Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Did Eni Not Reveal Delay in GAO study?

Although they buried the fact deep in the story, let’s give credit to Samoa News, where Eni Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law works as an editor, for admitting in this morning’s edition that the Saipan Tribune was first to reveal that the GAO minimum wage study mandated for American Samoa and the Northern Marianas will be completed in 2010, not 2009 as proposed in the House bill. Samoa News was silent on the fact that Faleomavaega neglected to mention the change of timing in his February 13 letter to local leaders informing them what was in the federal stimulus bill for American Samoa.

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.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Eni's Left Wing Views Exposed

Cynthia McClintock, a radical left-wing political science professor at George Washington University testifed last week at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S. - Latin American relations. Earlier she also had written President Obama to urge him to respect the new popular, leftist movements that have sprung up in Latin America in the past decade. At the hearing, among other things she advocated reconciliation with Cuba, and decriminalization of marijuana and cocaine, which she said she realized put her in the minority.

When she found no enthusiasm from either Democrats or Republicans for her views, she skipped a number of points in her prepared presentation including opposition to the Columbia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) on human rights grounds. When asked afterwards why she skipped over CFTA she said: “I hesitated to bring it up because the overwhelming view was in favor of it, and I was already controversial enough.”

According to the Campus Progress blog, "The only Democrat who may have been sympathetic to her views was Eni Faleomavaega (D), the representative of American Samoa. But Faleomavaega has no binding vote on the committee, and he left the hearing early anyway."

Of course, the blog is wrong. Eni does have a full vote on the committee but the blogger is right that Eni, himself on the lunatic fringe, would have been this lunatic left-wing professor's only champion. Perhaps that's why he slipped out (unless he needed to catch a plane).

Even though he quietly withdrew from the Progressive Caucus about four years ago, it was for political--not ideological--reasons. A critic here at home raised his membership as a campaign issue since the group's leftwing social agenda is largely at odds with Samoan (and Mormon) values. Eni no doubt thought it better just to continue to hold his views but not telegraph them.

Make no mistake about it: Eni remains firmly in the Nancy Pelosi-George Miller-Maxine Waters-Barney Frank wing of his party. All the others but Pelosi (who withdrew from all caucuses when she became Speaker) are card carrying Progressive Caucus members.

Read more about the hearing here: CampusProgress

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Faleomavaega’s Credibility in Washington Continues to Sink

While he may have gained renewed popularity here last fall thanks to his comfortable re-election margin, it has not helped his credibility in Washington, where his troubles continue despite his party’s control of both the Executive and Legislative branches of government.

It is hard to know where to begin.

Eni and the other non-voting delegates were invited to a White House reception recently along with a couple dozen other Members of Congress. It was a routine event that was one of several receptions the administration is holding for legislators from both parties. So unremarkable that neither Delegates Madeleine Bordallo (GU) nor Donna Christensen (VI) bothered to make note of it by press release but Faleomavaega not only issued a release but even had his wife come in from Utah, where she has lived apart from him for a number of years, to accompany his to the White House.

Perhaps President Obama was tossing him a bone, since his secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is not including him in her entourage on her first trip abroad, to the Far East. Just as Obama took with him on Air Force One to Illinois the Republican congressman for the area he was visiting, Peoria, so, too, is it not unusual for a secretary of State to take key members of Congress with him/her when traveling abroad, especially when Congress is out of session.

When he was picked again to chair his House subcommittee, Eni said: “I thank the people of American Samoa whose chairmanship this is,” Faleomavaega said. “I look forward to bringing a Pacific perspective to U.S. foreign policy affecting this part of the world, and to working closely with the Obama Administration and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to bring renewed commitment and attention to this vital region that has been overlooked for too long.”

Looks like he won’t be working all that closely with Hillary because even though Congress passed the stimulus bill and recessed for a long Presidents’ Day holiday, Eni is nowhere to be seen with Clinton, who also declined to testify at his hearing on North Korea last week, or even send a lower level official, even though she is traveling to South Korea as part of her trip this week.

