Saturday, January 30, 2010

GOP responds to Faleomavaega

Normally, the Republican Party of American Samoa has not played hit man on local Democrats in power but the delegate’s press release bashing President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Clinton’s Pacific trip itinerary not including any interaction with heads of island governments except Papua New Guinea was too much for them to remain silent.

It was not the Clinton and Obama bashing to which they objected but Faleomavaega’s assertion that they were only ignoring the islands the same way past presidents have. Although Clinton cancelled most of her trip because of the Haiti earthquake, she did get as far as Honolulu where she delivered a speech at the East West Center. Her text said not a word about island issues. Not one word!

Imagine Faleomavaega’s humiliation. He is supposed to be “very influential” now as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, Pacific and Global Environment but, as his bizarre press release freely admits, he was not consulted on her itinerary, not invited to accompany her and not even invited to be in the East-West Center audience for her speech.

What got local Republicans hot was that he lied about previous presidents and secretaries having ignored the islands. The fact is, they pointed out in their press release, both Presidents Bush met with heads of island governments: Bush 41 in 1990 and Bush 43 in 2003. Moreover, the Bush 43 administration labeled 2007 “the Year of the Pacific” and hosted the heads of government at a summit in Washington over the opening of which Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice presided. And Rice held a follow up meeting with the region’s foreign ministers in Apia in 2008 to which Faleomavaega (who was in Pago Pago at the time) was invited. Sources tell us he refused the invitation because Rice declined to give him a separate speaking role at the gathering.

It would have been inappropriate for Eni to have spoken in Apia since foreign policy rests squarely in the hands of the executive branch in the U.S. constitution but as a practical matter Rice would not have wanted him to speak anyway because no one ever can control what comes out of his mouth. Given Faleomavaega’s decision to publicly criticize Obama and Clinton, State Department officials no doubt are thankful they did not have Faleomavaega play a role in this trip and when it is rescheduled don’t hold your breath that he has bought himself any prominence by his antics.

No one can figure out what he gained by that press release other than, as one commentator put it, appeal to that segment of his electorate who loves it when he “stands up to the man” and wants him to “get whitey.” It certainly won’t help get White House backing for his bill to rescue StarKist but since that was going down the tubes anyway, maybe he wanted to have the excuse of “White House retaliation” for its failure. At the same time, though, he has announced to the world just how uninfluential he is. The local Republican Party picked up on it in its release, noting that Faleomavaega was not consulted by Clinton on her trip to his region.

It all fits into a pattern. He should be at the peak of his power right now. He was an early backer of Obama and Obama still is popular with voters even if some of his ambitious agenda is not. If he has complaints about U.S. decline in the region during his 21 years in office (Peace Corps and embassy cutbacks: USAID and USIA offices and programs eliminated), he has the power to introduce legislation to reverse the trend. It is becoming obvious that the power to introduce does not equal the power to influence others to pass such bills, even though his party controls both Houses of Congress. He is simply lightly regarded.

Everyone knows he has his bags packed to travel at a moment’s notice. Yet despite being the chairman of the subcommittee overseeing both China and global environment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not include him in her delegation to Beijing to discuss global warming or her massive delegation to Copenhagen for the UN summit on the same issue. Despite his stated top priority being West Papuan self determination in Indonesia, Clinton did not invite him to accompany her to Jakarta. Despite his prominence on the House caucus on India, he was not invited to the White House state dinner for the Prime Minister of India—even though a couple of local socialites wandered into the event on their own without any invitation at all. And now comes this latest humiliation. Which he is at pains to make public!

Of course, his constituents know nothing of these events because the local daily newspaper, Samoa News, where his sister-in-law is one of the editors, sweeps it all under the rug. Never a word. Never a word. But perhaps she was away for a day because the paper did print the party’s release. In fairness maybe they had no choice since the GOP exposed some explicit Faleomavaega lies that he could not explain away. Looking at the reader remarks section, there was not a single comment defending him. The closest anyone came was someone who ridiculed the local Republican Party as being insignificant. Perhaps so. But their observations weren’t.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

CPPA Denounces Faleomavaega for Laos Visit

The Center for Public Policy Analysis ( CPPA ) in Washington, D.C., and a coalition of dozens of Laotian and Hmong organizations today issued an international communiqué denouncing American Samoa Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega's statements, along with those of the other two Members of Congress who recently visited a government model show-camp in Laos and declared that there were no human rights violations against Hmong refugees forcibly returned from Thailand to Laos.

