version of "We the people."

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Seattle area brain science innovators on display at Jackson Hole Global Summit

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The Seattle area's brain science leadership, specifically the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Seattle biotech company that has become a focal point of the battle against neurodegenerative disease, is on display this week in Jackson Hole, WY, where the annual Wyoming Global Technology Summit is taking place.

Leen KawasLeen KawasLeen Kawas, CEO of Seattle-based M3 Biotechnology, and Amy Bernard, product architect for the Allen Institute, will be members of a panel moderated by former Seattleite Amber Caska, CEO of NEXT Family Office, that will explore "The New Frontier: Innovations in Neuroscience." Rachael Dunlop, Senior Research Fellow at the Brain Chemistry Labs in Jackson, WY, is the third panelist.

It's an opportune time for Kawas to be appearing before an audience that includes potential investors since her company and its novel regenerative therapies for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases has completed Phase 1a and 1b with its lead compound.  

M3, which has been described as being at the leading edge in the new field of regenerative medicine, is now actively recruiting Alzheimer's patients in Phase 1c and plans to begin Phase 2 trials next year.

Amber Caska 
The clinical trials that have been completed with M3's lead compound NDX-1017 have been designed to assess safety, toxicity and tolerability while evaluating a biomarker strategy for the therapy for Alzheimer's that are intended to slow or even stop the progression of the disease.

Caska pointed out to me that "The Allen Institute of Brain Science independently highlighted a lead target through separate gene studies that M3 Biotechnology was pursuing research on, showing the important role of these independent research institutes." 

In a column a year ago, as M3 began human trials, I wrote that "The manner in which Kawas, in just under four years as president and CEO of M3 Biotechnology Inc., took the young company from the lab toward commercialization and has ascended to virtually the top of the visibility pyramid in her industry is storybook material."

In fact, as I said in that Harp, Kawas, as a 33-year-old woman from Jordan, has become the new face of biotech in Washington State, and beyond, since she is in demand to be on hand for seminars, conferences and investor gatherings relating to life sciences, biotech or Alzheimer's across the country.

As Carol Criner, who has served as CEO and turnaround executive at various companies in an array of industries and is an M3 investor and advisor, told me for that year-ago column, "Now that she is a celebrity CEO, it's hard to imagine this all began a few short years ago."

"I witnessed her face the headwinds of giant egos and sexism with resilience," Criner noted. "She never gave up. Her success largely silenced a lot of vocal-doubters. I love it.  She's amazing and strong."

Amber CaskaAmber CaskaThe panel on which Kawas is featured was Caska's idea. As a transplant to Jackson Hole, she approached the organizers of the event that was created five years ago by the non-profit Jackson Hole Technology Partnership about putting together an all-female panel and they seized on the idea.

Caska is an angel investor with an impressive background, having come to Jackson Hole from the Bay Area where she had managed the family office fund for former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, before taking the role as president and COO of the women angel organization Portfolia. Prior to that she ran Microsoft founder and pro sports owner Paul Allen's family office fund and helped guide a number of his investments, including the NBA Portland Trailblazers.

In addition to Caska's panel, the 2018 summit will feature an array of leaders of various industries and innovators on the topics of Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Fintech, Venture Capital, Quantum Computing and Digital Healthcare Technology.

Caska isn't the only female executive with impressive credentials to have been recent newcomers to Jackson Hole.

Debbie Hopkins, who was CEO of Citi Ventures and led Citigroup Innovation, moved to Jackson Hole this year, and she also is moderating a panel, titled "High Altitude Entrepreneurship, from Founders to Funders."

"Debby and I have been brainstorming on how we could convene more diversity in leadership to discuss innovation and investment in Wyoming," Caska said.

The event itself, being held in one of the wealthiest per-capita cities in America, is a model for what could be done in other less populated states.

The Jackson Hole Technology Partnership founded the event to identify new technologies relevant to rural populations and accelerate access to those technologies on a global scale. In addition to the summit, the organization holds follow up workshops.  

The JHTP touts its focus as solving rural challenges by accelerating technologies that improve biotech and healthcare delivery, energy, information security, mobile banking, agriculture, transportation, communication, and clean water and clean air.

As Caska noted to me for this column: "Wyoming wants to attract more science, innovation, tech, and jobs here.  The Governor hosts this annual summit to convene global speakers to share innovation projects they are working on and see if there is a way to tie into partnership opportunities for the State of Wyoming."

"I think there is a great opportunity for rural areas to collaborate with innovation and education centers from around the globe," Caska said. "Many experienced professionals are moving to rural states looking for a different quality of life to that of the overcrowded cities. There is a ton of talent to be tapped and so building innovation centers in places such as Jackson Hole totally makes sense."

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Shared global grief for us on 9/11 deserves being recalled, pondered

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On the 10th and 15th anniversaries of 9/11, I shared an article written a few days after that tragic 2011 September day by a former, now late, United Press International colleague, Al Webb.  From his post in UPI's London bureau, Webb did a wrap-up of the grief that citizens of every country shared on our behalf. As another anniversary of 9/11 arrives, I share again Webb's article that captured that display of shared pain in a way that deserves, or rather requires, remembering. And its rereading stirs a compelling question to ponder: whether the global regard for us that outpouring of affection evidenced remains our national treasure or whether it is now merely a squandered legacy.    

By Al Webb
LONDON (UPI) -- A small girl with a Cockney accent shyly waved a tiny American flag, and a queen brushed away a tear. In a Scottish town that has known its own tragedy, a lone church bell tolled. On a German river, foghorns sounded a low moan.

Across countries and continents, waves of sympathy for a nation in anguish rolled on. A young woman in a Kenyan park wept over the sad headlines in newspapers spread on the ground. A one-time terrorist donated blood for the victims. Hundreds stood in line in cities from Dublin to Moscow to sign books of condolences.  

And over the outpouring of grief and mourning for the lives lost in the boiling flames and rubble of the World Trade Center towers and a wing of the Pentagon, time and again came the strains of "The Star-Spangled Banner," sometimes in places where it had never been sung before.

In a gesture reminiscent of John F. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner," symbolizing his solidarity with another troubled people a half-century ago, the Paris newspaper Le Monde perhaps summed it up best: "We are all Americans."

In London, where the little girl with the funny accent and her American flag pressed her damp face against the gates, the band performing the traditional Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace suddenly did something it had never done before -- it struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner."

