Feb 21, 2023 - Podcasts

Biden in Ukraine, one year into the war

President Biden made a surprise visit to the capital Kyiv on Monday. It was his first time there since the war began, and he promised continued U.S. support for Ukraine in the war against Russia.

  • Plus, another earthquake shakes an already devastated Turkey and Syria.
  • And, high stakes for Big Tech at the Supreme Court.

Guests: Axios' Barak Ravid and Ashley Gold.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Emily Peck, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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EMILY: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, February 21st.

I’m Emily Peck in for Niala Boodhoo.

Today on the show: high stakes for Big Tech at the Supreme Court. Plus, another earthquake shakes an already devastated Turkey and Syria. But first, Biden in Ukraine… one year into the war. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

Biden in Ukraine… one year into the war

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: One year later, Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The American stands with you and the world stands with you.

EMILY: That was President Biden in a surprise visit to Ukraine's Capital, Kyiv, yesterday. His first, since the war began. Biden promised continued U.S. support for Ukraine in the war against Russia. This week mark's one year since Russia's offensive began with no clear signs of peace on the horizon. Axios’ Contributing Correspondent Barak Ravid is here with that and more. Hey, Barak.

BARAK: Hi Emily.

EMILY: So the White House called this trip historic and unprecedented because it was to an active war zone where the US does not have a military presence. So why did Biden take this risk?

Barak: You know, first, I'm not saying that there's no risk in such a trip, but you know, the U.S. did give the Russians an advanced notice of this trip to prevent any incidents and for, you know, deconfliction. When he was on his way and, well, he was on the ground, there were like five spy planes in the air, and you know, on the ground there was also quite a lot of security. But I think that Biden wanted to show that he's on the ground and a year after the war, we should just remember. A year ago in the first week of the war, I think most of the people, including people in Washington, were sure that its just a matter of time until Zelensky will be, either arrested in the best case scenario or, you know, shot dead. And then you know, Joe Biden a year after, is standing with Zelensky in the main, one of the main squares of Kyiv. And I think that sends a message not only to Putin and to Russia, but to the rest of the world. And for both of them domestically, this is a big, big, big win.

EMILY: We just talked about predictions that didn't come to be. Yet here I am and I'm gonna ask you one year on, what do we know about the possibility of an end to this war?

BARAK: You know, over the weekend, I spent many, many hours talking about exactly this issue when I, when I was at the Munich Security Conference, because this was the main question everyone were wondering, “okay, what's gonna happen with this war” and whether the west the U.S. and its Western partners, how much bandwidth they have and how much they can continue on, you know, giving militaries assistance and economic assistance to Ukraine. You know, we're talking about billions and billions of dollars in euros just in the last year. And all the leaders that came there, they all said the same thing. “We're not going anywhere. We're gonna keep at it with everything we got.” And no one's talking really seriously about any exit strategy or even meaningful peace talks because nobody thinks that this is in the cards.

EMILY: So, at the Conference this weekend Vice President Harris said Russia had committed crimes against humanity in the war. What was the significance of that?

BARAK: There was a lot of cynicism about the Vice President's, uh, speech before she gave it. But then there was a moment when she was talking about this four-year-old girl, Ukrainian girl, who was sexually assaulted by Russian soldiers. And I think that that was a moment that for a lot of people, it turned from, you know, cynicism to this is a more, more serious speech than we thought. And I think that, you know, her announcement that the U.S. government determines that crimes against humanity were committed by the Russians in Ukraine, is mostly symbolic, we have to say. I don't think that anybody has any illusions that Vladimir Putin will stand trial in, in the International Criminal Court. But I think that still, you know, it's, it'll be clear to everybody what we're talking about here. You know, it's not just two parties fighting each other. There are heinous crimes being committed almost every day.

EMILY: Barak Ravid is a contributing correspondent at Axios based in Tel Aviv. Thanks, Barak.

BARAK: Thanks Emily.

