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.

On Utoya: book on murder, far-right, racism and hate

In 2011 Norwegian Anders Breivik murdered dozens of his countrymen and women in a rampage of hatred. 

Soon after, three Australians, Tad Tietze, Liz Humphrys and Guy Rundle, edited a collection, On Utoya, about the event. My chapter was about the growing connections between the far-right and Israel.

The e-book has now been released as a free PDF. They write:

On July 22, 2011, Anders Breivik, a Right-wing writer and activist, killed more than sixty young members of the Norwegian Labour Party on Utøya island. Captured alive, Breivik was more than willing to explain his actions as a ‘necessary atrocity’ designed to ‘wake up’ Europe to its betrayal by the Left, and its impending destruction through immigration and multiculturalism.

Following these events Guy Rundle, Tad Tietze and I collaborated to edit, within three months of the killings, On Utøya. The ebook was a challenge to anyone who would seek to portray the events in Norway as anything other than what they were – a violent mass assassination, directed against the Left, to terrorise people into silence and submission to a far-right and Islamophobic agenda. 

Since this time the essays have been reproduced and expanded on in numerous forms in the Australian and UK media, as well as in academic and psychiatric journals, by the authors.

Here we provide a free open access PDF version of the book for all to read, with essays by Anindya Bhattacharyya, Antony Loewenstein, Lizzie O’Shea, Richard Seymour, Jeff Sparrow and the editors.

The book can be downloaded from academia.edu, HERE.

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That rare US media report that humanises Gaza and Palestinians

Moving report, on NBC News, by Ayman Mohyeldin that details the current Israeli violence in Gaza. Slowly but surely Americans are being exposed to the reality of Israel’s crimes in Palestine:

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How the NSA wants total population control

My weekly Guardian column:

William Binney is one of the highest-level whistleblowers to ever emerge from the NSA. He was a leading code-breaker against the Soviet Union during the Cold War but resigned soon after September 11, disgusted by Washington’s move towards mass surveillance.

On 5 July he spoke at a conference in London organised by the Centre for Investigative Journalism and revealed the extent of the surveillance programs unleashed by the Bush and Obama administrations.

“At least 80% of fibre-optic cables globally go via the US”, Binney said. “This is no accident and allows the US to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores.”

The NSA will soon be able to collect 966 exabytes a year, the total of internet traffic annually. Former Google head Eric Schmidt once arguedthat the entire amount of knowledge from the beginning of humankind until 2003 amount to only five exabytes.

Binney, who featured in a 2012 short film by Oscar-nominated US film-maker Laura Poitras, described a future where surveillance is ubiquitous and government intrusion unlimited.

“The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control”, Binney said, “but I’m a little optimistic with some recent Supreme Court decisions, such as law enforcement mostly now needing a warrant before searching a smartphone.”

He praised the revelations and bravery of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and told me that he had indirect contact with a number of other NSA employees who felt disgusted with the agency’s work. They’re keen to speak out but fear retribution and exile, not unlike Snowden himself, who is likely to remain there for some time.

Unlike Snowden, Binney didn’t take any documents with him when he left the NSA. He now says that hard evidence of illegal spying would have been invaluable. The latest Snowden leaks, featured in the Washington Post, detail private conversations of average Americans with no connection to extremism.

It shows that the NSA is not just pursuing terrorism, as it claims, but ordinary citizens going about their daily communications. “The NSA is mass-collecting on everyone”, Binney said, “and it’s said to be about terrorism but inside the US it has stopped zero attacks.”

The lack of official oversight is one of Binney’s key concerns, particularly of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa), which is held out by NSA defenders as a sign of the surveillance scheme’s constitutionality.

“The Fisa court has only the government’s point of view”, he argued. “There are no other views for the judges to consider. There have been at least 15-20 trillion constitutional violations for US domestic audiences and you can double that globally.”

A Fisa court in 2010 allowed the NSA to spy on 193 countries around the world, plus the World Bank, though there’s evidence that even the nations the US isn’t supposed to monitor – Five Eyes allies Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – aren’t immune from being spied on. It’s why encryption is today so essential to transmit information safely.

