Friday, June 30, 2006

Hyman Turns a Deaf Ear

As he tends to do, in his latest editorial, Mark Hyman charges into a debate he apparently knows nothing about and reduces an intellectually and socially complex and fascinating issue into boorish talking points.

This time, Hyman sneers at student protests at Gallaudet University, the only college founded specifically to serve the deaf. He wonders if perhaps the student’s are not just engaging in recreational protesting.

The protests revolve, at least in part, around
the hiring of a new college president who, while deaf, also supports the use of cochlear implants and efforts of deaf individuals to speak in addition to using sign language. The protestors themselves say that a large part of the issue isn’t the new president’s specific stands on these issues, but rather problems with the selection process, which they say was not open enough.

Hyman ignores this, though, and centers his commentary on the claim that the protestors are upset with Fernandes’s desire to “mainstream” deaf students (although he also adds, without a shred of backing, that “Perhaps a contributing reason for opposition is Fernandes' reputation for disciplining incompetent faculty and cheating students.”

After throwing that random and baseless assertion into the mix, Hyman builds to his conclusion:

It's disappointing that Fernandes' practical view of life outside
of the cocoon of Gallaudet is not acceptable to some students. They may be
relying on their disabilities instead of overcoming them.

What condescending tripe.

As is often the case, the problem here is more with the way Hyman makes his argument rather than specific position he seems to advocate (mainstreaming). Reasonable people can and do disagree about the relative merits of mainstreaming in the cases of many different disabilities. But Hyman doesn’t offer a thoughtful argument in favor of mainstreaming. Instead, he attacks the motivations of those on the other side of the argument. According to him, they are “relying on their disabilities” and calls their displays of concern a “pastime.”

If Hyman cared about the specific issue at hand, he would have quickly found out that the arguments about the pros and cons of “
Deaf culture” have been going on for years. While some say that the goal should be to make deaf individuals as much like their hearing peers as possible, others argue that the large population of Deaf individuals have created a culture of their own that should be respected as having an inherent worth of its own.

This is a particularly sticky issue when it comes to cochlear implants, which work best when implanted in deaf children at a very young age, before they can actively participate in the decision. Proponents of Deaf culture say this is unfair, and can even be likened to a sort of cultural genocide. Ultimately, the issue comes down to answering the question
“What does it mean to be deaf?”

I’m hardly an expert on the issue, but I’ve had a couple of students who have been involved in speech and hearing pathology, and the subject has come up enough that I’ve come to appreciate the depth and importance of the debate. As I said above, I can see intelligent, thoughtful, and powerful arguments for both sides.

That Hyman seems to side with the position that mainstreaming deaf individuals is the best policy in the long run isn’t my main concern. (If you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose sides, I’d probably end up on that side of the fence myself, although I also don’t really think it’s any of my business.)

The problem is the intellectually impoverished argument he makes to support his conclusion. Rather than acknowledging the real concerns on both sides, he belittles those with whom he disagrees, suggesting that their arguments are not even worth considering because they aren’t made sincerely. From talking with my students about the issue, the one thing I *do* know about this issue is that both sides have passionate, sincere arguments to make.

As I pointed out in my previous post, this has become the default rhetorical move for contemporary conservatives when dealing with arguments on the other side: unable or unwilling to defend their position on its merits, they attack the character or motivations of anyone who holds a view different from their own.

And while this might seem like a highly specific issue, it speaks to issues that go beyond Gallaudet University or the Deaf community. It goes to the larger worldview of conservatism that suggests people either sink or swim, and that to offer help or make allowances, however trivial and easy they might be to do, is to undermine the “Strict Father” morality that George Lakoff notes is at the center of the conservative ethos.

From the conservative perspective, it’s not just the deaf who should be mainstreamed, but everybody. Special efforts to help are anathema (unless, of course, you are already successful, in which case you *should* get special benefits, since you have proven your worth). The result is a worldview that is against doing anything specific to address problems of poverty, racial discrimination, gender bias, homophobia, unequal educational opportunities. Any attempt to do so is, ironically enough, termed a obstacle of the individual “overcoming” the obstacle.

I’m not sure, but I’d guess that one reason proponents of Deaf culture find the advocacy of cochlear implants and teaching of verbal speech as opposed to sign language so threatening is that, within the culture, deafness doesn’t exist as a problem. It’s been “solved.” True, it doesn’t do away with the issues they face beyond that culture, but it is a way of freeing them, at least partially, of the “obstacle” of deafness.

Regardless of the merits of Deaf culture, it strikes me that the proper attitude to have toward some of the other “obstacles” mentioned above is to actually make the problems cease to exist. The difference is that with issues of poverty and discrimination, we *can* go a long ways in doing away with these problems.

Conservatives say individuals should work to overcome obstacles. Liberals say we should work together to eliminate the obstacles once and for all.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.18

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The GOP Response to Criticism: Sit Down and Shut Up!

Sometimes, Mark Hyman perfectly captures the gestalt of the Radical Right, boiling down the attitudes that drive the movement into a condensed little nugget.

I think he’s accomplished this feat with
his latest “Point,” one in which he chastises Jean Rohe, a graduating senior from the New School University for not practicing “simple adolescent maturity” when she criticized the views of Senator John McCain, one of the speakers at the New School’s commencement ceremony. Noting that Rohe is going to be singing at the upcoming Montreax Jazz Festival (which he unconscionably compares to American Idol), Hyman likens Rohe’s criticism to an audience member heckling her, disrupting her performance, or insulting her.

But Hyman’s wrong on both the facts and on the deeper meaning. He claims that Rohe “collaborated” with other students who vocally objected to McCain’s remarks while he gave his speech. When I looked into this, I saw no evidence to suggest any “collaboration.” Yes, some students in the audience loudly objected to McCain’s remarks. Rohe, however, was an invited speaker who only made the decision to focus her speech on McCain the night before graduation.

Hyman also leaves out the fact that Rohe apologized to McCain after the graduation ceremony for any embarrassment she had caused him. She had simply felt compelled to address the issues she knew McCain was going to bring up in his speech.

Her remarks were brief and respectful, despite the fact that she was taking issue with McCain. (If you like,
you can read Rohe’s comments as well as her account of what led her to make them.)

In other words, Rohe was doing exactly what she was asked to do—share her thoughts on the occasion of her graduation. She wasn’t disrupting anything or going on a wild-eyed rant. She was simply articulating her feelings.

But apparently that’s crossing a line for Hyman. For him, it’s fine for McCain to use the opportunity of speaking at a college commencement to deliver political remarks designed to position himself for a presidential run, but it’s wrong for an invited speaker at the event to deign to disagree with him.

Somehow, I don’t think Hyman would pontificate so self-righteously if a conservative university had invited Hillary Clinton to speak and a student had respectfully disagreed with her views on abortion, the Iraq war, or tax policy.

But when someone dares speak publicly against the conservative party line, Hyman’s response is that they should just sit down and shut up.

It’s here where I think Hyman’s captured the prevailing attitude of the rightwing powers that be. Just as Hyman tells Rohe she should pipe down, the response the administration, the GOP leaders in Congress, and the omnipresent rightwing prattlers on television, radio, and the web all give to those who voice any alternative point of view is the same: sit down and shut up.

You suggest that the Iraq war
is creating more terrorists rather than eliminating them? Sit down and shut up!

a well respected diplomat who went on a fact-finding trip and came back with facts the administration doesn’t like? Sit down and shut up (or we’ll put your wife’s life in danger)!

husband died on September 11 and you think the government should investigate why? Sit down and shut up!

think torturing people is immoral, un-American, and counter productive? Sit down and shut up!

You’re a
general with decades of service under your belt and you think the current Secretary of Defense is harming the military? Sit down and shut up!

You think a
Supreme Court justice should recuse himself from a case involving a friend and political ally? Sit down and shut up!

You’re an elected representative of the people in Congress who served honorably in combat and you
suggest we should come up with a plan for getting our soldiers out of Iraq? Sit down and shut up!

You think
there ought to be an investigation into illegal and unethical money-raising and lobbying practices in Congress? Sit down and shut up!

You are a
newspaper reporter who has written a story about intrusive government monitoring of telephone calls and banking records? Sit down and shut up!

