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.

Open letter to MEAA over ExxonMobil funding of journalism

Following the recent decision by Australia’s leading journalist’s union to ask ExxonMobil to fund its annual conference, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism – I’m a research associate there -is circulating the following letter. I’ve signed it, as have many other leading reporters:

Open Letter
Chris Warren
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance

Dear Chris

We have recently become aware that Exxon Mobil is the Gold Sponsor of the 2010 Walkley Media Conference.  As journalists and others with an interest in media, we ask you to reconsider this decision and remove its sponsorship.

The MEAA Code of Ethics emphasises the central importance of striving for the truth and the responsibilities of media in a democracy. While we can understand the need for sponsorship, we consider that Exxon Mobil, a transnational oil corporation with a strong record of funding climate skeptic groups is an inappropriate choice. These groups promote confusion and ignorance in the community. They also protect fossil fuel interests threatened by policies aimed at meeting the grave challenge of climate change. Not only does Exxon Mobil funds these groups but it has been neither open nor honest about it.

In addition, Exxon Mobil has a long record of funding groups, which continually attack and undermine media organizations and individual journalists, which they consider to be too liberal.

Exxon is sponsoring the conference in order to gain and enhance their credibility through association with the Australian media community.  We consider that whatever financial advantages have been gained by the MEAA in return for this sponsorship deal, the reputation of the MEAA and its credibility in protecting the role of journalists to seek the truth and the public right to know is too great a price to pay.

Therefore we the undersigned call on MEAA to withdraw from this sponsorship arrangement before the conference. If you would like to discuss this matter with a group of signatories, please contact us.

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Will Obama accept this Israeli ruse?

Well, I guess this headline in Haaretz settles the problem:

Netanyahu: Extending settlement freeze will cause government to collapse

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Demeaning Tamils on a mission

When the wolves of the tabloid press are looking for victims, rest assured they’ll always find the most powerless in society. Case study one:

A Tamil refugee who went on a 23-day hunger strike in Parliament Square last year has received an apology and almost £80,000 in damages from the Daily Mail and the Sun over false allegations that he secretly sustained himself with hamburgers.

Parameswaran Subramanyam, 29, became the public face of the 73-day Tamil protests in Westminster after he decided to stop eating in the hope of drawing the world’s attention to what was happening to his people in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

He gave up his hunger strike on 30 April after the then foreign secretary, David Miliband, wrote him a letter explaining the “strenuous efforts” the government was making to bring about a ceasefire on the island. He then spent five days recovering in hospital.

Although his actions won him the support and admiration of many Tamils, their affection turned to animosity in October 2009 after the Daily Mail ran a story falsely claiming Subramanyam had broken the strike by eating burgers and had been caught doing so by a Metropolitan police surveillance team. The allegations were then repeated in a story published on the Sun’s website, headlined “Hunger Striker Was Lovin’ it”.

Today, Subramanyam’s solicitor, Magnus Boyd, told the high court that the articles had “[struck] at the heart of the claimant’s integrity, undermining the single achievement for which he became known and respected”.

He added: “As a direct result of the defendants’ publications, the claimant was ostracised by the Tamil community and its supporters who believed that the claimant had betrayed them and that the claimant had in fact undermined the Tamil struggle globally.”

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What if Wikileaks does nothing at all?

What if the political elite dismisses public opinion so greatly that revelations by groups such as Wikileaks simply change little or anything in public policy?

A GritTV discussion with Jay Rosen and Michael Otterman.

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The Greens may like the Palestinians just a little too much

The Australian Zionist lobby AIJAC are worried that the Greens, likely to poll very well in the upcoming election, aren’t sufficiently pro-Israel.

Opposing the West Bank settlements is supposedly a bridge too far for Zionists who talk about a “two-state solution” but in reality believe in ongoing colonisation.


Navigating the Wikileaks leak, from the man himself

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on ABC TV Lateline last night:

TONY JONES: You said in your press conference that you and the conventional journalists you’d worked with had only managed to read between one and 2,000 of the reports properly. Is that correct?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, that is true. To read and to read them in detail and that, there is just so much material we maybe had 20 people across the four organisations working on this full time and only for about a month for the other organisations and about six weeks for us.

TONY JONES: So, how many of the reports that you put on Wikileaks went onto the site without you actually knowing the detail of what was in them?

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s fair to say that only two per cent have been read in precise detail and the rest have been hived off using these classification systems.

