BRANDOLAND: Talking to God...For You!

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Mariana Islands

Okay.

"WHAT DID I SAY YESTERDAY?"

You said the only thing you cared about was the Steeler game."

"DAMN STRAIGHT!"

Congratulations.

"WE'RE FROM THE TOWN WITH THE GREAT FOOTBALL TEAM, WE CHEER THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS!"

Wow --

"BRADSHAW AND ROCKY AND FRANCO AND LYNN, LA DA DA DA DA DA DA!"

I remember now.

"GERELA'S GORILLAS ARE HERE FOR THE GAME, AND SO IS FRANCO'S ARMY -- "

Franco's Italian Army.

"IT'S BEEN MANY YEARS IN COMING, JUST KEEP THAT STEELER MACHINERY HUMMING!"

Colts are gonna be tougher.

"NOT IF I CAN HELP IT!"

Moving on...to the . From the think-and-do pages of the USA Today --

Controversial lobbyist had close contact with Bush team

Our Kid is still claiming that he doesn't "know" .

Good luck!
WASHINGTON (AP) — In President Bush's first 10 months, GOP fundraiser Jack Abramoff and his lobbying team logged nearly 200 contacts with the new administration as they pressed for friendly hires at federal agencies and sought to keep the Northern Mariana Islands exempt from the minimum wage and other laws, records show.

The meetings between Abramoff's lobbying team and the administration ranged from Attorney General John Ashcroft to policy advisers in Vice President Dick Cheney's office, according to his lobbying firm billing records.

Abramoff, a $100,000-plus fundraiser for Bush, is now under criminal investigation for some of his lobbying work. His firm boasted its lobbying team helped revise a section of the Republican Party's 2000 platform to make it favorable to its island client.

In addition, two of Abramoff's lobbying colleagues on the Marianas won political appointments inside federal agencies.

"Our standing with the new administration promises to be solid as several friends of the CNMI (islands) will soon be taking high-ranking positions in the Administration, including within the Interior Department," Abramoff wrote in a January 2001 letter in which he persuaded the island government to follow him as a client to his new lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig.

*

The records from Abramoff's firm, obtained by The Associated Press from the Marianas under an open records request, chronicle Abramoff's careful cultivation of relations with Bush's political team as far back as 1997.

In that year, Abramoff charged the Marianas for getting then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush to write a letter expressing support for the Pacific territory's school choice proposal, his billing records show.

"I hope you will keep my office informed on the progress of this initiative," Bush wrote in a July 18, 1997, letter praising the islands' school plan and copying in an Abramoff deputy.
Oops.
White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said Thursday that Bush didn't consider Abramoff a friend. "They may have met on occasion, but the president does not know him," she said.

As for the number of Abramoff lobbying team contacts with Bush officials documented in the billing records, Healy said: "We do not know how he defines 'contacts.'"
Let me do it for you:

"Contacts" (n) as defined by me, Casino Jack - 1. A Bushie who'll return my phone call 2. Someone I placed within the Bush administration 3. A former Capitol Hill staffer now working on "K Street." 4. Dudes who share my pro-business philosophy 5. People who've sat in my sky box 6. People who've eaten at my restaurant 7. Every person I've ever golfed with 8. Anyone who's ever met Tom, Grover or Ralph. 9. Every Republican in Washington DC. 10. Yada yada yada.
The documents show (Abramoff's) team also had extensive access to Bush administration officials, meeting with Cheney policy advisers Ron Christie and Stephen Ruhlen, Ashcroft at the Justice Department, White House intergovernmental affairs chief Ruben Barrales, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles and others.
11. Bushies we've had "extensive access" to.
Most of the contacts were handled by Abramoff's subordinates, who then reported back to him on the meetings.

Abramoff met several times personally with top Interior officials, whose Office of Insular Affairs oversees the Mariana Islands and other U.S. territories.

In all, the records show at least 195 contacts between Abramoff's Marianas lobbying team and the Bush administration from February through November 2001.

