Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Speaking For My Late Wife Adrienne Shelly: #MeToo

November 1st marks the eleven-year anniversary of the brutal murder of my wife, actor/director Adrienne Shelly. But long before she met her gruesome death she, like myriad women in the workplace, experienced blatant, rampant sexual harassment and abuse. 

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve witnessed dozens of women come forward claiming sexual harassment, abuse or rape committed by disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein has since been fired by the board of his company, dumped by his wife, has entered rehab and faces possible criminal charges. Before the Weinstein accusations surfaced there have been other recent high-profile sexual abuse scandals involving Bill Cosby and Fox News’ Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Eric Bolling, as well as those involving the United States president, Donald Trump. 

To be sure, this sort of predatory sexual behavior has existed since the beginning of time, and is prevalent not just in Hollywood but on Wall Street, Main Street and Any Street. As long as there are men in positions of power, no matter what the industry, there will be women who are sexually harassed, abused and raped. The system protects, excuses and enables them.

Adrienne was not spared. She told me of a male-centric film set where the testosterone ran so high and the harassment and abuse so out of control that she was actually terrified to leave her trailer in abject fear of being verbally assaulted and mauled by groping hands. Incredulous, I asked her why she tolerated it. Why she didn’t tell anyone. She stared at me for a beat and plaintively said that there simply was no one to ‘complain’ to. 

“The animals were in charge,” she said. “And if I spoke out no one would give a shit, nor would they do anything about it. Except I probably wouldn’t have worked again. So I locked myself in my trailer until it was time to shoot. And then I literally ran to set, fending off all sorts of catcalls and grabs along the way. I’d shoot my scene and then run back and hide. I was petrified."

Adrienne had also experienced aggressive pressure to pose nude for movie posters and promos, and had her own experience over this with Weinstein, whose Miramax company was a distributor on the 1989 Hal Hartley indie classic THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH, in which she starred when she was just 23. Weinstein and his staff, according to Hartley, were angered over Adrienne’s refusal to do what she felt was uncomfortable and inappropriate, as well as Hartley’s own refusal to add more sexually-explicit scenes to the film. The episode caused a lot of tears, frustration and fear, and was a rude awakening for Adrienne as she began her film career. 

In the 2002 documentary SEARCHING FOR DEBRA WINGER, Adrienne recounted that while on her way to an audition her male agent called and told her it’s important that she be “fuckable.” Once there, the male producer immediately stared at her breasts. He seemed disinterested. The audition didn’t go well. 

“There was no way I was gonna get this job ...because he didn’t like my tits,” she lamented. 

I am outraged that decades later women are still subjected to the terror Adrienne felt. That they’re victims of sexual predators who feel entitled to assault their minds and bodies. Women need to feel safe. On the street, in a club, at work and everywhere else. And when they’re harassed and abused, they need to feel safe in coming forward. That their characters won’t be assailed. That they won’t be ostracized. Or shamed. That they won’t lose their jobs and be blackballed. And that they won’t be accused of “asking for it” because of the way they dress, as fashion mogul Donna Karen unfathomably suggested last week (I mean, seriously Donna, what...the...fuck?!).

The amount of #MeToo’s we’re now seeing across various social media platforms—from virtually every woman we know—is chilling and stunning in scale. As a society we need to get to a place where #NotMe becomes the norm instead.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hey Jeffrey Katzenberg, Now You Know What Abused Women Go Through

Ok, so now we know that Harvey Weinstein is one of the most notorious sexual predators in modern history. In just the past week dozens of women have come forward with unconscionable allegations of harassment, assault and rape. It’s almost certain that over the next days and weeks many more will share their traumatic encounters with the disgraced movie mogul as well. 

It’s been a fast and furious ride downhill since the lurid details of his sexually deviant behavior became public. The board of The Weinstein Company fired him, his wife left him, he entered rehab and he could be facing criminal charges. 

The accusations apparently came as a total shock to Weinstein’s longtime pal and business associate, Hollywood titan Jeffrey Katzenberg, founder of digital media firm WndrCo and the former Dreamworks CEO and Disney chairman (where he bought Weinstein's Miramax production company in 1993). 

Katzenberg received an email last weekend from a "desperate" Weinstein in which he was asked (along with other Hollywood bigshots) to publicly defend him, "stating your opposition to the board firing me."

Now here’s where it gets really interesting and, quite honestly, a huge what the fuck? moment.

