Monday, December 29, 2008

Gaza: A Return to Deterrence?

Hollywood and the Feds

In case you missed it earlier in the month, this appeared in The New York Post:


Naturally, they met at Elaine's, a venue almost as important to a certain class of New York law enforcement officer as One Police Plaza or the FBI field office. Rossini -- handsome, polished and very well connected -- was probably the biggest counterterror celebrity in the Bureau.

Gaza Gets Worse

Israeli troops mobilize as Gaza assault widens

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Fewer Cops Killed

Police officer deaths drop in 2008

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gaza Bombing: Watching for Regional Escalaton

The scale of these Israeli strikes has to be viewed as more than
retaliation. It is in effect a test, seeing who will react, and how
dramatically. The pro forma Arab condemnations, Abu Mazen's feeble
call for restraint, and protests by "dozens" of Palestinians in Syrian
and Lebanese camps signify little. The question mark is Hezbollah and,
in the background, Iran. Will they respond as they did in the summer
of 2006, when Gaza was under siege in the south and they opened up on
Israel's northern front? Is Israel ready to respond if they do? And is
Lebanon ready for that response? All delicate and dangerous
calculations. After Hezbollah's leading terrorist, Imad Mugniyeh, was
blown up in Damascus last spring, Nasrallah vowed to take revenge
outside the normal theaters of confrontation. That could mean
anywhere, literally, as with the example of the Argentine attacks in
the 1990s. Has Hezbollah held back waiting for the right political
moment? This could be it.

And we can also expect Al Qaeda to try to get in on the action, most
likely with another video from Ayman Zawahiri.

Israel strikes demolish Hamas compounds, kill 192

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Somalia: Pirates and Rising Powers

China targets pirates in groundbreaking mission

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008 Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book

The New York Times

US | December 23, 2008
Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book
A five-year-old novel about punk rock Muslims in Buffalo has inspired many who reconcile religious observance with being an "angry American youth."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

BBC News: Cheney's Endless War

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My office e-mail remains: Tumult in Iraqi Parliament Over Shoe Hurling

The New York Times E-mail This
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Message from sender:
The shoe saga continues...

INTERNATIONAL / MIDDLE EAST   | December 18, 2008
Tumult in Iraqi Parliament Over Shoe Hurling
A session of the Iraqi Parliament erupted in an uproar on Wednesday as the continuing detention of an Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at President Bush was hotly debated.

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»  Go to Complete List

Slumdog Millionaire From visionary Director Danny Boyle, nominated for 4 Golden Globe Awards, including Best Picture-Drama. Now Playing in select theatres.
Click here to view trailer

Ga. judge jails Muslim woman over head scarf

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My office e-mail remains:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Homegrown Terrorism: Dumb and Dumber

CAMDEN, New Jersey (Reuters) - Five Muslim men accused of planning an attack on a U.S. army base had no intention of following through even though they shared Muslim anger toward America after September 11, defense attorneys said on Tuesday.

The men, all born outside the United States, plotted but did not execute an attack on Fort Dix in New Jersey and discussed attacks on other installations including Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and the U.S. Coast Guard in Philadelphia, prosecutors say.

They were arrested in May 2007 and face life in prison if convicted....

This group is typical of the "homegrown terrorist" threat which I examine at length in Securing the City. One of the great common traits among such plotters is their stunning stupidity, which is then exploited by undercover officers or confidential informants who may act as facilitators, organizers, even "spiritual sanctioners," in the jargon of the NYPD's extensive report on "Radicalization in the West." (pdf)

When the members of such cells come to trial, they typically claim not only that they were entrapped but, inevitably and not without cause, they plead ignorance. Unfortunately, stupid people kill people, too. Several of the World Trade Center bombers in 1993 were pretty dim bulbs, and one, Mohammed Salameh who tried to get back the deposit on the rental truck he blew up, was moronic. But six people died, many more might have been killed, and the event set off a chain of events and created a web of connections that culminated in the disastrous second attack of 9/11.

In fact, the greatest danger is that a "homegrown" collection of homicidal dimwits will be missed by the cops, or not taken seriously, then hook up with someone much brighter who knows how to organize them and exploit them. In the 1993 plot, that role was played for a while by an FBI informant, but when the feds got bored with his stories and dropped him from the payroll, the cell managed to reach out to ... Ramzi Yousef, a true terrorist mastermind, and the nephew of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the brains behind 9/11.

The Fort Dix case, fortunately, was broken by a clerk at Circuit City. This is from the original complaint, the full text of which can be found as a pdf at :

1. On or about January 31, 2006, a representative of a retail store informed officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) that an individual had brought a video to their store to be duplicated into a digital video disk (“DVD”). That DVD depicted conduct – recorded as having occurred on January 3, 2006 – that the store representative described as disturbing. FBI agents reviewed the DVD in question. The DVD depicted 10 young men who appeared to be in their early twenties
shooting assault weapons at a firing range in a militia-like
style while calling for jihad and shouting in Arabic “Allah Akbar” (“God is Great”). The FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force (“JTTF”) immediately commenced an investigation into the activities of the men depicted in the DVD.
2. The FBI identified the 10 men depicted in the DVD, six of whom are: MOHAMAD SHNEWER, DRITAN DUKA, a/k/a “Distan Duka,” a/k/a “Anthony Duka,” a/k/a “Tony Duka,” ELJVIR DUKA, a/k/a “Elvis Duka,” a/k/a “Sulayman,” SHAIN DUKA, SERDAR TATAR, and AGRON ABDULLAHU. Immigration and Customs Enforcement checks show that DRITAN DUKA, ELJVIR DUKA, and SHAIN DUKA are illegally residing in the United States.
3. In or about March 2006, a cooperating witness (“CW-1") successfully
infiltrated this group ...

Sock and Awe

Is it time to start feeling sorry for President Bush? Probably not as sorry as we should feel for the Iraqis or, for that matter, the environment, the economy, the state of the nation and the world. But, still... For the surprisingly spry Bush to face the slings and arrows, or at least the shoes, of an outraged Iraqi while on his farewell, things-are-finally-getting-better visit to Baghdad is a bit much. As an American, I don't want to see my president treated this way, even this president.

