Friday, March 31, 2006

And the Loser Is . . .

Mark Hyman, apparently not content to come up with his own fact-free editorials, is now importing pre-fabricated editorials from one of his favorite sources, the Washington Times. At least this time he credits his source.

The topic is the supposed impotence of, and Hyman attempts to prove his point by running down a list of “losses” the group has suffered, a list he acknowledges lifting from Washington Times columnist Greg Pierce.

To begin with, it’s a safe bet that if folks like Pierce and Hyman are so publicly deriding’s supposed failures, it’s precisely because they fear the group’s influence. Were it as impotent as they suggest, there would be no reason to even acknowledge it.

And they are right to fear it. After all, was on the cutting edge of Internet-based grass-roots political activism that has built a powerful fundraising network. And despite Hyman’s suggestion that has had no victories, the fact is that the organization has helped a large number of Democrats win elections and has played a significant role in a number of lobbying efforts, referendum votes, and other political events. Lists of the some of the group’s most recent victories can be found
here and here.

So it’s logical that Pierce and Hyman would want to try to undercut Their desperation becomes even more understandable when one looks at the defeats listed by Hyman. It’s telling that each one of these defeats is one that happened either A) despite the will of the majority of Americans, or B) would not happen if the issue was decided today.

Let’s look at them one by one. Hyman says that “lost” when Clinton was impeached. True, but most Americans weren’t for impeachment., and the American people, lost to a cabal of right wing politicos, who eventually lost not only in the Senate, but in the eyes of history.

Hyman says “went down in flames” when it supported Al Gore in 2000. It’s difficult to believe Hyman can say this with a straight face. Not even the most rabid Bushies deny that Al Gore beat George Bush by a half-million votes in 2000. Again, was on the side of the majority.

Hyman says lost when Democrats didn’t make big Congressional gains in 2002. But when asked who they want in control of Congress now, a sizable majority of Americans with an opinion on the matter
pick the Democrats.

Hyman says opposed “the liberation” of Iraq. In fact, opposed the unilateral war and supported further inspections, a position that was vindicated by what was found (and not found) on the ground in Iraq, and a position shared by most Americans now. In fact, recent polls show
Americans opposed to the war outnumber proponents by more than 2 to 1.

And Hyman says that failed when “French speaking John Kerry” lost in 2004. But if Americans could turn back the clock knowing what they know now, does anyone think Bush would stand a chance? Again, just a brief look at
Bush’s abysmal approval numbers tells you all you need to know.

So, as we’ve seen, has racked up a sizable number of successes, and even in those cases where its causes have not prevailed, it’s been only been a matter of time before the American public’s opinion aligned with that of About the worst thing you can say about is that it tends to be ahead of the curve.

I don’t think this is coincidence. has done a great job of getting progressive voices heard. And the more progressive voices are heard, the more successful they are. As
I pointed out a long while back, the majority of Americans, when asked for their positions on specific issues, are not only to the left of what’s usually considered the political center, but to the left of a significant number of elected Democrats.

But for Hyman, the problems with are even more personal than he lets on. As usual, Hyman doesn’t disclose his company’s interest in the matter, but has been at the forefront of lobbying the FCC for stricter ownership rules, rules which would directly hurt Sinclair Broadcasting’s practice of buying up “duopolies” in multiple markets. Even more specifically, is one of the groups that joined with Media Matters for America in forming Sinclair Action, a group that organized around the goal of shedding light on Sinclair’s business and journalistic (mal)practices. (In interest of full disclosure, while I don’t receive a penny from or MMFA, I have worked with MMFA in coming up with content for the Sinclair Action website in the past).

So Hyman is wrong on’s record of success, is in the minority even on the very issues he claims “failed” on, and doesn’t even have the decency to announce his own personal stake in attacking the organization.

There’s a word for someone like that: loser.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.48

Hyman's Own "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" Policy

In a particularly petulant “Point,” Mark Hyman predictably crows about the recent Supreme Court decision that went against a consortium of leading law schools who were challenging the right of the military to recruit on their campuses given the military’s “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” rule (which conflicts with the anti-discrimination policies of many law schools).

Calling the professors of these schools “elistist,” “nutty,” and “knuckleheads,” Hyman suggests that those looking for a good law school look elsewhere. Yeah, you probably wouldn’t want to go to a “nutty” law school like Stanford, NYU, Georgetown, George Washington, or any of the other prominent schools that participated in the suit and which are also consistently rated as among the best programs in the country.

Predictably, Hyman doesn’t mention anything about the substance of the lawsuit. That would involve dealing with the issue in a meaningful way, and that’s not Hyman’s gig. Instead, we’re just told that a bunch of “elitist” law schools sued the military for some reason, and that the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against them.

Hyman tries to spin this as proof that the professors at these law schools don’t know anything about the law. In fact, as
a cogently written analysis by lawyer Howard Bashman on points out, the lawsuit was filed as a matter of principle, and lawsuits based on principle often end up going down to resounding defeat because, by their nature, the suits don’t allow for compromise. Bashman, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of the *government’s* position rightly notes that the suit was an end in itself, and while based on legal reasoning that pushed the envelope, it served the purpose of exposing the dopey “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy to much-deserved scrutiny.

But Hyman, invoking his own version of “don’t ask/don’t tell,” doesn’t bother to mention the true issue behind the lawsuit, and instead engages in playground-level name-calling.

Conclusion: don’t ask Hyman for anything but spin, because he won’t tell you anything but.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.88

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How About Some Crow With Your Pretzel, Mr. Hyman?

