May 252019


What Assange Charges Could Mean For Press Freedom (Jonathan Turley)
A Threat to the Press and the American People (IC)
Professional #Assange Smearers Finally Realize His Fate Is Tied To Theirs (CJ)
The Belligerence of Empire (Orphan)
Australian Government Urged To Intervene In Assange Case (G.)
Trump Wants Investigation Into Australia’s Role In ‘Russian Hoax’ (G.)
The Golem Strikes Back (Kunstler)
Political Media Is a Hucksters’ Paradise (Taibbi)
Trump Declares Emergency To Expedite Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia And UAE (CNN)
For The First Time Ever, China Takes Over An Insolvent Bank (ZH)
EU Fraud Watchdog Considering Nigel Farage Investigation (G.)
We’ve Created A Civilisation Hell Bent On Destroying Itself (C.)



Hundreds of assessments of what the Assange charges mean. Turley’s not a bad place to start.

What Assange Charges Could Mean For Press Freedom (Jonathan Turley)

For over a decade, there has been a raging debate over precisely what Julian Assange is – whistleblower, journalist, or spy. Now that question will have to be answered after the United States hit him with 17 new counts under the Espionage Act for receiving and publishing information from Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. The Trump administration has now crossed the line that many counselled it to avoid – and may have triggered the most important press freedom case in the US in 300 years. While the status of Assange has long been hotly debated, his actions in publishing classified information on Wikileaks is a common component of journalism. Indeed, the most celebrated cases in history – such as the failed attempts to stop the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 – were based on the publications of classified evidence.

Assange’s supporters note that his publications revealed alleged war crimes in places like Afghanistan and Iraq that were unlikely to have been exposed otherwise. If it was a crime for Assange to receive and publish such information, much of the journalism in the US would become a de facto criminal enterprise. In April, the government avoided this threshold question by charging Assange with a single count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. The charge related to helping Manning obtain access to defence department computers in 2010. In doing so, the justice department stayed clear of charging him as a publisher as opposed to an intruder. That is until Thursday.

The charges were brought under the controversial Espionage Act of 1917. Passed after World War One, it was used to target anti-war activists and political dissidents. The law has long been denounced as unconstitutional in its criminalising of receiving and publishing classified information. It is no surprise that the justice department had to use this much-ridiculed law to achieve this ignoble goal. Counts nine through 17 against Assange concern the publications of “national defence information.” The justice department takes pains to try to argue that Assange is not a journalist and that the publication counts concern the disclosure of not just classified information but the actual names of intelligence sources. That however may establish that Assange is a poor journalist, but a journalist all the same.

Read more …

Everybody does what WikiLeaks does. Just not as successful.

A Threat to the Press and the American People (IC)

The indictment says that Assange and WikiLeaks “repeatedly sought, obtained, and disseminated information that the United States classified due to the serious risk that unauthorized disclosure could harm the national security of the United States.” That is almost a textbook definition of the job of a reporter covering national security at a major news organization. Take a look at the tips pages of most news outlets, and you’ll see a remarkable similarity between what journalists ask for and what WikiLeaks sought. The indictment goes on to say that “WikiLeaks’s website explicitly solicited censored, otherwise restricted, and until September 2010, ‘classified’ materials.”

Today, virtually every major news organization has a similar secure drop box where sources can provide information anonymously. WikiLeaks popularized that technique for soliciting anonymous leaks, but it is now common journalistic practice. “Assange personally and publicly promoted WikiLeaks to encourage those with access to protected information, including classified information, to provide it to WikiLeaks for public disclosure,” the indictment says. Nearly every national security reporter goes on television, gives speeches, or launches book tours to promote their work and hopefully obtain new sources. All of this raises an obvious question: If the government can charge Assange for conspiring to obtain leaked documents, what would stop it from charging the CIA beat reporter at the New York Times for committing the same crime?

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Rachel Maddow is a giant blemish on our world.

Professional #Assange Smearers Finally Realize His Fate Is Tied To Theirs (CJ)

“And, you know, I know you,” Maddow continued, pointing to the camera. “Given everything else that we know about the WikiLeaks guy, I can feel through the television right now your mixed feelings about what I am saying. I can feel what may be, perhaps, a certain lack of concern about Julian Assange’s ultimate fate, given his own gleeful and extensive personal role in trying to help a hostile foreign government interfere in our election in order to install their chosen president with WikiLeaks’ help. Okay? I know. Okay, I feel ya. I got it. But, it is a recurring theme in history, heck, it is a recurring theme in the Bible, that they always pick the least sympathetic figures to try this stuff on first.

