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.

Resource curse alive and well in Afghanistan

My following investigation is published by the Guardian:

Afghanistan faces an existential crisis over its untapped natural resources. After decades of war and insecurity, the Afghan government and foreign investors are pushing to exploit minerals under the ground but real dangers exist with little enforced regulation. Like Papua New Guinea and Haiti, two other nations with natural wealth that are blighted by the “resource curse”, Afghanistan could be seriously considering leaving resources untouched to ensure peace, stability and a clean environment but the economic imperative is too strong.

Taliban territory is less than one hour from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Logar Province has traditionally been an insurgent stronghold and regularly sees violent clashes between Afghan security forces and militants. I went there recently to visit the Chinese-owned Aynak mine, one of the largest copper deposits in the world and set to commence operations in the coming years (though an exact date hasn’t been specified).

Its site is an archaeological treasure trove for Buddhist artefacts, but Afghan president Ashraf Ghani announced this year after a visit to Beijing that his government wanted to move ahead with the mine to earn much-needed revenue for his aid-dependent state. The Buddhist treasures are nearly 2,000 years old and reveal an ancient civilisation that stretched across China, India and Japan. Archaeologists have discovered gold jewellery, silver platters and a human skeleton amidst the ancient town.

A secret contract was signed between Kabul and Beijing in 2007 and only this year the Afghan government finally agreed to release its contents. But insecurity, falling global copper prices and a lack of transport for the minerals has stalled the enterprise. It still remains Afghanistan’s largest project in a nation with trillions of dollars worth of resources under the ground.

Locals in Logar’s Davo village told me that their lives had become hellish since the mine’s arrival including being kicked off their lands, pressured by insurgents and the government to leave the area entirely and little economic development. On a bright, sunny day with Afghan and American helicopters roaring overhead, I sat in a compound with 10 men to hear about the impact of the mine. Nazir Khan, a young man who lives in the house in which the meeting took place, escorted me into the area because it was too unsafe in the afternoon with Taliban and Isis-affiliated groups for outsiders to travel alone.

Chief elder Malik Mullah Mirjan explained that his community was promised many benefits after the establishment of Aynak. “The Chinese company confiscated our property and we have never been compensated or paid by anybody,” he said. “We felt like they invaded and stole our land.”

Mirjan said that there was no “consultation” about the process and very few employment opportunities despite assurances of jobs for the community. He said he would still back the mine but nobody from the government had ever come and explained how they would benefit. Consultation is undeniably difficult in a war zone but all 10 men were offended that it had been assumed by Kabul authorities that they were expendable to the project and could be pushed aside. Environmental destruction was rife, he continued, from the building of dirty roads and polluting of waterways by early mining excavations.

“There’s no good intention on the part of the Chinese or Afghan government. The army protects the mining project and not us,” he said. The police regularly beat and insulted his family and friends for raising questions about the mine; they were told to shut up. Insurgents threatened violence. Some Taliban wanted no mining at all and opposed anybody who tried to secure a deal with the government to benefit from it. Other Taliban were more pragmatic and insisted on a financial cut when the mine commenced operations.

Aynak is symbolic of Afghanistan’s declining fortunes since the 2001 fall of the Taliban and the American-led war. The state was shocked with weapons, money, foreign troops and aid but with little oversight or accountability the results from a long occupation and massive amounts of foreign aid have been desultory. Attacks against foreigners and Afghan civilians are soaring.

With western aid drying up and few foreign troops remaining in the country, the Afghan government is desperately looking for ways to sustain itself. Mining is offered as a compelling answer. Australia funds initiatives to assist Afghan mining but I was told in Kabul that this was little more than helping Australian businesses benefit from the potential gold rush.

In May this year, the Western Australian government supported a summit of the Australian Afghanistan Business Council to discuss development of the Afghan mining sector. West Australian mines and petroleum minister Bill Marmion said at the meeting: “Western Australia is our nation’s resources powerhouse, and I am confident our regulatory and industry experience will help guide positive mining development in Afghanistan.” Afghanistan and Western Australia signed a deal in 2012 to back Kabul’s “sustainable” mining industry.

Canberra assists many resource-rich states, including Papua New Guinea, but the results of this support have been poor for the people themselves. In theory, mining has the possibility of making a country rich but all too often mineral exploitation guarantees poor governance. Rampant corruption, illegal smuggling, warlordism and a lack of regulation are key factors against a sustainable mining sector in Afghanistan.

In Hairatan, a town in northern Afghanistan on the border with Uzbekistan, a railway runs to the nearest major town, Mazar-i-Sharif, to transport oil and gas. The government in Kabul says this relatively safe area of the country is a strong example of resources being managed responsibly to benefit the nation. But local oil traders I met in the area told the opposite story: how they’re forced to pay exorbitant taxes for little return while the insurgency grows around them.

Masoom Qasemyar, a former interpreter for Swedish forces, told me outside the Hairatan oil and gas trading office that earning revenues from indigenous resources was the only way for the state to grow. That said, he had no faith that the authorities would manage them intelligently.

A report in April found that the nearly US$500m granted by the US government to back the Afghan mining industry had failed because both the Afghan ministry of mines was incapable of managing new contracts, while US evaluation of any progress was close to non-existent.

I asked many Afghans about the prospect of leaving resources in the ground to avoid worsening corruption and environmental destruction, and whether alternative ways to raise money could be found. Javeed Noorani is an independent researcher on mining and co-founder of the Natural Resources Monitoring Network, a gathering of communities from across the country to bring national attention to mining issues. He said leaving resources in the ground was the ideal situation if Afghanistan couldn’t provide social and environmental safeguards.

“Communities are so poor living around mines and when powerful people come to extract they’re exposed to violence,” he said. “If the government doesn’t intervene when minerals are being exploited, and they already are across the state, we transition from one conflict to another.”

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Interview about my documentary-in-progress, Disaster Capitalism

I was recently interviewed by Green Left Weekly newspaper:

Independent journalist and author Antony Loewenstein has made a name for himself writing about war crimes, human rights abuses and corporate profiteering.

For the first time, he is seeking to speak truth to power through the medium of film — with his first documentary Disaster Capitalism now in production. Loewenstein is also releasing a new book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe through Verso in September.

Green Left Weekly‘s Paul Benedek spoke to Loewenstein

* * *

Until now, your work has been writing book and articles. What made you move into film with Disaster Capitalism?

