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Schooldays, Schooldays...
December 3, 2003 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Now children, time for spelling--B is for: Bechtel? Schools have been highlighted as an under-reported success story of the new Iraq: “We want young Iraqis to learn skills and to grow and hope, instead of being fed a steady diet of propaganda and hatred," says the pres, but...."The first time they came here, they went from classroom to classroom with guns dangling over their shoulders, asking the terrified children whom they loved more, Saddam Hussein or George Bush," says a principal. (more inside)
posted by amberglow (29 comments total)

 
bechtel says: In short order, the school had a new coat of cream-colored paint, new windows and doors, and plumbing that worked. “We’re talking about a 1,000 percent improvement,”
but a headmaster at one of the schools tells of a different story: At the start of the program Abdel-Razzaq received a visit from a representative of the Iraqi company, Adnan Mussawi, which Bechtel subcontracted to carry out the work. The headmaster was asked to sign a declaration that the work had been completed, which he refused to do until the work had actually been done. Twenty days later, the walls were painted, the rusty doors painted over, new electric cables laid, and some of the sanitary facilities replaced. However, the real problem with the toilets -- namely the sewage pipes -- were left untouched. So Abdel-Razzaq is sure that next winter once more, their will be a lake of sewage in the bathrooms. Most of the cheap plastic cisterns are already broken.

and a guy at the Ministry of Education agrees: Dr Nabil Khudair Abbas, from the planning center at the Ministry for Education which is responsible for a quarter of Baghdad's schools, confirmed Abdel-Razzaq's sentiments. He meets with representatives of the Bechtel Corporation on a weekly basis, and presents his complaints with regard to its school reconstruction program. The program is anything but transparent, he tells them, and none of the work is checked. Nobody in the Ministry of Education knows exactly how much the US has given Bechtel to implement the program, nor the details of the work to be carried out in individual schools. "The impression we often get at the meetings is that Bechtel is more powerful than the army," he said. Bechtel representatives, however, want no more complaints from Dr Abbas...

posted by amberglow at 5:02 PM on December 3, 2003


"The first time they came here, they went from classroom to classroom with guns dangling over their shoulders, asking the terrified children whom they loved more, Saddam Hussein or George Bush,"

Hey, it's the popular lesser-of-two-evils game!
posted by The God Complex at 5:29 PM on December 3, 2003


Here comes the pain.
posted by dazed_one at 5:34 PM on December 3, 2003


Wait...
Are we supposed to think now that they were better off with Saddam in power?

Is that your point?

Wow. Revisionism is fun.



If the issue is whether the US made the school into a top-of-the-line school, but it isn't because of piping, then maybe we are focusing on the wrong things vis-a-vis what is important.
(I guess people in Italy were better off under Mussolini because the trains ran on time, too?)

Or maybe we should analyze the question on whether the people will have more or less freedom....

Nah.
Damn the US and their humanitarian efforts. Damn them and all their billions of dollars of investment in Iraq. They aren't doing a perfect job, so DAMN them. (Is this the reaction we are suppose to have, amberglow?)
posted by Seth at 5:54 PM on December 3, 2003


so do you have anything to say about the actual article, beyond an overly-verbose rendering of "love it or leave it?"
posted by mcsweetie at 6:02 PM on December 3, 2003


"Are we supposed to think now that they were better off with Saddam in power?"
Man, that line never gets old, does it?
posted by 2sheets at 6:06 PM on December 3, 2003


Yeah, amberglow: THERE CAN BE NO DISSENT! Even if you think there are aspects of something that should be changed, pointing them out will be seen as a complete and utter dismissal of any and all efforts. It will also get you branded as a defector.

Ahem.

-----

If the issue is whether the US made the school into a top-of-the-line school, but it isn't because of piping, then maybe we are focusing on the wrong things vis-a-vis what is important.
(I guess people in Italy were better off under Mussolini because the trains ran on time, too?)


Yes, it has nothing to do with the millions (billions?) being given to Bechtel to rebuild the infastructure of Iraq and their apparent disregard for actually doing what they were given money to do. They don't even seem to care, really, but we'll just ignore that because at least they're trying--or sort of trying...
posted by The God Complex at 6:07 PM on December 3, 2003


"The first time they came here, they went from classroom to classroom with guns dangling over their shoulders, asking the terrified children whom they loved more, Saddam Hussein or George Bush," says a principal.

