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What We’re Watching: Facebook refriends Australia, Biden on Afghan fence, Philippine labor for COVID jabs

What We’re Watching: Australia’s Facebook u-turn, Biden on Afghan fence, Philippine labor for COVID jabs

Facebook "refriends" Australia: Last week, Facebook abruptly blocked news from appearing on Australian users' feeds after Canberra proposed a law requiring Big Tech companies pay news outlets for sharing their content. Facebook came under fire globally for banning news sharing in Australia, including crucial public health announcements on COVID. Now, five days later, Facebook has reversed course to suddenly lift the news ban. "Facebook has re-friended Australia," Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said after speaking with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. So, what changed? The two sides say they have reached a compromise, though some details remain murky. The Australian government will make several amendments to the Big Tech bill — including one that will allow Facebook to circumvent the new code and avoid hefty fines — if the social media platform shows a "significant contribution" to Australia's local journalism scene. In theory, this would require Facebook to prove it has cut enough deals with Aussie media companies to pay them for content — but what constitutes "enough" remains unclear. Frydenberg said Australia has been a "proxy battle" for the rest of the globe on Big Tech regulation. Indeed, Europe and the US have been fastidiously taking notes.

Afghan peace talks resume: After a month-long break — during which America inaugurated a new president — US-brokered peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are finally scheduled to resume on Tuesday in Doha, Qatar. This comes as the Biden administration is reviewing the tenuous peace deal brokered by the Trump administration and the Taliban last year, which stipulates a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of all US combat forces in Afghanistan if the Taliban stop launching deadly attacks (spoiler: they have not). Washington has yet to commit to pulling out some 2,500 US troops that remain there, but US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested this week that more progress is needed before a decision can be reached. The Taliban, for their part, are adamant that the US withdraw without further delays. This puts Biden in a tough spot: he supports the previous Trump administration's move to end American involvement in Afghanistan after two decades of war, but worries that a hasty withdrawal will clear the way for the Taliban to push aside the US-backed government and again take over the country. As the May deadline fast approaches, Joe Biden can't stay on the fence for much longer.

Filipino nurses for European vaccines: In the latest twist to the Philippines' messy vaccine rollout, the government has now offered to send additional nurses to Germany and the UK... in exchange for an unspecified amount of jabs for Filipino overseas workers. Berlin and London have yet to respond to the bizarre proposal, which comes as Manila seeks to ship more of its labor force to shore up their remittances for the ailing domestic economy. Interestingly, the offer was made public a day after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shocked the country by blocking planned purchases of the Pfizer and Moderna jabs to make way for his preferred choice of China's Sinopharm vaccine, which (surprise!) is being pushed by Duterte's own special envoy to China, a former TV host who has applied to be a local distributor for Sinopharm. And it gets better: the same envoy also admitted being inoculated months ago with smuggled doses of the Chinese jab, along with members of Duterte's own security detail. We're watching to see which professional group — seafarers, perhaps? — the Philippines will pitch next as part of its new labor-for-vaccine program.

Pop quiz: what percentage of plastic currently gets recycled worldwide? Watch this video in Eni's Energy Shot series to find out and learn what needs to be done to prevent plastic from ending up in our oceans. Plastic is a precious resource that should be valued, not wasted.

This Monday, March 8, is International Women's Day, a holiday with roots in a protest led by the Russian feminist Alexandra Kollontai that helped topple the Tsar of Russia in 1917. More than a hundred years later, amid a global pandemic that has affected women with particular fury, there are dozens of women-led protests and social movements reshaping politics around the globe. Here we take a look at a few key ones to watch this year.

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shocked the world last year when he recovered from an attempted assassination plot by poisoning — an attempt that bore all the fingerprints of Russian government. Then he shocked the world again by returning to Russia and timing that return with the release of an hours-long documentary that catalogued the Putin regime's extensive history of corruption. Virtually no one, therefore, was shocked when he was immediately sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and expert on authoritarian regimes, believes there was a method to Navalny's madness. "His decision of '….I'm going to do something that harms me personally, but is going to be a lesson for Russians. I'm going teach a generation of Russians how to be brave.' I mean, not very many people would have the guts to do that."

Applebaum's conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television stations nationwide starting Friday, March 5. Check local listings.

It's not like things are going well in Mexico.

COVID has killed more people there than in any country except the United States and Brazil. Just 2 percent of Mexicans have gotten a first vaccine jab, compared with nearly 24 in the US. The Biden administration made clear this week that it won't send vaccines to its southern neighbor until many more Americans have been vaccinated. Mexico's government has cut deals for doses from China, Russia, and India.

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A body blow for Pakistan's Prime Minister: Imran Khan suffered an embarrassing defeat this week when members of the National Assembly, the country's lower house, voted to give the opposition bloc a majority in the Senate. (In Pakistan, lower house legislators and provincial assemblies elect senators in a secret ballot.) The big drama of it all is that Khan's own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party holds a lower house majority, which means that lawmakers supposedly loyal to his party voted in secret for opposition candidates. Khan's allies claim that PTI members were bribed to support the opposition, and the prime minister says he will ask for a lower house vote of confidence in his leadership. That vote will not be secret, but even if he survives, the political damage is done. Without a Senate majority, he has no chance of passing key reform plans, including constitutional amendments meant to centralize financial and administrative control in the federal government. Khan has, however, refused to resign.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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