Despite anyone’s feelings about this spectacularly unsympathetic character at the center of this international drama, you are going to see every journalistic institution in this country, every First Amendment supporter in this country, left, right and center, swallow their feelings about this particular human and denounce what the Trump administration is trying to do here. Because it would fundamentally change the United States of America.” Wow. Make no mistake, this is a hugely significant development. This isn’t just some columnist for the New York Times or the Guardian, this is Rachel effing Maddow, the Queen Mother of all tinfoil pussyhat-wearing Russiagate insanity.

This same pundit was just a couple of months ago not just smearing but outright lying about Assange, deceitfully telling her audience that the new legal rings closing around Assange were about his 2016 publications then instructing viewers not to Google anything about it because they’ll get computer viruses. Now that she’s recognized that this could actually hurt her and her network directly, she’s finally feeding her audience a different narrative out of sheer enlightened self-interest.

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Violence is the sole language of empire.

The Belligerence of Empire (Orphan)

Violence is the sole language of empire. It is this only currency it uses to enforce its precepts and edicts, both at home and abroad. Eventually this language becomes internalized within the psyche of the subjects. Social and cultural conditioning maintained through constant subtle messaging via mass media begins to mold the public will toward that of authoritarian conformity. The American Empire is emblematic of this process. There is mass compliance to the dictates of the ruling class and this occurs most often without any prompting or debate whatsoever. In this dictatorship of money the poor are looked at with ridicule and contempt, and are often punished legally for their imposed poverty.

But the social conditioning of the American public has led toward a bizarre allegiance to its ruling class oppressors. Propaganda still works here and most are still besotted with the notion of America being a bastion of “freedom and democracy.” The growing gap between the ultra-wealthy and the poor and the gutting of civil liberties are ignored. And blind devotion is especially so when it comes to US foreign policy. Most Americans still believe they live in the greatest country on the planet. They believe the American military to be noble and that they always reluctantly go into or are forced into war. Indeed, both the Democrats and Republicans possess an uncanny ability to bridge their ideological distances when it comes to defending US militarism, the Pentagon and the war machine of imperialism.

But this is tied to the defense of capitalism, the ruling class, and the ultimate reason for war: the protection of that class’s global capital investments. The persecution of Chelsea Manning, much like the case of Julian Assange, is demonstrative of this. It is a crusade against truth tellers that has been applauded from both sides of the American establishment, liberal and conservative alike. It does not matter that she helped to expose American war crimes. On the contrary, this is seen as heresy to the Empire itself. Manning’s crime was exposing the underbelly of the beast. A war machine which targeted and killed civilians and journalists by soldiers behind a glowing screen thousands of miles away, as if they were playing a video game.

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They would have already if they wanted.

Australian Government Urged To Intervene In Assange Case (G.)

The Australian film-maker who spent 15-months in a Cambodian jail on spying charges says he fears Julian Assange is being used as an “example” to other journalists as part of what he described as “a fundamental attack on the fourth estate”. James Ricketson spent more than a year inside the overcrowded Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh on spying charges before his release last September after a public outcry and lobbying by the Australian government. On Friday he told Guardian Australia he hoped the Morrison government would make “a forthright public statement” in support of Assange and the principle of press freedom.

“I would like to think the Australian government is woking in the background to forge some kind of resolution that is fair and equitable in the Julian Assange case,” he said. “Although it was not clear to me at the time, it’s now clear that from at least January last year there were fairly high-level representations being made to the Cambodian government on my behalf. “The government had its own reasons for why it needed to keep that secret [but] it would certainly be nice if it were to make a public statement to the effect that we’re concerned about the fate of Julian Assange and the impact of this extradition attempt on investigative journalism in Australia and worldwide.”

Read more …

Talking about Australia…

Trump Wants Investigation Into Australia’s Role In ‘Russian Hoax’ (G.)

