Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Watching "The Point" Is Risky Behavior for Your Mental Health

Mark Hyman makes yet another claim that is both factually wrong and inherently immoral when he says “too many AIDS activists are more interested in condoning risky behavior than in treating or ending the disease.”

Does he really mean this? Does he actually think that people who devote themselves to fighting AIDS are actually in the business of promoting unsafe sex and drug use than stopping the disease?

I’m not sure. In reality, this claim, like the rest of
Hyman’s recent commentary on the recent International AIDS Conference, has little to do with having a discussion about how to best stop the disease, and a lot to do with the domestic “culture war” that many on the radical right have been fighting for the better part of two decades.

In this respect, Hyman’s editorial bears a striking similarity to the Bush policy on AIDS that he champions. Hyman says the Bush administration’s promise of billions of dollars to fight AIDS in Africa and elsewhere has been unfairly attacked because the administration favors tactics that he claims “stop the main causes of AIDS . . . unprotected sex, often with multiple partners, and from using infected needles.

Because many of those involved on the ground level in the fight against AIDS have questioned this approach, he says they are condoning “risky” behavior at the expense of stopping the disease.

Here’s the problem: although the Bush administration has promised $15 billion to fight AIDS, only a small trickle of that has actually materialized so far, often coming at the expense of domestic health programs that help women and children. Additionally,
a significant percentage of the funding for AIDS prevention is earmarked for abstinence education, not sexual education, information on condom use, etc.

Hyman says that people should simply stop having unsafe sex. But in Africa, the sad truth is that women are often under cultural, social, and economic pressures that prevent them from making this decision. In many cases, men are allowed to have any number of sexual partners before marriage, and even continue having multiple partners once married. Their wives, living in societies that don’t allow them to say no to their husbands, end up paying the price. Hyman’s pie-in-the-sky solution, one that flies in the face of reality even when applied to a much more egalitarian society
, is horribly naïve when applied to Africa and other developing regions in which women have little or no economic or political power.

But again, this is assuming that preventing the disease is actually a concern of Hyman and the Bush administration. The reality is that the argument for focus on abstinence in preventing AIDS is simply a nod to part of the right wing base—the same part that objects to comprehensive sexual education in this country.

As a result of putting domestic politics ahead of science and human decency, people are dying. The
Government Accounting Office did a study showing that the strings attached to the Bush administration’s AIDS funding is causing problems in effectively treating the disease in developing countries.

Rather than treat the problem that exists, the Bush administration is allowing cultural warriors to hold millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people hostage to its particular moral agenda.

Could anything be less moral? Could anything be less Christian?

It’s a minor miracle that the Bush administration was even willing to promise billions of dollars to fight AIDS around the globe, despite the fact that the actual funds have been slow in arriving and have been used inefficiently. The administration deserves some praise for at least acknowledging the problem and making a pledge to help stop it.

But that pledge becomes nearly meaningless when it is used as a means of placating the president’s domestic political base rather than actually solving the problem.

Hyman goes one step further by not only championing a “solution” that puts politics ahead of progress, but in his hideous display of blaming the victim (complete with a healthy dose of implicit homophobia) in his charge that those in the trenches of the war on AIDS are more interested in promiscuous sex and drug using than they are in stopping the disease.

A couple of small points worth noting. Hyman cites Bill Clinton’s criticism of the U.S. policy of not providing funds to countries that have legalized prostitution (Clinton was the keynote speaker at the conference). Yet, Hyman doesn’t mention that Clinton actually came to the defense of the Bush administration when it was criticized for its abstinence policies, saying that the administration had done much good with its funding.

More intriguingly, it’s interesting that Hyman jumps on the suggestion made by some at the conference that making prostitution legal would help stem the tide of AIDS. Hyman says, “[p]rostitution exploits more women and children worldwide than anything else.” (Let’s table for the moment the fact that much of this exploitation is the result of prostitutions illegal status).

If Hyman feels so strongly about the evils of prostitution, I wonder why he chooses to work for a man who
has gone down in infamy as an incredible whoremonger. As you might remember, David Smith, CEO of Sinclair Broadcasting, was caught with his pants down in a company car with a lady of easy virtue in Baltimore a few years back, and according to Sinclair insiders, it was hardly his first time.

So I ask you Mark: why do you work for a man who helps contribute to the exploitation of women and children?

I’m just wondering.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 6.45

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hyman Puts the Screws to Common Sense

Mark Hyman’s recent commentary on the “angriest cities” in America (as ranked by Men’s Health magazine) is unworthy of much comment, other than to note that Hyman’s own Baltimore came in at number four. Personally, I think that’s entirely unfair, given that on his lonesome, Hyman must skew the anger-o-meter (“angrometer”?) mightily.

What’s more worthy of inspection is
Hyman’s take on terrorism. Hyman mentions that there are reports that some of the intelligence that might have thwarted a terror attack on airliners flying from Britain to the U.S. was gotten through torture of a suspect in Pakistan.

In response to these reports, The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. (which Hyman says is “Britain’s version of the New York Times”)
editorialized about the dangers and moral bankruptcy of using torture in the “war on terror.” In particular, the paper states that “This battle must be won within the law. Anything else is not just a form of defeat but will in the end fuel the flames of the terror it aims to overcome.”

Hyman goes ballistic at this, asking, “Does any reasonable person believe these kinds of terrorists will moderate their actions based on whether Pakistan follows western norms of prisoner interrogation?” While torture might make some people “squeamish,” according to Hyman, it’s well worth the thousands of lives that might be saved as a result.

Hyman’s main argumentative tactics here are the straw man and the false dilemma. Hyman creates a cartoonish version of the Guardian’s argument by saying the paper’s claim that terrorists will be mollified if we use gentler tactics is unreasonable. That’s not the argument the paper is making. The point is not that active terrorists will alter their behavior, but that by using torture, we encourage people who aren’t terrorists to become terrorists.

As Tom Ricks details in Fiasco, this is exactly what happened in Iraq. The mental, physical, and emotional abuse (often targeting people who ended up being completely innocent) drove people who could have been allies to become active enemies. For every terrorist “broken” by such means, we risk creating 10, 20, 100, or more to take their place. Hyman is either creating a straw man version of the Guardian’s argument, or he’s simply too insipid to understand it in the first place.

The false dilemma comes in the framing of the issue in terms of a choice between condoning terror OR allowing terrorist attacks to happen. There’s no reason to think this is the choice facing us. In fact, there is good reason to think the opposite.

As noted above, torture has the effect of creating more animosity. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay . . . people across the world pay attention to these things and frame their attitudes toward us accordingly.

Moreover, there’s no evidence that torture provides helpful information. This realization goes back as far as Aristotle, who notes that the testimony of slaves coerced by torture cannot be taken to be reliable, since many will simply say whatever they think their captors want to hear. We would be much better off cultivating connections and good relations with people who might be willing to provide information on suspected terrorists than using torture.

And we can’t simply say, “We’ll try to cultivate good relationships, but if we need to, we will use torture of suspects as well.” The use of torture will undermine those attempts to cultivate good relationships. The sort of people who are likely to A) know something about the actions of terrorists, and B) be ambivalent enough about them that they would willingly inform on them, are exactly the sorts of individuals who are most likely to turn their backs on us if they knew we used torture.

The usual scenario invoked by people who favor the use of torture is the “ticking bomb” situation, in which a suspected terrorist knows exactly when and where an attack will take place, and the only way to stop the plot is to get the terrorist to talk.

But this is a hypothetical situation that has little to do with the realities we face. It certainly wasn’t the case in the arrests made recently in London, in which the group involved had been under surveillance for some time. And even if such a situation actually happened, is there any reason to think the suspected terrorists would say anything of value? Even if authorities knew for certain that the suspect had the information (an assumption made in the hypothetical situation, but almost never the case in real life), what reason do we have to think the suspect wouldn’t give false information, partial information, or nothing at all?

