Hi-Tech Healthcare in Iraq, Minus the Healthcare

January 11, 2007

The Rationalization of Healthcare in Iraq

This article is a great read, and it comes courtesy of Corp Watch. I love the specials these guys publish. Last year, on October to be precise, they broke the story about how the Kuwait contractor than is building the U.S. embassy in Iraq is smuggling low-paid South Asians into Iraq – slave labor basically – to save themselves a few bucks, with the U.S. State Department turning a blind eye, which is ironic to say the least because they publish a yearly “Trafficking in Persons” report.

Now, they have a special on Iraq’s broken healthcare system. It’s quite long, with plenty of interviews, stories and excellent sourcing, and while its main focus is corruption, they do cover most of the basics, like how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are trying to operate in Iraq, and how all of the promised hospitals – including the Basra Children’s Hospital, which was highly touted by Laura Bush and Condi Rice – are not being completed, or not being built at all.

Of course, Iraq is a land of opportunity, if you are a war profiteer big-name contractor. Take the above mentioned Basra Children’s Hospital. According to CorpWatch:

(all emphasis is mine)

Cancer Hospital Remains Unfinished

Most prominent among the long list of failures is the Basra Children’s Hospital, which was intended as crown jewel of U.S. aid to Iraq. Instead, it has become a showcase for everything that went wrong. In August 2004, USAID awarded the $50 million contract to build the Hospital to Bechtel, a San Francisco-based engineering company, one of the largest engineering companies in the world, which has become synonymous with the building of nuclear power plants, gold mines and large projects like the new Hong Kong airport.

The idea was to create a state-of-the-art facility to treat childhood cancer, a pressing need in a city where cancer rates have skyrocketed following the first Gulf War. (Contested data link the rise in cancer to extensive U.S. use of depleted uranium weaponry in the region.)

The facility, championed by the First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, looked suspiciously like a political propaganda effort. And as with much U.S. aid, it was designed with little local consultation: the city lacked clean water and already has a leukemia ward where lack of funding means that each bed is shared by two or three children.

The hospital was planned by Project Hope, a charity headed by John P. Howe III, president of the University of Texas, San Antonio, and a Bush family friend. Project Hope had built similar hospitals in Poland and in China. Howe pushed the project after Rice and Bush invited him to visit Iraq to assess the country’s healthcare system.

Before construction began in August 2005, the project attracted skeptics, who were concerned that it was a white elephant. Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe criticized the project: “Why build a hospital for kids, when the kids have no clean water?” the Arizonan asked. But it went ahead: No new technology would be spared in this showcase facility featuring with 94 beds, private cancer suites, CAT scans, a linear particle accelerator for radiation therapy, no.

But like every so many U.S.-initiated projects, the money to build this fancy facility would disappear when things went wrong. A year after the August 2005 groundbreaking, the project became a target for attacks, according to the company. The price tag rose from $50 million to an estimated $169.5 million. Cliff Mumm, president of the Bechtel infrastructure division, predicted that the project would fail. “It is not a good use of the government’s money” to try to finish the project,” Mumm told the New York Times. “And we do not think it can be finished.”

In July 2006, Bechtel was asked to withdrew from the project, which is now on hold. USAID spokesman David Snider’s cheerful spin on the stall was that the contract did not actually require the company to complete the hospital. “They are under a ‘term contract,’ which means their job is over when their money ends … (so) they did complete the contract.”

So Bechtel got to keep the money – U.S. taxpayer’s money – and the hospital is “on hold”. Because corporate profits are way more important than sick children.

Lets take another contractor: Parsons Global, a Pasadena, California-based engineering company.

The convoy of flat-bed trucks picked up its cargo at Baghdad International Airport last spring and sped north-west, stacked-high with crates of expensive medical equipment. From bilirubinmeters and hematology analyzers to infant incubators and dental appliances, the equipment had been ordered to help Iraq shore up a disintegrating health care system. But instead of being delivered to 150 brand-new Primary Health Care centers (PHCs) as originally planned, the Eagle Global Logistics vehicles were directed to drop them off at a storage warehouse in Abu Ghraib.

Not only did some of the equipment arrive damaged at the warehouse owned by PWC of Kuwait, one in 14 crates was missing, according to the delivery documents. The shipment was fairly typical: Military auditors would later calculate that roughly 46 percent of some $70 million in medical equipment deliveries made to the Abu Ghraib warehouse last spring had missing or damaged crates or contained boxes that were mislabeled or not labeled at all.

Not that it really mattered. Just over three weeks before the April 27th delivery, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had canceled the construction of 130 of the 150 PHCs for which the materiel was intended. As a result, the equipment that could help diagnose and treat Iraqi illness (and escalating bomb or gun injuries) now sits idle waiting for someone to figure out what to do with it.

