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Florida Governor Denies Wrongdoing in Vaccine Deal With Publix After “Pay for Play” Accusations

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  • 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.”

See what others are saying: (CBS) (Axios) (The Hill)

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“Cyberpunk 2077” Developer Agrees To Settle Lawsuit for $1.85M

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If approved, CD Projekt Red would pay just a small fraction of the $316 million it reportedly spent developing the game.


CDPR Agrees To Settle

Game developer CD Projekt Red (CDPR) has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit related to its buggy launch of “Cyberpunk 2077” for $1.85 million, The Verge reported Thursday.

The lawsuit itself is actually a conglomeration of four different suits brought by shareholders who alleged that they were misled about the company’s financial performance. Since the game’s release, CD Projekt Red’s share price has fallen 54%.

The settlement must now be approved in court, but overall, it appears to be a small amount compared to the game’s $316 million budget. In fact, the game reportedly made $563 million in sales and only spent around $2.2 million on a refund campaign, though the developer’s overall refund cost for 2020 could have been as much as $51 million.

“Perhaps the plaintiffs didn’t have much of a case?” The Verge writer Sean Hollister speculated on why “it sounds like the lead plaintiffs and their lawyers negotiated for a fairly tiny sum here in exchange for ‘relinquish[ing] any and all claims against the Company and members of its Management Board.’”

“As expressly stated in the Term Sheet, execution of the Term Sheet does not imply admission of any responsibility on the part of the Company or any of the other defendants named in the case,” the negotiated settlement reads.

“Cyberpunk’s” Botched Launch

“Cyberpunk” was first announced in 2012, and for years, it was the subject of widespread fan anticipation. Seven years later, a release date of April 16, 2020, was given; however, that date was pushed back several times much to the ire of fans, some of whom even sent CDPR staff death threats.

The game was ultimately released amid fan pressure on Dec. 10, 2020, but it was so riddled with glitches that Sony infamously pulled “Cyberpunk” from its Playstation Store a week later, offering full refunds to all players who had purchased a digital copy. In June this year, “Cyberpunk” finally made its way back onto the Playstation Store following multiple patches and hotfixes from CDPR.

Despite “Cyberpunk” surpassing a massive 8 million pre-orders before launch, Bloomberg reported last week that “Where analysts had originally expected Cyberpunk sales of 30 million units in the year after the game’s release, they now expect 17.3 million copies to have been sold in that time.”

In October, CDPR delayed planned next-gen updates for both “Cyberpunk” and “The Witcher 3” until the first and second quarters of 2022, respectively.

“Apologies for the extended wait, but we want to make it right,” the developer said.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Engadget) (Video Games Chronicle)

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E.U. Court Rules That All Member Nations Must Recognize Same-Sex Parents

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The decision comes after a child named Sara was left without a country to call home because she had two mothers.


The Child With No Citizenship

The European Court of Justice, the European Union’s highest court, ruled Tuesday that all 27 of its member states must recognize same-sex parents and their children as a family.

The ruling stems from a case involving two women and their newborn daughter, whose status as a family originally varied between member nations. As a result, the couple’s daughter was left without citizenship in any country.

The two women, Bulgarian citizen Kalina Ivanova and Gibraltar-born British citizen Jane Jones, found themselves unable to take their newborn child Sara out of Spain after she was born in the country. Because Spain recognizes same-sex marriage, both Ivanova and Jones were registered as the girl’s legal mothers on her Spanish birth certificate.

However, under Spanish law, Sara was unable to gain citizenship in the country since neither of her parents were Spanish citizens. On top of that, she was denied British citizenship because Jones “was born in Gibraltar of British descent, and under the British Nationality Act (1981), [Jones] cannot transfer citizenship to her daughter,” the LGBTQ+ advocacy group ILGA-Europe said in a press release.

That left the couple with one other option: register Sara as a Bulgarian citizen. Still, the Bulgarian government refused to issue Sara a legally-recognized birth certificate, arguing that she is ineligible to have two mothers. Officially, Bulgaria does not recognize either same-sex marriages or same-sex registered partnerships. 

“Currently, the child has no personal documents and cannot leave Spain, the country of the family’s habitual residence,” lLGA-Europe said. “The lack of documents restrict Sara’s access to education, healthcare, and social security in Spain.”

EU Ruling

In its Tuesday decision, the European Court of Justice ruled that children in the EU have a legal right to freely move between countries given that such a right is afforded to all EU citizens. Because of this, all countries are now required to uniformly recognize the child’s parents, even if they are of the same sex. 

