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A weekly look at the media and
America in the 21st Century

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Dr. Michael I. Niman has a Ph.D. in American Studies (Intercultural Studies). He is an internationally published and syndicated freelance journalist and editorial columnist. He is an ethnographer and author of "People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia" (Univ. of Tennessee Press). Niman's research interests include the study of nonviolence and temporary autonomous zones, and the impact of electronic media and consumer culture in developing countries. He has conducted fieldwork in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, Cuba, Canada, England and across the United States. He is an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies in the Communication Department at Buffalo State College where he teaches courses on Media and Society, Investigative Journalism, Feature Writing, Diversity in the Media, Visual Communication, and American Culture and Globalization.”

ABOUT THE COLUMNS – These columns will be posted each week as multi-page articles ready for printing as inserts into an 8.5" by 11" binder. The cover (above) may be downloaded for printing as a binder insert.
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NEW – 23 December 2004
There’s a fetid stench emanting from Ohio

Since when did election fraud become a partisan issue? Certainly we’re divided over issues like abortion rights, gay rights, labor rights, the minimum wage and so on. But the struggle against election fraud, I’d think, would be a matter we could all agree upon. It’s un-American to steal an election. It’s the ultimate crime against democracy. Why then, is the Republican Party mobilizing nationwide to stymie recounts and thwart dozens of investigations looking into election fraud?

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NEW – 17 December 2004
First they came for the gays

Hold on and fasten your seat belts – it’s looking like it’s going to be a bumpy ride for the next few years. In the spirit of the journey, this is the first in what promises to be a series of “Those Wacky Republicans” columns. This week’s wacky Republican is Alabama State Legislature Representative Gerald Allen – a frequent White House guest of none other than George W. Bush. Allen, it seems, is a bit obsessed with gay characters in literature. So he wants to ban them. Or more specifically, he introduced a post-election bill to ban all books that “recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle” from public libraries and university classrooms.

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10 December 2004
Vroom! Tell Santa why you want an SUV

The basic principles of advertising are simple. You, the consumer, are incomplete without the product – any product – whatever the product may be. You’re flawed, weak, somewhat repulsive and always incomplete. You’re an empty vessel without an identity – waiting for the right sneakers, jeans or beer to come along and complete you. Of course the products never quite deliver. You buy the right breath mint, but your sex life still sucks. It turns out peppermint can’t quite give you personality.

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29 November 2004
A tale of two elections

It’s as if cartoonist Tom Tomorrow’s Parallel Earth concept has come to life – with the Ukraine’s tainted presidential election mirroring the United States’ last two presidential races. The official Ukrainian results place ruling party hack and ex-Soviet lackey Viktor Yanukovych with 49.46% of the vote, winning over his pro-west challenger Viktor Yushchenko, with 46.61% of the vote. The three-point spread between the winning and losing Viktor “Y”s is roughly identical to the official three-point spread separating Yalies Bush and Kerry. But oops, whadya know. There’s a wrench in the Ukrainian machinery casting a doubt on which Viktor was ultimately victorious. It seems the exit polls predicted a win by challenger Yushchenko by a margin of 49.4% to 45.9% — roughly equivalent to the three-point winning margin that exit polls predicted for John Kerry over George Bush.

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24 November 2004
Bombing our way to hell

Thanksgiving is usually time for my annual rant against our seasonal dive into the abyss of hedonistic consumerism. Friday is my favorite holiday - Buy Nothing Day! I usually write a story or two and do a few radio interviews about fetishistic consumption, obsessive compulsive shopping and apocalyptic materialism in the face of environmental holocaust, national and personal economic ruin, and most annoying of all - boring consumption-oriented conversation. And I try to make a joke or two - maybe about the annual slaughter of Christmas trees.
But not this year. This isn’t time for business or business disruption-as-usual. This is shaping up to be a particularly bloody holiday season - and the blood is on our collective hands.