Donald Trump has said he wants Australia’s role in setting off the FBI inquiry into links between Russia and his election campaign examined by the US attorney general, William Barr. It is a potentially explosive development for the historically solid US-Australian alliance and the first time Trump has publicly named Australia while discussing what he calls the “Russia hoax” and “witch hunt”. A spokesman for Marise Payne, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, responded to the comments on Saturday by saying: “Australia and the United States are the closest of allies.” “The government has not commented on these matters and doing so could prejudice any ongoing investigation,” he said.

Trump said he had declassified “potentially millions of pages” of intelligence documents related to surveillance activities on his campaign and Barr would be in charge of analysing it. “So what I’ve done is I’ve declassified everything,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday before leaving on a trip to Japan. “He can look and I hope he looks at the UK and I hope he looks at Australia and I hope he looks at Ukraine. “I hope he looks at everything, because there was a hoax that was perpetrated on our country.” Trump’s former campaign aide George Papadopoulos has claimed that Australia’s former high commissioner to the UK, Alexander Downer, spied on him during a meeting at a London bar in May 2016.

Downer has rejected this, but said that during the meeting Papadopoulos had told him Russia had damaging material on Trump’s presidential rival, Hillary Clinton. In an interview with the ABC’s Matt Bevan, Downer said Papadopoulos told him during the meeting he was confident Trump would win the election because the Russians had some information on Clinton which could be damaging to her if released. Downer then passed this information on to Canberra. Papadopoulos denies he ever mentioned Russia and Clinton during the meeting.

Read more …

“..the US Intel “community” trafficked in fictitious malarkey supplied by Mrs. Clinton..”

The Golem Strikes Back (Kunstler)

There’s perhaps a lot to dislike about Donald J. Trump, US President No. 45. Despite all the grooming and tailoring, there’s little savoir faire there. He tweets not like a mellifluous songbird, but in snorts like a rooting aardvark. His every predilection is an affront to the refined Washington establishment: his dark business history, his beloved ormolu trappings, his Mickey-D cheeseburgers, the mystifying hair-doo. Even so, the bad faith of his antagonists exceeds even Mr. Trump’s defects and vices. The plot they concocted to get rid of him failed. And, yes, it was a plot, even a coup. And they fucked it up magnificently, leaving a paper trail as wide as Interstate-95.

Now all that paper is about to fall over the District of Columbia like radioactive ash, turning many current and former denizens of rogue agencies into the walking dead as they embark on the dismal journey between the grand juries and the federal prisons. Hence, the desperate rage of the impeachment faction, in direct proportion to their secret shameful knowledge that the entire RussiaGate melodrama was, in fact, a seditious subterfuge between the Hillary Clinton campaign and a great many key figures in government up-to-and-including former president Barack Obama, who could not have failed to be clued-in on all the action. Even before the declassification order, the true narrative of events has been plainly understood: that the US Intel “community” trafficked in fictitious malarkey supplied by Mrs. Clinton to illegally “meddle” in the 2016 election.

[..] The evidence already public indicates that Robert Mueller must have known as early as the date of his appointment (and likely before) that the predicating evidence for his inquiry was false. After all, his lead prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, was informed of that in no uncertain terms by Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr in 2016. Justice may seek to know why Mr. Mueller did not inform the target of his inquiry that this was so. The answer to that may be that Mr. Mueller’s true mission was to disable Mr. Trump as long as possible while setting an obstruction of justice trap — which also failed tactically.

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“..Democratic organizers realized they’d come within a hair’s breadth of printing bumper stickers and posters for an unraveling one-man Enron.”

Political Media Is a Hucksters’ Paradise (Taibbi)

Avenatti became an instant celebrity after he filed a lawsuit seeking to void the non-disclosure agreement between Trump and Daniels, in which she received a $130,000 payoff to be quiet about what she would later call “the least impressive sex I ever had.” In that, Avenatti had something cable television wanted more than anyone ever wanted anything: details about the president’s “smaller than average” tackle and Daniels’ tale of “getting fucked by a guy with Yeti pubes and a dick like the mushroom character in Mario Kart.” Avenatti leveraged being the gatekeeper of this story into daily TV appearances, where he quickly became a political figure in his own right, someone who would play the Democrats’ bare-knuckle answer to Trump.