For 45 minutes, the Mall in front of the palace became a little piece of America for hundreds of its citizens who were there because there were no planes to take them home. And the band of the Coldstream Guards played on.

As tear-stained faces lifted and sang along, as Americans and British and other nationals waved Old Glory, the marches rolled -- "The Liberty Bell" after the national anthem, followed by "The Washington Post March" and "Semper Fidelis" and finally, heart-rendingly, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."

What the Coldstream Guards had triggered was the greatest mass demonstration of grief in Britain since Princess Diana was killed in a car crash four years ago. And as with Diana's death, a carpet of flowers, children's toys, poems, letters, all illuminated by tiny candles, built up this time at the fortress-like U.S. Embassy in London.

Amid the hundreds of bouquets, a single American flag was wrapped around a tree. One woman pressed her tear-dampened lips to its fringe in a soft kiss.  

The sweeping tide of mourning reached its crescendo at 11 o'clock Friday morning when Britain, France, Germany and scores of other countries in Europe, Africa and Asia went silent for three minutes, in honor of the innocent dead in America.

In Paris, the elevator at the Eiffel Tower stopped halfway to the top. Buses, trams and cars halted in their tracks across the continent.

In Spain, more than 650 city and town halls became gathering centers for tens of thousands who bent their heads in silent prayer -- and then, at the end of the three minutes, they lifted their eyes and applauded in that people's traditional tribute to the victims of terrorism.

On the River Elbe leading into Hamburg, ships flew their flags at half-mast. The minutes of silence crept by -- and at the end were broken by the sound of a thousand foghorns rolling across the water into the city's very heart.

In Lockerbie, Scotland, there was no applause, no singing, no bands, only the ringing of a single church bell and the flutter of flags at half-mast. This is a town with singular links to America, forged in a terrorist attack in the skies 13 years ago.

In all, according to an estimate by The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London, some 800 million people across Europe joined in the three minutes of silence.

At Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, once part of a dividing line between freedom and tyranny, a crowd of some 200,000 -- among them Germans whose relatives had died in terrorist attacks -- gathered beneath a black banner bearing the words, "We Mourn With You."

In Paris, crowds jammed the Place de la Concorde, itself a symbol of reconciliation, while church bells rang for five minutes before the silence.

In the government's Elysee Palace, "The Star-Spangled Banner" rang out, while over the French airwaves, radio stations played John Lennon's "Imagine."

The bankers of Switzerland are not noted for their sentimentality, so they dealt in their own currency. At the end of the three minutes of silence, they announced they were donating more than $500,000 to the families of the victims of the atrocities in America.  

Lloyd's of London, the insurance market-based in the British capital and one of several insurers of the World Trade Center, rang its Lutine bell and observed a minute of silence in memory of the dead in America -- some of them in the several broker offices Lloyd's has -- had -- in the WTC.  

In Belfast, the bullets and bombs of Northern Ireland's own form of terrorism, known as sectarian violence, went silent as tens of thousands from both sides of the divide -- Roman Catholic and Protestant - gathered in front of a makeshift stage at City Hall, to stand in silent tribute.

It is a city that knows the heartache of terrorism. "We have suffered for 33 years," said Betty McLearon. "People here have to be admired for the way they can cope with it. It will take the people in New York a long time to get over this."

In Moscow, the Russians observed a minute's silence as they laid wreaths and floral tributes outside the U.S. Embassy, once a symbol of the Cold War. Thousands of Muscovites lined up patiently to sign books of condolences.

In turbulent Israel, a nurse gently inserted a needle into the right arm of Yasser Arafat, himself a one-time terrorist who is now head of the Palestinian Authority. In a demonstration of support, he was donating blood to help the American injured.

Back in London, the minutes of silence were followed by a service of remembrance in the capital's majestic St. Paul's Cathedral, led by Queen Elizabeth II herself. In the audience of 2,400 inside, Americans hoisted the Stars and Stripes for the rest of the world to see via television.

Outside the cathedral, the tens of thousands who could not get in waved their own tiny flags and listened over the loudspeakers that carried the words and music for blocks around.  The cathedral's huge organ rumbled into life, to open the service, appropriately, with the American national anthem.

Then something happened that has never happened before, certainly not in public and doubtless not even in private. Softly, the queen began to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Now, the British monarch does not "sing" national anthems. When they are played, she never even opens her mouth. Until now.

 But Queen Elizabeth sang it all, this song whose words were written 187 years ago during Britain's last war with her lost American colonies, through the final words, "O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave." With the last note, the queen gently brushed away a tear.  

That said it all. 
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(Note:Al Webb, who died in January of 2015 at the age of 79, spent most of his career with UPI, separated by a few years in the 1980s for a stint with U.S. News and World Report. His reporting ranged from the civil rights struggles to the battlefields of Vietnam to the Houston Space Center covering the conquest of space. Webb, along with Joseph L. Galloway, another UPI colleague and friend, were two of only four civilian journalists who were decorated for their battlefield heroism, in Webb's case a silver star for evacuating under fire a wounded marine during the Tet Offensive in 1968.)
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International talent on display in Bellevue at week-long pro squash event

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As Mariner, Seahawk and Sounder fans pour into Seattle's major sports stadiums cheering their teams on to achieve national pre-eminence this year, a sports event of world prominence is taking place this week, attracting only minor attention, at the Boys & Girls Club facility in Bellevue's Hidden Valley.

Shabana KhanShabana KhanIt's the PMI Dave Cutler Bellevue Invitational squash tournament, a round-robin event in which five men and five women, all among the world's best squash pros, are competing over the five days in an event that is world class in several ways, making the lack of visibility in its hometown disheartening.

The event has not only attracted the world's top talent but is the latest effort by Shabana Khan, one-time national women's squash champion and a member of one the best-known squash families on the planet, to develop the corporate and sponsor support needed for her squash initiatives.  

An example of the competitive value of her event and the lost fan opportunity that lack of visibility brings has been the performance of Reeham Sedky, a college student from Bellevue heading back this weekend to the University of Pennsylvania, for whom she won the national women's squash championship last spring.

Shabana decided to include her in this event with the world's best because of the fact she is a Bellevue product and to everyone's surprise, Sedky won her Monday match, upsetting one of the world's best women.

Through her non-profit YSK Events, Shabana has become perhaps the squash world's most successful female promoter of the sport and has brought significant attention for Bellevue with a sport that has been growing more rapidly in the U.S. in recent years than in any other country.  

