Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hateful Remarks, Indeed

In Mark Hyman’s most recent “Mailbag” segment, we have yet another example of the pathetic and intellectually bankrupt tricks he likes to pull in lieu of rational, enlightened discourse.

Reading some viewer responses about his ode to the Marine Corps on the occasion of its anniversary, Hyman says:

And in a break with tradition, I will not air any of the negative
comments. There were some viewers who sent in hateful remarks regarding our
servicemen and women, illustrating that the Angry Left is alive and well, and
benefiting from the freedoms our military has helped preserve.

As we know, the “tradition” of reading opposing comments (note that Hyman refers to these as “negative” comments) is a rather pathetic one. But what Hyman pulls here is truly cowardly. Without actually quoting any of the supposedly “hateful” remarks and laying them at the feet of the “Angry Left,” Hyman engages in a sort of neo-McCarthyism that is indefensible, no matter how much one might agree with his political philosophy.

I strongly suspect that there were no such “hateful remarks,” at least none targeting people serving in the military. Had there been, Hyman would no doubt have gleefully produced them, since they would provide proof of what Hyman has alleged about those who disagree with him for so long.

I believe that since there wasn’t, Hyman lied in order to maliciously attack those who don’t happen to be of his political persuasion.

And this guy says the Left is angry?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

I hate to quibble with Mark Hyman’s Thanksgiving encomium to the wonders of the United States, but there are just a few small things that should be pointed out.

First, Hyman says that for 400 years “Americans” have given thanks for the harvests provided by the land. While I’m not one those people who get riled up whenever someone uses “American” as a synonym for one who lives in the United States, it’s probably worth noting that in the context of the early colonial history of the United States, “Americans” is a term that should be used with some care.

In particular, it can’t help but call to mind who the “Americans” were before the Pilgrims arrived and what Thanksgiving might signify for their descendents. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from King of the Hill: Dale asks John Redcorn (a Native American), “Do your people even celebrate Thanksgiving?” to which Redcorn responds scornfully, “We did . . . once.”

I love Thanksgiving as much as the next person, but Hyman’s unfortunate wording is enough to make even the less-than-thoroughly PC among us wince.

Secondly, I can’t help but marvel at Hyman’s ability to work in another gratuitous reference to illegal immigration in one of his commentaries. This is truly an obsession that runs deeply and darkly through Hyman’s psyche.

Lastly, Hyman states categorically that “[o]urs is a nation that collectively serves the public good. And for this, we are all thankful.”

Well, I think most people would agree that the United States is founded on important principles and has served as both an example and beacon to those across the world who aspire to freedom and democracy.

But Hyman’s formulation suggests that because of this, what the United States does is, by definition, part of the “public good.”

It’s not in spite of my patriotism, but rather because of it, that I can’t second this statement. There have been plenty of times when our country, either through mistake, misguidance, or narrow-mindedness has not served the public good, and we would be doing a disservice to what is best about our nation if we ignored those times when we haven’t collectively acted in accordance with the ideals of which we are so rightly proud. To believe that the United States simply “serves the public good” is to abandon our duties as citizens to be sure that our nation actually does serve the public good. And part of this duty is to be honest about past mistakes and willing to permit the kind of introspection that will allow us to recognize mistakes when we make them.

Unfortunately, the simplistic patriotism that sometimes holds us in such thrall can, when codified into an unchanging mindset, subvert the very ideals that warrant patriotism in the first place.

In one of his lesser known dialogs, Menexenus, Plato describes Socrates coming home after hearing a speech praising Athens to the skies for all the superiorities of its collective character (many of which are the same superiorities we often associate with the modern United States). Socrates says that as he heard the speech, he felt himself nearly stupefied by the sense of exaltation. He began looking at others around him who weren’t native Athenians, and he felt better than them. He heard the history of Athens praised in such lofty terms that, even though he knew the facts were being edited and distorted by the speaker to make Athens seem that much better, he was caught up in the thrill of belonging to this idealized city. His euphoria lasts for days.

Only then, when he has “come down,” does Socrates understand the fact that the speaker has done him no favors by transporting him to such a state. In the name of patriotism, the speaker has separated Socrates from those who aren’t truly Athenian, although they live with him. He has been separated from the truth of his own community, because its history has been whitewashed of those aspects of it that were too troubling to fit into the pristine vision the speaker wanted to evoke. Ultimately, Socrates is divided from his own sense of himself and his identity because he has given himself over to a seductive but ultimately false vision of what his community is. As a result, he has been put into such a stupor that he is incapable of doing what he does best: goading and educating his fellow citizens into living better lives, into making the real Athens even better.

So next time you hear people insisting that if you don’t subscribe to their particular brand of bumper-sticker patriotism that you are “un-American,” you might consider asking them who’s really got the “public interest” at heart by dropping a little Platonic knowledge on them.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hey Mark: Who's Your Daddy?

Yet again, Mark Hyman pronounces that anyone who doesn’t agree with him on an issue must not take that issue seriously. In his commentary about Senator James Inhofe’s proposed legislation that would cap all non trust-fund, non defense spending at the previous year’s level, Hyman says of the 2/3 of the Senators who voted down the amendment that they are “spendthrifts who can’t help themselves.” No, they aren’t simply wrong, misguided, or short sighted; they are in some way pathological, out of control, and unworthy of honest debate.

To begin with, it’s a little odd to be casting aspersions on the mindset of other Senators when you’re defending Jim Inhofe.
Inhofe is the guy who said he was “outraged” not about torture at Abu Ghraib, but outraged at the outrage over torture. He also has called the Red Cross a “bleeding heart” organization, doesn’t believe in global warming, and said that 9/11 was spiritual punishment against the United States for not being pro-Israel enough.

None of this necessarily means that his spending cap amendment is wrong, but with an intellectual track record like that, it would serve us well to approach any idea of Mr. Inhofe’s with some degree of skepticism.

And indeed we should. Although Hyman carefully implies that Inhofe’s amendment would cap spending beyond keeping up with inflation, the fact is that
the text of Inhofe’s amendment makes no mention of adjusting for inflation; it simply says that spending will be capped at the previous fiscal year’s level. If funding doesn’t keep up with inflation, that is a cut in real terms.

And even if Hyman’s insinuation were true, simply keeping up with the inflation rate doesn’t cut it when you’re talking about issues like health care, where the costs go up much more quickly than the general rate of inflation. So yes, Mark, in many cases, raising spending along with inflation does amount to real cuts if those raises don’t keep pace with the actual costs in a particular sector of the economy.

Hyman also leaves out the little detail that it would take a 2/3 majority, not a simple majority, to raise spending. That means that a small minority in the Senate could hold programs hostage, effectively cutting any number of federal programs that a huge number of Americans profit from (including a great number of conservatives—where do you suppose those ranching subsidies come from?).

That, of course, is the whole point. Far right conservatives like Inhofe and Hyman like the idea of placing institutional cuts into the budgeting process because then they can do away federal programs that they see as inherently morally wrong without actually having to make a persuasive case to the American people, or even to more than 34 Senators.

But even if one thought this would be a good idea, why take defense spending off the table? Given the enormous size of the army and the lack of a Cold War, wouldn’t it make sense to put similar limits on the Defense Department which, as we well know, is infamous for its own spendthrift ways? Surely if there was a war on, the Senate would approve emergency funding increases, right?

Probably, but that’s not the point. Conservatives love big government, as long as it’s in those areas they approve of. As
George Lakoff notes, conservatives are enamored with “strict father” morality, and this includes a preoccupation with protection, even to the point of funding the military beyond what the Pentagon has requested. Spending on the military is a good in and of itself, beyond any practical concerns, because the military represents the very embodiment of the type of hierarchical, regimented, and patriarchal value system that pervades conservative thinking.

On the other hand, funding education, child care, health care, etc. are too touchy-feely and caring to fit into this worldview. These programs help people who should be helping themselves, so let’s cap them in a way that amounts to a gradual erosion of such programs (so say conservatives).

Hyman nor Inhofe are both being dishonest about where their priorities are. They're ultimately not terribly concerned about the size of the budget deficit. After all, they’re supporters of a president whose managed to balloon the deficit in a mere five years to unprecedented heights. They just want to spend money on those things that they approve of, not what most Americans want.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.62

Monday, November 28, 2005

What Is the Sound of One Brain Cell Working?

Hyman’s recent editorial on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident is a bit confusing in terms of what’s motivating it.

