Karen Breslau

Stories by Karen Breslau

  • California, Here I Come

    THE YOUNG WOMAN AT Washington's National Airport was trying to get a seat on a packed US Airways flight to Martha's Vineyard. But like dozens of other Labor Day-weekend travelers, Chelsea Clinton was out of luck. Never mind that among those who got aboard were a couple of off-duty Secret Service agents and a handful of journalists. None offered a seat to the president's daughter. Nor, it seems, did she expect one. There were no badges waved or phone calls made. As the other travelers made their way to the summer White House, the First Daughter and a friend (along with a pair of agents) stayed behind and waited patiently for a later flight. After a life in the spotlight, says a family friend, Chelsea ""has perfected the art of not only seeming perfectly normal but of being perfectly normal.'' ...
  • Climbing Mt. Rushmore

    NO MATTER WHERE BILL CLINTON turns his gaze in the Oval Office, one of his predecessors is staring back at him. Busts of Lincoln and FDR peer down from the bookshelves. Another Lincoln stands watch from a credenza behind Clinton's desk. A bronzed Truman winks from a side table. George Washington gazes solemnly from a giant gilt frame. Across the room, there is a virtual spectators' gallery of presidents past - miniature busts of JFK, Eisenhower, Washington and Lincoln peep out of a Lucite box. Pre sidential medallions litter one tabletop; campaign buttons adorn another. The highest office in the land looks a bit like a presidential souvenir shop. ...
  • A Spring Break To Envy

    IN MASAI CULTURE, WHEN YOU REALLY WANT TO HONOR A WOMAN, YOU REFER to her as the mother of her oldest daughter. So last week, when a group of Masai schoolgirls in northern Tanzania held up a sign saying KARIBU MAMA CHELSEA, it meant more than just "Welcome, Chelsea's mom." Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, on a good-will tour of several African countries, understood the compliment. They also understood that the sheltered First Daughter is developing a fan club of her own. Mrs. Clinton quickly noted that the Masai girls might enjoy talking to someone "more active than her mother," and Chelsea took the floor with ease. Asked about the problems of American youth, she mentioned the drug abuse and the "hopelessness and cynicism" that plague many of her fellow teenagers. "The solutions ultimately have to come from the young people themselves," Chelsea concluded confidently. "We are the future, and we make of our future what we make of it." Chelsea's own future couldn't get much brighter. When...
  • A Very Tempting Target

    RON BROWN NEEDED help. It was July 1988, and the Democrats were about to convene in Atlanta, where Jesse Jackson was threatening to spoil Michael Dukakis's moment. While Brown, a lawyer-lobbyist, undertook the delicate task of weaving Jackson's agenda into the party platform, he brought along his friend Alexis Herman to organize convention logistics for the haphazard Jackson operation. After that Herman rarely left Brown's side. When he became party chairman a year later, Herman helped him transform the sleepy Democratic National Committee bureaucracy into a machine capable of electing a president. When he went to Commerce under Bill Clinton, intermingling politics and business, Herman was in the White House, serving as gatekeeper to special interests eager for Clinton's time. And when Brown's plane crashed in Croatia, Herman planned his elegant state funeral. ...
  • Clinton Goes Corporate

    FOR MOST WASHINGTON POWER players, making the rounds of the weekend talk shows is a cherished ritual. Leon Panetta, President Clinton's former chief of staff, was a jovial regular. James Carville and George Stephanopoulos popped up frequently to keep their campaign fame alive. Not the crew of Clinton II. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Press Secretary Mike McCurry was prepping chief of staff Erskine Bowles, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and budget director Franklin Baines for their Sunday interviews, For nearly two hours McCurry briefed the three on questions and potential traps they could expect from the talking heads. Finally, Bowles snapped. "For God's sake," he sputtered. "This is an awful lot of work for 12 minutes." ...
  • An Enforcer With An Edge

    RAHM EMANUEL ISN'T AFRAID to say no to Bill Clinton. Often he says a lot more. In one Oval Office session last year, the president went around the room asking advice about a technical law-enforcement question. After the president's advisers had politely outlined the pros and cons, Clinton looked up at Emanuel, who had been pacing behind one of the silk sofas. If you do anything that looks like you're soft on crime, Emanuel told the president, "you will be pulling down your pants" and asking the Republicans "to kick you in the butt." The others in the room cringed, but Clinton just smiled--and moved on.Most aides hem and haw when they disagree with the president. But if Dick Morris is to be believed, Clinton has what Morris calls "a morbid appetite for criticism." He likes it when people stand up to him. That's one reason Clinton promoted Emanuel, 37, to replace George Stephanopoulos as senior adviser for policy and strategy. The other reason is that Emanuel has no hesitation about...
  • Aboard The Flying Burrito