You think that the most august deliberative body in the world, the U.S. Senate,
has better things to do than debate issues like flag burning and gay marriage? Sit down and shut up!

You’re a
minimum wage worker who asks that your pay be raised to at least partially make up for inflation? Sit down and shut up (while the Republican Congress passes itself yet another pay increase and slashes taxes for the aristocracy).

You are
a mother whose son was killed in Iraq and you want to voice your grief and anger? Sit down and shut up!

Of course, when both the facts and the majority of the American people don’t share your views, maybe this is only defense you can come up with. It would just be nice if Hyman and others of his cohort could grow up and practice their own “simple adolescent maturity.”

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.39

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Colonel Hyman, in the Conservatory, with "The Point"

If you’re even a sporadic viewer of shows like Law & Order, you know that when investigating a crime, a key factor in unraveling the mystery is to determine the motive behind it.

I’ve come to see Mark Hyman’s “Point” commentaries as an ongoing series of assaults on the public sphere, and
his latest is no exception. The interesting question is what is the motivation behind this particular mugging of rational discourse?

The topic of the commentary is the Supreme Court’s decision not to take on a case involving the parental rights of a same sex couple. In
Britain v. Carvin, two lesbian women who had a child with the help of a mutual gay friend are contesting the right of Carvin to petition for parental rights. When the child was seven, Britain and Carvin separated. Carvin petitioned for parental rights (since Britain had actually given birth to the child, she was the default “parent”). Britain then married the biological father who, according to court records, now lives in Thailand.

To hear Hyman describe it, the Supreme Court all but handed over the child to Carvin. But that’s not the case. The court simply let stand a lower court’s ruling that allowed Carvin to have her day in court. She might not get even partial custody. All she gets is a chance to make her case. It will be up to the family court to sort out the specifics of a very complex case.

Hyman says the decision goes against precedent and will make the issue of parental rights “as clear as mud.” But that’s not true. The case Hyman cites as precedent (one of the only times SCOTUS has weighed in on family law) had to do with a contest between a mother and the parents of her deceased husband. In siding with the mother, SCOTUS recognized the parental rights of primary parents vs. extended family. That’s not the issue in Britain v. Carvin, where both women served as parents to the girl for seven years.

So what’s up? What’s Hyman’s motivation? Is it really a sincere (but erroneous) belief about the niceties of appellate jurisprudence?

Hardly. Do a quick Google search of the case, and the evidence of motive emerges. Far-right conservative groups are engaging in
wailing and gnashing of teeth about this because they see the SCOTUS decision not to intervene in the case as a tacit endorsement of the rights of gay and lesbian parents. They feel the child should be awarded to Britain, who has done the right thing and gotten married (never mind that the marriage is between a lesbian woman and a gay man, that it was apparently entered into as a legal tactic, and that the husband lives on the other side of the planet).

Hyman doesn’t say anything explicit about gay adoption being morally wrong or same-sex marriage being evil. He doesn’t have to. The subtext is crystal clear: the existence of gay “families” threatens the institution of real families.

That, of course, is utter bunk. I have no idea if Ms. Carvin is owed parental rights in this specific case. Perhaps the court will find that she is an unfit parent and award Britain full custody. But as someone who was a parent to the child in question for seven years, Carvin is at least owed a chance to make her case. And that’s all the SCOTUS decision to pass on the case did.

In the abstract, you’d think that conservatives would agree with this. After all, they bemoan “activist” judges and are generally of the opinion that the legal affairs of individual states shouldn’t be tampered with by the federal government.

But when it comes to issues involving gays and lesbians, all logic and philosophical consistency goes out the window. We end up with the absurd spectacle of right wingers arguing on behalf of the parental rights of a gay man simply because he entered into a faux marriage with the mother, at the expense of a single parent whose main crime is being a lesbian who isn’t married to a man.

Maybe the silver lining here is that it suggests a way for gay men and lesbian women to do an end run around the demagoguery about same-sex marriage and gay adoption: just marry each other, then live wherever and with whomever you want. Apparently the radical right is more concerned about whether there’s a boy and a girl on top of the wedding cake than they are about the actual emotional substance of marriage and parenthood.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.00

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Fumbling the Facts

Mark Hyman returns again to the issue of eminent domain, and the specific case of Kelo v. New London in his most recent editorial.

You might remember that this was
the topic of a trilogy of Hyman editorials a while back that culminated in a foaming-at-the-mouth tirade about the evils of liberalism.

This time around, Hyman bemoans the “eviction” of the last two property holders in New London at the hands of the city council.

As I’ve noted many times, there is no shortage of arguments against the way eminent domain has been used in the New London case, and in a host of other cases. And people from across the political spectrum have made these arguments (counter to Hyman’s previous claims that liberals love it when government assumes control of individual citizens’ property).

Reasonable people can disagree about the use of eminent domain in specific cases. What reasonable people can’t (or at least shouldn’t) do is make up their own facts. Hyman claims *the* reason for the New London city council’s desire to develop the property in question is to raise tax revenue. In fact, there were a number of motivations, including increasing jobs, increasing tourism, and increasing business in the downtown area.

Hyman also claims that all of the businesses slated to develop the area have pulled out, including Pfizer. That’s not quite true.
While there has been some waffling on exactly who’s going to build what, Pfizer has already built in the area.

Hyman also announces that the last two property holders are being evicted. In fact, it
looks like a tentative deal has been negotiated between the property holders and the city government. If Hyman stayed up to date on the issue, he’d know this.

Hyman’s not necessarily wrong to criticize the New London property seizure and the Supreme Court decision regarding it, but he is wrong to misrepresent the truth to make his case.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.90

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Mark Hyman's Scare Tactics

In his latest “Point,” Mark Hyman offers an alarmist reading of the most recent Pentagon report to Congress on the Chinese military. According to Hyman, China is on the verge of becoming the next global superpower.

There are a couple of points to be made here, one concerning Hyman’s selectivity in the data he uses, and a wider issue of motivation.

As to the content of the argument, Hyman throws out numbers of Chinese forces (4.6 million active, reserve, and paramilitary) and spending percentages (15% growth in the past year) that indeed sound intimidating. And these are numbers that are coming right from the Pentagon report itself. Hyman says the report’s findings indicate that China has military goals that go far beyond the long standing issue of Taiwan.

And if one only looks at the first few pages of the Pentagon’s report, it does indeed sound like a reasonable conclusion. The problem with Hyman’s argument, however, is that he hasn’t read, or doesn’t bother to mention, other of the report’s key findings.

Fred Kaplan at noted, the Pentagon’s report in its entirety offers a different picture. Even with the 15% increase in defense spending, China still only spends 1.5 percent of its GNP on its military. Compare that with the 4 percent spent by the U.S. In raw numbers, the U.S. defense budget is 15 times that of China. In fact, the U.S. spends approximately the same amount on its military as the rest of the world combined.

Even more telling, after painting a picture of a swelling Chinese military threat, the Pentagon’s own report concludes that China is mainly concerned with Taiwan-related issues. And even Chinese aggression in that arena is doubtful, according to the report, because of the devastating political and economic fallout such an attack would bring, to say nothing of the military forces it would run up against, including the U.S. as well as Japan and South Korea (both countries that also have larger defense budgets than China).

So, Hyman’s argument is based not only on selective use of the facts, but on a selective reading of his primary source. And
as more than a few observers have noted, this is a source that already has an inherent bias in it. It is in the Pentagon’s interest to play up the military threat China poses (the better to secure Congressional funding of big-ticket weapons systems, my dear). Given that, the report’s rather muted conclusions about the significance of the uptick in China’s defense spending become even more significant.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Hyman, a former navy man who has worked for the military in a number of capacities, would mouth the party line that China is big and scary and we need to rev back up to Cold War defense spending (of course, did we ever really rev down?).

But my suspicion is that this goes beyond Hyman’s own personal attachment to the military. His is only one of a broader range of voices, many of which are more influential and closer to the center of power than he is, that are making similar arguments.

This concerns me not simply because the military has a powerful lobby that, with arguments such as Hyman’s, can pull down huge amounts of money that could be much better invested in other sectors of the economy, but because it’s an example of the growing influence of the military in all aspects of the government, particularly in foreign policy.

