Law and Legal
CRS Report – Federal Employees’ Retirement System: Summary of Recent Trends. January 23, 2004 – February 2, 2018
This report describes recent trends in the characteristics of annuitants and current employees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and the Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) as well as the financial status of the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF). In FY2016, 94% of current civilian federal employees were enrolled in FERS, which covers employees hired since 1984. Six percent were enrolled in CSRS, which covers only employees hired before 1984. In FY2016, more than 2.6 million people received civil service annuity payments, including 2,077,804 employee annuitants and 533,884 survivor annuitants. Of these individuals, 72% received annuities earned under CSRS. About one-third of all federal employee annuitants and survivor annuitants reside in five states: California, Texas, Florida, Maryland, and Virginia. The average civilian federal employee who retired in FY2016 was 61.3 years old and had completed 25.6 years of federal service. The average monthly annuity payment to workers who retired under CSRS in FY2016 was $4,755. Workers who retired under FERS received an average monthly annuity of $1,714. Employees retiring under FERS had a shorter average length of service than those under CSRS. FERS annuities are supplemented by Social Security benefits and the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). At the end of FY2016, the balance of the CSRDF was $879.8 billion, an amount equal to more than 10 times the amount of outlays from the fund that year. The trust fund balance is expected to reach $909 billion by the end of FY2018. From FY1970 to FY1985, the number of people receiving federal civil service annuities rose from fewer than 1 million to nearly 2 million, an increase of 105%. Between FY1985 and FY2016, the number of civil service annuitants rose by 680,000, an increase of about 35%. In FY2013, the number of civilian federal employees, including Postal Service employees, totaled 3.3 million workers. This was 254,000 less than the number of employees in FY2000, and 480,000 fewer than the number of employees in FY1994. In FY2016, all CSRS employees were aged 45 or older, compared with 61% of FERS employees who were aged 45 or older (38.6% of FERS employees were younger than 45). Fifty five percent of CSRS employees were aged 60 or older, whereas 13% of FERS employees were in this age range.”
- For a general overview of current benefits and financing under CSRS and FERS, see CRS Report 98-810, Federal Employees’ Retirement System: Benefits and Financing.
- For summary information on recent reform proposals related to CSRS and FERS, see CRS In Focus IF10243, Civilian Federal Retirement: Current Law, Recent Changes, and Reform Proposals.
What Causes a Recession? February 2, 2018 IN10853
“At 104 months, the current economic expansion is already the third longest on record, and it will equal the second longest if it persists until April. This expansion, like all previous ones, will eventually end and be followed by a recession. Few economists are forecasting a recession in 2018, but recessions are notoriously hard to predict even a few months beforehand. For background, see CRS In Focus IF10411, Introduction to U.S. Economy: The Business Cycle and Growth, by [author name scrubbed]…What will bring this economic expansion to an end? In the words of Janet Yellen, “it’s a myth that expansions die of old age.” Instead, a look at the historical record points to a few culprits that have killed off expansions since the end of World War II—an overheating economy that results in accelerating price inflation, a financial bubble, or an external “shock” to the economy, such as an oil price spike. The longer an expansion lasts, the more likely it will fall victim to one of these killers. What preceded this expansion—the “Great Recession“—could potentially make this business cycle unique, however…”
The Verge: “SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, this afternoon and soared to space, carrying its payload — CEO Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster — into orbit. The Falcon Heavy’s flight still isn’t quite over yet, but the rocket has shown its prowess and is likely ready to begin missions for customers. Adding to the launch’s success, two of the Falcon Heavy’s rocket cores successfully touched down back on Earth after takeoff. The two outer boosters broke away mid-flight and returned to the Cape, touching down around 1,000 feet from one another on SpaceX’s concrete landing pads — Landing Zone 1 and Landing Zone 2. The center core then broke away from the vehicle’s upper stage, but did not land as intended on one of SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean. That means SpaceX has now landed a total of 23 rockets upright…”
Curbed: “Why isn’t homelessness seen as a national crisis? Cities call on the federal government to confront the growing numbers of homeless residents…The group, called Mayors & CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment, intends to work with HUD to make sure cities don’t lose federal dollars, and come up with new and innovative ways to fund affordable housing. “Current programs and federal funding are not meeting the demand,” reads the website. “One in four families that rent in our country are a paycheck away from homelessness, and families can no longer afford safe places to live.”
