San Diego Union Tribune

April 11, 2005

Filner sides with ex-POWs in case against White House

By Dana Wilkie
Copley News Service

Friend of the court: Rep. Bob Filner is among those who have signed on as supporters of former U.S. prisoners of war in Iraq and their families in a case against the Bush administration.

After the Persian Gulf War in 1991, 17 former POWs sued Iraq, arguing they were starved and tortured while imprisoned. Although a judge awarded them nearly $1 billion in damages -- to be paid from the frozen assets of Saddam Hussein -- the Bush administration last year persuaded a U.S. appeals court to overturn the ruling on the grounds that the suit interfered with plans to rebuild Iraq. The POWs now are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case. A decision is expected this month. 

Filner, a San Diego Democrat, is well known for siding with military veterans and their causes. This year, he introduced the Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act, which could give $1,000 per month to mariners from the war or their widows.

 He criticized the House budget vote from last month because it would take nearly $800 million from veterans' programs, which Filner said would mean cuts in veterans' benefits and higher co-payments for veterans' health care. And he has long tried to extend veterans benefits to Filipinos and Filipino-Americans who fought under U.S. command against the Japanese in World War II when the Philippines was a U.S. territory. 

Duncan vs. China: Rep. Duncan Hunter has long had -- what shall we call it? -- a testy relationship with China. The El Cajon Republican is notoriously distrustful of the communist country and has crusaded to prevent the nation from acquiring U.S. military technology. 

Now Hunter is targeting China's currency -- the yuan. A bill that Hunter and colleagues introduced last week would slap a nearly 28 percent tariff on Chinese imports if the country refuses to revalue its currency within six months.

Hunter's beef: That the yuan is significantly undervalued. Chinese regulations keep the currency rate at about 8.28 yuan to every U.S. dollar, which puts U.S. manufacturers and workers at a disadvantage and contributes to the sharp rise in China's trade surplus with the United States, Hunter says. 

"The Chinese yuan has been worth 12 cents for the last 10 years and is undervalued by almost 40 percent," Hunter said. "As a result, Chinese manufacturers are able to produce relatively inexpensive products as U.S. exports are made more expensive." 

Congress plans to consider Hunter's bill, and companion legislation in the Senate, this month. 

Booze feud: A Temecula-based distiller is feuding with Mexico's tequila industry because he calls his American-made agave liquor Temequila. The Mexican Tequila Regulatory Council complains that this sounds too much like tequila and thus violates international trade laws. The distiller, J.B. Wagoner, says the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gave him an OK to use the name. But the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau rejected the distiller's application for a labeling certificate. Enter Rep. Darrell Issa. The Vista Republican is trying to convince the bureau that decisions about licensing names belong with the trademark office.

Fire and rain: Odd as it might seem, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is spending federal money to repair California's flooding damage -- to prepare for California's fire season. 

In her post on the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Democrat set aside $34.3 million to fix national-forest roads in Southern California that were damaged by winter flooding. That would include the Cleveland National Forest, where more than 90 percent of access roads were either washed away or covered by mudslides, according to the U.S. Forest Service. 

These back roads allow fire crews to reach some 2.3 million acres in the Cleveland, Angeles, Los Padres and San Bernardino national forests. But if they remain impassable, firefighters on the ground will have no way to battle large blazes, like those that two years ago burned nearly 740,000 acres, destroyed thousands of homes and killed two dozen people. 

"Entire forests could go up in smoke," the senator warned her colleagues.