Civil Liberties

Editor's Note: Control Freaks


The theme of this issue might be dubbed "control freaks." Several of this month's stories unmask ways in which the relatively powerful try to boss around the relatively powerless—typically with impunity and almost always in the name of some vaguely defined greater good.

Consider James Bovard's searing exposé of the "sorry record of the Transportation Security Administration," the newly minted federal agency charged with making U.S. air travel safe from global terrorism (page 24). We titled this story "Dominate. Intimidate. Control." after a motto posted at a TSA training center. As Bovard, whose new book Terrorism and Tyranny is a must-read for those interested in civil liberties in the post-9/11 world, writes, that slogan all-too-aptly summarizes the "federal mentality toward air travelers." In rich, infuriating detail, Bovard documents the routine incompetence of the nation's air marshals and baggage checkers, who have been far more successful at hassling airline passengers than they have been at ferreting out real threats to national security. Not for nothing was the TSA called "a monster" by the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.).

Then there's Associate Editor Matt Welch's "Injustice by Default," (page 42) which reports on the unintended consequences of the legitimate, and in most ways successful, effort to get deadbeat dads to support their kids. In California and other states, thousands of men have been wrongly named as fathers and have had their wages garnished, reputations ruined, and lives wrecked. While mistakes are always going to be made, many agencies have proven unwilling or unable to undo the damage they cause when they finger the wrong man. "Once that steamroller of justice starts rolling," writes Welch, "dozens of statutory lubricants help make it extremely difficult, and prohibitively expensive, to stop—even, in most cases, if there's conclusive DNA proof that the man is not the child's father." The result is a double injustice: an innocent man suffers while the real criminal goes free.

In "Teenage Wasteland" (page 50), Carl Horowitz surveys Kid Stuff, a recent collection of essays that decries "marketing sex and violence to America's children." Predictably, some of the contributors call for newer, tougher forms of content regulation, including more programming that serves that greatest of all feel-good abstractions, "the public interest." Peter Bagge's comic strip "Principal Stalin" (page 23), which mocks overzealous, repressive school officials, draws its punch lines from the education section of your daily newspaper.

How best to counter the control freaks? The stories in this issue are a starting point. Every time they try to dominate, intimidate, and control, we need to reveal, criticize, and fight back.