Friday, February 29, 2008

Faleomavaega Disrespects Senate

Samoans are very tolerant of new palagis who are unfamiliar with Samoan customs. But they are less forgiving of people who are expected to know better. No palagi who understands the customs would show disrespect by walking into a fale with shoes on and standing on a fine mat, for example.

Well, Washington has its customs, too. U.S. Senate rules require male senators to wear coats and ties to be admitted to the floor of the Senate. While Senate rules do not cover attire in committee hearings, business dress is customary throughout official Washington. It need not be written because it is expected.

For many years now, Faleomavaega has discarded conventional neck ties in favor of American Indian style bolo ties although even Members of Congress with Indian heritage stay with Washington custom. But more recently, he has pushed the envelope a bit further by discarding suit coats as well as neckties in favor or shirtsleeves and bolos. He has even chaired subcommittee hearings that way. Well, if it is his subcommittee, presumably that is his prerogative, even if it does show some disrespect for witnesses who are testifying before him.

In his controversial first trip to Indonesia last year, the local media there reported that Faleomavaega caused a minor uproar by showing up to meet the President in a bolo tie and sandals. This did not go over well with the protocol conscious Indonesians.

One might have thought that such a controversy might have made an impression on the traveling delegate but if it did, he did not apply the lesson to his home base in Washington, DC.

Although he did not express it or betray any annoyance at yesterday's hearing, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman could not have been pleased when he saw that the leadoff witness in his minimum wage hearing, Faleomavaega, appeared before his subcommittee in bolo tie and shirtsleeves.

Faleomavaega appeared as part of an all-male panel that included the governors of American Samoa and the Northern Marianas. Even though the governors arguably could have appeared in native garb as "national dress," all were clad in conventional western style business suits with neckties.

Indeed, when he took office in 2006, the governor of the Northern Marianas, Ben Fitial, decreed that high government officials henceforth would be required to wear dress shirts and neckties, a move that caused some considerable grumbling in the semi-tropical climate of Saipan.

It is difficult to understand why Faleomavaega would persist in so arrogantly flouting custom, especially when he is appealing for Senate consideration of a bill he has introduced in the House. True, it has been said that Faleomavaega has never passed up a buffet table, it is not as if he has gained so much weight that no one makes suits for his size.

It is unlikely Bingaman's decision on the bill will be predicated on Faleomavaega's attire, but it does contribute to the overall negative impression the delegate continues to make in Washington, where he has had little legislative success in his two decades in office.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Faleomavaega disses own government on foreign soil

Following World War II, Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenburg (R) as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations coined the phrase "partisan politics stops at the water's edge" to signal Republican cooperation with the Truman administration in the building of a post-war world to combat the spread of communism. The axiom that American politicians not criticize their own country's policies while traveling abroad has largely been honored in the years since, especially by those politicians who are in leadership positions.

So you can imagine the surprise and disappointment U.S. diplomats must have felt when they woke up to a story on New Zealand's Pacific Radio News website on February 19 headlined "US CONGRESSMAN REINFORCES VIEW WHITE HOUSE DOING LITTLE FOR PACIFIC." The story says that during his four-day visit to New Zealand the previous week, "U.S. Congressman Eni Faleomavaega says he's more convinced the White House is doing little for Pacific nations." He went on to praise New Zealand and said the U.S. could learn from New Zealand's example.

Besides being a cheap shot designed to curry favor with Kiwi Politicians and pander to Kiwi public, what is particularly troubling about the Democrat Congressman's criticism of the Republican administration is that the U.S. hosted in Washington a summit of Pacific heads of government last May, with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice making a specific point of declaring the meeting to be the opening of the "Year of the Pacific" for the U.S. Faleomavaega played a prominent role in the Washington program, hosting a meeting on Capitol Hill, sponsoring a reception, emceeing the Pacific Night program and bringing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the event to speak to the heads of government.

What makes his criticism such a cheap shot is that he is now the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Global Environmental Affairs. Yet, except for a couple of hearings that gave him a platform to continue his ranting and raving about the Bush administration, there is little evidence that he has done anything to help put meat on the bones of the "Year of the Pacific." After all, Congress is a coequal branch of government and, with his party in control of both houses, he has had every opportunity to propose and shepherd through the process legislation that would accomplish the goals he espouses for U.S. involvement in the region. If you want to criticize, show you have influence by getting a bill passed and then let President bush sign or veto it. If he vetoes it, then you have a basis to criticize (albeit hopefully not while traveling abroad).