For a British Web developer to cobble together, in a matter of hours, a video game called "Sock and Awe" that allows you to hurl a virtual Topsider at Bush's face with the click of a mouse, well, that is adding silly insult to non-injury. (Maybe a Dana Perino pop-up for extra points will be added to version 2.0.)

And then there is the matter of the "Intelligence Squared U.S." debate on NPR, which asked if Bush is the worst president of the last 50 years. The proposition was so shockingly disrespectful that I thought, truly, the pack-hunting press had begun to go too far. But then I looked at the defense of Bush put up by William Kristol and Carl Rove, and, you know, it's hard to contemplate the continued, unreprentant sophistry without wanting to throw a shoe or two yourself.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


President On the Precipice

Sarkozy is a loose cannon with no real opposition. So far, he's fared well. But that could change.

An Obama-inspired poster of President Sarkozy inside a Paris subway station
Olivier Laban-Mattei / AFP-Getty Images
An Obama-inspired poster of President Sarkozy inside a Paris subway station
Published Dec 13, 2008
Mumbai gunman's confession sheds light on massacre

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Not all terrorism is Islamic.

Bomb explodes at Oregon bank; at least 1 injured

In fact most incidents in the United States are related to the far
right or to radical animal rights groups. And explosives are becoming a relatively common method to settle personal scores. So this kind of incident bears
watching, even though it is likely to fade from the headlines very

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Save the Dates to Secure Your City

The current dates for the Securing the City tour include:

New York City

Feb. 2, 2009 -- 6:00 pm -- The Overseas Press Club

Feb. 3 -- 6:00 pm -- NYU Center on Law & Security

Washington, D.C.

Feb. 4 -- 6:45 -- Smithsonian Institute


Feb. 9 -- 7:00 pm -- Jimmy Carter Library


Feb. 11 -- 11:30 am -- Union League Club luncheon

Los Angeles Area

Feb. 12 -- 6 pm -- Orange County World Affairs Council, Costa Mesa

Feb. 13 -- 7 pm -- Book Soup, Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

San Francisco

Feb. 17 -- 7 pm -- Books, Inc.

New York City

Feb. 19 -- 6:15 pm -- Colony Club dinner


Feb. 23 -- 6 pm -- Houston Forum


Feb. 24 -- 6 pm -- World Affairs Council

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Revolution 2.0: The Videos

In the Shadowland column this week, "Revolution 2.0," I refer to several videos, and used others as background material. Here are some of them:

Ayman Zawahiri's Nov. 19 production on As-Sahab, including extended clips of Malcolm X speaking, can be viewed below. I found it on a site called "Internet Archive" at this address -- -- and a transcript is posted there as well. The video ss presented here for study, and neither I nor any organization with which I am affiliated condone it in any way.:

This is the MyBo tutorial on YouTube, which gives a clear picture of the tools used for community organizing and fund raising:

Bibi Netanyahu's Web site is

The English-language videos on it are not nearly so polished as Obama's, but worth watching nonetheless as an insight into Netanyahu and his politics:

And finally there is this, to me, fascinating three-part interview with Blue State Digital co-founder Jascha Franklin-Hodge from OreillyMedia:

The Madness In Mumbai, A Prelude to War?

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The latest from the Press Trust of India:

Thu, Nov 27 12:09 PM

New Delhi, Nov 27 (PTI) The government today equated the Mumbai terror attacks to a "war" thrust upon the nation and vowed to give a "befitting" reply to the perpetrators. "We are considering the terrorists attack in Mumbai as a war and dealing the situation like war-time emergency," Union Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal told reporters here. ... (more)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

From 2003: The Stranger in the Waste Land

The article below, which originally appeared on the Web in July 2003, apparently is no longer live. But the broader debate it addresses certainly is:

This text is a draft I excavated from my hard drive:

What the Thunder Said:
Art and Culture after Shock and Awe

By Christopher Dickey

Above the bar a mass of Ruffino Chianti bottles were hung so closely together that the bases made a single pattern of wicker rings. The paintings on the walls were, in some cases, actually painted on the walls. Others were drawn on paper with the dregs of Turkish coffee and lipstick, and all had a drunken, kind of desperate energy to them. “Al-Ghareeb,” the bistro was called, which means “The Stranger,” and a decade ago just being there, on a side street in Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad, could give you a rush of pure existential excitement.

This was not the Iraq that any of us on the outside had heard about. This was not the Iraq where most Iraqis lived. It was a place were intellectuals and painters, architects, writers, and sculptors made themselves a little space to think and relax. Other dictatorships have had such bohemian retreats, like Naguib Mahfouz’s houseboat adrift on the Nile in Nasser’s time. (“Because we are afraid of the police and the army and the English and the Americans, and the visible and the invisible, we have reached the point where we’re not afraid of anything!”) But the total evil that was Saddam made this little candlelit corner of Baghdad all the more special.

At Al-Ghareeb the unafraid artists talked for hours. They listened to piano players who were great, good, and godawful. They got falling-down drunk. They paired off and had affairs. They forgot, more or less, where they were, until one or another of them would leave for exile, or be picked up for questioning by the secret police. Sometimes government officials stopped by, hoping, themselves, to escape the ethos they served. And in the old days there was that voluptuous painter of dark visions, Layla al-Attar, whom Saddam was rumored to love. (He would take for himself anything valued by others, and anyone.) She was killed in her house in 1993 by an American Cruise missile, which may have been meant for him.

Last month, almost as soon as I got to Baghdad, I went back to Al-Ghareeb. As I feared, it was closed. When Saddam banned spirits in Iraq in the mid-1990s, in a bloody fit of hypocritical Muslim piety, a lot of the spirit had left the bar. But there was a pile of rubble out front, as if it were being remodeled. The next morning I went back again and found the lanky gray-haired owner, architect Faisal Jaburi, sitting at the counter amid the construction dust, reading some of Baghdad’s many new newspapers.

What were his plans now that he was liberated?

“I cannot talk to you,” he said.


“Because of what has happened.” He gestured around him, not at the inside of the restaurant but at Baghdad, at Iraq, at a calamity too enormous for his voice. We sat more or less in silence. “If you want to talk to artists there is a gallery,” he said at last. “A cafeteria. Everybody is there during the day.”

