“Hard Hat Joe” fires his first salvo at working-class Americans
During the election, Joe Biden quipped on at least one occasion that he was a “union man”. Yes, and I’m the Dalai Lama. Talk, as has been famously observed, is cheap.
When I was a kid, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Democratic Party truly did represent the interests of labor unions and working Americans. Those were the days of Howard Metzenbaum and Richard Gephardt. Sometimes their proposals were impractical; but those old-line Democrats truly did care about the people who “work for a living”. I recall seeing Democratic Party television spots in the mid-1980s with the tagline, “lathe operators over Wall Street hotshots”.
Tell me: How many “lathe operators” is one likely to find at a Democratic Party event in 2021? One will mostly encounter liberal celebrities, journalists, and various identity politics activists.
The claims of “Hard Hat Joe” notwithstanding, the Democratic Party has long since ceased to be a workers’ party, and morphed into a party of boutique special interests. That’s why Donald Trump won the working-class vote by such a wide margin in both 2016 and 2020.
One of President Biden’s first executive orders was to nix the Keystone XL Pipeline. This will please the Sierra Club, the celebrity environmentalists (who flit around in private jets), and the blue- and pink-haired student activists who do not yet have a clue about how economies actually function.
Meanwhile, Biden’s order to rescind the Keystone permit will flush away at least 10,000 union jobs.
Bidenomics will almost certainly lead to higher fuel prices for working-class Americans, too. We will be producing less energy at home and importing more from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia.
But Jennifer Aniston will be so pleased! How much you want to bet that Aniston—who was paid more than $600K per episode for her role as “Rachel” on Friends, isn’t personally concerned about the potential of $4 per gallon gasoline?
If you are concerned about such a prospect and you voted Democrat in November, I hate to break this you….but you’ve just been had.
In case you missed it, the Dow Jones had a record rally yesterday, as Joe Biden was sworn in as president.
The stock market likes stability. Since November, the US political situation has been anything but stable. Now we have a new status quo, such as it is.
In the short term, President Biden will spend like a drunken sailor on shore leave, flooding the economy with cash.
Consumers will spend money.
Businesses will make money.
Then the problems will come.
Here’s an analogy. Suppose you max out your credit cards and take out several bank loans. In the short term, you will have the appearance and feeling of prosperity. You can acquire lots of new stuff. You’ll be flush with cash.
But that prosperity will be very temporary, because it’s built on a house of cards—credit cards.
The Biden economic plan is built on the government’s version of the credit card: debt and printing money. The Democrats will raise taxes; but they won’t be able to raise taxes enough to pay for all of their spending schemes.
The credit card bills will come due. Consider the personal analogy again: What would your financial situation look like, after an extended credit card- and loan-financed spending spree?
That is what President Biden and the Democrats are now doing to the US. As the government prints money to pay for its unsustainable spending, each dollar in the economy loses value.
In a worst-case scenario, the result could be hyperinflation. That is one of the chief risks of printing money to pay for unsupported government debt.
It’s happened before. Hyperinflation is what took down the economy of Weimar Germany (preceding the rise of Hitler). More recently, hyperinflation made Zimbabwe’s currency so worthless that its government had to print $100 trillion notes.
Hawley had a February fundraising event scheduled at a Loews Hotels location in Orlando. Then a left-leaning Florida attorney, Daniel Uhlfelder, got wind of it and decided to incite an Internet mob. Uhlfelder turned to thecesspool known as Twitter. Twitter, as most of us know, breeds Internet mobs like your shower curtain breeds mold.
It didn’t take long. The management at Loews Hotels quickly caved, and declared themselves in breach of their contractual obligations to Hawley.
What to make of all this? Democratic Party politicians and attention-whoring attorneys are going to do what they’re going to do. No mystery there.
Likewise, the publishing industry is mostly inhabited by people who discovered, lo and behold, that there are only so many ways to make a living with a degree in English literature. Publishing industry insiders lean left; and that has been the case for decades.
But what about corporate executives outside of publishing—those in “real” industries?
I speak from experience and direct observation here. What corporate executives most care about, at the end of the day, is making money. They all know that in most cases, mobs and agitators can interfere with business. An occasional controversy may rejuvenate the career of an actor or a rock star. A car company or a restaurant chain, not so much.
As some of you may know, I worked at Toyota (on the corporate side) for about 15 years. During that time, I sat in on numerous meetings regarding various “corporate citizenship” programs. At the end of the day, these initiatives are all about marketing, not substance.
Let me give you a concrete example: corporate diversity sourcing initiatives.
Every company under the sun is now touting its use of minority-owned suppliers. You’re thinking: big companies making purchases from minority-owned, “mom and pop” businesses in the Bronx, or southern Louisiana. Isn’t that nice?
Guess again. What it really means is: A wealthy minority businessperson (usually a businessman) forms a shell company. He agrees to serve as the agent, or distributor, for businesses that aren’t minority-owned.
The larger company does business directly with the shell company owned by the minority businessman (who is already a millionaire, in most cases). The millionaire owner of the shell company takes a healthy cut off the top. The larger company tells consumers and shareholders about the wonders of its minority supplier outreach program!
It’s all a big PR game, essentially. Ditto for corporate responses to leftwing mob actions, like the ones that are tripping up Josh Hawley of late.
