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.

Believe the hype, BDS against Israel is growing and feared

To all the politicians, journalists, Zionist lobbyists and hacks who continually claim that BDS is irrelevant, the fact that it’s being fought at the highest levels of the Israeli government proves otherwise. Alex Kane in Mondoweiss reports:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is directly involved in growing efforts to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, according to a report on the website of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli commentator,reported June 25 that Netanyahu met with a small group of unnamed “Jewish millionaires” at the Israeli Presidential Conference last week in Jerusalem. Netanyahu “sought to raise their money and use their connections for the war against the anti-Israel boycott movement”–a movement Barnea says is “arousing great interest in Western countries, leaving its mark on the academic system, on economic decisions made by business and political organizations and on the media.”

The details from Barnea are yet another indication of how seriously the Israeli establishment is taking the BDS movement. Netanyahu’s desire to combat BDS comes about a month after Israeli businessmen warned the prime minister that without progress towards a two-state solution, foreign investments would be withheld and “no one” would “buy goods” from Israel. And in a speech this week, Netanyahu “promised to implement the recommendations of [the Jewish People Policy Institute] with regards to countering international ‘delegitimization’ and boycott initiatives,” as the Electronic Intifada’s Ben White noted.

Barnea’s story was published a day after Haaretz’s Judy Maltz broke the news that the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was planning to launch a new campaign targeting BDS on college campuses. The campaign was announced by Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents group.

Is there a connection between Hoenlein’s announcement and Netayahu’s meeting with a small group of Jewish millionaires on the BDS movement? The meeting took place at the Israeli Presidential Conference; Hoenlein was there, and it’s where he told Maltz the news of the new anti-BDS campaign. It’s pure speculation at this point. (I’ve put in an e-mail inquiry to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, but they have not responded.)

Hoenlein and Netanyahu are considered to be “very close,” as Haaretz’s Barak Ravid put it in 2011 in a report on Hoenlein’s meeting with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Hoenlein reportedly delivered a message from Netanyahu to Assad, though Hoenlein denied he did so for Netanyahu.

Whatever the case, the reportedly direct involvement of Netanyahu in anti-BDS efforts represents the latest effort by the Israeli government to enlist Jews outside the government to take on the movement. In 2010, the anti-BDS Israel Action Network was formed by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs at the urging of the Israeli government, according to theJewish Telegraphic Agency’s Jacob Berkman.


Background and context to revealing Edward Snowden NSA stories

It’s been quite a month since the details emerged of massive spying by the NSA. Here are two interesting interviews and a speech by key players.

First, Guardian editors Alan Rusbridger and Janine Gibson discuss how the paper managed the ways in which a mainstream media news organisation publishes sensitive information. They’re speaking to Charlie Rose:

One of the major figures in this story, Glenn Greenwald, spoke to this week’s Socialism 2013 conference in Chicago via Skype. It’s an inspiring talk about journalistic bravery, gutlessness in the media and taking a risk. It’s why both he and Jeremy Scahill, who introduces Greenwald, are two of the most important and brave reporters currently working:


How the disabled can make and inspire music

A truly remarkable and moving experience in Britain. Watch and be amazed with what technology can bring:


The Australian reviews “For God’s Sake”

The following appears in today’s Weekend Australian written by Gerard Windsor. For the record, the writer’s description of my relationship with my father is false and not reflected in the text of the book. I am extremely close to my dad, though years ago this was very different, something I explicitly explain in the book:

Religion, as a topic, has made a comeback. Not a positive one, it has to be said. Two factors have jerked religion into our ongoing consciousness: the bushfire spread of a repellent Islamism and the sexual abuse scandal of Catholicism. We’ve been careful, even selective in our reaction. Homegrown ill will has largely confined itself to targeting Christianity. After all, the Christian churches are old Australia and self-flagellation is OK – to say nothing of being an honoured Christian tradition.

