Monday, January 20, 2014

Faleomavaega Still Finds Ways to Travel

When the Democrats took over Congress in 2007, it meant at long last Del. Faleomavaega (D-AS) would find himself in the majority with enough seniority to be given a subcommittee to chair.  Not that he lacked the means to travel earlier in his career (how many Members do you think have visited Thursday Island in the Torres Straits once, let alone twice?), but as various waves of reform have swept over Congress in the past quarter century—especially in the wake of the Abramoff scandals, the rules have been drawn tighter and tighter around the travel process.

But giving Eni a gavel meant giving him a budget, and that was like sending a child into a candy store with a couple of bucks to spend.  To make his travel life even sweeter, House Democrats even tacked onto his portfolio “Global Environment,” which gave him license to travel anywhere his heart desired.  So, when there was unrest over land rights in Rapanui, an integral part of Chile, thus not under the jurisdiction of the foreign affairs committee, there was no question in our mind that the roving delegate would find a rationale to make his way there anyway—and he sure did.  One place he did not go, however, was Copenhagen for a U.N. conference on climate change.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a planeload of House members but somehow the chairman of the subcommittee overseeing “Global Environment” got left off the manifest.

But we digress.  The National Journal magazine has published an article titled “How Lobbyists Still Fly Through Loopholes” and it should not surprise anyone that our South Pacific flyboy is among the Members of Congress featured.  Says the Journal: "It's widely believed that the 2007 rewrite of congressional travel rules spurred by the scandal that sent lobbyist Jack Abramoff to prison banned such international dalliances. But that's far, far from true. A National Journal investigation has found that despite efforts to clip the wings of congressional travel planned and paid for by special interests, lawmakers are again taking flight. Indeed, the reality is that lobbyists who can't legally buy a lawmaker a sandwich can still escort members on trips all around the world.”

NJ outlines the various ways lobbyists get around the rules and focused on a trip to Taiwan in 2012 as one example.  On their travel reports, two Democrats each listed Fu Jen Catholic University as the sole sponsor of their $27,000 week long journeys.  What's more, the itinerary said that Faleomavaega joined Reps. Boren and Ross for large chunks of the trip. But Fu Jen didn't pay for Faleomavaega's free trip the Taiwanese government arranged it through the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (MECEA) program.

The 1961 MECEA law allows foreign governments to shuttle members of Congress and their staffs abroad if the State Department has approved the destination nations for "cultural exchange" trips. About 60 countries have such clearances. Despite the 2007 post-Abramoff travel law, lobbyists are still able to plan and attend these MECEA journeys.

“How did trips planned and paid for by a private university so seamlessly mesh with one planned and paid for by the government,” asks the Journal?  “Fu Jen and the Taiwanese government wouldn't say. They declined to answer specific questions.”  

Readers of this blog will remember our April 3, 2012 post which covered a report in the ProPublica investigative news service, which focuses on ethics in government.  They reported that Faleomavaega traveled to Bahrain under MECEA funding at the behest of a friend who was a Bahrain lobbyist.  We speculated that the exposé could hurt him in his bid for the full committee ranking member slot and ultimately he was passed over for the position, even though eventually he did throw his lobbyist friend under the bus to try to save himself by reversing his position on Bahrain.

So it is no surprise that Faleomavaega was able to maintain his brutal travel schedule when he sank back into the minority in 2011 and "Global Environment” was eliminated from the Asia-Pacific subcommittee, to which he returned as (and remains) Ranking Minority Member.  Considering he, himself, spoke of his poor health during his 2012 re-election campaign, almost boastfully acknowledging having had knee, heart and eye surgery, as well as being diabetic, having high blood pressure and other ailments, including being obese, it then came as no surprise either that it was during travel that he suffered what appears to be a stroke in October.  He still has refused to confirm his medical condition but his office has not refuted it was a stroke. 

Ironically, it was on one of his rare trips back to American Samoa that he fell ill and had to be medivaced back to the states.  He can be thankful it did not happen on Thursday Island, Rapanui, Kazakhstan, Mururoa Atoll, the jungles of West Papua or any of the other exotic haunts he frequents.  MECEA or not, the only flying he seems likely to do doing at any time soon will be from Utah to Washington, DC.  Whether lobbyists can come up with a creative way to cart around the world a delegate who now adds stroke to his list of ailments remains to be seen.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bumble Bee CEO to Faleomavaega: You’re a Liar

In response to a recent op-ed piece in The Hill newspaper, in which the ailing Delegate Eni Faleomavaega argued against reducing the content of U.S.-caught and processed tuna in the federal school lunch program, Bumble Bee chief executive Chris Lischewski has called untrue the Delegate’s assertion that Bumble Bee tuna is processed by child labor in Thailand.