He begins by saying, “The war was started with bad intelligence. That statement is like throwing red-meat to all of the critics of Iraq's liberation,” then segues into recent news stories about intelligence failings surrounding the alleged attacks on U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, alleged attacks that provided the impetus for a rapid acceleration in U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

It’s not clear if the first statement is simply a non-sequitur, or if Hyman is somehow suggesting that Democrats shouldn’t be so quick to condemn the Bush administration when a Democratic president also used shaky and/or trumped up evidence to convince Congress and the American people to commit to a war of choice.

Assuming it’s the latter, Hyman is right: the mixture of poor intelligence gathering and willful misinterpretation and distortion of that intelligence in order to make the case for war was unconscionable. But I don’t know many Democrats who would question that. Given that it was progressives who have been at the forefront of the anti-war movement in both its Vietnam and Iraq incarnations, the implied charge of hypocrisy simply doesn’t stick.

But perhaps I’m giving Hyman too much credit. Maybe that initial statement was just a clumsy way of introducing the topic and of working the laughable phrase “Iraq’s liberation” into a commentary. In any case, it’s at least interesting that the guy
who recently said that there were no similarities between Vietnam and Iraq would invite his audience to draw such a damning parallel.

Sometimes, however, it’s best not to look for any logic (even of the severely twisted variety) behind Hyman’s commentaries. Perhaps we should treat them like zen koans, absurd contradictions that are meant to empty one’s mind of thought.

At least that seems to be the effect they have on Hyman himself.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.88

Same Old Same Old

Hyman's most recent editorial on illegal immigration offers a case study of two Hyman hallmarks, one tactical and one strategic.

On the tactical level, we have yet another diatribe about the threat of undocumented immigrants bringing the country down. With the possible exceptions of John Kerry and higher education, undocumented immigrants are Hyman's favorite targets. You might remember the editorial he delivered several months ago in which he
equated undocumented immigrants with al Qaeda terrorists.

Hyman's latest exercise in xenophobia is nearly identical to another commentary he gave recently, all the way down to the 70,000 non-Mexican immigrant number. But
as we pointed out in response to that editorial, the idea championed by Hyman and the appropriately named Rep. John Doolittle ignores the massive costs of incarcerating undocumented immigrants until their deportation hearing and (more importantly) fails to acknowledge that undocumented immigrants contribute to the nation's economy. The suggestion that they "drain" the American taxpayer is, at best, mistaken and at worst, racist.

On a more strategic level, we see the trademark Hyman tactic of refusing to grapple with an issue intellectually by simply writing off any opposition as "not serious." Hyman implies that anyone who doesn't favor Doolittle's bill doesn't have an opinion that's even worthy of consideration. Never mind that quite a few conservatives (particularly those in the business community) oppose draconian measures to stop illegal immigration (based on their recognition that undocumented immigrants play an important role in America's workforce). Rather than go through the effort of weighing the pros and cons of the issue and making his case on its merits, Hyman simply proclaims that the opinion of anyone not on his side is too trivial to be acknowledged.

The debate on what national policy on illegal immigration is an important one, and there are intelligent cases to be made from various points of view. But, as is all too common, Hyman takes an important issue and diminishes both it and the public sphere itself with his sloppy, lazy rhetoric.

And that's The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.99


An absolute must-read is in the latest issue of GQ magazine: a lengthy piece on Sinclair. Some of it will be familiar to most of us who’ve followed Sinclair for a while (e.g., David Smith’s history as a pornographer and a letch), while others are new (add war profiteering to the rap sheet of the Smith family). Needless to say, no one at Sinclair were willing to talk with the reporter. (This seems to be a company policy: Hyman refused to return phone calls from the reporter who did the recent write up of Iowans for Better Local Television in a recent edition of Broadcast & Cable).

The content is stomach-turning, but it’s well written, well researched, and gets at the underlying issue that it’s not so much the specific politics of the Smith family and Hyman that are the problem—it’s the way they abuse their influence (and viewers) in the pursuit of political power and higher profits.



With a Whimper, Not a Bang

Back from conferencing and turkey munching . . . so where were we?

When last we left Mr. Hyman, he was promising us to show how conservatives were being routinely victimized by liberal profs run amok. After three straight commentaries, all Hyman had come up with was an anecdote about a student at Georgia Tech who claimed one professor was biased against her because of her outspoken conservative beliefs. But as we saw, other students in the class came forward to say the conservative student in question had done poorly in the class based on her own performance and had been insistently baiting the professor.

So, one expected something significant in the two editorials that wrapped up the week-long cri du coeur from Hyman about the fate of conservatives on campus. But we sure didn’t get it.

Instead, after building up our hopes for something interesting, Hyman simply revisited the Georgia Tech case. The only addition was to bring another voice into the conversation, that of Dr. Christine Ries, whom Hyman quoted approvingly.

Ries’s comments were rather bland (she, for example, specifically doesn’t call of the so called “Academic Bill of Rights” mentioned by Hyman in earlier editorials), but she does give some credence to the idea that professors are blurring the lines between their politics and their academic work.

A few other things one should know about Ries: first, she is a professor of economics Remember that we’ve noted conservatives complaints about ideology only seem to apply to the humanities; the fact that economics and business departments are often home to staunch conservatives (and largely exclude far left ideologies such as socialism) are not acknowledged.

And yes, Ries is certainly a conservative. We know this not just because Hyman is quoting her. She has publicly supported the Bush administration’s tax plan, signing on to
an open letter cheering the president’s 2003 economic plan, calling it “responsible” and predicting that it will create jobs and economic growth. She also publicly signed a similar letter attacking John Kerry’s economic plan in the run-up to the 2004 election. Then there was the open letter she signed supporting Bush’s private account Social Security scheme, a letter used by the Cato Institute in ads pimping for the Bush plan. All these letters were signed by Ries in her capacity as a professor of economics, and the similarity of the listed economists (the vast majority of whom are college teachers) suggests that Ms. Ries is part of an economic seraglio of scholars on whom the administration can count to prostitute themselves whenever Bush & Co. feel the urge to commit class warfare stirring in their collective loins.

Beyond the obvious blurring of Ries’s academic and political roles (which I don’t have a problem with, although her own comments suggest that she should), her support for economic policies that have continued one of the slowest recoveries in economic history and continued the dismal job production record of the current administration (the worst record in this area since Hoover and the Great Depression) suggests she might not exactly be an oracle of economic wisdom.

She’s also not apparently a terribly good administrator, given the fact that
she presided over a “mass exodus” of economics faculty under her tenure as head of the department.

But somehow, despite her overt use of her academic credentials to advocate for specific political causes and questions about her administrative ability, this outspoken conservative has not only survived but thrived in academia.

In the end, the culmination of Hyman’s editorializing not only does nothing to further his case that the average college campus is a bastion of liberal privilege, but in fact tacitly undercuts the very argument he has struggled for days to make.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Another Swing and a Miss

Mark Hyman’s most recent edition of his multi-day commentary is one of the more articulate debunkings of his underlying premise.

Hyman has said and implied any number of times that academia (or at least the humanities and social sciences) are hotbeds of liberalism, with professors attempting to indoctrinate students. But despite his assertion that this is a widespread problem, Hyman has now spent two full commentaries discussing a single professor. Moreover, as we pointed out yesterday, students of this professor have come forward publicly to denounce the charges against her and have made the case that the accusations are themselves the result of aggressive political posturing.

Hyman’s main addition to what has already been said is the charge that this professor sent an email to students in which Cornel West was quoted saying critical things about the Bush administration. So apparently not only is a professor responsible for the comments she or he makes, but for the opinions of any public figure whose words are used within the course they are teaching.

But if evangelical liberalism is so rampant on America’s campuses, wouldn’t you think that Hyman could come up with something better than two consecutive nights going after a single professor, particularly when the charges come from impeached and anonymous sources? If the problem is anywhere close to the scale Hyman suggests it is, there should be blatant examples aplenty. The fact that he takes up two consecutive points to running down a single professor suggests his argumentative skills are anemic, or that the case he is attempting to make is not supported by the facts (let’s note, by the way, that this is not an either/or choice).

Hyman promises to show us how this particular professor is somehow representative of a much larger problem. For his sake, let’s hope that he doesn’t embarrass himself with another redundant attack based on McCarthy-esque anonymous sources and secret reports.

There’s more to say on this. I’ll be out of town for a few days at a conference (one of those places where all us radical liberals congregate to figure out how to destroy America’s youth). Until then, that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.78

Monday, November 14, 2005

Two Sides to Every Story? Not in Hyman World.

In his continuing series on the wisdom of an “academic bill of rights,” Mark Hyman offers a single example at a single university as evidence of the need for such a document.

According to Hyman, Ruth Malhotra, a student and conservative activist at Georgia Tech, was discriminated against by a professor because of her conservative beliefs. After announcing that she’d be going to a conservative conference, the instructor allegedly told her “Well, you’re just going to fail my class.” Hyman implies that this is the reason why Ms. Malhotra had to withdraw from the course while failing. (Despite this, Malhotra herself has
acknowledged that the instructor was joking when she said this.)

But, as Paul Harvey might say, here’s the rest of the story. Malhotra’s grievance against her instructor became a cause celeb among Students for Academic Freedom [sic] and allied groups, and that was exactly the point. According to two classmates of Malhotra
who wrote an op-ed piece for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Malhotra and some of her classmates regularly baited the instructor by bringing up political issues unrelated to the class.

In fact, the comment that was at the heart of the grievance (not the one Hyman refers to, but a separate incident in which the instructor allegedly belittled the Bush administration’s agenda) was made during a review session that the instructor was using to help students prepare for a test. According to Malhotra’s classmates, the instructor was becoming increasingly annoyed with the continued interruptions of the review session by the tangential and unrelated political comments made by Malhotra and company, which were taking away review time for the rest of the students.

You’d think that Malhotra would have been the last person to waste an opportunity to review the course material, since she had apparently failed the first exam. Her classmates hypothesize that her actions stemmed from a desire to provoke a test case for Students for Academic Freedom. In any case, what her classmates describe is exactly the reverse of the situation Hyman evoked in his previous editorial: rather than a professor using class time to engage in gratuitous and inflammatory political rhetoric, it was a politically motivated student who insisted on wasting class time in order to further her own political agenda.

Perhaps Malhotra’s classmates are flaming liberals who are out to assassinate her character (although that’s hardly the attitude that comes through in their op-ed piece). I don’t know. But what is clear is that there are, at the very least, two sides of the story.

Which, as we know, is one more than you’re likely to get from Mr. Hyman.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.53

How About a Viewer's Bill of Rights?

In his latest editorial, Mark Hyman begins a multi-part look at the "movement" afoot to have state legislatures pass an "academic bill of rights" that would mandate teaching practices that promote "alternative viewpoints."

Traditionally, conservatives have been suspicious (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly) of tendencies in higher education to introduce "alternative voices" into the college curriculum. So why Hyman's sudden championing of government action to mandate respect for "alternative viewpoints"? Because the only alternative viewpoints at issue with the proposed "academic bill of rights" are conservative.

Railing (yet again) against the "many colleges [that] have become bastions of liberal ideology," Hyman offers no evidence to support his claims. Rather, he simply states as fact that some professors "promote intellectual orthodoxies that are out of the mainstream," "introduce political discussions unrelated to the course material," and "sometimes punish students who express alternative viewpoints or who practice certain religions."

If you'd like an example of any of these, you won't get it from Hyman. He offers none.

In fact, this "movement" is actually a crusade by a fairly small but noisy and well-funded group of neo-conservatives, spearheaded
by David Horowitz and "Students for Academic Freedom" (which, oddly enough, was founded by Horowitz, not students). Horowitz's modus operandi (beyond his general tactics of using smears against opponents) is to find scattered complaints from conservative students (complaints his organization actively encourages) and suggests that these are somehow indicative of what's going on in the average college classroom. But as has been noted, Horowitz often embellishes the facts to suit his purposes, and is unapologetic about doing so (his attitude being, "I'm right, so the facts don't really matter").

Regular readers might remember that we saw how
disingenuous and hypocritical "The Point" is when it comes to attacking higher education. In a recent series feigning to offer disinterested advice to prospective students and their parents, "The Point" gave its viewers several installments of interviews with conservative activists and promoted a highly conservative (and, according to many reviews on, poorly researched and written) guide to colleges.

As I've said many times, there are plenty of problems and issues with higher education (just ask any college instructor), but political indoctrination is not one of them. Horowitz has had to work hard to come up with the smattering of complaints he's got, and there are already rules in existence at all colleges and universities that offer procedures for students to file grievances against instructors who show bias of any sort in their grading or who replace instruction with off topic rants (political or otherwise).

True, there are facts that might lead someone to believe that liberal indoctrination might be going on in college campuses. For example, polling suggests that
the average American holds political views that are considered "liberal" on any number of issues, such as Social Security, the minimum wage, universal health care, gun control, taxation, the environment, education, etc. In fact, in many cases, the majority of Americans actually hold positions that are to the political left of most elected Democrats. However, there is little to no evidence that this widespread liberalism is somehow the result of indoctrination received in college.

The truth is that bills of academic freedom are attempts by conservatives to attack what they perceive as a haven of liberalism.

But there are any number of layers of hypocrisy here. To begin with, you have the oddity of conservatives asking for what amounts to "Affirmative Action" at college campuses. The same people who argue that the invisible hand of the free market should be allowed to work its magic in almost every other walk of life seem to think that the government should intervene in the educational market. But if indoctrination is such a problem, wouldn't one expect institutions where this is a problem to be punished financially by having their application pool dry up and/or losing current students by the truckload as they transfer to other schools? Why this single exception to the cult of the market?

Moreover, as we've also noted before, the attack on the supposed liberalism on college campuses is actually far narrower than it claims to be. It's actually an attack primarily on the humanities and, to a lesser extent, social sciences. The Horowitzes of the world would be horrified if their logic was applied equally across the academic spectrum. Should professors of business be required to spend equal time talking about the "alternative viewpoints" on capitalism offered by Marxists? Should schools of economics offer specialties in "Communist Studies"? If, during a class discussion, a business teacher engages in an interchange with a student with socialist political leanings and questions her belief in the prospect of government ownership of the means of production, should that student be allowed to sue the university because her views were criticized? Should schools with church affiliations give equal time to atheism as they do to religious belief?

For that matter, why stop at higher education? There are any number of other institutions that have a larger affect on the day to day lives of Americans than colleges and universities. If ideological diversity is truly important, why not apply that standard to places where it might have a more dramatic effect? Perhaps the Pentagon should be required to have a certain number of pacifists on its staff. How about some anarchists at the IRS and the Justice Department--that would certainly shake things up. Should we require the executive boards of all Fortune 500 companies to be equally divided between liberals and conservatives? For that matter, how about government itself? Instead of elections, let's just split all legislative bodies right down the middle and appoint each political party an equal number of seats?

And what about the media? Hyman complains about the power of professors to "indoctrinate" students (by the way, if I'm having trouble "indoctrinating" my students into writing coherent 5-paragraph essays, I doubt I, or anyone else, would have much success in indoctrinating students in the subtleties of any given political ideology, even if we wanted to). But the media reaches a far wider range of people. Yet, thanks to Republican dismantling of longstanding FCC guidelines, there is no fairness doctrine left--or ownership restrictions. That allows companies like Sinclair to buy up multiple stations in given markets and allow Hyman to use his own "bully pulpit" to indoctrinate viewers. If Hyman believes so strongly in the dangers of allowing members of an institution to foist off their personal political views on the general public, perhaps he should put his money where his mouth is by offering an honest interchange of ideas on his editorial segment.

I won't hold my breath waiting for Hyman to give me a call, though.

And that's The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.19

PS. For a more thoughtful and articulate response about the specifics of the “Academic Bill of Rights” than I could ever muster, see this essay by Dr. Graham Larkin of the American Association of University Professors. You might also find this interchange between a supporter and opponent of the Academic Bill of Rights interesting, if for no other reason than it’s surprisingly civil.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Inalienable Rights

In recent posts responding to Hyman’s commentaries on “Operation Welcome Home” and on the occasion of the anniversary of the Marine Corps’ founding, I’ve commented on the inherent duplicity of Hyman’s calls to honor the military, their families, and veterans when his own support of these people is often conditional on their holding of political beliefs of which Hyman approves.

Much of these comments apply just as well to Hyman’s
Veterans Day commentary. But there’s one critically important point that we need to note, here.

Hyman says that it is the veteran who “has given you” the rights of freedom of religion, press, speech, assembly, and a fair trial.


The veteran has protected these rights. They are yours simply by virtue of you being endowed by your creator with these inalienable rights.

This is no small matter of semantics. This speaks to the very heart of what it means to live in a democracy. There is no room for any equivocation or fuzziness when it comes to this central principle upon which our country was founded.

Veterans deserve our enduring gratitude, not for giving us these rights, but for serving to protect them from those who might take them away.

