Greece and Economic Recovery: Fake News in Action

Ten years ago, the implosion of Lehman Brothers ignited a financial crisis whose impact and effects were felt virtually across the globe as banks and financial institutions everywhere that were exposed to subprime lending, formed part of a long chain of complicated and interconnected derivatives, and partook freely in Wall Street shenanigans.

In Europe, the global financial crisis that started in the United States did not reach shore until late 2009, and the first victim was the land that gave birth to democracy and laid the foundations for the emergence of Western civilization.

Enter Greece and an ongoing debt drama, with catastrophically spectacular economic, social, and political ramifications, that has no end in sight.

Indeed, now into its eighth year, Greece remains entirely dependent on international bailouts (three bailouts involving the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have been arranged since 2010), has lost a quarter of its GDP with no realistic expectations of recovering it for decades to come, experiences unemploymentlevels which have oscillated between a high 27.8 percent (in July 2013) and a low 21.2 percent (in June 2017), and has seen the standard of living decline to 1960s levels.

Worse, Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio has exploded since the start of the bailout programs, rising from 128 percent in 2010 to over 185 percent in 2017, and, with no debt relief in sight, the small Mediterranean nation has become truly a permanent debt colony inside the world’s richest region. In the meantime, a mass exodus of young and educated people has been in motion for several years now (youth unemployment rate in Greece stands currently at 43.3 percent), a process that is bound to have long-term effects on demographic trends and a significant impact on future economic developments.

Nonetheless, the story line advanced these days from Athens, courtesy of a pseudo-leftist government that has not only reneged on every one of its promises to the Greek citizens since coming to power, but has ended up reinforcing the neoliberal agenda of the European Union/International Monetary Fund duo with more perseverance than all previous governments put together, is that the country has “turned page” and that the crisis is now practically over. Read more

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Truth Or Dare? A Plea For Moderation

Dick Pels ~ Foto: Uitgeverij Cossee

Philosophers who play the game ‘truth or dare’ are bound to recall the celebrated motto sapere aude (dare to know, dare to seek the truth) which Immanuel Kant used to capture the essence of the Enlightenment. In his famous essay from 1784, he called upon mankind to release itself from its self-inflicted immaturity in thoughtlessly accepting the authority of tradition and the tutelage of others, by wielding the force of critical reason. Self-emancipation through free public reasoning, however, required an act of personal courage, of daring to speak ‘truth to tradition’ and ‘truth to power’: of using knowledge, evidence, science and facts in challenging the powers that be.

But in our so-called post-truth society, Kant’s motto has been dramatically turned inside out, stood on its head, become perverse and cynical. The courage to speak out, to speak the truth, to break taboos, has become a major hallmark of a dominant anti-intellectual and populist Zeitgeist. Rightwing leaders such as Jörg Haider, Filip de Winter, Pim Fortuyn and Marine le Pen have all brandished the slogan: ‘We say what you think (but do not dare say)’. Mut zur Wahrheit is a poster tekst widely used by the Alternative für Deutschland. Donald Trump’s followers particularly like him because he dares to ‘speak his mind’.

According to this upside down version of the ‘courage of reason’, true speaking is transformed into a simple act of daring: of speaking without moderation, without thinking twice, as a raw expression of resentment, anger and frustration, and indulging in extremism, provocation, brutality and abuse. The courage of reason turnes into the courage of the bully.
Alt-right writer Milo Yiannopoulos explains: ‘Extreme ideas are permitted and even desirable. Anything goes. Rebellion, raising hell and incivility once again become acceptable in public life’. It is the by-now- familiar style of Breitbart, Fox News and Donald Trump, as pioneered in the Netherlands by GeenStijl, PowNews en De Dagelijkse Standaard. All of them seem to have adopted rule #1 of populist propaganda as formulated in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf: ‘Be radical, proclaim your vision as the absolute truth’. A watered-down version of this was presented by Geert Wilders a few years ago in Milan: ‘Truth is not located somewhere in the middle. It is on our side, so you better get used to it’. Thierry Baudet, who describes himself as ‘one of the most brillant thinkers in the Netherlands’ adopts an equally peremptory tone: ‘My opinions are simply facts: I am right and the others are wrong’. Read more

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Speech Truth or Dare, September 17th 2017

Joshua Livestro

In preparation for this session I looked at the idea of critical citizenship. Specifically at the question of what are the preconditions for critical citizenship?
I would say there are at least three:
1. procedural: everyone playing by the same rules, and accepting the legitimacy of those rules. I’m thinking here of our constitution, and of the international charters in which our fundamental rights or liberties have been enshrined;
2. moral: everyone accepting the legitimacy of the other as an actor in that debate. Acceptance that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the right of every individual. That we believe that all men and women are created equal, that we accept and respect the fundamental dignity of each individual;
3. epistemological: everyone accepts that debates may be guided by emotions and/or ideologies, but that they should be grounded in facts. Or at least
checked against them.

