Never Let A Good Crisis Go to Waste

From 1945 to 1953, “This Is Your FBI” ran as a weekly radio program.  The old-time radio website explains the show in this way: “These were fact-based dramas that told the story of FBI cases from the agent’s point of view. Producer/director Jerry Devine had previous thradio experience on the show Mr. District Attorney, which was a solid and responsible pro-law enforcement radio drama.”  So much “from the agent’s point of view”; so “solid and responsible pro-law-enforcement” that J. Edgar Hoover worked with the producer to make it more authentic.  At the end of each show, as I remember from listening to it as a child, an actor performing the role of Hoover would explain how the country was infiltrated by bad guys.  He would tell us that we children should keep our ears attuned and our eyes open for the evil and the peril of communism.  He instructed us not to try to intervene; he especially warned us about our parents and family, and that we should recognize that the importance of protecting the country was greater than any allegiance we owed to family and friends.  In short, we should turn in our commie parents.  (As an impressionable child, I was quite stricken by these instructions.  I don’t remember having any indication, or recognizing any indication, that my parents were engaged in subversive activity. Nevertheless, I cautiously warned my mother not to tell me if she WERE involved in communist activity, because if I knew I would be duty bound to . . .well you get the picture).

Again: don’t DO anything.  Report the matter so that the FBI can intervene.  Don’t tell the subversives that you are watching and what you are doing.th-2

It is with that sort of terror that I heard the statements coming from the mouths of New York policemen and politicians and echoed by other irresponsible folk around the country.  Politicians thrive on the maxim: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Cases in point: George Bush following 9/11/2001 on a world stage; the privatization of the New Orleans public schools after Katrina. And now the police union, George Pataki, Rudy Giulani and others in New York have blamed protesters for the assassination of 2 police officers. But they have gone further to enlist the aid of the general populace in identifying anyone who might write on a blog, or social media, anything that might be interpreted as threatening to the police.

A span of 60 plus years intervenes between then and now. A lot of reading, gathering knowledge and experience, and documents showing that the list of “subversive” organizations and individuals investigated by the FBI and held on Richard Nixon’s list stretch the length of a football field.  Now my stomach churns and old memories revive and this time I am on the side that I expect would be reported, not for threatening anyone, but for simply being supportive of and associated with those justly protesting the police, who act as a special body of armed (mostly) men standing above society.  For writing this blog post. Yes.

Events are moving quickly, and every effort is being made to line up as many people as possible to support an assault on protest, crush dissent rapidly.  From the emergency managers supplanting democracy in Michigan (a surprising number of people have been

Benton Harbor, Michigan activist Rev. Edward Pinkney

Benton Harbor, Michigan activist Rev. Edward Pinkney

won to the side of hoping these managers will solve the problems of the cities ruined by capitalism), to the arrest, conviction and sentencing of Reverend Edward Pinkney for up to 10 years in prison for attempting to defend Benton Harbor from corporate takeover to the escalating numbers of police killings around the country, the Dred Scott decision seems to have been updated: poor people in America have no rights that capitalism is bound to respect; and to execute its will, capitalism is preparing a full blown fascist assault on our rights.

The point though is that capitalism has no choice if it wants to save its control of private property. Democracy, limited as it may be, is the treasured disguise of capitalism. Once the emperor has no clothes, force is it’s only option, the option of weakness.  It has seized the tactical offensive, because strategically it is on the defensive.  How else can it control the 80% of the American population that is flirting with poverty, or the 15% of the American population that is already in poverty? That is what unites the American people. Centuries of ideological schisms, underpinned by material differences, are melting into air — if we can seize on our common economic interests, our battle for survival. If we can turn our defensive posture into a fight forward, toward the new cooperative world that is possible.  A new cooperative world is necessary, and the future is up to us.

Marxist Intellectual Property? How Uncomradely!

Claiming a Copyright on Marx? How Uncomradely

The Marxist Internet Archive, a website devoted to radical writers and thinkers, recently received an email: It must take down hundreds of works by Karl marx2-master180Marx and Friedrich Engels or face legal consequences.

