Thursday, April 27, 2006

You Get What You Pay For

Mark Hyman and many conservatives complain about taxes. I can only wonder: why don’t they love their country?

Most recently,
Hyman announced “Tax Freedom Day,” the day when (according to right wing think tank, the Tax Foundation) average Americans have worked long enough to pay off their federal, state, and local taxes.

There are problems with using the Tax Foundation as a resource for tax statistics. As the
Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has pointed out, the Tax Foundation’s “Tax Freedom” day is based on numbers at odds with those provided by non-partisan organizations, such as the Congressional Budget Office. They play with the numbers to give a falsely high estimation of the amount of taxes that the average American pays.

But there’s a larger issue. Notice the words that the Tax Foundation and Hyman use: Tax Freedom Day, the time when Americans have paid off their tax burden. Taxes take a bigger share of our earnings. The language conjures up images of taxes as imprisonment, as dead weight that must be lugged around, or outright theft.

Those metaphors distort reality. The truth is that taxes are the biggest and most direct way the majority of Americans serve their country. It’s the way we help provide for the future welfare of the nation.

Does that mean we need to be jumping up and down for joy at the idea of paying taxes? Of course not. But I’m sure most soldiers don’t wake up with a smile on their face when they hear reveille at the crack of dawn, and there’s certainly no shortage of complaints about the unpleasant aspects of military life. But they put up with it because they realize these are parts of a greater good: serving their country.

And while taxes might be unpleasant, consider the alternative: no roads, no police, no fire department, no national defense, no food inspection, no standards for worker safety, no public schools . . . none of the services we all rely on to varying degrees to make our lives safe, pleasant, and possible.

Speaking of public schools, let’s look at them as an example of what taxes get us. Hyman lists several states that have the highest and lowest tax “burdens,” according to the
Tax Foundation. For giggles, I looked up the Morgan Quinto rankings of the “smartest states,” which is an index based on a host of variables related to the quality of public education in the states.

As you might guess, the states that tend to have higher rates of tax contributions from citizens tend to be closer to the top of the “smart” list, while those with low contributions tend to be closer to the bottom. Specifically, 6 of the top 10 “smart states” are also in the top ten of the Tax Foundation’s list of state tax “burdens.” Five of the bottom 10 in the smart state list are also in the bottom ten in terms of tax contributions. The correlation isn’t exact, but looking over sets of data from both Morgan Quinto and the Tax Foundation over the last few years bears out the trend: when it comes to public education for our children, you get what you pay for.

So paying taxes helps ensure the continued welfare of the country, contributing toward the continued strength of the nation, a nation that, through the contributions and sacrifices of past generations, has provided us with so much. Sure, we don’t want to pay more than our due. After all, how many soldiers volunteer to tack on an extra mile or two to an all day march? Yet that doesn’t mean they aren’t committed to serving their nation.

But those who think tax breaks (particularly for the wealthy) are inherently good and who portray paying taxes as imprisonment or theft think they should be able to enjoy the fruits of living in America without making a contribution.

To them, I say: America—love it or leave it!

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.03

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

That Hum You Hear is Aristotle Spinning in His Grave

Aristotle famously defined the art of rhetoric as recognizing “the available means of persuasion.” Could there be any less artful rhetor than Mark Hyman?

Whatever your personal take on the merits or lack thereof of medicinal marijuana or laws restricting smoking, we can all agree that Hyman’s latest editorializing about these issues is pointless.

Reading between the lines, Hyman apparently is against strong no-smoking laws and is at least skeptical about medicinal marijuana. But his commentary doesn’t make an argument about either of these. Instead, it showcases Hyman’s utter lack of argumentative skill.

Hyman focuses on a recently-passed city ordinance in
Calabasas, California, that bans smoking in most public places. Rather than make a coherent argument against this type of restriction based on the merits of individual freedoms, Hyman makes an utterly bizarre turn:

The Point asked a city official, "What about medical marijuana?" He had no clue.
He promised to get back to us. He didn't. But when we followed up he said
second-hand smoke is second-hand smoke. However, marijuana advocates claim the
drug poses less health risks than tobacco. We'll observe with
interest the first time a medical marijuana user publicly lights up his blunt
where his buddy can't enjoy his smokes. He'll whip out his doctor's prescription
as a defense. Imagine the irony. Smoking a legal product is banned but using an
otherwise illegal product might be okay.

There are any number of ways in which this argument is silly, but first among them is the fact that, as Hyman himself notes, the Calabasas ordinance makes no distinction between cigarette and marijuana smoke. Yes, “imagine the irony” -- because there is no actual irony there!

I can only assume Hyman was primed to jump on the fact that the Calabasas law didn’t restrict medical marijuana smoking, only tobacco smoking, and when he found out this wasn’t the case, he was so fixated on this line of argument (“those wacky left-wing Californians, etc., etc., etc.”) that he couldn’t let the facts get in the way of his argument. Never mind that there was no argument to be made.

Of course, even if such a distinction had been made, Hyman’s argument would still be ridiculous. The idea that hordes of cancer patients on chemotherapy would be flaunting their right to smoke marijuana by lighting up in public as they enjoy the Calabasas nightlife is laughable.

Once again, we see that what makes “The Point” such a horrendous use of public airwaves is not the positions taken by Hyman. After all, one could make reasonable arguments against restrictive smoking laws and/or against the use of medicinal marijuana. Instead, it’s that part of our public forum has been taken over by a man with no ability to make reasonable arguments at all.

Yet Sinclair foists his commentaries off on viewers through the public airwaves and, in so doing, denies access by those who might make good use of it.

For that, we’re all the poorer.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.42

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Jim Carrey Ain't Got Nothing on Hyman

In his most recent “Point,” Mark Hyman claims to have collected “some of the dumbest statements made so far” in 2006.

You’ll be shocked to learn that he picks quotations exclusively from those left of center.

He takes to task Ted Kennedy for saying “streetwalking” when he apparently meant “jay walking.” (I just thank God that we have a president for whom the English language is sacrosanct and who would never make such an embarrassing faux pas himself.)

He also goes after California Assemblyman Mark Leno for criticizing an evangelical Christian group holding
a rally in San Francisco by saying “They're loud, they're obnoxious, they're disgusting, and they should get out of San Francisco.” Hyman says this shows Leno’s intolerance.

But Leno didn’t ask for the group to be prevented from holding their demonstration; he simply stated his opinion of them. True, Leno’s words are awfully harsh, but what Hyman doesn’t tell you is that the group Leno is speaking about is an organization called “Teen Mania” and/or “Battle Cry Ministries,” headed up by a guy named
Ron Luce. The organization’s rhetoric is filled with militaristic metaphors (Luce openly talks about a “culture war” and talks about getting young people geared up for “battle”) and their demonstrations include the display of red flags (a not-so-subtle echo of fascistic iconography).

And what particularly set Leno off was the fact that Luce held a rally of his group on the steps of the San Francisco courthouse, and in announcing this event,
made overt connections to the fact that this was to be a response to the awfulness of the same-sex marriages that had been held on those same steps. My guess is that if Hyman, or anyone else, had a group of flag-waving, rock-playing teens congregating at the place where he celebrated his nuptials, and did so with the specific purpose of mocking his marriage and those of people like him, he’d have a few choice words for them, too.

And Hyman also attacks (surprise, surprise) John Kerry. Kerry’s “dumb” statement was a remark that nothing in the Bible suggests that it would be a virtue to cut Medicaid to children.

Hyman makes a point of misreading Kerry’s attack on hypocrites who spout platitudes about their “personal relationship with Christ” and the importance of their faith, yet fail to actually put the most basic and obvious values of Christianity into practice when they make policy. Hyman’s inane response to Kerry? “Kerry is correct. You will not find a single mention of Medicaid in the Bible.”

No, but you will find something about bearing false witness, Mark. Look it up.

