Democracy

Why Did Putin Do It?

It is common knowledge that the Russian government attempted to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The success of that interference is, and may always be, up for debate.

The same can be said for understanding the true nature of their motivations behind these actions.

On January 6, 2017, The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report, assessing Russian activities and intentions in the most recent U.S. presidential election.

The twenty-three page report, created in union by The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and The National Security Agency (NSA), makes several, high confidence claims about Russia’s – and the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin’s – motivations and intentions behind their actions.

These actions, as identified by the report, include cyber espionage, the leaking of data collected by Russian Intelligence, interference in state and local electoral boards, and Russian propaganda efforts.

Getting inside the head of Vladimir Putin is impossible. Photo Credit: Lazopoulos George/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The goals behind these actions were also laid out in the report.

“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” the report reads. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

But while understanding these actions is important and necessary, maybe even more important, is to understand the motivations behind them.

“The motivation, if we can guess it, was just to disrupt, and to create doubts, and weaken the integrity of the process,” William Wohlforth, a Dartmouth professor who studies, among other areas, international relations and Russian foreign policy said in an interview with RISE NEWS.

Robert Jervis, the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University, takes a similar view.

“It was a general attempt to discredit American democracy here and abroad,” Jervis said in an interview.

These attempts are not necessarily unusual – during the Cold War, the Soviet Union engaged in similar “active measures.”

In fact, the tactics used in 2016 are eerily similar to those used throughout much of the Cold War – primarily, the spreading of false information in an attempt to delegitimize or scandalize a perceived political opponent.

This horse really wanted Trump to win so Putin just went with it- probably. Ok not really. Photo Credit: Jedimentat44/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Mark Kramer recently wrote about this history on WBUR’s Cognoscenti website:

“[The KGB’s] Service A, formed in the 1950s, almost immediately set to work spreading disinformation, producing forgeries, transmitting propaganda, and disrupting U.S. and Western public diplomacy.”

Some of the misinformation spread by the KGB includes rumors that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was a “gay transvestite” and that Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon B. Johnson were colluding to continue black suppression.

During the Cold War- now seen as a more conventional battle between capitalism and communism, all behaviors stemmed from a fairly defined ideological starting point.

But in a post-Cold War era, these ideologies have become less defined, leaving the motivations behind these active measures more mysterious.

“Now, all bets are off, they don’t need to be particularly consistent with any political ideology,” Wohlforth said. “As long as it has the potential to weaken the cohesiveness of the block of states that they perceive to be against them.”

One of the more popular speculations is that Putin saw interference in the U.S. election as payback.

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that the United States was secretly active in orchestrating the Color Revolutions of the early 2000s – a set of revolutions and protests in former Soviet republics.

Putin believes that the U.S. interfered so as to create a new geopolitical order.

Putin may also view his active measures as payback for his belief that the U.S. – and Secretary Clinton – was behind the massive protests in Moscow over his election in December 2011.

In 2014, Putin likened protests in his own country to the Color Revolutions.

“In the modern world, extremism is being used as a geopolitical instrument and for remaking spheres of influence,” Putin said in 2014. “We see what tragic consequences the wave of so-called color revolutions led to.”

“I really love this boat. Also, I like interfering with American elections.” Photo Credit: Jedimentat44/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

By interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Putin attempted to ruin the chances of victory for his perceived nemesis, Secretary Clinton, while also attempting to avoid any chance that he may have to interact with her as President of the U.S.

Also a popular speculation about Russia’s motivation is that Putin was actively hoping to change the outcome of the election – although there is little to no evidence to support this claim.

“I suspect that by some time in the fall that was one of the objectives,” Jervis said. “But the evidence for that is much weaker.”

When polls began to show Clinton as weaker than conventionally believed, Moscow may have seen an opportunity to test the ability of their active measures.

What is interesting about this possible motivation is that there is little evidence to suggest that any time Soviet/Russian active measures favored a candidate, the candidate ended up favoring the Kremlin.

In 1968, the Soviet Union was worried that if Richard Nixon won the presidential election, Soviet-U.S. relations would suffer even more than if the Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey won.

Instead, Nixon acted somewhat favorably towards the Soviet state after being elected.

Even in painting form, Putin looks unhappy. Photo Credit: Nikolay Volnov/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

“The candidate that they often seek to undermine may not be so bad for Russian relations,” Wohlforth said.

