Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Hyman Humbug

Sinclair Broadcasting’s entire “NewsCentral” format is based on eroding the connection between producers of television and consumers. The whole idea is to produce a generic newscast on the cheap to be piped to everyone from Maine to California.

But apparently when it suits their purposes, Sinclair is willing to “get local.” A recent example is a “Point” editorial that you didn’t see on air unless you live in the Portland, Maine area. Hyman crafts an editorial that responds specifically to an editorial in a Portland paper that argues in favor of “a la carte” cable television service in which subscribers can choose what channels they want to receive rather than paying for a huge bundle of channels, many of which they might not want.

Hyman says “I have no interest in defending cable companies,” then proceeds to ask whether the Portland paper’s editorial board are “arrogant, hypocritical, or just plain dumb” to support a la carte cable.

Hyman’s lame analogy is that the newspaper’s logic would suggest that subscribers to the paper could just ask for the movie guide rather than subscribing to the entire paper. Of course, that ignores certain obvious facts, such as that there are many newspapers and parallel sorts of news sources that consumers can choose between. If you just want the movie guide, there are plenty of places to get that service without subscribing to the newspaper. But if you want any cable television at all (which is often the same as wanting to have television, period) you have to go through a single cable company (at least in most communities). What happened to the conservative viewpoint that competition was inherently good?

Hyman also ignores the fact that the
FCC recently reversed itself and is now in favor of a la carte cable services. And then there are the cultural conservatives who want to see more choice for subscribers so that parents who don’t want to have their children clicking on to “South Park” don’t have to have Comedy Central on their television.

In fact, about the only group who are adamantly opposed to a la carte cable are the cable companies whom Hyman says he has “no interest” in supporting.

But Hyman’s not leveling with us. If you don’t believe that Sinclair has a vested interest in the issue, how does one explain Hyman tailoring a specific commentary for a small market?

In fact, Sinclair Broadcasting must keep up good relations with cable companies, since the vast majority of their viewers get Sinclair-owned channels via cable systems. Yes, Sinclair and cable companies may butt heads from time to time, but they are ultimately on the same side: cable companies want subscribers to pay as much as possible for the services they provide, and Sinclair wants the maximum number of potential viewers it can get. Giving consumers more choice in what comes into their homes works against both of these goals.

To put it another way, how many viewers would actually choose to pay for the pleasure of seeing Hyman on their television screens?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.86

Since When Did Justice Become Anti-American?

In his recent editorial, Mark Hyman lambasts former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark for defending known terrorists and murderers. But, as usual, Hyman can’t see the big picture.

Hyman offers a slanted and unsubstantiated account of
Clark's career in government, then attacks him for taking on “loopy causes and deeply anti-American activities,” including (gasp!) being a “chief legal advisor to John Kerry and his fellow protestors.” Hyman neglects to say that before he soured on the Vietnam War, Clark was instrumental in the prosecution of war protestors such as Dr. Benjamin Spock. One would think that would warm Hyman’s heart, but apparently not enough to merit a mention.

Hyman then catalogs the long and infamous list of thugs that Clark has defended in the international arena, culminating with Saddam Hussein.

Now, I don’t agree with all of Ramsey Clark’s politics, but I do agree that for justice to be done, everyone who is accused of a crime, no matter how heinous, must be defended. That’s a sentiment that the Founding Fathers also seemed to share.

Whatever Clark’s motivation for taking on the thankless task of defending the great criminals of the world, it’s a task that needs to be done. Those Clark defends are almost certainly guilty of unimaginable atrocities, but if we do not prosecute these crimes in a way that reveres the very sense of justice these accused have violated, we become unwitting accomplices to the depravity. Kangaroo courts are the tools of dictators and criminals. For justice to be done, we must give justice its due, and that means a thorough, vigorous defense.

The fact that it is a well-known American doing the defending is, I would argue, a plus. It contributes, however slightly, to the portrayal of America as a country devoted to ideals of justice—a country that sees the rule of law as a good in and of itself and not simply a tool to be invoked when it happens to be advantageous.

Criminal trials are not just about the guilt or innocence of the particular individual who stands accused. They are enactments of the beliefs in justice and fairness that we claim to be hallmarks of a democratic government ruled by laws created by the people. Given this, if we’re actually serious about wanting to spread democratic values around the world, it is essential that we show reverence to these ideals ourselves. To not do so would be to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Even those who think talk about the ideals of justice are smarmy nonsense when applied to the likes of a Hussein must acknowledge the practical benefits of having him (and others like him) defended vigorously; carrying out these prosecutions in a transparent and fair manner is the only way of demonstrating the advantages of those values we claim to be spreading.

I don’t know or care about Clark’s motivations in taking on these cases. I’m just glad someone’s willing to play this indispensable role in the process of justice. Otherwise, whatever might happen to people like Hussein and his fellow global villains will not have truly been done in the name of justice, and that puts us uncomfortably close to being in their company.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.35

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Hyman Chair in Illogical Studies

Hyman offers yet another retread commentary, this one on law schools that are against allowing the military on their campuses to recruit potential military lawyers.

As we pointed out more than six months ago when Hyman brought up this subject, most accredited law schools subscribe to a mission statement that repudiates discrimination, including against sexual orientation. Given this, many law schools feel they can’t in good conscience invite and assist the military in recruiting their students, given the military’s avowed discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals.

But Hyman sees this ethical dilemma as a non-issue; rather, he claims it’s simply a ruse to hide the fact that law school professors (altogether now—you know the words!) “hate our military.”

Hyman says that the law schools are demanding government money despite the fact that they won’t allow the military on their campuses. But law schools don’t get huge amounts of federal money. That’s why some right wing activists have been pushing to have all federal money taken away from any university as a whole which houses a law school that does not allow the military to recruit its students. Given that much of the research that leads to technologies used by the government (and the military in particular) are carried out by major research universities, this seems more than a bit dopey.

About the only new twist Hyman adds to this issue is the specific example of Columbia University. In yet another example of convoluted reasoning, Hyman says that the university is being hypocritical because it the United Arab Emirates (where, Hyman claims, homosexuality is punishable by death) contributes to Edward Said Chair professorship at Columbia.

Gosh, where to start?

First, although Hyman suggests that the Edward Said Chair is a position in the law school, it is not. It is a chair in Middle Eastern studies.

Second, Hyman’s right in principle about the UAE’s attitudes toward homosexuality, but exaggerates the facts to make his point. While the UAE has incredibly backward notions about homosexuality and does have barbaric punishments, these don’t seem to include death (apparently detention or deportation are the most common punishments). The UAE did come into some criticism for threatening to treat men arrested attending a gay wedding with male hormones in order to decrease their “gay tendencies.” This is better than death, but still medieval in its conception (although apparently some
right wingers seem to think this is just a dandy idea).

Third, and most importantly, the comparison simply doesn’t make any sense logically. By giving Columbia University money (even if it actually was to the law school), the UAE is not getting access to Columbia Students to recruit them to act as judges and litigators in fundamentalist Islamic religious courts. If the UAE were demanding and receiving some sort of quid pro quo, the analogy might have a leg to stand on, but Hyman doesn’t even suggest that they are. He’s simply muddying the waters with an analogy that crumbles into nothing when you actually stop to think about it.

But, as we know all too well, the logic and facts never get in the way of Hyman’s love of bashing anyone in academics and finding more people whom he can accuse of “hating the troops.”

Which raises the question: should schools of journalism allow Sinclair Broadcasting Group to recruit on their campuses? I’m just wondering.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.90

Hyman: The Infidels Must Be Punished!

Apparently if your beliefs in God don’t coincide with Mark Hyman’s, and you dare to stand up for them, you deserve injury or death.

That’s the upshot of one of
Hyman’s recent “Short Takes” segments. Commenting on an atheist group’s objections to the state of Utah erecting 12 foot tall metal crosses to commemorate state troopers who died in the line of duty along its roadways, Hyman says that

Poetic justice would be a member of the atheist group, in trouble
on a Utah highway, praying to God that a state trooper come to his aid.

Keep in mind that the atheist organization is not opposed to public memorials to fallen state troopers. They simply don’t think it’s right for these memorials to take the form of giant crosses that are put up with taxpayer money and carry the insignia of the state patrol—a governmental organization.

In fact, it’s apparently Transportation Department in
Utah already has regulations against putting up religious symbols as memorials on public roads (such as might be created by families of those who died in traffic accidents).

The atheist group has an excellent case, here. There’s no reason why the memorials must take the form of a religious symbol, and to have the government use public money to create overtly religious imagery of a particular belief system is clearly insensitive to those citizens, tax payers, and state troopers who might not share that particular belief system.

And while I don’t agree with it, I can also understand why people would argue the other side of the issue: if the families of the troopers all would like the memorials to take the form of a cross, it might seem crass for others to object to the memorials taking the form that the families want.

What is not debatable, however, is the crassness and mean-spiritedness of Hyman’s take on the issue. The atheist group are not considered people who have a right to defend government infringement on their rights—they are portrayed as people who are against state troopers and don’t respect those who have given their lives.

Even more disgusting is Hyman’s oh-so-cutesy suggestion that those who dare speak up in defense of what they feel is an infringement on their freedom of belief should suffer because of what they believe. If the group in question had been Jewish rather than atheist, would Hyman have been so quick to make such a quip?

Should we be any less outraged because it wasn’t a Jewish group that Hyman fantasized about coming to harm?

I think not.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Hyman's a Fake

So it’s come to this: Mark Hyman is using spammed emails of dubious authenticity to promote the war in Iraq and attack journalists.

his recent “Point,” Hyman claims to be giving us an update about what’s “really going on in Iraq” by way of an email from a marine who has asked to be anonymous. The marine is quoted as saying that they are out-killing the insurgents 20 to 1 and that they are dismayed by the press coverage that asks whether or not we are winning the war. The marine ends by saying that the troops are largely satisfied with their equipment and leaders, but need more men on the ground to stop supporters of the insurgency from coming across the Syrian and Iranian borders. He adds that the troops "distrust and detest" embedded journalists.

Hyman presents this as if he, Mark Hyman, is the trusted confidant of a marine on the ground, telling his good buddy Mark what’s going down in Iraq.

But the email Hyman quotes from has been circulating around the web for some time, primarily on right wing websites and military/gun enthusiast sites. It was even reprinted in the Washington Times last month. Hyman claims the author is a marine who has asked to remain anonymous, but the version most widely circulating on the web is from the father of a marine who claims to be summarizing what his son has told him about his time in Iraq. (The father is variously referred to as ex-Navy or ex-Marine, and is attributed a range of ranks, from sergeant to colonel. In some cases, the young marine is unnamed. In others, he’s given the name “Jordan.” Other times, he’s given a code name (“Semper Fi”).

From just what I’ve told you, you’re likely suspicious about the veracity of the email. And yes, whenever you see it posted, it’s almost always prefaced by the person posting it as “having been received from a friend who used to know the father’s roommate, etc. etc. etc.”—all the hallmarks of a fraud are here.

Hyman says the full text of the email is available on the Newscentral website, but the copy (which is
typed up to look semi-official—complete with the label “UNCLASSIFIED” at the bottom) leaves off the father’s preamble to his summary of his son’s remarks. Nor is there any indication whatsoever where the email originally came from. We’re apparently supposed to believe that it’s the intrepid Hyman who has brought us this email.

The entire email is interesting in itself because only the small part that Hyman quotes is at all political (in fact, the father’s introduction to the letter as posted on most internet sites specifically say that there’s “no politics, just one Marine’s view from the ground.”). The majority of the lengthy email is an in depth review of various weapons (particularly guns) used by the U.S. military and the insurgents. Most of it is denigrating the newer arms issues to the troops and praising older guns still available (e.g., the Browning .50 cal machine gun, the .45 automatic, etc.).

Why is this important? Because the people who have been the leading debunkers of this email are not progressives or liberals (whom Hyman would say are only questioning it because they “hate the troops”), but gun and military enthusiasts—people whose idea of a fun time is going to an online chat about the relative “stopping power” of an M-16 vs. a AK-47 (and, need I say, not folks known for having strongly progressive political leanings).

I spent more time than I ever thought I would surfing around websites devoted to the fetishization of military firearms, and the consensus is that the writer of the email doesn’t know much about what guns are used in the military.
One website actually titled it’s posting of the letter “What a Hoax?”

Here are a few excerpts from postings on these boards responding to the alleged “Letter from Iraq” – and just put a bit [sic] (no pun intended) next to all grammar errors. They’re posted as-is. I’ve also hyperlinked the first few words to the original message board where the posts appear.

While I
don't doubt
FrontPage's sources, I must note that I've received TWO (2)
variations of this same article via email this past month. One cites a Marine
Corps officer, the other an army NCO.

just stunned
the Washington Times didn't vette the thing better. I mean, I
got it as an email fwd from Major Dad a couple weeks ago and it took me all of 2
seconds of Googling to see it had been around since at least last May, hence I
didn't pass it on and neither did he. But when the Times posts it like they
actaully talked to the father of the "Jordan" in the original email... I mean,
come on. Isn't there any media organization that has a $6.25/hr fact checker any
more? I do it for free, for God's sake.

first cropped up a few years ago. It was rife with factual errors
then. It still has some factual errors in it. The consensus, among the firearms
community, is that this is FAKE, and urban legend. I've ran across this on,, and several other firearms boards. While
some parts of it are true, it seems to be written by someone with an agenda.

Some have said that the content looks like it was originally taken from a gun industry magazine. Others say it sounds much like a slightly updated version of a similar piece written in the Vietnam era. The two constants are: no one can actually attribute the original email to anyone, and those in the know about the minutiae of guns and the military have pointed out huge numbers of factual errors in the piece.

So Hyman, the man who loves to invoke the name Jayson Blair whenever he refers to the New York Times, has been reduced to repeating a widely debunked email and implying that he is the one who has brought it to light, when in fact it's on the web about as much as ads for free Viagra.

The only conclusion one can reach from this is that the only thing more fraudulent than this email are Hyman’s journalistic credentials and ethics.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: One gargantuan false appeal to authority.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Charity Blues Redux

Mark Hyman recycles a commentary almost word for word from a year ago on the “Generosity Index,” a comparison of charitable giving of various states. The upshot of Hyman’s commentary, both then and now, is that conservatives are generous, liberals are cheap. He basis this on the fact that “red” states tend to rank high and “blue” states low when measured by the Generosity Index.

Below, I’ve repeated the rebuttal I wrote last year—since Hyman’s commentary is identical to last year, I didn’t see much reason to come up with new ways of pointing out the obvious flaws in his case.

The only additions I’ll make are to point you to the
Boston Globe’s story on this, which points out that even the creators of the “Generosity Index” don’t believe it has any scientific validity—it’s simply meant to raise awareness of philanthropy. The article notes that the Boston Foundation (another philanthropic organization) has pointed out the inherent flaws in the creation of the Generosity Index and has come up with a more realistic way of measuring generosity. The result? As you would expect, both red and blue states are represented well in the top tiers of generosity. You can also find the Boston Foundation’s own explanation of their study here.

As I note below, the broader problems of the “Generosity Index” go well beyond the obvious flaws in their methodology (which the Boston Foundation points out in detail). The larger issue is the faulty premise: that you can apply personal qualities to states as a whole (particularly given that a state’s redness or blueness is a matter of a few percentages one way or another in a presidential election).

In short, the Generosity Index is what baseball statistics junkies call a “junk stat”—one that makes inventive use of numbers, but which doesn’t actually describe or predict anything. Of course that doesn’t stop our friend Mark from using it as a way of smearing everyone who is A) left of center politically and/or B) lives in a “blue” state. Isn’t it time we got a class action lawsuit going against this guy for defamation of character, with Jon Leiberman and John Kerry as lead plaintiffs? The list of folks Hyman hasn’t smeared in his commentaries is shorter than the list of people he has!

With that rambling preamble out of the way, here’s a cut from “The Counterpoint’s” greatest hits . . .

Charity Blues

Mark Hyman's argument that conservatives are more moral than liberals because statistics suggest citizens of “red” states give more to charities than those living in “blue” states is filled with deceptive claims, the fundamental one being that you can make judgments about individuals based on collective data. This fails simply as a matter of logic.

But for the sake of argument, let’s put aside this fatal flaw and assume that 1) the category of “red” or “blue” applies not only to the state as a political entity, but to each and every one of its citizens (i.e., if Florida is red, than all Floridians are red) and 2) the average giving numbers Hyman refers to also apply not to the collective population of a state, but to the individual actions of each and every individual in that state.

Even with these two absurdities granted, Hyman’s argument doesn’t work. To begin with, the data is based only on donations claimed on itemized tax returns. The number of itemizers from state to state varies widely. Almost without exception, states that have few numbers of itemizers are at the top of the giving rankings and those with many itemizers at the bottom. Why? If the top 18% of Arkansas population itemizes, but 42% of Connecticut tax payers itemize, you end up comparing the gifts of the wealthiest Arkansans to nearly half of Connecticut. Even when taking into account differences in average income, Arkansas will come out on top. And by the way, nearly all low itemizing states are red; nearly all high itemizing states are blue.

But that’s a trifling detail compared to more fundamental problems. Charity, as they say, begins at home. The most generous states in Hyman’s estimation are also those with most poverty, particularly child poverty. It makes sense that those who see and come into contact with abject poverty would be most likely to give to local charities. The need is simply greater. The poorest states with the most children living in poverty? They’re red.

This is all the more important when we take into account that the states that have the most poverty are those who do the least to help their most impoverished citizenry. The nonpartisan Urban Institute did a study comparing states by their “willingness to spend” on children in poverty. The study controlled for average income, number of children in poverty, and funds received from the federal government. This allowed a comparison of the state governments themselves. The result? The top ten “willing to give” states are virtually all blue. The bottom ten are a sea of red.

Hyman wants us to believe blue staters are less generous. Nonsense. It’s simply a matter of how the money is collected and dispersed. Blue states do it through taxes. Red states rely on charity. Given the state poverty rankings, it’s pretty clear which philosophy works better.
The study cited by Hyman can’t tell us anything about the personal tendencies of conservatives or liberals to make charitable donations. If such a study could be devised, we’re virtually certain it would show a negligible difference.

What this study does show, however, is that poverty inspires people to give. The people who see it firsthand understand how destructive it is to have a significant percentage of your neighbors living in dilapidated housing, going to run-down schools, and not having enough food to feed hungry children. The Mark Hyman’s of the world think poverty is a sign of moral weakness—you’re only poor if you deserve to be, and wealth equals decency. He celebrates charity (as does the administration) not because he admires it, but because it serves as cover to slash government assistance to those who haven’t “proven” themselves by earning as much money as their neighbors.

But poverty is an inevitable result of a free market economy. As long as capitalism exists, there will need to be help given to those who end up on the bottom of the food chain. Free markets are a wonderful thing, but by themselves they lead to a steady erosion of society. Those in the red states who attempt to assuage the poverty in which so many are mired, and which their state governments do comparatively little to deal with, understand this all too well.

Maybe it’s about time Hyman did also.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

An Unqualified Failure

Why would Mark Hyman spend a large chunk of one of his commentaries excoriating a relatively unknown government official for supposedly padding his resume, particularly when the alleged padding was trivial by any standard?

Interesting question with an even more interesting answer. More on that later.

Hyman’s nominal topic in his most recent commentary is resume padding. After citing a couple of non-political examples, Hyman goes to where we would expect him to go: attacking perceived political enemies.

First up is Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico and possible presidential candidate in 2008. Hyman says that “Richardson recently admitted that his longtime boast that he was drafted to play professional baseball was not true.”

The first question I had was, “Who cares?” The next question I had was, “Does Hyman actually believe Richardson has been claiming to be drafted in order to further his political career?” But then I realized that this question implied that Hyman only attacked people when he felt his attacks were relevant. I, of all people, certainly know that’s not the case.

So Hyman is trying to portray Richardson as a liar, even though the lie in question is trivial. So, I decided to check whether Richardson had lied.

In fact, it seems that he did not. Richardson was apparently a standout ball player in his youth and was scouted by pro teams. Having seen his name in a program that listed him as having been drafted by the Kansas City A’s, Richardson assumed it was true and had repeated this as fact. Apparently, whatever program Richardson saw was in error, because a recent investigation by the
Albuquerque Journal revealed that the A’s had not actually drafted him (and who said hard nosed journalism was dead?). Richardson has granted that he was mistaken.

Is there any evidence that Richardson intentionally misled people about his baseball prowess? No. Is there any evidence that this bit of biographical trivia has helped his career in public service? No. Is there any possible reason to make hay out of this other than to embarrass Richardson by implying that he is not truthful? No.

But that attempt at character assassination is only a preamble to the main event, Hyman’s attack on C. Richard D’Amato. Who is D’Amato? Currently, he’s the chairman of the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Given this fairly innocuous position, it’s surprising that Hyman goes after him with the viciousness he does. Hyman says that:

Richard D'Amato was caught three years ago claiming he had three
Bronze Star medals -- normally given for combat valor -- from his Navy service.
He didn't have any. The chair of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review
Commission now claims he was an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy.
School officials have said this is untrue - he was an unpaid volunteer who

With the assistant professor thing, it’s not clear what Hyman is referring to. According to D’Amato’s biography on the
U.S. Trade Deficit Reduction Commission website (and don’t tell me you don’t already have that one bookmarked!), D’Amato served as an assistant professor of government after returning from naval duty in Vietnam, teaching government and coaching basketball and sailing.

More recently, D’Amato has said that he has served as an adjunct assistant professor of political science at the naval academy (this according to
a biography posted on former members of the Maryland state legislature—hint, hint!).

Is Hyman’s characterization of D’Amato’s position at odds with this bio? No. As someone who has served as an adjunct assistant professor, I can say with some authority that “adjunct assistant” is a title given to someone who has the qualifications to serve as an assistant professor but who does not teach fulltime, get paid as a fulltime employee, or is in a tenure track position. D’Amato is not a fulltime faculty member and apparently works for free when he teaches at Annapolis. Thus, adjunct assistant professor is the proper term for someone with his qualifications who teaches but only on a part time basis.

But again, does this really matter? Of course not. D’Amato’s biography (including his earlier stint as a teacher at Annapolis, his military service, his admission to the Maryland bar, and his political career) is not diminished a whit by removal of his voluntary teaching service at the Naval Academy. His qualifications for his current job are not questioned, even by Hyman. It’s simply an attack on D’Amato’s character, and an inaccurate one at that.

Now, the Bronze Stars: as mentioned earlier, D’Amato served as in the Maryland State legislature as a Democrat. In 2002, he was narrowly defeated by his Republican challenger—the margin of victory was less than 300 votes.

Only days before the election, a commentator on a Baltimore television station lashed out in an editorial that attacked a detail of D’Amato’s campaign literature that said he had earned “Bronze Stars” during his service in Vietnam. This commentator also actively lobbied the local newspapers, the Baltimore Sun and the Annapolis Capital, to cover the story.

Guess who that commentator was?

Yes, the “Stolen Honor” fiasco was simply a sequel to a smaller scale version of exactly the same technique Hyman developed in going after a Democrat running for office in Sinclair’s backyard near Baltimore.

Why is Hyman still after D’Amato (who, after all, is a fellow captain in the naval reserves)? Hard to say. Perhaps it’s because
D’Amato recently criticized the Bush administration’s China policy. Maybe it’s because D’Amato has actively imposed the legalization of slot machines in Maryland (a pet project of current governor, bosom buddy of Sinclair, and Hyman’s former boss, Bob Ehrlich). Or maybe it’s because after Hyman attacked him the first time around, D’Amato publicly discussed the dangers of media consolidation, noting that “If Sinclair had owned The Sun and The Capital, political operatives, like Mr. Hyman, would have purposely promulgated across different media outlets malicious and false stories.”

Or maybe Hyman is just vindictive.

In any case, charges Hyman attempts to resuscitate in this latest editorial were done away with some time ago. Neither the Sun or Capital decided the story was newsworthy. The Navy didn’t bother with an investigation into whether D’Amato had falsely worn unearned medals. This is in part because D’Amato *had* earned Bronze Stars for service in a combat zone, but had not won the Bronze Star for valor in combat (which is the medal most people think of when they hear “Bronze Star”). D’Amato admitted that this was unfairly confusing and clarified the difference.

So Hyman, the guy who takes up airtime on your airwaves on a nightly basis (yet lacks an iota of journalistic experience and
hems and haws when asked directly about his much touted service for the C.I.A.), wastes time that could be used to discuss truly local issues by people in your community by making personal, unsubstantiated, and trivial attacks on people he doesn’t like because of their politics.

Given this, it’s difficult to imagine anyone, regardless of their political affiliation, thinking that Hyman is anything but an unqualified failure as a public voice.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.07

P.S. A partial copy of the Baltimore Sun piece on D’Amato and Hyman’s attack on him can be found in the
Baltimore Sun archives (this is the article that is the source of the D’Amato quotation about media consolidation). To see the whole thing, you’ll either need to pay or hop on Lexis/Nexus.

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

No Adequate Viewer Notification from Hyman

I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but the latest “Point” reminds us yet again that Mark Hyman’s main shortcoming is not the specific positions he advocates (as wrongheaded as they usually are) but the fundamentally dishonest way he argues them.

In his latest editorial, Hyman complains that Planned Parenthood of New England is trying to have a New Hampshire law struck down that requires parents be notified before a minor has an abortion. Hyman says,

The abortion-on-demand crowd believes that a 13-year old girl - who can't watch
"R"-rated movies without an adult - should be able to quietly get an abortion
without ever notifying mom or dad.

Hyman suggests that the complaints about the unconstitutionality of the New Hampshire are based on claims that anyone of any age should be able to get an abortion when they want and that this law prevents that. The problem is that this characterization has nothing to do with the facts of the case (Ayotte v Planned Parenthood of Northern New England).

The challenge to the constitutionality of the New Hampshire law
is based solely on issues of health of the mother. The challengers of the law point out that the language of the law does not adequately provide for emergency situations in which a doctor must make a judgment call about the health of the mother. The law (so the challengers argue) would have the effect of intimidating doctors into tending to choose not to perform abortions in borderline cases when consent wasn’t immediately available.

Some might argue that Planned Parenthood and fellow opponents of the law are simply finding a convenient way of opposing a law they have more general objections to. Could be. I don’t know. The only thing that can be said for sure is on what legal grounds the challenge has been made, and those grounds are confined solely to issues involving the rights of the mother to have a doctor make decisions based solely on their professional opinion, not fear of legal retribution.

Moreover, although Hyman implies that this is a case of Planned Parenthood complaining about a law they don’t like, the fact is that two courts, the District Court and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals (the only courts who have ruled on the law), have found the law unconstitutional. It is the state attorney general of New Hampshire who has appealed this case to the Supreme Court (over the objections of the state’s current governor). Whatever one’s position on the issue, it’s difficult to suggest the complaints about the law are unreasonable or, to use Hyman’s term, “absurd” given the rulings by the lower courts.

Parental notification in and of itself is not a bad idea. True, there are horror stories of fundamentalist parents taking vengeance on their daughters for their “sins.” On the other hand, there’s little evidence that such stories are common, and it’s difficult to argue that while a parent must be informed about nearly every aspect of a child’s treatment by social institutions (schools, the legal system, etc.) that parents have no right whatsoever to know if their child undergoing a surgical procedure like abortion.

A well-written law that makes adequate room for exceptions to parental notification in cases where the health or life of the mother is in danger (either because of a medical condition or because of a reasonable suspicion of abuse at the hands of the parents) would likely be constitutional and address the reasonable concerns of all. At least, there are reasonable and sound arguments to be made on both sides of the issue.

But when it comes to important and subtle issues such as this, it’s more important than ever that both sides make their arguments in good faith. That’s not what we get from Hyman, who deliberately misleads his audience about the nature and context of the objections to the law in order to score points in the realm of public opinion rather than making an ethically sound case based on its merits.

In so doing, Hyman does violence both to the public sphere and to the truth.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.24

Monday, December 12, 2005

"The Point": Double Plus Ungood

So it’s come to this: a poll on whether it’s acceptable to torture people.

Remember when engaging in torture was something that was seen as proof positive of inhumanity? But with the current administration’s “War on Terror” [sic], the folks that pledged to “restore dignity and honor to the White House” have eroded our collective character to the point where the relative merits and severity of various types of torture are an acceptable and unremarkable subject of our public talk.

Exhibit A:
Mark Hyman’s call for viewer feedback on when torture is justified and what constitutes torture. Hyman claims that the American people are “split down the middle” (an apt metaphor, given the topic) on the issue of torture.

Actually, the data mainly shows that attitudes on torture depend a lot on the way the question is worded and what the context is.

According to data available at, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe their government has tortured people (74%, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll). When asked if they would be willing to support the use of torture against suspected terrorists who may know details about an attack on the United States, the same poll showed that 38% would be willing to support torture, while 56% would not.

When asked by Newsweek whether torture can be often, sometimes, seldom, or never justified in questioning suspected terrorists, 44% answered that it could be often or sometimes justified, while 51% said seldom or never. (Interestingly, 25% of Republicans thought it could be “often justified,” compared with 11% of Democrats who gave this answer).

When the same poll asked whether respondents would support the use of torture if “it might lead to the prevention of a major terrorist attack,” 58% said yes, while 35% said no. However, when the question was whether or not respondents would support the use of torture if it meant it would be more likely that Americans would also be subject to torture, the numbers flip almost exactly (36% would still support it while 57% would not).

This suggests that any pronouncement about the will of the American people about torture is on shaky ground, since so much of the issue rests with subtleties of the way questions are asked.

And this is exactly what’s so frightening. Whether we’re “split down the middle” or if only a mere four out of ten of us support the use of torture, the fact that this has become a matter of opinion polling and viewer feedback segments is appalling. That a slight twist in wording can elicit a positive response to torture from the majority of Americans asked about it is a frightening glimpse into where four years of fear mongering, lying, and government-sanctioned abuse of human beings has brought us.