At least two people who worked on Abramoff's team at Preston Gates wound up with Bush administration jobs: Patrick Pizzella, named an assistant secretary of labor by Bush; and David Safavian, chosen by Bush to oversee federal procurement policy in the Office of Management and Budget.
See defintion #2.
"We have worked with WH Office of Presidential Personnel to ensure that CNMI-relevant positions at various agencies are not awarded to enemies of CNMI," Abramoff's team wrote the Marianas in an October 2001 report on its work for the year.
Time to get into the Mariana Islands:
The access of Abramoff and his team to the administration came as the lobbyist was establishing himself as a GOP fundraiser.

Abramoff and his wife each gave $5,000 to Bush's 2000 recount fund and the maximum $1,000 to his 2000 campaign. By mid-2003, Abramoff had raised at least $100,000 for Bush's re-election campaign, becoming one of Bush's famed "pioneers."

Money also flowed from the Marianas to Bush's re-election campaign: It took in at least $36,000 from island donors, much of it from members of the Tan family, whose clothing factories were a routine stop for lawmakers and their aides visiting the islands on Abramoff-organized trips.
The Tan family: Gonna do some learnin' about them in a second.
Two Tan family companies gave $25,000 each to the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2002 elections. Greenberg Traurig, too, was a big GOP giver. Its donations included $20,000 to the Republican National Committee for the 2000 elections and $25,000 each to the GOP's House and Senate fundraising committees in 2000 and again in 2002.

The Marianas' lobbying paid off — it fended off proposals in 2001 to extend the U.S. minimum wage to island workers and gained at least $2 million more in federal aid from the administration.
Alright.

Those of you who've been paying close attention to the Abramoff story know that the words "Mariana Islands" and "sex slave" have often been used in the same sentence.

Why?

Here's a phenomenal article from "Alternet," dated May 25, 2002:

DeLay's North Pacific Unregulated "Paradise"

The Marianas are cheap labor farms with some other, uh, pro-business benefits:
As preached his pro-business/anti-regulation theology in the US, his model of perfection was far from the mainland. The U.S. protectorate of the Northern Mariana Islands -- 14 islands in the North Pacific -- have become something of a free-enterprise petting zoo for DeLay and those he wishes to convert to his way of thinking.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. acquired the islands, which are located off the coast of booming Asia. To encourage development and self-sufficiency Congress exempted the islands from the very kinds of U.S. business regulations and oversight DeLay despised. Even today the island's minimum wage is only $3.05.

Other work and safety regulations either do not apply at all or are rarely enforced.

*

For Asian sweatshop operators, the Marianas became the Promised Land incarnate. Since the islands were officially U.S. territory, garment factories there were able to tag their products with the coveted "Made in the USA" label.
"Made in the USA" used to mean "Made in the USA."

Not anymore.
No rules, no regulators, no inspectors, no health and safety laws. What more could a sweatshop operator ask for?

The opportunity was quickly recognized by Asian sweatshop operators like Hong Kong's Tan Holdings, run by garment mogul Willie Tan.
Remember, "Two Tan family companies gave $25,000 each to the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2002 elections."
Deep in the lush jungles, far from the island's white beaches and luxury hotels, garment factories quickly set up shop.

They staffed their factories with workers from China and the Philippines with promises of work in the US.

But, workers soon discovered that the work contracts they signed consigned them to near-indentured servitude deep in the Marianas steamy jungles.
Aw, come on. It's a US territory.

That counts, doesn't it?
Wages were low, hours were long.

The companies docked workers' pay for housing, food, medical treatments and other charges. The low wages and high deductions made it nearly impossible for workers to save enough money to return home.

None of this was a secret back home in the U.S.

In 1998, ABC, CNN, the BBC and the New York Times each confirmed reports of forced labor, sex slaves and domestic forced servitude among the Marianas' so-called "guest workers."


According to the US Department of Labor, the indigenous US population of Marianas have an unemployment rate that hovers continuously around 14%. The unemployment rate of the island's 40,000 so-called guest workers on the other hand is only 5%.

