Citizens' Issues
Ebola: WHO declares the epidemic as global emergency

US health authorities had admitted that Ebola's spread beyond west Africa was inevitable. Even medical charity Doctors Without Borders had warned that the deadly virus was now "out of control" with more than 60 outbreak hotspots


The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday declared the killer Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of west Africa as an international health emergency and appealed for global aid to help afflicted countries.


The decision after a two-day emergency session behind closed doors in Geneva means global travel restrictions may be put in place to halt its spread as the overall death toll nears 1,000.


The WHO move comes as US health authorities admitted that Ebola's spread beyond west Africa was "inevitable", and after medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that the deadly virus was now "out of control" with more than 60 outbreak hotspots.


WHO director Dr Margaret Chan appealed for greater international aid for the countries worst hit by the outbreak, which she described as the most serious in four decades, echoing an earlier claim by MSF that the "epidemic is unprecedented in terms of geographical distribution, people infected and deaths".


States of emergency were in effect across overwhelmed west African nations, including Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.


Soldiers in Liberia's Grand Cape Mount province - one of the worst-affected areas - set up road blocks to limit travel to the capital Monrovia, as bodies reportedly lay unburied in the city's streets.


Two towns in the east of Sierra Leone, Kailahun and Kenema, where put under quarantine on Thursday, as nightclubs and entertainment venues across the country were ordered shut.


Public sector doctors in Nigeria suspended a month-long strike with fears rising that the virus is taking hold in sub- Saharan Africa's most populous country. The deadly disease has already killed two and infected five others in Lagos.


Ebola has claimed at least 932 lives and infected more than 1,700 people since breaking out in Guinea earlier this year, according to the WHO.


Ebola causes severe fever and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding. It is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, and people who live with or care for patients are most at risk.


First discovered in 1976 and named after a river in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ebola has killed around two-thirds of those infected, with two outbreaks registering fatality rates approaching 90%. The latest outbreak has a fatality rate of around 55%.


There is no specific treatment for the disease; efforts to help persons who are infected include giving either oral rehydration therapy (slightly sweet and salty water to drink) or intravenous fluids. The disease has high mortality rate: often killing between 50% and 90% of those infected with the virus, says Wikipedia.


Can Bitcoins remain unregulated?

While Bitcoin investors have been quick to revolt against regulations, the system reeks of a lack of transparency and Bitcoins have exhibited a characteristic typical of a highly speculative market


Bitcoin is a highly speculative and unregulated virtual instrument, which has been the subject of a global controversy since its genesis. Bitcoin was created by an anonymous hacker to facilitate decentralised online transactions using Bitcoins as a quasi currency.


Transactions in this system are made with no intermediaries, banks or regulatory agencies. Bitcoins are a completely decentralised form of money, which is not regulated or issued by any government. To classify Bitcoins as a virtual currency is wrong. It is an undefined virtual exchange without any economically or empirically sound price discovery mechanism or rationalised process for generation.

Bitcoin has been created by cryptographic software running on a network of volunteers’ computers, making the system both hard to track, and decentralised to operate on exchange platforms set up in various jurisdictions, which results in regulatory issue in regulating of such a currency. Clearly, Bitcoins do not fit the legal definition of “money” that is a medium of exchange authorised or adopted by a domestic or foreign government, whereas there exists no such central authority to govern Bitcoins. The promoters of Bitcoins have naively argued that the decentralised system ensures that there is no control dependence on a particular centre of control. This also ensures that inter-jurisdictional regulation of Bitcoins is impossible.

Bitcoins have a striking and rather ominous similarity to the derivatives, which were designed to challenge the most financially literate investors. Since Bitcoins are neither stable in terms of price, nor underwritten by any government, they fail to serve as a virtual currency. Potential investors in Bitcoins are lured into ‘investing’ in Bitcoins merely by the promise of riding the speculative wave, which has incentivised by the skyrocketing price of Bitcoins.

Although the Bitcoin has been tremendously successful, it has been wildly volatile as the its value is pegged to the whim of investors and can only be assessed by speculation. The market value of the Bitcoin has exhibited a characteristic typical of a highly speculative market, starting with a rapid, parabolic jump to the top, followed by an inevitable crash. Bitcoins have continued to operate solely on the naïve trust of online purchasers who continue to purchase Bitcoins from Bitcoin miners, who generate Bitcoins.