Toyota, while I was there, was no den of leftwing communists and anarchists. On the contrary, it was a conservative Japanese company, with American managers from the Midwest, who also leaned conservative.
Toyota, though, had several run-ins with the leftwing mob. In 2001, Jesse Jackson shook Toyota down over a RAV4 ad. Toyota had intended the ad to be “hip”, and appealing to younger, more diverse consumers. Jackson spun the ad as “racist”. This made no sense, as Toyota’s explicit aim was to appeal to minority consumers—not insult them.
Jackson threatened a boycott, and Toyota paid homage (and wrote some large checks) to Jesse Jackson’s shakedown racket, aka the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. The problem went away. It was basically like paying off the mafia.
And Loews Hotels is paying off the mafia, too—the mafia of Daniel Uhlfelder, and whatever mob he is capable of stirring up online. For all we know, the management of Loews Hotels may be conservative by inclination, as well. But they don’t want to remain the object of Daniel Uhlfelder’s venal, self-serving smear campaign.
I understand how corporate executives can be tempted to give in to such pressure. Toyota’s run-in with the money-grubbing Jesse Jackson made the company hyper-cautious for years about anything involving race. For companies that sell to the retail market, the potential downsides of being targeted by the mob are simply too great.
But yielding to the whims of mobs, time and again, has a cumulative cost. This doesn’t just mean Toyota writing checks to Jesse Jackson, or Loews Hotels canceling a contract with Josh Hawley that would have benefited both parties. When leftwing mobs are given carte blanche (as happened over the summer, with the Black Lives Matter riots), rightwing mobs will eventually decide to employ the same tactics. That’s what we discovered on January 6th.
It’s a bad way for a free society to function—or rather, not function.
This will likely be a trend for the foreseeable future, though, especially with the Democrats in control of our government. Conservative speakers and Republican events will be “canceled” at the instigation of howling mobs and unscrupulous agitators like Daniel Uhlfelder. There will be backlashes and counter-backlashes.
Like I said, it’s a bad way for a free society to function.
Such is the name of an essay by Elle Griffin. The essay appeared a few days ago on The Writing Cooperative, a Medium-based publication where writers write about writing. (Writers do that a lot on the Internet.)
It is basically a Debbie-downer piece that gives the beginning writer a dozen solid reasons why she should give up now, before she even tries. According to Griffin, both traditional and self-publishing are equally hopeless paths.
There is an obvious venting tone to Griffin’s essay; but she isn’t completely off base. In 2019 I described how the volume approach advocated by indie publishing gurus has led to an over-reliance on expensive PPC advertising services. Advertising services for authors, all directed at the hope of selling $3.99 ebooks, have become a cottage industry. This is leading to the reconsolidation of [self-] publishing, as the “pay-to-play” financial reality exceeds the reach of many independent authors.
Last week I reported that Chris Fox spent 38% of his gross revenue on advertising in 2020. Fox, per his video, spent $104K on ads in 2020. And Fox probably has more expertise than most of us.
But this is an old reality. It has always been difficult to make real money from a creative endeavor—whether you’re talking aboutpaintings, a new rock band, or a series of novels. That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s the way it will likely always be.
“State ownership of businesses and worker control. Large businesses facing closure or mass layoffs should be seized by the state where feasible and run as public goods. In the case of small businesses where this is not feasible, New York should provide a right of first refusal, zero-interest loans, and technical assistance so that workers in smaller scale industries can take over their workplaces from owners that would otherwise have to close or sell. This will allow people to remain in their jobs and help us transition to a more just economy by putting workers in control.”
That all sounds very neat and technocratic. What does that mean, though, in practice?
We’ll keep this simple. Let’s say you and your partner scrimp and save for 10 years so that you can open a coffee shop.
You invest not only your life savings, but also your blood, sweat, and tears, into the business.
Oh, and you hire me to work behind the counter along the way. I’m your employee!
You work at it for 5 years. You’re losing money.
Uh-oh. Eventually, you determine that you need to cut your losses and sell.
According to our present laws of free enterprise and ownership, you are free to sell your business, and recoup what you can at the highest market value. After all, it’s your coffee shop. You started it! You own it!
And what about me? Well, I guess I have to get a job at Starbucks. Or maybe I get a job in a non-beverage related field.
That’s free enterprise, and freedom of association. We aren’t joined at the hip, just because I’ve worked for you.
According to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA though, your coffee shop is my coffee shop.
Why? Welcome to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, cupcake. I’m a “worker”. I worked behind the counter of your coffee shop, of my own free will, for wages. That makes me a worker.
Under the rule of AOC and the DSA, you would not be free to sell your coffee shop and cut your losses. A team of government bureaucrats would come in and transfer the business you paid for and started to a “worker’s collective”.
In this case, that would be me.
Now, does that sound fair?
No. Of course it isn’t.
But that’s what the DSA and AOC would do, if they ever truly came to power. So would some of the hardcore moonbats who believe in them.
Unfortunately, there are millions of uninformed Americans who think “socialism” sounds really sexy. But they haven’t bothered to think it out. They think “socialism” means “free iPhones”, or something like that.
Socialism means the government taking whatever it wants, whenever it wants.
Democratic socialism? Yeah, right. Every Marxist country that ever existed has paid lip service to “democracy”. The formal name of North Korea is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or the DPRK
Granted, the scenario I described above is not exactly firing squads and gulags. (Give them a few years in power, though.) But it is fundamentally unjust. This is government-backed theft, essentially.
