- double bypass heart surgery
- cataract surgery
- type II diabetes
- high blood pressure
- chronic heart disease
- kidney failure
- knee surgery
Monday, November 3, 2014
With only five days to go before elections, a former member of Faleomavaega's staff is suing the delegate for a variety of human rights abuses, including racial and religious discrimination. The main target of the suit is Lisa Williams, Faleomavaega's Washington chief of staff. She has been with him may years and has a reputation of being a no-nonsense throat cutter who takes no prisoners. We understand there is no shortage of glee over any hot water in which she may find herself. Needless to say, the delegate's local office director, Fai'ivae Alex Godinet, the following day quickly dismissed the suit as baseless.
It is hard to say what effect, if any, this late publicity might have on the election but at least some voters are likely to wonder if the territory can afford to have its delegate preoccupied with yet another distraction along with his failing health and pet issues unrelated to American Samoa. Since he has been home, he largely has remained out of sight, missing a number of joint public appearances with his challengers. Other than his thrice weekly visits to the hospital's dialysis clinic, he hasn't been seen by the public except for his road side sign waving, a traditional ritual of Samoan campaigns.
The man is either extremely arrogant, supremely confident or has lost his mind in this campaign. Other than some well worn newspaper ads, a few heart tugging radio ads, which emphasize his health problems, and the ubiquitous sign-waving, sometimes in a wheel chair, complete with him sporting a cast on one foot and carrying what looks like some sort of an IV device, he has done very little campaigning at all.
If he is supremely confident of reelection, it is because he has played a brilliant game of delaying announcement of his reelection plans so as to draw into the race a large field of challengers so his opposition would be fragmented. In that way, he could retreat into his stronghold on the western side of the island, knowing that as long as he held his hardcore supporters he could withstand a fragmented challenge and win with only the plurality that is required thanks to a change in the law he rammed through Congress almost 10 years ago.
He is also arrogant, taking a huge gamble that more people will react in sympathy to his physical infirmities and reward with with “one last term” than will conclude after seeing him that he simply no longer has the capacity to do the job. We can think of nine reasons right off the bat why he should be rewarded with another term:
Perhaps no single one of these conditions is disqualifying but taken together they do not bode well for the future health of a 71-year-old man. As a matter of fact, we question whether, if reelected, he could make it through another two-year term.
Even if he has no further setbacks, his schedule likely would be cut back. His heart and kidney disease, which he says is caused by his exposure to Agent Orange 40 years ago during his military service, are chronic conditions that will only worsen, not improve. Needing to be tethered to a dialysis machine three times a week, his travel to exotic places would be severely reduced if not eliminated and if travel were an important part of being the Ranking Minority Member of a foreign affairs subcommittee, then his position would likely be in jeopardy and he probably would face a challenge.
Last year he missed a committee trip to East Asia, which is in his geographical area of jurisdiction; he missed a Natural Resources Committee trip to the Pacific, including a stop in American Samoa; he missed an international small island states conference that takes place only once every 10 years and was of importance to both the territories and the independent Pacific; he missed months of committee hearings; and he missed a UN summit on climate change.
If he were reelected tomorrow—and it is a distinct possibility—it would represent the height of selfishness. He already is eligible for a full pension, topped off by VA disability benefits, full congressional health and insurance benefits and no real clout in a Congress that will be run again by Republicans for at least the next two years. Nor does he show any interest in American Samoa issues. He is more concerned with such issues as forcing the Washington Redskins to relinquish the team nickname, pushing for Cambodian debt relief and lobbying for nuclear clean up of Kazakhstan.
Faleomavaega has done his constituents a great disservice by insisting they decide his political future when it is clear he should have made the decision to retire on his own. He will be doing us an even greater disservice by continuing to serve as long as he is able to do so into another term, largely doing little more than occupying a seat while his staff props him up. All the while, he will be denying some other worthy public servant the opportunity to accrue seniority that will benefit the territory down the line. At his age even in the best of health his productive years would have been behind him.
Since he will not go gently into the night, we can only hope that the voters are fed up to the point they are ready to say enough is enough and end his career tomorrow.
If not, we will be right back in this space come Wednesday to continue to keep a watchful eye on him and perform the public responsibility our local media has abrogated.
Friday, October 24, 2014
Some months ago, local Democratic Party Chairman Ali’imau J.R. Scanlan accused this blog of calling for Faleomavaega to resign, which we did not. What we did call for him to do was not to run for re-election and retire at the end of this term. If not, we expressed hope that one of the other eight candidates challenging him would defeat him in the November 4 election.
We made a mistake.
We should have called on him to resign so the Governor could have had the opportunity to call a special election at the same time as the general election to fill the vacancy. It would have been hoped that the same candidate would have won both elections, been seated immediately, participate in the lame duck session of Congress and begin to build seniority ahead of the freshman class to be seated on January 3. Because the turnover in the House will be small this year, a freshman would be unlikely to be in a position to chair a subcommittee but a member with a little advanced seniority might very well be in such a position at the start of a second term.
However, that is all wishful thinking because Faleomavaega neither resigned nor retired and finally has returned home just a few days short of a year after his medical evacuation last October. Samoa News was at the airport to capture his arrival on film and ran two of the photos Monday morning. Editorially, Samoa News has had very little to say about the delegate’s health but if a picture were worth a thousand words, Samoa News did him no favor by publishing those photographs, which were shocking.
In one photo walking beside the Governor, who was arriving on the same flight from Honolulu, he is hunched over, thin, frail and sickly looking. He also appears to have some sort of medical device hanging from his hip. In the other photo, he gamely tries to do the siva but if the intended effect were to show his health and vigor it was offset by showing a cast on his left foot that could have been the result of gout or the effects of his diabetes. Samoa News easily could have cropped the second photo as they did the one of him walking with the Governor, but they chose not to do so. We suspect that was a deliberate decision. At the same time, the extensive markings on his arms, which very much look like bruising from medical needle marks, could not have been cropped out.
