Law and Legal
Via FAS: The Special Counsel Investigation After the Attorney General’s Resignation, CRS Legal Sidebar, January 2, 2019 : “Recent Department of Justice (DOJ) leadership changes have raised questions about their impact on the special counsel investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and related matters. Who will oversee the investigation? How do personnel changes affect the investigation? What are Congress’s possible roles in this matter? Before his resignation, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the inquiry with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein serving as Acting Attorney General for the investigation. With President Trump’s designation of Matthew G. Whitaker as Acting Attorney General pending Senate consideration of his nominee for Attorney General, supervision of the special counsel investigation may change in the coming months, possibly impacting ongoing litigation regarding the special counsel’s authority. This Sidebar examines how DOJ leadership changes may interplay with the special counsel investigation.”
Washington Post: “Over two years, the Trump administration has dealt blow after blow to government employees — budget cuts, hiring freezes, inept Cabinet secretaries and, for some, open hostility to their fundamental mission. President Trump promised to shake up Washington, and he has. But the country’s 2 million federal workers have mostly soldiered on, believing in the value of their work even if they question decisions coming out of the White House. Until now. In what some see as the ultimate insult, almost half of them were told to stay home. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect any dollars. Randy Erwin, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, says many of his members and their departments have been undermined since Trump took office. “A lot of these agencies have been starved for resources, which has made carrying out the mission difficult,” he explains. “With this shutdown, the mission has gone from difficult to impossible.” We talked to six of these workers, some of whom requested anonymity to protect their jobs. They told us about their sleepless nights, creeping anxieties and financial distress. All of it an affront, they said, the nadir of indignation wrought by two years of government work under Trump…”
- See also via Buzzfeed News – Federal Workers Are Saying They Still Believe In Government Service Even Though Shutdowns Keep Happening
- and the New York Times – It’s Payday for Many Federal Workers. One Problem: There’s No Paycheck.
Reveal – Elizabeth Shogren: “Backing away from attempts at censorship, the National Park Service today released a report charting the risks to national parks from sea level rise and storms. Drafts of the report obtained earlier this year by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting showed park service officials had deleted every mention of humans causing climate change. But the long-delayed report, published today without fanfare on the agency’s website, restored those references. The scientific report is designed to help 118 coastal parks plan for protecting natural resources and historic treasures from the changing climate. Maria Caffrey, the study’s lead scientist, said she was “extremely happy” that it was released intact. “The fight probably destroyed my career with the (National Park Service), but it will be worth it if we can uphold the truth and ensure that scientific integrity of other scientists won’t be challenged so easily in the future,” said Caffrey, a University of Colorado research assistant who had worked on the report for five years….”
Also via Reveal – Elizabeth Shogren’s podcast, Silencing Science: “President Donald Trump says he doubts humans have much of a role in climate change. His administration has downplayed the science of climate change and sought to silence scientists working for the federal government. In this hour, Reveal’s Elizabeth Shogren details the pressures one researcher faced as she worked on a project for the National Park Service…” [h/t Mary Whisner]
The Atlantic – From seizing control of the internet to declaring martial law, President Trump may legally do all kinds of extraordinary things: “…It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check. But will they? Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest. This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down…”
- See also the Washington Post – Trump aides lay foundation for emergency order to build wall, saying border is in ‘crisis’ “Vexed by Democrats’ refusal to yield to his demand for $5.7 billion for wall funding, the president increasingly views a national emergency declaration as a viable, if risky, way for him to build a portion of his long-promised barrier, according to senior administration officials…”
“Washington, D.C., January 7, 2019 – Choice Magazine, the publishing arm of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), has named the Digital National Security Archive an “Outstanding Academic Title” for 2018. The annual award goes to publications deemed especially worthy of attention from academic librarians seeking to build research collections. The Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) is the Archive’s flagship publication series featuring declassified documents obtained through in-depth archival research and targeted requests under the Freedom of Information Act. It was launched in 1989 and includes 54 collections as of the end of 2018. It is published by the academic publisher ProQuest. Curated by foreign policy specialists with guidance from former officials and top academic experts, the materials are indexed by librarians using extensive item-level metadata and an in-house database of over 100,000 controlled authority terms…”
London School of Economics US Centre’s daily blog on American Politics and Policy – “Many or even most conspiracy theories are demonstrably false. But some, like Watergate, are true. How can we determine which are which? Drawing on his own experiences with conspiracy theorists, Stephan Lewandowsky writes that conspiratorial thinking is not necessarily truth-seeking behavior, but can often be a near-self destructive form of skepticism. We can use this skepticism, along with conspiracists’ tendency towards pattern-seeking and self-sealing reasoning, to flush out which are false, and which might be true after all.
