Friday, March 02, 2012

More shackles for what was once the land of the free

I’ve got a new op-ed in the Daily Caller about one of the most significant employment-law initiatives out of Washington in years (also reported on by Melanie Trottman in today’s WSJ): the Obama administration is preparing to order federal contractors to comply with a quota (sorry, “required…hiring goal”) of disabled employees, perhaps as high as 7 percent. Businesses have flooded the comments site with negative reactions to the idea, but to no seeming avail. As I explain, one of the scheme’s maddening aspects is that you’re supposed to achieve the quota even though you’re not allowed to ask employees whether or not they’re disabled:
So the rules contemplate a fan dance of “invited self-identification” in which workers are given repeated chances at successive stages of the hiring process to announce that they are disabled. Unfortunately for quota compliance, even after getting the job an employee may be too shy to offer such a self-identification, which means the employer may lose any “credit” for the hire. Perhaps equally frustrating, an employee hired with the quota in mind may turn out not to have any disability at all (“Dang it! And she looked so disabled!”).

The employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its associated Rehabilitation Act are already rife with absurd results. Last week, after a Colorado school bus driver who hit three middle school students turned out to have been hired though recently in rehab, a spokesman for the school district explained that the law was at work: “It is illegal under state and federal disability laws to deny employment solely on the basis of a history of treatment for alcohol or substance abuse.” Non-discrimination against school bus drivers with a taste for booze is bizarre enough, but not bizarre enough for Washington. Time for preference!



Israeli oil and gas may be a game changer

In the first 25 years after Israel’s founding in 1948, it was repeatedly attacked by the large armies of its Arab neighbours. Each time, Israel prevailed on the battlefield, only to have its victories rolled back by Western powers who feared losing access to Arab oilfields.

The fear was and is legitimate – Arab nations have often threatened to use their “oil weapon” against countries that support Israel and twice made good their threat through crippling OPEC oil embargoes.

But that fear, which shackles Israel to this day, may soon end. The old energy order in the Middle East is crumbling with Iran and Syria having left the Western fold and others, including Saudi Arabia, the largest of them all, in danger of doing so.

Simultaneously, a new energy order is emerging to give the West some spine. In this new order, Israel is a major player. As well, apart from being an oil (from shale rock) and natural gas exporter in the near future, gas-fired power-stations using Israel's abundant offshore natural gas like the one near completion in the Israeli port of Ashdod (where the Turkish flotilla to Gaza was ordered to berth after misson was aborted). Ironically enough, in a strange twist of ever-changing shifting diplomatic relationships, the power-station at Ashdod was originally meant to use Egypt's rather limited gas export to transmit power via a short undersea cable to connect to the Cyprus-Greek-Europe grid.

The new energy order is founded on rock – the shale that traps vast stores of energy in deposits around the world. One of the largest deposits – 250 billion barrels of oil in Israel’s Shfela basin, comparable to Saudi Arabia’s entire reserves of 260 billion barrels of oil – has until now been unexploited, partly because the technology required has been expensive, mostly because the multinational oil companies that have the technology fear offending Muslims. “None of the major oil companies are willing to do business in Israel because they don’t want to be cut off from the Mideast supply of oil,” explains Howard Jonas, CEO of IDT, the U.S. company that owns the Shfela concession through its subsidiary, Israel Energy Initiatives. Jonas, an ardent Zionist, considers the Shfela deposit merely a beginning: “We believe that under Israel is more oil than under Saudi Arabia. There may be as much as half a trillion barrels.”

Because the oil multinationals have feared to develop Shfela, one of the world’s largest oil developments is being undertaken by an unlikely troop. Jonas’s IDT is a consumer-oriented telecom and media company that is a relative newcomer to the heavy industry world of energy development. Joining IDT in this latter-day Zionist Project is Lord Jacob Rothschild, a septuagenarian banker and philanthropist whose forefathers helped finance Zionist settlements in Palestine from the mid-1800s; Michael Steinhardt, a septuagenarian hedge fund investor and Zionist philanthropist; and Rupert Murdoch, the octogenarian chairman of News Corporation who uncompromisingly opposes, in his words, the “ongoing war against the Jews” by Muslim terrorists, by the Western left in general, and by Europe’s “most elite politicians” in particular.

