Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The rule of law--election day 2010

Elections trigger a flood of memories.  When I was very young, my parents would sit up late into the night listening to election returns on the radio.  I remember when my mother suspected that my father had voted for Eisenhower in 1956--she was so disgusted she fumed about it for days.

And this is Minnesota.  If we don't lead the nation in voter turnout, we'll be very close to the top.  Our political history is so colorful, we once had the top two candidates for president from the Democratic Party in the same year (1968 Humphrey McCarthy).

My grandfather (mother's side) was part of that history.  After immigrating from Sweden in 1899, he worked in a foundry in Chicago until 1921 when he opted to try farming in central Minnesota.  Terrible timing.  The Great Depression may have started in 1929 but the agricultural depression started in 1921.  There was NO Roaring 20s in rural Minnesota--the work was backbreaking, the winters bitterly cold, and the long dark winter nights were lit by expensive kerosine.  My grandmother grew so homesick for Sweden, she would weep about it often.  My mother and uncle couldn't go to high school because of the expense.

As the Depression ground on, my grandfather turned to political organizing.  As a trade unionist from Chicago trying to make a living farming, he was a natural fit for the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, although he had his misgivings.  "There are probably two groups less alike than farmers and factory workers--the only thing they have in common is that they are being robbed by the same people."

He had some political success when the Farmer-Labor Party elected a Swede named Floyd Bjornstjerne Olson as Governor during the Depression.  But my grandmother died suddenly in 1935 during a monster heat wave.  The reason given was that she was felled by a botched gall bladder removal.  But the real reason, I suspect, is that she simply could not go on--the struggles of life had defeated her.

These days, I keep wondering about the whole idea of failed immigration–is it really possible to think and act as a Nordic person and thrive in North America? Think about who we are. In every meaningful measure from life expectancy to quality educations, from care for the sick to meaningful cooperation with the environment, the Nordic countries routinely top all the lists. How are Nordic people like us supposed to exist in a country run by folks who believe Jesus was a warmonger who would have supported capital punishment (among MANY other absurdities).  And so a people who once were so advanced in boat-building and other Producer arts that they had an empire that stretched from Canada to Constantinople, have been reduced to comic-book characters like Kirk Douglas’ “Vikings” or the kindly dunces who attend the Lake Wobegone Lutheran Church.

The secret to Nordic societies is that they actually believe in democracy.  They believe that societies work best if everyone follows the rules. And, if everyone is going to follow the rules, those rules had damn well better be carefully crafted.  And if you want good rules, you better have widespread participation in the rule-making.  You must have active, professionally-run parties, you need the highest-quality journalism, and you need schools that are rigorous because you know there really are things worth knowing.

I believe that describes my belief set when it come to governance.  Yet it clearly does NOT describe the USA.  Our political parties are run by hacks, our journalism is almost comically incompetent when it isn't outright lying, and our schools crank out self-important grads who know absolutely nothing of importance.  We are not ready to govern ourselves--we barely can be bothered to vote.
Sweden tops global rule of law ranking
Published: 15 Oct 10 
Rule of law and government effectiveness in Sweden are among the best in the world, according to the World Justice Project’s 2010 Rule of Law Index.
The aim of the project is to advance the rule of law around the world in a manner that transcends income and cultural factors.
According to the study, Sweden ranked first in five of nine categories —government accountability, absence of corruption, clear and stable laws, open government, and regulatory enforcement— and places in the top 5 in all nine categories. 
In providing access to civil justice to its citizens, Sweden came in at number two, after Singapore.
"Establishing the rule of law is fundamental to achieving communities of opportunity and equity -- communities that offer sustainable economic development, accountable government, and respect for fundamental rights," the report said.
"Without the rule of law, medicines do not reach health facilities due to corruption; women in rural areas remain unaware of their rights; people are killed in criminal violence; and firms' costs increase because of expropriation risk. The rule of law is the cornerstone to improving public health, safeguarding participation, ensuring security, and fighting poverty."
While the report, based on a three-year study examining , examines data for 37 indicators on the rule of law, provides no single rank for the 35 countries examined, Sweden, by placing at the tope in five categories, performed the best of all countries included in the study. more
Just remember, the current economic mess was caused by throwing out good rules and not replacing them with something better.  So how is USA doing these days--corruption-wise?

It seems we have fallen out of the top 20 as we accelerate the rush to banana-republic status.  The Transparency International rankings are out.  Shame these findings are not front-page news. (sigh)
Transparency and Accountability are Critical to Restoring Trust and Turning Back the Tide of Corruption
With governments committing huge sums to tackle the world's most pressing problems, from the instability of financial markets to climate change and poverty, corruption remains an obstacle to achieving much needed progress. The 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index shows that nearly three quarters of the 178 countries in the index score below five, on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). These results indicate a serious corruption problem.
To address these challenges, governments need to integrate anti-corruption measures in all spheres, from their responses to the financial crisis and climate change to commitments by the international community to eradicate poverty. Transparency International advocates stricter implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption, the only global initiative that provides a framework for putting an end to corruption. Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore are tied at the top of the list with a score of 9.3, followed closely by Finland and Sweden at 9.2. Bringing up the rear is Somalia with a score of 1.1, slightly trailing Myanmar and Afghanistan at 1.4 and Iraq at 1.5.
Notable among decliners over the past year are some of the countries most affected by a financial crisis precipitated by transparency and integrity deficits. Among those improving in the past year, the general absence of OECD states underlines the fact that all nations need to bolster their good governance mechanisms. The message is clear: across the globe, transparency and accountability are critical to restoring trust and turning back the tide of corruption. Without them, global policy solutions to many global crises are at risk. more

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