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Biden Kicks Off “Summit for Democracy” With Netanyahu and Modi

What a joke

Pankaj Nangia/The India Today Group/Getty Images
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference in New Delhi on January 15

On Wednesday, President Biden kicked off his “Summit for Democracy” with a panel of explicitly undemocratic world leaders. Panel members included India’s Narendra Modi, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni.

While the summit overall hosted leaders from all over the world, this specific panel was focused on “Democracy Delivering Economic Growth and Shared Prosperity.” All three far-right leaders pretended to care about democracy, while ignoring their own records.

During the summit, Indian Prime Minister Modi sermonized on how India was “the mother” of democracy. “Democracy is not just a structure; it is also a spirit. It is based on the belief that the needs and aspirations of every human being are equally important,” Modi said. “That is why, in India, our guiding philosophy is ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas,’ meaning ‘striving together for inclusive growth.’”

Modi, of course, has been at the helm of an extremist rise in Hindu nationalism in India. As chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat in 2001, Modi oversaw a massive riot rumored to have been spurred by government and police officials who sought to target Muslims. The riot left more than 1,000 people dead—some 75 percent of whom were Muslim.

His authoritarian tendencies have only increased since he rose to power as prime minister in 2014. In recent months, Modi has blocked the airing of a BBC documentary questioning his leadership during the Gujarat riots; conspired with Twitter CEO and billionaire Elon Musk to conduct a mass censorship campaign against dissidents, including imposing a mass internet shutdown across the state of Punjab; and overseen the arrest of an opposition leader for “defamation.” This doesn’t even include basic features of Modi’s reign, like being the first Indian leader to not take questions at press conferences, or the ongoing Hindutva nationalist campaign that targets Muslims and other religious minorities.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, on Wednesday proudly assured that “Israel was, is, and always will remain a proud democracy at the heart of the Middle East.” He went on to dismiss the massive protests against his judicial overhaul plan, which would help cement power for his own government and potentially help him avoid corruption investigations, as “a very intensive public debate.”

Israel, of course, is not a thriving democracy, as it operates on a system of apartheid that targets millions of Palestinians. It would be laborious to summarize all the cruelties of this occupation here, or Netanyahu’s role in furthering them, but so far this year, Israeli forces have killed at least 90 Palestinians, 17 of whom were children (that’s an average of at least one Palestinian a day).

Italian Prime Minister Meloni spoke glowingly of how “only a democratic system” can guarantee “growth, justice, equality, [and] legality.” But she opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage and has said she wants to make it unconstitutional for gay people to adopt a child. She has opposed a 1993 law that punished people involved in racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination or the incitement of hate crimes. She holds rampant anti-immigrant and nationalist views and has stoked antisemitic and racist conspiracies related to George Soros and the “great replacement white nationalist theory.

Meloni has also attended the Conservative Political Action Conference—a bastion of the most radical figures in American society—twice, once in 2019 and again 2022. She peddled more of her fearmongering around immigrants and “globalism” while there.

Almost too spot-on, Meloni has called Modi the “most loved leader in the world,” and she tried to assuage fears of her extremism during her 2022 campaign by likening herself to Netanyahu’s Likud Party in Israel and America’s Republican Party.

Other world leaders who spoke on Wednesday’s panel carry their own baggage. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s administration, in Modi-like fashion, has carried out a surveillance campaign against members of the press and politicians. Kenyan President William Ruto was previously charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity after he allegedly orchestrated postelection violence that killed more than 1,300 people.

That these leaders were deemed appropriate to speak on democracy is an indictment not just of the White House but of international political conventions. Such traditions allow anti-democratic states and leaders (including America) to posture as beacons of democracy anyhow, and they desensitize the rest of us from clear-as-day authoritarianism.

Kentucky’s GOP Legislature Overrides Veto, Pushes Through “Worst Anti-Trans Bill in the Country”

The veto override comes after Kentucky’s Democratic governor warned the bill would lead to an increase in youth suicide.

Jon Cherry/Getty Images
Sarah Newton stands with a trans pride flag during a rally to protest S.B. 150 on March 29 in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature on Wednesday overrode a gubernatorial veto of a massive bill targeting transgender rights, one of the most extreme anti-trans measures in the country.