- This article is part of our series based on the new book, Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them edited by Joseph E. Uscinski.
9/11 was a false flag operation planned by the US government. That same government sold weapons to Iran in order to fund Central American terrorists, and also created AIDS to exterminate gay people, and the CIA organized a fake vaccination drive in Afghanistan to get Osama bin Laden’s family DNA.
There is no doubt that two of those conspiracies actually happened and were hushed up by the conspirators, whereas the other two are widely dismissed as fantastical conspiracy theories. This is the long-standing dilemma confronting philosophers: conspiracies do occur and they can seem quite outlandish and unexpected once publically revealed—who would have thought that Oliver North would sell arms to Iran from the basement of the White House and launder the money to supply arms to Nicaraguan rebels in contravention of explicit legal prohibitions. But by the same token, most conspiracy theories are bunkum—we can be quite certain that the US Government did not create AIDS or fly airliners into the Twin Towers.
What are the differences between conspiracy theories that are almost certainly false and the evidence for actual conspiracies? This is a non-trivial philosophical challenge, but it is an important one to sort out, given that the mere exposure to conspiracy theories can undermine people’s trust in government services and institutions. Conspiracy theories are not harmless fun, especially if they lead people to refuse life-saving vaccination or to fire an assault rifle in a pizza restaurant in Washington….”
Financial Technology: Agencies Should Provide Clarification on Lenders’ Use of Alternative Data, GAO-19-111: Published: Dec 19, 2018. Publicly Released: Dec 19, 2018.
“Financial technology—or “fintech”—can help connect lenders and borrowers online. Some fintech lenders told us that they use alternative data to help determine borrowers’ creditworthiness. For example, lenders may supplement traditional data (such as credit scores) with information about a borrower’s college degree. Using alternative data could make loans available to more people, but could also have unintended effects. Fintech lenders may not know how to use the data and still comply with fair lending laws. We recommended that the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection communicate with lenders about how to use alternative data…”
Dædalus – American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Winter 2019. Access to Justice. Featured Essays Winter 2019:
- Access to What? Rebecca L. Sandefur – “The access-to-justice crisis is bigger than law and lawyers. It is a crisis of exclusion and inequality. Today, access to justice is restricted: only some people, and only some kinds of justice problems, receive lawful resolution. Access is also systematically unequal: some groups – wealthy people and white people, for example – get more access than other groups, like poor people and racial minorities. Traditionally, lawyers and judges call this a “crisis of unmet legal need.” It is not. Justice is about just resolution, not legal services. Resolving justice problems lawfully does not always require lawyers’ assistance, as a growing body of evidence shows. Because the problem is unresolved justice issues, there is a wider range of options. Solutions to the access-to-justice crisis require a new understanding of the problem. It must guide a quest for just resolutions shaped by lawyers working with problem-solvers in other disciplines and with other members of the American public whom the justice system is meant to serve.”
- Why Big Business Should Support Legal Aid Kenneth C. Frazier: “Corporations are part of the fabric of society. As members of American society – often, very powerful and influential ones – corporations have a deep interest in the health of the nation’s democracy, a mainstay of which is the system of justice writ large. The concept of justice for all is so important to this democracy that the founders placed it in the Constitution’s first line. But the system is not perfect. Attaining equal justice for all citizens and governing by the rule of law too often are merely aspirations. Corporations have a stake in ensuring that their disputes with others are resolved fairly, in a legal system that is viewed as treating all litigants equally under the law, regardless of size, wealth, or power. Corporate engagement in strengthening legal services in the United States is, in this way, an expression of corporate self-interest.”
