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.

London’s Centre for Investigative Journalism event on Disaster Capitalism

During my recent London book tour for Disaster Capitalism, I spoke in October at The Centre for Investigative Journalism about the book and film-in-progress. It was a great event especially because it was in front of so many journalism students from across the globe:

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New York’s The New School Disaster Capitalism book and film event

During my recent New York book tour for Disaster Capitalism, there was a book event in October at The New School hosted by The Schools of Public Engagement and New School for Social Research. I was in conversation with Nitin Sawhney, Assistant Professor of Media Studies, co-director of the great film on Gaza, Flying Paper, and friend who I met in Cairo in 2010 during the Gaza Freedom March. Thor Neureiter, the director of my documentary in progress, Disaster Capitalism, also spoke about our project:

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Talking about Disaster Capitalism in Britain

I was interviewed by Foyles, one of Britain’s best independent bookstores:

Antony Loewenstein is an award-winning independent journalist, documentary maker and blogger. He has written for, amongst others, the BBC and the Washington Post, and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. For his most recent book, Disaster Capitalism, he has travelled across the world to witness first hand the hidden world of making profit from disaster. Here, he talks to us about what disaster capitalism is, why we should be concerned about it, and what we can do about it.

How do you define “disaster capitalism”?

People and corporations making money from misery, from immigration to war and aid, and development to mining. It’s a global problem that is not unique to any one territory, region or country.

Can you give us three fundamental features of “disaster capitalism”?

Opportunists looking to exploit a disaster, man-made or otherwise. Corporations pushing for a deregulated business environment. Moral blackmail from companies who argue, like I examine in Papua New Guinea and Afghanistan, that only their mine or operation can assist local communities (when the truth is often the opposite).

You write that “Disaster has become big business” – couldn’t this be positive? Businesses are nimble, so perhaps it is best that they rather than cumbersome states focus on solutions to today’s problems?

Exploiting people and communities when they’re vulnerable can never be noble. For example, in my book I examine how UK companies such as Mitie, Serco and G4S have spent years running privatised detention centres for immigrants and providing poor care for both detainees and the guards minding them. A lack of accountability, both in the media and government, is an issue here. Ultimately, with immigration, Britain’s insistence on warehousing immigrants is the problem, regardless of whether these facilities are run by the state or for profit. But the profit motive by definition removes an incentive to provide adequate care for all.

Can you give us some real world examples of big business causing problems “in the field”?

In my book, I examine the reality of the post-2010 Haiti earthquake environment and the litany of profiteers and aid organisations who flocked to the country and largely failed to help the people most in need (Wikileaks cables from the US embassy in the capital Port-au-Prince explained that there was a “gold-rush” for contracts). During my two trips there in the last years I’ve witnessed how a flawed USAID system is designed to benefit US corporations, and make them a profit, as opposed to empowering, training and hiring local staff. This breeds local resentment. Besides, the US claims to have spent over US$10 billion on aid since 2010 and yet the country remains framed in Washington as little more than a client state to make cheap clothing for Walmart, Gap and others.

There have always been disasters, and then apocalyptic doom-mongering about those disasters. What is new about this particular phase?

Yes, disaster capitalism has been occurring for centuries (the East-India Company was arguably the first example) but since the 1980s, and the era of mass globalisation, more corporations have embraced a deregulated world where they have become more powerful than the states in which they operate. International law remains very slow to act when, say, a US company behaves badly in Afghanistan, and independent nations on paper are shown to be little more than helpless in the face of overwhelming US corporate and government power.

Back in 1972 Jorgen Randers wrote The Limits to Growth – that’s now nearly half a century ago! Are we really reaching the limits to growth? What’s different now compared to the 70s? What’s to say that we don’t have another 50 years of growth in us?

