Saturday, September 20, 2014

Returning to a Cold War State

Last school year, while the situation between Russia and Ukraine worsened, a Russian fighter plane made multiple low passes at a U.S. Ship. That same day, in my history class, I remarked to my history teacher that it seemed as though we were returning to a Cold War State. Now, it is becoming very clear that we are going down that path.
After Russia annexed Crimea, the U.S. and European Union began sanctioning Russia. The U.S. and EU banned exports from specific Russian businesses and also banned some oil industry technology from being exported.  Putin's response was to ban imports from countries that had sanctioned Russia. These sanctions made me think that if things continued to escalate, the "Iron Curtain" could once again be drawn over Eastern Europe.

Yesterday Putin released a statement that threatened to "unplug Russia from the internet" or basically censor Russia's internet usage.

Vladimir Putin seems like a Soviet Union type of leader; he rules with an iron fist. I feel as though he is trying to bring back the Soviet Union. When Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the Soviet Union, he instituted a concept called glasnost, or "openness" of the media. This concept was seen as one of the factors that led to the collapse of the USSR. Now, Vladimir Putin wants to get rid of the internet in Russia. Coincidence? No, I think Putin knows what he is doing. He knows that the internet is one of the last instances of openness in Russia and he is trying to get rid of the so-called glasnost.

Having been to Communist China, I have experience with internet censorship. As soon as I stepped foot in China, I was cut off from the west through heavy internet censorship. There was no way to communicate with anyone in America from China.
By censoring the internet in Russia, Putin is trying to get rid of western influence and subject his citizens only to pro-Russian propaganda. That kind of censorship could bring the polarization between the East and West to a new height.

But that was not the only incident in recent news. A squadron of six Russian planes were intercepted by US jets in international airspace roaming off the coast of Alaska. Another pair of Russian bombers were intercepted by Canadian airplanes as they approached Canada. These nervous incidents have increased in number recently. In fact, the same day (September 19) Russian planes were also intercepted by RAF pilots near the UK. Even more alarming is that these infringements of international airspace are actually routine in the UK. In the last three years there have been 27 incidents in international airspace between Russia and the UK alone. With each incident I gain more confidence that we are returning to a Cold War state; the world is becoming polarized again.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Colleges force Student Debt

Did you know that student debt has reached a collective 1 trillion dollars? Well, its true, according to an episode of the HBO show "Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver", a mock news show similar to a "Colbert Report" or a "Daily Show". I double checked the information on the show by reading a Forbes article about student debt and it turns out the student debt has crossed 1 trillion dollars already. The average debt per student is about $26,000. That's ludicrous! How is it that almost 6 percent of the nation's debt comes from student loans? Are colleges raising their tuition that high? Or are students just making bad decisions and taking out huge loans? I believe that students are making bad decisions by taking student loans and those loans just increase the debt exponentially.

In a shocking revelation made by Oliver on his show, the reason for much of this debt is for-profit colleges. These colleges are "publicly traded on Wall-Street" and are run like businesses. According to Oliver, they cost 5 times the amount of a community college and much of their budget is spent on advertising. Now do you know what colleges I'm talking about? I'm talking about schools like University of Phoenix and ITT Tech. The show says that these colleges prey on lower class students and attempt to "hit their pain points". Yup, their "pain points". The college recruiters tell the students that if they want to do something with their life they should go to college. This forces them to take out loans to go to the school. 
This is one of the worst things I have heard of in a while. These colleges are essentially forcing students into debt because Oliver exposed the fact that in 2012, 75% of engineering students did not graduate and only 13 found jobs in their field. That means that the students would have to take a loan and then they would not be able to repay it for many years because they can't even find a job with the education they got.

That is why you shouldn't go to one of these for-profit schools. They spend twice as much money on advertising than paying their teacher's salaries. The recruiters basically coerce students into debt, and the success rate of getting a job through their education is very poor. And just on a general note, don't take out student loans, whatever you do, don't. Loans were invented by banks as a way to make money. Why would the bank lend you money if they didn't get a net return? The whole point of a loan is so that you will go into debt and the interest rates will compound yearly and just raise the debt while you are in school. Student loans are actually one of the few exceptions when declaring bankruptcy, so in other words it will never go away unless you pay it off. Most likely you will spend a large portion of the years after college in debt, which is very stressful. The only exception to this is if you get into an absolute top class school or your dream school, but other than that, its definitely not a good idea to take out a student loan. 

