What’s Up with Bitcoin?

Connie Lin

Talk about Bitcoin’s growth and volatility has been all over the news cycle. As I am writing this, one Bitcoin is priced at around thirteen thousand dollars, but who knows where it will be by the time you’re reading this. Most people have very strong opinions about Bitcoin but very little understanding of it.

 

First things first, so…what exactly is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital asset with no physical backing, the latter much like the USD. However instead of having its value being manipulated by the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve, Bitcoin derives its value from market fluctuations like other commodities, such as gold. Bitcoin is a payment system that allows transactions to take place between users without an intermediary, drastically reducing the cost of transferring assets. Since Bitcoin allows transactions to take place without revealing identity, criminals have used this characteristic to their advantage.

 

To understand Bitcoin, it is necessary to understand the blockchain technology behind it. The blockchain is essentially a distributed ledger that makes all transactions public. and new ‘blocks’, a series of the most recent transactions are updated multiple times an hour. A massive network of different computers each store its own copy of the ledger. Since these records are public, it prevents the same coin from being spent twice, a common flaw with decentralized digital currency models, because their files can be duplicated.

 

Here’s a brief history of Bitcoin:

It was first publicized in 2009 by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto who published a paper explaining the functions of Bitcoin. In July of 2010, it was only worth eight cents. By 2013, the price of Bitcoin climbed to $1000 before a crash sent the price to $300. And now it’s climbing again.

 

Why Bitcoin?

Today, most people are investing in Bitcoin because it’s a lucrative stock, but it was intended by the founder to to be an alternative to traditional banking. Unlike reserve currencies, which can be printed at will, making them highly susceptible to inflation, the bitcoin supply is capped at 21 million, which will be distributed gradually through mining. For instance, Venezuela, a country experiencing hyperinflation, has seen a growth in the popularity of bitcoin.

 

(Digitaltrends.com)

Probing Puerto Rico’s Power Paucity

 

-Shilpa Gunuganti

 

Ten weeks have elapsed since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and wreaked havoc, while simultaneously generating a plethora of infrastructure issues, including a disastrous power shortage. Hurricane Maria has caused a loss of 1.25 billion hours of electricity supply for Americans, which makes it the largest blackout in U.S. history.


Unfortunately, this enormous number of hours will, without a doubt, continue to grow at this gradual recovery rate. Six weeks after the disaster, 70% of the island was still without power. As of this week,
the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has only regained about half of its generating capacity. This sluggish growth has left many wondering about the reason for delay.

Typically, with a large-scale power outage, two U.S. groups will coordinate responses with mutual-aid agreements, the same contracts that were used in Florida and Texas. In Hurricane Harvey’s case, power company AEP Texas initiated a mutual-aid agreement with EEI and staged about 1,000 workers from 11 states before Harvey even made landfall.

With Hurricane Maria, challenges came up right from the start for power companies and these beneficial actions were not able to be taken. The American Public Power Association (APPA) was ready with a contract for the coordinated response effort but the call to initiate the help was never made.

Because of this lack of efficiency and coordination, power companies headed to Puerto Rico were already a few steps behind the usual response rate. Furthermore, Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small Montana firm, was given the $300 million no-bid contract with PREPA to serve as coordinator of all power companies headed to Puerto Rico.

The Whitefish Energy contract attracted intense scrutiny in Washington. While the Department of Homeland Security said it was investigating, The House Committee on Natural Resources demanded to see all of the agreement records. FEMA said it had “significant concerns” and warned that it might refuse to cover the costs, which led to the final decision to cancel.

On top of this distraction, Puerto Rico’s road to recovery is still being obstructed. Despite the contract cancellation, Whitefish Energy was supposed to continue its work but it delivered the latest blow on recovery efforts. A week ago, the company announced it would stop all work until Puerto Rico’s government paid the $83 million it was owed by the very same cancelled contract.

Although the legalities of the issues are not clear, Whitefish made problems worse. Compounded with the preexisting economic issues in Puerto Rico, the confusion, disorganization, and delays were bound to prolong this horrible blackout, which has left the individuals and small businesses in the region entirely helpless.

In times of persistent recovery, it is not only important to focus on future possibilities, but also essential to carefully examine mistakes or events that could have been carried out in a more suitable manner. By scrutinizing the recovery effort in Puerto Rico, we can ensure that the same mistakes never occur again and that we are better prepared for next time.

