Tuesday, October 24, 2017

James Toback Stalked My Girlfriend

Shortly after I met my girlfriend Phoebe seven years ago she told me about an upsetting episode with the director James Toback, the latest Hollywood predatory deviant to face allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. 

Phoebe, a successful commercial and voice over actress, told me how Toback cornered her on a New York City subway train when she was just 19. Told her she was “mesmerizing” and could make her a star, but that “he needed to get to know her better.” And to prove his cache he whipped out his business card. Said he was “an Oscar winning director...you can rent my movies.” He seemed legit. Young and naive, and actively pursuing an acting career, she fell prey and gave him her telephone number.

She later researched him. He was a director. And successful. And she, like most young women still in their teens, felt she was mesmerizing, and it was nice to hear it from someone of his stature. Predators like Toback of course understand this dynamic; a young woman’s vulnerability. It’s why they succeed. They are master manipulators.

Toback called her many times before and after she left for college. When his overtures became lurid in detail, like when he asked her how many times a day she masturbated, she knew she was in trouble. Knew his disgusting advances could lead to further discomfort, or worse. And she remembered her mother warning her at the beginning to be careful. That Toback’s interest in her, and his process, seemed creepy. That “this isn’t how it works.” Now she knew why.

Phoebe was disgusted and felt stupid for giving him her number. She was a kid who wasn’t yet mature enough to understand how prominent, powerful predators like Toback operate. And this was almost thirty years ago, when the social mores were more MAD MEN than the now hyper-volatile post-Harvey Weinstein landscape. She stopped returning his calls. The messages piled up. And then they stopped. But then the embarrassment and shame came for having fallen for it all. 

“I felt dirty and gross,” she said. 

So it was no surprise to learn this week that at least 38 women (with many more likely) have come forward with virtually identical tales of Toback’s perverted seduction game. Thankfully, Phoebe was spared the traumatic physical assaults that so many of these women were subjected to. She was one of the lucky ones. She had left for college soon after they met, so he didn’t have the access to her that he had with the others. He was relegated to simply burning up her phone line.

And now in 2017 a tipping point may be upon us. There’s a palpable sense of change in the air. Between the Bill Cosby, Fox News, Weinstein and now Toback sexual abuse scandals surfacing in such a short amount of time, and swiftly killing the careers (and, in the case of Roger Ailes, even lives) of these heretofore powerful predators, there’s cause for cautious optimism and hope. Hope that the balance of power may have eventually tipped. That women are starting to feel empowered. Feeling more comfortable coming forward knowing that, with social media and the 24/7 news cycle, their stories will spread like wildfire, gain immediate support from myriad other victims, and result in a quick, merciless demise of the abuser. 

Abusers who, when accused, think that a credible defense is to say it’s all a lie because they don’t remember ever meeting these women. But that just proves the point. That the abuse is so systemic, so pervasive, that these predators can’t even remember their prey.

Monday, October 23, 2017

General Kelly: Misinformed, Lying or a Racist?

Donald Trump’s mantra is, “are you gonna believe me or your lyin’ eyes?” When caught in blatant, outrageous lies he doubles and triples down even if video and audio proof of the lies exist. Last week his Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, did the same, raising serious questions about his qualifications and integrity. 

Kelly, during a rare and impassioned press White House press briefing where he emotionally described the process of bringing home slain soldiers, accused Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who’s been at the center of a controversy surrounding the president’s comments during his phone call to the Gold Star family of fallen soldier La David T. Johnson, of bragging about her role in securing funding for a South Florida F.B.I. building. 

Here’s what Kelly said happened at the dedication ceremony:

"...a congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money — the $20 million — to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned.  Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.”

The big problem is, a video released by The Sun Sentinel disproves Kelly’s entire account of Wilson’s comments, which pertain to the building’s naming—after two slain FBI agents—not it’s funding; show her praising her Republican counterparts, not herself; and makes no mention of her personally contacting Obama. But instead of immediately saying, “Oops, my bad! Sorry! I got it wrong” Kelly, along with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, held firm. They doubled down. Just like Trump when he lies. 

One thing’s certain: either Kelly was misinformed about Wilson’s comments; or he, like his perpetually dishonest boss, is blatantly lying; or worse, he’s a racist. 

The least offensive, although not terribly reassuring scenario, is that a Trump aide with nefarious motives—Stephen Miller perhaps—knowingly gave the general incorrect intel so that he’d spread it at the podium, thus furthering the administration’s divisive narrative and serving as cover from the Gold Star fallout. This means Kelly, a retired four-star general and now in one of the most powerful political positions in the country, was manipulated like a puppet. Not a pretty picture.

Or, Kelly is a blatant liar, choosing to perpetuate the lie, refusing to apologize even when contradicted by the video. A willful intent to deceive the media and the American public makes the picture even uglier.

The ugliest picture, and a totally plausible one considering the consistent racist behavior of the Trump administration from the top down, is that Kelly is simply a racist. That he saw the video, heard Wilson’s comments, but when they passed through his bigoted filter what came out was...an uppity Southern black woman in a stupid hat taking credit away from more deserving white people. And it incensed him. Left him “stunned.” So stunned that he kept repeating the word stunned. 

Kelly was so damned stunned by what he believed was Rep. Wilson’s attempt to take credit for something. To brag. Yet he works for the most self-aggrandizing, self-promoting, bloviating braggart in the history of mankind. Who gave himself a “10 out of 10” on handling Puerto Rico’s post-hurricane response despite the fact that much of the island is still without power, water, food, medicine and housing. That’s an awful lot of bragging and credit taking, which doesn’t appear to stun the good general. 

Kelly also doesn’t appear stunned to be working for a sexist, racist, Nazi-sympathizing, pathologically-lying, sexual-abusing sociopath who mocks disabled people; resorts to juvenile, demeaning name-calling; disrespects and picks fights with war heroes, Gold Star families, grieving widows and the Pope; undermines the intelligence community and judiciary; labels the media “the enemy of the people;” and alienates our allies while emboldening our enemies.

I find that stunning.

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.