    Reporters affect a certain cool about being aboard Air Force One, as though there were something perfectly routine about flying through the night with the Big Guy. There's none of that ""your flight attendants will now direct your attention to the safety card in the seat pocket ahead of you" stuff for us. One night last June, that attitude was put to the test. Air Force One took off from Albuquerque, N.M., around dinnertime and headed for South Carolina, where Clinton was to visit a black church burned by arsonists. About half an hour into the turbulent flight, there were some disquieting jolts and then a deafening ""Ker-THUMP.'' It felt for a few seconds as though the president's plane was plunging. I had just gotten married two weeks earlier, and the thought began to creep into my mind, ""Surely, this couldn't be it?... For God's sake, this is Air Force One." Those of us not strapped in floated out of our seats just like in ""Apollo 13." Laptop computers and camera gear went...
  • The Virtues Of Being A Grown-Up In Washington

    Aboard air force one, most people scoop their M&Ms by the handful from a big candy bowl. Not Warren Christopher. The secretary of state plucks just one M&M from the bowl. Then he lays it on a yellow legal pad on the conference table in front of him, where, says an aide, "it just lies there and wobbles for the longest time until you wonder, 'Is he going to eat it with a knife and fork?'" Finally, Christopher consumes the single candy and -- with maddening self-control- picks up his pen and goes back to work.A man who really eats just one M&M?Christopher's friends say that speaks volumes about him: his precision, his decorum, a sense that people are watching him-even if he says he doesn't want them to. In a hectic, gobble-it-all-at-once world, say his admirers, there's something reassuring about someone so deliberate and steady. Six months ago, as he offered Bill Clinton his resignation, it seemed unlikely that Christopher would end up with a secure perch as the senior...
  • The Best Of Times, Or Not

    After six months of u.s. occupation, Haiti's glass is half full or half empty -- depending on whether you are an American or a Haitian. Americans brag that political violence has virtually ended, that the once oppressive army has been largely disbanded, that democratic government is beginning to take hold and that business is picking up. Haitians are grateful for the attention they have received, but many wish the U.S. mandate had gone further. ""I don't see any jobs yet; the only people Isee working are the foreigners,'' complains Sylva Joseph, 65, who runs a small soft-drink shop in Port-au-Prince. ""I would liketo eat more than once or twicea day,'' says Andre Gilius,32, who shines shoes for aliving. ""Except for the armybeing gone, things have remained the same,'' insists Jean Guichard, a 20-year-old slum dweller who wants to go to university but can't afford it. Still, he adds gamely: ""I'm slightly optimistic.'' ...
  • Closing The Deal

    Americans and Chinese don't agree on much these days, what with disputes over human rights and intellectual-property rights. But Richard Mueller, the U.S. consul general in Hong Kong, recently found some common ground -- in chicken parts. The Chinese, you see, generally don't like white meat, and they love odd parts like feet and wingtips that Americans can't stand. So after his staff spent long hours gathering intelligence on the frozen-chicken market, Mueller, a 29-year veteran of the Foreign Service, brought together a crowd of U.S. poultry producers and Hong Kong restaurateurs, importers and distributors at his elegant mansion atop Victoria Peak. Cocktails in hand, the guests mingled before French windows that provide a glittering vista of Hong Kong's harbor, all the while closing millions of dollars in deals for body parts that, back in America, would have been made into dog food. ...
  • Can Christopher Cut It? He Answers His Critics.

