AUSTIN, Texas -- There are messy-desk people and there are clean-desk people. I'm a major messy. About every six months, I am seized by a desire to Get Organized, so I start doing archaeological excavations into the midden heap on my desk. The result this time was a sort of time-lapse photography of where the country is headed.

            Going through stacks of old newspaper articles, speeches, reports, studies and press releases at a high rate of speed left one overwhelming impression: deception ... government by deception. I'd like pass along some of what I found without the usual journalistic standards of sourcing because I want to recreate the impression it all left -- rather like leafing through a book rapidly, catching sentence here and there. Leaving aside the missing weapons of mass destruction (hey, we found the oil), I found so many little things that fit the same pattern.

            -- Administration announces with great fanfare new regs to control listeria, a deadly bacteria that can contaminate certain foods. Great, they put in new regs, but first they eviscerated them so they have no real impact.

            -- U.S. Agency for International Development chief Andrew Natsios blasts NGOs (that's the jargon for non-governmental organizations -- private groups engaged in humanitarian assistance) for not doing enough p.r. for the United States. They're supposed to be helping starving and sick people, not flacking for America. Either talk up the United States, Natsios threatened, or he would personally tear up their contracts. (Great, some little Ethiopian kid on the edge of starvation, eyes dull, belly swollen, has to listen to a lecture on U.S. beneficence before he gets some oatmeal.)

            -- New study shows 8 million mostly low-income taxpayers will get no benefit from the latest round of tax cuts, despite repeated assurances that it would help everybody who pays income taxes.

            -- Cost of photo-op with the president at a June fund-raiser: $20,000. Cost of a "leadership luncheon" with Karl Rove: must raise $50,000 for re-election.

            -- "American officials are considering a plan to use Iraq's future oil and gas revenues as collateral to raise cash to rebuild the country. Several U.S. companies, including Halliburton and Bechtel, which are jostling for the lucrative reconstruction contracts, are reportedly pushing the scheme to expedite the commissioning process." That means there's no Marshall Plan, we're not going to rebuild Iraq, we're going to going to take their oil to pay our corporations to fix what we messed up.

            -- President nominates Daniel Pipes to the board of the United States Institute of Peace. This is one of a series of cruel-joke appointments: Pipes is a Middle East expert whose vision of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no negotiation, no hope for compromise and no use for diplomacy. He wants the Palestinians defeated, period. Just the man for the Institute of Peace.

            -- On Friday, April 11, three days after "coalition" forces entered Baghdad, the Interior Department announced a settlement with the state of Utah that effectively destroys the executive branch's key powers to protect wilderness, reversing three decades of environmental policy. Starting immediately, oil, gas and mineral companies are granted access to more than 200 million acres of public lands. Bet you saw a lot of headlines about that one.

            -- Innumerable articles documenting the collapse of our dysfunctional health-care "system."

            -- "And I said on my program, if, if the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it's clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush administration again." -- Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly on "Good Morning America," March 18.

            -- "The White House today defended the decision of congressional negotiators to deny millions of minimum-wage families the increased child tax credit, saying the new tax law was intended to help people who pay taxes, not those who are too poor to pay."

            The poorest people in this country pay exactly the same percentage of their income in payroll taxes as wealthy people do in total taxes.

            "Ain't gonna happen," said House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The only way DeLay would support tax cuts for the working poor would be if for every $1in tax cuts to the working poor, rich people got another $22 in tax cuts. Lends new meaning to phrase "without DeLay."

            -- Two and half million jobs have disappeared since Bush took office. Real wages have stagnated or declined. Retirement savings have shrunk. People are losing health insurance, retirement benefits and overtime.

            -- The "death tax," as the Republicans so cleverly misnamed the estate tax, which affects 2 percent of all Americans, has now been replaced by the Bush birth tax -- if you're born in this country, you're in debt -- you have to help pay back the money the Bushies took out of Social Security, plus the interest on the debts they're running up.

            My thanks to all the people and publications whose research I have used without credit today. You have all contributed to this brief portrait of a country headed in the wrong direction.

            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.