The “Sharing Economy” is the GOP’s New Snake Oil

Our current employment numbers do not reflect the unfortunate reality. The Republicans in Washington have pushed the economy in the direction that would have thrilled  the robber barons at the turn of the 20th century. First of all, companies’ profits are increasing because they are part of a buyer’s market. They can keep wages low because their Republican friends in power are doing everything they can to break the strength of labor unions.

If you’re just out of college, lots of luck finding a full-time job with benefits. Many kids in their 20s are still living at home while balancing two part-time jobs, neither of which has health benefits. My friends who are in the 50s and are laid off have a better chance of hitting the lottery than they do of finding another comparable job. Instead, they now have to list themselves as “consultants.” That means occasional gigs with no security, no benefits, and steady source of income.

It’s utterly stupid for the wealthy to believe that they are smart in keeping wages down because that means there are less middle-class people to buy their products. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Still, with a pre-occupation on short-term gains, employers  continue to push for contract workers rather than full-time employers. Sure, it gives them more flexibility in hard times, but it’s a two-way street. I remember years ago working for a private company headed by a guy with vision. He treated his employees fairly. The result was that no one left at five. People left when they felt they’d finished the job. They cared about the quality of their work because they knew their leader cared about them.

Contrast that attitude with a manufacturing company I worked for that paid its employees weekly. One reason is that they cut put in a pink slip of paper that terminated the employee with no other notice. That’s probably where the term “pink slip” came from. No one stood in front of the main doors at five pm because they would be run over by the employees who did not want to give the company one minute more than they were contracted for.

Uber has made a fortune on the backs of employees. If there’s an accident, Uber argues that their driver is responsible because he is not really an employee. Health benefits? You have to be kidding. The hourly wages sound appealing, but employees find that after parking tickets, toll road charges, gas, and car maintenance, they earn less than minimum wage.

I talked recently with a man who used to run a small advertising agency. Now he says people will contract on an hourly basis with a free lancer to produce an ad on a PC. It’s tough for free lancers to plan their lives because they don’t have a steady source of income. How can you buy a house or send a kid to college if you don’t know what you are going to make the next month?

Fat cats argue that we live in the world of free enterprise where people are only limited by their desire and brains. That’s a lot of hogwash. It all ties in with the old Calvinistic theory that God gives people what they deserve. So, if someone is poor, they deserve to be poor because of their own failings. This is a wonderful theory for wealthy folks to have because it implies that God has rewarded them because they deserve it.

This helps to explain Donald Trump’s lack of compassion for the poor. If God thought they were as worthy as he, they would be wealthy. Of course, the poor did not have a father who started them off with a couple of million dollars.

Jeb Bush recently came out with a statement on Social Security that reflected the attitude of traditional Republicans. They never have forgiven Franklin Roosevelt for pushing that bill through. They argue that people should have the opportunity to invest their own social security money. Of course, that benefits the biggest supporters of the GOP, Wall Street. People with no financial training should not be thrown into a financial jungle. Wall Street would take a cut out of every financial transaction. Bush argues he is empathetic for poor people. After all, he fell in love with a Mexican. So much for compassionate conservatism.

So, the sharing economy simply means that the wealthy take an increased share from the poor and the declining middle class. If we don’t do something in the next few years, our country will resemble the poor countries of Central America where a few families are incredibly wealthy and live in guarded communities while the poor have nothing.

The Book Trolls

There’s an entire new species of low life stalking the web. As you might know, more and more authors are self-publishing their books, especially because the few major publishers left are looking for “names” even if they might be celebrities who are not necessarily great writers. To make things worse, even if the publishers accept a novel, they put almost no marketing dollars behind it. So, there aren’t many advantages left to publishing with a major publisher except the glory of an author seeing his book at a Barnes and Noble. I did publish one book that wound up in Barnes and Noble. Guess what? The chain ordered one copy for each branch. If they sold the one copy, they would order one more. Such is modern book selling.

So, many authors are self publishing or publishing with a small press or hybrid press. I’ve tried all three types and understand the advantages and disadvantages of each. In all cases, though, there is no marketing clout except what the author can generate. That means trying to generate clout on what for most authors is a very limited budget.