For many years, I have realised the power of film and TV to emotionally reach people in ways that the written word cannot.

After a number of books that I know could have benefitted from a complimentary film — My Israel Question would have shown the vicious reality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and The Blogging Revolution would have featured some of the inspiring dissidents challenging repressive regimes globally — I started talking to Australian filmmakers in 2010/2011 when I began researching my book, Profits of Doom.

To cut a long story short, various partnerships started and stalled, various local funders showed interest, then didn’t. I realised that I should just start filming myself as I was visiting Christmas Island and Curtin detention centres, Haiti, Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I shot on an HD handycam, the images looked fine, but I was keen to collaborate with a filmmaker to shape my vision.

Who is the team you are working with on the film and what role/s are each of you playing?

In 2012, I met New York filmmaker Thor Neureiter through a mutual friend and we visited Haiti together. Since then we’ve been filming, raising money and crafting the documentary from different corners of the globe. Norwegian filmmaker Spencer Austad, based in Australia, is also involved, and he filmed me in Bougainville and Afghanistan.

Thor is the director, producer and cinematographer, Spencer is the co-cinematographer and I’m the presenter, writer and co-producer. Sydney-based production company Media Stockade are our producing partners.

Briefly sum up the theme of Disaster Capitalism, and why this is an important film to make.

The film features three countries: Papua New Guinea, Haiti and Afghanistan. We are investigating the reality and rhetoric of aid and development and how they shape, affect and change people’s lives, often negatively.

Natural resources are often cited as the best way to help developing nations thrive, but in all three nations minerals and mining are leading to greater poverty and displacement. Despite all these problems, many people are making serious money. This is an inevitable result of exploitative policies that aim to enrich local and foreign contractors at the expense of the population.

The aim of the film isn’t simply to shock and seduce people, it’s shot in a beautiful way, but to show how these industries could be different. Our outreach plan includes showing the film to a wide audience, from cinemas to film-festivals, the UN and aid workers and screenings in Haiti, PNG and Afghanistan themselves.

Where has the film taken you, who have you met and what are one or two highlights?

We have travelled twice to each country, Haiti, PNG and Afghanistan, and each time we wanted to have local characters tell their stories, about how the promises from the international community regularly falls short.

One of the highlights was recently visiting Logar Province in Afghanistan, one of the hearts of the insurgency, to meet villagers displaced by the Chinese-owned Aynak mine nearby, one of the largest copper deposits in the world.

The Afghan and Chinese governments and the Chinese company all claim the mine is beneficial to the country, but we saw and heard angry village elders explaining how they faced violence, uncertainty and poverty because of it.

As a film team working very differently from established or mainstream film production companies, what technology has the team used and what have been the challenges on the shoot?

The challenges are immense because we have faced rugged terrain, an insurgency, poverty and access issues. We have shot on a Sony FS100 camera and Black Magic Design camera, Go Pro, iPhone 6 and other devices.

What avenues have you used to fund the film until now, and what are the plans for further funding to complete it?

We have self-funded, raised money on Kickstarter and successfully applied for money from the Bertha Foundation, funders of Citizen Four, Dirty Wars and other successful documentaries. We’re currently speaking to local and international funders to raise the remaining amount. If readers would like to help, they know where to find me.

Where is the film currently at, what needs to be done to complete it and when are you aiming to release it?

Principal shooting of the film is complete, with only minor shooting still required in a few locations. We are raising funds for post-production and hope to have this completed within the next six to 12 months. This project began four to five years ago, so we’re committed to finishing it as soon as possible.

Where do you plan on the film ending up, do you have a distributor and what is your distribution plan?

Our aim for the film is for a global cinema release, to be seen by as many people as possible. We will aim for film festivals, TV, Al Jazeera, BBC, Netflix and a range of other options.

We do not yet have a distributor but are talking to a few. The distribution and outreach plan revolves around changing the conversation on aid and development in a way that challenges the gatekeepers in that industry.

To achieve this goal, we’ll have an active social media campaign and partner with local and global human rights NGOs to spread the message. We’ll also use our various media platforms to discuss the film.

Do you think film is a medium that other progressive journalists and writers should be looking at moving into?

Although making a documentary is a slow process, I certainly believe in its power and worth to compliment other types of writing and activism. There’s a reason Naomi Klein is making a documentary version of her book, This Changes Everything, on climate change. She wants to reach large audiences with a message.

Disaster Capitalism has similar goals because these issues don’t just affect elite policy makers at the UN or NGOs. As our film shows, locals are often negatively affected by policy decisions made in Western nations. We are all complicit.

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How the West has always backed brutal Sri Lanka

My weekly Guardian column:

The Sri Lankan Navy band was busy last week, learning the tune to Waltzing Matilda. They played it to welcome Scott Morrison, the Australian immigration minister, who was visiting to launch two patrol boats donated by the Australian government. A photo of the moment,tweeted by journalist Jason Koutsoukis, showed Morrison sitting alongside president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Perhaps it didn’t worry Morrison that there are growing calls to prosecute Gotabaya Rajapaksa for war crimes, because of his actions in 2009 during the Sri Lankan civil war. Australia has been aware of Sri Lanka’s breaches of human rights for some time.

Australia is now closer to the regime than ever, because of their assistance in implementing Morrison’s tough border protection strategy. As Emily Howie, the director of advocacy and research at the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre, reported in 2013, “the Australian government is actively funding and supporting Sri Lanka to undertake these interceptions [of asylum seekers].”

Her report was based on interviews she gathered in Sri Lanka with people who wanted to leave and were stopped, interrogated and often tortured. Howie wrote in The Conversation that arbitrary detention, beatings and torture are routinely meted out to those in custody, Tamil and Sinhalese, with Canberra’s knowledge.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) works closely with its Sri Lankan counterparts, providing training, intelligence, vehicles and surveillance equipment. This has been happening for years. From time to time, stories surface alleging that AFP offers have been present during Sri Lankan police beatings and interrogations of returned asylum seekers. If true, this fits into a wider pattern of Western officials colluding with thuggish militias and authorities over the last few decades, including in Northern IrelandIraq and Afghanistan.