Governor Andy Beshear vetoed Senate Bill 150 last week, warning it would cause an “increase in suicide among Kentucky’s youth” if it became law. But the measure had already passed both the House and Senate, mainly along party lines. A veto override requires only a simple majority vote from both chambers.

On Wednesday, the General Assembly re-passed the bill by a vote of 76–23 in the House and 28–9 in the Senate, meaning that the measure will now become law.

S.B. 150 will ban all gender-affirming care for trans minors in Kentucky and would force doctors to detransition any minors in their care. It would prohibit discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools at any level, prevent trans students from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, and would allow teachers to refuse to use a student’s preferred pronouns.

“Good people will die because of what we’ve done here today,” Representative Daniel Grossberg said during the voting.

To the LGBTQ children listening: You are not broken, your government is.”

Hundreds of people had gathered outside the state Capitol building earlier in the day to protest the measure, which the ACLU of Kentucky has described as “the worst anti-trans bill in the country.” Courier Journal reporter Olivia Krauth said the crowd may be the largest she has seen during the current legislative session.

Security had forcibly removed protesters from the gallery during voting. They stayed in the Capitol Rotunda, chanting, “Trans rights!”

Republicans had rushed the measure through the House and Senate in a record daylong sprint. A different omnibus anti-trans measure had looked dead in the water last Wednesday night. But the next morning, Republicans resurrected and expanded the text, forcing it through despite long and often emotional arguments against it from Democrats and trans rights activists.

Kentucky is one of many states, particularly Republican-led ones, trying to reduce LGBTQ rights. Just last week, Florida advanced an anti-trans bill so broad and extreme it could also prevent people from getting treated for breast cancer. In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp signed a law banning gender-affirming care for minors and criminalizing medical workers who provide that care.

Nashville Rep. Andy Ogles Still Hasn’t Taken Down This Horrific Instagram Post After School Shooting

The Republican representative has refused to discuss gun control following the mass shooting in his district.

Mark Humphrey/AP/Shutterstock

Tennessee Representative Andy Ogles is learning the hard way that the internet has a long memory, as people called him out for an old Instagram post showing his infant son holding a gun.

The Republican lawmaker, known for fabricating parts of his résumé, has come under increased scrutiny since a shooter opened fire Monday on a private Christian elementary school in Nashville, killing at least three children and three adults and wounding several others. Ogles, who represents the district that the Covenant School is located in, has done little more than offer bland statements.

On Wednesday, Kat Abughazaleh, a video producer at Media Matters, found one of Ogles’s old Instagram posts.

The photo shows Ogles’s youngest child holding an automatic rifle. At the time of writing, the post was still up.

People flocked to comments on the 2016 post, calling out Ogles’s hypocrisy in light of Monday’s shooting.

How do you sleep at night knowing innocent children die and are forever traumatized on your watch and you do nothing,” one commenter said.

Another said, “This is not what responsible gun ownership looks like. This is performative nonsense.”

A third summed it up best: “I don’t care if it’s a toy—you are joking about training a toddler to shoot a gun. It isn’t funny. Parents are burying their kids. Guns are the leading killer of children in this country. Why are you a proud contributor to this madness, @andrew.ogles?”

Ogles already saw widespread backlash Monday when internet users dug up an old family Christmas card of his. In the picture, Ogles, his wife, and their two oldest children hold automatic rifles while posing in front of the Christmas tree. The youngest apparently is only allowed to hold guns on Instagram and so has to hold the “Merry Christmas” sign. Ogles deleted the photo after the criticism, but maintained he does not regret taking it.

GOP Senator Worth Up to $75 Million Attacks Bernie Sanders for Holding a Billionaire Accountable

Oklahoma Republican Markwayne Mullin attacked Bernie for holding a hearing with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on union-busting.

Markwayne Mullin
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Oklahoma Senator Markwayne Mullin

Oklahoma Republican Markwayne Mullin seems to think Bernie Sanders is a hypocrite for attacking Starbucks because he wrote a bestselling book that made some money.

Mullin, who earlier this month told the Teamsters union president to “shut your mouth,” made the claims during a Senate hearing Wednesday with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Arguing that Sanders himself has some money after his book was published (Sanders is still nowhere close to being a billionaire), Mullin seemed to believe the Vermont senator should not be going after Schultz or Starbucks for its union-busting practices.

