Aug 242020
 


Henri Cartier Bresson Salamanca, Spain 1963

 

Trump Announces Emergency Authorization For Convalescent Plasma (JTN)
97,000 People Got Convalescent Plasma. Who Knows if It Works? (Wired)
China Has Given Potential Coronavirus Vaccine To Key Workers Since July (G.)
Graham: FBI Docs Show ‘Double Standard’ For Clinton And Trump Campaigns (Fox)
This Will Be The Year Of The Biden Republican – Rahm Emanuel (CNBC)
Corporate Dems Want You To Shut Up While They Get Loud (Sirota)
The Silence Of Joe Biden And The Dems On The Violence In The Cities (Kass)
Don’t Discount the Dollar Yet (FP)
China’s Mysterious Dollar Dealings (OMFIF)
Las Vegas Housing Market ‘On Fire’ As Economy Limps Along (LVRJ)
Summer In The Ailing City: The Purpose Is Life (Maglinis)

 

 

Kellyanne Conway leaves 2 months before the election, US cities are still on fire, using convalescent plasma becomes legal, Rahm Emanuel is dug up from whatever hole he was in, and the FBI failed to inform the Trump team about foreign interference in their campaign. In other words, normal weekend. Maybe it was the last one for a while.

 

 

Weekend numbers don’t mean much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squirrel

 

 

Why make this such a big deal? Can’t the doctors just do it?

Trump Announces Emergency Authorization For Convalescent Plasma (JTN)

President Trump at a Sunday evening press conference announced an emergency authorization of convalescent plasma amid the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. “The FDA has issued an emergency use authorization … for a treatment known as convalescent plasma. This is a powerful therapy that transfuses very, very strong antibodies from the blood of recovered patients to help treat patients battling a current infection,” Trump said. “It’s had an incredible rate of success. Today’s action will dramatically expand access to this treatment,” the president said. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Saturday night had tweeted the the president would hold a Sunday event “concerning a major therapeutic breakthrough on the China Virus.”

Read more …

From well before Trump’s announcement.

“The distribution system got approved and built; the trial protocols did not. They never began.”

97,000 People Got Convalescent Plasma. Who Knows if It Works? (Wired)

As of Monday, August 17, a nationwide program to treat Covid-19 patients with a fluid made from the blood of people who’d recovered from the disease—so-called convalescent plasma—had reached 97,319 patients. That’s a huge number of people, considering that nobody really knows whether convalescent plasma actually works against Covid-19. A spontaneously generated, self-assembling group of clinicians and cross-disciplinary researchers that built the nationwide program to ensure “expanded access” to convalescent plasma also created protocols for randomized, controlled trials, the gold standard for evidence in science.

They hoped to test plasma’s ability to prevent disease after exposure, its capacity to treat Covid-19—and what Michael Joyner, an exercise physiologist at the Mayo Clinic who was instrumental in setting up the expanded-access network, called a “Hail Mary” protocol to try to help people who are severely ill, on ventilators. The distribution system got approved and built; the trial protocols did not. They never began. There are plenty of reasons to think plasma might help fight Covid-19. Physicians have used it for more than a century; it’s made by taking blood from people who’ve recovered from a disease and spinning it in a centrifuge down to a frothy, yellow liquid that contains the sum total of the donor’s immune response—molecules that attack all invading germs, and some that specifically target all the individual pathogens the donor has ever encountered.

But actual rigorous trials of the stuff are rare. Dozens of randomized, controlled clinical trials are underway—tests that systematically compare the same kinds of people at similar stages of the disease who get convalescent plasma to those who don’t. Even without that rigor, this year tens of thousands of people received plasma for Covid-19. It played out as a one-on-one decision between physicians and patients, not a population-scale experiment designed to elicit knowledge about its efficacy. A preprint from the expanded-access group, not yet peer-reviewed, recounts the outcomes of more than 35,000 of these recipients at hundreds of hospitals. It retroactively splits that population into groups based on when in their illness they got plasma, or how laden the plasma was with the antibodies that actually do the disease-fighting.

Read more …

Let Big Pharma chime in.

China Has Given Potential Coronavirus Vaccine To Key Workers Since July (G.)

The Chinese government has been administering a coronavirus vaccine candidate to selected groups of key workers since July, a senior health official has said. Zheng Zhongei, the head of the National Health Commission’s science and technology centre, told state media organisation CCTV on Sunday the government had authorised “emergency use” of a Sars-Cov-2 vaccine for workers including health workers and border officials. The country has gone seven days without reporting a locally transmitted case, and border workers are considered to be in a high-risk category, said Zheng, who leads the vaccination development taskforce.

It appears to be the first confirmation of vaccine use by China outside clinical trials. There were no details on which particular vaccine candidate was used or how many people received it, but Zheng said it had been administered in line with the law, under powers that allow limited use of the unapproved vaccines during serious public health events. “We’ve drawn up a series of plan packages, including medical consent forms, side-effect monitoring plans, rescuing plans, compensation plans, to make sure the emergency use is well regulated and monitored,” Zheng said, adding that they planned to “scale up” the testing to other groups before autumn and winter.

[..] In June the Chinese government called for volunteers among employees of state-owned companies who travel overseas frequently, to test two vaccines. State-owned China National Biotec Group (CNBG) has since been approved to start human testing of its vaccine in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Peru, Morocco and Argentina, and the company said about 20,000 people were taking part in the overseas trials. SinoVac and CanSino Biologics are also conducting overseas trials in Russia, Indonesia, and Brazil. Last week a planeload of Chinese mine workers was refused entry to Papua New Guinea, over government concerns about an apparent vaccination trial.

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We know where the FBI stands.

Graham: FBI Docs Show ‘Double Standard’ For Clinton And Trump Campaigns (Fox)

Following the release of recently declassified documents, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., says he believes the FBI showed a double standard in its investigations into reports of foreign interference at the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and now-President Trump in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. Calling it “the ultimate double standard,” Graham said that the documents reveal that leaders at the FBI sought to give the Clinton campaign a defensive briefing before it could pursue a FISA warrant related reports that a Clinton operative was connected to foreign government. “The FBI finds out about a plot by a foreign government to lobby her campaign and funnel millions of dollars into the Clinton campaign illegally,” Graham said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.” “

They want a FISA warrant against a Clinton operative who is connected to the foreign government. What happens? The FBI seventh floor says we’re not going to let you get a warrant. And to you defensively, brief the Clinton campaign.” But instead of doing the same for the Trump campaign, the FBI opened the Crossfire Hurricane operation and pursued a number of FISA warrants against people working with Trump’s campaign. While Graham would not reveal which foreign government wanted to assist Clinton in getting elected, he said that FBI leadership shot down a request for a FISA warrant until Clinton was briefed on the matter. “They never did to Trump,” Graham said. “As a matter of fact, not only did they not tell Trump, they used a generic briefing to spy on Trump.”

“The FBI did the right thing by briefing Clinton and failed to do the right thing by never specifically briefing President Trump about their concerns,” Graham said in a statement released earlier on Sunday. Earlier this month, Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., issued a subpoenaed to the FBI and Director Christopher Wray as part of its broad review into the origins of the Russia investigation. The subpoena, obtained by Fox News, demands that he produce “all records related to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.”

Read more …

If Rahm Emanuel speaks for you, you know you’re in trouble.

This Will Be The Year Of The Biden Republican – Rahm Emanuel (CNBC)

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has a chance to replicate an election strategy that helped elect Republican icon Ronald Reagan to the White House almost four decades ago, longtime Democratic politician Rahm Emanuel told CNBC on Friday. Emanuel, appearing on “Closing Bell,” said he believes that the former vice president can win over disaffected Republicans with a platform that has moderate language to get behind. “This will be the year of the Biden Republican,” said Emanuel, citing the appearances of John Kasich, former governor of Ohio, Colin Powell, secretary of State under President George W. Bush, and Cindy McCain, widow of Sen. John McCain, among other GOP members at the Democratic National Convention this week.

“Joe Biden will be a president we will all be proud to salute,” Powell said in his message. “With Joe Biden in the White House, you will never doubt that he will stand with our friends and stand up to our adversaries — never the other way around.” Emanuel likened Republican voters mobilized against President Donald Trump to “Reagan Democrats,” the White, traditional blue-collar voters who crossed party lines to help elect Reagan to two terms as president. Reagan defeated then-Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter in a landslide. The California Republican carried 44 out of 50 states in the 1980 contest and 49 states in the 1984 race.

Democrats must not only attract Republican voters who want to put Trump out of office at the end of his first term, but retain those voters under the party’s big tent, said Emanuel, who served as White House chief of staff under former President Barack Obama. He made the same case in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece Saturday, saying that suburban voters in areas of Arizona, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, battleground states that Trump won in 2016, can be flipped. The lack of support for a “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for All” in the Democratic platform helps the party balance between the desires of the moderate and more progressive members, Emanuel said on CNBC.

With a broad coalition of support that stretches from four-star generals to Black Lives Matter supporters, Biden can leverage his decades of governing experience in Washington to “culturally move them into a comfort zone,” he said. “My view is you don’t want this to be a transactional election,” the former Chicago mayor said. “You want this to be the opportunity of a transformational election.”

Read more …

Maybe Sirota can get a speaking slot at the RNC.

Corporate Dems Want You To Shut Up While They Get Loud (Sirota)

No doubt, you have been told to keep quiet. Just put on your big boy pants, they say, and find the impulse control to at least muzzle yourself for the next 72 days until the election happens. After that, fine — then and only then will you maybe be permitted to speak your mind and politely ask the Democratic Party to match its rhetoric with its policy agenda. But until then, you are told to ‘“shut the hell up and grow up,” as former Obama and Mike Bloomberg pollster Cornell Belcher put it during an emblematic MSNBC segment berating progressives. This kind of hectoring has become a defining part of the Democratic Party’s culture. As the late great journalist Bill Greider lamented:

“The way the Democratic Party is run for quite a number of presidential cycles is they pick a nominee in a kind of half-assed process that doesn’t really represent much of anybody and then they tell everybody to just shut up — don’t bring up anything that will complicate life for your nominee… shut up, turn off your brains.” There’s a superficial logic to this call for omerta — after all, Donald Trump is destroying everything and he must be defeated. But here’s the problem: The demand to shut up is only being aimed at the progressive base of the party, while the corporate wing floods the zone with rhetoric that could demobilize voters.

Indeed, at the very moment many good progressives are blunting their criticism and making clear that defeating Trump is of utmost importance, Corporate Democrats aren’t being asked to wait or hold their tongues. In fact, they are doing the opposite: Rahm Emanuel — who has been advising Biden — just went on television to show that the corporate wing of the party is intent on using the stretch run of the Most Important Election Of Our Lifetime™ not to doggedly focus on actually winning the election, but to instead try to predetermine post-election policy outcomes. Emanuel and his ilk depict themselves as evincing a non-ideological “just win, baby” attitude. But they are most decidedly pushing a very clear corporate ideology — and they are doing so in dangerously divisive ways that could depress the big turnout that’s desperately needed to defeat Trump.

Read more …

It was another violent weekend in the cities. How much longer? And how did this ever become normal?

The Silence Of Joe Biden And The Dems On The Violence In The Cities (Kass)

Joe Biden, the smiling figurehead who Democrats have nominated for president, closed his party’s virtual convention with a speech that proved two things about him. The man can still ably deliver a well-written speech. And he still has great message discipline. Because he did what the other Democrats did over their four-day infomercial, make constant references to their own virtue and empathy, while portraying President Donald Trump as evil incarnate, a dark lord without virtue and without an empathetic bone in his body. But through all that talk, Biden and the Democrats avoided saying anything about what many Americans are talking about now: The violence, political and otherwise, plaguing American big cities run by liberal Democratic mayors.

The entire country sees the spiking street crime, the 50% increase in murders in some cities, looting in the downtowns, those news videos of people being pulled out of their cars and beaten, knocked out on the sidewalk, and cops pummeled in violent political confrontations. Biden was silent about all that. I wish he hadn’t been. But he was. In his speech, Biden offered a thorough condemnation of Trump, and this memorable line. “My father taught us that silence was complicity,” Biden said. You’ve probably also heard the slogan “silence equals violence.” But my barber, Raffaele Raia, born in Naples, puts it this way: “Chi tace acconsente. He who is silent says ‘yes’. The silence is the consent.”

Many protests have been peaceful. But many have not been. A cop getting his head thumped by a protester using a skateboard as a club isn’t a victim of a peaceful protest. The protests are no longer about the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. They’re also not about virtue or empathy. Yet in the midst of this, Americans are encouraged to apply virtue to politics. But searching for virtue in politicians is childlike, like believing in fairy tales, pixies, or like hoping to find a purple unicorn who’ll be your friend forever. Yet rather than search for virtuous purple unicorns, you might consider the words of Bostonian Henry Adams in “The Education of Henry Adams”: “Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man. Practical politics consists of ignoring facts. Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, had always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”

[..] Biden and national Democrats can’t acknowledge any of it. They’re desperate to avoid it. They have nothing to say to it. And the conflict inside their party rages on, out on the streets, where America can see it. Trump will roll down that law-and-order road at the Republican virtual convention. He’s a politician, now, too. That’s what politicians do. Like wolves, they take advantage of weakness. But Trump didn’t pave that road he’s on. Biden and the national Democratic Party paved it for him, with silence that is consent.

Read more …

“..any market for Chinese yuan consistent with a role as a global reserve currency would need to exist outside of mainland China.”

Don’t Discount the Dollar Yet (FP)

If some stories are easier to tell than others, the decline of the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency is one of them. It’s not hard to see why. The cast of characters that avail themselves for the script includes international trade, financial architecture, great-power competition, cycles of history, and even parables from ancient Greece.And on cue, the headlines are again churning out new versions of the familiar fable. New plot lines include the economic fallout of a global pandemic as well as a “capital war” between the United States and China, in which Washington usurps Beijing’s traditionally lonely role as the imposer of the restrictions on how capital can move between their two countries, frightening global investors, who then forsake the fallen dollar. Taken at face value, the headlines suggest that the dollar’s long-awaited dethroning may be here at last.

But the economic forces that thwarted any demise of the dollar in the past persist. They continue to render any end to the dollar’s reserve status today unlikely. In fact, there is a new player keeping it on its throne: the Chinese Communist Party. It’s the latest arrival to the motley crew of conspirators serving, unwittingly, to prevent the currency from leaving its seat. The dollar can’t be displaced with nothing, and mainland China’s currency, the yuan, was once the most-viable something. Global banks planned for it to “inevitably” replace the dollar. Economists speculated about the timing. The country’s growing economy, after all, is the world’s second largest. And Beijing is keen to take steps intended to promote its currency’s use in international trade. Officials in the world’s third-largest economy, the European Union, may voice similar intentions.

But Beijing is not dealing in the currency of a monetary union that, according to research at its own central bank, maybe shouldn’t even exist. “Overall economic structures in euro area countries,” economists at the European Central Bank concluded in 2019, “are still not fully commensurate with the requirements of a monetary union.” Nonetheless, Beijing’s recent actions have eviscerated the yuan’s prospects as a real reserve currency. For a currency to function as an international reserve, global businesses need safe places to put it when it’s not in use. After all, no one wants to sell stuff in exchange for money they’d struggle to safely store. Without safe storage options, like easy-to-access banks or at least low-risk bonds, a currency can become a costly thing with which to do business.

The most natural home for these safe assets denominated in mainland China’s currency would be mainland China. But Beijing imposes capital controls on flows of money in and out of the mainland. These capital controls stymie the development of liquid, globally accessible capital markets that can offer safe assets. Hence any market for Chinese yuan consistent with a role as a global reserve currency would need to exist outside of mainland China.

Read more …

Not sure what the mystery is. The bottom line, no matter where it turns, is China is stuck until it liberates its currency.

China’s Mysterious Dollar Dealings (OMFIF)

Considering China’s tensions with the US, Chinese authorities’ and banks’ dollar business is somewhat puzzling. China’s US Treasury holdings decreased to $1.07tn at end-2019, from $1.112tn in mid-2019. Chinese-owned banks globally reduced their reliance on dollar funding by $42.5bn. Since then, China’s holdings of US treasuries have risen to $1.084tn as of May, and banks’ dollar funding climbed $40.7bn in this year’s first quarter. This represents a swing of $80bn, around 8% of Chinese banks’ total cross-border funding. This is particularly surprising as global liquidity, and especially dollar liquidity, started drying up in March in view of the virus-induced global downturn. By the end of Q1, Chinese banks had extended $1.4tn in cross-border loans, two-thirds of total their overseas assets.