The warning didn’t come from a multinational media conglomerate but from a small, leftist publisher, Lawrence & Wishart, which asserted copyright ownership over the 50-volume, English-language edition of Marx’s and Engels’s writings.

To some, it was “uncomradely” that fellow radicals would deploy the capitalist tool of intellectual property law to keep Marx’s and Engels’s writings off the Internet. And it wasn’t lost on the archive’s supporters that the deadline for complying with the order came on the eve of May 1, International Workers’ Day. Read more here

People’s Tribune: Nov-Dec 2013 Education Must Serve The People

The new People’s Tribune (Nov-Dec, 2013) is now in print.  Here is a pdf of this edition, featuring a center spread on education:PT-NovDec-2013_draft3

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PEN Releases Statement on Crimes Against Journalists in Mexico

[PEN International released the following statement about the disappearance and punishment of journalists and writers in Mexico that makes  Mexico “one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a writer.” — editor]
23 October 2013

Mexico: Step up measures to end impunity for crimes against journalists

The climate of impunity which allows attacks on journalists in Mexico to remain unpunished is contributing to the on-going high level of risk to the security of writers in the country, PEN International said today as it attended the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Mexico’s human rights record in Geneva.

The organization reiterated its call for increased and effective protection for journalists and writers by the federal government.

‘Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a writer,’ said Ann Harrison, Programme Director of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

‘We have joined many other civil society organizations in pressing the Mexican government for several years to end impunity for killings of journalists and provide effective protection for those still working, but the measures put in place are largely ineffective.’

Since December 2006, at least 49 print journalists, writers and bloggers have been murdered and at least nine others have disappeared. Few of these attacks have been thoroughly investigated.

Impunity for crimes against journalists is estimated to stand at around 90 per cent and whilst some of the attacks are perpetrated by organized crime groups, many come from government agents at a state and local level.

Despite the introduction of two mechanisms aimed at protecting journalists under threat, and the creation of the office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), fewer than 10 per cent of attacks against journalists and writers result in convictions.

‘Frankly, the Mexican authorities are paying mere lip service to these pervasive impunity issues,’ said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

‘Mechanisms and promises do not constitute action. Many journalists are dying, and others are intimidated into silence.’

Other legal reforms such as the decriminalization of slander and libel, which should have decreased the risk of journalists facing prison for their reporting, have had little effect. Thirteen of Mexico’s 32 states continue to criminalize defamation; these laws are used to intimidate journalists who uncover corruption.

PEN International has long campaigned for freedom of expression in Mexico. In 2012 a large <http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/pen-protesta-leading-authors-support-of-journalists-and-freedom-of-expression-in-mexico/>PEN International delegation assembled in Mexico, led by its full executive team and including representatives of all seven North American PEN Centres. PEN put forward specific recommendations, met with key government figures and held public events.

In late 2012, PEN International published the anthology <http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/write-against-impunity-latin-american-authors-commemorate-their-murdered-colleagues/>Write Against Impunity, a literary protest highlighting the escalating violence against journalists, writers and bloggers in Latin America – in particular Mexico, Honduras and Brazil – and the impunity enjoyed by those who commit these crimes.

During <http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/a-year-on-pen-international-renews-its-call-for-an-end-to-the-war-on-mexico%E2%80%99s-journalists-writers-and-bloggers/>a follow-up visit in March 2013 PEN found that progress to protect writers and journalists had been slow. In a submission to the UPR process, PEN International joined PEN Guadalajara to outline its concerns for the safety of journalists and made the following recommendations:

Ensure that the 49 murders and nine disappearances of writers and print and internet journalists that have taken place since December 2006, as well as any other unsolved murders and disappearances from previous periods, are properly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice;
Provide public information on the state of the investigations into the murders of writers Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila and Guillermo Fernández García;
Ensure that all attacks against writers and print and internet journalists alleged to have been carried out by government entities at any level are fully and promptly investigated as a matter of urgency;
Ensure as a matter of urgency that FEADLE is allocated sufficient financial, material and human resources in order to carry out its work, and support the office to make use of its newly strengthened powers to investigate and prosecute crimes against journalists and freedom of expression;
Address criticisms of the current protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders in consultation with these groups;
Ensure that steps are taken towards the complete decriminalization of defamation in all 32 Mexican states;
Ensure that the Article 33 Regulatory Law is enacted as a matter of urgency and to provide assurances that foreigners are not being expelled from Mexico in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

To see the full UPR submission click <http://www.pen-international.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Mexico-UPR-March-2013-PEN-International-and-PEN-Guadalajara.pdf>here.