Another earthquake shakes an already devastated Turkey and Syria

EMILY: A 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit southern Turkey yesterday, in the same region struck two weeks ago by a quake that killed more than 46,000 people in Turkey and Syria. Over the weekend Turkish authorities had announced the end to most search and rescue efforts from that disaster.

In yesterday’s quake, at least three more people were killed and hundreds injured. And the Syrian Civil Defence – the first responders known as the White Helmets – said that this latest quake was causing "a state of panic and fear among the people.”

You can find more on this story in our show notes and at axios.com.

Coming up: Big Tech at the Supreme Court.


High stakes for Big Tech at the Supreme Court

EMILY: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Emily Peck in for Niala Boodhoo.

This week, the Supreme Court hears arguments in two cases involving Section 230. That's the federal law that says tech platforms cannot be held responsible for what users post. It could have major consequences for the future of big tech, but as Ashley Gold reports for Axios, a lot of experts are worried SCOTUS is not up to the task.

So Ashley, what are these two cases about what's behind them?

ASHLEY GOLD: So these cases are about two separate terrorist attacks that happened in 2015 and 2017. And in both cases, the families of these victims wanted to hold tech responsible for the role they played. In the Google case, the plaintiffs have argued that they have hosted terroristic content and they think Google should be held responsible for its algorithms and the way that it recommends more and more videos to a user after they've clicked on a certain video. So they're led to similar videos to stay on the platform. In the Twitter case, the plaintiffs are arguing that Twitter should be held liable for anti-terrorism claims because at certain times on the platform, they've allowed members of ISIS and other terrorist organizations to have accounts.

EMILY: How has the Supreme Court dealt with the tech industry in the past?

ASHLEY: Honestly, it's always a really big challenge for them. We're talking about laws that have not kept up with technology. We're talking about just principles of the Constitution that haven't kept up with technology, ideas about privacy that are pretty antiquated and have nothing to do with the devices that we carry around every day. So honestly it's been met with confusion, And a lot of these tech fights, they end up in lower court.

So the fact that this made it to the Supreme Court is pretty indicative of a big moment that the court wants to tackle this. It's sort of been talked about for years that the Supreme Court would eventually have to deal with Section 230, and some folks that followed this space really closely are surprised that these are the cases that made it. But it's definitely telling that it's reached, you know, this high of a level.

EMILY: So Ashley, what's at stake here for the tech industry?

ASHLEY: They could lose the protection that basically allows them to have any lawsuit dismissed, sort of at the earliest level. Usually when a tech company is sued for the content that someone else posted on the platform. They can say, well, we have Section 230, this doesn't apply. The lawsuit gets dismissed often before you even get to discovery or you get inside the courtroom. If Section 230 is weakened, or invalidated completely, which I don't think is possible here. You're gonna see a lot more lawsuits, first and foremost.

So it's not like it's this sudden thing where the Internet's gonna be ruined and everything's gonna look differently. You're just gonna have this trickle effect of a lot more litigation and companies will just change their behavior. They'll either moderate way more or they wanna clean their hands free of it. They might stop moderating entirely because they don't wanna be held responsible. You'll see a lot more pressure from tech companies appealing to Congress saying, hey, if you think the Supreme Court is gonna act here, let's modernize Section 230. Let's, let's focus on some tweaks that we can live with.

EMILY: Can you lay out where the justices might land on this issue? I really don't have a sense, you know, for how it plays out conservative versus liberal.

ASHLEY: There's been bipartisan interest in tweaking Section 230, but no one has wanted to get at it more than Justice Clarence Thomas, who thinks Section 230 is bad and really shouldn't exist. So this is kind of his shining moment to do that. The other justices have, you know, complained that tech companies have too much power in scope. Some liberal justices have been involved in past cases that defended the law. So it's going to be really interesting, I'm not totally sure where everyone's gonna land, but Thomas is the one to watch out for.

EMILY: Ashley Gold is a tech and policy reporter at Axios. Thanks, Ashley.

ASHLEY: Thank you.

EMILY: And that’s all for today. You can reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or reach out to me on twitter.

I’m Emily Peck - thanks for listening - stay safe and Niala Boodhoo is back with you here tomorrow morning.

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