Still the 5 Eyes Achilles Heel?

The National Cyber Security Centre (NZSC), a unit in the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) dedicated to cyber-security, has released a Review of its response to the 2021 email hacking of NZ members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC, a global organization of parliamentarians) and Professor Anne-Marie Brady, the well known China expert and critic. A number of problems were identified, both operational and (yet again) with regard to accountability and transparency, so I thought I would briefly summarise them.

The Review states that too much focus was placed by the NCSC on “technical” solutions to the email phishing probes instead of considering the “wider” context in which the hacking occurred. In layman’s terms that is akin to saying that the NCSC got busy plugging holes in the parliamentary server firewalls after breaches were detected without considering who was being targeted and what purpose the hacking may have served. This is remarkable because the hacking came from ATP-31, a unit linked to PRC military intelligence well known for having engaged in that sort of activity previously, in NZ and elsewhere. Moreover, the NCSC had to be alerted by a foreign partner that the email phishing efforts were part of a progressive hacking strategy whereby the ultimate target was not the emails of MPs but of the IP addresses that were being used by those MPs. In fact, the NCSC currently does not have procedures for how to respond to reports that foreign, including state-sponsored, actors are targeting New Zealanders. The NCSC found out about the parliamentary email servers hacking from Parliamentary Services in the first instance, and then from foreign partner intelligence that was passed on to it by the NZSIS.

This is of concern for several reasons, not the least of which is that it took a foreign 5 Eyes partner to alert the NCSC to something that it should have been well aware of itself (progressive hacking), and because the NCSC initially assumed, for whatever reason, that the phishing was done by ordinary criminals rather than foreign intelligence units. It also assumed that MPs were already engaged in providing their own security, even after Parliamentary Services flagged potential breaches of its email servers to the NCSC. In fact MPs were apparently told more by Parliamentary Services than the NCSC about their being targeted (albeit after the fact), and the University of Canterbury, Professor Brady’s employer, apparently was never contacted about potential security breaches of their servers.

Since MPs may have sent and received emails from multiple IP addresses attached to their official and personal devices, the security breach implications of the email hacks could be considerable given the potential cross-over between personal and official MP communications. Put bluntly, it is incredible that a dedicated cyber-security unit that is an integral part of the GCSB and through it the Anglophone 5 Eyes signals/technical intelligence network did not consider the membership of the targeted MPs in IPAC and that the phishing occurred at the same time that Professor Brady’s emails were targeted (Brady is known to have close contacts with IPAC). This is basic 1+1 contextual stuff when it comes to operational security in cyberspace, so one gets the sense that the NCSC is made up of computer nerds who have little training in geopolitics, foreign policy, international relations or how the world works outside of WAN and LAN (hint: these are basic computer terms). They simply approached the hacking attacks as if they were plugging a leaking dike rather than consider what may be prompting the leaks and red-flagging them accordingly.

The advice given by the Review was for the NCSC to engage more with the targeted individuals in real time, who only found out about their exposure long after the fact. Moreover, the Minister of Intelligence and Security was not briefed on these intrusions, much like the targeted MPs and Professor Brady were not. Again, this defies the notion of democratic oversight, transparency and accountability within NZ intelligence agencies. Worse yet, it follows on the heels of revelations that for a few years a decade ago the GCSB hosted a foreign partner “asset,” presumably a signals or technical intelligence collection platform, at GCSB headquarters in Wellington without the knowledge of the then Minister or even the GCSB Director-General. Operational control of that platform, including specific taskings and targets, were done by the foreign partner. Imagine if one of the taskings was to geotrack a foreign human target in order to eliminate that target. If word was leaked about GCSB’s hosting of the tracking platform, it might cause some diplomatic tensions for NZ. At a minimum it is a violation of both NZ’s sovereignty as well as basic notions of intelligence agency accountability in a democracy. It seems that, almost a decade later, the much vaunted reforms designed to increase intelligence community accountability embedded the 2017 Security and Intelligence Act had not filtered down to the NCSC dike-plugging level.

This is a very bad look for the GCSB, both in the eyes of its domestic clients as well as those of its 5 Eyes partners. NZ already had a reputation for being the “Achilles heel” or “weak link” of the 5 Eyes network due to its lax security protocols and counter-intelligence capabilities. This may only confirm that belief in spite fo significant efforts to upgrade GCSB capabilities and toughen up its defences, including in cyberspace. And, judging from the reactions of the targeted MPs and Professor Brady, domestic clients of the NCSC, who are both private and public in nature, may not feel too reassured by the Review and its recommendations.