“What kinds of social media users read junk news? We examine the distribution of the most significant sources of junk news in the three months before President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address. Drawing on a list of sources that consistently publish political news and information that is extremist, sensationalist, conspiratorial, masked commentary, fake news and other forms of junk news, we find that the distribution of such content is unevenly spread across the ideological spectrum. We demonstrate that (1) on Twitter, a network of Trump supporters shares the widest range of known junk news sources and circulates more junk news than all the other groups put together; (2) on Facebook, extreme hard right pages—distinct from Republican pages—share the widest range of known junk news sources and circulate more junk news than all the other audiences put together; (3) on average, the audiences for junk news on Twitter share a wider range of known junk news sources than audiences on Facebook’s public pages.” Vidya Narayanan, Vlad Barash, John Kelly, Bence Kollanyi, Lisa-Maria Neudert, and Philip N. Howard. “Polarization, Partisanship and Junk News Consumption over Social Media in the US.” Data Memo 2018.1. Oxford, UK: Project on Computational Propaganda. comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk
“The Computational Propaganda Research Project (COMPROP) investigates the interaction of algorithms, automation and politics. This work includes analysis of how tools like social media bots are used to manipulate public opinion by amplifying or repressing political content, disinformation, hate speech, and junk news. We use perspectives from organizational sociology, human computer interaction, communication, information science, and political science to interpret and analyze the evidence we are gathering. Our project is based at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.”
“Researchers estimate the amount of natural mercury stored in perennially frozen soils (permafrost) in the Northern Hemisphere. Permafrost regions contain twice as much mercury as the rest of all soils, the atmosphere, and ocean combined.” [full text link to the study]
Washington Post: “We already knew that thawing Arctic permafrost would release powerful greenhouse gases. On Monday, scientists revealed it could also release massive amounts of mercury — a potent neurotoxin and serious threat to human health. Permafrost, the Arctic’s frozen soil, acts as a massive ice trap that keeps carbon stuck in the ground and out of the atmosphere — where, if released as carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas would drive global warming. But as humans warm the climate, they risk thawing that permafrost and releasing that carbon, with microbial organisms becoming more active and breaking down the ancient plant life that had previously been preserved in the frozen earth. That would further worsen global warming, further thawing the Arctic — and so on. That cycle would be scary enough, but U.S. government scientists on Monday revealed that the permafrost also contains large volumes of mercury, a toxic element humans have already been pumping into the air by burning coal…”
Columbia Journalism Review: “Tom Tryniski began digitizing newspapers from all over Upstate New York in 1999. Since then, he’s scanned and uploaded nearly 50 million newspaper pages from publications across the US and Canada dating back to the 1800s…By October of last year, [his] site hosted nearly 50 million pages of American and Canadian newspapers—a collection much larger than that of Chronicling America, the joint newspaper digitization efforts sponsored by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment of the Arts. The first newspaper he digitized was the Fulton Patriot; at the time, he didn’t own his own equipment. Twice a week, he borrowed microfilm rolls of the newspaper from the Fulton library and drove north to Potsdam, New York, nearly three hours away, to use an old foot pedal-powered microscanner at the offices of the Northern New York Library Network. He scanned 36,000 pages in this way and, exhausted from the commute, decided that if he was serious about his project, he was going to have to buy his own scanner..” [h/t Pete Weiss]
- This is Tryniski’s site – it is by current standards, obsolete, but for those of us who started working way back when and are not deterred by the challenges of looking through folders of scanned information organized by location, year and name of the newspapers, and have some patience, the rewards speak for themselves. This is a truly unique and perhaps invaluable resource that will not be duplicated. The papers that are archived here are testament to the history and impact of local journalism on the lives of millions of Americans. The scanned pages include a remarkable amount of advertising [which provides a long lens perspective on the way our country has sold products and services over more than 50 years], obituaries, marriage announcements, “how to do” factoids, local sports scores, well, everything one used to find in local print newspapers. They were informative in a way that is no longer familiar to those are tethered 24/7 to “smartphones.” And for researchers who are willing to devote the time, this site is a significant and expansive source of information that may just prove, “the truth is out there.”
