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.

Talking is key

The debate on the Zionist lobby that we need to have. Oh to have been in New York a few nights ago…

UPDATE: More on the event here.


The torturing superpower

Here is some rare testimony of abuse by the Iraqi National Guard allegedly overseen by US soldiers.

After all, we now know that the US government openly and shamelessly tortures people for “evidence” against terrorism. Furthermore, many conservatives and moral pygmies support it. I look forward to them shrieking the loudest when an ingenious “enemy” subjects US soldiers to the same treatment.

When this kind of behaviour is condoned, we are no better than “them.”


Edgar and Adams talk up a storm about TV

My following article appeared in yesterday’s Crikey newsletter:

During Wednesday’s Sydney launch of Patricia Edgar’s book Bloodbath – a tale of her years in TV, including being founding director of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation – ABC broadcaster Phillip Adams remarked that “nothing prepares you for the savagery of TV” in both the commercial world and ABC.

The event at Gleebooks attracted a small but loyal older crowd of people who were treated to an informal conversation between old friends.

Edgar’s book (extracted here) traverses the birth of independent Australian television. She said that even as recently as the 1980s, women behind the camera were objects of ridicule.

Edgar grew up believing through movies that everything in the US was great, but soon realised that Australia had to tell its own stories. Adams reminded the audience that only four local original plays were produced in the country during the entire 1960s. Many actors never played Australian roles and the ABC was “mock BBC”.

Adams said that when he was trying to build the film industry – and admitted children’s content was an embarrassing early omission – the greatest opposition came not from Sir Frank Packer but the ABC, so keen were they to maintain an entertainment monopoly.

Edgar remained highly critical of an industry that she said failed to provide suitable and stimulating programming for children. She gave context through the story of how the ABC initially rejected Sesame Street as unsuitable for kids and she writes in her book that, “today children spend more time with machines than with their parents. From infancy they are branded from head to toe as walking advertisements for global corporations.”

Perhaps the funniest anecdote of the evening was when Adams told of being with ALP figure Barry Jones in Prague in 1971 and meeting a UCLA professor who showed them a pilot of Sesame Street. It was a revelation, and they wondered when it would appear in Australia. There was much local resistance to come.

Edgar’s gloomy conclusions aren’t matched by others in the popular culture arena and at times she seems to dangerously veer towards romanticising the past. Academic Catharine Lumby wrote in the Good Weekend in June that although children are indeed bombarded with unprecedented levels of popular culture, there was no evidence that literacy was falling. “Research showing that TV can be good for kids if used wisely…doesn’t make for good headlines”, she wrote.

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The democratic deficit

American Blackout, the movie.

Watch it.

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Death matters

As the Iraq conflict worsens – and a majority of the American people now consider the war-torn country to be in civil war – the major US newspapers are providing less coverage of the carnage.

The mainstream media is failing.

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Australia and Timor, a tortured relationship

I’m an irregular contributor to the Washington Post’s Post Global site (my first piece, on the US/Australia alliance, is here). My second article is now published and it discusses “Australia’s meddling in East Timor“:

During Indonesia’s brutal, 24-year occupation of East Timor, the Western world remained complicit in the oppression. Current President Xanana Gusmao handed the UN a report in January that detailed gross human rights abuses over those years. It alleged that Jakarta’s deliberate policy of starvation and murder cost the lives of between 84,000 and 183,000 people between 1975 and 1999. Furthermore, the Indonesian military used Western-supplied napalm bombs during their reign of terror.

None of the leading Western nations involved – Australia, the US and Britain – have accepted responsibility for their actions nor offered compensation. A further insult has been the lack of international pressure to bring former Western-backed dictator General Suharto to trial for war crimes in Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia.

Although Australian assistance helped end Timor’s occupation in 1999, the world’s newest nation has suffered great instability in the last seven years.

