Blogs

Will a Western Gross National Happiness Index Catch On?

| Thu Dec. 4, 2008 2:42 PM EST

Below is a guest blog entry by Hong Kong-based journalist Don Duncan.

In Buddhist Bhutan, it is common wisdom that every creation requires destruction. That's hearteningly optimistic for the Western economists who descended on the tiny country for the international Gross National Happiness Conference last week.

Gross National Happiness, or GNH, requires that advances be made on nine key fronts in order for national progress to be achieve—education, health, culture, community vitality, living standards, psychological wellbeing, the ecology, and balanced time use. All government policy making in Bhutan is guided by these principles.

During the high capitalism of Reaganomics, Thatcherism and, more recently, free market fundamentalism, the doctrine met with incredulity and derision. Even if you can define national happiness, how on earth can you measure it?

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On Hold in Canada

| Thu Dec. 4, 2008 2:21 PM EST

ON HOLD IN CANADA....The "Canadian coup" has been put on hold. After the three minority parties in the Canadian parliament banded together to challenge the ruling Conservative Party, one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's options was to ask the governor general for a suspension, or prorogue, of parliament. Michael Stickings reports:

Well, he did so this morning, and she granted his request — meaning that there will be no no-confidence vote until, at the earliest, Parliament resumes sitting late next month. The government may then lose a no-confidence vote on the Throne Speech or the budget, but, in the meantime, both sides (and the Conservatives even more so because they have more money) will campaign aggressively to woo public opinion.

More here.

Piracy Update

| Thu Dec. 4, 2008 2:06 PM EST

PIRACY UPDATE....Following a failed pirate attack on a cruise liner in the Gulf of Aden a few days ago, there were reports yesterday of yet another pirate attack on a cruise ship, the MV Athena en route to the Seychelles. But apparently not:

Grant Hunter, Australian managing director of Classic International Cruises, which operates the ship, today told ABC radio that no pirates had tried to board.

Mr Hunter acknowledged that as the Athena pulled up to the southern end of the Gulf of Aden, several tuna fishing skiffs loomed "some half a kilometre to three kilometres away" as the ship queued to enter a secure port area.

...."Under normal international security regulations, all the ships in that particular grouping put their fire hoses on board (and) activated those," Mr Hunter said.

"The crew were spraying water off the side of the ship but at no stage did any of the skiffs attempt to get near the vessel, board the vessel. "They weren't aggressive to the vessel."

....He said that it was difficult to understand how the reports emanated, because passengers had been eyeing the tuna boats from afar with binoculars — and vice versa.

Tuna boats, eh?

The GM Bailout

| Thu Dec. 4, 2008 1:24 PM EST

THE GM BAILOUT....Jim Manzi comments on the restructuring plan that GM is submitting to Congress today:

I guess somebody who's never read a real business plan might mistake this document for one, but it's a joke. It's basically a list of assertions of amazing improvements, entirely discontinuous with actual performance to date, that they will achieve. What's missing is any real indication of how they will go about accomplishing this.

Hmmm. Sounds pretty normal for a business plan to me. List of assertions? Check. Unrelated to past performance? Check. Lots of handwaving about how goals will be accomplished? Check. Back in 1999 some venture fund on Sand Hill Road would have funded it in a minute.

Kidding aside, though, Manzi is probably right: this is meant as a political document, not a real business plan. And after GM blows through the $18 billion they're asking for by next spring, they'll be back asking for more. And who will have the guts to turn them down after already investing so much taxpayer dough in the first place?

I'm just very skeptical of this. Bailing out the financial industry is one thing because the financial industry is different. When it goes down, we all go down. But there really is a slippery slope problem here: once we go beyond the financial industry to the auto industry, what stops us from bailing out farmers and house builders and shipbuilders too? There just has to be a better way of handling this than forking over giant wads of cash with very few strings attached. GM doesn't need surgery, it needs to be rebuilt. That won't happen if they get an $18 billion bailout from Uncle Sam.

Gore: Clean Coal Doesn't Exist. But Should It?

| Thu Dec. 4, 2008 1:06 PM EST

During his campaign, Obama called for clean coal technology. His website promises to "enter into public private partnerships to develop five 'first-of-a-kind' commercial scale coal-fired plants with clean carbon capture and sequestration technology." But on Thursday, Al Gore tossed a bucket of cold water on so-called "clean coal."

He launched a new coalition called the Reality Campaign, a multimillion dollar ad campaign that seeks to convince the public that clean coal—at least for now—is a myth.

