Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Friday, September 7, 2012

Arizona 2012: Neck Deep in Crony Capitalism

Republican Crony Capitalists have brazenly thumbed their noses at the best interests of the citizens and voters of our great state very recently. Well, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1936 warned about what we see happening with the Republican crony capitalists in Arizona today.





On Friday, August 31st, Jan Brewer's Corrections Dept. chief, Charles Ryan issued a contract for 1,000 new prison beds to be provided by Chuck Coughlin's client firm, CCA, Corrections Corporation of America. Those familiar with current events in Arizona will recognize the name Chuck Coughlin. He is a close confidant and adviser to the Arizona governor. He was also a political operative smack in the middle of the Fiesta Bowl scandal. The new contract was issued despite a flurry of calls and email messages sent to the governor telling her not to let this take place.

Chad Campbell, Minority (Democratic) Leader in the Arizona House of Representatives had this to say about the latest slap in the face to Arizona taxpayers:
Numerous reports show the state stands to lose millions of tax dollars on the deals Governor Brewer and her Tea Party legislative allies continue to make with for-profit prison operators. We absolutely should not reward this company with a multi-million dollar contract if it will waste the state’s resources,” Campbell said.
Saving the taxpayers money and protecting public safety is not a partisan issue. Yet Brewer and the Republican leadership have ignored evidence that shows private prisons are unsafe and waste the state’s money. The bottom line is we need to protect safety while protecting tax payer dollars and expansion of private prisons does neither,” Campbell said. (emphasis mine)

Julie Erfle, who blogs at Politics Uncuffed had this to say about the situation:
We all know it’s better to invest in prisons than in education, right? I mean, why not throw millions at a declining prison population instead of spending it in the classroom?
Last week, buried among the headlines of the Republican National Convention, sandwiched between Clint Eastwood’s conversation with a chair and Governor Brewer’s accidental endorsement of Barack Obama, was an article about the awarding of an additional 1,000 private prison beds to Corrections Corp of America.
Never mind that independent studies have shown private prisons to be costlier than state-run facilities. Never mind that private prisons, including those in Arizona, have had serious safety concerns, including an escape by three prisoners that resulted in the death of an Oklahoma couple. Never mind that the state’s prison population has actually decreased.

Besides thumbing their noses at Arizona voters, issuing this contract to CCA, of course, flies in the face of the persistence of false myths these days that Republicans somehow are more thrifty with taxpayer money than Democrats.

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This takes me to perhaps the second most blatant example of crony capitalism in our great state in recent history. While Jan Brewer and her cronies put Public Safety in jeopardy for fun and profit, the Republican majority in the Arizona Corporation Commission HAS PUT, especially for the greater Phoenix area, Public Health squarely in harm's way.

In June, the ACC voted 3-2 (Republicans Gary Pierce, Brenda Burns and Bob Stump voting in favor with Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman dissenting) to allow development -- by a relative of former Republican state lawmaker Robert Blendu -- of a WTE (waste to energy) facility to burn MSW (municipal solid waste) to generate electricity for Mohave Electric Cooperative. The facility will be built in Phoenix but will credit the Mohave County (in rural northwest Arizona) utility for meeting renewable energy requirements.

The United States' sixth largest city, Phoenix has the 2nd worst air quality in the country, according to the American Lung Association. Naturally, the Brewer administration, to perpetuate a hoax on the people of Maricopa County, disputes that report. From the Arizona Republic:
The air over Phoenix is no longer the most-polluted in the nation, but local officials say even second place - the region's ranking in the American Lung Association's annual air-quality report card - requires an asterisk.
In its report released today, the association lists Bakersfield, Calif., as the metropolitan area with the dirtiest year-round air. Bakersfield, which was second in year-round pollution in 2010, also had the most-polluted air when measured with daily readings.
Metropolitan Phoenix dropped one position from its dirtiest-air ranking in 2010 and, as state and county regulators did last year, they said the high ranking for year-round pollution is skewed by the inclusion of data from an air monitor in Pinal County, 40 miles from downtown Phoenix.
"We don't believe this report is a truly accurate representation of air quality in the Valley," said Henry Darwin, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. "We are very committed to improving the quality of air that we breathe, and the air quality in Phoenix is getting better."

Of course, Brewer's ADEQ director doesn't believe our air is bad. But tell that to the bazillions of people in Maricopa County with asthma, other respiratory diseases and year-round respiratory allergies. 

