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FEATURE Stranger Than Paradise How Tom DeLay’s deregulatory ideology stretched to the island of Saipan BY LOU DUBOSE AND JAN REID The following article is excerpted from the book The Hammer: Tom DeLay: God, Money, and the Rise of the Republican Congress by Lou Dubose and Jan Reid. Copyright 2004. Reprinted by arrangement with PublicAffairs. All rights reserved. At first look the island of Saipan is a tropical paradise: white sand beaches, palm trees billowing in the breeze, glimmering turquoise sea, dramatic rock cliffs rising from the mist and foam of crashing waves, reefs teeming with wildly hued fish, snorkelers, and scuba divers. Saipan is also the name of a small city beside the sea that is the capital of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. In the late 1990s this remote out-post of America, 9,000 miles across the Pacific from California, offered a vision of what the nation might look like if Tom DeLay had his deregulatory way. DeLay’s adventure in Saipan illustrates how his agenda had changed: from trying to disable the EPA to imposing his ideology and will on whole territories and economies. And the implementation of his ideas would increase the riches of the loyalists who in turn keep the maw of his political leviathan stuffed with money. Here was a land newly born to American dominion, a place and people that had never been corrupted by federal regulation. Saipan was his grand experimenta construction of the world as he wished it to be. “It is a perfect Petri dish of capitalism,” DeLay enthused in 1997. “It’s like my Galapagos Island.” The free-market laboratory experiment and the opportunities of vast profit could be carried out in virtual secrecy. Few Americans born after World War II are aware that Saipan exists. If you surf the Internet for references, you are most often rewarded with obituaries of old Marines. In mid-1944 Saipan, which rises from the Pacific near Guam, became a crucial objective in America’s tortuous strategy of island-hopping toward fortress Japan. When Saipan fell, the U.S. would be positioned to build an airfield on nearby Tinian from which the decisive bombing missions of the war were flown. But the strategic victory did not come easily; Marines speak of Saipan with the same reverence . and horror they attach to Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. The U.S. military committed 70,000 troops to overwhelm a forty-sevensquare-mile island. The GIs suffered nearly 17,000 casualties during the twenty-five-day battle, including 3,225 killed in action. The slaughter of the Japanese on Saipan was almost unimaginable. The recorded total of their soldiers killed was 23,811five hundred per square mile. And, though estimates vary, up to 18,000 civilians jumped to their deaths from the towering cliffs, rather than give up to the advancing Marines. The mass suicide convinced the U.S. military that the Japanese would never surrender to invaders of their homeland: Saipan moved Harry Truman toward his decision to drop the atomic bomb. After the war, the Marianas became a trust territory of the United Nations, the United States its administering authority. The navy governed the islands until 1962, when their rule was transferred to the Department of the Interior. In 1975, during the administration of Gerald Ford, the islanders voted overwhelmingly in a self-rule plebiscite to continue embracing the sovereignty of the United States as a commonwealth. Eleven years passed before Ronald Reagan formally made that covenant into law. Though the Marianas’ indigenous peoples had won their prized U.S. citizenship, the entire population then amounted to one small town. In an effort to jump-start an economy, federal negotiators granted control of immigration, wage, and workplace standards to the commonwealth government. That’s when the islands grabbed the attention of rich people in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea. The most affluent and powerful man in the Marianas was a naturalized U.S. citizen named Willie Tan. Tan Holdings Corporation, founded by the tycoon’s father in Hong Kong, included Saipan’s largest garment factories, several hotels, a bank, travel agencies, ice cream parlors; the largest newspaper in the islands, the Saipan Tribune, was the company’s mouthpiece. Tan and other venture capitalists had realized they could create a garment industry that was fully protected by U.S. trade laws and virtually immune to the obstructions of federal regulation. Imports from the U.S. came into the Marianas duty-free and without quotas, and exports from the islands moved past U.S. Customs without stirring so much as a breeze. For the venture capitalists on Saipan, the commonwealth status enabled them to circumvent quotas on Chinese textile exports to the United States. The investment capital behind the factories was largely Chinese. The plants were run like factories in China. Even the fabric was Chinese. All the capitalists needed was a labor force. The indigenous islanders had no future as executives in this industry, nor did they fit the desired mold of factory workers. The Marianas capitalists instead contracted with recruitment squads that roved the provinces of China, the Philippines, Thailand, 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9/10/04