In his most recent editorial, Mark Hyman again lashes out at the American Civil Liberties Union, or what he cleverly calls the “Anti-Christian Litigation Union,” with the same old tired talking point that claims the ACLU is “against” Christianity.

Sometimes, a simple list of the facts is the most eloquent rebuttal. Thanks to the ACLU website and the website of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union for providing the following information. You can get more information on any of the cases by clicking on the link.

ACLU of Rhode Island Files Appeal on Behalf of Christian Prisoner Barred from Preaching at Religious Services

ACLU of Michigan Defends Catholic Man Coerced to Convert to Pentecostal Faith in Drug Rehab Program

ACLU of Nebraska Defends Church Facing Eviction by the City of Lincoln

ACLU Hails Plans to Sign Religious Freedom Bill into Law

In Win for Rev. Falwell (and the ACLU), Judge Rules VA Must Allow Churches to Incorporate

ACLU of New Jersey Successfully Defends Right of Religious Expression by Jurors

ACLU offers to support Rev. Falwell.

ACLU of MA Defends Students Punished for Distributing Candy Canes with Religious Messages

ACLU Applauds Supreme Court Ruling Protecting Religious Liberty in Prisons

Following Threat of ACLU of Virginia Lawsuit, Officials to Agree Not to Ban Baptisms in Public Parks.

The ACLU of Nevada (2005) defended the free exercise rights and free speech rights of evangelical Christians to preach on the sidewalks of the Strip in Las Vegas .

The ACLU of New Mexico (2005) joined forces with the American Family Association to succeed in freeing a preacher, Shawn Miller, from the Roosevelt County jail, where he was held for 109 days for street preaching.

The ACLU of New Jersey (2005) filed a a motion to submit a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Olivia Turton, a second-grade student who was forbidden from singing “Awesome God” in a voluntary, after-school talent show.

The ACLU of Louisiana (2005) filed suit against the Department of Corrections on behalf of a Mormon inmate, Norman Sanders, who was denied the right to practice his religion by being denied access to religious texts, including The Book of Mormon, and Mormon religious services.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania (2005) won a battle against Turtle Creek Borough that repeatedly denied an occupancy permit to a predominantly African-American church, Ekklesia, which had purchased the church building from a predominantly white parish.

The ACLU of Oregon (2004-05) filed suit on behalf of high school basketball players from an Adventist school against the Oregon School Activities Association, which administers competitive athletic and artistic competitions in Oregon high schools.

The ACLU of Nevada (2004) represented a Mormon high school student, Kim Jacobs, who school authorities suspended and then attempted to expel for not complying with the school dress code and wearing T-shirts with religious messages.

The ACLU of Washington (2004) reached a favorable settlement on behalf of Donald Ausderau, a Christian minister, who wanted to preach to the public on Plaza sidewalks.

The Indiana Civil Liberties Union (2004) filed suit against the city of Scottsburg for their repeated threats of arrest and/or citation against members of the Old Paths Baptist Church.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania (2004) was victorious in its arguments that government had to accommodate Amish drivers who used highly reflective gray tape on their buggies instead of orange triangles, to which the Amish objected for religious reasons.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania (2004) settled a lawsuit on behalf of Second Baptist Church of Homestead, a predominantly African-American church that had been denied a zoning permit.

The ACLU of Massachusetts (2003) intervened on behalf of a group of students at Westfield High School who were suspended for distributing candy canes and a religious message in school.

The ACLU of Rhode Island (2003) interceded on behalf of an interdenominational group of carolers who were denied the opportunity to sing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve to inmates at the women’s prison in Cranston , Rhode Island.

The Iowa Civil Liberties Union (2002) publicly supported a group of Christian students who filed a lawsuit against Davenport Schools asserting their right to distribute religious literature.

The ACLU of Massachusetts (2002) filed a brief supporting the right of the Church of the Good News to run ads criticizing the secularization of Christmas and promoting Christianity as the “one true religion.”

The ACLU of Michigan (beginning in 2001) represented Abby Moler, a student at Sterling Heights Stevenson High School , whose yearbook entry was deleted because of its religious content.

The ACLU of Massachusetts (2000) defended inmate Peter Kane’s right to exercise his religious beliefs when prison officials confiscated his rosary beads.

The ACLU of Virginia (2000) represented Charles D. Johnson, a street preacher who was convicted under Richmond ’s noise ordinance.

The ACLU of Virginia (1999) filed suit against the Department of Defense and the Office of Personnel Management on behalf of Michelle Hall, a Jehovah’s Witness who was fired from her job as a produce worker at Ft. Belvoir commissary because she refused to sign a loyalty oath.

The ACLU of Eastern Missouri (1999) secured a favorable settlement for a nurse, Miki M. Cain, who was fired for wearing a cross-shaped lapel pin on her uniform.

The ACLU of Virginia (1997-1999) represented Rita Warren and her mission to erect a crèche on Fairfax County government space that had been set aside as a public forum.

The ACLU of Iowa (1997) represented Conservative Christians in Clarke County and won the right to force a county referendum on gambling.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania Greater Pittsburgh Chapter (1997) represented Carlyn Kline, a fundamentalist Christian woman who challenged the legality of a mandatory divorce-counseling program conducted by Catholic Charities.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania Greater Pittsburgh Chapter (1997) intervened on behalf of a Mennonite nurse and prevented his firing for refusing to shave his beard for religious reasons.