This week's event is appropriately named for the two men, both with worldwide reputations in their industries, who have stepped up financially since the Men's World Championships to help Khan fulfill her dream.

One is Dave Cutler of Microsoft, universally acclaimed as the key technical brain behind the Microsoft Windows NT and all the subsequent windows versions. A decade ago he was recognized as a National Medal of Technology and Innovation laureate, perhaps the most prestigious honor in the country for developers of new technology.

The other is Robert Harris, founder, and CEO of PMI-Worldwide, a Seattle-based brand and product-marketing company with offices in seven cities around the world whose corporate philanthropy has only recently begun to be recognized.

But this is also an anniversary event in that Yusuf Khan 10-time all-India champion, emigrated to the U.S. in 1968 to teach tennis at the Seattle Tennis Club, bringing with him his family that then included children Asam and Shabana. Soon after arrival in Seattle, the elder Khan created the Seattle Athletic Club and made it a focal point for squash in Seattle.

Then two of his daughters became among the best in the nation with Shabana's younger sister, Latasha, several s being national women's champion before losing the title to Shabana, providing me the opportunity to joke in an earlier column, "best in the family is best in the county."

The Khan girls' older brother, Azam, also competed on the national squash circuit.
I talked with both of Shabana's key supporters to get a sense of why they have remained so faithful to her cause.

I asked Harris why he has been such a staunch supporter of Khan's, putting up $75,000 for this week's event, and he replied: "It's pretty simple. In a world beginning to look inward rather than building international alliances and global partnerships, I believe it's increasingly important to support sports that are global in nature and connect people from around the world. This is the only way humanity and our planet is going to survive and prosper."

Cutler, a devoted fan of squash and the Khans, arrived in this area in the '80s, convinced by Steve Balmer himself to leave Digital Equipment Co., whose operating system he created, to join Microsoft where he guided development of Windows NT and every major version of Windows since 1993, and more recently developed Microsoft Azure.

He regularly competed in squash tournaments before hanging up his racket in 2002 to focus his athletic activity on long-distance biking and is putting up $50,000 for this event as he has pretty routinely done for Shabana's events.

"She has some great ideas and a lot of those have been adopted by the national organization and players love to compete in her tournaments," Cutler said. "Not many people actually know what squash is, although it's a great sport for kids. And in recent years a lot of clubs have been converting racketball courts to squash courts."

"I'd like to see other people step up to help her efforts, a lot of them for young people, become more successful," added Cutler. "I tried to convince Balmer to step up but he's not a racket person."

It occurred to me after my conversation with Cutler that this search for support for Shabana's squash events isn't just about finding people who understand squash, it's about those who understand this s about supporting the internationalization of not just the Eastside but the entire region.

The numerous events she has put on in Bellevue, beginning with the Men's World Squash Championships in 2015 at Meydenbauer Center for the first time ever in the United States, have been aimed at bringing attention to squash, but with a focus on making squash attractive to young people.

When she put on the Men's World Squash Championship in late 2015, first time ever for the event on U.S. soil, Shabana charted new territory for prize money, which totaled $325,000 for the event that was held at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center. That amount became the threshold going forward with the U.S. Open in Philadelphia the next fall boasting a $350,000 purse.

Completion of this week's event clears the way for Shabana Khan's preparation for her launch in the fall of 2019 of West Coast Squash, by which she hopes to bring stronger and more convenient focus on youth squash in an array of cities around the West where parents and coaches have endorsed her initiative.

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Could insider trading issue stir conflict of interest in congressional races?

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The insider-trading quagmire in which New York Congressman Chris Collins finds himself may be occurring at the perfect time, in the midst of an election season, to inject an issue of substance rather than merely another political issue into congressional races around the country. The question is the need for closer scrutiny of personal financial involvements of members of Congress.

BrianBairdBrian BairdCollins' troubles stem from charges by Federal prosecutors that he used his seat on the board of a small Australian drug company to tip off his son and others that the company had failed a critical human trial and that the thousands of dollars of stock they all held would be taking a disastrous hit.

That was the first time I knew, the naïve soul that I must be, that members of Congress could sit on boards of publicly traded companies, thinking it beyond question that someone assumedly serving the best interest of constituents who elected them couldn't also fulfill the fiduciary duties to shareholders that a board member has.

Brian Baird, the former Democratic Congressman from Washington's third district whose major impact was his leadership in achieving legislation that now requires members or Congress to abide by the same investor rules that govern the rest of us, thinks it doesn't even deserve to be elevated to the legitimacy of a question.

"Being a member of Congress is a full-time job," said Baird. "I put in 70 hours a week during my time in Congress and the idea that I could also fulfill a fiduciary obligation to shareholders is preposterous."

Thus the issue that Collins' apparent insider-trading transgressions opens up for injection into congressional races is a close scrutiny of all financial activity by incumbents, not just involvement on boards.

One problem is that while members of the Senate are prohibited from serving on corporate boards, members of the House are not, though they can't be compensated for serving in such roles. But while a member of Congress files a financial disclosure report each year, there's no central database where that information is available.

But Baird thinks there should be, and that it would be well if some government-watchdog organization could digest and disseminate it and thus provide the opportunity to evaluate the financial conflicts of those running for re-election. That could be a welcome factual issue to inject into those campaigns rather than merely political rhetoric. And perhaps it would impact some election outcomes, thus frightening others in Congress to shed inappropriate financial dealings.

It might be uncomfortable for some incumbent Republicans to come down too hard on questionable financial activity, given the track record of many members of the cabinet of President Trump who may have made it appear that unseemly financial activity was a requirement for selection.

But lest that come across as a political comment rather than a journalistic observation, I'll add that Democrats could also have a bit of discomfort if they are too critical of the current environment given that the "Queen of the Questionable" may be House Democratic leader and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  

No one who saw her mishandling a question in the now famous 60 Minutes segment relating to questionable investment activities by members of Congress would possibly argue with that characterization of her relating to at least past financial involvements.

Baird spent half of his 12 years in Congress in a frustrated, and futile, effort to gather support for his legislation to make it illegal for lawmakers to engage in the kind of financial transactions that those in the real world know as Insider Trading and for which ordinary people can be sent to jail. Baird and one or two supporters offered it each session but couldn't even get a committee hearing.

