About Viet Nam’s “gifting culture”

Giving gifts to people in authority has become normal, but we have to be aware it institutionalizes an ‘underworld.’

Also known as an “envelope culture” (văn hóa phòng bì) because envelopes are used for more than sending letters, so passé in the digital age, and giving “lucky money” (lì xì) at Lunar New Year.  A recent essay explains how small-scale corruption works and is recommended reading for those interested in learning about some of what goes on behind the curtain.  

Here are some of the money paragraphs, no pun intended:

The situation has been left for so long that it has become normal. And when this happens, people’s trust in the system is undermined, even as they go with it.

We have the option of eliminating this system entirely by refining our legal and administrative procedures to make them more transparent, more accessible to the public. In the long run, we would also need to learn how to spend the national budget more efficiently and more effectively. That way, not only can we reduce financial burden on our businesses, people can also see that their tax money is put to good use.

On a side note: did you know that as many as 90,000 businesses in Vietnam went bankrupt last year, a 50 percent increase compared to 2017? That happens despite how the country’s GDP grew by over 7 percent last year, the highest in a decade.

While that might signal a competitive economy where only the cream of the crop survives, I sometimes wonder how many of these businesses went bankrupt not because of their poor performance, but because of something else? You should also be asking that question, and so do policymakers.

While I agree with the thrust of the author’s essay, it’s a bit of a stretch to blame petty corruption for corporate bankruptcies.  There are many other factors, including lack of experience and knowledge on the part of the businesspeople whose companies go belly up.  The failure of most new companies is not something that is unique to Viet Nam.  

At any rate, how to solve this systemic problem and ensure that the new normal becomes a thing of the past?  

  1.  Raise the salaries of civil servants and take away the rationale (excuse) for the envelope culture;
  2.  Make it illegal for them to accept “donations”;  
  3.  Create a hotline for citizens to call to report bureaucrats who request “donations”, assuming the business owner, for example, has evidence that supports this accusation, e.g., audio or video recording; and, last but not least, 
  4. Reward conscientious citizens for reporting verified cases of petty corruption.  

The above measures could be the beginning of the end of institutionalized petty corruption.  Now Viet Nam just needs to come to terms with massive corruption, an area in which it has been making some inroads in recent years, thanks to the efforts of Nguyễn Phú Trọng, General Secretary of the Communist Party and President of Viet Nam.  

25thlogo_3Since Viet Nam is so adept at learning from the experiences of other countries, why not study the case of Sweden, once mired in corruption and now a squeaky clean country, comparatively speaking?  In the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index Sweden ranks 6th among 180 countries with a score of 84/100.  (Viet Nam ranks 107 with a score of 35/100.)  Now that’s an achievement worth recognizing, celebrating, and learning from!  

Postscript:  Here’s a bit of good news from Viet Nam.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

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The Importance of Speaking Up About “Things That Matter”

things that matter2After telling an acquaintance who is well-known in Viet Nam circles that I intended to write about the rhetorical bombshells that Thomas Vallely dropped in an early 2018 interview about Bob Kerrey and Fulbright University Vietnam, he warned me about possible backlash. 

In case you’re just tuning in, Vallely is Senior Adviser for Mainland Southeast Asia at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and “one of the most influential figures in the US-Viet Nam relationship you’ve never heard of.”

I highlighted some of Vallely’s appalling and unconscionable statements, some of the words he used to hang himself, rhetorically speaking, in an interview in this 17 August 2018 article entitled More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells

Regardless of your age or situation, please don’t remain silent about “things that matter” and let your life begin to end.  Life’s already too short.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA, The Unquiet US American

The College of the Ozarks Patriotic Education Travel Program to Viet Nam: A Vietnam-Era Veteran Responds

PatEdSealI received a number of comments in response to my recent article entitled A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!, mostly from US veterans of the war in Viet Nam, or “Vietnam-era” veterans.  One who falls into the latter category decided to take it one step further and send a letter below to the College of the Ozarks.  The “lessons from the American War in Vietnam” to which he refers are contained in this 2012 article The Racket of War: Dying for Lies, a copy of which he included with his letter.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA


Sanford Kelson– Attorney at Law

December 14, 2018

Valerie Coleman, Public Relations, Director, College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, MO 65726

Re: Patriotic Education Travel Program, Vietnam

Ms Coleman:

Enclosed is the story of my lessons from the American War in Vietnam.

Boy, did that war wake up in a naïve, idealistic, perfectly indoctrinated young man a curiosity to learn, to study, to read, to discuss, to critically think and to teach. I have never stopped learning. That war made me who I am to this day at 74 years of age. I consider myself a patriotic citizen but not a nationalist.

Don’t you agree that students who are exposed to multiple interpretations of history have a more quality educational experience than those who are exposed to only one interpretation? Multiple interpretations help provoke, oh my God, critical thinking. Do not forget, young students in the deep south of the 1700 and 1800s were taught only one interpretation of slavery, that it was just fine. Even God approved. “It says so in the Bible!” And, that immoral institution lasted for hundreds of years and its effects are still adversely affecting our nation.

