Jul 112015
 July 11, 2015  Posted by at 4:51 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »

Kostas Tzioumakas Constantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

I made a new best friend this week. Constantinos Polychronopoulos, Kostas for short, is an inspirational man. And a dynamo and magnet all in one at the same time. He’s a source for hope and change and dignity for literally countless people around him in the city of Athens.

Kostas’ story goes a bit like this, as far as I have been able to gather (he speaks two words of English, but when I went to see him, my friend and photographer and interpreter Dimitri was with me, a good thing):

Kostas lost his job as a marketing specialist in a big firm in Athens early on when the financial crisis broke. Gradually, he had no choice but to move back in with his mother and was forced to share her ever more meagre pension. He must have been close to 45 at the time, he’s 50 now.

Then one day in 2011, as he tells it, he saw two kids fighting over some food they found in a dumpster (yes, that is Athens, even back then). The next day, he decided to go to a farmer’s market and ask the stall keepers for leftover food. Right then and there, he started to cook a meal with what they gave him, and to give it away to anyone who wanted to eat, to share.

His main motto still is: Free Food For All! He will not tolerate discrimination of any kind. And he always eats along with the people he feeds. We share!

Kostas now cooks ‘in the street’, and I mean that literally, every day. In the beginning, he was arrested multiple times on health related charges etc, but he successfully defended his case saying there was no law against cooking food in the street and giving it away.

Today, his statement reads:

The idea of Society Kitchen “The Other Human”

In an action of solidarity and a manifestation of love towards our fellow men, with the hope to awaken consciousness and for there to be other similar actions form other individuals and from groups.

These actions are not philanthropic or charity.

We cook “live”, we eat together and we live together.

A lunch with our fellow men on the street.

Join us to make each day more beautiful.

These days, he feeds over 300 people every day. Athens is the city of homeless people. And they’re not winos or people with mental issues, as we know from North American and European cities, though some of them inevitably are.

In Athens, they’re the people who not long ago had good jobs and good prospects, and often families to raise, and who now find themselves with nothing left. Many many people have moved (back) in with parents or family or friends, but not all have that choice. And even if they do, there is no future anywhere to be seen.

A big thing for Mr. Polychronopoulos (I love that say that name) is that he’s able to provide them with a goal in life, with something useful to do, so maybe one day they can go back into a normal functioning society, instead of only sinking ever deeper into a bottomless hole.

Today, these are the people that Kostas can count on to be his volunteers. He now has 3 crews cooking meals outside, in squares and streets, every day in various places in the city. There are a few spots where he’ll be every Tuesday, or every Thursday, but the rest are all different places all the time. Because the need is everywhere.

The food he cooks is all donated. By individuals, supermarkets, restaurants, wherever he can get it. A huge task all in itself. But he and his people get it done, 24/7. Kostas is not a big fan of soupkitchens, because since Athens never had a need for them, they have no cooking facilities and instead get catered to by professional enterprises who work for profit and in his eyes provide poor quality.

That’s not to say they’re not desperately needed, mind you, he simply feels there’s a better way to do it. To get the perspective, there are easily over 100,000 people in Athens alone who need to be fed every day. Half the population of Greece, some 6 million people, live on or below the edge of poverty.

I don’t know about you, but it feels to me like these people have already been told they don’t belong to Europe, no matter what proposals and negotiations are flying over the table. They are effectively living in the third word. Or perhaps even a fourth world.

Dimitri and I went to see Kostas on Wednesday in a sort of apartment building where his organization -that’s what it’s become by now-, named O Allos Anthropos, The Other Human, rents a space where homeless people can go for a meal, or to take a shower, or even, and I must admit I wouldn’t have thought of that, to let their children enjoy a real playroom:

There are clothes being donated -though I understand any and all donations become harder to come by even if ever more people want to donate, everyone simply has less and less-:

There’s a computer where everyone who walks in can go look for job applications -there are few, though it’s no exception to find people with university degrees here-, and of course there’s a kitchen:

Obviously, there’s the proverbial me and him -and furry cuteness- picture:

And the receipt:

As you may be able to decipher between all that Greek, I donated €500 to Kostas and his organization. I thought it good to be careful with your money (I always will), but now I think I should give him more. I can hardly think of anyone more deserving, or anyone who I’d trust more to make sure it’s used in the best possible way. And he insisted on seeing me again anyway before I go.

