Monday, January 8, 2007

‘Ethnic cleansing’

Even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was promising last week that Democrats would “reach beyond partisanship” as the new congressional majority, her fellow Democratic Rep. Barney Frank was accusing the Bush administration of “ethnic cleansing” against black people in New Orleans.

In a Capitol Hill briefing captured on video by liberal blogger Matt Stoller, Mr. Frank suggested the administration was trying to make Louisiana more Republican by failing to alleviate housing problems for poor blacks displaced by Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005.

“In the year-plus since then … they have done nothing to rebuild affordable housing” in New Orleans, Mr. Frank said on the video. “And, what I believe is, at this point you’re not talking about incompetence, but … what you’re talking about is when you simply, in a calculated way, refuse to do anything for well over a year … the policy I think here is ethnic cleansing by inaction.

“It’s not ethnic cleansing in the sense that they’re killing people, … but what we need to recognize here is that, they’re in this happy position for them, where if the federal government does nothing, Louisiana will become whiter and richer. … They let the hurricane do the ethnic cleansing, and their hands are clean.”

Mr. Frank, whose Massachusetts 4th Congressional District is 89 percent white, said the administration was “happy” with the destruction of housing in New Orleans because “as a result … Louisiana would become more widely Republican” by losing “100,000 black voters.”

Pelosi cleans up

“Ethics in politics is not the same as ethics in real life,” Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger writes.

“Ethics in politics is a martial art. The biggest mistake you can make is thinking that the ethics package proposed by new Speaker Nancy Pelosi is mainly about ‘cleaning up’ politics. Maybe. But it’s first of all about cleaning the clocks of the Republicans,” Mr. Henninger said.

“The House Republicans got lazy. Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, earmarks, Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney. When Nancy Pelosi saw the Republicans had developed a compulsion to flagrantly throw their weight around, she grabbed them by the lapels of their Hickey Freeman suits, hoisted them into the air and slammed them onto the House floor, shrieking ‘the most corrupt Congress in history!’ That’s right. In history.

“Ms. Pelosi started the long road to earning a black belt in political ethics (again, not to be confused with ethics as taught at, say, Aquinas College) back in 1987 by studying the Master — Newt Gingrich. That was the year Nancy Pelosi entered the House as a California freshperson. And that was the year Newt Gingrich turned ethics into a weapon against the imperious Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright, who left in disgrace two years later. ‘We currently have the least ethical speaker in the 20th century,’ said Grandmaster Gingrich. Nancy noticed.”

The columnist added: “Exploiting this gain, Speaker Pelosi is breaking a champagne victory bottle over the hull of a new set of House ethics rules. If you stare at these rules awhile, eventually you notice that they are less about the members of Congress than about someone else. They are about the bad people who lead the innocent lambs of Congress astray. They are about ‘lobbyists’ and ‘private interests’ and, not least, ‘corporate jets,’ which for the modern member of Congress appear to be the rough equivalent of demon rum.”

Bush’s weapons

“You can’t govern from Capitol Hill,” Fred Barnes writes in the Weekly Standard.

“Newt Gingrich, as Republican House speaker, tried after the landslide of 1994 and failed. Yet Democrats, with their ‘100 hours’ agenda in the House and 10 legislative ‘priorities’ in the Senate, act as if they can run Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are promising to take the country in a ‘new direction.’ Good luck,” Mr. Barnes said.

“What stands in their way? Three rather large impediments. One, the Democratic majority in the Senate is fragile (51-49), and it’s hardly overwhelming in the House (233-202). Second, Democrats are fractured on many issues — not just Iraq, but even on whether to pursue a moderate strategy of moving slowly and carefully or one of going for broke to roll back the conservative advances of the Bush years. And third, there’s Bush and his weapons.

“The president has quite an arsenal: veto, filibuster by Senate Republicans, bully pulpit, a potential alliance of Republicans and conservative Democrats on selected issues, recess appointments, discretion to act on foreign policy without congressional approval. In a political fight, Congress can’t match a president’s tools.”

Plame’s problem

A CIA panel has told former employee Valerie Plame she can’t write about her undercover work for the agency, Newsweek reports.

The CIA position threatens a lucrative book project. Mrs. Plame’s outing as a CIA officer in July 2003 triggered a criminal probe that culminates next week when Vice President Dick Cheney‘s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, goes on trial for perjury and obstruction.

But in what could be a precursor to a separate legal battle, Mrs. Plame recently hired a lawyer to challenge the CIA Publications Review Board, which must clear writings by former employees. The panel refused Mrs. Plame permission to even mention that she worked for the CIA because she served as a “nonofficial cover” officer (or NOC) posing as a private businesswoman, according to an adviser to Mrs. Plame, who asked not to be identified because of the issue’s sensitivity.

“She believes this will effectively gut the book,” the adviser told reporter Michael Isikoff.

Biden’s candidacy

Democratic Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. promoted his presidential bid yesterday, saying he thinks he can hold his own against potential high-profile rivals such as fellow Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

“I’ll be Joe Biden, and I’ll try to be the best Biden I can be,” the 64-year-old Delaware lawmaker said. “If I can, I have a shot. If I can’t, I lose.”

Mr. Biden said he will set up an exploratory committee by the end of the month that will help him raise money and gauge support for his candidacy.

Mr. Biden, who long has made clear his intentions to seek the presidency, has about $3.5 million in his campaign account. He has campaigned extensively in early-voting states such as New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada.

“I am running for president,” he said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “I will file for an exploratory committee before the month is out.”

• Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce @washington

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