Florida Governor Denies Wrongdoing in Vaccine Deal With Publix After “Pay for Play” Accusations
- In a “60 Minutes” segment that aired Sunday night, CBS reported that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) gave an exclusive COVID-19 vaccine deal to Publix grocery stores in Palm Beach County weeks before announcing that the chain had donated $100,000 to his political action committee.
- DeSantis and Publix have denied any form of “pay for play” deal, but this is not the first time DeSantis has been accused of engaging in a form of “vaccine favoritism” that had the effect of disproportionately benefiting wealthy, white communities.
- While some have defended Publix’s exclusive distribution deal, many others have noted that Walgreens and CVS pharmacies are much more abundant in the state and also more common in less wealthy communities.
“60 Minutes” Report on DeSantis’ Vaccine Favoritism
A Sunday night “60 Minutes” report on CBS found that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced a distribution partnership with Publix grocery store only weeks after the company donated $100,000 to his political action committee.
While both DeSantis and Publix have denied any wrongdoing attached to the deal, this news comes after the Tampa Bay Times reported that DeSantis was acting as a vaccine gatekeeper by directing doses to wealthy communities — with some vaccination pop-up sites being affiliated with his PAC donors.
It also comes after state Democratic leaders asked the U.S. Department of Justice in February to investigate whether or not DeSantis violated federal law by opening up a vaccination site that was only accessible to residents in two of Manatee County’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
Sunday night’s coverage on “60 Minutes” echoed those concerns, describing Florida’s vaccine rollout as “deteriorat[ing] into a virtual free for all” as “wealthy and well-connected residents cut the line, leaving other Floridians without a fair shot.”
“I imagine Governor DeSantis’s office would say, ‘Look, we privatized the rollout because it’s more efficient and it works better,’” reporter Sharyn Alfonsi said during the segment.
“It hasn’t worked better for people of color,” State Rep. Omari Hardy (R) replied. “Before, I could call the public health director. She would answer my calls. But now if I want to get my constituents information about how to get this vaccine I have to call a lobbyist from Publix? That makes no sense. They’re not accountable to the public.”
Hardy’s statement is notable because, as “60 Minutes” pointed out during the segment, poorer communities in Palm Beach County — where Publix was granted exclusive rights to distribute COVID-19 vaccines — do not have a Publix. In fact, for some in the county, the nearest Publix is around 30 miles away.
The segment also aired a confrontation between Alfonsi and DeSantis from last month in which DeSantis called the donation report “wrong” and “a fake narrative.”
“I met with the county mayor,” DeSantis told Alfonsi. “I met with the administrator. I met with all the folks in Palm Beach County, and I said, ‘Here’s some of the options. We can do more drive-thru sites. We can give more to hospitals. We can do the Publix.’ And they said, ‘We think that would be the easiest thing for our residents.’”
“The criticism is that it’s pay-to-play, governor,” Alfonsi said.
In a voiceover, Alfonsi then said Melissa McKinlay, the county commissioner in the Glades, never met with DeSantis about the Publix deal.
“The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions and our willingness to join other pharmacies in support of the state’s vaccine distribution efforts is absolutely false and offensive,” Publix said in a statement to CBS.
This is not the first controversial donation to be connected to Publix. Earlier this year, it was learned that Heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli donated $300,000 to fund the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
DeSantis Condemned Online
On Monday, “DeSantis,” “Publix,” and “Walgreens and CVS” all became top-trending U.S. topics on Twitter.
Many condemned DeSantis for the Publix deal while arguing that it would have made more sense for other pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, to lead the charge in vaccine distributions.
Others like Jesse Hunt, communications director for the Republican Governors Association, said, “60 Minutes makes the same mistake the dozens of national outlets have made when it comes to Ron DeSantis and Florida.”
“Publix was the first retail pharmacy ready to handle this massive undertaking & it’s objectively one of the most trusted & respected companies in America.”
Still, many were quick to argue Hunt’s claim, including Rep. Hardy.
“But they are typically not located in communities of color. So when he tried to make Publix the sole distributor in PBC, he was trying an approach that he knew would leave out people of color in Palm Beach County. This was a textbook example of systemic racism at work.”
But they are typically not located in communities of color. So when he tried to make Publix the sole distributor in PBC, he was trying an approach that he knew would leave out people of color in Palm Beach County. This was a textbook example of systemic racism at work.— Rep. Omari Hardy (@OmariJHardy) April 5, 2021
See what others are saying: (CBS) (Axios) (The Hill)
TikTok to Require Labels on Manipulated Media, Ban Deepfakes of Children
The social media platform says it wants to embrace the creativity AI can offer while being cautious of the “societal and individual risks” that come with it.
TikTok is rolling out a slew of limitations regarding synthetic deepfake videos, including a ban on deepfake content of children.
In an update on Tuesday, the social media platform said it wants welcome “the creativity that new artificial intelligence and other digital technologies may unlock” while also being careful of the “societal and individual risks” that come with it. To mitigate those risks, TikTok will require users to label manipulated media depicting “realistic scenes.” Users can do so in stickers, captions, or other means that make it clear the video is “synthetic,” “fake,” “not real,” or “altered.”
