‘President Cuomo’ Is New Daydream for Those Fretting Over Biden

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While Americans are stuck at home, the Democrat dominating the airwaves to counter President Donald Trump’s messaging about the coronavirus is not the one seeking to replace him in the Oval Office — it’s New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

And that’s causing some daydreaming for political junkies with time on their hands.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is also holding daily briefings that are scoring high marks for empathy, sound advice about physical and mental health, and for offering a solid plan about what he would do if he were not a private citizen waiting out the virus at his home in Delaware.

Amid a global pandemic, Cuomo’s near-daily briefings about New York’s response to Covid-19 have become the Democratic counterpoint to Trump’s appearances that most Americans see — and unlike Biden, he’s able to actually put his plans into action.

It’s created a moment in the spotlight for a politician who ruled out running for president in November 2018, and who’s endorsed Biden.

Cuomo was U.S. housing secretary in the Clinton administration and is the oldest son of beloved Democratic New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who dallied with running for president in the 1980s and 1990s. As if that wasn’t enough of a Democratic political dynasty, Cuomo, 62, was once married to a Kennedy.

Trending on Twitter

The hashtag #PresidentCuomo trended on Twitter last week. Musings about Cuomo as a wild-card nominee have come from everywhere on the left, including New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who called him “president of the coronavirus response,” and a writer at the feminist website Jezebel, Rebecca Fishbein, who headlined her piece, “Help, I think I’m in love with Andrew Cuomo???” She wrote another piece after Cuomo called to thank her.

Cuomo has also softened his public image by ribbing his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, during recent interviews.

In what seemed like a metaphor for the times, cable news networks last week even skipped a speech by Biden and aired one of Cuomo’s briefings instead. Biden still ended up with a few million views of his briefing on his website over several days.

Jim Larocca, a longtime political player in New York who worked with the younger Cuomo when Mario Cuomo was governor, recently wrote a column in the Long Island newspaper Newsday calling for Democrats to swap him for Biden.

‘Measure of Passion’

Cuomo has provided a “stark contrast” to Trump with his response to the coronavirus pandemic — something Biden hasn’t yet accomplished, Larocca said.

“The governor is displaying a real measure of passion about the subject, compassion for the victims, and humanity about the impacts,” he said. “The contrast with the president’s behavior could not be more pronounced.”

But experts on the Democratic nominating process say that a Cuomo nomination is little more than a daydream.

Biden was on track to win a majority of delegates, allowing him to easily win in the first round of voting at the Democratic national convention, when the coronavirus stopped the nominating process in its tracks. That left him and Bernie Sanders — who is still actively running for the job — with little to do but rail against the president and offer alternative plans via live-stream to combat the virus.

The deadline has passed for more candidates to join the race, so the only way Cuomo could become the nominee is if voting went into a second round, when delegates are free to choose. But there are still hundreds of delegates pledged to Sanders, and a few pledged to former candidates like Pete Buttigieg or Elizabeth Warren. They would all have to switch as well.

‘Far-Fetched Scenario’

Plus there’s the fact that Cuomo, at least for now, supports Biden’s nomination.

Richard Pildes, an election law expert at the New York University School of Law, said that a Cuomo nomination is a “far-fetched scenario” that may seem more plausible to some people at the moment because the Democratic primaries are on hold, with contests postponed to May or June due to the pandemic.

“Given the volatility of the world right now, you can imagine a lot of things happening between now and June 2,” he said.

But he said a brokered convention, which last occurred in 1952, is extremely unlikely unless the presumptive nominee were unable to accept the nomination due to serious illness or death.

Perry Woods, a longtime Democratic strategist in North Carolina, said he’s been impressed with Cuomo’s performances on TV, but that Biden’s brand of empathy, as shown in recent interviews where he talks about the grief victims’ families will face, is just as strong of a contrast with Trump.

Buyers Remorse

“People have a sense of who Joe Biden is, and at his core he is empathetic and inherently a good human being,” he said.

Woods said the Cuomo boomlet is more a function of “buyers remorse” — the perennial concern among Democratic primary voters that they may not have chosen the strongest candidate. That may be exacerbated now as Trump experiences what pollsters call the “rally around the leader” effect of a national crisis, and the higher approval numbers that go with that.

He said it’s extremely unlikely that Democrats would end up with Cuomo as the nominee.

“It’s going to be Joe Biden, short of something physically happening to Joe Biden,” he said.

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Johnson’s War With Coronavirus Is No Joke Anymore

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For Boris Johnson, as for others, it started with a cough and a fever.

The British prime minister did what he was told by the most senior medic in the land and took a test. Johnson was in his Downing Street apartment at midnight on Thursday when the result came through: he’d tested positive for coronavirus. It was the moment the pandemic literally hit home. 

Johnson, 55, is the first world leader to reveal he has Covid-19. His illness graphically illustrates the indiscriminate nature of a disease that has now infected almost 650,000 people around the world and killed 30,000. But as Johnson isolates himself, picking up meals and official papers left outside his door, the infection raises more questions about his attitude to a crisis many medical experts felt he failed to take seriously for too long.

For one thing, Johnson is not the only member of the British government to be hit. Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Friday that he too had tested positive for the virus. Three hours later, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty revealed he was isolating with symptoms. 

While all three insist they’re still working, one question now dominates the debate in the U.K.: if the officials leading the fight against the virus can’t even keep themselves safe, how can they protect the rest of the country and its beloved National Health Service?

“Patients will die unnecessarily, NHS staff will die unnecessarily,” said Richard Horton, editor of medical journal The Lancet. “The gravity of that scandal has yet to be understood.”

In the U.K., 1,019 people have lost their lives. The rate of infection is racing ahead, with the number of new cases doubling every few days. In Italy and Spain, the rapid spread has sent their death tolls way beyond China’s—the virus’s original epicenter—and overwhelmed hospitals.

Horton has been an outspoken critic of Johnson’s approach, warning for weeks that the government has been too slow to act.

