Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Obama Repeats Faleomavaega Racist Slur against Republicans

There has been a Republican backlash against President Obama for employing a term associated with the Civil Rights era as he has taken to the campaign trail in support of his party’s nominees in next week’s midterm elections.  Although he insists that he wants to reach out to Republicans after the elections to solve the nation’s problems together, in recent stump speeches he also has said, "We don't mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they've got to sit in back."

No doubt if a Republican officeholder had used that phrase, he would have faced howls of protest from African American activists who recall vividly that the modern Civil Right era was sparked in the mid-1950s by Rosa Parks’s refusal to sit at the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama as was required by the segregation laws and policies of the times.

When asked about the comment at a White House briefing, Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted Obama was not trying to label Republicans as racists, but there was no such ambiguity when Faleomavaega used the same phrase at a hearing last year on his ASPIRE bill, which was meant to bail out Star-Kist, American Samoa’s remaining cannery.  The bill has languished in the Natural Resources Committee and is not expected to be taken up in the lame duck session planned for after the election.

Although Republicans were joined by virtually everyone else who testified (except for the Tri Marine Company whose boats supply fish to Star-Kist, Star-Kist itself and the territory’s governor) in opposing the bill, his statement singled out only the Republicans by saying “Republicans should make [the situation] right, not by asking Samoans to ride in the back of the bus, but by supporting legislation which puts American Samoa back to work.”

There is no indication Obama, who, like Faleomavaega, grew up in Hawaii, was aware of the delegate’s slur when he made his own similar comment but Faleomavaega will have a difficult time building bridges with Republicans if he should be re-elected to the House next week and find them in the majority next year.

At the time Faleomavaega offered his slur, Samoa News, where Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law works as a reporter and editor, made no mention of it in its coverage of the hearing, so it will be interesting to see if the paper makes any reference to it if they cover the Obama flap on the Mainland.  Interestingly enough, with but six days to go before the election, Samoa News, which is the territory’s leading source of information, has published not a single story about the campaign for Congress, just an announcement from the election office of where the polling places will be.  They have, however, published some of Faleomavaega’s announcements of federal grants awarded to the territory.  With the deck so loaded in his favor, it is doubtful they will cover the “ride in the back” controversy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Communist Group Credits Faleomavaega

Saying “His call for Washington to assert its own position on Fiji and other regional matters now appears to have received a favorable hearing in the State Department,” the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), through its official World Socialist Website, has credited American Samoa congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega with playing the key role in changing the U.S. government’s position on dealing with the Fiji dictatorship.

The ICFI is the international Communist organization that follows the Marxist teachings of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, a leading rival to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin until Stalin had him assassinated in 1940. Although Faleomavaega was for years a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, from its inception in 1991 until he quietly dropped out when his membership threatened to become a campaign issue earlier this decade, and the caucus has ties with Democratic Socialists of America, it is unclear what ties, if any, Faleomavaega may have with the ICFI or other Trotskyite organizations.

Nonetheless, in addition to his vigorous defense of Fiji military dictator Commodore Frank Bainamarama, Faleomavaega also has been cozy with autocratic leaders in Kazkhstan, Laos and Vietnam, the last where he praised Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi a couple of years ago.

As evidence of the shift in U.S. policy, the ICFI in the article points to

  • Obama recently issuing a personal statement marking the 40th anniversary of Fijian independence;
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton including the Fiji Foreign Minister in an hour-long meeting in New York with senior Pacific leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in later September;
  • Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell’s testifying before Faleomavaega’s subcommittee that “Our objective is to put Fiji back on track for . . . elections no later than 2014,” tantamount to endorsing a timetable which now puts “Washington . . . at odds with Canberra on this question:”
  • the U.S. recently announcing it will re-establish an AID mission in Suva after a 15-year absence;
  • State Department opening a new multi-million dollar regional embassy in Suva;
  • The U.S. government issuing no comment on the arrest of former Prime Minister and current Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry, “on spurious charges of breaking an emergency decree . . .”

