Scott Walker’s Public Service Commission approves fee increase, penalty for residential solar power

Looks like Gov. Scott Walker’s Public Service Commission wants to stick it to Wisconsin energy consumers in the name of higher profits for WE Energies.

We Energies customers will pay a larger fixed charge on their monthly electric bills, and the utility will pay less for the power that customers generate with solar panels, state regulators decided Friday.

The increase in the fixed charge from about $9 to $16 a month was justified, the Public Service Commission decided in a 2-to-1 vote.

The decision, which will be finalized next month, came as the three PSC commissioners met in Madison to decide the Milwaukee utility’s request to raise rates in January.

The preliminary bottom line for residential customers: a 1.8% increase in bills on average, though bills will rise more for customers who use less energy, PSC spokesman Nathan Conrad said. Bills will go up by another 0.8% in 2016.

It’s important to keep in mind the fee increase approved by Scott Walker’s PSC for WE Energies comes at a time when that company had $546 million in net income in 2012 and $577 million in net income in 2013 – an all-time high for the company, no less. The fact that a company enjoying record profits was given a healthy rate increase just underscores the fact that under Gov. Scott Walker Wisconsin’s government is working hard to line the already bursting at the seams pockets of big businesses at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Chris Ladd: The missing story of the 2014 election

“Few things are as dangerous to a long term strategy as a short-term victory” writes Chris Ladd of the Houston Chronicle in a fantastic piece outlining that while 2014 may have seemed like a good year for Republicans across the United States, a deeper look shows trouble on the horizon.

Republicans this week scored the kind of win that sets one up for spectacular, catastrophic failure and no one is talking about it.

What emerges from the numbers is the continuation of a trend that has been in place for almost two decades. Once again, Republicans are disappearing from the competitive landscape at the national level across the most heavily populated sections of the country while intensifying their hold on a declining electoral bloc of aging, white, rural voters. The 2014 election not only continued that doomed pattern, it doubled down on it. As a result, it became apparent from the numbers last week that no Republican candidate has a credible shot at the White House in 2016, and the chance of the GOP holding the Senate for longer than two years is precisely zero.

For Republicans looking for ways that the party can once again take the lead in building a nationally relevant governing agenda, the 2014 election is a prelude to a disaster.

Ladd goes on to include a few other interesting tidbits he gleaned from the results of the 2014 election.

A few other items of interest from the 2014 election results:

- Republican Senate candidates lost every single race behind the Blue Wall. Every one.

- Behind the Blue Wall there were some new Republican Governors, but their success was very specific and did not translate down the ballot. None of these candidates ran on social issues, Obama, or opposition the ACA. Rauner stands out as a particular bright spot in Illinois, but Democrats in Illinois retained their supermajority in the State Assembly, similar to other northern states, without losing a single seat.

- Republicans in 2014 were the most popular girl at a party no one attended. Voter turnout was awful.

- Democrats have consolidated their power behind the sections of the country that generate the overwhelming bulk of America’s wealth outside the energy industry. That’s only ironic if you buy into far-right propaganda, but it’s interesting none the less.

- Vote suppression is working remarkably well, but that won’t last. Eventually Democrats will help people get the documentation they need to meet the ridiculous and confusing new requirements. The whole “voter integrity” sham may have given Republicans a one or maybe two-election boost in low-turnout races. Meanwhile we kissed off minority votes for the foreseeable future.

- Across the country, every major Democratic ballot initiative was successful, including every minimum wage increase, even in the red states.

- Every personhood amendment failed.

- For only the second time in fifty years Nebraska is sending a Democrat to Congress. Former Republican, Brad Ashford, defeated one of the GOP’s most stubborn climate deniers to take the seat.

- Almost half of the Republican Congressional delegation now comes from the former Confederacy. Total coincidence, just pointing that out.

- In Congress, there are no more white Democrats from the South. The long flight of the Dixiecrats has concluded.

- Democrats in 2014 were up against a particularly tough climate because they had to defend 13 Senate seats in red or purple states. In 2016 Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats and at least 18 of them are likely to be competitive based on geography and demographics. Democrats will be defending precisely one seat that could possibly be competitive. One.

- And that “Republican wave?” In Congressional elections this year it amounted to a total of 52% of the vote. That’s it.

- Republican support grew deeper in 2014, not broader. For example, new Texas Governor Greg Abbott won a whopping victory in the Republic of Baptistan. That’s great, but that’s a race no one ever thought would be competitive and hardly anyone showed up to vote in. Texas not only had the lowest voter turnout in the country (less than 30%), a position it has consistently held across decades, but that electorate is more militantly out of step with every national trend then any other major Republican bloc. Texas now holds a tenth of the GOP majority in the House.

