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Speaking Truth to ‘Stupid’: Reestablishing Dignity in Journalism

AB15521Journalism was once described as the Fourth Estate: a watchdog of the elites, informing and protecting the masses. People looked to it for the truth. Today, information is propelled from every direction, medium, and person. Does the power of the Fourth Estate still exist, and if not, how do we reclaim it?

More people today choose to avoid the news at all costs. Especially political news, since all they appear to do is replicate the status quo, with politicians lining up to give their own position on developments (if any), while not even staying long enough to listen to opposing positions. It almost feels like we live in a world that doesn’t want to be changed. But, it is the civil responsibility of journalists to change this by presenting hard-core facts, inspire debate and fuel a desire for improvement.

With The Newsroom Season 3 having just begun, and Kill the Messenger recently hitting the big screens, journalism seems to have returned to centre stage, not that it ever left. But right now, it seems this profession has become all the more important, especially since journalists are sacrificing their lives in order to reveal information that is critical for public safety.

The aforementioned film is based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb and takes place in the mid-1990s, when Webb uncovered the role of the CIA in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California. Despite enormous pressure, Webb chose to pursue the story and went public with his evidence. As a result, he became the target of a vicious smear campaign fueled by the CIA and was forced to defend his integrity, his family, and his life, even reaching the point of suicide.

Consider the recent example of Serena Shim, an American journalist of Lebanese origin who disclosed that ISIS jihadists were being smuggled into Turkey and back into Syria in the back of humanitarian aid vehicles. Just days later, she was reportedly killed in a car crash with a heavy-duty vehicle. The second car was never found, raising suspicions as to the true cause of her death. Shim is not alone. Journalists around the world are regularly threatened against publishing information that is their disposal. In 2013, approximately 100 journalists were killed, while so far 64 journalists have lost their lives this year, fighting for what they believe in.

But journalism no longer seems to really be what it used to. Journalists are often characterised as “the Fourth Estate”, a term originally used by Edmund Burke, who in 1787 said that the Reporters’ Gallery in the British House of Commons was where a Fourth Estate, which was more important than the other three, took its seat. Since then, a lot has changed in journalism. Although there are some who criticise the government, many argue that journalism has become part of the ruling estate rather than an objective observer of it.

Journalism became a vulnerable profession with the rise of digital media. However, the economic crisis struck a large blow causing salaries and media revenue to decrease. Churnalism has taken the place of investigative journalism and reporters of all stripes simply find it easier to replicate press releases, instead of researching, analysing and criticising power to provide citizens with informed explanations of current affairs. There is also “citizen journalism” which has blurred the definition of who is a journalist. Furthermore, claims blast from every direction, often without any credible evidence to support them. Yet, this is what sells and what is seemingly desired by the public. This is an age where global terrorism is real and no longer an imminent threat; where people are more interested in exchanging narcissistic selfies rather than improving social welfare; and where everyone complains but few take action. Now, more than ever, is the time for journalism to reclaim its lost vigour, grace and glamour.

People want to read the news. They no longer accept bad journalism, as they want to learn what is going on quickly, simply and clearly; to be informed, not mocked. As MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) told Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) on the first episode of The Newsroom: We need to reclaim the fourth estate; to rebrand journalism as an honourable profession; to produce news that informs and stimulates debates characterised by civility and respect; and return to what is important. It needs to end ‘bitchiness, gossip and voyeurism.’ We need “to speak the truth to stupid,” because we need to actually believe that the audience is not stupid. In reality, it is composed of intelligent people who we should address as such. If we treat people as if they were stupid, that is who they will be, but, if we refer to them as intelligent people who have a say in bringing about change, then that is who they will become. Journalism is not simply about conveying news and arousing the wrath of the masses. It is about communicating information and enabling the audience to develop a clear awareness about what is happening in the world and how things might change, for the better, and for the benefit of all of us.

 

First published on Cafébabel.com and translated into French and Italian.

Career Nomads and Freelancers: Striving to Create a Future

Career nomads - freelancersThere is a popular saying that “when things don’t go right, go left”. How many times recently have we all thought of turning to another direction? With the increasing difficulty people of all ages today face in finding a job, a different trend is on the rise – that of career nomads, and freelancers. All hoping for a better future.

Tereza worked for big public relations companies for almost 20 years before she resigned and decided to go freelance three years ago. She regrets nothing. This has today become a growing tendency — people quitting their jobs to go independent and become self-employed. The unfavourable working conditions simply make the decision easier. “It is no longer a choice but an unavoidable outcome of the crisis,” explains Tereza. “Many people have to work freelance as there is not enough full-time (and even part-time) job creation on a global level to sustain a growing job market”.

And it is true. In countries like Greece and Spain, where unemployment has sky-rocketed, people have been forced to rethink their necessities, priorities and habits. It has encouraged more and more people to become freelancers, as they cannot find a job in a company. But this also means that they will probably be uninsured and only get paid if they have a client who will pay them. People no longer think about saving up for the future, but of having enough money for today.

