An appeal for good governance

The 21st century is only a decade old, but it's becoming apparent to me that if we do not devote ourselves to reform our political systems we will face some very hard times. I don't mean to overstate this or sound gloomy, but I believe the crisis is real and global.

The democratic process as we've known it seems to be stagnating before our eyes. The United States is wrestling with doggedly entrenched partisan positions at a time when it should be making difficult decisions and enacting legislation to right a listing ship; in many cases unpleasant medicine is required now for the long term benefit of all. It's the only way the country can hope to stabilize its economy in the face of trillions of dollars in debt and also hope to regain it's leadership position. President Obama has very difficult days ahead of him. In this climate one must wish the occupier of the Oval Office well, whatever one's political persuasion.

Europe is struggling with the effects of a banking crisis that appears to be spreading like an oil spill. Politically, the European Union is trying to hold together a grouping of states whose 19th and 20th century governments need reform. Italy, for example, the country of my birth, has a multiparty system that is desperately in need of improvement, yet it cannot make any progress in enacting change. The present system, too complex, too archaic, only guarantees one thing: constant sniping, and little or no real action in parliament. The judiciary, instead of being independent from the government, finds itself arguing with it and fighting publicly with the Prime Minister. Indecision at the highest levels facilitates corruption and gives organized crime the opportunity to spread its tentacles.

In most Western democracies, the rise of paid lobbyists representing many partisan interests, from corporations to unions to not-for-profit associations, are successfully influencing governments for the sake of narrow interests, often caring little for the benefit of the larger whole.

Where is good governance? How will we make sure our future is sound? These terrible squabbles, all shouting and no listening, the proliferation of public campaigns appealing to and gathering only like-minded people who have no care for fairly examining issues, only in supporting narrow views, no matter what, are creating a dangerous situation for us. No concessions from all sides of the political spectrum, no willingness to expend a little political capital for the greater good.

Without good governance, how are we going to arrange for safety and security and professionally manage foreign policy? The lives of millions of people depend on smart decisions by our elected representatives. Are our politicians doing the right things for a safer world? (See the inherent dangers inherent in the latest WikiLeaks revelations.)

How can governments function in the present situation? The democratic system seems broken. We need to fix it soon.

What can we do to turn politics from being some sort of grand game to a process that effectively represents the interests of the people? We have drifted far from the ideals we profess to uphold. How much are we willing to sacrifice before everything we own, our livelihoods, all of the dreams and aspirations of our children are comprised by dysfunctional politics?

Somehow, we must revive concepts of good citizenship, real public service and political representation for the common good. Maybe we need to create a new system. We need intelligent leaders mandated and capable of making better decisions under more objective terms of office, and somehow freed from the dirty games of partisanship.

I hope that change will be possible.

Related posts:

>On ideas about global government and democracy
>An appeal for better coordination of the global food supply
>Concepts espoused in the U.S. Declaration of Independence

Life stories

Recently on the CBS television program Sunday Morning, the producers looked at the role of obituary writers in newspapers and how their work has changed over time.

Originally obituaries were written about community leaders, influential citizens, the powerful. But over time these records of lives lived gradually evolved into stories about many kinds of individuals, citizens of all kinds - plumbers, teachers, doctors and so on. In short, the newspaper obituary now reflects the idea that ever person's life is a story worth telling.

In the aftermath of the World Trade Centre attacks in 2001, the New York Times found itself with a daunting challenge: how to tell the story of thousands of victims of the collapse of the Twin Towers? The newspaper decided to publish short summaries of as many of those lives as it could. The Times called the capsules Portraits of Grief. They were published every day for more than three months. The paper won the Pulitzer Prize for the feature.

What struck me most while watching the program were the comments by one of the newspaper reporters who wrote those summaries. Jan Hoffman interviewed a lot of victims' families and colleagues. She remembers that people usually focused their response around simple themes: "It was about love, it was about singularity, it was about connection, it was about moments of thoughtfulness."

"The singular quality that really stays with me is almost no one ever talked about that person's job."

A sobering thought for all of us.