- The Twilight Zone Nathan Hecht: “…Much work is being done to improve access to justice. Lawyers, in a proud tradition of their profession, represent needy clients without charge – pro bono publico – for the public good. The Texas Bar Association estimated that lawyers in the state, where I am a judge, donate more than two million hours annually, conservatively worth half a billion dollars. Legal aid provides basic civil legal services free of cost to the poor and economically struggling: that is, people whose income is usually no more than 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines (in 2018, $15,175 for a single person). Funding comes from Congress through the federal Legal Services Corporation, sometimes from state appropriations and other public sources, and sometimes from bar associations and private contributions…”
EveryCRSReport.com – Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress, December 13, 2018: “The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region. Record low extents of Arctic sea ice over the past decade have focused scientific and policy attention on links to global climate change and projected ice-free seasons in the Arctic within decades. These changes have potential consequences for weather in the United States, access to mineral and biological resources in the Arctic, the economies and cultures of peoples in the region, and national security.
The five Arctic coastal states—the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (of which Greenland is a territory)—have made or are in the process of preparing submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf regarding the outer limits of their extended continental shelves. The Russian submission includes the underwater Lomonosov Ridge, a feature that spans a considerable distance across the center of the Arctic Ocean. The diminishment of Arctic ice could lead in coming years to increased commercial shipping on two trans-Arctic sea routes—the Northern Sea Route close to Russia, and the Northwest Passage—though the rate of increase in the use of these routes might not be as great as sometimes anticipated in press accounts. International guidelines for ships operating in Arctic waters have been recently updated. Changes to the Arctic brought about by warming temperatures will likely allow more exploration for oil, gas, and minerals. Warming that causes permafrost to melt could pose challenges to onshore exploration activities. Increased oil and gas exploration and tourism (cruise ships) in the Arctic increase the risk of pollution in the region. Cleaning up oil spills in ice-covered waters will be more difficult than in other areas, primarily because effective strategies for cleaning up oil spills in ice-covered waters have yet to be developed. Large commercial fisheries exist in the Arctic. The United States is currently meeting with other countries regarding the management of Arctic fish stocks. Changes in the Arctic could affect threatened and endangered species, and could result in migration of fish stocks to new waters. Under the Endangered Species Act, the polar bear was listed as threatened on May 15, 2008. Arctic climate change is also expected to affect the economies, health, and cultures of Arctic indigenous peoples. Two of the Coast Guard’s three polar icebreakers—Polar Star and Polar Sea—have exceeded their intended 30-year service lives, and Polar Sea is not operational. The Coast Guard has initiated a project to build up to three new heavy polar icebreakers. On May 12, 2011, representatives from the member states of the Arctic Council signed an agreement on cooperation on search and rescue in the Arctic…”
EveryCRSReport.com – The Legislative Process on the House Floor: An Introduction, December 13, 2018. “The daily order of business on the floor of the House of Representatives is governed by standing rules that make certain matters and actions privileged for consideration. On a day-to-day basis, however, the House usually decides to grant individual bills privileged access to the floor, using one of several parliamentary mechanisms. The standing rules of the House include several different parliamentary mechanisms that the body may use to act on bills and resolutions. Which of these will be employed in a given instance usually depends on the extent to which Members want to debate and amend the legislation. In general, all of the procedures of the House permit a majority of Members to work their will without excessive delay. The House considers most legislation by motions to suspend the rules, with limited debate and no floor amendments, with the support of at least two-thirds of the Members voting. Occasionally, the House will choose to consider a measure on the floor by the unanimous consent of Members. The Rules Committee is instrumental in recommending procedures for considering major bills and may propose restrictions on the floor amendments that Members can offer or bar them altogether. Many major bills are first considered in Committee of the Whole before being passed by a simple majority vote of the House. The Committee of the Whole is governed by more flexible procedures than the basic rules of the House, under which a majority can vote to pass a bill after only one hour of debate and with no floor amendments. Although a quorum is supposed to be present on the floor when the House is conducting business, the House assumes a quorum is present unless a quorum call or electronically recorded vote demonstrates that it is not. However, the standing rules preclude quorum calls at most times other than when the House is voting. Questions are first decided by voice vote, although any Member may then demand a division vote. Before the final result of a voice or division vote is announced, Members can secure an electronically recorded vote instead if enough Members desire it or if a quorum is not present in the House. The constitutional requirements for making law mean that each chamber must pass the same measure with the identical text before transmitting it to the President for his consideration. When the second chamber of Congress amends a measure sent to it by the first chamber, the two chambers must resolve legislative differences to meet this requirement. This can be accomplished by shuttling the bill back and forth between the House and Senate, with each chamber proposing amendments to the position of the other, or by establishing a conference committee to try to negotiate a compromise version of the legislation.”
