Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Frosted Hyman Points: They're Magically Malicious!

Why does Mark Hyman hate our kids?

That’s the question
a recent Hyman editorial raises, in which he mocks the idea that advertising junk food to toddlers is legally or ethically problematic.

Specifically, Hyman makes fun of the Center for Science in the Public Interest for
its class action lawsuit in Massachusetts which is intended to offer some financial disincentive for corporations to use cartoon characters that children love to sell them food that’s unhealthy.

The crux of Hyman’s argument is that parents make the choice to buy food, so who cares if the average five year old is bombarded with ads in which SpongeBob tells them to eat cereal that’s little more than clumps of sugar in a bowl.

Technically, this is true. It’s possible that a parent could ignore the nonstop whining of their child for Super Sugar Rush Glyco Pops, the public tantrums thrown in restaurants and grocery stores, the refusal to eat what’s put in front of them for dinner, etc. It’s also possible for the parent to follow their child around to her or his friends’ houses to make sure no contraband is eaten.

But isn’t parenting hard enough? Mom and dad have plenty to worry about without battling corporations who spend millions of dollars to find the absolute best way to get kids to feel they absolutely *must* have Super Sugar Rush Glyco Pops. We already have a national health crisis with overweight kids (who will tend to grow up being overweight and needing extra medical care). Why make things even worse?

Hyman and his ilk will likely cry “free market!” Shouldn’t companies be allowed to advertise products to potential customers?

Maybe, but the concept of a “free market” is based on the notion of customers making free and informed choices about what they want. However, advertising to young kids has more in common with brainwashing than with free discourse. CSPI didn’t make up the idea of television commercials having an adverse affect on kids.
Study after study after study shows that younger children are unable to interpret commercials objectively. The American Psychological Association, the leading organization of psychologists in the U.S., notes that young children accept the claims of advertisers uncritically and that exposure to ads leads to unhealthy habits. This leads to serious ethical concerns about whether advertising aimed at young children is ethical at all.

That doesn’t bother Hyman. Why? Because to far right conservatives, the free market is the great arbiter of right and wrong. Despite paying lip service to the importance of values, many conservatives don’t adhere to a definition of “values” that most Americans would share. To them, being economically successful is an expression of moral rectitude and a solid work ethic. Any regulation that gets in the way of the successful businessman (the ideal democratic citizen, in the minds of conservatives) making his money is, by definition, morally repugnant (hence the animosity toward common sense environmental regulations, worker safety issues, etc.). Even if scientists have found a direct correlation between exposure to ads and unhealthy kids, it’s irrelevant when measured against the unquestioned right of the CEO of Kellogg’s to make unlimited profits.

My guess is that the average American, however, has a more highly developed sense of right and wrong. Sure, companies should be allowed to make money by providing goods and services. But they shouldn’t be allowed to do so in a way that leads to polluting the environment we all share. They shouldn’t be allowed to do it in a way that leads to the abuse and mistreatment of their workers who provide the goods and services (and profits). And they shouldn’t be allowed to do it in a way that takes
advantage of the vulnerability of the youngest of their neighbors and fellow citizens. These seem to be commonsensical ideas about ethics that most Americans would get behind.

But the fact that they are commonsense is probably the best indicator that they have no place in Hyman’s personal worldview. After all, if consumers had rights not to have damaging products foisted on them over the public airwaves, he’d be out of a job.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.61

Race Hustling on "The Point"

Mark Hyman loves to call Jesse Jackson the country’s “number one race hustler.” This is a classic case of projection if there ever was one. Hyman, the man who once equated non-documented immigrants with al-Qaeda terrorists, has proved time and again that he is willing to use race as a wedge issue, and his most recent editorial is a case in point.

Hyman begins by claiming New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin essentially said “no whitey welcome” when he made his dopey remark about New Orleans returning to a “Chocolate City.” Nagin’s ridiculous comments were justly criticized and lampooned, but to his credit, he did apologize for making them, and Hyman’s paraphrase intentionally distorts Nagin’s meaning. Nagin’s comments were wrongheaded on a number of levels, but that doesn’t excuse the willful distortion of their meaning for political purposes.

Parenthetically, Hyman takes another swipe at Nagin’s handling of Katrina, conveniently eliding the devastating evidence of mismanagement on the federal level.

More troubling, Hyman lifts a comment by Jesse Jackson out of context to imply that Jackson is a racist. Hyman quotes Jackson as saying, “"There's a profound population shift. The Latino population was 3 percent. It's now 20 percent..." and suggests that this means Jackson is angry that Hispanics were getting jobs in New Orleans “while New Orleans residents were collecting public assistance as refugees elsewhere.”

