Thursday, December 17, 2009
For years Faleomavaega limped along at home with declining popularity at the ballot box, in recent years repeatedly being forced into runoffs so much that he got Congress to amend the American Samoa voting statute to allow victory by plurality.
Not last year, however. In 2008 he won by a huge landslide 60%-35% over his nearest opponent. Why the reversal of fortune? He argued to voters that to defeat him now made no sense because he was on the verge of acquiring real influence for the first time in his career.
For his firm two terms, his agenda was blocked by an unfriendly White House controlled by the other party. In his third term, his party controlled both the White House and Congress but he was still very junior and further handicapped himself by proposing such strange legislation as the creation of four seats in Congress to be reserved for Native Americans (an idea ridiculed in the respected Almanac of American Politics as one of the worst proposals ever made).
Then, for the next 12 years, Faleomavaega toiled in the wilderness as a member of the Minority and had to content himself with traveling to various nooks and crannies around the world (even including two visits to the remote Torres Strait Islands!).
But by 2006, however, the Republican Party started to implode nationally, with President Bush’s popularity declining rapidly after Hurricane Katrina and the continuing war in Iraq, while his party mates in Congress were dealing with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
So, it seems almost inevitable now that Democrats would recapture control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Faleomavaega’s seniority produced a subcommittee chairmanship. Because the U.S. Constitution vests in the president sole power over foreign policy, House Democrat leaders must be thankful that Faleomavaega’s interest lies in foreign policy, so they could give him a chairmanship on the Foreign Affairs Committee with little authority or ability to do damage. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment, he could make a lot of noise but not cause much injury. By adding global environmental issues to his portfolio, the leaders also could keep him traveling and out of their hair in Washington. What little noise he could make would not be heard by President Bush, who just ignored him as he was winding down his presidency.
Then came 2008 and Faleomavaega took a huge political gamble in backing Hawaii-born Sen. Barack Obama over N.Y. Senator Hillary Clinton early in the campaign season when Clinton still was favored to win the Democrat nomination for president. To do so, at home he also had to buck his own party, which was backing Clinton. He even stayed away from the local caucus that picked national conventional delegates. But he did show up in Hawaii for that state’s delegate selection process, even appearing on stage with Obama’s half-sister, who lives in Hawaii.
Election night 2008 must have been the most satisfying of his career. Not only did he win his own big victory, but Obama won as well and Democrats increased their majorities in the House and Senate, eventually gaining a filibuster-proof majority in the latter. Moreover, with the ailing Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) stepping aside, Faleomavaega’s closest Senate ally, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), soon took over the chairmanship of the all-powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. At the same time, the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) removed from the scene a fierce protector of the minimum wage escalator law for American Samoa.
So, by the time of Obama’s inauguration, the ingredients were all there for Faleomavaega to enjoy unprecedented power and influence for the first time in his career. Indeed, having backed Obama so early, he now was in a position to ride the coattails of Obama’s first-year popularity to bring all sorts of new benefits to his economically struggling territory. It seemed his alliance with Obama also would be reinforced by his closest allies in Congress: Nancy Pelosi and George Miller.
Faleomavaega was a protégé of the late U.S. Rep. Philip Burton (D-CA), under whom he worked on Capitol Hill and who crafted and rammed through the House legislation to create a non-voting delegate seat for American Samoa, tailoring it for Faleomavaega. Burton even strong armed the governor to give Faleomavaega a job back home so he could build a base to run for Congress.
At the same time Burton was mentoring Faleomavaega, he also was grooming two young, left-wing California politicians for future office: Nancy Pelosi and George Miller. The two now have risen to leadership in the House, with Pelosi attaining the speakership and Miller becoming Chairman of the powerful House Education and Labor Committee. Miller also is said to be Pelosi’s closest adviser in the House. Faleomavaega has known both of them since his days as a Burton staffer and boasts of them being his closest allies in the House.
So, talk about all the stars lining up right, it could hardly have been a more perfect environment in which Faleomavaega could flex his legislative and political muscles. But something has gone awry. Nothing seems to be going his way, either in the administration or in Congress.
The first warning sign that the emperor might not have any clothes came as early as the Democrat takeover of the House after the 2006 election. House Democrats made it clear that their first priority after taking power would be to raise the minimum wage. In fact, Pelosi announced that this measure and other priorities would be addressed in the first 100 hours of the Democrat majority, in contrast with the Republicans’ first 100 days program in 1995. Even before taking office, goaded by a Republican backbencher, Pelosi announced American Samoa would be included in the minimum wage raise and ordered George Miller to incorporate it into what would become H.R. 2.
Although virtually all Democrats and Republicans alike were in their seats—either to advance or protect their interests--when Congress was gaveled into order in early January, 2007, Faleomavaega again was off traveling. By the time he scooted back to town, the damage had been done and the new wage provision was adopted by the House.
A further sign that he might not enjoy the influence with Pelosi he touted came early this year, when the speaker led a delegation to China to discuss environmental issues and to Indonesia, where Faleomavaega has been very vocal on the question of Papuan self-determination. Despite the jurisdiction of his subcommittee, Pelosi did not include him in the delegation either to China or Indonesia.
Also early in the year, Faleomavaega’s name was missing in the list of congressional endorsements for Tony Babauta to be assistant secretary of Interior for insular affairs, the key federal agency through which so much of the aid to American Samoa flows. Even though Babauta was not being endorsed by the (by far) most senior territorial delegate, Obama nominated Babauta for the job and the Senate confirmed him.
So, is it any surprise that when the Speaker announced the composition of her delegation to the U.N. Copenhagen conference on climate change,
http://www.speaker.gov/newsroom/pressreleases?id=1478, Faleomavaega was not on it? Earlier this week, National Journal said "If the CODEL [congressional delegation] is the roughly 16 or so that has been rumored, it would be one of the largest international congressional gatherings since the U.N. was founded in 1945.” Well, it was actually 21 members, but the chairman of the foreign affairs subcommittee with responsibility for global environmental issues was left out. There could hardly be any more important global environmental issue that climate change and there could hardly be a more important conference than the one at Copenhagen, but Faleomavaega is not part of the official congressional delegation. Oh, perhaps he will show up anyway—we wouldn’t be surprised—but everyone still will know the speaker passed him over.
If Faleomavaega were hoping the prestige of being in the Speaker’s entourage would divert attention from the fact that both Obama and members of his own party in the House have signaled that his legislation to preserve the territory’s tuna industry was going nowhere, he was sadly mistaken, because the Speaker gave him no cover. Thus, as he rises in seniority, the lack of esteem in which he is held in Washington becomes ever more obvious and each humiliation looms larger than the last. This is the biggest one to date.
As usual, though, it seems hardly to matter at home, where his loyal fans appear to be willing to settle for him “trying hard,” while his sister-in-law who is an editor at the territory’s only daily newspaper makes sure this sort of story never makes it into print. The people have no clue the ground that has been lost in Washington over the past 20 years. And so it goes.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
As much as he has his preferred leader in the White House, he also boasts a special relationship with senior House power brokers. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her closest House ally, George Miller, both are proteges of the late U.S. Rep. Philip Burton, who also was Faleomavaega's mentor. So, these should be Eni's best days.
Should be, but, sadly, they are not.
Early in the year, Speaker Pelosi led a congressional delegation to China (a country under the jurisdiction of Eni's subcommittee) with an agenda that concentrated primarily on environmental issues (also under Eni's jurisdiction), but, you know what? ENI WAS NOT ON THE DELEGATION!! And people noticed.
Now Obama has piled on with a double dose.
Without consulting Eni when she took power last year, Pelosi ordered Miller to add American Samoa to the minimum wage raise introduced then passed by the congressional Democratic majority. Despite protests by local leaders and the business community in American Samoa--and even by Eni--Congress let a second increment of the raise take effect this year, prompting one of the territory's two tuna canneries to announce it was pulling out. It closed its doors on September 30.
