I'm writing this column several days ahead of schedule because I'm leaving the country for a couple of weeks. I'm going to Monaco -- the tiniest sovereign state in the world after the Holy See, a.k.a. the Vatican. Monaco is just 481.85 acres, squeezed like a crab between Italy and France at the foot of the Maritime Alps, and home to some of the wealthiest people in the world. I thought it would be interesting to visit a place where the super-rich not only rule but actually own everything in sight.
Hmm, I already live in a country like that. Better tell the truth: I'm going to Monaco to do a profile of Prince Albert for the London Observer, and to enjoy the Mediterranean sunshine. Maybe I'll gamble a bit at the Casino and, after that, run off for some good, American, home-style cookin' at Kate Taylor's "Stars 'n' Bars" restaurant in Monte Carlo. Kate is an old friend of mine from Houston, Texas, who's lived in Monaco for years. She is not, let's say, one of the "underprivileged" that Mrs. Barbara Bush recently described when talking about the thousands of New Orleans evacuees washed up in Houston. Kate, unlike Mrs. Bush, has a big heart.
In anticipation of my Riviera junket, I've telephoned a few of the rich people I still know in Texas, and I'm glad to report they all confirm what Mrs. Bush calls the "overwhelming hospitality" of the Lone Star State toward the victims of Katrina. God bless America! The difference is that my friends in Houston don't like Mrs. Bush or, indeed, any of the Bushes, regarding the whole lot of them as upstarts. "Kennebunkport trash," as my mother indiscreetly puts it. Well, oil is oil. What can you do?
(Note to Dubya: My Daddy really does come from Texas; yours comes from Massachusetts by way of Connecticut, Maine and the CIA. During the time that Cindy Sheehan was camped outside your "ranch" in Crawford, the Los Angeles Times had the nerve to point out that "the Secret Service agents outnumber the cows" on your prefabricated "spread." The Times even quoted a bona fide Texan, Austin lawyer and former U.S. Rep. Kent R. Hance, who declared, "There are some guys here that are all hat and no cattle. The president's not that way; he's hat and five cattle.")
I'll also be in London on this trip, where the poverty rate now equals our own. Something like one in five Britons currently lives "under the poverty level." Britain is, of course, "our closest and most important ally" in the "war on terror." And why wouldn't it be? If there's anything "socialist" about Tony Blair's Labour government, no one in England has noticed it for a long time.
No, in England now it's all about cellphones and iPods, "text messaging" and rising crime, staggering prices for food, housing and everything else; a disastrous, rapidly deteriorating program of public education, a health service in shambles, public transport that doesn't work, and grinding toil for the increasingly "ethnic" (read: Muslim) population that keeps the chimneys swept. London chimney sweeps used to be depicted in Hollywood movies as "cute" and picturesque, most notably in Mrs. Miniver and Mary Poppins, but those days are long gone.
Taking a page from Bush's book, Tony Blair is trying to push through a series of racist and undemocratic "measures" to prevent "terrorism" in his country -- measures that allow the British government to arrest and detain anyone it wants to, for any reason it wants to, and to "deport" them at whim, should they seem to undermine the great Labour tradition of tea and scones at the Ritz -- and provided the London police aren't shooting them already in the subways for wearing backpacks and "suspicious-looking clothes."
(Note to Tony Blair: Bully for you! Why you don't just go down on your knees for Bush, I'll never know.)
On this trip, too, I'll be visiting -- oh, dear, do I really dare to say it? What if they put me on the "no fly" list? -- Paris, France, that hotbed of depravity, great food and perfume, that ungrateful wretch of a city, where Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine got their ideas about American democracy. You know, the so-called Rights of Man. It was also the French, I hate to tell you, who enabled us to defeat the British in what is commonly called the Revolutionary War.
Well, anyway, it ought to be fun. "You don't need to be a big country to do big things," Prince Albert says. He is a good man on a hot seat, and I expect he will come with me to nosh on Kate Taylor's nachos. "Creating wealth," says the prince, "is not an end in itself. It needs to be shared by all."
(Note to Prince Albert: Better get a few more bodyguards, because if you keep up this kind of talk, you won't be long for the world.)
Later, dudes. I'll be back.