Monday, July 31, 2006

Disenfranchisement (Again)

Hyman returns for a third time to the issue of photo voter I.D. cards in Georgia. The Georgia legislature passed a law requiring all voters to produce a government photo I.D. in order to vote in any election. Twice, Georgia courts have struck the law down as unconstitutional.

Hyman's most recent editorial on the issue (precipitated by the latest court ruling against the statute) is an almost word for word repeat of an earlier "Point" he did on the same topic. To save a bit of time, I offer the response I gave the first time around.

One would think that ensuring that every American is offered the unfettered opportunity to their constitutional right to vote would be something people of all political stripes could get behind. Apparently it ain't so.

a recent commentary, Hyman wails and gnashes his teeth about the ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy who said in a recent decision that the recent law passed by the Georgia legislature to enforce mandatory photo voter ID was unconstitutional. Judge Murphy said in his decision that although he respected the state legislature, he respected the U. S. Constitution even more.

Hyman claims that the only people who could possibly be against the Georgia law are "conspiracy theorists" and "agitators" who believe their candidate can't win in an honest election (he doesn't say which of these categories Judge Murphy falls into).

The now-defunct Georgia law would require voters to show photo ID in order to vote. For those without a driver's license, this would mean purchasing a government ID for $20 or $35 (depending on the number of years the ID would be valid).

Of course, many people who don't have a driver's license also don't have an extra $35 to shell out just in order to do what they have a guaranteed right to do: vote.

According to Hyman, this is a moot point since those who are "indigent" could fill out paperwork to plead poverty and get a free ID.

There are just a few problems with this, however. First, it requires that people humiliate themselves by claiming indigence if they want to vote. Second, many of the potential voters who would need this ID live in rural counties without driver's license bureaus. The state is kind enough to provide a mobile licensing bus that would travel to the voters; the only problem is that there is one such bus, and 159 counties. If the bus doesn't get to you (or you miss it for the nanosecond it's in your neck of the woods), tough. Third, and more philosophically, it's unconstitutional to require anyone of any income level to have to pay to vote. No one, no matter how wealthy or poor, should have to pay money to the government to exercise constitutionally the constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, as many as 6% of eligible voters in Georgia would be kept from voting by the new restrictions (and given that most of these people will be poor and/or minorities, guess which party will benefit by these restrictions).

Hyman will tell you that the ID law is simply there to stop voter fraud, which is itself a danger to the democratic process. So the question is this: which poses the greater threat to the democratic process in Georgia, voter fraud or the disenfranchisement of black voters?

As for voter fraud, it's not an issue.
There hasn't been a recorded case of voter impersonation in Georgia (the type of voter fraud targeted by the legislation) in nine years. It's simply not a problem.

Now, does Georgia have a history of problems with the disenfranchisement of black voters?

Li'l bit . . . Li'l bit. I've heard things.

You don't even need to go back to the bad old days of Jim Crow to find evidence aplenty that black voters still aren't represented accurately in the electoral process. Thousands of voters in Georgia were disenfranchised in 2000 due to "ballot spoilage." A
statistical study sponsored by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University looked into the role of ballot spoilage in 2000 to see if there were any patterns in whose ballots got spoiled the most. Surprise, surprise: counties with particularly high rates of vote spoilage also happened to have particularly high rates of African American voters.

And there's evidence to suggest that the GOP was eager to keep black voter turnout down in 2004.
The Washington Post noted that in Florida, a disproportionate number of voter registration applications filled out by African Americans were deemed "incomplete." Additionally, for every one Republican registration declared incomplete, there were three Democratic registrations that were declared null and void.

Given this, which hypothesis seems more likely--that the Republican led Georgia state legislature and the Republican governor were eager to pass a law to solve a nonexistent problem, or that they were eager to pass a law that would assuredly whittle down the number of black and poor voters (who happen to vote overwhelmingly Democratic)?

I'm just wondering.

And that's The Counterpoint.

PS. Not surprisingly, Republican lawmakers appealed Judge Murphy’s ruling,
but the injunction was upheld by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Must be a bunch of agitators and conspiracy theorists on that court, right Mark?

Hyman Index: 3.76

Chicken & the Egg

Mark Hyman’s latest editorial is mistitled “Bias in the News According to Harris Poll.” In fact, it’s about the perception of bias in the news media by Americans. Both actual bias and the perception of bias are significant phenomenon, but they are not the same.

Having said that, Hyman’s editorial does little more than sum up some of
the Harris Poll’s findings, among which is that 38 percent of respondents said the media has a liberal bias, while 25 percent say that there is a conservative bias.

Hyman probably assumes that this somehow indicates the “realness” of a liberal bias as compared to a conservative bias. Given the constant drumbeating on the right about alleged lefty bias, however, it’s both surprising and heartening (at least to me) to see the perception of liberal vs. conservative bias so close. It suggests, among other things, that advocacy groups such as Media Matters for America are getting their message through, and that the American people are gradually wising up to the right wing mythology that portrays an increasingly consolidated and corporate media as leftwing agent provocateurs.

One more shaded statistic Hyman uses is the difference between “heavy” news users (who the study says prefer FOX News) and “light” news users (who prefer CNN). The unstated implication is that people who take the news seriously go to FOX to get their fix.

But this leaves out some data that’s not in the Harris poll, but important in looking at the demographics of news consumption. A
study done by the Program on International Policy Attitudes in late 2003 found conclusively that those who got their news from FOX were demonstrably and significantly more likely hold erroneous beliefs about some objective facts concerning the Iraq invasion and its aftermath.

Significantly, viewers who got most or all of their news from other commercial television sources also tended to have relatively high levels of erroneous beliefs about the war. The most knowledgeable group? Those who got their news from PBS and/or NPR.

So while FOX viewers might be “heavy” consumers of the news, it doesn’t make them better informed. Quite the opposite. The more you watch FOX, the dumber you get.

This leads us to a philosophical quandary: do people become dumb by watching FOX, or do people choose to watch FOX because they are dumb to begin with? I’m guessing it’s a bit of both. In any case, FOX News is a statistically-proven force multiplier when it comes to stupidity.

I can’t help but wonder how Hyman devotees would fair on a PIPA’s content quiz.

But, to again quote Mr. Stephen Colbert, facts have a well-known liberal bias, right?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.35

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Yadda, Yadda, Yadda.

More ACLU silliness from Mark Hyman, and stuff that he’s covered (and we’ve rebutted) before. Here’s a rundown of the particular rhetorical tricks and faulty arguments Hyman uses this time around:

He says there are “many scandals involving the ACLU” but doesn’t support this assertion with any facts or examples.

He says the ACLU was considering a “whistleblower rule” that would discourage board members from publicly criticizing the organization. In fact, “whistleblower” refers to someone who reports actual wrongdoing (usually criminal) to an outside authority in hopes of stopping or punishing these actions. This doesn’t apply to the ACLU proposal, which simply has to do with publicly disagreeing with the organization. It was essentially a proposition involving P.R. tactics. Hyman uses “whistleblower” to imply criminality when there is none.

Importantly, the ACLU rejected the very proposal that Hyman is criticizing. Hyman does not acknowledge this, since it would undermine his thesis.

Hyman suggests that the ACLU is hypocritical for opposing the Patriot [sic] Act and terrorist watch lists, yet complying with them. While it might undermine the ACLU in the minds of some and weaken their position, there’s nothing logically inconsistent with abiding by a law you disagree with and actively denounce, particularly if following the law is done to avoid punishment. A bit wishy-washy? Yes. Hypocritical? No. Hyman claims the ACLU’s actions were voluntary, but not following them would have had economic, and possibly legal, repercussions for the organization and its members (particularly involving its tax status).

He suddenly veers off topic and talks about how many defend the ACLU because of its support for neo-Nazis who marched in Skokie, Illinois, in the 1970s. But Hyman’s argument here is incoherent. It’s not clear if he is suggesting that the ACLU was wrong to support the rights of the neo-Nazis to march, or if he is saying that this was the sort of principled stand that today’s ACLU is incapable of. The truth seems to be that Hyman is simply doing his typical trick of juxtaposition here, pointedly referring to the ACLU’s connection with the neo-Nazi group without actually making a clear argument, in hopes that his audience will simply say, “The ACLU protected Nazis? They MUST be evil!”