Lewis Lapham and the Fate of the Book

Posted by Lewis Lapham at 6:08pm, April 22, 2012.

[Tom Engelhardt writes, an an introduction to Lewis Lapham’s article. . .] A decade ago, I wrote a novel, The Last Days of Publishing, about the world I had worked in for a quarter-century.  I already had at least some sense, then, of what was bearing down on the book.  Keep in mind that this was a couple of years before Facebook was launched and years before the Kindle, the Nook, or the iPad saw the light of day.  Still, back then, for my novel’s characters — mostly authors and book editors like me — I imagined an electronic book-in-the-making, which I dubbed the “Q.”  It was the “Q-print,” officially, with that initial standing for “quasar”– for, that is, a primordial force in the universe.

When one of my younger characters, an editorial assistant, unveils it — still in prototype form — it’s described as “a sleek, steno-pad sized object… a flickering jewel of light and color.”  And he imagines its future this way: “Someday it’ll hold a universal library and you’ll be able to talk with an author, catch scenes from the movie, access any newspaper on earth, plan your trip to Tibet, or check out a friend on screen, and that probably won’t be the half of it.”

An older publishing type, on the other hand, describes its possibilities in this fashion: “In a future Middlemarch, the church will offer public service ads when Casaubon appears, the drug companies will support Lydgate, and architectural firms can pitch their wares while Dorothea reorganizes the housing of the poor.”  A decade later, that may still be a little ahead of the game, but not by so much.  The inexpensive version of the Kindle is awash in ads by now and, books and all, the iPad, of course, is a riot of activity.

Don’t think of me, though, as the Nostradamus of online publishing . . . (click here for the rest of this article).

Can We Educate Ourselves Out of Recession? Alexander Cockburn and Jack Metzgar Don’t Think So. . .

[Education, Jobs and Wages, the article by Jack Metzgar referred to in the article below, can be found here , on the WCSA blog.]
from Counterpunch
Weekend Edition March 23-25, 2012
Only 25 Per Cent of All Americans Go to College and Only 16 Per Cent of These Actually Try to Learn Anything. Welcome a Nation of Helots.

The Myth of the “Knowledge Economy”

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

“In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a first-class education,”  President Obama famously declared in his 2010 State of the Union Address, just as millions of high schoolers across the nation were embarking on the annual ritual of picking their preferred colleges and preparing the grand tour of the prospects, with parents in tow, gazing ashen faced at the prospective fees.

The image is of the toiling students springing from lecture room to well-paying jobs demanding advanced skills in all the arts that can make America great again – outthinking, outknowing  the Chinese, Japanese, Indians, South Koreans and Germans in the cutting edge, cut-throat high tech economies of tomorrow.

Start with the raw material in this epic knowledge battle. As a dose of cold water over all this high-minded talk it’s worth looking at Josipa Roksa and Richard Arum’s recently published  “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.” The two profs  followed more than 2,300 undergraduates at 29 universities, selected to represent the range of America’s 2000-plus four-year college institutions. As resumed by Steven Kent in Daily Finance:

Among the authors’ findings: 32 per cent of the students whom they followed in an average semester did not take any courses that assigned more than 40 pages of reading per week. Half did not take any courses in which more than 20 pages of writing were assigned throughout the entire term. Furthermore, 35 per cent of the students sampled spent five hours or less a week studying alone.

Typical students spent about 16 per cent of their time on academic pursuits, and were “academically engaged,” write  the authors, less than 30 hours a week. After two years in college, 45 per cent of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36 per cent showed little change. And the students who did show improvement only logged very modest gains. Students spent 50 per cent  less time studying compared with students a few decades ago.

