The Austin Chronicle

The Hightower Report

By Jim Hightower, April 1, 2011, News

Don't Mess With Librarians

Public libraries are among the most respected institutions in our society. Beloved, even. So why does Rupert Murdoch think he can get away with trying to squeeze them for another nickel of profits?

Among other things, this multibillionaire, right-wing media mogul owns HarperCollins Publishers, and among its products are e-books. These downloadable, digital publications are increasingly popular with the reading public. Librarians like them because e-books don't get tattered, torn, or lost, even after they've been repeatedly lent out. Good product, happy librarians, happy patrons. What could go wrong?

Murdoch, that's what. In March, his publishing entity suddenly decreed that libraries will be allowed to lend out HarperCollins e-books only 26 times. After that, the corporation will pull the plug, effectively taking the book off the shelf. Bear in mind that libraries pay for these books, which are usually priced at about $13 to $16 each. And remember that, physically, e-books can be checked out hundreds of times.

So what in the holy name of Gutenberg is going on here? Money grubbing. By enforcing an arbitrary expiration date, Harper-Collins can force libraries to buy the e-book again or disappoint patrons waiting to get it. Also, Harper honchos fear the competition, saying that if libraries can keep the book available for free over a long period of time, people won't buy the book for themselves, thus pinching poor Rupert's profits.

He might get something else pinched if he doesn't back off. At a time when library budgets are being whacked, staff let go, and hours reduced, this ridiculous corporate rip-off has galvanized many librarians into action, with some choosing to boycott HarperCollins e-books. To get involved, contact the American Library Association:

Rising Economy, Downward Mobility

At last, some uplifting economic news – a sign that the economy is really starting to hum again!

Forbes magazine reports that there are 199 more billionaires this year than last. Moreover, the combined wealth of the world's 1,210 billionaires now totals $4.5 trillion, up by nearly a trillion dollars from a year ago. So, see? The economy is not stuck in the doldrums, as so many party poopers keep saying.

Also, with an average of $3.7 billion in their bank accounts, you can just bet that these über-rich folks will be spending like crazy, and you know what that means, don't you? It means that their vast piles of wealth will soon begin to tinkle down on you and me – just you wait and see!

And wait. And wait. And keep waiting.

Workers in our country have been dramatically increasing their productivity since the highly ballyhooed economic recovery began about 20 months ago, generating billions of dollars in new wealth. Yet, wages have stayed stagnant. Practically none of the increased wealth from worker productivity gains has gone to the workers. Instead, 94% of the money has been siphoned off by the corporate powers for such things as fattening profits at a record pace and jacking up CEO pay to exorbitant levels. Also, nearly $2 trillion of the gains have simply been stashed in the corporate vaults rather used for wage hikes or new job creation.

And even the little bit of job creation that is taking place is "bottom heavy" – 40% of the jobs lost in the recent economic crash were higher-paying positions, but 49% of the new jobs are low-paying.

So we see corporations and billionaires wallowing in fabulous new wealth, while productive workers fall out of the middle class. That's not a recovery; it's a robbery.

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