The drive across the city is long and hot at high noon. Traffic jams appear suddenly and senselessly, and the missing cops, the powerless stoplights, are only partly to blame. Some Iraqis have an instinct for gridlock, taking perverse pleasure in blocking intersections. And if an American patrol comes on the scene, trying to drive through in Humvees with heavy machine-guns and a platoon of infantry standing in the back of a truck, there’s a sudden wild sense of danger. The soldiers draw their pistols and train them on every car around. Wherever the troops appear, they know they’re targets, so everyone around them is targeted.

We were half lucky. We got to the Hewar Gallery behind the old Academy of Fine Arts the day a show opened. But there was no electricity to light the exhibits. In the shadows the owner, a painter named Qasim Alsabti with a mane of graying hair and a poliomyelitic limp, said many of the best works were ones that had been looted from the Saddam Center, which had served as Baghdad’s museum of modern art. Unlike the international furor that surrounded the looting of Sumerian and Babylonian antiquities from the Iraqi National Museum, the devastation of Iraq’s contemporary culture went unnoticed by the rest of the world.

“I heard from many friends that I could find these works in Al-Midan” – the looters’ market in the middle of town—“a place full of drunks, full of thieves,” said Alsabti. “I went to the area, this dirty area, looking for the works, and I paid the thieves, but of course not the real price.” He smiled, proud of what he’d salvaged. “Sometimes they show me things I know were from the Saddam Center, but …” He shook his head. “I buy only the good stuff. This museum, sometimes they bought rubbish from the Ba’ath Party people. I don’t pay for that.”

The lights came back on briefly. The fans worked briefly. Alsabti walked me through the show quickly.

“I decided to exhibit the stolen works with new works by the same artists to give the message to the Americans, the message that we are alive,” said Alsabti. “And we are not thieves like on TV. We are people of art and culture.” But no, he said, nobody from the Coalition Provisional Authority had been to visit. They had not seen the dark abstractions with only the faintest flash of color; the Giacommetti-like bronzes; the brooding, distorted figures by Iraq’s modern masters, Ali Talib and Ismail Fatah.

We finished the tour and continued our conversation over Pepsis in the gallery garden, where we were surrounded by artists and writers who chain-smoked and joked and argued and fluttered folded newspapers to fan up faint breezes.

Alsabti was polite and hospitable, but he had to work at it with this stranger from the United States, a country he blamed for almost everything. “I have seen the American smile,” he said. “The foolish American smile that I see always on the faces of American soldiers inviting the thieves to enter our places of culture.”

I said I didn’t believe for a minute that Americans approved the looting of the Iraqi National Museum or the Saddam Center. Maybe the soldiers were just trying to be friendly, I said, or were simply bewildered.

Alsabti shrugged. “They invade all the details of life,” he said. “They try to change the soul, the minds, the brain. But there is a long distance between Iraqi civilization – I mean the meaning of this civilization that goes back to Ur, to Sumer, to Babylon, 5,000 years – and 200 years of American life. That is not civilization. That is not even history. I know who my grandfathers were for 1,000 years, and what they did. An American doesn’t know who his father is.”

Alsabti could no more contain this anger than he could stop the sweat coming out of his pores. “They are interested in the meaning of money, we are interested in the meaning of our soul. They are not interested in art and culture, they are interested in petrol and the economy. When an American baby is born and is at his mother’s breast, she doesn’t sing to him, she talks about money.”

The looting and thievery, they were all part of the same picture in Alsabti’s dark eyes. His English failed him as he got more emotional. “It is part of a plan to steal our soul to… to …” Alsabti turned to some bystanders for translation. “To cut off our dicks,” said one. “To castrate us,” said another.

There it was, the emotion that reigns not only in the world of Iraqi artists, but in the mean streets where American soldiers are shot almost every day. No matter how Iraqis felt about Saddam, they have not felt the invasion, the defeat, and the occupation as a liberation, but as an emasculation. The sense of catastrophe is all around them, I realized, and also inside them.

I wished that I could talk to Jabra Ibrahim Jabra about all this. An elegant, Anglophile Palestinian author who translated Shakespeare into Arabic, he lived in Baghdad from 1948 until his death in 1994 at the age of 75, and I used to go see him whenever I visited. His take on Arab art and politics was ironic, passionate, often funny, and sometimes wonderfully surprising.

It was Jabra, for instance, who explained how important T.S. Eliot and “The Wasteland” had been to Arab writers. For Eliot, the poem’s sense of cosmic catastrophe grew out of the wholesale slaughter of World War I, while drawing on ancient Middle Eastern myths about the restoration of fertility to the dead land through the blood of the god. When Eliot’s poetry was at last discovered by the Arabs, a generation after it was written, they had suffered not only the World Wars but “the Palestinian debacle and its aftermath,” as Jabra put it. Through Eliot they rediscovered in a new light their own 5,000-year-old legends. “A whole order of things had crumbled, and the theme of the sterile ‘cracked earth’ thirsty for rain seemed most insistent of all,” said Jabra. There was even, in Arab eyes, a coda for salvation in the description of “what the thunder said” that Eliot drew from the Upanishads: Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata –Give, Sympathize, Control. “Love and sacrifice shall bring fertility to the land,” said Jabra, “though they may both come in lightning and thunder.”

In Iraq today, after the awesome shock of invasion and occupation, “give, sympathize, control” is certainly a better formula for peace and justice than the speeches we hear from the Coalition Provisional Authority about democracy and free markets. But, then, those speeches are for a self-satisfied audience in the United States, not an emasculated one in Iraq. And as you drive through the 120-degree streets, bracing against sandstorms, and watching American soldiers train their guns on the cars and crowd around them, it’s another famous line from “The Wasteland” that comes to mind: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

Friday, September 19, 2008

Al Jazeera English Panel: America's War on Terror

Talking with Marwan Bishara and his guests in all four segments about the law enforcement paradigm, occupation, torture, Abu Ghraib, and where all this has left us in the fight against terrorism:

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Spartanburg Herald: Reporting on the Reporting

Spartanburg voices in magazine piece

Newsweek: Article focuses on race and politics in the South

Published: Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 3:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 7:20 a.m.
Newsweek reporter Chris Dickey didn't set off to visit Spartanburg as he embarked on a four-state journey to examine Southerners' feelings and opinions about race and the upcoming presidential election.