In the past half-century there has been a major realignment in the terms of religious debate. Once it was all-out war between the sects. Embers of this might still twinkle occasionally: the “Catholic mafia” now supposed to exist within the NSW Hunter region police force recalls the days when popular wisdom was that the state’s force was divided equally between Catholics and Masons, each of whom took turns as commissioner.

But all sects are now in retreat and the ecumenical movement has made them see the sense of alliance against the common foe – godlessness. That challenge, best typified by Richard Dawkins’s 2006 atheist manifesto The God Delusion, is the third factor that has reinvigorated religious discussion – albeit often in the low-grade form of sniping and polemic.

So within that context we now get a strikingly courteous debate on the God question between two atheists and two believers – all Australians. For God’s Sake has an original and successful arrangement. Twelve issues are listed for individual discussion. Each contributor has a turn at going first or last, and so on. Jane Caro, the best known of the quartet, represents cheerful inherited atheism, Antony Loewenstein secular, shakily atheistic Judaism, Rachel Woodlock enthusiastic-convert Islam, and Simon Smart benevolent, earnest Protestantism. The participants start with “What is the nature of the universe?” and work their way through virtue, right and wrong, conscience, hope, religion and conflict, the challenge of science, suffering and evil, the oppression of women, and end up with “What has religion done for us anyway?”

No participant gets converted in the course of the debate, and I doubt whether any readers will either. Not in the way that I suspect some believers might have been by the blitzkrieg of The God Delusion. No one here is looking for the killer blow, and I think that’s a novelty in argument on this topic. It’s certainly far from the antagonism set up by ABC program Q & A last year when it pitted Dawkins against George Pell, and courtesy and any degree of openness were manifestly absent.

The arguments, which are all pretty well timeworn, rise and fall, and no major new philosopher or theologian is unearthed. One phenomenon stands out above all, however. The intellectual standard of today’s religious thought seems to me to be low. Smart and Woodlock are both believers and also pro-fessionally involved in the teaching of their respective creeds. Caro and Loewenstein follow careers that have nothing to do with their atheism. And the two believers are wedded to a discursive routine where their essays read as a litany of quotations sewn together by passing commentary. This is a practice that may have some validity in academic discourse where the enforced punctilios of citation and authority loom large. But definitely not in a personal essay where a writer is giving an account of their soul.

Leaping from one foothold of a quotation to another suggests a lack of personal conviction, a failure to digest and make one’s own the stuff of belief. A similar failure in self-appropriation was embarrassingly on display in the Q & A program, where Cardinal Pell was mouthing the terms and theses of his seminary training more than 50 years ago. There was no sense of a creed that had been thought through in an individual way.

If you’re going to lace your prose with other men’s and women’s dictums, you have to pick the memorable ones. Yet Smart and Woodlock introduce numerous variations of “the Yale philosopher” or “modern Turkish theologian”, and what these worthies have to say rarely rises above personalist banality. Woodlock ends her essay on what religion has done for us with: “The Qur’an calls such a person [a good one] ‘God’s representative on earth’ (Q2:30) and, as Ibn ‘Arabi describes it, we become al-insan al-kamil, ‘the locus for the manifestation of God’.” Hardly a crowd-puller of a final sentence.

Of the atheists, Loewenstein has his own tic. No matter what the topic, he manages to introduce his conviction about the infamy of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. He is the most openly perplexed of the panel, and this is winning, but there seems something curiously restricted in his sympathies and world view. Quite blithely, for example, he appears to equate love with sexual love. More than the others he betrays a personal context that must play into his thinking, but is unexplored – not least a longstanding alienation from his father.

Caro is the standout performer. I say this although I consider myself a struggling Catholic and she’s a chirpy atheist. But she speaks entirely in her own voice and has the ring of authenticity. Her easygoing straight-talking, her secular down-to-earthness, somehow seem to make her a more natural fit as an Australian. And the believers even seem self-conscious that their language and outlook make them alien, and they make folksy jokes to try to validate themselves as dinky-di.