But I don’t want to go all Ayn Rand and hifalutin on you. Let’s be more practical.
The program outlined by the Democratic Socialists of America, and supported by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would discourage the innovation and risk-taking that drives the American economy. Who in their right mind would ever start a business (including a coffee shop) knowing that the state could arbitrarily transfer it to a “workers collective”?
Who would ever start a business and hire others, knowing that the act of hiring would give the employees effective control over the business, should circumstances require them to cut their losses and sell?
No one in America would ever start a business again, if these misty-eyed lunatics in the DSA (including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) had their way.
Which brings us to our next point…which may involve you:
If you support far-left Democrats like AOC, you are grossly uninformed on basic economic principles. Sorry, princess, but that’s just the way it is.
This is correctible, though. Uninformed is not the same as “incorrigibly stupid”. You can learn about economics.
I recommend you start by reading Basic Economics, by the award-winning economist, Thomas Sowell.
The links on this page will take you to Amazon. But you should also be able to find this book in your local library.
I know you: You’re too smart to vote for leftwing Democrats, even if you don’t yet realize it.
“Bitcoin has no company to provide or store passwords. The virtual currency’s creator, a shadowy figure known as Satoshi Nakamoto, has said Bitcoin’s central idea was to allow anyone in the world to open a digital bank account and hold the money in a way that no government could prevent or regulate.”
That’s great…until you lose your password. One more reason why I will probably never own Bitcoin. When the Biden crash comes, I’ll keep my last wad of cash in a shoebox under my bed.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has discovered economic reality, as he made an inevitable shift in policy today:
“We simply cannot stay closed until the vaccine hits critical mass. The cost is too high. We will have nothing left to open. We must reopen the economy, but we must do it smartly and safely.”
I’ve been wearing a mask in public since early April. I don’t mind, if it will enable restaurants, gyms, retail stores, and other businesses to remain open.
That’s the commonsense approach. But Democrats, who seem to believe that money grows on trees (or inside the printing press), always want to shut everything down. Pure magical thinking.
No state, no nation, can preserve its healthcare system while simultaneously destroying its economy. The healthcare system ultimately depends on the economy. Well, duh. But that’s a profound revelation to Democratic governors like Cuomo and Whitmer.
As someone once said, “The cure cannot be worse than the disease.” Well, duh, again.
This didn’t begin with the president’s recent tweets, or even with the Trump administration.
Twitter was launched in 2006 with the sales pitch that it would be an open public square on the Internet. That means being apolitical, as a company, and as a platform.
In the years since then, the leftwing intolerance at Twitter has grown steadily worse. In some cases, Twitter employees have been behind the censorship. In other cases, leftwing “Twitter mobs” have been the perpetrators of the speech clampdowns.
As some reader will no doubt point out, Twitter is a private-sector firm, and can manage its platform as it sees fit.
Fair enough. Jack Dorsey may wish to rebrand Twitter as an unabashedly left-of-center microblogging platform. That is his right.
But this will further erode Twitter’s already diminishing user base, and make the company even less attractive to advertisers—who are the only real source of revenue for the company.
More than 30 years after he vacated the presidency of Chile, few Americans remember the name of Augusto Pinochet.But Augusto Pinochet used to be in the news all the time.
Pinochet was, in many ways, the anti-Hugo Chavez. Whereas Hugo Chavez plunged a prosperous Latin American nation (Venezuela) into Marxist misery, Augusto Pinochet did the opposite: He saved the ailing nation of Chile from a similar Marxist fate. But he didn’t do it democratically, or without bloodshed.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Pinochet came to power in a 1973 coup d’état. He established a military government. He persecuted, imprisoned,and sometimes executed his political opponents.
Seventeen years later, in 1990, he oversaw the restoration of democratic governance in a restored Chile. Augusto Pinochet’s rule was filled with contradictions.
The Chilean general election of 1970
It all started with the Chilean general election of 1970. A Marxist politician named Salvador Allende, running under the banners of the Chilean Socialist Party and the Popular Unity Coalition, won the presidential race. Salvador Allende thereby became the first openly Marxist politician to be elected head of state in a liberal Latin American democracy.
This was during the Cold War, which framed everything in those days. It is quite likely that the Soviet Union and Cuba provided Allende’s presidential campaign with several hundred thousand dollars of aid, and additional logistical support. But for the most part, Allende won the election of 1970 by getting the most votes.
Allende took office in 1970 and implemented Marxist economic policies. The results were as expected: economic and social chaos in Chile. Before long, Chile was a complete basket case.
Enter Augusto Pinochet, and a group of military officers. In September 1973, Pinochet and his fellow officers carried out a coup d’état, which culminated in the shelling of the presidential palace, La Moneda.
Salvador Allende took his life with a handgun.
Oh, and given that this was during the Cold War, the CIA almost certainly assisted the coup plotters, though the extent of the CIA’s involvement is still disputed.
Once in power, Pinochet lowered the hammer on the socialists who had mucked things up. He restricted leftwing, Marxist political activity, and banished far-left politicians from all levels of government. He dissolved the Chilean parliament.
An undemocratic economic success
Pinochet was, in many ways, the archetypical Latin American strongman. Pinochet’s stated objective was to “save the country from communism.” To do this, he was more than willing to resort to undemocratic methods.