In freelancing, there is no guarantee as to when the next assignment will come up,” says Tereza. “Another important disadvantage is that a freelancer has no medical coverage or other social benefits.” But there are also very important advantages pertaining to this type of employment, she adds. These include flexible working hours, the freedom to choose who to work with and what projects to take, as well as the fact that you do not have to be physically present in an office.

Making the leap

Nick followed a similar path. After a decade working in a private energy company, it was sold. Drowning in bureaucracy with limited chances of career development, he decided to go freelance, making good use of all the contacts he had gathered in the course of time. Now he works on a project-basis but is happier. He gets to determine his own work and time schedule, and most importantly, choose his own clients. “It’s more rewarding to work for yourself,” he says, “but it is also tougher.”

Things are not as easy for someone starting off as a freelancer, though. Tina, a graphic designer and recent graduate, is new to the labour market with only the experience of a few internships. She is striving to find independent projects to work for, but not having the necessary contacts to move ahead, she is still struggling to be given a chance.

Finding fullfillment

Yet, people feel the need to change careers in order to find a job, find a more fulfilling profession and gain enough money to make a decent living.

After working in communications for over seven years, Dominic decided to take a step in a different direction. He went back to school to study architecture, what he “always wanted to do, what he would enjoy, and what he could do well”, but was discouraged out of fear of not finding a job later on. “What difference does it make now?” he wonders, as unemployment has spread to all sectors of the labour market.

But what really urges someone to make such a radical change? “I was tired — of the hours, the workload, the tight deadlines, lack of time off, the political scene, of nothing ever getting done. And because my health could no longer take this pace,” he explains. “So, I decided it is time for a change. To slow down, do something more creative, something that I wouldn’t have the pressure of a big organisation in, and have greater flexibility and more time to take care of myself and those I care about. Even maybe work for myself instead of a company — no one seems to be hiring anyway.”

Eternal career nomads?

We have become career nomads. Moving along with the changing tides, with the hope of maybe landing a job that may guarantee some sort of pay, no matter how low that may be.

Maybe in the future I will do something entirely different again — I don’t know. But I know that when I stop enjoying something or cannot take it anymore, and have the luxury to change things, I should try,” says Dominic with a smile, as his eyes gleam with the exciting prospect of this change.

People’s main concern today is how to pay the many taxes that have been imposed per capita, how to ensure a daily meal and how to simply get by. Thoughts about pensions are now minimal, at least for youth. Uncertainty is the emotion of this time and there is no feeling of security left. But there certainly is some optimism remaining and the perseverance to keep fighting for something better. “My main concern is to live a life that is fulfilling, satisfying and makes me happy and calm,” says Dominic. But perhaps it is no longer enough simply to change profession. We need to change mentality, too. As individuals, as nationals and as Europeans. Only then, will we be able to change society towards the better and create a future worth aspiring for.

 

This article was first published on Cafébabel.com and translated in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Polish.

Becoming the Ulysses of Europe

languages_of_the_worldMulticulturalism makes us more human, and in turn more European. When we are receptive to external stimuli from different languages and cultures we ourselves become richer in every way. Coming from someone who speaks 32 languages, both active and ‘dead’, who has studied the history and origins of most known languages, and who has travelled the world in order to speak them, this statement carries considerable weight.

Ioannis Ikonomou is one of the hundreds of translators that work for the European Commission. What makes him stand out though is his thorough knowledge of dozens of languages and the enthusiasm with which he expresses his passion for learning languages.

‘I don’t learn languages to have them in dictionaries gathering dust’ he explains. Languages are learnt to be lived. And the best part of learning a language is that it enriches your life, it allows you to travel to different places and communicate with the locals in their own language, to delve into new cultures, new mentalities, and different ways of life.

Language learning should begin from a young age, from the moment the mind can start soaking up new words and new worlds and when the sound of different tongues serves as a stimulus for a life of globe-trotting. That is what happened with Ikonomou who says that it was the sounds made by foreign tourists on his home island of Crete that inspired him to start learning languages. Indeed, learning to communicate in the language of the ‘other’ opens up more doors than a ‘common’ language ever will. The late Nelson Mandela said, ‘if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

Ikonomou tells me how his knowledge of languages has helped him read literature he would have never been able to discover had he not known the corresponding languages. He says that many Hungarian, Turkish, Polish, Romanian and other great writers have not even been translated into English. When you invest time to learn a language, you expect to reap the fruits of your labour – and just as money breeds greed, language learning breeds a burning desire for life experiences, memories, and friendships. This is what it really means to be European. Breaking monolingual language barriers and stepping into the realm of the ‘other’ – that’s what it’s all about. By learning languages you allow yourself to engage and interact with different cultures, values and traditions.

Every language is a different world, a different way of life, a unique mentality, and as such even the simplest of words (for example ‘bread’) will have different connotations in every language. Translators and interpreters have a difficult job. Ikonomou knows this well, having served as both. But at the same time he relishes the mental challenge offered by his job, because, as he says, leaping from language to language is a fantastic exercise. It is like balancing between worlds.

