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.

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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.

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.)