TONY JONES: It’s interesting that some conventional journalists, like for example the editor of the New York Times, have been prepared to work with you on these leaked documents, but they still want to distance themselves from you and from Wikileaks and from your methods. What do you think is going on there?

JULIAN ASSANGE: That’s quite interesting the well the Spiegel and the Guardian were not really like that. They really did come properly to the table, but you know, the sort of the environment in the United States, the publishing environment I presume is just a really quite difficult when saying anything strongly against the war.

In previous cases, what we’ve seen is you can actually get important stories into the New York Times and into other mainstream press outlets like CNN. We did that with the collateral murder tape which exposed the murders of two Reuters’ journalists in Baghdad and the slaying of 16 to 24 other people.

But then what happens is editorial space is opened up for apologists who simply have opinion. So to get story in about the war, it has to be hard fact, and you have to have the hard facts, but to get a pro war story in all you need is opinion, and I think that really represents just a sheer scope of the war industry in the United States.

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Palestinian art is “propaganda”

It’s supposedly offensive to support Palestine. Makes you a backer of Hamas, supposedly:

Outrage over “propaganda” at a recent Chapel off Chapel art show has prompted an apology from Stonnington Council.

But the show’s organisers are defiant, saying they were entitled to express “free speech” in the printed flyers.

The Painting Blue Skies Over Gaza exhibition opened at the council-run Prahran venue in May.

Australians for Palestine organised the art show, which had Gaza-related paintings by Parkville artist Dora McPhee and works by Palestinian children.

A number of flyers, some describing Israel as an apartheid state with accusations of ethnic cleansing and racist policies, were left about the venue during the show.

A resident who complained to Stonnington Council, Leah, said “many, many individuals” had been concerned by the flyers.

The exhibition was “just a disguise for distributing propaganda,” she said. “It is a publicly-funded place and here we are funding propaganda for Hamas. We were just dumbfounded.”

Mayor Tim Smith last week said the printed material had no place at the venue.

“I thought it was totally offensive and insensitive,” Cr Smith said. “It had nothing to do with the art on display.”

But Australians for Palestine co-founder Sonja Karkar defended the flyers. “It’s not propaganda, it’s the truth. There is nothing offensive about it,” she said.

“We paid for the space and we have every right to put out this material. (It’s) free speech”.

Cr Smith said the venue had approved an art exhibition and not political campaigning.

When the material was reported to Chapel off Chapel’s staff during the art show, the flyers were removed “as best they could”, Cr Smith said.

Dora McPhee, a founding member of Australians for Palestine, said she supported the flyers that “helped explain the wider context of 62 years of injustice that the Palestinians have suffered and still suffer to this day”.

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Australia is increasingly owned by somebody else

My following article appears in Crikey today:

The Crikey/ACIJ series on Australian companies profiting from the foreign aid budget is a welcome discussion of the rapid privatisation of services in Australia and overseas, an area largely ignored by the mainstream media. The market, lightly regulated or not, is simply accepted by most commentators as the best way to order society and generate economic prosperity. There is no indication that the federal election campaign will question these assumptions.

Guy Rundle correctly wrote recently in the The Age that Kevin Rudd (and therefore Julia Gillard) believed “core economic processes could not be challenged, and that social power could not, and should not, be more widely distributed”.

Neither major political party has addressed foreign aid in the campaign but NGOs have called for an annual rise in support. The Greens’ policies demand UN-mandated rises.

My investigation of various levels of Australian society — from detention centres to military services and infrastructure to aid projects — reveals an extreme privatisation agenda by stealth with virtually no public or media scrutiny. The nation is increasingly controlled by unaccountable corporations either based in Australia or off-shore.

The ideology of selling off essential assets or services is bi-partisan and reveals a callous disregard for the lives of those being controlled by faceless businesses. It has become an article of faith for the corporate press to “let the market” decide rather than examining whether services will actually improve and society benefited.

America is increasingly moving down the path of privatising key roads and infrastructure, a trend Australia is seemingly keen to follow. The inherent dangers were clear to see, wrote Mother Jones in 2007, revealing how the general public was often shafted behind those who could afford the expensive toll-roads, hospitals and other important services.

Ageing infrastructure and a lack of government willingness to publicly invest almost guarantee the welcoming arms of corporations with the public interest far from their priority. It’s not uncommon for the same companies being paid to advise governments how to structure privatisation deals then double-dip by investing in the projects themselves.

