Richard Branson announces he’ll join 1st fully crewed spaceflight

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(NEW YORK) — Richard Branson announced Thursday he will be joining the crew of his next spaceflight with Virgin Galactic, besting fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos to space.

The first fully crewed spaceflight for SpaceShipTwo Unity will take place July 11, pending weather and technical checks.

Branson, 70, will join the crew to “evaluate the private astronaut experience and will undergo the same training, preparation and flight as Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts,” according to a press release. Branson announced last week that Virgin Galactic was given the OK by the Federal Aviation Administration to launch customers into space.

“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” Branson said in a statement. “After 17 years of research, engineering and innovation, the new commercial space industry is poised to open the universe to humankind and change the world for good. It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality.”

The mission, dubbed Unity 22, will be a 20-second test flight for VSS Unity. It’s the company’s fourth crewed spaceflight. Unity’s pilots will be Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, both of whom have flown Unity previously.

Unity is launched from a separate “mothership” aircraft called VMS Eve.

Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is expected to join the crew of Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft’s first flight on July 20.

Bezos announced on Wednesday that accompanying him, and his brother, on New Shepard will be pioneering female pilot Wally Funk.

Joining Branson on his flight will be Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, the company’s lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, the company’s vice president of government affairs and research operations. Moses was also on the ship’s first test flight.

The British-born Branson founded Virgin Group in the 1970s and has delved into everything from music to cellphones and airlines.

Branson will turn 71 exactly one week after the flight.

ABC News’ Catherine Thorbecke contributed to this report.

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What to know about a global minimum tax rate as 130 nations reach historic agreement

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced Thursday that some 130 countries have agreed to a new 15% global minimum tax rate for corporations.

Yellen called it a “historic day for economic diplomacy” in a statement, adding that Biden “has spoken about a ‘foreign policy for the middle class,’ and today’s agreement is what that looks like in practice.”

While the agreement was signed by finance ministers from all of the Group of 20 nations and some 130 in total, representing more than 90% of global GDP, it still needs to make it through the legislative bodies of each country — meaning it’s far from a done deal.

Still, the news represents one of the biggest potential reforms in international tax policy in decades. Here is what to know about a global minimum tax rate and how it is expected to impact U.S. businesses and workers.

What is a global minimum tax rate?

A global minimum tax rate is the minimum amount large, international corporations have to pay. The aim is to prevent companies from dodging tax payments by relocating operations or headquarters to another nation with lower rates.

In the U.S., the corporate tax rate is 21% due to former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, which were implemented in an attempt to keep businesses from fleeing to nations with lower rates. Biden has proposed raising it to 28%.

Ireland, meanwhile, has a corporate tax rate of just 12.5% as part of its own bid to attract business, often at the expense of other European Union nations. Ireland was not listed among the 130 signatories of Thursday’s agreement that was arranged by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Why a global minimum tax rate?

The OECD estimates that some $240 billion is lost annually to tax avoidance by multinational companies.

Biden said a minimum rate would help prevent companies from exploiting loopholes, with Yellen noting the additional funds collected could be used to help the middle class in areas including education.

“Multinational corporations will no longer be able to pit countries against one another in a bid to push tax rates down and protect their profits at the expense of public revenue,” the president said in a statement Thursday. “They will no longer be able to avoid paying their fair share by hiding profits generated in the United States, or any other country, in lower-tax jurisdictions.”

Yellen said in a separate statement that the “global race to the bottom” as nations compete to lower their tax rates has “deprived countries of funding for important investments like infrastructure, education, and efforts to combat the pandemic.”

Enforcing a 15% minimum tax rate among nations who agree to the plan could generate $150 billion in additional revenue, according to OECD estimates. Moreover, the agreement would provide additional benefits through ensuring stability and certainty for taxpayers and governments.

Advocates, especially in the private sector, have argued that tax competition is beneficial to overall economic growth. The head of the OECD said setting a floor on tax rates doesn’t eliminate competition.

“This package does not eliminate tax competition, as it should not, but it does set multilaterally agreed limitations on it,” Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said in a statement. “It also accommodates the various interests across the negotiating table, including those of small economies and developing jurisdictions.”

When would this happen?

Further details on the plan are expected to be hammered out at the G-20 summit in October, with participating nations targeting 2023 for implementation.

