Nanny State goes global

Monday, May 24, 2010

6:00 am May 24, 2010, by Bob Barr

“Nanny State” laws are popping up with increasing frequency as big-government advocates continue to be elected to offices from the city council to the White House. What many Americans may not realize is the extent to which such invasive and pervasive government actions are spreading around the world, creating a “Nanny World.”

As usual, California, with its many ultra-liberal communities, is leading the way here in America. Santa Clara County recently voted to outlaw the sale of McDonald’s “Happy Meal” toys and a host of other novelties (including coupons from which a patron might download a song) provided by restaurants as a bonus for customers who purchase certain drinks or food items. As bizarre as is this most recent ban, if some of that county’s residents have their way, it will be followed by many more. One resident of Sacramento, for example, reportedly voiced support for the recently-passed measure because even McDonald’s “190-calorie salad dressing and mass-produced beef scare her”; New York’s Mayor Bloomberg would be proud of her.

The Global War Against Calories has reached all the way to the Congress and the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama now regularly employs her bully pulpit to rail against obesity. Of course, criticizing obesity is not itself inappropriate; far too many Americans of all ages are too fat. However, when folks in Washington – including recently the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission — start issuing thinly-veiled warnings to food companies that they may be subpoenaed and forced to explain why their packaging is too enticing, or why they do not list nutrition information more prominently, we’ve moved beyond simple, personal encouragement to Big Brother-ism.

A bi-partisan reauthorization of the “Child Nutrition Act” now working its way through the Congress, would dramatically increase the reach of the federal government to dictate with great specificity what types of meals, snacks, and beverages could be sold in, or distributed by, every public school in the country. You can bet a Twinkie or a Baby Ruth will not remain among the sanctioned foods.

While nothing that happens at the University of California at Berkeley would surprise any observer of big government, the latest move by its administration might cause at least a double take. The university is asking incoming students to give the school a sample of their DNA when they register. This measure will enable the huge state-run school to amass a database of the most personal information imaginable about its students and eventual alumni. In typical Berkeley-speak, in a local television interview a genetics professor said he hopes this program “will excite students to be more hands-on with their college experience.”

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