Friday, January 28, 2005

Driving Down a Wrong-Way Street

We know how Mark Hyman feels about undocumented immigrants who come to the United States to make new lives, find new jobs, and provide better futures for their children: he calls them terrorists and "riff-raff."

In his latest commentary, Hyman again focuses on the issue of undocumented immigrants, this time asserting that we need to keep them from getting their hands on driver’s licenses, lest they do something “dangerous.”

But Hyman and those who agree with him labor under a misunderstanding; laws that prohibit undocumented immigrants from getting driver’s licenses do a great deal of damage and do nothing constructive in addressing the issue of immigration.

First, no one seriously believes that prohibiting undocumented immigrants from getting a driver’s license will stop even one person from making the decision to cross the border. These are people who willingly risk their lives to come to the United States. Attempting to stem the tide by refusing them a particular official document won’t work.

Given that undocumented immigrants are arriving here anyway, it’s to the benefit of everyone to make the best of the situation. Issuing driver’s licenses means that there will be an official government record of these individuals, they will be able to have car insurance, they will be able to take on a wider variety of jobs, and the already overworked folks at the DMV won’t be forced into becoming part-time immigration officials. Unless you want to stand in longer lines than you already do when waiting to renew your license, don’t make their job any more complex than it already is.

Undocumented immigrants who aren’t allowed driver’s licenses will be more likely to cost the rest of us more money in insurance premiums and to be involved in hit and run accidents.

Moreover, despite the attempt to manufacture an image of the average undocumented immigrant as a drain on our economy (or, even worse, as a threat to our national security), statistics show that such immigrants contribute far more money to the economy than they take. Much of California’s economy, for example, would come to an abrupt halt if all undocumented immigrants suddenly vanished. For better or worse, undocumented immigrants are a godsend for business owners in that they offer cheap and plentiful labor, willingly toiling away at jobs few Americans would take on.

Add to this the questionable legality of denying licenses to undocumented immigrants, and you have a proposal that is as unworkable as it is counterproductive, and one that will create undesirable effects that proponents seem unable to fathom.

The bottom line is that whether you believe undocumented immigration is the single biggest threat to our national wellbeing, an utter non-issue, or anywhere in between, there is no reason to believe refusing immigrants driver’s licenses will do anything to help the situation, and a great deal of evidence that it will make life harder for not only the immigrants themselves, but for the rest of us who profit, directly or indirectly, from their labor.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Hyman and the Glass House

In his latest commentary, Mark Hyman falsely suggests that the story of George W. Bush’s shirking of his National Guard duties has been “discredited” by conflating the issue of journalistic practices at CBS with the much larger story about the president’s past.

Taking USA Today to task for chiding CBS for the ”60 Minutes” episode but not acknowledging its own reporting of the Bush/Guard story, Hyman implies that the charges against Bush were based only on the sources used in the now infamous “60 Minutes” piece. Certainly, the folks at “60 Minutes” didn’t thoroughly review their sources, and whether or not the documents in question were real or the information in them valid, the public needs journalists to thoroughly investigate sources they use.

Having said that, let’s keep in mind that the White House itself saw the CBS memos and did not challenge their veracity. Moreover, there are
plenty of sources that confirm what the CBS memos allege: Bush didn’t fulfill his commitments to the Guard, yet received an honorable discharge. U.S News and World Report and the Boston Globe both did independent investigations that show Bush reneged on his commitments. And despite the promise of a significant cash payout to any member of Bush’s National Guard unit in Alabama who can verify that he actually showed up for duty, not a single piece of evidence has emerged that proves Bush served there.

And its more than a little ridiculous for anyone at Sinclair to pontificate on the sin of not vetting sources. After all, Sinclair Broadcasting planned to air a propaganda piece called “Stolen Honor” that was filled with unsubstantiated and demonstrably false allegations against John Kerry. When met with resistance, Sinclair backpedaled and aired a slightly watered down version of the hit piece which was still
riddled with inaccuracies.

As long as we’re addressing the issue of unsubstantiated claims, let us not forget the ongoing story based on false information: the war in Iraq. As important as it is for journalists to be sure about sources before going to press, it’s infinitely more important for the government to be sure about the necessity to go to war before sending young Americans to fight and die halfway around the world. Oddly enough, though, we haven’t heard Hyman say a single word to condemn the use of suspect sources and sketchy intelligence that has led to the deaths of more than a thousand Americans and untold numbers of Iraqi civilians, with no end in sight.

Why do you suppose that is?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Too Little, Too Late

On many occasions, we’ve noted that Mark Hyman refuses to utter the name “Sinclair Broadcasting” during his commentaries or acknowledge that he’s a corporate vice president of Sinclair. This lack of disclosure goes hand in hand with Sinclair’s larger modus operandi: creating faux “local” news that its viewers assume originates from their community, but in fact is prefabricated in Sinclair’s Baltimore studios.

his latest commentary, Hyman goes through the motions of coming clean, but ends up being as disingenuous as always.

Hyman acknowledges that disgraced political commentator/Bush administration shill Armstrong Williams did wrong by accepting huge sums of money to promote Bush education policy. He even admits Sinclair Broadcasting’s own ties to Williams. Sort of.

Still unwilling to say “Sinclair” on air, Hyman says that Williams has appeared “on this station a few times.” Two falsehoods here: first, Williams appeared on many, but not all Sinclair stations. A number of stations that air “The Point” don’t air Williams’s show. More importantly, the stations on which he has appeared haven’t shown him “a few times.” His show has been a regular feature. Moreover, Hyman says nothing about whether Sinclair (or “this station”) will stop carrying Williams’s show.

Hyman then pulls out one of his favorite rhetorical tools, the invalid moral equivalency. Hyman breezily suggests that the Williams fiasco parallels the fact that a couple of prominent bloggers were paid by the Howard Dean campaign. This has become
a talking point for right wing voices such as Bob Novak and the Wall Street Journal. The problem is that the situations aren’t anything close to equivalent, as this article from the Columbia Journalism School's website explains. The bloggers disclosed their ties; Williams didn’t. Even more importantly, Hyman doesn’t mention the much larger issue: who paid Williams vs. who paid the bloggers. The Bush administration broke federal regulations by participating in propaganda. By suggesting the issue is simply a matter of Williams’s wrongdoing, Hyman attempts to protect the Bush administration (whose hands are much dirtier in this matter than are Williams’s) from criticism.

But then things take a turn from the simply misleading to the thoroughly bizarre. Hyman says that it’s important to reveal corporate ties, and that, “On several occasions The Point has disclosed ties its parent company has had to topics discussed on this program even though this represents my personal opinion.”