Katzenberg was extremely rattled by Weinstein’s request and wasn’t sure what to do. 

"I was paralyzed," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "I didn't know whether I should not respond, or respond and express the way I truly felt."

Katzenberg hemmed, he hawed, he contacted all his friends to ask for advice. He finally felt compelled to come forward and risk the possible consequences.

Well guess what, Jeff? The personal torment, the fear, the apprehension, the concern for your reputation that you essentially described going through is exactly the same thing every woman who’s attacked by lecherous pigs like Weinstein go through. Except they lack your money, your power, your connections, your safety net. They’re alone. Alone against the Old Boys Club, which protects the abusers, and even the Old Girls Club, which this week appears chaired by fashion designer Donna Karan, which excuses, justifies and enables their criminal behavior with unfathomably misguided suggestions that victims “are asking for it” because of how they dress.

Think about this, Jeff: you felt “paralyzed” because you were asked by an old friend to defend him. Imagine how Weinstein’s myriad 22-year-old victims felt when he sexually assaulted them. Think of how paralyzed, afraid and unsure they felt about coming forward. Unlike you, they have everything to risk. Perhaps now you might better understand why women don’t come forward. And why, as a result, the brazen sexual abuse continues.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Time to Stop Protecting the Harvey Weinsteins

So another predatory, sexual-abusing male-chauvinist pig bites the dust. Harvey Weinstein, the bombastic bully independent film studio head, was fired by the board of his own company of the same name Monday following a tidal wave of condemnation over allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in what insiders are calling Hollywood’s best kept secret (although Bill Cosby was indeed a very well-protected rapist). But did the board act because they just found out about his offenses, or because we just did?

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard at least one unconscionable tale of Weinstein’s infamously despicable behavior. One former employee told me of being assaulted by lit cigarette butts flicked in anger. Another associate told of Weinstein’s hostile demand that an actress undress for a photo shoot despite her persistent objections. We don’t need to be the actors Ashley Judd or Rose McGowan (two victims who came forward years ago) to conclude that when it comes to Weinstein, where there’s smoke there’s a 12-alarm blaze. Just as all the allegations against Cosby are likely true. As well as the abuses admitted to by the United States president. 

But is change, however slowly, coming? Perhaps it helps that we live in the age of the internet and social media, where accusations of scandal spread with lightening speed, gaining brutal, unforgiving momentum like the California wildfires. Are men finally learning what bad behavior is? Or might they be fearing Google and Twitter’s career-ending wrath should they be caught with their proverbial pants down? Maybe. And it certainly feels like women are fighting back more than ever. That women are saying, “Fuck you, youre not gonna get away with this...I dont care how powerful you are....I will take you down!” 

To be clear, the system still shamefully protects predators. As long as men control Hollywood, Wall Street and Main Street there will be sexual harassment and abuse. And as long as these subjugated women feel powerless, they will be pressured to tolerate this abuse. We certainly have a long way to go before women feel truly safe in the workplace. 

The ‘Old Boys Club’, while perhaps losing membership, still exists. Just consider that only a week ago Weinstein was still safely perched on his cinematic throne instilling fear in just about everyone in Tinseltown. Cut to this week and there’s a groundswell of public denunciation. While great to see, cries from the bandwagon are a bit disingenuous. The post-apocalyptic tweets, although welcome, are a bit late. They come without cost. Where were these condemnations before the emperor fell? McGowan and Judd have yelled ‘he has no clothes’ long before his demise. 

The silence has been deafening. The system, and attitudes, need to change, as does the power structure. Women cannot fear coming forward after they’ve been harassed or abused. They need to feel safe. That their characters won’t be assailed. That they won’t be ostracized. Or shamed. That they won’t lose their jobs and be blackballed. And that they won’t be accused of “asking for it” because of the way they dress, as fashion mogul Donna Karen unfathomably suggested this week (I mean, seriously Donna, what...the...fuck?!).

Which brings us to Dear Leader. The Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief. The mercurial manbaby who never met a vagina he didn’t like (whether or not that vagina wanted to be liked). It sure feels as though he’s gotten away with the despicable sexual transgressions he’s been accused of by about three-dozen women, doesn’t it? But I’m an optimist, and I believe that Donald Trump, just like Harvey Weinstein, Cosby, Roger Ailles and others before him, will also one day meet the fate he deserves.

