Mike Masterson: Ignorant And Proud Of It

I had hardly completed my last post about Paul Greenberg‘s newest battle in his war on science when his hatchet man Mike Masterson (full title: opinion editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s Northwest edition) entered the competition for the silliest display of ignorance. Gene Lyons thankfully alerted me to Masterson’s May 27 column which was mostly about the primary election but ended in a curious, off-topic paragraph excerpted in full for its sheer absurdity:

DNA deliberating
For readers who value rational thought over dreams and wishes, a friend recently sent this: “Mike: All living things on earth – including microbes, grass, elephants, blue whales and humans – reproduce using DNA. Although the creatures differ widely, the code that controls many of their characteristics is very stable and has served to maintain the distinction between each of them through the ages.” So, he continues, if creatures evolve, their DNA must switch between kinds to make an entirely different DNA strain to support a new living thing altogether. “Is there any evidence anywhere to show that’s happened, according to DNA? I’m not aware of it, are you?” Anyone out there aware of DNA shape-shifting from an amoeba into an elephant or a person?

It’s easy to make fun of that “argument”. How on earth did Masterson’s parents’ DNA “switch” to create something as unique as little Mikey? Every middle schooler who has paid the slightest bit of attention in biology class could explain to Masterson and his anonymous dummy friend that DNA is generally stable but not immutable. Mutation, sexual recombination and asexual recombination (as occurs between unicellular organisms like bacteria) provide for the genetic variety that enables descent with modification, which over many generations through natural selection gives rise to natural evolution. Mutations in the genetic code cause cancer and hereditary disease as well as the occasional lucky occurrence of a useful new trait. Mutation and genetic recombination enable the breeding of plant and animal varieties that humans have practiced for thousands of years, and explains the emergence of drug, herbicide and pesticide resistance.

If DNA were absolutely stable, none of this would be possible. No pet dogs. No agriculture. No need to worry about new strains of flu every year. No cancer. Of course, no individuality. The notion is so absurd that even most creationists and “Intelligent Design” proponents accept what they call micro-evolution. Masterson’s all-out attack on science is like waving a giant banner saying “I am ignorant and I am proud of it”. Maybe he is a scientific illiterate and genuinely thinks himself smart for raising what he thinks is a refutation of the whole scientific enterprise. Maybe (more likely I would say) he is a cynic whose job it is to spread misinformation and distrust among his scientifically illiterate readership. What stands out is the fact that a completely anti-scientific, flat-earth type of ideology is deemed respectable enough to be published in a “respectable” newspaper. The effect that this has on public discourse is that more and more Americans are convinced any opinion is as good as any other. Facts, logic, empirical reality don’t matter. And Masterson, though extreme, is hardly unique. Public discourse is dominated by a political class and a punditocracy inoculating American culture with anti-intellectualism on a permanent basis. Americans are being told day in day out that science and reason are worthless, that you can make up your own facts if you like, that evolution and climate science are just matters of opinion. This is why it has become virtually impossible in this country to have any kind of rational discourse about anything – whether the economy, birth control, evolution, or climate change. And that is really really worrying because Americans can choose to ignore reality but that doesn’t make it go away.

As an aside, part of Masterson’s musings, allegedly sent by an anonymous friend, is taken verbatim from a religious web site.

Paul Greenberg: Ignorance Rules

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette opinion editor Paul Greenberg is frequently on the warpath against science and academia. That he attacks Black Studies – the academic discipline studying African-American culture and history – in a recent column (also available here) is hardly noteworthy but his transparently dishonesty is at least worth documenting. Here is what happened.

Naomi Schaefer Riley, a blogger at the Chronicle of Higher Education, a trade journal rather obscure to most of Greenberg’s readers, published an attack on Black Studies titled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations“. In the blog post, Riley refers to three recent dissertations by Black Studies scholars as examples of “left-wing victimization claptrap”: about “historical black midwifery”, “Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s”, and “black Republicanism”.

Here’s the catch: Schaefer Riley never read any of the works she attacked. She didn’t even look at the table of contents.
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The corporate media and the Occupy Wall Street protest

Occupy Wall Street cartoon

"They don't know why they are protesting"

This cartoon (cortesy of Think Progress) expresses well how the corporate media are trying to shape the narrative about the inconvenient Wall Street protesters. Regardless what one’s political opinion on the issues, nobody in their right mind can claim that the protesters don’t express specific grievances and propose specific policies how to address them unless they are intellectually dishonest (not to mention systematic liars like ADG’s Mike Masterson).

