Discovery of Alien DNA Hailed by Scientists, Raises Ethical Concerns

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American scientists have for the first time ever made it possible for an organism to survive with artificial DNA, making it more likely new medicines can be developed, while raising ethical concerns among some advocates.

For researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California the breakthrough, published Wednesday in the Nature science journal, was 15 years in the making.

The announcement is so remarkable because, for billions of years, all life has been made up of DNA subunits categorized by four letters: A, T, C and G. Scientists have now added two new DNA building blocks to E. coli bugs, which then reproduced as normal with the two extra letters in their genetic code.

The research could eventually lead to the production of completely new proteins that could be used either for medicinal purposes or industrial products. It also lends credibility to the theory that life in outer space could exist entirely without the DNA found on Earth.

What we have now is a living cell that literally stores increased genetic information, said Floyd Romesberg, the Scripps chemical biologist who led the study. This shows that other solutions to storing information are possible and of course, takes us closer to an expanded-DNA biology that will have many exciting applications from new medicines to new kinds of nanotechnology.

Romesberg said that because the new building blocks, dubbed X and Y, are infused with simple bacteria they would not constitute a danger if they somehow left the laboratory and were spread among the public. He added that his company, Synthorx, is exploring what possibilities could be in the future for X and Y, especially when they are combined with the thousands of amino acids to develop new vaccines.

This is just a beautiful piece of work, Martin Fussenegger, a synthetic biologist at ETH Zurich, told theGuardian. DNA replication is really the cream of the crop of evolution which operates the same way in all living systems. Seeing that this machinery works with synthetic base pairs is just fascinating.

The optimism was not shared by all. This research could eventually inspire critics to call for increased restrictions on synthetic biology, a field primarily devoted to the design and construction of biological devices for useful purposes.

The arrival of this unprecedented alien life form could in time have far-reaching ethical, legal, and regulatory implications, Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, a Canadian advocacy organization, told theNew York Times. While synthetic biologists invent new ways to monkey with the fundamentals of life, governments havent even been able to cobble together the basics of oversight, assessment or regulation for this surging field.

Opposition has increased as synthetic biology has made progress. The ETC Group, an international organization devoted to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights, has called for a global moratorium on scientific development until the ethical ramifications of synthetic biology can be fully examined.

Romesberg, perhaps not surprisingly, implied this week that such self-imposed restrictions when the fields potential is so exciting.

If you read a book that was written with four letters, youre not going to be able to tell many interesting stories, he said. If youre given more letters, you can invent new words, you can find new ways to use those words and you can probably tell more interesting stories.

Source

Disney World Just Fired 250 Workers. What It Told Them to Do Next Added Insult to Injury

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Walt Disney World just laid off all 250 tech workers who were running the computers in the central nervous system of park operations.

The very next day, Disney hired immigrants brought in on visas to take their place, and required the now-former employees to train their replacements.

As Kyle Plantz of IJR reported:

In October 2014, about 250 employees were laid off and Disney used an outsourcing firm in India to hire immigrants that would work under a temporary visa, known as H-1B, for highly skilled technical workers. Some employees severance checks required they continued doing their job for the next three months as they trained their replacements.

Disney executives claim that the layoffs were part of a reorganization of the company and they opened more positions than it eliminated, the New York Times reported.

One former worker told the Times that young immigrants from India took their place:

The first 30 days was all capturing what I did. The next 30 days, they worked side by side with me, and the last 30 days, they took over my job completely. I had to make sure they were doing my job correctly.

The use of these visas, and whether they complement American workers or displace them, is currently under debate in Congress.

Critics of the visas say that they are being used to bring in immigrants to do work that Americans can do, for less money.

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The Times reports that there are about 85,000 of these visas granted each year and theyre in high demand from technology giants, like Facebook and Google. They also report that tech companies repeatedly seek increases in the annual quota, claiming that there arent enough Americans with the skills they need for their companies.

This isnt the first time that a company has laid off employees and used an outsourcing firm to bring in immigrant replacements:

  • In 2014, Southern California Edison laid off about 540 technology workers and hired two Indian outsourcing firms to get replacements.

