Law and Legal

Federal Workers Warned Against Talk of ‘Impeachment,’ ‘the Resistance’ “Employees of the federal government were warned this week that both praising and criticizing the Trump administration while on duty may be considered illegal. Federal workers are specifically barred from “advocating” for or against impeachment and from expressing support for the so-called “resistance” to President Donald Trump. Such expressions could be considered violations of the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that largely prohibits federal workers from engaging in political activity while on the clock or in their official capacity as a government employee. In a memorandum released Tuesday, the Office of Special Counsel (no relation to Robert Mueller’s Russia probe) Hatch Act unit explains what kind of speech should be avoided. There are quite a few nuances. Employees aren’t necessarily barred from praising or criticizing a presidential administration’s policies. “Whether a particular statement constitutes political activity depends upon the facts and circumstances,” the memo reads. But in general, on-duty employees must “avoid making statements directed toward the success or failure of, among others, a candidate for partisan political office.”

That’s where talk of “impeachment” comes in. The Office of Special Counsel says it’s operating under the assumption that federal officials who are impeached and later removed are disqualified from holding office again. As a result, voicing support for impeachment is considered political activity. “Advocating for a candidate to be impeached, and thus potentially disqualified from holding federal office, is clearly directed at the failure of that candidate’s campaign for federal office,” the memo states. The same goes for employees who speak out against impeachment, though the directive does not apply to speech about people who aren’t running for “partisan elected office.”…
Categories: Law and Legal

CBO’s Long-Term Social Security Projections

CBO’s Long-Term Social Security Projections: Changes Since 2017 and Comparisons With the Social Security Trustees’ Projections – December 3, 2018: “This report explains the changes to CBO’s long-term Social Security projections since last year and compares CBO’s projections with those of the Social Security Trustees.

  • The projected 75-year actuarial balance, a commonly used measure of the system’s financial condition, has not changed as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) since last year, remaining at −1.5 percent of GDP (that is, a deficit of 1.5 percent). As a percentage of taxable payroll, the projected 75-year actuarial balance has improved slightly from −4.5 percent to −4.4 percent.
  • Changes to projections of three key inputs have improved the Social Security system’s projected finances: the share of earnings that is subject to Social Security payroll taxes, the labor force participation rate, and interest rates.
  • Those improvements have been partially offset by including an additional year of deficit, 2092, in the calculation of the actuarial balance. Technical changes also collectively worsen the 75-year outlook…”
Categories: Law and Legal

Document: Special Counsel Files Flynn Sentencing Memo

Lawfare: “The special counsel’s office has filed its sentencing memo in the case of Michael Flynn. The memo is available here and below. A redacted addendum is available as well.”

Via the Washington Post – “The most striking part of Bob Mueller’s sentencing memo recommending Michael Flynn serve no prison time, because of his “substantial” assistance to “several ongoing investigations,” is how much got blacked out. It’s a reminder of how many shoes might still drop. The special counsel revealed in a 13-page court filing late Tuesday night that President Trump’s former national security adviser has given 19 interviews to his office or other Justice Department attorneys, in addition to providing “documents and communications.”

Tantalizingly, Mueller teases that “the defendant has provided substantial assistance in a criminal investigation.” Then there are 22 fully redacted lines of text. That is in addition to the special counsel’s probe of “any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald J. Trump.” Mueller has asked for several postponements in making a sentencing recommendation since Flynn pleaded guilty to a single felony count of making false statements to the FBI last December, a full year ago now. Just how much he’s gotten out of the career intelligence officer has been a closely held secret.