By last summer in Iowa, he was already giving speeches as a presidential hopeful. CNN gushed: “Cribbing but amending Obama, Avenatti added, “When they go low, I say, we hit harder…” Whether by calling Michael Cohen a “thug,” or demanding an “immediate indictment” over the hush money issue, Avenatti could be counted on to take the maximally aggressive posture. Media figures couldn’t praise him enough. He was great, emotionally satisfying TV! Our own version of Trump! Ana Navarro compared him to the “Holy Spirit” on The View, while Joy Behar said “being a lawyer is minimal compared to what he’s doing.” MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle said, ”The Democrats could learn something from you.”

Brian Stelter, who later excused his admiration on the grounds Avenatti showed “Trump-like mastery” of media, said Avenatti should be taken “seriously as a contender.” In another forum he was called the “savior of the Republic.” Avenatti wasn’t the savior of anything. He turned out to be an epic buffoon and massive net minus for Democrat causes. His performance in the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation last fall – where the Maya Angelo-quoting self-described feminist ended up having his own witness tell NBC he’d “twisted” her words – was just one faceplant. He was soon after arrested for domestic violence. This helped lead to cancellation of campaign events, as Democratic organizers realized they’d come within a hair’s breadth of printing bumper stickers and posters for an unraveling one-man Enron.

Read more …


Trump Declares Emergency To Expedite Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia And UAE (CNN)

The Trump administration has declared an emergency to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — citing the need to deter what it called “the malign influence” of Iran throughout the Middle East. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally told lawmakers Friday of the administration’s plans. “These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said in a statement that put the value of the sales at $8.1 billion.

In a Friday letter to congressional lawmakers, Pompeo said that he “determined that an emergency exists, which requires the immediate sale of the defense articles and defense services” to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan “in order to deter further the malign influence of the Government of Iran throughout the Middle East region,” according to a copy obtained by CNN. The notification comes on the same day as President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is sending an additional 1,500 US troops to the Middle East to counter Iran. Pompeo noted in his statement that “today’s action will quickly augment our partners’ capacity to provide for their own self-defense and reinforce recent changes to US posture in the region to deter Iran.”

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First time they announce it anyway.

For The First Time Ever, China Takes Over An Insolvent Bank (ZH)

There was a time when in the years following the financial crisis, every Friday the FDIC would report of one or more small and not small banks failing, as their liabilities exceeded their assets, who were taken over by larger peers with a taxpayer subsidy to cover the capital shortfall. And while this weekly event, also known as “FDIC Failure Friday” has faded from the US, for now, it has made a grand appearance in China. China’s financial regulators said on Friday the country’s banking and insurance regulator and the central bank, will take control of the small, troubled inner Mongolia-based Baoshang Bank due to the serious credit risks it poses.

The regulator’s control of Baoshang will last for a year starting on Friday, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) said on their websites. China Construction Bank (CCB) will be entrusted to handle the business operations of the small lender, based in the industrial city of Baotou, the statement said. Such a takeover by national authorities is extremely rare, and takes place amid gathering concerns among regulators and financial analysts about a renewed surge in bad debts…

… a record pace of corporate defaults, amounting to 39.2 billion yuan of domestic bond defaults in the first four months of the year, 3.4 times the total for the same period of 2018…

Moody’s analyst Yulia Wan told the WSJ that regulators likely decided to take over Baoshang to limit any fallout to businesses in Inner Mongolia. “The move is to reduce the risk of a shock to the local economy,” said said, adding that the Baoshang takeover appeared to be the first time that national authorities seized control of a bank since Chinese lenders started listing on stock markets in the 1990s. In the past when banks came under pressure, local authorities would pull together funds from local state-owned firms and investors, or have another bank stage a takeover.

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He’ll claim it’s a witch hunt.

EU Fraud Watchdog Considering Nigel Farage Investigation (G.)

The European Union’s anti-fraud watchdog is considering whether Nigel Farage should be investigated for any illegal activity over lavish payment from Arron Banks, the Guardian has learned. The agency, which goes by its French acronym, Olaf, revealed it was carrying out an assessment, which could lead to a formal investigation. This “initial assessment … does not mean that the individuals in question are guilty of any wrongdoing”, it said. While not a full-blown inquiry, it is a rare and significant step for Olaf to consider investigating a member of the European parliament. The European parliament this week opened an investigation into revelations made by Channel 4 that the insurance tycoon Arron Banks funded a lavish lifestyle for Farage in the year of the Brexit referendum.