When the other cannery threatened to do the same, Eni quickly introduced legislation he called the ASPIRE Act of 2009, which would provide the cannery with subsidies to offset future wage hikes, after his attempts to have Congress halt the raises fell on deaf ears. ASPIRE Act stands for American Samoa Protection of Industry, Resources and Environment Act (not to be confused with the America Saving for Personal Investment, Retirement, and Education Act of 2009). He told the territory that his ASPIRE Act was the last best hope to save American Samoa's economy but would succeed only if everyone were united behind his bill. The legislature complied with a formal endorsement and through the local Chamber of Commerce, the business community did the same. After much hesitation and reluctance, the governor decided to call Eni's bluff and also endorsed the bill. So Eni had the unity he desired and could not blame others if his effort failed.
Armed with all these endorsements, Eni gambled he could win the backing of the Natural Resources Committee (which has jurisdiction over territorial issues) and put the bill in the hands of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over revenue matters--a key part of the bill. No doubt he hoped that armed with unified backing at home and quick approval of Natural Resources, he would have the momentum to blow the bill past Charlie Rangel in short order.
Not so fst, Eni.
His plan came crashing to earth when Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Joe Rahall insisted that the Insular Affairs subcommittee hold a hearing first. Vice President Joe Biden likes to quote advice he received from a senior senator when he was a freshman senator many years ago. The senator told him "never send a committee chairman a letter he doesn't want to receive." In other words, make sure you have your ducks lined up in a row first. That same advice could apply to a bill. Never hold a hearing on a pet bill until you are sure you have a version that will command majority support. Perhaps it was because he was caught by surprise by Rahall's insistence on a hearing, but whatever the reason, the hearing was an unmitigated disaster for Eni.
Except for Governor Togiola and StarKist--which would be the major beneficiary of the legislation, all other witnesses testified against ASPIRE, either in part or in full, including--are you ready for this--the Obama Administration!!! Of course, committee Republicans spoke in opposition---and Eni labeled them racist for it--but also Democrats! California Rep. Grace Napolitano, no racist she, made a special appearance at the hearing to oppose the bill on her behalf and on behalf of Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner and the congressman who represents the Georgia district where Chicken of the Sea has moved part of its Pago Pago operations. All three are Democrats.
Well, you might say, perhaps the White House would salve Eni's wounds by making sure he is prominently featured at Obama's first state dinner, which honored the Prime Minister of India. After all, Eni also is vice chairman of the Congressional Asia Pacific Caucus, long has championed Indian issues and has regularly received campaign financial support from Indian interest groups. Moreover, the White House moved the dinner from the State Dining Room, which can only seat 175 people, to a tent on the back lawn, which could seat up to 400 people, so more people could be accommodated.
Check out the guest list http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2009/11/white_house_dinner_guest_list.html?ft=1&f=103943429. Want to save time? NO FALEOMAVAEGA!!! The chairman of the full committee was there and even a Republican from his own subcommittee. But no Eni. And it's not because he was ill or traveling. There was a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Cuba the day of the dinner and Eni could clearly be seen attending it in his trademark bolo tie with no coat.
How are the people of American Samoa taking these twin humiliations from Obama? Just fine, thank you, because they don't know. Why? Because Samoa News, where Eni's sister-in-law holds a key editorship, won't publish a thing about the rejection of Eni's bill or his exclusion from the White House guest list. Oh, yes, they "covered" the hearing extensively by publishing in full the statements of all the witnesses. But they might as well have published the phone book because readers would have had to go through the tedious job of finding the words of opposition in each of the statements. There was no overarching analysis of the proceedings, which could have been summarized as "Eni, we sympathize with American Samoa's plight and we want to help, but this bill is not the way." For the most part, the witnesses could be divided into two groups: those who insisted the bill be substantially overhauled and those who think it should be scrapped altogether.
Of course, Samoa News did publish Eni's reflection on the hearing, in which he emphasized that most of the witnesses said they were sympathetic to American Samoa's plight and wanted to help. But he said nothing of the fact that the witnesses also dumped on his bill and Samoa News made no effort to complete the record on that score. And of course, there has not been a word about the bill in the media since, despite the fact it was touted as something that had to be enacted quickly to save the economy. Not a word. Not a single word. Why? Because the bill is dead, dead dead and the newspaper does not want to damage Eni by letting its readers know that.
Nor will you see a word about his snub by the White House. Oh yes, someone made a comment about that in the reader reaction section of an unrelated article on-line but that has a very limited readership. Frankly, it was a surprise that editors did not spike that comment. Perhaps it slipped through the system.
Prediction: in the next couple of weeks Samoans will see a photo in the paper of a beaming Eni standing side by side Obama at the White House Christmas party. What the paper won't tell you is that the White House holds multiple Christmas parties for diplomats, political contributors, the media, senior administration political appointees and, yes, Congress. Every member is invited and they all line up for a formal photo with the President, so it's no big deal. Surely, Eni would have traded in that photo for Obama's support of his bill and an invitation to Obama's first state dinner. Maybe he just should have followed that Virginia couple into the dinner. They didn't seem to have a problem, even without an invitation.
As for ASPIRE, if his flunky, the pushy, hardass Lisa Williams, squeals loud enough, the House may pass something called ASPIRE just to shut her up, but it won't resemble the bill he introduced in any way, shape or form. Just like his push for a political status study commission during the Clinton administration. Congress wouldn't pass it and the Clinton Interior Department shut him up by creating and funding an economic development study commission in its stead.
And so it goes.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Now Eni is laying his prestige on the line once again by writing a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking that American Samoa be permitted to have observer status at the Forum. In a press release carried in the April 22 Samoa News, Eni was quoted as saying “In my capacity as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment, I am confident that with the support of President Obama’s Administration and Secretary Clinton, American Samoa and the other territories will be able to submit applications for observer status at the next Pacific Islands Forum Annual Meeting scheduled for August 2009 in Cairns, Australia."
Just last week Eni said he would move to have oversight of the Palau-U.S. Compact stripped from Madeleine Bordallo's insular subcommittee and moved to his A/P subcommittee, so we have to assume he has greased the skids with State on this initiative rather than blindside Clinton. Were the U.S. to decline to let its territories observe at the Forum and were the Deaprtment to successfully object to taking over management of the Compact of Free Association, it would be a huge double humiliation for the delegate, who despite his continued accumulation of seniority and his early endorsement of the Obama presidential candidacy, so far is showing no sign of gaining any influence or respect at all in Washington as a result.
Incidentally, this latest initiative comes hard on the heels of his governor's announcement that he believed the time had come for American Samoa to consider changing its political status to something more permanent, with details to be left to a constitutional convention to be held in the fall. Perhaps Faleomavaega is telegraphing that the change in status might including loosening ties with the U.S., which, of course, would pave the way for Forum observer status. Keep an eye on all of this. There are huge ramifications to these changes. So far, Samoa News has ignored it all.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Since the House would be unlikely to move jurisdiction over Palau from Natural Resources to Foreign Affairs without moving jurisdiction for the other Freely Associated States at the same time, Eni is making a real power play that has enormous ramifications for him. Were he to succeed, it would amount to a major humiliation for Madeleine Bordallo (D), his fellow delegate from Guam who chairs the insular panel, and would send chills up and down the spine of State Department officials, who prefer to handle diplomatic relations with the Micronesian states but not administer funds for them.
In light of Eni’s sneak attack, ironically launched in Honolulu, it also will be interesting to see just how enthusiastic Bordallo will be to look after American Samoa’s interests in her subcommittee from now on. After subcommittee assignments were announced following last November’s election, Eni was quoted in the news as saying that now that Madeleine was positioned to protect territorial interests for everyone on Natural Resources, it gave him wide berth to do the same on the Asia-Pacific subcommittee. Since his subcommittee has not a stitch of responsibility for territorial issues, of course his assertion is laughable on the face of it. Nonetheless, Samoa News swallowed hook, line and sinker his contention that his keeping an eye on U.S. foreign policy in the region somehow would benefit American Samoa and he would not need to be all that vigilant on Natural Resources.