Growth, if defined by increasingly rapacious acts to exploit natural resources, could continue for decades to come but at a massive cost to the environment and people, especially in developing nations. What I hope to achieve in my book is to bring awareness of how Western companies and aid dollars too often cause more problems than they solve in nations with little media coverage. An exploitative ideology has been exported globally. But closer to home, in Greece, UK, US and Australia, often the same firms working with abuses in the non-Western world, are allowed to buy the increasing number of public services being sold. In comparison to the 1970s, today’s inter-connected world makes awareness much easier but also the scale of the exploitation (and dwindling resources) all the most urgent to address. 

What are the three things we could do immediately to ease the problem?

Pressure politicians and journalists to properly explain why companies that continually fail continue getting contracts to manage the most vulnerable people. Engage with local communities in developing nations and listen to their concerns (when, say, an earthquake strikes, don’t presume outside contractors have all the answers). Force our elected leaders not to sell off public assets that the majority of the public wants to remain in public hands (and throw them out of office if they do).

What three books would you recommend as further reading for those interested in “disaster capitalism”?

Iraq, Inc by Pratap Chatterjee

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

Private Island by James Meek

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Boycotting companies making money from immigration detention

My column in the Guardian:

The Australian maintenance, construction and detention centre company Transfield Services officially changed its name last month, to Broadspectrum. The firm claimed it was “a better representation of the company’s business”. Clearly there was an element of necessity too: the corporation’s founding members withdrew permission to use the Transfield name and logo over ongoing allegations of abuse at its facilities on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

A name change isn’t likely to improve its public image, battered by never-ending stories of asylum seekers abused while in limbo.

One of the first rules of public relations is to take heat off a target by attempting to change the focus of controversy. Recall American private security firm Blackwater, embroiled in numerous scandals of employees killing innocent civilians in Iraq and elsewhere, first changing its name to Xe Services, then Academi. Blackwater founder Erik Prince left the US, moved to Abu Dhabi and today works with Chinese companies that financially benefit from the African resources boom.

In 2014, Academi became a division of Constellis Holdings, along with another private contractor, Triple Canopy. These descendants of Blackwater rake in cash from US government contracts, the years of scandals against its multiple owners and employees seemingly forgotten.

Broadspectrum will be hoping for similar success. Although profits were down 8% this year, a number of key shareholders were publicly opposed to its involvement in detention services. Some protested its recent AGM in Sydney.

The company looks set to continue a billion-dollar contract to run facilities on Nauru and Manus Island. As was the case for Blackwater and its descendents, it’s hard to imagine what would have to transpire for the federal government to sever its contract with the company.

Nonetheless, the growing push for divestment against Broadspectrum is an encouraging sign that companies profiting from offshore misery could suffer serious harm. Shen Narayanasamy, executive director of No Business in Abuse, rightly argues that, “you don’t deal with abuse by changing your name, you deal with abuse by stopping the abuse. No amount of spin changes Transfield’s complicity in abuse. Transfield/Broadspectrum doesn’t have to sign a five-year contract to continue profiting from the abuse of vulnerable people. That’s their decision.”

There’s no reason, apart from corporate Stockholm Syndrome, to defend the actions of Transfield. A recent op-ed by PhD candidate Carly Gordyn, published in SBS Online, made embarrassing excuses for the firm (“The contractors are doing only what they are being asked to do”) and insisted that refugee activists should principally target the government, which implements the detention policy.

Surely a strategy of highlighting official and corporate complicity is the most logical idea. During my years of investigating the role of British multinational Serco, both on the Australian mainland and Christmas Island, leaked internal documents proved that company management was price gouging, under-training staff and instructing regional managers not to report problems to avoid government fines.

And IHMS, the company that provides healthcare for Australia’s asylum seekers in detention, admitted in documents published earlier this year by Guardian Australia that “inevitable” fraud would be committed as it tried to meet government standards.

Of course, one company can be replaced with another with relative ease if the authorities are determined to outsource their responsibilities.