What is more, polls show very clearly that a majority of Americans agrees with some of OWS’s core messages:

  • A recent New York Times/CBS poll found that 46% of the public think OWS reflects the views of most Americans. 34% disagreed and 18% had no opinion. Only 27% think the Tea Party reflects the views of most Americans.
  • Two-thirds of the public said that wealth should be distributed more evenly in the country.
  • Two-thirds object to tax cuts for corporations and a similar number prefer increasing income taxes on millionaires.
  • 84 percent disapprove of Congress and 71 percent of the public say the Republican party does not have a clear plan for creating jobs.
  • Seven in 10 Americans think the policies of Congressional Republicans favor the rich.
  • In a more recent CBS poll 35 percent had a favorable impression of the OWS protest movement. Only 16 percent could say the same for Wall Street and large corporations. 29 percent had a favorable impression of the Tea Party movement, and 21 percent of government in Washington.
  • In terms of unpopularity, Wall Street/large corporations tied with Washington government, with 71 percent of those polled saying they had an unfavorable impression of them. The Tea Party movement got a 50 percent unfavorable response, and Occupy Wall Street protesters 40 percent.
  • 74 percent of those surveyed believe Americans who are not wealthy have too little influence on politics, while also saying Wall Street and large corporations (80 percent) and PACs (74 percent) have too much influence. Responses over the political influence of labor unions was divided – 39 percent said they have too much, 22 percent said they have too little, and 38 percent said they have about the right amount.

It seems that the corporate media, with their generally anti-union, pro-Wall Street, pro-corporate bias, are fighting an uphill battle on behalf of the 1%. Expect more of the nasty bad-smelling variety from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

UPDATE: Another excellent take on corporate media deafness by Tom Tomorrow:

Occupy Wall Street cartoon

"But what do they want?"

ADG’s Mike Masterson likens protesters to flea infestation

Today’s Mike Masterson column deserves its own post rather than just a passing mention. It deserves to be recognized as the essence of Masterson’s journalistic craft, uniting paranoid lunacy, incendiary language, and shameless lying within a few inches of column space. Referring to the Occupy Wallstreet movement that has recently mobilized tens of thousands of protesters, Masterson calls people whose opinions he disagrees with an “unwashed, whining, smelly mob occupying and infesting Wall Street”. The term “mob” appears three times in the rant, as well as the epithet “Flea Party”. Here’s the first paragraph in unabridged beauty:

LITTLE ROCK — I’m sold on one man’s proposed name for that unwashed, whining, smelly mob occupying and infesting Wall Street because they either:
1. Are being paid by big-bucks special interests to be there and create violent confrontations or…
2. Have no jobs, are bored and have nothing better to do but hang out together and screech “Pervert!,” “Boycott!” and “The world is watching!” as they intentionally pick fights with police to create headlines (and Internet videos for the 2012 election) or…
3. Are harboring free-floating anger about life as free Americans and are in search of scapegoats for their rage. Or, all of the above.
Yep, the calculated hatching of America’s newly named “Flea Party” seems to fit this mob. And shazam! It rhymes with Tea Party.

The unwashed, smelly mob (as seen in Little Rock)
The unwashed, smelly mob

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ADG’s Paul Greenberg: no more libruls!

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette opinion page will henceforth drop any pretense at political balance: after the recent firing of sometime progressive columnist Pat Lynch, editorial page editor Paul Greenberg has canceled the column of liberal Gene Lyons. Lyons is (was) the only of ADG’s own columnists that has some national exposure. His columns can be read for free at Salon. In many of his columns, Lyons forcefully takes on the very right-wing propaganda lies and distortions that are the staple of ADG’s opinion page.

Loyal Arkansas Democrat-Gazette readers will now have to endure the raging right-wing extremism of the ADG opinion page tempered only by the centrism of John Brummett, who recently rejoined the newspaper. Whether the supply of sufficiently masochistic readers is sufficient to ensure the survival of the paper remains to be seen. Greenberg apparently hopes that enough Arkansans cherish the economic illiteracy of columnist Bradley Gitz and the undisguised pro-corporate agenda of opinion editor Mike Masterson.

Arkansas Democrat Gazette – objective reporting or politics?

