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.

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.

Interview with US magazine The Source about disaster capitalism

I was recently interviewed by Lulaine Compere for leading American music magazine The Source:

The system of capitalism is always being debated. In most countries people are fighting it, seeking to replace it, or trying to improve it. The mere presence of capitalism also brings with it values and ideas that will have huge consequences for the people who live under it. The ideals and virtues of capitalism hold true, even in times of disaster and chaos. Antony Loewenstein, an Australian journalist, explains this phenomenon in his new book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out of Catastrophe . As a current columnist for the Guardian, he has written on this and other similar topics for not only the Guardian, but also other publications like The New York Times, The Nation, and The Washington Post. The Source got a chance to speak with Loewenstein about the premise of his book and to explain what is disaster capitalism.

The Source: What was the motivation behind writing your book Disaster Capitalism

Antony Loewenstein: As an investigative journalist who doesn’t subscribe to the embedded reporter mindset, I wanted to write a book that questioned the economic system of our age in some of the most challenging places on the planet, such as Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea. Furthermore, how does privatized immigration and war affect civilians in Greece, Britain, Australia, the US and Britain? By visiting these nations, and understanding how rarely the voices of those most affected by discriminatory economic policies are heard in the mainstream media, I hoped to show readers that the corporation has become more powerful than the state, and why that’s a big problem for democracy and accountability.

How does this book differ and how is it similar to Naomi Klein’s book Shock Doctrine?  

I was inspired by Klein’s book and wanted to expand her thesis. The Shock Doctrine was released in 2007 and much has changed since then, especially the 2008 global financial crisis. A key focus of my book is the privatized immigration industry across the globe. I wanted to investigate who was making money from the refugee “crisis” in Europe, Australia, the US and beyond, and why exploiting this issue was morally and economically irresponsible.

Is disaster capitalism “imperialism” by another name?

In many ways, yes. Take Afghanistan, consumed by war for decades. There are an estimated trillions of dollars of resources under the ground, but the excavation so far has been beset by corruption and violence. Is it even possible to responsibly mine in the country with a rising insurgency? What about climate change concerns? Imperialism, a word that the corporate media so rarely uses in the 21st century when discussing Western government and corporate policies, is little different to past exploitation by the major powers and multinationals, except that globalization today has allowed domination to occur on an unparalleled scale.

Should it be morally wrong or unethical for a company to make money during a disaster or in the aftermath?

No. It all depends on what the company is doing and how. Are they employing locals and training them? The profit motive often distorts the priorities of a corporation in a disaster or war zone, though I’m not idealizing the state, either. An entity that can and does regularly fail to provide adequately for its citizens—think New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. A key problem with corporations operating in disaster zones, man-made or natural, is the lack of regulation, oversight and accountability. In Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s biggest copper mines, run by Rio Tinto, caused a civil war and pollution in in the 1970s, 80s and 90s and yet today, the company has paid no compensation and is talking about re-opening the site. It’s an almost invisible struggle against huge odds. I wanted to show how one company could take on a major mining player and win, though at a huge personal cost.

How should the rules of capitalism change or adjust should a disaster strike? 

When a disaster strikes, necessary regulations should already be in place, but my book investigates how this is so rarely the case. Even in first-world nations, such as the US and Australia, the ongoing refugee “crisis” finds politicians and their media supporters supporting a “whatever it takes” mentality to manage it. Out of sight and out of mind is often viewed as a positive, short-term solution. For example, Australia is the only country in the world to completely privatize its asylum seeker facilities, including those based on remote Pacific islands. The conditions are awful; mental health problems are rampant and sexual and psychological abuse are common. None of these issues have stopped wily companies from bidding on contracts and making a profit from the misery of others.

Do you see the topic of disaster capitalism being discussed in some part by politicians throughout the world? 

The vast majority of corporate politicians don’t discuss disaster capitalism because they’re complicit in continuing it. There are exceptions. US Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has pledged to abolish privatized prisons and immigration centers due to the abuses within them.

Where are the latest examples of disaster capitalism taking place in the world? 

