The Blog

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

Blog — Legal Idiocy

Lenore Skenazy Makes the Case for “Free-Range Kids” on The Daily Show

Common Good friend and founder of the “Free-Range Kids” movement appeared on last night’s Daily Show to make the case for why we should allow our kids to navigate risk. “I think that we are overestimating danger and underestimating our kids almost all the time,” she argues. “Fear is keeping our kids inside—helpless, indoors, bored, fat, diabetic, depressed.”

Click the image below to watch the full segment.

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Experts Call on ASTM to Rethink New, Risk-Averse Playground Standards

Experts affiliated with the British Columbia Injury Research and Prevention Unit (BCIRPU) are calling upon ASTM, the international standards-setting body, to hold off on implementing new, “more absorbent” playground surfacing standards. In a recent article titled “Can we go too far when it comes to children’s injury prevention?,” the BCIRPU authors explain that the new standards—designed to reduce head injuries—will do more harm than good:

At first blush, this may seem like a great idea. Who wouldn’t want their child to avoid head injuries??! Not as evident are the ramifications, both immediate and long term, of a decision like this. While playground safety standards are not policies and are developed by a voluntary organization, they are typically applied as policy. This is because of liability concerns. If anything goes wrong, the playground provider wants to be able to support the fact that their playground met the safety standards as a measure of due diligence.

So what this means is that every time there is a playground standard change, schools, daycare centres, recreation facilities and so on across the country have to rip out equipment, surfacing, etc., to comply with new standards.

They go on to delineate five particular issues with implementing stricter surfacing standards, which UK childhood expert Tim Gill succinctly recaps on his blog Rethinking Childhood:

1.  Head injuries on the playground are extremely rare and there is no evidence that they are increasing on playgrounds.

2.  The head injury criterion (HIC) is measured by dropping a head form straight down, but children do not fall that way.

3.  Ripping out and replacing surfacing is a very expensive proposition.

4.  Kids want and need to take risks and experience uncertainty. So reducing risks has major ramifications.

5.  We are doing a miserable job of providing stimulating play opportunities for children.

Playgrounds with no risk, the BCIRPU authors explain—and Philip Howard and Common Good have often argued—have less value in teaching children about themselves and the world around them, and they can actually become more dangerous as children “climb higher and fall harder” in order to make them more interesting. 

Read the full BCIRPU article here, and Tim Gill’s commentary here. ASTM will begin voting on the new standards in the coming days—Common Good joins BCIRPU, Gill, and the host of others calling on them to reconsider implementing the proposal before them. 

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“Bureaucrats Take On Bureaucracy”

The Sacramento Bee ran a good piece last week on the efforts of five retired California public employees who are trying to slim down the state’s outmoded job classification system—to some 2,000 job titles, from the current 3,666. Here’s an excerpt from reporter Jon Ortiz’s story:

They asked questions like this: Does the state really need 27 pay levels for prison math teachers? How about forensic toxicologists I, II, III and IV? The Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency was abolished 11 years ago, so why are its job classes still on the books?

‘We were amazed by that one,’ Fong said.

Simplifying the system won’t cure the state’s ailments, but it would signal that government values efficiency and wants to make itself more available to outsiders currently mystified when they apply for a state job. It would also cut down on needless, costly testing for promotions between jobs with little real difference. And it would clear out the clutter of tailor-made job classifications that sometimes were devised by a department with a single person in mind.

Click here to read the entire article. Convoluted job classification systems are not exclusive to California—New York City alone has over 1,000 job titles, as Philip Howard writes about here.

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Warning: You Will Sue

Via James Maxeiner, here's a refreshingly (or depressingly) honest warning sign from Wisconsin (source):

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City of Angels Seeks Red Tape Savior

While stories of federal government inefficiency usually involve more jaw-dropping numbers and create more heat among the chattering classes, paralyzing and wasteful bureaucracy permeates every level of government. Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times this week tells the story of Bob Stone, a fix-it man hired to curb L.A.’s red tape problem--for an annual salary of $1 (which he still hasn’t received). Mr. Stone is no stranger to government paralysis; he was instrumental in Vice President Al Gore’s "reinventing government" initiative (in which Philip Howard also participated). But in L.A., Mr. Stone found a bigger challenge than he had expected: "After struggling and battling the federal bureaucracy for 30 years, I thought L.A. would be a pushover. But it's tougher than the federal bureaucracy."

Mr. Stone discovered that city employees are forced to navigate a labyrinth of approvals and checks, even for what should be simple tasks, like ordering firefighter uniforms. Both workers and managers waste countless hours following outdated procedures, filling out paperwork, and struggling with obsolete technology:

"Two-thirds of what passes as management is interfering with workers getting their work done," Stone said, attributing the suffocating practice to a 19th century notion that "the way to manage is to control what people do."