Now the trolls enter the picture. These are people who can’t write themselves, but they impose themselves into the book publishing business by offering promotions for authors at a price. Want to see a book advertised on a website that promotes free or low-cost books, well then you need to pay. Of course when you reduce your book to 99 cents in order to qualify, Amazon is happy to offer the writer 33 cents for each copy sold. If you work with a small publisher, you might keep 15 cents while with a hybrid publisher you’re fortunate to keep 10 cents.

There are hundreds if not thousands of entrepreneurs out there today who offer marketing “secrets” for writers for a small charge. Buy their course or book, and you’ll learn how to outfox Google to generate key words. You’ll learn how to build Facebook fans and Twitter fans and create a social media hurricane. Or so they say.

I generated a press release not too long ago for a non-fiction book I published. I received voice mail from several trolls who promised they could generate more interest by re-writing my press release and then distributing it for a few hundred dollars. I’ve had other trolls contact me and advise me that they could sell my book in other companies if I’d only send them a PDF. I suspect the PDF would wind up on one of those download for free pirate sites. Trolls put up those sites and then grab email and other info from the fools who think they’re getting a bargain.

For a while Fivr offered Amazon book reviews for $5. Now Amazon has instituted a new policy to try to kill that business. I suppose Amazon would like to encourage people to buy books rather than receive free review copies since there’s no money for Amazon when the author trades a book for a free review.

So, after a writer emerges from months of relative solitude with a book that is ready for marketing, the response is not necessarily jubilation from a public that is not even aware. Instead, it is hunting season for the trolls to bombard the author with promises of riches and hundreds of books sold for the mere price of an advertisement. Better yet, an advertisement and another fee to post on the website’s Facebook page.

I shouldn’t complain. I’ve been fortune enough to sell more books than the average writer. Still, I resent having to deal with people who treat books (something I regard as almost sacred) as nothing more than toilet paper or other commodities that should be sold by offering the product for free or 99 cents. The only one who wins are the trolls since they collect their fees whether the author sells any books or not.

Michael Connelly, Nelson DeMille, & Daniel Silva: The Graying of Our Heroes

It’s fascinating to watch what some of our most popular novelists are doing. Michael Connelly and Daniel Silva have been aging their heroes (Harry Bosch, John Corey, and Gabriel Allon) in real time. In other words, Harry is now facing retirement while Gabriel has been booted into an office job heading Israeli intelligence. John Corey also is aging, although not quite as fast.

It’s a wonderful thing for an author to have a recurring hero that readers love so much that they just want more and more of him. The problem is that even though the authors want to move on and explore new characters and situations, their readers refuse to move on. Also, their publishers see gold in the characters and demand they appear again and again.

You sense a certain degree of weariness in Daniel Silva with his latest novel, The English Spy. Allen seems weary. Several times other characters ask the Israeli agent if he’s up to the challenge. He heard the same questions in the previous novel, The Heist. Silva says he has ideas for other heroes, but his public won’t let him move in that direction. Connelly splits the difference right now by alternating books on Harry Bosch with books on Bosch’s half-brother, the Lincoln Lawyer. DeMille’s latest book features ex-cop John Corey one more time, but the book lacks the fire and wit of earlier Corey appearances. In fact, The Lion, the very first Corey novel, remains DeMille’s best Corey novel.

So, many authors would kill to have a beloved character that virtually guarantees a place on the New York Times bestseller list. Still, it’s very much like a singer who keeps getting asked to sing a song he has learned to hate because he’s sung it so very often. Of course, while I struggle to get the word out on my upcoming sequel, A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer, it is very hard not to ask God to give my book and character enough success that the public will demand several more in the series.

 

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We are De-Evolving Back to Tribes

The more I follow geopolitics as well as the news coming from various parts of this country, the more I believe our world is de-evolving from a complex civilization back to its most primitive element, the element found among early cave dwellers. We’re moving back to identifying with our tribe.