Monday, October 09, 2017

We Need More Corkers

When you go beyond Donald Trump’s base there are two buckets people fall into: those who are public with their serious concerns about the president’s mental stability and those who worry privately. This weekend we witnessed a stunning example of the former. 

One of the most powerful Republicans in Congress, Sen. Bob Corker (TN), engaged in a Twitter battle with the Manbaby-in-Chief, and then gave a scathing interview to the NY Times. Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former Trump supporter, has been very critical of the president lately. He first went public with his criticism in August following Trump’s controversial comments regarding the racial violence in Charlottesville, VA. Earlier this month he stood by those comments with a stinging attack on the president’s fitness to serve. 

"The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful," Corker said.

Sunday morning Trump unleashed a tweetstorm against Corker, accusing him of not running for re-election because he “didn’t have the guts.” He also claimed Corker “begged” for his endorsement and also asked to be the nation’s top diplomat. 

"I said 'NO' and he dropped out (said he could not win without...my endorsement). He also wanted to be Secretary of State, I said 'NO THANKS.' He is also largely responsible for the horrendous Iran Deal!...Hence, I would fully expect Corker to be a negative voice and stand in the way of our great agenda. Didn't have the guts to run!"

Corker quickly fired back with his own tweet.

“It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” Drop...da...mic...

The senator also refuted the accuracy of Trump’s comments, stating that it was the president who called him, urging him to run again and promising his endorsement. Washington insiders claim that it was the Trump administration which sought Corker for for State cabinet post. Corker was also vetted by the Trump team as a vice presidential running mate. 

Corker’s one-two punch continued Sunday night with the NY Times interview, in which he accused Trump of treating the presidency like a “reality show,” acting “like he’s doing The Apprentice or something.” He warned that Trump’s reckless threats to North Korea could set America “on the path to World War III.” 

Corker claimed the Trump White House is in a constant state of chaos because of the president’s erratic behavior.

“I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” Corker said, adding, “He concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

We need more Republicans like Corker to go public with what we know they’re all feeling. By his own words and actions Trump has demonstrated that he’s out of his f**king mind, is woefully unfit to serve, and the nation’s security and well-being is at grave risk as a result. 

To be sure, the GOP leadership has been an embarrassment and a disgrace. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have sat back and watched Trump piss all over the Constitution and the Oval Office. They’ve shamefully allowed him to collude with Russia and obstruct the ongoing investigations; to offend and alienate our allies; to embolden our enemies; to defend neo-Nazis and white supremacists; to attack our independent judiciary; to malign the intelligence community; to attack our free and open press as “the enemy of the people;” to defy our rule of law; to undermine his own cabinet; to tweet his way into failure and irrelevance; to chase away from the party real conservatives like Corker and thus deepen its existential crisis; and to divide America to a level we haven’t seen in fifty years.

The GOP leadership—and that includes vice president Mike Pence—needs to grow some balls. It needs to recognize, accept and act on the realities of the Trump presidency. It’s time to impeach. Or enact the 25th Amendment. Or both. Or to convince Trump to resign to avoid a humiliating removal from office. They’ll be aided in this effort by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, whose independent investigation will surely end in indictments.
It’s time to end this f**king circus.

Friday, October 06, 2017

The United Base of America

Ok, let’s dismiss the continuing fantasy that Donald Trump is the president of all Americans. He’s not. And he’s never going to be. He is the president of the United Base of America.

The conventional wisdom is that during the primaries candidates appeal to the extreme wing of their party and then move to the center in the general election campaign. Trump re-wrote that playbook. He was elected by his base, he continues to play to his base and the only Americans he gives a shit about are his core Trumpsters. The base. The 30% who, as Trump himself bragged, would still support him even if he shot someone in the middle of New York’s 5th Avenue. 

So we should stop expecting the Trump pivot. It’s never coming. He’s never going to become “presidential.” He’s never going to be the president of all Americans. He’s never going to unite. He will continue to divide. To pit his rabid, vapid hate-filled base against everyone else. Against logic, facts and rational thinking.

Trump thrives in the us vs them game. He needs an opponent. An enemy he can scapegoat and use as a wedge in his war against Democrats, Republican leadership, the intelligence community, the media and anyone with a half a brain. 

In his battle against the truth Trump has created a very convenient narrative: that he’s an amazing, historically successful president who never errs. And when he does screw up, when his words and actions are incorrect, insensitive and/or unconscionably offensive, it’s summarily discredited as “fake news” perpetrated by the “enemy of the people” media. Trump’s insulated his base from reality, and therefore himself from their scrutiny, scorn and likely abandonment. He was elected president by his base once (with the help of independents and even some Democrats) and he’s convinced himself they’re all he needs to win again. 