Having studied linguistics, Ikonomou knows that learning the history and origins of languages helps you to better understand your own. In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, ‘those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.’

Multiculturalism and multilingualism imply openness. They suggest that you are able to escape the introvert phobias that are prevailing in Europe with the rise of the far-right, and that you are able to live with and learn from the ‘other’. Ulysses was enriched by the cities he encountered and the people he met, says Ikonomou as he recites a lyric from Homer in ancient Greek. Ulysses was much more prosperous than his son Telemachos who stayed in Ithaca all his life, and as such Ikonomou declares, ‘I want to be Ulysses,’ living in an open society. He dreams of an open society receptive to stimuli and different people from around the world, because it is only when we embrace each other’s cultures and languages that we will truly be able to live harmoniously with one other.

Ikonomou says that he doesn’t want to live his life stuck in a daily routine.  What better way to break free from schedules than delving into a different world, culture and way of life? By truly learning what ‘united in diversity’ means, and by being able to acquire an insight into the customs and life of our European neighbours.

This article was published on cafebabel.com on 18 December 2013, under the title “I speak 32 languages”. It has since been translated into Spanish, Italian, French and Polish.

Going in for the news, staying for the gossip

Big-NewsEvery good journalist knows that for a story to be newsworthy it should be interesting, unusual, with an element of novelty and proximity, and above all worth reading. New York Sun editor John B. Bogart best summed this up in one phrase: “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”

But every media professional knows that for a story to be newsworthy it simply needs to gain the attention of the audience, and…sell. That is why tabloids and gossip magazines tend to have a wider reach than the more “serious” press. Because people after all are more interested in gossip – in the lives of others – and “light” social news, than what goes on around them.

The “real” news is not whether Parliament passed a bill on a tax measure, or whether a civil war broke out in the Middle East; it is rather whether a known celebrity has given birth, or whether an actor got married. As such, the birth of the royal baby on 22 July gained an unprecedented extensive coverage globally, overshadowing the fact that a 6R earthquake in China killed 94 people, or that the conflict in Syria was fueled when rebels seized a northern town in the Aleppo province. Instead of that, millions of people gathered in endless crowds to stand for hours outside a hospital, when news of the birth would come from the palace, and viewers from around the world tuned in to watch the 24 hour coverage of what was dubbed as “news”, but in essence was nothing more than gossip – people of all sorts, simply stating their opinion on camera. The Private Eye was perhaps most satirical (and realistic) about this, stating what was obvious – that a woman had a baby.

But people are interested in news such as this for the mere reason that it involves people who are prominent, celebrities; people who are believed to live a life of luxury and glamour, carefree, and comfortable, getting to do exactly what they want without thinking twice about it. It’s as if these people are part of a different world unbeknown to the common masses that read these gossip columns.

People love to talk about each other. Isn’t that the reason why everyone logs onto social media sites? It’s not to read about the meeting of ministers that took place this afternoon. No. It’s to see who’s dating who, and to get up-to-date with all the latest “hot” pieces of “news”.  It’s what fascinates people. And it is certainly much more fast-paced and ‘enjoyable’ than the usual stalemate and repetition of politics.

It’s the sensationalized stories that sell, the ones that reach out to the humane and curious nature of mankind, the ones that offer a variation to the troubled lives of the masses, and the ones that say something different. Perhaps that is a message the people’s representatives should receive loud and clear (if they care about public life that is, and are not idiots) – that in essence they are not even newsworthy any more.

A politician can be an idiot

Since the time of Socrates politicians have not been thought of highly. They are considered dishonest, selfish, arrogant, and immoral. Socrates, himself had said that “I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live”. Charlie Chaplin saw himself as a clown, but even that, according to him, placed him
on a far higher plane than any politician”.

Politicians haven’t gained a bad name for no reason.  History has shown that true politicians were remarkably few.  And those who actually care about their people and work to improve their lives can be counted on one hand. “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar” (H. L. Mencken) and with corruption scandals and embezzlement of public funds being revealed every day, politicians have become perhaps the most hated profession of the modern era. On a daily basis they are insulted by the people who consider them more and more a disgrace, as they no longer see in them their representatives. Politicians are now scorned, despised and slated by the very people who elected them to their posts, for they do not adhere to their mandate, or to any of the electoral promises they ever made, for that matter.

Someone once argued that no politician is an idiot. Because by definition a politician is someone interested in the polis – the city-state and not in his/her own interests, the idiot – the self. It is someone who is involved in influencing public policy and decision-making and puts the good of the people before his own benefits. However, modern definitions of a politician have converted into “a seeker or holder of public office, who is more concerned about winning favour or retaining power than about maintaining principles”. It turns out, after all, that politicians are indeed idiots.

In our contemporary times, politicians appear literally everywhere, at any conference, event, gala, opening, simply to gain exposure and better their image. They either think that this will help them appear as though they are interested in public affairs, or they simply want more than Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame. It actually appears to be both. Politicians, being the idiots they are, only care about heightening their own image and appearing as though they care, whilst at the same time serving their own selfish purpose.