Where others would have long ago retired, these businessmen-philanthropists have joined the battle on Israel’s side. While they’re in it for the money, they are also determined to free the world of Arab oil dependence by providing Israel with an oil weapon of its own. The company’s oil shale technology “could transform the future prospects of Israel, the Middle East and our allies around the world,” states Lord Rothschild.

To win this war, Israel Energy Initiatives has enlisted some of the energy industry’s savviest old soldiers – here a former president of Mobil Oil (Eugene Renna), there a former president of Occidental Oil Shale (Allan Sass), over there a former president of Halliburton (Dick Cheney). But the Field Commander for the operation, and the person who in their mind will lead them to ultimate victory, is Harold Vinegar, a veteran pulled out of retirement and sent into the fray. Vinegar, a legend in the field, had been Shell Oil’s chief scientist and, with some 240 patents to his name over his 32 years at Shell, revolutionized the shale oil industry.

Before oil met Vinegar, this was dirty business, a sprawling open mine operation that crushed and heated rock to yield a heavy tar amid mountains of spent shale. The low-value tar then needed to be processed and refined. The bottom line: low economic return, high environmental cost.

Vinegar boosted the bottom line by dropping the environmental damage. No open pit mining, no spent shale, no heavy tar to manage. In his pioneering approach, heated rods are inserted underground into the shale, releasing from it natural gas and light liquids. The natural gas provides the project’s need for heat; the light liquids are easily refined into high-value jet fuel, diesel and naphtha. The new bottom line: oil at a highly profitable cost of about $35-$40 a barrel and an exceedingly low environmental footprint. Vinegar’s process produces greenhouse gas emissions less than half that from conventional oil wells and, unlike open pit mining, does not consume water. The land area from which he will extract a volume of oil equivalent to that in Saudi Arabia? Approximately 25 square kilometers.

Although the Israeli shale project is still at an early stage, its massive potential and Vinegar’s reputation have already begun to change attitudes toward Israel. “We have been approached by all the majors,” Vinegar recently told the press, and for good reason. “Israel is very well positioned for oil exporting” to both European and Asian markets.

The majors have other reasons, too, for casting their eyes afresh at Israel. Through its natural gas finds in the Mediterranean’s Levant Basin, and with no help from the oil majors, Israel is becoming a major natural gas exporter to Europe. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Levant Basin has vast natural gas supplies, most of it within Israel’s jurisdiction.

Attitudes to Israel in some European capitals – those in line to receive Israeli gas — have already warmed and the shift to Israel may in time become tectonic, in Europe and elsewhere, when oil is at stake – 38 countries have an estimated 4.8-trillion barrels of shale oil, many of which would benefit from the shale oil technology now being pioneered in Israel. Speeding that shift could be the Arab Spring, which many fear will flip pro-Western Arab states into hostile camps. Long time U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is reportedly so distrustful of the U.S. following its abandonment of long-time Egyptian ally, President Hosni Mubarak, that it has pulled back its relationship with the West in favour of China.



More Anger over Obama's contraception mandate

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, already under fire from Democrats over his language in discussing a Georgetown University law student who testified about contraception, ratcheted up his rhetoric on Thursday, saying the student should post an online sex video if taxpayers are forced to pay for contraception.

Limbaugh on Wednesday had referred to student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” for supporting a requirement that health insurance cover contraception. On his radio show Thursday, Limbaugh went a little further:

"So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had called on Limbaugh to apologize Thursday about the “slut” comment, made after Fluke testified recently about contraception before an unofficial Democratic committee.

Here's what Limbaugh said on Wednesday’s edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

"What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

"She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We're the pimps.

"The johns, that's right. We would be the johns -- no! We're not the johns. Well -- yeah, that's right. Pimp's not the right word."

Fluke had been turned away in February from testifying before the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the Obama administration's policy requiring that employees of religion-affiliated institutions have access to health insurance that covers birth control.