Hyman closes with his usual coda to all ACLU-themed “Points”: that the group has “distinguished itself by attacking Judeo-Christian religion and for protecting pedophiles and other sex offenders.” He offers no evidence of this.

But as we’ve noted, the ACLU has done far more to protect the rights of Christians and Jews to freely practice their religion without government interference than Hyman ever has. In fact, they’ve done more than almost any single organization to promote freedom of religion for all faiths. The fact that this protection from government interference sometimes pits them against those who are all for governmental intrusion into religious matters as long as those intrusions take the form of advocating specifically Christian beliefs is what irks people like Hyman. But this reveals their own inconsistent and self-serving thinking on the issue, not any antipathy toward the Judeo-Christian tradition by the ACLU.

The ACLU was right to turn down a proposal that would stifle public dissent by its members. The P.R. damage done by such an action by a group that champions free speech would outweigh the P.R. damage of certain board members publicly disagreeing with others. Reasonable people can disagree, however.

But an actual debate about the issue is not what’s behind Hyman’s editorial, which is simply the latest in a long, yawn-inducing string of screeds that rely on lies and distortion to attack a group he has framed as the quintessential example of contemporary liberalism.

And again, Hyman’s reliance on such obvious rhetorical ruses speaks volumes about the intellectual poverty of his own position.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.29

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hyman Is a Friend of Bob

There are two levels of disingenuousness in Mark Hyman’s recent editorial about the energy price crunch in Maryland.

The first is simply the fact that Hyman misrepresents the facts to suit his argument. The issue gets complicated (there’s a nice article about the Maryland situation
here if you want the details), but basically Maryland tried to deregulate the energy industry to provide more competition (and lower prices for consumers) in 1999. The problem is that new businesses didn’t emerge, and the temporary price fixes put in place in the meantime run out this summer, resulting in a 72% rate hike for many Maryland customers.

Hyman fudges facts in a number of ways. He blames the current state legislature for the problem, ignoring the fact that deregulation occurred seven years ago. He claims a move to spread out the rate increase over time to reduce the impact on citizens is an election year ploy by legislators. Actually, it was Governor (and Hyman buddy) Bob Ehrlich who proposed the measure. He says a commission that the Maryland legislature wanted to disband was being unfairly framed as a scapegoat for the rate hike. In fact, members of this commission (the Public Service Commission)
were very cozy with the energy companies (one of them had been an employee for 20 years). Hyman also cites capped prices as the cause of California’s energy crunch five years ago. But investigations revealed that price manipulation by Enron was largely to blame, and that corporate executives gleefully joked about how they were getting rich by cutting off electricity to California customers.

The subject of energy regulation/deregulation is beyond the scope of this blog. What knowledge I have of such matters suggests that publicly owned utilities (including not just energy, but internet service, cable television, etc.) are the best way to go. When the product being sold is one that the vast majority of citizens use, the risks of corporo-socialism, in which one or two mammoth companies control the supply, are far greater than any hypothetical benefits of increased competition. That’s what’s happening in Baltimore right now; one company has an effective monopoly on the market, and is reaping benefits without facing any competition.

The much larger issue (and here we come to the second, and deeper, level of Hyman’s dishonesty) is why Hyman is concerned about this issue in the first place. After all, “The Point” is seen on TVs all across the country. Why spend an entire editorial on what is essentially a local issue?

Of course, Hyman and his bosses at Sinclair are based in Baltimore, so one might conclude that Hyman is simply being city-centric in his choice of topics. That would be bad enough, given that his editorial on Maryland politics is taking up airtime on local stations in communities that have their own issues that should be covered and discussed in the local media.

But it’s worse than that.

Anyone who’s dropped in on this blog with any regularity knows by now that
Republican governor Bob Ehrlich is tight with the folks at Sinclair. Heck, Hyman himself worked on Ehrlich’s staff when the governor was a mere congressman. In the past, Ehrlich lobbied for legislation that directly benefited Sinclair, received illegal in-kind contributions from the Smith family (the owners of Sinclair), benefited from “journalistic” hit-pieces aired by Sinclair stations attacking his opponents during election years, and struck a sweetheart deal with Sinclair to buy airtime on its stations in return for Sinclair producing spots promoting Maryland tourism . . . spots that just happened to star Bob Ehrlich himself.

Hyman has editorialized many times on Maryland-specific issues, always in ways that support Ehrlich’s positions, and always without breathing a word about his personal connection to Ehrlich or his company’s longtime relationship with the governor.

This latest editorial is no exception. The energy rate crisis is a central issue in the current gubernatorial race, and it has
caused a great deal of animosity between the Democratic legislature and the Republican governor. The political stakes are high. Disgruntled voters might very well hold incumbents responsible. That could spell doom for Ehrlich this November, who is seen by many to be a strong ally of the energy industry in Maryland, and who is running against a Democratic candidate who has suggested reregulating energy utilities.

The solution for a Friend of Ehrlich (FOE) like Hyman? Try to pin all the blame on the current Democratic legislature.

And that’s exactly what he’s doing here. To no one’s surprise, however, he doesn’t acknowledge the enormous conflict of interest that any reputable journalist would feel compelled to mention in the interest of full disclosure.

Viewers deserve to have issues that directly concern them discussed on their airwaves, not the personal hobby-horses of a corporate executive half a country away. And Marylanders, for whom this is a local issue, deserve to know if a commentator who is fudging the facts might be doing so because he has a personal stake in the matter.

But with Hyman, all we get are unjust desserts.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.29 (along with a disturbing new high in Hyman’s raw verbosity: this edition of “The Point” clocks in at 303 words)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The People v. "The Point"

I’ve joked in the past about the fact that the numerous people who have been slandered by Mark Hyman could file a class action lawsuit against him. Perhaps that’s one reason Hyman waxes rhapsodic about the need for “tort reform” that would take away the rights of people filing class action lawsuits against corporations to get proper compensation.

A more likely explanation is that many on the
radical right see “tort reform” not as an end in itself, but a means of going after one of the few major industries gives money primarily to Democrats, as well as protecting the large corporations that give overwhelmingly to Republicans.

Rhetorically, Hyman uses three main tools in his editorial: invoking fear, guilt by association, and implying a false cause/effect relationship.

The fear takes the form of Hyman quoting the American Tort Reform Association’s assertion that lawsuit “abuse” costs Americans $260 billion in 2004. Of course, what constitutes “abuse” isn’t made clear, nor does Hyman explain how Americans in general are bearing the burden of the cost. Instead, Hyman simply suggests that “greedy lawyers” and “corrupt judges” are conspiring to rob average American’s blind.

What goes unmentioned is that class action lawsuits are the primary defense consumers have against huge government and corporate entities. “Tort reform” amounts to limiting the rights of consumers to seek damages if they suffer from governmental or corporate negligence. From Brown vs. Board of Education to lawsuits against Big Tobacco, class action lawsuits have helped average Americans fight the powers that be when they get trampled underfoot by allowing them to band together rather than take on monolithic (and deep pocketed) entities on their own.

Hyman uses guilt by association when he cites the
recent indictments against a specific law firm that specializes in class action lawsuits. As critics note, however, it’s a bit dicey to indict an entire company when the charges may largely be attributed to specific individuals within that firm. Hyman goes a step further and uses the indictments as evidence not only of this particular law firm’s collective corruption, but the supposed systemic problems with class action lawsuits.

The logical fallacy involved with such a generalization is clear enough. Moreover, Hyman conveniently drapes the mantle of “Defender of the People” around the champions of "tort reform,” failing to acknowledge the critical role class action lawsuits play in leveling the playing field between individual citizens and consumers and the entities that they must take on when suing for damages.

Lastly, Hyman implies that tort “reform” is a way of dealing with the corrupt lawyers and judges he says are fleecing Americans. But there’s no logical connection there. Certainly, there are cases of lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits against companies, just as there are companies that through a combination of negligence, selfishness, and malevolence harm individuals (Philip Morris, anyone?). But as Hyman’s own argument notes, there are already laws on the books that allow for the prosecution of such abuses. What is euphemistically called “tort reform” puts arbitrary limits on all class action lawsuits, no matter how valid they are. It’s a solution in search of a problem.

