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.

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.

no comments – be the first ↪

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.

no comments – be the first ↪

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.

no comments – be the first ↪

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.

no comments – be the first ↪

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.

no comments – be the first ↪

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

no comments – be the first ↪

Review and interview about Disaster Capitalism with US magazine Salon

A review of my book Disaster Capitalism in US magazine Salon followed by an interview with its journalist Ben Norton:

“The corporation is now fundamentally more powerful than the nation-state,” writes journalist Antony Loewenstein in his new book “Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe.”

“Many ongoing crises seem to have been sustained by businesses to fuel industries in which they have a financial stake,” he explains. “Companies that entrench a crisis and then sell themselves as the only ones who can resolve it.”

Loewenstein, a columnist for the Guardian, traveled the world in order to understand just how multinational corporations profit off of such chaos. The Australian-born yet decidedly cosmopolitan journalist devotes the meticulous and daring tome to reporting on the foreign exploitation he witnessed in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and the destructive mining boom in Papua New Guinea, along with seemingly dystopian prison privatization in the U.S., predatory for-profit detention centers for refugees in Australia and ruthless austerity in Greece.

In the book, Loewenstein expertly shows how corporate control of not just the domestic, but also the global political system has led to a drastic “erosion of democracy.”

A quote he chooses as the overture sets the tone for the ensuing pages. “It is profitable to let the world go to hell,” warns scholar Jørgen Randers, a professor of climate strategy at Norwegian Business School, while railing against “the tyranny of the short term.” This quote succinctly summarizes exactly how disaster capitalism operates.

The concept of disaster capitalism is derived from a similar work, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” an influential 2007 book by journalist Naomi Klein. In some ways, “Disaster Capitalism” can be seen as a sequel to Klein’s book, yet Loewenstein’s formidable work stands out in its own right.

Salon sat down with the journalist to discuss one of the more explosive controversies he uncovers in his book: how the U.S. war in Afghanistan was privatized.

Loewenstein spent time in war-torn Afghanistan, as well as neighboring Pakistan, researching for “Disaster Capitalism.” His compelling recounting of his experiences paints a picture of a crisis-stricken world in which virtually everything has been privatized, in which private military companies, or PMCs — 21st-century warlords — exercise more control over countries than their own inhabitants.

A slew of Western multinational corporations quite familiar to Americans appear throughout the chapter, including Northrop Grumman, DynCorp, Halliburton and more.

The personal interactions Loewenstein has with military contractors on the ground are some of the most fascinating. A British PMC managing director the journalist met in Kabul, whom he refers to simply as Jack, bluntly admits his corporation “survives off chaos.”

Predicting future U.S. wars in Africa, Iran and Korea, the corporate military executive tells Loewenstein, “If we can make money, we’ll go there.”

“I’m my own government,” Jack boldly declares.

“Disaster Capitalism” bolsters Loewenstein’s growing body of important work. Among his other books are “Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism Is Swallowing the World,” a kind of 2013 prequel to “Disaster Capitalism”; “The Blogging Revolution,” a 2008 investigation of how bloggers around the world challenge their oppressive governments; and the best-selling “My Israel Question,” an exhaustive 2007 account of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, and a profound and intimate exploration of the author’s Jewish identity.

For his previous books, Loewenstein traveled widely, from Palestine to Iran, from Saudi Arabia to China, from Cuba to Egypt and beyond. For “Disaster Capitalism,” Loewenstein went even further. When Salon contacted him to schedule an interview, the intrepid journalist seemed every time to not only be in a different country, but even on a different continent.

This is the first in a two-part review of Loewenstein’s reporting in “Disaster Capitalism.” Another piece will be devoted to Loewenstein’s findings in Haiti, a small country that has been virtually taken over by Western NGOs. Loewenstein spoke with Salon about both little-discussed yet tremendously important issues.

Jack, the British PMC managing director you met in Kabul, said “we don’t call ourselves mercenaries.” Are they mercenaries? Should they be called that?