He ended up here anyway, by chance and through contact with friend John Lane, a Wofford College professor. Now two of his experiences here - an interview with a waitress in Spartanburg and a visit to a Hispanic family in Una - are featured in this week's cover story, "The End of the South."

In the article and in an online video clip, Gerhard's Cafe waitress Shana Sprouse explains she's voting for Barack Obama, among other reasons, because she's impressed with his health care plan. Sprouse says her 26-year-old boyfriend has been diagnosed with cancer and the couple has spent two years trying to find ways to pay for his treatment. ... (more)

More Appearances Talking About the South

C-Span, Washington Journal:

Christopher Dickey, Paris Bureau Chief at Newsweek discusses the impending nomination of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and its potential political and social effect on the old Confederate South.
Washington, DC : 32 min.

NPR's On Point News Roundtable:

Listen to this show
Week in the News
President Bush delivered critical remarks on China's human rights record at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center in Bangkok on August 7, 2008. White House photo by Chris Greenberg Full Story

President Bush criticized China's human rights record during a speech in Bangkok, Thailand on August 7, 2008. (Photo: Chris Greenber)

Post your comments below

A week of big starts — and finishes. It’s 8–8–08, and in Beijing, at 8:08 p.m. local time, the Olympic opening ceremonies got underway. President Bush is there, his words on human rights still hanging in the air.

Back home, the trial of Osama bin Laden’s driver ends with a split verdict and light sentence. The FBI says the anthrax case is solved. On the campaign trail, McCain and Obama get feisty on energy, and the Veepstakes go into overdrive. Iraq’s elections are in doubt. Musharaff faces impeachment.

This hour, On Point: our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

You can join the conversation. What’s moving your world this week? China and the Olympics? Obama and McCain? The anthrax case? Tell us what you think.

-Jane Clayson, guest host

* * *


Shai Oster, Beijing correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. He joins us from the site of the 2008 Olympic Games.

Christopher Dickey, Paris bureau chief and Middle East regional editor for Newsweek. His cover story in this week’s issue is “The End of the South: How Obama vs. McCain is Unsettling the Old Confederacy.”

Bill McKenzie, editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News.

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst and senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly.

Friday, August 08, 2008

NPR: Here and Now - On the South

Christopher Dickey and the American South
Newsweek's Christopher Dickey returns to his roots in the American South to gauge the mood ahead of the presidential election. Dickey says emotions are raw in the region because the candidacy of Barack Obama has stirred up the ghosts of the racial strife that has marked the South for decades.


Read the story and view photos and video

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

NBC Nightly News: Rediscovering the South

NBC Nightly News did a segment tied to my Newsweek cover story about the South using footage shot by Lee Wang for the accompanying video blogs.

And this is the link to a 30-minute interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Securing the City - Due out February 2009

After a year and a half of work, I am pleased to report that I have finished the manuscript for "Securing the City," due to be published by Simon & Schuster in February.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Great (Hoffman-Sageman) Debate

The Myth of Grass-Roots Terrorism

Why Osama bin Laden Still Matters

From Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008

Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-first Century. Marc Sageman. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, 208 pp. $24.95.

Summary: Marc Sageman claims that al Qaeda's leadership is finished and today's terrorist threat comes primarily from below. But the terrorist elites are alive and well, and ignoring the threat they pose will have disastrous consequences.

... (full text)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Iraq: The Endless Occupation

An important article by Patrick Cockburn in the Independent:

Revealed: Secret plan to keep Iraq under US control

Bush wants 50 military bases, control of Iraqi airspace and legal immunity for all American soldiers and contractors

By Patrick Cockburn
Thursday, 5 June 2008

A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.

The timing of the agreement would also boost the Republican candidate, John McCain, who has claimed the United States is on the verge of victory in Iraq – a victory that he says Mr Obama would throw away by a premature military withdrawal.

America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels will stand at more than 142,000 – 10 000 more than when the military "surge" began in January 2007. Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.

The precise nature of the American demands has been kept secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an angry backlash in Iraq. "It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty," said one Iraqi politician, adding that if the security deal was signed it would delegitimise the government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American pawn.

The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: "This is just a tactical subterfuge." Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft and the right to pursue its "war on terror" in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation.

Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign the so-called "strategic alliance" without modifications, by the end of next month. But it is already being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a continuing American attempt to dominate the region. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal would create "a permanent occupation". He added: "The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans."

Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing.

The deal also risks exacerbating the proxy war being fought between Iran and the United States over who should be more influential in Iraq.... (more)

Some background from Shadowland two years ago:

An American agreement puts a motley array of foreigners above the law in Iraq. It’s time to take away their license to kill—and to stop treating Maliki’s new government as a servant.

Christopher Dickey
Newsweek Web Exclusive
29 June 2006

It’s just two years ago this week—two very long years—that President George W. Bush’s handpicked proconsul cut and ran out of Iraq. Instead of a grand ceremony handing over something called “sovereignty” to the U.S.-appointed government of Ayad Allawi, there was a low-key, almost secretive handshake and a very quick set of brief remarks before Paul Bremer jumped on a plane and got the hell out. He didn’t want to attract too much attention, or mortar shells from the growing insurgency.

It was an extraordinary moment, fraught with the arrogant hyperbole and arrant hypocrisy that has characterized this adventure all along. According to Bremer, the idea for the stealth ceremony before the announced date came from President George W. Bush, via Condoleezza Rice, who was then his national-security adviser. She’s quoted in Bremer’s book, “My Year in Iraq,” saying, “The president is trying to ‘wrong foot’ the opposition by doing the transfer of sovereignty a couple of days early.” Bremer agreed to this bright idea but worried that it would “look as if we are scuttling out of here, Condi.” There would have to be “several days of relative calm” beforehand. In the event, he settled for several hours. When Bremer landed in Jordan, he called his wife. “I’m safe and free,” he told her. Which was more than he could say for Iraq.

What Bremer did not mention in his book is a document—Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 17—that he signed on June 27, 2004, just one day before he scuttled out of there, that continues to set the ground rules for the American occupation of Iraq. It is not a “Status of Forces Agreement” (SOFA) like the ones we have with our NATO allies or Japan or other countries where U.S. forces might be based. Those have to be negotiated, and the talks are tough, because truly sovereign countries think sovereignty truly is important. They never like the idea that American soldiers who commit crimes on their territory are not subject to their laws.

