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TechCrunch: “We’ve known for a while now that Google Assistant (the company’s voice-powered AI, à la Siri or Alexa) would eventually be built right into Google Maps. They announced as much at Google I/O 2018, noting at the time that they were aiming for a summer launch. It didn’t happen by summer, but Google says it’s happening today. An update should be rolling out shortly, enabling Assistant within Google Maps on both Android and iOS. While it’s hitting both platforms, it’ll be a bit more capable on Android — which makes sense, of course, as Google has a whole lot more control over things on their own turf. Assistant in Google Maps on both iOS and Android will let you control navigation, reply to texts (complete with auto-punctuation, which is a neat new trick) and control music. On Android, it’ll also be able to tap in and send messages through WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Hangouts, Viber, Telegram and other third-party offerings…”
Search Engine Journal – “In the U.S., apart from federal, state, and local government websites which must meet Section 508 regulations, there are no enforceable ADA legal standards to follow for website accessibility. However, just because there is no straightforward set of legal requirements for website accessibility does not mean that your business will not be presented with a lawsuit. This has understandably raised alarm. Most countries provide laws protecting the civil rights of disabled persons for homes, parks, businesses, and educational facilities. What is not universal is website accessibility. The internet provides global access to information, stores, education, financial institutions, audio, and video, but often remains restricted or dependent on assistive devices for millions of people to gain unhindered access. Fortunately, there are standards in place that unifies development and allows the world to use web-based solutions with universally accepted protocols. We know these standards as the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C…”
Motherboard – The story of the PDF, the file format that’s become one of the internet’s defining information tools. It’ll be with us after we’re long gone. “The Portable Document Format, or PDF, is everywhere. But it’s still a format that causes headaches for the average person. Just take former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who may not be the average person, but who runs into issues with the PDF just like the best of us. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s most recent indictment of Manafort noted how the lobbyist and his colleague, Richard Gates, collaborated on modifying a PDF document by converting the document into Word format, changing an amount in the document, then changing it back to a PDF. This created something called a paper trail, bolstering Mueller’s case against Manafort. It’s not often, of course, that the PDF gets this level of notice. The PDFs origin story is a bit more boring than that of the MP3, which was built around the contours of Suzanne Vega’s unaccompanied voice on “Tom’s Diner,” and the ZIP file, which came to life in a brutal legal battle that was egged on by the whims of BBS users. But the PDF still has a story, and that story is that of a format that promises to be even more valuable in the decades to come. Here’s why…”
The Baffler: “I’m a digital native, older than most. Because my father worked for the federal government, our household was an early adopter of the internet. As I grew up, so did it. When I was a child, for example, the internet was still indexable; you generally found websites through directories and webrings. Favorites meant something, because finding what you were looking for often took quite a bit of time. When search engines became the norm, around the time I was in elementary school, this analog directory hunting was replaced with the ubiquitous Google search. Which is to say I witnessed it all, and as a particularly lonely child, I witnessed it rather closely: Neopets in elementary school, the birth of Myspace in middle school, the rise of Facebook in early high school, Instagram in late high school, the internet culture wars of infamy as a freshman in college, Donald Trump and Cambridge Analytica in graduate school. Writing in 2008, the new media scholar Geert Lovink separated internet culture into three periods:
First, the scientific, precommercial, text-only period before the World Wide Web. Second, the euphoric, speculative period in which the Internet opened up for the general audience, culminating in the late 1990s dotcom mania. Third, the post-dot-com crash/post-9/11 period, which is now coming to a close with the Web 2.0 mini-bubble.
