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.

Preying on Haiti; a study in disaster capitalism

Via Haiti Grassroots Watch:

Twenty billion dollars worth of gold, copper and silver hidden in the hills of the hemisphere’s poorest country. Investors in North America so convinced of the buried treasure, they have already spent 30 million dollars collecting samples, digging, building mining roads and doing aerial surveys.

The fairy tale is true, but it might not have a “happily ever after” ending.

A 10-month investigation into Haiti’s budding “gold rush” by the watchdog consortium Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) discovered backroom deals, players with widely diverging objectives, legally questionable “memorandums”, and a playing field that is far from level.

Although Haitian law states that all subsoil resources belong to “the Haitian nation”, so far the nation has been kept in the dark about the digging and testing going on in the country’s north.

Dieuseul Anglade, a well-respected geologist who headed the state mining agency for most of the past 20 years, was recently fired by Haiti’s newly installed prime minister. Was it because he has consistently championed tougher laws and better deals for the state, and for the Haitian people?

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2012 proves that dangers for reporters increasing by the day

Columbia Journalism Review has the shocking facts:

 With 72 journalists killed so far this year, 2012 is on pace to be the deadliest on record, the International Press Institute (IPI) announcedhere on Sunday.

The media freedom organization’s executive director, Alison Bethel McKenzie, choked up and struggled to speak as she addressed the group’s annual conference.

“From Somalia to Syria, the Philippines to Mexico, and Iraq to Pakistan, reporters are being brutally targeted for death in unparalleled numbers,” she said.

The most lethal year so far in the 15 that IPI has been keeping records was 2009, when 110 journalists died. Last year was the second worst, with 102 deaths.

Syria, where peaceful protests have turned into a violent civil war, has been the most dangerous country in 2012, with 20 professional and citizen reporters, both local and foreign, killed so far, according to McKenzie.

“It is deeply disturbing that in a year still massively impacted by the once unimaginable—the overthrow of brutal Arab regimes through people and media power—journalists are dying on the job in record numbers,” she said.

Unlike the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which also monitors casualties, IPI counts accidental deaths, such as those of five Indonesian journalists killed when a plane crashed during a demonstration flight in May. Still, the two groups are in rough accord on the violent pace of 2012. According to CPJ, 46 journalists have died so far this year, on track to match or surpass the 97 lost lives it recorded in 2009, the highest number in the 20 years the group has kept statistics.

CPJ figures also finger Syria as the deadliest country for journalists in 2012. As recently as Wednesday, gunmen attacked a pro-government TV station near Damascus, killing three journalists and four others, according to the Associated Press.

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Assange interviews Imran Khan, Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky

The great The World Tomorrow series continues (past episodes here). A few weeks ago it was Pakistani politician Imran Khan and then this week Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky. Find me another mainstream TV talk show that actually believes in seriously examining ideas, political philosophy and democracy:

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The most sense spoken on asylum seekers for years

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#LeftTurn tackled by Socialist Alternative

The following review of #LeftTurn appears in Socialist Alternative by Tom O’Lincoln:

Review: Left Turn: political essays for the new left.Antony Loewenstein and Jeff Sparrow (eds), Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2012

Capitalism is complicated, and so are the challenges to it. So a book like Left Turn, offering an array of agenda-setting arguments, is bound to be ambitious.

Some of the essays tackle structural questions like analysis of the media, something that will be important in battles to come. Many explore the forms of oppression that capitalism generates: sexism, race prejudices, homophobia, refugees and most horrible of all, the relentless attacks on Indigenous people. Some of the chapters about oppression made me think, some are inspiring, and I was struck by how many controversial issues could fit into one book.

In addition to Tom Bramble’s expert discussion of trade unions, quite a few other authors bring out the class dimensions of everything from the media to race. The 17 chapters are all admirably concise, yet at a total of 250 pages there is a lot to think about – the book will provoke valuable debates.

