Wednesday, May 31, 2006

All Politics Is Local

Unless you live in Baltimore, Maryland, or Asheville, North Carolina, you probably weren’t aware of two recent editorials Mark Hyman did specifically for these markets. In both of these “customized” editorials, Hyman lashes out at local media outlets that he feels have done Sinclair or its friends wrong.

The first of these is yet another attack on the Baltimore Sun, a frequent Hyman target. The Sun recently ran a story about how then-state delegate (and current governor) Bob Ehrlich helped push legislation that helped break down the separations between utility companies and the state regulatory agency that oversaw them.

Hyman works himself into a tizzy, complaining that Ehrlich could not have pushed such legislation through single handedly and that the Sun’s article amounts to a “cheap shot.”

There are multiple problems with Hyman’s argument. First, Hyman ignores the fact (mentioned in the Sun article) that Ehrlich was the only sponsor of the legislation. Certainly he didn’t pass it alone, but he led the charge. Secondly, the article focuses on Ehrlich because he’s currently the governor of the state and is, therefore, in a position to shape the relationship between state regulatory agencies and the private companies they oversee. Is putting the current governor’s actions in the context of his previous political career unethical, particularly when the Ehrlich says he still stands by that legislation?

No, but what is unethical is the fact that Hyman yet again delivers a pro-Ehrlich editorial without disclosing the fact that he worked for Ehrlich when he was in Congress, or that
Sinclair Broadcasting and Ehrlich have enjoyed a cozy quid pro quo relationship for years.

the second of his custom-job editorials, Hyman goes after another newspaper, the Citizen-Times of Asheville, North Carolina. Their sin? According to Hyman, they ran “an editorial moaning over the fact that I do editorials on News 13.”

I looked up
the editorial in question, and I’m afraid it look s as if our friend Mark might be suffering from paranoid megalomania. The editorial is actually about possible federal regulation regarding “Internet neutrality.” The authors make the point that federal regulation is a tricky business, because it often has mixed results. Pointing to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the editorial notes that there were some undesirable consequences:

Now, one owner claims more than 1,200 radio stations, and the
changes to local TV stations have given us the gift of folks like Mark Hyman,
the Baltimore-based commentator carried on Sinclair stations.
We’d like to toss that particular fish back.

That’s it. That’s the extent of the editorial’s attention to Hyman—a sentence and a half in an editorial that runs more than 700 words.

But that’s more than enough to send Mark into fits of righteous anger. Pointing out that the Citizen-Times is owned by Gannett, Hyman accuses the paper of hypocrisy since Gannett also profited from the 1996 Telecommunications Act. He also claims that “Gannett's TV station coverage dwarfs that of Sinclair.”

Again, we’ve got multiple problems here. First, Hyman is simply being deceitful when he claims Gannett’s TV coverage “dwarfs” Sinclair’s. According to the Gannett website, the company owns 21 television stations and reaches 19.8 million households. Sinclair’s website says their company owns 58 stations and reaches 22% of all television households. According to the folks at Nielsen Media Research, there are currently 110,200,000 television households in the U.S. That means Sinclair stations reach 24.2 million households.

Not that Gannett is a wallflower when it comes to the media consolidation hoedown. They certainly *have* benefited from increased consolidation, just as Sinclair has. But notice that Hyman’s accusation of “hypocrisy” is not a defense. It’s a basic argumentative fallacy—being guilty of an offense yourself does not by itself invalidate your claim that someone else is guilty of the same thing. Sure, maybe the editorial’s authors are hypocrites, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

But that brings us to the even larger flaw in Hyman’s reasoning. Far from exposing hypocrisy, the editorial’s position suggests that the Citizen-Times is able to stake its own editorial positions regardless of the broader interests of its corporate ownership. Unlike Sinclair’s local news stations, which are forced to carry the parent company’s editorials rather than have their own local voices, it seems Gannett allows its newspapers to have their own editorial positions.

Admittedly, this might be a hard topic for Hyman to grasp—the idea that a parent company might actually allow its local media outlets to be truly local. But the fact that Hyman doesn’t get it shouldn’t blind us from the truth of the matter.

The fact that Gannett owns so many media outlets is unsettling, and I’m all for tighter ownership regulations. But in this case, it is Sinclair’s bullying, not Gannett, that gives us a clear picture of the consequences of media ownership deregulation.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Only the Tip of a Corrupt Iceberg

Mark Hyman’s recent commentary on “Duke” Cunningham is an interesting study in damage control. He notes that Cunningham “disgraced himself” and that “maybe we’ll never know what went wrong in Duke Cunningham’s heart.”

In other words, Cunningham’s corruption is an internal, individual issue, not anything that touches on larger issues.

But of course, it does, and that’s precisely why Hyman delivers this editorial now. Had he only been interested in Cunningham, he would have delivered this commentary months ago, when Cunningham pleaded guilty. But because Cunningham is becoming the poster boy for the larger, systemic corruption in the Republican-controlled Congress, it’s time to call out the radical-right’s damage control spin machine.

In addition to using the rhetoric of personal failure (as opposed to systemic corruption), Hyman fails to mention that Cunningham is a Republican. In this, Hyman is not alone. As Media Matters for America has noted, a number of media outlets (most notably, Fox News) have downplayed or failed to mention Cunningham’s party affiliation and the widening scope of the scandal.

But as the Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month, there is growing reason to believe that Cunningham’s corruption is only the tip of a hefty and highly Republican iceberg of scandal and corruption. We’ve already seen the fall of Tom “The Hammer” DeLay due to the corruption charges against him, and the recent quick exit of Porter Goss from the CIA has also raised suspicions of a connection to the scandal that brought down Cunningham. And need we mention G.O.P. lobbyist Jack Abramoff?

Right-wing spinmeisters continue to label such issues “lobbying corruption” or as personal failings of specific individuals. But what’s becoming increasingly clear to the majority of Americans is that what we’re seeing is systematic Congressional corruption that pervades the Republican leadership.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Who's the Huckster?

Mark Hyman chastises “intellectual hucksters” for using the phrase “undocumented immigrants” rather than “illegal aliens.” Just for the record, Mark, the “huckster” who pointed out the problem with using “illegal” to describe a person rather than an action is Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize:

You shall know that no one is illegal. It is a contradiction in itself. People can be beautiful or even more beautiful. They may be just or unjust. But illegal? How can someone be illegal?

Of course, we know that “illegal aliens” is positively warm and fuzzy compared with what Hyman has said about such people in the past, including his equation of them with terrorists and slandering them as shiftless and lazy. I guess Hyman forgot that male undocumented immigrants have a higher employment rate than the general American population and that one of the very first soldiers to die in the invasion of Iraq was also a man who came to America with a dream of a better life but not the proper paperwork.

Hyman also goes for laughs by inventing wacky euphemisms he feels are parallel to “undocumented immigrant.” He then invites us to come up with some of our own and send them in to him.