No, The Point hasn’t. Even in the context of talking about the importance of disclosure, Hyman can’t bring himself to say “Sinclair Broadcasting.” He never has. You may remember the incredible rhetorical contortions Hyman had to go through during the “Stolen Honor” debacle in an attempt to defend Sinclair without actually mentioning it by name.

Then, Hyman completely goes off the tracks. In an apparent attempt at humor, Hyman says, “Now I must disclose my ties to this issue,” accompanied by an edit of Hyman wearing a different jacket and tie (“ties” . . . get it? Hilarious). This is followed by a sentence fragment that goes nowhere: “I must disclose that the parent company of The Point.”

This is the text that appears on the transcript of The Point. We thought it was a typo, so we checked the streaming video from Newscentral. There it was again—a sentence that goes nowhere.

We’re not quite sure what’s going on here. It’s as if Hyman actually has some sort of speech impediment that prevents him from articulating the name “Sinclair.”

This tells you all you need to know about Mark Hyman’s willingness to employ deception, double standards, and hypocrisy to make his point. Even when he takes others to task for not being open about ties that affect their public statements and claiming innocence for himself, Hyman won’t tell his audience who he is or for whom he works.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"Flat Tax" = Work Tax

Here’s an idea: we can eliminate bank robbery from society if we just require banks to hand money to anyone who asks for it.

Ridiculous, right? Yes, but no more so than the idea that we can elminate tax dodging by creating a work tax (also known as a “flat tax”). It’s a solution that doesn’t solve the problem; it simply labels the problem a “solution” and declares victory.

Mark Hyman, usually one to trumpet the wonders of the American economy (and everything else) as superior to anything across the Atlantic, has
suddenly found something he likes about the former communist countries of eastern Europe: the so called “flat tax.” If these fledgling democracies are doing it, shouldn’t we?

No, we shouldn’t. A work tax sounds good when it’s labeled “flat,” but it’s a regressive tax that benefits only the wealthiest people who make money by investing rather than actually working. It’s no wonder that the best known advocate of the work tax in America is Steve Forbes, one of the richest men in the nation. The amount of tax Forbes would pay under his own proposed work tax? Nothing.

Think of it this way: who can better afford giving up 20% of their income, someone who makes $25,000 a year or someone making $200,000?
The same tax rate takes a bigger effective bite out of those making less.

We’ve pointed out in this forum before that progressive taxation, in which those who benefit the most from living in a free society contribute more to its upkeep, is as old as democracy itself. Hyman picks some special cases of countries who have enacted the work tax without noting how different they are from the U.S. Most of the countries he cites have universal health care coverage and a host of other government-provided safety nets. We don’t. Also, these small countries benefit from their membership in the larger EU community of nations to help prop up their economies as they grow. The U.S. has no such fiscal crutch. On a more common sense level, where you want to live: the U.S. or Estonia? One might want to look at the end result of a tax system before pronouncing it an economic wonder.

No one loves to pay taxes, but they’re they main way most of us serve our country. Those who advocate the work tax like Hyman are trying to shirk their duty to the nation while cynically selling their right to do so by
misrepresenting the tax as “fair.” Given how often he cloaks his opinions in his supposed love of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, one would think Hyman would be more willing to do his part to help out Uncle Sam (partiuclarly given how much easier it is to fill out a tax form than it is to go on patrol in Fallujah), but perhaps we’ve overestimated him.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Hyman Supports Civil Rights . . . for Some

We appreciate Mark Hyman’s new-found interest in civil liberties. We just wish his interest weren’t so narrow.

Hyman makes a valid point concerning the unconstitutionality of a DNA “dragnet” being used in Truro, Massachusetts to help solve a murder. Asking all adult men in the town to voluntarily give a DNA sample or risk intensive police surveillance is wrong and probably unproductive as well. Hyman says all civil liberties groups should be up in arms over this tactic, and they already are. Two weeks ago, the
ACLU called for an end to the dragnet.

The only fly in the ointment of Hyman’s argument, however, is that it’s suspiciously specific. Truro is a tiny town of 1600. The Patriot Act, however,
grants a great many unconstitutional powers to law enforcement across the entire nation. Under the Patriot Act, illegal searches and wiretapping have become easier, people can be detained without reason indefinitely, and U.S. citizens can literally be labeled “unAmerican” and have their citizenship stripped from them. In fact, the government itself has already found evidence of many violations of civil rights under the aegis of the Patriot Act.

So sweeping is the Patriot Act assault on constitutional rights that both liberal and conservative groups have called for its repeal. Yet Mark Hyman seems to have little to say about it.

Perhaps this is because the Patriot Act is a product of the Bush administration which Hyman consistently champions. But there might be other reasons for Hyman’s selectivity. Given the
demographics of the tiny resort town of Truro, the DNA dragnet carried out there affects a group made up almost entirely of white, wealthy, educated males.

We’d find Hyman’s defense of civil liberties far more convincing if he seemed to care about the rights of all people, not just those that look like him.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

What's Mark Hyman Afraid Of?

Mark Hyman often touts the fact that he offers viewer feedback every week. He’s especially keen to note this when Sinclair Broadcasting and “The Point” come under fire for their far-right bias.

True, Hyman reads viewer comments once a week, although as we’ve noted before, he chooses the evening which consistently has the lowest viewership (Saturday) on which to do it.

But more importantly, Hyman’s handpicked snippets from the “mailbag” rarely address the content of any of his editorials. Rather, they are the briefest of soundbites, almost always consisting of personal judgments of Hyman himself. Typical excerpts include comments from viewers calling Hyman a “Nazi” or “propagandist” who’s part of a “conspiracy,” while others say Hyman’s doing a “great job” countering the “liberal media,” and that he “rocks.”

So while Hyman’s “mailbag” commentaries usually don’t present views on the actual issues discussed in his commentaries (and almost never cogent arguments on the other side), they do offer Hyman a chance to style himself as a stalwart defender of traditional values while portraying those who might take issue with him as name-calling paranoids.

We can’t help but wonder if Hyman is simply afraid of acknowledging that there might be thoughtful arguments on the other side of the issues he takes on. Is he nervous that his own arguments won’t stand up to scrutiny or rebuttal? If not, why doesn’t he include more excerpts that actually offer differing opinions on specific issues? Why doesn’t he include comments that don’t consist entirely of name-calling or empty platitudes? Why not, either in a commentary or on the Newscentral website, include a link to Media Matters, which offers a rebuttal to “The Point” once or twice a week?

For that matter, Mr. Hyman, why not mention this website on one of your mailbag segments or on If you honestly believe in airing opposing views, why not actually offer opposing views? If you’re confident in the validity of your arguments, you have nothing to worry about in offering your audience access to opposing views.

