Thursday, March 26, 2009

House Colleagues Smack Down Eni

In Congress, committee and subcommittee chairmen are kings who usually get their way on legislation under the jurisdiction of their panel. Whenever there is controversy, the House leadership usually tries to work it out quietly to save embarrassing a colleague. But that is not always the case.

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.

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

Eni Embarrasses American Samoa over Taiwan

At a time when Governor Togiola is working fervently to increase Taiwan interest in doing business with American Samoa, Faleomavaega appears to be continuing to do his best to sabotage U.S. relations with the Asian island nation. In the previous Congress, he enraged Taipei officials by opposing the U.S. sale of F-16 fighter jets to the government and now he is leading the charge to weaken U.S.-Taiwan ties under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).

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

Faleomavaega Snubs Palau President

When global transportation and communication reached a critical mass of speed in the nineteenth century, someone invented time zones and the International Dateline so that everyone in the world would be synchronized. It is at the Dateline that east literally meets west. But in the geopolitical world, the edge of the west is the far edge of the western Pacific, since the Pacific is a preserve of the so-called “Western Powers.”

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

Eni Handed Another Legislative Defeat

Although they tried to soften the blow in a headline that also pointed to grant money American Samoa will get from the omnibus spending bill President Obama signed into law yesterday, even the Faleomavaega-loving Samoa News (motto: “Eni News That’s Fit to Print”) could not escape reporting the stinging blow to the prestige of the wandering congressman delivered by the U.S. Senate, which passed the bill a day earlier.

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

Eni, AS Shut Out in Extra CIP Funding and Earmarking

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 Washington, where there aren’t all that many people they need to talk to that deal with island affairs. We made a couple of calls and quickly learned that not only did Eni fail to get us any stimulus CIP money it was his strategy that cost us. We understand that the other small island delegates deferred to him because of his seniority and he decided to take the matter to the House Rules Committee, asking for a very small set aside for territories out of the multi-billion dollar bill. We are told that they virtually laughed him out of the room even though all he wanted was a $500 million out of a $787 billion bill. Yet, election after election he sucks the voters into believing his seniority brings major value to us and Samoa News sucks it in hook, line and sinker. Ironically, all the territories are represented by Democrats now and the only territory to get stimulus CIP funds was Puerto Rico, with its brand spanking new Republican governor. So much for being senior and in the majority.

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 Northern Marianas.

Until now only Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were listed as U.S. states or provinces by the Federal Register on the website. People from here and Saipan had to offer comments under the “international” option. Now, we can understand NMI. They only JUST got their congressman. But we have had our seat almost 30 years, the last 20 of them by the current occupant. Has no one from here ever tried to comment on a federal regulation? Has no one on Eni’s crack staff looked on the Federal Register?

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 Washington last week long enough to show his face at an insular subcommittee hearing chaired by Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo, entertain the Close Up Foundation kids in Washington from here and attend President Obama’s budget speech to a joint session of Congress but then as soon as he could get his laundry done and get packed, he was off again, even though Congress remains in full session. This time he is off to the Federated States of Micronesia, as an international election observer. Can you imagine? FSM has a history of nothing but democracy and hardly needs international observers, let alone a senior member of the U.S. Congress who had to be pulled away (hardly kicking and screaming) from his duties in Congress during a new president’s first 100 days in office.

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 Washington, the Obama budget has now been made public. This is the regular budget, not the stimulus bill. The big controversy has been about the 8,500 “earmarks” in the budget. These are 8,500 specific projects various senators and congressmen direct the government to fund. If you read Samoa News, you will know all about earmarks as recently as this morning because the paper carried an AP story about the Senate defeating a proposal from Sen. McCain to do away with earmarks.

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: 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 American Samoa. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Okay Samoa News. We’ve done your research for you. Still too much work? Let us know and we’ll draft the story for you. But are you going to publish it? Better get your clearance from Teri Hunkin. She may need to call Pohnpei to get permission.

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.