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17 November 2004
George W. Bush and the end of conservatism

I remember when the Soviet Union collapsed. The American media went into a celebratory frenzy. With the intellectual depth of a squid, pundit after pundit lined up to pen “Socialism’s” eulogy. The “evil empire” was disemboweled. The former Soviet satellites were sinking into chaotic fratricide as the triumph of free-market capitalism loomed just over the horizon. But I didn’t see it that way, writing at the time that the collapse of the Soviet Union would ultimately lead to the death, not of socialism, but of capitalism. My argument was simple.

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4 November 2004
Election 2004: What happened

For four years I’ve been struggling semantically to identify the man in the White House. Since he wasn’t properly elected, I made an editorial decision not to legitimize his coup by referring to him in my columns as “president.” Admittedly, avoiding awkward sentence constructions has been a challenge. And my occasional use of parenthesis around the word “president” yielded me the title of “wingnut” from the right-wing death threat mob. But the fact is, he didn’t win the Florida vote, nor the presidency in 2000.

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26 October 2004
The Bush strategy: Rigging the 2004 vote

What does it take for a voter to support George W. Bush for president? According to polls such as one recently conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), the answer is ignorance. They exhibit a profound lack of knowledge about world events and about Bush’s political positions. A clear majority (72%) of Bush voters believe, for example, that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) immediately prior to the American invasion. A majority believes that the federal government’s own Duelfer Report, which ascertained that Iraq had no significant weapons or weapons programs, came to the opposite conclusion. Seventy-five percent incorrectly believe that Iraq provided substantial aid to al Qaeda, even though the CIA and the 9/11 Commission concluded otherwise. Fifty-five percent went stated that the 9/11 commission found such a link. Less than one third of the Bush voters understood that most of world opinion opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

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21 October 2004
From debates to disinformation

Halloween came and went early this year in the form of three presidential debates – with George W. Bush’s weird behavior proving more frightening than a cabinet of Freddy Krugers. For the first debate of the trilogy, Bush appeared confused, angry and unable to cogently respond to Kerry’s attacks, as if he just awoke from a coma and was unfamiliar with the Iraq war. At one point he admonished an invisible adversary for interrupting him, demanding that he or she “let me finish.” His light was green and no one was interrupting him, except maybe Karl Rove’s voice in his ear.

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9 October 2004
Bush vs Kerry: Round 2

It’s one of a college professor’s nastiest nightmares – your worst student goes on to become “president” of the United States. And he hasn’t changed one bit. This is the failure that George W. Bush’s former Harvard Business School professor, Yoshi Tsurumi, faces every day. Tsurumi, in a recent interview with Salon.com, says there are two types of students that you remember over the years. “One is the very excellent student, the type as a professor you feel honored to be working with – someone with strong social values, compassion and intellect – the very rare person you never forget. And then you remember students like George Bush, those who are totally the opposite.” According to Tsurumi, Bush “showed pathological lying habits and was in denial when challenged on his prejudices and biases. He would even deny saying something he just said 30 seconds ago.”

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1 October 2004
Fraud Week

It’s always been one of the unwritten diplomatic rules – foreign leaders shouldn’t meddle in American elections. Then came Iyad Allawi, the supposed “Prime Minister” of Iraq. Allawi’s recent United Nations address and public appearances in the U.S. reek of partisan Bush campaign rhetoric. Put simply, Allawi is shamelessly “on message,” repeating tired old Bush team lies about a fantasy Iraq in the midst of a glorious reconstruction. Allawi’s Iraq is a mirage nestled on the threshold of democracy, replete with ample drinking water, reliable electricity and a successful new entrepreneurial class. It’s the embodiment of “mission accomplished” -- an Iraq that exists only in the oratory of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

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18 September 2004
Why al Qaida may be unstoppable

I did the fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation studying the Rainbow Family of Living Light, an anarchist utopian cultural movement that creates spontaneous temporary cities deep within national forests in the United States and around the world. I later wrote a book about them, “People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia” (Univ. of Tennessee Press). In many ways they are the antithesis of al Qaida. The Rainbows have a stated ideology of nonviolent conflict resolution and a strong commitment to a nonhierarchical participatory democracy in the anarchist tradition. heir egalitarianism espouses gender equality and a tolerance for and celebration of all religious traditions ranging from paganism to Christianity and Buddhism. They are the opposite of al Qaida, which basks in notions of hierarchical theocracy while espousing strategies of extreme violence. From an organizational standpoint, however, al Qaida is quite similar to the nonviolent Rainbows. First of all, both are utopian movements. So were the Nazis, who murdered 12 million Jews, Romanis, gays, communists, handicapped people and so on. So were the Puritans who slaughtered their Indian neighbors. And so were Columbus’ men who effected genocide against Caribbean Tainos.

