Trump slams Biden, teases 2024 bid in first post White House speech

Donald Trump slammed President Joe Biden and sought to retain his grasp on the Republican Party’s future on Sunday during his first major political address since departing the White House last month, at one point teasing a possible bid in 2024.

Trump told a high-profile gathering of conservative activists in Orlando, Fla. that his journey was “far from over” and that he may decide to beat Democrats for a “third time,” alluding to his false claims of winning the 2020 election.

“I want you to know that I am going to continue to fight right by your side,” Trump said.

When Trump said that Republicans would beat Democrats in 2024, the crowd lept to its feet and chanted “U-S-A, U-S-A.”

Trump’s speech began around 4:50 p.m. ET and was expected to last possibly two hours.

Trump is widely expected to eventually declare a bid for president in 2024. Unlike past presidents, he has made it clear that he has no intention of withholding comment on the actions of his successor, and went after Biden on Sunday.

“We all knew that the Biden administration was going to be bad — but none of us even imagined just how bad they would be, and how far left they would go,” Trump said.

Consistent with his penchant for dramatic exaggeration, Trump called Biden’s first month in office “the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history, that’s true.”

“In just one short month we have gone from America first to America last,” Trump said, citing a “new and horrible crisis on our southern border.”

Trump’s political ambitions have put Republicans in a tight spot electorally. The 74-year-old remains overwhelmingly popular in the party, but failed to beat Biden in the 2020 election after losing support among moderates and independents.

Trump was announced the winner of a CPAC straw poll on Sunday ahead of his speech, carrying 55% of the vote. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took second place in the 2024 presidential survey, at 21%, and first place in a straw poll that did not include Trump.

After losing the presidential contest, Trump refused to concede for weeks and was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges that he incited the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

While the Senate ultimately acquitted him, top Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have issued stinging rebukes of Trump’s actions. Trump repeated his false allegation that the election was “rigged” during his address.

Trump was expected to go after some Republicans on Sunday, including Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who voted in favor of Trump’s impeachment. Donald Trump Jr., the ex-president’s son, attacked Cheney at CPAC on Friday, saying she was “tied to an establishment that has done nothing but fail us.”

Earlier this month, Trump denounced McConnell in a statement as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack.”

Trump used the address to deny reporting that he was considering starting a new party.

“We are not starting new parties,” Trump said. “We have the Republican Party, it’s going to unite and be stronger than ever before. I am not starting a new party.”

“Wouldn’t that be brilliant? Let’s start a new party, divide our vote, so we can never win,” Trump added sarcastically.

While Trump has refused to leave the limelight, he has had less direct access to the public since he was banned from Twitter for violating its policies against inciting violence. The company has said the ban will remain in place even if Trump runs for office again.

Trump said during his speech that “we reject cancel culture.”

Sunday’s address also included a number of themes at the heart of the Republican Party’s policy agenda, such as being tough on China and pushing for stricter immigration rules.

“The future of the Republican Party is as a party that defends the social, economic, and cultural interests and values of working American families — of every race, every color, and every creed,” Trump said. He added that the party was a party of “love.”

Trump also pressed Biden to “get the schools open right now.”

Since leaving the White House, Trump has faced escalating legal peril in New York, where Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is apparently examining potential bank and insurance fraud related to Trump and his company, the Trump Organization.

Vance received years of Trump’s tax returns and related documents on Monday after a protracted legal fight that twice made it to the Supreme Court. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and accused Vance of being motivated by politics.

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New York AG ready to oversee Cuomo sexual harassment probe

New York State Attorney General, Letitia James

Lucas Jackson | Reuters

New York Attorney General Letitia James said Sunday that she’s ready to oversee an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo but requires an official referral from the governor’s office that includes subpoena power.

“I stand ready to oversee that investigation and make any appointments necessary,” James said in a statement. “Given state law, this can only be accomplished through an official referral from the governor’s office based on State Law (§ 63-8) and must include subpoena power. I urge the governor to make this referral immediately.”

Cuomo’s office backed off a plan Sunday to appoint a former federal judge, who has a close connection to one of the governor’s top advisors, to oversee an investigation of sexual harassment allegations against him.

The Cuomo administration said it will ask James and Janet DiFiore, chief judge on the state’s highest court, to choose who will oversee an independent probe. The decision would help “avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics,” Beth Garvey, special counsel to Cuomo, said in a statement.