Amish farmers benefited from the ACLU of Pennsylvania Greater Pittsburgh Chapter’s letter threatening a lawsuit if the Elk Lick Township rescind a municipal ordinance that prohibited farm tractors with steel wheels from traveling on or over the township's roads.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania Greater Pittsburgh Chapter (1995) secured the right of a minister from the United Methodist Church to hold meetings in the Harmony Township Borough building.

Iowa affiliate of the ACLU (1995) represented and vindicated the free speech and religious expression of a conservative Christian activist, Elaine Jaquith of Waterloo , who had been denied access to broadcast her message on public television.

The ACLU of Vermont (1994-95) represented evangelical Christians Freda and Perry Hollyer, who were denied Medicaid and food stamp benefits because they refused to obtain social security numbers for their children.

The ACLU of Utah (1990s) represented an evangelical Christian ministry that had been evicted and denied future access as a vendor at a state fair because fair-goers objected to the religious content of the message.

And those are The Counterpoints.

Hyman Index: 2.05

Monday, March 27, 2006

Hyman Plays his Usual Game

I wanted to wait until the end of Mark Hyman’s epic miniseries of “Points” about Hurricane Katrina to respond, because getting caught up in the individual responses misses the larger point about the hypocrisy of Hyman’s project.

The first lines of his inaugural editorial reveal the duplicity inherent in the whole series:

Hurricane Katrina is still a political football. In the next four days, The Point will provide documented facts the rest of the media have intentionally ignored.
“Political football” is one of Hyman’s favorite metaphors for the aftermath of Katrina, suggesting (I guess) that the issue is being used for games of political gotcha rather than taken seriously as a topic requiring sober, unflinching reflection. Yet, as we saw in Hyman’s previous Katrina-related editorial just a couple of weeks ago, it is Hyman who treats the topic as a “political football,” accusing New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin (a Democrat) and Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco (a Democrat) of complicity in the deaths of 1,000 people, while praising Republican governors in Florida and Mississippi and ignoring the federal government’s actions (or lack thereof), other than the feeble statement that sometimes “federal bureaucracies” don’t respond effectively.

And what are we to make of the line, “documented facts the rest of the media have intentionally ignored”? Does Hyman honestly believe there’s been some sort of media wide conspiracy to hush up dramatic facts about Katrina? This takes the canard of the “liberal” media (a dopey idea in itself) and exaggerates it into a cartoonish parody.

The two most appalling claims Hyman makes in his attacks are that Ray Nagin “intentionally” delayed an evacuation of New Orleans and that Kathleen Blanco cared more about money than saving lives.

That word “intentionally” comes up again, and again we’re left to wonder what Hyman means by it. One can argue about when a mandatory evacuation of the city should have been ordered and criticize Nagin for not ordering it at the most opportune time, but the word “intentionally” insinuates that for some reason Nagin chose not to order an evacuation even though he knew it would cost lives. Why would he do such a thing? Even Hyman can’t dream up a rationale for this, so he doesn’t bother trying. In fact, the quotations Hyman cites as proving Nagin’s malevolence actually reveal the mayor pointing out an obvious concern: if everyone from the governor on down immediately called for a mandatory evacuation, the result could be chaos and gridlock, leaving tens of thousands stranded when Katrina made landfall.

Should a more coherent evacuation plan been in place and ordered sooner? Probably. But the nauseating suggestion that Nagin intentionally put the people of New Orleans in danger is pathetic political football playing at its dirtiest.

Hyman’s accusation that Blanco put “money first, citizens’ safety later” is every bit as loathsome. The “proof” Hyman offers are Blanco’s request for federal money in the days just before Katrina hit. Hyman frames this as if Blanco was asking for money to use to redecorate the governor’s mansion rather than to prepare her state for a hurricane. It also ignores the fact that Blanco asked the White House not just for additional funds, but for “everything you’ve got.” And it ignores the fact that Blanco didn’t get everything they had—not even close. In fact, Blanco
couldn’t even manage to get a few minutes of the president’s time on the phone as the crisis began to unfold.

And what about the president? It’s a bit difficult to say exactly what was going on in the White House during the storm, since the Bush
administration has refused to release documents concerning the federal response to Katrina. In contrast, Governor Blanco released over 100,000 documents about her administration’s response, including everything from government reports to hastily scrawled notes.

So much for accountability and personal responsibility.

One thing we *do* know is that Bush lied about no one anticipating the breach in the levees in New Orleans (something he claimed on national television in the aftermath of the hurricane). As it turns out,
he was told about the danger to the levees during a briefing that was caught on tape.

Even a Republican Congressional investigation found that the federal government made major mistakes in responding to Katrina.

But that’s not what’s so stomach turning. Certainly, government officials at all levels made mistakes when it came to preparing for and reacting to Katrina. No one can deny that. And given the magnitude of the disaster, it would be foolish to think any response would have gone without error or mistake.

The more important issue is how to handle these mistakes and learn from them. And that’s where Bush and his supporters commit their most grievous crime. Sure, the Bush administration
cut funding for the levees in New Orleans, but that could be chalked up as a mistake in judgment, not a flaw in character. The administration knew well ahead of landfall what havoc Katrina might bring, but a lack of adequate response could be a result of poor coordination with state and local officials. And sure, other presidents have acted far more decisively and responsibly in similar situations, but hey, mistakes happen.

The larger issue is one of character—something that shows up most glaringly in Bush’s actions after Katrina. Bush, as we have seen, has lied about what he knew about Katrina and done everything he could to hamper those who want to investigate how and why mistakes were made. While Blanco and Nagin certainly share responsibility for mistakes they made, they haven’t stonewalled the way the Bush administration has. And in the case of Blanco, she’s gone out of her way to make her own actions and those of her administration as transparent and open to scrutiny as possible. Would that our brave wartime president had even one vertebrae’s worth of her backbone.