Press conferences and debates are held sometimes even twice a day, while negotiations and discussions are on-going for days, even months with the sole reason of appearing as though action is being taken and something is actually being done by those in power, when in reality it is all about pleasing their own desire for exposure and publicity.

Statements are made continuously by politicians eager to talk, while hundreds of reports on various policies are published. They all do the same. They outline what needs to be done and when. But no-one ever realistically explains how they propose this to be done. And it turns out it is all about wishful thinking. In the EU, for example, months of discussions pass before the budget is approved and decisions are made as to how much money will be spent for various regions, projects and issues. They never, however, take into account the selfish and greedy nature of human beings. And years after the funds have been disbursed but the projects never happened the European Commission begins investigations on misuse of funds and embezzlement. As if it is surprising that idiots would do exactly what they are by definition known for – serving their own interests at the expense of the public good. And all this selfishness will in the end result in the demise of the polis and the common good. And as Paulo Coelho had described in a short story, the only way for the polis/town/state to survive was to let it drown in its own corruption and then build it anew.

Indeed, the problem with the world today is that so much talk is based on idealised situations. As if corruption and selfishness do not exist. Politicians are so versed in how to paint out exactly what they would like things to be. But they provide solutions to problems that are not realistic or at times even feasible. Instead, politicians are characterised by all talk and no action. They all know all too well how to draw attention to themselves, how to speak without actually saying anything, how to make empty promises, that people seem to forget that nothing substantial is ever occurring. And that is also one of the reasons why it is often argued that people who study politics are so repelled by what they learn that they never want to go into politics. Politics is indeed a dirty game. But what everyone seems to forget is that this very “game” concerns the lives of people who depend on those ruling to secure a better living for them – for the people, not the rulers.

Bertrand Russell had said that “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”. Thing is, it is the cocksure idiots that rise up in the world and end up presiding over the unsure.

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Viral – The New York Times is going to feature your blog on its home page, and you’ve been asked to publish a new post — it’ll be the first thing tens of thousands of new readers see. Write it.

Η διαφορά μεταξύ του τι λες και του τι ξέρεις

Λένε ότι η ημιμάθεια είναι χειρότερη της αμάθειας. Και έχουν δίκιο. Άν όμως δεν παραδέχεσαι κιόλας την ημιμάθειά σου είναι ακόμη χειρότερο. Πόσοι άνθρωποι παινεύονται για γνώσεις και ικανότητες που στην αλήθεια δεν έχουν, απλά και μόνο για να εξασφαλίσουν μια καλύτερη δουλειά, μια ψηλότερη θέση, ή απλά να ανέβουν στην εκτίμηση κάποιου άλλου. Καταλήγουμε έτσι στο να υπάρχουν σε υψηλές θέσεις πρόσωπα που στην ουσία δε θα έπρεπε να είναι εκεί αφού δεν έχουν τις ικανότητες ή τις γνώσεις που αρμόζουν.

Ένα ιδιαίτερα εμφανές παράδειγμα σήμερα είναι η γνώση των αγγλικών και το πόσο φτωχή είναι σε μια χώρα που όχι μόνο προεδρεύει του Συμβουλίου της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης αυτούς τους μήνες, αλλά και που καυχιέται τόσο για την άριστη γνώση αγγλικών των κατοίκων της. Κι όμως από απλά πληροφοριακά δημοσιεύματα, σε ανακοινώσεις, δελτία τύπου και ειδήσεις, πινακίδες στους δρόμους και αλλού, μέχρι και στον προφορικό λόγο, αποδεικνύεται όλο και πιο τρανά πως η “άριστη αυτή γνώση της αγγλικής” πολύ απλά δεν υπάρχει. Τα λάθη που παρατηρούνται στα κακογραμμένα αυτά αγγλικά κείμενα δεν είναι μόνο ορθογραφικά, συντακτικά και γλωσσικά, αποδίδονται επίσης και στο γεγονός πως τα κείμενα είναι εμφανώς μεταφρασμένα κυριολεκτικά από τα ελληνικά σε βαθμό που δεν γίνονται καν κατανοητά. Και το χειρότερο βέβαια είναι πως φαίνεται έντονα το γεγονός ότι δεν πέρασαν από διόρθωση ή έστω από μια δεύτερη ανάγνωση όπου σίγουρα θα εντοπίζονταν αμέσως.

Λάθη σαν κι αυτά χαρακτηρίζουν τα αγγλικά κείμενα και του εθνικού πρακτορείου ειδήσεων, κάτι που εκθέτει το δημοσιογραφικό σώμα γενικότερα στα μάτια ξένων δημοσιογράφων που αποτείνονται στο πρακτορείο για ειδήσεις που θα χρησιμοποιηθούν ως βάση ή ως αναφορά για τα δικά τους κείμενα. Ιδιαίτερα τώρα που ψάχνουν πληροφορίες για τις δραστηριότητες της Κυπριακής Προεδρίας. Το πρόβλημα όμως έγκειται στο ότι κανείς δεν παραδέχεται ότι όντως τα κείμενα είναι κακογραμμένα, γεμάτα λάθη, αλλά και στο ότι συγχρόνως δεν παρατηρείται καμία απολύτως βελτίωση στην ποιότητά τους. Κι αν οποιοσδήποτε προσφέρει μια συμβουλή ή παρατήρηση για το πως θα μπορούσε να βελτιωθεί το γράψιμο, η νοοτροπία του “βολεμένου” υπαλλήλου υπερισχύει με τη λογική του “ποιός είσαι εσύ που θα μου πεις τη δουλεία μου”.