The time is ripe for a vociferous divestment campaign against Serco in Australia for its past and present activities. The firm is having financial troubles and is economically vulnerable to shareholder pressure. Broadspectrum will face a growing public backlash as long as it’s involved in the privatised detention business, although it’s unlikely to collapse from that alone.

Lessons from other states prove that this is only half the battle (for example, European detention firms are making money from the current refugee crisis) and that uncovering the financial and ideological ties that have led to the modern trend of outsourcing asylum seekers to corporations is the far larger and more difficult battle. It means challenging an economic model that places a monetary value on every human being.

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Broadcast on CPAN Book TV of Disaster Capitalism NYC book launch with Jeremy Scahill

During my recent New York book tour I launched my book, Disaster Capitalism, at the wonderful Housing Works bookstore in conversation with journalist and author Jeremy Scahill. The event was recorded by C-SPAN Book TV and broadcast this weekend in the US and online. Video is here.


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Little Atoms podcast on Disaster Capitalism

I was recently interviewed in London by Neil Denny from the wonderful and popular Little Atoms podcast. We talked about my new book Disaster Capitalism:

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Explaining disaster capitalism and why it’s a threat

After my recent UK and US media tour for Disaster Capitalism, I wrote a post for my publisher Verso:

Antony Loewenstein, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, rounds-up a series of op-eds in response to the ever-worsening global emergency of crisis-profiteering. Loewenstein’s analysis of contemporary news items offers a coherent frame for understanding the source and scope of this ethical catastrophe on a global scale.

Disaster capitalism surrounds us every day, from European firms aiming to make money from the refugee crisis to corporations turning a profit from the man-made crisis rescue business. It’s become so ubiquitous, people turning a profit from misery, that many simply ignore its presence or feel powerless to stop it.

I’ve recently been on a book tour in the US and UK for my new title, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and speaking about the countries that feature in it: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, Greece, Britain, America and Australia. These are all nations that either export exploitative policies globally – think of British firm Serco operating detention centres in Australia and unaccountable American contractors in Afghanistan – or abuse the most vulnerable closer to home.

During the recent 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I told Al Jazeera English’s The Stream that opportunists saw a unique opportunity after the disaster to impose unequal education, healthcare and housing options. One decade later, the evidence remains strong that privatizing public services has left African-Americans disadvantaged. And yet there are still defenders, as I explained in Al Jazeera America:

“Envy isn’t a rational response to the upcoming 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina,” Chicago Tribune editorial board member Kristen McQueary wrote in a recent column, referring to the monster storm that nearly wiped out the city of New Orleans in 2005. “Hurricane Katrina gave a great American city a rebirth.

“McQueary wished for a storm to wipe away Chicago’s corruption, slash the city’s budget and introduce private education. However, she did not mention how African-Americans in New Orleans were disproportionately affected by the disaster or how race became a determining factor in what was rebuilt, how and where.”

The economic system is rigged. In my book I follow the money and explain how companies are able to continually score contracts in the West and the rest even though they consistently fail to deliver (the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction issues regular reports on wasted and lost US money in the war-torn state). I wrote in Al Jazeera America:

“Since the global economic meltdown in 2008, financial firms such as Bank of America received tens of billions of dollars of government money to save them from collapse while committing vast fraud in the process. Virtually nobody was punished. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, legally obligated to hold these companies to account, didn’t just squib his responsibility, he even returned to corporate law firm Covington & Burling after leaving office earlier this year to work again with corporations on its client list that he failed to prosecute when in office.

“While the financial elite plays with each other’s toys, the American population has rarely been so reliant on state handouts. More than 1 in 5 children need food stamps. The middle class often struggles to pay rent, students are burdened with debt, and Americans, according to studies, have little hope for the future.During my various public events in the US and UK I was often asked how to stop this trend of unaccountable corporate and government power. There’s no simple answer though bringing the voices of those assaulted by outsourced power is an important start. I like the recent call by US Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to end privatized prisons and detention centers. Such initiatives deserve large public support.”

