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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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Major Chinese Company on Verge of Collapse Could Create Economic Trouble in U.S. 

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The company, Evergrande, accumulated $305 billion in debt through a business model that some have deemed “the biggest pyramid scheme [in] the world.”


Evergrande Can’t Pay Back Loans

The Chinese real estate company Evergrande, the second-largest property developer in the country, will likely be unable to meet interest payments on $84 million in offshore bonds due this week.

That amount almost seems like chump change compared to the whopping $305 billion in debt it managed to accrue since its founding in 1996, but if Evergrande defaults on its payments and collapses, it could send shockwaves through Chinese markets and economies abroad.

At its height, Evergrande was a Fortune 500 company. In addition to real estate, it also owns a theme park, a line of electric cars, a mineral extraction group, and a soccer team; however, it has struggled to maintain its real estate business model over the last several years due to government crackdowns on how much companies can take out in loans.

Evergrande Struggling to Pay Its Debts

In the 2000s, Evergrande aggressively borrowed money from banks and other lenders to buy land from local governments that were eager to sell. As the value of land rose, it kept borrowing, ultimately driving up the price of land even more. Because of that, many discredited Evergrande’s business model as “the biggest pyramid scheme the world has yet seen.”

For years, the model did not stir up any major challenges from Chinese regulators, but in 2018, President Xi Jinping began emphasizing “financial risk” as a problem that the government needed to address. Two years later, regulators imposed a system known as “three red lines,” which was meant to curb unregulated borrowing.

Under the system, the more a company owes, the less it is allowed to borrow. Notably, Evergrande crossed all three of the “red lines,” so regulators barred it from borrowing any more money.

But Evergrande would need to generate some form of income if it wanted to stay afloat. Because of that, it pre-sold more than 1.4 million apartments it hadn’t yet finished building. In other words, Evergrande stopped borrowing from official lenders and essentially started borrowing from everyday homeowners, asking them to pay major deposits before their homes were completed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some people have now waited years for their homes to be ready.

At one point, Evergrande even became so strapped for cash that it forced its own employees into a corner, telling them to provide the company with a short-term loan or lose their bonuses. That, in turn, led to some employees needing to take out loans through banks. 

Similar to its inability to pay back banks, earlier this month, it stopped paying back the loans from its employees. 

Amid Evergrande’s uncertainty, the company’s stock value has steadily fallen over the past year from around $4 last September to just 30 cents Tuesday. 

Will This Lead to a Global Market Crisis?

There is currently no market crisis or collapse, only concerns that one could come. 

While Evergrande’s inability to repay its lenders is unsettling enough for homeowners and the company’s employees, the effects of an Evergrande default could be much more far-reaching. 

For one, if Evergrande defaults, banks and other firms will potentially be forced to lend less given the fact that the company owes large sums of money to around 300 institutions. If that happens, it could lead to a credit crunch, meaning companies would struggle to be able to borrow money at affordable rates. Some might be forced to close up shop for good. 

On top of that, the property values of existing homes in China would likely diminish. Since homes are such a valuable asset, that would likely lead to a decrease in consumer spending.

With those two effects combined, other countries would almost undoubtedly feel the financial shock. On Monday, upon the continued news that Evergrande likely can’t pay lenders, the U.S.-based Dow Jones fell 900 points. While it has recovered somewhat, other major U.S. indices like the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ saw similar pullbacks.

Many have asked if China is about to face a “Lehman Brothers moment,” a reference to the events that caused the disastrous 2008 recession. For now, the answer is uncertain, but many analysts expect it won’t.

That’s because while a full-scale crisis isn’t off the table, many believe the Chinese government will step in to bail out Evergrande, which some have called “too big to fail.”

“Rather than risk disrupting supply chains and enraging homeowners, we think the government will probably find a way to ensure Evergrande’s core business survives,” Mattie Bekink, of the Economist Intelligence Unit, told the BBC.

Still, nothing is certain. It’s possible China could refuse to bail out Evergrande to avoid what could be seen as it setting a bad precedent as it tries to rein in corporate debt. 

Chinese markets were closed Tuesday, but they will reopen Wednesday. No doubt, analysts will closely study how investors in the country react and whether or not that reaction could give the public a better idea about how the government might respond. 

See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Washington Post) (Axios)

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Philadelphia Will Pay $2M to Black Woman Beaten by Officers Whose Child Was Used in a Pro-Police Social Media Post

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The post from the National Fraternal Order of Police claimed officers found the toddler “lost” and “barefoot,” but the mother’s lawyers said police ripped the child from her vehicle during an unjust stop and caused him to lose his hearing aids. 


