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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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Legal Idiocy #13: Maryland School’s Policy ‘Prevents … Even a Modicum of Common Sense’

Criticizing Easton High School’s (MD) April 2011 decision to suspend two 17-year-old lacrosse players for possession of a pen knife and lighter—pursuant to the school’s “zero tolerance” policy on weapons, and despite the boys’ explanation that the items were used to fix their lacrosse sticks—the Baltimore Sun editorial board writes:

It’s entirely appropriate for Talbot County or any other district to have a policy against deadly weapons at school. The problem is in officials’ insistence that such a policy prevents them from employing even a modicum of common sense. It is a problem not limited to Talbot County; too often, those in a position of authority appear scared to exercise judgment for fear that they will be criticized and instead seem to wish that every conceivable situation they encounter might be addressed by inviolable rules that they can simply follow.

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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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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 #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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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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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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