But Order 17 was not negotiated with the Iraqis, it was promulgated by the Americans, and it’s purely of the people, by the people and for the people that the United States brought into Iraq. Under its provisions, they are exempt from Iraqi laws, cannot be arrested, prosecuted, tried or taxed. Nor do they have to pay rent for the buildings and land they turn into bases. Ambassador Barbara Bodine, who served in Baghdad immediately after the invasion and subsequently negotiated military agreements with other countries before leaving the State Department in 2004, describes what Bremer pulled off as “a SOFA on steroids.” It’s all about what the Americans get to do, and what the Iraqis get to do for them...(more)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Talking Terror

The Brian Lehrer Show with the NYPD's Richard Falkenrath last year. Useful background on the report "Radicalization in the West" and the question of "homegrown terror."

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Don't Give Me That Ol' Time Religion

The New Face of Islam
A critique of radicalism is building within the heart of the Muslim world.

And there is so much more to say. Please do comment and suggest other links. Here are a few that may be of interest:

Using Comics to Turn Off Terror

Muslims Turning a Page on Rage?

The Unraveling

The Rebellion Within

Al Qaeda is losing the war of minds

Moderating Immoderation at the WEF in Sharm

Recent Work

Shadowland: Bush’s 10 Commandments 20 May 2008
The U.S. president's latest pronouncements on Iran and the Arab world generated doom and gloom on his Mideast tour.

Shadowland: Slaughterhouse Beirut 13 May 2008
Lebanon's chances for meaningful reconstruction are diminishing by the day. And despite Bush's bravado, it's going to be the same in Iraq.

Newsweek Online: Bombs in the Basement 7 May 2008
Remembering a Civil War relic hunter who survived.

Shadowland: Terrorist Triage 6 May 2008
Why are the presidential candidates—and so many counterterrorism experts—afraid to say that the Al Qaeda threat is overrated?

Shadowland: Bluff and Bloodshed 1 May 2008
The Persian Gulf is more dangerous than ever. Will the U.S. and Iran go to war at sea?

Newsweek: The French Revolution 5 May 2008
Sarkozy attempts to transform the West's military alliances.

Newsweek: Snapshots of Horror 28 April 2008
The curiously human side of the inhumanity that was Abu Ghraib.

Newsweek: Welcome to Paradise 21 April 2008
Oil revenue has made the desert—and plenty of other places—bloom with unexpected treasures for the tourist. Enter if you dare.

Shadowland: 'Jihadi Cool' 15 April 2008
Comic book action heroes may be better weapons against terror than bullets or bombs. (For more graphics and trailers, visit

Web Exclusive: Italian Politics as Unusual 15 April 2008
Berlusconi wins by a landslide. Why Italy may never be quite the same again. (Written with Jacopo Barigazzi)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Holland's Xenophobia Alert

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has posted an interesting analysis on the OnFaith blog:

Early Warning System for Xenophobia

Learning from the Danish cartoon crisis of 2006 and the Sudanese teddy bear debacle of 2007, the Dutch are preparing to preempt a Geert Wilders-inflicted pandemic of 2008. This preemptive approach seems to be paying off; reversing what looked like an inevitable widening of rifts between the West and the Muslim World. The Netherlands now know that outbreaks of xenophobia must be treated as any other pandemic threatening a population. In preparation for the outbreak, an early warning system must be established and at onset, one must quickly quarantine the ideological disease before it spreads further. With Wilders, the need for preparedness was great.

Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing, anti-Muslim Freedom Party, of which there are only nine members in the 150-seat Dutch lower house, had long threatened to release a film exhibiting, in his words, "the violent and fascist elements of the Muslim faith". This saber-rattling was not new. On previous occasions, Wilders equated the Qur'an with Mein Kampf and called for both books to be banned (a proposal roundly rejected by parliament). Additionally, Wilders' suggestion that the 1 million Muslims living in the Netherlands renounce aspects of their faith or leave country was also dispelled as nonsensical. This new film, however, was going to trump polemical precedent and the Muslim world was readying for the worst.

This is where the Dutch did right, by discernibly developing mechanisms to dampen down disease spread. With other European Union countries quickly diversifying religiously and ethnically, they too will no doubt trip up on similar potential points of ideological contention. Thus, this model deserves dutiful review and, ultimately, duplication. If the saying "an ounce of prevention equals a pound cure" holds true, the Danish cartoon crisis should shock anyone into an early-warning convert. The potential social, political and financial costs are simply too great to ignore. And the Dutch, as we will see below, understood that. ... (more)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Postcards from the Edge...And Hitler's Stargazer

The British National Archives at Kew come up with surprising finds of one sort or another in every monthly bulletin. The latest offers postcards and photographs from World War I, including this charming wish for "A Pleasant Christmas."

There's also an interesting collection of papers about the astrologer hired by the British government to conduct stargazing psyops against Hitler, who was a great believer in such things:

Louis de Wohl (KV 2/2821)

De Wohl was a Hungarian astrologer and author who came to the United Kingdom in 1935 and spent much of the war in official employment on propaganda work for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the Political Warfare Executive (PWE) and other agencies. The work was based on the assumption that Hitler was heavily influenced by his own astrologer, so that by employing their own prominent astrologer, the British could sway his thinking.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Iranian Bling -- Why Sanctions Won't Work

Nasrin Alavi, author of We Are Iran, has been back in her homeland, and she's written a long, interesting report for New Internationalist about her experiences in a country where fortunes are being made, Rolexes are back in the shop windows, and a population that is politically helpless feels ever more apathetic. An excerpt:

I am amongst a group of young women at a bustling Tehran restaurant who are celebrating their university graduations. These girls are the sort of young people that writers (myself included) often enthuse about: the educated, burgeoning children of the Iranian Revolution, with enlightened ideals, at odds with their hardline politicians. Yet these students don’t appear to be fully conscious of the outstanding UN sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme. ‘We’ve been too busy cramming for exams, I can’t even remember the last time I read a newspaper,’ is one typical response. Still, even if she had picked up a newspaper, she would have had to read between the lines to decipher such news. Iran’s National Security Council has for some time banned any negative reporting of outside pressure over its nuclear programme. This uninformed, passive, politically disengaged outlook is rather typical of most Iranians I have talked to in recent months, rich or poor.

