Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

How the Philippines has been transformed by its war on drugs

My story in Australian magazine Crikey:

President Rodrigo Duterte has maintained a firm grip on the Philippines since being elected in July 2016. Although public support is slipping, due partly to the brutality unleashed by his “war on drugs”, which has seen up to 20,000 people killed in 18 months, the general population still backs the leader. But the violence has done little to change the support of America and Australia for Duterte’s conflict against ISIS in the Philippines.

Yet dissent is rising. During a recent visit to the Philippines to investigate the country’s drug war, I saw posters of Duterte with a Hitler moustache. “Dictator” and “Fascist” were written below his name in Tagalog — “Fight!” It was a message from the country’s biggest labour union. It was strong and direct, a sign of resistance. I saw, too, countless pro-Duterte posters in this battle of propaganda.

Duterte has used social media brilliantly to rally his supporters and denigrate his opponents. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this movement, largely ignored in the West, is how Facebook actively assists political campaigns around the world and then works with winning candidates to harness its online tools. BuzzFeed recently exposed this practice in authoritarian Cambodia, and Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany Party had Facebook assist its campaign for the 2017 general election. A former Republican digital strategist runs the Facebook global government and politics team in the US.

In the Philippines, Duterte’s media team weaponised trolling against its critics. Countless fake accounts attacked and threatened anybody who questioned the President. At the presidential palace, I asked Duterte’s communications undersecretary, Lorraine Badoy, if her department had any connection with Facebook officials. She said it hadn’t, and claimed that the many pro-government, online activists weren’t paid by the government. Badoy used language reminiscent of Donald Trump’s allegations of “fake news” regarding how Western media reported so severely on the drug war. This was an “internal problem”, she said.

Duterte’s war on drugs has become, like in every other nation where a drugs war is waged, an onslaught against the poor. Virtually no wealthy drug users or dealers have been arrested or killed, but thousands have been murdered in the poorest neighbourhoods in and around Manila. This mirrors Honduras, West Africa, the US and other nations where violence is used to control and exterminate the most under-privileged in society. Every barangay (district) collates a list of suspected drug users or dealers, which is given to government authorities. It’s a secret list, impossible for citizens to see, and I was told that those on the list can never get off it.

Horrific stories have defined Duterte’s drug war, and I heard them constantly. With authorities intent on killing and imprisoning poor drug users, rehabilitation services are left to churches (though the government is even cutting funding to these essential services). One such service at the San Roque De Manila Parish seeks to assist drug addicts through lessons on the Jesus and the Bible.

Police senior inspector Ana Lourence Simbajon, who works at the church, said that she believed religion was an answer to drug use and, more tellingly, that she believed the current war on drugs was successful. “Since Duterte, and his fight against drugs because it’s a big malaise in society, street crime has declined”, she said. “Only the President focused on illegal drugs.”

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, writer/co-producer of the documentary, Disaster Capitalism and currently writing a book on the global “war on drugs”, out in 2019

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Who should really benefit from aid?

My article in the Guardian:

Foreign aid has the power to save lives but also to corrupt nations. It’s regularly used as a political football as some argue for more financial support to the world’s most vulnerable people while others believe more money should be spent at home. It’s a false distinction, however, because the key issue is whether western aid is well targeted and empowering people to make their own choices on how to improve their lives, allowing them to eventually become more self-sufficient.

The aid industry is currently under the spotlight, Oxfam’s past behaviour is rightly challenged, although the problems uncovered affect the entire industry. But what’s required is hearing from aid recipients themselves.

The US administration is slashing foreign aid to nations it views as unfriendly or voting against its interests at the United Nations. Nonetheless, the answer isn’t simply more aid. In 2017, Afghanistan was the highest recipient of US aid, US$4.7 billion, but much of the more than US$120 billion given by the US to the country since October 2001 has been wasted, disappeared, stolen through corruption or simply cannot be accounted for by Washington.

Australia has also invested heavily in Afghanistan and seen few positive results. Canberra stumbled into the war with little understanding of what it was trying to achieve (apart from blindly following president George W. Bush). It’s now the longest war in US history with no end in sight and a cost of over US$1 trillion.

