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.

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