Made In Iraq? No Thanks

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki speaks during a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, July 14, 2007.
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Could Wal-Mart have helped win the war in Iraq? Apparently some folks in the Pentagon once thought so, the Washington Post reports. But those hopes are now more moribund than a small-town mom-and-pop general store next to a, well, Wal-Mart.

A year ago, the Pentagon launched an effort to reopen Iraqi factories and persuade U.S. firms to buy their goods. The idea was to create jobs for young men who might otherwise join the insurgency. Iraqi officials bragged they had pending deals with retailers such as Wal-Mart and J.C. Penny, but the two companies told the Post last week that they are not planning to buy any Iraqi-made goods, "citing Iraq's uncertain future and the questionable viability of potential suppliers there."

Those companies aren't alone. Pentagon officials who worked on the project to describe their attempts to convince U.S. companies to buy Iraq-made goods as a "failure." In the absence of business deals, the Pentagon has had to resort to doling out $50 million in U.S. taxpayer money to Iraqi factories.

To be fair, the problem isn't entirely the fault of skittish U.S. companies. It turns out Iraqi consumers are also snobs, preferring imported products to domestic ones "after years of having to buy Iraqi products under Saddam Hussein," the Post reports.

Paul Brinkley, the Pentagon official overseeing the doomed efforts, said one Iraqi leather factory stamps "Made In China" on its soccer balls to persuade Iraqis to buy them.

Sprawl At Your Own Risk

You want to build a McMansion in the middle of nowhere, go ahead, but don't come crying to the fire department when it burns down for lack of an accessible fire hydrant.

That's the gist of a USA Today story noting the rise in far-flung development farther away from fire hydrants than the 1,000 feet recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.

States create their own rules and standards, but nearly a fourth of U.S. families are inadequately protected from fire because they live too far away from hydrants, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Proximity to hydrants keeps insurance rates down, but building them out in the boonies is really expensive for muncipalities and county governments – as much as $15,000 per house in one Maryland county.

USA Today doesn't get anybody to say it, but the unspoken conclusion here is that local governments ought to give sprawl-makers – who no doubt must imagine themselves inheritors of the great American pioneering tradition -- a taste of good old-fashioned Emersonian self-reliance.

In Search Of Lost Love Handles (And Great Power)

By now, you've undoubtedly heard about French President Nicholas Sarkozy's embarrassment at the hands of Paris Match, which admitted it airbrushed away his muffin top in a shirtless photo snapped while he was on vacation in New England.

The magazine claims it got its marching orders from Sarkozy's press office, but naturally the image-obsessed new president who vowed to make France start waking up early —-in order, we assume, to go jogging with him -- denies having anything to do with it.

Now that episode appears to be but a nibble at the corner of the croissant served up today in a new book on Sarkozy by Yasmina Reza, France's most famous playwright, the New York Times reports.

Reza, who is quick to distance her work from that of a journalist, got unparalleled access to Sarkozy as he was running for president, and the wildly divergent reviews of her book attest to her ambivalence. The newspaper Le Parisien calls it "a fabulous portrait of a singular man," while the right-leaning Le Monde finds it "caustic, at times cruel, above all juicy."

One thing seems clear: Sarkozy is not a nice man. He angers easily and calls both his enemies and his aides "unprintable vulgarities," the Times reports. For Reza, Sarkozy is "a gifted actor with a compulsion to control his own universe in a grand battle against the passage time."

Even before he was elected, Reza describes him as being "drunk with bravado," according to the Times. After a meeting with then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he declared "Tony and I have just made a decision. We're going to conquer Europe."

The last time a short Frenchman with a bad temper tried that, it didn't go so well. Which reminds us: next time you see a portrait of Napoleon, remember to mentally add 20 pounds.

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