Two weeks ago his office announced he would be returning to Pago Pago in time to participate in the college candidate forum that has been held before almost every election over the years. That forum was held yesterday and eight of the nine candidates participated. Faleomavaega did not. Either his office misinformed the press or his absence was health related. He has admitted he is on dialysis for kidney disease and there is talk that he must spend several hours at the hospital every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to be dialyzed.
Given his condition, we would not be surprised to see him avoid as many public appearances as possible. We have seen him and he looks awful. Expect instead that he will rely on newspaper ads, which feature a photo that is at least 10 years old, and radio ads, in which he will speak in a soft voice plaintively asking for public sympathy and one more term to complete his agenda. It is a familiar routine and there is no doubt he will generate a lot of sympathy votes from people who feel sorry for him. However, at the same time, there is a growing number of people who feel he is simply is not up to the job any more.
We have been surprised to find that there are longtime supporters who now resent being put into the position of having to decide his future for him when he should have bowed out on his own and graciously allowed himself to be lauded for his years of service. People are puzzled why he continues to press on when it is clear he not only is not up to the job physically, but that there is a real question whether he would be able to finish another term in office. Do the voters really want to take a chance in electing him again only to have him suffer a relapse and be out of commission for another extensive period when there is so much at stake for the territory in Washington?
When he first took ill last year, his office put out statements saying he was expected to make a full recovery but when he recently revealed his conditions he admitted that he had been expected to die. His office said he was here for the college forum but he did not attend. He has said he has now recovered from his illness but has he? Can we afford to have a representative in Washington who will need to spend a substantial part of every work week hooked up to a kidney dialysis machine?
He has always acknowledged that his principal interest and specialty is foreign affairs and in that case his work has involved a substantial amount of foreign travel. His health now precludes any foreign travel for the foreseeable future if ever. He has risen as far as he is going to go. His caucus has pretty much told him he will not become the Ranking Democrat on Foreign Affairs. Indeed, were he re-elected, he very well might be challenged for his position as Ranking Democrat on the Asia Pacific subcommittee. If travel were important for that role, he would be unable to fulfill it.
He has a full federal pension that will reflect almost a half century of public service, including his military years. If his illness were proven to be related to Agent Orange exposure, he would get 100% disability compensation on top of that. Plus, he will have an ASG pension from his six years service as deputy attorney general and lieutenant governor. He also will take his generous congressional health care coverage into retirement. No doubt there is low cost long term illness congressional insurance available to him along with his veterans's benefits.
Our culture may make voters be sympathetic but we are not fools. Our culture also equates weight with health. Someone who has been heavy who now is thin is thought to be ill. No matter what he says, clearly he is not a well man. Many people will turn to other candidates because they believe he is too ill to carry on. Still others will vote against him because they genuinely believe he should spend his final years with family.
Still, with nine candidates in the race and Faleomavaega being the best known, he must be considered the odds on favorite in a contest that is winner take all with no runoff. Even though there is no time to call a special election, we believe he would best serve the people by ending his candidacy now, formally withdrawing from the race, returning to Washington to represent us in the lame duck session and winding up his career.
It’s time to call it quits.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Radio Station KHJ-FM Washington correspondent Matt Kaye reports that Faleomavaega intends to return to the territory before the November 4 election to campaign for re-election. Although the story that appeared on KHJ’s talanei.com website quoted that he will be “going home soon-in the next couple of weeks,” there is no indication if these were words that Faleomavaega spoke to Kaye or Kaye was quoting someone on staff. The story did not include embedded soundbites.
Although Kaye said this announcement ends “speculation that his illness might keep him in Washington,” it remains a mystery what is keeping Faleomavaega in Washington more than three weeks after Congress has recessed for the campaign. Yes, one day after the recess he attended a White House barbecue but his press release to that effect announcing President Obama had invited him was virtually meaningless since it is an annual affair to which all Members always are invited regardless of party. Since it was the evening before the recess, he had plenty of time to catch a plane to Honolulu on Thursday, remain overnight, and come down to Pago Pago on Friday. But no Eni.
There was speculation that because he attended the first San Diego Pacific Islanders Festival in 1994, perhaps he would attend the 20th anniversary of that event on the weekend after recess on the way home. Since it draws a crowd of 150,000 people, many of them Samoans, he could do a little fundraising then head out to the Pacific to catch the Monday flight down to Pago Pago. But, again, no Eni.
Since he is Ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, which also included legislative and oversight jurisdiction over the global environment during the four years of his chairmanship (2007-11), it also seemed plausible that he would remain in Washington to take the short hop up to New York to participate in the UN summit on global climate change, particularly since he skipped the Small Island Developing States conference in Apia in August. But, again, no Eni.
It was thought that surely he would have been in New York because there would have been many opportunities to meet with Asian and Pacific leaders there for U.N. General Assembly debate while awaiting the meeting India Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to hold with nearly 40 Members of Congress the day of his major Madison Square Garden speech on September 28. This one seemed a given not only because of Faleomavaega’s position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee but also because he has been so public and visible on U.S.-India relations, and a champion of Modi, who was just elected last Spring. But no Eni in New York.
In fact, he was eclipsed by the only other Samoan in Congress, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a freshman Member who already has risen to third in seniority on the A-P subcommittee and has an even more special relationship with Modi since she is the first Hindu ever elected to Congress. When Modi was elected, Faleomavaega put out a press release congratulating him. Gabbard, on the other hand, telephoned to congratulate him and got him right on the line. She also received much publicity for making a special presentation following his speech while Faleomavaega was relegated to writing an op-ed piece for an Indian on-line publication called Business Today.
If for some reason he were not in New York but still not traveling home, perhaps he was waiting for Modi’s subsequent visit to Washington, where the Prime Minister had additional meetings, a White House dinner and a State Department lunch. According to Kaye’s report, Faleomavaega was not included on the elite guest list for the Obama dinner. Perhaps the White House figured since he attended the barbecue, where he got a fresh photo with the president, that should be enough. Whatever the reason, no Eni.
