By Caroline Sha
Race. Nothing has determined the lives of so many people than this construct. From slavery to affirmative action, it has been a source of fierce contention in politics since the founding of the nation. In fact, it is such a complex topic that today, even some of the most liberal politicians can still manage to fall while tiptoeing around it. Elizabeth Warren learned this the hard way when she released a DNA test which supposedly proved that she had a Native American ancestor. Warren has openly touted having an indigenous predecessor for years, attracting taunts of “Pocahontas” and accusations that she lied about her heritage on university and job applications. Though Warren has railed against the racism latent in these statements and published proof on her website that her reported Native American ancestry played no role in advancing her career, many, such as Donald Trump, have continued to mock her. As a result, Warren decided to ask Stanford scientist Carlos Bustamante to perform a genetic test which revealed that although she was largely white, her DNA, when compared to the DNA of those from places such as Peru and Mexico, did show that she did have an indigenous ancestor six to ten generations ago. Though these results may seem like a positive gain for Warren, the actual act of taking the test has garnered outrage from the very group she sought to win over.
The heavy criticism Warren faces from various tribes results from their perception that she is utilizing genetics as representation of native heritage. The Cherokee Nation decrees that "using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong”. By basically conflating her genetic results with undeniable proof that she is truly Native American, Warren advances the view that race is the determining factor in tribal heritage. According to many tribes, this type of thinking takes away their sovereignty in determining membership. Rather, it gives the power of deciding identity to genetics, as opposed to the Native concept of close social ties. In fact, the reason Bustamante could not use Native DNA as a reference for his test was that mistrust of racial genetic testing and their potential ramifications for tribal autonomy have stopped many from the Native community from offering up their blood. After all, the study of heredity in America has historically been used as a tool of white supremacy. For example, starting from the 1700s, the federal government enacted blood quantum laws to limit the growth of tribes. Under this system, federal employees recorded how much “Indian blood” individuals had and used those records to decide who could be considered a part of a tribe. Often, because of ignorance toward Native definitions of membership , people were falsely marked as “full blood” or non-natives based solely on appearance, not actual involvement with a certain tribe. This was problematic as white settlers basically redefined “Native American” as a race, throwing out previously established tribal standards for native identity. To many, Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test echoes this cultural imperialism, suggesting that she, a non-indigenous person, can choose her own interpretation of native heritage, and override existing indigenous benchmarks.
But will this tarnish on Warren's progressive image harm her in the context of her future political career? Though a likely hurdle for her presidential run in 2020, this misstep doesn’t seem to be completely destructive. Despite her base caring ever more about racial issues, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, 60% of Democrats still have a favorable view of her. Moreover, on the republican side, the criticism against Warren for her DNA test has been scant. Though Donald Trump recently tweeted a meme about Warren’s results, it carried the same message and intensity as the attacks he made before this controversy. While issues such as climate change, immigration, and the economy take their place as the top issues of the 2020 race, Warren’s blunder may not come back to bite her.
By Caroline Sha
During the week of September 11, 2018, Russia hosted its biggest war games since the Cold War. Called Vostok, these exercises included Russian soldiers as well as some Chinese troops showcasing the might and strategies of their militaries. Tanks rolled over the Eastern Siberian expanse while their drivers held a continuous salute; aircraft flew in formation in the blue sky; artillery was fired over vast distances; and soldiers flew drones and performed activities such as anti-terrorism drills. In total, there were 300,000 troops, 36,000 tanks, 1,000 aircraft, and 80 boats participating. And that’s not even counting the 3,200 Chinese troops who also took part. To put all of these numbers in perspective, “that’s double the size of the British armed forces. It’s also twice the size of the last Vostok war games, held back in 2014”. Russia, it seems, remains the military superpower it has been for almost a century.
But what does this mean for international relations? What is Putin’s endgame in doing all of this? According to Moscow, these war games were held in order to practice joint operations in the east and to mobilize troops into Russia’s eastern edge. However, as the case always is with the Federation, there is more than one ulterior motive for their actions. One of those includes Putin’s desire to remobilize the army and to show the world that he is doing just that. Russia’s foreign policy has been one of continuous aggression since Putin took power. Take the war with Chechnya, the invasion of Crimea, and the continued support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria as the most prominent examples. Even more, just last year, in 2017, Russia held its Zapad (West) military games, which were the biggest in years. Though the Kremlin officially stated that only 12,700 troops participated, NATO claims more than 100,000 personnel were involved. They simulated an invasion on the Baltic States, a possible first action if war ever broke out between Russia and the EU. Though this newest development could seem alarming to some, it changes nothing for foreign relations; it does nothing more than revalidate the tension between Russia and the West.
