AUSTIN, Texas -- In the "physician, heal thyself" department, please note the response of White House press spokesman Ari Fleischer to a bulletin from North Korea that said: "The intention to build up a nuclear deterrent is not aimed to threaten and blackmail others, but to reduce conventional weapons. North Korea hopes to channel manpower resources and funds into economic construction and the betterment of people's living."

Fleischer piously replied: "Perhaps from this glimpse of North Korea acknowledging that its own people suffer as a result of North Korea's policies, it will help North Korea to now make the right decisions. And the right decisions are to put their people first, to feed their people, to get health care to their people ..."

Not only should feeding the people and getting health care to the people be more important than a nuclear program, it should even be more important than tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy. The United States now spends $400 billion a year on the military -- that's 50.1 percent of all discretionary spending (non-discretionary includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid). These priorities are not exactly setting a great example for North Korea.

Look at what's happening here, beloveds. The Houston Chronicle reported on June 11: "Soccer moms, firefighters and community activists overflowed City Council chambers Tuesday, pleading that their programs not be eliminated or reduced in the already squeezed 2004 budget. The crowd of supplicants grew so large at one point that police had to direct people to the council's annex building.

"The list of wants and needs was long. Competitive sports groups don't want their park leagues dropped. Firefighters want staffing levels maintained on trucks. And community groups want a southwest Houston health clinic reopened and free after-school programs continued."

That's what it comes down to, all this big talk about tax cuts from Washington and about not raising taxes from Austin -- it's taking away after-school programs and health clinics and firefighters.

Not to drop a name, but last week I was on a panel with Bill O'Reilly of Fox News and quoted the wonderful B. Rapoport of Waco, Texas, a great and very rich American. B. says: "Look, you make $50,000 a year and pay $8,000 in income taxes. That won't send you to the poorhouse, but it will sure as hell put a crimp in your budget. I make a million dollars a year. I pay $400,000 in income taxes. That leaves me $600,000 a year to live on. You gonna feel sorry for me? I'm still rich."

O'Reilly, perhaps not realizing I was quoting someone else, jumped in and said: "Yeah, but I don't want to take your money and give it to someone else. You should keep your money."

My tax money and Rapoport's tax money are not given to someone else. It goes back into this country, the one that allowed Rapoport to become rich in the first place. B. Rapoport knows perfectly well why he's successful. His dad was an immigrant peddler who never made more than $4,000 a year. B. went to the public schools of San Antonio back in the '20s and to the University of Texas in the '30s, where he attended graduate school in economics.

He believes in public education the way some people believe in religion. He supports a charter school and gives generously to U.T. He's happy his taxes are used for social improvement -- he cannot stand rich people who dodge their taxes. How can you not be willing to create opportunities for young people in the country that gave you so many opportunities, he asks.

The preamble to the Constitution says this country was established "In order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity." Roads, schools, prisons, courthouses, bridges, dams and sewage systems are all necessary, as are health and education. That's why we pay taxes. We pay for after-school programs and sports leagues because kids need them and get into trouble without them.

The reason people hate paying taxes is because they know the system isn't fair. We don't have a progressive tax system in this country anymore, and we certainly don't have one in Texas. It is mind-boggling that the Republicans took away child tax credits for low-income working people. It was such a gross distortion in favor of the rich and against working people that it created an immediate backlash and forced the White House to ask Congress to reverse itself.

"Ain't going to happen," said Majority Leader Tom DeLay. He says the working poor will get their tax cut only if the rich get another round, as well. That's sick.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.