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.

Zionist rabbi tackles “For God’s Sake” (and gets confused)

My recent book For God’s Sake is reviewed by Rabbi John Levi, ironically the former rabbi at my family synagogue in Melbourne where I grew up. Suffice to say, we have no contact today, and haven’t for years, and he’s one of the classic Zionist Jews who places tribal loyalty above commitment to human rights in Palestine. His review appears in the Zionist lobby AIJAC publication and is more of an attempt to show his intelligence than engage with the work. Readers should remember that for many in the Jewish faith, entry requires adherence to blind Zionism:

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, 2013.

There is the classic story about a young couple who came to see a Rabbi. The Rabbi listened attentively to their problem and said to the wife “you are right”. The husband put forward his case. The Rabbi listened carefully to him and said “You are right, too”. The Rabbi’s wife overheard the interview and questioned her husband, ‘If she is right and he is right, how can you be right?” The Rabbi replied “And you are right too.”

I happen to know two of the protagonists in this debate, in book form, about religion. I shared a pre-doctoral seminar with the brilliant Rachel Woodlock who is a Bahai convert to Islam. And, to my eternal embarrassment, I was once Antony Loewenstein’s rabbi. The publisher’s press blurb describes Loewenstein as “proudly culturally Jewish but vehemently anti-orthodox”. That description is bizarre.

As we all know, arguing about religion is pretty pointless. It is usually a case of “I am right” and “He is wrong”. Except for Jews. Jews don’t see the world in a binary, right and wrong, Hellenistic process. The sacred texts of Judaism don’t work that way. In the first place they were written in a language that didn’t inscribe the vowels. You have to fill in the gaps by yourself with the aid of tradition and common sense. And tradition often provides us with alternative truths.

For example, one narrative in Genesis says that the animals entered Noah’s ark two by two while a parallel account speaks of the “clean” animals being saved from the rising waters seven by seven.

The question of which account is factual is regarded as irrelevant. You can choose one or the other and/or both. As Rachel Woodlock writes in the concluding section of the book “there is a difference between factuality and truth” and the deepest religious truths are frequently expressed in metaphor and myth.

And so, on to the “debate”.

Jane Caro, explains that she is an atheist and introduces the book by writing how “revealing (it was) to me personally to see what we all agree on” with “grace, humour, civility, flexibility and decency.” If only those words were true. It is hardly gracious of Antony Loewenstein to dub the only Jewish State in the world “an occupier and a brute” and write that “mainstream Judaism has largely become, a deformed beast.”

Thank you Jane Caro for publishing such a “civil”, “flexible” and “decent” vituperative assault on Israel and Judaism and for obviously not understanding how offensive Loewenstein is.

Dr. Kenneth Levin, a clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has written a book called The Oslo Syndrome – Delusions of a People Under Siege (Smith and Kraus, 2005) which defines such behaviour as the “delusions of the abused” (p. xvii). On examining Jews by birth who perceive other Jews as conforming to antisemitic caricatures. Dr. Levin writes “Both the self-deprecating and grandiose distortions of reality have a common source. A wish to believe Israel to be in control of profoundly stressful circumstances over which it, unfortunately, has no real control. Genuine peace will come to the Middle East when the Arab world, by far the dominant party in the region, perceives peace is in its interest.”

Leaving the Middle East behind us, the remaining chapters of the debate are enjoyable and often enlightening. Theologically, a monotheistic Jewish reader will inevitably feel most comfortable with Rachel Woodlock’s Sufi faith. Simon Smart articulately presents an enlightened Christian viewpoint but, if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the epitome of everything good, much of his commentary is lost. Jane Caro, the designer of the debate contentiously presents a rather naïve and unsophisticated atheistic narrative.

Theologically, we are all post-Holocaust and post-Hiroshima communities with the terrible prospect of a nuclear confrontation. The four contributors were asked to write about the impact and existence of evil and their answers are, for the most part, blithely inadequate. I would have expected all four of them to dwell on the events of the murderous twentieth century ranging from Rwanda to Cambodia, Mao to Stalin. They didn’t. To his credit, only Loewenstein deals movingly with the Holocaust but then carefully explains how he recently claimed a German passport because of his (annihilated) relatives.

It is good to read an Australian book whose theme is the state of religious belief. It is easy to read and entertaining. But sadly, a Jewish reader will also feel frustrated and hurt.

Rabbi John S Levi AM is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth Israel in Melbourne and a historian who has published a number of books on the history of the Australian Jewish community.

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2SER’s The Fourth Estate on calling for far greater media transparency

Following my recent Guardian column suggesting journalists should disclose voting intentions and be far more open about biases and associations, I was interviewed on 2SER’s The Fourth Estate about these matters.

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Why Australia and the world needs to legalise and tax drugs

My following column appears in the Guardian today:

Australians love consuming illicit drugs. We enjoy smoking, inhaling and losing our minds. Figures released by the Bureau of Statistics in June found that we are spending more than $7bn a year on a cocktail of various substances. The “war on drugs”, applied haphazardly by law enforcement, costs us around $1.1bn annually, according to a drug policy modelling program at the university of New South Wales. It’s an unmitigated disaster – one that benefits cartels and corrupt cops.

Do the maths. The state is spending billions of dollars every year imprisoning drug pushers and users, with private prison owners reaping the benefits. And yet, drug consumption is only increasing. Australia’s culture of incarceration desperately lacks in justice reinvestment to support troubled individuals in our communities, which includes a large number of drug users.

Governments and their media courtiers talk about being “tough on crime” and bravely fighting a battle against the drug scourge. They should look in the mirror and question how frequently politicians and journalists snort a line of coke on a Friday night. Hint: pretty damn often. Australians enjoy the greatest amount of recreational drugs per capita in the world, according to a 2012 UN world drug report.

Let’s get serious. Current policies bolster a dangerous cartel culture. The only way to tackle Australia’s addiction to drugs is to cautiously legalise and tax them – a move that simultaneously accepts that prohibition always fails, and gathers revenue to assist in rehabilitation for any negative health effects. This isn’t a utopian solution, guaranteed to end the black markets and stop all drug-related violence, sickness or diseases such as schizophrenia (which drugs can increase the risk of developing), but it’s one we have yet to try.

New Zealand, under a conservative government, is taking another path: it will soon regulate recreational drugs based on their harm. Only safe, psychoactive drugs will be sold from approved outlets. Bravo to acknowledging the inherent dangers in the massive growth of synthetic drugs (arguably a result of repressive drug laws) and trying to find legal ways to manage the huge market of mind-altering substances.

Cannabis, by far the most popular drug of choice in the nation, remains consumed by individuals often without police sanction. This is unofficial decriminalisation, though it’s applied unevenly. In America, a similar context has created a new Jim Crow, a vast, black underclass that is never given a chance to properly contribute to society. The situation is depressingly similar here – witness the high number of Indigenous Australians locked up for non-violent drug crime.

A 2012 report by the non-profit think tank Australia21 claimed that the country’s current legal regime against drugs is “killing our children”. Foreign minister Bob Carr, whose views were canvassed, said that he favoured “a bit of modest decriminalisation.” This is as brave as declaring a woman may be half-pregnant. It’s beyond time for more than baby steps.

Others were more forthright in the Australia21 report. Former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery said that he’s “strongly in favour of legalising, regulating, controlling and taxing all drugs”. It’s the kind of view that places him outside the political mainstream in this country. Even the Greens remain unwilling to call for drug legalisation. Instead, they push for harm minimisation, an undeniably positive step far ahead of the major party platforms, though weakened by years of a hysterical scare campaign warning that the party will personally give ecstasy pills to your teenage daughter.

But global attitudes towards the “war on drugs” are shifting. Twelve years after Portugal ditched criminal penalties for users, the results are largely positive with barely any rise in usage. The Organization of American States, which includes 35 north and south American countries, announced this year that decriminalisation must be considered after decades of poisonous, Washington-led drug policy that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

America, under the Obama administration, has deepened the “war on drugs”, including backing a coup in Honduras and funding a violent conflict against civilians there supported by a military directly complicit in the drug trade.