First, let’s look at the Jackson quotation in context:

There's a profound population shift. The Latino population was 3 percent.
It's now 20 percent, and it's not just South Central Latin America.
It's also east and Europeans as well. They have been trafficked in
and their cheap labor has been used while businesses are still locked out, so
you have outside workers displacing New Orleans citizens and outside no-bid
contractors displacing Katrina citizens.

So what Jackson was worried about had nothing to do with race, other than the fact that the sudden surge in the Latino population was symptomatic of a larger problem of outside contractors and labor landing jobs in place of those desperate to return to their city. Given the established pattern of the federal government giving primo no-bid contracts to political pals in the “rebuilding” of Iraq, Jackson’s concern is more than merited.

Even more disgusting is Hyman’s use of the phrase “New Orleans residents were collecting public assistance.” This has nothing to do with the issue at hand, and can only be a vaguely veiled suggestion that New Orleans’ black citizenry are too lazy to go back and work in their city. Hyman snidely implies they were happy collecting “public assistance” (a phrase intended to suggest they were getting something they weren’t owed by a government that allowed their homes to flood and neighbors to drown) while outside workers filled the labor void in the city.

Actually, race hustling is too good a term for Hyman’s rhetoric. It’s simply racist.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 6.58

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Equivalency (or Lack Thereof)

So, if I drop some change into a Salvation Army donation bucket at the holidays, that pretty much makes me the moral equivalent of Mother Theresa, right? I mean, we’re both helping those less fortunate, aren’t we?

This is the kind of logic served up by Mark Hyman in
his editorial comparing the domestic spying program of President Bush to what right wing Clinton haters refer to as “Filegate.” In fact, Hyman goes a step further, suggesting that the two aren’t the same, but that the Clinton pseudo-scandal is a far greater threat to civil liberties than the administration’s warrantless wiretaps.

I love it when certain members of the right-wing prattle-sphere invoke these sorts of asinine moral equivalencies to defend the indefensible. More than almost anything else, it reveals the underlying hypocrisy that marks so much of neo-con thought. Conservatives gnash their teeth about the supposed “relativism” on the left, but by making demonstrably invalid moral comparisons, they demean the very idea that morals and ethics are real things with real meanings independent of their use as political bludgeons.

In this case, Hyman accuses the New York Times of being “cultural elitists” (shocker) who hypocritically have “their knickers all bunched up” about domestic spying, when they weren’t equally outraged about “Filegate,” a case in which a White House security staffer was found to have gotten possession of 900 FBI files that he shouldn’t have, including what Hyman refers to as “top Republicans.”

In fact, these Republicans were old news—people from the previous Bush administration (e.g., James Baker). Craig Livingstone, the staffer responsible, said the files were pulled because of an outdated Secret Service list of names used by the incoming Clinton administration. The Black Helicopter crowd, however, insisted that the files were pulled on orders from the Clintons themselves and were used as some sort of “enemies” list. How getting dirt on retired Republicans was supposed to help the Clintons is never made clear, but oh well.

So, let’s take a brief look at just a handful of the many, many ways these two cases are different. Feel free to play along at home and add your own!

For starters, attorney general
Janet Reno authorized none other than Kenneth Starr and his Whitewater team to look into the allegations about the FBI files. In the domestic spying case, attorney general Alberto Gonzales is the foremost defender of the administration, and doesn’t seem about to authorize any investigation.

Second, the investigation into “Filegate” concluded that
there was no evidence that the President or First Lady had anything to do with pulling the files or ever saw them. Hyman lashes out at the Times for saying that the Clinton administration’s explanation of the incident hadn’t been disproven, but the newspaper was just saying what the independent investigation said itself. On the other hand, the administration and congressional Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to prevent any investigation into the domestic spying program.

Given the above, we can also say that, despite Hyman’s assertion that “the Clintons” collected hundreds of files on Republicans, “Filegate” was an issue of administration bureaucracy, not of presidential policy. With Bush’s domestic spying program, the issue obviously goes to the very top of the administration. Unlike the use of torture, the administration can’t hide behind scapegoats.

In the case of “Filegate,” the person responsible for the mistake
was forced to resign. In the case of Bush’s domestic spying program, those who help the president circumvent the law are promoted.

