Aug 25, 2021 - Podcasts

Biden facing international pressure on Afghanistan

President Biden yesterday confirmed the US is on track to get US troops and allies out of Afghanistan by August 31st. This is despite calls from other world leaders - like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French president Emmanuel Macron - to extend the timeline.

  • Plus, the first airline CEO to mandate employee COVID vaccines...hopes others will follow suit.
  • And, fallout from the popular site OnlyFans ban of explicit content.

Guests: Axios' Dave Lawler, Joann Muller, and Dan Primack.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Margaret Talev, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to us as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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MARGARET TALEV: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Wednesday, August 25th. I’m Margaret Talev, filling in for Niala Boodhoo. Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: fallout from the popular site OnlyFans' ban of explicit content. Plus, the first airline CEO to mandate employee COVID vaccines hopes others will follow suit. But first, Biden facing international pressure on Afghanistan is today’s One Big Thing.

President Biden yesterday confirmed that the U.S. is on track to get U.S. troops and allies out of Afghanistan by August 31st. This is despite calls from other world leaders like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron to extend the timeline. Dave Lawler is Axios’ world editor and he joins us now with the latest. Good morning.

DAVE LAWLER: Hi, Margaret.

MARGARET: President Biden is getting pressure from the Taliban to leave, but he's also getting pressure from foreign allies to stay past August 31st. Why is he deciding to try to stick with this August 31st deadline.

DAVE: Yeah. And it's not just foreign allies. There's a lot of people on Capitol Hill who are very uncomfortable with this timeline as well. First of all, he thinks he can get all the Americans out by the 31st. Second of all, he thinks that there are security risks that will only grow worse if we stay beyond this deadline, which we should remember, is Biden's deadline. This is, you know, he set August 31st, but now it's been set in stone for a while and the Taliban say it's a red line for them. And so we do have contingency plans if we have to stay. But the plan right now is to be out by the 31st.

MARGARET: Do you think it's possible that President Biden thinks that by saying he's going to stick with August 31st, he bakes in more goodwill from the Taliban? How much is that public messaging part of his calculation for safe passage and expediting in the, in the final days?

DAVE: I think you're exactly right. That if you were thinking about staying a little bit beyond August 31st, you probably wouldn't announce that until pretty late in the game. Because right now, everything they're doing is basically reliant on cooperation from the Taliban. They need the Taliban to let Americans through checkpoints and they need the Taliban to let Afghans who are on the list, U.S. lists, to get through checkpoints and so you're right, that there may be a certain amount of diplomacy involved in this.

MARGARET: So now we're less than a week away from this day, from August 31st. What needs to happen between now and then?

DAVE: And the deadline's actually tighter than that because the Pentagon has to complete their own evacuation of U.S. personnel and supplies. The troops have to get out too. And that, you know, we're hearing, could take about three days.They've gotten 4,000 Americans out. They've gotten tens of thousands of Afghans out. We don't really have a good estimate of how many people are left in either of those buckets. And so cooperation with the Taliban is going to be important, uh, and how the U.S. military decides to play their own pullout from the airport is also going to be a big factor here.

MARGARET: Axios’ world editor, Dave Lawler. Thanks so much for joining us, Dave.

DAVE: Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET: One other political story we’re watching: After days of profane, exasperated negotiations, House Democrats yesterday finally passed a budget resolution that paves the way for as much of $3.5 trillion in infrastructure spending on health care, child care and climate change. To get there Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised moderates by Sept. 27 to take up the $1.2 trillion bipartisan deal that’s already cleared the Senate. There's still weeks if not months before any of this gets to President Biden’s desk. But in this moment, when Biden is dealing with the ongoing covid surges, vaccine resistance and a truly chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, his economic plan and keeping infrastructure alive may be his only clear wins and will likely become Democrats’ platform in the 2022 midterms.

MARGARET: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with why one major airline is defending its employee vaccine mandate.


MARGARET: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Margaret Talev, in for Niala Boodhoo. Earlier this month, United Airlines became the first, and remains the only, major airline to require COVID vaccination for all of its workers. Axios’ Joann Muller spoke this week with United CEO, Scott Kirby, who believes that now we could see other major air companies start to follow suit. Hi, Joann.

JOANN MULLER: Hi Margaret.

