President Biden has signed a major disaster declaration for parts of Texas after devastating winter storms last week cut power to millions, created water shortages and left an estimated 70 people dead around the United States.
In Conroe, Texas, Cristian Pavón Pineda, an 11-year-old boy, died in his family’s mobile home after it lost heating, like many other homes in the Houston area. His family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Texas’s power companies, which they say put profits over customers’ lives.
Another young victim, an 8-year-old boy from Honduras, drowned last week while attempting to cross the freezing Rio Grande from Mexico with his family. His family was reportedly returned to Mexico by U.S. border agents.
Meanwhile, outrage is mounting after Texas residents were hit with skyrocketing energy bills during a massive price surge triggered by the winter weather. One man was hit with an electric bill for over $16,000.
The White House said Friday the deadly winter storms delayed shipments of some 6 million coronavirus vaccines.
The U.S. is poised to pass half a million confirmed COVID-19 deaths, by far the highest death toll in the world. The numbers of new cases and daily deaths continue to decline, though experts warn against the relaxing of mitigation efforts — including mask wearing and physical distancing — as the threat of highly transmissible coronavirus variants remains high.
In news from Washington, D.C., the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill later this week. The package includes direct payments of $1,400 for people making up to $75,000 a year; an extension of unemployment benefits; assistance for small businesses; and money for schools, vaccine distribution and state and local governments. It also includes a $15-an-hour minimum wage increase, though Politico is reporting President Biden told a group of mayors and governors the minimum wage hike was unlikely to make it into the final bill.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is announcing an easing of coronavirus lockdown measures starting next month, as the U.K. reports one in three adults has received a vaccine, with early data showing a slowdown in community spread.
Iran has said early, small-scale trials for its coronavirus vaccine COVIran Barekat showed 90% effectiveness.
In Israel, reports emerged this weekend that officials promised to pay for a supply of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for Syria in order to secure the release of an Israeli woman detained in Syria.
In Bolivia, health workers have launched a national strike over the new health emergency law, which bans medical staff from calling strikes during the pandemic emergency period — which workers say is unconstitutional. This is a doctor from La Paz, Fernando Romero.
Dr. Fernando Romero: “It is inhuman to treat this sector with such harshness, with such violence. It is an aggression by the government against our sector with this health emergency law.”
In Burma, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets today as part of a general strike against the February 1 military coup, despite threats of more deadly violence from the military junta. The massive demonstrations are taking place after two protesters were killed Saturday, including a 16-year-old, as police fired on peaceful crowds in the city of Mandalay. On Friday, a 20-year-old became the first known fatality of the protests, after succumbing to her gunshot injuries from earlier this month. This is a protester speaking from Rangoon Sunday.
Soe Paing: “People died yesterday. We protested peacefully, but people had to die. The junta wants to stop us from coming out on the streets, so they strongly respond to us. We, the people, won’t accept their unfair oppression, and we will continue to fight.”
In Ecuador, conservative banker Guillermo Lasso will advance to the second round of the presidential election against leftist economist Andrés Arauz. Indigenous candidate Yaku Pérez, who came in less than half a percentage point behind Lasso, is disputing the result and has been organizing his supporters to protest and demand a recount. The next round is scheduled for April 11. Click here to see our recent interview with Andrés Arauz.
Britain’s top court ruled Friday a group of Uber drivers should be reclassified from “self-employed” to company employees — entitled to minimum wage, holiday pay and other benefits. For now, the ruling only affects 25 Uber workers who sued the company in 2016. But labor rights advocates hailed the court’s decision as setting a precedent for other “gig economy” workers.
The Biden administration has reaffirmed a “strategic defense partnership” between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s dismal human rights record. In a phone call Friday, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman the U.S. remains committed to protecting Saudi Arabia’s borders against attacks from Yemen’s Houthi rebels. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned arms manufacturer signed a deal with Lockheed Martin to form a joint venture. The deal follows Biden’s decision last month to freeze U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia over its devastating war on Yemen, which has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, is appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today — nearly five years after Senate Republicans refused to hold hearings for Garland to become a justice on the Supreme Court. Garland is expected to tell lawmakers he will oversee the prosecution of white supremacists responsible for the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. The first congressional hearings on the insurrection begin this week.
The confirmation of Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget is facing a challenge after West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin said last week he would not vote for her. At least one Republican would have to join Democrats in order to confirm Tanden. The progressive group RootsAction is also urging senators to reject Tanden due to her ties with corporate America and her support for welfare cuts.
Sister Dianna Ortiz, a Catholic nun and outspoken opponent of torture, has died of cancer at the age of 62. In 1989, Sister Dianna Ortiz was abducted by members of Guatemala’s U.S.-trained military from the compound where she worked. Twenty-four hours later, she escaped. But within that brief period, her body had been burned with cigarettes, and she’d been raped, beaten and forced to torture a woman who was already near death. In her memoir, “The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth,” Ortiz wrote about U.S. complicity in Guatemala’s repressive political system and the torture and murder of more than 150,000 Guatemalans. In 2002, she spoke with Democracy Now! in our firehouse studio.
Sister Dianna Ortiz: “I really call on the American people: Please, do whatever you can to prevent torture from destroying and shattering more lives. Our government talks about ending the war on terrorism. Torture is a form of terrorism. So, that’s my plea.”
The family of civil rights icon Malcolm X is demanding authorities reopen an investigation of his assassination, after new evidence was unveiled in a letter by a former police officer. Raymond Wood — who did not want the letter to be made public until after his death — wrote he was manipulated by New York police and the FBI, who covered up key details of a plot to kill Malcolm X. Wood says he was tasked with arresting members of Malcolm X’s security team. This is Raymond Wood’s cousin Reggie Wood, reading the letter at a press conference Saturday, a day before the anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965.
Reggie Wood: “It was my assignment to draw the two men into a felonious federal crime so that they could be arrested by the FBI and kept away from managing Malcolm X’s Audubon Ballroom door security on February 21st, 1965. On February 16th, 1965, the Statue of Liberty plot was carried out, and the two men were arrested, just days before the assassination of Malcolm.”