Students who majored in traditional liberal arts fields like philosophy, history and English showed ‘significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study.’” But of course these are the courses and instructors being ruthlessly pruned back.

One of the study’s authors , Richard Arum, says college governing boards, shoveling out colossal sums to their presidents,  athletic coaches and senior administrative staff, demand that the focus be  “student retention,” also known as trying very hard not to kick anyone out for not doing any measurable work. As Arun put it to Money College, ”Students are much more likely to drop out of school when they are not socially engaged, and colleges and universities increasingly view students as consumers and clients. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that all students want to be exposed to a rigorous academic program.”

Rick Santorum briefly struck out at ingrained snobbery about going to college: “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.” Amid howls from Republican governors, this was a piece of derision it didn’t take him long to retract. Actually, it turns out only about 30 per cent  of Americans over the age of 25 have bachelor’s degrees.  Jack Metzgar, emeritus professor of humanities at Roosevelt University in Chicago, had a very useful piece in Working Class Perspectives, the blog of the Center for Working Class Studies Site, with this and other useful facts and reflections.

The US government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2010 only 20 per cent of jobs required a bachelor’s degree, whereas 26 per cent of jobs did not even require a high school diploma, and another 43 per cent required only a high school diploma or equivalent.

Please note that the latter 69 per cent were therefore free of the one debt  in America that’s even more certain than taxes – a students loan. At least, if you’re provably broke the IRS will countenance an “offer in compromise.” In fact they recently made the process  slightly easier. No such luck with student loans. The banks are in your pocket till the last dime of loan plus interest has been extorted.

Now for the next dose of cold water. The BLS reckons that by 2020 the overwhelming majority of jobs will still require only a high school diploma or less and that  nearly 3/4ths of “job openings due to growth and replacement needs” over the next 10 years will pay a median wage of less than $35,000 a year, with nearly 30 per cent paying a median of about $20,000 a year (in 2010 dollars

As Metzgar correctly remarks, “Put these two sets of numbers together, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Americans are over educated for the jobs that we have and are going to have.  It’s hard to imagine why anybody would call us ‘a knowledge economy.’” In other words millions of Americans are over-educated, servicing endless debt to the banks and boosting the bottom lines of Red Bull and the breweries.

The snobbery, as Metzgar  points out,  stems from the fact that America’s endless, mostly arid debates about education are conducted by the roughly one third who are college-educated and have okay jobs and a decent income.

The  ”knowledge economy” in the U.S., now needs more than 6 million people with master’s or doctoral degrees now, with another 1.3 million needed by 2020.  But this will still be less than  5 per cent of the overall economy.

Even if we expand the definition to include jobs requiring any education beyond high school, the ”knowledge economy” – now and a decade from now -will still represent less than one-third of all available jobs.

This is a lot of jobs, about 44 million now, and if you work and live in this one-third, especially in its upper reaches, more education can seem like the answer to everything.

Indeed, according to the BLS, having a bachelor’s degree should yield a person nearly $30,000 a year more in wages than a high school graduate. But most of the American economy is not like this.

The BLS’s three largest occupational categories by themselves accounted for more than one-third of the workforce in 2010 (49 million jobs), and they will make an outsized contribution to the new jobs projected for 2020.They are: Office and administrative support occupations (median wage of $30,710);- Sales and related occupations ($24,370); Food preparation and serving occupations($18,770). Other occupations projected to provide the largest number of new jobs in the next decade include child care workers ($19,300), personal care aides ($19,640), home health aides ($20,560), janitors and cleaners ($22,210), teacher assistants ($23,220), non-construction laborers ($23,460), security guards ($23,920), and construction laborers ($29,280).

As Metzgar writes, “As an individual, get a bachelor’s Degree or you are doomed to work hard for a wage that will not provide a decent standard of living for a family.  You may not get such a wage even with a bachelor’s degree, but without it your chances are slim and getting slimmer.” Here’s his kicker: But as a society, “the best anti-poverty program around” cannot possibly be “a first-class education” when more than 2/3rds of our jobs require nothing like that…we need to stop fostering illusions that good educations can ever substitute for the organized collective action – in politics, in the workplace, and in the streets – that will be required to reverse the increasingly miserable  future.”