Yet the book’s modus operandi seems to have had an effect on Smart. When he comes to the problem of evil he gives us perhaps the best pages in the symposium. His contemporary gurus are ditched and he claws his way through what he says is “the most problematic thing for me as a believer”. Amen to that. If “the Lord is loving and full of compassion”, as the Good Book tells us, how can he not grieve over his creation? But an all-powerful yet unhappy God? Surely not. Then again, the wholly divine, wholly human Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus. On the questions revolve.

For God’s Sake: An Atheist, A Jew, A Christian And A Muslim Debate Religion
By Jane Caro, Antony Loewenstein, Simon Smart And Rachel Woodlock
Pan Macmillan Australia
298pp, $32.99

Gerard Windsor‘s most recent book is All Day Long the Noise of Battle, a nonfiction account of an Australian infantry company in Vietnam.


Proudly stand up for advocacy journalism

The concept of objectivity in reporting, pushed by establishment enablers, is rightly dismissed by the great Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi (love him) here:

All journalism is advocacy journalism. No matter how it’s presented, every report by every reporter advances someone’s point of view. The advocacy can be hidden, as it is in the monotone narration of a news anchor for a big network like CBS or NBC (where the biases of advertisers and corporate backers like GE are disguised in a thousand subtle ways), or it can be out in the open, as it proudly is with Greenwald, or graspingly with Sorkin, or institutionally with a company like Fox.

But to pretend there’s such a thing as journalism without advocacy is just silly; nobody in this business really takes that concept seriously. “Objectivity” is a fairy tale invented purely for the consumption of the credulous public, sort of like the Santa Claus myth. Obviously, journalists can strive to be balanced and objective, but that’s all it is, striving.

Try as hard as you want, a point of view will come forward in your story. Open any newspaper from the Thirties or Forties, check the sports page; the guy who wrote up the box score, did he have a political point of view? He probably didn’t think so. But viewed with 70 or 80 years of hindsight, covering a baseball game where blacks weren’t allowed to play without mentioning the fact, that’s apology and advocacy. Any journalist with half a brain knows that the biases of our time are always buried in our coverage.

Like many others, in my career I decided early on that I’d rather be out in the open about my opinions, and let readers know what my biases are to the extent that I can. I recognize, however, that there’s value in the other kind of reporting, where papers like the Times strive to take personal opinions out of the coverage and shoot for a “Just the facts, Ma’am” style. The value there is that people trust that approach, and readers implicitly enter into a contract with the newspaper or TV station that takes it, assuming that the organization will honestly try to show all points of view dispassionately.

Some organizations do a great job of that, but others often violate that contract, and carefully choose which “Just facts” to present and which ones to ignore, so as to put certain political or financial interests in a better light. But that doesn’t mean the approach per se is illegitimate. It’s just different.

What’s frightening now is that we suddenly have talk from people who ought to know better, not only advancing the childish lie that Glenn Greenwald and his ilk are the world’s only advocacy journalists, but also that the legitimacy of such journalists is even in question.


News flash: Afghan war about India and Pakistan

The kind of perspective far too rarely heard in the West; William Dalrymple writes in the Guardian with an extract from his recent paper, A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India:

The hostility between India and Pakistan, ongoing for more than 60 years, lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan. Most observers in the west view the conflict as a battle between Nato on one hand, and al-Qaida and the Taliban on the other. In reality this has long since ceased to be the case – we think this is about us, but it’s not. Instead our troops are now caught up in a complex war shaped by two pre-existing conflicts: one internal, the other regional.

Within Afghanistan the war i s viewed primarily as a Pashtun rebellion against President Hamid Karzai’s regime, which has empowered three other ethnic groups – the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras – to a degree that Pashtuns resent. Although Karzai himself is a Pashtun, many view him as window dressing for a US-devised realignment of long-established power relations, dating back to 2001 when the US toppled the overwhelmingly Pashtun Taliban. By aligning with the Tajiks of the northern provinces against the Pashtuns of the south, the US was unwittingly taking sides in a civil war that’s been going on since the 1970s.