According to CPPA, over 8,000 Lao Hmong refugees who fled political and religious persecution in Laos were forced by the Thai and Lao military back to Laos from 2007-2009. Between Christmas and the New Year holiday, over 4,700 Lao Hmong refugees were forced back to Laos. Most of the refugees have been imprisoned in Laos’ secret network of jails and camps in remote provinces. Australia journalists from “The Age” recently sought access to one such secret camp where many Hmong refugees were held behind razor wire in squalid conditions. The Australian journalists were arrested and their cameras reportedly seized; they were expelled.

Laos, under the Hanoi-backed communist Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (LPDR), is one of the most corrupt, says CPPA, and oppressive regimes in the world according to a recent public sector corruption and press freedom indexes issued by the respected non-governmental organizations Transparency International (TI) and Reporters Without Borders (JSF). Laos is listed at the bottom of these indexes along with its allies in North Korea, Burma and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV).

The following is taken from the text of the joint international communiqué issued by the CPPA and a coalition of Laotian and Hmong organizations:

“We are deeply saddened by, and must denounce in the strongest terms, the deplorable, distorted and misleading comments of the three U.S. Congressmen, Joseph Cao, Mike Honda and Eni Faleomavaega, during their recent visit to Laos, and to the Lao government's Potemkin Village show camp at Pha Lak in Vientiane Province. Tragically, the U.S. Congressmen have helped to cover-up and whitewash the horrific crimes of the Lao government against the Laotian and Hmong people and refugees who were brutally forced back from Thailand in recent years by the Thai and Lao military,” the International Communique stated.

“It is important to note that Pha Lak village houses only a fraction of the Hmong refugees returned to Laos in previous years as well as many dozens of Lao government informants and undercover agents. It is a tightly-controlled, Lao government camp upgraded for foreign visitors and administered in cooperation with the LPDR Ministry of Propaganda.

“The Lao government and military continue to attack and kill unarmed Laotian and Hmong people. Congressmen Joseph Cao, Mike Honda and Eni Faleomavaega, at their press conference in Vientiane and upon their return to the Washington, D.C., have remained silent on the horrific human rights violations, persecution, atrocities and war crimes that have been inflicted on the Laotian and Hmong people in recent months and years, including the arrest of over 300 peaceful protest marchers in November of last year that prompted a resolution that was passed by the European Parliament that was passed on Thanksgiving Day, November 26.

“We also denounce the failure of the U.S. Congressmen to address at their press conference in Vientiane, while visiting Laos, the clearly articulated concerns of the European Union in their recent resolution of November 26, 2009, urging the release of all Lao political and religious dissidents, and prisoners of conscience, including the Lao student pro-democracy leaders of the October 1999 Movement for Democracy as well as the November 2, 2009 reformist marcher leaders who were arrested.

“It is deplorable that [Faleomavaega and his colleagues] did not visit, or seek to visit, the secret camps and prisons in more remote areas in Laos where most of the Hmong refugees as well as Laotian dissidents are being jailed, tortured and imprisoned. Many of these secret prisons and camps in Laos are administered jointly by the Vietnam Peoples Army (VPA) and Lao Peoples Army (LPA).

“Independent journalists from ‘The Age’ in Australia and other human rights organizations and activists have documented the existence of secret camps and prisons in Laos where refugees and dissidents are held in squalid conditions.

“Other independent sources, including the New York Times, Al Jazeera, Time Magazine, Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House, the Foreign Prisoners Support Service have documented human rights abuses against Lao Hmong refugees as well as the enclaves of Lao and Hmong civilian and dissidents hiding in the jungles and mountains that suffering from starvation, military attacks and persecution in Laos.

“Hundreds of Lao Hmong refugees have disappeared or have been killed by the Lao government and military in recent years. Moreover, many hundreds of Laotians, were arrested in Laos in November of 2009, and in recent years, seeking to organize political and economic reform movements as a result of the one-party military regime and its systemic corruption and exploitation of the Laotian people.

“Additional hundreds of independent Laotian and Hmong Christian, Catholic, Animist and Buddhist religious believers, who continue to flee Lao military and security force persecution and attacks, according to independent religious and non-governmental organizations.

“Religious persecution of the Laotian and Hmong people, including the thousands of refugees who fled to Thailand and then were forcibly repatriated back to Laos, was never discussed by [Faleomavaega] or the other U.S. Congressmen. Lao Hmong and minority Protestant Christian, Catholic and Animist believers have been brutally persecuted in Laos as well as by the Thai military in refugee camps prior to their forced repatriation back to secret camps in Laos.