But, aha, Kaye reports that Faleomavaega was to participate in the State Department lunch co-hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden. These lunches are considered the consolation prizes for people who cannot not get on the “A List” for a White House dinner. Quite a come down for someone so senior and so vocal on India. Perhaps he paid a price for outspokenly criticizing Obama and Kerry for U.S. policy towards India . We will take Kaye at his word that Faleomavaega was at that lunch but it is over a week after the lunch and there is no press release out of the delegate’s office. Since Modi’s visit, all he has had is a release commemorating the fifth anniversary of the tsunami in Samoa and announcing the availability of some college scholarships. Curious, considering how much he has publicized U.S.-India relations and his support for Modi.
So here we are: no more congressional sessions, no more U.N. gatherings, no more Asian head of government visits, no more barbecues. The only reason he might have been here is to stand outside the Washington Redskins stadium to shake his fist at the owner as part of his effort to get the team nickname changed to something less offensive to some Native American groups. However, if he were there last night for the Monday night game for that purpose, there has been no publicity.
Several years ago after an election, he made a point of expressing his pleasure that another delegate had taken the chairmanship of the House insular subcommittee, leaving him free to concentrate on Asian issues. Now it might be said that much of the rationale for his continuance in office is lost due to his chronic illness. It seems clear that his foreign travel days are over and a popular young congresswoman of Samoan descent has made his presence on the Foreign Affairs Committee unnecessary as well.
It is particularly ironic that he has been grounded at a time when the National Journal has produced a report of congressional travel that crowned him “the most-frequent free flyer” of all, [who] was treated to a dozen international excursions in the past three years [2011-2013]. And that of course was without benefit of additional trips he might have taken in the fourth quarters of 2013, most of which he spent in a hospital bed. The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, when Congress is out of session, is one of the most popular times for congressional travel.
It continues to be mystifying why Faleomavaega presses on. His pension is fully funded, his health insurance is terrific, he can keep his plan in retirement, he cannot get his agenda—if he has one—enacted because he is in the minority and all analysts say that his party will continue to be in the minority after this election and, because of the way the district lines are drawn, may remain in the minority until at least 2022 when Faleomavaega would be 79 years old. Moreover, his health is such that he will need to be near kidney dialysis machines for the rest of his life, so that will limit the time he can be away and where he can go.
For now, every day he is away, every important event and funeral he skips and every campaign opportunity he misses, including TV appearances and candidate debates, people are getting more and more irritated. Whether he actually will return “in the next couple of weeks” remains to be seen.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
A clearly frustrated Faleomavaega has lashed out at President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry over Obama’s decision to sign an Executive Order creating a Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM). While expressing his appreciation that the conservation zone expansion would only involve Wake Island, Jarvis Island and Johnston Atoll, he said “I am displeased that the White House rushed this decision just so Secretary Kerry could have a sound bite at the United Nations.”
“Given the seriousness of the issue, I believe the Administration should have been more thoughtful about this process,” argued the delegate, “[because t]his decision affects the economies of Hawaii, American Samoa, CNMI and Guam, and every stakeholder among us deserved to be heard.” Reflecting disappointment that he was crowded out of the decision-making process, he continued: “[I]t is unfortunate that the White House and State Department really didn’t engage in a meaningful discussion with local leaders or Congress about this initiative.”
He gamely tried to reclaim his relevance by saying that he had been told by White House aides on September 24 of the President’s intentions to sign the Executive Order but was asked not to say anything until Kerry announced it in New York at a follow up meeting to his June Our Ocean Conference. Faleomavaega did not attend the Apia meeting and while it is unclear if he also were not at the follow on gathering, judging from his news release that makes no mention of it, he was not.
It had to be annoying to him that by not announcing the White House decision, his thunder was stolen because the lead story in the September 25 Samoa News was based on a press release issued late in the afternoon of the 24th by the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, which apparently was not under the same embargo, ignored it or was faster on the draw, leaving Faleomavaega relegated to saying “me, too.” Wednesday afternoon National Geographic also published a story on Kerry’s Wednesday morning announcement, so it seems more likely that the delegate’s crack press staff, which long has been accustomed to dictating what and when off-island news is reported locally, was caught napping.
It is curious that Obama has given Faleomavaega such back-handed treatment considering the delegate went out of his way to take a gamble and endorse the president’s first bid for the White House in 2007 when the Illinois senator was still considered a long shot. Both men were raised and schooled in Hawaii and Faleomavaega apparently felt a kinship with him. In fact the relationship was considered so close that some conspiracy theorists charged that during the campaign on one of the delegate’s frequent trips to Indonesia, he was asked to negotiate with Jakarta authorities to get Obama’s childhood school records sealed.
However, the latest attack on Obama and Kerry is another sign that he is distancing himself with the soon-to-be lame duck president and secretary of State as he tries to tries to mend fences with Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic Party nomination for president. That break was underscored when he also said he would cross party lines to back legislation by a Republican in the upper house. Referring to his objection to the PRIMNM order, he said: “This is why I stand with Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who has introduced legislation to change the law so that no President will ever have the power to lock up millions of acres of public lands and waters without Congressional approval.” A dramatic move for a man who just three-and-a-half years ago was chairman of the subcommittee that had jurisdiction over the global environment.
With virtually every member of the House, except those not running for re-election, having left Washington for home for the critical final weeks of the campaign, it is curious that Faleomavaega is still there. There was a Washington dateline on September 25 press release, which Samoa News buried in a larger story recounting the reactions of a number of organizations to the conservation zone. Having missed the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) summit in Apia, it seemed possible that Faleomavaega might have wanted to recoup by attending the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Change summit in New York just ahead of this year’s General Assembly speeches but there is no evidence he traveled to New York for that gathering of even for Indian Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with Members of Congress.
Indeed, the only evidence of Faleomavaega activity was a press release pathetically announcing he participated in the annual White House picnic for Members of Congress. Since this event is held every year, is open to all Members of the House and Senate and their families regardless of party and is not meant for conducting business, it is hardly newsworthy and only the Samoa Post ran a story. Neither Samoa News nor Radio KHJ-FM found it newsworthy. As with the annual Easter Egg roll and the White House Christmas party, this event is purely for socializing and photographs.