Then came the 60 Minutes piece by CBS reporter Steve Croft, which amounted to merely highlighting the replies of then-House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Pelosi to his unexpected questions about their stock transactions. Boehner merely like someone hiding from the truth but Pelosi looked, like someone simply incompetent, stuttering ..."I don't understand your question. Um, You aren't suggesting I'd ever do anything that wasn't in the best interest of my constituents...?"

Croft's reporting exposed how members of Congress and their staff traded stocks based on nonpublic information to which they had exclusive access, the very issue Baird's ignored legislation was designed to address.

The news program sparked a public outcry and lawmakers by the dozens scurried like frightened rats to get aboard as supporters of the bill amid the public outcry, and so in April of 2012, the measure titled the STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) was passed.

Despite the passage of the legislation he pushed, Baird said in an interview last weekend: "The whole issue of conflict of interest in Congress is something they have never addressed."

"I'd love to see a study about how often members or Congress excuse themselves from voting on something because of conflict of interest," he added.

And wouldn't it be heartening if the media focus on Collins' legal challenges over his financial activities led to the kind of public outcry, particularly during an election campaign, that could stir a congressional rush to get on board a reform effort as happened with the rush to pass the STOCK Act.

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Bellevue company gets rare patent win - suit against tech giants gets agency okay

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A small Bellevue-headquartered technology company has won a landmark ruling from a controversial patent-appeals board that executives and key shareholders of the little company suggest could lead to multi-billion-dollar patent-infringement settlements with some of the nation's largest tech companies.

David vs. Goliath is an overdone metaphor. But in the case of Voip-Pal.com Inc. (Voip-Pal), which has a suite of patents on technologies dealing with what are known as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and that have been the focus of its legal battles with the likes of Apple, AT&T, Verizon and now Amazon, it may be an understated metaphor, particularly since there are multiple Goliaths.

Amazon is the latest tech goliath to be sued by Voip-Pal. The small company contends, in its June 15 suit filed in U.S. District Court in Nevada, that Amazon's Alexa calling and messaging services uses Voip-Pal's patented technologies to direct voice and video calls and messages.

The stage was set for the suit against Amazon, following suits against Verizon, AT&T and Twitter, by a decision from what's known as the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), which unexpectedly tossed out the combined effort by Apple, AT&T and Verizon to have all or parts of Voip-Pal's patents ruled invalid.

Voip-Pal has now filed $9.7 billion in lawsuits against the major companies mentioned above. And about 60 companies have received "introduction letters" advising them of the VOIP patents and that the companies might be infringing on those patents, more suits are possible. However, execs say they expect that many of those companies will merely decide to license Viop-Pal products rather than face suits, given the PTAB decision.

In fact, according to Voip-Pal president Dennis Chang, "we could make an enormous amount of revenue just licensing our patents since people have been infringing for years." Chang, who joined the company in 2009, helped guide the 2013 share-purchase acquisition of Digifonica, a small private company that built the portfolio of patents now owned by Voip-Pal.

If Voip-Pal's developments were a work of fiction, it would contain most of the dramatic elements, ranging from tension and contrast to conflict, mood and symbolism, necessary to make it a spellbinder attracting substantial interest.  

But the fact that the company is real rather than fictional sets up a different set of dramatic elements of which it is playing a part, all relating to the 2011 America Invents Act that spawned the PTAB. Those elements range from unrest in the investor and entrepreneurial communities to criticism from courts all the way up to the Supreme Court as well as potential Congressional action to change the federal Act.  

And with the proposal now gathering support in Congress that would restore health to what many are referring to as "America's crippled patent system," Voip-Pal could become the leading edge of small-companies' pushback against the perceived inequities in the current "unintended consequences" of a 2011 law.  

I first learned of Voip-Pal and its unprecedented string of patent-infringement suits from Sandy Wheeler, a significant shareholder who was co-founder and key executive of fitness-equipment manufacturer Bowflex that, through acquisition of other fitness companies, became the Nautilus Group Inc.

Wheeler, an Ellensburg resident who was key in building the Bowflex brand into the second most recognized name in the world of fitness equipment. He has since founded several other companies in addition to becoming a significant Voip-Pal shareholder.

Wheeler, a longtime friend, is not a rookie when it comes to patent-infringement legal actions since four years ago he was involved with a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Nautilus.

After Wheeler alerted me to the Voip-Pal story, I was intrigued, as I searched for any stories about the company or its various suits against the giants of the tech and telecom industries, that I could find little in the way of coverage and certainly not in major media. That despite the fact that the company's website is rich with news releases, video interviews and YouTube pieces and other efforts to attract coverage.

Voip-Pal stock is traded Over the Counter as VPLM, last traded at .07 and over the past 52 weeks, the stock has ranged from a penny a share to 45 cents, with the high occurring late last year after the PTAB ruling. The company has a market cap of about $125 million but that obviously ebbs and flows with the stock price.  

The Voip-Pal effort to stir greater attention clearly relates to the desire by key shareholders to see the stock begin to reflect what they view as its "true value," as the suits move toward the expected outcomes.  

Emil Malak, Voip-Pal CEO, said in a telephone interview that "given the strength of the patents, and the decision of the of PTAB, I fully expect that the infringing entities will either license or acquire the Voip-Pal technology, bringing major returns to our shareholders."

Malak, a Vancouver, B.C., investor and inventor, and other company executives feel that the PTAB decision means the major tech companies may decide that it is more logical financially to pay the licensing fees to Voip-Pal rather than face the treble damages that would be an option for the company if the infringements continue.

"After the years of developing and testing, and obtaining the related patents, Voip-Pal is ready to license or offer for sale its patented technologies," said Malak.

The three-member PTAB, frequently criticized as a tool of major companies, issued a unanimous 3-0 decision in favor of Voip-Pal's position and thus its patents stay intact, as issued and granted by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

The PTAB, whose image is as a pawn of big companies, made its unexpected decision on behalf of Voip-Pal with the potential consequence of threatening the traditional paternalistic legal interaction that has become the hallmark of patent and trademark infringement actions brought by small patent holders.

Malak, in explaining the suit against Amazon, said: "After investigating Amazon's Alexa platform and Echo line of products, our technical team has concluded that the calling and messaging functions infringe our patents."