There is a price to the wide scope, however: It’s too diverse to hold together neatly, so despite having two top-notch editors there is a degree of confusion. Why call Elizabeth Humphrys’ and Tad Tietze’s essay “The Science Cannot Save Us”, when the chapter says little about science, but is overwhelmingly about how the market can’t save us? In Rick Kuhn’s penetrating discussion of Marxism and crisis the section called “Solutions” contains no solutions at all.

Be that as it may, Tietze and Humphrys do a good job debunking the vogue for market solutions to environmental crisis, while Kuhn knocks some suitably jagged holes in conventional economics.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 are all fairly powerful, as we might expect from three leading writers with anti-capitalist politics. Guy Rundle writes about how capitalism colonises time and space. The system puts a logo on every speck of territory, and takes away our free time as the working week gets longer. Rundle want to fight to seize back both time and space. .

Christos Tsiolkis explores the middle class left’s tendency to act superior; and I was delighted to see someone hammer people who dismiss working class folk as “bogans”. Antony Loewenstein exposes hypocrisy in the media, for example over Afghanistan, and Emilie Howie exposes it in the human rights fields. Our rulers are never short of hypocrisy.

Larissa Behrendt and Chris Graham writing on Indigenous struggles are the highlight of the book. Behrendt at the academic end cites data that damns the Northern Territory Intervention. Graham courageously writes in defence of Aborigines driven to violence: at Wadeye, on Palm Island and elsewhere. Sick of hearing from political leaders that “violence is never a solution”, Graham points out how the same people support violent solutions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even more daring, he shows how riots by Indigenous communities have led to tangible gains.

But while we defend, even celebrate, riots by the oppressed, they aren’t a solution. Many readers of Left Turn will come to this looking for a strategic way forward, but they won’t find it, except in fragmentary form.

Jeff Sparrow tries to pull some threads together in an ambitious chapter. Just a touch too ambitious, perhaps. Sparrow is a powerful writer but, like the book generally, he crams in an incredible number of arguments. He dashes from the Occupy movement and Janet Albrechtson to Bakhtin and Bakunin, from Pinochet to Bono, and from Zizek to William Lane. One ironic transition after another, he does make valuable points – but they are easy to lose track of.

The Occupy movement and the fate of Chilean singer Victor Jara – murdered in Pinochet’s military coup – are important themes in the chapter. They represent different utopian strands reaching for the future, and a refusal to be co-opted into the flattened culture of neoliberalism.

One of the singer’s most thrilling lines is: “Now is the time that can be tomorrow.” To this, Sparrow responds: “The achievement of Occupy was to provide a context in which Jara’s revolutionary optimism once more becomes real.” The singer called for a “strike at power”, a philosophy Sparrow rightly endorses.

More needs to be considered – despite the fact it would mean removing other material from this crowded discussion. If we take a critical look at the politics of Jara and the Communist Party, we find that his version of the song actually took the socialism out. Jara’s lyrics were designed to win an election for social democrat leader Salvador Allende, not make a radical social transformation.

Jara and his comrades never contemplated a strike at power. That was empty rhetoric. They and Allende trusted the military, and harvested a ghastly defeat. This was the crucial lesson from Chile, and from Indonesia 1965, and from many other experiences.

More needs to be considered, but this slightly crowded book isn’t a bad start.

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Repeat after me; Blackwater never dies

San Diego Reader on a company that has thrived, despite major controversies, since 9/11. Almost the definition of disaster capitalism:

 Last week, Gail Collins, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, wrote a story about privatization. In the article, Collins describes privatization efforts that haven’t gone so well. Some examples she listed were privatizing prisons, educational facilities, and training of “mercenaries” by private security firms such as Blackwater and it’s affiliated companies Xe Services, and now Academi.

In recent years the Blackwater firm has gone through some changes, mostly name changes. Last year, new investors purchased many of the assets and facilities owned by Blackwater offshoot, Xe Services, rebranding the company under the new name, Academi.

Name changes and ownership aside, Blackwater/Xe/Academi is no stranger to San Diego County. In 2008, plans to build a training facility in Potrero was shot down. A few years later, the U-T San Diego stumbled upon a training facility in a remote area of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation run by a former a Blackwater employee.