In 2016, Farage received expenses of about £450,000, including rent on a Chelsea home, furniture, security and promotional trips to the US, where he attended the Republican national convention. Nothing was declared, an apparent violation of the European parliament’s code of conduct, which states that MEPs must report expensive gifts and attendance at events bankrolled by third parties. “We are aware of the press reports and public statements on the matter you are referring to,” a spokesperson for Olaf said, in response to questions from the Guardian. “It is only after such an initial assessment, which is currently ongoing, that Olaf decides whether or not to open an investigation.” The agency usually takes two months to carry out an assessment, which will examine whether the case falls under its remit and if there is “sufficient suspicion of fraud, corruption or any illegal activity affecting the EU’s financial interests”.

Read more …

Death cult.

We’ve Created A Civilisation Hell Bent On Destroying Itself (C.)

The coffee tasted bad. Acrid and with a sweet, sickly smell. The sort of coffee that results from overfilling the filter machine and then leaving the brew to stew on the hot plate for several hours. The sort of coffee I would drink continually during the day to keep whatever gears left in my head turning. Odours are powerfully connected to memories. And so it’s the smell of that bad coffee which has become entwined with the memory of my sudden realisation that we are facing utter ruin. It was the spring of 2011, and I had managed to corner a very senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) during a coffee break at a workshop. The IPCC was established in 1988 as a response to increasing concern that the observed changes in the Earth’s climate are being largely caused by humans.

The IPCC reviews the vast amounts of science being generated around climate change and produces assessment reports every four years. Given the impact the IPPC’s findings can have on policy and industry, great care is made to carefully present and communicate its scientific findings. So I wasn’t expecting much when I straight out asked him how much warming he thought we were going to achieve before we manage to make the required cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. “Oh, I think we’re heading towards 3°C at least,” he said. “Ah, yes, but heading towards,” I countered: “We won’t get to 3°C, will we?” (Because whatever you think of the 2°C threshold that separates “safe” from “dangerous” climate change, 3°C is well beyond what much of the world could bear.)

“Not so,” he replied. That wasn’t his hedge, but his best assessment of where, after all the political, economic, and social wrangling we will end up. “But what about the many millions of people directly threatened,” I went on. “Those living in low-lying nations, the farmers affected by abrupt changes in weather, kids exposed to new diseases?” He gave a sigh, paused for a few seconds, and a sad, resigned smile crept over his face. He then simply said: “They will die.”

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Jun 062016

Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander Image from ‘A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity’ 2016

On July 27 2015, I posted a 2-hour interview with Nicole Foss that was recorded when we were in Melbourne in April that year. The interview -though not the full two hours of course- was always meant to be part of a documentary by our friends Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander. The documentary is now out.

Below, you can find the trailer, the full documentary, as well as a re-run of the full interview with Nicole. I haven’t had time to watch the documentary, just got the mail from Sam, but I will later today. No doubt, it’ll be worth your while and mine. I remember complimenting them on the sound- and picture quality of the interview last year. Plus, get the likes of our dear friend Dave Holmgren together with Nicole and Ted Trainer, amongst others, and you can’t very well go wrong, can you?

(NOTE: Saw some rushes, and it may contain a tad much hippieness and/or reality-TV semblance for some)

The trailer:

With the text published with it:

The overlapping economic, environmental, and cultural crises of our times can seem overwhelming, can seem like challenges so great and urgent that they have no solutions. But rather than sticking our heads in the sand or falling into despair, we should respond with defiant positivity and try to turn the crises we face into opportunities for civilisational renewal.

During the year of 2015 a small community formed on an emerging ecovillage in Gippsland, Australia, and challenged themselves to explore a radically ‘simpler way’ of life based on material sufficiency, frugality, permaculture, alternative technology and local economy. This documentary by Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander tells the story of this community’s living experiment, in the hope of sparking a broader conversation about the challenges and opportunities of living in an age of limits.

The documentary also presents new and exclusive interviews with leading activists and educators in the world’s most promising social movements, including David Holmgren (permaculture), Helena Norberg-Hodge (localisation), Ted Trainer (the simpler way), Nicole Foss (energy and finance), Bill Metcalf (intentional communities) and Graham Turner (limits to growth).