Okay, let’s start with the blurb on the website describing “The Point”:

“Commentary” = one-sided, unprofessional, editorializing

“stimulate public discourse” = throw red meat to the radical right wing by slandering anyone who disagrees with the Bush administration or other far-right Republicans

“we air select comments” = we air several comments that do nothing but say they agree with our editorial position, and perhaps one or two that don’t, but which have been carefully chosen so as to sound unreasonable and off the subject

“homogenized, bland, politically correct news” = objective, professionally reported, high-quality journalism

“stimulates critical thinking” = demonstrates the unapologetic use of crass propagandistic rhetoric

“encourages viewers to get involved” = encourages viewers to lose their lunch

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Update and Open Thread

Hi all,

I'm out of town this week and will have sporadic access to the web. I'll be getting some posts up, but perhaps not on a daily basis.

In the meantime, feel free to post any thoughts, musings, or rants about Hyman, Sinclair, or anything else that trips your trigger.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Not Now, Maybe Later

I don’t agree with Mark Hyman now, but I will in the future.

In his latest editorial, Hyman bemoans the “special privileges” given by affirmative action to minorities as he argues in support of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, an attempt to outlaw the state government from using minority status in any hiring decisions.

Of course, there are some typical Hyman-esque traits to the editorial. He claims the initiative is a “grassroots citizens’ effort,” but in fact
it’s spearheaded by Ward Connelly, a regent in California’s state university system, who had helped pass a similar measure in that state. He also shows no awareness that the quotation from Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick that he says is “frightening” was an intentional parody of Alabama governor George Wallace’s promise of never ending segregation during the Civil Rights battle in the 1960s.

But affirmative action is a justifiably controversial issue with good arguments to be made on both sides. It’s an issue that represents a true conflict of inherently important ideals. And I'm certainly willing to grant that there may be ways of changing affirmative action or using other tools that will more effectively help us realize its goals.

As to Hyman’s suggestion characterization of affirmative action as “the sense of entitlement for special privileges,” however, I don’t agree. At least not right now. I will agree with him in the future, however.

I’ll agree that those supporting affirmative action are asking for “special privileges” and “unfair advantages” the same day it’s no longer an economic and social disadvantage in America to be born with darker skin than Hyman’s.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.17

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Why Does Hyman Hate the Small Business Owner?

Just when it seems Mark Hyman can’t get any more obtuse, he surprises us.

There are only two possible explanations for
his most recent excursion into the depths of dullardism: either he’s incredibly dumb, or he assumes his audience is incredibly dumb and is trying to take advantage of it.

Either way, it doesn’t say much for him.

Here’s the upshot of Hyman’s attack on “The Angry Left” this time around: Wal-Mart is criticized for its treatment of workers, not its prices. Exxon is criticized for its prices, not its treatment of workers. Ergo, the “Angry Left” is inconsistent.

No, I’m not simplifying or caricaturing his argument. That’s what he says.

For good measure, Hyman adds:

“[W]hat is consistent is that most [members of the “Angry Left”] are
borderline—if not out and out—anti-business Socialists.”

No Mark, there’s no inconsistency, and there’s no anti-business sentiment. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Many Americans feel that corporations, like individual people, should be good citizens and be criticized when they don’t behave that way. Such bad behavior might include (but is not limited to) poor treatment of the fellow citizens who work for them by treating them like indentured servants, fleecing their fellow citizens through outrageous prices, and/or using predatory business practices to quash competitors.

Not only are the criticisms of Wal-Mart and Exxon coming from the same basic position—the belief that corporations should be good citizens—but they are pro-business, not anti-business. As Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican, by the way) knew 100 years ago, huge corporations, when left unchecked, can do damage to American business (and consumers) by stifling competition. When allowed to run its course, such a dynamic destroys small businesses, stamps out entrepreneurial spirit, and extinguishes innovation.

In fact, the unchecked growth of mammoth corporate behemoths actually tends to move the economy toward, not away from, those aspects of socialism that democracies find abhorrent: fixed prices, lack of choice, no room for individual innovation, homogeneity of service and products, lack of connection between communities and providers, centralized and bureaucratized decision making, and a lowering impetus to provide high quality goods and services at reasonable prices.

Just because the giant bureaucracies behind all of this are corporate rather than governmental doesn’t make the results any less repugnant.

So, Mark, why don’t you go to Main Street in Anytown U.S.A. and ask the business owners (or those who’ve been forced to close their stores) whether they think objecting to Wal-Mart is “socialism.” Ask the guy who’s dreaming of saving up enough money to start up his own business but is paying away much of his disposable income at the pump to the handful of oil companies that control gasoline production if questioning the amount of profit Exxon is making is stifling business.

My guess is you’ll get a much-needed lesson in the difference between being truly pro business and being pro conglomero-socialism.

But before you do that, take a basic course in logic.


And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.03

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


It’s difficult to take Mark Hyman seriously on the issue of governmental response to Katrina, given his attempts to characterize the disaster as the fault of Democrats and his refusal to acknowledge the role of George Bush in assuring the aftermath of the hurricane was horrific.

Hyman spends his most recent commentary on the topic praising an overview of the coordination (or lack thereof) among federal, state, and local governments when it comes to responding to hurricanes done by the non-profit group, First Response Coalition.

That’s fine, but the upshot of the report, that more coordination is needed among states and between states and the federal government, requires leadership at the national level that takes the government’s role seriously.

has Bush shown serious leadership on this issue?

Was Bush’s appointment of a political pal with no disaster experience to be head of FEMA an example of serious leadership? When Bush was briefed about the possibility of levees being breached in New Orleans but then later claimed no one could have foreseen this possibility, was he exhibiting serious leadership? When his administration decided to pin the blame on “Brownie” rather than looking at errors made throughout the administration and by the president himself, was it a case of serious leadership? When Bush was out having fun and speechifying about pet political issues rather than coordinating disaster relief, was he demonstrating serious leadership? Is Bush’s antipathy to the original mission of FEMA and
his attempts to take it out of the disaster relief role a show of serious leadership? Is this attempt to weaken precisely the agency that’s needed to foster coordination among federal, state, and local governments an example of serious leadership?

On this issue, as with so many others, both Hyman and Bush are seriously out of touch.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.14

Monday, May 15, 2006

You Will Be Assimilated!

In his latest commentary, Mark Hyman asks, “whatever happened to the great American melting pot?” Claiming that “multicultural diversity” has taken the place of the proverbial melting pot, Hyman blames (guess who) the “Angry Left” and its bigotry for dividing America.

Let’s do a brief two-tier analysis of Hyman’s commentary, first focusing on issues of form, the second on content.

To begin, Hyman invokes his usual devil-term, “The Angry Left,” without giving us any idea who this comprises. Nor does he suggest how it is that “The Angry Left” is able to force people into identifying with their cultural heritage. He says they “seek to divide Americans,” but how do they do this? Then there’s the loaded definition of “multicultural diversity.” The term sounds too acceptable as it is, so Hyman defines it in a way that loads the term with negative connotations: “a practice of dividing Americans into smaller and smaller groups of people.” Again, there’s no suggestion of how this is done, or by whom (other than it involves those evildoers, the “Angry Left”). Finally there’s the misuse of the term “bigot.” Hyman claims the divisiveness of the Left is “more bigoted” than any other attitude. But as it applies to ethnic and religious groups, “bigot” means having intolerance or hatred for such groups. Even if one grants every preceding point in Hyman’s argument, he makes no claim that the divisiveness he lays at the Left’s feet is based on intolerance or hatred of the groups involved. As he is wont to do, Hyman simply juxtaposes terms to create an association rather than offering any logical reason for it.

