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

Blog — Government

Red Tape Makes Yogurt Enterprise a No Go

The latest issue of The Economist carries the revealing tale of Homa Dashtaki, an Iranian immigrant in California with a knack for making “fantastically good yogurt”—but whose attempt to live out the “American dream” by selling the product has been stymied by too much law:

After three months of operating (for about $300 in revenues a week, and no profit at all), [Ms. Dashtaki] encountered that other American tradition, red tape …. For although she had spent a year getting the required permits from Orange County, she had, it turned out, yet to make the acquaintance of the ‘milk and dairy food safety branch’ of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). On a Saturday morning in March, Ms Dashtaki got a call and was told to shut down or risk prosecution.

Ms. Dashtaki’s research revealed that the regulations affecting her yogurt operation dated back to 1947—and were based on “the core assumption that all dairy products are made from raw milk, thus requiring elaborate processes that involve proper pasteurisation.” Because her yogurt is made with pasteurized milk, Ms. Dashtaki was hoping for a waiver—but she was told no, and that she would need to “set up a ‘Grade A’ dairy plant.”

The article continues:

Ms Dashtaki soldiered on. Then a licensing officer told her that the code does not permit milk to be pasteurised a second time. So ‘in order to comply with the order to re-pasteurise my already pasteurised milk, I would need to get exemption from the head of the CDFA,’ she explains. The tale thus went from Kafka to Catch-22.

Today Ms. Dashtaki’s yogurt enterprise “remains just a wispy little thing.” As she contemplates trying it in another state, or simply packing it in, the The Economist concludes: “It looks like California’s regulators have triumphantly saved their population from the threat of mass poisoning once again.”

Please share your thoughts on this article—and if you’ve got a story about how red tape has stymied your entrepreneurial efforts, we’d like to hear it. Thanks. 

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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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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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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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Legal Idiocy #3: Guarding Against Efficiency

Despite housing no offenders, a Fulton County, NY, juvenile detention center continued to employee 30 people in 2010 due in part to a state law that “requires a one-year notice before closing the facilities run by unionized workers.” “We’re paying 30 staff people to baby-sit an empty building,” said then New York State Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo. “It is bizarre. It is something that has to be stopped immediately.”

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Legal Idiocy #1: It’s Getting Harder to Build for the Future

Editorializing on the decade-long process to approve America’s first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, The Wall Street Journal writes in April 2010: “Contemplate this depressing change in America’s can-do spirit: The 6.6 million-ton Hoover Dam that tamed the mighty Colorado River was finished in 1936 after a mere five years. Yet 130 offshore wind turbines … may take three times as long to complete.”

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One Nation, Under Too Many Laws

Writing the lead op-ed in the Washington Post's Outlook section, Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard proposes that every law Congress enacts should expire after ten or 15 years. “A healthy democracy must make fresh choices,” he writes. “Such a universal sunset provision would force Congress and the president to justify the status quo and give political reformers an opening to reexamine trade-offs and public priorities.” Howard also calls for the radical simplification of law, writing: “The current convention of law-as-instruction-manual suffers the idiocies of central planning, forcing everyone to go through the day with their noses in rule books instead of using their common sense.” Howard concludes his piece by quoting Thomas Jefferson, who famously argued that small revolutions from time to time were “a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” A movement for legal overhaul, Howard writes, “is the medicine that America very much needs today.”

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