Now we know it’s a lot, but what exactly Mueller got remains a mystery. “While this [document] seeks to provide a comprehensive description of the benefit the government has thus far obtained from the defendant’s substantial assistance, some of that benefit may not be fully realized at this time because the investigations in which he has provided assistance are ongoing,” said Mueller…

Categories: Law and Legal

Glassdoor’s list of Best Places to Work in 2019

“Employees have spoken! These are the Best Places to Work in 2019 – did your company make the cut?”  The list this year does not place Facebook, Google, Apple in the top 5 slots, although there is a slim margin between all the top rated companies. In the number one place this year – as it have been for the past four, is Bain & Co. [Note – Japanese firm Recruit Holdings acquired Glassdoor in 2018, and the survey is voluntary.]
Categories: Law and Legal

UK Investigation – Facebook allegedly offered advertisers special access to users’ data and activities

Washington Post: “A key British lawmaker alleged Wednesday that Facebook maintained “whitelisting agreements” that gave select companies preferential access to valuable user data several years ago, offering insight into how the company balanced concerns about user privacy with the business imperative of growing revenue. Damian Collins, chairman of a British parliamentary committee that has led a wide-ranging investigation into Facebook and its dealings with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, on Wednesday released a summary of findings drawn from documents from a lawsuit against the social network, along with more than 200 pages of documents, many of them labeled “Confidential.” Collins’ allegation echoes a key claim from the lawsuit, which was filed by an app developer in a California court. Facebook, which has long said it does not sell user data, on Wednesday denied that it used its data as a bargaining chip in exchange for advertising and other concessions, as the app developer, Six4Three, has alleged in its suit.

The documents released in Britain, part of a larger trove which long have been sealed in the lawsuit, affording a rare glimpse into the inner workings of one of the world’s most prominent and profitable companies during an uncertain time. The period covered by the documents was when Facebook, as a newly-public company, sought to reorganize around emerging mobile devices while seeking to manage persistent claims that it was cavalier with user privacy. Some of the companies mentioned in the newly-released documents include Airbnb, Netflix, Royal Bank of Canada, Lyft, Tinder and Badoo…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Responses Due December 7 – AALL State of the Profession Survey

AALL State of the Profession Survey – Please respond by December 7, 2018  – “The inaugural AALL State of the Profession Survey seeks input from those with expertise in law libraries and equivalent organizations. The goal of the project is to deliver a report to identify, clarify, and support the value of your individual and collective roles.”

As a member of the AALL State of the Profession Survey Advisory Group, I am encouraging you to please participate by completing the survey. The members of the Advisory Group worked together for more than 6 months to create and deliver a survey that identified the multi faceted types of law libraries that represent our profession, and to identify the challenges and objectives we individually and collectively h in delivering mission critical services, training, education and knowledge to our communities and to our customers.

We are seeking input from staff and those in director-level roles. Responses are due on Friday, December 7.  If you haven’t received an invitation, please contact ARI at with the following subject line: AALL State of the Profession Survey Requests. Those who complete the survey can opt in to get a 10 percent discount on the final report and/or to win a $100 gift card.  Additional information can be found on AALLNet.

Thank you very much for taking the time to participate so your voices will be heard – the survey takes approximately 24 minutes to complete based on the close to 600 surveys that have been completed.

Categories: Law and Legal

By the numbers: Political tweets turn blue in 2018

Axios: “New data from Twitter shows the top 10 U.S. politicians who were most tweeted about in the few months after the midterm election were Democrats, replacing a list that was once dominated by GOP lawmakers the majority of 2018. Why it matters: The political clout and conversation is changing with its politicians. Republicans like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who once dominated the subject of tweets, are now being replaced by nominated House speaker Nancy Pelosi and outgoing Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke in the rankings, per Twitter…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Measuring the “Filter Bubble”: How Google is influencing what you click

Duck Duck Go: “Over the years, there has been considerable discussion of Google’s “filter bubble” problem. Put simply, it’s the manipulation of your search results based on your personal data. In practice this means links are moved up or down or added to your Google search results, necessitating the filtering of other search results altogether. These editorialized results are informed by the personal information Google has on you (like your search, browsing, and purchase history), and puts you in a bubble based on what Google’s algorithms think you’re most likely to click on. The filter bubble is particularly pernicious when searching for political topics. That’s because undecided and inquisitive voters turn to search engines to conduct basic research on candidates and issues in the critical time when they are forming their opinions on them. If they’re getting information that is swayed to one side because of their personal filter bubbles, then this can have a significant effect on political outcomes in aggregate…