During interviews on Democracy Now! and Rolling Stone I stressed that refugees, the under-privileged and the interned are often voiceless and don’t deserve to be made little more than numbers to be processed for profit. A healthy society is defined by how it treats its most vulnerable. Greece is one of the worst examples of an undemocratic European Union imposing extreme austerity on a society that is already suffering (Salon published an extract of my chapter here).

A key aim of writing Disaster Capitalism (along with the film in progress of the same name) is to highlight how our modern, globalized world often benefits the corporate elites in the West at the expense of those we have occupied militarily or economically by featuring local individuals who are fighting back.

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A few thoughts about journalism, media and why it’s (often) broken

The following conversation is published on US website Mondoweiss:

Antony Loewenstein came through New York recently to promote his new book Disaster Capitalism. He later related to me that at two NY events, he had gone off on journalists as a profession. I wanted to draw him out, and so we exchanged emails.

You said you’d developed real contempt for the profession of journalism. Why?

Loewenstein: Journalism has the potential to be transformative, to inform and provoke, or at the very least inform. Too often I see reporters desperate to be close to power, whether ministers, minders.  Insiders. Being embedded, pre or post 9/11, isn’t just about partnering with US or Western troops in a war zone. Too often it’s a state of mind that requires journalists to not question an economic system (“capitalism is damaged but can be repaired”), or Israeli violence against Palestinians or the apparent necessity of “doing something” in the face of state collapse (as if Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya aren’t cautionary tales). Vast parts of the world are routinely ignored by the Western media because they aren’t seen as having value or important enough. This could be “unpeople” such as most of the Muslim world, people of colour or poor whites.

I’ve been living in South Sudan this year and seen some fine and brave journalists, locals and Westerners, covering an incredibly brutal war. What’s been revealing and depressing is some editors in comfortable Western capitals saying that they don’t want stories that are “too depressing”. As if a reporter can prettify an ethic conflict to make Western audiences less uncomfortable when reading during breakfast on their iPhones.

I regularly ask myself what journalism is achieving apart from awareness that often brings little or no changes on the ground. It’s important and necessary to bear witness, and I’ll continue to do so, including in my new book, but what if seeing and witnessing simply isn’t enough?

I got the sense that you went on a more visceral rant against the profession at your events. I’m not going to stand up for the profession, any more than I want to stand up for the human race, but: Are there other professions that you have more admiration for than those parasitic journos?

I don’t have contempt for journalism as a profession, far from it, I have major issues with the ways it’s often undertaken. Media complicity in state violence – from the US bombing of Iraq and Libya, Israeli crimes in Palestine and US involvement in the Indonesian genocide in the 1960s – is the issue here. Reporters often claim they have to play a delicate dance or game with sources, especially in officialdom, to get access. But that access often means sanctioned leaks to a favored journalist. That’s not journalism, it’s stenography. I understand it’s often important to quote off the record information, I do it myself though sparingly, in a sensitive story. But the mentality that many in the media have – don’t stand out, join the crowd, fit in, be liked – means that independent journalism has never been more important.

My professional journalistic career began just after 9/11 so I’m a product of the last decade plus years. There are simply too many stark examples of wilful journalistic dishonesty (and lack of acknowledging mistakes) to believe countless reporters from many major media outlets don’t prefer being wrong to challenging state spin. It’s largely cost-free, career wise. Standing up to a lying Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Dennis Ross or Barack Obama takes guts.

I admire many professions, from brain surgeons to environmental scientists.

As human beings, we are full of faults, contradictions and hypocrisy. Journalists are no exception. But I’ve long believed that reporters have an extra responsibility when covering matters of war, refugees, life and death. We are conveyors of information that can either inform a population, or lie to it. I wish more journalists left their offices and psychologically embedded positions and valued more pissing off those whose outcome (if not primary aim) is to harm civilians. Defending or justifying state violence is the most degrading of arts.