The opposite can be said as well – it may have been easier for Secretary Clinton to act more favorably towards Russia than President Trump, who has received a mass of scrutiny for even just speaking favorably about Putin or Russia.

The true motivations behind Russia’s most recent active measures may never be known – needless to say, it is impossible to get inside the head of Putin.

Russia’s current posture towards the United States is not new – and the medium through which they acted is – and in truth, this behavior is not limited to Russia.

These actions are unlikely to stop anytime soon.

America is under siege.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: michael kooiman/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

What Are The Wukan Protests And Why Should Young People Care?

By Joy Pamnani

HONG KONG- The Wukan protests have hit global news headlines over the past few weeks, and yet many people, still don’t have a good idea of what it is all about.

The controversy seems to have begun in 2011, and it is certainly complicated.

But in this piece, we’re just boiling it down to the basics.

What sparked the protests?

Back in September 2011, the Wukan protests began as a result of land sales disputes in the Chinese coastal village.

Protestors argue that corrupt government officials got involved in land sales in the region without properly compensating villagers for their land that was sold.

Protests soon erupted, and clashes between the police and villagers left dozens wounded.

The movements grew in scale when a protest leader in police custody died in December 2011, as villagers forced the entire local government, Communist Party leadership and police out of the village.

Why is Wukan known as the “democracy village” experiment?

Wukan became known as China’s democracy village after villagers were granted the right to vote for officials following protests in 2011.

The term “democracy village” comes as many of China’s villages are state-controlled.

Read More: Was There Massive Voter Fraud In The Hong Kong LegCo Elections?

The country has started to introduce grassroots democracy for its villagers, and Wukan is a place people see the impacts of democracy in China, akin to an experiment.

What brought the issue into the spotlight again recently?

Protests have been on-and-off for the past few years, as villagers call for an eradication of corruption and better protection of land rights in China.

Authorities, on the other hand, have sent police and troops to crack down on the protests.

Clashes have continued.

WATCH: BBC News Report from Wukan in June, 2016

One of the elected village leaders, Lin Zuluan, was looked up to by many villagers in his fight against land seizures.

In June, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment facing bribery charges after he drafted a letter to the government demanding an end to corruption.

Lin released a taped confession, admitting to his crimes.

However, villagers believed his confession was forced and began marching along the streets, calling on authorities to release him.

If corruption is prevalent in China, why is this one of the only few uprisings we’ve seen so far?

Many mass movements have been a result of corruption, yet mainland media censorship stops information about protests that get out of hand.

While most people think the news was spread as a result of large-scale of demonstrations, experts believe it had to do with villagers’ intentions of making the news circulate around the world.

“The protestors in Wukan were very smart and invited international media outlets to broadcast the story,” Chen Xi, an Associate Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong told RISE NEWS in an interview.

Yuan Weishi, a retired historian from the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, told the New York Times that geographical factors also play a role in Wukan’s mass coverage.

Guangdong is China’s wealthiest and most liberal province, and its citizens tend to look at uncensored news reports from Hong Kong, where people enjoy a higher degree of political freedom.

“People in Guangdong watch Hong Kong TV, rarely China Central Television, and so have a better understanding of civil society and the rule of law,” Weishi said, in a telephone interview with the New York Times back in 2011.“Being exposed to the Hong Kong media in their daily lives gives Guangdong people a better understanding of how the media works and what they can do.”

Hong Kong people held a democracy movement called the Umbrella Revolution two years back, and they didn’t receive as much backlash from the government. Why so?

Before going into comparisons, it’s important to understand the political context involved when comparing Hong Kong and Wukan.

Deciding whether or not to stop demonstrations in Wukan and Hong Kong don’t share the same dimensions in decision-making.

“Hong Kong was a British colony, and got handed over to China in 1997. The city has a considerable amount of autonomy, and a crackdown is an important decision related to national sovereignty,” Chen Xi told RISE NEWS. “An incident like Wukan is only a local matter.”

What’s in store for China’s democracy scene in the years to come?

Well, different experts have different thoughts on the issue.

According to a New York Times interview with Johan Lagerkvist, a professor at Stockholm University, Lagerkvist believes the Wukan incident will discourage the spread of democracy in China.

“It is now unlikely that other villages in China would adopt democracy in the mold of Wukan.” he said in the article.