Not all private security interests in Afghanistan are mercenaries; many men are just security guards protecting embassies or Western interests. But mercenaries are a little-reported aspect of the war, either directly engaged in killing or capturing suspected insurgents (a key failing of the Western war in the country has been its insistence on designating any opponent of the conflict as “Taliban” and therefore “terrorist”) or training Afghan forces to do the same thing, often inflaming conflicts in local villages.

You call imperialism “the dirtiest word in modern English” and note, “There is not a country I visited for this book in which the legacy of imperialism does not scar the landscape and people.” You also point out that “there were often more contractors than soldiers in Afghanistan.” Jack said it is cheaper for countries to use PMCs than it is to put their own boots on the ground.

Do you see this as an outsourcing of imperialism and neo-colonialism, if you will? Is this how war will work in the future?

The U.S. government, along with its many allies, likes using private assets to further geo-political interests. The initial motivation when invading Afghanistan was revenge for 9/11, but this quickly morphed into a messy project to control the nation and partner with a corrupt central government and warlords across the country.

The reason I use the term “imperialism” to describe the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and beyond — along with U.S.-backed autocratic partners in the Middle East, South America, Asia and Africa — is that there’s no other way to describe attempts to secure energy reserves and economic influence in the modern age.

War has always worked this way, but the inclusion of globalized private entities removes one more level of accountability. Today in Afghanistan there are around 30,000 contractors working for the Pentagon alongside the U.S. military and Special Forces. And the Pentagon won’t acknowledge how many soldiers are truly fighting ISIS in Iraq.

Can you talk more about Afghanistan’s enormous natural resources, the TAPI pipeline, drugs, etc.? This is little discussed. Why do you think that is?

During both the Soviet and American occupations of Afghanistan, huge discoveries of natural resources occurred. There is an estimated U.S. $1-4 trillion of untapped minerals, oil and gas and yet most of it is unreachable due to security concerns and corruption.

I have been investigating these issues for my book, and also the documentary in progress, “Disaster Capitalism,” with New York filmmaker Thor Neureiter.

Natural resources will not sustain Afghanistan after most of the Western aid dries up, and neither the U.S. government nor Afghan authorities have any answers for long-term sustainability (the proposed TAPI pipeline crossing Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Turkmenistan is ambitious but prone to problems).

Drug cultivation has soared during the U.S. occupation. Too many Western reporters have framed the Afghan war as simply between U.S. forces and the Taliban when in reality Afghanistan has a complex history that never tolerates long-term occupation.

You write about the “military-enforced bubble,” in which the foreign occupying army is completely out of touch with the locals. An Afghan translator told you the U.S. “only understood force.” Can you expand?

A constant refrain I heard in Afghanistan, during my visits there in 2012 and 2015, was the inability and unwillingness of U.S. and foreign forces to listen to the Afghan people. It’s one reason the U.S. relied on faulty intelligence to understand what Afghans were thinking about their presence.

As the security situation deteriorated after 2004-2005, and U.S. forces falsely framed any Afghan who opposed the occupation as Taliban, the U.S. used a failedcounterinsurgency program (designed by David Petraeus and Australian David Kilcullen) that inflamed Afghans.

There has never been accountability for this plan, including by the countless Western journalists seduced by U.S. military talking points.

You talk about the relationships between the U.S. military, USAID and private companies, and say “military and humanitarian work were all too often fused in the post-9/11 world.” Can you comment?

A key component of USAID in the post 9/11 world is using the military to deliver its goals. This fundamentally misunderstands the importance of maintaining neutrality when delivering aid.

The U.S. government’s SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) regularly reports on the U.S. $110 billion spent in Afghanistan on so-called nation building since October 2001, and how USAID was regularly used as a mask for a corporate and military agenda across the country.

Where else is the private security industry growing?

The definition of private security is expanding to include the growth of private armies in often unregulated and chaotic places (from Iraq to Afghanistan and Libya to Syria). South African mercenaries were working in Nigeria against Boko Haram and Colombian forces operated in Yemen thanks to the United Arab Emirates.

You write “the Bush administration saw its ‘war on terror’ as a boon for the private sector.” Has the Obama administration has done the same?

Post 9/11, the Bush administration saw an opportunity to implement an extreme neoconservative agenda with the support of its friends in the private sector. They claimed it would save money and be more efficient but the reality was uncontrolled mercenaries and private security in countless war zones.

