San Francisco comes to Mayberry

Allen, at Mayberry’s Ground Zero — Snappy Lunch in Mount Airy. We did not eat a fried pork chop sandwich.

It’s not often that I get visitors from San Francisco. They get the full tour of Mayberry country. Allen Matthews, a former colleague at the San Francisco Chronicle, was here last weekend. He was in North Carolina on a business trip to Charlotte and came up to Mayberry country. We made a wide loop — Claudville, Virginia; Mount Airy, North Carolina; Laurel Fork, Virginia; and Floyd, Virginia.

Allen says that I have quite a few readers in the Chronicle newsroom. So these Allen pictures are for y’all.

A country breakfast at the Cafe of Claudville

The counter at the Cafe of Claudville

Concrete casting for yard art is a big business in Mount Airy

Downtown Mount Airy

At the Marshall homeplace, Laurel Fork, Virginia. The Marshalls were neighbors of my great uncle Barney Dalton. This house was built by my great-grandfather, Henry Clay Dalton.

Floyd, Virginia — now a center of country music and hippy culture. For you San Francisco types, Floyd is a little like Bolinas.

Not sure you can cook up to San Francisco standards? Then make ’em cook for themselves.

Update: The Winston-Salem Journal has a story today about the Earle theater. Note that grants now help keep the theater operating.

Ken gets a book contract

Ken Ilgunas, writing

Those of you who also read Ken’s blog are aware that he has landed a book contract. I’ve read his first draft of the book, which will be published early next year, and y’all are in for a treat.

I’m proud to say that Ken did all this writing (and editing) here at the abbey. It’s a book about student debt, it’s a book about Ken’s adventures, and it’s a book about the problems that young people face in getting a start in our screwed-up world. But I believe that Ken also is launching himself as a philosopher cast in the same mold as Thoreau, and as an adventurer and travel writer.

It’s what monks do, after all — make books — in addition to the farming and baking. I’ve started a sideline business — Acorn Abbey Books. A book for which I did the editing, typography, and prepress work will be printed later this year. I also have other projects up my sleeve. Ken is very fortunate to have gotten a good contract with a rich commercial publishing house. Acorn Abbey Books will go the self-publishing route, with print versions as well as digital versions.

Also, later this year, I plan to redesign this web site and blog in a new domain — either or Right now I’m a little too bogged down in monk work. When Ken and I seemingly vanish from our blogs, that’s usually what’s distracting us — the monk work of writing and publishing.

Tax propaganda

Timothy Geithner

Every now and then I read dozens of versions of so-called reporting on stories that are important to the establishment, just to marvel at the shallowness of the reporting and the shocking level of co-ordination among the mainstream “news” outlets. I went through this exercise this morning on stories about President Obama calling for reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 to 28 percent.

It doesn’t matter who you read — the New York Times, any of the smaller newspaper chains with Washington bureaus, or the web sites of cable news channels including Fox — all the stories followed the same formula and included the same establishment quotes. I did not find a single mainstream story that compared Obama’s proposed corporate tax rate to individual tax rates. Some stories mentioned that Obama wants to raise taxes on millionaires and leave tax rates the same for people making under $200,000, but I did not find a single story saying what those rates are.

What all these stories is avoiding is telling readers that the establishment wants higher tax rates for individuals than for corporations. As far as I can tell, Obama wants a tax rate of 30 percent for those making more than a million a year. As for those making less than $200,000, the current tax code for individuals taxes income above $171,551 at 33 percent. No one bothered to report this. Only those of us with memories greater than 18 hours can hold such inconvenient facts in our heads at the same time.

The other thing that all the mainstream tax stories have in common this morning is that they make some sort of lame comparison with Mitt Romney’s tax plan. All the stories say that the U.S. corporate tax rate is the highest in the “developed world” other than Japan. Some of the stories even say that many corporations pay less than the nominal tax rate.

When you analyze all this “reporting” for what it is — propaganda — this is the message that they clearly want us to get: They are setting the stage for lower corporate tax rates, regardless of what happens with the presidential election. And does any reality-based taxpaying American believe that tax loopholes for corporations and the super-rich will be closed, given the corruptness of the Congress and the lobbyists who own Congress?

The other thing that the establishment and the corporate media don’t want Americans to know is that, despite all the hoopla about corporate tax rates in the U.S. being high (which is not true because no corporation pays the nominal rate), the tax on capital gains is absurdly low — 15 percent. In other developed countries, the tax on capital gains ranges from 20 percent to 35 percent and even 50 percent. Most Americans probably don’t understand that it’s the capital gains tax that rich people pay. That’s why Mitt Romney’s tax rate is 13.9 percent. Never in my working life did I pay a tax rate anywhere near that low.

Only the DailyKos shows the usual left-wing concern with reality rather than establishment blather and misdirection:

As has been widely reported for years, the effective (read: actual) corporate tax rate is far lower than the 35 percent headline rate that gets all the bad press. Last year, Citizens for Tax Justice reported on the 280 most profitable Fortune 500 companies. Findings? Thanks to tax breaks and subsidies, the average effective tax rate over the three-year 2008-2010 period was 18.5 percent and the companies enjoyed subsidies of $222.7 billion. During at least one of the three years, 78 highly profitable companies paid zero taxes and 30 actually had a negative tax rate.

But that’s not the worst of it. In 2011, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the effective corporate tax rate fell to 12.1 percent, the lowest level in 40 years. This comes at time when corporate profits are at a 60-year high.

One source reported that Rush Limbaugh says that Obama plan for corporate tax rates would actually raise corporate taxes by closing loopholes, as though that’s bad.