Binney recently told the German NSA inquiry committee that his former employer had a “totalitarian mentality” that was the “greatest threat” to US society since that country’s US Civil War in the 19th century. Despite this remarkable power, Binney still mocked the NSA’s failures, including missing this year’s Russian intervention in Ukraine and the Islamic State’s take-over of Iraq.

The era of mass surveillance has gone from the fringes of public debate to the mainstream, where it belongs. The Pew Research Centre released a report this month, Digital Life in 2025, that predicted worsening state control and censorship, reduced public trust, and increased commercialisation of every aspect of web culture.

It’s not just internet experts warning about the internet’s colonisation by state and corporate power. One of Europe’s leading web creators, Lena Thiele, presented her stunning series Netwars in London on the threat of cyber warfare. She showed how easy it is for governments and corporations to capture our personal information without us even realising.

Thiele said that the US budget for cyber security was US$67 billion in 2013 and will double by 2016. Much of this money is wasted and doesn’t protect online infrastructure. This fact doesn’t worry the multinationals making a killing from the gross exaggeration of fear that permeates the public domain.

Wikileaks understands this reality better than most. Founder Julian Assange and investigative editor Sarah Harrison both remain in legal limbo. I spent time with Assange in his current home at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last week, where he continues to work, release leaks, and fight various legal battles. He hopes to resolve his predicament soon.

At the Centre for Investigative Journalism conference, Harrison stressed the importance of journalists who work with technologists to best report the NSA stories. “It’s no accident”, she said, “that some of the best stories on the NSA are in Germany, where there’s technical assistance from people like Jacob Appelbaum.”

A core Wikileaks belief, she stressed, is releasing all documents in their entirety, something the group criticised the news site The Intercept for not doing on a recent story. “The full archive should always be published”, Harrison said.

With 8m documents on its website after years of leaking, the importance of publishing and maintaining source documents for the media, general public and court cases can’t be under-estimated. “I see Wikileaks as a library”, Assange said. “We’re the librarians who can’t say no.”

With evidence that there could be a second NSA leaker, the time for more aggressive reporting is now. As Binney said: “I call people who are covering up NSA crimes traitors”.

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ABCTV Big Ideas on freedom of the press

The following was broadcast last week by ABC TV’s Big Ideas:

Big Ideas went to the deep north for the Wordstorm festival in Darwin. This is a festival that covers local and national politics and culture with a hefty dose of late night rapping. Some of the rap probably needs a late night time slot; but we can bring you this uncensored session on freedom of the press that pulls together some local journalists and some from the bigger smoke.

The panellists are Kerrie Anne Walsh, formerly of the Canberra Press Gallery & author of The Stalking of Julia Gillard; Glen Morrison, a journalist from Alice Springs, John Van Tiggelan; formerly with The Good Weekend & currently a journalist with The Monthly, writer Claire Scobie & the ubiquitous Antony Loewenstein – blogger, doco maker and journalist. His last book you might recall was Profits of Doom.

Kerrie Anne Walsh is particularly good on the big changes in the reportage and alignments within the Canberra press gallery.

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WikiLeaks Editor Sarah Harrison on Ed Snowden and indy journalism

Fascinating interview in Germany on Democracy Now! with one of the key figures in the still living and breathing Wikileaks and newly formed The Courage Foundation to support whistle-blowers:

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What resistance looks like in austerity-captured Greece

My weekly Guardian column:

The story from an Athens hospital beggared belief. In May a 54 year old man needed immediate heart surgery. He was unemployed and uninsured, a common reality for many Greek citizens since the economic crisis hit in 2008. The hospital initially refused to admit him, fearing they would never get paid, but the man said he would submit the required welfare document when he received it. His doctor convinced the facility that the patient was in jeopardy and must be operated on immediately.

The man, whose name has not been released – though the story has been verified by reliable sources – was lying in the operating theatre waiting to have a pacemaker installed, when a person from the hospital’s accounting department arrived. Because the patient hadn’t submitted the necessary welfare documents, the accountant forced the doctors to stop the procedure.

