Mar 202019
 
 March 20, 2019  Posted by at 9:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Birth of liquid desires 1932

 

Monsanto’s Roundup Substantial Factor In Man’s Cancer, Jury Finds (G.)
Miami Bans The Use Of Glyphosate In A Step To Improve Water Quality (NoC)
Off-Duty Pilot Saved Doomed 737 From Nosedive Day Before Deadly Crash (ZH)
Most People Want Higher Taxes On Rich To Support Poor – OECD (G.)
Shifting Hopes As Republicans, Democrats Wait For Mueller (AP)
Schiff: Real Question Is If Trump Is Under Influence Of A Foreign Power (NBC)
Mueller Suspected Cohen May Have Been Acting As Foreign Agent In 2017 (G.)
EU’s Barnier: UK Can’t Delay Brexit Without Clear Plan Of Action (Ind.)
Theresa May Asks Eu For Brexit Delay With Cabinet In Deadlock (G.)
Theresa May Will Not Ask EU For Long Brexit Extension (BBC)
Tory MPs Vow To Quit Party If Boris Johnson Becomes Leader (G.)
Chinese Companies Default On Their Debts At An ‘Unprecedented’ Level (CNBC)
Foreigners Buy Up Athens Real Estate For Short-Term Rentals (K.)

 

 

Underlying lesson: stop poisoning your food and the soil it grows in.

But don’t count out Monsanto’s legal department.

Monsanto’s Roundup Substantial Factor In Man’s Cancer, Jury Finds (G.)

A federal jury in San Francisco found Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide was a substantial factor in causing the cancer of a California man, in a landmark verdict that could affect hundreds of other cases. Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa was the first person to challenge Monsanto’s Roundup in a federal trial and alleged that his exposure to Roundup caused him to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), a cancer that affects the immune system. In the next phase of the case, the jury will weigh liability and damages, and Hardeman’s lawyers will present arguments about Monsanto’s influence on government regulators and cancer research.

During the trial, the 70-year-old Santa Rosa man testified that he had sprayed the herbicide for nearly three decades and at one time got it on his skin before he was diagnosed with cancer. He used the chemical to control weeds and poison oak on his properties, starting in 1986. Hardeman’s case is considered a “bellwether” trial for hundreds of other plaintiffs in the US with similar claims, which means the verdict could affect future litigation and other cancer patients and families. Monsanto, now owned by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, is facing more than 9,000 similar lawsuits across the US.

The unanimous ruling on Tuesday follows a historic verdict last August in which a California jury in state court ruled that Roundup caused the terminal cancer of Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper. That jury said Monsanto failed to warn Johnson of Roundup’s health hazards and “acted with malice or oppression”, awarding Johnson $289m in damages. Hardeman’s trial has been more limited in scope. While Johnson’s attorneys argued that Monsanto had “bullied” scientists and fought to suppress negative studies about its product, the federal judge barred Hardeman’s lawyers from discussing Monsanto’s alleged influence on research and regulations during the hearings.

Read more …

2 weeks old, but highly relevant.

Miami Bans The Use Of Glyphosate In A Step To Improve Water Quality (NoC)

Miami, Florida voted unanimously to ban the use of glyphosate by city departments and contractors. The controversial herbicide is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s – now Bayer after an acquisition took place over a year ago – popular weed-killer, Roundup. But concerns surrounding the safety and proliferation of glyphosate continue to grow and the city of Miami took it upon themselves to effectively enact the resolution right after passage, The Miami Times reported. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell started the investigation into the city’s use of glyphosate after officials believed the runoff from the herbicide “might have contributed to the recent blue-green algae bloom and red tide that impacted the state last year,” EcoWatch reported.

“Water quality issues are so important to the city of Miami, and we can be one of the worst polluters as a municipality,” Russell told The Miami New Times. “We ask for residents to make a change in their habits and that they be conscious of what they put in their gardens, but when I realized the totality of what the city uses at any given time, we had to change our habits.” Miami Director of Resiliency and Public Works Alan Dodd determined that Miami was responsible for using 4,800 gallons of glyphosate a year on the streets and sidewalks to kill weeds. While Dodd stopped the use of the herbicide, Russell took it a step further and sponsored a city-wide ban on glyphosate to make sure it was no longer used by any departments.

According to Waterkeeper: “herbicides and fertilizers are often applied in excess to lawns and landscapes and can be lost to the environment in stormwater runoff and can degrade the water quality of streams, rivers, canals, lakes, and coastal waters. They can also contribute to the creation of harmful algal blooms and the destruction of critically important habitats like sea grass beds and coral reefs.”

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One of the big selling points for the 737MAX was that airlines didn’t have to spend a fortune to re-train their pilots. Even though the MCAS system that caused the crashes was brand new.

Off-Duty Pilot Saved Doomed 737 From Nosedive Day Before Deadly Crash (ZH)

An off-duty pilot hitching a ride in the cockpit jumpseat of a doomed 737 Max 8 last October reportedly saved the plane just one day before it crashed off the coast of Indonesia while being operated by a different crew, killing 189 onboard. According to Bloomberg, the ‘dead-head’ pilot on the earlier flight from Bali to Jakarta was able to explain to the crew how to disable a malfunctioning flight-control system by cutting power to a motor driving the nose of the plane down. The previously undisclosed detail supports the suggestion that a lack of training is may be at least partially to blame in the March 10 crash of another 727 Max 8.

“The previously undisclosed detail on the earlier Lion Air flight represents a new clue in the mystery of how some 737 Max pilots faced with the malfunction have been able to avert disaster while the others lost control of their planes and crashed. The presence of a third pilot in the cockpit wasn’t contained in Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee’s Nov. 28 report on the crash and hasn’t previously been reported.” -Bloomberg As we noted last week, several pilots had repeatedly warned federal authorities of the Max 8’s shortcomings, with one pilot describing the plane’s flight manual as “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.”

“The fact that this airplane requires such jury-rigging to fly is a red flag. Now we know the systems employed are error-prone — even if the pilots aren’t sure what those systems are, what redundancies are in place and failure modes. I am left to wonder: what else don’t I know?” wrote the captain. “After the Lion Air crash, two U.S. pilots’ unions said the potential risks of the system, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, hadn’t been sufficiently spelled out in their manuals or training. None of the documentation for the Max aircraft included an explanation, the union leaders said.” -Bloomberg

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Curious coming from the OECD.

Most People Want Higher Taxes On Rich To Support Poor – OECD (G.)