Impact of technology on productivity depends on company culture: “Economists have been puzzled in recent years by the so-called “productivity paradox,” the fact that the digital revolution of the past four decades hasn’t resulted in big gains in output per worker as happened with earlier technological upheaval. Many developed economies have actually seen productivity stagnate or decline. A survey from Microsoft Corp. is bolstering one theory about this disconnect. In a poll of 20,000 European workers released Monday, Microsoft, which became one of the world’s most profitable companies by marketing office productivity software, acknowledges new digital technology can, in some circumstances, sometimes not lead to any increase in productivity and actually result in less employee engagement with their work.”
NIH News in Health – “Nothing compares to the joy of coming home to a loyal companion. The unconditional love of a pet can do more than keep you company. Pets may also decrease stress, improve heart health, and even help children with their emotional and social skills. An estimated 68% of U.S. households have a pet. But who benefits from an animal? And which type of pet brings health benefits? Over the past 10 years, NIH has partnered with the Mars Corporation’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition to answer questions like these by funding research studies. Scientists are looking at what the potential physical and mental health benefits are for different animals—from fish to guinea pigs to dogs and cats…Research on human-animal interactions is still relatively new [why?]..Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood…”
“After incorporating the anticipated effects of recent tax legislation and actual spending and revenue amounts in December into its calculations, CBO now projects that the Treasury’s ability to borrow additional funds using extraordinary measures will be exhausted—and it will most likely run out of cash—in the first half of March 2018. If that occurred, the government would be unable pay its obligations fully, and it would delay making payments for programs and activities, default on its debt obligations, or both.”
Via LLRX – Pete Weiss recommends: weekly highlights on cyber issues – Privacy and security issues impact every aspect of our lives – home, work, travel, education, health/medical, to name but a few. On a weekly basis, Pete Weiss highlights articles and information that focus on the increasingly complex and wide ranging ways our privacy and security is diminished, often without our situational awareness.
Via LLRX – Need some free images for your academic work / poster / presentation / website? Look no further – Ned Potter is an Academic Liaison Librarian at the University of York and a trainer in library marketing, and presentation skills. In this article he recommends best sites for high quality, free, and public domain images.
Motherboard: “In May, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will officially go into effect. The GDPR is ostensibly a law to protect the privacy of European citizens when it comes to how internet megacorporations like Google and Facebook handle their data. But the privacy regulations also come with some secondary effects whose influence extends far beyond the borders of the EU and ironically may actually serve to undermine the security of internet users, rather than protect them. Case in point is the fate of WHOIS, a protocol for looking up the names and contact information for people who have registered a website domain name that dates back to the 80s.There are a number of free WHOIS search tools on the internet, and unless the owner of that website has opted to mask their information, anyone can look up the name, address, email and phone number of the registrant. There are also more sophisticated WHOIS tools that operate for a fee. This protocol is an invaluable resource for security researchers, journalists, and law enforcement officers who use it to track the dissemination of information or malware on the internet. On the other hand, it has historically been treated like a goldmine for spammers and hackers, who are able to scrape the information from WHOIS databases to push junk, dox, or otherwise target registered users. This has led to a proliferation of WHOIS masking services, often provided by domain registrars themselves for a small fee…”
HuffPo: “More than 60 researchers and technologists are running for federal office in 2018 as part of a historic wave of candidates with science backgrounds launching campaigns. At least 200 candidates with previous careers in science, technology, engineering and math announced bids for some of the nation’s roughly 7,000 state legislature seats as of Jan. 31, according to data that 314 Action, a political action committee, shared exclusively with HuffPost. The group, which launched in 2014 to help scientists run for office, said it is talking with 500 more people and is pressing about half of them to run. An additional 200 such candidates are running for school boards. “The sheer number is really astonishing,” 314 Action founder Shaughnessy Naughton told HuffPost. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
- 314 Action: “We are members of the STEM community, grassroots supporters, and political activists who believe in science. We are committed to electing more STEM candidates to office, advocating for evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change, and fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on science. If you want to help bring science, fact and reason back to government, join us today.”