In a press release, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has pointed out glaring issues with the virtual currencies, including Bitcoin and has raised concerns about the potential hazards of trading on an anonymous peer-to-peer basis without an authorised central agency, which regulates such payments.

Market manipulators could potentially inflate prices of the Bitcoin, and then offload their entire holdings, leading to a cataclysmic meltdown. Using a modus operandi similar to that of a Ponzi scheme, market manipulators could allow the Bitcoin bubble to grow till there is a critical mass of investors who have earned from the speculative trade and lure more investors into the scheme. What remains to be seen if the entire system collapses after a massive disposal of Bitcoins.

This concern has been underscored by the bankruptcy of Mt.Gox, the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange in 2013. The implosion was triggered when half a billion dollars worth of Bitcoins ‘disappeared’ triggering a mass withdrawal and raising allegations that the collapse was an orchestrated scheme. The price of Bitcoins on Mt.Gox eventually became completely disengaged from the wider Bitcoin market, and in the days leading to its collapse, the exchange’s total Bitcoin holdings were just at 2,000, while customer deposits totaled 6,24,408.

This highlights the fact that there is no established framework for Bitcoin users and investors to recover their investment in Bitcoins in the event of market manipulation or any economic offense for that matter. In the absence of regulators, the possibility of market rigging and price manipulation is a very real possibility.
This dilution of control has become a critical concern as the decentralisation could lead to serious jurisdictional issues when there is an attempt to regulate the currency is a serious regulatory challenge. The amorphous classification of the Bitcoin also raises concerns as to the actual value of the Bitcoin, which neither has any inherent value nor is it pegged to the value of any underlying asset or commodity.

Regulators around the world, including the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have been grappling with the jurisdictional issues due to the ambiguity of Bitcoins being a currency, a derivative and an investment contract. While Bitcoin investors have been quick to revolt against regulations, the system reeks of a lack of transparency in the asset structure, and any rationalised, empirical basis for the generation or appreciation in the value of the Bitcoin.

A critical issue that continues to plague regulators is this classification of Bitcoins. Since its value is not pegged to any underlying asset, it cannot be classified as a derivative. The incredible part about Bitcoins is that it does not qualify as a fiat currency since there is no central authority that issues Bitcoins. This raises concerns about the sustainability of Bitcoin, but since it is the first decentralised digital currency, perhaps a new regulatory framework needs to be set up to retrospectively regulate such instruments and prevent their misuse.

With the current rhetoric surrounding the legitimacy and classification of Bitcoins it may be prudent to desist from investing in an instrument which has the dubious distinction of being beyond regulatory purview in most countries.


Essential on War for Business: Book Review

Can War Teach Us To Do Business?


Essential on War for Business, edited by Pritsikha Anil and extracted from the writing of the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, offers to bring the “key lessons from the battlefield needed to succeed in the twenty-first-century world of business.” The obvious problems with such books are that business is not war nor any other such epochal activity, business doesn’t have the same implications as war and managers are not generals. We do live in an unprecedented context, never before have businessmen been heroes. Either our definition of, or our expectation from, heroes has degraded.

Shorn of the baggage of Clausewitz’s story, the book may offer some valuable experiential learning for specific situations. Clausewitz’s original work was based on his experiences more than academic assessments, and that delivers some good ideas. For example, “firmness has at its roots the strength of a feeling in relation to the force of a single blow; staunchness in relation to a continuance of blows,” says Clauswitz on the subject of what drives the commander of armies. How would a leader go about sensing morale? The importance of ideology; the question of morality; the question of finding worthy deputies; the importance of knowledge and strategy—these questions have interesting answers in the book.

In Clausewitz’s discussion of the uses and conduct of a war, one can see the clear ideological line that extends up to the catastrophes of the First and Second World Wars. With frequent crises in markets and the tenuous nature of inefficient market environment, vitiated by concentrated power and inherited wealth, an analogy of war for business is probably the last thing we need. 


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