The long holiday weekend was blissfully spent avoiding any real news beyond learning that the turkey was indeed done. Returning to a mound of newspapers to be read quickly brought me up to speed on some of the more noticed comings and goings in the world. Some reflect positive steps by governments to improve the lives of everyday people, while others serve as shining examples of bad policy and behavior. And a few items aren’t so easily categorized.

Two Steps Forward The government of Great Britain has passed a law ending mandatory closing hours for liquor serving establishments. Declaring that it’s “Time for adults to be treated as adults,” government officials blamed an increase in binge drinking and early morning accidents or violence on closing hours at pubs. By removing the mandated service hours, officials hope that people won’t get quite so hammered since there won’t be a need to get in “one last drink.” Sounds like good common sense policy to me. Arbitrary laws that encourage bad behavior should be eliminated. And the savings from not having to enforce, prosecute, and punish needless crimes can help address budget shortfalls in other areas. We could use some of that rationality in our Congress over here.

Canada appropriated $4.3 billion towards helping native populations climb out of poverty by improving access to health care and education, as well as helping people buy property off reserves. It is long past the time when the U.S. needs to address our long-standing maltreatment of our own native populations. See the previous post (Two Sides To Every Story) for more thoughts on this topic.

Five Steps Back A Federal judge has the Federal No Child Left Behind act that was being challenged by several states for not adequately funding the mandates it proscribes. Saying that Congress can, in effect, demand that certain conditions be met before doling out federal dollars, the judge in the case rejected the case as having no merit. Funny, but I thought that the tax dollars held by the federal government belonged to the people. Isn’t that Bush told us when he cut taxes time and time again? The federal government should allocate education dollars equally among the states with few strings attached and fewer mandates, acting instead only as a clearinghouse and equalizer of funds. And while we should demand that all graduates have a competency in reading, writing, mathematics, and other essential skills, we should leave it to the states to figure out how to impart them without having the federal government demand certain tests that may or may not show real progress.

Use of torture has weakened the case against terror suspect Jose Padilla, at least according to the government’s own reasoning for reducing the charges it has finally leveled against him. Realizing that most of their evidence against Padilla in the bombing plots was gleaned from men under torture interrogation, government prosecutors lost any information that may have been credible. The result will be that a self-avowed Jihadist in America will receive a reduced sentence, possible putting him back on our streets sooner rather than later or never. Tell me again why torture is such a good idea…

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has agreed to hear a clemency plea from lawyers of convicted killer and Crips gang founder Tookie Williams, who is set to be executed in mid December for four killings in the late 70’s. Evidence at the trial, including Williams own braggart confessions revealed on the stand clearly show that the man was not wrongly convicted. His jury was not all white. Witnesses against him included some of his own acquaintances. Williams, savagely gunned down a convenience store clerk and then brutally killed three members of a family at their hotel for what amounted to $100 in the till. After 24 years of appeals being denied, it is time for this killer to be put out of our misery. Why do we continue to waste precious tax dollars keeping murderers alive? Maybe Arnold is just trying to placate some segment of society and is just going through the motions, but there is nothing to gain from commuting this sentence except further waste of tax dollars that could be better spent on society.

On the religious front, a Christian television network is suing Orange County over its lost bid to acquire the local public broadcasting station. Shed by the community college because of costs, the local PBS station went up for bid, but was awarded to a PBS foundation for a lower initial cash payment than the religious group ponied up. The religious network is decrying the process because state law allows a public sale to the highest “up-front cash” bidder, which they claim to have been. But the word “allows” is not the same as the word “must” so when local citizens banded together to save their local station from being overrun by religious programming, guess who didn’t turn the other cheek?

Finally, proving once again why America is will be her own demise, hundreds of citizens battled it out, in some cases literally, for the honor of shelling out $300-400 bucks for the new Xbox gaming system. Let’s see…poor schools…expensive energy and medical care…war as far as the eye can see…yeah, I can see how getting one of those over-rated imagination killers is high on the list of things to fight over. Way to go Consumerism!

Three to the Side Palestinians finally received control of the border between Gaza and Egypt, offering the first real tangible on their path to independence. Israel is also planning to normalize more cross border trade at this port and is allowing Palestinians to build and operate a permanent seaport. Now it is up to the Palestinian government to insure that violence doesn’t destroy these gains. They must match each step towards freedom with the application of the rule of law and as a society condemn and turn out those who will use violence to make a point. It is a tentative step in the right direction, taken in a mine field.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has announced his intention to gain nuclear power for his county and wants to work with other South American nations to achieve his goal. While this could be the latest in a round of saber rattling between Venezuela and the U.S. one wonders why an oil-rich country with no real history of conservation or environmentalism would need nuclear energy. And with relations already frayed and the Bush Administration’s proclivity towards labeling all nuclear wanting people as enemies and terrorists, this could turn out to be a dangerous development in the politics of the America’s as well as the larger “War on Terror.” Or maybe it is a not-so-subtle repudiation of the entire Bush style of swagger and punch. Time will tell.

Last but not least was the major capitulation from the Bush Administration on troop reductions in Iraq. Curiously timed to coincide with the mid-term elections, it will be hard for people to pick at this planned reduction since it is what they have been clamoring for. But this may just be another classic bait-and-switch by this administration. The key is what starting point they use to measure “reductions” against. Troop strength has grown fro 138,000 this past summer to over 160,000 by years end. The planned reductions in ’06 should be measurably smaller than the summer numbers to truly be reductions of any meaningful size. Further, reductions are still only going to happen when certain nebulous conditions are met. Without a stricter timetable, Iraqi’s may decide to let us keep dying for them, since it is easier than dying for themselves. There is little incentive for them to take control as long as we are there indefinitely. Again, we’ll see how they spin this come next summer in the heart of the congressional campaign season.