Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thanks, MacEachern, for tacit acknowledgment of the power of social media!

In a column posted to azcentral.com this afternoon, editorial writer Doug MacEachern asserts the Susan Bitter Smith situation is overblown.
But would those differences matter if not for the bigger issue overlaying every controversy (as well as every “controversy”) involving the Corp Comm? That being: the death struggle going on now between the rooftop solar industry and regulated energy companies like Arizona Public Service?
Bitter Smith owns a public-relations company that once was hired by a developer to help work out a dispute with neighbors near his new development. It involved an unfinished substation owned by APS, the largest company regulated by the Corporation Commission. APS ended up moving the as-yet uncompleted substation.
Generally, I'm all for getting at the underlying issues that expose the motives and methods at play in controversies. But really, in his attempt to do so, is MacEachern really illuminating the situation or further obscuring it?

The differences he uses to set up his bogus argument are between the Bitter Smith problem (direct violation of conflict of interest law that applies only to Corporation Commissioners and candidates for that office) and recently resigned member of the Arizona Board of Regents, Mark Killian. Killian took a job Gov. Ducey offered him as director of the state Department of Agriculture.

Killian had the appearance of conflict of interest based on the competing priorities of serving at the pleasure of the governor as a cabinet official and advocating for increased university funding from tax dollars, which is counter to Ducey's position.

Simply lauding Killian for removing himself due to the APPEARANCE of a conflict wasn't enough for Mac. Instead, he used the situation to suggest compliance with specific law intended to safeguard the public interest in regulating monopoly utility corporations is insignificant and citizens concerned about it are overreacting.

How quaint. How fallacious because of the false comparison. How quintessentially MacEachern.

The Arizona Republic has covered the controversy. Local Capitol watchers (including Howie Fischer and Brahm Resnik) reported on Tom Ryan's initial complaint on September 2nd.

Yet, there's no evidence that local media would have done anything with the situation beyond initially broadcasting very brief sound bytes from the Ryan's press conference, if not for social media pressure and posting the complaint/initial video and subsequent video interviews explaining the specifics of the law and the situation, on blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

So, THANK YOU, Doug for acknowledging the likelihood the public would have forgotten about the controversy if non-corporate outlets (egalitarian social media, like the Arizona Eagletarian) had not goaded the corporate news enterprises to fulfill their duty to the communities that sustain them.

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Just over a week ago, dubiously named Public Integrity Alliance (apparently funded through or by Arizona's Dark Money Prince, Sean Noble), filed a complaint against Susan Bitter Smith. The PIA complaint contained NO new allegations and invoked NO additional citations of law that Bitter Smith had violated. A friend of mine was immediately suspicious. My friend is familiar with PIA head Tyler Montague.

In my initial post about that second complaint, I cited speculation about the PIA motive. Now, another, seemingly more plausible motive has emerged.

On September 11 the Yellow Sheet reported (quoting an unnamed source, which they typically call a "railbird"),

Yesterday’s move by the Public Integrity Alliance calling on Bitter Smith to choose between her Corp Comm seat and her private sector consulting was met with skepticism by some, given the opaqueness of the money that has swirled around the commission’s elections.
One railbird speculated that the biggest beneficiaries of increased attention on Bitter Smith are Forese and Little. “It’s clearly to get the heat off them. [PIA] are funded by [Sean] Noble people and APS – the people who love Forese and Little,” the source said. Last year, PIA (then known as the Arizona Public Integrity Alliance) was accused by both Tom Horne and [Republican state Sen. Don] Shooter of being a front group for Noble’s firm DC London (YS, 2/11/14) because that firm was running the campaigns of the only two candidates it attacked in advance of the 2014 election.
But one campaign consultant with ties to APS said it takes “a big tinfoil hat” to believe APS is behind PIA. “I think if it was Save Our Future Now, that would be one thing, but PIA seems to be fairly independent. I don't know where they get their money. I haven’t even heard a whisper about it,” the consultant said, adding that the betting money is on PIA’s strategy being “a steady destruction of Susan” similar to what happened with Horne. APS spokesman Jim McDonald flatly denied any connection between the utility and the Public Integrity Alliance, which called on Bitter Smith yesterday to resign from her jobs outside the Corp Comm. “We have no involvement with them,” McDonald said.
Of course, even THIS is speculation. But with an APS-tied "railbird" overtly suggesting that "it takes 'a big tinfoil hat' to believe APS is behind PIA..." clearly is the mark of verbal sleight of hand.

In the short-term, removal of Bitter Smith from the Corporation Commission opens the door for Ducey to appoint a REAL tinfoil hat aficionado in Cap'n Al Melvin, the former senator on record wanting to sell Arizona out to the nuclear industry for spent fuel storage.

Can we really worry about such a hypothetical situation now, when really the immediate concern is corruption?

This brings up Game Theory, which would seem to suggest that Arizonans should tolerate Bitter Smith's conflicts of interest because the alternatives might be less desirable.
Game theory is the study of strategic decision-making. It is "the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers." Game theory is mainly used in economics, political science, and psychology, as well as logic, computer science, and biology. Originally, it addressed zero-sum games, in which one person's gains result in losses for the other participants. Today, game theory applies to a wide range of behavioral relations, and is now an umbrella term for the science of logical decision making in humans, animals, and computers.
I submit to you that tolerating known conflicts of interest for fear of what MIGHT happen, is NOT rational or logical in this situation. Clearly, however, what makes this scenario plausible to me is that APS still hasn't acknowledged its responsibility to disclose its election spending in the 2012 or 2014 election cycles for ACC seats and both Bitter Smith and Burns have/had expressed the need to compel that disclosure.

Burns is far less vulnerable than Bitter Smith. Getting rid of Bitter Smith still won't fully protect APS from a disclosure subpoena. But does the state's largest ACC-regulated utility roll the dice with spending to attack Bitter Smith?

Given what we do know about APS conduct over the last three to five years, it's certainly possible.

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