“It is in everyone’s interest that we reach a final agreement among all Inclusive Framework Members [139 countries] as scheduled later this year,” Cormann said.

Could this lead to further tax reform?

America’s labyrinthine tax codes have recently come under scrutiny after a ProPublica report in June unveiled how some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals avoid paying taxes on their wealth gains using entirely legal accounting maneuvers.

Although a separate issue, Biden and Yellen signaled that domestic tax reform could be next.

“We have a chance now to build a global and domestic tax system that lets American workers and businesses compete and win in the world economy,” Yellen stated.

Biden, meanwhile, called on lawmakers to implement his tax plan that, among other things, raises corporate rates to 28%.

“Building on this agreement will also require us to take action here at home,” Biden stated. “It’s imperative that we reform our own corporate tax laws, as I proposed in my Made in America tax plan.”

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Pioneering female pilot will fly to space at age 82 on first crewed Blue Origin flight

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(NEW YORK) — Wally Funk, a pioneering female pilot who dreamed of being an astronaut in the 1960s, will fly to space later this month with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on the first crewed flight for his space-faring firm Blue Origin.

The flight will fulfill a lifelong dream for Funk, 82, and make her the oldest person ever to fly to space.

Funk’s dreams of becoming an astronaut date back to the original U.S.-Soviet Space Race era, when she was the youngest graduate of the privately-funded Woman in Space Program that later became known as the “Mercury 13” due to its 13 women participants. Female pilots went through the same physiological and psychological tests as the astronauts selected by NASA for Project Mercury. The women, however, never ended up flying to space.

In an Instagram video shared by Bezos revealing the news Thursday, Funk said she already knows the first thing she will say upon landing back on Earth: “Honey, that was the best thing that ever happened to me!”

“Back in the 60s, I was in the Mercury 13 program. They asked me, ‘Do you want to be an astronaut?’ I said, ‘Yes,'” Funk said in the video. “They told me that I had done better and completed the work faster than any of the guys. So, I got a hold of NASA — four times — I said, ‘I want to become an astronaut,’ but nobody would take me.”

“I didn’t think that I would ever get to go up,” she added. “They said, ‘Wally, you’re a girl, you can’t do that!’ I said, ‘Guess what, doesn’t matter what you are, you can still do it if you want to do it, and I like to do things that nobody has ever done.'”

Despite not becoming a NASA astronaut, Funk still blazed trails for women in flight. She was the first female Federal Aviation Administration inspector and later the first woman National Transportation Safety Board investigator. She has amassed some 19,600 flying hours and taught more than 3,000 people how to fly.

The crew for the New Shepard spacecraft’s first flight consists of Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos (Jeff’s brother), Funk, and one unnamed private citizen who paid $28 million in an auction for Blue Origin’s final seat. Blue Origin has perviously said the name of the auction winner will be released in the coming weeks.

The inaugural crewed flight for Blue Origin is scheduled for July 20. In total, the flight is only about 11 minutes and approximately four minutes will be spent above the so-called Karman line that is defined as the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

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Former Victoria’s Secret model Bridget Malcolm call out brand for ‘performative allyship’

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(NEW YORK) — Model Bridget Malcolm took to social media to reflect on her unpleasant past experiences with Victoria’s Secret.

After finding a size 30A bra she wore while modeling for the lingerie brand’s 2016 fashion show, she tried it on for a TikTok video. She also shared that she is now a size 34B, which she said is “healthy for me.”

Once Malcolm puts her past runway bra on, she shows how ill-fitted it is now and discusses how she was rejected from a 2017 show by Victoria’s Secret former Chief Marketing Officer Edward Razek.

“He said my body did not look good enough,” she captioned the clip. Malcolm also mentioned that at that point she wore a size 30B bra.

Later in the now-viral video that’s been viewed more than 2.5 million times, the model and mental health advocate included a photo of herself from the past show saying “the sadness behind my eyes from the 2016 show breaks my heart.”

Malcolm concluded the video calling Victoria’s Secret out for “performative allyship” and how she views the brand’s recent efforts for inclusive change as “too little, too late.”

The post has been liked more than 307,000 times, with many TikTok users sharing their thoughts. “I don’t get why models ‘have’ to be like this or like that,” said thetinglez.

