Obama continues his unprecedented pardons and focus on criminal justice reform with a pardon for Chelsea Manning

President Obama continues his streak of pardons and commutations with a pardon for Chelsea Manning, freeing her in five months rather than 2045. Manning is the army intelligence analyst who made Wikileaks popular.  Pres. Obama could have also just saved her life given she had twice attempted suicide and faced what the Times calls “an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at a male military prison.”

obama-commutations1The President and his DOJ staff have been on a roll. On Dec 19, he pardoned 78 people and granted another 153 commutations — the most acts of clemency granted by a US president in a single day. SO far, the President has pardoned and lessened the sentences of more people than the previous 12 presidents prior to him combined.

This fast and furious wave of pardons is warranted given fears that President-elect Donald Trump and his administration will dismantle Obama’s clemency initiative, which has resulted in the early release of 1,176 drug offenders. In addition to his ban on solitary confinement for juveniles, his directive to not renew contracts for private prisons, and his recently published Harvard Law Review 56-page article on criminal justice reform, it seems as if the President’s post-presidential professional life may be revealing its focus: our broken criminal justice system.

Given that the US has the largest number of prisoners in the world despite holding just 5% of the world’s population, Pres Obama would be a welcome and powerful ally in the fight for criminal justice reform. Nearly 1 in 4 adults in this country are imprisoned. The mass incarceration system is driven by racism, favors the wealthy, and is nothing but a swinging door that fosters a life behind bars. The criminal justice system is steeped in history of racism, is driven by profit, and criminalizes poverty and drug addiction continuing such inhumane treatment as solitary confinement. The time for reform has long past and legislators may finally pay attention if a political force like President Obama champions the cause.

Meanwhile, California continues its quest to reduce prison populations. California’s prisoner reductions came from a court order to cut prison populations after a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that conditions inside the state’s prisons — which were 200 percent over capacity — violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The state has passed some initiatives, such as Prop 47 in 2014, which released about 4,500 in its aftermath by reducing some felonies, like drug crimes and nonviolent property theft, to misdemeanors.

But that did nothing except shift the problem from state to local jails. The underlying roots of this issue (and see “13” by Ava DuVernay on Netflix for an in-depth look) such as racism, LGBT bias (like how transgenders such as Manning are viewed, convicted and treated), drug rehabilitation programs, mental health facilities, and focusing on reform over retribution for nonviolent crimes and youth have not been seriously addressed by legislation. With civilian Obama and the tide shifting to a greater focus on mass incarceration, the tides may be shifting. If not, we must make them shift.

On MLK Day, let your remembrance be in action

On Martin Luther King’s Day we might make the mistake that today is a day where we simply remember a courageous hero of humanity but if anything, this is a day where we must reflect and act. Dr King was, as he himself said, on the shoulders of hundreds of years of resistance and thousands of people who made sacrifices, who did small acts daily — or even once in their lifetime — that resulted in a societal shift. People who had families, who were sole income providers, who didn’t have the mental or emotional or economic reality or sometimes, even the interest, to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement yet still did so by merely living their life with inclusion and justice. Justice isn’t simply in a court, it is how you act towards your fellow human beings daily.

I just saw “Hidden Figures” with my daughter and learned three things. One, those women were heroes as much as anyone but so were their parents and spouses and bosses who chose not to live as society demanded, either as part of patriarchy (at that time when women weren’t working much) or as part of the white male class. True, they didn’t have the same repercussions for going against the grain but without them — the boss, the judge, the husband, the boyfriend, the parents — there would have been no forward movement.
 
Two, there is a long way to go. I live in the Bay Area and my spouse works in the heart of Silicon Valley. I still rarely see African Americans. If STEM is to work, we have to start in the area where I focus: early childhood. If children don’t have access to the education and school books and resources, they cannot hope to compete in high school or for college to become scientists or engineers. We can’t just have programs that start at the intern level. It’s too late by that time.
 
