Jeff Bezos and Howard Hughes: two peas in a pod

Sure it’s a sleazy sexting scandal featuring a trashy tabloid, but it’s immensely entertaining. It also reminds me of Howard Hughes, another filthy rich businessman captivated by Hollywood.

Hughes made his fortune in oil equipment before getting involved in the movie business, producing and directing movies and buying the Hollywood movie studio RKO Pictures. The starlets he seduced, getting younger as he got older, included Ava Gardner, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and actress Terry Moore when he was 43 and she was 19.

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Howard Hughes with actress Ava Gardner

Like Bezos, Hughes was a flight enthusiast. Hughes went into the airplane business in 1934 at the age of  28. He modified a Lockheed plane and flew around the world in it in 1938. He also built the gargantuan wooden Spruce Goose plane that now sits at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, OR.

Hughes Aircraft Company also designed and built Surveyor 1, the first American craft to land on the moon.

Bezos has been a flight innovator of his time as well with his space-launch company, Blue Origin. Founded by Bezos in 2000, the company, which is developing reusable rockets, is working to create low-cost space infrastructure.

Jeff Bezos’ emergence as a wealthy celebrity caught The Wall Street Journal’s attention last September when he showed up at a flashy party at television producer Mark Burnett’s Malibu mansion.

“For more than two decades, Mr. Bezos had built a public persona of a low-key billionaire who did the dishes every night, had a happy home life, valued frugality and was a bit of a nerd at work,” the Journal  wrote earlier this month.

“I go to bed early, I get up early, I like to putter in the morning” reading the newspaper, drinking a cup of coffee and eating breakfast with his children, he told 1,400 attendees   at an event held by the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. in Sept. 2018.

Vogue magazine took the same approach in a syrupy article about Jeff Bezos’ novelist wife, MacKenzie.  “Theirs is, by all accounts, one of those complementary marriages in which the two parts come together to form an even stronger whole,” the Vogue article said. “…until 2013, MacKenzie still drove their four kids to school and then dropped Jeff off at work in their Honda.”

“Family is very important to Jeff, and he absolutely relies on her (MacKenzie) to create that stable home life,” a family friend, Danny Hillis, told Vogue. “They are such a normal, close-knit family, it’s almost abnormal.”

This carefully cultivated image has been crumbling lately, particularly as Bezos’ company, Amazon, has built more ties with the entertainment industry and Bezos has been surrounded by paparazzi and movie stars.

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Like Hughes, Bezos made his fortune elsewhere before diving into making films for Amazon Prime. But now his immersion in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is full-blown and outsiders are what Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard called “all those little people out there in the dark.”

It’s a notable shift for Bezos, from a tech culture that celebrates real accomplishments to a culture of artifice, what Daniel Boorstin described in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America, as a metamorphosis from traditional “larger-than-life” heroes known for their achievement to “celebrity-personalities” recognized for their “well-knownness.”

On January 6, 2018, Bezos, as a new movie mogul, attended the Golden Globe Awards, where three of Amazon Prime’s shows were nominated for major awards.  Apparently solo, he spent much of his time schmoozing with the stars.

His split from his wife even came out like a carefully massaged story in an old Hollywood fan magazine like Photoplay.

“Jeff Bezos and his new girlfriend Lauren Sanchez are going strong in the wake of their relationship going public,” gushed People  magazine. “They’re madly in love and stronger than ever,” a source close to the new couple tells PEOPLE.”

Never mind that Sanchez and Bezos began their affair when both were part of couples who were old friends in long-standing marriages. Vanity Fair  is one of the few publications with the chutzpah to refer to Sanchez as “Bezos’ mistress” instead of his “new girlfriend.”

The fact is Sanchez and Patrick Whitesell, co-CEO at the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, married in 2005 and have two children together; a daughter, born in 2008, and a son, born in 2006. Jeff and MacKenzie, who’ve been married for 25 years, have four children; a daughter they adopted from China and three sons.

As Celebitchy.com, a celebrity gossip blog, put  it, “I don’t need to hear that Bezos and Lauren Sanchez are ‘stronger than ever,’ as if they’ve weathered some real tragedy or difficult circumstance. Please. They had an affair and now they’re both divorcing their spouses and they’re trying to put a bow on it and pretend like this isn’t a huge, gross mess.”

