Saturday, May 14, 2005

"College Libraries Set Aside Books in a Digital Age"

New York Times: "Students attending the University of Texas at Austin will find something missing from the undergraduate library this fall. Books.

By mid-July, the university says, almost all of the library's 90,000 volumes will be dispersed to other university collections to clear space for a 24-hour electronic information commons, a fast-spreading phenomenon that is transforming research and study on campuses around the country.

"In this information-seeking America, I can't think of anyone who would elect to build a books-only library," said Fred Heath, vice provost of the University of Texas Libraries in Austin.

"There's a real transition going on," said Sarah Thomas, past president of the Association of Research Libraries and the librarian at the Cornell University Library in Ithaca, N.Y. "This is not to say you don't have paper or books. Of course, they're sacred. But more and more we're delivering material to the user as opposed to the user coming into the library to get it."

This is a new generation, born with a chip," said Frances Maloy, president of the Association of College and Research Libraries and leader of access services at Emory. "A student sends an e-mail at 2 a.m. and wonders by 8 a.m. why the professor hasn't responded."

Friday, May 13, 2005

Clinton, Gingrich on Health Care - Former foes Clinton, Gingrich band up on health care plan: "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton detected a hint of 'cognitive dissonance' Wednesday as she stood next to onetime political enemy Newt Gingrich to help unveil a bill to 'transform' the health care system.

The 21st Century Health Information Act would replace paperwork with confidential, electronic health information networks designed to save lives and money by eliminating medical errors.

"I know it's a bit of an odd fellow, or odd woman, mix," Clinton joked, "but speaker Gingrich and I have been talking about health care and national security for several years."

A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clinton noted the two also serve together on a military advisory panel. She recalled the reaction after they agreed at its first meeting. "People thought, 'The end is near.' It's a sign of the end times," she said with a grin. "But I think it's just a sign that we can come together and try to solve a real problem for America."

N.C. Judge Boyle's US 4th Circuit Nomination Saga & Why Nominees Endure Wait: ($)

N.C. Judge Has Spent 15 Years as A Nominee: "The Senate Judiciary Committee's schedule says today is the day for a vote on President Bush's nomination of Terrence W. Boyle to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Then again, the Republican-controlled committee may put it off to deal with other judicial nominees and unrelated business; it has done so twice this year already. And so it goes in Boyle's bid for a seat on the federal appellate bench -- a nearly 15-year saga whose end is nowhere in sight.

Boyle, a favorite of former senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), has been a controversial candidate ever since President George H.W. Bush tried and failed in 1991 to put him on the Richmond-based 4th Circuit.

The issue then was not Boyle's record. Rather, he got caught up in the ill will generated by the Senate's just-concluded battle over Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

If Boyle is confirmed, he would have a strong incentive to serve full time for only a few years.

He is eligible to retire and continue to receive his full salary (currently $171,800 for a circuit judge) for life when he turns 65 in 2010. Or he could become a senior judge that year, earning a full salary while handling a quarter of an active judge's caseload.

In either scenario, the president would have to name a replacement, with the advice and consent of the Senate."

CAFTA "CAFTA, has also garnered support from an unlikely coalition of textile companies, farmers and food processors who see opportunity in the countries covered by the deal.

Between 2001 and 2004, North Carolina exports to the countries covered -- Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua -- grew by $678 million, the largest gain of any state, U.S. Department of Commerce data shows. The $1.7 billion worth of manufactured goods that the state sold to those nations last year makes North Carolina the region's third-largest trade partner, after Texas and Florida.

Allen Gant, president of Glen Raven, however, is among North Carolina textile makers who believe CAFTA will help safeguard what's left of the country's fabric industry. With the lifting of quotas on Chinese textile products this year, competition from that country has intensified. A trade accord with Central America will allow Gant's factories in Glen Raven, High Point and Norlina to continue to export fabric to factories in Central America that cut and sew it into clothes for exports back to the United States, he said.

Without it, Gant said, textile imports from low-cost countries in Asia will gradually erode production in the United States as well as in Central America. For the U.S. textile industry to survive, "there has to be an easy, efficient and competitive way to turn it into garment," Gant said.