In Afghanistan, there are still tens of thousands of private contractors with virtually no oversight. There are also many private contractors fighting ISIS in Iraq, but we don’t know the exact number. Once again, US President Barack Obama fights his wars with no transparency. Since 2001, the US has pledged to spend $110 billion in reconstructing Afghanistan and there’s very little to show for it.

Are there opportunities for disaster capitalism to be played out in more developed countries like U.S., Europe and Russia? 

Disaster capitalism is borderless and knows no ideology other than the profit motive. Globalization allows unregulated corporations to travel the world looking for nations with low or no tax rates. Without a concerted international effort to challenge tax havens, disaster capitalism will continue to thrive.

What is the role of non profits and NGOs, where disaster capitalism can or is taking place? 

NGOs and non-profits can play a central role in disaster and war zones. I’ve seen this myself in Haiti, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere. But too often, accountability for NGO actions are missing. For example, the American Red Cross raised huge amounts of money after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, but little of the money has helped the Haitian people. This case, and many others, is why the public should demand far greater scrutiny of groups that cloak themselves in benign intent.

Can you talk about the links between donor funds from donor countries, companies in those donor countries, the needs of the people in the disaster area, and what appears to be the freezing out of professionals in those countries? Can you also explain the diverging agendas that seem to happen when all these forces collide? 

After the Haitian earthquake in 2010, the US government pledged to give the country billions of dollars in support. In reality though, much of this money went to US corporations, who failed to deliver on the ground in Haiti. A major insight during the reporting of my book is how little accountability exists within the aid world, when there’s a major incentive to keep the donor money rolling in. During my work in many troubled places, I’ve seen committed aid workers helping people in need, but it’s important to ask if prolonged conflicts are benefiting long-term NGOs. I want to see locals in developing nations being far more empowered by outside forces, through training, jobs etc, rather than being bystanders in their own country.

What has been the reaction from people about your book?

I’ve been pleased with the global response to the book, including a very positive review in the UK Guardian. I’ve toured the book in the UK and US, and found countless people keen to share their dismay with the political and economic direction of their nations. The immigration issue has been especially potent because the mass of people coming into Europe and the US are easily demonized as numbers and irritants, dismissed and turned into a number to be profited from. We need to resist this dangerous and immoral capitalist tendency.

What are the future plans for the book? 

The book will be released in paperback later this year. I’ve also been working for years on a documentary called Disaster Capitalism with New York film-maker Thor Neureiter. It features stories from Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea. We’re currently working on a rough edit of the feature. In recent great news, we’ve been accepted into the prestigious Hot Docs film festival in Toronto in May.

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The “war on drugs” in Guinea-Bissau translated into French

Late last year I visited Guinea-Bissau in West Africa to investigate the country’s role as a key drug smuggling hub between South America and Europe. I published a number of stories about it including in Foreign Policy.

Leading French website Ulyces is committed to translating investigative stories from across the world and bringing back the tradition of financially supported journalism. They’ve translated my Foreign Policy story (with more to come) and I’m happy that French speakers can now read my work around the globe. Here’s a taste (more here and PDF here: antonyloewenstein):

Nous nous trouvons à Bissau, capitale de la Guinée-Bissau. Les quartiers généraux de la police judiciaire, l’agence du gouvernement chargée de mener la guerre contre les drogues dans le pays, sont situés dans une rue poussiéreuse, au beau milieu de cette capitale d’Afrique de l’Ouest étonnamment silencieuse. À l’intérieur se trouve l’unique laboratoire d’analyse des drogues du pays, un ajout récent dû à l’augmentation du financement de l’Union européenne, qui vise à endiguer le flot de narcotiques qui traversent en permanence les frontières du petit État africain.

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The UN on trial: debate at the London School of Economics

During my recent time in London I was an expert witness at the London School of Economics during a fascinating event putting the UN on trial. 70 years old and always controversial, prosecution and defence lawyers tried the UN and asked both a jury and large audience if the UN should continue. A number of witnesses spoke on their experiences about the UN and I principally discussed my reporting and insights from Haiti, Afghanistan, South Sudan and beyond. My comments start at 46:28:

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Disaster Capitalism documentary selected for prestigious Hot Docs festival

For over four years I’ve been working on the documentary, Disaster Capitalism. I was shooting footage myself when I started researching the book that eventually became my recent Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe. I partnered with New York film-maker Thor Neureiter in 2012 (and Norwegian film-maker Spencer Austad has shot some amazing footage around the world). The film features Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea and issues related to aid, development and resources.