Dollar funding amounted to $1tn, half of total liabilities. This represents a funding gap of $400bn. While this might lead to a liquidity crunch, similar to European and Japanese banks, it was deemed manageable thanks to ample official dollar reserves. These could be made available to Chinese banks. Chinese banks’ cross-border dollar business is minor compared to their $40tn in total assets. Hence, the impact on the Chinese economy would be smaller than in the home countries of other global banks, according to the IMF. Deposits are the steadiest source of dollar funding, but are not readily available to Chinese banks. The central banks of China, Russia and Turkey are not covered by the Federal Reserve’s swap facilities. Foreign banks’ US subsidiaries can access the Fed Funds market, but Chinese banks do not appear to have tapped into it.

Their main source of dollar funding is offshore financing, as confirmed by the Bank for International Settlements. Financing is available through a number of channels, mostly interbank borrowing, as well as securitised debt. There are two enigmas regarding China’s dollar business. The first is Chinese banks’ continued purchases of US treasuries and dollar lending and funding. The second is why these banks are seeking to become a major intermediary for dollar financing to emerging market economies through the Belt and Road initiative, to the tune of $600bn by end-2019. At the same time, they have funded themselves in dollars, mostly in offshore centres. The BRI was expected to facilitate renminbi financing, boosting renminbi internationalisation.

Financing for the BRI is granted mainly through domestic lending to Chinese companies involved in BRI projects. Major Chinese banks’ head offices, as well as their Hong Kong branches, offer direct cross-border financing to recipient countries. According to their annual reports, the four main banks (including two policy banks) have extended $150bn each in loans. This lending has not been securitised and stays on the bank’s balance sheet, contrary to the global trend. This prevents foreign investors from buying into BRI projects, even though they were expected to contribute more funding in the initiative’s second phase. What remains are emerging economy dollar-denominated liabilities to Chinese lenders, which will come under scrutiny if countries seek IMF support. Chinese bankers say their emerging economy clients prefer dollar loans. If they provided loans in renminbi, recipients would change them into dollars to enhance fungibility.

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Reads like an advertorial.

Las Vegas Housing Market ‘On Fire’ As Economy Limps Along (LVRJ)

With a baby on the way, a strong credit score and money saved up, Veronica Markowsky figured it was time to buy a house. So the 35-year-old renter recently joined a herd of homebuyers in Southern Nevada and signed papers for a soon-to-be-built house — all while the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy and her Las Vegas bridal shop business. It’s probably not the best time to buy a place, Markowsky said, but she had her reasons. “What’s the worst that can happen?” she said. Las Vegas’ tourism-dependent economy has been devastated by the coronavirus outbreak. But the valley’s housing market, which initially was hit hard by the fallout from the crisis, has been accelerating lately with fast-rising sales and record prices.

The fervor has provided a surprising jolt of commerce in a bleak time. “I didn’t expect any of this kind of activity,” said Tom Blanchard, president of trade association Las Vegas Realtors. By all accounts, record-low mortgage rates — cheap money, essentially — are providing much of the fuel, as they let buyers lock in lower monthly payments. Amid the surge of demand, prices have climbed as the market’s low inventory of available homes further tightens. Southern Nevada has seen record job losses during the pandemic, with much of the pain falling on the service sector, where wages tend to be lower. Who is buying homes amid the turmoil? People who still have jobs, savings and other factors that let them qualify for a mortgage or buy with cash.

All told, the market has gained speed as buyers snap up homes from builders and on the resale market, with sellers fetching multiple bids. “It’s craziness,” Blanchard said. Las Vegas attorney Adam Breeden, who closed his purchase of a newly built house near the M Resort last month, listed his old house in May. He received three offers within three days, he recalled, including one at the full asking price. “I was shocked the market was the exact opposite I thought it would be,” he said.

Read more …

Lovely dispatch from Athens.

Summer In The Ailing City: The Purpose Is Life (Maglinis)

The feeling when you look out of the hospital window is that life is out there and it is passing you by indifferently, cold toward your small, insignificant drama. It is as if you have been immobilized in a static parallel universe. At the same time, this gradation of life (people out there, sunbathing on beaches and diving in cool seas and, on the other hand, those of us faced with the unpleasant condition of serious hospitalization – much more so when the person being treated is your child) in turn has its own, internal gradations: We do not all have the same fate, the same experience in the hospital. Some children will never be out of the hospital again.

Normally we should be thankful that, even though they are suffering, our child’s treatments are going well. And indeed you thank God and are thankful for your fate, but the cursed time in the hospital runs torturously slowly. So you look out there, you count the hours spent in the hospital, you count them like drops falling from the intravenous drip, you look at the sun-soaked courtyard of the clinic, the few people walking around, and you realize that even the lucky ones “out there” feel more vulnerable than ever.

But this may be the constant of the summer of 2020: In mid-August, the holiday season in Athens does not have the unguarded carelessness of other summers. Even in times of deep economic crisis, summer, August, was a refuge. Temporary maybe, but it still had something healing about it. This year, the pandemic – with the invisible, tiny enemy that knows no frontline or rear guard, that knows how to bypass obstacles and find forgotten half-open “back doors,” in the summer on the islands, on the crowded shores, even in the deserted city – looks like a well-orchestrated ambush.

But even in the age of imposed social abstinence and distance, “no man is an island,” as the English poet John Donne once wrote. “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Maybe because it binds us all to the simple truth that no one wants to be sick, no one wants to feel sick, no one wants to accept that they are powerless before nature, which is blind when it comes to your decay, entropy, extinction. No one wants to feel that, deep down, it is another insignificant part of the “whole process” of death and rebirth in nature. Who wants to feel like they are just a cog in a process of wear and tear and not a player in a longevity process?

Normally, every summer, we should all have the right to feel a little like kids again. This year we have no right to such a blessed parenthesis. Some for special reasons and all for the known ones. Another summer will come that will be healing and when we can feel like children again. Our only mission is to endure until another such summer, that will have a few moments of heavenly simplicity. The mask – or even the hospitalization – is just the pretext. The purpose is life .

Read more …

 

 

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Thank you for your ongoing support.

 

 

I’m not entirely sure what this means, but it looks nice.

 

 

Support the Automatic Earth in virustime.

 

Jun 212020
 


Lewis Wickes Hine 12-year-old newsie, Hyman Alpert, been selling 3 years, New Haven CT 1909

 

Trump Makes Triumphant Return To Campaign Rallies (JTN)
Trump’s Tulsa Rally Was Just Another Sad Farce (G.)
Over A Third Of Americans Think Civil War Is Likely (ZH)
Judge Says Bolton ‘Gambling With National Security’ But Won’t Block Book (JTN)
Lawyer Says Bolton ‘Utterly Powerless’ To Stop Book’s Circulation (JTN)
Manhattan Prosecutor Steps Down, Ending Stand-Off With AG Barr (R.)
US Travel Industry Revenues To Plummet By Half a Trillion In 2020 (F.)
Nearly Half Of Americans Consider Selling Home As COVID Crushes Finances (ZH)
Greece Urges UK To Return Parthenon Marbles (G.)

 

 

I’m a bit later than usual today, I couldn’t resist taking a walk in the almost deserted city of Athina. It’s terrible for a lot of people I know who work in hospitality, but the quiet is appealing at the same time. Here’s a photo I took just around the corner:

 

 

I brought up a possible civil war in the US yesterday, and just about everything I read appears to rhyme with that idea. Trump held his first meeting last night in Tulsa, and all too predictably the MSM says it was awful and nobody showed up, while the right wing press calls it a “triumphant return”. Nobody cares about news anymore, everything has turned into opinion.

It’s been well over 4 years since I started noticing -and writing about- that the NYT, WaPo et al began to publish 10+ anti-Trump stories every single day, and that got me labeled as a Trump supporter. No use saying that I’m not, and never have been, even Nicole, bless her heart, said: yes you are!

Like I am too stupid to know what I support, or maybe I’m a closet Trumpian. It’s that whole idea of if you don’t comply with the narrative and parrot CNN etc., you must be against them. And it’s true that I dislike CNN very much, for adopting a 24/7 anti-Trump business model, but that is not the same as supporting Trump. A news channel should provide us with news, not a political opinion.

I would almost hope Joe Biden wins (not going to happen) because that would mean the end of CNN. I often think Trump and Jerry Zucker have a secret deal that requires Trump to say 100 crazy things per day and CNN to “report” on all of them and invent 100 more as they go along.

But, you know, only half the country now reads the NYT and WaPo, the so-called liberal half. There once was a time when both halves did, but that is no longer an option. There is more money in one-sided and overblown opinion. The country’s best newspapers have sold their souls to Dr. Faust.

The headlines at Britain’s Guardian this morning pretty much sum up the entire story:

• Donald Trump: President sows division and promises ‘greatness’ at Tulsa rally flop

• US president’s much hyped return turned to humiliation when he failed to fill arena in Republican stronghold of Oklahoma

• Don’t call it a comeback: rally was just another sad farce

• ‘Kung flu’ President uses racist term to describe Covid-19

• ‘Saving our country’: An event for Trump’s true believers

And people who read things like the Guardian, NYT, WaPo, keep on eating it up. They buy these papers, they take out subscriptions, just to get their daily fill of anti-Trump “news”. I personally think that is extremely sad, and dangerous to boot. But if and when I say that, I will be labeled a Trump supporter again.

Because that is the easy way out for the Orange Man Bad crowd. Just as it will be, mind you, for all those out there who are going to take a bite out of Joe Biden’s dementia. We should all be able to do better. We should all be able to see that this is not about two old white guys, and that they have much more in common with each other than they have with you or me.

But in the present environment, try saying you’re not partisan and you’ll be labeled “partisan” for saying it. That’s why I brought up the civil war thing yesterday. The liberal press absolutely loves the fact that some grandma on TikTok made kids in Korea order 1000s of tickets for Tulsa and then not show up. The same press that wouldn’t know TikTok from a hole in the ground.

Meanwhile, has anyone at all pondered what the outcome will be for a Joe Biden rally? Oh my Lord, the excitement! Be still my heart. Bring an extra set of underwear.

If the TikTok fake tickets thing happened to a Joe Biden “event”, you know who would be blamed? Russia.

 

 

Worldometer reports new cases for June 20 (midnight to midnight GMT+0) at + 181,005 .

My count 6AM EDT to 6AM EDT (a bit more today) based on Worldometer numbers is 159,182.

 

 

 

 

New cases past 24 hours in:

• US + 33,388
• Brazil + 31,571
• Russia + 7,889
• India + 15,545

 

 

Cases 8,945,774 (+ 159,182 from yesterday’s 8,786,592)

Deaths 467,306 (+ 4,150 from yesterday’s 463,156)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close-:

 

 

From Worldometer:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just the News is John Solomon’s new outlet.

Trump Makes Triumphant Return To Campaign Rallies (JTN)

After months of coronavirus, racial strife and economic calamity, President Trump returned Saturday night to the campaign trail with a extravagant stadium event in Tulsa, Okla., vowing to win re-election on behalf of a “silent majority” of Americans drowned out by polls, media pundits and protesters. n”You are warriors,” a smiling Trump declared as he waved and gave fist pumps to an audience of thousands who braved fears about contagion, a lawsuit that failed to stop the events and protests outside the arena.


“I stand before you today to declare the silent majority is stronger than ever before,” Trump said to cheers. “Five months from now we’re going to defeat sleepy Joe Biden. … We are going to stop the radical left, and we’re going to build a future of safety and opportunity for Americans of every race color, religion and creed.” Seeking to address the recent rioting and protests caused by police killings, Trump portrayed himself and the GOP as best suited to bring racial healing and quell the violence. “Republicans are the party of liberty, equality and justice for all. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, and we are the party of law and order,” he told the crowd.

Read more …

“You got punked by several hundred thousand TikTok users, organized by a grandmother in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Mary Jo Laupp was apparently so upset by the original date and place of Trump’s rally – the city where one of America’s worst racist massacres took place, in 1921 – that she asked people to sign up for the rally and not show up. Laupp only joined TikTok earlier this year, but her call connected with thousands of K-Pop fans who are what Trump might call a silent majority.”

Trump’s Tulsa Rally Was Just Another Sad Farce (G.)

There have been so many reasons to feel embarrassed about Donald Trump. There was the time he paid off a porn star. There was the time he lied about the size of his inauguration crowd. The time he talked about the big water around Puerto Rico. The time he thought you could kill the coronavirus by injecting yourself with bleach. But nothing truly comes close to the embarrassment of his so-called comeback rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday. It was so toe-curlingly cringeworthy, such a crushing humiliation. There are 80s pop bands who have enjoyed greater comebacks than Donald Trump. To understand how much of his insides will always melt at the thought of that Tulsa rally, it’s worth quoting Trump’s fine words just before he boarded Marine One at the White House.


“The event in Oklahoma is unbelievable,” he boasted. “The crowds are unbelievable. They haven’t seen anything like it. And we will go there now. We’ll give a, hopefully, good speech. We’re going to see a lot of great people, a lot of great friends. And pretty much, that’s it. OK?” We really haven’t seen anything like that. For a man who loves peddling superlatives, this was the worst measure of his oh-so-sad popularity. The lowest point in electoral incompetence. The saddest campaign fiasco. The event in Oklahoma was literally unbelievable if you believe that the Trump campaign is competent, and that Trump himself is actually popular. That’s the weird thing about our populist president: his approval ratings have never cracked 50% and are now stuck firmly in the low 40s. Perhaps that’s why he’s trailing Joe Biden by double-digits in recent polls.

Read more …

Think perhaps I shouldn’t have raised the spectre of civil war yesterday?

Over A Third Of Americans Think Civil War Is Likely (ZH)

No one would have ever fathomed, that America – the greatest country in the world – with “the greatest economy ever” – could even be on the cusp of a civil war. Except for Peter Turchin, who predicted a decade ago in the scholarly journal Nature that America would “suffer a period of major social upheaval” starting around the year 2020. As race-driven/anti-police protests flourish nationwide – one-in-three Americans are warming up to the idea the country is on the brink of another civil war, according to Rasmussen Reports. The latest findings found 34% of respondents said the country would experience a second civil war within five years, and that includes 9% of those who said it’s very likely. Rasmussen noted, “This compares to 31 percent and 11 percent respectively two years ago.”

When examining between party lines, 40% of Republicans said civil war was “on the horizon,” while 28% of Democrats concurred. Around 38% of Independent voters said a civil war is possible in the next five years. The survey of 1,000 likely U.S. voters was conducted on June 11 and 14 by Rasmussen Reports, also asked respondents about local governments and protesters removing Confederate monuments. Rasmussen said: “39 percent) of all voters believe the removal of Confederate symbols, names, and monuments throughout the country honoring those who fought in the first civil war will help race relations. Twenty-seven percent (27 percent) disagree and think it will hurt race relations instead.”

“These numbers are reversed from August 2017 when 28% said the removal of the symbols would help race relations, while 39% thought it would hurt instead. Little changed is the 28% who think the removal of public traces of the Confederacy will have no impact,” it noted. Rasmussen continued, “Women and those under 40 are more supportive of the current anti-police protests and the anti-Confederacy drive than men and older voters.” “Younger voters worry most about another civil war… Just 29 percent of blacks believe the current protests will lead to long-term, meaningful racial change in America, compared to 35 percent of whites and 48 percent of other minority voters,” it said.

Chaos in America’s inner cities have been brewing for some time – and was due to erupt, according to Turchin. He looked at “declining wages, wealth inequality and exploding national debt” as social pressures that affected national stability. His model showed that the U.S. would reach a “boiling point” in 2020 — none of this should come as a surprise to Zero Hedge readers. So does civil war become a self-fulfilling prophecy with a third of Americans believing severe domestic turmoil is ahead?

Read more …

How about a $1 billion fine for Simon and Schuster? For sending out 10,000 copies while the case was pending?

Judge Says Bolton ‘Gambling With National Security’ But Won’t Block Book (JTN)

A federal judge on Saturday declined to block the publication of former national security adviser John Bolton’s tell-all book about the Trump White House, dealing a blow to the Trump administration’s efforts to halt what they claimed was a book full of classified information. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in a decision issued Saturday declared that the government “failed to establish that an injunction will prevent irreparable harm,” noting that the book was already in widespread circulation even prior to formal publication. But Lamberth also slammed Bolton for “gambl[ing] with the national security of the United States” and “expos[ing] his country to harm” by ordering the publication of the book “without written authorization and without notice to the government.”


