Clarence Thomas, Unbound

Sixteen years after he castigated the Senate Judiciary Committee for conducting a “high-tech lynching,” Justice Clarence Thomas may relish the opportunity to tell his side of the story. With his new book My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir hitting bookstores today, Thomas’ belated last word on the accusations of sexual harrassment and hypocrisy on racial preferences will undoubtedly transform his image from that of an isolated footnote to an active and powerful voice, both on the Supreme Court and in public life. He has placed himself in the unusually public place of a controversial author, seeking publicity where he and his colleagues have traditionally avoided it.
Last night, I watched his interviews on CBS’ 60 Minutes, conducted with taste and objectivity by Steve Kroft. At Heading Right, I review the interview and Thomas’ effectiveness. Thomas did well last night in providing the last word on the Anita Hill allegations and the “high-tech lynching” provided by Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. It has implications for this cycle, as certain organizations have apparently started an intellectually dishonest cherry-picking campaign against conservative commentators to discredit them as well.
Tonight, I will meet Justice Thomas at a private function and have a chance to hear him talk about his memoir and his experiences. Tune in tonight at 9 pm ET to a special Heading Right Radio show to hear more. Meanwhile, you can order his book from the Captain’s Quarters bookshelf:

An Orange Rebound?

The Ukrainian elections held this weekend may have returned momentum to the pro-Western parties that fueled the Orange Revolution two years ago. The slow count in the pro-Russian east of Ukraine could still dent that momentum, and already accusations of cheating have arisen from perhaps the most famous — and fiery — of Ukrainian politicians:

Ukraine’s pro-Western opposition claimed victory on Monday in an election widely seen as key to ending divisions that have stalled market reform and exacerbated tensions between a nationalist west and Russian-speaking east.
With just over 60 percent of votes in Sunday’s parliamentary poll counted, groups linked to President Viktor Yushchenko, swept to power in 2004 “Orange Revolution” protests, appeared strongly placed but far from certain victory. A close result would again mean long talks on forming a coalition government.
Yushchenko’s rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, dismissed the “orange” declaration of victory as groundless. He said his party would be declared the winner when votes from the industrial, pro-Russian eastern region were counted. …
But officials said the count was proceeding slowly in eastern Ukraine, where Yanukovich’s party traditionally scores well. A top Tymoshenko ally said the prime minister’s team was conspiring to cheat in its eastern strongholds.
“We will challenge the results in areas where there will be an attempt at vote-rigging,” Oleksander Turchinov told reporters.

Accusations of cheating and vote-rigging triggered the original Orange Revolution. Leonid Kuchma’s attempt to ensure Viktor Yanukovich’s succession backfired, as Ukrainians took to the streets in peaceful and powerful protest. Viktor Yushchenko seized the opportunity to ride that wave to the presidency in an election do-over, and he partnered with Yulia Tymoshenko to reform Ukranian government — at least at first.
After a short period, Tymoshenko and Yushchenko could not effectively share power, and that led to a comeback for Yanukovich and his pro-Russian, eastern-based politics. Yushchenko had to share power with his one-time rival, and Tymoshenko became the focus of reform efforts. The political situation has remained muddied ever since, and this election was supposed to clarify the direction of Ukraine.
It may make it even more muddied. While the Orange forces have done well so far, so has a surprising bid from a centrist party. Former parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn has apparently led his bloc past the 3% threshold to gain seats in the parliament. That could complicate efforts to form a government for any of the major parties, and Lytvyn may find himself in the role of kingmaker.
The situation bears a close watch. As Ukraine goes, so may go Belarus and the central Asian republics formerly of the Soviet Union.

