Recess Wars. . .
Wasn't it just yesterday that The Wall Street Journal editorial page was thundering at Bill Clinton for appointing Bill Lann Lee to the Justice Department's civil-rights desk without congressional approval? Now, under the very same terms of the Vacancy Act that Clinton invoked, which permit a president to appoint officials all by his lonesome during congressional recesses, George W. Bush may well appoint two right-wing movement darlings--Otto Reich and Eugene Scalia--to high-ranking jobs during Congress's January recess. Not to suggest that the Journal entertains an occasional double standard, but we have noted that they've called the Reich-Scalia recess appointments an "opportunity."
Senate Democrats have been distinctly cool to these two nominations, which are currently bottled up in committee. They're not alone. Also trying to thwart this "opportunity" are a wide range of human-rights, labor, and Latin-American-focused organizations. The fight against Reich, who's been nominated for assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, is being led by Bill Goodfellow and the Center for International Policy (www.ciponline.org/reich/index.htm).
Goodfellow has been working with the Latin-American-centered groups since early last year, when Reich's name surfaced. The debate has reignited bitter political controversies from the mid-1980s, when Reich was involved in the Iran-contra scandal and other efforts to funnel aid to the contras (whom the Democratic Congress had defunded in reaction to the violence the counterrevolutionaries were inflicting on Nicaragua in their war against the Sandanista government). Intimately entangled with the agenda of the anti-Castro Cuban-exile lobby, Reich is known as an abrasive right-wing ideologue. His appointment is seen largely as a payoff to the hard-line Miami Cubans for helping Bush win Florida. It would also repel many Latin-American leaders and political elites.
Goodfellow soon hired a full-time lobbyist, grass-roots organizer, and media-affairs specialist in an effort to block the appointment. Dipping into a well of materials on Reich's record compiled by the National Security Archive (www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv), the CIP team directed journalists, editorial writers, and columnists to some of the more questionable highlights of Reich's career.
As a result, most major newspapers have opposed the nomination. CIP's Web site and one set up by the Coalition for a Sensible Latin America Policy (CSLAP) at www.stopottoreich.org have become key resources in the fight. CSLAP's collection of church groups, think tanks, and advocacy organizations includes the CIP, the Cuban Committee for Democracy (www.us.net/cuban), Foreign Policy in Focus (www.fpif.org), and the Washington Office on Latin America (www.wola.org). These groups have been instrumental in rallying grass-roots opposition in key congressional districts.
Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO has spearheaded opposition to Eugene Scalia, who Bush has picked to become the solicitor of the Department of Labor. Scalia, the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has amassed a long record as an outspoken opponent of key worker-protection initiatives, including regulation of workplace ergonomic standards. Indeed, he made his reputation questioning whether ergonomics had any more scientific validity than astrology.
Republicans charge that those who oppose the younger Scalia's appointment are merely seeking retribution for his father's Supreme Court decisions. But David Ruffin, the AFL-CIO's deputy director of public affairs, claims otherwise: "We'd be just as active if his name were Smith or Brown. Just think about it: Scalia's appointment to Labor is like appointing someone who thought dirty air was fine to a senior-level position at the EPA or appointing someone to the Justice Department who didn't believe in civil liberties."
. . . and Clean Air Battles
Speaking of clean air, a massive coalition of environmental groups has set its sights on a plan now gestating in the White House and among industry lobbyists to grant regulatory waivers to energy plants, chemical manufacturers, and oil refineries. Big-buck lobbyist and former Republican National Committee chair Haley Barbour is busily working to iron out any differences between the administration and the K Street cabal. (The plan will surely entail changes to EPA regulations; it may also require congressional action.) Meanwhile, U.S. PIRG, the Clean Air Trust, the National Resources Defense Council, the National Environmental Trust, the Clean Air Task Force, the American Lung Association, and numerous local organizations are gearing up to oppose the effort.
Described as a "smorgasbord of loopholes" by Frank O'Donnell of the Clean Air Trust, the details of this dirty plan were outed at a December 15 press conference of environmental organizations and state attorneys general. The enviro groups predict that communities downwind from some of the targeted facilities will see incidents of asthma attacks and other illnesses climb (also rising will be the earth's temperature from the globalwarming effects of carbon dioxide). The coalition has planned campaigns in communities where aging plants are located, along with a lobbying effort focused on the EPA itself. For more details, visit U.S. PIRG's Web site at www.cleanairnow.org.