Nothing demonstrates both the depravity and the hypocrisy of the modern Republican party than the saga of the Northern Mariana islands. Nothing else can portray in so stark a light the vast chasm between pro-life rhetoric and the corporate sleaze. Sure, the fact that the modern GOP exploited the Christian vote and blasphemously seized the mantle of faith– like the Pharisees of old– for their own political purposes is by now an old story, told by insiders like David Kuo. But the Saipan saga stands apart, as an extreme example of what happens when Christianity runs into money interests…and who wins.
Let me do a very brief re-cap of the saga. The Northern Mariana islands are a US territory in Micronesia. The main industry is textiles, and its (female) workers come from a variety of Asian countries, especially China and the Philippines. These textile manufacturers enjoyed a distinct advantage as garments could travel tariff-free and quota-free to the US and could display the all-important “Made in the USA” label.
But there was an underlying grave scandal: the female employees were subjected to appalling sweatshop conditions that included being forced to work 12 hour days, for half the U.S. minimum hourly wage, and to live in barbed wire prisons. They were effectively slaves. As Josh Marshall noted, this particular guest worker program was notorious for “forced abortion, slavery, child prostitution, sex trafficking, beatings, female workers kept in shacks with no plumbing surrounded by barbed wire and other fun stuff.” It’s true, the sweatshop owners forced women who became pregnant to have abortions. And as a sideline, taking advantage of the women’s highly vulnerable position, they also fostered sex slavery.
The US Congress took a keen interest in this situation in the late 1990s, and the sweatshop owners paid millions to Jack Abramoff to lobby on their behalf. Tom Delay came to the rescue, and is on record as stating:
“You are a shining light for what is happening to the Republican Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we are trying to do in America and leading the world in the free-market system.”
Tom brought his friends with him. Take Ralph Reed, erstwhile head of the Christian Coalition, who made the following statement in the context of opposing legislation to subject these islands to U.S. federal wage and worker safety laws:
“The radical left, the Big Labor Union Bosses, and Bill Clinton want to pass a law preventing Chinese from coming to work on the Marianas Islands. [The Chinese workers] are exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ…[and] are converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand.”
There’s more. Allen Stayman was a State Department official advocating labor law changes in the Northern Mariana islands. As such, he was a threat to Jack Abramoff and his clients. So Ken Mehlman, who was then White House political director had him fired.
And then there’s the sleaze. A while back, a Texas Republican called Ralph Hall denounced a teenage sex slave from the floor of the House, claiming that she “wanted to do nude dancing.” Isn’t it interesting who they will defend when corporate interests run into moral values? By the way, the girl in question was 15 years old.
And recently, it transpired that Colorado senate candidate Bob Schaffer was in on the game, having traveled to Saipan as part of the Arbamoff-Delay lobbying blitz. His $13,000 trip was paid for by an outfit called the Traditional Values Coalition. Christian coalition. Traditional Values coalition. Obscene.
This may be old news, but we should not forget the lesson. This group of Republicans claimed to be Christian, claimed to stand for moral value and human rights, all at the same time actively backing the sordid Saipan sweatshops. Yes, this is truly a pro-life party… This is not just a tale of political corruption and vested interests. Such examples abound, on all sides. No, this is an example of groups claiming to be Christian defending some very evil activities…for money. Of course, if the Democrats were not in the thrall of the abortion lobby, they could be hanging the “forced abortions” banner over the heads of the GOP on a daily basis….