It was only the next day, after pressure from a unique organisation called the metropolitan community clinic in Helliniko, that the man had the life-saving work. Instead of acknowledging fault, the Greek health ministry preferred to blame the messenger, accusing the metropolitan clinic of concocting the story.

Such issues are increasingly common here in Greece. According to Transparency International, Greece has the most corrupt public service in Europe. The Institute of Economic Affairs found that Greece’s shadow economy in 2012 was equivalent to 24% of GDP.

On a balmy evening last week I visited the metropolitan clinic to see their response to this sad state of affairs. Situated on an old US army base on the outskirts of Athens, the organisation has become an invaluable service for 28,000 people since it began operations in 2011.

A storeroom full of donated medicine is the foundation of its operations. Visiting rooms are staffed entirely by volunteers, 250 Greeks who rotate on a roster.

Spokesman Christos Sideris explained to me that the centre treated the most desperate. “The clinic only accepts the poor and unemployed, people who have no insurance, those on low wages and pensions, all ages and sexes and even former industrialists who have fallen from financial highs,” he said. “Neoliberal ideology is putting money above people’s lives.”

There are a few key rules implemented by the group’s assembly: “No party politics and no money but we will take drugs as donations. We won’t have Greek politicians with TV crews to look around here. The clinic does not advertise who gives drugs, it’s anonymous, and we will try not to associate ourselves with companies, individuals or NGOs who got us into the financial crisis in the first place.”

Founder and key doctor Giorgos Vichas hoped that there would be no need for the facility in a few years’ time – though he’s being asked to advise on similar community clinics across Europe, including a new one just opened in Hamburg, Germany.

Vichas told me that the medical association of Athens tried to close the centre down in 2013, saying the clinic lacked the correct permits to operate. “But then in late 2013 the drugs police arrived with a magistrate who came with a bag of drugs to donate,” he said. “She could have shut us down.”

The clinic is a necessity in a country where extreme povertysuicide and drug abuse are surging. Every time I catch a train around Athens I see Greeks begging for money or selling small pens for a pittance. A constant presence around the city are signs of protesting cleaning women, sacked by the finance ministry in 2013, holding constant protests to demand their jobs back.

For many, they’ve become a symbol of opposition against a state bureaucracy that prefers to talk of selling public assets to appease the EU and arrest the financial decline. China is now getting in on the act, keen to purchase its own part of the Greek state. Brussels is even financing a continent wide drone program. Greece has announced, without any public consultation, that the unmanned vehicles will be used to monitor immigrants over its sea borders.

I find myself agreeing with Slavoj Žižek, who argues that only a radicalised left can save Europe, including Greece, from slipping deeper into the morass of a populist, anti-refugee right.

This left is undoubtedly growing. During a public event last week in Athens with writer Christos Tsiolkas and me, talking about the concept of nation in a fractured, patriotic world, organiser Eugenia Tzirtzilaki encouraged the audience to challenge popular and simplistic notions of identity and find a more inclusive European perspective.

The crowd argued that Greece’s dark and racist past, along with its similar present, must be rejected. Yet finding an effective response to the use and abuse of nationalism, so beloved of the far-right and current government, is no easy task.

Thankfully, there are signs that many Greeks are blaming those directly responsible for the current crisis and not believing a person like IMF head Christine Lagarde, who remains in denial about how her organisation punishes the most vulnerable in Greece.

Greek lawyer Thanasis Kampagiannis is a member of Keerfa: Movement United Against Racism and Fascist Threat. he has spent years campaigning against the growth in extremism. He recently successfully represented the family of Pakistani man Shehzad Luqman, who was murdered by Golden Dawn thugs in Athens in 2013. The accused are now serving life sentences for the crime.

The lawyer is also involved in the likely, upcoming trial of the Golden Dawn leadership, though Kampagiannis remains skeptical it will happen.Collusion between the state and Golden Dawn is rife; nevertheless, he will appear to defend Egyptian fishermen assaulted by the party’s henchmen.