And these points are simply the pragmatic objections to torture. We haven’t touched on the moral implications (which, I assume, don’t concern Hyman). That use of torture makes us like the very people we rightly despise for their brutality, that it runs counter to international convention and our national history, and that it is, from any spiritual perspective, a sin—these are all apparently non issues for Hyman and his ilk.

At least that’s what seems to be the case. It’s worth noting that Hyman is praising the use of torture of a suspect in Pakistan. But is Hyman willing to endorse torture by the U.S. itself? And if he has a moment’s hesitation about that, what does that suggest about the morality of allowing others to do what we ourselves shrink from?

I’m just wondering.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.13

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Hyman Spins and Misses

Let’s tally up the falsehoods in Mark Hyman’s commentary that cites the recently foiled terrorist plot in Britain as evidence of how well Bush administration policies are working and how out of touch everyone is who objects, or even comments, about them.

Hyman says the National Security Agency tapped phone calls that helped “uncover” the plot. In fact, the plot was discovered when an informant came to British authorities with a tip. The U.S. wasn’t brought into the investigation until relatively late.

Hyman says the New York Times and “like-minded liberals . . . were against listening into terrorist phone calls.” Balderdash. What many people objected to (not just the Times and liberals) was allowing the federal government to eavesdrop on anyone they wanted without any just cause or warrant. That has nothing to do with listening in on suspected terrorists. Given that this investigation went on for months, there was ample time to collect warrants. The warrantless wiretapping that raised the hackles of Americans had nothing whatsoever to do with foiling this plot.

Hyman also says the same people (the Times and liberals) were against following the money trail to terrorists. Again, this is a nonsensical statement that depends on the presumed ignorance of the audience to make a point. Presumably, Hyman is referring to the piece in the Times that discussed the government’s use of financial tracking to thwart terrorists. Hyman ignores the fact that the same government program was described on the same day by several other papers, including the conservative Wall Street Journal. He also fails to mention that the story was a report, not an editorial condemning the practice.

According to Hyman,”[i]f the New York Times had its way, the world would be glued to their TV sets, right now, mourning the loss of thousands of lives in a terrorist attack bigger than 9/11.”
This statement is both factually bankrupt and despicable.

But Hyman might be onto something when he suggests we look to this most recent foiled attack as an example of what works and what doesn’t work in fighting terrorism. It’s unwise to extrapolate too much from a single case, but with that caveat, let’s think about what this incident shows us about how to combat terrorism:

1) terrorism is most successfully thwarted when treated as a criminal act, not a military one

2) human intelligence, not military hardware, is the preeminent weapon when combating terrorism

3) surveillance works best when targeted at specific individuals or groups under suspicion, not as a means of trolling for new leads

4) since the best sources of tips will be members of the Muslim community, creating good will toward Muslims both at home and abroad is critical

5) the weapons of choice for terrorist groups are low-tech items, not WMDs

6) the most dangerous terrorist cells operate on their own, without direct state sponsorship

7) assuming the suspected ties between the British plotters and al-Qaeda prove to exist, it is further proof that al-Qaeda, not Saddam Hussein, has always been the more serious threat

8) it was a huge mistake to abandon Afghanistan and let Osama bin Laden get away in order to invade Iraq

9) the continuing war in Iraq is doing nothing to make us safer from terror

All of these conclusions run counter to the party line of the Bush administration and the nattering neocon nabobs who give them full-throated support.

I would say that if Bush and Hyman have their way, we are more likely to end up mourning the needless deaths of thousands of people, but that ignores a couple of facts that are obvious as we continue to see the news coming in from Iraq.

They already have, and we already are.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.45

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hyman Lip Synchs

Mark Hyman continues the march of the straw men with his latest editorial in which he lays the lash to a caricatured version of “multiculturalism” that has nothing to do with the real thing.

The difference in the latest version of his attack is that Hyman can’t even be bothered to use his own words. All but a handful of sentences that serve to frame the editorial are lifted from Michael Barone’s book The New Americans.

Of course, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Not that Barone is much of a relief from Hyman’s overheated rhetoric. Despite his journalistic bonafides, his take on multiculturalism is little more than Hymanese with a few extra polysyllabic words thrown in.

As Hyman does, Barone conjures phantasms of various “elites” (a word he repeats several times) who prevent foreign born children from learning English (through bilingual education), require the government to provide ballots in foreign languages (which has the unfortunate side affect for Barone of enfranchising people not likely to vote Republican), and who “regard our civilization as a virus and hostile immigrants and multiculturalism as the cure” (note the logical equivalence implied by that second "and").

There are legitimate debates to be had over issues of bilingual education and related issues, but reasonable debate isn’t what Barone has in mind. For him, those on the other side are not simply mistaken, but immoral. Their motivations are dark and dastardly. Thus we have those who support multi-lingual voting materials put into the same category as “government elites . . . [who] allow preachers of terrorism to teach in Middle Eastern Studies programs,” and the “highly educated moral-relativist elites” who supposedly loathe the very idea of Americanism.

Tabling for now the fact that these “elites” are fictional (tellingly, neither Hyman nor the quotation from Barone provide any real-life examples of them), it’s significant that those who have different ideas than Barone about how to best integrate society are not distinguished from the cartoon-villain, America-hating elites with whom he lumps them.

Hyman ends the extended quotation by saying “multiculturalism is the disease.” For the second day in row, Hyman has not supported his definition of multiculturalism with any examples, or provided a single concrete case of how it has supposedly led to “home grown terrorists.”

While I disagree strongly with both Hyman and Barone, I wouldn’t stoop to saying their specific views are a “disease.” What I would say, however, is that their unwillingness or inability to enter into a substantive dialog with people who disagree with them, and the simplistic rhetoric that results from this, are examples of the cancer that infects much of today’s political discourse and does far more damage to the sense of a shared American community than any multilingual ballot or Spanish-speaking kindergarten class ever could.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman/Barone Index: 9.50 (All those name-calling invocations of “elites” take a toll!)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Madrasah vs. "The Point": Any Difference?

It’s always nice when Mark Hyman wears his xenophobia on his sleeve. It at least lends his editorializing the benefit of being sincere.

Hyman comes right out and says that the recent terrorist plot uncovered in Britain “demonstrated that multi-generation Europeans of foreign descent have shown more allegiance to radical Islam values from abroad than to their own country or to Western values.” The main culprit? Multiculturalism, of course.

And what is multiculturalism? According to Hyman, it’s “the push to have immigrants, their children, and their children's children adhere to the values, customs and ideals they left behind rather than assimilate into Western society.”

Odd. That’s not what any of the several dictionaries I’ve looked at say. Not even close. Most say something similar to this: “the preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society, as a state or nation.”

What we’ve got here is another example of Hyman setting up a straw man and wasting his time knocking it down.

The evidence of his detachment from reality is evident from his own words. He says, “multiculturalism supporters view Americanization as offensive. They see the adoption of U.S. and Western values to be repugnant.”

If I came across such a statement in an essay by a student, I’d scribble in the margin, “Where’s your evidence? Give an example or cite a source.”

Hyman doesn’t because he can’t. The multiculturalists he conjures up exist only in his fevered imagination.

He then makes a similar jump when he says, “Because of multiculturalism, home-grown terrorists have terrorized Spain, France and Britain.”

Really? Again, I have to ask: what’s the evidence? Lacking that, what’s at least a hypothetical explanation for how multiculturalism might conceivably lead to terrorism, even in theory? We don’t get either.

It would be bad enough if Hyman wasted our time with argumentative tactics that would embarrass a first semester composition student, but there’s real ugliness in his comments as well, specifically, the blanket judgment that “multi-generational” Europeans of foreign descent have more allegiance to radical Islam than to Western values.

Note the lack of any qualification of this statement. Not “some.” Not “many.” According to Hyman, this is true of all such people, apparently including the many descendents of foreign-born immigrants who aren’t even Islamic.

