Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Handwriting on the wall for Bitter Smith, take two UPDATED 9:30 pm MST 12-9-15

The Arizona Republic's resident right-wing apologist, and sometimes thoughtful conservative columnist, Bob Robb said the other day,
The Susan Bitter Smith Corporation Commission saga is just odd.
But how odd can it be that a lobbyist, in the state which academic researchers last December deemed the most corrupt in the country, bullshitted the voters into electing her to regulate the very industry she gets paid to promote? Robb goes on,
Attorney General Mark Brnovich is probably right that she is legally ineligible to serve, but the case is not the slam dunk he has proclaimed.
How quaint. "Probably?"
"But here’s the thing. This isn’t some hidden scandal that has just been unearthed. Bitter Smith has been transparent and open about her representation of the cable television industry.
It was known when she ran for the office in 2012. Voters had other choices for the job. They chose Bitter Smith. And she served for nearly three years of a four-year term without anyone raising a stink about it.
It takes quite a bit of chutzpah for Robb to declare that this is simply no big deal. Why didn't he ask the salient question, "how did this NOT get brought to the attention of the voters in 2012?"

He glosses over so much in his quest to justify Bitter Smith's self-delusions that she's entitled to do what she does, simply because she's been open about it.

This is a classic case of hiding in plain sight.

American pop culture turned the concept into entertainment with a 1980s James Caan movie about a divorced father's loss of contact with his children because his ex-wife married a mobster who entered the federal witness protection program. And more recently into a television series about various WITSEC involved individuals.

But how many other things about life and crime in these United States do we not know about despite them existing without anyone taking any affirmative steps to hide?

Poverty? Sex trafficking? Underground economic factors that fuel illegal immigration? Adverse ramifications of the War on Drugs? Government corruption?

Oh, yeah. That's why God created investigative journalists, right? If only.

How and why do things happen right under our noses without anyone noticing? Information overload?
The first recorded use of the phrase “information overload” was used by the futurologist Alvin Toffler in 1970, when he predicted that the rapidly increasing amounts of information being produced would eventually cause people problems.
Although people talk about “living in the information age,” written information has been used for thousands of years. The invention of the Printing Press a few hundred years ago made it possible to distribute written information to large amounts of people. However, it is only with the advent of modern computers that the ability to create, duplicate and access vast amounts of information has created Information Overload amongst the general population.
The root of the problem is that, although computer processing and memory is increasing all the time, the humans that must use the information are not getting any faster. Effectively, the human mind acts as a bottleneck in the process.
Information Overload is an increasing problem both in the workplace, and in life in general. Those that learn to deal with it effectively will have a major advantage in the next few years.
Information Overload is when you are trying to deal with more information than you are able to process to make sensible decisions. The result is either that you either delay making decisions, or that you make the wrong decisions.
So, back to Bob Robb's apologetics for corruption in Arizona government, and the Corporation Commission in particular.

How did it get this way?

Shouldn't we expect the largest newspaper in Arizona to lead the way in obtaining, processing and prioritizing information so that citizens can have what we need to enable us to make sound decisions?

Well, as for the Arizona Republic, which has some wonderful and highly motivated reporters (for example, Craig Harris) doing their best along those lines, somebody at Gannett corporate HQ is responsible for massive downsizing over the course of the last two decades (since the advent of the internet).

Just like in pretty much every other workplace, reporters are charged with doing more with less. Besides editors having to prioritize, they are responding to capitalistic demands from corporate (Gannett) executives and local advertisers.

Mistakenly, local editors misprioritize based on fear. Fear that big advertising accounts (like -- for instance -- weekend multi-color automobile dealer or residential real estate developers) will take their business elsewhere.

But when the Republic is essentially the only game in town, why would the publishers be so fearful?

So, what we have in coverage of Arizona government is too few reporters attempting to cover too many beats. They cover the expected but sometimes miss important stories about what's beneath the surface.