So Mr. Stone is doing his best to simplify--replacing complex and expensive procedures with simple and affordable alternatives, saving the city money and, perhaps even more importantly, freeing city employees to do their jobs. As Lopez writes:

Any large organization, public or private, has dumb ways of doing things just because that's the way they have always been done. And at any given time, Stone suggested without irony or exaggeration, roughly one-third of all employees are impeding the work of the other two-thirds.

Does that mean there are too many employees, I asked? What it means, Stone countered, is that employees could get a lot more done if they weren't bound and gagged by red tape and managerial impediments.

More cities could use the kind of intervention Mr. Stone is undertaking. And perhaps such efforts can serve in turn as instructive examples for federal bureaucracies.

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A Half-Baked Idea

The latest example of rules run amok comes from a section of the 2010 “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” that controls what food can be sold in schools. While the law’s goal—reducing childhood obesity—is noble, its approach is ham-handed, lumping traditional vending machine fare together with bake sales. As the Wall Street Journal explains:

At Chapman School in Nebraska, resourceful students hawk pizza and cookie dough to raise money for school supplies, field trips and an eighth-grade excursion to Washington. They peddle chocolate bars to help fund the yearbook.

But the sales won't be so sweet starting this fall. Campus bake sales—a mainstay of school fundraisers—are going on a diet. A federal law that aims to curb childhood obesity means that, in dozens of states, bake sales must adhere to nutrition requirements that could replace cupcakes and brownies with fruit cups and granola bars.

In an editorial criticizing this aspect of the law, the Santa Cruz Sentinel and Monterey County Herald quote Philip Howard’s The Rule of Nobody:

The rules governing what can be served and what can't be served are so convoluted as to be incomprehensible. Welcome to governing in 2014, when complex written rules are taking precedence over common sense in trying to solve complex health problems. In his new book, ‘The Rule of Nobody,’ writer Philip K. Howard explains it this way: ‘Rules have replaced leadership in America. Bureaucracy, regulation and outmoded law tie our hands and confine policy choices. Nobody asks, 'What's the right thing to do here?' Instead, they wonder 'What does the rule book say?'’

The editorial goes on to make a case for more flexible rules around school nutrition:

Childhood obesity is one issue that's crying out for leadership. Instead of putting the rule book in charge, why not empower schools and school districts to figure out best practices on their own? Childhood obesity is not a one-size-fits-all issue, and enforcing a law substituting grapes for a Snickers bar isn't going to miraculously cure the problem.

This isn’t the first time overzealous laws and regulations have stood in the way of getting food to the hungry, whether schoolchildren via bake sales or the homeless via soup kitchens. Public health is a legitimate concern—but that goal can sometimes be undermined, not promoted, by rules that bar homemade food from being prepared and served.

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Best (Worst) 4th of July Sign

To celebrate American freedom, follow these simple steps.

july_4_sign

This sign appeared on the blog 22 Words under the fantastic headline, "Have a Fun 4th of July (Unless You're at This Park in Lakewood, Ohio)."

via Lenore Skenazy

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Disabilities Act: Plaintiffs Come Second

The front page of today’s New York Times features a story on the Americans with Disabilities Act in New York City. Lawyers, trying to create fee opportunities, scan small businesses for code violations. Once a violation is discovered, the lawyers then seek out a disabled person to serve as plaintiff. Most cases are settled without advancing to trial. The plaintiff typically receives $500 while the lawyer can win thousands of dollars in fees.

The Times reports that one plaintiff alone has filed 143 suits, as many as nine per day.

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The Plain Writing Act: Simplifying regulatory language

If you've ever tried to read through federal regulations, you're familiar with sentences that read like this: "This subpart identifies those products in which the Administrator has found an unsafe condition as described in Sec. 39.1 and, as appropriate, prescribes inspections and the conditions and limitations, if any, under which those products may continue to be operated."

Thanks to this kind of convoluted language, government rules and directives are often impenetrable. This is especially true when those rules are intended to serve as detailed instruction manuals for every eventuality. It's a big problem for individuals and small businesses that lack the resources to employ compliance experts who can decipher complex regulations and bureaucratic mandates.

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Rigid Regulation? Why you still have to turn off your Kindle when planes takeoff and land

Pass through security. Wait for your boarding group to be called. Fasten your seatbelt. Turn off your electronic devices. It’s all part of the routine for anyone flying on commercial airlines.

Much of that routine stems from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations intended to maintain a standard of safety—including that last, most dubious order, to turn off electronics. We’re told electronics can interfere with airplane communications. It’s a pain to shut down your laptop or e-reader during takeoff and landing; but better that than crashing the plane, right?

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