Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Suzuki makes the case for evaluating our well-being through Gross National Happiness rather than GDP alone:
There’s more to happiness than just having a clean environment – and Bhutan has yet to get there. According to research for the UN Conference on Happiness, “The happiest countries in the world are all in Northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Netherlands).” Although these countries are wealthy, the study points out that money isn’t the only factor, as happiness is decreasing in countries like the U.S. “Political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income in explaining well-being differences between the top and bottom countries,” the researchers write. “At the individual level, good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families are crucial.” Note that the happiest countries all have healthy economies and robust social programs.
There’s an old saw that says the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. In the case of leaders who focus almost entirely on economic growth and corporate interests, it’s a recipe for disaster. As George Monbiot recently wrote in the U.K.’s Guardian, “In return for 150 years of explosive consumption, much of which does nothing to advance human welfare, we are atomising the natural world and the human systems that depend on it.”

As light gradually returns to the north and we celebrate a season of sharing, our leaders could brighten all our lives by considering what really makes our societies strong, healthy and happy.
 - Don Lenihan discusses how the Cons' F-35 debacle represents a classic example of the type of government capture that flourishes when decisions are made without transparency:
Purchasing a fleet of fifth-generation fighter jets, for example, is an extremely complex and technical task. On files like this, expert advice not only informs policy, it usually drives it. For a minster who may not know a cockpit from a wing flap, this can be a challenge.

While bureaucrats, lobbyists and vendors may call themselves advisors, too often they turn out to be the real decision-makers on the file. There’s a term for this in policy circles: capture. If the reports are right, the F-35 story looks like a textbook case.
Secrecy plays a big role in capture. It is supposed to give the inner circle (and the government) a critical advantage over opponents. If your opponents know what you know, they can challenge you on it, perhaps publicly. If the issues at stake rest on technical knowledge and expertise — as in the case of the F-35 file — there is always a risk that your opponents’ analysis will be better than yours, or that they might be better at persuading others that it is. If they win, you lose.

Secrecy counters this. It positions the inner circle for battle and helps ensure they are in control of the process.

Ministers and advisors alike find this kind of argument convincing and reassuring. For ministers, however, it has a fatal flaw. The minister’s role in the policy process is fundamentally different from that of the advisors. Ministers must account publicly for their decisions.
 - But Michael den Dandt has a few more terms for the Cons' disastrous excuse for government in addressing the F-35 purchase:
No matter what happens now, the F-35 episode will stand as a spectacular example of how not to manage an important public project. One can call it ramshackle, slipshod, inept, dishonest and incompetent, and not even begin to do events justice. Had they deliberately set out to spiral-dive their reputations for sound management and probity into the ground, Peter MacKay & Co. could not have done a better job than the record shows these past three years.
In unveiling their new-new process, chastened ministers will shelter beneath Ambrose’s personal Harry Potter invisibility cloak, which she has earned by not engaging in the asinine talking-point babble that has become a substitute for reason in this House of Commons. They will continue to exploit Alexander’s reputation, until it too no longer functions.

What they cannot so easily address is why MacKay, Fantino, the apparatus of the Prime Minister’s Office, and Harper himself, ignored so many credible warnings, which came from so many credible quarters, that sole-sourcing the F-35 was a terrible idea. Nor can they undo that, for months on end, they met these legitimate voices, such as that of Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, with contempt. Page, who was just doing his job, was proven almost exactly right. The government, which was not doing its job, was proven almost exactly wrong.

The jet purchase they can fix, with a competition. The cast of mind that got them here, not so much. Absent a radical overhaul of cabinet, and a miraculous transformation in their approach to wielding power, they will wear it. It’s too colossal a bungle to set aside.
- Finally, Stuart Trew writes that there's predictably one part of the TPP that the Cons are trying to eliminate - as any enforceable labour standards are once again intolerable to the Harper Cons.

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