And as for Hyman, ever the Bush apologist, he aids and abets Bush’s dereliction of responsibility by doing exactly what he accuses others of doing: playing political games with a disaster rather than calling for an open investigation of the entire response to Katrina at all levels.

Again, so much for personal responsibility.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Hymaneus

I wanted to do something on the attack Mark Hyman made on college teachers that aired just before I went out of town. I apologize for reaching back a ways, but I thought it was worth touching on.

However, when I started thinking about it, I wasn’t quite sure where to begin. I could point out that the adjunct community college teacher Hyman attacks for his views of the Iraq war made his comments in the context of an email response to a student, not something he said in class. And I could point out that the appropriately named Arthur Butz, whom Hyman says was honored by Iran for denying the Holocaust, is actually an electrical engineering teacher whose views, loathsome as they are, have nothing to do with his teaching (and, in fact, Northwestern always schedules extra sections of the courses Butz teaches so that no one will have to take his classes). And I could point people to
the previous posts on Dr. Georgia Persons in which it was revealed that she had been set up by politically motivated students intent on playing “gotcha.”

But what more could be said about this that hasn’t been said before? Fortunately, I came across a (very) obscure dialog by Plato recently that, as chance would have it, spoke directly to the issue at hand. So, without further ado, I present to you the little-known Platonic dialog: The Hymaneus. Its words are as true today as when they were written!

Along a road just outside Athens.

Socrates: My dear Hymaneus! You look flushed and out of breath! What perturbs you?

Hymaneus: I have just come from the agora, where I have spoken out forcefully against the enemies of our state.

S: Against our enemies! Well, that is certainly an understandable reason for your passion. But tell me, who are these enemies against whom you spoke?

H: Why Socrates, it is none other than the teachers!

S: The teachers? And what do these teachers do that harms the state?

H: They teach hatred.

S: And to whom do they teach hatred, Hymaneus?

H: The youth, those who are their students.

S: Indeed. And what sort of hatred do they teach?

H: Hatred of all sorts! They profane our armies, mock those who are different from them, and receive tribute from our sworn enemies.

S: These are truly terrible things, Hymaneus! I was not aware of all the harm teachers were doing to Athens. Surely we are blessed to have you to defend us! And what did you propose we do to defend ourselves from the teachers, Hymaneus?

H: To hold them to account for their words and pray to the gods that they may be struck down by impotence to prevent them siring any progeny.

S: If it is true that teachers do all that you say, these are certainly wise suggestions you make! But tell me, do all teachers do these things, or just some?

H: A great many, I believe.

S: But not all, correct? For example, I am a teacher. Would you accuse me as being an enemy of the state?

H: Oh, no, Socrates! Not you! Of course, you are an exception.

S: Thank you, Hymaneus. So there is at least one exception. Perhaps there are others. Against how many teachers did you speak, Hymaneus?

H: I spoke against three.

S: Three? Indeed! But you would agree, would you not, that there are a great many teachers in Athens?

H: Most certainly.

S: And, being taught in mathematics, you would acknowledge that three individuals only comprise a minute fraction of the total number of teachers?

H: Yes, it would seem so.

S: And what might be true of these three may not be true of most other teachers or even any, yes?

H: Perhaps not necessarily.

S: For you granted that what was true about the three you spoke of would not be true of me, correct?

H: Most certainly, Socrates.

S: And if you met a foreigner who said he had known only three Athenians, and they were all men, and he concluded that Athens must be peopled entirely by men, you would think him quite foolish, would you not?

H: Ha! Yes, Socrates, very foolish indeed!

S: Or if he said that the only three Athenians he knew were incredibly ugly, he would be mistaken to believe that there were no beautiful youths in Athens.

H: Thankfully, yes. He would be in error on that point.

S: So we know that it is foolish to judge an entire group on the basis of only three individuals, yes?

H: I am compelled to acknowledge this point, Socrates.

S: But let us put that aside for a moment and speak of the three teachers you spoke against.

H: Yes!

S: They are to be reviled because they say hateful things to their students, yes?

H: Of course.

S: So it is principally on the grounds that they are corrupting our youth that you object to them. After all, you would agree, would you not, that in a democracy, any citizen is free to hold whatever beliefs he wishes and to express them.

H: It is one of the glories of Athens, Socrates.

S: So it is. So your objection is not to the views themselves or even their expression, but to the fact that they are abusing their position by corrupting students, who are vulnerable and impressionable. Am I correct?

H: Indeed you are.

S: So the wickedness you spoke of, the defaming of our armies, the mockery of those who are different, and accepting tribute from our enemies, these are all things they do in their schools, with all their students present, yes?

H: Not precisely, Socrates.

S: Please explain, Hymaneus.

H: The teacher who spoke against our armies was speaking in confidence to a single student, not speaking in class.

S: Indeed!

H: And the teacher who mocked those who were different did so in jest, and only after provoking by students, I must admit.

S: Quite so.

H: And the teacher who received honors from one of our enemies did so for beliefs which he is not even allowed to mention in his school or in front of his students.

S: So these views and the honors he receives do not touch upon his role as a teacher in the slightest?

H: I confess it is true.

S: Ah, Hymaneus! I am compelled to think you have not only spoken falsely by attributing the qualities of three individuals to the whole class of teachers, but also by falsely suggesting that their private words are reflective of what they teach in general.

H: I am ashamed to admit you are correct.

