- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

The gourmet rats

The People's Republic of China jealously guards exaggerated notions of sovereignty along its coast, claiming territorial waters extending halfway to Hawaii, and now its embassy at 2300 Connecticut Ave. NW is expanding a novel theory of diplomatic sovereignty. You could ask one of the well-fed rats.

The embassy is separated from Rock Creek Park by a dead-end alley, and for four decades residents in the neighborhood, where parking is particularly scarce, have parked off the alley on what is part of the park.

This custom goes back to the days when the massive embassy was the Windsor Park Hotel (not to be confused with the tiny Windsor Park Hotel, which took the name when the embassy bought the property two decades ago). No one has maintained this particular piece of the park, on an embankment high above the rest of the parkland, and it has become a dumping ground for trash, bottles, an occasional old tire and rotting trees.

Not only that, but when the Metro's Red Line was tunneled beneath the creek, a prehistoric colony of rats was disturbed and the rats emerged into daylight for the first time since the end of the Pleistocene epoch, when Strom Thurmond was a mere freshman in the Senate. The rats were delighted to find Dumpsters filled with the residue of Chinese gourmet cooking.

The Chinese first put their Dumpster at the end of the alley, and residents who parked their cars along the alley became accustomed to finding rats as big as cats nibbling at what was left of General Tso's chicken, shark's fin soup, twice-cooked duck's feet, fish-head soup and other delicacies from the ambassador's table.

Then the embassy, presumably without permission from anyone, installed a Dumpster set in concrete smack in the middle of the alley, blocking cars and the well-posted fire lane. When the neighbors continued to use the park land to park their cars overnight, negotiating around the obstacle, the embassy began using Rock Creek Park as a dumping ground for its own trash. For several weeks during the winter, old suitcases, boxes of trash and even a wooden packing crate big enough for a grand piano, a small car or tons of spying equipment were pushed down the embankment toward Rock Creek.

Not long ago, when Falun Gong demonstrators began to park there during their daily vigil at the front door of the embassy, the cops moved in leaned on, according to one officer, by the Secret Service, who, in his telling of it, had been leaned on by the embassy. Up went signs with the warning "No Parking at Any Time." Now the only people who park there are occasional guests of the embassy. So far the cops have not ticketed the embassy guests' cars.

And the grateful rats are back, big and bold. One resident swears he heard one of them the other night ordering in fluent Mandarin. The row of garbage cans near the sidewalk overflows with reeking garbage. The neighbors can't wait for summer, and the flies and stink sure to follow.

Year of the dragon

We turn to one of the most outspoken lawmakers on Capitol Hill for his take on the ongoing Chinese-American standoff.

"I say the dragon is going too far," says Rep. James A. Traficant, Ohio Democrat.

"We need to tell it like it is. China is trying to determine what Congress and Uncle Sam will do when China attacks Taiwan. That is the way it is, folks."

Calling a spade

Forget about apologizing to China.

"President Bush should … demand an apology from the dictators in Beijing," says Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, one lawmaker who is being far more vocal than the White House wishes.

"China is at fault on this one," says Mr. Pitts, calling the 24 American servicemen and women being held by the Chinese military "hostages."

Rather unethical

The Travis County Republican Party of Texas isn't that upset that CBS newsman Dan Rather was the star attraction of a Travis County Democratic Party fund-raiser in Austin.

"We're going to see if he can come down and raise some money for us," quips Alan Sager, chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, speaking by telephone with Inside the Beltway.

It so happens that several days after Mr. Rather appeared at the Democratic Party event, the Travis County Republicans held a "Salute to Karl Rove," Republican political strategist-turned-senior White House adviser to President Bush.

"The Democrats raised $20,000 with Dan Rather. Our Karl Rove dinner raised $250,000," notes Mr. Sager, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas. "We're going to invite Dan Rather down to see if he can beat that."

Mr. Sager, of course, is making light of whatever controversy surrounds Mr. Rather's Austin appearance, for which the network anchor has made no public apology.

In all seriousness, Mr. Sager says he's quite surprised that "more people aren't concentrating on [Mr. Rather] compromising journalism ethics" by agreeing to appear at the Democratic fund-raiser.

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