Bolton’s lawyers had argued yesterday that their client was “powerless” to stop the book’s dissemination throughout media and society. Copies of the manuscript have already been delivered to journalists, book reviewers and other media outlets around the country. Lamberth in his ruling agreed, writing that “by the looks of it, the horse is not just out of the barn—it is out of the country.”

Read more …

He couldn’t even stop himself from writing, it, I tells ya. It was divine intervention.

Lawyer Says Bolton ‘Utterly Powerless’ To Stop Book’s Circulation (JTN)

A lawyer for former national security adviser John Bolton on Friday argued before a district judge that his client is “utterly powerless” to stop the widespread circulation of his tell-all book, urging the court to dismiss the Trump administration’s attempt to halt publication of the book. The administration has sued to block the release of the book, arguing it contains classified information that necessitates the use of prior restraint, a high bar for governments to clear under First Amendment jurisprudence. In addition to arguing that the book’s material is suitable for publication, attorney Charles Cooper told Judge Royce Lamberth of the D.C. District Court that “the horse is out of the barn” on the matter of the book’s becoming part of the public record. Numerous journalists and media outlets around the country have already received advance copies of the account.


“This isn’t really a judicial proceeding,” Cooper told Lamberth. “It doesn’t actually have as its purpose convincing you to order John Bolton to do something that he is utterly powerless to do, and that you are utterly powerless to force him to do,” namely pull the book from general circulation. Justice Department lawyer David Morrell urged Lamberth to direct Bolton to halt publication “and further dissemination” of the book prior to further review. Morrell said Bolton committed a “flagrant breach” of proper protocol in seeking to publish the alleged classified material. Bolton’s attorneys in an earlier filing had urged Lamberth to toss the suit, claiming that the memoir – which reveals alleged incidents witnessed by Bolton during his tenure at the White House from April 2018 to September 2019 – is protected speech under the First Amendment.

Read more …

Again: the left’s new hero is a Trump campaign contributor.

Manhattan Prosecutor Steps Down, Ending Stand-Off With AG Barr (R.)

A stand-off over the independence of one of the country’s most important prosecutor’s offices ended on Saturday when Geoffrey Berman agreed to step down as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the office that had been investigating President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani. Berman’s confirmation of his departure came after Attorney General William Barr told him he had been fired by Trump at Barr’s request, and that Berman’s hand-picked No. 2, Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, would become Acting U.S. Attorney until a permanent replacement is installed. Under Strauss’ leadership, Berman said the office could continue its “tradition of integrity and independence.”


Berman’s office, which is known for prosecuting the most high profile terrorism cases, Wall Street financial crimes and government corruption, has not shied from taking on figures in Trump’s orbit. It oversaw the prosecution of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, indicted two Giuliani associates and launched a probe into Giuliani in connection with his efforts to dig up dirt on Trump’s political adversaries in Ukraine. Giuliani has not formally been accused of any wrongdoing. The standoff with Berman follows the latest in a series of moves by Barr that critics say are meant to benefit Trump politically and undermine the independence of the Justice Department. It also comes as Trump has sought to purge officials perceived as not fully supporting him. In recent weeks he has fired a series of agency watchdogs, including one who played a key role in Trump’s impeachment earlier this year.

Read more …

Stay at Herm.

US Travel Industry Revenues To Plummet By Half a Trillion In 2020 (F.)

Travel spending in the United States will fall by more than a half-trillion dollars this year and likely won’t recover to 2019 levels until 2024. That’s according to a new economic analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and government steps to constrict personal and business interactions in an effort to fight the disease’s spread. The dire forecast was prepared for the U.S. Travel Association, a Washington lobby group, by Tourism Economics. Both the USTA and the Air Line Pilots Association on Thursday went public with new requests for federal assistance. The analysis projects that companies providing travel related services – airlines, hotels, restaurants, attractions and more – will take in $505 billion less in revenue by the end of this year than they did in 2019.


Last year U.S. travel spending topped $1.1 trillion, an all-time high. This year the same group is forecast to take in 45 percent less revenue, or around $622 billion. Furthermore, the forecast for 2020 shows that while travel spending in the U.S. on travel in 2021 should rise 37.5 percent over this year’s total spending to around $855 billion, that still would leave the U.S. travel industry 24 percent smaller in terms of revenues in 2021 than it was in 2019. The recovery in travel spending is then forecast to continue in 2022 and 2023, but at a slower pace. The forecast 14.2 percent growth in travel spending in 2022 would take total spending to just shy of a trillion dollars: 976 billion.

Read more …

Would it be really stupid if I ask who’s going to buy them?

Nearly Half Of Americans Consider Selling Home As COVID Crushes Finances (ZH)

As the virus pandemic has metastasized into an economic downturn, tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs and are struggling to service mortgage payments. New research offers a glimpse into struggling households, discovers out of the 2,000 American homeowners polled, over half (52%) of respondents say they’re routinely worried about making future mortgage payments and nearly half (47%) considered selling their home because of the inability to service mortgage payments. The study, conducted by OnePoll and the National Association of Realtors, determined 81% of respondents had experienced unexpected financial stress due to the virus-induced recession. Over half (56%) reduced spending so they could service mortgage payments.

Since mid-March, or about the time when the lockdowns began, nearly half (47%) of homeowners have explored alternative ways of making money. About two-thirds of respondents (64%) started side projects, while 53% sold valuables to supplement income. “The swift and unprecedented impact of COVID-19 left many people in a financial emergency, and we want to make sure struggling homeowners know they have relief options, especially during Homeownership Month,” said the National Association of Realtors President Vince Malta. “Realtors and lenders can identify programs and aid designed to help meet loan obligations. Acting quickly may help homeowners stay in their homes and keep the money they have already invested into it,” Malta said.

From clothing (71%) and take-out (66%) to streaming TV services (46%) and groceries (45%), respondents said their spending habits had been significantly reduced so they could service mortgage payments. In a separate report, more than 4 million homeowners are in mortgage forbearance plan – representing 7.54% of all mortgages, delinquencies are set to surpass the great recession, which peaked at 10%.

Read more …

Broken record. Give them back, you twits.

Greece Urges UK To Return Parthenon Marbles (G.)

The New Acropolis Museum was purpose-built to host the one thing every Greek government will always agree on: the Parthenon marbles being returned from London. On Saturday, as the four-storey edifice marked its 11th anniversary, Athens reinvigorated the cultural row calling the British Museum’s retention of the antiquities illegal and “contrary to any moral principle”. “Since September 2003 when construction work for the Acropolis Museum began, Greece has systematically demanded the return of the sculptures on display in the British Museum because they are the product of theft,” the country’s culture minister Lina Mendoni told the Greek newspaper Ta Nea.

“The current Greek government – like any Greek government – is not going to stop claiming the stolen sculptures which the British Museum, contrary to any moral principle, continues to hold illegally.” For years, she said, the museum had argued that Athens had nowhere decent enough to display Phidias’ masterpieces, insisting that its stance was “in stark contrast” to the view of the UK public. In repeated polls, Britons have voiced support for the repatriation of the carvings, controversially removed from the Parthenon in 1802 at the behest of Lord Elgin, London’s ambassador to the Sublime Porte. “It is sad that one of the world’s largest and most important museums is still governed by outdated, colonialist views.” Greece’s centre-right administration has vowed to step up the campaign to win back artworks that adorned the frieze of the Periclean showpiece ahead of the country’s bicentennial independence celebrations next year.

Within weeks of his election, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s prime minister, told the Observer Athens was prepared to allow treasures that had never travelled abroad to be exhibited in London in exchange for the marbles being reunited with “a monument of global cultural heritage”. Well-placed government officials have not excluded the EU pressing for the return of the antiquities as part of an overarching Brexit deal. The row was injected with renewed rancour when the British Museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer, described their removal from Greece as “a creative act”. Half of the 160-metre frieze is in London, with 50 metres in Athens and other pieces displayed in a total of eight other museums across Europe.

Read more …

 

 

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https://twitter.com/CarpeDonktum/status/1274537090261430275

 

 

 

My man. My Main man.

Robert Allen Zimmerman is 79 years old.

But his brain has just been born.

 

Three miles north of purgatory –
one step from the great beyond
I prayed to the cross, and I kissed the girls,
and I crossed the Rubicon.

Bob Dylan

 

 

Support the Automatic Earth in virustime.

 

May 312020
 


Monastiraki Square deserted due to lockdown, Athens, Greece 2020

 

Well, actually, there is no Automatic Earth in Athens right now. But we’re working on it. And I have had a hard time finishing articles recently for some reason. It may be because it’s virustime, and it’s certainly because of the lockdown. People are social animals, and I am no exception. Living alone and working alone makes it more extreme.

Not that I have changed my mind on lockdowns; they are the only option to tame the virus under the circumstances. Still, a lockdown must be executed properly, to make it “as close to impossible as possible” for the virus to jump to new hosts, and that has only been done in very few places, either because politicians and “experts” don’t understand how and why, or they find it too inconvenient. But enough about that for the moment, even as today’s new global cases top 130,000 in yet another new record.

 

In mid-December I went from Athens to Holland, where I still rent a small apartment though I’ve been spending most of my time in Athens. I thought I’d stay a few months in the Lowlands, do some of the everyday -or every year- stuff that needs doing, taxes, medical things etc., and return to Athens in spring.

I had a ticket back to Athens from Holland on April 1, which I had bought early February, when things still seemed somewhat normal. But as the date approached, of course, we moved ever further away from normal. If I had booked a few weeks earlier, things might have worked out, but Greece implemented a very strict lockdown, so it wouldn’t have been much fun.

I could change the ticket for free until two weeks before departure, after which the cost for changing it would be close to the original ticket price. So I changed it. By then, there was a two-week mandatory full quarantine in place for new arrivals in Greece. Not very tempting, but more importantly I was thinking I didn’t want to become a burden on the Greek healthcare system.

Which according to some has shrunk by 75% (imagine that) due to EU-mandated austerity. I was thinking the odds of Greece and the Greek system being overwhelmed were much higher than that it would happen in Holland. Boy, was I wrong. The irony is that it is exactly this that made Greece adopt the strict lockdown measures it did, as early as it did, and faring so much better because of it.

For 2 months, until 2 weeks ago, everyone who was out in the street had to carry a piece of paper detailing why they were out (try that in the US!). The only valid reasons to be out were shopping for food or medicine. All stores other than supermarkets and pharmacies were closed anyway. Greece was early and strict. They didn’t feel they had a choice.

And even if so much of the healthcare system has been bulldozed, the core is still very strong, that is a major factor. The professionals (experts) running the system and advising the government are of a very high caliber, which is more than one can say of many other countries.

 

 

 

 

In Holland, it’s been a very different story. It was late to the game, and when it did decide on a lockdown, it called it an “intelligent” lockdown. Like Dutch people are smarter than others. Which, of course, people like to hear. Most stores have remained open (though not public transport), there was no mass testing, only people with obvious symptoms were tested, and the Dutch version of the CDC still maintains today that face masks don’t actually work (i.e. we are more intelligent than 4.5 billion Asians).

Like in many other countries, the lack of testing and masks really only had one reason behind it, and it wasn’t that they would not work, or that anyone believed they didn’t, it was that they didn’t have any. And then when a government says they’re not needed, the pace at which they are purchased abroad or can be produced domestically slows down too, even with all the high tech industries in the country. That way you sort of boil in your own fat.

We’re 5 months into the pandemic, and only now can one get tested without already being on the verge of death [Update May 31: still no test available without symptoms, asymptomatic carriers be damned. Should I fake symptoms?]. And only now are masks obligatory in public transport. This means the virus has become pretty much embedded, though perhaps not yet endemic, in the population.

It’s a giant gamble with the lives of your citizens when you try to hide your failure to acquire the necessary tools and implement the needed procedures, behind stories about how well “we” are really doing. The kind of gamble that politicians should at the very least by forced to quit for, but that is not going to happen.

But, more irony, they’re real popular. People buy the narrative that “this is the best we could have done”, and hang on to their lips every day for a shred of good news. That happens in many countries, of course, and, yes, it has a function: if you want to do a lockdown, above all you need a sense of unity. That it is used to hide lies and failures is almost an afterthought.

I don’t try to point out to people here -the few I see- anymore that their government has done a terrible job; they all watch the same news, and they’ve all bought the same “we’re in this together” kool-aid. Which, again, does serve a purpose, but it’s also very false. Here are the latest numbers from Worldometer:


Holland:
17.3 million people,
46,257 cases of COVID19, and
5,951 deaths.


Greece:
10.7 million people,
2,915 cases and
175 deaths.

I don’t even have to do the percentages, do I? The “successful” and “intelligent” Holland not only, 5 months in, still has an “official” worse “deaths per million population” rate than the US(!), the Dutch numbers also invariably come with the official addition that “real” numbers of both cases and deaths are much higher due to the lack of testing.

Almost as if they’re proud of it. As if it’s a waste of time to try and keep track of how and where the virus is spreading in your society, something you won’t ever know if you only test and count people who are already in hospital or dead.

 

High time for a more uplifting story. In early March, as Greece lockdown measures took hold one by one, almost all of the social kitchens were quickly shut down. But not the people the Automatic Earth has been supporting for 5 years running with your kind help. “Our” crew changed strategy as cooking in the street was no longer an option, and started preparing meals in a central place, only to drive down and hand them out fully ready in the familiar places near Monastiraki square and the Piraeus port.

And because so many other social kitchens had closed and the homeless still needed to eat (always the first to bear the brunt, no exception this time), they made -and make- a lot more meals as well than they were used to doing, and worked 4 days instead of 2, preparing some 700 meals every week.

It’s not just many more meals, but every meal takes much more time and energy to prepare than usual; each has to be packaged separately, because of course fears were that the homeless would be most susceptible to the virus. In short, they’ve all been working their behinds off. Everyone talks about heroes, and these people are mine. Let me show you with a few pictures:

Here’s Monastiraki square, deserted (with the Acropolis on top of the mountain):

 

 

Some of the crew preparing meals in the central place:

 

 

And posing (that’s Tassos doing his finest Greek Zorro):

 

 

Then there’s of course -some of- Da Boyz:

 

 

The usual hot meal in the big pot:

 

 

But lots of other things too, all individually wrapped:

 

 

Which then end up in these crates before they’re loaded into cars to be distributed.

 

 

I love this picture, these are some of the things served on Greek Easter, April 19, because the homeless, too, should celebrate:

 

 

And then the packages are handed to the people in central Athens:

 

 

And at the port of Piraeus:

 

 

Greece, like other countries, is slowly easing its lockdown, first the stores opened, last week it was terraces at bars and restaurants, and next week it will be the inside of these places too.

“The Crew” is not yet back to cooking in the streets, that will take a bit more time. I’ve been keeping in close touch with them, and it’s high time to replenish the supermarket “checks” I last arranged for in December. First thing I’ll do when I get there. Been offering it all the time, a bank transfer might have worked, but so far they manage.

Air traffic is resuming as well, bit by bit. When I changed my ticket in mid-March, I had no idea what would be realistic, and picked June 16 “out of a hat”. Not a bad guess, it turns out. June 16 became 17, and 2 days ago the Greeks said Holland is a risk country, so no flights before July, but this morning they changed that again, to mandatory testing at the airport followed by a night in a designated hotel; it now looks as if this might actually happen. Then again, 17 days is an eternity in virustime of course.

And in the process I’ll get tested, something I can’t get done in Holland. I’ve been holed up in an area of Holland with very few infections, but I’ll still have to do the train-airport-plane routine to get to Athens, all places where the danger of being infected is -relatively- high. Holland is a country the size of a postage stamp, and it still today averages more new cases than Greece has had total deaths.

 

As always when I write about the Automatic Earth in Athens project, I ask you to support it. There are still a few hundred dollars left, but I want to buy at least €1000 worth of supermarket checks, so the crew can fill their by now empty pantries and cupboards and do something extra for the clients, who haven’t had an easy time.

The way it goes is simple and identical to how we’ve always done this: you can donate through our Paypal widget at the top left corner of the site. Any donations that end in $0.99 or $0.37 go straight to the crew, other amounts go to the Automatic Earth, which also badly needs support, and which you can of course also support via Patreon, see top right corner of the site.