“Mr. Chairman, you yourself have been very successful, rightfully so, glad you have been. You’ve been in office for 28 years and you and your wife have immersed [sic] a wealth of over $8 million,” Mullin began, incorrectly inflating Sanders’ reported net worth of $3 million.

“If you can be a millionaire, why can’t Mr. Schultz and other CEOs be millionaires and be honest too? If that’s the case, then why is it that Mr. Schultz, who actually creates jobs—and the bestseller of a book isn’t creating any jobs—why is it that he’s corrupt, and you’re not? Why is it that all CEOs are corrupt because they’re wealthy, and yet our chairman—who is wealthy, and I’m glad you are—you’re not?”

Beyond the factual errors, Mullin seemed to be entirely disinterested in the substance of the hearing at all. Why indeed can’t rich people like Schultz be deemed “honest?” Well, if they are carrying out a union-busting campaign to prevent workers from being able to advocate for adequate wages and benefits—and lying about doing so—then, indeed, they could readily be deemed corrupt.

Sanders, for his part, did not play too much into the charade. After briefly countering Mullin’s false claims about his net worth or that he thinks “all CEOs” are corrupt, he focused on the purpose of why they were there at all.

“What this hearing is about is whether workers have the constitutional right to form a union,” Sanders said. “The evidence is overwhelming, not from me, but from the National Labor Relations Board … that time after time after time—despite what Mr. Schultz is saying—Starbucks has broken the law and has prevented workers from joining unions to collectively bargain for decent wages and benefits.”

Mullin himself warrants his own level of scrutiny as to whether he is an “honest” millionaire. The Oklahoma Republican was already swimming in assets worth up to $29.9 million in 2020. The following year, his net worth exploded to be anywhere between $31.6 million and a gargantuan $75.6 million. Mullin received some $1.4 million in federal PPP loans and was among the members of Congress who helped tank the TRUTH Act, which would have required public disclosure of companies receiving those relief funds.

Mullin’s implication that Sanders is somehow hypocritical to hold the rich accountable since he is wealthy is a familiar talking point from the right. Its salience is weak given that, if anything, the talking point actually proves Sanders’s commitment to pursue policies even when they may impact him (like higher taxes on the wealthy).

Moreover, if Sanders is somehow in the wrong for holding fellow rich people accountable (though Schultz is worth 1,000 times as much as Sanders), what does that make rich people like Mullin who defend union-busting CEOs?

Howard Schultz Says It’s “Unfair” to Call Him a Billionaire

The former Starbucks CEO complained people were being mean to him during a Senate hearing about union-busting.

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz smiles
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Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz (net worth of $3.7 billion) is not happy with you calling him a billionaire.

During a Wednesday hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the Starbucks CEO objected to being described as a billionaire because he did not grow up that way, an argument he seems to think automatically absolves him of any culpability for his current behavior.

“This moniker of billionaire, let’s just get at that, OK?” Schultz started. “I grew up in federally subsidized housing. My parents never owned a home. I came from nothing. I thought my entire life was based on the achievement of the American dream.

“Yes, I have billions of dollars—I earned it. No one gave it to me. And I’ve shared it constantly with the people of Starbucks,” Schultz said (though apparently he has withheld it from workers attempting to unionize). “And so anyone who keeps labeling this billionaire thing,” Schultz trailed off, as Senator Bernie Sanders urged the hearing to keep moving.

“It’s your moniker, constantly,” Schultz interjected. “It’s unfair.”

That one of the richest people in American society feels a level of pressure to not be seen by the public as just another billionaire embodies some shift in the cultural zeitgeist surrounding wealth inequality in this country. And that Schultz attempted to argue that he shared his riches with his workers shows a growing (correct) baseline assumption by many in this country that the rich hoard their unearned wealth from those who helped them attain it in the first place.

It was a small moment in the hearing, but perhaps one that represents a broader cultural shift that could become much more potent, if it is fully activated.

Senate Votes to Repeal Iraq War Authorizations, 20 Years After U.S. Invasion

The vote repeals two AUMFs that authorized the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion.

