The Week I

A few highlights from The Week in the most recent issue of National Review.

“It’s a very funny magazine.”

Six Senate Republicans have joined the Democrats in supporting the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, which will impose unions on the 21 states that currently do not offer collective bargaining to their public-safety workers. It’s no surprise to see Democrats cultivating the bureaucrats’ unions, but the Republicans supporting this power grab should think again. Government employees already are overpaid and overpensioned, and the bill would transform 21 states’ police officers and firefighters into the same kind of rapacious lobby that unionized teachers have become. Like teachers, the men and women who do this dangerous work are sympathetic and sometimes heroic figures — which is precisely why the union bosses choose to hide behind them. Lacking the evolutionary finesse that keeps most parasites from killing their host organisms, the American labor movement has driven the private firms that once employed its members offshore or into bankruptcy. Consequently, the only growth market remaining for the union movement is  government. Republicans should be looking to limit this harmful influence on American public life, not to fortify it.

The Obama administration is celebrating its greatest diplo­matic victory to date: having pressured Beijing into revaluing China’s currency. This is a fine thing, with two caveats: 1) China is not going to revalue its currency; 2) China’s depressed currency is not a major problem for the U.S. economy. American politicians have complained loud and long that China’s manipulation of its currency makes its exports artificially cheap, exacerbating the U.S.-China trade imbalance. That’s true so far as it goes, which is not very: No amount of monkeying with the renminbi is going to bring the world’s low-wage work to the United States, and that’s a good thing — in the great global division of labor, the most grueling and scantly remunerated jobs will not go to Americans, who have better things to do. Being masters of the just-adequate gesture, China’s rulers probably will allow only a modest increase in the renminbi’s valuation, and so we’ll probably be having this conversation again in a few years, and it still will be a dead end: What ails the U.S. economy is not the policies being pursued in Beijing, but those being pursued in Washington, where the powers that be are strangling American-dominated industries, such as finance and chemicals, while threatening to disrupt the international trade that channels goods, capital, and innovation into our economy. China has an economic reckoning in its future, to be sure, but we should let Beijing sort out its own problems — sufficient unto the capital is the evil thereof.

The housing market — remember that? — collapsed (again) in May upon the expiration of the Homebuyers Tax Credit. Perhaps you saw the ubiquitous ads featuring Uncle Sam handing a smiling young couple an envelope of cash to help them buy a new house? Those ads were misleading. For one thing, Uncle Sam should have been handing the envelope to the seller of the house, not the buyer: Prior to declining in May, housing prices spiked in April as buyers rushed to “cash in” before the credit expired, meaning that sellers pocketed most of the cash. For another, the ads did not show Uncle Sam taking the money out of the neighbor’s pocket before handing it to the smiling young couple: Taxpayers shelled out around $13 billion for the program, most of which, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, went to subsidize home purchases that would have happened anyway. If you see an old codger with a white beard and a star-spangled hat lurking around your neighborhood, do not be fooled: The guy’s a predatory lender.

At a London museum called Winston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience, the giant photo above the entrance shows a familiar image — Churchill decked out in a military uniform and making his famous V sign. But a closer look reveals that his mouth is twisted in an odd grin. A private Churchillian joke? No, just a clumsy job of airbrushing out Winnie’s ever-present cigar. Churchill thus becomes the latest victim of the U.K.’s army of health zealots, who evidently fear that the original image would create a new generation of hardened smokers. Did Britain’s servicemen sacrifice life and limb so their country could be transformed into a nation of fusspots? If so, America’s servicemen did too, since a statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt at his memorial in Washington has quite clearly had FDR’s trademark cigarette holder censored out. Joseph Stalin, who smoked a pipe and wielded a mean airbrush himself, would no doubt be amused; and decades from now, if we’re still around, we won’t be surprised to see a giant image of our current president glowering over the entrance to Barack Obama’s America in Default Experience and popping a Nicorette.

When victory over Japan was announced, Aug. 14, 1945, the 27-year-old nurse, dressed in hospital whites, left her job at Doctors Hospital in Manhattan and went to Times Square, where an unknown sailor grabbed her, bent her back, and kissed her. Alfred Eisenstaedt caught the moment; Life made it an icon. There would have been kisses on every winning side, even in the Empire of the Sun, if it had maintained the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

But this kiss — public, insouciant, good- natured — was what these victors — the republic, so hard to mobilize, so pitiless when roused, so easygoing afterward — chose to celebrate.

Edith Shain, the nurse in question, has died at the age of 91.  R.I.P. To her and the sailor, for the moment; to all their colleagues and comrades, at home and overseas, for the effort: Well done. To their descendants, real and spiritual: Do as well.

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