Blockchain vs Visa

The Visa card processing system handles about 1,700 transactions per second. The Bitcoin blockchain can handle about 4.6 transactions per second.  Other blockchains, such as the Ethereum, may be faster but they still cannot approach Visa’s speed. 

Three components of blockchain play off against each other when you try to increase the speed of blockchains.  These elements are decentralization (how many computers maintain records), scalability (how fast each transaction can be processed), and security (how long it takes to verify a transaction).  Usually, to attempt to speed up a blockchain by changing how one of these elements works will adversely affect one or both of the others. 

A block in a blockchain contains a number of transactions.  Each transaction records the buyer, the seller, the amount, etc.  The initial Bitcoin block size was 1 MB, which could hold about 2,759 transactions.  One way to increase the speed would be to make the blocks bigger to hold more transactions.  Thus, processing one block would process many more transactions.  Another way would be to speed up the process of identifying the unique hash code of the block, i.e., Bitcoin mining.  Making the code less difficult might sacrifice security.  Another way would be to speed up the way that the computers maintaining the blockchain database are updated as new blocks are created.  If each of the computers maintaining the blockchain accounting data is not updated before a new transaction is processed, there might be a possibility for double spending. 

Various new coins have tried variations on these changes.  Bitcoin Cash enlarged the old Bitcoin block size, as did Dogecoin and Litecoin.  Technological increases in computer processing speed and data transmission speed would also increase the number of transactions handled without changing the Bitcoin algorithm.  The main downside of increasing processing speed by changing the verification process would be loss of security.  If data is not completely verified before a new transaction is entered, for example, a Bitcoin could be spent twice.    

Panama Canal

In all the talk about infrastructure and supply chair shortages, nobody mentions the Panama Canal, which was a major infrastructure project and could help solve supply chain problems if could accept the large container ships used today.  

The many container ships anchored off the California coast are too big to go through the Panama Canal.  Since they are coming from Asia, any goods destined for the east coast or the mid-west have to be shipped across the country by rail or truck.  It would be more efficient and demand less transit within the US if the ships could reach New York or Baltimore on the east coast, but there is no easy way, whether via the Suez Canal, around Cape Horn or around the Cape of Good Hope. 

The Panama Canal was an amazing construction project which greatly facilitated shipping, but it has become dated and too small for the ships that carry most of the cargo today.  President Biden often talks about Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal; he should also recognize Teddy Roosevelt and his contribution to east-west commerce by overseeing the construction of the Panama Canal. 

Putin and Ukraine

Two recent articles on the Foreign Affairs website deal with the question of what Putin plans to do about Ukraine.  Will he invade or not?

I think the first ignores the history of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, while the second tends to downplay the importance of the history.  The second article refers to an essay by Putin on the history of the relationship, calling it “revanchist drivel.” 

There are several matters that may be prompting Putin to threaten to invade Ukraine. 

  • Putin see Ukraine as a historical part of Russia and does not want to see it move further toward the West. He may try to keep it physically under Russian control.   
  • Lukashenko, the Putin-supported president of Belarus is being challenged by a popular movement in Belarus. Putin may fear losing his proxy in Belarus as he did in Ukraine. 
  • Putin’s popularity and support are sinking in Russia as he faces opposition from Navalny and other challengers.  He may think a foreign success will strengthen his support within Russia. 

Ukraine and Russia

For the last thousand years, Ukraine has been an ethnic and geographical region, but not an independent country.  Kiev, founded around 500 A.D., was in many ways the first capital of Russia, before Moscow, founded around 1150, or St. Petersburg (1700). 

In his article, Putin says:

Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes across the vast territory – from Ladoga, Novgorod, and Pskov to Kiev and Chernigov – were bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith. The spiritual choice made by St. Vladimir, who was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kiev, still largely determines our affinity today.

The throne of Kiev held a dominant position in Ancient Rus. This had been the custom since the late 9th century. The Tale of Bygone Years captured for posterity the words of Oleg the Prophet about Kiev, ”Let it be the mother of all Russian cities.“

Over the years, as Russia or Poland became more or less powerful and expanded or contracted, parts of Ukraine became more Russian or more Polish.  The western Polish parts tended to be Roman Catholic, while the eastern Russian parts were Orthodox Catholic.  After World Wars I and II, Ukraine became more fully Russian.  The Russian Communists made the Ukraine SSR one of the Socialist Republics which was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  In 1954, the Crimea region was transferred from the Russian SSR to the Ukrainian SSR, probably to advance the career or Nikita Khrushchev, who was the party official responsible for Ukraine.  Thus, when the USSR disintegrated in 1991, Ukraine, including Crimea, automatically became a separate country for the first time. 

For the first few years of independent Ukraine continued as largely a satellite of the Russian Republic.  In 2004, however, a disputed election resulted in the Ukrainian supreme court overturning the election of Putin’s candidate, Yanukovich.  The opposition to Yanukovich created the Orange Revolution, which brought in opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko as the new president.   Yanukovich, however, returned to power as prime minister in 2006, and after a hiatus, again in 2010. 

Mounting opposition to Yanukovich was expressed in the Euromaidan protests in 2014 resulting in new elections and the election of Petro Poroshenko.  The ousting of Yanukovich, however, prompted Putin to annex Crimea, and return it to Russian rule.  American, Russian, and European political strategists have been involved in the various campaigns for president, including Paul Manafort, who was Donald Trump’s campaign manager for a while.  Manafort worked for the pro-Russian candidates.  In 2019 Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president, replacing Poroshenko.

In addition to annexing Crimea, Putin has used more or less covert military means to bring the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine back into the Russian orbit.  Pro-Russian Ukrainians, supported by covert Russian military, have fought against Ukrainian soldiers.  Reuters reported on November 23 that Russian-controlled forces in Donbas were increasing readiness and hold exercises.   The Atlantic Council reports that on November 15, Putin issued a decree removing trade barriers between Russia and the Donbas region, but not with the pro-Western parts of Ukraine.       

Belarus

Alexander Lukashenko has been Russia’s strongman in Belarus since Belarus became independent in 1994.  He had managed to keep politics relatively quiet until the 2020 election, when protests erupted, somewhat like those in Ukraine in 2004 and 2014. The protests have been led by a blogger, Sergei Tikhanovsky, and presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.  Lukashenko cracked down hard on the protesters with beatings, arrests, and torture.   Lukashenko remains in control, but his 2020 election is not recognized by the UK, the EU, or the US because of election fraud. 

The opposition to Lukashenko, may have Putin worried that he is in danger of losing his man in Minsk, like he lost his man in Kyiv/Kiev.  He may think that some kind of military showing in Ukraine will make the Belarussians think twice about following the Ukrainian example. 

Putin’s Hold on Russia

Putin still has a strong hold on Russia, but opposition to him is growing, or at least becoming more visible.  His poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and the crackdown on the opposition Navalny led indicate that he is worried.  He may think that an exercise showing Russian military strength in Ukraine would help cement his leadership position in Russia.  Putin would see it as a restoration of Russian greatness, and he would expect nationalist Russians to see it that way as well.