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How The Taliban Stole Christmas 

Christmas is always a busy time of year up here in the North Pole, but this year the pressure has been just incredible. I haven't felt this kind of stress since the Cabbage Patch Doll crisis, and I'm just counting the days until my usual post-holiday vacation in Cancun. But before I can taste the tequila in a big old Margarita, I have a patriotic duty to do. Rather than "toys and joy and holiday cheer," this year's theme is "consume, consume, consume." It doesn't quite have the same ring, but these are desperate times. The war is raging and the economy is in a nosedive, so churning out big bags of expensive toys and valuable gems has become a national imperative.

At least that's what my bosses in Washington DC tell me.

Well, they're not my bosses, really. Santa is his own boss and has been for hundreds of years. But over the last 50 years or so, I've become increasingly dependant on the United States to run my ever-expanding operations. And they've lately been encouraging me to pump up the volume.

My close relationship with the US government began at the dawn of the Cold War. I'd been receiving a few million dollars in foreign aid annually for years, but when capitalism and communism really began to lock horns, I started to get increasingly lucrative offers from each side, and I found myself at the center of a rather nasty geopolitical struggle (albeit entirely in the realm of covert operations, lest I hurt my public image).

Now, I've always tried to remain neutral in political matters. It's just part of my elfin heritage. But the Americans were going to allow me to really expand my enterprise and bring bigger and better toys to the little boys and girls of the world. And all the Soviets really had to offer was free vodka for all the elves, and they've always preferred beer to the hard stuff. My choice was clear.

In exchange for allowing the Americans to build a military base and research facility on my property (I was told it was for my own security), they poured billions of dollars into our operations. We completely renovated the factory, built luxury condominiums for the elves, increased pay and benefits, upgraded the sleigh fleet and added hundreds of new flying reindeer, and computerized the entire system. And I'm not even going to tell you about the fat mansion I got out of the deal.

But the most profound change came from the close relationship we were able to develop with American corporations, a relationship encouraged by subsidies and tax incentives. We began to outsource with toy companies, jewelers, auto dealers, apparel manufacturers, you name it.

I don't want to get too technical here, but gradually, all these goods began to dominate our product line, and our operations in the North Pole shifted more from production to distribution and marketing. Which was fine with me because the demands of a growing world population were already starting to overwhelm us. Besides, how were we going to keep up with the rapid changes in consumer tastes that would lie ahead?

So everything was going great, and we had a record-setting year in 2000. But then the economy in the US and elsewhere began to soften, and as I don't need to tell you, nothing is the same after September 11. Yes, things have changed.

President Bush called me on the evening of September 11. He sounded tired but resolute, and he told me that he'd need my help in the coming months. I felt just awful about what had happened that morning -- so tragic, so wasteful -- and I pledged my support.

"We need to make this the biggest and best Christmas ever," he said. "The American people are counting on you to really spread the Christmas spirit and get those cash registers jingling. We need your help in the war against these evildoers."

Gosh, what could I say? I mean, I was just overwhelmed with the enormity of the task, with trying to create joy when there was such misery, and persuading people to spend their money freely in this climate of such uncertainty. But I was determined to rise to the task.

The first step was a major marketing campaign, a consumer blitz like the world had never seen. We need to make spending money seem like people's patriotic duty, to get people to see their increasing credit card debt as the price they're paying to fight the terrorists.

So I doubled the number of contract Santas this year -- I'm sure you've noticed them on the street -- and launched an ad campaign in the major media. Both the Santas and the ads have focused on some themes and ideas that I think will accomplish the president's goals and objectives.

We're aggressively attacking outdated notions of thrift and simplicity as tantamount to high treason, and trying to replace them with sentiments that will encourage consumer spending. So, "It's the thought that counts" has been replaced by "It's the cost that counts," and we've been attaching price tags with super glue just to reinforce that idea.

Rather than bargain shopping, we encourage people to spend as much as possible for gifts, and we're borrowing some modern consumer trends to do it. I'm just now putting the finishing touches on a special Holiday Telethon, to be broadcast live from Kabul on December 22.

Jerry Lewis will host and we've partnered with E-Bay to allow viewers to bid on an array of gifts that will scroll along the bottom of the screen. We'll have guests like President Bush, Colin Powell, Martin Sheen and Rush Limbaugh encouraging bidders to drive the prices up higher and higher to prove their loyalty to the country. Proceeds will benefit the Homeland Security Trust Fund and the US Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to raising revenues, I'm also trying to hold costs down this season. It didn't get much publicity for national security reasons, but the USA PATRIOT Act recently approved by Congress included a "Santa Clause" that allows me to increase the elves' work hours without paying overtime and to roll my reindeer chow costs over into the next fiscal year.

Volunteerism is a popular notion over the holidays, as everyone wants to do their part to make the world a better place. But too often, people volunteer in soup kitchens or women's shelters or similar nonproductive ventures. So we're creating volunteer opportunities in retail, where it will really help.

We're also trying to get creative in turning recycled items into new products that we can sell at a premium price. For example, I have people in Afghanistan right now collecting used burkas from the women and we're going to turn them into the biggest holiday dress craze this country has ever seen. Cindy Crawford has even agreed to be our spokesmodel.

All this is just a sampling of the comprehensive agenda we have planned. So you see, we're working hard up here in the North Pole to do our part to preserve the American way of life. And the rest is up to you. Merry Spending. . .um, Christmas!

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