Then there are industry shills like Ryan Randazzo and plutocratic apologists like Bob Robb, Robert Leger and Doug MacEachern.

Oh, by the way, MacEachern and Bob Leger recently took the Gannett early retirement buyouts. Thankfully, neither is still on the editorial board of the Republic. That might actually help. It was Mac and Leger who had their names on editorials demanding a change in mission for the VA Medical System and for increased privatization.

People like Randazzo, MacEachern and Leger seem to specialize in misdirection.

Speaking of Leger, he chimed in to respond to a comment I made on Facebook a day or so ago. I was commenting, maybe not as clear as I could, on my wish that the Republic would boldly challenge corruption in our state. I referenced the recent cover of the New York Daily News, which CHALLENGED the milquetoast response of Congressional Republicans to the San Bernardino shooting.

Here's Robert Leger's comment to me. I wholeheartedly THANK him for his candid response, which he presumably would NOT have been free to do if he still sat on the Republic's editorial board.


I also have no doubt that there ARE people besides Leger who think that about me, regardless of how feeble their attempts to read my mind or my intentions.

Leger says I "don't want" to be challenged. Well, here's a challenge for you, Robert Leger. I will post a guest blog entry by you, if you can compose a sound, valid argument demonstrating that I 1) don't want news; 2) don't want to be challenged; or "merely want" my opinions ratified.

Those points of challenge go directly to what he accused of me.

Additionally, I don't generally read NYDN (which isn't, despite what he seems to imply, a liberal/progressive news outlet) and I don't watch television. Occasionally, I'll find an interesting online clip with MSNBC journalists Rachel Maddow and/or Lawrence O'Donnell. But that's because they CHALLENGE people.

His last sentence, "It takes greater courage and talent to play it straight," seems like a complete non-sequitur, at least to the rest of his comment. Maybe he's calling me a no talent bum, maybe he's suggesting a rationalization for the Republic's unwillingness or inability to CHALLENGE the corruption at the Corporation Commission. I can only guess.

But I digress.

The Arizona Capitol Times and its Yellow Sheet Report, which would not fairly be characterized as publications that cater to my political leanings, have been more bold in challenging Bitter Smith. Last week, the YS noted the glaring absence, from Brnovich's Supreme Court petition to oust the Corp Comm chair, of any mention of Technical Solutions, BS's company which was involved in the golf course power line/substation realignment project.

Perhaps the Technical Solutions aspect of Tom Ryan's complaint is part of the ongoing criminal investigation Brnovich is conducting. Would we know that if left only to the coverage by the Republic? From the December 3 YS,
Bitter Smith’s ownership of Technical Solutions, a firm that offers lobbying services at many levels, including at the Corp Comm, and which specializes in land acquisition services for telecom sites, is another point of conflict. Additionally, Ryan had raised questions about the commissioner’s role in a golf course project in Scottsdale that involved the moving of an APS substation. Some are wondering if this omission means that, in addition to seeking Bitter Smith’s removal, the AG is also separately looking into a criminal violation on her part.
When asked about it this morning, AG spokeswoman Mia Garcia noted to our reporter that Ryan had alleged both civil and criminal violations against Bitter Smith. “Our office is thoroughly investigating all allegations,” she said. “We can’t discuss any evidence or allegations made in the complaint against her, other than the petition for special action, which alleges Bitter Smith’s relationships and financial interests make her ineligible to hold office.” Ryan speculated that the AG has started a criminal inquiry against Bitter Smith, although he quickly added he has no confirmation on this. Ryan added that if a public officer is “peddling” his or her influence, that’s a felony offense.
I wonder, was Doug MacEachern "playing it straight" when he wrote the following in an op-ed on October 2, a month after that damn partisan (registered Independent, former life-long Republican) Tom Ryan filed his original complaint against SBS? Mac was trying to show that SBS' situation was essentially the same as Mark Killian's. Killian, who had been a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, took a job in Ducey's cabinet as director of the Department of Agriculture.
Sure, there are differences. 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.
Did Bitter Smith win the conflict for her developer-client by throwing her Corp Comm weight around with APS? She insists it was the neighbors who won, not the developer.
The broader issue, though, is:
Would the matter have merited much (if any) attention if not for the fact that solar-industry investigators are digging up as much dirt as they can on every utility regulator in America, and piling it up to make it appear to be a crisis?
Activists funded by – yes – special-interest "dark-money" aren’t stopping at the little ol’ Arizona Corporation Commission. From sea to shining sea they are wearing out bureaucrats handling Freedom of Information Act requests, searching for material that might compromise utility regulators who they think might rule favorably toward legacy utility companies.
A conservative Republican, Bitter Smith does not exactly strike a sympathetic pose among green-leaning voters. They automatically assume her guilt.
Was MacEachern "playing it straight up?" Or was he casting the situation in hyper-partisan terms? As to assuming her guilt, a complaint is a complaint. It's a statement of charges. It was presented to the top law enforcement official in Arizona. Brnovich's office took three months to investigate and filed 900 pages in its petition to the court. 