That brings us to the question of why China would possibly want to get involved in all of this. One simple reason is that the Chinese army has a lot to learn from the Russian military. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the communist country’s armed forces, hasn’t seen real combat since the Vietnam War, which ended more than 40 years ago. Russia’s military, meanwhile, has recently fought in Syria and Ukraine, acquiring valuable experience that the PLA is sorely in need of. Still, the main explanation is that the communist state wishes to show its readiness to strengthen its ties with Russia as Sino-American ties deteriorate. Many in both Beijing and the United States fear that Donald Trump’s recent threats may cause a total trade war between the two superpowers. Even worse, Mike Pence, the vice president, has claimed that China is meddling with the midterm elections in order to get rid of the president, further souring relations. With both sides unlikely to back down, China must find another ally who could stand with them against the highly influential United States if things go completely south. However, this is most definitely not an indication that Russia and China are ready to fully cooperate with each other. The two, despite having a relatively close relationship, often find themselves extremely close to conflict, whether it be over influence over Central Asia or the Arctic. This supposed show of unity is another mirage covering up the fact that they are no closer to a traditional alliance than before. There is simply too much tension between these two neighbors and even fear of the United States won’t dissipate that.
In the end, however, Russia isn’t gearing up for any particular large-scale conflict. Putin has no intention of starting World War III and these exercises are just simple politics. Russia has always tried to misdirect the world, from the Cold War until now. It's unlikely that the Kremlin will translate this strategy to real action anytime soon, so there’s no need for a mass panic. But, that’s not to say that world leaders can relax and let this vast show of power go. In order to prevent disaster, it is important that NATO and every other country keep a careful eye on Russia. For in this ever changing and turbulent world, who knows what will actually happen? Old Putin may just surprise us all.
By: Caroline Sha
On March 18, the Red Square in Moscow was packed as Vladimir Putin walked onto stage. The results for the 2018 presidential election had just come out and unsurprisingly, Putin had clinched the win by a landslide. After a brief speech, he chanted “Russia! Russia! Russia!” with his supporters before walking off. This is the fourth time Putin has been elected president. This term, he won with 76.7% of the vote, an increase from the 65% he earned in the 2012 election. His closest contender, Pavel Grundinin of the Communist Party, earned only 11.8%, making this election an easy win.
However, many are unhappy with the validity of the election. Critics are especially concerned with the various instances of voting fraud that seem to have occured. Cameras posted in Russian voting stations recorded people stuffing ballot boxes while election officials have reported being assaulted by voters. Moreover, many polling places reported exactly 85%, 90% and 95% turnout and 1.5 million votes seem to have appeared overnight. But most importantly, the main criticism of the 2018 election was the fact that Putin was guaranteed to win even without voting fraud. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe stated about the election, “Choice without real competition, as we have seen here, is not real choice.” There are no presidential debates that Putin participates in, making it hard to compare him with the the other candidates who do not have documentaries put out in their favor. In addition, the most viable candidate against Putin, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running in the election on charges of fraud, an act he considers political retribution. The remaining seven candidates really had no chance to win, as they were already unpopular or affected by external factors. Take for example Pavel Grundinin, whose communist views could have enticed a good amount of Russians to vote for him, if not for the accusations of undeclared Swiss bank accounts published by sources associated with the Kremlin. Despite Grundinin’s protests that these are completely false, the Russia Central Election Committee required a warning about his secret accounts to be published on ballots. This most likely turned off communist-leaning voters, his base of supporters, and destroyed his chances of gaining anything close to a majority. Furthermore, opposition leaders have also stated that most of the contenders not only were fighting a hopeless fight but also were in fact planted by the Kremlin to give a semblance of democracy to the election. Kseniya Sobchak, a liberal celebrity who ran for the presidency, was accused by Navanly of being paid to run by the Russian government. Though she has confronted controversial topics in the past, her family ties to Putin have left people questioning if she is running against Putin or as his successor.