Hyman accuses the Times of cultural elitism, but what are we to make of the fact that Hyman has his own knickers in a bunch over a few hundred files of Republican big-wigs, while he minimizes concern over the fact that
thousands of ordinary American citizens have been spied on? “Filegate” was very much an inside-Washington issue; domestic spying directly affects the rights of all Americans.

Which brings us to our next point. There was no evidence found that sensitive information was culled from the files of GOP members and used against them. The problem was simply the fact that the files were somewhere they shouldn’t be, and hypothetically could be used by “spies.” In the domestic spying situation, we know full well that actual spying has really been done on thousands of Americans, and that almost nothing has been accomplished in the process.

Then there’s the issue of presidential honesty. Given the “Filegate” investigation’s findings, there’s no reason to think Bill Clinton (or Hillary, for that matter) made untrue statements about how the files in question got to the White House. On the other hand,
George Bush is on record as lying about the use of domestic surveillance in his public statements.

How about a constitutional crisis concerning checks and balances? “Filegate” didn’t do a thing to the fundamental way government operates. Even if the Black Helicopter crowd was right, it would be a matter of executive misconduct that should be punished. The domestic spying program, and the rationale used to defend it, change the “deep structure” of our democratic form of government. They
call into question basic assumptions about the role of all three branches of government, the law in general, and suggest a sea-change in the system of checks and balances that gives the presidency nearly limitless power.

Then there’s the basic issue of safety and national security. “Filegate” didn’t come close to touching on these issues (again, even if we grant the most malevolent explanations of how it happened). On the other hand, the domestic spying program opens a floodgate that might end up undoing a huge number of terrorist investigations by
providing grounds for dismissal based on failure to follow due process. While the administration champions its spying efforts as necessary for the security of the country, the fact is that these efforts have netted almost zilch in terms of usable information, and the way in which this useless information is collected may allow any actual case brought against a suspected terrorist to be thrown out of court.

So, in Hyman’s universe:

Files of retired Republican’s mistakenly included in White House security sweep = crime against humanity.

Administration’s warrantless spying program aimed at thousands of ordinary Americans, giving the president uncheckable powers, and which doesn’t work = sound and just policy.

In our universe, a Hyman editorial = a complete waste of 60 seconds of our lives, if it wasn’t for the unintentional comic relief it provides.

And that’s The Counterpoint

Hyman Index: 4.74

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hyman's ACLU Smears 4

Mark Hyman’s climactic editorial in his series about the ACLU is simply an example of garden variety distortions, misrepresentations, and plain old lying. Just another day of journalism, Sinclair style.

Hyman attempts to tie his citations of 80-year-old quotations by the founder of the ACLU to its current politics by citing an interview with Nadine Strosser, current ACLU president, that he claims suggests the ACLU is a radical left organization.

Of course, Hyman doesn’t specifically tell us where that interview appeared. Instead, viewers are treated simply to close-ups of a handful of words from a transcript of the interview, with bold yellow highlights of phrases Hyman claims to be paraphrasing (although sometimes the highlighted text is actually from the questions asked of Strossen, not her answers). But the close-ups are such that you can’t see the context of the terms. All we get are fragments of sentences, and Hyman wants us to assume he’s accurately describing the content.

But we won’t. Instead, a little creative Googling revealed that the interview Hyman claims to be quoting from is one that
appeared last year in Reason Magazine. Once you read the actual interview, it’s clear why Hyman doesn’t cite it specifically in his editorial: he knows that anyone who reads it will see how far from reality his caricature is.

Let’s go through Hyman’s charges one by one.

Hyman: The ACLU’s priorities include “ending a moment of silence in public schools.”

Truth: Strossen said that the priorities of the ACLU include fighting for the separation of church and state (something that’s at least as valuable as a protection for religion as it is a protection of the state, I might add). The
Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that a mandated moment of silence is religious in nature and therefore unconstitutional. The ACLU is simply supporting this established precedent from right wing judicial activism.

Hyman: The ACLU is for “abandoning personal property rights.”

Truth: Hyman is lying. In fact, the statement Hyman appears to refer to says exactly the opposite. When asked if the ACLU makes a distinction between basic civil liberties and property rights, Strossen says no, because, “People have rights. Property doesn’t have rights.” That is, there isn’t a distinction between civil rights and property rights, since so many civil rights involve property. To cite just once example, the ACLU has fought unjust uses of eminent domain seizure by government.

Hyman: The ACLU is for “limiting school choice.”

Truth: The ACLU opposes school voucher systems that are biased in favor of religious schools because it amounts to tax payer funding of religious institutions. When asked if the ACLU would oppose more neutral voucher programs that weren’t so slanted toward religious schools, Strossen says: “we would not per se exclude programs that included parochial schools any more than we per se oppose Pell grants.”

Hyman: The ACLU is for placing “some restrictions on religious freedom.”

Truth: This is another lie. Strossen is asked if there are cases where one fundamental right might come into conflict with another. She answers that in some marginal cases, you might have an instance where, for instance, freedom to exercise religion comes into conflict with the freedom from government establishment of religion, but “in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases, I think those rights are mutually reinforcing. It's that understanding that has led the ACLU from its beginning to attempt to consistently defend all fundamental rights for all people precisely because they are indivisible.” Hyman takes Strossen’s statement of a simple fact (that occasionally basic rights come into conflict) and claims she’s for limiting religious freedom. Absolutely pathetic.

Hyman: “The ACLU does not necessarily view rights embodied in the Constitution as being valid.”

Truth: Here’s the quotation that Hyman is manipulating: “our view has never been that civil liberties are necessarily coextensive with constitutional rights. Conversely, I guess the fact that something is mentioned in the Constitution doesn't necessarily mean that it is a fundamental civil liberty.”

What she’s referring to is the basic definition of what a civil liberty is. As a legal term, a civil liberties are those rights enshrined in the First Amendment and similar laws concerning the right to free speech, assembly, practice or religion, etc. As
Law.com notes, “[t]hese liberties are protective in nature, while civil rights form a broader concept and include positive elements such as the right to use facilities, the right to an equal education, or the right to participate in government.”

There’s no questioning of the validity of the Constitution. It’s a simple but important legal and philosophical distinction (given the ACLU’s focus on civil liberties specifically). Again, Hyman, either through overt attempts to manipulate his audience or through sheer ignorance, skips over this fact and simply replaces reality with his own personal, creative interpretation of it.

Hyman then restates the canard that the ACLU is against the military, religion, Scouting, etc., and that it “has advocated a nation made up of workers collectives.”
Absolute drivel. As we’ve pointed out here many times, the ACLU has vigorously championed the right of individuals to practice their religion
, including siding with conservative Christian groups on many occasions. The only thing they’ve opposed in government interference in religious practice, either through prohibiting its practice or by instituting religious practices that favor one belief system over another. The ACLU has championed the causes of individual members of the military on many occasions. And their objections are not to Scouting, but to the public funding of a group that invokes religion and discriminates against certain minorities.

As for “workers collectives,” this is just ancient Red-baiting nonsense. The fact of the matter is the ACLU is not for or against religion, scouting, the military, or anything else. They are for the rights of the individual and seek to protect these rights from organizations, governmental or private, that would seek to restrict or limit these individual rights. What could be less “collectivist” than this?

But philosophical coherence isn’t a goal of Hyman’s. He simply wants to throw enough mud at his target that some of it will stick. But in his desperation, Hyman reveals the utter poverty of his own argument. If you have to make up facts to support your position, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re wrong.

And he is.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 7.14

Friday, February 17, 2006

Another Tale by the Same Idiot

Apparently unable to control his desire to intimidate judges, Mark Hyman interrupts his week-long ACLU harangue to attack another judge and encourage viewers to do the same.

You may remember that a couple of weeks ago,
Hyman went after an “activist” judge who handed down a lenient sentence to a convicted child molester. During a follow-up mail segment, Hyman approvingly quoted a letter that suggested killing the judge. Never mind that the judge was giving the only sentence the law allowed that would force the convicted man to get psychiatric treatment before being released. Because judges do bad things like uphold the law and protect civil rights of vulnerable members of society, they deserve to be vilified as “activist,” (unless, of course, their activism happens to be in the service of restricting abortion, loosening gun laws, etc.).

This time, Hyman puts the crosshairs on Judge Joseph Manck, a county circuit court judge in Hyman’s own backyard of Anne Arundel County in Maryland.

The judge’s crime? Not handing out a harsh enough sentence to
a teacher who was having a sexual affair with a 15-year-old student. The defendant was sentenced to two months of jail time and four additional months of house arrest.

What Hyman doesn’t tell you is that the judge was following the sentencing guidelines that applied to a crime of this type. Although noting that these guidelines were too low, Judge Manck apparently didn’t feel he should go beyond established practice in the sentence.