Kampagiannis is encouraged by the growing success of left-wing Syriza. It’s now the biggest party in the nation, but he is concerned its leadership won’t take the necessary “radical” action to rescue Greece.

“I worry that they accept the EU framework”, he said. “Leader Alexis Tsipras thinks you can reform the EU terms on which Greece implements measures against austerity.” With a majority of Greeks now having a “negative opinion” of the EU, Kampagiannis argued that Greece should leave it. In the transition away from Brussels, he told me, “we can have a policy where the working class interests are protected and capital should pay”.

It’s a vision that may find resonance beyond Greece’s borders in the coming decade.

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Palestinians now wanting true justice under one-state solution

In 2013, I released with my co-editor Ahmed Moor the edited collection, After Zionism. It featured many prominent views on the viability and necessity of a one-state solution in Israel and Palestine.

Now a new study of Palestinians, via Haaretz, reveals the growing belief amongst Palestinians in Palestine that a state treating all its citizens with equal respect under the law is desirable. Sadly, there’s no evidence that the majority of Israelis feel the same way:

By more than a 2-1 margin, Palestinians oppose the two-state solution, favoring instead the goal of a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea,” according to a recent poll by the centrist Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

At the same time, though, the poll found that a large majority of Palestinians favored the tactic of “popular resistance” – such as demonstrations and strikes – over violence to achieve their goals, Globes reported Sunday.

Interestingly, Gazans were more moderate when it came to tactics, but more hardline about the goal.

The survey also found that West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas was a much more popular leader than Gazan leader Ismail Haniyeh – both in the West Bank (28.1 percent to 6.9 percent) and in the Gaza Strip (32.4 percent to 11.7 percent).

The poll, which questioned a relatively large sample of 1,200 respondents, was taken June 15-17 – following the abductions of three Israeli teenagers, the formation of the Fatah-Hamas unity government, and the collapse of the Kerry peace talks. However, it was conducted just before West Bank protests arose against Abbas for his cooperation with Israel’s search for the kidnapped boys and crackdown on Hamas.

Asked what political goal they favored over the next five years, 60.3 percent replied “action to return historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, to our hands,” while 27.3 percent answered “end[ing] the occupation of the West Bank in order to reach a two-state solution.”

Another 10.1 percent said the goal should be a “one-state solution, for the entire region, from the river to the sea, in which Jews and Arabs enjoy equal rights.”

If a Palestinian leadership were to reach agreement with Israel on a two-state deal, 64 percent said Palestinians should still continue to press on for a Palestinian state encompassing the territories and Israel, while 31.6 percent said they would accept a two-state solution.

On the question of tactics, again, the trend was toward moderation, with 70 percent of Gazans and 56 percent of West Bankers saying Hamas should observe a cease-fire with Israel. Asked if Hamas should go along with Abbas’ demand that the unity government publicly renounce violence, 57 percent of Gazans agreed, while West Bankers were split evenly.

Popular resistance won the support of 73 percent Palestinians in Gaza and 62 percent of those in the West Bank.

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The toxic Greek brew of racism, fascism and hatred of refugees

My weekly Guardian column:

On a searing hot day last weekend I took the train an hour out of Athens to the Greek city of Corinth. There, one of the country’s largest detention centres sits behind high walls. It was the recent site of a mass hunger strike by asylum seekers, whose protest has now gone nation-wide.

I gained rare access to the Corinth centre with a former refugee as my guide. I spoke to Hazara men who had been imprisoned for as long as two years. We stood behind a fence topped with barbed wire while the detainees gathered on the other side, longing for discussion and human contact.

One man had been shot in the foot by a guard and the bullet remained inside his body. They all claimed to be the victims of physical and psychological abuse by the police. None of them wanted to remain in Greece because of the harsh conditions of their incarceration, and hoped to get to Germany or Sweden in the near future. After 15 minutes of hurried conversation, and despite our protests, we were eventually moved on by police.

Greece is on the frontline of European nations receiving desperate refugees from Africa and the Middle East. The poor conditions inside state-run facilities are well-documented. Many of the men who we spoke with in the Corinth centre had been swept up in Greece’s inhumane Operation Xenios Zeus, launched in 2012, to rid the streets of asylum seekers.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of those picked up were found to be in the country legally, the plan was an effective political fix to show the government was tough on “illegal” immigration. Detainees can now be held indefinitely. Detention centres are set to be privatised.

None of this could happen were it not for Greece’s fractious political climate. The recent European elections saw support surge for the far-right Golden Dawn, backing grow for the leftwing party Syriza and the deep denial (or is it shamefaced acceptance?) by the political class of bigotry among their Greek constituents.

It’s no accident that fascist organs are gaining strength in Greece, across Europe and the rest of the world. Even Indonesia is seeing Nazi chic. Many admire the positions of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, because they’re skilfully exploiting economic unease, unemployment and fear of immigrants and Islam. Greece has also seen the return of anti-Roma and anti-Jewish sentiment.

I met one of Golden Dawn’s leading MPs, Ilias Panagiotaros, outside Athens’ high court. He was accompanied by the party leader’s wife, Golden Dawn MP Eleni Zaroulia. Panagiotaros spoke with determined calm, saying that his party is surging in support in spite of it being investigated by the government as a possible criminal organisation. A few hours after we spoke, Zaroulia was placed under house arrest.

“The cases against GD leadership are 100% political persecution”, Panagiotaros explained. “Every GD MP believes in country and nation, heritage, pride and dignity.” A whistle-blower from inside the party recently revealed that the ultimate goal of the group was to create a “one-party state” and attacking immigrants was viewed as a “badge of honour”.

He praised Putin, said Russia would soon be the world’s leading super-power, liked Moscow’s monitoring of all NGOs (“99% of NGOs should face justice here and be in jail because they’re agents of globalisation”), accused all Muslim immigrants in Europe of being “jihadists” who “plan to take over Europe” and condemned the privatisation of public services (despite Golden Dawn MPs routinely backing the government in outsourcing policy).

He praised Israel and said he would like to copy its laws against “illegal immigration” and was equally effusive towards Australian prime minister Tony Abbott. He “has been tough on illegal immigration and I support his position”.

He claimed that all Muslim immigrants coming to Europe should go elsewhere. “If Syrians, Libyans or Iraqis need to go somewhere they should go to the US, the country that caused the wars in their countries. Let the US take these people in.”

I asked Panagiotaros about photos which emerged this week in a leading Greek paper of the currently imprisoned Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos saluting in front of the Nazi Swastika, and other party members’ nostalgia for Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess. He dismissed my concerns.

“So what if our leader was photographed next to a Nazi swastika 40 years ago?” he said. “If you ask every leader in Europe what they were doing decades ago you may find some interesting stories, too.”

I visited another leading Golden Dawn supporter, Dr Epaminondas Stathis, a retired orthopaedic surgeon and losing 2014 European election candidate. His home, an hour from Athens, is a mansion replete with large statues, candelabras, paintings on every wall in every room and many images of Jesus. He said that as he’s “been fighting for patriotic, nationalist ideas all my life”.

He explained that successive governments have for 40 years “destroyed the economy, closed farms and shops; we’ve had a humanitarian crisis for at least 10 years”. What Greece needs, he explained, was a party that respected Greek heritage.

The whiff of conspiracy against the group was never far from the surface, a view that is shared by many Greek citizens who have little faith in the government, media or legal system.

One of the great unreported reasons for the Greek crisis, and barely investigated by the local press except for independent journalist Apostolis Fotiadis, is the European Union’s imposition of disaster-capitalism policies. The aim is to weaken the sovereignty of member states, while allowing corporate interests to buy and exploit assets at low prices. Privatising so much of Greece has been a colossal failure and yet rightwing Greek politicians talk of continuing it. The country has become a giant fire sale, despite massive popular opposition.

These are the political conditions that almost guarantee disruption and unease. While corruption remains rampant and wages low – I’ve spoken to countless young Greeks who tell me that a reasonable wage here is around US$10,000 a year – the appeal of simple fixes, such as offered by Golden Dawn, will thrive. Whether alternative parties of the Left, in Greece and beyond in Europe, will capitalise on these tensions and resist Brussels-directed privatisation is the great challenge of the modern European project.