But we’re not holding our breath.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Everyone's Vote Must Count (Even Hyman's)

On a hot summer night in 1964 outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi, three young men died defending Americans’ right to vote. They weren’t soldiers. They were three civil rights workers, two white and one black, who were helping register African Americans to vote. They were brutally gunned down by members of the KKK.

his latest commentary, Mark Hyman discusses voter disenfranchisement. Choosing to focus solely on the disenfranchisement of overseas members of the military, he claims cryptically that many charges of voter disenfranchisement in recent elections are “urban legends.” (Has anyone suggested alligators living in city sewers are chomping up butterfly ballots?)

Hyman is right on two important counts: yes, there have been problems with absentee ballots from service members overseas being counted in time, and yes, there needs to be something done about it (although electronic balloting, Hyman’s suggested solution, without a paper trail is a recipe for disaster).

But Hyman leaves out a few important facts. For one, government studies have shown that the problems in collecting military ballots come largely from one source: the Pentagon itself, which has been lax in instituting changes in mail delivery that would help solve the problem. Because Hyman doesn’t want to blame the military brass for problems of enlistee disenfranchisement, he doesn’t mention this.

Furthermore, as shameful as it is that not all members of the military have had their votes counted, it’s not the sole or even primary problem when taking on the issue of voter disenfranchisement. Despite his assertion that other charges of disenfranchisement are urban legends (we’re guessing he’s referring to claims of the disenfranchisement of African Americans—call it a hunch), there’s evidence aplenty that voter disenfranchisement is widespread in the civilian world as well.

And one doesn’t need to take the word of politically motivated pundits or interest groups. The government itself has conducted studies on disenfranchisement in the 2000 election, and found unequivocal evidence that it happened, and that it happened primarily to the working poor and minorities. A
congressional investigation found that across the nation, districts with lower household incomes and/or high minority populations had disproportionately high numbers of uncounted ballots compared to wealthier, whiter districts. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that in Florida, a wildly disproportionate number of discounted ballots were cast by African Americans. Moreover, there was substantial evidence that the Florida state government illegally struck the names of thousands of black voters from the rolls. This is particularly chilling; military disenfranchisement seems to be the product of simple mismanagement of the Pentagon itself, while the events in Florida (given that the governor and secretary of state in Florida had, to say the very least, a vested interest in the outcome of the vote) suggest the possibility of purposeful voter suppression.

For democracy to work, we need to know free and open elections, the lynchpin of that democracy, are carried out properly. Every vote needs to count, from the National Guard member serving in Iraq to the retired nurse living in Broward County, Florida. There’s no room in a democracy for claims that it’s more important to count some people’s votes than it is to count those of others.

This is a particularly important value to reassert now. Only last week,
a former KKK member was charged with murdering of those three young civil rights workers on that dark Mississippi road more than 40 years ago. As surely as the soldiers who hit Omaha Beach fought and died to protect democratic freedoms, so did Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney. We owe it to everyone who has given their lives to protect our freedoms to make sure everyone’s vote is counted.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Hyman and Head Start

In the mouth of a far-right conservative such as Mark Hyman, the word “reform” when applied to any government program should be translated as “dismantle.”

As we’ve pointed out in previous posts, the recent brouhaha over Social Securities fictional crisis is fueled by the underlying desire of conservatives to wither away one of the oldest and most successful social programs in existence. Why? Because conservatives fundamentally believe that social programs, successful or not, are by definition wrong.

Such is the case with Head Start as well. Hyman delivers an editorial that pays lip service to the program, but argues for greater “accountability.” This is another code word in conservative circles. It means control and limit without doing anything productive. Hyman is less concerned about the quality of Head Start care than with chipping away at the program altogether. This is evidenced by his primary complaint about Head Start: that a few cases of misappropriation of funds have been discovered. This is akin to Reagan’s excoriation of the entire welfare program because of fictitious welfare mothers driving Cadillacs.

Let’s ignore for the moment that if instances of funds being misused or squandered were sufficient cause to eliminate a government program, the Defense Department would go by the boards immediately. The fact is that Head Start, like Social Security, is a program that has made the country a demonstrably better, more civilized place to live. Children who receive Head Start care are less likely to end up in legal trouble as teens and adults, more likely to stay in school, and will make more money as adults. One recent study concluded that taxpayers receive $17 in savings for every $1 spent on pre-kindergarten programs for disadvantaged children.

Hyman protests that while Head Start has shown short term benefits, those benefits seem to vanish over the long haul. In fact, as Hyman himself notes, the variable measured in these studies is only cognitive functioning, something that tends to level off over time anyway. More recent studies that measure academic success, criminal behavior, and future earnings all show significant positive results for Head Start kids well into adulthood.

But this will not likely convince the Hyman’s of the world that the Bush plan to cut Head Start funding is unwise. Again, the real argument isn’t how to make Head Start better. Hyman and his fellow conservatives believe that people who are poor are poor for a reason: lack of initiative and discipline. They also believe that government shouldn’t be in the business of helping people, unless it is to grease the wheels of the free market for corporations. Between this low opinion of those in poverty and the disdain for government programs of any sort, no matter how productive and successful, fully funding Head Start is a nonstarter in conservative circles.

But again, because the vast majority of Americans think more should be spent on education, that the government should help those most at risk, and that prevention is better and more cost effective than curing a problem after it happens, conservatives can’t argue against Head Start openly. Therefore, we find ourselves immersed in the Orwellian doublespeak of conservative policymaking. They want to “reform” Head Start into the ground.

“Reform,” “accountability,” and “restructuring” are charming buzzwords, and the ideas they appear to refer to are worth talking about. But in the mouth of Hyman and his political allies, they all mean one thing: ravaging a program that serves to better the current and future lives of at-risk children.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees

In his latest commentary, Mark Hyman acknowledges that rumors about special treatment for members of Congress when it comes to Social Security are nonsense.

What would be even more refreshing, however, would be for Hyman to address the equally baseless rumors about the Social Security “crisis.” Such rumors provide the fertile ground for paranoid fantasies of politicians creating their own financial parachutes while the average person goes without.

But as has been pointed out by numerous experts, Social Security will not go broke. It’s good to go for nearly a half century, and only minor tweaking will allow it to continue beyond that with no problem.

So why does the Bush administration keep insisting that we’re on the edge of Social Security Armageddon? Because doing so will allow them to scare people into accepting needless cuts in benefits and allowing a huge and unproductive payoff to financial and banking interests in the form of privatizing a portion of Social Security.

The mistake many people make when examining the Bush proposal for Social Security is to assume that the administration’s goals are to make Social Security healthier. Skeptics argue that the Bush plan is not the best way to keep Social Security solvent and expect conservatives will argue the issue with that solvency being the shared goal of all involved. But it’s not. Those on the far right want to strangle Social Security. As they so often say, they don’t like government programs. We shouldn’t assume they make an exception for Social Security.