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On Wednesday, the Senate voted 66–30 to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force, or AUMFs, against Iraq.

The bill will eliminate the authorizations that authorized America’s Gulf War under President George H.W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush.

It has taken a long process for the United States to eliminate the authorizations. In June 2021, the House voted 268–161 to roll back the 2002 AUMF, but the Senate did not advance it any further. Now this Senate’s repeal effort goes to the House, where an array of legislators on both sides of the aisle have expressed their support.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said he’s “into” the repeal effort—so long as the 2001 AUMF enacted after 9/11 remains untouched. Such an opinion is likely held by many members in both parties. While endorsing the effort to repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations, the Biden administration noted that the U.S. “conducts no ongoing military activities that rely primarily” on the pair of authorizations anyhow. “Repeal of these authorizations would have no impact on current U.S. military operations,” the administration said in a statement.

And indeed, the 2001 AUMF after September 11 is untouched by this legislation. The authorization has been used to justify U.S. action in Afghanistan, Cuba, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, among others.

Earlier this month, the House rejected a resolution that would have required a withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria. Only 56 Democrats and 47 Republicans voted in favor of the resolution.

So it is good to see even Republicans joining the righteous movement to repeal these military authorizations; ideally the margins are even larger in the House vote. But the Senate vote was not even close to unanimous. That, coupled with such an outward impulse exhibited by leaders in both parties to assure that the bill will not impact America’s existing military presence throughout the world, does not inspire confidence about how much reflection the country is actually undergoing. While the repeal signifies some level of chapter-turning, other pages remain wide open and full of space to spill more bloody ink on.

Howard Schultz Accidentally Admits Starbucks Violated Labor Law on Unions

The former Starbucks CEO appeared before a Senate hearing, during which he confirmed the labor violation.

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz testifies
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Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz admitted Starbucks violated labor law during a Wednesday hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senator Mitt Romney, attempting to defend the former Starbucks CEO, asked Shultz whether nonunion store employees made less than union store employees.

“The starting wage has been the same,” Schultz began. “The only difference is the benefits that we created in May, in my understanding under the law, is that we were not allowed to provide those benefits to people who were organizing to join a union.”

“So, in fact, the nonunion stores are actually a little better total package than the union stores,” Romney responded, unwittingly confirming the labor violation.

It is unclear what law Schultz was referring to that prevented Starbucks from increasing benefits for all workers. Meanwhile, last year, the National Labor Relations Board deemed it a labor law violation to give pay raises and benefits to nonunion stores but deny them from organizing stores.

Romney (co-founder of Bain Capital, one of the largest private investment firms in the nation, and whose net worth is reportedly some $300 million) also complained about the hearing’s premise generally.

“I recognize at the outset there’s some irony to a non–coffee drinking Mormon conservative defending a Democrat candidate for president and perhaps one of the most liberal companies in America,” Romney said, even though Schultz never ran for president, and no matter how many “equality” pictures a company tweets, they are not “liberal” if they union-bust. “That being said, I also think it’s somewhat rich that you’re being grilled by people who have never had the opportunity to create a single job. And yet they believe that they know better how to do so.”

Apparently, according to Romney, you’re not allowed to challenge America’s elites unless you’re a boss.

“Largest Crowd I’ve Seen”: Hundreds Protest Kentucky’s Extreme Anti-Trans Bill Ahead of Veto Override

The Kentucky legislature is expected to push through one of the most extreme anti-trans bills in the country.

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Hundreds of people, primarily teenagers, gathered outside the Kentucky state Capitol Wednesday to protest against one of the most extreme anti-transgender rights bills in the country, which the Senate is expected to vote into law.

Governor Andy Beshear vetoed the bill last week, warning that it will cause an “increase in suicide among Kentucky’s youth” if it becomes law. But the measure passed the state Senate by a veto-proof majority, and the chamber is expected to override Beshear’s veto on Wednesday or Thursday.

If it becomes law, Senate Bill 150 would ban all gender-affirming care for trans minors in Kentucky and would force doctors to detransition any minors in their care. It would prohibit discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools at any level, prevent trans students from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, and would allow teachers to refuse to use a student’s preferred pronouns.

Courier Journal reporter Olivia Krauth, who has covered S.B. 150 extensively, said Wednesday’s crowd may be the biggest she’s seen during the current legislative session.