Lindsey Millar examines The Dem-Gaz’s failed quest for objectivity in a recent column at Arkansas Times. Millar notes that a recent ADG story about the Occupy Wall Street movement was slanted by certain editorial decisions:

It also ran a subhead, “Too loose to last? wonder some,” that doesn’t reflect the views of anyone quoted in the story. In fact, the fifth paragraph of the story notes that the “growing cohesiveness and profile” of the protest has “caught the attention of public intellectuals and veterans of past social movements.” Finally, where other subscribers of the AP elected to accompany the story with a picture of protesters holding signs or a photo of veteran activists, the Democrat-Gazette ran a picture of a man demonstrating how to break free from plastic hand restraints during the protests.

This is a stark example of the flaw in Fellone’s position. The decisions an editor made in the Occupy Wall Street story might not be a reflection the Democrat-Gazette’s conservative editorial posture, but at the very least, they’re the product of an editor bringing his subjective views to a story.

Even less subtle examples of politically slanted ADG front page news reporting are not hard to find. Arkansas Media Watch pointed out ADG headlines during the debt ceiling impasse wrongly claiming that both parties in Washington refused to compromise when the newspaper’s own reporting clearly indicated the opposite.

Here’s another one. Yesterday, the ADG front page had the following headline concerning new trade agreements:

“3 trade pacts win approval of Congress – Panama, S. Korea, Colombia deals touted as job creators”

The problem with that headline is that there is no evidence that these trade agreements are “job creators”. The article itself reports:

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Pat Lynch lynched by Paul Greenberg

The Arkansas “Democrat”-Gazette has moved a big step closer to ideological homogeneity, or, in journalistic jargon, toward a “fair and balanced” lineup of columnists: long-time columnist and often-time progressive voice Pat Lynch has been fired from the opinion page. Reports Max Brantley at ArkansasBlog:

Lynch confirms end of his column He says editorial page editor Paul Greenberg said the reason was economic. “I am not angry with Paul or anybody else,” Lynch wrote.

It’s easy to believe that cutting off one of two liberal voices from the state’s de-facto monopoly newspaper’s opinion page (the remaining one being Gene Lyons) while keeping about a gazillion right-wingers ranging in opinion from conservative Republican to Tea-Party extremism is a purely economic decision.

Worth pointing out that back in April, another column was cancelled after columnist Cathy Frye had criticized education budget cuts (“Everyone pays when states cut school aid”), a position that ADG publisher Walter Hussman is known not to be fond of.

Btw I should apologize for the bad pun in the title – sometimes it’s hard to resist.

ADG again ridiculing Reagan deficit spending

Arkansas Democrat Gazette editors are really picking on poor old Reagan. Today, their editorial opens with a quote attributed to physicist Richard Feynman:

“There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it’s only a hundred billion. It’s less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.”

The quote can be found on numerous internet sites but none of them seem to give a precise source. Wikipedia classifies the quote as unsourced and doesn’t allow it to be attributed without authentication. Assuming it is authentic, however, it can be deduced what Feynman was actually referring to: namely, you guessed it, Reagan deficit spending. Reagan was the first and only president during Feynman’s lifetime (1918-1988) to exceed the 100 billion dollar national deficit mark, and the first and only to exceed the trillion dollar debt mark. Not that you’d know it from reading Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorials.
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Republican Nate Bell adorns facebook page with fabricated Hitler quote

Max Brantley at Arkansas Blog discovered an interesting story. Republican State Representative Nate Bell has put the following quote allegedly from Hitler’s Mein Kampf on his facebook page:

As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.– Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler

In response to the post, Bell has defended his choice of quotable statesmen in the following remarks on his facebook page:

“Comparing Dems to Nazis is wayyyy to easy. Let’s start with banning cell phone use while parked in a school zone. After all, it’s for the children. How about banning soccer goals in the entire state? Banning texting while walking? Banning private ownership of monkeys? The state determining how long my hamburger MUST be cooked? Banning wearing headphones while jogging? These were all Democrat bills introduced this session. Dems use children to pass bad legislation regularly.”

And:

“Apparantly there are some on the left who can’t see the irony in the fact that their side agrees with Hitler. I feel sorry for those who are so blinded to reality that they somehow see posting this as supportive of Nazism.”

Okay, lets get this logic straight.

1. Hitler allegedly said that pretending to care about children was a good propaganda strategy.
2. Therefore, anybody who claims to care about children must be a veiled Nazi, or at least belongs to the side that “agrees with Hitler”.
3. Food safety regulations, traffic laws and the like are the road to Nazism because they might prevent children from dying, which is exactly what Hitler was all about.

One wonders whether in Bell’s opinion, that also means that the Arkansas Family Council, which has tried to ban gay adoption in order to “protect the welfare of children”, “agrees with Hitler”.

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Arkansas Democrat Gazette editors make fun of Ronald Reagan

Today’s Arkansas Democrat Gazette editorial is a lighthearted satire on Reagan deficit spending. It opens with the following quote from Saint Reagan himself:

“Governments don’t reduce deficits by raising taxes on the people; governments reduce deficits by controlling spending and stimulating new wealth.”

Excellent joke – I never thought Paul Greenberg had a sense of humor. Reagan of course never balanced a budget, on the contrary he was responsible for record deficits as high as 6% of GDP, almost tripling the national debt. Neither did he control spending – he presided over a 69% increase in federal spending, much of which went to the military. He raised taxes on the people no fewer than 10 times during his tenure, including a massive tax hike in 1982 in the middle of a recession. No question, Reagan knew what he was talking about. He’s exactly the right person to ask for advice about balancing the federal budget precisely because he never managed to balance his budget, just as in our little Arkansas media world, ADG columnist Bradley Gitz is the right person to lecture Obama on economics precisely because he declared bankruptcy a few years ago. Yes, bankrupt deficit spenders are the fiscal experts of the hour. We need to hear more of their advice!

Oh wait, What are you saying?
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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette playing politics on front page

ADG opened today with the following front page headline:

Still no give in debt impasse
As deadline nears, 2 sides remain dug in

This followed a very similar headline just two days ago:

Neither side blinks in debt showdown

This is nonsense. There is one (1) side that is dug in, and that’s the Republicans. They have declared that they won’t vote for any raise in revenues (fn1) no matter what. As ADG reported on Tuesday:

“House Speaker John Boehner stood firm in opposition to higher taxes. (…) Said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor: “We are not going to raise taxes. That’s all. (fn2)
Obama called on Republican leaders to show flexibility, saying he has “bent over backwards” to accommodate them in deficit talks. “I’m prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done, and I expect the other side should be willing to do the same thing if they mean what they say”, Obama said.

Obama has already offered wide-ranging budget concessions, including Social Security and Medicare cuts. The ADG storyline of “2 sides” unwilling to compromise is simply inconsistent with the facts.

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ADG’s Bradley Gitz reinvents US economic history

Sunday’s Arkansas Democrat Gazette featured a column by Bradley R. Gitz titled “Obama’s economics” . The article is really an exercise in “how many mistakes can you make in so many paragraphs”. The column contains so many demonstrable factual errors, even this cynic is mildly surprised by the ADG’s lack of editorial oversight. How many times can the ADG opinion editors afford to be caught red-handedly lying without causing embarrassment?

Gitz is a regular ADG columnist whose right-wing extremist views are well known. I won’t waste time examining these views. I continue to believe that the Gitzes of the world are entitled to their opinions but not to making up their own facts. We’ll consider his factual statements only. How many mistakes can you catch in just the following paragraph?

“As Milton Wolf notes in a perceptive column for the Washington Times, when Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in 1981 the nation was experiencing an especially severe recession featuring double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment. Reagan’s response was to implement a recovery program consisting of tax, spending and regulatory cuts coupled with a strong dollar monetary policy. Recovery came quickly enough for him to win 49 states in 1984, by which time the country had also embarked upon what would become two decades of virtually uninterrupted economic growth and wealth creation.
Barack Obama came to office facing comparably difficult economic circumstances.”

Here are the main factual inaccuracies in that single paragraph (scroll down for charts on unemployment, debt and deficits):

1. In 1980/81, as Reagan took over the presidency from Jimmy Carter, the nation did not experience a severe recession and unemployment was not in the double digits.

2. In fact, a severe recession started after Reagan had taken office. “The early 1980s recession was a severe recession in the United States which began in July 1981 and ended in November 1982. The primary cause of the recession was a contractionary monetary policy established by the Federal Reserve System to control high inflation” (in other words, what caused the recession was precisely the strong dollar monetary policy that Gitz praises.) (wikipedia)

3. Unemployment had been 6% in 1978 and 1979 and was below 8% in 1980 (Carter presidency). It shot up to almost 10% during the early Reagan years (1982 and 1983), which is higher than it has been at the height of the current crisis. It started declining in 1984.