Assuming for a moment that this is true, do we have any adults left in this country?!? That is SO third grade. With guns.
posted by rushmc at 6:14 PM on December 3, 2003


Well, mcsweetie, if your question is directed at me, I'd say that my response to the article is amazement that it would actually be posted here.

It is from an avowedly anti-corporate website. So obviously there is not a single bit of objectivty, fairness or even-handed analysis. The article was written to besmirched a corportation.

There is no mention of the effort, at risk of injury or death, of Bechtel to travel around the world and try to improve the lives of others. My wife is accountant and E&Y wanted to send her to Bagdad in January. We both agreed that she wouldn't go under any condition because of safety issues. But Bechtel is there trying to improve the lives of Iraqis.
But there is no mention of that or even the least bit of gratitude for the free (to the Iraqis and the school) work done by Bechtel to make it better.

It is merely an article in which something was found that wasn't perfect, and it was focused on as if it is a great moral and ethical wrong committed because the work wasn't perfect.

I am amazed that such a biased perspective would be put out there for no other reason then to take yet another swipe at the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Perle/Wolfiwitz/Haliburton/Bechtel/Enron/Lay/Ashcroft/PatriotAct/Neo-con/Norquist/Republican/Texas whipping boy that everyone loves to just constantly fret over and blame everything that is wrong with the world on.
I think we understand that you don't like the Repubs. Surely there are policy distinctions that can legitimately be made and discussed. But do we really need another never-ending "They are evil" rant?
posted by Seth at 6:17 PM on December 3, 2003


Give me a break TGC.

Never once did I mention anything about not being able to dissent.

That is such an old tired Meme. I wonder when people are going to get sick of tossing out that dead canard.

It is getting more prevalent and hollow then the race card.

I never said one can't dissent, and you can't point me to when I did. I merely questioned amberglow about what is the conclusion of the article: that we aren't doing a perfect job?

The whole "not allowed to dissent" is beginning to develop an entirely ironic position: it is being thrown out there so often by all dissenters, that when people dissent from the dissenters, they are beaten over the head with it... thereby chilling dissent of the dissenters.
posted by Seth at 6:22 PM on December 3, 2003


Seth: "There is no mention of the effort, at risk of injury or death, of Bechtel to travel around the world and try to improve the lives of others."

So that's why they're there. And to think, all this time I thought it was to make money.

Thanks Seth, you have just reformed my liberal anti-corporate world view and I will now regard Bechtel and the like as philanthropic entities rather than soulless war profiteers. My only concern is the poor shareholders. Doesn't the Bechtel board have a fiduciary responsibility to investors and how does running around willy nilly giving all those Iraqi schoolchildren pretty new facilities work as a business model?

I, of course, respect your families decision not to put your wife in harms way -- isn't it nice that she had a choice -- unlike the vast majority of people with the misfortune to be in Iraq at the moment.
posted by cedar at 6:34 PM on December 3, 2003


Damn the US and their humanitarian efforts. Damn them and all their billions of dollars of investment in Iraq. They aren't doing a perfect job, so DAMN them. (Is this the reaction we are suppose to have, amberglow?)
I guess you've already decided what reactions people are supposed to have, so I won't dissent--I purposely put 3 sides to this issue in the post (Bechtel's site, Bush's speech about it, and the Corpwatch site with on-the-scene reports)--make of it what you will (or take it to meta).

I find it incredibly and unexhaustedly interesting what's being done with our money in Iraq (what's said by our pres about it and what's said by people benefitting from it-- which covers both Bechtel and the Iraqis) Maybe there's truth in one of those links? somewhere inbetween? (but i forget--you've already decided what i think your reaction should be)
posted by amberglow at 6:35 PM on December 3, 2003


Are we supposed to think now that they were better off with Saddam in power?

Are we supposed to think that strawman polarisations are useful, or just that they're the reflection of a simple mind?

Anyone want to note that the Iraqi education system's infrastructure scraped through a decade of sanctions, which makes the 'but we've built schools' line a little disingenuous when it's so-often used as the first clause in sentences justifying the war? (And no, I don't want to debate who was most to blame for impoverishing Iraqis during that decade, because it just leads off on all sorts of nasty tangents.)