Were he not to succeed in this bold move against Bordallo, Eni would suffer another major humiliation in Washington, coming hard on the heels of his recent embarrassment at the hands of his colleagues on his unsuccessful attempt to change the wording of a House Resolution on Taiwan. Of course, just as in the case of the Taiwan issue, any further loss of Eni's prestige and influence likely would be confined to Washington--which is important enough, since that is his theater of operation--because it is likely the major media outlet at home, Samoa News, will continue to suppress news unfavorable to its knight in shining armor. As noted here before, Eni’s (whose real family name is Hunkin) sister-in-law, Teri Hunkin, is an editor at the paper.
Meanwhile, speaking of the Taiwan issue, some critics have wondered if Eni were a witting front man for Beijing on Taiwan matters, with one blogger astutely noting that the roving congressman also was caught toasting Communist strongman Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi in December, 2007. As we have pointed out, Eni was an early member of the radical leftist Congressional Progressive Caucus founded by enrolled Socialist then-congressman Bernie Sanders in the early 1990s and only dropped his membership quietly three years ago during a close election campaign after he was criticized publicly for his association. Eni is decidedly to the left of not only the population at large but his own Mormon political base.
Now some other blogs also are beginning to question whether he is a communist. The Doctor Bulldog and Ronin Blog, for example, republished from TyskNews.com a list of “known socialists and commies in our government” that included Eni, although TyskNews has updated the list and dropped him. The spotlight is beginning to shine on congressional socialists because of rising conservative concern that Obama Administration budget proposals are driving the government in the direction of socialism.
Whether or not he is a socialist or a closet communist, there is no doubt that Eni is to the left of center and much more liberal than his constituency. There also is rising concern here that his support of Big Labor’s Check Card proposal will open the door to unionization of our tuna canneries. Coupled with the minimum wage increase that has been forced upon the islands, the days of the canneries could be severely numbered.
Are these seemingly separate questions somehow connected? From seizing control of Micronesia policy to minimum wage, card check and his secret amendment to permit foreign bottoms a backdoor way to fish in South Pacific EEZs, we think they may be. As events play out, we think the dots will begin to connect. Readers here will know what is happening but the general public here will remain clueless, thanks to media suppression of the news.
Friday, April 10, 2009
This time it is the turn of Johnny Neihu, the popular Times columnist. A couple of factual inaccuracies do not detract from his analysis of Eni’s fumbled attempt to water down the House Resolution designed to reaffirm U.S. support for and commitment to Taiwan.
“Countless polls have shown that only a small percentage of crazies want either unification or independence right here, right now," wrote Neihu in the April 11 edition of the Times. “Most Taiwanese want things to stay as they are for the time being. This is what they voted for. They did not vote for backroom deals between KMT hacks and the Chinese Communist Party. This is why we have Suspicious Minds. We don’t want to live under another murderous regime. Been there, done that. Why don’t people like Mr. F[aleomavaega] get this?”
Perhaps Eni would better comprehend what Johnny is saying if he would just remember that virtually no one in this territory either wants to disturb the status quo. People who want to merge with Samoa or become independent separately are scarce to find.
“Maybe deep down the congressman would be nicer to us if he read up on some Asian history,” wrote Neihu in his widely read “News Watch" column. “I am assuming this based on comments he made during a visit to Vietnam in 2007,” he wrote, noting that Eni is a Vietnam War veteran.
Neihu advises his readers that Eni “called Ho Chi Minh a ‘great leader’ in a controversial 2007 visit to Vietnam and quotes Eni as saying Ho ‘only wanted to get rid of 100 years of French colonialism and establish a better life for his own people.’ Well,” concludes Neihu, “we here in Taiwan haven’t quite healed our colonial injuries, but we have fought for and achieved a better life; freedom of speech and of the press; a good standard of living; and the right to kick out a sh*tty government. We would like to keep it that way. But becoming a special autonomous zone of China won’t guarantee these things, as the Hong Kong experiment has demonstrated. This is why we value the TRA and its advocacy of a resolution acceptable to us, and this is why we don’t appreciate fair weather friends meddling with it.”
Neihu made a couple of inconsequential factual errors, such as noting that Eni was chosen for a part as an extra in an Elvis Presley movie because of his body length tattoo. The Hawaii-raised politician only got that tattoo later in life as he was gearing up to win votes in American Samoa elections later in his career, which is why he did notmincur the wrath of school administrators.
Moreover, while Neihu is puzzled why Eni would try to sabotage U.S.-Taiwan relations at the same time he is trying to promote the Taiwan ship building industry by making it easier for Taiwan-built boats to fish in U.S. and South Pacific EEZs, it is not because the bill he is supporting in Congress would aid American Samoa’s canneries. If anything, that bill, if enacted, may hasten the canneries’ departure. This deal is purely financial, with Eni getting heavy campaign contributions from special interests backing his bill. Some have suggested that if he were to leave Congress, he also might wind up as a well-paid adviser to those interests as well-—-if the bill were to go through.
So, at least based on this little secret amendment Eni tried to pass last year, Mr. Neihu makes a faulty assessment that “like any good congressman, Mr. F spends his time trying to ensure his constituents have jobs.” As readers of this blog know all too well, Eni spends most of his time traveling and very little time on ensuring his constituents have jobs. Had he been at his duty station when the critical minimum wage policy decision was been made, American Samoa might have continued to receive the exemption that is crucial to keeping the canneries in place.
Our speculation: Expect Eni to come charging back to “correct the record” on his tattoo and his fishing fleet bill further to divert attention from his humiliating defeat on the TRA resolution.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
The Cleveland-born academic, who writes a highly respected and widely read blog on Taiwan politics, The View from Taiwan, said Eni’s latest letter to the Taipei Times attempting to soften the blow of his humiliation when the House reversed his amendments to a resolution on the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) “shows the kind of champion chutzpah that separates the truly pathetic from the happily ignorant.”
“Unfortunately,” continued Turton, “this is not the first time Faleomavaega has displayed an unseemly ignorance on the TRA, Taiwan and US policy toward Taiwan. Last year, as the Taipei Times noted in an earlier editorial, he attempted to have language that said China threatens Taiwan removed from a resolution on the last Taiwan presidential election. In 2007, Chris Nelson of the well-known Washington insider sheet The Nelson Report said that “Faleomavaega stated that it was US policy to agree to ‘one China,’ and he stated it in ways that tracked the PRC [People’s Republic of China] position. In fact, the official US position does not accept China’s definition, but rather straddles the issue with deliberate ambiguity.” Nelson was one of the Democratic staffers on the drafting of the TRA.”
Like Mr. Nelson, Eni also is a Democrat. Turton also says that Eni is simply regurgitating Beijing’s propaganda. That should come as to surprise to anyone who realizes Eni is a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of the most radical leftist senators and congressmen. He quietly left the group only when one of his opponents pointed out the group's agenda to American Samoa's electorate in a recent campaign but that did not stop him from offering a toast to the late Communist dictator Hi Chi Minh on a trip to Hanoi in 2007.
Mr. Turton better have handy a steel helmet that he can strap on tightly because he can expect retaliation from American Samoa’s peripatetic delegate who, if Turton is correct, seems to know little about Taiwan politics, despite countless trips there over the past two decades, including one in 1991 as an election observer at a time a deadly hurricane was tearing apart our territory. He would have been forgiven had he asked to cut that trip short to come home to assess the need for emergency federal relief, but we suppose he preferred to remain on Taiwan to make sure voters’ rights were fully protected.
Mr. Turton should be prepared to withstand a withering fusillade of verbal abuse and insults and a questioning of his credentials to offer such a judgment of a sitting chairman of subcommittee in the United States House of Representatives. Eni can’t help himself. Not only does he not understand Taiwan politics or U.S. policy towards Taiwan and PRC, he also does not understand proportionality of response. Nor is there any criticism of him too small to let go by.