Michigan Goes Smoot-Hawley In The Early Morning

The economic woes of Michigan appear ready to worsen, thanks to a budget agreement reached this morning as the state government began shutting down. Michigan residents will see their taxes increase by over a billion dollars, further burdening the decreasing purchasing power of its residents, as the legislature only sliced less than a third of that from their spending plans (via The Corner):

The Legislature agreed to raise Michigan’s income tax rate from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent and expand the 6 percent sales tax to some services. Granholm signed both measures. Structural changes to state government — including the management of teacher and other public employee benefits — also are part of the package.
The tax increases should erase most of a projected $1.75 billion deficit in Michigan’s next budget. The final budget for the new fiscal year will include $440 million in spending cuts, Granholm said. …
Raising the state’s income tax to 4.35 percent will raise an additional $765 million for the state. The income tax bill is written so the rate will gradually drop back to 3.9 percent between 2011 and 2015.
Extending the sales tax to some services starting Dec. 1 will bring in an estimated $614 million for the 10 months remaining in the fiscal year at that point, or about $750 million annually, state Treasurer Robert Kleine said.

This budget belongs to Michigan’s Democrats. The Republicans only control the upper chamber in the state legislature, and that could only muster a tie vote 19-19 on the package. Jennifer Granholm’s lieutenant governor had to cast the tiebreaker to force the bill’s passage. Democrats control the lower chamber, which passed the budget 57-52.
For those who have studied the Depression, this “hair of the dog” strategy will sound familiar. The stock-market collapsed produced a large, world-wide recession, but it took Congress and the Hoover administration to really kick-start the depression. They passed the Smoot-Hawley Tarriff Act, which started a protectionist trade war around the world. It threw millions more out of work here and almost destroyed the global markets.
Adding taxes to Michigan amounts to a domestic Smoot-Hawley approach. Michigan already had the 14th-highest tax burden in the US. State and local taxes took 11.2% of their income before these tax increases. They now appear ready to leapfrog Arkansas, California, Minnesota, and New Jersey to enter the Top Ten of tax-burden states.
Note, too, that the Michigan government solved the problem by a 3:1 ratio of sacrifice. They increased taxes by over $1.4 billion, thanks to increases in both income and sales taxes that go into effect immediately. They only managed to shave $440 million off of their own budget. Given that the state budget planned for $42.6 billion in spending for FY2007, this represents a whopping 1% decrease in state spending. It hardly seems as though Michigan lawmakers even cracked the books of their budget to look for other opportunities for savings.
The increased burden of taxation will not help Michigan recover its economy. It will pressure businesses to move elsewhere at a time when Michigan needs investment and commitment to improve its financial stability. Instead of reversing the decline, the increased burden will escalate it, and next year’s revenue shortfalls will create the exact same problem for Michigan.
It’s a disaster in slow motion. Instead of taking a critical look at the reasons why Michigan’s economy has plunged, the state legislature has punted and stuck its citizens with the bill. That’s hardly a profile in courage.

Combat Deaths Drop To 14-Month Low

The use of aggressive tactics and a larger footprint has resulted in a drop in combat deaths for American troops in Iraq. The number of those lost in combat operations fell to a 14-month low in September. Meanwhile, the US and Iraqi forces continue to hold the momentum, killing almost as many al-Qaeda terrorists and insurgents this weekend as American forces lost all month:

Sixty-three U.S. military deaths were reported in September, the lowest monthly toll since July 2006, according to U.S. forces and a preliminary count by The Associated Press.
A U.S. soldier was killed Sunday in a small-arms attack during combat operations in eastern Baghdad, the military said Monday. The soldier, whose name was withheld pending notification of relatives, was assigned to the Multi-National Division-Baghdad. In July 2006, 43 American soldiers were killed, according to an AP count.
“It’s still too high,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox said of the deaths during a news conference. “But the trend is in the right direction.”

