Friday, May 28, 2010

New Books

I received good news this week. University of Washington Press is listing two books of mine in their online catalogue. The first is Power for the People, the centennial history of Seattle City Light. I worked on this for Walt Crowley and History Ink more than five years ago, but publication was delayed by Walt's illness and death. 

It's a fascinating story, if I say so myself.The utility started in an era of go-go capitalism where corporations and trusts had their way with U.S. consumers. There was little, except Teddy Roosevelt, to block their sharp and even rapacious business practices. The cost for electricity from the one company selling power in Seattle at the turn of the 20th Century was something like 20 cents a kilowatt hour. That compares to more than $4 in today's values. As soon as competition in the form of City Light and the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company came on the scene the prices began to drop. And they continued to drop until 1970.

A Seattle newspaper columnist called City Light the closest thing the city has to a "secular religion." The utility survived political manipulation, fierce propaganda campaigns, the gold rush for hydroelectric sites, and engineering difficulties. Central to the success of the idea of public power was James Delmage "JD" Ross, a self-trained electrical engineer who envisioned Seattle growing and prospering with the benefit of cheap, plentiful electricity. You have to read the book to see how things turn out.

The other book is Hope on the Hill:The First Century of Seattle Children's Hospital (formerly Children's Orthopedic Hospital, Children's Medical Center, etc.) which I researched and co-authored with Walt. The book was due out in 2007 in time for their centennial, but was delayed due to finalization of the hospital's expansion plans.

This is another story of visionaries, in this case women who wanted to care for children disabled by disease and birth defects. Anna Clise and Harriet Stimson gathered like-minded wives of prominent businessmen to provide the long-term care needed to correct club feet, tuberculosis of the bone, and osteomyelitis, but at little or no cost to families. They recruited physicians to donate their services and raised money. They organized neighborhood guilds as networks to provide everything from sewn bandages to fresh and home-canned foods. The annual Penny Drive became a Seattle and Pacific Northwest institution.

What was amazing to me was that the women retained control of this remarkable enterprise when other successful hospitals were taken over by the physicians. The Board of Trustees remained entirely female until about 2003. Dorothy Stimson Bullitt, founder of King Broadcasting and daughter of founder Harriet Stimson, served on the board for many years. In the 1960s, when Seattle corporations scrambled to add women to their boards of directors, they found a great pool of talent with corporate experience at Children's. Bill Gates's mother, Mary, was a long-time and highly-respected trustee who helped spin off the foundation that now supports uncompensated care and research.

While I was working on the book, I kept encountering people who had history with Children's. The washing machine repairman spent nine months there. The clerk at the County Courthouse had his tonsils out there. It seemed like most of the city had some connection with "the Orthopedic."

Again, buy the book to see how it turns out.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What are you going to wear?

Steve Sadis, the producer and my co-writer for The Power of Snoqualmie Falls informs me that the video has been nominated for an Emmy. The awards are June 5, 2010 at the Snoqualmie Casino.

Alas, the Academy found Morocco to be more compelling than Snoqualmie Falls. But being nominated isn't so bad. Like they say on the north side of Chicago, wait til next year.

Monday, May 24, 2010


It's time to join the cacophony over the Gulf oil spill. I worked for the EPA as a criminal investigator for sixteen years, thirteen of them covering the West. One five-year investigation involved a oil platform off the California coast so I became familiar with the culture of oil companies, the culture of regulators, the regulations, and the law. Don't forget the politics.

One thing that seems to be missing in the frenzy around the Gulf spill is an investigation into possible criminal violations by individuals (that is human beings, people) whose decisions contributed first to the deaths of eleven people then to the biggest environmental catastrophe since the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. After that event, criminal investigators from every agency imaginable descended upon the tiny port of Valdez. The Coast Guard investigated. The Alaska State Troopers investigated. The FBI investigated. The EPA investigated. Investigators learned that if you wanted to be a player in the case, you had to come up with your own evidence; a statement, a study, some forensic facts, something to give you a seat at the table.

If you will recall, the only criminal violations developed was negligence on the part of Exxon the company (for which they paid a fine, chump change for them) and misdemeanor negligence against the master (for which he paid a fine and served community service). The third mate in charge of the ship had been granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his cooperation. In a criminal investigation a person is not required to give a statement that might incriminate himself. The civil case is still going on after twenty-one years and scores of lawyers have retired on the fees they have earned.

