The Senate passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package Saturday 50 to 49, with no Republicans voting in favor of the legislation. The bill includes $1,400 direct payments for individuals making under $75,000, or couples making twice that, but will be cut off for anyone making more than $80,000, or $160,000 for couples filing taxes jointly — a significantly lower cap than the House’s version. The Senate also extended federal unemployment benefits at $300 a week, down from the $400 approved by the House. The legislation expands the child tax credit and provides funding for vaccine distribution, testing, as well as local governments and schools. The bill passed by the Senate does not include a $15-an-hour minimum wage increase. Eight members of the Democratic Caucus joined all Republicans in voting down Senator Bernie Sanders’s amendment to include the minimum wage hike to the bill: West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Delaware’s Chris Coons and Tom Carper, New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, Montana’s Jon Tester, Maine’s Angus King and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema. The bill will go back before the House Tuesday before heading to Biden’s desk.
The United States recorded nearly 4,800 COVID-19 deaths over the weekend. Daily coronavirus infections are down from January’s record highs but have plateaued at levels comparable to last summer’s peak. In Arkansas, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson is planning to end a statewide mask mandate by the end of the month. California officials are preparing to reopen baseball stadiums and amusement parks, including Disneyland, on April 1. Here in New York, movie theaters have reopened for the first time in nearly a year — albeit with masks required and lower occupancy. On Sunday, White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci warned the U.S. risks a fourth surge in cases — fueled by the spread of troublesome coronavirus variants — if public health measures are rolled back too quickly.
In Minnesota, jury selection opens today in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was filmed killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes, in a video since seen around the world. Over the weekend, hundreds of protesters marched to demand justice for all victims of police brutality. Minneapolis will spend at least $1 million on barbed wire fencing and barricades during the trial, with thousands of police officers and National Guard troops mobilized in the streets. George Floyd’s family spoke at a news conference Saturday ahead of the trial. This is his brother, Philonise Floyd.
Philonise Floyd: “My brother, he was valuable. He was an asset to this family. But, for this world, he’s changing it. He’s a global asset now. He told me, time and time, 'My name will ring bells all around the world.' I never thought it would be just like this. … You all, everybody who’s watching this, understand that we will have change. You just have to be the change, and you have to force it and make the change.”
In Rochester, New York, newly released footage shows a police officer tackling and pepper-spraying an African American woman who was walking with her 3-year-old daughter, after the mother was accused of shoplifting. This follows another disturbing incident in January when Rochester police handcuffed and pepper-sprayed a 9-year-old Black girl. In a statement, the New York Civil Liberties Union responded, “No police department that routinely deploys tactics designed for physical and psychological torture on Black toddlers, children and mothers has any iota of legitimacy, accountability or trust.”
Last month, a grand jury decided not to file charges against the Rochester police officers involved in the March 2020 death of Daniel Prude, who died from asphyxiation after officers handcuffed him while he was naked, put a hood over his head and then pushed his face into the freezing cold ground for two minutes while kneeling on his back.
President Biden has signed an executive order promoting voter access to the polls, as Republican state legislators across the U.S. advance bills to restrict voting rights. His order came on the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when African Americans and their allies tried to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, demanding the right to vote. As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, they were violently attacked by the Alabama State Police, beaten with nightsticks and electric cattle prods, set upon by police dogs and tear-gassed. In 2015, Democracy Now! was in Selma for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, where we spoke with Amelia Boynton Robinson, a lifelong voting rights activist who was beaten unconscious that day in 1965. Her wheelchair was being pushed by Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. She was 103 years old when we spoke.
Amy Goodman: “What gave you the courage that day to face those state troopers?”
Amelia Boynton Robinson: “I was born that way. My mother was a civil rights activist back then, when I was born. And I worked with her at 11 years old. I worked with her when women’s suffrage became reality.”
In Senegal, at least five people, including a young boy, have been killed amid days of clashes between security forces and protesters. Protests erupted last Wednesday over the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who is expected to be a key challenger for President Macky Sall when elections take place in three years. Sonko has been accused of rape by a woman who worked at a massage parlor, though he has denied the charge. Protesters are also calling out the country’s economic troubles, the lack of jobs and the presidency of Sall.
