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Inside the Beltway

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Your call, Carville

How valuable is a signed copy of "Gettysburg," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's new novel, which imagines a victory by the South in the most famous battle of the Civil War?

As far as Louisianian James Carville is concerned, not much.

Yes, the Democratic strategist who introduced Bill Clinton to the world actually reviewed -- and even praised -- the Republican leader's best-selling novel as "creative, clever and fascinating."

But that's not to say there's a place for "Gettysburg" on Mr. Carville's bookshelf.

"Seeing your item yesterday about Newt Gingrich's book, 'Gettysburg,' prompted me to write about how we came across an interesting copy of that very book," Barb Hill of Fairfax writes to Inside the Beltway.

"Staying at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in July for a weekend conference, we ended up in a suite and, in perusing the books in the sitting area, found a copy of 'Gettysburg,'" she reveals.

"It was personally signed to James Carville from 'your friend, Newt,' thanking him for the 'blurb' printed on the dust cover," the Virginia woman continues. "I guess James Carville had stayed in that suite earlier and left the book!"

And what does Mrs. Hill plan to do with her unique find?

"Right now, it is a great political souvenir," she says, "but, if either gentleman would like it back, contact us!"

Champagne copyright

Two issues have currency as ministers work on a final World Trade Organization declaration from the current biennial ministerial conference in Cancun, Mexico.

"These are agriculture subsidies," says attendee Christopher C. Horner, counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, "and the obscure 'geographical indications.'"

Which are?

"Per the WTO, this means protecting 'place names or words associated with a particular place used to identify products -- 'Tequila' or 'Roquefort' -- which have a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic because they come from that place," he explains.

"So, led naturally by our ever-bossy, never consistent European friends, a cadre of diplomats are demanding a formal, legal prohibition on, say, the emigre Italian meat master in Brooklyn calling his delicacy 'Parma Ham' -- too much potential for consumer confusion."

Does the lunacy stop there?

"Plainly labeled California vintners may not hawk 'Champagne,' as it does not come from the region bearing that particular appellation controllee," Mr. Horner continues. "Buy a 'frankfurter' from that K Street vendor? Nein!

Good grief, are the French weighing in on these geographic gastronomical constraints?

"'French fries' in the House Cafeteria or French toast on Air Force One? Non!" says Mr. Horner. "Thank heavens for sober efforts to improve global harmony."

Certain it's beef?

Looking for a cheap hamburger?

"If you should find yourself hankering for a hamburger, may I respectfully suggest that you go to Beijing?" says 2004 presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Lieberman. "That's where you'll find the world's cheapest hamburgers."

No, this isn't "Joe's" (that's what his campaign wants us to call him) latest campaign gimmick.

Rather, Mr. Lieberman this week introduced Senate Bill 1592, to require negotiation and appropriate action with respect to certain countries that engage in currency manipulation.

As for the hamburger analogy, the senator borrowed a page from the Economist magazine, which for more than 15 years has compiled a "Big Mac" index to chart the relative values of national currencies.

As the Connecticut Democrat notes, the recipe for a McDonald's Big Mac is pretty much the same everywhere, and in a perfect world it would presumably cost about the same everywhere.

"But we find that instead of costing about the same, as one would expect, in Chinese yuan a Big Mac costs about 56 percent less than it would in the average American city," he says. "Such a bargain."

What's wrong with that? The yuan, the senator explains, has been systematically kept at low value -- an artificially low value -- pursuant to intervention by the Chinese government in currency markets. In fact, it's about 40 percent lower than it should be in an unfettered currency market. And since 1994, the Chinese have bought almost 300 billion U.S. dollars to keep the yuan's value low.

"That's why China has the world's cheapest hamburgers," he says. "If we were only dealing with hamburgers, I would not object, but the Big Mac Index explains a good deal about why we have seen a catastrophic and growing trade deficit with China, and why this is causing massive layoffs in the U.S. manufacturing sector.

John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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