“Not only are these allegations false,” said Lischewski, “they are a cynical attempt, timed to a congressional action, to preserve Dongwon Industries’ monopoly of providing tuna to American schools.” Dongwon is the Korean parent company of StarKist.

The Bumble Bee CEO once was an ally of Faleomavaega, who a few years ago failed to get Congress to adopt his secret amendment to a Maritime bill that would have permitted foreign made ships to be U.S. flagged without offloading tuna at Pago Pago.  Lischewski went on to write in his own post on The Hill blog: “[I]t is absolutely slanderous to suggest that we use facilities that violate child labor standards. How do we know this? All of Bumble Bee’s suppliers must sign a statement saying they don’t use forced, trafficked or underage labor and we conduct regular onsite visits, along with paying for audits.”

Even though the secret amendment became an issue in one of Faleomavaega's election campaigns, he won and vowed he would reintroduce the measure in the next Congress, but never did.  Some time later, he said he had been misled on the issue.

Lischewski goes on to conclude “[Dongwon and Faleomavaega] hope that this will distract people from realizing that the monopoly they enjoy on the Buy American product that they are trying to preserve is entirely based on a foreign company using government exemptions from tariffs, minimum wage laws and other federal regulations enjoyed by the Territory of American Samoa and that the elimination of the monopoly will actually result in lower costs to our government and more healthy tuna on school lunch menus for our kids.”

This is an issue of supreme importance to American Samoa because loss of their monopoly in the American market could force StarKist to close its Pago Pago cannery, as Chicken of the Sea did in 2009, because they operate on thin profit margins.  A StarKist closure would throw thousands of people out of work and destroy the American Samoa economy.

It is fortunate that this issue is being played out in a publication like The Hill, which also is on line, because local coverage has borrowed heavily from a story in the paper as well as the opinion pieces offered by Faleomavaega and Lischewski.

Given Faleomavaega’s current incapacity and extended absence from Washington, it is likely his op-ed essay was largely penned by StarKist lobbyists but it is curious why he has not also kept the American Samoa public informed through the media and his website.  Perhaps Samoa News and Radio 93KHJ-FM have withheld publishing his releases on this issue because he adamantly refuses to discuss his physical condition. 

Even if that were the case, however, he easily could post information on his website, on which he has placed no news releases since an October 8 attack on the local Republican Party and his “In the News” section has no content whatsoever.  One would have thought he easily could have posted a link to his The Hill op-ed if nothing else.  Moreover, his website photograph appears to be at least 20 years out of date and contrasts sharply with the image taken from his Christmas video.  Both photos appear in the right column of this blog.

Several days have passed now since both Samoa News and have posted stories questioning his health and either he has not responded or they have chosen not to carry his reaction.  He told the paper he would be returning to Washington “as soon as possible” but no one knows what that means.  How important his physical presence in Washington will be in the StarKist effort to keep their school lunch market is unclear.  Whether he even will return before the vote is taken remains to be seen.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Faleomavaega Video Raises More Questions than Answers

Mark Twain once said “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”  Faleomavaega apparently forgot that old adage about avoiding an argument with the press when he issued a news release Monday to accompany a copy of a 30-second video Christmas greeting he provided KVZK-TV during the holidays.  In his statement he blasted Samoa News for not publishing earlier releases reporting on the progress in Congress of several pieces of legislation of importance to the territory.

For its part, Samoa News responded that the paper had covered those issues but did not use his releases because, among other things “there was still no reply from the Congressman’s office on previous Samoa News questions on the status of his health, why was he hospitalized in the first place, and how he is staying in contact with his office if he is in rehab.”  The bylined story goes on to say “[t]hese are the same questions many residents, including voters, are raising with Samoa News and these questions have yet to be answered,” firing back: “Having his office issue a news release quoting the Congressman still does not provide answers to lingering questions on his health.”

At the same time, Radio 93KHJ-FM news director Monica Miller aired the audio of Faleomavaega’s Christmas greeting saying “The 30-second clip shows the congressman from the chest up and he looked like he lost weight.  In his Samoan greeting one can detect a slight slur in Faleomavaega's speech.  The brevity of his greeting is also unusual.“  In her commentary that also ran in, Miller also noted that Faleomavaega’s “Washington D.C. office has not answered any questions about the congressman’s health and whether he is in hospital or at home.”