Instead, the delegate has contented himself with moving a resolution condemning Japan for its treatment of Korean women during World War II, backing a resolution condemning Turkey for conducting a genocide of Armenians nearly 100 years ago, opposing U.S. sales of F16 fighter jets to Taiwan, interfering in internal elections in the Marshall Islands, poking his finger in the eye of the Indonesian leaders over its refusal to relinquish control over its provinces on the island of New Guinea, and praising the leadership of the late Vietnamese dictator Ho Chi Minh.

And, of course, travel, travel, travel and more travel. The delegate seems to have forgotten he is no longer in his years in the wilderness as a junior, back bench, opposition, non-voting delegate with little power and few responsibilities. Those circumstances gave him the opportunity and latitude to spend as much of his time as his electorate would tolerate to travel and criticize. And as the ample record demonstrates, he has done plenty of both over the years, especially during the period Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress.

Now he has a different imperative as a front bench, majority party subcommittee chairman. He has the opportunity to show leadership on the issues he says he feels so passionately about. So far he has squandered it. Clearly, he has more fun when he can burst into a room, toss a turd into a punch bowl and quickly leave.

His constituents are tiring of his act.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Faleomavaega on his people: Let Them Eat Cake

Well, the big day is tomorrow: American Samoa's first ever Congressional hearing. The "delegation" from Washington arrives on tonight's Hawaiian Airlines flight. What, no military plane? Nope. A special plane could not be justified because Eni could attract only one member of Congress to come: the subcommittee chairman, Virgin Islands Congresswoman Donna Christiansen. Of course, there will be Eni, too, but we're having a congressional hearing tomorrow with no real congressmen. There will assorted staff members along for the ride but the good news is that without a bunch of long winded congressmen making opening statements, there ought to be a lot more time for witness testimony.

According to a news story on Radio KHJ this morning, Education and Labor Committee staff who are tagging along want to hear from wage earners, particularly those who favor the increase. And Faleomavaega said that since time was short and not everyone will be able to testify, those who do not get heard should submit their statements for the record.

Since the main purpose of this trip is to hear testimony on the effect of additional minimum wage hikes, a full day of hearings should provide plenty of time but, wait, they aren't starting the hearing until 1 p.m. No doubt they will finish in time for the cocktail hour. But, ah, you say, since they don't have a military plane they can't go back to Honolulu until Sunday night, so that should give them plenty of time to hold additional hearings on Saturday and maybe use the time on Sunday to visit various facilities on the island to get a better look at the territory's most pressing needs. After all, this is the subcommittee of jurisdiction (except, ironically, it does NOT have jurisdiction over minimum wage).

Not so fast. A story in this morning's Samoa News says that Eni is taking the group over to Apia for the weekend. What? The subcommittee has no jurisdiction over foreign affairs either but the subcommittee Eni chairs does. So maybe he just wants to show off. It looks like Chairman Christiansen is not going to have an opportunity to see much more of American Samoa than did the Majority Leader and Minority Whip, when they blew through here in January on a refueling stop from new Zealand. You will recall Eni missed that visit, because he was off inspecting fish farms in Israel with a bunch of U.N. ambassadors. This time he will be in Apia with the CODEL, essentially saying about his own constituents: let them eat cake.

So what is this all about? Window dressing. A favor to a fellow Democrat by Donna Christiansen in an election year. After all, her subcommittee has NO jurisdiction over the bill Eni introduced to freeze wage hikes. That bill has been referred to George Miller's committee. Miller is nowhere to be seen. And she doesn't have to worry about criticism for meaningless travel. She routinely wins reelection by lopsided margins (while the other small island territorial delegate is so popular, she runs unopposed). The only one who has trouble getting reelected is Eni, hence the help.

