Archive for November 4th, 2006

I had my mother look up the timeline for the Marianas Islands vote. She did a fantastic job. I’d polish it up, but I think the timeline speaks for itself. But before we dig into the facts, let’s lay a little background on why the Marianas Islands vote was important.

Here’s what was going on. The garment manufacturers of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) – a protectorate of the United States – were basically suckering poor Asians to the islands to stock their sweatshops:

This month PBS televised a special documentary by Bill Moyers showing the forced servitude of Asian women who arrive in the Northern Marianas after paying traffickers up to $7,000. They believed that they would end up instead on the mainland U.S. These guest workers constitute 58 percent of the population of Saipan.According to a May 2006 NPR “Fresh Air” show about Saipan, many of these workers are forced to work 20-hour days in the island’s $2 billion garment industry. Workers are fired for pregnancy or are forced to have abortions.

The problem of forced prostitution of these largely female guest workers is not new. Six years ago, Kwon Enterprises was prosecuted, according to ABC’s “20/20,” for forcing guest worker “waitresses” to become prostitutes.

A May 2006 article in Ms. Magazine described serious nutrition and substandard housing problems endured by these workers.

Four nations, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, have filed official complaints with the U.S. about working conditions in Saipan.

And for those of you who hate “causes” and are more worried about national security, the Marianas Islands provides a sort of loophole for immigrants to enter the United States. Basically, there’s no federal control of its border, despite it being a protectorate. The labor bill that Burns helped kill after a $5K contribution would have tightened our border.

The goon behind the garment industry is Willie Tan. He was a major client of Jack Abramoff.

A bill came before the Senate in 1998 and again in 2000 that would have extended federal oversight over the islands and strengthened labor and immigration laws that would have, in effect, ended sex slavery, forced abortions, and sweatshop conditions and would have strengthened the borders against illegal immigration, possible terrorists, and the importation of meth.

It didn’t happen, because of $5,000.

Here are the details:

1997: In December, Leo Giacometto, Burns’ chief of staff, visited CNMI on a trip paid by the host. The purpose of the trip, and other like trips of Congressional staffers and delegates, was part of “an aggressive campaign to educate,” according to Jack Abramoff. Golf was played.

1998: The Members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources recommended adoption of the first Northern Mariana Islands Covenant Implementation Act (S. 1275). The bill targeted immigration and minimum wage in the CNMI. The recommendation was reported in the Senate, but no further action was taken.

In 1999, Representative John Doolittle, R-California, helped Abramoff secure a lobbying contract with CNMI. Abramoff donated $4,000 to Doolittle’s campaign and $10,000 to his PAC. Doolittle helped CNMI legislator Benigne Fetial win election as the Speaker of the House, and he, in turn, convinced CNMI legislators to hire Abramoff’s firm, Preston Galeis as its lobbying firm.

Also, in 1999, Senator Charles Murkowski of Alaska sponsored the second Northern Mariana Islands Implementation Act (S 1052) which asked for immigration reform, but omits any reference to increasing the minimum wage. The bill was passed in the Senate by unanimous consent, only after several amendments. After being under consideration in the House Committee on Resources for a long time, it was killed. Representative Don Young, R-Arkansas, blocked the bill sponsored by House Democrats that would have made the garment industry in CNMI comply with federal labor laws, after he made a trip to the Mariana Islands.

The CNMI leadership, concerned about a crackdown on their island hired Jack Abramoff in 2001 for $1.36 million to stop legislation aimed at cracking down on sweatshops and sex shops in the American territory. The Western Pacific Economic Council was formed to flow funds to Abramoff . Abramoff secured a meeting with Conrad Burns.

In February of 2001, Abramoff donated $5,000 to Friends of the Big Sky, Senator Burns’ PAC. In March, Abramoff made another donation of $2,000.

In 2001, Burns who served on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee which was considering legislation that the CNMI opposed, also ran a Senate appropriations subcommittee which controlled spending for the Interior Department which regulates U.S. territories. On April 3, 2001, Burns had met with Rita Inos, commisioner of Education in the CNMI, and sister-in-law of Eloy Inos, an executive of Tan Holdings Company (Which owns garment manufacturing among other business in the Marianas, and is the largest employer in the island), and who was a client of Abramoff’s Benigno Fitial was also present at that meeting. In April, Burns received $5,000 donation from Inos. Burns and staff met with Abramoff’s lobbying team on at least 8 occasions, and collected $12,000 in donations.

On May 23, 2001, one month and three days after the $5,000 donations, Burns voted against the exact bill as he voted for in 2000 . He called for a roll-call vote so that his vote was recorded. Burns said that he didn’t remember why he voted the way he did the first time around, but that he voted against the the second bill after reading government reports that showed expanding federal immigration control would hurt the islands’ economy.

So there it is. For $5,000, Burns changed his vote and enabled sex slavery, importation of meth, forced abortions, illegal immigration, and sweatshop conditions to persist.

Burns has much to be ashamed with for these series of events. But the figure that keeps jumping out at me is this: five thousand dollars. He did all this for $5,000. That’s all it cost.

Have you no dignity, Senator?

Posted by touchstone

So Burns and Tester are closing. Matt’s not surprised. He thinks it’s natural that Montana is loath to give up its conservative Senator. It’s been awhile since the Democrats have upended a Republican incumbent at the statewide level. The GOP says it’s because Burns has been running an incessant campaign accusing Tester of being a tax-raiser.

I can’t believe the tax issue is really what’s driving the pinch in poll numbers.

Why? Does anyone out there really think that the foremost worry on Montanans’ minds are taxes? If so, then the GOP is running a d*mn fine race. Only they’re not. Burns’ campaign for months was framed around the Iraq War and the Patriot Act. Oops. The Burns’ campaigned worked for months to portray Tester as an out-of-touch liberal. Oops.

I think Matt’s a little closer to reality here. What I think’s going on, is not that Montanans want to keep Conrad Burns – he’s still the most-loathed US Senator – they hate him. I have not spoken to a single Burns backer who’s voting for the incumbent because s/he wants to. Not one. What I think is going on is that Montanans are nervous about the success of the Democratic Party across the country.

That is, they’re afraid of contributing to the “bluing” of the country.

If Burns’ were as this despised, and Tester the Democratic candidate, and the political composition of the country at stake, I think this race would be a push-over for Tester.

But it’s not.

If elected, though, Tester would be one of the stars of the entering class of new Democratic Senators. He’s a populist and a netroot candidate, and will command a lot of curiosity and pull with the Democratic leadership. He’s an independent voter, he has a mind of his own. He’s got a strong record in the state senate of representing average Montanans with tax breaks, health care reform, and funding for public colleges. He’s on our side. The thing is, if Tester’s elected, we’d have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really make a difference in Washington, to make, as Tester himself says it, Washington look a little more like Montana.

But the bottom line is this: do you want change? If you want an endless clusterf*ck in Iraq, vote for Conrad Burns. If you want pay-for-play to become a permanent part of how our government does business, vote for Conrad Burns. If you like spiraling health-care costs and the erosion of the middle-class family, vote for Conrad Burns.

If you have hope and optimism and a view to the future, vote for Jon Tester.

Posted by touchstone

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