Economically, though, Pinochet’s time in office was an unbridled success. He dismantled Allende’s system of state Marxism, liberalized trade, and stabilized the Chilean currency.At a time when left-leaning Latin American countries were suffering from poverty and hyperinflation, Chile was set on an upward trajectory of economic prosperity.
“The first country in the world to make that momentous break with the past—away from socialism and extreme state capitalism toward more market-oriented structures and policies—was not Deng Xiaoping’s China or Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan’s United States in 1981, or any other country in Latin America or elsewhere. It was Pinochet’s Chile in 1975.”
Using undemocratic—often brutal—methods, Pinochet accomplished his aim of “saving the country [Chile] from communism”.
Then Pinochet gave the country back to the people. At the end of 1988, Pinochet agreed to a referendum on whether he would serve yet another term in office. He lost the referendum, 56 to 44.
Pinochet left office the following year, per the agreement he had made. He died peacefully in Santiago in 2006, at the age of 91.
America is at a disastrous crossroads today, as Chile was in the early 1970s. Millions of Americans believe that the 2020 US presidential election was rigged, stolen. But that is not the primary crisis before us. America has weathered election skullduggery before, after all.
But we have never weathered anything like the Democratic Party majority that will assume power on January 20, 2021. Despite the historic deficits we already face, Joe Biden and the Democrats plan to spend at least $11 trillion more. The Manhattan Institute has called the plans “breathtakingly irresponsible”.
The Manhattan Institute is right. At the very least, we will have high inflation and an economic contraction. In a worst-case scenario, the Democrats will bring about a partial or complete collapse of the American economy. The current Democratic Congress, filled with Marxists or quasi-Marxists like Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Warnock, will be the most left-leaning legislators to ever pass federal laws in America.
The January 6th siege of Capitol Hill was provoked not just by anger over the election, but by a frantic desire to ward off the economic disaster described above.
The Capitol Hill siege was an unmitigated disaster, though. Doomed from the outset, it had absolutely no chance of success. The only outcomes—aside from the destruction of public property—were to bring about a handful of unnecessary deaths.
Oh, and the brief occupation of Capitol Hill also gave the Democrats and the progressive left a new narrative: that they are heroes fighting a “white supremacist” insurgency. Since the Capitol Hill siege, Big Tech has lost all sense of restraint, banning anyone with a substantial conservative platform from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Leftwing journalists and activists are calling for even stricter speech codes, yet more deplatforming drives, and the implementation of an unforgiving “cancel culture”.
Amid this seemingly hopeless situation, there are many Americans who would like to see Donald Trump play the role of Augusto Pinochet, even if they’ve never heard of the Chilean strongman.
This would require not a motley band of civilian Capitol Hill occupiers, but the collusion of substantial elements of the US military. This doesn’t seem to be in the cards. But there are many Americans who would like to see it happen—even if they won’t say so explicitly.
Most of this sentiment is predicated on the supposition that the November election was stolen. I won’t take that possibility off the table. But I’d like to present you with another possibility: the historically left-leaning Democratic government we now face represents the will of a slender majority of Americans.
Is it really so hard to believe?America has spent 50 years stewing in a toxic mixture of cultural nihilism, creeping socialism, and divisive identity politics. The educational emphasis on cultural and racial guilt began in the early 1970s, when I started school. By the mid-1990s, it dominated the teaching of American history. There is not an American who has graduated high school in the last two generations who has not been taught America’s crimes—both real and imagined—ad nauseam.
By contrast, how many American students graduate high school with a knowledge of the economic consequences of Marxist policies in China, Russia, and Eastern Europe? How many Americans even learn the basics of economic theory?
Given this deficit of knowledge and ideological skew, is it really hard to believe that millions of Americans were willing to vote for Joe Biden, Raphael Warnock, and Jon Ossof, as atonement for the politically incorrect tweets of Donald Trump?
I don’t find it hard to believe. Almost no one in my social sphere could properly be termed a “radical”. I don’t know a single Antifa bomb-thrower. I do, however, know plenty of Americans whose primary takeaway from the election is that Kamala Harris will be “our first woman of color to be vice president”. I know otherwise sensible people who haven’t taken the time to learn the details of the Democratic Party’s spending plans, but who are quite giddy over the fact that Raphael Warnock will be “the first African-American to represent Georgia in the Senate.”
Let’s face it: Identity politics has become the opium of the American people. At the same time, most Americans are economically illiterate.
But what about the Trump-as-Pinochet scenario?
Let’s get back to the Pinochet scenario: Donald Trump colludes with a handful of generals, and establishes a military government. He rids our educational system, government, and national media of radical leftwing elements.
Oh, and he shuts down Twitter and CNN. Facebook, too, while he’s at it.
There are, no doubt, plenty of Trump supporters who fantasize about such an outcome (even if they dare not say so out loud).
There are also plenty of you on the left who are waiting for me to advocate this. You’re salivating, in fact.
Yet another gotcha! moment. Yet another Twitter mob, yet another deplatforming. Off with his head!
But here’s the punchline: I don’t want that to happen. I think the best thing for us, the harsh medicine we really need, is not a Donald Trump-as-Pinochet scenario, but the inauguration of Joe Biden and his radical Congress on January 20th.As so many Americans seem to want.