Latin America has a long memory, recalling the US-enabled “dirty wars” in the 1980s, that explains the more independent path pursued by nations such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. They suffered some of the worst outrages and today increasingly refuse to play Washington’s game. After all, the appetite for drugs inside North America has never been higher.

Australia lacks a culture of political bravery in its approach to the drug industry. Although many jurisdictions now utilise harm minimisation techniques – such as injecting rooms and diverting drug users away from the courts and towards treatment – punishment remains our main policy. After decades of ruining countless lives with our puritanical streak, mimicking America’s “just say no” to drugs with a bludgeon and the barrel of a gun, criminalising the most vulnerable still does nothing to address the underlying causes of drug use.

Fighting the “war on drugs” is not about ending consumption or destroying the cartels. It’s a bankrupt, imported ideology intended to appease the gullible. This war is fought principally against the poor and the underprivileged. In America, it’s a war fought by the white elites against an African-American underclass. Unless we want yet more generations lost in a battle the state can never win, say yes to a regulated drug trade.

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What vulture capitalism has done to America

The facts are grim and economic prosperity is nothing more than a dream for the majority of Americans. Policies over decades, something I investigate in my new book Profits of Doom, have contributed to today’s malaise. New figures, via Associated Press, signal the trauma:

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.

Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.

The findings come as President Barack Obama tries to renew his administration’s emphasis on the economy, saying in recent speeches that his highest priority is to “rebuild ladders of opportunity” and reverse income inequality.

As nonwhites approach a numerical majority in the U.S., one question is how public programs to lift the disadvantaged should be best focused — on the affirmative action that historically has tried to eliminate the racial barriers seen as the major impediment to economic equality, or simply on improving socioeconomic status for all, regardless of race.

Hardship is particularly growing among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families’ economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63 percent of whites called the economy “poor.”

“I think it’s going to get worse,” said Irene Salyers, 52, of Buchanan County, Va., a declining coal region in Appalachia. Married and divorced three times, Salyers now helps run a fruit and vegetable stand with her boyfriend but it doesn’t generate much income. They live mostly off government disability checks.

“If you do try to go apply for a job, they’re not hiring people, and they’re not paying that much to even go to work,” she said. Children, she said, have “nothing better to do than to get on drugs.”

While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in the government’s poverty data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.

The gauge defines “economic insecurity” as a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.

Marriage rates are in decline across all races, and the number of white mother-headed households living in poverty has risen to the level of black ones.

“It’s time that America comes to understand that many of the nation’s biggest disparities, from education and life expectancy to poverty, are increasingly due to economic class position,” said William Julius Wilson, a Harvard professor who specializes in race and poverty. He noted that despite continuing economic difficulties, minorities have more optimism about the future after Obama’s election, while struggling whites do not.

“There is the real possibility that white alienation will increase if steps are not taken to highlight and address inequality on a broad front,” Wilson said.

Nationwide, the count of America’s poor remains stuck at a record number: 46.2 million, or 15 percent of the population, due in part to lingering high unemployment following the recession. While poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics are nearly three times higher, by absolute numbers the predominant face of the poor is white.

More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.

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Chomsky praises Snowden and condemns US hypocrisy

Typically eloquent Noam Chomsky, speaking this weekend at the Geneva Press Club:

My own opinion is that Snowden should be honored. He was doing what every citizen ought to do, telling. [Applause] He was telling Americans what the government was doing. That’s what’s supposed to happen.

Governments as I mentioned before always plead security no matter what’s going on. The reflexive defense is security. But anyone who’s looked at– first of all, you take a look at what he exposed. At least anything that’s been published, it’s not any kind of threat to security, with one exception, the security of the government from its own population. And in fact if you look at anyone who’s spent any time poring through declassified records– I have, I’m sure many of you have– you find that overwhelmingly the security is the security of the state from its own population and that’s why things have to be kept secret.

There are some cases where there’s authentic security concerns. But they’re pretty limited.