Within Australia, a mythology has developed: Australia is seen as the white knight that arrived to save Timor’s soul. In reality – as pointed out by Australian historian Clinton Fernandes in his incendiary 2004 book, Reluctant Saviour – “Australian diplomacy functioned in support of the Indonesian strategy [of holding onto Timor]. It functioned as an obstacle to East Timor’s independence. When the [John] Howard government was eventually forced to send in a peacekeeping force, it did so under the pressure of a tidal wave of public outrage.”

The relationship between Canberra and Dili has always been complex but the ongoing struggle over the Timor Gap – vast oil and gas reserves in the seabed off East Timor – has caused Australia to be accused of exploiting Timor’s future economic prosperity. The country’s former Prime Minster, Mari Alkatiri, was a strong defender of these natural resources, but his popularity within Timor had waned, eventually forcing him to resign.

The recent unrest in Timor resulted in violent clashes between disgruntled soldiers and the ruling Fretelin party. Tens of thousands of Timorese were forced to flee their homes into refugee camps. And Australia, once again, sent troops to quell the troubles, though the exact details of the unrest remain unclear.

The country’s new Prime Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, has thanked Australia for its assistance and already criticised its role in the struggling nation. Australia’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, recently told the East Timorese that, “they have to learn to find solutions to their own problems, not just expect the international community indefinitely to solve all those problems for them“. It was a typically arrogant statement from a government that enjoys maintaining control over a number of nations in the region.

There are many unsubstantiated allegations that the Australian government instigated the latest unrest in East Timor and wanted regime change. What is clear, however, is that East Timor should be allowed to prosper into a truly independent nation, and heal from years of Western-backed misery.

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The silent destruction

When Israel bombed Gaza’s power plant in June, the Jewish state committed a war crime.

The world’s silence is deafening.


Dead trees RIP

Michael Kinsley is the former op-ed editor at the LA Times. He therefore writes with some authority on the future of newspapers. He paints a grim picture, a position I happily share:

It seems hopeless. How can the newspaper industry survive the Internet? On the one hand, newspapers are expected to supply their content free on the Web. On the other hand, their most profitable advertising – classifieds – is being lost to sites like Craigslist. And display advertising is close behind. Meanwhile, there is the blog terror: people are getting their understanding of the world from random lunatics riffing in their underwear, rather than professional journalists with standards and passports.

He doesn’t provide any answers, mainly because they aren’t any quick solutions. Some of his conclusions are glib, however. He still seems to believe that an article or investigation in the mainstream media should be trusted simply because it appears in a major news organ. Corporate news propaganda is clearly a concept he is yet to learn.

But at least the debate is moving along (and my next book, on the Western media, will tackle some of these issues.)


The painful pull-out

The Iraqi people have spoken:

A new WPO poll of the Iraqi public finds that seven in ten Iraqis want US-led forces to commit to withdraw within a year. An overwhelming majority believes that the US military presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing and there is growing confidence in the Iraqi army. If the US made a commitment to withdraw, a majority believes that this would strengthen the Iraqi government. Support for attacks on US-led forces has grown to a majority position—now six in ten. Support appears to be related to a widespread perception, held by all ethnic groups, that the US government plans to have permanent military bases in Iraq. 

So will Bush, Blair and Howard listen? Of course not, they’ll simply blame all attacks on the occupation as terrorism. This is where the real focus lies:

A public relations company known for its role in a controversial U.S. military program that paid Iraqi newspapers for stories favourable to coalition forces has been awarded another multi-million dollar media contract with American forces in Iraq.

Washington-based Lincoln Group won a two-year contract to monitor a number of English and Arabic media outlets and produce public relations-type products such as talking points or speeches for U.S. forces in Iraq, officials said Tuesday. 


The values debate we don’t have to have

My following article appears in today’s Crikey newsletter:

We live in an age where political insecurity is projected through the “values” debate. When politicians want to instil calm in the electorate, they preach about shared ideas, Australian mateship, tolerance, a fair go, religious freedom and freedom of speech. These are all noble ideals in a democracy but who truly decides what values should be sacrosanct in Australia?