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Talking about nation and identity in Greece

I’m currently in Greece working on a new book, out in 2015 with Verso Books on disaster capitalism (more details soon), and excited to announce this public event on 24th June with my friend and colleague (and bloody fine and successful writer), Christos Tsiolkas. It’s organised by the art/intellectual collective, the Athens-based Libby Saucer Foundation:

The group Libby Sacer Foundation continues its series of events under the title “Passport please” at the cheapart art space (An. Metaxa 25, Exarheia). The next two events of the series focus on Ghosts. Entrance is free.

Talk – discussion: The Ghost of Nation” - 24th June, 8pm

Two Australian natives, radical Greek-Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas and anti-Zionist Jewish journalist Antony Loewenstein discuss the notion of nation. As the children and grandchildren of immigrants, white inhabitants of a black continent and people functioning beyond normality on multiple levels, the two will trace their relationship with what we call nation. 

The guests will discuss in English and there will be a Greek interpreter.

Brief biographies:

Christos Tsiolkas was born in Melbourne in 1965. Born to a working-class family of Greek migrants, he is left-wing and openly gay. He has been called “one of the greatest contemporary writers in Australia” and has received many awards. His first novel, Loaded (1995), was filmed as Head On (1998) by director Ana Kokkinos. In 2006, his novel Dead Europe won The Age Book of the Year fiction award and was adapted into a film in 2012. In 2009, his fourth novel, The Slap, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009 for best novel in the South-East Asia and South Pacific area, and in 2010 he was shortlisted for the Booker prize. Tsiolkas has also written The Jesus Man, The Devil’s Playground and most recently Barracuda. Christos Tsiolkas is also a playwright, essayist and screenwriter. 

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based journalist, author and filmmaker. He’s a weekly columnist for the Guardian, has written best-selling books including My Israel Question, The Blogging Revolution and Profits of Doom: How vulture capitalism is swallowing the world. Loewenstein also edited Left Turn and After Zionism and is currently making a documentary and a new book about vulture capitalism. 

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Listening to Iraqi voices when hearing about Iraq

My weekly Guardian column:

Since last week’s victories by the militant group Isis against a weak, US-backed, Iraqi government, the same, failed protagonists from the 2003 invasion have come out of the woodwork to advocate another military intervention.

Although some journalists, like The Independent’s prescient Patrick Cockburn, have been warning about the growing power of Isis, voices on the ground are few and far between in western media. Mostly we get the same old neo-cons who took us to Iraq in the first place.

That’s a shame, because local reporters and bloggers have a unique perspective. Instead of listening to think-tanks pushing to bomb, a tour through the internet turns up plenty of thoughts from those suffering the direct consequences of the carnage in Iraq.

Niqash is a website that features Iraqi journalists from across the nation and publishes in Arabic, Kurdish and English. Reporter Abdul-Khaleq Dosky this week interviewed Bashar al-Kiki, the Kurdish head of the provincial council in Ninawa, and asked him about life inside Mosul since it fell to Isis.

“The whole of Mosul is under Isis’ control,” al-Kiki explained. “Isis has also allocated one mosque in the city for tawba [repentance or confession]. People are expected to go this mosque to repent past acts and to show their loyalty to Isis.”

Mustafa Habib‘s analysis of the retreat from Mosul is fascinating: he argues that the Iraqi army didn’t desert, but was ordered to leave. It remains unclear by whom but he quotes Hakim al-Zamily, a member of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defence committee, who says:

“There can only be a handful of people who know who actually gave those orders for the army to withdraw. One of them must be al-Maliki [the Iraqi prime minister.] But up until now he’s said nothing about this.”

Users of social media in Iraq have been perennially blocked by the government. Many Iraqis outside the country have been tweeting about their families trapped in Mosul. Iraqi blogger Maryam Al Dabbagh, now in the UAE, has an essential Twitter feed with moving details about life under Isis control.