That’s where his commentary goes from simply being naïve and manipulative and veers into the ugly realms of xenophobia and racism.

In fact, Hyman has more in common with the radical Islamists than he would ever suspect. Like the militant mullahs who preach hatred of those who don’t conform to their narrow view of religious righteousness, Hyman’s voice calls out his own form of radicalism, egging on his listeners to despise those who don’t think, believe, talk, and behave the exact way they do.

In place of the minarets of the Imam’s, Hyman has broadcast antennae. But both the radical Imam and Hyman work on the same principle: gain influence by convincing those who are scared, gullible, and unsure of themselves to hate the “Other.” The “Other” is responsible for your problems. The “Other” is responsible for the world’s problems. It is not only acceptable to hold them in contempt, but a duty. Those who suggest problems are complex and solutions subtle just don’t get it. The answer is unswerving belief in what is obviously right (which is whatever the Imam or the Hyman says it is) and elimination of the “Other.”

Multiculturalism (the real thing, not Hyman’s cartoon version) is a danger to both the radical Islamists and the Hymans of the world. The basic tenet of it is that people who are different can recognize and accept differences, yet still get along and forge a unity that transcends differences without erasing them. Such a vision is anathema to those whose power and/or sense of self is built on the delusion that they have direct access to Truth and that their status among the “elect” can only be proved to themselves and each other through labeling those outside their circle as inferior nonbelievers out to harm the righteous.

As much as their practitioners might deny it, the rhetoric of radical Islam and the radical right are wonderful gifts to one another. More than that—they are two sides of the same coin (and not very different sides, for that matter).

Which would still be fine if the rest of us didn’t have to live with the results. While the Islamists call America the “Great Satan” and label the West as degenerate, and the radical right mouth stupidities such as “they hate us because they hate our freedom,” the work on actual solutions to the problems that lead to radicalism (helping the poor, greater access to education, compromises on political and international issues, and yes, a healthy sense of multiculturalism in an increasingly multicultural world) is put off.

We find ourselves in a Catch-22: to work on the solutions that will end radicalism, we must first end radicalism.

Perhaps the first step out of this conundrum might simply be for those of us with the power to oust radicals in positions of leadership (i.e., those of us living in societies where we can vote out our leaders) to do just that.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 7.69

For another recent riposte to Hyman's views on multiculturalism, see this earlier edition of The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Including vs. Excluding

Mark Hyman takes on a topic near and dear to my heart, school textbooks and the many guidelines and regulations that are placed on them before they can be deemed “acceptable” by state and districts across the country.

In a previous life, I worked for a couple of educational publishers that created ancillary and test preparation materials that were often subject to the same sorts of constraints.

And Hyman is right: there are a huge number of guidelines about what can and can’t be said, shown, or described in today’s educational materials. The problem with his argument is that he only applies his argument to one particular subset of these guidelines.

Predictably, Hyman bemoans what he terms the “politically correct” strictures placed on textbooks that end up with authors bending over backwards to avoid anything that could remotely be thought of as sexist, racist, etc., along with efforts to include representative characters from nearly every imaginable demographic group, even if the result is unrealistic.

Fair enough. As someone who had to rewrite sentences to say things like “Franklin Roosevelt lived with polio” rather than “Franklin Roosevelt suffered from polio,” be sure to make names in sample test questions reflect every possible ethnic derivation under the sun, and change historical dates from “B.C.” to “B.C.E.” (Before the Common Era), I’m far more familiar with the intricacies of non-offensive educational writing than Hyman is. And while the changes are often important and nearly always well-intentioned, they can seem pretty dopey.

But political correctness is actually a much more recent and narrower issue than its corollary: religious correctness. Hyman cites Diane Ravitch’s book “
The Language Police” approvingly to support his case, but he ignores much of what she says.

Ravitch points out what any of us in the educational publishing world know all too well: the Religious Right (a.k.a. “Christianists”) have been a major force when it comes to editing textbook content for far longer than politically correct liberals.

Just as an example, textbooks in Texas have had to go through a state board of review that was virtually run by an infamous family that insisted that any textbook not violate any of their personally held conservative religious beliefs.

The results in Texas and elsewhere are every bit as silly as the politically correct examples Hyman gives. One company I worked for had a product for kindergarten age children that involved a cute dolphin character who helped children understand, voice, and deal productively with their emotions.

Sounds like a charming and helpful product, yes? And it was. But not according to some adoption committees run by fundamentalist Christians, who lambasted it for featuring talking animals (witchcraft!) and for using such benign techniques as visualization to help kids deal with their feelings (New Age-ism!).

And this is hardly an isolated incident. Educational publishers around the country have had to be careful about including talking animals in certain books (bye-bye, Aesop). Others have had to purge any reference to witches, spells, or magic (bye-bye Grimm Brothers).

Relaxation techniques? Positive visualization? For most of us, these are proven tools for helping students (and others) control their temper and concentrate on their work. But for many Christianists, these are evidence of Eastern spirituality infiltrating our educational system.

And do we even need to mention textbooks dealing with issues such as sex education and evolution? Hyman claims political correctness distorts history. But the changes often demanded of educational texts in the areas of human reproduction and evolution often promote out-and-out falsehoods.

Hyman bemoans the fact that the phrase “Founding Fathers” might have to be cut from textbooks because of its supposed implicit sexism. But even if it were, no textbook would simply say that the Constitution simply materialized fully formed, or even suggest that this was a reasonable theory for how the document came to be. Yet that’s exactly the sort of change demanded by some fundamentalist groups when it comes to scientific texts describing how humans came to be.

Even stories that have tangential references to dinosaurs or fossils must be massaged carefully or left out altogether because of a vocal minority who think these topics tacitly endorse evolution.

And this leads to a broader observation about this topic. At first blush, one can simply say that both ends of the political spectrum have tried (and often succeeded) to influence the ways in which our children are taught, often at the expense of common sense.

But there is a qualitative difference in the types of distortions and omissions championed by either side. For the most part, the politically correct strictures that Hyman complains about are distortions on the side of inclusiveness. They ask us to include some often strange and euphemistic wording to talk about issues like physical disabilities, but the motive is to avoid stigmatizing kids who suff . . . oops . . . “live with” these limitations. Yes, gender and racial demographics in textbooks are often idealized, but again the idea is to counteract decades (and even centuries) of stereotypes and omissions. And yes, sometimes sensitivity to what might conceivably offend or stigmatize a student gets taken to ridiculous extremes (not wanting to use stories focusing on bucolic mountain settings for fear of alienating city kids).

In all of these cases, however, the silliness is at least committed in the service of inclusiveness. On the other hand, the sorts of changes demanded by right-wing fundamentalists often involve not simply benign distortions, but the omission of important facts. From prohibiting entire genres of stories to omitting basic health information about issues like contraception to distorting the facts to deny the scientific consensus on topics such as evolution and global warming, right-wing textbook editing is largely about excluding, not including.

Hyman hints that a solution would be to have teachers, not statewide textbook committees, choose what books they want to use. Amen to that! I just hope Hyman realizes that much of his political fellow travelers won’t be happy with such a solution, given that it might allow teachers to educate their children about the true age of the Earth, the benefits of relaxation, and other such dastardly topics.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.36

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Day Late, A Dollar Short, and Then Some

Mix equal parts Clinton-hating with IRS-a-phobia, and you have the makings of a perfect storm of conservative bloviating.

And that’s exactly what Mark Hyman gives us in
his latest editorial in which he is upset about the recent conclusion of independent counsel David Barrett’s investigation into Clinton HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. He’s not bothered by the fact that Barrett’s odyssey took 11 years and cost $23 million (the most expensive independent counsel investigation ever), but that portions of the report dealing with the IRS were redacted.

Hyman breathlessly tells us that “[t]he redacted sections reportedly detail widespread corruption by senior IRS officials.”

There are some problems with Hyman’s conspiracy narrative, however. First, the portions in question were redacted from the version of the report made public. Members of Congress, however, would have access to the full report. If any explosive charges are in the report, it wouldn’t take long before a politician privy to the information would cause a ruckus.