 

The FCC is Giving up its Net Neutrality Authority with Little to Replace It

(Photo credit: savetheinternet.com)

 

Lida Ehteshami

The Federal Communications Commission has announced a “total repeal” of Obama-era net neutrality rules, a sweeping rejection of Obama-era rules meant to keep the internet a level playing field and prevent companies from charging additional fees for faster internet access. The FCC will likely vote on the rules Dec. 14, but the move will create a fierce court battle with parties already promising to pursue it to the Supreme Court.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

The move has already set off a furious fight over how the government should regulate companies connecting Americans to the internet. No less than 21 million public comments were submitted to the FCC’s website when it originally opened for comments.

In theory, Republicans and Democrats agree on a free and open internet. In policy terms, the disagreement is bitter. Net neutrality is generally defined as ensuring internet service providers do not block, slow, or otherwise discriminate against specific content and applications. An internet without these rules could see customers pay more for certain services (such as Netflix), and internet providers degrade internet speeds unless companies agree to pay more, which could exclude startups from the web in favor of deep-pocketed incumbents.

Democrats want to treat all content equally with strict agency oversight based on a history of abuse by telecoms. Republicans argue that letting the industry rely on voluntary guidelines and arms-length regulation by the Federal Trade Commission for anti-competitive or abusive behavior is preferable. Federal authority to regulate the internet is seen as a potential abuse of power and could stifle innovation.

The rules proposed by Pai, an appointee of President Donald Trump, fall squarely on the Republicans’ wish list. The draft rules would lift a ban on blocking or slowing web traffic (so-called paid fast lanes), scrap regulatory authority to police behavior deemed unreasonable by the FCC, and overturn the FCC’s legal basis to enforce net neutrality provisions by dropping telecoms’ classification as utilities. The plan would require internet service providers to tell customers when they are blocking or throttling content.

Pai has pledged to protect net neutrality by handing enforcement off to the Federal Trade Commission, which has latitude to enforce “truth in advertising” commitments for public statements made by internet providers.

Pai told PBS the Obama rules will hinder investment to expand broadband. “My concern is that, by imposing those heavy-handed economic regulations on internet service providers big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out internet access to a lot of parts of the country in low-income, urban and rural areas,” he said.

That argument is still speculative. Investments by telecoms since the FCC adopted a stricter net neutrality stance have not changed much. The net neutrality advocacy group Free Press disputes the argument, saying that investment is affected by interest rates, competition, economic growth and consumer demand. “Net Neutrality and Title II are benefiting businesses and internet users alike,” its report argued. “The case is clear. ”

If Pai succeeds, he will effectively erase the 2015 Open Internet Order that categorized internet service providers as utilities. The 3-2 party-line vote gave the FCC clear legal authority to enforce the strongest net neutrality principles to date. The agency’s previous attempts to do so under a different legal designation had been rejected by the courts since 2009.

The move was fiercely attacked by telecoms and allies in the Republican Party. “Overzealous government bureaucrats should keep their hands off the Internet,” then House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “More mandates and regulations on American innovation and entrepreneurship are not the answer, and that’s why Republicans will continue our efforts to stop this misguided scheme.”

Washington is still waging the same battle today. As Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s head of public policy, prophetically wrote after the 2015 vote, the FCC’s partisan split (three Democrats defeating two Republicans) “is an invitation to revisiting the decision, over and over and over.” So it has been. The latest proposal will likely be approved this December in a 3-to-2 vote along party lines.

Yet Pai’s strategy may be to use the repeal of net neutrality rules to force the hand of Congress. Those familiar with FCC deliberations say  abdicating its net neutrality authority could pressure Democrats into cooperating with Republicans on passing a bill. Republican Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has offered to hammer out net neutrality legislation with Democrats in the past. Activists such as Berin Szóka, president of tech policy think tank TechFreedom, argue “only Congress can put net neutrality on a sound legal footing.”

If this is Pai’s strategy, it seems likely to fail. Congress has punted this question for years. Net neutrality legislation circulated in 2015 never made it to a vote, and the Telecommunications Act hasn’t been revised since 1996. Congress has failed to pass a single major piece of legislation since Trump assumed the Presidency 305 days ago, despite the GOP’s unified control of government. Few bipartisan bills of consequence have seen the light of day.

Net neutrality may prove to be yet another casualty of America’s spreading political paralysis.

 

President Trump has an Irrational Fear of the Iran Deal

Lida Ehteshami

Long before Donald Trump was mocking “Little Rocket Man” in North Korea, or taunting “fools” in the Republican foreign-policy establishment, he expressed special contempt for one international agreement: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which blocked Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

After the Obama Administration signed the agreement, in 2015, then candidate Trump called it “the worst deal ever,” and vowed to “renegotiate” it once he was in office. In fact, the landmark agreement capitalized on a rare consensus. After years of hesitating, China and Russia joined the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, along with Germany and the European Union, in supporting American pressure on Iran to change course.