There has been a litany of criticisms from many quarters, though, including among his fellow Conservatives: The government shouldn’t have all but stopped testing in the community or begin a misguided policy of seeking “herd immunity” rather than fighting the contagion. It also delayed the imposition of tough restrictions, and kept schools open. 

While other countries were ordering curfews and deploying the military, Johnson instead sought to use behavioral psychologists in the government’s so-called “nudge unit” to persuade the public to do the right thing.

For Johnson, the gamble on a different approach was offset by the fact that his own advisers lent it their support. But the stakes now are high. “One of the functions of a prime minister is to take the blame,” his biographer Andrew Gimson said. “He will take the blame if it all goes wrong—he will have to go, actually.”

At key moments in the outbreak, Johnson has seemed in denial about the size of the threat—and to his critics, it showed. At the start of the month, the premier quipped that while everyone must wash their hands for the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday,” that did not stop him shaking hands with people he meets.

“I can tell you I am shaking hands continuously,” Johnson told reporters in a clip that has since gone viral on Twitter. “I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody.”

As the man who led his country out of the European Union, Johnson has often evoked his idea of British-ness, the unflappable belief that the country is different and all will be well. Indeed, it helped him to an emphatic election victory in December. But making light of a crisis has now landed Johnson in trouble.

On March 16, after weeks of downplaying the issue, he suddenly urged all U.K. citizens to stay at home and avoid unnecessary contact with other people. It would be the prelude to more action that would shut the nation down. Yet later that evening, Johnson made light of the situation on a call with the manufacturers he was trying to persuade to produce thousands of urgently needed ventilators for hospitals. He joked that their task should be code-named “Operation Last Gasp.”

Not everyone saw the funny side. “I was shocked,” said one witness, who asked to remain anonymous. “I don’t know how many people were on that call but some of the comments were not appropriate to the seriousness of the situation.”

As the crisis deepened in the days that followed, the government’s response accelerated further. The country’s finance chief, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, unveiled a 350 billion-pound ($435 billion) “wartime” rescue package for businesses. The next day, Johnson finally agreed to close schools across the country.

Yet after three days of drama and amid growing alarm, an upbeat Johnson decided on March 19 it was time to rally his troops for the push toward victory. He bounded into the wood-paneled state dining room in No. 10 Downing Street, smiling and joking with reporters in front of him.

“I am absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing,” he defiantly declared. A new test could be a “game changer” in the fight against the disease, he said, adding that the U.K. could “turn the tide” of the outbreak in 12 weeks.

By March 23, Johnson was addressing the nation in their living rooms, telling them they would be locked down for an initial three weeks. The first week hadn’t even passed before the prime minister himself fell ill.


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Throughout, the government has insisted all his decisions were taken on the basis of “the best” scientific evidence. The public would get bored of being told to limit their movements for too long, so timing the restrictions perfectly was vital, officials said. The only verdict that counts will come when the death toll is finally known.

But another explanation for Johnson’s approach may lie in his temperament. “He loves being the center of attention,” said Gimson.

Most of all, Johnson has defined himself as a liberal conservative. He has long railed against the “nanny state” for telling people how to live their lives. Explaining his own reluctance to order stricter measures, he said on March 18: “We live in a land of liberty.”

Even when he did try to stop people socializing in bars and restaurants, Johnson could not quite bring himself to treat the issue seriously. In his words, he was asking people to accept an almost impossible demand and give up the “inalienable right” of every “freeborn” Briton to go to the pub. It was a light-hearted message that threatened to undermine the gravity of his request.

On the Sunday before he ordered a full national lockdown, Johnson implored the public to value the freedoms they stood to lose. “Other countries have been forced to bring in restrictions on people’s movements, altogether,” he said. “I don’t want to do that. It’s so important that that pleasure and that ability is preserved—but it can only really be preserved if everybody acts responsibly.”

The tussle between freedom and responsibility may become the conflict that defines Johnson’s career. He rode to power on a campaign to release the U.K. from the EU’s legal shackles. His overriding promise was to “unleash” Britain’s potential.

Now Johnson, like thousands of his fellow citizens, is living in isolation in his apartment and dealing with the disease for the next week alone. The irony is that he has put the entire population—himself included—on the tightest leash of all.

— With assistance by Alex Morales

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Martin Lewis explains self-employed support: The government cash you can get now

Martin Lewis shared the guide to his Twitter account, and explained what self-employed people are entitled to if they cannot work due to coronavirus. Starting the guide, Martin said: “Hello I’m Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert, and this is my video on the new coronavirus self-employed income support scheme.

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“Clearly the state has been struggling to set this one up, both defining what is income for the self-employed.

“Is it turnover, is it profit, do we count dividends? And also, how do you this when, unlike employees who are either working or not, for self-employed people, what counts as work?

“So they have come up with a scheme that is arbitrary. They’ve had to do so, but that means there are holes in it, and there are some people who won’t get support and will feel it is very unfair. It’s quite a tough one, but let me run you through it anyway.”

Martin started with the amount the government will pay, and said: “OK, the first thing is, it will pay you up to 80 percent of profits to a maximum of £2500 a month. Now, this is a grant, not a loan, so it is not repayable. It is taxable income though.

“So, for example, if this pushed you into that higher-rate tax band, they would claw back the 40 percent of it and the national insurance on top. You can understand why the state has done that.

“What are we talking about when we say ‘profit’? It’s a three year mean average profit of your earnings up to the 2018/2019 tax year – the tax year that ended on 5th April 2019.

“So just to be absolutely clear, that’s the 2016/2017 tax year, the 2017/2018 tax year, and the 2018/2019 tax year. And it’s an average of those years.

“If you have two years, they will do it on an average of two years. One year – they will do an average of one year.

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“Where it gets tricker is, say you set up your business in the last six months of April of the 2018/2019 tax year, and you earned £10,000, they won’t pro rata that – they’re doing this by the year. You’ve got £10,000 of earnings in that year.