Secondly, the report apparently contains
no clear evidence of obstruction of justice or whether any criminal laws were broken.

Lastly, a three-judge panel recently put the smack down on Barrett, concluding that the allegations of obstruction stemmed from nothing more than bureaucratic conflicts, and that no ordinary prosecutor would have filed charges based on the nearly non-existent evidence Barrett produced.

Of course, right wing voices and Barrett himself claim that the lack of evidence of obstruction just goes to prove how successful the cover-up was. Not that this is surprising; even though Cisneros resigned seven years ago, the chance to engage in some nostalgic Clinton-bashing is too much for any red-blooded Republican to pass up.

But while the right wingers are chasing after black helicopters, it might be worth looking at the larger issue of what we choose to spend time, money, and energy investigating. Back in the Clinton days (you remember . . . budget surpluses, rising stock market, peace in the Middle East), no chance was lost to launch a major Congressional investigation of the president. No matter how trivial, witnesses were sworn, prosecutors appointed, and reports issued.

Just as an example, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives heard 140 hours of sworn testimony about whether President Clinton was using the official White House Christmas card list as a tool to find possible Democratic donors.

Flash forward ten years. How many hours of sworn testimony were given in regard to the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison—actions that perhaps permanently crippled not only America’s efforts in Iraq, but in the entire Middle East? Twelve.

And what about raw dollars? Barrett’s 11-year investigation cost us $23 million. Meanwhile, we’ve recently learned that House Republicans decided to cut the already-paltry $14 million budget researching treatment of brain injuries to soldiers in the field in half, to a measly $7 million. This at a time when concussive injuries are the most pervasive combat injury our troops in the field face in Iraq.

If “supporting the troops” is anything more than an empty phrase for him, perhaps Hyman could actually do some good and use his soapbox to call for *more* funding, not less, for treating the brain injuries of our men and women in uniform, rather than wasting another two minutes opining about a report that’s already 11 years late and $23 million short.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.12

Friday, August 18, 2006

One Giant Leap for Hyman-kind

Mark Hyman starts his latest editorial with the observation that the Washington Post editorialized in support of a federal court ruling that keeps Tom DeLay on the ballot in Texas, but that the paper also supported a ruling that allowed Frank Lautenberg to replace Robert Torricelli on the New Jersey gubernatorial ballot in 2002.

He ends with the statement: Liberal newspapers are incapable of ever taking a principled stand.
In the rhetoric biz, we call that an “Inferential leap” – in this case, one that would make Evel Knievel proud.

It would be one thing if there was a series of claims and supporting statements that led the viewer logically from the first observation to the universal claim he makes at the end, but there’s not.

In other words, even if one granted Hyman’s premise that the Washington Post based its apparently contradictory positions on nothing more than the party affiliation of the players involved in each case, it would take a well-supplied mule train several days to traverse the chasm between that fact and the conclusion that “liberal” newspapers are “incapable” of “ever” taking a principled stand. (By the way, the Washington Post’s editorial page was infamously pro-war in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq; was that also an unprincipled stand by a supposedly liberal newspaper, Mark?)

But the difference in editorials might go beyond simple political fickleness and instead have something to do with the law. In each case, state laws were the issue, and they are quite different in Texas than they are in New Jersey. New Jersey’s law is written with the intention of allowing maximum flexibility in candidate selection/replacement, while Texas’s laws are much stricter.

Beyond that, although Torricelli and DeLay both left their respective races due to charges of corruption (something Hyman explicitly states about Torricelli, but doesn’t mention in connection with DeLay), Torricelli wasn’t attempting to “game the system” the way DeLay clearly was.

DeLay chose to stay in the race and allow his fellow GOP’ers to nominate him so that he could collect campaign contributions that he could use for his legal defense fund. To allow his name to then be stricken from the ballot would in essence give Texas politicians a green light to rake in money through “campaign contributions” to take care of personal legal trouble, despite having no intention of running. The ruling in Texas (upheld on appeal by none other than Antonin Scalia) makes politicians accountable: their constituents now know that a politician is obliged to actually run once they’ve profited from campaigning.

And the political party machines must now ensure that their primaries are now contests among viable candidates rather than allowing a favorite son to take advantage of the system for his personal gain, then swap him for someone else after the fact.

So the Republicans are stuck with DeLay, who is using his political contributions to save his own hide and has little chance of winning.

It *is* poetic justice that the GOP in Texas has finally experienced what the rest of the country has: being swindled by “The Hammer .“

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.71

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hyman Photoshops the Truth

Sometimes the universe is generous.

I was already loaded for bear as I sat down to draft a response to Mark Hyman’s recent editorial charging the “liberal media” with doctoring pictures to “mislead the public” when I came across the news that the Republican National Committee has been busted for
Photoshopping a Hitler-esque moustache onto the face of Howard Dean on the RNC’s official website.

Subtle, guys. Real subtle.

Not that creative manipulation of photos is anything new for the right.
Several conservative news outlets (including Fox News) posted a doctored photo that juxtaposed John Kerry and Jane Fonda speaking at an anti-war rally. During the 2004 election, the Bush campaign digitally altered a photo of a crowd shot in a political ad. In 2005, the RNC manipulated a photo of troops watching television in Iraq to make it appear they were watching Democratic politicians criticizing the Bush administration. They were actually watching a cartoon. And as recently as last month, Republican senatorial candidate Mike DeWine was caught using faked images of the World Trade Center on 9/11 in an ad that attacked his opponent’s commitment to national security.

So conservatives and conservative media have a track record of creating and using doctored photos to serve their political purposes. So that means “a pox on both your houses,” right?

Not quite. Hyman’s idea of the “liberal media” is bit broad (USA Today is liberal?!). Moreover, two of the cases of “doctored” photos Hyman describes can hardly be said to be overtly political. Perhaps one can say that the Reuters photo of Beirut after a bombing that included some extra smoke added could be construed to be anti-Israel, and therefore vaguely anti-Bush, but what of the photo Hyman cites of soldiers and Iraqi civilians? Apparently the
photo was altered to improve its visual composition. That’s a no-no, but hardly a partisan political act. Hyman makes no attempt to explain how this aesthetic change is evidence of an anti-Bush conspiracy perpetrated by a cabal of left-wing photographers. (By the way, the L.A. Times fired the photographer in question; I wonder if the RNC will do the same to the staff members responsible for turning Howard Dean into Der Fuhrer.)

USA Today photo of Condi Rice also apparently has a benign explanation: in trying to sharpen the photo for reproduction in the newspaper, Rice’s eyes ended up looking a bit spooky. Again, it’s something that shouldn’t have happened, but hardly an overtly political act.

The only example that could conceivably support Hyman’s thesis is the Boston Globe publication of photos allegedly showing U.S. soldiers sexually assaulting Iraqi civilians. But in this case, the photos weren’t altered,
but accepted as possibly genuine when they had in fact been taken off the web. The photos certainly should have been vetted more carefully (and even if they had been genuine, such pictures probably shouldn’t be posted in a daily newspaper), but there’s no evidence that the Globe consciously chose these fake photographs and attempted to pass them off as real (which is what Hyman carefully implies in his editorial).

So, while Hyman collects some examples of journalistic blunders, he doesn’t make a persuasive case that such photos were conscious manipulations done for political motivations.

But there’s a still larger issue here. Hyman’s complaint is ultimately that these journalistic enterprises presented a distorted view of reality in order to make a political point. But isn’t this what Hyman does on a regular basis, only with words rather than pixels?

Let’s take this very editorial as an example:

In Hyman’s discussion of the Reuters photograph, he creatively “crops” the fact that the photo was taken by a freelance journalist and that it was the photographer, not Reuters, who altered the Beirut photo.

He “enhances” his narrative by saying Reuters, not the freelance photographer, “has been caught doctoring” the photo.

