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18 1/2 Minutes vs. 2 Years: Which Is Worse?

June 14th, 2014 - 6:06 am

Writing yesterday about the IRS’s amazing loss of more than two years of Lois Lerner’s emails (“Where’d they go? They were here just a minute ago!”), I wondered in passing how the Extended White House Public Relations Office, e.g., the New York Times, MSNBC, et al. would handle the news. The Nixon White House, you’ll recall, found quite a lot of the morning’s scrambled on its collective countenance when 18 and 1/2 minutes of audio tape somehow—somehow!—went missing as the Watergate scandal unfolded around the president. 

What a godsend to the guardians of our “Right to Know” Watergate was! Day after day, week after week, month after month, the front pages and editorial pages of our former Paper of Record were full of stern admonitions about that egregious abuse of executive power. You could not look at the paper without a synesthetic shudder: Reading it, you could almost hear them licking their chops as their prey—the dastardly Richard Nixon—came ever closer to his doom.

So how does the New York Times handle this extraordinary loss of two years’ worth of Lois Lerner’s emails?  (“Really, they were here just a minute ago. We were just about to hand them over to Congress when, gosh darn, they just vanished.  Damndest thing.”)

This will amaze you, I know, but it is true: the New York Times  today devotes zero words to the story. Take a look at the front page here:  Nothing. There are a couple of articles about Iraq’s descent into chaos—Iraq, the country whose transformation Joe Biden, in 2010, called one of the “greatest achievements” of the Obama administration. “I’ve been there 17 times now,” the vice president told Larry King.  “I know every one of the major players in all of the segments of that society. It’s impressed me. I’ve been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences.” But I digress . . .

What else do we have on the front page?  Warnings about a connection between obesity and liver disease. Something about the tea party in the aftermath of David Brat’s upset victory in Virginia and a story about restauranteurs upset by apps bypassing maitre d’s in securing good tables at posh eateries. The public has a right to know these things. There is also advance word about a coming article about the entertainer “Beyoncé the Boundless” (they teach alliteration in J school), the soccer games in Brazil, and sundry other topics.

What about the missing emails?  Nary a word on the front page. Or the next page. Or the next or the next.  The editorial page has a stern piece about “The Soros Cycle of Endless Cash”—oh, wait, no, it’s not about the left-wing billionaire George Soros. My mistake. What he does with his money is his business. It’s about—can you guess?—yes! The Koch brothers, the men the Times just loves to hate. But about the missing emails in one of the most disgusting political scandals in recent times, the deployment of the IRS with its virtually unlimited powers, against political opponents of the administration? Nothing. Nada. Rien.

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So the IRS suffered a catastrophic hard disk failure and — lo and behold! – two years of Lois Lerner’s emails have vanished: poof! Just like that. Imagine. Evidence of those happy days targeting conservative groups, gone. So much for the memoir. Eliana Johnson reports that Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is really steamed. He has even asked the Justice Department to look into it.  “The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to congressional inquiries,” he said in a statement. “There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.”

Still laughing? Yes, that would be Eric Holder’s Justice Department.  Don’t hold your breath, Mr. Camp.

Now, I actually might be able to help the IRS.  When we lost a hard disk at my office with lots of archival material, we were pretty glum.  But there are scads of data recovery companies whose entire business revolves around getting data off damaged hard disks. (“Recovering data from damaged hard disks” turned up 31,200,000 results in .36 seconds on the Google search I just performed.) I’m sure there are many such companies within a stone’s throw of the IRS.  And here’s an offer: I’ll gladly pay personally to have the data recovered. Really. It’s only $1000 bucks, $2000 tops, and I’d pay a lot more than that to know what was in those emails. Wouldn’t you?

But here’s the thing.  After we lost that hard disk, we wised up and started backing up.  We have redundant backups in our office and offsite back ups as well.  And we’re a tiny company with no IT department. The IRS commands the resources of the federal government and as much of your money as it chooses to glom on to. Is it credible that they have no backups of two years’ worth of emails of a senior staff person—a senior staff person who just happens to be at the center of a huge scandal?  What do you think?