“They will count that – even if you only worked for six months – as your earnings for the entire year, and it would be profit based on that £10,000, not on £20,000, which you would have got pro rata.

“You are only eligible for this scheme if 50 percent or more of your earnings come from self-employment. If it’s less, you don’t count.”

Martin then highlighted a difference from this scheme to the one for PAYE employees, and said: “However, interestingly, unlike the employer scheme, with the self-employed scheme, you are eligible for this money, for this grant, even if you are still working. They want to keep your business going.

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“So that means effectively, they are helping people who have no work, and whose work has been reduced on the back of coronavirus.

“They are also, technically, making money available for those people whose business has not been hit on the back of this.

“I’ll leave the moral decision up to you as to whether you will take the money in that case.

“But there is quite an interesting difference here which is probably why they have got more strict cut-offs here than on the employee scheme.

“The lump sum will be paid in June – that’s very late. They might push that earlier.

“And as for the amount, as it’s based on a previous average, on your average of previous years, simply you are going to get a quarter of that average.

“So we could say it pays you for March, April and May – it doesn’t work like that.

“You’re going to get a lump sum payout in one quarter of the average over the three tax years.”

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Navy Hospital Ship Rushing To New York, Repairs Unfinished, For COVID-19 Crisis

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s hospital ship Comfort is putting to sea Saturday with some repairs and maintenance unfinished to help New York City cope with the coronavirus pandemic — and give President Donald Trump a public relations boost.

Trump, who has downplayed the severity of the virus but has not left Washington, D.C., since early this month, announced that he will fly on Saturday to Norfolk, Virginia, where the converted oil tanker has been undergoing long-deferred work since December.

“I think I’m going to go out and I’ll kiss it goodbye,” Trump said Thursday. “The ship will arrive, and I believe it’s going to get a little bit of a ceremony. There’s something very beautiful about it. It’s an incredible piece of work.”

Among the tasks that were left for later was work on the ship’s water ballast tanks, which will be done later this summer, Navy spokesman Cdr. Clay Doss told HuffPost. “All other scheduled work including engine overhauls, boiler inspections, and annual firefighting inspections was accomplished during this maintenance period,” he said. “No significant maintenance was deferred or canceled to make the ship ready to deploy to New York … The bottom line is that we wouldn’t get underway if we couldn’t do so safely and confidently ― same is true for all U.S. Navy ships.”

The Navy has stated that the 1,000-bed hospital ship with the distinctive white hull and bright red crosses is designed to handle trauma cases, not infectious disease patients, and would not be caring for those suffering from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. The ship and medical staff aboard would nevertheless help the city cope with the surge in illnesses there by taking some of the non-COVID-19 cases — heart attacks, accidents, et cetera ― that continue to arise and need treatment.

Trump’s announcement Thursday reflects the accelerated schedule to deploy the vessel since he first mentioned on March 18 that he would send it to New York. “They are in tip-top shape. They soon will be. They’re getting ready to come up to New York,” he said during a White House briefing about the Comfort and sister ship Mercy, while also confusing their locations and destinations. “So those two ships are being prepared to go, and they can be launched over the next week or so.”

That same day, top Defense Department and Navy officials said that while the Mercy could leave relatively quickly from San Diego northward for Los Angeles, the Comfort needed more work. “That’s not a days issue, that is a weeks issue,” Jonathan Hoffman, assistant defense secretary for public affairs, told CNBC.

Trump appeared to acknowledge that reality in a briefing Sunday, when he said the Comfort would sail in “three or four weeks.”

Three days later, the Defense Department said the ship would sail by April 2 — only to have Trump announce Thursday of the new deployment date this week.

In 2017, the 45-year-old ship was suffering among many others from the Navy’s long-running problem of “deferred maintenance” caused by an aging fleet and exacerbated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 that House Republicans demanded under President Barack Obama to shrink federal deficits.

Coast Guard forms in 2017 detailed a laundry list of necessary repairs, from a cracked turbine casing in the ship’s boiler needed for propulsion to a nonworking public address system — a critical safety feature in a 900-foot ship — to problems with the fire suppression system, according to Robert Frump, a former maritime industry journalist who now operates a blog about commercial shipping.

The Coast Guard shut off public access to the vessel inspection database last year, he said, making it impossible to determine how and when those issues were resolved. He added that it was obvious why Trump wants the ship in New York quickly: “It’s white. It looks great. A photo op, honestly.”

Despite the problems in 2017, the Comfort was deployed to Puerto Rico in 2018 after Trump received sustained criticism for his halting response to Hurricane Maria and then on a five-month goodwill trip to Latin America last year that ended in November.

“Everyone involved is interested in providing DoD assistance as quickly as possible as we work with our interagency partners to check the spread of COVID-19,” said Army Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a Defense Department spokesman.

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Erdogan Urges Voluntary Lockdown as Turkey Virus Deaths Rise

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced new measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus, imposing further restrictions on people’s movement and banning large gatherings.

Addressing the nation from Istanbul late Friday, Erdogan said everyone must observe “voluntary quarantine” or face more stringent controls.

The Turkish leader announced all flights abroad were suspended and that intercity travel was banned unless authorized by authorities. Some public areas such as picnic spots will be closed during weekends and large groups won’t be allowed in on weekdays. The governors of Turkey’s 30 largest cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, were granted greater powers to implement the limitations, he said.

Bilal Eksi, the chief executive officer of Turkish Airlines, said in a Twitter post that domestic flights would be limited between 14 cities starting from Sunday. In normal circumstances, the flagship carrier flies to 42 domestic destinations, according to its website. Low-cost airline Pegasus said all domestic flights between March 28 and April 30 have been canceled.

Erdogan’s speech followed fresh figures that present a worrisome increase in coronavirus cases. Earlier Friday, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Turkey tested 7,533 people over the last 24 hours, diagnosing 2,069 infections. The total number of cases rose to 5,698, while fatalities reached 92, the minister said.

