Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Late Night with "The Point"

Apparently because his presence in New York allowed him to do a commentary with the “Late Show with David Letterman” marquee in the background, Mark Hyman devoted his most recent edition of "The Point,” to commenting on the number of people turning to comedy shows such as Leno, Letterman, and “The Daily Show” for news on current events.

It’s always a bit difficult to keep a straight face when watching Hyman bemoan the state of broadcast journalism. After all, Sinclair Broadcasting has been in the vanguard of forces aiming at the homogenization and dumbing-down of news content. And ratings for many of their stations show the result. A case in point is WPGH in Pittsburgh. Purchased just over a year ago by Sinclair, the station's ratings have been sliding ever since. Given that Sinclair’s modus operandi for its news stations is to profit through slashing staff rather than producing a superior product, it’s not terribly surprising that viewers are flipping channels to watch Jon Stewart instead of their “local” nightly news.

But we’re still wondering: why does Hyman bother with this editorial now? Sure, the Letterman theatre offers a cute backdrop, but isn’t there a national political convention to be covered? Why would Hyman take a pass on covering the Republicans to comment on the state of the media (particularly when doing so invites speculation from more thoughtful viewers on Sinclair’s own role in the very dynamic Hyman describes)?

The answer comes in Hyman’s final observation: John Kerry’s appearance on “The Daily Show” drew a large rating. After suggesting that the popularity of late night comedic commentary suggests a trivializing of public discourse, Hyman brings in his favorite rhetorical tactic: the meaningless juxtaposition. By mentioning John Kerry in the context of his appearance on the type of show he’s spent the last 60 seconds suggesting are “lightweight,” Hyman looks for a sort of semiotic “bleedover”: If John Kerry appeared on “The Daily Show,” and “The Daily Show” represents superficiality, then John Kerry must be superficial himself.

More subtle than the usual “Point,” but just as logic-free as ever.

And that’s The Counterpoint

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Lying Swifties Redux

As we wait for more yammering from New York, let’s revisit an issue that has come up in a number of Mark Hyman editorials.

“The Point” was one of the first media outlets to air the allegations of a group known as “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth,” and Hyman has continued to play his part in the media echo chamber that has elevated baseless charges to the level of national debate. We wonder how Hyman can keep a straight face as he bemoans the “elite, liberal” media, given how willingly major media outlets have been to present the Swift Boater’s nonsense as if it were something to be taken seriously.

Of late (and much too late), the press have finally gotten to the point of asking some questions about the validity of the Swifities’ charges, not to mention the sources of their money and organization. Revelations have caused them to hem and haw, change their stories, and in at least one case, recant their participation in the whole “get-Kerry” scheme.

But where was the President in all this? Was it unreasonable to expect him to denounce these ads, if not put a stop to them?

The Swift Boat ads were created by folks technically outside the campaign, so one might argue that simply giving a blanket condemnation of advertising by independent organizations (as the President did) is all he could do. Is it fair to make him the Swifties’ keeper?

But if the President of the United States can’t get a group of political allies to pull an ad, the logical question is then how can we expect him to deal with the North Koreans, Iranians, or anybody else? For the President to plead impotence in this matter is far more damning than admitting direct complicity (and infinitely less plausible).

On the other hand, isn’t it just naïve to expect a politician running for the highest office in the land to jump to the defense of his rival? Politics is a contact sport, after all, and if the shoe were on the other foot, would we expect anything different?

In 1988, a man named Chester Mierzejewski came forward with charges that George H.W. Bush’s service in WWII wasn’t quite so heroic as the then-vice president made it out to be. As a crewman in a plane on the mission during which Bush Sr. was shot down, he claimed he saw Bush bail out of the plane before any fire or smoke appeared, condemning the two other crewmen on his plane to death. This contradicted Bush’s story, which insisted that the plane was engulfed in flames and both fellow crewmen dead before he bailed out.

Unlike with the Swift Boaters, Mierzejewski had no political ties to any campaign, or any longstanding history of animus toward the subject of his charges. He was also, undeniably, at the scene of the incident in question, something none of the Swifties can say about their charges against Kerry.

Fortunately for Bush, Sr., a champion emerged who quickly squelched the controversy over his service before it began, rendering it a non-issue. According to a New York Times article from August 14, 1988, he said,

''I don't think that kind of thing has any place in the campaign . . . [Mr. Bush] served this country. He served it well and with tremendous courage, and you don't fly 58 missions without enormous courage and tremendous patriotism.''

That champion? Gov. Michael Dukakis, Democratic presidential nominee.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Mark Hyman and the "New Math"

They say numbers don’t lie, but when they’re issuing out of Mark Hyman’s mouth, they come pretty close.

On the eve of the RNC, Mark Hyman devotes his “Point” editorial to the gloomy July jobs numbers. According to Hyman, they’re really not all that bad—at least if you look at the “household survey” rather than the “payroll count.” The household numbers are more positive than the payroll numbers, and these numbers are more accurate given that the household survey includes farm laborers, part-time workers, and others who aren’t directly counted by the payroll count.

At least, that’s Hyman’s story. And it does seem like he makes a good case that the Department of Labor Statistics should do away with the antiquated payroll count in favor of the household survey. In fact, there’s only one reason why the DLS uses the payroll count rather than the household survey:

It’s more accurate.

Not only is this according to the DLS itself, but also according to that famous leftwing iconoclast, Alan Greenspan, who said in his testimony at a House hearing on February 11: "I wish I could say the household survey were the more accurate. Everything we've looked at suggests that it's the payroll data which are the series which you have to follow.'' Let’s hope Mr. Hyman uses that 3-semester-hours of macro economics from college and calls up the Fed Chairman to help clarify whatever ignorance poor Mr. Greenspan is laboring under.

Hyman suggests the household survey is somehow more comprehensive, but in fact it only surveys 60,000 households while the payroll count samples data from 400,000 worksites. For the more wonkish of you, there’s a
detailed analysis of the July job numbers, what they mean (and don’t mean), and the household vs. payroll issue from the Economic Policy Institute.

For you bottom-liners out there, all you really need to know about the Bush job record is this: George W. Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net loss of jobs.

We’d love to see you try to spin that one, Mark.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

We're just wondering . . .

As the Republican Convention starts, Mark Hyman and “The Point” come back from vacation. In Hyman-esque fashion, we’re wondering about the following aspects of “The Point’s” coverage of the RNC:

Will Hyman actually cover any of the content of the speeches? He somehow managed to “cover” the DNC without mentioning any of the actual content of the convention. Something tells us his stint in NYC will be a bit different.

How will Hyman cover the protests? In Boston, Hyman spent more time covering the specifics of a veterans-against-Kerry gathering than he did on the actual content of the events in the Fleet Center. We’re guessing the protests in New York will be covered, but that “The Point” will manage to capture images of the most outlandish and raucous of them, in order to imply that the RNC is being set upon by wild-eyed, inarticulate anarchists.

How will Hyman spin the recent Census Bureau report that shows how dismal the rise in poverty has been during Bush’s time in office and how many people are losing health insurance. We’re not sure, but we guess that if he does mention it, Hyman will somehow argue that it’s the fault of the “angry left,” the “elite media,” or Ted Kennedy.

We’re guessing that Hyman will make much of the fact that “democrat” Zell Miller will be giving a keynote address at the RNC. But how will Hyman cover the larger issue of how moderate the speaker list is compared to the platform of the Republican Party? Much was made by conservatives about the supposedly unrepresentative nature of the speakers at the DNC, who they believed gave a falsely moderate picture of the Democratic Party. But a glance at the list of speakers for the RNC shows an almost complete disconnect between the public face of the GOP at the convention and their platform. We’re guessing this doesn’t get mentioned, or else is cited as evidence of the supposedly “big tent” philosophy of the Republicans.

Finally, will Hyman try to cover the convention as a positive statement about Bush’s record, or will it simply be another excuse to launch inaccurate and personal attacks on politicians he opposes? Since the former seems near impossible, we’re guessing he’ll go with the latter.

We’re just wondering . . .

And that’s “The Counterpoint”

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Hyman's Away; "The Counterpoint" Will Play

Mark Hyman is on vacation this week, but he promises (threatens?) to be back to “cover” the Republican National Convention. In the meantime, this gives us a chance to revisit a couple of issues in a bit more depth while we await a new supply of whoppers from Sinclair.

One of the recurring subjects of “The Point” is taxes, and in particular the wonders that the Bush tax cuts have supposedly brought the middle class. Oddly enough, just as Hyman left for vacation, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office published
a report on the overall effects of the Bush/Cheney tax cuts. As it turns out, the cuts have done an excellent job of shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class (for an overall digest of the study, see this article from the Washington Post).

This of course not only flies in the face of what Hyman has been saying for months, but also what the president himself said as a candidate in 2000, when he said, “by far, the vast majority of the tax cuts in my plan go to those at the bottom.”

But maybe this isn’t such a bad thing after all. Sure, it demonstrates a certain casualness with the truth on the part of both Bush and Hyman, but is the bottom line really that bad? Isn’t the result of all this tax cutting a flatter, more equitable tax system, and isn’t this just more democratic anyway? Isn’t there something vaguely Marxist about progressive taxation?

No, there’s not. The idea of a progressive tax code is literally as old as democracy itself. One of the first reforms that Solon (a.k.a. “The Lawgiver”) made in ancient Athens in the 6th century B.C. was to create a tax system where those who had the most paid the most to support the state. In fact, progressive taxation goes hand in hand with healthy democracies. For a short treatment of this, see NY Times tax reporter David Cay Johnston’s
article from April 18th comparing the Bush/Cheney tax cuts to the tax systems traditionally favored by healthy democracies.. You can also read the abstract of the paper Johnston refers to in his article by Washington and Lee University professor Maureen Cavanagh here.

Here’s a case in point not specifically dealt with in Johnston’s piece, but which certainly falls in line with his analysis: in Golden Age Athens, when democracy was truly invented, there was a particular tax levied on the wealthiest citizens. The amount of the tax equaled the sum needed to outfit a trireme, an Athenian warship. Why? Because Athens’ defense and her economic power was based on her navy. The Athenians realized that the people who benefited most from living in a democracy are those who are well-off. A slave’s life was likely the same no matter where he or she lived. A free but poor farmer would also not necessarily notice a huge difference in quality of life from one political system to another. The higher on the socioeconomic scale you go, the more dependent on democracy a group is for their continued way of life. This culminates in the wealthiest landowners and merchants, who simply wouldn’t exist in anything other than a free society.

Given this, reasoned the ever-reasonable Greeks, it makes sense for those who have profited most from democracy and have the most to lose from its destruction to pay more for its upkeep and defense. Hence, a tax on the wealthiest citizens to supply Athens with the ships and sailors upon which her political and economic might depended.

Some wealthy Athenians took pride in contributing to her defense and nearly reveled in the cache that outfitting a trireme brought. Others, understandably, were less than completely enthusiastic and tried any number of legal maneuverings and challenges to get out of this tax (some things don’t change). But the central idea remained: those who profit most from living in a free society owe the most for its maintenance. Unless one argues that Solon and Pericles were somehow channeling the spirits of Marx and Engels backward through time, the canard that progressive taxation is somehow antithetical to democracy is rubbish. It’s part of what democracy is (at least a healthy one).

By the by, the Athenians were also too smart to cut taxes while at war. During the Peloponnesian War, Athens levied an extra 1% land tax to help defray the costs of the struggle against the decidedly undemocratic Spartans. It was a relatively modest tax that only affected the wealthy, but went a long way in avoiding monstrous debts that would cripple the city into the future. We leave it to the reader to draw your own analogies.

And that’s The Counterpoint

An Athenian Trireme

Saturday, August 14, 2004

We're Just Wondering . . .

On the surface, Mark Hyman’s latest collection of "short takes" appears typically banal and free of anything of consequence (the latest Kerry “scandal”: a press pass issued for a Detroit event featured an image of a prototype automobile manufactured by Rolls Royce).

But then there’s this little gem:

Did you know there will no longer be a majority religious denomination in America? According to the National Opinion Research Center, Protestants will fall below 50% as early as this year for the first time since the colonial era. The decline is attributed to the rise in people claiming no religious practice and an increase in Islam, Buddhism and other Eastern faiths.

At first blush, this is simply a statement of a marginally interesting fact. But facts are rarely what they seem in the world of “The Point,” and there’s an underlying ugliness lurking here.

Imagine a neighbor approaching you and saying, “Hey, there’s a new family moving into the old Richardson place on the corner. Just saw the U-Haul pull in this morning. Did you know they were a black family?”

Again, if you parse this sentence word by word, this seems innocent enough: simply the sharing of information. The choice to insert an otherwise irrelevant fact into the conversation, however, carries a clear message. Translated, it would be something like: “Listen: I didn’t pay through the nose for my house to live next to people like that. Things are changing, and not for the better. No sir, I’m not happy about this—not one little bit!“


“Hey, friend: I don’t know for sure how you feel about this, so I’m trying to be as delicate as I can, but if you don’t like the idea of living next to a bunch of . . . well . . .those people, you can talk freely to me about it. I’m on your side. I won’t turn you in to the P.C. police.”

Both Hyman and the hypothetical bigoted neighbor cover themselves with plausible deniability. Challenge them to explain the meaning behind what they said, and they’ll respond, “Whoa! Hang on there—you’ve got me all wrong! I was just pointing out a fact, nothing more. Heck, some of my best friends are (black, Hindi, Catholic, etc.).”

But their message and intentions are clear enough. They’re speaking in a code, feeling us out to see if we feel the same way they do and, if so, to commiserate with us on this clear sign of our collective slide toward Gomorrah.

The NORC is in the business of gathering information such as this, and there' s no reason to see their reporting of this fact as having an underlying message anymore than there is to see unspoken racism in a Census Bureau chart that documented more African Americans moving to the suburbs. In both cases, it's the speaker and the context (or lack thereof) that's crucial: "Say, did you happen to notice . . ."

And if there’s any doubt about the “us/them” aspect of Hyman’s comment, note the telling bit of historical ignorance: Hyman claims that Protestants have been in the majority since “colonial times.” While the mental picture of millions of Native Americans getting gussied up in their Sunday best in teepees, wigwams, and pueblos across North America to go to hear some preachin’ is vaguely amusing, we doubt it’s historically accurate. Did the issue of Native Americans not occur to Hyman, or did he consciously decide to ignore it? Perhaps, in Hyman’s world, this is a distinction without a difference.

We’re just wondering.

And that’s "The Counterpoint."

Friday, August 13, 2004

Hyman Tries to "Seem" Like a Journalist

It almost seems not worth the effort to respond to the latest "The Point", another exercise in emptiness. Going back to his “coverage” of the Democratic convention in Boston, Mark Hyman produces yet another content-free piece, focusing on his characterization of the convention as a celebrity-filled bore-fest in which vendors gouged patrons for $5 bottles of water. Even if the bizarro-convention that Hyman conjures were actually accurate, it’s not clear what any of it would have to do with the ideas presented at the convention or the presidential campaign itself. It’s simply the ad hominem attack favored by Hyman as a substitute for reasoned analysis and critique writ large (ad conventioniem?).

Two points are worth noting, however. First is simply the continuing tactic Hyman uses of creating a hazy and shifting definition of his own role as host of “The Point.” When challenged for being wildly one-sided, he answers that he is simply a commentator offering an opinion. On the other hand, Hyman attempts to build his ethos by taking on the trappings of being an actual journalist, including using such techniques as going “on scene” to “cover a story” and referring to himself as a “reporter” or “journalist.” Both of these examples show up in this piece, particularly in the moment when Hyman says that some journalists got “caught up in the emotion” while “others did not,” an observation accompanied by video of a roomful of folks who were presumably journalists laughing and conversing, with one lone figure highlighted amongst them: a dour looking Hyman. The message we’re apparently supposed to get from this is Hyman’s lack of a sense of humor proves his hard-nosed commitment to reporting the facts and nothing but the facts. As always, Hyman attempts to blur the roles of commentator and reporter to suit his purposes.

A narrower but more malignant concern that comes up again in this “Point” occurs when Hyman says “if you ever wondered why Peter Jennings appears to favor terrorists over America then maybe this will give you a clue,” at which point we see a door with an ABC logo on it, below which is typed “Al Jazeera.”

Al Jazeera came to Boston to cover the convention, and needed some technical support in getting its broadcast up, which ABC provided. That, apparently, makes Jennings a terrorist sympathizer. Or at least it explains why Jennings “seems” to be one. So much hangs on that one word: “seems.” It’s the difference between a merely disgusting personal attack and something that might constitute legal slander—a rhetorical fig leaf with which Hyman covers his argumentative shortcomings.

I have to admit that at first I thought of doing an extended riff on this use of “seems” as a way of tweaking Hyman, showing how it could turn a school-yard level taunt into something that has the surface appearance of an objective observation (e.g., asking in which part of his anatomy it “seems” like Hyman has his head, etc.). But the more I thought about it, the more ugly, malicious, and disturbing Hyman’s slur tactics seem to be, and I find it hard to trivialize their despicability by joking around about them.

As a postscript, however, I’d simply point out that the Peter Jennings that Hyman slanders is the same Peter Jennings who flew to George W. Bush’s defense during the Democratic primaries when, when posing a question to Wesley Clark, he suggested allegations that Bush had been a “deserter” during his National Guard service were scurrilous. He could have been reading from RNC talking points.

Moreover, Hyman’s continual harping on the supposedly liberal slant of mainstream media simply goes against the facts. Case in point: this study done by the Pew Charitable Trust’s Project for Excellence in Journalism on the 2000 presidential race, which in fact shows clear and statistically significant slanting of the media coverage in favor of Bush during the run-up to Election Day. Given how few votes might have swayed the election either way, it seems more than likely that the tendency to treat Bush with kid gloves ended up putting him in the White House. Maybe instead of slandering Peter Jennings, Hyman should send him a thank-you card.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Deficit Distortions

There’s no way to respond to the most recent "Point" without going line by line. So here we go (“The Point” is in italics; “The Counterpoint” is in Roman type):

There is no doubt about it. Deficits are not good.

Thank you, Adam Smith.

Yet our government is in a deficit to the tune of more than $400 billion for next year.

Actually, it’s nearly $500 billion.

Both the President and the Congress need to rein in spending and get back to a balanced budget.

It’s pretty much just the President and the Republican House leadership that need to rein in their spending tendencies. Conservative Republicans felt the wrath of this administration and its closest congressional allies when a few of them pointed out that Bush has supported large spending increases. For an example, see this article from "The Hill."

Much of today's deficits are attributable to too much spending. . .

This is true, but needs to be explained a bit more. According to the conservative Heritage Foundation, pork barrel spending has increased dramatically in the last several years, during most of which Republicans controlled the White House and Congress.

. . . and President Bush's middle income tax relief.

Directly contradicting what Bush said during the 2000 campaign, what he’s said as president, and what Hyman says here, the vast majority of Bush’s tax cuts go to the wealthy. Middle and working class taxpayers got around $100 in 2003-2004, and even that minimal amount disappears over the course of the tax cut plan, as the cuts become more and more skewed toward the rich as the years go by. For details, see this study by the Center for Tax Justice.

Taxes were cut to put more money in the hands of consumers to jump-start the economy which began to slide in the spring of 2000.

Many conservative commentators like to suggest Bush inherited a recession. Actually, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession didn’t begin until March of 2001. In fact, in the spring of 2001, the biggest economic concern about the national debt was paying it off too quickly, according to Fed chair Alan Greenspan.

But before we get too critical regarding deficits let's look at the facts and discuss the impact deficits have on today's economy.

Sure, why not?

The US has averaged 5.6, the annualized unemployment rate for 2004 is lower than the annual rate for 19 of the previous 25 years.

The fact of the matter is that since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression, no president has actually managed a net loss in jobs . . .. until now. During a period that included a World War, several other global conflicts, many recessions, and a major energy crisis, no president failed to create at least some jobs, except George W. Bush. It is all but a mathematical certainty that he will be the first president since Hoover to lose jobs. Moreover, wages have fallen for those who do have jobs, and many people have simply stopped looking for jobs because the employment situation is so bleak, leading to an official jobless rate that’s artificially low. For more on this, see the sobering stats from Jobwatch.org.

So while deficits are not good business, it's clear the deficits have not hurt our current economic situation.

Actually, they have, and most economists (including Fed chair Alan Greenspan) warn that continued deficits will have increasingly dire consequences for the economy.

Not only do deficits hurt our economic situation, but they hurt the global economy. The International Monetary Fund has warned that current U.S. debt will likely result in
worldwide economic problems.

And given a choice, I'd rather have deficits with robust economic growth, low unemployment and inflation rates, and record home ownership than a balanced budget with the sluggish economy that resulted from the false promises of the high-tech 90's . .

False promises? The period from 1991 to 2001 was the largest continual economic expansion in history. You don’t get this from a tech “bubble.” You get it from sound economic policies. In fact, in the spring of 2001, Alan Greenspan saw no reason to question the inherent strength of the U.S. economy, barring policy decisions that might undermine it. Gosh, what happened? Hmmmmmmmmm…

. . . and the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Tax cuts have contributed far more to current deficits than post 9/11 defense spending, and the economy has continued to underperform compared to the Administration’s own predictions since September 11, 2001.

Our next step is to have both a strong economy and a balanced budget.

Neither of which will happen with George W. Bush in the White House.

Look, if you want to know about deficits and this administration’s attitudes toward them, look no further than Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty. From Bush’s own Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, we learn that Dick Cheney thinks “deficits don’t matter” and that huge tax cuts for the wealthy are a goal not because they believe they help the economy, but simply because that’s their political policy. Tax breaks for the wealthy aren’t a means to and end; they’re the end. What happens when someone sensible like O’Neill suggests this might not be the best way to run the economy? He loses his job. Well, at least he’s got plenty of company.

And that's The Point.

And THIS is "The Counterpoint."

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Pot, the Kettle, and "The Point"

To paraphrase a saying from a recent “Point” editorial, doesn’t this guy think before he attacks?

The the latest “Point” features a one-on-one conversation between Mark Hyman and Andrew Breitbart, co-author of Hollywood, Interrupted, a book that “reveals” the scandalous side of today’s celebrities. And who said literary life was dead? It’s almost as if Boswell and Dr. Johnson have come back to life!

In a scintillating 45-second interview, Hyman talks to Breitbart about how dysfunctional contemporary Hollywood celebrities are compared to when they were “looked up to” in the past, and their arrogant belief that their political views are relevant simply because they are celebrities.

Of course, before running out to get the book, you might want to keep in mind that Breitbart is the long-time partner of right-wing political hitman Matt Drudge (something Hyman doesn’t mention). You might also want to look at some of the less-than-stellar reviews Breitbart’s star-bashing tome has received. Of Hollywood, Interrupted, Publisher’s Weekly says:

Not since Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons have two journalists
(Breitbart feeds stories to Internet scandalmonger Matt Drudge and Ebner wrote for Spy) gathered more mean-spirited gossip about celebrities they condemn as sick and depraved. This diatribe is so unrelentingly negative that it loses all power to persuade . . .this is a sour and joyless read.

And Deirdre Devers of Pop Matters says:

[T]he authors are able to ignore their own complicity in what they describe. But Breitbart and Ebner don't shy away from putting forth a unified voice that speaks with a conservative, moral authority by alluding to what constitutes appropriate conduct, often that of women.

On the other hand, the book has received rave reviews from Ann “All Liberals Are Traitors” Coulter and Penthouse magazine, so Mr. Hyman isn’t alone in his praise of the book

But the timing involved in both the book and Hyman’s featuring of it seems a bit odd. After all, is Hollywood scandal anything new? Breitbart suggests that contemporary celebrities are the dysfunctional descendents of the silver screen paragons of class and virtue we looked up to in the past. But wasn’t scandalmongering the bread and butter of many a journalist during the “golden age” of American cinema? Weren’t silent movie icons such as Clara Bow, Fatty Arbuckle, and Charlie Chaplin the subjects of rumors of the sort that make the foibles of Hugh Grant and Courtney Love seem trivial? Jean Harlow cavorted with gangsters, posed nude when underage, allegedly had an illegal abortion of a child fathered by a fellow movie star, and had a husband who committed suicide. Errol Flynn’s checkered past included multiple charges of statutory rape. Lana Turner’s daughter killed her mother’s lover (who happened to be a prominent mobster). And we’re supposed to believe Wynona Ryder’s shoplifting escapade represents Hollywood’s slide toward depravity?

As for the parenting abilities of celebrities (a topic that seems particularly central to Breitbart’s work), is this new territory either? Perhaps Messrs. Breitbart and Hyman should rent Mommie Dearest (no wire hangers, Mark . . . EVER!). Then there’s the story told by a son of a prominent celebrity turned politician (we’ll call him Michael “R”) whose dad, after giving a graduation speech at his high school, didn’t even recognize his own flesh and blood. Talk about a lack of family values!

We’re just wondering: might this revisionist view of Hollywood’s supposed decline and fall have anything to do with the fact that celebrities of various sorts have been featured prominently in both anti-Bush and pro-Kerry contexts? And in particular, might this particular “Point” be in response to the recent announcement that an unprecedented series of music concerts will be given by major music stars such as Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. in the fall as part of an attempt to mobilize pro-Kerry voters?

But bad reviews, revisionist history, and odd timing aside, there’s no denying the central point of both Hyman and Breitbart: celebrities do seem to think they’re status as stars gives them the right to be taken seriously as political players. In fact, Hyman goes easy on them. Hyman usually reserves his condemnation for celebrities who simply comment publicly on politics. But he could say so much more! What about those stars who aren’t content to simply speak out on issues, but actually use their celebrity to win public office and force their twisted views of right and wrong on the rest of us? There’s Fred “Gopher” Grandy, former Republican congressman from Iowa; Sonny “I’ve Got You, Babe” Bono, deceased Republican congressman from California; Fred “Law and Order” Thompson, former Republican senator from Tennessee; and Arnold “The Governator” Schwartzenegger, Republican governor of California, to name just a few. There was even this one actor a while back who thought co-starring with chimpanzees in the movies didn’t only qualify him to be governor of a major state, but the nation’s president! Damn that Hollywood elite! Why didn’t you go after these guys, Mark?

In fairness, sometimes celebrities get a bad rap. They’re citizens, too, after all, and they’re entitled to speak and act in support of candidates and causes just as we all are. If the fact that their celebrity status causes the media to pay inordinate attention to them, that says more about the public than it does about the celebrities themselves.

But there’s no doubt that at least some celebrities do presume their notoriety somehow entitles them to be taken seriously as political voices, and that’s ridiculous. The idea that being a movie actor confers on you some sort of authority on political matters is absurd. It would be like . . . oh, I don’t know . . . if some corporate vice president thought that simply because he was an executive at a company that owned television stations, he was entitled to be taken seriously as a political commentator . . . something crazy like that.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Sensible "Point" Reform

In the latest “Point,” Mark Hyman goes after John Edwards for being (gasp!) a trial lawyer. Specifically, he warns ominously that trial lawyer contributions to the Kerry-Edwards ticket suggest that frivolous lawsuits will go through the roof, as will result in doctors and businesses going out of business, and individuals having a hard time getting affordable health care (a subject that The Counterpoint is sure is near and dear to the heart of both Hyman and George W. Bush).

This reasoning (such as it is) is both completely contrary to the facts and utterly hypocritical.

First, on Edwards’ financing: actually, according to
Opensecrets.org, an organization that keeps track of campaign financing, Edwards financed more than half of his 1998 Senate run himself, not through donations from anyone (in fact, he took no donations at all from PACs). Yet Hyman suggests he’s “owned” by trial lawyers. On the contrary, Edwards’ campaign financing suggests that unlike nearly any other member of Congress, he’s his own man.

Second, malpractice insurance costs neither drive up medical costs nor take huge chunks of money from individual doctors. In 2002, the Congressional Budget Office found that "malpractice costs account for a very small fraction of total health care spending" and that even radical reform "would have a relatively small effect on total health plan premiums."

In 2004, a CBO report said, “Even a reduction of 25 percent to 30 percent in malpractice costs would lower health care costs by only about 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent, and the likely effect on health insurance premiums would be comparably small...the evidence available to date does not make a strong case that restricting malpractice liability would have a significant effect, either positive or negative, on economic efficiency.”

And according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, as of 2002, “Malpractice insurance costs amount to only 3.2 percent of the average physician's revenues.”

Moreover, the biggest abusers of the court system aren’t “greedy trial lawyers” filing frivolous lawsuits, but companies. According to the American Bar Association, while product liability lawsuits have actually declined in recent years, contract lawsuits initiated by corporations have increased markedly.

The larger issue here is the oddness of attacking trial lawyers as a group. Of course, going after lawyers is an easy pastime, but whom do they represent? Individuals--individuals who have been injured on the job, while undergoing medical treatment, or at home because of faulty products. Lawsuits have led to safer products (e.g., children’s pajamas that don’t burst into flames), a cleaner environment (e.g., penalties for companies that poison residential areas with carcinogens), and employee-friendly work environments (e.g., standards that protect workers from on-the-job accidents and other health concerns such as repetitive stress injury that diminish productivity and increase health costs).

As Erin Brockovich (the real one, not Julia Roberts) says in the forward to the book “Fighting for Public Justice” by Wesley J. Smith:

I used to hate lawyers.

I thought all they cared about was power and

I thought they didn't give a damn about ordinary people.

Now I know better. Now I know that there are lawyers throughout America
— trial lawyers throughout America — who spend their whole lives fighting for
ordinary people. Trial lawyers who spend their time, their energy, and their
money working to hold huge corporations, oppressive governments, and other
wrongdoers accountable. Trial lawyers committed to ensuring that justice

Most people don't understand that — and neither did I. That's
why this book is so important.

Are there occasional frivolous lawsuits? Certainly, but there are probably many more legitimate lawsuits that are never filed. For example, recent studies have shown that there are far more documented cases of medical malpractice than malpractice suits filed.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration sings the praises of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, himself a former trial lawyer, who said when asked about the attacks on John Edwards’ former career, “I used to represent people in courts in the south. So I wish we’d get off that.”

And speaking of hypocrisy, how about this: in 1999, “multimillionaire” George W. Bush
filed a lawsuit against Enterprise Rent-a-car when one of his daughters was in a fender-bender with driver who had been rented a car even though she had a suspended license. No one was hurt, and Enterprise’s insurance was going to pay for the minimal damages to Bush’s car anyway. That didn't’ stop the man who now touts “sensible lawsuit reform” from filing suit against Enterprise. Eventually, the case was settled. The amount in question? Less than $2500.

Hypocritical frivolity, anyone?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

For a clearly-written essay by a legal expert on the GOP charges against John Edwards and the assertion that malpractice suits hurt doctors, see
this piece from CNN.

A more detailed analysis of Republican distortions of the medical malpractice issue is available in
this article from “Washington Monthly.”

here’s and editorial from The Des Moines Register that briefly but clearly addresses the topic.

Monday, August 09, 2004

The Counterpoint: It's a Good Thing!

Talk about kicking them when they're down! The most recent edition of "The Point" features Mark Hyman quoting a self-pitying Martha Stewart, followed by outraged wailing about her corporate misdeeds.

"The Counterpoint" isn't going to spring to Martha's defense. What we will do, however, is point out that there are many larger fish to fry if financial hanky-panky is the issue. To wit, we offer this line-by-line parody/response to Hyman's editorial, creating the commentary he would deliver if he sincerely cared about corporate wrongdoing:

"Halliburton gets unfairly maligned simply because of their past association with me." -- Dick Cheney

What an arrogant pity party.

Okay, let’s review the facts. No one buys Halliburton gasoline in Iraq because it makes cars run better than other gasoline. And the Army doesn’t serve Halliburton food to its troops because it tastes so good.

Halliburton gets no-bid government contracts because of Dick Cheney’s political celebrity. Its oil, drilling equipment, and food are no better than other companies’ oil, drilling equipment, and food (and, in the case of the food, it’s actually subpar to the point of being unhealthy ).

In Dick Cheney’s case, a millionaire many times over makes a sizable salary and has nearly half a million stock options with connections and influence not available to most other stockholders or employees. It raises questions as to his character and greed. But his argument that Halliburton is maligned simply for political reasons is absurd. The federal government itself is looking into charges of corruption, former employees have filed suit against the company, and Halliburton has admitted taking illegal kickbacks in the past. Halliburton broke the law and Cheney has violated the integrity of the government contracting process. And now both Cheney and Halliburton are in the spotlight for it. That’s the trade-off for the political celebrity status that has richly rewarded Cheney and Halliburton so far.

Dick Cheney epitomizes political and corporate self-indulgence. He wants all the benefits and perks of political status but none of the responsibilities that go with it.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


In the last “Point,” Mark Hyman admitted that he screwed up history by a using a film clip of Teddy Roosevelt during an editorial that mentioned Franklin Roosevelt. Now, if he’ll just admit that he distorts current events as much as historical ones . . . .

“The Counterpoint” isn’t holding its breath. A case in point is the inclusion of Hyman’s distortions concerning the National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq and its relationship to John Kerry. Hyman points out that Kerry’s campaign publicly questioned whether anyone in the White House had read the full NIE before going to war, but that then Kerry’s team admitted that Kerry had not read the full 90+ pages of the document before “voting to invade Iraq.” (For more on the NIE and its use, misuse, or non-use by the Bush administration, check out this link from Disinfopedia ).

First, neither Kerry nor the rest of the Senate voted to invade Iraq. They voted to give President Bush permission to use military options to ensure Iraq gave up the WMDs the President assured us it had. Admittedly, giving Bush blanket permission to use force, assuming that he would exhaust other measures and get international support before doing so, can be considered a serious lapse in judgment. But the vote was not a vote “to invade Iraq” but to allow the military option to be used should it be necessary. Unfortunately, Bush didn’t tell the Senate that he had already made that decision long before. It’s interesting to note, however, that Hyman’s attempt to link Kerry to the decision to go to war in Iraq serves as a tacit admission that this decision was a mistake, or, at the very least, has become a political liability. Until quite recently, Hyman has touted the invasion as a triumph for Bush.

But the supposed backtracking Hyman refers to isn’t what’s important, here. As this article from Slate notes, not many expect even the president (any president, let alone this one) to plow through every word of such a report. The problem is that this intelligence report wasn’t ordered until well after fairly detailed plans had been made for the invasion. The decision to go after Iraq had in fact been made shortly after 9/11, and possibility of doing so was part of the Bush administration’s plans from the very beginning. Rather than offering information upon which to base the decision, the NIE was an administration tool for selling the Iraq plan.

Added to this are reports from multiple sources that pressure was exerted by the administration on the intelligence services to come up with data that would support the decision to go to war. Now, the administration is attempting to scapegoat these very organizations for the Iraq quagmire.

If this wasn’t enough, we know that while John Kerry and other Senators, even if they hadn’t read every page of the briefing, were briefed in detail about the contents of the NIE, the president’s “briefing” came in the form of a one-page memo. That’s right: one page. This page apparently ignored any evidence or opinion that ran counter to the verdict the administration wanted: Iraq has WMDs and has relationships with al-Quaeda and other terrorist groups. Of course, we don’t know exactly what this one-page Cliff’s Notes version of the NIE says, because the administration is refusing to release it. Hmmmm…I wonder why?

In the end, Kerry’s campaign used an ill-advised rhetorical tactic of asking a simple question (“Did anyone at the White House read the NIE?”) to stand in for a series of more complex ones. (“To what extent was contradictory opinion included in the NIE? Were these opinions discussed? To what extent? By whom? What was the rationale for discounting them? Where was the decision-making process at when the NIE was issued? Could there have been anything the NIE might have said that would have precluded war, or was the die already cast?”). But Republican spinmeisters such as Hyman are willfully distorting the facts to manufacture an attack on Kerry.

And while it may be a sign of panic and desperation that Bush supporters are now reduced to arguing that John Kerry was just as uninformed as the president, this doesn’t excuse their misrepresentation. Teddy Roosevelt isn’t Franklin Roosevelt, and George Bush is no John Kerry.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Friday, August 06, 2004

We're Just Wondering: When Did Lying Become Patriotic?

Well, he’s done it. Mark Hyman and the folks at “The Point” have uncovered John Kerry’s devious intent: Kerry has spent 35 years as a public servant in the military, as a prosecutor, and as an elected representative in an effort to undermine America. Why? Because he hates our country.

At least that’s the gist of the most recent “Point.” Beginning with a bizarre comparison of John Kerry to Napoleon (Hyman specializes in contorted historical allusions), Hyman charges that Kerry believes he is a “patriot for life” because of his Vietnam service, despite the fact that, according to Hyman, Kerry’s actions have been “unpatriotic” for more than 30 years since then.

He also charges that Kerry met with communist Vietnam officials in France and that Kerry is honored in a Vietnamese museum for his anti-war activities.

There’s so much here—shall we start with the specific and go to the more general?

Kerry did meet with delegations from North Vietnam and discussed it in his congressional testimony in 1971. Hyman says Kerry “revealed” this, the word choice suggesting that there was something underhanded about what Kerry did. In fact, Kerry met with Vietnamese officials openly in Paris because that’s where the ongoing peace negotiations were taking place. He met with delegations on both sides and was reporting his assessment of the possibilities for a peace treaty and an American withdrawal from Vietnam to Congress. If participating even in an ancillary way in the peace discussions in Paris qualifies as “unpatriotic,” shouldn’t Hyman be upset with Henry Kissinger, too?

The museum that Hyman is apparently referring to (the one “some Vietnam veterans” have talked about) does exist, and there is a photo of a display at the museum of John Kerry shaking hands with a Vietnamese official. Here’s the catch: the photo featured in the display was taken in 1991 when John Kerry was a member of a congressional delegation working to normalize relations with Vietnam and to facilitate investigation into MIA/POW issues. The museum display documents the growing relationship between Vietnam and the U.S. nearly 20 years after the war, not Kerry’s anti-war activities. In short, the museum honors Kerry as a tool of official U.S. government policy, not as an anti-war activist. No small distinction, eh Mark?

This brings us to the issue of patriotism. Kerry’s resume is well known: combat service in Vietnam, work as a prosecutor, elected office as lieutenant governor and senator. In the senate, he’s worked for veteran’s issues as well as spearheading the effort to look into issues of MIAs and POWs in Vietnam (along with John McCain). When Bush supporters attacked Kerry as “weak on defense,” Republican senators McCain and Chuck Hagel defended Kerry’s record. The twisted interpretation of Kerry’s voting record that serves as the supposed proof of his weakness has been debunked in a number of places including the nonpartisan Factcheck.org as well as urban legend site (appropriately enough), Snopes.com. For further analysis of these distortions, read this article from the online journal Slate.

Kerry’s patriotism is clear and has been much more clearly demonstrated in his life of public service than that of other public officials that come to mind, who spent much of their past abusing various substances and running a series of companies into the ground, only to be bailed out by wealthy friends and family. But again, let’s recognize Hyman’s game for what it is. Hyman doesn’t seriously question Kerry’s patriotism; he simply disagrees with Kerry’s politics. Because of that, he feels it’s appropriate to smear Kerry in front of a national audience, hoping that they are too ignorant to recognize what’s going on.

Look, no one who runs for public audience can honestly be said to be unpatriotic or anti-American. “The Counterpoint” might disagree with George Bush’s policies and politics, be we wouldn’t suggest that he doesn’t care about his country. We simply argue that his policies are largely mistaken and bad for the nation. However, Hyman cynically lowers the debate by personally attacking a political opponent’s allegiance to the nation in a ridiculous and invalid way as a shortcut to actually dealing with ideas. In doing this, he insults his viewers, shows contempt for the truth, and bastardizes the ideal of democracy as a mode of government in which ideas compete in the public forum by practicing an ugly form of “democracy” in which untruthful personal attacks take the place of rational discourse.

Remind us again, Mark: who’s unpatriotic?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, August 05, 2004


Finally a “Point” we can get behind! The latest editorial from Mark Hyman & Co. congratulated the Coast Guard on the anniversary of their formation. The Coast Guard is often overlooked as a key part of America’s defense, and many are unaware of the organization’s long history or its many contributions to America in times of war and peace. They certainly deserve recognition.

In the course of praising the Coast Guard, however, Hyman draws a parallel between the “War on Terror” and other, conventional wars. This highlights the dangers of using the “war” metaphor in the struggle against terrorism. As many have pointed out, declaring war on a noun is problematic. Can such a war ever be declared to be won? And although the events of 9/11 certainly refocused the United States on the dangers of terrorism, have we ever not been at “war” with terror, both domestic and foreign? Wars are fought against specific governments and countries. They generally have fairly specific beginning points and ending points. Calling the fight against terror a “war” invites the sort of ongoing, never ending war-as-political-tool that Orwell described in his novel 1984.

More specifically, however, The Counterpoint wonders why Sinclair Broadcasting (the authors of “The Point”) honors our troops sometimes and refuses to do so at others. Hyman often gives “shout outs” to various branches of the armed services, suggesting an allegiance to and solidarity with America’s fighting men and women.

But when Sinclair had the chance to actually honor the specific men and women who gave their lives to their country in Iraq, they refused, not allowing their ABC affiliates to run “The Fallen,” an episode of Nightline that read the names and showed photos of all the Americans who have died in the Iraq conflict. Even 80% of Sinclair’s own viewers, according to a poll on the company’s own website, believed this decision was a mistake. John McCain, veteran and war hero (and not exactly a big liberal) wrote a scathing letter to Sinclair protesting their decision. (See the text of McCain’s letter here).

Apparently, Sinclair likes to pay lip service to our troops when the company can bask in their reflected glory, but if doing something concrete for the troops seems like it doesn’t toe the Bush administration’s line that everything is hunky dory in Iraq, Sinclair’s all too willing to turn their back on them. Remind us again, Mark: who’s the flip flopper? We’re just wondering . . .

And that’s The Counterpoint

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

"The Point" Goes Back in Time

The Counterpoint can almost hear the strains of Nirvana in the background. It’s like it’s 1993 all over again!

At least that’s the feeling after seeing the latest “Point,” Apparently there’s nothing going on in the world (like a presidential campaign, a war, false terror alerts, etc.), so Mark Hyman and company have revisited the issue of Lani Guinier.

As is customary, Hyman doesn’t refer his viewers to any speech, article, or other primary source for his commentary (if he did, viewers would find out how much he’s twisted the facts to make his “point.”). The Couterpoint’s best guess, however, is that Hyman was inspired by this piece in the New York Times, which describes the remarks of Lani Guinier and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at a recent gathering of African American Harvard graduates.

According to Hyman, Guinier (he doesn’t mention Gates, for reasons that will become clear) believes the “wrong” blacks are being admitted to Harvard (and other institutions of higher learning) and that racial purity should be a criteria for admitting African Americans.

Would it surprise you to learn this isn’t quite what Professors Guinier and Gates said?

Actually, both Guinier and Gates pointed out that a high percentage of black students at Harvard are in fact foreign born, often from Caribbean countries or Africa itself. They suggest that if the goal of Affirmative Action is to help those who have suffered because of the legacy of slavery in the United States, simply measuring the number of dark-skinned people one has on campus isn’t an accurate barometer of progress. Neither professor advocated some sort of test to determine how “pure” one’s African-American background was. Rather, they simply suggested this issue needs to be considered when we talk about how and why Affirmative Action programs are enacted.

In the case of Guinier, she argues that more aggressive recruiting needs to be done to bring those often overlooked into the fold of Harvard University, but she makes a point of saying such practices should aim as much at the recruitment of poor whites as native-born and economically disadvantaged blacks.

But it’s not enough for Hyman to simply misrepresent Guinier’s statements. He makes a point of reminding his viewers that Guinier was a Clinton nominee for attorney general until controversy over her legal writings forced her to be withdrawn from consideration. With Clinton connections (of the sort that Gates doesn’t have), you can bank on Hyman adding personal insult to the intellectual injury done to the facts.

First, Hyman refers to Guinier as “The Quota Queen,” an epithet coined by conservative opponents after her nomination, which is both factually inaccurate and carries its own subtly racist message (see this article from Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting for more on this).

He also makes the ridiculous claim that Guinier is ignorant of the history of the slave trade because she seems to not be aware that blacks from the Caribbean were also slaves. Yes, I’m sure Guinier and Gates, two of the most prominent African American scholars in the country, have a lot to learn from the likes of Mark Hyman on the history of slave trade, but The Counterpoint guesses they probably at least are aware of this basic fact. Remember, Mark, they’re talking about the purpose of Affirmative Action in AMERICA, as a policy to help AMERICANS who have suffered discrimination because of the laws and practices in AMERICAN history.

Lastly, but most disturbingly, Hyman throws in an intellectually dishonest and ethically reprehensible comparison between the views of Guinier and those of Adolf Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan. This is, in a word, despicable. As noted above, Guinier never advocates any test of racial purity when it comes to admissions. Moreover, her views (whether one finds them compelling or not) are based on the goal of inclusion and equality, not hatred and persecution. Just when you think Hyman can’t stoop any lower in his attacks, he manages to do it.

Affirmative Action and the use of race in college admissions is a complex topic with a range of opinions that are held by intellectually honest people. There are valid arguments to be made on virtually every side. As Guinier and Gates have noted, the topic has levels of complexity that haven’t even been deeply thought about yet.

But complexity and subtlety aren’t what “The Point” is about. As is all too typical, Hyman takes an important and multi-faceted issue, and uses it as a platform for blowhard propaganda and cheap-shot personal attacks.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Mark Hyman: Fact-Distorting Slander Monkey

There was more Franco-phobia (remember "cheese-eating surrender monkeys"?) and Kerry Bashing in the latest “Point,” this time mixed with disinformation on one of the most deadly health risks on the planet.

Taking issue with recent criticism by Kofi Annan and Jacques Chirac of U.S. AIDS policy, Mark Hyman suggests the United States is doing heroic service by committing $15 billion to the fight against AIDS and mandating that all drugs purchased with U.S. funds are approved by the FDA.

There are some problems with this reasoning, however. First, the Bush administration has promised $15 billion over the next several years, but has done little to actually provide it. In fact, in his latest proposed budged, Bush only requests 2 billion, when at least 3 billion is needed to keep his promised funds on schedule. This is even more troubling when every dollar that is spent now can do many times the good of the same dollar spent five years from now. (See the Global Aids Alliance summary of the Bush policy statements vs. reality here.)

Second, as Hyman admits (although downplaying its significance), the Bush administration is holding much of the funding hostage to a promise of “abstinence” programs rather than condom use or treatment, in an overt play to religious conservatives in this country. The Counterpoint suggests that maybe the actual countries with the AIDS problems can best determine how to effectively use the money in their own particular situation, but apparently the Bush administration and Hyman feel Washington should dictate how the money is to be spent in order to score domestic political points. And all this time we thought conservatives were for local control rather than Washington bureaucracy! (See a copy of Human Rights Watch’s letter to Bush on this issue here.)

Lastly, Hyman makes a silly and baseless swipe at France, suggesting that the French disapprove of the Bush administration’s insistence that all drugs purchased for AIDS treatment be FDA approved because they want to profiteer by selling generic drugs produced in France. The exact opposite is the case. The generic drugs, approved by the World Health Organization, are produced in third-world countries. Mandating FDA approval not only dramatically slows down the rate at which these drugs reach those who desperately need them, but it virtually ensures that profits will be made by American and European drug makers. (See Foreign Policy in Focus’s article on the dangers of Bush’s policy, along with many helpful links, here.) Is it any coincidence that the Bush administration’s point man on AIDS is a former executive with giant pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly? The Counterpoint thinks not. Oh, by the way: guess who helped broker the landmark deal that would make inexpensive AIDS drugs available in Africa? None other than former president Bill Clinton, who as an ex-president has done more in the fight against global AIDS than has Bush as president.

And it wouldn’t be “The Point” without a gratuitous anti-Kerry slander. Hyman says that Kerry thinks we should “defer” to the U.N. and France on international issues. The source of this quotation? Hyman doesn’t provide one, because Kerry has never said such a thing, or anything even close to it. Kerry has simply said that we might be more effective as an international leader if we work with the U.N. and other nations rather than pulling out of international treaties and gallivanting around the world on our own without winning support from others. What treachery!

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Monday, August 02, 2004

"The Point" is FUBAR

There are any number of small to middling size untruths populating the latest installment of “The Point,” but the biggest and most glaring is the assertion that somehow the “liberal” press’s attention to Joseph Wilson has damaged the Bush administration.

In fact, the Wilson coverage has focused more on investigating unsubstantiated attacks on Wilson than his statements disputing President Bush’s claims that Iraq had attempted to buy enriched uranium from Niger. To the extent the examination of the Bush administration’s rationale for war has revolved around the specific charges of a single individual, the issue has devolved into ad hominem attacks that ignore the larger facts (which are, to say the least, not helpful to the president). The Counterpoint suspects even Mark Hyman knows this, and is playing along with conservative talking points in feigned outrage.

With that, let’s look at some specifics:

The Point: “He [Wilson] popped up out of nowhere last summer”

The Counterpoint: Actually, Wilson was Deputy Chief of Mission to Baghdad during the first Bush administration, had been highly praised for his service by the senior Bush, and had in fact begun his diplomatic career in Africa.

The Point: “He personally traveled to Niger and after a couple of days of sipping sweet tea declared the British were FUBAR on the intelligence.”

The Counterpoint: A silly ad hominem attack followed up by an exaggeration. Wilson simply claimed he found no convincing evidence to support the British claim.

The Point: “Wilson became an instant media darling. He was on every news program and talk show. The newspapers couldn't get enough of him.”

The Counterpoint: When the man who was sent to Niger to check into allegations of something as serious as the illegal purchase of uranium says that what the President said in the most watched speech of the year is untrue, it’s probably going to get some media attention. As noted earlier, much of the continuing focus on Wilson is the result of Republican attacks and the outing of his wife Valerie Plame, as a C.I.A. operative (a felony that could only have been committed by a member of the administration).

The Point: “The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-Iraq war intelligence contradicts what Wilson was telling the press last year.”

The Counterpoint: Actually, it doesn’t. In fact, it supports the underlying claims that Iraq had no stockpiles of WMD and that their only supply of uranium was safely under U.N. lock and key (until, that is, the U.S. invasion, when security collapsed). The actual text of the report is available here.

The Point: “The Senate investigation found that Wilson's wife, a CIA analyst, promoted him for the Niger trip -- a job for which he was uniquely unqualified. Last year, Wilson was steadfast in his denials that his wife was involved.”

The Counterpoint: Not so much. First, the report says only that Plame brought up her husband’s name since he was familiar with both Iraq and Africa, and was planning an upcoming trip to Africa. There is nothing in the report that says she “promoted” him for the job, and the C.I.A. itself says she had nothing to do with his selection for the mission. As to “uniquely unqualified,” that’s already been dealt with above—if anything, Wilson’s background made him uniquely qualified.

The Point: “Then the British recently released their own independent report on pre-Iraq war intelligence and they concluded that the intelligence that Saddam sought to purchase uranium from Niger to be ‘well-founded.’”

The Counterpoint: The most generous reading of both the British and U.S. reports only says that there were reasons to believe Iraq might be attempting to buy uranium from one or more African countries. Neither report says that this happened, or was even actually attempted—merely that it was plausible.

The Point: “But this time the press has no interest in Wilson or any facts that refute the media's baseless allegations that the White House "spiced up" the State of the Union address. In fact, the partisan press doesn't seem to care if someone lies just as long as the lies support their political agenda.”

The Counterpoint: On the contrary, the White House itself as much as admitted it “spiced up” the State of the Union when the administration said that there was not sufficient evidence to merit the inclusion of this charge in the speech. Unless Bush’s own press secretary is part of the “elite liberal media,” it is Hyman’s own charge that is baseless.

Again, one hesitates to play Hyman’s game, because it actually pulls attention away from the two main issues involved in the dispute. The first is that someone in the administration committed a felony by outing a C.I.A. official in order to discredit her husband. Hyman seems just fine with that. The Counterpoint can’t help but wonder what his reaction would be if the Clinton administration had done such a thing. Fortunately, a special prosecutor is currently at work (in fact, Colin Powell has recently testified for the investigation), so there’s at least some hope that the author of this politically-motivated act of treason (and no other term can really apply in this case) will be discovered.

Even more importantly, the fact remains that regardless of what Wilson said or didn’t say, why he said it, who sent him to Niger and why, etc., there has never been evidence that Iraq possessed WMD’s of any sort, let alone nuclear weapons or the capability of manufacturing them. Nor did Iraq have any relationship with al-Quaeda or the attacks of 9/11. We now know beyond any doubt that the Bush administration wanted to go to war with Iraq from the moment it took office. 9/11 and the WMD allegations provided an opportunity to do so. Nearly 1,000 American soldiers have died, not to mention countless Iraqi civilians. America is now resented in much of the world, including by many of its allies. Terrorists run rampant in a lawless Iraq. Osama bin Laden remains at large, primarily because so much of our resources are devoted to Iraq, and there seems to be no coherent plant to do anything about any of this.

Talk about FUBAR.

And that’s The Counterpoint

For more details, see Joe Conason’s article about the aftermath of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation here.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Big Dick Cheney: Tax and Spender

“The Point” closed out its week in Boston with one last non-story: the “Big Dig.”

Attempting to associate John Kerry with government boondoggles, Mark Hyman gives a brief overview of the lengthy and pricey highway project in Boston that has transformed the city center but has done so after much more time and money were spent than originally estimated.

The underground highway, a technical achievement some have likened to the construction of the Hoover Dam or the Panama Canal, did go way over budget (not unlike a good number of government projects). Hyman notes that John Kerry was lieutenant governor to Michael Dukakis during part of the time the project was going on, and implies that this suggests fiscal irresponsibility on the part of Kerry and other Democrats.

Hyman also mentions that President Reagan vetoed the funds intended for the project, citing it as an example of wasteful spending, and then ponders how much more incensed the former president would be when seeing how much more money was spent on it than was originally planned.

There are just a couple of problems with this analysis. First, the funds Reagan vetoed were not, as Hyman would have you believe, strictly for the “Big Dig.” These funds were part of a much larger highway spending bill that he in fact vetoed in 1987.

Secondly, while Hyman notes that this funding was vetoed and overridden, he leaves out the fact that Reagan’s veto could not have been overridden without significant support from Republicans in Congress. In fact, the list of the Senators who voted to override the veto included such conservative luminaries as Wilson from California and D’Amato from New York. The vote to override was overwhelming in the House, and included such well-known lefties as Trent Lott and the single House member from the state of Wyoming: one Richard Cheney. According to Hyman’s logic-by-juxtaposition, the current vice president is part of the fiscally irresponsible tax and spend crowd.

This brings us to the more salient point. As over-budget as this one particular highway project was, it paled in comparison to the astronomical debts being built up by the federal government under Hyman’s exemplar of fiscal frugality, Ronald Reagan. Such deficits haven’t been seen since . . . well, until today at least. The current Bush administration has managed to fritter away an historic surplus accumulated during the Clinton administration, replacing it with record budget deficits.

As far as government projects run amok, one need look no further than Iraq, where costs blew past all Bush administration estimates long ago, with millions of dollars being funneled directly into the pockets of private contractors such as Halliburton, a company inextricably linked to that same Wyoming Representative who voted to override the Gipper’s veto in 1987: Dick Cheney.

And that’s the Counterpoint.

Cost of the War in Iraq
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