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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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Best (Worst) 4th of July Sign

To celebrate American freedom, follow these simple steps.


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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Save the drowning man? But we’re not certified yet!

By Lenore Skenazy

I love the Scouts (got two of my own) and appreciate the old motto: Be Prepared.

BUT -- there's preparation that's safe and sane, and then there's super-stratospheric safety that goes so beyond what's necessary that the end result is red tape. And how safe is it to be wrapped up in tape?

Guess. (This is a letter I got over at Free-Range Kids last week):

Dear Lenore,

Last year our daughter decided that she wanted to join the Girl Scouts.  My wife signed up to be an assistant.  Over the next few months we discovered what a strange and dysfunctional organization the Girl Scouts had become. 

You see, in order to have a camp fire on the Girl Scout campgrounds, you need to have someone who is “fire certified.”  My wife was all eager to earn this certification so that the girls could have a good time.  So she had to attend a two-hour class where she learned all about fire safety and how to properly build a campfire. 

You’d think that would enough, but you would be wrong.  She then had to attend another two-hour class on a Saturday.  Certified yet?  Of course not.  Now she had to attend a weekend camping trip where the parents could practice their skills and finally become certified.

This is where it gets absurd.  A bunch of parents go off on a camping trip where they are presented with rules that treat them as though they are children.  They still can’t have a camp fire! And if they have to go to the bathroom, they need to go with a buddy. Yes, even if it’s the middle of the night, you’ve got to wake somebody up. (Sanity prevailed and they all agreed to break this rule.)

Then, as they were sitting in a small group and talking, my wife hears a muffled cry.  After a minute or two she figures out that someone is crying for help.  The group rushes down to the lake where they can see that an elderly man has fallen out of his fishing boat and is unable to climb back in.  He's hanging onto the side of his boat, his legs submerged in the cold lake water.  He is minutes away from drowning.

When my wife and her group got to the lake, they encountered another group of moms who had arrived first.  Were they rushing out to save this man?  Of course not.  They were debating amongst themselves over who was “water certified” to help him!

Water certified?  Fortunately, they finally threw caution to the wind and my wife and some other parents got a boat out and rescued the man.  When the ambulance arrived, the EMTs estimated that he had been about five minutes' away from not being able to hold on any longer.  It’s so sad to me that these women were more worried about who was certified to help this man, than they the fact he was minutes away from drowning.

But at least my wife is now certified to start a campfire.  It only took two classes and a weekend trip. --  Brad, the Dad

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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Make It Simple

A crisis of complexity is wreaking havoc on business, government and finance--and there is a pressing need to simplify society. That's the central message of the new book Simple, written by Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn.

"Simple" book cover

In 1980, the authors point out, the typical credit card contract was about a page and a half. Now it's 31 pages. Other practical examples of how complexity and lack of clarity waste money and time abound:

  • One study found that landline phone customers spent more than $2 billion a year for unauthorized charges largely because the bills were so confusing most customers didn't even know they were being overcharged.
  • Because of the complexity of insurance contracts, one survey found, as many as one-half of policyholders are misinformed about their coverage.

  • The U.S. Constitution, written in the 1790s and the basis of the entire American government, is 0.1 percent of the length of the current income tax code, which runs 14,000 pages. Figuring out the ins and outs of the tax code costs American taxpayers billions.

In a world where there are over 425,000 iPhone apps, 241 selections on the Cheesecake Factory's dinner menu, and 454 lotions at Sephora, complexity is an issue that touches every aspect of modern life.

"One of the great misconceptions  about the complexity," writes Siegel and Irene, "is the belief that the people who made things so complicated--the bureaucrats, the technocrats, the lawyers--are the only ones who can get us out of this mess." They continue: "It's time for us to demand--of, if in leadership positions, to develop and put into effect--new ways of borrowing money, of paying taxes, of accessing government, of purchasing products, of communicating." This can be done, they argue, by transforming the way we do business and reinvent everyday practices and processes plagued by complexity.

Philip K. Howard, Common Good chair, recently hosted an event in New York featuring Siegel and Etzhorn and a discussion of the book. Howard pointed out that simplifying government, law and regulation is the central mission of Common Good's agenda--which is key to reinvigorating America's economy and reducing federal budget deficits.