“People should meet each other as rarely as possible,” Koca said. “Working hours, work days and holidays should be arranged.”

Turkey had its first coronavirus case March 11, while the first fatality occurred March 17.

READ: Turkey’s Top Businesses Urge Erdogan to Do More on Virus Fallout

— With assistance by Firat Kozok

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See the Solar Orbiter launch into space

New York (CNN Business)OneWeb — which for years chased a multibillion-dollar dream of beaming cheap, high-speed Internet from space — filed for bankruptcy on Friday.

The company said it plans to “pursue a sale of its business in order to maximize the value of the company.”
OneWeb’s assets include 74 internet satellites that launched into orbit over the past few months as it began building a constellation of more than 600 devices that the company hoped would blanket the entire planet in internet connectivity.

    The startup’s Chapter 11 filing amounts to another black eye for its largest backer, Japanese investing giant Softbank (SFTBF). The company, which poured about $2 billion into OneWeb since 2016, is under growing pressure from its investors to tighten its belt after a series of bad bets on tech firms.
    Reports of OneWeb’s financial woes have been circulating for weeks, even as the company made its first significant strides in building its satellite internet constellation.

    The startup was reportedly in talks with Softbank to secure new funding, but the negotiations fell apart just hours before OneWeb launched its second large batch of 34 satellites into orbit on Saturday, according to a Financial Times report that was confirmed by CNN Business.
    OneWeb did not comment on specific fundraising efforts, but the company said in a statement that it has been “engaged in advanced negotiations regarding investment that would fully fund the company through its deployment and commercial launch.” But those plans “did not progress because of the financial impact and market turbulence related to the spread of COVID-19,” the statement reads.
    Softbank did not respond to inquiries from CNN Business.
    OneWeb, which employs about 500 people and recently opened a sprawling satellite factory in Florida, also confirmed this week that it was forced to lay off about 10% of its workforce, which it also attributed to the “global health and economic crisis,” according to a separate statement.
    The race for space-based broadband: OneWeb launches 34 more internet satellites
    OneWeb raised more than $3 billion, mostly from high-profile investors including Softbank, Airbus (EADSF), Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, Coca-Cola (KO)and Qualcomm (QCOM).
    And the company was once seen as a forerunner in the race to blanket the world in Internet connectivity using hundreds of satellites that orbit just a few hundred miles above ground.
    But it faced stiff competition. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which brings in revenue from its rocket launch business and raised more than a billion dollars last year, is the clear leader. The company’s Internet constellation, dubbed Starlink, already consists of more than 300 satellites. Musk has said the venture could start delivering service to customers as soon as this summer.
    Other satellite ventures pursing high-speed internet constellations include Amazon (AMZN), Canada’s Telesat and, reportedly, Apple.
    It’s not clear, however, if any of these plans will be successful.
    Several ventures, including one backed by Microsoft (MSFT) multibillionaire Bill Gates, attempted to build similar satellite-internet constellations in decades past. All of them either folded, filed for bankrupt, or drastically restructured their business plans.
    SpaceX, Amazon and others are attempting to succeed where others have failed. But they still face financial and technical hurdles. They must take on the steep costs of mass producing satellites and firing them into space without running out of money — and then they must be able to deliver their services at a price that makes sense for their customers.

      OneWeb’s story is similar to its predecessors: The company began by touting bold plans to deliver low-cost service to billions of people around the globe that still lack reliable Internet access. But as it faced mounting costs and delays while developing its technology, OneWeb shifted its focus to corporate customers, with plans to beam Internet to ships and airplanes.
      SpaceX is still pledging it will bring Starlink service directly to consumers. However, it has yet to demonstrate it can produce affordable user terminals, which would use complex antennas to set up usable internet connections on the ground.
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      Catholic Bishops OK Meat On Fridays During Lent Due To Coronavirus

      In light of the toll a novel strain of coronavirus is taking on the country, some U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are upending church tradition by relaxing parishioners’ Lenten duties.

      During Lent, a period of fasting and reflection leading up to Easter, Catholics over the age of 14 are traditionally obligated to refrain from eating meat on Fridays. But bishops in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and other states have issued dispensations from this rule due to the social and economic upheaval caused by the pandemic.

      In New York, the current epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., state officials ordered residents last Friday to stay at home for the foreseeable future. Brooklyn Bishop Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio issued a dispensation that same day in an effort to lighten the loads of Catholics who have trouble shopping for food. 

      In the week since he announced the dispensation, DiMarzio’s diocese has issued press releases about 13 parishioners who contracted the new coronavirus and had visited church buildings ― including a priest, a nun and several choir members. On Wednesday, the diocese announced that an elderly parishioner had died of the disease.

      In New York state, more than 500 people had died of COVID-19 as of Friday.

      Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux noted that COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, has made observing the traditional fast from meat tough for his parishioners in southern Louisiana. The state has seen nearly 120 COVID-19 deaths so far.

      “The new Corona Virus Disease or COVID-19 has placed most, if not all, of our faithful in a situation where obtaining food, including meal alternatives from meat, the rising cost of fish and other forms of seafood, and even the challenge of being able to obtain groceries without endangering their health, make it clearly difficult for them to fulfill this practice.”

      He encouraged Catholics who take advantage of this dispensation to substitute their traditional fast from meat with other forms of penance, particularly acts of charity. 

      Rev. Peter J. Uglietto, auxiliary bishop of Boston, said Catholics are called at this time to “make the best of what we have at hand or is available for purchase.”

      “Many people are using what they have stored in their freezers and on their shelves,” he wrote in a letter announcing a dispensation for his archdiocese Thursday. “Others are depending upon pre-packaged meals or food delivered through support agencies.”

      Most bishops are still upholding the requirement for Catholics ages 18 to 59 to fast on Good Friday, the day that marks Jesus’s death. Generally, the only people excused from that obligation are pregnant or nursing women, and those who are sick.