He “Photoshops out” the fact that Reuters terminated its relationship with the photographer and purged its files of every single photo taken by him, including those that are certainly genuine.

He creatively “frames” the piece by saying Reuters is “the latest liberal news organization” to use doctored photos, not offering a single bit of evidence the Reuters is “liberal” in its news coverage.

He adds his own “shading” to suggest the photo somehow had the intention of promoting a liberal agenda without offering any evidence (or even a plausible hypothesis) of how the photo was doing that. The facts on the ground, not a slightly altered photograph, attest to the damage on the ground in Beirut; digitally enhanced smoke is hardly necessary.

He “blurs” the facts by quoting an abusive email sent by a Reuters employee to a blog that publicized the use of the photo, but not mentioning that Reuters immediately suspended the employee. By intentionally creating this artificial haze, Hyman tries to get his viewers to see Reuters as an organization that condones the sentiments expressed by this one employee.

You get the idea. And you obviously can see how the same photographic metaphor applies to virtually all of Hyman’s editorials. As we’ve pointed out here time and again, Hyman doesn’t simply offer arguments from a conservative perspective, but actively engages in willful distortions of facts to score political points (say, for example, misattributing quotations and taking them out of context in order to smear someone who publicly disagrees with him).

Perhaps it’s a symptom of our culture’s fetishization of the visual over the verbal that Hyman gets apoplectic about rather benign examples of photo manipulation, but sees nothing wrong with manipulating the facts verbally in order to make his argument.

Or perhaps Hyman is simply a hypocrite.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 7.83

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

With Friends Like CAGW . . .

According to Mark Hyman, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) is on your side.

That’s only true if you’re an executive at
Microsoft or Philip Morris, have parents worth tens of millions of dollars, own your own chain of health clubs, or are a Mexican avocado magnate.

The organization that Hyman cites as a “non-partisan” watchdog on government waste is actually
a conservative think tank funded by right-wing foundations and large corporate donors. Hyman’s own editorial is a tip off; note that his list of CAGW’s “worst offenders” are all Democrats, while the list of “friends of taxpayers” are all Republican.

Given the exponential growth of ear-marked projects under Republican control of Congress, you’d think that a truly non-partisan group looking out for government waste would be a bit more bipartisan than that.

But this would be assuming that CAGW is actually looking out for the ordinary American taxpayer. They aren’t. They’re
first loyalty is to huge corporations. A steadfast supporter of corporo-socialism, CAGW actively works against anti-trust regulations, such as those that led to the lawsuit against Microsoft.
Understandably, America’s corporate giants love CAGW.
Big business can pay CAGW to lobby for their interests, but because CAGW doesn’t disclose their donors and because of its alleged “non-partisan” status, corporations can push their agenda through a group that doesn’t appear to be attached to them. It’s influence-laundering.

Thus, you get CAGW actively campaigning against things that help individual citizens and their children, such as open-source software, regulations against tobacco companies, and restrictions on hard liquor advertising and sales, all because corporations that oppose them have hired CAGW to do their dirty work. CAGW has even been charged with
manufacturing phony letters to create faux “grass roots” campaigns.

You don’t even have to be an American company to profit from CAGW’s services.
Mexican avocado growers gave CAGW $100,000 to lobby on their behalf. True, avocados aren’t exactly a major issue facing American taxpayers, but for a hundred grand, CAGW is more than willing to treat avocados like an issue of life and death.

And as far as fighting against wasting taxpayer money, CAGW proves that “pork” is a subjective term. They are proponents of repealing the estate tax, which only affects a few thousand of the country’s richest families, and the repeal of which will add greatly to budget deficits that will affect the lives of average Americans, either by eliminating services or requiring them to make up the difference through increases in their own taxes.

Then there’s the YMCA. According to CAGW, the “Y” is pork. That might surprise you, given the organization’s long history of civic involvement. But once you find out that the health club industry has hired CAGW to lobby on their behalf, the mystery clears up quite suddenly.

So when listening to Hyman tick off who your friends and enemies are, according to CAGW, take it with a large pinch of salt to add to your guacamole.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.72

Monday, August 14, 2006

Short Counter-Takes

A few brief comments on Hyman’s editorials over the weekend:

Why does Mark Hyman hate our veterans? In
a recent “Short Take” segment, Hyman claims PBS president Paula Kerger is attempting to “avoid the law” by hoping the FCC won’t fine PBS stations for airing a Ken Burns documentary this fall that contains, in Hyman’s words, “foul language.” What Hyman doesn’t tell you is that the documentary is about World War II, and the “foul language” at issue comes from a handful of profanities that are used by WWII veterans in recounting their experiences. Apparently Hyman doesn’t think the Greatest Generation should be allowed to tell their own stories in their own words without oversight by big government.

Parenthetically, what does it say about us as a culture that we get our knickers all twisted up over the “obscenity” of an occasional utterance of “shit” or “fuck” in a documentary about an event that resulted in over 60 million deaths? I’m just wondering.


If you want a great example of Hyman’s lip service about using the “Mailbag” segment as a source of “viewer feedback” that encourages “critical thinking,” look no further than
the most recent installment. Hyman devotes it to pasting together a series of mail from viewers complaining about his recent commentary on the “Angry Left” that include plenty of deleted expletives and other attacks in order to prove his point. Too bad Hyman lacks the courage to actually read and respond to cogent replies. In an attempt to bolster his argument through this sort of “proof,” Hyman’s deck-stacking letter selection reveals his inability to make thoughtful arguments or respond coherently to rational critique.


Hyman’s commentary on a recent Harris poll on the most admired professions is unremarkable except for the fact that, while noting that the biggest growth in respect over the last couple of decades has been for teachers, Hyman himself has made bashing educators one of the cornerstones of his “Point” commentaries. If nothing else, the Harris poll is welcome evidence of Hyman’s impotence to alter public attitudes dramatically.

And those are The Counterpoints.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Hyman Chews His Cud

Mark Hyman recycles so many of his commentaries and rides so many of his favorite hobby-horses into the ground that it we shouldn’t be surprised by it. But I was still startled to see that Hyman has decided to return to the thoroughly discredited conservative talking point that the New York Times “tipped off the terrorists” in an article a couple of months ago discussing the efforts of the government to freeze financial assets of suspected terrorist organizations.

In a long and labored analogy, Hyman compares the Times unfavorably with employees at Pepsi who, when approached by a former Coca-Cola employee with trade secrets of its rival, turned him in rather than take advantage of the situation.

Hyman claims the situation is “exactly like” the New York Times having information about tracking terrorists’ finances, except that the good folks at Pepsi were ”more ethical than the cultural elitists at the New York Times.” (Parenthetically, I can’t help but notice the utterly gratuitous use of “cultural elitists” in this context. It’s an epithet that has no bearing on the substance of the charges Hyman’s making; it’s simply thrown in as part of his ongoing name-calling campaign).

I can think of at least one way in which the situations aren’t exactly alike: the President of the United States hasn’t openly talked about Coke’s secret recipe:

I made it clear that part of winning the war against terror would be to cut off
these evil people's money; it would be to trace their assets and freeze them,
cut off their cash flows, hold people accountable who fund them, who allow the
funds to go through their institutions; and not only do that at home, but to
convince others around the world to join us in doing so.

President George W. Bush, October 1, 2001

In fact, as
Media Matters for America has pointed out, the administration has made a great many public statements about the tactic of tacking and freezing finances of terrorists.

And, as we also know, the information that ran in the Times was also published by the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. Aren’t they traitorous cultural elitists as well?

As the
Columbia Journalism Review notes, the hubbub about this supposed breach in security is not only nonsense, but represents a real danger to a free press, particularly when folks ostensibly engaged in journalism themselves repeat these bogus charges and, riled into a cannibalistic frenzy, call for limitations on the press as a result (e.g. the National Review, the Wall Street Journal, and of course our own Mark Hyman).

