Eco-Fascism Plagues Britain

Tony Blair is deeply unpopular and has already announced that he will soon step down as England’s prime minister. But that does not mean he will go quietly into that good night. As reported by the Daily Mail, the UK government has announced a series of totalitarian steps to compel less energy use:

Homeowners who refuse to make their properties energy efficient will face financial penalties under drastic government plans to transform Britain into the world’s first ‘green’ economy. …The Government said that every new home should be “carbon neutral” within ten years — and existing properties subject to a “home energy audit” to assess how green they are.

Critics correctly note this is a massive intrusion into the private lives of homeowners:

Blair Gibbs, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s bad enough that politicians want to take so much of our money away in tax. For them also to intrude into our homes in order to have the ability to penalize us even further is simply unacceptable.”

But the government is undaunted, and, in a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, Tony Blair even has the gall to state that his totalitarian initiative is akin to the fight against fascism:

People are to be encouraged to make “more sustainable” travel choices, including greater use of public transport, walking and cycling. The Government is also to invest in solar, wind and wave power. …Mr Blair compared the fight against climate change to the battle against fascism.

Sadly, the British people cannot count on the Tories to defend individual freedom. Under the feckless leadership of David Cameron, the Conservative Party is even further to the left than Labor. The Party of Margaret Thatcher has become a hollow shell, judging from the Daily Mail’s reporting:

Opposition politicians and green campaigners said the Government’s proposals did not go far enough, insisting binding targets on emissions should be annual. Tory spokesman Peter Ainsworth said: “There is a danger that the fiveyear approach will enable responsibility for failure to be shunted on from one government to another.”

Republicans Remember Some of Their Principles

Great headline in the Washington Post today –

Dozens in GOP Turn Against Bush’s Prized ‘No Child’ Act

The good news is that

More than 50 GOP members of the House and Senate – including the House’s second-ranking Republican – will introduce legislation today that could severely undercut President Bush’s signature domestic achievement, the No Child Left Behind Act, by allowing states to opt out of its testing mandates.

The bad news is that even

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said that advocates do not intend to repeal the No Child Left Behind Act. Instead, they want to give states more flexibility to meet the president’s goals of education achievement, he said.

So even a small-government federalist like Jim DeMint isn’t willing to say that education is a family, community, or state responsibility, but not a federal responsibility. Still, weakening the mandates would be a real victory for decentralization and competition.

I particularly liked the comment from Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), author of the proposed House bill:

“President Bush and I just see education fundamentally differently,” said Hoekstra, a longtime opponent of the law. “The president believes in empowering bureaucrats in Washington, and I believe in local and parental control.”

Hoekstra, who spoke at last week’s Cato conference on reauthorization of the No Child act (at the end of the panel 1 video), sounds like he’s read Cato’s 2005 paper on the topic. Now he and DeMint should reread the paper and commit themselves to getting the federal government out of our local schools.

The Emergency Du Jour

True to form, Congress has added some non-defense items to the current “emergency” supplemental spending bill that was proposed mainly as a way to fund the troop surge in Iraq.  Among my favorites (as reported in this chart – subscription required – in today’s Congressional Quarterly):

* $1.8 billion in crop subsidies

* $283 million in price supports for milk producers

* $74 million for “peanut storage” subsidies

* $25 million in aid to spinach growers who lost money during the 2006 contamination scare

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh – Why Did I Ever Leave Ohio?

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, so this is personal.

Ohio used to have one of the lowest tax burdens in the country.  Now it has the third highest.  And, yes, that sucking sound is all the jobs going to other states.

After more than a decade of mismanagement and malfeasance under the control of an unprincipled tax-and-spend Republican Party, Ohio finally gave up and tried the other party last year.  They elected Democrat Ted Strickland as their new governor. (His opponent, Ken Blackwell, actually believes in and acts on the fiscal conservatism he ran on, but who can blame the voters for not buying it?).

Gov. Strickland laid out his budget plans in a speech yesterday, claiming he wants to do something the Republicans never did: cut spending!  (Of course the speech laid out some big new spending items, so I’m sure Ohio can look forward to more ballooning budgets and higher taxes, anyway).

Unfortunately, Gov. Strickland also proposed paying for this by gutting Ohio’s tiny voucher programStrickland is of course confused, because vouchers actually save money.  No matter, I’m sure that .08% of the budget will cover the Medicaid expansion!  Strickland also wants to put a moratorium on new charter schools and ban for-profit education management companies from running them.  (Andrew Coulson reviewed some of the reasons why killing educational freedom is such a demonstrably bad idea yesterday.)

If the Ohio Republican Party finds its principles and its spine, this just might be a time of great opportunity.

They can hold Strickland to his budget cuts, push for tax cuts, and pick a big fight over the Governor’s attempt to kill what little educational choice exists in Ohio.

The Republicans could even try to expand school choice by proposing education tax credits, which have received bipartisan support in other states.  The Democratic Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, just proposed an education tax deduction in his budget proposal.  Last year, the Democrat-control Rhode Island legislature passed an education tax credit program, Democratic Governor Ed Rendell expanded Pennsylvania’s program, and the Democratic Governor of Arizona signed a new tax credit program into law.