This will be interesting to watch continue. In the meantime, read Turton’s letter in it entirety here:
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Howard Berman must not have called him in because, as we predicted, he came roaring back at the Taipei Times and, in true form, beat the dead horse yet again! Let's take apart his latest skirmish with the Times in his second letter to the editor on April 8. Keep in mind as you are reading this that his sole objective is to deflect attention away from his humiliation at the hands of his own Democrat colleagues who reversed his Beijing-backed revisions to the TRA resolution on which he had insisted at the subcommittee he chairs, over which he has full control.
Faleomavaega response No. 2
Eni: Once again, Taipei Times has inaccurately reported on the workings of the US Congress and my position regarding Taiwan and Beijing.
ABCDEFG: Deflection. The fact is the Times accurately reported that the House reversed Eni's amendments to the TRA resolution. Workings of Congress are not at issue. It's the results.
Eni: Most recently, Taipei Times published my rebuttal on March 31 to a guest editorial [sic] printed in its paper on March 25 in which an anonymous author misrepresented my involvement with the TRA [Taiwan Relations Act] legislation.
ABCDEFG: As the Times notes in the use of the term [sic], this is not a guest editorial. The Times made that point in its editor's note following his first letter, which he must have read in order to write this second letter. This was the paper's own editorial and in standard journalistic practice, editorials are not signed.
Eni: To be clear, Taipei Times falsely states that I cannot support my claim that changes I made to the TRA legislation [sic] had the full backing of Committee members. If Taipei Times understood the workings of Congress, it would have understood what I already stated in my previous response — that the changes I made were supported by our Subcommittee members, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the full Committee, as well as the bill’s author, each of whom approved the measure to go forward by unanimous consent.
ABCDEFG: Eni arrogantly insults the Times about the paper's knowledge of how Congress works but makes a fool out of himself in so doing. Note that the Times again employs the term [sic] as a gracious way to put him down. What they are doing is demonstrating that Eni has made an error in calling the TRA resolution legislation. It is not. It is a resolution. Thus he is demonstrating that it is he who does not understand how Congress works, not the Times.
Eni: The bill then moved from the Subcommittee to the full Committee, as this is how the process works in the US Congress. Although the Chairman and Ranking Member of the full Committee had already agreed to the Subcommittee changes, other Members, which is their prerogative in a democracy, asked for the word “cornerstone” to be put back in the legislation to replace the word “vital,” which I had used instead. Upon the advice of the US House of Representatives’ legislative counsel — which argued that the word “vital” (which means “essential,” “critical,” “most important”) was legally stronger than the word “cornerstone” (which means “foundation,” “starting point,” “beginning”) — Republicans and Democrats of the full Committee reached an agreement to make the change back to “cornerstone,” and the bill was then sent directly to the House floor, with no further changes.
ABCDEFG: This is a time tested Eni tactic: over explanation. If you can't beat them, confuse them. Buried in all his verbiage is the concession that the "full committee reached an agreement to make the change back to 'cornerstone.'"
Eni: Finally, regarding Taipei Times’ assertion that I am confused about the TRA, I would kindly point out that the Taipei Times should review the TRA, as contrary to your assertions, the TRA absolutely implies that the US wants peace — peace between Taipei and Beijing, peace in the Western Pacific and peace for US troops. This is why the TRA plainly states that it is the policy of the United States “to preserve and promote extensive, close, and friendly commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan, as well as the people on the China mainland and all other peoples of the Western Pacific area.”
ABCDEFG: Once again Eni employs one of his favorite tactics. He admits in the previous paragraph that he lost the battle over cornerstone, so now he wants to change the argument to what the TRA means to the concept of "peace." Moreover, "absolute implies" sounds like one of those oxymorons like "jumbo shrimp," "guest host" and "army intelligence."
Eni: While I have always supported the people on Taiwan, my first priority will always be to prevent as much as possible a gross misuse of US military forces to fight any unnecessary war and, for this reason, I will continue to support the long-standing position of the United States on the issue of Taiwan, which is to support peaceful relations across the Strait and to maintain the One China policy. Every President since 1979 has affirmed this position.
ABCDEFG: Another Eni tactic: here he infers that the Times does not want peace. He is standing as a noble and lonely guardian against the wicked agenda of the Times.
Eni: And no matter how Taipei Times twists the truth, or contorts the words of Senator Richard Lugar or President Ronald Reagan, the fact remains “that the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to resolve.” Hopefully, the Taipei Times and FAPA [Formosan Association for Public Affairs] will do their part to support peace more than ever in a manner that is respectful of America’s young men and women who do not deserve to be dragged into another war, now or in the future, just because sensible people refuse to get along.
ABCDEFG: He goes on to imply that the Times and FAPA want to drag American troops into war over Taiwan.
This should be the end of this skirmish because Eni is too dense to understand how the Times put him down with classic subtlety. That is the only reason they published his second rebuttal. Remember Eni, the Times buys ink by the barrel.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
First of all, do not make the mistake of dismissing him as nothing more than a non-voting delegate. What that means simply is that he cannot vote on the final passage of legislation on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. That is because the U.S. Constitution restricts voting to Members from the states and American Samoa is not a state. Article I Section 2 quite clearly says “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second year by the people of the several states.” For all other purposes, Article I Section 5 of the Constitution says “each House shall be the judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own members . . . and may determine the rules of its proceedings.”
So the office of delegate (there are six of them) is established under the rules of the House and privileges of membership accorded to the Members from the states are accorded to the delegates by House Rules. Because the fate of very few measures is determined by a vote on the Floor, the loss of this vote diminishes only slightly the power a senior delegate who has been there long enough can wield.
The House has avoided controversy because people have taken little notice of these delegates since turnover has kept most of them from becoming senior enough to acquire power and the ones who have been fortunate enough to get to that level have tended to stay with subcommittees dealing with territorial issues. Faleomavaega’s predecessor was on the verge of breaking out of this pattern in the mid-1980s with a the chairmanship of a public works subcommittee but got into legal trouble and had to resign before he really could do anything with it.
Faleomavaega is considered a loose cannon in Congress, even by his own caucus, but they consider themselves fortunate that he has shown an interest in foreign affairs because that means his chairmanship is on a committee where he can do only minimal damage to his party’s agenda in the House. While that may be of little consolation to those whose interest is U.S. relations with Asia, the fact is the House Foreign Affairs Committee has very little real influence because the Constitution vests in the President the sole power to conduct foreign policy. The Senate can exercise some influence because it has the power to ratify treaties and to confirm ambassadors and the secretary of state. The House, however, has no formal powers at all over foreign policy except through the appropriations process, and that involves a separate subcommittee on appropriations, not the foreign affairs subcommittee. That is why non-partisan groups who annually rank the power of House members rate Faleomavaega unusually low.
So, a succession of administrations has found Faleomavaega but be an irritant and annoyance but little else. And when he does come up with any of his hare-brained pet projects, like adding to the House four at-large seats for American Indian tribes, they just ignore him. Or, as he has become more senior and can advance legislation, they just smack him down, as they did with the Armenian genocide resolution the Speaker pulled from the calendar last year and the reversal of his amendments to the Taiwan resolution last month.
Obviously, we share the view of most of you who have written: the time has come to pull the plug on this joker. It’s not funny any more. Despite his lack of power, some day soon he could cause some real damage. That is no doubt why Hillary Clinton did not invite him to accompany her on her maiden trip to Asia. The only way to him where it hurts is with the voters, and that is a tough job because he has the local media in his pocket, the unwavering support of a loyal base of voters among his fellow Mormons and unlimited financial resources from U.S. trade unions and Chinese Americans who many believe are fronting Beijing’s interests.
The local media issue is particularly vexing. There are only a half dozen stations and only one on them has a news person. That station only does a few five-minute news feeds a day. The television station is owned by the government and its news operation is largely a propaganda tool for the governor, with “newscasters” reading press releases written by the governor’s office. Cable TV is expensive, has little penetration in the market and the one community access channel that did news has gone dark. One newspaper that publishes twice weekly, is a shoe string operation with no news gathering capacity and limited circulation.