With all that in mind, it is safe to say that Putin’s main goal was not securing the majority of the vote, as that was already guaranteed. Rather, he wanted a large voter turnout so he could show the world that the people of Russia truly wanted him in power. Though he did not reach his goal of 70% this time, 67% of the country came out to vote. Nevertheless, nothing is simple in Russian politics, and it seems like Russia used some unsavory tactics to persuade and sometimes coerce people into voting. In many parts of Russia, officials used raffles and contests to entice people to come to the polls and celebrities appeared in videos endorsing Putin. These gimmicks are not too bad but less savory are the mass reports of forced voting. Many people stated that they, their bosses or educators ordered them to go to voting stations and take pictures as proof once they cast their ballot.
Amidst all these controversies, how did the rest of the world react to the Russian election? Donald Trump, against the notes of his advisors, congratulated Putin by phone call and talked to him about issues such as North Korea but not the Skripal poisoning case. Countries like China and Iran have also followed suit and responded positively towards the election. Germany answered less warmly, with a representative for Angela Merkel stating that “We have differences of opinion with Russia and we very clearly criticise Russia's policies on some issues - Ukraine, Syria," The spokesman did say that Merkel would be also congratulating the president, however, and wished to still have relations with the Russia. In contrast, Poland recoiled at the results and its deputy foreign prime minister demanded Germany halt the building of a pipeline due to supply oil to Russia.
But what’s done is done now, so what’s next for Russia? First and foremost, this is legally Putin’s last term as president. He could possibly pull a Xi Jinping but if somehow Putin is unable to retain power at the helm of the Kremlin or behind the scenes, a power struggle will surely happen in Russia. And in the political landscape in Russia, if a ultra-nationalist or young liberal comes out at top is anyone’s guess. As for what happens during this next term, Putin has secured his place in the minds of the Russian people by portraying himself as the man to bring Russia back to its former glory and it's unlikely that he is willing to give up that legacy. Whatever he does, one can be sure that it will do something along the lines of cementing his place in history as the leader who saved Russia. But, bigger picture aside, one of Putin’s most pressing issues will be the poisoning of a former Russian spy. Theresa May has publicly accused Putin of the crime, but he has denied it vehemently. This will probably be the tune for the rest of his time in power, whether that be until the end of the term he just won or until his death; no matter what, he’ll never admit wrongdoing to other countries. And with Putin’s new nuclear weapons and continued aggression adding to that, don’t expect any defrosting of tensions soon.
By Caroline Sha
“You have your own life at stake. Every additional year of Putin staying in power is one more year of decay,” declares a modestly-dressed blue-eyed man in a YouTube video. This is Alexei Navalny, a man often considered to be Vladimir Putin’s greatest threat. What he is encouraging in the video is a widespread protest against the Russian election scheduled to take place the next Sunday. And it clearly worked. Despite the freezing temperatures, on January 28, 1,500 protesters lined Moscow’s Manezh Square in solidarity with his cause, chanting “Down with the Czar!”
The overall goal of these protests was to express dissent over Navalny’s barring from the election. In December 2017, the Russian government announced that Navalny would not be able to run as a presidential candidate in view of a fraud conviction he received earlier that year. This move was criticized by Navalny’s supporters as a play to stop Putin’s most potent competitor from directly challenging him. That is, if Navanly was to run, it would upset the carefully planned landslide victory that Putin has planned for himself.
Putin is set to run against seven opponents who many critics say are planted by the Russian government to create a semblance of democracy. Because of Putin’s tight control over his country, there is an extremely low chance that any of them would actually win. Considering the government monopoly on Russian television, hardly any of them would be able to transmit their messages. There are no presidential debates and no significant rallies. Now that Navalny is out from the race, Putin’s biggest concern is rather the expected low voter turnout. To him, this election is about showing the world that Russia wants him and broadcasting his tight control over the nation. In fact, Putin is so unworried about his chance of winning that he is trying to put on a fair election. In 2012, he was accused of rigging the vote for his presidency and it seems like this year, he doesn't want a repeat of that disaster. There is no chance that anyone can take the reins of the Kremlin from him.
However, perhaps in the future, Alexei Navalny would be able to bring the liberal shakeup that some in Russia have desperately been waiting for. Charismatic and tech-savvy, he embodies the idea of a modern statesman. Navalny often employs memes in his videos and has a strong social media presence. A scroll through his Instagram reveals a family man with a penchant for taking selfies. To the Russian youths, Navalny is relatable and in touch with modern culture. Contrast this with the traditionalist Putin whose official press releases show him as macho man riding horses shirtless and going in submarines. The culture clash between these two men is glaring.