Maybe Hillary doesn’t want Eni anywhere nearby while she is in Jakarta trying to establish a new strategic partnership. According to this article in The Jakarta Post the Obama administration is nervous that some members of their own party, like Faleomavaega, might upset the applecart by pushing their human rights causes. It is rumored that Jakarta will be one of the earliest trips Obama himself will make and Clinton likely will lay the groundwork for that. It will be interesting to see if he takes Eni along with him either. There are still people convinced Eni made a secret deal with the Indonesians to seal Obama’s school records while Eni was on a visit there himself last year.

So, exactly where is Eni if not with Hillary? Well, he’s in Kuwait visiting Samoan troops. That is nowhere near the Asia-Pacific region over which his subcommittee has jurisdiction.

Ooops, we forgot. His subcommittee also considers global environmental questions, so that gives him license to travel anywhere he pleases. No doubt his chairman added that responsibility to keep Eni out of Washington as much as possible. The more he is in the air, the less damage he can do on the ground. We can just picture his press release writers doing their best trying to suppress giggles as they wrote that he also would be going to the Vatican on this trip to confer with Holy See officials on—get this—environmental issues.

Before leaving town, Eni said “I am grateful to Chairman Berman of the Foreign Affairs’ Committee for allowing me to visit our soldiers in Kuwait, and to meet with officials in Italy regarding ways we can work together to address the serious issue of climate change affecting our Pacific Island region.” We’re sure his boys in the back room chuckled and high-fived each other when Samoa News ran that one without incredulity.

Eni undoubtedly was happy to have the opportunity to get out of town and lick his wounds after his humiliating defeat in the stimulus package last week. All he really came up with for American Samoa was a GAO study (which he could have ordered on his own authority) of the impact of minimum wage raises in the territory. Even that was not a singular achievement because a study for the Northern Marianas will be conducted at the same time.

The four territorial delegates--all Democrats--offered an amendment to the stimulus bill requesting $500 million for the OIA to provide for critically needed, high-priority, and shovel-ready capital improvement (CIP) projects for American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) but it was rejected by the House. In contrast, the new governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuno (R), did get infrastructure money for his island. So much for party connections.

Eni made several appeals to the Senate, including one to his long-time “ally,” Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), now the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. As such, Inouye was positioned to approve this request with a nod of his head but he did not. So, all the territories wound up with is money coming out of the usual formula grants. Eni's groveling to Inouye is enormously embarrassing. He put out a press release after he met with him in which he said: "After having worked with Senator Inouye for some 20 years now, he has my utmost respect and admiration. He is more than a mentor to me. He is my friend, and I am deeply appreciative of everything he does for American Samoa . . . Truly we are fortunate that a man like Senator Inouye has our best interest at heart. It is my privilege to serve with Senator Inouye . . . "

Nice try but no ad on for the islands. Could he possibly have wrapped his lips any more tightly around Inouye's masculine appendage?

In their letter appealing for CIP funds, the delegates suggested that “If offsets are required [in the bill], then we have proposed offsetting these increases with decreases in amounts available to the insular areas in certain programs in the bill, based on an understanding that the funding increase to the OIA be fairly distributed amongst the territories.” It went on to say “Increased funds at the OIA would provide greater flexibility to territories in addressing high priority infrastructure projects which are “shovel ready” and can be commenced within the next 18 months,” and concluded “We further believe that OIA’s existing management structure and its familiarity with each territory makes it well-suited to execute these projects.”

Sorry, Eni, yet again no cigar. Give him some credit, however, for in a letter to Gov. Togiola Tulafono, Senate President Gaoteote Palaie and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale, Eni admitted congressional conferees who met to iron out final language of the bill did not provide a “separate funding stream” for the Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs for specific needs of the territories as originally sought by the Delegates. Hard to swallow, but facts are facts.