S: Do not feel so badly, Hymaneus, for you still may have a sound argument in general.

H: Yes?

S: Indeed! For you rightly point out that those who speak hatefully to a wide audience do harm to the state. That is your position, is it not?

H: I do assert it with all my heart, Socrates!

S: And the broader this hatred is spread, the worse the offense, because the more individuals are infected by this hatred, the more corrupt the state becomes, yes?

H: Without doubt!

S: And those who speak out against our soldiers, who mock those who are different, and say things that encourage our enemies are guilty of spreading hate, correct?

H: Most assuredly!

S: So, for example, anyone who would slander the heroic service of a brave Athenian soldier and tell falsehoods about him merely for political gain would be guilty of such hatred, yes?

H: Absolutely.

S: And anyone who refused to do honor to the brave youths you laid down their lives in service of Athens and mocked those who did pay homage, what would you say of such a person?

H: Truly, I would strangle the cur with my own hands, Socrates!

S: And anyone who mocked groups of our citizenry because of their heritage and belittled their desire for equal treatment under the law would be guilty of spreading hatred, correct?

H: No one could think otherwise.

S: And in particular if anyone were to equate those immigrants who come to Athens with the hope of becoming citizens and making a better life for themselves with those who would come here to do violence against our citizens, that person would be guilty of spreading the most grievous of hatreds, yes?

H: No doubt!

S: And if anyone advocated to send our navy and army to foreign shores under false pretenses and stirred up enmity among those who admire us the least and alienates those who we once called our allies, that would be even worse than receiving any empty honor from a foreign potentate, would it not?

H: Indeed, Socrates! It could be called nothing other than treason!

S: And if the person who said all of this said it not merely to a small group of students, but said it publicly in the agora for all Athenians to hear, surely his offense would be far greater than that of any teacher who speaks only to a handful of youths. Would you agree?

H: None could argue that point.

S: Therefore, such a person would be deserving of the very punishments you advocated for teachers, wouldn’t he?

H: Deserving of that, and so much more, Socrates! There could scarcely be punishment enough to erase such offenses!

S: But Hymaneus, have you not lied about an Athenian soldier for political reasons?

H: I have.

S: And did you not discourage all who would listen from honoring those fallen Athenians who died in battle?

H: What you say is true.

S: And have you not openly mocked certain classes of Athenians, and accused those who come to our shores to find employment of being no more than assassins?

H: Indeed, I cannot deny it.

S: And have you not spoken out countless times in favor of foreign wars that have depleted our treasury, weakened our alliances, and forged hope among our enemies?

H: Honesty, but nothing else, compels me to confess to it.

S: So, Hymaneus, what conclusion must we come to?

H: Oh, Socrates! My face burns with shame! May Zeus curse my loins that I may never bring forth such a foul wretch as myself! What is to be the fate of a hatemonger such as me?

S: Calm yourself, my dear Hymaneus, and walk with me. I will be able to help you, for I am of that class of people that dispels ignorance and brings people hope and greater understanding

H: And of what class do you speak, Socrates?

S: I am a teacher.

And that's The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New Look, Same Old Rhetoric

Hi again, all!

I got back from my travels, fired up the computer, and found that we’ve got a new picture of Mark Hyman on the Newscentral website. As we noted, the previous picture made him look startlingly like Stephen Colbert’s caricature of a blowhard right wing ideologue. It also made him look . . .well . . . evil and creepy. After its brief time on the site, it’s been replaced by a kinder, gentler Hyman. I couldn’t help but wonder if this marked a change in his rhetorical style as well. So, I dove into “the week that was” in Hyman, hoping to find something new and interesting.

It wasn’t pretty.

Lately, Hyman has attacked Ray Nagin of being a “bigot,” the ACLU as being “bigots,” and academics of being purveyors of “hate.” But last week, it was Hyman who tried to equate the jingoistic actions of an English-only advocate in Colorado with public offices providing government documents in non-English languages. Apparently the fact that the man’s actions were meant to intimidate and pressure and the government’s actions are meant to welcome and include is irrelevant.

Hyman also
made the ridiculous statement that “many women’s groups” have advocated that women be sexually active “without responsibility.” He insinuates that it’s therefore hypocritical for these same groups to argue that a rape victim’s identity be protected. Hyman, who usually couldn’t care less about the civil rights of accused criminals, suddenly gets all ACLU on us by wondering about what happens to the reputation of the poor alleged perpetrator of rape who might not have done anything.

The whole implied false dichotomy here is absolutely Victorian (and not in a good way): women can either have the freedom to be sexual beings OR they can be shielded from public scrutiny if they are victimized. Of course, it’s exactly this sort of Neanderthal attitude (again, not in a good way) that puts rape victims in such a vulnerable state: they are almost the only victims of crime who are routinely blamed for the crimes committed against them.

And what are xenophobia and misogyny without some good old fashioned homophobia thrown in? As a “joke” during
his St. Patrick’s Day editorial, Hyman notes that on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s said that we are all a little bit Irish. He then asks, “What does this mean for all of us on Gay Pride Day?”

Get it? See, it suggests that maybe we’d all be considered “a little bit gay,” and that is obviously a horribly bad thing to be. While being a little bit Irish is sort of fun, being a little bit gay would be terrible and embarrassing, thus the humor in Hyman’s word play. Who said hatred couldn’t be hysterical?

And speaking of St. Patrick’s Day,
Hyman also mentions the Catholic metropolis (Cathropolis?) being built in Florida by the owner of Dominos Pizza, which, Hyman notes, “will feature strict covenants against certain behaviors such as no X-rated channels on the cable TV system.”