The punishment we asked for…
As Oscar Wilde observed: “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” But you don’t recognize the punishment until it lands on your head. There are too many Americans who simply won’t understand the disaster before us until it actually happens…to them and their loved ones.
This is especially true of the suburban-dwelling “latte liberal” faction. Right now, they are busy patting themselves on the back, because they’ve just elected “the first woman of color vice president,” and “the first African-American to represent Georgia in the Senate.”Whoopdeedoo. As if both Harris and Warnock weren’t going to be just fine, anyway.
Wait until runaway inflation hits. Wait until their husband, or wife, or young adult child, is thrown out of work because the Democrats have crashed the economy. Wait until their son or daughter becomes the victim of urban violence in another “woke” city that has defunded the police.
In short, there are many “woke” suburbanites who are going to have to suffer, at a very personal level, before they “get it”.
Ideas—like elections—have consequences
It isn’t necessarily their fault. In the late 1960s, America decided to accept anti-American, anti-western guilt as our primary cultural and educational leitmotif.
This was always based on ideology and wishful thinking, not reality.
Ideas—just like elections—have consequences. The bill is going to come due, one way or another. The question is: which ordeal do you prefer: violent revolution? Or economic collapse, followed by the inevitable reappraisal of our national priorities and assumptions?
The very best thing for America may be to allow the leftwing radicals of the Democratic Party free rein.
“The Green New Deal?”
“Medicare for all?”
“$2K stimulus checks?”
“Why stop there? Why not send out $5K stimulus checks? We can always print more money…until we can’t.”
Let them spend us into oblivion. Let the economy collapse. Let the woke suburbanites discover the meaning of reality. In 2024, we can gently remind them that this was what they asked for.
Yes, the rest of us will have to suffer along with them. But that’s the way it works in a democracy. When 81 million of us exercise poor judgment at the ballot box, all of us have to suffer.
The way out of this mess will not be pleasant. But does anyone really believe that a Pinochet option would be easier for America, or any less traumatic?
There are very few Democratic politicians nowadays who are not either a.) moonbats, or b.) eager to pander to moonbats.
Joe Manchin of West Virginia is one of the few remaining Democratic Party moderates. But he faces an uphill battle in the Democratic Party, aka the Party of Economic Lunacy.
Both Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer promised Georgia voters that if they royally hosed the country by cementing a Democratic majority in the Senate on January 5, those $2,000 stimulus checks would quickly follow.
I know—the Grinch who Stole Christmas. But here’s the problem: The government can’t simply continue to print money. That’s what the Weimar Republic did in the 1920s. We’ve seen this movie before, and it ends badly. If the Democrats get their way, we’re likely headed for hyperinflation.
For those of you who’ve been unfortunate enough to learn your history in an American public school within the past 25 years, the money-printing agenda of the Weimar Republic didn’t end well. That ended in hyperinflation, too.
Ditto for other governments that have done the same, like that of Zimbabwe, which actually printed a $100 trillion bill.
The $2,000 stimulus checks are not the same thing as targeted unemployment relief. Stimulus checks aren’t just sent to those thrown out of work by the government-imposed COVID shutdowns of 2020. They also go to millions of Americans whose Fortune 500 jobs allow them to work from home. Many of these Americans, freed from the expenses of a daily commute, are actually in a better financial position today than they were a year ago.
Of course, none of us is going to be in a better position soon, once the Democrats fire up the monetary printing presses, so they can set us up for a Weimar-style crash. Kudos to Joe Manchin for standing up as one of the Democratic Party’s few voices of moderation. Heaven knows that’s a lonely fight, but it will be a necessary one in the weeks and months ahead.
And so are other Chinese businesspersons who have run afoul of Chinese state regulators and CCP officials. No deal with the devil ever goes unpunished. Unfortunately, Chinese businesspersons have no other choice.
California politics in Georgia
The Democratic Party’s policies have made California unlivable, as both businesses and families flee the Golden State. (See yesterday’s report.)
Among the favorite destinations of former Californians are Texas, Arizona, and Georgia.
But apparently, when West Coast liberals flee the People’s Republic of California, they take with them the leftwing politics that have made California into such a nightmare in recent years. Go figure.
That’s why these former GOP strongholds have turned purple over the last few election cycles. Georgians and Texans haven’t become more liberal. The more liberal Californians have moved in, and diluted the state’s traditional political composition.
What are the implications of this outward migration from California?
Well, first of all, the debate over the Electoral College may become less important, as leftwing residents in flight from California infiltrate formerly red states en masse.
Of course, the best thing for everyone would be for the Californians to simply learn their lesson. But that would be too simple and logical, wouldn’t it?
The people of Scotland are on a full lockdown until the end of January–because of COVID.
COVID cannot be ignored. Preventative measures are needed (like social distancing in public places, and masks). But shutting down the entire economy to stop the spread of COVID is a stupid, ham-fisted response that could only come from the minds of leftwing politicians who believe that money grows on trees.
Scotland is a stronghold of the UK Labour Party. Enough said.
Well, this I didn’t know. Actor Lou Diamond Phillips is a science fiction author. You can pick up his recent novel, The Tinderbox: Soldier of Indira on sale at Amazon today.
I know nothing about Phillips’s skills as a writer. (His Amazon reader ratings look pretty good.) I’ve enjoyed many of his film appearances over the years, though, especially his portray of Ritchie Valens in La Bamba (1987).
