Thursday, May 29, 2014


If anyone is looking for evidence that Faleomavaega really has lost his mind, perhaps his reaction to the growing Veterans Affairs crisis is providing it. With a highly critical VA Inspector General’s report being released the same day, the delegate’s timing could hardly have been worse than to rise to speak to the matter yesterday on the Floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The IG report released yesterday confirmed allegations that a Phoenix, VA facility concealed a long waiting list for veterans who needed healthcare treatment. As Faleomavaega took to the Floor with his full-throated (so to speak) defense of the embattled VA leader, retired army general Eric Shinseki, prominent members of his own party in both houses were scurrying to demand the secretary's resignation.

Acknowledging there were new reports of cover-ups in VA facilities, the Samoan delegate, looking old, tired and frail at the podium, argued in a weak and raspy voice that Secretary Shinseki should be given the chance to “fix a system that was broken long before he took charge,” in what might be seen as a little bit of rearguard Bush bashing while ignoring the fact that we are now almost six years into the Obama administration, veterans health was one of Obama’s key campaign pledges and Shinseki has been at the helm of the VA since the beginning. 
Saying “General Shinseki is right for America’s veterans . . . is a tried and proven leader (and is) the highest ranked Asian American in the history of the United States,” Faleomavaega pleaded with Congress to “let us stand together to do the right thing by our veterans.” So far we have not heard anyone critical of Shinseki being labeled as “racist,” and do hope the delegate’s reference to Shinseki’s Japanese heritage was not a subtle opening shot but he did misstate the secretary’s place in history. He must have meant to say Shinseki was the highest ranked Asian American military officer in American history because there have been Asian American cabinet officers in the past, as recently as Labor Secretary Elaine Chao in the Bush administration.
Faleomavaega then concluded by addressing his remarks to the secretary: “I say this to Secretary Shinseki: Do not resign.  We are with you.  Go for broke and let’s clean up this mess that has been there way before you took over.”
Perhaps Faleomavaega can take some small comfort from the fact that at the moment he finds himself “sort of” on the same side of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who this morning again declined to call for Shinseki to step down despite the growing chorus from both Republicans and Democrats that he do so.
“I’m going to continue to reserve judgment on General Shinseki,” Boehner said at a press conference following a meeting of the House GOP. “The question I ask myself is, is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what’s really going on? And the answer I keep getting is no.”
Boehner wisely is staying above the fray for the moment and following the old Napoleon dictum to never interfere when your adversary is busy destroying himself. Boehner and other Republicans on the sidelines no doubt are just as happy to let the Democrats wallow in the VA mess.
Meanwhile, NBC’s “First Read” blog weighed in this morning with this: “Well, it's official: The Democratic dam broke on Wednesday in demanding VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation after an inspector general's preliminary report confirmed long wait times and misconduct at VA hospitals. The first Democrat to call for his resignation was Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), who's in a competitive race for re-election. Next was appointed Sen. John Walsh (D-MT), who's also running a tough race. Then came Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Al Franken (D-MN). So now that the dam is broken, the questions become: WHEN does Shinseki resign, and WHO replaces him?”
“So they need to find someone,” continued First Read, “and find him or her quickly. But they've also got to find the right person, too. Shinseki doesn't go until the White House finds a suitable replacement. They know they look like they've been slow to respond on this; the last thing they are likely to do is simply leave a void at the top of the VA while they try to find a replacement. And that appears to be where we're at right now -- searching for a replacement.”
Faleomavaega’s decision to jump into this controversy marching to the beat of his own drummer is puzzling, especially since he announced earlier this year that during his rehabilitation from the strokes he is suspected to have suffered last fall that he would be concentrating on American Samoa issues. Since he was not home for Memorial Day when virtually every Member of Congress was, it must be assumed he is still rehabilitating probably under doctor’s orders not to take long air trips.
Perhaps it has to do with a friendship that might have developed over the fact that they are contemporaries (Shinseki is 10 months older) who both grew up in Hawaii and served in the army at the same time in their early adulthood. Since Faleomavaega reportedly spent the early part of his rehabilitation at a VA facility in the San Francisco Bay area, perhaps Shinseki pulled some strings to get some priority treatment from his fellow Aloha stater and Faleomavaega is paying him back. Another possibility is that since he injected race into his short speech, maybe he is merely closing ranks with a fellow Asia Pacific American. Or, perhaps Faleomavaega really is out of touch with what is going on around him.
The subject of race was not very ambiguous when he took to the Floor on a second occasion yesterday, this time to deliver a lengthier speech on one of his pet projects: changing the name of the Washington Redskins football team. Over the past year, the delegate has been at the forefront of a move to force Redskins team owner Dan Snyder drop the nickname Redskins as being racist, accusing him of bigotry as bad as that of outgoing Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Again, another issue not particularly burning here but perhaps Faleomavaega was emboldened to renew his crusade by the recent letter to Snyder on this subject signed by 50 members of the U.S. Senate—all Democrats.
In a USA Today story several days ago, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he thought Snyder would not be moved by a letter from 50 senators and further stated there was “no chance” that a bill offered by Faleomavaega last year canceling Redskins’ trademarks would pass. The bill has been stuck in a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee since introduction.
The delegate seems to revel in championing lost causes and pick fights where none are necessary. Earlier this year, an initiative with the Agriculture Department was taken to reduce the “Buy American” content of canned tuna. Samoa News asked Office of Insular Affairs Director Nikolao Pula if the Interior Department were aware of the move and he responded that although it was an Agriculture issue he had been made aware of the issue by folks who contacted his office several days before the arrival of an official letter dated Feb. 4, 2014, from Congressman Faleomavaega to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. He said his office received a copy of that letter Feb. 7.