We long have urged both Samoa News and Radio KHJ to withhold disseminating Faleomavaega’s news releases as a means of forcing his office to be forthcoming on his health issue, which is what he clearly has tried to do with the release of his Christmas video  Originally sent down here to be aired on television, the Delegate apparently was frustrated that it only played once and was seen only by a small number of people, so he decided to send it to Samoa News and KHJ in hopes of getting wider distribution. But sending it with a combative news release, rather than complaining in a private communication with Samoa News, probably did him more harm than good.

Wrote Samoa News reporter Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu: “The video, with the message in Samoan, was released by the Congressman’s Washington D.C. office and was received by Samoa News, but didn’t provide any other details such as where the video was recorded and when; and did not address the health condition of the Congressman.”  She went on to disclose that “Samoa News has sent questions to [his chief of staff] Faiivae, with a copy of the email questions to the Washington D.C. office for more details but as of yesterday [Tuesday] afternoon, there has been no reply.  Faleomavaega made no mention of his health on the 30-second video,” which the paper posted at its website.

Because Faleomavaega has received such uncritical attention by the local media over his long career and has a reputation for being vindictive, we have suspected that if the media were not participating in a cover up of his health condition they were being intimidated into silence.  This is clearly not the case, as we now realize the News and the radio station were withholding dissemination of most of his releases, just not telling their readers and listeners.   We were misled by looking for his news releases on his website, on which he has not published any since early October nor is any information available in the "In the News" section.  It also appears that he only sporadically posts on his Facebook page and does not tweet from his Twitter account at all.

Obviously his releases were being targeted just to the local media directly and we now understand that rather than participating in a conspiracy of silence, they were giving him every courtesy due him as a measure of respect for his position as is customary in our Samoan culture.

But it looks as if his response has backfired and an irritated media looks to be ready now to start to hold his feet to the fire publicly.  Indeed, there already have been comments on-line to the effect that while people respect Faleomavaega for his years of service, he has disrespected the people by the way he has handled questions over his health.

In recent days there has been a spate of announcements of senior Members of Congress retiring, including Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who, like Faleomavaega, is a protégé of the late U.S. Rep. Phil Burton (D-CA).  Burton in the 1970s rammed through the House legislation creating congressional seats for Guam, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa (the last seat in a bill drafted by his young staffer--Eni Hunkin).  Miller, as chairman of the House committee with jurisdiction over wages, is the person most responsible for making the most recent minimum wage hike applicable to American Samoa the first time. The wage hike led to the closure of one of the two tuna canneries, throwing thousands of people out of work.

Faleomavaega, of course, can stay in office as long as the voters keep electing him.  Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) was elected to a new term after suffering a serious stroke that left him permanently impaired and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) remains in office while continuing to rehabilitate.  Nevertheless, it is difficult to comprehend why he would want to keep going.   He reminds us of the character in the Terminator movie that just keeps going despite being shot up, blown to pieces and even thrown into a vat of molten metal.

This is obviously a good time for Faleomavaega to call it a day.  He is 70 years old and has had a long enough government career, including his years as a Capitol Hill staff member and military service, to have a very handsome pension.  His congressional health plan, which is the best in the country, would go with him into retirement and he has gone as far as he can on the House leadership ladder: in the last two years he was passed over by a freshman Chinese-American for the chairmanship of the Congressional Asia Pacific Caucus despite having served loyally for seven years as vice chairman and was passed over for the senior position on House full Committee on Foreign Affairs despite having highest seniority in his party on the committee. 

Moreover, it is unlikely Democrats will regain control of the House this fall and most independent analysts believe Republicans will be able to maintain their majority until the next redistricting and reapportionment after the 2020 elections.  At that time a chronically ill (by his own admission) Faleomavaega would be approaching age 80.  All the while, American Samoa is losing the opportunity to let someone else build up seniority in the House and will end up even worse off than Hawaii, where every member of the delegation is new following the retirement last year of long-serving Sen. Dan Akaka (D) and the death of the Senate's most senior member: Sen. Dan Inouye (D).  Too, when legislators like Johnson and Kirk are incapacitated, there are others in their delegations to pick up the slack.  Faleomavaega is all we have in Congress and he does not enjoy long-standing friendships the way he did with Akaka, Inouye and the soon departing Miller to help advance his issues.

