Hollywood Gender Gap Persists in 100 Top-Grossing 2008 Films

In cinematic content, females appear to be cold, hungry, and alone. At least that is what our recent gender analysis reveals about the 100 top-grossing theatrically released fictional films in 2008. We evaluated more than 4,300 on-screen speaking characters and more than 1,200 above-the-line personnel (directors, writers, producers). Among our current findings:

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20 Principles for Successful Community Organizing

I’ve been a rabble-rouser and social activist for 45 of my almost 66 years, and have made my living as a professional civil rights, labor, and community organizer, as well as a performer. In my new political memoir, Creative Community Organizing: A Guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists, and Quiet Lovers of Justice (Berrett-Koehler, 2010), I relate stories from some of the great social reform campaigns in recent American history, of which I’ve been privileged to play a part--including the Southern Civil Rights Movement, the Harlan County coal miner’s strike, and the fight to abolish for-profit prisons and immigrant family detention. The book has lessons that I hope will inspire and motivate a new generation of community organizers and young activists--and anyone else who seeks to make an impact in their communities, from musicians and soccer moms, to teachers and politicians.

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White House Focuses on Violence Against Women

The Obama Administration announced a new position on June 26 -- White House advisor on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. Fittingly, the announcement came from Vice-President Joe Biden, who, when he was senator and chair of the Judiciary Committee, had been the original drafter of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Named to the new position is Lynn Rosenthal, who was key to galvanizing support across the country for the reauthorization of VAWA in 2005.

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We Are Witnessing the Remaking of America

In the darkness of predawn, we walked silently through the streets of Washington to take our places on the mall. As the day began, there was no noisy jubilation, only the sound of forward movement, a determination to secure a spot to witness history. Mine was about midpoint among, we believe now, a million and a half witnesses. I stood next to a middle-aged man wiping tears from his face as his wife leaned into him; behind a mixed group of young men -- black, Asian, white -- in awe of the spectacle; in front of a group of older black women, quietly insisting the younger, taller ones stoop down so they could see. They responded quickly with a smile. I’ve never been in a more congenial, optimistic, unified throng.

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The DNA of Violence

A jury has convicted Atlanta courthouse killer Brian Gene Nichols, and Atlanta has heaved a sigh of relief. Nichols was sentenced Saturday to seven life sentences and four sentences of life without parole plus 485 years for the crimes he committed on March 11, 2005.

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Why Larry Summers Is a Bad Choice for an Obama Administration

As President-elect Obama moves quickly to assemble his team, women leaders monitoring his choices have put up a red alert about a reported short-list choice as secretary of the Treasury. Veronica Arreola, an educator and advocate for women in the sciences, explains why.

I am the president of the Larry Summers fan club. As the director of the Women in Science and Engineering program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, you might find that odd.

After his infamous statement in 2005 that women and girls had an intrinsic handicap towards math, explaining my job was a moot point. Everyone in my circle of friends and around the country knew the importance of running an academic support program for women majoring in science and engineering at a Research I institution. Despite the fact that women are going to college in record numbers and increasingly majoring in sciences, there are still those out in the world who think women just can't hack it in the end. It also was an easier sell to donors and funders about the importance of the WISE office and our mission. So thank you, Larry for making my case so eloquently.

After his departure from the Harvard presidency he faded from the limelight. This week his name, along with New York Federal Reserve Chairman Timothy Geithner, has been bandied about as secretary of the treasury in the incoming Obama administration (can I just say how amazing it is to say that? The Obama administration!). Could the man who sold America on change seriously be considering appointing a man who suggested that Malia, Sasha and all of our daughters have a genetic disposition from not being able to math? Sadly yes.

As the head of the U.S. Treasury, Larry Summers would be in charge of advising on economic and tax policy in this country and abroad. This is a man who believes that women's inability to do math has MORE impact on the lack of women in science and engineering than discrimination. The lack of women in science and engineering is important to our economy in at least two ways. First, our country is sorely in need of scientists and engineers. The fact that women represent just 12 percent of the science and engineering workforce (cited from Obama's website) means that we are underutilizing women's skills in this area--a fact that Summers just might take issue with because you know, we can't do math.

