Reps talk of aiding Mideast

While the role of the United States in Libya is dominating the news, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) are also keeping an eye on foreign policy elsewhere.

Sherman has zeroed in on what he perceives as significant holes in the free trade agreement with South Korea, which President Obama hopes to see wrapped up by summer.

Sherman says the deal, which must be ratified by Congress, improperly allows products manufactured in a large North Korean industrial zone, called the Kaesong Industrial Park, to come to domestic markets, doing little to boost the South Korean economy and undermining sanctions on North Korea over nuclear policy and military aggression.

Kaesong is six miles north of the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. South Korean firms employ some 40,000 people there, but pay their wages to the North Korean government, which then pays the workers, according to Sherman.

Representatives of the U.S. Trade Representative have said they will author a letter stating that the U.S. discourages allowing Kaesong products from falling under the agreement, but on Thursday Sherman issued a statement saying he wants more.

“The language needs to be iron-clad — any goods produced at Kaesong or anywhere else north of the DMZ are banned from entering the U.S. unless and until a joint resolution is passed by both houses of Congress changing (the North Koreans’) status,” he said.

Sherman also said the agreement must block preferences for products that are partially fabricated at Kaesong and then completed in South Korea.

“That remains a huge flaw in the agreement,” he said.


At a recent House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee hearing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) took the long view on the revolutions rocking North Africa and the Middle East, seeking economic stimulus to help democracy flower in Egypt and Tunisia.

“I know when the collapse of the Soviet Union took place, we were in an economic recession and it didn't stop us from helping to rebuild Eastern Europe and help these fledgling democracies,” Schiff told Clinton on March 10. “Our current economic circumstances cannot cripple us from seeing the opportunity and the necessity of a vigorous effort now. How can we find the resources to help those countries economically stay on the path they are on?”

Clinton agreed recent events create “an amazing opportunity” to support democratic change in the region. She is seeking $20 million in aid for Tunisia and assessing strategies for Egypt.

“We want to help them make it work, and I think it is going to require…that we have economic assistance going to small- and medium-sized enterprises, which could help stimulate the economy from the bottom up in Egypt.”

At the same hearing, Schiff told Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that he believes the United States should cancel part of Tunisia’s $19.6-billion debt in order to get the country on more sound economic footing and help “prevent the intrusion of radical Islam.”

Geithner stopped short of promising to forgive part of the debt, but said the U.S. must work with the World Bank to find ways to stabilize the economies in Tunisia and Egypt.

“We recognize that those governments, those new governments, are going to face enormous economic challenges, very short-term challenges because of the crisis they're going through.”


Natives of Armenia are among the fastest-growing groups of naturalized citizens in Southern California, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

On Thursday, more than 4,000 immigrants who live in Los Angeles and six other Southern California counties were sworn in as U.S. citizens. Their most common countries of origin, according to the Homeland Security Department, are Mexico, the Philippines, China, Iran, El Salvador and Armenia.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Mariana Gitomer said Armenians are regularly in the top 10 at the naturalization ceremonies in Los Angeles.

The number of Armenians becoming Americans grew substantially in the last few years. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, an average of about 1,600 Armenians a year became naturalized citizens from 2000 to 2004. From 2005 to 2009, the average number of people naturalized more than doubled to 4,000, with a peak of 6,317 Armenians naturalized in 2006.

Among the more than 3,400 Armenians who became citizens in 2009, 1,000 were refugees or people seeking political asylum.


Last week, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose district includes Glendale and Burbank, was the only one among his colleagues to cast a symbolic vote against Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed government realignment.

The governor’s plan would direct counties to take on what have historically been state responsibilities, such as housing non-violent prisoners and providing other social services. The shift would be funded by Brown’s proposed extension of current sales, property and vehicle taxes.

The tax proposal has been bogged down in Sacramento, with the governor unable to muster enough support to put the proposal on the ballot despite weeks of negotiations with legislative Republicans.

“There is no constitutional guarantee that the state won't back out funding from existing programs to fund new programs,” Antonovich said in a statement Wednesday. “The state’s track record is full of empty promises and hollow reform.”

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