Unfortunately, history shows that there are always going to be corporations out there that put profit ahead of customer safety. When they do, they need to be held accountable in a way that will ensure they don’t have a financial incentive to cut corners again. Particularly when the damages are spread out over a huge number of customers (say, a pharmaceutical company overcharging for a medication by $25 per prescription), it is impractical for customers cheated out of their money to sue as individuals.

“Tort reform” is more accurately labeled “consumer rights limitation.” When companies, the government, lawyers, or anyone else breaks the law or does harm to others, they should be held responsible. Giving corporations special protections not offered to ordinary citizens reduces accountability and responsibility.

At a time when many huge corporations pay for political campaigns, command fealty from so many of the “people’s” representatives in Congress, and even participate in corrupt quid pro quo arrangements with ethically crippled legislators, it’s ludicrous to claim corporate America needs special rights, and it’s wrong to try to convince average Americans that it’s somehow in their own best interest to give up their rights to seek justice.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.74

Monday, July 24, 2006

Hyman's Bogeyman

Finally, Mark Hyman has admitted that “The Angry Left” doesn’t actually exist, but is a mythological entity, like unicorns, gremlins, or Iraqi WMDs.

In his recent editorial in which he defines “The Angry Left,” he describes this group as having attributes that apply to absolutely no one. It turns out that “The Angry Left” is just a made-up, cartoonish, bogeyman that Mark imagines is hiding under his bed.

Let’s look at his attributes one by one, and you tell me if you know a single person who fits any of these descriptions:

They argue that a 12-year old girl is grown-up enough to get an abortion without
parental notification, but they categorize all teenagers, including 19-year
olds, who commit violent crimes as "children."

Anyone? No, didn’t think so.

They don't want to be seen as unpatriotic but so many hope that only tragedy
befalls our service men and women.

Okay, all of you who cheer when a soldier dies, raise your hand. Hmmmmm….no takers?

They argue that nutty academics proselytizing hateful and repugnant remarks in
college classrooms are practicing academic freedom, but students who explore
politically incorrect viewpoints in term papers should be expelled.

I’ve known a lot of academics in my time, but I’ve yet to come across one that’s suggested a student should be expelled for picking a “politically incorrect” viewpoint. We’re generally tickled if they have a coherent viewpoint at all.

They call displays of the Cuban, North Korean or Iranian flags as examples of
tolerance, but displays of the American flag is narrow-minded jingoism and

Ooops! I’ll be back in just a sec . . . I need to run outside and take my Axis of Evil flags down before it gets dark. Maybe I’ll burn the Stars and Stripes to get some light.

They think the taxpayers who earned their money are not entitled to it, but that
it belongs to politicians and bureaucrats.

Yes, I just forward all my paychecks to Dennis Hastert.

They believe the Iraqi people never experienced hardship, tragedy or suffering
until after American troops arrived.

That’s right. I believe Iraq was a wonderland of tolerance. Of course, I didn’t quite go so far as the guy pictured below, who helped pave the way for full diplomatic relations with Iraq and sales of U.S. weapons to the Hussein regime, despite its use of chemical weapons and systematic abuse of his own people.

They want to suspend every first grader from school who draws a stick figure
holding a gun, but they claim a 17-year old convicted of a gun crime has a right
to be in a public classroom.

Damn straight! No child left behind!

They worship Ted Kennedy who left a young woman to drown in his car in 1969, but
they claim it was George Bush who killed every soldier who died in combat.

Ah, what would a Hyman editorial be without turning a personal tragedy into a political attack. And no, I don’t believe George Bush killed any soldier who died in combat, since he never served in combat.

Cartoonish, sophomoric nonsense from beginning to end. Of course, we can see what Hyman is doing with his blathering; he’s not attempting to describe those who disagree with him, but rather project these outlandish views onto them. Even he doesn’t believe his own dopiness. But, true to his habit of insulting the very people he wants to influence, he assumes his audience is dumb enough that they’ll actually believe that anyone who takes issue with him holds these positions.

The problem is that some people in his audience probably are that dumb.

It speaks volumes about the quality of Hyman’s thought and rhetoric that he must trade in such carnivalesque hoo-ha to attack those he disagrees with. With the number of people who share his beliefs (a number that’s always been less than half the population) dwindling daily, Hyman lashes out by trying to turn the tables, painting his adversaries as the out-of-touch extremists rather than himself. In the hands of a skilled orator, this might even be effective. But with Hyman, it’s just laughable.

Let’s turn the tables ourselves. Here is a brief list of some of the actual characteristics of The Angry Right, and in this case, all of them can be documented to apply to a number of prominent right-wing public figures, including Mr. Hyman.

They think it is an impeachable offense if a president isn’t forthcoming about a private sexual relationship, but a president who “fixes the intelligence” around a desire to go to war is admirable.

They don’t want to be called racists, but they compare undocumented immigrants to terrorists and call them lazy freeloaders, despite the fact that they have a miniscule rate of unemployment.

They accuse people who are against the war of hating the troops, but they champion an administration that has sent thousands to be killed and maimed in a war of choice.

They claim the war is “liberating” the Iraqi people, but they are mute when it comes to the utter failure of the administration to actually rebuild Iraq and the horrific number of civilian deaths directly and indirectly caused by the invasion.

They say they support the troops, but they personally vilify the mother of a fallen soldier simply because she had the temerity to voice her objection to the war that took her son’s life.

They say they are protecting “the homeland,” but they have no problem with administration officials outing a CIA agent because her husband didn’t say what they wanted him to.

They constantly invoke the attacks of 9/11 to support their policies, but when the widows of many who died on that day push for an investigation into what happened, they personally attack the women and question their love for their husbands.

They claim to be in favor of “traditional values,” including the Ten Commandments, but they routinely break the command to not bear false witness.

They claim to be proud of America, but they condone actions that embarrass and humiliate America (e.g., torture, unilateral invasion, etc.).

They accuse those who disagree with their economic philosophy of engaging in “class warfare,” even as they support regressive tax policies that shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class and saddle future generations with mountains of debt.

They call liberals “tax and spenders,” but they sing the praises of a president who has taken the country from record surplus to record deficit in a few short years.

They claim to be supporters of the military and veterans, but if any politician who they disagree with is a veteran, they slander and demean their service (e.g., John Kerry, Max Cleland, John McCain).

They claim it’s the left that’s angry, but they publish books and make public statements that equate liberalism with treason, godlessness, terrorism, despotism, and hating America.

Let’s be clear: this list doesn’t describe Republicans or conservatives as a whole. Many conservatives resent the way the Angry Right have hijacked a movement that, while I often disagree with, was at least a coherent philosophy, and replaced it with authoritarian blowhardism. (What are we to make of the fact that one of the most vocal critics of the current radical right is
John Dean, a guy who was Richard Nixon’s right-hand man, and that his antipathy was shared by the late Barry Goldwater, the founder of modern conservatism?)

However, the list does describe a highly visible and highly powerful (even if numerically underwhelming) group of public voices, including Mark Hyman. And unlike Hyman’s list, I didn’t have to make mine up. Just turn on Fox News, listen to Rush Limbaugh, pick up the latest screed from Ann Coulter, surf over to Newsmax, or flip to your local Sinclair station, and you’ll have all the evidence you need.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.39

Friday, July 21, 2006

The High Cost of War

Mark Hyman’s latest editorial on the cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is summed up by its final sentence: “More than $400 billion is a staggering sum, but that figure could pale in comparison to the cost if there were another sensational terrorist strike on America.”

The unspoken assumption is that the war in Iraq is something that makes “another sensational terrorist strike on America” less likely. That, of course, is nonsense. It’s yet another version of the disingenuous rhetoric that attempts to link the attacks of September 11th to Iraq.

Hyman doesn’t even bother to offer any backing for this assumption. This is another rhetorical maneuver: to defend this assumption would suggest it needs to be defended, that it’s a matter of debate. Simply assuming it raises the chances that it will be accepted uncritically by the audience.

Not only did Iraq have nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, but Bush’s foreign policy decisions have ignored the most obvious truisms about how to stop terrorism.

Let’s take a trip in the Wayback machine, to the weeks following September 11, 2001. Here’s an excerpt from the
Christian Science Monitor describing what the U.S. will need to do to successfully battle terrorism:

One important lesson, which the US is well aware of: Winning
the public-relations war is crucial. Terrorists try to whip up support among
disaffected populations. Dissipating that support - through humanitarian
actions, propaganda, even policy changes - is crucial to victory.