Rethinking how aid is delivered should be a key question for western nations but it rarely makes the headlines. For the last six years, with New York-based director Thor Neureiter and co-producers Media Stockade, I’ve been making the documentary, Disaster Capitalism, to investigate where aid money is going. Focusing on Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea (PNG), talking to people trying to live decent lives amid economic chaos and conflict, a constant refrain is how little local voices are listened to.

Too often, western governments and aid groups parachute into a crisis and dictate terms to a disoriented population. In Haiti the American Red Cross pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild devastated houses after the 2010 earthquake but today have achieved very little. As Haitian workers’ union leader Yannick Etienne told us, her country became a “republic of NGOs”. Outside governments and NGOs often gave contracts to foreign companies who employed individuals unable to speak French or Creole.

The results were inevitable; Haiti’s position as a US-client state producing cheap clothing for Walmart and Target was unchanged because there was no interest in improving the country’s economic situation beyond handouts.

US aid critic and insider Timothy Schwartz, who appears in the film, powerfully explains the unhealthy dynamics in his new book, The Great Haiti Humanitarian Aid Swindle, after living there for decades. While acknowledging that not all aid was squandered, he shows in detail how in the first year after the earthquake, the Haitian government got one percent of it. Schwartz condemns the “truth-twisting” – humanitarian groups’ misrepresenting and exaggerating the already bad situation to “get donors to give” – and the many journalists willing to spread these distortions despite the inability of NGOs to get the job done.

In PNG, Australia’s role since its 1975 independence is revealing. Canberra views its close neighbour as a client state, dumping its unwanted asylum seekers, enriching Australian resource companies and overlooking corruption. Canberra gives over $500 million per year to PNG and yet its citizens suffer from appalling levels of poverty and domestic violence.

The province of Bougainville once had the world’s biggest copper mine, run by Rio Tinto, but its existence sparked a separatist revolution. Outraged by its pollution and lack of financial support, locals rose up in the late 1980s. They eventually won against a PNG army backed by Australia but at a steep cost; up to 20,000 died out of a population of 200,000. The mine remains closed today but Australia, PNG and foreign companies insist that an independence vote, scheduled for 2019, is contingent on re-opening big-scale mining, claiming only this could sustain a sovereign nation.

Aid is used as a weapon with the potential for it to be withdrawn if local leaders don’t comply with Canberra’s wishes. Many locals oppose this, angry that compensation was never paid after the battle against Rio Tinto. They push for alternative plans such as tourism, agriculture and fishing.

In Afghanistan, the country’s largely untapped resources are potentially worth up to US$4 trillion. Despite a brutal civil war, the Trump administration, following Bush and Obama, is determined to support a mining industry that enriches foreign companies. Sources in Kabul tell me that Trump officials are already visiting to assess the viability of backing a resource boom, and associates of military contractor Blackwater founder Erik Prince are recruiting locals to secure areas where rare metals are under the ground. It’s a recipe for continued chaos.

What ties Afghanistan, Haiti and PNG together are the ways in which they’re deliberately kept dependent on foreign aid by western governments and some NGOs. There could be another way if locals were asked what they need and want.

Aid that doesn’t principally enrich multinationals and bloated NGOs must be the goal.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, author of “Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe” and writer/co-producer of the documentary, Disaster Capitalism

Public screenings of the film with Loewenstein and journalists, organised by the Walkley Foundation, are 22 February in Sydney and 1 March in Melbourne. See the film’s website for future screenings in Australia and globally.

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Growing corruption scandal around Netanyahu and weird connection with James Packer

My story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald/Melbourne Age:

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is in trouble, and it partly stems from his close relationship with Australia’s most recognisable billionaire, James Packer.

The country’s second longest-serving Prime Minister is facing potential charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust after an extensive investigation by Israeli police. They accuse Netanyahu of accepting nearly $US300,000 ($A380,000) in gifts over 10 years.

“Case 1000” which is also known as “Cigars and Champagne,” revolves around alleged bribery and paying for favours. Packer, along with Hollywood producer and former secret Israeli agent Arnon Milchan, are alleged to be those behind the payments.

It’s now up to the country’s Attorney General, Avichai Mendelblit, to decide whether the police evidence is strong enough to indict the Prime Minister.

Netanyahu does not deny accepting huge gifts from both men, but refutes allegations that he granted them any favours.

Milchan’s personal assistant, Hadas Klein, told Israeli police in November that, “there was an understanding that Arnon had to supply the Netanyahu couple with whatever they wanted. The cigars were requested by Netanyahu personally.”