We’ve become a brutalizing nation. What a tragedy for a country that made renunciation of “cruel and unusual punishment” a founding principle.

There’s not much to say to those who support the use of torture from an ethical or moral standpoint. If you think torture is justifiable, such arguments are impotent.

The justification of torture seems based solely on a “the ends justify the means” basis. That such an ethos is alive and well in America shouldn’t surprise us; after all it’s been the hallmark of the Bush administration from before it took office. From the bussing in of thugs to harass election workers, to the outing of a CIA operative in order to discredit an administration critic, to the launching of a preemptive war of choice, to the grotesque political use of the events of September 11, the Bush administration has openly embraced and championed the rationale of ends justifying the means.

But even if one throws morality out the window and only looks at the issue pragmatically, there’s little to be said for torture. Aristotle noted more than 2500 years ago that, although one could “spin” statements made under torture as probably truthful (if they happened to help your case), the reality is that what you get from torture is likely whatever the victim thinks will get the pain to stop. This may or may not have anything to do with the truth. Hence, Aristotle’s belief that any information gained from torture was unreliable.

What does this have to do with the “war on terror”? Only everything. As we’ve recently found out, one of the main sources of the (dis)information used to support the case for invading Iraq came from
an al-Qaeda operative undergoing “enhanced interrogation techniques” (how’s that for a euphemism?). Yet, despite misgivings about the truth of the operative’s claims (misgivings the administration was aware of), the use of this testimony formed a central part of the Bush administration’s case for war. The information was simply what the prisoner thought his torturers wanted to hear, then the Bush administration spun this testimony because it was consistent with what they had already decided they wanted to do.

Yet, right wing voices continue to offer apologia for torturers. Both
NewsMax and Rush Limbaugh have lied about John McCain’s description of his own experiences with torture in order to suggest that torture works. McCain introduced legislation limiting interrogation techniques to Army Field Manual approved practices (legislation that passed 90-9 in the Senate) precisely because he understands that torture, in addition to being morally reprehensible, doesn’t provide reliable information. But the administration apologists at NewsMax, along with Limbaugh, have falsely claimed that McCain said torture worked.

Then we have Hyman. In his posing of the torture question, Hyman asks whether torture is only physical, or

do actions such as dunking a suspect's head in a bucket of ice water count as
torture? What about exploiting a suspect's fear of heights or abandonment,
claustrophobia or darkness? Is this torture?

Hyman’s phrasing (e.g., “dunking in ice water” to mean the practice of waterboarding; “exploiting fear” for inflicting psychological trauma) suggests where his heart lies.

But as readers of
George Orwell’s 1984 know, the most terrifying torture—the kind that utterly breaks a person—is that which is never actually administered, but only threatened. Fear, not pain, will compel someone to say anything. This is why we have such disgust for practices such as the Japanese Army’s technique of carrying out mock executions on U.S. prisoners. (By the way, the U.S. is also thought to have carried out mock executions in Iraq.) Psychological torture leaves more horrifying scars than any thumbscrew or bull whip.

In any discussion of Orwell’s novel, though, it would be almost ludicrous to ask whether or not O’Brien was “justified” in strapping a cage full of snarling rats to Winston’s face. Orwell didn’t present with Big Brother, O’Brien, and Room 101 to get us to debate whether or not they were on the whole positive or negative influences; he counted on these creations to scare the daylights out of us and keep us on guard against their encroachment in real life.

I sometimes tire of knee jerk analogies involving Orwell’s dystopia. It’s become almost a cliché to equate today’s America with the world of the novel. But, as I reread the scene in which Winston is terrorized into renouncing the woman he loves, I can’t help thinking that if we’ve been taken to the point where we actually entertain when it’s justifiable to torture another human being in the name of state security, Americans have collectively been taken to Room 101 and, through the use of fear, been made to recant that which we once held most dear.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Anger Management Issues

Temper, temper, Mr. Hyman. You-know-who is watching who’s naughty and nice.

If you don’t live in the Baltimore area, do yourself a favor and check out the transcript of
Hyman’s Baltimore-only custom “Point” commentary. On Friday, while the rest of the nation got Hyman’s disingenuous editorial on Bob Woodward and the Washington Post, his local listeners got a treat: a “Point” just for them.

Hyman, in a Grinch-like mood, used his time to advocate for a literacy project in Baltimore. What’s Grinch-like about that? Nothing, if the literacy project was real. Instead, this was Hyman’s idea of a joke. In reality, Hyman was pretending to be fundraising to teach people on the Mark Steiner radio program (broadcast on WYPR in Baltimore) how to read.

Swiftian satire it ain’t. But beyond that, why did Hyman go to the trouble of creating this Baltimore-only “Point” to attack Mr. Steiner and his radio show? Is Steiner some sort of Howard Stern shock jock who had sullied Hyman’s august reputation by having bikini-clad lesbian dwarves riding around the radio studio on the back of a guy wearing nothing but a Speedo and a Mark Hyman mask?

Hardly (and apologies for the rather unpleasant visual).

WYPR is Baltimore’s National Public Radio station, and Steiner is the host of a long running public affairs show dealing with local issues. What sin had Steiner committed? Well, apparently the topic of Hyman’s editorials had come up in a recent on-air discussion. In the context of the discussion, apparently Steiner made the following remarks:

I guess the critique is that it’s on the news and being passed off (a) as local
news and (b) as news and having local anchors act as if it was news when it is
really – when you hear commentary on the stations, whether it is left or right –
this is pretty vitriolic, nasty stuff passing itself off as news. (Steiner, as
quoted by Hyman on the Baltimore-only December 9th edition of “The Point.”)

Notice that Steiner isn’t making these claims himself. He’s paraphrasing the arguments of those who are critics of Sinclair Broadcasting and Hyman. Not only that, but he bends over backwards to be evenhanded, saying that people object to the vitriolic nature of the editorials “whether it is left or right.”

Perhaps Hyman is upset that Steiner even suggested that “The Point” ever editorializes for anything other than far right political positions.

Whatever the reason, Steiner and the folks at his long running NPR show are labeled as illiterate because, according to Hyman, the word “commentary” appears on-screen during his pieces. A lack of hilarity ensues:

It is deeply distressing that WYPR staff cannot read so I urge you to send your
contributions for these needy, illiterate adults to me in care of Fox 45 and
we’ll see if we can’t get them learned real good. And in the off-chance that
someone at the Mark Steiner Show can actually read, but they do not understand
what the multi-syllable word “commentary” means, I am going to send them this
dictionary. Inside, I have forged autographs in the names of both Merriam and

Of course, we know from the recent GQ article on Sinclair that when local stations attempted to introduce “The Point” as an editorial segment, they were shot down by the corporate office. Moreover, we’ve noted any number of times when Hyman hides behind the façade of being a journalist rather than a commentator when it suits his purpose, such as his series of “good news” stories in Iraq, his “coverage” of the national political conventions, and the recent series of “reports” on higher education—reports that actually featured a pseudo-reporter (Dina Nesheiwat) doing interviews with conservative think tankers (although they were never labeled as such).

There can be little argument that Sinclair and Hyman play fast and loose with the labeling of “The Point.” When it suits their purposes, they make it look and feel like a news report. When they are challenged on this, they hide behind the flashing of the word “commentary” (a word much more slippery in its connotations than the more appropriate “editorial”) on the screen at the beginning of Hyman’s remarks, and they claim that Hyman is simply a Sinclair employee expressing his personal views.