So the judge was not acting on a whim, but on established precedent. But perhaps that precedent is wrong and the judge should do more than simply note the inadequacy of the guidelines and buck the system by handing out a tougher sentence.

That’s a reasonable position, and one I would agree with, given the very few facts I have about the case. But I don’t know much about the specific case. Nor does Hyman. Nor do the legions of viewers Hyman encourages to flood Judge Manck’s office with phone calls.

Two people who do know the situation and people involved are the girl’s parents, both of whom said they were satisfied by the sentence.

Likely, one of the issues is that the girl was under the age of consent when the affair started, but only by a matter of months. The defendant was probably also helped by the fact that this was a first offense, and he is only 34 years old—far old enough to know better, but not the archetypal “dirty old man.”

Maybe those facts shouldn’t influence the sentence, and maybe sentencing guidelines, like any rules, are meant to be broken. But as disgusting and despicable as the crime was, it’s hard to argue that a travesty of justice was committed when the parents of the victim say they’re happy with the sentence.

But perhaps Hyman, a crusading knight out to protect the virtue of young ladies everywhere, can’t let himself be swayed by that fact. He must speak out against wrist-slapping sentences for sexual crimes! As Hyman himself says of Judge Manck, “tolerance of a sex offender is beneath contempt.”

If that’s the case, however, it would certainly add to his credibility if he didn’t tolerate and work for an
established pornographer and whoremonger, and who himself received virtually no punishment, despite being arrested for a sexual offense.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.07

Hyman's ACLU Smears 3

There’s little that need be said about Hyman’s latest installment of his personal ode to Tailgunner Joe McCarthy. He simply rehashes more 75-year-old “evidence” to suggest that today’s ACLU is some sort of subversive communist organization.

He quotes ACLU founder Roger Baldwin’s “pro-revolutionary” statements in the 1930s without acknowledging that radical rhetoric was far more widespread during the Great Depression, when there was ample evidence to raise doubts about the wisdom of America’s brand of capitalism. As noted in the previous post, the American Legion, a group Hyman suggests is beyond reproach, openly sympathized with European fascism. Does that make today’s American Legion a neo-Nazi or subversive group?

He also claims Baldwin “advocated violence to overthrow the U.S.” He offers no citation for this fact, probably because he knows that
Baldwin was a pacifist who admired the non-violent means of social change used by Mahatma Gandhi in India.

Contrast this to the words of
American Legion founder Alvin Owsley who, when asked if his comparison of the American Legion to the fascists in Italy suggested a takeover of the United States government, said, “Exactly that.”

Should Owsley’s dusty boast from another era cause us to vilify today’s American Legion? Of course not. But for Hyman, imaginatively interpreted quotations from the ACLU’s founder are reason enough to lambaste the ACLU today.

Nor does Hyman address the obvious response to charges that Baldwin was a subversive, anti-American force: if Baldwin was so dangerous, why did members of the U.S. military
ask him to help foster fledgling democratic governments in both post-war Japan and Europe?

No, rather than making any coherent case against the current ACLU, Hyman uses rhetoric that’s about as relevant to today’s world as eight-track tapes, slide rules, and Betamax recorders, making both him and those who buy into his contorted logic look like paranoid dolts.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.96

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hyman's ACLU Smears 2

It’s nice when Mark Hyman deconstructs his own commentaries for us.

Such is the case with
the second part of Hyman’s attack on the ACLU. Once again, Hyman commits the elementary fallacy of suggesting that selected parts of the ACLU’s earliest history are in some way indicative of its present policies. Specifically, Hyman singles out comments from the ACLU’s first annual report, written 85 years ago, that he interprets as being pro-communist.

Hyman goes on to suggest that this suggests the ACLU’s “naked support of dictatorial governments.”

The logic here is non-existent, but let’s grant Hyman’s premise for the sake of argument: the ACLU’s defense of American communists is equivalent to supporting totalitarian communist regimes abroad, and that even though this happened nearly a century ago, it is still a black mark against the organization that suggests it is subversive and un-American.

Granting this, let’s look at the other significant chunk of Hyman’s commentary. In addition suggesting the ACLU was a communist organization at its inception, Hyman also cites the group’s animosity toward the American Legion:

It was only 141 words into the annual report before the ACLU
singled out by name the group it believed posed the biggest threat: the American
Legion. Yes, that American Legion. This anti-veteran attitude was manifested in
the ACLU's efforts at freeing World War One draft resistors serving time in

So, Hyman is using the opposition of the ACLU to the American Legion 85 years ago to suggest how beyond the pale their politics were and are. After all, what kind of troops-hating, anti-American, Red-loving group could possibly have anything against a group of gray-haired vets playing pinochle down at the local veteran’s hall and organizing baseball leagues for kids?

