Doc Hastings, the Republican leader of the House Ethics Committee, in charge of investigating Tom DeLay, now has been linked to the exploitation of women in the American territory of Marianas Island (near Guam in the Pacific Ocean), where women are tricked into working for a pittance in clothing sweatshops and exploited so badly that some of them are forced into prostitution and abortion.

Hastings (R, Washington) and House majority leader Tom DeLay (R, Texas) have both accepted money from Marianas, and are both now linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.  This unholy trinity has evidently conspired to block Republican Alaska governor Frank Murkowski’s efforts to improve working conditions for the women of Marianas, which as a territory of the United States, does not pay minimum wage.

Abramoff cited close connections to Hastings in a 1995 letter to the Northern Mariana Islands government in which he urged the government to hire his firm. At the time, Hastings served on a House subcommittee that oversaw the Marianas and was considering Democratic proposals to impose minimum wage, immigration and other U.S. laws.

The Marianas manufacturers–linked to The Gap, Liz Claiborne, Banana Republic, J.C. Penney, Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers–do not have to pay U.S. import duties, nor do they follow U.S. labor laws.  This has resulted in what has been called “economic slavery” for women who indebt themselves for what they are told are “U.S. jobs”–and pregnant women workers have been told to get abortions or lose their jobs.  Since immigrant workers outnumber local residents, many of the women have been forced by local economics and the demands of their debts to either starve or work in the only other industry, prostitution for Asian businessmen.

At the June 26, 1996, hearing, Hastings submitted a statement calling the Marianas an ”economic success story.” He urged Congress to continue a hands-off approach, in part by rejecting imposition of a minimum wage.

The day after the hearing, Hastings received $500 from the Preston Gates political action committee. The donation was included in at least $8,300 given to Hastings’ campaign by employees of Abramoff’s lobbying firms – first Preston Gates and then Greenberg Traurig. Abramoff gave Hastings’ campaign $1,000 between September 1996 and November 1997.

And in late 1997, DeLay, then the House Majority Whip, told the Marianas sweatshop owners, “You are a shining light for what is happening in the Republican Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we are trying to do in America and in leading the world in the free market system.” (ABC News, 20/20, March 13, 1998).  DeLay’s trip to deliver that message was arranged by Abramoff and paid by the Marianas manufacturers.

Hastings’ office and the Marianas team Abramoff headed had at least three dozen contacts in 1996 and 1997, including at least two conversations between Abramoff and Hastings, according to firm invoices and correspondence the island government gave The Associated Press under an open records request. That two-year period was a crucial one for Abramoff as he tried to show the Marianas that Preston Gates’ six-figure monthly billings were worth the money.

All this history–outrageous in itself–is important because Hastings is now in charge of investigating DeLay, and has not recused himself:

Hastings’ appointment this February to head the House ethics committee came after the previous chairman, Republican Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado, took issue with some of DeLay’s activities and GOP House leaders removed him from the panel.

In addition, Hasting has delayed investigations into DeLay, while denying through his employees that he has any Abramoff connection, and further jammed up the works by trying to put his own chief henchman into ethics committee power.

The latest logjam relates to a decision by Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) to try to name his 10-year chief of staff, Ed Cassidy, as a co-director of the committee staff.  But the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.), said the rules give Democrats a say in the appointment, and they oppose Cassidy.

Because Cassidy has been up-to-his-neck in up-to-no-good, and would appear to be an outright mealy-mouthed liar, quoted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as saying Hastings “couldn’t have known Jack Abramoff from Jack and the Beanstalk.”

The first thing to do is get Hastings off the ethics committee; the important thing to do is put Marianas under full U.S. wage and labor law and end the prostitution, forced abortion and labor exploitation.

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