Yet, despite the detailed
debunking of all of the conservative talking points on this issue, Hyman regurgitates them, hoping and assuming yet again that his audience is too dumb to be aware of the facts.

It’s odd that Hyman is so vicious when it comes to the Times; after all, it was the
Times’ lazy reporting of the administration’s claims of Iraqi weapons programs that provided such valuable cover for champions of preemptive war. Perhaps if the Times had actually been a bit more skeptical of the Bush administration’s spin, the president wouldn’t have had such an easy time selling a war that has led to the deaths of more than 2,500 U.S. soldiers, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and the destabilization of an entire region.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: One giant example of false analogy.

Since When Did Common Sense Become "Extremist"?

Poor Mark Hyman. As the country increasingly turns against the policies of the Bush administration he champions, he grows increasingly reliant on hyperbole and propagandistic techniques in a desperate attempt to portray his own views as mainstream.

A great recent example is his
commentary on the Lamont/Lieberman primary. Speaking a couple of days before the vote, Hyman engages in a bit of preemptive eulogizing of the senator from Connecticut, praising him as his party’s “last gentleman” who is perhaps the only current Democratic senator “who stand[s] on principle over politics.”

How does Hyman define “principles”? Being a vocal supporter of continuing the Iraq war.

In an example of blanket ad hominem attack, Hyman suggests that anyone who raises an objection to the war is doing so for political reasons, not principles. Then, in a moment of unintended hilarity, Hyman turns around and chastises the Democratic party for becoming “intolerant toward a diversity of viewpoints.”

I can’t make this stuff up.

He also calls those who oppose the war “pro-surrender” and says that if they had been around during World War II, we’d all be speaking German and Japanese now.

Perhaps someone should remind Hyman that some of the very first and most vocal critics of the Bush administration’s Iraq folly were members of the military. If you read the recent book
Fiasco by Tom Ricks, you get a detailed picture of how opposed much of the military was to the invasion, complaining to Rumsfeld and others in the administration that such a move would hamper our efforts to combat terrorism, get us bogged down in a hostile region for years and years, and get a lot of people needlessly killed. Of course, the administration ignored the input of the guys who would actually have to carry out the invasion, and as a result, every dire prediction made by the folks in the military has come horribly true.

And now, over sixty percent of Americans also oppose the war. But Hyman would style this overwhelming majority as advocates of “surrender” who “don’t support our troops.”

Even if you are a proponent of the war, you can’t claim objection to it is an “extremist” position. It’s supporters of the war who are on the political fringes. As for supporting the troops, not only *can* one be against the war but support the troops, but I would argue one *has* to be against the war to support the troops at this point. In what way is championing an invasion based on flimsy “evidence” against a country that posed no immediate threat and doing so without the troops, equipment, or exit strategy that military planners insisted would be necessary for success “supporting the troops”?

Perhaps we should have “supported the troops” by listening to them before putting them in harm’s way. And perhaps we should get them out of harm’s way now that military force has done all it can, rather than letting them become sacrificial lambs to the neo-con idol of gunbarrel diplomacy.

Hyman, and others in the conservative prattle-sphere (including members of the Bush administration itself) are now engaged in therapeutic self-talk, trying to convince themselves that it’s the Democrats who are the extremists. The reality is, though, that Lamont’s position on the Iraq war is now not only the dominant view in the country, but is even being embraced by a number of high profile Republicans (e.g., Chuck Hagel).

These talking heads define “principled” and “mainstream” as agreeing with the agenda of the Bush administration and “bipartisanship” as supporting the right wing of the Republican party, even when prominent conservatives vilify Democrats and equate bipartisanship with
date rape. Only by granting these illogical premises can one spin the victory of Ned Lamont as a win for extremist, partisan politics.

Rather, it’s simply a sign of an electorate coming to its senses.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.78

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hyman Running on Empty

Mark Hyman studiously avoids the real issue about America’s energy consumption in his recent editorial defending America’s use of a disproportionate amount of the world’s energy.

At least I’m assuming he’s consciously avoiding the issue. Either that, or he just doesn’t get it.

The crux of Hyman’s editorial is that Americans shouldn’t think twice about using the amount of energy we do, since it’s simply a sign of our success as a nation. If we used a percentage of energy equal to our population (as compared to the rest of the world), we would end up living like they do in third world countries.

But Hyman’s framing of the issue is all wrong. The significance of America’s use of a quarter of the world’s energy is that when it comes to environmental issues, it’s crucial that America actively participate in moving to clean and renewable energy. As long as the U.S. keeps using as much energy as it does, and using primarily fossil fuels in the process, much of the eco-friendly developments that other countries make will go for naught.

Contrary to Hyman’s framing of the argument, no one is saying we shouldn’t air condition our hospitals or that we should cut factory production (two things Hyman claims would be necessary if we were to curtail our energy use). Rather, the argument is that, given our huge use of energy, it’s incumbent upon us to find ways of creating and using energy that doesn’t poison the rest of the globe.

Sure, air condition hospitals, but do it using energy from wind farms. Keep our factories productive, but put sensible and attainable regulations on how much pollution they put into the air. Keep the family car, but mandate that Detroit put out cars that meet common sense fuel efficiency standards. And along the way, invest in better public transit systems.

One of the first things the Bush administration did when they assumed power was to back out of the Kyoto protocols. This captured in microcosm the Bush attitude toward the rest of the world: shut up and don’t bother us. The problem is that we are always connected to the rest of the world, whether we want to be or not. Actively participating in the development of alternative energy is the ethical thing to do. On top of that, it would end up stimulating the economy, make us healthier, and help our country run more efficiently in a variety of ways. There’s no downside.

No, there’s no reason America should abandon modern conveniences and turn ourselves into a third world country. But third world countries shouldn’t have to pay the price for our lack of imagination and willpower by suffering the ecological (and economic, health, humanitarian, etc.) ill effects of the disproportionate amount of strain America is putting on the Earth.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.12

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

War: What Is It Good For?

War is good.

That’s the upshot of Hyman’s editorial on the conflict in Lebanon and Israel. Mocking those who critique Israel’s “disproportionate response,” Hyman says that what needs to happen to bring peace to the Middle East is for one country to assert its strength and become dominant (presumably Israel, although he doesn’t actually name the country).

War is necessary for peace. Sound familiar?

Hyman’s argument is based on a false definition of “proportionate.” Hyman says that an Isreali response that wasn’t “disproportionate” would necessarily be one that led to stalemate. That, of course, is nonsense. One can respond proportionately, but still decisively (e.g. going after the captors/killer of Israeli soldiers). One could even respond disproportionately, but do so within in ethical limits (e.g. wiping out Hizbollah, while not killing hundreds of Lebanese civilians in the process). Admittedly, from a practical standpoint, it’s difficult to pursue a disproportionate response and stay in the realm of ethical conduct. Even with the best of intentions, disproportionate responses have a tendency to punish those who have done nothing to deserve it.

But Hyman seems to think that all-out war is an acceptable, and even necessary, step to take toward solving the crisis in the Middle East.

I can understand his point of view. I mean, wars have raged in that part of the world for three thousand years, and look how far things have progressed! I’m sure just a little more conflict and killing will tidy things up nicely.

And this is the larger fallacy in Hyman’s argument. One can debate all day long about what constitutes a proportionate military response vs. a disproportionate one, but you’re still left with the idea that military aggression is a reasonable way to deal with diplomatic issues.

It’s not surprising that Hyman would take such a position. After all, it’s the centerpiece of Bush foreign policy. If a nation or group is not with us, they’re against us, and if they’re against us, we sure as hell won’t talk to them.

Invade or ignore. Those are the two options the Bush Doctrine allows when dealing with adversaries. And both end up making matters worse (e.g., Iraq, North Korea).

Some have suggested that the Bush administration’s antipathy to actual diplomacy is because of a perception that it’s somehow “unmanly” to talk with one’s adversaries.