So what is the best anti-poverty program? Higher wages for the jobs that are out there, currently yielding impossibly low annual incomes. The current American minimum wage ranges between $7.25 and $8.67 per hour. From time to time senior executives of Wal-Mart call  for a rise in the minimum wage since, in the words of one former CEO, Lee Scott, “our customers simply don’t have the money to buy basic necessities between pay checks.” The minimum wage in Ontario, Canada, is currently well over $10 per hour, while in France it now stands at nearly $13. Australia recently raised its minimum wage to over $16 per hour, and nonetheless has an unemployment rate of just 5 percent.

Any Republican candidate seriously pledging to raise the minimum wage to $12 would gallop into the White House, unless – a solid chance  – he wasn’t shot dead by the Commentariat, or maybe by a Delta team acting on Obama’s determination relayed to him by the bankers, that this constituted a terrorist assault on America. As Ron Unz, publisher of  The American Conservative – who favors a big hike in the minimum wage, recently wrote:

“The minimum wage represents one of those political issues whose vast appeal to ordinary voters is matched by little if any interest among establishment political elites. As an example, in 1996, following years of unsuccessful attempts to attract the support of California politicians, disgruntled union activists led by State Sen. Hilda Solis, now serving as President Obama’s secretary of labor, scraped together the funds to place a huge 35 percent minimum wage increase on the state ballot. Once Republican pollsters began testing the issue, they discovered voter support was so immensely broad and deep that the ballot initiative could not possibly be defeated, and they advised their business clients to avoid any attempt to do so, thus allowing the measure to pass in a landslide against almost no organized opposition. Afterward, the free-market naysayers who had predicted economic disaster were proven entirely wrong, and instead the state economy boomed.”

Scott Turow On Why Amazon Is Bad For Books

[The article below gives solid reasons for fearing Amazon’s monopolistic position.  Here is another aspect of the fear, akin to the fear of Walmart and its treatment of workers. ]

Why We Should Fear Amazon

Author Scott Turow on why the online mega-retailer is bad for books.
March 14, 2012  |

Late last week, the Justice Department warned Apple and five of the nation’s largest publishers that it was planning to sue them for price fixing. At issue is the agency model, a method of wholesaling e-books in which the publisher sets the retail price and the retailer takes a 30 percent cut. Most print and many e-books are sold under the traditional wholesale model, in which publishers sell books at a discounted price, and the retailer can resell them for whatever price it likes.

The unnamed player in this drama is Amazon, which had been selling e-books at a loss until two years ago, when the iPad came along and publishers used the emergence of the new device to pressure the online megaretailer into adopting the agency model, too. If Amazon wanted to sell e-books from the Big Six (as the six largest book publishers are called), it could no longer sell those titles for $9.99.

Publishers actually make less money with the agency model, so why have they insisted on it? The change was designed to limit the growing dominance of Amazon over American book retailing. On Monday, Scott Turow — the bestselling author of “Presumed Innocent” and other legal thrillers, and the president of the Authors Guild — posted a letter to members on the Guild’s web site. In it, he pronounced the Justice Department’s actions bad news for authors, “grim news for everyone who cherishes a rich literary culture,” and (contrary to first impression) ominous for book consumers. I called him up to find out more.

What are some of the Guild’s problems with Amazon?

First of all, so that I don’t get dismissed as an ingrate, I should say that Amazon has been a boon for bestselling authors. Authors get paid on the basis of the cover price for a hardcover book. By discounting, which is something that chain stores started and Amazon continued, they have lowered the barriers to book buying in ways that have been personally extremely beneficial to me.

Because you get paid the same amount regardless of how much the retailer charges for the book, and the discounting encourages more people to buy the book?