Google has claimed to have taken steps to reduce its filter bubble problem, but our latest research reveals a very different story. Based on a study of individuals entering identical search terms at the same time, we found that:

  1. Most participants saw results unique to them. These discrepancies could not be explained by changes in location, time, by being logged in to Google, or by Google testing algorithm changes to a small subset of users.
  2. On the first page of search results, Google included links for some participants that it did not include for others, even when logged out and in private browsing mode.
  3. Results within the news and videos infoboxes also varied significantly. Even though people searched at the same time, people were shown different sources, even after accounting for location.
  4. Private browsing mode and being logged out of Google offered very little filter bubble protection. These tactics simply do not provide the anonymity most people expect. In fact, it’s simply not possible to use Google search and avoid its filter bubble…”
Categories: Law and Legal

The Oxford Place of the Year 2018 is

Oxford University Press Blog: “Our polls have officially closed, and while it was an exciting race, our Place of the Year for 2018 is Mexico. The country and its people proved their resilience this year by enduring natural disasters, navigating the heightened tensions over immigration and border control, engaging in civic action during an election year, and advancing in the economic sphere. The historic events in Mexico in 2018 have resonated with our followers.

Mexico withstood multiple natural disasters in 2018. Using a measurement called accumulated cyclone energy, which combines the number of storms and their intensity through their duration to indicate a measurement of tropical activity in a region, the 2018 hurricane season in the northeast Pacific is the most active on record. Including the most recent Hurricane Willa on the western coast of Mexico, there have been 10 major hurricanes in the area this year. Additionally, tropical Storm Xavier became the 22nd named tropical storm of the 2018 eastern Pacific hurricane season in early November. Mexico has also had multiple earthquakes, including one with a magnitude of 7.2 in southeastern Mexico, epicentered in the state of Oaxaca. Following a surprise victory over World Cup champions Germany in June, it was initially reported that the ferocity of the fans celebration caused earthquake detectors to go off. However, it was later discovered to be a naturally occurring earthquake, unrelated to the fans’ festivities…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Potential Changes to UC’s Relationship with Elsevier in January 2019

An Open Letter to the Academic Community – from MacKenzie Smith, University Librarian and Vice Provost of Digital Scholarship, November 28, 2018.

“The University of California is renegotiating its systemwide licenses with some of the world’s largest scholarly journal publishers, including industry giant Elsevier. These negotiations may create significant changes in our access to new articles published in Elsevier journals as soon as January 1, 2019. (See below for details on town hall meetings where you can learn more regarding access and timing. Importantly, the UC has adopted a new approach to these negotiations, seeking not only to constrain the runaway costs of journal subscriptions, but to make it easier and more affordable for UC authors to publish their research with open access. Depending on how the negotiations proceed, a range of potential outcomes could materialize:

  • If we are successful, the UC may begin to implement a new system for publishing research in Elsevier journals in the near future.
  • On the other hand, if we are unable to reach an agreement before our current contract ends on December 31, we may lose access to future articles in Elsevier’s journals through their ScienceDirect platform…”
Categories: Law and Legal

Guide – FDsys Retirement and Transition to govinfo

GovInfo FAQ: “govinfo is free U.S. Government information for all.”

  • govinfo is a service of the United States Government Publishing Office (GPO), which is a Federal agency in the legislative branch. govinfo provides free public access to official publications from all three branches of the Federal Government. govinfo will replace FDsys
  • GPO launched govinfo in February 2016 as a beta website to replace its predecessor, GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys). Learn about the transition.
  • govinfo is more than just a website – In addition to providing an advanced, metadata-powered search experience, govinfo also includes a content management system and a standards-compliant preservation repository.