When Barack Obama was a candidate for President in 2007, he pledged to change this out-of-control contracting since 9/11. However, nothing has improved since he took office due to a number of factors including failing campaign finance laws and Congressional inertia to punish corporations breaking the law.

You conclude the chapter saying, “we created chaos.” What do you think the legacy is of the now 15-year U.S. occupation, especially now, with the rise of ISIS and the resurgence of the Taliban?

The Taliban now control more of Afghanistan than at any time since October 2001. President Obama has now pledged to maintain an indefinite occupation and the U.S. military claims U.S. forces will need to stay in the country for decades to support a failing Afghan state.

The presence of ISIS only complicates the picture, especially for Afghan civilians.

The longest war in U.S. history has not achieved any of its stated goals and the Afghan people, often forced to choose between the Taliban and a U.S.-backed warlord, often pick the former. That’s the legacy of the U.S. war.

Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton

no comments – be the first ↪

The National interview on Disaster Capitalism

UAE newspaper The National interviewed me about my book Disaster Capitalism, especially the privatised military adventure in Afghanistan and failed aid in Haiti:

no comments – be the first ↪

Turkish channel TRT World interview on Australia’s asylum policies

Australia’s refugee policies are designed to inflict harm on the most vulnerable. Last week I was interviewed by Turkish international news channel TRT World in Berlin about the issue (my interview starts at 19:54):

no comments – be the first ↪

Where is all the US aid money in Afghanistan?

My investigative feature in UAE newspaper The National (PDFs of the stunning looking feature DC.front and DC.spread):

The human cost of the Afghan war has been devastating. The United Nations estimates that at least 20,000 Afghan civilians have been killed since 2001 and violence is worsening across the country.

United States president Barack Obama, fearing an Iraq-style state collapse after withdrawing the bulk of US forces from there in 2011, has pledged to maintain an indefinite presence of 10,000 soldiers, tens of thousands of contractors (the Pentagon claims up to 30,000) and an unknown number of special forces. Foreign occupation is seemingly permanent.

Former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and commander of US special operations command, General David Petraeus, argued in a recent Washington Post opinion piece that Washington should step up its bombing campaign to halt a resurgent Taliban. There’s no evidence that this failed strategy, advanced in Iraq and Afghanistan over more than a decade, would be any more successful this time.

Afghan resources, estimated to be worth billions of dollars, have provided very little money to the general population.

During my time in Afghanistan last year whilst investigating the mineral, oil and gas industries, I witnessed the suffering of local people around proposed mining sites, such as Mes Aynak in Logar province. They were kicked off their lands, without jobs, and were attacked by the Taliban, ISIL and the Afghan military.

Countless western and Afghan corporations have made a killing in the country since 2001, often replacing functions once undertaken by the state, and with little accountability. This policy has been pursued by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

A 2010 US Congressional report, Warlord, Inc, found that the US military was indirectly paying the Taliban and warlords, via private contractors, to ensure safe passage for their goods across the country.

The ideology behind outsourcing war existed before September 11 but accelerated after the attacks on New York and Washington. Apart from enriching corporate friends of the George W Bush administration, it was framed as a way of saving money for the US taxpayer (the evidence for this is missing) and reducing the responsibility of the state to manage its own affairs.

Afghan civilians have borne the brunt of this policy. There is currently no sustainable vision by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani to support his country when western aid inevitably reduces to a trickle.

The US defence department’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) had grand ambitions in Afghanistan. Embarking on its work there in 2009, the Pentagon group pledged to exploit the country’s large and untapped mineral resources and to attract international investment.

Former head Paul Brinkley told the Washington Post in 2011 that, “we do capitalism. We’re about helping companies make money. That mindset cannot exist in a humanitarian organisation. It’s like asking General Motors to make potato chips.”

After being established in 2006 to stabilize war-torn Iraq, TFBSO had remarkable freedom to act independently without adequate oversight. It attracted US$8 billion (Dh29.4bn) in private investment commitment in Iraq with little long-term evidence that former state-run businesses benefitted from the money. In Afghanistan, Brinkley brought Google to Kabul to start an information technology industry while pledging to expand the nation’s fruit and carpet trades.