The Prime Minister alleges that pink champagne and expensive jewellery requested by Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, were tokens of good friendship with Milchan.

Israeli police claim that Netanyahu pushed for the “Milchan law”, cutting taxes for returning Israelis who have spent time overseas, helped Milchan get a 10-year US visa and assisted the producer in furthering his film work. Israeli police have also recommended charging Milchan.

Packer’s relationship with the Netanyahu family is also under scrutiny (though he is not facing charges). According to testimony released by Israel’s Channel 10 in late 2017 after Packer spoke to Australian Federal Police agents in Australia on behalf of Israeli investigators, the casino mogul said: “I admire Prime Minister Netanyahu and am happy that I was given the opportunity to be his friend. I was happy to give him presents, many times at his request and his wife Sara’s request”.

At the time of the interview, a spokesman for Mr Packer’s Crown Resorts said: “There is no allegation of wrongdoing on Mr Packer’s behalf … The Israeli and Australian police have confirmed that he was interviewed as a witness, not a suspect.”

Netanyahu allegedly requested gifts and services from Packer worth up to $US100,000 including champagne, tickets to a Mariah Carey concert (Packer was previously engaged to the pop star) and cigars. Packer also showered Netanyahu’s son, Yair, with gifts including free accommodation at his luxury properties around the world.

Netanyahu responded that Packer was his “neighbour and friend” and “now and again, I asked him to bring me something to Israel from abroad”.

Netanyahu’s friendship with Packer reportedly began in 2014 when the Australian businessman met the Israeli leader at a dinner organised by Milchan and Packer. They apparently connected quickly and Packer soon purchased a multimillion dollar mansion in Israel beside a property owned by Netanyahu.

Packer accelerated his business interests in Israel’s cyber-security industry, saying in 2015 that he wanted to build a company with Milchan because, “Israel now has the highest start-ups per capita in the world and this will provide major opportunities in the future”.

Packer was with Netanyahu in the US Congress and UN General Assembly in 2015 when the Israeli Prime Minister slammed the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. In the same year, Packer echoed Netanayhu’s hardline position, saying that it was “the stupidest thing I’ve seen in my life”.

Israel’s Interior Minister confirmed to the ABC in 2017 that he had met Packer’s lawyer to discuss possible residency and citizenship of Israel. Such a development would have significant tax advantages for Packer.

Case 2000 is another headache for Netanyahu. He’s accused of colluding with the publisher of one of Israel’s biggest newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth. Caught on tape, the Israeli Prime Minister was telling its owner Arnon Mozes that he would convince his paper’s main competition, Israeli Hayom, owned by Las Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelson, to reduce its circulation.

Netanyahu reportedly asked Mozes in return if he could get his publication to be less critical of the Prime Minister and his government. Netanyahu now says he wasn’t serious, but Adelson partially confirmed the allegation, telling Israeli police last year that Netanyahu had asked him not to expand his media outlet.

Adelson used to be Netanyahu’s biggest backer in his battles with the Palestinians and Obama administration, but that friendship appears to have cooled. Adelson is a key Donald Trump backer and reportedly encouraged the US President to move its embassy to Jerusalem and quash Palestinian nationalism for good.

Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him and continues to serve as the country’s Prime Minister.

He has been in a similar situation twice before, facing corruption allegations in 1997 and 2000, but both times he escaped being charged. Israel has a long history of former politicians being indicted for corruption including, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who served time in prison for accepting bribes during his time as mayor of Jerusalem.

Columnist Anshel Pfeffer in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes that Netanyahu’s fatal flaw is that, “just like his belief in the cult of hasbara (or public diplomacy), and that if only Israel explains itself better to the world, everyone will be won over, he’s convinced that his image, as presented by the media, is the source of all his setbacks”.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, and was based in Jerusalem in 2016/2017

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Interviewing Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters about Palestine

Last Friday night in Melbourne, I interviewed Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters alongside Palestinian writer Randa Abdel-Fattah. The event was organised by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network. Waters is in Australia on his massive “Us and Them” world tour (which I saw on Saturday night and it was one of the most spectacular music performances I’ve ever seen).