Second, science and engineering fields have some of the lowest wage gaps and engineering women earn 95 cents to a man's dollar. Equal pay was a cornerstone of the Obama campaign and is on his Women's Agenda. Discrimination has been reduced, but it is still a factor in why women only earn 77 cents to a man's dollar and as low as 52 cents for women of color. In order to turn this economy around and allow everyone to participate and benefit, we must have someone in charge of the economy who understands how women are affected in the market and work place.

Even without his appointment, Larry Summers is a top advisor to President-elect Obama and that is troubling in itself. When I think about who I want at the president-elect's ear on economic issues, I do not picture a person who scoffs at discrimination, who suggests that Africa is under-polluted, or says that using sweatshop labor in Asia is justified. Is that the type of change we want to see in the next administration? We don't want to feel as though we could have saved ourselves the heartbreak and voted for John "All women need is more training for fair pay" McCain.

President-elect Obama has a lot of work ahead to sell me and my colleagues on Summers.

The Age of Unbridled Consumption Just Ended

An economic storm is descending, and for many, the storm will be bad. While the Bush Administration and Congress wrestle with how to bail out Wall Street, and argue about how softly CEOs of failed financial institutions should be allowed to land, average citizens must leap into the new reality without benefit of 24-karat parachutes.

Certainly, there isn't any golden or even silver lining to losing your job, your savings, your home. But for those of us not hit with catastrophic losses, an economic downturn might force us into painful, but ultimately useful, adjustments to our priorities. Should we be fortunate enough to hold onto both nest and nest egg though the storm, we might eventually come out the other side with clearer skies and a clear sense of what's important.

Our economy in recent decades has been propped up by an alarming degree by profligate consumer spending and wasting of resources prompted by an avaricious credit industry. Even before the crisis, it was obvious that the traditional American Dream of comfort and security had been displaced by a "more is better" focus that promotes not quality of life, but rather the unbridled production and consumption of stuff. There was never any chance that could continue indefinitely.

Recently, the Global Footprint Network issued a report stating that by September 23, humanity had consumed all the new resources the planet will produce for the year. For the rest of 2008, we are in the ecological equivalent of deficit spending, drawing down our resource stocks -- in essence, borrowing from the future. Sound familiar? We can't hope to keep to our economic budget if we can't keep to our ecological budget.

Some years ago -- just as the Bush Administration was settling into office and, as it has turned out, contemplating how best to thwart any meaningful efforts to address climate change -- my organization, New American Dream, commissioned two globe-trotting amateur videographers to document how American consumer demands affected the lives of people in parts of the globe American consumers are unlikely ever to see. The short films came back to us filled with images of environmental and social ills stemming in large part from a global trade system designed to shield end consumers from seeing the true consequences of consumer choices.

The filmmakers visited coffee farmers, banana pickers, and lobster divers. Factory workers in so-called "free trade zones" told stories of how free trade wasn't working out so well for them. Along the coasts of Central and South America, shrimp pens displaced local fishing communities and obliterated natural mangrove forests. In the Amazon, logging trucks rumbled through roads carved into formerly pristine rainforests.

Several of the films touched also on U.S. energy policy -- specifically, how our thirst for oil affects local communities both in places where oil is extracted and places where greenhouse gas emissions contribute to altering the local climate. In Ecuador, the filmmakers met indigenous Huaorani people whose health and way of life have been severely compromised by oil drilling on their lands. In sub-Saharan Africa, they documented what happens to once-thriving farming communities when the rain doesn't fall.

Those films addressing climate change most clearly highlighted the special burden faced by women. One video showed women and girls making 5 to 10 kilometer treks to gather firewood for use as cooking fuel. It showed how, during the dry months, women arose at four in the morning to wait in long lines around depleted community wells for basins of sandy water. Water rationing was so intense during those times that most clothes washing is suspended until the first rainfall.

The "more is better" version of the American dream is unsustainable environmentally, fueling a level of resource consumption that the planet cannot keep up with. It is personally unsustainable, drawing American families into a work-and-spend treadmill that depletes savings and clutters lives. And now we see it is unsustainable economically, as well.