It is known that the GCSB is made up of an assortment of engineers, translators and computing specialists. It has a remit that includes domestic as well as foreign signals and technical gathering and analysis, the former operating under the framework of NZ law under the 2017 Act (most often in a partnership with a domestic security agency).This brings up a question of note. If the staff are all of a “technical” persuasion as described above, then it follows that they simply adhere to directives from their managers and foreign partners, collect and assess signals and technical intelligence data as directed by others, and do not have an in-house capacity to provide geopolitical context to the data being analyzed. It is like plugging leaks without knowing about the hydraulics causing them.

In that light it just might do good to incorporate a few foreign policy and comparative political analysts into the GCSB/NCSC mix given that most of NZ’s threat environment is not only “intermestic” (domestic<–>international) but “glocal” (global and local) as well as hybrid (involving state and non-state actors) in nature. Threats are multidimensional and complex, so after the fact “plugging” solutions are temporary at best.

Given their diversity, complexity and sophistication, there are no “technical” solutions that can counter contemporary threats alone. Factoring in the broader context in which specific threats materialise will require broadening the knowledge base of those charged with defending against them or at a minimum better coordinating with other elements in the NZ intelligence community in order to get a better look at the bigger picture involved in NZ’s threat environment.

The NCSC in-house Review is silent on that.

Voting as a multi-order process of choice.

Recent elections around the world got me to thinking about voting. At a broad level, voting involves processes and choices. Embedded in both are the logics that go into “sincere” versus “tactical” voting. “Sincere” voting is usually a matter of preferred choice, specifically of a candidate or outcome. Simply put, a person votes for their preferred option. But what about “lesser evil” or “second best” choices? Are they “sincere”? Rather than a matter of genuine sincerity of choice, the general demarcation separating “sincere” voting from “tactical” voting is not so much the motive for choice or the specific choices involved but the all or nothing of the process–it is the final selection point before an elected entity or outcome is confirmed. In other words, sincere choices are end choices, regardless of the logics by which they are made.

This allows us to distinguish between elections as a process versus elections as choices between options. Until the last vote is counted in the final round of voting, everything is tactical even if choices for individuals are sincere in the moment.

Under Mixed Member Proportionate (MMP) electoral systems like that in NZ voters do tactical voting all of the time. They consider the relationship between party and candidate votes and choose accordingly. Sometimes voters go with a straight party-candidate vote but other times they split votes between party and candidates. That depends on how they view specific party chances in inter-party competition, the electorate candidate in relation to their party, that candidate in relation to the electorate voting history (does she stand a chance?), and the merits of other candidates in a given electorate. Much of this assessment is done unconsciously in the moment of choice but in any event the voter’s calculation is multi-level and relative in nature.

A vote is tactical when we vote for a candidate or party or coalition or ballot option with the shadow of the future in mind, as far as we can foresee it. We may do so for defensive as well as win-seeking reasons, like what happened in France this past week, where the Left removed competing candidates in a number of electorates in order to improve the chances of designated “unity” candidates defeating rightwing opponents in the second round of parliamentary elections. That was done in order to help defeat the serious possibility of a rightwing victory in the second round parliamentary elections after the first round saw the Right win a significant plurality of the vote. The tactic of limiting inter-Left competition was defensive in nature rather than a “go for the win” effort because all involved understood the costs of allowing a rightwing victory and put their immediate preferences (and differences) aside in order to confront the common threat.

When it comes to tactical voting people may also vote for lesser evils rather than preferred options because the context in which voting occurs may advise them to do so. Voters may simply have to choose between otherwise distasteful candidates or options. In multiple round voting it is the process as much as the immediate outcomes that motivate voters in the first instance, as they are seeking to do something now in order to set up a better sincere choice option in the future. Think of the US primary system, where party candidates are selected not just for their merits but also with an eye towards their “electability” in the general elections. A candidate with lesser ideological purity or Party credentials may win in the selection round because primary voters feel that s/he is more likely to be elected in a general election where sincere choices are made.

