Tag politics

On Free Lunches

Seoul is currently all abuzz with what I’m told is its first-ever referendum: the issue of free school lunches. Problem is, I’m not sure people have considered even the most basic facts before forming an opinion.

Let me open by saying I am all for free school lunches. In both Korea and the U.S., there are some kids who, for various reasons, would literally have nothing to eat all day if they weren’t provided a lunch by the school. If we, as a society, can help these kids by giving them one meal a day, we must.

Now, in Seoul, where this issue is being debated, how many children are in this kind of situation, or something remotely close to it? I’m thinking 5% would be the absolute high end.

Here’s the thing: Seoul already provides free lunches for the bottom 35%.

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Honolulu’s Doomed Rail Project

Honolulu’s rail project is in the news again today, which prompted me to think about it yet again. And the more I think about it, the less sense it makes to me.

My first thought, when I heard about the project, was that the image of an elevated railway snaking along Oahu’s southern coast is really not the image of Hawaii that I carry in my head. (At-grade crossings would be a disaster, further snarling the traffic rail is meant to alleviate, and I am not sure a subway is even possible given the physical properties of the island and the proposed route, so elevated seems to be the only option.)

The original $4 billion budget seemed outlandish, and that budget later evolved to $5.5 billion. And even with that kind of budget, the project is expected to take decades to complete.

It may be hard to digest these kinds of numbers without some kind of comparison. Happily, I happen to live right next to a good example of rail done right.

Seoul’s Metro Line 9 was also a $5 billion project. Let’s see what Seoul got for its $5 million investment. (Well, to be fair, this cost was not shouldered directly by the citizens, as Korea’s governments often utilize public-private partnerships, but let’s not think about that for now.)

Line 9 is a heavy rail, all-underground line that includes both all-stop and express trains, with 25 stops over 27km (~17 miles). It was completed in 7 years (or 3, depending on how you count). The line is operated by a private company, France-based Veolia Transport, with construction and maintenance handled jointly by Veolia and Korea’s Hyundai Rotem.

50 days after opening, Line 9 reached the 10 million rider mark. By the end of its first year (July 2010, about the time I started riding it), total ridership had reached 80 million.

Fares are the same for all Seoul subway lines. That is, the fare starts at about $0.82 and increases by 9 cents every 10km, up to $1.18 if you ride the line end-to-end (30 minutes via the express train, 51 via all-stop). It is my understanding that the city prices subway fares such that the system as a whole operates at a slight loss; however, since Line 9 was designed from the start to operate with a lower cost structure compared to earlier lines, it is possible that Line 9 itself operates in the black.

Fares are paid using prepaid transportation cards that can be bought and reloaded at any station (via vending machines) or at convenience stores. (These cards can also be used to pay bus fares, buy things from vending machines and at convenience stores, etc.)

So, that’s what a successful $5 billion rail project looks like. What do you think of Honolulu’s rail project now?

Health Care Reform: yet another perspective (part 2)

Now that the final bits have been signed into law (including student loan junk… how is that related to healthcare again?) it’s a good time to finish this thing, finally. This is part 2 of my response to the monstrous healthcare reform bill. Read Part 1 first if you haven’t already.
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Health Care Reform: yet another perspective

The passing of the health care bill in the House and subsequent signing by President Obama has predictably generated a lot of chatter. Including this post, I suppose, in which I hope to present a viewpoint that differs from most of the responses I’ve seen so far.

This is part 1 of my response. I originally intended to make this a single blog post, but it turned out to be so lengthy that I’ll need to split it up to keep it readable.

I don’t think there is anyone out there who is truly ecstatic about the present state of U.S. healthcare, so I believe the participants in the great debate fall into two categories: those more or less happy with the current state of affairs (at least, happy enough to believe that the bill should be voted down), and those calling for change.
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Some jobs are disposable, and that is a good thing

HGEA (Hawaii Government Employees Association) is Hawaii’s largest union, because the government is Hawaii’s largest employer. More on this incredible atrocity later.

HGEA has been putting up posters at the mall proclaiming that “No worker should be disposable.” This is one of them. (I couldn’t get a bigger size because their web site is broken. Hm.)


Hey, I agree with that! People are not single-purpose, single-use trash. They should not have to retire, or be euthanized, they are valuable and can continue to work. If the job they are currently doing ceases to be important, hey, people are flexible, intelligent creatures who can easily learn to perform another job.


Somehow, looking at that poster, I don’t think this is what HGEA is trying to say.
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