The lesson from the US, ignored in Australia, is that the rate of privatisation is increasing as government oversight is either undercut or simply overwhelmed. A recent report by humanitarian aid watchdog Development Initiatives found an ever-increasing global budget to deliver aid and conflict relief but little ability to accurately determine where all the money was going and to whom. Waste remained endemic.

I wrote recently in Crikey about the re-opening of the Curtin Detention Centre. Back in May virtually no reporters acknowledged that British multinational Serco, with a history of troubling allegations by detainees in their care, would be running the facility. Nothing has changed since. Only the Greens complained in mid-July with the Labor government’s $100 million boost for expanded detention centres but again there was no mention of the company benefiting from the money.

I continue hearing serious allegations of mistreatment by Serco staff at Villawood detention centre and Christmas Island. The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office began an investigation in May to determine whether Tamil asylum seekers were held in detention for too long. Tamils told the Refugee Action Coalition that Serco management on Christmas Island refused them blankets and warm clothes during a hunger strike.

ABC TV’s Hungry Beast briefly mentioned Serco’s role in Australia last year and explained how the company is employed by the ADF, runs prisons in South Australia and Western Australia and is “one of the two favoured bid consortiums for the new Sydney metro rail line”.

It’s little known in Australia that KBR, formerly connected to Dick Cheney’s serial over-charging company Halliburton, controls some of the country’s key infrastructure. The firm faces serious allegations of mismanagement in Iraq, alleged rape of KBR employees in Iraq, gross negligence across the Middle East and use and abuse of private mercenaries in US war zones.

In late July, KBR announced it had won a $US330 million contract design to build a waste-water treatment plant in Melbourne. This project will operate alongside extensive work in the transport and mineral extraction industries, civil infrastructure, defence services and development for Australia’s Asia-Pacific aid work.

There has been no public discussion over outsourcing essential services — especially areas that affect Australia’s economic independence and climate change mitigation — to a company that remains highly controversial and unaccountable to the Australian parliament and people.

It is unquestioned within the corporate press and the Labor and Liberal parties for at least three decades that the reduction of government in the running of a country is a positive development. It’s a global phenomenon and particularly exaggerated in nations throughout the developing world undergoing profound economic, social or environmental disaster.

The other area of growing outsourcing is intelligence and private security operations. The Washington Post’s recent report on America’s out-of-control contracting industry revealed a world of nearly one million individuals with conflicting agendas fighting a marginal and exaggerated terrorist threat around the globe.

While there is no evidence to suggest Australia has followed exactly the same path, Britain and Australia after 9/11 actively colluded with contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan in the transfer of suspected terrorists. There are still many unanswered questions about the groups involved in the illegal rendition of David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib and the alleged role of mercenaries in their extraction.

The most obvious example of private contractors being used with the knowledge of the Australian government is the PNG mining sector. Countless human rights abuses continue to occur on a daily basis.

It’s clear across the Western world that elections are the worst time to have serious debates over government policy. But the privatisation agenda is rarely even discussed in other, less manic times. This isn’t an argument against any and all outsourcing of services but a call to better investigate the reasons behind its rapid expansion across the country.

Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, said in 2007 that, “the real legacy of neoliberalism is the story of the income gap. It destroyed the tools that narrowed the gap between rich and poor”.

Australia is changing in our time and almost nobody has noticed.

*Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney independent journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.


Is our future with privatised everything?

How one US town, Maywood, outsourced literally everything.

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How the Wikileaks story came together

The Wikileaks controversy is still swirling.

Official Washington is fuming. The Guardian’s investigation’s editor explains the importance of the Afghan war logs and why his paper featured them so prominently. A partnership between old and new media gave this story its global significance (and amen to that).

Perhaps the most fascinating insight into this yarn is how exactly Wikileaks worked with the New York Times, Guardian and Der Spiegel to get it to the world. Columbia Journalism Review gives a definitive account:

You wouldn’t be reading the coverage of the so-called Afghanistan logs—in The New York Times, Der Spiegel, and The Guardian—if Nick Davies, a senior contributor to the British paper, hadn’t tracked down WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Brussels one month ago.

Davies’s interest had been piqued in mid-June when Bradley Manning, a junior army intelligence analyst and the alleged source of several high-profile WikiLeaks disclosures, was quoted in chat transcripts claiming to have leaked a voluminous amount of yet-to-be disclosed diplomatic cables.

Whatever Assange had, and whomever its source, Davies knew that WikiLeaks would publish again—and hoped to convince him to let The Guardian look at any future release before WikiLeaks splashed it on its own site.