Today the Tajiks, who constitute 27% of the Afghan population, make up 70% of the officers in the Afghan army. Because of this many Pashtuns – who make up 40% of the population – support or at least feel residual sympathies for the Taliban.

Beyond this indigenous conflict looms the much more dangerous hostility between the two nuclear-armed regional powers, India and Pakistan. In reality the US, the UK and Nato are playing little more than a bit part – and, unlike the Indians and Pakistanis, are heading for the exit. The simple truth is that the Taliban are doing as well as they are in Afghanistan because they are being supported by Pakistan. And they are being supported by Pakistan because the Pakistani generals fear being squeezed in an Indian nutcracker, faced with not only a massive Indian presence to their south but a pro-Indian regime to the north in Afghanistan. Since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars – the most recent in 1971 – and they seemed on the verge of going nuclear against each other during the Kargil crisis in 1999.

After the Taliban were ousted by the US, a major strategic shift occurred: the government of Afghanistan became an ally of India, thus fulfilling the Pakistanis’ worst fears. Karzai hated Pakistan with a passion, in part because he believed that the ISI – Pakistan’s intelligence service – had helped to have his father assassinated in 1999. At the same time he felt a strong emotional bond with India, where he had gone to university. When I interviewed Karzai in early March, he spoke warmly of his days in Simla as some of the happiest of his life. With Karzai in office, India seized the opportunity to increase its political and economic influence in Afghanistan, re–opening its embassy in Kabul, opening four regional consulates, and providing reconstruction assistance totalling $1.5bn.

Pakistani generals have long viewed jihadis as a cost-effective and easily deniable means of controlling events in Afghanistan as well as Kashmir. It is unclear how many still endorse this strategy and how many are having second thoughts. There are clearly those in the army and the ISI who are now alarmed at the amount of sectarian and political violence the jihadis have brought to Pakistan. But that view is contested by others who continue to believe the jihadis are a more practical defence against Indian hegemony than even nuclear weapons. For them, support for carefully chosen jihadis in Afghanistan is a vital survival strategy worth the risk. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army, was once in this camp. How far he has changed his position remains a matter of debate.

Pakistan-watchers are, however, unanimous that while Kayani is mindful of the Taliban threat in his own country, his burning obsession is still India’s presence in Afghanistan. As I was told by a senior British diplomat in Islamabad: “At the moment, Afghanistan is all [Kayani] thinks about and all he wants to talk about. It’s all he gets briefed about and it’s his primary focus of attention. There is an Indo-Pak proxy war, and it’s going on right now.”


Great review of “For God’s Sake” hits

Following this week’s release of my new book, For God’s Sake, one of Australia’s leading independent book chains, Readings, publishes a wonderful review:

Religion, in its various forms, has delivered both immeasurable joy and terrible conflict throughout history. Currently, many ‘neo-atheists’ predict the death of organised religion within a generation. In For God’s Sake, four prominent thinkers address and debate the differences and commonalities between their various faiths (or non-faiths), and the place of religion in the modern world, both in relation to the self and to society.

Journalist Antony Loewenstein is culturally Jewish but spiritually an atheist. For him, the conflation of politics and religion (particularly the tendency to view criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic) is particularly troubling. Atheist commentator Jane Caro writes in a style that is often blunt but always deeply personal. For Caro, there is great peace in the idea of a logical but indifferent universe. For Simon Smart, a Christian, there is no dichotomy between science and faith – they merely answer different questions. Smart, while perhaps the most defensive in tone, highlights the charity and compassion emphasised by Christianity as pivotal to the freedoms of modern society.

Perhaps the most moving contributions are from Muslim academic Rachel Woodlock, who writes with passion, clarity and humour on the joy (as illustrated by some staggeringly beautiful Qur’anic verses) she finds in a religion so often misunderstood in the West.