Which brings me to the next point. I have a ticket out of here on Thursday. So time is becoming an issue. I could get an extension, but I think I’d rather come back. Also because Nicole is in Europe now, and it would be nice to bring her along. Don’t worry, we cover our own travel costs, not a penny of the money you donated to the AE for Athens Fund goes to anyone or anything but the appropriate organizations in the city. Word. Cross my heart.

But there are other snags. For one, the euro may not be legal tender here much longer. I don’t think that’s a big risk, but it’s there. Also, ATMs may stop working altogether a few days from now (Monday?). And ironically, while apparently huge amounts of bank cards are being issued in the city, the organizations we donate to plead for cash euros. Because everything has become a cash economy. It’s hard to know what to do from one day to the next.

So I will have to see what is going to happen. I’m due to visit another clinic on Monday. I have the meeting with Kostas on Tuesday. Dimitri and I are looking hard for an organization that helps refugees, and that we like. Kostas wants to steer clear of all NGOs and government help, and that seems like a good idea. But it has to be possible. There are 1000s of refugess arriving in Greece every day, and €1000 is nothing in that respect.

As you may see, this occupies a lot of my time by now, But I also have to keep The Automatic Earth running. And see some daylight from time to time. Oh, and boy, this city is hot!

After my article on the clinic Wednesday, more money rolled in. You guys are truly something else. The total donations for the AE Fund for Athens have now gone over $8000 US!!! That’s still well over €7000. So I have some big decisions, and big responsibilities, by now. And I will live up to them as best I can. Look, the clinics will need money, and badly, at any given point in time, and for a long time to come. Kostas can and will only do good with anything we give him.

So it’s not that big a problem, but the idea of course is to spread the good around. I’m looking at organizations that take care of children. Very important too. I have a phone number for a lady who runs a private initiative for street kids. There’s so many of them… Will call her tomorrow.

Please keep donating, the need is immense, and may get even bigger as the negotiations over Greek budget cuts wrangle on. And even if the Troika decided to give the government another $100 billion, which I strongly doubt, next to nothing would go to where it’s needed most, it would all go to pay off debt, and your money would be much more efficient in helping where it counts.

I’ve been here for two weeks now, and I’ve found it takes time to find the proper ‘targets’ -and I refuse to waste any of your donations-. But we’re closing in on those targets, so by all means don’t stop now. I’ll always keep you posted on where every single dollar went. Your generosity has turned this into a mission for me.

By the way, a commenter at AE said this after my last AE Fund post, and I’m sorry if that still wasn‘t clear enough:

For those who crave more specific instructions: In the left column of this site, towards the top of the page, there is a section for making donations. If you would like to donate to the Greek cause use this section…BUT MAKE SURE YOUR DONATION AMOUNT ENDS WITH .99. Donations ending with any other decimal values will go to the AE site itself.

Most people already got that, as I can see from what comes in, but it may be good to repeat it once more.

And to quote myself from a while ago: Let’s leave the political ramifications alone for the moment, I deal with that on an almost daily basis here at the Automatic Earth already. Let’s for a moment focus on the more immediate. Let’s see what we can do here and now.

Please support the AE for Athens fund. You can donate through our Paypal widget at the top of the left sidebar. Make sure if you want to donate to Greece, to end the amount with $.99 (TAE itself needs funding too).

You can also donate bitcoin at this address: 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.

Thank you from a city under siege.

You wouldn’t know that, by the way, from the number of tourists, but ironic as it may be, they’re probably the only thing that keeps this city, and the country, barely alive. Double irony: I can take as much out of an ATM as I like, though not all at once, (which allows me to make cash donations..), while my Greek friends are limited to €60 a day.

So the tourists empty the ATMs, bringing the moment that much closer that the Greeks themselves can’t get any anymore. There even seems to be an app now where people can check which ATMs still have cash in them, and which don’t.

Let’s try and help them through these crazy times as best we can. And we can.

Jun 192015
 June 19, 2015  Posted by at 8:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »

Marion Post Wolcott Main Street. Sheridan, Wyoming 1941

Just about exactly three days ago, I wrote an article telling you that I will be going to Athens next week: The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens. I also announced in that article that I was setting up an Automatic Earth fund, the proceeds of which I will donate to needy Greek foodbanks and clinics. The reactions to that fund drive have been amazing in more ways than one. But first, here’s some of what what I wrote June 16:

I don’t think I can go to Athens and not try to see if there’s something I can do to alleviate some of the misery in my own small way. But since that way would be extremely small given where the Automatic Earth’s financial situation and funding stand at the moment, I thought of something.

