Ever wonder, in light of the constant headlines about corruption, where our troubled nation stands?

A recent study by Transparency International's U.S. office finds America and the world mostly stagnant.

Our overall corruption score had been steadily worsening until this past year finally stopped the downslide, the group found.

I've lost track of how many stories and commentaries I've written about corrupt practices in business and government. Those range from moral failures among school leaders, abuse in nursing homes, profiteering off the woes of others, corporate greed, campaign irregularities, backroom trading, altered public records, doing the public's business secretly, clergy abuse, flagrant favoritism, crime cover-ups, media protection of their favored politicians and bribery of elected legislators. Those only brush the surface.

The unfortunate human urge to self-deal and profit from a trusted position as a public servant becomes too tempting for many who rise to positions of expected honor and integrity only to fail society and their reputations.

Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) reportedly is the most widely used indicator of corruption worldwide.

"Transparency International ranks 180 countries and territories based on the opinions of experts and business executives. The scale runs from 0 to 100. The lower the score, the greater the perception of corruption," said a news release from the group.

At an unenviable 67 points, the U.S. nonetheless has taken steps to stem the declining scores of recent years, said Transparency International's U.S. Director Gary Kalman, tying at 27th least corrupt with Chile.

I find myself wondering why aren't we ranked the best. Are we so greedy that protecting an ever-mutating and corrupted political ideology at all costs still matters? Does our society any longer much care about the difference in right and wrong?

Once-cherished values such as honor, empathy and character have severely eroded since the period when a person's word and handshake forged the essence of their sacred bond. Such a bond once represented perceived reliability and respect for others.

In citing context, Kalman explained that the violent attack on the Capitol in January 2021, attacks on free and fair elections at the state level, our opaque campaign finance system, growing distrust of independent media, and remaining gaps in the U.S. anti-corruption architecture, likely prevented progress.

The U.S. does have opportunities to improve its position in years ahead. "On the first day of 2021, Congress passed a new, sweeping anti-money laundering law," Kalman said. "In June, the president issued a memorandum recognizing the fight against corruption as a core national security interest and U.S. agencies then contributed to a national strategy to counter corruption. Fighting corruption was also one of three priority areas for the U.S.-led Summit for Democracy in late 2021."

Whoopee! A bona fide presidential memorandum! That ought to improve problems with our deficient morals and ethics.

Twenty-five countries saw statistically significant improvements on their CPI in the last decade, while 23 others saw significant declines. As U.S. scores stagnated, other countries improved.

"Finland joined Denmark and New Zealand on the list perceived to have the least corrupt governments, while South Sudan, Syria and Venezuela were seen as the most corrupt," according to the news release. "Looking at various regions of the world, the Middle East/Northern Africa region was the only one with no statistically significant improvers.

"This year's CPI also found that anti-corruption efforts and respect for human rights go hand in hand. For example, the report cites statistics showing that of the more than 300 human-rights workers murdered in 2020, 98 percent of those murders occurred in countries with a CPI score of less than 45, indicating serious corruption problems."

The current U.S. administration also has taken several important steps to elevate the fight against corruption, including designating corruption as a core national security concern.

To improve, the release said, we need to look internally and adopt reforms to counter attacks on our election system while furthering the goals of an open, transparent and accountable government.

Scott Greytak, advocacy director for Transparency International U.S., offered additional measures our nation should take. "The administration must finalize and implement strong new rules to require greater corporate transparency and transparency in the real estate and private investment sectors. At the same time, Congress should pass bipartisan bills to expand our foreign bribery laws and establish anti-corruption rules for those professional service providers who facilitate access to our financial and political systems."

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected].