Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hyman's Windfall Editorial Just More Hot Air

Continuing with our recent theme of Mark Hyman’s penchant for making arguments that hurt what might be respectable causes, we have his recent editorial on windfall taxes.

Citing a study by the corporate supported conservative think tank, the
Tax Foundation, Hyman says that the recent record profits of the oil industry are merely part of a cyclical pattern. In an attempt to put these profits into perspective, he points out that the tax revenue taken in by various levels of government in gas tax revenue is double the total profits made by the oil industry in the period between 1977 and 2004.

Hyman closes with this statement: “Perhaps those Socialists who advocate a windfall profits tax should argue for punishing government for also profiting so handsomely.”

I’m not taking a position on windfall taxes. True, there’s a good argument to be made for increasing taxes on profits garnered through events having nothing to do with a company’s actions (e.g., making a killing on gas in the wake of the Gulf Coast getting wiped out by a hurricane) and using that money to subsidize those who suffer from those same events (e.g., those who are struggling to heat their homes because of high gas and fuel oil prices).

On the other hand, there are good arguments to be made that windfall taxes are counterproductive. The supposedly liberal
Washington Post has said so on its own editorial pages.

So Hyman’s position is not necessarily a loser. For the sake of argument, let’s grant that he’s in the right on this one.

Given this, why is it necessary for Hyman to make such a poor case—one that relies on demagoguery and name-calling—to support his point?

The most obvious example of Hyman’s rhetorical sloppiness is his dopey use of the epithet “Socialists” to describe anyone who favors windfall taxes. I’m continually amazed at the cockroach-like fortitude of red-baiting rhetoric in American politics. One would have thought that with the end of the Cold War that the use of such antiquated name-calling would have gone the way of “Roundheads” or “Scalawags.” But Hyman (a.k.a. the Boy Who Cried “Commie”) continues to rely on perverse use of the language, even when he has a legitimate case to make.

The more substantial and more troubling case of calculated simplemindedness is Hyman’s use of a singularly unapt analogy—government as business. Hyman claims the government has “profited” from gasoline taxes. The suggestion is that those in government are somehow rolling in sweet Texas Tea moolah, just as they would if they were board members of Exxon.
But who *is* the government and where do these “profits” go?

The second part of the question is obvious: the sizable majority of
gasoline taxes go to building and keeping up the roadways we use every day. As is all too typical of Hyman and certain members of the radical right, they want to give the impression that money that is collected as tax revenue disappears into a black hole. But everyone makes use of the goods and services provided by the government. This makes government neither good nor bad; it’s simply a tool we can use how we see fit. Building and maintaining the roads virtually every American uses on a daily basis is one of the uses we seem to have agreed on.

Which brings us to the first part of the question posed above: who is the government? For some on the far right, government is a monolithic “Other” to be opposed at all costs (except when it provides them with business subsidies, law enforcement, a court system, a national defense, enforcement of property rights, roads, etc., etc., etc.). In truth, even the most thoroughgoing member of the radical right doesn’t really believe this—they just want government to do those things they want (enforcing what
George Lakoff calls “Strict Father morality”). But depicting government as a monster serves their desires of weakening or eliminating those uses of government they don’t happen to like (spending on education, Social Security, healthcare, etc.).

And that’s the problem. It isn’t just a cynical language game that’s being played. Language has consequences, and the consequences of much of conservative rhetoric is to erode the underlying principle of a democracy: that the government *is* the people. As the Great Emancipator put it, ours is a nation devoted to “government of the people, by the people, for the people” One can grant this and still occupy any point on the political spectrum, from an honest to goodness socialist to a libertarian. The important point is that we recognize that we are the government. If we all grant that, we can move ahead and discuss the wisdom (or lack thereof) of using government in specific ways.

What troubles me about Hyman’s rhetoric in this editorial specifically, and far right rhetoric more generally, is that in order to achieve short term political advantages, it eats away at the founding idea of democracy in an insidious way—a way I’m not sure those who traffic in it fully appreciate.

Contrary to the intellect-free blatherings of right wing radio demagogues, liberals don’t believe government is a good in and of itself, anymore than a hammer is good in and of itself. Like any tool, it’s useful in some situations and not in others. It can be used constructively or destructively, ethically or unethically. Intellectually honest conservatives feel the same way. The differences come down to deciding which particular uses of government are positive or negative. This is the sort of debate that makes a democracy strong.

Unfortunately, too many of a particularly rabid and/or simple-minded stripe of conservative insist on using rhetoric that is not only insincere (since they themselves don’t fully believe their own vilification of government) but chips away at the shared commitment that defines a democracy, a commitment that all of us, Left or Right, should be able to agree on.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.57


At 6:03 PM, Anonymous Sickofspin said...

Word count for Hyman's piece: 140

Word count for Ted's whining: 987

Ted opines that Hyman is unable to develop a good argument.... 140 vs. 987.... I'm sure things would be a bit more compelling without such a tilt.

Ted wrote: "Given this, why is it necessary for Hyman to make such a poor case—one that relies on demagoguery and name-calling—to support his point?"

Ted's focus was Hyman's use of 'socialist'. As if the liberal agenda of redistributing wealth is not socialist in premise?

It's somehow improper for Hyman to use 'socialist' but it's apparently ok for Ted to write: "Contrary to the intellect-free blatherings of right wing radio demagogues..."

Can you say, "Inconsistency and hypocrisy?" I think you can.

Ted's argument to that will be, 'Accurate description'. So too I say then, was Hyman's use of socialist.

Hyman made a valid point in using just 140 words. Sometimes Ted, you just have to learn to concede. Oh, and your 987 words 'left out' pork project considerations. Those portions of government windfalls going to pork projects such as the bridge to nowhere in Alaska for example. I don't care what party you belong to, the bridge to nowhere was just wrong.

To sum, Hyman speaks 140, Ted opines 987. Not exactly tit-for-tat now is it Ted? And despite your 987, you're every bit as guilty (if not more so) of omission as you claim Hyman is. 987, wow.

And that's the Remington exposure.

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Gosh Sick, I didn't realize this was some sort of war to use as few words as possible. Given the length of some of your posts, I hadn't thought you considered long-windedness a major sin.

But if brevity is the soul of not only wit but wisdom, let's see if I can do better, shall we?

"Socialist": technical term with specific meaning.
"Demagogue": value term voicing opinion

Socialism=belief in state owned or collectively owned means of production.

Windfall tax not equal to socialism.

Hyman = abuser of language

Corporation = private
Government = public
Private not equal to public

Ergo, corporation not equal to government.
Hyman's analogy = invalid

Hyman = illogical

Me: 56 words
Hyman: 140 words
You: 234 words

Me = winner


At 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sick said, "Hyman made a valid point in using just 140 words."

The fact is, Hyman has never made a valid point. To be valid means to be able to withstand scrutiny and be defensible. None of Hyman's points have ever met that criteria because he allows no discussion or debate, he just uses his bully pulpit to spread right-wing propaganda, which you Sick, suck up like a sponge and squeeze out in your blog comments. This is the very reason why Ted set up this site. Why don't you ask your buddy Hyman to allow an alternative view to be aired? You and I both know that will never happen because Hyman can't defend the garbage he spews and you regurgitate.

At 11:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


How do we handle a person like Sick? In a nod toward Freudian thought, he has aptly named himself. He has a real need to attack people, amply evidenced by his "paper trail" all over this blog. But he is incapable of actually conversing.

By his own writings, Sick has demonstrated intolerance and flashes of hatred. For me, his support of torture on this blog was a watershed. It's hard for me, at least, to carry on in such a one-sided exhange when there is someone who seems incapable of empathy. I have read that a lack of empathy in a person is a very troubling sign.

People who insist upon a relationship, yet habitually berate those in it, are abusers. That's pretty much a clinical definition.

There may be a positive aspect to his rants. Perhaps they are cathartic, and prevent greater problems from occuring.

I admire Ted for letting Sick have this forum (by Sick's report, at least one other blog has blacklisted him).

But frankly, we've got other things to do than dash ourselves against the adamantine barrier that Sick puts up. Our words are wasted on such a fellow, yet there are real issues to discuss and causes to advance.

Anyone else out there have any suggestions on our little problem?

At 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a half-baked thought...

One thing that some blogs do is use an "outline" or hierarchical format in which blog entries are indexed so that readers don't have to wade through all the text of each entry. This can be useful when blog abusers muck things up.

Just a thought.

At 12:18 AM, Anonymous Bradley said...

I actually think that the best way to "handle" Mike is to not directly engage him. He has two reasons to post to this blog-- to argue his point-of-view and to get attention for himself.

