Friday, September 29, 2006

Hyman Celebrates Hatred

In November of 2001, I was visiting a friend in England. After a day of sightseeing, I was walking from my hotel down to the street corner to call my then-girlfriend back in the States. I happened to end up falling into a conversation with a couple of women who were on their way out for the evening. After chatting a bit about the pleasures of tourism and the discomfort of high heels (theirs, not mine), they said, “We just want to tell you that we’re so sorry for what happened in America. We’re on your side.”

Tthis was a typical reaction most people in Europe, and around the world for that matter, had in the days, weeks, and months following the 9/11 attacks. Moments of silence were held around the world’s capitals. The French newspaper Le Monde said “We are all Americans now.” At Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Guard played the "Star Spangled Banner. "

There were huge public displays of sympathy, including places where you might not expect it such as Tehran . . .

. . .and Palestine

What does this have to do with Mark Hyman
? In a recent editorial titled “Hatred for America,” he quotes journalist Anne Applebaum’s recent column describing some Europeans as secretly pleased by the attacks because of their simmering contempt for what America has come to represent.

In fact, she doesn’t say what Hyman claims she does, that Europeans were pleased by the attacks. She says “some Britons” and “many Europeans.” That qualification becomes even more important when you understand that she is talking about politicians and journalists, not the people of Europe generally.

Citing newspaper articles and speeches by politicians that criticized America’s foreign policy goals as contributing to the attacks, Applebaum notes that there were some public voices who, even only days after 9/11, pointed out uncomfortable things about the U.S., and even showed some resentment that the U.S. acted as if terrorism had been invented on September 11, 2001, neglecting the fact that Europeans had lived with it for decades.

But Hyman takes this thesis (which, even in Applebaum’s more tentative wording, still overstates the case) and uses it to support the idea that Europeans in general hate America.

The idea of American exceptionalism is nothing new, but the deformed version of it that has emerged from the neo-con crowd in recent years *is*. Unlike any time in the past, foreign hatred of America is now lauded as some sort of sign of American strength and fortitude, to the point where folks like Hyman wildly exaggerate animosity felt towards the U.S. by claiming it’s always been at the levels we see today.

The reasoning behind this is easy enough to suss out. The growth of critical views of America coincides with the continuing militaristic foreign policy of the Bush administration and the disdain for our allies and the whole concept of an international community. By claiming we were always hated to the extent we are now, even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the neo-cons turn anti-Americanism into a sort of social pathology suffered by others for which we bear no responsibility.

More broadly, it supports the underlying philosophy that America’s status as the lone superpower gives it the right to do what it wants, when it wants—to shape the world to its will. If we’re already despised, what reason do we have to take anyone else’s opinions into consideration?

Once upon a time, American exceptionalism was based on the idea that America embodied freedom, democracy, and opportunity in a way no other nation on the globe did, that we served as an example that others wanted to emulate. We were the country that people around the world wanted to come to. While people risked their lives to leave their native countries, people were risking their lives to come to America.

Today, things have gotten so bad that we now have turned distrust and hostility toward us into proof of our rightness.

Hyman wants to let Bush off the hook for squandering the unique opportunity that existed after September 11 to unite the world in fighting terrorism, and to unite Americans in pushing for energy independence—something that would put an end to a foreign policy held hostage by a need for Mideast oil. But we shouldn’t. By cutting and running from the fight against al Qaeda and hijacking 9/11 to support an unrelated foreign policy goal in Iraq that had been lusted after by neo-cons long before that September morning, Bush not only squandered his presidency, but much more importantly, sacrificed a historic opportunity on the altar of arrogant self-assuredness.

If I could speak to those two women I talked to in Britain that night five years ago, I’d say, “I’m so sorry for what has happened in America in these last few years. I'm on your side.”

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.47

Monday, September 25, 2006

Taking Hyman to School

It’s always fun when Mark Hyman is so transparently hypocritical in the way he argues.

His latest editorial on school vouchers is a marvelous case in point of Hyman's penchant for duplicity. Singing the praises of a study that claims school voucher programs decrease segregation in schools, Hyman says that the study “repudiates earlier studies from the anti-voucher group, the Public Policy Forum.”

But the
Public Policy Forum is not “an anti-voucher group.” They’re a civic think tank in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that deals with a wide range of issues facing the metro area.

What’s more, they
aren’t even necessarily anti-voucher. The organization has criticized aspects of the ongoing voucher program in Milwaukee as it is currently practiced, but it’s advocated changes in the system, not getting rid of it. In fact, it’s taken issue with both sides of the voucher debate.

That doesn’t mean their studies couldn’t be flawed, but to imply that their study is suspect because of an alleged zealotry on the issue of school vouchers is invalid.

But the more amazing part of the editorial is the fact Hyman attacks the PPF as an “anti-voucher” group, yet does so citing a study by the Friedman Foundation.

Hyman doesn’t say anything about the Friedman Foundation’s position on the issues, leaving the viewer to assume that unlike those extremists at the PPF, it’s a neutral party.

The reality is that the
Friedman Foundation is as biased as a source could possibly be when it comes to the issue of school vouchers. It’s founder, conservative economist Milton Friedman, literally invented the concept of school vouchers fifty years ago. In fact, the foundation’s raison-d’etre is championing vouchers.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the Friedman Foundation’s study is wrong, but for Hyman to cast aspersions on the relatively neutral PPF because of their fictitious wild-eyed hatred of vouchers yet fail to mention that the Friedman Foundation does nothing but actively lobby for voucher programs is bald-faced dishonesty.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to be suspicious of voucher systems, among them:

· Vouchers won’t cover the expenses of sending a child to most private schools.

· Because of this, the claim that low-income families will suddenly be able to send their children to private schools is fictitious.

· Most people who could use vouchers to send kids to private schools can already afford to.

· Vouchers are simply a monetary incentive for relatively well-off parents to pull their children out of public schools and into private schools.

· Vouchers “enable” very few people to send their kids to private schools; they operate more as bribes.

· Ergo, voucher systems as currently practiced don’t “revolutionize” education or offer much in the way of increased choice; they simply encourage more people to opt out of the public school system.

· Vouchers amount to a tax giveaway for well-to-do people.

· The money for vouchers must come from somewhere. Proponents claim it won’t be taken from public education, but if not, it must come through higher taxes or cuts in other services.

· School choice doesn’t equal vouchers. Increased choice in public schools is a good idea, but vouchers to send kids to private schools amounts to abandoning the principle of public education. It declares victory over the educational challenges we face by ignoring them.

· Since the vast majority of the private schools that would receive voucher money are affiliated with churches, voucher systems as currently practiced amount to an unconstitutional government support of religion.

Look, if Milton Friedman or any other proponent of the voucher system for private schools wants to put forward a program in which the government ponies up enough money so that a kid from South Central or the Bronx can go to Hawthorne Hills Preparatory Academy and Institute of Polo Studies and share stock tips with Little Lord Fauntleroy whilst punting on the campus’s waterway, we’ll talk.

Until then, let’s not strip mine the few resources we have in public education and use them as door prizes at the Let’s Abolish the Department of Education mixer.

And even if you *are* in favor of that, let’s at least be honest about the pedigree of our statistics, shall we? (I’m talking to you, Mark.)

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 6.97

Friday, September 22, 2006

Ignorance Levels Continue to Rise In Hyman's Head

It would be nice if Mark Hyman bothered to learn even the most basic facts about the topics he discusses in his editorials.

But until he actually bothers to do a minute’s worth of research on a subject, you can’t even debate the guy.

Take a look at Hyman’s latest “Point” for an example. He’s trying hard to come up with an argument that mocks Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” and the scientific conclusions it shares with its audience.

In an editorial segment that apparently doubles as his audition tape for a slot at the Chuckle Hut Comedy Club, Hyman points out that astronomers have discovered that Mars is going through a planet-wide rise in temperature, part of a periodic fluctuation in the Martian global climate.

Mark “Slappy” Hyman jokes that Al Gore would probably blame this on “his source of all that is evil—Americans":

He will blame the Martian global warming on Ohio housewives using
hairspray, North Carolinians mowing their lawns too often and that one Illinois
house builder driving a pick-up truck instead of loading his tools into the back
of a 2-seater Honda hybrid.

He also makes the assertion that “Gore won't be able to accept the inconvenient truth that Earth's ozone layer is getting better.”

Here’s the thing, Mark: not only are you mocking scientific findings about the sudden rise in the Earth’s temperature that no single peer reviewed study has contradicted (925 studies have confirmed global warming, 0 have contradicted it) , but you display a complete lack of familiarity with the position you attack.

How do I know this? In his film, Al Gore *does* talk about the ozone layer getting better. Far from not accepting it, he holds it up as proof of what we can do to reverse global environmental issues. Thanks to regulations on emissions of the chemicals that weakened the ozone layer, the ozone layer *is* getting better.

To quote the film itself, Gore says, "We can turn [global warming] around just as we reversed the hole in the ozone layer. But it takes action right now, and politicians in every nation must have the courage to do what is necessary. It is not a political issue. It is a moral issue."

The depletion of the ozone layer and global warming are separate phenomena, Mark. That’s something you would know if you had bothered to see the film that you are attacking.

Which raises the question: why should anyone take a word out of your mouth seriously when you haven’t even bothered to educate yourself on the most elementary aspects of the issue, let alone actually watch the film you are critiquing?

Roger Ebert said of “An Inconvenient Truth”:

In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they
are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have
grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

You, Mark, have a much heavier weight on your shoulders. You’ll have to explain to your grandchildren not only why you didn’t see the film, but why you decided to attack the established facts it presents without even bothering to learn anything about the topic. (Maybe you could at least do them the favor of telling them
not to move to Florida, a large chunk of which will be flooded if global warming isn’t reversed soon.)

And as for your attempt at humor, don’t quit your day job.

Well . . . on second thought, perhaps you should.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.48

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hyman Defends Treason

In his recent commentary on Valerie Plame, Mark Hyman claims that using the internet, it took him “literally . . . less than three minutes to learn Plame was [Joseph] Wilson’s wife.”

It took me literally less than three minutes on the internet to learn that Hyman’s full of it.

The upshot of Hyman’s editorial is that it doesn’t really matter if Valerie Plame was outed as a CIA agent, since:

Plame's inept and clumsy actions most certainly spotlighted her as a CIA
employee. Consequently, any foreign agents she met with were likely
double-agents feeding her bogus intelligence.

Well, at least Hyman admits that Plame *was* an undercover agent, which some on the right still deny. But that’s about the only thing he gets right.

Hyman says he easily found out that Plame was Wilson’s wife. But that’s not the point. That Wilson had a wife named Valerie Plame was public knowledge. That
she was an undercover CIA agent wasn’t.

Hyman says that Plame listed her mailing address as the U.S. Embassy in Greece in 1991, "a red flag that would immediately identify her as a CIA employee instead of a commercial contractor.”

But Plame wasn’t undercover as a commercial contractor at that time. She was an embassy employee. The private firm that served as her cover didn’t even exist on paper until several years later. Hyman simply doesn’t bother to do his homework here.

Hyman says that Plame’s cover with the firm of
Brewster-Jennings was implausible since the company only claimed revenues of $60,000. Any foreign government surely knew instantly that she was CIA.

First of all, Plame didn’t conjure up the company; the CIA had been using it for years. So suggesting that Plame somehow made a professional blunder in creating a faulty cover is nonsense. The CIA created it, and it knew what it was doing. The firm was a consulting company that only had a couple of people on its “payroll” and had limited office space. It was designed to appear as a very small (i.e., unobtrusive and hard to track) company.

But let’s say Plame was the “Inspector Clouseau” that Hyman mocks her as. Obviously, such a nincompoop wouldn’t be tapped to head up intelligence efforts on something as important as Saddam Hussein’s alleged WMD’s, right? Not by our steadfast wartime president and his stalwart band of evildoer-fighters!

Well, actually yes, as it turns out. In a new book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff,
we learn that Plame was in charge of operations for the Joint Task Force on Iraq, the intelligence group tasked with coming up with the goods on Hussein’s alleged WMD program. Unfortunately, their work was interrupted by the invasion of Iraq.

So Hyman spends his commentary running down the reputation of a CIA operative who had been picked to help the administration make its case for war (and as we’ve seen, he does so using bogus charges).

If Plame was so obviously inept, what does that say about those that chose her?

It’s a moot question, because Plame was obviously a well-qualified and well-practiced agent, which makes it all the more atrocious that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby would leak her identity to the press (
which they unarguably did; that Richard Armitage did so as well is immaterial) and lie about doing so afterward.

As a result of the Plame leak, not only did the U.S. lose an important asset in fighting terrorism, but it undercut and endangered many others. Once her cover was exposed, any other agent who had used Brewster-Jennings as a cover were compromised. Foreign governments could go back and track the activities of agents for the past ten years, now knowing that anyone they had records for that named that company as an employer were in fact agents. Agents, their covers, and the tactics of American intelligence were all compromised.

And for what? So that the administration could punish a man who dared state facts that contradicted the administration’s carefully orchestrated storyline. So that Bush and the neo-cons could have their war.

People are put in jail for life for compromising U.S. security in pursuit of their personal political agendas (Aldrich Ames, anybody?).

Yet Hyman, a man who has no hesitation accusing anyone who disagrees with the policy that has ended up killing 2600 servicemen and women of “hating the troops” not only defends those who endangered the U.S. in pursuit of their own agendas, but mocks the very idea that the issue is worth discussing by saying that it doesn’t really matter whether it happened or not.

But most Americans don’t find any triviality in treason.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.67

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hyman's Dark Obsession (It Ain't With the Truth)

Mark Hyman’s preoccupation with Joseph Wilson is fascinating, if for no other reason than it simply brings up the broader bottom line issue of the lack of WMDs in Iraq. Yet, he’s so personally fascinated by Wilson that he can’t leave the topic alone.

In his recent editorial on the topic, Hyman elides a number of facts and says some demonstrably false things (no surprise there). Here is a brief rundown of the lies and distortions in his latest attack on Joe Wilson, with the relevant facts included afterward.

Valerie Plame sent her husband to Niger.

Baloney. Even die-hard administration apologists don’t claim this. They simply say that Plame recommended him for the job. She lacked any authority to send him. Nor is it ever stated why it would be relevant if she *had* been the one to send him. It’s a bit of rhetorical misdirection intended to suggest skullduggery without actually showing any.

Wilson wasn’t qualified to look into the Niger allegations.

False. In fact, there
was almost no one who could have been more qualified. Wilson had served extensively (and heroically) in Iraq, receiving lavish praise from President George H.W. Bush. He later went on to serve extensively in Africa. How many high ranking government officials could claim such extensive knowledge with both Iraq and Africa? Not many. Hyman tries to be cute by saying Wilson hadn’t physically been to Niger in 30 years; this ignores his longstanding familiarity with African affairs and his extensive contacts in the region.

Wilson “drank sweet tea” while in Niger.

This is a line quoted from Wilson’s own original op-ed piece about his trip that folks like Hyman like to take out of context to suggest that he didn’t do anything. Let’s look at the quotation in context:

“I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of
people: current government officials, former government officials, people
associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude
that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.”

In other words, Wilson’s extensive contacts allowed him to meet with key people in a variety of capacities, and these meetings suggested Iraq hadn’t tried to purchase uranium.

Plame wasn’t targeted by the administration because of what her husband said.

Hyman repeats, in a vaguely worded way, the new neo-con talking point that because Richard Armitage was one of the sources Robert Novak’s column revealing Plame’s identity as a CIA operative, that must mean Cheney, Rove, and Libby were not involved.

That, of course, is nonsense. Libby is under indictment for his role in the matter. We have Cheney’s handwritten notes on his copy of Wilson’s original op-ed asking to find out about Wilson’s background. We know that Rove *did* serve as a source corroborating Plame’s identity.

Outing Plame was not big deal.

Only if you think treason is no big deal. Without saying so specifically, Hyman’s comments imply that the revelation of Plame’s identity wasn’t that important. But Plame was an under cover operative who happened to be working on the issue of Iran’s attempts to obtain WMDs. What could be more important?

Wilson’s claims have been debunked.

On the contrary, it’s acknowledged that the documents alleged to have shows Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger
were forgeries. Not only that, but most in the American intelligence community suspected them long before Bush cited them in his State of the Union address.

Hyman lamely suggests “[Wilson’s] argument that the uranium purchase was untrue was debunked by the British government -- the source of the original intelligence.”

No it hasn’t. Notice that Hyman’s statement suggests that we now have proof that Iraq *did* make a uranium purchase. Again, he is going even further than the staunchest Bush apologists go.

Hyman is apparently referring to the Butler Report, the result of a British investigation that said that despite the fact that the documents suggesting the uranium sale were suspect, there was “good reason” to believe that Iraq had pursued such a purchase.

So even if we accept the Butler Report, all it says is that there were reasons to think Iraq might have tried to make such a purchase, not that it did make it. But more importantly, the Butler Report offers no evidence to back up this claim. In fact, American intelligence has largely discounted that any such purchase was attempted by Iraq at all.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what then-White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said:

Now, we've long acknowledged -- and this is old news, we've said this
repeatedly -- that the information on yellow cake did, indeed, turn out to be

Or Condi Rice, for that matter:

What we've said subsequently is, knowing what we now know, that some
of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn't have put this in the
President's speech -- but that's knowing what we know now.

Bottom line: There were no WMDs or active WMD programs in Iraq.

All of the Wilson bashing ignores the obvious and embarrassing truth that even the president himself has acknowledged: Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction, nor did it have any active programs to create them. In particular, there was no reconstitution of any nuclear weapon program after the first Gulf War.

This is the gorilla in the room that the neo-con crowd like to ignore. Wilson was right. There was no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program, let alone evidence of them actively pursuing nuclear materials from Africa. American intelligence knew this, yet the Bush administration pieced together shreds of shaky, if not utterly false, evidence and sent poor Colin Powell to the U.N., where he performed an act of career self-immolation by pitching the case to the world.

Since then, more than 2,600 Americans have died in Iraq, and ten times that number have been maimed in both body and mind. And for what? We were told we had to send them to Iraq to quash the threat of a possible nuclear attack on us by Saddam Hussein, an attack we had no reason to think would ever come, as it turns out.

Yet rather than be incensed at the colossal mistakes made by a president who promised to be humble in his foreign policy and had criticized the idea of “nation building,” neo-cons and die hard Bush supporters have abandoned all classically conservative principles, including supporting our military, in favor of showing fealty to a president who abandoned any sense of personal responsibility to the truth or to the troops long, long ago.

And for that matter, so has Hyman.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.94

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Change Is Coming (If We Vote)

We agree with Mark Hyman in his latest commentary that Senate bill 2590, which would make the budgeting process more transparent. This is a move that’s received widespread bipartisan support both within Congress and among political activists.

It’s too bad that Hyman can’t be bipartisan himself. He notes that the bill is sponsored by Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn. True, but it’s co-sponsored by Barak Obama, Democrat from Illinois. Of course, it’s against Hyman’s religion to mention a Democrat in a positive context.

More problematic is the idea lurking beneath the surface. Hyman attacks Alaska Republican Ted Stevens for putting a secret hold on this legislation. He’s got a good point. Actually, Democrat Robert Byrd also held up the legislation as well, and both he and Stevens should be criticized for it.

But by isolating one member of one of the houses of Congress and pointing to his passive resistance to one bill ignores the larger, more systematic issue facing us: the corruption running through Congress as a whole, primarily (but not solely) among Republicans.

Rhetorically, it serves Hyman’s purposes to scapegoat one Republican as a poster boy for the decade of quid pro quo arrangements and cozy lobbyist/politician relationships that have typified the GOP reign in Congress. It lets the Republicans as a group off the hook.

You’ll notice that when Hyman complains about Congress, he either derides the body as a whole, or isolates one or two figures (as he does in this commentary). But this ignores a whole set of problems that stem from the stranglehold of the GOP on Congress.

As we’ve noted here a number of times, the amount of pork barrel earmarks has exploded during the GOP control of Congress. Unless you think this is mere coincidence, it’s time for voters to realize that you can’t solve the problem by saying “a pox on both your houses” or tarring and feathering one or two particularly atrocious players.

You have to make a real change, which is precisely what Hyman will not call for.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.45

Monday, September 18, 2006

Racism by Proxy

Mark Hyman’s latest mailbag segment is notable simply because it provides an ugly example of how he uses the words of viewers to say things that are so objectionable that he lacks the guts to say them himself.

He reads from two letters concerning his commentary on Katrina (in which he blamed state and local governments for the disastrous response, ignoring the fact that the Bush administration had gutted FEMA and put an incompetent buddy of Bush’s in charge of it).

One letter simply reiterates Hyman’s attack on the state government of Louisiana.

The other is far worse.

Jeff in San Antonio emailed, "I wish you could have commented on the spike in
crime in [the] cities that took in the 'refugees' from New Orleans. Some,
although a small percentage [sic] of the 'animals' from New Orleans resumed
their ritual of robbery, drug dealing, even murders in our Texas cities once
they arrived here. Even upstanding New Orleans residents have commented, 'we
don't want them back.' Well, Texas took them in, and has paid dearly for it. San
Antonio witnessed the animals burglarizing the vehicles of the very people
([the] volunteers) who were trying to help them at the shelters."

So not only do we have refugees being accused of bringing crime waves to the places they went to, but they get called “animals” not once, but twice. Given that a large percentage of the refugees were African American, this cannot help but carry racist connotations.

Hyman might defend “Jeff” (and himself) by saying that they’re only referring to the “animals” that actually committed crimes. It’s the behavior, not the people, who are being labeled.

But it turns out that our pal Jeff is trading in an urban myth that has no facts to back it up. As
urban legends debunking site explains, there have been a variety of rumors circulating about how Katrina refugees have brought crime waves to towns where they sought shelter. But there’s little or no evidence that any of these charges are true. Snopes notes that this myth is a way of packaging xenophobia and racism in more acceptable sentiments, such as concern for one’s own community.

Yet Hyman, even with the journalistic juggernaut that is Sinclair Broadcasting at his disposal, couldn’t be bothered to see if the racist rantings of his fans were actually true. Instead, he simply repeated them without comment, tacitly condoning rhetoric that is not only hateful, but factually wrong.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hyman Flip Flops

I often wonder whether Mark Hyman is a man of bad principles, or a man of no principles.

This question emerges again in
his most recent editorial in which we get yet another book recommendation from the H-man.

This time around, Hyman is endorsing The Politics of Abortion by Anne Hendershott, a professor at the University of San Diego. Claiming that it’s valuable reading for anyone, “no matter where you come down on the subject of abortion.”

He then goes on to sum up some of Hendershott’s main contentions, including her claim that the Democrats have become the party of “abortion on demand,” that prominent Democratic politicians have conveniently switched to pro-choice positions for political reasons, that Planned Parenthood “targets” minority women for abortion, and that the organization's founder, Margaret Sanger, was a racist.

If it seems to you that this is a less than the evenhanded historical treatment of the issue Hyman claims it is, you’re probably right. It turns out Hendershott is a darling of the far right, despite being an academic (apparently she must have slipped through the cracks of the liberal stranglehold on academia that Hyman claims exists).

She wrote a
scurrilous anti-Kerry harangue for the National Review, clumsily juxtaposing Kerry with “Hanoi Jane” Fonda (one would have hoped an academic would be a bit more subtle in using the guilt by association fallacy). She wrote an op-ed piece for her hometown paper championing the now-discredited notion that “values” issues turned the 2004 election (as if Iraq, stem cell research, health care, etc. didn’t involve values).

Her previous book, The Politics of Deviance, tried to make the case that, among other things, we’ve just become far too accepting of gay people (which she seems to equate with pedophilia) and don’t shun mentally ill people enough.

A review in Washington Monthly said this about the book:

Calling for a "willingness to discuss behavior such as homosexuality, teenage
promiscuity, adultery and addiction," Hendershott writes that we should "adopt
standards of conduct that derive from reason and common sense." Alas, this is
pretty much the last evidence of either. The rest of The Politics of Deviance
merely apes the blundering, shoddy polemics that dominate the bestseller lists
today, from the paranoid rants of Ann Coulter and Bernard Goldberg on the right,
to the lame hyperbole of Michael Moore on the left. Between them, these
straw-man-battering tomes prove that the culture war has been fought to an odd

The whole scathing review can be found here.

So although I haven’t read the book (and couldn’t find an actual review of it from a neutral source), I feel comfortable saying caveat emptor.

Even the claims Hyman summarizes from her current book are studiously ignorant of some important context. Have Democratic politicians changed their position on abortion? Sure. But so have Republicans including
Jim Nussle, Mitt Romney, and the President of the United States, all of whom have changed their position on abortion when seeking higher office.

Are Planned Parenthood clinics predominantly in inner-city, poor, minority neighborhoods? Yes. That’s because the people who live there are the people who most need the free clinics for comprehensive women’s and reproductive health that the organization provides. Suburbanites go to their insurance-covered gynecologists.

Did Margaret Sanger have racist views? Definitely, but what does that have to do with the abortion issue today? Most of the Founding Fathers owned slaves, but I doubt Hyman (or Hendershott, for that matter) would say this means the country and government they created are systematically evil. In fact, they would almost certainly be appalled at anyone who suggested such a thing.

All of this is to simply point out the obvious: Hyman is trying to sell his audience yet another far-right screed by peddling it as disinterested research.

The more interesting issue is why he might be doing this.

Is Hyman himself, as one would suspect, avidly pro-life himself? Is he simply fighting the good fight by helping sales of a book that shares his deeply held convictions?

Gosh, I wish we could ask him.

Oh wait! Somebody already has!

Thanks to
this interview Hyman did a couple of years ago, we know that Hyman, although Roman Catholic, is pro-choice:

“I really do believe in this issue, I believe in a woman’s right to choose.”

Not only that, but he claims not to see much point in discussing the issue of abortion on his commentaries, since “I don’t think there’s people whose minds are un-made-up or anything, or whose views are going to be changed.”

He also seems to disagree with the view held by some on the pro-life side that our society has created an atmosphere where abortion is seen as no big deal:

“I think that the caricature of that we’re very cavalier about getting abortion
today, I think that’s probably a pretty small percentage of the people.”

So why would Hyman sell out his views to peddle a book that takes a hard pro-life position and that attacks those on the other side of the issue as opportunists at best and practitioners of genocide at worst?

Might it be that Hyman’s comments are politically motivated? Might he be trying to fire up the conservative base by throwing them some red meat in the run-up to a midterm election that could be disastrous if the GOP base doesn’t get active?

Might it be that Hyman is a flip-flopper?

You can answer that one for yourself. As for me, I did find one statement Hyman made in the interview that I concur with wholeheartedly:

[Abortion has] been dissected and discussed so many times, I don’t think I have
any value added to it [sic].


And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.76

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Throw 'Em Out

Mark Hyman’s latest “Point” amounts to a two-minute unpaid for commercial for the Republican National Committee. Okay, I suppose that could be said for most of Hyman’s editorials, but this particular example is especially bold.

Saying that “some pundits” are predicting the Democrats will win the House of Representatives and “come close” in the Senate.

Hyman proceeds to use scare tactics to suggest what wold happen if Democrats took over the chairs of some important House committees.

It doesn’t matter that his prognostications are based on zero evidence. Simply making the assertion is damaging enough.

For example, we’re told to “Imagine Charlie Rangel as Ways and Means chair, raising taxes on the middle class.” Yes, let’s imagine that, since there’s no evidence that this would happen.

California Henry Waxman, who could become chair of the Government Reform committee, “wants one big government-run Hillarycare-type HMO in charge of all medical programs.” Yikes—that would be scary! Every citizen of the wealthiest country in the history of the world actually having access to healthcare; decisions on treatment being made by doctors rather than accountants! Oh, the humanity!

The “extreme” John Conyers would, as chair of the Judiciary Committee, make our courts “even worse.”

Barney Frank would likely chair the Financial Services Committee. Oddly enough, Hyman doesn’t say why that would be bad. You don’t suppose he’s insinuating that simply having an openly gay man running a committee would be a horror, do you?

But all this raises the question: what’s so great about the current heads of these committees?

Let’s look at the rogue’s gallery of GOP chairs and see what we’d be in danger of losing if the Democrats prevail in November.

On the Ways and Means Committee, we currently enjoying the chairmanship of Rep. Bill Thomas, a man who called in Capitol Police to oust Democrats from a meeting after they had the gall to object to Thomas trying to ram a bill through without giving them a chance to read it fully. Thomas later
was forced to apologize, not because he or the GOP thought he was wrong, but because it was a public relations nightmare.

As for raising taxes, Thomas voted to extend the Bush tax cuts that have shifted the tax burden to the middle class. He also voted in favor of creating special ethics rules (actually, unethical rules is a better name) to help protect disgraced House leader Tom DeLay.
On the Government Reform Committee, we’ve got Rep. Tom Davis, a man who apparently abused his chairmanship in order to
get his wife a sweetheart consulting gig with a firm run by one of Davis’s best friends. Nice work, if you can get it.

He’s also
has ties to disgraced GOP lobbyist and convict Jack Abramoff.

What about the Judiciary Committee? There, we’ve got Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the man who infamously voted against aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina (he was only one of 11 in the House to vote that way). He later
rubbed salt in the wounds by tabling a measure that would have helped protect those who were devastated financially by the hurricane from recently passed bankruptcy laws.

He also
famously threw a hissyfit when he didn’t like what Democrats were saying at a public hearing and turned off their microphones and stomped out of the room.

Yes, we certainly wouldn’t want to get rid of this bunch of ethically-challenged, self-interested, misanthropic ne’er-do-wells, would we?

And, as you likely know, this is just scratching the surface. Republican control of the House over the last ten years
has seen mounting corruption, in addition to bad policy. In an ongoing effort to assert one-party control over the lives of all Americans, the GOP House membership abandoned their empty claims of “cleaning up Congress” they cynically spouted in 1994.

Things have come to a head in the last couple of years, most notably with the revelation of
widespread taking of money from the corrupt Abramoff.

Oh, and don’t forget that this current do-nothing Congress has abandoned its Constitutionally mandated duties to provide a check on the executive branch. While intelligence has been spun, war profiteering has gone on, and intelligence agencies have spied on Americans, the Congress has sat idly by.

That’s a bad thing. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to
this current member of Congress:

Republican Congresses tend to overinvestigate Democratic administrations and
underinvestigate their own . . . I get concerned we lose our separation of
powers when one party controls both branches.

Who said that? Ted Kennedy? Nancy Pelosi?

Nope. It was Tom Davis, current chair of the Government Reform Committee (desperately trying to distance himself and his GOP mates on the Hill from the Incredibly Shrinking President).

Let’s give the man some help and do some voter-based government reform in November.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 5.21

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Just wanted to let you know that we've got a brand new "Worst of Hyman" poll featuring four particularly noxious "Points" from the last month. Vote Chicago style: early and often.

In a couple of weeks, I'll send a note with the results out to Hyman and Sinclair Broadcasting. Regular readers will have already noticed a few changes in the blog roll. In particular, you'll want to take a look at "Le Blog Berube" and "Bitch Ph.D" (the latter is worth a click just for the priceless photo on the page's banner). Both are intelligent, witty, and insightful blogs with an academic twist (in a good way!).

I've also been adding some links to Sinclair-related articles. If you haven't seen them yet, the Rolling Stone and the GQ pieces are must-reads. If you know of particularly good Sinclair/Hyman related pieces that should be included, please let me know.

As always, thanks for stopping by!



New Frontiers in Moral Bankruptcy

The list of things that separates the United States from countries we traditionally consider to be human-rights challenged has dwindled in recent years.

We don’t start wars unilaterally: gone.

We don’t invade countries and force them to change governments: gone.

We don’t torture people: gone.

We don’t hold people in secret prisons: gone.

We allow people accused of crimes access to lawyers and due process: gone

We don’t spy on our own citizens: gone.

Yes, to be honest, some of these hard and fast rules were bent or even broken in the B.W. era (Before Dubya), but usually there was at least an attempt to do so secretly or portray these violations as not true attacks on principles of decency we all recognize.

In short, there was a sense of shame.

No longer. Not only are these parts of our national code of honor routinely broken, but they are done out in the open with utter disdain for the principles themselves. Far from feeling the need to defend or cover up their actions, the Bush administration does not hesitate in attacking those who dare support these long-accepted ideas about the proper conduct of our nation.

I was reminded of this by
Hyman’s recent editorial about prisoner’s donating organs.

Hyman poses the question: should prisoners be allowed to donate organs if they want to?

He cites Dr. Mark Fox, ethics chairman for the United Network for Organ Sharing, as saying that being incarcerated means any decision to donate an organ cannot be said to be truly “free,” an ethical requirement for donation.

Hyman doesn’t argue the point. Instead, he throws it open to the audience, asking for viewer response to the question. It’s not clear why; Hyman himself notes that he conducted a similar viewer poll last year and got an overwhelming response in favor of penal transplants (oh, get your mind out of the gutter!).

I don’t have a particularly strong point of view on the topic, although I’m inclined to believe Dr. Fox, who is motivated both by a desire to foster organ donation and to abide by medical ethics, is someone whose opinion should be honored.

What bothers me, however, is the way Hyman closes his editorial:

Once again, I would like to hear from you. Is it wrong for an
inmate to donate an organ? What about death row inmates? Are they capable of
making an informed decision? If they aren't, does it matter?

Does it matter? The fact that Hyman could ask such a question is chilling enough. My sense is that if Hyman had his way, we’d cross yet another ethical boundary as a nation and openly harvest human organs from condemned prisoners.

Of course, given the fact that we systematically poison or cook the entire body of an executed criminal (as opposed to the far simpler bullet to the brainpan used by the Chinese, who then can harvest organs from the still-warm corpse), donation would have to occur *before* execution.

But before we get too horrified at the ghoulishness of extracting kidneys, bone marrow, corneas, etc. from prisoners who might or might not be willing and able to consent, we should ask ourselves this question:

Haven’t the systematic violations of our national honor that have already taken place under the current administration made the idea of harvesting organs seem like a petty, inconsequential issue by comparison?

I’m just wondering.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.42

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A True Counter "Point"

After yesterday’s lengthy close reading of Hyman’s editorial, we turn today to something a bit more concise: a parallel “Point.”

To enjoy it, you should stop by the website and read the original. Once again, Hyman gives us a commentary based on the unquestioned but faulty premise that somehow the current war in Iraq has anything to do with the “war on Islamic facism” and 9/11.

There are more straw man arguments (“They seem to believe that if we ignore the evil in the world that it will somehow pass us by”). There are more equations of supporting the president with supporting the troops (“Unfortunately, the widespread support our troops once enjoyed has evaporated”). And there are more ad hominem attacks that equate disagreement with the current war with moral degeneracy (“Those people have dishonored the victims of terror by urging our retreat from the front line on the war against Islamic fascism”).

But you can see for yourself. Below, you’ll see a parallel/parody of Hyman’s comments that I think is far more accurate than the original.

It was five years ago that America received a wake-up call. We were reminded that despite our differences, we can be a truly United States of America. We forgot about impeachment hearings, questionable elections, and tax brackets.

On that September morning, men and women became performed acts of heroism. Those acts of heroism continue as our servicemen and women fight overseas, as the wounded and maimed bravely try to put their shattered lives back together again, and those who have lost loved ones find ways to cope with heartbreak.

Unfortunately, the president squandered the widespread support he had, destroying that sense of unity we shared on 9/12. The president forgot about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. He lost his resolve. Others in his administration urged us to abandon our allies and start a war that only they wanted to fight. They seemed to believe that it was okay to ignore the evil that was committed on 9/11 and simply use it as a way of selling an unrelated and counterproductive war. The president and his administration have dishonored the victims of terror by urging us to ignore the criminals responsible for these deaths and focus instead on fighting a war that they had wanted long before 9/11.

Fortunately, there are still those who can withstand the charges of “not supporting the toops,” “helping the terrorists,” or being “appeasers” that are used as smears by the pro-war crowd against people they don’t like, even when they are mothers of veterans, or veterans themselves. They understand, just as many military leaders in the Pentagon did in the lead up to the invasion that the civilians in the White House have abandoned the war against the terrorists in order to launch a war of choice against a country that didn’t threaten our security.

It is too late for the president to renew his commitment to be a uniter rather than a divider, as he promised he would during the 2000 campaign. He will leave behind a legacy of a fractured country, broken alliances, global hatred of America, more terrorists, false promises, political vindictiveness, tattered national honor, lost values, and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of pointless deaths.

Thank you for reading.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 6.06

Monday, September 11, 2006

Pushing the Envelope of the Hyman Index

My apologies for what might seem like a tedious post, but Hyman’s recent rant on the moral necessity of staying the course in Iraq was so full of fallacies/propagandistic appeals that I couldn’t resist taking it apart, weasel by weasel.

Below, find the full text of Hyman’s editorial, complete with footnotes to explanations of what particular fallacy Hyman is committing and how he’s using it.

When it comes to the cut, run and hide crowd, [1] these are
some of their arguments on why America should surrender in Iraq. [2]

What does it accomplish for us? Let them deal with it. It's happening
over there. The financial cost is more than we want to spend. The cost in
American lives isn't worth it. It's not our problem. [3]

Now replace Iraq with World War I. World War II. [4] Or how
about cancer, heart disease, AIDS?[ 5] What about child
neglect, sexual abuse, homelessness or poverty? [6] What does that
say about us, as a nation, if every time we faced challenges and sacrifices that
we just give up? [7l]

As a Superpower we have certain responsibilities. [8] We
cannot solve all of the world's problems, but maybe we can make a difference
with some. [9]

The isolationist viewpoint [10] that we should ignore the global
war on terror until it's right on our doorstep [11] is naïve [12] . It didn't work in the first two world wars. [13] And this
is simply the latest world war [14] -- one against Islamic
fascism. [15]

It's sad that a nation that was known for assisting the rest of the world
in the last century would abandon 27 million peace-loving Iraqis [16] because
we've lost our nerve [17] in the war on terror and we don't care about the
plight of others [18].

1. Classic name calling, here. In addition to using meaningless and inaccurate labels (“cut and run”), Hyman’s use of the word “crowd” in this context is meant to suggest a group that’s on the margins or somehow distinctive from the mainstream. Of course, polls now show that most Americans disapprove of the war and favor some positive action to reducing our presence in Iraq.

2. This is essentially the “straw man” fallacy, with overtones of emotional appeal and false dilemma. No one advocates “surrender” in Iraq. Even if one did, exactly who would we “surrender” to? Hyman avoids the need to formulate a reasonable argument by suggesting anyone who thinks drawing down troop numbers, redeploying, setting a target date for withdrawal, etc., are for “surrender.”

3. Multiple straw men in this paragraph. Hyman both simplifies the arguments on the other side, and words them in a way that suggests narrow self-interest and a lack of empathy for Iraqis. In fact, the U.S. invasion has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, lower oil production than before the war, possibly permanent damage to Iraq’s oil fields, and a devastated infrastructure that the U.S. has failed to rebuild, resulting in misery (and hostility) among Iraqis.

4. False analogies. By comparing Iraq to the two world wars, Hyman attempts to suggest anyone who disagrees with the Bush position on the war is the equivalent of those who were against efforts that are now seen as noble and worthy. This fallacy attempts to erase important differences in the things being compared (in this case, for example, the fact that these were actual *wars* involving nation states, that the U.S. was begged to join those wars by their allies, that the U.S. didn’t enter the wars until its interests were directly attacked, etc.).

5. More false analogies. We chose to invade Iraq. We don’t have a choice about facing diseases.

6. Yet more false analogies. Like the rest, these analogies obscure the fact that the decision to invade Iraq was in fact a decision. Iraq was not a problem immediately affecting the well being of U.S. citizens. It’s also an unintentionally humorous moment, since the Bush administration has done virtually nothing to fight the “war on homelessness” or “war on poverty.” These are both far more relevant problems to Americans than Iraq, yet they’ve received scant attention.

7. Emotional appeal. The idea is to suggest that Iraq, like the war against Hitler, the fight against cancer, or efforts to combat poverty is a noble struggle that will pay important and lasting dividends if we’re just willing to stay the course. By invoking a sense of national pride being at stake, Hyman obscures the fact that some struggles are started for bad reasons, carried out poorly, and might be counterproductive. Continuing a difficult struggle is not in and of itself noble. Depending on the struggle, it might be far nobler to give it up.

8. Emotional appeal, specifically an appeal to national pride. It’s mixed with a generality, “certain responsibilities,” that is undefined.

9. Here’s an example of an appeal to moderation. Hyman sets up the point to make it seem as if continuing to fight a war in Iraq is a reasonable position, between the extremes of trying to “solve all the world’s problems” and “isolation.” This is a fallacy for two reasons. First, a “middle of the road” solution is not always a good one, and second, it assumes that Iraq was a world problem that could and should be solved through unilateral military action.

10. More name calling, again harkening back to World War II. In fact, very few opponents of the Iraq war (with the exception of some old-fashioned conservatives like Pat Buchanan) are isolationist. Most are actually very much in favor of involving the U.S. in world affairs (even to the point where they favor cooperation with allies and negotiation with foes).

11. Another straw man. No one has said we should ignore terrorism. In fact, the position that Hyman describes is a far more accurate description of the Bush administration’s attitude on September 10, 2001.

12. Name calling again. The word “naïve” suggests that the opposing side’s arguments aren’t even worthy of being rebutted, since they are so simplistic that they show no understanding of the issue. It’s a term used to dismiss an argument rather than face it. It’s also irrelevant in this case since, as we have seen, it’s being applied to a largely non-existent group (those who think we can ignore terrorism).

13. A repeat of the previous false analogy comparing Iraq to the world wars.

14. An extension of the same false analogy, with a hint of an appeal to emotion (in this case, fear) by suggesting that the war we are engaged in is on the same scale and presents the same risks as the global wars of the 20th century, while providing no evidence that this comparison is valid.

15. Emotional appeal to fear. “Islamic fascism” is, as many have noted, a meaningless and inaccurate term. It is used again to compare a current enemy to enemies of the past that are acknowledged to have been threats to our existence.

16. An appeal to pity, suggesting that to be against continued war in Iraq is to be against helping the suffering Iraqi people. This fallacy obscures the fact that much of the suffering of Iraqis is the result of the invasion and non-existent reconstruction. It also ignores the fact that a great many Iraqis want us out of their country.

17. Emotional appeal, again to national pride. It suggests that to be for any course of action other than the one Hyman champions is to show a loss of “nerve.”

18. A repeat of the appeal to pity.

In addition to all of these specific moves, you’ve got overarching fallacies that the piece as a whole commits. Notice, for example, that Hyman’s entire commentary is a case of “begging the question.” It is the morally correct choice to continue the war in Iraq, Hyman argues, because it’s the morally correct choice to continue the war in Iraq.

There’s also the fallacy of shifting the burden of truth. Rather than make a positive argument for why Americans should continue to fight and die in a conflict in which both “the enemy” and “victory” are terms that are hazy at best and undefinable at worst, Hyman topspins the argument back into his opponents’ court, suggesting they must prove why we *shouldn’t* continue to fight and die in Iraq.

Lastly, and most damningly, is what is technically called ignoratio elenchi, which basically means trying to prove one thing, but proving something else entirely. In this case, even if one grants everything Hyman says about the “global war on terror” and that we are in the midst of a third world war against the forces of “Islamic facism,” this has nothing whatsoever to do with keeping the status quo in Iraq. If there’s one thing Iraq never was, it’s an “Islamic facist” state. Say what you will about Saddam Hussein, but he was no religious zealot. It’s not at all clear that the majority of those participating in the insurgency in one way or another are aiming for an Islamic facist state, no matter how one might define that.

Which brings us to the “Big Lie” behind all of this, which is that war in Iraq was necessary, was an appropriate response to attacks by al-Qaeda, and has made us safer.

Which reminds us: “Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.” – George Orwell

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: Done broke my ‘puter trying to cipher it out! (Actually, it’s about 7.96)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

ACTION ITEM: 9/10/06

In a case of "physician, heal thyself," I'm going to begin posting periodic (weekly, or thereabouts) ideas for things we can do in response to Sinclair and/or Mark Hyman. Sometimes, these might simply be suggestions to respond to a particularly atrocious "Point" by sending in responses directly to the website. Other times, I might post the address of a sponsor who buys ad time on Sinclair stations asking them to stop, a company or firm that owns Sinclair stock, a policy maker who has some influence on broadcast issues, etc. It could also involve contact information of individuals or groups attacked by Hyman, with the idea that we could drop them a quick note of support. I'll try to make these suggestions timely and relevant to whatever Hyman has said recently, so the specifics will largely depend on circumstance.

After all, rhetoric should be purposeful, and while it's fine and dandy to agree that Hyman's bad news (in many senses of the phrase), I think it's also important to offer suggestions of specific actions, as small as they might be, that might work toward a solution to the affliction of Hymanitis.

This week, I'm suggesting that we respond specifically to Hyman's recent "Point" in which he creatively played with statistics to support the ridiculous assertion that serving in Iraq isn't really all that dangerous after all. This is a particularly good one to respond to, since it involves not simply an offensive idea and propagandistic appeals, but a clear, objective misstatement of factual information.

I doubt we'll get a true mea culpa from Hyman on the next Mailbag segment, but perhaps by calling him on his lie, we can get inside his head a bit.

You can read and respond to Hyman's editorial here.

You can just scroll down to read our response to the editorial, or else just click here.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

More Mailbag Malaise

Just for the record, Mark Hyman again uses his mailbag segment to offer a mix of self-congratulation and false characterization. Quoting from responses to his misguided tirade against his straw man version of “multiculturalism,” Hyman reads from cheerleading emails, saying such baffling things as,”I am still surprised you can get away with what you say -- which is the truth -- in our liberal led society.”

Hyman also offers the usual parade of negative emails, chosen for their ability to be selectively quoted in a way that mocks those who disagree with him.

For example, Hyman quotes one viewer as saying, "Your forefathers exterminated one race and enslaved another to 'make this country great.'" Hyman replies, “Tom, your stereotyping is noted.”

Stereotyping? I don’t think that’s quite the right word, Mark. I think you mean “generalizing,” but that wouldn’t quite have the same “gotcha” ring as claiming a defender of multiculturalism is “stereotyping,” would it? Why let verbal accuracy be an issue when factual accuracy isn’t, right?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Context Matters II

In his latest editorial, Mark Hyman condemns linguist John McWhorter for being “inconsistent on race” because he authored two articles (in the Washington Post and New York Sun) that defended Andrew Young from charges of racism, while condemning Mel Gibson.

Hyman offers a specious argument, one that makes exactly the mistake McWhorter warns us about in his articles: ignoring context.

Young was criticized for making remarks about how store owners in black neighborhoods are usually not black themselves, and have a history of ripping off their African American clientele, saying, “First it was the Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs.”

According to Hyman, McWhorter thinks Young “should get a free pass when it comes to race matters. Well, that’s bogus.”

Wrong, Mark. You’re argument is the one that’s bogus.

McWhorter’s argument is that it’s ridiculous to treat every utterance about race that might be controversial or clumsy as de facto proof of racism. He doesn’t say that Young should get a pass for saying racist things; his argument is that one can be reasonably sure that someone who has a lifelong history of involvement in the Civil Rights movement didn’t mean his comments as racist., particularly when they reflected an objective economic truth: many store owners in predominantly black neighborhoods are not black themselves, and these stores have a history of charging high prices for sub-par merchandise.

And before one assumes that McWhorter is simply bending the rules to defend a black civil rights hero, it would help to actually read his articles in their entirety. Hyman doesn’t mention that McWhorter also comes to the defense of Virginia Senator George Allen for calling a campaign worker for his opponent “Macaca” (McWhorter says there’s no evidence Allen meant this as a racial epithet). He also defends White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and Republican Mitt Romney from charges of racism stemming from their use of the phrase “tar baby” (McWhorter notes that very few people are aware of any racial connotations of the phrase).

McWhorter’s argument is that context matters when it comes to charges of racism. Simply using language that *could* be interpreted as racist shouldn’t automatically deserve the same condemnation as truly hateful remarks. That’s where Mel Gibson comes in. McWhorter notes that there’s no getting around the fact that saying “Jews are responsible for all the wars in history” is hateful. Nor is there any doubt that when a young white man in New York called a black man a “nigger” and then beat him nearly to death with a baseball bat, that he wasn’t using the word as a term of affection (as the man’s lawyer actually tried to argue). Being blunt or even insensitive is not the same thing as being hateful.

It’s possible to disagree with McWhorter’s characterization of specific cases (in the context of his past actions, I'm not sure Allen's statement is as innocent as McWhorter thinks it is) , but it’s not reasonable to characterize his argument as a case of being inconsistent or having a double standard. McWhorter argues that context must be taken into account before we cry “wolf” by saying that any comment that *could* be considered racist *is* racist.

This is precisely the mistake Hyman makes. By not taking into account the entire context of McWhorter’s comments, he offers a lame argument that utterly misses the point. It’s more than a little ironic that Hyman is attacking someone who is making an argument that he, being a stalwart opponent of political correctness, should agree with: calling anyone a racist who says something that might be seen as insensitive is unfair.

I tend to agree with McWhorter’s general argument. We should save charges of racism for public statements that can’t be interpreted in any other way than as evidence of the speaker’s prejudice and hatred against the groups mentioned.

Such as if someone
equates Mexicans crossing the border in search of work with al-Qaeda terrorists.

Or someone who openly talks about
the growing percentage of the Hispanic population of the United States as a bad thing.

Or someone who, contrary to all evidence proving otherwise, suggests that
undocumented immigrants are lazy, shiftless bums who are looking for handouts.

Now that’s what I call racism.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.29

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lying by Numbers

Why does Hyman hate our troops so much that he trivializes the risk to them in Iraq and the numbers of them that have been killed?

Okay, that question is a bit facetious. I don’t honestly think Hyman “hates the troops.” He just doesn’t care enough about them to tell the truth.

What other conclusion can one reach from
Hyman’s recent editorial in which he makes the absurd claim that being a commercial fisherman is more dangerous than serving in Iraq?

The key to unraveling Hyman’s deception is in following the way he changes the terms of his argument. Here’s how he starts his editorial:

Most people would agree that serving in the military and being assigned to Iraq
is perhaps the most dangerous job in America. That would seem logical. But it's

A few lines later, he explains how he comes up with the fatality numbers for Iraq:

There were 1,625,952 active duty military and mobilized reservists and National
Guardsmen on duty in 2005. The fatality rate with respect to deaths in Iraq was
52 per 100,000 last year.

See what he did? He starts off by claiming that he’s talking about the danger of “serving in the military *and* being assigned to Iraq.” But when he actually computes the numbers, he measures the number of casualties in Iraq not against the number of people “assigned to Iraq,” but to the total amount of active duty U.S. military and reservists on the planet.

What a putz.

The number Hyman ends up with (52 per 100,000) is lower than the fatality rate for four other professions: iron worker, pilot/aircrew, logger, and commercial fisherman.

But if one actually does the numbers accurately (comparing the rate of fatalities in Iraq to the number of soldiers serving in Iraq), the result for 2005 is approximately 554 per 100,000, more than 450% higher than the second most dangerous profession of commercial fisherman (118.4 per 100,000)

If I were serving in Iraq, a veteran of Iraq, or a family member of anyone serving there, I would be unbelievably pissed at Hyman for trivializing the risk involved in serving there. Heck, just as an American and someone who knows a few people who have served in Iraq, I’m pissed.

For that matter, so should anyone who cares about the truth.

But Hyman’s contempt for the truth goes even further. He ends his commentary with the following cutesy lines:

A frequent comment among service members is to retire from the military, buy a
boat and fish for the remaining days. Who would have thought that fishing as a
profession would be more than twice as dangerous than fighting the Global War on
Terror? Every single workplace fatality is sad and unfortunate whether it comes
from defeating terrorists or hauling in yellow fin tuna.

Ha, ha, ha! Get it? What a gifted sense of the ironic our Mark has! A retired soldier is actually *more* likely to be killed fishing (at least, commercial fishing, which isn’t what most retired soldiers dream of doing, but never mind) than serving in Iraq!

Beyond the fact that the assertion is absolute rubbish, notice the other way in which Hyman plays fast and loose with the truth: saying that serving in Iraq is “fighting the Global War on Terror.”

As we now know all too well, Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda before we invaded it, and to the extent it’s part of the war on terror now, it’s only because we’ve made it a haven for terrorists, a place where they can mix business (learning how to better kill Americans) with pleasure (actually killing Americans).

Yes Mark, every workplace fatality is sad and unfortunate, but some are more sad and unfortunate than others. In fact, some are not “unfortunate” at all, but the direct result of bad decisions. And some of these are more tragic yet because they are deaths that have occurred for no purpose whatsoever.

Sure, it’s unfortunate when a tuna fisherman is swept overboard and dies, but at least he was involved in a job that provided food for the world and which had a reasonable expectation of success.

But the soldier who dies in the name of “fighting terror” in Iraq isn’t like a tuna fisherman swept out to sea. He’s more like someone who is told to row out into the Dead Sea in the middle of a raging storm in an inflatable dinghy and fish for Killer Whales: he’s being sent to the wrong place with the wrong equipment on the wrong mission in impossible conditions by people who clearly don’t know what they’re doing.

When that fisherman drowns, carrying out the absurd orders of imbeciles he’s obliged to follow, it’s not “unfortunate.” It’s a tragic and criminal waste, one that is far too horrific to be trivialized by a nimrod with 120 seconds to fill on his commentary segment.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.23

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Right But Wrong

In his recent editorial, Mark Hyman bemoans the spendthrift ways of Congress and asks us to “remember how your members of Congress treated your tax dollars” when election time rolls around.

Sounds like a plan! In particular, let’s keep in mind the enormous debt that’s been accumulated in the last six years. Let’s also remember the huge increase in earmark spending since Republicans took over Congress. And let’s also remember the huge amount of corrupt money that’s flowed back and forth between G.O.P. members of Congress and lobbyists (two groups who are often hard to distinguish from one another).

Heck, even conservative stalwarts like
the Cato Institute and George Will point out how pathetic the current incarnation of G.O.P. lawmakers are when it comes to spending money wisely.

Of course, these conservatives, along with Hyman, tend to characterize investment of public money by the government as something inherently negative. That’s where Hyman’s editorial, despite the fact that it tacitly rebukes current Republican lawmakers, toes the conservative party line.

Hyman and other conservatives are right to attack the spending habits of the current congress, but wrong in their overall philosophy. Spending can be either good or bad, helpful or wasteful. Investing in things that will pay dividends both in terms of economic prosperity and quality of life (such as universal health care, investing in education, etc.) have lasting returns, while frittering away money on counterproductive boondoggles (hmmm…anything coming to mind?) can lead to results that are worse than if we just took our cash and through it down a rat hole.

To say government spending is inherently bad is like saying household spending is bad—that investing money in a new house is not qualitatively different than blowing your wad on to by a top-of-the-line Ferrari for your 16-year-old kid, or that spending money on college tuition is the same as letting the family nest egg ride on a single hand of blackjack at Harrah’s.

Public money can and should be spent wisely and for the greater good of the nation. It shouldn’t be wasted on vanity projects for Congressmen, contracts for companies with cozy relationships with politicians, weapons systems that don’t work, or wars that get thousands of people killed and maimed for no good reason.