“We will leave all decisions concerning the investigation to be made in the discretion of the independent counsel selected by the Attorney General and Chief Judge,” Garvey said.

However, James said Sunday that she doesn’t accept the governor’s current proposal. She reiterated that she needs a referral in order to conduct an independent investigation and said it’s her responsibility to carry out the task under state law once a referral is made.

The governor’s reversal comes after a slew of Democrats criticized the governor’s initial pick to lead a review and called for an independent probe of allegations after a second female aide came forward to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment. Some Democratic lawmakers also joined some Republicans to call on Cuomo to immediately resign.

Cuomo’s office initially said it would choose former federal judge Barbara Jones to lead the review. Jones had worked with Cuomo’s top adviser Steven Cohen.

The calls for an independent investigation follow a New York Times report published on Saturday evening that described the accusations of Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former aide to the governor, who said Cuomo had asked her about her sex life and whether she was monogamous in relationships and had ever “been with an older man.”

It was the second allegation against the governor in a week. Former aide Lindsey Boylan, a former state economic development official, detailed sexual harassment claims against Cuomo last week, including a kiss without her consent in his Manhattan office. Cuomo has denied Boylan’s accusations.

Cuomo responded to Bennett’s allegations in a statement on Saturday, saying he intended to serve as a mentor and “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”

Pressure from Democrats

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday Cuomo should face an independent review over both sets of allegations in an interview on CNN, adding that it’s something President Joe Biden supports and “we believe should move forward as quickly as possible.”

A spokesperson for Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the senator believes the allegations “should be thoroughly and independently investigated.” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also called for an “independent, transparent and swift investigation into these serious and deeply concerning allegations.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., joined other Democrats in calling for an independent probe of the governor that is not led by someone Cuomo has chosen, but rather by the state attorney general.

“Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett’s detailed accounts of sexual harassment by Gov. Cuomo are extremely serious and painful to read,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a tweet Sunday morning. “There must be an independent investigation — not one led by an individual selected by the Governor, but by the office of the Attorney General.”

The new allegations also come after a report in January that Cuomo’s administration failed to report thousands of Covid-19 deaths in the state’s nursing homes.

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, a Democrat, said on Sunday that the state legislature must immediately revoke Cuomo’s emergency powers that overrule local control and called for two separate independent probes into the sexual misconduct allegations and the undercounting of deaths at nursing homes.

“New Yorkers have seen detailed, documented accounts of sexual harassment, multiple instances of intimidation, and the admitted withholding of information on the deaths of over 15,000 people,” De Blasio said in a statement. “Questions of this magnitude cannot hang over the heads of New Yorkers as we fight off a pandemic and economic crisis.”

New York state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi commended the two women for coming forward with their allegations and called on the governor to resign in a statement posted on Twitter Saturday evening.

“The harassment experienced by these former staffers is part of a clear pattern of abuse and manipulation by the governor, and that pattern makes him unworthy of holding the highest office in New York,” Biaggi wrote.

Republicans also renewed calls for Cuomo to resign following the second allegation, including Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who in a statement on Saturday called the governor a “criminal sexual predator” and said he must resign immediately.

CDC panel recommends use of J&J’s single-shot Covid vaccine

Johnson & Johnson Coronavirus vaccine illustration

Dado Ruvic | Reuters

An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted unanimously Sunday to recommend the use of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot Covid-19 vaccine as the federal government prepares to ship out millions of doses this week.

Once CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky accepts the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendation, the federal government will be able to begin shipping doses out to sites across the country. The ACIP met in an emergency session to review data on the vaccine, which on Saturday became the third shot to receive an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

Walensky said Friday that she would “stand by to review” the ACIP’s recommendation and be “ready to sign.”

“We are at the precipice of having another vaccine in our toolboxes, the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. Like many of you, I’m excited about the news that another safe and effective vaccine option could be coming as quickly as next week,” she said Friday. “Having an additional safe and effective vaccine will help protect more people faster.”

J&J Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Richard Nettles told lawmakers on Tuesday that the company is prepared to ship nearly 4 million doses as soon as it receives emergency use authorization. He added that the company expects to be able to provide 20 million doses by the end of March.

The introduction of the J&J shot could be a boon to the U.S. supply of vaccine. While the new vaccine showed signs of being less effective at preventing Covid-19 in clinical trials when compared with that of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the J&J shot was 100% effective at preventing death and hospitalizations caused by Covid-19 in clinical trials.