When we hear someone saying something horrible, offensive, or just plain stupid, our natural inclination is to step up and try to convince the speaker to think about what he's saying. But that's a wasted effort with Mike; he doesn't want to think about these issues, he just wants to piss people off. We've all tried dealing with him reasonably, and have been rewarded for our efforts with name-calling and verbal tantrums. Who needs it?

Some of us might be inclined to think that we have to engage Mike's ideas when he's being particularly wrong-headed, so that no one just "lurking" will be persuaded by his ridiculous arguments, but I don't think that's true either. Ted writes with detail and eloquence about the issue of the day, and the rest of us weigh in with our own-- usually educated-- opinions on what Ted has written, and we have a civilized discussion (or debate) about the issue. Quite frankly, no one's going to be persuaded by Mike's rhetoric when there are so many more articulate and knowledgeable voices conversing around him.

In summary, I think it's best that we continue to respond to Ted's postings, so that we model intelligent political discussion, but let's not get side-tracked by ignoramuses who try to argue that the shorter and more simplistic an argument is, the more effective it is. Who knows? Maybe he'll learn something by watching the grown-ups talk. But even if he doesn't, it's important that we talk about the issues that Ted brings up without allowing ourselves to be dragged into pointless digressions.

At 5:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Good points. And I agree that we've sure tried with that guy. It's a little sad "giving up" on another human being, even one as prickly as you know who. But then, your reminder that this is a blog about ideas and discussion is correct.

At 12:01 PM, Anonymous Sickofspin said...

This groups' arrogance is truly amusing!

At 6:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sick Smear-o-Meter: NINE
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This is now at least the NINTH time Sick has refused to provide any evidence for his smear against Ted Remington (Sick claimed the Ted abused his academic position)

And he calls US arrogant?

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Hi all--

I agree that probably the best thing to do is ignore Sick, at least when he's not bothering to add anything to the conversation. After an initial bit of excitement at having an alternative voice commenting on a regular basis, I've become more than a little disappointed in the quality of his posts. I had hoped that maybe interacting with folks here would cause him to "up his game," but it seems like if anything, his posts have become more off topic and more devoted to cut and paste jobs as time has gone on.

I'm not terribly anxious to cut Sick off unless/until he becomes personally abusive to guests on the site. He's crossed that line a few times, but I'm trying to give him the benefit of any doubt, and I hope this comment will serve as warning that while it's fine to voice whatever opinions he wants, attempts to be intentionally hurtful to people won't be tolerated.

I've been guilty of breaking the "ignore Sick" guideline--it's sometimes hard to resist playing around with him. But his lack of responsiveness to even the most basic attempts to engage in debate have made me regret these. Early on, he said that Mark Hyman "exposed" me; when I asked how saying something demonstrably false that he had to retract was "exposing me," he didn't reply. Some of you have kindly asked him to support his assertion about my abuse of the classroom for political purposes. Again nothing. All of us have asked him fairly straightforward questions about his point of view, and he almost always ignores anything that calls for self-reflection. I even asked a completely neutral question about how he defined the term "torture" (an attempt to figure out what the underlying premises were of the discussion), and last I checked, he hasn't said anything.

I'm more than happy to engage in debate, even with someone who does so in language that's relatively rude and crude. But Sick doesn't seem interested in actually interacting; just venting.

If anyone feels Sick (or anyone else) has crossed the line at any point in terms of insulting them, let me know. Otherwise, my inclination is to let him punch himself out, get bored, and move on (or, more hopefully, decide to become more interactive and thoughtful in his comments).


At 11:36 AM, Anonymous hyman's turtle said...

sick, et al,
prior to this year, the point often ran over 2 minutes. the one that accused john kerry of shooting an unarmed vietnamese teen in the back ran 3:30. keep in mind, these segments run during 30 minute newscasts, and if you factor in commercials, that leaves around 10 minutes for actual news. sinclair affiliates complained for years and only recently did hyman shorten the point to right around one minute long, or about 150 words. and as ted has shown, time and again, hyman is too retarded to make a legitimite or even honest argument with that kind of time restraint. and in many ways, its yet another argument against the very existance of the point. if you can't do it right, don't do it at all. and sick, based on ted's deconstruction of your pathetic arguments, maybe that's advice you should follow as well.


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