But, there is one other training facility in San Diego County that hasn’t been talked about for some time; Academi Southwest, located just a few blocks away from the Otay Mesa border.

In 2008, Mayor Jerry Sanders took some flak for not questioning what seemed to be a rather peculiar permit obtained by representatives from Blackwater.

“The one man standing in the way of Blackwater is Mayor Jerry Sanders,” read a letter from Jess Durfee of the San Diego democratic party.

“He has the power — under San Diego’s “strong mayor” system — to launch a full investigation into the false pretenses Blackwater used to obtain a “vocational trade school” permit for their facility in Otay Mesa.”

Of course that project was eventually approved.

According to a spokesperson for the firm, Academi Southwest “offers a variety of services available to government, corporate and individual customers in a 61,000-square-foot indoor training facility. The facility includes a 25-yard indoor multi-purpose range, classrooms, a 2,500 square foot indoor tactical shoot house, a three-story 3,000-square-foot ship simulator, and a tower configured for the instruction of technical climbing and rigging.”

The facility “provides training for civilians, local law enforcement and government agencies.”

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Finally some sense on showing Zionist love

Stand back, world, America has spoken:

Congress today passed a bipartisan bill requiring Americans to add Israel’s Star of David to the U.S. flag for the week of July 4th. Rep. Hugh Llewellyn III (R-Alabama) and Sen. Dale Wentworth (D-New Jersey) introduced the legislation during a special session.

Citizens who own American flags should proceed to their nearest Post Office to receive their free Star of David patch, which includes a convenient flag-ready VELCRO® backing.

Israeli officials have made no comment on the Congressmens’ bill, except to say that the Star of David should be placed above the flag’s other fifty stars.

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My 2012 PEN Free Voices lecture on free speech and why it matters

The following is published today as the lead piece by ABC’s The Drum:

The two-hour drive from Islamabad to Peshawar is along a surprisingly smooth road. Mud-brick homes sit amongst lush, green fields. Police checkpoints are set up routinely to stop unwanted visitors.

I am asked why I want to see the troubled Pakistani town near the border with Afghanistan. I say I’m a reporter, flash my International Federation of Journalists press card, which I’m sure the officer can’t read, and am quickly waved through.

Islamabad is a relatively liberal city in one of the most volatile nations on earth. Peshawar is geographically close but a world away. Women, if they’re seen at all in public, walk in shapeless burkas and men have thick beards and wear the traditional salwar kameez. Suicide bombers regularly attack government buildings, police and army in a continuing war against the Pakistani state and its Western backers. I arrive feeling uneasy.

A once stable town has been torn apart in the last decade as militants seek to overthrow both a corrupt central government and expel a Washington-led campaign against the resistance that is seen as illegitimate and lacking public support.

When I visit in March this year, I am surprised by the vibrancy of the Pakistani media. Multiple outlets joust for dominance, routinely publishing scandalous information about politicians and celebrities. But as I have seen first-hand in Iran, Palestine, Syria, Cuba and Egypt and a range of other countries, magical “red lines” exist that must not be crossed. If they are, journalists can pay an extremely high price.

I meet independent journalist Hayat in Peshawar. He’s 35 with a wife and two young children. He wears a pink-striped shirt and grey suit. Pockmarked face. His office is on the third floor of a non-descript building. His knowledge about the FATA (Federal Administered Tribal Areas) is immense, having spent time in the various regions. He talks about the different Taliban groups, how they relate to each other and the government.

Peshawar is on the edge of this abyss, the entry point to a tribal land that remains impossible for Westerners and most Pakistanis to visit. Since 9/11, it has been occupied by the Pakistani army and militants and often remains lawless.

It is where US president Obama, far more than his predecessor George W Bush, has unleashed an unprecedented number of drone strikes, killing hundreds of civilians since 2009, according to a recent study by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. These men, women and children are rarely given names by the Western media. Instead our media class are happy to simply repeat official Pakistani and American government claims of killing “terrorists”.

