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News and stories from the campaign to reclaim individual responsibility and liberate Americans from bureaucracy and legal fear.

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Unsafe in any crib?

By Lenore Skenazy

Maybe no one should ever make – or buy, or use – a crib again. In 2010, the federal government recalled about 2 million cribs. This week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission warned consumers to stop using 73,000 more – specifically, drop-side cribs made by a company called PT Domusindo Perdana and sold at J.C. Penney’s.

Were these cribs spontaneously exploding? Whittled from endangered Baobab trees? Rolling over?

In fact, the Commission had received reports of three “incidents” wherein the drop side rails “malfunctioned or detached.” These resulted in how many injuries?

Zero.

Now, many folks might consider a product with a negligible number of complaints and a spotless injury record to be “safe.” After all, if you’re a company and you make 73,000 of a rather big-ticket item and you know it’s headed for the uber-scrutinized child market, you probably tested it for safety more than a few times yourself.

But the CPSC is tasked to look for danger. And if to a hammer everything looks like a nail, to the danger-seeking CPSC every crib seems to look like a Corvair.

Nonetheless, there’s a difference between protecting the public and obsessing over minute dangers. When zero injuries is not safe enough, what is?

Lenore Skenazy is the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids,” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She’s going to be posting here from time to time on issues of interest to Common Good supporters. As Lenore puts it, she’s ready to make “America the Home of the Brave again, not the Home of the Bureaucrats So Stupid that a Hazmat Crew Gets Called to a High School When a Student Brings in a Mercury Thermometer. (Which really happened a few months back, in Florida.)” And here’s her outrage of the week. Chime in!

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Ban dodgeball—it’s too violent

By Lenore Skenazy

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards. - Mark Twain

 

Heroin. Grenades. Wild jackals. Dodgeball.

None of these are allowed in the Windham, N.H. public schools.

Well, at least I assume the first three aren’t allowed. But dodgeball is definitely out, ever since last week, when the local school board voted 4 to 1 to ban dodgeball and nine other “human target” games (does that include tag?) from the curriculum.

The vote came after a parent complained of his child being bullied during the game. Predictably, that led to the formation of a committee to study the issue. And also perhaps predictably, given our outlandish level of anxiety when it comes to kids, the conclusion was that the games are too potentially traumatizing. Out they went.

But as a clearheaded student explained to the local paper, in dodgeball, the object is to win, and that involves hitting kids will balls. That’s not bullying, that’s playing.

And as the sole board member who voted against the ban also noted:

"We have rules that are set in place to deal with bullying," he said. "We don't need to ban an entire round of games just to enforce those rules."

And also let us note that the Windham students were not even playing with the rather intimidating red bouncy balls of days past. Now the balls are foam.

Foam!

Evidently even that's too much of a menace for our fragile kids to handle.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids,” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She’s going to be posting here from time to time on issues of interest to Common Good supporters. As Lenore puts it, she’s ready to make “America the Home of the Brave again, not the Home of the Bureaucrats So Stupid that a Hazmat Crew Gets Called to a High School When a Student Brings in a Mercury Thermometer. (Which really happened a few months back, in Florida.)” And here’s her outrage of the week. Chime in!

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Fiscal Times: Outdated Laws Drive Stupid Government Spending

"Maybe our undisciplined government spending isn't the problem; maybe it's our stultifying legal system." That's a core message of Common Good, and it's the message of a new piece in The Fiscal Times, "Outdated Laws Drive Stupid Government Spending."

The Fiscal Times asked Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard to diagnose the cause of our nation's legal, economic, and regulatory nightmare. The answer? "Cleaning up the government is hard not just because it is vast, but because it is tangled up in layer upon layer of antiquated laws--laws that should be periodically reviewed and simplified."

Convoluted laws and regulations gum up the works of government, creating a complex, wasteful bureaucracy. Common Good has argued from the start that America needs simpler government, law and regulation. That's why we've developed a set of concrete reforms to cut red tape and free Americans to innovate and create jobs in our economy.

Check out the Fiscal Times article, and join the fight for common sense.

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Dissatisfaction with Governance at Historic Levels

In forty years of Gallup polling, Americans have never expressed such dissatisfaction with how the nation is being governed:

According to Gallup:

  • 82% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.
  • 69% say they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government, an all-time high and up from 63% in 2010.
  • Americans believe, on average, that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, similar to a year ago, but up significantly from 46 cents a decade ago and from an average 43 cents three decades ago.
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States leading on malpractice reform

As federal and state governments struggle to combat rising healthcare costs, more and more policy makers are looking at our flawed medical justice system as an opportunity to reduce waste, improve patient outcomes, and make it easier for patients to receive just compensation.

Wayne Oliver writes in the Washington Times about initiatives in Georgia and Florida that would do just that:

The Georgia and Florida proposals would eliminate defensive medicine and create billions in health care and taxpayer savings. In exchange, the plan would replace the medical tort system with a no-fault, administrative model similar to a workers’ compensation system.

This would revolutionize the medical-malpractice system so that no physician would feel compelled to practice defensive medicine. Moreover, all injured patients would be compensated for their loss — something unheard of today because very few claims ever make it through the legal system.

See Oliver's full article here.

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Polls: Americans want change in government and regulation

The results from recent polls commissioned by Common Good (and conducted by the nonpartisan research firm Clarus Research Group) are unambiguous: Americans want serious reform of government bureaucracy and regulation. Large bipartisan majorities support overhauling broken government, simplifying laws, and reviewing regulation every ten years. Click here to see the full results.

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Walmart vs. birthday party parents: Who’s got the most hysterical overreaction?

By Lenore Skenazy

Readers--Here's a story from the NY Daily News that highlights two of the things that drive me craziest about our culture:

A family in Maine was serving a Walmart cake at their 2-year-old's birthday when they found a paring knife baked into it, on the bottom, clearly left there by mistake. Said the traumatized dad, the incident "put a dampener" on the party and people started to leave.

As if folks usually stick around for hours after the cake. Nothing more fun than the dregs of a party with over-tired toddlers! But the dad, sounding weepy, added, "We're not going to get that second birthday back ever."

Ohmigod--he’s right! How is anyone expected to recover from a blow like that? The family will NEVER get back a non-paring-knife-marred-cake-cutting-moment when their kid is two again! Naturally, that kind of thing is so unfair, so deeply disruptive to the natural order of things, that the dad said he may sue.

If he does, I hope he is thrown right out of court, and into a cake. (And if, ironically enough, there's a pointy thing in there, well...)

For its part, Walmart sounded almost sane and strong for a second, offering the family only its apologies and a replacement cake. Right on! But then a spokesman added that the chain was "now banning the use of pairing knives at its bakeries across the country."

Wha!? Just because ONE person in ONE Walmart screwed up ONE time with a paring knife--not an AK47--now the chain is banning ALL paring knives at ALL times in ALL Walmart bakeries? Are apples going to peel themselves for the pies? Is the store going to ban cleavers from the meat department, too?

What's disturbing about Walmart's response is how quickly and cravenly the corporation was willing to pretend that the problem was X, and now it is solved forevermore, by X banishment.

But the problem is obviously not paring knives. The problem is that human beings screw up sometimes, and this shouldn't be a sue-able offense unless there was gross negligence or malice, or some really unconscionable filling, like prune pudding. If a minimum wage bakery employee spaces out, it's time to talk to that employee, not issue an across-the-board edict.

So my ideal punishment for the Walmart legal team? Send them a cake. Prune pudding filling. No one goes home till it’s eaten. - L.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids,” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She’s going to be posting here from time to time on issues of interest to Common Good supporters. As Lenore puts it, she’s ready to make “America the Home of the Brave again, not the Home of the Bureaucrats So Stupid that a Hazmat Crew Gets Called to a High School When a Student Brings in a Mercury Thermometer. (Which really happened a few months back, in Florida.)” And here’s her outrage of the week. Chime in!

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Medical malpractice reform seen as state issue

The following article, by Ramesh Ponnuru, was published at Bloomberg View.

Feds Shouldn’t Meddle With Medical Malpractice

The idea that we should reform the way we handle allegations of medical malpractice is enjoying a new vogue.

At the end of a long cover story for Time magazine on high U.S. health-care costs, Steven Brill suggested that doctors who follow the best practices in the field should be shielded from liability. Peter Orszag, writing for Bloomberg View, argued that this policy could do a lot to reduce costs. One of the few health-care ideas that almost all congressional Republicans have agreed on, meanwhile, is caps on medical-malpractice awards.

Another proposal comes from Philip Howard: Specialized “medical courts,” he says, should hear malpractice cases, just as there are courts devoted to patents, tax law and other areas where expertise matters.

Supporters of these ideas say they would do more than control costs. They would also improve the practice of medicine. Doctors would no longer order unnecessary tests, for example, to protect themselves against future lawsuits.

All of these are attractive ideas. And I don’t deny that medical-malpractice law needs reform. Every doctor I know has a horror story. But lawsuits over medical care have traditionally been governed by state law -- and they should continue to be.