I’m hereby setting up an “Automatic Earth for Athens” fund (big word), and I’m asking you, our readership, to donate to that fund. I will make sure the revenues will go to clinics and food banks, to the worthiest causes I can find. To not mix up donations for Athens with those for the Automatic Earth, which are also badly needed, I suggest I take any donation that ends with 99 cents, as in $25.99, and single those out for Greece. Does that sound reasonable? Let me know if it doesn’t, please.

I’m not expecting a flood of cash, but I hope that you, like me, think that in a civilized country people shouldn’t have to bring their own bedsheets to a hospital, or that these hospitals should be forced to work their doctors into burnouts, or simply lack basic treatments, medicines, etc.

Or for that matter that children should go hungry.

As I said, the reactions were amazing in more ways than one. Here’s the rundown: within 24 hours of posting the article, the count was already at close to $2000. I kid you not. Thing is, after that not much else has come in. We’re now, some 48 hours later, at $2217.49.

And that just don’t seem right. I think we should be able to do much better than that. If only because when I saw that initial run of donations, I realized we could do some real good. I had expected a few hundred bucks, but nothing like that. So that leads the mind to exploring more options, to thinking bigger.

Two things. Number one is that of those $2000, half came from just 1 individual in Colorado. Who in correspondence after told me how much he was touched by what I said, and how much he felt obliged to do what he could. He blew me away regardless.

Number two is that another sponsor of the “AE for Athens” fund, from California, who donated $200, suggested today that he would try and engage people and groups around him, community groups, to join in and collect donations, which we can then direct towards the people in Athens and the rest of Greece who need it most.

Please, if you at all can, follow that example, make it a group thing. I swear on all my ancestors’ graves that I will do all I can to make sure the money goes where it is most needed. EVen if at times I get the impression that this would mean just about every single street corner in ‘Athina’.

If you think it’s not all that bad, please read the Daily Mail article I will post at the bottom of this mercifully short post, an article, by the way, sent to me by a certain Nicole Foss ;-). That should tell you all you need to, and perhaps didn’t yet, know. It’s bad. Europe has created the third world inside its own borders. Me, personally, I find that inexcusable.

It makes me wonder how would Germany react in such a situation, or Holland, Britain? Where their life expectancy plummets, where babies are held ‘hostage’ in a hospital until the bill is paid up? They can’t even imagine this, while it’s happening right on their very doorstep.

But this post is not about politics, and some Americans may even say it happens stateside too. Which makes it sort of ironic that Americans are the most generous. So far. But maybe I can still turn that around. Maybe I can yet wake up the Europeans.

It’s their governments that made it happen, after all, though Washington is by no means an innocent bystander. The entire thing consists of dirty and ugly power politics executed in YOUR name, and that’s as true for Americans as it is for Europeans. And you have the opportunity to soothe some of the pain, even if it’s just a tiny bit.

So please, join the amazingly generous people who have donated so far, and show them they’re not alone in their generosity.

The amount donated so far is $2217.49. Isn’t that just amazing? We were close to $2000 in 24 hours!

And I have counted only the donations that end in $.99, for reasons I explained earlier. But I will donate as much as TAE can afford anyway, along with whatever comes into the fund.

So please, let your heart speak, and help me help. As I said, if the reason why is still not clear, here’s Ian Birrell for the Daily Mail. That should do it.

Thank you in advance, on behalf of those whose lives we can, together, make a little more bearable. It’s the least we can do. But, again, that’s just me.

You can donate through our Paypal widget at the top of the left sidebar. Make sure if you want to donate to Greece to end the amount with $.99.

You can also donate bitcoin at this address: 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.

Thank you so much.

Greece Is Literally Dying To Leave The Euro

How does a nation die? This week, in the beleaguered hospitals of Athens, I saw a glimpse of the shocking answer. It is when its own people die in their thousands simply because the state cannot afford to heal them. [..]