The full documentary:

Then the text I included back then:

The fimmakers about their project:

The purpose of the documentary is to unflinchingly describe the overlapping crises of industrial civilisation and explain why a ‘simpler way’ of life, based on material sufficiency not limitless growth, signifies the only coherent response to those crises. The dominant mode of development today seeks to universalise high-consumption consumer lifestyles, but this is environmentally catastrophic and it has produced perverse inequalities of wealth. Even the privileged few who have attained material affluence rarely find it satisfying or fulfilling, because consumerism just leaves people feeling empty and alone. Consequently, our forthcoming documentary seeks to show why genuine progress today means rejecting consumerism, transcending growth economics, and building new forms of life based on permaculture, simple living, renewable energy, and localised economies.

But what does that mean? And how should we go about building a new world? Mainstream environmentalism calls on us to take shorter showers, recycle, buy ‘green’ products, and turn the lights off when we leave the room, but these measures are grossly inadequate. We need more fundamental change – personally, culturally, and structurally. Most of all, we need to reimagine the good life beyond consumer culture and begin building a world that supports a simpler way of life. This does not mean hardship or deprivation. It means focusing on what is sufficient to live well. The premise of our documentary is that a simple life can be a good life.

One of the main concerns driving this documentary, and the Wurruk’an project more generally, is the uncomfortable realisation that even the world’s most successful ecovillages have ecological footprints that are too high to be universalised. In other words, even after many decades of the modern environmental movement, we still don’t have many or any examples of what a flourishing ‘one planet’ existence might look. This is highly problematic because if people do not have some understanding of what sustainability requires of us or what it might look like, it will be hard to mobilise individuals and communities to build such a world. A Simpler Way represents an attempt to envision and demonstrate what ‘one planet’ living might look like and provoke a broader social conversation about the radical implications of living in an age of limits.

We hope that this documentary will challenge and inspire people to explore a simpler way of life and to begin building sufficiency-based economies that thrive within planetary limits. If you feel this is a worthwhile film for social change, please support our project by donating here [link coming soon] and sharing the link with your networks.

And finally, the Nicole interview I posted last year, of which significant parts are in the documentary.

Mar 022016
 March 2, 2016  Posted by at 8:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »

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

Nov 152015
 November 15, 2015  Posted by at 8:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »

Osama Hajjaj Madeleine Pleure 2015

9/11, 3/11, 7/7, 11/13 = New York, Madrid, London, Paris

Better to wait a day before writing, after a night like that. What does one write after such a night anyway? And why write anything at all if you can be dead sure to always antagonize some one on some side of some spectrum, ideological or not, no matter what you write, unless you tag some safe official line, and even then, or especially then?

Better to soak in what the official media have to say, or so one might think. After all, they got all the resources and the reporters and the analysts and -access to- the politicians, and most of all the attention of the people.

Unfortunately, all that firepower -pun intended- is used only to tag official lines. To provide air space to ‘leaders’ who profess their utmost grief and sadness and anger and solidarity over barbarous criminal “acts of war” that they swear will be avenged with all the power they have. It’s so predictable it’s like all of their spin doctors have been sent on a Caribbean holiday at the same time, and together.

Still, it also doesn’t seem very appropriate to address the economic issues we usually talk about, at least not at first glance. Respect for victims and families must come first, that is a given. Then again, it does seem appropriate, out of that very same respect, to get to the bottom of what’s behind these attacks that will at final count leave perhaps 200 people dead on what started as a nice and balmy autumn evening in the city of lights. And the politicians’ truisms and platitudes don’t exactly help.

But how does one go about that truth finding? French President Hollande declared eerily early in the ‘game’ he was sure ISIS is behind the tragedy, and ISIS statements seem to confirm that conclusion. But what is ISIS? And where does it come from?

It’s no longer really credible to entirely ignore the role of the west, including France, in the origins of the ‘movement’, if it can be called that. From Al Queda to ISIS, and scores of groups and factions in between and beyond, there is at least some kind of link to western military action in the middle East. And that link goes back quite a few years, if not decades.

So if we really want to pay the kind of respect to the victims that comes with trying to figure out what’s behind these attacks, it would seem that we can’t get it done without a critical look at our own roles in what led up to this. Not to say that we’re the only guilty party, or that the perpetrators are not cuckoos, but to say we’re not credible if we completely ignore our own roles and don’t look in a mirror.

Hence, the first reaction we probably might want to have is that it’s enough alright with the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Even if, or exactly because, that reaction is, obviously, 180º removed from what the initial reactions to the attacks are, whether they’re provoked by media coverage or not. And they are. It cannot be only ‘us’ vs ‘them’. No black, no white. To understand this world you need a lot more than that.