The J&J vaccine’s level of protection against Covid-19 in trials varied by region, according to FDA documents released on Wednesday. About a month after the inoculation, the shot demonstrated 72% efficacy in the U.S., 61% in Latin America and 64% in South Africa, where the B.1.351 variant is rapidly spreading.

Notably, the FDA review showed the vaccine was significantly less effective in people 60 and older who also have comorbidities such as diabetes or heart disease. The agency noted, though, that the data was too sparse to draw conclusions from that.

In contrast, Pfizer’s vaccine was found in clinical trials to be 95% effective against preventing Covid-19, while Moderna’s was found to be about 94% effective. Infectious disease experts pointed out that J&J’s numbers can’t be used as a direct comparison to the other two vaccines because it’s a single dose and the company’s trial was conducted when there were more infections as well as new, more contagious variants.

But federal health officials have pointed out the one-shot J&J regimen comes with unique logistical advantages that could make it ideal for hard-to-reach populations.

J&J’s vaccine “makes it operationally easier in lots of contexts,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told the Journal of the American Medical Association during a Q&A event on Friday. “I expect lots of considerations state health departments are having around these vaccines is more about the ease of use of the J&J vaccine and how it might be better suited for some populations.”

J&J has said it plans to ship the vaccine, which contains five doses per vial, at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, Pfizer’s vaccine typically needs to be stored in ultra-cold freezers that keep it between minus 112 and minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit, though the FDA said recently that it can be stored at standard pharmacy freezer temperatures for up to two weeks. Moderna’s vaccine needs to be shipped at 13 below to 5 degrees above zero Fahrenheit.

— CNBC’s Berkeley Lovelace contributed to this report.

White House defends decision not to punish Saudi crown prince MbS

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – DECEMBER 10: (—-EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT – “BANDAR ALGALOUD / SAUDI KINGDOM COUNCIL / HANDOUT” – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS—-) Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman attends the 40th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) annual summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 10, 2019. (Photo by Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Anadolu Agency

WASHINGTON – The White House on Sunday defended its decision to not target Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after a U.S. intelligence report linked the royal to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Historically and even in recent history, Democratic and Republican administrations, there have not been sanctions put in place for the leaders of foreign governments where we have diplomatic relations and even where we don’t have diplomatic relations,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

“We believe there are more effective ways to make sure that this doesn’t happen again and also to leave room to work with the Saudis on areas where there is mutual agreement,” Psaki said.

“That is what diplomacy looks like. That is what a complicated global engagement looks like and we’ve made no secret and have been clear that we are going to hold them accountable on the global stage,” Psaki said, adding that the administration took steps through the Treasury and State Department.

When he was running for president, Joe Biden said he would hold senior Saudi leaders accountable for Khashoggi’s death, calling the kingdom’s leadership a “pariah” that had “very little social redeeming value.”

On Friday, Treasury slapped sanctions on the crown prince’s security detail, known as the Rapid Intervention Force. It also sanctioned the former deputy head of the kingdom’s intelligence service, Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al-Asiri, who is accused of being a ringleader in the plot.

Meanwhile, the State Department imposed visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals “believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.”

Khashoggi, a 59-year-old U.S. resident and a widely known critic of the Saudi royal family, went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. He never emerged following the scheduled appointment. He was killed inside the Saudi government building and later dismembered. His remains were never recovered.

A man holds a poster of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to Saudi Arabia’s consulate on October 8, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. 

Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

When asked if the Biden administration would take further action, Psaki said that the United States would recalibrate its relationship with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Trump administration.

Earlier this month, Biden announced the end of U.S. support for offensive operations in Yemen. Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have carried out attacks in Yemen against the Houthis. The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen had previously enjoyed the backing of former President Donald Trump’s administration. And last month, Biden halted sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia in order to assess potential human rights abuses.

On the campaign trail, then-Vice President Biden criticized then-President Donald Trump’s refusal to address the kingdom’s human rights abuses and eagerness to sell the royals more American-made weapons.

“I would make it very clear that we are not going to in fact sell more weapons to them, we were going to in fact make them pay the price,” Biden said during a Democratic presidential debate. “They have to be held accountable” he added.

Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich monarchy is one of America’s most strategic partners and a significant patron of U.S. defense companies. The Saudis are the top buyer of U.S.-made arms, a title that has safeguarded the kingdom from retaliatory sanctions over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Despite reports that Saudi Arabia was behind the attack, Trump said in a lengthy statement that the United States would stand with Saudi Arabia.

U.S. President Donald Trump looks over at Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud as they line up for the family photo during the opening day of Argentina G20 Leaders’ Summit 2018 at Costa Salguero on November 30, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Daniel Jayo | Getty Images

Throughout his presidency, Trump often cited the importance of America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, repeatedly pushing back on approving significant economic or political consequences for Riyadh’s human rights abuses.

Trump has also previously said that the U.S. defense industry would be negatively impacted if his administration were to sanction the Saudis over the Khashoggi killing.

“I tell you what I don’t want to do,” Trump said to CBS’ “60 Minutes,” when he was asked about possibly blocking arms sales to Riyadh. “Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these [companies]. I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that. There are other ways of punishing, to use a word that’s a pretty harsh word, but it’s true,” he said one month after Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Read more: Restrictions on arms sales to Saudi Arabia would likely have a limited impact on US defense firms, Cowen says

The Biden administration has previously said it is reviewing U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia and unlike the previous administration, the 35-year-old royal is not viewed as the president’s counterpart. Instead, Biden and will conduct relations through the crown prince’s aging father, King Salman, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will conduct relations through the foreign minister.

‘Nomadland’ Amazon RV workforce — what it’s really like

Amazon CamperForce, launched in 2008, recruits RVers and vandwellers from all corners of the country to work for months at a time during the peak holiday shopping season.

Shay Martinez-Machen

In 2017, Shay Martinez-Machen was having an identity crisis. She was pregnant with her son, and the private ambulance company she’d worked at for a decade went bankrupt, suddenly leaving her without a home or a job.

“I went from corporate America to a stay-at-home mom overnight,” Martinez-Machen, 33, said in an interview. “I didn’t know who I was.”

Inspired by her parents, who had become “full-time nomads,” Martinez-Machen, her wife America, and their two kids decided to hit the road in an RV. That summer vacation has since turned into a years-long lifestyle traveling around the country, picking up temporary jobs for months at a time.

But each year since 2017, they’ve spent a few months working for one of the largest employers in the United States: Amazon.

Shay Martinez-Machen and her wife America Martinez live in an RV with their two children.

Shay Martinez-Machen

Martinez-Machen and her wife are among hundreds of Americans who work at Amazon three months out of the year as part of the company’s CamperForce program. Launched in 2008, CamperForce recruits RVers and van-dwellers for temporary jobs to shore up its workforce during the busy holiday shopping period. 

While CamperForce has been around for more than a decade, the program has been cast into the spotlight after it was featured in the Golden Globe-nominated film “Nomadland.”

The movie, based on a 2017 book by Jessica Bruder, stars Frances McDormand as Fern, who lives a transient life on the road in her van, traveling from one job to the next, including as an Amazon warehouse worker in Nevada. Fern picks and packs Prime orders before heading back to her passenger van, where she folds laundry and cooks ramen noodles on a hot plate. The scenes were filmed in a real fulfillment center in Fernley, Nevada, which has since closed and been moved to Reno, according Bob Wells, 65, a real-life nomad who plays himself in “Nomadland.”  

The CamperForce experience depicted in “Nomadland” is a fairly realistic portrayal of what Martinez-Machen and others experience each year. CamperForce draws nomads from all corners of the country, many of them elderly, but increasingly younger and with families in tow, to a growing number of Amazon warehouses in Arizona, Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, among other states. 

Only a handful of Amazon warehouses participated in the CamperForce program in its early days. This year, Amazon will offer CamperForce positions at 27 facilities.

Just like the rest of Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers, CamperForce employees work 10- to 12-hour shifts inside sprawling fulfillment centers, packing, picking, stowing and receiving packages. 

They earn $15 an hour plus overtime, paid out in weekly paychecks, plus an additional $550 stipend to cover some of the cost of a nearby campsite with RV hookups to electricity and water. They can also get an “assignment completion bonus” at the end of the season that pays 50 cents for every regular hour worked and $1.00 for every overtime hour worked, according to a promotional video posted by Amazon. Many of them sport t-shirts, lanyards and other gear with the CamperForce logo — a roving RV with Amazon’s famous smile.

Workers can also get access to medical and prescription benefits after 90 days, but depending on the length of their position, some workers may not be eligible. 

