Americans’ perception of corruption

Published on Online Journal, by Ben Tanosborn, Nov 5, 2010.

To most knowledgeable Americans, when you mention CPI, the first thing that comes to their minds is the “onsumer price index,”something they associate with inflation and the way it might affect their personal lives as consumers. I would be surprised if even one percent among this educated group ever heard of Transparency International and its annually published Corruption Perceptions Index CPI.

The fact that Transparency International is headquartered in Berlin, or that its output may not be flattering to their national pride, never helped matters; during TI’s 15 years of existence, neither the American corporate press, nor public officials, nor politicians in this nation have considered discussing corruption as a national civic issue, preferring that it be relegated to individual cases, rare “otten apple”situations; and that did little to change the overall perception of a virtuous American society.

In the past, corruption to Americans, at least in a societal way, was something that existed mostly beyond their borders – in Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world. Americans preferred to think of themselves as number 1 when it came to being “corruption-proof” in the public sector. So finding themselves ranked number 22 by TI has come as a shock, just as other rankings have been in the last few years – in life expectancy, education, broadband internet access and all areas of citizens’ welfare – vis-à-vis the two dozen or so nations that comprise the so-called developed world … //

… This index tries to measure the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians, while Transparency International defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Getting a 7.1 score from a range of 0 to 10 is certainly nothing to be proud of for a nation that somehow keeps insisting to have the formula for working democracy, and militarily tries to implement a nation-building program in parts of the world. And that brings us to the irony in the situation: of the 180 nations rated in the CPI … would we ever guess that Iraq ranks 176th and Afghanistan 179th? Yes, America’s embryo-democratic protégées where the US is clearly nation-building and conducting unending wars of choice!

Americans are starting to come to terms with what corruption is all about, and how naive they have been in thinking that their “exceptionalism” would keep corruption at bay, at least domestically.

If Americans could only reach a little further and define corruption beyond domestic and into international terms … as ”the abuse of hegemonic power for elitist corporate gain,” their understanding of peace and war would not need to be filtered through the Pentagon; and their foreign relations would certainly take a much different course.

America’s last five-star general and first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Omar N. Bradley said back in 1948 … ”Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.” Nothing much has changed since then … except for America’s wish to be the dominant giant while still remaining an ethical infant. (full text).

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