      Exemptions from this particular church rule aren’t unheard of in U.S. Catholic dioceses. In the past, some bishops have offered these dispensations when a Lenten Friday coincides with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

      It was around Ash Wednesday on Feb. 26, the first day of Lent, that American Catholics started hearing about cancellations of public Mass in Italy and other parts of the world that had been affected earlier by the skyrocketing coronavirus cases. 

      This year’s Lent has proved to be like none other in recent history. Earlier this month, bishops around the country dispensed Catholics from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays. Most American dioceses have suspended public celebrations of Mass and moved services online.

      Some dioceses have already announced that they’re cancelling public services during Holy Week and Easter, which falls on April 12. This means many American Catholics won’t be able to participate in the devotions and traditions that usually mark the holiest season of the Christian year.

      The U.S. now has over 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more 1,400 deaths recorded, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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      Mark Cuban Says 3M Not Doing Enough to Keep Face Mask Prices Low

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      Billionaire Mark Cuban has been trying to do his part to help hospital workers get more protective equipment, working with a non-profit group and delving into the market himself to find gold-standard N95 respirator masks he could buy for medical personnel.

      He uncovered something else instead. What he found poking around in that marketplace is leading him increasingly to believe that respirator maker 3M Co. is shirking its duty to keep prices low and get masks where they’re needed most during a national emergency. The problem, he says, is that 3M sells the masks through a network of resellers who aren’t held accountable for raising prices and don’t have to direct their sales to hospitals.

      “3M lists all its distributors online, the ones buying and selling these things, and these distributors are making as much money as they possibly can,” Cuban said in an interview. “It’s wrong, it’s criminal.”

      A representative for 3M pointed to a previous statement saying the company hasn’t changed the prices it charges for respirators as result of the Covid-19 outbreak, and can’t control the prices dealers or retailers charge for their products. 3M also released a letter this week from Chief Executive Officer Mike Roman to Attorney General William Barr condemning “pandemic profiteers.”

      Cuban, the 61-year-old owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is an entrepreneur and reality-TV star with 7.8 million Twitter followers and a long history of fines by the NBA commissioner for being too brash. He’s new to the world of medical supplies, but his opinion is getting some reception in Washington. A senior official confirmed that Cuban has held informal talks with the Trump administration, but declined to elaborate or identify who he spoke with. The official said the administration is open to hearing all ideas to speed availability of resources to fight the virus

      The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

      Cuban confirmed he’s been in touch with higher ups at the White House about “price gouging” taking place among mask-sourcing middlemen, though he clarified he’s not working on a “coordinated effort” with the Trump administration.

      Surging Costs

      Across the U.S., states are bidding against one another for masks priced as much as 10 times the usual amount as more patients show up at hospitals with symptoms of Covid-19. Individual traders are noticing the skyrocketing cost, too.

      Tamer Abdouni, the founder of Beirut-based Consultium Ltd., a firm that facilitates global trade, was able to source a 3M respirator mask for $1.25 only six weeks ago. Now, through a series of distributors, he can only find a mask for more than five times that cost.

      “The problem is there are so many middlemen buying these products and reselling them,” says Abdouni, who works with buyers in the U.S. and other countries. “You can’t pinpoint who is to blame.”

      Bachir Diange, an entrepreneur who co-founded the impact venture fund United Global Alliance, is working to help governments across Africa and partners in the U.S. find affordable N95 masks. “The price is now unsustainable,” he says, “You find yourself with 10 intermediaries that are acting like it’s the wild, wild west. They’re not interested in the impact of the moves they make.”

      Scammers may already be trafficking counterfeit or faulty products, according to Premier Inc., which helps 4,000 member hospitals buy and manage their supplies.

      “A grey market is amassing around personal protective equipment,” Premier said in a warning letter to health-care providers. “We contacted the legitimate manufacturers of these products, who could not determine how these fraudulent sellers obtained supplies.”

      Premium Prices

      Cuban says his outrage was initially prompted by an influx of emails from so-called distributors trying to sell him “billions” of masks. “I have emails saying, ‘I have a 100,000 masks per sale at $8 per piece.’ I would ask if these were 3M masks, N95s, and if they could prove it. I literally have been offered billions of masks at premium prices from $4 to $8, million-dollar minimum orders, who knows what’s real.”

      While several companies make N95 masks, 3M, the 118-year-old Minnesota manufacturing giant, is one of the most well-known and prestigious brands. In response to surging demand for the respirators, Roman has doubled global production of N95 masks in the last two months to about 100 million a month, with plans to expand annual production to 2 billion a year over 12 months.

      Cuban said he’s reached out to Roman but remains dissatisfied.

      “I’m excited that 3M has increased capacity. But supply hasn’t been matched with demand,” he said. “Why is 3M not telling distributors, pick up the phone, sell your inventory to the hospitals, or will never let you buy more product?”

      When Cuban has found mask sellers he considers legitimate, he’s diverted them to Project N95, a non-profit organization working with governments and health-care providers to deliver much-needed medical equipment, including N95 and surgical masks, isolation gowns and ventilators. Cuban said he’s working as an adviser to the group, and would support them with capital, should they need it. His work with the group is one reason he’s so incensed by what he sees as profiteering.

      “It’s operating like an illegal drug market, not a legitimate market,” he said. “I get wanting to make millions of dollars, but people are dying.”

      — With assistance by Rick Clough, and Josh Wingrove

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      The luxury bunkers super-rich survivalists buy for doomsday

      The coronavirus crisis is changing daily life around the globe in dramatic ways — and homeowners and buyers are thinking about how they might make changes, too, to their properties, to be better prepared for disaster scenarios.

      Survivalist prepping is nothing new for many high-net-worth individuals. Wealthy homeowners have long been outfitting their apartments and houses with panic rooms, complete with bars, TVs, and upscale furnishings, to have an opulent retreat in the event of a break-in or other crisis.

