According to a report from Politico, the annual conservative gathering known as CPAC is having problems this year as sponsors drop out, speakers cancel and worries about the still raging COVID -19 pandemic has the usual attendees thinking about taking a pass.
Normally held in Washington D.C. which allowed the conference to attract an all-star list of Republican lawmaker speakers -- including now-former President Donald Trump -- the conference was moved to Florida to be closer to Trump and because of Florida's lax COVID restrictions.
That has people nervous about the Feb. 25-28 event.
"President Donald Trump's election loss has created hurdles around programming and guest booking. Stringent coronavirus guidelines in Maryland have pushed the conference outside of the Washington, D.C. area for the first time in nearly 50 years," Politico reports. "Previous sponsors aren't yet committed or have decided to forgo sponsorship entirely due to changes to the event's format or disappointment in the return on their investment last year. And the president that attendees adored so much may not show up to the event at all."
The report notes that Trump hasn't committed to attending this year -- which could help boost attendance -- and Vice President Mike Pence is uncertain this year after being the subject of Trump's supporter's ire for certifying the 2020 election for President Joe Biden.
As for CPAC's sponsorship issues, Politico previously reported that sponsors having second thoughts and that the annual conference was having difficulties, which led to American Conservative Union General Counsel David Safavian to accuse Politico of "'tortious interference with business relationships' and attempting 'to cancel both CPAC and the American Conservative Union itself.'"
The Politico report adds that last year "an attendee who'd been in direct contact with Schlapp had tested positive for Covid-19. Organizers were forced to warn nearly 100 conference-goers of potential exposure and the president's chief of staff went into self-quarantine, though only one actual case ended up being traced to the event," which has raised fears of COVID -19 exposure this year.
"As for this year's sponsors, some of whom spent as much as $250,000 in past years for exclusive benefits and branding opportunities, several said they were still evaluating the benefits or had decided not to sponsor at all due to mediocre returns on the investment or changes to the conference structure," the report states. "Gryphon Editions operations manager Michael Hawkins said his company did not plan to sponsor the conference this year after being informed that the CPAC bookstore, which has been set up for attendees in past years, would no longer be available due to Covid-19 precautions."
"Laura Merriott, president of the anti-abortion nonprofit Save Unborn Life, said her group 'didn't get much response [from] donors last time' after paying between $1,000-$3,000 for a sponsorship and creating a pop-up exhibition," Politico reports with Merriott admitting, "It doesn't pay for itself when you go and set up and you don't get" enough new donors to "make it worthwhile."
As for past sponsors, "the Washington Examiner, Republican National Committee, Turning Point USA, Heartland Institute and Save our States — said they had yet to make a decision as of last week about sponsoring again."
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US retail giant Walmart on Friday said customers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 no longer have to wear masks in their stores, and staff can do the same starting next week.
"Beginning today, vaccinated customers and members are welcome to shop without a mask, and we will continue to request that non-vaccinated customers and members wear face coverings in our stores and clubs," the company said in a statement, while adding that masks would still be required where mandated by local authorities.
Employees who are more than two weeks past their vaccination can stop wearing masks from May 18, the company said, and all employees are eligible for a $75 bonus if they prove they have got their jab.
"These are positive developments. We can do this. We've been through a lot this year, and now we need to do our part to finish this," Walmart said in a statement signed by corporate leadership.
The announcement follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's lifting on Thursday of mask-wearing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a decision that came over a year after it was first issued at the beginning of the pandemic that has killed more than 585,000 people in the United States.
Walmart mandated customers wear face masks starting last July, and is now among the first major American corporations to end the requirement.
"We are also reviewing whether masks may still be required for certain job codes for health and sanitation purposes and will share additional guidance soon. Some associates may choose to continue to wear masks, and as part of our value of respect for the individual we should all support their right to do so," the company said.
The largest private employer in the United States, Walmart has a staff of about 1.5 million people in the country and saw soaring sales throughout 2020 despite the pandemic's business disruptions.
In a brutal loss for direct democracy in Mississippi, the state's supreme court struck down a ballot amendment on Friday that legalized medical marijuana in the state. But the ruling didn't stop there. Invoking a technical flaw in the law, the court invalidated the entire process for amending the state's constitution by popular vote.
"The killing of our ballot initiative process means that Mississippi is, definitively, the state with the least democracy, the most restricted ballot access, and where voters' voices matter least when it comes to the deciding our future," said Ashton Pittman, a reporter at the Mississippi Free Press.
"The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi," read a statement from Medical Marijuana MS, which organized Initiative 65 that would legalize the use of the drug. "Patients will now continue the suffering that so many Mississippians voted to end."
About 73 percent of voters supporter legalizing medical marijuana, according to Pittman.