Another important element is international cooperation -
and indeed, the US is already benefiting from cooperation with Britain, Germany,
Italy, the Philippines, and some of the 60 countries where Al Qaeda terror cells
are believed to be operating.

Hmmmm…let’s check the Bush blunder checklist on this:

Winning the public-relations war: (un)check.
Dissipating support for terrorist causes: (un)check
Making policy changes to undercut terrorists’ appeal: (un)check
Launching humanitarian actions to help bolster America’s image: (un)check
Getting international cooperation: (un)check

Not only has the Bush administration not done any of these things, but they’ve actively gone the opposite way. Despite the U.S. being “well aware of” the importance of winning with ideas, not bombs, and “already benefiting” from international cooperation in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration has flushed all this down the toilet.

By the way, the source cited by the Christian Science Monitor as the authority on this conventional wisdom is the
RAND Corporation, an organization that includes a wide array of political figures from various ideological persuasions, including (ironically enough) Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice. Not exactly a lefty institution. In fact, RAND is usually criticized for being too pro-military.

Yet, the Bush administration has taken these common sense approaches to fighting terrorism (approaches which, as the CS Monitor article notes, have proven effective in the past), and turned them on their head.

We abandoned Afghanistan without rebuilding it so we could invade Iraq.
We invaded Iraq unitarily with minimal international support.
We created a power vacuum that allowed an insurrection to develop.
We spent next to nothing on rebuilding the country (as Hyman himself tacitly admits).
We made the quality of life for Iraqis actually worse than it was under Hussein.
We’ve occupied an Arab country on a semi-permanent basis.
We’ve been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
We’ve allowed American companies to profiteer in the aftermath of the invasion.
We’ve tortured and killed Iraqis with little or no cause.
We’ve imprisoned, tortured, and humiliated people without so much as a trial.
We’ve opted out of being an active broker for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

All of this does the exact opposite of what common sense says we should do to control terrorism. It increases resentment among those groups that have traditionally been recruiting targets for terrorists. It shows the U.S. to be arrogant and unilateral in its decisions. It shows a lack of concern for the lives of those we claim to be “saving.” It suggests our motivations for military action have more to do with self-interest than in helping Arabs. It shows an unwillingness to even contemplate policy changes that might undercut the ideology of the terrorists. In fact, we’ve played up to the cartoonish stereotype of the “Great Satan” perfectly.

Meanwhile, Iraq has devolved into a low-grade civil war with 100 people dying a day, the U.S. passively looks on as the Israeli-Lebanon conflict continues to burn, the Taliban reasserts itself in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden still walks free.

To rephrase Hyman, $400 billion is a staggering sum, but it could pale in comparison with the price we will likely pay in the future, in both lives and dollars, as a result of launching a war of choice.

And that's The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.98

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hyman Continues to Seize Your Property: The Airwaves

I have to admit that I’m bored of dealing with Mark Hyman’s commentaries on the Kelo vs. New London case. It’s a topic he returns to again and again without saying anything new about it. If you like, you can see my previous responses to his previous “Points” on the topic here, here, and here.

As for
his latest return to the topic, I’ll only point out what I’ve touched on earlier in terms of his framing of the issue: the portrayal of government as something “out there” that is not a product of we the people.

In his editorial, Hyman refers to “greedy bureaucrats” who seize property “in pursuit of higher tax revenues.” The wording is meant to suggest that members of the government are motivated by personal profit, and that somehow tax revenue is something they gain directly from.

Of course, this is nonsense. Tax revenue is not like a company’s sales revenue, which is dispersed to members of the company in the form of salaries, wages, stock options, etc. Tax money is used to cover our collective expenses for things we do together through government. Certainly, politicians can profit from this process, through steering government money to their constituents, but that’s not what Hyman is saying. He’s suggesting government officials are somehow personally profiting from the use of eminent domain. But he doesn’t provide any evidence.

This dishonest way of framing the issue obscures the legitimate subject of debate, which is when do we privilege the rights of the individual over the rights of the community, and vice versa. This is a tricky tension to negotiate in a democracy, and eminent domain cases deal with this issue in a direct, concrete way.

But by invoking the tired conservative trope of government as some sort of evil “other” that exists independently of the people (a trope that is not only inaccurate but, I would argue, dangerous for a democracy), Hyman obscures the real issue with ideological claptrap.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.89

P.S. Speaking of seizing public property, you might have noticed that there’s been a significant rise in the length of Mark Hyman’s commentaries in the last couple of months. Previously, they tended to fall in the 140-180 word range. Lately, they’ve been weighing in consistently at around 240-260 words. I haven’t gotten the stopwatch out yet to determine what that translates into in terms of increased airtime, but just keep in mind that this expansion of “The Point” is the seizing of publicly owned airwaves for the sake of Sinclair Broadcasting and Mark Hyman’s personal political pontificating.

Buckeye in a Coal Mine

Mark Hyman is infamous for focusing on issues that don’t seem to have any direct connection to the majority of his audience. A recent example is his editorial on the budget woes in the state of Ohio. True, Sinclair does have three stations in the Buckeye state, but why subject the rest of us to what would seem to be a state issue?

But perhaps Hyman realizes the symbolic importance of Ohio as a microcosm of what’s wrong both with the electoral process and with government of, by, and for the G.O.P.

The specifics of Hyman’s editorial come from
The Buckeye Institute, which he labels a “non-partisan research group” but which in fact is a conservative think tank. The group, and Hyman, bemoan state spending on things like attracting tourism and spending on cultural facilities such as museums.

Cutting “pork” like this, Hyman argues, would help the state live within its means.

Hyman doesn’t acknowledge the fact that tourism doesn’t simply profit businesses related to tourists, but brings in money that helps the entire state economy, nor does he recognize the fact that by promoting and supporting cultural sites also helps bring people into the state, where they pay for lodging, buy meals, go shopping, etc.

Hyman also doesn’t say whether he actually believes the upshot of his argument, which is that government shouldn’t subsidize businesses. My guess is that, being an employee of a company that has profited handsomely from its ties to legislators, that Hyman only objects to subsidies for those businesses he doesn’t have a particular fondness for.

But the elephant in the room here is responsibility. Who’s presided over this spendthrift state government? Republicans.

That might not be true after November.
Scandals have rocked the Ohio G.O.P., including its governor, who is now one of the least popular elected officials in the nation. A number of big money Republican donors and members of government have been implicated in “Coingate,” a scheme in which taxpayer money was invested in the rare coin business of a major G.O.P. fundraiser, who promptly “lost” a large chunk of it. Up to $12 million dollars is unaccounted for.

I don’t think the $400,000 the state government used to support the Football Hall of Fame in Canton is the state’s biggest problem when it comes to fiscal responsibility.

Then, of course, there’s the countless voting problems that emerged in the 2004 election. You don’t need to think that the problems actually affected the outcome of the election (although Robert Kennedy has made a good argument that this may have happened) to be appalled at the systematic disenfranchisement that went on in the state, or nauseated by the cynical
Kenneth Blackwell, who while running as the Republican candidate for governor, is also still the guy responsible for overseeing the election process itself and refuses to relinquish that role.

The result is that the state government of Ohio, dominated by the G.O.P. in both the legislature and the governorship, more closely resembles the political apparatus of a lesser former Soviet republic than a state in the oldest democracy in the world.

In his attempts to reframe Ohio’s woes in terms of a mere lack of fiscal frugality, Hyman tries to spin G.O.P. corruption into G.O.P talking points. And it’s understandable why he’d do so. Given its infamous role in the last presidential election and the scandals plaguing its Republican-controlled government, many see Ohio as a microcosm of the U.S., with the corrupt leadership of its state government mirroring the problems we see at the national level, where the G.O.P. has also presided over any number of scandals.

But, as is typical, Hyman doesn’t want to actually practice accountability by pointing the finger at fellow Republicans who are in charge. Glossing over the larger problems and the people responsible for them, Hyman tries to de-politicize the problems in Ohio by chalking them up to a failure to follow right wing philosophy.