The plea of the US government in this case for the surveillance and so on, is that it’s security against terror. But at the very same moment the US policy is designed in a way to increase terror. The US itself is carrying out the most awesome international terrorist campaign, ever, I suppose– the drones and special forces campaign. That’s a major terrorist campaign, all over the world, and it’s also generating terrorists. You can read that and hear that from the highest sources, General McChrystal and scholars and all, so on.

Of course the drone campaign is creating potential terrorists, and you can easily understand why. I mean, if you were walking through the streets of Geneva and you don’t know whether five minutes from now there’s going to be an explosion across the street that’s run a couple thousand of miles away and it will blow away some people and who ever else happens to be around– you’re terrorized. And you don’t like it. And you may decide to react. That’s happening all over the regions that are subjected to the Obama terror campaign.

So you can’t seriously on the one hand be not only carrying out massive terror but even  generating potential terrorists against yourself and claim that we have to have massive surveillance to protect ourselves against terror. That’s a joke. It should be headlines.

Then comes the interesting question of extradition. The US has just announced again that they’re going to punish anybody who refuses to extradite Snowden.

At the same time the US is one of the leaers in refusing extradition. Bolivia is an interesting case. The US has imposed pressure at least… to try to block the Bolivian plane because they want Snowden extradited. For years Bolivia has been trying to extradite from the United States the former president who’s already indicted in Bolivia for all sorts of crimes. The US refuses to extradite him.

In fact it’s happening right in Europe. Italy has been trying to extradite 22 CIA agents who were involved and in fact indicted for participating in a kidnaping in Milan. They kidnaped somebody, sent him off I think to Egypt to be tortured.  And agreed later he was innnocent…

Extradite the people involved, the US of course refuses. And there’s case after case like this… There are a lot of cases where the U.S. just refuses…

In fact one of the most striking cases is Latin America, again, not just Bolivia. One of the world’s leading terrorists is Luis Posada, who was involved in blowing up a Cubana airliner which killed 73 people and lots of other terrorist acts. He’s sitting happily in… Miami, and his colleague Rolando Bosch also a major terrorist… is happily there…  Cuba and Venezuela are trying to extradite them. But you know. Fat chance.

So for the U.S. to be calling for others to extradite Snowden is let’s say a little ironic. Again, these ought to be headlines.

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When insider media meets war mongers group hugging obligatory

The vast majority of so-called journalists in the mainstream media ain’t interested in reporting fairly about the role of US power; they want to be an extension of it.

A fascinating insight by Max Blumenthal in Alternet on a recent love-in:

Seated on a stool before an audience packed with spooks, lawmakers, lawyers and mercenaries, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer introduced recently retired CENTCOM chief General James Mattis. “I’ve worked with him and I’ve worked with his predecessors,” Blitzer said of Mattis. “I know how hard it is to run an operation like this.”

Reminding the crowd that CENTCOM is “really, really important,” Blitzer urged them to celebrate Mattis: “Let’s give the general a round of applause.”

Following the gales of cheering that resounded from the room, Mattis, the gruff 40-year Marine veteran who once volunteered his opinion that “it’s fun to shoot some people,” outlined the challenge ahead. The “war on terror” that began on 9/11 has no discernable end, he said, likening it to the “the constant skirmishing between [the US cavalry] and the Indians” during the genocidal Indian Wars of the 19th century.

“The skirmishing will go on likely for a generation,” Mattis declared.

Mattis’ remarks, made beside a cable news personality who acted more like a sidekick than a journalist, set the tone for the entire 2013 Aspen Security Forum this July. A project of the Aspen Institute, the Security Forum brought together the key figures behind America’s vast national security state, from military chieftains like Mattis to embattled National Security Agency Chief General Keith Alexander to top FBI and CIA officials, along with the bookish functionaries attempting to establish legal groundwork for expanding the war on terror.

Partisan lines and ideological disagreements faded away inside the darkened conference hall, as a parade of American securitocrats from administrations both past and present appeared on stage to defend endless global warfare and total information awareness while uniting in a single voice of condemnation against a single whistleblower bunkered inside the waiting room of Moscow International Airport: Edward Snowden.