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7 September 2004
The new face of fascism at the GOP Convention

Lately, when reporting on the Bush Junta, I’ve found myself overusing a few select words such as “surreal.” Surreal, however, seems to be the best word for describing last week’s Republican Convention. Bizarre surreal theater. It was surreal to see a political convention where the party’s politics were kept from public view like soiled bed sheets.
While the Republicans adopted the most draconian reactionary political platform in modern history, they used their prime-time stage mostly to pimp the more liberal views of moderate Republicans such as Rudolf Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Michael Bloomberg – views that the party is often diametrically opposed to.

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22 July 2004
Did Iraq play America?

The long-awaited and much over-hyped congressional 9/11 report is out. “Mistakes have been made,” but true to passive voice obfuscation, nobody in particular made them. Four slices of blame go to the Clinton mob, with six slices going to the Bush junta. End of story. The report, now available in bookstores, only becomes interesting when one starts extracting its various factoids and combining these puzzle pieces with information already in the public domain. Quite interesting is Iran’s alleged role. The 9/11 Commission expresses concern that some of the Saudi hijackers responsible for the 9/11 attacks passed through Iran during the months before the hijackings. While the Commission didn’t go as far as to allege an Iranian government link to the attacks, it has certainly raised concerns about Iran. It did this while exonerating Iraq, the country we invaded, as having no connection to the hijackers or to the attacks.

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13 July 2004
Fahrenheit 9/11 sets US politics on fire

It’s been a few weeks since the debut of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and it’s ascension into the record books. As of this writing, it’s the #1 movie in the country and the highest grossing documentary in film history. In its first two days it reached a larger audience than Moore’s previous film, Bowling for Columbine, did in nine months. It garnered more viewers for its opening weekend than Return of the Jedi and it broke Rocky III’s record for the highest gross for an opening of less than a thousand theatres. It also garnered second place in the contest for the all-time record for the highest per screen audience of any major American film release. Way to go Michael Moore! Perhaps now would be a good time to utter an unspoken truth about the film: It’s a mediocre piece of work. Bowling for Columbine was a far better made and more polished film. What captivated and wooed Fahrenheit 9/11 audiences throughout the country wasn’t Moore’s cinematic artistry, but the film’s shocking content.