Your critique is a variation of Killing the messenger. The press has always and will always reflect the powers that be, by and large; because they are paid by those powers. It is the role of independent media to challenge the powers that be, but how do they achieve that independence? There are some true independent spirits, but the basis of independence is financial, too. And progressives are a distinct minority in this system; we represent dissent but we also require forms of social support. And we shouldn’t shut off communications with the MSM types. I realize I’m becoming a crabbed conservative in life, somewhat; but I do want a way forward, and for me that involves putting breadcrumbs on the trail for the mainstream journalists.

I’ve never argued that cutting all ties, irreconcilable differences with the MSM, is desirable. I regularly write for the MSM, and will continue doing so. Its audience remains strong and influential. Leading by example by the MSM is rare, very few mainstream reporters will take the way on important social issues. From the gay rights movement to Palestine, they’re often following years after activists have led a path and the general public is usually far savvier and smarter than the MSM (and many of us) presume. That’s fine and should continue. But you seem to be arguing that independent media is hard, and the path is tough and let’s not entirely shut out the possibility that the MSM may one day, say, support BDS because Israel is a pariah and will only change its behaviour though strong outside pressure. When ethics and business collide, the former rarely wins. If history is any guide, the MSM are unlikely to be leading on anything that will upset their power and advertising base.

For me, the constant failings of the MSM are that they don’t reflect the will of the people, views and ideas that are shared by many in the population. War isn’t popular, neither is privatization of public services. Full healthcare is backed by many Americans and yet it’s framed in the MSM as a bitter partisan ‘debate’. It is in Washington but many outside America laugh and cringe at the inability and unwillingness of the DC elite to provide publicly provided medical care for all. I want the MSM to be honest about its agenda and biases. We all have them and yet too often the myth of ‘objectivity’ is wheeled out as a weapon against indy media, as though the MSM is balanced and straight and indy reporters are inherently biased (check out the wonderful UK website Medialens and its recent analysis of the BBC and Afghanistan).

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Rolling Stone interview about disaster capitalism

I’ve been interviewed by US Rolling Stone magazine by journalist Elisabeth Garber-Paul:

Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein recently made the 30-hour trip from South Sudan to New York City after spending the better part of a year in the world’s newest nation, which he calls both “broken” and “a pretty fascinating place.”

“It’s easily dismissed as just another African civil war, and there’s elements of truth in that,” he says of the situation in that country, which has been embroiled in ongoing armed struggles since 2013, after winning independence from Sudan in 2011. “But there’s also a lot of complicity in how the world, especially the U.S., helped the country get born four years ago, and it’s all fallen apart.”

The way wealthy nations and their private interests influence and profit from poorer nations is the subject of a new book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe, which Loewenstein published this fall. But South Sudan, despite its devastation, didn’t even make it as a main subject in the book. “I could have chosen South Sudan, where resource exploitation is rampant,” he says. “I could have chosen Mongolia, where in the last year it’s had the fastest growing economy in the world because of resources, and the vast majority of people are simply not benefitting.”

Instead, he singled out a few specific countries – Australia, the U.K. and the United States on one side; Afghanistan and Pakistan, Greece, Haiti and Papua New Guinea on the other – to detail just how many entities profit from natural and man-made crises across the globe. “The reason I started this book five years ago was my belief that there was too little discussion in the Western press of corporations behaving badly, not in just developing countries, but our own countries,” he says. From for-profit prisons, to bloated NGOs, to economic development projects designed to benefit multinational corporations, he argues that a handful in the West are thriving off the pain of the global poor.

