Archive for the ‘Michael Totten’ Category

Cuba: Outside the Tourist Bubble

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

“The Marvel”

Michael Totten continues to report on Cuba,

Cuba Outside the Tourist Bubble

It’s not about the lines, though, not really. They’re just a symptom. Scarcity is the disease. And if you think Cuba’s chronic shortages are because of American sanctions, think again. The guy that mentioned Home Depot? He makes a living selling screws and nails on the black market. He’ll be sentenced to prison if he’s caught, so Miroff left his last name out of the article.

Sentenced to prison. For selling nails and screws.

You’ll also go to prison if you sell cooking oil or cheese. You’ll go to prison if you’re found in possession of a lobster whether or not you bought or sold it. Only tourists get to eat lobster, not because it’s an endangered species but because the government sells them at state-run restaurants for foreigners and won’t tolerate anyone challenging its monopoly.

Communism fails just as dismally in Cuba as it failed everywhere else, and for the same reasons. If you ban economic behavior, you won’t have much of an economy.

Read the whole thing, while keeping in mind that the regime has sworn to not change.

“All communist countries revert to capitalism eventually. Some just get there quicker than others”

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Michael J. Totten continues his excellent reporting by going From Havana to Hanoi, and concludes,

Decades of disinformation to the contrary, Cuba never had a kinder and gentler version of communism that works. No, the island is not North Korea or Cambodia under Pol Pot, but it was never any better than Vietnam or East Germany in the 1970s and the 1980s. It just had better PR. The sorry truth is that of all the communist regimes that have ever existed—with the single exception of North Korea’s—Cuba’s is the most stubborn, the most reactionary, and the slowest to figure out how economics actually works.

Read the whole eye-opening thing.

Cuba: The great unwashed, by governmental decree

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Michael Totten continues his travel journals,

I heard no end of horror stories about soap shortages, both before and after I got there. A journalist friend of mine who visits Cuba semi-regularly brings little bars of hotel soap with him and hands them out to his interview subjects.

“They break down in tears when I give them soap,” he told me. “How often does that happen?” I said. “A hundred percent of the time,” he said.

I too brought soap with me to the island—full-size bars from the store, not small ones from hotels—but I didn’t want to make people cry wherever I went, so I left them discreetly for hotel staff, waiters, taxi drivers, and so on. And I tipped everyone as generously as I could since the government refuses to pay them.

None of this economic impoverishment is the result of American policy. The United States is hardly the world’s only soap manufacturer, for instance. Cuba can buy it from Mexico. Or Canada. Or the Dominican Republic. Cuba can make its own soap. It fact, it does make its own soap. The reason the country does not have enough is because the government historically hasn’t cared if the little people can’t wash. Soap is just one item among thousands that is strictly for the elite, for the “haves,” and for those lucky enough to find some in the shops before it runs out.

In a non-communist country where such a basic product is in short supply, somebody would mass-produce it and sell it. Soap-making doesn’t require nuclear physics. You can make it at home. Google “soap recipe” and you’ll see how easy it is. But Cuba is a communist country where private commerce is banned. If you make stuff and sell stuff, you might become “rich” and “bourgeois,” and the authorities will send you to prison.

Read the whole thing.

Condom shortage hits Cuba

Cuba: Michael Totten’s road trip

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Michael Totten visited Cuba and is writing about it at World Affairs Journal. His latest article, The Lost World, Part I, details the ruinous state of the island:

I’m used to seeing military and police checkpoints when I travel abroad. Every country in the Middle East has them, including Israel if you count the one outside the airport. The authorities in that part of the world are looking for guns and bombs mostly. The Cuban authorities aren’t worried about weapons. No one but the regime has anything deadlier than a baseball bat.

Castro’s checkpoints are there to ensure nobody has too much or the wrong kind of food.

Police officers pull over cars and search the trunk for meat, lobsters, and shrimp. They also search passenger bags on city busses in Havana. Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote about it sarcastically in her book, Havana Real. “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.”

If they find a side of beef in the trunk, so I’m told, you’ll go to prison for five years if you tell the police where you got it and ten years if you don’t.

Read the full article.

I hope Michael collects all his reporting on Cuba in book form, as he did with The Road to Fatima Gate: The Beirut Spring, the Rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War Against Israel, Where the West Ends: Stories from the Middle East, the Balkans, the Black Sea, and the Caucasus, and On the Hunt in Baghdad.

Nicaragua: Paul Berman writes to de Blasio

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Michael Totten links to Paul Berman on Nicaragua

Paul Berman wrote an open letter in The New Republic to New York City’s mayor-elect Bill De Blasio who apparently is a long-time sympathizer with the Sandinistas, the Nicaraguan communists who briefly ruled the country after the overthrow of the previous tyrant Anastasio Somoza.