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6 July 2004
Will there be a presidential election?
It’s becoming perfectly clear that if all eligible voters are allowed to vote in the upcoming US presidential election, and if all of those votes are properly counted, George W. Bush’s political career will be over. Former Bush voters are popping up everywhere, proclaiming their plans to switch over and oppose the man who duped them. Old school conservatives are appalled at Bush’s neo-liberal trade policies and his assault on civil liberties and the constitution. Pious evangelicals are speaking out about all the lies, greed and mistreatment of the poor. Log Cabin Republicans, the Gay and Lesbian wing of the GOP, ain’t gonna be there doing their usual shameless Quisling routine for W like they were four years ago – not with Bush publicly opposing their rather conservative yearn for nuclear families.
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1 July 2004
Thoughts on torture and a letter from Iraq
Evidence trickling out of the Bush administration documents what US military personnel have been alleging since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke – that orders to torture came from above. What most people couldn’t imagine was just how high up the orders were coming from. Now we know. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld either condoned or outright ordered torture in American-run military prisons around the world. The difference is more or less semantic. He either thought up the torture protocol, or just thought it was a cool thing to do.
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21 June 2004
A tribute to Ronald Reagan
On the morning of Ronald Reagan’s death, I was strolling across the University of California’s Berkeley campus. I wasn’t aware that Reagan was on his deathbed, but he was on my mind none-the-less. As I passed Berkeley’s historic Sproul Plaza, I remembered hiss quote as governor during the heyday of Berkeley’s anti-Vietnam War protests when he bellowed, if it takes a “bloodbath” to pacify UC’s campuses, “let the bloodbath begin.” In the years that followed, American police officers beat and gassed protesters not only in California, but across the US, with students shot dead in Jackson, Mississippi and Kent, Ohio. Reagan, however, lived on for over three more decades.
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7 June 2004
Our nasty little racist war in Haiti
Annette Auguste was at home with her grandson when her front door exploded. The US Marines who came for her never knocked. Instead, they used explosives to blow the front door off of her home, then charging in, they killed her two dogs. They handcuffed her five-year-old grandson at gunpoint and kept him cuffed for five hours. The Marines are holding Auguste without legal authority or charges, accusing her of conspiring with “local Muslims” in a plan to attack US forces. Does this sound like another faceless Iraqi woman about to disappear into the “rape rooms” of the world’s most notorious penal system? Think again. Auguste’s murdered dogs were named Ram Ram and Party Cool. Auguste herself is a folksinger, Voudun Priestess and former Brooklyn resident. Her kinfolk in all-American neighborhoods like Flatbush and Canarsie are raising hell about the mistreatment of their aunt and mother. No, this isn’t Iraq. It’s one of the more or less invisible battlefronts in the Bush Wars.
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3 June 2004
America’s forgotten POW
The torture, rape and murder of POWs in Iraq and Afghanistan by their American captors has put America’s relationship with its war prisoners on the front pages of newspapers in virtually every country in the world. Where we were once known for our humane treatment of captives, we are now both loathed and feared. Where “enemy” soldiers once quickly surrendered to their American opponents, they now fight to the death, taking many Americans with them. The horrors of Abu Ghraib have made the world much more dangerous – for everyone.
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19 May 2004
New-look paper, same old bias
It’s no secret that when you buy a can of Coca Cola, the can costs far more than the tainted water it holds. In the same vein, footwear companies often spend more to advertise their wares than they spend to manufacture them. Today’s market is all about the triumph of hype over substance. Hence, it should surprise no one that beneath all the hype surrounding last Sunday’s debut of the new improved Buffalo News, was the same tired old Buffalo News. The much awaited multicolored polka dotted dog was finally, amid great fanfare, out of the cage. But all it did was dart to the nearest hydrant.
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11 May 2004
Strange fruit at Abu Ghraib
Suddenly, with the broadcast of images from the United States’ Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, torture is a hot topic in the US media. This is new. It wasn’t such a hot topic over the last two years as neo-conservative pundits, oblivious to the irony of their argument, filled newspaper op-ed pages with columns justifying the use of torture in the “War on Terror.” Editors gave them a free ride, treating them as if they were parties to a civil debate, and not the vile throwbacks to the dark ages that they actually are.
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6 May 2004
Under the noses of censors