In addition to the usual pictures with Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D), Faleomavaega made a point of mentioning (and providing the press a photo with) “my good friend, Chairman Frank Lucas of the House Committee on Agriculture, which has responsibility over American Samoa’s food stamp and voucher programs that I have worked on all these years to keep in place and increase our funding.”
Why single out Lucas? Perhaps because one of his election opponents also had a photo taken with Lucas when the chairman passed through Pago Pago in August as part of a Natural Resources Committee-led Congressional Delegation on which the second most senior Democrat, Faleomavaega, was noticeably absent. And so it goes.
Monday, September 29, 2014
In an almost five-minute long, nearly 500 word audio message delivered in English, with no transcript provided, Faleomavaega, clearly looking for the sympathy of voters, asked them to elect him to Congress for a 14th time in November. Cloaked in a host of irrelevancies, the nub of his statement was an admission to having chronic heart disease and kidney disease, the latter which now is being controlled by dialysis. He made no mention of whether he is currently on or expecting to go onto a waiting list for either a heart transplant or kidney transplant or possibly both.
Under pressure from the media and growing restlessness among the voters, Faleomavaega finally came forward after nearly a year’s silence and an extended absence from his office to clear up the mystery of what ails him. During the past 11 months, speculation has ranged from cancer to a stroke and there were even rumors that he was in a coma at one point. Until now, neither he nor his office has done anything to dispel them.
A big mystery that remains is why he waited until a little over one month from Election Day to make his condition public instead of issuing bulletins about the state of his health and his recovery all along the way. As we have suggested in the past, perhaps he wanted to draw into the race more candidates who thought he would retire or be vulnerable, so that he would have an easier time defeating a large, divided field in a race that requires only a plurality to win. He has won multicandidate races before with less than 50% of the vote.
That he suffers from heart and kidney ailments should come as no surprise. He very publicly stated just before the 2012 election that among other medical treatments over the years, he has had heart bypass surgery, suffers from diabetes and “very likely” was exposed to Agent Orange. In other words, everyone knows already that he is not a well man. Why wait to disclose new issues that are similar to those he already has made public?
Another big mystery is why he is not home. His message was recorded presumably from his residence, office or elsewhere in the Washington area because he has not yet returned to the territory nor did he give any indication in his statement when he would return. Because his message raises more questions than it answers, it bears close examination. Since no transcript was released by his office, an annotated script follows, which will help guide readers in seeking answers from the delegate during these final five weeks of the campaign.:
Faleomavaega’s Message to American Samoa
Thank you American Samoa. Last October because of complications due to Agent Orange exposure during my service in Vietnam,
What exactly were the complications that forced you to be hospitalized at LBJ? What specific symptoms did you experience on the airplane that led to your immediate transport to LBJ upon landing?
I was airlifted to Hawaii where I was not expected to live.
If you were not expected to live, then why very early in the process did your office issue statements that said you were expected to make a full recovery?
Thanks to your prayers you offered to God on my behalf, I am back.
You are back where? Certainly not back in American Samoa. When do you expect to return? If you have recovered, as your campaign advertisement last week stated, why have you not returned to American Samoa, from which you have been absent now for nearly a year? Since Congress is not in session, what other reason would you still be in Washington?
While words can never express the love and gratitude I feel for you, I hope in some small way my life will become my message. My message is my prayer. I pray that I may wear out my service to you, to God and to our great nation.
Your invocation of God here and throughout this message is admirable but is it not meant to obscure the real seriousness of your illness and invoke the sympathy of a very religious community? Is it possible you already have worn out your service to us if not to God and the country?
To our Vietnam veterans, please visit our VA clinic. I was not aware of the many side effects caused by Agent Orange exposure.
How could you not be aware of the side effects since they have been experienced by so many other veterans and you, yourself, in 2012 stated that you “very likely” were exposed to Agent Orange? Members of Congress have access to the finest health care in the country if not the world. How is it possible that physicians and surgeons, knowing your medical and military history, would not have detected any signs of the effects of Agent Orange when they performed your double bypass surgery? With diabetes, gout and kidney disease, as well as heart disease, all involving the cardio-vascular system, how is it possible when you previously were treated for gout and diabetes, that Agent Orange would not have been detected after 40 years?
But now that I know, I urge you to seek treatment so that you may live a long and healthy life. Agent Orange is a silent killer of Vietnam veterans. From 1961 to 1971 the U.S. military sprayed over 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam, exposing millions of civilians and soldiers to dioxin, a toxic contaminant known to be one of the deadliest chemicals made by man. I was exposed during my service in Nha Trang. Like hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans,
This is a very fine history and chemistry lesson, and public service appeal to veterans that has little to do with your condition.
I now suffer from the side effects of Agent Orange, including heart and kidney disease which almost cost me my life. But with proper diagnosis and dialysis treatment, my life has been spared. [emphasis added]
This is the meat of your message. The question is why was it not delivered at least by the time you returned to limited office hours and began accepting visitors in March if not at the time of your video Christmas message in December?
If you served on active duty in Vietnam from January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975, you may qualify for presumptive service-connected Agent Orange disability compensation. To all Vietnam veterans living in American Samoa and elsewhere, I encourage you to get checked out now. Please call my office if you need assistance. To any who suffer due to pain, disability or trials, worry not. Your service continues to make a difference beyond measure.
Again, a very fine public service announcement that seems designed to bury the meat of your statement: that you are a very sick man.
The late Senator Daniel Inouye was a decorated World War II veteran. He was like a father to me and I have always looked up to his example. Although he lost his arm in battle, he served our nation with distinction and honor. My dear friend Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth is an Iraq war veteran. I proudly supported her when she first ran for Congress and I continue to support her to this day. She is the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress in Illinois. She is also the first disabled woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, having lost both of her legs during the war. She is a remarkable representative and incredible woman and soon to be a mother. I salute her. Congressman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island was shot at age 16 and will never walk again but with remarkable courage he now serves the good people of Rhode Island though bound to a wheel chair.