Education tax credits can save a lot of money, because the scholarship organizations provide just what a family needs to move their child from an expensive failing school to a better, more efficient private school.  So tax credits will help Gov. Strickland get control over the bloated Ohio budget.

Education tax credits are a bi-partisan win-win-win-fest!  I hope Ohio makes me proud to be a native son once again by passing them.

Google Does a Good Thing

I have written here a couple of times about concerns with Google’s data retention practices in light of its susceptibility for use in government surveillance. 

Happily, a couple of Google lawyers have announced on the Google blog that the company will be making the data from their server logs “much more anonymous, so that it can no longer be identified with individual users, after 18-24 months.” That’s a big, important change, as Google’s privacy policy has never before pledged to destroy or anonymize data about all of our searches.

Now, there are some interesting details - details that are highlighted by the text I quoted above. “Anonymous” is correctly regarded as an absolute condition. Like pregnancy, anonymity is either there or it’s not. Modifying the word with a relative adjective like “more” is a curious use of language.

Google has a challenge, if they’re going to anonymize data and not destroy it, to make sure that a person’s identity and behavior cannot be reconstructed from it. As AOL’s fiasco with releasing “anonymized” search data showed, clipping off the obvious identifiers won’t do it. As data mining capabilities advance, anonymizing techniques will have to keep ahead of that.

There are interesting things that can be done to synthesize data, making it statistically relevant while factually incoherent. Hopefully, Google will sic some of its finest famously-smarty-pants engineers on the task of making their anonymous data really, really anonymous.

(Cross-posted from TechLiberationFront)

An Extra $15 Billion for Farm Programs

Further to David’s post yesterday, some telling details about the Senate Budget Committee’s ideas for “fiscally responsible” farm policy. Starting on page 54 of this document, section 306 the “Deficit-Neutral Reserve Fund for the Farm Bill” (which is a cute name – what chances do you give of this staying a “reserve fund”?) states that:

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Budget may revise the allocations, aggregates, and other appropriate levels and limits in this resolution for a bill, joint resolution, amendment, motion, or conference report that- 

  1. reauthorizes the Food Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002;
  2. strengthens our agriculture and rural economies;  
  3. provides agriculture-related tax relief; 
  4. improves our environment by reducing our Nation’s dependence on foreign sources of energy through expanded production and use of alternative fuels; or 
  5. combines any of the purposes provided in paragraphs (1) through (4); 

by the amounts provided in that legislation for those purposes up to $15,000,000,000 over the total of fiscal years 2007 through 2012, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over the total of the period of fiscal years 2007 through 2012.

Farm lobby groups were relatively happy with the 2002 Farm Bill, and would be still were it not for the inconvenient fact that market prices of some commodities are so high, and projected to remain high, that government spending on price-linked subsidies will probably be relatively low over the next few years (falling from about $15 billion annually to about $8 billion). Apparently, high market prices are not sufficient to please some farm groups, hence the extra $15 billion of your money that the Senate has seen fit to allocate to “any of the purposes provided in paragraphs (1) through (4).”

On today’s agenda, a group of congressmen are introducing a bill regarding the reauthorization of the farm bill. From the press release (via Ken Cook):

The bill reforms the Farm Bill to make a major new investment in the development of renewable energy on American farms, promote resource conservation, provide consumers with healthier food choices, and boost farm profitability. The Healthy Farms, Foods, and Fuels Act of 2007 also includes provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on farms and fight global warming, and to expand programs to bring healthier foods to school cafeterias.

That’s quite a wish list.

Cato’s Center for Trade Policy Studies is on the case, though. Stay tuned for our alternative ideas for the farm policy, released shortly.

Ohio Governor Seeks to Kill Voucher Program

In his State of the State address on Wednesday, Ohio governor Ted Strickland called for the elimination of the statewide voucher program aimed at students in public schools deemed to be failing. He is also seeking to prevent the creation of any new charter schools and to outlaw for-profit firms from managing charter schools.

He went on to say that no new grocery stores should be opened in Ohio, that grocery stores should not be permitted to operate for profit, and that the state would be withdrawing from the federal foodstamps program.

Okay, I made that last paragraph up. But the only reason you knew that is because we are all familiar with the advantages of a competitive market for grocery stores, and with the fact that government can subsidize access to food without actually running its own supermarkets.

Researchers who study school governance structures in an international and historical perspective know that the same things that are true of the grocery business are also true of the education sector. Members of the public who frequent Cato’s website or read our publications know this as well.

Tragically, at least one very influential man from Ohio is wholly ignorant of these facts.

This is yet another argument for federalism and against national standards in education. If Ohioans choose to elect leaders who will unravel the progress they have made toward parental choice and competition between schools, their state will lose a competitive advantage it currently enjoys in attracting businesses and families. Other states that pursue greater freedom in education will attract more businesses and families. Eventually, states will have to stop operating education as a monopoly jobs program and start letting families decide – or gradually become economic and cultural backwaters.

But if we nationalize education – as so many Republicans and Democrats currently wish to do – a single backward administration or Congress could ruin education for the entire nation.

Folks who still support national standards after thinking about that should re-read the part of Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” that deals with medieval Chinese naval capacity and technology, and the reasons these fell behind achievements in the West.