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


Snowplow Parents: A Global Phenomenon?


Here’s a story you don’t see every day though there are probably countless more than are reported in professional Facebook groups.  Mommy and Daddy know best.  These parents are interchangeably referred to as lawnmower or snowplow parents,.  Their (dis)service to their children is to remove every obstacle in the latter’s path.  Think of it as a misguided and perverted kind of love.  Some are living vicariously through their children.  Rather than teaching them how to fish, they give them the fish, not exactly a positive and useful life lesson, unless the children have generous trust funds.  

In Viet Nam and other countries, there are many companies that provide this “service” for a handsome fee.  One in Viet Nam even organizes projects (think community service) so that their clients can list them on their resume and have something else to write about.  Customer as king and queen.  Or, to borrow a line from the movie Jerry Maguire and clean it up for a G-rated audience, I will kill for you, I will maime for you, … and pillage for you.  

Rampant fraud in the admission process, another investigative report waiting and dying to be written.  Whatever it takes.  The ends justify the means in a multimillion dollar industry that makes miracles happen – at any cost – for ambitious young people and perhaps even more ambitious parents, who will do almost anything to make their children’s (and their) dreams come true.  The end result is that all become collaborators and conspirators in a web of unethical behavior.  Bottom line:  Success without integrity is failure.  

Peace, MAA

“best phd degree for purchase”

finally doneThis search term and others like it, e.g., p.hd buy, lead unsuspecting netizens to my blog which, of course, doesn’t provide information about how to buy academic degrees but rather rants and raves against diploma mills and rogue providers, most of which are based in the US, sorry to say.

Speaking of the US, those who have earned a Ph.D. are members of a pretty select group in that country.  According to the US Census Bureau, 1.77% of all US Americans age 25 and over have one.  That group is even more select in countries that do not have a mass education system.

Here’s what Peterson’s had to say about Ph.D. programs with the understated title Ph.D. Programs Are Rigorous Educational Experiences:

Ph.D. programs—for that matter, any doctoral program—will take years to complete. Depending on what you’re studying and how much time you can put into your studies and dissertation, doctoral programs can consume anywhere from 3 to 6 to 9 years or more. Earning a Ph.D. degree can be so time-consuming that many candidates cannot work full-time, and they often live on stipends and fellowships to help make ends meet while they haunt the research labs and libraries. These graduate programs are perhaps the most rigorous educational experience people can have, but when they are complete, the recipients are considered to be individuals who add intellectual and scholarly value to their fields.

Another point worth mentioning is that an estimated 50% of US doctoral students do not complete their degree.  Many of them complete their coursework but are unable to reach the summit, i.e., write and defend their dissertation, meaning they are forever ABD (“all but dissertation”).

What does it take to complete a Ph.D.?  Intelligence (brilliance is not a prerequisite but certainly doesn’t hurt), passion, creativity, a strong work ethic and, most importantly, perseverance.  It’s a long, hard slog and if you don’t have the fire in the belly and a good support system, you will never reach the light at the end of the tunnel, the promised land of degree conferral and life after your Ph.D. program.  You will end up in advanced degree limbo known as ABD.  Real Ph.D.s and the experience on which they’re based offer many tangible and intrinsic benefits that last a lifetime.  The slog is well worth it.

life after phdPrestige, of course, is why so many people want to buy one.  Why invest all of that blood, sweat and tears when you can fill out an online form, including your credit card information and, voilà, you’re “Dr.” Somebody.

Side Note:  While the Ph.D. is a research degree and most graduates pursue a career as a professor, whose primary tasks are research, teaching and services – in that order at many institutions – there are other career paths that take full advantage of everything on which the degree is based.

For those who buy a Ph.D. what happens though when people ask Where did you get your Ph.D.?  Just ask well-known people with fake degrees who have ended up in media stories about academic fraud.  A bit of advice for those who choose to buy their Ph.D.:  For God’s sake, don’t include it in your bio or LinkedIn profile!

The easy answer to the question about where to buy the “best phd degree” is that the best Ph.D. degrees are earned, not purchased like computers or smartphones.  Some things just aren’t for sale.


“As Sestak scandal draws to close, US government gives up on millions”

A screen capture of Binh and Dao Vo's wedding video from November 2012. Michael T. Sestak (L), the former head of the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City's Non-Immigrant Visa Division apparently served as Vo's best man at the wedding.
A screen capture of Binh and Dao Vo’s wedding video from November 2012. Michael T. Sestak (L), the former head of the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City’s Non-Immigrant Visa Division apparently served as Vo’s best man at the wedding.

Living up to one word in the subtitle of this venerable blog, here’s some more intrigue for you.  Below are some of the “money paragraphs” from this update.  My guess is the fat lady hasn’t sung yet on this bizarre case.  Follow this link to read the entire article.  It’s not show me the money, it’s where is the money?  As this case illustrates, corruption is not unique to emerging economies.