Consequential Mistakes

The federal government should keep out of this area, first, because we don’t really know the best way to reform the system. Would a legal “safe harbor” for doctors really work, or would trial lawyers find a way to get around it? Pharmaceutical companies thought that the federal drug-approval process would protect them from the whims of state courts. They thought wrong.

Even if the safe harbor proved legally effective, it could have negative effects. Doctors dislike the current system partly because it limits their ability to do what they think best for their patients, but a safe harbor for supposedly best practices could just put them in a tighter straitjacket. By placing the practice of medicine under more centralized control, the idea will magnify the effects of any mistakes the experts make.

Caps on medical liability would prevent outrageous verdicts, but a cap set too low could reduce the incentive for doctors to avoid errors. Where should the cap be set? We don’t know.The second reason the federal government should let states set their own rules is that they can do so without imposing costs outside their borders. If West Virginia chooses rules that punish obstetricians and gynecologists, some of them will move to Pennsylvania, and care will get more expensive. That’s too bad for West Virginians, but it’s also an incentive for them to elect legislators who will get the balance right.

Other areas of tort law don’t offer this opportunity for competition and self-correction. In product-liability cases, people can sue out-of-state corporations in their own states’ courts using their own states’ laws. Companies with national markets have to adjust to the most demanding jurisdiction. The most punitive state or locality can thus set a de facto national policy. Federal action to stop states from hurting the rest of the country is justified: The Constitution wisely gives the federal government the responsibility to protect commerce among the states.

There’s no such justification in the case of medical torts. No state can use its medical-malpractice rules to force outsiders to bear extra costs. It’s true that state rules can inflate the costs of federal health-care programs (that fact helped persuade President George W. Bush to call for federal legislation to cap malpractice awards). But the federal government has voluntarily picked those costs up, and can’t use its own decision as a basis for intrusions.

State Solutions

A recent study by Michael Frakes of Cornell Law School suggests that states that shield health providers from liability when they follow best practices have much lower health costs than other states. Proponents of that idea are pointing to the study to justify federal action. What it shows, though, is that states are capable of implementing such a policy on their own and can capture the benefits.

Notice that neither of those things is true in product- liability cases. No state can protect its companies from lawsuits elsewhere. And if it clamps down on abusive product- liability litigation inside its borders, much of the benefit will accrue to residents of other states.

Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general of Virginia, is one of the few Republicans to warn his party against attempting to reform medical-malpractice laws from Washington, even though, as he wrote in 2011, “I am concerned that our legal system encourages more lawsuits than are appropriate,” and even though this imposes higher medical costs. But not every problem has a federal solution, and he argued that states should fix their own laws rather than have the federal government take over the field. He’s right.

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Momentum For Health Courts Continues To Build

NEW YORK, March 4, 2013, PRNewswire -- Momentum for the creation of specialized health courts continues to build, following the first U.S. presidential race in which both major-party candidates endorsed the reform proposal. The momentum for health courts is fueled by bipartisan agreement on the need to stem the rising cost of health care and the costly waste of defensive medicine in particular.

The latest example of that momentum is the introduction in the Georgia State Senate of the "Patient Injury Act". That legislation, Senate Bill 141, was introduced by Senator Brandon Beach . The bill would replace the state's current medical malpractice system with a no-blame administrative model – in effect, a health court. A hearing on the bill continues today.

"Reforming the medical justice system depends on the passage of state legislation like Senate Bill 141," said Philip K. Howard , Founder and Chair of Common Good. "Without it, defensive medicine will continue to drive up health care costs, because the current system does not reliably distinguish between good care and bad."

Rising health care costs are driven significantly by the unnecessary waste of defensive medicine – doctors ordering tests and procedures not based on medical necessity but to protect themselves from a possible lawsuit. Defensive medicine is notoriously hard to measure, with estimates varying from about $45 billion to more than $200 billion annually. A recent estimate from BioScience Valuation, commissioned by Georgia-based Patients for Fair Compensation, places the cost of defensive medicine in the United States at between $270 billion and $650 billion annually.

In last year's presidential race, Republican candidate Mitt Romney advocated the creation of specialized health courts in an op-ed in USA Today, in which he said that "the federal government should also encourage states to pursue additional reforms such as specialized health care courts or other alternatives for resolving conflicts." President Obama had previously endorsed the creation of special health courts in a letter to Congressional leaders released by The White House on March 2, 2010. In it, he endorsed health courts and proposed an appropriation of $50 million for demonstration grants including health courts. The bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – often called the Simpson/Bowles Commission – also endorsed the creation of specialized health courts, as have numerous other bipartisan commissions.

