Tuesday, June 28, 2016

An Open Letter on Brexit to Trump's Angry Old Working-Class White Male Supporters

First off, I want to say for the record that I truly understand your frustration, your anger, your general discontent with income inequality, your fears of terrorism and your desire for secure borders, homeland security, and real change. The poor and middle classes should share in America's wealth and prosperity by having good jobs, rising wages, affordable health care, housing and education, and a chance to live out the American dream that our parents and grandparents--most of them immigrants--experienced. I get all of that. But what I don't get is your support for Donald Trump and your belief that he is the answer to your problems.

Also for the record, I am not the product of a wealthy real estate family...or any wealthy family. My father drove a New York City taxi for 35 years. The job took such a toll on him physically that he would often come home bent over in a 90° angle from sitting behind the wheel 15 hours a day. Nobody handed him anything. I shared a room with two brothers, and when I was old enough to work (14) my parents had me pay room and board. I paid my way through college, holding down two jobs while squeezing in my studies, racking up thousands in student loan debt that took me a decade to pay off.

Just to be clear, and regardless of my current political/socioeconomic status, what I've earned, and what I've saved, like you, is all I have. There is no inheritance waiting in the wings. As the years quickly pass, I've excitedly looked forward to the day when I can retire, sit on a park bench, read the paper, feed some pigeons, and live out my remaining days in peace, tranquility and relative financial comfort and security. Which is why I need to issue you a very serious warning. A grave warning for all of us.

Take a look at the fallout from Brexit, the United Kingdom's controversial and, to many, shocking exit from the European Union, thus ending a 40-year relationship with this giant economic and political bloc. The referendum, which ended in a 52-48 vote, was largely fueled by the same type of voter anger, frustration and disenchantment that you feel. But there's a tremendous cost to voting out of anger and emotion. Of sending "protest" votes. The consequences can be devastating and irreversible, as the Brits are now experiencing. The political system collapses, the currency craters, financial markets tank, and the economy risks falling into a protracted tailspin, wiping out trillions in savings and wealth in the blink of an eye.

The parallels between the intense economic concerns and nationalistic motives behind the Brexit vote, and the sentiment that's fueling Trump's incendiary campaign, are more than worth noting. To be sure, what happened across the Atlantic could very well happen here. Think about that for a second. Think about your retirement, your savings, the plans you hatched decades ago and how quickly it all could disappear if the American economy and political system is turned on its head and thrown into chaos with the election of Trump, a divisive, polarizing figure with zero political experience, and with rapidly dwindling faith and trust within the Republican Party, in the financial community and on Wall Street, and on the global stage.

In just the past two trading sessions alone the Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped almost 900 points and 5%. And we may not be done with the carnage yet. Keep in mind these losses are merely the impact of what's taking place in England which, by the way, is not even among our top five trading partners. Think about what would happen to the U.S. markets if this was our political and economic system that was thrown into complete disorder and confusion. The Brits are already having serious buyers' remorse, evidenced by the over 4-million citizens who've signed a petition calling for a new referendum. The Leave movement's leaders are already backing off their promises regarding key issues such as health care and immigration, realizing that the lies which fueled their hate-filled campaign can't realistically result in policy or change. Don't make the same horrible mistake British voters now know they've made.

I know you're not terribly fond of Hillary Clinton. Ok, some of you despite and hate her and can't fathom her back in the White House, this time sitting in the Oval Office as president and commander-in-chief. But let me assure you this: a Clinton presidency will not cause an upheaval in our political and economic system. The dollar will not plunge to 30-year lows. The stock markets will not devolve into crisis, triggering massive selloffs domestically and from investors abroad. America's credit ratings will not be lowered. There will not be a run on banks by terrified small investors like you. You will not lose everything you've worked hard for your whole life because we have an "un-PC" self-serving racist maniac in charge. You may not like Hillary or her politics, but you will be able to sleep at night with Madam President at the helm.

But I will promise you this: "President Trump" will make you regret the day you ever pulled the lever for him. He'll renege on his wild promises, just as he's already backing off the Muslim ban. The anger you feel now will be nothing like the anger you'll feel when you see your retirement account cut in half, or worse. America won't feel so great again. You know the old adage, be careful what you wish for. Because as John Oliver so aptly put it, "there are no fucking do-overs."

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What Broadway Can Teach Hollywood About Diversity

Hollywood has a problem. It's largely run by rich straight white men who, for the most part, champion the work of other straight white men. According to well publicized statistics, if you're a black, Hispanic, female or LBGT actor of director you've not been invited to the party. Getting jobs, good jobs, Oscar potential jobs, is nearly impossible.

