Getting A Grip
By Michael I. Niman

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

ABOUT THE COLUMNS – These columns will be posted each week as 2-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 - 22 December 2003
Saddam Saddam
For a second there, it looked like there’d be no Christmas this year, as televisions across the world broadcast images of US forces picking lice from a disheveled Santa’s hair. It soon became apparent, however, that this was not your run-of-the-mill derelict Santa, shanghaied from his mission to the mall. No, not this guy. He looked more like a Satanic Santa morphing into a crazed Karl Marx right before our eyes. This wasn’t jolly ‘ol Saint Nick. This was “the evil one,” or more specifically, I think, “the other evil one.” I lose track sometimes. But hell, Michael Jackson move over – our holiday news hole has been filled. Saddam finally was down for the count – just in time for Christmas. I feel safe. Or is that fail safe?
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NEW - 14 December 2003
The Buffalo Six and Rambo III
The highly choreographed Friday the 13th (9/13/02) bust of Buffalo’s supposed terrorist cell has finally culminated with a similarly choreographed string of sentencing hearings – and New York State’s most notorious citizens are all off to the slammer. Though identified in the national media, and later in George W. Bush’s now infamous 2003 State of the Union speech, as a “terrorist cell,” the Justice Department only charged the men with an ambiguous provision of the 1996 anti-terrorism law, “providing material support or resources to designated terrorist organizations.”
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8 December 2003
e-Washing history, one archive at a time
Imagine a world where nothing you ever said was ever really said – where you could go back in time and unsay anything stupid, offensive or just plain untrue. Imagine a world where you would never in the future have to bear responsibility for anything you say or do today. This is the world that George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld are trying to create for themselves.
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27 October 2003
The Brave New World of voting
Back in August I wrote about America’s ongoing “soft coup” – arguing that military and intelligence community brass were turning against the Bush posse en masse. My theory was based on the fact that the strongest exposes written about the Bush administration last summer all cited former military and CIA officials as their primary sources. This trend has continued unabated, with current officials in Langley and the Pentagon joining their retired comrades on the Bush-bashing bandwagon. New stories come out daily about hawks and spooks defecting to the tofu brigade and telling all about how the Bush team misled the American people and plunged the nation into a needless war. And the formerly compliant media has deviated from the Bush administration script, bringing the military’s anti-Bush message right into America’s TV viewing pens.
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10 October 2003
California Dreamin’ on the Eve of Termination
It became painfully clear to me, as I roamed around the San Francisco Bay area on the eve of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ascension to the governor’s mansion, that the promise of California – the dream of a new sun-bathed life in ecotopia that lured generations to this Pacific Mecca – is dead. Utopia’s gone awry with today’s Golden State having succumbed to social Darwinism. California now brazenly sports obscene extremes of wealth and poverty.
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2 September 2003
John Ashcroft: Dangerous dinosaur
The government that seized power in a contested election, crashed our economy, de-funded our schools and hospitals, gutted our environmental regulations, sent our soldiers off to kill and die in a quagmire of a war, and looted the federal treasury with a series of no-bid military contracts to friends and tax cuts for the rich, now wants to finish off their assault on the cornerstone of American society – our civil liberties. But they’re acknowledging it’s a hard sell.
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28 August 2003
The new American coup
Suddenly hard core militarists are joining forces with moderate Democrats and anti-war activists to attack the Bush administration’s foreign policy and their use of American troops. And it’s these new voices that are supplying the hard evidence exposing how George W. Bush lied to the Congress and the American people in order to garner support for his invasion of Iraq.
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22 August 2003
Why the lights went out
Everything is political. If most of Ontario and the Northeastern US suddenly goes dark, given the technological prowess of the two nations involved, we need to look beyond rumors of lightning and examine the social systems that are charged with maintaining the power grid. The blame game is silly. It doesn’t matter if the blackout began with a lightning strike in Niagara Falls (a quickly debunked rumor given the region’s clear weather) or with the blaster computer worm debilitating an alarm system at an Ohio power plant. A power plant can drop into the sea.
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15 August 2003
Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia
Even America’s hardened warmongers are beginning to admit that we’ve got a nimrod in the White House who doesn’t understand the first thing about war. He can start them, creating death and chaos, but that’s about as far as he’s gotten. What he hasn’t learned is that there’s more to ending a war than simply making a unilateral declaration that it’s over.
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31 July 2003
Poison and profit in Gulf War II
The Bush presidency has certainly created some strange bedfellows. Take the peace movement – American peaceniks today are just as likely to gather and listen to right wing warriors as they are to swoon before the call of hairy pacifists. I remember seeing former US Marine Intelligence Officer and UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter speak last fall at a Syracuse University event promoted by various Central New York peace groups. Speaking to a crowd that included a nationally known draft resister and a host of other activists, Ritter described himself as a Republican who voted for George W. Bush for president. “I’m a warrior,” he went on to tell the crowd, explaining how he was willing to lay down his life in battle for his country.
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22 July 2003
The uncooling of Corporate America
I missed the fourth of July this year. I don’t mean to say that I missed the fireworks. Or that I missed a cacophony of baton twirlers and an American Legion band. I didn’t miss an event or a celebration. I missed the day itself.
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29 May 2003
Kodak’s toxic moments
Maureen Reynolds, a former neighbor of Eastman Kodak’s sprawling Kodak Park facility in Rochester, New York, suffers from more than her share of Kodak moments – believing that Kodak poisoned her and her neighbors. She wasn’t suspicious when her three-year-old son developed asthma. Rushing him to the hospital for adrenaline shots was traumatic, but these things happen. She also wasn’t suspicious about the thin layer of ash on her car’s windshield. She even noticed ash sometimes on her young son’s glasses. Cities have dirty air, however, and a little ash isn’t uncommon.
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20 May2003
9/11: Ask no questions, you’ll get no lies
In 1996 Bill Clinton had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. On September 11th, 2001, terrorists hijacked four jetliners and used them to attack the Pentagon and destroy the World Trade Center.
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13 May2003
How low can corporate media sink?
I tuned into National Public Radio while showering this morning. The shower is pretty much the only place left where I can stand listening to NPR – with the cool water calming me down as NPR’s “newscasters” and pundits boil my blood with their half truths, shallow analysis and investor-friendly, rest-of-the-world-be-damned attitudes.
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01 May2003
The Bush family and Fundamentalist Islam
What do you call a crowd of more than a million Shiite fundamentalists chanting anti-American slogans in Iraq? Here’s where the spin reaches its pinnacle of twisted creativity. National Public Radio refers to this event as “Iraqis celebrating their newfound freedoms.” And this in fact is an accurate description – but it’s hardly the celebration of “liberation” the Bush administration and their cronies in the media would like us to believe it is. True liberation, you see, is normally followed by some sort of “thank you.” This is more of a fuck you – now leave!
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22 April 2003
While we were distracted
The Bush team has been at least as busy on the domestic front as they’ve been in Iraq, but the horrors of a bunch of frat boys threatening to hijack the US military on a joyride across the Middle East has been rather distracting – and rightfully so. It has also all but monopolized the domestic press corps in a way that is usually reserved for a presidential blowjob or a celebrity murder trial has.
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14 April 2003
Toppling reality – image warfare in Iraq
The American media is awash in images of cheering Iraqis welcoming their American “liberators.” Our visual lexicon will forever contain toppling Saddam statues along with images of a falling Berlin wall, crumbling Twin Towers, Iwo Jima flag raising and a naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack.
Network anchors are obsessively telling us we’re witnessing history. And we are. It’s just not the history they’re telling us we’re watching. What we are seeing is the ultimate triumph of the image – with the pivotal battles of war playing out in the theater of informatics. Welcome to the post-modern media war.

