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Billionaires have had their flights to space, now what does it mean for everyone else?



It’s not as if they don’t know how to put on a show. Branson had Steven Colbert standing by to make quips at his launch. Bezos had every news organization trying to set a record on the use of the word “historic.” Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin had their own teams standing by with stirring music, sharply edited promo reels, and breathless announcements. Oh, and there were uniforms—both companies outfitted everyone with their best faux right stuff chic.

And of course, Bezos had Wally Funk, whose long delayed trip beyond the atmosphere may be the only unalloyed good to come out of either flight.

What happens now? Not much, really.

Bezos’ unfortunately shaped New Shepard appears to be a reliable automated pogo stick, able to send people going five minutes up, followed by five minutes down. The biggest issue with the craft is why it’s so incredibly slow. Not slow in terms of how fast it travels in flight, but so incredibly slow getting to that flight. Blue Origin was actually formed in 2000, two years before SpaceX. The company stuck its first attempted at a vertical landing in 2005, eight years ahead of SpaceX “grasshopper” test vehicle. And then … Blue Origin seemed to just get stuck in molasses. 

The company, which has the motto Gradatim Ferociter (step-by-step, ferociously) had demonstrated very little ferocity, and not even a lot of steps. New Shepard first flew in 2015 and seems to have changed very little over the last six years. Over that time, Bezos’ rocket firm has averaged just over two suborbital launches per year. In comparison, SpaceX launched their fleet of Falcon 9s 26 times in 2020 alone, and has sent three crews into orbit. 

Blue Origin is supposed to be building a very large new rocket named he New Glenn that would compete with SpaceX in terms of taking cargo to orbit. And, like SpaceX’s Elon Musk, Bezos has said he has a long-term goal in space. In Bezos’ case, that’s constructing large orbital stations where thousands or even millions could live and work. However, while SpaceX’s successes—and explosive failures—have been very visible, there’s very little sign of progress on the New Glenn. There’s a very impressive new factory right outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center, but all the public had seen of the new rocket is one half of one fairing—though Bezos has delivered a pair of the new engines Blue Origin is using to power their Glenn, as well as the upcoming Vulcan rocket from United Launch Alliance.

In any case, New Shepard did its job—it’s generating publicity for a company that, in terms of technical advances, has very little to show for 20 years of investments. It will now provide its not-quite-as-good-as-1961 flights to anyone who can pony up the price. Though, considering the rate at which the rocket has been turned around in the past, it wouldn’t seem Bezos is really going to be taking down any profit from that ticket window.

On Branson’s side of the ledger, there’s an equal not-a-lot to come from this. When aircraft designer Burt Rutan sketched out SpaceShipOne, he did so with a very specific purpose: to win the Ansasi X-prize. What Branson has now is just another generation of that same design. It can go to 53 miles and glide back, but it’s not a scalable solution. It’s not only never going to orbit, it’s not really something that could be finagled into a design that could go to orbit. And as far as his space ambitions go, that seems to be the limit for Branson. He has another company, Virgin Orbit, that is launching small satellites, and their LauncherOne rocket has successfully reached orbit, so … that’s something Bezos’ company has yet to achieve.

One thing that Bezos has over Branson is automation. The VSS Unity takes some very skilled piloting at all stages of the flight. An earlier craft was actually lost, and one pilot killed. Just a few months ago, a flight was aborted when the rocket engine failed. In terms of safety, Bezos’ probably has that over Branson by a significant margin. There’s little doubt that, had Bezos not announced his flight, Branson would still be putting his ship through its paces. Oh, and Branson started building his plane in 2008 with predictions that it would fly by 2010, so it’s not as if he’s quite on schedule. Don’t expect a lot of additional flights from Virgin Galactic this year, either.

Overall, both companies have built crafts that demonstrate how decades of new technology can allow an experience that was limited to the most advanced pilots in 1960 to be turned into a brief, amusing ride for the very wealthy. Neither seems set to either repeat their trick with great regularity, or to extend their system into something that’s more than an even pricier version of Space Mountain.

And while there’s a lot of talk about how these trips to space might give people “new perspective,” don’t count on it. When the first images came back from Apollo 8, showing the whole Earth as a single blue orb caught against infinite night, it was a revelatory, even spiritual moment; one that made many people rethink their positions around nations, humanity, and the environment. But what these billionaires and millionaires are likely to get from their very high flight is a different kind of perspective: how very small we all seem from their privileged perch.

Finally, on the only achievement that may really count for these guys, Barron’s reports that Virgin Galactic’s stock is getting “hammered” following the Blue Origin flight. That’s the kind of achievement that matters to the modern space pioneer.


Democrat Carl Levin, whose 36-year stint made him Michigan’s longest-serving senator, dies at 87



Sandy Levin lost close races for governor in 1970 and 1974 to Republican William Milliken, but his brother had much more success when he ran statewide in 1978. Carl Levin campaigned for the Senate seat held by Republican incumbent Robert Griffin, who had announced his retirement the previous year, saying, “​​Twenty-two years is long enough.” National Republicans, though, successfully pressured Griffin to reverse course and seek re-election after all, a development that seemed like a huge blow to Democratic hopes for a pickup.

Before he could focus on Griffin, though, Levin had to get through a primary that included wealthy newspaper owner Phil Power; former Rep. Richard Vander Veen, who became nationally famous by winning the 1974 special election for Gerald Ford’s former House seat; and three state legislators. Levin’s strong base in Detroit helped establish him as the frontrunner, and he beat Power 39-20.

Levin spent the general election arguing that “new blood” was needed to replace Griffin, who had missed numerous votes in the Senate. The senator fought back by unconvincingly trying to distance himself from “that Washington crowd” and attacking Levin as “a free‐spending liberal,” but it wasn’t enough. Levin prevailed 52-48, a victory that made him Michigan’s first Jewish senator.

