Tuesday morning, we were all treated to headlines about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ “historic” space flight. I’m not exactly sure what’s meant by “historic.” It wouldn’t be the first time a billionaire burned through gobs of money and resources to accomplish something a monkey did 72 years ago. Indeed, the first time was last week, when Virgin Atlantic CEO Richard Branson also slipped the surly bonds of our endangered Earth to gape at the planet most billionaires have only metaphorically left behind. (“Virgin rocket goes nowhere interesting.” Hmmph. Sounds like high school all over again.)
Why we should care about a multibillionaire, a multibillionaire’s brother, and a hedge fund manager’s teenage kid launching into space for a few minutes is a big mystery to me. Sure, I feel something of a vicarious thrill for Wally Funk, who was denied her opportunity to go into space 60 years ago because, well, she was a woman. But overall, this is pretty weak Tang. Honestly, I’d rather see a lot more women shattering the glass ceiling than launching through the biblical firmament.
I suppose this flight is historic because it included both the youngest and oldest humans ever to travel to space. But if we’re going to start doing that, maybe I could eventually be the first middle-aged Star Trek fan to go (literally) weightless. It would be an honor, and far more fun than getting drunk on the Tilt-A-Whirl.
Of course, if there’s ever been an argument for a wealth tax, this is it.
While the rest of us plebs are forced to wrestle with climate change and a society that’s decided it’s okay to force employees to work themselves ragged with only occasional pee breaks, rich folks like Branson, Bezos, and—soon!—Elon Musk are taking pointless joyrides.
Oh, and Bezos would like to thank his employees and their makeshift pee bottles for helping make it all happen.
BEZOS: “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this. So, seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and every Amazon employee, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It’s very much appreciated.”
Gee, the way he’s talking, you’d think Blue Origin is currently on the cutting edge of pee bottle technology.
But while Elon Musk seems to be building toward loftier goals (i.e., colonizing Mars), Bezos and Branson appear to be building companies that simply offer opportunities for space tourism, which is a big, gaudy, carbon-intensive waste of time. Sure, it would be fun to experience weightlessness. And it would be great to look out the window of a spacecraft to see if I can find my house. But it’s a silly waste of time and energy, really.
Ultimately, this is a symptom of our out-of-whack tax system, which Republicans would like to skew even more egregiously toward the “needs” of the wealthy. Instead of launching people with too much money into space, maybe we could build some public transportation here—or get serious about greening our economy.
Republicans get hives whenever anyone suggests taxing people like Bezos more. Heck, they can’t even commit to confronting rich tax cheats. But imagine what a small portion of Bezos’ wasted wealth could do for ordinary people on Earth.
Maybe it’s time we put an end to billionaires and use our nation’s resources for the good of everyone, not just those in the rarefied echelons of society. And maybe—just maybe—the media could stop fawning over a guy who’s 72 years behind a monkey.
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