AUSTIN -- Here comes everyone's favorite season: The tree is down, the bills are due, January, February, Ry-Krisp and cottage cheese.

T'is the festive season for one of our nation's leading industries -- dispensers of diet advice. Since we all spent a couple of months home with mac and cheese even before the holidays, it could be a growth year for the stationary bicycle.

Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are still out there somewhere, with Judge Crater and Chandra Levy. Now that we've won the war, all the king's horses and all the king's men have to put Afghanistan back together again --- warlords and all. OPEC just cut production by 6.5 percent.

Looking on the bright side, as we are wont to do at this stand, privatization of Social Security is a dead letter and at least Congress didn't pass the economic stimulus package.

Incredibly enough, the Washington pundit corps spent a couple of weeks running around bellowing, "Whose fault is this?" and fingering Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as the most likely suspect. No Republican was allowed to mention Daschle's name without the word "obstructionist" preceding it.

If Daschle did stop the bill, the man should get a medal. Did it never occur to the Washington press corps to look at what was (SET ITAL) in (END ITAL) the bill? The Bushies had already whizzed away the entire budget surplus last April on a monumental folly -- a tax cut to enrich the rich. And you may recall, it took a lot of blood on the political floor to erase the deficit and get to a surplus in the first place.

Not content with that piece of stupidity, when it came to "economic stimulus" congressional Republicans then decided to repeal the alternative minimum tax for corporations, the one that says no matter how many loopholes a corporation has found to shelter its enormous profits, it has to pay (SET ITAL) something (END ITAL) in income tax.

The R's not only wanted to spare our biggest corporations from this dread burden, they also thought it would be a dandy idea to refund billions from the United States treasury to the likes of I.B.M. and General Electric for such taxes as they had to pay in earlier years. The New York Times business section gave the R's the coveted Leona Helmsley Memorial "Only the Little People Pay Taxes" Award for such egregious chutzpah.

While we have all been enjoying our patriotic fervor -- even the Singers' annual New Year's Chili Fest was "17 percent more patriotic" this year -- we forgot that patriotism is also the last refuge of scoundrels. High on my scoundrel list is Bill Thomas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who waited two whole days after Sept. 11 before introducing a steep capital gains tax cut -- 80 percent of the benefits to the richest 2 percent of taxpayers.

The Times economic columnist Paul Krugman had some startling figures on the R's final "compromise offer" to pass an economic stimulus package. Tax cuts accounted for 95 percent of the cost of the original Republican bill -- the compromise got that down to 92 percent, leaving that much more for the unemployed. In the original bill, 69 percent of those tax cuts were for corporations -- the "compromise" went all the way down to 63 percent. The original bill (SET ITAL) retroactively (END ITAL) eliminated the alternative minimum tax, refunding $24 billion in past corporate taxes. The "compromise" put that down to a mere $16 billion. But then Thomas put in another tax break for the very rich, "to console himself for all these compromises," said Krugman.

Some deal. I used to think the problem was that Washington doesn't understand what the rest of the country is actually like. I mean, you've lost your job, you've got no health insurance and so Washington promises you a tax credit in the future, and somehow that's supposed to pay for your health insurance now. (Actually, insurance companies, which rather famously have hearts the size of caraway seeds, do not accept future tax credits as payment.) But it occurs to me maybe the problem is the rest of us don't understand how things look from Washington.

Suppose you had gotten lots of big campaign contributions from insurance companies -- now wouldn't that make a difference in how you viewed insurance companies? Suppose nice insurance lobbyists came around regularly to kiss your posterior and tell you how brilliant you are and buy tickets to fund-raisers? Wouldn't tha' make you feel warm and fuzzy about insurance companies?

You see, it's just a question of us getting attitudes adjusted so we can understand Washington. At the very least, there's an attitude adjustment overdue somewhere.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at