We’ve just been selected to participate in Hot Docs in Toronto in May, one of the most prestigious documentary film festivals in the world. One of 19 films (out of more than 200 submitted), we’ll be pitching the film for funding, distribution and support.

Please like the film on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram. Here’s our constantly updated website.

Over the years we ran a successful Kickstarter campaign (here’s the latest update), received support from philanthropists Bertha (backers of Oscar nominated Dirty Wars and Virunga) and applied for countless grants around the world. We’ve recently started working on a rough cut of our feature documentary and are making good progress.

It’s been a long journey, independent film-making always is everybody tells us, and we’re rapt with the current momentum.

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Debating Disaster Capitalism at the London School of Economics

During my recent visit to London, where I debated the future of the UN at the London School of Economics (LSE), I also discussed my book Disaster Capitalism at the LSE with three articulate and critical women: Dr Brenna Bhandar, Dr Marsha Henry and Dr Devika Hovell. I was challenged on my choice of interviewees in the book, why more female voices weren’t heard and whether disaster capitalism is really any different to exploitative capitalism:

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German radio station Bayerischer Rundfunk on privatised immigration

During my recent period in Berlin, Germany, as a Visiting Researcher at WZB Social Science Centre, I was interviewed by Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Broadcasting) about Europe and Germany’s moves towards outsourcing its refugee “problem” to private corporations. My interview begins at 36.17.

Other people on the show are social scientist Manuela Bojadzijev, political scientist Sandro Mezzadra, author Merle Kröger, artist Kader Attia and two postcolonial activists. The journalist is Anne Fromm.

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Private immigration facilities making money from misery

My debut article in the New York Times:

Berlin — Immigration and Customs Enforcement calls the detention site in Dilley, Tex., a “family residential center.” But to the 2,000 migrant children and mothers who live there, it’s something else: “People who say this is not a prison are lying,” Yancy Maricela Mejia Guerra, a detainee from Central America, told Fusion last year. “It’s a prison for us and a prison for our children, but none of us are criminals.”

The Dilley center holds people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a government agency, but it is run by the Corrections Corporation of America, America’s largest private prison and detention company. It is one part of a worrisome global trend of warehousing immigrants and asylum seekers at remote sites maintained by for-profit corporations. The United Nations estimates that one in every 122 people on the planet is displaced. This is a crisis that requires a humanitarian solution; unfortunately, some people view it as a business opportunity.

In recent decades, many Western governments have increasingly outsourced prisons to private companies, claiming that doing so saves money. As the number of migrants and asylum seekers has grown, governments have found a new use for the private-prison model.

It has become a multimillion-dollar industry. The company Hero Norway runs 90 refugee centers in Norway and 10 in Sweden, charging governments $31 to $75 per refugee per night. Australia’s government has contracted the company Broadspectrum to manage two detention camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea for asylum seekers. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government awarded the security firm Serco a seven-year contract in 2014 worth over $100 million for running the Yarl’s Wood immigrant detention center.

These private companies are too often plagued by scandal and accused of abuse. The Corrections Corporation of America has a long history of ignoring detainee safety and federal laws. Serco has been accused of inadequately training its guards and overcharging the British governmentfor substandard work. One doctor who worked at a site run by Broadspectrum in Nauru told The Guardian that the detention center was “reminiscent of Guantánamo Bay.”

The global flows of refugees are unlikely to abate anytime soon. Wars in the Middle East continue, as does the epidemic of gang violence in Central America. Climate change will send millions more people fleeing their homes in the years to come. Governments must accept that for-profit detention centers are not the way to deal with this issue.

State-run detention centers don’t necessarily guarantee more respect for human rights, but there is evidence that government control brings improvements: A 2014 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, for example, found that private immigration detention centers in the United States were more crowded than state-run ones, and detainees in them had less access to educational programs and quality medical care. And public centers, while still flawed, are more transparent.