The absence of Iraqi voices on the plight of their own country isn’t a new phenomenon. One of the most articulate Iraqi bloggers, Baghdad Burning, moved from Iraq to Syria after 2003 and is now in another Arab city. Her last post, in April 2013, was full of anger about the fate of her homeland:

“We learned that you can be floating on a sea of oil, but your people can be destitute. Your city can be an open sewer; your women and children can be eating out of trash dumps and begging for money in foreign lands.”

Kurdish journalist Fazel Hawramy runs a good Twitter account on Iraq, and has been reporting for The Guardian. Then there’s Isis, which is mounting its own social media campaign. Ironically, there is also an apparent Isis critic tweeting from within the group.

Of course, many Iraqis don’t use social networks at all. In any modern war it’s dangerous to take Facebook posts and Tweets as representing anything more than the views of a select few. Journalism from the streets still remains vitally important.

We should also ask why western reporters are taken to be the most trusted authorities wherever they are reporting. An anonymous journalist, writing from Mosul last week, explained in Niqash that the Baath Party may be making an effort to restore its power in Iraq. However, the author wrote:

“It was still clear who was really in charge: Isis. The same source in Mosul said that after gaining control of the whole province of Ninawa, ISIS then gave the Naqshbandi Army [militias linked to the Baathists] 24 hours to remove their pictures of Saddam Hussein.”

The Iraqi people face years more hardship and uncertainty. What the country doesn’t need is more blowhards looking to preserve American prestige. That was lost the day Iraq was invaded in 2003. Listening and engaging local voices has never been more important, if for no other reason to prove that Baghdad’s problems won’t be fully solved in London, Tehran, Washington or Canberra.

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Why do so many Australians embrace spying?

My weekly Guardian column:

Australians feel very comfortable with spying on our friends and enemies. During his visit to Canada this week, Tony Abbott, the prime minister, backed the Five Eyes intelligence sharing structure between America, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and Australia, saying “our intelligence gathering has got to be done in a way that is decent and fair and which doesn’t betray the fundamental values that we are doing our best to uphold”.

According to the recently released Lowy Institute 2014 poll, the majority of Australians agree: 70% of us feel it’s appropriate to monitor the activities of nations with which Canberra has poor relations. Half argue it’s acceptable even against friendly states. Australians have no issue with Indonesia, East Timor, France, Japan, America and New Zealand being spied on by their own government.

Despite there being vast evidence that Australia is arguably essentially spying for commercial purposes against a poor neighbour such as East Timor over its valuable oil and gas reserves, these facts don’t appear to concern Australians.

What the Lowy poll doesn’t ask is how Australians feel about Canberra and its US allies spying on them. One of the invaluable revelations of former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was confirming the US government’s mass surveillance of its own citizens. Would Australians feel happy knowing faceless spy agencies are recording, collating, monitoring and storing private details about their lives? I hope not.

In Britain this week, actor Stephen Fry slammed the British government for its “squalid and rancid” response to the Snowden revelations. Yet in Australia, there has been very little dissent over them at all. With bipartisan, political backing for American influence on the Australian homeland, it’s revealing how few public condemnations have been heard (with some notable exceptions). For this reason alone, intelligence agencies, the federal government and media backers feel little pressure to be answerable for their secret business.

The Lowy Institute should have probed these issues far more, instead of rehashing tired questions about Australians’ love of the US alliance. The poll report muses on the “continuing relevance and durability of the US alliance for our nation’s security” while never allowing any questions that may challenge this notion. Does the US alliance make Australia a client state of Washington (as former prime minister Malcolm Fraser states in his new book)? Should Australia continue to buy overpriced weapons and planes from multinational US arms manufacturers?

I’m reminded of the classic Noam Chomsky quote: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum…”

The Lowy poll adheres to this rule with mostly safe and predictable questions, and therefore receives expected answers. Elsewhere, the Lowy poll asks mundane questions about how Australians feel about world figures such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Aung San Suu Kyi and Angela Merkel. It stands to reason that since media coverage of western leaders is largely benign, showing the supposed good intent of their democratic credentials, Australians overwhelmingly like Obama and his ilk (though no questions about US drone strikes which kill many civilians). Equally, non-western leaders, such as Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Xi Jinping, are very unpopular.