Radio host Rush Limbaugh, one of the loudest voices of the conservative movement, had strong words for women who want contraception coverage. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

The Health and Human Services Department ruled earlier this year that, under the new health care law, religious-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities must include free birth control coverage in their employee health plans.

That mandate has raised a storm of criticism and protests from Catholic leaders and others who disapprove of contraception on religious grounds. The issue continues to divide the Congress. On Thursday, the Senate defeated a proposal that would have allowed employers and health plans to opt out of paying for medical services that are contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

Fluke later testified at an unofficial Democratic-sponsored hearing on Feb. 23, where her comments about the importance of reproductive health care to women drew applause from a small group in attendance, including Pelosi.

She said that contraception can cost a woman more than $3,000 during law school.

On Thursday, Pelosi denounced Limbaugh's comments about Fluke and called on GOP leaders and members to denounce the “slut” remark:

"When Sandra Fluke testified before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee after Republicans attempted to silence, she courageously spoke truth to power. As a result, today, she has been subject to attacks that are outside the circle of civilized discussion and that unmask the strong disrespect for women held by some in this country. We call upon the Republican leaders in the House to condemn these vicious attacks on Ms. Fluke, which are in response to her testimony to the Congress. Democrats will always stand up for women's health and women's voices."




A great loss: "Andrew Breitbart, a well-known conservative blogger, has died, his attorney said Thursday. He was 43. Joel Pollak, editor-in-chief and in-house counsel for Breitbart's website,, confirmed his death."

Orgy of Leftist hate: "When an individual passes away, regardless of his of her ideological positions, one would expect he or she would receive respect. In the case of new media mogul Andrew Breitbart, who died early in the morning on Thursday, there has been a surge of vile commentary spewing across the Twitterverse. From comparisons to Hitler to individuals tweeting that they are content the pundit has passed, the messages are disturbing at best. Below, The Blaze has assembled some of the most disturbing messages we’ve seen on Twitter over the past few hours"

Senate Dems stop “conscience exemption” to Obama policy: "Senate Democrats have blocked an amendment that would have let insurers opt out of providing contraceptive coverage if employers had religious or moral objections. The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, shorthanded as 'the conscience amendment' and authored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was 'tabled,' or set aside, on a 51-48 vote. Democrats needed 50 votes to prevail."

Arpaio: Obama’s birth certificate a “forgery”: "Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced on Thursday that his investigation into President Barack Obama’s birth certificate concluded the document was most likely a 'forgery.' ... 'President Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate released by the White House on April 27, 2011, is suspected to be a computer-generated forgery, not a scan of an original 1961 paper document as represented by the White House when the long-form birth certificate was made public,' the sheriff said at a press conference."

Eurozone unemployment hits record high: "Unemployment in the 17-member eurozone jumped to an all-time high of 10.7 per cent in January, underlining the challenges facing European leaders as they gather in Brussels for a summit dedicated to finding ways to restart the continent’s economy. The figures represented the loss of an additional 185,000 jobs from December, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics arm, and were slightly worse than the 10.4 per cent many economists had forecast."

Why not completely eliminate corporate income tax?: "Corporate tax reform as it's most often discussed these days sounds great in theory: Lower the overall tax rate and offset the budget impact by eliminating various special provisions. Who isn't in favor of that? ... Not surprisingly but largely overlooked in the reports on the plan announced by the White House several weeks ago, the biggest opponents ... to any substantial corporate tax overhaul come from the corporate world itself: They are the companies, industries, and sectors that currently benefit from the current system at the expense of the corporations, businesses, industries, and sectors that don't get the same special treatment."

Taxi regulations crush immigrant dreams: "A group of Ethiopian immigrants here in Nashville wants to start a taxicab collective in which the drivers operate independently, instead of being required to fork over thousands of dollars to one of the city’s cab cartels. The problem is that the Nashville Metro Board doesn’t trust that dastardly free market to determine how many cabs Nashville residents need. Instead, city planners determine this, after months of careful numbers-crunching and meticulous research, I’m sure."



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