4. The “two decades of virtually uninterrupted economic growth and wealth creation” were in fact interrupted by the 1981/82 recession (Reagan), the 1990/91 recession (George H. W. Bush), and the 2001 recession (George W. Bush), to be followed by the Great Recession that started in 2007 (again under George W. Bush’s presidency). Only the Clinton-years from 1993 to 2000 were recession-free.
UPDATE: Paul Krugman weighs in with a chart showing GDP long term growth rates. Reaganite growth rates were anything but miraculous. See also Richard S. Grossman debunking similar claims made in the Wall Street Journal.

5. Reagan did not cut federal spending, at least not in the aggregate. The federal budget continued increasing under his watch, mainly due to massive increases in the military budget. In total, Reagan presided over a 69% spending increase. Federal spending as a share of GDP reached an unprecedented 23.5% in 1983.

6. Reagan did enact tax cuts but also tax increases. He started with a major tax cut in 1981 (The Economic Recovery Tax Act) but this was followed by a series of no less than ten (10) tax hikes, beginning in 1982 (during the recession) with the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which collectively took half of the 1981 tax cut back (source).

7. Reagan never managed to balance the budget. His tax cuts and military spending were deficit financed. All of Reagan’s deficits were higher than all of Carter’s and all but one of Clinton’s. On average, Reagan’s deficits were 4.3% of GDP, compared to Carter’s 2.4% and Clinton’s 0.1%. The federal deficit reached an unprecedented 6% of GDP in 1983. In the words of Dick Cheney, Reagan “proved deficits don’t matter”.

8. In consequence, the federal debt almost tripled under Reagan’s watch, from about $1 trillion to $2.85 trillion (not adjusted for inflation).

9. Obama came to office inheriting from his predecessor the worst recession since the 1930s, triggered by a global financial crisis worse than anything seen in 80 years. Recall that the recession officially lasted from late 2007 to mid 2009, while Obama took office in January 2009. Reagan did not face a recession at all, let alone a crisis comparable to the Great Recession, when he took office in 1981. In fact, the main difficulty he faced was high inflation, which he brought under control at the price of a recession. Obama, in contrast, faced deflation. Does Gitz even know the difference?

In other words, you can’t possibly go wrong when you rely on Professor Bradley R. Gitz (PhD University of Illinois, “William Jefferson Clinton Professor of International Politics” at Lyon College), as long as you take the exact opposite of his claims to be true. Let’s point out the obvious. If any of us regular folks who actually work for a living, instead of being employed by a right-wing propaganda machine, managed to make so many mistakes in so short a time, we would be fired in an instant. Is there any kind of accountability at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette? Nope. None at all.

Update: Gitz’s Bankruptcy filing


***************************************
Charts

Unemployment Rates (for monthly rates, check the BLS)
The chart indicates Republican vs. Democratic presidencies by red/blue shading. Try looking for “double digit unemployment” during the Carter years (1977-1980). You’ll actually find it in 1982/83.

US Unemployment Rates

Federal Receipts, Outlays, and Deficits
Try looking for Reagan’s “spending cuts” – the orange line goes steadily up. Recessions are indicated by shading. Notice that only the Clinton years were uninterrupted by any recessions.

Federal Receipts, Outlays, and Deficits

UPDATE: Federal Spending as % of GDP
Due to military spending, the federal government was bigger under Reagan than under both Carter and Clinton. More precisely, the average of federal spending as share of GDP was 22.3% for Reagan compared to 21.2% for Carter, 21.9% for Bush I, and 19.4% for Clinton.

US Federal Spending

Gross Federal Debt
How did Reagan (as well as both Bushes) pay for tax cuts? Easy – by raising the national debt.