My guess is that the voters of Ohio, if they are all actually given a chance to vote in November, will do better at placing blame than Hyman does.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.42

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"The Point": An Anti-Reality Show

Mark Hyman, like many ultra-conservative activists, has weighed in on a controversy in Lexington, Massachusetts concerning that evergreen bogeyman, “the homosexual agenda.”

The issue involves
the complaints of a father whose kindergarten-aged son brought home a book one day called “Who’s In a Family” that included (gasp!) references to same-sex parents.

Hyman’s editorial, however, is full of misstatements and falsehoods. Here are a few:

Hyman: The book in question “promot[es] homosexual themes.”
Reality: The book
talks about many kinds of non-traditional families, including single parents, divorced couples, extended families, etc. Same-sex parents are only one of the many kinds of families described.

Hyman: The book was part of the school’s “diversity program.”
Reality: This is true, but it’s also important to know that this program itself was voluntary (the whole thrust of Hyman’s editorial is that the child’s parents had no choice in the matter).

Hyman: When the concerned father came to the school to complain, he was arrested and charged with trespassing.
Reality: The father in question came to the school, demanded a blanket assurance that his son would never be subjected to anything touching on same sex couples again, and when school officials said they couldn’t give him such an assurance, he refused to leave the school grounds and had to be removed by police.

Hyman: The book initiated children of a “tender age” to human sexuality.
Reality: The book had nothing to do with sexuality. It merely presented different types of family units.

Hyman: The debate is between champions of parental rights and “homosexual advocates.”
Reality: The debate is between people (many of whom aren’t parents and don’t live in the school district) who think teaching children that same-sex couples exist is wrong, and those who think it makes sense (particularly in Massachusetts, which had recently legalized same-sex unions).

Hyman: Massachusetts law allows parents to opt out of having children participate in sex education.
Reality: True, but irrelevant. The materials in question don’t talk about sex.

Hyman: Another controversial book that’s part of the pushing of the gay agenda in Massachusetts is “King & King” which shows two princes “engage[d] in romantic physical contact.”
Reality: The book inspired a complaint by a parent of a 2nd grader in the same school district, but the “romantic physical contact” is not of an overtly sexual kind, but rather a single kiss at the end of the story. There is no more “romantic physical contact” then there is in the story of Snow White. Hyman is conjuring up images of pseudo-pornographic images to shock and horrify his audience.

Hyman: “King & King” shows a prince turning down princesses because they are overweight, have bad teeth, or are black.
Reality: By Hyman’s own admission, he hasn’t read the book. Nor have I. However, of all the reviews I read on the book, both positive and negative, none mentioned this. I also find it hard to believe that a book based on the theme of inclusiveness would champion overt prejudice.

Hyman: The parents’ complaints are “very reasonable.”
Reality: Massachusetts recognized the legitimacy of same-sex couples. Given that, it’s not reasonable to avoid the topic in classrooms where children, some of whom might have same-sex parents, are often asked to talk about their families. The parents’ complaints are no more “reasonable” than complaints would be by parents who didn’t want their children exposed to books suggesting that blacks were equal to whites, or women equal to men.

Hyman: The ACLU, in supporting the school district, shows that it “doesn’t support Judeo-Christian religious freedom.”
Reality: The fact that bigots defend their bigotry on selective readings of a handful of passages from “the Judeo-Christian” tradition does not mean that those who oppose such bigotry are against that tradition. On the contrary, a good argument can be made that by encouraging the importance of empathy, understanding, love, and family, the school’s position is more in keeping with the Judeo-Christian tradition.

as we have seen, the ACLU has fought valiantly for the rights of Jews and Christians to practice their religion unfettered by governmental intrusion—including individuals and groups who no doubt share Hyman’s views on the perils of accepting same-sex parenting.

In taking on this issue (and framing it in terms of a “battle”), Hyman is adding to an ongoing fire that’s developed because anti-gay activists from around the country (including the execrable Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist [sic] Church in Kansas) have decided that this local case is a good excuse for them to parade their narrow agenda before the world. A result is that school officials have been harassed and, in at least one case, resigned.

Remind us again, Mark: who’s desecrating the Judeo-Christian message?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.56

Hyman Complains About Pork, But Where's the Beef?

Mark Hyman often grumbles about government “pork,” but he never takes on the topic in any substantive way.

A case in point is
his recent return to the topic of a specific airplane, the C-130J Hercules. Complaining that although even though senior military leaders don’t want the plane, acquisition officials, members of Congress, and defense contractors have continued to push for funding, Hyman says that this is “a classic example of pork.”

Perhaps, but Hyman is not even nibbling around the edges when it comes to government waste. Cutting the program off would save the government
a mere $5 billion over the next five years. Compare that to the $419 billion Defense Department budget request for 2006, or the nearly $300 billion the invasion of Iraq has cost, and you understand that Hyman’s objections are largely symbolic.

In fact, cutting out all the “pork” in the budget, however widely defined, would have minimal effects on the country’s bottom line.

Hyman, and other conservatives, like to play at fiscal responsibility by publicly complaining about budgetary pork, while they still favor boondoggles like subsidies for the super rich in the form of regressive tax cuts, wasteful defense spending like the vaunted “Star Wars” missile defense system, and counterproductive adventuring like the invasion of Iraq.

Cutting programs that aren’t necessary is fine, as is pointing out when government spending is steered by the political pull of particular elected officials rather than common sense and the common good. But the ironic thing is that throwing money at the C-130J project probably will do more to provide jobs and stimulate the local economies of the places it’s built than the tax cuts we were promised would “set the economy on fire.”

That by itself is not a good reason to continue the program, but let’s not kid ourselves that shaming politicians into dropping their pet projects is going to do anything to control runaway spending. That will require much more common sense, fiscal responsibility, and political fortitude than Hyman, Bush, or the Republican Congress have.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.56

Monday, July 17, 2006

Convenient Untruths

In his recent “Short Takes” segment, Mark Hyman adds to greenhouse gas emissions with his own stinky emanations of fact-free flatulence.

First, he calls “An Inconvenient Truth” Al Gore’s “campaign film” (suggesting a propagandistic motive to undercut its ethos). In fact, Gore has said he doesn’t plan on running for president. Apparently winning one presidential election was enough for him.

Second, he says the film blames America for global warming. It does not. It suggests it is a world-wide problem, although Gore does point out that the U.S. contributes far more than its fair share of greenhouse gases.

Third, he says that Gore claims the global warming catastrophe is “right around the corner.” He does not. He shows, with hard facts, that the catastrophe is already happening.

Fourth, he says that Gore claims China leads the world in environmentalism. This is a lie. Gore makes no such claim. In fact, he points out that China is becoming a growing environmental problem.

What he *does* point out is that, ironically, China’s standards for automobile emissions are tighter than those in the U.S. While they still lag behind much of the rest of the world, they’re still ahead of us. In fact, the U.S. can’t sell its cars to much of the world because they don’t meet emissions standards even in countries which, like China, are hardly aggressive when it comes to environmental standards.

My guess is that Hyman hasn’t seen “An Inconvenient Truth.” He should. If you ever had any doubts about the reality or the seriousness of the global warming problem, the film uses straightforward and incontrovertible facts to lay out the case.

And that’s the Short Take Counterpoint.

Hyman's Point Misses the Point

Mark Hyman breathlessly tells us of the horrors that will befall us in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling concerning detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Soon, these terrorists will be enjoying color T.V., media appearances, and might very well be free to roam U.S. streets as they await trial.

What total crap.

Hyman’s editorializing is based on a host of nonsensical and non-applicable premises.

First, Hyman spends most of the editorial talking about treatment of prisoners at Gitmo, but that wasn’t the issue of the Supreme Court ruling. The ruling simply stated that holding people without charging them with a crime or allowing them recourse to challenge their detention was unconstitutional.

But as long as he brought it up, let’s just note for the record that although Hyman assures us that he’s been to Gitmo and that prisoners are treated wonderfully, not everyone agrees with this. In fact, the
FBI itself has charged that the military has abused prisoners in any number of ways. The abuse has been widespread and publicized enough to get the attention of Amnesty International as well. And it’s also become clear that this wasn’t simply a few “rogue” soldiers mistreating detainees, but that President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld were aware of reports of abuse, and tacitly approved of it. Gitmo has become an international embarrassment as a result, with even our closest allies pushing for its closure.