But Navalny did not rise to popularity just through selfies. Throughout his career as a blogger, he has criticized Putin without fail. As head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, he and his colleagues spend much of their time investigating corruption among high officials in Russia. From spokesmen to oligarchs, there is perhaps no one from whom Navalny cowers from criticizing. Despite the multitude of Putin dissenters who have been killed in the past for speaking up, Navalny constantly tackles issues like the expensive homes of government officials who, according to public records, are not making nearly enough to buy them. As a result, he has become a sort of hero among Russia’s grassroot movements, positioned against the oligarchy and bribery that permeates the entirety of Kremlin. From the 2011 protests to now, he has been through it all and his popularity is remained especially high for an opposition leader.
But that doesn’t mean Navalny’s road has been an easy one. Even though he has been fortunate enough as not to be killed, he still has had to face the law. In October of 2017, he was sentenced to twenty days in jail for calling his supporters to an unsanctioned protest. Hours before the January 28th, his headquarters was broken into by the police during a live video broadcast on suspicions of a bomb threat. And during the protests themselves, he was arrested once again and later freed, ordered to appear in court at a later date. The law is not on Navalny's side, yet he still wades on.
However, Navalny isn’t exactly a liberal saint. His previous actions seem to betray some nationalist views or at least a willingness to appeal to the far-right patriots in Russia. In August 2008, Navalny supported Russia’s war with Georgia while calling for all Georgians to be expelled from the Russian Federation. Though he apologized for the derogatory names he called the Georgians in his statements, he has not recanted the views themselves and has even said he still supports the same position. Moreover, he has also appeared at the Russian March whose purpose is to bring together all kinds of nationalist Russians, casting doubts on how progressive he really is. Furthermore, he has supported the Stop Feeding the Caucasus movement, which calls upon the Russian government to stop giving money to the governments in the Caucasus region. But racist or not, the strong left-leaning backing he owns has not yet faltered from him greatly.
What do these protests spell for Russia? For the near future, nothing much. Much of Russia still has some confidence in Putin and it is unlikely that anything new will happen during the election. Putin will secure the victory, though perhaps not by the margins he desires. There is a long and cold path for Navalny supporters and for Navanly himself. Will Russia reinvent itself in the 21st century or even the next one? Perhaps, but until then, only the tides of time will know what the future holds for the land of snow.
By Caroline Sha
It has left children parentless and parents childless. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids kill about ninety Americans per day and has cost the United States $75.8 billion dollars a year. Understandably, it is often broadcasted across the front of the headlines with debates over how to confront the issue that is raging across the country. However, most of the discussion has focused on the effects of opioids on white Americans, leaving out another important group impacted by this epidemic: Native Americans.
Native Americans on reservations are in fact some of the most affected people in this crisis. Their death rate from opioids is about 8.4 per 100,000 people. This is more than any other racial group in the United States, including white Americans, whose death rate is 7.9 per 100,000 people. But why is the opioid crisis so severe in reservations? The answer is that the pre-existing conditions on tribal lands make many Native Americans susceptible to drug abuse. And those conditions go back a long way. In fact, it all starts with the exploitation of Native Americans in the nineteenth century. During the 1850’s the government forced children born in reservations to go to boarding schools all around America for the purpose of assimilation. When the children came back as adults, they lost their identity and because of discrimination, were unable to make a living away from the reservation. This continued until 1978 when Native Americans were finally given the right to not send their children to schools outside tribal lands. However, by that time, the damage had been done and the low quality of life in which they lived in had destroyed any sense of their former way of life. Families had already developed lineages of violence and bad habits like drug use and were unable to bring themselves up out of poverty, continuing the cycle of poorness and psychological trauma. Even today, alcoholism, abuse, neglect, incarceration, mental illnesses, suicide and drug addiction are commonplace on reservations. And it is all those factors that lead to a higher chance for drug addiction which means that when the opioid crisis swept America, it hit Native Americans hard. But despite all that, nothing much has been done by the government or other citizens.