But like many points of conservative dogma, this one can’t be argued in good faith with any chance of it will win widespread political or popular support. Hence, a plan to cause Social Security to wither on the vine is packaged as way of rescuing the program from a non-existent crisis.

Were he here today, George Orwell would take a grim satisfaction in his ability to anticipate just such rhetorical contortions.

For an excellent, short primer on what the facts are on Social Security, see this page from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

And that's The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Apparently, Hyman Doesn't Share the Dream

Silence may or may not be golden, but it’s surely eloquent in the case of Mark Hyman's latest editorial.

Let’s remember that Hyman marks every anniversary of the founding of each branch of the armed forces with a “birthday” tribute in his commentary, waxing poetic about all they’ve given to America. He also has acknowledged Independence Day, Memorial Day, Christmas (not, as he himself points out, “The Holidays”), and the New Year.

But when the national holiday commemorating the birth of Martin Luther King comes around, Hyman spends his commentary talking about how “fair” it would be to put a pro-life judge on the Supreme Court.

Now, we’re not naïve. We certainly don’t expect Hyman to be effusive in his praise of MLK or his cause. After all, we’ve seen that Hyman happily traffics in racist rhetoric himself. But we’d at the very least expect him to acknowledge the day by using it as an opportunity to lambaste the NAACP, the National Black Caucus, Barak Obama, or Affirmative Action.

But apparently the best known champion of civil rights doesn’t even merit a tacit acknowledgement of his contributions to the nation. Even with lowered expectations, we’ve overestimated Mr. Hyman.

Instead, Hyman makes the argument that Democrats would be doing a wonderful thing for the country and themselves by quickly confirming a pro-life judge to replace William Rhenquist when he steps down. According to Hyman, this makes sense because it would keep the apparent 6-3 split in favor of upholding Roe v. Wade and put off the debate until the first pro-choice (or, in Hyman’s phraseology, the first “pro-abortion”) judge steps down.

But Hyman doesn’t answer the obvious question: if it’s a good idea to maintain the status quo on the court in terms of abortion when a pro-life justice steps down, why wouldn’t the same logic apply when a pro-choice justice steps down?

But the confusion doesn’t end there. Why is abortion the only issue Hyman considers when thinking about the balance on the court? Is it because the court is packed with Republican nominees and any attempt at overall “balance” would necessitate the nomination of a liberal or moderate justice? As we argued in the previous Counterpoint, ideological balance should ideally be the test for appointing nominees. That can’t be assessed in terms of a single issue. But Hyman can’t acknowledge that, because it suggests that the truly constructive move would be for Bush to nominate a ideologically moderate justice to the court. Hyman is all for bipartisanship and bridge-building as long as it’s the other side that’s doing it.

Which brings us to another point. Hyman suggests in his commentary that Senate Democrats have stonewalled Bush’s judicial nominees. That’s laughable when you look not only at the statistics, but the nominees themselves over the last two presidents. Clinton made a point of bipartisanship and nominated middle-of-the-road judges for most appointments that would be sure to garner wide support. He even allowed Orrin Hatch to put forward a nominee for a federal judgeship. Bush, on the other hand, has bragged about his nomination of far-right judges for the federal bench.

And while Democrats have stopped less than a dozen of Bush’s nominations, Republicans squelched 60 Clinton nominees, and often refused to even allow nominations to come to a vote. Now, after after having changed the rules to make stopping nominations even harder, Republican’s cry foul when even a handful of Bush appointees get turned down. Even John Dean, former counsel to Richard Nixon, has accused the Republicans of theatrical whining about the supposed “obstructionist” Democrats. As he rightly points out, Democrats couldn’t block Bush nominees with a filibuster if the candidates weren’t so extreme in the ideology that no Democrat would vote for them.

But the very fact that we have to point this out on MLK day says more about Hyman than his actual commentary. On a day when the nation takes time off in honor of one of the most important and influential figures in the nation’s history, Hyman can’t be bothered to acknowledge his existence.

Shame, Mark, shame.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Just Say "No" to Hyman

In his recent commentary about teen drug use, Mark Hyman crows about the reported fall in use of certain types of drugs among adolescents in recent years. Unfortunately, he leaves out important information that leads to a distorted picture of the drug situation.

We can all agree that fewer teens using drugs is a good thing. But Hyman pointedly marks 2001 as the starting point for the decline in drug use to suggest that President Clinton’s policies were lax. In truth, the broad decline in drug use among teens began in the last several years of the Clinton administration during Gen. Barry McCaffrey’s tenure.

In truth, the most damning criticism of the Clinton administration’s approach to the drug issue is that its policies too closely mirrored those of the Reagan/Bush administrations, particularly those of drug “czar” William Bennett (himself no stranger to addictions of various sorts). Such policies tended to cause more problems than they solved by focusing almost solely on enforcement and incarceration, as well as targeting casual users. The result was an enormous spike in prison sentences for minor drug offences at huge taxpayer expense, as well as the disproportionate incarceration of poor and minority males, while middle class and affluent white users received little attention.

This misguided approach governs the current Bush administration as well. A recent administration proposal suggests drug testing at public schools as one route to discourage drug use among teens, and the president claims statistics demonstrate the effectiveness of this tactic. Unfortunately, the president is not being truthful. The very same survey cited by Hyman in his editorial also says that drug testing at schools is counterproductive and creates a hostile atmosphere that does little to stop drug use while inflicting a great deal of collateral damage on the school environment.

Most damning of all, however, is the Bush administration going AWOL on the issue of heroin production. One of the few things the Taliban did that wasn’t despicable was cut down the poppy industry in Afghanistan. A clearly-formulated post war plan for that country would have made economic and agricultural development a priority for the creation of a democratic Afghanistan that would continue to keep a lid on heroin production. That clearly-formulated plan, of course, never materialized, and Afghanistan is once again the heroin capital of the world, with poor farmers selling their only cash crop to those who would flood America and the rest of the world with the drug.

It’s great that fewer teens are using marijuana and cocaine, but for the Bush administration to take sole credit for this decrease while ignoring its failures is yet another example of an administration that puts talk ahead of action.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Judicial Activism Indeed

We’re just wondering: did Mark Hyman flunk his 8th grade civics class?

The question arises given Hyman’s rather odd philosophy of checks and balances that emerges from his recent commentary on the Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Founding Fathers envisioned the judiciary as an independent branch of government, with judges making decisions based on their own best interpretation of the law. According to Hyman, however, the judiciary exists to rubber stamp decisions made by conservative members of the executive and legislative branches, and their decisions should be evaluated by how closely they mirror the thinking of the currently conservative Supreme Court.