In Equatorial Guinea, at least 20 people were killed and hundreds injured in a series of explosions near a military barracks. The blasts created a chaotic scene, sending massive plumes of smoke into the air and ripping roofs off buildings as wounded people were carried away to the hospital. The blasts were caused by the “negligent handling of dynamite,” according to President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ordered an investigation and appealed for international assistance to rebuild.
In Somalia, at least 20 people were killed and 30 injured after a suicide car bomb detonated outside a restaurant near the port in the capital Mogadishu Friday. The attack led to the cancellation of a protest over the indefinite postponement of elections amid an ongoing constitutional crisis.
In Burma, witnesses say two protesters were killed by live fire today during ongoing anti-coup protests. Burma’s main labor unions have launched a general strike as mass protests — and the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators — intensify five weeks after the February 1 military coup. An official from the party of overthrown civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi died over the weekend while in police custody. At least 50 people have been killed since the start of protests. Soldiers have begun camping out in Rangoon hospitals and university campuses in what a local group says is an effort to “terrorize” residents.
In Switzerland, Muslim advocates are condemning the passage of a far-right proposal that bans wearing face coverings in public places. Opponents are calling the new rule sexist and Islamophobic. The far-right campaign flooded the streets with posters that read “Stop radical Islam!” and “Stop extremism!” featuring a woman wearing a black niqab — a veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the lower half of the face. Rights groups have vowed to challenge the new rule.
Pope Francis concluded a historic three-day tour of Iraq, becoming the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to visit the country. His trip, which came amid ongoing violence and the pandemic, included stops in Mosul and other areas decimated by Islamic State fighters. Pope Francis capped off his visit Sunday with a Mass in Kurdistan’s capital Erbil.
Pope Francis: “I pray that the members of the various religious communities, together with all men and women of goodwill, may work together to forge bonds of fraternity and solidarity in the service of the common good and of peace. Salam, salam, salam.”
California congressmember and former House impeachment manager Eric Swalwell is suing former President Trump, Rudy Giuliani and others “for the injury and destruction” caused by the deadly January 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection. Swalwell says they called for the violence, then “watched approvingly as the building was overrun.”
Calls are mounting for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to step down as new accounts of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct surface. On Saturday, two more former aides accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, including asking invasive personal questions and making unwanted physical contact. One of New York state’s most powerful Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, joined the chorus of calls for Cuomo to resign Sunday.
In a bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry revealed shocking details about life as royals, including the racism suffered by Markle, which also extended to her unborn child when she was pregnant with their son Archie.
Meghan Markle: “Concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”
Oprah Winfrey: “What?”
Meghan Markle: “And” —
Oprah Winfrey: “Who — who is having that conversation with you?”
Meghan Markle, also known as the Duchess of Sussex, also shared she had suicidal thoughts and was unable to get the help she needed from within the royal institution. Markle told Oprah Winfrey, “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.”
Today marks the 50th anniversary of an event that exposed FBI abuses and mass surveillance under former Director J. Edgar Hoover. On March 8, 1971, a group of activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, where they stole — and later leaked — documents detailing the secret Counterintelligence Program to monitor, infiltrate and disrupt social and political movements, nicknamed COINTELPRO. In 2014, Democracy Now! spoke with three members of the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI — just after they made their identities public for the first time. Keith Forsyth, who served as designated lock-picker during the break-in, was hoping to speed the end of the Vietnam War.
Keith Forsyth: “The war was escalating and not deescalating. And I think what really pushed me over the edge was, shortly after the invasion shortly after the invasion of Cambodia, there were four students killed at Kent State and two more killed at Jackson State. And — I’m sorry, I’d think I’d have this down after all these years. And that really pushed me over the edge, that it was time to do more than just — than just protest and just march with a sign.”
Here in New York City, hundreds of workers shut down the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges Friday to demand justice for undocumented workers and others excluded from government pandemic relief funds. Many of the workers deliver essential services in the food industry, cleaning and construction, or have lost their jobs in the pandemic. The proposed “Invest in Our New York” legislation would raise taxes on wealthy New Yorkers to generate $50 billion for excluded workers, among other things. Meanwhile, immigrant women and domestic workers marched in New Jersey Sunday calling on Governor Phil Murphy and lawmakers to fund a just recovery for all.
Protester: “We are essential, but we are also excluded women. We are excluded from all types of relief. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the federal and state governments have failed us. This is unacceptable and cruel.”