Nov 242015
 
 November 24, 2015  Posted by at 7:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Kostas Tzioumakas Constantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

That’s right, I am at last able to come back to Athens, starting today. Alas, without Nicole Foss, who was supposed to join me in the city earlier this year but is back in New Zealand now. Why that plan never materialized, and why I couldn’t return myself, is all about the illness and subsequent passing of my mother, a process I write about in Eulogy for Johanna.

And there are still too many things to do to mention here in Holland, but I don’t feel good sitting on money that our readers have donated for Greece in our Automatic Earth for Athens fund. So that has to be a priority now, in my view. Your generosity, beyond my wildest dreams, combined with my caution in spending that generosity and my ignorance of the inner workings of the city, have resulted in an open ledger of over $8000 (!) US that will have to find its way to the proper goals.

First, you can (re)read my earlier exploits in a series of articles I wrote on the topic this year:

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens (June 16)

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund (June 19)

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund (June 25)

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation (July 8)

• AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street (July 11)

• AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri (July 22)

Then, as I’m thinking about this, the first thing that strikes me is the extent to, and the way in, which the Athens problems seem to have changed and switched. In late June and early July, there were refugees, but the main issue was the Greeks themselves. Varoufakis was still finance minister, and the idea was still alive that Greece would stand up to the Troika.

There was hope and excitement in the air, even though the banks were forced shut. There was the big OXI vote early July. But it all went downhill from there, Yanis left, Tsipras gave in to Schäuble, but most of all the refugee numbers on for instance Lesvos went from 200 a day to 5-6-7000 a day. It feels like a 180º change. But then again, it’s not really.

The Greek population is still -and things keep getting worse each day- being dragged down by the EU ordered policies, which are certain to kill off the entire economy. If people have nothing left to spend, nobody can sell them anything either, so unemployment just gets worse. There are tons of Greeks who still have jobs, and they’re the lucky ones, but who’ve seen their pay cut by 25%, 50%. Nothing out of the ordinary.

To wit: Greek rental prices are down 40%, but 40% of the population can’t even afford those prices anymore. The economy simply gets squeezed more and more, and every day sees its chances of recuperating diminish. Asphyxiation by decree.

The Cameron government is doing the exact same thing to Britain at the moment, even if, unlike Greece, the pretense is that the economy is doing well there. It’ll be a spectacle to watch. Once you start killing off your care systems, you get what I saw in Athens – and will again. And I’m not at all sure that the Brits can do what the Greeks can when it comes to humanity and solidarity.

It’s still those same strangled yet amazing Greeks who will go out of their way to help the refugees, who increasingly threaten to flood the country as one razor wire fence after another is erected on the Balkans. There’s a serious risk this winter of refugees, and their children in particular, freezing and/or contracting severe illnesses while getting stuck on the country’s northern borders.

And the EU keeps doing what it does best: make things worse. Why even Varoufakis keeps defending the EU, and just thinks it should be ‘reformed’ and democratized’, I can’t fathom. The EU’s problems are not ones of degree, but of substance, of its very make-up.

With France having thrown out any allegiance to the EU Stability Pact budget deals, and borders being closed all over the place, either with razor wire or with soldiers, the very ideas and ideals that are the foundation of the Union are fast eroding already. And what legitimacy will be left for the Brussels apparatus is entirely up in the air.

But okay, Athens first. There must be an overwhelming number of people and causes that I can help with your money. It’ll just be a matter of finding the most needy and deserving. In June/July I donated €1000 euros each to two volunteer clinics, in Piraeus and Peristeri, and to the man you see pictured above, Kostas Polychronopoulos, aka ‘the man who cooks in the street’.

I know through the grapevine that Kostas has been very active feeding refugees on Lesvos, and I’ll be sure to try and find him, wherever he may be, see how he sees the situation. My idea is I’ll play it by ear, I’m for instance not sure Lesvos needs my presence too, and besides you donated the money for the Greeks, but I’ll certainly listen to the people on the ground.

You can of course still donate to the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund, by all means I beg you, your money will find a good place, I’ll guarantee that. Here’s, once again, how I put it at the very beginning:

Now, 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.

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

I’ll be back tomorrow from Athens.