      For example, even before the outbreak of coronavirus, many Silicon Valley billionaires had been setting their sights on New Zealand, which they value for its stability and remote location. Peter Thiel, for instance, who is known for his interest in survivalism, has a $4.8 million home in Queenstown, complete with a panic room; he has said New Zealand is “the future” and has citizenship in the country.

      And now, amid panic over the spread of COVID-19 as millions quarantine out of precaution or government mandate, investing with preparations for disaster in mind seems smarter than ever.

      Two weeks ago, “it was like escape from New York — people were fleeing the city,” said Matthew Breitenbach, a broker with Compass in the Hamptons on Long Island. “It was intense. I’m surprised about the way people react within a crisis.”

      Now the rental market in the Hamptons is also booming, several months in advance of the usual summer high season, with a 33 percent increase in searches for short-term rentals this month.

      In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a larger cohort of wealthy buyers will become interested in homes geared toward safety and security in the face of crises, experts predict.

      “The super rich may look to extend their options where they could have a safe house away from dense cities like New York,” said Emil Hartoonian, a managing partner with The Agency in Calabasas, California.

      Isolated compounds

      Some investors are showing an increased interest in purchasing large, isolated properties to use as primary or vacation homes.“

      There’s a large demand for bigger properties that are more isolated, more like compounds,” Breitenbach said. “People want homes that are gated and private.”

      He cited one client who relocated to their Hamptons compound with their own staff and locked down the property in early March when warnings about the pandemic grew more serious.

      This trend, however, is not entirely pegged to the coronavirus.

      “Over the last two to three years, there have been more year-round people moving out here. The Hamptons is becoming more about privacy and hanging out at home,” Breitenbach said. “Young people who make a lot of money are coming here seeking a different lifestyle.”

      Developers are taking note of the rising demand for privacy and isolation. In Malibu, a 24-acre gated development called The Case will house five mansions and include 24/7 security for its residents. The compound is also equipped to fend off another kind of disaster: each mansion has its own water cannon to fight fires, and private firefighters will be on call. The first Case mansion sold for $40 million last spring; a second is on the market for $100 million.

      And in Virginia, a 350-acre “self-sustaining survivalist escape” with three residential cabins, dubbed High Mountain Camp, just went on the market this month for $17 million. The owners have noted an “uptick of interest” in this kind of off-the-grid property.

      The Covid-19 crisis could ultimately transform the luxury real estate landscape, as wealthy buyers increasingly move from dense urban centers to more remote locations, seeking larger properties in gated communities with extensive security.

      “People want some space if they’re going to be hanging out at home for a few months,” Breitenbach said.

      There may be also be an increase in investment in private jets, as the wealthy consider how they can reach their homes with minimal contact with others.

      “Nowadays, notwithstanding a disaster like what we’re going through, people use planes or helicopters even for short distances to avoid traffic,” Hartoonian said. “Chartered businesses may profit from this as the uber-rich may consider investing in their own [private jets]. Those options are on the table.”

      Self-sufficient homes

      Many homeowners may respond to the coronavirus pandemic by transforming their currently owned properties into more self-sufficient spaces.

      “It’s like being in a situation where you live in a fire-prone neighborhood and you go through a bad experience,” said Hartoonian. “It prepares you for what you need to look out for the next time it comes, cutting your shrubs, doing better weed abatement, getting a more fire-resistant roof.”

      The takeaway from this current crisis, he said, may be that homeowners upgrade their homes to be more comfortable and sustainable if they do need to bunker down again in the future. He cited one client in the Los Angeles area who has already taken steps to make their property self-sufficient, surrounding it with fruit and herb gardens, installing a safe room in his house, and even building his pool in such a way that its water could be turned into filtered drinking water.

      https://www.instagram.com/p/BzYpWqGnyB1/

      High-end homes built for autonomous living — like one off-the-grid cottage in the Scottish Highlands, which gets electricity from solar panels and water from its own borehole — offer not only a minimal impact on the environment, but also a self-sufficient space to hole up in the event of a crisis.

      Some developers are even creating entire communities in this autonomous, sustainable model, like the ReGen Villages in the Netherlands.

      “Hopefully people will make the right decisions [in light of this crisis],” Hartoonian said. “And in the future, be better able to prepare.”

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      A $500 Billion Corporate Bailout? With Few Conditions? Katie Porter Wants Oversight Now.

      WASHINGTON ― Whether or not they realized it, lawmakers just passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill that lets Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin give $500 billion to corporations without any particularly meaningful oversight on how it gets spent, which sectors will be treated as a bigger priority for getting financial help, or when the money will be repaid. 

      Billions of those dollars could begin flowing within an hour of President Donald Trump signing the bill into law, which he did Friday evening.

      This has been keeping Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) up at night. That, and a nasty virus that seemed a lot like COVID-19, though she tested negative for it on Friday.

      Porter knows a thing or two about strong oversight of taxpayer money: In 2012, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris appointed her to oversee banks’ implementation of $9.5 billion in mortgage settlement reforms.

      An attorney who studied under Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at Harvard Law School, Porter has also drawn attention for her sharp questioning of bank executives in the House Financial Services Committee. In March 2019, she caught Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan contradicting what his corporate lawyers had argued in court, saying that statements he had previously made vowing transparency were “corporate puffery.” Porter made news again in April 2019 with her questioning of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, pressing him on how a Chase bank teller should make up a $567 shortfall between her monthly budget and paycheck. 

      HuffPost caught up with Porter to get her take on this $500 billion Treasury Department fund. There are some oversight measures written into the bill ― it creates a special inspector general and a congressional oversight panel and requires Treasury to post its transactions on its website. But Porter said she’s “very unhappy” with the way the fund has been structured and fears that, without immediate and robust oversight, America could see a repeat of what happened when the government spent $700 billion bailing out banks under the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program: massive amounts of taxpayer money suddenly gone and nobody really sure where it went.