However, Professor Chen Xi begs to differ, as grassroots democracy has spread well over China, as officials begin to embrace the concept of self-governance.

“Wukan is not a good model for democracy in China,” Chen Xi said. “Many elected officials have taken good care of their villages and I believe grassroots democracy will spread.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

You can also like our RISE NEWS Hong Kong Facebook page to stay engaged with our local coverage. 

Cover Photo Credit: BBC News/ Youtube (Screengrab)

In Hong Kong, Young Demosistō Activists “Greet” Chinese Official In Tense Encounter

Chairman of the Standing Committee of the People’s National Congress, Zhang Dejiang spent three days in Hong Kong, between May 17th and May 19th.

Zhang is a member of the Chinese Politburo (the central governing organization of the CCP and therefore the country), and chief official in affairs related to both Macau and Hong Kong.

Zhang was met with some resistance from democracy advocates, including the youth led organization Demosistō.

Activists took actions to voice their displeasure with Zhang, such as displaying large banners with pro democratic messages.

Large scale protests were largely foiled by the impressive security measures taken, which ranged from utilizing divers and scores of police, to confiscating yellow towels and umbrellas; symbols of the 2014 Occupy Movement that gripped Hong Kong.

Read More: Here’s Why This Hong Kong College Student Scares The Shit Out Of The Chinese Government

The most dramatic of these protests was a premeditated “ambush” of Zhang’s convoy outside his hotel.

Several Demosistō members took part in the attempt, standing on the side of the highway or in the median. The police response was swift.


 #NathanLawKwunChung@demosisto was pressed down to ground and others were oppressed by police during protest#HongKong pic.twitter.com/ku2fkMRtWq

The activists were detained for a short while, reportedly receiving further abuse, as shown below.

Though all the activists were released today, the trouble seems to have not ended in relation to this incident.

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Demosistō’s Facebook page reports that five activists related to this display had their residences raided by police.

Zhang has been described as a rising star of the CCP by the Brookings Institute, having studied at Kim Il-Sung University, and been integral in Chinese policy towards that country in the early 1990s.

During Zhang’s visit, he made claims that the CCP was not attempting to subvert Hong Kong’s unique identity, or the principle of “one country, two systems”.

Despite these reassurances to the group of banquet invitees, security officials do not seem to think these arguments are compelling to a significant number of Hong Kongers, due to the significant police presence, and the gluing of bricks to the sidewalk to prevent their use as improvised weapons.

Are you in Hong Kong and have a tip about this story? Send us an email to editor@risenews.net

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: 羅冠聰 Nathan Law/ Facebook Video (Screengrab)

To Be Mandela Or Amin? New Video Game Lets You Try To Build Democracy In Africa

Democracy 3: Africa, is the latest standalone game in the indie game darling “Democracy” series, by Positech Studios.

The “Democracy” series places the player in the position of the head of government for a country, and gives the player the ability to tinker with policies, with the eventual goal of being reelected, and maybe solving a few social problems.

This is complicated by the existence of several mutually exclusive, or otherwise contradictory interest groups vying for your attention, i.e. Conservatives and Liberals, Capitalists and Socialists, etc.

“D3:A” takes several creative and technical leaps from the more “vanilla” Democracy 3.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 10.27.13 AM

An example of Democracy 3: Africa’s gameplay. Photo Credit: EnterElysium/ Youtube (Screengrab)

Positech Studios is in fact a one man show; the brainchild of developer Cliff Harris.

RISE NEWS contacted Harris via email to expound on some of these additions, and how they reflect the realities of policy making in the variously depicted African countries.

Central to what Harris wants players to take away, is the caveat that Africa is not homogeneous.

” Its not just how you see it portrayed in the media, especially the US media,” Harris said. “The continent faces some really tough problems that are far harder than the problems that Western Democracies face.”

Some of the problems in “D3:A” do crop up quite often, and central to that is the addition of a new game feature- Stability.

“Pretty much everything else becomes an irrelevance unless you have stable government.”

“I think the one thing that I have learned from the modeling of these countries is the importance of stability,” Harris said. “Pretty much everything else becomes an irrelevance unless you have stable government.

“Nobody invests in a country where they may lose their whole investment in a coup, or a currency devaluation. Nobody takes a holiday somewhere where there are riots or a civil uprising. It’s something that we absolutely take for granted in the West.”

Managing stability becomes more so pressing when capital deprived environments are unable to attract investors.