I suppose, but only if one equates masculinity with knuckle-dragging, chest-beating, monkey-man behavior (which is particularly ironic coming from an administration that’s firmly in the corner of Intelligent-Designers).

Talking is always better than killing. I don’t think you need to be a rhetorician to believe that. I think you just need to be a human being.

The Hymans (and Cheneys, and Rumsfelds) of the world will say, “I suppose you think everything would’ve been just fine if we had sat down and had a nice afternoon tea with Adolph Hitler, huh?”

No. When your adversary refuses to enter into a meaningful dialog, and when they choose to use force, sometimes the plowshare must be turned back into a sword.

But the kidnapping, even killing, of a handful of Israeli soldiers is not the invasion of Poland. It’s a criminal act perpetrated by thugs who should be tracked down and brought to justice. It’s not a reason to start a war that kills hundreds and hundreds of innocent people. Hyman has it right, but doesn’t know it, when he cites Sean Connery in “The Untouchables” as an example of how to win a fight. Connery’s character advocated going after the criminals themselves with gusto, not mowing down a street full of innocent Chicagoans with Tommy guns in an attempt to pick off a particular crook. Yet that’s exactly what Hyman is defending.

The real division in the Middle East is not between Jew and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian. It’s between those who think that violence is the proper way to solve problems, and those who believe such problems must be worked out through peaceful compromise. This division slices through all existing national, ethnic, and religious groups.

The Bush administration has made it clear that they stand with the warmakers. By refusing to engage with all parties, they’ve managed to exacerbate the problem to the point where violence has broken out, a violence that they seem to think could have a positive effect. Hyman goes a step further, almost gleefully welcoming war as some sort of mammoth trial by combat in which things can only be finally settled after a great spilling of blood.

But, as the history of this very region demonstrates beyond doubt, war begets war. There is always an atrocity that must be punished, an attack that must be answered, a death that must be avenged.

And as long as those who are willing to kill to solve problems are given the power to set the agenda, that’s a cycle that will never be broken.

No, war isn’t the answer, Mark. It’s time to give peace a chance.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.02

Maryland Again

Mark Hyman returns to the topic of Maryland’s energy issues, adding to his previous editorial by simply adding that the bond rating on the company responsible for providing many Marylanders with power has been downgraded by Wall Street because of the crisis.

Everything that was said in response to Hyman’s previous editorial remains true: he’s dealing with a local issue in a national forum, he’s editorializing on behalf of big business when it’s clear that huge energy companies that have monopolies are very much part of the problem (see Enron), and most importantly, he’s echoing the position of Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich without acknowledging that he worked for Ehrlich and that Sinclair has had ongoing ties with the governor.

Hyman also draws a false parallel between the Maryland situation and California, describing the energy crisis in that state in 2001 as simply the result of thoughtless deregulation, ignoring the huge role that corrupt business practices by Enron played in the energy shortages in that state.

The implication of Hyman’s argument is also false: that the only way to protect customers from violent jumps in energy prices is to allow a single company to have a virtual monopoly on supplying energy.

Two other options would be to have publicly-owned utilities (thus taking the profit motive out of the equation) or deregulating in a way that actually brings in competition (the problem in Maryland was that alternative suppliers didn’t move in to compete with the existing behemoth conglomerates producing the state’s energy).

No solution is without its risks and drawbacks, but without being truthful about the full story behind previous energy crises and ignoring all the viable alternatives, Hyman willfully distorts the issue to serve the interests of a political friend and patron.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.22

Monday, August 07, 2006

Assimilate, or Die . . . Literally

Nearly 20 percent of U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home. According to Mark Hyman, though, it’s “absurd” to suggest that hospitals that serve non-native English speakers should provide translators to ensure accurate sharing of information between patients and caregivers.

his editorial on the topic, Hyman cites a recent essay in the New
England Journal of Medicine that suggests just this. What irks him in particular is that the essay concurs with a ruling by the Clinton administration that access to interpreters is a right ensured by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that includes a prohibition against discriminating against people based on race and national origin.

Not so, according to Hyman, who notes that there isn’t a single word about medical translators in the 1964 act. Responsibility for language problems lies with the non-English speaking patients, not the hospitals that serve them. Providing interpreters for patients is “impossible” and helps explain why “health care costs continue to skyrocket.”

In addition to the dubious ethics of Hyman’s argument, there are two basic argumentative problems with it. First, Hyman uses the red herring of “skyrocketing” health costs, attempting to link this to the issue of hospitals providing interpreters.

I don’t know about you, but I think Hyman needs to provide an interpreter to explain how the language issue is linked to rising health costs.

And in fact, it’s not. Hyman is simply taking an issue his audience has strong feelings about, the cost of health care, and suggesting without an iota of evidence that the costs of dealing with non-native speakers of English is somehow contributing to that.

Just for kicks, I decided to see how much it would cost to hire a dozen interpreters for every single hospital in the U.S. at $40,000 per year. This is obviously a huge overestimation of what would be needed to provide reasonable support, but that’s the whole point. Even if you insisted that every hospital carry twelve fulltime interpreters, the annual cost would be $2.4 billion.

Sounds like a lot of money, that is until you realize that the U.S. spent $1.7 trillion on health care in 2003. Even with the huge glut of highly paid interpreters I’m hypothesizing, the total layout would add up to 0.14 percent of healthcare costs.

So Hyman’s linkage of interpreters to healthcare costs is a classic example of scare tactics, as well as an invocation of an invalid cause/effect relationship.

The larger argumentative “cheat” that Hyman uses is the old strict constructionist argument that because the 1964 Civil Rights act doesn’t specifically mention a right to a medical translator, the legislation doesn’t apply.

Now, there might be arguments about why the Civil Rights Act doesn’t mandate access to translators when getting medical care, but the simple fact that the act doesn’t specifically mention this is not one of them. Lots of specific rights are covered in the broader language of legislation (see how long it takes an owner of a semi-automatic weapon to invoke the Second Amendment if you suggest such weapons should be illegal).

Moreover, as the author of the NEJM essay points out, hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid money are getting government funds. They are therefore obliged to follow federal civil rights law. And if lack of a means of transmitting and receiving crucial information with a healthcare provider because you came from a non-English speaking country isn’t discrimination based on national origin, I don’t know what is.

Does this mean that a county hospital in rural Iowa is obliged to keep a native speaker of Swahili on its permanent staff? Of course not. But hospitals that operate in areas where a significant percentage of incoming patients speak other languages should be prepared to handle the issue. It would be malpractice for a hospital in Alaska not to have the proper equipment in place to deal with cases of hypothermia, and it would be equally wrong for a hospital in east Los Angeles not to have Spanish-speakers on staff to help translate for their patients.

On top of this, having access to personnel who can translate for non-native speakers makes good business sense. It means better, more efficient care of patients, which reduces costs. It also helps guard against malpractice suits that might arise from errors made due to language barriers (and, as the NEJM essay points out, this has already happened).

Ultimately, Hyman’s argument relies on his assumption that his audience will share his xenophobia and callous attitude toward those who are different from them. And it’s this xenophobia that’s the motive behind his argument as well. As mentioned earlier, it’s preposterous to say that the cost of providing translating service for patients adds measurably to the cost of healthcare (in fact, it would probably lower it). Even Hyman doesn’t believe this.

No, the only reason to be as violently opposed to a call for more multi-lingual healthcare services as Hyman is the desire to make things as unpleasant as possible for non-native speakers of English. The unstated thesis of Hyman’s argument is that Americans (at least those who speak English fluently) would be better off letting some non-native English speakers suffer or die because of inadequate language services since it would 1) dissuade foreigners from immigrating to America, and/or 2) force immigrants to assimilate or die (sort of the same threat the Borg make in Star Trek).

An incredibly ugly sentiment. But then again, that’s our Mark.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.59


[Apologies for being a couple of days behind. I've been moving offices and haven't had as much spare time or internet access as usual.]