It is unclear what the physical disabilities of these three Members of Congress have to do with your conditions. None of them is ill. All have lost the use of limbs but have suffered no impairment in office. Moreover, former Senator Max Cleland was missing three limbs but that did not limit him, either. You, on the other hand, were totally missing in action for six months and have been working only part time since then. None of them has or had a disability that was not publicly known at the time of their candidacies for office. No one defines missing or paralyzed limbs as illness.
Several other members of Congress and congressional staff undergo dialysis due to their own struggles.
What kind of “struggles” are you talking about? Dialysis is used to treat kidney disease, just as other machines or procedures are used to treat other kinds of diseases. No one needs be concerned with how kidney disease was acquired.
I respect their right to privacy. Although public servants, they, too, are protected by HIPAA laws, and it is up to them to decide how much of their life to make public.
Congressional staff have a right to privacy but elected officials have the same right only if the voters choose to give them that right. Have these other Members of Congress who you have not named not made public that they are being treated by dialysis? That the public here has been increasingly displeased with tha absence of information from you has forced you to make this disclosure. Do not be surprised if you are compelled to be even more forthcoming by answering these questions and others that the media, your opponent and the public might pose. You ignore them at your own peril.
I have chosen to come before you and say what I have said because in 2004 I lost a brother who also served in Vietnam.
You are not coming forward because you believe the public has a right to know your physical and mental ability to perform the duties of your office before deciding whether to have you continue in office? What does your brother’s death have to do with your condition? Did he die of Agent Orange complications? If so, might that not be a reason for you to retire from office?
While I do not know why God has given me a second chance, I want to do my part to ensure that other veterans also get a second chance.
How will your re-election give veterans a second chance? Might not God’s plan for you to be freed of the burdens of office so your life can become your message through concentrating on working more directly with the veterans community to educate them on tending to their health needs?
With your continued support and prayers, I hope to continue my service for you and to our great nation.
When are you coming home so we can see you in the flesh and judge for ourselves your mental and physical state before voting?
Soifua, manuia. Faleomavaega
Since she had raised the issue of Faleomavaega’s health before, it was surprising that Samoa News Editor Rhonda Annesley in her editorial last Friday opened with “Not a lot happened this week — with two exceptions — [Medicaid and ASTCA],” but she allowed as she had been battling the “Chik virus” for two weeks, so she may not have been aware that the Faleomavaega message story was run as the lead artcile in her paper just two days earlier. Perhaps she will be lowering the boom this Friday. Until then, Faleomavaega’s media staff will have to hold their collective breath to see if they get away with it once again. The champagne is on ice but no corks are popping yet.
It is doubtful that Samoa News or any other local news outlet will call for Faleomavaega to retire but if he cannot satisfy the public with answers to basic questions such as those posed above, then the voters should retire him. Due credit goes to all of them, however, for picking through the fluff and leading with the real news, not merely publishing or playing his message verbatim. A Faleomavaega decision to contest this election in absentia would be an insult to the electorate, which then should massively vote him out of office. Is he afraid to let the voters see and hear him in person? What is he afraid of? He has announced he is recovered. Let us see. Or is he sicker than he is admitting?
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
On August 21 Faleomavaega's office issued a press release headlined “Faleomavaega and Governor Lolo Make American Samoa Top Priority in Discussions on Pacific Marine National Monument.” His release included the text of a letter he sent to President Obama July 21 objecting to the President's proposal for a Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) and a letter to Governor Lolo in which he said “the White House immediately assured my office that President Obama is committed to receiving input and comments from all stakeholders before any decision is finalized, and I take the President at his word.” He continued that “because of the importance of the possible expansion of the PRI Monument to American Samoa, I continue to make this a top priority." (emphasis added)
Yet, between his initial press release on the matter on June 19 and his September 15 admission he was left out of the key meeting held to discuss the proposal, he had not one word to say about the issue, even though he promised “I will keep the people of American Samoa updated as the matter progresses.” Perhaps he had nothing to say because he had made no progress but in his September 15 release, headlined “White House Aides Hold Meeting with West Pac Regarding PRIMNM,” he tried to downplay the importance of the meeting by using the term “White House Aides.” He may have fooled our local media, which gave the story short shrift, and the average reader would not know if it were not explained that these White House “aides” included two of the most senior and powerful men in the Obama administration: Counselor to the President John Podesta, one of the top three assistants to the President, and Council on Environmental Quality Acting Chairman Michael Boots. The director of Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service also participated.
Faleomavaega made it sound as if this meeting were some sort of gathering with junior people beneath his station as a delegate to Congress when, in fact, short of the President himself, this is as high as one can go in the administration on this issue. Yes, as he pointed out, none of the Pacific members of Congress or staff was included but he, after all, is the senior member of all seven congressmen and women from Hawaii and the territories and represents the jurisdiction most directly affected by the proposal. Moreover, Faleomavaega was one of Obama's earliest supporters in 2007. Not to include him in this meeting, now that he has announced he has recovered from his illness, is to humiliate him.
If it were Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (WPFMC) Executive Director Kitty Simonds who was able to broker this meeting, then kudos to her. It is reasonable to assume that she or whoever arranged this meeting also bypassed Faleomavaega in so doing, otherwise there is no question that his pushy enforcer, Lisa Williams, would have insisted her office if not her boss himself be part of the discussions. However, just as every organization who submitted written comments to the White House bypassed Faleomavaega, it is likely a conscious decision was made to bypass him on this matter as well, since it has become increasingly clear that he cannot deliver. This was true even before his unexplained illness almost a year ago but is even more true now.
It is just as likely that Faleomavaega did not want to push himself into the lead if he sensed he were not going to be able to get any concessions from the White House, which also might explain why he was silent on the issue publicly between his August 17 and September 15 news releases. Since he has announced to the people he has recovered from his illness and, now that Congress has recessed until after the November 4 election, it would be expected that he would be anxious to return home to launch his reelection bid as soon as possible. Questions about his ineffectiveness on the PRIMNM controversy would not be welcomed. If there were to be public debates this year, a moderator would be remiss not to ask the delegate why he said this issue would be his top priority but has not reported on what steps he has taken to get the White House to modify its proposal and what success has he had.