To understand the Trump phenomenon requires understanding Trump himself. He is a thin-skinned, petulant, juvenile manbaby who craves constant attention, credit and praise. He is motivated purely by the affirmation of others. By an insatiable hunger to be told how great he is at all times, under any circumstances. He is tone-deaf, empathy-bankrupt, devoid of compassion and ginormously self-consumed. His self-worth is unfathomably low and his self-loathing painfully high. Which is why he cannot even begin to feel any measure of personal satisfaction unless he’s putting others down. He conflates the accomplishments and success of others as perception of his own failure. Which is why he must always be the smartest, biggest, best and most successful person in the room. He’s so horribly uncomfortable in his own skin that he’s terrified of us in ours. 

Trump’s ego is so frail and easily bruised that he’s aggressively attacked disabled people, cancer patients, parents of dead soldiers, the Pope and anyone else who threatens his tortured, microscopic id. 

Which is why Trump remains in constant campaign mode. Why he continues to hold rallies. Why he continues to cater only to his base. They’re the ones who love him. Unconditionally. He can pathologically lie to them 24/7, outsource their jobs, take away their healthcare protections, waste their tax dollars and even grab their pussies. They...don’t...fucking...care. Because their racism trumps everything else. Trump knows this better than anyone and masterfully stokes these flames of bigotry. The base is his Manson Family. They will do whatever he tells them. 

It doesn’t matter to Trump if he gets caught in perpetual lies. He doesn’t care about saying and doing outrageously offensive things. He’s created an alternate universe in which his base resides and he is king. It’s a land of make-believe, where angry white men deserve all of America’s spoils. He doesn’t care about you or I or anyone else who gets frustrated and enraged by his vile behavior. By his impulsiveness and mean-spiritedness. By the fact that he is so woefully unfit to be president. He laughs at us. Because he’s president and we’re not. And because we’re not his constituents. 

Trump’s brainwashed his base to believe him and no one else. Ever. Even if they’ve seen things with their own lyin’ eyes. Even if they’ve seen videotape. Heard the words come out of his own mouth. It’s all fake, all the time. Part of the great big establishment conspiracy to undermine him. The Trumpsters are loyal to a fault. 

And so the base is where manbaby goes when he needs love. When he needs affirmation. Needs to block out his abysmal approval, mounting scandals and fear of his inevitable fate.

To paraphrase the singer Meghan Trainor, ...“Because you know I'm all bout that base, ‘bout that base...”

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

No More Adult Conversations, Prayers or Moments of Silence

Sunday night. Las Vegas. The Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. 32nd floor. Room 135. Hell. It’s where Stephen Paddock, 64, a rich, white domestic terrorist unleashed a diabolical attack using a machine-gun-like automatic weapon that killed 59 country music festival attendees and wounded hundreds more in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

It’s been almost five years since 26 people, including 20 first-graders, were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

In between Sandy Hook and Vegas there’s been myriad mass shootings. Each one seemingly worse than the last. These include attacks at the Washington Navy Yard; Charleston, SC; San Bernardino, CA; Orlando, FL; and the Congressional baseball practice in DC.

And have we done anything about it? Fuck no. We as a nation have done nothing to limit who gets guns, where they get guns, how they get guns or what kind of guns or ammunition they can buy. Mass shootings, while dominating the news cycle, comprise just a small percentage of the overall gun deaths in America. Between 2001 and 2013, 406,496 people died as a result of gun violence, roughly half of them suicides, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Gun ownership is out of control. We have more guns per 100 people than Yemen and Iraq combined. The United States has become like the Wild West.

With each new mass shooting we’re glued to 24/7 news porn. And we cry out for change. But we’re told “It’s too soon.” Too soon to talk about guns and the need for stricter gun laws. We’re sanctimoniously lectured that we must respect the dead and wounded. That we shouldn’t exploit the victims by politicizing the tragedies. But with Republicans, who control Congress, it’s always too soon. Doesn’t matter whether it’s before, during or after a horrific shooting. With Republicans, no time is a good time to talk about gun control. Not today, not tomorrow. Never. So nothing ever gets done. The bullets keep flying and the blood keeps spilling.