“Models are supposed to show stuff for the human and every human is different,” she continued.

In response to Malcolm’s displeasing experience with Victoria’s Secret, a brand spokesperson told GMA, “There is a new leadership team at Victoria’s Secret who is fully committed to the continued transformation of the brand with a focus on creating an inclusive environment for our associates, customers and partners to celebrate, uplift and champion all women,” in a statement.

This statement also follows the company’s major brand revamp announced in June.

The retailer’s new direction includes a new diverse VS Collective with ambassadors such as actress and entrepreneur Priyanka Chopra Jonas, transgender Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio, LGBTQIA+ activist and professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe, and several others.

Through this new platform, the brand plans to create new associate programs, evolutionary product collections, compelling and inspiring content, and rally support for causes vital to women.

In addition to a more diverse collective of ambassadors, Victoria’s Secret told Good Morning America the company’s storefronts will take a new direction and mannequins will be displayed with diverse body types.

After 23 years, the lingerie retailer recently canceled its annual fashion show and has moved forward in a new direction without its infamous “Angels.”

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How two executives started new airlines as aviation’s biggest crisis hit

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(NEW YORK) — As coronavirus concerns decimated the demand for travel and the aviation industry was faced with its biggest crisis in history, two former airline executives were about to do the unthinkable: start an airline.

Major U.S. airline CEOs were just trying to stop the bleeding and save their companies, while Andrew Levy, 51, and David Neeleman, 61, were just starting up — launching the first two new U.S. airlines in more than a decade — during a global pandemic.

They are both betting their low prices and smaller, no-hassle airport destinations will be enough to win over customers during the summer post-lockdown travel surge.

Levy described starting Avelo Airlines as an “itch” that he’s “wanted scratched for a really long time.” It started 27 years ago when he began working with the founders of now-defunct ValuJet.

“They built this phenomenal business that just grew like crazy and I had a front-row seat to watch it all,” he told ABC News. “I got to see capitalism at work in front of me, and see what happens when we take risks and we progress with hard work. I thought I want to be like those guys, I want to be the ones who start with the company.”

In January 2020, taking what he learned from Allegiant and United, Levy got the green light from the Department of Transportation to start Avelo.

Then, COVID-19 hit.

“It was a little bit of a shock for all of us,” Levy said about watching the number of fliers dwindle, but “I probably was less affected by that than many of my investors. I kind of was always optimistic that it would come roaring back.”

At its lowest point, less than 100,000 people were flying each day nationwide. Airlines scrambled to pull flights out of smaller airports, causing some, like Hollywood Burbank Airport, to lose service.

“We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go in there because of COVID,” he said. “So many airlines cutback service there, and as a result we can go in there at a level of service with airplanes that we couldn’t have done a couple of years ago.”

Avelo began service in April and plans to fly 11 routes between Burbank and vacation destinations this summer, mostly on the West Coast, for as little as $19.

David Neeleman’s Breeze Airways launched a month later and will carry leisure travelers in the eastern and southern parts of the country. Breeze’s fares start at $39.

“There’s a ton of pent-up demand,” Neeleman told ABC News, “and there’s a lot of money people didn’t spend during the pandemic.”

The JetBlue founder only had 55 people on the payroll at Breeze when demand plummeted.

“We had the foot on the gas and the brake at the same time,” he said. “And I said we just have to ease into this and there’s no reason to launch an airline at the heat of the pandemic. You have to have some kind of vision or foresight to look ahead, and try not to seize up in the moment when things are at their worst.”

His team worked with regulators virtually “spread out all over on Zoom.”

“Just getting an airline certified under normal circumstances is a feat that is very difficult,” he said, “and has rarely been done over the last 20 years.”

Neeleman’s vision for Breeze is getting travelers to their destination “twice as fast for half the price” choosing to establish non-stop routes between smaller airports like Hartford, Connecticut, and Charleston, South Carolina, that would have otherwise required a layover.

“When you don’t have to worry about your flight getting canceled or delayed or missing your connection and all the stress that goes with it, then people just travel more often,” Neeleman said.

Like other low-cost carriers, Breeze and Avelo will both charge for baggage fees and additional legroom.

