Meanwhile in Ukraine

It’s not getting much attention, but Ukraine continues to make military progress against rebel separatists. The Washington Post reports that the Ukrainian military has pushed the rebels out of a series of villages and towns in the East, and now has its sights set on Horlivka, a city of about 300,000.

If it succeeds in taking Horlivka, the military will be on the doorstep of Donetsk, the separatists’ power center. Already, it is blocking supplies from entering Donetsk, according to the government.

No word yet on whether President Obama and John Kerry are demanding a cease fire.

The wild card, of course, is the 15,000 Russian troops believed to be stationed on the border. Russia’s attempts to prop up the separatists, many of whom are Russians, have been largely unsuccessful so far. If the separatists continue to lose ground, Russia will likely intervene more directly.

Already, Russia is poised to move heavy-calibre artillery systems across the border into Ukraine, and Russian forces are shelling Ukrainian military positions.

Ukraine seems undaunted, though. The U.S. should stand with the brave Ukrainians, whose current difficulties stem from their decision to align themselves with the EU rather than Moscow, by providing increased military assistance and preparing to escalate the sanctions against Russia.

Is Barack Obama John Galt?

In her polemical novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand imagines a world in which the most productive citizens–business magnates, mostly, creators of wealth and generators of progress–go on strike. Tired of being blamed for the world’s ills by parasitic liberals in the press, academia, popular culture and government, they quit. The result is chaos and disaster. John Galt is the mysterious figure who inspires the revolt of the wealth creators.

On first impression, one would say that Barack (“You didn’t build that”) Obama is the anti-John Galt. A classic demagogue, he is one of the liberal horde who inveigh against the successful while adding insult to injury by soliciting campaign contributions from them.

But shift the focus to international affairs: here, the United States has been Atlas, carrying the world on its shoulders since 1945. For more than 60 years, the U.S. imposed a pax Americana, deterring aggressors, guaranteeing the security of other nations, providing the umbrella of stability necessary for the global economy to thrive. Many countries have achieved previously undreamed-of levels of prosperity by participating in the global economy under the protection of the American military. Has our role been a thankless one? To a considerable degree, yes. Just as the producers in Atlas Shrugged were portrayed as villains by the Left, the U.S. has often the target of the world’s many grievances, usually unfairly.

Now, Barack Obama has decreed that the American Atlas should shrug. Weary of its burdens and tired of being blamed for the world’s problems, America is withdrawing from its global leadership role. And the result, as in Atlas Shrugged, is disaster. Everywhere one looks, there is turmoil and violence. Russia is resurgent; China threatens Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines; Iraq’s Christians are being wiped out; Iran’s nuclear weapons program proceeds apace; the Sunni Gulf states seek new alliances; the Taliban is retaking Afghanistan; American diplomatic personnel are withdrawn from Libya as that country descends into chaos; al Qaeda extends its influence in Africa. The list goes on and on. The United States has gone Galt–everywhere except Gaza, where we are playing a discreditable role in support of a terrorist regime–and the forces of evil and disorder are on the march.

Of course, the analogy ultimately breaks down. In Atlas Shrugged, the world’s producers go on strike in order to show that the Left is wrong. Barack Obama has withdrawn the United States from its leadership role, not in order to demonstrate that the Left’s critiques are wrong, but because he believes them to be right. Unlike the producers in Atlas Shrugged, Obama means for the U.S. to “go Galt” permanently.

But things are not turning out as the Left expected. Those who thought (like Obama) that America is the source of most of the world’s ills, and if only we would keep to ourselves problems would disappear, are being refuted by every day’s newspaper headlines. So perhaps in the end, America’s going Galt in foreign policy will prove to be temporary, as the result of Obama’s experiment will be much like the dystopia that Ayn Rand foresaw many years ago.