The funny thing is that Hyman didn’t need to go anywhere to find truly dumb statements. He could have just combed his own archives. Below is a mere sampling of the dumb, false, and simply ugly things Hyman has said in only the first few months of the year.

Hyman said that Senators Kerry and Kennedy put a secret hold on intelligence legislation, when in fact it was a Republican senator who did so.

claimed the ACLU was anti-Christian, but the ACLU has defended the religious rights of Christians in dozens of cases.

suggested undocumented immigrants were shiftless drains on America, apparently unaware that one of the first soldiers to die in the invasion of Iraq came to the U.S. illegally.

He claimed hadn’t won any political battles, despite the fact that the group has chalked up a long laundry list of victories across the country.

blamed Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco for the disastrous aftermath of Katrina, but the same week he made these statements, video showing President Bush being briefed in advance about levee breaches surfaced (proving, among other things, that Bush lied several times in the weeks following about how “no one” could have anticipated the breaches).

He disgustingly suggested that
women’s sexual freedom and their right to privacy (specifically not being named if they are the victims of rape) are mutually exclusive.

He mocked the plight of those who fled Katrina by saying that New Orleans
residents were on “public assistance” instead of rebuilding the city.

characterized statements made by ACLU president Nadine Strossen in a way that was often 180 degrees at odds with what she actually said and meant.

approvingly cited a viewer letter that advocated the killing of a judge.

He made
disingenuous attacks on the founder of the ACLU and whitewashed over the fascistic leanings held by the leader of the American Legion in the 1920s.

spent three days championing the altruism of Scott Stapp, who within a few weeks, had married the sister of a “Point” staffer and gotten himself arrested for public intoxication on his way to his honeymoon.

claimed Maryland legislation concerning Wal-Mart was “anti-worker,” despite the fact that the legislation was championed by Wal-Mart employees. He also failed to disclose his own personal connection with Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich, who opposed the legislation.

He claimed a fine concerning a fundraising donation to Hillary Clinton was not covered in the media, despite the fact that nearly every major newspaper in the nation ran a story about it.

spent an entire “Point” doing an on-air commercial for a book by Jack Cashill, a man who believes Ron Brown’s death in a plane crash was an assassination, that the crash of TWA 800 in 1996 was a Clintonian conspiracy, that an admitted killer of an abortion-providing doctor didn’t do it, that terrorist bomber Eric Rudolph was unfairly targeted by the FBI because of his fundamentalist politics, and that the theory of evolution is a fraud.

approvingly cited a study that showed concern about dying motivated people to vote for Bush in 2004, ignoring the study’s central point, which is that the Bush campaign used demagoguery and fear mongering in the campaign.

attacked deceased journalist Jack Anderson for his supposed gilding of facts in his stories, ignoring the obvious hypocrisy of anyone from Sinclair pontificating journalistic ethics, given the company’s cozy relationship with disgraced columnist Armstrong Williams, the company’s use of pre-fabricated video PR pieces as “news,” and the entire “Stolen Honor” fiasco.

Feel free to add your own nominees of Hyman’s greatest misses in 2006, or any other of your favorite neo-con falsehoods!

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.94

The Weight of Responsibility

his recent “Point,” about childhood obesity, Mark Hyman gives us a glimpse of what the average dinner consisted of in the Hyman household:

“[W]e ate white bread, pasta, rice, baked potatoes loaded with sour cream, real cheese and real butter - lots of it -- and ground meat with 20% fat. We drank whole milk and soda loaded with sugar. No one touched the salad. We had cupcakes and ice cream for dessert.”

[Insert your own joke about dietary effects on brain development here.]

Hyman’s beef (excuse the pun) is with
Dr. Marion Nestle, a Ph.D. in molecular biology and a leading expert on nutrition. Nestle argues that the food industry’s influence has contributed to the increase in child obesity.

Nonsense, says Hyman, who sees Nestle’s argument as a copout. For Hyman, placing any responsibility with the food industry is ignoring that true blue conservative value: “individual responsibility.” He says that the problem lies with the little chubby rug rats themselves; Hyman argues that if these lazy buggers would just stop surfing the net and playing Nintendo, and go out and play the way Hyman says those of us around 40 or older did when we were kids, there wouldn’t be a problem with childhood obesity.

Let’s table for the moment the fact that Hyman erroneously claims Nestle and others like her place the blame for obesity squarely at the feet of food companies and utterly ignore individual choice. Let’s also table the fact that Hyman’s logic would suggest that those of us around 40 years old and older are not collectively expanding ourselves. In fact, adult obesity is more rampant than childhood obesity. (If you want to see how quickly we’ve become so large, take a look at
this dynamic chart of the growing prevalence of obesity over the last 20 years.)

Instead, let’s focus on that word: responsibility. Hyman and conservatives of his ilk tend to speak as if they’d cornered the market on that virtue. They sure do talk about it a lot.

But the problem comes when they tack on that word “individual,” as if it’s simply part of the concept of responsibility itself. But is it? To explore this question, let’s take a journey to our collective past, one very much similar to the one Hyman takes us on in his commentary.

When we were children, advertising agencies hadn’t spent vast fortunes to figure out exactly how to manipulate us into wanting a certain product. Coca-Cola hadn’t invaded the schools by placing vending machines in every hallway. Real wages were higher and the average number of hours worked fewer, allowing us to have real meals with our families, not warmed up processed food snarfed down in front of a television. We didn’t have high-stakes testing requiring teachers to keep us drilling and practicing, lest we not measure up on a specific assessment. As a result, we had multiple recess periods during the day to run around. Schools didn’t allow advertisers to use our classrooms as billboards or to beam in ads on “educational” TV. We studied the food pyramid. This was before
lobbyists for the meat and dairy industries pressured the government to do away with it. It was before the wholesale sell-out of Congress to food manufacturing lobbyists. Our parents actually had time to take the family on vacations where we learned to enjoy the outdoors. We had physical education all the way through high school. We didn’t have Taco Bell in our schools. Ketchup wasn’t considered a vegetable.

Today is much different. And every change from the way things were was a matter of choice, a matter of responsibility. All are effects of the setting of new and different priorities in a myriad of areas of our culture. And we, collectively, are responsible for the decisions we’ve made as a culture, and for allowing others to make decisions in our name.

So yes, let’s talk about responsibility. But don’t fall into the trap of seeing a conflict between individual responsibility and the responsibility of larger entities. That’s a false dichotomy. It’s a distinction without a difference. Any argument about whether individuals or food companies are responsible for the obesity epidemic misses the big picture: we are all responsible, not only for the decisions which affect ourselves, but for those which affect others. And we are responsible not only for the decisions we make ourselves, but for those we make in concert with others.

It’s not that Dr. Nestle and folks like her don’t want to talk about responsibility; they want to talk about it in all its forms and on multiple levels. They don’t by into the artificial idea that responsibility is only a virtue that should be practiced at a certain level and has no meaning on others.

But Hyman does. Or at least his rhetoric does. After all, to suggest that there’s anything like collective responsibility, particularly for corporations, would get in the way of the unfettered reign of the free market, that entity fills a large space not only in conservative economics, but in their moral vision as well.

And, to echo Hyman, perhaps that’s the real difference.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.31

Monday, April 24, 2006

More Mailbag Imbalance

For those of you scoring at home, Mark Hyman’s most recent “mailbag” segment contained seven pro-Hyman responses and only one dissenter.

Focusing on his harangue about a former member of the Taliban who was accepted as a non-degree student at Yale, Hyman quotes from a number of those who share his philosophy (“liberal academia is pushing this country to Hell in a hand cart”), although they often express it rather bizarrely (“this is just another area of corruption and prejudice in our country”).

The oddest part of the commentary, however, comes at the end:

But a few sided with Yale. John in Columbus, Ohio wrote, "Some
day I hope to be like you, Mr. Hyman; get paid to stand in front of a camera and
say harmful, judgmental things." It is appalling John that you don't find it
harmful when Taliban officials shelter Osama bin Ladin, urge death to Americans,
execute homosexuals and then Yale gives one of them the red carpet treatment.
You, sir, have no clue.

