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Author’s delight: Trying to catch the essence of Hillary Clinton

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Image source: washingtonpost.com

By Vikas Datta

Is she a consummate, capable stateswoman ready for the most powerful job in the world, or a polarising, manipulative politician who should be kept away from it?

Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton may have legions of devoted admirers — as well as fierce detractors — but there can’t be many who can ignore her. Her fate will soon be decided by Democratic voters and, if successful, then the US electorate, but till then the debate has spilled over into the literary world with a spate of works dissecting her antecedents, ability and performance.

Clinton has been in the public gaze for nearly four decades now, right from when her husband, Bill Clinton, became Arkansas governor in 1978 and held the post (apart from a two-year gap) till elected US president in 1992. After an over two-decade-long stint as First Lady at the state and national level, she carved out her own political career – as a senator from New York and then presidential contender in 2008.

She then began a role as a stateswoman, accepting her successful rival Barack Obama’s offer to join his administration as its top diplomat – the third woman to hold the post in a little over a decade. After one eventful term, she bided her time before again entering the fray for the White House in 2016.

Her own take on her life can be found in her autobiographies “Living History” (2003) and “Hard Choices” (2014) about her stint as Obama’s secretary of state, but it has also inspired nearly 100 books, ranging from sympathetic portrayals to polemical attacks, from ‘tell-all’ accounts of former associates to scholarly analyses, satirical fiction and even a children’s colouring book.

The leanings of most of the works can be made out from their titles – Joe Conason and Gene Lyons’ “The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton” (2000), Susan Estrich’s “The Case for Hillary Clinton” (2005), David Brock’s “Killing the Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary and Hijack Your Government” (2015) are as obvious as Peggy Noonan’s “The Case Against Hillary Clinton” (2000), Carl Limbacher’s “Hillary’s Scheme: Inside the Next Clinton’s Ruthless Agenda to Take the White House” (2003), and Dinesh D’Souza’s “Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gangs Taught Me about Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party” (2015).

What are we to make out of these – and many more like them? Should we believe that Clinton has a good record of public life, is well-suited to be the next president of the US but is being demonised, or is she just another overly ambitious and unscrupulous politician who must be exposed? Is Bill Clinton a shrewd operator with a feel for the public pulse or a money-minded philanderer, or an asset or liability to his wife? There are no easy answers and they will, in any case, depend on what you want to believe.

But there are some books that are neither enthusiastic hagiographies or unrestrained diatribes but present a picture in all its positive and negative aspects so as to allow you to arrive at your own judgment.

Among the latest is Karen Blumenthal’s “Hillary” (2016). The author, whose previous works include a biography of Steve Jobs and of Walmart founder Sam Walton, focusses on aspects that moulded Clinton’s thoughts and how these influenced her personal and public life. Blumenthal doesn’t ignore the many contradictions between words and deeds or the many scandals that followed the Clintons but quite objectively.

Kim Ghattas’ “The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power” (2013) combines the Lebanese-born BBC correspondent’s own story with accounts of several important foreign trips she accompanied Clinton on and a keen insight into the reality and limitations of American power.

On the other hand, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’ “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton” (2014) dwells on her domestic political career as secretary of state. It also claims the Clintons had prepared a “hit” list comprising party leaders who had either been unhelpful in 2008 and how these were “fixed”.

To get a feel of how of those not favourably disposed look, Daniel Halper’s “Clinton, Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine” (2014) is illustrative, with its recital of a long list of innuendos and claims, made by a host of unnamed sources, who had sought they be kept anonymous to avoid the ire of the Clintons.

Though a little dated, “A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton” (2007), by Carl Bernstein, one-half of the duo that broke the Watergate scandal and helped bring down a president, cannot be bettered, or its estimation that she is “neither the demon of the right’s perception, nor a feminist saint, nor is she particularly emblematic of her time” but a person with several positives and some flaws – like most of us are. (IANS)

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Sridevi’s Biographer: Wanted to Know Many Things About Her

Like most of her fans, even Satyarth liked Sridevi in films such as "Solva Sawan", "Mr. India", "Sadma", "Chandni", "Nagina" and "Himmatwala"

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Indian actress Sridevi had passed away at the age of 54 in Dubai. VOA

BY ARUNDHUTI BANERJEE

Author Satyarth Nayak, who has penned the biography “Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess”, says he had too many questions in his mind about the late legendary superstar, adding that her sudden demise broke him so badly that he wanted to give up the idea of writing the book.