Ah, projection. It ain’t just in movie theaters. There’s plenty of it coming from the right in general, and Mark Hyman in particular.

Hyman recently joined a cavalcade of right wing voices (from Newsmaxers to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow) who are rewriting recent history to suggest that the
growing danger of North Korea is somehow the fault of Bill Clinton.

In fact, Hyman claims Clinton may have “cooked” the intelligence on North Korea’s missile threat to make the case for funding a “Star Wars” missile defense system weaker, particularly in regard to a 1995 National Intelligence Estimate that said the U.S. would not likely face a serious threat from ICBMs from any other country for at least 15 years.

First, if you’ll look at your calendar, you’ll see that we are only three and a half years from that 15 year projection, and, despite North Korea’s bellicose Taipodong-rattling, there still isn’t any country that can reach the U.S. with a nuclear missile. That 1995 report is looking pretty good. Moreover, a CIA report in 1996, while disagreeing with the NIE report in some respects, also concluded that the NIE hadn’t been politicized.

Would that were true of the sudden rush to play up the threat of ICBMs. When the CIA report didn’t come down harshly enough on the 1995 NIE, Republicans continued to hold hearings until they got one they liked. This one just happened to be chaired by one Donald Rumsfeld.

Did this commission suddenly say that ICBMs were going to fall from the sky? Sure. Was the logic behind the conclusions fuzzy and suspect? Possibly. Did Rumsfeld finally give congressional Republicans what they wanted? You bet.

(For a summary of the politics behind this turnaround, see the
Washington Post article on it.)

So there’s your first case of projection: claiming objective study of the ballistic missile threat revealed the truth behind the politicized whitewash that said ICBMs were not a threat in the near future. The reverse is actually true: the drive to hype the missile threat was the political maneuver.

The larger projection going on, however, is the claim that the devolution of the North Korea situation is the fault of Clinton, not George W. Bush.

As Fred Kaplan has documented in his articles for both and Washington Monthly, Clinton not only took North Korea seriously as a possible nuclear threat, but did quite a bit to prevent that from happening, including nearly going to war, then later hammering out a treaty.

In other words, Clinton used the threat of force, political pressure, and diplomacy to contain North Korea. The Bush administration, keen to do the reverse of whatever Clinton did, promptly screwed things up. By refusing to continue negotiations with North Korea (or being able to threaten North Korea militarily or with diplomatic action) the Bush administration threw away the progress that had been made, and managed to humiliate both Colin Powell (who had publicly stated that the Bush administration would continue the Clinton policies) and the South Korean president, who had been working to increase dialog with the North.

With talks cut off indefinitely (due to the Bush administration’s infantile foreign policy stance that if we don’t like you, we won’t talk to you), North Korea’s egomaniacal and Lilliputian dictator, acting like a child himself, sought attention the only way he could: by acting out. But while a bratty child acts out by throwing his mashed potatoes at the wall, Kim Jong Il decided to break out his nuclear materials. Why not? After all, the diplomacy that had led to them being under lock and key had evaporated under the “leadership” of the Bush administration.

As Kaplan writes, “Bush's failure to make a deal, while the fuel rods were still locked up, constitutes one of the great diplomatic blunders of our time.”

So perhaps Hyman is right in a broken clock sort of way. Yes, few in the 1990s foresaw that North Korea would be pushing as hard as it is for nuclear weapons as it is today. But that’s precisely because most assumed that even if a hopelessly clueless president were elected in 2000, no one could possibly be stupid enough to disengage with North Korea after so much progress had been made.

On that point, at least, they *were* wrong.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.17

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hyman Doesn't Give G.O.P Credit It Deserves

In his comments about Congress’s penchant for pork barrel spending, Mark Hyman says “we’ve come to learn that Republicans in Congress are no better than Democrats when it comes to mismanaging the nation’s finances.”

Hyman’s not being fair to the G.O.P. In fact, Congressional
Republicans are far better at mismanaging the nation’s finances. Since Republicans assumed control of Congress in 1994, pork barrel projects funded by Congress has multiplied nearly ten fold.

Add to this the fact that Republicans, along with the president, have championed slashing taxes on the super rich (including a cynical ploy to tie a cut in the inheritance tax to a raise in the minimum wage), and you can see why we’ve gone from a record surplus to record deficits in five short years.

Chalking up this fiscal nightmare to pork barrel spending, however, is naïve. The
regressive, anti-middle class tax cuts have done far more harm, as has the mismanagement of big ticket budget outlays, such as defense spending.

And beyond that, there’s the Bush administration’s choice to invade Iraq, which is costing us lives of our soldiers, our respect around the world, and around $300 billion so far.

Hyman’s right that pork barrel spending has gotten ridiculous (
and in many cases, illegal), but to put things in perspective, all of the money Hyman labels as pork barrel spending is less than one-tenth of the money we’ve already spent on Iraq alone, and only equals 6% of the total tax cuts Bush has given the top 1% of income earners in America.

Republicans have charted new waters when it comes to profligate, self-interested spending on pet projects. But were that their only fault, it wouldn’t even register on the nation’s fiscal radar screen.

The underlying fiscal problems we face are based in three much more fundamental and deep rooted character traits of the Republicans in power: warmongering, giveaways to the super rich, and corruption.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.05

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Too Little, Too Late

A helpful commenter noted that Mark Hyman was in Ohio a couple of weeks ago. Apparently it was a business trip, since he took the opportunity to tape his most recent “Point” editorial while there.

The gist of the commentary is that small military cemeteries are selling off antique cannons and other military hardware used as monuments in small cemeteries across the country (this apparently happened in a cemetery in Dayton, Ohio; thus the Buckeye state connection).

(In a humorous twist, Hyman quotes “Dayton’s News Source, Don Hammond” to give some background. You might recall that Don Hammond also happens to be
Sinclair’s Washington Bureau Chief, hired after Sinclair fired their former bureau chief, Jon Lieberman, because he had the audacity to question the decision to run anti-John Kerry propaganda as “news” during the 2004 campaign. Hammond also became infamous for interrupting a Kerry press conference about ANWAR in order to ask a question about discredited Kerry basher, Jerome Corsi.)

Such sales are restricted, something the towns selling off the military antiques might not be aware of. Hyman seems to aim his disdain at those who take advantage of this ignorance by buying up these historical pieces.

Hyman’s right in calling this a “shameful turn of events,” but it again reveals how superficial Hyman’s concerns about military affairs are. Yes, if small town cemeteries are being duped into selling off military antiquities that they shouldn’t be selling, that’s a bad thing. But in the vast scheme of things, is this truly an important issue?

Let me offer a modest suggestion to Mr. Hyman. When we are in the midst of a war that is taking the lives of American soldiers on a nearly daily basis, perhaps we should be worried more about the problem of what’s going *in* to our military cemeteries rather than what’s going out.

Rather than bemoaning the trafficking of glorified knick-knacks (which are apparently being sold willingly by the cemeteries involved, even if they are doing it in ignorance of the restrictions against doing so), perhaps you could level your criticism at those generals and civilian leaders whose ineptness and political agendas have filled so many new graves in these cemeteries. If you truly care about the troops, why not call for greater accountability for those whose mistakes and poor judgments have led to so many deaths?

Why not call for more Congressional oversight into the poor leadership that allowed insurgents to get a hold of weapons, that created the climate in which green and poorly trained troops have committed abuses that not only violate human rights but inflame those fighting against us, that sent our men and women into harm’s way in insufficient numbers and with inadequate body armor, that willfully ignored the possibilities that the invasion would go less than perfectly and failed to plan for any setbacks,
that rewarded those whose mismanagement has led to such a fiasco rather than criticize them?

If you truly care about the honor of the men and women who give their lives in service to their country, stop wasting time complaining about who sold what rusty antique to whom, and assume the responsibility your public position comes with. Call for action that will help keep our soldiers alive. When you’re arguing over how to best decorate their graves, it’s too late.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.55

Cost of the War in Iraq
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