"Amazon's foray into communications seems to be part of a larger trend of giant corporations battling for market dominance by offering Internet-based communication products that integrate with traditional telephony networks," said Malak,

The suits all stem from the fact that in 2004, Voip-Pal's now wholly owned Digifonica subsidiary, began developing, inventing and patenting many of what Malak contended are "the same communication methods that are now being employed by today's Internet giants."

It was a revolutionary idea at the time, three years before Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, when most people were making calls using landline-based phones or cell phones, with information traveling over phone lines and cellular networks.

Malak said in our telephone interview: "We had the vision that within 10 years, the Internet would become the primary means for telecommunications," adding that his team "realized that, in the future, calls, media, and messages would be primarily routed using the Internet, with a seamless transfer to cell phones, landlines, or computers wherever necessary."

"The PTAB is a 'non-appealable' court and Apple knows that and they are not going to get any traction with their request," Wheeler told me. "They simply know that their letter request delays everything...but their days are numbered."

The PTAB itself is an interesting business story that I was surprised to find hadn't received a lot of media attention, despite negative comments by federal courts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in one case, made reference to what it called PTAB "shenanigans" in its legal actions

The PTAB was formed in 2012 to implement the America Invents Act of 2011, a measure passed by Congress and signed by the president that critics have said transitioned the U. S. from a "first to invent" patent system to a system where priority is given to the first inventor to file a patent application, a system that tends to benefit large companies.

Part of the criticism that has been leveled at PTAB is what has been referred to frequently as "systemic problems," such as judges not having to disclose conflicts of interest when sitting to rule on patent-validity issues that could involve companies they previously worked for or in which they have an interest.

But in Voip-Pal's case, PTAB's apparent growing sensitivity about allegations of those systemic problems may have been beneficial to Voip-Pal's victory against Apple since the original three-judge panel appointed for the case was unexpectedly changed to a new trio of judges without any real explanation. Voip-Pal executives say the new panel, appointed from among the more than 100 patent judges that can be tapped for such cases, "gave fair review on all the merits" of the proceedings.

Meanwhile, bi-partisan legislation titled The Stronger Patents Act, which sponsors say would "restore patents as property rights and give startups a better chance to protect their property from entities with much greater resources," is likely to begin making its way through Congress.

Observers say the act, filed in both the House and Senate, is "designed to strengthen the United States' crippled patent system."

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The 4th brings thoughts on the American Dream - and who dreams it

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As we celebrate the nation's birthday, honoring the date in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed, it seems like the appropriate time to celebrate the American dream framed by that declaration, as well as give thought to who gets to dream it.

Two things made me think of that. The first was a feature today on Geekwire, the Seattle-based technology news site, focusing on the American Dream that guided immigrant entrepreneurs and tech leaders to this country and success. The second was a poem written by an immigrant fifth grader in San Diego about a conversation between "The Wall and Lady Liberty."

The Geekwire interviews had the tech execs explaining why they chose the U.S. as a place to build their lives, families, and dreams and thus were able to fulfill their American dream and became highly successful. It's worth going to the Geekwire site to take a look.

Guadalupe ChavezGuadalupe ChavezI had a chance to read the poem by Guadalupe Chavez after a prominent immigration-attorney friend of mine in San Diego who is a judge in an essay event for immigrant fifth graders from around the nation told me about the contest and the San Diego youngster who took second in the nation.

Kimberley Robidoux, a San Diego partner in the Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Maggio-Kattar, is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association's San Diego Chapter and a judge in the Celebrate America Creative Writing Contest. The contest challenges fifth graders across the country to reflect on and write about the theme "Why I Am Glad America Is a Nation of Immigrants."

"We use an honor system that the parents did not write the essays or participate," Robidoux told me. "But also most of the 5th-grade teachers have the students write the entries at school so we are very confident that a parent did not write the entry."

So here is Guadalupe's Essay:

"Lady Liberty: Come in! Come in! Welcome to the United States of America! Pleasure to meet you! The Wall: Wait... No! No! Stop! Leave! You're trespassing! Lady Liberty: What's wrong with you? Why are you so close-minded? We've always welcomed people here. People have traveled from all sorts of places like China, Mexico, Philippines, Japan, Canada, Australia, and so many more. The Wall: No. No. No! I'll block their path. They're different, maybe dangerous. They shouldn't come in, they are not welcome. Lady Liberty: What's wrong with you? Many of the people that live here in America are immigrants. So if we push them away, that will mean fewer workers, less money earned, no variety of food, and no more diversity. Basically, there would barely be anything for the citizens. The Wall: No, no, we don't need them. We have our American citizens. We get nothing from them. Lady Liberty: Unless you are a Native American... Wait, no, not even them! Even they migrated here from Asia through the land bridge that existed in the Bering Strait. Every person that lives here nowadays has ancestors who brought something to America. The Wall: Yeah, right! They only bring problems. Lady Liberty: That's not true! They bring so many different things we enjoy day-to-day. Just think. Look around you. What do you eat? The Wall: Well, my favorite food is tacos with spicy sauce and soft tortillas.Lady Liberty: Guess what? That's not from America! What do you do in your free time? The Wall: I text, and use Twitter most of the time.Lady Liberty: Well, guess what? The iPhone you are texting with was invented by Steve Jobs whose father was a Syrian immigrant. What's your favorite song? The Wall: Oh I love Bob Marley songs! (begins singing) "One love, let's get together and feel alright." Lady Liberty: Yeah, definitely Bob Marley, who came from Jamaica, getting us all together and making us feel alright. Well, singer-songwriter Bob Marley grew up in Jamaica. I'm surprised that even when you're just sitting there without moving you don't notice the beauty that immigrants bring to the country. Just look around! The Wall: I only see fields and factories from here. Lady Liberty: Well, most of these fields that grow beautiful crops of oranges and avocados are worked by people from Mexico.The Wall: I guess you have a point. I'll try to be more open to new ideas. I guess you are right, we've always been a country of immigrants and whether I like it or not, they've had a huge impact on the country we are today. Lady Liberty: Thank goodness, you were making me so angry I was turning green."

I asked Kimberley to keep an eye on the young fifth grader to watch what comes of Guadalupe Chavez.

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Words Matter - Lessons learned & shared by a noted running coach of wounded veterans.

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Over his three decades working first with young athletes, then with disabled "Special Olympics" athletes and finally with wounded warriors whom he is helping restore to a focus on living, Bryan Hoddle has come to understand and teach that the words spoken or heard make a difference.  