Asked if he would have preferred an insightful conversation before writing the biography, as he was appalled that there is no good book on his favourite superstar Sridevi, Nayak told IANS: “That was the original plan. In 2017, after I was sanctioned by Penguin Random House, I had word with Boney (Kapoor) sir and Sridevi ji. She said that she was quite occupied with (daughter) Janhvi’s debut. Around that time Janhvi had signed ‘Dhadak’. Sridevi ji said that once the film was released, she would be free and we could down for the book.”

That was not to be. The actress passed away on February 24, 2018.

“I was shattered. I was emotionally broken and told myself I can’t do this anymore. I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to know so many things about her. There was a list of questions in my mind but now these questions would remain unanswered,” said Nayak.

However, according to the author, Sridevi’s husband Boney Kapoor and the publishing house of the book encouraged him to get over the shock, and Nayak went on to interview around 70 actors to get material for a tribute to his favourite actress.

Sridevi
Sridevi is remembered for her performance is some of the iconic Bollywood films like “Mr. India”, “Nagina”, “Sadma”, “ChalBaaz”, “Chandni”, “Khuda Gawah”, among many others in different Indian languages. Wikimedia Commons

So, what were the questions Nayak wanted to ask Sridevi? “I think an artist of her calibre could have avoided some of the film that she did in the nineties. I know that in some of her interviews she said that she was not getting her choice of roles. I wanted to know, why did she not explore arthouse cinema at that point of time and work with filmmakers like Govind Nihalani and Shyam Benegal? We could have seen a different side of Sridevi in such films,” he replied.

Like most of her fans, even Satyarth liked Sridevi in films such as “Solva Sawan”, “Mr. India”, “Sadma”, “Chandni”, “Nagina” and “Himmatwala”.

“But I also wanted to ask why she acted in a film like ‘Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja’. However, a person like me, who admired her as an actress, can only wonder, but in the rest of my book, I have paid tribute to her,” said the author.

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While it is easy to assume that, like any other average fan, Nayak liked the dazzling smile, dancing skill and screen presence of Sridevi, the author shared his reasons for admiring the actress: “It is so much easy these days to talk about pay disparity, substantial roles for women in cinema and so on. Sridevi, at the top of her game in the eighties and the nineties, dealt with misogyny, patriarchy in the film industry, and how. She was one of those successful heroines who stood her ground on getting substantial parts in film instead of just an elementary presence that was the common practice of that era.

“In a film like ‘Chaalbaaz’, two heroes like Rajnikanth and Sunny Deol were supporting actors and in the poster, her picture was bigger. She brought back the glorious days of fifties and sixties when women used to get meaty roles. Most interestingly, she has done it all in a commercial space. She was a female superstar by all means,” pointed out the author. (IANS)

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Trump Secures The Higher Ground On Criminal Justice Issues in 2020 Campaign

Democratic candidates are being forced to disavow criminal justice policies they once championed

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Al Sharpton, center, with demonstrators during a silent march to end the "stop-and-frisk" program in New York. During the Bloomberg administration, civil rights groups went to court to end the NYPD's use of a tactic known as "stop and frisk," which involved detaining, questioning and sometimes searching people deemed suspicious by officers. VOA

Bloomberg is the latest Democratic candidate forced to reckon with a criminal justice policy record that critics view as too punitive to minorities.

As he prepared to announce his candidacy for president on Sunday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a page from an old political playbook.

Appearing in a black church in the city’s Brooklyn borough last week, the multi-billionaire media mogul apologized for long pushing a now-defunct policing tactic that had disproportionately targeted African American and Hispanic residents.

Known as “stop and frisk,” the controversial policy, imposed between 2003 and 2013, allowed New York City police to stop, temporarily detain, and search anyone suspected of carrying weapons and other contraband.

“I was wrong,” Bloomberg declared to the congregation. To those who had been wronged by the policy, he said, “I apologize.”

Criminal justice policy records

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been criticized for backing a 1994 crime bill that helped trigger a federal prison population explosion, while South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has faced questions over policing tactics in his hometown.

Others, including Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, have had to justify their law enforcement policies as a former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and a California prosecutor, respectively.