    TO HIS MANY CRITICS, WARREN Christopher is a wispy humbler who has allowed U.S. diplomacy to drift in an increasingly chaotic world. He has been batted around in Beijing, bullied by thugs in Haiti and Somalia, put on hold by the allies on Bosnia, Velcroed to a Russian leader whose commitment to democracy-and longevity-are questionable. With a president uncomfortable and untested in foreign policy, the burden of protecting American interests abroad has fallen on this mild-mannered lawyer-bureaucrat-and left many skeptics yearning for a statesman with more fire and fortitude. Can anyone take seriously a man who, when angered, fixes a testy senator with his turtlelike gize and intones, "Please do not mistake my courtesy for a lack of resolve"? ...
  • Blues For The Blue Helmets

    WHY IS THE UNITED NATIONS imploding in Bosnia? One answer lies in the story of 11 Leopard battle tanks that set off from Denmark last October to the besieged Bosnian town of Tuzla, where a Nordic U.N. battalion was trying to secure the airport; Serbian leaders had given their OK. But once the 45-ton tanks crossed over into the former Yugoslavia, the Serbs reneged and demanded $1 million for road repairs and customs fees. "And we were stupid enough to pay," says Norwegian Capt. Jantora Strandas, a logistics officer involved in the tank deployment. instead of heading to Bosnia, the tanks were forced to a U.N. supply depot outside Belgrade. There they stayed for 97 days, hostage to the Serbian bureaucracy. Finally, the blue helmets gave up and proceeded on what is being called "The Long March"--a retreat by train out of Serbia through Hungary, Austria and Italy. From there a cargo ship hired by the British took the tanks down the Croatian coast to Split. ...
  • How Formidable A Foe?

    Opponents of military intervention in Bosnia often invoke the deterring image of the fierce, cunning partisans who confounded Hitler's mighty Wehrmacht during World War II. But the modern Serbian forces who have conquered three quarters of Bosnia hardly resemble their legendary predecessors. More often, they are soldiers like Milos Adamovic, an unemployed 23-year-old from a village near Belgrade who joined the Yugoslav army last February. His motivation, he says, was as much the prospect of a paycheck as it was a "patriotic feeling" for the Serbian cause. The day after he signed up before he'd had even rudimentary training-Adamovic was dispatched to the front line in Bosnia. He lasted one day before being taken prisoner by Muslim forces near Tuzla. "I was afraid in combat," Adamovic admits readily from prison. "I'm a bit more nervous than usual." ...
  • When Marriage Is Sleeping With The Enemy

    When they married in Sarajevo six years ago, Misha and Hika seemed to represent the multiethnic Yugoslav ideal. He was a prosperous Serbian businessman, she a Muslim accountant who worked at the same electronics factory. Friends and family celebrated their union; the couple had two daughters and ran a successful restaurant and stores in a Sarajevo suburb. Today, Misha, 38, and Hika, 35, are social outcasts. They are refugees now in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, nearly penniless-and hopeless about the future of their half-Serb, half-Muslim daughters in a society that has become obsessed with ethnic purity. Asks Misha, "What problems will they have because of us?" ...
  • Faultless To A Fault

    Germans have a cultural tendency to define mistakes and failures as anyone's fault but their own. When teenage neo-Nazis in the Baltic port city of Rostock firebombed a building last month that housed Romanian Gypsies and Vietnamese workers, sociologists explained that the frustrated youths lacked recreational activities-as if hurling Molotov-cocktails were a sport. When neighbors cheered from their balconies, German politicians condemned the violence but professed their "understanding" of the social and economic hardships of unification that seemingly drove locals to riot and, in some cases, to shout, "SiegHeil!"Last week the Bonn government announced plans to punish the lawbreakers. Not the neo-Nazis, whose violent campaign has spread to 45 German cities at last count, but the refugees who exploit Germany's constitutional guarantee of political asylum by filing fraudulent claims. Under a recently announced agreement with Bucharest, Bonn will deport Romanians, most of them Gypsies,...
  • Will Kosovo Be Next?

    The way some Serbs in Kosovo see it, Qefsere Uka committed a political act last week. The 27-year-old ethnic Albanian gave birth to a son and named him Granit, because, she says, "I want him to be strong." Granit's father was fired from his job at a wood-processing plant last year after refusing to sign a loyalty oath to the government of Serbia. Qefsere, who is also unemployed, could have used the free state maternity hospital in Pristina, capital of the southern Serbian province of Kosovo. Instead, her extended family chipped in a month's income of $14 so that Granit could be born in a private, Albanian-run maternity clinic. "It's safer for us here," says Qefsere, cradling her newborn son as she lies on a cot in the grimy clinic in Pristina's poorest neighborhood. "At the [state] hospital, they put Albanian baby boys in the garbage can." ...
  • Life And Death In The Camps