This is another confected result. Since the Snowden leaks last year, Washington has ramped up the rhetoric blaming Beijing for its outrageous spying infrastructure against American businesses and government, even going so far in May of charging some in the Chinese military for hacking. Beijing is demonised as uniquely evil, unfairly gaining commercial advantage over its rivals. This is a classic smokescreen which attempts to change the conversation away from the Snowden documents, which detail extensive US spying on Chinese interests.

When the media gives Washington’s claims far more credence and coverage than Beijing’s, we shouldn’t be shocked that Australians tell the Lowy Institute that they don’t trust the Chinese leader.

Despite these deep hesitations, the Lowy results provide some instructive news about local attitudes. Asylum seekers have been so successfully demonised for so many years that sympathy for their claims and boat people in general is shamefully low. Pressure for serious action on climate change is rising at a time when president Obama is encouraging a reduction in carbon emissions while countries run by neo-conservatives, such as Canada and Australia, are moving even further towards embracing a coal future. Abbott is out of step with public opinion.

One sign of a healthy and mature nation is how it relates to the world and the most vulnerable people in it, and it’s encouraging that 70% of Lowy respondents see poverty reduction, rather than foreign policy objectives (a stated goal of the Abbott government), as central to our outward posture.

A think-tank that didn’t see its main purpose as supporting and strengthening the foreign policy status quo would have designed a far more imaginative and insightful annual poll. In the meantime, Lowy has given us an incomplete picture of Australian attitudes towards some of the most contentious issues of our time and shown the public to be conservative, caring and cautious – the inevitable result when our media is so selective in its coverage of crucial news.

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SBS News interview on Australia not seeing East Jerusalem as occupied

I was interviewed for the SBS TV news earlier this week on Canberra’s insane decision to avoid calling East Jerusalem “occupied” despite the entire world knowing that it is, except the occupying nation itself, Israel. Shalailah Medhora is the journalist (and a link to the video is here):

Last week Attorney-General George Brandis told Senate Estimates that Australia would drop “occupied” when referring to East Jerusalem.

Australia is the only nation apart from Israel to change its language on the contested land.

“Australia [will] isolate itself from the entire international community, and from the peace process,” Ambassador to the General Delegation of Palestine, Izzat Abdulhadi, told SBS.

The Ambassador has met with counterparts from Arab and Asian nations to draft a letter calling for an urgent meeting with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to clarify Australia’s position.

“In this letter we express our deep concern about this position of Australia,” Mr Abdulhadi says.

“We think it’s important for Australia to revise its position.”

Israeli Ambassador to Australia, Schmuel Ben-Schmuel, has welcomed the policy shift.

“It’s a reasonable step which I wish all like-minded countries would accept,” Mr Ben-Schmuel told SBS.

The Ambassador says the change will help the peace process.

“The way through peace is through direct negotiation through the parties involved.”

Former Australian Ambassador to Israel, Ross Burns, disagrees.

“Now we seem to be losing our capacity to dialogue with the Arab side,” the ex-Ambassador turned Palestinian advocate, says.

“Our name has been mud, particularly among the Palestinians, but also generally in the Arab world.”

Some commentators think the decision to drop “occupied” is less about the federal government’s ideology, and more about keeping the Jewish lobby happy.

“They’re trying to do this as some kind of quid pro quo in relation to the Racial Discrimination Act,” Independent journalist and author Antony Loewenstein says.

Representatives of the Israeli community in Australia refute that.

“It’s irrelevant,” Colin Rubenstein from the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council says.

“It’s completely unrelated to that.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop issued SBS with a statement saying there’s been no change to the federal government’s position on the legal status of the Palestinian Territories.

The Palestinian Authority has summoned Australian representative in Ramallah, Tom Wilson, to issue a please explain.

Dr Saeb Erekat, a senior member of the Palestinian Authority, has written to Minister Bishop saying that the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation may review their relations with Australia in light of the policy shift.

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