      To connect a couple more dots, oversight of the Treasury fund is modeled after the TARP approach, and Warren led TARP’s congressional oversight panel. Porter said she and Warren have been talking this week about lessons learned ― good and bad ― from the way TARP was rolled out.

      Here’s our Q&A with Porter, whom we spoke with over the phone on Thursday night. It has been edited for brevity.

      HuffPost: Hi, Congresswoman. You’ve self-quarantined. How are you feeling?

      Porter: I’m feeling a little better today. So that’s good. I haven’t heard yet [on the test results] but we’re hoping to hear soon. 

      HuffPost: Good to hear. What’s your take on the $2 trillion stimulus bill?

      Porter: There’s a number of really terrific things in this bill. The $100 billion to hospitals and health care providers who are on the front line of this crisis is incredibly important. This bill has important resources for small businesses, including grants. They’re not loans. They don’t need to be repaid. Grants that would simply help businesses stay afloat and keep as many people on payroll as possible during this period. Disaster relief funding for FEMA will be really important in California. The increase in unemployment insurance money. Last, the direct cash payments, though I am very concerned about those payments being too small, taking too long to reach people and being unavailable and phased out for folks in higher-cost-of-living areas.

      What really concerns me about the stimulus is the lack of robust oversight over the Treasury fund. As I understand it, we’re talking about roughly $500 billion. There’s no reason there can’t be stronger oversight here except that, frankly, clearly, we couldn’t get to an agreement with the Trump administration and with the Senate Republicans about it.

      With TARP, the money was dispensed overnight. By the time we understood how much had gone out the door, we didn’t know where and how it was being used. In this situation, it obviously needs to be abbreviated, expedited and controlled so that we get decisions made. But there can and should be a public debate about how this $500 billion is going to be used. So, should we be using it for the airline industry? How about versus other transportation sector needs like Amtrak or the cruise ship industry? How does the cruise ship industry compare to the gaming and casino industry?

      I understand a lot of it can be used to basically transmit to corporations. The corporations can then use that as a downpayment ― that is, they can leverage it to borrow even more. That’s why you’re hearing these numbers in the $4 to $6 trillion range.

      But the public needs to understand which industries are getting this. What, if any, conditions are being put on it? What is the time frame for paying this back? And just like we had a robust debate in the last two weeks about “Should we pay for testing? Should we pay for treatment? What about people who have insurance?” ― we had a public debate around all of those things. There should be room to have public debate on this $500 billion fund.

      HuffPost: The bill doesn’t give details on any of those points you just raised.

      Porter: No. None of that is in the bill. There are very few conditions on where this money can go. There are a few general specifics. But they are very broad. They pertain primarily to not allowing stock buybacks or increases ― increases! ― in executive compensation during the term of this help. It doesn’t talk about how we should think about these priorities like how we weigh the relative needs of manufacturers versus retail versus hospitality versus technology. All of these sectors, all of that is left to the secretary of the treasury. And this is a secretary of the treasury who frankly was tangled up in the last financial crisis in his role with OneWest in a way that does not give the American public the confidence that it should have and the confidence that it needs.

      My understanding is this bill will require the transactions to be posted to the Treasury Department website. I have a lot of questions about the level of detail we’re going to be getting and whether the public is going to be able to really understand what’s being done with their taxpayer money.

      There is this congressional oversight panel and this inspector general. That structure is clearly based off of TARP. Again, I would just say, this is not fully analogous. There is more time here. Not that there is time to waste, but there is time to act.

      As I understand it, right now the first report of this congressional oversight panel is not due until 30 days after the Treasury makes its first loan. I was thinking about this yesterday when I was lying in bed.

      HuffPost: As one does when one is lying in bed.

      Porter: Right. I was thinking about the word “oversight” because I keep hearing the speaker say, I keep hearing leadership say, “oversight, oversight, oversight.” Really, when you think about what overseeing something means, it means you are literally watching it in real time. You are seeing how it is done. Right? So when we conduct oversight of how our food is manufactured or processed, or we conduct oversight to clinical test results, those are very much real-time things.

      This is all in the past. So this is not so much oversight as it is historical study. What happened 30 days ago. In the scheme of this pandemic, which may last two weeks, four weeks, it could be 60 or 90 days, the first report is not coming until 30 days after the Treasury first takes action. I think that’s too slow.

      HuffPost: In the end, will you support this bill?

      Porter: I’m not going to be voting because I can’t travel to Washington.

      HuffPost: Right, but in public statements?

      Porter: I do support this bill. I think we cannot wait longer. But I want to be clear, I’m very unhappy about the structure and the lack of oversight of this Treasury fund. I don’t see any meaningful justification for it other than we couldn’t politically get there.

      HuffPost: This bill is going to pass. What’s the first thing Congress should do to make sure there is strong oversight of this $500 billion fund?

      Porter: To really press for immediate, like day-after-the-bill-is-passed appointment of that special inspector general. It’s to get that congressional oversight commission appointed immediately, like within hours of the president signing this bill. Because we have to have them beginning to do this work. Like I said, it’s not transparency. It’s history. That is one of the concerns I have.

      I disagree with Democratic leadership. I would not characterize this as ― and this is in the Senate talking points, but I’m sure the House’s are similar ― they’re characterizing this as robust transparency protections. I would respectfully say I think these are potentially weak transparency protections. They’re certainly shaky and they’re only going to be as good as how quickly we move and how strong of people we put into these roles of being special inspector general and being on the oversight panel.

      HuffPost: Do you want to be on the congressional oversight panel?

      Porter: I would love to continue to help to serve the government in any way that I can. I obviously watched very closely and testified before the TARP oversight panel―

      HuffPost: Congresswoman, you are a perfect fit for this. This could be the Katie Porter oversight panel.