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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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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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Defining “Big Change”

Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard, in a new article for The Huffington Post, outlines a bold platform of eight structural reforms to address the unsustainable waste and inefficiency that plague government. "These changes would balance the budget, end government paralysis, and begin to transform America's public culture," he writes. "Americans know we need it. Are any leaders bold enough to say it?"

Howard’s proposed reforms include radically simplifying regulation, freeing schools from crushing bureaucracy, cleaning out obsolete laws and programs, and ending tax subsidies for the rich. Read the rest of his proposals here.

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Start Over: New Ideas to Overhaul Government, Regulation, and Litigation

Start Over

Read Philip K. Howard's collection of essays--proposing bold, big ideas to fundamentally reform our governmental and legal systems. Available for download.

Click here to view and download the 20-page Start Over publication.

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Providence Journal: Rules without responsibility

The following editorial was published in today's Providence Journal:

The drowning last June of Marie Joseph, 36, in a state-run Fall River pool has elicited the response that such sad events often do -- the imposition of complex changes but not the expectation of greater responsibility. Guidelines for supervision of such public facilities by lifeguards and other staffers have long been clear.

Incredibly, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Swimming Pool, the body of Ms. Joseph, who apparently couldn't swim, was undiscovered for two days after she drowned. The excuse given was that the water was murky.

But if it were that murky, why didn't some staffer notice? Indeed, state officials said the water did not meet state standards and that the pool shouldn't have been opened last year.

So the people who use these public pools will suffer as officials try to show that they're doing something. Officials are suspending the use of all water slides at the state-run pools. Less fun for the low-income folks who tend to be the biggest users of these pools. That is despite Massachusetts Recreation Commissioner Edward Lambert's saying that the slide at the Fall River pool did not appear to be a direct factor in Ms. Joseph's death.

Meanwhile, the depths of 11 of the 24 pools run by the state will be lowered to 5½ feet by June 23, and security cameras installed, The Boston Globe reported.

The remaining 13 will eventually also be transformed if money is found. More lifeguards will be hired and there will be a couple of weeks of additional training. And, of course, a new administrative structure will be created to oversee all this, with the new post of state aquatics director.

The net effect will probably be fewer pools and fewer days of operation, as money and other resources are diverted for these changes -- all aimed at giving the appearance of preventing tragedies that attention and common sense should block in the first place. So fewer people will probably have a chance to enjoy this healthy exercise.

Without a culture that re-emphasizes personal and institutional responsibility, such changes won't measure up to the publicity associated with their creation.

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America the Fixable: Ron Faucheux finds voters want to fix obsolete law

Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group, decided to find out how much voters care about obsolete law, and what they think can be done about it. The results form the latest installment of America the Fixable, and they leave little doubt that Americans see what needs to be done:

  • "More than four out of every five voters, 81 percent, believe 'there are too many laws, rules and regulations in America today that no longer work the way they were originally intended.' This majority cuts across partisan lines: 77 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of independents are in agreement."
  • "A clear majority of all voters surveyed -- 67 percent -- want Congress to create an 'independent commission made up of experienced managers from outside government' that would clean out outdated laws and regulations."

Read the full article to see more results.

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America the Fixable


Our new collaborative series with The Atlantic -- "America the Fixable" -- is live. The Atlantic's editors introduced the series with a press release, saying:, in partnership with Common Good, is launching a new online feature today, "America the Fixable" devoted to identifying solutions to some of the country's most entrenched problems--problems the government has so far been unable or unwilling to fix. Each month, the series will identify a different challenge facing the United States and, drawing together a range of expert voices on the topic, will offer potential solutions via articles, online discussions, and video reports.

Solving the nation's most entrenched problems
See full coverage

This month’s topic is on obsolete law, with an opening essay by Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard. In coming days, the series will feature essays on obsolete law by Senator Mark Warner, Governor Mitch Daniels, Congressman Jim Cooper, and experts from various fields. Future topics will include realigning incentives in healthcare, streamlining environmental approval, and campaign finance reform.

Be sure to follow and add your voice to this important series—which will also include online discussions and video features—either on Common Good’s blog or The Atlantic’s website. And join the conversation on Twitter at #FixAmerica.

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