The Senate has voted to open debate on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that contains $550 billion in new spending. The bill is expected to include $110 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail projects, $65 billion for broadband internet, $55 billion for clean drinking water and $39 billion public transit. Many Republicans voted to advance the bill after Democrats agreed to remove a proposal to strengthen the ability of the Internal Revenue Service to catch tax cheats. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised the deal.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: “Mr. President, I want to commend the group of senators who worked with President Biden to reach an agreement on a bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Senate has just come together and, in a strong bipartisan fashion, voted to begin the legislative process here on the Senate floor.”
Democrats are also hoping to pass a separate $3.5 trillion bill through the reconciliation process, but that effort may be doomed after Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona came out against it on Wednesday. Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticized Sinema on Twitter, writing, “Good luck tanking your own party’s investment on child care, climate action, and infrastructure.”
The World Trade Organization has failed again to agree on a proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines. Key opponents to the proposal include the European Union, Japan and South Korea. This comes as a new study by the People’s Vaccine Alliance finds the cost of vaccinating the world would be five times cheaper if vaccine manufacturers weren’t making billions in profit. The alliance estimates Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are charging governments as much as $41 billion above the estimated cost of production.
President Biden is announcing today all civilian federal workers will be required to get vaccinated or face regular testing. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered all patient-facing healthcare workers at state-run hospitals to get vaccinated. All other New York state employees must get vaccinated or face testing. Google and Facebook have also announced new vaccine mandates for workers.
A major new study by the Urban Institute has found poverty in the United States has temporarily fallen by 45% thanks to government aid programs instituted during the pandemic. Child poverty has dropped by a record 61%. But the gains may be short-lived as the federal government halts stimulus checks, increased food stamps, expanded unemployment and other programs. A federal moratorium on evictions ends on Saturday. Housing activists fear millions of people who owe back rent may soon be at risk of losing their homes. Meanwhile, a lobbyist group for landlords has sued the U.S. government to recover lost rent due to the eviction moratorium.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has broken from other top Democrats by claiming only Congress — not President Biden — has the power to cancel student debt. She has also raised objections to proposals for broad-based debt cancellation.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Suppose your family was not — your child just decided they want to — at this time, not want to go to college, but you’re paying taxes to forgive somebody else’s obligations. You may not be happy about that.”
Meanwhile, a growing number of historically Black colleges and universities have been using federal pandemic relief funds to help erase student debt. Last week, South Carolina State University helped more than 2,500 students by erasing nearly $10 million in student debt.
In Peru, the socialist teacher and union leader Pedro Castillo was sworn in as president on Wednesday as the country marked 200 years of independence. In a speech to the nation, Castillo vowed to be a champion of the poor.
President Pedro Castillo: “A person who belongs to, as many Peruvians do, to sectors that have been oppressed for centuries, it is the first time a political party formed in the country’s interior wins the elections democratically and that a teacher, specifically a rural teacher, is elected constitutional president of the republic. It is difficult to express the high honor this means to me right now.”
Pedro Castillo also pledged to heal the wounds of colonialism and announced he would not live in the government palace in Lima.
In news from the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces have shot dead a 12-year-old Palestinian boy named Mohammed al-Alami while he sat in the back seat of his father’s car at an Israeli checkpoint north of Hebron. Mohammed is the 11th Palestinian child shot and killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank this year. That’s according to the Defense for Children International, which publicized Mohammed’s killing on Wednesday. Earlier today, Israeli forces raided the group’s main office, seizing files about Palestinian children in Israeli detention. Meanwhile, an Israeli soldier shot dead a Palestinian plumber on his way home from work in the West Bank town of Beita on Tuesday. Shadi Omar Lotfi Salim is at least the seventh Palestinian killed recently near Beita, which has been the scene of numerous protests against a proposed Israeli settlement.
Israel has launched what has been described as a maximum pressure campaign against Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever, after the iconic ice cream brand announced it would halt sales in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel has asked 35 U.S. governors to enforce state laws which make it a crime to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS.
