Thursday, March 29, 2012

#89 / Corruption

A journalist friend, a reporter for the Deccan Herald (in Bangalore, India), wrote me yesterday about political corruption. She covers an ombudsman anti-corruption agency of the state government, which has been very proactive in her state (Karnataka), and she believes that corruption, as a "seamier common side of life," is often "abetted by the citizens, who simply want to take the easy way out." That's true even for journalists, she writes, since she is put to the choice "whether to be true to my profession or let go of scoops ..."

My friend assumes that we in the United States have an impression that "corruption" is a basic fact of life where Indian politics is concerned (she's probably right, and this is an accurate depiction, she says). However, it strikes me that there is plenty of corruption in the United States, too, though it's probably not celebrated as one of the major aspects of how things get done here.

In yesterday's edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, for instance, which I read shortly after seeing my friend's email, the top story in Matier & Ross is all about potential corruption involving the oversight of the Oakland Coliseum, with Don Perata, former President pro Tem of the California State Senate, playing a key role. I've been talking with young people, students and former students at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and their visceral rejection of "politics" is fueled by their perception that it's "dirty," and corrupt from top to bottom. Again, there's lots of evidence that this is just as true here as in India or other places.

I don't think we can escape from "politics," since we do "live in a political world." Therefore, it's imperative that we not concede the primacy of corruption as a major mechanism for political effectiveness. Accepting corruption as a basic methodology, and then "abetting" the process, will ultimately destroy genuine self-government.

Newspapers, incidentally, can play a key role in fighting the routine acceptance of a system premised on corruption. Some "good news" from yesterday's Chronicle is a story reporting that the Bay Citizen and Berkeley's Center for Investigative Reporting will merge, and that one of the outcomes will be to move coverage to more "investigations," exactly the kind of reporting that can help disclose corruption in our politics.

Knowing more about the "corruption" found in our political process, though, is not in and of itself very helpful, if the reaction is either discouragement (as with the students I mentioned) or acceptance and participation (as in the case of citizens taking "the easy way out," cited by my journalist friend). What is needed is our personal (and non-corrupt) involvement in the political process, demanding that our institutions of democracy in fact serve the people, not the powerful.

As I've noted before, this is, in a way, really a question of "time management." Are we willing to put in the time to take back our politics?

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