Second, Hyman’s argument is based on the assumption that everyone detained at Gitmo are terrorists. But, of course, they haven’t been charged, let alone found guilty, of anything. In fact, many have been found to pose no danger to the U.S.

Third, even if the only abuse detainees suffered was indefinite incarceration without the ability to hear the charges against them, cross-examine their accusers, and have their day in court, that in and of itself is abuse.

All the Supreme Court said was that detainees should have a chance to challenge their incarceration. If, as Hyman assumes, all are guilty of terrorism, then there will be no “detainee dilemma.” They should simply be charged with their crimes, stand trial, and be sent to prison if found guilty. The fact that Hyman says the Supreme Court’s ruling will cause problems is based on the tacit assumption that there isn’t enough clear evidence to charge or convict the individuals held.

Hyman notes the irony of those accused of terrorism having better lives in prison under U.S. protection than living free in their home countries. But what about the irony of the U.S., under the aegis of doing away with totalitarian and violent regimes, has taken to using exactly the tactics of such regimes in order to win the “war on terror”?

Of what value is democracy when we throw away its most basic principles when they happen to become inconvenient?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.48

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Point by Dishonest Point

Another smearing of the ACLU by Mark Hyman . . . please pardon me while I stifle a yawn.

Yes, Hyman returns to bashing the ACLU, and again does so through systematic distortion and falsification of the facts. This time around, his beef is with the ACLU’s recent report to the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee on violations of political and human rights by the U.S. government.

This one is worth refuting point by misleading point. Here we go, with Hyman’s quotations, followed by a debunking.

“The ACLU claims it protects civil liberties in the U.S. But its 116-page report
to the UN includes a lot of America-bashing that doesn't fall in line with its
claimed mission.”

The report doesn’t criticize the U.S. , but some of the current policies of the U.S. government that are at odds with the Constitution, existing U.S. law, and international treaties.

Further, protecting individuals (even non Americans) from violations of their civil rights by government agencies does protect civil liberties of Americans by challenging precedents that could lead to even broader denials of civil rights. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.

“Among its criticisms:
- Terrorist detainees don't have the right to sue.”

First, the ACLU doesn’t defend the rights of “terrorist detainees,” but those accused of terrorism or related charges. Second, the right of non-Americans to pursue legal cases involving violations of their rights is already on the books, and has been for over 200 years, in the form of the Alien Tort Claims Act. The ACLU’s argument is simply that the U.S. government doesn’t have the right to ignore this existing law.

“The status of terrorist detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gitmo and elsewhere

Simply as a matter of grammar, this phrase doesn’t constitute an “objection.” However, the ACLU has argued that the government needs to provide evidence in order to hold suspects (not exactly a radical concept). The military itself, for example, has identified more than 130 individuals currently held as worthy of release or return to their home countries. Only a handful have been. And again, we’re not talking about “terrorist detainees,” but any and all people held on suspicion of terrorism and related acts (many of whom have been deemed no threat to the U.S.).

“ Illegal aliens are not given taxpayer-paid lawyers.”

Again, the issue isn’t “illegal aliens,” but those accused of entering the country illegally and/or other crimes. The ACLU simply says the obvious: you can’t have a legitimate legal proceeding without the person being accused being represented by counsel.

“Mandatory detention of aliens awaiting court for criminal activities or threats
to national security.”

Wrong again. In fact, the ACLU report specifically says that it objects to “ indefinite and mandatory detention of individuals who pose no security or safety risks" [emphasis added]. Again, the argument is simply that the federal government must abide by the longstanding values of America, in this case, the idea that you can’t just lock somebody up indefinitely without a reason.

Expedited deportation of illegal aliens.

“Expedited” is a euphemism meaning “without any legal proceeding.” The ACLU (among others) points out that this endangers those seeking asylum in the U.S. Moreover, while immediate deportation was once confined to ports and border crossings, it has been expanding to include those who are living in the U.S. but who are suspected of entering the country illegally.

“Visa disapproval to foreigners advocating violence against America.”

Hyman is making up the “advocating violence” part. The ACLU argues that the federal government has disallowed visas to many prominent foreigners, particularly scholars, who were invited to the U.S.

They cite as a specific case Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim scholar from France who, far from advocating violence against the U.S., has been an open proponent of Muslims living in the West embracing many aspects of Western culture and participating fully as citizens. While he has often been accused of saying different things to Muslim and non-Muslim audiences, I cannot find any accusation of him advocating violence against America or any Western country. In fact, his views are quite the opposite. While controversial, he’s no threat. In fact, it’s exactly people like Ramadan who can help non-Muslims better understand the nature of Islam and its interaction with Western culture. Yet he is denied entrance to the U.S. because his views are deemed controversial.

“Government surveillance of high risk groups of foreigners.”

The key phrase here is “high risk groups of foreigners.” What the ACLU has objected to is not surveillance of high risk groups, but the way the government has determined “high risk.” This includes racial profiling and surveillance without any legal warrant of people and groups only determined to be “high risk” because of their religion or ethnicity. The ACLU notes that such tactics have been used against Americans and non-Americans alike. What the ACLU suggests is that the government be required to show some justification for spying on people before actually doing it (or even after the fact). Again, not a radical idea, and one that’s at the heart of American values.

“These issues do not include Americans and many don't even occur in America.”

Yes, they do include Americans directly, and touch on issues that involve all Americans indirectly. Most *do* occur in America, and the ones that don’t (e.g., extradition of prisoners to countries for torture) are occurring on America’s watch.

“How does criticizing the actions of U.S. servicemen and women in Afghanistan
fall into the ACLU's claimed mission of protecting civil rights here at home? It

The ACLU doesn’t criticize the actions of U.S. servicemen and women in Afghanistan. Again, Hyman is making this up. The ACLU does criticize many of the Bush administration’s policies regarding foreign nationals taken into custody in Afghanistan. These policies are also questioned and objected to, in many cases, by the military itself. And because the administration is invoking its right to pursue these policies without any judicial oversight, it certainly does touch on the possibility of the government using similar arguments to undermine the civil rights of Americans (as we’ve seen in the domestic spying program).

“Some American civil rights the ACLU doesn't support include personal property
and Second Amendment rights. ACLU President Nadine Strossen defended the
organization's schizophrenic policies when she said, "I guess the fact that
something is mentioned in the Constitution doesn't necessarily mean that it is a
fundamental civil liberty."”

Nonsense. As we’ve seen before, Hyman is basing this on a quotation pulled entirely out of context and then creatively read to say the exact opposite of what Strossen meant. The point is that, as a matter of law, the Constitution establishes both civil rights and civil liberties. Civil rights are positive statements of what citizens can do (vote, own property, own guns) while civil liberties is a narrower category that specifically deals with rights protecting citizens from government intrusion. The ACLU focuses, as its name suggests, on this narrower set of rights. To say that this means it is against other civil rights is sophistry, and Hyman knows it. He is simply lying in order to vilify an enemy.

“So there you have it. The ACLU believes only it, and not the Constitution, is
the final arbiter of what constitutes a civil right.”

There you have it, Hyman ignores all context and meaning in order to make a laughable accusation.

“The ACLU is a very dangerous organization that is often the best friend of
terrorists and criminals who intend harm against America.”

An utterly despicable statement. Let’s revise it to make it true, shall we? “Mark Hyman is a very dangerous public speaker who is often the best friend of the radical right and rhetorical bomb-throwers who do harm against our public sphere.”

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 6.33

"Good Guy"?

If you grew up with siblings, you probably experienced something like the following scenario (I know I did): you’re sitting in the backseat of your family station wagon eating a box of cookies. Your little sister asks for one. You say no. Your mom says, “Give your sister a cookie.” So you take an Oreo and sidearm it right at her. Covered with broken bits of chocolate cookie and cream filling, she cries to your mom.

“But Mom,” you say, “I was just giving her a cookie like you asked.”

That sort of childish semantic games is exactly what
Mark Hyman gives us in his editorial about “good guy” Mike Gray and his fight to display his ignorance for the world to see.

You might remember that Hyman editorialized on behalf of Gray a few months ago. At issue was the fact that Gray, a employee of Arapahoe County in Colorado, often drives to work with a trailer for his lawn care business, which sported a sign that says,
"Lawn Services Done With Pride!! [sic] By An English Speaking American."