Meanwhile, his press staff must to be congratulating themselves once again because the local media have not pressed about his absence from this meeting any more than they did about his absence from a key congressional delegation visit to the island in August. The White House meeting was September 9 but even though WPFMC issued a post-meeting statement the following day that was well covered all over the region, Faleomavaega had nothing to say and likely never was asked for comments. However, on September 12 his office issued a release headlined “Congressman Faleomavaega Meets with StarKist President and CEO Sam Hwi Lee.” Although StarKist is vehemently opposed to PRIMNM, if the matter were discussed between the two men, it was not mentioned at all in the release. Not a single word.
Samoa News ran that story on September 15, the same day they also published a story about why WPFMC believes PRIMNM is a bad idea. Even though both stories were written by Samoa News chief political correspondent Fili Sagapolutele, who also is the territory's AP stringer, there was no attempt to synthesize the news. In reviewing the stories for publication, there apparently was no effort by the editors to show any correlation between the Faleomavaega meeting with StarKist and the ongoing controversy with RPIMNM. Once again, Faleomavaega got away with it. Next time Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Annesley writes one of her Gong Show editorials, she needs to gong Sagapolutele and also the editor who did not ask him to synthesize the stories, which the dictionary says means “to combine two or more things to produce a new, more complex product.”
Readers deserve better.
Friday, September 12, 2014
Although he issued a press release nearly a month ago (and nothing since) about President Obama’s proposed Pacific conservation zone, saying he “and Governor Lolo have made American Samoa a top priority in discussions regarding the Pacific Remote Island (PRI) Marine National Monument,” the first important discussion at the White House was held this week and, while Governor Lolo was represented by a member of his cabinet, Faleomavaega was nowhere to be found.
It is not a matter of him continuing to be ill. He has run full page color ads (using a pre-illness photo--see below) in Samoa News this week headlined “THANK YOU AMERICANS AMOA” [sic] announcing “I have recovered and am ready to serve the people of American Samoa again, God willing.” It is not a matter of him being here; he isn’t. Since Congress is in session, he is in Washington, as he suggested he will continue to be when he issued a statement last week through 93KHJ-FM’s Washington correspondent Matt Kaye saying “In the coming weeks, I will be working closely with [Kaye and the station] to make future announcements."
Even though he is the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and Pacific Affairs, a panel that also had jurisdiction over ‘the global environment” during the four years he chaired it until 2011 and is the senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fish, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, because it is part of a pattern it comes as no surprise Faleomavaega was excluded from this important White House meeting with the very powerful Counselor to the President John Podesta and the acting chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality.
Ironically, the more seniority he has acquired, the less influence he seems to have. Whether the White House called this meeting or it came at the initiative of Pacific fishing interests, he was bypassed, just has he was when a number of groups, organizations and governments filed written objections with the White House this summer over the proposed exclusion zone. Even in American Samoa, the governor, the Fono, the Chamber of Commerce and his own Democratic party sent their statements directly to the White House rather than to Faleomavaega for transmittal, which had been the usual protocol in the past.
Since his “I’m not sick any more” announcement came only this week, maybe people felt he was still recovering, but he was healthy when his own Democratic Party colleagues declined to make him Ranking Member of the full Committee on Foreign Affairs last year despite his top seniority and when the Asia Pacific caucus passed over him for chairman in favor of a freshman from California despite the fact he was vice chairman at the time and in line to advance because the post traditionally had alternated between the Mainland and the islands over the years.
Moreover, Faleomavaega was passed over by then-speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) when she took a 21-member House delegation to a UN environmental conference in Copenhagen at a time when he was chairman of the subcommittee on Asia, Pacific and the Global Environment! So, it hardly could be said this latest humiliation comes as a shock. Even though apparently no other Pacific congressional offices were represented either, if there were to have been one person there it should have been Faleomavaega, because he is the most senior Pacific Member of Congress since the passing of U.S. Senator Daniel K, Inouye (D-HI) and, because of American Samoa’s tuna canning industry, he represents the jurisdiction with the most at stake in the President’s plan.
There is one possible explanation, however. Perhaps knowing the White House plans to move forward despite island objections, maybe he wanted to distance himself from this meeting to give himself political cover for when he faces the voters in November. That is plausible since a post-meeting press release from the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council said that despite all the objections raised by Pacific participants in the hour long session, "[U.S.]government officials reaffirmed their support for the Monument’s expansion, however, they did not explain their rationale or expound upon any supporting facts,” and went on to say “Mr. Podesta expressed his opinion that large marine protected areas are valuable to the nation’s conservation objectives.”
If the governor’s representative, Port Director Taimalelagi Claire Poumele, even dropped by Faleomavaega’s office to brief him, just say hello or be part of one of his infamous staged “photos ops,” no mention of that was made in the September 12 Samoa News story, although the article noted that Faleomavaega sent Obama a letter of objection on July 18. The story of the White House meeting ran on the editorial page next to Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Annesley’s latest installment of her “Gong Show” editorials. While she has taken on Faleomavaega’s absence in earlier Gong Show editorials, in what may be the biggest irony of all she missed the opportunity to use the side-by-side placement of the meeting story and her column to make note of his absence at the White House meeting. We’ll give her a double gong for that.
Faleomavaega did put out a September 12 press release publicizing a meeting with the President of StarKist “to discuss federal issues affecting cannery operations in American Samoa including extension of 30A and minimum wage.” He said “With competition from Thailand, where workers are paid about 75 cents per hour, and with the prospect of other companies like Bumble Bee opening operations in Apia, we must continue to work together to ensure that our canneries can remain competitive.” Given the amount of money company executives have pumped into his reelection campaign, he could hardly have turned him down but despite the potential impact of the proposed conservation zone, this release incredibly said not one word about it or the White House meeting.
The Samoa News webmaster recently assured an on-line commenter they would not be running any of Eni’s “BS” propaganda, which this press release clearly is. So we shall be watching closely to see if Samoa News ignores this release, runs it as is or uses it as additional material for a story about how Eni missing the crucial White House meeting and has said nothing to the public about it. No doubt Faleomavaega’s press staff is hoping to use this StarKist meeting release to divert attention away from his absence at the White House meeting, just as they successfully diverted press attention from his absence on the August Congressional Delegation that came here.