Faleomavaega no doubt approves of all these developments. At the hearing at which Campbell testified, he said “Clearly, the Australian and New Zealand policy of sanctions and isolating and punishing Fiji has not only failed but totally been counterproductive. For too long we effectively outsourced our policymaking toward the Pacific Islands to Australia and New Zealand. “

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “the sometimes imperious attitudes and actions of our friends in Canberra and Wellington toward the Pacific Islands have fostered a degree of resentment and distrust that has limited their influence as well as their ability to represent US views and interests . . . By deferring to the foreign ministries of Canberra and Wellington, we left a vacuum in the Pacific that China has been only too eager to fill.”

Given Faleomavaega’s closeness to Communist China in recent years, it is unclear why he is expressing concern about China’s activities in the Pacific and the article in this publication sheds no light on that.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Election time again

Well folks, it's election time again, so we are opening up our survey to give you a chance to choose who you prefer to replace Faleomavaega as delegate to Congress. The choices this year are Aumua Amata begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting, who has contested the seat several times in the past and Tuika Tuika, Jr., who has run for congress once before.

The good news for a lot of governments around the world is that they are safe from Eni's wrath for three weeks while he confines himself to the territory to face the voters. So, he will have to put aside his two main, seemingly contradictory preoccupations: coddling dictators and championing the oppressed. In the former categories are such people as Frank Bainamarama (Fiji), Nursultan Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan), the late Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) and Bouasone Bouphavanh (Laos). The oppressed people include West Papua's Melanesians, French Polynesian separatists, Armenians, Koren comfort women, Cambodian Agent Orange sufferers, Native Hawaiians, American Indians on reservations and low-wage cannery workers.

The only place where he has had any impact, as far as we can tell, is with the low wage cannery workers. He fought for and won for them an increase in the minimum wage, forcing one cannery to close and the other to downsize, so that now he can champion a new group: the no-wage ex-cannery workers. Atta boy, Eni, way to go in your never-ending search for "social justice."

The good news for Eni is that if he wins again, he is likely to have a whole lot more time to devote to his pet causes because if Republicans take control of Congress, as many analysts now believe they will, he won't need to show up in Washington every once in a while to chair hearings or cast committee votes at the direction of his party to give cover to real members. As was the case for the 12 years Republicans controlled the House between 1995 and 2007, he will be largely irrelevant as a member of the minority. Even though Republicans will control travel budgets, they do like to have Democrats on their fact-finding delegations abroad to show "bipartisanship," and Eni has proved useful for that purpose because he never refuses a trip he is offered.

He seems to have adopted a strategy of flying under the radar this election, as he made no formal announcement of his candidacy, just quietly filing his petitions to activate his candidacy. And he can count on Samoa News, where his sister-in-law is one of the editors, to play his little game of keeping controversy out of print. There are only 22 days left in the campaign and so far there have been exactly NO stories in the paper about the campaign. The candidates each made the first of their customary television presentations last week and Samoa News did not even bother to cover them. nor have any of the media taken the simple step of going on-line to the Federal Election Committee website to see how much money has been raised any from whom. Virtually every other newspaper in the country does this for their local congressional races but apparently not Samoa News. Maybe his sister-in-law won't like what she sees: massive contributions from people with Asian names with addresses in the U.S. No one seems to care or wonder why all these people would be so interested in a congressional race on a small, remote Pacific Island. As long as the voters are fed on Election Day, why bother, I suppose?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wage Delay Law Shows Faleomavaega Weakness

At literally the last minute before adjournment, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted the Senate version of a bill that originated in the House that delayed the implementation of a scheduled increase in the minimum wage for American Samoa. The hike was to have taken effect October 1. In a press release following passage, Faleomavaega thanked what seemed like half the Congress—Republicans and Democrats alike—for taking this action, which could stave off the departure of the territory’s remaining tuna cannery. However, Faleomavaega’s release was vastly overblown considering what little it actually accomplished.

Perhaps it was the delegate’s intention to distract the attention of voters so close to election time from his larger inability to accomplish much more than this delay, considering his position as a senior member of his party, which overwhelmingly controls Congress, particularly the House, which is run by Members who over the years he has touted as being among his closest allies. As is Faleomavaega, both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller are protégés of the late U.S. Rep. Philip Burton.

Following the 2006 midterm election, after which Democrats regained control of the House, Eni was in line for and received a subcommittee chairmanship. Although he was senior enough on Natural Resources to take over the subcommittee on insular affairs, the body with primary legislative jurisdiction over American Samoa, he chose, instead, the subcommittee on Asian, Pacific and Global Environmental Affairs, which specifically is precluded from considering American Samoa issues, which are considered domestic.