  • About 350 tech workers were laid off in 2013 from Northeast Utilities and were replaced by H-1B immigrants. The workers said as part of their severance they had to sign agreements to not criticize the company publicly.

American workers…getting he shaft, once again.

A New, Terrifying Mosquito-Borne Virus Hits the United States

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As if itching and burning werent enough of a reason to keep the bug spray close, a new disease carried by mosquitoes has been identified in the United States and its a real doozy. The chikungunya virus manifests with high fever and intense pain that can last years and there is no treatment. So far only 28 people in the U.S have been afflicted with the disease, but some researchers believe that it is likely to start spreading.

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Chikungunya virus is spread by two mosquitos (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus), both of which are known for being aggressive and for biting even during the day. The disease has been around for centuries but one strain started last fall in the Caribbean and it has been spreading quickly there are now over 103,000 people afflicted by the disease there, according to the CDC. The virus causes fever, pain, joint swelling, headaches and muscle pain and though it isnt fatal, the disease has no cure or treatment and the pain can last anywhere from a week to years.

There havent been any cases of an individual contracting the disease from a mosquito in the U.S. Those who have the disease contracted it while traveling out of the country and have brought it back with them. But now that it is in the country, there is a high risk that it will eventually spread, particularly in Florida where the warm weather allows the mosquito that carry the virus to survive year round. Travelers heading to the Caribbean, South America or Southeast Asia should be cautious to avoid being bitten, and for those in the U.S., screened windows and mosquito repellent are the first guard against the disease.
Via the Washington Post

Rare Amateur 9 11 Footage With Audio Not Shown On TV

In this rare, never released video taken by an amateur filmographer, we see another view of the 9/11 attacks.

There is also audio to this video and you will see and hear things never heard, until now. It brings home the true magnitude of this tragic event.

This footage starts shortly after the planes supposedly hit the buildings.

The filmographer captures all 3 buildings collapse across the Hudson.

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What makes this footage unique is there are no political or whodunit overtones. There are not conspiracies injected into the story. You have a good view with solid audio from a guy standing on a pier surrounded by loved ones trapped in the buildings.

They stop the film now and again to get the thoughts of the filmographer as he was filming. It is heart wrenching to hear the common sense type statements normal people should have been asking themselves and our representatives about this event.

This is a MUST see. It was not aired on any network news program. It contains lots of bomb detonation sounds and smoke..

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NAACP head leads sit-in of Jeff Sessions’ office in protest of his nomination as Attorney General

A statewide demonstration against Alabama Republican and President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General Sen. Jeff Sessions culminated in a sit-in of Sessions’ office Tuesday.

NAACP president Cornell Brooks and the head of the group’s Mobile branch occupied the Alabama senator’s Mobile office and refuse to leave until he withdraws from consideration as Trump’s attorney general or the group gets arrested.

Protests and simultaneous press conferences were held Tuesday at all five of Sessions’ Alabama offices.

In an interview, Brooks encouraged friends and supporter make their opposition known to this nomination by calling their senators and to “also engage in thoughtful civil disobedience.”

“This is not some kind of civic game,” Brooks insisted on the same day more than 1,100 law school professors in 48 states sent a letter urging the Senate to reject Sessions’ nomination.

Sessions, a U.S. attorney in Mobile in the mid-1980s, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to become a federal judge but failed to gain confirmation from Congress in 1986 following public accusations that he had made racist remarks. Former colleagues said he called civil rights groups, including the NAACP, “un-American” and “communist-inspired,” but said he was “okay” with the Ku Klux Klan until he learned that some members smoked marijuana.

The historic civil rights organization argues it now stands in stark opposition to Sessions’ nomination not because of his remarks, but because of his record on a host of civil rights issues.

“As a matter of conscience, the NAACP has chosen not to remain silent on this critical matter,” Birmingham NAACP head Hezekiah Johnson said outside Sessions’ Senate office in the city on Tuesday, AL.com reported.

Citing Sessions’ history of opposing civil rights causes, Johnson said the civil rights organization seeks to focus attention on just what a disaster Sessions would be for civil rights in this nation.

