Still uglier than the Indian gaming affair -- and more directly implicating Mr. DeLay -- is the story of Mr. Abramoff's clientele in the northern Marianas Islands. The Pacific commonwealth serves as a haven for garment sweatshops that evade U.S. labor and immigration laws while legally labeling their products "Made in the U.S.A." Nearly every big name in the American rag trade has dealt with factories there.
Several years ago, the gross abuse of the laborers in the islands -- mostly young women imported from China and Thailand -- drew unwanted attention from the federal government. When Clinton administration officials proposed to crack down on the Marianas sweatshops and labor contractors, the commonwealth's ruling elite hired Mr. Abramoff to protect them. He sponsored dozens of luxury junkets to the islands for Republican politicians and commentators, spread around plenty of campaign money, and soon had Mr. DeLay pledging to defend the Marianas factories from modern labor standards.
The conditions endured by the women workers in the islands ought to have shocked any religious conscience. Swindled, starved and overworked, many of them were ultimately forced into prostitution -- and when they got pregnant, they were forced to endure abortions. Young women who arrived expecting to work in restaurants found themselves suddenly hustled into topless bars, where they were coerced into drinking and having sex with customers. And they often were deprived of the money paid by the johns.
Promoted by Mr. DeLay and Mr. Abramoff as a libertarian utopia, the islands were actually a sinkhole of indentured slavery and sex tourism. Enchanted by all the easy money and free vacations, however, those Washington worthies and their friends disregarded the suffering.
With sweatshops, whorehouses and casinos as the commercial underpinnings of their little empire, and with their thuggish approach to campaigns and debates, the DeLay crew seems reminiscent of the old Cosa Nostra. Yet such unsavory parallels don't disturb the right-wing establishment. Rallying behind Mr. DeLay are the Family Research Council, the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation, the American Conservative Union and the rest of the "movement," with everyone fervently declaring, amid displays of piety and indignation, that his defense is their next great crusade.
My stock tip of the week is: invest in companies that make hangin'-grade rope. With any luck there'll be great demand soon.