The Blog

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

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Legal Idiocy #8: The Seats on the Bus Go Unused

An April 2011 New York Times article relates that the Port Washington, NY, school district sends out 17 buses with 1,122 total seats at the end of the school day, despite the fact that more than half of those seats routinely go empty, to comply with state laws that require districts “to provide a seat for every eligible child every day.” “‘It’s ludicrous to be doing this, and you can’t get anyone to listen,’ said Geoffrey N. Gordon, the Port Washington superintendent, who estimated that the practice of running more buses than needed costs the district $2 million a year.”

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Legal Idiocy #7: Uniform Absurdity in New Jersey

An April 2011 report by New Jersey Comptroller Matthew Boxer reveals that of the $22 million a year the state spends on clothing allowances for state workers, some $3 million goes to workers who aren’t required to wear a uniform. The report also found that “only California’s $450 clothing allowance comes close to New Jersey’s $700 allowance, with many others paying between $58 and $175 …. And unlike other states, New Jersey does not require the employee to submit a receipt to verify clothing purchases.”

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Legal Idiocy #6: There’s a Rule Against Everything

In an interview with C-SPAN, explaining why “the biggest project [on his desk] is to really liberate the workforce,” New York City Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith states: “Over the last hundred years, in order to make sure that mayors didn’t hire their friends and give contracts to their buddies, there are lots of rules. And if 100 rules are good, 1,000 rules are good. And if 1,000 rules are good, 10,000 rules are good. And now, there’s a rule against everything.”

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Joel Klein on How Legal Excesses Hurt American Education

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein relates how legal excesses have hindered America’s public schools. Of the New York City teachers contract — which hamstrings school administrators' and teachers' ability to make daily choices — Klein writes: “[It’s] an extraordinary document, running for hundreds of pages, governing who can teach what and when, who can be assigned to hall-monitor or lunchroom duty and who can’t, who has to be given time off to do union work during the school day, and so on.”

Klein goes on to argue that, due to the legal hurdles put in place by unions, “it’s virtually impossible to fire a teacher for non-performance.” “In New York City, which has some 55,000 tenured teachers,” he explains, “we were able to fire only half a dozen or so for incompetence in a given year, even though we devoted significant resources to this effort. The extent of the problem is difficult to overstate.” 

Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard has written extensively about the need to free schools from too much law, including most recently in a letter to the New York Times in which he argues that there’s a deal to be made with educators—bulldoze bureaucracy in exchange for accountability. “There’s no need to tell teachers how to do their jobs if they can be accountable when they don’t,” he writes.

Read more from Start Over’s “Solution” section—and provide your feedback here.

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The Death of Common Sense Re-Released With New Afterword

death of common sense legal reform united states america

Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard’s 1995 New York Times bestseller The Death of Common Sense was re-released this week. The book contains a new afterword by Howard — titled “Start Over: A New Operating System Based on Individual Responsibility” — in which he writes:

“Accomplishment always requires judgment on the spot. At every level of society, people must be free to take responsibility. They must be free to make choices needed to do their jobs. This doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. But not having the freedom in daily choices guarantees failure.”

Click here to buy the re-released paperback or Nook editions of the book from Barnes & Noble — or here to buy the earlier or re-released Kindle edition from Amazon.com.

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Philip Howard discusses Start Over on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Recently on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Philip K. Howard discussed Common Good’s Start Over campaign which aims to put the need for a structural overhaul of government on the agenda for the 2012 campaign.  Jon Stewart agreed that “We need a spring cleaning of grand proportions.”

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Common Good Launches a New Website

We are thrilled to announce the launch of Common Good’s new website, which will serve as the online home for our Start Over campaign. 

Start Over seeks to revive America’s can-do spirit. For anything to work sensibly, people in charge need to be free to make responsible choices. Today, an ever-thickening blanket of law and regulation has suffocated common sense. Everyone, even the President, is shackled by too much law. It’s time for a spring cleaning.

Start Over aims to shift the debate in America towards the need for a structural overhaul of law and government—so that all Americans have the freedom to take responsibility. It is motivated by one simple premise: Only people, not rules, make things happen.

Government will never fix itself. That’s why we must come together and force a basic overhaul—to restore a structure based on individual responsibility and accountability, not legal paralysis. 

Our new website will provide information, host discussions with leading experts, and offer ways for you to get involved. We encourage you to click through the site—sign up for our newsletter, join us on Facebook and Twitter—and offer your feedback. We also ask that you share this website with your friends and colleagues and encourage them to join the campaign.   

This movement will be historic. It could even be fun. But it will require you. We thank you for visiting—and hope you return often. It’s time to Start Over.

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Four Ways to Fix a Broken Legal System

At the February 2010 TED conference, Philip K. Howard speaks about how we can radically simplify law in the United States.

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Legal Idiocy #5: The Early Bird Keeps Its Job

According to a February 2011 report by The New Teacher Project, “it’s actually illegal in 14 states to consider any factor other than a teacher’s length of service when making layoff decisions.”

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Legal Idiocy #4: Buffalo Can’t Thin the Herd

A January 2011 Economist article relates that Buffalo, NY, “has as many public workers in 2006 as it did in 1950, despite the fact that the city has lost half its population.”

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