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Gas Station Company Funds Six Trump Billboards

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Image via David Walter Banks

A small company that owns a small Shell gas station and travel center in Needles, California bought six Trump Billboards, possibly using PPP loans. 

What We Know:

  • There are six Donald Trump billboards near the border of California and Arizona that were bought by a small company called Jones 1 Inc., which owns a small gas station and travel center. It is believed that PPP loans were used to fund those billboards.
  • According to Lamar Advertising, the company that leased the spaces for the billboards, six political billboards could cost anywhere from around $10,000 to $30,000 depending on the location. Despite this, they declined to say specifically the pricing for the six billboards. The owner of Jones 1 Inc., Joseph Jones, said that he is planning on keeping the billboards through the election to support the president, which could cost around $30,000 and $120,000. Jones said he didn’t spend anything near $120,000.
  • Jones 1 Inc. was given a loan between $150,000 and $350,000 in April to help with payroll through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). PPP loans were given to help businesses who were affected by the pandemic to help with the mortgage, payroll costs, rent, utilities, etc. Any non-essential spending is prohibited and violates the purpose of the program. And buying political billboards is seen as non-essential even though Jones claims PPP loans were not used for the billboards. 
  • But, even if Jones did not use the PPP loans for the billboards, Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) suggests that if a company can spend its money on non-essential things during these times of hardships, then that company does not qualify for the loan. 

“If you have enough capital to spend it on billboards, maybe you shouldn’t have been one of the companies to receive this loan,” Hempowicz said. “The responsibility really rested with the SBA (Small Business Administration) and the administration to make sure they were spending these taxpayer dollars in a way that Congress intended.”

  • It is common for businesses to get involved with politics by donating money to Super PACs but it has to be reported to the Federal Election Commission if the spending was more than $1,000. The FEC’s records show that Jones did not report the spending. 
  • The idea for the billboards was created by members of the Lake Havasu Republicans Facebook group and the creator of the Facebook group, Gianna Kraft, said that Jones stepped up to make it happen. Kraft doesn’t know whether or not Jones used PPP loans for the billboards. 
  • The SBA required businesses to certify that the loan was needed for them to continue operating and if businesses falsely certified and didn’t return the funds, criminal penalties may be faced.

It’s unclear whether Jones returned the money or applied for the loan to be forgiven. It’s also unclear how the company is currently doing financially. 

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Alex Haynes is Editor-At-Large/NYC Editor at Urban Newsroom, Executive Editor at UNR's Black Alerts and the host of Boss Mornings and Unmuted Nation. Alex joined Urban Newsroom in 2010 and contributes regular op-ed and editorial pieces while advising the columnist and contributing staff.

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T-Mobile Data Breach Included Personal Information of Almost 50 Million Customers

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Fortunately, no phone numbers, account numbers, PINs, passwords, or financial information of the approximately 50 million customers’ records were compromised.

What We Know:

  • T-Mobile reported on Wednesday that the names, Social Security numbers, driver’s license information, and other identification data of over 40 million potential and current customers were exposed in a data breach. In addition, 7.8 million postpaid users were also affected. The company also confirmed that hackers obtained approximately 850,000 active T-Mobile prepaid customer names, phone numbers, and account PINs.
  • Despite T-Mobile users being affected by the breach, Metro by T-Mobile, Sprint prepaid, and Boost Mobile customers stayed protected. The phone tycoons declared no users from those departments had their names or PINs exposed.
  • Those who caused the breach accessed additional information from inactive prepaid accounts via prepaid billing files. Despite this, T-Mobile declared no customer financial information, credit card information, payment information, or Social Security numbers were in the inactive file.
  • In response, T-Mobile proactively reset the PINs on active prepaid accounts. Additionally, the company said it would immediately offer two years of free identity protection services. T-Mobile further recommended users change their PIN while they investigate the situation.

The announcement came two days after the corporation said they were reviewing a leak of data; officials stated someone went on an online forum and offered to sell users’ personal information.

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Judge Rules in Favor of Norwegian Cruise Line, Allows for Proof of Vaccination in Florida

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Judge Kathleen Williams ruled it unconstitutional for businesses to ban a customer requirement of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

What We Know:

  • The U.S. District judge also granted Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) a preliminary injunction that temporarily blocks the “vaccine passport ban.” In May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 2006 into action, which limited the government’s ability to impose mask requirements and other social distancing measures. Senate Bill 2006 also restricts businesses from asking customers for proof of vaccination.
  • Last month, NCL filed a case against the State of Florida. The company initially asserted that the ban jeopardized the health and safety of passengers and crew members. Norwegian Cruise Line company additionally mentioned one could consider the ban and infringement on the First Amendment free speech guarantee. Officials took it a step further on Aug. 6 by asking Williams to block the state law.
  • Williams said the “First Amendment, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment,” does not allow states to create laws that abridge freedom of speech. In addition, she declared a state could not restrict expression because of its message, ideas, content, or subject matter.
  • Judge Williams even stated that Florida did not provide “a valid evidentiary, factual, or legal predicate” for prohibiting citizens from showing vaccination proof. Furthermore, she affirmed that NCL demonstrated that public health might be affected if it suspends a vaccination requirement.
  • In response to the Aug. 8 ruling, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Frank Del Rio, wrote in a statement that the company’s lengths to keep the vaccine requirement in place proves its dedication to safe sailings. He also reported that NCL believes that “the safest and most prudent way” to resume operations is with 100% fully vaccinates guests and workers, as the ruling declared.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Gem will depart from the Port of Miami on Aug. 15. It will be  NCL’s first ship to set sail from Florida since the cruise industry shut down in March 2020.

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Mercedes-Benz Says it will Go All-Electric in 2030, but with a Major Caveat

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Mercedes-Benz plans on selling all-electric cars by 2030, joining rival companies General Motors, Stellantis, and Renault.

What We Know:

  • Daimler, the makers of Mercedes-Benz, stated they would invest over $47 billion between 2022-2030 to create battery-electric cars…having only all-electric cars by 2030. They will build about eight battery plants and have the electric model of every car they make. There will be three battery plants in Europe, four in Asia, and one in the US.
  • The luxury car makers will produce eight electric vehicle models by 2022. They will be producing them on three continents in various locations. Chief Executive Ola Källenius said that the company’s “spending on traditional combustion-engine technology would be close to zero by 2025.” He truly sees the company being all-electric by the end of the decade and competitive with Tesla. Källenius believes that Mercedes-Benz’s initiative will allow them to get 600 miles to a charge, beating Tesla’s longest-running car by 50%.
  • As a part of the Paris Agreement, countries have made a pact to make changes to their carbon emission levels. The US and European Union both decided to target their international import ties. The EU declared that they would “effectively ban new cars with internal combustion engines in 2035,” while Britain and Norway both set expiration dates for any car that runs on fossil fuels.
  • The only caveat to Mercedes-Benz’s plan is that they will produce and sell their electric cars “where market conditions allow.” The automobile company understands that some countries may not have car charging capabilities by 2030, and thus they wouldn’t need an electric car. Because of this possibility, Mercedes-Benz will still make “combustion-engine vehicles” as long as demand is high and needed.

Daimler executives have yet to release the location for the US battery plant, but many suspect it will be near the company’s manufacturing plant in Tuscaloosa, AL. The company has yet to release any information regarding ending sales and production of their fossil fuel cars.

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