All, to varying degrees, describe fundamentalism in any religion as a ‘corruption’ – as Woodlock writes, ‘because all the great traditions teach … compassion towards others, where there is violence, barbarity, prejudice and hatred … the tradition has been corrupted’.

While all four are passionate in defending their beliefs and contesting one anothers’, there are no attempts to proclaim a ‘winner’. The authors are always respectful, insightful and open-minded. It is fascinating to read each faith’s (often-conflicting but equally ‘true’) answers to the same fundamental questions. Engrossing and enlightening, For God’s Sake is an important addition to a complex and ongoing discussion.

Alan Vaarwerk is a freelance writer, editor and proofreader based in Melbourne.


My new book, For God’s Sake, arrives


My new book, For God’s Sake, is available from this week through Pan Macmillan. Here’s the blurb:

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 Sake encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.

I’m very proud of this book because it’s different to the kind of work I’ve often done. To be sure, I discuss the importance of atheist Judaism and my disillusionment with my religion due to Israel’s brutal behaviour towards the Palestinians. Politics isn’t ignored. But all four of us have the chance to discuss and disagree about faith and identity, philosophy and ethics. How do we live a good life? How do we explain “evil” in the world? Doesn’t religion oppress women? And a host of other questions.

I hope you’ll read it and be challenged and provoked.


Jeremy Scahill: journalism being criminalised under Obama


Standing up to Murdoch bullies over Palestine

Short and sharp letter in today’s Australian refuting the almost daily barrage against anybody who dares challenge Israel (some background to Jake Lynch here and here):

Your campaign to equate the call for an academic boycott of Israel with anti-Semitism is an attempt, as sinister as it is absurd, to stifle an important debate.

There are other countries that occupy territory recognised as not their own; kill large numbers of civilians in military action; stockpile nuclear weapons without joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and violate the 1973 UN convention against apartheid. But only one does all four.

There is no non-Jewish state in that category, so the charge of discrimination is easily disproved. Or are you resolved not to let facts get in the way of a good witch-hunt?

Jake Lynch, director, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sydney University

Here’s the Lynch article in ABC’s The Drum about why BDS is important in holding the Jewish state to account for human rights abuses.


What Ed Snowden’s revelations say about our so-called democracy

It’s the kind of story that necessarily interests the general public. Surveillance, leaking, US power and Wikileaks (note, for the record, in today’s New York Times yet another clear indication that the US wants to destroy/punish the vitally important website). Last week I wrote for the Guardian about the PRISM revelations by Edward Snowden and the deafening silence in many establishment circles. Now, an interesting idea that continues the conversation (written by Comment is Free editor Jess Reed):

In a new series, Comment is free writers and editors want to highlight some of the best comments on the site. Each week, either an editor or the author of a recent piece will pick a comment that they think contributes to the debate. Hopefully, it will give staff and readers an opportunity to see how thought-provoking such contributions can be and allow great posts the chance to be seen by a wider audience.

In our fifth instalment, Antony Loewenstein, who recently wrote about the Prism surveillance scandal and the lack of outrage that followed in Australia, has picked a comment by rustyschwinnToo:

“Where is the outrage over Prism in Australia? In the same place as Australian outrage over Echelon. Next to the US, Australia is probably the second most insular “western” democracy in the world. And even more ready to believe that it’s all about foreigners, which doesn’t include them but does include anybody slightly brown tinged or with a funny accent on the continent, than the Americans.

“I was talking to a (typically) frighteningly casual racist Australian yesterday. And he was genuinely convinced that NSA would only be spying on “immigrant darkies” in Australia. He couldn’t grasp the concept that TCP/IP and the ISO communications model don’t have an ethnic identification layer. And the NSA don’t (can’t) racially profile meta data.”