This indifference is markedly different from the fervor over opioids in rural America . When opioids started ravaging white communities, outpourings of sympathy and pity flooded the internet. Articles and videos exposed the humanity behind this issue and pulled on audience’s heartstrings. They portrayed the victims of the epidemic as either people who were recklessly given painkillers or those who had turned to drugs because of something wrong with their lives. One can also find this empathetic view of the problem in the government’s reaction to the current epidemic. Donald Trump declared it a national health crisis and during that speech, brought up his brother, Fred Trump Jr, who had struggled with alcoholism. He stated that his brother was a “great guy” who made a bad choice and related that to why young people should avoid drugs. It is clear that Trump does not intend to villainize those struggling with opiods. This gentle approach is also reflected in the current goals of the government regarding the epidemic. According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), the Department of Health and Human Services intends to fund the prevention and treatment of addiction. In addition, Congress also passed a law in 2016 that provided money towards things such as training people to prevent overdoses.
These actions are unlike what has been done for the Native Americans, which is frankly very little. Finding anything talking about this problem is extremely hard. Sure, the CDC has statistics about the high Native American overdose rate, but no talk on how to reduce these numbers have been found. There is no tide of support for drug issues on reservations and people have raised very little outrage over the removal of Native Americans from the national opioid story. And because there is no huge backlash, the government has gotten away with barely doing anything. Much of the funds Congress has given out to solve the opioid problem are not going towards reservations, causing tribes to not have access to prime treatment and prevention resources. In addition, state programs are not targeted towards Native Americans , leaving Native Americans out of the recovery process of many states. And despite his campaign promises to wipe out opioid abuse in the “entire” nation, Trump has not taken any significant steps towards giving tribal lands the things they need to stop the continuation of drug usage.
However, there is a still a glimmer of hope among those in this terrible situation. The Cherokee have taken the matter into their own hands and are attempting to sue pharmacies like CVS and drug distributors like Cardinal Health. Over in Washington, the Muckleshoot reservation contains recovery houses, needle exchange programs and pass out Naloxone, which can save people who have overdosed, despite low funding. Perhaps if more attention is brought to this issue, bigger changes can occur and a precedent of Native American inclusion can be set. But for now, the issue still remains on the table.
By: Caroline Sha
It was March 15, 1917 in Pskov when Tsar Nicholas II wrote down his final words as ruler of Russia: “[I] think it best to abdicate the throne of the Russian State and to lay down the Supreme Power”. This decisive sentence would seal the fate of the Romanov imperial dynasty and open up the floodgates for the Bolshevik Revolution, altering the course of history for all eternity.
The Bolsheviks were a Russian party that embraced the political-economic theory of communism created by Karl Marx, a German philosopher. Marx’s basic ideas were that the working class, known as the proletariat, were trampled by the upper class, the bourgeoisie, and that the commoners should rise up and overthrow their exploiters, creating a classless society in the process. Headed by the radical Vladimir Lenin, a lawyer who was radicalized after his brother Alexander was executed, the Bolsheviks attracted the growing amount of starved and angry commoners who were furious about the incompetence of the royal family. Even though their country was suffering, the Romanovs did nothing about the mass food shortages that swept the country and repeatedly dissolved the Duma, the legislative body created after a revolution in 1905. Moreover, they insisted on staying in the draining world war, weakening the country even furthur. These factors inevitably led to an explosion of anger and quickly led to the downfall of the last Russian dynasty.
After the abdication of Nicholas II, a series of violent protests and a centralization of power within the government allowed Lenin and his associates to take control of the country away from the more moderate Mensheviks and a new Russia emerged from the flames of the old monarchy. Known as the Soviet Union, this superpower would continue to violently disrupt global power dynamics under the leadership of Joseph Stalin and others, warping the trajectory of power in the 20th century.
But does the legacy of Lenin and his Bolsheviks remain today? In Russia, the spark of the radical Red Revolution barely remains. Despite Putin doing all he can to convince Russians that he wants to restore the Motherland to its former USSR glory, the last thing he actually needs is a return to the days where the people overthrew tyrants. As Putin gains more and more power, he becomes more and more like the old imperial family. With estimated net worths as high as $200 billion and accusations of patronage and political repression common-place, there is almost nothing differentiating Putin from Nicholas II. This last tsar, as the Guardian calls him, is not Russia’s next Lenin, but a new type of autocrat who must balance the task of stopping rebellion while keeping the support of the Russian population.
It doesn’t come as a surprise then, that the celebration of the centennial of the Russian Revolution passed without much comment in the country where it had the most impact. There were a few speeches and some exhibitions in museums, but it was nothing like the mass celebrations that took place fifty years ago. The best example of this indifference can be found in a speech Putin gave a month before the anniversary, where he stated that “When we look at the lessons from a century ago, we see how ambiguous the results were, and how there were both negative and positive consequences of those events”. This lukewarm statement summarizes how most of the country feels about their Soviet past. Except for a few remaining communists, no one seems particularly eager to celebrate an era where famine and executions ran rampant. After all, communism in Russia is dead, and its politics have been thrown. There is simply no reason for most Russians, who have never experienced the full effects of communism, to want to return back to the age of nukes and constant threats of war.