Yes, let’s remember the spending habits of Congress in November, and respond by electing people who will invest our money in worthwhile causes rather than throw it away.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.09

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Holiday Weekend Short Takes

Back from a weekend break, and time to play a Labor Day Weekend bit of catchup!

Hyman Likes His Issues Simple

Hyman goes after British Member of Parliament George Galloway as a means of mocking the views of “the Angry Left,” of which he suggests Galloway is representative.

Calling him an “apologist for Saddam Hussein” among other things, Hyman suggests that Galloway’s recent comments about the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict show that he’s a “nutcase.”

Some problems with Hyman’s characterization of Galloway: first, Galloway was speaking out against Saddam Hussein back when our current Secretary of Defense was literally shaking hands with him. Galloway did question the sanctions against Iraq, not because he supported Hussein, but because he felt they were causing pointless misery for innocent Iraqis (a conclusion that is backed up with plenty of evidence).

As for Israel, Galloway said that America’s supplying of long range weaponry to Israel complicates our call for other countries in the region to give up such weapons themselves. He also said that in many people’s eyes, Israel itself is a terrorist state. Finally, he stated that Hezbollah was not a terrorist organization.

While no one can argue that Hezbollah contains within it terrorists, Galloway is right that it can’t simply be written off as a terrorist organization. After all, it has many seats in Lebanon’s parliament, thanks to the very elections that the Bush administration has championed as a sign of freedom in the Mideast. It also provides a network of social services in the country.

And it’s simply a fact that supplying Israel with weapons (and tacitly condoning its construction of nuclear weapons) complicates any argument we make for disarming other countries in the region. It doesn’t mean we’re wrong; but Galloway is right in pointing out the difficulty.

And one cannot argue seriously that Israel is *not* seen as a terrorist state by most people in the Mideast. Again, one doesn’t need to think that it is to recognize the validity of Galloway’s point. Given Israel’s history of not abiding by U.N. orders, of using assassination as a political tool, the kidnapping and holding without trial of thousands of Palestinians, it’s not hard to see why many in the region find the U.S.’s distinction between Israel and terrorist states as sophistry.

The problem with Galloway from Hyman’s perspective isn’t his over-the-top rhetoric (which he certainly uses) or sometimes extreme positions (which he certainly takes), but the fact that he points out the complicated nature of the Mideast issue and asks us to look at it from points of view other than our own. For most of us, that’s considered basic critical thinking. For Hyman, it makes someone a “nutcase.”

More Mailbag Cowardice.

This past Saturday,
Hyman again participated in a round of self-congratulation by reading several letters complimenting him for his take on the “Angry Left.” Once again, Hyman studiously avoided any reasonable email to the contrary. One would think that if the Left was so doggone angry and out of touch, he could deftly take even a rational argument apart with no problems, thus exposing them even further.

Gosh, I wonder why he doesn’t do that?

Yet Another Straw Man.

Hyman repeats the straw man argument that’s become the default tactic of the right in defending Bush’s N.S.A. wiretapping plot, framing it in terms of whether or not one favors “listening in on terrorists” or not. Of course, that’s not the issue. Everyone favors eavesdropping on terrorists; what they don’t agree with is the unchecked monitoring of any and all phone calls in a search for possible terrorist calls.

Hyman cites a
recent Harris Poll, claiming that the N.S.A. plot is a non-issue, given that 60% approve of it. What Hyman doesn’t tell you is that the same poll also noted that less than half of the respondents felt they were well informed about the issue. The poll also showed overwhelming desire for the president to seek Congressional support for any move that might involve jeopardizing people’s rights (e.g., intercepting phone calls, monitoring bank records, etc.).

More to the point, while conservatives have touted polls that suggested support for the N.S.A. eavesdropping, when the question specifically mentioned the issue of warrants, most
respondents in several polls said they opposed eavesdropping on phone calls without getting a warrant.

The most egregious rhetorical move Hyman makes in this commentary, though, is when he says:

Terrorism continues to worry Americans. The question is: Do most Americans
support fighting terrorist fanatics to end terrorism or do they favor the cut,
run and hide tactics favored by the Angry Left? Harris never asked that specific

Oh, but many polls *have* asked, Mark. True, they actually asked the question in a neutral and accurate way rather than using empty G.O.P. talking points like “cut and run,” but in fact most Americans want to reduce U.S. troop levels or remove all troops within a year. Most Americans favor putting in a timetable to guide the withdrawal of troops. And by the way, overwhelming majorities of Americans disapprove of the way George Bush is handling Iraq, think the war was a mistake, and believe the war has made us less safe, not more safe, from terrorist attacks.

Of course, I’m sure from your point of view, 2/3 of the citizenry “hates America,” right, Mark?

Hyman Lies and Blames the Victims

Hyman defends the indefensible by lying and attacking. Rather than admitting what’s now been well documented, Hyman defends the Bush response to Hurricane Katrina by attacking Louisiana Governor Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Nagin. Oh, and the people of New Orleans themselves, saying that “New Orleans citizens and cops stole new cars from dealerships and they looted wide screen TVs and $200 sneakers.”

Classy, Mark. Real classy. Trying to blame Blanco and Nagin for the disastrous response to Katrina has become a parlor game for those on the radical right, and while there are certainly things both could have and should have done differently, most of the claims made by partisan conservatives
have been debunked. Hyman repeats the canard that Blanco didn’t actually request aid from the federal government, just money. Too bad Blanco’s letter to Bush is in the public domain and shows her requesting plenty of help, including debris removal.

Thanks to the lies of Hyman,
not to mention officials in the Bush administration, another casualty of Hurricane Katrina was the truth.

And those are the Catch-Up Counterpoints.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Hyman Fails to Hold Republicans Accountable

Mark Hyman likes to complain about Congressional waste, as he does in his most recent editorial about “secret earmarks.” The problem is, despite talk about “responsibility” and “accountability,” he doesn’t put the blame where it needs to go.

Often, when noting Congress’s spendthrift habits, Hyman will say something along the lines of “and Republicans haven’t been any better than Democrats when it comes to controlling spending,” subtly reinforcing the right wing talking point that liberals are ideologically more likely to be for wasteful government spending than conservatives, and that it’s surprising the G.O.P. is “just as bad” as the Democrats.

The problem is that the facts run counter to this. Republicans aren’t “just as bad” as Democrats. They’re far worse.

At the risk of being a bit too cutesy and glib for the taste of most readers, this is the short, simple riposte to Hyman:

Here’s your Congress: 1994
--$23.2 billion in earmarks for 4,126 projects.

Here’s your Congress on Republicans: 2005—$
47.4 billion in earmarks for 15,877 projects.

Any questions?

The one cautionary note I would add is that it’s often easy to slam such spending on general principle, ignoring what the money actually goes for. We can agree that secret earmarks are a shady way of pushing funding through Congress, but often the projects the money goes for are actually worthwhile causes (as opposed to, say, bridges to nowhere).

For example (and in the interest of full disclosure), the college where I currently teach has a fantastic nursing program, one of the best in the state. It’s receiving $200,000 in earmarked federal grants to help fund a multi-state study of ways of retaining nurses in the workforce by measuring what factors lead to nurses leaving their place of employment or dropping out of the profession altogether.

Is that shamefully wasteful spending? As someone who has seen the work that experienced nurses do firsthand, I don’t think so myself, but I’ll leave it for you to decide.

In fact, you can go to
an interactive map to see what organizations in your area are receiving federal earmarked money and what it’s going for. You’ll probably find some examples that seem a bit suspicious, but you’ll also see that a lot of the recipients of the money are organizations that are doing good work that actually helps people. To suggest that this money is wasted but that tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent of Americans is sound fiscal policy is a tough position to defend.

Not that the process of earmarking itself is a desirable way to run a government. But often, these attacks on the process are actually attacks on the very idea that government funds should be invested in services at all. When we object to the freewheeling spending of the Republicans in Congress (and we should), we shouldn’t get sucked into the position of saying investing in worthwhile projects is something do be done away with.

What we want is smarter investment of the public’s money in ways that will benefit Americans, not simply the donors who fill Congressional coffers.

There’s a simple first step to accomplish this: vote for a Democratic Congress in November.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.98

Cost of the War in Iraq
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