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Australia Exits the Coalition of the Willing

President Bush recently traveled to Australia to thank conservative Prime Minister John Howard for making that country a member of the "coalition of the willing" U.S. allies in the occupation of Iraq.

Bush's trip was supposed to shore Howard up as national elections approached. Instead, the president planted what turned out to be a political kiss of death on his most willing accomplice.

When the votes from Down Under were counted Saturday, it was instantly clear that the vast majority of Australians are no longer willing to participate in the American president's misadventure in the Middle East.

Bush's "Australian poodle" is no longer in charge.

In fact, Howard has been so thoroughly rejected that he's likely to be out of Australian politics altogether.

After a landslide shift to the left by the Australian electorate, Howard -- who was every bit as nasty and gaffe-prone as his pal Dick Cheney -- will be replaced by a left-leaning intellectual who was elected on a platform that promised to withdraw his country's troops from Iraq and to develop a new foreign policy that will be more independent of the United States.

As in Spain, Italy and a number of other former "coalition of the willing" countries, the Australian electorate has effectively voted the troops home. Australia has only about 500 troops in Iraq, but that contingent is one of the larger of the non-U.S. "coalition" forces left in the country.

Australia's abandonment of the Iraq project is not the only change that is coming to the country that had, under Howard's leadership, been the steadiest U.S. ally of the Bush era.

The new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, will adopt a radically different approach than his predecessor did when it comes to global warming. Where Howard was one of Bush's few allies in international debates about climate change, Rudd promises to sign the Kyoto Protocol and to make Australia a greener and more pleasant land. (He'll be assisted by his Labour Party's pointman on environmental issues: Peter Garrett, the long-time lead singer of the rock band Midnight Oil, a veteran anti-nuclear weapons campaigner who left the stage to become a member of parliament.)

So committed is Rudd to shifting his country's approach to climate change that the new prime minister is expected to lead Australia's delegation to the upcoming United Nations climate change conference in Bali.

Rudd is no radical. He's the mildest of socialists in what is today only a mildly socialist Labour Party. But compared with Howard, who followed the Bush line so slavishly, Rudd promises a welcome change of course for a nation that remains a significant player in the politics of the planet.

And Rudd has a mandate. After 11 years out of power, Labour went into Saturday's election with a 16-seat deficit in the parliament. It now has a majority of at least 22 seats over Howard's right-wing Liberal party. Among the many prominent Liberals who appear to be headed for defeat is the prime minister, who acknowledged late Saturday that he is likely to become the first head of government to lose his own seat since 1929.

To understand the scale of the rejection of Howard -- who has for 33 years represented the historically conservative seat for Bennelong in suburban Sydney -- imagine Bush losing in the Houston suburbs. Of course, recent surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Texans disapprove of the American president -- indeed, a July Survey USA poll found that 57 percent of the voters in Bush's home state object to his approach. So, perhaps, the only difference between Australia and America is that there was an election in Australia Saturday. Had there been one in the U.S., it wouldn't just be the poodle who was tossed out -- the master would have gone, too.

States of Play: 41 Days to Iowa, 46 to New Hampshire

The date for the New Hampshire primary has finally been locked in: January 8.

That's five days after the Iowa caucuses.

So, in less than 50 days, the two contests that are most likely to define the 2008 presidential competition will be done.

And no one really knows where we are headed.

The Democratic race in Iowa is essentially a three-way tie, with Illinois Senator Barack Obama, New York Senator Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards competing within margins of error for the lead.

The Republican race in Iowa is even closer, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee essentially tied.

In New Hampshire, Clinton and Romney have clearer leads. But Clinton's slipping and Romney is stalled.

In both the first-primary and first-caucus states, former front-runners are falling behind supposed also-rans. Huckabee has moved into the top tier in Iowa, if not yet in New Hampshire. And Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the only serious anti-war contender on the Republican side, is now tied with Arizona Senator John McCain in Iowa. Paul is ahead of Huckabee and the soon-to-be-forgotten Fred Thompson in New Hampshire.

The more dramatic story of a front-runner's slide may actually be on the Democratic side. In Iowa, it appears that Edwards has settled into third place. He still in that margin of error, but on the low end. And New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is now in double digits in Iowa, and rising as Edwards falls.

