The Murdochracy is damaging the West

His media empire stretches through out the English speaking part of the western hemisphere. Dominant in the U.S., U.K. and with significant operations in New Zealand and Australia, the increasingly divisive and toxic influence of Rupert Keith Murdoch is finally starting to face international push back. In light of the devastating bush fires caused by the very thing his media empire denies, individuals, companies and celebrities are coming alive with the hashtag #Murdochracy: climate change. The Urban Dictionary defines Murdochracy as:

The murder of democracy through misinformation via Rupert Murdoch’s “news websites

The influence of Mr Murdoch’s empire in journalism is perhaps best expressed through the fact that to varying extents every government in the west acknowledges climate change to some extent. The two that do not are the U.S. Government of Donald Trump and the Australian Government of Scott Morrison, both of which are supported by – in the case of the United States – Fox News, New York Post and in Australia news outlets such as The Age, The Australian and others. A third one, the United Kingdom, where Mr Murdoch resides, has several tabloid papers operating under News Corp which include The Daily Mail, The Telegraph.

In 2011, U.K.. tabloid News of the World suddenly went out of print after it was found that Mr Murdoch’s tabloid rag had hacked into various peoples phones and stolen personal information. Among them were a murdered British school girl named Millie Downer, former Prime Minister of Britain Gordon Brown and a range of celebrities. Mr Murdoch’s newspaper apologized, but few believed it was credible. It led to the trial of chief editor Rebekah Brooks who was accused of masterminding the hacking, and although she was found not guilty, many sincerely believe she at least knew about it.

Mr Murdoch’s tabloids have crashed multiple Governments. The most notable one was the Australian Labor-led Government of Julia Gillard and – following a leadership spill – Kevin Rudd. During the election campaigns, Australian conservative media, shock jocks and the Murdoch tabloids savaged her gender, her politics, her very being. Prior to that Gough Whitlam was toppled. But notably when Liberal Government’s have failed to show due “respect”, they have been toppled as well – as Malcolm Turnbull found out.

Mr Turnbull’s replacement Scott Morrison is a fully fledged climate denier, having once gone to Parliament with a lump of coal. Mr Morrison’s determination to ignore the fires has fuelled a backlash no other Australian government has seen from an environmental emergency. His failure to take a Commander-in-Chief moment and try to seize control of the situation has tarnished him and his Liberal party, normally favourites of Mr Murdoch.

In more recent years, Mr Murdoch’s sons have gained some responsibility in the empire. James who as recently as September 2019 might have deliberately put a bit of distance between himself and the rest of the Murdoch empire. Something that became a bit more obvious a few days ago when he attacked the other Murdoch’s stance on climate change, which could either be trying to save himself or a genuine realization that the Murdochracy has gone too far.

His other son Lachlan appears to be classic conservative, but possibly with principles. He does not appear to be a fan of politicians, but in taking over Fox was quickly given lessons by controversial hosts Jeanine Pirro (who went on an anti-Muslim tirade) and Sean Hannity (who was on stage with Mr Trump, when he should not have been)on their support for Mr Trump. Both were disciplined by Fox, but received support from the White House.

Situation Theatre reports that Journalists have at long last started speaking out. Some have said that the Murdoch empire used to require balance in reporting, which they freely acknowledged is long gone. Some have said the man himself, Mr Murdoch, despite having handed some control to his sons still wields the true power and that it needs to be checked.

The rebellion against the #Murdochracy is young and in its infancy, but it has some potentially powerful allies. The bush fires have awakened Australia in ways that no prior bush fire season has, to the environmental threats posed by the neoliberal agenda. The agenda that Mr Murdoch has trumpeted for so long is increasingly seen as a bad thing around the west.

Perhaps the best thing that can happen to the west is the downfall of the Murdochracy.

The bush fires and the impact on Australia

The sixth mass extinction began some time ago and has accelerated rapidly with the large scale destruction of habitat around the world. But in Australia, as a potential consequence of the bush fires that are ravaging the country, a mini-extinction might be in progress as hundreds of species that have been decimated by the bush fires face a struggle to survive.

The koala, a species classified as vulnerable, has suffered massive population loss in the Australian bush fires. As many as 30,000 may have been wiped out on Kangaroo Island alone. And this is just one of Australia’s many famous exotic animals that are likely to have suffered huge population losses in the bush fires thus far. Echidna’s, Wombat’s, all manner of reptiles – snakes, geckos, lizards, possibly some crocodiles, have suffered significant losses. The total toll is already thought to be about 1 billion – not a typo – and likely to rise further as fire ravaged areas are checked.

But also at the height of the bush fires at the start of January, it was feared that not only was the flora and fauna in grave danger, but it might also threaten the water supply for Sydney whose population is about 5 million people. The risk is complicated further by the fact that should significant rain suddenly fall, the ashes of burnt out vegetation and man made materials and goods will get washed into the rivers and reservoirs and lakes, contaminating the water and causing an ecological catastrophe among aquatic species.