MLK Poor Peoples Campaign Poster 1968
Three, in order for the above to happen, we must focus on economic progress. Anyone who lives in a city and takes its public transportation as I did for 20+ years knows which stops has which demographics sadly, and it is almost always along economic lines as much as ethnicity lines. We have a long way to go. Dr King’s last campaign was the Poor People’s Campaign. He knew even before the term was coined about intersectionality. You cannot have racial or gender justice without economic justice, and the two must be advanced simultaneously.
Without economic stability and opportunity, there was little hope for African Americans to advance, indeed for anyone whether they be black, undocumented immigrants, or women. The degree of advancement an individual can achieve of course has to do with systemic bias as much as anything. After all, if the legal system and law enforcement are against you at every step, there is little hope for recourse. In “Hidden Figures,” had the judge not granted Mary Jackson the right to attend an all-white school — granted, it was only at night — but if he had not allowed that, no amount of courage on her part as an individual would have sufficed.
Together with eradicating systemic obstacles, in order for change to come to areas like Silicon Valley, there must be more resources devoted to education, job training, child care (so parents can get to the schools and jobs they need to advance), and economic initiatives. It must all happen together as we work on all fronts, and on the fronts where we can — promote whom we can, give where we can, lend a fellow parental hand where we can. 
 
As neighbors, co-workers, supervisors, friends, acquaintances, we can all do our part. A movement is not just a protest or march. It is the thousands of daily acts that reinforce the changes we seek towards greater societal equality.
 
Although just this year I began formally working in policy and legislation, I’ve worked in social justice my entire adult life. I keep Dr. King’s quote in my home and on my Facebook profile page as a reminder in my work in public policy as well as in my life that it doesn’t take much but it does take participation. Listen and engage. How will you engage?

Why I’m running for District 22 as a delegate

Many people are joining the political process on all levels because of this past election. I have been involved for over a decade. Now that I work in policy and work for the people of California day in and day out, I wanted to use that voice towards legislation and the party platform in a more direct way.

I have been a registered Democrat since I could first vote at 18 and eagerly cast my ballot. I chose to be a Democrat because the Democratic party and its candidates best reflect the ideals I believe we should be working towards as a society. They have been and continue to be in alignment with my core values.  What are some of these values?

Since high school, I have volunteered or worked for decreasing education inequity, increasing healthcare access to all, reproductive rights and sexual health education, and increasing child protection. I reported on social injustices when I was a journalist. I gave voice for these rights as a producer and screenwriter. And I actively work for them now as I work at the intersection of media and public policy.

Between career and family, I never had the opportunity or frankly, the desire to speak on behalf of all my fellow Democrats — until this year. I view this year’s election results not as a loss but a call to action. And I am acting.  My party has not let me down. We “went high” and have kept it high and civil and inclusive even during the toughest of times. I have never been prouder to be a Democrat. I have never been prouder to be a California Democrat which is leading the way for our party. So the best I knew  to be an active participant and ensure the ideals we hold dear continue to be impactful — and win more elections in the future — was to run as a delegate.

For a delegate, the primary responsibility is interaction with the district. They need to be kept informed of what is happening to their party, in terms of policies and candidates, so the system can be as fair and transparent as possible. Already, I have several initiatives to ensure that I do this.

One way to keep my community engaged is media. As a former content director and journalist, I know the importance of trusted social media and information, and nothing is more trusted than direct sources. I will be having podcasts with everyone from supervisors to senators to community leaders and activists: what are the challenges and how are they being faced and, if relevant, what is the story behind the story?

Another way to engage the community is directly. On January 23rd, I am organizing a town forum through the newly-formed Still We Rise, a nonprofit that promotes community dialogue on issues about intersectional gender equality in politics and policy.

Please join me in both those initiatives. Make your voice heard. And VOTE.

Don’t blame Trump supporters. Democracy didn’t fail us. We failed us. Apathy, selfishness, and a dash of sexism got him elected.

Don’t blame Trump supporters. Democracy didn’t fail us. We failed us. Apathy, selfishness, and a dash of sexism got him elected.

[originally published on Medium 11/14/16]

For the past year, I’ve worked vehemently on something more than the Hillary campaign: Get Out the Vote. Through interviews that led to videos, researching for stories, and plain old canvassing, I met more than a few Trump supporters. They always planned to vote even if it was more an anti-status quo rather than a Trump vote. They did their civic duty and made their voice heard.

They were energized through direct meetings in churches and schools and wherever else, they posted memes and messages on Facebook like liberals did after the election but did so when it meant something because whatever else, they did not want Hillary to win. They never lost sight of the goal:

Michael Moore in his prophetic, and best analysis of the outcome predicting Trump’s win, said it succinctly months ago:

…if people could vote from their couch at home on their X-box or PlayStation, Hillary would win in a landslide.But that is not how it works in America. People have to leave the house and get in line to vote…And therein lies the problem for November — who is going to have the most motivated, most inspired voters show up to vote? You know the answer to this question. Who’s the candidate with the most rabid supporters? Whose crazed fans are going to be up at 5 AM on Election Day, kicking ass all day long,

The people who handed him this election is not rural America, it was not white women, it was almost half this country who didn’t vote. 49.4%.

