Global Garbage Time

For several months now, residents of half a dozen towns near Moscow have been protesting against the local government, and the reason is total garbage. Literally. Toxic fumes from local landfills have sent dozens to the hospital and hundreds into the streets. In a country where nearly 90 percent of people say they’d never protest anything, that’s a big deal. But it reflects a broader global trend: global politics is littered with trash these days.


Countries as far afield as Colombia, India, Ghana, the Kurdish Regional Government, and Italy have all recently seen protest or political intrigue about whether the garbage is being picked up and/or where it’s being dropped off. In Lebanon, a trash crisis back in 2015 even gave rise to a national opposition movement called “You Stink” which is looking to shape upcoming legislative elections.

Trash is, in a sense, inherently political. Removing a society’s waste is a basic public service and uncollected trash is an immediate visual — and olfactory — signal that the social contract either doesn’t exist or has broken down. When piles of uncollected trash stifled Naples in 2008 , the Neapolitan novelist Elena Ferrante wrote that it had exposed “the precariousness of every sort of order.”

Setting and preserving that order is only going to get harder in the coming years as poor and developing countries continue to grow. Greater prosperity, urbanization, and consumption all mean more trash as well. The UN says low income cities in Africa and Asia will produce twice as much waste in the next two decades as they do now. Latin America’s trash output is set to rise 60% over the same period.

This puts governments — particularly local ones in emerging economies — in a tough spot: increased prosperity simultaneously generates more waste while also fomenting broader expectations about governments’ ability to perform basic services like waste collection. Globally speaking, it’s garbage time for governments.

Last week, in Fulton, WI, together with election officials from the state of Wisconsin and the election technology company VotingWorks, Microsoft piloted ElectionGuard in an actual election for the first time.

As voters in Fulton cast ballots in a primary election for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates, the official count was tallied using paper ballots as usual. However, ElectionGuard also provided an encrypted digital tally of the vote that enabled voters to confirm their votes have been counted and not altered. The pilot is one step in a deliberate and careful process to get ElectionGuard right before it's used more broadly across the country.

Read more about the process at Microsoft On The Issues.

The risk of a major technology blow-up between the US and Europe is growing. A few weeks ago, we wrote about how the European Union wanted to boost its "technological sovereignty" by tightening its oversight of Big Tech and promoting its own alternatives to big US and Chinese firms in areas like cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her top digital officials unveiled their first concrete proposals for regulating AI, and pledged to invest billions of euros to turn Europe into a data superpower.

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Communal violence in Delhi: Over the past few days, India's capital city has seen its deadliest communal violence in decades. This week's surge in mob violence began as a standoff between protesters against a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against India's Muslims and the law's Hindu nationalist defenders. Clashes between Hindu and Muslim mobs in majority-Muslim neighborhoods in northeast Delhi have killed at least 11 people, both Muslim and Hindu, since Sunday. We're watching to see how Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government responds – Delhi's police force reports to federal, rather than local, officials.

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Ian Bremmer's perspective on what's happening in geopolitics:

What are the takeaways from President Trump's visit to India?

No trade deal, in part because Modi is less popular and he's less willing to focus on economic liberalization. It's about nationalism right now. Hard to get that done. But the India US defense relationship continues to get more robust. In part, those are concerns about China and Russia.

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27,000: The Emir of Qatar has decreed a $27,000 fine and up to five years in prison for anyone who publishes, posts, or repost content that aims to "harm the national interest" or "stir up public opinion." No word on whether the Doha-based Al-Jazeera network, long a ferocious and incisive critic of other Arab governments, will be held to the same standard.

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