A majority of people living in developed countries want their government to increase taxes on the rich in order to help the poorest in society, according to a major global study. In all 21 countries included in the OECD study, more than half of those polled said they were in favour when asked: “Should the government tax the rich more than they currently do in order to support the poor?” The OECD said the survey of 22,000 people was “deeply troubling” and revealed that nearly 60% of respondents do not think they are getting their “fair share” back for the taxes they pay.

Only one in five people thought that they would easily be able to access state benefits in the event of a crisis, with many raising concerns about healthcare. Almost six in 10 said their government ignored their views and concerns. “This is a wake-up call for policy makers,” Ángel Gurría, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development secretary-general, said. “Too many people feel they cannot count fully on their government when they need help. “A better understanding of the factors driving this perception and why people feel they are struggling is essential to making social protection more effective and efficient. We must restore trust and confidence in government and promote equality of opportunity.”

The survey comes as politicians and campaigners across the world call for higher taxes on the super-rich to fund essential services for the poor. Several of the Democratic candidates for US president in the 2020 election, including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have proposed new taxes on the super-rich to address inequality. The gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protesters in France have also demanded the wealthy shoulder a larger share of the tax burden. Almost 80% of people in Portugal and Greece said they wanted their governments to impose higher taxes on the wealthy. In the US more than half of those surveyed supported extra taxes on the wealthy. The OECD did not set an income level for what constituents wealthy.

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The end of one probe will give birth to many others.

Shifting Hopes As Republicans, Democrats Wait For Mueller (AP)

It’s a witch hunt, a vendetta, the worst presidential harassment in history. That’s what President Donald Trump has shouted for two years about the special counsel’s Russia probe. Now, barring an eleventh-hour surprise, Trump and his allies are starting to see it as something potentially very different: a political opportunity. With Robert Mueller’s findings expected any day, the president has grown increasingly confident the report will produce what he insisted all along — no clear evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and his 2016 campaign. And Trump and his advisers are considering how to weaponize those possible findings for the 2020 race, according to current and former White House officials and presidential confidants who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

A change is underway as well among congressional Democrats, who have long believed the report would offer damning evidence against the president. The Democrats are busy building new avenues for evidence to come out, opening a broad array of investigations of Trump’s White House and businesses that go far beyond Mueller’s focus on Russian interference to help Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton. It’s a striking role reversal. No one knows exactly what Mueller will say, but Trump, his allies and members of Congress are trying to map out the post-probe political dynamics.

[..] If the report proves anticlimactic, says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a strong Trump ally, “there would no longer be any justification for what the House Dems want to do. They have their report, they had the guy they wanted writing it, and he had the full power of the federal government behind him and they still didn’t get the president. “Trump can say: Here is the report. I didn’t fire Mueller, I didn’t interfere with him. If you want to keep investigating me, it just shows that it is purely partisan.”

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What then is the real question about Adam Schiff?

Schiff: Real Question Is If Trump Is Under Influence Of A Foreign Power (NBC)

Nearly two years into his investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller has not accused any member of the Trump campaign of conspiring with the 2016 election interference effort — and it’s not clear whether he will. But legal experts, along with the congressman leading the House Russia investigation, tell NBC News that the most important question investigators must answer is one that may never have been suitable for the criminal courts: Whether President Trump or anyone around him is under the influence of a foreign government. “It’s more important to know what Trump is NOW than to know what he did in 2016,” said Martin Lederman, professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and former deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Obama administration.

“It’s more important to know whether he has been compromised as president than whether his conduct during the campaign constituted a crime.” Whether Mueller will answer that question in the absence of criminal charges is unclear. But in an interview with NBC News, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he is steering his investigation in a new direction to focus on it — and he will demand any relevant evidence compiled by the FBI or Mueller’s team. The California Democrat also expressed concern that Mueller hasn’t fully investigated Trump’s possible financial history with Russia. “From what we can see either publicly or otherwise, it’s very much an open question whether this is something the special counsel has looked at,” Schiff told NBC News.

Schiff said the public testimony from former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that in 2016 Trump stood to earn hundreds of millions of dollars from a secret Moscow real estate project is a staggering conflict of interest that must be fully explored. “I certainly agree that the counterintelligence investigation may be more important than the criminal investigation because it goes to a present threat to our national security — whether the president and anybody around him are compromised by a foreign power,” Schiff said. “That’s not necessarily an issue that can be covered in indictments.”

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Sore losers all around.

Mueller Suspected Cohen May Have Been Acting As Foreign Agent In 2017 (G.)

Robert Mueller persuaded a judge within weeks of being made special counsel in 2017 that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s legal fixer, may have been secretly working for a foreign government. Legal filings unsealed on Tuesday said investigators working for Mueller were granted access to Cohen’s personal email account on 18 July 2017 on the basis that he may have broken several laws, including those on unregistered foreign agents. Cohen’s suspected efforts were not detailed in the documents. Cohen, one of Trump’s closest advisers for a decade, was known to have been paid in 2017 for consulting work by a state-controlled South Korean aviation company and a bank in Kazakhstan.

The filings said Mueller’s investigators were looking in Cohen’s Gmail account for records on any “funds or benefits” he received from foreign governments or companies, as well as any files revealing efforts by Cohen to work on their behalf. The court documents were released by a federal judge in New York, where Cohen pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance and personal financial crimes. They were originally filed by investigators in April last year to obtain additional search warrants. It was not previously known that Cohen was suspected of crimes relating to representing foreigners without registering with US authorities, and no such charges were brought against him. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and is due to be jailed in May.

The filings released on Tuesday ran to hundreds of pages. More than 19 pages, apparently relating to the campaign finance scheme, were entirely blacked out, indicating that it remains under investigation. Cohen directly implicated Trump in the scheme, which involved hush-money payments to women who alleged during the 2016 campaign that they had affairs with Trump. Some legal analysts have said Trump could be vulnerable to prosecution for the scheme once he leaves office. He denies breaking any laws.

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9 days and it gets serious.

EU’s Barnier: UK Can’t Delay Brexit Without Clear Plan Of Action (Ind.)

The EU has said Britain cannot delay Brexit without a clear plan for what happens next, indicating only an election, a new referendum or major compromise on Theresa May’s red lines will suffice. In an ultimatum, Michel Barnier said there would need to be a “new event or new political process” to secure an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period. Brussels’ intervention represents yet another blow for the prime minister, who planned to ask for a delay at this week’s European Council meeting as part of a drive to finally push through her twice-defeated Brexit deal. She is already having to grapple with the new obstacle thrown in front of her by Commons speaker John Bercow who has tried to block her from putting the deal in front of MPs for a third time.