Exactly. These are not personal complaints. There are lots of things about Amazon for which they deserve credit. They’re innovative. There are lots of very, very happy Amazon customers. I’m not here to dispute that Amazon has been personally good for me or to say that they haven’t been, so far, good to their customers.

So what’s the problem?

The concern is that they are getting so large and they compete so ruthlessly that there’s a lot of fear for what the world with Amazon in charge is going to look like.

The Guild’s beefs with Amazon became pronounced over the issue of the resale of new titles some years ago. This was something that Amazon pioneered. They would sell you a [just-released] book on Day One, buy it back from you on Day Two, and then resell it to another customer on Day Three. This was legal, but certainly not what anybody ever intended.

Traditionally, in hardcover, that’s been basically a split of the proceeds between the author and publisher. (An aside: That’s something we’re fighting with publishers about in the digital world.) So Amazon decides to go into competition with the publishers by reselling the book they just bought. The publisher gets paid nothing, and neither does the author. It’s a pure profit for Amazon.

Now, the reason you don’t see used bookstores within new bookstores is that the used books compete with the new books and the publishers supplying the new books would object. Either you’re doing business with me or you’re competing with me. I’m not going to sell you books so you can take some percentage of sales.

The problem of course was the Amazon had gotten so big that publishers were afraid to resist that. It’s not the mere fact that they’re competing [with their own suppliers]. I can certainly understand that it’s good for consumers to be able to buy a book two days later at a lower price. It’s the fact that the publishers were afraid to dismiss Amazon.

Which is what they would do with a regular retailer who was doing the same thing but had viable competitors?

Right, and of course, Amazon was undercutting authors in the process. We tried to persuade them to just window this [delay making used copies of brand-new books available for a period of time, the way the release of the DVD of a movie is delayed until after it has played in theaters]. That didn’t work. It was a muscle-flexing exhibition by Amazon, saying, “We’ve got so much market power, you guys can’t do what you’ve traditionally done and take your goods elsewhere. We represent at least 30 percent of the book market.”

I don’t like losing sales, but the real problem is at the margins. Midlist authors have been struggling to survive for decades now. If you start eating into the publishers’ returns, then at the bottom of the food chain, those books are just not going to get published. We have seen that happen.

Are there other examples of Amazon using its predominance?

They now control the print-on-demand market. That’s when you buy a book and only then does a service print a copy — literally on demand. [This is a method used by academic and small presses, as well as by authors with otherwise out-of-print books.] Amazon bought a POD service called BookSurge. Then they informed their customers — university presses and some other publishers who the Guild had organized to do POD for Authors Guild members — that they would not list their books on Amazon’s site unless they paid BookSurge more for their services.

I don’t know how they defend themselves on this one. That’s another very ominous sign to the book industry and authors.

What about their history with e-books?

They deserve a lot of credit for the Kindle, for yoking e-ink with this nationwide wireless network. It’s a great innovation. And they said to the publishers, “It’s really important to us in introducing this platform that e-books appear at the same time as the hardcover edition.” Publishers said, “Oh, we’ve seen your tricks before, Amazon! Why would we ever do that?”

So Amazon says, “We’ll pay you the same amount we pay you on a hardcover.” So publishers think that sounds fine, how can they complain about that? They agree and are then stunned when Amazon announces that they’re going to sell every e-book at a loss, for $9.99. That’s an average loss of $4 to $5 a book.

Why would Amazon do that?

I suppose they could argue they were doing it to sell devices and that may well have been one of their intentions. It had the additional benefit of making it much harder for any of their competitors to enter the market.

For example: A lot of people have the habit of going into a physical store, looking at books and then turning around and buying the e-book wirelessly from Amazon. Had it not been the case that you had to sell an e-book at a $5 loss, bookstores would have been able to say, “Sure, bring your device with you and we’ll sell you the e-book right here.”

Bookstores are pretty hard-pressed by book discounting as it is, and the idea of selling ebooks at a loss made it impossible for them to enter the marketplace in competition with Amazon.

What about the proprietary format of Kindle? Didn’t that also make it hard for competing e-readers to enter the market?