“That refusal could make it more difficult for a Bulgarian identity document to be issued and, therefore, hinder the child’s exercise of the right of free movement and thus full enjoyment of her rights as a Union citizen,” the court said

Despite some member states like Bulgaria not legally recognizing same-sex couples, the court stressed that its ruling “does not undermine the national identity or pose a threat to the public policy” of those nations.

That’s because while Bulgaria doesn’t have to issue its own birth certificate for Sara, it does have to recognize the Spanish birth certificate and issue its own identity card or passport for Sara.

“We are thrilled about the decision and cannot wait to get Sara her documentation and finally be able to see our families after more than two years,” Sara’s parents said according to the ILGA-Europe release. “It is important for us to be a family, not only in Spain but in any country in Europe and finally it might happen. This is a long-awaited step ahead for us but also a huge step for all LGBT families in Bulgaria and Europe.”

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Insider) (Politico)

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GoFundMe Campaign Raises $8,700 for Waitress Who Was Fired After Not Sharing $4,400 Tip With Co-Workers

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The waitress said this was the only time management had ever tried to force her to pool a tip in her three-and-a-half years working at the restaurant.


Waitress Gets Fired After Receiving Massive Tip

An Arkansas waitress has received over $8,700 in donations online after she was fired from her job for refusing to split her half of a $4,400 dollar tip with the rest of the restaurant’s crew.

That waitress, Ryan Brandt, told local Nexstar outlet KNWA last week that she and another server received the tip after waiting on a group of more than 40 people at the Oven & Tap restaurant in Bentonville.

“It was an incredible thing to do and to see her reaction was awesome, to see what that meant to her, the impact that it’s had on her life already,” Grant Wise, who was part of the party Brandt served, told the outlet.

According to KNWA, Wise called the restaurant before his large party arrived and asked about its tipping policy since they intentionally planned to donate $100 each as part of a way to thank restaurant workers. At the time of his call, Wise said he was told the money would go directly to his party’s servers. 

“We knew servers were really hit hard through COVID, and it was something that we had come up with to help give back,” Wise told KFSM.

The outcome, however, was much different. After receiving the tip, Brandt and the other server were allegedly told by a manager that they needed to pool the tip with the rest of the workers on duty. Brandt told KNWA she had never once been asked to pool her tips in her three-and-a-half years at the restaurant prior to this.

Complying meant Brant would take home just 20% of her half of the tip.

At some point before leaving, Brandt informed Wise that her tip would be pooled with the rest of the staff. Wise, who had intended the money to only go to his servers, then asked management to return his tip, which he gave to Brandt directly outside the restaurant. The following day, Brandt said she was fired over the phone.

“It was devastating,” Brandt told local outlets. “I borrowed a significant amount for student loans. Most of them were turned off because of the pandemic but they’re turning back on in January and that’s a harsh reality.”

Oven & Tap did not speak on Brandt’s firing in its initial statement. Instead, it only said, “After dining, this large group of guests requested that their gratuity be given to two particular servers. We fully honored their request. Out of respect for our highly valued team members, we do not discuss the details surrounding the termination of an employee.”

In a follow-up statement, Oven & Tap owners Mollie Mullis and Luke Wetzel said, “The server who was terminated several days after the group dined with us was not let go because she chose to keep the tip money.”

“We recognize and regret that a recent incident in our restaurant could have been handled differently by reminding our team how we would be splitting any tips prior to the event, however, our policy has always been to participate in a tip pool/share with the staff. Tip sharing is a common restaurant industry practice that we follow to ensure all of our team members are adequately compensated for their hard work.”

Oven & Tap has still not specifically commented on why it fired Brandt, but Brandt told KNWA she believes it’s because she violated company policy by telling Wise that his party’s tip was going to be pooled. 

Online Fundraising Campaigns for Brandt

After learning of Brandt’s firing, Wise created a GoFundMe, which ultimately raised $8,732 for Brandt.

“[Brandt] is, from what I can tell, a very kind woman that was working two jobs to get by through the pandemic,” he said in his initial post. “She has incredible aspirations to grow her own business and I can tell has a servants-heart.”

Wise provided an update Tuesday saying that instead of closing the GoFundMe, he will keep the campaign open to raise additional money to “pay it forward” to a future group of restaurant staff who will wait on his party.

In January, we are going to host another $100 Dinner Club and I have invited [Brandt] to be our ‘Guest of Honor’!” he said. “Any dollar amount raised over the $8,732 that has already been raised and is being paid out to [Brandt] will be given directly to the staff of the restaurant we decide to eat at.”

“We will be working to ensure through this that all staff in the restaurant are tipped so everyone feels blessed by our dinner.”

As of Tuesday morning, the GoFundMe page has raised over $9,100.

See what others are saying: (KNWA) (Insider) (KFSM)

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