And, as painful as it might be to acknowledge it, we must also be honest enough to say we owe veterans an apology for those times when we have sent them in harm’s way to fight, kill, and die in conflicts in which our rights were not truly threatened, but which we engaged in out of choice. Those mistakes, that squandering of our most precious resource, lie at our feet, not those of the men and women who heeded our call.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Zero Tolerance Policy on Sadism

The sexual exploitation of populations by UN personnel is despicable, and those in positions of authority in the UN must do whatever is in their power to stop it. The UN can and should be an organization that people look to as a defender of justice, freedom, and decency. It is incumbent upon those within the UN to find and punish not only those specific individuals responsible for sadistic acts, but to look unflinchingly at what responsibility the organization as a whole must take for allowing these events to occur in the first place. On the other hand, we must not conflate these misdeeds with the mission of the UN in historic terms and deride the organization as a whole for the wrongs, however vile, committed by those who wear its uniform.

The torture of detainees by U.S. military personnel is despicable, and those in positions of authority in the U.S. military must do whatever is in their power to stop it. The U.S. military can and should be an organization that people look to as a defender of justice, freedom, and decency. It is incumbent upon those within the U.S. military to find and punish not only those specific individuals responsible for sadistic acts, but to look unflinchingly at what responsibility the organization as a whole must take for allowing these events to occur in the first place. On the other hand, we must not conflate these misdeeds with the mission of the U.S. military in historic terms and deride the organization as a whole for the wrongs, however vile, committed by those who wear its uniform.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.50

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Actions, Not Words

Mark Hyman loves to play at supporting the military, and one of his favorite ways of doing this is to use his “Point” segments to pay tribute to various branches of the armed services on the anniversary of their founding. A case in point is his recent paean to the Marine Corps.

But actions speak louder than words. If Hyman and the executives at Sinclair would like to do something tangible, real, and meaningful to show their respect for the men and women of our armed services, there are a host of things they could do instead of the empty babble of anniversary announcements.

Below, I list just a handful of the much more meaningful gestures Hyman and/or Sinclair as a whole could do to truly honor the troops.

Apologize for refusing to allow your ABC affiliated stations to run
Nightline’s “The Fallen,” a memorial to the men and women who had given their lives in Iraq.

Criticize the Pentagon and the administration for
not providing our soldiers on the ground with more body armor, fully-equipped Humvees, and other essential equipment.

Speak out against the higher ups in the Pentagon who
have made scapegoats out of those on the ground in Iraq for the abuses of prisoners, abuses which have blackened the reputation of the United States.

Apologize for
slandering the service of a decorated war hero simply because you disagreed with his politics.

having given aid and comfort to other groups who slander the heroic service of a veteran for personal political gain.

giving money to politicians who abuse our men and women in uniform by sending them into wars of choice based on misinformation.

Ask the President of the United States to attend just one funeral of the more than 2,000 young men and women who have thus far given their lives in Iraq because of his decisions.

Apologize for
savagely smearing a grieving mother who lost her son in Iraq.

Stop attacking as anti-American those people (
including veterans and families of active duty personnel) who think serving our troops best would have meant not sending them into a voluntary war without the proper equipment, a plan for getting them home, or a justifiable reason for putting them in harm’s way.

I won't be holding my breath.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

With Friends Like Hyman . . .

At first blush, I should be grateful to Mark Hyman for his recent commentary saying that bloggers shouldn't be discriminated against. It seems awfully magnanimous for Hyman to defend me despite being constantly debunked and exposed on this website.

But before we get too touchy-feely, let's look at why Hyman comes to the defense of bloggers.

Hyman argues that laws which protect print and broadcast journalists from having to name their sources but that don't offer the same protection to bloggers are discriminatory.

That sounds good, and it suggests that Hyman would be in favor of laws that apply this same protection to bloggers. But that's not the case. In fact, Hyman is against *all* laws that protect any journalist from having to name their sources:

On principle, I don't believe anyone including journalists should be given special rights not available to the public at large. I don't agree journalists should be allowed to protect sources if those sources are suspected of breaking the law.

So it's not so much that Hyman is supporting bloggers as much as that he's against the rights of all journalists.

as we've pointed out before, this position assures that journalists will be unable to do their job, just as lawyers, doctors, and clergy wouldn't be able to do their jobs if their right to confidentiality was done away with. If Hyman believes that journalists shouldn't have rights the general public lacks, doesn't that suggest that *no* profession should have rights denied to everyone? If not, why not? If so, is Hyman for a Roman Catholic priest being forced to reveal what's been said in the confessional or go to jail (for example)?

This commentary also illustrates
a second recurring Hyman trope: his "nuanced" take on whether he himself is a journalist.

In this particular editorial, Hyman clearly wants to portray himself as a journalist because it will make him seem all the more magnanimous and fair minded in his repudiation of the privileges journalists have:

"I am clearly out of step with most people who work in the journalism field when it comes to the topic of a federal shield law."

Hyman picks his words carefully; note that he doesn't actually call himself a journalist. But he clearly intends to set up the contrast with "most journalists" in a way that suggests his inclusion in this group.

We've noted many times before that Hyman, and "The Point" segment generally, are often excused by Sinclair as being merely commentary, but then will suddenly take on the trappings of doing "reports" from various locations. Hyman calls himself a journalist in those cases where it suits him, but denies this label when it could be used against him.

As for myself, I don't think that bloggers, as a group, are journalists. Those who make a living at it and do work that can be shown to be journalism (rather than simply commentary) should be protected by the same laws that protect journalists working in other media. But simply doing something that seems vaguely like journalism shouldn't be confused with the real article, just as someone who offers amateur legal advice to a friend shouldn't be allowed to claim attorney/client privilege.

As far as the importance of confidentiality to the journalistic mission goes, perhaps Hyman would like to take the issue up with Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, who said, ""The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to bare the secrets of government and inform the people."

And that's The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.29

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hyman Flunks Out

Mark Hyman closes his recent commentary about rising college tuition by saying, "What the public needs is more transparency to determine if public universities are spending the money wisely or if they are simply gouging the students."

I guess one way of being satisfied is to ask for what you already have. Perhaps Hyman is onto some sort of profound vision of life, here. The two more likely explanations (and these aren’t mutually exclusive) are that he wants to baselessly bash educators and/or he’s an idiot.

What Hyman doesn't know (or pretends he doesn't know) is that public universities have a transparent budgeting process. For example, at the University of Iowa (where I spent the last few years), you can find out exactly what every salaried fulltime faculty member, administrator, and staff person makes, down to the penny. In fact, the salaries are published annually in the local newspaper, and you can also find them on the web.

The budget itself is a matter of public record--if you want to look at it, it's there for the asking; you can find out exactly how much Iowa spends on each and every program. And this isn't something unique to Iowa. To be accredited, public universities must make not only their annual budgets, but a host of other financial documents public. You'll find this on just about any public college or university's website when they describe their compliance with the requirements with their accrediting organization.

For example, at the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (one of the nation's largest accrediting bodies), the need for financial transparency is spelled out in General Institutional Requirement #24:

"It makes available upon request information that accurately describes its financial condition."

Almost all universities and colleges accredited by NCA list each of the NCA's requirements, often adding something about how they specifically meet them. For examples of how various public universities describe their compliance with GIR 24, take look at the
University of Colorado, the University of Illinois, and the University of Arizona (these are fairly random examples; if you Google the wording of GIR 24, you can find many, many, many others).

At the University of California at Berkeley,
the entire 328-page budget document is available online at the university's website. About the only way Hyman could have more insight into the inner workings of the university would be if he were to personally give Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau a prostate exam.

But wait, you (or, more likely, Hyman) might say. This just gives the public the end product of the budgeting and tuition decisions. What about the process itself? Shouldn't we be allowed to see that?

Yes, you should, which is why you can. Public universities are generally overseen by a state's Board of Regents, a group of officials who oversee the running of institutions of higher learning in their state. Their meetings are open to the public, and a great number of their documents and memos (including those having to do with budgetary proposals) are available online. (For an example of what the Board of Regents is and does,
here's a link to the FAQ of the Iowa Board of Regents).

So Hyman's call for more transparency at public universities is a moot point. It already is.

But what about tution? It sure has been going up a lot, hasn't it. Mark's right about that, yes?

Yep. It's been rising significantly, particularly recently. But there are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about these figures.

First, even at private schools, the cost of educating a student is more than what the student pays in tuition. Money comes from other places (grants, endowments, etc.). At the state universities in Iowa, for example, the state has generally picked up over 60% of the costs of operating the institutions. Most private colleges, while having high sticker prices for tuition, also give the majority of their students significant amounts of financial aid (something I myself am grateful for, since, as the child of two public university teachers, I never would have been able to go to the college of my choice if it hadn't been for the financial aid and scholarships I received). So while tuition has gone up, parents and students are generally paying only a fraction of the total cost of the education itself.

And what does that education get you?

