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Smiling Unhappy People from Bhutan


Quality of life and quality of the economy don't necessarily go hand in hand. Lest there be any doubt, keep in mind that the cleanup costs associated with the BP oil spill will actually add to the Gross National Product (GNP) of the United States in 2010. Talk about a flawed system of accounting.

It's one reason why a group of Vermonters is promoting an entirely different indicator for measuring the nation's actual "wealth."  As Andy Bromage reported for Seven Days in April, this week Champlain College is playing host to the first-ever national conference on the "Gross National Happiness Project," which proposes replacing the GNP with Gross National Happiness, or GNH. Based on a model officially adopted by Bhutan in 2008, GNH measures more human-oriented indicators of national wealth, such as the citizens' physical and psychological well-being, their use of time, level of education, quality of life, and so forth.

But this week's conference, which runs from June 1-3, features a keynote speaker who is making a lot of Bhutanese living in the United States, including the 500 or so Nepali refugees from Bhutan currently living in Burlington, very unhappy. Karma Tshiteem is secretary of Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Commission. As an official representative of the Bhutanese government, Tshiteem's presence has been described as a "slap in the face" to refugees who fled Bhutan under the fear of imprisonment, torture and death.

Allies of the local Bhutanese community are planning to protest his presence, starting at 8:15 tomorrow morning.