But apparently even mentioning that some people have raised criticism about this is enough to send Hyman into a full-on meltdown (although, interestingly, Hyman doesn’t take exception to the words “vitriolic” and “nasty” associated with his editorials).

Methinks the Hyman doth protest too much.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.63

Friday, December 09, 2005

All the Hyman's Spin

Just in case you had any lingering doubts about the level of duplicity Mark Hyman is capable of, take a look at his recent commentary about Bob Woodward.

Hyman notes that some of his fellow reporters at the Washington Post are “miffed” about Woodward’s recent actions. What are these actions? Hyman isn’t specific. He suggests it has something to do with Woodward working “unsupervised” and that he has been “caught skirting the boundary of truth.” He also suggests that Woodward is simply an example of some journalists’ “zeal to get the scoop and to promote their political agendas.”

Why might Hyman not get specific when it comes to laying out the sins of the Washington Post’s star reporter? Because what Woodward’s colleagues are “miffed” about is that he knowingly withheld information about the administration’s role in making Valerie Plame’s identity public. This illegal outing was used as a means of punishing Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for his contradiction of the Bush party line about Iraq’s purchasing of uranium from Niger.

In fact, as any number of media observers have noted (including
Sidney Blumenthal, Joe Conason, and the ever-vigilant Media Matters for America), Woodward has served as an apologist for the Bush administration, openly mocking the investigation into the leak, making false statements about the origins of the investigation, and doing so while withholding his own tacit role in the cover-up (all of which is coming back to haunt him, now that Scooter Libby has been indicted).

If Hyman were a man of principle who actually cares about the role of journalism in a democracy, he would criticize Woodward for his actions (and inactions) specifically, pointing out that even though he several “Point” commentaries have attempted to discredit Wilson, Woodward must be held accountable, even if his actions served a cause with which Hyman himself agreed.

But Hyman brings every last ounce of the cynicism that is the hallmark of his editorials to this topic, using intentionally vague statements about Woodward as a tool with which to repeat his drumbeat of criticism against newspaper journalists in general, a group that represents an economic rival to the company Hyman works for, and which (in Hyman’s odd world) is also a political enemy (despite the fact that major
newspapers tend to be owned by large corporations, endorse Republicans for president, and use partisan labels more often when describing liberals).

Worried about those who use journalistic license to “skirt the truth” in order to promote a political (and financial) agenda? Look in the mirror, Mark.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.97

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Privatization Blues

A false appeal to authority, a shady statistic, and a reckless slander, all in one brief commentary—that’s the upshot of Mark Hyman’s call for privatizing hospitals.

Hyman claims the solution to rising health care costs is to make all hospitals private. His proof? A
study done by the Reason Foundation.

That sounds pretty impressive—the Reason Foundation must be a pretty level-headed lot, if they’re calling themselves that, right?

You’d think so, right up until you did a little poking around and found out that the Reason Foundation is a
libertarian think tank devoted to doing away with what it regards as overly strict environmental regulations on businesses. More generally, the foundation is in favor of privatization of more or less everything. Not surprisingly, they receive huge amounts of money from the usual suspects when it comes to funding right wing think tanks.

So the Reason Foundation might have a point of view based entirely on what will provide the best medical care to all Americans. That by itself doesn’t make them wrong, but it should make us a bit suspicious.

Hyman’s use of a statistic cited by the Reason Foundation report shows us that these suspicions are warranted. Hyman notes that a study by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Bush administration showed that a stay in a public hospital costs more than a stay in a private hospital. Hyman suggests this means public hospitals are spending money inefficiently. He notes:

The study concluded that inefficiency, a conflicting mix of social, political
and business objectives, and a lack of desire to control spending contribute to
higher public hospital costs.

In passing, we should also note that Hyman lifts the phrase “inefficiency, a conflicting mix of social, political, and business objectives” word-for-word from the executive summary of the Reason report without reproducing the text on screen, saying “in the words of the authors,” or using any other cue to let the audience know he’s borrowing exact phrasing from his source. There’s a word for that . . . hmmmmm . . . it’s not coming to me right now . . .

Anyway, you don’t need to do a lot of number crunching to figure out why such a difference would exist. After all, public hospitals are required to take on all patients. As a result,
they treat a far larger percentage of people without health insurance. If you don’t have health insurance, you don’t get preventive care and medication. The result? People end up going to public hospitals for longer periods of time and for more serious afflictions (on average) than patients at private hospitals.

In other words, what Hyman (and Reason) attempt to portray as simply inefficient and wasteful spending is largely a product of the humanitarian mission of the public hospital. The “conflicting mix” of objectives Hyman refers to is the desire to both keep the hospital doors open and treat all patients, regardless of their income or health insurance coverage.

Private hospitals can turn patients away if they can’t pay (except in an emergency). Public hospitals won’t do that. Hyman uses language that is meant to suggest that public hospitals don’t have their act together or can’t come up with a coherent mission statement. The fact is that public hospitals do have clear objectives. It’s just that they have more than the single objective of turning a profit.

And “a lack of desire to control spending”? The phrase is meant to conjure up images of RNs wheeling patients into the operating room on gurneys upholstered in Corinthian leather while doctors in Armani-designed smocks get scrubbed up with Evian water. But as we just noted, the lack of desire to control spending is in fact the desire to treat people who can’t pay rather than letting them suffer and die in the street.

Then Hyman takes what was a rather routinely distorted commentary and takes a turn for the truly ugly. He begins by saying that “another study” showed that private hospitals offered better quality care for less money than public hospitals. What other study? Hyman doesn’t say. What he does say is that

[w]hat is not known is how many of the nearly 100,000 people who die every year
from medical negligence can be attributed to inefficient and often
poorly-equipped public hospitals.

Yes, it’s not just that public hospitals aren’t cost effective—they’re killing people. Every doctor, nurse, orderly, and candy striper who works at a public hospital is smeared by this statement, which suggests that not only are public hospitals not spending money as carefully as they should, but that the people who serve patients in them are negligent in the care they provide. If you’re looking for some connection between the cost-effectiveness argument and the alleged negligence of public hospital staff, you’ll be looking for a while. Hyman offers none.

But what’s a little slander when you’re out to privatize the world? Conservatives worship at the idol of the invisible hand of the free market, assuming that it will always make things come out right. This
fetishization of privatization in all walks of life is troubling, but especially so when it comes to medicine. Consumers are often not well-informed about medical issues, and therefore can’t practice the miraculous rationality the free market model assumes they’ll exercise. Moreover, do you really want decisions about your health in the hands of folks whose ultimate goal is to turn a profit? Of course, if you’re in an HMO, you probably already know what this feels like.

The elephant in the room on all this is universal coverage. Hyman ponders how many people have died from supposedly lackluster care in public hospitals. I wonder how many people would have died had their not been public hospitals that take people in without health insurance. I also wonder how many people will die this year because even though they live in the wealthiest nation in history and hold down a job, they can’t get insurance that will help pay for routine preventive care and medications.

But for folks like Hyman, there’s no room at the health care inn for those who can’t pay their own way. If you’re one of the more than 40 million uninsured, just go fend for yourself in the stables.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.29

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Compare and Contrast

Mark Hyman’s recent commentary on the recent rioting in France in which he quotes British columnist Theodore Dalrymple invites us to make comparisons between the two men, and I think there are two important ones to draw.

First is one of contrast. Theodore Dalrymple (which is actually a pen name for
Anthony Daniels, a retired doctort and a conservative columnist) might share some of Hyman’s underlying political philosophy, but there is little in their quality of thought or expression that merits any comparison beyond this. Dalrymple, regardless of how you might feel about his conclusions or the premises he begins from, is at least a careful thinker who articulates informed, nuanced positions clearly.