Jul 222015
 
 July 22, 2015  Posted by at 8:49 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


Ilargi The Other Human crew, Monastoraki Square, Athens July 2015

I owe you all a major update on the AE for Athens Fund, and perhaps an apology for this taking so long. It’s been over a week since I made the latest donation, and I even left Greece 6 days ago already. As I noted before, I will have to go back, and take Nicole with me, and I’m planning to do that soon, in August. It’s just that because of my mother’s condition, here in Holland, it’s sort of in limbo when exactly that’s going to happen.

I have gotten a much better overview of where to donate your money during my three week stay, so hopefully we can move a bit faster next time around. I guess it’s always a toss up between doing these things fast and doing them properly. I would always pick the latter, giving away your money is a large responsibility. It simply takes time.

I have donated €3000 so far, €1000 each to two Solidarity clinics, and $1000 to Constantinos (Kostas) Polychronopoulos, who I wrote about in AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street. I went back to see Kostas and gave him another €500. Can’t think of anyone less selfish and more deserving of support.

Here’s Kostas’ crew in Monastiraki square with the food to be handed out. He didn’t arrive till later, he had a meeting at the Health Ministry. Probably a good thing, they recognize what he does. Still, as I said before, he wants no government or NGO involvement.

Most of these people are homeless, the others are supporters in one way or another. They’re all remarkably nice and gentle. They’re an amazing crew that Kostas gathered around him, and gave a sense of belonging.

That same day, I donated €1000 to a second clinic, much more on that below. A third clinic didn’t happen because of a general strike and riots. But they’re the first when I return. We now also have a more or less comprehensive list of solidarity clinics, that’ll make things easier. Just need to find the most needy ones; some are already well funded.

At the second clinic, in Peristeri, Dimitri and I were told, by everyone in one voice, when we asked where the greatest needs were: insulin. For some reason the clinic has a hard time even importing it, and there are many diabetics. We’re trying to find out why what the issue is, and if perhaps we can bring some from Holland, either in our bags or by FedEx. Finding those things out, too, takes time.

But still … all in all, I managed to donate “only” €3000 so far. I would have signed up for that in a heartbeat a month ago, but not anymore. Because the total for the AE for Athens Fund today stands at an bewildering $11,681.95(!!!). That’s American dollars. I converted what came in in euros and Canadian dollars on the day itself, so with the rising USD we actually won a bit more there lately.

If we put the euro at $1.11 (it’s even less now), I still have over €7000 left to donate. And no, that doesn’t mean I think you should stop donating. Quite the contrary. I did mention before that all the money will be donated, right? That our flights and expenses will not come out of the Fund. Just wanted to make that clear again.

Even if the government seems to have surrendered for now to the Troika, and there’s money being exchanged from the ECB, through Athens, and then straight back to the ECB and IMF, the Greek people won’t see a penny of it.

The lack of solidarity that the rest of Europe have shown with Greece is quite stunning, really. That the big shots have no perception of compassion is one thing, it’s what selects them to be big shots, but that the people themselves don’t either, is quite another.

The solidarity clinics and “men who cook in the streets” will be needed in Greece for a long time, no matter what happens. A society gutted to the bone over a 5-year period takes a long time to rebuild, and that’s presuming any such efforts will be made to begin with. Raising VAT on basic necessities paints a dark future.

And we may not be able to solve the problem, but we can certainly alleviate some of it. All it takes is to go to the right places. And that’s what I intend to continue doing.

We have a bunch of clinics lined up, and I want to do something for children in need, and for the refugee problem. Even if the latter is fast becoming such an overwhelming issue it will take billions of euros, not the thousands you guys entrusted me with.

When I look at that, at how thousands of people are being left stranded daily somewhere in bankrupt Greece, I’m thinking there’s little doubt that Europe as a whole is financially bankrupt, but I care much less about that than that it’s morally bankrupt. Of which the condition of the Greek people themselves is evidence enough by itself, of course.

Please make sure donations keep coming in. Here’s how, through a quote from a number of weeks ago:

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.

If you prefer to donate Bitcoin, our address is: 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.

On to the second clinic that received some of your generosity. My friend, photographer and interpreter Dimitri said when we were on our way there on July 14 that these people have no idea what’s happening to them; they are busy all the time with what cannot be done, with trying to provide people with even the most basic care, and here comes this stranger who says he’ll give them €1000, just like that. A surefire recipe to make a body feel small.

