Democrats are moving forward with legislation for President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package after both the House and Senate advanced a budget resolution Friday allowing them to bypass Republican approval. Over 50 House Democrats signed a letter Friday urging Biden to reject a push by conservative and centrist Democrats to lower the income eligibility from $75,000 to $50,000 — or double those amounts for couples — in order to receive a direct payment of $1,400. Meanwhile, Democrats are unveiling a bill to provide payments of $3,000 to $3,600 per child as part of the stimulus package. The amount of assistance would decrease for people with higher incomes.
The White House said the Pentagon will deploy over 1,000 active-duty troops to assist in the vaccination rollout, with the possibility of more troops eventually joining the effort. The Biden administration is also invoking the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of vaccines, tests and protective equipment.
On Sunday, as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 neared 463,000, millions of Americans gathered for Super Bowl watch parties, raising fears of a fresh surge in cases. More than 25,000 fans attended the Super Bowl in person in Tampa, Florida. After the hometown Buccaneers won, thousands of revelers flouted public health measures and packed the streets in celebration.
South Africa has halted plans to roll out the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after it showed minimal efficacy in preventing mild and moderate COVID-19 in people infected by the dominant coronavirus variant which has been overwhelming South Africa’s health system. Meanwhile, the British government moved to reassure the public that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine prevents death and severe illness and is effective against the variant that’s come to dominate cases in the U.K.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified nearly 700 U.S. infections from variants first reported in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil that may have evolved to spread more rapidly — or to reinfect people who have already had COVID-19.
The Wyoming Republican Party voted to censure Congressmember Liz Cheney, the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House, over her vote to impeach former President Trump for inciting the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It follows a similar move by Arizona Republicans, who passed resolutions in January censuring Governor Doug Ducey, former Senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, John McCain’s widow, for opposing or defying Trump. Meanwhile, Oregon Republicans passed a resolution in January condemning the 10 Republican congressmembers who voted to impeach Trump, calling the insurrection a “false flag” operation. Trump’s second impeachment trial begins tomorrow.
In New York, a judge ruled Friday that Republican Trump ally Claudia Tenney won her race against Democrat Anthony Brindisi in the last open House race. Tenney regained the New York seat which she lost in 2018, with a margin of just 109 votes. The Brindisi campaign signaled they may challenge the results. Democrats have 221 seats, while Republicans now have 212 seats in the House with Tenney’s win.
In Burma, police fired water cannons on peaceful protesters in Rangoon as mass demonstrations continued today for the third straight day, opposing the military coup that deposed de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi one week ago.
Protester: “We can’t just let the military win. Citizens have already shown their demands by voting. We are on the street to show that we are against military dictatorship.”
Authorities shut down the internet for part of the weekend as fears mount of a harsh military crackdown on protesters.
In India, farmworkers blockaded roads across the country as they continue a historic mass protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reforms that seek to deregulate agricultural markets. Tractors, trucks and tents blocked traffic for several hours Saturday as the U.N. urged authorities to respect the right to peaceful assembly.
In northern India, at least 14 people were confirmed dead, and over 150 are missing and feared dead, after part of a glacier broke off in the Himalayas, triggering a flood of water, rock and mud that collapsed a hydroelectric dam. Himalayan glaciers are rapidly melting due to global heating. Environmental groups have warned against building power projects in the area, which is vulnerable to landslides and flooding.
In Ecuador, leftist economist Andrés Arauz won the first round of the country’s presidential election Sunday, marking a possible return to a socialist government.
Andrés Arauz: “We have received an overwhelming vote from different parts of our country. As I said earlier, it is a victory representative of the entire national territory.”
The 36-year-old Arauz is a protégé of former President Rafael Correa and vowed to end the austerity and pro-open market policies of President Lenín Moreno. Votes are still being tallied to determine whether Arauz will run off against conservative banker Guillermo Lasso or Indigenous environmental activist Yaku Pérez.
In Chile, hundreds of protesters took to the streets Friday in response to the police killing of a street juggler in the southern city of Panguipulli. Demonstrators set 10 public offices on fire, including the municipal government building. The street performer, Francisco Martínez, had reportedly refused to comply with police orders to show his ID before they fatally shot him. Martínez was unarmed and was carrying only his juggling props. His loved ones paid tribute to Martínez and called for an end to police brutality at a gathering Saturday.