US Federal Debt by President

Womack confesses ignorance about the Ryan Medicare plan

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette today reported on Steve Womack’s ignorance about the Ryan budget plan. It’s worthwhile reading some excerpts:

Womack challenges Democrats for its Medicare plan

Rep. Steve Womack, criticized Sen. Mark Pryor on Tuesday for “lashing out” at a Republican plan to privatize Medicare. (…) The Republican said Democrats have no plan to save Medicare, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects to be insolvent as early as 2020. (…)

The Democratic Senator [Mark Pryor] was quoted in Tuesday’s Democrat-Gazette saying if the Ryan plan were passed into law, the elderly would pay for about 68 percent of their health care costs, up from the about 25 percent they currently pay. (…) “It greatly, greatly shifts the burden of paying for your health care to you and takes away the Medicare system,” Pryor said. “Shifting the cost to seniors is not the answer, it’s not the solution.”

“I don’t know where he’s getting those numbers”, Womack said after Tuesday’s Bella Vista town hall-style meeting. “Pryor said he can’t support our plan. Well, where’s his plan?”
Womack said he didn’t know if the numbers cited by Pryor are accurate.

Yep, Womack says we should support his “plan” but he doesn’t even know whether it’s true that it would shift 68% of health care costs on the elderly (in other words, it would ruin and/or deny health care to millions of retired persons, most of whom could never afford to pay for two thirds of their health expenses out of pocket). If he really doesn’t know, he must have lived under a rock for the past couple months because the 68% figure has been widely reported. If Womack really doesn’t know where Pryor got his numbers, he must be ignorant, incompetent, and not doing his job, and a cynical hypocrite on top of all that. The numbers are, of course, the result of an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), as anybody who has paid any attention to this issue would know.

This of course raises the question whether the journalist (Bill Bowden) knows these facts. He certainly should, and if he doesn’t, he should have asked Pryor where he got his numbers. One would think that it was the journalist’s duty to provide the crucial information (where the numbers came from and how credible they are) to readers. But he doesn’t. Instead, the journalist leaves readers with the impression that this is all say-so and nobody really knows. It’s another sad case of “he said/she said” journalism: Democrat claims 2+2=4, Republican either denies it outright or counters that he has no idea where D got those numbers from, and newspaper titles “Views differ over the result of 2+2″. In this case, just look at the headline the ADG came up with: Instead of “Womack confesses ignorance”, it is “Womack challenges Democrats”.

The article further down attempts a summary of the Ryan budget plan. It states that

“it wouldn’t balance the government’s books until 2040, in part because it also would cut corporate and individual tax rates.”

Ok but can you be a bit more specific? By how much does Ryan propose to cut tax rates, and who would benefit? Ryan is specific about that and so should the newspaper: the top tax rates would be cut from 35% to 25%, massively benefiting the rich and the super-rich.

Does the ADG think its readers can’t handle the truth?

Paul Greenberg basks in his own smugness

What kind of columnist would find pleasure in writing a column about a few out of context snippets from an email exchange with an unnamed interlocutor? The Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s Paul Greenberg is that kind of columnist.

His column published today is written in the form of a letter to an unnamed University of Arkansas professor who apparently objected to Greenberg’s editorial attacks on the University’s changed curriculum requirements (these attacks have become kind of an idee fixe of Greenberg’s). Of the unnamed professor’s emails, Greenberg quotes only about ten lines, incoherently and out of context, but insinuates that if he quoted more of them, they would be “embarrassing enough”, “revealing of a particular cast of mind among the American professoriate”. But readers never get the chance to decide for themselves whether this unnamed professor’s views are really that embarrassing because Greenberg writes mainly about himself, basking in his own smugness, reveling in the power his editorial perch gives him to insult others who don’t have nearly the same clout to fight back.

Or do they? The unnamed professor could have had his/her view published as an opinion piece but refused, says Greenberg:

“As for your informing me that “I do not approve my previous emails to be published in the Arkansas Demokrat-Gazette,” I have to tell you we don’t need your approval to publish them – not in a free country with a First Amendment.”

Greenberg is of course wrong here. The First Amendment gives us the right to speak or be quiet, but it doesn’t give Greenberg the right to publish another’s speech against that person’s wish. There is something called copyright, and it is illegal in this our free country to publish a substantial piece without the author’s (or copyright holder’s) permission. Incidentally, if I ever were inclined to copy articles from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette verbatim on this blog here without the paper’s express approval, I wouldn’t have to wait long for mail from their attorney. The unnamed professor was fully within his/her right to demand his/her emails not be published. There are exceptions to be sure – Greenberg might claim that the professor was a public figure and the emails were of sufficient public interest to override copyright. But that decision would have to be justified by the news editor, not the opinion editor.