Hyman adds his yowling to a cacophany of far right activists who hate the 9th Circuit because they claim it’s too liberal. They suggest as proof of this the fact that the 9th Circuit has had more of its decisions reversed by the Supreme Court in the last decade than any other. Therefore, reasons Hyman, they must be “activist” judges who willfully misinterpret the law.

But the fact is that while the 9th has been reversed by the Supreme Court more than any other, this is based on a few exceptional years in the mid 1990s. In recent years, several other circuits have been overturned more often.

But even more importantly, the idea that any court should be castigated because its decisions do not predict the way the current Supreme Court would decide them is ludicrous. As this excellent essay from a law professor and former prosecutor notes, the idea that a lower court should decide cases on the basis of what it thinks a higher court will do is flawed. It leads to a judiciary that doesn’t fulfill its role as the place where important legal issues are debated and decided. Judges stop considering what’s right or wrong in favor of what they think the current court above them will say. The judiciary, in such a conception, becomes stagnant.

Of course, Hyman only makes the argument he does because of the currently conservative makeup of the Supreme Court and the relatively liberal makeup of the 9th (although, it should be noted, the deciding judge in the most recently hyped 9th decision, the one striking “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, was appointed by that stalwart liberal, Richard M. Nixon).

Judicial activism suits conservatives just fine when it’s in line with their viewpoints. Justice Priscilla Owen was nominated to the 5th Circuit of Appeals by George W. Bush and championed by far right conservatives, despite the fact that one of her fellow justices on the Texas State Supreme Court called one of her decisions "an unconscionable act of judicial activism." Of course, that was probably some liberal bomb thrower just trying to smear a decent colleague, right? Wrong. It was none other than Alberto Gonzales, current Bush nominee for Attorney General (and facilitator of torture). We’re still waiting for Hyman to chastise the nomination of Owen in one of his commentaries.

Moreover, Bush has said repeatedly (when in front of right-wing crowds) that he wants to pack the federal courts with “good, conservative judges.” No doubt Hyman would agree.

But the judiciary is too important to be used as a political tool or to be forced into conformity with a single court that makes it up (even if it is the Supreme Court). Our position (and, we’d argue, the position of anyone who seriously believes in the federal government as originally conceived) is that courts should, ideally, be ideologically neutral. No matter where you happen to stand on the political spectrum, it serves all of us to have judges from a broad range of intellectual backgrounds on the court. If a court is highly liberal or conservative, appointments should be made to assure greater balance, not to assure judicial cover for the executive branch. Certainly reasonable people will differ in their interpretations of “liberal” and “conservative,” but that doesn’t mean an honest effort can’t be made to increase balance on important courts. Such an effort is not only not being made by the Bush administration, but it runs absolutely counter to what the president (and Hyman for that matter) think the courts are there for: to serve as political tools for enacting rightwing policy. This is a much more insidious and destructive form of judicial activism than anything Hyman has accused the 9th Circuit of.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Repeal the Sinclair-Hyman Act

With friends like Hyman, who needs enemies?

Mark Hyman devoted a recent "Point" to the Davis-Bacon Act, a piece of legislation that ensures that companies that receive federal contracts hire workers at competitive rates.

With a toxic mixture of cynicism and disingenuousness, Hyman argues for the repeal of this act based on (get this) the importance of protecting the civil rights of minorities.

Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who openly calls illegal immigrants (who overwhelmingly work jobs, become citizens, and are Hispanic) “riffraff” and has compared those crossing the border from Mexico into the United States with al-Qaeda terrorists. Caesar Chavez he ain’t.

But this is another one of Hyman’s common rhetorical devices: he argues in favor of a position not for the honestly-held reasons he feels it’s valid, but with an Orwellian-Byzantine construction that makes his motives seem diametrically opposed from what they actually are.

In this case, Hyman says the Davis-Bacon Act was used during the Depression by racist legislators to keep African American workers from being hired for government projects. Despite being irrelevant in terms of the Act’s use today, this characterization is simplistic at best and an outright lie at worst. In fact, civil rights groups today strongly support the Davis-Bacon act because it promises fair wages for workers in blue collar jobs.

Let’s put it in terms Mark can understand: pretend the Hyman family is going on a pleasant Sunday drive when they come to a bridge built over a large river. The bridge was built as part of a federally-funded highway project. Now, in the world we live in (the one where the Davis-Bacon Act is still a reality), Mark can drive across the bridge without a care in the world, safe in the knowledge that the company who contracted to build the bridge had to hire workers at something approximating the going rate for skilled, bridge-building labor in that part of the country.

Now let’s imagine the same scene playing out in Hyman-World, a dark and scary place where companies are free to abuse workers, the government, and the public—a place without the Davis-Bacon Act. In this world, the owners of the company who win the bountiful federal project to build the bridge decide they want to maximize their personal profit. To do this, they need to cut labor costs. So, they bus in unskilled workers from one of the poorest areas of one of the poorest states who jump at the chance to be paid a pittance. They don’t know what they’re doing, but they work cheap, and that lets the owners pocket more of the money the taxpayers have forked over for the bridge. The bridge manages to stay upright for a while, but shoddy workmanship by unskilled labor causes it to deteriorate slowly but steadily. And then, on one Sunday afternoon . . . .

You get the picture. The purpose of this act is to ensure that federal funds get spent appropriately and that taxpayers get what they pay for: well-built public projects that they can use in safety. But because this act puts limitations, albeit completely appropriate and reasonable ones, on what corporate honchos can do, far right conservatives like Hyman think it needs to be done away with. In fact, the only businesses that would find the act restrictive would be those actively attempting to recruit low-wage labor in an attempt to put more taxpayer dollars in the pockets of the owners. Fair wages, value to taxpayers, public safety—it all goes out the window in favor of maximizing corporate profits.

But because he can’t be honest about this reasoning (after all, how many people would actually decline personal safety for bigger corporate profits?), Hyman covers his tracks with a faux concern over civil rights. It’s difficult to decide which is the more despicable act, championing the elimination of an act that helps ensure public safety and value for taxpayers, or shamelessly lying to those it protects to win their allegiance to his cause.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Hyman's Healthcare Humbug

Mark Hyman often covers his misstatements by saying that he’s only a “commentator” offering opinion. But one of Hyman’s favorite tactics is to build up the ethos of his comments by citing impressive sounding institutes and foundations that appear to offer objective findings that coincide with Hyman’s statements. A case in point is Hyman's invocation of the impressive sounding Institute for Policy Innovation. This august group suggests that we could reduce health costs by having consumers pay for their own insurance (funded through tax breaks) instead of offering it though employers.

That sounded to us like a pretty shaky idea—basically, it would reward people for not spending money on health care and leave out the working poor, who don’t pay federal income tax. Indeed, some small versions of this approach have been tried via personal healthcare savings accounts. The findings show that such plans rely on large deductibles (between $2000 and $10,000 for a family), a drop in spending for preventive care (the most cost efficient way of spending healthcare money), and appeals mainly to the young, healthy, and wealthy, while diminishing resources for those who most need healthcare.