DataCiteBlog: “Today we are announcing our first new functionality of 2019, a much improved search for DataCite DOIs and metadata. While the DataCite Search user interface has not changed, changes under the hood bring many important improvements and are our biggest changes to search since 2012. Faster Indexing – Newly registered (and tagged findable) DOIs now appear in the DataCite Search index within a few minutes, compared with the previous up to 12 hour lag. The same is true for metadata updates or DOIs removed from the public search index (by changing the DOI state from findable to registered). Faster indexing is particularly important when related content is published at the same time, e.g. a dataset with a DataCite DOI associated with a journal article with a Crossref DOI…”
See also DataCite 2018 Wrap-up and 2019 Preview – “First, a big pat on the back for last year 2018 saw a lot of changes at DataCite. We went from 5 employees to 8, and we released several new things, both visible and not-so-visible. Here are the highlights from a product release perspective…”
Harvard University’s Perma.cc Blog Post: “For the last year or so, we’ve been working to understand the potential for Perma to help individuals and institutions outside the academic community combat link rot. Two things have become clear through our work. First, link rot is a problem for lots of people, not just scholars. Indeed, link rot matters to anyone who cites, refers or links to web pages with the hope that they won’t change or disappear down the road. Second, Perma can help lots of people prevent link rot, whether or not they’re part of academia. For Perma to continue to serve people outside the academic community, we have to make sure that we use our resources responsibly and focus on users with the greatest need to preserve web sources for public access. To help us do that more effectively, we’re introducing monthly subscription tiers for people whose Perma usage is not sponsored and supported by academic libraries or other registrars…” [Perma.cc is a service that helps scholars, courts and others create web citation links that will never break. Perma.cc prevents link rot.]
Bloomberg: “Solid-state technology promises to be cheaper and charge faster than anything on the road today. But no one is close to figuring it out. To deliver an electric vehicle that’s cheaper, safer and capable of traveling 500 miles on a single charge, the auto industry needs a breakthrough in battery technology. Easier said than done. Scientists in Japan, China and the U.S. are among those struggling to crack the code of how to significantly boost the amount of energy a battery cell can store and bring an EV’s driving range into line with a full tank of gas. That quest has zeroed in on solid-state technology, an overhaul of a battery’s internal architecture to use solid materials instead of flammable liquids to enable charging and discharging. The technology promises major improvements on existing lithium-ion packs, which automakers say are hitting the limits of their storage capabilities and may never hold enough power for long-distance models. If it can be mastered, solid-state technology could help speed the demise of the combustion-engine car and potentially slash EV charging times to about 10 minutes from as much as several hours. The supercharger network built by Tesla Inc., now offering some of the fastest charge times, needs approximately 30 minutes to bring a depleted car to 80 percent…”
“The fundamental paradigm shift brought about by datafication alters how people participate as citizens on a daily basis. “Big data” has come to constitute a new terrain of engagement, which brings organized collective action, communicative practices and data infrastructure into a fruitful dialogue. While scholarship is progressively acknowledging the emergence of bottom-up data practices, to date no research has explored the influence of these practices on the activists themselves. Leveraging the disciplines of critical data and social movement studies, this paper explores “proactive data activism”, using, producing and/or appropriating data for social change, and examines its biographical, political, tactical and epistemological consequences. Approaching engagement with data as practice, this study focuses on the social contexts in which data are produced, consumed and circulated, and analyzes how tactics, skills and emotions of individuals evolve in interplay with data. Through content and co-occurrence analysis of semi-structured practitioner interviews (N=20), the article shows how the employment of data and data infrastructure in activism fundamentally transforms the way activists go about changing the world.”