Michael Sestak and his date at the wedding of Tăng Bình & Anh Đào.
A screen capture of Michael Sestak and his date at wedding of Tăng Bình & Anh Đào.

Minor correction:  While most of the 489 Vietnamese nationals who participated in this $cheme went on tourist visas, some bought student visas.  Good luck finding them in a country as large and populous as the US, which also happens to have a Vietnamese-American community of over 1.5 million.  It’s no surprise then that many of them are in Orange County and San Jose, among other areas.

While this case one of the most egregious ever in terms of the large amounts of money involved – “one of the largest bribery schemes involving a Foreign Service Officer in the history of the United States” – it’s not the only example of US consular officers selling visas for money or other benefits (e.g., sex).  In fact, it’s the lack of accountability that makes it possible for dishonest consular officers to supplement their US State Department income.  The only difference is one of scale; most are not as greedy as Sestak and his Vietnamese-American and Vietnamese associates.


Where’s the Re$t of the Loot?

Though the Feds have painted Vo as the mastermind — the man who divvied up and laundered the proceeds — he’ll probably get out of jail well before his 50th birthday. Vo’s younger sister, Hong Chau Vo (an American citizen) and cousin, Truc Thanh Huynh (a citizen of Vietnam) are already out of jail and under 30. If Vo upholds his plea agreement, the US Government will drop all charges against his wife, Nguyen Thuy Dao Anh, (AKA Alice Nguyen), a Vietnamese national who was never arrested.
Sestak may be well into his 60s when he finally gets out of jail.

Prosecutors only put the gang on the hook for a $9.7 million — a “conservative estimate” they came up with by multiplying $20,000 by 489.
And they couldn’t even find all of that.
“The government has been able to locate only approximately $3.1 million of proceeds at financial institutions in the United States. The government also traced approximately $3.2 million in proceeds that [Vo] transferred from Vietnam to Thailand for Sestak who then invested in real estate. Millions of dollars in proceeds remain overseas and outside the reach of the United States.”
To prove they weren’t just being excessive, the government pointed to a statement written by Hong Vo the middle of the illicit ten-month visa auction.
“I can’t believe Binh has pretty much made over $20m with this business,” she wrote to her sister, identified only as Conspirator A.V. “Slow days… are like 3 clients… and that’s like 160k-180.”

As part of his plea agreement, Vo will have only have to cough up $2 million by the end of next year — meaning the government will only have recovered roughly $8.3 million. If Vo makes good on that payment, the government will drop all charges pending against Alice–the only person indicted in the case who managed to avoid arrest and prosecution.
In some ways, the couple anticipated this scenario.
According to intercepted chats, Vo warned his wife against opening Western bank accounts in his name and Hong told a sibling that Alice had purchased plane tickets out of Vietnam in case the whole thing “blew up.”
When it finally did, roughly $7.7 million disappeared in three days from a series of Sacombank accounts held in both their names.
At the same time, the government maintains that the couple used illicit funds to travel to Israel, South Korea and Hong Kong where they blew hundreds of thousands of dollars on jewelry. They bought condos in Saigon Pearl Apartments in Binh Thanh District and the Xi Riverview Palace in District 2. At one point, they custom-built an aquarium so large they had to bring in engineers to make sure it wouldn’t buckle the floor.
During this spree, Vo wheeled and dealed on a $38,000 rose gold cell phone.
While such spending may seem reckless, it made it nearly impossible for investigators to track the money.

We’ll Help You.  Sorry, We Changed Our Minds.  Good Luck!

The State Department was quick to crow over Vo’s sentencing, but it remains deeply disingenuous about how this case came about and what it means.
“This case demonstrates Diplomatic Security’s unwavering commitment to investigating visa fraud and ensuring that those who commit this crime are brought to justice,” crowed Bill Miller, the head of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) in a press release generated to mark Vo’s sentencing.
The problem there is that the whole case didn’t come about through careful oversight; it came about because a sad sack from Central Vietnam loaned his pregnant wife $20,000 to buy a US visa from Sestak and the Vos.
Instead of coming home with their baby boy, she disappeared, married another man and blabbed about it on Facebook. The sad sack wrote rambling letters to the President and the State Department’s OIG trying to get his wife and money back.

A Diplomatic Security spokesperson declined to comment on any relationship with their sources, but a DS agent named Tai Pham confirmed that they’d used him to build the case and speculated that the informant had put himself in danger by failing to keep quiet about the way they treated him.
He may well be right.
“I’ve run out of money,” the informant wrote last year in one of his final emails to Thanh Nien. “I cannot hide forever.”

Bonus:  Follow this link to watch some clips from the November 2012 wedding of Tăng Bình & Anh Đào, estimated to cost over $300,000, before the shit hit the fan.