Finally, it is unlikely his doctors will permit him to resume his passion for extensive foreign travel and, since he has no real legislative record, it is difficult to understand why he would want to hang on.  Had he been honest with the people from the beginning, there no doubt would have been an outpouring of sympathy for him.  But by choosing to deceive everyone on the state of his health, he has lost credibility with the media and increasingly the respect of the voters.

Aside from demonstrating he is not comatose or near death, the only question Faleomavaega’s video has answered is that he is well enough to direct his staff, meaning we now know they have not been freelancing.  The tactics are his, not theirs.

Monday, January 13, 2014

More Local Media Fraud on Faleomavaega?

We thought the media had turned the corner on the issue of how to handle the disappearance of Faleomavaega, who has been missing in action since being medivaced off the island since last October.  But apparently not.

Even though earlier last week boldly ran a story questioning the health status of the Delegate, they came right back on Friday to run a press release quoting Faleomavaega from a statement he entered into the Congressional Record on the passing of Guamanian former Delegate Ben Blaz.

Does know that Eni actually made those remarks or was it staff?  Did the staff write and submit them on their own or by direction.  Any of those methods are quite acceptable, but provided no qualifier, leaving readers with the impression that Faleomavaega strolled over to the Floor of the House, delivered a tribute to Blaz and had his remarks entered into the Record. What is not acceptable is to continue to participate in a coverup and using this press release in this fashion amounts to just that.

Meanwhile, after promising follow up stories, Samoa News, where Eni’s sister-in-law, the Democratic National Committeewoman, is on the editorial staff, has had nothing further to say about the Delegate.   Curiously, they have not covered last week’s press conference of congressional candidate Tua’au Kereti Mata’utia, who did raise questions about Faleomavaega saying nothing of his health, but at the same time they also did not carry the press release on Ben Blaz.

Since Mata’utia is a member of the Governor’s immediate staff, is the only announced candidate for Congress and is a Democrat, it does look suspicious that the leading newspaper would not cover his press conference and once again it must be asked if Eni’s sister-in-law’s presence on the newspaper staff plays any role in the paper’s decision on what is newsworthy?

We also thought both media organizations would follow up on the story broken Friday by Saipan and Guam Washington correspondent Matt Kaye, who revealed that Eni is playing no role in moving the Omnibus Territories Bill though Congress.  Again, not a word by or Samoa News, despite the fact that this story has major ramifications for the territory. 

To we again say, do not use Faleomavaega press releases unless you can verify their veracity and if they are legitimate remarks uttered by the Delegate, tell your readers and your Radio 93KHJ-FM listeners.

To Samoa News we say, if you did not use the Blaz press release because you could not attest to its veracity, we applaud you but then tell your readers that.  Faleomavaega’s staff will have no reason to be forthcoming with the public unless and until they are compelled by the local media to do so.

Neither Samoa News nor may care what this blog thinks, but sooner or later they will begin to hear from legitimate off-island media such as Associated Press, Radio Australia and Radio New Zealand, all of whom employ as occasional correspondents staff members on Samoa News and  Once those media organizations’ credibility is compromised beyond repair,  expect RA, RNZI and AP to begin to look elsewhere for reliable news sources.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Washington Correspondent Breaks Faleomavaega Illness Story

Matt Kaye, the veteran Washington correspondent for radio and TV stations on Guam and Saipan, appears to be the first newsperson in Washington, D.C. to address the question of Eni Faleomavaega’s prolonged absence from the Nation’s Capital.   Kaye is a correspondent for the Berns Bureau, which covers federal news for radio stations across the country.

In a story filed Friday with Guam’s Pacific News Center concerning the future of the Omnibus Territories Bill moving through Congress, Kaye said “Reliable sources here [in Washington] say [Faleomavaega] needs ‘major rehabilitation.’ Local media [in American Samoa] speculate he may have suffered a stroke, and Faleomavaega’s office has not refuted that.”  Kaye apparently was no more successful than our local media in getting any information or comment out of the Delegate’s office.

As part of his story, Kaye interviewed Northern Mariana Islands Congressional Delegate Gregorio C. Sablan (I), who said “I continue to keep Congressman Faleomavaega, Eni and his family, in my prayers. We would, of course, let his office know that we’re having a meeting [about the Omnibus Bill] and invite someone from his office to join us in the meeting.”  If anyone were to attend, it most likely would be Lisa Williams, the widely reviled chief of staff who runs the office with an iron fist and brooks no interference.