Sure, protest now but where was that energy for Get Out the Vote? I rarely debated Trump supporters about voting. There was no lack of warning about what a Trump win could mean or lack of calls for mobilization during the campaign reminding voters that he had a real shot at winning — and all that happened was “eh I’m not thrilled with her.”

The only people I actually debated about voting itself were “liberals” and “progressives” still sore about Sanders or were sore that there was no third party or who thought all the sexist talk wasn’t a big deal because some other right or issue was all that mattered to them, screw all else.

No facts in the world could make them see the process through which third parties can become a reality or that it takes voting to dissolve the electoral college, because in addition to mass mobilization, what you need above all is a majority of Congress and President who is open to those reforms. Given the odds, not voting was a vote for Trump and would set those kind of agendas back even further.

Meanwhile no such debates happened in Trumpland. They galvanized. Some of them did believe in climate change but put that aside for the greater good. Some of them were appalled by his behavior but put that aside to get him elected for all else he represented. You can say they put it aside due to racism or selfishness but the selfish argument swings both ways.

If one believes Trump supporters are sexist, voting him in despite his misogyny, then I wouldn’t put those who didn’t vote due to soreness about the Democrats so far behind. After all, not voting, not participating in the political process most definitely won’t change a party. It is sexist to pit this election as a “replacing a 40 year old black man with a 70 year old woman” (as per Chris Rock in this past week’s SNL) without keeping in mind — especially if you are a minority or woman about to be radically affected — that the 70 year old woman has 40+ years of public service experience who, whatever else she may be, would not be on board with racist, sexist, xenophobic policies and would keep to Obama’s agenda. To boot, she had progressive watchdogs like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who she made political deals with and would make her toe the line so there’d be a real shot at ensuring a Democratic party was its progressive ever.

And by the way, the alternative to that “70 year old white woman” is an even older white man who would, and has, put forth a Cabinet and policies that would work against every progressive, social justice, women’s rights agenda. If that’s not sexist then that is dangerous stubbornness and that is the other side of the coin of the dangerous stubborn ideology of the most ardent Trump supporter.

Bottom line: on November 8th we had two choices. Whosoever did mobilize, whosoever voted even if they weren’t thrilled about him spoke up, and won. Democracy didn’t fail us; we failed us.

“Our Voices”: 97% of Planned Parenthood’s services offer primary healthcare, breast cancer screening and prenatal care. Here are the stories of those using #PPMM.

At last, the video is up! This first video needed fundraising but thanks to donations from supporters like you, we have the funding to launch an entire campaign that will show how Planned Parenthood Mar Monte is ensuring everyone, every family, every child gets the healthcare they need. Whether it’s showing people how to navigate the AHA system to buy health coverage or providing services, like breast cancer screenings or prenatal care, PPMM is here for its community just as so many clinics across the country are there for their communities despite all formidable healthcare costs and challenges.

In the bigger picture, having access to affordable clinics eases the financial and other burdens placed on ERs, which should not be handling things like colds, and ultimately reduces healthcare costs for everyone. PPMM isn’t just for those who need it but for all of us.

Almost at the finish line for Banyan’s PPMM Video Project!

We are almost at the finish line, folks! An immense, heartfelt thanks to all the people who have supported us so far! WOW. THANK YOU!  We only need  $1,200. That means 10 people donating at $120 each or 20 people donating $60 each — or some combination thereof depending on your budget.

Go directly to paypal.com and send your donation, as a Gift, to amisha@amisha.tv. (As wonderful as Causevox was — and it’s highly recommended to nonprofits — we migrated out to save some fees.)

To answer some FAQ about giving: you can now pay via Paypal by credit card (small fee) or bank account (no fee) through Paypal’s super secure service. But yes, you must first sign up, for free, to Paypal to do so.

If you do not want to sign up to Paypal, contact me at amisha@amisha.tv, and I will send you the address where to mail a check.

This is a tangible gift. Your money ensures a woman gets prenatal screening for a healthy delivery — the United States has the most infant mortality rate among industrialized nations because of lack of access to proper healthcare. You can change this!

Your money ensures an STD is stopped in its tracks by someone who gets a free STD test and is treated.

Your money ensures an entire family gets primary care, that a woman gets a breast cancer screening, that those who are uninsured are able to pay or are assisted in navigating the Affordable Care Act or their state program to ensure they get the right insurance for their needs.