It’s time to do something. It’s time to put it all on the table, including the purchasing, licensing, training and storage of weapons. And it’s time to ban high-capacity magazines. We don’t need anymore adult conversations. We don’t need prayers. We don’t need moments of silence. We don’t need coming together. We don’t need bullshit. What we need is for Congress to get off its lame, NRA-ass-kissing ass and legislate. And we need that legislation now.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

RussiaGate, Republicans and the Redefining of American Patriotism

There used to be a time when Republicans were the tough-talking, patriotic, red-baiting, Democracy-defending standard-bearers. Not anymore. Partisanship no longer ends at our shores. These days the GOP and its kleptocrat commandant Donald Trump act more like tools of the Russian government. Like they’re on Vladimir Putin’s payroll. Like maybe Putin has something incredibly incriminating on them (hooker pee pee tapes, money laundering?). Because there’s no other explanation for this unfathomable shift to such blatant Russian-ass-kissing behavior.

Seventeen United States intelligence agencies have unanimously concluded that there was Russian interference in last year’s election, primarily limited to email leaks and fake news. We’ve now learned that Putin-backed troll farms have used Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms to spread lies and manipulate the electorate. But in 2018 and ‘20 it could include actual tampering of voting machines, materially impacting the vote count.

Within the Trump administration, several key former and current advisors and cabinet members—including Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, J.D. Gordon, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner and Attorney General Jeff Sessions—have held clandestine meetings with Russian officials, including Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, before and after the election. 

Donald J. Trump Jr. also met with high-profile Russian intermediaries in July 2016 to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. His official explanation is that the meeting, which was also attended by Manafort and Kushner, was to discuss Russian “adoption” policy. But his subsequent release of emails related to the meeting illustrate that its true purpose was to acquire information directly from the Putin regime that "would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father." 

It’s entirely possible Trump himself attended one or more of those meetings. 

While the issue of lifting U.S. sanctions is suspected as being the primary underlying Russian motivation of all these meetings, the bigger issue of interference in the election and possible Trump campaign collusion has been the subject of House, Senate, FBI and special counsel investigations.

Since he announced his campaign in May 2016, Donald “I Love Wikileaks” Trump has fed this conspiracy theory with unyielding acceptance of Russia’s interference in the election. He’s mercilessly maligned the intelligence community and has done everything in his power to obstruct the ongoing investigations, including firing former FBI Director James Comey. In May he told NBC’s Lester Holt:

“And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, “You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

The very next day Trump hosted Russian diplomats in the Oval Office where he mocked and demeaned Comey, telling the Russians:

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Trump’s obsessively denied, discredited and disrupted the investigations with irrational, manic Tweeting, and has impugned the integrity of our free and open press, relentlessly attacking it as “fake news” and “an enemy of the people.” 

As such, we’ve been witnessing the greatest test of checks and balances in United States history. Which brings us to Republicans in Congress. Those spineless, self-serving oligarchs who’ve sanctioned and encouraged this unconscionable anti-American, potentially treasonous behavior from the Trumpsters. This ‘equal branch of government,’ responsible for oversight of the presidency, has instead been acting like paid Trump lobbyists. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have literally been playing Russian Roulette with America’s security as it hungers for tax reform and huge cuts for the rich and big corporations. They’ve sold their souls for money. They’ve allowed Putin to attack us, influence our election, and undermine our democracy. Congress’s silence, and impotence, is stunning.

Russia is America’s biggest global threat. It’s an enemy state which seeks to destroy democracy throughout the world. Judging from our chaotic transfer of power these past eight months, Putin’s already succeeding. He doesn’t see left or right. Just Russia. The existential threat from more invasive cyber-attacks remain. Our democracy’s been kicked in the nuts, and Republicans just don’t seem to care.

Most mystifying is the behavior of Trump voters—the xenophobic, Confederate flag-waving, National Anthem defending, NFL-bashing “USA! USA! USA! crowd who, pre-Trump, would be calling for the execution of anyone colluding with Russia—who suddenly don’t give a shit that America’s under siege from Moscow and that the president is the reason why. 

But special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s independent investigation is intensifying. Subpoenas are flying, and indictments could follow soon. High-profile targets including Manafort, Flynn, Stone, Boris Epshteyn and perhaps even son-in-law Kushner and Don Jr. could end up singing like canaries to avoid prison, which would be the nail in Trump’s coffin. 

To be sure, the Feds are closing in. Trump’s days are numbered. It’s just a matter of time. No thanks to Republicans.