Curiously, back here in American Samoa, the media have fallen strangely silent again about Faleomavaega, although Samoa News had said they would be covering the story in the next several issues after revealing that Faleomavaega was not personally involved in another issue moving through Congress: efforts to reduce the U.S. content requirement for tuna sold for use in the U.S. school lunch program.  A reduction from the current 100% could tip the balance against the tuna industry from remaining on island and is clearly a major story for the territory.

On Wednesday, the only announced candidate for Faleomavaega’s seat, Tua’au Kereti Mata’utia, held a press conference to discuss his reasons for running for Congress, which is subject to election in November.  He told Radio 93KHJ-FM that he believed “public officials owe it to their constituents to share what they can about their health so voters are not wondering what’s wrong with their leaders.”  KHJ noted that Faleomavaega “has been ill since October of last year but there has been little information from his office about his prognosis.”

Mata’utia, a Democrat, remains on the immediate staff of Governor Lolo Moliga, also a Democrat, is assistant senior policy adviser, so his pronouncements will be seen by many as reflecting the thinking of his boss, the Governor.  For example, he is not opposed to the attempt by Congressional Democrats again to raise the federal minimum wage although he would apply it to American Samoa carefully. Although Mata'utia is an announced candidate, the media has not reported whether he has given any indication of when he plans to step down from government as required by local law and a search of Federal Election Commission records does not list him as having registered his campaign yet.

Whether they missed it or sent a reporter and did not find a story worth reporting, for some reason Samoa News has carried no story about Mata’utia’s press conference, just as the paper has had nothing further to say about Faleomavaega’s prolonged absence from Congress.   One would have thought his pronouncement about minimum wage alone would have been enough for coverage, given his position as a policy adviser on the Governor’s staff, but apparently not.   It is not known whether the presence of Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law on the Samoa News editorial staff has any bearing on how the paper will cover his opponents during this unusual situation but in light of the mystery surrounding Faleomavaega’s health, people are asking that question, especially since she also is a voting member of the Democratic National Committee.

The Fono formally opens its first regular session of 2014 on Monday and the Governor will deliver his annual State of the Territory address.  Faleomavaega is always invited to attend the formal opening and also has formally addressed the Fono in the past.  If he is absent on Monday, it will be further evidence that he remains incapacitated.  Sources continue to say he is in Utah but it remains unclear if he is at his residence or in some hospital or other facility.  It also remains unclear if he may soon be undergoing surgery for some undisclosed medical condition. 

We will state again for the record that we believe Faleomavaega has suffered a debilitating stroke from which he may not recover enough to continue to serve in Congress.  There are no laws or rules that would prevent him from serving out his term or even being reelected, no matter what his condition.  Although no one familiar with his situation has confirmed our speculation, it is a fact that his office has made no effort to refute our contention that he has some neurological condition.  At least now that a respected Washington journalist has raised the Faleomavaega question and another Member of Congress has addressed it, perhaps others off-island will begin to demand answers to questions that should have been asked long ago.

All eyes on Monday will be on the Governor and the Fono Leadership to see what any of them have to say about Faleomavaega.  The media also will be in attendance and will have the opportunity to interview political leaders as part of the occasion.  Surely they will ask questions about Faleomavaega.  Or will they?   

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Congratulations, Samoa News

At long last, the territory’s most powerful news organization, Samoa News, has met its responsibility and begun to question the long absence of Faleomavaega rather than simply making inquires of his office and awaiting official announcements (that are not forthcoming) while not informing readers that they are even making much of an effort let along telling us how they are being stiff-armed.

Yesterday we called on the media to take seriously the tuna content issue being fought out in the Farm Bill in Congress and Samoa News led with a page one story today, as they should have.  While we would have put it in the second paragraph of the story rather than bury it at the end of the story, Samoa News did make mention of the fact that “absent from The Hill [newspaper’s] report [on the tuna story] is any mention of a face-to-face meeting with the congressman or any evidence that he’s back at work after being medivaced from American Samoa to Honolulu this past October and then transferred to the U.S. for what was termed by his office as ‘rehab.’”

This is the sort of qualifier that should have accompanied every story they have published since October 21, 2013 that carried comments or quotes by Faleomavaega and should have qualified every press release they have used from his office since that time.  Anything short of that has had the appearance of a cover up, intentional or not. Yes, the media has no power to force disclosure of his medical records but that is not the issue here.  It does have the power to cut off his access to the public through the press or radio especially when deception is involved.

