What We’re Watching: US vaccine patent U-turn, right wins big in Madrid, Biden weighs in on Russia-Ukraine

What We’re Watching: US vaccine patent U-turn, left gets pummeled in Madrid, Biden weighs in on Russia-Ukraine

US reverses course on vaccine patents: In a surprise move, the Biden administration will now support waiving international property rights for COVID vaccines at the World Trade Organization. Until now the US had firmly opposed waiving those patents, despite demands from developing countries led by India and South Africa to do so. Biden's about face comes just a week after he moved to free up 60 million of American-bought AstraZeneca jabs — still not approved by US regulators — for nations in need. It's not clear how fast an IP waiver would really help other countries, as the major impediments to ramping up vaccine manufacturing have more to do with logistics and supply chains than with patent protections alone. But if patent waivers do accelerate production over time, then that could accelerate a global return to normal — potentially winning the US a ton of goodwill.


The left gets pummeled in Madrid: The two leftwing parties in Spain's national government got massacred in regional elections in Madrid this week. Both the center-left PSOE and the far-left Podemos were steamrolled by the conservative Popular Party, which more than doubled its current seats to win 64, just four shy of a majority on its own in the Madrid legislature. The PP may now even turn to the upstart far-rightists of Vox in order to form a coalition government in Madrid. The defeat was a crushing blow for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE, who has often clashed with Madrid's pugnacious regional leader over the latter's disdain for economy-crippling lockdowns. Moreover, the surge in support for PP and Vox in Madrid — always an influential bellwether for national politics — will make him very reluctant to call early elections, which he was considering doing because the PP until recently was in big trouble following its dismal showing in the Catalan election just three months ago. Interesting times ahead for Spanish politics.

Biden, Ukraine, and Russia: I'd like to speak face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin sometime this summer, says US President Joe Biden. Not a bad idea, says the Kremlin. If it happens, the two leaders are sure to talk about Ukraine, and there have been suggestions this week that the US might join Germany and France in efforts to mediate the conflict and find a path to peace. US Secretary of State Tony Blinken is actually in Kyiv this week to assert "unwavering US support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's ongoing aggression." Russia has lately been dialing up the pressure on Ukraine – with a brief military buildup along the border between the two countries, military exercises in the disputed Crimea peninsula, and Russian threats to blockade key Ukrainian ports. These are reminders that the central challenge for any mediator is ending a conflict that Russia's government still finds useful for both domestic and international purposes.
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A year of Biden

Joe Biden’s first year as US president included two major historic accomplishments and a series of (often bitter) disappointments that has his party headed toward likely defeat in November’s midterm elections. Biden’s own political future is increasingly uncertain.

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Hard Numbers: Angry Spanish farmers, South Korea foots Iran’s UN bill, China tests Taiwanese air defense, Turkish journalist jailed

4.7 billion: Spanish farmers protested on Sunday in Madrid against the leftwing coalition government's agricultural and environmental policies, which they claim are depopulating rural areas. No way, says the government, which has set aside $4.7 billion to stop the rural exodus.

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Two children and a robot. We have to control AI before it controls us, warns former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Listen: Tech companies set the rules for the digital world through algorithms powered by artificial intelligence. But does Big Tech really understand AI? Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt tells Ian Bremmer that we need to control AI before it controls us.

What's troubling about AI, he says, is that it’s still very new, and AI is learning by doing. Schmidt, co-author of “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future,” worries that AI exacerbates problems like anxiety, driving a human addiction cycle that leads to depression.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

COVID has accelerated our embrace of the digital world. The thing is, we don't always know who’s running it.

Instead of governments, Ian Bremmer says, so far a handful of Big Tech companies are writing the rules of digital space — through computer algorithms powered by artificial intelligence.

The problem is that tech companies have set something in motion they don't fully understand, nor control.

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If omicron makes cases explode in China, the country's leaders will have to choose between weathering short-term or long-term pain.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, predicts that sticking to the zero-COVID approach at all costs will hurt the Chinese and global economy. In his view, learning to live with the virus is the way to go.

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The Graphic Truth: How do US presidents do in their first year?

Joe Biden's approval rating has taken a big hit during his first year as US president. Biden is now just slightly more popular than his predecessor Donald Trump at the same point in his presidency. While Biden has made a series of policy and political blunders that might be reflected in polling, this is also a sign of the times: US politics are now so polarized that presidential approval has a low ceiling. We compare the approval ratings of the last five US presidents in their first year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow, Russia January 19, 2022.

Iran and Russia heart each other. The presidents of Iran and Russia have little in common personally, but they share many geopolitical interests, including in Afghanistan and Syria. They also have a common resolve in countering "the West.” These issues are all on the agenda as Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi held their first in-person meeting in Moscow. Raisi is a hardline cleric who leads a theocracy with nuclear ambitions. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is a wily autocrat who enjoys provoking America and Europe, and has ambitions to return to the glory days of the territorially expansive Soviet Union — as seen with the Kremlin's recent provocations on the Ukrainian border. With the Iran nuclear talks on life support and Joe Biden already bracing for Russian troops crossing into Ukraine, Tehran and Moscow now have even more reasons to scheme and cooperate. Indeed, Moscow and Tehran have increasingly been cooperating on energy and security issues (Iran might be buying Russian military technology) as their respective relations with the West deteriorate.

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A year of Biden

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Can we control AI before it controls us?

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Should China learn to live with COVID?

GZERO World Clips

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