I am honored and proud to be associated with these people, and proud of the bonds we have forged since 2015, and I think you should be too. Together, we support the most vulnerable people, homeless and refugees, in a city still overflowing with vulnerable people (with many more added because of the virus), and we do it through a crew that doesn’t cease to amaze with their selflessness.

I don’t remember if I ever mentioned this, but a few years ago I was talking to a guy who did a project on Lesbos, maybe still does, and we were saying: many years from now, when looking back on your life, what will you be most proud of? We both concluded that this would certainly among the top in the list: supporting the weakest members of society. But I can’t do it without your help, which has been amazing all this time, and which I hope will continue in the same way that I am determined to continue to support this wonderful little shimmer of light.

 

 

We try to run the Automatic Earth on people’s kind donations. Since their revenue has collapsed, ads no longer pay for all you read, and your support is now an integral part of the interaction.

Thank you.

 

 

Support the Automatic Earth in virustime.

 

Nov 032019
 
 November 3, 2019  Posted by at 6:43 pm Finance, Primers Tagged with: , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Nelly’s Tzistarakis Mosque in Monastiraki Square, Athens c1930

 

It’s been too long, way too long since I wrote about our Athens fund, I know, and I apologize. It’s just that for the longest time, things were too unclear and changing too fast for me to write an article. I was waiting for things to settle down to a point where I could have faith they weren’t going to turn upside down again within days or weeks. Well, we finally seem to have reached such a point. But again, I know it has taken too long.

 

In -mostly- chronological order, here’s what happened. In early 2017, I had a meeting with Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, the man I -and the very generous Automatic Earth readers- had been financially supporting since 2015 in his O Allos Anthropos organization to feed homeless and refugees in Greece.

At that meeting, Konstantinos had promised to bring the administration he said he had kept about what the money had been spent on. But instead, he started rattling off what he could remember off the top of his head. Which was impressive, but that was not the issue. He had told me numerous times he had it all on paper, but it was not true. And I knew it was not something lost in translation either.

It wasn’t that he had spent it on himself or kept it in a box, I checked that with as many people as I could, and I could see how he lived. That wasn’t it. He was simply disorganized. And he somehow thought he had the right to be. Because after all, he was the boss. And that’s true enough, it was his idea and organization. But being the boss doesn’t give you the right to say things that are not true, when tens of thousands of euros have been donated to you and your project.

Being the boss comes with obligations attached, and he apparently didn’t like those. A boss needs to look ahead, organize, delegate, make sure there’s continuity, be careful of how he treats employees, who in his case were all volunteers to boot. He did none of that, not structurally. It’s one thing that all that money lands where it is needed, but it’s another where tomorrow’s money will come from. Things a boss must have his eye on.

I had said many times that he could not continue to count on my readers for that money, that I thought at some point it would be enough. I drew up a plan to address the Greek diaspora in New York, Boston, Melbourne, Sidney etc., for financial help, for instance through their Chambers of Commerce. And I said I would always be there to help, but that I was not going to do it alone. Not speaking Greek would have disqualified me anyway.

But nothing came of that. There was never a serious effort. I had not expected that. In hindsight I think maybe it was because he saw it as a challenge to his authority, to have to communicate in a language he didn’t speak. That he couldn’t play the boss over that.

Long story short, as 2017 went on, I didn’t see how I could continue my involvement with the project. I couldn’t ask for donations to someone who rejected all accountability. But then just as I was about to say I quit, two things happened.

 


Monastiraki Sqaure. The same mosque as in the 1930s picture above. It hasn’t been used as a mosque for a very long time. In the background on the hill, the Akropolis.

 

The first was that I increasingly heard about dissatisfaction among the people who worked with/for Konstantinos, with the way he ran things. They didn’t want to continue any more than I did. That led the people who run the ‘kitchen’ in Monastiraki Square, which had always been my main meeting point with everyone, to declare themselves independent of O Allos Anthropos (it took quite some time, but they did).

Monastiraki had always been part of the entire set-up, but also separate. It was run by my friend Tassos -longtime translator between Konstantinos and I- and his friend Filothee, partner of famed Greek singer Antonis Vardis, who died of cancer in 2014 but had always supported Konstantinos. By the end of 2017, I decided I would try and continue to support at least them.

They insisted from the start on not ever having to handle money, because they didn’t like the way Konstantinos had. And they came up with a clever plan for it; more on that in a minute.

The second thing that happened in late 2017 was that I received an email from a Greek man -let’s call him ‘Mark’- who said he was living abroad with his wife and young children but planning to move -back- to Greece, and he wanted to help me with a lot of money. We mailed to and fro for a bit, he sounded credible, and in March 2018 I went back to Athens to meet him (a few days before he was bound to leave again for 6 weeks).

The meeting went fine, we kept mailing, and in June 2018 we took the first step in that ‘clever plan’. Tassos and Filothee had set up a deal with a local supermarket chain in which they would receive ‘coupons’, or ‘checks’ for an amount I would pay to the supermarket. No cash. Mark chipped in some money as well. This still works fine to this day, and everyone’s happy with it. When Filothee needs food, she gets it in bulk and pays with coupons. This is what they look like:

 

 

But then the strangest thing happened. ‘Mark’ disappeared, I think it was August. I’ve never seen him again. And I’m still thinking today: why would you do such a thing? Why all the time spent on the mails and meetings and promises and then nothing anymore? Why not just say: sorry, I don’t have the money, or I don’t want to any longer, or well, anything? Why just vanish? Just a few words would have been enough.

Other than that, though, things appear to be running well right now. I paid for another €1,000 worth of coupons this July and handed them to Filothee, and she still has quite a few left. Less fun is that Tassos last year moved to Shanghai. His wife is from there and his construction business for large projects went belly up in Athens, where there are no large building projects. He was over in August, but left again. Plenty big projects in China.

Not that we sit still, either. The gang has decided to start a second kitchen in the port of Piraeus, because they saw the need there. Filothee explained that in Monastiraki, most people who come for food have a roof over their head, but it’s often six to a single room without electricity or water. No amenities, they can’t cook their own food. In Piraeus, they feed ‘real’ homeless.

The new rightwing government has approved new asylum laws that make it much easier to evict refugees. They are also evicting squatters from buildings across the city, many of them refugees, who are now taken to camps, that are still beyond squalid. Some people face a six year waiting time for their asylum requests. Not that Greece can be blamed for too much, it’s the EU that is failing terribly. Greece is simply the outer border of the union.

Camps and islands are insanely overcrowded, Turkey sends more people across the Aegean again, and winter is coming. Nor is there much that anyone can do to help in that situation, because after 5 years that help has been fully institutionalized through the hanky-panky between Brussels, Athens and the NGOs, and very little of the money involved gets to where it belongs.

We gave it our shot, Konstantinos despite his shortcomings really tried, and we did manage to achieve lots of stuff, but some problems are just too big. We’re talking thousands, tens of thousands of people even, and more keep on coming all the time, and at some point that requires not a band of good willing folk but a society, a government, or something even bigger than that. And that’s where it all goes wrong. It always does.

But we still try, with all our faults. We don’t have millions or even billions, but we can still help people. And so that’s what we do. Filothee does, I do, and I’m sure Konstantinos does as well, though I haven’t seen him in a long time. It’s just what you do.

 

 

And now it’s time to move on to the part that I’m really bad at, and which has kept me for ages from writing this article: asking for donations. Not donations for Greece, I can do that, but those for the Automatic Earth itself, debanked and perhaps going under. I tried to explain that a few days ago already, that the way sites like this are funded has changed irrevocably in my view.

Google and Facebook take all the money and everyone else can take a hike. Unless the Automatic Earth disappears behind a paywall (which I don’t want) OR our readers start chipping in more than they have. Easily more than 5,000 people read the Automatic Earth each day, so at 5 cents a day -and what is 5 cents?- we’d be fine. But it doesn’t work that way. People are used to free.

Still, I don’t want to confuse the two, Greece and the site itself, too much. Then again, I have spent a lot of time here in Athens over the past years, and that isn’t free -I pay double rent for half the year-, and my personal presence here is greatly appreciated by the people who run the Monastiraki kitchen. As they expressed in the note you can see below. They appreciate that it’s not just a check being sent, but I go visit them all the time to see how things are going.

Anyway, I’m obviously still bad at this. So if you’re inclined to donate to either the Automatic Earth or the Monastiraki kitchen, or both, you figure it out. Put us on your Christmas charity list and be generous, be part of helping out those who have least. You may read raving pieces on Greece and Athens and tourism and Airbnb, but this is still a very challenging place for all but the rich.

What I would like to do is to hand Filothee another $1,000 in coupons before I leave for Christmas, that should be sufficient for both kitchens -Monastiraki and Piraeus- until I get back in spring. And I promise it won’t be this long again between articles.

Thank you so much for making this all possible.

 

 

 

 

For donations to the Monastiraki kitchen and the Automatic Earth, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner, and a Patreon one top right hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Monastiraki apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to the social kitchen.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote before about our support for homeless and refugees in Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

Dec 21 2016

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017

Mar 23 2017

The Automatic Earth Still Helps Greeks and Refugees

Dec 24 2017

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund – Christmas and 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 172019
 


M.C. Escher Gravitation 1952

 

Steele Admits He Used Unverified Information In Dossier (CNN)
Even A Vacuous Mueller Report Won’t End ‘Russiagate’ (Stephen Cohen)
The Blind Leading the Deaf and Dumb (Kunstler)
EU War-Gaming For Fall Of May’s Government (O.)
Disbelief In Europe At Another Lost Brexit Week (G.)
‘White Men Are Considered Everyone’: Ocasio-Cortez (G.)
Deadly Air In Our Cities: The Invisible Killer (O.)
Good Enough To Eat? The Toxic Truth About Modern Food (G.)

 

 

Travel day yesterday, back to Athens. So timing’s a bit skewed. And the content. Just the essentials today. And there was raki last night, and friends. Lots of both. In a city that is fast turning, like Barcelona, Amsterdam et al, into Disneyland. Because of Airbnb. Stories of Greek people getting evicted from their apartments because the Greek owner sold the building to a Chinese who will Airbnb it, not rent out to locals. And then a good friend saying that’s good because renting out his apartment this way is the only way to pay for his aunt’s health care bills. Apartment prices have tripled in 2 years, but you can’t even find one.

A city is nice because of the people who live there. Airbnb chases them out. And then you wind up with an empty shell. Disneyland.

 

Saw a sign held up in a demo concerning Christchurch that said: “We won’t tolerate hate”. And I thought: maybe you should. Maybe, if you protest intolerance, the response is not more intolerance. Like Martin Luther King could have said: You can hate me, but I refuse to hate you back.

 

 

It’s Alice and the looking glass. The entire Mueller probe was based on a dossier based on nothing but a bunch of nutcase comments at a CNN site. And this is CNN commenting on that. The dossier was paid for by the losing Democrat party, and there are close links to FBI and DOJ. And you think Trump’s the bad guy in this story.

On top of that, Steele hadn’t been in Russia in many years, and used equally unverified ‘info’ from Moscow. And the US hunts its own president for 2 years based on it.

“Steele says he used unverified information to support details about web company in dossier..”

Steele Admits He Used Unverified Information In Dossier (CNN)

A newly released snippet of a deposition with the ex-British spy behind the Trump-Russia dossier describes some of the steps he took to verify information he collected for it in 2016, including pulling from a user-generated citizen journalism initiative by CNN, iReport, which no longer operates. Christopher Steele admitted during a lawsuit deposition that he used internet searches and unverified information to support details he had gathered about a web company mentioned in the dossier, according to select pages of his deposition transcript that a federal court unsealed this week.

But Steele limited his answers about how he verified information about the web companies who claimed they were defamed. He would not explain, for instance, what else he did or sources he used to verify information in the dossier about Webzilla, its parent company XBT and their Russian founder Aleksej Gubarev, who were named in the dossier. He did not have to describe during the deposition all the steps he took to collect or check the information because of terms set by the court.

But he could talk about web searches — and how he didn’t realize one article he found in his research was a submission from a “random person,” as an attorney pointed out, rather than a news report. Steele testified that he used a 2009 article from the crowdsourced news site CNN iReport, for instance, to check information he learned about Webzilla, one of the three related entities that had sued BuzzFeed for defamation. BuzzFeed published the dossier in full — explaining they hadn’t verified it — on January 10, 2017, after CNN reported that President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump had been briefed about it.

Read more …

Yes, that Stephen Cohen. Who is still America’s no. 1 expert on Russia, professor emeritus of Russian studies, history, and politics at New York University and Princeton University. That Stephen Cohen

Even A Vacuous Mueller Report Won’t End ‘Russiagate’ (Stephen Cohen)

Too many reputations and other interests are vested in the legend for it to vanish from American politics anytime soon. Russiagate allegations that the Kremlin has a subversive hold over President Trump, and even put him in the White House, have poisoned American political life for almost three years. Among other afflictions, it has inspired an array of media malpractices, virtually criminalized anti–Cold War thinking about Russia, and distorted the priorities of the Democratic Party. And this leaves aside the woeful impact Russiagate has had in Moscow—on its policymakers’ perception of the US as a reliable partner on mutually vital strategic issues and on Russian democrats who once looked to the American political system as one to be emulated, a loss of “illusions” I previously reported.

• The story of a “Kremlin puppet” in the White House is so fabulous and unprecedented it is certain to become a tenacious political legend, as have others in American history despite the absence of any supporting evidence.

• The careers of many previously semi-obscure Democratic members of Congress have been greatly enhanced—if that is the right word—by their aggressive promotion of Russiagate. (Think, for example, of the ubiquitous media coverage and cable-television appearances awarded to Representatives Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Maxine Walters, and to Senators Mark Warner and Richard Blumenthal.) If Mueller fails to report “collusion” of real political substance, these and other Russiagate zealots, as well as their supporters in the media, will need to reinterpret run-of-the-mill (and bipartisan) financial corruption and mundane “contacts with Russia” as somehow treasonous. (The financial-corruption convictions of Paul Manafort, Mueller’s single “big win” to date, did not charge “collusion” and had to do mainly with Ukraine, not Russia.) Having done so already, there is every reason to think Democrats will politicize these charges again, if only for the sake of their own careers. Witness, for example, the scores of summonses promised by Jerrold Nadler, the new Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

• Still worse, the top Democratic congressional leadership evidently has concluded that promoting the new Cold War, of which Russiagate has become an integral part, is a winning issue in 2020. How else to explain Nancy Pelosi’s proposal—subsequently endorsed by the equally unstatesmanlike Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and adopted—to invite the secretary general of NATO, a not-very-distinguished Norwegian politician named Jens Stoltenberg, to address a joint session of Congress? The honor was once bestowed on figures such as Winston Churchill and at the very least leaders of actual countries.

Trump has reasonably questioned NATO’s mission and costs nearly 30 years after the Soviet Union disappeared, as did many Washington think tanks and pundits back in the 1990s. But for Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, there can be no such discussion, only valorization of NATO, even though the military alliance’s eastward expansion has brought the West to the brink of war with nuclear Russia. Anything Trump suggests must be opposed, regardless of the cost to US national security. Will the Democrats go to the country in 2020 as the party of investigations, subpoenas, Russophobia, and escalating cold war – and win?

Read more …

“..a Democratic Party Bereavement Ritual..”

The Blind Leading the Deaf and Dumb (Kunstler)

In his new book, Peak Trump, David Stockman called the RussiaGate affair “a Democratic Party Bereavement Ritual,” an excellent diagnosis. The breast-beating and garment-rending has gone on for more than two years, inducing a generalized hysteria that has made it impossible for this country to govern itself, and opening the door to some really serious mischief as the party’s new Jacobin wing sets up for the advent of an American failed state.

All of this is a prelude to equally serious tribulation roaring down the two-lane pike of finance and economy that will combine with the engineered destruction of institutional authority from RussiaGate to bring on the greatest crisis since the Civil War. The money is not there to perform any of the miracles of redistribution promised by AOC and Bernie Sanders — unless the Federal Reserve is coerced into printing a whole lot more money out of thin air, in which case the consequence will be that everybody gets to have a lot of worthless money that has lost its value.