And so it goes.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Faleomavaega Aide in Hanoi

Hard on the heels of her boss's controversial December Hanoi visit, during which he toasted murderous dictator Ho Chi Minh as a "great man," Faleomavaega's top staffer, Lisa Williams, is herself in Vietnam today on a fact finding trip. According to one press report, Williams, after visiting children who are victims of Agent Orange, said "We will return...The US needs to do more." Williams, who enjoys a close relationship with Faleomavaega, has been identified over the years variously as his chief of staff, communications director and, since acquiring a subcommittee chairmanship, the staff director of his Asia-Pacific panel. Congressional salary reports indicate she splits her time and pay between the subcommittee and his personal office. Moreover, Federal Election Commission reports show that she also gets paid for doing his political fundraising. Perhaps she will be leaving Vietnam in time to link up with her boss in Honolulu in the next day or so. Stay tuned.

Faleomavaega Turns Back on AS Dems; Embraces Hawaii

Although he could not find time to attend the presidential nominating caucus of American Samoa's Democratic Party, which Hillary Clinton won over Eni's candidate, Barack Obama, he has no trouble squeezing out a time in his busy, globe trotting schedule to be in Hawaii for tonight's Obama rally ahead of tomorrow's caucuses. Just as he no doubt realized the deck was stacked against him in American Samoa on February 5 and chose to hide out in New Zealand with a "scheduling conflict," his schedule seems to have a lot of clear time on it for Hawaii. The taxpayers again are picking up the tab, of course, because Faleomavaega is part of a Congressional delegation (CODEL) that is on its way to American Samoa for minimum wage hearings on Friday. The Obama rally is this evening (Monday) and the next plane to American Samoa is not until Thursday. So, the time will be filled with PACOM briefings and probably National Park Service facility inspections, none of which likely will be scheduled so as to conflict with any political events.

And just as he knew his man was going down in American Samoa, he knows the Hawaii-born Obama is heavily favored to win the caucuses here tomorrow, even though the powerful Sen. Daniel K. Inouye is backing Hillary Clinton. It should be no surprise Faleomavaega is spending more of his time in Hawaii than American Samoa because this is where he grew up. Although it is not required by federal law or the constitution, he has no dwelling in American Samoa that he can call his home. He and his wife reportedly co-own property in Nevada, where she has resided in recent years (no point in being in Washington or American Samoa--the two places Faleomavaega rarely can be found) since pulling up stakes in Washington. Since she moved out of the D.C. area, however, she does go to American Samoa every election season so that voters can see that, despite swirling rumors to the contrary, they still are married.

Turning his back on his party in American Samoa should not particularly prove politically costly to him because party leaders don't like him anyway. Samoa News and other local media never seem curious to ask party officers when they will be endorsing Faleomavaega for re-election. Why? Because they won't. And he knows it, so he does not ask for party endorsement. A number of years ago when he was still winning comfortable victories for his House seat, he also ran for Democratic National Committee for the territory. He lost. Big time. Same reason a lot of people believe he will never run for governor. They believe that his winning margin is made up by people who vote for him to keep him off the island. Out of sight, out of mind.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Faleomavaega Slow to Call for Probe

A two-week only Samoan baby boy died at the Honolulu airport on February 8 because of some bureaucratic paperwork snafu that delayed his exit from customs and immigration for a quick trip to a hospital that was awaiting his arrival for heart surgery. Even though customs and immigration is a federal matter, it took until February 13 for Faleomavaega to formally request the Secretary of Homeland Security, who oversees these responsibilities, to conduct an investigation of the circumstances leading to the baby's death.

Since he is said to have in Washington last week, not traveling, there is some speculation that Faleomavaega dragged his feet so as not to upset Hawaii's congressional delegation, especially Senator Dan Inouye, on whom he relies heavily to dig him out of messes he frequently creates for himself in Congress (largely out of the eye of the Samoan public).

If so, this would not be the first time he has put Hawaii, where he grew up, ahead of local interests. When Governor Togiola was battling Hawaiian Airlines a couple of years ago over treatment of Samoan passengers and lack of service to the territory, Faleomavaega was nowhere to be found. Again he was thought to be appeasing Hawaii's powerful members of Congress, who were likely not pleased to see the state's flag carrier attacked.

