Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 12/31/09

By Tom Sherwood
|  Friday, Jan 1, 2010  |  Updated 3:31 PM EDT
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"Securicrats" To the Rescue

Getty Images

ARLINGTON, VA - DECEMBER 30: A Transportation Security Administration officer guides a person through a "millimeter wave" scanner during a demonstration at the TSA's Systems Integration Facility at Ronald Reagan National Airport December 30, 2009 in Arlington, Virginia. "Millimeter wave" passes electromagnetic waves over the body to create three-dimensional images that look like a photo negative. The scan can detect hidden metallic and nonmetallic objects such as weapons and explosives without physical contact. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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From the tech bubble of 2000 to the balloon boy hoax of 2009, this has been a heck of a decade.

And there's no reason to expect the next decade will be any more routine.

We're ending the first decade of the 21st century with our latest "security" scare, this time a would-be bomber on a Delta flight headed for Detroit. So the new year is bringing new restrictions on our freedoms.

Although the security lapse occurred at an international airport in another country, the "securicrats" here were busy imposing stricter standards of pre-flight searches and in-flight restrictions such as having nothing on your lap for that final hour of a flight.

The latter rule stems from the would-be bomber's attempt to disguise his evil motive.

We're wondering, though, as you really think about it, what the hour restriction really accomplishes.

Assume you can't have anything -- a book, a blanket, a handbag -- obscuring your lap from a flight attendant's sight during the last hour of your flight. What would keep a terrorist from doing something 63 minutes before the end of the flight, or 62 or 61 or even 90 minutes?

It reminds The Notebook of that old rule where passengers were required to remain seated for the first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes of flights into and out of Reagan Washington National Airport. Terrorists can't tell time and do something 31 minutes into a flight?

Obviously there are some reasonable security measures, such as reinforced cabin doors, vigilance and training for flight attendants, and screening of baggage and passengers.

The last thing the Obama administration wants to be labeled is soft on terrorism. So expect the security clatter to remain at high levels. The official "threat level" may remain at yellow (you didn't forget about that color chart, did you?), but the political level will be off the charts until this latest incident fades away.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, praised the president for his restrained response to the Delta incident.

"The president was right in doing the investigations first rather than setting off panic by ordering the many unproven, make-work steps that continued for years after 9/11," Norton said.

Norton is sponsoring a bill that would create a commission to study security and privacy in the modern world -- an effort to promote both.

But in the meantime, be prepared for more aggressive tactics. One former Homeland Security official said on WTOP this week that we have to "get over some of our privacy concerns" and use more invasive screening equipment and other measures to combat terrorism.

Here's my wish for 2010: that we never in this country "get over" our privacy concerns.

Somebody please tell the securicrats about Walt Kelly and the line he made famous: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

• Billboard Bluster?

The good folks who live in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood have reason to be happy this week.

A concerted effort has gotten a big outdoor advertising firm to dismantle and remove four billboards that stood in the residential neighborhood for more than 80 years.

The billboards at 4th and P streets NW came down after negotiations with the city in which the Fenty administration agreed to allow the company to have three other sites in commercial areas.

It's a decent compromise, but the Fenty administration tried a little election-year politics by allowing a suggestion that the billboards were illegal and removed only after considerable pressure from the city.

In fact, the billboards were "grandfathered in" and not subject to the rule that billboards be at least 200 feet from any residential area.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, who has effectively become the spokesperson for the Fenty administration (it's technically not his job), declared on Monday, "When the community speaks, the Fenty administration listens."

That's a pretty good re-election slogan for Fenty's 2010 campaign. But should it come from the attorney general? By law, he represents the city government, whose interests do not always align with the political interests of the sitting mayor's administration. Or at least that's the way the system is supposed to work.

It's natural for the attorney general (and previously the corporation counsel) to be supportive of the administration. But serving as the front-row cheerleader? That's a new standard.

• Using Religion

Many advocates of same-sex marriage in the District denounced the Catholic Church for its opposition to same-sex marriages. The city's proposed bill, the advocates argued, was a civil rights issue, not a religious battle.At-large D.C. Council member David Catania even incorporated "religious freedoms" in the law, allowing any house of worship to opt out of performing such marriages. He called it the "Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009."

So it was a little distracting to some that Mayor Fenty signed the marriage equality bill in All Souls Church on 16th Street. While it gave supporters the chance to show that many in the clergy do in fact support same-sex marriage, the church setting seemed also to argue against the law's basic theme that marriage is a civil right, not just a religious matter.

Maybe a better site would have been the front door of the John A. Wilson Building?

Whatever the theatrics of the signing, supporters of the bill are hoping that the measure escapes a bitter political battle on Capitol Hill, where Congress may or may not intervene.

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