Tag Archives: Current events

A Grim Picture of the War on Drugs

5 Dec

Drugs. Bad, evil, society-destroying drugs. Of the many reactions we have on hearing about drug lords and drug czars, overdoses and crime waves, sympathy and empathy are often not part of them. The War on Drugs is an abstract concept, informed by movies like Traffic and Maria Full of Grace, more than the news or any observable impact on friends and family.

The House I Live In, a hard-hitting new documentary by Eugene Jarecki (the director of my favorite documentary till date, Why We Fight) will shatter everything you thought you knew about the War on Drugs. The stories of families across the country, including a poignant one about Jarecki’s nanny, reframe the issue as a public health crisis, rather than a criminal justice issue. The experts present stunning statistics about the havoc that the war on drugs has wrecked on society, particularly from the 1980s. And it will make you cry bloody murder at the fate of a generation of young individuals (mainly poor individuals, predominantly black) who have been subject to a jail-hungry government, wildly imbalanced sentencing laws and mass hysteria.

First, some statistics.[i]

  • The U.S. accounts for 5% of the world’s population, but accounts for a staggering 25% of the world’s jailed population.
  • In 2009, in the U.S., nearly 1.7 million people were arrested on non-violent drug charges.
  • African-Americans only account for 49% of crack users, and yet make up an overwhelming 90% of crack charges.
  • As of 2001, one in six black men had been incarcerated. At the current rate, one in three black males born today can expect to be jailed at some point in his lifestyle.
  • It costs the State of Maryland $86,000 per year to house a juvenile detainee.[ii]

Pretty grim situation, isn’t it. So what do we do with this information? The film drives home the point that Washington is in no way capable of true leadership on this issues – there are too many financial incentives and electioneering pitfalls to look the other way. The only way this ship is going to turn around is citizen activism, plain and simple.

The positive news is that in 2012, citizen activism is easier than ever. There are a number of ways that folks can get involved, and you can start with looking at The House I Live In website. Other organizations:

The House I Live In, in combination with Waiting for “Superman” (another excellent, albeit controversial, documentary about pervasive challenges with public education in the U.S.), present a picture of the structural race-based and class-based discrimination affecting this country in aching detail. Hopefully, these films also raise the profile of those championing to make a change in society, and in turn, spark a nation-wide movement to reform the American criminal justice and education systems.


An antidote to insanity – humor

23 Sep

It seems as though the world had turned on its head the past few weeks. Incited by a deeply offensive amateur film, angry, sometimes, violent protestors across the globe have come out in large numbers. The turmoil has claimed lives and cast suspicion on the potency of the ‘Arab Spring’, with those who considered as a force for positive change now in doubt.

The whole episode is a tremendous disappointment. Yes, the video is completely idiotic and should be denounced widely. About that there can be no question. And yes, I understand protesting its content. But clearly, there is a more peaceful way to go about it. What is gained by attacking individuals and/or countries who had no hand in its production? Aren’t folks (albeit a tiny percentage of them) doing exactly what the filmmakers hoped they’d do? We must recognize that there are other factors at play – politics, social unrest, economics. But inciting violence for political gain has never ever worked in anyone’s favor. The always excellent Bill Keller of the New York Times has written a piece on the entire issue, which you can read here.

As Keller explains, the problem with these kinds of confrontations is that it riles up extremes on every side. In response to the protests, media outlets in Europe and the United States have decided to stoke the flames by producing materials that falsely paint Muslim communities in broad strokes. I was once told that sometimes the right response to vitriol is silence, and I’m realizing more and more how true that is.