If you read
the commentary from which Hyman quotes, you’ll see what I mean. Not that there’s a lack of things that are objectionable and, well, just plain wrong about Dalrymple’s take on the events in France or his broader philosophy, but at least he shows signs of having systematically thought through problems in a way that does justice to their complexity. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of our man, Monsieur Hyman, who, on his best day, doesn’t come within a Molotov cocktail’s throw of Dalrymple at his most reactionary.

To give just one example, Hyman erroneously labels the rioters and those living in the housing projects from which they emerged as “immigrants,” despite the fact that the youth involved are not immigrants, but rather the children or grandchildren of immigrants who became naturalized citizens long ago. You can argue with Dalrymple; with Hyman, you can only throw your hands up and wonder how anyone, even those who agree with him, can find him tolerable as a public voice.

But there are some similarities that are worth noting as well. It’s difficult to say if Hyman cares a whit about the events in France other than that it gives him an excuse to criticize the shortcomings of the French government—criticism that is merited in this case. But the criticism is merited not for the reasons Hyman (and Dalrymple) would claim. And that’s where we see an underlying similarity.

Dalrymple’s take on the rioting in France is one Hyman likely agrees with: it’s the fault of the “barbarians” (Dalrymple’s term) of those living in the dilapidated housing projects outside of major French cities. Hyman cites Dalrymple’s claim that French police look the other way when crimes are committed by these largely immigrant youths. The suggestion is that what’s wrong with these people is that they’ve been coddled and appeased for far too long.

It’s difficult to take such a theory seriously. After all, the incident that sparked the riots across France was a police sweep through one of these immigrant neighborhoods. Two boys were electrocuted when they hopped a fence outside a power plant in an effort to escape spending hours in a police station being questioned about why they were in the street (apparently playing soccer).

In fact, such sweeps (along with lengthy detentions of anyone and everyone who could be remotely considered suspicious or a witness to suspicious activity) is apparently part of daily life in the projects outside Paris. The idea that the anti-authoritarian sentiment Dalrymple and Hyman suggest is behind the riots is the result of a too lenient police force fails the giggle test.

No doubt Hyman also approves of Dalrymple’s take on the racial aspect of the riots. The unrest has been committed almost entirely by youths who are the children of immigrant parents, most of whom came to France from Africa, and most of whom are Moslems. These immigrants (who were encouraged to come to post-war France during the economic boom of the thirty years following the liberation) and their children now live in broken down, ugly, housing projects, conveniently segregated from “proper” French society (out of sight, out of mind). Poverty is omnipresent, and unemployment is rampant.

Yet, to hear Dalrymple tell it, race and poverty are merely distractions from the true problem: the degenerate characters of those participating in the riots. Not that this stops him from defending the use of the word “scum” by Interior Minster Nicolas Sarkozy to describe those involved in the unrest (as well as his use of barely concealed images of ethnic cleansing in discussing how the problem must be solved). In fact, Dalrymple suggests (apparently in all seriousness) that part of the anger of the rioters is based on the fact that they actually believe the “scum” label is an accurate description of them. (See
Doug Ireland’s insightful piece about the riots in which he explains the nuances of the rhetoric involved—nuances that are literally lost in translation).

One wonders if such language would have been used by a government official (and whether Dalrymple would defend it) if the unrest had come from middle class, white university students rather than poverty stricken immigrants. Well, actually, one doesn’t wonder—the query answers itself.

Dalrymple (and, presumably, Hyman) believe that there are two main causes of the riots: the degenerate characters of those doing the rioting and progressive policies that don’t force the people living in the projects to stand on their own two feet.

As for the second of these claims, the evidence suggests otherwise. France is hardly a haven of affirmative action and active integration. In fact, in a rather misguided deification of egalitarianism,
the French government doesn’t even keep track of minority groups. The idea is that all French citizens are equal, and to take note of issues like race and ethnicity is to suggest otherwise.

Of course, the reality is that not all French citizens are equal, and that it’s exactly the fallacy that anyone can simply pull themselves up by their own bootstraps that keeps those on the political and economic margins where they are at. Much like the more strident and reactionary of our home grown, domestic, American conservatives (Conservatus Vulgaris?), the French government substitutes platitudes about equal opportunity for actions that would actually provide it. Denial is the only acceptable solution to the problem for such folks.

As for the claim that the real cause of the riots is the decrepit morals of those participating, it is valid, but in a way that is trivial because it obscures the larger truth involved. Certainly those individuals who commit acts of violence or vandalism should be held accountable for their actions. But the suggestion that this should be the end of the discussion and that any claims about larger causes are excusing criminality is childish.

What this take on social issues (“it’s the individual, stupid!”) assumes is that there is an entity, the independent and self-contained individual, that exists entirely separate of his or her circumstances. Such a fable is a comforting myth—we’d all like to believe we are completely our own person and that all the things about us (at least the good stuff) is the result of our own self-crafted indentity. But this is a myth that went by the boards a long time ago (or at least should have).

Pointing this out does not mean that we are simply the sum of outside influences and thus not responsible for our actions. That’s what folks like Dalrymple and Hyman would suggest, but that’s simply an argumentative ploy meant to obscure the more complex reality: that we are all individuals with free will, but that we are subject to the conditioning of the social world when it comes to practicing the use of that free will. Dalrymple as much as admits this when he blames social programs for the lack of character among the disenfranchised youth doing the rioting.

So the question then becomes, which seems more plausible: that the children of immigrants in France feel alienated toward the larger society because that society has coddled and insulated them from the world in a way that has led to moral decay, or that these young people feel frustrated and abandoned by a society that has systematically and literally put them on the margins of life, ignored them, insulted them, yet doesn’t acknowledge that this de facto segregation exists and blames them when they don’t succeed in the same way as their wealthier, white, countrymen (whose economic advantages are seen as irrelevant)?

Again, the question answers itself.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.03

Monday, December 05, 2005

Hyman Spins the Numbers

“For a man's counsel cannot have equal weight or worth when he alone has no children to risk in the general danger.” -- Pericles’s funeral oration

Mark Hyman claims that the poor are not overrepresented in the military. He’s wrong.

The military and conservative commentators have tried to spin the recent findings of a demographic study to say that the military does not draw heavily on the financially strapped to fill its ranks, but
an investigation by the Washington Post that went inside the numbers found that in fact the military specifically targets poor, rural areas for heavy recruitment. And they don’t simply rely on numbers; interviews with recruiting officers confirmed what the numbers suggest.

Hyman lamely suggests that the percentage of minorities in the military has fallen since 9/11, but what this statistic actually reflects is the fact that African Americans resent being mined for human resources for
a war they don’t believe in.

And this is a case study of a larger problem. The military is having
a great deal of trouble meeting even reduced recruitment goals. Why would this be? If we are actually fighting to protect America from terrorists, wouldn’t there be a flood of people signing up, as there was for World War II? But the lack of recruits has driven the military to raising its maximum age requirements and taking more “educationally challenged” enlistees than ever before. Might this be that the American people, even those in the dwindling minority who support the war, don’t truly believe that the war is about defending America and, hence, not worth putting their own (or their children’s) lives at risk?

The fact that
only seven members of Congress have children who are in, or might be sent to, Iraq supports this assumption. On both sides of the political spectrum, those who have supported the war (at least to some degree) have not felt so moved by their own convictions that they encouraged their children to participate (as, for example, Franklin Roosevelt’s children did in WWII).