Is there a crisis in critical citizenship? It’s certainly being challenged on all three grounds.
To give one example: American conservative radio talkshow host Charlie Sykes recently did an interview with NPR. He told about how facts seemed to
have lost their meaning for some of his listeners. When lushing back against some crackpot conspiracy theory with facts, he was told these facts counted
for nothing because sources (NY Times, CNN etc) “had lost legitimacy”.
This is a problem: facts matter. If facts lose their meaning, there’s no basic standard to which we can appeal to assess political claims. Then any kind of
theory can be used to explain reality, even conspiracy theories — which as far as I’m concerned is the lowest form of sociology.
So facts matter. As does morality. It really is a problem if a politician treats whole groups of citizens as a suspect class, and tries to strip them of their
fundamental rights (wanting to outlaw an entire religion). Or if a politician suggests all society’s ills are caused by “the elite”, suggesting those who govern the country are engaged in a deliberate secret campaign to ruin the country. Read more

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To Make Our Democracy Functional, We Must Confront Economic Inequality

Larry Bartels

The United States is a plutocratic disaster. Extreme levels of inequality and a political system in which elected officials cater primarily, if not exclusively, to the needs and interests of the rich have produced a social order beset with mounting problems and critical challenges that elections alone cannot realistically be expected to address. In this exclusive interview for Truthout, renowned political scientist Larry Bartels, author of the already classic work Unequal Democracy, provides a sweeping look at the state of our dysfunctional society.

C.J Polychroniou: In your book Unequal Democracy, you presented mountains of data revealing the seriousness of the problem of inequality in the United States. In your view, what have been the underlying factors for the emergence of a New Gilded Era, and why has the American political system failed to rise to the challenge of addressing the deep problem of inequality?

Larry Bartels: Most affluent democracies have experienced substantial increases in economic inequality over the past 30 or 40 years. In significant part, those increases are attributable to technological change, globalization and increased mobility of capital. … But different countries have responded to those changes in different ways. Most have mitigated their effects through increased redistribution, making post-tax-and-transfer incomes much less unequal. In the United States, there has been comparatively little redistribution. There have also been political shifts that have exacerbated pre-tax-and-transfer inequality, including deregulation of the financial industry, rules restricting the clout of labor unions and the erosion of the minimum wage.

Broadly, the difference is attributable to the economic ideology of America’s political leaders. More specifically, it is attributable to the economic ideology of Republican leaders. My historical analysis of partisan differences in income growth demonstrates that virtually all of the net increase in income inequality since the end of World War II has occurred under Republican presidents; income growth under Democratic presidents has tended to be faster and much more egalitarian.

What is the actual impact or effect of economic inequality on democracy?

We like to think that we can wall off our democratic political system from our capitalist economic system, leaving everyone free to get rich (or poor) but remain politically equal. In practice, however, that turns out to be impossible. Hence, “unequal democracy.”

My analysis of the voting behavior of US senators found that they are moderately responsive to the views of affluent constituents but completely ignore the views of low-income constituents. A study by Martin Gilens of policy outcomes likewise found that the probability that any given policy change will actually be adopted is pretty strongly related to the preferences of affluent people but virtually unaffected by the preferences of middle-class people, much less poor people.

Proposed explanations for these remarkable disparities in responsiveness often focus on distinctive features of the US — our permissive system of campaign finance, low rate of unionization, ethos of individualism and so on. But recent work along similar lines in other affluent democracies suggests that they, too, are marked by severe disparities in political influence rooted in economic inequality. Regardless of their specific political institutions, contexts and cultures, democratic systems seem to be chronically vulnerable to the conversion of economic power into political power. Read more

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Health Communication In Southern Africa: Engaging With Social And Cultural Diversity ~ Introduction

Introduction
A focus on Southern Africa as an area where more and better HIV/AIDS communication is needed cannot be better underlined than by recent figures on adults living with HIV (15-49 years): In Sub-Saharan Africa the figure stands at 11%, whereas the global percentage is 3.25% (UNAIDS, 2008). The rise in these figures over recent years can partly be accounted for by the introduction of antiretroviral therapy, which means that statistically people living with HIV have a higher life expectancy.