If congress wants to play committee games, it might want to investigate how the USA is going to rack up another $2 trillion in debt to finance its operations before the 2020 election. They’re the ones who will have to vote to allow that to happen. The disorders of money coming down in the months ahead, RussiaGate aside, are sure to discredit both political parties. I doubt that Mr. Trump will survive it politically and the revenant Republican Party behind him is so devoid of credible leadership that it could dissolve altogether like an evening mist preceding the cold darkness of night. By then, the whole American political establishment will be, as Mencken quipped, like a blind man stumbling around a dark cellar looking for a black cat that isn’t there.

Read more …

If war-gaming is the same as preparing, sure. Maybe May should war-game a bit more.

EU War-Gaming For Fall Of May’s Government (O.)

The EU is war-gaming for the fall of Theresa May amid a complete collapse in confidence in the prime minister after a week of chaos over Brexit, a leaked document seen by the Observer reveals. In the run-up to a crucial summit of EU leaders where May will ask for a delay to Brexit, Brussels fears there is little hope that she will succeed in passing her deal this week and is preparing itself for a change of the guard in Downing Street. A diplomatic note of a meeting of EU ambassadors and senior officials reveals an attempt to ensure that any new prime minister cannot immediately unpick the withdrawal agreement should May be replaced in the months ahead. Some hardline Brexiters want to replace her with a leader who will back a harder split with Brussels.

According to the minutes, the European commission’s secretary general, Martin Selmayr, who is known as a master of strategy, asked: “Imagine that they have a new Brexit secretary or prime minister – what then? Article 50 has been agreed and the process has ended. It must be clear that the starting point is not a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement.” The moves in Brussels come before another critical and highly unpredictable week in the Brexit process in which May is expected to launch her third attempt to secure support for her beleaguered deal. The Observer understands that Labour will use the opportunity to offer its most strident support yet for a second referendum, by voting for a plan drawn up by two Labour backbenchers to put May’s deal to a public vote.

Cabinet ministers remained locked in talks this weekend with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist party, who are seen as vital in building a narrow majority for May’s deal and who said on Saturday that there were “still issues to be addressed”. And more Tory MPs currently opposing May’s Brexit deal have told party whips they would back it if the prime minister announced she would quit this summer.

Read more …

They are way past disbelief.

Disbelief In Europe At Another Lost Brexit Week (G.)

It was the week in which the EU’s governments had hoped that British common sense might seal the deal, putting a painful first chapter of the Brexit psychodrama to bed. By Wednesday the French daily Le Monde had concluded that the hoarseness of the prime minister’s throat “symbolised the state of a supposedly pragmatic country left voiceless by its incapacity to accept compromise with its neighbours”. For all the forlorn hopes that things might be different this time, leaders across Europe and senior EU officials in their offices in Brussels, watched on with a sinking heart as Theresa May’s deal was rejected again on Tuesday evening, this time by 149 votes, the fourth largest defeat for a sitting government.

The Commons subsequently voted to delay Brexit by at least three months. Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, who has described himself as Britain’s best friend among the 27 EU heads of state and government, was left asking reporters: “What’s the point of whining on for months on end while we have been going around in circles for two years?” There had never been great optimism among the British officials close to the negotiations that things would slot into place, given the EU’s refusal to make changes to the withdrawal agreement, and the over-optimistic goals set by the prime minister in the Commons for the latest talks. But there had been a plan.

Read more …

Convince me she’s wrong on this. And I’m a white man. You’ll have a hard time getting rid of her, America. Thing is, you don’t need to agree with Trump, or AOC, to recognize their value and their role in the grander scheme of things.

‘White Men Are Considered Everyone’: Ocasio-Cortez (G.)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticized media coverage of her latest polling results on Saturday, noting her net favorability among all women and all non-white Americans, even as some commenters suggested that “Americans” now viewed her negatively. “So older, conservative white men are considered ‘everyone’ and everyone else is discounted as an exception,” the progressive New York congresswoman tweeted. “Cool.” The freshman Democrat blamed Fox News’ round-the-clock negative coverage for increasing the number of Republicans and white Americans who know who she is –and who view her unfavorably.

“The reason people know more is bc Fox News has turned into ‘AOC TMZ’ (no offense to TMZ),” she wrote, referencing the celebrity tabloid site. She also called Fox News a “propaganda machine” that “will be aimed at any Dem[ocrat] they want”. Since September, two months before the 29-year-old was elected, the number of Americans who say they have never heard of her or that they have no opinion has dropped by 21%, according to the Gallup poll results from February. Now, more than two-thirds of respondents have an opinion.But such visibility appears to have brought more negative reactions than positive ones. Overall, Gallup found, 31% of respondents now view Ocasio-Cortez favorably and 41% unfavorably. Her net favorability ratings are down 8%.

There were sharp partisan and racial divides in this response. Since September, Ocasio-Cortez’s net favorability dropped most sharply among Republicans (-21), white Americans (-15), men (-11) and Americans over 55 (-10). At the same time, net favorability increased among nonwhite Americans (+9) and Democrats (+8). A majority of women and Americans ages 18 to 34 still have a favorable opinion of the congresswoman, Gallup found. Her favorability has dropped slightly among such voters groups since September, but remains net positive. In presenting the poll results, Gallup noted that Republicans were more likely to have an opinion about Ocasio-Cortez than members of her own party, which “helps explain her overall net-negative rating”.

Some headlines announcing the Gallup results did not emphasize the racial and party-line divides reflected in the statistics. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez polls like Donald Trump: Poorly,” CNN reported, while US News and World Report summarized the news as: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Unfavorable Rating Climbs.” Fox News covered the poll results with the headline: “Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘unfavorable’ rating skyrockets, with most people viewing her negatively.”

https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1106953015804731393

Read more …

Europe is one of the worst places in air quality. Happy driving.

Deadly Air In Our Cities: The Invisible Killer (O.)

In 2014, like Kylie and Shazia, I didn’t know much about air pollution. I had just become a father when, living in London at the time, an Evening Standard headline caught my eye: Oxford Street had the worst diesel pollution in the world. This came as a surprise: the shopping street where I took my daughter to pick out her first pram had some of the most polluted air on Earth. Where were the health warnings, the public information signs, the protesters marching? All I could see were happy, oblivious shoppers. Weeks later came another headline: “Oxford Street pollution levels breached EU annual limit just four days into 2015.”

We had sleepwalked into a public health crisis. And not just in the UK, but across the world. The 2015 smog in Beijing was so bad that it was dubbed the “Airpocalypse”. Pictures circulated on social media of Beijing students sitting their exams so couched in smog that they could barely see the neighbouring table. The toxic smog that covers Delhi every Diwali now lasts for months at a time. Eventually, in the summer of 2016, my young family and I left London and moved to semi-rural Oxfordshire. I felt the relief of escape. I could breathe easy. The first time my daughter went out into our new garden at night, she asked what all the lights in the sky were. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was no longer an abstract concept. But I also felt a sense of defeat. Had I taken the easy way out? Shouldn’t I have stayed and fought for change?

Read more …

The more food we produce, the worse it gets. Supreme irony. Because with all that food, we could grow our numbers with no limits. So we build in a limit.

Good Enough To Eat? The Toxic Truth About Modern Food (G.)

For most people across the world, life is getting better but diets are getting worse. This is the bittersweet dilemma of eating in our times. Unhealthy food, eaten in a hurry, seems to be the price we pay for living in liberated modern societies. Even grapes are symptoms of a food supply that is out of control. Millions of us enjoy a freer and more comfortable existence than that of our grandparents, a freedom underpinned by an amazing decline in global hunger. You can measure this life improvement in many ways, whether by the growth of literacy and smartphone ownership, or the rising number of countries where gay couples have the right to marry. Yet our free and comfortable lifestyles are undermined by the fact that our food is killing us, not through lack of it but through its abundance – a hollow kind of abundance.

[..] What we eat now is a greater cause of disease and death in the world than either tobacco or alcohol. In 2015 around 7 million people died from tobacco smoke, and 2.75 million from causes related to alcohol, but 12m deaths could be attributed to “dietary risks” such as diets low in vegetables, nuts and seafood or diets high in processed meats and sugary drinks. This is paradoxical and sad, because good food – good in every sense, from flavour to nutrition – used to be the test by which we judged the quality of life. A good life without good food should be a logical impossibility.

Where humans used to live in fear of plague or tuberculosis, now the leading cause of mortality worldwide is diet. Most of our problems with eating come down to the fact that we have not yet adapted to the new realities of plenty, either biologically or psychologically. Many of the old ways of thinking about diet no longer apply, but it isn’t clear yet what it would mean to adapt our appetites and routines to the new rhythms of life. We take our cues about what to eat from the world around us, which becomes a problem when our food supply starts to send us crazy signals about what is normal. “Everything in moderation” doesn’t quite cut it in a world where the “everything” for sale in the average supermarket has become so sugary and so immoderate.

Read more …

Jul 242018
 
 July 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Félix Vallotton Sunset, Bronze-Purple 1911

 

Wildfire Kills At Least 50 Near Athens, Families Flee To Beaches (R.)
Ecuador ‘Close To Evicting’ Julian Assange From UK Embassy (Ind.)
NATO Trumped (SCF)
Dying Groundskeeper Testifies In Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial (G.)
Russia Attacked Us (Jim Kunstler)
Cost To Insure Tesla’s Debt Rises On Growing Default Fears (R.)
The Low-Priced Home Shortage Continues (CNBC)
Exposing the American Okie-Doke (CP)
End ‘Botched’ Brexit, Corbyn Calls On UK To Back His Vision (R.)
Over-Promising Has Crippled Public Pensions (WirePoints)
Rubens Nudes Fall Foul Of Facebook Censors (G.)

 

 

Yesterday around noon the skies here in Athens started turning brown. We learned this was due to a wildfire west of the city. In late afternoon winds began picking up, a lot. Then this happened throughout the evening and night, in a wildfire at the exact opposite side of the city. Latest number of dead is now 54. 26 of them died together just 30 meters from the beach.

Wildfire Kills At Least 50 Near Athens, Families Flee To Beaches (R.)

A wildfire killed at least 50 people and injured more than 150 as it swept through a small resort town near Athens, with huge flames trapping families with children as they fled. The fire which hit Mati, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital, late Monday afternoon was by far the country’s worst since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. People scrambled to the sea as the blaze closed in close to the shore. Hundreds were rescued by passing boats but others found their way blocked by smoke and flames. “I was briefed by a rescuer that he saw the shocking picture of 26 people tightly huddled in a field some 30 meters from the beach,” Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time,” he said. A Reuters witness also saw several bodies in the area. Mati is in the eastern Rafina region, a popular spot for Greek holidaymakers, particularly pensioners and children at camps. The 26 deaths came on top of more than 20 casualties reported by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos earlier on Tuesday. He said more than 88 adults and 16 children were injured.

Read more …

They’re walking this back a little bit.

Ecuador ‘Close To Evicting’ Julian Assange From UK Embassy (Ind.)

Speculation about Mr Assange’s future has grown this month after the Sunday Times said senior officials from Ecuador and Britain have been in discussions since last week about how to remove him from the embassy after revocation of his asylum. “The situation is very serious. Things are coming to a head,” the source, who spoke on condition on anonymity, told Reuters. He said the latest information from inside the embassy was, “It’s not looking good”. However, both the Ecuadorean government and British government sources played down suggestions there was likely to be any imminent movement to break the stalemate.

“The Ecuadorian state will only talk and promote understandings about Mr Assange’s asylum, within the framework of international law, with the interested party’s lawyers and with the British government,” Ecuador’s foreign ministry said in a statement ahead of the visit. “At the moment, due to the complexity of the topic, a short or long-term solution is not in sight.” A British government source also said there was no sign of immediate progress. Last month, Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan told parliament that they were increasingly concerned about Mr Assange’s health. “It is our wish that this is brought to an end, and we would like to make the assurance that if he were to step out of the embassy, he would be treated humanely and properly,” Mr Duncan said. “The first priority would be to look after his health, which we think is deteriorating.”

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“If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye. If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.”

NATO Trumped (SCF)

Indicators of European NATO members’ actual readiness and combat capability are stunning; the latest being “Only 4 of Germany’s 128 Eurofighter jets combat ready — report”; “Ground force: Half of France’s military planes ‘unfit to fly'”. “Britain’s ‘withered’ forces not fit to repel all-out attack”. “Europe’s Readiness Problem”. Obviously they’re not expecting a Russian attack any time soon. NATO is, as I have argued here, a paper tiger. It is questionable whether NATO members can conduct any operation without the USA providing satellite navigation and observation, air defence suppression, airborne command and control, inflight tankers, heavy lift and ammunition resupply to name a few deficiencies. So, either the Europeans are not worried; or, as Trump likes to say, they are free riders.

Six months ago I suggested that Trump may be trying to get out of what I called the “Gordian knot of entanglements”. President Trump can avoid new entanglements but he has inherited so many and they are, all of them, growing denser and thicker by the minute. Consider the famous story of the Gordian Knot: rather than trying to untie the fabulously complicated knot, Alexander drew his sword and cut it. How can Trump cut The Gordian Knot of American imperial entanglements? By getting others to untie it. He stomps out of NATO leaving them quaking: if you say Russia is the enemy, why do you act as if it isn’t; and if you act as if it isn’t, why do you say it is? And firing, over his shoulder, the threat: 2% by next January.

I believe it is a threat and a very neat one too: If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye. If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.

Read more …

Their best shot may be if they can prove that Monsanto suppressed scientists.

Dying Groundskeeper Testifies In Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial (G.)

Dewayne Johnson said that if he had known what he knew now about Roundup weedkiller, “I would’ve never sprayed that product on school grounds … if I knew it would cause harm … It’s unethical.” Johnson, a former school groundskeeper in northern California who is terminally ill, was testifying Monday in his landmark suit against Monsanto about the cancer risks of the company’s popular weedkiller. He is the first person to take the agrochemical company to trial over allegations that the chemical sold under the Roundup brand is linked to cancer. He spoke for the first time during the trial in San Francisco, detailing his use of Monsanto’s products, his extensive exposure to herbicides, and his belief that the chemicals caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a blood cell cancer.

He also described the suffering he endured as skin lesions took over his body. “I’ve been going through a lot of pain,” said Johnson, a father of three who goes by the name Lee. “It really takes everything out of you … I’m not getting any better.” His doctors have said he may have just months to live. Johnson’s lawyers have argued in court that Monsanto has “fought science” over the years and worked to “bully” researchers who have raised concerns about potential health risks of its herbicide product. At the start of the trial, the attorneys presented internal Monsanto emails that they said revealed the corporation’s repeated efforts to ignore expert’s warnings while seeking favorable scientific analyses and helping to “ghostwrite” positive papers.

Thousands have brought similar legal claims across the US, and a federal judge in California ruled this month that hundreds of cancer survivors or those who lost loved ones can also proceed to trial. Johnson’s case has attracted international attention, with the judge allowing his team to present scientific arguments about glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide.

Read more …

“We await the fabled “moment of truth” when the avenging angel of price discovery returns and shatters the illusion that accounting fraud equals prosperity.”

Russia Attacked Us (Jim Kunstler)

The Helsinki summit meeting has the look of a turning point in Mr. Trump’s political fortunes. One irony is that he may escape his enemies’ efforts to nail him on any Russia “collusion” rap only to be sandbagged by financial turmoil as the dog days of summer turn nervously toward autumn. Events will cancel the myth that his actions as president have produced a booming economy. If anything, the activities that make up our economy have only become more vicious rackets, especially the war industries, with all their inducements to counter the imagined Russia threat.

The financial markets are the pillars of the fantasy that the US economy is roaring triumphantly. The markets are so fundamentally disabled by ten years of central bank interventions that they don’t express the actual value of any asset, whether stocks, or bonds, or gold, oil, labor, currencies, or the folly known as crypto-currency. We await the fabled “moment of truth” when the avenging angel of price discovery returns and shatters the illusion that accounting fraud equals prosperity.

The revelation that Mr. Trump is not an economic genius will spur a deeper dive by chimerical Democrats into nanny state quicksand. They will make the new fad of a Guaranteed Basic Income the centerpiece of the midterm election — even though many Democrats will not really believe in it. They are pretending not to notice how broke the USA actually is, and how spavined by unpayable debt. The lurking suspicion of all this is surely behind fantasies such as Russia attacked us, the displacement of abstruse and impalpable fear onto something simple and cartoonish, like the President of the United States.