What can one say about this? First, there’s nothing in the quotation that mentions the issue of Yale. Perhaps John spent most of his missive praising Yale’s decision, but you wouldn’t know that from the quotation Hyman uses. You don’t suppose it’s possible that Hyman is misrepresenting the content and context of John’s remarks, do you?

Then there’s the self-centered aspect of it. Like so much of both the positive and negative comments Hyman pulls for inclusion in his mailbag segment, the criticism is a remark about Hyman himself that’s unrelated to the issue at hand. This is par for the course with Hyman’s mailbag segments, where the praise and blame usually focus on Hyman, not the issue he’s supposedly inviting us to think critically about.

Finally, in attacking John for his alleged support of giving a member of the Taliban “the red carpet treatment,” Hyman ignores the fact that the Bush administration
has a history of rolling out the red carpet itself when it comes to the Taliban.

Just another vacuous day with Hyman’s mailbag.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Ship of State Sinking in a Sea of Red Ink

Is Mark Hyman attempting to be “fair and balanced,” or is he simply joining the increasing number of Republican rats scuttling off of a sinking ship?

For the second day in a row, Hyman takes a swipe at Republicans, although, like yesterday’s editorial, it’s vague and misguided.

This time around, Hyman laments the lack of fiscal constraint among Congressional Republicans and the White House. He claims Bush hasn’t “met a spending bill he didn’t like,” and points out that Congress allocated $27 billion in “pork” projects last year.

Hyman is right in a sense, but wrong on the big picture. Yes, spending has swelled under Bush and the Republican-dominated Congress, with record deficits and a titanic national debt as a result. But this isn’t the result of mere pork barrel spending; it’s the result of the basic priorities of Bush and his fellow Republicans.

As large as it sounds, $27 billion is barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to federal spending and debt. To put it in perspective, it’s only slightly more than the amount of
money estimated to have been lost annually in lowered tourism revenue from Arab travelers dissuaded from coming to our shores since 9/11. If you sliced out every one of the programs Hyman labels “pork,” the nation’s fiscal situation would be exactly the same. Whining about pork barrel spending is simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

If Hyman truly wanted to take on his fellow Republicans, he’d go after the fact that Bush’s regressive tax cuts sunk the nation into debt, after years of surpluses, and did so without doing anything for the economy. Rather than putting money in the pockets of middle America, Bush’s cuts targeted the wealthy, and in fact shifted more tax burden onto the middle and working classes.

He’d also take the president to task for waging an elective war in Iraq, sold to the American people on false pretenses, that has already cost a quarter of a trillion dollars, with no end on the horizon.

And despite what Hyman says, Bush has met spending bills he doesn’t like. In fact, the Bush administration
has cut lots of programs. The problem is that these programs are ones that actually help people, such as education, environmental protection, and support for small businesses, along with many “lifeboat” programs that are there to help those in dire straits.

Perhaps this is why
historians are already labeling George W. Bush the worst president in the history of the Republic. According to the most recent FOX News (!) poll, a growing number of Americans are coming to the same conclusion, with the president’s approval rating plunging to an abysmal 33% approval rating.

If Hyman wanted to help out the country’s finances, perhaps he should work to get a Democrat in the White House in 2008. It wasn’t that long ago that
President Clinton was announcing record budget surpluses. Even a brief glance a comparison of the Clinton and Bush terms in office reveal what a falling off was there when Dubya took office.

And it goes beyond Clinton and Bush.
Numbers from the OMB show that Reagan/Bush/Bush II administrations have all gone against the conventional wisdom that allowed all other post-war presidents (all Democrats and fiscally moderate Republicans) to keep the national debt moving down when compared to GDP.

But acknowledging the structural problems that created our current debt-ridden state would mean challenging some of the sacrosanct assumptions of modern conservatism, particularly that tax cuts for the wealthy and increased defense spending are philosophical and moral goods, regardless of the practical consequences.

Unless Hyman can shake these beliefs, his neocon heart will go on and on.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.70

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hyman Places a Secret Hold on the Truth

In his most recent editorial, Hyman makes a vague attempt at bipartisanship, but either through overt misleading of his audience or simple sloppiness, he ends up slandering (yet again) two of his favorite liberal targets.

Hyman editorializes in favor of an amendment that would end the practice of “secret holds” in the Senate, a practice that allows any senator to anonymously hold up a piece of legislation or a nomination. The amendment allows senators to place holds, but requires that they do so publicly. The amendment passed by a vote of 84-13.

Hyman makes a point of mentioning that all of those voting against eliminating secret holds were Republicans. It’s not surprising the GOP would oppose this bit of sunshine legislation. During the Clinton administration, prominent Republicans
used secret holds to delay votes on Clinton judicial nominees they didn’t like. Despite Republican caterwauling about the possibility of Democrats filibustering the nominations of right wing judges by Bush, the fact is that the filibuster is something done in public. Senators are making a public stand. But when the GOP was opposing Clinton nominations, they often resorted to the stealth tactic of secret holds to avoid taking responsibility for their obstructionist actions.

So Hyman’s pointed reference to GOP opponents of an amendment that would end secret holds would seem to be a case of a conservative commentator rising, however minutely, above mere partisan politics (granting, however, that most Republicans voted for the amendment along with all Democrats).

But not so fast. First, Hyman claims there is a link on the website that will take viewers to a roll call of the vote on the amendment so they can see who voted for keeping secret holds (the better to hold senators accountable). But the link doesn’t go to the vote on the amendment. Instead, it goes to a vote on cloture (limiting debate) concerning the amendment. This vote included Democrats and Republicans among both the yeas and nays. You can find the actual vote on the amendment itself

Perhaps this is simply an honest mistake. After all, there are often lots of votes regarding a specific amendment, and it would be fairly easy to mistake a procedural vote for the actual up-or-down vote on the amendment.

But there’s an even worse “mistake” Hyman makes in the editorial. He says that the issue of secret holds:

“came to a head last year when it was learned that Senators Ted Kennedy and John
Kerry placed secret holds on this year's Intelligence Authorization Act. For the
first time in 30 years, the act was not passed.”

Hyman is simply dead wrong on this. Yes, a secret hold was placed on the Intelligence Authorization Act, but it was placed by an unknown Republican senator, not Kennedy or Kerry. The GOP senator held up the act in response to proposed amendments by Kennedy and Kerry (amendments proposed publicly and open to public debate). Neither of the Massachusetts Democrats placed a hold of any sort on the legislation. On the contrary, they were actively participating in the debate and amending process of the bill.

How could Hyman make such a mistake? Perhaps he did a hasty Google search and came across a speech by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions in which Sessions, defending the use of secret holds, made the bizarre suggestion that in proposing their amendments, Kennedy and Kerry were actually responsible for the holdup of the legislation, not the unknown GOP Senator who actually placed the hold. (Those darn Democrats—always trying to actually participate in the legislative process!) By the way, Sessions was one of the 13 senators who voted to keep secret holds in place.

Or perhaps it wasn't a mistake and Hyman knew exactly what he was doing: intentionally misleading viewers in order to slander both Kennedy and Kerry. Lord knows it wouldn’t be the first time.

Whether unconscionably sloppy or simply deceitful, Hyman’s editorial is an example of what is wrong about “The Point” on a deeper level than simple political ideology; it’s a shoddy product being foisted off on viewers through the airwaves that we, the people, own.

If you would like to write to Hyman to tell him we deserve better than editorials that are diametrically opposed to the truth (and that he owes an apology to Kennedy and Kerry), you can reach him at the following email address: You can also respond on the website. Perhaps we can get him to make an on-air retraction.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

By the way, here are the names of the Republican senators who voted to keep secret holds in place:

Allard (R-CO)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Coburn (R-OK)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Frist (R-TN)
Gregg (R-NH)
Kyl (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Sessions (R-AL)
Sununu (R-NH)
Thune (R-SD)

Hyman Index: Incalculable, since propaganda involves the shading or spinning of the truth. In this case, we simply have one huge, bald-faced lie.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hyman Flunks Yet Again

Not content to merely attack teachers in higher education, Hyman has been on the warpath against public school K-12 teachers of late. Just a few days ago, he went after a substitute teacher for deciding not to shop at Wal-Mart. This time around, Hyman attacks public school teachers in general.

The vehicle for this attack is a
“study” done by an outfit calling itself the American Legislative Exchange Council that claims public schools are doing poorly despite increased spending.

Boy, that sure sounds bad, doesn’t it? But I can’t help but wonder if the ALEC report is something we should take seriously.

To begin with, let’s take a look at ethos. Hyman tells us nothing about the American Legislative Exchange Council. As we’ve all learned, when Hyman cites an august-sounding organization as an authority but doesn’t say anything about it, it’s almost certainly a conservative political group with an agenda.

Sure enough,
ALEC is a group that has as its primary goals the mainstreaming of rightwing political positions and getting legislators and businesses together in order to draft legislation that will benefit corporations. It is funded by the usual suspects when it comes to rightwing think tanks. As an organization, ALEC is traditionally anti-environment, anti-regulation, pro-privatization, and pro-Big Oil. It’s essentially a corporate lobbying organization, and a pretty powerful one at that.

Does this mean they’re necessarily wrong when it comes to their study on education? Not necessarily, but they do have an agenda. As a pro-privatization organization, they are in favor of
turning over education to privately-owned charter schools. Whatever they can do or say to undermine confidence and support for public education serves the interests of their members and clients.

Turning to the report itself, it’s a mess. I’ve only skimmed through it myself,
but others that have looked at it in depth note that it’s filled with statistics, charts, and graphs that don’t have any clear relevance to the topic, and that the data it does provide that seems relevant is often at odds with their stated conclusions.

For example, it turns out that
charter schools tend to perform less well than public schools. It also turns out that, contrary to what Hyman says, increased funding for schools does often correlate in better performance.

People who are actually experts in education (as opposed to political lobbyists)
have called the ALEC study “unsophisticated,” “disingenuous,” and “naïve.”

Sounds an awful lot like “The Point,”doesn’t it?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.07

Hyman's Hot Air

Does Mark Hyman favor further use of alternative, “green” sources of energy? Does he support the “Cape Wind” project, a plan to put wind turbines off the coast of Massachusetts to generate power?

You’d think that if Hyman devoted an entire editorial to these issues, you’d come away with at least an inkling of an idea about where he stands on them. But after suffering through Hyman’s
“Environmental Blowhards” commentary, you have no clue what his position is on wind power.

That’s because he spends his time on red-herring attacks on prominent opponents of the Cape Wind project, namely Ted Kennedy, Robert Kennedy Jr., and Walter Cronkite, chastising them for their apparent hypocrisy in supporting environmental causes but opposing the specific plan to put wind turbines in the waters of Cape Cod. This has nothing to do with Hyman’s feelings about the project itself (which remain unspoken), but because he doesn’t like the politics of the Kennedys or Cronkite in general.

Leave it to Hyman to class up the airwaves with not one, but two gratuitous and tasteless Chappaquiddick references in his attack on Ted Kennedy, calling him “the Chappaquiddick Kid” and saying ominously that “no one has a darker history with the waters off of Martha’s Vineyard.”

For good measure, he throws in references to the “infamous” Kennedy compound and the “befuddled” Walter Cronkite. He suggests (erroneously) that the main reason for opposition to the Cape Wind project is that the wealthy Cape Cod residents are worried the turbines will interfere with their yachting. (Note that if a liberal made such an argument about conservatives, they’d immediately be called out for waging “class warfare.”)

Strip away the ad hominem attacks, and Hyman’s argument amounts to this: it’s hypocritical for the Kennedys and Cronkite to argue in favor of environmental causes but oppose the building of a wind farm off their own coast.

Perhaps, but it’s a pretty low threshold for charges of hypocrisy. Would it be hypocritical for a business person to argue in favor a city project to increase downtown parking but object to a specific plan to raze her place of business and replace it with a parking garage? Would it be hypocritical to be in favor of a highway project, yet object to a plan that would call for the highway to go through your house? Hyman often champions the causes of those who stand up to claims by city governments to seize their property under the aegis of eminent domain. Are all these people anti-community, anti-business, or hypocritical for favoring improving local business but resisting attempts to use their own property to accomplish this goal?

Again, perhaps. But it seems more like an understandably human reaction. In the case of Cape Wind, it would be the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., and some have raised understandable concerns about building in one of the most picturesque waterways in the nation. Others point out that given the shipping traffic that comes through the area, the turbines might cause navigational hazards. Hyman, of course, ignores these legitimate points to make his “rich-people-and-their-yachts” wisecracks.

As someone who *does* support alternative sources of energy and actually thinks wind turbines look like moving sculptures, I’d be happy to see Cape Wind go ahead. But I also realize that A) I’m not fully informed on the various arguments made by both sides, and B) it’s easier for me to favor of something that’s being built 1,000 miles away than it would be to support it being built in my backyard. (Although, since my heritage is 50% Dutch, I have a genetic predisposition to think windmills and similar devices are inherently good, beautiful, and desirable just about anywhere).

But I would no more accuse Walter Cronkite of hypocrisy in favoring green energy but not wanting dozens of giant wind turbines plunked down in his backyard than I would accuse David Smith (the
Whoremonger Kid who has a darker history than anyone else of not honoring our fallen troops) and the “befuddled” Mark Hyman of hypocrisy if they objected to Baltimore building a highway through the “infamous” Sinclair compound in Cockeysville, Maryland.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.35

Monday, April 17, 2006

Hyman's Burden

Mark Hyman chastises New York Teacher magazine for running an approving article on Jack Powell, a sometime substitute teacher who recently decided to give up shopping at Wal-Mart.

Hyman claims his disdain is based on the fact that Powell has decided to go on food stamps to help feed his partner and two children rather than pay the cut-rate prices at Wal-Mart. According to Hyman, this makes Powell the public “burden” he claims Wal-Mart employees are.

But Powell said nothing of the sort. Powell *did* say that he doesn’t want to support Wal-Mart, given the mega-retailer’s history of predatory business practices that undermine local entrepreneurs, rely on sweatshop labor, and don’t include offering a living wage or health insurance to many of their employees.

And in fact, it’s true that
Wal-Mart employees are forced to seek public assistance at a significantly higher rate than employees of other major retailers.

Hyman claims (without any evidence) that Powell’s stand was “inspired by union bosses.” (Apparently for Hyman, that would make Powell’s actions seem underhanded.)

But in
the article Hyman refers to, Powell never mentions the word “burdensome.” Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t object to Wal-Mart because their workers are a “burden” to society, but because the corporate giant’s actions are unethical. Hyman projects his own values onto Powell and assumes that one could only think Wal-Mart should provide adequate healthcare coverage to keep employees from burdening the rest of us.

But some of us (and I’m guessing Powell would fit into this category) don’t feel the working poor are a collective burden that the rest of us carry around with us. On the contrary, it’s the business practices of some companies, including Wal-Mart, that are the burden. If you’ve read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, you know that the working poor (and this includes a lot of Wal-Mart employees) generally work their butts off to make ends meet, but are often not rewarded for their efforts with anything close to a livable wage, affordable housing, or health care of any sort. They’re not the burden; the burden are those that consider exploitation in the name of profit acceptable.

And what about Powell himself? Hyman calls him a burden because he’s on food stamps. But millions of hard working people doing necessary jobs are on food stamps. Hyman says Powell is a “welfare case” by choice. But let’s think about Powell’s choices: he educates children as a part-time substitute teacher, bikes to work whenever possible, is raising two-kids in a two-parent home, and spends most of his professional time touring the country doing educational and entertaining shows at schools, libraries, and local concert halls as one member of the
Zucchini Brothers, a three-man band that performs for children.