During my recent trip to Queensland, I noticed an article on this subject by the Noosa News Editor Frank Wilkie. “Looks like the shiny bums have gone ga-ga and fallen A over T in love with Aussie values”, he wrote. “The pollies have been busier than one-armed bricklayers in Baghdad trying to outdo each other on who’s the most fair dinkum.”

Wilkie was clearly cynical about the real purpose behind the “values” debate. “This stoush about values may be a deadest barbie-stopping dud-dropper”, he scoffed, “but vows to obey and police the law may be all we need.” His commentary was more sensible than the vast majority of pontificators in the broadsheet press.

Suspicion towards the political elite – the individuals, after all, defining “values” for us all – is experienced by voters across the Western world.

Sir Alistair Graham is the UK’s Commissioner on Standards in Public Life, a position he took on in 2004. He wrote in Britain’s conservative Daily Mail in mid-September that the political system was in danger of being further eroded because sleaze and scandals were overwhelming public debate:

Why don’t we trust our politicians? And what can be done to restore that trust? These are pressing questions for all involved in public life.

The results of a national survey by the Commission on Standards in Public Life two years ago showed that less than a quarter of people generally trusted Government ministers to tell the truth.

They were 15th in the pecking order of professions, just above estate agents.

Today our second survey confirms this low level of trust. In fact, Government ministers now hover just below estate agents.

Graham’s report is highly relevant in Australia. When the British people believe that politicians are out of touch with the general public and rarely explain the real reasons behind their actions, our media and political elite should take notice.

During the current debate over “values”, it may be wise to question the real motives behind the politician’s sudden interest in shared values. Rest assured it’s not about keeping intolerance out.

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The more the merrier

This intriguing event in the Philippines – an online political press conference – shows what can be achieved by fully utilising new technology to engage citizens in the electoral process.

In Australia, politicians barely understand how to use the web, let alone write their own blog to keep in touch with constituents.

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More options needed

A healthy democracy features a robust and diverse media. Australia is not that country, with close to 70% of newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch.

John Howard’s proposed “reforms” to foreign media ownership and regulation are, despite rhetoric suggesting otherwise, destined to lead to even further consolidation of the major players.

Independent e-newsletter Crikey explains the inherent dangers:

Removing or weakening the cross-media rules is based on a myth about the current state of the media. The government’s main rationale for introducing the new laws is that “new media” is rapidly assuming dominance over “old media”, thus making cross-media regulation redundant. We would argue strongly that this is not the case. Firstly, the old media still totally dominate the flow of serious information in Australia. The arrival of websites and blogs may have added more numeric voices to the debate, but they are minute blips on the information radar compared to the societal and political influence that is wielded by newspapers or talk radio. Moreover, as a statement of fact, the biggest news and current affairs sites on the internet are overwhelmingly owned by the old media companies.

Removing or weakening the cross-media rules will result in fewer journalists and diminished journalism. The new laws are constructed for industry consolidation, which is likely to result in acquisitions by existing media owners of existing Australian media assets. Based on previous experience in the media industry, this is likely to be a highly competitive process, resulting in high prices being paid for perhaps the last opportunity to acquire valuable strategic assets. To justify the prices paid, buyers are likely to be forced to cut costs and, inevitably, journalism will be impacted by such a cost reduction process. Which raises a crucial question: is journalism simply another product in the marketplace, or does it have a direct connection to the quality of the public debate? And if it does, how can a government justify laws which treat it just like any other consumer commodity? If good journalism is vital for a functioning democracy, and there are identifiable threats to the viability of quality journalism in Australia at its current levels, is it the role of the federal government to introduce laws that are likely to accelerate that trend? 

Suffice to say, most of the mainstream media have remained mute during this vital debate.