At a negotiating session in Vienna, the coalition was so large that, for appearance’s sake, Iran stocked its side of the table with additional staffers. Jake Sullivan, one of the U.S. negotiators, recalled, “It was the whole world versus Iran.”

The deal did not change all of Iran’s bad behavior: Tehran continued to test conventional ballistic missiles, to foment violence in Iraq and Syria, and to unjustly detain Americans. But the effect on its nuclear program was unquestionable. In return for the removal of sanctions imposed by the United States and other nations, which had crippled its economy, Iran agreed to shut down facilities and to give broad access to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

When President Trump discovered that not only Mattis but also Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other national-security officials wanted to preserve the agreement, “he threw a fit,” a source told the Washington Post last week. By early October, the White House had devised a plan to assuage his anger.

The President would refuse to certify that the deal is in America’s national interest, an action that would not undo the agreement outright but punt the decision to Congress, for lawmakers to decide whether to renew sanctions.

It is a risky move, nonetheless. If hawks in Congress push through a law demanding further concessions, it could provoke Iran to abandon the deal, eject the inspectors, and accelerate its nuclear program. That might result in calls for Iran’s facilities to be destroyed before they can produce enough weapons-grade material for a bomb.

Such a chain of events could lead to a particularly perilous consequence: returning to the possibility of military conflict with Iran, at a time when the United States is already facing a nuclear standoff with North Korea, would court the prospect of a two-front war—an act of self-sabotage.

Gutting a deal that Americans conceived, brokered, and secured would also undercut decades of U.S. leadership on nonproliferation.

Indeed, in the past two weeks there have been a number of indicators of the President’s growing political instability. On October 7th, Trump, having ridiculed Tillerson for seeking a negotiated solution with North Korea, all but threatened an attack, tweeting, “Sorry, but only one thing will work!”

Last week, NBC reported that, during a Pentagon briefing, Trump called for a nearly tenfold increase in the nuclear arsenal. National-security aides were unnerved—any such increase would violate a raft of disarmament treaties and set off a global arms race. The President and his aides denied the account, and he tweeted that it might be time to challenge NBC’s broadcast licenses.

Decertifying the Iran agreement would fracture the United States’ credibility among its original partners in the deal. It would open a rift with China just as it is weighing whether to join the United States again, this time in negotiating with North Korea.

Global Times, a state-backed Chinese newspaper, has asked, “If America would overturn a pact it made to the rest of the world, solely because of a transition in government, how can it retain the reputation of a great power?”

The harm to America’s full faith and credit would be particularly acute in Pyongyang. A decision to undermine the signature foreign-policy deal of a previous Administration would tilt the balance away from North Korean officials who argue for compromise. The more hawkish cohorts will feel emboldened during internal deliberations against people in the diplomatic, intelligence, and economic communities.

A nation’s credibility is the type of asset that is easy to overlook, until an emergency makes it precious. During the Cuban missile crisis, in 1962, President John F. Kennedy dispatched former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to Paris to inform President Charles de Gaulle that the Administration had decided to stage a naval blockade of Cuba.

Acheson offered to show surveillance photographs of the island’s missile sites, but de Gaulle waved them away, saying, “The word of the President of the United States is enough for me.” History suggests that President Trump’s disdain for even the achievements of his predecessor is most damaging not in the eyes of America’s enemies but in the eyes of its friends.

Fast Facts: Revisiting the Iran Nuclear Deal

Connie Lin

Recently Trump has been giving the Iran Nuclear Deal some serious side-eye, calling it “the worst deal ever,” having decertified it last month.

Background

In the past, the international community has tried to prevent Iran, a nation known for funding terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, from obtaining nuclear weapons through economic sanctions. (Although Iran claims that it wants to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.) Iran has claimed to want to eliminate Israel, causing some tension in the country. Negotiations within the international community about curbing Iran’s nuclear developments have spanned years, and the deal was finally ratified in 2015.  

What’s in it?

Essentially, the international community (including US, EU, Russia, China) has agreed to remove the economic sanctions and in return, Iran has agreed to reduce its uranium stockpile, decreasing its chance of producing nuclear weapons. However, the deal is not permanent, with the limits on centrifuges and uranium ending in 2025. Iran refuses to completely discard its nuclear development program, claiming that its programs are used for peaceful purposes.

So where’s the controversy? Everywhere.

All the Perspectives

The Yays:

Obama’s Administration

Supporters of the deal argue that Iran has been complying with the terms , making it very difficult for Iran to create a nuclear weapon in a short period of time, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran

Of course, Iran is hugely in favor of the status quo, because it removed economic sanctions, causing billions of dollars of oil revenue to flow in. Iran’s foreign minister Zarif responded to Trump’s announcement of decertification by saying the decision will undermine U.S. credibility.

