What We’re Watching: US mail-in vote drama, Argentina protests, Facebook allows hate speech in India

What We’re Watching: US mail-in vote drama, Argentina protests, Facebook allows hate speech in India

US mail-in vote mess: US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy agreed Tuesday to delay until after the November election a series of long-planned cost-cutting measures that would hamper states' efforts to expand mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the drama doesn't end there. President Donald Trump — who often claims (without evidence) that voting by mail will lead to a fraudulent election result — last week suggested he's happy to starve the US Postal Service of $25 billion in additional funding that Democrats have proposed in order to ensure ballots are delivered in time to meet state deadlines for ballot counting. That, along with the fact that DeJoy is a Trump donor, makes many Democrats fear that the president is indeed trying to rig the election by suppressing mail-in voting (although traditionally Republicans vote more by mail than Democrats). Over a dozen US states plan to sue both Trump and DeJoy, who the plaintiffs claim are conspiring to slow down election mail to favor Trump's reelection chances. Stay tuned for next week, when DeJoy is scheduled to appear before Congress to discuss the controversy.


Facebook's India double standard: The social media giant looked the other way as a prominent politician in India used his accounts to spew hate speech and incite violence against the country's Muslim minority, according to a Wall Street Journal report [paywall]. Facebook employees in India say they flagged the account of T. Raja Singh — who is a member of the ruling BJP party — for violating company policies when he called for the execution of Muslims and the destruction of mosques. But Facebook's top policy executive in India refused to ban the account, the report says, because of concerns about hurting the company's business in one of its largest markets. This isn't the first time Facebook has been in the spotlight in India — the company struggled to deal with disinformation ahead of last year's election. But with communal violence rising in the world's most populous democracy, story highlights the difficult tradeoffs that social media platforms like Facebook face as they try to balance their obligation to quash hate speech against their obligation to maximize profits. Ball's in your court, Mark.

Argentinians demand end to lockdown: Thousands of Argentinians have taken to the streets of Buenos Aires and other major cities to rail against President Alberto Fernández's plan to extend stay-at-home rules to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Defying stringent social distancing rules, the protesters also complained about the government's controversial judicial reforms, which the opposition views as an attempt to manipulate the system by creating new courts and diluting the power of existing ones. (Some point out that the reforms are coming right as Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the former president and now vice president, faces several pending charges for corruption). While it's no surprise that much of the crowd was made up of upper- and middle-class Argentines who aren't natural Fernandez voters anyway, there is evidence that the popularity of the president — who was initially praised for his better-than-expected handling of the pandemic — is now taking a hit due to fatigue with the lockdown and two years of economic recession.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

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