Levin was joined in Congress after the 1982 election by Sandy Levin, who would ultimately retire from the House in the 2018 cycle. (The two kept a “confusion file” listing people who mixed them up.) Two years later, the senator found himself locked in a tough battle to maintain his seat; Levin’s 1984 opponent was retired astronaut ​​Jack Lousma, a Republican who unsubtly touted his good looks in what Levin would describe as a contrast to his own “plump, balding, and disheveled look.” The incumbent, though, decided to play up the physical difference himself, joking, “Our pollsters tell us that it’s a winner because there are more of us than there are of them.”

Lousma stood a good chance in a year when President Ronald Reagan was poised to sweep 49 states, and the Republican made sure to tie himself to his party’s standard-bearer. Lousma, though, made some serious mistakes, especially when he claimed “An average high school boy could sit down and with three hours of briefings could know all you’d want him to know about issues in Michigan.”

Lousma’s biggest gaffe, though, came when he revealed that he owned a Toyota, a remark that went over especially badly in the state that was home to the American automotive industry. Then-Gov. Jim Blanchard would later recount that he had to convince Levin to use this material against his opponent, as the senator initially believed that Lousma’s honesty was hardly damaging. Blanchard was right, though: Reagan ended up carrying Michigan by a wide 59-40 margin, but Levin prevailed 52-47.

Levin would face a few other notable Republican opponents during his long career, but he was never truly close to losing any of them. In 1990, Levin turned back GOP Rep. Bill Schuette 57-41; Schuette would go on to revive his career in Michigan politics, which culminated in his 2018 defeat in the gubernatorial race. Levin’s opponent in 1996 was Ronna Romney, daughter-in-law of former Gov. George Romney and mother of current RNC chair Ronna McDaniel. Romney’s brother-in-law, Mitt Romney, had lost the Massachusetts Senate race two years before, and she fell to Levin 58-40.

The senator would win his final two races with more than 60% of the vote before retiring in the 2014 cycle.

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Matt Gaetz is poised to marry her sister, but Roxanne Luckey wants the world to know he’s ‘a creep’



In some of the videos, Luckey even poses in front of The New York Times article that focuses on Gaetz’s investigation for alleged sex crimes, including trafficking a minor.

“When a creepy old man tries to hit on you at the bar, but your sister is engaged to a literal pedophile,” she said in the video’s onscreen text.

Luckey later apologized for using the term “pedophile” and instead switched to “ephebophile,” but her feelings for Gaetz are loud and clear.

According to Luckey, when she and her mother confronted Gaetz about his inappropriate behavior of attempting to set her up with an older man, “[h]e just immediately got so defensive and started yelling at me and my mom.”

“He called me a narcissist, just was a thousand percent gaslighting me—went full lawyer, ‘I don’t have to listen to you, I don’t have to answer your questions,'” she said. She added that while Gaetz never apologized, the friend later did and claimed that he only asked her out “to get Matt off my back.”

She added that her opinions of him go deeper than her own experiences. She claimed that during her time at the White House, Gaetz “had a reputation of prowling after college girls when he’s a grown man, and to me that’s just kind of weird.”

“There is so much more to the story and about what I know about Matt Gaetz,” she added. “It is definitely a serious situation,” Luckey noted that her opinion was partially based on hearsay from the “grapevine.”

Luckey explained the purpose of her sharing the stories in a video shared Monday: “While that little video I made was such a minuscule thing and I know does not properly bring to light the whole situation, if I can just bring some attention to it so people are aware of what is going on and people can be held accountable, that’s my goal.”

While the FBI and Department of Justice have not confirmed a probe into Gaetz, the congressman himself confirmed he was being investigated in April on allegations of trafficking a minor for sex. 

Lawyers familiar with the case shared that investigations are ongoing and whether or not the case will go to trial is still pending.

“The federal government doesn’t like to try out novel legal theories in court, especially against sitting members of Congress because it usually doesn’t work,” the lawyers told Politico. “Yes, there’s strict liability for someone who has sex with a 17-year-old even if she’s only a few months away from turning 18 and even if she becomes a hardcore porn star. But prosecuting a case like this would be highly unusual if there’s no hard evidence showing Gaetz has done this and the case rests on an admitted liar like Greenberg and the word of a hardcore porn star.”

Despite this and his former associate, ex-Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, pleading guilty in May to six federal charges including soliciting a minor for sex, Gaetz has refused to resign. 

In response to the comments made by her sister, Ginger Luckey defended her fiancé and said that her “estranged sister is mentally unwell.”

“Matt and I are enjoying our engagement and are deeply in love. My estranged sister is mentally unwell,” Ginger Luckey told The Daily Beast. “She has been in therapy for years and our family hopes that after receiving in-patient mental health treatment, she will overcome the tendency she has repeatedly shown to engage in destructive behavior.”

Watch the video series for yourself below:

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26 million workers have gotten a raise thanks to the Fight for $15, this week in the war on workers



The Fight for $15 kicked off in November 2012, with a relatively small—yet also historically large—group of New York City fast food workers making what seemed an audacious demand: $15 an hour minimum pay and a union. The latter goal hasn’t advanced much since then, but $15? That has become solidly mainstream, and has brought big wins. A new report from the National Employment Law Project quantifies just how big.

The federal minimum wage remains just $7.25 an hour, the same as it was not just in 2012 but in 2009. But between state and local minimum wage increases, and executive action raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers, NELP estimates that 26 million workers have gotten a raise. Nearly 12 million of those workers are Black, Latino, or Asian American. The added pay they’ve gotten amounts to $150 billion, with $76 billion going to Black, Latino, and Asian American workers.

Organizing works.

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