Facing massive losses, Santa Claus Enterprises, LLC, yesterday pleaded for $100 billion in federal assistance in order to continue operations through December. In a press conference held at the firm's North Pole headquarters, a somber Santa Claus said that the bailout was necessary to avoid "severely curtailing, and perhaps canceling, Christmas 2008." Operating continuously for more than 2,000 years, Santa Claus Enterprises, LLC, delivers billions of presents worldwide every Christmas Eve, free of charge. Shifting consumer demand, plus the greater technical complexity of modern toys, has forced the company to outsource a majority of its production. United Elf Workers spokesman Herman "Choo-choo" DelFazio decried what he called the "selling out of the skilled Elf work force" to cheaper overseas manufacturers. However, high labor and pension costs are the most significant factor in the company's distress, said Chief "Elf-ecutive" Officer Bud "Swingset" Perkins. While elves can retire at age 1,000, they live forever, and are entitled to draw 90 percent salary, plus benefits that include unlimited cookies, cider and fruitcake, Perkins said. "You can't have more than half your work force being paid to do nothing and basically sitting around gorging themselves on Christmas goodies," he said, adding that UEW officials had refused to reduce pension benefits, or extend the retirement age to 1,500, despite repeated pleas from management. But the company's difficulties go beyond labor disputes, and date to at least 1974, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit, claiming that Santa Claus's ability "to see you when you're sleeping, to know when you're awake, and to know when you've been bad or good" not only violates fundamental privacy rights, but deprives children of due process. Though the case was settled out of court, an anonymous source said that Santa Claus's restriction of withholding gifts from "bad" children had put additional pressure on the company's already strained distribution system. Circling the globe in a flying sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, Santa Claus must deliver billions of presents in a single evening. Morbidly obese, with a stomach that reportedly "jiggles like a bowlful of jelly," Santa Claus suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and gout, according to the source. Establishing his company soon after the birth of Jesus Christ, Claus has gained iconic status in the world of holiday celebration. While Christmas is historically a religious festival, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, for many, Claus's red suit, bulbous nose and trademark long white beard have greater significance than do the religious origins of the holiday. Holding a virtual monopoly on secular observance of Christmas, Santa Claus Enterprises faces increasing competition from imposter Santas who visit department stores and shopping malls worldwide, paying no royalties or license fees, according to SCE spokes-elf Sandra "Babydoll" Madison. "The Santa Claus brand is our most important asset," Madison said, noting that while the company makes a vigorous effort to enforce its trademarks and intellectual rights, "We're not Disney. We can't be everywhere, all the time." Still, Santa Claus Enterprises, LLC, is a powerful organization. As the sole commercial enterprise at the North Pole, it acts as the virtual government of the vast, ice-covered region north of the Arctic Circle. Its autonomy has drawn the ire of environmentalists, who charge that the company's antiquated manufacturing facilities — originally built to manufacture things such as simple wooden toys and bisque dolls — is the region's most significant source of greenhouse gases, possibly contributing to the melting of the polar ice cap. Without federal funds, however, Santa Claus said the company would be hard-pressed to upgrade the facility, let alone continue to operate on the scale that the world's population has come to expect. "We're facing a perfect storm," said Claus. "And I should know. I've been through a good many storms in my time." Appearing to wipe a tear from his round, red cheeks, he said, "Without a federal bailout, this will not be a very merry Christmas, and I'm not jolly about that at all." — Chris Westphal of Ojai is a journalist, television comedy writer, and novelist. He currently works with Storyzon.com, writing personal histories and biographies.