Drain the Swamp – Trump finds ANOTHER worst candidate for a high post
Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labor is probably not a position 99.9 percent of Americans give any thought to. Indeed, not many can name Alex Acosta, the Department of Labor secretary who oversees this position. It is nevertheless an important job. Deputies and assistant secretaries initiate and supervise most of the work that federal departments and agencies accomplish. This particular deputy slot operates as the nation’s second highest labor-enforcer. And Pr*sident Donald Trump’s nominee for the job has a past connection that makes his ascension problematic.
His name is Patrick Pizzella. To the uninitiated, he might seem like a good choice. He’s currently acting chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, and 16 years ago he was confirmed as assistant labor secretary for operations and management—OASAM for short. He served in that post for nearly all of George W. Bush’s terms as president.
He has extensive budgeting experience as a result, which would be a crucial part of his new job if he gets it, as the Trump regime has called for a 20 percent cut in the department’s spending. He would also be in charge of implementing Trump’s order to reorganize federal agencies’ internal structures and finding a new DOL headquarters.
Drain the swamp?
But that experience, as Mother Jones magazine reports, must be measured against Pizzella’s five years as a lobbying partner of the corrupt Jack Abramoff, who served 43 months in federal prison for mail fraud and conspiracy to bribe public officials. Twenty other people were also sentenced. But not Pizzella.
Together with Abramoff, he had lobbied to protect the textile sweatshops of the U.S. commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, a string of Pacific islands 1,500 miles from Japan. That’s not the kind of line any friend of labor wants to see on a résumé for such a powerful post. Noah Lennard reports:
At a July Senate confirmation hearing, Pizzella said he didn’t remember much about the work he did in the late 1990s to help the Northern Mariana Islands [to] defeat a bipartisan effort to rein in a guest worker program that the Labor Department found relied on indentured workers. When Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Pizzella whether he knew about reports of forced abortions and routine beatings at the time, Pizzella replied, “I was not aware of any such thing.” Pressed further, he said reports of abuse by multiple government agencies and newspapers were mere “allegations.”
What Pizzella didn’t say was that he helped lead a public relations campaign to rebrand the islands as a paragon of free-market principles. Between 1996 and 2000, emails and billing records reviewed by Mother Jones show that Pizzella and colleagues organized all-expenses-paid trips to the islands for more than 100 members of Congress, their staffers, and conservative thought leaders. When they got back, Pizzella helped them convince colleagues that the Northern Mariana Islands were, as his old boss Abramoff liked to put it, a “laboratory of liberty.”
They BUILT the swamp
That laboratory allowed the islands to set their own minimum wage instead of sticking with the federal floor. And they got to set their own immigration rules. Results: pay that was about one-half the federal minimum wage, and a flood of immigrants who worked under terrible conditions that included human rights abuses. For some, that included sleeping in crowded dorms behind barbed wire and signing contracts under which they agreed not to unionize, date, or practice their religion. Most of the workforce were Chinese, Bangladeshis, or Filipinos.
A 1998 U.S. government report concluded that “indentured alien workers” made up 91 percent of the workforce. Clothes these workers manufactured boasted a “Made in the USA” tag and were exported tariff-free to the United States. Between 1985 and 1998, Lennard recounts, Northern Marianas’ garment exports “grew from almost nothing to more than $1 billion annually.” That was one-third of the commonwealth’s revenue.
Bigger, better swamps. The BEST swamp
In 1995, the Senate passed the bill to strip the Northern Marianas of their exemption on the minimum wage, and it appeared the House would as well. Enter Abramoff. He told his clients that he could convince enough members of the House to kill the exemption bill by making the issue all about protecting free-market values. Pizzella was charged with organizing congressional junkets to the islands where they were provided with “all the right of information.” Meaning that the decent working conditions that Congress members were carefully guided to view weren’t bad. However, independent tours by human rights groups and churches showed something else.
But the lobbyists had won. They had convinced enough junketeers to oppose the revocation of the minimum wage and immigration exemptions. With House Majority Whip Tom DeLay in their pocket, the effort was killed, and it wasn’t until 2008 that Congress finally carried out the revocation. By then Abramoff was in prison.
Lennard points out that at Pizzella’s confirmation hearing last month, Democratic Sen. Al Franken took note of all the people convicted in the Abramoff scandal, which included much, much more than the Northern Marianas scam. Pizzella said, “I was not one of them.” Franken replied, “I understand that. Congratulations.”
(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)