Greenberg chides the unnamed professor for deciding “not to join this free-for-all, otherwise known as the vortex of public opinion, and (declining) to exercise your First Amendment rights on this occasion”. “Just for the record”, we need to point out that Greenberg is being dishonest here. Those who disagree with the ADG’s editorial line are frequently denied their First Amendment rights – by Greenberg and his colleagues. Which is precisely why this blog came into being.

So what we are left with is Greenberg’s one-sided account of an email exchange with an unnamed person who refused consent to publish his/her emails for reasons we don’t know. Why is that fodder for a column? Because it gives Greenberg a chance to talk about himself, which is probably his preferred topic anyway. And I wouldn’t mind if he stuck to his egocentric little world, instead of venturing into issues he doesn’t understand, if he could refrain from insulting others along the way. I do hope though that the unnamed professor changes his/her mind and takes Greenberg up on his challenge by sending him a pointed rebuttal, as insulting as it needs to be, with permission to publish. If Greenberg refused then, he’d be exposed. If not, we might finally get to read something worth reading on the Ark Dem-Gaz opinion page.

Paul Greenberg’s war on science and learning

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette dedicated today’s editorial  (free registration required) under the headline “What’s Crazy” to another attack on science as tiresome as it is unoriginal. It’s not hard to guess that it is another of editorial page editor Paul Greenberg’s attempts at showing off his ignorance in all matters academic. The editorial is dedicated to Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn’s yearly rant against the National Science Foundation (NSF). Every year or so, Coburn releases a report picking NSF projects that he doesn’t think are worth funding. You know what, there’s a reason why scientific funding decisions at the NSF are left to competent scientific reviewers rather than politicians: the Coburn approach (putting politicians in charge of science) has already been tried – in the Soviet Union, for example – and didn’t work out so well.

The editorial is titled “Eat the shrimp, people”, and its primary showcase of alleged waste is so embarrassing one wants to cry. It concerns a study titled “Impaired Metabolism and Performance in Crustaceans Exposed to Bacteria”, awarded to Karen Burnett at College of Charleston.  The researchers study the metabolism and immune response of crustaceans under stress from hypoxia and bacterial infections. What’s wrong with that? Honestly, I don’t know and I bet neither do comrades Greenberg and Coburn. Greenberg certainly doesn’t waste column space explaining why exactly he opposes studying crustacean metabolism. Instead he explains that shrimp should rather be cooked in skillets than studied in labs, thus proving his half-wits to the half-wits who think that’s a funny joke.

What’s crazy? The Arkansas Democrat Gazette inoculating its readership with anti-scientific sentiment to make sure none of them will ever understand the physical world around them nor even the need to use the tools of science to better understand reality. As long as they can live in the fantasy world brought to them by Fox News and the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, no need to understand shrimp as long as you can cook them in butter.

What’s crazy? A senator bought and paid for by the oil industry, and the corporate media hacks at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, crying foul about research spending they don’t like while supporting tax-payer subsidies for Big Oil to the tune of billions a year.

To read more:

Attacks on science and Coburn’s ignorance

Sen. Coburn and GMA attack Science and the NSF

How a shrimp on a treadmill became a Web sensation

Coburn’s NSF Idiocy

UPDATE:

Americans like to fret about the alleged under-performance of the public education system. Everybody’s favorite scapegoat these days are the teachers and their unions. Which makes sense until you think about it for two seconds: teachers have very little power in the system. They aren’t the ones who set education policy, they don’t get to write the curriculum, they have no power over funding levels and priorities, they don’t control how children spend most of their time. May I suggest that a large portion of the blame lies squarely with a political class and a punditocracy inoculating American culture with anti-intellectualism on a permanent basis.

Think about it. Today’s school children are being told day in day out that science and reason are worthless, that you can make up your own facts if you like, that evolution and climate science are just matters of opinion. The political and media discourse is to a large extent controlled by anti-intellectuals and science-haters like Coburn and Greenberg. What do we expect our school children to make of that? How would they develop an interest in learning and science in a culture that treats education as a handicap, learning as nerdiness, and disinterested research as government waste?

Mike Masterson: The corporate elites and their media hacks

(Response to Mike Masterson column, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, May 10, 2011)

Mike Masterson wants us to believe that oil industry profits are not high enough: they only make “a nickel on each gallon of gas”, he claims. If that number sounds suspiciously low, given near record prices of roughly $100 a barrel and $4 a gallon at the pump, it is because it is a fabrication. Let’s look at the actual figures and do the math.

