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.

Getting past the drug addicted myths

My following book review appears in the Sydney Morning Herald/Melbourne Age today:

Addicted? How Addiction Affects Every One of Us and What We Can Do About It
Matt Noffs and Kieran Palmer
HarperCollins, $32.99

When the Australian Greens recently called for the legalisation and regulation of cannabis, following moves in countless US states, Uruguay and Canada, the response from the federal government was immediate. Health Minister Greg Hunt dismissed the idea as “dangerous” and argued marijuana was a “gateway drug” to harder substances such as ice and heroin.

The evidence for Hunt’s theory is highly contested, with countless, reputable studies showing that poverty and troubled social environment have far more influence on a person’s drug intake than partaking in cannabis.

Hunt’s intervention followed a predictable route by opponents of serious drug reform (though he’s pushing for Australia to become a global leader in medical marijuana). As similar debates have taken place across the world – from opponents of Portugal’s successful decriminalisation of all drugs in 2001 to critics of heroin-assisted treatment in Switzerland – many sensible ideas are shunned by prohibition advocates to maintain a law and order response to illicit substances. Decades of these policies have singularly failed to stem drug taking; the Global Drug Survey consistently finds that Australians are some of the highest users per capita of illegal drugs.

These are just some of the concerns eloquently expressed in this important book by two workers on the frontlines of the drug debate. Matt Noffs and Kieran Palmer work for the Noffs Foundation in Sydney, an organisation founded in 1970 by Reverend Ted Noffs and his wife Margaret. It’s dedicated to assisting young people with drug and alcohol problems.

The message of Addicted? is largely about challenging the dangerous myths around drug use and advocating a more sensible approach: “The causes of addiction are generalised: living in a rough area, being of lower-than-average intelligence, being of low socio-economic status, belonging to a particular culture, even having a certain skin colour. The inner qualities of addicts are also overgeneralised: they have no self-control, no willpower, no ambition, or have simply given up on life…Rarely, if ever, is substance dependence viewed as a health issue, affliction of the mind and body, perpetuated by poor or risky health-related behaviour.”

Noffs and Palmer successfully demolish the stereotypes around drugs, explaining how most people taking illegal substances aren’t addicted to them. With justified irony, they rightly ask whether the Western addiction to smartphones, devices used far more extensively than any illicit drug and undeniably causing negative impacts on societal relations, should be curtailed with a “Just Say No” public messaging campaign akin to what is still used against drugs?

“Regulation is the word here,” they write. “Some of the studies of smartphone addiction show that parents can take control of their children’s use and manage the potential problems that arise.” Banning smartphones is never seriously suggested as a solution and yet that’s what many nations believe should happen to drugs despite fewer people being affected.

Addicted? takes aim at the media’s coverage of drugs and asks why most stories we see rarely hear from users themselves. They’re often demeaned, judged and discarded as a lost cause, smeared as people who don’t deserve a second chance. Think of how often the commercial networks and ABC feature drug-bust stories; journalists are spoon-fed images and startling facts by police with little context or history. Because this isn’t a dry policy book, though it has strong suggestions for governments to treat all citizens with respect regardless of what they ingest, Noffs and Palmer offer the personal stories of resilience and success against addiction that the corporate press usually avoids.

Reminiscent in parts of Johann Hari’s Lost Connections, a powerful rebuke to the excessive prescribing of anti-depressants, Addicted? offers clear and proven ideas to enrich lives touched by trouble (though they’re equally relevant for everybody). “While addiction can be harmful and suck away our spirit, it need not be an eternal shackle,” they conclude. “It is a part of our biology and our being, but its destructiveness can be minimised and managed.”

In a book filled with generosity and insights, it’s heartening to feel compassion directed at the most marginalised and invisible members of society. Noffs and Palmer live this philosophy and in a just world they would be tasked to redesign Australia’s decrepit drug laws.

Antony Loewenstein’s book on the global drug war will be published next year.