But certainly we must be mistaken, given that the Institute for Policy Innovation is arguing for an every-man-for-himself approach to healthcare spending. Hyman wouldn’t invoke such a group unless they were a source of fair and well-researched information on the issue, right?

Well, actually no. As you can read in the following item from Disinfopedia, the IPI is the brainchild of hyper-conservative congressmember Dick Armey. Non partisan in name only, the IPI is funded by far right money (including funds coming from the Scaife family, Enron, and Exxon). They also have a nasty history of conducting quid pro quo research, such as taking money from companies that manufacture cigarettes while being party to a report that pooh-poohed the dangers of second-hand smoke. They also took money from Microsoft while crafting a report that was critical of open-source software (a major thorn in Bill Gates’s side).

You’d think Hyman might be chagrined by using such a transparently partisan and self-interested organization to make an argument against healthcare. But let’s remind ourselves that for far right conservatives like Hyman, the whole idea that Americans should pool their resources to take care of each other (in the context of employer-provided insurance plans, and certainly for any possible single-payer plan) is anathema. Conservative political dogma says that anything that helps businesses is good, and anything that creates a sense of shared responsibility (and therefore, in their view, a lack of individual initiative) is evil. An every-man-for-himself approach to healthcare fits both of these points of far right theology. The fact that the report he uses to make his point is bogus doesn’t bother Hyman because he’s not actually concerned about the practical issues of how to reduce healthcare costs. He, like most conservatives, is only concerned about reducing his own healthcare costs (regardless of the effects on his fellow Americans) by any means necessary.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Does Hyman Hate America?

In his recent book, Chris Hedges warns that war causes communities to become blind. Mark Hyman, in his recent "Point" commentary, proves Hedges’ thesis.

Like many of his fellow conservatives, Hyman seems unable or unwilling to conceive of America For him, the war in Iraq defines the U.S., and the U.S. defines the Iraq war. It’s more than a little odd that such people claim sole ownership of love of country and accuse those who disagree with the war of defaming America; wouldn’t it seem that equating national identity with war is an incredible belittlement of what “America” means? I can think of no greater desecration of our nation than to define it through failure, which is what war always is. separate from war.

Of course, one can make an argument in favor of the war in Iraq without making it the sine qua non of patriotism. But the most vocal of the chickenhawks who advocate war when they’ve never experienced a moment of it themselves (and this includes Hyman) conflate America and the Iraq war (and, we fear, with war more generally). The logical fallacy behind this is obvious, but it doesn’t stop someone like Hyman from saying that anyone who’s against the war “hates” America. In Hyman’s case, this mantra has been repeated so many times and about so many people that it almost seems the man is lampooning himself when he does it.

In vilifying Hedges, Hyman suggests that Hedges is wrong to say we learned lessons from Vietnam and experienced an amazing sense of unity after 9/11. One begins to think Hyman would question Hedges’ patriotism if he said the sky was blue. In his lambasting of the New York Times, Hyman also conveniently forgets that the paper (for which Hedges writes) was so acquiescent to the Bush administration in the lead up to war that the paper had to issue an embarrassing apology after it became clear how deceitful the president had been. Nor does Hyman note that Hedges, a veteran war correspondent, has experienced more of the horrors of war than the vast majority of active duty members of the armed services, to say nothing of Hyman and his fellow war cheerleaders. Hyman jettisons the facts and turns logic on its ear in his efforts to assassinate the character of Hedges and, by proxy, all those who would express the least hesitation about sending young Americans to die in Iraq.

But as we mentioned previously, this does nothing but prove Hedges’ point: war makes it far easier for jingoistic and destructive rhetoric to rule the day over rational discourse and productive decision-making. At this point, no amount of evidence (or lack thereof, given today’s official announcement that the U.S. is giving up on finding WMDs in Iraq), would weaken Hyman’s support for the the war no matter what the costs or what alternatives presented themselves. The war has become for Hyman and his ilk the very thing it is in Orwell’s dystopia: and end in itself. The war on terror, of which we’re told the conflict in Iraq is but a part, lends itself perfectly to this dynamic because it presumably can never end. As long as fear exists, there will be sources of that fear to target.

Hedges is no pacifist, and has been criticized by some for advocating the use of military force in a way that muddies his own apparent revulsion to the concept of war. But while critics will say what they will about him, Hedges doesn’t glorify war by wrapping it in the Stars and Stripes, nor does he see it as an essential good, as Hyman does. Nor is his concept of America so grotesque and narrow that it predicates love of country on love of war.

The same cannot be said for Hyman, who, in equating unquestioning belief in the Iraq war with loyalty to our national community, does far more to desecrate the flag and all that for which it stands than any protestor with a Bic lighter could ever hope to.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Monsieur Hyman A un Tete du Merde.

The poor French! Even when they make a decision that should please Hyman, they still get dissed!

Mark Hyman continues his Francophobic diatribes (remember “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”?) as he lashes into our Gallic friends for being intolerant. His evidence? The French have banned Al Manar, the television station that serves as the voice for Hezbollah, from their airwaves.

Banning a Muslim television station does seem a bit draconian, particularly given the fact that France has a large Islamic population. On the other hand, you have to take into account that the network supports Hezbollah, an avowed terrorist organization, airs soap operas in which rabbis are accused of performing human sacrifice, suicide bombers are celebrated in music videos, and America is called “The Great Satan” while images of a blood-soaked Statue of Liberty fill the screen (although Hyman glosses over this content by simply mentioning “claims of anti-Semitic broadcasts”). As some media watchdog groups have noted, banning this station outright might be counterproductive, but its overt anti-Semitism and support of terrorism must be challenged. has a large Muslim population.

Now, if we were to use the same logic Hyman so often uses on those with whom he disagrees, we’d conclude that Hyman must hate America. After all, why would he criticize the move to ban a television station associated with terrorists that spews hateful, anti-American rhetoric and advocates the murder of innocent civilians? By speaking out in favor of this network, Hyman is giving aid and comfort to the enemy in the “war on terror.” Let’s give him a one-way ticket to Gitmo!

But we don’t play by Hyman’s twisted rules. We don’t think Hyman hates America. He hates the French because they didn’t toe the Bush administration’s line when it came to invading Iraq. They questioned whether there was sufficient evidence of WMDs in Iraq to warrant immediate military action (darn those French . . . always being right about things!). Thus, in Hyman’s inimitable way, he throws any sense of consistency out the window in order to bash an entire nation. You can bet that if the French government allowed Al Manar to broadcast freely, Hyman would complain about that by railing against a country that had such a twisted notion of freedom that it would allow such ugly, anti-American filth on its airwaves.