On-the-ground investigations, however, revealed the paucity of TFBSO’s legacy. The US government-appointed special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (Sigar) has released a number of reports demanding accountability for the group’s spending. It has been stymied at every step of the way.

The US has spent more than $110bn in US taxpayer funds to support reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2001. It is now the country’s longest war and yet the outcome has been desultory. Sigar head John F Sopko gave a speech in November at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University where he said that more than 300 reports issued since the group launched in 2008 had brought some successes.

Sigar had conducted “nearly 900 investigations, resulting in 103 arrests, 136 criminal charges, 100 convictions or guilty pleas, 78 sentencings, and roughly $945 million in savings for American taxpayers”, he said. This amount is a tiny fraction of the financial commitment made by Washington in the past 15 years.

In a November letter to US defence secretary Ashton Carter, Sigar showed how 20 per cent of TFBSO’s 2010-2014 $822m budget was spent on private villas and security guards in Kabul.

“If TFBSO employees had instead lived at DoD [department of defence] facilities in Afghanistan”, it said, “where housing, security and food service are routinely provided at little or no extra charge to DoD organisations, it appears the taxpayers would have saved tens of millions of dollars.”

Sigar estimated that in 2014 alone, the 10 TFBSO staff would have paid just $1.8m to live at the US embassy.

Another report, released in October, accused TFBSO of spending up to $43m to build a natural gas filling station in the northern Afghan city of Sheberghan when a similar facility in Pakistan cost only $500,000.

“One of the most troubling aspects of this project”, Sigar said, “is that the department of defence claims that it is unable to provide an explanation for the high cost of the project or to answer any other questions concerning its planning, implementation or outcome.”

TFBSO was disbanded last year after consistent allegations of ethical breaches and financial irregularities. But its legacy lives on. The first Sigar report of 2016 found that TFBSO had spent up to $488m since 2009 attempting to develop viable oil, gas and mineral businesses in Afghanistan, but achieved nothing sustainable. Corruption and rampant violence conspired against it.

The lack of accountability of Washington’s war in Afghanistan was exposed when Sigar chief Sopko wrote to defence secretary Carter in October and chastised his department for “no longer having any knowledge about TFBSO, an $800m programme that reported directly to the office of the secretary of defence and only shut down a little over six months ago”.

I asked the department of defence to respond to Sigar’s allegations against TFBSO, and spokesman Army Lt Col Joe Sowers told me that, “we welcome continued review by Sigar in their effort to ensure the TFBSO activities are properly assessed and analysed.  With respect to holding someone accountable, to our knowledge, Sigar has not identified or accused any particular individual of malfeasance. The department will cooperate fully with any investigations.”

Sigar said to me that there had been no official response from the department of defence to its 2015 report detailing extensive TFBSO use of private villas in Kabul. Likewise there was no substantive comment after Sigar accused TFBSO of massively overcharging for the natural gas filling station in Afghanistan.

Former TFBSO head Brinkley now runs the investment company Nawah, in Jordan. Critics accused him of entering the private sector too soon after leaving the US government in 2011 – only four months afterwards – though he told me that he “did so in accordance with the ethical rules established by the government to do so”.

Brinkley explained that during his time running TFBSO, from 2006 to 2011, oversight “was very, very rigorous. The recent media reports about Sigar studying TFBSO spending appear to be focused on activities that occurred after my departure. However, to assist in providing some important context and history, I voluntarily met with four members of the Sigar study team in mid-December”.

Brinkley believed that TFBSO was “based on the belief that the US government can offer economic improvements as instruments of foreign policy. Failing to provide a hopeful future for young people in conflict-ridden countries leads to frustration and sympathy with insurgents … I felt we served the [TFBSO] mission well”.

Amidst all the carnage and mismanagement in Afghanistan, it is the civilians who have suffered the most. The Taliban today control more territory than at any time since they were overthrown in 2001. The prospects for the country, after almost 15 years of foreign occupation, are grim. There is every indication that contractors, such as DynCorp and Fluor Corporation, will continue making a fortune profiting from the conflict. However, according to Sigar, it’s nearly impossible for American auditors to assess their work because they can only access about 10 per cent of the country due to insecurity.

