Iraqi Prime Minister Awakens to Writing on the Wall

Recent comments made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki indicate that the fledgling government is coming to terms with the possibility that American troops won’t be in his country forever. During a visit to the United Arab Emirates, which this week canceled nearly $7 billion in Iraqi debt, the Prime Minister said he favors including a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces in the security agreement being worked out between Iraq and the United States. This memorandum of understanding will take the place of the status of forces agreement, which neither country could agree upon. Mr. al-Maliki went on to say that rather than signing long-term agreements (such as a status of forces agreement) with the US, his government would rather set forth a short-term understanding (in memorandum form).

This is welcome news to many Democrats and a substantial blow to the Bush White House. Whereas troop withdrawal has been a dominant topic in this year’s presidential election, the President has vehemently opposed an established withdrawal timeline, fearing that such a move will only embolden insurgents, who could simply rest on their laurels until US forces have left. He has, on more than one occasion, vetoed war funding bills that included withdrawal timelines. On the other side, both Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama advocated for a timeline during their respective presidential campaigns.

Since Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, troop withdrawal has been a centerpiece of their agenda. While efforts have been made to bring American forces home, all have failed. In the nearly two years since the Democrats first proposed a timetable, the nascent Iraqi government has been silent on the issue. At last, Prime Minister al-Maliki has provided some input to the discussion. Hopefully all parties can now move beyond the political rhetoric and campaigning and sit down to meaningful discussions that will allow for US troops to return home without reversing the security improvements made in the last year.

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Outsourcing and Current Economic Conditions

With today’s announcement that 62,000 jobs were lost in the month of June, I wonder what impact this may have on the outsourcing trend of recent years. As The Wall Street Journal reported on June 13, rising transportation costs are leading some US companies to end their outsourcing practices. With the cost of shipping goods from Asia up roughly 15% this year, companies are increasingly returning production to either domestic facilities or nearby countries such as Mexico. These are exactly the kind of jobs our economy needs right now: manufacturing. The loss of these jobs has been a popular and sensitive issue for some time now, and this is early evidence of a change of course. Certainly welcome news for the 33,000 manufacturing jobs lost during the month of June. Will the continued backlash against offshoring solve the employment problem for the hundreds of thousands of unemployed factory workers in the US? No, but it certainly can’t hurt anything.

So it seems that there is a silver lining to be found even in current economic conditions. If companies continue to return their production to domestic facilities, not only will this provide manufacturing jobs, but also they could eventually need to expand their capacity, providing employment to the many construction workers hit hard by the housing and credit crises. Having lost some 43,000 jobs in June, the construction industry would certainly welcome increased factory construction. Typically, these commercial projects are more predictable and less risky, since large corporations are backing them, financing is generally in place and readily available, and projects tend to cover a longer time period. All of these things combine to provide some small measure of optimism to a battered construction industry.

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GAO Decision Could Lead to Airforce Tanker Contract Redo

Today the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its decision regarding Air Force contracts for mid-air refuling tankers. The GAO found that the Air Force made serious errors in awarding the contract, a complaint Boeing has made since the February 29 announcement that the contract would go to Northgrup Grumman. According to Boeing, the Air Force changed its requirements during the bidding process, resulting in a more favorable proposal from Northrup Grumman and its partner European Aeuronautic Defence & Space (EADS), parent company of Airbus. Boeing contends that it would have offered a modified version of its 777 series instead of its 767 model to better compete with the modified A330 from Airbus, had it known from the start that the Air Force wanted the larger model.

I’m not sure if this is a good or bad decision. On the one hand, Boeing is a US company with a predominantly US-based workforce (the 787 Dreamliner is another story). On the other hand, this contract was the first major agreement of its type with a non-US defense supplier. It represented the cooperation and trust between the US and Europe, and also showed the world that the US markets are open to foreign competition. At a time when the US is regularly signing free trade agreements, we showed that we really believed what we were selling. Now, the picture is not so clear. To be fair, while Boeing would utilize its US workforce, Northrup is also a US company with a strong, homegrown workforce. Northrup has already said it would perform as much as 50% of the work in Alabama, though at least some work would be done overseas simply due to its partnership with EADS.

UPDATE: WSJ posted this expanded article on its site late in the afternoon.

Oddly enough indeed…

Oddly Enough is certainly an apt title for the Reuters column that runs stories like this one: “Armpit sniffer gets jail and cane.” According to the article, the 23 year-old man was sentenced to 14 years in jail and 18 strikes of the cane for sniffing womens’ armpits in stairwells, elevators, and even their homes. Even stranger, the man is reported to be mentally unstable. If you ask me, regardless of his mental faculties, 14 years is a bit excessive for this kind of thing. Or maybe this is normal in Singapore. In that case, I wonder what their punishment for drunk driving or murder is?

This just goes to show how different our two countries’ justice systems are. In Signapore, this activity warrants extended jail time. In the U.S., the offender would be institutionalized and medicated for his disorder, all the while undergoing extensive therapy.