These three components comprise GPO’s world-class system for the comprehensive management of electronic information:

  1. Public access – GPO combines modern search technology with extensive metadata creation to ensure the highest quality search experience. Users can easily access documents for free by searching or browsing the mobile-friendly website.
  2. Content management – GPO securely controls digital content throughout its lifecycle to ensure content integrity and authenticity. This includes the application of digital signatures to PDF files so users can verify documents have not been altered and are the official versions.
  3. Digital preservation – GPO’s standards-compliant preservation repository follows archival system standards and ensures content is preserved for future generations despite technical failure, aging of hardware, or technological change. GPO is seeking to become the first Federal agency to be named as a Trustworthy Digital Repository for Government information through certification under ISO 16363.
What can I find on govinfo? See what’s available, including information on individual publications or collections of content, or view an alphabetical list of collections, publications, other resources, and external partner sites…” [h/t Joe Hodnicki]
Categories: Law and Legal

New Index finds air pollution reduces global life expectancy by nearly 2 years

The Energy Policy Institute of the University of Chcago: “Particulate matter (PM) air pollution is the most deadly form of air pollution globally. Its microscopic particles penetrate deep into the lungs, bypassing the body’s natural defenses. From there it can enter the bloodstream, causing lung disease, cancer, strokes, and heart attacks. There is also evidence of detrimental effects on cognition. Yet, in spite of these risks, the relationship between particulate matter air pollution levels and human health is not widely comprehended by society at large. For most people, their only insight into particulate air pollution exposure and risk is the popular Air Quality Index, which uses a color-coded system to provide a normative assessment of daily air quality. But these colors do little to convey actual health risk, and are often accompanied by measurements of units that are unfamiliar to almost everyone (e.g., micrograms of pollution per cubic meter).

The Air Quality Life Index, or AQLI, represents a completely novel advancement in measuring and communicating the health risks posed by particulate matter air pollution. This is because the AQLI converts particulate air pollution into perhaps the most important metric that exists: its impact on life expectancy. The AQLI reveals that, averaged across all women, men, and children globally, particulate matter air pollution cuts global life expectancy short by nearly 2 years relative to what they would be if particulate concentrations everywhere were at the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization (WHO). This life expectancy loss makes particulate pollution more devastating than communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, behavioral killers like cigarette smoking, and even war.

Some areas of the world are impacted more than others. For example, in the United States, where there is less pollution, life expectancy is cut short by just 0.1 years relative to the WHO guideline. In China and India, where there are much greater levels of pollution, bringing particulate concentrations down to the WHO guideline would increase average life expectancy by 2.9 and 4.3 years, respectively..”

Categories: Law and Legal

Avoiding A World War Web: The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace

Lawfare: “On Nov. 11 [2018] at 11:00 a.m., more than 70 world leaders walked towards the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War and to honor the 19 million people who lost their lives in it. French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a charged speech denouncing nationalism and urging all leaders to pursue peace through multilateralism. On November 12th 2018 at the Internet Governance Forum, Macron unveiled France’s first international initiative to that end, the “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace.” The Paris Call is not the first of its kind. In April 2018, Microsoft launched its “Digital Peace” campaign along with a “Cybersecurity Tech Accord” aimed at getting the internet and the technology industry to better protect their customers’ privacy and security against cyberattacks. Similarly, Siemens unveiled in May 2018 a “Charter of Trust” that seeks to develop adherence to security principles and processes, with the aim of developing a “global standard” for cybersecurity. Until those recent developments, norm-building initiatives were the prerogative of states. In 2015, the U.N.’s Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) recognized that international humanitarian law applied to cyberspace, though it then deadlocked when it closed at the end of 2017. Similarly, two blocs—one group led by the United States and another by China and Russia—reached a stalemate at the U.N. Disarmament Commission.