Not one cent goes to anything else but what we are talking about: fundraising to ensure these services keep going.

THANK YOU!!

Major event: after 3 years, launching Banyan with a healthcare video project that needs your help!

It’s hard to know how to help when there is so much negative news around. It’s hard to know which organizations to trust when you want to donate time or money. So Banyan will take that guesswork right out. Working with smaller nonprofits with big impact, Banyan wants to raise funds for content, like videos or PSA’s or presentations, that will enable a nonprofit to get to that next step whether it be in donors, donations, or awareness campaigns.

Banyan needs your help to get off the ground with the first project. Donating as little as $25 will ensure hundreds of thousands of people will get the healthcare they need in northern California and Nevada. Go to http://banyan.causevox.com/ for more information and to donate.

Banyan Productions from Banyan Productions on Vimeo.

This word “success” and the difference between “successful” and achieving your highest potential

I changed the title of my blog inspired by the original article on LinkedIn, which is titled “The Difference Between Successful and Very Successful People.” Great article but I have a hangup about this word “success.” By using that very word of “success,” the myths this article break is already inherent.

One of the myths this article breaks is that pseudo-bragging of “I’m so busy” which is not that impressive. If you keep rebuffing friends and family with that excuse, it’s dismissive, possibly rude, and definitely not bond-forming.

Truly successful people make time for those things that are important to them. And I would add, important to them at a given time. Although attention should always be paid to these parts of your life, sometimes your marriage or relationship needs more attention than usual, sometimes your children do, sometimes a deadline forces you to work later hours, and sometimes your health must take priority. But it can’t be one thing all the time, all day and night. Learn to say “no,” learn to delegate, learn to let go.

rumritalin-tumblr
source: wedoitbetta.tumblr.com

Another myth broken in that article is the “too busy to sleep.” Studies show that the most successful people sleep well. They may take several naps and then sleep 6 hours or take 8 to 8.5 hours of a full night’s sleep but they sleep. Sleep is critical to keep the brain at its highest efficiency. You are doing yourself a disservice if you think that somehow sleeping less is proving anything. It will ruin your health and make you perform less than your best.

Finally, what’s not stated in that article is the definition of success. Study after study shows that those who live in stable countries and aren’t worrying about this month’s rent (I always have to add that caveat because those two groups constitute most of the world), show remarked happiness by doing something meaningful. As a writer, I would’ve long ago given up if success meant my own TV show or an Oscar or a best seller. If writers hinged their perception of talent or merit or hard work on that type of result, most writers would be not successful. But we know that’s not true for writers or any other artist, activist, etc.

It’s more productive, and actually scientifically and socially proven to lead to a healthier and more fulfilled life, if you define success as having purpose or meaning. People leave high powered jobs to be a full time parent. Their success now is defined by being their for their children and (hopefully) their community — that is what they define as being meaningful.

success-happiness-streetsignsThe New York Times today has an article by a philosophy professor, Daniel Haybron, “Happiness and its Discontents,” citing this relationship between happiness, and purpose. There are people, the author states, suffering in countries with governments stomping on human rights but they believe their work is meaningful. There are poor people, millions of them, he adds, living and having families and finding their corner of happiness.

I mention this article because success is only important because it promises happiness. Financial stability gives healthcare and buys homes and enables retirement plans and affords a vacation here and there. Success legitimizes unique talent or power or skill in addition to financial prowess. But more than that, it promises that we will be happy. Notice though that in Mr. Haybron’s article nor in any study on happiness, success is never mentioned. Rarely is financial prowess even. Worth keeping in mind as you navigate your definition of success.

 

John McPhee’s article in The New Yorker on the art of the interview for nonfiction writers and journalists

NewYorker_McPhee_Interview“Suppose you are in Vermont on a field trip with the world’s ten or fifteen most knowledgeable Appalachian geologists. They gather around an outcrop, and soon an argument heats up about delaminated basements, welding batholiths, and controversial aspects of tectonostratigraphy. You are on the low side of the learning curve and don’t even know terrain from terrane. What to do?”

So asks John McPhee in this month’s The New Yorker article, “Elicitation.” And anyone who has ever been a journalist or has had to interview people knows this nail biting tale. Mr. McPhee was at Time, has been at The New Yorker since 1965, and has written over 30 nonfiction books so if anyone can comment on interviewing, it would be him.