Britain has had its own peculiar involvement in the darkness of Sri Lanka’s recent past. A groundbreaking new report by British researcher and journalist Phil Miller, a researcher at London-based Corporate Watch and regular contributor to Open Democracy on detention issues, outlines how brutal British tactics utilised in Northern Ireland were brought to Sri Lanka in its war against dissidents and Tamils.

The report uncovers new evidence of government and mercenary elements colluding to put down Tamil independence and calls for equal rights. From the early 1980s, London denied any official involvement in training Sri Lankan “para-military [forces] for counter-insurgency operations” but documents show how the British were working closely with Colombo to stamp out the Tamil Tiger insurgency.

Britain saw a unique opportunity to maintain influence with Colombo by training a generation of Sri Lankan officers. London set up a military academy there in 1997, supplied a range of weapons to the army, assisted Sri Lankan intelligence agencies, protected Sri Lanka in international forums against abuse allegations and pressured various governments to ban the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organisation after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

One month after the end of the civil war in 2009, Britain was working to assist the growth of Sri Lanka’s police department. There was no concern over the serious allegations of massive human rights abuses of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan military. The agenda was economic and political, with Liam Fox, the British defence minister, explaining in June 2011 that Sri Lanka played a vital role in combating international piracy.

“Sri Lanka is located in a pivotal position in the Indian Ocean with major international shipping routes between the Far East and the Gulf within 25 miles of your coast”, he said.

Russia, China, Israel and America have sold military hardware to Colombo both before and after 2009. Wikileaks cables show the US government recognised the Sri Lankan military’s role in atrocities during the civil war. Although the Tamil Tigers undeniably committed terrorist acts, state terrorism by the Sri Lankan establishment was far worse. Australia’s view has been consistent for decades: Canberra rarely recognises state terrorism if committed by an ally.

Australia’s former high commissioner to Sri Lanka, Bruce Haigh, stationed in the country from 1994, recalls how the high commission in Colombo would regularly liaise with its Sri Lankan counterparts, run training programs and accept Colombo’s line that any and all Tamils associated with the liberation struggle were terrorists.

This mindset existed long before September 11. Little has changed, though. Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, has gone even further than his mentor, John Howard, by expressing sympathy for a Sri Lankan regime that tortures its opponents and refuses to endorse an independent investigation into the end of the civil war.

How nations like Australia should relate to Sri Lanka and other human rights abusing countries is a tough question, when Canberra itself routinely breaches its international obligations. At the very least, we should call for rights to be recognised and improved in foreign lands and at home.

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Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is undemocratic

I was asked to comment by New Matilda:

Antony Loewenstein
Independent journalist, activist and author of Profits of Doom. Twitter: @antloewenstein

The details of the TPP, released by Wikileaks and proving the transparency group remains a vital organisation doing the work journalists should be undertaking, are worrying for national sovereignty. The idea that Australia will become even more of a US client state, with the open collusion of Tony Abbott’s government, should be enough to worry all citizens. We should know how willing Australian negotiators have been to allow US demands for national laws to be abandoned in the name of protecting American corporate interests.

We could pay more for medicines, drugs, films and software because American corporations want us to. The US spying regime could be expanded to monitor newly criminalised internet piracy. The fact that multinationals such as Chevron, Halliburton, Monsanto and Walmart have seen the TPP but the public hasn’t reveals the contempt shown by our leaders. It’s ironic that Wikileaks has had to crowd-source money to release the full document that is being negotiated in secret and in our names.

In reality, the TPP is a policy designed by the US and backed by pliant nations to challenge the rise of China. Pepe Escobar in the Asia Times rightly calls the TPP:

“A major US corporate racket that will lower tariffs across the spectrum to the sole benefit of US multinationals and not small and medium-sized firms in developing countries, all this under the cover of a dodgy ‘highest free trade standard’.”

If Australia had a serious and inquisitive media, the TPP would be leading the news.


Why tackling fossil fuel corporations is vital for the planet

My weekly Guardian column is published today:

The viability of a fossil fuel future is rarely connected to the human rights abuses required to sustain it. How often do we think about where oil and gas is obtained? Are the Europeans or Americans any more aware? This deliberate depoliticisation of our energy present, by the vast majority of politicians, journalists and self-described public intellectuals, is leading to an environment that is both unsustainable and dangerous for the planet.

But don’t worry, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says climate change has nothing to do with bush fires. Move along. Remain relaxed, comfortable and consume skewers of chewy coal and grisly yellow cake with a touch of BBQ sauce.

One might question why there is such resistance to transitioning to renewable energy and which entrenched interests are at stake.

Buried in the heart of New York Times best-selling author Steve Coll’s 2012 book, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, are fascinating insights into one of the most powerful companies on the planet.

Scientists working for the corporation examined ways that climate change could affect ocean and surface trends and allow the firm to source new oil and gas. “Don’t believe for a minute that ExxonMobil doesn’t think climate change is real,” a former manager tells the author. “They were using climate change as a source of insight into exploration.”

By 2004 ExxonMobil, both internally and externally, were forecasting that there was little to no chance of a global response to warming temperatures in the coming decades. Former CEO Lee Raymond publicly dismissed the seriousness of the problem.

ExxonMobil and Walmart trade spots year to year as America’s biggest company and this explains why both of them are so reluctant to do anything that they perceive to affect their bottom line. Acting on climate change was not a priority while continuing business as usual was so profitable.

But Exxon wasn’t blind to the changing agenda. Coll succinctly outlines the dilemma faced by the company’s forecasters: “The issue here was not whether the world had the technologies to forswear oil; it was whether governments, panicked by climate change, would intervene to change price incentives to favour clean energy, knowing that such an intervention might curtail overall economic growth, at least for a time.”

The truth remains that the free market will not solve the climate change problem. Hoping and presuming that a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme will ameliorate steadily worsening pollution, as too many Australians who should know better have claimed for years, is missing the point. With global energy markets currently in flux – witness the possible end to the domination of Arab hegemony and subsequent shift in Middle East geopolitics, thanks in part to America’s pushing of shale gas deposits – old assumptions are ripe for ditching.

A new book, The Oil Road: Journeys from the Caspian Sea to the City of London, details the brutal realities of how comfortable Europeans consume without thought as to how the their cars are fueled. The multinational BP operates the main pipeline that goes through Georgia, Turkey and despotic Azerbaijan. This has become a key geostrategic struggle between Russia, China, Iran and America for domination of the energy market. A growing rift between Washington and Saudi Arabia, affectively known as a “protection racket” relationship, remains unpredictable.