Είναι κρίμα όμως μαζί με τα ξερά να καίγονται και τα χλωρά. Γιατί τέτοια κείμενα – και όχι μόνο – και η ανάλογη αντιμετώπιση τους εκθέτουν όχι μονο τους άμεσα υπεύθυνους, αλλά και ολόκληρη την κοινωνία στην οποία ανήκουν. Θα έπρεπε άρα η παραδοχή ελλέιψεων και ημιμάθειας να γίνεται η αφορμή για βελτίωση και διόρθωση του προβλήματος, έτσι ώστε η επερχόμενη πιθανή προαγωγή να οφείλεται στις πραγματικές αξίες του καθενός, και η ημιμάθεια του να μην γίνεται απλά αιτία για να διαιωνίζεται το πρόβλημα.

(25 Αυγούστου 2012)

Η Έλλειψη Αποδοτικότητας Απαιτεί Ιδιωτικοποιήσεις

Με την επέλαση της Τρόικας να ζητάει τα ελάχιστα μέτρα που πρέπει να παρθούν για να ορθοποδήσει η Κυπριακή οικονομία, η κυβέρνηση φαίνεται να αντιτίθεται σε όλα όσα πραγματικά θα βοηθούσαν να γίνει πιο λειτουργικός ο τόπος και να μπει μια τάξη σε αυτό το χαώδης σύστημα που μέρα παρά μέρα λειτουργεί όλο και λιγότερο. Οι ιδιωτικοποιήσεις είναι ένα από αυτά τα μέτρα. Και αν το συλλογιστούμε λιγάκι, είναι προς όφελος όλων.

Η Αρχή Τηλεπικοινωνιών Κύπρου (ΑΤΗΚ ή κοινώς CyTA), για παράδειγμα, είναι μια από τις εταιρίες που χρειάζεται να ιδιωτικοποιηθεί. Για να γίνει πιο αποδοτική, πιο αποτελεσματική, και πιο εξυπηρετική. Πρωτοπόρος στη παροχή διαδικτυακών υπηρεσιών στην Κύπρο, δεν είναι δυνατόν μια απ’τις μεγαλύτερες ημικρατικές εταιρίες στη χώρα να μην μπορεί να εξασφαλίσει 24ωρη σύνδεση, και προπάντων να μην μπορεί να εξηγήσει γιατί υπάρχει διακοπή και σε τι οφείλετε η βλάβη. Και όταν μετά από καιρό αποφασίζει να στείλει ένα τεχνικό, ούτε αυτός να μην μπορεί να βρει κάτι και να στηρίζονται όλοι σε ένα απλό «το πρόβλημα έχει καταγραφεί». Έ, και λοιπόν; Η καταγραφή αυτή πως λύνει το πρόβλημα; Και άμεσα; Στην Ελλάδα, που η ΑΤΗΚ λειτουργεί στα πρότυπα ιδιωτικής εταιρίας, γιατί είναι πιο λειτουργική, πιο ανταγωνιστική, και σίγουρα πιο αποτελεσματική; Στηρίζεται στην άμεση εξυπηρέτηση των πελατών για να επιβιώσει στην Ελληνική αγορά. Ακόμα και η ιστοσελίδα για εκεί είναι πιο φιλική προς τον χρήστη παρά η ντόπια. Στη Κύπρο, μαθημένη στο μονοπώλιο που κάποτε κρατούσε, λειτουργεί αντιθέτως σαν δημόσιο γραφείο – με σχεδόν μηδενική εξυπηρέτηση, γραφειοκρατία, καθυστέρηση και χαμηλή αποτελεσματικότητα. Αυτός δεν είναι λόγος για ριζική αλλαγή; Και στην ουσία τα μέτρα που προτείνει η Τρόικα σε αυτό στοχεύουν: τη ριζική αλλαγή ενός συστήματος πνιγμένο στη διαφθορά σε βαθμό που πλέον απλά δεν λειτουργεί.

Μια ραγδαία αλλαγή είναι αναγκαία όμως για να επαναφέρει την αποδοτικότητα σε βασικές υπηρεσίες. Οι Δημόσιες Εταιρίες που στηρίζονται στην κυβέρνηση για βοήθεια τόσο οικονομική όσο και για τις απαραίτητες υποδομές είναι στην πλειοψηφία τους λιγότερο παραγωγικές από τις αντίστοιχες ιδιωτικές εταιρίες. Οι ημικρατικές εταιρίες ανήκουν στην ίδια κατηγορία αφού κι αυτές κατά ένα μεγάλο ποσοστό στηρίζονται και επηρεάζονται άμεσα ή έμμεσα από κρατικά συμφέροντα. Αυτός, λοιπόν, είναι και ένας από τους λόγους που οι ιδιωτικοποιήσεις θεωρούνται επωφελές για τέτοιες εταιρίες – για να ξεφύγουν από τα πλοκάμια της κυβέρνησης και να γίνουν πιο παραγωγικές, συμβάλλοντας έτσι και στην οικονομική ανάπτυξη.

