Paul Jacob

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff got used to power. He bought favors for his clients from congressmen. Favor-trading, logrolling, porkbarrelling and the like go on all the time in Washington. But Abramoff took it to extremes. He was blatant. He got caught. Got prosecuted. And got powerless.

But not every exercise of influence by a man who illegally peddles influence offends against common sense and decency. For example, pre-total-disgrace, Abramoff represented business interests in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. In that capacity, he helped prevent federal minimum wage laws from being imposed on the backwater economy.

Abramoff can no longer use his nefarious Republican lobbying power to prevent the contract-making rights of those Island businesses from routine, systematic violation. So the minimum-wage legislation just passed by the House includes a provision to impose it on the Northern Mariana Islands.

Meanwhile, however, the Democratic delegate of American Samoa, one Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, has successfully thwarted attempts to impose the same minimum wage on the Samoan economy, where employees are typically paid half the minimum workers collect in the U.S.

One moment Congress passed its minimum wage bill, and the next? Controversy erupted. If the minimum wage is so grand, why exempt American Samoa from its blessings?

Seems that StarKist Tuna, a division of Del Monte Foods, is headquartered in the San Francisco district of Speaker Nancy Pelosi but packs tuna in American Samoa. Word leaked out. Madame Speaker responded to the ensuing hullabaloo by pledging that the bill would indeed be altered to sock it to . . . er, I mean, to apply it to Samoa. Ah, fairness.

It’s still hard to know precisely what politics will ultimately beget exactly which public policy.

But it’s easy to predict what would happen when Samoan shops suddenly must pay the U.S. minimum wage. Maybe the same thing that will happen in the Northern Mariana Islands. Officials in the latter think that the boosted minimum wage — $1.50 more an hour in the first year of a four-year phase-in — could cause as much as 30 percent unemployment.

Letting the Samoan economy off the hook may constitute a double standard. But this is mercy in addition to hypocrisy. Socking it to Samoa ain’t the best cure for hypocrisy.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.