By the way, Dimitri is also the author of a great line on the Europe/Greece financial conundrum:

Since I can’t pay on my bankrupt loans and you won’t renegotiate them with me, how’s about paying yourself back with a bridge loan to me so you won’t have to write off your debt, which I’ll likewise not pay back, to give you guys some more breathing room until you realize that I already told you I can’t pay you back.

A keeper for sure. On to Peristeri:

Some data I picked up: Peristeri is an Athens district with a population of 400,000 people. Most state health clinics have been shut. There were 150 doctors in the district before, there are now only 50. A population of 400,000 people with no access to gynaecologists or dermatologists, and just two cardiologists. Thousands of doctors have left the country. Those that have stayed, including senior hospital doctors, earn about €12,000 a year.

Social Solidarity Clinic of Peristeri

Xrisolora 1 & Ag, Pavlou, Athens, Peristeri 12132 

The clinic also functions as a pharmacy, they feed dozens of homeless people, and are involved in action against water privatization.

Dimitri and I talked to Nikos, the only person who spoke reasonable English, and Dr. Apostolos Gianopoulos, a retired physician who donates a lot of his time to the clinic. What an amazing bunch of people. Can you imagine this happening where you live?

Here’s the wonderfully chaotic drug cabinet:

How the drugs typically arrive, after volunteers go out and collect them:

The obligatory group portrait with yours truly:

And since I don’t seem to be able to find back the receipt they wrote, after looking for well over an hour yesterday (it’ll turn up), the actual handing over of the €1000:

A French film crew recently made a documentary about the clinic, and there is a video on YouTube. Unfortunately, it’s not in English, but you get a picture of the entire operation. They have all of 55 square meters at their disposal.

The blurb from the video:

For Two Years, Volunteers Run A Social Clinic/Pharmacy  

Today, more and more Greeks find themselves without health insurance. All over the country, clinics and pharmacies are organizing solidarity to support them. Reportage in one of them, in Athenian suburbs.

The small waiting room of the clinic at Peristeri is never empty in the late morning. In this suburb of Athens, a three-room apartment serves as both pharmacy and medical office. People come here to get medicines and also see a doctor, make an appointment to the dentist or even just talk. All this without paying anything.

Between calls, Georgette and Martina, the two volunteers in secretariat today, find a moment to discuss with each patient. “Now we know everyone,” says the latter. They, along with Dr. Gianopoulos and 50 volunteers and doctors, launched the initiative of a solidarity clinic and pharmacy two years ago. “With the crisis, more and more people have lost their social security for their families she explains. You really had to do something. ”

More than 3,000 patients

More than 3,000 patients walked through its doors. It has integrated the network of fifty solidarity clinics/pharmacies that cover the country. On the desk lies a secretariat agenda with impressive dimensions. The Bible testifies to the collective’s success and especially the willingness of the team to ensure regular monitoring of patients. “We receive many diabetics, people with asthma or heart,” says Dr. Apostolos Gianopoulos. Everyone can re-establish the treatment which had given up due to the loss of social security rights. “I remember a diabetic man who had lost two toes because it no longer followed his treatment,” says Martina.

“People in need were ashamed to ask for help”

More than the distribution of medicines, volunteers seek to create a space for solidarity and confidence. “At the beginning of the crisis, people in need were ashamed to ask for help, says Matina. They felt guilty not being able to support their families. But progressively, we have managed to establish a relationship of trust and anticipate their needs. ” In addition to the distribution of medicines, the medical center has also set up a food collection.

Coming to seek her package for the week, Anastasia demonstrates its involvement in the clinic work. After a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry, the single mother found herself unemployed. Today, she lives with her mother, who receives no pension, her 13 year old son and his brother, who earns only €400 per month. “I come here to get some medicine for my mom who is sick, she says. In exchange, I participate in various collections of food and medicine. ”

“The superstar here is the psychiatrist”

Like everyone who comes here, Anastasia will not depart only with a package but also with a smile. For Matina, it is also the moral support that people come up there. “We have a pediatrician, general practitioner, a dentist and several other doctors , but the superstar here is the psychiatrist,” she says.  At the social solidarity clinic of Peristeri volunteers claim a twofold objective: to provide primary healthcare, but also push people to make their voices heard on social issues.