Yet like most Iranians these young women openly grumble about the rules and regulations; the lack of jobs, inflation, poverty and corruption. They mock Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and unashamedly breach the strict guidelines by wearing their compulsory headscarves way back over their head to reveal as much (illicit) hair as possible. This is especially daring as Iran has endured an intensive summer crusade to banish widespread violation of the Islamic dress codes that has seen many cautioned and arrested. Shadi proudly shows off a personally compiled list of all the major shopping centres and thoroughfares in Tehran on her possible daily route where police cars and vans are positioned. Her approach is to avoid going through these areas. The salient mood here seems to be to outmanoeuvre and circumvent rather than face confrontation. ... (more)

Shutting Down the Satellites?

Al-Jazeera's Marwan Bishara appears on CNN to talk about efforts by the Arab League to rein in satellite broadcasts. Of course, Lebanon and Qatar refused to sign so ... and what expectations did we have from any of the rest?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dangerous Liaisons: Sarko and the Press

Marie Valla has a sharp rundown on the way French President Nicolas Sarkozy spins the press on the France 24 Web site, and not only because she quotes me. (It's in English as well as French -- even though Sarko keeps talking about shutting down the English television service):

Even before the dust has had a chance to settle from French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ‘get lost you cretin’ mishap at the Agricultural Fair, a new Elysée faux pas has become the talk of the French media. French Daily Le Parisien admitted on Wednesday that the President’s interview published in the paper the day before had not only been reread but also modified by the Elysée press service.

This infringement by the Sarkozy administration blurs the lines between politics and journalism. “In Moscow, they used to hide the official portraits of personalities who had fallen into disfavor. At the Elysée, they rewrite interviews given by the President,” wrote newspaper L’Humanité in its Wednesday edition.

In the interview, Sarkozy stands by Saturday’s outburst adding that “Just because you become President doesn’t mean that you suddenly become something people can wipe their feet on.” L’Elysee thought best to add the sentence “At the Fair, I should not have answered,” thereby significantly changing the tone of his initial answer. “This sounds like a press aide desperately trying to do damage control after the fact,” says Christopher Dickey, Newsweek bureau chief in Paris.

But the bigger problem is the fact that the Le Parisien editorial team - arguing that they were providing useful information to the reader - failed to mention which portions of the interview were an addition. “This is inappropriate,” says Stefan Simons, Paris correspondent for the German weekly Der Spiegel. It isn’t so much the fact that the interview was reread that’s problematic but “the way in which it was done. At Der Spiegel, heads of state are always given the possibility to read and fix their interviews before publication,” he adds....(more)

France to Sarko: "Casse-toi pauvre con!"

Premiers pas mouvementés de Sarkozy au salon de l'agriculture - Le Parisien
Premiers pas mouvementés de Sarkozy au salon de l'agriculture - Le Parisien

Premiers pas mouvementés de Sarkozy au salon de l'agriculture - Le Parisien
Changement de présidence et changement de style au Salon de l'agriculture. L'événement était très apprécié de son prédécesseur Jacques Chirac, qui s'y prélassait presque. Là, c'est quasiment au pas de charge que Nicolas Sarkozy a inauguré la plus grande ferme du monde.

A mi-parcours environ, il s'est soudain vu vertement repoussé par un visiteur du salon auquel il s'apprêtait à à accorder une poignée de main. Ambiance surchauffée et cohue, le Chef de l'Etat s'est alors emporté: "Casse-toi, casse-toi pauvre con" a-t-il lancé, avant de reprendre son parcours mouvementé. Un écart de langage qui n'est pas sans rappeler sa colère face aux pêcheurs bretons.
Video de leparisienvideo

A rough but polite translation:

"Change of president, change of style at the Agriculture Fair. Jacques Chirac liked the event so much that he sort of settled in for a good time. Nicolas Sarkozy, on the other hand, opened the biggest farm in the world charging full speed ahead.

"About halfway through his tour he's suddenly seen brusquely dismissed by a visitor to the show to whom he'd just extended his hand. Amid the overheated crush of people, the head of state let himself get carried away: 'Get lost, get lost, you jerk,' he said before going on, a linguistic departure that's not without echoes of his anger in front of Breton fishermen."

And for those of you interested in the fine points, these are the relevant entries from the very British Dictionary of Modern Colloquial French, by René James Hérail and Edwina A. Lovatt (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984):

casser v. trans. reflex. 1 To 'toddle off', to 'run along', to go away. Il est cinq heures, il faut que jue me casse! It's five o'clock. I'll have to split! 2 Ne pas se casser: To take life easy, to worry very little about day-to-day matters.

con n.m. 1 'Cunt', 'pussy', vagina. 2 'Cunt', 'twit', imbecile. Espèce de con! You bloody idiot!...

Le Nouvel Observateur has a particularly sharp cover story about where all this fits into the astonishing plunge of Sarko's approval ratings. Its lead article: "And if this were to end badly ..."

For more about this, see the post on the Newsweek blog "Why It Matters."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side

This film about American torturers is artful, clear, compelling and examines the issue from all angles. This is not Michael Moore stuff. "Taxi to the Dark Side" looks at the hell suffered by torture victims, but also the emotional and psychological pain suffered by good soldiers used for evil purposes. For better or worse, it is about us, not them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mort Rosenblum on Waterboarding, El Submarino and The Many Friends We Have Lost to Torture

Mort Rosenblum's latest on Huffington Post:


Ask any reporter who knows brutal regimes: No hairs can be split over torture. Victims see no ambiguity. The memory stays fresh all their lives. More than pain, they recall smoldering contempt for their torturers.

You might have asked Baudouin Kayembe, the courageous owner of a weekly paper who helped me when I covered the Congo in the 1960s. But he died from his torture.

Over 40 years, Baudouin's intimates never forgave Mobutu Sese Seko, the man responsible, nor American authorities who kept Mobutu in power.

I saw this repeatedly in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. But nothing made the point like Argentina's "guerra sucia," its dirty war on terror.

Government goons particularly favored "el submarino." They held suspects' faces underwater until lungs nearly burst. Sometimes they waited too long.