I have a couple of other questions. 1. How will the New York Times, MSNBC, CNN, and the rest of the extended White House public relations team cover this story?  Will they cover it?  And 2. What will it take to rouse the public from its supine attitude of hapless acquiescence to this administration’s increasingly brazen lawlessness? I almost tire of reciting the litany, but here it is, part of it, once again, on the next page:

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Will Tripp, Pissed Off Attorney At Law

June 13th, 2014 - 5:27 am

Now that we have the “disinvitation season” behind us, that spring frolic in which our pampered institutions of higher education indulge in a little bacchanal of politically correct frenzy, inviting only to disinvite commencement speakers who have said or done something, anything, that does not pass muster with this week’s Commissar of Correctness—now, I say, that we’re well into June and the feminists, transexuals, racialists, eco-gender lesbian vegan anti-capitalists, and all the other assorted exotic fauna that congregate in and around the academy have decamped to restore their tissues and dream of victims yet to come, it is time for a little respite from that stultifying hothouse of intolerance.  I can think of few more delightful antidotes to that lank, joy-killing species of snarling self-indulgence than Harry Stein’s new novel Will Tripp, Pissed Off Attorney At Law. 

Meet Counselor Tripp. He’s a proud dwarf who was paying his way through law school by means of his athletic prowess, sort of. He made good money being tossed by the inebriated patrons of a local bar until some do-gooding crusader took time away from battling against second-hand smoke and carbon emissions to intervene to Save the Dwarfs and got the sport of dwarf tossing declared illegal. Will’s new employment as he struggled through law school was inspecting sewers.

It was while padding down the local cloaca maxima that Will’s settled dislike of politically correct busybodies hardened into a gem-like and hilarious contempt. I won’t give away the plot of this clever divertissement, except to say that the story takes place on a college campus near you and involves a deliciously repulsive feminist charlatan—you know her, too—and various emasculated specimens of homo academicus. 

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The wisdom of Joe Biden, Iraq edition.

June 12th, 2014 - 2:45 pm

In 2010, Vice President Joe Biden went on the Larry King Show to say that he believed Iraq would be regarded as one of Barack Obama’s “greatest achievements.” Not only would we see 90,000 American troops “come marching home,” but because of Barack Obama’s Smart Diplomacy™, we would also see a vast improvement in the political situation in Iraq. The Vice President had this to say: By the end of the summer, he predicted, 

You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative  government. . . .
I’ve been there 17 times now. . . . I know every one of the major players in all of the segments of that society. It’s impressed me. I’ve been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences.

So how’s that working out, Joe? This morning, The Telegraph headlined the news: “Exodus of US troops from Iraq as chaos spreads.” The story begins, “A sense of crisis is gripping Baghdad as radical jihadists make ground at rapid speed across northern Iraq on the roads towards the capital.” The Daily Beast has cognate news, “Iraq’s Terrorists Are Becoming a Full-Blown Army.” The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (Isis) is busy imposing Sharia law on the populace even as America and other countries scramble to evacuate their troops and nationals living in Iraq. The Pentagon reports that some American military equipment may have fallen into the hands of the radicals. Chaos. Bloodshed. The rise of Islamic barbarism. I don’t know that I would describe Iraq as one of the Obama administration’s “greatest” achievements, exactly. It is certainly one of its most characteristic.
*****
UPDATE:  a friend writes to suggest the appropriate illustration for Obama’s “greatest achievement”:
image001

 

 

Catholics & Capitalism

June 12th, 2014 - 7:21 am

David Hume used to extol “the calm sunshine of the mind.” It radiates a gratifyingly clear and uplifting nimbus, that cognitive luminosity, all the more precious on account of its rarity. My friend Kevin Williamson has been a conspicuous source of such refreshing clarity, and his essay “Catholics Against Capitalism” at NRO is a work of particular scintillation. 