It's even worse for Edwards in New Hampshire. Richardson trails the North Carolinian by just one point in the latest polling, and the trajectory for Edwards is down while the trajectory for Richardson is up.

Just as Huckabee has moved into first-tier competition, at least in Iowa, so Richardson could be moving toward the first tier in New Hampshire. Huckabee's rise has already done damage to the credibility of the McCain and Thompson campaigns, and could yet dent Romney's run.

If Richardson moves ahead of Edwards in New Hampshire, it will be a serious blow to the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president.

When Thanksgiving Proclamations Mattered

Presidential proclamations are of dubious distinction in these days of permanent campaigning by the president and his hyper-politicized staff. What were once the solemn pronouncements of the executive have become little more than super-charged press releases.

George Bush issued more than 100 proclamations in the first ten months of the year, including one honoring National Safe Boating Week and another for Dutch-American Friendship Day. There was one recognizing National Homeownership Month, which conveniently preceded the mortgage crisis that has raised the prospect of as many as two million America families losing their domiciles. There was, as well, a National Consumer Protection Week proclamation, which probably should have outlined steps Americans should take to protect themselves from the dangerous food products and toys that are the byproducts of the administration's exceptionally ambitious trade agenda and exceptionally lax regulatory policies. There was a Constitution Day proclamation, which did not that we know of include a "signing statement" outlining the sections of the document the president would refuse to uphold during the remainder of the year. And perhaps most amusingly coming from the titular leader of an administration that is angling to expand its perpetual "war on terror" to include an imbroglio in Iran was Bush's "Prayer for Peace" proclamation of May 15.

Today, of course, the White House adds to the year's already long list of presidential pronouncements a Thanksgiving proclamation.

Bush has so devalued the official announcements of the White House that it becomes easy to imagine that they were never of consequence.

History reminds, however, that the cure circumstance is, like so much about the Bush presidency, a relatively new and certainly unwelcome variation on the American theme.

In the not-too-distant past, presidential proclamations were rarer and more meaningful statements, prepared by executives who intended them to be read and considered by Americans.

It was not at all uncommon for the nation's greatest leaders to issue only one proclamation annually.

That was the case in 1789, George Washington's first year in the White House, when he circulated only his Thanksgiving proclamation.

Similarly, in the last full year of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt issued just a Thanksgiving proclamation.

Roosevelt used his annual Thanksgiving proclamations as teaching documents. In his last statement to the nation, he encouraged Americans to think in broader terms, to recognize the need to put aside racial and religious prejudices in order to unite the nation in difficult times.

"Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved," wrote Roosevelt in that 1944 proclamation.

A year later, in a proclamation that celebrated the end of the war while mourning the death of Roosevelt, President Harry Truman used the Thanksgiving proclamation of 1945 to declare, "Liberty knows no race, creed, or class in our country or in the world."

This was a radical sentiment at a time when many of the United States remained segregated along the racial lines dictated by the southern segregationists. And it anticipated Truman's embrace of civil rights in the years that followed, an embrace that would extend and expand upon the noblest impulses of the New Deal era.

That was not the only radical message in Truman's proclamation, which spoke as well of a desire to use the United Nations to "make permanent" the peace that had finally arrived and to "cherish freedom above riches."

Nostalgia is a mixed blessing. The past that saw the rise of the civil rights movement also saw the necessity of such a movement. But on this Thanksgiving we can, perhaps, be permitted a measure of nostalgia for the days when presidential proclamations had meaning and when they were issued by executives who had the authority -- and the desire -- to guide the American people toward the better angels of our nature.

Our Not-So-Friendly Skies

While there are extraordinarily important issues to reckon with--endingthis catastrophic war and devising a sane national security policy,providing universal health care, and repairing the gutted socialcompact--fixing our air travel system may be one of the most potentpolitical issues of our time.

An outdated air traffic control system, flight routes from the 1950's,and air traffic controllers retiring more quickly than they can bereplaced while the Bush Administration plays hardball on a new contractand imposes work rules-- these are just some of the issues that have led to the airline "industry post[ing] its worston-time performance since it began collecting comparable statistics in1995."

Roughly 25 percent of domestic flights run late. And now--with 27 million passengers expected to travel over Thanksgivingand the public taking matters into its own hands with the air passenger billof rights movement--President Bush has attempted to "solve" the problem with a little sleight-of-hand and a PR effort.