But, speaking of the minimum wage study, we suggest GAO, while they are at it, examine Eni’s statements over the past two years to try to find some consistency. By our count, he took seven different positions in 2006-08. So far this year, he already seems to have taken two. Last month he wrote Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller urging him to halt the next minimum wage incremental increase due in May but in commenting on the GAO study approved in the stimulus bill he said “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 of the problem because, like Mr. Robinson (chairman of the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce), I believe enough is enough.” Huh? Come again?

Sounds to us like he is setting up others to take the blame if the increases keep on coming. “On repeated occasions,” said Faleomavaega, “I have requested this 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. The time has come for the Chamber, ASG, and our canneries to provide the GAO with the information it needs for Congress to determine whether or not our economy can or cannot afford future increases,” he said.

So much for his letter to Miller last month asking increases be halted.

Meanwhile, do not hold your breath waiting for this headline: “Eni Says Congress Should Not Roll Back Minimum Wage.”

Maybe we are splitting hairs. Maybe he is saying there should be no increase but no roll back either. GAEO should ask.

Before leaving the subject of the stimulus bill, we spotted one Mormon website that reported that the Mormon members of Congress all voted along party lines, with the Democrats for it and Republicans against it, noting that the Democrats were in effect voting against the Mormon value of self-reliance. Eni is one of only four Mormon Democrats in Congress. The vast majority are Republican.

On another note in Washington, the freshman delegate from the Northern Marianas, Greg Sablan, is beginning to make some legislative moves. Recently he introduced a bill to give the delegates from the Northern Marianas and American Samoa additional service e academy appointments, equivalent to the number given to the delegates from Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Eni has signed on as a cosponsor. Our question is why only now? Eni’s been there 20 years.

One of Eni’s first bills 20 years ago was to create four reserved seats for Indians, an idea Michael Barone, an influential political writer and Almanac of American Politics editor, called one of the worst legislative ideas he had ever heard.

Don't expect to see any of this in the local media, especially Samoa News, which wouldn't know analysis if it bit them. Especially when it comes to Eni. His sister-in-law is a top editor on the paper.

And so it goes.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

From Burton Lackey to Miller Stooge

The recent Republican National Committee hearings reminded U.S. News & World Report writer Michael Barone of how the late Rep. Phil Burton (CA) used the territorial delegates--most of whose seats he created--as pawns in his power politics games in the House.

Barone Blog

The last of the seats he created before he died was the one for American Samoa, which he intended to hand his staff gofer, Eni Hunkin, on a silver platter. Hunkin even crafted language reserving the seat for a U.S. citizen (which he is) so as to exclude competition from the vast majority of Samoan politicians who are U.S. Nationals. Well, the public outcry over that tactic forced Burton to retreat and the bill was amended to make both citizens and nationals eligible to run. And, of course, it was a national, Fofo Sunia, who beat Eni and delayed his debut in the house by eight years. Fofo was a criminal who was carted off to jail his fourth term and in 1988 that opened up the seat for Eni, who has been in it ever since.

Burton was from San Francisco and, in addition to Hunkin, who went to law school in nearby Berkeley, had two local proteges among his many followers: George Miller and Nancy Pelosi. Miller followed his godfather into the House as part of the Watergate class of 1974 along with Burton's brother John, who represented an adjoining district until he quit in the early 80s as a cocaine addict. As Barone recounts, Phil Burton's wife Sala succeeded her Pall Mall chain-smoking, hard-core vodka drinking husband when he died at age 57 in 1983 and, when she herself succumbed to cancer after a brief congressional career, reportedly said on her deathbed that Phil had wanted Nancy Pelosi eventually to have his seat. And so she now does.