The occasion for Kevin’s piece was the meeting in Washington, D.C., last week of some Catholic intellectuals and clergy under the leadership of the Honduran cardinal, His Eminence Oscar Andrés Maradiaga. The title of the conference was “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case against Libertarianism,” though as Kevin points out, the real object of criticism was not libertarianism particularly but free market economics generally. And as Kevin also points out, the Church has no special grace to pronounce authoritatively on such secular matters and, in the case of its reflections on matters economic, “the best that can be said of the clergy’s corporate approach to economic thinking is that it is intellectually incoherent, which is lucky inasmuch as the depths of its illiteracy become more dramatic and destructive as it approaches coherence.”

Kevin’s longish essay is worth reading carefully, for it is full of wisdom and is expressed with patient brio. The basic position of Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga is the familiar leftist litany: “Capitalism” is bad because it creates great wealth, while it also “destroys wealth, value and jobs. Those ‘wondrous technologies’ also manifest as wrathful deities, efficiently eliminating or reducing the need for labor.” (Kevin quotes from a truly obtuse review of Conscious Capitalism, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s book,  in Tricycle). “The implicit economic hypothesis here,” Kevin points out, “is that producing a certain amount of goods more efficiently — in this case, with less labor — makes the world worse off. . . . The reality is the opposite, and that is not a matter of opinion, perspective, or ideology — it is a material reality, the denial of which is the intellectual equivalent of insisting on a geocentric or turtles-all-the-way-down model of the universe.”

Here’s the bottom line: Capitalism is the greatest engine for the production of wealth the ingenuity of man has ever invented. Are you interested in helping the poor? Embrace capitalism. Do you want to help clean up the environment? Embrace capitalism. Are you interested in obliterating the scourge of malnutrition or some ghastly African disease or illiteracy or [fill in your personal do-good desideratum here]: yep, embrace capitalism. The global poverty rate, Kevin reminds us, has been cut in half  in the last 20 years. Think about that. Then think about the sorrowful history of our species up to about 1830.  How much progress against widespread — really, near total — poverty had there been from the beginning of time until then — until, that is, capitalism started to take off? Not much.

Like Barack Obama (indeed, like Karl Marx), Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga believes that the fundamental problem of economics concerns the redistribution of wealth. In fact, the fundamental economic problem concerns the production of wealth, the more, the better. “The question of how certain goods are “distributed” in society,” Kevin observes,  “is a second-order question at best; by definition prior to it is the question of whether there is anything to distribute.”

Exactly. But this is a truth that, for reasons I do not fully comprehend, the Left finds it impossible to take on board. Kevin gets to the nub of the issue with gratifying incisiveness:

Those who put distribution at the top of their list of priorities both make the error of assuming the existence of some exogenous agency that oversees distribution (that being the Distribution Fairy) and entirely ignore the vital question of what gets produced and by whom. Poverty is the direct by-product of low levels of production; the United States and Singapore are fat and happy with $53,101 and $64,584 in per capita economic output, respectively; Zimbabwe, which endured the services of a government very much interested in the redistribution of capital, gets to divide up $788 per person per year, meaning that under circumstances of perfect mathematical equality life would still be miserable for everybody. Sweden can carve up its per capita pie however it likes, but it’s still going to be 22.5 percent smaller than the U.S. pie and less than two-thirds the size of Singapore’s tasty pastry. You cannot redistribute what you don’t have — and that holds true not only for countries but, finally, for the planet and the species, which of course is what globalization is all about. That men of the cloth, of all people, should be blind to what is really happening right now on the global economic scale is remarkable, ironic, and sad. Cure one or two people of blindness and you’re a saint; prevent blindness in millions and you’re Monsanto.

“You cannot redistribute what you don’t have,” and in order to acquire more stuff to distribute you need to embrace that fantastic engine of prosperity, capitalism.