I think the message is clear: the recipients of your donations are more than deserving, they do things, they show a wealth of solidarity, that in the rich nations of the world would be hard to imagine, and they merit our support in making that possible.

Our support in alleviating misery, pain, hunger, and also, crazy as it is, in saving people from dying from afflictions that are perfectly treatable, and that are treated all over Europe as a routine part of the healthcare system. That hardly anyone even gives a second thought in Germany, Holland, Britain, France. How can Brussels take that away from a nation? A nation that is highly educated to boot, that has plenty of doctors, of scientists?

In Greece, these treatments are no longer routine. People there have found another, much darker, routine. And we can make a difference. Not everywhere, but in plenty places, in plenty ways, and for a whole lot of people.

Jul 082015
 
 July 8, 2015  Posted by at 1:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  


G. G. Bain On beach near Casino, Asbury Park 1911

Found myself talking to very lovely and very young Melanie from Ottawa, on a solo world tour, last evening in a bar in the Plaka district of Athens. And as I was telling her about what I do, and why, I noticed it was very hard to explain to her what exactly is happening to the Greek health care system.

Being from Canada, which has ‘universal’ health care, along the British NHS model, she had a hard time wrapping her mind around the fact that many Greeks simply can’t get any care. Other than through solidarity clinics, staffed entirely with volunteers, and run on donations. Melanie kept insisting that it must all be a matter of money: ‘are the drugs too expensive here?’ No, sweetheart, to a large extent there are no drugs. And people don’t have anything left, no money, no nothing, and if not for the volunteers, they wouldn’t get any care at all. Many already don’t.

And it is of course hard to understand that in a modern western nation, where there are plenty highly educated doctors and nurses, the health care system can be this depleted and gutted. It’s very unjust and morally despicable that this is possible in a country that is part of a rich monetary union and a large political union.

So I’m very happy that with the support of the Automatic Earth readership, we can do at least something to ease the pain. Monday I donated €1000 to the Piraeus Solidarity Clinic, a wonderful initiative run by dedicated volunteers, 60 different doctors also all volunteering, and medicines donated through all sorts of channels, including -former- patients. The Greeks have (re)discovered a very strong sense of solidarity amongst themselves, and it’s an honor to be able to help out in that.

The staff at the clinic did explain that since Syriza is in power, conditions have improved, since all sorts of restrictions have been lifted that were keeping the system from functioning. It’s become easier for people to be admitted to a hospital, for instance. But the government is broke, as we all know, and in that respect the solidarity clinics will probably be needed for a long time. A quote I picked up a while ago said “..if you are sick in Greece now, you have an expiration date.” That cannot be.

In their own words:

PIRAEUS SOLIDARITY CLINIC

Tel: 00302104960790 Daily 9.30 am – 8.30 pm
Xenofontos 5 & Pelopida – 3rd floor
Memou Square, Korydallos – 18120

Active citizens and health workers, doctors, nurses and caregivers have joined together to form the Piraeus Solidarity Clinic, because the economic crisis, the poverty and the unemployment exclude many fellow citizens from the public health services. The Piraeus Solidarity Clinic offers primary health care, medical and dental treatment, medicines, occupational therapy, logotherapy, as well as social and psychological support to non-insured fellow citizens at no cost, in a specially designated area provided by the Korydallos Local Authority.

Our pharmacists help unemployed or pensioners with small pensions or economically weak fellow citizens with special needs by providing them medicines that they can not afford any more. We offer our services to anyone who come to us, without making any racial discrimination and we distinguish ourselves from the philanthropy of the rich, because our target is to stretch out solidarity so that no one feels alone in the crisis. Hence, we’ve built a network with other solidarity clinics all around Greece and alongside the direct health provisions, we demand from the state better public health system conditions.

The Piraeus Solidarity Clinic project was an initiative of 12 people, which started in February of 2013 and currently exceeds 108 volunteers: 63 doctors of various specializations plus 45 volunteers who work in different shifts every day to help organize the appointments of our clinic.

Here’s picture of the line of patients waiting in the hallway:

And the wonderful staff, along with yours truly:

Plus the receipt for the donation:

Thank you so much for making this donation possible, along with the others I will soon make. And please understand that we can never do enough, so keep your donations coming. Here’s once again what I said three weeks ago:

Now, 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.