“We are concerned that the three U.S. Congressmen have, at their press conference in Vientiane and in subsequent public comments, repeatedly misled the international community about the nature of the regime in Laos and the plight of the Lao and Hmong people; They have helped the Lao government with its devious and terrible agenda to force Lao Hmong political refugees and asylum seekers back to Laos and oppress and persecute them;

“Moreover, it is deplorable that Congressmen Joseph Cao, Faleomavaega and Mike Honda did not visit the jailed Lao student leaders or the Lao and Hmong political and religious dissidents imprisoned in Laos.

“At a critical time in the Lao Hmong refugee crisis, the three Congressmen made no effort to address these key issues or other vital human rights concerns at their press conference in Vientiane, Laos or its aftermath in Washington, D.C. Congressman Joseph Cao, Congressman Eni Faleomavaega and Mike Honda have perpetuated the Lao government's propaganda against the freedom-loving Laotian and Hmong people, and the defenseless refugees forced back to Laos."

The Joint International Communiqué from which the above information was drawn was cosponsored and issued by the following organizations: United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc., the Lao Human Rights Council, Inc., the Laos Institute for Democracy, the Lao Veterans of America, Inc., the Hmong Advancement, Inc. , Hmong Advance, Inc. , Lao Abroad Solidarity Foundation, Lao Hmong Students Association, Laotian Students Organization for Democracy; Laotian Community of Louisiana, Lao Hmong Community of Minnesota, Hmong Community Organization of Minnesota, Laotian Community of Minnesota, Laotian Community Network of Texas and Louisiana; Laotian Community of New York; Michigan Lao Hmong Community Group; Laotian Community of Virginia; Lao Hmong Community of California; Laotian Community of Tennessee, Lao Hmong Community of North Carolina, Laotian Community of Florida and others.

These groups are the latest who can get in line behind others who have been incensed by Faleomavaega's controversial pronouncements during his various travels in Asia and the Pacific over the last three years, especially during the three frightening years since he has become subcommittee chairman for the region. Of course, he has little real influence on U.S. policy but while that is understood in Washington, it is not appreciated in the region or especially in his home district, where the local daily paper, Samoa News, where his sister-in-law is an editor, carefully keeps controversy out of print.

Faleomavaega has managed to alienate Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Indonesia and Turkey in the past three years as well as groups struggling against repressive regimes in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and China. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone, especially not his cheering squad in American Samoa.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Faleomavaega attacks Obama, Clinton

Maybe it was just his way of diverting media attention to his decision to join the Communists in Cambodia in celebrating the invasion by Communist Vietnam 31 years ago to restore the Cambodia Communist party to power. Or maybe it's just because he has a political death wish. We are reminded of Ann Richards's observation about George H.W. Bush at the 1988 Democratic National Convention: "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." Of course, "poor George" went on to win the White House and his son completed the revenge by defeating Richards's bid for reelection as governor six years later. But, no matter. Faleomavaega keeps rolling on to victory after victory, aided by Samoa News, where his sister-in-law is a top editor. The only real media outlet keeps Eni's blunders out of the paper.

This time it wasn't just an emotional outburst of the moment but an actual, carefully thought one (one assumes) press release headed a mild "Faleomavaega welcomes Secretary Clinton’s visit to Pacific, but expresses disappointment." Naturally, Samoa News carried the release and dutifully used the headline he supplied. But other media outlets around the world were not duped. The story written in New Zealand by the respected regional journalist Michael Field (and carried by many New Zealand newspapers) was headed "American Samoa congressman attacks Clinton" while a Washington, DC newspaper devoted to congress headlined "Democratic lawmaker condemns Clinton's fly-by diplomacy."

"Clinton's Pacific itinerary criticized," headlined the Honolulu Advertiser, while Radio New Zealand headlined characterized it as "Clinton visit a snub to most Pacific leaders." So, what exactly was it that Faleomavaega said that drew such wide-spread media attention from Washington to Wellington? Let his word speak for themselves directly from his press release:

Faleomavaega said he is "very disappointed that some 15 Pacific Island nations are being ignored and marginalized once again. For years, I have been outspoken about U.S. foreign policy towards the Pacific region because the only real foreign policy that the U.S. has with the Pacific is with New Zealand and Australia. . .My point is underscored by the fact that Secretary Clinton will be meeting with Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea while excluding some 15 Pacific Island leaders who could have gathered in one location to meet her. . . [C]onsidering that President Obama was born and raised in Hawaii and understands the challenges and needs of the community, I thought these small island nations, however small, would finally be given the time, consideration and respect they deserve.”