One of the master illusions of the modern age is how governments and the media so rarely discuss the ways in which our energy needs are sourced. It’s a problem that understandably angers the voiceless, including Indonesians in Aceh, suing Exxon for allegedly supporting Indonesian troops committing human rights abuses while protecting the highly lucrative natural gas pipeline and processing facility at Arun, a claim that Exxon denies.

The debate in Australia over fossil fuels is staid and separated from a global debate. What happens here does affect the world, as environmentalist Bill McKibben correctly said on his recently sold-out tour of Australia in reference to mooted expanded coal plans in Queensland. Such plans literally threaten global temperatures.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, when demanding Abbott approve massive coal expansion, simply said that he must be allowed to “take the state forward economically”. The miners’ lobbyists have done their work effectively. What should be discussed is the need not to burn fossil fuels and leave carbon in the ground forever.

Research released in April by the Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics found that, “despite fossil fuel reserves already far exceeding the carbon budget to avoid global warming of more than 2°C, $674bn was spent last year finding and developing new potentially stranded assets. If this continues for the next decade, economies will see over $6tr in wasted capital.” Convincing companies such as Exxon not to exploit the resources under their control will take economic and political pressure.

A campaign this month sees dozens of global investors, managing over $3 trillion of assets, writing to the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies asking them to assess, before annual shareholders meetings in 2014, how the real cost of changes in price and demand could affect their business plans. Craig Mackenzie, head of sustainability at Scottish Widows, one of Europe’s largest asset management firms, says that, “companies must plan properly for the risk of falling demand by stress-testing new investments to minimise the risk our clients’ capital is wasted on non-performing projects.”

Embracing a fully renewable future isn’t a technological problem; it’s a political fix that will only come with a massive fight. Scandinavia is leading the world in examples of divesting from fossil fuel companies. Oxford University recently found that these campaigns are growing in strength globally. It must be considered in Australia, with the worst polluters facing financial pain – the only message they’ll understand – for continuing with business as usual. Rio Tinto, I’m looking at you (amongst others).

Vast research has been undertaken in the last years that reveals the possibility of moving to a sustainable and cost-effective energy future.Clean energy reports are being issued constantly and the Greens partyhave provided a realistic roadmap.

Even the World Bank, that bastion of neo-liberal “reform”, is warning about the dangers of a four-degrees warmer world, causing increased risk of natural disasters and sea-level rises. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change rationally explains the dangers without immediate action. The United Nations Environment Program released a 2012 report that outlined the required cuts to global emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change in both the developed and developing world. Australia’s Beyond Zero Emissions have a zero carbon plan.

Tackling the world’s most powerful corporations, whose interest it is to continue consuming and burning fossil fuels, will take nothing short of a soft revolution. I’ve long argued against climate activists who use cataclysmic language when discussing climate change; this alienates the vast bulk of a population that needs to believe in the importance of changing habits and mindsets. But this doesn’t mean that hoping and praying for polluting companies to realise they need to reform or die won’t take massive public pressure, divestment and new opportunities.

Uncontrolled capitalism is sold as the best system to ensure global prosperity. In reality its strongest advocates, with help from its political and media mates, is ruining the chances of a healthy globe for all its citizens, not just the wealthy in the London, New York and Sydney bubble. Climate justice, for the silenced in our corporate media, is just the beginning.


US mass surveillance in the Pacific

Here’s my weekly Guardian column published today:

What if China was beating the US at its own super-power game in the Pacific and we didn’t even notice?

While Washington distracts itself with shutdown shenanigans and failed attempts to control the situation in the Middle East, president Obama’s “pivot to Asia” looks increasingly shaky. Beijing is quietly filling the gap, signing multi-billion dollar trade deals with Indonesia and calling for a regional infrastructure bank.

Meanwhile in recent years, New Zealand has been feeling some of the US’s attention, and conservative prime minister John Key is more than happy to shift his country’s traditional skepticism towards Washington into a much friendlier embrace. Canberra is watching approvingly. It’s almost impossible to recall a critical comment by leaders of either country towards global US surveillance. We are like obedient school children, scared that the bully won’t like us if we dare push back and argue harder for our own national interests.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), warmly backed by Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and New Zealand, is just the latest example of US client states allowing US multinationals far too much influence in their markets in a futile attempt to challenge ever-increasing Chinese business ties in Asia. German-born, New Zealand resident and internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom tweeted this week:

in a nutshell US Corp lobbyists drafted TPPA US Corp & Govt expand power US Corp lawyers can sue NZ NZ can’t win. GET OUT”

This erosion of sovereignty goes to the heart with what’s wrong with today’s secretive and unaccountable arrangements between nations desperate to remain under the US’s security blanket, and New Zealand provides an intriguing case-study in how not to behave, including using US spy services to monitor the phone calls of Kiwi journalist Jon Stephenson and his colleagues while reporting the war in Afghanistan.

There’s no indication that Australia isn’t following exactly the same path, with new evidence that Australia knew about the US spying network Prism long before it was made public. We still don’t know the exact extent of intelligence sharing between Australia and the US, except it’s very close and guaranteed to continue. Frustratingly, the “Five Eyes” relationship between English-speaking democracies has only been seriously discussed publicly in the last years by Greens senator Scott Ludlam.

New Zealand is a close Australian neighbour, but news from there rarely enters our media. This is a shame because we can learn a lot from the scandal surrounding the illegal monitoring of Dotcom and the public outcry which followed, something missing in Australia after countless post-Snowden stories detailing corporate and government spying on all citizens.

Dotcom is the founder of Megaupload (today called Mega), a file sharing website that incurred the wrath of US authorities. Washington wanted to punish him but Dotcom obtained New Zealand residency in late 2010, bringing a close US ally into the mix. Intelligence matters usually remain top-secret, leading New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager tells me, but this case was different, blowing open the illegal spying on Dotcom. His lawyers scrutinised all the police warrants after the FBI-requested raid on his house. The government communications security bureau (GCSB) has always claimed it never monitored New Zealand citizens; Dotcom soon discovered this was false. Public outrage followed, and an investigation revealed many other cases of GCSB over-reach since 2003. Prime minister Key responded by simply changing legislation to allow spying on residents.