Or, that the Iraqi education system was actually something of a model in the region before the invasion of Kuwait, because Saddam's secular dictatorship ensured that girls got an education, even if that education came with unpalatable doses of Ba'athist ideology?

The point being that... well, you know, Iraqis did have schools under Saddam. Lots of them. And a lot of Iraqis appear to have gained a good education in spite of that 'steady diet of propaganda and hatred', just as I'd imagine many kids in other dictatorships, with the aid of good teachers, manage to do even now. After all, it wasn't as if Saddam and Chemical Ali were teaching the lessons themselves.

Anyway, when you hear that Bechtel's tender to provide 'air conditioning' manifests itself as a desk fan in every classroom, it just feels good that it's not coming out of my 'tax dollars'.
posted by riviera at 6:42 PM on December 3, 2003


Damn them and all their billions of dollars of investment in Iraq.

Billions of dollars to well-connected contractors does not necessarily equate to "investment in Iraq".

Are we supposed to think now that they were better off with Saddam in power?

Hurrah, it's the False Dickchenomy!
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:49 PM on December 3, 2003


There is no mention of the effort, at risk of injury or death, of Bechtel to travel around the world and try to improve the lives of others.

so does that give them a "wave guns around kids free" card?

But there is no mention of that or even the least bit of gratitude for the free (to the Iraqis and the school) work done by Bechtel to make it better.

well then you should post a link.

But do we really need another never-ending "They are evil" rant?

only one person said Bush was evil before you let a turd fly.

Give me a break TGC.

Never once did I mention anything about not being able to dissent.


not once did anyone say the Iraqis were better off with Saddam. see the point now?
posted by mcsweetie at 7:07 PM on December 3, 2003


Never once did I mention anything about not being able to dissent.

Nope, you just pigeonholed everyone who didn't agree with you into a cozy you-think-it-would-be-better-if-they-weren't-free grouping and then compared those people to someone who would support Mussolini.
posted by The God Complex at 7:23 PM on December 3, 2003


guns dangling over their shoulders, asking the terrified children whom they loved more, Saddam Hussein or George Bush

I thought they were saving that tactic for the "swing states" in 2004.
posted by PrinceValium at 7:44 PM on December 3, 2003


I'm surprised nobody mentioned this little news item.

However, about the Bechtel thing: I find it hard to blame an "evil corporation", which, while it might be, it *isn't* the people actually there in Iraq. They are employees. Average Joes. In a high-risk situation trying to do something good (even if it is half-assed.) They are not money grubbing junior executives or even management types for the most part.
Plus, the errors I read about seem to fit the typical big organization oopsie, which is as follows:

"We have a work order to do 'x' "

"But the problem is 'x' and 'y' and 'z' "

"But we were only sent here to do 'x'. We don't have the materials or personnel or budget to do 'y' and 'z'. Those should have been put in the work order, too."

"So how do I get a new work order?"

"Well, the inspector who came by here last time ordered it, but he's real busy, so it'll be months before he comes back and write up a new work order so we can do 'y' and 'z'."

"But 'x' won't work without 'y' and 'z' "

"Do you want us to do 'x' anyway?"

etc. Not really ill will, just lack of communication and red tape. Most every large organization has this happen all the time.
posted by kablam at 8:11 PM on December 3, 2003


The point is that they are fucking up. THEY ARE FUCKING UP IN IRAQ. If you can't understand that, you're not paying attention. The time to make comparisons to Saddam on the one side, and be against Bush on the other side is over. Now it's time to judge how good a job they are doing and it isn't good enough.

Iraq is VERY important. Fucking up there is worse, for the rest of the world, than leaving Saddam in power. That was always the calculus. Defending fuck-ups by saying "well at least Saddam isn't there" isn't good enough, and in fact it's borderline malicious, because lowering expectations to "just barely above Hussein levels" is a crime against humanity. Even being only 5 times better than Saddam is NOT GOOD ENOUGH
posted by chaz at 8:13 PM on December 3, 2003


I thought they were saving that tactic for the "swing states" in 2004.