In the last twenty years there have been twelve black Oscar winners. Only five have been in the acting category. There were two directors, one for documentary feature and one for documentary short subject. Four winners were in the music and writing categories, and there was one producer.  In the last ten years, just ten black actors received Oscar nominations, while two black directors were nominated (in the feature category). Shockingly, not one black actor has been nominated in the past two years, spawning the #oscarssowhite social media backlash and calls for a boycott of the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony.

The last woman to win an Oscar for Best Director was Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for THE HURT LOCKER. She is also the last woman to be nominated in that category. Prior to her, Sofia Coppola was nominated in 2003 for LOST IN TRANSLATION.

In the Best Picture category, in the last ten years, just five films with a mostly black cast and/or central theme have been nominated. Overall, the stats for Hispanics are pretty dismal as well.

(For a more in depth look at the statistics of "Hollywood's Diversity Problem" please check out the results of research performed by The Adrienne Shelly Foundation)

Contrast that with Broadway in just the last year alone and you get a starkly different picture, one that screams of diversity and inclusion. One of the four best plays was written and performed exclusively by black women. Two of the five Best Musical nominees were black productions, as was one of the four nominated best musical revivals. And all four musical acting awards went to to black actors. The overall nominees list was quite diverse as well; seven other individual nominees were actors of color, as were two directors in the Best Play and Musical categories.

Women fared well as well across many categories, most notably in a production like WAITRESS, with its ground-breaking all-female creative team (full disclosure: my late wife Adrienne Shelly, who was killed in 2006, wrote and directed the film on which this musical is based).

The obvious question is, how can the two communities be such polar opposites when it comes to diversity? The answer isn't clear. But what is clear is there's a desperate need for the power brokers in Hollywood to own up to the fact that there's a shameful dearth of black, Hispanic, female and LBGT talent in front of and behind the klieg lights. And that needs to change.

“Think of tonight as the Oscars, but with diversity," host James Corden said in his opening monologue. "It is so diverse that Donald Trump has threatened to build a wall around this theatre.”

When it comes to race and inclusion, it's not a good sign when your industry is compared with Donald Trump, even in jest.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Donald Trump is America's Gift to bin Laden

Somewhere, somehow, amidst his decadent cavorting with 72 virgins, Osama bin Laden must be smiling. Smiling like a man who's finally seeing his master plan come to fruition.

In the wake of the horrific mass killing at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, where 50 people died in the the deadliest shooting in United States history, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been spewing newly amped up nativist racist rhetoric against refugees, immigrants and Muslims in particular.

Trump early Monday disingenuously attempted to conflate the attack by 29-year-old American Omar Mateen with what he called the threat from Syrian refugees entering the country, going so far as to lie in his claim than Mateen was "born in Afghan." Hours later in a speech in Cleveland, Trump offered an even more outrageously offensive line of attack:

"The bottom line is that the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here."

Mateen's parents are immigrants from Afghanistan. Mateen was born in New York.

Trump also reiterated his plan to temporarily ban Muslim immigration, specifically from countries where he believes the threat of terrorism was greatest.

"We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer," Trump said, promising to only lift the ban "when we as a nation are in a position to properly and perfectly screen these people coming into our country."

He continued, "Many of the principles of Radical Islam are incompatible with Western values and institutions... Radical Islam is anti-woman, anti-gay and anti-American" (many, by the way, would argue this could also be said about Trump himself).

When bin Laden masterminded the horrific September 11 attacks which killed 3000 people on U.S. soil, he of course sought to kill Americans and cause catastrophic destruction in the process. But there was a more likely goal: to forever change America. To turn American against American. American against immigrant. American against Muslim. bin Laden's aim was to prove to the Muslim world that America was in fact as ugly, ignorant, racist and anti-Islam as he preached to his jihadis. Give America time, he believed, and everything it stands for, everything it believes in, its core tenets, its morality, its free press and even its precious rule of law, will be turned on its big fat arrogant head by scapegoating, hatred and violence. The bullies and fascists will take over, and democracy as we know it would be corrupted forever.

And now, fifteen years later, comes Donald Trump, the rabble-rousing, wall-building anti-Muslim isolationist gift-wrapped in a bloated orange box. The birthday present bin Laden always wished for but never lived to receive. Trump is the perfect vessel to realize bin Laden's ultimate dream of destroying America. He's everything the brutal monster hoped for and wished upon "The Great Satan." If Trump were to become president, America loses, but more tragically, bin Laden finally wins as he always planned.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Winning Strategy for Hillary: Just Let Trump Be Trump

There's no question that Hillary Clinton's speech in San Diego last week was incredibly effective in defining the Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump as erratic, petulant, thin-skinned, dishonest, dangerous and woefully unqualified to be president. It was an evisceration of the kind not experienced by Trump during the GOP primaries. It also served as the foundation for a barrage of unrelenting attacks he can expect for the next five months. But one thing's certain: Clinton will be greatly helped during this time by Trump himself. She just needs to let Trump be Trump.