Flash forward to 2010 and the Louisiana coast. With a new law in place the company faces a $1,000 penalty per barrel of oil discharged. With that much money at stake the company can afford a dream team of lawyers to keep things from moving forward.

Prosecuting companies is relatively easy since corporations have no right against self incrimination. The government can demand production of documents and emails and interview all the employees to see what they knew. All the evidence can be used against the corporation. But prosecuting the individuals responsible for the disaster is another matter. The negligent discharge of the oil is a crime, but that is a misdemeanor. Willful avoidance of conditions that lead to a discharge can be a felony with real prison time a possibility.

Just like the mob, the corporation instructs employees to clam up until they can get lawyered up (at company expense). Nobody talks, everybody walks. The lawyers can tell the government the worker won't talk without immunity. To get the information the government must often give the guilty parties a pass to get to the truth.

This process takes months and often years. Given the political magnitude of the disaster watch to see how the case - if any - gets fast tracked, maybe only a couple of years. The corporation has time on its hands and legislators and the electorate have a short memory. If five years passes without charges, the statute of limitations runs and prosecution become impossible.

Another tactic is hyper-cooperation. BP had a pipeline fail in Alaska. The company produced all the requested documents, millions of pages scanned to a server someplace. EPA had one or two people to read them all online. BP then offered the government cash to settle that case and one involving fifteen fatalities in Texas and the government took the money and went home. No individuals were prosecuted.

From all that BP proved again that it's all about the money.

Here is a LA Times article about this topic.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

For Memorial Day

[this is republished from a year ago]

Bob Snyder was my best friend in high school. We met as members of the McClellan Cadet Squadron, Civil Air Patrol in Sacramento. We both dreamed of military careers and spoke almost every evening on the phone about CAP and military history. We both became cadet lieutenants. (that's Bob in his CAP uniform).

Bob was raised by his grandparents in West Sacramento because his parents were out of the picture for some reason I will never understand. He attended James Marshal High School and played football. Summers, he got up before dawn to show up at the hiring lot in Sacramento to board a bus and pick local crops for rotten wages. H could not afford to attend the annual CAP encampments that I enjoyed so much.

During the school year, when he wasn't at football practice, he volunteered afternoons at the local Air Force recruiting station stuffing envelopes. Bob's grandparents lived on Social Security so on the money he saved picking produce, Bob went to Delta Community College there in Sacramento in 1966. He studied a new field, computers.He planned to go to San Jose State College and late in our freshman year he went down there for registration. He stumbled into a antiwar protest. This annoyed him so much he went right to a recruiting office and signed up for the Army Airborne. Bob attended basic training and advanced infantry training at Fort Lewis in 1967 and I visited with him there (I was attending college in Seattle safe from the draft). He went on to Noncommissioned Officers Candidate School. Upon graduation he was promoted to Sergeant E-5 - a "Shake and Bake".

Bob arrived in Viet Nam in November 1968. The Army promised him that as a volunteer he would be in the airborne unit of his choice. The Army instead sent him to the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, a "straight leg" unit, in the Mekong Delta. Before Bob left he sent me a gift, a sweatshirt with an Ed Roth characture of an infantryman shooting and running through the mud. I still have it.

Bob arrived in country in November and was assigned to 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2/60th. His platoon sergeant was Richard W. Carter. The battalion allowed men to become acclimated before going on operations, but Bob volunteered early. His last letter to me is dated November 26, 1968.

Greetings from the front. Well old buddy I am what you call a combat veteran now. I learned what it's like to be a deer during hunting season. Our AO is the Delta, all rice paddies and mud. You cross the patty and move into the wood line, that woodline is murder. We had six KIA yesterday. The point man was 15 feet from the bunker when the guks opened up. Doc was put in for the CMH for his actions. He was one of the six. The guys feel real bad about it.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. We're going out on Bushmaster. War isn't very pretty besides it messes up my sleep. Charlie gets you up all hours of the night with his mortars. Hey Dave, gotta clean my shootin' iron. Say hi to everyone for me.










On December 10, 1968, about two weeks after this letter, Bob and his platoon took on a patrol in the delta. The regular point man, who was very experienced, didn't want to enter a particular area known to have booby traps. Bob and PFC Gary Stephen Hodges took the point. Hodges tripped a 155mm artillery round rigged as a booby trap. The explosion killed them both. Bob was twenty years old.