Any move to secure a long delay to Brexit is likely to infuriate Leave-backing Tory MPs and could even lead to cabinet resignations. A meeting of her top ministers on Tuesday ended with Brexiteer ministers making grave warnings about the collapse of their party if it fails to deliver Britain’s departure. Theresa May is set to write to European Council president Donald Tusk, laying out her proposal to delay Brexit beyond March 29 – something that requires the approval of all 27 remaining member states at the summit on Thursday. The Independent understands that one approach being considered is to ask for a lengthy extension to the Article 50 period, with the option of an early break if Ms May can get her deal through parliament.

But Mr Barnier poured cold water on the idea, telling a reporter who asked him about it: “You said both short and long – well, it’s either one or the other, isn’t it?” He added: “My feeling is … a longer extension needs to be linked to something new. There needs to be a new event or a new political process.” Mr Barnier told a news conference in Brussels: “It is our duty to ask whether this extension would be useful because an extension will be something which would extend uncertainty, and uncertainty costs.” He again warned that the UK would need to propose “something new” to justify a lengthy extension. A “new event” can only really mean giving the British public a Final Say referendum or an election, while a new process is likely to refer to a push to rewrite Ms May’s strategy to include a closer relationship with the EU, possibly a permanent customs union.

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What I liked about this when I read it yesterday was May refusing to say how long an extension she was asking for.

Theresa May Asks Eu For Brexit Delay With Cabinet In Deadlock (G.)

Theresa May will be forced to write to EU leaders on Wednesday and beg them to delay Brexit, with her cabinet deadlocked over the best way out of what Downing Street now concedes is a “crisis”. The government had maintained until the last possible moment that Brexit could go ahead as planned on 29 March or after a brief “technical extension”. But after the Speaker, John Bercow, ruled the prime minister could not put her deal to parliament unchanged for a third “meaningful vote,” her spokesman conceded it was now too late to leave with a deal.

He said May would write to the European council president, Donald Tusk, to ask for an extension to article 50, before EU leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday. He declined to say how long a delay she would request, or for what purpose, simply insisting: “You’re going to have to wait for that letter to be published.” Asked whether May agreed with the solicitor general, Robert Buckland, who described the situation after Bercow’s ruling on Monday as a “constitutional crisis”, her spokesman said: “If you were to look back at the speech the prime minister gave, just before meaningful vote two, she said that if MPs did not support meaningful vote two we would be in a crisis. Events yesterday tell you that that situation has come to pass.”

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It doesn’t matter what she asks for, but what they are willing to give.

Theresa May Will Not Ask EU For Long Brexit Extension (BBC)

Theresa May will not be asking the EU for a long delay when she formally requests that Brexit is postponed. Number 10 said the PM shared the public’s “frustration” at Parliament’s “failure to take a decision”. EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said the EU will not grant a delay without a “concrete plan” from the UK about what they would do with it. Under current law, the UK will leave the EU – with or without a deal – in nine days. BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said the delay would not be beyond the end of June. Any delay will have to be agreed by all 27 EU member states and Mrs May is heading to Brussels on Thursday to discuss the matter with fellow leaders.

Explaining that Mrs May “won’t be asking for a long extension” when she writes to the EU, Number 10 said: “There is a case for giving Parliament a bit more time to agree a way forward, but the people of this country have been waiting nearly three years now. “They are fed up with Parliament’s failure to take a decision and the PM shares their frustration.” It comes after MPs rejected the withdrawal deal Mrs May has negotiated with the EU for a second time last week by 149 votes. They also voted in favour of ruling out leaving the EU without a deal, and in favour of extending the Brexit process.

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All these people love the sound of their own voices.

Tory MPs Vow To Quit Party If Boris Johnson Becomes Leader (G.)

Conservative MPs are orchestrating against a potential leadership campaign by Boris Johnson, with several talking of resigning the whip if he were to become party leader. With Tories convinced that Theresa May’s days in No 10 are numbered, MPs are feverishly discussing who will seek to replace her, how organised the teams are and whether a general election would be necessary. Johnson is the current favourite of Brexit-backing Tory activists, who will pick the leader out of a final two candidates. However, the former London mayor would first have to clear the hurdle of convincing Conservative MPs to put him on the final list of two.

One minister said she would leave the party if Johnson and his supporters, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, took over the Conservatives. Another minister said he knew of five or six Conservatives who were openly saying they were so opposed to a Johnson premiership that they could not stay in the party run by him and a group of “Brexit ultras”. Anna Soubry, the former Tory minister who quit to join the new Independent Group, said she believed “people will leave” if Johnson were to become prime minister. [..] Backers of Johnson believe MPs could swing behind him if they believe an election is not far away, because he is already a household name to put up against Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.

“Who outside Westminster has heard of Dominic Raab?” asked one Brexit supporting MP who wants Johnson to deliver May a message that she must stand down soon regardless of whether her Brexit deal passes. “Boris still has the star quality that we would need with the electorate to beat Corbyn if there is going to be an election soon. And there is going to be an election in 2019 if you look at parliament.”

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Something’s brewing.

Chinese Companies Default On Their Debts At An ‘Unprecedented’ Level (CNBC)

An economic slowdown and extremely tight credit conditions pushed corporate debt to a record high in China last year, according to experts. Defaults for Chinese corporate bonds — issued in both U.S. dollars and the Chinese yuan — soared last year, according to numbers from two banks. Japanese bank Nomura’s estimates, provided to CNBC, were even higher, putting the size of defaults in onshore bonds — or yuan-denominated bonds — at 159.6 billion yuan ($23.8 billion) last year. That number is roughly four times more than its 2017 estimate. Offshore corporate dollar bonds, or U.S. dollar-denominated debt issued by Chinese companies, followed the same trend.

Nomura said the amount of such debt rose to $7 billion in 2018, from none the year before. “China witnessed an unprecedented wave of corporate bond defaults last year, in a fresh sign of wobbles hitting financial markets as slowdown deepens,” said DBS analysts in the report. According to DBS, the energy sector bailed on 46.4 billion yuan of payments in 2018 — making up almost 40 percent of all defaults in yuan-denominated debt. Consumer companies were the next worst hit, according to the bank’s report. “The default wave is extending into 2019 … Given the reduced risk appetite and huge maturing volume, the outlook is poor,” DBS said, adding that there are 3.5 trillion yuan in corporate bonds due this year.

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I got back to Athens a few days ago, and this is the talk of the town. Greeks being evicted from their apartments because some Chinese ‘investor’ is Airbnb-ing entire buildings. Soon there’ll be hardly any Greeks left in the city core, and it’ll turn into Disneyland.

Foreigners Buy Up Athens Real Estate For Short-Term Rentals (K.)