The Q&A was a unique public event, over 500 people attended, and we discussed the Middle East, Donald Trump, Palestine and his politics over decades. He was frank, funny and refreshingly down to earth. Unsurprisingly, Australian, pro-Israel politician Michael Danby condemned the event, including my involvement, but got both my names wrong in his press release.

Full video of the evening is coming soon but in the meantime here’s a story from popular music website, Noise 11:

Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters gave his time for the Australia Palestine Advocate Network in Melbourne on Friday and while explaining the issues between Palestine and Israel also took aim at a number of his fellow artists Elton John, Thom Yorke, Steven Tyler, Steve Van Zandt and Nick Cave.

Roger Waters has been working tirelessly since 2006 to try and bridge peace between Palestine and Israel after being confronted by Israeli fans at one of his concerts in Tel Aviv after calling on them to make peace with their neighbours 12 years ago.

Ever since he has campaigned for musicians to boycott performances in Israel and recently praised Lorde for doing so. However, he hasn’t had the same reaction from others.

In Melbourne, Roger Waters sat down for a Q&A for the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN).

During his talk for APAN Waters called Thom Yorke “a self-obsessed, narcissistic, drippy little prick” and Elton John ‘Queen Mum’. He also called out Nick Cave for saying he was bullying him, said “fuck you” to Steve Van Zandt and referred to Steven Tyler as “an old lady”.

Waters has been spreading the message to help mend the Middle East situation after that personal confrontation at his gig.

About Thom Yorke he said:

“Thom Yorke said that Ken Roach and I were throwing mud at him. No we weren’t. We were trying to engage him. I had a long email exchange with Thom Yorke and in the end he said ‘that’s it I’m giving up the music business, you have finally convinced me’. He was just being sarcastic. He is a prick. At least have a conversation. He is just a self-obsessed, narcissistic, drippy little prick”.

About Elton John:

Elton John went and played in Sun City about 500 times when everyone else in the world was anti-apartheid and said you can’t go and play in Sun City and he said ‘yeah I can, I’m the Queen Mum’. You kind of go, well he is just dopey and also he obviously doesn’t give a fuck about anybody else except the lesbian gay whatever whatever community which he does seem to care about. He will make videos protecting his one little area of people who are having violence done to them but he seems blind to (others). We are all human but some people are human in different ways.

About Little Steven

Little Steven, Steven Van Zandt from the E Street Band. He produced ‘Sun City’. I wrote to him and said ‘hey Steve, don’t you think it’s time we did one of these about Palestine because the situation is appalling. It is exactly the same situation it was in South Africa, it’s worse. He wrote me a letter back and said “I think the situation in Palestine is much more complicated and that turned into a threat. He said ‘I think you should be very careful about what you do and what you say because your career could be over in a heartbeat. I thought “fuck you”. This guy in his charlady hat is threatening me. He did say however he admired my courage and would love to have lunch so I wrote back and said “what about next Friday?” That was four years ago.

About Nick Cave

Your bloke, Cave. Gimme a break, was he really saying that his freedom of speech was being infringed? It doesn’t deserve an answer. I was co-signatory of all the letters sent to him. I didn’t speak to him personally. I don’t want to speak to him. I think it is pitiful to bring that up and say “I don’t want Roger Waters bullying me. I’m a musician, I just want to play my music”. What? They are shooting the fucking feet of 18-year-olds who want to play soccer. Don’t talk to me about your freedom of speech. Pay Attention”.

About Aerosmith and Steven Tyler

Aerosmith went to one of these training camps. What are they doing? What were they thinking? I ran into Steve Tyler in a sushi restaurant in LA and he leapt up to me. I thought, who is this, a little old lady? He had his hair up and I thought ‘oh God there’s a little old lady who wants to talk to me’ and it was Steven Tyler.

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ABC Radio National interview on Disaster Capitalism film

My film Disaster Capitalism, with director Thor Neureiter and co-producers Media Stockade, is screening publicly soon.

Last weekend I was interviewed by Hugh Riminton on Australia’s ABC Radio National Sunday Extra program about it:

When war or disaster strikes, we assume our aid contributions are life-saving, or at the very least will help rebuild countries and shattered communities. But some say trade works better than aid. Antony Loewenstein spent six years examining nations that have been pulled apart by conflict and disaster, and he’s produced ‘Disaster Capitalism’, a documentary currently being shown on limited release.