Opacity is a common denominator in the privatized detention system around the world. In Australia, Europe and the United States, journalists have less access to private prisons than they do to public ones; governments maintain less oversight. That’s not a coincidence. As Matthew J. Gibney, a political scientist at Oxford University, told The New York Times: “When something goes wrong — a death, an escape — the government can blame it on a kind of market failure instead of an accountability failure.”

Advocates of private immigration detention claim they are saving taxpayers money. But that seems unlikely. The American government spends more on immigrant detention today than it did 10 years ago, when the number of border crossings was higher. The Corrections Corporation of America and other companies have lobbied politicians to keep more people behind bars rather than deporting them. Congress requires that at least 34,000 people be housed daily in detention centers — a so-called detention bed mandate.

Making a profit doesn’t just require keeping beds filled, it can often lead companies to skimp on services. This means mental health care, outdoor activities and healthy food are far less available in private detention centers than at those run by the government. Last year, the United Nations described a camp for refugees in Traiskirchen, Austria, that is run by the Swiss firm ORS Service, as “inhumane” because of overcrowding. Similar reports are common not just on Europe’s frontiers but across the world.

Governments that receive migrants and asylum seekers must reverse their reliance on private companies. The current practice is a short-term fix that in the long run will cost governments more and subject refugees to worse conditions. In the meantime, governments from Canberra to Vienna to Washington should institute independent cost analyses to ensure that private centers give taxpayers the best value for their money. They should encourage more oversight of these sites, from government agencies and from the news media. And the 34,000-bed quota must also be done away with immediately.

In its 2014 annual report, the Corrections Corporation of America worried that changes to American immigration policy could cut into the company’s bottom line. Many other such contractors might have similar fears. Let’s hope they do. Unless governments make drastic changes now, these corporations look likely to get richer and richer as more people around the world flee their homes, desperately seeking safety.

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Interview in German newspaper Berliner Zeitung about privatised immigration

During my recent time in Berlin, Germany, I was interviewed by one of Germany’s leading newspapers, Berliner Zeitung, about Europe’s growing reliance on privatised and unaccountable detention facilities for refugees. I’ve investigated this issue in my book, Disaster Capitalism.

The interview was conducted in English and then translated into German. I’m a German citizen but sadly my local language skills are lacking.

Please find the Google Translated version of the interview below (with some corrections attached):

Antony Loewenstein is an Australian journalist with German roots. His Jewish family fled in 1939 from the Nazis. Loewenstein writes a column in the Guardian and deals primarily with the networking of transnational corporations and their influence on political processes.

His new nonfiction book “Disaster Capitalism” deals with the profiteers of the refugee crisis. Loewenstein was based in Sydney but had a research stay at the WZB Science Center Berlin and deals with the US anti-drug war.

The Australian bestselling author and Guardian columnist Antony Loewenstein explains in an interview how business is done with the refugee crisis in Germany and the world.

The Australian bestselling author and Guardian columnist Antony Loewenstein, well known for “My Israel Question” (2006), has researched his new, highly acclaimed book “Disaster Capitalism”  and now present in Berlin. In this interview he explains how business is done with the refugee crisis in Germany and the world.

Mr Loewenstein, you research for years on the subject of privatization of refugee care. What does it mean exactly?

It is all about the privatization of refugee centers. My home Australia is the only Western country that has outsourced all accommodations for migrants to private providers. In these camps, located partly on the Pacific Islands, there have been countless cases of physical and sexual abuse by security guards.

Because the operators want to make a profit, they hire poorly trained and unqualified personnel. The health care is insufficient, because the companies are willing to spend just a little money.

Could not happen in government-run institutions such incidents?

Of course there are such problems in public institutions. But there are clear indications that wherever refugees are considered sources of profit, the conditions in the facilities for staff and refugees are worse. There is no incentive for companies to offer money for good performance.

See the problem in Germany?

Yes, Germany and some neighboring countries have partly outsourced to private companies, the refugee support. European Homecare and ORS are important players.