As to the content, it’s nearly too silly to bother with. Of course, “the melting pot” has never existed in the way Hyman conjures it up. From colonial days onward, different ethnic and religious groups have grouped themselves together and held on to parts of their heritage while still embracing the idea of being “American.” Hyman’s argument, and the “melting pot” metaphor it draws on, are based on a false dilemma: you can identify yourself as American, or you can identify as something else.

That’s simply wrong. There’s no logical reason why one cannot identify oneself equally as a member of a particular ethnic or religious group and as an “American.” The belief in this false dilemma has been behind much of the true bigotry in our collective history. The mechanism for constructing this false dilemma has been to equate certain groups or traits with generic “Americanism,” and therefore deviations from these defaults (and particularly the emphasis or identification with these traits) is non-American.

So, the traits of European ancestry (more specifically, northern and western European ancestry), Protestantism, speaking English, and (more recently) heterosexuality are erased as specific traits and simply seen to be “generic” aspects of American identity. Groups that not only possess other traits but “flaunt” them are identifying themselves as something other than “American” and therefore suspicious.

Take the example of the paranoia about John Kennedy’s Catholicism when he ran for president. While most people now recognize the fear that Kennedy would turn America over to the Pope was unbelievably dopey (and truly bigoted), it was very real at the time. JFK hadn’t “melted.” He was still identifiably a member of a group that didn’t fit in with the default categories of what constituted the prototypical “American.”

But, of course, this dilemma is false. One very specific but (for me, at least) touching example of this is the makeup of a number of regiments in the Civil War. While many units in both Union and Confederate armies were a mishmash of different ethnicities, there were a number of units that specifically segregated themselves into units sharing a particular heritage. Irish units were particularly numerous. When regiments went into battle, they generally carried two flags (at least in the Union army), an American flag, and a regimental flag. For units comprised of men of a common ethnicity, the regimental banner often carried some sort of reference to this. So, for example, you have Irish regiments marching into battle carrying both the Stars and Stripes and a flag filled with Irish iconography. Keep in mind that these were often soldiers who weren’t simply descended from immigrants, but were immigrants themselves, often fresh off the boat. They enlisted in the army and marched into battle, dying in horrific numbers, identifying themselves as both Irishmen and as Americans, with no sense that these were in any way competing or contradictory.

Nor should they be. After all, what makes America unique is that it is the only nation founded on ideas, not a common ethnicity, language, religious belief, or geographical entity (which is one of the many reasons that the moniker “Homeland Security” always grates on me).

And it is the very unwillingness to simply accept assimilation into preexisting generic identifications of what an “American” is that is responsible for much of the most dynamic and authentically American cultural achievements. Jazz music doesn’t happen unless you have a mix of European and African musical styles come together. The particular liveliness and color of American English doesn’t develop if speakers of different languages simply adopt the King’s English from the moment they step on to American soil (what would we do without wonderful words like “schmuck” or “putz”?). Heck, our most popular food product, pizza, is the result of Italian cuisine developing within an American setting.

So, Hyman doesn’t tell us who the “Angry Left” is or suggest how they could manage to divide America. He uses slanted definitions and misused terms. He conjures up a mythic history that never existed and bases his whole argument on a dilemma that is not only false, but runs precisely counter to the American experience.

But just to put the tin lid on it, Hyman ends with the imbecilic statement that “Come to think of it, there's probably no attitude more bigoted than the Angry Left's practice of separating Americans into groups based on their ethnic, racial and national origins.”

This statement captures all of the faults we’ve identified thus far in the commentary, but adds the additional bit of idiocy that multiculturalism (even if one reads it as negatively as Hyman does) is more bigoted than any other attitude.

Really, Mark?

I can think of a few more bigoted attitudes. How about the attitude that people who risk their lives to come to America to work are in fact lazy and shiftless bums who want to sponge off the American people?

What about using the term “riff raff” to describe people who enter the country illegally?

How about the attitude that people from Mexico who come to America illegally in order to find a better life are “terrorists”?

How about the attitude that civil rights leaders are “race hustlers”?

How about throwing around phrases like “New York liberal” that carry strong connotations of anti-Semitism?

These are all attitudes you’ve expressed in your commentaries

For that matter, what about attitudes that are mainstream ideas among today’s conservatives, such as that “The Star Spangled Banner” is somehow less meaningful when sung in Spanish (despite the fact that the president himself has sung it in Spanish), that gays and lesbians don’t deserve the right to be part of a legally recognized union, or that programs that address the effects of longstanding racism and sexism are cases of groups asking for “special treatment”?

Yes, it might be nice in some ways if we could just look at each other and except everyone as simply an American without singling them out on the basis of their skin color, gender, native language, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.—if we could just do as Hyman suggests we should and “celebrate inclusiveness.”

I just wish Hyman and his fellow ideological travelers would start by doing so themselves.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 6.10

Friday, May 12, 2006

Let It Be Said that Hyman Loves Propaganda

We get more shilling for unsourced, right-wing published diatribes from Mark Hyman in his latest “Point.”

This time around, it’s a book by Tom Kuiper that purports to assemble a bunch of embarrassing quotations from Hillary Clinton.

Media Matters for America has already pointed out a myriad of problems with Kuiper’s book, including the fact that Kuiper himself has admitted he can’t verify the complete truthfulness of his book.

I haven’t read the book, but from the examples I’ve seen posted in various places, it appears that Kuiper’s book is yet another example of masturbatory Clinton bashing. In this particular case, Kuiper collates quotations he’s found in previously published books and articles and parses them in ways to make it look like some sort of duplicity is going on.

For those who get their jollies from this sort of thing, I’m sure it will provide fine bathroom reading. The rest of us can chuckle at the fact that people would actually spend time and money writing and reading such stuff.

One particularly ugly aspect of the book, amplified by Hyman’s commentary, is the charge that Clinton is anti-Semitic. Hyman says,

Let it be said that anti-Semitism creeps into her
vocabulary too-frequently

Above and beyond the dopey phrasing here (“Let it be said . . .”? I think “Suffice it to say” is what you were going for, Mark), the charge is unsupported. Hyman doesn’t give a single example of Clinton’s “frequent” anti-Semitism.

Thanks to’s service allowing browsers to dip into books for free, I was able to look into Kuiper’s book and see what I could find. Apparently, the only two charges of anti-Semitism involve a remark Clinton allegedly made in 1974 to a campaign worker and allegations that the Clintons jokingly used anti-Semitic rhetoric when speaking to each other privately.