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Interviewing UK journalist Johann Hari on antidepressants and alternatives

During the recent Sydney Writer’s Festival, I interviewed best-selling, British journalist Johann Hari about his new book, Lost Connections, on depression and solutions to it. ABC TV Australia aired portions of the event.

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Public statement in support of justice for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

The following public statement was published today after I was asked by John Pilger to write a comment in support of Julian Assange:

Antony Loewenstein, a prominent independent Australian journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, issued the following endorsement of demonstrations and vigils demanding freedom for Julian AssangeThe Socialist Equality Party has called a rally in defense of Assange on June 17 at Sydney Town Hall Square. On June 19, vigils are being held in London and in cities around the world.

Loewenstein interviewed Assange in 2008 on the efforts that were already underway to silence WikiLeaks due to its publication of information that whistleblowers wanted known to the world. Since 2010, he has been prominent in defending Assangeagainst the persecution he has faced for publishing leaks that exposed US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the anti-democratic intrigues of governments around the world. Loewenstein’s articles on WikiLeaks are available on his website.

This year, Loewenstein released a documentary, “Disaster Capitalism,” which is a critical exposure of the global aid and investment industry. See here for information and screening locations.

***

After six years in detention, rightly fearing US retribution for daring to expose the dark reality of US empire, Julian Assange deserves a just resolution of his case and his voice restored. It’s shameful how many governments and journalists have not just abandoned Assange to his fate, but failed to recognise his important role in releasing millions of documents that reveal how the world really works.

I support heavy pressure being placed on the Australian, British and US governments to bring him freedom and justice, along with the many other whistleblowers and reporters languishing in prisons around the world.

Antony Loewenstein, independent journalist, author and film-maker, June 5, 2018

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ABC Radio Pacific Mornings interview on journalism, the Middle East and disaster capitalism

ABC Radio Pacific Mornings program, broadcast across the Pacific, interviewed me this morning about my work as an independent journalist over the last 15 years. From the Middle East to disaster capitalism and Australia enabling corruption in Papua New Guinea to tackling faith, it was a wide-ranging discussion:

290518 Pacific Mornings – Antony Loewnstein

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ABC Radio Pacific Morning interview on Papua New Guinea and disaster capitalism

Despite being Australia’s closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea (PNG) rarely receives coverage in the media. I investigated the reality in the PNG province of Bougainville, when mining company Rio Tinto exploited the area with its polluting copper mine in the 1970s and 1980s, in my Disaster Capitalism book and film.

NGO Jubilee Australia recently released two startling reports on the murky PNG LNG plant along with the associated corruption. The country deserves far better from its leaders, Australia and corporate backers.

I was interviewed about these issues on ABC Radio’s Pacific Mornings this week. The program reaches across the Pacific:

210518 PacMo – Antony Lowenstein

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Disaster Capitalism film strikes across Pakistan

My Disaster Capitalism film is currently screening in many nations across the world from Australia to the US.

It recently had two screenings in Pakistan, Islamabad and Karachi, and the Q&A sessions that I participated in via Skype are below (forgive the poor sound/picture quality). Audiences wanted to discuss the film itself but also how it related to Pakistan itself. There’s various examples, such is here, of how the corporate brand is increasingly dominating the country including after natural disasters.

Here’s the Islamabad event.

The Karachi event:

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Necessary conversations about aid and development

Aid organisation CUFA operates across the Pacific and Asia. They’ve launched a podcast series about how aid is used and abused and I’m in the first guest discussing my work around Disaster Capitalism (in my book and film).

 

 

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Challenging those self-serving media narratives since 9/11

My book review in yesterday’s Weekend Australian newspaper: 

In The Operators, a great book on the war in Afghanistan, the American journalist Michael Hastings is scathing of reporters who spend their lives praising generals and socialising with them. Hastings exposed the arrogance and childish antics of the then head of US operations in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, and his team. Barack Obama fired the general, who today runs a management consultancy firm.

After Hastings’s scoop, many mainstream journalists went after him, instead of questioning McChrystal’s credentials. Hastings was attacked for breaking the “gentlemen’s agreement” that existed between reporters and the military. Journalists would receive scoops and access if they played this cosy game.