As is usually the case with torture, it backfired. Little useful intelligence was gained. Survivors talked to anyone who would listen. Decent societies reacted. And it took Argentina decades to live it down.

Each time I interviewed victims, hearing their bitter words and watching their hands shake, I felt a flash of gratitude for the blue passport in my left pocket.

We Americans reviled torture, as individuals and as a nation. When it was exposed, we reacted. Torture was one reason we invoked for overturning Saddam Hussein.

Today, we Americans have come up with "waterboarding," which sounds like a fraternity prank. It is el submarino: cruel and, for a people that respects itself, unusual.

Obviously, we are a far cry from an Argentine military which put thousands to death in a long nightmare of official terror. But what are we prepared to accept? ... (MORE)

I have posted variations of this video about Mort all over the place. But, what the hell. I enjoy it every time I watch it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Adios, Fidel

When news broke this morning that Fidel had resigned, I wrote a quick piece for the Web suggesting some lessons we might learn about Cuba and the world from the nearly 50 years spent trying to bring down his regime: "Converting Castro."

As background reading, I looked up a piece I had written from Havana in 1982, which caught the spirit of the island pretty well, I thought, and at considerable length:

Sinking Expectations Keep Castro's Revolution Afloat

By Christopher Dickey, Washington Post Foreign Service, August 31, 1982

Dateline: Havana

"We ought not to fool ourselves. We have difficulties and we are going to have difficulties in coming years and the difficulties could be even greater."
-- President Fidel Castro on the Cuban economy, July 26, 1982.

For more than two decades, Cuba's economy has been sailing in shallow waters without ever quite running aground. American analysts point to massive Soviet subsidies as Castro's salvation, but there are other less tangible factors that have helped this country and this regime to survive.

Shortly after Castro's latest prediction of economic hardship and call for sacrifice, one of hundreds he has issued in his 23-year rule, a Latin diplomat on assignment to Havana from an ardently capitalist country cited what he considered the salvation of the Cuban revolution:
"Expectations are less than in other nations. Because of that, this is a country that has great flexibility. They take what they can get, but [when] they don't have, they adapt. Today it's much easier for them to run with lower expectations because there is more happiness with smaller gains. It's a society that is based on small expectations."

As its economic troubles continue, the extent to which Cuba really has become a revolution of lowered expectations may be crucial to its future and especially to its relations with the United States. It is vital for Castro's resistance of the 20-year-old embargo, but it could also become a factor if trade with Cuba somehow were renewed.

In his July 26 speech, Castro painted a gloomy picture of Cuba's economic expectations. Despite the special relationship with the Soviet Union, which buys Cuban sugar at high prices and sells Cuba oil at well below market rates, the Cuban economy has come to depend on the West for more than 20 percent of its trade -- and for many items necessary to its further development, from food to technology. The question now is whether Cuba can afford these imports.

According to Alberto Betancourt Roa, director of West European and North American trade for the Ministry of External Commerce, Japan and Canada are Cuba's major trading partners.
Despite attempts to cultivate Western trade, to expand the variety of its exports, and even to promote some limited Western investment, primarily in the tourist industry, Cuba remains dependent on sugar sales for the vast majority of its hard-currency earnings. And sugar prices are at a record low.

Some Cuban officials interpreted Castro's bleak forecast as a means of preparing the nation early for its likely inability to make projected economic goals over the next few years.
There is a whole school of thought among Western analysts that suggests Cuban consumerism may be one of the most potent weapons Washington could use against Castro. Many Western diplomats and analysts say that by dropping the embargo, the United States could so penetrate this country's economy that Cuba would at least have to take Washington's views into account.
But there is also evidence that the time is too late for that.

Notwithstanding the exodus of Cubans to the United States through Mariel two years ago, which arose in part from the frustration of people who wanted the freedom to consume, many Cubans seem convinced that from the point of view of social justice and basic needs, their communist island offers more to them than any other Latin country offers its people.
This may be the result of reason or simply of insistent indoctrination. It never lets up. When Henry Fonda died, the Cuban television report showed the hospital where he was treated and noted as an aside that poor people in the United States could never afford such care.

It may also be true that expectations really are not low at all, but that they are hidden in the face of omnipresent and intimidating "revolutionary vigilance" that rewards the revolutionary faithful with the kind of consumer goods the nation as a whole is asked to forgo and deprives dissenters of all but the barest essentials.

Some images and opinions from 10 days on the island:

Gema Perez is a party militant who was 11 when Castro turned Cuba's revolution to communism and she cannot or will not imagine a better life for herself and her people.
Perez was born in the town of Castillo de Jagua in the same tidy frame house where she lives now, nestled among the tile-roofed picture-postcard buildings of the fishing village at the narrow entrance to the Bay of Cienfuegos. In her breezy home are two large Soviet-made television sets, a sewing machine locked in a cabinet and a refrigerator.

Dominating one wall is what looks like a piece of cheap religious art, a framed portrait of Christ. But it is not Christ, Perez hastens to point out. It is a romanticized print of revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos, long-haired, bearded, his hat back on his head so its brim seems a halo.

Before the revolution, says Perez, "this town didn't have anything." Its men led rough lives at sea and earned next to nothing. There were no public utilities; even drinking water had to be collected from cisterns or brought by boat from the city of Cienfuegos. It was, said Perez, "the way one lives in a regime where there is capitalism and you are poor."

Now, for the 1,200 people who dwell in the shadow of the village's colonial fort, there is electricity, a post office, a day-care center, telephone service, a school. New apartments have been built and a technical school, where Perez's husband is a "professor of soldering," was established for both local and visiting workers who are to construct one of Cuba's first nuclear power plants about 10 miles away.

Her four brothers still go to sea for 20 days at a time, but especially since wage increases were instituted in 1980, they earn what are considerable incomes by today's standards in Cuba. Their base pay is about average, but with good catches they receive bonuses of from $400 to $1,000 each trip. "We do not consider ourselves rich," said Perez. "They are remunerated economically for their labor."

In Castillo de Jagua, Perez concluded, "life has not improved a lot -- it has improved entirely. Now there is freedom."

"You mustn't report anything that would let them identify me," a service worker in his late 20s told a journalist in downtown Havana. "State Security works very well."