Well, in addition to the social and intellectual benefits, it pays off handsomely in raw cash as well. Someone who holds a bachelor's degree
will make nearly one million dollars more over his or her lifetime than someone with only a high school degree. In simple terms of return on investment, a college education is still one of the best things you can buy for your money.

Much better than, say, investing little Johnny's tuition money in Sinclair Broadcast Group stock, which,
according to Morningstar, has a measly 2.43% yield. As the Morningstar people point out, this return on investment is not only "much lower than the earnings yields of other stocks in its industry, but it is also very low in absolute terms."

So maybe sending Johnny to State U. isn't such a rip off after all.

But this idea of investment presupposes the ability to make that initial investment in the first place. As Hyman points out, for middle to lower class families, it's difficult to realize the awesome return on the investment in a college education if they can't put together the money to make that investment in the first place.

Another good point by Mark. But the question is who or what is to blame for this rise in tuition that makes it more difficult for working class folks to get their children into college. As we've established, the problem can't be from a lack of transparency in the budgets of public universities. So why the sticker shock?

Well, according to
Sandra Baum, a senior analyst at the College Board, (the same organization Hyman cites in his own commentary) cutting of state funds, decreased private giving, and rising healthcare costs correlate with rises in tuition.

So, a slow economy, a federal government that places more burden on the states, along with a healthcare system that is based on HMO's and other corporations making huge profits, seems to lead to rising tuition. Hmmmmmm. . ..

But you don't even need to use a chain of cause/effect reasoning to see the links between the current administration’s policies and rising college costs, particularly for lower and working class families.

One of the basic ways people with limited economic means get the money to make that initial investment in college is through
Pell Grants. The Bush administration has effectively cut these Pell Grants to families, shifting more and more of the cost onto working and middle class families.

That might not be such a good idea, but is there anything dishonest about it?

For someone who claimed to want to be the "Education President," it does seem a bit underhanded. But it's actually much worse. Bush talked specifically about increasing Pell Grants in his campaign in 2000, but then
never funded them as he promised he would. He lied again in 2004, claiming his devotion to Pell Grants showed his commitment to making educational affordable and attainable for all, but then turned around and slashed them less than two months after being "re"-elected.

So yes, Mark, a college education, while being one of the best possible investments one can make, is unfortunately harder to attain for working and middle class kids than it's been in a long time. But don't blame this on the non-existent problem of shady budgeting at public universities. Blame it on the administration that doesn't seem to understand that just as a college education is a wonderful investment for the student, it's also a wonderful collective investment for us as a society, one that will pay off in a host of ways (including financial) down the road.

Blame the self-proclaimed "Education President."

And that's The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.45 (although this doesn’t quite do justice to the fact that the entire commentary is based on a demonstrably false premise).

Monday, November 07, 2005

Marky Hyman and the Transference Factory

Mark Hyman’s recent commentary on Harold Pinter is so obviously dopey and logically flawed that it’s barely worth acknowledging, let alone rebutting. Choosing two quotations that accuse the U.S. of hegemonic desires (one regarding 9/11, the other about the use of force in the Balkans), Hyman concludes that Pinter’s words “could earn [him] a charter membership in the Angry Left Club.”


Apparently for Hyman, the statements of a non-American, non-politician can be projected onto domestic political enemies without any explanation or support.

If that’s the case, Mark, can I say that another British writer, Roald Dahl, could be a charter member of the Radical Right Club because of
his anti-Semitic statements?

As usual, I’m just wondering.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: One great big juicy textbook example of transference.

Who's Agitatin' Whom?

One would think that ensuring that every American is offered the unfettered opportunity to their constitutional right to vote would be something people of all political stripes could get behind. Apparently it ain't so.

a recent commentary, Hyman wails and gnashes his teeth about the ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy who said in a recent decision that the recent law passed by the Georgia legislature to enforce mandatory photo voter ID was unconstitutional. Judge Murphy said in his decision that although he respected the state legislature, he respected the U. S. Constitution even more.

Hyman claims that the only people who could possibly be against the Georgia law are "conspiracy theorists" and "agitators" who believe their candidate can't win in an honest election (he doesn't say which of these categories Judge Murphy falls into).

The now-defunct Georgia law would require voters to show photo ID in order to vote. For those without a driver's license, this would mean purchasing a government ID for $20 or $35 (depending on the number of years the ID would be valid).

Of course, many people who don't have a driver's license also don't have an extra $35 to shell out just in order to do what they have a guaranteed right to do: vote.

According to Hyman, this is a moot point since those who are "indigent" could fill out paperwork to plead poverty and get a free ID.

There are just a few problems with this, however. First, it requires that people humiliate themselves by claiming indigence if they want to vote. Second, many of the potential voters who would need this ID live in rural counties without driver's license bureaus. The state is kind enough to provide a mobile licensing bus that would travel to the voters; the only problem is that there is one such bus, and 159 counties. If the bus doesn't get to you (or you miss it for the nanosecond it's in your neck of the woods), tough. Third, and more philosophically, it's unconstitutional to require anyone of any income level to have to pay to vote. No one, no matter how wealthy or poor, should have to pay money to the government to exercise constitutionally the constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.

Not surprisingly, among the largest groups to be affected by this new law would be African Americans.

Hyman will tell you that the ID law is simply there to stop voter fraud, which is itself a danger to the democratic process. So the question is this: which poses the greater threat to the democratic process in Georgia, voter fraud or the disenfranchisement of black voters?

As for voter fraud, it's not an issue.
There hasn't been a recorded case of voter impersonation in Georgia (the type of voter fraud targeted by the legislation) in nine years. It's simply not a problem.

Now, does Georgia have a history of problems with the disenfranchisement of black voters?

Li'l bit . . . Li'l bit. I've heard things.

You don't even need to go back to the bad old days of Jim Crow to find evidence aplenty that black voters still aren't represented accurately in the electoral process. Thousands of voters in Georgia were disenfranchised in 2000 due to "ballot spoilage." A
statistical study sponsored by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University looked into the role of ballot spoilage in 2000 to see if there were any patterns in whose ballots got spoiled the most. Surprise, surprise: counties with particularly high rates of vote spoilage also happened to have particularly high rates of African American voters.

And there's evidence to suggest that the GOP was eager to keep black voter turnout down in 2004.
The Washington Post noted that in Florida, a disproportionate number of voter registration applications filled out by African Americans were deemed "incomplete." Additionally, for every one Republican registration declared incomplete, there were three Democratic registrations that were declared null and void.

Given this, which hypothesis seems more likely--that the Republican led Georgia state legislature and the Republican governor were eager to pass a law to solve a nonexistent problem, or that they were eager to pass a law that would assuredly whittle down the number of black and poor voters (who happen to vote overwhelmingly Democratic)?

I'm just wondering.

And that's The Counterpoint.

PS. Not surprisingly, Republican lawmakers appealed Judge Murphy’s ruling,
but the injunction was upheld by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Must be a bunch of agitators and conspiracy theorists on that court, right Mark?

Hyman Index: 3.90

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Of Gray Ladies and Gray Bars

Mark Hyman returns to an old stand-by: bashing the New York Times.

This time around, the Gray Lady’s sin is to run
a series of articles that discuss the ramifications of life sentences on the criminal justice system and society as a whole.

Hyman interprets this (predictably) as out-of-touch softheadedness about crime. Moreover, Hyman implies that the use of “appropriate sentences” are the primary cause of the currently low crime rate.

But this interpretation of the series and of the crime problem is, at best, grossly simplified.

As for the series itself, the articles delves into a number of cases of inmates who were sentenced to life sentences with little or no chance of parole, often for crimes they committed when they were under 18 (according to the article 2,200 such inmates are serving life sentences in America’s prisons)

The articles are not editorials, but include interviews with a large number of experts. Many of those who suggest that life sentences are overused are criminologists, lawyers, and prison wardens. Suggesting that only the “out of touch” lefty editorial board of the Times could possibly question the appropriateness of aggressive use of life sentences doesn’t jive with the facts. Anyone who thinks that only someone who is out of touch with the issue of crime would suggest that long term inmates have more opportunities to demonstrate they have been rehabilitated should bear in mind that one of the people who says just that in the NYT series is
Burl Cain, the warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

As to the issue, while locking up lots of people certainly reduces crime, it’s hardly the only reason for the drop in crime over the last decade and a half, and it’s not the best solution, either.

If you’ve read the bestselling
Freakanomics, you know that one of the menagerie of social issues taken up by the author, economist Steven Levitt, is the drop in crime. According to him, only 1/3 of the drop in crime since the early 90s can be attributed to putting more people in prison. It’s hardly the simple cause/effect that Hyman implies.