European Homecare stand accused in 2014 because guards abused refugees in a facility in Burbach. Last year, there was criticism of the conditions in a refugee camp near Vienna.

Such problems are inevitable. But governments that outsource refugee accommodation to private companies, it does not matter. Traiskirchen is a perfect example of the failure of a privately run facility: The operator ORS has deliberately chosen to spend as little money as possible for food and living space. The result was that refugees had to sleep under the stars and got bad, sometimes rotten food. The overcrowding was rampant.

What about the staff in private institutions?

The staff is trained often poorly and can not adequately deal with problems that arise from working with traumatized refugees. My research in Australia, the US and the UK showed that staff hardly help in coping with work stress’ condition in private institutions and often develop psychological problems themselves. In public refugee facilities that I visited in different countries, this is much less the case.

Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees in the previous year. Many communities are highly indebted and unable to cope with the supply. Is it not natural to seek help from private providers?

In the short term perhaps and I can understand local politician want to solve the problem quickly, perhaps even before the next election. But based on the experience in Australia, Britain and the United States, it is almost certain that there will be abuse. I believe that certain social responsibilities – I am thinking the care of refugees – should not be privatized. This very vulnerable group of persons should not be an object of profit.

If the refugee accommodation for businesses lucrative?

The company Serco has an exclusive deal with the Australian Government, all facilities on the mainland. The contract comes to a total of more than one billion dollars. So there is to earn a lot of money.

What would municipalities gain from pursuing all facilities themselves?

Private providers are more expensive in the longer term. If ever new refugees arrive in large numbers, providers will renegotiate contracts in order to get better terms. I have already observed this in Australia, the UK and the USA. The contracts that seem cheap can become expensive so quickly. For the local authorities it will not pay off financially to take matters into their own hands.

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The war on drugs has failed, end it now

My column in the Guardian:

It takes a brave politician to advocate for the legalisation of all drugs in the current political climate. In Australia, Greens leader Richard Di Natale is pushing for the decriminalisation of illicit substances, arguing that drug-taking is a health issue rather than a criminal offence. Selling and distributing drugs would still be a crime under this idea, leaving a curious loophole in the proposal which, by the way, has been working working well in Portugal for over a decade.

Australia remains largely disconnected to more enlightened drug policies or proposals internationally. In Ireland police officers want the full decriminalisation of all illicit drugs. Canada’s new government is pledging to legalise marijuana. Uruguay has completely legalised marijuana. Growing numbers of US states are regulating and taxing marijuana (with authorities taking in nearly US$1bn in tax). The Economist magazine recently supported legalising marijuana while still noting the long-term health effects of extensive drug use.

The paucity of sensible public debate over drugs in Australia is clear. Neither the Labor nor Liberal party leaderships, fearing a tabloid press backlash, dare acknowledge the failures of prohibition. They’ll have to be dragged towards drug reform, though moves to support legal access to medical marijuana is to be welcomed. Huge numbers of Australians are taking drugs every week, and this is unlikely to stop; it seems redundant to say the “war on drugs” isn’t working.

“We must show some balls in war on drugs”, screamed Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph in 2015, and the message is followed by an obedient police force in New South Wales, arresting and charging countless young Australians possessing small amounts of illegal drugs. Despite strange, expensive and mocked anti-marijuana ads and excessive use of sniffer dogs, party drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine are widely consumed. Recently ABC TV’s 4 Corners showed the failureof current laws to deter drug use. Even Australia’s former top policeman, Mick Palmer, says that mass arresting personal drug users is futile.

But prohibitionists want even tougher police actions to arrest, charge and imprison users and dealers, conveniently ignoring decades of this failed approach. Let’s not forget that when the US officially launched its “war on drugs” in the 1970s, under President Nixon, it was framed as a battle against hedonists, left-wingers and the counter-culture. The result, more than 40 years later, has been an unmitigated disaster for African-Americans, locked up in unprecedented numbers. However, it’s been a major success for the private prison companies running the facilities.

No major country, however, dares argue for the complete legalisation of all drugs. German politician Hans-Christian Stroebele, Green Party founder, key Edward Snowden advocate and long-time supporter of drug legalisation, recently told me in Berlin that, “if young politicians push for legalising cocaine it would be dangerous for their careers.” He sees German law-makers as slavish followers of America so “when the US moves towards legalising [marijuana], so will Germany.”