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How Trump weaponised far-right/Israeli connections

In March 2016, MidEastWire published my investigation into the growing ties between Israel and the global far-right.

Newsweek Arabic has now re-published the story in Arabic, in its 3 February edition, and I’ve updated it one year into the Trump presidency:

newsweekarabic

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ABC Radio Australia interview on Disaster Capitalism film

My film, Disaster Capitalism, with director Thor Neureiter and co-producers Media Stockade, is starting to screen this month (initially in Sydney and Melbourne with many more locations in Australia and globally to come).

I was interviewed today about the film on ABC Radio Australia’s Pacific Mornings program, broadcast across the entire Pacific region:

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Destroying US democracy from within

My book review in The Australian newspaper:

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

By Nancy MacLean

Scribe, $35, 368pp

As Hurricane Irma was pounding the US, President Donald Trump made a major announcement. He wanted huge tax cuts for the wealthiest members of society.

Standing alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Trump said that, “I think now with what’s happened with the hurricane, I’m gonna ask for a speed-up.”

Most of the mainstream media virtually ignored the announcement, rightly focused on the catastrophic weather disaster. But as Nancy MacLean, the William Chafe professor of history and public policy at Duke University, writes in the introduction to this extremely timely book, there’s an “attempt by the billionaire radical right to undo democratic governance”, and Trump’s desires fit perfectly.

Despite running as a political outsider during his contest with Hillary Clinton, Trump has appointed more economic reactionaries from investment bank Goldman Sachs, senior executives at the heart of the 2008 global financial crisis, than presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama combined.

Defending his decision to surround himself with economic advisers he’d criticised a few months earlier, Trump said he wanted “great, brilliant business minds … so the world doesn’t take advantage of us … I love all people, rich or poor, but in those particular positions I just don’t want a poor person.”

Nobel prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan, a largely unknown man who inspired a generation of ultra-rich Americans that democracy was the enemy of progress, is the focus of ­MacLean’s investigation. Buchanan’s vision, pushed today by the billionaire Koch brothers, was designed to disenfranchise the bulk of the population because, as MacLean told US news show Democracy Now! in June, “democracy must be, in effect, shackled to ­prevent the majority will from being expressed because it would take too much from people of great wealth and that would be a problem for them”.

To understand the threat to democratic norms outlined by MacLean, along with the corrupting nature of opaque campaign financing by corporations and the mega-wealthy, one must appreciate the vision that’s being articulated with surprising success in the 21st century.

The Republican Party has been largely hijacked by individuals who loathe any form of compromise. Beyond that, they want “liberty”, and by that they mean the insulation of private property rights from the reach of government — and the takeover of what was long public (schools, prisons, western lands and much more) by corporations, a system that would radically reduce the freedom of the many.

Buchanan was born in Tennessee in 1919 and became a professor at George Mason Univer­sity and other institutions across the US. In the age of mass segregation in US schools and the famous Supreme Court decision in 1954 — Brown v Board of Education proved that it was unconstitutional to have separate public schools for blacks and whites — Buchanan was on the wrong side of history. He worried about the government having any role in telling ­society how it should act. In an essay with fellow academic Warren Nutter, they stated that “every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing”, a common phrasing used by segregationists.

The relationship between Buchanan and Charles Koch developed across decades. The establishment of the Cato Institute in the 1970s signalled a significant development in the evolution of their mutual hatred of government.

MacLean explains how the think tank has long had a “revolutionary” opposition to unions, intellectuals who back government intervention and corporations that crave benefits through lobbying.

Cato’s success has been across the political divide, though far stronger in the Republican Party, and pushed the American centre much further to the right. It’s no accident that such policies have led to profound economic distress for millions of Americans, at least partially explaining why many bought the lies of economic renewal sold to them by Trump.

The idea that the state should be made to ­almost disappear and private enterprise control all levels of society was why Buchanan became an enthusiastic supporter of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (along with fellow economist Milton Friedman). He travelled to the country to help write its constitution. The torture and killings were clearly no impediment to his ­agenda of mass privatisation and austerity. It failed and the economy collapsed in 1982.

A key component of Buchanan’s thinking was an understanding that his policy proscriptions had to be imposed by stealth.

MacLean forensically examines why this was so necessary, in past decades and today, because the public would never approve of slow-motion privatisation and the eradication of public ser­vices. It’s why Trump and his allies could try to implement radical economic ­policies only during moments of societal distress or disaster. Using public shock is an opportunity too good to miss.