Before looking at the sources of these charges, it’s worth noting what these allegations mean if they were true. Dennis Prager, a Jewish Republican who actually believes Hillary made the 1974 comment, notes that it’s “moral idiocy” to call someone anti-Semitic for a single comment they made when angry more than 30 years ago. As for the charge that the Clintons jokingly referred to each other as “Jew bastards,” context means everything. I cringe to think what some of the things I’ve said playfully or sarcastically to friends and family might look like out of context. Heck, I’ve mouthed plenty of unpleasant things just in my imitations of stereotypical “Hymanisms.” But the point was to ridicule the rhetoric being used, not to make the point I was actually mouthing.

But on top of that, the sources for these attacks are dubious, to say the very least. ConWebWatch has done a nice job of collecting information on the “Hillary-as-Anti-Semite” urban legend and its sources, and I’d refer all to their treatment of it. To paraphrase Hyman, let it be said that the sources fall apart. They guy who claimed Clinton used an anti-Semtic slur against him in 1974 has failed to mention this explosive charge in many interviews with journalists, has a history of memory problems, and has apparently written to Hillary Clinton to ask forgiveness for saying unsupportable things about her.

As for the anti-Semitic banter, that’s apparently one of the tall tales told by a thoroughly discredited former Clinton bodyguard Larry Patterson, a guy who’s in cahoots with right-wing website NewsMax.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Hillary bashing by Kuiper, Hyman, and many others on the radical right is the utter lack of substance involved. It rarely has anything to do with the actual issues of the day. Rather than construct a critique of Hillary Clinton’s ideas on Mideast policy (and one could certainly do this), they dig up apocryphal stories about an anti-Semitic remark made in private 30 years ago. Rather than attacking Clinton’s rhetoric about the war in Iraq (a critique that could as likely come from the left as the right), we get allegations that she said Chelsea was near the Twin Towers on 9/11 when she was in fact a whole 12 blocks away from them.

If this is the best the right wing can do, it says more about their own poverty of ideas than it does about Hillary Clinton.

Not that past acts shouldn’t be looked at when evaluating a candidate. Sure, it’s probably worth knowing that George W. Bush is a “dry drunk” who was a practicing alcoholic for years and has never received treatment, and that he did drugs when he was younger, and that he had his dad pull strings to avoid service in Vietnam but still couldn’t be bothered to show up for his minimal national guard duties. Those things might say something about the man, but do they really have much to do directly with his administration’s policies?

If voters want to cast their ballot for or against a politician for what they said and/or snorted 30 years ago, that’s certainly their right. And perhaps it’s the media’s duty to reveal these things. But I’d like to think that most American’s would vote for the person based on the substance of their ideas.

I wonder why the right wing seems so afraid of that.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 7.30

[Note the name-calling flourish at the end of Hyman's diatribe that gives the ol' Hyman Index a major jolt this time around!]

Finding a Needle in a Haystack

For once, Hyman uses “The Point” to do something productive: ask for donations to a children’s hospital, specifically The Children’s Center in Oklahoma City.

This is certainly a wonderful cause. I’m not sure why Hyman singles out this particular hospital, but it doesn’t matter. Good on you, Mark!

I just can’t help wish that Hyman and those who share his world view would get behind the idea that we as a nation should provide healthcare to all children, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Costly Lesson

Relax, says Mark Hyman in his recent commentary about the “rebuilding” of Iraq: we’ve only spent twice as much on rebuilding the country we chose to invade as we did rebuilding Japan after World War II.

This is what it’s come to.

Hyman points out that in constant dollars, the current money spent to rebuild Iraq is roughly equal to the amount we spent putting Germany back together after WWII, and twice that spent in Japan. That’s not so bad, says Hyman, because Japan and Germany had relatively intact “economic infrastructures” after WWII, while Iraq’s was left to rot by Saddam Hussein.


Apparently dozens of completely flattened major cities doesn’t count in assessing the “infrastructure” of Japan and Germany, to say nothing of the utterly destroyed industrial and transportation systems.

Hyman seems to think his commentary will cushion the sticker shock of rebuilding Iraq, but it does precisely the opposite. The idea that it has already cost us as much in our attempts to build Iraq as it did to reconstruct an industrialized Germany after a world war in which millions of its citizens died is appalling.

And on top of the simple economics, let’s not forget that World War II was not a war we began preemptively and by choice.

And let’s also not forget the rosy predictions we were fed by the administration’s war lobbyists.
Paul Wolfowitz told us that the rebuilding of Iraq would pay for itself through oil revenue. Andrew Natsios, Administrator for the US Agency for International Development, told an incredulous Ted Koppel that the total bill to U.S. taxpayers for rebuilding Iraq would be a measly $1.7 billion.

Why has the “rebuilding” cost so much, particularly since
not much rebuilding has actually been done?

There are lots of reasons, including going into Iraq without support from most of our traditional allies, going in with far too few troops (despite warnings about the need for larger numbers), and not bothering to plan for the aftermath of the war.

But a lot of it is just old fashioned cronyism and corruption.

From the beginning, the Bush administration has treated the rebuilding process as primarily a political one; a way to reward friends and allies. The actual needs of the Iraqi people seem to have been ignored.

For example, the Coalition Provisional Authority was staffed largely by
incredibly young, incredibly inexperienced, and incredibly Republican neophytes. It was sort of an intern program for the spawn of the neo-cons.

No bid contracts went out to companies, many of which had ties to the administration (e.g., Halliburton).

Waste and fraud have been overlooked, often because
Republicans have clamped down on any independent oversight of the use of funds.

If this crowd had been in charge in 1945, Tokyo streets would likely still be filled with rickshaws.

Here’s just one small example of how corrupt things have gotten. Back in 2004,
MSNBC did a story about the scandalous lack of follow through on rebuilding projects in Iraq. A particular firm MSNBC focused on was an obscure little company called S&K Technologies, a company awarded a large contract in the rebuilding of Iraq.

MSNBC focused on the fact that the government was able to award the company a no-bid contract because it is owned by two Native American tribes in Montana, the Salish and Kootenai. As a minority-owned company, the government could simply award it the contract. This kept the contract from coming up for competitive bids.

Yeah, that’s not good, but the story gets worse. Earlier this year, an S&K employee (and senior member of Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq)
admitted stealing more than $2 million in funds that were supposed to go to rebuilding Iraq (small things, like keeping raw sewage from spilling into the Tigris river). Instead, he spent it on sports cars, aircraft, guns, and land in North Carolina.

On top of that, he
steered millions of dollars in contract money to companies chosen not because of their ability to do a good job at a fair price, but for their willingness to provide him with money, gifts, and willing sex partners.

As I read about this, it occurred to me that there was an interesting juxtaposition in players in the story: Indian tribes and corrupt Republicans.


And yes, a bit of Googling shows that on top of everything else, there is a connection between S&K Technologies and disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, via Republican Montana Senator Conrad Burns. Burns, a major recipient of Abramoff money,
had a sudden change of heart on an important land-management issue involving the Montana tribes after 2000 (gosh, I wonder why), and has been a major benefactor of the Salish and Kootenai tribes specifically.