Το ρεύμα των ιδιωτικοποιήσεων έχει εξαπλωθεί πλέον σε όλο τον κόσμο. Η εξαγορά δημόσιας εταιρίας από ιδιώτες αποδεδειγμένα οδηγεί σε αυξημένη παραγωγικότητα, περισσότερη αποτελεσματικότητα, λιγότερη γραφειοκρατία και καλύτερη εξυπηρέτηση. Με την ιδιωτικοποίηση, η εταιρία παύει πλέον να εξαρτάται από τον κρατικό προϋπολογισμό και στηρίζεται πια στην αποτελεσματικότερη εξυπηρέτηση των πελατών της. Όσο πιο ευχαριστημένος είναι ο πελάτης, τόσο καλύτερα πάει και η εταιρία. Το δίχτυ ασφαλείας της κυβέρνησης σε περίπτωση οικονομικής δυσκολίας παύει επίσης να υφίσταται. Συνεπώς, τα συμφέροντα είναι οικονομικά και όχι πολιτικά ή πελατειακά και οι υπάλληλοι θα πρέπει να αποδεικνύουν την αξία τους και όχι την συγγένεια ή τη γνωριμία τους με ένα ισχυρό πολιτικό πρόσωπο. Η διαφθορά περιορίζεται αφού βασικός στόχος είναι η επιβίωση της εταιρίας σε ένα ανταγωνιστικό περιβάλλον.

Τα τελευταία 12 χρόνια, περισσότερες από 8,500 κρατικές εταιρίες σε πάνω από 80 χώρες έχουν ιδιωτικοποιηθεί. Η αξία των εταιριών αυξάνεται από τότε. Μια παγκόσμια έρευνα σε αυτό το θέμα έδειξε πως η ιδιωτικοποίηση ωφελούσε την οικονομία γενικότερα και οδηγούσε σε υψηλότερη παραγωγικότητα και γρηγορότερη ανάπτυξη. Στη Χιλή, η ιδιωτικοποίηση της εταιρίας τηλεπικοινωνιών διπλασίασε τις επιδόσεις της μόλις τέσσερα χρόνια μετά την εξαγορά, ενώ στο Μεξικό μείωσε το εργατικό κόστος. Καθώς, λοιπόν, αυξάνεται η επίδοση της εταιρίας, υπάρχουν περιθώρια για περισσότερες δουλειές που θα συμβάλλουν σε περαιτέρω αύξηση παραγωγικότητας και μεγαλύτερα κέρδη.

Η ιδιωτικοποίηση λοιπόν μιας εταιρίας που ήδη φαίνεται σταδιακά να χάνει την αξιοπιστία της στα μάτια των πελατών της, θα βοηθούσε να επαναφέρει τις επιδόσεις της στα επιθυμητά επίπεδα, να γίνει πιο ανταγωνιστική στην αγορά και να επανακτήσει τη χαμένη της αίγλη. Κρατικά και πολιτικά συμφέροντα θα πρέπει να  τεθούν στο περιθώριο, αν οι ηγέτες του τόπου πραγματικά θέλουν να διασώσουν την οικονομία και μαζί με αυτή την αξιοπρέπεια ενός ολόκληρου λαού.

(11 Αυγούστου 2012)

What if the Mayas were right?

If the Mayas were right and the world will really come to an end in 2012, then what is the reason for all this concern? Particularly over something that (logically) cannot be averted. The whole world is overwhelmed by concern. Concern over how the economy will develop, fear as to whether the Eurozone will collapse, worry over the future of Europe, but also uncertainty for the future of the world itself. But if either way doomsday will come before the very end of this year, then why worry? Why don’t we try to improve today instead? Why is everyone so concerned with the future that they forget to live the present? Even Bob Marley had sung it: “in every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double”.

Worries spread fear and fear is the worst enemy of optimism. It is this very concern that has devoured us. The fear and terror that “it never rains, but it pours”.  But as US President Franklin Roosevelt had said: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. It is that very fear that hovers over society like a black cloud. Like a tornado demolishing everything in its way. Leaving behind a society helpless and unable to stand on its own. That instead of moving forward with the knowledge from its past mistakes is moving backwards. And yet – invoking the infamous excuse of the current period – this crisis is to blame for everything. For the fact that there are no jobs; that shops, firms and industries are shutting down; that prices are rising but salaries are not; that poor people are becoming even poorer and are increasing in numbers, all the while the rich are becoming even wealthier but fewer. Consequently, the middle class is vanishing, widening even further the rich-poor divide. And the society that is portrayed in Latin-American telenovelas, where the carefree rich enjoy their ‘haciendas’ while the poor struggle to make a living in their makeshift shacks, is becoming all the more true as it rapidly converges on reality.