Romney 53%, Obama 44%? Don’t Get Excited

Matt Drudge is promoting this CNN poll, out today, in which respondents were asked whom they would vote for if the 2012 election were re-run today. Romney beats Obama, when “leaners” are counted, 53% to 44%. And that’s not all: lots of Obama’s numbers are quite poor. In categories like “is a strong and decisive leader,” “generally agrees with you on issues you care about” (43%/56%), and “can manage the government effectively” (42%/57%), Obama is under water.

Nevertheless, the CNN poll actually has more bad news than good for Republicans. First, let’s dispense with the Romney boomlet. Some are now suggesting that he should again be the GOP nominee in 2016. But in 2016 he would be running against Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama, and this survey has him losing that matchup by 55%-42%. Hillary, despite her recent stumbles, still scores well in the areas where Obama has now fallen into disrepute. To take just one example, respondents think Hillary can “manage the government effectively” by 55%/44%, despite the awful job she did managing the State Department. And Republicans are falling behind, not pulling ahead, in the generic Congressional ballot, trailing in this survey by 48%/44% among registered voters.

A reasonable conclusion from this CNN poll is that, while voters are giving up on Barack Obama, so far his troubles haven’t rubbed off to any great degree on Hillary Clinton, nor have they elevated Republicans much in the public’s esteem. Republicans will have to do a lot more than watch Barack Obama sink beneath the waves if they are to prevail in either 2014 or 2016.

2014 World Cup all-stars

The World Cup ended two weeks ago, which means that it’s high time for me to offer my World Cup all-star team. But first, a word about the tournament.

The consensus among those who covered it is that this was the best World Cup in modern memory. I’ve followed every World Cup since 1978 (ten in all), but my memory of the early ones has become hazy. Certainly, though, this was the best World Cup in a long time.

The Group Stage and Round of 16 were outstanding. The play was open, the cynicism was in check, and many of the matches provided high drama.

Unfortunately, this cannot be said of the matches that followed. Some were tense — primarily because it was clear that one goal would be enough to win — and one will be remembered for decades — Germany’s shocking 7-1 win over Brazil.

But there was nothing to rival the late-stage matches of 1986 — France’s shoot-out win over Brazil (as good a World Cup match as I’ve ever seen); the five-goal thriller of a Final; or even Argentina’s 2-1 win over England (featuring Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal).

In any event, this World Cup gave the tournament a needed boost after several mediocre ones in a row.

Here are my all-star selections:

First Team

Navas — Costa Rica

Lahm — Germany
R. Rodriguez — Switzerland
Hummels — Germany
T. Silva — Brazil

Mascherano — Argentina

James Rodriguez — Colombia
Robben — Holland
T. Muller — Germany
Neymar — Brazil
Messi — Argentina

Second Team

Neuer — Germany

Aurier — Ivory Coast
Blind — Holland
Vlaar — Holland
Garay — Argentina

Schweinsteigger — Germany
Pogba — France

Cuadrado — Colombia
Shaqiri — Switzerland
Valbueana — France
Al. Sanchez — Chile

Honorable Mention

Howard — U.S.
M’Bohli — Algeria
Enyeama — Nigeria
Ochoa –Mexico

Boateng — Germany
Holebas — Greece
Gonzalez — Costa Rica
Yepes — Colombia
Van Buyten — Belgium

Arevalo Rios — Uruaguay
Pirlo — Italy
Herrera — Mexico
Kroos — Germany
Iniesta — Spain
Di Maria — Argentina
Pjanic — Bosnia
Perisic — Croatia
Aranguiz — Chile
Karagounis — Greece

T. Cahill — Australia
Schurrle — Germany
Slimani — Algeria
Gyan — Ghana
E. Valencia — Ecuador
Gervinho — Ivory Coast

Player of the tournament — James Rodriguez
Runner-up — Robben

IDF on the Gaza UN school: It wasn’t us

The IDF has investigated its possible role in the deaths that occurred at the UN school in Gaza. The Times of Israel’s Mitch Ginsburg files this update:

An Israeli army inquiry into fighting at a UN facility in Beit Hanoun Thursday found that IDF mortars did not play a role in the killing of 16 people in the school courtyard, dismissing claims that the military was responsible for their deaths.