If you didn’t have the chance to see the recent Frontline special on Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s roles in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, I recommend you take a look at it. (
It’s available for free viewing via streaming video from PBS).

In addition to offering interviews with any number of former officials in the government who let us know in no uncertain terms that, yes, the intelligence was “fixed around” a preexisting desire to invade Iraq and that there was absolutely no evidence of any link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, the report also tells the story of the growing militarization of the intelligence gathering capabilities of the United States. Bluntly put, the post-9/11 foreign policy decisions ended up becoming an in-house pissing match between the Pentagonophiles (most notably Cheney and Rumsfeld) and the CIA.

The result, as we know, is a big win for the folks who work in the five-sided building. This victory has recently been consolidated with
the appointment of a military man to head up the CIA.

At a time when national security depends more than ever on finding things out, getting eyes on the ground in remote parts of the world, and being smart and subtle, our intelligence gathering apparatus has been marginalized and/or subsumed by an organization that is defined by blowing stuff up.

And that’s why false arguments like Hyman’s should trouble us so much. It’s not just because they offer highly self-interested and distorted readings of the facts about China, but because they represent just a small part of a much larger push to militarize our foreign policy and to make the gathering of intelligence simply a tool to serve that militaristic thrust.

In short, there’s a concerted effort on the part of many in the neo-con/Pentagon crowd to turn us into a nation whose foreign policy amounts to “Shoot first, ask questions later.”

And as tough as that talk might sound, the fact is that it’s an attitude that makes us demonstrably less safe in a world where the right bit of intelligence can be far more important than any ballistic missile system.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.85

Friday, June 23, 2006

Bogus Indeed

Mark Hyman returns to the issue of undocumented immigrants in his most recent editorial ("Illegal Alien Bogus Arguments"), this time to refute “three bogus arguments in favor of illegal aliens.”

I wasn’t aware there were arguments “in favor of illegal aliens,” exactly, but let’s not split hairs.

The arguments Hyman sets out to debunk are 1) that labor from undocumented immigrants is a “commodity,” 2) that those against “illegal alien activity” are against immigrants, and 3) that cheap labor from undocumented immigrants does not justify illegal entry into the U.S.

The first argument is meant to present the impression that Hyman has a kinder, gentler attitude toward undocumented immigrants than some do, paving the way for his comments later in the editorial. Citing a New York Times article describing the cheap labor of undocumented immigrants as a highly sought-after “commodity” by some U.S. businesses, he says such labor is not a commodity, and that “the last time American society considered human labor a commodity is when slavery was legal.”
This is an attempt to humanize Hyman’s stance on undocumented immigrants by suggesting he sees them as people, while others see them as mere things.

There are two problems here. First, Hyman intentionally conflates two meanings of “commodity.” True, in a strict economic sense, commodity usually refers to inanimate raw materials, such as oil or cotton. But in the context of discussions of illegal immigration, the labor of undocumented workers is called a “commodity” in the broader, more popular sense: something that can be used for advantage or profit.
Having said that, it’s true that many company’s that hire undocumented workers treat them like a commodity in the narrower sense, but that’s not what Hyman is referring to. He’s ostensibly objecting to the use of the word in discussing the issue of illegal immigration. To object to people using the word in describing why certain pro-business folks are not militantly opposed to illegal immigration is a case of shooting the messenger.

The second problem with Hyman’s attempt to cloak himself as a humanitarian on the issue is that anyone who has seen his earlier editorials on illegal immigration knows better. He’s equated undocumented immigrants with al-Qaeda terrorists and claimed that those who enter the country without the proper papers are doing so because they are shiftless and lazy bums who want to sponge off the government. As we’ve pointed out before, this racist stereotype flies in the face of the facts.

This brings us to the second argument Hyman wants to debunk: that those opposed to illegal immigration are opposed to immigration in general. Hyman says, “What they oppose is the law-breaking aspect of illegal aliens.”

True enough. Opposing illegal immigration does not mean opposing immigration in general. I don’t think any reasonable person would disagree with this.

The reason why the two issues are often conflated, however, has to do with precisely the subtly racist (and not so subtly racist) overtones of those who take the most aggressive stands against illegal immigration, such as Hyman himself. You might remember
an editorial he delivered several months ago that supposedly was about illegal immigration, but ended up using race baiting to scare his audience by saying that 1 in 7 people born in Mexico will be living in the United States by the year 2050. What was scary, from Hyman’s point of view, was not the legal/illegal status of these immigrants, but the fact that they would come from Mexico.

Lastly, Hyman says that the cheap labor provided by undocumented workers shouldn’t be a factor in coming up with an immigration policy:

“Third, is the argument that illegal immigrant labor is cheap and
illegal workers take the jobs the rest of us won't. This argument is wrong on
two accounts. One, if they get amnesty and become legal residents then why would
they accept jobs at below legal wages? Two, cheap labor does not justify illegal
entry into the U.S. any more than five finger discounts justify shoplifting."

True and true. Which is why Hyman should support tougher penalties for companies exploiting undocumented workers by hiring them for less than the legal minimum wage, raising the minimum wage, and allowing those who are already in the country and working to have a means of attaining legal status and eventually citizenship.

Ignoring the incoherent analogy Hyman concludes with (a classic case of begging the question), let’s note that the only people making the argument that limiting illegal immigration because it provides cut-rate labor costs are pro-business conservatives.

Others of us who also object to the most xenophobic calls for cracking down on illegal immigration don’t want to see them exploited by businesses either. We’d like to see the border secured, but to allow those already living and working in the U.S. to be treated like human beings they are, and allow them the opportunity to be openly part of the country to which they are already contributing. And we’d like to see legal immigration expanded, so that those not able to find work and who want to come to America to take low (but legal) wage jobs that are going unfilled can do so above board. Such immigration policies are what brought most of our ancestors here in the first place, and are the bedrock of the American dream.

In the end, Hyman’s editorial is an exercise in constructing and knocking down straw men in order to frame his own previously expressed extremist views as more palatable by comparing them with positions he invents or which are ancillary to the issue on the table: how should we treat those people who have come to this country looking for a better life and have contributed to our country, but didn’t do it legally?

As we’ve noted here before, the employment rate for undocumented male immigrants is even higher than for the U.S. population as a whole. Undocumented immigrants *do* pay a variety of taxes to the government, and, despite caterwauling to the contrary, don’t sponge up benefits. Heck, even a significant percentage of our armed forces are made up of men or women whose citizenry is undetermined. And we’ve also noted that the first soldier to die in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a young man who came to America with the dream of making a better life for himself, but without the proper papers.

How such people should be treated is the question, and it’s one that Hyman ignores in this editorial.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.90

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Ninth One More Time

Mark Hyman's latest "Point" simply regurgitates an editorial from last year about the supposed faults of the Ninth Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. For the sake of not reinventing the wheel, here's the response we gave him the first time around.

We’re just wondering: did Mark Hyman flunk his 8th grade civics class?

The question arises given Hyman’s rather odd philosophy of checks and balances that emerges from his recent commentary on the Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Founding Fathers envisioned the judiciary as an independent branch of government, with judges making decisions based on their own best interpretation of the law. According to Hyman, however, the judiciary exists to rubber stamp decisions made by conservative members of the executive and legislative branches, and their decisions should be evaluated by how closely they mirror the thinking of the currently conservative Supreme Court.

Hyman adds his yowling to a cacophany of far right activists who hate the 9th Circuit because they claim it’s too liberal. They suggest as proof of this the fact that the 9th Circuit has had more of its decisions reversed by the Supreme Court in the last decade than any other. Therefore, reasons Hyman, they must be “activist” judges who willfully misinterpret the law.

But the fact is that while the 9th has been reversed by the Supreme Court more than any other, this is based on a few exceptional years in the mid 1990s. In recent years, several other circuits have been overturned more often.

But even more importantly, the idea that any court should be castigated because its decisions do not predict the way the current Supreme Court would decide them is ludicrous. As this excellent essay from a law professor and former prosecutor notes, the idea that a lower court should decide cases on the basis of what it thinks a higher court will do is flawed. It leads to a judiciary that doesn’t fulfill its role as the place where important legal issues are debated and decided. Judges stop considering what’s right or wrong in favor of what they think the current court above them will say. The judiciary, in such a conception, becomes stagnant.