Approaching the issue from various stakeholders’ perspectives, the Paris Call is an attempt to move away from this international deadlock. Macron, at its unveiling at UNESCO, made the case for rebuffing what he described as a binary choice between “a Californian Internet and a Chinese Internet.” So far, he argued, these two opposite narratives have monopolized the debate and imposed two radically different yet unsatisfactory alternatives: either a model of mere technical governance led by Silicon Valley, or an overwhelming regulation led by authoritarian regimes. While the former does not address issues of privacy and malicious actors, the latter cracks down on human rights and could lead to a “balkanisation” of internet and of wider cyberspace…”

Categories: Law and Legal

PowerPoint and Skype gain live captions and subtitles

VentureBeat: “Real-time captions and subtitles are heading to PowerPoint and Skype, the company today revealed in a pair of announcements timed to coincide with the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (UN IDPD). “The word ‘empower’ means a lot to every Microsoft employee, it’s a key word in our mission ‘to empower every person on the planet to achieve more’, including the [more than a billion people] with disabilities,” Jenny Lay-Flurrie, chief accessibility officer at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post. “So, this year has special meaning to us and want to share some new features, and programs that we hope empower a more inclusive, diverse, and productive world…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Letting Algorithms Replace Human Appraisers

UK Daily Mail: Proposed new regulations would allow homes to be bought and sold through electronic valuations rather than human appraisers

  • Home appraisals could be done electronically without the need for a licensed human regulator, according to new proposals  
  • Regulators say the vast majority of homes could be appraised using electronic algorithms which could make house buying faster and cheaper   
  • About 214,000 home sales could have been made last year with the change 
  • House appraisers were largely blamed for inflating prices during the crash…”
Categories: Law and Legal

A Sustainable Path Forward Report from the Task Force on US Postal System

United States Postal Service: A Sustainable Path Forward Report from the Task Force on the United States Postal System. December 4, 2018 – “On April 12, 2018, you [President Trump] signed Executive Order 13829, which established the Task Force on the United States Postal System to evaluate the operations and finances of the United States Postal Service (USPS) and develop recommendations for administrative and legislative reforms for the U.S. postal system. The goal of these recommendations is to identify a path for the USPS to operate under a sustainable business model, providing necessary mail services to citizens and businesses, while competing fairly in commercial markets…”

The USPS is a $71 billion enterprise that collects, processes, transports, and delivers 146 billion pieces of mail and packages to nearly 159 million households and businesses annually.The mission of the USPS is broadly defined via the “universal service obligation”

(USO), which is intended to ensure that all citizens and businesses in the United States receive a minimum level of postal services at a reasonable price. The USPS has been losing money for more than a decade and is on an unsustainable financial path. The USPS is forecast to lose tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. Further, as of the end of FY 2018, the USPS balance sheet reflects $89 billion in liabilities against $27 billion in assets–a net deficiency of $62 billion. The shift toward digital correspondence and the corresponding decline in USPS mail volumes have been compounded by caps on mail pricing, leading to mail revenue declines of around 4 percent per year. Additionally, the USPS has not been able to sufficiently reduce costs to offset declines in revenue, resulting in net losses totaling $69 billion between FY 2007 and FY 2018…”
Categories: Law and Legal

TIME – World’s Greatest Places 2018 100 destinations to experience right now

TIME: “It’s easy to find guides to famous attractions. But which new and newly relevant destinations are worth experiencing right now? To assemble our first annual list of the World’s Greatest Places, TIME solicited nominations across a variety of categories—such as museums, parks, bars, restaurants, theme parks, cruises and hotels—from our editors and correspondents around the world as well as dozens of industry experts. Then we evaluated each one based on key factors, including quality, originality, innovation, sustainability and influence. The result is a list as diverse as the world it reflects, with 100 entries spanning six continents and 48 countries—highlighting everything from a Texas water park that empowers kids with disabilities to a Maldives resort that’s building an undersea abode to a library in Tianjin, China, that’s almost as wondrous as reading itself. To see the full list, click here.”