According to Patients for Fair Compensation, two recent studies by BioScience Valuation estimate that Georgia taxpayers could save "nearly $7 billion within 10 years if the Legislature replaced the state's medical malpractice system with a no-blame, administrative Patients' Compensation System" – a specialized health court.

The concept of health courts has been championed by Common Good – the nonpartisan government reform coalition – working in conjunction with experts at the Harvard School of Public Health, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Under Common Good's model, health courts would have judges dedicated full-time to resolving health care disputes. The judges would make written rulings to provide guidance on proper standards of care. These rulings would set precedents on which both patients and doctors could rely. To ensure consistency and fairness, each ruling could be appealed to a new Medical Appellate Court.

Health courts are aimed not at stopping lawsuits but at restoring reliability to medical justice. Special courts have long been used in American justice in areas of complexity where reliability requires judges, who can make consistent rulings from case to case, rather than juries, which have no authority to set predictable precedents. In the early republic, America had special admiralty courts. Today, there are special courts for tax disputes, family law, workers' comp, vaccine liability and a wide range of other specialized areas.

The public sees the need for reliable health care justice – and for health courts in particular. A nationwide poll conducted in April by Clarus Research Group revealed that 66 percent of voters support the idea of creating health courts to decide medical claims. The health court concept has also been endorsed by virtually every legitimate health care constituency, including medical societies, patient safety organizations and consumer groups like AARP.

"Rarely does one see such remarkable bipartisan political agreement and popular support for an innovative government reform," added Philip K. Howard . "The momentum in support of health courts is building, as the public grows increasingly unhappy with paying for the unnecessary waste of defensive medicine."

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Lenore Skenazy’s Outrage of the Week

Lenore Skenazy is the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids,” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She’s going to be posting here from time to time on issues of interest to Common Good supporters. As Lenore puts it, she’s ready to make “America the Home of the Brave again, not the Home of the Bureaucrats So Stupid that a Hazmat Crew Gets Called to a High School When a Student Brings in a Mercury Thermometer. (Which really happened a few months back, in Florida.)” And here’s her outrage of the week. Chime in!

Hi Common Good Readers! Here’s a letter that may remind you of “safety” measures being taken in your own neighborhood. If so, we’d like to hear from you. There’s strength in numbers, and if enough parents, teachers, principals and plain old citizens feel that the new rules aren’t doing any good, we can push back together. So read this, then write us!

Dear Lenore: I took my kids to Sunday school a few weeks ago and the door we usually go in had a sign on it saying that we could no longer enter there.  Everyone needs to go in the door on the other side of the building.  Never mind that to get there, people now have to walk their children through the entire parking lot, which was already congested. (So much for “safety!”)

As I was walking my son to his classroom, I saw the woman in charge of Sunday school guarding one of the doors, waving away the people hoping to be let in.  I asked her about the new rule and she said, "I implemented it for safety.  Before, we had people going in and out of six different doors.  It just wasn't safe."  As we walked away from her, my 7-year-old son whispered, "Why is that not safe, Mommy?"

I couldn’t answer.

Then I picked up my 11-year-old daughter from her Sunday school class across the street.  She told me that instead of a normal lesson that day, they had a police officer come talk about personal safety.  “Personal safety” evidently means telling the kids details about several child abductions that have happened over the last 30 years.

As we were picking up my son from his class, I told my daughter that we must now walk around the building because they want everyone to go in and out of the same door.  She asked, "Won't that make it easier for someone who wanted to shoot or bomb people, because everyone will be in the same place?"

No answer.

Monday morning, I headed to the elementary school to change the marquee, as I have done for the past seven years.  I pressed the buzzer and instead of just opening the door as usual, the secretary asked me who I was over the intercom.  Never mind that there was a video camera and she could see me!  She let me in and I saw that she had a woman standing over her who’s evidently a security advisor.

I walked back to get the marquee letters in the office and she told me I needed to sign in, even though I do not even enter the main part of the school.  I do the marquee outside.

The only ray of hope came when I was leaving and overheard the office manager, principal, and secretary complaining to each other about how the new safety rules they are being forced to implement don't even seem to make anyone safer.

I keep thinking about the schools of my youth that had all of the doors open all day, every day, with no one monitoring who came or went.  The schools today have all implemented locked doors and buzzers and signing in, yet school shootings still occasionally happen.  Why does anyone think more and more "safety" rules are going to stop them?  If all of the safety procedures so far have not stopped these incidents, why will more safety procedures work? – Puzzled in Plano

P.S. The school district just voted to put armed guards at each of its 72 schools.

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