There is no greater metaphor for a country’s health than its own healthcare system. And it is only when you see for yourself the horrors convulsing Greece’s NHS that you realise just how insane it is for this once-proud nation to continue as it is. If it was your country, it would make you weep with pain and shame. In its overloaded hospital wards, I either saw or heard first-hand accounts of babies held hostage for payments and dying patients left unattended; of porters sent out as paramedics, patients told to bring their own sheets, brakes failing on ancient ambulances travelling at high speed and hospitals running out of drugs and dressings.

Five years ago, Greece spent £13 billion on the health of its 11 million population – above the European average. It is now spending about half this. Worse still, in the first four months of this year the 140 state hospitals received just £31 million, a 94% fall on the previous year. And to make matters even blacker, any reserves have just been taken back by the government in its desperate scramble for cash to pay public servants and international debts.

There are claims of an astonishing three-year fall in a Greek person’s life expectancy in just five years since the country’s economy crashed. If confirmed, this would be without precedent in modern Europe. And the individual human stories are pitiful, verging on the macabre.

‘The situation is like a war zone without the bullets,’ said one source at the charity. ‘If things keep going the way they are, we could see a totally collapsing health system.’

The tragic consequences could be seen visiting Nikaia hospital in the port of Piraeus, as a handful of night-time staff struggled to cope with patients pouring in for emergency care. One old lady with a deathly countenance lay immobile on a trolley in a corridor, abandoned for the four hours I was there since she appeared to have no family to fight her corner.

Five more elderly people lay on trolleys, two clearly in pain and one in a neck brace, amid a scrum of patients with smashed faces, scraped bodies and fractured limbs being aided by relatives. Police officers escorted a blood-covered prisoner in chains. The daughter of an 84-year-old woman curled up in agony under a coat told me they had been there for four hours, staff shortages forcing her to wheel her mother to the X-ray unit and for blood tests. ‘Greek hospitals are like hell,’ she told me.

‘The decision to stop all hirings of medical staff was a criminal action in my view,’ said [neurosurgeon] Papanikolaou. ‘Intensive care doctors estimate we lose 2,000 people a year that should not be dying.’

Nurses told me there were no sheets so patients had to bring their own; at night, they placed nappies and light mattresses on top if patients bled or wet the bed since there were no replacements. In one ward, they clubbed together to buy a blood pressure monitor and thermometers due to equipment shortages. Since pay has been cut by one third as pressures surge, such actions highlight the heroism of some medical staff struggling to keep the system afloat.

[..] as another nurse put it: ‘If two people are dying, only one can get help – it is that bad.’ Later, I talked to an ambulance driver who told me of a recent incident in which the brakes on his 11-year-old vehicle had failed as he rushed a car crash victim to the hospital.

‘If you have a six-month wait to start radiotherapy there’s no point coming – either you die or the cancer is so advanced it is pointless,’ [..] cardiologist George Vichas set up a free community clinic staffed by volunteers, with 39 similar set-ups across the country.

The consultant said they had even come across five cases at a maternity hospital where new-born babies were held hostage until their parents paid for their treatment. ‘We have seen an absolute collapse of the state health system,’ he said.

How did it ever come to this? And what does it meas for the nation’s future in the eurozone – and the eurozone as a whole? Before the crash, Greece’s health service was inefficient, badly managed and corrupt like the rest of the public sector – yet it provided well-trained staff and one of the world’s most comprehensive healthcare systems. But after the crisis struck and the country was ordered by international lenders to cut costs, new benefit rules and rising unemployment saw the number of Greeks without health cover soar from 500,000 to 2.5 million people.[..]

The EU and the eurozone were projects designed to bring countries closer together. Instead, they have sparked poverty, decay and division. Yet still the euro-zealots demand further austerity, while the latest set of Greek politicians seem as incapable of resolving the crisis as their hapless predecessors. The country and its blighted people are trapped between many more years of this slow stagnation or the sharp pain of euro exit. No wonder the latter increasingly seems a better bet.

[..]it could do the one thing that is the modern definition of a nation: it could begin to cure its own people of their ills. Ultimately, what could be the rebirth of Greece may be the death of the original European dream.

Let’s leave the political ramifications alone for the moment, I deal with that on an almost daily basis here at the Automatic Earth already. Let’s for a moment focus on the more immediate. Let’s see what we can do here and now.

Please support the AE for Athens fund. You can donate through our Paypal widget at the top of the left sidebar, Make sure if you want to donate to Greece to end the amount with $.99.

You can also donate bitcoin at this address: 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.

Thank you ever so much.