The tuna content is just one of several at this very moment that requires the hands on involvement of the territory’s delegate to Congress.  Ironically, were he well enough to do so, Faleomavaega very well might be traveling overseas at this time, as he has done frequently over the years at the beginning of congressional sessions.  We have criticized and criticized his traveling but it has fallen on deaf ears both with the media and the public.  Indeed, he has worn his extensive travel as a badge of honor in his campaigns—although he has not extensively reported to the local media on much of his foreign travels as they have occurred over the years.

If anyone wants to see the list of trips he has taken over, say, the past 10 years so they can compare them with the local news stories they have generated, we will be happy to supply the information.

In its story on the “tuna war,” Samoa News said it “continues to make requests for an update on the congressman’s health with the latest request made today. More on this story with comments from local sources in upcoming issues.”  We hope this will be just the opening salvo in a concerted effort to determine how American Samoa is going to be represented in the weeks, months and year ahead until there is a clarifying election.

The editor of Samoa News through editorials in the past year has boldly taken on the local government and the Fono on some serious issues, particularly on questionable spending, but has been noticeably silent on Faleomavaega, which also has fueled speculation about why he appears to receive deferential special treatment.  We have pointed out that the delegate’s sister-in-law is on the paper’s editorial staff and serves as the territory’s female representative on the Democratic National Committee.  Not so unusual for a small island where everyone wears multiple hats, but it would raise serious ethical questions at most stateside newspapers.

Now is the time for another editorial, this time on the Faleomavaega situation.  Who will be speaking up for us on the tuna question in the Farm Bill, efforts by congressional Democrats to raise the minimum wage, his intervention on the lawsuit on U.S. citizenship and the P3 alliance approval request before the FMC, the cutback in food stamps, the disposition of the Omnibus Territories Bill, the impact of federal sequestration on our next budget and a range of questions to be addressed at the annual summit of governors and delegates with the White House and other senior federal officials at the end of February in the Interagency Group on Insular Affairs (IGIA) in Washington?

There also needs to be closer scrutiny on just exactly who is calling the shots for him in his absence.  Is he directing his staff from bedside?   Is staff bringing matters to his attention for decision?  Is his staff freelancing on the basis of prearranged instructions?  Who is signing correspondence for him and on what basis?  On the P3 intervention, for example, his signature appears on both a joint letter with colleagues to FMC on December 4 and a singular letter from him to FMC on December 19.  Yet, looking at the signatures, it is clear that they do not match.  Which is his or are either of them his?  If they are forgeries or signed by direction while omitting the usual initials of the actual signer below the signature, how might this affect FMC’s actions on the issue?

Moreover, he has been out of his office for nearly three months now, so has he asked for a formal leave of absence from the House?  His colleague, Rep. C.L. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD) asked for (and was granted) one month’s leave just for knee surgery.  Even though he presumably will be in a position to direct his staff while his knee recuperates, he took this step.  Has Eni?  If not, why not?

Samoa News, perhaps in a separate editorial, should address the delicate question of succession.  We have asserted and Samoa News has published our assertion that Faleomavaega has suffered a debilitating stroke and have suggested he may never be well enough to return to office.  His office never has refuted those assertions so it seems to us the time has come to take this issue out of the shadows, as Radio KHJ-FM did yesterday.
For starters, Samoa News should not have let stand Ali’imau’s Letter-to-the-Editor accusation that people are maneuvering to be appointed to the vacancy by the Governor, an error also repeated in a letter by Leroy Ledoux.   The delegate’s office is established by federal statute and the governor does not have the power to fill a vacancy by appointment. That should be stated once and for all.

The statute does give the “American Samoa Government” the power to fill a vacancy by special election, by methods to be determined by the government (which means executive and legislative branches).   Samoa News needs to ask questions as to what procedures are in place.  Is there a local law that established procedures for a special election for delegate?  If not, should not the Fono be taking this issue up in this current legislative session?   How many days/weeks/months for the filing period?  How are absentee ballots handled?  Would early voting be allowed?  Would there be primaries, as urged by Ali’imau?  Since the political party system operates in the U.S. House and our delegate must join one of the caucuses to be able to receive committee assignments, should the primary be held by parties?

We need fresh air here, lots of it.  Thank you 93KHJ-FM and Samoa News for beginning to open the window just a bit.  This has nothing to do with disrespect for Eni.   Let’s not hide behind that old shield of our culture.  If anything you are doing Eni a great service.  If he is as ill as we believe he is, then let’s find out so he can really get the proper respect he deserves through massive prayer by the people for his recovery.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Faleomavaega in his own words: Prescient and Arrogant?