I’ve spent this year in Germany investigating the reality of its “war on drugs” and why, as Europe’s most powerful nation, its drug policies are so reactionary. Different parts of the country view drugs with varying degrees of severity. Journalist and author Daniel Kulla told me that, “most of Germany is anti-drugs; there’s a police state in Bavaria. Central Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg, with more liberal drug laws, are not like the rest of the country. Areas of repression are intense around the nation.” All the evidence shows that German authorities are losing their battle against drug dealing, usage and addiction.

Germany is remarkably similar to Australia in terms of resisting positive drug reform. Berlin’s Gorlitzer Park, a beautiful space in Kreuzberg, is a key drug hub for dealing. When I visited I saw men from Guinea-Bissau and Gambia loitering near the entrances waiting for customers. Countless African men, usually waiting for asylum and legally unable to work, are prosecuted for possession but this has no effect on general drug use. Police work seems punitive and pointless.

Criminal lawyer Hannes Honecker explained to me that racism played a huge role in applying the law. “Many [German] police think, and they say and think publicly and privately, that black people in Gorlitzer Park all just deal drugs”, he said. There’s a clear correlation with the disproportionately high number of Indigenous Australians in jail for drug-related crimes, an institutional belief that men of dark skin should be punished for relatively minor infractions.

One of the key arguments for legalising drugs is the perceived reduction in criminality and violent gangs. There’s preliminary evidence from the US that this is happening in Denver, Colorado, due to legalising marijuana. But a word of caution that must be considered when drafting new policies. Ioan Grillo examines in his new book, Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America, that, “drug cartels have morphed into weird hybrid of criminal CEO, rock star and paramilitary general … Over the last two decades, these crime families and their friends in politics and business have taken over much of the world’s trade in narcotics, guns, even people, as well as delved into oil, gold, cars and kidnapping. Their networks stretch throughout the United States into Europe, Asia and Australia. Their chain of goods and services arrives at all our doorsteps.”

Although legalising all drugs wouldn’t completely remove criminality in the world it should make a significant difference, argues Annie Machon, former British intelligence officer and European director of Leap, a global group of former and current police and government officials who oppose the “war on drugs”. “Decriminalisation is a good start”, she told me from Brussels, “but it wouldn’t remove criminal gangs. Leap supports legalising, regulating and taxing all drugs.”

After decades of surging drug-related violence globally, especially in Mexico and South America, another path is essential. Australia, Germany and other western nations, key markets for illicit substances that fuel the drug wars, should be the most committed to finding more humane and sensible solutions to manage the problem.

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Berlin’s WZB Social Science Center lecture/Q&A on disaster capitalism and immigration

Last night at WZB Berlin Social Science Centre, where I’ve been a Visiting Researcher this year, I gave a lecture about my book Disaster Capitalism, privatised immigration, the refugee crisis and threats to democracy from the far-right. It was a fascinating evening. Germany is struggling to manage a large influx of migrants and the country is slowing but surely turning against the (mostly) Muslim arrivals. Using private corporations, unaccountable and profit driven, to manage the most vulnerable individuals is guaranteed to bring abuses. I began by giving a lecture on the subject (posted below):

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, Guardian columnist and author. He recently held a lecture at the WZB about governments privatizing the refugee crisis. He discussed this issue with Paul Stoop, Head of the Communication Department,  showing why making money from misery and outsourcing of responsibility is dangerous for the democracy. 

Europe and Germany are struggling to cope with an influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Fences and walls, to keep asylum seekers out, are replacing sustainable solutions. The EU is both unwilling and incapable of formulating a sensible response to the crisis. Antony Loewenstein has investigated how governments around the world are increasingly privatizing and warehousing refugees, outsourcing responsibility to companies running detention centers, health care and surveillance drones for profit. Australia, America and Britain are leaders in the field and Europe is now blindly following.