The Bush administration recently promised to change language in CAFTA to protect exports of pocketing and lining material from the United States to Central America. On Monday, that prompted the trade group that Gant leads, the National Council of Textile Organizations, to endorse CAFTA. "
Again, I am a strong free-trade advocate with protection to retrain and support the unemployed. One disclosure, Mr. Gant's sister sat beside me in a lot of undergraduate classes in the last century.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Why the Chinese “Yaun” is not a “Sleeper” Issue

Chinese Yuan Posted by Hello

And How the Price of a Tee Shirt Controls a Nuclear North Korea

I contend that the most serious long range issue faced by the United States both in foreign affairs and in economics is the exponential emergence of China as an economic engine with the power to influence and control future world-wide events. We all recall the past years when the world’s tension (the Cold War) was focused on the two superpowers of the USA and the USSR. While I do not discount the importance of the Middle East in terms of terrorism, religious conflict, violence and oil disruptions; the rise of India as one of great powers; the importance of all of Asia (Japan, the Korean peninsula, Taiwan vis-à-vis China, Vietnam); the EU (consolidation and decline) and the changes in NATO; the evolution of Russia; and the turmoil in South America – none of these compare in scope and importance to the rise of China as the balancing superpower to the United States.

Economists and businessmen recognized this first and have been writing, talking, and acting upon these realities for some time. The foreign affairs gurus are catching up and even the popular press (Newsweek last week) is starting to recognize the size of the issue.

The two superpowers will engage in a race to economic preeminence which I see as a potentially great and positive change agent for the entire world, albeit that all change is inherently stressful and fraught with dangers. I do not see the rise of China into a more democratic, energy consuming, and modern country as a problem but rather as a challenge – chance for a win-win for China and the USA rather than a win for only one. The US must resist foolish protectionist thinking and resistance to change, and accommodations in thoughts and attitudes will be required by all the citizens of the world. The strength of most institutions in both countries (primarily those focused on education, technology, and the public and private support structures to provide safety nets to those whose abilities to adapt are too slow for the speed of change) will be immensely challenged.

This on-going economic race will create many diplomatic and military challenges but I see the key to the smoothness of the race to be forward-thinking, free-market, and democracy-based economic policy. Foreign affairs policies and the internal and international economic policies employed by the two main superpowers and the supporting players throughout the world will by necessity have to be fast-moving, far-sighted, and engaged without fear.

To bring all of this back to ground, the current movement of the Chinese yuan is a unique glimpse of the impact of economic policies upon current events in the world today.

(If you need background just remember that the value of a currency is essentially its price - usually measured by how much it costs to buy or sell, e.g. an ounce of gold buys $100 dollars or $1 is worth 8 yuan, etc. When a currency is pegged at a certain value such as China pegging its yuan against the dollar at a set price, the currency does not move on a free market basis but is controlled by actions of a country’s central bank to control the price at the set number. These actions include heavy foreign buying of US debt instruments such as Treasury bills that some short thinkers worry weakens the fiscal strength of the US as more US debt is held by foreign hands rather than US hands. In reality global economies are so interdependent and the US is so credit-worthy in the eyes of the world this is not yet a problem. This description is very simplistic but let’s leave it there for now.)

China has pegged the yuan at an artificial value that for China creates cheap exports and grows its own economy at a rapid pace, maintains and grows employment, energy consumption (think oil) and higher standards of living. The US would prefer to improve our own balance of payments (reduce trade deficits) by allowing our goods to be more attractive in foreign markets and imported goods more dear (expensive) thus improving and strengthening our economy (think US manufacturing) and holding jobs.

The US and China have conflicting goals. The US and China also recognize a need to compromise to create as much of a win-win as possible to help each other succeed as reasonable for both.

To further simplify the connections between economics, politics, and foreign affairs: The model I am asking you to consider is that as the US encourages China to allow the Yuan to float 2-6% in the near term rather than forcing a harsher correction upon China the US is in better position to encourage China to put greater pressure upon the North Koreans to negotiate in good faith toward a resolution of the nuclear threat in the Korean Peninsula. Therefore the price of tee shirts in Wal-Mart that are all imports from China should begin to go up about 5% (still cheaper than a US tee shirt which is not a bad thing given the theory of comparative advantage – another day’s topic) and we should see China get North Korea back to the bargaining table over nuclear weapons in the not too distant future. Of course, the flaw in the theory is that Kim Jung Il is not always a rational actor.

So watch the price of tee shirts to predict nuclear proliferation.

Trade Deficit Shrinks

Exports boom, drop in imports boost economy: "A record surge in exports and an unexpected falloff in imports in March enabled the economy to grow faster than previously thought last winter -- at a 4 percent rate or higher instead of 3 percent.
That is the conclusion of economists after the Commerce Department yesterday reported an unexpected 9.2 percent drop in the monthly trade deficit to $55 billion, the lowest in a half year. The surge in exports was fueled by aircraft sales, while the decline in imports was fed by a tailing off of Chinese textile imports.