As things stand now, I can make 4 more donations like this. Or a few extra smaller ones. I’d like to do more, and you can help with that.

Let’s show solidarity with solidarity.

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


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.

Jun 162015
 
 June 16, 2015  Posted by at 8:14 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Dmitri Kessel Protest against Britain’s murders of partisans, Athens 1944

Next week, on June 25, I will come to Athens (I wish Nicole could join me, but she moved to New Zealand and will be there for now). There is no large fixed agenda set, but through contacts with readers of the Automatic Earth -they’re absolutely everywhere- it’s already clear that there will be a lot to do. Obviously, I will continue to publish everyday on the Automatic Earth site as well, so we may be in for some busy days. Nothing new there.

Still need to secure a place to stay, but I’m sure something will come up. And there are of course never enough readers and friends to get in touch with, so please drop a line at “contact •at• theautomaticearth •dot• com”. I would love to meet as many of you as possible, get you in touch with each other, practice our ouzo toast, dance a zirtaki and have a ball.

Where I’m coming from is talking with people on the street is something that interests me far more than talking to politicians, though I’ll be certain to drop Varoufakis a line, and less visible members of Syriza would undoubtedly make for good conversations as well. What I want to find out, and write about, is how people have experienced the past five years, how they see the next five, and how they hold together.

That last bit is especially poignant since the structure of Greek society is very different from that of America or western Europe. In a good way, if you ask me. Not only is the economy much more ‘self-contained’ -for lack of a better word-, which by the way would make a switch to an -domestic- alternate currency much less painful then it would be in richer, export-dependent nations, but Greek families stick together way more than those elsewhere too.

Ironically, that’s why they can at times -try to- make do with a single pension to feed an entire family, something that would be unthinkable in Holland, Germany, Canada, US. And it’s those very pensions that the troika insists must be further reduced than the 40%+ they’ve already been cut. What goes for families stretches beyond them to a larger circle of friends too.

Meanwhile, my planning could be either way off or right on the nose, depending on one’s view. I see talk of a Lehman moment as early as this weekend, but it looks more likely the whole thing will go down to the wire, which is June 30.

No matter what comes down, I very much think Athens is the place to be as per next week. As you probably know, I have great sympathy and admiration for what Syriza, especially Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis, are trying to achieve, as well as for their intelligence and even more, what they stand for.

Now, 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.

If Brussels and Washington refuse to solve these simple problems, or even attempt to make them worse, in my view Syriza is right to stand up to them, and we, us, the Automatic Earth, have an obligation to do what we can.

But that’s just me.

Nov 192014
 
 November 19, 2014  Posted by at 11:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  


DPC Launch of battleship Georgia, Bath, Maine, Oct 1904

I was reading this letter to his fund investors by Hugh Hendry, a very intelligent and probably slightly autistic fund manager I’ve liked a lot forever and a day and have written about quite a bit in the past, and it got me thinking about how and why I see the world different from the way he does, and wondering how you see that difference.

Hugh was for years known as a true bear, and then he turned around, changed his views and turned bull, only at the same time he did not. If that makes any sense. I’ll take you through the letter as posted by Tyler Durdenand try to explain what struck me in it. It’s much easier and safer not to write things like this, but I think there are things you must explore, like how do you react when realize your world is falling to bits.

Hendry, I think, is as bearish (or negative) about the – future of – world as he has been for a long time, only he’s decided to see things from his fund manager point of view, and to ride the crest of the waves the central banks have tsunamied towards our shores. He’s chosen to make a buck off of them waves, even as he’s aware of the damage they’ll will do once they hit land. In the exact same way as a surfer who sees a tsunami as merely a set of great waves to ride on. And, no value judgment involved, but that’s not what I see.

He sees the world going to hell in a handbasket (and Hendry recognizes that very much, that’s not why he shifted gears from bear to bull) and his response is to grab as much money and wealth as he can (for his investors … ). My response is different: I don’t see filling my personal coffers as a priority when I see the numbers of homeless children in the States shoot up, or the over 50% of youth without a job or a future in southern Europe for many years running, or all the other stuff that goes awfully wrong all around here behind the ‘recovery’ veil, stuff that Hendry is acutely aware of.