And finally, you're probably wondering why the hilarious and informative Jon Oliver show is referenced so often. You probably think that this blog was just some kind of Native Advertising, but it's not. This show is one of my only news sources and I think it is the best fake news out there. Bottom line, if you want news and a laugh, check out his show.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ebola Serum Untested; Should We Use the Drug on People?

I'm sure you've all been following the events in West Africa involving a recent outbreak of the virulent Ebola virus. If you have, skip to the third paragraph. If you haven't been following, I'll give you a synopsis; in the last few months the seemingly incurable Ebola virus has been spreading through West Africa. It started with a person in Guinea and it infected people in close contact with him and then infected people in close contact with those people and so on. This caused it to spread exponentially. The virus transmits by touch or through contact with bodily fluids. The virus has no cure and no vaccine, so the main way to stop an outbreak of Ebola is stringent quarantine measures to make sure no new people get infected.

But recently companies have been developing Ebola serums. The main Ebola drug that is going to be used is called Zmapp. Zmapp consists of antibodies that are produced in Ebola infected mice. This drug has been tested on Rhesus monkeys, but not on humans. In the experiment published by the biotech company Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., all of the monkeys that were given the drug were cured of the Ebola virus. The monkeys were all infected and then given the drug in time increments. Some of the monkeys in the control group weren't given the drug at all, so unfortunately those monkeys died of Ebola. So now you're probably thinking, "that's a bit cruel to purposely infect monkeys with Ebola and then just let them die", but the reality is that these monkeys were needed to advance science and prevent the deaths of thousands of humans, so we can overlook the ethics in this case.

The first people to be given this experimental drug were two Liberian health workers and a Spanish priest, Dr. Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol, and Miguel Pajares. The two health workers survived while the Miguel Pajares died. Keep in mind there is a very limited supply of this drug.

But, the fact that the drug worked has been overlooked and instead a much greater controversy has been generated.

These three people were white; two of them were westerners. When people in Africa heard about this, they were outraged. The question, "Why don't Africans get this treatment?" was brought up many times. This is a very profound question that really made me think. Many people in Africa are claiming that white people get higher priority treatment and that there is favoritism going on here.

When I first read about this, I also thought that there must be some sort of favoritism by only giving three white people the drug. But, after hearing the other side of the argument, I'm not quite so sure. The World Health Organization has said that it is unethical to test a drug that has not been tested on humans before on a large population.  The WHO has been debating these topics with many ethics professors. One ethics professor said that they had to test it on their own doctors first before they could move to the population. He thought of it this way; one headline could be "Three White Ebola patients given Ebola Drug", or, if the drug was given directly to the African people, then the other headline would be "Untested Ebola Drug Experimented on Africans". Either way there are going to be some people that can portray the situation in a bad light. If the drugs were tested on the population first, then people would be angry about being tested on like lab rats.

I agree with WHO that you have to test the drug on humans before you can test a population. It would be unethical to experiment on the population without knowing the side effects. But, shouldn't you do everything you can to save the patients from this deadly virus? If you were a patient with Ebola, wouldn't you go to any measure to give yourself a chance of survival? That is why I think you should be able to receive the drug if you are told that it hasn't been tested and that you can take it at your own risk. This virus has such a high mortality rate, almost ninety percent! I know that if I were in their position I would take any drug if it at least gave me hope. After hearing what the WHO had to say, there is probably no racial favoritism to who receives the drug, but I understand what all of those people are angry about; everyone should be given a chance, not just the doctors.

I think the real favoritism here is the doctors over the patients. They would rather save the doctors from Ebola than the citizens. Is that right? No, it I don't think so. While doctors are important, the citizens are just as important. Even though doctors would be able to save more people if they survived, everyone should get an equal chance.

We're talking about mortality here, life and death. When facing death, everyone realizes what it means to be human. When you are looking death in the eye, you don't think about how important you are, you just want to stay alive.

Actually, I am not so sure about whether doctors should get priority because of the ethics of it. Would you rather save the doctors out of the intial group of patients and have those other patients die, but then be able to save many more patients later because you saved the doctor? OR Would you save as many people as possible without trying to save the doctors so that they might get saved just as frequently as the citizens? In the first case 80% of the people would be saved because you saved the doctors, but those other 20% you let die in the beginning. In the second case 60 percent of the people survive because you are trying to save everyone equally and some of the doctors are dying so less people are getting saved.  Which would you choose?