With an election less than eight weeks away, this is information the public needs to have. Whatever the newspaper chooses to do, they should use the photo of Faleomavaega and the StarKist president because it clearly shows the current physical appearance of the delegate, which is not flattering. He barely resembles the smiling man in the campaign ad that appeals to voters: “And so it is with this renewed health and refreshing spirit that I humbly seek re-election as your representative in the United States Congress.”
As Rhonda Annesley might put it: GONGGG.
Truth in Advertising? The photo on the left is the one being used in Faleomavaega's Samoa News advertisements this week. It is several years old. The photo in the middle is an undated talanei.com
file photo that has been run with stories about him in the past several weeks. The photo on the right is a cropped head shot from a photo taken with the president of StarKist in a meeting in his office that accomplanied a September 12 press release from his office. In addition, the top photo on the right hand side of this blog is the one his office website uses as its "official website photo." It is at least 30 years old. The photo below it was captured from a video he released at Christmas, 2013.
Perhaps most startling is the contrast between the Christmas photo and the April 12 photo because it appears that his physical condition has deteriorated or at least that he has lost additional weight in the past eight months.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Just hours before the filing deadline last Tuesday, American Samoa Congressional Delegate Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (D-AS), as he will be shown on the ballot (not Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin as he is more commonly known here), a statement purportedly from Faleomavaega himself out of Washington confirmed that he had filed with the American Samoa Election Office his candidacy for election to a 14th term in Congress.
The announcement appears to have been made exclusively to Radio 93KHJ-FM via the station’s Washington correspondent, Matt Kaye. It comes as no particular surprise as his decision earlier had been telegraphed through his sister Vaitinasa Salu Hunkin-Finau, who confirmed to the media last month that her brother would be running again, and by his district office director, Fai’ivae Alex Godinet, who on Faleomavaega’s behalf sought and received local Democratic endorsement for his re-election bid in July.
Yet there remained some doubts, with Samoa News Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Annesley declining to publish any story about his plans until he made an announcement himself, not through family or staff. Perhaps since the statement carried on KHJ did not contain any sound bite from the delegate, Samoa News continues not to carry any separate news about his plans, although he was mentioned along with the others in the story publishing the names of the nine candidates released by the Election Office. The article also noted that it was a record number of candidates running for this office.
Perhaps the KHJ scoop was to make amends to the station for Faleomavaega’s office misleading News Director Monica Miller, who last month told Radio Australia that she had been advised by his office that the delegate would return at the end of August and would stay through the election. That comment led to speculation that he would be returning to the territory for the first time in nearly a year in order to file his election papers personally and also to attend the Small Island Developing States UN conference being held in Apia. Or perhaps the exclusivity was meant to send a shot across Annesley’s bow that he doesn’t does not believe he needs Samoa News and will not play by Annesley's rules.
Whatever the modality of his announcement, the mystery of Faleomavaega’s whereabouts and physical condition remains. In its talanei.com web service, which publishes KHJ’s news broadcasts online, Faleomaveaga was quoted as saying "At this time, I also thank Matt Kaye and KHJ Radio for ensuring that our public is informed about my intentions. In the coming weeks, I will be working closely with them to make future announcements." [emphasis added] A most curious statement singling out the Washington correspondent that suggests he will be remaining in Washington for an indefinite period and hints that he will be relying on the radio rather than print to get his message out. No copy of his statement has been posted on his official website and, if he has a campaign website, it has not well publicized and is not readily evident in a Google search.
At this point it appears he plans to remain in Washington while the House is in session, which could wind up as early as September 18 or spill into early October before adjournment, depending on what unfinished business remains. That would make it almost one year since Eni has been home.
Since he has devoted his entire career to international affairs in general and the Asia-Pacific region in specific, the SIDS conference is precisely the sort of international conference he would not miss unless there were extraordinary circumstances. Continuing health problems would be just such circumstances and he may be using the September congressional schedule as a shield to gain additional weight and strength so that voters cannot see how really ill he has been. If so, he may be hoping Congress continues in session as long as possible because if he is not on the first plane home after the gavel falls, there will be real questions by the public.
Whatever the case and his timing may be, Faleomavaega’s health is sure to be the central issue in this campaign. A nine-candidate contest is unprecedented and likely has resulted from a calculation by many or most if not all of them that Eni either would not run or if he did run would not be reelected by voters because of his health. There is precedent for voters retiring popular officeholders for such a reason. The late governors Coleman and Lutali both were denied reelection following serious health problems that had hampered their effectiveness. Both men experienced those issues in their early 70s, the same age Eni is now. Voters have not forgotten.
His last minute, almost off hand announcement that he is running again could have been arrogance but it also could have been a calculation designed to draw out the maximum number of opponents in the contest in order to bolster his prospects by splitting the opposition vote. His district office director is also a ranking high chief in Faleomavaega’s clan in the area of the island that has been his traditional stronghold. If the director, who also is his campaign chairman, can hold his base vote in that area, then the other eight candidates can battle for votes all over the rest of the territory and it will not matter. He could be reelected this time with 30% of the vote or less as long as his base holds.
By missing the Our Ocean Conference in June, the Natural Resources Committee congressional fact finding trip to the Pacific last month and the SIDS conference in Apia this month, Faleomavaega has sent a very strong signal that he is not up to the job any more—at least not right now. If and when he does return, will he be able to convince voters he has recovered and can he assure voters that he will not have a relapse if he were re-elected? That is a crucial question. Older voters very well remember that Governor Lutali suffered a serious stroke shortly after beginning his second term and was incapacitated for the rest of his four-year term. Although he sought reelection from a whell chair, "kalofa'e took him only so far. He was soundly beaten by his own lt. governor. With eight weeks to go, we soon will find out how the voters feel this time.
[Note to readers: Now that the field is known, we have restarted our poll. Again we omit Faleomavaega’s name on the assumption that his voters will not be spending any time reading this blog.]