Shortly after taking over the subcommittee, Faleomavaega, predictably, took a trip out of Washington, and when Miller crafted a federal minimum wage bill that was to become the first priority of the new Congress, Eni was nowhere to be found when Miller and the Speaker threw him under the bus by deciding to include American Samoa in the wage hike bill. Faleomavaega disingenuously blames Republican Rep. Mark Kirk for this action because it was Kirk who first asked why American Samoa was not included in the proposal but virtually everyone who understands how the House operates knows that the minority has no power at all and no minority member was in any position to demand anything the Speaker or Miller weren’t prepared to do anyway.

In one story about the delay, Miller was quoted as saying it was Kirk who first raised the issue of American Samoa and the Northern Marianas but this is likely fabricated because Miller intended all along to include the Northern Marianas to strike back at Jack Abramoff. Indeed, when it came to final passage, a majority of the Republicans voted against the bill, so blaming Republicans just won’t wash.

In any event, Faleomavaega, who said he supported the first year’s increase, has had four years to get American Samoa removed from the law but was unable to get Miller or Pelosi to budge, thus demonstrating that his touted "closeness" to his fellow Burton protégés was more myth that reality. If anyone needed any additional proof, when Pelosi put together her 21-member delegation to U.N. global warming talks last year, Eni was not included. Giving him jurisdiction over global environmental affairs apparently was just a way to let him travel the world beyond Asia and the Pacific.

So, he has his wage delay but that is not going to be enough to keep Star-Kist on island for very long. Permanent repeal might have helped but a delay, even for two years, does not end uncertainty for the cannery. They are looking for a subsidy that was the centerpiece of Faleomavaega’s signature legislation in this Congress: ASPIRE, which is an acronym for American Samoa Protection of Industry, Resources, and Employment Act. He had much publicized hearings at which everyone but Star-Kist representatives, even fellow Democratic Members of the House, testified against the bill. It never attracted a single co-sponsor and remains “alive” only because the House is coming back into a lame duck session after the election.

The bad news for Eni is that the elections do not look very promising for his party. On election night in 1992, when Democrats regained control of the White House while holding control of the House and Senate for the first time since Jimmy Carter, Faleomavaega proclaimed that now that his party had won it all, it was up to them to produce. Well, they did not produce and in 1994, Republicans won control of the House for the first time in 40 years and Eni was consigned to 12 years in the minority.

All signs point to Republicans regaining control of Congress next month but even if they do not, they will make significant enough gains to achieve philosophical control. In that case, it is going to be very tough for Eni to get any legislation enacted. It was perhaps sensing the reality of his soon-to-be new status that led him to proclaim in his press release how he always has worked on a bipartisan basis when the record is replete with his attacks on Republicans, such as accusing them of wanting Samoans to ride the "back of the bus" by not supporting ASPIRE>. More important than his wage delay or ASPIRE, which is going nowhere under any scenario, he also has a provision in pending legislation called the tax extenders bill, that would give Star-Kist an $18 million tax break. He also has a request in the works for $25 million through Interior funds.

If he could achieve these objectives when his party was riding high these past two years, with the seniority he did not have the last time Democrats controlled both political branches in 1993-94, a subcommittee chairmanship, and as an early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy, it is difficult to see how he is going to be able to do much beyond continue his worldwide travels as a non-voting delegate in the minority in the next two years and perhaps beyond. Indeed, perhaps the worst of all worlds for him would be to return to an evenly divided House which Democrats continue to control. Then his party would need him to be present for committee votes where his vote could be the margin of difference. That even happened at least once in this Congress when the Speaker insisted he stay in town to vote on an energy bill, forcing him to cancel a trip home for the funeral of a high chief from his village.

Unfortunately, the voters are not aware of Eni’s weakness and ineffectiveness, and neither the local media, the local political leadership, nor his political opponents have taken the time to educate the voters. They continue to think he brings home millions of dollars in federal grants when in fact American Samoa has received nothing more than the Northern Marianas has received--and the Northern Marianas did not even have a delegate to Congress at all until last year.