  • Total population (per 2010 US Census): 3,817,117
  • Pop. under 18 (2010 US Census): 1,007,861
  • Pop. over 65 (2010 US Census): 462,641
  • Pediatric Asthma: 94,502
  • Adult Asthma: 270,565
  • Chronic Bronchitis: 118,825
  • Emphysema: 50,819
  • CardioVascular disease: 890,564
  • Diabetes: 227,264
  • Estimated population under Fed Poverty level: 625,090
That list of people (ALREADY) at risk of respiratory distress from poor air quality suggests that you either will directly suffer additional harm or know people who will -- as a result of this egregious case of CRONY CAPITALISM.

Bob Blendu, by the way, is director of the proposed Scottsdale Commerce Bank, a connection he no doubt hopes will grease the skids for finding capital financing to build the boondoggle.

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On July 16, the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter filed application for rehearing the Trash Burner case. The five page document exposes the brazenness with which the three Republican members of the Corporation Commission disregarded public health concerns and its own rules. From the application:
The evidence upon which the Commission’s Decision relies is based not on that actual data but instead upon the testimony of a single witness who has a financial interest in this matter. That witness testified that he sorted through a partial truckload of garbage to determine its content even though he did not know where the garbage came from or whether it was residential or commercial. He speculated as to recycling rates that could be applied to the garbage. Once those recycling rates were applied, he came up with a biogenic percentage that substantially exceeds the biogenic contribution to electricity produced at any WTE facility in existence. (emphasis mine)
That is not substantial or credible evidence.
-- snip --
An agency must comply with its own rules. The history of the REST [Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff] rules shows that municipal solid waste was excluded as a renewable energy resource at the time the REST rules were drafted and considered by the Commission. The Commission cannot through the arbitrary application of the waiver and pilot program provisions circumvent the requirements of the rules.
If the Commission wants to include municipal solid waste as a renewable energy resource, then the only lawful course of action available to it is to amend the REST rules. For whatever reason, the Commission has declined to do so in this case and instead has circumvented the existing rules to approve the RPG WTE facility. As a result, the Commission has violated its own rules.
In August, the ACC denied the application for rehearing. Sierra Club's attorney, Tim Hogan filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court on its behalf on September 4. ACC staff attorneys have 60 days in which to prepare and file a response to the lawsuit.

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On August 10, at a forum during a meeting of Rotary 100 in Phoenix, the six candidates for the three ACC seats up for election this year, answered questions about the trash burner project. Three Republicans (incumbent "Trash Burner Bob" Stump along with Susan Bitter Smith and former Senate President Bob Burns) defended the ACC decision. The three Democratic candidates (Marcia Busching along with incumbents Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman) articulated their opposition.





A bit of reflection on the comments of each of the candidates is in order.

After the question was posed about burning trash for energy, incumbent "Trash Burner Bob" Stump took the mic and began his comments with a standard tactic hoping to establish the credibility of what he was about to say. That "evidence" is in stating that ACC professional staff has "hundreds of years of combined experience." Google the expression "hundreds of years of combined experience" to find a wide range of sales pitches attempting to establish their authority in whatever field. Stump used the expression a couple of times in the video.

"Trash Burner Bob" Stump, the only current candidate who actually did vote to approve the trash burner project tries to assuage the audience concerns by saying the project promoters must still obtain air quality permits from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and Maricopa County Air Quality Dept.

Consider, however, that ADEQ is an executive branch agency who's director serves at the pleasure of Gov. Jan Brewer. We already know how Jan Brewer feels about Crony Capitalism (recall the private prison bed contract above).

So, how do you think the application for an air quality permit would go for the Blendu brothers?

Maricopa County is governed by a five member Board of Supervisors. Currently, four of the five Supervisors are Republicans. Consider a recent situation with the Maricopa County Air Quality Dept. to see how easily cronies can get problems fixed there.

Republican state Rep. Amanda Reeve (chair of the House Environment committee) received an email complaint from constituent John Kowalski. Kowalski had received a Notice of Violation from the Maricopa County Air Quality Dept. related to parking in an open field for an event his group sponsored.

MCAQD enforcement policy:
The purpose of the Enforcement Policy is to provide a consistent reasonable process for documenting air quality violations, notifying alleged violators, and initiating enforcement action to ensure that violations are addressed in a timely and appropriate manner.
Kowalski asked Reeve to intervene (excerpt from email below):
Hi Amanda,
I hope you are weathering the legislative session well…it’s been quite an intense couple of months! Thanks for all you’re doing for the State and our District. I know that you are very busy, and I hesitate to ask for your intervention. I am reaching out to you as Chair of the House Environment committee and I’m trusting that this will be an easy matter to resolve.
--snip--
SCORE has since received Complaint #242196 alleging violations of Maricopa County Air Pollution Control Regulations. The notice states, “All violations must be corrected immediately…”; however, since SCORE had use of the land for only that one day, there is nothing to correct now. It is SCORE’s understanding that they are instead subject to a fine and that is why I am asking for your assistance in getting this alleged violation dismissed. I had considered reaching out to Maria Baier who you know is the State Land Commissioner but I wanted to check with you first.
Please advise at your earliest convenience as SCORE has only 10 days to respond.
Thanks in advance,
John
Of course, with Mr. Kowalski explicitly asking for a favor, and with him being a talk show host and self-described "Ambassador and Media Personality" it is Rep. Amanda Reeve who is now in position to implicitly expect a return on HER effort on Kowalski's behalf.

