RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Don't Forget the Rest of Us

Memo To: Santa's helpers@Congress

Subject: Gifts

Dear Elves: You've been awfully generous to those boys and girls from Halliburton, Bechtel, General Electric and the other nation-building transnationals lately, so there may not be anything left for the rest of us, but we've been awfully good and even patient this year. Notice, for example, that we're still willing to allow democratic principles to play out in the next election and we're even looking for good candidates and talking about fairness. So, just leave us a little something under the tree.

I know, I know &emdash; Congressional Elves are not made of money, and nation building &emdash; oh, let's just be honest and call it war &emdash; costs a lot. The Big Guy needed $79 billion in April and $87 billion in November for the fight, and $10 billion here, $10 billion there, it adds up, even if you manage to scrape a little more each year from the disappearing middle-class tax barrel.

Especially if you're passing out tax breaks for the millionaires &emdash; The Tax Policy Center estimated that last year's plan gave $90,000 to everyone earning $1 million, which includes many of the Big Guy's most loyal supporters. Half (48%) of taxpayers received less than $100 in benefits from Santa's tax cuts; 31% of taxpayers got nothing.

That's as twisted as a candy cane. The folks that give the most cookies for the Big Guy get the most presents, and that means they can leave more cookies. During the "good" war, World War II, Sen. Truman, a Missouri boy, was in charge of looking under all the best-dressed pine trees in the best-dressed living rooms of the land and when he found corrupt businesses, he called them "profiteering" and said that stealing from the troops and taxpayers was treason.

But, Elves, you're not playing by those rules. You've taken care of The Big Guy and a few friends, but you haven't taken care of the troops, taxpayers, or the future. And the future looks bad. Our kids aren't getting health care, partly because millions of parents have lost their jobs but also because employers aren't offering health insurance with the low-paying Big Box store jobs that replace the lost jobs. The Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities say health insurance for all the uninsured kids in the nation would cost a mere $6 billion a year &emdash; less than 5% of the costs for American franchise-ism in Iraq.

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom says that for $50 billion we could "expand Medicaid, increase funding for Maternal and Child Health Block Grant, Community and Migrant Health Center, the Family Planning Program, the Child Immunization Program, (and the) Office of research on Women's Health."

Or how about reducing US class size? For $11 billion, we could reduce classes to 15 kids per teacher in first, second and third grades. Increase it to $40 billion and we could offer Head Start and Parents As Teachers programs to give the little tykes a fair chance before they start school. And, for the parents, how about some training while they're unemployed? That way, they'll have some skills if jobs ever become available in this nation again, which is doubtful as the transnationals expand the horizons of free trade, which means free-to-exploit-workers-and-the-environment trade.

And, speaking of the environment, maybe we could use some of the money to clean the air in our biggest cities. Or, how about guaranteeing clean drinking water by funding EPA initiatives? How about a budget for groundwater protection?

And, even though we know the transnationals should clean up their own messes, we also know they won't, so how about increasing funding for Superfund cleanup?

And how about a real effort to become independent of Mideast oil by encouraging hydrogen fuel cells, hybrid SUVs, electricity generated by solar and wind power?

How about investing in public transportation? How about consumer education to teach about the financial benefits of energy conservation?

Or how about &emdash; and here's a real chocolate penny for our wooden shoes &emdash; how about increasing the budget for international relations? How about sending real ambassadors with backgrounds of diplomacy instead of lobbyists to foster relations with foreign governments?

And what about ensuring a safe food supply for America? A food supply that doesn't depend on transportation of produce from South America, China, even Israel? The minute you have to close borders, well, that's the minute the current system starts to break down.

To build a terrorist-resistant food supply, Congressional Elves, how about helping the small family farms that raise food for the local community as much as you help the giants that raise food for export? Or, just as good, quit helping the giants grow to monopsonist-monopolist proportions. The last farm bill gave 90% of the subsidies to 10% of farmers. According to the Environmental Working Group ( millionaire farmland investors like Ted Turner, Sam Donaldson and Scottie Pippen got subsidies but local farmers who haul their produce and meats to the local farmer's markets got zip. Ted Turner received $81,643 last year in grain and conservation payments for owning land in Kansas, Florida and South Dakota. That's a lot of hay, as Rudolph might point out.

So, Elves, you'll soon take your magical ride to all &emdash; make that some &emdash; of the roofs of the land. Swoop down to our houses, the ones with the locally-raised milk and organic cookies. And these wishes aren't only for the present, Dear Helpers. If it makes you feel more kindly towards requests, let me point out that these wishes are for the future.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

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