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Getting A Grip

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.”

Click here to read Michael Niman's GETTING A GRIP columns for 2005

Click here to read Michael Niman's GETTING A GRIP columns for 2004

Click here to read Michael Niman's GETTING A GRIP columns for 2003

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20. September 15, 2006
Recipe for a nuclear winter

Picture seven terrorists with seven nuclear bombs in seven American cities. That’s the buzz floating around right wing talk radio. And unless we acquiesce to an end of our civil liberties, the story goes, America as we’ve always known it will cease to exist.

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19. September 15, 2006
Disney and the path to relection

In what appears to be the end times for the Bush junta, nothing is sacred as Team Bush rallies all of its resources for a full court press to maintain control of Congress during the upcoming mid-term elections. Predictably, and right on schedule, the all 9/11 all the time presidency is shamelessly playing the only card it ever had in its deck.

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18. September 8, 2006
America's summer of hate

This essay is the cover story for Issue 7 of the ColdType Reader.

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17. August 27, 2006
Will our Indian wars never end?

Racism is not cut and dry. It’s not as if only those who don hoods and burn crosses or raise Nazi salutes are racists. “Enlightened” or “modern” racism is much more complicated. Today’s typical racist rhetorically abhors racism. And they usually believe themselves to be anti-racist because of this. Racism, in today’s American society, is, quite frankly, out of vogue. Modern racism divides oppressed peoples into “good ones” and “bad ones.”

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16. August 13, 2006

Middle Eastern oil is generally a thin, easy-to-pump liquid. Hence, for generations, when oil was selling for less than bottled water, oil companies turned to producers like Saudi Arabia for their oil. The Saudis took the billions we gave them and pumped the money back into the US economy, basically buying up the country. Today they own an estimated seven percent of the entire US economy. It’s like having your crack dealer or your favorite tobacco company buy the house you mortgaged to feed your addiction. After years of fueling our economy on cheap Saudi oil, the House of Saud now owns a pivotal chunk of our country.

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15. June 29, 2006
Not quite jihad

I just finished reading reports of Israeli tanks massing on the Gaza border in preparation for a possible assault on Gaza in retaliation for a Hamas attack on a military base on the Israeli side of the border. Tank battalions rolling over an international border, guns blazing – that’s an image of a ground war, even if no one shoots back. Likewise, Rommel’s forces thundering across North Africa in World War II, Americans slaughtering each other at Gettysburg during the Civil War, the British burning Buffalo in 1812, Hitler’s forces overrunning Poland in 1939, Roman chariots tearing across Europe – these are ground wars.

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14. June 22, 2006
Outlawing the wind

There is a plus side to soaring energy costs – a sort of silver lining to an otherwise bad news year. The Earth Policy Institute reports that wind-generated electricity in many US markets is now cheaper than natural gas generated electricity. If one of the objectives of the Iraq War was, as BBC investigative journalist Greg Palast argues, to disrupt the flow of oil – he calls it “blood for no oil” – and drive up both energy prices and energy industry profits, then this sudden market embrace of alternative energy threatens to derail that evil plan.

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13. June 8, 2006
An inconvenient movie: Al Gore revisited

An Inconvenient Truth, the new Global Warming documentary starring Al Gore, promises to be more than a simple film – like it or not this debut of a retooled Al Gore seems destined to be one of those cultural moments – like the introduction of tailfins or Italian names for coffee. The online reviews started to amass before the film ever opened, and I suspect, before any of the supposed reviews ever laid eyes on it. Predictably, it usually earned either all or none of the available stars, with reviews essentially echoing the current “debate” on global warming.

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12. June 1, 2006
Faking the alternative

The 1989 Hollywood release, When Harry Met Sally, would never have been more than a blip on the cultural landscape apart from Meg Ryan’s now famous scene where she audibly faked an orgasm in a crowded restaurant. It went down like this: Ryan tells her would-be Casanova, Billy Crystal, that women fake orgasm all the time. Crystal counters that no woman ever faked an orgasm with him – he’d have known. Ryan then, right there at their restaurant table, began to squeal in ecstasy, “Oh yes, yessss, yessssss.” The rest is pop-culture history. Poor movie. Convincing faked orgasm. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

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11. May 25, 2006
Jailing the messenger

Americans experiencing the reign of George W. Bush are operating on outrage overload. Nothing, it seems, will shock us anymore. No story is too absurd or too outrageous to believe as we sit as spectators witnessing our own demise.

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10. May 18, 2006
The Manchurian Presidency: Part Two

Twenty-seven years ago, President Jimmy Carter gave his most famous address, since dubbed the “Malaise Speech.” Rather than take a Republican “vote for me and you can eat all the ice cream you want, never get fat and drive your SUVs forever” approach to government, Carter warned the nation that our addiction to Mideast oil was killing us, and that we had to address it immediately.

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09. May 11, 2006
The real reason for our oil war

Hyperinflation is a nasty thing. I was in Nicaragua in the 1980s when that country experienced an inflation rate of 14,000 percent. Prices would regularly triple overnight, wiping out a family’s savings within a week. A trip to a grocery store would involve hauling a shopping bag of currency – money that the government printed on a daily basis, often adding new zeros every week. Coins disappeared, since, with one U.S. penny buying, in theory, a wheelbarrow full of Nicaraguan nickels, scrappers quickly melted down the nation’s change. Lower denomination notes would end up in piles next to toilets, since they cost less then a sheet of bathroom tissue.

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08. May 4, 2006
The Manchurian President

What if if we had a real bona fide chimpanzee for a president? You know, a little hairy ape like the ones in the zoo. Would he or she do a better job than George W. Bush? Sure, the chimp would soil the Oval Office. We all know the primate house isn’t a pretty place. But would the chimp have been smart enough to find and soil the US Constitution? Would the chimp have surrounded itself with larger, aggressive primates such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld?

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07. April 6, 2006
Democracy's northward march

If you relied on the US media for your worldview, you probably grew up equating Latin America with dictatorship and chronic political instability. Terms like “banana republic” worked their way into our language, giving mainstream respectability to ignorance and xenophobia. According to our government and media, “those people” couldn’t govern themselves – hence periodic US invasions were sold to us as nothing less than altruism.

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06. March 16, 2006
Chuck E. Cheese: On the front line in Iraq

Last week I wrote about the “intellectual lynching of Jay Bennish.” Bennish is the Colorado high school teacher who dared teach geopolitics in a geopolitics class, bringing his students up to date on some of the unseemly aspects of U.S. propaganda, history and foreign policy. Though there seem to have been no factual transgressions in Bennish’s lesson, he was vilified across the corporate media landscape by an army of bimbo news anchors and angry white radio guys. The message was clear: We shouldn’t teach children about Iraq by bringing facts into a high school classroom. How then should we teach children about the world around them?

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05. March 9, 2006
Keeping kids stupid: An intellectual lynching

One of the biggest problems confronting higher education is the fact that most students entering colleges and universities lack basic social science skills and knowledge. In a recent survey of college students in Buffalo, for example, almost half did not know who George Pataki is. Eighty percent had no idea, correct or incorrect, as to what communism is. Nearly the same number couldn’t define capitalism. For whatever reason, social science education in America has collapsed at the high school level. For a democracy that relies on an informed electorate, such ignorance is toxic.

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04. March 2, 2006
The fashion police

It all started just before Christmas when an armed police officer barred my spouse, a 40-year-old sociology professor, from leaving the Regal Elmwood Theater. If she wanted to continue walking the 10 yards to the exit door, the officer informed her, she would have to pull down her hood until she was outside. Or she could be arrested. Of course the pulling down the hood part goes against everything our mothers taught us about winter attire – that we put on our mittens and hoods before we go out into the cold. But the man giving the order had a gun and represented the power of the state.

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03. February 16, 2006
Electoral mischief and the bewildered herd

Six months after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, affected areas are still lying in ruins with no relief in sight. New Orleans’ evacuees have become a permanent diaspora, many with no means to return and no homes or even neighborhoods to return to. FEMA, citing budgetary constraints, is cutting off emergency housing allowances, forcing evacuees onto the street.

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02. February 8, 2006
Parboiled people

We're living in a lawless nation. So I guess I shouldn’t be shocked every time I return from a trip and catch up on the news to see how much further the ruling junta and its international posse have sunk into the depths of moral depravity. This time around the shocker was a revelation that the Bush-connected dictator in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, with the seeming acquiescence of the C.I.A., had taken to ordering his political prisoners boiled to death.

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01. January 5, 2006
Why Tookie had to die

Stanley Tookie Williams was the convicted murderer and founder of the notorious Crips street gang. During his 26 years in prison, he transformed himself into a five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, a prolific author of children’s books, and an anti-gang-violence activist. The State of California executed him last week for a series of homicides he was convicted of committing in 1979. In signing off on the killing of Williams, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger violently silenced one of the world’s most outspoken supporters of nonviolence – all in the name of combating violence.

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