But here’s the most damning flaw in Hyman’s argument. Today’s American Legion isn’t your great grandfather’s American Legion. In the years following its founding in 1919,
the American Legion was a highly political and highly conservative group that engaged in, among other things, violent strike breaking and other anti-labor activities. Founded by an industrialist, the group was very much in the pocket of big business during the tumultuous 20’s and 30’s, and was actively hostile against not only suspected communists, but any group that it felt worked to protect the rights of communists, socialists, labor union members, etc.

Moreover, the American Legion’s leadership expressed open admiration for fascism, particularly that of Benito Mussolini (who was apparently invited to speak at American Legion conventions on a yearly basis in the 20s, although he never took them up on their offer).

At its 1923 convention, the Legion’s Commander in Chief, Alvin Owsley said:

If ever needed the American Legion stands ready to protect our country's
institutions and ideals as the Fascisti dealt with the destructionists who
menaced Italy . . . The American Legion is fighting every element that threatens
our democratic government-Soviets, anarchists, I.W.W., revolutionary socialists
and every other Red ... Do not forget that the Fascisti are to Italy what the
American Legion is to the United States."

And Hyman accuses the ACLU of “naked support of dictatorial governments”?

Of course, much has changed since the 20’s and 30s, a period in which the extreme ends of the political spectrum enjoyed more mainstream popularity than they do today. The American Legion, while conservative, is not a fascistic group. The ACLU, while liberal, is not a communist group.

But what Hyman does is insult the intelligence of his audience by openly misleading them with reasoning he knows to be slovenly. He counts on the ignorance of his audience by insinuating that the ACLU’s policies of nearly a century ago accurately characterize the group today. And he also counts on his audience assuming that the American Legion today is the same group that it was 85 years ago. Despite openly using the appeal of historical research to add to its credibility, Hyman’s editorial collapses the past and the present in a way that is meant to intentionally deceive his audience by ignoring historical facts.

I know I’m a broken record when it comes to this, but Hyman again proves that his primary fault isn’t the political stance he takes. Reasonable arguments can be made against the ACLU in general, and its specific positions in particular cases. Rather, it’s the way Hyman makes his case—using obvious fallacy, distortion of facts, and his reliance on his audience’s ignorance about the specifics of the issue to support his point.

To those who disagree with Hyman politically, he’s simply Exhibit A in the case against conservatism. But for those who do agree with him, he’s actually far worse: he demeans and debases legitimate conservative thought and argument by being so sloppy and manipulative in his arguments that he lives up to the very worst stereotypes of conservatives as dogmatic, ignorant, and untruthful.

But it is to all of us collectively—left, right, or center—that Hyman is at his most destructive. His unethical and deceptive way of arguing impoverishes the public sphere, contaminating the lifeblood of any democratic society—rational discourse—with the contagion of his manipulative and insulting rhetoric.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.95

Monday, February 13, 2006

Hyman's ACLU Smears 1

Say what you will about Joseph McCarthy, but at least when he practiced red-baiting, he limited himself to attacking those people who were alive at the time.

The same cannot be said of Mark Hyman who, in
his most recent editorial, begins his weeklong attack on the ACLU by charging that one of its founders, Roger Baldwin, was a communist. That Baldwin has been dead for a quarter century and stepped down from his official post at the ACLU in 1950 doesn’t stop Hyman from insinuating that today’s ACLU is somehow tainted by Baldwin’s politics.

The obvious fallacy here is that there’s no logical connection between the politics of one of an organization’s founders and its current politics. It’s a case of both ad hominem and transfer fallacies being combined into a clumsy, patently absurd claim. If one actually believed the ACLU is a communist organization (the tacit accusation made by Hyman), the obvious way to prove the point would be to point to policies or actions taken in recent times by the ACLU that suggest communist leanings. The fact that he must exhume poor Mr. Baldwin to conduct this smear is proof in and of itself that Hyman has no evidence to back up his claim.

But it gets even worse. Hyman’s argument is invalid even if one grants that his premise (Baldwin was an unrepentant Red) was true. But it’s not. While Hyman does everything in his power to suggest that Baldwin’s political beliefs were radical, uniform, and unchanging, the facts contradict him.