This book’s importance cannot be underestimated because countless policies advocated by all sides in politics today have their roots in ­Buchananism. From the privatisation of schools and prisons to the outsourcing of war and aid, MacLean warns that many leaders of the libertarian cause have “no scruples about enlisting white supremacy to achieve capital supremacy”.

This obviously applies to Trump but it’s simplistic to presume this problem can be solved by removing him or the Republican Party from power. Many Democrats, along with the mainstream capitalist, political class across the world in Australia, Europe and Britain, share the same goal: societies with a minimal safety net.

MacLean shows us the roots of this pernicious ideology in this powerful and disturbing book but questions whether the forces marshalled against it are strong enough to defeat it.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe. He is writing a book on the global war on drugs.

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Israeli dissident journalist Gideon Levy speaks in Sydney

Gideon Levy is one of Israel’s most outspoken journalists. He’s been writing for decades in Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the devastating effects of the never-ending Israeli occupation of Palestine.

I first met Gideon in Tel Aviv in 2005 when I was researching my first book, My Israel Question.

Since then, he’s become an inspiration for daring to reveal the dark side of Israeli society and what it’s supporting in the West Bank and Gaza.

He recently toured Australia, and received extensive media coverage (on the public broadcaster ABC), and I was privileged to speak alongside him at Sydney University. It was one of the biggest Sydney Ideas events of the year, with nearly 500 people present.

My comments begin at 50:07 and then a Q&A with Gideon.

Here’s the audio:

And the video:

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The Wire interview on Trump moving US embassy to Jerusalem

US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem is unsurprising and clarifying. It proves, once and for all, that Washington will only do the bidding of the Jewish state.

I was interviewed on Australian news program The Wire about the move:

Access and ownership of Jerusalem have been a hot issue for decades after its occupation by Israel. Peace talks have stalled multiple times and Donald Trump has thrown a spanner in the works once more.

The US President recently announced his intentions to move the US Embassy into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Which has caused condemnation from other political leaders and protests in the streets.  The consequences of his actions could be felt for years.

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Fair Australia literary prize

In the last months, I’ve been a judge on a great literary prize, Fair Australia, organised by Overland magazine:

What does a fairer world look like, and how do we get there? The Fair Australia Prize asks writers and artists to engage with these questions and imagine a new political agenda for Australia through fiction, essays, poetry, cartoons and art.

Many thanks to the 2017 judges – Michalia Arathimos, Jennifer Down, Emma Kerin, Antony Loewenstein, Godfrey Moase, Jacinda Woodhead, Ellen van Neerven, Toby Fitch, Carina Garland, Sam Wallman, Cathy Wilcox and Sam Davis – and to all the writers and artists who submitted entries this year. Note: the competition will reopen in 2018.

Overland, the National Union of Workers, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, and the National Tertiary Education Union (VIC) are very pleased to announce the winning entries of this year’s prize, which will be published in Overland’s final edition of the year, to be launched Monday 11 December in Melbourne.

The fine winner of the essay section that I co-judged:

‘Aussie Albert’

A snapshot of Albert Namatjira is a window into the injustices befalling Indigenous Australians, who are still denied a voice in determining their destiny in contemporary Australia.

Julian Bull studied natural resources management and landscape architecture at the Universities of Adelaide and Melbourne. His numerous articles on landscape architecture, urban design and art have been published in Australia and overseas.

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Disaster Capitalism film trailer

After 6+ years in the making, my film, Disaster Capitalism, is finished. Working with director Thor Neureiter, co-producers Media Stockade and co-editor Leah Donovan, it’s been the most challenging creative project of my life. But here we are with a fine film.

Disaster Capitalism is a compelling documentary that goes inside Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea to reveal the dark side of moneymakers and aid exploiters unafraid to make a killing from the misfortune of others.

We’ve just released the trailer on YouTube and Vimeo. Enjoy and please share on social media around your networks. Independent film-making requires your support.

In 2018, the film will be screened around the world, at film festivals, public screenings and TV broadcast (our French/US distributor has already secured a sale with a European TV broadcaster).

Thanks to the countless people in multiple nations for giving us so much encouragement and support over the last years.

We look forward to showing you this timely film next year.

Here’s the trailer:

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