Nanotechnology Advance Will Enable Cell-Based Drug Delivery in the Future

Nanotechnology will yield some of the biggest advances in medicine for the 21st century. It doesn’t receive as much attention as it should now — judging by the lack of press coverage and the lack of preemptive regulatory safeguards — but it will join the ranks of technology such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and quantum computers in its impact on society.

Scientists have invented a major new advance in DNA nanotechnology. Dubbed ‘single-stranded origami,’ their new strategy uses one long, thin noodle-like strand of DNA, or its chemical cousin RNA, that can self-fold — without even a single knot — into the largest, most complex structures to date. The strands forming these structures can be made inside living cells, opening up the potential for nanomedicine.

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This burgeoning field is called DNA origami. Scientist borrowed its moniker from the paper artists who conjure up birds, flowers and planes from imaginatively folding a single sheet of paper.

Similarly, DNA origami scientists are dreaming up a variety of shapes — at a scale one thousand times smaller than a human hair — that they hope will one day revolutionize computing, electronics and medicine.

Now, a team of Arizona State and Harvard scientists has invented a major new advance in DNA nanotechnology. Dubbed “single-stranded origami,” their new strategy uses one long, thin noodle-like strand of DNA, or its chemical cousin RNA, that can self-fold — -without even a single knot — into the largest, most complex structures to date.

FCC Votes to Dismantle Net Neutrality

Despite the immense supermajority public support for net neutrality, the U.S. Congress under Republican control doesn’t look like it will reverse the FCC’s decision either. Giving ISPs power to slow, block, and charge more for select Internet services is really going to enrage a lot of people in the coming months, and this will hopefully damage congressional Republican chances in 2018.

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to dismantle rules regulating the businesses that connect consumers to the internet, granting broadband companies the power to potentially reshape Americans’ online experiences.

The agency scrapped the so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. The federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone service.

The action reversed the agency’s 2015 decision, during the Obama administration, to have stronger oversight over broadband providers as Americans have migrated to the internet for most communications. It reflected the view of the Trump administration and the new F.C.C. chairman that unregulated business will eventually yield innovation and help the economy.

It will take weeks for the repeal to go into effect, so consumers will not see any of the potential changes right away. But the political and legal fight started immediately. Numerous Democrats on Capitol Hill called for a bill that would reestablish the rules, and several Democratic state attorneys general, including Eric T. Schneiderman of New York, said they would file a suit to stop the change.

Several public interest groups including Public Knowledge and the National Hispanic Media Coalition also promised to file a suit. The Internet Association, the trade group that represents big tech firms such as Google and Facebook, said it also was considering legal action.

U.S. Net Neutrality May be Dismantled Tomorrow

It will justifiably cause massive protests if the FCC actually dismantles net neutrality.

Despite new polling that shows more than 80 percent of Americans oppose Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to repeal net neutrality protections for the internet—which has provoked months of national protests—the FCC is disregarding that concern and will carry out its scheduled vote on the proposal Thursday.

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Ultimately, 83 percent of registered voters—75 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Democrats, and 86 percent of Independents—said they oppose Pai’s plan to allow service providers to control download speeds, limit or block access to certain websites, and charge consumers extra fees for broader access.

“A decision to repeal net neutrality would be tacking against strong headwinds of public opinion blowing in the opposite direction,” said Steven Kull, who directs the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, which conducted the poll.

Responding to concerns over the proposed rollback, members of Congress on Wednesday condemned the plan and numerous lawmakers, from both major parties, have joined calls on Pai to delay the vote or abandon the effort completely.

“Repealing net neutrality rules will benefit just a few powerful corporations—and it will do so at the expense of small businesses, consumers, and hardworking Americans, whose persistent and passionate voices on this issue have been completely ignored by the FCC’s Republican majority,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said on the floor of the Senate this week. “This is not about partisanship. Republicans and Democrats alike benefit from the power of an open Internet, and equally stand to be harmed if the rules of the road ensuring its openness go away.”

The widespread opposition is visible online and in the streets, as a massive mobilization against the upcoming vote continues across the web and with hundreds expected to turn out on Thursday morning for a demonstration at FCC headquarters.

The Net Neutrality Wake-Up Call Rally—as Thursday’s protest is being called—is hosted by Voices for Internet Freedom, a coalition that focuses on the digital rights of communities of color and includes Color Of Change, Free Press Action Fund, 18 Million Rising, the Center for Media Justice, and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

The rally will feature speakers from some of those organizations as well as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

“Nationwide voters are rising up against the unjust, immoral, and unseemly role of corporate money in our political system. They are sick and tired of the naked pay-to-play corporatism on display in tomorrow’s vote,” said Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner who now serves as a special adviser to Common Cause.

Copps warned that with the vote, the internet could become “a shadowy world of monopoly, commercialism, and conspiracy in restraint of democracy that totally subverts the promise of what might have been.”