Baby Futi was to be buried in Hawaii this weekend. Unless it interferes with yet another fabulous foreign junket (Congress is in recess--not that it matters), it can be expected that Faleomavaega will be in Hawaii for the funeral with his arms wrapped around the casket and tears flowing onto the coffin. He has learned how to do that with some considerable skill from accompanying to American Samoa the bodies of every Samoan soldier killed in Iraq. His local staff knows where to place the chalk marks for the media cameras.

Someone may ask why we can't say something nice about the fact that Faleomavaega did call for the investigation, even if it took five days. Well, okay then. At least that is better than the governor's office, which has had no public comment at all yet, and the attorney general, who said he sees no grounds for an investigation by his office.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Faleomavaega Buckles Under Pressure

Fresh from the setback of his presidential candidate, Barack Obama, to Hillary Clinton at the American Samoa delegate selection caucus, Faleomavaega has folded his cards on holding a hearing on his bill mandating the secretary of Interior to force the governor to hold a referendum on three controversial issues: direct popular election of senators, establishment of a federal court, and making American Samoans full U.S. citizens.

Members of the legislature, senators in particular, have been increasingly vocal in their opposition to Faleomavaega's interference in what they view as being local prerogatives and last week openly debated whether to boycott the hearing, which was to take place on February 22. No doubt sensing there would be fireworks not only from the legislators but the public as well, the beleaguered delegate beat a hasty retreat and requested House Insular subcommittee Chairwoman Donna Christiansen (D-VI) limit the hearing to minimum wage only. His press release announcing the scrubbing of the hearing lamely cited lack of time but no one was fooled.

Legislators also claimed Faleomavaega's proposal of the college as the venue for the hearing was an effort to attract a younger audience that might be more favorable to his proposals. With the hearing scrubbed the need for the college was moot and the two sides settled for the "neutral" Lee Auditorium for the wage hearing. The legislature wanted the hearing at their building.

Faleomavaega's prestige has suffered yet another blow at a time when his principal opponent in 2006, Aumua Amata, has announced she will run again. In her announcement, she noted her race was the fourth closest in the country in 2006 against a Democrat elected to the U.S. House.

Should be interesting.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Faleomavaega on Insane Travel Marathon

Wow. Faleomavaega flew back to Washington from New Zealand (did he wave at American Samoa as he flew by?) last week in just enough time for the new president of the Federated States of Micronesia to pay a courtesy call on him. Sources tell us that he could hardly keep awake during the meeting and was barely able to walk. Moreover, we learned that not long afterwards he was scheduled to travel to Colombia. What is he going to do there? Shake his fist at the tuna factories or head into the jungles to march shoulder to shoulder with rebel groups, as he is wont to do in West Papua? Fortunately, American Samoa and the other territories remained part of the stimulus package, even though it had to move to final passage ast week without his watchful eye. Luckily, the ignorant comments of a Republican Florida congresswoman, who described territorial residents as foreigners, did not derail the bill. It will be recalled that on a previous occasion when Faleomavaega again was traveling, his own leadership mandated a disastrous minimum wage hike for the territory in reaction to comments made by yet another southern Republican congressman. We have not seen a press release on the Colombia trip but would not be surprised to see him describe himself as being "on assignment." Interesting. No one ever says just who exactly is doing this assigning, what the actual assignment is, who he makes a report to or what is supposed to be the resulting action. Congress doesn't work that way.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Faleomavaega Suffers Major Humiliation

It now makes more sense as to why Faleomavaega would extend his visit to New Zealand and skip his party's presidential delegate selection caucus, which was held February 5. It very well could have been that his sister-in-law, Terry Hunkin, sent him a signal that the candidate they were backing, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, was going to fall short and lose to N.Y. Senator Hillary Clinton in the territory's balloting. Terry Hunkin, American Samoa's outgoing Democratic National Committeewoman, also serves as state chairman for the Obama campaign.

In retrospect, it probably should have been no surprise that Clinton defeated Obama 57 percent to 43 percent because that is about the level of support Faleomavaega (whose real name is Eni F. Hunkin, Jr.) himself has been getting in elections in recent years. The level of his personal popularity was reflected in the caucus results.

Nonetheless, Faleomavega risked his prestige on a very public backing of Obama and he and his chief political operative, Lisa Williams, have been handed a humiliating defeat in his own party.