:::chortle:::
posted by rushmc at 8:21 PM on December 3, 2003


chaz: The time to make comparisons to Saddam on the one side, and be against Bush on the other side is over. Now it's time to judge how good a job they are doing and it isn't good enough.

Good point. The key question about whether we are viewed as liberators or conquerors depends on our efforts to rebuild Iraq.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:52 PM on December 3, 2003


depends on our efforts to rebuild Iraq.

Wouldn't it be better for all concerned if we helped them rebuild Iraq? Get their oil back on the market so they can afford it, then offer expertise and assets to supplement their own. And with the difference, how about we pay for our own schools, roads and infrastructure?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:31 PM on December 3, 2003


Seth-
First of all you completely mischaractierize the FPP by pretending not to have seen the links that weren't to an "anti-corporate" website. That aside, though, in pasting together your comments I simply can find no way in which you would acknowledge criticism of the efforts in Iraq as valid. I'm also a bit befuddled as to why you wouldn't care that someone is wasting your tax dollars. If Bechtel is fucking up, why wouldn't you want to know that? Acknowledging (or even declaring intent to rectify)mistakes made in Iraq by no means must by accompanied some sort of whole-hog rejection of the entire project.

Please bear with the following boobery, as I really am trying to make a point:
If your brake pads wore out, would you get a new set or would you remind me that your car is still better than a horse and buggy? And if it was your asshole neighbor (played by Corpwatch, for those with no innate ability to track stupid metaphors) who pointed out the problems with the brakes, would you keep the worn-out pads just because he is clearly out to "besmirch" your automobile?

At the end of the day, do you even disagree that Bechtel is failing to generate the kinds of success in rebuilding Iraqi schools for which they have been contracted? 'Cause if you don't care to even try to make that point, the rest is just a little silly.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:35 AM on December 4, 2003


Seth: The problem is not that the Americans are not doing as well as they could in the reconstruction of Iraq. The problem is that they are making a complete pig's ear of it. In fact, the current methods are an object lession in how not to do it. The heavy-handed, arrogant approach is only making Iraqis more antagonistic, and further fueling the armed resistance.
posted by salmacis at 2:10 AM on December 4, 2003


Bush: While (Iraqi President) Saddam (Hussein) supported a massive war machine, Iraqi schoolchildren went without textbooks, and sometimes teachers went unpaid.

Me: While (President-Select) Duhbya (Boy King) supported a massive war machine, Detroit schoolchildren went without textbooks, and teachers were underpaid.
posted by NorthernLite at 6:29 AM on December 4, 2003


I've said it before and I'll say it again- Bush positioned himself early on as the "CEO President." Fine, put your politics aside and assess the government's performance as if you were a stockholder in a company (which, follow the analogy, you are).

It sucks, shockingly so. In a real, responsible corporation, Bush, Cheney, and their whole crew would have been fired long ago for their performance. Bechtel is, at best, a mediocre vendor. The most generous thing you can call their contracts is throwing good money after bad. If a corporation (the government) is going to trumpet how well they're spending my investment in them (taxes), I'm going to call bullshit if the proposed ROI (Iraq's welfare and regional stability) isn't adding up.
posted by mkultra at 6:49 AM on December 4, 2003


Something of an aside, but Seth brings up a common misconception about Mussolini, worth debunking in the current conversation. He didn't, actually, make the trains run on time.
posted by nickmark at 9:58 AM on December 4, 2003


Aren't the Republicans big on competition (e.g. vouchers) as a means to improvement? Why not let the US and the UN draft competing rebuilding proposals and let the Iraqi people decide at the polls?

Also, what IJR said.
posted by squirrel at 10:30 AM on December 4, 2003


More on Bechtel and schools. According to Iraqi education officials, Bechtel budgeted about $20,000 per school for repairs. That budget may not seem like much compared to U.S. rates, but laborers here work for $2 to $7 a day. Bechtel subcontracted out the work to Iraqis for an undisclosed amount.
During repairs, "reports started coming in about poor quality," said 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion Maj. Linda Scharf, who was responsible for the schools in question, and who started fielding calls from concerned teachers and headmasters.
"So I asked one of my teams to go verify the rumors," Scharf said. "They took their digital camera, and the reality turned out to be worse than the rumors."

posted by amberglow at 3:30 PM on December 8, 2003


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