The problem, he says, is that we’ve accepted this as the global norm. The Bush Administration wasn’t necessarily motivated by potential profit when it invaded Afghanistan and Iraq – but the administration happily helped private companies like Halliburton reap the rewards when the contracts came up. Loewenstein says that President Obama has continued down the same path: “Only a few years ago, you had the same politicians and intellectuals arguing for a so-called humanitarian intervention in Libya to overthrow Gaddafi. Virtually as soon as that happened, the country descended into chaos.” Now, he says, the same people are supporting the same sort of military solutions in Syria. “This, to me, is deeply problematic. If you don’t look at the last 10 years and wonder if that’s the case, then you have rocks in your head.”

The effects of Western policy decisions have been playing out on a large scale in the recent Syrian refugee crisis, a problem that Loewenstein believes Europe is handling with the same misguided methods that have been employed for the past decade. In the U.K., for example, some of the privatized detention centers that have been criticized by watchdog groups for their treatment of asylum seekers still hold contracts to house incoming refugees, and Loewenstein sees the plans being rolled out across Europe as efforts “to warehouse refugees rather than addressing the root causes of the problem…taking only a tiny percentage of refugees, attempting to send many back to their war-torn nations and spending billions of dollars on surveillance instead of resettlement. It’s a drop in the ocean, and the reason is that there is no serious acknowledgement of the reasons why these people are fleeing” – i.e., wars that have been “fundamentally fueled by Western foreign policy.”

In addition to the book, Loewenstein is working with documentarian Thor Neureiter to make a Disaster Capitalism film, which he hopes to have finished within a year. “The idea behind the film is to use three examples” – Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and Haiti – to show “how the use of U.S. and foreign aid has not helped those countries, but in fact hindered them,” he says, noting how poorly NGOs tracked the flood of money into Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. “The argument is that exploitation either through resources or aid is the way to bring prosperity to the people,” he says. “But the facts on the ground simply do not bear that out. In fact, the opposite happens and there is massive corruption, insecurity, and violence. And that in turn brings profound resentment.”

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London radio Novara FM on Disaster Capitalism

Yesterday I was interviewed in London by Aaron Bastani from Novara FM. Perceptive and curious, Novara Media is one of Britain’s most interesting and progressive media outlets. During the interview we spoke about my new book, Disaster Capitalism, the state of the media and funding investigative and independent journalism:

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How European companies are making money from the refugee crisis

My piece in the UK Independent “Indy Voices”:

Monetising the waves of refugees surging into Europe is not the most common human response to tragedy. One of the greatest mass movements of people in modern history has caused a huge outpouring of solidarity with those on the move. But it has also created anger, suspicion and violence.

A grim reality of the current migrant crisis sweeping Europe – a continent that prefers surveillance over humanitarian support – is the growing number of corporations seeing financial opportunity in the most vulnerable people. Refugees become numbers to be processed; the profit motive is paramount in the minds of many multinationals.

Immigration is big business. Globally, companies’ like European Homecare and ORS Service have grim records — treating both inmates and guards with contempt. There’s no financial incentive for the firm to provide the best training, healthcare, food or mental health. I’ve witnessed this firsthand in detention centres in both the US and Australia.

Politically, the arrangement also suits both the company and the government, blaming the other when something inevitably goes wrong. Publicly run detention centres and prisons are hardly utopian and remain replete with problems— but at least there’s one level of public accountability.

In Europe, today, many nations are struggling to cope with the influx of refugees. Some citizens in Greece have seen an opportunity to turn a profit and are asking new arrivals for far too much money for water and to charge their smartphones. More significantly, private housing firms in Sweden are massively overcharging for properties. Companies have been accused of profiteering in a country that takes large numbers of refugees, including unaccompanied children. Some private sector contractors are “cowboys who are only there because they want to make heaps of money”, Marie Sallnäs, professor of social work at Stockholm University, told the Guardian.