The army admitted that an IDF-fired shell did hit the UN-run school’s yard, but at a time when there were no people in the area.

“A single errant mortar landed in the school courtyard, injuring no one,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Sunday in a conference call.

Lerner described a scene of “intense fighting” in the vicinity of the school last Thursday afternoon, including volleys of anti-tank missiles fired at soldiers, who responded with live fire. The militant fire, Lerner said, came from the areas “adjacent to, and in the vicinity of, the school.”

Palestinian accounts said 16 people were killed in the school as a result of the fighting, with initial reports blaming Israel for the deaths.

Lerner suggested that the 16 dead and dozens of wounded could have been caught in the crossfire and brought into the courtyard, perhaps for treatment, or may have been hit by rockets or mortars fired by the militants themselves.

He said he had “no idea” where the dead had come from, and stated that it was “extremely unlikely” that anyone had been killed by the single mortar round that fell in the empty yard.

“In light of the inquiry’s findings,” a formal statement from the army read, “the IDF rejects the claims that were made by various officials immediately following the incident, that people were killed in the school premises as a result of IDF operational activity.”

Lerner added that, in a move he termed “out of the ordinary,” Palestinian health officials in Gaza did not share the nature of the wounds of the casualties, which may have shed light on the causes of death.

I’m not sure if this is the footage that Mitch says he will post shortly. Here is the footage that Mitch has posted with his update at this point (I don’t get anything out of it).

The IDF is the most scrupulous reporter on the scene in Gaza by far. The Gaza Terrorist Theater continues with all on-the-scene broadcast and cable network reporters in Gaza playing their assigned roles and performing as miserably as ever in the pageant of “Tools of Jihad.”

Remy Rings a Bell

The New York Times Magazine today carries a cover story about why math is hard, and perhaps that helps explain widespread economic illiteracy. Maybe the Times should do a sequel on this very topic, except that it might expose too many of its premier columnists (not mentioning any names of course).

Anyway, most economists will tell you that your attitude about the minimum wage is a test as to whether you paid attention to the first day of Econ 101 (and even the NY Times editorial page said as recently as 1987 that the right minimum wage should be zero).  But Common Core liberalism requires a higher minimum wage now as an article of faith.  And the latest salvo is this Kristin Bell video (I recommend skipping it though) where she channels Mary Poppins in favor of Krugmanomics.  Well, our pal Remy Munasifi strikes back:

And don’t forget this from yesterday:

SF Minimum Wage copy

Inside the IRS, part 6

William Henck has worked inside the IRS Office of the Chief Counsel as an attorney for over 26 years. We posted his personal account, including his testimony to a retaliatory audit conducted by the IRS against him, this past February in “Inside the IRS.” We followed up with subsequent posts including, most recently, “Inside the IRS, part 5,” regarding the promotion of Fred Schindler to a senior position within the Office of Chief Counsel. No sooner had we posted Bill’s comments than the D.C. Circuit’s decision in the Halbig case highlighted the underlying scandal. Kim Strassel’s Friday Wall Street Journal “The Obamacare-IRS nexus” contributed the necessary background. Bill Henck now adds:

it is interesting to note that Mr. Schindler was heavily involved in the implementation of Obamacare, and in fact was director of implementation for the IRS. That would include coordinating with the office of chief counsel on a basic issue such as researching statutory language. Based on the stories that appeared last summer, he was suspended for taking improper gifts and was slated for termination. Maybe that was all smoke and mirrors, maybe he was later exonerated, maybe a lot of things, but the bottom line is they took care of him.

Mr. Schindler now has a Senior Executive Service position in the Office of Chief Counsel after the normal selection process was bypassed. This is the latest example of a basic fact of life in the IRS: if you play ball, such as failing to research a basic issue such as statutory language, you get rewarded. If you dissent from the party or internal line, they audit you and your wife’s tax returns. Needless to say, all of the incentives lie on the side of playing ball. If you understand this basic fact, you can understand the organizational behavior within the IRS.