At the same time, CENTCOM announced that they had killed over 60 AQI and insurgents in multiple operations this weekend. Over 20 of those came when an American pilot spotted an AQI detachment carrying light weapons and a rocket launcher and called fire onto their position. In other raids, the Coalition killed more than 40 others, mostly AQI, and captured a number of Mahdi Army “rogue” elements. Those also came in Baghdad, indicating increasing success in operations within the capital.
Meanwhile, Sunni and Shi’ite unity came from a remarkable source — opposition to the US Congress. Politicians from parties representing both populations rejected a non-binding resolution sponsored by Joe Biden that suggested a “soft partition” of Iraq along sectarian lines. The Sunnis and the Shi’ites both reacted with derision, calling the notion a “catastrophe” and “incorrect and unrealistic”. Sunni leaders vowed to press for Iraqi unity, and Nouri al-Maliki said that division is the problem, not the solution. Even the secularists jumped into the debate, essentially telling Biden and the Senate that they have underestimated Iraqis.
The US Embassy in Baghdad took the unusual step of scolding Congress for its suggestion. They noted that the Iraqis themselves had provided a constitution with federalist structures, and that the Iraqis had to determine how best to implement it. It seems rather obvious that the last thing we should want now is an Iraqi constitutional convention, where factions would have to rethink the entire government with the pressure of foreign terrorists and Iraqi insurgencies finally starting to recede. It’s almost as absurd as demanding a new government to replace Maliki, when the last replacement took the Iraqi Assembly over five months.
The situation continues to improve, despite the irritant that Congress provides. The US and Iraqi forces have momentum, and that has begun to translate into ground-up unity. With the successes becoming ever more apparent, it is small wonder that Democratic presidential contenders can’t commit to abandoning Iraq before 2013.

Christian Conservatives For Hillary

When parties fall out of power, they tend to go through a battle between Puritans and Big Tenters. Inevitably, when Puritans control the debate, they tend to ensure a longer term in the wilderness, and when they don’t, they threaten to leave. Perhaps the developments in Salt Lake City, at a meeting of the Council for National Policy, indicates that the Republican center-right has begun to take the lead in GOP politics:

Alarmed at the chance that the Republican party might pick Rudolph Giuliani as its presidential nominee despite his support for abortion rights, a coalition of influential Christian conservatives is threatening to back a third-party candidate in an attempt to stop him.
The group making the threat, which came together Saturday in Salt Lake City during a break-away gathering during a meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy, includes Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who is perhaps the most influential of the group, as well as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, the direct mail pioneer Richard Viguerie and dozens of other politically-oriented conservative Christians, participants said. Almost everyone present expressed support for a written resolution that “if the Republican Party nominates a pro-abortion candidate we will consider running a third party candidate.”
The participants spoke on condition of anonymity because the both the Council for National Policy and the smaller meeting were secret, but they said members of the intend to publicize its resolution. These participants said the group chose the qualified term “consider” because they have not yet identified an alternative third party candidate, but the group was largely united in its plans to bolt the party if Mr. Giuliani became the candidate.
A revolt of Christian conservative leaders could be a significant setback to the Giuliani campaign because white evangelical Protestants make up a major portion of Republican primary voters. But the threat is risky for the credibility of the Christian conservative movement as well. Some of its usual grass-roots supporters could still choose to support even a pro-choice Republican like Mr. Giuliani, either because they dislike the Democratic nominee even more or because they are worried about war, terrorism and other issues.

