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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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Let’s Talk: Do We Still Need Great Depression Farm Subsidies?

The House Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to limit eligibility for receiving federal farm subsidies. As the Associated Press reports, the federal government currently “sends roughly $5 billion annually in direct cash payments to farmers of 10 different crops … regardless of crop prices.” (This is in addition to other types of support farmers can receive, which can range in total from $5 billion to $20 billion a year.)

Start Over applauds the House’s rare effort to review existing government programs—but also questions whether subsidies created during the Great Depression to help starving farmers should still exist some 80 years later. 
We’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue in the comments section below.
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Today’s Read: Cass Sunstein in the Wall Street Journal

Read Cass Sunstein’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal on the Obama Administration’s regulatory review initiative. Start Over applauds the Administration’s efforts to reduce red tape, which is certainly needed—but we also stress that the more important task is to address the flawed philosophy that rules should dictate how goals are accomplished.  

Read the op-ed and tell us what you think in the comments section below.


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Let’s Talk: The Role of ‘Defensive Medicine’ in Rising Healthcare Costs

Wayne Oliver of the Center for Health Transformation writes on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s HealthFlock blog that “there is a hidden cost of healthcare that no one wants to talk about”—defensive medicine. Defensive medicine—the practice where doctors order unnecessary tests and procedures to protect themselves from potential lawsuits—contributes anywhere from $45B to over $200B of waste to the cost of healthcare every year. 

Start Over asserts that controlling healthcare costs is impossible without first addressing the distrust that fuels defensive medicine—and, as also suggested by Oliver, that in order to create a foundation of trust we need to establish health courts.    
We want to hear from you—How would you address defensive medicine, or wasteful healthcare spending generally? Do health courts hold the key to creating reliable medical justice? Have you experienced defensive medicine personally?—please leave your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.
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LET’S TALK: There’s Too Much Bureaucracy in Removing Bad Teachers

The Associated Press reports on a New York State Senate hearing which revealed that state school districts “aren’t disciplining some bad teachers in the classroom because of a costly and ‘broken’” process. It took one year to remove a New York City teacher convicted of manslaughter. And the issue isn’t unique to New York: A 2008 report from the Center for American Progress found that only between .1 and 1 percent of tenured teachers are dismissed annually nationwide (despite one estimate that “between 5 and 15 percent of tenured teachers are incompetent”).

Start Over argues that we need to free teachers to be able to control their classrooms, and then hold them accountable—but that accountability can’t mean the traditional union approach of endless due process. We want to hear your thoughts on the issue—let’s start a discussion in the comments section below.


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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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Maryland School the Latest To Show ‘Zero Tolerance’ for Discretion

Two 17-year-old lacrosse players were recently suspended from their Maryland high school for running afoul of the school’s “zero tolerance” policy on weapons. One of the students, who had never before been in trouble at the school, was suspended for ten days after a pen knife was found in his lacrosse bag. (He was also handcuffed and arrested by the police for “possession of a deadly weapon.”) The other student was suspended for one day after he was found with a lighter—which the school deems “an explosive device”—during the same search. School officials were not moved by the students’ explanation—which was supported by coaches, players, and parents—that the items were used to fix their lacrosse sticks—and instead insisted they were just following Maryland law.

Designed to give school officials more authority, as Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard explains in Life Without Lawyers, zero tolerance policies have come to symbolize some educators’ inability and others’ unwillingness to take responsibility to do what’s right. On this, the Baltimore Sun asks: “If we consider it a central mission of our schools to teach children not just to memorize facts but also how to think and reason, what kind of message does it send if those in charge employ none of those skills?”

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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

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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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