Watching and Ignoring

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Trump and Cuba — Last year, the Trump administration banned US citizens from doing business with dozens of entities linked to Cuba’s military and security services. In the process, the president indulged one of his favorite pastimes: undoing stuff Obama did. But 20 years ago, a report in Newsweek alleged that representatives of a Trump company had gone to Cuba to explore business opportunities in violation of the Cuba embargo. As Cuba moves beyond the Castros, might Trump want to outdo Obama again, this time by ending the embargo, while creating new opportunities for the family business?


Killer robots — To extend my fascination with 1968 another week, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the release of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the greatest film ever made that you should never start watching after 9pm. In other news, governments met in Geneva this week to discuss whether and how to regulate killer robots. Officials call them “Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems,” but they’re talking about killer robots.

Buhari’s bid —Despite unanswered questions about the state of his health, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari announced Monday that he’ll run for re-election. The vote will be held next February. Buhari is 75, and he spent several months in London last year receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness. In 2015, Buhari’s inauguration marked the first peaceful transfer of power from one party to another in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, since the country returned to democracy in 1999. But his poor health has contributed to fears that the corruption- and terrorism-plagued country lacks effective leadership. Within hours of his announcement, Buhari boarded a plane for London, though officials won’t say whether he plans to receive medical treatment there.

WHAT WE’RE IGNORING

The Myanmar verdicts — On Wednesday, a military court in Myanmar sentenced seven Myanmar soldiers to 10 years in prison with hard labor for “contributing and participating” in the murder of 10 Rohingya Muslims. The evidence suggests there were a whole lot more than seven people involved in crimes against the Rohingya. And as of this writing, two Reuters journalists arrested for investigating this crime are still in jail.

A “Protect Mueller” Law — The Senate Judiciary Committee may vote on a bipartisan bill designed to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Trump. The measure would reportedly give any special counsel 10 days after being fired to challenge the dismissal in court. We’re skeptical this proposal will ever go to the full Senate for a vote.

Hódmezővásárhely — Five weeks ago, I highlighted the Hungarian town of Hódmezővásárhely, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party had just taken a 16-point shock defeat in an election for mayor. “Is this a harbinger of electoral trouble for Orban,” I wrote? Hardly. Orban and Fidesz won a landslide victory in national elections this week. Extensive research (a one-minute Google image search) assures us that Hódmezővásárhely, aka “The Peasant Paris,” is a lovely town, but we’ll now go back to ignoring it.

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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