Our California future?
No, under President Biden (I cringe as I type the words) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez probably won’t be hustling Trump supporters into gulags. (That is planned for the Harris presidency.)
“Thank you so much for all the well-wishes on my 18th birthday!
Tonight you will find me down at the local pub exposing all the dark secrets behind the climate- and school strike conspiracy and my evil handlers who can no longer control me! I am free at last!!”
As Shakespeare wrote: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Greta Thunberg is the daughter of two leftwing Swedish celebrities. Anyone who thinks that she wasn’t manipulated by her parents, and the cooing adults who surrounded her, has forgotten what it’s like to be a child.
But now, at 18, Greta Thunberg is an adult. This means that her more outlandish pronouncements will be open to unrestrained public scrutiny. And this means that she will no longer serve as a convenient human shield for the adult ideologues who latched on to her in 2018.
This blog wishes her a normal, happy adult life…and a return to anonymity.
Tanya Roberts, R.I.P.
I remember her in A View To A Kill, the 1985 James Bond movie that also starred Roger Moore and Grace Jones.
Correction (1/5/2021): It turns out that Tanya Roberts’s death was erroneously reported throughout the media yesterday. Ms. Roberts is alive, but seriously ill at the time of this writing. This blog wishes her a quick and complete recovery.
They always pay themselves first
Politicians always pay themselves first. Especially those of the bottomlessly corrupt and power-hungry Democratic Party.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., apparently thought that “amen” is a gendered word. And he wanted to show how gender-neutral he is. When opening the 117th Congress with a traditional prayer this past Sunday, he said, “Amen and awoman”.
Critics were quick to point out that “amen”—which can be traced to ancient Greek, Hebrew and Syriac— means “so be it”. Not being an English word originally, it has nothing to do with “men” vs. “women” or sex differences.
Political correctness can be annoying, and an incredible waste of time and energy. As Representative Emanuel Cleaver demonstrates once again, political correctness is also unintentionally funny on many occasions.
There has been a lot of talk in the “author community” of late about audiobooks. As is usually the case with these things, the news is both good and bad.
On one hand, audiobooks represent the fastest growing segment of the book market. Some markets (mostly outside the English-speaking world) have even gone to an “audio-first model”, whereby the audiobook—and not the hardcover print edition—is considered the flagship of publication.
On the other hand, though, audiobook production costs make it difficult to turn a profit with an audiobook title in the short term—especially if you’re an independent and/or mid-list author. This is compounded by changes in what consumers are willing to pay for digital products.
Let’s break this all down.
High production costs
At present, all audiobooks sold at the major retailers are read by human narrators. Most of these narrators are self-employed, independent contractors who work from home recording studios.
Audiobook production is priced “per finished hour”. This hourly rate typically runs in the hundreds of dollars.
How much is that, though? Findaway Voices, one of the main audiobook distributors, suggests a per finished hour cost of $250. This means, per Findaway, about $1,350–$1,650 for a 50,000-word novel.
The problem is: 50,000 words is very much on the short side for a novel. 50K words is barely in proper novel territory at all. (And a very short audiobook is unlikely to sell well, for reasons that will be discussed shortly.) 80,000 to 110,000 words is more typical. In some genres, like fantasy, 200,000 words is not uncommon.
Here’s another way to do the math: The conventional wisdom is that 9,300 manuscript words equate to one hour in an audiobook. My Kentucky crime novel, Blood Flats, is about 180,000 words. That’s on the long side, granted, but by no means off the charts. Divide 180,000 by 9,300, and you get about 19 hours in audiobook time.
Doing further math, this would mean a cost of 19 x $250 = $4,750, using Findaway’s base rate of $250. But some narrators charge more—sometimes much more. If a narrator charged $350 per finished hour (not uncommon), the total nut for production costs would be 19 x $350 = $6,650.
The result is that it is often possible to have a small deck put on a suburban house in Ohio for less money than it costs to produce an audiobook. Audiobook production, under the current model, is an expensive undertaking.
This is where the pitchforks are likely to come out, and audiobook narrators on Reddit will start to look up my address on Google Maps.
Please hold the pitchforks. I’m not suggesting that audiobook narrators are price-gouging. I have a subscription to Adobe Audition. I’ve dabbled with narration and sound production myself. I know what’s involved in producing a “finished hour” of salable audio.
Suffice it to say: it’s a pain in the ass. To begin with: Most fiction audiobooks are not simply read, but acted, with distinct character voice inflections, regional accents, and whatnot.
The performance is only the beginning. Afterward, all the little annoyances present in all human speech (“um”, audible inhales, etc.) have to be edited out.
Then there’s the post-production sound engineering. This means paying attention to factors like the noise floor and the “root square mean” or RMS, of your recording. You’ll likely have to learn about EQ settings, de-essing, and pop elimination, too.
Almost nothing about audio production is conceptually difficult, as in rocket-science. But it is very detailed and time-intensive work.
And it doesn’t stop with what you pay for. Even after an author receives a completed audiobook project at a cost of $4,750 to $6,650 (to cite the Blood Flats example), the work isn’t over. Few authors will be foolhardy enough to upload the completed sound file without a final quality control check, which will verify that all 180,000 words have been read correctly, with no omissions or misreadings.