MARGARET: Joann, tell us what convinced Kirby to go ahead and move on this ahead of the rest of his industry?

JOANN: He's been seeing a lot of his employees die. He said they've already had dozens die and each one, he sends a letter to the family and he's just tired of writing letters to the families. He says, 100% of the people who died were unvaccinated. When we talked this week, he told me that just the day before an employee had died, and he was only 53, and he said he spent eight days in the emergency room in Houston waiting for a spot in the ICU that never came. And he just said it's tragic and it's so unnecessary. And that's the reason that United Airlines is mandating the vaccine for everyone.

MARGARET: I know that CEOs are also trying to figure out, just like politicians are trying to figure out, how do you address vaccine hesitancy in the workers, so that you're not forcing someone to do something they don't want to do. How are they trying to tackle that problem?

JOANN: Well, they are hosting some information sessions. You know, they're getting medical experts and doctors, both virtually and in the airports where these employees are, and trying to give them as much information as they can. And you know, I asked him if he was worried about losing employees to other companies because they just didn't want to get vaccinated. And he said, yeah, I am. I remain worried about that. But for me, it was much simpler. It was about saving people's lives.

MARGARET: Does the United CEO believe that other airlines will follow, particularly now that the FDA has given its approval of Pfizer?

JOANN: He does believe that now you know, and a lot of other institutions are, mandating vaccines. Eventually, it gets to the point where, the outlier is the one who doesn't do it.

MARGARET: Joann Muller is Axios’ transportation correspondent. Thanks Joann.

JOANN: Thanks Margaret.

MARGARET: OnlyFans, a content subscription platform known for adult photos and videos, announced last week It will be banning sexually explicit content. Axios’ Dan Primack reported the company was projected to bring in over $2 billion in net revenue in 2022. And sex workers who created content on the site are describing the decision as earth-shattering. Axios’ business editor Dan Primack joins us now. Hey Dan.

DAN PRIMACK: Hi, Margaret.

MARGARET: Dan you've said, this would be like, if IHOP said that we're only going to serve lunch and dinner, it's kind of like if Instagram said you can't post vacation pictures anymore. Why is OnlyFans banning sexually explicit content?

DAN: The explanation that OnlyFans gives is that this was a request from its banking and payment processing partners. Although it hasn't gotten any more granular than that. It appears, perhaps, in part, that this is based on some changes that MasterCard decided to make, uh, related to Pornhub from last year. Although, it does seem that OnlyFans could get around this, if it just added some new tech to its backend, basically to make sure that people who are under age, or non consensual information wasn’t up there.

MARGARET: Do we know how much of OnlyFans’ business, the sexually explicit part is?

DAN: We don't know for sure. What I can tell you though, from talking to the sex workers on there, they say it is the explicit stuff that sells.

MARGARET: Is it true that some people actually got their mortgages based on the promise that they were going to be uploading and monetizing videos?

DAN: Absolutely. Well, think about it this way. OnlyFans in an investor pitch deck that Axios got, said that over 16,000 models on its site were making $50,000 or more a year via OnlyFans. And if we assume that a majority of that is explicit content, that's a lot of money. These are people who have actual livelihoods that are based on this platform.

MARGARET: There is an argument that you have more control over your own livelihood or your own safety or content if you are in charge of distributing and monetizing the video, right?

DAN: You do. I talked to about this with a woman in Alana Evans, who's a veteran porn star. She's got a OnlyFans page. What she said to me was the value of OnlyFans to adult performers was that it was everything in one place. She said, you know, she used to have to deal with her own website, her own webmasters, her own, uh, payment processors, et cetera. And she said, she felt that often her and her peers were getting exploited by these people. She said OnlyFans was kind of an all in one platform. It was just easier. But one of the concerns among people who kind of advocate for sex workers here, is that some of them, if they are de-platformed from OnlyFans will go to in-person sex work. If you look at it-OnlyFans’ numbers, one of the reasons for why it exploded last year was the pandemic. So many people were at home. And for sex workers who had been doing In-person full service services, a lot of them ended up on OnlyFans, and there are concerns that some of them may view that as the only thing they can do to make money.

MARGARET: Axios’ business editor and author of the Pro Rata newsletter, Dan Primack. Thanks for being with us, Dan.

DAN: Thanks for having me.

MARGARET: That’s all for today! I’m Margaret Talev - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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