...Although some economists might interpret March's downshift in demand for imports as evidence the economy is softening, Mr. Gonzalez said it largely reflects the winding down of a surge of imported clothing from China that started at the beginning of the year when quotas were lifted.

Imports from China fell 4.4 percent, led by a 21.2 percent drop in clothing and textiles.

Under pressure from textile and furniture manufacturers losing market share to China, the U.S. Congress and Bush administration have stepped up pressure on China to stop fixing its currency against the dollar and let it rise in the open market.

"The U.S. dollar is still 7 percent higher against foreign currencies than it was when it started its run-up eight years ago," said Mr. Vargo.[VP of National Association of Manufacturers] "The dollar has adjusted nicely against European, Canadian and some other market currencies, but has been prevented from adjusting against Asian currencies because governments there continue to intervene

Recall my forecast in The Anderson Papers on 01-02-05 where I predicted a US GDP growth rate for 2005 of 4.25%. I remain confident in that prediction here in the middle of month five. I think various events are containing the Fed's fears (and mine) over inflationary pressure and hence the FOMC will allow the US economy to grow at the rate I forecast and that I hope comes to fruition.

China Denies Yuan Revaluation Imminent

China said to deny official report implying yuan shift: "TOKYO (MarketWatch) -- No sooner did the English online edition of China's official People's Daily say Wednesday that a shift in policy on yuan revaluation was near than central bank officials reportedly denied the content of the report, leaving investors no wiser about the timing of China's widely expected currency reform.

The report, which was apparently removed from the newspaper's Web site, said that the country would loosen its renminbi yuan's fixed-exchange rate next week.

The yuan, which is now effectively pegged at about 8.28 to the dollar, will be allowed to rise or fall from 1.26% to 6.03% in a span of one month and one year after a meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials, the report had said.

But People's Bank of China spokesmen denied China's central bank has any plans to adjust the currency next week, according to several media reports.

A report Wednesday morning in Japan's main business newspaper implied China is ready to act on currency reform anytime but is taking its time.

People's Bank of China Deputy Governor Wu Xiaoling said the central bank is now "technically" prepared to carry out currency reforms. But in an interview with the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, she criticized the U.S. for pressuring China to implement currency reforms and for calling for the expansion of the currency band."

Kaus on Diamond-Orszag Plan

Let's Not Save Social Security - Once it's fixed, we can't fix it again!: "The most frequently cited Democratic alternative plan is the one proposed by Peter Diamond and Peter Orszag--call it the Two Peters Plan. They estimate the total 75 year Social Security shortfall at 1.9 percent of taxable payroll, and would meet it by a combination of tax increases and benefit cuts...

In addition to the benefit cuts outline above, Diamond and Orszag have the current 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax rising to 15.4 percent in 2078 and continuing to rise "slowly over time thereafter." Even if the Medicare tax is kept at its current 2.9 percent (a seeming impossibility) that means total FICA payroll taxes in excess of 18%. You want to try to finance universal health care on top of that? I don't...

Nobody--neither the President, nor Pozen, nor the Democrats--is talking about radically reducing the size of the program, Australia style. They're all talking about saving a program that consumes somewhere from 12 to 17 percent of the national payroll. Once its financial imbalance is solved it will be virtually impossible to restructure... Before they stabilize the system at this high level of GDP consumption--cementing it in place,in effect--Democrats may want time to think about whether they want to devote such a large part of society's resources to a universal check-mailing scheme. My guess is Democrats will need at least some of those GDP points for health care. It will be easier to get them if Social Security is still perceived as a progam in need of reform, as opposed to a program that got fixed back in 2005."

Democrats' Diamond-Orszag SocSec Reform Plan

Stanley Kurtz on Social Security: "The Democrats actually do have a plan to save Social Security. Their proposal was authored by MIT economist Peter Diamond and Brookings Institute fellow Peter Orszag...Diamond-Orszag resembles the president's plan in that it proposes substantial reductions in the rate at which Social Security benefits increase. Diamond-Orszag's benefit "cuts" (really lower benefit increases) are smaller and more progressive than the "cuts" proposed by the president. Yet Diamond-Orszag pays for these smaller cuts with a substantial tax increase.