That leaves Samoa News, the only privately run daily newspaper in the territory with wide circulation. It also has an on-line presence. But Faleomavaega has that covered. His sister-in-law is an editor and negative coverage of his activities is almost non-existent. There certainly is no negative editorial commentary. This current Taiwan controversy illustrates the point. Since he amended the TRA and caused the backlash, there has been absolutely no coverage of it, despite it being quite newsworthy, especially the fact that he suffered a humiliation at the hands of his colleagues. The readers should know that. That’s part of the way his fitness for public office should be measured.
What doe we get instead? This: http://www.samoanewsonline.com/viewstory.php?storyid=5164&edition=1238839200
Now you see what we face down here. Samoa News not only thinks it is newsworthy to write a story about Faleomavaega’s radio show today but also carries a photograph of him with two adoring reporters from the paper! The boys in his press shop back in Washington will be high-fiving when they read today’s paper and breaking out the champagne and victory cigars again. Got away with another one.
Right now, this blog is about the only way we have to let the people know what their delegate is up to and our on-island readership is not that large either. Bandwidth is slow (we don’t have fiber optic cable yet—but soon) and the phone company has an ISP monopoly. The cost is high so internet penetration is low.
However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do. As you saw if you opened the link above and read the story, you saw that Samoa News provides for on-line comments. So you can use that as a vehicle to complain about the paper carrying non-news like this instead of writing about Faleomavaega’s humiliation in the House, war with the Taipei Times or his past controversies. The editors moderate it so we are skeptical they will carry what you write (we have been blocked in the past) but at least you can see for yourself. You also can try to write to the only independent radio news operation: http://khjnews.solupress.com/. However, as you can see from the list of stories (this is the text of what the anchor reads on the air), the news is pretty much local.
And, of course, to vent your frustration, feel free to continue to comment here and cross post our blog to your own and to others. He can be stop as the blow back from his TRA resolution amendment demonstrates. At some point someone will challenge Faleomavaega for election next year and there is a wealth of ammunition in our blogs to help their research. The public knows hardly any of this. Sad, isn’t it?
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Eni is viewed by many as having a “thin skin,” and typically fires back whenever someone criticizes him publicly for some action he has or has not taken, particularly during campaign seasons. And his counterattacks usually are lengthy diatribes--some would say overkill--laced with invective and personal insults. He has had some memorable feuds with Lorn Cramer (over Eni’s Hanoi toast to Ho Chi Minh), Togiola, Aumua Amata and an especially juicy one with Afimutasi Gus Hannemann, which bordered on abusiveness. Google the names (e.g. Faleomavaega and Hannemann) and you can will see the exchanges that were carried out in public.
His method has worked well for him because the territory’s largest and most influential medium, the Samoa News, which employs his sister-in-law as a top editor, has served as his lap dog over the years, mostly giving Eni the last word in any dispute. Typically, someone will make an accusation, which the News will print and then Eni responds with a lengthy press release or letter to the editor, which the News prints in full. It may last for another cycle but then that is the end of it, with Eni pronouncing the final word. There are several occasions on which the target of Eni’s counter assault has replied a second time but the News has declined to print it.
So Eni, who prides himself in being a seasoned diplomat, can be forgiven for thinking his method will work elsewhere but this time he may have bitten off more than he can chew. As we reported in a previous post, the Taipei Times last month ran in editorial labeled “Faleomavaega: no friend of Taiwan” in which the paper criticized our wandering delegate for attempting to water down a House resolution saluting Taiwan on the 30th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act.
In a follow up letter to the editor, Eni accused the paper of having a political agenda because the editorial was “anonymous.” Of course, it is well known that most newspaper editorials are not signed because they are intended to reflect the views of the paper, not an individual. But Eni knows that. That’s one of his favorite tactics. He was using the editorial writer’s “anonymity” at as a pretext for charging the paper with having a political agenda, thus attempting to shift the focus away from his unsuccessful effort to dilute the resolution and back onto the paper, so that the Times would be on the defensive. Classic Eni: when you are losing the debate, change the debate.
If this were American Samoa, Samoa News would have curled up into a fetal position and sucked its corporate thumb and that would have been the end of it. But this is Taiwan, a major actor on the world economic and political stages. So, the old adage “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel” applies here. Unlike Samoa News, the Taipei Times gave it right back to Faleomavaega in comments that appeared right after his letter, letting him know that his tactics, which one political opponent has labeled a “thumb-in-your-eye” approach, were not welcome in Taipei. And his response set off the blogosphere as well.
Let’s take Eni’s contentions in his letter and measure them against the responses by the Times and by bloggers:
Eni’s letter: I am writing in response to your recent editorial (“Faleomavaega: No friend of Taiwan,” March 25, page 8). No name is attached to the editorial, which suggests that either the author or your newspaper has its own political agenda.
Times response: The March 25 article Congressman Faleomavaega refers to was a Taipei Times editorial and therefore carried no byline.
Foreigner in Formosa Blog (FFB): A brief list of OTHER papers which print unattributed editorials: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the National Review, the Wall Street Journal, and Taiwan's China Post. Conspiracy theorists in congressmen's offices: You may begin connecting the dots . . . now.
Eni: . . . one might conclude that your newspaper stands in opposition to the will of your people [the Taiwanese], who voted in 2008 for a change in Administration and for a more honest government.
FFB: Heh. The Taiwanese may indeed have voted for a government which they thought was more honest. What they received however, was a president who is described (by his own media DEFENDERS) as a liar who would say anything to get elected. By the by, I see from a recent post by Tim Maddog over at Taiwan Matters! that Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou's approval rating is currently floundering below the 30% mark, while his Chinese Nationalist Party colleagues in the legislature plumb the depths even further -- below 20%. Let's be generous, and say Taiwan's legislative and presidential branches enjoy 20 and 30% approval ratings, respectively. So, what was that you were saying about, "the will of the people," Mr. Faleomavaega?
Eni: Given that your paper published false reports from Coen Blaauw, executive director of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), on March 21 and again on March 26, in which he twisted the truth about my involvement with the 30th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), and also given that your newspaper never bothered to contact my office for a response to his untruthful comments, one might conclude that your newspaper stands in opposition to the will of your people, who voted in 2008 for a change in Administration and for a more honest government.
Times: William Lowther, the Taipei Times’ Washington correspondent, did not contact Mr Faleomavaega’s office because he spoke directly with Mr Faleomavaega at the end of the subcommittee meeting, together with a number of other reporters.
Eni: In view of the fact that this language is straight from the TRA, why would your anonymous writer, your reporter, or Mr. Blaauw take issue with this language? I submit they take issue because it is their desire to turn the TRA into something it is not. . . . Such an approach is wrong, and our American troops deserve better from FAPA and the Taipei Times.
Times: The Taipei Times has no connection with FAPA, though we do occasionally run opinion pieces by FAPA personnel. These pieces do not necessarily represent the views of the Taipei Times.
Eni: Prior to the Subcommittee’s markup, Chairman Howard Berman and Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of the Foreign Affairs committee agreed to the changes I offered, as did the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Mr. Manzullo, and the bill’s author. All other Subcommittee members agreed to the language by unanimous consent.
Times: Mr Faleomavaega’s claim that changes he made to the resolution had full backing from fellow committee members cannot be sustained in light of the reversal and, in substance, repudiation by committee members of the amendments on the floor of the House of Representatives, as we reported on March 26. Nor does Mr Faleomavaega refer to his most contentious amendment to the resolution: replacing the words “the cornerstone of” with “vital to” in the sentence “[Congress] reaffirms its unwavering commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act as the cornerstone of United States relations with Taiwan.”
Eni: The TRA came into existence only after the United States established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Since 1979, US policy regarding Taiwan has remained unchanged. The Joint Communiques, together with the Taiwan Relations Act, are the foundation of our One China policy, which implies, as Republican President Ronald Reagan once said, that “the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to resolve.” Every US President since 1979 has stood by this assertion. As Senator Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in 2001, said, “For many years, successive US administrations have affirmed that there is one China and that the people on Taiwan and the people of China should work out a plan for peaceful unification.”