For those my age, this tripartite history of the net begins at number two, with the anarchic, sprawling, ’90s net, followed by the post-9/11, pre-iPhone variety (including the blogosphere and the fulcrum moment that was Myspace), and ending with today’s app-driven, hyper-conglomerate social media net. Like many people my age and older, I miss the pre–social media internet. The new internet knows this, and it capitalizes on my nostalgia as it eats away at the old internet. It amounts to an unforeseen form of technological cannibalism…”
The Moscow Project – “…an initiative of the Center for American Progress Action Fund dedicated to analyzing the facts behind Trump’s collusion with Russia and communicating the findings to the public…” Last Updated January 9, 2018
On January 6, 2017, the U.S. intelligence community issued a report that showed there were two campaigns to elect Donald Trump: one run by Trump and one run by the Russian government. Trump and many of his senior advisors and close associates have repeatedly denied any connections between the two campaigns, despite the fact that they were working towards the same goal, at the same time, and utilizing the same tactics. Yet over the past year, we’ve learned about a series of meetings and contacts between individuals linked to the Russian government and Trump’s campaign and transition team. In total, we have learned of 101 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia linked operatives, including at least 28 meetings. And we know that at least 28 high-ranking campaign officials and Trump advisors were aware of contacts with Russia-linked operatives during the campaign and transition. None of these contacts were ever reported to the proper authorities. Instead, the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them. Why were there so many meetings? What was discussed in them? More importantly, why did Trump and his camp lie about them, including to federal law enforcement? What are they hiding? The American people deserve answers. [This] is a comprehensive chronological list of the contacts that have been discovered to date and the lies Trump’s campaign, transition, and White House told to hide them…”
Ballotpedia – The encyclopedia of American politics: “A total of 468 seats in the U.S. Congress (33 Senate seats and all 435 House seats) are up for election on November 3, 2020.
- U.S. Senate – There are 11 Democratic seats, 20 Republican seats, and two seats currently waiting to be filled via special election on November 6, 2018, up for election in 2020. In 2014, the Republican Party picked up nine seats, resulting in their having more seats to defend in 2020. The map…shows what seats are up for election and the current incumbent in each race.
- U.S. House – All 435 U.S. House seats will be up for election….” [h/t Pete Weiss]
Monti, Annamaria, Popular Legal Manuals as Sources and Mechanisms of Acquiring Legal Literacy (January 30, 2018). In M. Korpiola (ed.), Legal Literacy in Premodern European Societies, Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2019, pp. 191-209.; Bocconi Legal Studies Research Paper Series Number 3292876, November 2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3292876
“In this article, I am arguing that we can include very different discursive forms and types of law manuals aimed at a wider public of non-jurists among the sources and mechanism of acquiring legal literacy. More precisely, most popularizing written works might be considered a specific form of literature in the field of law, like the legal manuals for laymen. To this purpose, popular legal manuals which were published both in Continental Europe and in common law countries during the nineteenth century formed a very interesting kind of popular legal literature which shared similar features. One might talk of a “transnational” legal literary genre addressed to a non-professional, or a lay public of readers.”
Schwarcz, Steven L., Soft Law as Governing Law (January 3, 2019). Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3307418
“International business transactions increasingly are being conducted under “soft law”—a term referring to non-state rules that may be aspirational or reflect best practices but are not yet legally enforceable. In part, this shift reflects a decline in cross-border treaty-making, which needs widespread consensus and is subject to lengthy negotiations. Soft law’s lack of enforceability, however, is creating uncertainty and undermining predictability. To increase predictability, this Article argues for an innovative use of soft law: as a set of rules to choose as the governing “law” of business contracts. This use of soft law would be transformational, making the soft law enforceable against the contracting parties and providing a flexible and practical alternative to treaty-making. The Article analyzes whether parties should have the right to choose soft law as governing law, and also compares the alternative of incorporating soft law only by reference.”