In 1991 the tiny nation of East Timor was occupied by a brutal Indonesian military that had murdered one third of the Timorese population during the preceding decade and a half. And almost no one cared. East Timor had no strategic importance. And it had no valuable resources. Indonesia, on the other hand, was an important strategic ally of the United States, first during the cold war, and more recently in the so-called war on terror. Hence, successive US administrations dating back to Jimmy Carter’s days not only turned a blind eye to Indonesia’s atrocities in East Timor – they compliantly armed and trained the brutal Indonesian military as it used its US-made weapons to pillage East Timor. The American mass media also turned a blind eye toward East Timor, ultimately ignoring the Timorese carnage for two decades.
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29 April 2004
Bush in Buffalo: Lie to shining lie
I always waiver on the subject of George W. Bush’s intelligence. The ‘dumb as a doorknob’ impression always pops up when I look at the devastating results of his policies – with the most recent blunders being endless war and a tanked economy. But then there’s the question, maybe, just maybe, these are his goals. Endless war means an endless war presidency with a perpetual star-spangled backdrop to divert attention away from a draconian domestic agenda. Economic collapse means belt tightening, as in eliminating all the programs the radical wing of the Republican party has been jonesing to do away with since the Reagan days. George Bush’s visit to Buffalo last week gave me the opportunity to witness up-close a skilled communicator playing a hand-picked audience like a piano.
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15 April 2004
US ignites hellfire in Iraq
For those of us who follow world and national news, last week was torturous. It began with the weekend release of an expose, written by Democracy Now co-host Juan Gonzales and showcased on the front pages of the New York Daily News for two days. For that piece, Gonzales arranged for private laboratories to test the urine from members of a reserve unit returning from Iraq. The unit consisted of New York City police officers, firefighters and prison guards. The results showed that New York’s local heroes were poisoned with still radioactive Depleted Uranium.
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9 April 2004
Watch Venezuela
Two years ago this week the Venezuelan army removed that nation’s elected president, Hugo Chavez, in a violent coup resulting in about 100 deaths. The new dictator installed by the military, Pedro Carmona, immediately nullified Venezuela’s constitution and dissolved its Supreme Court and elected National Assembly. Although the popular Chavez was initially elected by more than 80% of Venezuela’s voters, Bush administration officials shed no tears over the apparent collapse of that nation’s democracy. To the contrary, Bush’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs, Otto Reich, summoned ambassadors from Caribbean and Latin American nations and told them that the US would be supporting Venezuela’s new “government.”
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2 April 2004
Scandal fatigue and the new American coup
If the Bush administration and their backers around the country have proven themselves adept at anything, it’s their proclivity for creating outrageous scandals. Initially, this band of shameless clowns seemed to be making journalism quite easy, providing a steady stream of moral and ethical transgressions to report on – so much so that there’ve been ample scoops to go around, which each of us in the alternative press focusing on a different Republican outrage each week. The problem is that it’s now three years later, and the stories keep coming faster and faster, leaving us little time to give them the coverage that they each deserve, while keeping us from covering our old beats, whatever they were.
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25 March 2004
Iraq: one year later
It’s been a year since the Bush administration defied international law and public opinion and launched its invasion of Iraq. Since then, more than 10,000 Iraqis have died along with almost 600 American military personnel, 60 British troops and over 40 other coalition fighters. Approximately 10,000 American troops have also been injured along with countless Iraqis. .
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18 March 2004
Standing up for Martha
Fasten your seatbelts. This cynical anti-consumerist columnist is about to defend the queen of K-Mart, that prissy woman-turned-brand, Martha Stewart. But bear with me. This isn’t an errant detour into an abyss of triviality. And no, I’m not going to follow this up with a piece on Janet Jackson’s breast or Britney Spears’ short-lived marriage. The crucifixion of Western New York’s least favorite daughter embodies what’s wrong with American politics.
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11 March 2004
Bush strikes out in Haiti
The Boston Globe article begins like this: “Thousands of Demonstrators chanting anti-American slogans encircled the US Marine-occupied National Palace here yesterday.” Reuters news service cites protestors exclaiming, “We’re going to burn down the palace with the Americans inside. We have weapons and we are ready to fight.” Knight Ridder news service reports that 5,000 protestors marched on the national palace “shouting anti-Bush slogans” and protesting the US occupation of their country. Does this sound like just another day in Iraq? Or maybe perhaps it’s Afghanistan, except for the fact that they really don’t have anything that can realistically pass for a national palace. If you guessed either Iraq or Afghanistan, you’re wrong.
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4 March 2004
Terrorist teachers, a Nazi dad and Haiti
