Archive for September, 2013

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Does rooftop solar net metering transfer wealth from the poor to the affluent?

September 30, 2013

So claims a study from the California Public Utilities Commission released last week.   Net metering is the practice wherein property owners who install rooftop solar systems are allowed to sell excess electricity back into the grid, thereby lowering their own electricity costs.   Those who install rooftop solar tend to be more affluent than the typical electricity user, thus their lowered utility bills are being subsidized by low- and middle-income users (the annual median income of net-metered homes is $91,000 vs. the state median income of $54,000).  Utilities hail the findings of the study, because the expansion of rooftop solar is reducing their annual revenues.  Solar manufacturers and installers, on the other hand, claim that the study was purposely rigged in order to protect utilities.

I personally believe that distributed, local power generation (solar, wind and other renewables) is more sustainable and makes more sense than large scale projects that are necessarily far removed from the populations centers that draw on them.   However, this problem must be worked out – a wealth transfer in the currency of utility costs is not sustainable.     There has to be a happy policy middle ground that can serve energy needs in a more equitable manner.

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Is China’s Pacific Strategy actually “fake it till you make it?”

September 27, 2013

On one side are those who think China is simply using its full diplomatic arsenal to reassert legitimate and historic claims.  On the other are those who see analogies to German and Japanese imperialism just prior to World War Two.    But retired US admiral Mike McDevitt, currently a senior analyst at the private sector Center for Naval Analysis, thinks both positions are misapprehensions.  As reported by Sydney Freedberg at Breaking Defense, McDevitt believes that “I’m increasingly coming to the view that China’s reputation as a brilliant strategist is misplaced,  They’re very tactical [and] focused on whatever is in the inbox…. Their reactions in many places seem designed to shoot themselves in the foot.”  McDevitt also believes that China has far too many internal issues to allow itself to be sucked into a serious international conflict, so that the views of the hawks are as wrong as those of the doves.

I think that McDevitt is correct, but only in the short term.  Long term, the logic of Long Cycle Theory combined with China’s rapid ascent, the relative decline of the US, and the multi-nation Indo-Pacific naval arms race taken together indicate that just such a serious conflict is within the realm of possibility (if not, in fact, highly likely) within the next quarter century or so.

We are in the coalitioning phase

We are in the coalitioning phase

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How long can the Arab monarchies survive?

September 26, 2013

The “Arab Spring” and its aftermath already has toppled several autocrats and is on the verge of adding the Baathist regime in Syria to the list.  However, none of the long standing Arab monarchies have fallen in this period.   In a new report for the Brookings Institution, F. Gregory Gause argues that the monarchies will maintain their holds on power for the foreseeable future:

No Arab monarchy has fallen during the Arab uprisings, and only one – Bahrain – has had a regime-shaking crisis. These regimes have been written off for decades as anachronisms. How did they weather the region’s political storm better than their republican neighbors?

In this Analysis Paper from the Brookings Doha Center, F. Gregory Gause, III lays out the strategies that the Arab monarchies have utilized to stay in power.

The democratic wave that has swept the Arab world has put new pressure on the Gulf monarchies to pursue reform. Still, Gause writes these regimes’ hydrocarbon wealth and coalitions of domestic and international allies – their basic sources of strength – remain intact. Contrary to predictions of the monarchies’ imminent demise, then, Gause argues that these rulers are here to stay. He provides a detailed look at these regimes’ responses to the Arab Spring, including their political reforms – and whether it is realistic to push them any further.

Gause’s research shows how ever generation since World War II have been predicting the imminent collapse of these monarchies, but the predictions have been continually confounded by the resiliency of the regimes buttressed by their immense wealth, which is used to purchase the loyalty supporters and to buy off opponents.   Gause does admit that a sustained fall off in oil revenues is the one thing which could put the monarchies at risk, but dismisses the possibility of that event occurring in the near or middle terms.    If nothing significantly changes with the world’s current energy mix, he is probably correct.   But, as Gal Luft pointed out several months back, we may be on the verge of the necessary technological developments and policy changes to radically change the fuel mix in the transport sector, and that could cause a very rapid disintegration of monarchic stability.  Paradoxically, while Gause is correct that the Arab monarchies are more stable than they appear at first glance, they are at the same time less stable than he believes.

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EGP on short hiatus; back on Sept. 26

September 23, 2013
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The Western Front in the Indo-Pacific Naval Arms Race?

September 19, 2013

Daniel Lee at the American Foreign Policy Institute takes a detailed look at Iran’s strategic naval needs and capabilities.  He concludes that Iran is most likely to remain a littoral threat to Persian Gulf shipping, but unlikely to build a blue water navy that will venture deep into the Indian Ocean.  In either case, they remain a threat to regional and world peace and prosperity, and their maritime forces cannot be overlooked as the world focuses on their nuclear ambitions.

 

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China draws new map; adds gasoline to the fire

September 18, 2013

In 2009, China submitted a map to the United Nations in which it claimed sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea, trampling on what international law recognizes as the legitimate sovereignty claims of several of her neighbors.  Over the years, China has maintained this claim through informal manners.

9 dash map

China has recently produced a new, 10 dash map which fully encompasses the island of Taiwan and comes very close to the southernmost territorial waters of Japan.   As the Australian Strategic Policy Institute points out, this is certainly a very considered move by the Chinese, and the tenth line might be more than a mere dash – it could be a virtual arrow, pointing toward China’s desire to also lay claim to the East China Sea and Japan’s own Senkaku Islands.

10dashmap

This is a rather provocative move, coming as does in the midst of the multi-nation Indo-Pacific naval arms race.

 

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Snowden; Shale Oil Fields; A-10 fleet faces Air Force budget axe

September 17, 2013

Link post today:

US Intelligence personnel demoralized by Snowden releases

Russia, Algeria and Argentina have what it takes to drive future shale oil gains

Air Force may scrap entire fleet of A-10s