    They were living cadavers-silent men with jutting bones and terrified stares. Packed 600 to a stable that measured 230 feet long by 30 feet wide, they jumped to attention as one group at the bark of a prison officer when the commander of the Manjaca detention center in northern Bosnia escorted a reporter inside. Many of the inmates had recently arrived from nearby Omarska, a Serb-run prison camp that reportedly had held 11,000 Muslim and Croat prisoners-until the Western media exposed it as a place of starvation, torment and death. Few Manjaca inmates agreed to talk. One who did-in the presence of the commandant-was an emaciated Canadian who had fought on the side of the Croats. He lay on a cot in the camp's infirmary, covered in a hip-to-knee cast. What was his name? He couldn't remember how to spell his last name. How had he lost so much weight? In a shaky voice, he blamed it on hospital confinement-not starvation. As he turned his head, the reporter noticed that the man's left...
  • The Push For National 'Purity'

    After Serbian fighters burned his village in northern Bosnia to the ground in May, Hasan Mahmudagic fled to Prijedor, a nearby city populated by Muslims. But instead of finding refuge, the 24year-old Muslim farmer was rounded up by Serbian soldiers and taken to a camp where he was detained along with several thousand other Muslim men. "It was like a cleaning," he says. "They had a couple of tanks and soldiers and they just took all the men." Those who tried to escape from the detention camp were shot. Mahmudagic was finally freed last week after 46 days but only after he signed documents "donating" his property and possessions to the Serbian forces occupying the remains of his village, and promising never to return. Then he and 8,000 other Muslims were bused across the border to Croatia to begin their new lives as refugees. ...
  • What If The Nazis Had Won?

    It is 1964; the greater German Reich stretches from France in the west to the Urals in the east. Crowds are gathering in Berlin to celebrate Adolf Hitler's 75th birthday. The world has never heard of the Holocaust, and Washington is seeking detente.Robert Harris's "Fatherland" (320 pages. Random House. $21) is, thankfully, fiction. His dystopian tale of a world under Nazi dominance has been a British best seller since May, and is climbing The New York Times list. In Harris's scenario, the postwar Nazi regime is creaking and corrupt, the population dispirited by unending war against Russian partisans in the Urals. The novel's improbable hero is SS detective Xavier March, a closet dissident who investigates a string of murders involving senior Nazi Party officials, falling in love along the way with a gutsy American correspondent and uncovering documents that prove the Holocaust occurred. Harris makes compelling use of historic evidence, casting the Nazi officials who came up with the...
  • Life Among The Ruins

    By 3 o'clock in the afternoon, Stefica Puskaric can no longer stand the confinement. She ventures downstairs and sits uneasily outside her apartment building. Puskaric, a soprano with the Sarajevo Opera, hasn't been to work in three months; she doesn't even practice anymore because "there's nothing to sing about." She and her neighbors huddle against the "safe" side of their building, facing a hill controlled by friendly Bosnian forces. It's a wise precaution. With a deafening roar, a mortar shell lands in the building's parking lot. The blast knocks several people over backward, through a broken window into a stairwell. Two more shells land within minutes. Meanwhile, an elderly woman distributes sugar cubes and water to people in the stairwell. She says it's a remedy for shattered nerves"a Bosnian tranquilizer." ...
  • A Riptide Of Refugees

    For three weeks the frightened family hid in a forest, dodging skirmishes between Bosnian militiamen and former federal soldiers just across the border with Serbia. They held their ground even when Serbs began to mortar their tiny village of Sapna. But when the tanks rolled into Sapna last week, Mehmed Salkic, his wife and five daughters fled. Now they sleep among 1,200 other refugees on a gymnasium floor in the mostly Muslim city of Tuzla; there is no shower and only bread and marmalade to eat. Another 1,000 Muslim refugees reach Tuzla every day. "What is happening in Bosnia passes all imagination," says Jose-Maria Mendiluce, special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sarajevo. " We are seeing something like World War II, with population centers being destroyed and towns and villages attacked not as military objects, but with the sole purpose of driving the people away." ...
  • Germany's Chaotic Spring

    If there's one thing Germans hate, it's das Chaos. But suddenly, disorder is sweeping their reunified country. For the first time in almost 20 years, government worker unions went on strike throughout western Germany. The legendary German trains stopped running on time. In fact, most stopped running at all. So did buses and streetcars; mail went undelivered; garbage piled up on Stuttgart's tidy streets. Even Germany's counterespionage computers went dead for a day. Union leaders vowed das Chaos was just a taste of what would come if the government doesn't grant a 9.5 percent pay hike. ...
  • The New Face Of Berlin