Of course, Hyman only makes the argument he does because of the currently conservative makeup of the Supreme Court and the relatively liberal makeup of the 9th (although, it should be noted, the deciding judge in the most recently hyped 9th decision, the one striking “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, was appointed by that stalwart liberal, Richard M. Nixon).

Judicial activism suits conservatives just fine when it’s in line with their viewpoints. Justice Priscilla Owen was nominated to the 5th Circuit of Appeals by George W. Bush and championed by far right conservatives, despite the fact that one of her fellow justices on the Texas State Supreme Court called one of her decisions "an unconscionable act of judicial activism." Of course, that was probably some liberal bomb thrower just trying to smear a decent colleague, right? Wrong. It was none other than Alberto Gonzales, current Bush nominee for Attorney General (and facilitator of torture). We’re still waiting for Hyman to chastise the nomination of Owen in one of his commentaries.

Moreover, Bush has said repeatedly (when in front of right-wing crowds) that he wants to pack the federal courts with “good, conservative judges.” No doubt Hyman would agree.

But the judiciary is too important to be used as a political tool or to be forced into conformity with a single court that makes it up (even if it is the Supreme Court). Our position (and, we’d argue, the position of anyone who seriously believes in the federal government as originally conceived) is that courts should, ideally, be ideologically neutral. No matter where you happen to stand on the political spectrum, it serves all of us to have judges from a broad range of intellectual backgrounds on the court. If a court is highly liberal or conservative, appointments should be made to assure greater balance, not to assure judicial cover for the executive branch. Certainly reasonable people will differ in their interpretations of “liberal” and “conservative,” but that doesn’t mean an honest effort can’t be made to increase balance on important courts. Such an effort is not only not being made by the Bush administration, but it runs absolutely counter to what the president (and Hyman for that matter) think the courts are there for: to serve as political tools for enacting rightwing policy. This is a much more insidious and destructive form of judicial activism than anything Hyman has accused the 9th Circuit of.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why Not Count *Everyone's* Vote?

Mark Hyman uses his most recent “Point” editorial to complain about disenfranchisement of military members voting in New Jersey via federal write-in ballots.

Hyman never states that New Jersey systematically tried to keep military members from voting with federal write-in ballots. He lets the insinuation float in the air, probably because New Jersey is a blue state that went for Kerry in 2004. But he provides no evidence of foul play, because there isn’t any.

As to the substance of his charges that bureaucratic hoops forced on absentee write-in ballot casters caused many of them not to have their votes counted, I can’t find much on the topic one way or the other.

If we grant that such problems happened (and I’m willing to), there are solutions, such as a uniform, nation-wide write in absentee ballot that could be used by anyone at any place. This is a proposal that’s gotten bipartisan support.

But Hyman’s concerns for voter enfranchisement are not consistent. While picking the specific and narrow issue of write-in absentee votes by New Jersey residents serving in the military, he ignores the much broader issues of voter disenfranchisement, many of which aren’t simply issues of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo or technical snafus, but organized attempts to suppress the vote and deny certain people the chance to express themselves. The most egregious and notable of these are the multitude of problems seen in Ohio in 2004, as
Robert Kennedy Jr. has pointed out.

Everyone’s vote is equally important. Yes, the serviceman serving away from home deserves to have his vote counted. But so does the black woman from Cleveland who is working two jobs to support her family and had to stand in line for hours in order to exercise her rights.

All Americans should have their votes counted. That means voting machines with paper trails. It means uniform voting technology across the nation. It should also mean having election day be a holiday to prevent rushes at certain times of the day. It also must mean not having partisan political hacks from either party overseeing the election process itself.

If we want to preach democracy around the world, we need to practice it correctly. That starts with counting everyone’s vote.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.79

To Those Who Came Here Looking for "BMOC"

To all who came here via a link from a blog posting saying something like "GOPers are Simpletons" by someone named BMOC:

I wanted to apologize for the posts that have been placed your board with the text "GOPs are Simpletons" under the pseudonym "BMOC." Whoever is posting these messages is providing a link to a blog that I maintain. However, BMOC is not me.

"BMOC" is almost certainly an individual who lurks on my site from time to time who wants to embarass me by posting idiotic messages linking to my site on conservative-themed websites. The sad thing is that he's been a victim of this himself (liberal posters putting up assinine posts linking to *his* website), and I stood up for him and did what I could to help track down the folks responsible for the faux postings.

Apparently he's embraced the very tactic he was victimized by.

At any rate, I just wanted to let you all know that "BMOC" is not me, and while I'm more than happy to have you stop by my blog, I'd never say something as dopey as all GOPers "simpletons." Heck, I don't even *think* that! I'm on the opposite side of the political spectrum from most Republicans on a majority of issues, but I think that both the left and the right have their fair share of both simpletons and civilized people. It would be nice if more of the debate were carried out by the latter rather than the former. Our mutual friend, BMOC, is evidence of what happens when the simpletons rule.

Thanks, and sorry again for the silly posts put up in my name.



Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The True Cost of War

I don’t have much to say one way or the other on Mark Hyman’s editorial about the need for better Pentagon accounting practices. Sure, it would be nice if they could get their act together. No argument here.

The larger issue isn’t how well our tax money is being accounted for by the Pentagon, but how it’s being spent. Specifically, I’m thinking about the hundreds of billions of dollars conned out of the American people by an administration that promised us that the unilateral invasion of Iraq would make us safer, would create respect for America in the region and around the world, and would pay for itself.

Of course, it’s done none of these things. In fact, it’s done the exact opposite.

Just in terms of the money spent thus far, here are some of the things that could have been bought for the money that has been worse than wasted in Iraq:

A year’s salary for 5 million teachers.
Health care for 173 million children for a year.
A year of Headstart for 38 million children.
Four-year college scholarships for 14 million students.
2.5 million public housing units.
Fully fund 12 years of global anti-hunger efforts.
Fully fund global anti-AIDS healthcare for 28 years.
Provide immunization of every child on earth against common diseases for nearly a century.

Oh, and for you supply-siders out there, the money would provide a tax cut of over $2,600 for every household in America.

These are according to the
National Priorities Project website. I’ve rounded the numbers because they are going up literally by the second.

And they’re using a conservative estimate. Two scholars (one from Harvard, the other from Columbia) have
studied what the true cost of the war is to Americans, based not only on the direct costs, but on the indirect (but very real) costs of throwing so much money away. They conclude that the true cost to the nation of Bush’s Iraq invasion stands somewhere between one and two trillion dollars, as of the date of the study (January, 2006).

And who knows what’s been lost to us forever because of the deaths of 2,500 young men and women in their prime, to say nothing of the number seriously wounded, and the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis who have died.

That’s a loss no accounting can measure.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman: Don't Worry, Drive Happy

Mark Hyman’s a bit schizophrenic when it comes to the issue of oil and gas prices. A few months ago, he claimed that $3.00 a gallon gas was no big deal and didn’t have an appreciable effect on most Americans’ pocketbooks (most Americans disagree with him, but what’s new?). Last month, he was calling for a serious long term energy policy to help alleviate our dependence on expensive foreign oil (he didn’t, however, give any idea of what such a policy might be). His most recent editorial goes back to saying that the record profits of oil companies this past year are nothing major—just normal supply and demand ups-and-downs.

He might be right. While oil companies’ profits did spike to record levels, this doesn’t necessarily mean price gouging. The growing demand for oil and gas from countries like China and India are stretching the oil supply more thinly around the globe, and that’s going to raise prices.

But this explanation is far more frightening than price gouging. Fixing prices is illegal, and couldn’t go on forever without it being caught and remedied. The increasing demand for oil, on the other hand, can go on forever (or at least until the oil runs out) and won’t be remedied without a major change in priorities on our part.

Part of the problem is that oil companies have been allowed to merge into behemoths, reducing the competition among them. This is another example of what I call corporo-socialism—the reduction of competition by putting supply into the hands of a shrinking number of entities that are increasingly protected from the capitalist imperative to offer higher quality at lower prices and to continue to innovate.