Times: Mr Faleomavaega seems confused about the content of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). Nowhere does the TRA imply, for example, that Taiwan and China “should work out a plan for peaceful unification.” These words from Senator Lugar reflected and still reflect the policy preferences of certain politicians, but they derive no authority from the TRA. Three years after Lugar made these comments, then-secretary of state Colin Powell made a similar comment, which he later retracted.
Taiwan Matters Blog (TMB): Yes, Lugar said "unification" , but the fact behind the US' policies is that the word should be "resolution." Actually, that same CRS Report for Congress which quotes Lugar ("China/Taiwan: Evolution of the 'One China' Policy — Key Statements from Washington, Beijing, and Taipei") states this quite clearly: President Reagan's 1982 statement on arms sales to Taiwan declared that "the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese people, on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, to resolve." Moreover, "settlement" or "resolution" — not stated as "unification" — of the Taiwan question is left open to be peacefully determined by both sides. Big difference. What does Faleomavaega know about what's "better for the people of Taiwan"? Not a damn thing, apparently.
Eni: The TRA is not a platform for independence, as they would like it to be, and the American people, as well as the young people on Taiwan, deserve to know the truth about the history of the TRA.
Times: Mr Faleomavaega says “the TRA is not a platform for independence.” The wording of the TRA does not support independence or unification. The key expression is “peaceful means” in determining Taiwan’s future.
You can read Faleomavaega’s amazingly combative and insulting letter in its entirety here: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2009/03/31/2003439824
Links to previous stories are provided and readers also can navigate to the various bloggers to get the full text of their comments.
Now we just wait to see what Eni’s next move is. If this were our local media, we could expect another blast from Washington. But because it is Taiwan, there may be silence. And if there is, you know it’s because the full committee chairman, Howard Berman, called him in and told him to cool it or lose his travel allowance. Now, that is something that really would get Eni’s attention.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Less than 24 hours after Faleomavaega amended a bipartisan resolution supporting Taiwan on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), the full House reversed the wandering delegate and restored the resolution to its original language, thus delivering a stinging blow to a senior colleague.
Read all about it here in the Taipei Times. http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2009/03/26/2003439425
Most people here on island are unlikely to learn about this humiliation to Eni because Samoa News, where Eni's sister-in-law is a top editor, is not likely to report it. They will wait for a press release from Eni's office and, of course, that press release will not be written. But anyone who has access to the Internet--which means all of you reading this--needs only Google "Faleomavaega" and "Taiwan" and click on "news" and "blogs." This story is all over the news and blogosphere, with some bloggers outright labeling Eni as a lapdog for the Communist Chinese.
Those blogs that follow Taiwan issues are quick to note that this is not the first time Faleomavaega has been awkward in his approach to Taiwan issues. One blogger wrote "Faleomavaega has a history of klutziness on Taiwan issues. I've blogged on Faleomavaega's service to Beijing previously in a post on this Nelson Report that includes a very uninformed letter from him on the Taiwan-China issue. It's a shame that a person in an important policymaking position has picked the wrong side in the struggle for democracy.
Another wrote: Good work FAPA (Formosan Association for Public Affairs). It just goes to show that vigilance and effort will be rewarded and proves to the shoulder-shruggers, the nay-sayers, the historical relativists and the capitulationists that YES WE CAN make a difference!. But why oh why is the Democrat's (Eni's) record on Taiwan so abysmal?
What particularly miffed Taiwan supporters was Eni's decision to delete the word "cornerstone" from the resolution. Taiwan views the TRA as the cornerstone of U.S.-Taiwan relations, while Beijing would prefer Washington to view three U.S.-PRC communiques as the cornerstone of U.S. "One-China" policy.
On learning about Faleomavaega's actions, FAPA launched a campaign to get the word “cornerstone” put back into the resolution. FAPA alerted members of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus to the significance of the change, members of FAPA's professionals group sent hundreds of e-mails protesting the change and association officials talked directly to influential Foreign Affairs Committee officials.
As a result, the resolution was changed back to its original wording and, to send Eni an unmistakable message of rebuke, several House members deliberately used “cornerstone” in their Floor remarks of support. To complete Eni's humiliation, the chairman of the Full Committee, fellow Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA), offered the revised resolution himself and said “I am confident that the Taiwan Relations Act will remain the cornerstone of our relationship with Taiwan.”
When this year's Congressional power ratings are released, do not expect Eni to move up any notches.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The respected and influential Taipei Times on March 25 published an editorial headlined “Faleomavaega: no friend of Taiwan” in which the delegate was accused of making changes in a resolution offered by 18 of his colleagues “that would attempt to weaken application of the TRA.” Faleomavaega has visited Taiwan countless times over the years including once when he chose to be part of an election observation team there rather than return to American Samoa following a devastating hurricane.
The Times noted that this is not the first time he has tried to loosen U.S. ties with Taiwan. In addition to the F-16 issue, he opposed wording in a separate resolution on Taiwan that passed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in February last year and the full House in March. According to the Times, his position “revealed shocking ignorance of the U.S. stance on Taiwan from someone who is in a position to frustrate House efforts such as the TRA anniversary resolution. More disturbingly, it sounded like the rambling of an official from Beijing.”
This should come as no surprise from someone who in Hanoi just a little over a year ago would toast Vietnamese Communist dictator Ho Chi Minh’s leadership. Inasmuch as it is very unlikely this editorial will pass muster at Samoa News, where Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law is a top editor, you can read the full text here:
Monday, March 23, 2009
The Republic of Palau is one of the Frontline States in the far west, abutting the eastern edge of the Muslim world. Although you cannot actually see the southern Philippines from Palau, the home of the Muslim terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, it is so close it hardly is more than canoe paddling distance away. Therefore, Palau, which elected a new president about the time Barack Obama was elected last fall, is of enormous strategic importance to the United States. Moreover, the timing of the change of both administrations coincided with the expiration of certain provisions of the Republic’s compact of free association with the U.S. Highly sensitive negotiations already are underway to extend the life of these provisions and Palau would like to enhance the relationship further. Hence, the President's visit.
So, it is no wonder that the new chief executive, Johnson Toribiong, was received at the highest levels at the Department of State, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Moreover, on Capitol Hill, he had meetings with Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), all senior members of committees with jurisdiction over Palau affairs. On the House side, he met with Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV), insular subcommittee chairman Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) and her insular colleagues Donna Christensen (D-VI) and Greg Sablan (D-MP). Rahall also paid tribute to Toribiong by attending an embassy reception honoring the president, at which Toribiong reported spoke warmly of Palau-U.S. friendship.
What was painfully apparent by omission from the Palau press release on the President’s Washington visit was the absence of Eni Faleomavaega, who not only was the only Pacific delegate not to see Toribiong but is doubly bad because he is the chairman of the House panel with jurisdiction over U.S.-Palau relations: the subcommittee on Asia, Pacific and the global environment. While Eni had staff meet with the Palauan leader, some in attendance at the embassy reception were said to have been horrified and embarrassed that not only did Eni pass up the event, he sent no senior staff.
Where was Eni? He was back home to attend the funeral of Paramount Chief Sen. Tuitele Tuitele after just having completed election observation in the Federated States of Micronesia as head of an international delegation. That mission, while the U.S. House was in session and working long hours on the global financial crisis, must have caused a few chuckles in Washington circles, since FSM has a history of free and fair elections and there have been no allegations of irregularities.
Thank goodness the funeral could spare Faleomavaega from spending some distasteful days in Washington even if that meant shirking the one duty he says he prizes over all the others: serving as the House’s chief (self-appointed) diplomat to the Asia and pacific region. No, in this case, local politics came first because this chief presided over the western part of Tutuila where Eni draws his electoral strength. It is his sizable margins in Leone village and its environs that offset the obvious lack of enthusiasm for him elsewhere in the territory.
A couple of years ago he missed the funeral of High Chief Faiivae, a lesser chief also in Leone and then the funeral of Paramount Chief Fuimaono, so he could not afford to miss another. He was forced to miss the Faiivae funeral when Speaker Pelosi insisted he stay back for an important energy bill in committee, where he has a vote, but thanks to Democrats’ swollen majorities following the 2008 election, he is no longer under any such constraints. And thanks to the size of his own victory, he doesn’t seem to be under any local constraints at all, but why take a chance? If the feelings of the President of Palau and Palau-U.S. relations were all that were at stake, why bother with the raw weather in Washington when it is more pleasant in Pago Pago?