Anyway, he takes De Blasio to task specifically for praising the Sandinistas’ health care system in the town of Masaya, the same sort of error that has appeared almost daily in my comments section since I returned home from Cuba.

Indeed, the “excellent free Cuban healthcare” lie lives on as one of the most enduring in history.

Berman’s article, Why Bill de Blasio’s Nicaraguan Work Worries Me explains (emphasis added),

It is about Masaya, the town whose Sandinista health campaign you have praised in a recent speech. This happens to be the town where I conducted my own most extensive research as a reporter. You will remember that Masaya is a wonderfully creative artisan center. Some people in Masaya labor on the outlying farms, but a great many other people work at making shoes, hammocks, furniture, and all kinds of things. The people of Masaya are also, as you will recall, famously rebellious. The revolution against the Somoza dictatorship got started in the plazas of that very town as a protest against a teargas attack by Somoza’s National Guard on a Catholic protest mass. The Sandinistas were the beneficiaries of that uprising, but not its originators. And when the Sandinistas came to power, they recognized their debt to Masaya, and they lavished special attention on the place, “the cradle of the revolution.”

Mr. de Blasio, you are right to have observed “a youthful energy and idealism” among the Sandinistas of the 1980s, and some of that energetic idealism led to indisputably excellent results. The Somoza dictatorship established electric power in Masaya, but the young new Sandinistas extended the grid into the poorer neighborhoods. They paved additional roads. These were big achievements.

And yet, certain of the other Sandinista programs ran into a problem that you do not mention, brought about by one other Sandinista program, the biggest program of all. This was the goal of subjugating every last corner of Nicaraguan life to the dictates of the Sandinista Front, whose own political structure mandated obedience to the nine uniformed comandantes of the national directorate, whose political structure had been assembled, in turn, by Fidel Castro, their hero. These hierarchical commitments ended up wreaking a devastating effect on every last thing the Sandinistas ever did, including the best things.

Read the full article, part 1, and part 2.

New York has reason to worry.

On CSpan2 right now: Michael Totten

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

My friend Michael Totten is being interviewed on CSpan2 right now. He’s talking about his excellent book, The Road to Fatima Gate – a must-read:


Michael Totten’s primer on Lebanon’s Third Civil War

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

Very few people understand Lebanon as well as Michael Totten, who loves the country. Here’s his article in Commentary:
Lebanon’s Third Civil War

The first war was a short one. Sunni Arab Nationalists in thrall to Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to attach Lebanon to the United Arab Republic – a brief union of Egypt and Syria. An even larger bloc of Maronite Christians resisted. A nation cannot hold itself together when a large percentage of its population – roughly a third – wish to be annexed by foreign powers.

The second war was a long one. This time, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization formed a state-within-a-state in West Beirut and South Lebanon and used it as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israel. Again, Lebanon’s Christians resisted, as did Lebanon’s Shias. The second civil war was actually a series of wars that were merely triggered by that first fatal schism.

The third civil war resembles both the first and the second. With Iranian money and weapons, Hezbollah has built its own state-within-a-state in South Lebanon and South Beirut which is used as a base to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah also wishes to violently yank Lebanon from its current pro-Western alignment into the Syrian-Iranian axis. Roughly one-fourth of the population supports this agenda. No country on earth can withstand that kind of geopolitical tectonic pressure. For more than a year members of Hezbollah have tried unsuccessfully to topple the elected government with a minimal use of force, but their patience is at an end and they have turned to war.

Michael concludes,

There may be lulls in the violence, but there will be no real peace in Lebanon until Hezbollah is disarmed or destroyed.

Hezbollah is not going to disarm.

Yid With Lid thanks France for Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon.

We talked about Lebanon in last Friday’s podcast – and we’re not optimistic.


Share on Facebook

WaPo favors day-before news to real news from Iraq

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

Last Friday I posted on a press conference and bloggers’ call held from Iraq by three members of the Provincial Reconstruction team. The State Department had formally announced the press conference on Thursday. The video conference was later transcribed and posted, and the video is on line.

At that time I did the Friday post I wondered what the MSM would report on the information from that press conference. Mind you, this was the second press conference on PRTs this week. The first one (which was held on Monday) went mostly ignored.

Well, this morning I did a search and here’s all there was at the Washington Post as of this morning: Reconstruction In Iraq at a Crawl, Auditor Reports, which was a summary of an audit released on Thursday. This was the case with all the American newspapers.

One has to go to new Zealand to find any reporting on either of the PRT press conferences from this week: Provincial Reconstruction Teams Progress In Iraq, which refers to the Monday press conference.

What all the people who spoke at the press conferences emphasize is that the Iraqis are taking charge of a much larger role in their own governance and security. This doesn’t match the MSM’s meme that Iraq is a quandary, civil war, Shia-vs-Sunni, loser’s game. The media are doing this meme without actually visiting the country.