Trump simply cannot help himself. Like a child. Or an addict. Unfortunately for him, he is incredibly thin-skinned. He is super-sensitive. He cannot hear even the slightest challenge or criticism without coming out swinging like a ranting, raving, unhinged, emotional lunatic, which sends him careening off message. And that's when anything and everything can and will come out of his mouth. No matter how irrational, incoherent or offensive. No matter how un-presidential.

Safe to say, last week was not a particularly good one for Trump. He faced a mountain of criticism over his controversial racist comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who's presiding over the Trump University civil fraud case. The case itself also took the news spotlight, with Trump accused of essentially robbing seniors and low-income folks out of their savings. Trump also imploded at a press conference he held to address accusations that he reneged on a promise to raise $6-million for veterans causes. And there was that brilliant Hillary speech, which was so unsparing and scathing that it left Trump a terrified sweaty mess the rest of the week.

The media may have also reached a tipping point with Trump. At his press conference he unleashed a tirade of insults, referring to journalists as "dishonest" and "disgusting" while calling one ABC News reporter "sleazy." At almost every Trump rally he also relishes calling them "scum" and "slime." It would seem that the media's love affair with the bloviating, sexist, racist billionaire may finally be over, in which case he will face a tsunami of scrutiny the likes of which will result in even greater Hillary-landslide-causing temper tantrums.

To be sure, what we witnessed last week was that there's clearly just one adult in the room.  Which is why Hillary should stay on point, discussing substantive policy issues while defining Trump as "dangerous" and "incoherent," drawing a stark contrast between them. She should demonstrate experience, leadership and presidential temperament, just as she did in San Diego. And she can bet that Trump will continue to do and say outrageously offensive things, and will pout, whine and stomp his feet like a spoiled, petulant 6-year-old every time he's "insulted," treated "unfairly" or not properly "praised." Hillary should simply let him self-destruct.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Why Donald Trump Will Not be Eleceted President

First let me state for the record that all of my previous predictions about Donald Trump since he began his campaign a year ago have been dead wrong. Which raises the question, why the hell should anyone care about yet another prediction from me? Because if I'm wrong again it will signal the fall of the greatest nation in history.

The conventional wisdom is that there's a huge difference between angry white male Republican primary voters and the general electorate. Given that roughly 16% of Americans voted in the Republican primaries, and that Trump garnered about 45% of them, that would mean his "fans" comprise approximately 7% of the general electorate. Now while we've learned that with Trump there is no conventional wisdom, it's still hard to fathom how he can expand his base to achieve the 51% majority need to win in November, especially without women, Hispanics, independents, moderate Republicans and with a 60% unfavorable rating.

But what's really difficult to fathom is that America could be led by a fascist dictator like Trump. Someone who's blatantly and shamelessly attacked the likes of immigrants, minorities, women, the disabled, veterans, war heroes, world leaders and the Pope. An attention-starved thin-skinned narcissist who's run an insult-laden campaign built on bombast, bullying and false bravado. A mean-spirited, nasty, divisive, polarizing loose-cannon with an utter disdain for America's free press, the bedrock of a democracy. A tone-deaf, self-serving, entitled megalomaniac and pathological liar who's promised to shut the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency and the IRS; withdraw from NATO; expand nukes globally; defund Planned Parenthood; punish women for getting abortions; deport 11-million immigrants; and register and ban Muslims. In short, someone who is fundamentally unqualified to be president.

Trump is so dangerous and self-destructive that he'd turn America into a domestic and international joke, similar to Italy under controversial power-hungry billionaire Silvio Berlusconi's indictment-ending reign of greed, corruption and sleaze. Under "President Trump," America would degenerate to its ugliest, darkest days. He would single-handedly destroy its reputation and the 240-year-old principles on which it stands.

And that is precisely why Donald Trump cannot, will not, be elected president. Because I believe my fellow Americans are inherently good, decent, moral and patriotic people. Unlike the small minority of Republican primary voters, I refuse to accept that they will vote for a self-aggrandizing empty-suited reality-tv buffoon like Trump, who in just 12 months of campaigning has tarnished the office of the presidency like no one since Richard Nixon, the disgraced Republican whose career-ending unethical, amoral and criminal behavior paled in comparison to Trump's sexist, racist, xenophobic offenses.

Yes, I believe America is better than Trump. That the general electorate will ultimately demand more than an angry, vulgar, crass, impulsive, intolerant, intellectually-bankrupt peddler of negativity and doom as leader of the free world and commander-in-chief of the greatest military on the planet. That's my new prediction. God help us if I'm wrong.