“I am truly disappointed that President Obama, whom I supported and endorsed from the beginning of his presidential campaign, did not weigh in upon learning that Secretary Clinton’s first visit to the Pacific region excluded all Pacific Island nations except Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea. At a minimum, the President or the Secretary could have easily called for a summit of Foreign Ministers from the island nations to meet in Samoa, Hawaii, or even New Zealand. That this was not done shows a lack of sensitivity for the region and sends a message that some 15 Pacific Island nations are not an important or integral part of our U.S. foreign policy objectives.”

“This is the wrong message to send . . . The U.S. cannot afford to take for granted the sacrifices Pacific Island nations have made on our behalf. While New Zealand refuses entry to U.S. nuclear ships, many Pacific Island nations fought side by side with the U.S. throughout WWII. The U.S. also used the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) as a nuclear testing ground, exploding more than 67 nuclear bombs, including the first hydrogen bomb ever detonated. Although the U.S. has not fully compensated the RMI for the damage we did and the contamination we left behind, the RMI is still our ally.”

“But how long will it be before Pacific Island nations begin to reconsider their relationship with the U.S.? China, Taiwan and Iran are increasing their presence in the region while the U.S. cannot even bother to re-establish USAID presence. Given that most Pacific Island nations continue to support U.S. interests at home, abroad, and in the United Nations, it is my hope that the U.S. will return the favor and support the Pacific Island community.”

“China takes the time to meet with Heads of State from small Pacific Island nations and the U.S. should do the same because it is no longer enough to continually fly-over the region. Pacific Island nations deserve something better than fly-by diplomacy. While it is very doubtful that Secretary Clinton can adjust her schedule at this late date, at the very least she can make it a top priority to meet in the near future with the some 15 Pacific Island leaders she is excluding on her first trip to the Pacific region. Such a meeting would be a step in the right direction after more than 50 years of U.S. neglect."

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why there would be media interest. Faleomavaega, in a single piece of paper, pretty much destroyed any shred of effectiveness he might have enjoyed during the next three years by publicly attacking two of the most powerful leaders of his own party holding public office: the president and the secretary of state.

Not only that, he has issued a press release to the world acknowledging what we have been saying consistently since this blog was established: he has NO CLOUT OR INFLUENCE IN WASHINGTON. He admits he was not consulted on Clinton's itinerary and obviously was not invited to accompany her, despite her trip being to the region he considers his back yard and over which his subcommittee has jurisdiction.

"For years, I have been outspoken about U.S. foreign policy towards the Pacific region," says Faleomavaega in his press release. For 21 years that he has been in Congress, to be exact. And what has gotten for his efforts? Looks like nothing. During his watch, the U.S. has closed embassies, USAID missions and USIA offices all over the region in scaling back their presence. In the early years he might have blamed it on having no influence with the George H.W. Bush administration or being too junior when Clinton was in the White House for two years when his party also controlled Congress. On election night 1992 he was quoted as saying his party had won it all and had no excuses if they didn't deliver. But despite not delivering he goes on and on in office. The next 12 years he could argue he was in the minority then two more with another Bush in the White House.

But since January 20, 2009, he has had a president of his own party who he supported early, as his press release notes, his party controls both houses of Congress, he has allies in key positions of leadership, he is very senior and he chairs the subcommittee that has jurisdiction over all the issues he has championed. One can credibly argue that he will never be more influential than he is today. Or more precisely, one should argue that he never will be more influential than he was the day before he issued this disastrous press release.

And yet, what has he gotten, even before the release? Nancy Pelosi and George Miller pulled the rug out from under him on minimum wage and have rebuffed every effort he has made to halt additional increases. Hillary Clinton did not invite him to accompany her on her visit to Indonesia last year, despite the fact that Indonesian policy towards West Papua has been one of his signature issues. Nancy Pelosi did not invite him to join her congressional delegation to China to discuss global warming despite his subcommittee having jurisdiction both over China and global environmental issues. Pelosi didn't even invite him on her massive delegation to Copenhagen for UN global warming talks.

