The last great hope of society

Today’s column is about class and American society. Please do not run for the hills immediately because I write as a man of the people. Maybe you will thank me later. (Foolish me, I always live in hope.)

The question of the day is: What makes a classy person in the best sense of the word? Wearing an ascot and looking a perfect chump at a cocktail party won’t do it, even if you complete your ensemble with red or green pants decorated with little whales.

Yet, I myself have been tempted on occasion to don an ascot for a night out and was only saved by a spousal death-ray stare.

The lessons of Michael Vick

In an essay about a trip to Morocco, George Orwell noted that it took him several weeks to notice the means by which firewood was being carried past his house. Under each of the enormous loads was a tiny old woman, almost mummified by the sun and by decades of hard labor.

Follow the money

It was one of those ideas that look great on paper: Sock drivers convicted of serious driving offenses with super-fines — up to $3,000 extra — and devote the money to highway improvements.

Virginia, following New Jersey and Michigan, enacted such a law. It went into effect July 1 and already the state is having second thoughts, a cautionary lesson for states thinking of doing likewise.

Enhanced or inhuman?

Friday afternoon, the White House’s preferred time for actions to which it wishes to draw minimal attention, President Bush issued a long-awaited executive order on torture.

We’re against it. Sort of.

The order requires U.S. interrogators to obey the international Geneva Conventions regarding prisoners that bar “humiliating and degrading treatment,” serious enough that any “reasonable person” would deem it “beyond the bounds of human decency.”

Dangerous daily drives

Doug Marlette, an editorial cartoonist best known for his syndicated comic strip “Kudzu,” was killed in a car wreck in Mississippi recently. On the previous Friday he had delivered the eulogy at his father’s funeral in North Carolina, and on Tuesday, July 10, he was on his way to Oxford to help a group of high-school students mount a production of “Kudzu: A Southern Musical.”

Al-Qaeda gaining in wealth and power

Al-Qaeda in Iraq already has its hands full, but US intelligence officials say the militant group’s mentors in Pakistan now want to use its formidable resources for attacks on the United States.

The war in Iraq has transformed the Al-Qaeda affiliate into a battle-hardened organization with piles of money, sophisticated recruiting networks and some of the world’s most experienced and innovative bomb makers, officials and analysts say.

U.S. will stick with harsh interrorgations

The United States will persist with techniques of interrogating terror suspects that have saved “countless lives,” but will stop short of torture, the top US spymaster said Sunday.

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell refused to spell out whether methods such as the alleged practice of “waterboarding” were permitted under a new executive order of President George W. Bush.

“The United States does not engage in torture. This executive order spells it out,” McConnell said on NBC television.

Journal could do worse than Murdoch

There really is nothing very new about the gnashing of teeth and the dire predictions in the world of “respectable” journalism over the prospect of Rupert Murdoch assuming control of the Wall Street Journal. Actually, Murdoch’s purchase of several other “main line” publications over the years, including the Times of London, have raised similar alarms from elitists who populate the editorial side of the declining U.S. newspaper industry.

Pentagon claims Hillary helps the enemy

The Pentagon told Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton that her questions about how the U.S. plans to eventually withdraw from Iraq boosts enemy propaganda.

In a stinging rebuke to a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman responded to questions Clinton raised in May in which she urged the Pentagon to start planning now for the withdrawal of American forces.

A copy of Edelman’s response, dated July 16, was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

Judge throws out Plame’s lawsuit

A U.S. judge on Thursday threw out former CIA analyst Valerie Plame’s lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials for disclosing her identity to the public.

Plame has said her career was destroyed when administration officials blew her cover in 2003 to retaliate against her husband, Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson.

The couple had sought money damages from the officials for violating their constitutional free speech, due process and privacy rights.

U.S. District Court Judge John Bates dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds.