Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Faleomavaega Problem

In addition to the comments that have been posted here reacting to Faleomavaega’s stupidity about Taiwan, there have been a lot of messages directly to this blogger by e-mail. So let us answer questions posed by numerous writers.

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:

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: 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?

1 comment:

Michael Turton said...

Hey -- do you more on the support of Eni F from Chinese-Americans? Newspaper articles, information, etc? I'd like it for my Taiwan blog.

Michael Turton
turton.michael AT