[…]But if Iraqis have failed to benefit from the idle PHCs, the $70 million contract to supply them has been a shot in the arm for Parsons Global. The Pasadena, California-based engineering company reaped a $3.3 million profit according to an audit report issued by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), an independent U.S. government agency. And that is in addition to the $186 million that U.S. taxpayers shelled out to Parsons to build dozens of clinics that have yet to dispense a single aspirin.

Again, go read the entire article here. There is much to discuss, so feel free to comment away. Is it any wonder why Iraqis want us out of Iraq?

Advertisements

Bratz dolls just stopped being cool…

December 30, 2006

Ok, and with this posting I acknowledge I may stop being “cool” with plenty of readers that bought those cute Bratz dolls over Barbie dolls for Christmas. While Barbie dolls are still more popular, and profitable, than Bratz dolls, many people buy them for a myriad of reasons – such as their ethnic diversity, or because they just party and shop and nothing else – but unfortunately, like many toys, they are manufactured under the worst conditions possible:

The pouty Bratz dolls so popular as Christmas presents are made at a factory in southern China where workers are obliged to toil up to 94 hours a week, among other violations, a labour rights group said in a report released Friday.

The report by U.S.-based China Labour Watch and the National Labour Committee details allegations of harsh working conditions, especially during peak delivery months, and of violations of workers’ rights to injury and health insurance.

That’s 94 hours of work a week! And as you can guess, none of these workers has a trust fund. In fact, they get paid 51.5 cents an hour.

The report by China Labour Watch and the National Labour Committee is available here and let me tell you, it is more damning than a sperm-stained blue dress. They included everything, and I mean everything in the report – including pictures of the “cheat sheets” given to the workers in order to fool labor monitors!

And what about the workers? Well, they are definitely protesting, but unfortunately their bosses are not listening:

There was already a strike in June 2006, when workers who had more than ten years employment at the Hua Tai factory walked out demanding that the management pay their health insurance and pension as is required by law. The workers wanted to march to the local labor bureau to present their just demands, but were blocked and prevented from doing so by the Nanling Village public security forces.

[…]Now management is demanding that every worker quit and wait out one month before returning as a “new” worker, who will be given a temporary contract limited to less than eight months. Already some workers are being kept on month-to-month contracts.

There’s going to be another strike on January 2007, so watch this space.

By the way, does that sound like Wal-Mart, keeping all workers as temps and not paying them their full benefits? If you guessed “yes”, give yourself a pat on the traps. There are reasons they are keeping their mouth shut:

There is another dirty little secret behind the Bratz dolls—a secret that MGA, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us do not want us to know: It’s that the workers in China are paid just 17 cents for each doll they assemble, and that the total cost to produce the doll is $3.01. When the Bratz dolls enter the U.S., the companies mark the price up by 428 percent—another $12.88—and retail the dolls for at least $15.89. It’s a good deal for the companies and a very bad deal for the young workers in China, and—for more than one reason—for parents and children across the United States and Europe.

The National Labour Committes does some outstanding work, so please support them if you can.

They even made a video of Bratz Yasmin and Cloe discussing their life at the factory, which is hilarious (note I said hilarious, and not “professional” but then again making videos is not in their job description)

All work and no play would make a Bratz doll, well, not a Bratz doll. But if Bratz could speak, they would sing the Sweatshop Blues:

* Routine 13 ½ to 15 1/2 –hour shifts, seven days a week.
* Workers at the factory 94 ½ hours a week.
* Paid just 51 ½ cents an hour and $4.13 a day.
* Workers denied work injury and health insurance, in direct violation of China’s law.
* Taking a sick day results in loss of three days’ wages.
* Workers failing to meet their production goals must remain working—unpaid—until the target is met.
* Workers are not allowed paid days off to get married.
* Ten workers share a small dorm room, sleeping on metal bunk beds. There is no shower or TV.
* If a worker breaks a doll, she is docked five hours’ wages.
* Before the gullible Wal-Mart auditors arrive, the workers are provided a Cheat Sheet with a list of the “correct” answers, which they must memorize.
* Now the factory wants to fire every worker and then bring them back as temporary workers with contracts limited to just one to eight months—which will strip them of any legal rights they have. The workers are planning to strike in January 2007.
* The workers are paid just 17 cents for each Bratz doll they assemble.
* The total cost of production for a Bratz doll made in China is $3.01. When the doll enters the U.S., the companies mark up the cost by another 428 percent, adding $12.88, for a retail price of $15.89.

Don’t let these assholes get away with this. Drop them a note and tell ’em who sent you while you are at it.

Company contact information:

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Lee Scott, CEO
702 SW 8th Street
Bentonville, Arkansas 72716
Phone: 479-273-4000
Email Wal-Mart 

Toys R Us, Inc.
Gerald L. Storch, Chairman and CEO
One Geoffrey Way
Wayne, New Jersey 07470-2030
Phone: 973-617-3500
Email Toys R Us

MGA Entertainment
Isaac Larian, CEO
16380 Roscoe Blvd., Suite 200
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Phone: 818-894-2525
Email MGA