Once you see the Democrats' plan to save Social Security, several things become clear. First, Social Security is in serious trouble. Even the Democrats can't save it without painful changes. Second, the Democrats' own proposal shows that any realistic plan to save Social Security requires benefit cuts. The president's plan makes up 70 percent of the Social Security revenue shortfall through benefit cuts. The Democrats' plan makes up 50 percent of that shortfall through broadly similar cuts. It's tough to indict the president for callous indifference to the plight of retirees when we're talking about a 20-percent difference between two plans. Third, the Democrats' proposal shows that the real alternative to benefit cuts is a major tax increase. In short, once the public knows what the Democrats' plan actually says, it will quickly become impossible to use Social Security as a hammer against the Republicans."

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Roses in Georgia

President Bush in Tbilisi, Georgia Posted by Hello

President Bush & Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili Posted by Hello

My Way News: "TBILISI, Georgia (AP) - President Bush, before a cheering crowd of tens of thousands of people, said Tuesday that the former Soviet republic of Georgia is proving to the world that determined people can rise up and claim their freedom from oppressive rulers.

'Your courage is inspiring democratic reformers and sending a message that echoes across the world: Freedom will be the future of every nation and every people on Earth,' Bush said in speech from the Freedom Square that symbolizes the city's democratic pursuits. 'You gathered here armed with nothing but roses and the power of your convictions and you claimed your liberty. And because you acted, Georgia is today both sovereign and free and a beacon of liberty for this region and the world.'

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said it was by far the largest gathering in the country since its independence, and it was certainly one of the largest Bush has ever addressed. Saakashvili, who led the Rose Revolution in 2003 that overthrew a corrupt government, praised Bush as "a leader who has contributed as much to the cause of freedom as any man of our time. ... We welcome a freedom fighter."

"You stood with us during our revolution and you stand with us today," Saakashvili said. "On behalf of my nation I would like to say, 'Thank you.'"

Roger Kimball: "Retaking the Universities"

OpinionJournal - Extra: "It is a peculiar moment in academia. In many ways, things have never been worse. All those radical trends that got going in the 1960s and gained steam in the 1970s and 1980s are now so thoroughly entrenched that they are simply taken for granted.

The chief issue is this: Should our institutions of higher education be devoted primarily to the education of citizens--or should they be laboratories for social and political experimentation?

Since the 1960s, however, colleges and universities have more and more been home to what Lionel Trilling called the "adversary culture of the intellectuals." The goal was less reflection than rejection. The English novelist Kingsley Amis once observed that much of what was wrong with the 20th century could be summed up in the word "workshop." Nowadays, "workshop" has been largely replaced by the word "studies." Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Afro-American Studies, Women's Studies, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Studies: These are not the names of academic disciplines but political grievances. They exist not to further liberal education but to nurture the feckless antinomianism that Jacques Barzun dubbed "directionless quibble.

The use and abuse of academic freedom to indemnify not the expression of unpopular opinions but political incitement of various kinds is one symptom of the degradation of American academic life.

Academics have an unspoken compact with society. As scholars, their charge is to pursue the truth in their chosen discipline; as teachers, their charge is to help preserve and transmit the truth by encouraging thoughtful study and candid discussion. The largely unspoken nature of this compact was part of its glory--it underscored the element of freedom that has always been a central ingredient in liberal education. To a large extent, that freedom has been violated. "

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Update on China's Peg to US Dollar

In today's MarketWatch morning email - Before the Bell:
"Investors waiting for China to loosen its renminbi yuan's peg to the dollar got a hint Tuesday that such a move might not be forthcoming, when a Chinese government bureau warned of the consequences of such a move. China's National Bureau of Statistics said that a 15% appreciation of the yuan "would turn China's export growth negative this year," according to a research report posted on the bureau's Web site, AFX-Asia reported. The bureau forecast that a more moderate revaluation of 3.0% to 5.0% would lead to export growth falling this year to less than 10.0%, compared with last year's growth of 35.4%. "
The importance of this speaks to those worried about encroaching Chinese imports and to those worried about the amount of US Securities held by foreign investors, particularly Asian central banks and especially China. I am not worried about either but watch developments closely.

MarketWatch is a great free service for all types of financial and business research. A free subscription to Before the Bell is available here.

Monday, May 09, 2005

How Michael Moore Made $21 Million

Paranoia for Fun and Profit - How Disney and Michael Moore cleaned up on Fahrenheit 9/11. By Edward Jay-Epstein:
"On the Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD, Moore says he resolved to get the film seen in America 'by hook or by crook.' His hook was censorship.