As Matt Sanchez said in our podcast, the progress taking place is remarkable. Michael Totten is in Commentary Magazine reports,

In the parts of Iraq where the locals turn against the insurgents en masse, it is only a matter of time before the insurgents are finished. Civilians phone in actionable intelligence on the locations of safe houses, weapons caches, IED’s, and everything else.

Michael Yon reports on America’s best ambassadors.

Matt and both Michaels are in the very areas they are writing about. They are there.

Any firsthand reporting that Iraq is not what the MSM wants it to be (“another Viet Nam”), is being ignored. For instance, Anbar Province Team Leader Kristin Hagerstrom specifically talked about Ramadi. As you may remember, last year al-Qaeda declared Ramadi the capital of the Califate in Iraq. Next week, Ms Hagerstorm stated, the people of Ramadi are planning an enormous rally in memory of Sheik Shatar and against al-Qaeda.

But a few newspapers are starting to report on what really is going on in Iraq now. This morning Michael Ledeen writing in the WSJ makes the bold statement that Victory Is Within Reach in Iraq

As evidence of success mounts, skeptics often say that while military operations have gone well, there is still no sign of political movement to bind up the bloody wounds in the Iraqi body politic. Recent events suggest otherwise. Just a few days ago, Ammar al-Hakim, the son of and presumed successor to the country’s most important Shiite political leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, went to Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, to meet with Sunni sheikhs. The act, and his words, were amazing. “Iraq does not belong to the Sunnis or the Shiites alone; nor does it belong to the Arabs or the Kurds and Turkomen,” he said. “Today, we must stand up and declare that Iraq is for all Iraqis.”

Mr. Hakim’s call for national unity mirrors last month’s pilgrimage to Najaf, the epicenter of Iraqi Shiism, by Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni. There he visited Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite cleric. The visit symbolically endorsed Mr. Sistani’s role as the most authoritative religious figure in Iraq. Mr. Hashemi has also been working closely with Mr. Hakim’s people, as well as with the Kurds. Elsewhere, similar efforts at ecumenical healing proceed rapidly. As Robert McFarlane reported in these pages, Baghdad’s Anglican Canon, Andrew White, has organized meetings of leading Iraqi Christian, Sunni and Shiite clerics, all of whom called for nation-wide reconciliation.

The Iraqi people seem to be turning against the terrorists, even against those who have been in cahoots with the terror masters in Tehran. As Col. Sanders puts it, “while we were down in Basra, an awful lot of the violence against us was enabled, sponsored and equipped by. . . Iran. [But] what has united a lot of the militias was a sense of Iraqi nationalism, and they resent interference by Iran.”

The propaganda war here in the US continues. But the real reporting is being done by 33 independent embeds in Iraq.


Share on Facebook

So long, "Scott Thomas" story….

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Via Matt Sanchez, Beauchamp Recants
New Republic author tells U.S. Army investigators under oath that he made up stories.

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned from a military source close to the investigation that Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp–author of the much-disputed “Shock Troops” article in the New Republic’s July 23 issue as well as two previous “Baghdad Diarist” columns–signed a sworn statement admitting that all three articles he published in the New Republic were exaggerations and falsehoods–fabrications containing only “a smidgen of truth,” in the words of our source.

Separately, we received this statement from Major Steven F. Lamb, the deputy Public Affairs Officer for Multi National Division-Baghdad:

An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by PVT Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims.

According to the military source, Beauchamp’s recantation was volunteered on the first day of the military’s investigation. So as Beauchamp was in Iraq signing an affidavit denying the truth of his stories, the New Republic was publishing a statement from him on its website on July 26, in which Beauchamp said, “I’m willing to stand by the entirety of my articles for the New Republic using my real name.”

Now go to Matt’s blog and see for yourself a video of what’s going on in Dora, Baghdad and the 1-4 Cavalry

After that, Michael Yon‘s latest dispatch will bring you some more information.

And if you haven’t yet, read Michael Totten‘s article.

And Laughing Wolf‘s on his way to Iraq, too.

Prior post: The Beauchamp story

Instapundit and Michelle Malkin
… and then there’s Ace.

While we’re at it,
Number of Civilians Reported Killed In Airstrike On Taliban: 200-300
Actual Number: Zero


Share on Facebook

The Little Wicked Wicket Gate, and a few other items

Friday, July 27th, 2007

I was just talking to Baron Bodissey and remembered an excellent post of his, The Little Wicked Wicket Gate where he discusses Orthodox Secularism. His message is as relevant today as it was then.


Cindy Sheehan goes to NYC.

Wiretap Debacle: How politics has gutted the terrorist surveillance program.

Accommodation as an Islamist Political Instrument


NonParty Politics doesn’t like what he saw in the Daily Show…

Michael Totten interviewed Barry Rubin a couple of weeks ago. Rubin’s the author of The Truth About Syria. Here’s the Amazon link:


In a lighter mode, there is kaffir, and then there’s kaffir.