Amazon said it created the CamperForce program as a flexible work option for RVers during peak season. Many CamperForce employees “return year-after-year” to work at Amazon, Amazon spokesperson Andre Woodson told CNBC in a statement.

“We are proud of our innovative CamperForce program and the opportunities it offers for individuals to combine earning extra money during the holiday season with RV camping,” Woodson said.

‘There’s this impression that we’re homeless’

Picking up work at Amazon is usually one stop on the typical jobs circuit for traveling laborers, often referred to as “workampers,” Wells said in an interview.

“You can be a campground host in the summer. When that’s over, you leave almost immediately and you go and work the beet harvest for three weeks,” he said. “Then from there you go to Amazon.”

Bob Wells, 65, plays himself in Nomadland, which stars Frances McDormand and depicts her as a van-dweller working various jobs on the road, including at an Amazon warehouse.

Bob Wells

Wells, who began living in a van in 1995, has never worked at Amazon despite all of his years on the road. But he has met many nomads, often elderly, who have relied on CamperForce for temporary employment. 

“It’s hard work. No one would question that,” Wells said. “You’re on your feet 10 hours a day and then with mandatory overtime it’s 12 hours a day. For old hips, knees and elbows, that’s hard.”

Wells moved into a box van with very little money after going through a divorce. Although it was a traumatic transition, he disagrees with the idea that financial need is the main reason nomads take to a life on the road. Once many nomads finish the six-month job circuit, they spend time traveling. “You’ve got the rest of the year that’s yours,” he said.

Martinez-Machen said she often felt like full-time Amazon warehouse workers didn’t understand what the CamperForce program was about. Some of her coworkers thought that CamperForce employees are “all sitting around a campfire singing Kumbaya,” Martinez-Machen said.

“There was this impression that we’re homeless and we’re transients and we don’t have a safe place to go home to,” Martinez-Machen said. “But my kids are here with me. My house is here. I have a kitchen, a bathroom, a bed and a heater.”

Shay Martinez-Machen and her wife have worked several seasons as part of Amazon’s CamperForce program, which operates out of several warehouses across the U.S.

Shay Martinez-Machen

In the workamper community, CamperForce jobs are often in high demand, with positions often filling up within weeks after they’re posted online, workers told CNBC. But it’s definitely tough work.

Ryan Ginther said he’s unsure if he’d pick up seasonal work at Amazon again. Ginther worked the night shift last December as part of the CamperForce program at an Amazon warehouse in Troutdale, Oregon.

He would head to work around 6:15 p.m. and “work through the night” until about 6:00 in the morning, said Ginther, who lives in an RV with his wife, Summer, and their pet pug. “That was something I don’t really want to do again,” he said.

“It was such long shifts and then it was a 30 minute commute either way,” Summer Ginther said. “We didn’t see each other at all.”

Ginther said he had some experience doing physical labor before he joined Amazon, but had never worked in a warehouse before. “I didn’t know what to expect going in, but eventually found the job pretty easy,” he added.

Ryan Ginther and his wife Summer live full time on the road in their RV. Ryan Ginther has worked at an Amazon warehouse as part of the CamperForce program, which recruits RVers for seasonal jobs.

Summer Ginther

For Martinez-Machen, the transition from managing 150 employees to living on the road and working in a warehouse was much more dramatic. But five years on, Martinez-Machen said she and her wife have adapted to the workamper cycle of seasonal jobs, with Amazon serving as the couple’s “sole source of income and our plans for the fall and winter every single year.”

“We’ve gone back, regardless of the complaints and the sore feet and everything else that comes along with it,” Martinez-Machen said. “I think that’s a common experience.”

Martinez-Machen said she often crosses paths with CamperForce workers who, even though they had a rough time at Amazon, will still return the following season at a site in another state.

“There are people who say, ‘I hate this place, I don’t want to come back,'” she said. “And then at the end of it, they’ll say, ‘Well, where are you going next year? I’ll see you there.'”

$230 million spent trading video highlights

A LeBron James highlight sold for $200,000. A Zion Williamson edition went for a little less than that. The National Basketball Association has officially aligned itself for the future of the trading card marketplace, and currently, this game is sold out.