For some inexplicable reason, Pula’s innocuous response set off Faleomavaega, who fired off a press release in which he was quoted as saying “On February 4, 2014, I… submitted a letter and…same power point presentation to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, which was faxed and received in her office at 1:51 pm on February 4, which is contrary to Mr. Pula’s comments that the letter was received late afternoon on February 5.  Included with my letter to Secretary Jewell was substantial information on the subject from The Hill and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.”
“Also, according to emails my office received from OIA, my letter to Secretary Jewell was received by OIA on February 6, which is contrary to Mr. Pula’s comments that OIA received a copy of my letter on February 7.  For the record, as a matter of protocol, Members of Congress write directly to the Secretary and it is up to the Secretary’s office to transmit the information accordingly.”
“Also, as a matter of record, on February 7, 2014, OIA asked my office for the names and contact information of the persons at USDA with whom we are communicating and, in response, my office offered to set up an appointment between OIA, USDA officials and my staff to ensure that all messages remain consistent.  OIA responded that they would prefer to have a separate meeting so my office connected OIA by email to our USDA contacts.  USDA officials informed OIA via email that a meeting had already taken place with my office but if OIA had specific questions about the report that were still outstanding that they would be happy to answer them.”
“As of today, our USDA contacts have informed my office that they have not heard back from OIA, which is okay, since as Mr. Pula has stated in Samoa News, ‘this issue is directed at a program managed by the US Department of Agriculture, not Interior.’  Nevertheless, I continue to welcome OIA’s involvement in any future meetings about this issue.” 
This is not the full release but it should be enough to demonstrate his overkill on this subject. Now we all know that the Interior Secretary received a fax on this issue at 1:51 p.m. on February 4 although he did not explain how he was able to include a powerpoint presentation in the fax. One is also left to wonder why the background information he included with his letter came from newspaper clippings and not research conducted by his own staff following the issue in Congress.
Maybe it is not the effects of the suspected stroke but just a flair for creating enemies. He demonstrated that talent last September before he took ill when he commented on President Obama’s appointment of Esther Kia’aina as next assistant secretary for insular affairs. In a press release congratulating her on her appointment, among other things he said “Although I was in support of Nikolao Pula as the candidate for the position, I look forward to working closely with Kia‘āina.”
In the space of a single sentence he managed to embarrass Pula, a career Interior official who may not have wanted known publicly he was seeking the job or was passed over, alienated Kia’aina by signaling she wasn’t his first choice and announcing publicly his lack of influence in getting his own choice selected. So the fact that he telegraphed once again his lack of influence yesterday on the Floor by announcing Snyder ignored his letter asking him to change the name of the Redskins should come as no surprise.
Obama ignored him on the OIA appointment, Snyder ignored him on the Redskins name change and now we shall see if Shinseki ignores his plea not to resign. Stay tuned. If his Mormon Church ever were to develop a system of saints, Faleomavaega would be a strong candidate to be selected as the church’s patron saint for lost causes.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day: Faleomavaega Again a No Show