Why? Because he is a loose cannon, as his recent visit to Cambodia once again underscores. You never know what will come out of his mouth. Certainly, he would have been available for travel. He has never seen an overseas trip he would pass up if invited. In fact in one commentary back in American Samoa there was curiosity as to where Eni would be this week. Would he still be winding up his Asia tour. Maybe head to Saipan for the governor's inauguration. Maybe head to Honolulu for Hillary Clinton's speech (unlikely after blasting her). Maybe down to Pago Pago for the ceremonial opening of the legislature. That's where he was when Pelosi surprised him by applying the minimum wage to American Samoa. But no, he actually was in Washington for the opening of the second session of Congress. Our betting it was mainly to change clothes and get out some resh tropical shirts to wear on a congressional fact finding delegation to Haiti. Want to place odds on him being among the first to go?

Unless, of course, he doesn't get invited.

Keep on moving, Eni. Don't hold your breath that your ASPIRE bill will get anywhere near Obama for signature. It probably won't get past the subcommittee. Rahm Emanuel comes from Chicago where they play real political hardball. He is not happy with your press release blasting the leader of your own party. Eni, you are toast. Stick a fork in you--you're done.

Too bad the people who vote you into office are never told.

Faleomavaega in New Asia Blunder

Well, our globe-trotting Congressman is at it again. Asians will be excused for ducking when they see him coming because they never know what surprises this "loose cannon" will have for them. On a previous Southeast Asia swing it was a controversial toast in Hanoi to the murderous Vietnam dictator Ho Chic Minh that ruffled a lot of feathers, especially those of U.S. veterans back home. On this trip to the region, it was Cambodia.

Leading a three-man congressional delegation on a four-country boondoggle, Faleomavaega decided to join a Cambodian People's party celebration of a controversial day that among other things celebrates the Vietnam invasion of Cambodia. The Cambodian People's Party was previously known as the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP), which was founded as a Marxist-Leninist party.

Faleomavaega's traveling colleagues, Mike Honda (D-CA) and Joseph Cao (R-LA), diplomatically choose to stay away from the event and visited a killing field instead. The story can be read here: . Several of the Asian blogs wrote stories critical of Faleomavaega's decision, with one prominent blog headlined "Eni Faleomavaega: Purposely Ignorant or Really Simple-minded?" When asked about his decision at a press conference, Faleomavaega replied "What I pay attention to on January 7 is the toppling of the Pol Pot regime." Of course, that is sort of like celebrating the date an airline became an all-jet fleet but ignoring the fact that the date also represents the mid-air collision of the company's last two propeller-driven planes, which resulted in the all-jet fleet.

Naturally, people back in American Samoa were treated only to an innocuous story in Samoa News, where Faleomavaega's sister-in-law is a top editor, about how their fearless leader was heading a delegation to Cambodian to discuss increasing trade and canceling the country's debt to the U.S. No word about the January 7 flap. Of course not. That gets swept under the rug and people go on singing Eni's praises. The photo used by Samoa News did show, however, that the Cambodian prime minister and both of Faleomavaega's colleagues were appropriately dressed in suits with neck ties while Eni was in open collar attire.

In another blog commenting on Faleomavaega's ignorance, one commenter asked: " wrong with that congressman? He's from America? I thought American politicians do not support any dictators around the world. Man, I think Eni should have never got involved with the CPP's celebration...He should know that CPP is an exclusive gangsters clique that continue to victimize the poor of Cambodia. In addition, Eni should have been more educated about the Jan. 7 event. He should have connected more dots in order to see the whole truth of things. Man, I am so disappoint about this! An American Congressman from America being a [supplicant] to Hun Sen's clique??? This is an unbelievable. If Eni wanted to participate in any celebrations at all, he should have made a better choice. This is a very bad move on Eni's part. Eni should have never wasted any time with these CPP gangsters who do not value freedom and opportunities for the rest of the Cambodian people. Bad choice of attendance indeed."

Another one said "The US Congressman joined Hun Sen to celebrate the continuism of the Communist Party. What...was he thinking! Shame on you, Mr. Faleomanvaega...what an ignorant!" Yet a third chimed in: "Congressman Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), is a disgrace to the Free World, to praise Dictator Hun Sen and Vietcongs' aggression in Southeast Asia. Eni's party is (D- American Samoa) but D stands for Dictator rather than Democrat. Shame on Eni Shame on You!"

A fourth commenter said "Because of Eni Faleomagvaega's attendance in the CPP's 31st commemorative event of the Jan. 7, now the CPP news claims that the United States of America recognizes the Jan. 7th of the CPP. Now Eni has to clarified his position."

A toast to Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi? Celebration of the Vietnam invasion of Cambodia that restored the CPP to power? Coincidence or connect the dots? You decide. At least two other congressmen decided they were not going to play "follow the leader."