If you're flying overseas soon, or even thinking of flying and don't have time to watch the late night talk shows, Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, visit the TSA Web site for comic relief.
The TSA, an acronym that appears to stand for "Too Stupid for America" or "Travel Sucks in America," has compensated for Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano's initial utter cluelessness about the danger posed by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Northwest Flight 253 by issuing the dumbest, most counterproductive "safety" regulations in aviation history.
The TSA issued the new regs two days before Secretary Napolitano's performance on Sunday, when she told ABC that her agency's alert system had worked well because "once this incident occurred, everything happened that should have." (Claiming she had been quoted out of context, Ms. Napolitano retracted this cheery assessment today on Fox News.)
The new regs themselves are almost impossible to find on the TSA's own inscrutable Web site, of course. So hats off to bloggers like Steven Frischling, AKA "Fish," for posting Aviation Security Directive 1544-09-06 on his Web site: "Flying with Fish."
From now on, all passengers on international flights -- well almost all passengers -- will be patted down at gates before boarding, "concentrating on upper legs and torso." And most passengers will have to remain in their seats "beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination." So you may not want to eat, or surely not drink anything more than half-way through your flight. Perhaps flight attendants can distribute to female passengers at the start of international flights those "Depends" incontinence pads that actress June Allyson used to promote. That won't help male fliers. But perhaps they can think of something clever for them, too. I'm not sure how the TSA will deal with infants and tiny tots, however.
And, don't even think about sleeping until shortly before your arrival. The new regs bar you from keeping anything on your lap an hour prior to reaching your destination – including "blankets, pillows, or personal belongings." So presumably books are out too, unless you read while suspending them in air.
Nor will you be able to watch live television or work on your computer with Web access. The TSA has ordered all airlines to "disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and services (phone, Internet access services, live television programming, global positioning systems) prior to boarding and "during all phases of flight."
If you want to see the Grand Canyon or the Empire State Building or the Mississippi, better stay glued to the window. The TSA is ordering pilots and crew not to "make any announcement to passengers concerning flight path or position over cities or landmarks."
Of course, these inane regs have exceptions. They may not apply, for instance, to "Heads of State or Heads of Government" or the spouses or children of chiefs of state or to "one other individual chosen by the Head of State or Head of Government." So presumably Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, whose henchmen were convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 259 crew and passengers, most of them Americans, would not be forced to soil himself.
The new regulations, which are mercifully set to expire after December 30, would be truly side-splitting if they were not intended in their own, botched bureaucratic way, to address a desperately serious threat. Al Qaeda and other like-minded terrorists with long-simmering grievances against the United States or American foreign policy seem intent on blowing up airplanes in yet another terror spectacular. They have failed so far thanks partly to the effort of some 50,000 Americans who work for the TSA, astute passengers and plane crews, and the inconvenience all of us travelers have endured since 9/11.
Preventing terrorism, however, means, first and foremost, acknowledging it as an enduring threat which must be combated through word and deed – and that means engaging critics and would-be enemies through the outreach that President Obama has championed. But it also means calling terrorism what it is, and not employing such euphemisms for fighting it as "overseas contingency operations." Ms. Napolitano managed to avoid using the word terrorism during her debut testimony on Capitol Hill. Even President Obama seems to prefer talking about "extremism."
Finally, it means putting in place a competent homeland security team. The TSA's latest imbecilic regulations were issued by Gale Rossides, the agency's "acting" administrator. In September, President Obama finally appointed Erroll Southers as chief of the agency charged with keeping America's travelers safe and secure. But Republican stonewalling has blocked the confirmation of Southers and several national security nominees for months. Such partisanship is irresponsible and dangerous in time of war.
But the administration, too, must make a greater effort to court Republican support when national security is at stake. Rep. Peter King, the ranking New York Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, has frequently complained about the administration's reluctance to brief Congress on national security threats, including the latest failed terrorist attack.
So while the new regulations should be mocked and repealed, it would be foolhardy to downplay the threat they were meant to address. Islamic militants and other extremists will not stop trying to kill us. And without luck, smart security measures, and enlightened foreign and national security policies, they are more than likely at some point to succeed.