Food stamps or not, this guy is certainly giving his fair share and more to the social good.

But in Hyman’s bizarre algebra, one’s contribution to society is based on the amount of money in one’s bank account. In this, Hyman is much like the rest of his conservative brethren, for whom the successful entrepreneur is the ubermensch all citizens should aspire to be and pay homage to.

And that goes a long way in explaining why, for Hyman, a Wal-Mart executive who maximizes profit by paying workers a pittance is a hero, and a guy who rides a bike, teaches school, and entertains children is a burden.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.80

Mailbag Malaise

Mark Hyman recently ran a special two-part mailbag segment featuring responses to his ACLU/pretzel editorial in which he attacked the ACLU as being anti-Christian. If you’ll remember, this blog responded with a laundry list of dozens of cases in which the ACLU defended the rights of Christians to practice their religion.

Hyman devoted separate mailbag segments to the
positive and negative responses he received. But as he is wont to do, his choice of negative comments was telling, including those involving scatological references, deleted expletives, and the suggestion the ACLU should argue for the removal of crosses from the graves of veterans.

I’m guessing that last one was actually a sarcastic remark from an anti-ACLU person that Hyman pretended was sincere. In any case, we have yet another example of Hyman using his mailbag segment (something trumpeted on the website as offering viewers a chance to participate in a dialog) to caricature those who deign to disagree with him. Even his positive viewer comments are empty and inane platitudes on Hyman's good sense, not coherent thoughts or opinions about the topic. And this is what you’re getting rather than a legitimate editorial segment in which local citizens talk about local issues.

I forwarded the list of ACLU cases included on this blog to Hyman, but somehow they didn’t get mentioned. To be fair, though, it would have taken a week’s worth of “Points” to read through that list.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Mark Hyman closed out his editorials last week with a two part story about an Iraq war veteran who was shot in the head and thought to be in a permanent vegetative state, but pulled through. Hyman used the story to complain about the Veterans Administration bureaucracy and to talk up Operation Support Our Troops, an organization that helped Gallo get a handicapped accessible van.

The story is heartwarming, in no small part because Gallo is an immigrant from Peru. He only became a U.S. citizen while recuperating from his wounds.

While Gallo’s story is touching, there are two things about Hyman’s telling of it that are disingenuous.

First, Hyman has spent any number of editorials (including one quite recently) portraying undocumented immigrants as lazy slackers out to sponge off of Americans (that is when he’s not comparing them to al-Qaeda terrorists).

Gallo is apparently emigrated to the U.S. completely legally. But why would one assume that an undocumented immigrant would be any less likely than a documented immigrant to work hard and contribute to the country? As has been pointed out in this blog several times before, undocumented male immigrants actually have a higher employment rate than the U.S. populace.

And they do serve in the military. I wonder if Hyman knows that the first U.S. serviceman killed in the current Iraq war was a young man from Guatemala who entered the U.S. illegally.
Marine Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez made the 2,000 mile trek from his home to the U.S. on his own when he was a teenager. He came, like documented and undocumented immigrants before him, because he had heard that America was a land of opportunity. He hoped to make money to go to college and to send to his sister back in Guatemala.

Instead, he died in the desert outside Umm Qasr, Iraq.

But Hyman mocks those like Gutierrez, suggesting that they are criminal, slothful, and drains on society. For Hyman to use Gallo’s immigrant status as a means to tug at our heartstrings is the height of hypocrisy.

Which brings us to the second point about Hyman’s commentaries on Gallo. When telling Gallo’s story, Hyman says that Gallo was shipped off to Iraq in 2004, and “then the unthinkable happened. On March 15th, 2005 a sniper shot Jose in the head.”


I realize this is simply a single word, but it says so much about the attitudes of Hyman and others of his political stripe toward the war and the soldiers fighting it.

How can it be “unthinkable” that a soldier put into the front lines of a war would be shot?

One of the only certainties in war is that a lot of people will be killed and maimed. My guess is that Gallo thought about the possibility of being killed on a daily basis. I’m sure his loved ones at home often thought about the real possibility of him coming home permanently scarred or not at all.

Unthinkable? The word betrays the cavalier attitude of so many of this war’s cheerleaders, not willing or able to actually consider the human toll certain to be paid in the blood of those sent a desert half a world away. Not their own blood, of course: the blood of young men like Gallo and Gutierrez. The blood of tens of thousands of Iraqis. The blood of old men, women, and children.

Unthinkable? The word is a sick joke when applied to the maiming of a soldier in battle. What could or should be more in the forefront of the minds of a country’s leaders when making the decision to go to war?

Unthinkable. It’s a word that’s much more appropriate when describing a Secretary of Defense who can’t be bothered to sign condolence letters to the mothers of the dead himself,
but has a machine do it for him.

Unthinkable. It’s the word that comes to mind when
the architect of the war doesn’t have a clue about how many soldiers have died carrying out his plans.

Unthinkable. It certainly applies to the idea that a leader of a democracy who consistently lies about the fact that he wanted to go to war, whether there was a rationale or not, despite
evidence proving his duplicity.

Unthinkable. In the wake of 9/11, who would have thought that a president of the United States would sabotage the efforts to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice in order to pursue a long-planned but unrelated military excursion?

Unthinkable. It’s a word I would use to describe the acts of an administration that
leaked classified information to slander a critic and endanger his wife, then feigned outrage and ignorance about these very acts.

Unthinkable. How I wish I could consider anything this administration now does to be “unthinkable,” but after witnessing the willingness of this president and those around him to lie to the American people and to the rest of the world, after seeing them diminish America in the eyes of our friends and play into the hands of our enemies, after seeing them subvert liberty in the name of protecting it, after seeing them sacrifice the lives of countless human beings in pursuit of a policy dreamed up in think tanks and boardrooms . . . after seeing all this, what can possibly be unthinkable anymore?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tax Day Redux

Perhaps it's appropriate that we're in the Easter season, since Mark Hyman resurrects a "Point" from last year to push for his version of tax reform. Heck, even when he talked about it last year, he was flogging some tired talking points. With apologies for my apparent laziness, I'll simply reproduce my response to last year's version of Hyman's "tax day" editorial. I went back to read what I said back then, and there wasn't much I wanted to say that I hadn't already said back then. So, let's hearken back to a more innocent time. The year was 2005 . . .

Hyman's Tax Day Duplicity

Here we go again. In a “tax day” rehash of one of his favorite topics, Hyman again suggests that a labor tax or a consumption tax would somehow solve the problems of taxpayers. In a textbook example of the “false dichotomy” fallacy, Hyman suggests that either we have a complex tax code that keeps people up until midnight on April 15th doing their taxes, or we have a simple tax such as a labor or consumer tax (a.k.a. a flat tax or national sales tax).

The problem with this argument logically speaking is suggesting that only regressive tax policies can be simple. The problem with this argument economically speaking is that regressive tax policies are bad government.

There’s no reason why a progressive tax policy can‘t be simple enough to allow filers to simply fill out a postcard-sized return. There’s nothing magic about regressive taxation that makes it inherently less complex. In fact, a great many of the 45,000 pages of tax code decried by Hyman are there precisely to help corporations and wealthy individuals find ways of avoiding paying taxes. Hyman’s implication that the only answer to complex tax forms is a regressive tax scheme is hogwash.

And make no mistake, both the labor tax and consumer tax are regressive. A labor tax is often labeled a “flat” tax by supporters because of the egalitarian overtones of the word, but in fact, a single tax rate places a
disproportionate burden on those at the lower end of the income scale. Here’s all you really need to know about he labor tax: Steve Forbes, one of its biggest proponents, is a multi-millionaire and would not pay a cent of income tax under his own labor tax proposal.