More damning, Burns’s 2006 campaign manager and former legislative director
, Mark Baker, was hired to be the chief lobbyist for the Salish and Kootenai tribes. During that time, he made a killing lobbying for tribal interests, particularly that little-known tech firm, S&K Technologies.

Lesson? It’s a small and incestuous world when it comes to the cronyism and corruption that have typified the effort to rebuild . . . well . . . profiteer after the invasion of Iraq and the wider culture of criminality that pervades the Bush administration and the GOP Congressional contingent.

And it’s a lesson taxpayers have spent a lot of money to learn, and U.S. soldiers, contractors, and Iraqi civilians have paid for with their lives.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.70

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Alan Skorski's Life on the D-List

Mark Hyman adds another tome to his library of recommended right wing reading as he uses “The Point” as an infomercial for a book by Alan Skorski that attacks Al Franken’s truthfulness.

The trouble is, Hyman and Skorski simply prove Franken’s thesis in his last two books: a significant percentage of the right wing prattlesphere is dominated by people who replace argument, facts, and reason with ad hominem attack, lies, and demagoguery.

Of course, as Stephen Colbert has said, reality has a well-known liberal bias.

It’s odd that Hyman would put such faith in Skorski as a seeker of truth. His record in this area isn’t exactly a stellar one. The onetime candy salesman who has become an oddball protester-cum-politician-cum writer ran for Congress a few years ago and, in addition to failing to make a showing in the Republican primary, had to
pay fines in excess of ten percent of his total donations because of failure to report campaign finances to the Federal Election Commission. He also had validity of signatures he collected to get on the ballot challenged by his Republican opponents.

And this is the gentleman Hyman tells us is a soldier of truthfulness?

Then there’s the fact that the only publisher who would put his words into print was WorldNetDaily Press, a boutique press for the most reactionary right wingers. By comparison, Franken’s books are published by Dutton, a grown-up publishing house.

In fact, Spinsanity, a website that critiques spin on both the left and right states that “for the most part, Franken gets his facts right” in his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Their main criticism is simply that Franken uses satire when making particularly aggressive arguments against conservatives (note to Spinsanity: Jonathan Swift didn’t really want to use Irish babies for food).

Readers familiar with Franken’s work also will know that he employs a team of fact checkers when writing and provides copious footnotes to the original sources of information (real footnotes, not just the nonsense “sources” thrown at the back of a work to make it look impressive, even if the actual sources are unrelated or contradict what is said by the author—a phenomenon familiar to readers of freshman research essays and
any book by Ann Coulter). Then there’s the vox populi; as of yesterday, the rank of Franken’s last book was 1,385. Skorski’s? 479,329.

And speaking of the comparative ethos of Franken and Skorski, Hyman’s attempts to attack Franken are nearly as funny as Franken’s writing. And in a way, Hyman’s comic feat is even more impressive than Franken’s, since he manages to be funny without even trying. Think what he could do if he actually started making a conscious effort to be hilarious!

Hyman calls Franken a “C-list comedian who became C-list political figure.” That’s right; being one of the main writers on perhaps the most influential national comedy show in the last 30 years isn’t much of a comic pedigree, is it?

Politics? How about three best-selling books of political commentary and humor? How about hosting the flagship show on Air America, the talk radio network that has spread by leaps and bounds over the last two years? How about having a legitimate shot at a successful run for the Senate?

Don’t you wonder who’s on Hyman’s A and B lists?

As to Skorski’s specific charges, Hyman doesn’t give us much. He claims (without offering a single example) that Skorski has found hundreds of cases of Franken not telling the truth. The only specific we get is that Skorski charges Franken with plagiarism, since Franken compared Fox’s “Hannity & Colmes” to a combination of “Crossfire” and the Harlem Globetrotters game, and an article by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting made a similar analogy.

Yes, that’s it. No, seriously—that’s the big explosive charge: use of a single parallel simile (one that’s used in a throwaway comic fashion, to boot) is plagiarism.

Now, as regular readers well know
, I couldn’t give a rip about plagiarism; as long as I get my gourmet coffee drinks, I’m a happy guy (although I could point you to a couple of students who, after this semester, would give you quite a different take on my attitudes toward plagiarism). But I don’t think even the most stringent interpreters of plagiarism would argue that we’re dealing with intentional, dishonest copying of anyone else’s words or ideas.

But as we’ve seen in his own commentaries, Hyman doesn’t care about plagiarism. Heck,
he even “borrowed” the exact wording of certain phrases from a right wing blog himself.

It’s perhaps possible that Skorski’s other charges are valid. Campaign finance issues, accusations of bogus signatures, and being published by an inbred little press aside, maybe Skorski has suddenly become a model of upright truthtelling.

Maybe. I haven’t read his book, so I can’t say myself. What I can do is refer you to some people who have read his book and/or heard his charges from his own mouth.

After a Skorski appearance on MSNBC,
Media Matters for America took apart all of his specific examples of Franken’s “distortions” (all two of them). By the way, much of the information I've culled about Skorski originated in what I found in the MMFA article.

I looked long and hard for a review of Skorski’s book by a legitimate book reviewer, but couldn’t find any. I guess if you publish a book and no one reads it, it doesn’t make a sound (or at least not the pages of Publishers Weekly).

I did find some interesting remarks by readers on, however. The following are some comments culled from the reader reviews of Skorski’s book. I tried to avoid those that were rabidly right or left wing and focus on those that seemed to be written by people who were legitimately interested in hearing both sides of the debate. Here are some of the greatest hits:

Don't waste your time on this book. Being a conservative who finds
Al Franken very annoying, this book is full of mistakes, errors and lies. I was
hoping this book would shut Franken up but unfortunately after reading it you
realize what a waste of time and money it is.

I just
finished reading Al's latest book "The Truth (with jokes)" and was looking for
something to balance it out. This book doesn't even come

I read this recently, and after seeing Skorski on
CSPAN, I was reminded to write this review. Skorski argues that Franken isn't
just dishonest, and a hypocrite, he is evil. I'd recommend skimming through this
before shelling out, because he comes up way short.

have read this book. I tried to give Mr. Skorski the benefit of the doubt. I
could not. It is so poorly written, so unbelievably biased, that one only winces
in embarassment for poor Mr. Skorski. I expect this book to be sold in the
"remainder" piles for a fraction of it's published price. Even then, don't waste
your money. Unless, of course, you like to laugh at the misfortune of some
people who call themselves "authors".

i heard about this book
yesterday so i went to barnes and noble to-day and read it for about an hour. i
was laughing out loud as i went through it. Skorski misses the point of what
franken says and missrepresents what he is saying everywhere. He claims that
franken is contradicting himself when really it is only Skorski's incorrect
interpretation of what Franken is saying that is being contradicted. I reccomend
this book to anyone who has read Al Franken before just because the points are
laughable. Any thinking individual should be able to turn to a page and chuckle
at the off target text.