Update: A friend sent this link to a detailed and wonkish piece, published today, on tax policy. I am not in the least surprised that only a socialist organization is willing to do thorough, real-world reporting on tax policy. It’s very important to understand why this is so. Tax policy screws working people while favoring corporations and the rich. That’s only going to get worse, regardless of who wins the next election. The establishment media won’t report in any serious way on tax policy, because they serve the establishment. The right-wing media not only doesn’t report, but also distorts, because it serves the interests of corporations and the super-rich. So the only honest reporting about tax policy comes only from those who are getting screwed by tax policy.

Update 2: My old colleague Dan Froomkin now checks in on corporate taxes. Once again, only the left can be wonkish and thorough. Everyone else must keep on skipping — and help keep the American people the stupidest people in the developed world.

Fertilizer run

WoodCreek Farm and Supply

It’s surprising how difficult it is, at least around here, to get organic fertilizer in 50-pound bags. Hardware stores such as Lowe’s sell some organic fertilizers in small packages, but the price per pound is far too high. The nearest source I’ve found is WoodCreek Farm and Supply at Cana, Virginia. That’s almost a hundred-mile round trip from here. They’re open only on Saturdays. I made a run to Cana today and came back with 500 pounds of Harmony fertilizer (based on chicken manure) and 50 pounds of dried kelp. The dried kelp is very expensive, but I figure there’s no better source of trace minerals for the garden.

As I’ve often mentioned, there are no straight roads into northern Stokes County. That’s particularly true if you need to go east or west. The best route from here to Cana, Virginia, is on N.C. 103 and Virginia State Route 103. That goes through Claudville, Virginia, and some very nice foothill farm country, then to Mount Airy, North Carolina.

I stopped for breakfast at the Cafe of Claudville and found some honest old-style diner atmosphere, with a proper front counter and rotating counter stools. They even have wifi.

Foothills near Cana, Virginia

Foothills near Claudville, Virginia

The Internet antenna at the Cafe of Claudville

How we got into this mess

James Goldsmith on the Charlie Rose show, Nov. 15, 1994

The devastation to our economies caused by globalization and Wall Street gaming was predictable. It also was predicted. Those of us who, in the 1990s, failed to anticipate where globalization would lead now have an obligation to look back and try to understand why we got it wrong. The video I’m going to link to is a huge help in this process.

It is easy to see why so many people embrace ideology as a way of making sense of the world. The world is extremely complicated and hard to model, so ideology simplifies things and provides some comfort.

Those of us who disdain ideologies and try to understand the world as it actually is take on a huge work load. Not only must we absorb huge amounts of information, we must try to figure out who we can trust and who has disguised motives and seeks to hoodoo us.

In the 1990s, I subscribed to The Economist, which is considered to be ever so authoritative. I fell for The Economist’s predictions about globalization, which was that globalization would lead to increased prosperity for all. The Economist, like the governments of the United States and Europe, was catastrophically wrong. As I began to understand this, I dropped my subscription to The Economist, and I will never trust them again.

So who got it right? Very few people got it right. Among those few was James Goldsmith, a European tycoon and politician who prophesied all this with a book named The Trap. Goldsmith died in 1997.

On YouTube you can find the video of an hour-long interview with Goldsmith by Charlie Rose. Goldsmith predicts it all — the offshoring of jobs and devastating unemployment, the loss of our manufacturing base, the severe neglect of our infrastructure, the flight of hundreds of millions of people in China and other poor countries from farms to the cities, a crisis in agriculture, a massive transfer of wealth from working people to the rich. Goldsmith, we can see in retrospect, was able to make these predictions because he understood and modeled the real world, and he was not thrown off by an ideology. He had principles, though. And one of those principles, despite his great wealth, was that the welfare of the people is far more important than markets and their profits.

We also can learn a lot from this video about how the media and politicians lie to us and mislead us. Charlie Rose was almost combative with Goldsmith and kept interrupting Goldsmith to spout the establishment point of view. Rose also brought on Laura Tyson, then the chair of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. She also kept interrupting Goldsmith and shouting the establishment point of view.

At the time, I think that I too would have discounted Goldsmith’s ideas, largely because of his record as a tycoon. It is incredibly difficult to identify experts who we can trust. But one thing is very clear: We can’t trust the media, because they speak for the establishment. And if there is anyone in Washington who can be trusted, I’m not aware of it, because corporations own Washington.

This process of checking ourselves and understanding why we were wrong when we are wrong is extremely important. That is one of the major failures of our media and our punditry. They rarely admit their failures or revisit their mistakes. It is up to us to catch their errors when they are dangerously wrong and to simply never pay them any more attention. They have agendas, or they are blinded by an ideology.

Principles, of course, are a good thing, and Enlightenment principles have stood the test of time. But ideologies only guarantee that we will be wrong and that we will neglect or belittle the hard work of trying to understand the world as it is.

We got it wrong about globalization, and now we are paying the price for our wrongness. And those who pushed for globalization (while we were asleep at the switch) are richer and more powerful than ever. As a friend of mine who is a law professor said, “It’s over. We lost.”

Update: From DCS (the law professor), who also has commented on this post, is a link to the entire, unsegmented video, Google video, here. The YouTube link above is in six segments. The YouTube version will play on iPads; the Google video version requires Flash and will not play on iPads.

Prabhupada Village

Yesterday Ken and I made a visit to Prabhupada Village, a 360-acre village of Hare Krishna devotees about 8 miles north of Acorn Abbey. They all live simply and close to the land. Many of them farm and are excellent farmers. In many ways, they live much as the rural people of this county lived up until 50 years ago. The village has been there for 20 years.

From a ridge, looking down on Prabhupada land

Water tower and hay shed

Ken with one of the village puppies

A living roof

Daffodils and crocuses, blooming too early in the warm winter