And that has guided him to put together a presentation called "Words Matter," which he delivers to groups around the country, including earlier this month to a gathering of King County sheriff's department employees.

Bryan HoddleBryan HoddleThe "words matter" talk by Hoddle, who has come to be known as "the Soldiers' Coach," is based on his experience with athletes and veterans. and thus wasn't designed with this time of social-media tirades and political outbursts in mind.

But it struck me that Hoddle's thoughts on the topic of words, and the importance of how they are said, while he emphasizes they were not put together with any possible political application in mind, would be appropriate in any number of settings involving any age group.

"People just start throwing words out in every situation from politics to sports to even table talk between husbands and wives without stopping to think of the impact those words can have," Hoddle told me.

His sheriff's office presentation was arranged by Carol Gillespie, who manages the King County Fingerprint Identification System, for an audience at the Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien that included police officers, sheriff's deputies, command staff, corrections officers and civilian police personnel.

Hoddle's comments that might be appropriately shared, particularly in this political time, included referring to the several-second delay that allows those monitoring media broadcasts to cut inappropriate words or comments before being heard by the audience.

"I wonder how different the world would be if we used the several-seconds rule when we are about to speak to make sure we only use words that encourage, guide and uplift those we are talking with," Hoddle mused for his audience.

At another point, Hoddle said: "Careless words are like a stab with a sword while wise words lead to healing. Words can be uplifting or heartbreaking."  

Gillespie shared with me her reaction that "I came away inspired to think of the how you should say things to people and about the missed opportunities to say the right thing."

Hoddle, a native of Olympia whereas a high school track and field coach he became the state's coach of the year, has won national praise and recognition for his accomplishments as a coach and an advisor to coaches, his work with "special" disabled athletes and aiding seriously injured veterans, particularly those who have lost limbs.

Among his many honors, Hoddle was chosen head coach of the 2004 U.S. track and field team in the Athens Paralympics, was a 2013 Runner's World Magazine Hero of the Year in Running and a U.S.A. Track and Field Presidents Award winner.  

It was after his return from the 2004 Paralympics that Hoddle got a call from an organization called Disabled Sports USA, asking him to come back to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to do a running clinic for injured soldiers.

He made three more trips to Walter Reed then began doing running clinics at Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, AL, which serves and advocates for people with disabilities and whose facility is also a training site for the US Olympic & Paralympic teams.

Lakeshore asked Hoddle in 2005 to come to one of their sporting camps, to which they invite veterans from all over the country, teaching a lot of them how to walk again and some, although they may have just gotten prosthetic legs, how to run. Lakeshore became a continuing commitment for Hoddle who made his 17th trip there last April.

I first met Hoddle a year ago while he was in Bellevue working with area athletes who queue up to spend 30 minutes or so with him each summer to get tips on running, training and life disciplines. After we met and got to know each other, he was kind enough to offer an aging sprinter some tips on avoiding injury and maximizing performance.

And I first wrote about him last fall for his focus on wounded veterans at what he considers one of his most important veterans contributions, the annual week-long involvement with a select "team" guiding programs at Eagle Summit Ranch in Colorado for those "suffering from the visible and the invisible wounds of war." He's headed there next week.

As I wrote in the earlier Harp, Hoddle is part of a unique team working with the veterans in sessions at Eagle Summit, one of two such ranches founded by Dave Roever, himself a dramatically wounded Vietnam veteran, and his wife, Brenda, through their Roever Foundation, to work with wounded veterans.


In discussing relationship building with the wounded veterans, Hoddle told me "relationships are about letting them know you care about them beyond just running. You've got to win someone's heart before you can win their mind over and help them." Another plea for words that matter.
 
Hoddle, who will travel to the Roever Texas ranch for additional veteran sessions in October, told me he's often asked about what he's learned from his involvements. His answer: "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.  I think that's something we can apply to any profession or relationship." Words matter.
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Mayor Jenny Durkan's police-chief selection process stirs some controversy

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With three key decisions she has faced since becoming Seattle mayor, Jenny Durkan has left some of those affected wondering "What was she thinking?" But in none of those decisions has she raised that chorus from so many groups, some in anger and some from among her own supporters who are dramatically disappointed about the decision not to include interim police chief Carmen Best in the group of finalists for the permanent chief 's job.

Mayor DurkanMayor DurkanAs a fan and friend of Jenny Durkan's late father, a liberal Democrat who was a political power in the legislature whom I got to know while I was a young political writer, I was pleased to see her elected mayor and had high expectations that she would show leadership and guide Seattle back toward normalcy.

It was a belief shared by many business leaders in Seattle and beyond who felt that if Durkan wasn't the best mayoral candidate they could hope for, she was for sure far ahead of the other candidates who aspired to succeed disgraced former mayor Ed Murray. And many felt she might actually come to be a throwback to when Seattle's mayors had a more broadly appealing definition of "liberal" than that on display with most of the current City Council members.

Then came the three key decisions she has had to make as the city's chief executive.

First was her decision to appeal the King County superior court ruling that the City Council had broken state law by enacting a city income tax. She had debunked the then-planned tax at the time she filed last spring as "probably not constitutional," and added it's "not the solution we need now." Then admitting, in dramatic understatement, that it was a "longshot," she filed an appeal to the State Supreme Court in December, leaving many legal minds aware of how the state's highest court follows its own rules to muse "what was she thinking?"

Second was the City Council plan to impose a head tax on the city's largest employers. She pushed back on the council's original plan to levy a $500 tax on each employee at those large companies to raise $75 million a year to address the city's homeless crisis and in the end negotiated a compromise that seemed to appease Amazon and others.

Now the head tax, which Durkan signed into law, faces the prospect of a November vote on an issue that has caused businesses and elected officials in other cities to jeer at Seattle's willingness to tax jobs. And the fact Amazon is among prominent firms raising money for the ballot test indicates the city's largest employer actually wasn't okay with the head tax idea.

But most compelling for Durkan's future is the decision not to include acting chief Carmen Best, an African-American woman, and a native of the Seattle area who came up through the ranks in a 26-year career whose involvements have brought her vocal support from community groups and within the police-force community she guides.

Members of the Police Guild, the police union, were "extremely disappointed and angered" by what's happening with Best, according to Guild President Kevin Stuckey.