It has been just over seven months now that Faleomavaega continues to have been absent from public view.  Despite the insistence of friends, family and staff on island that he is “doing just fine,” few are fooled by the few public appearances he has made since suffering last October what are rumored to have been two strokes.  No one is certain because his office has provided no information on his health situation.   His two video appearances (one a brief Christmas message and the other a one-minute speech on the House Floor about Flag Day) and two photographs (one with ASG Homeland Security Director Utuali'i Iuniasolua T. Savusa and another with visiting Close Up Foundation students from home) seem staged and give little reassurance to anyone back here that he is alive, well and at his duty station in Washington.

To the contrary, although no one knows what he is doing in Washington, people are very aware that he was not here for Flag Day last month and now his participation in Memorial Day activities has been reduced to his office issuing a short statement on his behalf.   Readers of this blog will recall he shamefully piggybacked on this solemn holiday three years ago to launch a partisan attack  on Republicans in Congress, which, of course, our local media carried word for word.  An obviously more subdued Faleomavaega this year limited himself to remembrances of the war dead.

Not only has Faleomavaega missed Flag Day and Memorial Day here this year, we have heard from Washington sources that he also has missed countless meetings of caucuses and committees to which he belongs.  We have monitored on line the live broadcasts of committee hearings in which he normally would be expected to participate because of his interests, the subject matter or his responsibilities, particularly the House insular subcommittee, on which he is the senior Democrat, and the Asia Pacific subcommittee, on which he is the Ranking Democrat, but we can find no one who can say they have seen him at any hearings since last year.

Of course, absence from hearings and meetings is nothing new for Faleomavaega, who has shown a penchant for travel to the far corners of the earth over his quarter century in Congress and has shown little regard for the congressional calendar.  If he wants to go, he goes, whether Congress is in session or not.  It is doubtful any other member of Congress ever has been to Thursday Island, let alone twice, and few have been to Rapanui, where he went to insert himself into a local land dispute.  Both Thursday Island and Rapanui are parts of larger countries (Australia and Chile, respectively) in which he has no responsibilities in any of his committee assignments.

Recent Foreign Affairs Committee trips to East Asia, which he long has considered his back yard, and Ukraine were evidence that all is not well with the wandering delegate.  Although he is not on any subcommittee with responsibility for Ukraine, as a member of the Full Committee he would be invited and more often than not he could be counted on to be on any Congressional delegation that wanted him.  Then-Foreign Affairs subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA) once was reported to have said that although Faleomavaega was annoying, he found it useful to have him around because when there was a need to have a bipartisan delegation to qualify for military aircraft, he could always count on Faleomavaega to sign up—no matter where they were going. 

Indeed, it must have grated Faleomavaega that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) a freshman congresswoman of Samoan descent who is younger than his children, has in at least one hearing served as Ranking Democrat in Faleomavaega’s absence and was a star on the subcommittee’s trip to Asia.  More about that in a subsequent post.

Faleomavaega has done the voters a disservice by remaining silent about his health and only time will tell if as a political calculation it turns out to backfire on him, should he run for re-election.  That is the question on everyone’s mind right now and it gets more and more so on every occasion, like today, when his absence is noticed and as the July 1 date approaches when the candidate filing period opens with the election office.  Indeed, speculation over the seven months of his absence has ranged from him being in a coma to dying of cancer.   

His movement to the House podium, albeit it slow, and his unslurred remarks to talk about Flag Day, the video of which he was eager to distribute on the island, do not suggest any residual physical effects of a stroke but there are credible sources here who say the problem is mental, with Faleomavaega suffering serious memory gaps.  It is said by some that he can be propped up for a short term photo opportunity or pointed to the microphone to deliver a prepared short speech but cannot think very well on his feet. Nevertheless, although he has not publicly announced his intentions, Faleomavaega is indeed officially a candidate in the eyes of the Federal Election Commission: he has a functioning campaign committee and already has raised funds for this election cycle.  