To much fanfare, Bush has opened up restricted military airspace offof the East Coast to create a "Thanksgiving express lane for congested traffic."

But the Bush Administration fails to mention that opening up militaryairspace is already routine. According to the Washington Post, "Sucharrangements are not new. The FAA coordinates daily with the DefenseDepartment and seeks same-day clearance to use military airspace if, forexample, weather conditions are better in the military's part of thesky."

Susan Gurley, executive director of the Association of Corporate TravelExecutives, told the New York Times Bush's move is like "putting aBand-Aid on a broken arm." And airline industry forecaster, MichaelBoyd, said, "What's all this rah-rah about the holiday season? What'schanged? We're just going to stagger on the way we've been doing forthe past year, vulnerable to any glitch in the system, vulnerable to anyweather issues."

After the collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis I wrote about how our eroding public infrastructure demanded a real public investment agenda (just as I had called for when the levees broke in New Orleans). The antiquated air traffic system is a key partof that agenda. Now the alarms are ringing loudly on that front. Sowhat can be done?

Experts agree that a new satellite-based navigation system is needed to "allow planes to abandon the highway maps and fly freely since a computerized system can check for conflicting flight paths." Accordingto Boyd, airlines are currently limited to using approximately 3 percentof the sky. But that system--called NextGen for Next Generation AirTransportation System--is expected to cost up to $22 billion (less than two months in Iraq and Afghanistan) and won't be ready until 2025. Who's going to pay for it?

What is happening in the air is a microcosm of what's happening on theground with the hedge funders. When it comes to the air traffic control system, private jet owners "incur 16 percent of the costs but pay only 3 percent." And just as hedge funders sent their lobbyists to Congress to defeat the effort for a saner tax system, so too are these tourists in corporate jets fighting to hang on to their unjust privilege of using the skies on the cheap.

But even once the navigation system is built, the runways available forarrivals and departures are still limited, and airlines areover-scheduling. A source in the FAA says that airlines will have toeither cut back the number of flights, use larger airplanes instead ofsmaller commuter flights, or serve more regional airports (whichcustomers are often reluctant to use). Raising landing fees might beone way to move in that direction. According to the New York Times, aBoeing 737 landing in Kennedy pays only about $800--"often far lessthat the price of a single full-fare ticket." (Three-fourths of thechronic delays nationwide are linked to delays at Newark, LaGuardia, and Kennedy.) As for corporate jets, at most airports they don't pay any landing fee at all, according to the FAA source.

And then there is the labor issue. Recent near midair collisionshave highlighted the staffing shortages and fatigue of our air trafficcontrollers, who have been working without a contract since September2006 under imposed work rules - including lower wages and longer hours -leading many to retire early, and more quickly than they can bereplaced. New hires are therefore often assigned to major metropolitan airports instead of being trained slowly in less trafficked areas. Jeff Richards, president of theNational Air Traffic Controllers Association (NACTA) at the Chicago Center, told the New York Times he has "long been worried about staffing levels and increased workloads." According to Richards, "These minor infractions are really the calling card of a much bigger problem." And Patrick Forrey, president of NACTA told NPR, "We haven't had any major accidents. Well, all the signs are leadingup to the fact that we're going to."

Meanwhile, passengers have grown increasingly frustrated and travelhorror stories are commonplace. Kate Hanni, a California real estate agent who was stranded for eight hours on a runway last December, founded the Coalition for Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights that now has 21,000 members.

Among its proposals are: allowing passengers to get off of the planeafter it has been on the tarmac for longer than three hours; refundtickets at 150 percent for bumped passengers or passengers delayed bycancellations or postponements over 12 hours; provide food, water,sanitary facilities, and access to medical attention during delayslasting longer than three hours. Good legislation is pending in the House and Senate though the Bush Administration has offered no support.

"The Administration has still not commented on the passenger bill ofrights legislation that is currently in Congress...." Hanni recentlysaid.

"This would finally guarantee basic rights to the 27 millionpassengers who are expected to fly in the coming days. Opening uplittle-used military air lanes in the northeast is like adding a lane toan exit ramp on I-95 north of Miami.... The fact is that the airlinesmust be compelled to overhaul their scheduling practices, and providetravelers with basic human necessities...."

This issue is waiting to be seized by a political leader who will linkit to our decaying infrastructure and the desperate need for publicinvestment. Let's hope that we don't wait for the next disaster beforetaking significant steps towards safety and sanity in our skies.

Norman Mailer R.I.P.

      Last month I was privileged to be part of Georgetown University's day-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of the publication of Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night, his autobiographical-historical-novelistic account of the l967 March on the Pentagon.  Mailer was in the hospital and unable to attend as he'd planned -- but it was still a fascinating day.   My favorite moment was  when  the delightful and erudite  Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, who wrote his thesis on Mailer, explained that in the 1960s and 70s Mailer failed to grasp the reductive nature of television --  he would go on a talk show ,utter a complex thought, and then find that the only part that was quoted was an inflammatory soundbite, like "all women should be kept in cages." Ah, yes, context.  I'll bet it made all the difference! My second favorite moment  came after my bit on the literary panel,--in which yes, as the only woman I did feel compelled to mention Mailer's  rather staggering misogyny-- when various older gentlemen in the audience leapt to their feet to assure me that his violent hostility to women was just a phase . Their wives had met Mailer in the late  l970s and found him very nice.  My third favorite moment was when, after the showing of Richard Fountain's  l971 documentary about mailer --  the  product of the very film crew that Mailer reveals, halfway through the book, is following him about as he makes one weird speech after another, sometimes in strange voices-- a  Georgetown student told the panel on stage that she and her  activist friends always tried to present their political points  in a sober, respectful way, and she  found the 1960s, and Norman Mailer in particular, entirely bewildering: Was everybody just crazy back then?  

It probably astonishes you to hear that I'm not a charter member of the Norman Mailer Society, but I  enjoyed Armies of The Night.  One of the great things about books, especially when they are of a previous generation, is that you don't have to swallow them whole -- you can  take what you want and leave the rest.  If you are a writer yourself, you might even see a signpost in what strikes you as mostly a swamp.  Take, for example Mailer's  third-person depiction of himself  as a major jerk ,obnox and social climber-- "the Novelist"  worries endlessly about what to wear to the big march ,  about his literary status  and whether Robert Lowell  respects him; he pisses on a restroom floor because he's too drunk to find the toilet in the dark, gives an incoherent ranting speech that it turns out nobody could hear, spends a lot of mental energy wondering how to schedule his arrest at the Pentagon so that he can be back in New York in time for a glamorous  party, and gets so tied up in egomaniacal knots that when he finally bunks down in jail for the night, in stead of having a historic prison-memoir moment he is unable to address a word to the reputed young genius in the next bed -- Noam Chomsky.  It's all pretty funny.  But who is telling you this story that reflects so poorly on "the Novelist's" claims to moral seriousness,  political commitment, and fitness for the leadership position he longs to hold? Norman Mailer. Norman Mailer the narrator knows perfectly well --at least in Armies of the Night he does -- what an anxious, obsessive, narcissistic, fantastical, insecure, over-the-top, ridiculous person " Norman Mailer" is.  The writer sees what the character doesn't see. The expression of that double consciousness is  a masterpiece of style.    Still, there is that little problem of misogyny. I wish  The Nation's considerable coverage of his life had given that more than a passing wave.  What a failure of imagination and humanity there is in his ravings about the evils of birth control and women's liberation, his cult of  hatred and  domination and violence, his fatuous pronouncements about what women should be (goddesses,whores,  mothers of as many children as a man could stuff into them), ), his pronouncements of doom on a culture that let them get out of their cage .   I remember  him speaking at a PEN meeting in the l990s about  the damage women would do to the Democratic Party if they exercised power within it.  That made about as much sense as his famous essay in "Advertisements for Myself," (l959)  in which, having  insulted every famous male writer of his day from Bellow to Baldwin, he wrote . ''I doubt if there will be a really exciting woman writer until the first whore becomes a call girl and tells her tale.''  

The obits don't make much of this but it should be said straight out: Mailer did a lot of harm in his life.  He stabbed his  second wife, Adele Morales, and it wasn't some larger-than-life zany antic they both had a good laugh over later: he nearly killed her.  Psychologically, a recent New York times story suggested,  she never recovered. He helped  get the  writer and murderer Jack Abbott out of  prison ,  and immediately plunged this  unbalanced man who had spent over half his life behind bars   into the heady world of literary celebrity; within days Abbott had killed a waiter he imagined was dissing him.   Several obits have humorously recounted how Mailer assaulted on the street a sailor he thought called his dog gay, but the near murder of Morales, and the actual murder of Richie Adan by Mailer's protege, show that his infatuation with machismo was not just a literary joke, much less endearing protective covering for his inner nice-Brooklyn-boy-who-loved-his-mother.

What can a woman writer take from Mailer? Not much of his content, and certainly not his career advice. But what about style? The boldness, the risk of failure, the willingness to be big and raw and to work the language hard. To let yourself not look good and make readers admire you anyway through sheer virtuosity. Style, I thought after my day with the Mailerites, is everything, content almost nothing. True? I'm not sure, but for Mailer's sake let's hope so.

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Scott McClellan = John Dean?

Scott McClellan's admission that he unintentionally made false statements denying the involvement of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby in the Bush-Cheney administration's plot to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson, along with his revelation that Vice President Cheney and President Bush were among those who provided him with the misinformation, sets the former White House press secretary as John Dean to George Bush's Richard Nixon.

It was Dean willingness to reveal the details of what described as "a cancer" on the Nixon presidency that served as a critical turning point in the struggle by a previous Congress to hold the 37th president to account.

Now, McClellan has offered what any honest observer must recognize as the stuff of a similarly significant breakthrough.

The only question is whether the current Congress is up to the task of holding the 43rd president to account.

What McClellan has revealed, in a section from an upcoming book on his tenure in the Bush-Cheney White House, is a stunning indictment of the president and the vice president. The former press secretary is confirming that Bush and Cheney not only knew that Rove, the administration's political czar, and Libby, who served as Cheney's top aide, were involved in the scheme to attack Wilson's credibility -- by outing the former ambassador's wife, Valerie Plame, as a Central Intelligence Agency analyst -- but that the president and vice president actively engaged in efforts to prevent the truth from coming out.

"The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby," writes McClellan in an excerpt from his book, What Happened, which is to be published next April by Public Affairs.

"There was one problem," the long-time Bush aide continues. "It was not true. I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration "were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the president himself."

Much has been made about the fact that outing Plame as a CIA operative was a felony, since knowingly revealing the identity of an intelligence asset is illegal. And much will be made about the fact that McClellan's statement links Bush and Cheney to the cover-up of illegal activities and the obstruction of justice, acts that are themselves felonies.

But it is important to recognize that a bigger issue is at stake. If the president and vice president knowingly participated in a scheme to attack a critic of their administration -- Wilson had revealed that the White House had been informed that arguments Bush and Cheney used for attacking Iraq were ungrounded -- they have committed a distinct sort of offense that the House Judiciary Committee has already determined to be grounds for impeachment.

In the summer of 1974, Democrats and Republicans on the committee voted overwhelmingly to recommend the impeachment of President Richard Nixon for having "repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposed of these agencies."

That second article of impeachment against Nixon detailed the president's involvement in schemes to use the power of his position to attack political critics and then to cover up for those attacks.

The current chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Michigan Democrat John Conyers, voted for the impeachment of Nixon on those grounds.

Conyers and his colleagues need to recognize that, despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's aversion to presidential accountability, McClellan's statement demands the sort of inquiry and action that Dean's statements regarding Nixon demanded three decades ago.

As former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree notes with regard to Bush, "The president promised, way back in 2003, that anyone in his administration who took part in the leak of Plame's name would be fired. He neglected to mention that, according to McClellan, he was one of those people. And needless to say, he didn't fire himself. Instead, he fired no one, stonewalled the press and the federal prosecutor in charge of the case, and lied through his teeth."

Pingree, a savvy government watchdog who is bidding for an open House seat representing her native Maine, argues that the Judiciary Committee must subpoena McClellan as part of a renewed investigation of the Wilson case.

She is right about that.

She is right, as well, when she concludes that, if what McClellan says is true "it will call into question the legitimacy of the entire administration. And we may see a changing of the guard at the White House sooner than expected."

That changing of the guard -- via the Constitutional process of impeachment and trial for their various and sundry high crimes and misdemeanor -- is long overdue.

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John Nichols is the author of THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

What Would Jesus Buy?

There is one thing the Church of Stop Shopping's Reverend Billy wants you to buy this season: a ticket to his new movie, "What Would Jesus Buy." Make that purchase now and you'll add anti-media-monopoly oomph to your personal buying-power.

Writes the Reverend: "Every one of you who make it to the movies today dramatically increases the chance we can take the Stop Shopping message to Tulsa, to Long Island, to Cheney, Washington."

What Would Jesus Buy (WWJB) which opened this weekend in limited release, is a loving celebration of Reverend Billy's anti-Shopocalypse crusade. "We want people to buy less and give more," says Billy, (aka performance artist, Bill Talen.) With his wife and co-conspirator, Savitri Durkee and their 40-person Stop Shopping gospel choir, Talen's been preaching against commercialism since before "malling" became a frightening verb. The film, directed by Rob VanAlkemade and produced by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) follows Billy and his church-mates as they travel the country on a pre-Christmas anti-shopping tour.

Singing to the angels of anti-acquisition, they ride the escalators at the Mall of America. Facing down their demons, they're tormented in the trinket-store. When the bio-diesel in the tour-bus freezes, Billy gets down on his knees for forgiveness as he pumps the evil oil. ("Hallelujah Brother" he hails the truckers from the floor-court floor.)

The reverend's ordination my be community (not church) bestowed but his following is real enough. The Church of Stop Shopping is sanctified by a feisty, fun-loving and spiritually hungry anti-consumerist congregational rabble based in the East Village of New York. Billy's protests have cost him prison time. He's exorcised cash-registers at Starbucks (for the sin of killing the family coffee shop.) He's preached to protect public space from developers. He's married the un-marry-able and crucified the devil (Mickey Mouse) on a portable cross in Disney-Time Square.

As with a Stop-Shopping performance, so too, the movie's tone is comedic. But there are moments that speak to the heart, as when, exhausted after another seemingly fruitless wail against Wal-Mart, Durkee sighs:

"I just want what we do to have some impact on someone soon." That spoke to my longing, and I bet yours.

Now, whether they like it or not, the Church of Stop Shopping is taking on cinema's corporate consolidators. As producer Spurlock told the audience opening night in New York, Wal-Mart has a 50 percent corner on the nationwide DVD market. That makes WWJB, a distributor's nightmare. So Spurlock et al are on a grass-roots marketing mission to break into the market through force of sales. If opening grosses are impressive enough, the movie will be playing on screens around the country in time for the Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

It USED to be Friday. This year, the tech-chain CompUSA will start the post-Thanksgiving shop-a-looza while the turkeys are still raw. (They'll hold an online only sale starting at 12.01 Thanksgiving morning.) The chain, and others like them, say they aren't trampling on the give-thanks holiday by reminding us of what we lack. They're just offering "another option" for starved, deal-hungry consumers," CompUSA spokesperson Jessica Nunez told the New York Times.

What do we need? Change-a-lujah! There's no better time for the humanity-hungry human to go to the movies and pray with the not-just-a prankster preacher for save-our-souls radical change.

For theaters, dates and locations check www.revbilly.com.

Hurricane Katrina Blows Apart New Orleans Politics

For almost a quarter century, New Orleans government reflected the racial makeup of the city. As such, the city council had an African-American majority.

Not anymore.

Anyone looking for evidence of the extent of the racial reconfiguration that occurred after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 got it over the weekend. Run-off elections on Saturday reversed much of the political progress made by African-Americans in the decades since the civil rights movement opened avenues of advancement for people of color in the southern city.

For the first time since 1985, the New Orleans City Council has a white majority.

Both of the at-large seats on the council -- which are elected by voters from throughout the city -- are now held by whites. That last time that happened was in 1978.

In a citywide race for an Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judgeship that had been held by an African-American for many years, a white candidate won.

Special elections for open state legislative seats representing the city's Uptown and Central City neighborhoods, which had for many years elected African-American representatives, were won by white candidates.

To be sure, many cities see individual positions shift back and forth from election to election between candidates of different races.

But the pattern of white contenders defeating and replacing African-American candidates in New Orleans was unmistakable on Saturday. In contest after contest, whites politicians defeated African-American competitors who in the past would have been likely winners.

There is no mystery about what has happened. For the first time in decades, it appears that predominantly white precincts are casting more ballots in New Orleans than predominantly African-American precincts. Officially, the voter rolls still show a black majority. But the rolls have not yet been purged of the names of Katrina's victims. The names that will eventually be removed are, for the most part, expected to be those of African Americans.

Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson suggests that the vast majority of the more than 100,000 voters are on the rolls but are no longer living in New Orleans -- either because they died in the aftermath of the storm or because they were displaced by it -- are people of color.

"Katrina rearranged the political deck in New Orleans," Silas Lee, the Xavier University pollster and sociologist who is an expert on New Orleans and Louisiana voting patterns, told the Times Picayune newspaper after Saturday's election. "Symbolically what it shows is that we have a realignment politically, and that advances made by African-American elected officials and the African-American political structure over the last 30 years... right now are in neutral or being lost."

Did it have to be this way? Of course not. The federal government's agonizingly slow response to the crisis created by Hurricane Katrina was disproportionately devastating for African-American residents of the city's poorest neighborhoods. They were initially left to suffer and die. Then, vast numbers of the survivors were sent far from New Orleans and encouraged to settle elsewhere. House Speaker Denny Hastert, R-Illinois, suggested immediately after the storm that much of New Orleans "could be bulldozed." While he was roundly criticized for that statement, and the attitude underpinning it, the reality is that many of the city's oldest and most-politically engaged African-American neighborhoods have been bulldozed -- or simply abandoned -- while white neighborhoods that took less damage have been rapidly rebuilt.

These patterns have dramatically altered the electoral politics of a city that had been in the forefront of African-American political strength and advancement since the 1960s. The change was rapid and radical, but it is only now coming into something akin to full perspective. An initial mayoral race following the storm saw a significant amount of absentee voting, but Saturday's run-off voting was more reflective of the new political reality of New Orleans.

And it is not just the political reality of New Orleans that is changing.

Louisiana was, before Katrina hit, one of the most politically competitive states in the south. Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton actually won the state in 1992 and 1996, as did Jimmy Carter before him. Democrats elected senators and governors in competitive statewide races as recently as 2002 and 2003. In the last round of elections for state posts prior to Katrina, Democrats won six of seven races; this year, they won two of the seven. Even accepting that outgoing Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco was almost as uninspired in her response to Katrina as was George Bush, it cannot be reasonably argued that the partisan realignment of the state was a normal or natural political development.

Before Katrina hit, Democrats frequently prevailed in Louisiana because the party had a large, historically-active and well-organized base of support among African-American voters in New Orleans. That base was blown apart by Hurricane Katrina, as Saturday's election results confirm. And the politics of New Orleans, Louisiana and the United States changed, thanks to a storm and to the way in which a Republican administration in Washington responded to it.

Meet The Press and Leave it to the Girls.

Whether to be cheered or downcast? That's the question. TV wasn't born a male preserve, it's just grown up that way.

I was thinking about that this weekend as I watched NBC celebrate Meet the Press. MTP is the longest, continuously-running program on US television. At the end of this Sunday's show, a list of past hosts sped by. The first was Martha Rountree, the show's first host, and needless to say, last female anchor.

Curious, I dug around a little. Rountree, it turns out, not only anchored the first broadcasts (starting in 1947) but came up with the format in the very early days of TV. The format -- a panel of people asking questions of a guest -- was her idea.

Is it the anchor that makes the program, or the format that fuels the show? In our star-system of celebration, TV anchors usually soak up the credit, but over a long-run like MTP's, anchors come and go: it's the format that endures. MTP's came from Rountree. On radio, she hosted a program, "Leave it to the Girls," in which a panel of celebrity women fired questions at a guy. For Meet the Press (which she also hosted on radio before moving to TV,) Rountree and producer Lawrence Spivak, replaced the women with a panel of journalists.

And I do mean replaced.... A few years ago, The White House Project published a report called "Who's Talking," which highlighted the lack of women guests on the Sunday morning talk shows. At the time, women comprised only 14 percent of guests -- 0 percent of anchors. More recently, Media Matters conducted a survey which found that on average, men outnumber women on Meet the Press, This Week, Face the Nation, and Fox News Sunday by a 4-to-1 ratio. Of them all, Meet the Press shows the least diversity of all. The NBC program is, as Media Matters put it, "the most male."

It's always sobering to realize that women weren't born excluded. In this case, indeed, MTP was of-woman born. You'd never know it now.