“Our main concern is centered around the reality of voter suppression. We have found no evidence of his ability, past or present, to be impartial and unbiased as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, especially in the areas of civil rights, voting rights and equal protection under the law,” Johnson said of Sessions.

When he was U.S. Attorney in Mobile, Sessions’ office brought indictments over allegations of voter fraud in a number of Black Belt counties, an area in Alabama named for the color of the soil but with a majority black population. Sessions’ office even filed voting fraud charges against a long-time civil rights activist who advised Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and helped lead the “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights in Selma. Three individuals charged with voting fraud by Sessions’ office, known as the Marion Three, were trying to assist poor, elderly and illiterate voters in casting ballots. A judge eventually threw out more than half of the charges brought against the black civil rights activists for lack of evidence before the jury received the case.

“Jeff Sessions was born in the birthplace of the Voting Rights Act, and he of all people — of all people — does not acknowledge the reality of voter suppression, has not demonstrated a commitment to enforcing the Voting Rights Act, and in the wake of the weakening of the Voting Rights Act he said it was a good thing,” Brooks told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Phoning from Sessions’ office on Tuesday, Brooks told CNN that “the NAACP has, in the course of 10 months, has had 10 victories against voter suppression. We do not need an attorney general who is going to be part of the ‘do nothing’ committee.”

Brooks told Salon that the NAACP plans to present Sessions’ abysmal record on voting rights, criminal justice, and immigrant rights to Republican senators in an effort to scuttle his nomination, just as Sessions’ 1986 nomination was blocked by congressional Republicans.

“We are not saying the president isn’t due to his choice,” Brooks made clear. But, he argued to Trump and Republican lawmakers, “your constituents did not elect you to support the expansion of an unconstitutional policy, namely stop-and-frisk.”

Pointing to Texas, Brooks argued that “a lot of red state governors are leading criminal justice reform,” which Sessions has repeatedly criticized. Session opposes the removal of mandatory minimum sentences and blocked efforts to reduce nonviolent drug sentencing.

Sessions “nomination in 1986 looked to be a sure bet,” Brooks noted to Salon, before arguing to Republican lawmakers that”You are not going to lose any votes by standing up and doing what was done in 1986.”

Hearings on Sessions nominations are set to begin next week.

“Don’t count folks out,” Brooks told Salon from Sessions’s office late Tuesday afternoon. He said he and the other protesters expect to be arressted shortly after 5pm when Sessions’ office closes for the day.

Donald Trump simply doesn’t get it: His vast egotism is doing serious damage to America

Having been fully briefed on the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia ran an operation to meddle in America’s presidential election and elevate Donald Trump to the White House, the president-elect and his team spent the weekend doing what Republicans do: blaming Democrats for the whole mess.

Most of Trump’s comments on the matter came from a statement published within minutes of the end of his briefing on Friday and from his Twitter feed, which journalists have taken to monitoring like the Oracle of Delphi since the president-elect refuses to hold press conferences. A stream of whining issued from those two sources on Friday and Saturday, during which Trump managed to do the following:

  1. Accuse the Democratic National Committee of “gross negligence” for allowing itself to be hacked.
  2. Brag (incorrectly, according to the government report released Friday) that the Republican National Committee was not hacked because it had better defenses.
  3. Sneer that Democrats are complaining about hacking because they are embarrassed to have lost the election.
  4. Whine that the unclassified report had been leaked (because of “politics”) to NBC News before he saw it.
  5. Suggest that even if Russia did hack the national committees and other entities during the campaign, the United States will still have a warm relationship with that country moving forward — because what’s a little cyber-warfare and covert influence operations among friends?

Lest anyone need a reminder about the dominant mindset within the incoming administration, Trump surrogates also spent time on TV this weekend repeating the claim that nothing Russia purportedly did in any way help Trump to what his sycophants are still pretending was a historic landslide victory. This classification of his win is total nonsense, of course. Anyone who understands math or how to read a list knows that Trump’s Electoral College “landslide” was anything but.

