Free Government Information (FGI) – Because Government information needs to be free

Free Government Information (FGI) – Because Government information needs to be free

Title 17, section 105 of the US code forbids the federal government from claiming copyright over its own publications. No such restriction exists for state governments, however, and many states have asserted copyright over things that one would think couldn’t possibly be treated as private property: legal codes, case law, the very stuff that government is made of. Worse yet, a few state governments have even awarded copyrights to 3rd party publishers in exchange for taking over the burden of printing and annotating their large, bound publications.

https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCODE-2018-title17/pdf/USCODE-2018-title17-chap1-sec105.pdf

All that ended Monday when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Public.Resource.Org in its case against the state of Georgia. States can no longer claim copyright over works which are authored and prepared by state employees. State publications are now unambiguously in the public domain.

Court decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1150_7m58.pdf

The story of this case and how librarian hero Carl Malamud has fought it for the better part of a decade is a rather good one. I remember when he first lost in the district courts, and we all thought that was the end for him. But he appealed and took it all the way to the top; and now he’s won, in the biggest way possible. It’s a huge victory for public access to government information. And a modest win for sanity in the public sphere more generally.

https://slate.com/technology/2020/04/georgia-state-law-copyright-lexis-nexis-supreme-court.html

Trump blasts ‘scam’ Michael Flynn investigation after new FBI documents released By https://www.politico.com/staff/quint-forgey 04/30/2020 07:50 AM EDT, Updated: 04/30/2020 08:59 AM EDT
https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/30/trump-blasts-scam-michael-flynn-investigation-after-new-fbi-documents-released-225509

“President Donald Trump vented outrage Thursday over the FBI’s treatment of Michael Flynn following the release of government records and recent media reports regarding the bureau’s 2017 investigation into his former national security adviser. In a remarkable series of nearly 30 tweets and retweets issued within a 12-hour time frame – which came as the number of Americans killed by the coronavirus surged beyond 60,000 – Trump excoriated former FBI Director James Comey, questioned the bureau’s current leadership, and fiercely defended Flynn and other associates ensnared by the far-reaching Russia probe that consumed the early years of his administration. ”

Documents show FBI debated how to handle investigation of Michael Flynn. By JOSH GERSTEIN, KYLE CHENEY and NATASHA BERTRAND 04/29/2020 09:34 PM EDT https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/29/fbi-michael-flynn-224311

‘Newly released documents about the origins of the criminal case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn show that FBI officials feared that the new Trump White House might view the bureau as “playing games” if it sought to interview him without disclosing exactly what it was up to.’ “The four pages of records provided to Flynn’s defense attorneys last week and unsealed on Wednesday by a federal judge reflect internal brainstorming at the FBI in January 2017 about how to approach the politically explosive investigation into Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador weeks earlier, during the presidential transition.”

Documents: nts:https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.dcd.191592/gov.uscourts.dcd.191592.188.0_8.pdf

co-published on govdoc-l and freegovinfo.info.

Trump corruption

One of the things that most scares me about the current administration is the terrible — and possibly long-term — erosive effect it is having on the entire executive branch. One of the best books to document this systemic tragedy is Michael Lewis’ Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy (many libraries have access to it via Overdrive so check your local public library. They’re still working hard even during the pandemic!)

If you can’t get your hands on Lewis’ book, then check out the American Prospect, which has done a massive investigation into the Trump administration’s dodgy practices.

In three years as president, he has transformed the executive branch into a giant favor factory, populated with the agents or willing partners of virtually every special interest. Add up all the routine, daily outrages—the quasi-bribery and quasi-extortion, the private raids on public funds, the handouts to the undeserving, the massive flow of cash, jobs, and freebies back in return—and Trump’s attempt to squeeze a little re-election help out of the fragile government of a desperate Eastern European country does not loom particularly large in the reckoning … The Trump administration has brought its brand of corruption and self-dealing to every agency in the federal government, and it’s hard for anyone to keep on top of it all. We’ve mapped it out for you. Click on any agency building below, and unlock an extensive dossier of the activities happening inside.

via Mapping Corruption.

The classic publication to learn about the history of the US Census and trace the questions asked through time is Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000. I refer to this frequently when teaching students about the census. But check out this incredibly handy visual look at the history of the US census that traces which questions were asked for each census. This nicely illustrates the problem with, for example, asking about the number of Latinos or Chinese in the US from 1800 – present. The Census is a snapshot in time and reflects the legislative and political contexts of that time. Enjoy the viz!

The census is an essential part of American democracy. The United States counts its population every ten years to determine how many seats each state should have in Congress. Census data have also been used to levy taxes and distribute funds, estimate the country’s military strength, assess needs for social programs, measure population density, conduct statistical analysis of longitudinal trends, and make business planning decisions.

We looked at every question on every census from 1790 to 2020. The questions—over 600 in total—tell us a lot about the country’s priorities, norms, and biases in each decade. They depict an evolving country: a modernizing economy, a diversifying population, an imperfect but expanding set of civil and human rights, and a growing list of armed conflicts in its memory. What themes and trends will you notice?

PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT OVER THE COURSE OF AMERICAN HISTORY, QUESTIONS ON THE CENSUS HAVE INCLUDED TERMINOLOGY THAT WE CONSIDER OUTDATED OR EVEN OFFENSIVE TODAY. WE INCLUDE THESE AS HISTORICAL ARTIFACTS, BUT WE ARE MINDFUL THAT STANDARDS HAVE EVOLVED AND WILL CONTINUE TO EVOLVE.

via The Evolution of the American Census.

On Politics: ‘Politics and Cronyism Ahead of Science’. New York: New York Times Company. Apr 23, 2020.
“Is President Trump putting “politics and cronyism ahead of science”? Those were the words chosen by Rick Bright, the doctor who had been leading the federal effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine. This week he was removed from that position at the Department of Health and Human Services and reassigned to a narrower role at the National Institutes of Health, Bright said. He had resisted Trump’s efforts to direct government money toward hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that some have pushed as a viable coronavirus treatment despite a lack of thorough vetting by medical researchers. Bright says he thinks this is what led to his ouster.”

‘”I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” Bright said in a statement to The Times. Although it did not name Trump directly, the letter made clear Bright’s dissatisfaction with how he had been treated by the administration, even before he was removed from his post. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science – not politics or cronyism – has to lead the way,” he said.’
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/23/us/politics/trump-coronavirus-rick-bright.html

The HHS official overseeing coronavirus vaccine development says he was ousted after his objections to hydroxychloroquine. By Aaron Rupar, Apr 22, 2020, 6:20pm EDT “In the letter, first reported by the New York Times, Bright demanded the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General investigate whether his demotion to a lesser role with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stemmed from political or financial motives instead of public health ones. (Trump has a small investment in a company that manufactures Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine, and numerous wealthy Republican donors who are close with Trump have larger financial stakes in hydroxychloroquine drugs.)”
https://www.vox.com/2020/4/22/21231763/dr-rick-bright-fired-hhs-hydroxychloroquine-coronavirus-vaccine-trump

Dr. Bright’s statement is contained in the Rupar article and links to Maggie Haberman’s tweet: https://twitter.com/JDiamond1/status/1253056646802214912/photo/1

Today Dr Bright’s attorney’s stated he would be filing a whistleblower complaint.

co-published on govdoc-l and freegovinfo.info.

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