This led Positech to make Foreign Policy a more active component of the game.

WATCH: Trailer for Democracy 3: Africa

“We have tended to skirt around foreign policy in the original game… We felt that it would simply be impossible to do this with African states, because the impact of foreign policy, especially when it comes to foreign investment is so large,” Harris said. “There is an assumption that corruption is low, stability is good and there are no major human-rights abuses that may reflect poorly on investors, but none of those statements are true for certain African states, so it would simply have been inaccurate not to be able to reflect that in the game.”

This line of thinking lends itself to institution building, a commonly echoed theme in   addressing floundering democracies in the region.

Harris illustrates an inherent contradiction in efforts to build institutions:

“Essentially, it’s easier to fix a countries problems if you are an all-powerful dictator, because things just ‘get done’ without argument, so there is a temptation to keep hold of power to make the job of government easier. Obviously the end goal is to fix a countries problems AND have a functioning Democracy, but there is tension between these two goals when your country has real problems, and I think that gives some insight into how so many dictators originally feel they are acting ‘on behalf of the people’ and then cannot let go of power.”

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President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (right). Photo Credit: Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

This kind of paradox is perhaps most prevalent in the rule of el-Sisi in Egypt, who simultaneously is backed by the military, but has arguably improved the standing of women in Egypt and taken some measures to secularize education.

While “Democracy 3: Africa” is not a survey of African politics, it does offer a cursory look at the challenges that affect countries on the continent in an accessible interactive platform.

Perhaps most importantly, and optimistically, the game can be seen as a lesson for those that care about democratic institutions.

“Ultimately all political problems *can* be resolved given the will to do so,” Harris wrote in an email.

Democracy 3: Africa is available on Steam, GoG, and Positech’s own website.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Photo Credit: Harvey Barrison/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Here’s Why This Hong Kong College Student Scares The Shit Out Of The Chinese Government

On April 10th, the Hong Kong based political party Demosistō was formed by some of the youth leaders that led the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

The highlight of the party’s platform is the desire to hold a referendum on Hong Kong’s autonomy prior to 2047. It is a revolutionary desire in the eyes of the Chinese government and many pro Chinese political figures in Hong Kong.

When RISE NEWS  learned about the creation of Demosistō, we reached out to them in order to share their story.

After all, they are some of the most politically influential millennials that the world has seen.

We eventually secured an interview with Agnes Chow, the party’s Deputy Secretary General, and veteran of the student group Scholarism, which proved highly influential in the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

She is also a second year student at Hong Kong Baptist University, studying politics.

Chow first became involved in Hong Kong politics in 2012, after being exposed to Scholarism via Facebook.

The group was founded in opposition to the highly controversial Moral and National Education Curriculum, which was claimed by opponents to be pro Communist Party of China (CPC) brainwashing.

One of the more compelling pieces of evidence to this claim is one of the key seven priorities of the curriculum being “National Identity“, which is to say an identity indistinct from that of mainland China.

Scholarism, and its allied groups were ultimately successful in defeating the Moral and National Education Curriculum, but also in demonstrating that a grassroots movement of millennials in Hong Kong can make political change.

However, Scholarism’s next big outing, as well as other liberal organizations, proved even larger than the opposition to the Moral and National Education Curriculum.

The Umbrella Movement was a mass protest spanning several months in Hong Kong. Thousands of protesters gathered in opposition to constitutional reform imposed by the National People’s Congress (NPCSC). These reforms give a nominating committee, with purportedly strong ties to the CPC, the authority to pre-select a handful of candidates prior to a territory wide election.

The “suffrage” presented by Beijing outraged a tremendous number of Hong Kongers, and in particular, large swaths of young people, many of whom were in secondary school.

In particular the student group Scholarism was the centerpiece of what little international media attention was put on the Umbrella Movement.  It was largely out of the ranks of Scholarism that Demosistō emerged.

However, size of opposition did not prove decisive in the Umbrella Movement, as the ultimate objective of the protesters was thwarted.

When asked if the three month event was a failure, Chow told RISE in a Skype interview;

“in terms of political goals, i think it was a failure, but it also had lots of influence on people’s minds.”

Indeed, there is something to be said of the conditions being created in which a handful of university students can exercise a considerable degree of influence in politics.

To those familiar with the Occupy Movement in the United States, the idea of using the political capital gained through the Umbrella Movement to work within a broken system may seem strange or counter intuitive.