But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the larger issue of our reliance on global oil. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend seeing Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. It lays out in stark and incontrovertible detail that our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels is not simply costing us more at the pump, but is a national security and health issue—indeed a *global* security issue.

Here are just a few, off-the-top-of-my-head, ideas that might help out. How about a tax rebate of 25% of the purchase price for hybrid vehicles? How about mandating fuel efficiency standards that catch up with the rest of the world (even China has tougher standards than we do)? How about aggressively funding alternative energy research? How about doing away with policies that increase, rather than decrease, our dependence on oil (such as drilling in ANWAR)? How about ending our national embarrassment and signing on to the Kyoto treaty?

Just a few ideas, none of which are likely to meet with Hyman’s approval. But if he doesn’t like these, perhaps he can offer some reasonable alternatives himself.

I won’t hold my breath, though.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.59

Monday, June 19, 2006


The following is an open letter to Mark Hyman that has been sent to him regarding his recent “Short Takes” segment in which he cites the writing of “investigative journalist” Thomas Lipscomb as he attacks Cindy Sheehan, calling her “nutty” and insinuating that she only “professed” to love her son, offering as evidence the delay between his death and the placement of a permanent marker at his grave.

In my opinion, this is among the absolute worst of Hyman’s editorials. It goes beyond the typical ad hominem attack to the level of character assassination of the most unforgivable and despicable sort. I encourage you to go to the website and post a call for Hyman to make a public apology to Ms. Sheehan.

Mr. Hyman,

You’re wrong in your comments in your latest “Short Takes” segment.

You’re wrong about Casey Sheehan’s grave. It does have a headstone. If you kept up to date and checked your sources, you’d know that.

You’re wrong to use Thomas Lipscomb as a source for a commentary. He’s lied about his journalistic credentials, claiming to have been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his “coverage” of John Kerry in the 2004 election. He received no nomination.

You’re wrong to imply that someone who doesn’t immediately place a stone marker on a grave of a loved one doesn’t care for them. I grew up with a public cemetery just beyond my backyard. When I was a kid, I saw any number of graves which had simple placards for lengthy times before a permanent marker was installed. It’s not unusual. There are any number of reasons (economic, emotional, familial, etc.) why tombstones are often not put in place for a long time after a loved one has died.

You’re wrong to insinuate Cindy Sheehan doesn’t love her son because she’s ignored his grave. She hasn’t. By all reports, she has spent hour after hour, day after day, at his grave. She has said that she couldn’t think about putting up a monument with his name and day of his death inscribed in granite because, for a long time, this act would make his death seem painfully final. If you have ever lost a loved one before their time, you should know this.

You’re wrong to attack Cindy Sheehan personally. If you disagree with her politics, fine. Iit would be easy enough to say, “Ms. Sheehan has suffered a horrific loss, but that doesn’t mean she’s right about Iraq, and here’s why . . .” Attacking her as a person insults her and makes you look weak and cowardly. The fact that you are reduced to attacking a mother of a soldier killed in action tells your audience that you have no legitimate argument to make.

You’re wrong to juxtapose your attack on a dead soldier’s mom with your complaint on airport security officers who scanned and patted down Marines in an airport as they were returning the remains of a fallen comrade. How can one argue that it’s insensitive for a security officer to do his or her job in applying standard safety policy to these marines, but in literally the next breath attack the mother of a fallen soldier personally because you don’t agree with her politics?

You’re wrong when you claim that you respect the troops in Iraq, veterans, the military in general, and the families of soldiers. You don’t. You only respect them when it suits your purposes. If honoring, or even acknowledging, their service gets in the way of making a partisan political point, you don’t hesitate to ignore what they’ve done for the country. You did this time and time again with John Kerry, attacking the established record of a decorated combat veteran rather than debate him on the issues. And you’re doing it with Cindy Sheehan, a woman who has suffered the most painful loss imaginable—the loss of a child. Rather than debate her position, you mock her loss for no reason other than the fact that you disagree with her politics. Your respect for the military and military families is conditional: it comes a distant second to your love of your own political ideology.

You’re wrong if you think that saying Sheehan has opened herself up for such criticism absolves you of your immorality. You, and some of your political fellow travelers (most notably Ann Coulter), seem to think that simply speaking out publicly on an issue makes any attack, no matter how disgusting or cowardly, legitimate. No one says Sheehan (or the Jersey Girls, or Jack Murtha, or Max Cleland, or John McCain) can’t be criticized vigorously on the substance of their positions. What common sense and decency *do* suggest, however, is that their characters shouldn’t be attacked, particularly those aspects of their service or losses that most deserve our respect. If you want to denigrate Cindy Sheehan, at least have the basic decency to do so without insulting her and her son by suggesting she didn’t really love him.

You’re wrong on all of these issues. Wrong on the facts and wrong morally. Take a step back and look at what you’ve done. You’ve insulted and trivialized two of the things we hold most sacred in our culture: the death of a young person in service to his country, and the love of a mother for her child. And for what? To take an easy way out of actually engaging in a debate on the merits of an issue. Is this the sort of person you want to be? Is this a road you honestly wish to travel down?

It’s not too late. You can offer an on-air apology to Sheehan and your audience for your attack on her. You could explain that while you strongly disagree with her politics and think that she’s getting unwarranted attention because of her status as a grieving mother, mocking a mother’s grief for her son who died for his country is improper and unnecessary. You could admit that you made a mistake, and in so doing, come across as a much more reasonable (and hence, more persuasive) person than you have so far.

You’re wrong, but it’s not too late to do the right thing.


Ted Remington

Hyman Provides Us With More Organic Fertilizer

Mark Hyman’s attempt to answer critics of Wal-Mart’s push to get into organic products is rotten on two counts.

First, you have the dopey attempt to play the “common man” card on behalf of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, Hyman suggests, simply wants to offer organic products to more people. What should we care about the economic effects of the “Birkenstock-wearing organic farmer in South Dakota behind the wheel of his John Deere tractor?”

Right. The multi-billionaire Walton family are champions of the everyday person, and the family farmer is the elitist.

Even more ridiculous is the proposition that is the entirety of Hyman’s argument rests on. According to Hyman, we shouldn’t worry about Wal-Mart cutting the quality of organic products as they enter the market because “the National Organic Program is a federal office that establishes standards for organic products . . . so . . . standards for organic food can’t be lowered.”

As a premise on which to base an argument, that one’s a little shaky. Anyone working for Sinclair knows better than most that money + lobbyists = changes in federal regulations. You don’t suppose that the largest corporation in the nation might be able to flex a little muscle and get organic standards (such as they are) relaxed? (In fact, “organic” is already a word that gets thrown around much more loosely than it should.)

Moreover, as others have pointed out, applying the Wal-Mart business model to organic foods would logically lead to “organic” food being shipped to the U.S. from halfway around the world, undoing much of the economic and ecological benefits of buying organic. And call me crazy, but I’ll take a pass on genuine farm-raised organic chicken from Hong Kong.

But the degradation of what “organic” means, along with the bankruptcy of any number of American family farmers who work their own land and raise animals in an ethical and careful way are, for Hyman at least, simply an acceptable cost for Wal-Mart to expand their predatory business practices and the reach of corporate-socialism.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.87

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Sad Excuse for a Gift

Mark Hyman gives us another of his military birthday salutes, this time saying we “extend our heartfelt wishes [sic]” to the Army on the anniversary of its founding.

As we saw as recently as yesterday, honoring the military and individual servicemen and women is something Hyman is happy to do, unless it gets in the way of his political agenda.

Given that Hyman serves as a stalwart champion of the Bush administration’s military policies, I can’t help but wonder what a soldier on the ground in Iraq might think about Hyman extending his “heartfelt wishes” to members of the Army. Given what our soldiers have experienced and lost as a result of the decisions made by the current administration, and championed by Hyman and others of his political ilk, “heartfelt wishes” seems like kind of a weak gift.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be stuck on the ground in Iraq given the current circumstances. But if I try, I can come up with a few things that I think more than a few of our soldiers might want from Bush, Hyman, and other war-backers that would be more meaningful than heartfelt wishes.

I’d imagine a soldier in Iraq coming up with a wish list that looked something like this . . .