At the heart of the court's decision is a crucial flaw in the process that gives voters the power to amend the constitution by popular vote. According to the law, organizers for ballot measures have to collect signatures from the five different congressional districts in the state. But since the 2000 census, Mississippi dropped from having five districts to having only four.
So in the court's understanding of the ballot approval process, it's now impossible to legally get an amendment on the ballot, because the requirements demand organizers obtain signatures from a district that no longer exists.
"This is absolutely stunning," said lawyer Tyler Quinn Yeargain. "In the face of an outdated constitutional provision, the Mississippi Supreme Court just threw up its hands, killing the state's voter-initiated amendment process."
In the 6-3 majority's ruling, the court acted as though it was completely bound to reach its conclusion. It even suggested that the drafters of the ballot process may have intended to render it invalid should the state ever lose a congressional district, a claim that strains credulity to the breaking point:
Pursuant to the duty imposed on us by article 15, section 273(9), of the Mississippi Constitution, we hold that the petition submitted to the Secretary of State seeking to place Initiative 65 on the ballot for the November 3, 2020, general election was insufficient. Because Initiative 65 was placed on the ballot without meeting the section 273(3) prerequisites for doing so, it was placed on the ballot in violation of the Mississippi Constitution. Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today's reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.
It said that for the process to be fixed, the state's constitution must be amended. But of course, that's now impossible to do by ballot measure, so it will only happen if the legislature permits it.
Despite the majority's suggestion, this result was not inevitable. The minority argued in a dissent that Mississippi law still has five congressional districts on the books, even though they are not recognized by the federal courts. But since they exist under state law, and the requirement that ballot amendments garner signatures from each of the five districts is also a matter of state law, the dissent argues that it would be reasonable to uphold the ballot process as lawful.
"I respectfully suggest we look to Mississippi law. With this novel approach in mind, I point out that under current Mississippi law—whether we like it or not—there are five congressional districts," wrote Justice James Maxwell in the dissent.
He criticized the majority for doing exactly what it claimed to oppose: "The majority confidently and correctly points out that '[n]owhere therein does the Constitution allow amendment by the Supreme Court.' ...Yet the majority does just that—stepping completely outside of Mississippi law—to employ an interpretation that not only amends but judicially kills Mississippi's citizen initiative process. While the majority admits that our Constitution should not be 'expanded or extended beyond its settled intent and meaning by any court[,]' it actively injects a federal court's injunction into our Constitution—an injunction that was in no shape, form, or fashion aimed at the initiative process."
Pittman, the reporter, noted on Twitter that the decision is already inspiring outrage: "There is A LOT of anger among conservative and liberal Mississippians on my social media feeds right now. I'm not seeing any regular Mississippians who are happy about this. A lot of cross-partisan outrage, though."
Observers worry this decision will completely block hoped-for amendments that would expand voting access and Medicaid eligibility.
New salacious details in the Matt Gaetz scandal were revealed in a bombshell new report by The Daily Beast.
"When Rep. Matt Gaetz attended a 2019 GOP fundraiser in Orlando, his date that night was someone he knew well: a paid escort and amateur Instagram model who led a cocaine-fueled party after the event, according to two witnesses. The Florida congressman's one-time wingman, Joel Greenberg, will identify that escort to investigators as one of more than 15 young women Gaetz paid for sex, according to a source familiar with the investigation," The Beast reported.
The woman was identified by The Beast.
"But what distinguishes this woman, Megan Zalonka, is that she turned her relationship with Greenberg into a taxpayer-funded no-show job that earned her an estimated $7,000 to $17,500, according to three sources and corresponding government records obtained by The Daily Beast. On Oct. 26, 2019, Gaetz attended the "Trump Defender Gala" fundraiser as the featured speaker at the Westgate Lake Resort in Orlando. Two witnesses present recalled friends reconvening at Gaetz's hotel room for an after-party, where Zalonka prepared lines of cocaine on the bathroom counter. One of those witnesses distinctly remembers Zalonka pulling the drugs out of her makeup bag, rolling a bill of cash, and joining Gaetz in snorting the cocaine," The Beast reported.
The hotel room was paid for by Gaetz's campaign.
"While The Daily Beast could not confirm that Gaetz and Zalonka had sex that night, two sources said the pair had an ongoing financial relationship in exchange for sex. 'She was just one of the many pieces of arm candy he had,' said one source familiar with the encounters between Gaetz and Zalonka. The congressman—who has declared that he 'never paid for sex' —wrote off the stay at the hotel as a campaign expense, with his donors picking up the tab," The Beast noted.
We can place Matt Gaetz in a hotel room snorting cocaine with an escort, according to two sources. A source also s… https://t.co/8foOTOsuzb— Matt Fuller (@Matt Fuller)1621032431.0
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