A consumer tax is often labeled a national “sales tax” because it suggests that such a tax would be incidental—I, for one, usually don’t think much of the few pennies in state sales tax added to the cost of my latte when I go to the campus coffee shop (wink wink, nudge nudge). But any consumer tax that would take the place of the income tax would have to be a hefty 35-50% tax on all purchases (including the purchase of houses and cars). And no more deductions for mortgages either. The end result is that those who spend the highest percentage of their income (i.e., those that don’t make a lot of money and don’t have disposable income to tuck away in savings or investments) get saddled with far more than their share of the tax burden.

As we learned in Ron Suskind’s book
The Price of Loyalty, the obsession with cutting taxes for the wealthy is not simply a fiscal policy for neo-cons. It’s a dogmatic belief—something that is good in and of itself, independent of its consequences. But the history of such tax policy isn’t terribly good. Hyman invokes the well-worn talking points that JFK was actually a supply-sider, that Reagan’s tax cuts created a huge economic boom, as did George Bush II’s welfare for the wealthy tax plan. However, Kennedy’s tax cuts were aimed primarily at working class people in an effort to boost the purchasing power of the average American, while the supply-side cuts actually diminish this power by saddling the working and middle class with a greater amount of the tax burden.

What about Reagan? He cut taxes dramatically, but then
dramatically raised them (via rolling back the extent of his initial tax cuts) soon after, amounting to one of the largest tax hikes in history (Hyman ignores this). Reagan did this because it became obvious quite quickly that the optimistic projections on which he based his tax cuts weren’t coming true, and rolling back these cuts was a necessity. Of course, he didn’t roll them back nearly enough to prevent an astronomical growth in the national debt, but hey, it could have been worse.

As far as George Bush II’s “economic boom” that Hyman refers to, another such “boom” and we’ll be having to break into the national archives to dust off soup kitchen recipes that have been collecting dust since the 1930s.

The worst aspect of this type of tax rhetoric is its duplicity. Regressive taxes are sold to working and middle class Americans couched in the rhetoric of egalitarianism and practicality, invoking anti-tax and anti-government sentiment, while the actual policies would increase the tax burden on exactly these people. Beyond simply being poor fiscal policy, such tax schemes and the arguments in their favor are egregious examples of duplicity in public discourse.

To paraphrase Hyman, it probably makes you want to take that pencil and stick it in some television commentator’s eye, doesn’t it?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

P.S. Some previous Counterpoints have gone into more detail on the issues of the
labor tax and tax fairness.

What's Hyman's "Original Intent"?

In a recent editorial, Hyman attacks Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg for her judicial philosophy, which Hyman claims opens the door to getting rid of basic constitutional freedoms. He says Ginsberg has called the Constitution “frozen in time” and that justices of the Supreme Court should “be able to void any portion of [it] they disagree with.” According to Hyman, Ginsberg also believes the Supreme Court should use the decisions of foreign courts (even, Hyman says, the Constituional Court of South Africa!) as frameworks for their own decisions.

I’m sure, gentle reader, that you will be shocked, shocked, to learn that Ginsberg says none of the above.

In one of the more intellectually vapid editorials he’s delivered lately (which is saying something), Hyman attacks Ginsberg for a speech she made in South Africa earlier this year. (She made virtually
the same speech over a year ago, but apparently it took awhile for Hyman to get his dander up).

In the speech, entitled "
A decent Respect to the Opinions of [Human]kind: The Value of a Comparative Perspective in Constitutional Adjudication,” Ginsberg specifically does not call the U.S. Constitution “frozen in time,” but rather attacks those who do see it as frozen in time. She notes, for example, that the idea that the Constitution should not be interpreted with regard to changing standards, particularly those seen in the world beyond the United States, was precisely the logic that Justice Taney used in the infamous decision in the Dred Scott case. As she points out, the idea that the law of the U.S. should not ignore broader notions of human rights is not new. John Jay, one of the founders himself, said that the United States, “by taking a place among the nations of the earth, bec[a]me amenable to the laws of nations.”

As far as noting that Ginsberg “even cited South Africa's Constitutional Court as an example,” of a court whose rulings might be enlightening to jurists around the world, Hyman is using a cheap and dishonest rhetorical trick, hoping his audience will associate South Africa with repression and apartheid, not recognizing that the current government bears no resemblance to the all-white regimes of the past. And for the record, Ginsberg singles the court out because she was giving the speech at the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

But if we can hack our way through the superficial lies and distortions of Hyman’s commentary, we do finally get to a meatier issue, and that is the notion of how the Constitution should be interpreted. Hyman, apparently, falls in line with so-called “strict constructionists” who claim that their reading of the Constitution is in accord with the founding principles of its authors. Such folks claim that the idea that one might interpret the Constitution with regard to evolving ideas of justice and freedom is an invitation to relativism.

Much like their ideological cousins, Biblical literalists, strict constructionists take a philosophically rich document and fetishize one particular layer of meaning. They will tell you, of course, that their particular interpretation is valid because, after all, they are interpreting what the document actually says without “reading in” meanings of their own (which is what they claim the rest of us do with both the Constitution and the Bible). They claim their reading of the document is privileged because it reveals the original intent of the authors.

Now, tabling for a moment the enormous hubris it takes to claim one can glean the original intent from texts created by multiple authors (or by an author who happens to be an omnipotent, eternal deity) with their own individual differences and who all are separated from us by culture and time, it should still be clear that this claim to faithfulness to original intent is bogus, both in terms of the Constitution and the Bible.

Take for example the idea that the Bible should be taken literally. Even Biblical literalists don’t fully commit to this idea. They would acknowledge that when Christ calls Peter the “rock” on which his church will be built, he means it metaphorically, not literally. It’s a figure of speech that must be interpreted to be understood (at least one would hope so, for poor Peter’s sake). Nor are references to Christ as the “lamb of God” meant to suggest that Jesus was a cute, fuzzy, four legged creature that munched on grass. Rather, it is an image that is meant to get at a larger truth about Christ: his role as one who is sacrificed (among other things).

Let’s look at a slightly less silly example. Fundamentalists often point to a passage in Leviticus when justifying their animosity toward gays and lesbians. If one counters that this is likely simply a reflection of cultural attitudes of the time that we shouldn’t feel bound to, they will reply that the word of God is eternally true, and not subject to the vagaries of what happens to be acceptable in a particular time and place. You might point out in response that Leviticus barely mentions homosexuality at all, but spends
dozens of verses talking about how to deal with mildew on clothes (apparently you’re supposed to take it to your local temple priest). If you ask them if they aren’t committing a sin each time they use their washing machine instead of taking their unmentionables to their pastor, you would almost certainly be told that such specific rules were meant for the people of the time, not those of us in the modern world who have access to the miracle of Woolite.

So Biblical literalists aren’t literalists. They simply identify a certain level of interpretation that corresponds to their belief system, and label that particular interpretation as the “true” meaning of the text.

The same is true of strict constructionists and the Constitution. They will chastise anyone who suggests that principles enshrined in the Constitution should be applied to current concerns in a way that takes into account differences between today and the late 18th century. Yet, what do you think would happen if you were to suggest to Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas that the 2nd Amendment should be interpreted according to “original intent,” meaning that all U.S. citizens should be allowed to own a muzzle-loading, black powder, single-shot musket? That, after all, was the original intent of the Framers.

The notion that the 2nd Amendment allows Charlton Heston to own a Mac-10 submachine gun is exactly the sort of approach strict constructionists deride when it happens to involve something they feel less affection for than they do toward guns. (And notice that we haven’t even touched on the part of the 2nd Amendment that mentions a “well-regulated militia”; again, that’s a part of the “original intent” of the framers that the strict constructionist crowd blows off.)

And all of this is still assuming that there actually is an original intent at all, which there isn’t. The Constitution was the result of all sorts of compromises among a group of men who held such disparate views of the role of government that the differences among them make Dick Cheney and Ted Kennedy seem like ideological twins.