Last week, the head of the New York State Common Retirement Fund wrote to Unilever saying it was examining whether Ben & Jerry’s had violated state policy on Israeli boycotts. Meanwhile, Brad Lander, the Democratic nominee for New York City comptroller, criticized the state’s position, saying, “Actions that erase the distinction between Israel and its settlements in occupied territory are effectively endorsing annexation and today’s unjust one-state status quo.”
A number of Jewish groups, including J Street, the New Israel Fund and Americans for Peace Now — all of whom oppose BDS — have defended Ben & Jerry’s decision and rejected accusations that the company’s decision was antisemitic.
Meanwhile, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s, who no longer have operational control of the company, have defended the company’s decision. Writing in The New York Times, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield describe themselves as proud Jews and supporters of the state of Israel. They write, “We believe this act can and should be seen as advancing the concepts of justice and human rights, core tenets of Judaism.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has acknowledged France owes a “debt” to French Polynesia, where the French carried out nearly 200 nuclear tests between 1966 to 1996, but Macron stopped short of apologizing during a visit to the South Pacific territory. A recent investigation by the French investigative website Disclose estimated that 100,000 French Polynesian residents may have been exposed to radiation from the tests.
High-ranking diplomats from the United States and Russia, the world’s two largest nuclear superpowers, met in Geneva Wednesday to discuss arms control and other issues. This comes a month after President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to begin a bilateral dialogue on nuclear arms. The two countries possess about 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons.
Two whistleblowers have warned Congress about the dire conditions at the Fort Bliss military base in El Paso, Texas, where the government has set up large tents to hold thousands of unaccompanied migrant children. The whistleblowers say children are held in filthy conditions without adequate mental and health care. In a statement, one of the whistleblowers, Arthur Pearlstein, said, “Gross mismanagement, waste, and abuse of authority by those at the top who insisted on utmost secrecy led to conditions for thousands of children at Fort Bliss that can only be described as constituting mistreatment.” Pearlstein is a director at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
In other news from Texas, two people died and 30 were hospitalized after a chemical leak at a plant outside of Houston on Tuesday. The company, LyondellBasell, says 100,000 pounds of acetic acid accidentally leaked from its plant in La Porte. The leak occurred less than a week after authorities in La Porte had to issue a shelter-in-place order following a chemical leak at a nearby Dow Chemical plant.
Voting rights activists have begun a Selma-to-Montgomery-style march in Texas to protest Republican efforts to pass sweeping voter suppression legislation. Marchers are calling for an end to the filibuster, passage of the For the People Act and the full restoration of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Reverend William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign is helping to lead the 27-mile march.
Rev. William Barber II: “What we see happening here is happening all over the country. And Texas is like the canary in the mine. And that’s why we’re in Texas. Just like Alabama was the canary in the mine in ’65, Texas is the canary in the mine in 2021. And we must nationalize Texas in order to change the whole country.”
A former Virginia police officer who participated in the January 6 insurrection is back in jail after investigators learned the man, Thomas Robertson, had placed an order for 37 guns after his arrest. Investigators had also found an M4 military-style rifle and a “partially assembled pipe bomb” at his home. In addition, prosecutors accused Robertson of calling for more violence after January 6.
The Washington Post reports the former doctor of the USA Gymnastics team, Larry Nassar, has spent more than $10,000 on himself in prison while paying just $100 a year to his victims. In 2018, Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting and abusing more than 160 young female athletes, including Olympic gold medal winner Simone Biles. Attorney John Manly, who represents many of the gymnasts abused by Nassar, criticized the Bureau of Prisons, saying, “They’re allowing the worst child predator in American history to spend thousands of dollars on himself and pay $8 a month to his victims. Something is completely broken and needs to be fixed.”
The longtime journalist Glen Ford has died at the age of 71. He was co-founder of Black Agenda Report and a vocal critic of President Obama.
Glen Ford: “But we at Black Agenda Report have for some time been saying that Obama is not the lesser of evils, but the more effective evil. … He’s, first of all, created a model for austerity, a veritable model, with his deficit reduction commission. He’s introduced preventive detention, a law for preventive detention. He’s expanded the theaters of war in drone wars, and he’s made an unremitting assault on international law.”
The late Glen Ford, speaking on Democracy Now! in 2012 in a debate with Michael Eric Dyson. Click here to watch the full debate.