In Germany, housing company European Homecare is working for the government to provide refugee shelters. “We’re doing something some people consider dirty: we make money,” said company spokesman Klaus Kocks. With 1000 staff caring for 15,000 refugees across the state, the company has become a major player in the immigration industrial complex. Cash starved mayors and officials often find a privately run-company more attractive because costs are initially lower. But examples in other nations, such as America and Australia — where vast parts of the refugee network has been outsourced — shows that human rights are breached when the profit motive is the primary, determining factor.

ORS Service, a Swiss company running migrant reception centres, is doing well. Run by London-based private equity firm Equistone Partners Europe Ltd, it now operates in Germany and Austria and recorded $99 million in revenue last year. ORS Service has thrived on Europe’s inability to cope with the refugee crisis.

Traiskirchen camp in Austria, the largest migrant facility in the country, has seen food shortages, poor hygiene and overcrowding. The United Nations refugee agency said it was “beneath human dignity.” Responding to this claim, the Chief Executive of ORS said that the company is working to improve conditions. “Any professional would be brought to the limits of what is possible,” he said. “The team there does its very best, and in extremely difficult conditions.” Still, those conditions are unsurprising and unacceptable for anybody who has seen unaccountable and secretive privatised detention camps in America, Britain or Australia.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of “Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe”

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On Bernie Sanders and ending privatised prisons and detention camps

My column in the Guardian:

US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is on the warpath against private prison contractors. “Corporations should not be allowed to make a profit by building more jails and keeping more Americans behind bars,” he wrote on Facebook in August. The following month he introduced a bill in the Senate, the justice is not for sale act, which would block the federal government from collaborating with these private firms.

“We cannot fix our criminal justice system if corporations are allowed to profit from mass incarceration,” Sanders argued.

America imprisons more people than any other country in the world. 2.3 million are currently in prison, a 500% increase over the last 30 years. African-Americans and Hispanics are disproportionality represented and private companies are reaping the rewards.

The major corporations involved, CCA and Geo Group, have had minimum occupancy requirements signed into their contracts in many states’ facilities. Serious prison and immigration reform is not in their interests. But Sanders is determined to eradicate a business model that guarantees huge numbers of prisoners and immigrants remain little more than dollar signs.

The industry has deep pockets and well-placed connections. Two leading presidential candidates, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Hillary Clinton, are close to lobbyists for CCA and Geo. Without taking financial incentives out of the justice equation, it’s impossible to imagine meaningful reform and serious reduction for the most vulnerable locked up every night.

Australians should look at the prisons debate in America with envy. Although its incarceration rates are far lower – except for Indigenous men, where the rate per capita is worse than during apartheid South Africa – the public discussion around the issue is poor and predictable.

Neither the Liberal government nor Labor opposition talk about it. The closest we came was under Kevin Rudd who pledged (and failed) in 2007 to return immigration detention to public ownership when he took government.

Today, British multinational Serco runs all the mainland detention centres while off-shore sites are managed by Transfield. Growing numbers of states are seduced by the false allure of outsourcing their prisons to overseas corporations. This message is propagated by some sections of the media.

And in New Zealand, a Serco-run prison in Mt Eden is under investigation in relation to allegations of mismanagement. A majority of New Zealanders now want Serco kicked out of the country despite prime minister John Key defendingthe company. The private sector had a role to play he argued, because otherwise the public service would be “fat and happy, and that wouldn’t deliver the services Kiwis want”.

Both conservative and some progressive politicians continue to falsely argue that outsourced facilities improve “efficiency” yet evidence from Australia and the USshows that workers rights, pay and benefits, let alone decent healthcare, food and conditions for inmates, often deteriorates when a private firm runs a facility. There’s no incentive to improve conditions when these benefits will negatively harm the bottom line.

This is why the Bernie Sanders message of ending secret connections between prison corporations and the state within three years is a challenge to the Australian political and media class.

Divestment campaigns in firms profiting from detention or prisons are growing locally and globally. It’s time for serious public debate, as is occurring in the US, on the benefits of rehabilitation and community service over imprisonment. Where is the Australian Bernie Sanders?

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