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Elections, Leaders, Mistresses, Reading Lists

Bad LandsTen years ago, walking through Paris one evening, I passed a street with a surprising amount of security in evidence.

"Who lives down there?" I asked my French friend.

"Oh that's the official residence of the President's mistress," she replied.

Not only is an incoming president handed the keys to the Elysée Palace, the French equivalent of the White House, it appeared he also got the keys to the official residence for his mistress. Now wouldn't that have made things simpler for Bill and Monica?

There's worldwide interest in the departures and arrivals of our leaders at the moment. In Paris a couple of weeks ago our taxi driver pointed out the Elysée Palace as we drove by and gave us a quick run down on how he felt Sarkozy was doing after a couple of weeks in power. "Très bien" was probably the two word summary. On the other hand in London nobody had a good word to say for poor Tony Blair. From City business gentlemen to cockney taxi drivers, Blair was last week's news.

I've been keeping an eye on Australian news while I've been in the USA and the good news continues to be that John Howard (our Prime Minister, whom we call "Bonsai", because he's a "little Bush") is probably going to get kicked out by November. Like Britain there's no fixed date for an election, but the next one has to take place by November at the latest. Fingers crossed Howard is going to get booted out and our new Prime Minister will be Kevin Rudd. Remarkably he has a very useful skill for a 21st century world leader: he speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese!

Perhaps surprisingly one of the many nails in John Howard's soon-to-be-needed coffin was Guantánamo Bay. Until recently there was an Australian "unlawful enemy combatant" in the Cuban gulag, the misguided young David Hicks. For five years our prime minister did his best to wash his hands of the case; "if it was good enough for George W. Bush then it was certainly good enough for John Howard and his cronies" seemed to be the message. Or at least it was until the opinion polls confirmed that it was overwhelmingly not good enough for the Australian public and our Bonsai suddenly changed tack and the unfortunate Mr. Hicks was quickly flown back to Australia with a prison sentence that will expire in a few months, so long as he promised not to say a word until the election was over!

So I've really enjoyed my couple of weeks in the US, observing the long lead up to your forthcoming election. And there was no political campaigning news I've enjoyed more than the Ron Paul reading list. In fact I'd never even heard of Ron Paul (he was not on any international radar as far as I know) until the reading list he sent of to Rudy Giuliani hit the headlines. Mr. Giuliani, it appears, is suffering from a serious case of denial when it comes to taking any sort of new look at the question of why terrorism happens, so Mr. Paul's reading list could be a real help. Except Rudy G. feels that he was a hero post-9/11 and, as a result, he knows all there is to know about terrorism. Books won't help him.

Wouldn't elections be simpler if we followed the North Koreans and elected a president not just for a four year term, but for life and then beyond life. Yes, Kim Il Sung, the "Great Leader" is still the president of North Korea even though he died 13 years ago. I took this photograph of a Great Leader billboard when I was in North Korea researching my Evil Axis book Bad Lands.

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Tony Wheeler is the author of Bad Lands (Travel Literature)

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