“It is difficult to fight some things through the Parliament, or through the Legislative Council, and while I can understand these kinds of feelings, because in our legislative council now half of our council is not democratically elected, because of the Functional Constituency,” Chow said. “I still believe we can enter the Legislative Council, we can do something… because our aim is to not just work within the Council.

“Through the election we want to promote our ideas to more people. What we have to do is connect the Legislative Council and the Civil Society outside.”

The intentions of Demosistō and other liberal actors within Hong Kong has not gone unnoticed.

Earlier this year, Chow brought attention to the abduction of a man selling books that criticized the Communist party, or were otherwise banned in Mainland China.

Chow has also had the shadow of the CPC come upon her as well.

Limits on withdrawals were placed on her bank account which was intended to be used to accept donations on behalf of Demosistō, as they have thus far been unable to register as a company.

This has resulted in Demosistō relying on crowdfunding via Paypal.

Chow was more concerned with Demosistō’s hurdles in registering as a company. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t like this very much.

” In Hong Kong we do not have the legislation for political parties,” Chow said. “They all have to register as a company instead.”

These financial problems likely do not improve Demosistō’s opinion of the Hong Kong establishment.

” Of course the government and the companies will not support us, because we are opposing the government, and the business sectors are also always standing on the government’s side,” Chow said. “They have to cooperate with the Chinese side.”

Demosistō then will be relying on their proven ability to utilize grassroots tactics to gain wins in the Legislative Council, especially students, but not exclusively.

“We have involved a professor teaching in one of the arts schools… We believe that the new political party, because it’s not a student’ s organization anymore, and it’s important for us to involve more people from the older generations.”

12983229_676004542540180_5576163436463692452_o

A Demosistō social media banner showing members of the party. Photo Credit: Demosistō/ Facebook.

She also notes that for future plans, the party will:

“Try to recruit them [volunteers], through our website, and different forums, and public locations we will try to send our message to Hong Kong People, and hope that they can join us later on.”

Spreading the message of a referendum on Hong Kong’s self determination by 2047, the year the Sino-British Joint Declaration expires, is the clear center piece of Demosistō’s platform, but is far from the only position taken.

Scholarism was deemed ill fitting for elevation to Demosistō’s status as a political party in part due to a lack of political cohesion, according to Chow.

Demosistō heavily invests in individualist language to describe their proposed policies, broken down into the ” Four Selves” :Self Initiating, Self Standing, Self Autonomy, and finally Self Determination. These are intended as steps over a ten year period.

” Self Determination does not mean dissolution of the Social Problems in Hong Kong”

” Even after self determination we still have lots of: education problems, housing problems, property hegemony, etc,” Chow said. “We still have a lot of problems to solve before the self determination of Hong Kong. Resources such as food and water heavily rely on the supply of the mainland China. No matter if it was an independent country or a city under a country, it has to have self sufficiency.”

Not only does Demosistō insist on self sufficiency for the city of Hong Kong, but also an advancement of Hong Kong’s unique identity.

” It is also important to build up the identity of Hong Kong People, so we propose a Hong Kong History subject be implemented,” Chow said in the interview. “Hong Kong people do not really know much about Hong Kong history; in our education system there are only World History and Chinese History.”

This idea of an independent Hong Kong identity seems pivotal in the dispute between Hong Kong and Beijing.  As previously noted, establishing a national identity was one of the objectives of the Moral and National Education Curriculum.

Beijing specifically does not want there to be any distinction between China and Hong Kong, and may be trying to begin laying the groundwork for 2047, and end this “salutary neglect” like relationship.

Chow concluded our chat by telling us about her vision of Hong Kong’s identity, saying;

“For me, the identity of Hong Kong people, or the characteristic of Hong Kong, is diversity. We have lots of different kinds of people, who believe in different core values, who came from different countries, who are different races, etc. It’s very important to emphasize the diversity, and not to exclude the others who disagree with us.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Agnes Chow Ting/ Facebook

At Least Eight Women Elected To Public Office In Historic Saudi Arabian Election

Saudi Arabian women have taken another large leap forward in their path to greater equality with at least eight female candidates winning seats in Saturday’s local council elections, according to regional media. The vote marks the first time both men and women could cast their ballot in Saudi Arabia. Counting is still taking place so the… Read More

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