You couldn’t read all those books you bought from Amazon on a competitor’s device — you can now, if you have an iPad, but you couldn’t then.

The nook is widely regarded as the better e-reader device, but if you’ve accumulated a library of Kindle titles, you can’t take them with you if you decide to switch. [Technically, you can, but most users would find this quite challenging.]

Barnes and Noble developed the nook because they really had no choice but to compete with Amazon. They were struggling at that point, and I personally don’t think they’d have been able to survive while losing $5 on every book. There simply were not a lot of people jumping into that market to compete, not with the prospect of losing $5 on every book sale. From the outside, it looks like the pricing was not just a loss leader on the devices, but a way to discourage competition.

How did Amazon’s e-book pricing affect authors?

One way that 25 percent of net became the standard royalty for e-books was because publishers said, “We all know they can’t go on selling e-books at a loss forever and sooner or later this pricing structure has got to change.” They told authors they couldn’t agree to a different royalty because everyone knew that Amazon wouldn’t be paying them $14 to $15 per title indefinitely.

You’re implying that Amazon planned eventually to use the consumer’s habituation to $9.99 books to force publishers to charge Amazon lower wholesale prices for books. They’ve tried to do that recently with some small presses, removing their titles from Amazon unless the presses agree to sell their books at rock-bottom wholesale prices. And publishers would have no choice but to agree because every other competitor would also have been driven out of the market by Amazon’s predatory pricing?

Certainly, that’s what publishers assumed.

The other thing Amazon could have done once they had the market to themselves — and this is virtually inevitable — is that they would have raised prices to consumers.

That’s part of the less-known history behind anti-trust laws. Once a large company has spent its capital to fund predatory pricing and drive its competitors out of business, there’s no reason to keep selling for cheap. The low prices don’t last.

Right. Look, if what they’re into is maximizing profits, then if they were to have a monopoly there’d be no rationale not to use the monopoly power to increase prices to consumers. Now, if I were on the other side, working for Amazon, I’d say “Show me where I’ve done that.”

Presumably, they haven’t done it yet because they haven’t achieved the monopoly yet. Historically, that’s what monopolies always do.

Correct. That is historically what monopolies do. There is plenty of precedent for that. It’s only rational to fear what they’re going to do with this accumulation of power.

Again, the concern from the author’s perspective is that e-books are putting a tremendous downward pressure on the price of books in general. That’s putting tremendous pressure on publishers to survive. And I think a world in which online book selling is driving bookstores out of existence is a pity.

How did Amazon respond to the entrance of Apple and the agency pricing system?

Apple offered to sell books on the iPad using the agency model — which is what they use for iTunes — and the publishers one by one agreed to that. Then they told Amazon they were going to follow this new model, and that they were going to produce the e-books themselves rather than Amazon doing so.

When the first publisher, John Sargent [of Macmillan], told them that, Amazon responded by removing the buy buttons not just from all of Macmillan Publishing’s e-books — about which you can say, yeah, there’s a legitimate dispute — but from their print books, too. Paper, physical books! It was another demonstration of their ability to abuse their market power.

They used their market power over an item where pricing was not in dispute to punish a publisher for taking what Amazon regards as an unfavorable position in a different market.

Why should where their books are bought make a difference to authors?

New authors traditionally are nurtured by bookstore personnel, especially in independent bookstores. These people literally hand sell books to their customers, by saying, “I’ve read this. I think you’re going to love it.” Not to mention the fact that a bookstore is a small cultural center in a community. That’s definitely a loss.

Again, my concern is for the sake of literary diversity. If the rewards to authors go down, simple economics says there will be fewer authors. It’s not that people won’t burn with the passion to write. The number of people wanting to be novelists is probably not going to decline — but certainly the number of people who are going to be able to make a living as authors is going to dramatically decrease.

When that decreases, the diversity of the literary culture decreases. The store of new ideas and the richness of the discussion all decreases.

Further reading

Scott Turow’s letter to the Authors Guild membership

The Wall Street Journal on the Justice Department’s threat to sue Apple and five book publishers for price fixing

Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of “The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” and has a Web site, magiciansbook.com.