Most summer festivals and regular sporting events are going ahead. The Boxing Day and New Years cricket tests in Melbourne and Sydney both went ahead on the understanding play might be stopped if atmospheric pollution levels get too high. The Australian Tennis Open is still going ahead, though the organizers have taken similar precautions to those in the case of the cricket.

1,400 houses have been lost thus far. 27 people have been killed by the bush fires. The economic toll, and an area bigger than the Netherlands has been burnt out. In a New Zealand context the area burnt out is almost as big as Canterbury.

But the biggest non-environmental impact might be political. Australia, a generally conservative nation, seems to have run out of patience with its climate change denying politicians. Protests in the streets have happened. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, despite his continuing defence of fossil fuels, has seen a massive slump in support for his Liberal Party government. His handling of the crisis has been ridiculed for his lack of compassion, disconnect with suffering communities and stubborn defence of the very fuel sources many believe are causing the climate change that is making the fires possible. Mr Morrison has been coldly received in many bush fire affected towns and even told to leave in others.

With the bush fires still burning in many places and some merging with others to create what are being called mega fires, this is far from finished, with the hottest month not yet here, the worst might actually be still to come…

Australian bush fires raise questions about bush fire safety in New Zealand

As we continue to watch the bush fire crisis in Australia and marvel at the work being done to save the various animals, it is important we check on our own preparedness in New Zealand for bush fires. As climate change takes hold some provinces are going to get drier and become more prone to them, and the Australian bush fires have mos probably shown that if anything, we are not ready.

Whilst arson has contributed some fires to the tally of active events around Australia, they do not account for the biggest or the most damaging. They would not have necessarily gotten established without the help prolonged drought conditions that have afflicted much of the east or the prolonged high temperatures – Australia has been increasingly afflicted by heatwaves that have pushed temperatures frequently into the mid-high 40 degree celsius range.

Once established, bush fires can take on a life of their own. They can create their own weather, which some of the current ones are doing. Pyrocumulus is cumulus cloud created by up drafts from the fires dragging particulate high enough that water vapour starts condensing around it. Pyrocumulonimbus are cumulonimbus clouds that are created by the same phenomena, and like any cumulonimbus they can create lightning. This is happening right now. The pyronado is a tornadic feature spawned by a localised rapidly rotating up drafts caused by the fires. Short lived and unpredictable they can move rapidly.

Bush fires do not affect just their immediate area. Fanned by strong winds the real front is actually not the fire/s, but an area several hundred metres in front in of them where burning embers are landing. If you are in that area, it is time to leave, and leave quickly. If you have another plan, that is the time it needs to be actioned.

A number of other man made factors have hindered the Australian response to their bush fire emergency. They include but are not limited to:

  • Specialist planes that can pick up water and dump it on fires were considered by the Australian government and then the idea was scratched
  • The Rural Fire Service went through a period of having an alleged bad culture among its members and management that caused significant numbers of firefighters to walk away
  • Some brigades are using heavily out dated equipment, including trucks that are not up to the modern requirements of firefighting
  • Federal Government has been slow to acknowledge the need for monetary compensation for firefighters who gave up their regular jobs to help with the fire fighting

The bush fires in Australia invariably raise questions about protecting New Zealanders from scrub fires, which are a regular occurrence during summer. In provinces like Canterbury, Otago, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough these can start and spread rapidly. In inland areas sometimes only helicopter access is available to those fighting the fires. Whilst we probably do not need water bombing aircraft, helicopters with the capacity to do that would be useful.

City, District and Regional Councils may or may not have factored bush fires into their hazard planning strategies. If not these will now need to be revisited under comparative urgency, lest they experience the problems Christchurch has had following its 2017 Port Hills fire, where a sudden change in wind direction and flammable material meant that fire fighters lost control of a fire they thought was contained. 11 houses were lost.

This also raises questions about the types of vegetation we should be planting. Clearly around urban areas and in hilly terrain where firefighting might be difficult, eucalyptus and other highly flammable vegetation potentially becomes dangerous.

Dear Australia

Dear Australia

We, you and New Zealand, are two old friends much like family. Two countries with over 100 years of knowing each other in ways not many countries get to know their neighbours. Through two world wars, where we stood side by side in the grimmest of conditions – the baking sun of Gallipoli; the hellish muddy quagmire of Ypres; in North Africa in World War 2. Through peace time we have stood side by side – in your bush fires of 2009 and now; in the aftermath of the Christchurch quakes and the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. There aren’t too many times you will see Aussie police get a standing ovation in a New Zealand airport, but you got that when you arrived to help Christchurch. And maybe in the next few days you will get to see N.Z. Defence Force assets and realise we’ve come to help.

These last couple of months have been rather grim for you haven’t they? Months of watching a bushfire monstrosity form before your very eyes in a country well known for being dry, but also covered in highly flammable vegetation has been pretty horrendous to watch.