The Greek property market appears to have emerged from its decade-long hibernation: Bank of Greece figures showed that 1.35 billion euros flowed into the country last year for property purchases (mainly houses) by foreign investors. That figure constitutes a 172 percent annual increase, after an 86.5 percent rise in 2017, when inflows had amounted to 500 million euros. House prices increased 1.5 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, when there had been a 1 percent yearly decline. Realty professionals say that investments by foreign individuals and medium-sized investors in the local housing market peaked in 2018, with a focus on flats in the center of Athens, apartments in the southern suburbs of Attica and luxury holiday homes.

This huge rise was fed by the prospects for the utilization of apartments through short-term leasing platforms such as Airbnb, Booking and HomeAway, by the appeal of the Golden Visa program, which grants five-year residence permits to foreign nationals who invest at least 250,000 euros in Greek realty, and by the continued increase in tourism, which has raised demand for holiday homes. Data from the land registry of Athens concerning the first eight months of 2018 showed a 60 percent annual increase in transactions.

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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.

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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?

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“..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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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?

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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.

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


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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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%.

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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.

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


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: , , , , , , , ,  


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: , , , , , , , , , ,  


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: , , , , , , ,  


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)

 

 

 

 

Mar 022016
 
 March 2, 2016  Posted by at 8:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Konstantinos Polychronopoulos On Lesbos (Mytilini) 2016

Monday morning I started to write a -long overdue, I know, and I apologize- article on what’s going on with the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund and with me, still here in Athens. But I was ‘cut short in my tracks’.

I found I just couldn’t go on in the vein I was in when I read that on one side of the European continent, refugees and their children were being bulldozed and sprayed with tear gas in the Calais ‘Jungle’, while at the very same moment, 2500 kilometers (1500 miles) away, tear gas was also being sprayed on refugee children, by Macedonia police, across their border with Greece. Rumors are there were Austrian and Czech troops on the scene as well.

It just seemed too crazy. Because what do you say to that? The obvious and inevitable questions, when seeing that, are: What are we, what have we become, what kind of civilization is this? Is it even a civilization at all? How does one define ‘civilization’? Shouldn’t perhaps a civilization be characterized and defined by the fact that acts and policies executed within it can be deemed ‘civilized’?!

And if that is so, what does this make us? Could we perhaps agree that a civilized society would never engage in -to name but a few examples- any of the following? That a civilized society does not bomb children, it does not let them drown without trying all it can to help, and it does not spray tear gas on them. Is it really such a stretch to accept that as minimum requirements to be labeled ‘civilized’?

Europe, have you completely lost it? How on earth can you tear gas infants? What is that? What’s that you said? They just got in the way? But that means you knew they were there, right?

And again, what does that make us? We do all of these things, and with impunity. None are forced upon us. We do them of our own free will. Or, rather, we elect people who then do them for us, in our name. But we know they do them, and we don’t protest, nor do we un-elect them. Once more, what does that make us? One thing’s for sure: it certainly does not make us civilized. Barbaric is more like it. Medieval, at best.

Now, while I think this is a global issue, if only because the entire world seems to be bombing Syria -just waiting for China to join in-, the immediate culpability and responsibility lies with Europe. But Europe has nothing. Yeah, promises to provide funds at some time in the future, to solve problems that are playing out today. That they can do.

And when those funds finally might arrive, you can bet they’ll largely be handed out to the wrong parties. I don’t want to rehash the complaints in Greece about NGOs, UN etc., but neither have I seen or heard much that will make those complaints go away.

The first and most pressing response needs to come from Angela Merkel, because she is the de facto leader of Europe. That this kind of power structure is very unfortunate since Merkel is more beholden to Germany than Europe is something I explained before. But even then. Merkel has mostly been AWOL. While the leader on paper, Jean-Claude Juncker, is even less visible.

The only thing Europe seems to have done, and do correct me if I’m wrong, is send armed forces to stop people who have come to Europe across perilous seas, losing thousands of their children, friends and neighbors in the process, because they were fleeing .. armed forces. That is bizarre from pretty much any angle.

One of the first things I wrote about the refugee crisis, it must have been about a year ago, was that the only proper response and approach to a situation like this is to put the people first. To make sure they don’t go hungry, they don’t get sick and die, and they don’t drown for no reason. But Europe, both as a whole and in its ‘separate units’, instead has put political issues ahead of the people. So 4000 drowned in 2015, and 400 already this year. And those are just the registered ‘cases’. How about we double those numbers?

And how about we let those numbers sink in? All those promising lives lost for no reason at all? How many potential Einsteins drowned in the Aegean? How many Florence Nightingales? How many loving and delicate mothers and fathers? You can take this from a humanitarian or a religious point of view, and you can pick your religion too while you’re at it, but there’s no philosophy or faith that justifies letting children drown while you’re sitting poolside with a Margarita or at home picking out your next best biggest TV screen.

This is not about opening one’s borders as widely as possible, or about allowing one’s own culture to be entirely submerged or overtaken, it’s about being civilized, about being recognized in history books as an actual civilization deserving of the label. About treating people like human beings, treating them the way you would want your children and your friends to be treated. The way you yourself want to be treated. And then take it from there, with your dignity and your humanity intact.

This is something I will never understand, I’m afraid. And that’s my angle back to the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund, and to my friend Konstantinos (Kostas) and his Social Kitchen (O Allos Anthropos) project. Because Kostas proves, and all the volunteers who cooperate with him do, that there are still humans in this world. I guess one might say that Kostas is what in Yiddish tradition would be called a ‘Mensch’, a term strongly associated with integrity, honor, valor.

I‘ve been going through some of the earlier pieces in which I talked about him, and I noticed the numbers I presented, on meals served per day etc., were sometimes a little off due to communication difficulties. Since I worked hard to get more accurate numbers now, let’s see if we can correct that. Do note that they are really in a constant state of flux these days.

At the moment, as per my latest meeting with Kostas and our -dear- mutual friend and translator Tassos on Friday, there are 10 different ‘chapters’ of the Social Kitchen active, most in the Athens (Attica) area, but also in Thessaloniki and on the islands. That’s up from 2 or 3 ‘kitchens’ 8 months ago. The total list: Athens, Mytilini Island, Egaleo, Haidari, Salamina Island, Ilion, Megara, Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Drapetsona. Yeah, it’s growing fast. They’re not all active 7 days a week, often – or partly- due to a lack of resources. Some cook once a week, some 2-3 times.