Moreover, he could win, just as U.S. Rep. Gladys Spellman (D-MD) did once even though she was in a coma at the time.  Indeed, Congress was in a dilemma over what to do because there is no prohibition against running while in a coma (or from behind bars, for that matter) and if the voters choose to elect someone anyway, that is their choice.  It was only when she did not revive that after six months they declared her seat vacant because she was unable to take the oath of office.  By the way, she remained ina coma for eight years before passing away at age 70, the same age Faleomavaega is now. 

Our local media either is not interested or is too lazy to go to the Federal Election Commission records where they would learn that Faleomavaega already has raised over $40,000 for this election cycle, which is a substantial amount for a small race like this one.  Indeed, it may be more money already than any other congressional candidate ever has raised for an entire campaign here.  It would not be that hard to research from FEC records.

His contributions come largely from tuna interests and people with Asian surnames, and many donations are for $2,000 or more, including one person at the maximum $2,600 allowed.  Surely these folks are not just throwing money down a rat hole.   Faleomavaega must be sending them a signal, probably through his chief enforcer, Lisa Williams, that he intends to run again.  His congressional office chief of staff, the feared and hated Williams, also is often on his campaign payroll as a fundraiser in election years. 

It is probably the uncertainty of Faleomavaega’s intentions that are keeping most potential candidates on the sidelines for now.  Only two people have announced their candidacies so far: ASCC employee Fuala'au 'Rosie' Tago Lancaster, a retired army warrant officer, and the Governor’s deputy senior policy adviser, Tua’au Kereti Mata’utia.  Both have run before and run poorly, and neither is considered much of a threat.  Lancaster has not reported to FEC any money raised this cycle and Mata’utia has not even registered a committee with the federal regulatory body (and did not do so last time, either, although he is a lawyer and should know his federal obligations).

Names of potential candidates being mentioned in the rumor mill include Faleomavaega’s sister Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau, who is director of Education for the government and a failed gubernatorial candidate in 2012, and Fai’ivae Alex Godinet, who is long-time director of Faleomavaega’s district office but has never run for office.  Both are thought to be “heirs-apparent” behind one of whom Faleomavaega conceivably would through his weight and lend his organization, should he bow out.  A third potential candidate who falls into that category is Homeland Security Director Savusa, who not only had his photo taken with Faleomavaega on a recent trip to Washington but has been “nominated” by him to serve on a Pentagon committee reviewing a proposal to establish a National Guard unit in the territory.  More about that in a later blog post.  Savusa was an unsuccessful candidate for lt. governor in 2012. 

Beyond those three potential heirs-apparent, none of whom likely would run if Faleomavaega decided to seek re-election, speculation has centered on former governor Togiola Tulafono, who had a contentious relationship with Faleomavaega during his almost 10 years in office, once even publicly calling for him to retire. Togiola has not filed any paperwork with the FEC.  Finally, there is Aumua Amata Radewagen, who has run unsuccessfully several times in the past but could be a contender in a multi-candidate race if she could hold her base vote.  Her committee remains active at FEC but she has raised only a token $850 this cycle and while she has kept in the public eye, she has not signaled her plans.  Whether Faleomavaega runs or not, it could be as much as a five-person race this fall or maybe more, if one of the usual delusional loons on the island also jumps into the contest.

We are updating our poll to add the names of all these speculated candidates.  Regrettably, this blog system’s polling app will not allow us to modify the current poll, so we are going to have to take it down and start over.  Our apologies to the enthusiastic Matau’tia supports who have voted him so far the overwhelming favorite to succeed Faleomavaega.  They are just going to have to vote again in the new poll, as will the supporters of any other candidates, if they are of a mind.  The results, of course, are entirely unscientific.

One final note.  This is the sort of speculative or analytical article that virtually every newspaper in America—including those in the other territories—publishes before elections.  Don’t hold your breath, however, waiting for one in our leading media:  Radio 93KHJ-FM or Samoa News.  In fairness, the radio station’s news format does not lend itself well to long form analysis.  Samoa News, on the other hand, does have the capacity but simply does not carry much political news beyond a single story about a candidate when he or she announces a candidacy.  There long has been speculation in the community that Samoa News has an unwritten policy not to carry political news as a means of driving up revenue by forcing candidates to spend more money with them on advertising.  Shameful and unethical by most U.S. journalism standards, but not illegal.

Speaking of local media, they seem again to have reverted once again to publishing Faleomavaega’s news releases without any caveats on their veracity.