Moreover, even as a partial “solution” to crime, putting lots of people behind bars for a long time is problematic. Obviously, if we had mandatory life sentences for every crime from jaywalking on up, it would reduce crime, both in absolute terms and as far as the rate of crime among the population. But no one would suggest this would be an ethical approach to lowering crime. It would put lots of people in jail who would likely lead productive lives (after all,
some people who’ve been arrested go on to hold fairly prestigious positions in society), On the practical side, it would cost a fortune to warehouse such people in both direct costs and the lost productivity of what these people would do if they were not in prison.

And that’s the issue the Times series raises, albeit on a smaller scale. No, we don’t throw everyone who gets a speeding ticket into the Gray Bar Hotel for the rest of their lives, but (the series points out) we do keep people in jail who have at least a chance to salvage something out of their lives if given the chance (e.g., the girl given a life sentence for participating in a murder when she was fifteen) or who don’t pose any threat to society (the 65-year-old who’s been in prison since 1960). Is it ethical or practical to routinely put people in prison for the rest of their lives without any opportunity, no matter what they do to better themselves, to be released? I don’t know the answer to that question, but to say simply raising it for consideration is proof of not taking crime seriously is itself a claim that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Obviously, there are some no brainers…cases where the crime is so horrendous that no allowance for possible freedom should be allowed. I, for one, am not anxious to see Charlie Manson frothing up a café latte at my local Starbucks on some work release program. But as the Times points out, less than 2/3 of those serving life sentences are doing so for murder. A full 16% are serving life sentences for drug offenses. As note above, more than two thousand are in prison for crimes they committed when still under 18. Given the vast economic and social costs of incarcerating such huge percentages of the population, it strikes me that finding a way of allowing for the possibility of a person convicted of a crime—even a serious one—to demonstrate the ability to contribute to society in a meaningful way would be a wise move.

Most importantly, it’s important to point out the lack of evidence that incarceration by itself is the solution to the infinitely complex problem of crime. Were it so, the U.S. would be the safest country on earth. According to the
International Centre for Prison Studies, the U.S. now ranks number one in the world in terms of incarceration rates of its citizens (over 700 inmates per 100,000 citizens). Yep, we passed up those softies in Russia and South Africa (628 and 400 respectively). Most western industrialized nations come in at around 100, give or take. Yet we also have much higher rates of violent crime than most other industrialized nations. For example, we put more than six times the number of our citizens behind bars as they do in Canada, but our murder rate is still four times as high.

There’s plenty of evidence to show that politically expedient policies such as mandatory minimums and stiff penalties for non-violent drug, low-level drug offenses are ineffective. And this evidence comes from a variety of sources. As far back as 1994, even the conservative
Cato Institute featured a contribution from one of its analysts making a strong case that mandatory minimums and lengthy penalties for drug offenses are keeping the prison system from doing what it should be doing: focusing on keeping the most violent and incorrigible prisoners behind bars.

And unless you’re willing to put all criminals in jail for life, it’s equally important that prisons be places where those who have committed crimes of lesser degrees be rehabilitated, not simply warehoused. Simply throwing lengthy prison terms at criminals won’t do the trick. A
Canadian study showed that lengthening prison terms actually contributed to a slight increase in recidivism.

Crime (and punishment) are complex issues that are tempting to address with simplistic solutions because of they carry deep associations with primordial fears about safety and security. But it’s precisely because of this temptation to deal with them out of fear that it’s so important to be willing to look at the issue with a sense of subtlety, creativity, and a willingness to question assumptions when the evidence doesn’t support our instincts, no matter how deeply we might feel them.

Given the importance of clear thinking and subtlety in addressing these issues, I suggest that while we have our national discussion about crime and punishment, perhaps we should send Mark out for coffee until we’re done.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.60

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Healing the Wounds

In a recent editorial, Mark Hyman calls on Americans to thank Vietnam veterans as part of the upcoming Operation Welcome Home, an event organized to recognize the service and sacrifice of those who served in America’s longest war. The event will include a parade, reunions, and gatherings, most held in Las Vegas, the center of Operation Welcome Home. Hyman adds, “For your part, simply thank a Vietnam veteran for his [sic] service.”

I couldn’t agree more. Too often, veterans of the Vietnam War have been tainted by feelings about the war itself and the political and military decision-makers who waged the war. No matter what you might feel about the motivations for getting involved in Vietnam or the way the war was carried out, all of us can agree that those who served deserve sincere thanks and honor for heeding the call to service.

Perhaps because he didn’t have time in his allotted two minutes, or he felt it so self-evident it didn’t need mentioning, Hyman didn’t include the obvious addition to his request to honor Vietnam veterans. In an effort to continue in this spirit of healing the wounds that once divided us, I’d like to devote this space to laying out what Hyman didn’t have a chance to add in his brief statement.

For your part, simply thank Vietnam veterans for their service . . . unless you disagree with their political stance. In that case, do as many of the following as possible:

Slander them
publicly by suggesting that medals they earned for heroism in combat were unearned.

Imply that they committed murder by shooting a wounded teenager in the back during a firefight, even if it means ignoring the testimony of people who were actually there.

Suggest that they had
their military records falsified in order to win medals.

Mock their service by claiming they got a medal for being
wounded by food.

Publicly accuse them of being un-American for
voicing their opinions on the war in which they served.

Despite their military service (and subsequent public lives in government),
accuse them of being self-serving and unpatriotic.

Ignore any amount of
factual information, no matter how vast, that shows they served honorably and bravely, basing your attacks on “evidence” provided by people who weren’t witness to the events in question and who have political axes to grind.

Accuse them of
breaking their military oath by speaking their minds.

Insinuate that they
participated in criminal acts

Attack their wives/husbands.

If you’re lucky enough to be an executive for a national media conglomerate, use your pull to get
discredited propaganda aired on your stations for the purpose of damaging the veterans’ careers. Label this propaganda as “news.”

If any reporter at your national media conglomerate suggests that perhaps
propaganda shouldn’t be labeled as news, fire his Edward-R.-Murrow-Wannabe tuchus. Then sue him a year and a half later out of spite.

Get into bed with
any groups that are helping out in the slandering, no matter how discredited their claims. Do this even if it means lying on national television about connections between groups that you are directly doing business with and those that have been discredited.

Let the healing begin.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.60

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Counter-Counter-Counterpoint

As many of you know, it’s often as much as (and often more than) I can do to keep the blog completely current. I often don’t have much time to spend on it, and that often results in me getting behind a few days and not responding to the kind comments made by readers (especially those of you who give me regular and enthusiastic encouragement). For that I apologize.

I sort of make up for things this time around, although it means taking a slight detour from my Hyman-centered writing. I’ve finally gotten some posted comments from someone who’s a big Hyman fan! I have been a bit surprised not to hear more from “Point” apologists, but a recent reader has made up for some of this by posting a lengthy commentary on my most recent posting. He even apparently has his own blog, “Sick of Spin,” which has a playful, Orwellian irony that emerges from a comparison of the blog’s title and its contents.

Unfortunately, it’s enough to keep up with Hyman that I doubt I will have time to get into long debates with Mr./Ms. Sick-of-Spin (assuming he/she chooses to become a regular reader and comment maker). But I appreciate the readership, and acknowledge the gumption it takes to wade into the fray when you’re outgunned and on hostile territory (even if you do it anonymously). I’d love to have Sick-of-Spin and other Hymanites out there contribute to the discussion, and I apologize in advance for not giving you the personal responses your time and effort deserves.

Having said that, I can’t resist the temptation of what we in the education biz call a “teachable moment.” “Sick of Spin” offers a cavalcade of fairly common conservative points, and does so in a way that more or less typical of conservative rhetoric. Given this, I thought I would devote just one commentary to responding to Spin’s lengthy posting. By going through the posting point by point, I hope to help Spin tighten up his/her persuasive skills a bit, and offer some responses to what are probably commonly held ideas among those in the Hyman camp.

So thanks again for taking the time to comment, Spin, and my apologies if this is the only time I have to really give you your due in terms of feedback. I hope that doesn't dissuade you from coming back regularly to read and post. Please let me know if any of my comments or suggestions are unclear.

[I have excerpted some of Spin’s text below and responded point by point beneath each excerpt. If you haven’t yet, you might want to read the previous Counterpoint for the sake of context.]

Ted fabricates: Both the Vietnam conflict and the war in Iraq were based on
faulty information, if not outright lies, that policy makers refused to
acknowledge (Gulf of Tonkin, WMDs).