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Eric Cantor and the Conventional Wisdom

June 11th, 2014 - 4:45 am

There are two words that recur like a drumbeat in the news stories about David Brat’s defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Virginia primary last night.  One is “historic.” The second is some variant of “stunning” (“staggering,” “shocking,” etc.).  John Fund does us the courtesy of deploying both: “Eric Cantor’s loss is historic,” he writes at National Review. “No sitting House majority leader has lost an election since the office was created in 1899. While Cantor’s loss was a stunning surprise, the warning signals were around for a while.” He then supplies a list of explanations that seemed obvious only after David Brat won. Yesterday afternoon, the wise men of the commentariat would have dismissed them with a self-assured thoroughness and consistency that is truly marvelous to behold.  

“Historic” and “stunning.”  That is, the triumph of the tea-party-backed economics professor was both 1) important and 2) unexpected.

It was unexpected because (for example) Cantor outraised Brat by $5.7 million to $231,000.  Cantor was the establishment candidate. He has (how long before that “s” becomes a “d”?) a national profile. Brat is . . .  (pause for Wikipedia check) an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College,  an obscure institution in Ashland, Virginia.

Frankly, though, what surprises me about such events as David Brat’s victory is the surprise they occasion. Nigel Farage and the other anti-EU politicians weren’t supposed to trounce the established parties in the European elections a couple of weeks ago. Members of the established parties and the human remora that attend them told us so. But Farage, Le Pen, and the rest trounced them across Europe.  This, said Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, was “a shock, an earthquake that all responsible leaders must respond to.”

Right.  And how’s that working out?  From where I sit, the response of “responsible leaders,” i.e., representatives of the conventional wisdom, has been mostly confined to what they used to call in the Wild West a circling of the wagons. Demonize the bastards. Ostracize ’em.  Talk incessantly about “fringe candidates” and “extremists”  who cannot win (except they just did), who will upset the status quo, which by an extraordinary coincidence just happens to benefit those registering their “shock,” their having been “stunned,” “staggered,” not to say “utterly dismayed.”

Both parties have been assiduous in demonizing the tea party.  And they’ve been quite effective in convincing themselves that it was yesterday’s news, that the upsets of 2010 were an anomaly, that business-as-usual (represented by us mature politicians who are already in office) had once again achieved the upper hand. Order, in short, had been restored.

Except that unexpected things like David Brat’s victory, like UKIP’s victory in the European election, keep happening.

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‘Unique and Exigent Circumstances’

June 2nd, 2014 - 8:33 am

Although the Framers didn’t get around to the executive branch until Article II — the real business of government, they thought, would normally be carried out by Congress —  the Constitution nevertheless vests awesome, but not unlimited, power in what James Madison called the “chief Magistrate,” the president of the United States.  This is right and proper, for the president, as commander-in-chief, needs the flexibility to be able to respond quickly and decisively in case of national emergency.  

Appealing to that necessity is what stands behind the Obama administration’s objection to the federal law requiring that the president give Congress 30 days notice before releasing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. There were, the administration argued, “unique and exigent circumstances” why that law should not be followed in the case of Bowe Robert Bergdahl, the Army solider who is reported to have deserted his post while on guard duty in June 2009 after announcing his loathing for America and hatred of the Army. “I am ashamed to be an American,” he wrote in an email to his parents.  “And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools. . . . The horror that is America is disgusting.”

It would be interesting to have Sgt. Bergdahl’s views on “the horror that is America” now that he has had an opportunity to spend five years as the guest of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It would also be interesting to know exactly what “unique and exigent circumstances” prompted the Obama administration to exchange Sgt. Bergdahl for five high-level Taliban terrorists — the hardest of the hard core, as John McCain put it — who were cooling their heels in Gitmo. (What do you suppose these thugs and murderers will do now that they’re free? Go sight-seeing?)

At least six U.S. servicemen were killed searching for Sgt. Bergdahl. And Rep. Howard McKeon and Sen. James Inhofe are surely correct that the exchange imperils the lives of others. “Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans,” they said in a joint statement. “That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk.”

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‘The Law Requires . . .’