The Seattle Police Foundation, the non-profit entity that helps the police department enhance relationships with the community, improve employee development, and assist in providing the latest in equipment and technology, avoids taking political positions because of its 501c3 status. But it's known that its leadership was surprised there was even a search for a permanent chief launched since there was a broad sense that Best was the chief they wanted.

The question "what was she thinking" implies a lack of transparency, not a good image for Durkan to allow to develop. And her decision to intentionally bypass Best totally lacks transparency.

Best, a native of Tacoma who grew up locally, whose husband works for Boeing and whose college-graduating daughter is getting married this fall, was one of five finalists forwarded by a review committee but the mayor's own staff trimmed two, including Best, from the list.

Durkan will be choosing a new chief from a trio of male hopefuls, including one African-American. And in fairness to the mayor, the selection committee and its chairs, including former King County Executive Ron Sims and a respected interim mayor and former City Council member Tim Burgess said there was a sense among them that the next chief should come from elsewhere.

That was a reference to the reforms in the Seattle police department that have taken place the past half dozen years after a federal civil rights investigation led Durkan, then U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, and the Justice Department to guide Seattle to an overhaul of all aspects of the department. The reforms were in the wake of findings of excessive use of force by the department.

Durkan launched the search for a new chief earlier this year after Kathleen O'Toole stepped down as chief at the end of last year. Best, an assistant chief, was named interim chief, although she announced she would seek the job of permanent chief.

Listening to Durkan seek to explain Best's exclusion keeps the "what was she thinking" sense in the forefront and is likely to echo down the coming months.

Carmen BestCarmen Best"I completely understand that people are disappointed, for various reasons; that perhaps their candidate didn't make it through," Durkan said at a news conference. "And I love Carmen Best. But I also love the fact that she is a team player and has said to me that her focus is moving forward. I am going to respect that."

Best obviously can't respond to whether or not she said that to Durkan. Nor could she explain to those who were on an interview committee that the reason police are sometimes bring criticized for not being responsive enough to calls from citizens is that the city council has removed the tools that allow police to respond.

Can you imagine Best giving an honest answer like: "well, the City Council has tied our hands with decisions like eliminating the ordinance against loitering?"

So "what was she thinking" in removing from the list of candidates for permanent Seattle police chief the acting chief whose choice would have been supported by community groups, women's groups, minority groups and, maybe most importantly, the police officers who will work under her?

That question will haunt Durkan, particularly whenever a police and community issue comes up in the future.

The greatest clue to leadership is the ability to respond positively to constituent push back. In this case that could mean figuring a way to reverse course and get Best back on track to being permanent police chief.

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There are still some things left to be said about Seattle's planned head tax

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As reactions to the head tax the Seattle City Council imposed on the city's largest businesses reverberate across the community, there are some realities that both supporters and opponents of the tax either missed or avoided but that may still be considered, particularly with a likely public vote in November looming.

Despite the extensive media and community groups' comments and response to the tax, which is aimed at raising almost $240 million over five years toward dealing with the cost of housing and services for the city's homeless, there were some issues and ideas possibly overlooked amid the heated exchanges between the two sides.

So as friends and associates and readers of the Harp pressed, mostly good-naturedly, with "don't you have any thoughts to share on this issue?" I decided I did.  

One was the ongoing realization during the back-and-forth rhetoric and eventual compromise negotiated by Mayor Jenny Durkan that brought the per-employee tax down to a little over half the $500 per head the City Council wanted to impose, there was no mention of the city income tax now awaiting Supreme Court decision.

So Durkan, who in laughable understatement, said it was "a longshot" as she announced last December that she was going ahead with the appeal of Superior Court Judge John Rule's decision that the tax was illegal, committed the city to pay attorney fees when we now know there are more pressing needs for that money.

Under the tax passed by the City Council last year then ruled illegal by Judge Rule. Seattle residents would pay a 2 percent tax on annual income above $250,000, while married residents who file their taxes jointly would pay it on income above $500,000.

I expected as I listened to the debate, that some business leaders might suggest "we'll accept the head tax if you agree not to pursue the income tax idea." Obviously, many of those business leaders would pay in the tens of thousands of dollars if the income tax were actually imposed. That is if they didn't decide to move from Seattle.  

And as remote as the city's chances of a favorable Supreme Court ruling are in this case, the fact is that at some point a Democratic governor and a legislature that has a sufficient Democrat majority is likely to enact a state income tax. That would likely remove the current legal prohibition against a city imposing an income tax.  

Negotiating an agreement in which the city would agree never to impose both an income tax and a head tax might be a protection against an even more business-challenging future.

But at this point, it's pretty obvious that business and other opponents of the head tax intend to put an initiative on the November ballot to have the electorate decide on the head tax.  

Dozens of businesses, including Amazon, Vulcan, and Starbucks, have already pledged more than $350,000 to a No Tax On Jobs campaign. Intriguingly, those putting up money include prominent Bellevue business leader Robert Wallace, although he has always played a leadership role in the Seattle business community as well.

Meanwhile, Pierce County elected officials have stepped up to announce a sort of reverse head tax. The group, representing a number of cities in the county, said the will be devising a plan to give businesses a $275 tax credit for each family wage job created in the county.

Since the City Council and others are making it clear that the city's ability to find the money to cope with the homeless crisis is a growing challenge, that realization should be accompanied by a commitment not to waste money on other things.

What immediately comes to mind in that money-wasting category is the $250,000-plus the city is paying in legal fees to defend City Council member Kshama Sawant in lawsuits resulting from her intemperate and insulting comments towards those she happens to disagree with.

It's "only" a quarter million dollars. But statistics on costs of providing homeless services would suggest that those attorney fees for Sawant would provide for maybe 25 or 30 homeless peoples' needs, including housing.

How about another initiative that would prohibit the city, which already pays for its own legal department, from hiring outside attorneys when a member of the City Council is sued, particularly when it's within the council members' power to avoid a suit by merely being careful about what comes out of their mouths?  

And when the city wastes millions of dollars on bike-lane overruns and transportation-cost foul-ups, the reaction to the City Council needs to become: "Your ineptitude just left dozens (hundreds) of people on the streets for another year."

When I called a friend of mine this week, he told me as he answered his cell phone that he had been listening to a CD on American history that at that moment was discussing the Stamp Act, which was the final straw for Colonists in their increasingly contentious relations with the King and Great Britain. It led to the revolution.

"Wouldn't it be interesting if the head tax somehow became the today equivalent of the Stamp Act tax in stirring some game-changing response to the city as the equivalent of "the king," he chuckled.