These facts don’t mean that some outspoken Afghans aren’t still fighting for improvements.

Shughla, a Fulbright alumni from Kabul (and member of peace initiative the Afghan Fulbrighters for Peace), told me that she blamed many international agencies for ignoring the real needs of Afghan women since 2001. “There was a limited assessment of cultural and contextual background”, she said, “and gender relations in the policies were one of the reasons why Afghan women made fragile and hindering progress despite the gigantic investment.”

Shughla argued that there needed to be empirical research “undertaken by civil society, government agencies and international donors as to where, what and how to improve the livelihood of Afghan women who are manoeuvring in a highly patriarchal and tribe-oriented society.”

The general failure of the USAID project in Afghanistan can be attributed to many factors, but a lack of local consultation was fatal. “Mohammed”, an Afghan in Kabul working for an international financial organisation who requested anonymity over security fears, said that the majority of USAID-funded projects had “largely failed to have significant impact on the life of Afghan people. Those who develop these projects are sitting in Washington DC with very little understanding of the realities in this country”.

I asked Mohammed why projects condemned by Sigar were so ubiquitous in Afghanistan. “The contractors have little access beyond Kabul city”, he said, “with very poor understanding of the country, and try to remotely manage their projects. In order to keep their senior counterparts in the government happy, they usually provide them favours that can border on corruption. Accountability mechanisms are very weak.”

This accurately articulates a key problem for the US mission in Afghanistan since the beginning. A lack of transparency has bedevilled the project since 2001, and president Obama, despite pledging during his 2007 campaign to clean up the bloated contracting racket, has done nothing.

History will not be kind to the litany of American mistakes and crimes during its longest war.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe.

no comments – be the first ↪

US radio show Majority Report interview on Disaster Capitalism

Last week I was interviewed from Berlin by the US radio program Majority Report with Sam Seder. We discussed my book, Disaster Capitalism, Haiti, the Clinton Foundation and Australia’s brutal refugee policies.

no comments – be the first ↪

Le Monde Diplomatique positively reviews Disaster Capitalism

The leading French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique has published a strong review of my book, Disaster Capitalism (PDF here: LoewensteinDisasterCapmLMD216):

Les catastrophes n’ont pas le même sens pour tout le monde. Antony Loewenstein s’intéresse ici à tous ceux qui « profitent des désastres » — le tremblement de terre de 2010 en Haïti, par exemple — pour privatiser, déréguler et faire fructifier leurs affaires. Mercenaires, multinationales de la sécurité, sociétés minières, secteur de la construction, etc. : de la Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinée au Pakistan, le journaliste présente une vaste palette de chefs d’entreprise qui prétendent venir en aide à des Etats confrontés à telle ou telle difficulté. On visite ainsi des prisons privatisées aux Etats-Unis, des camps de détention de migrants en Australie et au Royaume-Uni, des parcs industriels entourés de bidonvilles et transformés en nids douillets pour les entreprises américaines ou sud-coréennes en Haïti. Et l’on découvre la symbiose parfaite entre précarisation, paupérisation, surveillance des populations d’une part, et affaires lucratives de l’autre. L’auteur identifie une tendance qu’il observe sur toute la planète : « le remplacement de la démocratie par le “business plan” ».

Written by Eva Spiekermann, Google Translate tells me it says the following in English:

Disasters do not have the same meaning for everyone. Antony Loewenstein is interested by all those who “take advantage of disasters” – the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, for example – to privatize, deregulate and grow their business. Mercenaries, security multinational mining companies, construction industry, etc. : Papua New Guinea Pakistan, the reporter has a wide range of business leaders that claim to help states facing a particular challenge. Thus privatized prison visits to US detention camps for migrants in Australia and the UK, industrial parks surrounded by slums and transformed into cozy nests for US or South Korean companies in Haiti. And we discover the perfect combination of insecurity, impoverishment, population monitoring on the one hand, and lucrative business on the other. The author identifies a trend he sees on the planet, “the replacement of democracy by the” business plan “.”

no comments – be the first ↪