AUSTIN, Texas -- Another record. We have already lost more American soldiers (488) in Iraq in 239 days of this year than we did in 287 days last year (482), when there was a war on and before our mission was accomplished.

        The grind of the numbers is so relentless. Price of gasoline -- pressing $50 a barrel. Poverty rate -- increased again, third year in a row. Number of Americans without insurance -- increased again, third year. Part of the "vibrant economy” Bush touts daily now. And the news from Iraq just keeps getting worse and worse.

        Then, to liven things up, someone from Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith's office is accused of passing classified information to the Israelis via the lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Be interesting to see whether Laurence A. Franklin, the alleged spy, gets as much publicity as did Clinton's former NSC adviser Sandy Berger did for allegedly taking notes on classified documents for his 9-11 Commission testimony. The Justice Department has announced no charges will be filed against Berger, and the matter is closed.

        At least this gives us an opportunity to revisit one of my all-time favorite statements by Feith, a key member of the neo-con inner circle that dominates foreign policy in this administration. On May 4 this year, Feith observed in a speech, "No one can properly assert that the failure, so far, to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction stockpiles undermines the reasons for the war.”

        Uhhh. What a bunch of clear thinkers they are. An enterprising student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Devon Largio, has done an honors thesis delineating 27 separate rationales advanced by the administration for the war in Iraq. The only one left, of course, is "Saddam was a bad guy” -- in other words, the human rights argument, the only one specifically rejected by the administration before the war.

        Some days it's hard to figure out what the Bush administration thinks it's doing. They started their convention in New York City by announcing a new formula for distributing public housing funds that will cost New York City billions of dollars and benefit primarily Texas and California. You just never know about timing with this bunch: The Census Bureau jumped the gun by a full month reporting the new, highly unfortunate numbers on both poverty and health insurance. This put the announcement in the August congressional recess, with many newsies on vacation -- poverty up by 1.3 million, uninsured up by 1.4 million. Median income stagnant. Children hardest hit -- 12.9 million children living in poverty.

        Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, George W. Bush's top donors -- the Pioneers ($100,000) and Rangers ($200,000) have delivered a total of $76.5 million this campaign. According to Texans for Public Justice, 69 percent of the 544 elite donors are CEOs and business executives. Seventeen percent are lobbyists. One hundred of them are connected to the corporate scandals Bush now lists as among the economic factors to which he had no connection. (Ken Lay was his largest single donor in 2000.) And 146 of the big-time donors received government appointments.

        Unnumbered weirdness by John Ashcroft (it's too hard to keep count): The Department of Justice has asked the Government Printing Office "to instruct depository libraries to destroy five publications the department has deemed 'not appropriate for external use.' Of the five publications, two are texts of federal laws. They are to be removed from libraries and destroyed, making their content available only to those with access to a law office or law library,” according to the American Library Association. All the documents concern either federal civil or criminal forfeiture procedure, including to how to reclaim items that have been confiscated by the government during an investigation.

        I don't know how you feel about living in a country where the citizens are not allowed to read the law, but I find it ... surprising. Speaking of freedom, at a public campaign rally in New Mexico at which Dick Cheney spoke, those who wished to attend were asked to first sign a public loyalty oath, to wit: "I, (full name), do herby (sic) endorse George W. Bush for re-election of the United States." The form also announced, "In signing the above endorsement you are consenting to use and release your name by Bush-Cheney as an endorser of President Bush.”

        Meanwhile, at Bush's "Ask President Bush” events being staged around the country, only Bush supporters are allowed in. This results in such tough questions as, "This is the very first time that I have felt God was in the White House.”

        Did any of us sign up for this four years ago? As a new bumper sticker says, "Re-Defeat Bush.”

        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 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.