How about apologizing for not sending enough soldiers to prevent looting and the stealing of explosives that are being use to kill us?

How about an apology for “fixing the intelligence” in order to have an excuse to send us halfway around the world?

How about doing away with the ridiculous “war on terrorism” metaphor that you’ve used to send us to fight against an abstraction that, by definition, can’t be completely defeated?

How about giving us enough body armor to protect ourselves?

How about not giving no-bid contracts to companies that give to the G.O.P. and provide U.S. troops with shoddy service?

How about not ignoring our superiors at the Pentagon on
three separate occasions when they told you they could take out Zarqawi before the invasion because you wanted to use him as a talking point to get support for sending us here?

How about not ignoring our superiors at the Pentagon
who asked you not to inflate Zarqawi’s role in the insurgency, all because you wanted good domestic P.R.?

How about actually rebuilding this country rather than handing it over to the sons and daughters of prominent neo-cons who have frittered away time and money, allowing the insurgency to grow?

How about not using the lowest level soldiers as scapegoats to protect our civilian commanders from having to face up to their bad decisions?

How about not cutting funds for veterans and our families?

How about not using us for photo-ops when it suits you?

How about getting rid of “stop gap” policies that keep reserves away from their families for longer than you promised?

How about not condoning torture, something that only enflames the passions of our enemies and ensures that those of us on the ground will bear the brunt of that rage, should we ever be captured?

How about listening to some of our former commanding officers who have pointed out the poor decisions civilian leadership has made rather than simply attacking them. You might learn something from what they have to say.

How about actually honoring our comrades who’ve fallen, instead of silencing a tribute because you thought it wasn’t politically correct?

How about not slandering former members of our ranks, such as Kerry, Murtha, McCain, and Cleland, who served honorably, just because you disagree with their politics? If we come back and don’t happen to back your particular brand of politics, will you turn on us as well?

How about apologizing for not having any plan about how to get us the hell out of here?

How about explaining why the country we’re in is more dangerous than ever before, is suffering near daily deaths of innocent civilians, and is still in chaos even though it’s been three and a half years since you sent us here—the same length of time it took us to defeat both Germany and Japan in WWWII?

How about starting what you finished, instead of leaving our fate in the hands of “future administrations”?

How about explaining to us why you chose to send us to war against a country that didn’t attack us and posed no threat to us?

How about explaining to our widows and orphans what we died for?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Mark Hyman’s most recent commentary confuses me. Before reading it, I had thought that two of the bedrock principles of contemporary conservative rhetoric were that it is unpatriotic to criticize the American soldier serving in the field and that individual responsibility for wrongdoing must be upheld.

On the surface, Hyman’s editorial about the alleged atrocity at Haditha (vaguely alluded to as “recent allegations of misconduct in Iraq”) goes along with these assumptions. He notes that the actions of a few soldiers shouldn’t be used to defame all. Of course, he doesn’t point to an example of anyone using Haditha to condemn all service personnel, and I’m not aware that anyone has, but let’s grant that if anyone says Haditha is proof that all members of the military are brutal sadists, that would be wrong.

He then compares the soldiers accused of atrocities to a “rogue nurse” who euthanizes patients. Such a nurse should be condemned rather than blaming the entire medical profession.

True enough. These seem like reasonable positions and ones in keeping with the conservative rhetoric of honoring the military and placing blame on the individuals who deserve it.

But the more I thought about it, the more trouble I had reconciling Hyman’s words with these ideals.

First, Hyman’s use of the “rogue nurse” metaphor not only doesn’t work, but paints the servicemen accused of the Haditha crimes in an even blacker hue than they’ve already been. After all, the nurse Hyman conjures up is a sociopath who is killing for the sheer joy of killing. He/she is committing premeditated murder in a cool, calculated manner. As horrific as the Haditha charges are, one must grant (at least I do) that the soldiers of Kilo Company didn’t leave their base that day with the goal of slaughtering innocent civilians, including children. Their actions, as criminal as they were, sprang from uncontrolled rage brought on by a violent attack that killed one of their comrades.

Does this excuse what happened? Not a bit. Yet, Hyman’s analogy equates these soldiers to someone who kills for the pleasure of it. Why do I feel that if anyone to the left of Hyman made such an analogy, he or she would be derided for equating soldiers to criminals and not having the appropriate sympathy for the horrendous burdens our soldiers face every day as they battle the evil doers?

It’s hard to believe that anyone could come up with a way of slandering the troops of Kilo Company in a way that seems unfair even if you grant the truth of the allegations against them, but Hyman manages it.

And why does he do this? This brings us to the issue of personal responsibility. As we saw with the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib revelations, the instinct of those who support the war is to blame those at the lowest levels for the crimes, conveniently insulating those higher up from any culpability.
True, those who actually tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib, just as those soldiers who allegedly blew out the brains of kids at Haditha, are responsible for their actions and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

But why does the invocation of individual responsibility stop at this point? If one truly believes in making individuals accountable for their actions, doesn’t this require us to look at those higher up who made decisions that led to the atrocities?

Let’s go back to the rogue nurse analogy. Sure, such a monster should be held accountable, but would it not also make sense to look at the wider situation? Who was responsible for the hiring practices that allowed such an obviously deranged person into the hospital? What sort of flaws in oversight allowed this nurse to commit such crimes without being detected? Who was responsible for not looking into the first of these mysterious deaths when they started? What evidence was ignored, and by whom?

Would it in fact not be immoral to *not* look at the wider culture that allowed this nurse to commit such atrocities and take actions to make sure it doesn’t happen again, including holding individuals accountable for criminal negligence or professional incompetence?

Holding others accountable wouldn’t mitigate the wrongness of Hyman’s rogue nurse. It would not undermine an ethos of individual accountability. Quite the opposite. It would emphasize the necessity of holding people accountable for their actions.

But Hyman’s argument, much like those neo-cons who tried to pass off Abu Ghraib as the actions of a few rogue soldiers, looks suspiciously like an attempt to protect any wider application of the “individual accountability” value.

This is particularly negligent given that conventional wisdom suggests that atrocities like those alleged at Haditha don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen when there’s an absence of proper leadership, low morale, and a sense of a lack of moral order coming from the top down.

Suggesting that any member of Kilo Company who murdered a civilian is a monster might be accurate, but if this suggestion is made in order to discourage holding others accountable for their role in the atrocity, it doesn’t support the notion of individual responsibility; it erodes it.

The more I thought about Hyman’s commentary, the more I found myself coming to the conclusion that Hyman doesn’t necessarily believe in unquestioning support for our servicemen and women or in the principle of individual responsibility. On the contrary, Hyman is willing to ignore both of these principles when they interfere with his larger goal of supporting the president and the decision to launch a war of choice that has led to the deaths of 2,500 American soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.91

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Truth is to Hyman as Kryptonite is to Superman

It’s nice when Mark Hyman makes my job so easy.

his most recent attack on the ACLU, Hyman makes a number of ham-fisted blunders that barely need to be pointed out. (By the way, don’t even people who like Hyman get a bit bored with his fixation on the ACLU? I’m just wondering.)

The gist of the attack is that the ACLU is hypocritical for supporting protections for whistle blowers while at the same time
considering organizational rules that would discourage members of the leadership from publicly criticizing each other.

I happen to agree that any regulations on how members of the ACLU should or shouldn’t speak undercuts its ethos. Many members of the ACLU agree. But Hyman’s own ethos is nonexistent in his piece.

First, let’s note that Hyman is attacking the ACLU on a rule that doesn’t even exist yet. It’s a proposal that will be debated this month. Apparently Hyman is so short of ammunition that he has to attack the ACLU for rules they might pass at some time in the future.

Second, Hyman’s analogy between the leadership of the ACLU doing self-policing of their statements and whistleblowers who reveal illegal activities of employers is ridiculous. What the ACLU is contemplating is a guideline about PR strategy. It’s a mistaken one, and I hope they don’t adopt it. However, it has nothing to do with actual whistleblowing, which involves the ability of employees to report the illegal or unethical dealings of employers without fear of retribution, not enforced public unanimity among an organization’s leadership in their public statements.