With perhaps one notable exception, none of the high-flying reporters junketed to Aspen to act as interlocutors seemed terribly interested in interrogating the logic of the war on terror. The spectacle was a perfect window into the world of access journalism, with media professionals brown-nosing national security elites committed to secrecy and surveillance, avoiding overly adversarial questions but making sure to ask the requisite question about how much Snowden has caused terrorists to change their behavior.

Jeff Harris, the communications director for the Aspen Institute, did not respond to questions I submitted about whether the journalists who participated in the Security Forum accepted fees. (It is likely that all relied on Aspen to at least cover lodging and travel costs). CNN sponsored the forum through a special new website called CNN Security Clearance, promoting the event through Twitter and specially commissioned op-eds from participating national security figures like former CIA director John McLaughlin.

Another forum sponsor was Academi, the private mercenary corporation formerly known as Blackwater. In fact, Academi is Blackwater’s third incarnation (it was first renamed “Xe”) since revelations of widespread human rights abuses and possible war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan threw the mercenary firm into full damage control mode. The Aspen Institute did not respond to my questions about whether accepting sponsorship from such an unsavory entity fit within its ethical guidelines.

John Ashcroft, the former Attorney General who prosecuted the war on terror under the administration of George W. Bush, appeared at Aspen as a board member of Academi. Responding to a question about U.S. over-reliance on the “kinetic” approach of drone strikes and special forces, Ashcroft reminded the audience that the U.S. also likes to torture terror suspects, not just “exterminate” them.

“It’s not true that we have relied solely on the kinetic option,” Ashcroft insisted. “We wouldn’t have so many detainees if we’d relied on the ability to exterminate people…We’ve had a blended and nuanced approach and for the guy who’s on the other end of a Hellfire missile he doesn’t see that as a nuance.”

Hearty laughs erupted from the crowd and fellow panelists. With a broad smile on her face, moderator Catherine Herridge of Fox News joked to Ashcroft, “You have a way with words.”

But Ashcroft was not done. He proceeded to boast about the pain inflicted on detainees during long CIA torture sessions: “And maybe there are people who wish they were on the end of one of those missiles.”

Competing with Ashcroft for the High Authoritarian prize was former NSA chief Michael Hayden, who emphasized the importance of Obama’s drone assassinations, at least in countries the U.S. has deemed to be Al Qaeda havens. “Here’s the strategic question,” Hayden said. “People in Pakistan? I think that’s very clear. Kill ’em. People in Yemen? The same. Kill ’em.”

“We don’t smoke [drug] cartel leaders but personally I’d support it,” remarked Philip Mudd, the former deputy director of Bush’s Counterterrorism Center, earning more guffaws from his fellow panelists and from Herridge. Ironically, Mudd was attempting to argue that counter-terror should no longer be a top U.S. security priority because it poses less of a threat to Americans than synthetic drugs and child obesity.

Reflection was not on the agenda for most of the Security Forum’s participants. When asked by a former US ambassador to Denmark the seminal question “This is a great country, why are we always the bad guy?,” Mudd replied, “They think that anything the U.S. does [in the Middle East], even though we helped Muslim communities in Bosnia and Kuwait, everything is rewritten to make us the bad guys.”

The clamoring about U.S. invasions, drone strikes, bankrolling of Israel’s occupation, and general political meddling, could all be written off as fevered anti-Americanism borne from the desert canyons of the paranoid Arab mind.

And the wars could go on.

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Julian Assange: “We live in a media-ocracy”

Strong speech by the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, on his party’s media platform and need to challenge insider journalist’s culture, at today’s Splendour in the Grass music festival:

Julian Assange speaks at Splendour In The Grass from WikiLeaksParty on Vimeo.