Having read a couple of Franken's
books, I have come to the conclusion that not only is he boring to read, he's
even more boring to read about. With all due respect to the author, this book
will change no one's mind, either negative or positive, about Franken. Relax,
take another sip of kool-aid and move on to other material more suitable to your
political persuasion.

Whatever happened to
intellectual conservatism? This is just another fuzzy-minded, angry "expose"
that only seems to show how effective Franken's radio program is

When I heard about this book, I was extremely
curious. I had read and enjoyed Franken's "Liars" book and wondered if I had
been hoodwinked. Then I saw Mr. Skorski on Tucker Carlson on which he stated
concerning Robert Reno's March 8th 2001 Newsday column criticizing Bill O'Reilly
that, "after I saw the article, I said, this doesn't say anything that Franken
claimed it did." So I bought the article myself on Newsday's website. And I
looked over that chapter of Franken's book. Reno's article says just what
Franken said it says in his book. Buy the article yourself if you don't believe
me (it's on Newsday's website). Don't buy this

I consider myself a politcal independent,
so I'm not necessarily drawn to any one party line. I've read Al franken's book
"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" and found it amusing, but also
sometimes over the top and annoying at some points. Unlike most people who
review political books, I actually rsearched Franken's claims and found that he
was trutful for the most part. (There were a few instance where you could accuse
him of presenting facts in an unfair light, but what political commentator
doesn't do that?) When Mr. Skorski's book came out, I immediately picked it up
to try and balance out the playing field. Unfortunately for all you partisan
conservatives out there, I found that the book contained multiple errors,
factual inacuracies, and what may be downright lies. It's important to note that
many political sites, such as, have all studied Franken's book
and proclaimed it to be the truth. Hopefull the right wing will one day write a
book that responds to all of Franken's claims without using decptive tactics,
because books like this one don't help them politcally.

And those are The Counterpoints.

Hyman Index: 4.24

Hyman Goes Eco (or should it be "Echo")?

Mark Hyman recycled, almost word for word, a commentary from last year in which he defends Congress against the charge that our elected representatives don’t pay into Social Security, but receive benefits. This year, like last, Hyman says this is “one of the most asked questions I receive every year.”

I sort of doubt that, but whatever.

Hyman gives the details that show that all federal employees *do* in fact pay into Social Security.

So Hyman spends a commentary mollifying the fears of the rabid right wing paranoia-mongering bloggers that Congress doesn’t pay its fair share when it comes to Social Security.

I wonder why he bothers? In particular, why would he recycle this commentary now?

Maybe it’s just laziness. But perhaps it’s in part because about the only people in Washington with lower approval ratings than the
Incredible Shrinking President are members of Congress.

That spells trouble for the incumbent party in the run-up to midterm elections. And contrary to what Republican spinmeisters would likely say, the public disdain for Congress is not a case of “a pox on both your houses.” A recent
L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll showed that Democrats in Congress have a higher approval rating (and far lower disapproval rating) than their Republican counterparts, and far more Americans would like to see Democrats control Congress than have the GOP in power for two more years.

So, anything he can do to take the edge off of anti-Congressional sentiment might be a good thing from the H-Man’s perspective.

From our point of view, it’s a good thing simply because by recycling his script from a previous “Point,” Hyman has unwittingly made an infinitesimal contribution to the environment.

Perhaps one less tree had to die in order to bring us “The Point,” and for that, we can all be grateful.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.42

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Putting the "Boob" in Boob Tube

Mark Hyman’s recent commentary on the effects of television cites a recent study by two economists that suggests television might not be all that bad for kids.

Now, I agree that television viewing has become a convenient scapegoat for a variety of society’s ills, but to cite a single study as definitive, or even persuasive, evidence that plopping junior down in front of the tube for hours on end isn’t going to do harm is a bit silly.

For starters, the study Hyman cites looks at television viewing from 40 years ago. This allowed the researchers to look at the effects of television in a novel way, since they could compare scholastic performance of kids before and after television was introduced into their communities. The drawback is that the amount and kind of television viewed is not the same as today. With television, just as with all media, it can be used for good or for ill, carry uplifting messages or empty nonsense. Given the wide difference in available programming between the period studied and now, one would have to also do a content analysis to get strongly persuasive results.

The effects of television on young people (or the rest of us, for that matter) is far more complicated than simply measuring average numbers of hours viewed and comparing this to certain arbitrarily chosen measures. Even if one could show that children who watched a lot of TV did just fine in terms of scholastic tests, it wouldn’t rule out the possibility that they were socially or morally retarded.

If you’d like a brief glimpse at some of the possible physical, psychological, and intellectual effects of letting kids watch too much television, you can take a look at the
webpage put together by the University of Michigan Health System.

Oh, and just as an interesting sidenote: the lead researcher in the study Hyman cites has
also written about media bias. His conclusion? A competitive media market with information coming from independently owned outlets that strive to present facts rather than content slanted to reflect the bias of their viewers is the best way to assure unbiased reporting.

Guess Hyman and the folks at Sinclair must have missed that one.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.57

Friday, May 05, 2006

Hyman Out of Gas

In another case of Mark Hyman flip-flopping on long held positions (he recently touted the importance of making the rich pay their fair share of taxes while advocating for a tax system that would do the exact opposite),
he now says that three-dollar-a-gallon gas is a major problem.

You might remember that about six months ago, Hyman mocked the idea that three-dollar gas was a big deal, saying that the extra cost to Americans was marginal.
As we pointed out at the time, Hyman’s math was disingenuous. In fact, the average American would pay more in higher gasoline prices than they would get back in the much touted Bush tax cuts.

But now Hyman says that gas prices are a problem, and suggests a possible solution is increased use of nuclear energy. Beyond expensive gasoline, Hyman also notes other signs of the need for expanded use of nuclear power, including the fact that “the Al Gore green house gases side show is heating up” and “obstructionists continue to block a sensible oil drilling plan in a barren section of Alaska.”

That’s right. Global warming is reduced to a “sideshow” and those who object to drilling in a wildlife refuge in
order to get less than one-year’s worth of oil are “obstructionists.” Welcome to Hyman World.

Of course, if lack of oil is what concerns Hyman, perhaps he should aim his ire at the Bush administration’s failed “reconstruction” of Iraq. While the American people were promised that the rebuilding of Iraq would “pay for itself” in the form of Iraq’s vast oil reserves,
oil production has actually been dropping. Poor planning, corruption, and the insurgency that the administration claims it didn’t see coming have eroded Iraq’s ability to profit from the one thing it has going for it: oil.

But the larger issue concerning this administration is whether it has any intention of seriously investing in alternative energy sources. Given the personal business histories of the president and vice-president, more than a little skepticism is called for. On top of that, we had the infamous flip flop by President Bush: having claimed in his State of the Union address that America is “addicted” to foreign oil and suggesting we needed to break this addiction,
we were told immediately afterward that Bush didn’t really mean this.

And touting nuclear power as a solution lacks any imagination. I’m not necessarily opposed to using nuclear power across the board, but it’s not a good long term solution (particularly not when considering the specific issue of the problem of automobile emissions).