June 1st, 2014 - 6:32 am

What a quaint phrase!  Not quaint for you and me, of course.  For us plebs, what the law requires is, well, what the law requires. To the letter, Kemo Sabe.  But how about for our masters in Washington, especially for the master-in-chief, Barack Obama?  What, exactly, does the law require of him?  That he follow and (see Article II of the U.S. Constitution) “faithfully execute” the laws?  Not hardly. Andrew McCarthy’s new book Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment (not officially published until Tuesday but available now on Amazon) provides a sort of catalogue or cornucopia of Obama’s lawlessness. I won’t rehearse that litany here except to mention these key words:

When it comes to lawlessness, Obama is the gift that keeps on giving. If Congress passes a law that is Constitutional but that he happens not to like: no problem. He just won’t enforce it (ask the folks in Arizona about immigration laws).  Perhaps Congress fails to pass a law about something that he does want done: that’s no problem, either, because he has learned that there is no cost to governing by decree. The latest instance of presidential lawlessness concerns the Taliban’s release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan in exchange for five high-level Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. Naturally, one rejoices at the release of an American solider after nearly five years of captivity in the savage hell-hole of Afghanistan. But as Rep. Howard McKeon and Sen. James Inhofe observed yesterday, “America has maintained a prohibition on negotiating with terrorists for good reason. Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans.” Prediction: you’ll see many more Americans captured and held for ransom now that the Taliban knows our policy of not negotiating with terrorists implies that, if you push a little, we will happily negotiate with terrorists.

There’s also the little matter of how the transfer was arranged. As the Washington Post reports, “Lawmakers were not notified of the Guantanamo detainees’ transfer until after it occurred.” But, the report continues, “the law requires the defense secretary to notify relevant congressional committees at least 30 days before making any transfers of prisoners, to explain the reason and to provide assurances that those released would not be in a position to reengage in activities that could threaten the United States or its interests.” “The law requires.” Ha, ha, ha. This is King Obama we’re talking about, not you or me. Apparently, he can do whatever he pleases, from calling on the IRS to harass his political opponents to selectively enforcing to law to imprisoning video makers who are convenient scapegoats. But wait, there’s more. 

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Here’s a thought experiment: what if a Republican administration, six years into its term, had inadvertently blown the cover of its top CIA operative in a war-torn hellhole during a surprise visit by a president who had undertaken the trip in a desperate effort to shore up his sagging popularity in the wake of numerous scandals, including one involving widespread and deadly corruption in the administration of Veterans Administration hospitals.  To ask the question is to answer it: the legacy (formerly the “mainstream” media) would be skirling with criticism of the administration’s dangerous incompetence.  Every day there would be scathing articles dilating on the president’s fecklessness and the fecklessness, if not, indeed, the criminal negligence of those around him. And it would be endlessly (and correctly) pointed out that, at the end of the day, it was the president, not his underlings who must bear the brunt of the criticism, for along with the stupendou power in the president, the Constitution also invest in him a great burden of public trust. Thus is was that James Madison, in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 insisted that there had to be a mechanism for removing a president not just for “treason” or “bribery” but for “incapacity, negligence, or perfidy.” To protect the country, incompetence and other instances of what another Founder, George Mason, called “maladministration” as well as criminal behavior were grounds for impeachment and removal.

But what if, to continue the thought experiment, the administration in question was Democratic rather than Republican? Once again, the question is self-answering. In that case, the media’s excuse factory would go into overtime.  The specific articles produced by this exercise in extenuation vary according to circumstance. Sometimes it’s a matter of camouflage — “nothing to see here, move along” — sometimes it’s a sort of distorting mirror in which the large appear small and vice-versa. Sometimes it’s simply a sort of white-noise machine in which the ambient static cancels out unpleasant revelations from outside and induces slumber.

But I wonder just what is going to happen in the aftermath of this latest scandal. Is there anyone — anyone — who still believes that there was “not even,” as the President said, “a smidgeon of corruption” in the IRS — that it was merely happenstance, or the work of a few “rogue” employees, that explains why the overwhelming majority of citizens the IRS harassed were conservatives? Is there anyone — anyone outside the corridors of The New York Times, that is — who still believes the administration’s story about the Benghazi massacre — that it was sparked by a “rogue” internet video about Mohammed? Is there anyone who believes anything the administration says about Obamacare — “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health plan, period,” etc., etc. As I write, there is also the disgusting scandal surrounding the Veterans Administration, whose callous maladministration and “secret waiting lists” for infirm veterans has caused many deaths and untold suffering. The President says he’s “mad as hell” about it, but exactly what has he done?