Human rights groups, long up in arms over the work conditions on the islands, charged that sweatshop operators did not appreciate it when their female employees got pregnant. Numerous allegations of forced abortions surfaced over the years.

The protests began to reach the ears of Congress. Rep. George Miller, (D-Ca) and others began to demand that US labor and environmental laws be applied to the Marianas.

Tom DeLay and his friend Jack Abramoff
swung into action and fashioned a vigorous and largely successful counter-attack.

Denying the reports that workers were being mistreated, Abramoff said the Marianas' unregulated environment was in fact a success story and a model for economic development.

He said that efforts to regulate the islands' garment factories by some members of Congress like Miller were nothing less than immoral. "These are immoral laws designed to destroy the economic lives of a people," Abramoff said. He went on to compare the proposed laws with the Nuremberg laws that restricted German Jews under the Nazis.

The Marianas became a pedal-to-the-metal cause for DeLay and another cash cow for Abramoff. Abramoff and his team, which now included DeLay's former chief of staff Bill Jarrell, swung into action. They arranged junkets to the islands for scores of Republicans on The Hill. DeLay himself spent New Years Day 1998 in the Marianas with his wife and daughter and his then Chief of Staff, Ed Buckham.

Another of Abramoff's Mariana lobbyists was Patrick Pizzella who, believe it or not, is now serving in the Bush Administration as assistant secretary of Labor. It was Pizzella's job to organize Abramoff's political junkets to the islands.
That's a "contact."
While Abramoff's team wined and dined groups from Washington at luxury Mariana resorts, deep in the jungles the garment factories continued their operations unregulated and unabated. Upon his return from the islands on one such trip a reporter asked DeLay about alleged sweatshop conditions there.

"I saw some of those factories,"
DeLay responded. "They were air conditioned. I didn't see anyone sweating." Delay laughed at his own joke and walked off.
He ain't laughing now.
In 1999 the battle moved from the Republican controlled Congress to the courts. A suit filed by human rights groups representing the Mariana guest workers was settled in US District Court. The suit described the Marianas (also known as Saipan) as "America's worst sweatshop, replete with beatings, forced abortions, vermin-infested worker quarters, barbed wire and armed guards where workers put in 12-hour shifts, seven days a week."

The 32 factories that settled the suit were mostly owned by Chinese, Japanese and Korean companies that supplied more than $1 billion a year of "Made in America" garments to some of America's leading retailers and labels.

Nevertheless, DeLay continues to support the current unregulated Mariana work rules. He has gone so far as to suggest that the United States emulate the way the islands' employers import guest workers from China and the Philippines and suggested that it may provide a model for mainland employers who wish to exploit cheap Mexican labor.
No more snarky comments.

This story is HUGE and involves a ton of people.

That's why they cut Tom off at the knees.

ONE LAST BIT OF INFO.

Again, this "Alternet" article is dated May 15, 2002:
Although far from Texas, the Marianas provided DeLay with yet another opportunity to help Enron.

When the Marianas put out a call for bids for a new $120 million power plant, a Japanese company was awarded the contract. Enron, attracted by the island's lack of environmental rules, wanted in and complained to DeLay that they had not been given a fair shot at the contract for the power plant.

DeLay responded by calling in some chits from his friends in the Mariana administration - in particular Ben Fital, a conservative politician whom DeLay's former aides, Ed Buckham and Mike Scanlon, helped get elected as the island's representative in Congress.
Scanlon is currently "co-operating with federal officials" re: all things Abramoff.
(The Washington Post reported that Buckham's lobbying firm, Alexander Strategies Group's representation of Enron's interests in the Marianas won him $50,000 in fees.)

Delay demanded that the power plant bidding be re-opened and that Enron's bid be given new consideration.

And so it came to pass. The bidding was re-opened and Enron was declared the winner. Apparently, free-market mechanisms like open bidding are only good when they favor the right player.

Islanders say the bidding was rigged in Enron's favor.
Gee...ya think?

I have a headache.

More later...

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