If she were to express reluctance due to ethical concerns, he 1) had a fallback plan (contact the State Land Commissioner, a Brewer appointee) and 2) he would be in position to regularly disrespect and insult Reeve on local airwaves AND personally in front of the many small business contacts he implies that he has.

So, it is no surprise that Reeve reached out to MCAQD in a most polite and gracious manner.
From: Amanda Reeve [mailto:AReeve@azleg.gov]
Sent: Monday, April 18, 2011 3:07 PM
To: Richard Bohan - GRCX; William Wiley - AQDX
Subject: FW: Maricopa County - Violation Notice
Gentleman [sic],
I apologize for bothering you with this request, but it does pose a rather interesting problem. Will you please review the attached e-mail and provide me with your thoughts so that I might be able to get back to Mr. Kowalski with an answer.
Thank you,
Amanda
The result (next day) was quick and decisive:
From: William Wiley - AQDX [mailto:WilliamWiley@mail.maricopa.gov]
Sent: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 12:02 PM
To: Amanda Reeve
Cc: Kathy Houed - AQDX
Subject: RE: Maricopa County - Violation Notice
Representative Reeve,
After looking at all the data ( NOV. aerial photo, land use agreement, 2 complaints we received), we will rescind the NOV to SCORE. They will receive a copy of the violation with the notation ”rescinded “ on it.
Thank you for interceding on this. (emphasis mine)
Bill
In an apparent declaration of brazenness, Ms. Reeve replied:

From: Amanda Reeve [mailto:AReeve@azleg.gov]
Sent: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 12:03 PM
To: William Wiley - AQDX
Subject: RE: Maricopa County - Violation Notice


Fantastic news, Bill! Thank you for your prompt response on this. I greatly appreciate it.


Amanda A. Reeve
State Representative
Legislative District 6
1700 West Washington Street
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
ph: 602.926.3014
fx: 602.417.3048
areeve@azleg.gov
Notice the time/date of these last two emails. ONE MINUTE after MCAQD director Bill Wiley sent the message to Reeve that he had FIXED the violation because she interceded, she replied with her thanks.

I should hardly need to spell out the power relationships, incentives and implied potential consequences of non-compliance with a House Environment Committee chair request of a county Air Quality Dept. director. MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky's explanation (link provided below) of pressures brought to bear on mass media can provide insight on this issue. Particularly Chomsky's fourth filter.

But I digress.

"Trash Burner Bob" Stump, in the video clip discussed the fact that only up to 90 percent of the energy derived from the trash burning process would be credited to Mohave County as renewable. He explained that the "non-biogenic" portion of the burned trash would not qualify for the credit.

That very explanation, however, is the "smoking gun." Because NON biogenic fuel is that portion which consists of plastic and other items that were not made from something that "grew." You know, like trees as opposed to PLASTICS (Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson). Trash Burner Bob admitted in public (not that it was a secret) that the Blendu brothers' WTE (Waste to Energy) project to burn MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) will burn at least 10 percent non-biogenic waste. Think about whether you or someone you know and love suffers from any of the conditions that are exacerbated by having to breath toxic smoke.

Bob Burns, for his part, indicated that he thinks WTE should be included in energy source portfolios to the extent that air quality would not be jeopardized (I paraphrased). I've observed Mr. Burns for years in the Arizona Legislature. He is no friend of the working class and may not even know what the word "egalitarian" means. None of what he had to say would give anyone any indication that he would, if elected to the ACC, advocate for anyone other than his Republican cronies.

Susan Bitter Smith's answer to the trash burner question revealed her perspective as an elected official.   She has more than 30 years experience in nonprofit management, has served as President of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and has been active in Arizona Republican circles for a long time.

Mrs. Bitter Smith mentions the "judgement of the commission" similarly to Stump's "hundreds of years of combined staff experience." Both of which are designed to get the listener to think it's just fine to delegate thinking and the authority that comes with casting a vote to the Republican commissioners. "Trust us, we know what's best for you." But do they even CARE about you?

On the other hand, the Democratic candidates all expressed concerns about the project and the technology itself. Marcia Busching cited conversations she had recently with executives with Republic Services. She said they believe this project is not feasible.