You can’t read the whole article if you don’t have a subscription to the magazine.So for those who want just the main points due to lack of funds or complete disbelief (I hope I’m not the last generation not offended by the idea of paying for content), here are the highlights:

Like a camera, a tape recorder can affect an interview by its very presence. His advice, “use a tape recorder, yes, but maybe not as a first choice–more like a relief pitcher.”

Don’t EVER rely on memory.

“From the start, make clear what you are doing and who will publish what you write.”

The interviewee will be affected by you scribbling away (or not) on your notepad, adjusting his or her pace and even content according to your scribbling. Be mindful, use to your advantage to keep the interview moving forward.

The appearance of being dumb so you can ask a question again and again until either you get it or you get an answer to a question that was being dodged or inarticulately being expressed is called “creative bumbling.” (It has a name! It must work!)

“Writing is selection.” That’s why  not it completely objective (my thoughts) because you and an editor decide what to put in and what to leave out.

Research is at your discretion: “enough preparation to be polite” is what he recommends. The research also depends on what type of writer you are. He compareshis method to a daily journalist’s trials and tribulations. Since he doesn’t have to turn in a story in a day, he stays somewhere, for weeks or months, and “fades away as I watch people do what they do.” (I’ve done both and a lot of it is personality. I prefer the latter fading-away.)

On quotes: you can “trim and straighten words,” and you have to since speech is not print, but you never make up.

“It is possible..to present something that is both verbatim and false.” His answer to quotes that can clunk up sentences with improper pronoun switching or misinterpretation is indirect discourse, i.e. “she said xxxx.”

The article is worth reading in its entirety not least because it’s nonfiction by a master of his craft. It’s riddled with anecdotes, and given Mr. McPhee was in the Show Business department at Time, he’s got plenty. Jackie Gleason, Woody Allen, Richard Burton to name a few. He delves into when nonfiction risks going into fiction and how other authors have handled that situation. He goes into this fascinating post of “minders” and how he’s dealt with their presence in his interviews.

A successful pitch could depend on the pitch of your voice

woman_speakingMost professions have male dominated professional spaces, so I loathe to write about modulating your voice. However…

There is now some basis for having a lower pitch in professional settings. In this New York Times article, “She Turned Her Upspeak Down a Notch,” the author, Jessica Grose, notes that her 31 year old self had a 12 year old voice mainly because all her sentences sounded like questions (an upspeak). This translates not only in sounding younger but in sounding uncertain, which is professionally damaging.  It made the author more accepted by others because it conveyed friendliness but wasn’t perceived as sounding authoritative.

In “Why you need to pitch it right,”  a 2013 study by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business showed that deeper voices are considered more effective or better for leadership roles (see Darth Vader). So much so that CEO’s with deeper voices got more pay, longer tenures, and larger assets.

So is it time to start drinking whiskey and smoke cigarettes? Not quite.

Women are a bit screwed because though low voices are great professionally – depending, of course on your profession – most women don’t have deeper voices and don’t want them on a personal level. Most women have higher voices and it has physiological as well as societal reasons. Babies and kids find more comfort with higher voices (hello Elmo). Men tend to regard higher voices as being more maternal (see previous sentence) and more feminine, which aids and abets the courting process for heterosexuals.

Being considerate of others or asking opinions is also viewed as less than, yet it’s highly desirable in social relations where women excel. The director Penny Marshall, with a string of Oscar nominated films and box office hits like “Big” to her name, said that she’d ask opinions of others around her, not because she didn’t know what she wanted but that was just her approach. She quickly stopped doing that when she became AWARE that it was viewed as being indecisive.

The key here is BALANCE.  Ms. Grouse went to an executive speech coach who created AWARENESS in her. She got rid of fillers (the “um’s” and “you know’s”). She did adapt her voice but didn’t change it so much as to get rid of what she valued, i.e. her enthusiasm and passion for a topic.

Two decades as the only female leader in the Western world. Learn to love the shrill.
Two decades as the only female leader in the Western world. Learn to love the shrill. 

Even the Iron Lady herself, the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, went to the Royal National Theatre’s speech coach when she was told by her team that her voice came off as too “shrill.”

Sadly, there are actually not enough female CEO’s to even have a study on them, but whether you’re trying to get something done from contractors and vendors to run your family and home or you’re running a Fortune 100 company, the Livemint article notes one gem to tuck away:

A simple tip to achieve a deeper tone and a better voice presence is offered by Kedar Dunakhe, who is voice trainer at the Pune-based Indian Voice-Overs. “Always speak slowly, no matter what.”

Slow, steady, no fillers, and no upspeak — and knowing what the hell you’re talking about — will win the race. And the pitch.