Despite ailments, American Samoa's Faleomavaega seeks 13th term

video response

Faleomavaega Absence Could Destroy American Samoa Private Economy

When the final chapter is written about this territory’s longest serving elected public official, Eni Faleomavaega's legacy very well could be that he single-handedly destroyed American Samoa’s private economy.  Perhaps that is what he wants.  After all, he was a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a collection of the most liberal Democrats and socialists in the House and Senate, whose entire purpose is government control over people’s lives.  He quietly dropped his membership a few years ago only because someone made public the purpose of the caucus and its social issue policies did not sit well with our very conservative voters.  

It will be recalled that Faleomavaega was back here in early 2007 attending the ceremonial opening of the Fono while Congress was busy putting the final touches on a bill to increase the federal minimum wage that for the first time included American Samoa in the bill.  Faleomavaega got caught napping on that one and by the time he raced back to Washington in an effort to get us extricated, it was too late.  His impassioned speech on the Floor was pure window dressing and had no effect on the vote.  He tried to pin it on Republicans but Democrats had just retaken control of the Chamber and anyone who understands how the House works (Eni successfully counted on his constituents mostly not understanding), knows that the minority has no rights.  If the Speaker had not wanted that provision in the bill, it would not have been in the bill.

Of course, as everyone knows, the hike in the minimum wage eventually forced our Chicken of the Sea tuna processing plant to relocate elsewhere, throwing thousands of workers out of jobs.  Now, the Democrats have announced that another rise in the minimum wage is a priority in this session of Congress and once again we have no delegate in place to explain why American Samoa should not be part of any wage rise bill. 

We believe Faleomavaega is suffering from an incapacitating stroke that renders him unable to represent us in Congress.  We have written this before, Samoa News has published it and neither he nor his office has refuted it.  There are suggestions his stroke has rendered him unable to communicate.  If this were not the case, we would call on his staff to deny it and for the Delegate to give a telephone interview to the media or at least call the governor to reassure the people he is able to monitor legislative developments on our behalf.

Because Democrats are not in the majority at this time, however, there is no immediate threat that a wage bill will rush through Congress and be sent to President Obama, which might precipitate the departure of Star Kist and halt plans for TriMarine to take over for Chicken of the Sea, thus throwing thousands more people out of jobs and having a ripple effect on the service economy.  However, there is another threat that is just as ominous that was reported in today’s issue of a private Congressional newspaper called The Hill.  Because we have a Google Alert set for news about Faleomavaega, who was mentioned in an article today, we were alerted to it.

Has anyone here heard of Jim Bonham, chairman of the government affairs practice at the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips?   We haven’t but since we do not see read all the newspapers or listen to all the radio newscasts it is possible we have missed stories about what he is doing for American Samoa.  However, our guess is that our local media has not run any stories about Bonham or the Farm Bill.

Last summer, StarKist, Tri Marine, the Chamber of Commerce of American Samoa and others formed the “Stronger Economy for American Samoa Coalition,” and Bonham lobbies for the coalition, according to the story in this morning’s issue of The Hill.  Working together with Faleomavaega’s office on the inside, the Coalition from the outside is trying to stop a measure that would weaken the domestic contents requirements for tuna processing for use in the nation’s school lunch programs.  

Foreign based Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea want to be able to compete for that huge and profitable market.  This language is in the Farm Bill that is working its way towards passage right now and the absent Faleomavaega is in no position to protect our industry from the inside.  If this were to pass, it could spell the difference in profitability for StarKist, which then might find itself forced to close its American Samoa operations, and TriMarine, which might not be able to open at all.

That’s the story and it’s a big one.  In fact, we cannot think of one bigger.  Since this story just broke this morning, it is too late for today’s paper.  But we will be watching to see what 93KHJ-FM will do on the air later today and Samoa News will do tomorrow, since in order to talk about this issue they would be forced to address the question of Faleomavaega’s health and his prospects for returning to work—if he even would be returning at all.  In yesterday’s story, the governor’s office was said to be making plans to have Washington covered in Eni’s continued absence or in the case of a vacancy in his office.  Since he does not have the power to fill a vacancy except by special election, perhaps he intends to expand Bonham’s role.

So, will Samoa News remain silent, take the lazy way out by providing in its on-line version a link to The Hill story (which makes to reference to Faleomavaega’s absence) or do a genuine original piece of journalism by informing the public what is at stake for American Samoa in the Farm Bill and use this issue as a basis for finally bringing into the open the question of Faleomavaega’s absence and what that means longer term for American Samoa? 