The impact of the subscription model
The concomitant problem is that the changing economics of the audiobook market make it difficult to earn all that time and money back.
At present, Audible bills customers on a credit system, where 1 credit = 1 audiobook. Your level of Audible membership determines how many “premium” titles you get per month. At present, this is only…one.
One premium title per month? This means that customers will choose that title carefully. Size therefore matters. A 50,000-word title (Findaway’s base example) will only mean about five hours of listening. Wouldn’t most people prefer the 19-hour title instead?
Oh, and there’s another problem, involving customers and digital content. People don’t want to pay a ton of money for it.
Here comes the pitchfork mob again, only this time, it’s a different pitchfork mob. And for what it’s worth, I’m a part of this pitchfork mob myself. While I’m a writer on one hand, I’m an avid reader (and audiobook listener) on the other.
Even I balk at audiobook prices from the big New York publishers, which typically range from $25 to $30. That’s a lot of money for a file that you’re going to put on your smart phone, and probably use only once.
Most readers are not freeloaders, though. All that “information want to be free” hooey has diminished considerably in recent years, right along with Cory Doctorow’s claim to hipness.
(Circa 2009, Cory Doctorow was a much-ballyhooed cheerleader for the digital pirating of intellectual property. Putting his money where his mouth was, Doctorow even gave away digital downloads of his own books from his website.
Cory Doctorow does not seem to be doing that anymore, or at least he’s making it awfully hard to find the free download links. But there are plenty of salient store links on his site.)
Most readers understand the maxim, “if no one gets paid, then nothing gets made”. They want creators to be paid for their work—but they don’t want to pay $26.95 for a 10-hour audiobook.
As both a creator and a consumer of content, I get that.
Further downward pressure is coming from the increasing prevalence of the all-you-can-eat subscription model. This means Spotify for musicians, Kindle Unlimited for authors.
From what I’ve read and heard (big disclaimer here: I am not a musician, but I do have friends in the business) Spotify seems to royally screw over musicians. The Spotify business model arose at a time when music piracy was rampant, and the prevailing wisdom was: it’s better for musicians to be paid almost nothing, versus absolutely nothing.
Kindle Unlimited arose under different circumstances, and this program involves a more nuanced situation. But plenty of authors don’t like it.
Be that as it may, smorgasbord subscription programs are creating a race to the bottom, or severe downward pressure, on the distribution models of all forms of digital content. But it still costs thousands of dollars to produce an audiobook. Audible, meanwhile, is still rationing audiobooks to its customers as if each one were imprinted on gold leaf, rather than in digital files.
The folks who run Audible aren’t fools. They realize that their business model is out of whack. For a while they tried to have it both ways. They actively encouraged customers to return audiobooks for new ones—even after a full listening—wink, wink. This created an informal, “sort-of” subscription model.
But a “sort-of” subscription model is a bit like being “a little pregnant”. You either are or you aren’t. You can’t have it both ways. When you do try to have it both ways, someone has to take the short end of the stick.
And guess who got that short end in this case? When customers returned an audiobook for an exchange, Audible was withholding payments to the author of the returned title. This was, in effect, a creator-subsidized subscription model. Audible tried to be a little bit pregnant…at authors’ expense.
The resulting uproar has come to be known as “Audiblegate”. Authors got wind of what was happening, and raised a much-justified ruckus.
How much should an audiobook cost?
I’ll be honest here: I don’t much care for subscription models. This isn’t a beef with “giving stuff away”, or wanting to charge everyone in my audience the full price of a front-row ticket. People often want to sample the work of an unfamiliar musician, writer, or filmmaker before they plunk down money. I get that. This is why I put so much free content on my website.
The reason I dislike subscription models is: they inevitably involve corporate monopolies or oligopolies. Only large corporations can achieve the economies of scale needed to maintain control on a tipping-point volume of content, sufficient to charge money for a subscription service.
There is some competition in the music streaming business. But Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program (which mandates per-title exclusivity) holds a virtual monopoly over the subscription ebook market. Yes, there are a few other players, but not a one of them seriously competes with Amazon.
To get back to audiobooks, I like the Chirpbooks model. Chirp sells audiobooks at aggressive rates of discount. I’ve picked up many good audiobooks there, from indie authors as well as New York-published ones, for $0.99 to $6.99.
That’s still a wide range; but even the high end of that range is a substantial improvement on the typical audiobook price of $25~$30.
I should also mention that Chirp has a limited selection, and each discount runs for a limited time. To get the most out of Chirp, you have to be willing to read across genres, and to try new authors.
But it is worth considering the question: what should the ordinary, non-discount price of an audiobook be?
I worked at Toyota for many years. One of the business rules Toyota taught me was: The customer (i.e., the market) decides the price. It is the producer’s job to find a way to manufacture an item at the price that the consumer is willing to pay (with a reasonable profit built in, of course).
What’s a “reasonable” cost for an audiobook? Not .0001 cents per stream, but not $25.99, either. Something reasonable for both sides.
Speaking as a consumer, I would say: $4.99 to $9.99. Slightly higher than an ebook. This also makes sense to me as an author.
Enter DeepZen and AI narration
But that means that production costs will have to be lowered, too.
I really don’t think that third-party human narrators can do what they do for a substantially lower rate. Again, I’ve dabbled with audiobook narration, editing, and mastering myself. There is a lot to it.