A related point is that Hyman intentionally distorts the facts to force this analogy. He says the proposed ACLU rule “includes the firing of any board member who speaks out -- that is, blows the whistle -- on ACLU actions that violate its own charter.”
But that’s not the case. The controversy is about leaders of the group airing their differences with each other. Here’s the language at issue:

“Where an individual director disagrees with a board position on
matters of civil liberties policy, the director should refrain from publicly
highlighting the fact of such disagreement . . . Directors should remember that
there is always a material prospect that public airing of the disagreement will
affect the A.C.L.U. adversely in terms of public support and fund-raising.”

I think this is a poor policy, but it doesn’t remotely resemble the Draconian measure Hyman is inventing. And it doesn’t have the first thing to do with the issue of whistleblowing.

Next, Hyman connects his attack on the ACLU with an earlier one he made about the ACLU’s policy of shredding documents. This, he argues, is another case of ACLU hypocrisy.

But as we saw the first time around, the controversy over the ACLU document shredding comes down to a conflict between two legitimate values: public accountability and protecting privacy. One can argue about whether the ACLU’s guidelines on this issue are correct or not, but you have to ignore the entire point of the controversy, the relationship between two important values, to frame this as some sort of abject hypocrisy. Oh, and as we also saw, Hyman’s attack on this issue wasn’t even his own;
he plagiarized from a post on a right wing website.

Lastly, Hyman avoids the underlying issue: should whistleblowers be protected? Even if one were to grant his analogy, he doesn’t come down on whether or not he thinks the ACLU is within its rights or not to put a damper on dissent. He only pushes the attack to the point of saying that the ACLU is hypocritical. But the question left hanging is which of the conflicting positions he attributes to the ACLU does Hyman support: the right of the individual to speak out against the organization, or the right of the organization to protect itself from the individual?

So Mark, don’t be a flip-flopper! Do you truly support rights of whistleblowers, or are you just making a false analogy and an insincere argument because you enjoy attacking the ACLU?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.12

Monday, June 12, 2006

W. Is No J.F.K.

One of the things that’s evident from Mark Hyman’s editorials is that not only does he not have any respect for the facts, but he also has no respect for his viewers’ ability to recognize lies when he tells them.

A case in point is
his most recent editorial in which he praises the roll of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans as a tool to increase tax revenues and create budget surpluses.

He leads off with the well-worn and utterly discredited conservative talking point that JFK was a supply sider in the same vein as Ronald Reagan and the current George Bush. Hyman has brought this up several times in the past, and despite
the obvious and well-documented problems with the analogy, he continues to repeat it. (Briefly summed up, JFK’s tax cuts were demand-side, not supply-side.)

Hyman goes from the faulty analogy to bald-faced lie when he says. “Tax relief ushered in by Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and the current George Bush has [expanded the economy and can bring a budget surplus.]” In fact Reagan and Bush have overseen colossal expansions of our yearly and cumulative debt. In the case of Bush, this is even more of a dubious distinction given the fact that when he took office, we were experiencing an era of budget surpluses and a shrinking debt.

Finally, Hyman cites statistics showing that 2006 tax revenues are up over 2005. This, he claims, shows that cutting taxes actually raises revenue.

If this sounds like voodoo economics to you, you’re right. Even former Bush economic advisors say that this revenue increase has nothing to do with the Bush tax cuts. And while raw dollar amounts are up, that by itself is a virtually meaningless statistic. Much more telling is tax revenue as a percentage of GDP. A comprehensive article on the economic affects of the Bush tax cuts by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows, among other things, a steep drop off in tax revenue as a percentage of GDP, resulting in a growing ocean of red ink that later generations will have to contend with.

And if the CBPP isn’t a good enough source for you, how about Goldman Sachs? The Wall Street outfit from which Bush’s most recent Treasury Secretary comes has said exactly the same things.

None of these facts are particularly hard to find or understand. (Heck, if I can find this stuff, anyone can!) But Hyman assumes his audience is a bunch of uninformed, uncurious automatons who will just accept whatever bilge he sends their way without questioning it. What else could explain the use of such obviously and demonstrably false claims?

Oh, and just one more thing about the vaunted Bush tax cuts: an aspect of Bush policy that goes unmentioned by Hyman is that the president recently signed into law taxes aimed at teenagers with savings accounts for college. Despite his promise to veto any tax increase, Bush gave the green light to a tax on those who are trying to invest in their future, while slashing taxes on those who’ve already made it.

To paraphrase the late Lloyd Bentsen, Dubya, you’re no J.F.K.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.23

Friday, June 09, 2006

Everyone Has Rights, Even Sinclair Executives

What if I told you that a man who was a known pornographer, whoremonger, and who had been convicted of committing an unnatural and perverted sex act with a prostitute was moving into your town. Should such a man be allowed to wander the public parks where innocent children play?

You might conjure up an image of a dirty old man in a battered trench coat, a few missing teeth, ugly tattoos, and a scraggly beard. You’d understandably be concerned about such a person being anywhere near your kids.

But what if I told you this same man was a successful businessman, was married and had a family, and was in fact what most people would consider a pillar of his community? Would such a man, even given his past transgressions, be forever barred from taking a stroll with his wife through a city park?

I don’t know what your answer to this would be. The point is that it’s not a black and white issue.
In his latest editorial, Hyman again goes after the ACLU, this time for filing a lawsuit on behalf of a registered sex offender who is challenging a North Carolina state law that bans all registered sex offenders from being anywhere near a public park. Hyman, predictably, calls the ACLU the “Anti-Child Litigation Union” for sticking up for the rights of people convicted of sex crimes.

But Hyman presents a false dilemma: stand up for individual rights OR protect kids. That’s nonsense.

I think we can all agree that anyone convicted of molesting a child deserves not only a long, long time in prison, but also needs some major psychological treatment and an extremely short leash if/when they are on parole. In such cases, reasonable restrictions that keep such people a safe distance from children, but still allow them to live their lives after they’ve fulfilled their sentences are understandable.

But in the mania to “protect the kids,” politicians have taken the easy way out by often passing sweeping and impractical laws about where anyone convicted of a sex crime can live or work. Rather than working on instituting better treatment and parole options by funding the criminal justice system better, they pass laws that sound good when stumping for votes, but which often don’t do much to actually safeguard children, and trample the rights of people who have earned a right to try to get their life in order.

Often included on official state registries of sex offenders along with the archetypal dirty old man who molests children are people who are teenagers themselves who had sex with a boyfriend or girlfriend under the age of consent. Others committed offenses that didn’t merit any jail time. Others committed crimes involving adults, and have shown no predilection to target children. Still others actually *have* received treatment and are considered by experts to be of low risk to reoffend. Such people are not innocent, and deserve to face justice. But once they’ve done that, it’s not fair to tar them with the wide brush of “potential child molester” has the potential to be unfair.

Hyman himself agrees that it’s not fair to take away the rights of individuals simply because the larger community thinks it’s okay. How many times as he decried the abuse of “eminent domain,” the process by which a community can confiscate the property of a private citizen (supposedly with adequate compensation) in order to better the lives of the other residents (such as condemning a residential building in order to build a new road or to create a downtown shopping area).

The same balancing act is at work in this issue. The fact that it involves the emotional issue of sex crimes and children doesn’t do away with that.

As is typical, the ACLU is arguing in favor of individual rights for a party that is not terribly sympathetic. But then again, that’s exactly the point. When the ACLU argued that Nazis should be allowed to march through a Jewish neighborhood in Skokie, Illinois, it wasn’t doing so because it was anti-Semitic or pro-Nazi. It did it because freedom of speech and freedom to peaceably assemble don’t mean anything if you don’t stand up for the rights of the most despised groups to share these rights. To suggest that the ACLU is somehow anti-child or pro-sexual abuse because it is challenging hopelessly vague legislation written to please voters more than to protect children is incredibly crass and a sign of a complete lack of argumentative skill.

Of course, maybe Hyman’s right. Maybe any law that protects kids from sexual abuse is good, no matter who else gets caught up in its web. If so, why don’t we make sexual predator laws even more strict, so that anyone convicted of a sexual crime of any sort is not allowed to walk in the park or take their kids to school?