Antony explains why he picked this comment:

“One of the constant refrains about the Snowden revelations, from supporters of unaccountable surveillance, is that the state and authorities would never peek into lives that have no connection to terrorism. Or that Washington has a watertight court oversight (Glenn Greenwalddemolished that lie recently). The commenter understands that the post 9/11 world has seen development of a massive, privatised system of monitoring and gathering metadata on us all. I have to agree that insularity is an Australian speciality (not unique to us, alas). These Prism revelations should alarm politicians and media but far too many of them are sucking on the drip-feed of sanctioned US government and intelligence leaks and information to care. The online rage against the Obama administration recently shows that many in the public are demanding action.”

• Let us know your thoughts on this exchange in the comments below, and tell us whether it has given you a new insight into the issue.


Why defending Wikileaks and Ed Snowden should be easy call

Stunning piece by John Cassidy in The New Yorker:

More unnerving is the way in which various members of the media have failed to challenge the official line. Nobody should be surprised to see the New York Post running the headline: “ROGUES’ GALLERY: SNOWDEN JOINS LONG LIST OF NOTORIOUS, GUTLESS TRAITORS FLEEING TO RUSSIA.” But where are Snowden’s defenders? As of Monday, the editorial pages of the Times and the Washington Post, the two most influential papers in the country, hadn’t even addressed the Obama Administration’s decision to charge Snowden with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of theft.

If convicted on all three counts, the former N.S.A. contract-systems administrator could face thirty years in jail. On the Sunday-morning talk shows I watched, there weren’t many voices saying that would be an excessive punishment for someone who has performed an invaluable public service. And the person who did aggressively defend Snowden’s actions, Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian blogger who was one of the reporters to break the story, found himself under attack. After suggesting that Greenwald had “aided and abetted” Snowden, David Gregory, the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” asked, “Why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”

After being criticized on Twitter, Gregory said that he wasn’t taking a position on Snowden’s actions—he was merely asking a question. I’m all for journalists asking awkward questions, too. But why aren’t more of them being directed at Hayden and Feinstein and Obama, who are clearly intent on attacking the messenger?

Snowden took classified documents from his employer, which surely broke the law. But his real crime was confirming that the intelligence agencies, despite their strenuous public denials, have been accumulating vast amounts of personal data from the American public. The puzzle is why so many media commentators continue to toe the official line. About the best explanation I’ve seen came from Josh Marshall, the founder of T.P.M., who has been one of Snowden’s critics. In a post that followed the first wave of stories, Marshall wrote, “At the end of the day, for all its faults, the U.S. military is the armed force of a political community I identify with and a government I support. I’m not a bystander to it. I’m implicated in what it does and I feel I have a responsibility and a right to a say, albeit just a minuscule one, in what it does.”

I suspect that many Washington journalists, especially the types who go on Sunday talk shows, feel the way Marshall does, but perhaps don’t have his level of self-awareness. It’s not just a matter of defending the Obama Administration, although there’s probably a bit of that. It’s something deeper, which has to do with attitudes toward authority. Proud of their craft and good at what they do, successful journalists like to think of themselves as fiercely independent. But, at the same time, they are part of the media and political establishment that stands accused of ignoring, or failing to pick up on, an intelligence outrage that’s been going on for years. It’s not surprising that some of them share Marshall’s view of Snowden as “some young guy I’ve never heard of before who espouses a political philosophy I don’t agree with and is now seeking refuge abroad for breaking the law.”

Mea culpa. Having spent almost eighteen years at The New Yorker, I’m arguably just as much a part of the media establishment as David Gregory and his guests. In this case, though, I’m with Snowden—not only for the reasons that Drake enumerated but also because of an old-fashioned and maybe naïve inkling that journalists are meant to stick up for the underdog and irritate the powerful. On its side, the Obama Administration has the courts, the intelligence services, Congress, the diplomatic service, much of the media, and most of the American public. Snowden’s got Greenwald, a woman from Wikileaks, and a dodgy travel document from Ecuador. Which side are you on?