    One recent afternoon in Berlin, a devoutly trendy audience of intellectuals, mostly dressed in black, sat in a dark room, smoking cigarettes and pondering the future gestalt of the reanointed German capital. They listened intently as David Mackay, a British-born architect from Barcelona, ticked off the architectural sins of the extinct East Berlin regime. When Mackay showed a slide of the Palace of the Republic, a horrendous postwar hulk of orange glass built on the Marx-Engels Platz, where the baroque Stadtschloss of the Prussian royal family once stood, they clucked disapprovingly. When he declared that the Foreign Ministry, a concrete eyesore shaped like a sideways sardine can and plunked next door to the classical German State Opera, was built "off the city's axis, " they gasped in indignation. Nothing is more sacred to architects than a logical system of axes, and the entire communist government quarter, Mackay concluded, "looks as though the tide had gone out and left the...
  • Screening Out The Dark Past

    In 1939 a German-Jewish teenager named Salomon Perel fled to Poland to escape Nazi pogroms. When the Nazis invaded Poland, Perel made his way to Soviet-held territory; through a combination of linguistic skill, subterfuge and bizarre fortune, he was cared for first by the Soviet Communist Youth League, then by a German Army officer who sent him to an elite school for Hitler youth. At the end of the war, Perel was saved from execution when his own brother emerged from a concentration camp to identify him. Perel's story is told in "Europa, Europa," a German motion picture that last week won a Golden Globe award for best foreign film. Though the powerful movie was considered Germany's best prospect for an Oscar, the German Export Film Union didn't nominate it, claiming its Polish director and French cofinancing violate the Oscar competition's "national content "rule. Critics charged the union was quashing frank images of the Nazi past. "We've been censored, " says pro ducer Atze...
  • Spin That Wheel, Svetlana

    HOST: Let's give a warm welcome to Oleg from Sverdlovsk. Oleg, I see you used to teach the history of the Communist Party. Better get busy rewriting! (Audience snickers.) CONTESTANT No. 1: That's right, Vlad! But I quit and went to work in a factory. I'd like to send best wishes to everyone at home. HOST: And let's greet Lyudmila from Omsk, and Igor, a railroad engineer from Irkutsk ... It's time to play "Field of Miracles"! Our topic today-famous dogs. Tolstoy mentioned this pup in his first novel ... CONTESTANT No. 2: Is there an "L" . . . like Lenin? ...
  • 'Germany For The Germans'

    For decades, the "Bridge of Friendship" linking Germany and Poland across the Oder River seemed a mocking reminder that relations between the two have been anything but amicable. That was supposed to change last week as Germany lifted visa restrictions for Poles, removing one of the last barriers between East and West. But opening night didn't go well. As a small German welcoming committee crossed the bridge at Frankfurt an der Oder with flowers and champagne for their Polish neighbors, some 150 teenage neo-Nazis gathered on the German side, shouting "SIEG HEIL!" and "Germany for the Germans." A bus carrying a Polish orchestra on the way to a "friendship concert" was pelted with rocks. "Friendship? Hah!" scoffed an elderly Polish woman as she turned back at the bridge. "These people still have Hitler in their souls." ...
  • Terror In The New Germany

    Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, the man known as "the manager of German unity," was up late one night last week working in the study of his Dusseldorf home. Suddenly a bullet smashed through the study window and hit him in the spine. Rohwedder died instantly. In a garden across the street, police found a letter bearing the seal of the terrorist Red Army Faction. The message denounced the "imperialist beast" and "reactionary great German plans" to "exploit" the world. ...
  • Dean Of The Deutsche Mark

    Watch this," says Karl Otto Pohl. "It just came in from London." In a small conference room overlooking the glittering Frankfurt skyline, Europe's most influential banker settles into a leather chair. A videotape begins to roll. At the sight of his face splashed across the British evening news, Pohl chuckles in amusement. The next clip: Pohl speaks at the London School of Economics on how to make the European Monetary Union work. "Maybe we could call the new currency the Delors," he jokes with his audience, savoring the chance to poke a little fun at European Commission President Jacques Delors. As the video ends, a confident grin crosses his face. "Very statesmanlike, eh?"After 11 years as head of the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, Pohl still doesn't fit the mold of the buttoned-down banker. No gray flannel suits and briefcases here. Can you imagine Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan discussing fiscal policy on a TV talk show--then staying on to chat with a fellow guest...