A Happy Holidays Merry Christmas to you from George W. and the Republicans in Congress

Say what you will about this White House and the Republican majority in Congress--they've got holiday spirit.

Just look at what they did last week--deleted a provision that would have prohibited the importation of fighting cocks from the big defense appropriations bill, substituting language to the effect that they had never intended to regulate the trade, and then they stuck on a rider opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. So, in just 24 hours, they succeeded in coming out as pro-cruelty to animals and pro-flu pandemic (the trade in fighting cocks is a promising vector for the introduction of avian flu into the United States), and anti-caribou (a close relative to the reindeer, let us not forget). Attaching the ANWR gambit was just a gorgeous move--holding defense funding hostage to the oil industry for Christmas.

What a big old holiday Fuck You! to the troops in Iraq, to the majority of voters who vehemently oppose Arctic drilling, to the entire world.

Then, in another stroke of public-relations genius, the president hinted that he would be hunting down the traitors who had leaked the news that he's been spying on American citizens without the benefit of oversight by Congress or warrants from judges or really anything but whim for the last four years. Dear Mr. President--Hel-lo? The American people are bored by the investigation into the identity of the person who leaked the name of an active CIA agent to the press--a felony--and you think we give a good goddamn that you've vowed to catch the running yellow-dog traitor? We're supposed to be, what, reassured that you're all over this one? Sorry. Aside from the fact that we tend to think the leaker did us all a favor, we've seen you do so darn much vowing, and so little catching.

The man's handlers don't have tin ears--they've got no ears at all.

But then, they've had such a long, easy romp of it. It may be ending--which could explain the appearance of desperation in the actions of big-business shills like Ted Stevens and Bill Frist. However, in spite of the Iraq quagmire; the frighteningly incompetent, heartless government response to Hurricane Katrina; the now-annual shortage of flu vaccine; overflowing emergency rooms; and the corruption and thievery and the unholy mess these people have made of the country, they still have believers.

True story: It was cold two weeks ago, and I needed to change after working out so that my unvaccinated person would be less susceptible to getting chilled, sick and stuck for 10 hours waiting for "urgent" care. I went into the bathroom at the racquet club to do this, where I met a middle-aged woman, also changing, who seemed agitated. I made an exploratory remark about the weather, and words began pouring out of her.

"I cannot work out in the same room with that guy in the Bush T-shirt," she said.

It turns out that there was a big guy in the weight room wearing a shirt that said, "Bush Wins/Osama Loses." (I checked. He was. The words surged in day-glo orange across his bulging pecs.)

"I'm losing control," the woman said, still very wound up. "I'm starting to accost strangers. I went up to him and said, 'Can you read?' I couldn't stop myself. And now I'm leaving."

I assured her that she was my hero as she whirled out the door. (I'm only brave at the laptop, and was even more impressed when I saw how big the guy was.)

Interestingly, the answer to her entirely rhetorical question was in the next day's New York Times. It seems that literacy in the U.S. is dropping precipitously, and, perhaps surprisingly, no longer seems to be necessary for higher education. Less than a third of today's college graduates are literate, according to a nationwide test: "When the test was last administered, in 1992, 40 percent of the nation's college graduates scored at the proficient level, meaning that they were able to read lengthy, complex English texts and draw complicated inferences. But on the 2003 test, only 31 percent of the graduates demonstrated those high-level skills."

Obviously, the T-shirt was a statement not of fact but of faith--the stud in the weight room didn't need to be able to parse The Federalist Papers to know that bin Laden is still on the loose and doing just great, thanks--but the juxtaposition of the irate woman's question and the depressing literacy stats made me laugh out loud over breakfast.

There was her answer: As a matter of fact, he can't read!

But I can, and obviously you can, and it is our pleasure and our duty to do so. And, let's not forget, to use our complicatedly drawn inferences to think for ourselves throughout the coming year--which I hope will be a happy one for you, O Reader.