I simply think other people’s misery, especially when it comes in droves, is a bigger threat to my existence, my lifestyle, my society, my community, and certainly my peace of mind than having a few bucks more or less. We’re not in some market cycle move here, we’re in something much bigger. And Hugh Hendry knows that too. I don’t believe in ‘we have a world to save’, I think that’s beyond our means, but I do see a responsibility towards smaller units, a town, a society, perhaps even a country, simply for our own sakes and that of our children.

And I think viewing today’s world primarily through a fund manager’s eyes, especially if you have the brains to see more and wider and bigger, is poor and bleak. And if you’re Hugh Hendry, you don’t need the money to keep yourself from starving. It becomes more like Bill Gross who at an age when most men have long retired, moves from Pimco to some other fund to make even more money. It turns into the kind of poverty that money can not hide. Here’s Hendry:

My premise hasn’t really changed since I published my paper explaining why I had become more constructive towards risk assets this time last year. That is to say, the structural deficiency of global demand continues to radicalise the central banking community. I believe they are terrified: the system is so leveraged and vulnerable to potentially systemic price reversals that the monetary authorities find themselves beholden to long only investors and obliged to support asset prices.

However, I clearly confused everyone with my choice of language. What I should have said is that investors are perhaps misconstruing rising equity prices as a traditional bull market spurred on by revenue and earnings growth, and becoming fearful of a reversal, when instead the persistent upwards drift in stock markets is more a reflection of the steady erosion of the soundness of the global monetary system and therefore the rise in stock prices is something that is likely to prevail for some time. There is more to it of course, as I will attempt to explain, but not much.

[..] the world’s monetary authorities are targeting higher risk asset prices as a policy response to restoke economic demand. Whether you agree with such a policy is irrelevant. You need to own stocks. And yet, remarkably, the most contentious thing you can say in the macro world today is “I’m bullish”.

In a world dominated by the existentialist angst of identifying and trading qualitative value, there is profound mistrust of equity values today; macro investors see prices as overvalued and few are willing to capitalise on the opportunities to make money.

This angst and fear of big drawdowns in risky assets in part reflects astonishment that policy makers were able to rescue investors from the folly of their misallocations in the years preceding 2008 and that stocks have massively outperformed the modest rise in global nominal GDP. I should know. I, like others, became a moraliser who just couldn’t forgive the Fed for bailing out Wall Street.[..] I became a moral curmudgeon rather than a money maker.

As you know, I have sought to overcome this deficiency. However my risk controls, or rather my procedures for dealing with big monthly losses, seemed to anchor me to the bearish camp (against my better wishes). [..] since the end of last year I have been a bull that had to sell for lower prices. No wonder I couldn’t make you money. But perhaps you don’t need such reactive stop loss policies when the world’s central banking community is intent on protecting you; [..]

Japan was down 16% from its highs earlier this year. I was particularly long Japanese equities at the start of the year and so at some point, fearing greater losses, I swallowed my pride and booked a loss. However, the ongoing policy intentions of the BoJ meant that the stock market clawed back all of its losses. Why did I sell?

European stocks fell almost the same over the summer but again the ECB upped its ante, pushed short term rates negative, tolerated a weaker currency and promised to re-stock its balance sheet with more local risk asset purchases. Lo and behold, European stock prices recovered sharply in August and early September. So why did I reduce my holdings?

October is simply another example. US stocks fell over 10%. I don’t really know why. Was it the threat of the end of QE or a global pandemic or more misgivings as to the state of affairs in Greece and Europe’s enduringly weak economy? It doesn’t really matter. […]

So why all this enthusiasm for upside equity risk? [..] The FX market tends to take the US Supreme Court view. Overruling an obscenity charge for showing a salacious French movie in Ohio in 1964, Justice Potter Stewart wrote that the Constitution protected all obscenity except hard core pornography. Unwilling to define the latter, the judge maintained that he would know it when he saw it. [..]

Which is a rather long preamble to describe what I believe is a very analogous central banking intervention in today’s financial markets. It would take just too long for the Fed, ECB or the BoJ to rely on a return of animal spirits in the real economy to lift their flagging economies. They need the remedy of fast moving risk asset prices. By using QE to promote more risk taking, asset values in the US have risen faster than fundamentals and, with better perceived collateral and more confidence, the demand for risk taking in the real economy has recovered somewhat. At a lag, the theory runs, so will the rate of expected inflation.