Gore's goal is to counter claims that coal companies and the US Department of Energy have made about "a new generation of energy processes that sharply reduce air emissions...from coal-burning power plants," as the DoE puts it. Here's a recent ad from America's Power, a company that makes electricity from coal, that maintains clean coal technology can produce lower emissions than regular coal-burning power plants do now (which the coalition says are greater than emissions from all the cars and trucks in America):

The problem is, according to the Reality Coalition, there's no such thing yet as "clean" coal. The coalition doesn't exactly say there could never be a clean way of burning coal in the future. But they do say that the myth that clean coal already exists today allows companies like Clean Coal Technologies Inc. to misrepresent their plants' impact on the environment and make a buck while doing so.

Ultimately, there might not be a major disagreement between Gore and Obama on clean coal. Obama is only for it if it can be developed, and he acknowledges it's not here yet. The Gore campaign seems to be more concerned with now rather than later and trying to make sure that people know what Obama knows. The technology to burn coal cleanly has yet to be developed and implemented. Might Gore support clean coal technology if it ever does get off the shelf? Maybe he'll tell us that in the next ad.

Bonuses

| Thu Dec. 4, 2008 12:48 PM EST

BONUSES....Robert Rubin has apparently told the Citigroup board that all of them should forego their bonuses this year. Ezra Klein asks, what bonuses?

Am I missing the point of bonuses? I always understood them to be tied to performance, either that of the individuals or that of the company. But the company almost went bankrupt this year and the executives demonstrated themselves almost cosmically hapless. If they were going to get bonuses, then what could the term possibly mean? Bonus for what? A working cardiovascular system?

Silly boy. You expect these titans of risk to take an actual risk with their own pay? That's not how it works in corporate America. When the stock market is skyrocketing, everyone gets stock options. When it's tanking, suddenly everyone gets religion and takes their comp in cash and perks. As for bonuses, the range of payout is almost never the theoretical 0-100%. In reality, it's more like 70-95% for the range of reasonably conceivable outcomes. If your company goes completely bankrupt, that might go down to 60%. Welcome to Wall Street.

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No More Science

| Thu Dec. 4, 2008 12:22 PM EST

NO MORE SCIENCE....From CJR:CNN, the Cable News Network, announced yesterday that it will cut its entire science, technology, and environment news staff, including Miles O'Brien, its chief technology and environment correspondent, as well as six executive producers. Mediabistro's TVNewser broke the story.

"We want to integrate environmental, science and technology reporting into the general editorial structure rather than have a stand alone unit," said CNN spokesperson Barbara Levin. "Now that the bulk of our environmental coverage is being offered through the Planet in Peril franchise, which is produced by the Anderson Cooper 360 program, there is no need for a separate unit."I can't say that I'm shocked by this or anything, but it's unfortunate. Environmental reporting, whether produced by Anderson Cooper or not, could use more reporters, not fewer, and science reporting in general is likely to become more important now that we have a president waiting in the wings who doesn't think of it as just another obstacle to be overcome on his way to dismantling the regulation of the moment. Disappointing news.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Is Made of Steel

| Thu Dec. 4, 2008 11:50 AM EST

Guess who'll be joining us in the unemployment lines? This South Florida rep who hung up on Obama, not once, but twice. Then she hung up on Rahm Emanuel. Presumably before he could curse her and the horse she rode in on.

Tough chick. She wasn't getting punk'd like Palin and she's got the best Barack anecdote of all to boot. Finally, the Prez had to get one of her homies to call and convince her to stop hurting his ear drums. But of course, our Negro Cary Grant remains too cool for school; he ain't mad at her.

Now, all I want to know is why he was calling her.

Seriously Bad News Week for KBR

| Thu Dec. 4, 2008 11:31 AM EST

Yesterday, we mentioned that a KBR subcontractor is storing 1,000 workers in a warehouse in Baghdad. Today, there's this:

The lawsuit also accuses KBR of shipping ice in mortuary trucks that "still had traces of body fluids and putrefied remains in them when they were loaded with ice. This ice was served to U.S. forces."

If you think that's bad, read the full story at Army Times. There's more, and it's all horrifying.

How Long Will the Recession Last?

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 10:33 PM EST

HOW LONG WILL THE RECESSION LAST?....I don't know. But I was noodling about this and thinking that since the housing bubble is at the core of all our problems, it's unlikely the economy will turn up before the housing market hits bottom. So when will that be?

Based on historical price-to-income ratios, Calculated Risk suggested a few days ago that it would bottom out by Q3 of next year, or maybe a little later. But extending CR's chart and assuming the market bottoms gradually, rather than sharply, it looks to me like we might have to wait until the middle of 2010.

Like I said, this is just noodling. The housing market might bottom sooner than I think, and the economy might start to recover even while the housing market still has a little more slumping to do. But probably not much before. I don't think I'd be surprised if we're still in recession this time next year.