The NBA partnered with Canadian-based Dapper Labs, makers of the CryptoKitties game, to make its version of a collectible digital asset. NBA Top Shot is a crypto-collectible consumers can purchase as a non-fungible token (NFT). Each collectible is tied to a blockchain — a digital ledger similar to the blockchains used for digital currencies like bitcoin. This effectively gives each NFT a unique and non-hackable certificate of authenticity. So even if somebody makes a perfect copy of the highlight video, it will instantly be recognizable as a fake.

Current “packs” to get in the game go for as low as $9.00 — and they’re constantly sold out.

Caty Tedman, head of marketing and team partnerships at Dapper Labs, says that Top Shots has generated more than $230 million in sales so far, although most of this has come from traders exchanging the collectibles after their initial sale. Dapper earns revenue via fees captured from peer-to-peer transactions and unleashing new packs of NFTs.

“I think it’s fascinating,” said Tom Richardson, a digital media professor at Columbia University’s sports management program.

“It’s a nice evolution and good to see that people are still doing collectibles, even during this time,” added Lars Rensing, CEO of blockchain service provider Protokol. “It’s a new step to the future.”

The game has also become a new source of revenue for the NBA. And again, its sold out.

Inside the new trading card model

Top Shots emerged from a licensing agreement the NBA and its players’ union made with Dapper Labs in 2019. The NBA did not make an official avaiable to comment for this story, but Richardson, who was once head of publishing at the National Football League, says the league can solicit 10% to 15% of sales from a company leveraging their intellectual property.

The NBA licenses the reels to Dapper Laps, which digitizes the footage, making a limited amount to create scarcity. Some NFTs feature highlights in different angles and digital artwork. One is currently listed for over $240,000.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has compared Top Shot to the old-school model of trading cards, where consumers can have fun trading and collecting scarce items – only with no risk of damage or theft. “And the value is still set by the same laws of supply and demand,” he wrote in January.

“Leave it to Mark Cuban to frame it in a good, sensible, easy-to-understand way,” said Richardson, also SVP of strategy at Mercury Intermedia. “So if enough people wanted that same Zion Williamson highlight, that NFT, and bidding on it they got up to $100,000, that’s supply and demand. Someone thought it was worth $100,000.”

The bet for traders is that in 2051, a LeBron James NFT could be worth what a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card is worth today — one of those rare cards recently sold for $5.2 million. And just imagine what a rare Michael Jordan rookie highlight NFT would sell for in 30 years.

“We think it could be a 100-year product,” said Tedman from Dapper Labs. “If you think about what the rookie cards today will be worth in the future, especially the ones from this point of the product. Everyone who is participating now is really getting in on the ground floor.”

By using the blockchain, Richardson says, Dapper overcomes a big challenge with digital assets, which is the ease of copying them infinite times with almost no friction.

“One of the things that have defined the digital era is we’ve moved from a world of scarcity to a world of abundance with all kinds of media assets and products,” he added. “But the thing that defines the trading card business is a physical scarcity of the cards. So (Dapper) created these NFTs with the idea of scarcity combined with authenticity because of the way the blockchain works.”

With this asset, Dapper is positioning itself to capitalize on a digital-driven generation who value digital assets as much as physical ones.

“The new generation is more digital-native,” Rensing said. “I think it will stick around because it’s a solution that also brings in new fans and digital natives.”

Mobile game coming this year

Earlier this month, Dapper raised $250 million and now values itself at $2 billion thanks in part to the sudden popularity of Top Shot, according to digital asset research and news outlet The Block.

With the funds, Dapper will cotinine expanding its blockchain, Flow. Tedman, one of the creators of Top Shot, said it now has roughly 350,000 registered users and claimed that Flow can better handle capacity of a high-value marketplace, something that caused problems with its CryptoKitties product.

“It lets us hit a scale that other blockchain projects haven’t yet,” Tedman said. She said that of the $230 million generated in sales so far, 95% of that has been captured by consumers on its marketplace who buy, sell and trade.

She said the firm released 5,000 new packs of highlights this week as a stress test for Flow, and 90,000 people got in line to buy. The packs quickly sold out.

“They’re coming in, collecting, putting together what they think are good collections, buying and selling,” Tedman said. “It’s almost like if you stash together trading cards with the stock market. That in of itself is a game, before we release the mobile game.”

That mobile game, slated to roll out this year, will allow consumers to build NBA-like rosters by acquiring NFT moments, then compete in online tournaments — and possibly win more scarce NFTs that can increase in value.

