Irena Kirkland's husband (we who know them both think of Lane that way) is head of the AFL-CIO, but someone has to be. He also is author of an instructively amusing legislative proposal. It deserves to become law, but will not because it violates Washington's law of gravity, which is that only heavy things rise.

Kirkland proposes "The Free Trade, Anti-Protection and Anti-Hypocrisy Act." Weary of pious praise of free trade from people who know that free trade is increasingly a fiction, Kirkland says: free trade is wonderful and it would be nice if we had some. So his bill begins: Whereas certain practices distort the free flow of commerce and diminish the wealth of nations, deprive customers of the benefits of comparative advantage, and are contrary to national policy, therefore:

It shall be illegal for any American to engage in a transaction involving a product of which any portion is required to be manufactured abroad because of the existence in another country of a domestic-content statute.

(That would pertain to products from 30 or so countries.)

It shall be illegal to engage in a barter transaction with a state trading monopoly.

(Kirkland calls this "the Donald Kendall and Armand Hammer clause" because of Pepsico's and Occidental's deals with the Kremlin.)

It shall be illegal to engage in a transaction involving any product for which any part of the price or terms is subsidized by the state.

(This would concern countless products, including farm and certain other products from this country.)

It shall be illegal to engage in any transaction involving a commodity the price or supply of which is controlled by an international cartel.

(That is, OPEC since 1973. Before 1973, OPEC's role was played by the Texas Railroad Commission)

It shall be illegal to engage in any transaction involving the use of a currency of which the exchange rate is manipulated by the state.

(The yen, for one.)

No U.S. revenues shall be paid to any international organization which, as a condition of giving aid to any country, requires the country to engage in protectionist policies.

(The International Monetary Fund frequently requires recipient nations to promote exports and impede imports.)

To combat word pollution, Kirkland's bill would set terminological standards. For example, "free-trade zones" (locations where goods are produced under a restriction that none can be sold in the country where the "free-trade zone" is located) shall be known as "protectionist zones."

The bill's enforcement provisions, Kirkland says, incorporate the assumption of many free traders that human values and rights ought not to be treated as relevant in determining the flow of commerce--"that all values are fungible." Therefore: any punishment practiced by any trading nation shall be available for the enforcement of the Kirkland statute.

So, a first offender's right hand shall be severed at the wrist. For the second offense, he shall receive five years at hard labor at the prevailing wage in a Mexican asbestos plant. For a third offense, he shall be sent--after a treaty arranges this with Kendall's and Hammer's trading partners in Moscow--for 10 years in the Gulag.

Finally: any person who advocates or engages in the violation of any provision of this statute, and who is thereafter apprehended in the act of making a free-trade speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, to the Aspen Institute, to Bilderberg, to Ditchley, or to any other such forum, shall have his tongue extracted by heated tongs.

The bill is Kirkland's way of underscoring this truth: mercantilism, not free trade, is increasingly the prevailing practice in the world. Kirkland favors national self-assertion in self-defense. Recently the Japanese ambassador asked Kirkland if he objected to any of Japan's commercial practices. Kirkland answered: no, I object to my government's not fighting back by doing likewise.

Robust nationalism is a Kirkland family tradition. Which brings me to Irena.

At a dinner party at the time of the debate about the Panama Canal treaties, Lane, who was for them, got into an amiable but vigorous argument with Irena, who opposed them. Irena, who is from Czechoslovakia and a survivor of Auschwitz, had received American citizenship just a few years earlier. She exclaimed to Lane: "You've had the canal all your life. I've only had it for a few years."

Sound folks, these Kirklands--the one from Prague and her consort from Camden, S.C. Nationalism is another supposed anachronism whose time has come 'round again.