The most glaring examples of this are those most directly responsible for the war. President Bush and Vice President Cheney, both of whom found ways of avoiding combat service in Vietnam (a conflict they supported) have carried on this less-than-honorable tradition. Both wax rhapsodic about the wonders of bringing democracy to Iraq and the tangible threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States, yet neither seems to have even floated the idea that their own children might pitch in.

Hyman limply jabs at Rep. Charles Rangel’s suggestion that a draft be considered. What he knows, but doesn’t acknowledge, is that Rangel’s actions were designed to make a point (the same one Pericles made nearly 2500 years ago): it’s easier to believe in the illusory glories of war when you don’t have to send your own flesh and blood into the meat grinder.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.95

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Bruce Bombs With Reviewers

Mark Hyman highly recommends The New American Revolution by Tammy Bruce.

Would you be surprised to learn that no one else does?

Actually, that’s not true. A search of book reviews on Bruce’s new tome came up with plenty of gushing words from rightwingers (e.g. Freepers, Newsmaxers, and WorldNetDailyers). There were also a couple of highly critical reviews by progressives and liberals.

However, I only came up with two reviews from those who looked at the book from an objective political standpoint, evaluating the book on its own merits (or lack thereof) independent of political interest: Publisher’s Weekly and The Library Journal. Their response was, well, subdued, to say the very least. (I’ve provided the text of the reviews below).

Since I haven’t read the book myself, I’ll let those who have give you their evaluation. But before turning things over to them, I have a question for any of the more conservative readers among you. In his commentary, Hyman quotes the following passage, noting that it’s among his favorites in Bruce’s book:

“The underlying message of the generally deluded Leftist establishment, Clintons
and all, is that your specialness, your particular values, your principles, your
drive, your ambition, and even your hope for the future are wrong."

My question is simply this: do any of you actually believe this? Sure, it’s taking a swipe at liberals, which you might agree in principle is always a good thing, but do you believe in the specific content of the statement, or just the underlying sentiment? That is, do you believe that those on the left of the political spectrum think that personal “specialness” is wrong? (I always thought conservatives were irked that liberals kowtowed too much to individual “specialness”; was I mistaken?)

Do you really think Hillary Clinton’s goal is to stamp out drive and ambition?

Do you think liberals actually think your “hope for the future” is wrong?

This just seems like such cartoonish nonsense that I can’t help but feel that, were I a conservative, I would be insulted by such pablum. I could understand if this sort of stuff was written and read simply as a way of getting worked up, but I have the sneaking suspicion that folks like Bruce and Hyman hope that their audience will actually believe this, and that they might even believe it themselves.

Even on my most cynical days, I don’t think conservatives are handlebar-moustache-wearing melodramatic villains out to take away my hope in the future. Sure, I think most of Hyman’s ideas (and those of much of the conservative establishment) are mistaken, ill-conceived, short-sighted, counterproductive, and often immoral (and in the case of Hyman, also poorly articulated), but I don’t question that conservatives come to these ideas from a sincerely held worldview that suggests these policies are both practically and ethically preferable to those of the left.

For example, as morally reprehensible as the launching of a preemptive war of choice is to me, I don’t feel that those who champion it are all Snidely Whiplashes out to tie the fair damsel America to the railroad tracks. Yet, in Bruce’s quotation, Hyman’s commentaries, and a lot of what I hear on the right, this seems to be exactly how they conceive of liberals. And then, as he speaks of liberals in this way, Hyman actually calls the Left “angry.” I don’t get it.

So is this just “mere rhetoric” meant to get conservative hearts pumping, or do you really believe this stuff? I’m just wondering.

Now, on to the less-than-stellar reviews for the Bruce book:

From Publisher’s Weekly, as posted on

"Mostly a stage upon which to beat her stridently individualist chest and congratulate herself for melding seemingly contradictory political ideologies, this book opens with Bruce, a pro-death penalty, gun-owning, pro-choice lesbian feminist and former NOW chapter president who lives in San Francisco and is a Fox News contributor, hailing the 2000 election as "a message from the nation" that we were ready for someone "who was, at his core, decent." Bruce lashes out against liberals, whom she says carry around so much hatred toward the country that it has begun to infect the globe, and explains her unique politics by reasoning "party loyalty takes a backseat to the safety of your family and this nation," and "there's nothing more radically individual these days than a liberal who doesn't conform." Given the current bevy of accusations swirling over the Bush administration and its handling of intelligence, Bruce's extended attack on the "deep depravity of the American Left" seems like a victim of bad timing. Readers willing to wade through Bruce's frustratingly frequent invocations of "hate," "savage" and "evil" will hear the call to readers to think for themselves instead of relying on the party line, be it on the left or right. Unfortunately, her thesis is buried beneath mountains of dismissible rhetoric."

From Library Journal, as posted on
Barnes &

"Michael Moore, John Kerry, Jesse Jackson, and Elton John, as well as organizations like the ACLU, NOW, and the UN, count among the members of radio and print commentator Bruce's (The Death of Right and Wrong: Exploring the Left's Assault on Our Culture and Values) "The Hate America First Club." Her vitriolic screed argues that those liberals who support multiculturalism are an assault on the "new American radicals" who believe in family values and have strong faith. Apparently, all liberals who have not seen the way as shown by Bruce have neither values nor faith. She maintains that the "New American Revolution" began on 9/11 and was reaffirmed by Bush's 2004 reelection. Liberals and a significant number of conservatives would question this contention in the wake of the unfulfilled claims about the Iraq war and the slow response to Hurricane Katrina's devastation. Bruce's allegations are not demonstrated convincingly; public libraries can pass on this one. "

Yes, I think I will too.

And those are The Counterpoints.

Yet More Paranoia About Immigrants

Three familiar Hyman characteristics are preoccupation with immigration, a focus on issues relevant to him but not the rest of his national audience (e.g., issues in Baltimore or the state of Maryland), and insulting those with whom he disagrees rather than actually making an argument. We hit the trifecta with Hyman’s editorial on driver’s licenses.

As for the first part, Hyman is irked that a group that represents the rights of immigrants, CASA of Maryland, has had the temerity to object to the fact that Hispanic immigrants are often denied a driver’s license because the documents they provide from their native countries that vouch for their identity are often not accepted or not understood by the folks at the DMV.

Given Hyman’s longstanding issues with the specter of non-Anglos coming into the country, the fact that this issue is in his backyard must be unsettling, although it’s not entirely clear why Hyman’s paranoia merits being aired in a national forum.

But even more egregious than the foisting off of a local issue on a national audience is the language and tone of Hyman’s editorial. For Hyman, the immigrants complaining of being denied licenses to which they are legally entitled are “inmates running the asylum.” At the close of his editorial, Hyman says, “[t]he great irony here is aliens believe that close scrutiny of unfamiliar and suspect documents is somehow unfair.”

The word choice is telling. Although the group primarily represents legal immigrants to the United States, Hyman uses the emotionally charged word “aliens,” a term that inevitably calls to mind the modifier which nearly always precedes it (particularly in Hyman’s vocabulary), “illegal.”

Not only is the underlying premise of Hyman’s editorial insulting (that it’s “ironic” for legal residents of the United States to expect equal treatment regardless of their ethnicity), but so are the words he uses. While one could make a respectful (albeit flawed) argument on the topic-- suggesting that an unfortunate reality of illegal immigration is that legal immigrants from certain countries will face additional hardships that are no fault of their own—Hyman is unable to maintain a civil tongue in his head, and flails around in the gutter of fear mongering, condescension, and barely concealed racism.

Let’s try our best not to get splashed.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.03

Cost of the War in Iraq
(JavaScript Error)
To see more details, click here.