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The Lesson of the EU Election

May 26th, 2014 - 5:50 am

“Shock,” “Anger,” “Earthquake”—those are among the more frequent epithets employed to describe this weekend’s European elections.  All across the continent, voters turned out to deliver a resounding defeat to the top-down, politically correct, big-government, Brussels-centric, rule-by-unaccountable-elites project that is the European Union.  For years, Brussels has demanded allegiance to its mildly socialist species of transnational progressivism.  Local initiatives were everywhere forced to give way to the whimsical diktats disgorged by distant bureaucrats. The healthy, homegrown sentiments of national identity and robust patriotism were systematically stymied as Brussels-based politicians set about imposing their anemic version of utopia in which there would be no Frenchmen or Germans or Italians or Englishmen but only that shadowy abstraction a “European,” a creature that doesn’t actually exist but might be willed into being by a regulatory superstate that was environmentally sensitive, always and everywhere alert to signs of racism and Islamophobia, reflexively suspicious of capitalism, hostile to Israel, and contemptuous of the United States.  It didn’t work and now the voters, in a gigantic act of political reverse peristalsis, have delivered the first step in what promises to be a thoroughgoing rejection of the European project. 

The response from the organs of establishment sentiment has oscillated between astonishment and anxiety. The Financial Times, under the headline “Eurosceptics storm Brussels,” leads with the news that “France’s far-right Front National stormed to victory in European elections on Sunday night, leading an unprecedented surge in support for anti-EU parties across Europe that was set to reverberate far beyond Brussels politics.”  The fact that the FN is led by Marine Le Pen, daughter of the much-maligned Jean-Marie Le Pen, adds a dash of horror to the mix.  How can this be happening? How is it that in Great Britain, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party snapped up 30 percent of the popular vote and increased its seats in the European Parliament from 11 to 24?  It was only a couple of years ago that Farage and UKIP were dismissed as a “fringe” party, a congeries of unappealing political neanderthals who, in a more enlightened world, would either be locked up or not exist.  And yet here they were, “the biggest winner,” as the FT mournfully reports, in the UK’s European race. Geert Wilders, the charismatic Dutch populist, did not do as well as many of his euro-sceptic confrères. But “among other eurosceptic parties,” the FT notes, “the Danish People’s party was set to become the biggest in Denmark with about 25 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Austria’s populist party, the FPÖ, is set to finish third with 20 percent of the vote – against 12.7 percent in 2009.”

What is going on? Jean-Francois Copé, president of France’s center-right UMP, observed that the vote for Le Pen’s Freedom Party was  a sign of “gigantic anger” among the French electorate.  He got that right.  But the anger is directed not just against the confiscatory socialist policies of President François Hollande. It is directed more broadly against the anti-nation-state bias of the European Union. The architects of the EU envision a European superstate in which national identity is subordinated to the abstraction of “Europe.” The regime would be internationalist but only titularly democratic: the real power (as has been traditional on the continent) would reside in a technocratic elite, not the people. But the people, it seems, have just awakened to this reality and it turns out they don’t like it. Marine Le Pen was surely correct yesterday when she said: “What has happened tonight is a massive rejection of the EU.” 

What happens next is anyone’s guess. But one take-away from yesterday’s election is this: when conservative parties cease providing a natural home for the community-binding sentiments of patriotism and national identity—when, that is to say, conservative parties cease being conservative—those parts of the population not indentured to the apparatus of dependency look elsewhere.  What Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, said of the victory of  Le Pen’s Freedom Party is true of eurosceptic victories across the continent: it is, he said,“a shock, an earthquake that all responsible leaders must respond to.” We’ll see how many responsible leaders there are who will acknowledge the obligation.

Related from Michael Ledeen: Is Italy’s Center-Left Prime Minister Really a Neocon?