Hager explained to me what his investigations uncovered:

“With Dotcom, GCSB helped the police by monitoring Dotcom’s e-mail. What this largely or entirely meant in practice was that the GCSB sent a request through to the NSA to do the monitoring for them and received the results back. This means that the NSA used either wide internet surveillance (essentially “Echelon for the Internet”) or else requests to the internet companies (Gmail etc) directly, ie the Prism type operations. It’s not clear which it was.”

The Key government now wants to increase its monitoring capabilities even more, and New Zealanders are showing concern.

“I spoke at a public meeting in Auckland’s town hall before the GCSB bill was passed. It was the biggest political meeting I can remember attending, with three levels of the large town hall completely full, and hundreds of people turned away. It’s been a big thing here, becoming one of those issues that is a lightning rod for general unhappiness with the government.”

New Zealand journalist Martyn Bradbury has also been a vocal critic of the Dotcom case. He’s pushing for a New Zealand digital bill of rights and tells me that “the case against Dotcom is more about the US stamping their supremacy onto the Pacific by expressing US jurisdiction extends not just into New Zealand domestically, but also into cyberspace itself.”

I talked to one of Dotcom’s lawyers, Ira P Rothken, who went further:

“The US government’s attack against Megaupload bears all the hallmarks of a political prosecution in favour of Hollywood copyright extremists. The US used its influence with New Zealand to unleash a military style raid on Dotcom’s family, to spy on him, and to remove his data from New Zealand without authorisation – all of which has been found to be illegal. Megaupload and Kim Dotcom are today’s targets, but the US crosshairs can just as easily be trained on anybody globally who dares challenge or inconvenience a special interest that holds sway in Washington, and the US – with its notoriously insatiable appetite for demonstrating political and global power – seems all too willing to cooperate.”

This brings us back to China and the US’s attempts to convince its Pacific friends to fear a belligerent and spying Beijing. The irony isn’t lost on the informed who realise Washington’s global spying network is far more pernicious and widespread than anything the Obama administration and corporate media tell us is coming from the Chinese.

Neither China nor the US are benign in the spying stakes. Both are guilty of aggressively pursuing their interests without informing their citizens of their rights and actions. Australia and New Zealand are weak players in an increasingly hostile battle between two super-powers, and many other nations in our region are being seduced by the soft power of Beijing (including Papua New Guinea, partly due to its vast resource wealth).

A lack of transparency abounds. What is desperately needed is an adversarial press determined to demand answers about Australia’s intelligence relationship with the US – and whether all citizens should now presume they’re being monitored on a daily basis.


Inside the mind of a Chinese internet censor

A key theme of my book The Blogging Revolution is China’s extensive web censorship regime.

Fast forward to 2013 and this story, via Reuters, offers unique details about the pathological desire to exercise control over citizens:

In a modern office building on the outskirts of the Chinese city of Tianjin, rows of censors stare at computer screens. Their mission: delete any post on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, deemed offensive or politically unacceptable.

But the people behind the censorship of China’s most popular microblogging site are not ageing Communist Party apparatchiks. Instead, they are new college graduates. Ambivalent about deleting posts, they grumble loudly about the workload and pay.

Managing the Internet is a major challenge for China. The ruling Communist Party sees censorship as key to maintaining its grip on power – indeed, new measures unveiled on Monday threaten jail time for spreading rumours online.

At the same time, China wants to give people a way to blow off steam when other forms of political protest are restricted.

Reuters interviewed four former censors at Sina Weibo, who all quit at various times this year. All declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the work they once did. Current censors declined to speak to Reuters.

“People are often torn when they start, but later they go numb and just do the job,” said one former censor, who left because he felt the career prospects were poor. “One thing I can tell you is that we are worked very hard and paid very little.”

Sina Corp, one of China’s biggest Internet firms, runs the microblogging site, which has 500 million registered users. It also employs the censors.

The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.


Reuters got a glimpse of the Sina Weibo censorship office in Tianjin, half an hour from Beijing by high-speed train, one recent weekend morning.

A dozen employees, all men, could be seen through locked glass doors from a publicly accessible corridor, sitting in cramped cubicles separated by yellow dividers, staring at large monitors.

They more closely resembled Little Brothers than the Orwellian image of an omniscient and fearsome Big Brother.

“Our job prevents Weibo from being shut down and that gives people a big platform to speak from. It’s not an ideally free one, but it still lets people vent,” said a second former censor.

The former censors said the office was staffed 24 hours a day by about 150 male college graduates in total. They said women shunned the work because of the night shifts and constant exposure to offensive material.

The Sina Weibo censors are a small part of the tens of thousands of censors employed in China to control content in traditional media and on the Internet.

Most Sina Weibo censors are in their 20s and earn about 3,000 yuan ($490) a month, the former censors said, roughly the same as jobs posted in Tianjin for carpenters or staff in real estate firms. Many took the job after graduating from local universities.

“People leave because it’s a stressful dead-end job for most of us,” said a third former censor.

Sina’s computer system scans each microblog before they are published. Only a fraction are marked as sensitive and need to be read by a censor, who will decide whether to spare or delete it. Over an average 24-hour period, censors process about 3 million posts.

A small number of posts with so-called “must kill” words such as references to the banned spiritual group Falun Gong are first blocked and then manually deleted. Censors also have to update lists of sensitive words with new references and creative expressions bloggers use to evade scrutiny.

For most posts deemed sensitive, censors often use a subtle tactic in which a published comment remains visible to its author but is blocked for others, leaving the blogger unaware his post has effectively been taken down, the former censors said. Censors can also punish users by temporarily blocking their ability to make comments or shutting their accounts in extreme cases.

“We saw a fairly sophisticated system, where human power is amplified by computer automation, that is capable of removing sensitive posts within minutes,” said Jedidiah Crandall of the University of New Mexico, part of a team which did recent research on the speed of Weibo censorship.


China’s gargantuan web filtering system

There has never been anything like it in human history. Then again, the internet is the perfect tool for officials to monitor and censor material.