But the biggest change by a mile, since the beginning of February, is the 7 days a week Social Kitchen in Mytilini (the capital of what we know as Lesbos, which Greeks often just call Mytilini, Mitilene, Mitilini) in the government facility -don’t want to say ‘camp’- of Moria. The lady who runs the facility has asked Kostas to come cook every day because there were no other provisions. Which is pretty crazy given all the NGOs operating on the island.

A few months ago, he had to tell her he couldn’t afford to do it, but in the perhaps best part of this story, all the food now gets donated by the local population (I’ve said it before, Greeks do solidarity well). And this is no small feat. It means 2500-3000 meals every day, and since the Greek government has been forced to slow the transfer of refugees from Mytilini to Piraeus, the number is set to grow, perhaps fast. This comes on top of the perhaps 1000 meals provided every day in Athens and other places.

And it could be much more, if resources were available. There are 12(!) more locations on a ‘waiting list’ who have asked to join Kostas’ project but who have neither equipment nor funding: Patra, Pyrgos, Sparta, Kalamata, Korinthos, Ioannina, Larissa, Preveza, Nafpaktos, Zakynthos island, Heraklio Crete, Ierapetra Crete (time to go to Google Maps, I know).

When we were talking a few days ago, Kostas said he’s not so much pre-occupied with providing the food itself. That he can manage. Perhaps a bit optimistic, but if he’s anything, that’s it. And in his position, you would have to be. He carries a lot of weight and a lot of people, those who work with them and those they feed, on his shoulders.

What worries him at times are the fixed costs.

I walked over 24 hours ago to Monastiraki square, where a Social Kitchen team always cooks on Tuesday, in memory of a famous Greek musician, Antonis Vardis, who was a very early supporter of the Social Kitchen, but tragically died of cancer in 2014.

Only, this time, the team couldn’t start at 2pm -to serve food at 5pm-, because their equipment was not there. Kostas had decided, from a distance, he just got back from Thessaloniki, that using it to prepare 4000 (!) meals in ‘The House’ to be sent to the port of Piraeus had bigger priority (emergency, starving refugees), and the 300 or so homeless in the square would have to wait. 3 hours or so. Hungry and homeless. That’s where the need stands. That’s reality in Athens.

But to get back to the practical side of things, or let’s call it the fixed costs, here’s an overview.

There’s ‘The House’ as they call it, and so will I, a pretty simple apartment-sized location that has been the nerve center of the operation for a while now. Problem is, the rent used to be paid by supporters until January 1, but they couldn’t afford it any longer -there’s a million stories like that in Greece, of people who can no longer afford things. So now that’s what Kostas worries about. Losing the nerve center is like the worst thing that could happen.

It allowed for those 4000 meals to be cooked yesterday. It offers laundry, service, homework facilities to homeless and their children. The Social Kitchen couldn’t operate without it.

Anyway, on Friday, I paid that rent, with your donations, to the tune of €2054 for 3 months. And told him I’d guarantee the next 3-month payment, due May 15, as well. Because that takes worries away. From someone who must worry, whether he shows it or not, all the time. Here’s the receipt – we went to the bank together-:

Not that the rent for the nerve center is the only fixed cost. By a mile. In fact, the cost for gas for transport for all the kitchens is easily €2000 a month. The propane tanks they need for cooking come to at least €1000 a month. Breakfast, laundry and shower for the homeless in ‘The House’ comes to another €2500 a month (no kidding).

And if that doesn’t scare you away enough, the by far largest expense, as I found out this week, and I would never have thought of this -guess I’m not all that bright-, is in the containers the food is served in. It seems such an obvious thing, but it’s absolutely not. Kostas gets these things already at a steep discount from what even supermarket chains are paying, but even then, it’s -close to- killing the Social Kitchen. Here’s what we’re talking about, these simple thingies:

This may seem like nothing, but it’s something alright. The discount price he pays is €5 per 100 units. Now start multiplying. That urgent 4000 meals he had to do yesterday, just that one ‘shipment’, cost €200 just for the containers. Multiply that by 30 days a month and you get €6000. Times 12 is $72,000 a year. Yup, that is crazy. But the Social Kitchen can’t serve its food without containers either. And -flat- paper plates won’t work because most of the food has too much liquid in it.

Ergo, Kostas has come up with an -about 50% cheaper- alternative, one that if we could make it happen might save the Social Kitchen some $20,000 a year. But there are a few hooks. His alternative, made of ‘hard paper’, is not available in Greece. They would have to be imported from Romania. But you need import permissions for that. And that requires having a company. Something the Social Kitchen refuses to become.

And what’s more, these containers would have to be paid in advance. Something for which there is no money. Everything necessarily operates on a day-to-day shoestring basis. If there is some money, they go buy a few thousand of the aluminum containers down the road. The kind of advance planning that would be required for the -much cheaper- alternative is simply not possible, and therefore not an option.

I think I should just press ‘Publish’ now, because there is no end to what I could write about this. I’m here where it happens, finger on the pulse, and I’m afraid of what this might become. 70,000 or 100,000 or half a million stranded in Greece, all those numbers look possible right now. It’s impossible to say.

But at least there are people here doing what they humanly can to alleviate the misery, even as Europe is clearly not. But the fear of course is that there’ll be a breaking point in Greece, where the already severely strained government will simply run out of resources. And the citizens will, too.

EU promises don’t count for a thing, until they become a tangible reality. But things still happen, and move forward; thousand of refugees arrive here every day. And drowning them all in the Aegean is not an option. Merkel’s best hope is Turkey PM Erdogan, and that’s a terrible best hope to have.

It could all be simple. Just make the people your first priority, and everything else will fall into place. We’re human, and we’re a social animal. That’s what Greece, and the Greeks, prove on a daily basis. But not the rest of the continent.

So, much as I’m hesitant to ask you for support again, I must. ‘My people’ here provide the most basic of necessities: they feed the refugees and homeless. There was a report coming out of Idomeni, on the Macedonia/Greek border, yesterday, that mothers couldn’t breastfeed anymore because they themselves hadn’t eaten in days.

That’s what we, and you, can help prevent from happening.

The way to do it is the same as it has been for a while now: donate through our Paypal unit, top left corner at The Automatic Earth, an amount ending in either $0.99 or $0.37. That all goes straight towards the Social Kitchen. Other donations go to The Automatic Earth itself, which also runs on -and really needs- donations.

There is still some money left from the two donation ‘drives’ I’ve done, which totalled over $20,000 (!) -you guys are so fantastic-. In the past few weeks, I’ve given Kostas €7,550, and earlier I donated €5,000 to volunteer clinics, to Kostas and to Myrto Lemos’ Support Center for street children. That means there’s about $8,000, or €7000 left, and as I said, I promised to pay the rent for the nerve center on May 15.