Hyman lamely tries to tie France’s ban on Al Manar to the ongoing efforts to maintain purity in the French language and regulations reserving broadcast time for native French musicians on the radio (although Canada does the very same thing). But such efforts, whether one sees them as productive or naïve, don’t constitute intolerance. They’re attempts to maintain an idea of French identity in an increasingly homogenized (and Americanized) world. But given Hyman’s hostility toward that very identity, it’s not surprising that he grasps at anything he can in order to cobble together yet another belligerent screed against the French.

Of course, Hyman doesn’t mention the fact that our very own American FCC has levied gargantuan fines against domestic broadcasters for the horrific crimes of having a portion of a woman’s body shown on screen for a fraction of a second and for the occasional scatological humor of morning DJs. Somehow, Mark, we’re having a little trouble taking your horror at France’s “intolerant” ban on terrorist rhetoric seriously when the administration you so vocally support feels it needs to prevent the viewing public from Janet Jackson’s right boob.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Do as We Say, Not as We Do

What’s intriguing about Mark Hyman’s commentary on the "Wright Amendment" commentary on the “Wright Amendment” is not so much the specifics (the issue of undoing limitations on what airlines are allowed to fly in and out of the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport) but the logic behind it. In arguing for greater access to the airport for airlines, Hyman invokes the God-term of the free market economy: competition.

According to Hyman, having multiple players in the airline game will help consumers by lowering prices and improving service through competition. Unfortunately, Hyman and his friends at Sinclair have a distinctly different opinion on competition when it comes to broadcasting. Despite the fact that television uses a publicly-owned resource, the broadcast spectrum, Sinclair feels it should be allowed to gobble up as many stations as it can in order to dominate certain markets.

After spending tens of thousands of dollars in donations to anti-regulation Republican candidates and lobbying the milquetoast Bush FCC, Sinclair managed to get past the traditional limits of broadcast ownership and now owns more television duopolies than any other company.

Hyman pays lip service to the idea of competition, but his own company has championed policies that cheat viewers out of the diversity of voices they have a right to in their local television markets and line the pockets of the corporate heads of Sinclair. But then again, as we’ve seen so many times, hypocrisy is an essential element of the Sinclair corporate credo.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

We Love the Sound of Hyman Whining in the Morning. . . It Sounds Like Victory

We’re not buying it, Mark.

You’re pretty good at playing dumb, but we know you understand exactly how faulty your apples and oranges comparisons are in
your recent commentary defending “The Point.” We know you don’t believe your own spin.

Not that we don’t understand why you’re spinning the way you are. The coalition of groups educating viewers and sponsors of the true nature of Sinclair and “The Point” is formidable. While you call them “obscure,”the fact is that has over two million members. Media Matters has become in a matter of months a renowned watchdog group (headed up, by the way, by a former right-wing conservative commentator who has come to his senses). And Robert Greenwald produced “Outfoxed,” a highly successful documentary on Fox news. And they’re having an effect. The day of your commentary, Staples announced it would no longer advertise on Sinclair stations because of viewer disgust with your commentaries. If I were in your shoes, I’d be spinning like mad, too.

And so here at The Counterpoint, we’ll play along. We’ll pretend that you actually believe that what you do on television and what news anchors do is parallel. We’ll also pretend that you really believe there’s a left-wing media conspiracy (despite all evidence to the contrary). We’ll pretend that you actually buy your own commentary, and set you straight, since you seem to be missing the point.

The point is that you force local stations to use publicly owned airwaves during a local newscast to air your personal political beliefs.

The point is that you, unlike everyone else you name in your commentary, are not a journalist; you’re simply a corporate vice president abusing your authority to hijack a newscast to spout your personal beliefs. Even Rupert Murdoch doesn’t abuse his viewers by using his network as a personal soapbox.

The point is that while everyone knows who news anchors are and why they’re appearing on television, you hide your association with Sinclair Broadcasting, hoping that viewers will assume you’re simply a local voice.

The point is that Couric, Jennings, et al are news anchors or hosts who deliver news stories. They don’t assert that members one political party or the other “hate our troops,” trade in racist rhetoric, or slander entire nations whose leaders they disagree with (all of which are regular components of your commentaries).

The point is despite your constant insinuations that the individuals you name are part of a massive left-wing media conspiracy, you never offer any evidence of this. Can you give us even a single instance of a time when Katie Couric, Peter Jennings, or Tom Brokaw has slandered George Bush (or anyone else) in the way you routinely did John Kerry in the run up to the election?

The point is that the mainstream media, whom you constantly assert has a left-wing bias, completely acquiesced to the Bush administration’s drive to war, never questioning its assertions and happily waving the flag during the war. Can you provide any evidence at all that there’s been a left-leaning bias that parallels or makes up for this?

The point is that 80% of the pundits who appear on news channels to discuss issues and give their opinions are conservative. 80%, Mark! In what way does this constitute a left-wing bias?

The point is, Mark, that even if every news anchor was an active member of the Communist party, on-air personalities don’t make the calls about what stories to cover or how to cover them. Corporate officers (like you) make these calls, and their interests are conservative, not liberal. Sinclair news personality Jon Lieberman certainly didn’t have an opportunity to voice his opinions on the air—he served as a corporate mouthpiece, and when he voiced the first hint of concern about this, you fired him.

The point is that when reporters report facts, that’s not bias, even if the facts might not wholly support your political causes. You remind us of the Daily Show bit in which George Bush charges that the facts in Iraq are “un-American” because they undermine his position. Of course, since you’ve said publicly that simply reporting that a car bombing took place in Iraq constitutes a liberal bias, anything short of a Bush/Cheney campaign ad will be guilty of being left-wing propaganda in your world.

The point is that you don’t simply offer your opinion. You use faulty logic, name-calling, and bold-faced lies in your commentaries. There are plenty of conservative commentators who offer their opinions in ways that respect the public forum by playing by the basic rules of fair and honest discourse. They might be wrong, but they voice their opinions in the right way. You don’t.

The point is that you and the Smith family who own Sinclair put your own extreme political values ahead of the rights and responsibilities you have to your stockholders and your viewers. As a result, your stock has become nearly worthless, and your stations are more often than not at the bottom of the ratings in local markets.

The point is that the airwaves are not owned by you or Sinclair. You’re using (and abusing) a collectively and publicly held resource to advance a personal agenda.

The point is that most local broadcasters and newspapers, when they offer editorials, invite readers, viewers, or other local figures to respond in a similar forum. You confine your “equal time” to hand picked comments that you air on the night with the lowest viewership, Saturday.