Think about the racism that’s reared its ugly head recently as well as the lament over the Confederate flag being taken down from the statehouse in South Carolina. We have skinheads who identify with each other and hate virtually everyone else. We have southerners who hate liberals and most northerners and certainly hate blacks. We have strict religious groups or tribes that hate everyone who is different. I suspect a lot of the hatred for President Obama came not from his middle of the road politics, but from the color of his skin and the feeling among some whites that he wasn’t one of them but a member of a different tribe.

You have the paranoia of some Texan conservatives who are sure they’re tribe is about to be invaded by the big bad federal government. That’s the same government that gives Texas more money than it takes from that red state. The Israeli “tribal” members hate the Arab “tribe members and vice versa even though if you stripped them naked, it would be impossible to tell them apart once their head covers were removed.

Tribal structure is one reason why Americans are so uncomfortable with the idea of mass transportation. It forces people to sit next to people from different tribes who clearly are different. By the way, this inclination to revert back to tribal structures applies to other groups including hippies, beats, druggies, valley girls, jocks, etc. All dress in certain ways and thus can identify each other. It’s fascinating that ultra-orthodox Jews and ultra-orthodox Muslims both dress in ways that isolate them from the world around them and encourage them to seek out others who share their belief systems. No beard? Clearly you are not part of either group.

The problem with this trend towards returning to tribal groups rather than assimilation is bad for our country and for the world because people in tribes distrust groups they don’t understand. That distrust can easily grow to hatred. Since we have nuclear weapons today and not merely rocks or spears to throw, the results could be disastrous.

Locating Mr. or Mrs. Right for a Review

I’m starting to gear up for a late fall release of A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer (published by Pen-L). Hybrid novels are always a bit difficult to match with readers and reviewers. In this case, the book is clearly a police procedural mystery, but it also has a touch of the paranormal. In other words, a detective uses good police work to logically solve a murder, but there is also a ghost involved.

Part of my marketing plan involves finding readers who are willing to read the novel and then write a review for Amazon. So many potential book buyers look at the number and score of customer reviews before choosing a novel. For an author published by a small publisher without a marketing budget, it means a lot of queries to book bloggers.

What makes this book a little more challenging is that element of the supernatural. Some bloggers indicate they review mysteries but also review Christian fiction. Since a ghost (certainly not a holy ghost) might play loose and fast with traditional dogma, I’ve tended to cross such reviewers off my list.

Lots of reviewers specify they want romance or young adult fiction. Sorry, not this time. The bloggers who do review mysteries are overwhelmed, so it’s a struggle. Count the number of Amazon reviews by December or so and you’ll see how successful or unsuccessful I’ve been.

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The End of American Exceptionalism

 

I just published Daniel Silva: A Reader’s Guide on Amazon. Reading Silva made me realize the horrors over the past few years we’ve inflicted on people because of a misguided belief in American Exceptionalism. Think of George W. Bush’s belief that we would be welcomed in Iraq because we’d bring them democracy. The rest of the world, particularly large chunks where few people are literate, can’t really handle democracy because their sources of information are limited. Even in this country, we struggle because money buys advertising reach. Anyone watching Fox news, doesn’t really get a “fair and balanced” view of the world. In today’s echo chamber, people seek justification for what they already believe and don’t want to hear new facts.

In any event, I hope you enjoy the new book. I’ll write more about it soon.

 

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Where are you from?

Is the person you just met unable to make small talk? Did she seem befuddled when you asked her if she were from the middle west? Did the fellow drinking mineral water near the bar express confusion when you asked him how the Lakers were doing? The answer is obvious, according to a new book from Oxford University Press. Although these people look human, maybe they are not.

The Ruins of Evolution proposes that given certain demands as far as mobility, cognition, etc., it is likely that extraterrestrials evolving on other worlds, probably developed to look like us. Here’s an article on the subject: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/forget-little-green-men–aliens-will-look-like-humans-says-cambridge-university-evolution-expert-10358164.html

I find the idea plain silly and an example of human arrogance. Just because we evolved certain ways does not mean that everything intelligent in the universe had to evolve the same way. In fact, I’m sure there are lots of planets we would deem uninhabitable that might support life. Maybe not life as we know it, but certainly intelligent life.

On the other hand, if you would like an example of aliens who do resemble us as well as some that definitely would make your skin crawl, read my new science fiction novel, Alien Love.