After e-mails to Assange’s listed accounts netted nothing, Davies contacted a half dozen people close to him, hoping to reach and woo Assange. One of them came back with a tip that a skittish Assange planned to honor a commitment to speak before the European parliament on Tuesday, June 21, despite the cries of “manhunt” surrounding him. Davies asked The Guardian’s Brussels reporter to corner Assange and tell him that he was on his way.

“While I was on the train going under the Channel, I had tried to work out what I would say to him,” remembers Davies. “It wasn’t going to work if I said ‘I’m a greedy reporter, I’d like to take all your information and put it in my newspaper.’”

Instead, Davies planned to tell Assange that The Guardian would allocate a team to identify stories in WikiLeaks’s unreleased documents that would benefit from careful research, some of which his paper would report out and some that could be parceled to other outlets. On June 22, during a six hour coffee-soaked meeting in a Brussels café, Davies says Assange suggested another idea—that The Guardian and The New York Times be given an advance look at some information the site had on the Afghanistan war, with each paper publishing their own takes on the documents. Within the next twenty-four hours, Davies says Assange told him Der Spiegel should be included as well.

Davies thought it unwise from a security standpoint to share Assange’s offer via the phone. Early Wednesday morning, Davies says he trained back to England to notify Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian’s editor in chief, who, in turn, called Bill Keller and, later, Mathias Müller Von Blumencron, top editors at The New York Times and Der Spiegel.

Rusbridger says he informed Keller of the terms of the deal: Though there was no fixed date of publication, WikiLeaks would agree to keep the documents under wraps for a term of “a few weeks.” All the organizations would publish simultaneously with WikiLeaks, once it determined the final publication date. The date had to work for the weekly Der Spiegel and the daily print outlets; it was eventually set for 10pm London time, Sunday, July 25. (Rusbridger says that as the organizations grappled with “the amount of work required to make sense of the material” Assange was asked, and agreed, to push back an earlier deadline. Davies pegs this delay as about a week.)

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Exxon believes in transparency in journalism?

Why is ExxonMobil sponsoring a conference organised by Australia’s leading journalist’s union?

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Wikileaks? Nothing to see here, move on please

CNN’s Anderson Cooper publishes on his website this almost hilarious spray against Wikileaks by Clint Van Winkle, the author of Soft Spots: A Marine’s Memoir of Combat and Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder:

We sent troops to Afghanistan to avenge the 9/11 attacks and few people objected. Now, the Nation is having second thoughts. People want timetables and quick victories, not a prolonged war. Well, it doesn’t always work that way. War isn’t always quick and it is never neat. When you send U.S. troops to fight, they are going to fight. There will be blood. Americans are going to die. Civilians are going to die. Why did anybody need 91,000 pages of documents to figure that out? Because very few have been paying attention to Afghanistan.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I don’t agree with the WikiLeaks Intel dump and I’m not here to debate the war in Afghanistan. Furthermore, to call the person who leaked the papers to the site a whistle-blower, as some media outlets have been doing, is absurd. The act was traitorous, especially since early indications suggest a former U.S. soldier is responsible. Still, there are some circles of thought that believe WikiLeaks is helping bring transparency to the war. Apparently, these people live in a world that doesn’t include people who could be affected by sensitive leaks. Thankfully, the information seems rather run-of-the-mill.

I’m not the only person who isn’t impressed by the current leak. There seems to be a general consensus that this is much ado about nothing. A plethora of intelligence analysts and people-in-the-know concur. For instance, Tom Ricks only dedicated a handful of words to the matter in his “Underwhelmed by WikiLeaks Leaks” blog post; he also cited/linked to Mother Jones’s and Andrew Exum’s lack of enthusiasm.

Perhaps the real issue the WikiLeaks fiasco has brought to light is this: the leaks are revelations to far too many people. It seems too many Americans know, and care, more about the cast of The Jersey Shore than they do about the war in Afghanistan and hold those characters in higher esteem than the men and women who have, and continue to, fight in that war.

While it is still too early to gauge the fallout from the leaks or know how it will impact our troops, at least Afghanistan is being talked about again and that is a good thing. We can only hope this conversation continues.

This isn’t the last we’ve heard from WikiLeaks and it is only a matter of time before they get their hands on something that will have a greater impact on our national security. You can count on that. In the meantime, it might be a good idea if the U.S. reviewed who has access to certain documents and started improving current practices.

For some, the role of journalism is to support imperial wars because “access” is all that matters.

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