We degrade our profession by mindlessly rehashing White House press releases with no evidence to support the thesis. Sadly it has become a regular occurrence in both the tabloid and so-called quality press, including the ABC, Fairfax and News Limited. “10 militants killed”; “7 Al-Qaeda terrorists killed”. No evidence. Rarely any photographs or video. This isn’t journalism; it’s stenography.

Hayat’s voice is invisible in the West, despite speaking fluent English. Here’s a man with unique access to one of the most challenging areas on the planet and yet most Western news outlets seemingly prefer to rely on familiar faces and voices. When was the last time you read an article about Iraq or Afghanistan by an Afghan or Iraqi actually based in their respective countries?

During research for my book, The Blogging Revolution, on the internet in repressive regimes, a work that took me to Cuba, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China, it became clear that many in the Western media are reluctant to hear voices that don’t conform to their idea of what a foreigner should sound like or think. It is the only explanation for the near-complete exclusion of indigenous voices from conflict zones in our mainstream press.

Their freedom of speech is ignored because of the inherent, Western-centric nature of our leading journalists and media practitioners. Let me be blunt; our white-skin dominated media often doesn’t trust brown, yellow or black skin. The result is a wilful myopia that ignores both the nuance of a nation and the reasons post 9/11 that so little is understood about the reality of the rapacious “war on terror” and its reach in dozens of countries worldwide.

Why do “they” hate us? Because we occupy and kill “them”.

A recent story by independent journalist Matthieu Aikins in the Columbia Journalism Review should be a wake-up call to anybody who believes that advocating free speech in a globalised world hasn’t changed in the last decade. It has, hugely. Aikins details a recent story by a filmmaker from Britain’s Channel 4 who worked with Syrian dissidents in the capital Damascus. The Syrian was providing secure communications expertise to the resistance and the Western filmmaker interviewed him about his work. But the dissident worried that the documentarian wasn’t taking appropriate security precautions to protect his identity and work. For example, he was using a mobile phone and SMS without protections.

Last October the filmmaker was arrested in Syria, held for days in prison and had has laptop, mobile phone, camera and footage taken by the regime. As soon as he discovered this, the dissident fled Damascus, stayed with relatives in another town and then escaped to Lebanon. The dissident and his colleagues were scared that Syrian intelligence now had access to names, faces and information about opponents of president Assad.

Aikins rightly says that it’s easy to condemn the filmmaker for not taking adequate digital precautions of his material but it’s really systematic of a wider problem.

We are all failing to encrypt our work when reporting from conflict zones and nations where intelligence services are ubiquitous. I have been guilty of this myself. When off-the-shelf surveillance equipment is now so easily available - WikiLeaks’ Spy Files revealed the vast number of Western security firms selling technology to repressive and democratic states, making the monitoring of email, Skype and mobile phone calls – it is the responsibility of journalists, human rights activists and NGOs to learn how to protect information that could mean the difference between life and death for the people we claim to represent and protect.

But we are foolish to believe these threats only exist in the non-Western world. The Obama administration has accelerated the development of a surveillance state apparatus that now listens and records every phone call and email every day in the US. Some estimate up to 20 trillion calls and emails have been stored in the last years. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has written extensively about Obama’s unprecedented war on whistle-blowers.

In Pakistan and Afghanistan recently, working on a book and film about disaster capitalism, I heard countless reporters talking about self-censorship, a daily need to assess what to write and what to avoid.

During a recent episode of Julian Assange’s The World Tomorrow – an outstanding weekly TV program that interviews some of the key thinkers and players in our world, individuals largely ignored by the corporate media – he spoke to Alaa Abd El-Fattah from Egypt and Nabeel Rajab from Bahrain. Both men have been imprisoned, tortured, held without charge. Both men remain outspoken. Both men refuse to be silenced and curtail their own free speech. Both men should be heard in our media on a regular basis but they are not. I believe it is because they are ferociously opposed to US-backed repression. They are unapologetic. Passionate. Necessarily unbalanced in their views towards Washington’s love of reliable autocrats. And yet their biggest recent audience is on the WikiLeaks founder’s current affairs show.