Europe’s refugee crisis is almost entirely self-inflicted. Unprepared for the influx of mostly Middle Eastern and African migrants in the last 12 months, European leaders remain unwilling and incapable of devising a plan to humanely process asylum seekers. Instead, walls and fences are being built across the continent. Surveillance drones are in the air. Political rhetoric demonises Muslims and the vulnerable fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Eritrea. The future of a united European Union is in jeopardy and groups on both the political left and right are imagining a future of national sovereignty instead of collective inertia. Perhaps this should be welcomed.

Private companies are excited about the chaos. Looking to make a profit from the escalating challenges across Europe, immigration detention operators have the perfect opportunity to exploit the crisis. Australia, the United States and Britain have spent years outsourcing their asylum policies to private interests. Human rights abuses are rampant inside the facilities with sexual abuse, poor healthcare and dirty food guaranteed in a system that rewards austerity. After all, why would a corporation spend money on proper training for guards when it would affect its annual earnings?

“Murder, rape and sexual assaults are common and yet the profits keep rolling in”

Australia is the only nation in the world that has privatised all its immigration detention facilities. British multinational Serco runs the centres on the Australian mainland and Australian firm Broadspectrum manages the facilities on the Pacific island of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. Journalists are banned, government employees face persecution in Australia for speaking out against any problems or abuses they witness, murder, rape and sexual assaults are common and yet the profits keep rolling in. Both Serco and Broadspectrum, despite vast evidence detailing their wilful inability to compassionately care for asylum seekers, have received multi-billion contracts from the Australian government.

Many Australians support this system because it’s out of sight and out of mind for them, pushing their fears and hatred about boat people in remote places. Refugees have been so successfully demonised as potential terrorists in the media, one of the many post 9/11 realities across the world, that sympathy for the imprisoned asylum seekers in Australia and offshore is minimal aside from a vocal minority.

In my 2015 book, Disaster Capitalism, I explain today’s political and economic phenomenon:

“Predatory capitalism goes way beyond exploiting disaster. Many ongoing crises seem to have been sustained by businesses to fuel industries in which they have a financial stake. These corporations are like vultures feeding on the body of a weakened government that must increasingly rely on the private sector to provide public services. It is surely arguable that the corporation is now fundamentally more powerful than the nation-state, and that it is often the former that dictates terms to the latter. This represents a profound shift in authority that has taken place over the last half-century. A competing position is that the state and multinationals rely on each other equally, and that companies are only allowed to grow so big by the self-interested largesse of politicians. State oversight is now so weak – often, indeed, non-existent – in both the Western world and developing countries that corporate power can be said to have won.”

A seven-year contract in 2014 was the reward for failure

In Britain, successive governments have outsourced prisons and immigration detention centres to the private sector. Yarl’s Wood, an asylum facility run by Serco, has been embroiled in countless scandals involving mental health problems, pregnant women being imprisoned with inadequate healthcare and sexual assault by guards against detainees. These facts had no impact on David Cameron’s administration awarding Serco a seven-year contract in 2014 to manage the centre. This was the reward for failure.

Across America, the Democrats and Republicans have spent decades privatising the country’s prison and immigrant facilities. Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) are the two largest providers and many of their centres are beset by problems. A culture of mass incarceration, intrinsic to understanding America’s political culture, is a perfect fit for companies that rarely have to answer before Congress. President Barack Obama has accelerated the building of these centres including the largest in the country in Dilley, Texas. Housing women and children, and run by CCA, migrants report lack of access to lawyers, poor food and being far away from their families.

European corporations are looking to other Western nations with envy. While the wars in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq worsen by the day, fuelled by weapons sold by Washington and its allies to militant groups and autocratic regimes, refugees continue coming into Europe. The reasons for their journeys are always the same; fleeing persecution and conflict, genocide and discrimination, gender inequality, quashing of free speech and free association, ISIS sexual slavery and indiscriminate barrel bombs dropped by Syria’s Assad regime in civilian areas.