The problem with the Christian Right is that they have consistently made these threats in the past and have always dropped the idea when they started counting numbers. The groups have significant influence in the Republican Party because of their ability to organize and contribute, but their influence outstrips their actual size. Forming a third party would set them back at least a generation, and it would push Republican politics away from their agenda and towards the center, just when Democrats appear poised to abandon it.
The immediate effect, however, would probably be the election of Hillary Clinton to the White House. Hillary has tremendous negatives, higher than anyone seeking a first-term Presidency in recent memory. At the moment, Rasmussen has her in the best position she’s had — and that’s an anemic +6, with a whopping 46% negative. People don’t get elected with those kinds of negatives in a two-party general election … unless someone runs as a third-party candidate that drains support from the other option. It’s how Bill Clinton won in 1992, when fiscal conservatives abandoned George H. W. Bush for Ross Perot because of Bush’s tax increase in 1990.
If the Christian Right did the same by organizing a third party, they may as well write themselves off as a significant force in American politics. They have plenty of candidates to support in the primaries, including Mike Huckabee, who matches up well with their platform. If they can’t get Huckabee nominated within the system, then the faction should acknowledge that the party made a different choice and support the end result of the primary process. If they cannot do that, no one in Republican politics will ever trust them, and their influence will wane substantially.
These leaders may even damage their influence within their own faction. Right now, Giuliani receives a significant amount of support from the very Evangelicals for whom James Dobson and Tony Perkins speak. If they call for the formation of a third party to oppose Giuliani’s nomination and these voters do not follow them, they will find themselves very lonely in political circles, and the Council for National Policy along with them. Republicans have already figured out that Presidents can’t do much about abortion except appoint strict-constructionist judges, which Rudy has pledged to do already, and that other issues hold more significance in this election — like war, taxes, spending, and beating Hillary Clinton.
Republicans don’t need petulance from its internal factions. Primaries exist for these groups to make their best case to the voters, and the voters decide which candidate fits their agendas. Threatening to take one’s ball and go home doesn’t build respect or confidence in any faction, and it’s getting old from this particular one, even among its own members. The Christian Right needs to find a primary candidate to endorse and make its best case — and then make a mature and intelligent decision about the general election if they lose the primaries.

Too Bad You Can’t Stay

The calendar has moved to October, and that presumably meant that Larry Craig would head home to Idaho and allow a replacement appointment to take his seat. Unfortunately for the Senate Republicans, embarrassed by Craig’s guilty plea to disorderly conduct in a Minneapolis airport restroom, Craig has decided to extend his tapdancing. Since he won’t commit to resigning, his GOP colleagues plan on holding a public ethics hearing to shame him out of the Senate:

The Senate hearing would examine the original charges in Craig’s case, including the allegation of “interference with privacy,” for peeping into the bathroom stall occupied by an undercover police officer. One senior Republican aide imagined “witnesses, documents, all in front of the klieg lights.” The committee also could look for “a pattern of conduct” — which means combing court records in other locales to discover whether Craig had prior arrests that haven’t come to light.
The call for a public hearing is not unprecedented. In 1995, the Senate narrowly rejected holding an open forum to examine sexual misconduct allegations against Bob Packwood (R-Ore.). The Democrat who called for the open Packwood hearing? Barbara Boxer (Calif.), the current chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee.

Once again, Craig has no one to blame but himself for his predicament. He should not have pled guilty to the disorderly conduct charge if he thought he did nothing wrong, and there’s some question as to whether the police have been overzealous in their attack on gay panic in the Lindbergh Terminal. Having taken the plea after having two months to think about it, going back in front of a judge to say that he pled guilty in a “panic” is ludicrous. It’s almost as bad as announcing one’s resignation publicly and then rescinding it.
Has this man ever made a decision and stuck with it? Has he ever stood up for himself when it counted? How did he get elected in the first place?
All of that said, one has to wonder why the Republicans are in such a hurry to see him out the door. They certainly didn’t put David Vitter through this, even though Vitter admitted to a nebulous set of “sins” when his number appeared on phone records at a DC brothel. That’s at least as illegal as what Craig is accused of doing, and yet no one seems all that anxious to toss Vitter out of office. Neither act really relates to their work in politics, unlike, say, Jerry Lewis, who faces a federal corruption probe and yet still remains on the House Appropriations Committee.
It’s a curious case in which to draw a bright line. The Republicans seem determined to run Craig out of town on a rail, and had they been consistent in doing so, it would be laudable. However, under present circumstances of both parties — with William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson still serving in the House — it just looks curiouser and curiouser.
UPDATE: Misspelled “curiouser” twice in my Lewis Carroll reference. Thanks to reader Mark M for the correction.