It is doubtful that Eni’s diplomatic snub will affect U.S. negotiations with Palau but it is just the latest example of how the wandering delegate does what he pleases when he pleases without any regard for the duties which he says he has been elected to perform. If he could miss Faiivae’s funeral and also the funeral for Paramount Chief A.U. Fuimaono, another powerful traditional leader in the west who gave Eni his first job in Washington, he certainly could have passed up the rites for Tuitele. But there is never a price to pay, no matter what decision he makes and Samoa News will be the first to lead the cheers.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
The Samoa News coverage may have less to do with some new-found sense of fairness than it does with the fact that a prominent member of the Fono asked about the issue on the Floor of the House yesterday. The U.S. Senate passed the bill Tuesday night, in plenty of time for Samoa News in yesterday’s edition to report the absence of a minimum wage commission, but it only did so today after Rep. Hans Langkilde’s raised the question in the House. The newspaper otherwise was content yesterday to report Senate passage of the bill by carrying an AP story that makes no mention of the issue.
Despite his strongest plea to U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), the influential chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Senate did not include any money in the omnibus appropriations bill to establish a committee to regulate wages in American Samoa until GAO completes an impact study next year. Eni often has quite publicly paid tribute to Inouye for a wide variety of reasons and describes him as a friend, mentor and a hero to Samoans. Apparently none of that flattery had any effect of Inouye, who could have granted Eni’s request at the stroke of a pen. Some of the money granted to the Polynesian Voyaging Society, for example, easily could have been diverted to fund Eni’s small request.
Eni had hoped the measure, which he earlier had failed to get approved by the House, would stall the next required 50 cent hourly raise due in May. Last year’s raise led to dramatic cost saving cutbacks at the two tuna canneries that provide 80% of the territory’s private sector jobs. Eni pointed out this impact to his House and Senate colleagues but, as did his pleas for infrastructure funding from the stimulus bill, it all fell on deaf ears.
Once raised by Langkilde, a humiliation of this magnitude obviously no longer could have been ignored by Samoa News, where Eni’s sister-in-law is a key editor. So, they did the next best thing. They scrambled around and found some grant money ASG did get in the bill and reported that at the same time. So, the paper’s lead story is headlined “Omnibus bill provides funding for Samoan language program; nothing for minimum wage review.” While that formulation may ease the pain, readers are not stupid. The message is clear: whenever it really counts, Eni has no clout in Washington.
No clout in the Senate, despite his fawning worship of the aging Dan Inouye and no clout in the House, despite his “closeness” to such key figures as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Education and Workforce Committee Chairman, George Miller, the wage czar. Speaking of Miller, perhaps some of Eni’s failure in the House can be explained by his strange alliance with Northern Marianas’ Governor Ben Fitial. The CNMI government has the same objective as Eni--to stop further federally-mandated increases in the minimum wage--but Fitial is considered by most observers to be toxic in Washington. Miller hates him because he was the prime promoter of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who on CNMI’s behalf persistently rubbed Miller’s nose in Saipan feces over the wage issue all the while Republicans were in power in Congress until Abramoff’s abuses came to light.
Miller exacted sweet revenge the moment he became congressional wage czar and Fitial has done himself no favor with this Congress by announcing recently that his finance secretary, Eloy Inos, will be his running mate in his bid for a second term this fall. Inos, who, like Fitial, was a senior executive in the empire of controversial garment factory owner Willy Tan, is almost as big an irritant to Miller as Fitial is. Making matters more difficult, the new CNMI delegate to Congress, Greg Sablan, is not in favor of delaying the increase. So, if Eni fails to get relief of any kind from the next wage hike, even if only some concessionary fig leaf, he, the most senior island delegate, will find himself having been bested by the most junior delegate, adding yet another blow to his sinking prestige.
Ever the Faleomavaega apologist, however, Samoa News wrote that it “has been told Faleomavaega is still working with U.S. Rep. George Miller, who chairs the committee with oversight on labor issues, to reestablish the industry committee, which - up to 2007 - set up local minimum wages.” But don’t hold your breath waiting for Samoa News to ask Eni what it means that he “is still working with Miller.” Were he of a mind to do so, Miller easily could have filed a bill, held a hearing and sought immediate consideration of legislation to halt minimum wage hikes until GAO completed its review next April. So, what does it mean to be “working with” Miller on this? It either gets done or doesn’t. And even if Eni is off globe trotting in Asia or consulting with the Pope on global warming, he is instantly available by fax, phone and Blackberry, so absence from Washington should not be a reason for delay.
Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin no doubt is unhappy that Samoa News did not stick with a headline his press shop surely fed to the paper emphasizing the Samoan language grant funds the territory got from the bill but even Eni’s sister-in-law, Teri Hunkin, probably couldn’t face herself in the mirror if she continued to ignore Eni’s big defeat on the minimum wage.
Moreover, do not wait for the less-than-inquisitive, less-than-probing Samoa News staff to ask Eni about earmarks, either. In 2007 Eni bragged he would start earmarking federal projects himself for American Samoa. This omnibus bill was controversial in part because it contained over 8,500 earmarks for special projects requested by Members of Congress, such as the one Inouye got for the Polynesian Voyaging Society. We provided a list of these in a previous post. Dividing 8,500 by 540 House and Senate members, that works out to be an average of a little over 15 earmarks per member. We already have reported that none of those earmarks were for projects requested by Eni. Will Samoa News ask him how many he requested? Don’t count on it.
Even if 15 earmarks per member sounds substantial, the number is much higher when you further refine it. For example, it has been reported that 40 percent of the earmarks went to Republicans. So the remaining 5,100 earmarks should be divided by 262, the number of Democrats in the House. Using that measure, House Democrats averaged over 19 earmarks per Member. It similarly would not be hard to further refine the figure to see how many earmarks were allocated to senior House Democrats, those with the same level as or greater seniority than Eni. The average would no doubt rise sharply. It would not take Samoa News that long to make the calculations, which readers would find very interesting.
The terms liberal and conservative are all encompassing and are not monolithic. Both major political parties have components that are either liberal or conservative on four kinds of issues: fiscal, cultural, social and national security. Many members of Congress are liberal or conservative across the board. Until his membership was exposed as an electoral liability, Eni was a reliable, card carrying charter member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of the most left-wing members of Congress. He had to withdraw out in deference to his constituency, which is decidedly conservative on social, cultural and security issues. Their main kinship to him is on the fiscal issues, because they share his view that Washington needs to aid the financially less well-off. But if he cannot deliver on these issues, what, then is the point of continuing to re-elect him?
Don’t expect his sister-in-law or anyone else at Samoa News to ask this question, either.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
We could hear the laughter and high-fiving in Faleomavaega’s office all the way down here when our traveling congressman escaped unscathed by the Samoa News after details of the Obama Administration’s stimulus bill were made public recently.
Almost everyone on this island is aware that our government’s budget is heavily dependent on operational and construction grants funneled to us by Congress through the Department of the Interior. Faleomavaega sits on and is one of the most senior Majority members of the House Committee on Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over Department of the Interior programs.
We already know that funding for construction projects for American Samoa was not included in the stimulus package because Samoa News quietly reported that fact by quoting a passage from Eni’s letter to local leaders that admitted as much, although this fact was buried in the story, not the lead and certainly not the headline. But careful placement of the facts always can be anticipated with Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin’s sister-in-law Teri Hunkin being one of the editors of the paper.
But Eni’s staff no doubt held its breath when Samoa News on February 23 carried a major story about where the Interior money was going under the booming headline “Salazar begins implementation of Interior’s $3 Billion in Economic Recovery Plan.” The story talks about the billion dollars going to the Bureau of Reclamation, the half billion going to Indians, the third of a billion for land management projects, the quarter billion for fish and wildlife and on and on.