- Keep an eye on oil prices. Texas, which is at the core of GOP dysfunction, is a petro-state with an economy roughly as diverse and modern as Nigeria, Iran or Venezuela. It was been relatively untouched by the economic collapse because it is relatively dislocated from the US economy in general. Watch what happens if the decline in oil prices lasts more than a year.

Would Florida Arrest Jesus Too?

Rather than finding ways to help the homeless, a number of cities in Florida, including Fort Lauderdale have passed ordinances against feeding the homeless. And a leading scofflaw who has been cited for violating the ordinance is 90 year old World War II veteran Arnold Abbott…an advocate for the homeless who has been providing them with food for twenty years in honor of his late wife. The penalty for feeding the homeless is 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. So this certainly isn’t a little municipal ticket to be taken lightly.

But despite interference from the police, Mr. Abbott and his group, Love Thy Neighor, continue to feed the homeless and have garnered a fair amount of support for their efforts.

It seems to go against Southern Christian tenets and the GOP movement to replace government ‘hand outs’ with local private charity…and it just seems flat out mean.

So how would a long haired bearded man with brown skin fair in Fort Lauderdale if he started handing out loaves and fishes?

UW Madison Gets Research Grant and Stupid GOP Complaints!

In their continued push to neuter the University of Wisconsin system and particularly the flagship campus in Madison, the GOP and their adherents are finding fault with a recent research grant given to the university:

Two researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison have been awarded a five-year, multi-million dollar federal grant to study the brain activity of fruit flies and mice during sleep.

The researchers, Giulio Tononi and Chiara Cirelli, who direct UW’s Center for Sleep and Consciousness, will be collaborating on the project with M. Felice Ghilardi, of the City College of New York. Their grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is $1.6 million in the first year and a recommended total of $7.7 million over the five years.

The scientists are examining a phenomenon called local sleep, in which one part of the brain sleeps while the rest remains awake. Dolphins do this and researchers think humans may also.

Now admittedly on the face of it, one would wonder what this type of research would garner…but after years of watching basic research yield miraculous economic activity…you kinda have to give the researchers their due.

But that isn’t necessarily the case in Wisconsin. Despite the vocal support given to research in Madison and its serious contributions to Wisconsin’s economy, the GOP continues to find ways to whittle away at the university. And the award of this grant proved to be no exception:

The recent announcement of a multimillion-dollar federal grant to study the sleep habits of mice and fruit flies has Darold Treffert aroused.

Treffert, from Fond du Lac, responded to this news the way many people might, especially those of us who squeaked by in high school biology class. But he is a man of science, a longtime psychiatrist.

“Where is Bill Proxmire when we need him?” Treffert said in an email, referring to the former Wisconsin senator’s Golden Fleece Award for the use of taxpayer dollars to study, for instance, why people fall in love or why prisoners want to get out of jail.

“It seems to me the mice in my garage never sleep, and I have never seen a dozing fruit fly,” he said. “Since I can only rely on warfarin to rid the mice, my question is if I mix that with some Ambien, will they have more of a death with dignity?”

There is an interesting little nugget buried in this quote: warfarin! For those of you with a pharmaceutical or agricultural background, you may recognize warfarin. I learned about it while a pharmacy technician at the University of Illinois Hospital at the Chicago Medical Center many many years ago. It’s pharmaceutical version which was first approved in the 1950s is Coumadin…widely used as a safe and effective blood thinner and anticoagulant. It was also developed earlier in the 20th century as a rodenticide. It’s aggressive anticoagulant properties caused rats who ingested it to essentially bleed to death.

Where did warfarin come from? Well that’s kinda funny considering the context shown above. It was developed in basic research at the University Of Wisconsin Madison while trying to determine why healthy livestock were bleeding to death after surgical procedures. It seems spoiled clover silage developed the anticoagulant chemical causing the animals’ deaths. So basic research at UW turned something that on the face of it didn’t seem all that urgent, into a powerful and effective rat poison AND an anticoagulant that has saved hundreds of human lives. How can we say where the sleep studies might lead?

BTW, why is it named warfarin: Well Warf stands for the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation who garner the profits and redirect them into other research in Madison. Go figure.

So congratulations to the anti-science no nothing naysayers who oppose basic research in the UW system because, well, it just doesn’t make much sense to them and in the same breath providing an example of successful home grown research.

Americans are progressive on key issues IV

Scroll to the bottom of the CBS poll contained in this link and you’ll see that 71% of those polled think that individual contributions to political campaigns should be limited, and an impressive and massively whopping 76% think that spending by outside groups on political advertising should be limited.  It certainly doesn’t appear that the average American equates money with speech.