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Since it cannot be as a result of his travels, it must be a result of his lingering illness and the inattention of his chief enforcer, Lisa Williams, that resulted in over a month’s delay in his formally filing with President Obama his objections to the expansion of a Pacific conservation zone by presidential fiat. In Washington style, it is formally known as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument or, by its unpronounceable acronym, PRIMNM (prim nim?).
Obama’s announcement was made on June 17 at Secretary of State John Kerry’s Our Ocean Conference, which Faleomavaega did not attend but was prompt enough to respond in a July 19 press release expressing his concern at having had no prior consultation or warning of Obama’s proposal. Being left out of the loop must have come as a bitter disappointment to the delegate, who was one of Obama’s earliest and strongest supporters but who does not seem to have derived any benefits from his loyalty over the past five years. He has a score of photographs with the president but every member of Congress, regardless of party, gets those by standing in line to greet the president at the annual Christmas party, barbecue or other standard White House function held annually.
To get additional face time with presidents, Faleomavaega for years—until he took ill—has been among the small group of House members who arrive at the chamber hours before the annual State of the Union address to grab a seat at the aisle that the President uses to walk to the podium. The Washington Post reported on this well known practice last year.
It is puzzling why it took nearly a month for the ailing delegate to file a formal letter with Obama pleading with him not to take any action that would harm American Samoa’s economy and culture. It is quite possible that he misjudged the strength of the negative reaction of the American Samoa business community, the tuna industry, other island governments and regional fishing organizations. In other words, even if, as a former subcommittee chairman whose jurisdiction included the “global environment,” his heart were with his fellow left-leaning environmentalists, the politics of the situation forced him in the other direction. It is an election year, after all, and sometimes your constiuency has to come first.
As the September 2 election filing deadline rapidly approaches, Faleomavaega finally has made public his letter to Obama, which he had kept secret, he said, as “a courtesy to the President and to give him an opportunity to respond.” More likely he was hoping to keep the letter secret to save him the embarrassment of having the public learn that yet again he has been ignored. Predictably, Obama indeed has ignored him and with the governor now also weighing in with a letter to the president, the pressure to answer both allies and critics alike as to why he was remaining silent must have been too much to bear.
Clearly, courtesy to the president is a lame excuse since he dispensed with such courtesy earlier this year when he blasted Obama, Kerry and Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton (not the smartest move) for U.S. policy towards India, which he believes is misguided. In this instance, he most likely was under particular pressure from various elements of the tuna industry, whose executives and boat owners already have contributed heavily to his re-election campaign. They must believe he has some magic power and influence in Washington because many of their contributions were made in the first quarter of 2014 at a time it was unclear if Faleomavaega even would recover from his illness--with some believing he might even have been in a coma--let alone run for another term.
The list of his major donors, including some who have given the very maximum amount allowable, $2,600 per person, reads like a Who’s Who of the industry: executives from StarKist, TriMarine and Bumble Bee, plus owners of the vessels that deliver the fish to the canneries. All of them must believe Faleomavaega has the clout to help their industry. Well, if that were their motivation, as Obama’s PRIMNM initiative shows, they have been sadly mistaken and have wasted their money. The truth is, from all the statements and letters we have seen filed with the White House to protest creation of PRIMNM, his is the weakest.
The biggest waste of a campaign contribution may have been the $1,500 donation made by Bumble Bee executive James Hines. Since Bumble Bee has no operations in American Samoa and Faleomavaega has been critical of the company’s human rights practices, perhaps Hines was hoping he would tone it down. No such luck. Faleomavaega will do his own thing, regardless who contributes to him. In his letter to Obama he expressed “my disappointment that Bumble Bee was singled out and publicly recognized by Secretary Kerry during the Our Ocean Conference. While it may be true that Bumble Bee advocates for ocean policy, we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to Bumble Bee’s human rights abuses. Bumble Bee is well-known for using suppliers in Thailand that employ child labor to clean tuna. Bumble Bee even owns a stake in one of those companies where Asian children and other exploited workers are paid about $0.75 cents an hour to manually cut off the head, fins and tail, and scrape off the skin of a tuna.” Perhaps when the next campaign finance reports are filed, we will see that environmental interests have made contributions in order to buy his acquiescence.
Even though he was in town and working “limited office hours” in June, he skipped Kerry’s Our Ocean Conference. However, he gets another bite at the apple at the Small Island Developing States Conference that opens in Apia on September 1. It is unclear if he would have an opportunity to address the conference and it is unclear if he would be part of any delegation. He was not includes in the State Department’s announcement of the U.S. delegation although Samoa News reported that the governor had been invited to be a member of the U.S. delegation. Nor is Faleomavaega on the list of the American Samoa delegation issued by the governor’s office. Subsequently, Talanei.com reported that the governor has decided not to go since, as a member of the U.S. delegation, he would not have a speaking role. The same might be true for Faleomavaega.
The deadline now has passed for public comments on the President’s proposed PRIMNM. If he does reverse course or make modifications, it will not be because of Faleomavaega’s weak objections. Indeed, Obama has pressures from his allies in the environmental community to stay the course. In an interview with Radio KHJ-FM, Michael Gravitz of the non-profit Marine Conservation Institute dismissed the concerns of the opponents of the president’s proposal.
Curiously, there has been no press release at all on Faleomavaega’s website since his August 21 release making public his letter to Obama. So nothing formal has been said about his travel even though Radio KHJ-FM News Director Monica Miller has reported that she has been told by his office that he would be home at the end of the month and would stay until after the election. If he were coming down here to file his candidacy papers personally on Tuesday, it is difficult to imagine he would not also be attending much of the SIDS conference as well and if were coming down for SIDS, it is difficult to imagine he would not be here Tuesday to file his papers.
Soon the mystery should be over.
[Note to readers: You have until Tuesday to vote in our preliminary poll asking who should replace Faleomavaega in Congress. Once the Election Office releases the names of those who have qualified for the ballot, we will pull down this list of speculated candidates and replace it with a list of those who will be on the November 4 ballot.]