“Diplomas, Transcripts & Certificates – Sellin’ Like Hotcakes!” Revisited

cheating next exitMore intrigue in the blog that promises (and delivers!) Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue.  Sometimes, like articles, these posts just write themselves.  I’m just the humble medium.  I received a comment last week from someone in the biz, the fake certificate biz, that is, in response to 2013 post entitled Diplomas, Transcripts & Certificates – Sellin’ Like Hotcakes! about the buying and selling of fraudulent educational credentials.  No, it wasn’t an erudite comment but rather a come-on for folks to buy “registered” IELTS, TOEFL, ESOL and CELTA/DELTA (and other!) English language certificates.  Why earn ’em when you can buy ’em, right?  Here’s one of the “money sentences”, pun intended.

After your order is placed it takes just few days for us to get your details in the system Once your details are imputed in the system it will be in the IELTS or TOEFL web sites/system once for ever and will appear real, legit and verifiable for ever.

THIS I’d like to see.  Show me what u got, boys and girls!

This company also “does” work permits, driver’s licenses, passports and visas.  You want it, you need it, they got it!  Free enterprise is alive and well in the sleazy world of fake educational credentials.

Drum roll…  here it is in the original sloppy (i.e., unedited) form with the contact information redacted.  (I don’t want to generate more business for this outfit.)


Buy Registered IELTS certificates without attending the Exam

fakeWe sell registered IELTS & TOEFL, ESOL, and CELTA/DELTA and other English Language certificates.

Buy Registered IELTS & TOEFL, ESOL certificates without attending the Exam

We deal and specialize in the production of registered TOEFL, IELTS, ESOL, CELTA/DELTA & other English Language Certificates. Please note that Our IELTS & TOEFL Certificates are Original and registered in the data base and Can be verified.After your order is placed it takes just few days for us to get your details in the system Once your details are imputed in the system it will be in the IELTS or TOEFL web sites/system once for ever and will appear real, legit and verifiable for ever.
contact email ——@outlook.com

WE can also help you to get valid Work permits,Driver’s license ,second passport and Visas to European ,USA,Canada and Australia.

Email & skype

Fraud Alert!


Sleazydishonest or immoral; marked by low character or quality

  • Synonyms:  skanky [slang], slatternly, sluttish, slutty, trampy
  • Antonyms:  excellent, fine, first-class, first-rate, good, high-grade, superior, top-notch

125px-Flag_of_California.svgYes, dear reader, here’s another story about a US institution of higher education that uses lies and deception as key tactics in its aggressive student recruitment strategy in Vietnam and elsewhere.  And, yes, it’s based in the great state of California (sorry, CA friends!), home to Hollywood, some of the nation’s finest climates, one of the breadbaskets of the world and a motley crew of unaccredited and nationally accredited (NA) institutions, i.e., for-profit education companies, in most cases.  In the interest of time, let me just mention three examples about this NA school:

  1. Claims to have a letter from the US President congratulating its students on their graduation.  Of course, the image on their website is so small that it’s hard to see what Mr. President wrote and it doesn’t appear to be real White House stationery.
  2. Has its name on an office building it claims to be its campus.  Nothing unusual, right?  The only problem is the name is photoshopped onto a building in which it probably has a suite of offices and classrooms.  This is well beyond exaggeration.  False advertising, anyone?
  3. Has a senior administrator who was previously a senior administrator with an unaccredited, CA-based institution.  A leopard can’t change its spots, as the saying goes.

By the way, since said NA school is “officially accredited”, it has the right to be represented and promoted by the US government, including the Departments of State (i.e., EducationUSA) and Commerce (Commercial Service).  In case you’re wondering, it’s also SEVIS-approved, meaning it’s authorized to issue I-20s, which enable international students to apply for a student visa.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

fraudI will not mention the name of the offending institution only to say that I’ll be updating my list of nationally accredited US schools doing business, or trying to do business, in Vietnam in the near future.  At that time, you can use your formidable powers of deduction to figure it out.  Once you do, you can post a comment that says something to this effect:  “No shit, Sherlock.”

By the way, a little birdie told me that some doors are closing for this sad excuse for a university in Vietnam and that’s a good thing.  Hurray for a small measure of justice in a largely unjust world!


Accreditation: When It Comes To Higher Education, Nothing Could Be More Relevant – Or Controversial

Good article by Jesse Nickles of CollegeTimes and not just because I’m quoted in it.


Photo courtesy of CollegeTimes
Photo courtesy of CollegeTimes

Accreditation. It’s a word that most college students have heard at some point, but that (unfortunately) very few actually comprehend on a meaningful level.

And that is NOT a good thing. With greedy investors and corrupt congressmen aggressively turning college into a for-profit industry devoid of traditional academic discourse and teeming with unqualified faculty, dishonest recruiting practices, and fly-by-night campuses, more and more students are being scammed into attending schools that are a complete waste of time and money. Sadly, in many cases these students could have avoided a huge financial and emotional crisis by simply researching the world of ‘accreditation’ more carefully – (if only they knew how!).

Follow this link to read the rest of the article.