The Trump team is following a perversion of the dictum laid down by one of former president George W. Bush’s advisers to journalist Ron Suskind in 2002. This adviser, later reported to be Karl Rove, told Suskind that America is an empire and “when we act, we create our own reality.” In the case of Trump, the reality is spun from whatever insecurities and neediness are consuming him at any given moment. There is not necessarily any action driving him to will his own reality into being, just the random effluvia cascading from his mouth, washing Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway onto the set of Sunday morning shows to lie to us.

The problem is that Trump is entirely oblivious to how much his refusal to acknowledge the reality of his narrow win or the ways the alleged Russian hacking might have helped his victory (and no, Donald, we’re not talking about voting machines) serves to delegitimize his administration before he is even sworn in. It looks illegitimate to the country’s electorate, when 3 million more ballots were cast for his opponent than he received. It looks illegitimate to leaders of other nations, who see this buffoon with a cheap spray tan trying to gaslight his own country and can only wonder what that will mean for their interactions with him. It looks illegitimate to the citizens of other nations, who followed America’s election closely and are well aware of the drama and controversy surrounding it.

This undermining of confidence in American leadership, that’s particularly evident within European countries like Germany that have also allegedly had their elections targeted by Russia’s army of hackers and online trolls, is a salve to President Vladimir Putin, who has no interest in real democracy in his nation or in seeing it continue in others. In Trump, Putin faces a president he already knows he can manipulate. Other world leaders will know they cannot look to the United States to enforce the global order that has existed for decades and served as a bulwark against petty tyrants like Putin.

All this history and geopolitics should be bigger than any one person’s ego, even one as massive as Donald Trump’s. But when he waves off any suggestion that he benefitted from Russian help and some of his fans and followers shrug their shoulders, it’s clear to America and the rest of the world that Trump’s ego is the dominant factor at play. That’s a scary reality to contemplate.

DHS to Test Facial Recognition Technology at Hockey Game

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Hockey fans in Washington state will have more to worry about this weekend than avoiding a puck to the face: the Department of Homeland Security will be testing out a new facial recognition system at an arena this Saturday.

The 6,000 seat Toyota Center in Kennewick, Washington will be the site on Saturday for more than just the Tri-City Americans season opener. In addition to hosting a junior ice hockey game, the arena will also facilitate the testing of a DHS program thats raising concerns among privacy advocates.


Homeland Security will have a presence at Saturdays game, but wont be conducting any pat-downs on patrons or even rooting for the home team. Instead, DHS will utilize a sophisticated system of cameras to collect pictures of attendees in real-time from as far away as 100 meters and then match them up with images of faces stored on a database.

The exercise will mark the latest drill for the DHS Biometric Optical Surveillance System, or BOSS, and when its fully operational it could be used to identify a person of interest among a massive crowd in the span of only seconds.

With assistance from researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, DHS will attempt to quickly compare faces caught on camera with the biometric information of 20 volunteers. The other faces in the crowd potentially 5,980 hockey fans will exist as background noise to see how accurate BOSS is when it comes down to locating a person of interest.

This isnt the first time that the DHS and PNNL teamed up with the Toyota Center, but researchers are hoping that this endeavor will be the most successful yet. The New York Times Charlie Savage reported last month that the technology was tested recently at the arena, but the government determined at the time that the product was not ready for a DHS customer. If it succeeds this time around, however, it could open the door for deploying similar systems at international crossings and other hubs across the United States patrolled by DHS.


According to Savage, earlier testing proved unsuccessful because it took operators roughly 30 seconds to identify a person caught on camera with its database of photographic mug shots. Biometric specialists who spoke to the Times told Savage that 30 seconds was far too long to process an image for security purposes, and he reported that, without a lightning-quick turnaround, accuracy numbers would result in the police going out to question too many innocent people.

Of course, the DHS isnt exactly looking for terrorists at Saturdays game in Kennewick, a small city of under 100,000 residents thats roughly 50 miles from Walla Walla, WA. As surveillance camera with similar capabilities are increasingly rolled out in public spaces across America, however, similar technology could soon be implemented by small-town police departments to pick people out of crowds who have been accused of essentially anything.

This technology is always billed as antiterrorism, but then it drifts into other applications, Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center told Savage for last months report. We need a real conversation about whether and how we want this technology to be used, and now is the time for that debate.