That would mean that Hyman’s boss, Sinclair president David Smith, would not be able to spend a sunny afternoon picnicking in a Baltimore park or drive his grandchildren to school. After all, he is a former blackmarket porn dealer and a whoremonger, convicted of committing an “unnatural and perverted sex act” with a prostitute. Of course, he’s not on the Maryland state sex offenders list. But if any of the films he sold featured someone under the age of 18, or if he ever solicited sex from a 17-year-old streetwalker (and given the fact that he is reported to have done plenty of trolling for prostitutes beyond the one time he got caught, it’s likely he has), then he *should* be on that list, legally speaking.

Is David Smith likely to molest children? I sort of doubt it. Being a pervert and a mogul of an evil media empire don’t by themselves make you the sort of person who would sexually assault an 8-year-old child. But then again, the individual the ACLU is representing isn't likely to do that either. He was convicted of an assault against an adult nearly 20 years ago, and has completed all required treatment.

But maybe people like Smith *should* be banned from any place children congregate, if we’re going to be extra safe. I suppose it’s a debatable issue. And if the Maryland legislature passes a law outlawing all sexual offenders from being in a public park, I’m sure the ACLU will come to his defense, not because they like him, or because they have “no compassion for the safety of our children” (to use Hyman’s phrase) but because even someone like David Smith deserves to have his rights defended.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.80

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Oh-way ay-say an-cay you-way ee-say . . .

[Sorry for the lateness of the post; Blogger was having some issues when I tried to post this earlier.]

I couldn’t agree more with Mark Hyman about the issue of the national anthem being sung only in English.

Hyman says not only should the anthem be translated into Spanish (and presumably sung in that language when appropriate) as well as other languages, but that we should do the same with a host of the best examples of American political rhetoric. He reasons that “Maybe if more people around the world read these great works, then maybe, just maybe, we'd see better governments emerge.”

Again, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I agree with Hyman on a deeper level than probably he even intends. The implicit assumption in his conclusion is that words and ideas are the way to transform the world, particularly when it comes to spreading the ideals of freedom, equality, and democracy. As we see on a daily basis in Iraq, invading to promote liberty, occupying to promote freedom, and killing to promote tolerance leave something to be desired, both morally and pragmatically.

The cynical side of me wonders whether or not Hyman would have editorialized in this way had President Bush not been publicly caught shaming himself by pompously declaring that the national anthem doesn’t mean the same thing when sung in Spanish, only to have it revealed that he sang the anthem in Spanish himself many times when courting Hispanic voters (therefore destroying any possibility to take the English-only argument seriously). But that doesn’t diminish the fact that Hyman is right on this one.

Unfortunately, the fact that such an issue is even taking up time being debated in the public sphere is damaging enough. It’s one of the more obvious examples of efforts of the right wing to avoid talking about issues that truly matter.

Just take a look at this week in the Senate. Rather than dealing with the umpteen real issues that affect the daily lives of Americans, we have the most august legislative assembly in the world spending time talking about non-issues covered with a patina of faux populism (flag desecration, gay marriage) or taking up issues at the behest of a handful of the uber-rich, again covered with a patina of faux populism (repeal of the estate tax).

I agree with Hyman on the issue of the national anthem. What I hope is that if he’s serious about his concern about real issues (such as his plea a couple of weeks ago for a comprehensive energy policy), he will stand up and chastise his fellow conservatives for engaging in ineffectual pandering to a sliver of their base rather than leading and doing the work of the people.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 0.75 (A new low! Huzzah!)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Being Human vs. Being Hyman

Concerning Mark Hyman’s commentary on “privileged” graduation ceremonies, I thought I’d tell you a story.

When I was graduating from college many years ago, my dad told me he wasn’t sure he’d come to the ceremony. Normally, he wouldn’t have missed it. He was proud of me and let me know that in no uncertain terms.

The problem was that the college I attended sent out a list of official graduation events that included a reception for the African-American student group on campus. It was made clear that only members of this group and their guests were invited.

Now, the college was privately funded, so the bill wasn’t being footed by the taxpayers (at least not directly), but as an official college function, it *was* being paid for by all those who were paying tuition to the institution, which most certainly included my parents.

Dad was beside himself. While he thought it was okay to have a private gathering funded by members of the group, or an “official” gathering to which anyone could come, the combination of having a graduation event paid for by the college but only open to students of a particular race drove him nuts.

Some background here: my dad was a thoroughgoing liberal. In graduate school (the early to mid 1960s), he was a member of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). When he learned that a group of black students from Jamaica were coming to study at the university he was at (Kansas State), he made a point of signing up to be a roommate with one of them, knowing that they might have trouble finding places to stay or people to live with. He was a disciple of Bobby Kennedy. And despite some dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the Democratic Party (he voted for John Anderson in 1980) and lack of patience with knee-jerk political correctness, he remained a liberal throughout his life.

This is all to say that Dad was a man who understood the particular obstacles and challenges facing members of minority groups, particularly in higher education. But, as anyone who knew him could tell you, he was a stickler for principles and the rules that embodied them. The idea that exclusion based on race (or any other demographic feature) was wrong, except when it happened to suit the whims of a particular group, was anathema to him.

Hyman’s commentary deriding the various ceremonies held at colleges and universities that focus on particular student groups (African American students, gay and lesbian students, etc.) brought this memory back to me. In the case of Hyman’s complaints, he doesn’t make it clear whether or not the events he’s mentioning are actually closed events that actively exclude others, or simply events that focus on particular students. This isn’t a small distinction. (He suggests that they are exclusionary, but the “lavender graduation” ceremonies he refers to are also open to friends and supporters of gay and lesbian students.)

But much more important is the way Hyman makes his case. He charges those who hold such events with “bigotry.”

What a perfect example of Hyman’s blowhard rhetoric. He doesn’t take even a moment to consider *why* these groups want to have these ceremonies. Do they hate people who aren’t like them? In the vast majority of cases, I don’t think so. It’s not bigotry that drives these events. It’s the fact that some people acutely feel their minority status while in college. At a typical American college or university, someone who is not white or heterosexual is likely keenly aware of the fact that they don’t fit the demographic norm of the student body, often in ways that are unpleasant. Particularly when the group they belong to is one that has historically had limited access to higher education precisely because of their minority status (e.g. African Americans), it shouldn’t surprise us that people who are members of such a group would feel a certain solidarity with each other and want to express their pride at their accomplishment with each other, as well as with the student body as a whole.

This doesn’t mean that such gatherings should exclude others, should be funded by taxpayers, or are appropriate at all.

But charging those who create and attend such functions as bigots is itself dehumanizing. It fails to acknowledge the motivations that cause the desire for such gatherings, desires that don’t apply to groups in the majority (e.g., whites, heterosexuals, etc.).

Acknowledging the existence and validity of such feelings does nothing to weaken an argument against so-called “privileged graduations.” In fact, it strengthens it, because it shows a willingness to see things from someone else’s point of view and consider that viewpoint seriously rather than simply attacking it. Attempting to understand and acknowledge the other side’s point of view is not only the decent and human thing to do; it’s also the right thing to do simply as a matter of making one’s own case effectively.

But Hyman, as he is wont to do, simply vents his spleen, and chooses to rail against “special privileges” and political correctness at universities rather than engage in a reasonable argument. Again, there’s no reason why being reasonable would soften or nullify his argument. He can be adamantly opposed to such events and be humane and reasonable at the same time. He chooses not to.

A few days before graduation, Dad brought me two drafts of a letter he was writing to the president of my college. In one, he said that he could not in good conscience attend any graduation event, including commencement, given the college’s sponsoring of a racially exclusive event. In the other, he said that while he would attend commencement itself, he would not attend any of the other official college functions open to parents and students, given that one of the official events wasn’t open to everyone. Which of these letters, he asked, did I think was better?

Of course, he was asking me how important it was to me to have him at my commencement. I told him I preferred the one in which he said he’d come to commencement, but take a pass on everything else. Dad nodded and said okay. A few days later, he was in the crowd as I walked across the stage and got my diploma.
In the end, Dad found a way of standing up for his principles, making his point, and being fully human (and fully a father) while doing so.

Would that Hyman had one iota of the integrity that my old man had.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.91

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