      Porter: Look, I think it’s really important that whoever goes on this panel has the ability to get started immediately. This is not a situation where you can take smart, well-intentioned people who have no experience in the financial sector or doing oversight work. We just don’t have that kind of ramp-up here. So if you think about the difference it made to have someone like Elizabeth Warren be the chair of the TARP panel, it was how quickly she was able to get them all going. It was because she had the knowledge.

      I think we have a few days if we’re going to get this panel assembled and active so it can be in partnership, in true oversight, with the treasury secretary from the get-go. Secretary Mnuchin could move this money out within hours of the president signing the law. It’s incredibly important that we move quickly. 

      With TARP, the chair of the panel was a vote of the members, and that’s how Elizabeth Warren became the chair. I think if you had not had Warren as chair, that would have been a toothless oversight panel. I think [TARP program] Special Inspector Neil Barofsky did great work, but a lot of it was really slow and came out buried in these reports. In Sen. Warren, then Professor Warren, you had somebody who was ready on day one and skilled on day one at communicating complex ideas to the American people. I think that’s something that I’ve worked really hard on in my time in Congress, in hearings, to be able to ask questions and do oversight in a way where it’s very clear to the American people what I’m doing, what I’m asking and whether we’re getting a real, meaningful answer or not.

      HuffPost: So you would like to be on this committee.

      Porter: Yes.

      HuffPost: Have you spoken to leadership about it?

      Porter: No. I wanted to wait until we had a bill to really see what was provided in it. I was hopeful there would still be some opportunity to strengthen it. It appears that we’re just going to be voting on the exact thing the Senate passed. So I’m continuing to ask questions.

      I was on a call this morning with about 100 members and I was asking questions and trying to get people thinking about what some of the lessons are from TARP. So regardless of who ends up serving in this role, I intend to be very involved from my role on Financial Services and my role on [the House Oversight and Reform Committee] hearing from folks who are doing this work. I think there are a lot of lessons for them from both what went well and what didn’t go well with regard to TARP.

      HuffPost: Do you have any sense from leadership of how quickly they might be able to get this panel up and running?

      Porter: I don’t. Timing is really really important, and I think the most important thing that I can do right now is to help the American people understand and help leadership understand how quickly Treasury will move. We’re talking right now about how long will it take Americans to get checks, or how long will it take people to get their unemployment claims, or about the processing of these SBA loans. I want to be crystal clear: The Treasury can move this money in an hour. So we really need this oversight panel up and running. The people need to be picked. They need to be ready to staff up and start working within an hour of the president signing the bill. Or we’ll be in a situation where we’re looking back 30 days later and $40-50 billion could be gone out the door.

      HuffPost: I don’t think many people have really grasped this.

      Porter: I don’t, either. I heard [American Prospect executive editor] David Dayen talking yesterday. He used a term that has sort of haunted me for the last 24 hours. He described this Treasury fund as “a money cannon” that Secretary Mnuchin could fire. I think that’s right. In other words, it’s like a cannonball. You drop it in there and it only takes a few seconds for the fuse to go off and the money’s gone.

      That means you have to really point the cannon in the right place. We have to know who the enemy is here and what you’re hoping to accomplish. That was a helpful visual, I thought, to get people to understand. 

      The ways that consumers and businesses get help here are going to be much slower. Even if we can do direct deposit to a lot of those taxpayers who have direct deposit on account with the Treasury, that will still be a week, two weeks at the fastest. And it’s not 500. Billion. Dollars. 

      HuffPost: I suspect some members of Congress don’t even realize how fast this money can go out.

      Porter: We had five conference calls yesterday, the House Democrats did, with different committees. Five calls. Each lasted an hour and 10 minutes. So I was six hours on the phone. Zero questions were asked about this except by me. 

      HuffPost: So what does that tell you? Lawmakers don’t realize what they just agreed to do?

      Porter: I think this is just not as accessible to the typical member. This is not what members of Congress do. They debate programs, right? They appropriate money. They think about the right policy trade-offs. That’s not this. This really is straight-up oversight work.

      The other thing I’d say, from the foreclosure crisis, the national mortgage settlement, I 100% believe those attorneys general and President Obama, when he announced HAMP [Home Affordable Modification Program] and making homes affordable and all those programs, the intent to help was there. The execution was a disaster.

      So I believe my colleagues are taking the word of our businesses and our industry that they need help. I don’t question that. I believe a lot of companies and businesses, big and small, need help. But the execution of it is incredibly important because the American public, who is going to continue to suffer, when they figure out that so-and-so go bailed out 24 hours after President Trump signed the law and they’re going to be waiting 24 days at best to get a check or a small business loan or even get acknowledged that the Small Business Administration got their paperwork, the American public is going to be upset.

      The Treasury fund is not a bad policy idea, and I think that’s why my colleagues are not necessarily questioning it. That, plus just a lack of familiarity with some of these topics. But just because it’s a good idea does not mean it will be well-executed. If there’s anything we should have learned from the coronavirus pandemic response, it’s that it may not be well-executed.

      HuffPost: OK. Is there anything else you want to say on this?

      Porter: I did speak to Sen. Warren yesterday and asked her about some of her experiences with TARP and whether she thought there were lessons from that for this. One of them was the importance of speed and getting it moving quickly. And one of them was the importance of being able to communicate clearly to the American public. I think it’s something we need to be looking for as we think about who is going to be the inspector general, who is going to be on this panel. 

      When Democratic and Republican leaders and the president are all saying that there are robust transparency protections and there is strong oversight, then by God, that’s what there should be. I’m not confident that’s going to happen.

      When you start characterizing things as strong, as robust, as transparent, those are adjectives. You have to do the work to make them come true. Nobody is saying, for instance, that the cash payments to workers are sufficient, right? Because we don’t know. We should be careful here on how we’re selling this. And we have to be prepared to really dig in and do the work.

      I’m definitely fired up about it. I remember so distinctly waking up the morning after all that money went out in TARP. Where did it all go, I thought to myself. This could be that same feeling. I think that left a bad taste in people’s mouths. We should not replicate that experience. 

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