The reporter had asked if it were true, as some Cuban officials contend, that there is freedom of speech at the personal level even if there is not in the state-run mass media. "Why do you think you see people standing on corners acting like worms, running down the revolution?" a functionary had asked, answering himself: "Because they know they can get away with it."

"That is not true," said the fearful, frustrated worker. In Cuba, a man's politics, apparently, are inseparable from his economic well-being. "You can't stand on a corner and denounce the revolution. You do that and they accuse you of being a counterrevolutionary, and that's a crime. People who talk like that are left without work. If you were an engineer, you're no longer an engineer. If you were a manager, no longer. You're sweeping streets."

The worker seemed to be embittered by a sense of class conflict that Cuban officials say does not exist here. His hatred was directed at what he called the "high life" led by favored party functionaries who, as he described them, live in newly built apartment complexes in East Havana, wear Italian pullovers, Lee blue jeans and smoke Winstons or Marlboros.

"The party militants, they are the socialist bourgeosie," said the man. "But you can't say that either."

He tended to blame these people for almost all the country's problems while discounting their charges that what they describe as the U.S. blockade and the CIA are responsible for Cuba's hardships.

"The blockade and the CIA, those are the revolution's reasons for everything. Always 'the hand of the CIA.' My wife is heating milk and it boils. 'Aha!' I tell her. 'The hand of the CIA,' " he said. "I was forged by this 'socialism.' But let's just say I don't have the intellectual capacity to understand it."

Eugenio Balari is the guru of Cuban consumerism.

The head of Havana's Institute of Internal Demand has a favorite Marxist credo, but not the utopian communist notion of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." Rather, as it says on one of Balari's economic flash cards, "To each according to the quantity and quality of his labor."

Balari is a bit of a showman. When he offers coffee to a visitor in his air-conditioned office -- in a reconditioned mansion a block from the seafront -- the coffee is a new instant that can be bought for the equivalent of about $8 a can "outside the ration book."

Fresh coffee is rationed, and an individual's 15-day allotment only makes about three little pots, carefully brewed. But since Cubans are great coffee drinkers, that clearly is not enough. It took more than 20 years after rationing was introduced to meet the demand by creating Instacafe, but now that it is here, Balari says it should help relieve the seemingly perpetual shortage of the favorite beverage. In the universal language of marketing he says, "It has found a great deal of acceptance."

The ration book once controlled virtually all purchases here. Now it's down to 30 percent, but it still makes interesting reading as the Cuban consumer's hated little passport to survival.
A month's supplies for one person include 10 ounces of beans, one bar of soap to clean yourself and one for your clothes plus seven ounces of detergent, half a pound of cooking oil, five pounds of rice, four cigars and four pounds of sugar -- the one thing there is a lot of in Cuba, although many sweet-toothed Cubans complain there is never enough.

The ration book limits trousers and shoes to one pair a year. "You have to be very careful with your pants," a cab driver said with barely a smile. The policies Balari advocates attempt to better rationalize the ration system and make more goods available outside it.

Alongside the cups on the conference table are copies of Opina, a monthly tabloid edited by Balari that offers feature stories providing some lightweight balance to the heavy political-intellectual fare in most of the government's publications. But most important, it publishes want ads: classified offers to sell 1952 Oldsmobiles in this city that has no traffic because it is almost without cars; offers to spray-paint refrigerators in this society where workers compare the merits of General Electric appliances made 35 years ago to those made 25 years ago.

Balari's government institute also brainstormed the peasant food mar- kets and the craft markets that raised publicity last year as the first apparent steps toward loosening the tightly controlled economy.

But even though the markets still operate, they have suffered some setbacks as the Cuban Communists found that a little capitalism, like a little learning, can be a dangerous thing. The free markets around Havana generated a new class of unauthorized middlemen.

There was the problem of shoes sold in the craft market in front of Havana's cathedral, for instance. Shoes, Balari conceded, are generally a problem in Cuba. There is always a shortage. The ration book allows only that one pair. So craftsmen making decent shoes and selling them in the open market had no trouble getting high prices and making a lot of money.

This raised suspicions. There was an investigation and, sure enough, "there appeared some subtractions of leather from some state factories. From there it was easy to find who did it." Some such middlemen, Balari said, "have had to confront revolutionary justice."

Balari can martial many statistics to show how much life has improved for Cuba's people since the triumph of the revolution on Jan. 1, 1959.

His numbers are displayed on colorful cards indicating everything from a 23-year rise in life expectancy (now 73) to the number of televisions (up from 6 per 100 families to 79). Yet Balari says it is doubtful that the country will achieve the goals set in its current five-year plan. "We are entering a stage in the life of the people that is austere but decorous," he said.
Asked about the kind of austerity that had a 15-year-old pressing her face against a store window one night recently to sketch the dresses on the rack so she could try to sew them by hand at home, Balari said, "You see, she can get the cloth."

On a hot, clear afternoon recently, 18-year-old Zenen Pumariega and his half-brother Fernando were swimming off the rocks below Havana's seafront boulevard, the Malecon, a quick escape from the stifling closeness of the residential streets in the decaying older sections of the city.
Neither Zenen, a cafeteria worker and part-time student, nor Fernando, who is about to enter the Cuban Army, can think of a much better place to live than here.

There was a time when members of their family wanted to go to the United States, said Zenen. Two years ago, a sister and uncle left through Mariel. But the latest word from the sister in Miami is that "life is pretty hard," according to Zenen.

The two teen-agers were asked what they would buy if they could buy anything in the world.
"A house, a car, food, clothes," said Fernando.

But any special car, any special food or clothes?

"Nothing special," said Fernando.

"A car that would get me to work, get me to school and get me to the beach," said Zenen.
But the boys still want to know how much things cost in the United States, and how much they cost in the dollar stores at the Havana tourist hotels to which they are forbidden access.
Zenen, who just wanted basic transportation, who seemed to have no dreams of Trans-Ams, Camaros or Mercedes, had just put on Sasson jogging shoes brought to him by a relative. The price for such luxurious footwear, noted Fernando as he donned some old army boots with a hole in the toe, would be about $120 on the street in Havana.

"And how much," Zenen wanted to know, "would a bottle of Paco Rabanne cologne go for?"

Copyright 1982 The Washington Post