An inquisitive media would be intrigued with a book such as Poetry of the Taliban, a just-released tome that outlines without romanticising the love, adventure and fears of a group both pre and post September 11 that has beaten the world’s greatest super-power.

Supporting freedom of speech in its entirety, not merely claiming to appreciate all views but actually meaning it, as far too many liberals only endorse points of view with which they agree, means hearing the positions of groups or individuals with whom you may vehemently oppose. Truly free speech should make us uncomfortable, confronted and offended.

The internet has brought knowledge and information to more people than at any time in history. There are close to one billion Facebook accounts. Countless people use YouTube and Google every day.

But none of these tools provide human rights protections or ensure free speech. They merely give officials more opportunities to monitor and document a user’s online footprint. Although they allow activists much easier access to friends and colleagues around the world – and using online proxies to communicate and surf freely are essential in both repressive and democratic states – the reach of Western security companies is far greater than most people realise. It is no longer paranoid to presume that we are being watched and monitored by the state.

Wired magazine recently revealed that the National Security Agency in the US is building a $2 billion centre that aims to:

“intercept, decipher, analyse, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks… Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”

The threat to freedom of speech globally isn’t just in the obvious places – Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico or China – but in our own backyard, instituted by our democratically elected leaders.

We have been warned.

This is an extract from the 2012 PEN Free Voices lecture, first delivered at the Sydney Writers Festival in May.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author, co-editor with Jeff Sparrow, of the just released Left Turn, the upcoming After Zionism and a 2013 book and film about disaster capitalism. Follow him on Twitter. View his full profile here.

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Another totally typical day in Israel/Palestine

One (via the Guardian):

A belief that every Palestinian child is a potential terrorist may be leading to a “spiral of injustice” and breaches of international law in Israel‘s treatment of child detainees in military custody, a delegation of eminent British lawyers has concluded in an independent report backed by the Foreign Office.

The nine-strong delegation, led by the former high court judge Sir Stephen Sedley and including the UK’s former attorney-general Lady Scotland, found that “undisputed facts” pointed to at least six violations of the UN convention on the rights of the child, to which Israel is a signatory. It was also in breach of the fourth Geneva convention in transferring child detainees from the West Bank to Israeli prisons, the delegation said.

Its report, Children in Military Custody, released on Tuesday, was based on a visit to Israel and the West Bank last September funded and facilitated by the Foreign Office and the British consulate in Jerusalem.

 Two (via the Times of Israel):

A former top Foreign Ministry official has endorsed South Africa’s plan to ban “Made in Israel” labels for imported products from the West Bank, protesting what he calls Israeli complacency about the occupation.

Alon Liel, a former Foreign Ministry director-general and ex-ambassador to South Africa, told The Times of Israel that he also personally boycotts products from West Bank settlements and supports cultural boycotts of Israel to protest the lack of progress in the peace process.

Liel said his stance, which includes supporting author Alice Walker’s refusal to have her book “The Color Purple” translated into Hebrew, also aims to call attention to the urgent need for Jerusalem to ensure the near future brings “Palestinian independence, not an Israeli apartheid state.”

“I can understand the desire, by people of conscience, to reassert an agenda of justice, to remind Israelis that Palestinians exist,” Liel wrote inan article that appeared Sunday in the South African BusinessDay newspaper. Similar versions of the article also appeared in various European newspapers, including the French Liberation.

“I can understand small but symbolic acts of protest that hold a mirror up to Israeli society. As such, I cannot condemn the move to prevent goods made in the occupied Palestinian territory from being falsely classified as ‘Made in Israel.’ I support the South African government’s insistence on this distinction between Israel and its occupation,” Liel wrote.

