Monday, May 17, 2010


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced a tightening of the rules to curb congressional travel abuse as Democrats head into what looks to be a bad year for majority incumbents, but the new restrictions are unlikely to slow the pace of Faleomavaega, whose time on airplanes borders on insanity.

Among other reforms Pelosi has announced, House Members now will be required to travel economy class on flights less than 14 hours. It is unclear from news accounts if the time threshold applies to total time between departure and arrival cities or time on each segment. In the former case, Eni is well covered because most of his Asian destinations are longer than 14 hours away total travel time.

If the restriction is per segment, Eni easily can get around that by flying non-stop to places like Hong Kong or Bangkok in business class then travel economy from one of those hub cities to his final destination. Rest assured, this restriction will not affect his travel one bit.

The speaker also is requiring more documentation for the rationale of committee-arranged trips, known universally as CODELs--short for Congressional delegation. It is not clear if this documentation will be available for public scrutiny but the media in American Samoa have shown little interest in the whereabouts or the whys of the delegate’s travel and there has been no public clamor for the information. Frequently he announces that he is “on assignment” in Asia without ever revealing who is making these assignments, so perhaps this new documentation will shed light on that. Samoa News, where his sister-in-law is an editor, dutifully prints his press releases and the public believes he is on some sort of "assignment."

The new rules also reminded lawmakers that government travel per diem is to be spent for official business and that excess money must be returned. The rules prohibit lawmakers from taking aides from their personal offices along or from putting aides temporarily on the committee payroll to get around the restriction but it would be difficult to determine if Eni heretofore has abused the system in these regards. Faleomavaega routinely apportions some of his staff salaries between his personal office and the Foreign Affairs Committee, but it is not clear whether this is to get around travel restrictions or just to hide the true salaries of some of his staff.

Pelosi also made clear that the costly use of military aircraft would be limited and that to qualify for one of the scarce jets, lawmakers must be traveling on a bipartisan basis and have enough colleagues traveling to justify a government plane. Despite his seniority and position, Eni has not been very successful in obtaining the use of military aircraft, so this new rule should not pose any difficulties for him.

The only rule change that might have made a difference is if Pelosi had required any sort of certification of a member’s health. For years Faleomavaega has had serious health problems and periodically has had to have been hospitalized. In addition to obesity, he has had heart problems, circulatory problems, halitosis and foot problems, including suffering from gout. It has been rumored that on his last trip to American Samoa for Flag Day last month he was so ill he had to be hospitalized and missed the ceremonies.

He reportedly was wheeled to the plane in a wheel chair for the return trip to Washington, was again hospitalized in Honolulu and finally again in Washington, which may have been the reason why he was absent in a photograph of all the other territorial delegates standing behind President Obama when he signed an Executive Order re-establishing an Interagency Group on Insular Affairs.

Perhaps it is illness that also has led to his silence so far on the 40% reduction of work force StarKist announced Friday for its American Samoa cannery. Faleomavaega recently made a point of announcing he had flown to Seoul to meet with the cannery owners and was given assurances that the company did not intend to close its facility in the territory. Perhaps not at the moment, but the handwriting is on the wall.

Sick or not, you can expect that just as soon as he is able to do so, Faleomavaega will be back on another plane to Seoul to hold further meetings with StarKist. The congressional Memorial Day recess is only two weeks away. Count on the travel. In fact, expect there to be a travel frenzy the rest of this year because it increasingly looks like Republicans will be taking control of Congress in November elections.

Republican control will not slow the pace of Faleomavaega’s travel but it will restrict his freedom to choose where he goes. Right now, he can go anywhere in the world because his subcommittee has jurisdiction over not only Asia and the Pacific but “global environment.” The word “global” must have brought tears to his eyes when the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman agreed to give him that responsibility. Most recently he held a hearing on “saving the whales,” although there is another subcommittee that has responsibility for fish, wildlife and oceans. So, I am sure we can expect to hear about Eni’s globetrotting adventures in search of rare whales.

But even if he will not be able to call his own shots if Republicans control the House, the bipartisan requirement will remain. During their 12 years in the majority, a number of Republicans found great value in having Faleomavaega around because they knew he was always available to join a CODEL and that gave them the bipartisan cover they needed to put trips together. Meanwhile, now that there is a new requirement for travel justification, it would be interesting to see how he might justify a third trip to the remote Torres Strait Islands. We'd settle for seeing how he justified the first and second trips.

In short: if he’s breathing, he’s traveling.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


When a major politician is seriously ill, it is the responsibility of the media to report it. Whatever you think of him, Faleomavaega is a major politician. Senior in Congress, head of a subcommittee. But a lot of people know that when he was in American Samoa recently for Flag Day, he had to be hospitalized. Then he went to the plane by wheel chair for Honolulu, where he was hospitalized again. Then to Washington where again he was hospitalized. Not a word in Samoa News, where his sister-in-law is an editor. If Samoa News is an honest, independent newspaper, we challenge them right now to put a reporter on this story and find out what is going on with Faleomavaega’s health. Although he was in Washington at the time, he was the only territorial delegate to skip a White House meeting with President Obama. Some people thought it might be because he would have been forced to wear a standard American business suit, which he no longer does (he is usually dressed in open shirtsleeves, sometime with a loose Indian bolo tie when required (like on the House floor), a lavalava and sandals. Perhaps he missed it because he was in the hospital or otherwise sick in bed.

Meantime, looking drawn and with an unusually weak and raspy voice, he nevertheless conducted a congressional hearing. He ranted. He raved. He fumed. But in the end, like everything else he tries, nothing will come of Faleomavaega’s April 22 subcommittee hearing to specifically discuss the lingering affects of unexploded ordnance in Laos left from the Vietnam War-era. As is not uncommon, he issued a press release labeling the hearing as “historic,” and as usual, the sycophantic Samoa News, where his sister-in-law is one of the editors, dutiful carried the description. Please don’t bother to ask Samoa News to ask Faleomavaega why this hearing was so historic. There was no mention of it in the New York Times or Washington Post the following day. Neither Time nor Newsweek magazine saw fit to say anything about it in their editions the following week. Historic maybe in Eni’s mind and now all those who read it in Samoa News but hardly anywhere else. Don’t hold your breath waiting for legislation to remove all the ordnance, either. Ain’t gonna happen.

Maybe something will happen with the bill he has introduced in the House to authorize the Tribal Development Bank to support U.S. tribes to engage in trade relations with the First Nations of Canada, Maori tribes of New Zealand and perhaps even the Sami of Norway and Finland. If the House accepts such amendments, indigenous nations in countries such as Canada and New Zealand, who commit to protecting indigenous nation trade from unfair import/export duties or tariffs, will be able to engage in business partnerships with U.S. tribes. The bill to create a Tribal Development Bank for Native Americans is Inouye’s brain child. Amendments involving other “First Nations” are Eni’s, so don’t expect much here, either.