While I would agree on the
faulty intelligence, the claim of 'if not outright lies' is outrageous,
unproven, unsubstantiated, without a basis in fact when it comes to the war on
terrorism. You folks like to pretend Bush lied, but you have no evidence, all
you have is black helicopter theories. The 9/11 commission didn't uncover any of
these so-called lies and neither did the Senate Intelligence Committee
investigation. Quit spinning!

Please make note of the language I used--I chose the words I did for a reason. I said "if not outright lies" precisely because we don't have any memo that shows us the president saying, "Yes, we know they don't have any WMDs or links to terrorism, but we will say they do so we can go to war." What we do have, however, is a memo (courtesy of the British) that tells us that intelligence was being "fixed" around the desire to invade Iraq. We also know from former Bush administration official Paul O'Neil that literally before the smoke had cleared at Ground Zero, members of the Bush administration (notably Donald Rumsfeld) were actively pushing to find connections between 9/11 and Iraq to fit into their longstanding goal of ousting Saddam Hussein. Whether administration officials knew what they were saying was factually false, or whether they simply refused to acknowledge or consider any evidence that contradicted what they wanted to believe, they acted unethically and immorally.

Ted fabricates: In both conflicts, American politicos equated imposing
American-style democracy on a people with allowing them the freedom to govern
Iraq now has its own Constitution, structured as THEY see fit,
they've debated, protested and held elections. Their culture, their rules, their
ballots, their creation of laws - how is that NOT an example of freedom and

It's not an example of freedom when the entire political apparatus used to create the constitution was put in place by Americans, not Iraqis. The current constitution (to give just a couple of examples) is open-ended when it comes to U.S. occupation and pointedly makes Iraqi oil fair game for foreign companies. The constitution itself mandates a sort of federalism which is in many ways antithetical to Iraqi culture.

But you don't need to take my word for it. Ken Pollack, an expert in Mideast affairs at the Saban Center recently gave a talk at the Brookings Institution outlining the pitfalls a hastily-constructed constitution based on a time table that serves American, rather than Iraqi, interests could cause. The Asia Times recently ran a piece detailing how the Iraqi constitution was systematically mutated in its construction from a truly Iraqi document to a neo-conish work of nation-building. Joe Conason has written a brief but insightful commentary on the problems the current American-styled constitution may bring. Too liberal? How about conservative stalwart Charles Krauthammer? He's also recently noted the problems of mandating a slap-dash constitution on Iraq. Too American? How about Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi novelist and a woman who was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein? In a recent article in the Guardian, she noted that the constitutional process has largely disregarded women's rights and that the process has always been based on U.S. interests, not those of the Iraqi people. Perhaps all of these people are wrong, but to suggest that questioning the wonders of the Iraqi constitution is simply a matter of empty political spin is not a tenable position.

Ted fabricates: In both conflicts, those who opposed or even questioned the war
were labeled as "un-American" by supporters.

Those who fly
flags upside-down, slander our military, stereotype our forces as 'inherently
evil', call the administration stupid while ignoring the obvious fact of success
that we haven't had another 9/11 like attack - ARE un-American.

Even if we grant your point, the problem is that it doesn't address what I said. Many supporters of the Iraq war (Mark Hyman among them) suggest that those who oppose or question the war "hate the troops" and are un-American. The problem is that, according to
every poll on the subject, most Americans now question the wisdom of the war. Perhaps those who fly flags upside down or call our forces "inherently evil" are un-American, but to suggest that everyone who objects to or questions the war is un-American is not a valid claim. Remember that many of those who are most vocal in their objection to the war are families of servicemen, veterans, and those who have served in Iraq themselves.

Perhaps most disquieting is your statement that those who call the administration "stupid while ignoring the obvious facts that we haven't had another 9/11 like [sic] attack ARE un-American."

Do you really believe this? Since when did thinking the current administration were right, smart, or even competent become a litmus test for being a good American? You might say that people who believe this are wrong or deluded (and, for the sake of argument, let's say you're right about that), but to say that criticizing the president and his administration is by definition un-American is the sort of over-the-top rhetoric that's not going to help your credibility. Keep in mind, for example, that had the same test applied in the 1990s, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and most conservatives would have been considered un-American. As much as I disagreed with these folks and thought their words and actions were damaging to the nation, I would never say that simply criticizing the administration makes them un-American. Criticism of those in power is about as American as it gets. You need to be careful of making your argument in a way that is inconsistent with your own beliefs or that could easily be turned around on you. It communicates weakness and/or sloppiness of thought to your audience. (As does, by the way, making regular use of all caps to emphasize points. This seems to be a common problem--all my freshman composition students love doing it for some reason.)

Ted fabricates: In both conflicts, opposition to the war started out small, but
grew as casualties mounted and the truth about the motivations and
rationalizations for the war emerged.

Where is your TRUTH in the
motivations for the war against terrorism? Hmmmm? I haven't seen any coming from
you. And regarding casualties, this war (remember, it IS a war after all) is
being managed quite well and casualty rates are WAY below the rates for Vietnam.
You want to play the numbers game with the truth right? Why won't you do a
number by number comparison if you care to be intellectually honest?

I'm not sure what you mean by asking, "Where is your TRUTH [sic] in the motivations for the war against terrorism?" That's a grammatically unclear statement. On a logical level, it also is presuming facts not in evidence. You seem to assume that the war in Iraq (the topic under discussion) is part of the war or terrorism. For many of us, one of the big problems with the war in Iraq is precisely that it is taking away from the war on terrorism. There are no links between Iraq and 9/11, and as we all know now, there were no WMDs that Hussein was somehow going to smuggle to al-Qaeda. While Osama bin Laden is still free, we continue to be bogged down in a war we chose to start. Unless you provide evidence that the war in Iraq should be seen as being part of the war on terror (rather than providing the perfect recruitment and training tools for terrorists, which is what it seems to be doing), the question doesn't seem germane to the topic under discussion.

On the casualty issue, notice that all I said was that in both Vietnam and Iraq, opposition to the war grew along with the numbers of casualties. I did not state that as many soldiers had died in Iraq as died in Vietnam. I didn't even suggest that as many soldiers *will* die in Iraq as in Vietnam. Complaining that I didn't acknowledge the lower casualty numbers between Iraq and Vietnam is not a compelling point, given that I made no comparison between the raw numbers.

But if you want to do a number by number analysis (as you suggest), we can. But if we do such a thing, we have to be technically accurate and compare apples to apples (again, this is something you seem in favor of, and rightly so). Given that, it would be distorting and inaccurate to compare casualty rates for the first few years of American occupation in Iraq to the casualty rates of the Vietnam conflict at its height. To be fair, we have to compare numbers starting at the beginning with each conflict. The first American military casualty in the Vietnam conflict was in 1957. It wasn't until late 1965 that the number reached the current number of U.S. military fatalities we now have in Iraq. That's 8 years vs. 2.5 years. Even if you decide not to start counting until a significant number of U.S. personnel were sent to Vietnam (1961),
we are still ahead of the Vietnam schedule in terms of raw numbers of casualties. I stress that this is unrelated to the point I made in my post, but since you want to make this comparison, I thought it would be helpful to really do an honest, side-by-side analysis rather than just talking about it.

The larger point is that any number of young people who are killed in a war waged for misguided and less-than-honest purposes is too many. I certainly hope we don't need to get to 58,000 dead before we are willing to consider the possibility that the invasion was a mistake, and I hope you would agree.

Ted fabricates: In both conflicts, when the majority of the American people
disagreed with government policy, apologists for the policy still attempted to
portray those who were against the war as an out-of-touch

You don't debate honestly, so it's a fair statement to
say you and your ilk are out-of-touch.

In response to my statement that supporters of the war still attempt to portray those who oppose it as an "out of touch" minority, you say, "You don't debate honestly, so it's a fair statement to say you and your ilk are out-of-touch." Two problems here: first you haven't given a valid example of me not debating honestly. In fact, as I've shown, most of your criticisms are straw-man appeals that misinterpret or misrepresent my argument and then attack the misrepresentation that you've constructed.

But let's say for the sake of argument that you're right and that I haven't debated honestly. How does that make all of those who question the war "out of touch"? Have all people who disagree with the war not debated honestly, including those who have fought in it themselves? Or are you saying that it might not be fair to say that all people who disagree with the war are "out of touch," but that since I don't debate honestly, you don't have to either? This isn't made clear. In either case, you're running the risk of being unintentionally humorous given the fact that your statement itself is an unfair generalization.