The New York Times published articles praising McChrystal and urged the president to keep him in his role. Largely ignored was the fact that his aggressive counter-terrorism policies were a key factor in surging violence against civilians and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hastings, who died in a car crash in Los Angeles in 2013, was contemptuous of uncritical, embedded journalism that cared little about the lives of Afghans and Iraqis.

Australian war correspondent John Martinkus shares much with Hastings’s worldview. His new book, Lost Copy, is a damning indictment of what we don’t see and hear about the never-ending “war on terror”.

A veteran of conflicts in East Timor and Aceh, Martinkus spent years reporting for SBS’s Dateline. In an introduction, he argues that the positive stories told by journalists about Afghanistan, and Australia’s presence in Helmand and Oruzgan, are fantasy.

“The truth of the situation that governments, militaries and some sections of the press that unquestioningly supported them spent so many years trying to deny has been revealed,” he writes. “But very few are telling that story now.”

Today the Taliban controls more territory than at any time since 2001. This is the reason Donald Trump gives for occupying the country indefinitely, but Martinkus cites historical examples to show how greater use of US drones and CIA covert actions will only inflame the situation. Indefinite war, benefiting arms dealers and private contractors, is the result.

Lost Copy is a lesson in the ugly alliances forged by Washington in its futile attempts to control Afghanistan. Perhaps there’s no better example than Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, backed by the CIA in May 1979. Martinkus calls him a “religious fanatic and heroin trafficker” who, “despite his outspoken and virulent anti-American views, received between a third and a half of all American aid to the [anti-Soviet] rebels, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars”.

In 1992, Hekmatyar’s rebels “laid waste to large parts of Kabul, with rocket attacks being one of his favourite tactics”. A former ally of al-Qa’ida and the Taliban, Hekmatyar is now rebuilding his political career in Kabul.

Martinkus directly links the American indulgence and patronage of individuals such as Hekmatyar to the country’s ongoing chaos. Travelling independ­ently gives him unrivalled access to hidden secrets. He documents cases of American and foreign forces denigrating, destroying, burning or cursing Muslim bodies.

“Somewhere in the US military, people were identifying Islamic, Afghan and Iraqi customs and recommending ways to violate them, with a frequency that was only slowly becoming apparent as occasionally an incident was caught on film or witnessed or photographed.”

Martinkus claims many of these stories never saw the light of day: “Countless more were dismissed on the ground by sceptical and partisan reporters as the complaining of those with an agenda. Others were blocked at an editorial level by a press, in the US, the UK and Australia, that by and large supported both wars [Iraq and Afghanistan].”

The risk of “taking sides” in war reporting is expertly dissected by Martinkus. When he was kidnapped in Baghdad in 2004, across the road from the Australian embassy, he was condemned by then foreign minister Alexander Downer and also by right-wing bloggers. Some even claimed he had faked his ordeal. On his release, Martinkus said he did not support the US occupation of Iraq, which made him a prime target for attack. “To even broach the topic of what was motivating the Iraqi insurgents,’’ he writes, “was enough to bring down a wave of condemnation for being seemingly sympathetic with terrorists.”

Lost Copy is a fine example of war reportage, sceptical of official claims and committed to honest journalism. Martinkus provides inspir­ation to the next generation of reporters who want to move past the military PR to document the endless wars consuming the Middle East and Africa.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist. He will be at the Sydney Writers Festival, April 30 to May 6. swf.org.au

Lost Copy: The Endless Wars: Iraq and Afghanistan

By John Martinkus
Australian Scholarly Publishing, 272pp, $39.95

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Disaster Capitalism and the drug war in north-east Britain

I was recently in the UK researching the “war on drugs” for my forthcoming book, out in 2019, on the global drug war.

While I was there my film Disaster Capitalism screened in Newcastle in the north-east of the country. Sponsored by the great group, Recovering Justice, there was a full house to watch the film and then discuss the drug war and the film’s themes.

Here’s the review of the evening, written by Rugged University’s Alex Dunedin, along with the links between the drug war and disaster capitalism.