“In this paper we ask: “how might we take the ideas, the methods and the underlying philosophy behind agile software development and explore applying them in the context of doing research — even research that does not involve software development?” We look at some examples of agile research methods and think about how they might inspire the design of even better methods. We also try to address some potential criticisms of an approach that aims to minimize a need for Big Design Up Front by developing tighter iteration cycles, coupled with reflection and learning as part of a process for doing research.”
Forbes – A Look At Four Months Of Global Digital Journalism – “From the dawn of modern print journalism through the beginning of the web era, newspapers represented an archival medium. Once rendered into print, a news article was immutable and could safely be referenced for perpetuity without fear that a few days later it would say something very different. As libraries and other institutions collected and archived newspapers, their contents were also safely preserved for continued access by future generations. Multiple libraries all held independent copies of an article, ensuring that even if some copies were lost or modified, others survived. In contrast, in the web era, journalism has been largely transformed into live blogging, with articles wholesale rewritten or simply deleted. As online journalism has rapidly risen into a dominant distribution format over the past quarter century, what does its ephemeral nature mean for the archival and preservation of our societal record?…”
Hongkiat: “Contextual feedback is crucial for remote teams working online to have fast and efficient feedback system. Asking and taking feedback is tedious and usually happens off-context using email and text message. There are some tools, however, that allow teams to discuss things and collaborate online in much better way. Web Annotation and Markup tools help you to comment, discuss and collaborate right on web pages or screenshots or PDFs. Such tools add context to the content and make use of highlights, sticky notes, comments, etc. for making discussions with context. In this post, we’re showcasing the best yet freely available tools for contextual feedback. These tools let you annotate, comment and discuss on the web quickly and easily…”
The Ultimate Women in Science Reading List: 150 Essential Titles – Dale DeBakcsy: “December 16 2018 saw my fifth anniversary of writing the Illustrated Women in Science column, and of the many ways that occurred to me to celebrate, the one I thought would be most useful would be to tramp through the Women in Science bookshelves whose contents I have been assembling for the past couple decades and write down, once and for all, a bibliography of great women in science biographies and memoirs, to share with those who are looking to start their own collection or who are just looking for an off-the-beaten-path scientist to spend some time with. Here then are 150 from the shelves, arranged alphabetically by scientist, with a few words here and there when the spirit moves me! Dig in, and happy collecting!..”
Washington Post Magazine: “The conservative and libertarian society for law and public policy studies has reached an unprecedented peak of power and influence. Brett Kavanaugh, whose membership in the society dates to his Yale Law School days, has just been elevated to the Supreme Court; he is the second of President Trump’s appointees, following Neil Gorsuch, another justice closely associated with the society. They join Justice Clarence Thomas (who said last spring he’s “been a part of the Federalist Society now since meeting with them … in the 1980s”), Chief Justice John Roberts (listed as a member in 1997-98) and Justice Samuel Alito (a periodic speaker at society events). The newly solidified conservative majority on the court will inevitably decide more cases in line with the society’s ideals — which include checking federal power, protecting individual liberty and interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning. In practice, this could mean fewer regulations of the environment and health care, more businesses allowed to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, and denial of protections claimed by newly vocal classes of minorities, such as transgender people…”
The next most important segment of the judiciary — the federal appeals courts — is also filling up with Federalist Society members: Twenty-five of the 30 appeals court judges Trump has appointed are or were members of the society. “Our opponents of judicial nominees frequently claim the president has outsourced his selection of judges,” McGahn quipped to a Federalist Society gathering in 2017. “That is completely false. I’ve been a member of the Federalist Society since law school. Still am. So, frankly, it seems like it’s been in-sourced.”..”
“…China has built the world’s most extensive and sophisticated online censorship system. It grew even stronger under President Xi Jinping, who wants the internet to play a greater role in strengthening the Communist Party’s hold on society. More content is considered sensitive. Punishments are getting more severe. Once circumspect about its controls, China now preaches a vision of a government-supervised internet that has surprising resonance in other countries. Even traditional bastions of free expression like Western Europe and the United States are considering their own digital limits. Platforms like Facebook and YouTube have said that they would hire thousands more people to better keep a handle on their content…”