Russia

Russia, a supporter of the Iran Deal, is an ally of the Assad regime in Syria along with Iran. Putin told the Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei ““We oppose any unilateral change in the multilateral nuclear deal”

Europe

Britain, Germany, and France released a joint statement in support of the Iran Deal. Their rationale is that hopefully keeping the Iran Deal would convince nations like North Korea that developing nuclear weapons is not necessary for their security.

The Nays:

Trump

Trump claims the Iranian government isn’t trustworthy and that the deal has emboldened Iran’s military expansion in the region, contrary to American security interests (e.g. assisting Assad, the Syrian dictator and detaining American sailors). Iran’s frequent ballistic missile tests are also troubling, because they might be able to carry a nuclear warhead, although this issue isn’t specifically covered by the deal. Furthermore, suspicion has been raised about the credibility of the inspections, especially since the IAEA itself has admitted to be unable to ensure Iran’s full compliance. The UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is rumored to be the strongest opponent of the Iran Deal in Trump’s administration, in contrast to Secretary of State Tillerson.

Israel

Israel, seeing Iran as a threat, believes that the deal does not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has expressed cautious concern over the Iran deal. There is a long history of animosity between the Iran and Saudi Arabia that is difficult to put in few words. You can read about it in depth here.

 

My Life and Mass Casualties

The first mass casualty shooting I vividly remember was on Friday, December 14, 2012. I was in sixth grade. I remember staying home that day since I had the flu and turning on the television to watch the news. From there, the cameramen showed an aerial view of a school and the caption read something along the lines of “Active Shooter in Elementary School.” This day would be remembered in U.S. history as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

There have been more mass casualty incidents since then. Oddly enough, every time such events took place, I remember exactly what I was doing. The Boston Marathon bombing. The Charleston church shootings. The Paris attacks. The Pulse nightclub shooting.

Then on Monday morning, I, like most teens, checked Twitter on my phone. Headlines across my home page read that there was a mass shooting in Las Vegas. Later, when I sat down to eat breakfast, I had asked my mom, “Did you hear about Las Vegas?”

These are just some of the few memorable mass casualties throughout my lifetime. In my parents’ lifetime, from 1966 to today, there has been 90 mass shooting events in the United States alone, accounting for 31 percent of all public shootings in the world.

What does this mean for us living here? Do we need stricter gun control laws? Or are we just so divided? An analysis by CNN shows that states with stricter regulations on gun magazines have lower casualty rates. However, Chicago, according to the Trump Administration, is proof that stricter gun control laws are not associated with a lower crime rate.

What causes people to use their weapons as a means of harm may remain a mystery to some. It is easy (and sometimes proven) that mass shootings are hate crimes or terrorist attacks. But not all can fall into those categories. In the most recent attack in Las Vegas, the gunman’s motives remain unknown.

In August, I was able to travel to Boston. Carved into a sidewalk,  I saw a small memorial towards those who died in the Boston Marathon. Further down the street was a trumpet player with a sign for world peace and love who could play the anthem of any country asked. A reminder that if hate can be preached, so can love.

– Liana Salehian

Fast Facts: What You Need to Know about the Catalonia’s Referendum

Fall is for pumpkin spice lattes, dead leaves, and ugly break-ups.

What happened?

Following the Kurdish referendum on September 25, Catalonia, an autonomous Spanish region that includes Barcelona, voted to secede from Spain with a 90 percent majority on October 1.

So what?

Catalonia accounts for one-fifth of Spain’s economic output, so secession would be overall devastating to Spain.

Why now?

Catalonia has been trying to gain independence from Spain for decades. Catalans have a language and culture distinct from the Spanish, and they argue that they have been paying excessive taxes to compensate for the poorer regions of Spain.

Recently, Catalan separatists claim that the Spanish federal government is behaving in a way that is reminiscent of Franco-style dictatorship.

World Leaders React

Predictably, Spain isn’t too hyped about the break-up. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy argues that the referendum is unconstitutional and took forceful measures to try to prevent it.

As for the United States, Trump said regarding the issue I think Spain is a great country, and it should remain united.

The President of the EU commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, released a formal statement :“this is an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain.”

What now?

The Spanish Constitutional Court suspended the regional parliament for Monday, but pro-independence leaders plan on declaring independence on Tuesday, October 10. Meanwhile, Spain eased certain restrictions on business, causing some major corporations and banks in Catalonia to begin relocation planning.

Public debt is going to be a key issue in the negotiations. Catalonia owes around 35% of its current GDP, and most of it is owed to the Spanish government. The Spanish government might also request Catalonia to shoulder a portion of the national debt.

-Connie Lin