Before the event, I was interviewed by You Die Twice, an outlet that covers alternative culture in the north-east of England:

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Disaster Capitalism film premieres in the US at Columbia University

My film Disaster Capitalism is currently screening across the world.

It showed for the first time in the US in late March at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. After the film, there was a Q&A and it later broadcast on the great Disaster Politics podcast (where I appeared last year):

Take a listen to the live panel discussion after the US Premiere of Disaster Capitalism (@DisasterCapFilm) in New York City on March 27, 2018 at the Columbia Journalism School (@ColumbiaJourn). The panel includes the film’s director Thor Neureiter (@ThorNeureiter) and disaster experts Chernor Bah (@Cee_Bah), Jeff Schlegelmilch (@JeffSchlegel), Sarah Baker from Healthcare Ready (@HC_Ready), and is moderated by Jonathan Sury (@JonathanSury) from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute (@Columbia_NCDP).

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How true democracy and self-determination can prevail

A key aim of my Disaster Capitalism film with director Thor Neureiter is to highlight the darker sides of aid (without arguing that aid should stop). There are currently many screenings of the film around the world from Australia to the US and UK (with many more to follow).

Aid Watch is a wonderful group that challenges the often wasteful and opaque nature of aid – they’re sponsoring a film screening in May alongside Jubilee Australia – and they’ve written an insightful overview of the movie:

Ever wondered why some societies seem to exist in a permanent disaster? Some would have us believe it’s their fault. This film lays blame squarely at what it calls ‘disaster capitalism’ – an aid-industrial complex that solidifies vulture capital, aid agencies, ‘donor’ governments and local cronies. The bloc is shored-up by the military but mainly works at the level of policy. Its genius is in converting disaster into opportunity, exploiting vulnerabilities to force a permanent ‘transformation’.

The idea is not new. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 the World Bank saw its opportunity for ‘shock therapy’, as WB official Jeffrey Sachs called it. Naomi Klein named the concept back in 2007, most graphically focusing on the aftermath of the 2005 New Orleans flood. In 2015 Antony Loewenstein extended the concept, with a focus on profit and securitisation, and now his film takes the concept further, into the murky world of ‘development assistance’.

Best-selling journalist and author Antony Loewenstein joins award-winning filmmaker Thor Neureiter, along with co-producers Media Stockade, on a six-year investigation into this world and the ramifications of disaster capitalism in Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea.

The film takes us along today’s global frontiers of ‘disaster capitalism’, from Afghanistan, to Haiti to Papua New Guinea (PNG).

In Afghanistan we encounter the disaster of the US ‘hearts and minds’ reconstruction effort, larger than the Marshall Plan. The film exposes new US efforts to control the country’s corrupted and coercive mining sector, ironically to compensate for US beneficence as occupier. In Haiti, aid inflows seal deals between the government and post-disaster carpet-bagging investors. The film shows how local people are compulsorily shunted from shanties to industrial estates, to capture their labour for world factories, at knock-down wages. And finally, the film takes us to PNG, the largest recipient of Australia’s aid largess. Mining again is the key, with a focus on Bougainville, and Australia’s role in fuelling the war over the Panguna copper mine, and subsequently in trying to reopen it. Again, aid offers renewed disaster.

Across these countries and very different situations the focus is on how aid is used – not on how it could be used. Yet it remains agnostic – the situation is bleak, yet the possibilities remain. One of the films great strengths is in the way it portrays the people and organisations it engages with – a mining campaign group in Afghanistan, shanty-dwellers in Haiti, community landholders in Bougainville. Their strength is an inspiration and an indication of how true democracy and self-determination can prevail, against corrupted elites, hooked on disaster capitalism. The film advances this cause, exposing this increasingly familiar mode of domination, and how people contest it.

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Reconciling the thoughts of a liberal on the Middle East

I’ve written a long essay/memoir in the latest edition of leading Australian literary journal, Meanjin, on Judaism, Israel/Palestine, human rights and modern identity.

My article is here: meanjinisraelessay

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