The point is that those of us who are against Sinclair’s misuse of public airwaves do write to the troops. We also send them care packages and buy them supplies the Bush administration hasn’t provided. Many of us have friends and family who are in Iraq. And our concern over the troops is one of the many reasons we find jingoistic rhetoric so nauseating, particularly coming from someone like you, who supported sending troops to fight and die for dishonest reasons, who slandered a veteran while openly campaigning for a president who lied to the troops and to the American people about the need for war, who aired propaganda just before an election and labeled it "news," and who refused to allow a simple tribute to those who had died serving our country (Nightline’s “The Fallen”) to be aired on your stations.

The point is that we deserve better than “The Point.” And we’re going to get it.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

He's Got a B.S. in B.S. from Sinclair University

Hyman discovers the issue of diploma mills in his most recent "Point," most recent “Point,” despite the fact that the study commissioned by the GAO was done months and months ago and has already been covered extensively by the press.

But breaking news isn’t what Hyman is all about. While ostensibly commenting on the issue of sham “universities” from which one can buy any degree one wants without attending a class, Hyman’s real focus is on slandering government employees. As a right-wing conservative, Hyman believes government, and those who comprise it, are inherently bad. By attacking examples of shady conduct on the part of some government workers, Hyman hopes to spread his more general antipathy toward government to his audience.

Thus we have a commentary in which Hyman feigns concern about the number of government employees (over 450) who were found to have bogus degrees on their resume. Not only this, but in many cases, these degrees were purchased with funds from the federal government itself. What an example of what’s wrong with the federal government, right?

Well, yes. Certainly, these diploma mills are contemptible, and those who waste money (their own or taxpayers’) on them are insipid. But Hyman leaves out one interesting fact about the numbers of government employees who gamed the system to buy resume window dressing. While conservatives generally despise those who work for the government, there’s at least one area in which they change their tune: the Pentagon. Government employees who deliver services to the needy, work in benefits offices, or help protect consumers through regulating commerce are destructive, but those who kill people and blow things up are just fine and dandy with the average conservative. But guess what? Of the 450+ government employees identified by the GAO as having bought bogus diplomas, 200 come from a single part of the government: the Department of Defense. Donald Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense.

If Hyman really were concerned about the effects of bogus diplomas being used to by government employees to gain positions for which they are not qualified, he certainly would have focused on the area in which a disproportionate amount of this abuse occurred and where the stakes for incompetence are at their highest: the Defense Department. But because his purpose is fomenting disgust with federal employees, at least those whom he considers expendable, Hyman ignores the single most important aspect of the story.

And speaking of people holding influential positions for which they are wholly unqualified, where did you get your degree in journalism, Mark?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

As the Hyman Spins

Mark Hyman uses one of his favored tactics in his commentary about the opening of Congress: framing spin as dispassionate commentary.

Note, for example, his commentary on Barack Obama, whom Hyman notes has “been picked by some as a rising star in the Democratic Party.” Hyman undercuts this by saying that Obama must deal with 99 other senators “who have their own political ambitions and egos in play” [emphasis mine]. Two things here: first, Hyman turns Obama into a passive figure who “has been picked by some” to be a rising star. He hasn’t become a rising star. He’s had this title conferred on him, and then only by “some” people. Secondly, Hyman suggests that ambition and ego are the driving forces in Obama’s career. He does this by saying that all senators have ego and ambition, but by singling these traits out in the context of speaking about Obama, Hyman clearly intends to associate these terms with only one member of the Senate, the only one he’s singling out by name.

Hyman then trots out the GOP talking points of Social Security and tax “reform.” The word “reform” is key here: it implies that Social Security and the tax code are broken, and that the actions proposed by the Bush administration to change them are altogether positive. But as we’ve noted, Social Security simply isn’t broken. What “reform” really means in this context is an attempt to begin the dismantling of the Social Security system and reduction of benefits (with an eye toward doing away with this most successful of government programs) and a flattening of the tax code to create a system in which working and middle class families shoulder a disproportionate amount of the burden. And as we’ve also noted in the past, the Bush administration has already succeeded in shouldering the middle class with most of America’s taxes in order to fund welfare for the wealthy and corporations.

Hyman suggest that the House of Representatives has shown “displeasure” with Bush’s immigration policies. By this, Hyman suggests that Bush’s policies are (get this) far too liberal. As we’ve seen on numerous occasions, Hyman doesn’t like the idea of people with darker skin than his coming into this country.

Finally, and most absurdly, Hyman says that the Senate has been particularly derelict in its duties on controlling spending. But Hyman has it all wrong. The White House has pushed for increases in spending along with massive tax cuts which will cost $1 trillion to make permanent, without much in the way of actually sparking the economy. The

Bush tax cuts have contributed far more to the growing national debt than post 9/11 defense spending. Moreover, it was the White House, along with the House of Representatives, that pushed Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to pass a budget which included so much pork that even some true conservative budget hawks were squawking. Finally, from Dick Cheney’s own mouth, we here that this administration feels deficits “don’t matter.” With Republican control of both the House and Senate, this administration has run up record debt that the IMF has warned is so large, it will destabilize the world economy.

Remind us again, Mark: what makes you think that this spendthrift administration will do anything to get spending under control?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Hyman's Situational Ethics

The latest “Point” offers an excellent example of the difference between real news organizations and Sinclair Broadcasting.

Mark Hyman goes on at length about an SEC investigation into charges that several publicly-owned newspapers inflated circulation numbers. What ticks him off most is that this hasn’t been covered in the mainstream press.

First, it’s interesting to note that most of the papers Hyman mentions by name are (at least in his estimation) liberal papers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times. He fails to mention that the publishers of the Wall Street Journal and other conservative papers are also subjects of the investigation.

But here’s the more important point: this story was covered. Three months ago. In the Washington Post. And the New York Times. And the Los Angeles Times. And Newsday. In fact, just about every major paper Hyman mentions promptly ran stories about this investigation. That’s because these are publications run by actual journalists with a sense of ethics.

Let’s contrast this to Mark Hyman and Sinclair. Sinclair Broadcasting caused its stockholders to take huge losses when it insisted on running a discredited propaganda piece that attacked Senator John Kerry. The corporate heads at Sinclair put their own political interests ahead of their stockholders. Did Sinclair mention this controversy (as almost every other news organization did)? No. Instead, Mark Hyman offered carefully worded commentaries that discussed the controversy about “John Kerry’s snub of Vietnam veterans” when he refused to appear on Sinclair’s broadcast. He managed to do this without mentioning Sinclair Broadcasting by name, indicating his own role in the controversy, or making it clear that the stations on which he was appearing were Sinclair-owned stations. This is an unconscionable act that violates basic ethics rules that are taught in any introductory class in journalism programs across the country.

But ethics are only important for Hyman when they can be invoked to slam perceived enemies, not when it comes to making decisions in the Sinclair boardroom.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Cost of the War in Iraq
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