One can only assume that these covenants will also include a ban on any Sinclair stations on television, given that the president of Sinclair is a former purveyor of pornography and a convicted whoremonger.

Not even four-year-olds are safe from Hyman.
In a recent editorial, he railed against the wastefulness of a California initiative that would fund universal preschool for all four-year-olds in the state. What could be a better investment of money than in making sure the youngest of our citizens get off to strong academic start in life? Well, according to Hyman, the money should be spent as giveaways (i.e., “vouchers”) to parents who want to opt out of the public school system (leaving less resources for parents who can’t or don’t want to send their children to schools outside of their neighborhood).

And finally, in a textbook case of projection,
Hyman calls the ACLU “bigots” for investigating the fact that in a Maryland county that had been redistricted to allow a greater possibility of African American candidates winning office, no minority candidates had won in a district that was almost 50% African American. Hyman argues that this reveals the ACLU’s “repugnant” and “bigoted” attitude about black voters: that they are unwilling to vote for a non-black candidate. His conclusion is that “these bigots are just plain bad for the American way of life.”

Hyman is usually so meticulously factual when discussing matters concerning the ACLU that it might come as a shock to learn that he’s just making stuff up.

First, the ACLU was asked to investigate by the local chapter of the NAACP (I suppose Hyman will accuse *them* of being bigots as well). The “threatened lawsuit” is in actuality an investigation by the ACLU and the NAACP into voting patterns to see what the causes might be. True, there is nothing to suggest that blacks will always vote for a black candidate when given a choice, but when the results of voting seem to defy conventional wisdom, it’s worth asking why (you know—like when
Pat Buchanan receives unprecedented electoral support in heavily Jewish area). The redistricting (which Hyman suggests he approved of) was intended to make the county government more representative of the population. If that’s not happening, it would make sense that we should look at why that is. If Hyman actually approves of the goals of redistricting, one would assume he’d be in favor of this as well.

Now, it might very well turn out that black voters are simply voting for white candidates in overwhelming numbers. That would be fine. It might turn out to be voter apathy on the part of black voters, which would be a problem to be addressed not through legislation but through activism. Then again, it might be the fact that the district in question contains a historically black college and a prison, both of which have a disproportionate number of black residents who are counted in the census as being locals, but who don’t turn out in large numbers for local elections. If that’s the case, then there was a problem with the redistricting that could and should be addressed legally. And one would think that someone who thought that the ACLU was right in requesting the districts be drawn up 20 years ago would still support their efforts if it became clear the districts had been created in a way that didn’t address the problem. But Hyman instead equates the ACLU with communists and says they are bad for America.

Hyman might have a new look on his website, but he sure sounds the same.

And those are the catch-up Counterpoints.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Be Back Shortly

Just wanted to let you know that I haven't disappeared, but will be out of town for a few days and will probably have limited access to the Web. I'll be back by the end of the week and will do a catch-up post on Hyman's recent editorials, along with a look at his latest attack on academia in which he accuses college teachers of spreading hate filled rhetoric.

As you come down off your irony overdose from that last statement, feel free to consider this an open thread. I'll catch up with everyone this Saturday.



Thursday, March 09, 2006

Feeding the Monkey

I have to admit that I’ve read Mark Hyman’s commentary on the Quadrennial Defense Review a number of times, and for the life of me I can’t extricate a coherent point. He titles his piece “QDR is DOA,” but he doesn’t seem to have any criticism of the QDR other than the fact that it says the obvious (according to the source Hyman cites, The Armed Forces Journal).

The upshot (such as there is) seems to be that according to Hyman “the U.S. can no longer improve U.S. military [sic] without significant additional spending.”

I haven’t read the QDR, so I don’t have any particular feelings one way or the other about it. However, someone who has is Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
He’s a bit harsher about the QDR than Hyman is, pointing out (among other things) that the QDR doesn’t call for cutting a single weapons system, even those designed with Cold War concerns in mind and/or those that have proven to be dodgy at best when it comes to actually working properly.

What I can glean from Hyman’s editorial is that he thinks the problem with the military is not enough spending. Nonsense. The problem is not spending wisely. Think what the money that’s been poured into Star Wars could do if it was used to create a better and stronger intelligence network in the Middle East?

Defense is the one area where conservatives openly criticize frugality and economizing. Of course, there are any number of areas in which they don’t practice these virtues (Exhibit A: The Reagan administration), but at least they pay lip service to them. But when it comes to defense spending, government spending can’t be big enough.

Why is this? Two possible explanations suggest themselves immediately, and they’re not mutually exclusive.

One, as President Eisenhower warned us, the combination of government and military industry is dangerous, powerful, and money-hungry. Talk of the “military industrial complex” can take on the patina of wooly-headed conspiracy mongering, but the truth of the matter is that when you’ve got so many symbiotic relationships between individuals and collectivities in government and industry, the chances that anyone in either area is going to rock the boat (let alone scuttle it) are minimal. Spending on outlandishly expensive and probably useless weapons systems becomes an end in itself. It doesn’t need a purpose, just a rationalization. You gotta feed the monkey.

Secondly (and this is more of an abstraction of the first explanation) is one touched on by the oft-cited (particularly in this blog)
George Lakoff, who notes that the military embodies the sort of hierarchical, patriarchal, authoritarian values that are at the core of the conservative worldview. Spending money on defense is like writing a check to Jerry’s Kids: you’re not sure exactly how it will be used and it’s not at all clear that it will make things materially better, but it feels like the right thing to do. Again, the spending is an end in itself rather than a means to an end. The main difference is that in this view, the monkey being fed is the conservative self-image, not Dick Cheney.