“It can be the opportunity to have some fun with your interest and love of a sport – in this case, basketball – combined with your interest in new technology experiences and financial experiences such as cryptocurrency and NFTs,” said Richardson.

Saum Noursalehi is the CEO of software company tZERO, a firm that tokenizes private or public companies’ assets and builds the platform that allows the assets to trade. He sees a bright future with sports leagues using NFT licensing agreements, and suggests it’s a model for how blockchain technology could be used to track and trade other types of assets.

Blockchain technology “is going to change the way we trade value today, how we trade assets,” Noursalehi said.

Added Tedman, “We’re just at the very beginning of this. We have lots of big plans that we can’t wait to put in front of people.”

Let the new games begin, as the digital age continues to take shape. But entry into Dapper’s NBA Top Shot contest is currently sold out.

All three Covid vaccines highly effective, urges people to take available shot

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House press briefing, at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House January 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday he would take the newly approved Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine and urged Americans to take whichever shot is available when they are eligible.

The Food and Drug Administration approved J&J’s vaccine on Saturday, giving the U.S. a third tool to fight the pandemic following vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer. The company expects to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March.

“All three of them are really quite good, and people should take the one that’s most available to them,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“If you go to a place and you have J&J, and that’s the one that’s available now, I would take it,” Fauci said. “I personally would do the same thing. I think people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.”

The J&J vaccine is different from the others because it’s a one-dose regimen and does not require patients to return for a second dose. It can be stored at refrigerator temperatures for months. The shot has demonstrated 66% effectiveness overall, 72% in the U.S. and 57% in South Africa, which has seen a rapid spread of the B.1.351 variant.

Though the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed higher efficacy rates in trials using two doses versus J&J’s single-dose vaccine, Fauci insisted that the J&J shot is not a weaker vaccine and said trial data shouldn’t be compared for the three shots because they were tested at different times.

“You now have three highly efficacious vaccines, for sure,” Fauci said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

While the country is seeing a decline in new coronavirus cases and an improvement in the vaccination rate, Fauci warned states not to prematurely loosen pandemic restrictions, a move which could lead to another surge in infections.

Cases have plummeted from 300,000 a day to roughly 70,000, a baselines that’s still too high, Fauci said.

“We don’t want to continue to prevent people from doing what they want to do. But let’s get down to a good level,” Fauci told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Let’s get many, many more people vaccinated. And then you could pull back on those types of public health measures.”

“But right now, as we’re going down and plateauing is not the time to declare victory because we’re not victorious yet,” he said.

House Covid relief bill extends and raises unemployment benefits

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Unemployment benefits extended

Those programs include Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for self-employed, gig and other workers who don’t qualify for state-level assistance; and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which pays extra weeks of state benefits to the long-term unemployed.

The bill would offer PUA recipients a maximum 74 weeks of benefits, up from 50. PEUC recipients would get up to 48 weeks instead of 24.

Extra $400 a week

Retailers sign more short-term leases in a risky bet for mall owners

Shoppers walk through the King of Prussia mall in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

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Retailers and their landlords are engaged in a high-stakes game of risk right now. And it will be a few years until we find out which party is on the winning side.

As thousands of retail leases come up for renewal, their duration is increasingly shrinking, as businesses grapple with an unpredictable future and look for ways to slash costs, stay flexible and maintain leverage over their landlords, even after the health crisis abates.

The risk is a two-way street, though. Because on one hand, in two or three years, mall and shopping center owners could have the chance to turn the tables back in their favor, by hiking rents or booting retailers out for another tenant. But more short-term deals could also leave landlords with even greater vacancies down the line.

Best Buy Chief Executive Corie Barry said Thursday that the big-box retailer’s average lease term is definitively dwindling.

She said the company has about 450 leases coming up for renewal in the next three years, or an average of 150 annually. The electronics retailer has closed about 20 of its larger-format locations each of the past two years, but expects to shut even more in 2021, she said.

“As we look to the near-term, there will be higher thresholds on renewing leases, as we evaluate the role each store plays in its market, the investments required to meet our customer needs, and the expected return based on a new retail landscape,” Barry said during a conference call with analysts.

The trend spreads far across the retail landscape and into malls. Apparel companies are increasingly rethinking whether it makes sense to be in an enclosed shopping center anchored by department stores that are struggling to lure shoppers and grow sales.