In Norway and Sweden, the firm Hero Norway is feeding and housing refugees for a fee. Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported:

“For-profits now care for about 90 percent of Norway’s refugees. A gold rush has commenced, and it’s also a bit of a circus. Just outside Oslo, a savvy entrepreneur named Ola Moe recently rented a vacant hospital for $10,000 a month, did minimal upgrades, and began charging the government $460,000 a month to house and feed 200 refugees. At a refugee center in Southern Norway, 50 resident asylum seekers went on a two-hour march in November to protest the poor food, prompting one politician, an Iranian Norwegian named Mazyar Keshvari, to proclaim, ‘These ungrateful people should immediately leave the country.’”

ORS Services, a Swiss corporation, runs refugee facilities in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The UN has reported finding conditions in the centres less than acceptable but governments are so desperate to outsource the migrant crisis, thereby transferring responsibility to corporate players who aren’t answerable to freedom of information requests or parliament.

It’s a democratic deficit at the heart of the asylum crisis but it’s exactly how corporations and governments like it. I’ve reported on the immigration issue for over a decade, in Australia, Britain, America, Greece and beyond, and one recurring theme is privatised refugee policies being far less accountable than publicly-run facilities. Government-managed centres aren’t utopian, abuses can be rampant there, too, but involving the profit motive in the equation guarantees secrecy and mismanagement.

“A key failing of Chancellor Angela Merkel was not providing enough state resources for the job”

The refugee crisis in Europe is the clearest sign yet that its various nation states are tied together more due to geography than belief, reason or ideology. When a major problem hits, like large numbers of asylum seekers crossing European borders, the first response is finding ways to repel them. Although Germany has taken in over one million migrants in the last year, with many more set to arrive in 2016, there’s no coherent plan to manage them. The result is the rise of the far-right, public anger and dwindling backing for a more humanitarian approach. Corporations are called in to save the government’s program.

A key failing of Chancellor Angela Merkel was not providing enough state resources for the job. A Berlin-based journalist told me that volunteers across Germany have been on the frontline in refugee camps, doing the work state employees have not. As volunteers tire of the work and go home, nobody is replacing their labour. The result is migrants facing years in limbo waiting on their asylum claims to be processed.

The disconnect in Europe and many Western nations about the real reasons behind the refugee numbers is instructive. Failed states in the Middle East didn’t implode for no reason. Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya were destabilised by either Western occupation or outside interference. Syria, the world’s most-deadly conflict, has collapsed due to a toxic combination of Syrian government brutality (backed by Russia and Iran), Saudi Arabian and Qatari funding for ISIS and American arming and funding of extremist militants. Until one side destroys the other, Syrians will continue fleeing for their lives.

Privatising the refugee crisis is a short-term fix for an existential problem. Believing Europe has a plan for a unified future, multicultural and strong, is an illusion currently challenged by the facts. For disaster capitalism to thrive requires desperate governments to outsource their problems to the highest bidder. The result is dehumanising for refugees and citizens who don’t believe that the most vulnerable people on the planet deserve to be key indicators of profit.

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German radio station RBB interview on immigration

During my time in Berlin, Germany this year, immigration has been a central theme. I was recently interviewed by German public broadcaster RBB about the issue and why privatising the refugee crisis, as I investigate in my book Disaster Capitalism, leads to human rights abuses. My interview has been translated into German but here’s the introduction translated from German into English:

‘Unternehmen dürfen nicht die Flüchtlingskrise managen’
Private Unternehmen spielen quer durch Europa eine immer größere Rolle in der Versorgung von Flüchtlingen – der Staat zieht sich zurück. Der australische Journalist und Autor Antony Loewenstein warnt vor den Konsequenzen dieses Trends. Er sieht die Menschenrechte in Gefahr. Derzeit ist Loewenstein Gastwissenschaftler am WZB Berlin. Eric Graydon aus der Wirtschaftsredaktion hat ihn getroffen.

‘Companies can not manage the refugee crisis’
Private companies play across Europe an increasingly important role in the care of refugees – the state withdraws. The Australian journalist and author Antony Loewenstein warns of the consequences of this trend. He sees the human rights at risk. Currently, Loewenstein is a visiting researcher at the WZB Berlin. Eric Graydon from the business section interviews him.

Here’s the interview broadcaster nationally yesterday: Warnung vor der privatisierten Fl├╝chtlingskrise

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