So I think we find ourselves especially in Europe (and Japan) with a situation whereby the central bank has to use all of its powers to engineer higher stock and bond prices. And I think the precarious nature of France and the election timetable in 2017 means that they need higher European stock and bond prices NOW or there will be no economic recovery, budget deficits will continue to overshoot 3% and the Euro area will get trapped in the poisonous and perpetual cycle of having to demand more and more unpopular austerity measures. This is high stakes: boost European stock prices or risk losing France and the euro. To my mind the message is simple: don’t short French bonds, buy European stocks and short the euro.

Hugh Hendry sees the world in an extremely bearish way, he sees hell, the handbasket, brimstone and far worse. But he wants to profit – in name of his investors (?!) – from the very mechanism that drives the world there: the power central banks and governments have been allotted, and the way they use it to protect the interests of investors, banks, insurance companies and uber rich individuals, all at the expense of booting the 90% who make up the real world and the real economy, ever deeper into the mud.

Seeking to profit from that is a choice. Hendry makes it, and so do many others, even many inside the 90%. Who mistakenly dream they’ll be able to hold on to those profits (they’ll wake up yet, and wish they had before). The whole idea of scraping out what you can before the tsunami hits is not my thing.

Hugh Hendry recognizes, as many other people do, that there would be no viable markets left if central banks wouldn’t have kept them standing up for years now and made us all pay. But he, and many like him, still think that the best thing to do in that situation is to grab what you can before it’s over. I think that is worth asking a question or two about.

Of course it all depends on how bad you think it will get. Well, Hendry has an idea, just look him up on YouTube, and I have an idea, and so do lots of others. None of us can be sure what the use of a few bucks more or less will be when things get as bad as we think they will get. But there’s no certainty anywhere in sight. And for me, that means what’s more important, and what is certain, are things like this Simon Black graph, that makes me wonder what on earth we’re doing around here:

You see what’s happening to these kids and your answer is let’s make as much money as we can? That’s how we think? I’m sure a lot of people, rich or poor, have pondered how to get more self-sufficient, and a few have taken great strides towards that too. But I’m also sure the successful ones in that regard would all agree that money in the end had very little to do with it.

So do or don’t we have anything better to do with ourselves than make money while the world burns? And do we think the money we might make will have much value once the fire spreads? If the ‘world of money’ is in as bad a shape as Hugh Hendry says it is, and can only be maintained by ever more desperate machinations by central banks, until it evidently can’t? There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer, to put it mildly.

Is making and hoarding as much money as you can the best answer to a collapsing financial system which may or may not leave much value in that money? Same for gold, silver et al, though many people see just that as the big answer.

In the end, the issue may be whether amassing material wealth is the right answer to the demise of a system based on material wealth. A suggestion is that perhaps growing your own food and learning how to make the things you need, yourself, is a better answer. Just because you have money, or gold, doesn’t mean you can buy things with it. Don’t mistake money and self-sufficiency.

And that’s what Hugh Hendry’s shift from bear to bull, but not really because he knows where it’s going, made me think of. Now it’s your turn.

Oct 232014
 
 October 23, 2014  Posted by at 11:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  


Jack Delano. Cars being precooled at the ice plant, San Bernardino, CA Mar 1943

Large and/or institutional investors, your pension funds, your market funds, you name them, have one glaringly obvious and immense Achilles heel that they very much prefer not to talk about. That is, they MUST invest their funds, in something, anything, they can’t NOT invest. They are trapped in the game. They have to roll over debt, investments, all the time.

In today’s markets, they can move into Treasuries, as we see bond funds (and undoubtedly others) do recently, and while that’s already a sign of unrest in the ranks, at the same time it exposes the funds. And not only because everyone knows it won’t allow them to meet the targets they must meet. Oil, gas and gold are unattractive alternatives.

The big funds can play the game, but they really shouldn’t, because they can’t win. Not in the end. Not when the chips are down. The reason is that they cannot fold. And the others at the table know this, and immediately recognize this for the fatal flaw it is. No matter how smart and sophisticated institutional investors and their fund managers may be, in ultimo they are, to put it in poker terms, the ‘designated’ fish.