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Thank God for Tony Blair helping transport sweaters from Gaza

Amira Hass in Haaretz:

Senior British diplomats invested supreme efforts in the past year so that one truck could transfer 2,000 sweaters, to be sold in the United Kingdom. The future wearers of these sweaters must, first of all, thank their former prime minister, Tony Blair, who this week will be marking the fifth anniversary of his appointment as the Quartet’s special envoy for Middle Eastern affairs.

As part of their job Blair and his team of experts, who are permanently stationed in our country, are doing everything in their power to share with the Israeli experts on terror and economics their astonishing discoveries: that unemployment (34 percent in Gaza ) and poverty (44 percent of Gazans suffer from food insecurity ) harm society, and that without the export of merchandise there is no economic development.

It turns out that Blair and his team have the iron patience of a nation that has dealt for hundreds of years with the comprehension-challenged natives. Five years after Israel imposed the tight siege against Gaza, and two years after it loosened the siege by allowing more goods to get in (by a rare coincidence, that came after the interception of the Mavi Marmara flotilla ), Blair’s team still hasn’t convinced Israel of the siege’s harm. And the government continues to believe that the prohibition against exports from the Strip is the right way to fight the Hamas government, which meanwhile refuses to collapse.

Back to the sweaters: Equally warm thanks are sent from here to Lord Andrew Stone, who visited Gaza in June 2011 and was involved in his own way in bringing together Kamal Ashour, the owner of a sewing factory in Gaza, and the British retailer G.D. Williams & Co. Ltd.

Let’s not forget the contribution of the British consul general in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean, and of Her Majesty’s minister for international development, Alan Duncan, whose ministry helped to rehabilitate the long-unused sewing plant. The two also helped secure funding to pay for modern equipment and to train tailors to work with the modern machines. It’s no wonder than Fean and Duncan warmly welcomed the first shipment of clothes from Gaza to England since 2007.

There is no question that the British sweater wearers will be happy to know that their taxes are paying for so many important hours of work, and that they enabled one truck to make history on May 14, 2012, when it delivered the aforementioned items of clothing from the sewing factory to the Kerem Shalom commercial checkpoint, to the Ashdod Port, and finally, to the British retailer.

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How private prison operators game the system and demand longer sentences

The apocalyptic future is here (via Justice Policy Institute):

Over the past 15 years, the number of people held in all prisons in the United States has increased by 49.6 percent, while private prison populations have increased by 353.7 percent, according to recent federal statistics. Meanwhile, in 2010 alone, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies, had combined revenues of $2.9 billion. According to a report released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), not only have private prison companies benefitted from this increased incarceration, but they have helped fuel it. Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies, examines how private prison companies are able to wield influence over legislators and criminal justice policy, ultimately resulting in harsher criminal justice policies and the incarceration of more people. The report notes a “triangle of influence” built on campaign contributions, lobbying and relationships with current and former elected and appointed officials. Through this strategy, private prison companies have gained access to local, state, and federal policymakers and have back-channel influence to pass legislation that puts more people behind bars, adds to private prison populations and generates tremendous profits at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.

“For-profit companies exercise their political influence to protect their market share, which in the case of corporations like GEO Group and CCA primarily means the number of people locked up behind bars,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “We need to take a hard look at what the cost of this influence is, both to taxpayers and to the community as a whole, in terms of the policies being lobbied for and the outcomes for people put in private prisons. That their lobbying and political contributions is funded by taxpayers, through their profits on government contracts, makes it all the more important that people understand the role of private prisons in our political system.”

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ABCTV News 24′s The Drum on refugees and media troubles

I appeared last night on ABC TV’s The Drum (video here) alongside former Howard government minister Peter Reith and 2UE host John Stanley.

The main issues were asylum seekers – I argued that neither major side of politics in Australia has any desire to alleviate suffering and seemingly prefer ways to privatise the system and sound “tough” on asylum seekers – and the ongoing crisis in legacy media – where I stated that the question isn’t simply about ownership, which is vital (see 2003 and every Murdoch outlet magically backing the Iraq war), but how we’ll get accurate and in-depth reporting in the future.

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