It should go without saying that this doesn’t mean that any interpretation is as valid as any other, but of course that’s exactly what strict constructionists would accuse me of (and it’s precisely the accusation Hyman lays at the feet of Justice Ginsberg). But let’s use another analogy to look at this: if I were to make the claim that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is in fact an elaborate allegory that argues for the wisdom of tying a national currency to the gold standard, you’d rightly accuse me of being off my rocker. Yet, you would likely not object if I suggested that the play is a sufficiently complex text that it allows for a number of different valid readings, perhaps even readings that are in some ways contradictory (Is Hamlet crazy, or just acting crazy? Is the ghost really his father, or is it a demon sent to tempt Hamlet into damning himself?) You might even acknowledge that the resonances and readings of the play for audiences today are different than they might have been to audiences of previous eras, and that the readings of an American audience might be different than an audience in Russia, China, or Botswana. The readings are constrained by the text, but there isn’t one reading dictated by the text.

This would not minimize the genius of the text or suggest that any reading is as good as any other. It would do no more than acknowledge the richness of the text and the genius it took to create a work that speaks on so many different levels and through the ages, and the applicability of its major themes to so many diverse audiences.

The same is true of the Constitution. Hyman's suggestion that Ginsberg’s judicial philosophy would lead to a case where freedom of religion (for example) could simply be done away with is every bit as ludicrous as my reading of Hamlet in which Claudius is actually a metaphor for the Federal Reserve Board. This is a classic example of the slippery slope fallacy. There is no room for such an interpretation by an intelligent reader of the text. When we do interpret the text (and, as I pointed out earlier, all of us interpret the Constitution, the Bible, and Hamlet, even if we claim we simply read them literally), we look to see how our interpretation of the text aligns with our understanding of the world and the interpretations of other readers.

As Ginsberg notes in her speech, courts (including the Supreme Court) do this all the time. Indeed, it’s at the heart of the whole use of judicial precedent. She simply points out that looking at how other people, including people in other countries, have interpreted words and concepts like “freedom of speech,” “due process,” and “cruel and unusual punishment” is part of what any intelligent reader of a document as complex as the Constitution should do (and in fact does do, even if they don’t do it knowingly).

But acknowledging this would cause deep anxiety for Hyman and those like them, who seem unwilling or unable to put together a good argument for their particular interpretation of the Constitution, but choose the false shortcut of simply claiming that their reading doesn’t involve interpretation and is therefore sacrosanct.

Is this due to intellectual laziness? Ignorance? Self-righteousness? All are plausible interpretations of the situation (and not necessarily mutually exclusive).

By the way, if you’re interested in reading more about the issue, I recommend historian Jack Rakove’s Pulitzer Prize winning Original Meanings, in which he meticulously takes apart the fallacy that the framers had (or even wanted to have) a single, unchanging meaning in mind when they wrote the Constitution.

And that’s The Counterpoint

Hyman Index: 3.72

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Undocumented Immigrant Reality

Mark Hyman, the man who equated undocumented immigrants coming to America to find jobs to support their families with al-Qaeda terrorists, offers us a jejune “analysis” of the illegal immigration problem by arguing that it’s analogous to a family breaking into your house and sponging off you. For good measure, Hyman includes images that suggest members of this family are thieves, lazy slackers, and inattentive parents (our man Mark is not a subtle one).

Of the many, many things this metaphor misses and distorts, some of the more important are the fact that undocumented male immigrants actually have a higher rate of employment than native-born Americans, that undocumented immigrants contribute huge amounts of money to programs like Social Security while not getting anything in return, and that they fill jobs that need to be filled but which are difficult to find Americans to fill.

In fact, studies suggest that undocumented immigrants may very well be a net economic plus for the country. (Economics is hardly the only valid metric to use when discussing immigration, but it’s the one most often used by the folks who want to build fences and arrest people for offering charity to undocumented immigrants.) While studies on this topic are contradictory (usually based on who’s doing the research) and hazy in their conclusions by definition of the undocumented status of the immigrants themselves, the one thing that’s fairly clear is that undocumented immigrants are not simply a “drain” on the economy. Whether they are a net plus or minus is debatable, but the fact that it is debatable says quite a lot about the seriousness, or lack thereof, of the issue.

And one of my favorite statistics involving illegal immigration is that the Bush administration has dramatically lowered the number of undocumented immigrants crossing over from Mexico (at least based on the number of apprehensions made along the border). How did Bush pull this off? By driving the economy into the ground. As
this graph shows, apprehensions of undocumented immigrants at the border dropped precipitously (along with the economy) when Bush took office. The recession and the jobless recovery have kept a damper on illegal immigration, an understandable cause/effect relationship, given that the whole reason undocumented immigrants come to America is to work.

But I digress. Back to Hyman’s analogy. I suggest an alternative analogy, one that’s more reflective of the reality of illegal immigration.

Imagine for a moment. You walk into your office one morning to find a man waiting to see you. He says he has come from a long way away to ask you to hire him for a job.

He says you can pay him whatever you think is fair. He also volunteers to take on whatever your worst job is—the job that everyone bitches about having to do (that is when you can get anyone to do it at all). He’ll work as many hours as you need. He volunteers to pay into the company’s retirement plan, but doesn’t expect to collect anything from it himself. All he wants is a chance to show what he can do. He hopes that one day, you might ask him to become an official employee of the company. But even if you don’t, he’ll continue to work for whatever you want to give him.

You point out that even if you take advantage of his generous offer and pay him far less than what you probably *should* be paying someone to do his job, it will still mean an expense that will come out of the company’s profits, and ultimately from your own workers’ salaries.

He says, yes, this might be true, but that by hiring him, your company will not simply add to your payroll, but to your productivity. This could offset the apparent cost of hiring him. Moreover, he says that he and his family are also customers; they buy quite a bit of the product you manufacture. Thus, much of his wages will come back to the company in the form of sales.

This all seems quite odd to you. You finally ask, “What in the world would make you come all this way to sell your services so cheaply?”

He answers, “I’ve heard that you are the best company to work for, that you treat your workers well. I’ve been told that you believe that any employee, no matter how lowly, can prosper if they are willing to work hard. I want that chance. And, most of all, I understand that you and everyone else who works here came to this company just as I have today. I hoped that you would give me the same opportunity that you yourself were given long ago.”

A rather silly story, huh? That’s the situation of the undocumented immigrant in a nutshell.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.06

Monday, April 10, 2006

COUNTERPOINT EXTRA: Recommended Reading

Given how often Mark Hyman suggests that those who oppose the war in Iraq “hate the troops,” I don’t think it’s too far off our theme here at The Counterpoint to recommend an essay published over the weekend in Time that eloquently made the case against the Iraq war.

The writer noted, among other things, that the preemptive war in Iraq was the brainchild of “zealots” whose rationale for invasion “made no sense” and undercut efforts to destroy al-Qaeda. He charges the Iraq hawks with using 9/11 to “hijack” our nation’s security policy.

He also pointed out that policy makers betrayed the trust of the enlisted men and women on the ground through not only manufacturing the war to begin with, but then by conducting it in fundamentally flawed ways. As far as “hating the troops,” the author makes the trenchant observation that Condoleezza Rice’s recent remarks that the “strategic” decisions in Iraq had been good, but that thousands of “tactical” errors had been made suggested that the administration is more than willing to let the folks on the ground take the fall for the Bush administration’s colossal failures of imagination and policy.

The author even calls for getting rid of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and openly encourages high level officers in the military to stand up and voice their objections to the disastrous policies of the Bush crowd.

Who is the author? To believe Hyman and other like-minded people, anyone who says such things must hate the troops and despise the military. Heck, he’s probably some Chomsky-reading, patchouli burning, sandal-wearing professor of Peace and Anti-Hegemony Studies at some elitist university, right?