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Voice of Russia interview on asylum seekers and privatisation

Yesterday I received a call out of the blue from a producer in Moscow asking if I’d like to be interviewed by The Voice of Russia about Australia’s refugee policies. It was conducted live. Let nobody say that Australia’s ever-worsening cruelty isn’t being noticed by the world:

A boat carrying Asian refugees to Australia has sunk in bad weather off Indonesia’s Java Island with the known loss of 4 lives. One hundred and 57 people have been rescued, and it is not immediately clear how many are missing. Reports say several dozen people are unaccounted for. The disaster added bitterness to Australia’s domestic debate on the country’s asylum policy. The Voice of Russia asked  Antony Loewenstein, an independent Sydney-based journalist and author, about his opinion on the controversial policy and whether Australia’s ‘refugee outsourcing’ is somehow connected to the upcoming November elections.

Please name the countries that supply asylum seekers to Australia.

One of the great myths about this issue, and this issue has been relevant to Australia for at least 1.5 decades, well before 9/11 2001. It is the argument that is made by people that most refugees that are coming are potential terrorists or they are not real refugees and legal examples in Australia show that after 90% of refugees who are coming by boat are refugees, legitimate refugees fearing persecution. Where they are coming from – Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, nations that have serious human rights abuses, Iraq etc.

So, to answer you question, the vast majority has been shown to be refugees and what Australia is doing at the moment in the last few weeks, but frankly has been doing in various ways for at least 15 years now, is to outsource its refugee policy to other countries in the Pacific that are poor countries, that obviously have little choice but to say yes because they are desperate for the money and also to corporations, often foreign corporations that are making a lot of money on more boats that arrive because they government is paying them to manage those refugees in very oppressive detention centers.

You have elections coming up in November. Does the fact that there is this hype going on about this right now has anything to do with the elections?

Absolutely. The election is not set yet, so it is going to be any time between now and November but in short there is no doubt the both major sides of the politics are using refugees as a way to show they are tough on asylum seekers but the sad reality is that people’s humanity and the lives of the people are rarely heard because it is very hard for journalists such as myself to get access to these refugee centers in Australia or off-shore.

 So, the bottom-line is Australia treats refugees with contempt and I think the world is outraged but it explains why you are interviewing me now on that issue which actually is making Australia seen like a racist country which frankly it embarrasses me to say that it seems like it is.

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2SER interview on Papua New Guinea and vulture capitalism

The issue of Australia outsourcing troubles to its neighbour Papua New Guinea (PNG) remains in the news after Canberra aims to send all asylum seekers arriving by boat to this poor nation. Let’s not forget that private companies are making huge money from the mess, a topic related to my new book, Profits of Doom.

I was interviewed this week by 2SER’s AidWorks on the dangers of massive aid to PNG and the vulture capitalists scoring cash from the deals:

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“The Act of Killing” documentary challenges history, reality, genocide

How we remember history and the violence within it is one of the great challenges of our age. From the Holocaust to Cambodia and Rwanda to Palestine, we are all haunted by holding power to account.

Last night I watched one of the most remarkable documentaries I’ve ever seen, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing:

The film is about the 1965 genocide in Indonesia, where between 1.5 and 2.5 million people were massacred by a US (and Australian) backed regime with the assistance of death squads. What makes this film so stunning is that the perpetrators are today viewed as heroes in Indonesia, boast of their crimes and re-enact scenes from the time.

What makes the documentary so surreal, disturbing, sad, infuriating, damn strange and compelling are the ways in which Oppenheimer (here talking about his Jewish background, why he knows Israel was born through ethnic cleansing and the lessons we all must take from history) lets the characters speak for themselves and reveal their moral decay.

Here’s two of the film’s executive producers, legendary film-makers Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, talking to Vice:

Here’s Oppenheimer in an extensive interview on Democracy Now! explaining his techniques and motives:

This film isn’t just about history and how we remember it. It’s about not forgetting, the trauma still today in the world’s biggest Muslim state (and the ongoing denial) and the face of human cruelty that has barely dimmed decades after the crimes were committed. And yet attitudes do change, as long as there are people to challenge a culture of ignoring what’s in front of us all the time.

One of the most essential works of art I’ve seen in years.