“Our mission is to inspire travel,” Levy said. “We want to inspire travel by making it easy to do so, and that is really low fares, but also just a convenient, pleasant experience.”

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Robinhood to pay record-high sum of nearly $70 million to settle regulator’s probe

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(NEW YORK) — The online brokerage that promised to “de-mystify finance for all” agreed Wednesday to pay nearly $70 million to resolve allegations it misled millions of customers, approved trades for thousands of ineligible customers and failed to supervise technology that accepted customer orders.

The sanctions are the largest financial penalty ever ordered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which said it reflected the “scope and seriousness” of Robinhood’s violations.

The investing platform will pay regulators $57 million, along with $12.6 million in restitution with interest to thousands of harmed customers.

“This action sends a clear message — all FINRA member firms, regardless of their size or business model, must comply with the rules that govern the brokerage industry, rules which are designed to protect investors and the integrity of our markets. Compliance with these rules is not optional and cannot be sacrificed for the sake of innovation or a willingness to ‘break things’ and fix them later,” said FINRA’s Jessica Hopper in a statement announcing the regulatory enforcement action.

Robinhood attracted regulatory scrutiny earlier this year when investors used it to speculate on GameStop, AMC Entertainment and other so-called meme stocks that seemed to increase in value based on social media frenzy without the underlying financials. However, FINRA suggested its investigation stretched back five years.

During certain periods since September 2016, the firm has negligently communicated false and misleading information to its customers, FINRA claimed, concerning whether customers could place trades on margin, how much cash was in customers’ accounts, how much buying power or “negative buying power” customers had, the risk of loss customers faced in certain options transactions and whether customers faced margin calls.

FINRA pointed to the suicide of one Robinhood user who in a note found after his death, “expressed confusion as to how he could have used margin to purchase securities because, he believed, he had not ‘turned on’ margin in his account.” Robinhood also displayed to this individual, as well as others, inaccurate negative cash balances, FINRA said.

The regulating authority also accused Robinhood of failing to exercise due diligence before approving customers to place options trades, relying instead on algorithms with limited oversight. The firm also failed to supervise the technology it relied on to provide its broker-dealer services, FINRA said.

In settling the matter through the fine, Robinhood neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.

“Robinhood has invested heavily in improving platform stability, enhancing our educational resources, and building out our customer support and legal and compliance teams,” Robinhood spokesperson Jacqueline Ortiz Ramsay told ABC News. “We are glad to put this matter behind us and look forward to continuing to focus on our customers and democratizing finance for all.”

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As prices for insulin skyrocket, Walmart launches ‘affordable’ brand

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(NEW YORK) — Walmart announced it is launching its own private brand of insulin, which the big box chain says will save customers with diabetes up to 75% on the lifesaving drug.

Walmart’s ReliOn brand will sell private label NovoLog short-acting insulin that is manufactured by the pharmaceutical firm Novo Nordisk.

The analog insulin vials and pens will save customers between 58% to 75% off the cash price of branded insulin products, or up to $101 per vial or $251 per package of “FlexPens,” the retailer said.

The medication will be available in Walmart pharmacies starting this week, and Sam’s Club pharmacies beginning in mid-July.

“We know many people with diabetes struggle to manage the financial burden of this condition, and we are focused on helping by providing affordable solutions,” Dr. Cheryl Pegus, the executive vice president of Walmart Health and Wellness, said in a statement Tuesday. “We also know this is a condition that disproportionately impacts underserved populations.”

Pegus said Walmart’s new insulin offerings are part of their commitment to improve access and lower the cost of care.

The medical costs for patients with diabetes can be an estimated $9,601 per year, according to the American Diabetes Association. On average, the advocacy group says people diagnosed with diabetes have medical expenditures approximately 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

“We welcome all affordable solutions that make diabetes management more accessible to millions of Americans living with diabetes,” Tracey D. Brown, the chief executive officer of the American Diabetes Association, said in a statement accompanying Walmart’s announcement. “We encourage everyone to ask their health care provider questions to better understand what the right and affordable treatment is for their unique medical needs.”

The price of insulin in the U.S. has spiked significantly over the past decade, and remains dramatically higher than in most other developed countries. The average gross manufacturer price for a standard unit of insulin in 2018 in the U.S. was more than 10 times the price compared to the same sample from 32 foreign countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to a 2020 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report. The average U.S. price was $98.70, compared to $8.81 in the 32 non-U.S. OECD countries.