Sanchez, 49, (whose given name is Wendy Lauren Sanchez), is no Ava Gardner, but she’s  straight out of the Hollywood image machine, where competition for attention is a blood Sport.

She was the first host of “So You Think You Can Dance” in 2005. She was also an entertainment reporter for “Extra” from 2011 to 2017 and a former co-host of “Good Day LA” on Fox 11.

Sanchez, who bears an uncanny resemblance to MacKenzie Bezos, has also been on “The View” as a guest co-host and acted in the movies “The Longest Yard,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Ted 2” and “Fight Club.”

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Lauren Sanchez (L), Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Bezos

Jeff Bezos’ real Hollywood coming out party will be on Feb. 24 . That’s when he and Sanchez are expected to appear together at the 91st Academy Awards (The Oscars) on Feb. 24 at the Hollywood & Highland Center.

After Hughes’ death in 1976, the BBC reported,“He is both a fantasy figure of the dashing young tycoon playboy and a cautionary tale about the corrosive power of wealth.”

What comes next for Jeff Bezos is anybody’s guess.

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Statewide rent control in Oregon: this is just the start of something

 

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Even as a child, you knew the mouse wouldn’t be happy with just a cookie.

Oregon Democrats won’t be satisfied with their first stab at statewide rent control either.

Senate Bill 608, moving swiftly through Oregon’s Democrat-controlled legislature, proposes to limit annual rent increases to 7% plus the change in the consumer price index, except when the dwelling has been certified for occupancy less than 15 years. Lawmakers in the Oregon Senate approved the bill 17-11 on Tuesday, Feb. 12. It now goes to the House.

In January 2019, Jim Straub, Legislative Director of the Oregon Rental Housing Association, signaled acceptance of, or resignation to, the inevitable, given that the Democrats have a supermajority in both chambers and occupy the governor’s chair. “There is a lot here for landlords to dislike, but more importantly we should recognize it for what it isn’t, an industry killer,” Straub said

He’s dead wrong.

Straub figures landlords can live with the bill because the annual rent increase limit is so high, leaving a lot of wiggle room. In 2018, the all items consumer price index increased 1.9 % before seasonal adjustment. Add 7% and the rent increase limit would be 8.9%.

Although annual rent increases can vary quite a bit in Portland, influenced by a building’s location, age, amenities, etc., annual rent growth in Portland overall averaged just 4.3% in 2017 and, largely due to record apartment construction, actually decreased 1.3% in 2018.

ECONorthwest, an economics consulting firm, has estimated that only 5% of buildings in Portland increased rents above what would be allowed by SB 608 in 2018.

But Oregon real estate interests are going to rue the day SB 608 becomes law.

That’s because once it is enacted, pressure to lower the rent increase limit in response to the pleas of tenant groups will accelerate. And government regulations will beget more government regulations.

In  January, Margot Black, founder and former leader of a renters’ rights group, Portland Tenants United, bitterly criticized the high cap on rent increases.

“If this is the version that passes, and if (Democrat Sen. Virginia) Burdick is the one championing it, then I’ll start my campaign to run against her the day after it passes,” said Black. “I will knock on every renter’s door in the district and let them know that their senator thinks they are no better than a used couch put out to the curb in the rain.”

According to the Oregon Rental Housing Association, some tenant groups have also already gone to the 2019 Legislature requesting that all future rent increases be limited to a maximum of around 2% every 12 months, even if a tenant moves out during  that period.

And don’t expect the Democrats to consider the rent increase limit set in stone.

Government is addicted to constant revision of the rules. The federal income tax began in 1913 with a combined tax rate of 1-2% for the middle class. The marginal tax rate for the middle class now is about 22%.

Oregon’s personal income tax has been all over the map since its inception. According to the Oregon Department of Revenue, in 1930, the maximum tax rate on “single and separate” and “Joint and head of household” was 5%. Only three years later, in 1933, it went up to 7% and by 1955 it had risen to 11.60%. It went back down to 9% in 1987, but jumped to 11% in 2009-2011, In 2018 its was 9.9%.

So, don’t be surprised if SB 608 is just the camel’s first move.

“It is the humble petition of the camel, who only asks that he may put his nose into the traveler’s tent. It is so pitiful, so modest, that we must needs relent and grant it.”

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Gov. Ralph Northam’s Permanent Record

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

 1 Corinthians 13:11

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\Remember when you were in school and got caught doing something wrong?