Protesters chanted, “Trans rights are human rights,” as they waved signs and listened to Democratic state senators speak.

One senator, Karen Berg, told the protesters, “You are perfect the way God made you. Remember that every moment of your life.” The bill is particularly personal for Berg, whose trans son died by suicide last year.

Later, when the session began, Berg warned her colleagues, “This hate will not stop. We know from history this is how you destroy a democracy.”

The crowd continued to grow throughout the morning, as more people showed up to express support for trans Kentuckians.

The ACLU of Kentucky described the bill when it passed as “the worst anti-trans bill in the country.” Republicans rushed S.B. 150 through the House and Senate in a record daylong sprint.

Kentucky is just the latest state to have lawmakers try to curtail LGBTQ rights. Last week, Florida advanced an anti-trans bill so broad and extreme it could also prevent people from getting breast cancer treatment. Georgia, meanwhile, passed a law banning gender-affirming care for minors and criminalizing medical workers who provide that care.

Howard Schultz Was Asked Directly if He Threatened Starbucks Workers for Unionizing. He Didn’t Say No.

Senator Bernie Sanders asked the former Starbucks CEO point-blank if he has ever threatened, coerced, or intimidated an employee for supporting a union.

Howard Schultz smiles
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
Howard Schultz, member of the Board of Directors and former CEO of the Starbucks Corporation

On Wednesday, as Howard Schultz testified in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the former Starbucks CEO couldn’t definitively say he did not threaten workers for unionizing.

“Have you ever threatened, coerced, or intimidated a worker for supporting a union?” Senator and committee Chair Bernie Sanders asked Schultz.

Schultz waffled, saying people could have “interpreted” just as much.

“I’ve had conversations that could’ve been interpreted in a different way than I intended,” Schultz said. “It’s up to the person who received the information that I spoke to them about.”

The former Starbucks executive’s curious answer comes amid a surge of Starbucks stores attempting to unionize—and many workers accusing the massive company of working to stifle such efforts. 

Even while Schultz is surrounded by a panel of Republicans grossly sympathetic to union-busting and allowing private enterprise to march unfettered by regulation, he can’t weasel out of the basic origin of the hearing itself: Starbucks’s pattern of union-busting and threatening workers.

Tennessee Gov. Says He Lost Two Friends in the Nashville Shooting, but Now Is Not the Time to Be Angry

Reminder that Bill Lee helped loosen gun laws in his state.

Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Bill Lee doesn’t have plans to change Tennessee’s gun laws anytime soon, despite the fact that earlier this week, a shooter killed three children and three adults, including some of the governor’s family friends.

A shooter opened fire at the Covenant School on Monday, killing at least three children and three adults and wounding several others. Two of the adults killed were close friends of Lee and his wife, the governor said in a video posted on Twitter Tuesday. One of them had planned to go to the Lees’ house for dinner that night.

But Lee insisted that now is not the time for change. “I understand that there is pain; I understand the desperation to have answers, to place blame, to argue about a solution that could prevent this horrible tragedy.… There will come a time to discuss and debate policy. But this is not a time for hate or rage. That will not resolve or heal,” he said

He praised school and law enforcement policies that help prepare students and staff for mass shootings—but did not point out that he helped Tennessee loosen its gun laws in the past few years, making it easier for mass shootings to happen in the first place.

Lee concluded by paraphrasing a Bible passage: “The battle is not against flesh and blood. It’s not against people. The struggle is against evil itself,” he said.

Except, he left something out. As Kentucky youth pastor Steven Levebvre noted, Lee skipped over that the battle is also against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world.”

Lee and other Tennessee Republicans are burying their heads in the sand, insisting there was nothing they could have done to stop the shooting and that there is little they can do to prevent another one. In fact, they are skating around their own culpability in helping create the circumstances that allowed the shooting to happen.

Lawmakers failed two years ago to pass a red flag law that would have prevented Monday’s shooter from legally acquiring seven guns, three of which were used in the attack. In the past few years, they loosened gun restrictions and focused their energy on attacking LGBTQ rights.

Lee lost two friends, whom he said he has known for decades, in the shooting—and he still doesn’t feel spurred to action.