If we try to phrase it that way, and we’re only halfway decent and honest about it, there’s no escaping that in the final analysis we indeed are them. We’re not like them, we are them. ‘We’ have spread terror, death and mayhem across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions for a long time (to a large extent because that’s where the oil is, but that’s a story for a different day).

And then ‘we’ took it up a notch with the removal of the likes of Saddam and Gaddafi, leaving rudderless societies in their wake.

We can’t pretend to be honest and still ignore the fact that for many people in the Middle East a day like this Friday 13th is their everyday routine. And that that’s what makes them refugees. Many Parisians -or New Yorkers, for that matter- would do the same, get out of Dodge, if this were a common event in their city. Not only because of the danger and the fear, but also because there would be no functioning society or economy left, and hence no future.

No matter how you look at it, there’s no denying it’s kind of ironic that attacks on Beirut that were similar in many regards to the ones in Paris, even took place at the same time, and similar attacks on several other places, receive no media coverage at all in the west, while the Paris attacks dominate all western media.

That is not a coincidence. And it’s not either because most Americans would find it as easy to find Damascus or Beirut on a map as they would Paris. That is, they would not. But still Paris is on American TV about 48/7 (that’s the attention span limit), interrupted only by either a Kardashian body part -or two- or by the single The Donald’s body part that sticks in memory.

And that’s where we find our link to economics, because in geo-politics as in economics, we, all of us, think, talk and live exclusively in narratives. We have stories pre-fabricated for us, and these stories determine how we see the world, and our lives, and other people’s lives and dreams and wishes.

That is to say, whatever it is we want and dream of is per definition just and justified, and other people’s desires are not, as soon as they threaten to interfere with ours. As we read ad nauseam post-Paris in literally countless references to the ‘freedom’ that ‘we’ have and ‘they’ hate, and to ‘our way of life’ that is under threat -with nary a soul knowing what that way is.

We cannot forever fool ourselves and others into believing that we are the good guys and ‘the others’ are the bad guys. It’s tempting, and there’s a whole behemoth media apparatus to confirm it, but it doesn’t get us any closer to what happened, and why, and therefore no closer to paying our full and due respect to those who died in Paris on 11/13.

“They” don’t resent us for our freedom, “they” resent us for not allowing them to have their freedom, too. We need to recognize at some point that we owe our affluence to the misery of others, not to our superior intelligence or morals or religion or way of life. But there’s not a single voice among us which wants to make that recognition happen.

We are not a benevolent force, no matter what we tell ourselves or how many times we repeat it. We are a civilization of oppressors. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after. We seek to uphold our status and our wealth at the expense of others, of strangers, people who live conveniently far enough away in conveniently impoverished conditions.

We have been building our empire this way since well before Columbus, we’ve greatly expanded it over the past 500 years, and we’re now looking at the terminal phase of that empire. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after.

Interestingly enough, it’s our own technological prowess and ‘progress’ that leads us into that phase. The very moment we started exporting our oil drilling technologies, our smartphones, our databases and most of all our modern weaponry to what we still see as colonies, the very foundations of our civilization and our power started eroding.

But that’s getting too philosophical, and it would require too many words and lead us too far astray from Paris and the due diligence we owe those who lost their lives and those who mourn them.

Pope Francis said in a reaction to the Friday 13th attacks: “This is not human”. Unfortunately, 2000 years of Christianity say he’s dead wrong, wrong as he could be. This is very human. It’s as human as feeling an overbearing love for our children. It’s all human.

It’s very human, too, to go for the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Because it feels good, and you can be sure it makes those around you feel good too. Which is a big help in times of fear and insecurity and not having the answer, not having any other answers than the ubiquitous ones the media feed you.

But that still is not what the dead deserve. They deserve much more. They deserve that we try the best we can, not to settle for the first thing that comes to our reptilian minds. Not to make our entire lives come down to just fight or flight, but to attempt to find that area in between that is as close to truth finding as we know we can come.

To honor the dead, we need to look inside ourselves, and inside the societies we live in. And only when we’ve found, and eradicated, those things that make both us, and our communities, ‘guilty by association’ -for lack of a better term-, will we have paid proper respect to those who lost their lives.