Anyway, the Burton brothers, Hunkin, Miller and Pelosi are all part of the Left Coast's lunatic fringe with Miller and Pelosi now exercising extraordinary power in the House. Less so, Hunkin. One would think Hunkin, who now goes by the alias Eni Faleomavaega, would be benefiting from his longstanding relationships. However, as we saw in the previous Congress, when Nancy threw him under the bus on minimum wage, that is not the case. To make matters worse, the wage issue is overseen by a House committee chaired by, who else, George Miller, who is usually described as Nancy's closest confidant in the House.

Miller tossed Faleomavaega a bone in the recent "stimulus" package by approving a study of the effect of minimum wage hikes in American Samoa and the Northern Marianas. I guess the rationale for putting it in the "stimulus" bill is that the study will produce jobs for the people conducting the study. But it is just amazing to watch Faleomavaega grovel to Miller. Just read all his effusive press releases heaping praise on his "close friend" George.

One has to wonder just how close this relationship is. You would think that, considering their personal history and their status as colleagues for the past 20 years, Eni would be able to stroll into George's office any time and sit down to discuss the minimum wage question at length. But have a look at this obviously very carefully worded language from a press statement concerning the study that found its way into the Saipan Tribune Friday the 13th:

Chairman Miller and I have briefly discussed this issue and his office has been in contact with mine regarding the significance of this study. While I have requested information from American Samoa's Chamber of Commerce, we will proceed forward with our data collection efforts which will involve the U.S. Department of Labor, the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the Department of Commerce, and the Bureau of Census at the Department of Commerce.

Chairman Miller and I have briefly discussed this? Come on. Considering all that is at stake, is this the best he can do? And "his office has been in contact with mine regarding the significance of this study?" Just what the hell is that supposed to mean? Never mind. Don't hold your breath waiting for the Samoa News or the government owned TV news operation to ask any probing questions. But don't be surprised if the next increment of the wage goes into effect on the scheduled date this spring.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Blow to Faleomavaega's Prestige

Since he traveled at the opening of the 110th Congress and was out of the country during Nancy Pelosi's vaunted "First 100 Hours" (during which the House made the policy decision to raise American Samoa's minimum wage), we cannot be certain Faleomavaega learned his lesson and is sticking around for the critical first 100 days of the 111th Congress (and the Obama administration), but let's assume he is smart enough to remain in his seat at least until the crucial stimulus package passes.

If that were the case, then he suffered a stinging humiliation by not being invited to take part in First Lady Michelle Obama's visit to the Department of the Interior. The First Lady is in the midst of a tour of the government's major agencies and Interior was her latest stop. At the Interior Building she was warmly greeted not by a traditional Samoan welcoming ceremony but by an Indian ceremony of a similar nature. Now, Interior has responsibility for both Indian and territorial programs, so it should not have been a matter of one over another but both. What makes it so sad for American Samoa is that Faleomavaega is such a senior Member of Congress in the majority with his party also in control of the White House.

Even though he is senior enough to chair a subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Interior Department, he again turned down chairmanship of the Insular Subcommittee, even though in this Congress that body has been given substantially enhanced jurisdiction by adding responsibility for federal oceans and wildlife policy. No, Eni let the much more junior Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) have that chairmanship, which previous chairman Donna Christiansen (D-VI) gave up to take a seat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

Eni has contented himself with continuing to chair the Asia/Pacific subcommittee of Foreign Affairs, which is considered a minor committee in the House because the Constitution vests in the executive branch sole responsibility for foreign affairs. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is virtually powerless, which is why Faleomavaega continues to rank below all the other delegates in non-partisan power rankings. Only the Senate Foreign Relations Committee exercises influence, because it has the power to ratify treaties and confirm ambassadors and senior State Deparment officials. The American Samoa voters don't know this, of course, or if they do, don't care. They love their "thumb-in-your-eye Eni"--or at least those in Leone and surroundings they do. That's enough to get him re-elected.

So, it is little wonder that the White House ignored Eni when they scheduled the First Lady's visit to Interior. Or maybe he was out of the country.