You have been ruthlessly challenged by the very worst of firestorm behaviour. You have had to watch fires so big that they created their own weather – the updraughts cause by the heat of the fires has been strong enough to create its own weather including pyrocumulus and pyrocumulonimbus clouds. The latter have, as cumulonimbus’ are prone to doing, generated lightning. Some fires have generated firestorm conditions where they generate their own inflow winds that are strong enough to move vehicles about, similar to the firestorms in Tokyo, Dresden and Hamburg created by military bombing in World War 2.

These conditions, combined with the handiwork of a small band of arseholes, has spawned a monster showing no sign of losing its rapacious appetite for destruction.

For myself and my fellow New Zealanders this has been horrible to watch on television, a topic threading itself through all sorts of other conversations among friends and colleagues, family and strangers. Whereas we have seen bush fires in the past in Australia and felt sympathy for the families affected, the sheer scale of what is happening this time, drags in a whole lot of other emotions such as horror (the suffering of people and animals), pain (mental anguish at the devastation to lives), despair (when will this end), frustration.

We have had our moments when we haven’t seen eye to eye – defence, refugees, climate change and treatment of New Zealanders – but all of this pales into relative insignificance when we look at the headlines, day in day out. And when it becomes one of the big stories overseas, even – if only briefly – interrupting Fox News’ non-stop coverage of impeachment proceedings, Iran and the election, you realise it is one of the stories of the year. A sad indictment that Australia’s most horrible peacetime moment since the Black Saturday bush fires of 2009 is what it takes to focus media attention.

So, not surprisingly it was almost with relief that I heard New Zealand Minister of Defence Ron Mark announce the deployment of New Zealand Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force assets in Australia to assist. In that most Aussie and Kiwi way of being brothers and sisters in arms during war, we are also brothers and sisters in peace fighting the very menace that causes our skies to go all sorts of brilliant orange and red.

Look after yourself Australia. These are painful times. And much as I am disappointed with the cricket, it does not even register when I see what my Australian friends are suffering.

Kia Kaha!

The United Nations is in a critical state and it affects New Zealand

It has been revealed that the United Nations is facing a dire funding shortage brought about by nations failing to pay their annual dues. And if those dues are not paid soon, some of the basic functions of the United Nations will soon be crippled. But how and why has this come about?

The bad state of the United Nations is in part borne from design faults that have never been corrected. Perhaps the biggest failure in that respect is not keeping up with the changing distribution of geopolitical power on the United Nations Security Council. Designed in an era when the United States and Russia were the only two super powers, it has failed to reflect the growth of nations such as New Zealand, Canada and Australia; Brazil and Chile in Latin America or Singapore.

Perhaps the biggest failing though is the abuse of the veto by the Permanent 5 members. At some time or another all of them have used it to block a resolution condemning them or requiring them to carry out one sort of act or another. France last used it in 1989 along with Britain and the U.S. to block condemnation of the U.S. invasion of Panama; the United States blocks resolutions condemning Israel; China and Russia have blocked resolutions condemning Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for atrocities and the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Syria. But getting rid of it might be the one thing that unites all five of them in blocking.

As international distrust has grown, so has the inability of the United Nations to address festering wounds such as Syria; to ping countries like China committing grave human rights abuses in Xinjiang or act as the intermediary in African conflicts. And as the distrust has grown, criticism of the United Nations by the very powers owing the monies that make its work possible in the first place has likewise grown.

The matter of who and how the United Nations is funded causes great division in the U.S. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power said that the world supplies 78% of the funding for the United Nations, and nearly 100% of the 100,000 soldiers and police being used to maintain law and order in the most dysfunctional places around the world. Some in the U.S. believe that it is an act contrary to the U.S. Constitution for the U.S. to be a United Nations member and that it should be asked to vacate its New York premises. Others believe it is a globalist body with an anti-American agenda that is being made worse by American taxpayer dollars being spent on it

But the United States is not the only nation that has short changed in the United Nations in terms of dues currently owed. 59 other nations have also failed to pay in full – New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Sweden plus 30 others paid on time in the 30 day allowance period up to 31 January 2019. Another 100 nations followed, but late (i.e. after 31 January). And some of the nations that have not paid in full are some of the bigger contributors including Brazil

For a country like New Zealand which relies on a rules based international community, this trend is disturbing. Without a functional United Nations we cannot so easily advocate our view of the world, stand up for the Pacific Island nations or push for conflict resolution. Next month if the other nations do not pay up by then, United Nations staff are going to start going unpaid – specialist staff such as interpreters might have their hours cut short; non-essential travel will be stopped; some posts will not have staff.

It also hurts our small island neighbours who otherwise do not have a voice on the global stage. It was this lack of a voice for small nations that was one of the driving factors behind the original United Nations in 1945. A loss of their voice on the world stage is likely to harm New Zealand as well.