Adriana Seguel: “I don’t want any more madness. I don’t want any more murder. I don’t want young people to continue to be killed and to go without justice. Many young people have been murdered and raped, and there is no justice.”
Protests over the killing also broke out in the capital Santiago as nationwide demands for police reform continue.
In Haiti, at least 23 people were arrested after President Jovenel Moïse claimed they were plotting a coup against his government. Protests against Moïse’s U.S.-backed regime have been ongoing for months, as fears mount of a worsening political and economic crisis in the country if Moïse refuses to step down. Opponents of his government say his presidential term ended Sunday. But Moïse has already said he won’t step down, arguing his term doesn’t end until next year.
President Biden says the U.S. will not remove sanctions on Iran until it complies with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. The U.S., under Trump, unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 despite widespread international opposition. Iran has since resumed enriching uranium but maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says the U.S. must first return to the agreement and has lost its right to set any conditions on the deal’s parties.
Egyptian authorities have released Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, who spent over four years in prison without trial on charges of “publishing false information and belonging to a banned group.” After his arrest, Egypt banned Al Jazeera’s website and other news outlets critical of authoritarian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Reporters Without Borders describes Egypt as one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists, with widespread arbitrary detentions, mass trials and even life imprisonment for some reporters.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery and fraud before abruptly walking out of the courtroom where hearings for his corruption trial are taking place. This comes just weeks ahead of new elections in Israel — the fourth in two years — and amid ongoing protests against Netanyahu in Israel.
Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court ruled Friday it has jurisdiction over the Occupied Palestinian Territories, clearing the way for investigations into Israeli crimes in Gaza and the West Bank.
The Biden administration said Friday it will remove Yemen’s Houthi rebels from the government’s list of terror groups, reversing a last-minute move by the Trump administration which Yemenis and international aid groups warned would only worsen the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. The news came one day after President Biden pledged to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
In immigration news, the Biden administration has suspended so-called safe third country agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The widely condemned Trump-era policies allowed the government to expel asylum seekers from the U.S.-Mexico border to first seek asylum in one of the Central American nations.
The Intercept reports Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisiana threatened to expose a group of Cameroonian asylum seekers to COVID-19 if they did not submit to deportation. The asylum seekers were scheduled to be deported last week. But their flight was canceled at the last minute amid new allegations of ICE torturing people into signing deportation orders.
In related news, the Biden administration has suspended deportation flights to Haiti following pressure from immigrant justice advocates. Hundreds of asylum seekers, mostly from Haiti and African countries, were deported within Biden’s first days in office. This comes as the Biden administration is expected to issue new guidelines this week to stem the number of arrests and deportations at the hands of ICE.
In Louisiana, a Black police officer died by suicide after posting several videos decrying police brutality and racism. Forty-three-year-old Clyde Kerr III, who also served in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, took his own life outside the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office last Monday. In one of Kerr’s videos, he cited the police killings of Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. This is Clyde Kerr III.
Clyde Kerr III: “This is a demonic system. It is not anything I can continue to serve and want to be a part of. And this is a — this is not right. This is no form of justice.”
U.S. residents who need help should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 — that’s 1-800-273-TALK.
In labor news, some 6,000 Amazon workers in Alabama begin voting today on whether to unionize, in what could become the first successful union drive at a U.S. Amazon warehouse. Workers are demanding stronger COVID safety measures and relief from impossibly high productivity standards that leave many unable to take bathroom breaks. Organizers report employees were required to attend anti-union captive audience meetings and have been bombarded with text messages promoting Amazon’s anti-union website. Workers will be able to cast ballots by mail through the end of March, when votes will be counted.
Virginia is poised to abolish the death penalty after lawmakers voted last week to ban executions. Governor Ralph Northam has vowed to sign the bill, which would make Virginia the 23rd state — and the first Southern state — to do away with capital punishment. Separately, Virginia’s Legislature also voted Friday to legalize marijuana — again the first Southern state to do so — with retail sales expected to start in 2024.