No mention of territories. But of course, we already knew that. So why even bother with the story? No one here gives a hoot about all the stuff we aren’t getting. The only news worth reporting is that WE ARE NOT GETTING ONE PENNY OF THIS MONEY despite Eni’s efforts (or because of his ineptitude—take your pick). Perhaps Samoa News just had space to fill. But if that were the case, how about the editors getting off their lazy butts, trimming the Indian stuff out and adding a paragraph or two making note we aren’t getting funds, with maybe an explanation why not?
In the old days, the local media was pretty hamstrung for resources and had to rely on handouts (such as the Interior story—which was fashioned from a DOI press release) but with the Internet today, this kind of shoddy journalism is simply unacceptable. Why do we single out Samoa News? Because they are the only game in town. Monica can hardly do much with her rip-and-read, five-minute headline summaries, the Post is a barebones locally focused operation, the other radio stations have no news budgets at all and the government owned TV news is staffed by bureaucrats. Need we say more?
So that leaves Samoa News, where Faleomavaega has strategically placed a member of his family in the hierarchy, thus guaranteeing he always will skate by. There are frequent critical pieces of the governor, lt. governor and the directors but do you ever see much about the congressman, even though he has the capacity to do almost as much harm as these other jokers? Don’t hold your breath.
And once they get the facts from the internet, they certainly have the budget to make some calls to
It was also pointed out to us that thanks to the new freshmen delegate from the Northern Marianas, which did not even have a seat before this year, the U.S. Federal Register has just now amended its online public comment and submission form to recognize the CNMI as a state or province of the United States and also added American Samoa as a recognized area for comments. This oversight was corrected following concerns raised about the inability of NMI people to comment on the proposed regulations for federalization of local immigration and the exclusion of Chinese and Russian tourists from the visa waiver program for the
Until now only
We can’t expect the congressman himself to be bothered. He’s too busy traveling. Why, when this Federal Register business came up, he was busy announcing he would be attending this year’s Super Bowl as an act of support for the six Polynesians playing in the game. Samoa News dutifully reported that little gem without comment, too. More chuckles in Eni’s press shop.
We also are told that Eni swooped back into
We haven’t seen anything about this latest boondoggle in Samoa News but, then again, the latest press release on his website is about the Close Up kids singing at the hearing. Maybe he is hoping to make this trip quietly. Why should he worry? Samoa News will dutifully report it any way he wants to characterize it.
Meanwhile, back in
Of course, Samoa News will not provide you any local angle to this story. They do not mention the background of Faleomavaega declaring two years ago that he intended to start earmarking Interior CIP funds himself. If he tried, he apparently didn’t have any more success than he had getting any CIP money out of the stimulus bill. Where could Samoa News go to dig out this information? Well, it’s been all over the news that a non-partisan group called Taxpayers for Common Sense has done an analysis of the bill and has identified all the earmarkers by name. Memo to Samoa News: Just Google the group’s name and the website comes right up. As you might expect, TFCS has done all the research and all you have to do is download it. Too much work for Samoa News? Well then, just click on this link and e-mail it over to them: http://www.taxpayer.net/user_uploads/file/Appropriations/fy2009/FebOmnibus/Interior%20Earmarks%20Only.pdf . Maybe if enough people do this, they'll start to pay attention.
. Maybe if enough people do this, they'll start to pay attention.
What is this? The full list of earmarks for Interior. Just look at the right hand column. VI Congresswoman Donna Christensen, who chaired the insular subcommittee when this request was made, got a million bucks for the VI national park but Eni got zero for
Oh, there is a story in the paper this morning about our eligibility for stimulus funds through the U.S. Department of Education (if we ever get off the watch list, we suppose). But these are formula funds that are going to all states and territories. Nothing extra. In other words, it wouldn’t matter if our congressional seat were occupied by Bozo the Clown or a chimpanzee (or not occupied at all by a delegate with an insane travel schedule that ignores the congressional calendar). We were going to get that money anyway. Eni isn’t making a difference.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
This is a hugely important bit of information because it means a far greater likelihood that a third 50-cent wage hike will go into effect in May, with significant implications for the territory’s economy. The canneries already have made personnel cutbacks to accommodate earlier increases. It would seem to us that Samoa News owes its readers an explanation for this omission. Did Eni report the change in study completion date in his letter to the leaders? We have not seen the full text, so it is possible they missed reporting that part of Eni’s letter.
If Eni did not report the change to the leaders, was he trying to avoid the embarrassment of this important change having been made? Did the conference committee make the change made over his objections? Or was he embarrassed because he was not even consulted? Was his “friend, ally and mentor” Sen. Dan Inouye on the Conference Committee? If so, were he and his staff not keeping Eni and his staff informed of changes being made to this critical part of the bill? If not, why were they not keeping Eni informed? Perhaps Eni’s relationship with Inouye might not be as close as he leads voters to believe (and Samoa News happily reports) or maybe the whole issue is a matter of staff incompetence on Eni's part.
Or was Samoa News simply trying to sweep it all under the rug until its hand was forced by the Saipan Tribune revelation?
Any of these explanations are possible or maybe all of them. But we’ll never know because we are not holding our breath waiting for Samoa News to ask for an explanation from Eni or offer one of their own. And as we asked in a previous post, just exactly what is Eni’s position on minimum wage, anyway? From his January 28, 2009 letter to House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman George Miller (another “friend, ally and mentor”), he says (and we quote Eni’s actual, printed words):
"I am writing to request your assistance in ending minimum wage escalator clauses for American Samoa which were enacted in P.L. 110-28. . . . I believe it is necessary, given the global financial crisis we are now facing, for Congress to provide temporary relief for our local businesses operating in American Samoa which are unable to incur further increases in minimum wage at this time. . . . [T]he current state of the economy in the U.S. and its Territories requires me to request your direct intervention. Clearly, I support Congress directing the DOL to undertake a new and more thorough study that will be useful to the economies of American Samoa and CNMI in the future. In the interim, I am hopeful that you will support my request to end escalator clauses. . . . Since workers in American Samoa have finally received a long overdue increase of $1.00 per hour in minimum wage since enactment of P.L. 110-28, I am hopeful that you will be able to place a temporary hold on escalator clauses until such time as economic conditions warrant future increases."
That language sounds pretty clear to us: PLEASE STOP WAGE INCREASES NOW although it is leas clear if he wants them "to end" or be placed on "a temporary hold."
However, in his February 13 letter to local leaders after the passage of the stimulus bill, which was heavily quoted by Samoa News in its February 14 story that neglects to mention the delay in the GAO study, Eni says “On repeated occasions I have requested [wage impact] information from ASG and from our local Chamber of Commerce because, until we have compelling evidence to do so, Congress will not and should not roll back minimum wage. . . .Can we sustain a third increase? I do not know the answer to this question. This is why I have called for a serious study [emphasis added] of the problem because, like Mr. Robinson, I believe enough is enough.
Yes, but that study now will not be completed until 2010.
It seems to us that instead of proudly running photos of Eni shoring up his support amongst Samoan military voters stationed in Kuwait (instead of accompanying Hillary Clinton on her visit to Indonesia or being back home to personally explain the stimulus bill—like most other members of Congress are doing in their districts), Samoa News ought to be asking Eni to curtail all of his travel and redouble his efforts with Miller and whoever else is necessary in Washington to suspend the upcoming May wage increase he asked Miller to have ended or suspended in his January 28 letter. If it does go into effect, does that mean that, as he states in his February 13 letter, he also will not support a rollback, even if it forces massive layoffs?
Come on Eni. That’s only a dozen weeks from now. Surely you can sit still in Washington for that long. And surely Samoa News can for once in its existence under its current management take an editorial position involving Eni, his sister-in-law notwithstanding. Does Samoa News not see any community responsibility to be more on top of this story, more accurate, more complete and more unbiased than it has been so far?
If not Samoa News, who? No one can rely on the government-owned TV station, the woefully underfinanced Samoa Post or Monica Miller’s five-minute news updates.