$2 Million Settlement

The city of Philadelphia has agreed to pay a $2 million settlement to 29-year-old Rickia Young, a Black woman who was pulled from her car and beaten by police officers last year while trying to navigate through protests spurred by the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. 

Along with the settlement, both an officer and a sergeant have been fired in connection to their treatment of Young that night. Another 14 members of the Philadelphia Police Department are awaiting disciplinary hearings that stem from an internal investigation into the incident. 

The terminations and investigations have not satisfied Kevin Mincey, one of Young’s attorneys. He’s currently calling on District Attorney Lawrence Krasner to file criminal charges against those officers, saying, “If any citizen did something like this, there would be no question they will be charged with aggravated assault as a felony.”

As of Thursday morning, Kranser has not said whether he plans to pursue such charges. 

Police Beating of Rickia Young 

On Oct. 27, 2020, Young said she drove into West Philly to pick up her 16-year-old nephew because he lived near the epicenter of the protests that were happening that night.

On her way back home, she reportedly came across a group of protesters blocking the street while engaging in a standoff with police. The police allegedly ordered her to turn her car around, and according to her attorneys, she complied but paused at one point to avoid hitting protesters running past her car.

From there, Young’s attorneys claimed police surrounded her vehicle. They then allegedly broke her windows with batons before pulling her and her nephew out of the vehicle. According to multiple outlets, the officers began beating her, leaving her with swelling on her face and body, as well as a swollen trachea. A video of this incident later went viral online.

For hours, Young was separated from her toddler, who was removed from the car by police and lost his hearing aids at some point during the night, according to her attorneys. Even after getting her son back, for days, she was without her car. 

Ultimately, neither young nor her nephew were cited. 

Pro-Police Post Involving Young’s Son

Two days after the incident, the National Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police labor union, posted an image to Facebook showing an officer holding a young, Black child.

“This child was lost during the violent riots in Philadelphia, wandering around barefoot in an area that was experiencing complete lawlessness,” The caption read. “The only thing this Philadelphia Police Officer cared about in that moment was protecting this child.”

“We are not your enemy. We are the Thin Blue Line. And WE ARE the only thing standing between Order and Anarchy.”

While claiming that she had been abused by police, Young would also go on to claim the “lost” child in the photo was that of her son.

“They’re attempting to erase what happened — police brutality — and turn it instead into police saviorism,” Riley Ross, one of Young’s attorneys said. “It’s another deep wound that they cut.”

After being informed of the background behind the photo, the National Fraternal Order of Police deleted the post with Young’s child.

Still, as Philly council member Isaiah Thomas asked in February, “Who knows how many people there are who’ve seen that original image, but never actually understood that parent was not involved in some type of looting situation as it was displayed unfortunately on social media?”

See what others are saying: (Philadelphia Inquirer) (USA Today) (ABC News)

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TikTok Works To Block “Devious Lick” Trend That Has Kids Stealing School Equipment

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Some schools have even threatened to pursue charges against those stealing or destroying school property.


What Is a Devious Lick?

TikTok is taking action against a new trend on the platform that involves users showing off what they consider impressive thefts they’ve pulled off, often at their own schools.

Users on the app refer to these thefts as “devious licks,” and some standout examples include kids stealing school projectors, street signs, microscopes, fire alarms, and pretty much anything you can imagine.

A lot of students also seem to particularly enjoy targeting school bathrooms, stealing paper towels or soap dispensers and even entire toilets or sinks, sometimes leaving bathrooms totally unusable.

Schools Respond

School officials across the country are obviously unhappy with this trend since it’s leaving their schools destroyed and low on equipment that is expensive to repair or replace.

In fact, many have issued warnings calling for the behavior to stop. Along with threats of suspension, some schools have said they will make families pay for the cost of the damage their child creates. Others even said they would get law enforcement involved.

For instance, Aubrey Chancellor, executive director of communications at North East Independent School District in San Antonio Texas, told Fox News, “It’s important for students to understand what they see on social media is not always a good idea in reality.”

“The students involved face disciplinary action and are expected to pay restitution as well. If possible, charges may be filed as well.”

With the trend generating widespread concerns, TikTok issued a statement Wednesday saying, “We are removing this content and redirecting hashtags and search results to our Community Guidelines to discourage such behavior.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News)(Desert News)(Gizmodo)

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