Categories: Law and Legal

Social Security Administration offers dozens of publications in multiple formats

The 149 publications are listed in reverse chronological order [newest first] and each is available in PDF, Audio and up to 14 different languages. Current titles include the following:

  • Understanding The Extra Help With Your Medicare Prescription Drug Plan 05-10508, ICN 470112, December 2018. An overview of the Extra Help available to cover the costs of a Medicare prescription drug plan and a list of factors you should consider when comparing plans. Audio PDF
  • Apply Online For Extra Help With Medicare Prescription Drug Costs 05-10525, ICN 470142, December 2018. Learn how easy it is to apply online for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug plan costs. Audio PDF
  • Social Security’s Electronic Wage Reporting (Forms W-2) 05-10034, ICN 456208, October 2018. If you run a business, make your first stop for information on W-2s, electronic filing and verifying Social Security numbers. Audio PDF
  • Get Your Payments Electronically 05-10073, ICN 467520, October 2018. Receiving Social Security payments electronically is a simple, safe and secure way to receive your benefits — even if you don’t have a bank account. Audio PDF
  • What Every Woman Should Know 05-10127, ICN 480067, October 2018. Learn about valuable Social Security program information, such as who is eligible for various benefits and the importance of reporting income properly. Audio PDF

[h/t Pete Weiss]

Categories: Law and Legal

Yes, the Octopus Is Smart as Heck. But Why?

The New York Times – “To demonstrate how smart an octopus can be, Piero Amodio points to a YouTube video. It shows an octopus pulling two halves of a coconut shell together to hide inside. Later the animal stacks the shells together like nesting bowls — and carts them away.“It suggests the octopus is carrying these tools around because it has some understanding they may be useful in the future,” said Mr. Amodio, a graduate student studying animal intelligence at the University of Cambridge in Britain. But his amazement is mixed with puzzlement. For decades, researchers have studied how certain animals evolved to be intelligent, among them apes, elephants, dolphins and even some birds, such as crows and parrots. But all the scientific theories fail when it comes to cephalopods, a group that includes octopuses, squid and cuttlefish. Despite feats of creativity, they lack some hallmarks of intelligence seen in other species. “It’s an apparent paradox that’s been largely overlooked in the past,” said Mr. Amodio. He and five other experts on animal intelligence explore this paradox in a paper published this month in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution…”

…Another feature that cephalopods share with other smart animals is a relatively big brain. But that’s where the similarities appear to end. Most of the neurons that do the computing, for example, are in the octopus’s arms..”

Categories: Law and Legal

New study from NCconfirms some long-held folk wisdom about race and juries

The New York Times – Prof. Ronald Wright – “A new study from North Carolina confirms some long-held folk wisdom about race and juries. The good news is there are two doable solutions. Race, as a matter of constitutional principle, cannot factor into the selection of jurors for criminal trials. But in the American justice system, anyone with a bit of common sense and a view from the back of the courtroom knows the colorblind ideal isn’t true in practice.Racial bias largely seeps in through what’s called “peremptory” challenges: the ability of a prosecutor — and then a defense attorney — to block a certain number of potential jurors without needing to give the court any reason for the exclusion. The number of challenges allowed varies by state, but commonly 15 or more are permitted. Folk wisdom, among those familiar with the song and dance, is that prosecutors use these challenges to remove nonwhite jurors, who are statistically more likely to acquit, while defense attorneys — who can step in only after the pool has been narrowed by prosecutors — typically counteract by removing more white jurors.For a long time, the opacity of court records rendered the dynamic as only that — folk wisdom — which has made it difficult to articulate the urgent need to reform this understudied aspect of our system. But now, this informal knowledge has been empirically confirmed, and the case for change couldn’t be more compelling

My recently published research on juror removal in North Carolina conducted with colleagues at the Wake Forest University School of Law proves — for the first time with statewide evidence — that peremptory challenges are indeed a vehicle for veiled racial bias that results in juries less sympathetic to defendants of color. Based on statewide jury selection records, our Jury Sunshine Project discovered that prosecutors remove about 20 percent of African-Americans available in the jury pool, compared with about 10 percent of whites. Defense attorneys, seemingly in response, remove more of the white jurors (22 percent) than black jurors (10 percent) left in the post-judge-and-prosecutor pool…”

Categories: Law and Legal


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