10 things you need to know today: March 29, 2021

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Harold Maass
·7 min read
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1.

President Biden plans to present his next big spending push in two pieces, starting with the unveiling of a massive infrastructure proposal this week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Fox News Sunday. The plan includes spending on bridges and roads that could have bipartisan appeal, as well as green-energy programs that are part of Biden's efforts to fight climate change. In April, Biden will present the second part of his plan, which will center around child-care and health-care programs, Psaki said. Democrats argue that Biden's spending plans will boost growth and household incomes, while making the economy more productive. Republicans say the spending would be wasteful and require big tax increases. [The Wall Street Journal]

2.

The city of Minneapolis braced Monday for opening arguments in former police officer Derek Chauvin's murder trial for the death George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in custody last May. A bystander video showed Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest attempt. The case sparked widespread protests against police brutality and fueled the Black Lives Matter movement. "We all saw the video! … What do you all think? Think he's guilty?" D.J. Hooker, a Twin Cities activist, said at a Sunday protest. At a vigil, the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of National Action Network, said the trial was about showing "that a police officer must face the law just like anybody else." Chauvin's lawyers deny he caused Floyd's death, blaming drugs and Floyd's underlying health conditions. [The Guardian, Star Tribune]

3.

The Suez Canal Authority said Monday that the massive cargo carrier blocking the waterway had been 80 percent refloated, and that tugboats would try again at the next high tide to free the grounded vessel. "It is good news," said Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority. "We are not finished yet, but it has moved." At least 320 vessels are waiting to pass through from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean or vice versa, costing billions of dollars a day. Engineers have been working to clear the ship, digging the protruding bow out from the bank and vacuuming up sand from the bottom of the canal. They had been hopeful that high spring tides accompanying Sunday's full moon would aid the effort. [The Washington Post, BBC News]

4.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Myanmar, Tom Andrews, accused Myanmar's military of "mass murder," and urged other nations to isolate the military junta that seized power in a Feb. 1 coup. Security forces on Sunday fired on people at the funeral of a student killed in the military's crackdown on protesters against the coup. It was not immediately clear whether anybody in the crowd at the funeral was wounded or killed, but at least nine people died elsewhere on Sunday. At least 114 people died on Saturday in the bloodiest day of the military's crackdown. At least 423 people have been killed since the military seized power from the country's elected leaders, according to the latest tally by the nonprofit Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. [The Associated Press, CNN]

5.

Pope Francis said during Palm Sunday services that Satan is using the coronavirus pandemic to create conflict and divide people. "The Devil is taking advantage of the crisis to sow distrust, desperation and discord," the pope said at St. Peter's Basilica, although COVID-19 restrictions kept crowds away from Holy Week events for the second year. Italy imposed new lockdown restrictions last month as another wave of infections hit Europe. Francis said communities are facing increasing difficulties as the pandemic drags on and economic problems continue. "Last year we were shocked. This year we are more under pressure and the economic crisis has become heavy," Francis said. [The Hill]

6.

The Biden administration is working with private companies to develop a system of so-called vaccine passports that will make it possible for people to show that they have received a COVID-19 vaccination, The Washington Post reported Sunday, citing several government officials. The effort comes after President Biden promises to work toward a return to normal as more Americans are vaccinated and more businesses reopen. Businesses that depend on large crowds, including cruise lines and sports teams, have vowed to require proof of vaccination to protect customers. The White House declined to comment but referred to earlier comments by coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients. "Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people's privacy," Zients said at a March 12 briefing. [The Washington Post]

7.

At least four people were killed and another 130 rescued in flooding caused by near-record rainfall in Nashville, Tenn., the Nashville Office of Emergency Management said Sunday. The city declared a state of emergency, and rescue crews continued to look for stranded people after the area got seven inches of rain. "Even though it looks beautiful outside, we still want people to be cautious and stay aware, stay alert, stay alive," Nashville Fire Department Director William Swann said in a Sunday afternoon press conference. The downpour stopped by the middle of the day but the National Weather Service in Nashville warned people via Facebook to "avoid flooded roadways and refrain from swimming or walking through flood waters. Not only could you be unexpectedly swept away, but that water could contain chemicals and sewage." [NPR, CNN]

8.

A joint WHO-China study concludes that it is "extremely unlikely" that the coronavirus pandemic started with a leak from a Chinese lab, The Associated Press reported Monday, citing a draft copy of the report. Investigators determined that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal was the most likely origin of COVID-19. The report said further research was necessary to explore several theories, but not the possibility of a lab leak in Wuhan, China. Most of the conclusions were in line with what public health experts expected, but critics have cited delays in the release of the report as evidence that China was trying to influence the results. [The Associated Press]

9.

The U.S. men's soccer team failed to qualify for the Olympics again after losing to Honduras, 2-1, in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Sunday. "Obviously, we're devastated, absolutely devastated," said U.S. Under-23 Coach Jason Kreis, who was brought on to lead the group that last qualified for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "In our locker room, the guys are like it's a tragedy — a tragedy." In men's soccer, the Olympics are contested by the under-23 age level teams, while senior national teams focus on competitions like the World Cup and CONCACAF Nations League. The U.S. men's team has played in four Olympics but never won a medal. They failed to qualify in 2004, 2012, and 2016, and they were knocked out in the first round in Beijing in 2008. The U.S. women's team, reigning World Cup champions, qualified last year and are favorites to win a fifth gold medal in Japan this summer. [The New York Times]

10.

The men's top overall seed Gonzaga qualified for the Elite 8 in the NCAA basketball tournament, blasting past No. 5 seeded Creighton on Sunday, 83-65. Gonzaga is now one victory away from becoming the first undefeated team to make it into the Final Four since Kentucky in 2015. Another No. 1 seed, Michigan, also moved on with a win over Florida State, a No. 4 seed. In the women's tournament, South Carolina advanced to the Elite 8 with a win over Georgia Tech. Stanford, the top overall seed in the women's bracket, joined them by dispatching Missouri State. UConn, Baylor, Arizona, and Indiana, who knocked off top-seeded North Carolina State, also advanced. [NCAA, ESPN]

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