Read more …

“The CDS is saying that there are a lot of people betting this company is going out of business…”

Cost To Insure Tesla’s Debt Rises On Growing Default Fears (R.)

The amount investors must pay to insure their debt holdings in Tesla Inc against declining credit quality rose on Monday to its second-highest price ever, implying the company is at a greater risk of default following a report that sparked concern that Tesla may need to raise funds. Insurance on Tesla’s debt, which is sold as a credit default swap contract, increased from Friday by 13 cents to $5.96 per $100 of Tesla debt. That followed a Wall Street Journal report on Sunday that Tesla had turned to some suppliers for a refund of previously made payments in a bid to make a profit, citing a memo sent by a Tesla global supply manager.

A Tesla spokesperson said on Monday that the company had no comment on the credit default swaps, but said in a statement in response to the WSJ story that Tesla had asked fewer than 10 suppliers to reduce capital expenditure project spending. Tesla said that any changes with these suppliers would improve future cash flows but not affect its ability to achieve profitability in the third quarter. Company founder and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk may be obligated to tap debt or equity markets again this year, according to analysts, though he has said he would do neither. [..] It cost $5.96 to insure $100 of Tesla’s debt, plus an upfront cost of around 18%, representing a total of 24.1% of the face value of the 2025 bond on Monday. “The CDS is saying that there are a lot of people betting this company is going out of business,” said Thomas Graff, head of fixed income at Brown Advisory.

Read more …

Trying to outdo Orwell. First blow a ginormous bubble and then claim there are not enough cheap homes.

The Low-Priced Home Shortage Continues (CNBC)

The nationwide housing shortage continues but is especially troublesome for homebuyers with a budget of $250,000 or less, Susan Wachter, professor of real estate and of finance at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNBC on Monday. Rising labor, land and material costs are slowing down the supply, “except at higher prices, which is simply not affordable for the great middle, and that’s where we see the hit in … existing sales,” Wachter said on “Power Lunch.” Sales of existing homes are down for the third month in a row due to a shortage of properties, which results in higher prices and pushes some potential buyers out of the market.

Existing home sales fell 0.6% in June, or 2.2% from June 2017. And as prices for new home construction increase, construction in general is on the decline. Housing starts, or the number of new residential housing projects, decreased in June, plunging 12.3%. The loss represents the third month in a row of declines or a nine-month low. “That sets a price point for the existing sale market as well,” Wachter said. And with inventory at historic lows and a lack of new construction, existing homeowners are holding on to their homes longer, Wachter noted.

Read more …

I’ll leave this here.

Exposing the American Okie-Doke (CP)

The “founding fathers” deliberately arranged a system of governance that would protect the wealthy minority from the majority. Over time, as it fused with capitalism, this arrangement transformed the US government into a market. Railroad tycoons and robber barons forced their way into this market during the Gilded Age. Big business controlled the “public agenda” throughout the 20th century, with multinational firms taking root in the 1980s and 90s. Ronald Reagan ushered in the neoliberal era, which amounted to an all-out corporate coup of American politics. And, in 2010, the Supreme Court placed its stamp of approval on this system with its Citizens United decision, allowing anonymous donors unlimited access to politics through Political Action Committees (PACs).

In other words, the US government has been a traded commodity for a long time, in many ways since the beginning of the country’s founding. Wealth determines elections (over 90% of the time the campaign with the most money wins). Politicians are commodities that are bought by capitalists. Legislation is a commodity that is bought by lobbyists (employed by capitalists). This is the case for both parties and all politicians (because it is built into the system). The point: If you still believe your 5th-grade textbook and think you have a say in determining public policy in the US, you are furious right now. Because you believe democracy exists and that it was hijacked by a foreign government. However, if you realize democracy (or a republic) does not exist, the Russia/Trump revelations mean only one thing: the traded commodity known as the US government has gone global, following all of the other capitalist markets that have been globalized over the past 40 years.

Read more …

Anyone convinced by Corbyn?

End ‘Botched’ Brexit, Corbyn Calls On UK To Back His Vision (R.)

British opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn will call on the government on Tuesday to back his vision for a new customs union with the European Union to avoid a “botched” Brexit leaving the country “in hock to Donald Trump”. Unveiling a Labour Party campaign to boost manufacturing and keep public contracts in Britain, Corbyn will also increase the pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May over her Brexit plans by suggesting she back his vision of “a brand new customs union”. May is struggling to sell what she calls her business-friendly Brexit to not only the competing factions in her governing Conservative Party but also across Britain just over eight months before the country is due to leave in March.

But Corbyn also faces dissent in his party, with many Labour lawmakers and members calling for him to back a second referendum on any deal and support keeping the closest possible ties with the EU by staying in its single market and customs union. “Theresa May and her warring cabinet should think again, even at this late stage, and reconsider the option of negotiating a brand new customs union,” Corbyn will tell the EEF manufacturers’ organisation in the city of Birmingham. “A botched…Brexit will sell our manufacturers short with the fantasy of a free trading buccaneering future, which in reality would be a nightmare of chlorinated chicken, public services sold to multinational companies and our country in hock to Donald Trump,” he will say, according to excerpts of his speech.

Read more …

Extensive report h/t ZH

Over-Promising Has Crippled Public Pensions (WirePoints)

The real problem plaguing public pension funds nationwide has gone largely ignored. Most reporting usually focuses on the underfunding of state plans and blames the crises on a lack of taxpayer dollars. But a Wirepoints analysis of 2003-2016 Pew Charitable Trust and other pension data found that it’s the uncontrolled growth in pension promises that’s actually wreaking havoc on state budgets and taxpayers alike. Overpromising is the true cause of many state crises. Underfunding is often just a symptom of this underlying problem. Wirepoints found that the growth in accrued liabilities has been extreme in many states, often growing two to three times faster than the pace of their economies. It’s no wonder taxpayer contributions haven’t been able to keep up.

The reasons for that growth vary state to state – from bigger benefits to reductions in discount rates – but the reasons don’t matter to ordinary residents. Regardless of how or when those increases were created, it’s taxpayers that are increasingly on the hook for them. Unsurprisingly, the states with the most out-of-control promises are home to some of the nation’s worst pension crises. Take New Jersey, for example. The total pension benefits it owed in 2003 – what are known as accrued liabilities – were $88 billion. That was the PV, or present value, of what active state workers and retirees were promised in pension benefits by the state at the time. Today, promises to active workers and pensioners have jumped to $217 billion – a growth of 176% in just 13 years. That increase in total obligations is four times greater than the growth in the state’s GDP, up only 41%.

Read more …

Oh yes, we really need censorship by a bunch of poorly educated kids.

Rubens Nudes Fall Foul Of Facebook Censors (G.)

Rubens nudes have entranced those visiting the world’s great art galleries for some 400 years. Contemporaries on whom the Flemish master is said to have had a profound impact include Van Dyck and Rembrandt … but none of this has passed muster with Facebook’s censors. In a move that has prompted a semi-playful complaint to the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, it has taken down a series of promotions on social media for the Belgian region of Flanders because they feature works by the artist famous for his Baroque paintings of voluptuous women and cherubs. Advertisements containing sexually oriented content, including artistic or educational nudes, apart from statues, are prohibited on the site.

In an open letter signed by most of the museums in Flanders, the Flemish tourist board, Toerisme Vlaanderen, has written to Zuckerberg to ask for a rethink. “Breasts, buttocks and Peter Paul Rubens’ cherubs are all considered indecent”, the letter says. “Not by us, but by you … Even though we secretly have to laugh about it, your cultural censorship is making life rather difficult for us.” Posts removed have even included an advert featuring Rubens’ The Descent from the Cross, in which Jesus is naked in his loincloth. The Flemish tourist board has pushed its point by releasing a short video in which the “nude police” drag away visitors at the Rubens House in Antwerp to stop them from gazing at the implicated paintings.

Read more …

Dec 242017
 
 December 24, 2017  Posted by at 5:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Walter Hege Caryatid overlooking the city of Athens 1930

 

Christmas is the time when the western world makes a doomed attempt to remember a story whose meaning it has long forgotten, and still claim the story as its own every single time, every single year, claim it as its foundation, the foundation of the principles that guide its societies, its politics and its religion.

Western countries, whether they’re predominantly Catholic or Protestant, label themselves Christian, after Jesus Christ, a man their holy scriptures say is/was the Son of their God, and after his teachings, his sermons and the example his own life is supposed to have been for all his followers. Turn the other cheek, help those in need, don’t judge.

But as we celebrate Jesus’ birth at the time of winter solstice, and we acknowledge that he and his parents, Joseph and Maria, were refugees driven into exile, and the only place the birth could take place was a manger far away from their home, we lose out on the connection to our savior from the very first moment.

Because we sit in our warm and cosy homes, surrounded by meals worthy of kings, and presents worthy of princes and princesses, while frail forms and emaciated children are fainting at our doors. While we are quite aware that whatever Jesus meant to say 2000 years ago, and some of that may have been lost over time, one thing we do know is that he didn’t mean this.

There’s no way he meant for us to, two millennia down the road, to look at present day refugees driven into exile far away from home, just like he and his parents were, and not lift a finger to help them. So when politicians like UK PM Theresa May say in their Christmas messages to their nations that they should “take pride in their Christian heritage”, that’s not just empty rhetoric, it’s hollow.

But as long as religion still sells, and there are many countries where it does, perhaps nowhere more than the US, politicians will quote Jesus and do the opposite of what he actually said according to the bible, and all without blinking once. The thirst for power over others does strange things to people, and our societies are still fully unprepared for that, and we still hear them say one thing and do another, and we still believe what they say. We’re suckers for snake oil.

 

Actual clergymen and other people of real faith may be somewhat different from politicians and their flocks, but as long as the Vatican remains opulently rich and clad in gold while Catholics and others around the world live in die in misery, perhaps we should question the link between Jesus and the church, the very link the latter base their entire authority on.

Perhaps, as well, we should question any and all claims of being ‘God’s own country’ made by any and all nations who send their best and bravest to go and kill the best and bravest of other nations for the sake of religion, resources or empire. Nothing of that has anything to do with Jesus.

And perhaps we should look for Jesus not in the people who talk about him, but in those who act like him, and like he told his contemporaries to act. And yeah, that takes me to Greece, and the Automatic Earth for Athens fund.

 

Not in any kind of presumptuous way, mind you, certainly not when it comes to me, but I have met quite a few people who seem to understand Jesus much better than most politicians and church leaders do, they just don’t talk about it, they do it. That much must have become clear through the past 2,5 years and 13-14 articles (for links, see bottom of this article) that I’ve written about them.

The reason I haven’t written much on the topic over the past 9 months or so comes down pretty much to growing pains, for lack of a better term. In my view, my friend Konstantinos and his social kitchen project, O Allos Anthropos (the Other Human), had become too dependent on Automatic Earth readers for donations, which is not a healthy situation for anyone involved.

I didn’t want to continually ask our readers for more money, and O Allos Anthropos needed to find other sources for fund-raising. The problem is that is easier said than done, for multiple reasons. If you have no experience when it comes to fund-raising, it’s hard to know where to start, and it’s hard to organize yourselves to do it. And then you end up broke, as O Allos Anthropos is right now.

Still, I think they could have tried a bit harder, but then, it’s not about me. It’s about the people we help, the refugees and homeless. If you follow my essays at the Automatic Earth a little, you will know that the situation for both groups (and sometimes they’re the same people) is still deteriorating at a rapid pace. And as much as the Greek people are willing to help, most of them are getting poorer fast as well.

Between ever more and higher taxes on the one hand, and ever more cuts to wages and pensions on the other, a recovery of the Greek economy slips further away and out of view by the day, taking people’s ability to take care of the very poorest out with it. And in this case, too, politicians are not going to lend a helping hand unless they see political gain in it.

 

Greek Minister for Migration Yiannis Mouzalas recently said he could not exclude the possibility that refugees would die on the Greek islands this winter. He’s had two years to do just that, though. That’s enough time to run out of excuses to blame the situation on anyone else. But he’s right: people will probably die there this winter.

There are thousands living in summer tents with no heating, surrounded by wet mud and sheer misery, and with sanitation facilities that provide no privacy and are dirtier than many a manger in a stable could be. If anything, they make one think of Joseph and Mary all over again; just worse, probably. The EU reportedly has spent $1.4 billion on the situation so far, and this is the result.

Mouzalas was nominated for the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, and it was no big surprise he didn’t get the job. Though with the example of Saudi Arabia chosen to head a key UN human rights panel, anything is possible.

 

There is no way that it’s impossible to build adequate facilities for some 20,000 refugees and migrants with $1.4 billion. If that doesn’t work, and it hasn’t, one can only conclude that various parties involved, the EU, the Greek government, and the alphabet soup of NGOs operating in Greece, don’t see these facilities as their no. 1 priority. Thing is, who’s going to call them on it, and what good would that do?

The only priority the EU has when it comes to refugees is to keep them out; the politicians in power in member states read the polls and see their voters don’t want refugees in their countries. So they fund armies and detention camps in Libya etc., where people are sold for $400 or so in open slave markets. And then they talk about Christian values.

Greece has been completely swamped and torn apart by the issue, granted, but that doesn’t mean Mouzalas and Tsipras et al couldn’t have done -and do- a lot more to guarantee at least minimal human dignity to those stuck, if not incarcerated, on the islands. There are hundreds if not thousands of underage children, women, sick people, elderly, stuck in conditions not even the ass and the oxen were in 2,000 years ago.

There’s no way that’s the best we can do. It’s an utter disgrace that shames any and all Christian values, and the man they were named after.

O Allos Anthropos cannot solve these issues, all it can so is help where it can. First, feed the homeless Greeks and refugees in the cities, especially Athens. Then, make life more bearable for those hardest hit by both their circumstances and the way the political classes and the humanitarian-industrial complex deal with them.

And in the end that’s perhaps the only thing we can do: not try and launch huge movements and sweep away a status quo, but work on a small scale, a human scale, human-to-human. Work on a Jesus scale, rather than a Church scale. I know, there are many churches that do help where they can, but that too is most effective where the scale is smallest.

 

 

Konstantinos has taken O Allos Anthropos to Bodrum in Turkey this summer, a place where many thousands of Syrians and other refugees are now held up instead of sailing to the Greek islands. These people have nowhere to go, Greece is largely off limits – though the numbers crossing are increasing again- while in the countries they fled, the west is fighting for prominence instead of helping them rebuild.

We will not solve this problem, or at least it will take many years, and the needs of the worst-off, both Greeks and refugees, are immediate. The only way we have to save the world, or make it a better place, is one person at a time. Everyone who tries to do anything on a larger scale fails miserably.

So that’s what we’ll do. Konstantinos and I, and all the other people involved. One person at a time. We can only do that with your help tough. So once again, please be generous this Christmas. Do that spirit honor. Let’s make 2018 a good year for everyone who needs help to make it one.

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos. Every penny goes where it belongs, no overhead. Guaranteed. It’s a matter of honor.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

Dec 21 2016

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017

Mar 23 2017

The Automatic Earth Still Helps Greeks and Refugees

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

 

 

Dec 212016
 
 December 21, 2016  Posted by at 7:15 pm Food Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, Athens December 2016

 

Apologies, but I have to talk one more time before Christmas about why I’m in Greece, again. Some of what I am about to say will repeat earlier articles, but I promise, there’s plenty of new things. Because I’m coming to grips with the situation I’m in here, seeing the landscape, seeing things in their perspective.

I never had much use for -humanitarian- aid, I always had the same suspicion of what was going on in the field that just about everyone else has (where does the money go?). But then when I first went to Athens in June 2015, and asked Automatic Earth readers if they wanted to donate a little something for the poor in Greece, and that little something became $12,000 before I knew it, that all changed.

It meant I had to dig deeper and look closer, because this was me handing out other people’s money, and a lot of it. That’s how I met Konstantinos Polychronopoulos in July 2015, and I have since focused on him and his “O Allos Anthropos (The Other Human) ‘movement’, because in my view he represents the ideal fashion in which aid should be delivered. No overhead that gets subtracted from donations -other than equipment-, no salaries for anyone, just one on one aid.

There are about a dozen articles I’ve written over the past year and a half about him and his people at O Allos Anthropos, linked at the bottom of this article. And yes, I will also ask you once more to please donate to the Automatic Earth Fund for Athens (Paypal widget, top left hand column). Much as I don’t like asking anyone for anything when it comes to me, I simply can’t afford to be shy when it comes to this Greek Social Kitchen project.