Yes, the vets who go on the tour are heroes but in what cause, a just one or not, or a mixture of just and not just? If the lessons of the American War had been widely known, our leaders may not have able to mislead so many of us into supporting the current wars of choice.

Accordingly, I volunteer to go on the College of the Ozarks’ patriotic tours to Vietnam as a concerned veteran and a patriot. Or to present at the college. I believe in education and assisting young people with development of critical thinking skills, so I will gladly pay my own way for an opportunity to educate.

The contrast between my story and the other vets’ presentations may cause some of those young students to think critically and embark on their own investigations, as I did. If so, the lessons they learn will be based upon their own investigation and critical thinking. This I believe, should be the major goal of formal education. Does Hard Work U have sufficient confidence in the intelligence and critical thinking abilities of its student body to expose them to alternate interpretations? I certainly hope so.

Please pass this letter along to those at the college who are involved with the Patriotic Education Travel Program.

I look forward to the possibility of a positive reply to this letter.

Thank you.

Very truly yours,

Sanford Kelson

“PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc receives Harvard University’s professor”

PM_Nguyen_Xuan_Phuc_receives_Harvard_Universitys_professor.jpg
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (R) and Thomas Vallely at the reception. (Source: VNA)

When I saw this headline, I was curious to see who the Harvard professor was.  It was none other than Thomas Vallely, who is not a professor but an administrator with neither an academic appointment nor a Ph.D.  More importantly, this is the same Thomas Vallely (TV) who made a series of cruel and insensitive statements about civilian deaths during the war in an interview that was published earlier this year in Politico.  I listed and commented on the most egregious quotes in this August 2018 article, More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells

Apparently, Prime Minister Phuc is unaware of this background information or, if he is,  considers it so much water under the bridge.  While I understand the nature of politics as the art of compromise, there are some lines that should not be crossed.  

What was most striking about this article was TV’s proposal to name the “most important lecture hall” in the Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) school of public policy and management after the late John McCain.  Yes, the same John McCain who could never bring himself to properly thank the two Vietnamese men who fished him out of Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi after his jet was shot down in October 1967, thereby saving his life – TWICE.  The first time was from drowning and the second was by protecting him from an understandably angry crowd that wanted to finish the job. 

This is also the same John McCain who repeatedly referred to Vietnamese as “gooks” in various speeches and who never met a war he didn’t like.  (Sorry, but his death bed concession about Iraq doesn’t count.  While always better late than never, still too little, too late.)  Can’t TV and associates do better than that, I ask myself rhetorically?   

What’s next, the Bob Kerrey Auditorium?  It could be yet another feather in his cap, in addition to having his very own war crimes exhibit in the HCMC War Remnants Museum.  Yet another insult to the memory of the 4 million Vietnamese who were killed during the US war, the survivors, and the Viet Nam of 2018.  Since FUV has chosen to cross that line, why not the Richard M. Nixon or Lyndon B. Johnson Administration Building or the Robert McNamara Student Center?  

TV is a one-man rhetorical wrecking ball, living proof that Fulbright University Vietnam desperately needs a public relations makeover.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Fake News: “Australia ‘first choice’ for overseas Vietnamese students”

australian dept of ed and training

This is presumably an editor’s mistake.  Fact-checking is important and really easy these days.  Is Australia the world’s leading host of Vietnamese students, meaning their “first choice”?  

As of 10-18, there were 23,803 young Vietnamese studying in Australia at all levels out of a total of 673,296 international students, according to the Australia’s Department of Education and Training

Here are the top five (5) host countries:

  1.  Japan (61,671, 2017);
  2. USA (29,788, 8-18)
  3. South Korea (27,061, 4-18)
  4. Australia (23,803, 10-18) ; and
  5. Canada (14,095, 12-17 – a one-year increase of 89%).

Claiming that Australia is the “first choice” for Vietnamese students is not only wishful thinking; it’s just plain wrong.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

“I Love America. That’s Why I Have to Tell the Truth About It”

time logoI liked most of this recent Time magazine essay by Viet Thanh Nguyen (VTN).  (The title is the very definition of patriotism, by the way.)  I was, however, troubled by the parts in bold italics in the following statements.  It’s as if he’s trying to sugarcoat his message in an effort to make it more palatable for a mostly US audience.  In doing so, he dilutes its overall impact.  My comments follow each excerpt below.  

Many Americans consider the war to be a noble, if possibly flawed, example of American good intentions. And while there is some truth to that, it was also simply a continuation of French colonization, a war that was racist and imperialist at its roots and in its practices. As such, this war was just one manifestation of a centuries-long expansion of the American empire that began from its own colonial birth and ran through the frontier, the American West, Mexico, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and now the Middle East.