Disturbing piece in the New York Review of Books by Perry Link:

Every day in China, hundreds of messages are sent from government offices to website editors around the country that say things like, “Report on the new provincial budget tomorrow, but do not feature it on the front page, make no comparisons to earlier budgets, list no links, and say nothing that might raise questions”; “Downplay stories on Kim Jung-un’s facelift”; and “Allow stories on Deputy Mayor Zhang’s embezzlement but omit the comment boxes.” Why, one might ask, do censors not play it safe and immediately block anything that comes anywhere near offending Beijing? Why the modulation and the fine-tuning?

In fact, for China’s Internet police, message control has grown to include many layers of meaning. Local authorities have a toolbox of phrases—fairly standard nationwide—that they use to offer guidance to website editors about dealing with sensitive topics. The harshest response is “completely and immediately delete.” But with the rapid growth of difficult-to-control social media, a need has arisen for a wide range of more subtle alternatives. For stories that are acceptable, but only after proper pruning, the operative phrase is “first censor, then publish.” For sensitive topics on which central media have already said something, the instructions may say “reprint Xinhua but nothing more.” For topics that cannot be avoided because they are already being widely discussed, there are such options as “mention without hyping,” “publish but only under small headlines,” “put only on back pages,” “close the comment boxes,” and “downplay as time passes.”

We know all this thanks in large part to Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the School of Information at Berkeley, who leads the world in ferreting out and piecing together how Chinese Internet censorship works. Xiao and his staff have collected and organized a repository of more than 2,600 directives that website editors across China have received during the last ten years. Some are only a line or two long; others run to many pages. Some are verbatim, others are paraphrases. Some were collected from Twitter, Sina Weibo (China’s domestic Twitter), and Internet forums, while others were sent to Xiao by editors in China who were frustrated or angry—either at what the directives said or at the fact of censorship itself.

And as Xiao has discovered, the new censorship strategies show the government’s growing awareness of the power of social media. Informal news stories—often accompanied by photos from smart phones—now spread widely and quickly enough that official media lose credibility if they do not at least mention them. In such cases, “on the back page” might be the best option. Moreover, Web users now understand Internet censorship well enough that the issue can itself be one that angers them. (The traditional print and electronic media are censored, too, but directives for them arrive via unrecorded telephone calls, which are much harder to trace and seldom leak. Because the Internet is too large to manage by telephone, its directives go out in writing.) Under the scrutiny of Web users, propaganda officials face the unwelcome task of censoring the Internet while trying to appear as though they are not—or at least not doing it “unreasonably.” This forces them to seek balance. In one instance, a story about two policemen who were killed in an auto accident got out on the social media; censors anticipated an outcry if they “completely and immediately deleted,” so they allowed the story to appear but added the instruction “close comment boxes”—apparently from fear that the boxes might fill with cheers of the kind that normally spring from generalized resentment of the police.

But as Xiao has revealed, the censors expend even more effort on the parallel task of “guiding” expression in pro-government directions. When a story reflects well on the Party, Web editors receive instructions to “place prominently on the home page” or “immediately recirculate.” Authorities also organize and pay for artificial pro-government expression in chat rooms and comment boxes. Provincial and local offices of External Propaganda and Party Propaganda hire staff at salaries of about US $100 per month (less, for part-time work) to post pro-government comments. It is hard to say how many salaried commenters exist nationwide, but estimates run to the high 100,000s. Some of this commenting is outsourced as piece-work. A few years ago, people who agreed to do this work were given the satiric label “fifty-centers” because they were said to be paid fifty Chinese cents per post. By now there are commercial enterprises that contract for comment work. Even prisons do it; prisoners can earn sentence reductions for producing set numbers of pro-government comments.


Untangling the murky energy war between US and China

Far too often the media covers conflicts in terms of good guys and bad guys, ignoring the never-ending power dynamics over energy and oil.

Fascinating piece by Pepe Escobar in Asia Times that describes who really runs the world:

Beijing has clearly interpreted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s “liberation” of Libya – now reverted into failed state status; US support for the destruction of Syria; and the “pivoting” to Asia as all interlinked, targeting China’s ascension and devised to rattle the complex Chinese strategy of an Eurasian energy corridor. 

Yet it does not seem to be working. As Asia Times Onlinereported, the Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline may well end up as IPC, “C” being an extension to Xinjiang in western China. Beijing also knows very well how the proposed Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline has been a key reason for the emphatic attack on Syria orchestrated by actors such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Beijing calculates that if Bashar al-Assad stays and the US$10 billion pipeline ever gets completed (certainly with Chinese and Russian financial help) the top client may end up being Beijing itself, and not Western Europe. 

Considering its strategic relationship with Islamabad, Beijing is also very much aware of any US moves to stir up trouble in geo-strategically crucial Balochistan in Pakistan – with a possible overspill to neighboring Sistan-Balochistan province in Iran. In parallel, Beijing interprets US bluster and intransigence about Iran’s nuclear program as a cover story to upset its solid energy security partnership with Tehran. 

Regarding Afghanistan, the corridors at the Zhongnanhai in Beijing must be echoing with laughter as Washington backtracks no less than 16 years, to the second Bill Clinton administration – an eternity in politics – to talk to the Taliban in Doha essentially about one of the oldest Pipelinestan gambits. “We want a pipeline” (the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India, TAPI), says Washington. “We want our cut”, the Taliban reply. This is politics as Groundhog Day. 

The problem is Washington has absolutely nothing to offer the Taliban. The Taliban, on the other hand, will keep their summer offensive schedule, knowing full well they will be free to do whatever they please after President Hamid Karzai slides into oblivion. As for the Washington notion that Islamabad will be able to keep the Afghan Taliban in check, even the goats in the Hindu Kush are laughing about it.

Syria, though, remains the key story – as the pivot of a spreading cancer, a Sunni/Shi’ite sectarian war largely encouraged by the House of Saud and other Gulf Cooperation Council actors, and bought hook, line and sinker by the Obama administration. 

It took a courageous diplomat to leak it, plus translations from Russian to Arabic and then English, for the world to have an idea of what politicians actually discuss in those largely vacuous, photo-opportunity summits. What Russian President Vladimir Putin told Obama, Britain’s David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande face-to-face at the recent Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland is nothing less than gripping. Examples: 

Putin addressing the table: “You want President Bashar al-Assad to step down? Look at the leaders you’ve made in the Middle East in the course of what you have dubbed the ‘Arab Spring’.” 