Despite years of advocacy for policy changes to keep the cost of the drug low, Americans living with diabetes have seen little reprieve from federal lawmakers to address the skyrocketing prices.

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Limited recall of fresh blueberries due to potential Cyclospora contamination

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(NEW YORK) — With berries being a staple fruit of the summer, check your fridge to make sure your container of Dole fresh blueberries is safe to eat.

Dole Diversified North America, Inc. has voluntarilly recalled a limited number of cases of its blueberries due to potential Cyclospora contamination.

The impacted products were packaged in a variety of plastic clamshell container sizes and distributed in four U.S. states — Illinois, Maine, New York and Wisconsin — and two Canadian provinces: Alberta and British Columbia.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has advised consumers to check any Dole fresh blueberry products in their homes and discard those matching the production description, UPC codes or product lot codes it has listed.

Check here for a full list of UPC codes, where to find the printed product lot code on the label and more.

“Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal infection caused by the Cyclospora parasite. A person may become infected after ingesting contaminated food or water,” the FDA said. “Common symptoms include severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, body aches and fatigue. The infection is treated with antibiotics and most people respond quickly to treatment.”

At the time of publishing, there have been no illnesses reported in association with the recall. No other Dole products have reportedly been affected.

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Zac Posen releases genderless wedding band, engagement ring collection with Blue Nile

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(NEW YORK) — Celebrity fashion designer Zac Posen is hitting the fashion scene with a brand new wedding collection.

The former Project Runway judge, along with global jewelry brand Blue Nile, released a curated line of genderless wedding bands and engagement rings.

The ZAC Zac Posen collection is made up of 12 designs that include everything from uniquely designed princess cuts to single-round styles.

The collection also features a variety of ring sizes ranging from 4 to 13 and prices range from just under $1,000 to $6,750.

Posen said that he’s always welcomed the challenge of designing occasion jewelry since he is creating pieces that people look forward to wearing for the rest of their lives.

“Engagement rings and wedding bands are one of the purest and oldest symbols of love and marriage that have crossed over traditions and withstood time,” he said in a statement. “For this collection, it was important for me to create unique and ageless designs that also celebrate love, unity and marriage for all.”

Beloved by celebs, the designer also worked with Blue Nile in 2014 to create other wedding rings and band styles. He says it’s been exciting to watch how Blue Nile continues to support designers who are reimagining the wedding category and the traditional symbols of love and marriage.

“With so many of us celebrating unity and love this month, it felt like the right time to release an inclusive line of engagement rings and wedding bands — a collection that was purposefully designed to represent love, regardless of gender,” Posen said in a statement. “The traditional idea of marriage is evolving, and the wedding category is finally starting to reflect that.”

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Major opioid epidemic trial begins in New York

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(NEW YORK) — A dozen drug manufacturers and distributors accused of fueling the nation’s opioid epidemic face a jury for the first time Tuesday during opening statements at what could be the most consequential opioids trial so far.

New York and two of its largest counties, Nassau and Suffolk on Long Island, are seeking to hold Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Endo International, McKesson, Cardinal Health and other corporations responsible for the deadly epidemic, accusing them of contributing to a public nuisance.

Johnson & Johnson avoided this trial by settling Saturday for $230 million. CVS settled with Nassau and Suffolk counties.

There have been similar cases to go on trial in California and in West Virginia. Oklahoma won a $465 million judgment in the nation’s first trial. Unlike those, however, the one taking place in Central Islip is being heard by six jurors who will weigh assertions that both marketing and distribution of narcotic painkillers fostered widespread addiction and abuse.

The trial is unfolding in a 450-seat amphitheater at the Touro College Law Center, rather than a state courthouse, to accommodate a legion of lawyers and spectators.

“The eyes of the world are on New York as we prepare to lay bare the callous and deadly pattern of misconduct these companies perpetrated as they dealt dangerous and addictive opioids across our state,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in statement provided to ABC News.

If drug companies are found liable for harms in Nassau and Suffolk, they may effectively be liable for harms in dozens of other New York counties. The trial could also be a bellwether for other opioid cases across the country.

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