Some authority figure would say in a deep, threatening tone, “This is going on your permanent record.” Blemished forever, you thought.

But at some point later in life you realized they were bluffing. There was no permanent record. You could reinvent yourself, put the past behind you, or at least those school years of sometimes questionable behavior.

The fact was, just like a boat doesn’t care about its wake, nobody cared about your youth, except, perhaps, for a few buddies who lived through it with you.

Not any more.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, now 59 years old, is painfully aware of that.

The recent emergence of a photo on Northam’s 1984 yearbook page at Eastern Virginia Medical School— featuring one person in blackface and one person in a Ku Klux Klan-style robe and hood — spurred a cascade of righteous condemnation and demands from both sides of the aisle, including just about all the deeply moral 2020 Democratic hopefuls, that Northam resign,

”The photo of Ralph Northam’s yearbook that surfaced yesterday is both racist and inexcusable,” brayed the Democratic Governors Association in a statement. “It is time for Gov. Northam to step aside and allow Virginia to move forward.”

“We now know what Ralph Northam did when he thought no one was watching,” announced Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “The person in that photo can’t be trusted to lead. Governor Northam must resign immediately.”

In this case, the damning photo surfaced because one or more of Northam’s former classmates, outraged about some pro-abortion comments he made, tipped off Big League Politics, a conservative website.  More common, however, is the discovery in the online sewer of some long-ago questionable behavior or contentious remark.

And now the media universe is even more fired up.

On Feb. 7, Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark Herring, who’s third in line for the governorship, revealed that he and some friends “put on wigs and brown makeup” when they dressed as rappers at a University of Virginia party in 1980 when he was 19 years old. The mob is salivating over that transgression.

Feb. 7 also brought news that the State Senate’s top Republican, 72-year-old Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., had been managing editor 51 years ago of a 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook containing racist slurs and photographs, some including blackface.

Ferreting out youthful indiscretions is clearly now the name of the game in political journalism.

It sells papers and drives the curious to online news, stirs up a firestorm of outrage on social media and offers opportunities for political grandstanding.

It’s clear there’s a market for long-ago and forgotten, but potentially salacious or accusatory, stuff dug up by political parties and their partisan and activist allies.

But it raises serious questions about exactly how much culpability should be assigned to the actions of young people decades later, whether some youthful indiscretions have a right to be forgotten.

What’s a person‘s moral responsibility for actions of the past? Should somebody whose adult life has been honorable and well-intentioned be found wanting for youthful errors?

“Before the internet, young people who made mistakes—from embarrassing statements to minor crimes—that ended up in the public record eventually benefitted from ‘privacy-by-obscurity,” John Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog, a progressive non-profit, said recently.  “Those things slipped out of the general consciousness of the public. Now, a youthful offense can remain at the top of search results indefinitely.”

Some theorists liken moral responsibility to a metaphorical ledger of life. “To be blameworthy is to have a debit on one’s ledger, and to be praiseworthy is to have a credit on one’s ledger…and entries on one’s ledger are made in permanent ink,” Andrew C. Khoury and Benjamin Matheson explained in the Journal of the American Philosophical Association.

But Khoury and Matheson argue that blameworthiness, unlike diamonds, should not be forever.

Whether a person deserves blame for a past action, or not, depends on many things – most of all on “how far and how deeply the individual has changed,” they say. In other words, blameworthiness can diminish through time.

An adult, as research shows, is not necessarily blameworthy for her actions as a child because the adult shares none of distinctive psychological states (e.g. beliefs, desires, or intentions) of the child, and these distinctive psychological features were essential to her committing an inappropriate act, Khoury and Matheson say.

Jonathan Last, an editor of The Weekly Standard, has pointed out that America’s juvenile justice system operates on the same principle, thatyoung people should not be held to the same standards of moral culpability as adults, that they aren’t fully capable of understanding the consequences of their actions.

“Personality is subject to a lifelong series of relatively small changes—particularly in adolescence and early adulthood, but continuing even into older age,” reported a study, Personality Stability From Age 14 to Age 77 Years“(This) can lead to personality in older age being quite different from personality in childhood.”

Or, as Khoury wrote, “..when confronted with the issue of moral responsibility for actions long since passed, we need to not only consider the nature of the past transgression but also how far and how deeply the individual has changed.”

The mob, particularly social media vigilantes, will likely continue to ignore all this. But they should remember the proverb, ‘Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”