That leaves about $5000. I have to say ‘about’ all the time, because between what they skim off donations, plus the conversion from USD into EUR, Paypal takes quite a bit, 7-8% in total, which I really don’t like, but it has a (quasi-) monopoly. Thing is, I’m hesitant to spend it all today because of might be coming to this country, and the people fleeing to it. It might be wise to have a war chest for when for instance Kostas really needs it.

Let’s finish for now with a personal thank you note from Kostas, as translated by Tassos:

I want to thank you deeply for the donations, all the people, the readers of the Automatic Earth, who have put their trust in me, without knowing me personally. Ilargi wrote about what we are doing after he met me and saw what we do. I thank all of you that you sent your money to support the fellow humans who are in need. But the most important as I see it, is that you heard and trusted your heart. For me this is solidarity, to hear and trust your heart, because your heart deeply knows and can’t be wrong.
 
I am Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, the man who has dedicated his life to the Social Kitchen -O Allos Anthropos- and I kindly invite you whenever you are in Greece to meet us, to eat with us and to have a coffee together at our Social Kitchen house in Athens, which is open for all Humans and that means you too!


Social Kitchen on Mytilini Island (Lesbos) 2016

Feb 012016
 
 February 1, 2016  Posted by at 8:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Konstantinos Polychronopoulos 2016

Time does indeed fly; I’ve already been back in Athens for a week, but I still haven’t told you about it -a nasty flu now in its 4th day is a partial excuse-, and also haven’t even written the story of my last trip in Nov-Dec. Don’t think it’s Zika, though that’s a weird story; from what I gather someone was testing a GMO fly back in the Caribbean that caused this mutation and now someone wants to fight it with another GMO fly?! Ain’t we smart.

Anyway, the stunning generosity of the Automatic Earth readers left me no choice but to visit the city again so soon, really. Which is I think a really good thing.

I wrote an article on December 22 2015, An Urgent Christmas Call To The Finance Blogosphere. There has been close to no reaction from rest of that blogosphere, to my -just a tad disgruntled- surprise, but a lot from our own readers.

In the article, I made an appeal for help for the work of my new best friend Kostas (Konstantinos Polychronopoulos), who has devoted his entire life to helping the poor and homeless of Athens (an ever faster ever growing group of people), starting with providing at least a decent meal. I first talked about Kostas’ work in July just after I first met him in AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street.

In that follow-up, An Urgent Christmas Call To The Finance Blogosphere, I said:

I was saying before how ‘The Other Human’ [O Allas Anthropos] social kitchen had grown at least 5-fold. That is a bit of an understatement. There are now 5 different ‘kitchen teams’ running (vs 1-2 before), and they hand out over 3000 meals a day today instead of the 300 earlier in the year. There simply is that much need. The Greeks themselves are getting poorer, fast, and refugees have become a major ‘target’ group as well. Kostas began running operations on Lesbos over the summer, and has a team in place there now as well as on Salimani island and 3 different locations in the Athens area. And there’s no doubt he would like to do more.

Before, costs would be covered by food donations and sympathizers giving €5 or €10 a month from what little they have. Between pensions cuts, pay cuts and capital controls, the number of Greeks who have next to nothing rises fast. It’s no exception for former supporters to now come to rely on Kostas for their own food. Nor is it exceptional for grandmothers to still insist on giving $5 from the €400 that’s all that’s left of their pension. Greeks do solidarity well.

But the numbers are getting out of hand, so many people need help, and it promises to get much worse in 2016, looking at the new austerity measures the troika is forcing upon the country, and the expected numbers of refugees arriving. The donations that used to run ‘The Other Human’ are simply not enough to cover operations any longer, let alone expand them where most needed.

And while the €1000 I donated earlier this year went a -relatively- long way, the second €1000, though at least as much appreciated, won’t go nearly as far. When I was told ‘The Other Human’ have been forced to cancel some cooking events now -for the cold and hungry homeless, for crying out loud, who are increasingly people that used to have jobs and homes and all until recently-, simply because they can’t afford to feed the poor, that actually hurt, and stung. That felt personal.

Turns out, since then, more has been added (‘the need is so great’). As per a quite hilarious email from Kostas 10 days ago, when I hadn’t arrived in Greece yet:

My friend Raul; By Wednesday I am here and the kitchen of lesbian, hope to see a third or fourth. Tells other people that the social kitchen has grown, we speak has seven and prepared in other two cities in Greece.

Yeah, that made me laugh. Still don’t know if he intended that ‘lesbian kitchen’ thing. He did seem to find it awfully funny when I remarked on it, though, in person the other day. On a more serious note, what he’s saying is that in the past month, he went from 5 to 7 social kitchens, and is adding 2 more. Or trying to.

‘That Wednesday’ was 5 days ago. We had a meeting then with a few people to coordinate how we’re going to make the entire situation as clear and transparent as we can to you, Automatic Earth readers, who’ve already donated over another $8000 (!) -it’s truly stunning- since December 22 (on top of the first AE for Athens fund I started in spring 2015, for which $12,000 came in and which has $7000 left in it).

Allow me to repeat: I never had the slightest idea, I thought I’d get a few hundred bucks when I first brought this up, in spring 2015, even before I met Kostas, and that’d be it. It’s more humbling than I can put into words to have you trust me with so much. There’s not an inch of me that isn’t constantly aware of that.

Those kind of amounts take it from being something nice, to being a serious responsibility, in my view. And Kostas agrees completely. So this Wednesday we’re going to have a big gathering with lots of the people who work for ‘The Social Kitchen’, in the various locations the organization operates in, have a big get-together, take lots of pictures, hopefully have a party -which all the volunteers truly deserve-, and exchange more detailed information.

Moreover, we’re going to -try to- spell out exactly -up to a point- what your money is being spent on. And, of course, talk about what we can do to increase the funding, and -especially- how to make it more structural -once every week, month or year-. I realize full well that there is a limit to what the Automatic Earth and its readers can do, but I guess we’re simply going to keep pushing with what we have, and see where it ends.

I don’t know enough about crowdfunding and crowdsourcing and the like to get that up and going with enough confidence in either the outcome or the process itself -but I’m very open to suggestions-, and I apparently don’t know enough about how to get the rest of the finance blogosphere going either. What a shame, there’s so much money on the one side, and so much need on the other. But that doesn’t mean I intend to stop pushing.

More on Kostas and O Allas Anthropos later this week. There are a few other things I would like to share with you. First, something I noticed last month in supermarkets here -the ones I see in the center are not all that big-, that flashed a big red sign and made me think of Eastern European stores I’ve seen.