The only glimmer of hope in this debacle was the Twitter response to an absurd cover story by Newsweek about ‘Muslim Rage’. #muslimrage was taken over on Twitter by some incredibly funny and witty responses from folks who recognized the stupidity in all of this. Some of my favorites in this Wired magazine article – http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/09/muslimrage/

Humor is not always the answer to hatred and ignorance – but it certainly is one of the most effective. An example that I love from a few years ago is the Pink Chaddi campaign. By using deceptively simple ways to draw attention to the absurdity of the situation, people often do what the media fails to with extremes – they do not give any lip service to malicious arguments. And to my mind, that works far better than mobs attacking innocent targets.

Didn’t We Almost Have it All?

1 Jul

One of the grand questions facing our generation of women, generations before us and generations to come, is – how do you successfully balance a happy family, fulfilling career and personal health and wellness? I doubt anyone has the answer, and if they do, there will undoubtedly be a small army waiting to pick apart the argument. Too utopian! Too elitist! Too pessimistic! Too…well, you get the point.

My sense as to why this topic gets everyone hot and bothered is because it is notoriously difficult to get right. And although it is a side effect of an entrenched societal problem (gender inequity in the workplace), everyone seems to go through their own internal war to figure it out, which leaves behind a lot of guilt and self-doubt. Personally, I am yet to experience the ‘real deal’, given that we don’t have kids, but it’s safe to say that I’ve had many questions about how to balance family and a meaningful career, sooner than I expected to.

The latest chapter in this debate is being written at this very moment, with a virtual tête-à-tête taking place between what can be broadly defined as two camps – Anne-Marie Slaugther’s realists and Sheryl Sandberg’s trailblazers. Though not mutually exclusive, the root of the disagreement between these two camps is where change needs to happen. Slaughter suggests that workplaces need to be intrinsically more adaptable to women with families, while Sandberg posits that women need to ‘own’ their careers and assert themselves in their roles.

First, some context. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, veteran of Google and Larry Summers’ protégé, gave a much-needed talk at a TED conference titled, ‘Why we have too few women leaders’. This is a must watch and you can find it below.


Sandberg makes tremendous sense when she talks about why women need to assert themselves more in the workplace. As she says in the speech, “No one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table. And no one gets the promotion if they don’t think they deserve their success or they don’t even understand their own success.”

However the underlying message of Sandberg’s talk is that women somehow are responsible if they do not succeed at work. And the lesson drawn from it is that you can write your own success story if you as a woman make changes to how you think and act, as a mother, partner and employee. This idea is what Slaughter eloquently takes issue with in her piece for the Atlantic, titled, ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All’.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is a highly-regarded foreign policy expert at Princeton and until recently was a top ranked official with the State Department. Slaughter’s article is a provocative and practical counterpoint to Sandberg’s belief that women need to dig in their heels at work. It’s a long read, so suggest you print it out, settle into your couch and have at it.

Slaughter’s piece, while a bit of a wet blanket, brims with practical advice for what women face in their struggles to balance work and family. Slaughter takes issue with what one journalist termed Sandberg’s motto of ‘higher-harder-faster’, saying that women pay too high a price for having it all, one that is fundamentally at odds with our visions of success, and that is, an unfulfilling, unsatisfying family life. She suggests that instead, workplaces need to adapt to a new reality and actively promote flexible hours, teleworking and ‘stair-stepping’ career trajectories. And she bravely writes that we are entitled to happiness, whatever that means for us, and not the dream version that is peddled to us by highly visible women leaders.

As someone who is going to face these challenges in a few years, I draw lessons from both sides. Sandberg’s words about striving for success and ‘keeping your foot on the pedal’ definitely strike a chord. It is a reminder that if we choose a career path where we seek success, we need to constantly remind ourselves that our talent is valuable and that we can make a difference in our chosen fields. Slaughter on the other hand provides that much needed reality check, one that makes me feel no less of a woman for wanting a deeply satisfying family life and a great career, even though it might not happen all at once. And through the journey, I look forward to more frank discussions (hopefully from women of all standings, not just the privileged few) of what it means to be a working woman in the 21st century.

The title of this post is a great Whitney Houston song, and so I’ll end with another one. Enjoy!