For as science and technology progress, the society’s mentality hardly changes. And all this third and fourth generation technology that has flooded the 21st century markets, despite facilitating our lives, has made it all the more empty. Development and progress is becoming a victim of commercialism. Because we feel that all these technologically-advanced gadgets will improve our image and make us feel more important. Today’s generation of children ask for smartphones, tablets, laptops, and whatever new and technologically-advanced best-seller is in the market today and costs dearly to demonstrate its worth. While yesterday’s children felt cool simply with their new set of coloured pencils. Indeed, the future generation may never even learn to write with pencil and pen, since keyboard will probably replace ink and finger will replace stylo.

However, it is worth questioning whether all this development and dependence on it is actually a good thing. If all these unnecessary expenses could be used on something more noteworthy and constructive – on medical research, for example, where developments and advancements are necessary. If even technology is reigned by fear. Fear that if it is actually used in research, or in similar fields, then something unknown and unexplored will come of it. A new Dolly for instance. That will rejuvenate debates, reactions and controversies over human intervention on the divine gift of life. And which will also breathe life into the realistic science fiction films depicting cloned and alien life-forms pursuing the end of the world. But the world – judging from all that is happening – seems to be causing its own demise. By its own selfishness, arrogance and greed. Perhaps this is what the Maya meant by their prediction? And what if they are right?

(22 January 2012)

Τι είναι τα λεφτά;

Το ΔΝΤ, η Ευρωπαϊκή Κεντρική Τράπεζα και το οικονομικό σκέλος της Ευρωπαϊκής Επιτροπής, ασχολούνται όλο με λεφτά. Και απ’ότι φαίνεται, από τα χέρια τους περνάνε πολλά, μα πάρα πολλά λεφτά. Μιλάνε για χρέη δισεκατομμυρίων (μερικές φορές ακόμα και τρισεκατομμυρίων) και απαιτούν μέτρα και περικοπές εκατομμυρίων ευρώ από τη μια μέρα στην άλλη χωρίς καν να λαμβάνουν υπόψη τα εκατομμύρια πολίτες που θα στερούνται τα πεντάρικα, δεκάρικα και εικοσάρικα τους.

 Παράδειγμα η Ελλάδα που βρίσκεται τώρα σε ένα ασφυκτικό κλοιό πιέσεων για να επιβάλει στους πολίτες της επιπρόσθετα και ακόμα πιο επώδυνα μέτρα. Ο κατώτατος μισθός των €500 είναι πλέον «μισθός πείνας», ενώ οι περικοπές από παντού και η αύξηση της φορολογίας ρίχνουν ακόμα πιο βαθιά έναν ταλαιπωρημένο λαό στην απελπισία. Τίποτα πια δεν είναι δεδομένο. Αν έχεις δουλειά σήμερα, δεν σημαίνει πλέον ότι θα την έχεις και αύριο.

Η αβεβαιότητα πλημμυρίζει πλέον τη ζωή και την καθημερινότητα μας και μας γεμίζει με φόβο και αγωνία, στοιχειώνοντας ακόμα και τα όνειρά μας. Ακόμα και οι συντάξεις ατόμων που μια ζωή δούλευαν για να απολαύσουν τους καρπούς των κόπων τους, τώρα κινδυνεύουν να χαθούν. Αν δεν βρεθεί αντίστοιχο μέτρο που θα επιφέρει τα  €300 εκατομμύρια που ζητά η Τρόικα, οι συντάξεις θα κοπούν. Και ο ολοένα αυξανόμενος αριθμός του 27.7% των Ελλήνων που βρίσκονται στα όρια της φτώχιας και του κοινωνικού αποκλεισμού θα ανεβεί στα ύψη. Πως δηλαδή θα πληρώνει φαγητό, ενοίκιο και φόρους ένας πολίτης που δεν θα έχει δουλειά αλλά ούτε κανένα εισόδημα; Τα λεφτά δεν πέφτουν από τον ουρανό, ούτε τα βρίσκουμε στο δρόμο. Για τους περισσότερους εν καιρώ κρίσης τα λεφτά, ακόμη και για βασικές ανάγκες, είναι από δυσκολεύρετα μέχρι ακριβοθώρητα. Η δουλειά από εργασία έχει γίνει πια δουλεία. Εκεί οδηγούν τους πολίτες όλοι αυτοί οι πολιτικοί αρχηγοί που δέχονται και επιβάλλουν μέτρα για εξοικονόμηση εκατομμυρίων ευρώ «για τη σωτηρία του κράτους». Όταν όμως από ένα ξεθωριασμένο σκοινί συνέχεια κόβεις την άκρη για να μη ξεφτίσει, στο τέλος απλά δεν θα υπάρχει άλλο σκοινί. Τα έργα για την ανάπτυξη που θα βοηθήσουν την χώρα να ορθοποδήσει και να ξαναβρεί την αξιοπρέπεια και την αυτοπεποίθηση της γιατί δεν γίνονται; Γιατί δεν επενδύεται και κάτι στην ανάπτυξη, και οι μόνες εξελίξεις πια είναι οι περικοπές μισθών και συντάξεων, και το κλείσιμο και οι χρεοκοπία όλο και περισσότερων καταστημάτων και εταιριών;

