The Democratic-controlled House is voting today to approve the final version of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package and will send it to the White House for the president to sign. Key provisions of the sweeping bill include $1,400 payments to tens of millions of adults, child tax credits worth as much as $3,600 per eligible child and extended federal supplemental unemployment benefits of $300 a week. Senator Bernie Sanders called the bill “the most significant legislation for working people in decades,” even though the final bill adds new limits on eligibility for stimulus checks and does not raise the federal minimum wage. The legislation comes a year after the pandemic forced the United States to largely shut down, devastating the economy and leaving millions without work.
This comes as the seven-day average for new daily coronavirus cases dipped below 58,000 for the first time since the fall. The U.S. is now administering an average of 2.15 million vaccine doses each day, but health experts warn it is still too soon for states to be lifting many restrictions. Texas is ending its mask mandate and fully reopening today.
Members of the World Trade Organization are meeting today to discuss a waiver on intellectual property rights related to COVID vaccines. The People’s Vaccine Alliance said Tuesday that while rich countries are vaccinating one person every second, the majority of poorer nations have yet to administer a single shot.
COVID deaths in Brazil continue to spike, with nearly 2,000 fatalities reported Tuesday, its highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic.
As Israel moves to further open up — having vaccinated some 80% of its adult population — hospitals and intensive care units in parts of the occupied West Bank are at capacity with COVID-19 patients. This is a resident of Ramallah.
Tareq Jeberin: “Of course, Israel has opened because it has the guarantees. It has the vaccine, and all of its people have been vaccinated. Secondly, it has a lot of resources and can compensate everyone who was negatively affected by the coronavirus. Compared, the situation in the Palestinian Authority, it is a bad situation. Firstly, we don’t have vaccines. Secondly, we don’t have the resources to compensate all those affected by the coronavirus.”
Israel started vaccinating Palestinians working in Israel and in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank this week — more than two months after launching its vaccination campaign for Israelis.
At least 39 people are dead after two boats capsized off the coast of Tunisia. All the victims were refugees from sub-Saharan African nations, according to Tunisian officials. Search and rescue efforts continue in the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean, which the U.N. estimates has claimed over 20,000 migrant lives since 2014.
In Turkey, five men have been sentenced to life in prison for their role in the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov, who was shot dead in 2016 while speaking at an art gallery in Ankara. The gunman was an off-duty Turkish police officer who yelled at the scene, “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” The gunman was shot dead, but Turkish authorities later charged 28 others, including the self-exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, in relation to the shooting.
In Burma, a second official from deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party has died while being detained, as mass protests continue against the February 1 military coup. Meanwhile, a video has gone viral showing a nun kneeling before police officers Monday in the Burmese city of Myitkyina, begging them to stop killing people. This is Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng.
Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng: “They said they will crack down on the protest. As I said, I don’t want to see any trouble here and can’t leave if police don’t leave. I begged them not to shoot the children.”
At least two people in the area were killed by police that day, according to local sources.
A new report by the World Health Organization finds approximately one-third of women and girls will experience some form of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. The report states that one in four women and girls around the world have been physically or sexually assaulted by their partners, with violence often starting as young as adolescence. The U.N. has called the rise in domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic a “shadow pandemic.”
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., Congress is preparing to reauthorize the landmark Violence Against Women Act, which expired in 2018.
Arkansas has passed a near-total ban on abortions. The ban makes an exception only for life-or-death medical emergencies and criminalizes providers who violate the law with a fine of up to $100,000 and up to 10 years in prison. The ban is not set to go into effect until the summer. Both the ACLU and Planned Parenthood are planning challenges. Anti-abortion factions are hoping legal battles will renew a challenge to the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
Digital rights and antitrust advocates have welcomed the recent naming of two antitrust leaders to top government positions: Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” and has argued for the breakup of Facebook, has been appointed to the National Economic Council, and Columbia law professor and antitrust scholar Lina Khan is expected to be nominated for a seat on the Federal Trade Commission. Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout tweeted, “antitrust is not just about big tech. It’s agriculture and hospitals. It’s about democratic/economic policy broadly. About how private power is dispersed or centralized. Khan & Wu are not 'tech critics,' they are visionary anti-monopolists across the board.”
A senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement official has said there are no plans to stop detaining migrant families despite condemnation of the practice from President Biden and his administration. Speaking to NBC News, the ICE official refuted a recent filing from the administration which said it would not hold families in the Karnes and Dilley family prisons in Texas for more than 72 hours, saying hundreds of families are currently still in both facilities.
In other immigration news, the Biden administration is dropping the Trump-era expansion of the “public charge” rule, which allowed officials to deny green cards and visa applications to individuals who might seek benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps or federal housing aid.
A sixth woman has accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual misconduct and unwanted physical contact. The unnamed aide says Cuomo touched her inappropriately last year while she was working at the Executive Mansion, Cuomo’s official residence. The incident has been reported to Attorney General Letitia James’s office. Cuomo — who is also under fire for covering up thousands of nursing home COVID deaths — is still rejecting calls to resign.
Rutgers University has announced it is divesting from fossil fuels following a campaign by students and faculty. Rutgers is the largest state university system in New Jersey. Under the plan, Rutgers will stop making new investments in fossil fuel companies and phase out existing fossil fuel investments. The university estimates about 5% of its $1.6 billion endowment consists of fossil fuel investments. We will have more on this story later in the program.
In Nevada, the entire staff of the state Democratic Party has quit after progressive candidates endorsed by the Las Vegas Democratic Socialists of America swept state leadership positions in elections Saturday. For decades, the Nevada Democratic Party has been run by allies of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Ahead of the vote, the establishment Democrats moved $450,000 from the party’s coffers to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, where it can be used to help reelect first-term Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, who was recruited by Reid to fill his old seat.
In media and labor news, BuzzFeed announced nearly 50 U.S. employees of the HuffPost newsroom are being laid off, just three weeks after it acquired HuffPost from Verizon Media. HuffPost’s Canadian operation has also been shut down. The HuffPost Union said in a statement it was “devastated and infuriated,” adding, “Our union will continue fighting to make HuffPost a more just and equitable workplace, including pushing for clear and accountable commitments to hiring and promoting more people of color and for transparency around pay equity.”
On Capitol Hill, the House passed a major labor bill aimed at boosting the power of unions Tuesday. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act would protect the right to strike, prevent employment discrimination based on immigration status, and override states’ “right to work” laws, which allow employees to opt out of paying union dues. This is Congressmember Jamaal Bowman speaking on the House floor.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman: “The PRO Act seeks to empower workers, workers who build this country with their blood, sweat and tears, who work overtime and extra time and weekends and do not take a vacation, so that our economy can thrive. The PRO Act gives workers the opportunity to unionize and organize without being oppressed within the plantation capitalist system.”
The bill, which was first passed by the House last year when it was introduced, faces an uncertain battle in the Senate, where it would need a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority to pass.