Baldwin did indeed have communist sympathies in the 1920s and 1930s (not terribly unusual during the Depression Era). However, the Soviet pact with Nazi Germany 1939 did away with that. In fact,
Baldwin wrote an entire book, A New Slavery, about the evils of Soviet totalitarianism, calling the political climate in the U.S.S. R. “inhuman communist police state tyranny.” Such virulent anti Soviet rhetoric is practically Gipper-esqe. For Baldwin, communism was no better than fascism; both threatened the essential freedoms he felt were the birthright of all individuals.

So strongly did Baldwin feel that, in a controversial move,
he actively sought to rid the ACLU of communist members and ban them from any leadership roles in the organization. Hyman doesn’t tell you that because the facts don’t happen to coincide with the myth he’s spinning.

Hardly a subversive, Baldwin was invited by General Douglas MacArthur to help foster a sense of civil liberties in postwar Japan. Baldwin even apparently was on friendly terms with J. Edgar Hoover, despite the fact that the FBI director had the organization maintain its file on Baldwin.

So, Hyman’s argument is invalid given its premises, and its major premise is itself demonstrably false. On top of all that, in a post Cold War era, does anyone truly believe that organized communism is a threat to America? Nope. Not even Hyman does. Rather, communism is simply a “Devil term” used in association with a group Hyman doesn’t like. Because he can’t argue his case on its merits, he resorts to name calling.

Not that there isn’t a threat that America might be led down a path that resembles Soviet-style totalitarianism. True, communism as a political/economic philosophy is a non-starter, but the tactics used by communist governments still exist. Government spying on citizens, pathological secrecy, rewriting history to avoid political embarrassment, trumping up of evidence in order to launch preemptive military action in an effort to force other countries to adopt a particular style of government, the jailing of citizens without charges, the use of torture, suppressing dissent, equating political opposition to disloyalty to the country, election fraud, and the use of empty patriotic sloganeering are all hallmarks of communist totalitarianism that still represent a threat to democracy.

The ACLU actively works to protect people from all of these. Hyman champions an administration that actively engages in all of these.

So who’s more of a threat to our democracy?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.51

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Separated at Birth

Apologies for my absence--I was struck down this past week by the non-avian flu. As it turns out, it wasn't a bad week for an unplanned vacation; "The Point" has been fairly mundane in the past few days.

I'm on the mend, though, and just in time for another of Mark Hyman's multi-series hit pieces, this time on the ACLU. Hyman promises to bypass ACLU propaganda to give us his particular "truthiness" on the organization in the coming days. And we'll be on the case.

Speaking of truthiness, I can't help but point out the following: doesn't the new photo of Hyman that appears on "The Point's" website look like someone doing a put-on of Stephen Colbert doing a put-on of a blowhard conservative pundit?

You be the judge:

Monday, February 06, 2006

What About Mark?

For one of the few times since I’ve been responding to “The Point,” I thoroughly agree with Mark Hyman. In his editorial on Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, Hyman says its members are “despicable morons.” Any person with two brain cells to rub together would have to concur.

Phelps is the hate monger whose church regularly demonstrates at the funerals of people who have died of AIDS. They famously picketed at the memorial service for Matthew Shepherd, the young Wyoming man who was beaten to death because he was gay.

To be completely honest, I admit that the cynical side of me can’t help but notice that while Hyman condemns the church, he doesn’t explicitly say that their views on homosexuality are objectionable. Rather, he focuses on the group’s demonstrations at funerals.

Moreover, Hyman only specifically mentions their recent picketing of the funerals of American service personnel and West Virginia miners (whom church members apparently think died as God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality). He doesn’t mention Matthew Shepherd or that the group came to infamous prominence primarily because of its demonstrations at the funerals of people who died of AIDS. If the WBC hadn’t gone on record as hoping for more U.S. casualties in Iraq and merely continued with their homophobic rantings, would Hyman have noticed or cared? Is it their hatred that’s objectionable, or merely the fact that their hatred has spilled over into “hating the troops” that’s the problem?

And given the fan base Hyman plays to, I can’t help but wonder how many “Point”-heads surfed over to the WBC website after hearing Hyman’s commentary because they were at least vaguely sympathetic to the church’s views.

But beggars can’t be choosers, and Hyman certainly didn’t have to take up the topic of the WBC at all. It might sound like faint praise to cheer Hyman for voicing objections to Phelps & Co. (sort of like offering kudos to someone for taking the position that Hitler was, on the whole, a less-than-pleasant fellow), but when you’re right, you’re right. Rather than bashing Hyman for not being as vociferous and inclusive in his attacks on the WBC as I would like, I’d rather give him a pat on the back and encourage him to go after more of the people and groups on the Radical Right that are an embarrassment to legitimate conservatism. It is here that Hyman could perhaps do the most good (the whole “Only Nixon could go to China” thing).

