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Has Fidel Castro become a capitalist?

By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 8:10 PM

He may be the last one to figure it out, but Fidel Castro's recent observation to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic that the Cuban economic model "doesn't even work for us anymore'' was nonetheless stunning.

It also comes at a time when long-underrated brother Raul Castro, now running the place, has been saying much the same thing, and has been moving quickly to shake things up.

On another front, a number of Cuban political prisoners were released over the summer, and according to a forthcoming article in Soldier of Fortune magazine, Raul has taken other "steps to lessen the repressive grip" of the communist dictatorship, including allowing some protests and easing up on treatment of dissidents.

Lest anyone get carried away and think Havana is about to become Des Moines, the article, written by former Radio Marti news director Jay Mallin and former Miami Herald Latin America editor Don Bohning, notes that Raul "has visited China and is believed to admire the Chinese model (rampant capitalism in the economy, tight communist control of the government) and to want to install it in Cuba."

But relations between Washington and Havana are clearly de-icing, though the odd case of Alan Gross of Potomac, an Agency for International Development contractor imprisoned in Cuba for the crime of distributing cellphones and laptops in Cuba's tiny Jewish community, probably will need to be resolved - maybe a Yom Kippur release? - for the thaw to continue.

Meanwhile, the cultural landscape continues to change. The Obama administration last month approved the American Ballet Theater, where the famous Cuban prima ballerina Alicia Alonso got her start, performing in November in Havana for the first time in 50 years - at the Karl Marx Theatre. Fidel is a fan of Alonso, now 89, the Soldier of Fortune piece notes.

Maybe one of the Castros will escort her to the ballet, Mallin suggested in an e-mail.

Not quite so windy

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel may be the luckiest guy in the world. Outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has given him a "get out of town" card - which he's almost certain to take - so he can decamp before all the backbiting and recriminations amongst the Dems about who lost the House, if not the Senate, get into high gear.

He won't be around as the new House Oversight and Government Reform chairman, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), fires daily subpoenas at the White House.

Then, if he wins, he gets to run one of America's greatest and most beautiful cities. Better yet, if he decides he doesn't like the job, he can run for the Senate in six years against Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) should Kirk win the open Obama seat this fall.

Meanwhile, Emanuel's No. 2, Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, has long been slated to manage the Obama 2012 campaign, which would probably mean he'd depart sometime in the first half of next year.

Recipes for happiness

The 2010 "Best Places to Work" rankings for government agencies has become one of the hottest reads around.

The report, the first on the Obama administration, was released last week by the Partnership for Public Service and American University's American Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation.

Agencies that fared well are crowing - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's press office put out a statement noting the department had ranked in the top 10, "placing seventh overall among . . . large Federal agencies."

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sent out an internal "Broadcast Message" to all employees, highlighting that his department was the "most improved" of the large agencies. It ranked only 26th, but it had been dead last among 32 agencies.

Troubled agencies pledged to do better. The losers may want to take a look at some of the things higher-ranked agencies, such as the 17th-place Interior Department, do to build esprit.

Interior, as part of its sixth annual "Diversity Days," next month, is developing a "one-INTERIOR Diversity Cookbook."

The Cookbook, an e-mailed announcement explained, "is an opportunity to share your favorite recipe and to sample dishes from diverse cultures."

So, if you've got a good recipe, something as good as ours for mondongo, a slow-cooked diced tripe (the cleaned stomach of a cow) soup popular in Santo Domingo, send it in.

"Submit a recipe from one of the following categories: starters, soups and chili, main course, sides, breads, desserts and soft drinks," the announcement says. (The deadline was Tuesday, but maybe they'll accept it.)

Get out your Magic 8-Ball

Speaking of entries, don't forget to enter the In the Loop Congressional Election Contest. To win, simply guess what the new lineup will be in the Senate and the House after the elections.

Send your predictions to loopcontest@washpost.com. You must include your home, work or cellphone number to be eligible. Entries must be submitted by midnight Sept. 27. (But get them in promptly. Ties will be broken by date of entry.) The 20 winners (10 for the House and 10 for the Senate) will be mentioned in the column and get one of those official In the Loop T-shirts.

Moving along

How closely attuned are Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton? Close enough that Clinton has just tapped Gates Foundation speechwriter Josh Daniel as her chief speechwriter.

And speaking of speechwriters, Mark Cohen moves from the office of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to work the keys for Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who never worked for Goldman Sachs.

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