“There is still time to pull back from the precipice but unfortunately it is hard to imagine Ajit Pai reversing course and voting in the public’s interest on net neutrality. The will of the American people has been ignored to date for the benefit of deep-pocketed special interests,” Copps concluded, alluding to Pai’s ties to companies that stand to benefit from his proposals—from his “massive handout” to Sinclair Broadcast Group by rolling back media ownership rules to appeasing Verizon by dismantling net neutrality.

Google Collecting the Location of Android Users Even When Location Services are Disabled

Google’s latest disrespect for personal privacy follows their censorship of many left-wing media outlets. Google has cooperated too much (see the U.S. PRISM program) with various governments in providing information on innocent people in the past, and it would be unwise to always expect them to do the same in the future.

Many people realize that smartphones track their locations. But what if you actively turn off location services, haven’t used any apps, and haven’t even inserted a carrier SIM card?

Even if you take all of those precautions, phones running Android software gather data about your location and send it back to Google when they’re connected to the internet, a Quartz investigation has revealed.

Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers—even when location services are disabled—and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.

Quartz observed the data collection occur and contacted Google, which confirmed the practice.

The cell tower addresses have been included in information sent to the system Google uses to manage push notifications and messages on Android phones for the past 11 months, according to a Google spokesperson. They were never used or stored, the spokesperson said, and the company is now taking steps to end the practice after being contacted by Quartz. By the end of November, the company said, Android phones will no longer send cell-tower location data to Google, at least as part of this particular service, which consumers cannot disable.

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The practice is troubling for people who’d prefer they weren’t tracked, especially for those such as law-enforcement officials or victims of domestic abuse who turn off location services thinking they’re fully concealing their whereabouts. Although the data sent to Google is encrypted, it could potentially be sent to a third party if the phone had been compromised with spyware or other methods of hacking. Each phone has a unique ID number, with which the location data can be associated.

The revelation comes as Google and other internet companies are under fire from lawmakers and regulators, including for the extent to which they vacuum up data about users. Such personal data, ranging from users’ political views to their purchase histories to their locations, are foundational to the business successes of companies like Facebook and Alphabet, built on targeted advertising and personalization and together valued at over $1.2 trillion by investors.

Artificial Sweeteners Harmful to Metabolism and Stimulate Fat Growth, Study Finds

Reducing sugar intake in general is probably a good idea. Artificial sweeteners haven’t received enough scrutiny though.

Artificial sweeteners have an effect on the body’s metabolism and can lead to excessive fat accumulation in people, especially those who are already obese, according to a recent study.

Dr. Sabyasachi Sen, an associate professor of medicine and endocrinology at George Washington University, led the study, explaining in a press release by the Endocrine Society that while many people rely on these artificial sweeteners as a low-calorie alternative to natural sweeteners, “there is increasing scientific evidence that these sweeteners promote metabolic dysfunction.”

Sen and his colleagues tested the popular low-calorie sweetener sucralose on stem cells taken from human fat cells. They placed these cells in Petri dishes for 12 days, adding 0.2 millimolars of sucralose. The dosage is based on the concentration of sucralose in the bloodstreams of people with high consumption levels of the artificial sweetener — about four cans of diet soda per day.

The researchers observed increased expression of genes that produce fat and inflammation. They also saw an increased accumulation of fat droplets in the cells, especially when they increased the concentration of sucralose.

The Republican Congress’s Massive Tax Scam

The Republican Congress is trying to ram through legislation that benefits the rich at the expense of some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. It is clearly the single most blatant giveaway to the wealthy and large corporations that has occurred in a long time. It is legislation so reprehensible that it can have a stunning effect on those already struggling to deal with so much suffering.

The way to approach detailed analysis of this type of political atrocity is to systematically break it down, so as to prevent it from be too overwhelming to look at. A first note is to observe that there was a House of Representatives version and a Senate version, both of which manage to be uniquely horrifying by having different cruel provisions.

In both versions however, the repeal of the estate tax is a big example of a handout to the richest people in the country. The estate tax only affects two tenths of one percent of the population — in other worlds, only an extremely small minority of people pay the estate tax. The idea that small family farmers pay it is a myth. The exemptions are also large — $11 million for a couple and $5 million per person — is currently allowed to be exempted, and the majority of the richest people in the U.S. are already married.

Another part of the estate tax’s relevance is that it provides an incentive for rich people to do something with their money, as there will be a fair number of people who would rather decide themselves what to do with their money than have the government decide after their deaths. The foundations and organizations rich people create are not always beneficial to the general public, but there are times when they are, and it would be a shame for that to be replaced by rich people letting even higher amounts of cash sit idle.

Use of the phrase “death tax” constitutes a propaganda term designed to provide a negative connotation to taxing extreme wealth. The alternative to saying that is to call it a Billionaire’s Tax, which in large part is what it actually is.

In any case, a lot of rich people are able to escape the estate tax through the loophole-ridden U.S. tax code anyway. That’s an argument for improving it instead of eliminating it, however. The estate tax brings in an estimated $20 billion a year, which – while not the biggest sum of money in the federal budget – still adds up to $200 billion (twice the Department of Education’s annual budget) at today’s rate over the next decade. With literally trillions of dollars worth of wealth about to be inherited over the next several decades, that number should increase substantially though.