Putin addressing Obama, Cameron and Hollande: “You want Russia to abandon Assad and his regime and go along with an opposition whose leaders don’t know anything except issuing fatwas declaring people heretics, and whose members – who come from a bunch of different countries and have multiple orientations – don’t know anything except how to slaughter people and eat human flesh.” 

Putin addressing Obama directly: “Your country sent its army to Afghanistan in the year 2001 on the excuse that you are fighting the Taliban and the al-Qaeda organization and other fundamentalist terrorists whom your government accused of carrying out the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington. And here you are today making an alliance with them in Syria. And you and your allies are declaring your desire to send them weapons. And here you have Qatar in which you [the US] have your biggest base in the region and in the territory of that country the Taliban are opening a representative office.” 

The best part is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel then corroborated Putin’s every word. And Chinese President Xi Jinping certainly would have done the same.


Why Prism is important; we’re watching the watchers

My following article appears in today’s Guardian Australia:

Politicians and journalists ignore public opinion at their peril. Less than two weeks after the explosive revelations by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden on the creation of a privatised, American surveillance apparatus, a TIME poll finds a majority of Americans support the leak, and Snowden receives a higher approval rating than US citizens view Congress. History has also been kind to one of the great leakers in history, the Pentagon Paper’s Daniel Ellsberg (who backs Snowden, too). Never under-estimate the public’s desire to discover what the state is doing in its name.

In Australia, however, the story has barely caused a ripple. Attorney general Mark Dreyfus refuses to acknowledge that Canberra receives information from the Prism system, instead saying that Australians should rest easy and feel protected by the warm glow of intelligence sharing with Washington. In reality, evidence has emerged that the Labor government is building a massive data storage facility to manage massive amounts of information from the US. Unsurprisingly, the US claims its monitoring is proportionate and legal, despite some members of Congress having no idea of the scope of the secret programs.

This is spying by any other name – and Snowden makes clear that everybody is doing it, despite protestations from Australia and America that only China is unleashing constant cyber attacks (Foreign Policy recently revealed that the NSA hacks into Chinese systems).

Dreyfus tried to appease whatever public anger exists – and thus far it’s been muted – by calling an inquiry into protection of information in the digital age. The Federal Greens rightly want far greater transparency on government surveillance, knowing that both Labor and the likely incoming Liberal government have spent decades colluding on ever-expanding powers of security services to monitor and track citizens with little accountability. Don’t expect support from the privacy commissioner, either, who shrugged his shoulders and implied in a statement that national security should trump privacy. Nothing to see here, move along now.

It’s shocking that so few Australians even know about the existence of the intimate intelligence sharing known as “five eyes” between Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Trust the system, we’re told by The Australian’s editorial last week; it isn’t just “extreme libertarians” who question the prevalence of the surveillance state. Australia’s role as a US ally should never be to blindly accept dictates from Washington though if history is any guide Canberra sits too comfortably under America’s hypnotic war machine.

If this current assault on our communications isn’t bad enough, the growth of internet censorship and the private companies that back it is a growing issue across the world, including Australia and Asia-Pacific. Although Labor’s plans for web filtering were squashed, it’s inevitable that such calls will grow in the coming years, as is already happeningacross the globe. Besides, ThailandMalaysiaIndonesia and Singapore are just some of our neighbours that proudly restrict access for their citizens.

Democracies are increasingly being pushed into a pincer move of censorship and surveillance that would be impossible without the co-operation of private firms making billions in profits. The US hires corporations to monitor social media; Israeli-linked companies have been essential in assisting the NSA spying program as well as, in one case, selling Big Brother monitors to Egypt’s Mubarak and Libya’s Qaddafi.

Snowden’s NSA revelations only touched the surface of the deep collaboration between government and outsourcers. US journalist Tim Shorrock estimates that about 70% of America’s intelligence budget is spent on private industry since 9/11. The extent of the NSA’s cyber army is enough, according to a feature in Wired, to “launch devastating cyber attacks”.

Whistle-blowers are an essential part of any democracy, despite the bleating of officials in Canberra, London and Washington. Governments are only outraged when embarassing leaks are finally unveiled; they continually give details to the press that makes them look strong.

The largely supine response of the Australian parliament to the Prism revelations – with opposition spokesman Malcolm Turnbull being a notable exception – proves how far this country is from proudly displaying an independent streak. Global surveillance, along with internet censorship, is a threat to both our personal freedom and ability to communicate openly.

The post 9/11 world has taught us that states exaggerate threats to scare citizens into acquiescence. Multinationals have picked a side and it’s the bottom line. Shining a light on the NSA and its global couriers is a public service that is only opposed by those with a vested interest in keeping the public in the dark.


Julian Assange on the threat posed by US-govt backed web evangelists

What a stunning piece. Julian Assange writes the following review in the New York Times on the kind of mundane yet dangerous “debates” sucked up by many in the mainstream media when it comes to the supposedly liberating nature of the internet. When the corporation becomes far more powerful than the state (and they work together):

“The New Digital Age” is a startlingly clear and provocative blueprint for technocratic imperialism, from two of its leading witch doctors, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, who construct a new idiom for United States global power in the 21st century. This idiom reflects the ever closer union between the State Department and Silicon Valley, as personified by Mr. Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Mr. Cohen, a former adviser to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton who is now director of Google Ideas.

The authors met in occupied Baghdad in 2009, when the book was conceived. Strolling among the ruins, the two became excited that consumer technology was transforming a society flattened by United States military occupation. They decided the tech industry could be a powerful agent of American foreign policy.

The book proselytizes the role of technology in reshaping the world’s people and nations into likenesses of the world’s dominant superpower, whether they want to be reshaped or not. The prose is terse, the argument confident and the wisdom — banal. But this isn’t a book designed to be read. It is a major declaration designed to foster alliances.

“The New Digital Age” is, beyond anything else, an attempt by Google to position itself as America’s geopolitical visionary — the one company that can answer the question “Where should America go?” It is not surprising that a respectable cast of the world’s most famous warmongers has been trotted out to give its stamp of approval to this enticement to Western soft power. The acknowledgments give pride of place to Henry Kissinger, who along with Tony Blair and the former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden provided advance praise for the book.

In the book the authors happily take up the white geek’s burden. A liberal sprinkling of convenient, hypothetical dark-skinned worthies appear: Congolese fisherwomen, graphic designers in Botswana, anticorruption activists in San Salvador and illiterate Masai cattle herders in the Serengeti are all obediently summoned to demonstrate the progressive properties of Google phones jacked into the informational supply chain of the Western empire.