Prisoners in 2016 – “Presents final counts of prisoners under the jurisdiction of state and federal correctional authorities at year-end 2016, including admissions, releases, noncitizen inmates, and inmates age 17 or younger. The report describes prisoner populations by jurisdiction, most serious offense, and demographic characteristics. Selected findings on prison capacity and prisoners held in private prisons, local jails, the U.S. military, and U.S. territories are also included. Findings are based on data from BJS’s National Prisoner Statistics program, which collects data from state departments of correction and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
- The number of prisoners under state and federal jurisdiction at year-end 2016 (1,505,400) decreased by 21,200 (down more than 1%) from year-end 2015.
- The federal prison population decreased by 7,300 prisoners from 2015 to 2016 (down almost 4%), accounting for 34% of the total change in the U.S. prison population.
- State and federal prisons had jurisdiction over 1,458,200 persons sentenced to more than 1 year at year-end 2016.
- The number of females sentenced to more than 1 year in state or federal prison increased by 500 from 2015 to 2016.
- The imprisonment rate in the United States decreased 2%, from 459 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents of all ages in 2015 to 450 per 100,000 in 2016.”
Fortune – Karen L. Murtagh is the executive director at Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York: “The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s announcement that incarcerated people in the state will receive free computer tablets is a welcome policy change, farsighted and sophisticated. This move will increase the safety and security of prisons and decrease prisoner abuse. It is also an acknowledgement of the indisputable: The road to successful rehabilitation for the incarcerated population begins and ends with education and the maintenance of family ties. And since over 95% of all state prisoners in the U.S. will someday be released, according to a 2002 Bureau of Justice Statistics study, it is time we acknowledge that policy initiatives like this are in the best interests of society at large…”
DELUCA, Lisa. Presidential research resources: A guide to online information. College & Research Libraries News, [S.l.], v. 79, n. 2, p. 93, feb. 2018. ISSN 2150-6698. Available at: <http://crln.acrl.org/index.php/crlnews/article/view/16883>. Date accessed: 05 feb. 2018. doi:https://doi.org/10.5860/crln.79.2.93. “This article highlights the breadth of freely available digital collections of presidential documents. These repositories are excellent resources for presidential, political science, history, and foreign relations research. From the resources listed in this article, librarians can choose multiple starting points for student and faculty research inquiries for primary and secondary sources that include handwritten documents by the founding fathers, interview transcriptions, digitized documents, and photographs, to name a few. This article does not contain public opinion, election, or media content sources, which are an important component of presidential research.”
The Verge (on YouTube) – “Intel’s Vaunt smart glasses (a prototype project) won’t make you look like a Glasshole. Dieter Bohn got an exclusive look at Intel’s latest gadget. By shining a low-powered laser into your retina, the glasses can get all sorts of information without pulling out your phone.”
Vox: “We can draw school zones to make classrooms less segregated. This is how well your district does. Is your district drawing borders to reduce or perpetuate racial segregation?…But this exact strategy — gerrymandering school districts to include certain kinds of students and exclude others — can also be used to integrate a school, rather than segregate them…”
1 February 2018: “The Commission launched today the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum with the support of the European Parliament, represented by Jakob von Weizsäcker responsible for the recent report on virtual currencies. The Blockchain Observatory and Forum will highlight key developments of the blockchain technology, promote European actors and reinforce European engagement with multiple stakeholders involved in blockchain activities. Blockchain technologies, which store blocks of information that are distributed across the network, are seen as a major breakthrough, as they bring about high levels of traceability and security in economic transactions online. They are expected to impact digital services and transform business models in a wide range of areas, such as healthcare, insurance, finance, energy, logistics, intellectual property rights management or government services…”