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


Jodi Graphics 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 


Konstantinos (Kostas) Polychronopoulos

 

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

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

 


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Please give generously.

 

 

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

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

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

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

 

 

 

 

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


Konstantinos Polychronopoulos On Lesbos (Mytilini) 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What worries him at times are the fixed costs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Social Kitchen on Mytilini Island (Lesbos) 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kostas Tzioumakas Konstantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To tell donations for Kostas apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37 (don’t ask), will go to ‘The Other Human’. And no, I don’t cheat either on my friends or the poor -nor anyone else-, you’re going to have to trust me on that one.

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

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


Elena Angelopoulos Kostas comforts on Lesbos 2015

Dec 222015
 
 December 22, 2015  Posted by at 2:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Elena Angelopoulos Kostas comforts on Lesbos 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kostas Tzioumakas Konstantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To tell donations for Kostas apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37 (don’t ask), will go to ‘The Other Human’. And no, I don’t cheat either on my friends or the poor -nor anyone else-, you’re going to have to trust me on that one.

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

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


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

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


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.