It may take a long time before this plays out, and they realize it for what it is (fish don’t recognize themselves for what they are, other than, and even that’s a maybe, once they’ve been exposed as such by others), since in times of plenty there is no urgent need for the other players to catch and filet the fish.

As long as there’s enough to eat at the table, the ‘solid’ players can bide their time and let the fish fatten themselves (as long as it’s not from their money), only to gut them when times get leaner. In a way, the solid players use the fish as a way to stow away for a rainy day some of the ultra cheap QE money has made available, the money without which there would be no markets left, if only so their own actions don’t become too conspicuous.

Funds that invest for a living, and whose managers must meet, say, a 7-8% profit target, can appear to be well run and profitable for many years, provided they operate in a rich environment and no solid players decide to go after them (if these do, it’s game over in a heartbeat).

Seven years of QE et al have made this possible. As have many years of increasing debt and leverage and ever looser rules in global finance (re: the infamous murder of Glass-Steagall) before that. But. But that play is coming to a close. The ‘free’ money that’s been arriving at the table from outside sources for so many years is finally, thankfully, starting to dry up (and no, Mario Draghi won’t fill in the gaps).

I’ll quote out of context something then-poker playing law student and now-bankruptcy lawyer Ashvin Pandurangi wrote here at the Automatic Earth on February 9 2011. Out of context in the sense that Ashvin when he spoke of ‘fish’ meant speculators and the like, not institutional investors.

However, because of the fatal flaw for any player of having to play no matter what, the description of the psychology of fish versus solid players at the poker table is still spot on.

A Glimpse Into the Stubborn Psychology of Fish

What makes poker a profitable venture for “solid” players, unlike blackjack, craps or roulette, is their opportunity to capitalize on the mental mistakes of other players, by accurately “reading” the opponent’s potential range of hole cards in any given hand (mostly from betting tendencies and style of play), and accurately calculating the “pot odds” they are being laid (money that must be put in on the present and future betting rounds as a percentage of money that could be won from the pot). The pot odds calculation allows the solid player to determine the best course of action (bet, call, raise, fold) by comparing it to the equity his/her hand carries against the opponent’s range.[..]

Institutional investors such as your pension fund may not suffer from too many ‘mental mistakes’, they may be as smart as other players, but in their place comes the worse flaw of not being able to fold. Which means the the other players have a very easy time of calculating the “pot odds” they are being laid. They just, until today, haven’t been forced to call the hands of the fish, because of the money being injected from outside.

The best feature of a true fish is that they never learn or adapt to an opponent’s style of play. They will keep calling you with weak hands even when you only show down “monsters” at the table, because they are only concerned with their own cards and they always assume you are holding even weaker than they are.

There are not many real-life players who fit exactly into this idealized style of play, but there are many who generally harbor its underlying psychology – one of permanent and irrational belief in an ability to win a hand, despite any mounting evidence to the contrary. They cannot possibly conceive of folding, because that means giving up any chance of winning, slim as it may be, and also giving up any money already invested in the pot.[..]

Your pension fund manager may not believe in his ability to win a hand, but still be forced to play it. Because (s)he must always play something, some hand. (S)he is forced into the psychology of the fish.

The fish never stop to think what your strong bets out of position imply about your hand, especially given the fact that you most likely know that they are fish. If the fish do stop to think about these factors, then they most likely dismiss the thought before it has any chance to settle, since it would be too disruptive to their goal of never folding a potential winner. While the solid players are constantly engaged in several different layers of critical psychoanalysis, the fish are forever stuck in a one-track mindset.

It’s sort to fun to play around with, and take out of context, what Ashvin wrote, and what mindsets managers at pension- and other funds may have, not just fun for me but even far more for the solid players sitting opposite those managers. Because they know they have a rich source of profits waiting from them after QE has been cancelled, in the vaults of those whose job descriptions say they must play every day no matter what hand they’re dealt.

In essence it’s all just a pretend game, and the fish in today’s investment world are probably far more aware of their own identity than the fish at a real life poker table. But it doesn’t matter. They’re still fish, and everybody knows they’re going down. And therefore so are your pensions and your other institutional investments. What are they going to do, stop playing? They can’t.

So who are the solid players in this game, you ask? Why, Wall Street, of course. They’ve had their eye on your remaining cash all along.