Problem is, Konstantinos receives hardly any funding, except for the Automatic Earth. A bigger problem, as I’ve found out, is there’s a direct link between providing the most effective aid and not getting funded, strange as that may sound. And that’s what I want to talk about right here. That and what you and I could make possible for Konstantinos in 2017.

Look, I never cared for this kind of thing. I always felt that humanitarian aid is the responsibility of a government (still do, really). Not that I want a government to move into every nook and cranny of people’s lives, but when people in a society fall through the cracks and live in hunger or other forms of misery, their government should be there for them. It’s what we pay taxes for.

Moreover, I always thought that if you do get involved as a citizen, aid should be something you do close to where you live. And I don’t live in Athens. Where I do live is up for grabs, but it’s not Athens. Still, what I have become involved in here is a rare instance of what aid should be, and then it’s much less important where it takes place; besides, there’s a lot more need here than there is in either Holland or Canada, the closest I get to calling any place home.

 

 

In thinking about why it’s so hard to get proper funding for Konstantinos, as I told you end November, in The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas, a large role is reserved for the fact that aid has become an industry like so many others. And that is really unfortunate, for many reasons.

But the past few days something else cropped up in my mind as well, which I feel defines the problem even better. That is the concept of “institutionalization” as forwarded by Austrian philosopher and priest -in New York and Mexico- Ivan Illich in the 1970’s. What Illich meant was that ‘institutions’ in society monopolize entire fields within that society.

Schools, colleges, universities have a monopoly on education (doctors and hospitals have a similar monopoly on health care). Only the degrees that educational institutions hand out recognize you as being smart -or fit for a job-, and the only people who hand out these degrees are those who have spent years wrecking their brains to get such degrees themselves. You’re not smart because you have a brain, you’re smart because you follow a program preset by people who have followed -very- similar programs. That’s “Institutionalization”.

A few quotes from Illich’s book 1971 book “Deschooling Society” (please stick with me, you’ll see where I’m going):

“Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school. Institutional wisdom tells us that children learn in school. But this institutional wisdom is itself the product of schools because sound common sense tells us that only children can be taught in school. Only by segregating human beings in the category of childhood could we ever get them to submit to the authority of a schoolteacher.”

You couldn’t lock up adults in classrooms the way we do kids. But what can kids do, they’re largely defenseless.

“Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags.”

Your teachers went through the same brain-deafening torture that you now do, and they’re not about to admit that this was time wasted. Even if they realize it.

“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.”

Why do children learn in school? Only because they’re locked up in them umpteen hours a day. They could -and would- learn wherever they go (children learn, period, they couldn’t help it if they tried), but they’re not allowed to go ‘anywhere’.

“School appropriates the money, men, and good will available for education and in addition discourages other institutions from assuming educational tasks. Work, leisure, politics, city living, and even family life depend on schools for the habits and knowledge they presuppose, instead of becoming themselves the means of education.”

You’re not supposed to learn at home or in the world around you, learning is the monopoly of the schooling institutions. Of course you learn most of what’s valuable and useful outside of school, but we don’t talk about that.

Illich was equally clear about medicine:

“Modern medicine is a negation of health. It isn’t organized to serve human health, but only itself, as an institution. It makes more people sick than it heals. We must rediscover the distinction between hope and expectation. Effective health care depends on self-care; this fact is currently heralded as if it were a discovery.”

This monopoly our societies have provided to schools, teachers, doctors and hospitals has gotten ‘certified’ by the fact that they are the only ones in their fields who are funded by society, leaving any and all others too poor to even challenge them for their monopoly positions. It’s a closed circle.

In short, institutionalization is good for institutions, but never for those people they are supposed to be serving.

 

 

So how does this connect to Greece, to Konstantinos, and to all the people he’s trying to -devoted his whole life to- feed, and help in other ways? Here’s how: aid has been institutionalized too. There’s a set of rules, and if you don’t comply, you don’t qualify for funding. The funds then go to less efficient sources who do comply.

Konstantinos and I sat down for another talk last week, always interrupted by his incessantly ringing phone, and always accompanied by our dear friend and translator Tassos, because I wanted to know what these guys see as their future, what they want 2017 to bring that 2016 hasn’t yet.

One of the things that was said, and that’s what reminded me of Illich and institutionalization, is that if Konstantinos would want O Allos Anthropos to be registered as an NGO, and apply for funding through ‘official channels’, not only would he face ream upon ream of paperwork, he would also be forced to demand that every single person he and his people all across Greece serve a meal to, show them an ID. Or else be refused, hungry or not.

And not only would that go against everything Konstantinos stands for, and every reason he wants to serve “Free Food For All” (the main English-language slogan they have), it would mean he’d be from then on in part of the ‘framework’, the ‘institution’. And that framework, as we have seen in earlier articles, is not functioning anywhere near the way it should.

If you see pictures of long waiting lines for food, that’s because of that ID obligation. Sign here please, so the NGO can cash in another $5 or $7 per meal (O Allos Anthropos does it for less than $1 per person, and their meals are better).

Aid for the poorest and most miserable has been institutionalized. The priority has become whether those providing the services follow the rules of the ruling institution (in this case the EU), not whether those services are the best and/or most efficient they can be. Not only is it a giant waste of taxpayer money, Brussels has turned this, as it has done with many things concerning Greece, into a power game.

Tsipras want to help pensioners and underfed schoolchildren for Christmas? How dare he. Meanwhile, new stats this week said 9 out 10 unemployed Greeks get no support from the state, and 350,000 families have no wage earner. 300,000 educated Greeks have emigrated to find work. Scorched earth.

 

 

The EU has transferred hundreds of millions of euros to dozens of NGOs, but conditions in refugee camps around Greece, and personal conditions of people who are either inside these camps or elsewhere, are often still deplorable. Part of the blame rests with the Greek government, undoubtedly, but they can’t even take care of their own people, and the EU gives them very little to deal with the refugees.

The official line is that the government in Athens is not efficient enough when dealing with the issue. But the reality is the government feels it’s easier to comply with Brussels, and the city of Athens feels it’s easier to comply with the government. And they’re all fine, thank you, the PM and the mayor live in nice abodes. But they leave the homeless and refugees in no man’s limbo.

This is the huge void in which Konstantinos operates. Trying to help those people that others can’t or too often won’t. To at the very least feed them, and do what he can in other ways. Which without funding is an impossibly frustrating thing to do.

Not that he will ever show it, anymore than I want to make this sound like some kind of lament. Let’s instead turn to the future. Because there are of course plenty of plans. How we’re going to pay for them is a whole other story…

 

 

But first, a few maps I made. The first one shows the -5- places where there were ‘kitchens’ (in pink) when I hooked up with Konstantinos in July 2015, with no. 1 the ‘Big House’ on Plateon Street, as well as the -‘subsidiary’- locations (in red) where food was served with assistance from the Big House. I left the island of Lesbos off the map, because it’s so out of the way. It’s one the second map though.

 


click map for full navigable version

 

The second map shows the 39(!) locations where food is served now (green are kitchens, yellow are ‘subsidiaries’), plus 9 other ones they would like to add in 2017 (in blue) . Click on the maps for a full, navigable version. I couldn’t embed them, sorry.

I should add that these are not all places where food is served 7 days a week, there is no money to do that. Often, unfortunately, it’s just once a week.

 


click map for full navigable version

 

This, I hope, gives you an idea of where your money has gone: the difference between the first map and the second is to a large extent due to your donations. Your money helps to feed people, in a very direct manner.

But that’s not nearly all yet. In the past few months, Konstantinos has traveled to Perugia, Italy, and to Barcelona, Spain. According to him, Social Kitchens are being set up as we speak in Barcelona and Alicante.

For 2017, he has invitations to visit – and help set up kitchens in- Manchester and London in the UK, The Hague in Holland, the Lebanon, Gaza -to let Israelis and Palestinians cook together, and a camp with 1 million refugees in Jordan. All with the Free Food For All principle in mind, not the Present Your ID or You’ll Go Hungry idea that the EU and NGOs adhere to.

 


Konstantinos in Barcelona: El Otro Hombre

 

2017: In Greece, as I said, 9 more kitchens are waiting to be opened. Moreover, there are advanced plans, for which again there is no money, to start a -mobile- medical (and food) service for elderly Greeks in remote areas, where there are no facilities that are ‘reasonably accessible’ to them. All the necessary volunteers, doctors, nurses, you name it, everyone is on board.

But it will still take €8,000 to arrange for a vehicle that is properly equipped. Yeah, that’s all, surprised me too; I don’t know how he does it, but Konstantinos is confident he can do it for that. Donated equipment, volunteer crew, just paying cost for the moderate conversion of the vehicle. He’s a master at shoestring.

Once that is done, of course Konstantinos is dreaming of adding more such vehicles. Greece is a large enough country, and ever fewer people have access to health care. Then after that, one Big House will not be enough if instead of the 5,000 meals now served daily, the amount would, say, double (which it really should). So he also dreams of more Big Houses, central kitchens.

One sad detail that was mentioned is that the present -only- Big House is also a facility where many people, mainly homeless, go to take a shower, and do laundry, make sure their kids get properly educated, etc etc. But per address in Greece, water is one price up to a limit; if you use more, you pay a lot more for that. So offering laundry and shower facilities for those who have none, ends up costing an arm and a leg. One of many problems.

I must admit I have no idea where we’re going to go from here. But I’m not going to stop trying to keep this movement moving. I may fail, but it won’t be for a lack of effort. Because Konstantinos and his people deserve that I do that, and all the people they help, deserve it even more. I’ll be sure to keep you posted in the new year.

 

Both Konstantinos and myself -and all the other volunteers at O Allos Anthropos- want to thank you so much for all the help you’ve given over the past year -and in 2015-. We’re around $30,000 for 2016 alone, another $5000 since my last article 4 weeks ago. I swear, for as long as I live, this will never cease to amaze me.

And then of course what happens is people start thinking and dreaming about what more they can do for those in peril. Wouldn’t you know…

A Merry Christmas to all of you, to all of us. Very Merry. God bless us, every one. Thank you for everything.

If I may make a last suggestion, please forward this ‘dream’ to anyone you know -and even those you don’t-, by mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth, any which way you can think of. Go to your local mayor or town council, suggest they can help and get -loudly- recognized for it.

There may be a dream involved for 2017, but that was our notion a year ago as well, and look what we’ve achieved a year later: it is very real indeed.

And anyone, everyone can become part of that reality for just a few bucks. If the institutions won’t do it, perhaps the people themselves should. That doesn’t even sound all that crazy or farfetched. There’s a lot of us.

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos. Every penny goes where it belongs, no overhead. Guaranteed. It’s matter of honor.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

Nov 292016
 
 November 29, 2016  Posted by at 7:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Andrea Bonetti Konstantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

 

To anyone who reads this, please send it to as many of your friends and family and others as you can. Tweet and retweet, post and share on Facebook, do whatever you can to make Christmas a better time and place for the poorest Greeks and refugees. And, of course, please donate!

 

 

It’s 4 weeks before Christmas and it’s time. Time for me to go back to the basics, the streets, the people of Athens – the people of Greece as a whole. Back to my friends at the O Allos Anthropos (The Other Human) Social Kitchen who by now serve 5,000 meals a day every day spread over a dozen+ locations on -less than- a shoestring, to the poorest Greeks and to refugees. To my dear friend Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, the little engine that could, and does, drive the entire ‘intervention’.

It’s time also to announce a Christmas/New Year’s fund raiser for these people here at the Automatic Earth, to coincide with our usual annual fundraiser for the Automatic Earth itself. As always, please donate through the Automatic Earth’s Paypal widget at the top left hand side of our pages. If you don’t fancy Paypal, there’s an address for checks and money orders on our Store and Donations page.

Donations that end in $0.99 or $0.37 all go straight to O Allos Anthropos. In fact, I will deliver them in person, something that is necessary because of continuing capital controls in Greece. And no, don’t worry, I don’t pay my travel and stay in Athens from the donations for O Allos Anthropos. Every donated penny goes where it belongs. Guaranteed.

 

I never intended to get involved in aid, I have as many reservations about institutionalized aid as so many people tell me they have. All I wanted to do initially was to donate a few dollars when I first visited Greece in June 2015. But things have taken off from there, both because of Automatic Earth readers’ generosity (over $30,000!) , and because I found what I have come to regard as the perfect vehicle to deliver aid.

O Allos Anthropos is that vehicle, because it does not fit the mold the ‘aid industry’ has built. The flipside of this is that it has a hard time getting funded. It’s mighty ironic that the one ‘organization’ that is by far the most efficient in delivering aid, should also be the one that has by far the hardest time getting support to do that.

‘The Other Human’ Social Kitchen does not rely on government contacts and contracts, as the established aid industry does. It also doesn’t pay hefty salaries (no salaries at all) or have huge overhead. It’s a loosely organized group of dedicated poor Greeks, often homeless themselves, caring for and feeding other poor Greeks and refugees, helping where they can as far as the funding allows.

It’s the difference between top down and bottom up. And yes, it’s crazy that such a difference should exist even in delivering basic needs to the most needy among us, but it’s there.

 


From Human-The Movie, Yann Arthus-Bertrand

 

There is a list of about a dozen articles with links at the bottom of this page that I’ve written about my visits to Athens over the past 15 months. And there are 4 new videos of Konstantinos and the O Allos Anthropos ‘movement’ inserted in the article. Do watch them, together they paint a great picture.

But first, please allow me to explain why I support the Greek people the way I do. There are several reasons.

 

Number one is the state of the Greek economy. The effects of austerity policies on Greek society were front page news a year and a half ago, but since then, the world has largely left the country alone (15 minutes of fame only) while things have gotten worse fast, and an additional issue, that of the refugees, was added.

The treatment of Greece by its creditors continues to be scandalous, the EU, ECB and IMF behave like a nest of boa constrictors. In a nutshell, it has intentionally been made impossible for the Greek economy to recover. No matter what else you may read, it is a cruel joke to even suggest that an economy and society in which 25% of adults, and over 50% of young people, have been unemployed for years on end, could ‘recover’. If you read headlines like ‘Greece Edges Out Of Recession’, you’re being played.

Add to the mix that consumer spending makes up some 60% of GDP in Greece, but many of those who do have jobs work for €100-€400 a month, and pensions have been cut to less than €700 for 60% of pensioners (basic pension is about €380), and 52% of households -must- live off pensions of elderly family members because most unemployed get nothing. 7 out of 10 jobless are long time unemployed, and get nada. Close to half of pensioners live below the poverty line. Never ending tax raises have put the cost of living beyond reach for millions.

Moreover, tens of thousands of the best educated young Greeks (and 1000 doctors a year) have left the country because there are no jobs and no prospects. The education system was once as highly touted globally as the health care system, but both have been gutted so dramatically now it’s hard to see how either could ever be rebuilt. 15 months ago I donated some money to social clinics, now I receive long and detailed lists of medicine that is simply no longer available. With a cry for help.

Under these circumstances, spending can only go down, and that means GDP growth is mathematically impossible. Nor has a bottom been reached; the situation will deteriorate until conditions allow for spending to rise, and no such thing is in sight. The Troika parties keep hammering on more ‘reforms’ -advertized as an investment in the future-, which invariably make matters worse, while they keep quarreling about, and delaying, debt relief. Boa constrictor. Slow strangulation. In the latest talks, the creditors are demanding additional austerity measures for 2019-2020… That is the reality for Greece.

 


From Destination: Utopia

 

Number two is the refugee situation. When I first got to Athens, refugees were not yet a major concern, the Greeks themselves were. Much has changed since then. After the initial large wave, most of which ended up in Germany and other countries, borders were shut and Greece was left to deal with those who remained. Promises to ‘fairly’ resettle refugees in the rest of the EU were largely ignored. There are presently about 60,000 refugees in Greece, and they’re stuck where they don’t want to be, in a country that doesn’t have the means to take care of them.

Brussels refuses for Greece to move the refugees stuck in camps on the islands, to the mainland, for fear they will try and travel north. Still, 60,000 should never be the problem that it is. However, the EU never sent the personnel it once promised to deal with asylum applications. Greek Immigration Minister Mouzalas said last week: “We had an agreement for 400 staffers. Just 35 have arrived. We had a new agreement for another 100 and are still waiting..”. Of course, when the applications are delayed, so is the need for Brussels to resettle the refugees. Convenient when there are elections coming in Holland, France and Germany.