There is also the desire to prevent an oligarchic form of society dominated by inherited wealth. The U.S. was formed in part due to revolts against the unjust control exerted by the British monarchy, which of course provides a similarly parallel example of too much inherited power. The U.S. is already either an oligarchic society or as close to being one as possible, with even elite academic research out of Princeton effectively verifying this. A small number of billionaires already exert tremendous control over various aspects of American society, and removing the estate tax will itself make that dynamic even more difficult to change.

The top 1 percent already control more wealth (at about 40 percent of the U.S. total) than the bottom 95 percent of the U.S. population. In particular, the top 0.1 percent now have the same wealth as the bottom 90 percent of the U.S. population. Income inequality also feeds into the notion of an economic oligarchy, with the top 1 percent – the richest 3 million people in a country of 330 million – receiving over 20 percent of all income. This top 1 percent – and it really is a story of the top 1 percent, as the data shows and as Occupy Wall Street accurately described – receives about half of all new income too, which shows who the economic system is primarily working to advance is.

These are levels of American economic inequality that haven’t been seen since the later part of the 1920s, and – remembering the disastrous Great Depression that followed – they are not levels that should be still here, much less be made worse.

Furthermore, the tax scheme’s deductions basically amount to a smokescreen and a talking point for puppets of the plutocratic class (Republicans in Congress advocating the tax scam) to try to convince the middle and working class that the legislation is in their interests. We could run through the deduction numbers of why the Republican Congress is again dedicating itself to serving the interests of extreme concentrated wealth at length, but the rest of the legislation alone should provide ample evidence to whom the tax scheme was actually designed for.

In a few points, raising the deductions loses relevance when the taxes on the middle class are also being raised. The added deductions therefore aren’t enough to make much – if any – of a positive difference for the middle class and poor. The Republican officials are simply trying to appeal to the middle class using baseless rhetoric because their actual economic policies cannot win enough votes.

The repeal of the individual mandate would lead to an estimated 13 million people losing their health insurance, which would also lead to increased healthcare costs via higher premiums for many people. The individual mandate is an unfortunate necessity because it has stabilizing effects on the largely mediocre, bureaucratic, and inefficient U.S. healthcare system. Millions less people without health insurance could quite likely mean that the rich are allowed to keep more money while the healthcare system is destabilized, but it isn’t entirely clear why this repeal was included in the tax scheme. It’s probably multiple nefarious reasons though.

Lowering the corporate income tax is another significant element. The U.S. may have among the highest statutory corporate tax rates at 35 percent, which is something of a memento of what it was during the generally better economic days of the mid-20th century’s golden era of regulated capitalism, but the U.S. has plenty of deductions that make the actual rate a lot lower. The effective corporate tax rate in the U.S. is actually somewhere around 17 percent on average, which puts the country towards the lower end of the OECD corporate tax spectrum. Lowering the corporate tax rate to 20 percent will probably mean loopholes in the tax code will drive that effective rate down to even lower levels, which would them force more of the general public to pay higher expenses for important government programs.

Lowering the tax rates of income from pass-through corporations is another giveaway to rich people. Using pass-through corporations would allow rich people to lower their income taxes through passing their income through those specific corporations. That would provide an incentive to use pass-through corporations that has no rational economic justification, but this is largely designed for the crony currently sitting in the White House.

Bringing back the estimated $2.6 trillion in corporate profits overseas to be taxed at a low rate is the definition of corporate welfare. Instead of being punished for immorally exploiting the loophole in the tax code, the repatriation of these huge corporate profits rewards corporate misbehavior. This experiment of lowering the corporate tax rate has already been done before, and it’s already been shown as a failure for boosting investment. Higher corporate profits have no correlation with increased investment historically. The Republican Congress is evidently willing to substantially raise taxes on struggling graduate students instead of large corporations anyway though.

Overall, it’s daunting that there’s actually a tax plan being pushed that would give even more money to the rich when they’ve done enormously well over the last four decades of upwards redistribution. The estimates are now that the top 1 percent would be gaining 75 percent of the benefits by the time the tax scheme is fully phased in by 2027. That’s class warfare in a nutshell, and robust public interest organization is the only mechanism that will reverse it.

World Bank Plans to Drastically Cut Funding of Fossil Fuels

This follows various divestments that have happened recently, but there’s still much more that needs to be done to prevent an environmental catastrophe via climate change.

As world leaders convene at the One Planet Summit on the second anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, environmental advocates are cautiously celebrating the “historic announcement” by the World Bank on Tuesday that it will stop funding oil and gas exploration and production projects after 2019.

Though 350.org responded to the news by saying “more still needs to be done” to curb funding for fossil fuel projects, Oil Change International (OCI) executive director Stephen Kretzmann said, “It is hard to overstate the significance of this historic announcement.”

“Environmental, human rights, and development campaigners have been amplifying the voices of frontline communities for decades in calling for an end to World Bank financing of upstream oil and gas projects,” Kretzmann explained. “Today the World Bank has raised the bar for climate leadership.”