In addition, Lenin’s dream of spreading his extreme leftist ideas to other countries are quickly fading. China, the biggest alleged communist power today, has in truth a free-market economy. There is barely any Bolshevik-style control of industry, which is instead driven by competition, the peg of Adam Smith capitalism theory. Huge corporations like Apple have taken root in China and exploited her large population, making mass profits over the dead bodies of its workers, while Chinese companies fight with each other to become the next big thing.
The same is true with North Vietnam. After splitting with the South, the North welcomed a thoroughly communist regime. However, as time went on, the red country soon realized that in order to survive, it had to adopt a capitalist economy. State corporations became private, and the government became subject to the wants of foreign investors. Moreover, the very corruption in the bourgeoisie that the Bolsheviks hated pervades Vietnamese society. Officials place themselves in the head of companies, giving them the very economic control Lenin and his comrades despised.
Even the arguably most communist country, North Korea, is seeking to distance itself from Lenin’s ideals. Over the decades, North Korea has demoted itself from communist to socialist and now prefers to identify itself as juche, or independent. Contrary to Bolshevik beliefs, juche calls for a unification of one pure race, the Korean Race, and emphasizes military prowess rather than the equality among its people. Even the Kim family itself has given up any pretensions of trying to help the lower classes. They portray themselves as god-like monarchs who are capable of accomplishing, and have done, the fantastic and imply that they are divinely ordained for their role, essentially calling themselves kings. In addition, Kim Jong Un, the newest heir of the Kim dynasty, is the one directing most of the government’s money towards nuclear weapons, casually dismissing the fact that what his largely-starving country needs is food, not weapons of mass destruction. North Korea policies revolve around the whims of one man and not the needs of the people, which is the opposite of what Lenin wanted.
But despite the cooling of communist temperaments in these last years, Marx and Lenin should not be pushed to the dustbin in which all failed political leaders go. Their influence, though indirectly, continues to have a subtle effect on politics today. Citizens all around the world have shown that they have become less tolerant of the inequality they face. Liberal politicians have done relatively well in elections across Europe and in the United States, where Bernie Sanders, the far-left 2016 Democratic presidential candidate garnered an large amount of support from young people for his criticism of the top 1%, a sentiment that is all but reminiscent of Marx’s attacks on the bourgeoisie.
Furthermore, countries such the Netherlands embrace a welfare state in which public spending is high and the government takes care of many aspects of life. A basic health care program exists for all their citizens and guarantees them quality medical access. Finland, along with this, has gone even further and is currently testing out a universal basic income program that gives people $660 every month to do as they please. That idea of state-sponsored support is not unsimilar to what Marx proposed in that he wanted the government to watch over all aspects of life and provide everyone a basic quality of living. Though what these European countries have is much more mild socialism than communism, according to Lenin himself, “the goal of socialism is communism”. And who knows? It is conceivable that if Finland’s basic income program proves to be a success, more leftist programs in other places could take off, causing other countries to assume socialist policies. Many think that this state between capitalism and communism is ideal as it combines the altruism of Marx’s philosophy with the freedom of democracy.
So maybe Lenin’s legacy is not dying and there is a chance that the world will become the utopia that Karl Marx envisioned in the nineteenth century. But just like the sea, the politics of man is unpredictable and only time shall tell how the world looks in the next century and the one after that and the next...and the next...
By Caroline Sha
On September 14th, Bitcoin, the most famous cryptocurrency in the world, saw its value decrease by more than 20% percent after BTC China, one of the largest exchangers of bitcoins, announced it would no longer allow the trade of the cryptocurrency. This comes after Chinese officials’ recent proclamation that they would be cracking down on the digital currency’s trade. Understandably, the new announcement frightened many bitcoin owners and brought down its value from almost $4,000 to about $3,300, launching it into the mainstream media’s gaze once again. But what exactly is this mysterious currency and how does it work?