The authors offer an expertly banalized version of tomorrow’s world: the gadgetry of decades hence is predicted to be much like what we have right now — only cooler. “Progress” is driven by the inexorable spread of American consumer technology over the surface of the earth. Already, every day, another million or so Google-run mobile devices are activated. Google will interpose itself, and hence the United States government, between the communications of every human being not in China (naughty China). Commodities just become more marvelous; young, urban professionals sleep, work and shop with greater ease and comfort; democracy is insidiously subverted by technologies of surveillance, and control is enthusiastically rebranded as “participation”; and our present world order of systematized domination, intimidation and oppression continues, unmentioned, unafflicted or only faintly perturbed.

The authors are sour about the Egyptian triumph of 2011. They dismiss the Egyptian youth witheringly, claiming that “the mix of activism and arrogance in young people is universal.” Digitally inspired mobs mean revolutions will be “easier to start” but “harder to finish.” Because of the absence of strong leaders, the result, or so Mr. Kissinger tells the authors, will be coalition governments that descend into autocracies. They say there will be “no more springs” (but China is on the ropes).

The authors fantasize about the future of “well resourced” revolutionary groups. A new “crop of consultants” will “use data to build and fine-tune a political figure.”

“His” speeches (the future isn’t all that different) and writing will be fed “through complex feature-extraction and trend-analysis software suites” while “mapping his brain function,” and other “sophisticated diagnostics” will be used to “assess the weak parts of his political repertoire.”

The book mirrors State Department institutional taboos and obsessions. It avoids meaningful criticism of Israel and Saudi Arabia. It pretends, quite extraordinarily, that the Latin American sovereignty movement, which has liberated so many from United States-backed plutocracies and dictatorships over the last 30 years, never happened. Referring instead to the region’s “aging leaders,” the book can’t see Latin America for Cuba. And, of course, the book frets theatrically over Washington’s favorite boogeymen: North Korea and Iran.

I have a very different perspective. The advance of information technology epitomized by Google heralds the death of privacy for most people and shifts the world toward authoritarianism. This is the principal thesis in my book, “Cypherpunks.” But while Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Cohen tell us that the death of privacy will aid governments in “repressive autocracies” in “targeting their citizens,” they also say governments in “open” democracies will see it as “a gift” enabling them to “better respond to citizen and customer concerns.” In reality, the erosion of individual privacy in the West and the attendant centralization of power make abuses inevitable, moving the “good” societies closer to the “bad” ones.

The section on “repressive autocracies” describes, disapprovingly, various repressive surveillance measures: legislation to insert back doors into software to enable spying on citizens, monitoring of social networks and the collection of intelligence on entire populations. All of these are already in widespread use in the United States. In fact, some of those measures — like the push to require every social-network profile to be linked to a real name — were spearheaded by Google itself.

THE writing is on the wall, but the authors cannot see it. They borrow from William Dobson the idea that the media, in an autocracy, “allows for an opposition press as long as regime opponents understand where the unspoken limits are.” But these trends are beginning to emerge in the United States. No one doubts the chilling effects of the investigations into The Associated Press and Fox’s James Rosen. But there has been little analysis of Google’s role in complying with the Rosen subpoena. I have personal experience of these trends.

The Department of Justice admitted in March that it was in its third year of a continuing criminal investigation of WikiLeaks. Court testimony states that its targets include “the founders, owners, or managers of WikiLeaks.” One alleged source, Bradley Manning, faces a 12-week trial beginning tomorrow, with 24 prosecution witnesses expected to testify in secret.

This book is a balefully seminal work in which neither author has the language to see, much less to express, the titanic centralizing evil they are constructing. “What Lockheed Martin was to the 20th century,” they tell us, “technology and cybersecurity companies will be to the 21st.” Without even understanding how, they have updated and seamlessly implemented George Orwell’s prophecy. If you want a vision of the future, imagine Washington-backed Google Glasses strapped onto vacant human faces — forever. Zealots of the cult of consumer technology will find little to inspire them here, not that they ever seem to need it. But this is essential reading for anyone caught up in the struggle for the future, in view of one simple imperative: Know your enemy.

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US doctrine: “stability means conformity to US orders”

Noam Chomsky, still as compelling and profound as ever, in an extract from a new collection of conversations with David Barsamian:

Right after the assassination of Osama bin Laden, amid all the cheers and applause, there were a few critical comments questioning the legality of the act. Centuries ago, there used to be something called presumption of innocence. If you apprehend a suspect, he’s a suspect until proven guilty. He should be brought to trial. It’s a core part of American law. You can trace it back to Magna Carta. So there were a couple of voices saying maybe we shouldn’t throw out the whole basis of Anglo-American law. That led to a lot of very angry and infuriated reactions, but the most interesting ones were, as usual, on the left liberal end of the spectrum. Matthew Yglesias, a well-known and highly respected left liberal commentator, wrote an article in which he ridiculed these views. He said they’re “amazingly naive,” silly. Then he expressed the reason. He said that “one of the main functions of the international institutional order is precisely to legitimate the use of deadly military force by western powers.” Of course, he didn’t mean Norway. He meant the United States. So the principle on which the international system is based is that the United States is entitled to use force at will. To talk about the United States violating international law or something like that is amazingly naive, completely silly. Incidentally, I was the target of those remarks, and I’m happy to confess my guilt. I do think that Magna Carta and international law are worth paying some attention to.

I merely mention that to illustrate that in the intellectual culture, even at what’s called the left liberal end of the political spectrum, the core principles haven’t changed very much. But the capacity to implement them has been sharply reduced. That’s why you get all this talk about American decline. Take a look at the year-end issue of Foreign Affairs, the main establishment journal. Its big front-page cover asks, in bold face, “Is America Over?” It’s a standard complaint of those who believe they should have everything. If you believe you should have everything and anything gets away from you, it’s a tragedy, the world is collapsing. So is America over? A long time ago we “lost” China, we’ve lost Southeast Asia, we’ve lost South America. Maybe we’ll lose the Middle East and North African countries. Is America over? It’s a kind of paranoia, but it’s the paranoia of the superrich and the superpowerful. If you don’t have everything, it’s a disaster.