Given the centrality of oil in the crafting of Mideast policy, developing a comprehensive program to investigate new, clean, cheap, environmentally friendly, and domestically produced sources of energy is not simply an energy issue or even an economic issue; it’s a matter of national security. Freeing ourselves from the ball and chain of dependency on foreign oil would allow the United States to fashion a far more coherent and evenhanded foreign policy, one that might actually be consistent with our stated values as a nation.

Does anyone doubt that a President Gore would have laid down such a challenge to the nation, particularly if we assume the September 11 attacks had still happened? I can’t imagine him *not* calling for the pursuit of energy independence the way John Kennedy called for a mission to the moon.

But, despite defeating Bush by half a million votes, Gore is not the president, and any call for alternative energy sources, even Hyman’s short sighted one, is going to be DOA as long as oil men rule Washington.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.14

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hyman Flat Wrong on Flat Tax

Who would have thunk it? Mark Hyman advocates soaking the rich by taxing them more in his latest commentary. Has he become a card-carrying liberal?

Heavens, no. Rather, he plays the same cynical game he’s played many times before: conflating tax fairness with tax flatness. By doing this, he advocates for
a tax system that would benefit the wealthy, but sell it to a middle-class audience as a way to get the rich to pay their fair share.

Hyman quotes figures from the right-wing think tank, the Tax Foundation, on what filling out taxes costs Americans in terms of money and time. He then runs out to the barn and fashions a straw man argument that doesn’t pass the giggle test:

Critics claim a fair and simple tax code would burden the poor and benefit the

No one has said that. What any number of economists, tax lawyers, and other experts have argued is that a flat tax would benefit the wealthy. But fairness and flatness aren’t the same thing. As we’ve noted here many, many times before, you can have an incredibly simple tax code requiring only a postcard-size return and have it still be progressive (i.e., fair). By the same token, a “flat tax “(which is what Hyman finally cops to promoting at the very end of the commentary) can still be plenty complex.

More importantly, a flat tax (more properly called a work tax, since it taxes income earned through labor), at least in just about any version of it that’s been seriously put forward, such as that by presidential campaign hobbyist Steve Forbes, would end
up taxing the income of wealthy Americans at a lower effective rate than the current system (and, by the way, explode the national debt).

That, of course, is why the leading proponents of a flat tax system are almost exclusively wealthy individuals.

Just to add a particularly Hymanesque bit of ugliness to the proceedings, Hyman chooses Teresa Heinz Kerry as his poster child for the wealthy not paying their fair share. He closes by saying,

Under a flat tax, Mrs. John Kerry would have paid her fair share. That is why
her husband opposes a fair tax system.

No, she wouldn’t, and no, he doesn’t. Hyman’s right that the Byzantine tax code is as complicated as it is primarily as a way of helping the wealthy shelter their money. But a flat tax doesn’t correct this problem. It just makes the sheltering easier and broader. And while most conservatives excoriated Kerry as someone who would “punish success” by rolling back Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, Hyman charges him with the crime of protecting the wealthy from paying their fair share.

This isn’t because Hyman is some sort of iconoclast in conservative circles. He doesn’t buy his own argument. Rather, it’s simply a way of combining a jab at Kerry (and, by proxy, Democrats) in the context of arguing for a flat tax. It makes no difference if this contradicts earlier attacks, or if the substance of the charge (i.e., protecting the wealthy) is actually precisely what Hyman himself is doing.

In the cynical world of Mark Hyman, whatever sounds good at the moment is fine. Don’t mind the contradictions, and for God’s sake, don’t take the truth into consideration. Hyman believes his audience is too dumb to know or care. In fact, he’s counting on it.

Let’s hope Hyman is as wrong about this as he is about most things.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.69

The Hyman Code

There’s not much to say about Mark Hyman’s commentary on “The Da Vinci Code.” He admonishes those who consider the book and/or movie to be “blasphemous” to remember it’s a work of fiction, not a reference book.

True enough, but to say that because a text is fictional, it doesn’t have real ideological content is infantile. I’m not siding with those who are gnashing their teeth about the book and/or movie (the book, while an entertaining read, is far too silly to get terribly worked up about). However, works of fiction can and do affect the way people think about themselves and the world around them. I’m reminded
of the quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln on meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which he said, “So, you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this war!” The quotation is perhaps apocryphal, but it captures the social and political effects the novel had.

So while it’s silly to think The Da Vinci Code is any real threat to 2000 years of Christianity, it’s even sillier to say “Well, it’s fiction, so it can’t affect what anyone thinks.” Even when he’s right, Hyman is wrong.

(As far as what the popularity of The Da Vinci Code might mean,
I shared some thoughts on this with the Iowa-City Press Citizen a while back, if you’re interested.)

A couple of parenthetical tidbits: first, this commentary reminded me that I came across
the transcript of an interview Hyman did in which he mentioned that he is Catholic. I mention this just because I know there’s been some speculation about Hyman’s religious persuasion. His surname has caused some to guess that he’s Jewish, and there apparently is a Mark Hyman in Baltimore who is Jewish. Turns out it’s a different guy. Hyman’s Catholicism is neither here nor there, although it does explain why he often feels comfortable using language that invokes a lot of the same code words used by anti-Semites (e.g., “New York liberal intellectuals . . .”).

Hyman also happens to mention in the interview that he’s pro-choice, which helps explain why abortion is one of the few right-wing laundry list items he rarely discusses.

The interview is good for laughs, by the way. Hyman is in all of is ineloquent glory. My favorite moment is when he says he’s not a conservative, but a “moderal”— mix of moderate and liberal. I’m not making this up.

One last thing: Hyman makes a reference to the Tolkein series of books as “science fiction.” In another tip of the hat to my late father (a scholar of the science fiction genre, among other things), I’d just point out that Tolkein’s works are fantasy, not science fiction. Know your genres!

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.69

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Mark Hyman’s recent comments on foreign policy priorities is an example of one of his favored genres: the pointless editorial.

In his commentary, Hyman notes that while the recently released National Security Strategy calls for active fostering of democracies in other countries,

“this shouldn't be so, according to Public Agenda, a left-leaning research and advocacy group. According to a report it released at the same time, only 36% of respondents to its survey thought the U.S could help countries become democratic while 58% said other countries were on their own.”

Hyman doesn’t say which side he’s on. Rather, he simply “reports” the two sides in a loaded fashion. He manages to be biased without actually having the forthrightness to stake a position.

Beyond the passive-aggressive nature of the editorial, there are flaws aplenty in Hyman’s remarks. First, there is the epithet “left-leaning” when applied to Public Agenda. As we know, Hyman often cites conservative think tanks and organizations without noting their political alignment, yet he has a different set of rules when he feels an organization is to the left of center.

What makes this all the more disingenuous is the fact that
Public Agenda is hardly a left-wing organization. In fact, the study cited by Hyman was co-sponsored by the journal “Public Affairs,” the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations (not exactly a famous lefty organization).

