AUSTIN, Texas --- Excuse me, but is that smoke in your ear?

I wouldn't go calling anyone a liar, but as we say in our quaint Texas fashion, this administration is stuffed with people who are on a first-name basis with the bottom of the deck. They've been telling us only four out of the 18 provinces in Iraq will be too unsafe to vote in. Doesn't sound that bad, does it? Unless you happen to know that about 50 percent of the population lives in those four provinces.

Will someone explain to me what earthly good they expect to do by misleading us? If, God forbid, the Iraqi election turns out to be a disaster, will we be better off for not having expected it? How long are Bush and Cheney going to sit there pretending the problem is that the media won't report the "good news" out of Iraq? Be a lot more useful if they paid attention to some of the bad news.

Resigned to the fact that Social Security will have to be dismantled because it's in such terrible, awful trouble, headed toward bankruptcy the day after tomorrow? Well, the $10 trillion in unfunded liabilities they keep talking about sure sounds like a load of trouble. Except that it's a completely phony number. Not based on what will happen in 25 years or 50 or 75, but on infinity. Forever and ever.

President Bush says "the crisis is now" and Social Security will go into the red as of 2018. Eeek, just 13 years from now -- we might actually live that long. Except ... nobody else says that. The Social Security trustees, paid to be professional gloom-mongers on this subject, say it's good until 2042, and the conservative estimate by the Congressional Budget Office is 2052 -- not before Social Security goes broke, but before Social Security has to dip into its trust fund. Get a grip.

Now, in addition to the regular misleading, fudging, distorting and phony statistics games, we're getting actual covert propaganda, and dammittohell, they're making us pay for it. A quarter of a million bucks to a right-wing commentator to talk up No Child Left Behind. Why? Distributing video "news" releases to television stations made and paid for by the government, but not identified as such. It's not enough that Bush has the bulliest pulpit on earth, he has to sneak his message across with government propaganda? What the hell is this?

According to Bush, we're also having a lawsuit crisis. He got so exercised over it last week, he used the word "crisis" four times in one speech. In Texas, we have had tort deform up to our ears. Med-mal, as medical malpractice insurance is known in legislative circles, has been tort-deformed out the wazoo here -- $250,000 award caps, the whole ball of wax. Net result? Proposed rate increases for three of the state's largest med mal carriers up 16.6 percent to 35.2 percent. In Oklahoma, up 83 percent over three years for the largest med mal provider. Ohio, 10 percent to 40 percent is the range of expected rate increases by the five major carriers, etc. Doesn't work worth a damn.

Here in the National Laboratory for Bad Government, we are happy to help out by showing everyone else how not to solve problems, but it's really annoying when Bush insists on taking what didn't work here and making it nationwide.

More fun with numbers. The Bushies are crowing that their job forecast for last year was right on target. Um, which forecast? They predicted total job growth of 3.8 million, and it was actually 2.2 million. That's the difference between the total jobs in December versus the number at the beginning of the year. They also predicted the average number of jobs to increase by 2.6 million, when in fact it turned out to be 1.3 million higher than in 2003 -- that being difference between the average number of jobs in 2003 and 2004.

Too fast for you? If something goes up to eight from six, that's plus two, but the average of eight and six is seven, up one. The Bushies took the 2.2 million they predicted for last year's average job growth and pretended it was their prediction for total job growth, then said they were right when actual growth came in at 2.6 million. In other words, they were off again. (I am entirely indebted to bloggers Brad DeLong and Kevin Drum for this mathematical distinction.)

Also in the "you can't trust a word they say" category, the Natural Resources Defense Council has just released papers showing that the Defense Department and defense contractors collaborated in a backroom campaign to manipulate a federal report on the health threat of perchlorate, a toxic rocket fuel ingredient, in the water. The National Academy of Sciences is to release the report this week. What the NRDC has is evidence that pressure was put on the Academy of Sciences. Again, what good does it do to misinform people?

Not that I'm accusing anyone of lying, of course, but these people are slicker than bus station chili. Count your change when dealing with Bushies.

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 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.