Heck, maybe this could lead to Hyman moving ever so slightly to the political mainstream.

You can do it Mark . . . just keep reminding yourself of Bill Murray's mantra in What About Bob?: baby steps, baby steps.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman vs. The Truth

Apparently in an effort to rain on Detroit’s Super Bowl parade, Mark Hyman devoted a “Point” to deriding the Motor City’s economic conditions. But in doing so, Hyman confuses cause and effect, and in so doing offers echoes of much more sinister rhetoric.

Hyman claims that despite federal investment in Detroit since 1993, jobs and income have fallen. He chalks this up, at least in part, to the murder rate, which he claims is frightening companies from setting up shop in Detroit. In order to revitalize Detroit, Hyman says that “the first order of business is to stop the killings.”

But Hyman offers no proof of the cause/effect relationship he’s suggesting. On top of that, he mischaracterizes the facts about Detroit’s economy.

Hyman points to a drop in both income and employment since 1993. But what he leaves out is that this hasn’t been a steady decline. In fact, between 1993 and 2000, the
unemployment rate dropped steadily. In January of 1993, the unemployment rate was 8.3 percent. In December of 2000, it was 3.6 percent. In the last four years, the rate has ranged between 6 and 8 percent.

homicides in Detroit dropped during the 1990s, but remained steady in the last few years.

This correlation by itself doesn’t prove anything, but between the two possible cause/effect relationships that might be at work, which seems more plausible: the availability of jobs affects individual income and, hence, crime; or that companies are moving in and out of Detroit based on the vagaries of the homicide rate?

Hyman’s logic has a particularly noxious odor about it, since what he is in essence saying is that it is the moral degeneracy of the population of Detroit that is preventing them from having a successful economy. Given that the population of Detroit proper is over 80% African American (one of the highest rates in the country), Hyman’s insinuation is uncomfortably close to the
overtly racist rantings of right wing hate groups who enjoy singling out Detroit because of its high minority population. White supremacist groups, like Hyman, turn the logical cause and effect relationship on its head to suggest that the murder rate (supposedly a measure of the population’s degeneracy) is the cause of the economic troubles of the city.

So in terms of its representation of the facts, its use of logic, and its ethics, Hyman’s argument flat out stinks.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.17

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Right but Wrong

It’s interesting that in none of the many commentaries he’s done on the issue of eminent domain (including
his most recent) has Mark Hyman made any distinction between the particular cases he cites and the more general issue of eminent domain.

My suspicion is that this is because Hyman, being a thoroughgoing conservative, doesn’t like eminent domain in general, and is only using particularly contentious examples as a way of tarring the entire concept. This is a common argumentative trick, but I think it is used here in a consciously misleading way.

The case Hyman describes of a businessman having property seized in Los Angeles certainly seems egregious and unfair (although I acknowledge that I only know a few of the basic facts, and there might be more to the story). Eminent domain certainly can be abused, and it’s essential for the court system to protect the rights of property holders from unwarranted seizures of land.

But I suspect that Hyman, although he doesn’t say it, is against eminent domain in general. Part of the conservative world view is that private property rights are absolute, and that they are also the sine qua non of American democracy.

The problem is that placing private property rights on an unassailable pedestal can result in other rights being violated. A slum lord can refuse to sell inner city property for civic development of new, safe, clean, low income housing. A factory owner can dump toxic waste on the ground. Why not? After all, shouldn’t we be free to do whatever we want with our property?

A conservative would tend to answer this question with a resounding “yes.” But I would suggest that my right not to have the groundwater polluted in my neighborhood is every bit as real as the property rights of the factory owner. When rights come into conflict, reasonable compromises must be made. We put reasonable limitations on all of our rights, particularly when the unhindered enjoyment of them infringes on the rights of others. Property rights are no different.

So while Hyman may be right about the specific case he discusses, the implication that this is somehow a typical or representative case of eminent domain is wrong, and I suspect his call for “judges on the Supreme Court and all courts who respect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights” is in fact code for judges that will systematically fetishize the rights of individual property holders at the expense of broader communal rights . . . rights that most of us would consider every bit as worthy of consideration as the right of a property owner.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.60

Cost of the War in Iraq
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