But in both cases, the way it’s rationalized for the public is through the use of fear. With Bush’s “Long War” (i.e., unending war) against “Terror,” conservatives have the rationale they’ve lacked since the end of the Cold War to ramp up defense spending indefinitely. Throw in a bit of retro fear mongering about communism (China playing the role of the U.S.S.R) and you’ve got a good public relations package for limitless defense budget busting.

At least until we decide not to be fooled by it.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.55

Monday, March 06, 2006

Dumb Man Walking

Whatever your position on the death penalty, there’s one thing we can all agree on: Mark Hyman’s editorial about it is simply wrong.

Hyman notes that while most people who oppose capital punishment do so on moral grounds, there are some who “defy logic” by saying that life in prison is a worse punishment than death. He claims we “never hear” of convicts asking for death rather than life in prison. From this, Hyman jumps to the unwarranted conclusion that “capital punishment deters some from committing a heinous crime.”

Hyman is wrong on both counts. Certainly, more individuals appeal their death sentence with the hope of getting life in prison instead than the other way around, but it’s not unheard of. The most obvious example is Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who refused to appeal his sentence because he wanted to die. In fact, since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 were executed when they more than 12% of inmates executed
voluntarily stopped the appeals process.

A little over a month ago in France, several inmates
formally requested to have the death penalty reinstated for them because “We can’t live anymore without any realistic chance of freedom.”

But more importantly, there isn’t any evidence that the death penalty deters anyone. The best recent look at this comes in the bestseller Freakonomics, in which an economist takes a straightforward look at a number of social issues from a number-crunching perspective. He finds that the use of
the death penalty is so rare and arbitrary that it has no measurable effect on criminal behavior.

This jibes with common sense, that suggests anyone who is numb enough to issues of life and death to commit murder is probably someone who doesn’t place much value on life in general. The idea that someone who commits the sort of crime that results in the death penalty is someone given to a careful weighing of pros and cons of his or her actions is a fiction. And as Freakonomics points out, even if they were models of rationality, the death penalty would not provide a deterrent.

There might be arguments to be made in support of the death penalty that are valid (although I can’t think of any off the top of my head), but the idea that it actually deters murder is not one of them.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.68

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Good Grief, Mark Hyman!

In his recent editorial about the politics of Katrina, Mark Hyman accuses the “Angry Left” of using the disaster as “a political football.” Hyman’s own words not only show the reverse to be true, but in his case, he ends up just like Charlie Brown trying to do a place kick with Lucy holding the ball for him: flat on his back in disgrace.

It’s bad enough that Hyman begins by approvingly quoting a viewer who says she’s “sick and tired” of New Orleans residents complaining about the federal government. And it goes downhill from there. Hyman’s editorial attempts to paint himself as above the political fray, yet his entire take on Katrina is an exercise in partisan politics. Hyman claims the difference between the Florida and New Orleans was that Florida had a “competent governor” while New Orleans had Ray Nagin. Hyman claims the damage in Mississippi “surpassed” that in Louisiana (a lie, by any standard you want to apply). The difference? Mississippi had a competent governor, unlike Louisiana.

Just in case you couldn’t guess, Florida and Mississippi have Republican governors (both with close ties to the current administration: Jeb Bush and Haley Barbour). Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco (the governor of Louisiana) are Democrats.

Who's playing political games with Katrina, Mark?

As if Hyman’s lies and eliding of certain small details (such as the fact that New Orleans was the only huge urban area directly hit by Katrina) weren’t embarrassing enough, his commentary is utterly discredited by the release of a video this week
showing an unconcerned President Bush being briefed about the dangers to New Orleans and not asking a single question about the situation. Moreover, Bush later said that no one could have guessed that the levees in New Orleans would give way. Yet the tape shows that Bush was presented with exactly this scenario as a real possibility.

Hyman coyly says that, sure, FEMA could have done better, since “large government bureaucracies often fall short.”

Nice try, Mark. Let’s forget FEMA for the moment, and just look at a single individual, George W. Bush. As
this photo timeline illustrates, Katrina wasn’t exactly on Bush’s radar screen. Indeed, he was happy to stay on vacation and make unrelated political speeches as the storm approached and made landfall. And as a devastating video timeline put together by Keith Olbermann at MSNBC illustrates, the administration’s response to the hurricane suggests that Republicans were “inhabiting a different plane of existence” when it came to the disaster.

Yet, despite the obvious mistakes, Bush and his administration take no responsibility for their failures. Despite lots of talk about personal responsibility, conservatives of the Bush stripe don’t believe in this for themselves (or their president). Instead, “Heckuva job” Brownie is made a scapegoat by the man who somehow decided that putting an utterly unqualified person in charge of FEMA was a good idea. Bush is the anti-Truman: the buck stops anywhere but in the Oval Office.

But is this just predictable complaining about a situation government couldn’t do much about, anyway? Wouldn’t the same thing have happened under any other president?

Well, no. As “
The Daily Howler” documented in the days following Katrina, when faced with a much less threatening storm, Bill Clinton actively coordinated disaster preparedness and FEMA was way ahead of the storm. He canceled vacation plans, and he declared disaster areas in advance of the storm making landfall. He also had appointed a FEMA head for his actual ability to handle emergencies rather than the fact that they were college buddies.

Should all levels of government, including Democrats and Republicans, have done better before, during, and after Katrina? Absolutely. But the only way things will be better in the future is if those in charge have the backbone to be honest with themselves and their constituents about what went wrong in the first place. Bush, ever the disinterested coward, doesn’t.