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8 April 2003
Please tell me again – what is this war about?
If we’re to believe the official rhetoric formally put forth by George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and all, the US is now mired down in a bloody invasion of Iraq because that country has weapons of mass destruction – and because we have the right to take them away. Forget about the fact that there was no indication of Iraq posing a threat to the United States. And forget about the fact that such an invasion violates international law. And that such a “preemptive strike” threatens to destabilize the entire world, with the race now on in places like Korea to preempt preemptive strikes. Forget reality and forget common sense.
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1 April 2003
Spinning the war – lessons in propaganda
Have you noticed that the recent pro-war demonstrations seem to have a cookie-cutter feel to them? The same plastic signs with the same slogans. The same droning “Ooo Esss Ay” chants repeated ad nausea to the same frat boy tune of “drink, drink, drink.” During the last month these loud little gatherings have been popping up around the country like zits on a boy scout. Their eerie similarity, however, is not by chance. According to The New York Times, most of these outbursts of bloodlust have been organized nationally by the same group – not a political organization per se, but the nation’s largest owner of radio stations – Clear Channel Communications Corporation.
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27 MARCH 2003
Unembed your mind
It’s not a good day when I feel compelled to start my article by quoting Adolf Hitler’s deputy – but it’s imperative at times like this not to let the lessons of history escape us. And there are many, as history is littered with the fetid carcasses of failed empires and the demented dreams that fueled them. One thing, however, is certain: if history has taught us anything, it tells us that any society that seeks to build a global empire is doomed to painful obscurity.
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20 MARCH 2003
Spinning a war and an editor’s myth
Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan is at
it again – with another shameless round of self-adoration and praise for her paper. Columns in the mainstream press, such as her Sunday, March 9th piece, entitled, “A healthy debate, and solid information, as war comes ever closer,” are usually designed to directly counter some unspoken truth or reality. In this case, the reality that it attacks head-on is that this has been a bad month for The News, which has been censured for its professional transgressions in two national publications.