Vans and Timberland owner VF Corp. said leases for its stores have been trending shorter for years. But they’ll be even briefer coming out of the pandemic, according to the company’s chief financial officer, thanks to recent and ongoing negotiations. VF Corp. is making the shift to allow it the freedom to close stores more quickly.

“The way we structure our leases now allows us to be quite nimble, quite agile, and … we can pivot as consumer behavior changes,” CFO Scott Roe said in a recent phone interview.

The retailer’s average lease term is about four years, Roe said, and will soon be even shorter as new agreements are signed.

“The landlords have been cooperative and working with us,” VF Corp. CEO Steven Rendle added. “We both have the same objective, which is to be viable and to be productive.”

Vacant space abounds

While it has traditionally been in a landlord’s best interest to sign a long-term lease — lasting 10 or 20 years — to limit risk and keep a space filled as long as possible, many are succumbing to the pressures brought on over the past 12 months.

With vacant space abounding in many markets across the country, tenants such as retailers and restaurateurs are finding themselves in a greater position of power. It’s a trend that many real estate experts expect will only proliferate, and become the norm, from here.

Leases on roughly 1.5 billion square feet of retail space in the United States are set to expire this year, according to a tracking by the real estate services firm CoStar Group. That’s about 14% of the retail market. So either those leases won’t be renewed, and more retail stores will close, or those contracts will be renegotiated.

‘We’re OK with that’

To be sure, while short-term leases can pose a greater risk for landlords, which then have to deal with unpredictable waves of tenants moving in and out, it goes both ways. Retailers could sign a short-term lease and rents could trend higher in the future if the market strengthens.

David Simon, CEO of mall owner Simon Property Group, told analysts during a conference call in early February that there has been an interest among tenants to go “a little bit shorter term.” Simon is signing more three-year leases these days, he said.

“We’re OK with that, because I’d rather negotiate two or three years from now” than not have a store filled at all, he explained. “I think actually that could be in our best interest, too, because … we don’t quite have the ability to point to sales as a way to increase rent,” he said.

“It’s actually a two-way street, and it’s working out fine with a vast majority of our retailers,” Simon said.

Beth Azor, CEO of retail real estate management and development firm Azor Advisory Services, said she has worked on a number of super short-term deals during the pandemic. Azor, often referred to as the “Canvassing Queen” on social media by her peers, helps leasing agents fill vacant space across the country, working with a number of publicly traded real estate investment trusts, or REITs.

She recently took her service to the up-and-coming social network Clubhouse, where she has been hosting rooms for entrepreneurs to pitch their businesses, and landlords with vacant spaces can listen in. The leases are for anywhere from three months to a year, and sometimes that’s rent-free. She calls it “Space Tank,” a play off ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

Occupancy pays

According to Azor, landlords shouldn’t view the shorter-term leases as a negative, especially given the state of the retail industry. Having a tenant — period — boosts occupancy, she said, which can be helpful when other companies come knocking on the door asking for rent relief.

Businesses on the national and local level have been coming to mall and shopping center owners during the health crisis to try to renegotiate their rents down, Azor explained. And if a property is fuller, albeit with some short-term leases, it is harder for a business to argue that their rent should come down. So occupancy can, quite literally, pay off.

Outlet owner Tanger Factory Outlets has also been doing more short-term deals. Currently, about 7% of its tenants’ leases are classified as temporary, when it has normally been between 4.5% and 5.5%, CEO Stephen Yalof told analysts during a conference call earlier this month.

“A number of deals that actually started out as pop-up or short-term leases … we’ve extended the terms of those leases,” he explained. “So that seems to be a trend.”

He went on to explain that the REIT has favored maintaining high occupancy, with more shorter-term deals, over rent collection in 2020.

“We will see a lot more local and [temporary] leasing probably in the first half of the year,” he said. “But we’re very proactive with our long-term leasing to replace that tenancy and grow our permanent leasing base.”

Not all real estate seems to be prime for pop-ups, though.

New York City’s glitzy Fifth Avenue district, for example, is still largely populated by tenants with long-term leases, according to Fifth Avenue Association President Jerome Barth.

“These are going to be premium leases, no matter what … because this is still the No. 1 market in the world,” said Barth. “I think leases will evolve, and that’s going to be a constant. But people know the Avenue is going to be an exciting place to be for years to come.”

Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to “Shark Tank.”

— CNBC’s Melissa Repko contributed to this report.