County government officials have asked him to remove the sign, or else not park his trailer in the county-owned parking lot. He has refused.

According to Hyman, the county is being hypocritical. After all, he reasons, the county makes a point of offering lots of government forms and services in Spanish and other foreign languages for non-native speakers of English who live in the county. All Gray is doing is promoting another language, English.

Right. And I was just “handing” a cookie to my sister.

A little context goes a long way. One pertinent fact is that Gray also likes to wear a hat to work that says “U.S. Border Patrol.”

It’s almost too obvious to bother with, but just for the record, the county’s choice to offer services in other languages is an act of inclusiveness, an act of community building. In short, it’s an act of kindness.

Gray, on the other hand, is not simply “promoting” English, but is not very subtly suggesting that non-native speakers of English are in some way inferior (at least in terms of lawn care) and suspicious. It’s an act of exclusiveness, an act of xenophobia. In short, he’s being a prick.

Does he have the right to put his ignorance on display? Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides. On one hand, freedom of speech protects the right to say whatever you want, as long as it’s not overtly harmful to someone else. On the other, the county can make a good argument that an employee for the government displaying such thinly veiled contempt for a certain percentage of its residents is doing harm, and Gray should find somewhere else to park his trailer and start wearing a Colorado Rockies cap instead.

But any reasonable argument must start with reasonable assumptions, and that’s exactly what we don’t get from Hyman. Insisting on the transparently ridiculous idea that Gray is simply “promoting” English, Hyman replaces reasonableness with childishness. The result is that a serious issue worthy of discussion and touching on some important topics in contemporary America gets trivialized.

That, as usual, is what we get from Hyman.

And why isn’t it surprising that Hyman, a man who has used racist rhetoric several times when addressing immigration issues, labels a man who fights for his right to display his xenophobic boobery to the world, “one of the good guys?”

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.38

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Who's Pathological?

A few days ago, I suggested that conservative bashing of the New York Times is an act of rhetorical communion for members of the right wing, something to be done more to affirm one’s own part in a wider community than as an attempt to communicate about anything like the truth.

Almost on cue, Mark Hyman gives us proof of this, in
one of his ugliest and most inane swipes at the Gray Lady.

Covering ground that is already well-worn, Hyman attacks the New York Times for its recent story on financial tracking of terrorists. But going beyond even the garden variety conservative prattle, he actually accuses the editors of not caring about the lives of their fellow citizens and says Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the Times, is responsible for any and all future deaths related to terrorism.

Hyman attributes all this not to an overzealous desire to get a journalistic scoop, but to “pathological” and “visceral” hatred of George W. Bush. He doesn’t offer an explanation of why, if Bush hatred were the motivating factor of its editorial decisions, the Times would have run so many cheerleading stories that passed along the administration’s party line on Iraqi WMDs in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion.

He also doesn’t offer any explanation for why it’s the Times that’s responsible for future terrorist casualties, not the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, or Washington Post,
all of which published similar stories on the same day. (The conservative WSJ editorial board has groped for a way of attacking the Times while defending its own story, but as Media Matters for America has documented, their argument doesn’t hold water.)

He doesn’t explain why the New York Times is responsible for all future terrorist attacks, but the New York Daily News isn’t, even though the Daily News recently published accounts of a foiled terrorist plan over the objections of law enforcement officials. (As Media Matters for American notes,
Hyman is hardly alone in his hypocrisy here.)

Nor does Hyman offer any examples of specific pieces of information that the Times story gave terrorists that wasn’t already in the public domain.
Even former counterterrorism officials from the Bush White House acknowledge that the Times story didn’t disclose any new or unknown information.

And the
Columbia Journalism Review notes that even when conservative critics have tried to point out specific facts the Times’ story supposedly disclosed, they’re wrong. In some cases, the facts have been out there for years (and even been published in the New York Times long before now).

Not that any of these facts is relevant. After all, as I suggested earlier, attacking the Times has little or nothing to do with the facts. The attacks aren’t based on what the Times did in this instance, but on what it has been rhetorically constructed to represent in the conservative pantheon of Devil-terms. The Times stands for abstract concepts, such as New England elitism, urban liberalism, the established media, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and a host of other perceived threats to the Republic.

And since the coming of the Bush administration, I suspect that the Times is also demonized as a representative of the “reality-based community” that so irks conservatives (as Stephen Colbert says, facts have a well-known liberal bias).

What makes Hyman’s particular invocation of this conservative mantra especially despicable is his personal vilification of the Times’ Executive Editor, accusing him and his colleagues of “literally sacrific[ing] American lives” to express their irrational hatred of the president, and encouraging viewers to blame him for any future terrorist acts.

This is a classic case of the rhetorical creation of a scapegoat. Don’t blame the president who brushed off a warning about an al-Qaeda attack against the U.S. with the petulant comment “O.K., you’ve covered your ass, now.” Don’t blame the members of the administration who hyped intelligence known to be at best dubious (and in some cases, known to be wrong) in order to talk the nation into instigating a war against a country that posed no imminent threat. Don’t blame the elected representatives of the G.O.P, whose consistent position has been to champion a counterproductive war. Don’t blame would-be pundits who call for jihad against the infidels as the only way to protect ourselves, but berate anyone as un-American who questions what might else have been done to reduce terrorism or to prevent 9/11 in the first place. Hell, don’t even blame the terrorists themselves: blame the evil New York Times.

Once again, Hyman projects his own issues (visceral and pathological hatred) onto a target, a target that symbolically represents the things Hyman himself hates. And in doing so, he makes the vilest of accusations imaginable.

The only conclusion I can draw is that what Hyman says about Keller applies to Hyman himself:

[He] and his crew are consumed with such pathological hatred they will forsake
anything moral, good and ethical in order to achieve their political goals.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.86

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Big Divide (It Ain't Black/White or Blue/Red)

Mark Hyman’s opinions often mirror the deepest nether regions of the rightwing blogosphere, and he’s done it again in a recent editorial in which he insinuates that Democrats are racists.

He comes to this conclusion by misreading
a study done by a Stanford researcher who tested whether race (among a number of factors) determined how much federal money people thought victims of Hurricane Katrina should receive. His hypothesis is that the media coverage of the aftermath, which often portrayed blacks as looters and whites simply as victims, might unconsciously affect people’s generosity.

The study’s results seemed to back this up. But the numbers that have caught the eyes of Hyman and others looking to score rhetorical points had to do with the difference between self-described Republicans and Democrats. According to the study, Republicans in the study were likely to support less aid for Katrina victims, but to support a roughly equal amounts of aid for whites and blacks. Democrats, on the other hand, supported giving more money to all victims of Katrina, but were likely to give slightly more money to whites than blacks.

“Aha!” says Hyman (and plenty of rightwing self-styled pundits), “It’s Democrats who are racists, not Republicans!” While Hyman coyly says only that “race mattered” more to Democrats, many of his rightwing brethren have loudly said that this proves Democrats are not only bigoted, but are full of hate.

If suggesting that half the population are racists based on a single statistical study sounds a bit intellectually dishonest to you, that’s only because you have a functioning brain.

To begin with, the study wasn’t measuring racist attitudes; it was specifically attempting to measure the affect of slanted media reports on audiences.

Second, the study is flawed in any number of ways, not least of which are the facts that 1) the people studied were self selecting, not a random sample, and 2) as a result, 85% of the sample were self-described Democrats/liberals. A very clearly written and insightful explanation of the methodological problems with the study written by a guy who knows his stats can be
found here.

Third, even if one were to assume the findings were right on the money, they wouldn’t actually say what Hyman claims they do. Heck, even the right-wing editorial page of the
Wall Street Journal, while acknowledging that they are sympathetic with the idea of lurking Democrat racism, noted that there are many other explanations for the findings.

And lastly, if right wingers are so anxious to praise the gospel of the scientific study when it suits their purposes (no matter how inherently flawed it might be, or how creatively interpreted the results), what are we to say about studies that say the exact opposite?

In fact,
a study that was designed to measure racial bias by different political groups came up with findings that say people who support George W. Bush are more likely to have biases against blacks.

When that study came out, the same extremists who are trumpeting the Stanford study as proving widespread racism among Democrats were just as loudly criticizing the idea that a study could somehow show that people of a certain political persuasion were prejudiced.