Whatever economy emerges from this crisis will need to put less emphasis on "more" stuff and greater emphasis on more of what matters -- like healthy communities, a healthy planet and a higher quality of life. In righting the economic ship, the end game shouldn't be to plug up a broken vessel, but to move to something more seaworthy -- one that sails within both personal and ecological limits.

This article was originally posted by The Women's Media Center at The WMC is a non-profit organization founded by Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, and Robin Morgan, dedicated to making the female half of the world visible and powerful in the media.

Sarah Palin Has Pollsters Scratching Their Heads

The Sarah Surge is unmistakable. GOP presidential nominee John McCain's support rose markedly after he named Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate -- although after two solid weeks of Palin-all-the-time media attention, McCain still hasn't broken 50 percent.

Republicans now are far more fervent backers of McCain, a candidate that the religious right and social conservatives opposed in past races and were lukewarm about in this one. Post-Palin, Republicans' strong backing of McCain nearly has doubled, from 39 percent in July to 71 percent in September, in a Newsweek poll.

Palin also appears to generate a backlash. The Newsweek poll showed that 29 percent of all voters said Palin would make them more likely to vote for McCain but 22 percent said it made them less likely.

It's hard to decipher the path of voters who had strongly backed Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

One widely quoted Clinton activist who had criticized the Democratic Party's treatment of Hillary last summer and had publicly backed McCain now has withdrawn that support. Reba Shimansky said in a statement that "the Palin selection may have energized the GOP base but it hurts him with independents. I would have voted for McCain if he made a sensible choice for VP like Ridge, which would have shown that he was willing to stand up to the rightwing crackpots in his party." Now, she'll sit out the general election.

Some national polls -- notably a Washington Post-ABC survey two weeks ago -- showed a big movement of white women from Obama to McCain. That was not reflected in another national survey by pollsters at the Wall Street Journal/NBC.  The Gallup pollsters entered the fray to say that in their daily overnight tracking polls, they have not detected any major movement by female voters.

Just before the Democratic convention, in Gallup's August 20-22 survey, white women broke 47-40 percent for McCain over Obama. After the unveiling of Palin and her speech to the GOP convention, the support of white women moved up slightly toward McCain, 51-40, in the September 5-8 survey, with no loss in backing for Obama. That resembled the movement by white men for McCain, which went from 56-36 to 59-34 percent in the same time period. The Newsweek poll this weekend showed a bigger bounce for McCain among white women: from 44 to 39 percent in July to 53 to 37 percent in early September.

Only now is Palin becoming known to the general population. She got off-the-chart applause for her convention speech, delivering sarcasm and zingers with a self-confidence she also showed in her first national TV interview with Charles Gibson.

Activists on both sides are the first to respond, knowing her personal views and, to a lesser extent, her record as mayor and as governor. The social conservatives are signing up in droves to volunteer for McCain-Palin. Feminist activists and those on the center-left began donating in record amounts to the Obama-Biden campaign, raising its fundraising take for August to $66 million.

Another insight to the Palin phenomena comes from the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

Palin gets higher favorable marks from men than women. Their recent survey shows that 45 percent of men rate her favorably, 31 percent unfavorably. Women hold a 42 percent favorable, 36 percent unfavorable view.

There definitely is a gender breakdown by race and marital status, however.

Married women give Palin a favorable vote by 49 percent, versus 37 percent who don't like her. It's the reverse for women who never married, are divorced or widowed: 32 percent like her, 38 percent don't.

Greenberg Quinlan also finds the same slight movement to McCain of older white women. He leads among white married women, 55-42 percent, and unmarried women back Obama by a narrowing margin, 49-45 percent.

But national tracking polls tell only part of the story. A poll of swing states by Quinnipiac University showed Palin had minimal impact in states where the economy is tough, such as Ohio.  Palin was helping McCain expand his lead in Florida and narrow the margin in Pennsylvania, but Obama was holding his own in Ohio and still leading in Pennsylvania.

And, in Ohio, Palin had a favorability rating of only 41 percent.

Cops Enforcing Immigration Laws Bust County Budgets

When local cops enforce federal immigration laws, the police department may not only incur significant costs, but may also fail to attend to more serious crimes and delay response times to most emergency calls, according to a report released by the Immigration Policy Center (IPC).

Take the case of Maricopa County, Ariz. Since Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio transformed his department into an immigration-enforcement agency, following a partnership made by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on January 19, 2007, his office has incurred a $1.3 million deficit in just three months.

Maricopa's police officers began working 4,500 extra hours every two-week pay period during the first month of the partnership, as compared to 2,900 extra hours the previous month, the report said. In April 2007, police officers worked more than 9,000 overtime hours and cost the county's taxpayers $373,757.

Maricopa County is not an isolated case. More and more cities across the country that allow the police to carry out federal immigration laws get themselves in a similar economic quagmire. Many of them find that it is much more expensive than they thought.

Recently, the initiative against illegal immigration in Prince William County, Va., raised its costs to $6.9 million for the budget year that starts July 1, because of overcrowding at the county jail.

Immigrant rights advocates also say that even cities like Valley Park, Mo. and Hazleton, Pa. -- where local enforcement takes a more aggressive approach than simply relying on ICE to perform federal immigration operations -- may fall into deep budget pits soon. "This kind of local enforcement just leaves counties broke, aside from many other negative consequences," said Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst for IPC. "It makes the community frightened and forces many businesses to close down."

While police officers arrest undocumented immigrants, Waslin says that they fail to catch the human smuggling rings. "I don't think that cops who become immigration agents are effective to help in stopping the flow of illegal immigration," she said.

The two-page IPC report, based mainly on the findings of a series of investigative stories published in Phoenix-based East Valley Tribune, also revealed that since Maricopa County cops started looking for undocumented immigrants, the county's arrest rate for serious crimes -- including robberies, aggravated assaults and sex crimes -- decreased dramatically -- and these crimes received little or no investigation. Arpaio's office in 2005 cleared 10.5 percent of its investigations with arrests. When immigration operations began, according to the report, that number dropped to 6 percent.

In July 2007, the county's police only made arrests on 2.5 percent of their investigations. Because more officers need to be added to the immigration team, the report said that Arpaio pulled deputies off patrol beats and used them to staff the human smuggling unit, resulting in more delays when responding to 911 and other emergency calls. Patrol districts, trails and lake divisions as well as the central investigations bureau all lost deputies. Allegations of racial profiling have also stung the county, as Arpaio's team increasingly conducts large-scale operations without any evidence of criminal activity in Latino neighborhoods or sites where day laborers convene.

"Some of these will ultimately lead to costly lawsuits," Waslin added. "In any way, the idea of cops doing federal immigration enforcement is very problematic. It's not just going to work.

When An Immigrant Mom Gets Arrested

Behind the thick glass that runs the length of the Yuba County Jail's visitation corridor, Tatyana Mitrohina's eyes glisten, and then fill with tears as she recounts the last time she saw her son. "During the visit, he climbed into my arms and fell asleep with his head on my shoulder while I walked around with him," she remembers.

Two months after that visit, Mitrohina was sent to the Yuba County Jail in Marysville, California, hours away from her 2-year-old son, who is in foster care. She was convicted on charges that she had hit him. While she does not deny the charges, she does say she had expected to be released from jail and to get counseling and start to rebuild her life with her child. But with the increasing collaboration between local authorities and federal immigration officials, Mitrohina found that she would not get that second chance. The government had slated her to be deported to Russia, the country she left as a teenager.

"When I first got here, I would break down crying once a week, just thinking about everything that's happened," says Mitrohina, who is 30 years old.

Immigration and child welfare advocates say that Mitrohina's story -- the loss of her child, her incarceration and detention, and her struggle to care for her child -- represents a new and dangerous terrain at the intersection of three government systems -- deportation, incarceration and foster care -- that are tearing apart poor families and families of color.

While rates of detention and deportation have increased exponentially in recent years, what is happening to immigrant families is not a new story. It has been played out time and again in the lives of Black families who, in the past 20 years, have faced an increase in drug-related arrests and sentences that place Black parents in jail and their children in foster care. As immigrant families find themselves targeted by a combination of public policies, it is becoming clear that their experiences and those of Black families, women and children are troublingly similar.

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