If Faleomavaega’s legacy ultimately were to be to have destroyed our private sector, then our local media—especially Samoa News—would have to share in that legacy.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Because he is the senior member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fish, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs as well as the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, both panels which have jurisdiction over legislation involving the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, one would think a congressional hearing on those two countries would be a top priority for Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS).

Indeed, Delegates Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) and Gregorio Sablan (I-MP) as well as Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), were at the two-hour hearing on federal compact impact assistance today, but Faleomavaega was nowhere to be seen.  We monitored the hearing over the Internet and from what we could see Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) made no note of his absence but at least no one tried to perpetuate the fiction that all is well with Faleomavaega by submitting “his” statement for the record.

However, at last local radio station 93KHJ-FM has published a breakthrough article today on its website asking about the delegate’s health—while inexplicably running a photo of him at the pique of health (obviously a file photo--although not labeled as such).  The only formally new information in it is that he is confirmed to be in Utah, which has been unofficially known for several weeks.  Whether will go further tomorrow by noting his absence at today’s hearing remains to be seen.  There still has been nothing but silence from the delegate’s office since mid-November.
Meanwhile, it appears that it is business as usual for Samoa News, which apparently still stands by waiting to be told what to say by the Delegate’s office.  The paper as recently as New Year’s Day published a story about a National Guard feasibility study, which said “Provisions for the feasibility study were submitted by Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, who said earlier this month — in a statement — that the ‘presence of a National Guard unit in American Samoa will be a first responder to the Governor of American Samoa for disasters and local emergencies.’”

Produced by staff writer Fili Sagapolutele, who is also the on-island AP correspondent, perhaps he believed he was covering himself by using the phrase “—in a statement—“ to suggest that he did not personally hear the delegate say those words, but it is a subtlety that will escape most readers and flies in the face of the Samoa News webmaster’s comment after a letter to the editor that the whenever they run a story quoting Faleomavaega, they always make readers aware they cannot verify the veracity of the quotes.

Last year we speculated that Faleomavaega suffered a major stroke, which was reported in Samoa News, and to date his office has not refuted our assertion.  We now have heard from a number of sources--including some people who have talked to individuals close to the situation--that Faleomavaega indeed has suffered a stroke so debilitating that he may never be able to return to office.  Is his condition so dire that he is unable to give direction to his staff or are they freelancing under the direction of Lisa Williams, his chief of staff, who is said to be feared by the rest of the staff and widely disliked by staff on both sides of the aisle and in both Houses in the Capitol? 

Congressional rules give individual Members wide latitude on how they conduct their official duties and, if they can get away with it, they could maintain the fiction all through this next year that Faleomavaega is still conducting regular business.  It is possible he could even win re-election without showing up to campaign, as then-Congresswoman Gladys Spellman (D-MD) once did after suffering a massive heart attack that produced a coma.  She even won re-election but it all came to an end the following January when she was unable to take the oath to be sworn into another term, forcing the House several months later to declare her seat vacant and so advise the Maryland governor, who called a special election even while Spellman remained in a coma.

Signs are that his staff intends to keep up the charade as best they can and there are no signs Samoa News intends to inform the public of what is going on.  There was not a peep out of the media--not a single word--about Faleomavaega’s December 19 filing with the Federal Maritime Commission objecting to a shipping alliance proposed by three major freight lines.  His intervention in the case is most curious because neither any of these lines nor the proposed alliance operates or plans to operate anywhere near American Samoa.  At worst, his intervention may be fraudulent if not submitted under his direction if not actually signed by him.

The local media have no excuse for ignoring these signs of Faleomavaega “surfacing.”  All they need to do is set up a “Faleomavaega” Google media alert and the material just drops into their laps.  Again, we beseech Samoa News to follow Monica Miller’s example and start putting pressure on Faleomavaega’s office to answer the public.  Congressional Democrats have said they are making a minimum wage raise their top priority this year.  We already have had our food stamp allocations reduced.  There is an Omnibus Territories bill with provisions for American Samoa going over to the House from the Senate, there are problems with Obamacare provisions for the territories that need to be fixed and there are major decisions on the federal budget that will be negotiated over the next month.  All of these issues require that we have representation in Congress.

The media has a responsibility to the public in seeing that we do.  Start by asking the Fono leadership if Eni has been invited to address the opening of this regular session.  Tell us what they say whether he has not answered or declined.  Then lay out all the problems his lengthy absence is causing.  You owe us that.