LABORING UNDER A MISCONCEPTION?
Liza Featherstone may have a point about the vapidity of Labor Day, but she’s repeating a historical canard [“Will Labor Come Back?” Sept. 20]. The September Labor Day was not created by union bosses as an alternative to May Day, since it was created two years before May Day by the New York City labor federation. May Day, however, was created by American labor bosses–in fact, the AFL–to initiate the eight-hour day. But it was used instead to commemorate the dead of the Haymarket riot in Chicago, a holiday that then caught on in Europe while the New York City Labor Day became a US national holiday.
BECHTEL YOU NO LIES…
Christian Parenti’s “Fables of the Reconstruction” [Aug. 30/Sept. 6] purports to provide a firsthand account of reconstruction woes in Iraq. Fable is most assuredly the operative word, because the account is based as much on fiction as fact. In assessing the progress in rebuilding an infrastructure of a country the size of California, Parenti leaves largely unreported the challenges and complexities of accomplishing this task. Years of war, sanctions and neglect left much of Iraq’s infrastructure in a state of disrepair beyond even the ingenuity of Iraqi engineers to repair. Subsequent looting and hostile action have made renovations all the more challenging.
Under contract to USAID, Bechtel is helping restore basic living necessities in Iraq. To do the job as efficiently as possible, we are employing thousands of Iraqis at all levels–from construction workers to engineers and plant managers. To suggest otherwise, as the article does, is simply wrong. Wrong, too, is the characterization of who decides what reconstruction projects are undertaken. USAID evaluates projects for viability and value. USAID seeks advice not only from Bechtel but also from Iraqi officials, whose input plays a critical role in whether a project proceeds.
Parenti ignores the substantial progress Bechtel has achieved in the water sector, including restoration in November 2003 of a treated water system to 40,000 residents of Safwan; the dredging, cleanout and restoration of the Sweet Water Canal reservoirs this past March, which more than doubled the drinking-water supply to Basra; and the restart in May of one-third of the Kerkh Waste Water Treatment Plant, enabling sewage treatment in Baghdad by the plant for the first time in many years. This list does not include our many accomplishments in repairing transportation, power and telecommunications facilities.
Parenti’s article also deprives readers of a factual account of the contract award process used by USAID for Iraq infrastructure reconstruction work. Contrary to the article’s assertion that “as soon as Baghdad fell, Bechtel was in Iraq making deals with USAID,” contracts for reconstruction work were awarded to Bechtel in April 2003 and January 2004 after multiple bidders competed for the work. Each competitor was judged on competence, performance, experience and capabilities. According to USAID, Bechtel was selected each time by career professionals because it demonstrated the highest technical competence and was among the lowest in cost.