On this last point, I agree with the RedStaters and Freepers. I don’t think either study “proves” a thing about the comparative racism of Republicans vs. Democrats. Racism is a complex and often subtle thing, and I doubt it could be accurately measured by a single statistical survey. And even if it could, it’s a far different thing to say that people with racial prejudices tend to affiliate with one party or the other than it is to say that people of a certain political party are (or even tend to be) prejudiced. Both parties are far too big and cover too many demographic areas for such simpleminded assumptions to be made.

When it comes to racism, the battle lines aren’t between Republicans and Democrats, but between those who tolerate it and those who don’t. Both parties have plenty of people in each category. That doesn’t meant there aren’t real and important differences in the policies and philosophies of the two parties with respect to issues touching on race, but to say one party is colorblind and the other is bigoted is just stupid.

And it’s true that there are real and important differences between the policies and philosophies of the Democratic and Republican parties when it comes to any number of political and social issues. But I’m increasingly coming to the conviction that as significant as many of these differences are, the supposed red/blue split isn’t the biggest political gulf in the country.

No, the most significant battle lines are between those who think that nothing is too irrational, too ugly, or too unethical to say or do to support a particular political ideology, and those of us who live in the “reality-based community” and think that reasonable, substantive (and, yes, passionate) dialog is the way to carry out public debates, not name calling and bomb throwing.

Again, both Democrats and Republicans are well represented on both sides of this more fundamental divide.

And I think we know which side Hyman’s on.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.51 (although the entire editorial is actually one big false appeal to authority)

Miami Ink? More Like Sinclair Stink.

There isn’t much to say about Mark Hyman’s discussion of tattoos in a recent edition of “The Point,” other than the couple of minutes you spend viewing or reading it are two minutes out of your life you’ll never get back.

Seriously, though, it’s important to keep in mind that a tangible result of media consolidation and Sinclair’s specific practice of foisting Hyman off on viewers is that precious minutes of local airtime are being lost so that someone like Hyman can offer his inane pensees about “body art.”

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

(Still) Disgraceful

You might remember a couple of weeks ago when Mark Hyman, citing an article by Thomas Lipscomb, insinuated that Cindy Sheehan didn’t really love her son (a soldier killed in Iraq), citing the lack of a permanent headstone on his grave as evidence. In fact, a headstone was already there at the time of Hyman’s editorial, but as I pointed out, the far more unappealing aspect of Hyman’s comments was his choice to mock a mother’s grief rather than disagreeing with her on the issues.

I wrote
an open letter to Hyman on the blog, and sent a copy to him and other executives at Sinclair. I know that a number of you sent similar letters.

In his most recent “Point,” Hyman offers a response of sorts. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that it’s not exactly gracious (or even coherent).

So again, I write an open letter to Mr. Hyman. If the spirit moves you, sending him another note on the topic of his personal attacks on Cindy Sheehan might help keep the pressure on and make him accountable for his words.

To Mark Hyman:

Once again, I write to ask you to apologize to Cindy Sheehan for your insinuation that she didn’t really love her son.
Your recent commentary in which you defend the source of this innuendo, Thomas Lipscomb, is wrong on two levels, both factually and intellectually.

The fact is that the Pulitzer organization clearly defines who is and isn’t a “nominee.” According to their website, “The three finalists in each category are the only entries in the competition that are recognized by the Pulitzer office as nominees.” You even concede this in your defense of Lipscomb.

Your only rebuttal is that a lot of newspapers hype their reporters as having been “nominated” for a Pulitzer, when in fact they were only entered for consideration. Of course, by this meager standard, I could fill out the required forms and nominate myself for a Pulitzer. Heck, if you filled out the right forms and sent them in, you could probably “nominate” yourself for Miss Maryland.

The fact that news organizations spin their entries into “nominations” is not an adequate defense, Mr. Hyman. If, as you claim, the facts matter to you, then honor them. Don’t excuse your own spin by saying “but everyone else is doing it.” That’s the sort of defense I would expect from a 12-year-old kid.

Yet another fact is that even Mr. Lipscomb has conceded that claiming to be a Pulitzer “nominee” was unjustified. If you look at his bio on (the site where he is most often published), you’ll see that the phrase “nominated for a Pulitzer Prize” has been changed to “entered for a Pulitzer Prize.” The same change has been made on other online bios of Mr. Lipscomb. If the man himself can at least tacitly admit to his Pulitzer nomination being fictional, then I think you should do so as well.

These are the facts. Lipscomb was not a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize. His entry doesn’t mean anything other than he (or someone on his behalf) filled out the required forms and sent them in. These facts are undisputed, even by you. And the facts are not on your side.

All of this is above and beyond the more elementary factual dishonesty regarding Lipscomb. While you tout his “exposing fabrications” by John Kerry, you provide no examples., a non-partisan group, looked into charges of supposed exaggeration and fraud involving Kerry’s war record and found that eyewitnesses and Navy records refuted these charges.

And even if one were to forget the facts and believe every word Lipscomb has written about John Kerry, and at the same time forget the facts and believe that George W. Bush served every day of his stint in the National Guard, the uncontested truth would remain: Kerry volunteered to serve in Vietnam and was in combat, George W. Bush did not.

These are the facts . . . facts that you choose to ignore.

And this brings me to the intellectual dishonesty in your defense of Lipscomb. One of the unintentionally comical aspects of your commentary is how it commits the very sins you charge others with. You title your comments “Anatomy of a Smear,” and then you smear Cindy Sheehan by calling her a “nutty protest mom” (cleverly avoiding mentioning whose mom she is). You claim to lay out the facts, but as we’ve seen (and as you practically admit), the facts contradict your claims about Lipscomb rather than support them. You say the “Angry Left” is not interested in facts, but you defend Lipscomb not with facts, but with the lame assertion that other newspapers fudge the facts just as much as both he and you do. You claim that the facts in this case are “indisputable,” but then claim that the facts say something completely contrary to what they actually show.

You say a tactic of the “Angry Left” is to attack the messenger. But of course that’s exactly what you do with Cindy Sheehan. Rather than argue with her assertions, you call her names and suggest she didn’t love her son. You say that the “Angry Left” doesn’t like Lipscomb “because he doesn't march in goose step to their line of extremist thinking.” But both you and Lipscomb attack individuals deserving of at least some basic respect (a veteran and a mother of a dead soldier) because they don’t agree with your politics.

And the most comic (or perhaps tragic) claim you make is that it is the Left who is “Angry.” But the entire time you make this claim, you are using the most hateful of personal attacks, using the overheated rhetoric of vilification and applying it to anyone and everyone who doesn’t share your political views.

Once again, I ask you to take a step back from the precipice. Once again, I ask you to look objectively at what you’ve done. You have reduced yourself to claiming that a mother doesn’t love her son. You mock the grief of a parent for a child lost far too young. You’re doing something that is obviously and innately wrong, by anyone’s standards.

And you’re doing it without any good reason. You can certainly disagree with Cindy Sheehan and editorialize to your heart’s content about her ideas. You can even call her ideas wacky, out-of-touch, and just plain stupid. That’s fair. Attack her positions.

But don’t attack her love of her son. If there’s anything that all of us, liberal or conservative, can believe in and respect, it’s a mother’s love for her child. What could be political about that?

I don’t understand the level of hatred and viciousness that could lead someone to attack someone in this way, and I hope I never do. I don’t want to understand that level of maliciousness. But apparently, it’s something you feel compelled to do.

So, in the end, I’ll simply appeal not to your decency, but to your self interest. Making arguments such as this weakens your case. It makes you look petty and foolish. As I’ve pointed out, even your defense of Lipscomb ends up becoming an exercise in unintended comedy, as the substance of your editorial undercuts every assertion you make in it.

If you want others to give you and your ideas consideration (at least the vast majority of us who don’t already share your particular view of the world), you’ll do much better by being reasonable and intellectually honest rather than by attacking mothers of dead soldiers.

And by doing that, you’ll not only make your arguments better, but you’ll make the world just a bit more civil in the process. And that’s a fact.

You can start by apologizing to Cindy Sheehan.


Ted Remington

And that’s The Counterpoint

Hyman Index: 7.14(!)

Cost of the War in Iraq
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