A similar but far less substantive complaint also was filed by a citizen against Corp Commissioner Bob Burns for being a lobbyist during his election campaign. Somebody probably assumed he was guilty also. But after investigation by Brnovich's office, the Burns complaint was dropped as the evidence only seemed to show a clerical error, rather than intent to conduct himself contrary to the law.

For his part, Ryan responded to Robb's column with this,
“But here’s the thing. This isn’t some hidden scandal that has just been unearthed. Bitter Smith has been transparent and open about her representation of the cable television industry.”
So let me get this straight Mr. Robb, as long as you are “transparent and open” about your graft and corruption, no one has the right to complain? What a bunch of moralizing hooey!! What about the fact that most citizens do not understand the complexities of marketplace monopolies, the regulation that has to occur, the fact that the ACC is judge-legislator-executive, etc? How would the average citizen know that??!! Let’s really drill down here: how many citizens were aware of ARS § 40-101’s strict anti-conflict of interest provisions for ACC commissioners? I am not going out on a limb to say less than 1/10 of 1% would have known that!
Robert Leger, who exactly was and is pushing the hyper-partisanship in this situation? Me? I laugh.

By the way, Scott Peterson, executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, had this to say about this week's developments,
"In our 6 years of work, we have worked on issues ranging from the conduct of fracking regulators, to oil company funding of universities, to fossil fuel junkets of county commissioners, to captured utility regulators. Our success has attracted a range of pro-clean energy donors, which is what we note at the bottom of every blog post. 
"Our research into regulators with weak ethical standards and their relationships with corporate lobbyists and managers is non-partisan. We have a growing body of officials throughout the nation on both sides of the aisle who wish we didn’t ask questions.
"In Arizona, when we found the initial evidence of Corporation Commission Chair Susan Bitter Smith’s malfeasance, frankly, we couldn’t believe it. It was so clearly outrageous and had been going on so long. It is her own behavior that has caused her current troubles.
"Whether or not Bitter Smith is a captured regulator may be open to debate. But her lack of ethics is not. That a courageous radio reporter recognized it, and an attorney with a record of fighting for the people of Arizona pursued it, is worthy of applause."
As for me, I revel in criticism of #BullyJournalism (whether or not directed at me, by Stephanie Grisham, chief flack for Arizona House Speaker David Gowan) and #GreenMcCarthyism (by Bob Stump) -- however specious those charges may or may not be.

UPDATE 12-9-15

The smart people at Gannett and the Arizona Republic have again struck a blow AGAINST open government by downsizing yet another reporter whose beat was at the State Capitol. I learned this evening that Alia Rau has been laid off. I misunderstood. Rau is still reporting for the Republic.

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