Secondly, Hyman uses the phrase “this shouldn’t be so, according to Public Agenda.” But
Public Agenda’s study did not take a position. It simply measured the attitudes of its respondents. Hyman frames the skepticism toward democracy-building as if it was a policy championed by the “left-leaning” public agenda, when it in fact is simply an attitude reflected in the poll conducted by the group.

And given the fact that Hyman labels the group “left-leaning,” Hyman’s referral to the “respondents to its survey” is an intentionally misleading phrase, suggesting that Public Agenda was issuing the surveys to its own members, or people that it specifically chose to take the survey. In fact, Public Agenda surveyed 1,000 American adults, the intention being to find out what the general attitudes of the American people were. Yet Hyman words his commentary in such a way that, without actually lying, he leaves the viewer with the impression that the survey was more limited in scope.

A more competent commentator would directly address the fact that the stated policy goals of the administration don’t reflect the attitudes of the American people (at least as reflected in this particular study), and then make an argument about the relevance or reasons for this discrepancy and/or offer thoughts on which set of priorities is better.

For example, I could easily imagine a supporter of the administration acknowledging that democracy-building is a messy process and that it’s not surprising the American people would be skeptical of it given the situation in Iraq, but that it’s still a task that reflects the values of the United States and will pay dividends in the long run.

But that would require an intellectually honest and forthcoming commentator, and that’s not what we have with Hyman.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.54

Monday, May 01, 2006


I've joked about Mark Hyman's ideological (and sometimes physical) resemblance to Stephen Colbert's rightwing blowhard persona he's crafted on "The Colbert Report." If you aren't yet a fan of Colbert, you will be after watching his turn at the Whitehouse Correspondents' Dinner.

Staying completely in character, Colbert crucified George Bush while the president and his wife sat less than ten feet away. For good measure, he skewered the Washington press corps themselves for being lapdogs.

Knowing that this would nearly guarantee cricket chirps in the room, Colbert went ahead and said what needed to be said, and did it with a wicked grace and comedic elan that is marvelous to behold.

So much of what is offered up as "satire" these days is simply empty mockery that takes aim at vapidity and offers only more of the same. Colbert, on the other hand, offers us something that would make Jonathan Swift smile: satire with both a sharp scalpel and a soul.

If you haven't seen it, check it out.


Animal Crackers

Mark Hyman spends an entire commentary talking about supposed the supposedly shady finances of the group People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals. What he doesn’t do is explain why.

The specific charges he makes are that PeTA helped fund militant animal rights groups such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and that they rake in a lot of money but, according to Hyman, only spend a tiny fraction “influencing legislation and public opinion.” What, asks Hyman darkly, is PeTA spending its money on?

As far as I could tell from a bit of surfing, the charge about PeTA contributing to militant groups boils down to a some relatively small donations the organization made to the legal defense fund of an ALF member. I couldn’t find anything suggesting PeTA was actively bankrolling ALF or ELF vandalism.

And on the issue of the missing PeTA money, the organization publicly reports its income and expenditures, and
they spend most of it on educational and activism programs. They also report the salaries of their top employees, and it sure doesn’t look like anyone’s getting rich working for PeTA.

As to why would the FBI have such voluminous files on PeTA for Hyman to troll through, the answer is that apparently PeTA is one of several mainstream organizations that’s
been targeted for scrutiny for any possible connections to “terrorist” organizations. So far, this search seems to have come up empty, and the legality (to say nothing of the productivity) of the investigations is questionable.

I’ll put my cards on the table, here. I love animals. I also enjoy eating them on occasion. I’ve also taken medicines that I’m sure were tested on animals. I feel we owe animals basic kindness, decency, and respect. However, I don’t think this is at odds with using animals to better human life as providers of food and medical knowledge. I sympathize with PeTA’s stance on animal issues, but I probably come up short of embracing their full agenda.

As far as groups like ALF and ELF, I don’t have much time for them. When I was in Iowa City, members off ALF vandalized the psychology lab at the University of Iowa and “freed” lots of mice and rats (they also destroyed tens of thousands of dollars worth of property, including records of research). Apparently in the process of committing the vandalism, they
ended up causing many of the rodents to drown. They not only freed the animals from captivity, but from this mortal coil as well. With friends like ALF, what rat needs enemies?

Having said that, labeling these groups “terrorist” organizations is despicable. Vandals? Yes. Criminals? Yes. Self-righteous, counterproductive twits? Yes. But terrorists?

That’s a word that should be reserved for those who do violence to human beings. Lumping ELF and ALF into the same category as the KKK, neo-Nazis, and al-Qaida does a huge disservice to those who have actually suffered violence at the hands of terrorists. While ELF and ALF have done millions of dollars in damage, I’m not aware that a single human being has been physically harmed by their actions. They’re crimes have been against property (along with some animals that have been “collateral damage”).

If animal rights groups are “wacko” for placing animals on the same level of importance as human beings, how much more insane is it to place inanimate objects on that level?

But for conservatives, it’s not insane.

And that’s where we get back to Hyman. He never says why he has it in for PeTA, but my guess is that PeTA is a stand in for the larger pro-environment movement that Hyman and most conservatives have such disdain for. This puts him in the company of most of his fellow conservatives, for whom the environment is a tool to be used as we see fit. The notion that any issue beyond profit should factor into environmental decision making is anathema. Rebulations on the treatment of farm animals, restrictions on hunting certain animals, setting aside habitat for preservation, restricting the ability of factories to vent pollution into the biosphere . . . all are obstacles to the great moral good of the free market.

This is also why folks like Hyman and similarly minded folks in the administration and beyond can call groups like ELF and ALF “terrorist” groups and use their names in the same breath as groups that murder human beings. Not only do these groups destroy private property (which would be bad enough), but they often specifically target businesses they feel are hurting nature and do what they can to thwart them.

Most people (including me) would agree that this is lawlessness which should be punished. But for conservatives, it’s something more. It’s an attack on their fundamental values. Destroying inanimate objects is not mere vandalism. It’s an attack on individual freedom and the spirit of entrepreneurship. It’s an attack on the source of morality itself.

Ergo, attacking an organization that champions any environmental cause is a good in and of itself. It’s a chance to hammer away at the ideas the group represents rather than the group itself. Ultimately, Hyman couldn’t care less about how PeTA spends its money or what its FBI file says beyond his ability to take these facts and twist them to embarrass and defame the ideas it stands for.

Hyman can’t be straightforward about this because A) he’s not entirely cognizant of his own motives, and/or B) most Americans, while not vegetarians, support restrictions on what companies can do to the environment and feel animals should be treated with respect.

But if he can get people to be skeptical of organizations that champion such values, he can weaken environmental causes without necessarily changing anyone’s mind about the issues themselves.

And if we don’t call people like Hyman on their rhetoric, common-sense rules about how nature should be used (and how it shouldn’t be abused) will go the way of the dodo.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.50

P.S. Friend of this website and champion of media issues generally, Nicholas Johnson, happens to have written a cogent, concise essay about one possible way of bridging the gap between our desire to care for animals and our desire to use them in research. You can read it

Cost of the War in Iraq
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