But there’s another side: At present, audiobooks are over-engineered. An audiobook is not a Mozart concerto. An audiobook isn’t even an AC/DC concert. It shouldn’t try to be.
Production costs could be substantially lowered in two ways that I can see.
The first of these is: Authors could produce their own audiobooks. Some authors are already doing this; but most aren’t.
This would inevitably require a loosening of standards. Note: once again, the reasonableness standard applies. This doesn’t mean an author reading her book into her iPhone while her dog is barking, and her kids are crying in the background. But it might mean (for example) the straightforward reading of an audiobook with prosumer-level recording equipment, versus the theatrical performance of an audiobook. It might also mean the occasional “um” or inhale sound.
To get an idea of what I mean, consider podcasts. Most podcasts have decent audio quality, but not Mozart concerto-level quality. I’ve seldom been distracted by background noise in a podcast; but I’m sure that some of them have a technical noise floor level that wouldn’t meet present audiobook requirements.
Equipment standards are less demanding, too. Most podcasters use (prosumer) Blue Yeti USB microphones, not the high-end mics which can easily run into the thousands of dollars.
Another possibility is: AI narration. This is probably a better solution than the above, since artificial intelligence doesn’t miss words, doesn’t say “um”, and doesn’t produce distracting breath sounds when speaking into a microphone. Equally important: AI is never self-conscious to the point of being tongue-tied, or freaked out over the sound of its own voice on a recording.
A company called DeepZen has made tremendous strides in AI voice narration. Listen to some sample readings on the DeepZen website. These aren’t the android-like voices that your PC spoke with in the Windows 95 days. These voices sound like real people talking. DeepZen offers voices with considerable demographic range, from an authoritative, middle-age man who speaks unaccented American English, to a perky British lass who sounds like she’s in her mid-twenties. Only the most discriminating listeners will be able to distinguish the DeepZen voices from the real thing. Fewer still will be bothered by the difference.
And think of the production cost savings: I don’t know what it would cost to have DeepZen produce an audiobook version of Blood Flats; but I’d be willing to bet that it would be a lot less than $4,750.
So why don’t I (along with thousands of other authors) just do that?
Because…good luck putting that AI-produced audiobook up for sale anywhere. Audiobooks read by AI narrators are currently banned from all the major platforms, including Audible. Human narration is one of the absolute requirements for all audiobook titles submitted to ACX (Audible’s distributor):
“Your submitted audiobook must be narrated by a human. Text-to-speech recordings are not allowed. Audible listeners choose audiobooks for the performance of the material, as well as the story. To meet that expectation, your audiobook must be recorded by a human.”
Maybe. And maybe there are plenty of folks who have a vested interest in keeping things just the way they are, without any technological disruptions.
Enter the unions. The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) has brought audiobook narrators into its fold. SAG-AFTRA charges members an initiation fee of $3,000, and annual dues of $222.96.
I’m not privy to the ins and outs of SAG-AFTRA’s activities, but the union doesn’t seem to be shy about telling its members which companies they can work with, and which ones they can’t. Most unions have a gluttonous appetite for arbitrary authority. SAG-AFTRA seems to be no exception in this regard.
Narrator unions (even if not this one in particular) have likely pressured audiobook publishers and distributors to treat AI-produced audiobooks as the equivalent of hate speech or child porn. Hence the blanket ban. Those of us who are not “in the know” will probably never know what is going on behind the scenes. But we can make some educated guesses. The phrase, “a parasitic, power-hungry organization that inflates costs and hampers all innovation” is as good a working definition for “union” as any.
Why not let customers decide? At the very least, DeepZen voices would be more than adequate for reading nonfiction. How much passion and/or individual quirkiness does the audio presentation of a cookbook or a business nonfiction title really need?
All audiobook titles read by a DeepZen AI narrator could be labeled as such. Customers could listen to the online samples of each book, and decide whether or not the title is for them.
But again: I don’t think that customer needs are the only factor behind the AI narration ban, or even the primary one.
But even if market forces were allowed to prevail, AI narration would no more replace top audiobook narrators than AI singing would replace Taylor Swift.
Scott Brick has his own fan base. I’m part of it. I am far more likely to give an iffy audiobook title a try if I see Scott Brick listed as the narrator. Even if Audible started accepting AI-narrated audiobook titles tomorrow, Brick would still have his fans, and more work than he could handle.
(Title below narrated by Scott Brick)
AI and the mid-list title
Where AI narration is most needed is not at the Clive Cussler/Lee Child literary superstar level, but among the mid-list. There are thousands of mid-list titles with potential that are never going to be made into audiobooks, because the upfront costs of doing so are simply too high for independent authors. Narrators wouldn’t “miss out” on most of this work if it went to AI, because they weren’t going to get it anyway.
Joanna Penn has suggested that in a new world of AI-narrated audiobooks, DeepZen narrations could serve as entry-level products, with human-narrated audiobooks commanding a premium price—just like they do now.
I tend to agree. The audiobook market is currently trapped between production economics of the 1990s, and distribution/retail economics of the 2020s. Technology is not being properly exploited, because it threatens the old way of doing things.
Something has to give. The audiobook market is ripe for disruption. And if history is any guide, the forces of technology and market economics will likely win out in the end. This is a movie that every student of economics (my undergrad major) has seen many times before.