That Democrats are under scrutiny over criminal justice issues is unusual. Historically, Democratic presidential candidates ran on platforms of civil rights and criminal justice reform while Republicans campaigned as tough law-and-order candidates, according to criminal justice experts.

Donald Trump on criminal justice
President Donald Trump speaks at the 2019 Prison Reform Summit and First Step Act Celebration in the East Room of the White House in Washington. VOA

But as the 2020 campaign enters the crucial primary phase, Democratic candidates are being forced to disavow criminal justice policies they once championed, while Republican President Donald Trump – who hardly discussed criminal justice in 2016 – is touting himself as a leading reform candidate.

Trump says he can make that claim because he signed into law a sweeping piece of legislation known as the First Step Act last December. The legislation, which has released or reduced the prison sentences of thousands of inmates convicted of drug offenses, has earned Trump praise from many African Americans.

“It’s sort of a switch in what people thought was the standard left-right divide,” said Noah Weinrich of Heritage Action for America, a conservative grassroots organization.

So what happened?

The short answer is the country has changed. The 1994 Crime Bill now under attack from liberals and African Americans was enacted during the Clinton administration, near the height of a violent crime epidemic in the country when heavy-handed policies enjoyed broad public support.

But as crime has steadily declined over the past two decades to historically low levels, support for those measures has eroded and politicians on both sides of the aisle have increasingly embraced overhaul proposals.

Behind the 1994 Crime Bill

Biden helped craft the legislation when he was a U.S. senator and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and now is taking heat for the legislation’s more onerous side effects.

“Today, crime and murder rates are at historic lows and American communities are safer than they have been in generations,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, acting director of the Justice Program at New York University’s Brennan Center. “That’s significant because that allows the bipartisan conversations about how to best reduce the number of people who have been incarcerated.”

To be sure, criminal justice reform is not among the most pressing concerns for voters who care more about issues such as health care, immigration and jobs, according to polling.

Bill Clinton, Al Gore Demand Criminal Justice
President Bill Clinton signs the $30 billion crime bill during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. Looking on, from left: Vice President Al Gore; House Majority Whip David Bonior of Mich.; Stephen Sposato, whose wife was killed by a gunman invaded the San Francisco law firm where she worked; Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M. and Marc Klass, whose daughter Polly was kidnapped and killed. VOA

But public support for measures, such as eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing, has been on an upswing in recent years. That has prompted not only the large field of Democratic candidates but also the Republican president to campaign on criminal justice issues. Today, instead of incarceration, politicians increasingly talk about rehabilitation and redemption.

“Now we’re at a point in the country where we’re looking at our criminal justice system and saying maybe sentencing is what we need to think about and how do we best get our nonviolent criminals back into being productive members of society,” veteran Republican strategist David Avella said.

Last December, growing bipartisanship for criminal justice reform culminated in the enactment of the First Step Act.

Considered the most sweeping overhaul in a generation, the First Step Act allows for the early release of some nonviolent offenders, while providing inmates with in-prison job training to ease their reintegration into society and reduce recidivism rates. To date, more than 3,000 prisoners have been released and nearly 1,700 others have received sentence reductions under the program.

“Last year we brought the whole country together to achieve a truly momentous milestone,” Trump said last month at the historically black Benedict College in South Carolina, where he received an award for signing into law the First Step Act. “They said it couldn’t be done.”

Trump was an unlikely champion of the bill. When he first ran for president in 2016, he was seen as an obstacle to reform.

While his platform was notably silent on the issue, he consistently pushed for tough-on-crime policies over the decades, advocating lengthy sentences for violent offenders and effusing about New York City’s stop-and-frisk policies.

Then, after he was elected in 2016, Trump appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior White House adviser. Given a broad policy platform, Kushner zeroed in on an issue that he said was very close to his heart: prison reform.

Kushner’s father imprisoned

His father, real estate developer Charles Kushner, spent 14 months in a federal prison in the 2000s for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. Jared Kushner later called his father’s incarceration “obviously unjust.”

“When I had my personal experience, I wish that there was somebody who was in my office in the White House, who cared about this issue as much as I do, and if they’d been focused on it in making a difference, perhaps that would have made an impact on a lot of people who I came to meet and care about,” he told CNN’s Van Jones, a prominent African American advocate of the First Step Act, last year.

Kusner Brafman on Criminal Justice
Charles Kushner, left, walks to the U.S. District Courthouse with his lawyers Benjamin Brafman, right, and Alfred C. DeCotiis, center, in Newark, N.J. Kushner is expected to plead guilty to charges stemming from a witness tampering scheme. VOA

Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy organization that lobbied for the legislation, said Kushner played an indispensable role in championing the bill and that Trump deserves credit for signing it into law.

“No one would have thought four years ago or three years ago that President Trump would have signed a law like that,” Ring said. “Everyone would have been skeptical that he would have supported any reform. So because he did it, I see no reason not to celebrate that.”

But Democratic candidates were in no mood to celebrate Trump’s action. They have denounced other Trump administration policy decisions that they say have set back years of progress on criminal justice. These include the Justice Department’s recent decision to resume federal executions.

ALSO READ: Here’s How Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Impacts The World

“I find it hypocritical of him to tout whatever advances have been made in the First Step Act given his history,” Democratic candidate Harris said at the Bipartisan Justice Center event after Trump received the award.

Harris, who had initially opposed the First Step Act for not going far enough to address criminal justice reform before voting for it, has faced criticism for not embracing criminal justice reform when she was San Francisco’s top prosecutor and later California’s attorney general. (VOA)

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New Book on Sridevi’s Life Will Be Launched By Penguin Random House India

The upcoming book will celebrate the journey of India's beloved screen goddess Sridevi

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Sridevi's life journey will be covered by Penguin publication. Instagram

In what is described as the first and only detailed chronicle of Sridevi’s 50-year long journey across all the five industries she had worked in, Penguin Random House India has announced the acquisition of the book on the iconic Indian cinema legend written by author and screenwriter Satyarth Nayak and approved by Boney Kapoor.

“Sridevi: Girl Woman Superstar” recounts the life and times of the actor who changed the way women stars were perceived in a patriarchal film industry. The book will be published under the Ebury Press imprint of Penguin Random House in October 2019 and is available for pre-order on e-commerce websites. Ebury Press is one of the country’s most successful imprints dedicated to discovering, publishing and building the best voices in popular fiction and non-fiction.

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Sridevi’s 50-year long journey will be covered in the upcoming book by penguin. Instagram

Sridevi embarked on her career in the movies when she was just four years old and went on to become the number one movie star in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu cinema, simultaneously. Her body of work has firmly established her as one of the most iconic screen goddesses of India, with the roles and characters she played becoming cultural touchstones for generations of fans and aspiring actors alike.

“I have always been a huge admirer of Sridevi and this book gave me the perfect opportunity to celebrate the journey of India’s beloved screen goddess. It was wonderful interacting with various film personalities that she worked with over the years, and put together their memories and stories into a narrative that charts her saga from a child star to India’s first female superstar,” author Satyarth Nayak said.

“What I am proud of is that besides her legendary innings in Hindi Cinema, this book for the first time delves deep into her iconic body of work in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema. I am sure this comprehensive narrative on Sridevi will be embraced by millions of her fans from across the globe. I am indebted to Penguin for sharing my vision for this book, and would especially like to thank Boney Kapoor for being a pillar of strength in helping me realise my dream,” Nayak added.

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Sridevi’s life will be well documented in the upcoming book. Instagram

Milee Ashwarya, Publisher, Ebury Publishing and Vintage Publishing, Penguin Random House India, said: “Sridevi has been the quintessential superstar with a fascinating journey from a child star to the undisputed goddess of the silver screen. Few actors can match the screen presence, comic timing, versatility and beauty that she stood for. She left us too early but continues to live on in the hearts of millions of her fans. Sridevi by Satyarth Nayak is a tribute to the actor and a gift for her fans. I would like to congratulate and thank Satyarth for painstakingly researching and beautifully narrating the life journey of one of India’s most iconic actors.”

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Satyarth Nayak is an author and screenwriter based in Mumbai. A former SAARC Award-winning correspondent with CNN-IBN, Delhi, he holds a master’s in English literature from St. Stephen’s College. His debut novel, “The Emperor’s Riddles”, released in 2014 and became a bestselling thriller. His short stories have won the British Council Award and appeared in Sudha Murthy’s Penguin anthology “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven”. Nayak has also scripted Sony’s epic show “Porus”, touted as India’s biggest historical TV series. A self-confessed cinephile, this is his first non-fiction book. (IANS)