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Israel’s less than silent cleansing of Bedouins

Forget all the media babble about a “peace process” in the Middle East. It’s a distraction from the main game. US journalist Ben Ehrenreich, writer of the wonderful recent New York Times magazine cover story on non-violent Palestinian resistance in the West Bank, reports for the Los Angeles Review of Books:

It would be a long day. The drive from Jerusalem to Beersheba took two hours — longer, because by the time we arrived in that dusty, grimly sun-bleached desert city, Israeli police had already blocked all roads leading to the demonstration. A one-day strike had been called to protest the so-called Prawer Plan, which was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet in 2011 and passed in its first run through the Knesset last month. The bill has to survive two more votes in the legislature, but if it does — and it is expected to — the law will forcibly displace tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel from their officially “unrecognized” communities in the Negev desert, or the Naqab, as it is called in Arabic. Protests were planned in Yaffa, in Jerusalem, in Palestinian cities and towns all over the north of the country, as well as in Gaza and the West Bank, but Beersheba — think Riverside, without the glamour — was the site closest to the communities facing eviction, so we started there.

It was not yet 11 am and already over 90 degrees. We had missed the main demonstration, but perhaps 300 people, most of them students and residents of the imperiled villages, had stuck around. They stood huddled at the edge of the street beside a small and nearly shade-less park. Across the road was the campus of Ben Gurion University. The protesters clapped and chanted joyously. The several dozen green-bereted Israeli Border Police — six of them on horseback — who surrounded them seemed to only add to the crowd’s enthusiasm. “Take to the streets my people,” they chanted, “Free your land!” (It sounds a lot better in Arabic.) An old Bedouin woman standing no higher than my ribcage waved a Palestinian flag, her white headscarf almost transparent with sweat.

The horses charged, their riders swinging. The crowd scattered. Before it was over, 14 people had been arrested. The police handcuffed their captives to a fence on the median strip of the road facing the park. When a white van idled between the officers and the crowd on the sidewalk, I saw a flurry or elbows and fists through the windshield, and, when the van had pulled away, a young Palestinian stood hunched with his shirt half off. They shoved him into an unmarked Mazda and sped away. Another woman’s head was bloodied.

The police linked arms and pushed the remaining protesters some yards back from the street. It was okay — they could chant and clap there too, and did so, their high spirits unabated. Only now there were nearly as many police as demonstrators: the paramilitary Border Police, some armed with M-16s; grey-uniformed Yasam, or “counter-terror” units; and at least a dozen muscular men in dark tee shirts with pistols stuffed into their jeans. An armored white tanker truck arrived, a water cannon mounted on its cab.

When the tension had dipped and the police had begun rubbing their noses with sunscreen and passing each other bottles of water — it is Ramadan, so the protesters went without — I spoke with a young woman named Alia Saleen. She was from Al-Araqib, one of the 36 unrecognized villages targeted for demolition. Although it is entirely within the boundaries of Israel, Al-Araqib has no electricity, no running water, no sewage system, no infrastructure whatsoever. Its residents have been repeatedly expelled since 1951 — their homes demolished by Israeli security forces more than 50 times, Saleen said, since 2007. They now live in the village cemetery, the only place, she said, that the Israelis have not destroyed.

One of those demolitions, in 2010, came shortly after Netanyahu worried that the Negev might become “a region without a Jewish majority.” The Prawer Plan would provide the solution to this demographic emergency: the evacuation of the area’s non-Jewish residents. There is also, as it happens, money at stake. One day before the Monday protest, Netanyahu’s cabinet approved a $150 million development project for the Negev, part of a long-term plan to bring high-tech industry and ethnically approved suburban development to the southern desert. No one likes to see real estate go unsold. If it all goes through, Saleen and as many as 40,000 others will be relocated to all-Bedouin townships like the nearby city of Rahat, of which she said, “The place looks like a chicken coop. People don’t have space to live.”

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Education is key to fighting disaster capitalism

Henry Rollins is a passionate and cluey American who has spent years fighting the corporate take-over of the state. Here’s his 2012 talk on education being the key in tackling disaster capitalism. A great way to introduce my new book, Profits of Doom:

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