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13 MARCH 2003
Creepy “FReepers" target anti-war activists
The Cayuga Coalition for Peace meeting had just got under way at an Auburn, New York church earlier this month when a tall, stocky, dour, middle-aged man quietly entered the building. Refusing to join the meeting at a large table in the center of the room, he instead settled into a chair off to the side, took out a pad, and began scribbling notes. Coalition members would later learn he was labeling them as “commy#1”, “commy#2” and so on, recording everything they said and did. They found his notes on the web.
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6 MARCH 2003
The duct tape magnate and other stories
Wouldn’t you know it? There’s a duct tape magnate. His name is Jack Kahl. He lives in Avon, Ohio, and his company produces 46% of all the duct tape consumed in the United States. Which means they produce, more or less, 46% of all that extra duct tape stressed-out Americans dutifully bought last month after Bush Administration Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge told us to.
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27 FEBRUARY 2003
Democracy and the criminalizing of dissent
Last week, when I put together my story on the emergence of an unprecedented global peace movement, I knew there was a dark counterpart to that hopeful story, festering just below the surface. That’s the embarrassing story of how the U.S. stood out with just one other nation, Tunisia, in violently suppressing peaceful anti-war demonstrations.
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20 FEBRUARY 2003
Code Orange for Bush and Blair
Make no mistake about it – history books will cite February 15th, 2003 as a milestone in the global struggle for justice and democracy. The simultaneous coming together of eight to eleven and a half million anti-war protesters in 660 communities spanning every continent (including Antarctica) is historically unprecedented. It marks a powerful opening salvo for a new globally interconnected political reality – one for whom international borders are little more than old world geographic demarcations.
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12 FEBRUARY 2003
Powell, plagiarism, taxes and war
The media spin after Colin Powell’s UN speech was about as dynamic as a Fox News debate. Cheerleading talking heads immediately took to the airwaves to discern whether or not Powell succeeded in building a consensus for war. Did he pull it off? Will those arrogant pompous self-righteous French – up to their asses in their own war TO secure the world’s chocolate supply in the Ivory Coast – support the pillage in Iraq? What about the Germans?
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06 FEBRUARY 2003
Baghdad on the Hudson – let the blitzkreig begin
With a U.S. invasion of Iraq growing more probable by the day, many people are starting to visualize the unimaginable – the most sophisticated killing machine that history has ever known unleashed upon a crowded urban area.
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16 JANUARY 2003
Why we won’t go to war with North Korea
A lot of attention is being paid lately to America’s impending war with Iraq. Other writers refer to it as “Bush’s War,” since the whole fracas is basically a hillbilly family feud, with George W. whining on about how Saddam tried to kill his pappy. But while it’s the Bush family’s feud, it’s not their war. They aren’t going to fight it. Their kin aren’t going to die in it. They don’t fight wars. They order other people to fight and die. This means the children of the poor, for whom military service was the only option for education or employment.
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09 JANUARY 2003
What Bush would rather you didn’t know
When Iraq presented its weapons declaration to the United Nations last month, the Bush administration immediately attacked the report as being incomplete, hinting that producing a partial report might be a justification to unleash upon that nation the most lethal killing machine history has known.
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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.”

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