If Clinton does go on to win the nomination and be elected president, Faleomavaega can expect to be frozen out for the duration of the Clinton presidency. At least that has been the historical pattern of the Clintons, who have been known to punish their enemies severely. Should he lose his congressional seat, he should not expect the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretaryship for territories as a consolation prize either.

The Democratic presidential race remains too close to call and if Obama prevails, Faleomavaega could find himself vindicated. However, he may have been irreparably damaged at home politically in the process.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Faleomavaega is Super Tuesday No Show

After President Bush delivered his State of the Union Address on Monday, January 28, Congress remained in session one more day, then went on recess so that Members could return to their districts to prepare for "Super Tuesday" on February 5. Twenty four states and American Samoa are conducting primaries, caucuses or conventions today to select their delegates to the two national party conventions later this year.

Does that mean that Faleomavaega winged his way home to spend a week trying to persuade local Democrats to vote for Barack Obama, the candidate he has endorsed for his party's nomination? No way. As we wrote earlier, he headed for New Zealand to, um, discuss the visa pilot program for the independent sate of Samoa and learn about the Maori Language Commission. That was a week ago. Where is he now? He's still there!! One wonders how he is spending all that free time.

It seems he is staying on for Waitangi Day observances on February 6, which is February 5 just across the dateline in American Samoa, which still leaves a lot of down time. So it looks like he is taking a pass on the caucus, although you can bet he will be front and center at the convention itself.

It also therefore looks like the epic "Battle of the Titans" won't occur since Governor Togiola Tulafono, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton, will be absent from the caucus as well. He continues to be laid up in a Honolulu hospital recovering from complications resulting from surgery first performed in Pago Pago in January.

Incidentally, in contrast to the Northern Marianas, the American Samoa governorship has not been kind healthwise to its holders. Both territories first elected governors in November 1977. Six men have held the office in CNMI while American Samoa is only on its fourth. The first CNMI ex-governor to pass away only did so in 2007 while all the former governors of American Samoa are gone. Moreover, all of American Samoa's elected governors suffered significant health problems while in office.

The American Samoa delegates have not fared much better. There have only been two but the first left office in disgrace and served federal prison time for a ghost payrolling scheme. The second one, Faleomavaega, despite all his world travels, is not all that healthy either. Despite foot surgery he can still barely walk and also has had heart bypass surgery. Nonetheless, he gives no indication he ever will retire even though he turns retirement age this year.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Faleomavaega on the Road Again

Boy, it sure didn't take our roving delegate long to hit the road again. President Bush gave his State of the Union address Monday evening and Congress was in session all day Tuesday until mid-evening before recessing until February 6.

According to a story in this morning's Samoa News, however, Faleomavaega arrived in New Zealand Wednesday afternoon, American Samoa time. In order to get to Auckland that quickly, he must have been heading to the airport out of Washington no later than the bang of the gavel (or maybe earlier?).

What great purpose is served by this little trip? Well, it seems, according to the story, Eni was to visit the "U.S. Consulate Office for an update on the visa pilot program, which was launched in 2006." Um, hello? Don't they have telephones for that sort of thing. You would have thought that maybe that could have been handled by staff over the phone.

Ah, maybe that was only coincidental to the main purpose of the long, arduous journey to New Zealand. The story said he also planned "to meet with other New Zealand officials including the Maori Language Commission to replicate some of their work here as one effort to preserve the Samoan language. Faleomavaega said any information obtained from this meeting will be shared with officials in the territory." No phones at the Commission office either?

Well, since Congress is not back in session until Feb. 6, maybe Eni was just passing through New Zealand early en route back to American Samoa to get ready for the Feb. 5 delegate selection caucus, at which he and Governor Togiola will see who has the most influence. Eni is backing Barack Obama and Togiola is backing Hillary Clinton.

I guess there is no reason to stay in Washington longer than absolutely necessary. Question is who laughed hardest at this latest absurdity: the administrative staffer who filled out the travel justification form, the press secretary who drafted the press release, the news editor who inserted the story into the paper or the readers. Since he can barely walk anymore (probably from those long walks through airport terminals over the years) as it is, if the voters ever really start to howl about his travel, maybe he can announce he has restless leg syndrome and check into the Betty Ford Clinic. Why not? It wouldn't produce any bigger laugh than this story does.