According to the Energy Information Administration, US petroleum consumption in the first quarter of 2011 was 19.0 million barrels per day, a total of 1.7 billion barrels or 72 billion gallons. A nickel for each gallon would amount to $3.6 billion in oil industry profits. That’s according to Mike Masterson. Here is what they really made in profits: ten times as much! According to recent profit announcements, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips alone made $34 billion in profits in the first three months of 2011 – a huge number, up 42 percent from a year ago. Companies like Exxon make an obscene windfall profit on every barrel of oil they extract because the world market price is far above the actual cost. According to Phil Weiss of Argus Research, in the first quarter, Chevron reaped $25 in profit for every barrel of oil it sold, compared with $20 for ExxonMobil. A barrel of oil is 42 gallons so those numbers represent 48 to 60 cents per gallon. It is difficult to exactly quantify the per gallon profit because Exxon and its sister companies know how to obfuscate these numbers for example by selling their own oil to their own refinery and then to their own distributor so that profits end up being booked on the cost side of the ledger. But the record profit numbers published and celebrated by Big Oil year after year belie the paltry “nickel per gallon” fairy tale numbers.

Why do we hear media commentators like Masterson speak up in defense of unearned Big Oil profits, spreading lies on behalf of the corporate establishment? It is part of a propaganda war. Corporate elites, along with the politicians they have bought wholesale and the propaganda organizations and pundits they control, are working tirelessly on wealth redistribution – away from hardworking Americans and towards the establishment. President Obama suggested revoking $21 billion in tax payer subsidies to Big Oil – and wouldn’t you know it, the Republicans are dead opposed to such an act of fiscal sanity. Republicans, including our own Boozman and Womack, would literally take food and medicine out of the mouths of poor children (they voted to cut the Women, Infants and Children Health and Nutrition program, which serves 9.6 million low-income women, new mothers, and infants each month) in order to guarantee a healthy kick-back to their Big Oil and other corporate paymasters.
Ordinary Americans have been forced to make sacrifices in order to bail out and restore the profitability of the financial industry. We have suffered the worst economic crisis in 80 years but corporate profits have already reached, or even exceeded, their pre-crisis levels while unemployment remains at a record high, real wages are declining, the Middle Class is losing ground and tens of millions continue struggling to even survive. At the same time, the superrich are doing just fine, having secured another tax cut windfall thanks to Republican deficit racketeers.

What we need to understand is how corporate attitudes towards America have changed. For most of the post-war period, corporate interests tended to agree that some measure of shared prosperity was good for everybody – good for the country and good for their bottom line. They created jobs and paid taxes to support public investments such as education and infrastructure, supported a strong and vibrant middle class, kept the lid on excessive inequality (CEO pay in 1965 was about 26 times the average worker’s salary, not 500 times as is common today), and tolerated the New Deal’s basic social safety net. That is no longer the case. There is now a growing fraction among the corporate establishment who don’t care anymore if the country is transformed into a failing banana republic of Third World living standards, torn apart by unmitigated inequality. They no longer have much of a stake in the common good because their profits come from plundering the economy, looting our natural resources, and pillaging the treasury. They have learned that greed is good and recklessness gets rewarded. And the Mike Mastersons of the media world are their willing accomplices.

(Note: Mike Masterson is opinion editor of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s Northwest edition. His editorial is accessible to subscribers only. The letter above was sent to the newspaper and was not considered for publication. My request for the newspaper to publish a factual correction was ignored.)

Arkansas Media Watch – let’s hold the media accountable

We are poorly served by our media. Too often, we get misinformation and extreme partisanship instead of responsibility and journalistic integrity. I am starting this blog after another frustrating experience with our beloved  monopoly paper, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. The Gazette’s opinion page is dominated by political extremists who publish irresponsible propaganda pieces while refusing to be held accountable. After pointing out a massive factual inaccuracy in an editorial and taking the time to look up verifiable documentation, I asked the editors whether they would publish a correction. The editors never responded to that and also refused to provide appropriate space for a critical letter. Opinion writers exert a lot of power but there is no accountability whatsoever. The rest of us thus have no choice but to fight back in our own little blogs.

I encourage everybody to share their own experiences with Arkansas media.