Still, 67% of the global HIV prevalence in 2007 was accounted for by Sub-Saharan Africa, as was 72% of the global AIDS deaths (UNAIDS, 2008). The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Southern Africa affects women more than men (60% of people living with HIV were female in Southern Africa in 2007; UNAIDS, 2008), especially regarding HIV prevalence among youth. It is within this context that this book wants to consider the role that health communication may play in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Positive outcomes of health communication
How can health communication benefit the fight against HIV/AIDS? This positive influence may apply at different levels. Communication is an important part of prevention campaigns like in the case of the ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, use Condoms) motto, which could contribute to a decline in HIV infections. Since the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Southern Africa typically affects women more adversely than men, gender relations form an important contextual dimension of health communication. Prevention messages have to be reinforced by the empowerment of women, enabling them to change their vulnerable position in sexual relations and negotiations.

Prevention and treatment go hand in hand and both aspects should be addressed in health communication. Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) is a desirable outcome for several reasons. If people are infected they can get treatment and guidance. The spreading of infections may be controlled by more knowledgeable and responsible behaviour by HIV-infected people. Being more open about VCT might also change the perceptions of people living with HIV. Health communication can take the form of campaigns for better drug regimens and adequate state support. People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA) need to take antiretroviral medicine to avoid AIDS, and their Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) compliance might be improved by good instruction and motivation. New media technologies have created opportunities to develop support networks for social movements and non-governmental organisations working to ensure better access to anti-retroviral medicines for PLWA.

The best-known example of such a network in Southern Africa is the one built around the group Treatment Action Campaign (Berger, 2006; Wasserman, 2005). The portrayal of PLWA may be changed in a more positive direction. Mass media and government policies need to be analyzed critically to detect and change negative or undesirable social representations of HIV/AIDS, or of individuals or groups associated with the disease. Health communication may serve to counter stereotyping, vilification or marginalisation of PLWA in sections of society who are seen as undeserving of state support, e.g. prisoners, migrants, asylum seekers, or sex workers (Berger, 2006). Read more

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Health Communication In Southern Africa: Engaging With Social And Cultural Diversity – Cell Phones For Health In South Africa

L. Lagerwerf, H. Boer & H.J. Wasserman (Eds.) ~ Health communication in Southern Africa: Engaging with social and cultural diversity. Rozenberg Publishers/UNISA Press, Amsterdam/Pretoria, 2009

Abstract
There is widespread global use of technology in medicine and health communication, leading to terms such as telemedicine, telehealth and e-health. A wide range of information and communication technologies (ICTs) is used both in the provision of services, as well as for messaging and communication campaigns. In South Africa, limited Internet penetration has led to increased experimentation with cell phones as a tool for social change. This paper provides a discussion of three of such projects: The Teen SMS Helpline of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG); SIMPill which assists patients with compliance to their tuberculosis medication; and CellLife’s Cell phones for HIV programme. The projects are described, and the paper reflects on the general possibilities for using cell phones in healthcare, weighing advantages and disadvantages, particularly in the local South African context.

Introduction
The global trend of using new technologies in healthcare and health communication has made its way to Africa. A range of healthcare initiatives makes use of palm devices, the Internet, and other information and communication technologies, giving rise to the terms e-health, tele-health, and telemedicine (see Oh, Rizo, Enkin & Jada, 2005, for a literature review on the topic).

While the growing body of literature on this subject explores both the Internet and cell phones as ‘new’ media in the use of health promotion efforts, it is cell phones that are emerging as most popular, and possibly most effective, in health communication on the continent. Internet penetration in South Africa is increasing steadily, but the numbers of people with access to high-speed Internet connectivity here and elsewhere across Africa are probably still too low to allow the widespread success of Internet based applications, outside of telecentres set up specifically for this purpose. Recent statistics indicate that only one in 700 Africans has access to the Internet, versus one in four Europeans (Chakraborty, 2008).

On the other hand, the number of mobile subscribers in Africa has increased dramatically over the last few years. In 2007 Africa added over 60 million new
mobile subscribers and mobile phones represented 90 percent of all telephone subscribers (African Telecommunication/ICT Indicators, 2008). Indeed, cellphone penetration in Africa has increased rapidly since the privatisation of telephone monopolies in the mid-1990s (LaFraniere, 2005). Between 2000 and 2006, the total number of subscribers to cellphone services increased from 10 million to 110 million, in the 24 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, and South Africa had more subscribers to cell phones than fixed lines (Buys, Dasgupta, Thomas & Wheeler, 2008). Similarly, an earlier study revealed that the number of mobile subscribers in 30 Sub-Saharan countries rose from zero in 1994 to more than 82 million in late 2004 and the rate of growth for the entire continent has been more than 58 per year (Mbarika & Mbarika, 2006). Clearly, Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s fastestgrowing wireless market and the rate of growth for the entire continent has been more than 58 per year (Mbarika & Mbarika, 2006). In South Africa, cellphone use is widespread, particular with the introduction of pre-paid services; and there are over 30 million users (Shackleton, 2007). Read more

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