Outside: “…To recap, counter to previous practice, most of the big-name parks have been kept open during the current federal government shutdown. But 80 percent of park service employees have been furloughed, leaving our natural treasures protected by a skeleton crew of park police and other first responders. No one is collecting entry fees, no one is guiding tourists, no one is clearing snow or plowing the roads, and no one is pumping out pit toilets, which have reportedly begun overflowing. Trash is being cleared only by a few volunteer organizations, in only a few popular locations. Yosemite National Park is just one example of how bad things are right now. That park is reportedly experiencing visitation levels that are maxing out the park’s capacity, even while only 50 of the usual 800-plus staff are on-site. There’s human poop everywhere and a man died at Nevada Fall on Christmas day, reportedly after allowing his dog off-leash in an area where pets are banned…”
Poynter: “In mid-March, a European Commission high level group published its final report on misinformation, drawing upon the input of experts from around the world who gathered over several weeks to help the European Union figure out what to do about misinformation. The report created by the high-level group — announced in November to help the EU craft policies to address growing concern about misinformation in Europe — contains an inclusive, collaborative approach to addressing misinformation around the world (Disclosure: Poynter attended the meetings as one of the experts). The report, while imperfect, explicitly recommends not regulating against misinformation — but the EU is only one of many governing bodies that have sought to stem the flow of online misinformation over the past few months. Spanning from Brazil to South Korea, these efforts raise questions about infringing free speech guarantees and are frequently victims of uncertainty. The muddying of the definition of fake news, the relative reach of which is still being studied, hinders governments’ ability to accomplish anything effective. In the spirit of this confusion, explained in detail in a recent Council of Europe report, Poynter has created a guide for existing attempts to legislate against what can broadly be referred to as online misinformation. While not every law contained here relates to misinformation specifically, they’ve all often been wrapped into that broader discussion. We have attempted to label different interventions as clearly as possible. Since these efforts seem to be announced weekly, this article will be updated on an ongoing basis. If you catch an error or know of an update in one of our summaries, email email@example.com or use the Google Form at the bottom of this article and we’ll update as soon as possible…”
Houston Chronicle – John Leavitt: “Forget the calendar. Just as the 19th century didn’t really end until Armistice Day in 1918 and the 1960s counterculture lasted well into the 1970s, the 21st century didn’t begin at the end of 2000. It began in 2014. In that year, drought conditions in California hit record highs, prompting fears of massive fires in the future. America watched transfixed as civil unrest was live-streamed online following the police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Sen. Bernie Sanders started to make headlines as a possible 2016 contender. Republicans swept the Senate and gained the largest majority in the House in decades, leading PBS to go so far as to say “there are no more moderates.” The feeling in 2014 was of waiting for something to happen. And five years later, it feels like it was the year the world we’re living in now began to take shape. The phrase ‘jobless recovery’ got thrown around and it looked like the big banking reforms promised in the wake of the 2008 recession weren’t going to happen. In Texas, the fracking bubble burst when the world oil markets were glutted, deflating hopes of a continuing boom-time. We weren’t going to return to the old normal. We were starting something new…”
EveryCRSReport.com – CRS report – Congress’s Authority to Influence and Control Executive Branch Agencies, Updated December 19, 2018. “The Constitution neither establishes administrative agencies nor explicitly prescribes the manner by which they may be created. Even so, the Supreme Court has generally recognized that Congress has broad constitutional authority to establish and shape the federal bureaucracy. Congress may use its Article I lawmaking powers to create federal agencies and individual offices within those agencies, design agencies’ basic structures and operations, and prescribe, subject to certain constitutional limitations, how those holding agency offices are appointed and removed. Congress also may enumerate the powers, duties, and functions to be exercised by agencies, as well as directly counteract, through later legislation, certain agency actions implementing delegated authority.
The most potent tools of congressional control over agencies, including those addressing the structuring, empowering, regulating, and funding of agencies, typically require enactment of legislation. Such legislation must comport with constitutional requirements related to bicameralism (i.e., it must be approved by both houses of Congress) and presentment (i.e., it must be presented to the President for signature). The constitutional process to enact effective legislation requires the support of the House, Senate, and the President, unless the support in both houses is sufficient to override the President’s veto.
There also are many non-statutory tools (i.e., tools not requiring legislative enactment to exercise) that may be used by the House, Senate, congressional committees, or individual Members of Congress to influence and control agency action. In some cases, non-statutory measures, such as impeachment and removal, Senate advice and consent to appointments or the ratification of treaties, and committee issuance of subpoenas, can impose legal consequences. Others, however, such as House resolutions of inquiry, may not be used to bind agencies or agency officials and rely for their effectiveness on their ability to persuade or influence.”
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….”