Bitcoin was created in 2009 by a mysterious figure under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. In a publication he posted, Nakamoto explained how the currency system intended to remove the middleman of banks during transactions would work. In essence, when someone buys Bitcoin on an exchange or receives it from someone else, it goes into a digital wallet that is stored on the cloud or in the user’s computer. They can then exchange their bitcoin for goods and services, similar to the process of sending cash through apps such as Venmo.
The real genius behind this cryptocurrency, however, is found in the public ledger, or block chain. Many people have tried to create things similar to Bitcoin before, but they could not get past the problem of ensuring that no one was using counterfeit money or taking advantage of a manipulatable digital system. Nakamoto's solution was to introduce the blockchain, a public record of the balance in everyone person’s wallet. In the most basic terms, everyone who has bitcoin has a pseudonymous account made up of a combination of letters and numbers. Everyone in the system can see how much an account has in it and through a process called bitcoin mining, bitcoin users can solve mathematical problems to determine if a spent bitcoin is counterfeit. Then can then turn that transaction they just verified into a “block” that is sent out to other miners that can add that block to their ledgers. To incentivize people to actually do this seemingly complicated task, the bitcoin system gives a certain amount of bitcoin for each “block” or problem mined. This number decreases every four years to control how much bitcoin is available in the world.
Proponents of Bitcoin have praised the lack of a central authority. Without a bank being the entity that transactions go through, no organization can take a cut of the money sent, potentially lowering prices for items. In addition, many people, particularly libertarians, enjoy the fact that the government would have a lesser role in the financial system if bitcoin became the main currency in use. Because the treasury cannot control the flow of bitcoin, they would have no way to change the value of the dollar. Moreover, advocates of Bitcoin have also asserted that inflation will not be a problem in the future for bitcoin. Inflation is the increase in the average level of prices, leading to a decrease in the purchasing power of a dollar; for example, $25 dollars in 1940 would be equal to $413.13 today. Bitcoin avoids this problem with a limit on how much money can be put out. As the amount of Bitcoin from mining will get smaller with time, the maximum of 21 million Bitcoin will never be reached, so there will always be almost the same amount of Bitcoin going around after a while, preventing inflation from happening. Finally, bitcoin has the ability to transcend national currencies, deleting exchange rates from the code of society. People from all around the globe would easily be able to trade with each other without having to worry about euros or yen or so on.
Critics of Bitcoin, however, have a different view on its possibilities. Many point out that because there is no way to track the purchases made, anyone, including criminals, can buy dangerous items such as weapons. In 2013, The Silk Road, a dark web site which used Bitcoin as its payment method was shut down by the DEA. On the website, visitors could buy a wide range of illegal items ranging from marijuana to cyanide with the anonymity that Bitcoin gave. This raised questions such as what would happen if a terrorist used it to buy weapons or even bombs? How could law enforcement find killers if they couldn’t trace purchased weapons back to anybody? In addition to the security risk posed, others have also used the ever changing price of Bitcoin to say that Bitcoin could never be stable enough to be a legal tender. As the value crash in September showed, the worth of Bitcoin is extremely volatile and any external factor could cause a rapid increase or decrease in value. Lastly, the virtual aspect of Bitcoin has also been called in question. Because Bitcoin has no physical backing, a virus or an accidental deletion could easily destroy all the Bitcoin off of one’s computer. In addition, if a hacker were to steal a person’s Bitcoin, there would be no easy way to get the money back since Bitcoin cannot be traced like a credit card. Or, because of the lack of transaction reversals, a conman could easily scam someone out of his or her money without having to pay it back.
Hypothetically, if we were to assume that Bitcoin’s flaws could be fixed, Bitcoin truly could become a new system of payment that would change the entire world. On the extreme, Bitcoin could completely remove government and corporate control from economics. The market would become completely free, with people buying and selling anything they wanted without any regulations restricting them. Items could be moved across borders more and more easily since currencies won’t have to be exchanged, resulting in companies such as Western Union losing business. Banks could even be shut down since more people will be storing their money in their personal digital wallet and not in banks. The balance of power would drastically shift from big businesses to the common people. But that’s just one possibility.
Is there a way to solve all of Bitcoin’s weaknesses? Could enough people be on board with this currency to make it the next big thing? Will another cryptocurrency take Bitcoin’s dominant role in the internet world? Will an economic digital revolution happen? The answers to these questions are as unpredictable as Bitcoin itself. With sources saying different things, there is no leading prediction. Time will only tell whether Bitcoin succeeds and revolutionizes economics or if it crashes and burns into the oblivion where all failed currencies go.