The concept of terrorism is firmly planted in American culture as the end-all of national scourges. If the Bush administration has its way, just the accusation of being a terrorist is severe enough to disappear someone into the tar pit of indefinite detention without trial or legal representation – possibly at an offshore gulag out of reach of the American legal system. Giving money to a terrorist organization, innocent as your contribution may be, is enough to get all of your assets seized, instantly pauperizing you with the ultimate fine – also without the benefit of a trial. “Terrorism” and “terrorist,” in this context, constitute some pretty heavy words.
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24 Febuary 2004
Schwarzenegger’s first blood
In what is fast becoming one of the most unsavory aspects of American culture, elected leaders today have a need to order the spilling of blood, thus exercising a sort of remote control machismo. For George Bush Senior, it was the Iraq War that helped him shed what the media dubbed, his “wimp factor.” Conservative UN estimates claim that war and the ensuing sanctions cost at least a half million lives. Bush’s life, and the lives of those close to him, however, were never on the line. But to read the press reports, it was high noon at the OK Corral. Bush Senior, having celebrated the first major bloodletting of his presidency, was now a man.”
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18 Febuary 2004
Would you buy sneakers from an anti-Semite?
I’ve subscribed to Adbusters Magazine since its advent in 1989, back when it was on the cutting edge of culture jamming. When the March/April 2004 issue showed up in my mail, with a full page back cover ad for “the unswoosher” sneaker, I knew that the magazine’s culture jamming days were over. Adbusters is now firmly planted in the land of marketing, contracting out to overseas companies to manufacture sneakers branded with Adbusters’ “hip” new anti-brand, the Black Spot. Their new “Chukie T” style canvas , which will debut in a few weeks for around $40 a pair, are designed, they say, “for only one thing: Kicking Phil’s Ass.”
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12 Febuary 2004
Of course Bush knew - and other election tale
The White House’s Weapons of Mass Destruction story has been perpetually in flux, changing monthly as American service personnel and Iraqi civilians continue to die in yet another useless war. The latest spin has a well-intentioned Bush as the victim of bad intelligence data. The story goes like this: Bush didn’t intentionally mislead the American people into war – he truly believed there actually was evidence that Iraq was an immediate threat to the US and that they had weapons of mass destruction which they were preparing to use. This scenario has Bush’s act of leading the nation into war, the most serious and consequential action a president can undertake, as based on erroneous information. Yes, this admission doesn’t bode well for Bush, but it’s still a far sight better than admitting he deliberately lied to the world in order to start a war.
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5 Febuary 2004
The 10 worst corporations of 2003
Given recent history, it’s quite difficult to compile a “ten worst” list of corporations. In the eyes of many Americans, the word “corporation” itself has become synonymous with crime. In this age of unbridled greed, the notion of corporations conjures images of illegal dumping of toxic wastes, insider trading deals and deceptive accounting scams. We think of corporations as knowingly selling tainted products. We picture them using their financial clout to usurp democratic governance and force anti-environment anti-worker policies on the American public. And we picture them growing fat off of military contracts while stashing their booty in offshore tax havens while their cronies in Washington send American service personnel off to their deaths.
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28 January 2004
Funky Dean dives as white people vote
120,000 Midwesterners from the second whitest state in the union caucused two weeks ago, and if we’re to believe the media spin, the earth has trembled. When the dust finally settled – and there’s a lot of dust in Iowa – former Democratic frontrunner, Howard Dean was reduced to a mumbling fool, with Johns Kerry and Edward rising to take his place. Dick Gephardt, who finished a distant fourth, dropped out of the race. Iowa has spoken.
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21 January 2004
Bush celebrates MLK's birthday with a trip to Mars
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 at age 39. The American media, however, seems to have executed a post-mortem King assassination of their own, silencing the reverend sometime around 1965. It’s this earlier King – the one fighting the simple basic struggle against segregation, who we celebrate every year on Martin Luther King Day. For most children educated in America, King fought to desegregate lunch counters and buses – then he was killed.
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7 January 2004
The jolly side of disaster
During the waning hours of 2003, our local National Public Radio stations brought us a host of business and investment programs, all gleefully celebrating our brave new economy. The jobless recovery was moving along at a good clip with the stock market pulling itself out of a seemingly bottomless quagmire. It was a long dry spell but investors were once again in the money – and just in time for Christmas hoarding.
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Click here to read Michael I. Niman's Getting A Grip columns for 2005

Click here to read Michael I. Niman's Getting A Grip columns for 2003

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