Trash Burner Bob later attempted to discredit her remarks by claiming that because Republic Services would be a competitor, their perspective should be disregarded altogether. But REALLY, should you trust the judgment of a man that thinks it's acceptable for you to breath the toxic smoke from burning plastics?

Commissioners Kennedy and Newman, because they are very familiar with the facts of the trash burner case, said that there is no way this project should be allowed to go forward. Kennedy said the "buck should stop at the Commission." She's right.

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It is certainly true that crony capitalism is not the exclusive domain of one major political party or the other. The saga of state Rep. Ben Arredondo (D-Tempe) makes that point clear.

Arredondo has been charged but has not yet come to trial. So we do not know if he will be convicted. His alleged crime: actually getting caught trying to repay for the free football tickets and such. There is ample evidence that most members (both parties) of the Arizona Legislature accept favors such as free tickets to sporting events and other entertainment.

However, the root of THIS particular evil in Arizona is a political system that effectively escapes accountability. In our state, there has been too little accountability because -- for the last two decades -- Republicans have dominated state government, but even more so the last two years.

The fact is, on several instances dating back to the mid-1990s, members of the legislature have proposed banning ALL gifts to lawmakers. Bribery of lawmakers is not a new concept. It's been a part of Arizona history from the beginning (see Berman's book).

Because of Republican domination, they are the ones who brazenly go about acting as if they do no wrong and dare people to hold them accountable.

The situations cited above are NOT isolated. They are only examples of a system that certain people have learned to exploit to the detriment of the rest of society.

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The Arizona Eagletarian chronicled the independent redistricting process to raise public awareness and enhance civic engagement in the process. To continue the effort to enhance accountability on the part of public policy determining bodies (specifically, the Arizona Legislature and the Corporation Commission), I continue to offer my insights toward the same end.

Accountability is dependent on (enough citizens) understanding the system, becoming aware of the issues as they arise, and making the voices of everyday citizens heard in those venues. The two incidents cited above were enabled because neither Gov. Brewer nor the Republican majority on the Corporation Commission have sufficient "fear of the Lord" to cause them to take seriously the interests of those to whom they must give account.

The meaning of "fear of the Lord" can and is debated in religious and theological circles. I use it here to reflect the respect that elected officials, those to whom our authority as citizens is delegated, must have for those from whom they derive their authority. There is plenty that can be written about who does and does not show that respect for citizens in our state. I want to keep it simple and just say that when Brewer and the Republicans on the ACC thumb their noses at the interests of everyday Arizonans, they just ain't got no fear of the Lord.

YOU can and must cause that condition to change.

Boston area community development organizer Jeanne Dubois has been quoted as saying, "organized people and organized money build power."

In Arizona today, in spite of how much we might (or might not) have in the way of organized money, we can still organize people. For the next two months, the objective is to organize people to understand the issues and VOTE. After that, organizing people to, on an ongoing basis, hold elected officials accountable, can be effectively carried out.

As David Berman's book points out, Progressive and Populist reformers made positive impact in territorial Arizona. We will learn from the lessons of that history and continue the ongoing fight.

Tension between the interests of organized Big Money and those of Working and Middle Class Arizonans will always exist. There is no need to resign ourselves to a powerless, victim minded life. The system works for those who work it. We WILL work it and we WILL see results.

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Don't expect to get a candid viewpoint from the corporate media that dominates messaging in Arizona. The largest newspaper in the state, the Arizona Republic and KPNX Channel 12 in Phoenix are both owned by Gannett. Other local broadcast news outlets are also run by big corporations.

Corporate media these days presents a facade of impartiality. However, it has had a strong bias, favoring the Bottom Line, for years.

Republicans claim that it's all "Liberal Media." On the other hand, Liberals, or Progressives, often believe the media has a conservative bias. Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at MIT, however, sees it as a corporate media problem. And I agree with him.

For me, the real bottom line is that we are up against more than just a corrupt politician here or there; more than just a rancid political party or even just a problematic two party political system. We are up against a paradigm of political thinking, a pervasive myth buttressed by a corporate media that cannot help but promote CRONY CAPITALISM.

We can (and must) persist to overcome the immediate obstacles to political reform. Those immediate obstacles will come at us full bore over the two months leading up to the general election, fueled by super PACs emboldened by Citizens United.

But to make an ongoing difference for the genuine liberty and freedom of working class America, we need to set our sights even higher.

We must Move to Amend the United States Constitution to overturn the Citizens United ruling.

But we need to set our sights even higher.

We must carry out a REVOLUTION, a revolution of ideas. We must shift the dominant mental paradigm among Americans in our day.
“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Abraham Lincoln
When citizens understand and live by this revolutionary idea we will make it a reality for our children and grandchildren.

We must.






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