Τα εκατομμύρια που ακούγονται να ζητούνται από τη μια χώρα και την άλλη, και τα Ευρωπαϊκά και Διεθνή Ταμεία που δίνουν δισεκατομμύρια για τη σωτηρία τους, γιατί δεν λαμβάνουν υπόψη και τον απλό πολίτη που πιθανόν δεν γνωρίζει αλλά ούτε και θα μπορεί να φανταστεί για τι υπέρογκα ποσά τίθεται θέμα συζήτησης; Πως μπορεί μια χώρα στα όρια της χρεοκοπίας να βρει τόσα εκατομμύρια σε τόσο σύντομο χρονικό διάστημα, τη στιγμή που χρόνια ολόκληρα το σύστημα έκλεβε τα παιδιά της και οι λίγοι καταχράζονταν τα λεφτά των πολλών; Στα μάτια των αστέγων, των ταλαιπωρημένων και των νέων που δεν βλέπουν πια μέλλον στον ορίζοντα, τα λεφτά δεν είναι πετραδάκια διαθέσιμα να μαζευτούν. Είναι κόποι και σκληρή δουλειά. Κι ας βγαίνει ο κάθε πολιτικός να λέει πως η Ευρωζώνη μπορεί και χωρίς την Ελλάδα, και να ζητούν απερίσκεπτα να χρεοκοπήσει ένας ολόκληρος λαός, μιας χώρας που έμαθε στον κόσμο τι εστί δημοκρατία. Πως μπορεί όμως αυτό όλο που βιώνουμε σήμερα να είναι δημοκρατία τι στιγμή που λίγοι κεφαλαιοκράτες – η άρχουσα ελίτ – καθορίζουν και υπαγορεύουν το μέλλον ολόκληρων χωρών, ενώ ταυτόχρονα χιλιάδες πολίτες ξεχύνονται στους δρόμους φωνάζοντας εναντίον των αποφάσεων τους; Ενάντια σε καθεστώτα που παρότι λένε έχουν το συμφέρον της χώρας πάνω από όλα, πάλι κατά κάποιο περίεργο τρόπο διασφαλίζουν και τα συμφέροντα αυτών που ήδη έχουν τα εκατομμύρια. Όχι τα πετραδάκια, αλλά τα ευρώ.

(26 Φεβρουαρίου 2012)

We’ve paid for politicians’ dreams and lost our own

Everyday the only thing we hear about on television is how the economy worsens, how EU or other high-ranking officials are calling for more measures, how another austerity package is to be adopted, how spreads rise, stocks fall and credit rating agencies downgrade one economy after another. To an ordinary citizen none of this makes sense. About a year ago, it is doubtful whether people knew what a spread is, or that credit rating agencies even existed. And now, this has become part of our daily lives, of our everyday news and most of all, of our most dreaded fears and concerns. “What if this gets worse, how will I be able to pay my bills?” – this is the most frequent question the citizen of today is called to answer. Because, given the situation, things don’t seem to be getting any better. Only worse. By the minute. And yet one thing no one seems to be able to answer, or at least answer in a satisfactory way, is how on earth did those elected officials, that earn more money in a month than an entire household earns in a year, manage to get our countries into such a terrible mess?  And why is there no better way to get out of it, than depriving citizens of hard-worked money? Of taking away the jobs they worked years to get, the education they spent to get there and the sacrifices they made to create a descent life. And all this, while at the same time, shattering the very dreams they built in the process.

The vision of a European integration was for Europeans to be united as one. And contrary to what it appears, or what Eurosceptics and others seem to think, Europe does work. It does. All of Europe is currently suffering a state of no money, no jobs, and lots of worries. It’s just those high ranking officials at the top – the very same making statements every so often about how bad this crisis is, how it is spreading across the Eurozone like a plague with no remedy, and how further tougher measures need to be taken in response – that seem to be the ones better off. Because a millionaire is still a millionaire, even if he loses a few thousands. But a low-paid worker is on the brink of poverty when he loses a few tens. So does anyone realize that by continuing to cut wages, reduce subsidies, and increase taxes, the ordinary citizen is suffering?  How is all that supposed to help exit this crisis? A crisis for which the ordinary citizen is not to blame. Why is it the hard-working shop owner’s fault if the people representing him have abused their power and misused public finances for their own gain? How is it our fault if their dreams have been realized on our expense, leaving absolutely nothing for us? And now, it is our dreams that have been taken away from us, not theirs.

An ancient Chinese curse wished that “we may live in interesting times”. Our times are anything but interesting. And the rapid succession of dramatic events seems to be simply aggravating an already exasperated people that take the streets in their thousands in order to avoid another known saying, that when you stop dreaming, you stop living.

(04 December 2011)

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