In the case of this weekends event in Kennewick, attendees wont necessarily be allowed to debate the use of BOSS, but do have a way out of sorts. Video will reportedly only be recorded in certain corridors, and the PNNL paid for 46 seats in the area where camera-shy patrons can sit in order to avoid being spotted.

If they didnt want to be videotaped, they could very easily not be videotaped, Nick Lombardo, a PNNL project manager, told the Tri-City Herald.

The option to opt-out might not exist in the future, however. VenuWorks Cory Pearson, executive director of the company which operates the arena, told the Herald, I think its in our best interest to help facilitate the development of the technology.

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation hopes that it will have its state-of-the-art Next Generation Identification program rolled out in 2014, which will ideally provide the FBI with a database containing the bio-metric information of millions of Americans. Law enforcement will then be able to use that trove of data to compare persons of interest caught on film with images already used on state drivers licenses and other governmental files.

A lawsuit against the FBI filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation over the NGI program is currently pending. In a complaint filed earlier this year, the EFF wrote that The proposed new system would also allow law enforcement to collect and retain other images (such as those obtained from crime scene security cameras and from family and friends) and would allow submission of civil photographs along with civil fingerprint submissions that were collected for noncriminal purposes.

NGI will result in a massive expansion of government data collection for both criminal and noncriminal purposes, EFF staff attorney Jennifer Lynch said in a statement at the time. Bio-metrics programs present critical threats to civil liberties and privacy. Face-recognition technology is among the most alarming new developments, because Americans cannot easily take precautions against the covert, remote and mass capture of their images.

Source:

RT

Trump’s understaffed Cabinet is being micromanaged by the White House, leading to friction

President Donald Trump’s White House has a strange relationship with the process of hiring staffers. On the one hand, there have been the staffers who, after being hired, had to be dismissed last week for failing background checks on issues like substance abuse and credit scores. Then again the White House has been known to micromanage whom its Cabinet officers choose for their own staffs, according to reports.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was told that he couldn’t choose a deputy who had criticized the president. Robert Harward, Trump’s first choice for national security adviser, turned him down, reportedly because he would not have been allowed to install his own staff without approval from Trump’s advisers.

Even among the staff already installed, infighting is prevalent.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions feuded over Trump’s decision to revoke protections for transgender students in a draft order, according to a New York Times report. Because Trump ultimately sided with Sessions, DeVos was forced to give in since Sessions could not proceed without her cooperation.

Trump has filled less than three dozen of the 550 top Senate-confirmed positions, according to a report by Politico. The reasons for the rejections vary aside from the common theme that their appointments would seem to bruise the president’s ego. A candidate preferred by DeVos was rejected as a result of having previously worked for an organization that had supported policies opposed by Trump.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin currently lacks undersecretaries or assistant secretaries, since his choices were turned down for having been insufficiently supportive of Trump in the past or perceived as too liberal. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson couldn’t appoint Shermichael Singleton to a top position after his past criticism of Trump was discovered.

Van Jones urges Democrats to snap out of centrist trance: “The Clinton days are over”

CNN commentator Van Jones — guesting on “State of the Union” on Sunday — channeled many on the left in denouncing “the Clinton days” of the Democratic Party, which he said were characterized by centrism and unabashed corporatism.

“You have to understand, I think, that the Clinton days are over,” Jones told host Jake Tapper. “This idea that we’re gonna be this moderate party that’s gonna move in this direction, that’s gonna throw blacks under the bus for criminal justice reform or for prison expansion, that’s gonna throw workers under the bus for NAFTA. Those days are over.”

“You can’t run and hide. You’ve got to be an authentic person from the beginning. You’re going to be judged based on your authentic commitment to the actual base of this party. And if you don’t do that, you can’t win.”

Jones said Hillary Clinton misread the room when she chose Tim Kaine as her running mate instead of someone from the “progressive wing” of the party, “which made it much harder to heal those wounds with the [Bernie] Sanders and Elizabeth Warren wing.”

He said Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison — a frontrunner, alongside current Labor Secretary Tom Perez, in the race for chairman of the Democratic National Committee — “represents that wing very, very well.”

Watch below: