RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Time for New Resolutions

Let me guess. Your New Year Resolutions were: Lose weight. Read more. Elect Anybody But Bush.

I can tell, because you're looking buff, sounding smarter and GW's in trouble. His latest state-of-the-onion press conference stunk bad enough for commercials into the 22nd century. It's gonna take a lot of chicanery for Bush to pull off re-election.

But chicanery is a Bush specialty. Throwing the election in his brother's state, toppling Saddam's statue in the square, landing on an aircraft carrier for a photo op, carving a turkey for the troops -- all of it special-effects chicanery, 21st-century-P.R. style.

Anything can happen in the next few months of PR spin. We could turn on the TV to see American troops pulling Bin Laden out of a hole, or finding WMD in an Iraqi cave. Just as terrorism changed the election in Spain, an episode in America could throw the election.

Or -- here's a mean trick -- the Bush mob could manipulate petroleum production so that gas prices rise, then fall. And according to Bob Woodward, that's exactly what the Prez and Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandor have planned. Woodward told 60 Minutes on April 18 that Bandar promised Bush that Saudi Arabia will lower oil prices before the election. Puts a whole new meaning on the phrase "blood for oil," doesn't it?

Our best defense is to talk about the issues. How many kids are dying in Iraq? How much money have we spent? Where are US jobs going? What's happened to overtime pay? How are we taking care of returning Iraqi veterans? How many schools are closing because of poor fiscal policy?

So talk about politics -- incessantly. Let your friends, your hairdresser, your newspaper know what's going on and where you stand. Commit yourself to change or collect 20 votes between now and November. Organize. Go to meetings. Wear buttons. We don't need four more Bush years. No how. No way.

At the same time, we can resolve to make the sources of Bush's power irrelevant to our lives. If all politics is local, that means that all politics is personal and we can shun the industrial system that donates, according to Public Interest, $498,000 per day to the Bush campaign. That's almost five times what Kerry's taking in.

First of all, put yourself on a petroleum-free diet and cut down on gasoline consumption. Park the car one day a week, then two. Find neighborhood sources for the things you need, including friendship. Make friends with someone who lives within walking distance.

Of course, things wouldn't be nearly as bad if every gallon of gasoline took us four times as far. We'd cut pollution by a quarter, and our puny supplies, estimated by many experts as 50 years' worth, would become 200 years' worth. Because no political administration after Jimmy Carter took conservation seriously, we're still driving cars with 1970s economy standards.

Except the hybrids. Hybrid technology works.

When I bought my hybrid three years ago, I naively thought that everyone would have one within a couple of years. Although a couple of friends and neighbors have bought or ordered hybrids, the progress has been slow. There are a couple of high-dollar SUVs available, and it's rumored that more will be available in 2005, but I still can't buy a hybrid truck to replace our old pickup that died.

My Honda Insight has gotten 58.9 MPG for 40,000 miles. That's combination driving -- gravel roads, four-lanes, town and country -- almost four times the 16 mpg I was getting before. And it has plenty of room to carry the things I carry. A bale of hay. A load of lilac bushes. Even my cello fits in the Honda better than it fits in my husband's Camry.

My favorite part of the hybrid is that the engine completely shuts down when I stop and put the car in neutral. So, let's say you're stuck in traffic, or you stop at the mailbox, or you're waiting for someone to climb into the car. Stop, put it in neutral and there's no gas consumption. This is a technology that should be on every school bus and delivery truck.

Every now and then I want even more energy efficiency and I wish I could build a solar vehicle just to putt around the farm. Then I remember that I already have one, and I walk to the fence and call out for Rocky, my ever-patient Missouri foxtrotter. In a few minutes, he's hitched to the cart and off we go to pick up fence posts or firewood or visit our closest neighbors.

Rocky's cart is the ultimate in efficiency. Just a few metal bars welded together with a seat and two wheels. In contrast, it costs a lot, energy-wise, to build a car. So, for low-mileage drivers it's better to keep the gas hog than to order a new model, no matter how thrifty. At the same time, if we can't trade cars, at least we can cut down on purchases that support the transportation system. That means modifying the old shopping habits. Becoming free from Wal-Mart and the other box stores.

Those behemoths bring all their products in from overseas, which costs oil and moves jobs to the poorest countries to be worked by the most helpless people. The stores have gotten to be so powerful that they make their own laws. In Missouri and many other states, through the Tax Increment Financing Program (TIF) and other programs, these villains manipulate the law to claim that perfectly good farmland is under-resourced land. Then they "re-habilitate" it at taxpayer expense by building a shopping center. Consumers have the ultimate say, however. If we don't buy their stuff they won't be able to sell it.

So exercise your political muscle, Dear Consumer. Buy local stuff. It's our most direct way to affect the Bush support team.

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

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