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Arizona fatality pushes discussion on autonomous vehicles

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The unfortunate accident in Tempe, AZ, March 18 when an Uber autonomous Volvo SUV struck and killed a woman who was walking a bicycle across a darkened street has stirred a strong reaction, in this state and elsewhere, from both sides in the discussion about the national push toward a likely autonomous-vehicle future.

One the one hand, supporters who have fed the vision of that possible autonomous future point to what some see as Uber's effort to produce an autonomous fleet "on the cheap," employing too few lasers and radar sensors. They argue that the careful use of sensor-device clusters to detect objects in front of and around the autonomous vehicle is a key to the safety of the driverless cars.

On the other side are those who, for a variety of reasons, would love to slow the pace of progress of the autonomous-vehicle movement. Some are obviously concerned about safety, a group more likely to be from the older generation. But others don't want the disruption of existing transportation plans, i.e. progress on rail commute.

More than a few in the Puget Sound area, for example, are fearful that the move to autonomous vehicles could have a negative effect on their "train," the network of commuter rail lines that are part of the $54 billion ST3 transit package approved by the voters in November of 2016 as an environment-protecting alternative to increasing traffic congestion. To many of its apostles, the ST3 project is like the "Holy Rail," not merely a device to slow traffic congestion.

And thus one of the concerns among autonomous vehicle (AV) advocates is that ST3 and the Sound Transit board that oversees it will come to view autonomous vehicles as a threat to completion of the rail-based plan for the region and use its power and influence to delay or stall progress. After all, most predictions about AV's are that they could come to dominate commute-hours traffic even before ST3's projected 2041 completion date.

And in fact, national transportation officials have made it clear that if autonomous vehicles move as rapidly as anticipated toward a ubiquitous presence on streets and highways, there will be an impact on planned and existing rail-transit programs.

But at this point, Gov. Jay Inslee has put the full weight of his office behind an AV future. Inslee not only moved forcefully last summer to seek to put Washington State at the forefront of states welcoming an autonomous future and issued an executive order to allow and support testing of autonomous vehicles but reiterated that commitment last week.

Inslee told leaders of technology and business at the 20th anniversary of the Alliance of Angels investment group that "The future of transportation will be in Seattle," and he elaborated by saying the region is going to be "the autonomous vehicle center of the U.S."

Inslee seemed to be pushing back not only on those seeing the challenge for the future of autonomous travel in the Tempe fatal accident but also on an op-ed piece in that morning's Seattle Times by a think-tank "fellow" named Daniel Malarkey for an organization called Sightline Institute.


In the article, Malarkey referred to the governor's support as "ill-advised" and added, "the state gains little by allowing tech companies to test on public roads and put motorists and pedestrians at risk." He said: "The governor and state legislators should focus on developing policies to enable the rapid scaling of autonomous electric fleets as soon as we know they work."
It's frankly head-scratching to figure how Malarkey's thought process led him to his conclusions about "ill-advised."

And while I'm not a fan of putting down people you disagree with, I think the Times, in providing op-ed space for an individual to share thoughts over multiple newspaper inches, should share the background of the writer to provide reader perspective.

The Times either avoided sharing or lacked the institutional memory, to include that Malarkey's initial claim to fame in Seattle was as finance director of the ill-fated Seattle Monorail Project, from which he resigned in December of 2003 after revenues fell dramatically short of his projections and costs were underestimated. He resigned and the voters in November of 2005 said by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent that they didn't want the project to continue.

It's from among the investment community that some of the most thoughtful support for an autonomous future for this state comes.

Madrona Venture Group, Seattle's best-recognized venture firm, issued a report last September sharing the prediction that autonomous vehicles won't merely play a major role in the region's transportation future but that AVs would come to dominate travel on I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver.

The report, issued by Madrona's founder and managing director Tom Alberg and Daniel Li, predicts that AV's will first share an HOV lane, then progress to having dedicated lanes and eventually be the sole mode of transportation on I-5 during major commute hours.

It's likely that the first formal program in the state will be in the City of SeaTac, the municipality that includes Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where the city council will be asked next month to approve a plan that would launch autonomous mini-vans on city streets.
 
The man who conceived the SeaTac program, John Niles is executive director of an organization called Center for Advanced Transportation and Energy Solutions (CATES). He is well known in the region as an opponent of Sound Transit, which he views as spending "vast sums of taxpayer money to make mobility worse," but now he wants to help SeaTac residents gain easy access to nearby light rail stations after 8 AM when the park-and-ride lots have no more spaces.
 
Niles, who helped produce the plan that he hopes the Sea-Tac City Council will endorse, as well as seek federal funding for, may be the most believable autonomous-vehicle proponent when he insists on safety first.
 
As a seven-year-old, he was run down in a crosswalk and almost killed. Thus when he says "slow speed is the way to go right now" with autonomous vehicle projects, he is totally credible.
 
"I'm not interested in testing but in deploying something," says Niles of the Sea-Tac project, which will involve vehicles already tested elsewhere and whose travels around the city will be at relatively slow speeds and constantly monitored in what he says will be "the most cautious first step possible."
 
In fact, Niles shared the conviction that Waymo, the Google autonomous-car development company, also has remote workers watching the on-street operation of its cars.
 
Waymo was spun out of Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., and claims to have tested its autonomous vehicles in Kirkland, but more prominently in California and most recently in metro Phoenix, Arizona where more than 600 Chrysler Pacifica vans are planned to be operating by year-end in commercial robo-cab service.

One group that might be expected to be in push-back mode over the emergence of AV technology is the insurance industry as possibly expecting to lose business, but PEMCO Insurance President Stan McNaughton says he's hopeful accidents will be reduced by the AV technology.

Meanwhile, McNaughton said the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, on whose board he sits, "is putting a pile of money into the various systems, with the insurance industry building its own test centers, since at some point we will be rating these systems and we have to have a good understanding of them."

Autonomous-vehicle development has some powerful support in addition to the auto industry and tech companies who would benefit. One is Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, which points to another Arizona accident, this one involving a Google autonomous vehicle, as particularly relevant.

It was an accident in Chandler, AZ, in which a 25-year-old driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence after he ran into the rear of the Google car, whose driver was treated for a concussion.

The national advocacy group said the Chandler accident shows why the group supports the development of autonomous vehicles.
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