Choose wisely at the polls this fall | SierraSun.com

Choose wisely at the polls this fall

Jennifer Montgomery
My Turn

What do the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (Saipan or CNMI), sweatshops, forced abortions and forced prostitution have in common?

Answer: Congressman John Doolittle.

CNMI is a U.S. territory exempt from U.S. labor laws yet its status allows the “Made in the USA” label to be sewn into garments produced there. In 1999 an effort was made to extend U.S. labor laws to CNMI, but that effort was defeated by Doolittle and others ” partly by personally attacking officials from the U.S. Department of Interior who had documented the sweatshops and were working to stop the abuses.

Congressman Doolittle worked diligently to kill the legislation, which would have extended basic labor protections to CNMI.

Perhaps, you say, he didn’t know about the abuses. They were, in fact, common knowledge. In 1998 ABC News aired a 20/20 segment detailing the abuses at the factories in CNMI. And what exactly did ABC find? ABC found sweatshop conditions and verified reports of workers forced into prostitution and unwanted abortions.

Here is Brian Ross of ABC News discussing his 1998 report (As quoted at http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/01/04/1524256#transcript) “Well, it’s completely counter to anything that DeLay or most Republicans seem to espouse, that was, on that island there were forced abortions. And the workers there who are all young women, who often had to pay to get these jobs, knew the rules. And they were barred from having boyfriends and certainly barred from having children if they became pregnant. They knew where to go, and there were a few essential back-alley abortion mills on the island. And that’s where these young Chinese women went in order to keep their jobs. And that was the deal.”

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In a second 20/20 segment (As quoted at http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/sweatshops/saipan/2020expose.html) in 1999 Brian Ross reported: “Its part of a system that was set up on Saipan primarily to provide thousands of foreign workers for the islands notorious garment factories. Truckloads of young women from China and the Philippines, who have actually paid thousands of dollars ” an entire family’s life savings ” for what they are told, will be good jobs in America. Put to work under often grueling conditions, the women are not free to change jobs because of the Saipan loophole. It’s something that would not be legal on the mainland. But under the same loophole in the law, a growing number of women are being brought into staff Saipan’s booming Garapan district, a seedy, sleazy place of nightclubs and karaoke bars, where the customers range from wealthy Japanese businessmen to American sailors to local government officials.”

Congressman Doolittle was aware of the charges from the U.S. government and ABC News, yet he continued to work with CNMI lobbyist (and convicted felon) Jack Abramoff and disgraced Congressman Tom DeLay to block laws which would have protected these workers. Again, Brian Ross, on Abramoff, DeLay and Doolittle: “He was able to block legislation that would have changed the labor and immigration laws in Saipan and made it illegal to have these kinds of contracts. You couldn’t have a contract like that in Los Angeles or anyplace else of the United States where the flag flies. But you could in Saipan. And DeLay and others, but DeLay in particular, were involved in blocking the legislation and making sure that that status quo continued on Saipan.”

After the 20/20 segments John Doolittle stepped up to bat. He rejected the government and ABC reports and later said the factories were “well on their way to becoming a model for the rest of the world”. What did Congressman Doolittle receive for his actions? How does $140,000 sound? Money donated to Congressman Doolittle’s campaign and personal PACS as thanks from Jack Abramoff, Abramoff’s associates and clients. Not a bad return for someone giving away your hard-earned tax dollars to the corrupt business interests of the CNMI. Using his influence Doolittle continued to shepherd appropriations bills benefiting the factories through the House Appropriations Committee.

Sadly these abuses continue to this day and John Doolittle has done nothing to right these wrongs. As Representative George Miller said (www.msmagazine.com/spring2006/paradise_full.asp): “It’s so ironic that people who talk about themselves as having family values are allowing these guest workers to be exploited in the harshest possible ways. Their money and lobbying allowed the continuation of the worst of human behavior.”

This fall when you vote, ask yourself whether John Doolittle’s choices are moral and ethical ones that you approve of. You have a choice. Choose wisely.

Jennifer Montgomery is a Soda Springs resident.