Bob is buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, Califonia. His grandparents, the Careys died in the 1970s and were buried in the same plot since Emmett Carey was a veteran of World War I. While I lived in San Francisco I decorated Bob's grave on Memorial Day.

I never went into the service. About ten years ago I discovered his battalion's web site and I posted a query about Bob. After a year or so I got a response and ended up telephoning a vet living in Missouri. He gave me the story about when Bob was killed. I posted a little bio on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website.

The fortieth anniversary of Bob's death passed last month unnoticed by me until a few weeks ago. The oversight inspired me to make this entry which just might endure in cyberspace as the story of one soldier.

HBO has a film out about heros coming home and the trailer was enough to move me to include the link here.

Bob's niece Rebecca (born after he was killed) found these snaps in her mother's things.

Monday, May 3, 2010

May 4

I can’t believe that it’s been forty years since the killings at Kent State. In Kent, Ohio they call the event May 4th like December 7th or 9/11. Everyone knows right where they were when they heard and I remember too.

I’m amazed that I lived through such a time. In March, hundreds of city and county cops occupied the campus when the acting University president hit the panic button over demonstrations about playing sports with the wrong school. In April, the Nixon Administration indicted radicals – called the Seattle Seven – for leading protests. The musical Hair opened at the Moore Theater. On May 1, a young man set a series of fires in one of the buildings. I helped put out some of the little fires, too excited to even speak clearly to my fellow officers.

I heard about Kent State on May 4, 1970 after a morning of writing parking tickets. Despite the increased tensions and scheduled rallies, the process of parking enforcement had to continue. I kind of liked that duty. I was outside walking around, sometimes talking to people, and I enjoyed seeing how many tickets for no permit and for parking outside a designated area I could write. That’s when I learned how to block print. We were already on high alert and putting in overtime because of the expansion of the war into Cambodia. (for Baby Boomers “the war” is Vietnam).

At break time, I got a ride to the station and the patrolman gave me the news. My first reaction was that it had to happen sometime. Seattle had been hit particularly hard by anti-war protests during those years. We were 19th in population and 2nd in bombings. The UW had more than its share. Two people were arrested setting a firebomb at an ROTC building. Another firebomb practically destroyed another ROTC building. A big bomb trashed the Administration Building and the library. Someone placed two pipe bombs under campus police vehicles set to go off five minutes apart. The first would pull the officers in; the second would take them out. The lieutenant on duty was wise enough to wait to respond. Then there was all the petty vandalism. Every night someone tagged a building or glued locks shut in some demented rationale that it would somehow bring peace. What a time it was.

So we knew what was coming when the reports of the killings in Ohio came out. The students would crank up the volume of the protests disrupting classes, damaging property, and even causing injuries. The campus police department had only recently expanded to meet this new challenge and we were seriously short of training and decent leadership. Everyone knew that another Kent State could easily happen (and it did in Mississippi). The response was to put everyone on twelve-hour shifts. We crowded into patrol cars three at a time to be able to deposit enough officers at the scene of a disturbance to calm things down. Such was the thinking of the time.

But the disturbing protesters were either too many or too fast for us and all we did was create our own traffic congestion as we circled the campus slouched down and exhausted. That was during the time between organized rallies. When people gathered to give speeches or to take action, that was called an Unusual Occurrence or UO. It was a month of UOs. I compiled a partial list here.

The University and City strategy was to let the people march until they became intolerable somehow. Intolerable was things like blocking the freeway, trashing businesses, and trying to shut down the University. When that happened the authorities and the police pushed back, not nearly hard enough for some, too hard for others. In the field of public safety you never make everyone happy.

For me the fallout from the killings peaked the night of May 7. General rioting drifted off campus into the University District where people no one recognized broke windows and threw rocks. Hundreds of city and county cops responded in buses. A few dozen Seattle PD plainclothesmen, on official orders, started roaming the neighborhood clubbing anyone.

I can still see the body of a man on the grass. A young woman comforted him and shrieked that those were the guys who did it. I ran, armed with a long riot baton, at the man with the night stick. Only because he dropped the club and showed me a badge did I not cold cock him right there. I saw it. My fellow campus cops and I stopped it. The response from the Seattle chief was that individuals “at least overreacted.” My ass.

But no one was killed. Probably the most serious injury during those years was a plainclothesman clubbed by a campus cop. And he turned out not even to be one of the goons.

There are men my age with much more dramatic memories, but we have the memories we have. Those are my memories that come up when Kent State – May Fourth – is mentioned.