On top of that, there are new restrictions about who can be the subject of these manipulated videos. TikTok will not allow deepfake media that shows the likeness of a “young person” or any private person, including adults. It is also barring deepfakes that depict adult public figures giving political or commercial endorsements, as well as deepfakes that violate one of the platform’s other rules.
“While we provide more latitude for public figures, we do not want them to be the subject of abuse, or for people to be misled about political or financial issues,” the company’s updated guidelines say.
As TikTok’s policies previously stated, synthetic media that has been edited to mislead audiences about real-world events is also not allowed on the platform.
As far as what kind of deepfake media is allowed on TikTok, the company said videos showing adult public figures in “certain contexts, including artistic and educational content,” get the green light. This can include a video of a celebrity doing a TikTok dance, or a historical figure being depicted in a history lesson.
The rules will be enforced starting April 21. Between now and then, TikTok says it will be training its moderators to better implement the guidelines.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (The Associated Press) (TechCrunch)
Adidas Financial Woes Continue, Company on Track for First Annual Loss in Decades
Adidas has labeled 2023 a “transition year” for the company.
Adidas’ split with musician Kanye West has left the company with financial problems due to surplus Yeezy products, putting the sportswear giant in the position to potentially suffer its first annual loss in over 30 years.
Adidas dropped West last year after he made a series of antisemitic remarks on social media and other broadcasts. His Yeezy line was a staple for Adidas, and the surplus product is due, in part, to the brand’s own decision to continue production during the split.
According to CEO Bjorn Gulden, Adidas continued production of only the items already in the pipeline to prevent thousands of people from losing their jobs. However, that has led to the unfortunate overabundance of Yeezy sneakers and clothes.
On Wednesday, Gulden said that selling the shoes and donating the proceeds makes more sense than giving them away due to the Yeezy resale market — which has reportedly shot up 30% since October.
“If we sell it, I promise that the people who have been hurt by this will also get something good out of this,” Gulden said in a statement to the press.
However, Gulden also said that West is entitled to a portion of the proceeds of the sale of Yeezys per his royalty agreement.
Adidas announced in February that, following its divergence from West, it is facing potential sales losses totaling around $1.2 billion and profit losses of around $500 million.
If it decides to not sell any more Yeezy products, Adidas is facing a projected annual loss of over $700 million.
Outside of West, Adidas has taken several heavy profit blows recently. Its operating profit reportedly fell by 66% last year, a total of more than $700 million. It also pulled out of Russia after the country’s invasion of Ukraine last year, which cost Adidas nearly $60 million dollars. Additionally, China’s “Zero Covid” lockdowns last year caused in part a 36% drop in revenue for Adidas compared to years prior.
As a step towards a solution, Gulden announced that the company is slashing its dividends from 3.30 euros to 0.70 euro cents per share pending shareholder approval.
Adidas has labeled 2023 a “transition year” for the company.
“Adidas has all the ingredients to be successful. But we need to put our focus back on our core: product, consumers, retail partners, and athletes,” Gulden said. “I am convinced that over time we will make Adidas shine again. But we need some time.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Elon Musk Bashes Disabled Ex-Twitter Employee, Gets Blowback
After Musk claimed the former employee “did no actual work,” the staffer calmly directed passive-aggressive insults right back at the billionaire.
Excuse Me, Do I Still Work Here?
Elon Musk brawled online with a former Twitter employee who didn’t know whether he was fired Tuesday, accusing the staffer of exploiting his disability.
Haraldur “Halli” Thorleifsson, who has muscular dystrophy, joined Twitter in 2021 after it acquired the creative agency he founded: Ueno.
He said on Twitter that he was unable to confirm whether he was still a Twitter employee nine days after being locked out of his work computer, despite reaching out to the head of HR and Musk himself through email.
At the time, Twitter had laid off at least 200 workers, or some 10% of its remaining workforce.
In search of an answer, Thorleifsson tweeted at Musk, who responded with the question: “What work have you been doing?”
After being given permission by Musk to break confidentiality, Thorleifsson listed several of his accomplishments, including leading “design crits to help level up design across the company.”
“Level up from what design to what? Pics or it didn’t happen,” Musk replied.
“We haven’t hired design roles in 4 months. What changes did you make to help with the youths?”
Thorleifsson reminded Musk that he couldn’t access any pictures because he was locked out of his work computer.
Musk stopped replying to the tweets, but hours later he returned to the platform to lob invective at his former employee.
Musk Vs. Halli
“The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm,” Musk tweeted, apparently referring to Thorleifsson. “Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that.”
“But was he fired? No, you can’t be fired if you weren’t working in the first place,” he added.
In a later Twitter thread, Thorleifsson said he could type for one or two hours at a time before his hands cramped, but that in pre-Musk Twitter, that wasn’t a problem because he was a senior director.
He added that despite his crippling disability, he worked hard for years to build Ueno.
“We grew fast and made money,” he said. “I think that’s what you are referring to when you say independently wealthy? That I independently made my money, as opposed to say, inherited an emerald mine.”
Thorleifsson made several more passive-aggressive jabs at Musk.
“I joined at a time when the company was growing fast,” he wrote. “You kind of did the opposite. The company had a fair amount of issues, but then again, most bigger companies do. Or even small companies, like Twitter today.”
Thorleifsson said that immediately following his back-and-forth with Musk, Twitter’s head of HR confirmed that he had indeed been fired from the company.