Ted fabricates: In both conflicts, those who advocated sending young people do
die in large numbers also claimed that they were "supporting the troops" and
that those who advocated bringing troops home were "giving comfort to the

Perpetuating and exaggerating Abu Grahib WAS giving comfort
to the enemy. Putting all military members into an 'inherently evil' pot IS
giving aid to the enemy. Liberal Dick Durbin putting the U.S. military in the
same class as Nazis and Russian death camps WAS aid and comfort to the enemy.
Never mind his statement was posted on Al Jazeera huh?

You're committing the same logical fallacy here that you did earlier with the comments about people being "un-American." Hyman and other right wing commentators suggest that to question the war is by itself helping the enemy. In your statement, however, you choose very specific examples: people who were "perpetuating and exaggerating Abu Grahib," an unnamed source whom you quote as saying that the U.S. military is "inherently evil," and Dick Durbin. Even if one were to grant that all of these people are giving aid and comfort to the enemy, it doesn't justify the vastly larger suggestion that anyone who voices opposition to the war is giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Picking a specific example or two doesn't prove the larger point.

Moreover, even the specific cases you identify are problematic. I would humbly suggest that what gave aid and comfort to the enemy with regard to Abu Grahib was not those who reported on it, but those who committed it ( a group that goes far beyond the men and women who have been scapegoated by the administration, but includes those who have tacitly and/or explicitly condoned such practices, including our current Attorney General and current Secretary of Defense). Through actions of this group of individuals, Islamic extremists were given the best PR they've gotten since, well, the U.S. unilaterally invaded an Islamic country. Shooting the messenger doesn't help. It's the actions themselves that are despicable, damaging, and that dishonor America, not the reporting of them. It's called accountability.

In the case of Dick Durbin, you seem to be referring to a statement where he read a description of the treatment of inmates under U.S. control and said that the description would seem more at home in an account of Nazi or Soviet prison camps. Simply as a matter of grammar, Durbin was not, "putting the U.S. military in the same class as Nazis and Russian death camps [sic]." Durbin compared the specific events in the account with what we might assume were commonplace events in Nazi or Soviet camps. His point (as clumsily as it might have been worded) was that we could and should expect more from our military than we would expect under such regimes, and that when such aberrations occur, they need to be roundly criticized and dealt with. How is protecting individuals who dishonor the military and their country by participating in immoral acts a good thing? How is criticizing such people slandering the entire military?

As far as those unnamed voices who you claim say the U.S. military is "inherently evil," I agree that saying such a thing is both immoral and factually wrong. I certainly have never said it, nor would I. I know people (including several former students) who are currently serving in the military, some of them in Iraq as we speak. Not only do I not believe the U.S. military is inherently evil, but I know that the overwhelming majority of those who serve are decent, patriotic people to whom we owe a great deal. It is exactly because of my respect, admiration, and love for those who wear the uniform and serve our country that I find the decision to send them into harm's way for no just reason a horribly immoral and personally infuriating act. No, the U.S. military is anything but inherently evil, but war (even when it is justified) is inherently evil, as is the act of starting one preemptively.

Ted fabricates: In both conflicts, the media paid relatively little attention to
the horrible toll civilians were paying in the course of their

That's blatantly false. The left leaning media has
done everything it can to paint a negative picture of the war despite the many
successes such as new and/or rebuilt houses, schools, hospitals, roads,
community centers, etc. Don't get me wrong, civilian tragedy has occurred, but
we are talking about war after all. Why do you totally ignore how the U.S.
military goes out of its way to avoid the very thing you're crying foul on?

As you might say, "examples please?" In fact, a study by the Project on Excellence in Journalism (a creation of the Columbia School of Journalism) has done a detailed content analysis of the media coverage of the war and determined that it was overwhelmingly neutral, and that positive and negative stories were roughly equal.

Of course, the study said nothing about the fact that the supposedly liberal media (and the supposedly ultra liberal New York Times) actually played a key role in supporting the war by unquestioningly mouthing administration talking points about the issue of WMDs. This was done to such an extent, that the Times actually had to issue an apology for its limply acquiescent coverage of the build up to war.

In any case, you are again making an apples/oranges comparison. My statement specifically dealt with the issue of civilian casualties. Perhaps I've been missing the regular tributes to the Iraqi civilians killed in the war airing on TV, but I honestly have not seen a single mention of the overall death toll on network or cable news. The only place I can find such numbers are at the websites of human rights groups and other organizations devoted to cataloging this information. If you can cite examples of mainstream news outlets paying significant attention to the number of Iraqis killed (beyond the occasional body count figure for specific attacks), I'd be happy to stand corrected, but I honestly don't think the average American has even a vague sense of the human cost to innocent Iraqis of the war.

I also never suggested the U.S. military doesn't do everything it can to minimize civilian casualties. Again, you're creating a straw man to knock down. I feel confident that as a rule, the military does what it can to minimize civilian deaths. But when you start a war, you know that it will be messy (or, at least, you should). No amount of precautions is going to keep innocent men, women, and children from dying horribly. If we are going to honestly discuss and decide what to do about Iraq, we can't pretend that this isn't a reality. As far as blame goes, I don't blame the U.S. military--I blame the Bush administration for starting the war and the rest of us citizens for letting them do it.

Ted opines: In both conflicts, policy makers and their supporters argued that,
once all other rationales for the conflicts had disappeared, we needed to stay
the course in order to "honor" those who had already

'Rationales'for the war against terrorism have disappeared?
Folks are saying we should stay the course simply to 'honor' the dead? Examples

You say you want an example of war supporters using "honoring the troops" as a rationale for continuing the war? How about the number one war supporter himself?

"[N]ow we will honor their sacrifice by completing their mission"

-- President George W. Bush, August 24, 2005.

Of course, he couldn't be bothered to honor the sacrifice of Cindy Sheehan's son by explaining to his mother why he died, or even attending a single funeral of a fallen soldier, but that's a whole other matter.

As far as disappearing rationales go, a recent study cataloged no less than
27 different rationalizations for going to war in Iraq that were offered up by various administration officials and their supporters at various times, all of which have been revealed to be suspect to some degree or other.

Ted fabricates: In both conflicts, members of the Bush family vocally supported
the war, but no one in their family actually served.

George H.W.
Bush served his country and did so with honor as a fighter pilot in WWII. He
left the service nearly two decades before heavy U.S. involvement in Vietnam. To
say 'members of the Bush family did not serve' is a bogus charge. George W. Bush
was in the National Guard during the Vietnam era and it is simply intellectually
dishonest to say he didn't serve. Oh, and never mind that he is currently the
Commander In Chief huh? That to, is serving. Your distortions are

I understand the point you're trying to make, and I apologize for disgusting you, but I have to point out yet again that you're constructing a straw man here. I never questioned George H.W. Bush's service in World War II. What I said was that no member of the Bush family served in the Vietnam War or the war in Iraq.

George W. Bush, as you point out, was in the Air National Guard (well, sort of). Even if we ignore the mountain of evidence that shows he got in to the guard via family connections and didn't fulfill his minimal obligations while there, it's still the case that he didn't serve in the conflict in Vietnam (unless there were MiG sightings over Texarkana that I'm unaware of).

To say that being president is "serving" in the same way as a uniformed soldier in a combat zone is stretching awfully far. I don't remember Clinton getting much acknowledgment for serving as commander in chief by the folks who liked to call him a draft dodger. But I'll concede your point: President Bush should be honored for his valiant service, risking life and limb clearing brush in Crawford for five weeks at a time.

By the way, I can't help adding in a tangential point here. Yes, Bush Sr. served in WWII. But do you remember that when he was running for president in 1988, a gentleman who served in the same unit as Bush and who was on the same mission as Bush when the former president was shot down (and for which he was given a medal) came forward to say that he had seen Bush abandon his stricken plane and bail out while his two crewmen were still trapped inside, allowing them to plummet to their death? Someone rightly pointed out that Bush should be honored for his service and that it was ridiculous and wrong to try to discredit his record to score political points. That someone was Michael Dukakis. Given what we saw last year, I can't help but wonder why the Bush family seems to think honoring those who served for their service only applies when they are on your side politically.

Ted boasts (false sense of bravdo [sic] ): And that's The Counterpoint.
really, you don't seem to have a valid point and with such weak rhetoric I can
see why Hyman exposed you for the fake you are.

Mark Hyman has exposed me? Where? When? Did I miss something? As far as I'm aware, the only time has Hyman uttered my name was when he attacked me for being soft on plagiarism by taking something that I didn't write out of context (and not saying a thing about the true motivations behind his words).

Oops, my mistake--he did mention my name one other time:
when he was forced to retract what he said about me on the air because it was a lie.

And that's the Counter-Counter-Counterpoint.

Spin Index: Enough strawmen to populate a Ray Bolger fan convention.

Cost of the War in Iraq
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