“Thirty-five years ago, different countries had their own telecommunications infrastructure, so the division between foreign and domestic collection was clear. Today there’s a global communications infrastructure, so there’s a greater risk of collecting on Americans when the NSA collects overseas.” Senator Ron Wyden, member of the intelligence panel, regarding the National Security Agency’s unrestricted surveillance overseas on October 30, 2013
WEEK OF OCTOBER 28, 2013
Nation: Flying just became a bit more fun.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Thursday that airline passengers will be allowed to use electronic devices gate-to-gate, but only for work, play, music listening and movie watching, not for talking or internet browsing. Excited? We are too, but not so fast. Changes most likely won’t happen on your next flight as airlines will have to show the FAA how their airplanes meet the new guidelines (planes need to be properly protected from electronic interference during takeoff and landing) and that they’ve updated flight crew training manuals and rules to reflect the new policies. “We believe today’s decision honors both our commitment to safety and consumers’ increasing desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flights,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. We agree.
World: Syria can no longer make chemical weapons.
Reports indicate that Syria has destroyed the equipment critical to producing chemical weapons in the country, bringing it one step closer to honoring its agreement with the United States and its allies. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog agency responsible for overseeing the elimination of Syria’s stockpile, had set a Nov. 1 deadline for this particular benchmark, but there’s still more to come. Damascus has close to 1,000 metric tons of chemicals and weapons including mustard gas and sarin to destroy but even early elimination of manufacturing ability is a significant milestone.
Politics: States taking privacy laws into own hands.
State legislatures around the country, facing growing public concern about the collection and trade of personal data, have rushed to propose a series of privacy laws, from limiting how schools can collect student data to deciding whether the police need a warrant to track cell phone locations. Over two dozen privacy laws have passed this year in more than 10 states, and many lawmakers say that widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency have led to more support for the bills among constituents. “Congress is obviously not interested in updating those things or protecting privacy,” said Jonathan Stickland, a Republican state representative in Texas. “If they’re not going to do it, states have to do it.”
Business: Rumors of a stock market bubble.
A growing chorus of Wall Street pros say a bubble is forming in the U.S. stock market, thanks to the Federal Reserve’s easy-money policies, like the $85 billion in monthly bond purchases that have artificially inflated stock prices. The great stock market rally of 2013 is reflected in the S&P 500 which is up 24 percent this year, while the Dow Jones industrial average is up nearly 5 percent since the beginning of May. Some stock watchers think the rise is unwarranted because growth in the U.S. and overseas remains sluggish. Stocks hitting new highs seems to disregard the grim realities of minimal job growth and eroding consumer confidence. There is concern that if the Fed does not dial back its asset purchases soon, stocks could shoot higher and become even more delinked from business fundamentals.
Health: No more cigarettes for you, young adults of New York.
The New York City Council voted Wednesday to raise the minimum age for purchasing cigarettes to 21, making it the biggest city in the country to bar 19 and 20 year olds from buying cigarettes. “We know that tobacco dependence can begin very soon after a young person first tries smoking so it’s critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. Bloomberg has 30 days to sign the bill into law, and it will take effect 180 days after enactment.
Women’s Affairs: More women in the Pantheon, please.
French President Francois Hollande’s recent statement that it was time “to receive women in the Pantheon” has sparked a debate in France over when, how, and who to add to the Pantheon’s honored ranks. Only 73 people have been “Pantheonised,” and of those, only two are women. The first is Marie Curie, alongside her husband Pierre, and the second, Sophie Berthelot, is the wife of the chemist Marcellin Berthelot, who refused to be buried without her. An official government Web site inviting citizens to suggest candidates has gathered hundreds of names, along with another site run by Osez le féminisme (Dare to Be Feminist). The debate has grown to include those calling for certain deserving men as well, and at this point only one thing is certain, everyone has a strong opinion. Most, however, agree that it’s time more French women were honored for their accomplishments.