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How the upper one-one-hundredth of 1 percent does politics.

The First Lady has always merited her designation as "the brighter Bush." But, clearly, she needs to study up on American history.

With concern mounting about the wisdom of the Bush team's plans for four days of lavish inaugural festivities, Laura Bush was dispatched to make the case for the $40 million blowout that was organized to erase any doubt about who is in charge. Like her husband and his aides, the First Lady announced her approval of the ridiculous extravagance that will accompany what that is starting to look more and more like a royal coronation. The excess is necessary, she explained, because big parties at the opening of a presidential term are "an important part of our history."

"They're a ceremony of our history; they're a ritual of our government," she said of free-spending inaugural celebrations, after being asked whether it was appropriate to spend tens of millions of dollars on ten different parties at a time when the nation is at war and much of the world is still recovering from the tsunami disaster.

Social Security is in danger. We must take preventive action: Baathist dead-enders have targeted the Social Security lockbox with Saddam's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Our only hope is to adopt private accounts so the trust fund can be spread to multiple locations, before the smoking gun turns out to be a mushroom cloud.

Sound silly? No sillier than the Administration's full-court press to scare the retirement checks out of seniors' hands. A propaganda push so vile, it's a wonder Armstrong Williams isn't part of it. (But Dick Cheney is.)

Americans need to take a deep breath and repeat: There is no crisis in Social Security. There is no crisis in Social Security. Feel better? If absolutely no reforms are made, Social Security will not start running out of money until 2042! That's four decades away, and that is the pessimistic scenario. According to the optimistic projections, the danger of doing nothing is...nothing.

Some might say it's tacky to rain on the President's parade, but two crucial news stories compel it.

Now that the Bush administration has finally stopped wasting millions of tax dollars each month on the futile search for the weapons of mass destruction it promised would be found in Iraq, it is time for an accounting.

First off, let's be clear about the fact that there was never any credible evidence to suggest that Iraq had a serious WMD program -- let alone the "stockpiles" of already-produced weaponry that the president and his aides suggested. Twenty-three members of the Senate and 133 members of the House rejected the intensive lobbying by the administration and the pliable press for the use-of-force resolution that Bush would use as his authorization to launch a preemptive war. Among those who voted "no" were the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and key members of the Senate and House committees responsible for intelligence, armed services and foreign relations -- all of whom had followed the issue for years and saw no evidence of a threat sufficient to justify an invasion of Iraq. Former President Jimmy Carter and others with long-term knowledge of the issues involved were critical of the rush to war, as were dozens of prominent players in the nation's political, foreign service, intelligence and military elites.

So the suggestion that there was broad acceptance of the premise that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs, or was deep into the process of developing them, is absurd. President Bush, Vice President Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had access to the same information as those who recognized that there was not a sufficient threat to merit military action by the United States. They chose to dismiss that information, and instead to peddle as genuine a fabricated threat.

In February 1917, bread riots took place in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), and spread quickly to working-class quarters where the violence increased. Women, many of them elderly, led the protests that led to the collapse of the czarist regime and eventually to the Bolshevik revolution.

In January 2005, few anticipate genuine revolution--or even a change in government. But, in one of the most interesting developments in Russia since 1998, when disgruntled coal miners went on strike and blocked railway tracks in protest of unpaid wages, thousands of pensioners are demonstrating across the country--protesting the abolition of a wide range of social benefits. (Unlike 1998, however, what makes these protests potentially more powerful is that every family in Russia has a pensioner--often a beloved babushka caring for the grandchildren.)

The source of the pensioners' anger is a law that came into force on January 1, replacing longstanding social benefits--free public transportation, and subsidies for medicine, rent, utilities and other basic services--with inadequate, monthly cash payments. The new legislation affects the most vulnerable in Russia--the country's 34 million pensioners, veterans and people with disabilities. (They make up just over one quarter of the population.)

The anniversary of the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. falls just five days before the second inauguration of a president who has broken faith with most of the civil rights leader's legacy -- at home and abroad.

But, while today's leaders are out of touch with King's legacy, Americans who still hold out hope that their country might truly embrace a higher and better morality than that of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice must keep in touch.

Amid our celebrations of King's monumental contribution to the struggle for racial and economic justice in the United States, we must also celebrate his commitment to peace – and to the humane foreign policies that ultimately provide the best defense against threats and violence.

While death benefits for troops in Iraq remain at $12,000, George W. Bush is throwing himself a $40 million party to celebrate the first time in his life he out-achieved his father. But the dynastic dysfunction continues into the next generation.

The Bush twins wanted to book Kid Rock to headline the inauguration youth concert they are hosting. But the White House was forced to disinvite him after family values groups complained about his vulgar, sex-soaked lyrics, including these lines from "Pimp of the Nation":

Pimp of the Nation, I could be it
As a matter of a fact, I foresee it
But only pimpin' hoes with the big tush
While you be left pimpin' Barbara Bush

The letterhead of Columbia University, where I taught for four decades, reads in full "Columbia University in the City of New York," not because there is much likelihood that anyone will wonder w

Adorno said, as we all know, that writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. This is not to say, as many imagine, that writing poetry after Auschwitz is to be forbidden, or is impossible.

Andrew Rice covered commercial real estate development for the New York Observer from 2000 until 2002.

George Bush had best be careful when he fiddles with the radio dial in the presidential limousine on Inauguration Day.

The results of the last election of 2004 could foretell the first serious defeat for the Bush Administration's agenda in the new Congress.

What do Robert Novak and Armstrong Williams have to do before they're completely discredited?

"The black pseudo leader is a parasite," wrote black pseudo-leader Armstrong Williams in October 2004.

DEATH SQUADS--THEY'RE BACK!

When I was a kid--this was before television--the radio was my best friend.

Something good for American democracy happened on January 6.