Troika-imposed austerity and taxes have had a double whammy impact. People have much less to spend on basic needs, and what is still available has become expensive, even in western European terms. So what you get is a lot of empty shelves:

I’ve seen stores where I swear I saw half the employees being busy making those shelves look less empty by spreading what is still for sale, across the empty spaces. At least these people still have a job, though I must wonder what they pay.

Those are pictures I took in December, of something I don’t remember seeing in June/July on my first trip here. I was in a large Carrefour -major French chain- supermarket where I didn’t take pictures, and it was even more evident there. Empty shelves. Near to the center of a large city in the western world.

Then, there’s another organization that I need to tell you about, since I donated $1000 of your money to it, from the AE fund for Athens that I started with last spring.

I was introduced by a friend to Myrto Lemos, a woman who started doing field work in New York City in the late 1970s (she must be in her 70s now). Upon her return to Athens in the 1980s, she began working with -‘socially excluded’- street children in central Athens’ poorest areas, specifically those from Greek muslim and Roma backgrounds. In 1997, she established the Support Center for Children and Families for them. It is run -as so many things are in Greece these days- entirely by volunteers.

Here’s Myrto with Kostas, I didn’t know they knew each other, and neither did the people who introduced me to her, but turned out they did:

The children Myrto has devoted her whole life to -I have so much admiration for people with that dedication- would typically sell flowers, balloons and trinkets on the street all day every day (for generations, basically), there was never a culture of going to school or anything like that. Myrto decided it was time to change that.

And she did. The best example, I found, was a young girl who now works as a social worker at the Support Center, but who had never even been to school before the age of 12, who couldn’t read or write, nothing. And now there she is on the left answering the phone, a fully educated social worker (imagine how proud Myrto is):

The Center provides food (a big thing) and education for the children, makes sure they go to school, and gives -badly needed- social and legal help to their families (where no-one can read or write). I’ve got to say, to me, this was an entirely unexpected corner of society, and the needs existing within it.

But Athens, and Greece in general, have of course been on a crossroads of cultures and societies for thousands of years, so it should be no surprise to find parts of them anchored -left behind?!- inside the city, albeit largely forgotten.

Greece is known as one of the best educated countries on the planet – though that can’t possible have improved over the past 5-10 austerity years-, and then you still find entire cultures that never went to school. Ironically, it’s the austerity policies that force more of these kids back out into the streets peddling their trinkets and not attending school, just so their families can eat. A major issue and worry for Myrto, who wants them at school.

Here’s the pretty much nondescript building the Center is housed in at the corner of Aristonos 6-8 & Pierias, Kolonos:

Plus, the lovely grand map of the world that covers an entire wall in one of the homework rooms, with divers and dolphins and kangaroos and elephants and turtles and whales and hidden treasures, what a great way to learn about the world you live in, when no-one ever told you:

And the inevitable lovely adorable far too cute and far too smart little girl doing her homework, who, lest we forget, if not for Myrto would probably have been peddling balloons on the streets -or worse- without ever having learned to read or write, for the rest of her life. Now, she has a shot at being a person, a woman in her own right.

It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to meet these people, and be able to do something very useful for them, thanks to you, Automatic Earth readers.

I see so much passing by each and every day in the financial press about allegedly successful people, and what makes them successful, and it’s always about the amount of money they make or have made.

But for me, success is defined by what a person does for others, it’s about helping people, not helping yourself. And I, through a twist of fate I had never planned or even imagined, get to meet these people here in a pretty much derelict society, where not much runs any longer as it once did, and where worse is on the horizon.

And that’s where you get to see who people really are, where you find people who say: ‘it’s not about me’. In the world of finance, it’s always only about ‘me’, and about money, and the seemingly unbreakable umbilical cord between the two.

Do you think the markets are going to rise? Here’s how to make money. Do you think they will fall? Here’s how to make money off of that. It’s all only about me and my money, but it’s a life that’s barely even breathing, and barely moving at that, a bunch of automatons thinking they prove their smarts if they pick the ‘right’ swing of a one-dimensional pendulum.

If that’s all people are about, and what you and I are about, why bother? Just so maybe one day we can sit our asses down at a pool in the Caribbean and say ‘we got it made’, while millions of others elsewhere in the world grovel in the dirt and wind up burying the children they love, in that same dirt?

It’s the quintessential difference between what you have and what you are. And about who has sufficient faith in what they are, and doesn’t feel the need to hide behind what they have. Who doesn’t think that if the whip comes down and the whole debt circus tent gets blown away in a wicked storm, they’ll still be fine if only they bought enough gold or bitcoin or whatever in advance.

But that’s a hard nut to crack in today’s world. So we’ll instead let it seep in drop by drop. Same difference. Though that’ll still be denied too.

If in the meantime, sorry but my cold won’t let me do much of anything right now, you want to contribute to the Social Kitchen project, the way to do it is still through the Automatic Earth‘s Paypal widget, top left hand corner of every page. Amounts ending in $0.99 or $0.37 go towards the Social Kitchen, others towards supporting the Automatic Earth (which is also highly needed, and without which we couldn’t do the whole thing, regardless.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find myself a hole to reside in until my cold is over. And I’ll be back with more on this later in the week.

Dec 252015
 
 December 25, 2015  Posted by at 5:50 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Elena Angelopoulos Refugee mother feeds child at ‘The Other Human’ social kitchen on Lesbos 2015

No, I’m not planning to let this rest. And I’m not planning to write the whole article again either. Our readers have once again been crazy generous (thank you so much!), but in the spirit of Christmas I ask more of you to do more.

We can be a veritable force for good, and that’s not something we get a lot of shots at, not together. And that’s what this is all about, it’s about community. ‘Together’ is the key word that drives Kostas in all he does. ‘We eat together’.

This is a call-out to the entire -financial- blogosphere to help the Automatic Earth help the poorest Greeks, and the refugees in Greece.

Please repost, rewrite, retweet, donate. Let’s grab our humanity by the horns and not allow this situation to deteriorate even further than it already has. It doesn’t have to.

This -late- spring I went to Athens. Because it seemed a place where things were happening, with Syriza, with Varoufakis in place. It turned out that during my stay, things did happen politically and economically, but not for the good. The EU and IMF crushed the Greek spirit. It was exciting, but then it was not.

Before I left for Greece, I asked our Automatic Earth readers if they would like to add something to the -financial- help I wanted to bring with me; at that time it was already clear that austerity was hitting the Greeks very hard (it’s gotten much worse since). I thought I’d get perhaps a few hundred dollars for the ‘AE for Athens’ fund. As of today, the counter stands at almost $12,000, a humbling number. Now it has become a responsibility.