Are you out there Denis?

An Afghanistan Fail:

When the US coalition invaded Afghanistan, along with the War On Terror, we brought along our totally failed War On Drugs. We did everything we thought possible to eradicate the poppy fields of Afghanistan…totally ignoring the fact that opium has a long history of cultivation in the area. We tried destroying it, bribing farmers to grow other crops, etc. But in no way did we do much to reduce opium production.

To make matters worse, the Taliban infiltrated the opium networks and made themselves the middlemen to export and distribute opium to the outside world. They essentially were financing their resistance to the NATO invasion via drug sales…so they were beating us at the War on Drugs as well as being terrorists.

And now, as we prepare to pull out our remaining troops, the UN announces that Afghanistan is harvesting a record crop.

I haven’t had a chance to go back and find the articles from 2008, but during that Presidential Campaign, the World Health Organization stated that they were suffering a shortage of opiate painkillers in Latin America and Africa. If my memory saves me right, they only had 80% of the opiates they needed for those areas.

So instead of trying to eradicate opium production, the better method would have been certifying opium poppy production and diverting it into the WHO’s opiate pain killer pipeline. The whole program would have reduced our costs in the war, removed a source of revenue from the Taliban, maintained the livelihoods of Afghan poppy farmers, provided much needed drugs to other third world countries and developed a rapport between the invading westerners and the local Afghan people.

But our ideologues don’t allow such world pragmatism…

The President On The Keystone XL Pipeline

Just what I have been telling you all along:


Now will he veto the bill if it arrives at his desk?

I will have more on this later.

Urban Milwaukee’s Data Wonk: Do Democrats Have a Future?

This is an excellent explanation of the obstacles Democrats in Wisconsin face if they’re going to ever take back the majority.

In trying to broaden their coalition, Democrats additionally face self-imposed handicaps and obstacles:

  • Taking a leaf from the Tea Party, there has been an attempt to purge the party of heretics. This first became evident in the repeated attempts to get rid of longtime Democratic State Senator Jeff Plale. Plale’s opponent Chris Larson went on to lead successful purges of other Milwaukee Democrats who had taken positions he disapproved of.  This tendency can also be seen in continued efforts to paint Chris Abele as a conservative. A narrowing of allowable viewpoints runs directly counter to the aim of creating a bigger tent. It says to the wavering voter, “we want your support but someone with your ideas may have no place in our party.” In addition, a party that insists on ideological purity is going to find it harder to imagine innovative solutions to problems. Organizations which insist on conformity become brain dead. One result is that few in the present Democratic leadership know how to talk to voters who aren’t already won over.
  • A second problem that became obvious in the recent election was the number of Democratic candidates who hoped to win by pretending they were not really Democrats. The Mary Burke campaign avoided having her appear with Obama. (An extreme example was the Kentucky Democratic senatorial candidate refusing to say whether she had voted for Romney or Obama.) This practice demoralizes supporters without gaining the vote of Obama haters, conveying the message that there is something shameful about the Democratic Party.
  • Democrats nationally have been losing a steadily growing proportion of the white vote, especially that of middle aged and older white males without a college degree. This is a particular challenge in states like Wisconsin where the growth of minority voters Democrats depend on is smaller. While white males are a declining portion of the overall population, they vote in large numbers including in off-year elections. Ironically, they are the modern version of the cohort that formed the core of the New Deal coalition.

While I’ve been guilty in the past of the Data Wonk’s first point about a narrowing of the allowable viewpoints in the Democratic Party, I’ve come to the realization that the Democratic Party in Wisconsin (and nationally) is going to have to truly be a “big tent” party if the party is going to regain what’s been lost.

Walker administration proposes tax, fee increases to pay for roadwork

Well it sure didn’t take long for Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans to start talking about raising taxes and fees to pay back their benefactors from the road-building lobby.

Gov. Scott Walker’s transportation secretary on Friday recommended boosting taxes and fees by more than $750 million over two years to help pay for roadwork.

The proposal comes at a time when Walker and Republican lawmakers have said they want to find new money to pay for roads, but have expressed a reluctance to increase taxes. They are expected to spend the coming months debating how to fund the Zoo Interchange, Hoan Bridge and other major projects when revenue from the gas tax has been stagnant.

The plan from Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb includes raising the gas tax by restructuring how it is calculated; imposing a new fee on vehicle purchases; placing an additional fee on hybrid and electric vehicles; and transferring money from the state’s main account to pay for highways.

I look forward to conservative supporters of Gov. Walker reconciling his support for a tax and fee increase with his supposed “fiscal conservatism.”

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