But it is Greece that gets the blame for this; Athens should move faster, is the word. And because it doesn’t, Brussels doesn’t send the humanitarian funds it makes available, to the Greek government; it sends them to international NGOs instead. Which leads us to:

 


From Chris Gal

 

Number three is the reality of humanitarian aid. First, let me say I don’t mean to sound -overly- negative about this. But at the same time I feel obliged to explain to you why I’m asking for your support despite the aid that’s already flowing through ‘official’ channels. To put it mildly: things don’t work the way they could. There is aid that reaches the target groups, and there are many well-intentioned people involved, but the overall efficiency with which that happens leaves much to be desired.

Many people are reluctant to donate to large (i)NGOs because they are suspicious of their culture(s). I am not an expert on this, but from what I have heard and seen over the past while, that suspicion does not look so crazy. What it comes down to is that humanitarian aid has become an industry. In the Greek situation, this means that the about €300 million (reported numbers vary) dispersed by the EU so far (€700 over 3 years) to assist Greece and Italy with their refugee influx, has by and large been divided over some 150 NGOs and other aid organizations.

But the stories about underfed, poorly housed and overall miserable refugees and migrants keep rolling in. And more often than not, the Greek government gets the blame. However, if €300 million is not enough for NGOs and aid organizations to make sure 60,000 are properly fed and in general taken care of, what is?

What I had heard and observed on the ground was confirmed in September – in one of these ‘glad it’s not just me’ moments – by a series in the Guardian called Secret Aid Worker. An anonymous aid worker with experience in multiple countries wrote this:

Secret Aid Worker: Greece Has Exposed The Aid Community’s Failures

At the time of writing, the number of refugees in Greece is approximately 60,000. The problem is not overwhelming. This time we are in an EU country. I feel safe wherever I am – this means I can conduct a visit to monitor the impact of a programme or ensure I am consulting refugees about what they want. But I don’t, because it is something we have talked about but not done for many years, and there is little pressure to change.

The disconnect between the sector’s standards and the reality on the ground is more stark here than in any other mission I’ve been involved in. We have historically been unaccountable, failing to sufficiently consult and engage affected communities. In Greece we are continuing to operate in the same ways as before, but without the traditional excuses to rely on.

When we have enabling infrastructure, a socio-political context that is easy to operate in, access to Wi-Fi, technology and adequate funds, and yet are failing to meet the refugees’ basic needs (even for something as simple as safe accommodation), reduce serious threats (such as the prevalence of sexual violence), or to be accountable or innovative, it suggests we are disinterested or incompetent. Perhaps both.

In Greece the aid community is being exposed. Our exposure is further compounded when we are unfavourably compared to organised and efficient groups of volunteers who work with less and achieve more. In comparison INGOs and the UNHCR seem money-orientated, bloated, bureaucratic and inefficient.

Across Greece there are volunteers working both independently and as organised groups, meeting needs and filling gaps. They take over abandoned buildings to ensure refugees have somewhere to sleep, provide additional nutrition to pregnant and breastfeeding women, organise and manage informal education programmes, including setting up schools inside camps.

All of this while INGO staff sip their cappuccinos in countless coordination meetings – for cash distribution, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, food distribution and child-protection. Often to avoid engaging meaningfully in the discussions, we furiously take notes. If any response has called into question whether the humanitarian sector is still fit for purpose, it’s the response to the refugee crisis in Greece.

A good example of this is that it was O Allos Anthropos that was asked last year by the lady who ran the Moria refugee facilities on Lesbos, to run the food supply (the kitchen still operates). The NGOs and their millions in funding failed to do it. Konstantinos did, after he organized food donations by the people living on the island, and after I gave him some of your donations, so he could pay for transport etc. needed to make it possible.

O Allos Anthropos doesn’t fit the model developed by the industry that aid has become. In many aspects, that’s a good thing. But it also means it’s a daily struggle to do even the most basic good. And yes, we need to try and change that. But breaking the aid industry mold will not be easy. And in the meantime, the need will continue to be there, and it will keep growing, and Konstantinos will keep trying to fill it.

 


From Solidarity Networks 1: the mini doc series

 

One thing that struck me about the aid industry was reading that British politician David Milliband makes $600,000 a year as head of IRC, the International Refugee Committee. And when he makes that kind of money, so do others involved in the ‘industry’.

And then there are people like Konstantinos, who doesn’t make a penny, who has devoted his entire life to helping people in need, and the contrast is so big it borders on insane. Of course Konstantinos is not alone in this; there are many people who work to aid others without asking for anything in return.

Konstantinos doesn’t want to try and fit O Allos Anthropos into the established -international- aid mold. He doesn’t want to fill out paperwork on a constant basis, and rely on permissions, approval or validation from governments and other ‘high-up’ bodies. He wants by the people for the people. But he has come to realize since we met that if he wants to address the ever growing demands made on him, he can’t do it with no money at all.

Recently, he was invited, and traveled to Perugia, Italy, where people want to start their own version of O Allos Anthropos. This week, he is in Barcelona, where the same questions have been asked. And unless he starts saying No to ever more people, he will need funding.

I mentioned a long list of drugs and medical paraphernalia that social pharmacies are asking him for help in acquiring. People die in Greece, they suffer pain, they tumble into misery, from afflictions that just a few years ago were easy to treat. That’s how bad things have gotten. Earlier this year, Konstantinos told me he had an idea to set up a service to deliver food and drugs to old people in villages in the Greek countryside, in the mountains, remote villages that today often house only older people because the young have all left. A great idea, but how is he going to pay for it?

On December 4, O Allos Anthropos will have a party to celebrate its 5th anniversary, and 2 million meals served. By far most of those were served after the Automatic Earth got involved and your donations made it possible to expand the Social Kitchen to the 17 or so locations across the country, and the islands, where aid is delivered under the O Allos Anthropos banner.

In the first few years, it all operated by people donating food directly. But food donations have fallen by 50% or more this year, because ever fewer Greeks can afford to donate. It is time for the rest of the world to step in. And that doesn’t have to cost millions. The $30,000 you have donated over the past 15 months have achieved miracles already.

In an ideal scenario, I would like to be able to collect $50,000 a year for Konstantinos to do his work. More than $100,000 would not be needed, unless things take a dramatic turn for the worse. Talking of which, any of you who work in the medical field and would like to help alleviate the medicine shortages, drop me a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com, and I’ll tell you what’s most needed.

 

Please, those of you who have been involved on location or otherwise in delivering aid, understand that I don’t mean to insult you. Most of you come with the best intentions, and many do great work, often against the grain. But I think the account of the Secret Aid Worker above cannot sound entirely unfamiliar to you. So much goes wrong that it must be plain for most of you to see.

And it’s perhaps good to wonder whether international volunteers are the best option to deliver aid in countries where locals are available, and willing, to do the same work. The difference is one gets funding and the other does not. Maybe that, more than anything, should change.

But for now, because it’ll soon be Christmas and because we want to give Konstantinos and his people a wonderful Yuletide and a positive start to the new year, please help us by donating generously.

Because whatever economic and/or political and/or election issues you may have gotten worked up about lately, in the end, and certainly at Christmas time, it is about people. Indeed, it is about helping strangers.

 

 

For donations to Kostantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos.

Please give generously.

 

 

I made a list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

 


Jodi Graphics What Greece lost in one year, 2014

 

 

Aug 092016
 
 August 9, 2016  Posted by at 12:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Jodi Graphics 2014

Everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. Greece had its spot in the limelight last year. It is now no longer famous. We have all moved on to bigger dramas, or so we think. The French feel they are the victims because of terrorist attacks, the British because of Brexit, Americans because of Trump.

Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame line is as much about the average human being’s attention span as it is about anything else, like the proliferation of media. The data in the picture at the top of this article are from 2014. They are what moved Greeks to elect Syriza in early 2015. But the Greeks found out within 6 months that this made no difference; the Troika called the shots, not the Greek people, not its government.

Every single one of the numbers in that pic has gotten worse over the past two years since it was released, often by a lot. There are hundreds of thousands of Greeks who make anywhere from €100 to €500 a month working the only part time jobs they can find. 1.2 million workers must wait anywhere from 3-15 months for their salaries to be paid.

But they’re the lucky ones; at least they have jobs. There are millions who don’t make any money at all. 3 million Greeks have no health care coverage because of this. That’s 30% of the population. A related quote I first put up last year is: “..if you are sick in Greece now, you have an expiration date.”

The IMF report I wrote about recently in Why Should The IMF Care About Its Credibility? states unambiguously that the IMF itself, in cahoots with the EU, is to blame for all this misery. But we haven’t seen one single word that would indicate there are plans to rectify this gross injustice.

The austerity measures forced upon Greece by the EU and IMF squeeze the country itself, and the people who inhabit it, into ever growing desolation, with no way out at all on the horizon. A country and its economy cannot heal or recover when it has a 25% unemployment rate, and 50-60% for its young people. And has seen hundreds of thousands of its best educated people leave the country.

Moreover, with pensions, on which a large part of the overall population depends just to survive, having been cut for the umpteenth time (supplementary pensions were cut between 21% and 46% on August 1), while a wide range of taxes keep rising across the board, consumption is being strangulated, which leads to more companies and stores closing, more unemployment, rinse and repeat. You can find it in the dictionary under ‘vicious circle’. Or in the Greek one under ‘Schäuble’ or ‘Dijsselbloem’.

And then Angela Merkel had the gall not long ago to claim the EU had found the ‘right mixture’ of policies with regards to Greece. These people are so -willingly- blind, and they care so little about what their policies do to people, they couldn’t find a ‘right mixture’ if it drove over them in a truck.

Greece is being ritually slaughtered, and the Brexit referendum has not taught Brussels one single lesson. They’re not going to understand until it’s too late and the EU blows up, but that may still take some years, while for the Greeks it’s already too late now.

The Troika should really -certainly after the IMF report- be forced to repeal their ‘policies’ versus Greece, but who’s going to force them? They’re not accountable to anyone. Well, except for the IMF executive board, but they are just a bunch of …. And the other Troika side, the EU, is a lost case.

On top of the country’s internal problems, there are now 57,000 refugees stuck in Greece. 21,000 of them have requested asylum. Plans to relocate them through the EU have been miserable failures. Most of the refugees live in one of dozens of improvised camps in below-par conditions. Those who don’t have papers are often de facto prisoners.

More misery is on the way. The Troika has forced through a law that will make it much easier to foreclose on homeowners who can no longer pay their mortgages. It’s not hard to see that there are many of them. The country must therefore prepare for another epidemic of homelessness, a scary prospect for a society that’s already been hit so hard.

 

 

As you will know if you’re a regular reader of the Automatic Earth, I started the “Automatic Earth for Athens Fund” last spring when I first went to Greece to see what the Syriza ‘revolution’ would bring (we now all know what it brought). The donations from Automatic Earth readers into the fund went far beyond what I could have dreamed of.

After donating some of it to two volunteer clinics and am institute for streetchildren (see links to articles below), I decided to focus on donating the funds to O Allos Anthropos (which means The Other Human), a group of impoverished Greeks who feed other poor Greeks, and do so by cooking in the street. The movement is led by someone who has become a dear friend, Konstantinos (Kostas) Polychronopoulos.

 


Konstantinos (Kostas) Polychronopoulos

 

I have been back in Athens for a few months now, talked to Kostas quite a bit, and donated more of your money. So much so that there is nothing left. I paid the rent for the ‘nerve center’ in May (€2,054 per 3 months) and a total of €2,500 in May and June to repair Kostas’ car, without which the entire organization would grind to a halt. And then paid the rent again this Thursday, another €2,054.

My administration indicates that you have donated $24,370 to date, and I have given away $26,694. The numbers can’t be exact, because donations come in in USD, EUR and CAD, and exchange rates vary. Also, Paypal takes ‘its share’, which also varies. But one’s thing’s sure: the money’s been spent, and well spent. Actually, two things are sure, the second being that more money is needed.

 


Kostas was so happy to have his car running again, and you made that possible. It’s taken him ‘twice around the whole country’ in the past year. 13 different cities. It costs €500 to get a return ticket on the ferry to Lesbos with the car…

 

I am hesitant to ask the same people repeatedly to donate, but I will, because at this moment I have no choice. After I paid the rent two days ago Kostas told our friend and translator Tassos that he had two euros left in his pocket. And that’s not good. Of course I’ve known all along that the money could run out, but also that it won’t be for my lack of trying. And yes, this has become personal over the past year.

And now, not only will there be another wave of homelessness, other things deteriorate as well. A few weeks ago Kostas told me that donations of food, his by far most important kind of donations, are down by over 40%. People in Greece simply don’t have the money anymore to afford donations. While he has 13 ‘social kitchens’ running all over Greece which together prepare 3-5000 meals every day, and would like to do more, but can’t because he doesn’t have the means.

Another issue too has raised its head. Volunteer clinics like the ones I donated to a year ago are now coming to Kostas to see if he can get them medicine and various medical accessories. So he’s looking into that, with doctors to guide the process. There are people who donate unused medication, it’s starting up and the need there is great too.

Meanwhile, increasingly people come to O Allos Anthropos to be fed, who used to donate food themselves. Society is changing for the worse rapidly. The ‘nerve center’ I paid the rent for a few times allows some 100 homeless people every day to get a shower, have breakfast, do laundry, and have their children get help with schoolwork, often with pens and paper and books and schoolbags that are also donated.

According to Kostas, there are 155 NGOs operating in Greece. And while some undoubtedly do some good, it’s hard not to wonder what most of them do. Some of the issues with NGOs coming to Greece are obvious: for the big ones it’s their corporate structure, and for many it’s that they come from abroad and don’t know the culture. Though I don’t want to say anything negative about this, fact is there must be millions of euros flowing through this ‘industry’, and it’s hard to see where it‘s going.

It’s precisely because of such issues that I have chosen to support Kostas and O Allos Anthropos. They are Greek, they don’t make money from their involvement, so every penny goes towards those who need it most, and they are themselves as poor as those they help. And Kostas is the little engine that could who holds it all together, and holds everyone together.

 

 

Here is a video featuring Kostas from 2 years ago. What struck me when seeing it again is that he’s proud of going from handing out 20 to 200 meals per day. Since then, he’s gone to 5000 per day. And yes, I also do get the irony in the role that your donations to the Automatic Earth for Athens fund have played in making that development possible. I would deeply regret having to bow out now, and leave Kostas to himself. Not that he wouldn’t make it, but we, you and me, have made a big difference. But I can’t do it alone, it has to be as much of a community effort as O Allos Anthropos itself is. So please help.

 

 

 

I’ll get back to you about this soon. I’ve been breaking my head trying to figure out how to collect more funds to continue supporting O Allos Anthropos, lying awake at night over it. Yeah, we could turn to crowdfunding perhaps, but I think it’s important that it would have to be done right, and this is not my expertise.

Kostas is a bit of a difficult ‘customer’ to work with, but for good reasons in my eyes. He doesn’t want the group to become an official organization, he doesn’t want to become an NGO, and he doesn’t want to apply for government support. Because all these things would lead away from what he thinks is essential: people helping people.

He refused an award from the EU last year saying ‘you guys are responsible for this mess and this misery, I want nothing from you’. ‘Official’ support comes with conditions, with people wanting to tell you what to do and how to do it. But yes, it makes it harder to keep things afloat, and to help where help is needed.

Kostas has many ideas for how he would like to change and expand his operations, but for now just holding on to the basics is a battle. He was talking the other day about villages in the mountains where mostly older people live, isolated and in dire need of food and medication, of how he would like to set up a way to reach out to them.

I’ll leave this here for now. If anyone has ideas about for instance a crowdfunding campaign, please contact me at contact •at• TheAutomaticEarth •dot• com. For anyone in the medical profession, if you have ideas about how to get medication here from abroad, please let me know. There is a great need for insulin, various cancer drugs are not available in the country at all anymore, and then there are things like blood pressure tests, blood sugar tests, hearing aids and wheelchairs.

I’ll get a full list from one of the hospitals soon. Everything medical will run through them too.

 

 

For donations to Kostas and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.

To tell donations for Kostas apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37 (don’t ask), will go to ‘The Other Human’.

Please give generously.

 

 

I made a list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens. Not sure if it’s complete.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)