Nope. He’s Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, a retired career army officer who was director of operations at the Pentagon's military joint staff.

Does that mean he can’t be mistaken about Iraq? Not at all. As Newbold notes, there are some generals who actually believed in the logic behind the war (although he makes it clear that far more members of the military’s brass were skeptical about it than one might guess). Lord knows that being a general doesn’t make you infallible in your judgments, even in military matters.

What the essay does do without a shadow of doubt is drive a stake through the heart of the asinine argument that criticizing the war is antithetical to supporting the troops. In fact, Newbold passionately and movingly argues that standing up to the neo-con agenda is precisely what should’ve been done, and needs to be done, to support the troops.

Not that this point wasn’t obvious to any rational person from the beginning. But Newbold’s eloquence and particular ethos (given his lifetime of service) does a particularly good job of revealing the intellectual bankruptcy of the Hymans of the world who hide behind faux patriotism and loyalty to the troops in order to prop up rationales for policies that weaken the country and needlessly sacrifice our men and women in uniform.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Editorial Rip-Off

Other than the fact that he calls for increased federal regulation of business, Mark Hyman’s recent editorial on the burning issue of “gift cards” is unremarkable and . . . well . . . dull. In place of the standard critique of his argument, I offer the following parallel/parody of his remarks.

Not certain what to think on a given issue? If you look to “The Point”, it will likely be worthless.

There are many editorial and op-ed outlets in the broadcast and print media. Some commentators have journalistic experience and abide by basic tenets of full disclosure when commenting on issues that touch on their own interests. Not so for Mark Hyman at “The Point.” According to an investigative story that appeared in GQ magazine, Sinclair Broadcasting, Hyman’s employer, has had longstanding ties to Bob Ehrlich, the former congressman and current governor of Maryland. Hyman himself worked for Ehrlich. Hyman often uses his nationally-viewed editorial segment to praise Ehrlich and his allies and to attack his political enemies. Yet he never discloses his own personal connections to the governor, or the fact that the then-congressman lobbied for Sinclair or that Sinclair actively participated in Ehrlich’s bid to become governor. On top of this, Hyman lacks any journalistic experience.

Hyman’s editorials are one-sided and self-serving. The Federal Communication Commission should consider reinstating the Fairness Doctrine and requiring media figures to disclose personal ties when reporting or commenting on people or issues in which they have a personal stake.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Dissembling in the First Degree

Hyman attempts a bit of cleverness in
his latest anti-Hillary Clinton editorial, pretending to defend her from “critics” who he claims are attacking her for receiving a $2000 contribution from Willie Tan, the sweatshop owner who was a client of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Hyman suggests that this small amount of money wouldn’t influence a politician with tens of millions of dollars at her disposal.

In framing his “defense” of Clinton this way, Hyman 1) ties her to the Congressional scandal involving Abramoff by mentioning her name in connection with it, and 2) tacitly suggests she’s a candidate who has been bought and paid for by special interests through his emphasis on the “tens of millions” she has “raked in.” And he carries out his stealth attack in the guise of a defense. Cute.

The most obvious reasons for such an attack are to lay the groundwork for future attacks on Clinton, a presumptive candidate for the 2008 Democratic nomination. Another is to contribute to the attempts to paint the Abramoff Congressional scandal as bipartisan, despite Abramoff’s longstanding ties to the Republican Party, the fact that nearly two-thirds of the money that he collected in donations went to Repblicans, and the fact that the biggest players in the scandal are nearly all GOP-ers, including the disgraced former Republican leader Tom “Dale Gribble” DeLay. Unlike Clinton, DeLay was influenced by money he received from Willie Tan to the point that he promised Tan he’d scuttle any legislation that might protect the workers in Tan’s sweatshops,
sweatshops that relied on young immigrant women to man sewing machines for 70 hours a week with no overtime pay, to work for less than minimum wage, and in some cases to become unpaid participants in the sex industry or to choose between losing their job and aborting their babies if they became pregnant. DeLay championed this system as a miracle of the free market system. So much for the “culture of life.”

But there might a more specific reason why Hyman might want to suggest that a politician would not necessarily be influenced by money that they received via Abramoff or from an Abramoff client.

As it turns out, Maryland Governor, and former Mark Hyman boss, Bob Ehrlich has close ties to Abramoff. You might recall that
Ehrlich, who is facing an election this year, has close ties to Sinclair. He did some unethical lobbying for Sinclair Broadcasting while in Congress and in turn received unethical in-kind campaign contributions from Sinclair. He got Sinclair to produce some Maryland tourism commercials that—surprise, surprise—featured the governor himself. In return, he had the state government buy advertising time on Sinclair stations. And, as regular readers will remember, there have been any number of times in which Hyman has used “The Point” to defend the policies of his former employer and Sinclair pal.

But Ehrlich has other friends, too,
and one of them is Maryland resident Jack Abramoff, who has given Ehrlich $16,000 in contributions. On top of that, Ehrlich’s deputy chief of staff is a founder of a company that served as front for funneling cash into Abramoff’s personal coffers.

So, in Hyman’s game of “Six Degrees of Jack Abramoff,” it turns out that Hyman’s former boss is only one degree away, and Sinclair itself a mere two.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.05

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Selective Outrage

I’m not sure how much there is to say is about Mark Hyman and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s outrage about the fact that a former Taliban spokesperson was accepted as a non-degree student at Yale.

Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi received the requisite student visa from the U.S. government, and claims to have abandoned at least some of the more radical aspects of his former beliefs. He’s in a non-degree program, which means that he’s probably not taking up one of the coveted spots in its undergraduate class. And apparently he’s carrying a B+ grade point average.

Given all this, it’s hard to take seriously the idea that Yale is harboring an “evil-doer” who can’t cut it academically. Was Yale grandstanding by courting him as a potential student? Sure. Admissions decisions are often based on things that have nothing to do with how much a given student deserves to be at the university or their aptitude for academic success. After all,
our current president was only admitted to Yale because his father went there, and apparently George W. Bush didn’t do as well academically there as Mr. Hashemi is doing. So it’s difficult for me to work up a hearty indignation about this particular case when so many others have gotten so much for doing so little.

On top of that, the idea that exposing minds of young adults from countries hostile to the U.S. to Western education as a way of winning hearts and minds is one the Bush administration itself has championed. Recently, Condoleezza Rice suggested the need to get more Iranian students into American universities, and
proposed that we spend taxpayer money to provide scholarships for them. The fact that Mr. Hashemi is a relatively high-profile figure among those who see the U.S. as an enemy is probably a point in favor of exposing him to a Western education, not a strike against him.

Having said all that, it’s true that the Taliban hold reprehensible views, and any interaction with even former members should be done with a great deal of caution and respect for what messages it might send. On that point, ISI and Hyman are right.

But I wonder, where was the outrage when it wasn’t a private university giving a single former member of the Taliban an opportunity to take classes, but rather the
Bush administration indirectly giving $43 million to the Taliban through aid packages to Afghanistan as a reward for their crackdown on poppy growing? Why is it an "outrage" that a former Taliban is taking a few classes at Yale, but it was apparently okay for the U.S. government to spend a huge amount of money in a move that served to solidify the Taliban's hold on power, and in fact reward them for certain aspects of their dispicable policies that happened to suit wishes? To paraphrase Hyman’s argument, imagine how much body armor that money could have bought for brave U.S. soldiers. Imagine how many beds in battered women’s shelters could have been provided. Or how many patients could have been admitted to drug treatment centers. Or how many intelligence agents could have been hired to follow up on indications that Osama bin Laden was planning an attack on the U.S.? How much could have been done with that money, rather than using it in a way that propped up a government that, as Colin Powell himself noted when he was announcing the gift, sponsored terrorism and systematically abused women?

If you’re outraged about the former Taliban at Yale, I understand. But if your outrage stops there, you’re a hypocrite.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.86

Cost of the War in Iraq
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