And just one more point. In honor of my late father, who could never hear anyone use the phrase “the lion’s share” improperly without wincing, I’ll just note that Hyman, like most people, mistakenly uses “lion’s share” as a synonym for “the majority” when it in fact means “all.” Check out the
original fable from Aesop from which the phrase comes.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.55

Different Day, Same Dishonesty

There’s not much to say about Mark Hyman’s latest caterwauling about a voter ID system. It’s a subject he’s spoken about often, and we’ve already pointed out the problems with his arguments.

Basically, the type of ID system proposed some in Maryland amounts to an unofficial poll tax, in which voters must cough up money to the government in order to vote either in the form of a driver’s license or other government mandated ID card. (Hyman doesn’t mention that the Carter/Baker commission report he cites suggested that the 12 percent of eligible voters who don’t have a driver’s license should be provided an ID card *free of charge*). This not only tends to disenfranchise those who either don’t have driver’s licenses or money to purchase an ID card simply for voting purposes (people who are disproportionately black or Hispanic and tend to vote Democratic), but it’s also philosophically unacceptable in a democracy. No matter how much you make, you shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of voting, period.

Parenthetically, the type of identification fraud Hyman claims to be concerned about is, as far as anyone can tell, virtually non-existent. More important problems cited by the Carter/Baker commission include issues such as paper trails, malfunctioning electronic voting machines, long lines at certain polling places . . . all problems involving the *depression* of voter participation (something that tends to help Republicans). These go unmentioned by Hyman.

More importantly, we have the return of the meta-level issue Hyman’s editorials often raise. Once again, Hyman is editorializing on what’s essentially a local issue for him and his fellow Sinclairians (Sinclair’s headquarters being in Maryland), but taking up space on local airwaves from coast to coast to do it. Even worse, Hyman doesn’t acknowledge that he is editorializing on behalf of a position advocated by the Governor Ehrlich of Maryland. Ehrlich, as you may remember was Hyman’s boss when the governor was a mere Congressional representative. You also may remember that Ehrlich has been in bed with the Sinclair folks for years, lobbying on their behalf, receiving illegal in-kind campaign contributions, and starring in Maryland tourist spots produced by Sinclair for free.

Of course, Hyman mentions none of this. After all, that would be the ethical thing to do.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.70

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Joel Stein's (Im)Modest Proposal

I have a feeling that Mark Hyman would be one of those people who, if he read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” would think that the satirist was actually encouraging people to eat babies. Subtlety and nuance don’t strike me as qualities Hyman has much appreciation of.

I say that after reading
Hyman’s recent comments about Los Angeles satirical columnist Joel Stein. Hyman offers Stein kudos for being “the very first liberal columnist to publicly admit he doesn’t support the troops.”

According to Hyman, most people who disagree with the war “believe they can inoculate themselves from well-deserved criticism with the five throw-away words, ‘but I support the troops.’”

As an aside, it’s interesting that conservatives are unable to explain why opposing the war in Iraq is antithetical to supporting the troops, or why supporting an administration that lied in order to send men and women to die on the other side of the world is equivalent to supporting the troops. And we already know that when “supporting the troops” means anything other than supporting Bush administration policy, Sinclair is AWOL, as we found out with their decision to not air ABC’s tribute, “The Fallen.”

But I digress. Back to Stein. Hyman cites Stein’s recent commentary in which he says he doesn’t support the troops as evidence of a liberal showing his true colors. But in doing so, Hyman reveals either A) a complete inability to deal with subtlety on any level, or B) a willingness to consciously distort what someone says in order to attack them. Of course, in this case, my favorite answer (and probably the correct one) is C) All of the above.

Not that this matters a whit to Stein. The Hymaniacs out there aren’t his intended audience. And I don’t doubt he knew full well when he penned this piece that folks like Hyman, Michelle Malkin, and the Newsmaxers would, out of mendacity and/or maliciousness, interpret his piece exactly as they have done.

if you read the entire essay, it’s clear that Stein is speaking to those of us who already oppose the war (which is to say, most Americans). He essentially throws in the towel on the “support the troops” debate because it’s meaningless. What conservatives and some liberals have gotten into is an empty exercise in chest thumping, with colored ribbons and patriotic bumper stickers in place of pounding fists. What Stein says, in essence, is “Fine, if you want to think I don’t support the troops, that’s okay by me. Let’s agree that I don’t. Now, can we go about getting them the stuff they need?”

Hyman wants to interpret the text as a screed against those who serve in the military, but he can’t make it fit into the neat little ideological box he wants to force it into. Stein is intentionally provocative, but the upshot of his commentary is that most of what passes for “supporting the troops,” in both liberal and conservative circles, is utterly empty and meaningless platitudes that do nothing to make the situation better. If saying you don’t support the troops will end this idiocy and move the debate on to how to get soldiers the body armor they need, the medical care and counseling they require, and (most importantly) get them home, Stein says it’s a small price to pay.

For my own part, I don’t agree 100% with his commentary, and I would not have framed the argument the way he does. However, it’s a valuable point that’s worth considering. Becoming incensed at the idiocy of neo-con namecalling is ultimately an act of selfishness that doesn’t help the troops at all. It’s particularly irrelevant given that most of America is “against the troops” if you go by the definition that conservatives like Hyman use. So why fight a meaningless battle? Let the chickenhawks of the world wear their lapel pins, slap bumper stickers on their Escalades, and wrap themselves in the flag. And let the rest of us move on to actually fixing the mess.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.62

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