On the other side of the coin, as a campaign strategy, what Labour recently did in the UK when it flooded electorates with candidates, even in Tory strongholds where it traditionally had zero chance of competing, was a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” first-order approach. Labour put up slates of candidates who in many cases have little to no experience in politics and who were in a number of instances sent as electoral cannon fodder into historically secure Conservative electorates. Labour strategists banked on the belief that public disgruntlement with the Conservatives would spill over into Labour winning at least some traditionally Tory seats, and in that they were successful. But this was just the first order outcome. The second order outcome is how these candidates-turned-MPs will perform given their lack of experience. Some will do well but if enough turn out to be incompetent or worse, then Labour runs the risk of incurring a voter backlash against it in just one electoral cycle. That is the second-order problem of the “throw at the wall” candidate selection tactic: good for the short-run, but a bit uncertain over the longer term.

For his part, French President Macron has ruled out working with the largest of the Left parties (“France Unbowed”) in the coalition that came first in the second round of the French parliamentary elections thanks to the defensive unity candidate first order manoeuvres, so is now trying to carve away smaller Left parties from the Left coalition so they can form a majority coalition with his Centrists. He apparently has promised the Prime Minister’s job to a Left candidate if they agree to his terms (in France the president selects the PM). But if he cannot do this, then France will be in political gridlock through and beyond the Olympics. So his first order tactical gambit of calling snap elections and forming a defensive alliance against the Rightists worked, but now the second order consequences embedded in the process must be confronted and resolved less the otherwise unwelcome triumph of the Right become reality.

In Iran the reformist Pezeshkian won the run-off election against a conservative hard-liner. The latter could be seen as a “continuist” following the approach of his dead predecessor (recently killed in a helicopter crash), whereas Pezeshkian seeks a thaw in Iran’s foreign relations with the West and a relaxation of restrictions on social freedoms at home. But since the Council of Elders and the Ayatollah Khamenei are the real power brokers in Iran, perhaps they allowed Pezeshkian to run (they did not allow any other reformist to do so) in order to gauge public sentiment and/or use the elections as an escape value that eases social pressures on the regime by allowing the electorate to institutionally vent its views. Think of it as an Iranian political pressure cooker, with the electorate permitted to let off pent-up steam during the election process.

The first round of that vote only brought 40 percent of the electorate to the polls, but the second round brought in 53 percent. Beyond the narrowing of the field of candidates in the second round, the turnout and strong majority vote for Pezeshkian demonstrates the apparent need for some reform-mongering when it comes to policy making. This is a strong signal that the Elders must consider if they are to keep a lid on things. They have been sent a message about what the public wants in public policy, especially (judging from field reports) about social mores and behaviours. But what about the hard-liners? They have the guns, are not going away and are ill-disposed towards Pezeshkian’s proposals.. So the second order question is to reform monger or not and if so, how much is too much? Again, it is a process, and the choice of Pezeshkian is a first-order means towards a perhaps necessary but uncertain end.

In the US the Biden question is not only should he stay or should he go, but also how and when? Sooner or later? At the convention or before? Does he designate an heir if he goes (presumably Vice President Harris) or does he throw it open to a short-list of previously vetted candidates? The James Carville opinion piece in the New York Times was an interesting proposition, with its geographically organized Town Halls acting as an extended job interview process for designated candidates. And the George Clooney op-ed in the same newspaper pretty much spells out why Biden has moved from being an asset to a liability for the Democrats. Here too there is a process as well as the individual to consider, something that must converge into an electable platform that can defeat Trump. So the first order choice is about Biden staying or going, the second order choice is about when and how to replace him and the third order choice is about the agenda and team needed to defeat Trump. With those three parts of the process resolved, a sincere choice can be presented to the electorate in November.

This is about more than Joe Biden. In a democracy people serve their party in the first instance, the party serves the country in the second instance and the country serves the nation in the last instance (“country” being a political entity with territorial boundaries codified in the notion of “State” and “nation” being a political society or culture legally represented by a country). For the Democrats the issue is not just about choice of a presidential candidate in light of Biden’s perceived limitations (age, fragility, cognitive decline), but about the institutional process by which their candidate choice is made. The process is time-sensitive given the upcoming Election date, so the choices must be soon and facilitated by the institutional process. It remains to be seen if Biden and other Democrats fully understand the difference between his fortunes and those of the party–and the country itself, but if they do, then the process of candidate selection is as important as the candidates themselves.

Again, I am no voting behaviour expert (too much bean-counting and tea leaf-reading for me), so please take this very incomplete and shallow sketch as a a preliminary rumination about choice and process in voting. I will leave for another day discussion of certain hard realities about voting in practice–things like voter suppression, gerrymandering, redistricting, incumbent advantage, campaign finance laws and loopholes, polling, etc.–as well as the use of game theoretic and AI models as predictive tools in voting analysis. That is best left to those who focus on such things. But having said that I do think that recent elections offer an opportunity to ponder the process as well as the choices that democratic elections involve. Hence this note.

Author’s Postscript: This essay serves as the basis of my remarks for the “A View from Afar” podcast of July 14, 2024.

Media Link: Post-pandemic economics and the rise of national populism” on “A View from Afar.”

On this edition of AVFA Selwyn Manning and I discuss post-pandemic economics and the rise of national populism. It seems that a post-pandemic turn to more nationalist economic policies may have encouraged the rise of populists who use xenophobia and bigotry as a partisan tool by adding non-economic fear-mongering and scapegoating to the necessity of shifting to more inwards-looking structural reform. You can find the show here.

Differentiating between democracy and republic.

Although NZ readers may not be that interested in the subject and in lieu of US Fathers Day missives (not celebrated in NZ), I thought I would lay out some brief thoughts on a political subject being debated in the US. It seems crazy but there seems to be some confusion on what a the terms “democracy” and “republic” mean.

There are (MAGA) right-wingers and conservative media commentators who claim that the US is a Republic, not a Democracy. They are either cynical or ignorant. The two are not antithetical. Democracy is a means of giving political voice, selecting political representatives and granting social (and often economic) equality. It comes from the Latin word “demos,” or polity.

Republics (from the Latin res publica) are a type of political governance where, unlike monarchies or other forms of oligarchical rule, leadership purportedly derives from or is delegated by the sovereign will of the people (which may/may not be voiced democratically). There are democratic republics and there are authoritarian republics, so the two terms–democracy and republic–while having different specific meanings, may or may not be overlapped when it comes to a given political framework.

In fact, as the old saying goes, any country with “democratic” in its name is likely not regardless of whether it has “Republic” in its title. For example, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) is anything but. The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) holds elections (in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)), but is certainly not democratic in the liberal (universal, free, fair and transparent elections) sense of the term. Argentina under its dictatorships remained a “Republica Federal.” In fact, Republics can be federal in nature, where political administration is decentralized and broken into constituent parts such as US or Brazilian states, or unitary in nature, where the central government has administrative jurisdiction over the entire country (as in NZ). In neither case does this necessarily involve democracy as a concept or practice. It is simply a type of governmental administration within given territorial limits, to which different types of political voice, representation and accountability are attached.

Again, democracy is about political expression and social equality; republic is about political organisation. The US was founded and has been broadened via much struggle and conflict as a democratic republic (first for some, eventually for all). The process involved two parallel processes that were not always congruent or synchronised, which consequently has led to repeated conflict (think Civil War and the Civil Rights movement). In fact, the broadening of “democratic” rights within the US over the years has produced backlash from small and large-R “republicans” who believe that the awarding of rights to previously marginalised groups and non-citizens somehow infringes on their existing rights (which assumes that “rights” are an indivisible pie where awarding some to one group means that other groups will lose their fair or previously allotted share). This has extended into discussions of “states rights” versus those accorded by US federal law, where advocates of the Republic versus Democracy designation argue against democracy because it interferes with State’s autonomy over their internal (political, economic and social) affairs. In this view, a US Republic leaves the issue of individual and collective rights to be decided by States under their own self-made laws. Democracy removes that prerogative by federal fiat, subjugating states to the dictates of a federal overseers (who in turn are seen as pawns or tools of nefarious elites). This view is deeply flawed, if not dishonest.

The “states versus feds” debate has been rehashed endlessly and largely settled as a matter of US constitutional law. Despite ongoing efforts by groups like the Federalist Society to redefine the relationship between the central government and states, it has never really been framed as a “Republic versus Democracy” issue. But in the hands of malevolent or ignorant actors, this adversarial distinction contributes to the false dichotomy between and binary juxtaposition of the two different but often compatible terms.

It would be a pity if the narrative that democracy is antithetical to being a republic begins to take larger hold in the US in the lead-up to the November elections. Perhaps some of those who espouse such a view really would prefer that the US become an authoritarian republic. But what the very presence of such views does show is that when it comes to fundamental concepts underpinning the US political order, there sure are a lot of misinformed if not downright stupid people out there–and plenty of others who wish to exploit their ignorance for myopic partisan gain.

Media Link: AVFA on post-colonial blowback.

Selwyn Manning and I discuss varieties of post colonial blowback and the implications its has for the rise of the Global South. Counties discussed include Palestine/Israel, France/New Caledonia, England/India, apartheid/post-apartheid South Africa and post-colonial New Zealand. It is a bit of a ramble but it raises some infrequently discussed points. You can find the episode here.

Te Pati Loco?

Normally I would not write about Maori issues. I may have been living in NZ for over 25 years but I do not feel that it is my place to opine because I am not an expert on Maori history and politics and do not speak Te Reo (because as anyone who seriously studies comparative politics will attest, foreign language proficiency is a bottom line requirement for scholarship in the field unless you only study countries and cultures that speak your mother tongue). Hence in the past I deferred to Lew to write about Maori issues here at KP, but since he has departed there is no one left to do so.

However, in light of the recent carkoi and protests organised by Te Pati Maori (TPM) in response to the Coalition of Cruelty’s budget, I thought I would touch briefly on a matter of Te Pati Maori praxis. I was dragged into the debate about the protests when I noted on social media that the use of the term “strike” to characterise the direct action was done in error or for dramatic effect since “strike” is codified in employment law as a collective withholding of labour services by employees from employers in the context of workplace disputes. If the labour service withdrawal is called by collective agents and follows the procedures for engaging in such action (giving notice, etc.) then it is a strike “proper.” if it is done by individuals or groups of workers without collective authorization, then it is a “wildcat” strike that may be deemed unlawful by employment courts. A general strike is a labour service withdrawal across economic sectors done for economic and/or political purposes, which is difficult because it requires unity of purpose and action by employees working in different productive areas, which in turn requires agreement between union agents and agent/principal agreement in every union on the action. That is a big ask.

Taking a day off from work to go to a protest, be it by using paid, unpaid or medical leave or no leave at all is not a strike no matter what one calls it. Workers assume the employment risks associated with such actions. Employers can weigh their responses according to the law and their relationship with employees. That could even include giving people the day off or paying them overtime to stay on the job, among other options. Again, the nature of the relationship between boss and worker outside of the legal framework can influence an employer’s response for better or worse.

I figured that since I have written two books and a dozen or so scholarly articles about comparative labour relations, including the subject of strikes and State responses to working class collective action, that my neutral if pedantic observation about the proper use of the term “strike” would be as unremarkable as it was incontrovertible. I was wrong.

To be sure, the use of the term “strike” in the Te Pati Maori protest literature, which explicitly references it as a display of Maori economic power, lent itself to the view that Maori were going on strike. As such, right-wingers seized on the term to call for employer retaliation against those who joined the protests. There was much agitation on the Right about violations of contract (individual or collective) and the penalties that should be levied. The PM weighed in with the comment that workers should be careful about striking and that strikes should be done on weekends because that way they would not be as disruptive.

Besides the fact that a PM should know the difference between a strike and a protest (rather than cynically feed into the “strike” narrative), it is pretty rich for him to suggest that strikes are best done on weekends. As I said on social media, by that logic we should take our holidays on weekends as well. The whole point of strikes, protests, demonstrations and other types of direct action is precisely to be disruptive of the status quo as given in defence of a cause or to air grievances. A protest without disruption is like an army without a fight, full of rebels with causes but no stomach for consequences. Protests and strikes are about assuming collective and individual risk. The risk may be large or small depending on circumstance, but in one way or another it hangs over acts of “unauthorised” direct action in most every instance.

Having said all of that, I understand the call to strike in the Te Pati Maori literature as using the original sense of the term, which means “to deliver a blow.” The protest was organised as a symbolic blow against the reactionary anti-Maori thrust of the Coalition of Cruelty’s policies. It was not about Maori labour service withdrawals per se.

For my troubles in clarifying what is and what is not a strike and how the term was misused in the call to action by both supporters and opponents of the protests, I was called condescending, paternalistic, pompous, a lightweight, and best of all, a “racist c**t,” the latter by a lady who surely must kiss her mum and perhaps children with that mouth. As I wrote to her, she must be fun to be around.

All of that aside, I then got the pleasure of watching Te Pati Maori leaders speak in and outside of Parliament on the subject of the protest and much more. Although Ms.Ngarwera-Packer presented her views coolly, her counterpart Mr. Waititi was at his bombastic, hyperbolic best, taking the tradition of Marae oratory to a level that even that tax-funded weiner-tugger Shane Jones cannot match. He threw out gems such as “if Maori are 60 percent of the prison population then (we) deserve 60 percent of the Corrections budget,” a feat of logic so extraordinary that it would be akin to saying that NZ should pay the PRC, Russia and rightwing extremists most of the intelligence budget because they are the ones being spied on. To be frank, I have always found Mr. Waititi to be a bit of a buffoon and charlatan, but then again, that is probably the old Pakeha racist codger in me doing the assessment (I have been characterised as such before).

Which is why I paused to reflect on my reaction to his rants. Others have already noted the hypocrisy of TPM being funded by taxpayers and gaining prominence via “Pakeha” procedures and institutions. They have noted with alarm the seditious rhetoric of Mr. Waititi’s wife, the daughter of none other than that paragon of indigenous resistance, John Tamihere (although Mr. Tamihere’s management of the Waiparera Trust, for whatever its faults, was first rate during the pandemic and is widely respect in the West Auckland community). Now the TPM is calling for a separate Maori parliament, presumably to run in parallel to the “Pakeha” parliament and be equal to it. I am not sure how it will be funded and what outcomes it hopes to achieve, but it provides some food for thought about political alternatives even if it has a snowball’s chance in hell of materialising while the current government is in power.

The proposal is interesting in part because one of the features of a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) democratic system like that in NZ is that it allows small, narrow-focused or single issue parties to get elected and press their interests within parliament, using coalition-building and vote-trading as a means of doing so. The ACT and Green Parties started out this way and have now widened their political appeals beyond their original core policy platforms. Whether that is for better or worse is for others to decide, but the general thrust for both of them was to start narrow and then widen their platforms via the incorporation of other agenda items and constituencies. ACT has gone with the gun rights crowd, incels and racists; the Greens have gone with identity issues, animal rights and rainbows. Both have had success by doing so. NZ First has done something a bit different, using malleable nationalist populism as a vehicle for Winston Peter’s political aspirations. To his original xenophobia and self-loathing Maori appeal (to blue rinse Pakehas), he has now added anti-vaccination conspiracy weirdness and slavish “anti-woke” corporate bootlicking to the party repertoire. Like the broadening shifts undergone by ACT and the Greens, it has served his party well and allowed it and ACT to become the tail-wagging rump ends of the Coalition of Cruelty dog.

Te Pati Maori is a different kettle of fish. Gone are the days of Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia, who tried to play the centrist–some might say assimilationist–parliamentary game.They supported both Labour and National-led governments while confining themselves to practical pursuit of “reasonable” goals, that is, objectives that could be achieved by and within the system as given. Truth be told, the Maori Party record was mixed at best, but one thing that did come out of its emergence on the political scene is that outside of Maori-related issues (say, rural health and lower-income welfare support), it had zero to little impact on NZ government policy. The “big” policy decisions were made by Pakeha-dominated parties, including things like foreign and defence policy (I wrote about the Maori Party’s lack of consequence in NZ foreign policy other than on international indigenous affairs in this scholarly article).

Today’s Te Pati Maori is different. More than a just a party name change, it is overtly anti-Establishment and “progressive” in orientation (whatever “progressive” means to them, which may not be what other “progressives” think that they are). As the proposed Maori parliament suggests, TPM rejects the system as given. That is why it uses the word “strike” without regard to the Pakeha convention known as Employment Law. It’s spokespeople openly speak of “revolution” and government overthrow even if it is unclear what they actually mean when they use those terms. What is clear is that TPM is more about political theatre and symbolic politics than delivering tangible policy outcomes to and for their constituents. If anything, its marginalization within the political system has increased along with its militant rhetoric and actions. It might be too early to tell, but the carkoi protests could be seen in that light: as a lot of bluster and fanfare but no tangible impact or results to show for them. In fact, the response from most other parties was to either lambaste or shrug and ignore Te Pati Maori’s antics. Time will tell if the impact of the protests are more subtle and longer-term in nature but for the moment TPM stands alone, seemingly barking into the wind.

Again, that got me wondering as I stopped to check my white privilege. Am I being unkind to TPM? Or am I just another racist cracker bleating about the rise of a righteous and strong indigenous voice?

I found my answer in Gramsci. It occurs to me that, because TMP often refers to its actions and rationales in neo-Marxist terms with a smattering of Paulo Freire, Franz Fanon and Norm Chomsky thrown in, that Te Pati Maori sees itself waging a war of position within the “trenches” of the NZ Pakeha State. That is to say, it is working from within to disseminate its “counter-hegemonic” vision and policy prescriptions in civil and political society. Its focus is on grassroots organising, starting with Maori and reaching out from there into other “progressive” communities such as those grouped under the Green and Left Labour banners. It is not worried about converting the old Pakeha elites or engaging in parliamentary compromises because, as the recent census shows, Maori are growing in demographic numbers while Pakeha are declining. Given the structure of MMP, that growth can translate into increased seats in whatever parliament they chose to stand in, and given the youth appeal that they presently feel that they have, time is on their side. Along with forging alliances within the Labour and Green parties, unions and other civil society organisations, TPM is using a long-game strategy where what it is doing now sows the seeds for its successes down the road.

They may not be so loco after all.

So what to make of Te Pati Maori? Are they just nuts (as the term “loco” implies)? Are they communists, extremists and separatists as Winston First and Tugger Jones claim them to be? I would argue no to both suggestions. What TPM is doing is a time-honoured yet new form of politics in a social media age, where their theatrics are part of a grassroots appeal to marginalised and disaffected (not always the same) groups, especially proletarians of colour. By working “in the trenches” TPM can slowly promote an ideological re-orientation away from neoliberal vestiges (because neoliberalism is not just an economic doctrine but has become over the course of two generations a social construct that frames our way of life) and towards a type of post-modern indigenous-centric perspective infused with working class-based values and perspectives. This view is self-realised and awake rather than woke, defiant but not always disrespectful, confrontational but not conflictual, independent rather than (Pakeha) dependent, cooperative and collective rather than corporate in organization. It may take time for the TPM-led movement to congeal, but the stirrings are there and the people are ready for generational change to take effect. That is the plan and TPM sees itself as the instrument for converting that plan into praxis.

Or so they hope.

Thoughts about contemporary troubles.

This will be s short post. It stems from observations I made elsewhere about what might be characterised as some macro and micro aspects of contemporary collective violence events. Here goes.

The conflicts between Israel and Palestine and France and Kanaks in New Caledonia are two post-colonial legacies born of reneged settler promises and betrayed agreements leading to dispossession, occupation, poverty, alienation and generational hatreds. Israel and France must recognize this for peace to obtain. So far they have not. Israel has opted for its own version of the final solution, something that, if not a “full” genocide in the formal sense of the word, sure has the looks of ethnic cleansing. That includes the West Bank, where the IDF is demolishing 2,500 Palestinian homes safeguarded under a previous pact in order to clear land for more Israeli settlements. Given Israel’s defiance of international norms and conventions, it appears that it has gone full “rogue” in its quest to drive the Palestinians from their ancestral lands.

Israel’s support in the West derives from its history and strategic location and orientation. It is a major provider of intelligence to Western governments and is a nominally pro-Western bulwark in the Middle East. Its patrons and supporters do not want to alienate it for fear of losing access to its formidable intelligence collection capabilities in the Middle East, which until recently meant casting blind eye on the increasingly apartheid-like behaviour it exhibits towards Palestinians. Israel operates with impunity against Palestinians and other antagonists because, in a sense, it has a Western insurance policy or “get out of jail free card”because of its geostrategic role. This has turned it into lightening rod for Global South versus Global North confrontation.

With that as the bottom line, peace in the Levant does not look possible anytime soon.

In another North-versus-South friction, France has opted for a different path but with a similar, albeit less catastrophic result. With the 1998 Nomuea Accords it proposed an incremental, referendum-based 20 year process towards national independence, or at least considerable political autonomy for New Caledonians. Instead, the French encouraged mass immigration by French mainlanders, (including ex-police and military members) before each referendum (three in total, in 2018, 2020 and 2020). 40,000 French immigrants entered New Caledonia between 1999 and 2021. This skewed the electoral demographics in favour of the anti-independence blocs, something accentuated in the final referendum when representatives of the indigenous Kanak people, particularly the FLINK political movement, boycotted the plebiscite because of disagreements about post-Covid impact on Kanak turnout. The 2018 and 2020 referenda saw 56, then 53 percent of the vote go to the anti-independence bloc. in 2021, with the boycott and an overall turnout of less than 44 percent of eligible voters, the anti-independence vote climbed to 91 percent, opening questions about its legitimacy. This did not deter France from moving ahead with drafting a new political charter for this “sui generis” overseas territory.

With independence rejected, France continues to control the military, police, justice, immigration, higher education, Treasury and civil service under the Noumea Accord, with limited autonomy conferred to the New Caledonia government in diplomatic affairs, taxation, border control and local governance. It is now in the process of drafting a New Caledonian constitution that gives recent immigrants more voting rights in local and provincial elections (diluting Kanak voting influence) and consolidating French administrative control of core aspects of public policy. That is the cause of the current troubles.

Incidentally, for a very good independent source on South Pacific issues, see Prof. David Robie’s Asia-Pacific Report. Here is a sample article but there is lots more.

It appears that France never intended for New Caledonia to achieve independence because the sui generis territory is too strategically important for it to relinquish full control. It is the home to the French Pacific Army (5,000 troops) and military aviation and naval units now increasingly engaged in anti-PRC containment operations in the Southwest Pacific. With PRC inroads made in other Melanesian countries such as the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, France and its Western partners (also former imperial powers or servitor imperialist allies) fear a type of domino effect occurring should New Caledonia “fall” under Chinese influence. This concern is compounded by the fact that New Caledonia is the 4th largest producer of the world’s nickel, accounting for 20-30 percent of the world’s nickel reserves, 90 percent of New Caledonia’s non-tourist export revenues, 20 percent of the country’s GDP and 40 percent of its employment. Given the taxation revenues accrued to France as a result of the nickel sector and the fact that the sector does not (yet) have a dominant Chinese presence in it, France has strategic reasons to want to retain control of the territory in which it operates.

The bottom line of the French position vis a vis New Caledonia is geostrategic, and its approach to the issue of independence a cloak for its real intent. Here too, the prospect for a long-term peaceful resolution seem distant even if the amount of violence is much less than in Palestine.

On a micro level, video has surfaced of young female IDF soldiers captured by uniformed Hamas fighters after an assault on an IDF base in Southern Israel. The video was released by families of the soldiers in order to exert pressure on Netanyahu’s government to negotiate their release. To be clear, the soldiers and their male counterparts are prisoners of war and therefore protected by the Geneva Convention. They might be freed in a POW exchange but Hamas must abide by the Convention in any event. It is in Hamas’s self-interest to do so, both for negotiation purposes but also as a sign of its accepting international norms as part of its claim to legitimacy as an agent of the Palestinian people. It is then up to the global community as to how to respond, and in this regard the move by Ireland, Norway and Spain to recognise a Palestinian State is a step in the correct direction because it might encourage moderation in the Hamas leadership with an eye towards that end.

On the other hand, although the international criminal court (ICC) charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Israeli and Hamas leaders is salutary albeit largely symbolic given the geopolitical realities of the moment, it adds a complicating factor in any attempts to get Hamas to moderate, much as is the case with the hardliners in the Israeli government. But if used as a coercive negotiating tool (i.e., as a stick rather than a carrot) to encourage moderation on both sides in pursuit of a durable ceasefire in exchange for dropping of the charges (known in the human rights literature as an ethical dilemma), then perhaps it too can help construct the bounded rationality in which moderation, negotiation and compromise is seen as the best option by both sides.

In the meantime we can only hope that when it comes to the treatment of prisoners held by Hamas and the IDF, the rules outlined in the Convention are respected. I shall not hold my breath on that.

Media Link: AVFA on the implications of US elections.

In this week’s “A View from Afar” podcast Selwyn Manning and spoke about the upcoming US elections and what the possibility of another Trump presidency means for the US role in world affairs. We also spoke about the problems Joe Biden has in dominating the presidential race against a demonstrably unbalanced opponent, shifting voter demographics, how US allies and adversaries engage in strategic hedging depending on whether they view Trump as an asset or as a threat, and how the US increasingly looks like an unstable polity, to the point that US foreign interlocutors must factor in its growing unreliability as an international partner. And much more. The link is here.