On May 5, 2004, the New York Times ran a front-page article headlined 'Disney Is Blocking Distribution of Film That Criticizes Bush.' The story included the sensational charge that Eisner 'expressed particular concern that [choosing to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11] would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.' The source for this allegation was Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel. Two days later, Moore claimed on his Web site that Disney's board of directors rejected Fahrenheit 9/11 'last week.' In fact, the Disney board had not made such a decision in 2004 - the project had been vetoed in 2003.

Moore's excursion from reality proved a boon at Cannes. On May 22, 2004, the Cannes jury defied putative efforts to censor Moore by awarding Fahrenheit 9/11 the prestigious Palme d'Or. Moore now had a golden palm in his hand and the media at his feet - with more free publicity than any Hollywood studio could afford to buy, Fahrenheit 9/11 now stood to rake in a fortune...

Under normal circumstances, documentaries rarely, if ever, make profits (especially if distributors charge the usual 33 percent fee). So, when Miramax made the deal for Fahrenheit 9/11, it allowed Moore a generous profit participation—which turned out to be 27 percent of the film's net receipts. Disney, in honoring this deal, paid Moore a stunning $21 million. Moore never disclosed the amount of his profit participation. When asked about it, the proletarian Moore joked to reporters on a conference call, "I don't read the contracts."

...Michael Moore had perhaps the happiest ending of all. Not only had he made $21 million, he already had a sequel in preproduction—Fahrenheit 9/11 ½."

Sunday, May 08, 2005

David McCullough: "Knowing History and Knowing Who We Are"

Whenever I think of the current political and economic situation of our nation and our world I am very reassured by our history. One of my favorite quotes, attributed to Paul Harvey: "In times like these it helps to recall that there have always been times like these."

From a February 2005 speech given by David McCullough, historian, prize winning author, and a man whose work has been a great joy to me: Hillsdale College:
"Now those who wrote the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia that fateful summer of 1776 were not superhuman by any means. Every single one had his flaws, his failings, his weaknesses. Some of them ardently disliked others of them. Every one of them did things in his life he regretted. But the fact that they could rise to the occasion as they did, these imperfect human beings, and do what they did is also, of course, a testimony to their humanity. We are not just known by our failings, by our weaknesses, by our sins. We are known by being capable of rising to the occasion and exhibiting not just a sense of direction, but strength...

Keep in mind that when we were founded by those people in the late 18th century, none of them had had any prior experience in either revolutions or nation-making. They were, as we would say, winging it. And they were idealistic and they were young. We see their faces in the old paintings done later in their lives or looking at us from the money in our wallets, and we see the awkward teeth and the powdered hair, and we think of them as elder statesmen. But George Washington, when he took command of the continental army at Cambridge in 1775, was 43 years old, and he was the oldest of them. Jefferson was 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. John Adams was 40. Benjamin Rush – one of the most interesting of them all and one of the founders of the antislavery movement in Philadelphia – was 30 years old when he signed the Declaration. They were young people. They were feeling their way, improvising, trying to do what would work. They had no money, no navy, no real army. There wasn’t a bank in the entire country. There wasn’t but one bridge between New York and Boston. It was a little country of 2,500,000 people, 500,000 of whom were held in slavery, a little fringe of settlement along the east coast. What a story. What a noble beginning. And think of this: almost no nations in the world know when they were born. We know exactly when we began and why we began and who did it...

The Revolutionary War was as dark a time as we’ve ever been through. 1776, the year we so consistently and rightly celebrate every year, was one of the darkest times, if not the darkest time in the history of the country. Many of us here remember the first months of 1942 after Pearl Harbor when German submarines were sinking our oil tankers right off the coasts of Florida and New Jersey, in sight of the beaches, and there wasn’t a thing we could do about it. Our recruits were drilling with wooden rifles, we had no air force, half of our navy had been destroyed at Pearl Harbor, and there was nothing to say or guarantee that the Nazi machine could be defeated – nothing. Who was to know? I like to think of what Churchill said when he crossed the Atlantic after Pearl Harbor and gave a magnificent speech. He said we haven’t journeyed this far because we’re made of sugar candy. It’s as true today as it ever was."

Read this speech for the thoughtfulness, brevity and impact. On a larger scale, take the time to read history through David McCullough's eyes. McCullough's next book, 1776, is to be published in May 2005. I can't wait.

Happy Mother's Day!