Because I want to be careful with other people’s money, I’ve donated ‘only’ €5000 so far. And that includes a recent -second- trip I just got back from on Sunday (and no, I don’t pay for the trips from the money donated for Athens). €2000 of this money, I donated to a man I was fortunate to meet and become friends with, Kostas, full name Konstantinos Polychronopoulos. I first wrote about him here: The Man Who Cooks In The Street.

Kostas started -literally- cooking in the street some 4 years ago, something that soon became Social Kitchen ‘O Allos Anthropos’ (the other person, human, human being, the fellow man). As he describes quite eloquently in this little video, Kostas has very lucid ideas about what he aims for. He wants to not just give food to the hungry and homeless of Greece, whose numbers have started to swell rapidly since his effort took off, but also sympathy, and dignity, and simply conversation. ‘We eat together’ is not an empty slogan.

Because of his ideas of how he wants things to be, Kostas refuses to be beholden to governments, NGOs or corporations. Kostas insists he wants his project to be by people, for people, coming from one human being’s empathy for the other. Food for the soul is essential too.

We had an meeting on Saturday night with a group of people he’s gathered around him (there are dozens of volunteers by now, many -formerly- homeless). I donated another €1000 from our fund, but I was primarily interested in how he had been doing since we last met in July. Turns out, ‘The Other Human’ has grown at least 5-fold.


Kostas Tzioumakas Konstantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

Because of media attention (I was not the only one who contacted him), Kostas gained some fame this year. And ‘offers’. The European Union awarded him a prize, which he -naturally- refused to accept. Coca Cola offered him a six-figure number to put their advertizing all over his operation, but that for him is his soul vs the devil. He also doesn’t want to become an NGO and spend half his time doing paperwork. It must be about people.

Existing NGOs are a story all by themselves in the Greek situation. I have no personal experience with what they do in the country, but I keep on hearing bad stories. Kostas’ people showed me a photo of bowls of food that they say refugees refuse to eat (and dogs too…), but that NGOs want to force on refugees because they get €7 per bowl handed out, from whoever it is that pays them. To compare: Kostas and his crew feed people for €1, max.

A good example of how the ‘locals’ look at the UNHCR, the Red Cross and other NGOs is this video by a native Brit who lives on Lesbos, Eric Kempson: Major Aid Agencies Are Deceiving The General Public on Refugees. Warning: there’s a few select F-words sprinkled in. Eric does angry well.

I was saying before how ‘The Other Human’ had grown at least 5-fold. That is a bit of an understatement. There are 5 now different ‘kitchen teams’ running (vs 1-2 before), and they hand out over 3000 meals a day today instead of the 300 earlier in the year. There simply is that much need. The Greeks themselves are getting poorer, fast, and refugees have become a major ‘target’ group as well.

Kostas began running operations on Lesbos over the summer, and has a team in place there now as well as on Salimani island and 3 different locations in the Athens area. And there’s no doubt he would like to do more.

Before, costs would be covered by food donations and sympathizers giving €5 or €10 a month from what little they have. Between pensions cuts, pay cuts and capital controls, the number of Greeks who have next to nothing rises fast. It’s no exception for former supporters to now come to rely on Kostas for their own food.

Nor is it exceptional for grandmothers to still insist on giving $5 from the €400 that’s all that’s left of their pension. Greeks do solidarity well.

But the numbers are getting out of hand, so many people need help, and it promises to get much worse in 2016, looking at the new austerity measures the troika is forcing upon the country, and the expected numbers of refugees arriving. The donations that used to run ‘The Other Human’ are simply not enough to cover operations any longer, let alone expand them where most needed.


And while the €1000 I donated earlier this year went a -relatively- long way, the second €1000, though at least as much appreciated, won’t go nearly as far. When I was told ‘The Other Human’ have been forced to cancel some cooking events now -for the cold and hungry homeless, for crying out loud, who are increasingly people that used to have jobs and homes and all until recently-, simply because they can’t afford to feed the poor, that actually hurt, and stung. That felt personal.

What we have here is a man who’s devoted his entire life to helping other people, no holds barred. And he’s by no means alone in that. The ‘social kitchens’ run 7 days a week. And if there’s anything I can do to make it possible for Kostas, and his crews, to keep on doing this, the way he sees fit, and they do, I will. I may fail, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

There is the food that needs to be provided, there are transport costs, they need to pay the rent for the building where donated food and blankets etc. come in, and that doubles as a school for homeless kids, as well as a laundry and shower facility for the -longtime and newly- homeless (the troika just forced through a new provision to make it easier for banks to throw people out of their homes in 2016).

Since this has grown beyond the scope of the Automatic Earth alone, I want to appeal to all of you, my friends and ‘competitors’ in the -finance and broader- blogosphere, for your help in what I think is about the worthiest cause there is. People are dying out there, and hurting, not just the babies that drown before they reach Greek shores, but also the ones that make it.

Medical care is crucial, so is schooling, and of course food, and shelter. With Kostas and his large team of volunteers, we have the people in place to provide all of this. What’s missing is the money. Not for them, they ask for nothing for themselves, but for the people they try to help.

There are hundreds of thousands of you who read the Automatic Earth, and our friends at Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, Aaron Krowne, Steve Keen, John Rubino, Mish, Jim Kunstler, Max Keiser, BI, Wolf Richter, Jesse’s Café, Davis Stockman, Bruno at Stealthflation, the Transition people, my dear friend Dave Holmgren, and those are just the ones that come to mind in the first few seconds, and that I’ve had personal contact with, and even then I’m still forgetting many (sorry!).

Between us, we should be able to help Kostas do what he thinks must be done. If only simply by drawing our readers’ and friends’ and families’ attention to this. If everyone donates just $5, we can feed and clothe all kids and their moms and donate some humanity for Christmas to those who need it badly. And perhaps for next Christmas too. It’s about the power of numbers, which y’all know about.

What Kostas and I discussed on Saturday is to run this -if there are any donations to begin with, that is- through the Automatic Earth for now, so he doesn’t get bothered up the wazoo by his government. We may have to change that at some point, but we’ll tackle that one when we get there. For now, this is about saving people’s lives and dignity, today.

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’. And no, I don’t cheat either on my friends or the poor -nor anyone else-, you’re going to have to trust me on that one.

If someone would like to start a crowdfunding campaign for the cause, please contact me at: contact •at• TheAutomaticEarth •dot• com.

Jesus was a refugee. Who got help. Tiny Tim got it too. I think I’ll rest my case.


Elena Angelopoulos Kostas comforts on Lesbos 2015