Oops!  He did it again.  An assertion followed by equivocation followed by contradictory statements.  Why not just leave out that part about there being “some truth” to the notion that the US War in Viet Nam was a noble example of American good intentions, when it was a yet another example of US hubris and galactic stupidity, a pointless and epic tragedy that cost the lives of nearly 4 million Vietnamese and 58,300 US Americans, not to mention war legacies that haunt Viet Nam and, to a much lesser extent, the US, to this day?  Call a spade a spade, don’t water down the remainder of the thought by telling US Americans what most want and need to hear in order to continue living in their sociopolitical fantasy world.  

I made such criticisms not because I hated all the countries that I have known but because I love them. My love for my countries is difficult because their histories, like those of all countries, are complicated. Every country believes in its own best self and from these visions has built beautiful cultures, France included. And yet every country is also soiled in the blood of conquest and violence, Vietnam included. If we love our countries, we owe it to them not just to flatter them but to tell the truth about them in all their beauty and their brutality, America included.

Is he referring to the Republic of Viet Nam (South Viet Nam), the country of his parents in what should have been a temporarily divided Viet Nam?  I’m tired of this kind of moral equivalency, as if each of these three countries is comparable in terms of “the blood of conquest and violence.”  Seriously?  

In what ways is Viet Nam “soiled” by this, aside from its gradual expansion southward from what was the original Viet Nam?  The overthrow of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s doesn’t count because, while technically an invasion, it was in reality a liberation for the survivors of the KR. 

In short, to mention France, the US, Viet Nam, and “the blood of conquest and violence” in the same paragraph is to grossly misrepresent and distort reality.  It’s as if VTN is pandering to his fellow US Americans, as if to say “this is what all three countries have in common,” when nothing could be further from the truth.  The US and France are a league of their own in this respect.  

Has Viet Nam every been a colonial or neocolonial empire?  On the contrary, it’s been the victim of several through its long and tumultuous history, including China, France, and the US, each of which it roundly defeated, much to its everlasting credit.  

VTN often speaks the truth, even sometimes uncomfortable truths, especially for a US American audience, but with the occasional equivocation and misstatement, for example, like the time he said in a nationally televised US interview that “the US won this conflict” – in reference to the US War in Viet Nam – because Viet Nam adopted a capitalist system, again telling his US American audience what it wants to hear and not the cold, unvarnished truth. 

I wonder if Time or any other mainstream US media outlet would publish what he writes, if he did?  Is it self-censorship or does VTN really believe everything that he says in print and interviews?  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!

PatEdSealThis is an essay I felt compelled to write about a US American study abroad program to Viet Nam that reinforces and indeed celebrates US nationalism.  It is a textbook example of how not to structure such a program. 

The country of Viet Nam is but a sideshow, a prop that enables students and veterans to waltz hand in hand down a very bloody memory lane and learn nothing, at least nothing that resembles historical truth. 

There was one last year and another one that started earlier this week.  As I mentioned in the postscript, C of O liked the 2017 Viet Nam program so much that it organized a fourth trip to Viet Nam this from 9-22 December 2018.   Since they’re running out of veterans who are alive, yet alone able to make the long trip to Viet Nam, what’s next, Patriotic Education Travel Programs to Afghanistan and Iraq? 

Here’s an excerpt that may whet your appetite to read the article in its entirety.

Patriotic Education as Misnomer

A cursory reading of the program information and the “tour blog” reveals that it would be more accurate to call it the “Nationalistic Education Program.”  The distinction between patriotism and nationalism, while quite elementary and accessible in any dictionary, is lost on most US Americans, including those with advanced degrees and obviously the leaders of C of O. Patriotism is defined simply as “love for or devotion to one’s country”.  In contrast, nationalism is defined as loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.

As with most US evangelical Christians, there are close ties to US nationalism. Why?  Because both are about a sense of group identification, exaltation, and superiority.  If you’re an evangelical Christian, you have found salvation and are “saved.”  The rest of us are doomed to eternal damnation.

On the political side of the coin, in the words of Herman Melville “We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people — the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world,” i.e., are members of an exclusive club that is the “greatest nation on Earth.”  In fact, the logo for the C of O Patriotic Education Program features these words:  God, Sacrifice, Country, and Heritage, a rhetorical intertwining of religion and nationalism.

It’s clear that these programs are designed not to create global citizens, which is usually the case with study abroad programs, but to solidify preexisting nationalistic values and attitudes.  Think of it this type of study abroad as the mixing of US nationalism with US-style evangelical Christianity, the perfect international education marriage made in hell. 

Here’s what one US veteran of the US War in Viet Nam had to say about the article:  

DS
Yesterday at 5:13 AM · 

Such a sad commentary, a study abroad program which has been designed to indoctrinate students with lies, with veteran mentor’s denials of their murderous hand in a war that should never have been.

It so reminds me of Zionists designed tours for Jewish Students to visit Israel devoid of the cruelty of its Apartheid Laws, it Check Points, it Genocidal attacks on Gaza, its becoming the monster it’s founders escaped from.

The enemy in the American War in Viet Nam was the American Invading Military.

To deny this truth to these students from the College of the Ozarks should be a crime.

Shalom (שלום), MAA