Monday, November 29, 2004

Charity Blues

Mark Hyman's argument that conservatives are more moral than liberals because statistics suggest citizens of “red” states give more to charities than those living in “blue” states is filled with deceptive claims, the fundamental one being that you can make judgments about individuals based on collective data. This fails simply as a matter of logic.

But for the sake of argument, let’s put aside this fatal flaw and assume that 1) the category of “red” or “blue” applies not only to the state as a political entity, but to each and every one of its citizens (i.e., if Florida is red, than all Floridians are red) and 2) the average giving numbers Hyman refers to also apply not to the collective population of a state, but to the individual actions of each and every individual in that state.

Even with these two absurdities granted, Hyman’s argument doesn’t work. To begin with, the data is based only on donations claimed on itemized tax returns. The number of itemizers from state to state varies widely. Almost without exception, states that have few numbers of itemizers are at the top of the giving rankings and those with many itemizers at the bottom. Why? If the top 18% of Arkansas population itemizes, but 42% of Connecticut tax payers itemize, you end up comparing the gifts of the wealthiest Arkansans to nearly half of Connecticut. Even when taking into account differences in average income, Arkansas will come out on top. And by the way, nearly all low itemizing states are red; nearly all high itemizing states are blue.

But that’s a trifling detail compared to more fundamental problems. Charity, as they say, begins at home. The most generous states in Hyman’s estimation are also those with most poverty, particularly child poverty. It makes sense that those who see and come into contact with abject poverty would be most likely to give to local charities. The need is simply greater. The poorest states with the most children living in poverty? They’re red.

This is all the more important when we take into account that the states that have the most poverty are those who do the least to help their most impoverished citizenry. The nonpartisan Urban Institute did a study comparing states by their “willingness to spend” on children in poverty. The study controlled for average income, number of children in poverty, and funds received from the federal government. This allowed a comparison of the state governments themselves. The result? The top ten “willing to give” states are virtually all blue. The bottom ten are a sea of red.

Hyman wants us to believe blue staters are less generous. Nonsense. It’s simply a matter of how the money is collected and dispersed. Blue states do it through taxes. Red states rely on charity. Given the state poverty rankings, it’s pretty clear which philosophy works better.

The study cited by Hyman can’t tell us anything about the personal tendencies of conservatives or liberals to make charitable donations. If such a study could be devised, we’re virtually certain it would show a negligible difference.

What this study does show, however, is that poverty inspires people to give. The people who see it firsthand understand how destructive it is to have a significant percentage of your neighbors living in dilapidated housing, going to run-down schools, and not having enough food to feed hungry children. The Mark Hyman’s of the world think poverty is a sign of moral weakness—you’re only poor if you deserve to be, and wealth equals decency. He celebrates charity (as does the administration) not because he admires it, but because it serves as cover to slash government assistance to those who haven’t “proven” themselves by earning as much money as their neighbors.

But poverty is an inevitable result of a free market economy. As long as capitalism exists, there will need to be help given to those who end up on the bottom of the food chain. Free markets are a wonderful thing, but by themselves they lead to a steady erosion of society. Those in the red states who attempt to assuage the poverty in which so many are mired, and which their state governments do comparatively little to deal with, understand this all too well.

Maybe it’s about time Hyman did also.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Tax Fairness

In a recent commentary, Mark Hyman suggests the Bush administration will make changing the tax code a priority in the next four years, and goes on to imply that two possible alternatives to the existing system, the flat tax and the national sales tax, offer a needed simplicity to the Byzantine IRS rules that now exist.

But Hyman erroneously equates the apparent simplicity of these codes with fairness. Not true. A flat tax and a national sales tax would both, by definition, be regressive tax policies. That is, they fall disproportionately on those who make less money. The wealthier you are, the more you benefit from either of these types of taxes. It’s not accident that that the best-known proponent of the flat tax is Steve Forbes, one of the nation’s richest men.

Hyman also fallaciously suggests that these two options are the only true “simple” options available. Again, not true. There’s no reason a progressive tax code with, say, tax brackets of 15, 25, 35, and 45 percent couldn’t also be handled on a postcard-size return.

The simplicity Hyman touts doesn’t come from the flattening of the tax code; it comes from eliminating deductions and tax loopholes. There’s certainly something to be said for this, but there’s no necessary relationship between eliminating loopholes and flattening tax rates. Beyond that, we doubt that a tax system that eliminated the home mortgage deduction while nailing consumers with a 45% sales tax (a conservative estimate of the necessary tax needed to maintain federal tax revenues) would be terribly popular.

But the larger issue here isn’t the nuts and bolts of tax policy. The reason Hyman and other members of the Histrionic Right advocate this type of regressive taxation isn’t because they value simplicity or fairness in the tax code. They don’t. Rather, it’s a matter of a larger world view. Conservatives equate wealth with goodness. If you have a lot of money, they reason, you’ve obviously shown your superior ideas and work ethic. You should be rewarded by not having to pay your share for the upkeep of the country. Let those who haven’t demonstrated their value to the system to the same extent (i.e., middle class, working class, and the working poor) subsidize the lifestyles of the righteous winners.

Moreover, conservatives know that such changes in the tax policy would lead to massive loss of government revenue. This will force government to spend less, but not on those aspects of big government conservatives love (defense, corporate subsidies, law enforcement—at least as practiced by the current Justice Department). It will come by hacking away at the social programs they despise: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.—programs that help those they see as inferior because they haven’t amassed personal fortunes.

What Hyman doesn’t get is that taxes are investments in the future of our country. They’re the way we ensure that the nation will be in good shape for future generations. Things like the interstate highway system don’t happen if we simply have each individual keep and spend his or her money. Taxes are the way we collectively invest in our shared future. Hyman and his friends want to create a system where we squander our money instead of invest it.

That is, of course, unless they can rig the system to have the non-rich foot pitch in the entire amount. But that’s both unfair and bad policy. As tax expert
David Cay Johnston has pointed out, progressive taxation is integral to a healthy democracy. It’s not by accident that Athens was a tyranny when it had a flat taxation system, but blossomed into democracy when it had a progressive tax system. Those who profit most and depend most for their continued well-being on the health of the nation as a whole owe the most to its upkeep.

While Hyman wants a tax code that will reward companies for moving overseas and keep the most well-off Americans from paying what they owe, we advocate tax fairness.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Memo to Mark

To: Mark Hyman
From: The Counterpoint
Re: Religion and Politics

Mr. Hyman:

In your latest “Short Takes,” you continue to castigate those who express concern or disapproval of evangelical Christian ideology driving political voting. As you may know, some of the individuals you single out, such as E.J. Dionne and Garry Wills, have spent years looking at the role of religion in U.S. politics and consider it a valid, important component of the American political scene. They don’t, as you suggest, shudder at the idea of walking past a church. But in order to make your ideological point, you seem determined to equate their critique of the fundamentalist aspects of Christianity with a general antipathy toward religion generally. This is both factually wrong and ethically suspect.

But the larger and more important point is this: you just don’t seem to get the fact that one can be religious and still find the relationship between sects of fundamentalist Christianity and the Bush administration troubling. Moreover, it seems simply odd that conservatives would applaud this commingling of religion and politics. After all, don’t most conservatives (including yourself) bemoan government intrusion into our life? How many installments of “The Point” have you spent railing against the ineptitude of Washington politicians and bureaucrats? Isn’t the mantra of conservatives “less government, more individualism”?

If you want to know why so many find the connection between the Religious Far Right and the current administration troubling, think about it this way: if you find government oversight of business practices and regulations invasive, how should one feel about government oversight of religious principles? For many of us religious belief is far too important and profound to become mixed up in politics. Our religious beliefs certainly inform our political behavior, but the overt mingling of religious belief and political discourse bothers us, not because we worry that religion will taint our politics, but quite the opposite: that the overt politicizing of religion cheapens it.

We object to having the Ten Commandments placed in courthouses, public prayer in school, and public funding of religious education not because we hate the basic religious tenets from which these political actions spring, but because we recognize how sacrosanct religious belief is. We can imagine ourselves living in a society in which our deeply held spiritual beliefs were not held by most people and how we would feel should government take actions that seemed to endorse one belief system over our own. It is the value and respect we have for religious belief that fuels our objections to its politicizing, not fear of it. “The majority rules” is a political truth; it should not be a religious one.

As we’ve pointed out before, most of the liberals you criticize would be more than happy to see government policy truly based on the principles of Christianity. Whether they are believers themselves or not, they want a government that is there to make society better by helping to clothe and feed those in need, helping people learn, caring for the sick and elderly, solving conflicts through peace rather than violence, and accepting even the most marginalized as valuable people worthy of respect. The problems we have with the Religious Right are that they (and you) seem to define religious belief generally, and Christianity specifically, narrowly and inaccurately. It’s hard to fathom an interpretation of Christianity that sanctions institutionalized bigotry against homosexuals, but is against universal health care and increased funding of social programs that help the needy.

Moreover, the Far Right use this fundamentally flawed (pardon the pun) construction of Christianity as a political tool (and often weapon) with which achieve specific policy objectives. It is this conviction that many members of the Religious Right misinterpret basic truths of Christianity and simply ignore others, along with the overt commingling of religious belief and public policy in a way that demeans and cheapens religious belief, that we find abhorrent.

People who truly think religion is harmful point to its use as a justification for war and persecution as evidence of its malignant effects on society. But what they don’t understand is that it’s not religion itself that led to these atrocities. The cause has been the appropriation of religion as a way of justifying political ends. Not only has this use of religion directly led to untold human suffering, but it has also demeaned the very religious beliefs that served as the pretext for these actions. This is why many who have sincere and abiding religious faith find its use by conservatives so unsettling—it’s not that we fear religion’s effects on politics; it’s that we fear politics’ effects on religion.

God bless,

The Counterpoint

Monday, November 22, 2004


We try to keep a level head about Mark Hyman at “The Counterpoint.” Believe it or not, we try to give him the benefit of every doubt. Sure, we disagree with his politics, we find his arguments poorly constructed, and we resent the fact that he forces himself on millions of news viewers without allowing any significant countering voice.

But we try not to believe the worst about him. We try to see this as a project of responding to a fellow citizen who has very mistaken views about the world, but who isn’t a bad human being.

This continues to become more difficult as time goes on.

The latest case is an
astonishing commentary on the role of religion in the previous election. Hyman draws a line between those on the “Angry Left” who he claims deride religious belief and the red-staters who think it’s an important part of life. But as factually inaccurate as it is to claim that Republicans are religious and Democrats are not, this distinction is not nearly as ugly as the second boundary Hyman draws that parallels this one along ethnic lines.

While spouting off statistics about the link between religious belief and voting patterns, Hyman makes a point of announcing not only that the majority of evangelical Christians and white protestants more generally voted for Bush, but that overwhelming majorities of Jews and African Americans voted for Kerry (in fact, Hyman lumps Jews and non-believers into the same demographic category—apparently for him, this is a distinction without a difference). Just to underscore this, Hyman quotes three newspaper columnists who he believes have expressed intolerance toward Christians since the election. Of the three, two (Ellen Goodman and Thomas Friedman) are Jewish. The other, E.J. Dionne, is Catholic. Coincidence?

So, we have a commentary in which Hyman bemoans religious intolerance and division, yet in which he himself draws clear distinctions between the believing Red states and the “elitists in the nation’s coastal pockets of blue states” (note to Mark: what about us Midwestern elitists?), between conservatives and liberals, and between white Protestants and Jews, African Americans, and nonbelievers. Hyman will likely say that he was simply reporting the facts on voter demographics and didn’t mean anything by it. But given the obvious good/bad dichotomy Hyman sets up in this piece, the association of certain religious and ethnic groups with “goodness” and “badness” is inescapable and certainly intentional.

We’ve seen in the past that Hyman dabbles in racism and religious bigotry, and we’ve called him on it. But we’ve tried to avoid invoking dialog-crushing invective likening Hyman’s stance with Nazism or lynch-mobs. This kind of hyperbole is unfair and diminishes the true evil of people like a Joseph Goebbels or KKK members by domesticating it and using it for rhetorical point-scoring. But we can avoid using this language and still call Hyman’s rhetoric for what it is: bigotry.

Beyond the ugliness of Hyman’s words, he’s simply wrong. Most of the liberals we know are not only believers, but have political beliefs that are rooted in their spiritual convictions. What the columnists Hyman cites are criticizing is not the religiosity of voters; it’s the equation of religious belief with an extreme and narrow set of positions on a handful of issues

Hyman and his ilk should keep this in mind: of the sentences in the New Testament, fully 10% are saying something about helping the less fortunate. Jesus never said anything about gay marriage. He did say we should help the poor. Jesus never advocated tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. He did say it was harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into Heaven. Jesus didn’t talk about prayer in schools or posting the Ten Commandments in public spaces. He did say we shouldn’t parade our faith in front of others but practice it privately. Jesus didn’t say homosexuality was a sin, that illegal immigrants should be punished, or that the death penalty was a good idea. He did say “judge not lest ye be judged.”

We believe, based on what the Bible tells us, that Christ would probably think universal healthcare was a good idea. He’d probably want us to spend more money on schools, particularly in poverty-stricken areas. He’d probably want us to help drug addicts, not throw them in jail. He’d likely be against starting a war against a country that wasn’t at war with us. He’d favor a progressive tax code that ensured that the wealthiest contributed to the well being of the least fortunate. He’d be for protecting the environment. He’d want to take care of the homeless. He’d be for taking better care of veterans. He would be for taking care of the mentally ill, the physically handicapped, and the developmentally disabled. He’d likely be more concerned for the welfare of the unwed teen mother than for the stockholders of Halliburton. And he’d have no time for divisive bigots. Jesus really would be a uniter, not a divider.

We think Jesus would have voted for Kerry.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

A Hyman by Any Other Name . . .

Hyman’s latest "Point" seems trivial (something Hyman himself acknowledges)—dealing with U.S. recognition of a name change for Macedonia. But whether he intends to or not, Hyman’s commentary serves as a stinging indictment of Bush foreign policy. As he notes at the very end of his commentary, the U.S. decision to refer to “The Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia” as simply “Macedonia” is likely a reward for that country’s participation in the “Coalition of the Willing.” What he doesn’t mention is that the country most troubled by this move, Greece, is not only no a member of the “coalition,” but actively opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has seen many large demonstrations against the war.

Our European allies have remained neutral on the issue and are unlikely to follow the U.S. lead in this matter. They recognize Greece, a member of NATO, as an important ally. They also recognize that the name change will likely have consequences that go beyond simply diplomatic protocol—and might include repeal of legal protections for ethnic Albanians living in FYROM. From their perspective (as well as any rational observer’s), the U.S. action seems like a needless thumb in the eye of an ally and yet another example of making foreign policy decisions out of petty spite and personal emotion rather than level-headed contemplation.

But that probably doesn’t matter that much. After all, the Balkans are such a stable area of the world that there’s really no need to be concerned about possible consequences of short-sighted policy decisions, right?

And that’s The Counterpoint.

With Friends Like Hyman . . .

We’re certainly happy that Mark Hyman and his friends at Bush/Cheney ’04 have such wonderful advice for Democrats on who they should nominate for president. There’s no doubt that “The Point’s” post-facto endorsement of Dick Gephardt for the Democratic nomination is sincere, is there?

Actually, this is just another chance for Mark Hyman to trash John Kerry. Certainly Gephardt would make an excellent president, but he’s run and lost for the Democratic nomination before, and that generally doesn’t make for a successful candidate. Also, he’s a member of the House of Representatives, a body from which it’s historically nearly impossible to become president (vice presidents, governors, and senators are the usual choices). And no one who watches Hyman can doubt there would have been a moment’s hesitation to trash Gephardt’s character on “The Point” as he did John Kerry, as well as an effort of Sinclair Broadcasting to find a way of foisting off political propaganda as news. The only difference would be that instead of Vietnam, the focus would be on something else (“Machine Unionists for Truth”?).

But perhaps the most bizarre aspect of Hyman’s commentary is the following example of gibberish: “[Kerry’s] support hit a record low for the percentage of people who were supporting him.”

Come again?

We’re not sure what Hyman’s talking about. He seems to be trying to say something about Kerry not having strong support. But somehow the idea that a candidate who received more votes for president than anyone in history except the person who narrowly defeated him is a “weak” candidate just doesn’t make sense.

Hyman continues to want to spin this election into some sort of national endorsement for George W. Bush. But as we showed in our previous “Counterpoint,” Bush doesn’t stand with his countrymen on any of the important issues of the day. For Democrats, the question isn’t who to run—by any objective analysis, John Kerry is a man with a greater history of personal integrity and public service than George W. Bush, and his alleged “flip flops” are non-existent compared with the whiplash-inducing 180s that the Bush administration has made on every issue from terrorism to trade. The question is how Democrats should talk to voters in order to most effectively make people aware that their agenda is the people’s agenda. And just as importantly, they need to do this without losing their souls by emulating the duplicitous rhetoric and character assassination that are the weapons of choice for Republicans (including Mark Hyman).

And that’s The Counterpoint.

We Live in a Blue Country

Bush’s 2004 mandate: wolves are scary!

In a
recent "Point", Mark Hyman mocked the idea that President Bush did not win a mandate for his reelection. Citing the fact that George W. Bush got more votes than “anybody ever,” Hyman suggests that any evidence that the American people don’t support his policies must be bogus. After all, didn’t Dubya win the election?

There are a couple of small problems with Hyman’s analysis. First, Bush did get more votes than any other candidate. But do you know who comes in second in this category? Senator John Kerry. In fact, John Kerry received nearly two million more votes than Ronald Reagan did in his landslide reelection in 1984. Bush’s margin of victory, both in terms of popular and electoral votes, was the narrowest reelection of a president since 1916. If “mandate” means anything more than simply winning an election without a recount or the Supreme Court intervening, than 2004 doesn’t qualify. 1936, 1964, 1984, and 1996 were mandates—the sitting president decisively beat his opponent(s) in both the popular vote and Electoral College. Not so in 2004. The only reason this election wasn’t touted as a nail-biter of historic proportions was simply the fact that in 2000, it took weeks to sort things out, and the guy with less votes ended up the “winner.”

Second, Hyman’s argument is based on the fallacious notion that a presidential election correlates exactly with the specific opinions of the electorate on a variety of issues. In fact, as one can tell from looking at the ads and rhetoric of this or any other presidential race, the entire process is predicated on the conviction that voters do not go down a checklist of issues and compare their opinions with those of each candidate. If that was the case, we’d have actual debates, policy-wonkish speeches, and campaign ads that touted specific aspects of a candidate’s political agenda rather than showing us scary animals. The fact of the matter is that people (knowingly or not) often cast their vote for president for a candidate who’s specific policies they have no desire to see carried out.

The recent poll Hyman derides in his commentary bears this out, but you don’t need to rely on that one example. Some of the most enlightening post-election reading you’ll find comes from, a repository of poll results of all sorts done by independent and non-partisan organizations (well, except Fox News). Looking at polls taken on a variety of issues over the last year, we get a pretty accurate indication on where the country stands in regard to key national issues, and they’re standing quite a ways to Bush’s left. Here are some examples:

The Environment:

A majority of Americans believe the environment is getting worse. More Americans believe the environment should take priority over economic growth than the other way around. Nearly half of Americans believe George W. Bush has done a poor job handling the environment. The number of those who think Bush has strengthened environmental policy is in the single digits.

The Budget:

Americans favor balancing the budget over cutting taxes by a 2 to 1 margin.


The percentage of Americans who want Roe v. Wade upheld is 61%. Only 34% want Roe overturned.


58% of Americans disapprove of the Bush energy policy.

Foreign Policy:

Half of all Americans believe we should place a high priority on the desires of our allies when formulating foreign policy. Only 37 % say we should focus primarily on America’s self-interest. Americans who believe the Bush administration has done too little to work with our allies outnumber those who believe Bush has done enough byy a 2 to 1 majority.

Majorities of Americans believe we were too quick to use force in Iraq and that the U.S. has become less respected in the world under the Bush administration. Less than half of Americans feel the war in Iraq is “just.”

Huge majorities (80-85%) are in favor of U.S. participation in nuclear test ban treaties and a ban on landmines, treaties the Bush administration oposes.

Health Care:

69% of Americans believe it should be legal to purchase drugs from Canada.

A whopping 79% of Americans feel attaining universal healthcare coverage for all Americans is more important than holding down taxes (17%).

Two-thirds of Americans would rather have universal health care than the Bush tax cuts.

A majority of Americans favor legalizing the medical use of marijuana.

52% of Americans believe drug abuse should be treated more like a disease and less like a crime.

Civil Rights:

60% of Americans favor either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples. Only 38% say same-sex partnerships should have no legal recognition.

Less than 50% of Americans favor a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

49% of Americans believe Affirmative Action is still needed. 43% do not.

Social Security:

When asked who has better policies on Social Security, 41% of Americans believe the Democrats in Congress do, while only 27% say President Bush and 16% say the Republicans in Congress.

Gun Law:

54% of Americans believe we need more restrictive gun laws. Only 11% say gun laws should be loosened.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are dissatisfied that President Bush and the Republican Congress allowed the ban on assault weapons to expire.


Nearly two-thirds of Americans favor increasing spending on public education. Nearly the same number oppose cutting funding to school districts that don’t show improvement on standardized tests.


On the “War on Terror,” the centerpiece of Bush’s case for reelection, support for his handling of the terrorism issue has eroded constantly over the last two years, from approval rates in the mid to upper 70s in the spring of 2002 to barely over 50% in October of 2004.

Moral Issues:

A tiny fraction of the electorate said issues such as gay marriage or abortion were the leading factor in deciding their vote for president.

In short, you have to look long and hard to find any issue on which a majority of Americans stand with the Bush administration.

Except that wolves are really scary.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Grandma Hyman Is Rolling in her Grave

Facts can be stubborn things, at least if you bother to acknowledge them. That’s why intellectually lazy people tend to ignore them.

A case in point is Mark Hyman’s recent rant about a program called Senior Community Service Employment. This program (sponsored by the Department of Labor) uses federal funds to allow states, working in partnership with organizations such as the AARP, to create job training programs for citizens over 55. Hyman cites a study by an organization called The Capital Research Center that claims this funding is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Here are some facts Hyman leaves out. First, The Capital Research Center is not a nonpartisan fact-finding organization. It’s a right-wing think tank that believes in dismantling what they call the “welfare state,” (you know—programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid . . . useless programs like that).

Secondly, this training is specifically for seniors who are living at or below the poverty level, a group that is sure to rise significantly in the coming years. Hyman implies that the program is a “make-work” boondoggle that serves as a way for non-profit organizations (oh, those greedy non-profits!) to rake in money. In reality, the program is meant to help poor seniors develop work skills they can use to avoid being utterly dependent. Such individuals often lack necessary job skills to land a private-sector job. This program helps them gain these skills while performing needed community service (such as working at your local library, for example).

Hyman seems to think the bottom line is how much productivity one can get out of an investment. True, a young person might be trained faster than an elderly person, but then again the young person likely has many avenues through which to gain employment skills. A 65-year-old widow who spent her life raising kids rather than getting computer training has far fewer options and, yes, probably needs more time to get up to speed on the latest version of Windows than the average 22-year-old. But if more than 20% of the seniors who receive this training land private-sector employment each year, this means there are a lot of older Americans getting a new lease on life and contributing to society while doing it.

In Hyman’s world, a program that spends a pittance to help poverty-stricken elderly (who are disproportionately women and minorities) become self-sufficient and productive is an inexcusable waste of taxpayer money. Meanwhile, a voluntary war against a country that posed no immediate threat to us or its neighbors under the pretext of manipulated “evidence” is just fine.

Mark, we hope your grandma isn’t around to see you make such a fool of yourself.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman, Can You Hear Me?

Apologies for the brief hiatus. We’re back now, and eager to continue the unending task of correcting “The Point.”

As we get caught up, let’s begin with looking at a pair of Hyman favorites: demonizing the court system and mocking minorities. He combines both in a recent commentary that bemoans a court decision that allowed a lawsuit to go forward brought by deaf employees of UPS.

The suit alleges discrimination because UPS refuses to allow hearing impaired employees to drive some of its smaller trucks. Hyman is outraged at the apparent idiocy of the suit, and you might be too, until you know the facts.

First, the obvious: the court’s decision was to allow the lawsuit to be tried in court, not a decision for the plaintiffs in the matter at hand. More importantly, this is only the most recent of a long string of complaints by hearing impaired employees of UPS, which has allegedly discriminated against deaf employees in any number of ways, some of which directly affect their safety (such as not providing sign language interpreters at safety briefings). Beyond that, the complaint doesn’t force UPS to hire deaf drivers, merely to allow them to show they can do the job. If they can’t, that’s that. Finally, the suit only asks for opportunities for hearing impaired employees to drive smaller trucks that aren’t regulated by the Department of Transportation. The U.S. Postal Service and Federal Express already allow some hearing impaired employees to drive such vehicles, with no apparent ill effects.

But these facts complicate the narrative Hyman wishes to spin about a federal judiciary run amok. Therefore, he ignores them. Instead, he pointedly includes the number for the direct phone line to the private chambers of the judge involved in the case. He suggests viewers call the judge to share their opinions on the case. The reality is that Hyman is participating in telephonic terrorism, hoping his minions will harass the judge in question.

We’re just wondering Mark: if you are such a fan of the vox populi, perhaps you’ll give out your private office phone number on the air. We’d like to share some of our thoughts with you in person.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Friday, November 12, 2004

We'll Be Back Soon!

The Counterpoint is away from our blog for a few days. Apologies to those who count on us to provide a daily antidote to Mark Hyman. We plan to be back countering the Point on Monday morning.

The Counterpoint.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Hyman's a Hog for Ya

In his most recent "Point," Mark Hyman complains about the cost of the recent election. In particular, he has his nose out of joint about “527” groups, mentioning two by name, and America Coming Together. You won’t be surprised to learn that the two 527s he singles out support Democrats.

You also won’t be surprised to hear that Hyman didn’t mention a leading, and arguably the best known, 527 group, Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth. Why not? Well, it’s not merely because they support Republicans (or, to be more accurate, tried to assassinate the character of one particular Democrat). It’s that Sinclair Broadcast Group (a name yet to escape Hyman’s lips during one of his commentaries) gave this 527 a huge in-kind contribution in the form of allowing them a platform for their film “Stolen Honor.”
We've noted previously that Hyman lied during a nationally televised interview when he claimed that the group behind the film had no connection to the infamous and discredited Swifties. In fact, as their name demonstrates, these two groups are in fact one and the same. If 527s are a bad thing, Sinclair is part of the problem.

Despite his selective trashing of 527s, Hyman concludes that perhaps the election price tag is simply the price of democracy. Again, we can’t feign shock at Hyman’s demagoguery of the money issue only to suggest that nothing should be changed. After all, Sinclair Broadcasting owes its (ever dwindling) profits to the relaxing of media ownership regulations by Republican politicians and political appointees. The purchase of political favors is something that’s part of the business plan of the Smith family who run Sinclair Broadcasting (indeed, using the money they make from Sinclair to
purchase favors of all sorts is something that’s part of a proud Smith family tradition). Change the system and you keep the Sinclairs of the world from buying political sway.

Hyman is right about one thing: the raw dollar total spent on elections isn’t the problem. It’s the way the money is raised, how it’s used, and the time and effort it takes to collect it. This isn’t an issue so much at the presidential level, but in congressional races, candidates must spend huge amounts of time raising money instead of dealing with government. Moreover, incumbents often face little to no challenge because prospective opponents can’t get the money necessary to compete. And as notes, the winner of an election is almost always the candidate that
spends the most money (a trend that held true in the presidential race this year). Elections become about money-grubbing rather than honest contests of ideas, and citizens often end up with literally no choice as to who to represent them because of it.

But don’t look to Hyman to lead a charge for meaningful campaign reform. He likes to play at being a populist (just as he plays at being a journalist), but Hyman and his friends at Sinclair are huge beneficiaries of precisely the system that drives up the price of running for office. He’ll bash liberal donors and then attack what limited campaign finance law we have without a trace of contradiction, but the bottom line is that Hyman likes the political money trough just the way it is, because he’s one of the many pigs feeding at it.

And that’s The Counterpoint.
P.S. Hyman mentions in his commentary. Follow his lead and head there yourself. Look up contributions by those employed by Sinclair Broadcasting Group and see what you find.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Election Day

One would think (then again, maybe one wouldn’t) that Mark Hyman would use the occasion of Election Day to use his “Point” commentary to talk in a nonpartisan way about the importance of voting in a democracy, the wonders of citizens freely choosing their own leaders, or celebrate the renewed enthusiasm across the political spectrum for getting involved in the electoral process.

But that’s not the Mark Hyman we know. In fact, Hyman not only
chooses to be partisan on Election Day, but to be partisan about the election four years ago.

Hyman trots out the canard that the media was to blame for the Florida debacle in 2000 because they projected Gore the winner before the polls closed in the panhandle section of the state, which includes a heavily Republican population. If not for the liberal media, we might have been spared all the hand-wringing over an “illegitimate” president.

But Hyman leaves out a crucial fact in his rundown: the first network to call the race for Gore in 2000 did so at 7:48 pm, only 12 minutes before the polls closed in the panhandle. Hyman’s scenario envisions tens of thousands of Republican voters sitting at home watching television, waiting until the last conceivable minute to speed their way to the polls and vote, but who decide not to because of one network’s announcement. This fails the giggle test.

Needless to say, Hyman also doesn’t mention a thing about the widespread disenfranchisement of voters, primarily African Americans, because of faulty voter purge lists, that actually did prevent many people (overwhelmingly Democratic, by the way) from voting. See the United States Commission on Civil Rights’
report for the details.

But let’s not play Hyman’s game. Election Day should be a moment when we are thankful for the opportunity to express ourselves in a democratic society. There’s something wonderful about the fact that although money, power, and connections certainly play a key role in getting people elected, ultimately the decision is made by individuals choosing the candidate of their choice, with every citizen counting equally, from the Nobel laureate to the high school drop out, from the temp worker to the corporate C.E.O., from the 80-year-old retiree to the 18-year-old kid voting for the first time.

We should also be excited that turnout, while not matching the astronomical figures some predicted, seems to be significantly up in this cycle.

Should George Bush win, we should take satisfaction in that it seems we’ll have a president who received an actual majority of the popular vote for the first time in 16 years and who will also likely have allies in Congress. This will give the nation an opportunity to evaluate Republican policies clearly. There will be no excuses.

Should John Kerry prevail, we can celebrate the peaceful transition of power even in turbulent times, when American soldiers are halfway around the world fighting a war.

Yes, we can bemoan the fact that the system isn’t perfect. Too many people are uninformed about the issues. Even with a higher turnout this time around, too many people don’t vote. The mechanics of the voting system itself is outdated and clunky. Money plays too big a role in elections. Candidates regularly distort and pander rather than honestly discussing the issues. The election cycle goes on far too long. Rarely do elections seem to come down to an honest and fair contest of ideas.

But, as Winston Churchill noted, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

As ugly as the process and the results can often seem, we should honor the fact that even the things that go wrong in a democracy are things that we, as citizens, ultimately have the responsibility for, as well as power to change.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

P.S. “Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.” – Robert Graves, I, Claudius
(Those of you who get the reference know what I mean.--TR)

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Choosing Sides

Yes, Mark: let's choose up sides.

You can have Halliburton and Enron; we’ll take the union guy working third shift at the plant.

You can have the corporate executives; we’ll take those who’ve lost their jobs—all one million of them.

You can have the xenophobic rubes; we’ll take the immigrant who still believes America is a land of both compassion and opportunity.

You can have the folks who don’t even know what positions their own candidate believes in; we’ll take the folks who read a paper once in a while.

You can have the chicken hawks who send working class kids to war as they make millions; we’ll take the guy who actually served.

You can have the holier-than-thou Bible thumpers who claim to know the mind of God; we’ll take the devout and humble of any faith who use their religious beliefs to guide their lives, not to pass judgment on others.

You can have the HMO executives and the drug companies; we’ll take the uninsured citizens of the wealthiest nation on the planet.

You can have the corporate polluters; we’ll take the children growing up breathing toxic air.

You can have the rich who have had their taxes slashed while we spend billions on war and explode the deficit; we’ll take middle-class Americans who are now shouldering most of the tax burden.

You can have those who claim they want to wage a “culture war;” we’ll take those who want to build bridges.

You’ve got all the liars; the truth-tellers are on our side.

Take the people who talk about fighting terrorism; we’ll take those who actually make us safer.

The NRA is all yours; we’ll take the cops on the beat who face well-armed criminals.

You can have the militia members, John Birchers, and homophobes; we’ll take the union members, the civil rights activists, and the environmentalists.

You can have the Pentagon brass; we’ll take the homeless vet whose VA benefits have been cut.

The folks with a vacation home in the Hamptons or in Aspen? All you, Mark; we’ve got the single working mom pulling a double shift to put food on the table for her kids.

You can have the people who talk about not leaving a child behind; we’ll take the children that get left behind.

You can have the Commander in Chief who can’t be bothered to attend a single funeral of a fallen soldier; we’ll take that soldier’s widow and children.

You can have those who appeal to fear; we’ll take those who call on us to hope.

You’re right, Mark. Character isn’t something you can buy. It has to be earned. It has to be earned by serving your society. It can’t be inherited like a famous family name. It can’t be donated to you by deep-pocketed donors. It can’t be won by sending others to kill and be killed. It isn’t given to you no matter how much you flaunt your supposed piety. It’s earned day in and day out, usually without anyone else watching. It’s earned by telling the truth. It’s earned by standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. It’s earned by looking out for those who get left behind or who are looked down on. It’s earned by fighting the good fight. It’s earned by hard work and deep thinking. It’s earned by self examination. It’s earned by having integrity.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


Monday, November 01, 2004

Imagine There's No Jobs . . . You Don't Even Have to Try

The economy is sort of like sex: if you have to tell someone how good it is, it’s a safe bet that it’s not all that hot.

That’s our thinking after having heard Mark Hyman’s encomium to the Bush economy. Citing increased productivity and the household survey of unemployment, Hyman promises viewers (yet again) that the economy is in the process of taking off—that is if we just could have some more tax cuts for the wealthy.

Here’s the problem. Despite Hyman’s protestations that the household survey is more accurate than the payroll survey when it comes to unemployment, no less an expert than Allen Greenspan has said the exact opposite. And the stark fact remains that Bush is the first president since the Great Depression to preside over a net loss in jobs. That’s about as unspinnable an economic fact as you can get.

Furthermore, productivity is the only bright spot in an otherwise gloomy job report for Bush’s time in office. Comparing Bush’s stats to those of Clinton, the latter outperformed the former in nearly all categories, and usually by a substantial margin. Take a look at this chart by the Progressive Policy Institute, or this one by the Los Angeles Times. Per capita GDP, deficit reduction, well-paying jobs, health insurance, reducing poverty—in all these categories and more, Bush pales in comparison to the 42nd president.

Mark implores us to “just imagine” how the economy will grow in the future. If Bush is reelected, that’s exactly what we’ll have to do: imagine.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

The Rhetorical Rubberman: Mark Hyman

In his latest commentary, Hyman shows himself capable of contortions that would make a Hindu fakir envious.

Once again, Hyman delivers a commentary focusing on Sinclair’s decision to run a propaganda piece as a “news” item, but manages to do so without mentioning Sinclair Broadcasting by name, let alone revealing that he is a corporate vice president of the company in question.

We’re just wondering, Mark: did it slip your mind to mention this little fact, or was it a simple lack of journalistic ethics?

Most news organizations, when running stories or doing commentary about issues in which they are even indirectly involved as players, feel obligated to mention this connection so that their viewers are aware of any possible bias. Not at Sinclair, however. Mark would have you believe that he’s just commenting on some poor Vietnam vets who have been savagely silenced by “the Angry Left.” He quotes liberally (pardon the pun) from a number of letters, all of which are supportive of the decision to run “Stolen Honor,” and are only upset because the propaganda piece wasn’t shown in its entirety. The letters included a viewer who vowed allegiance with Hyman in “our culture war.” And it’s the left that’s dividing America, Mark?

And despite his claims that a majority of the letters were from supporters of the decision to air the film (and those opposed were mostly from “extremist” groups like, Hyman fails to mention that Sinclair’s own chief political correspondent called the decision political (and got fired for saying so), that advertisers across the nation pulled their ads from Sinclair stations, that more than 100,000 names were included on a petition protesting the move, and that Sinclair stock nosedived when their plans were made public.

Gosh, I wonder why Mark forgot to mention this? Oh yeah: it would have involved saying “Sinclair” on the air.

And by the way: with all due respect to Rich in West Allis, WI, we don’t need to see that appalling rictus that passes for your smile; the smug smirk is plenty, thank you.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Napoleon Hymanite


Our guess is that’s what Napoleon Dynamite would say about Mr. Hyman after his latest silly fabrication in his "Short Takes" segment.

Once again failing to make any mention of Sinclair or his association with said broadcasting company, Hyman suggests that Kerry campaign officials who brand “Stolen Honor” as disingenuous are claiming that the POWs in the film didn’t actually suffer in their captivity.

Of course, these men may have actually been held captive but still be liars when it comes to John Kerry. No one has suggested these men are lying about having been POWs. We just suggest that having been POWs doesn’t mean that they can say whatever they want and have it accepted at face value as the truth. This is particularly true when many of their claims are self-contradictory and demonstrably false.

Hyman knows all of this, but as usual, he counts on his audience being uninformed and incapable of critical thinking. Even to those who agree wholeheartedly with his politics, Hyman’s condescension can’t help but rankle.

Hyman also notes that military families tend to support Bush more than the rest of the country (according to a recent Annenberg study). Two things: 1) this isn’t saying a whole lot, and 2) if a family member of mine was stuck halfway around the world and getting shot at daily, I’d cling to every last ounce of faith I could possibly muster for the Commander in Chief, no matter how misplaced it was. And by the way, Annenberg also showed that despite support for Bush in general, the same group feels the military was sent into Iraq undermanned and spread far too thin.

In the meantime, Mark, go make yourself a quesa-dilluh! We’re off to tame a wild Election Day stallion.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

[Apologies to readers who haven’t seen Napoleon Dynamite and are no doubt baffled by the references to the film.—T.R.]

Cost of the War in Iraq
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