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US trader Hetco drives up oil price

Hands in oil
© Corbis
Many analysts expect the oil price to move above $100 a barrel this year.
An American trading group reportedly building up a "huge" physical position in North Sea oil has driven London Brent prices above $98 a barrel.

Hetco, which is part-owned by US oil and gas group Hess Corp, was said to have taken control of eight North Sea Forties oil shipments and two Brent cargoes - and it is believed to be in the market for more. The move would give Hetco more influence over the price of oil for immediate delivery. The cargoes are for February delivery.

The reports suggested that Hetco's purchases were the basis of a trading play and the trading house now has 30pc of the Forties oil being loaded next month and 25pc of Brent cargoes. Brent crude's premium over West Texas Intermediate oil has been increasing to abnormal levels since August last year, as US inventories of both oil and gas remain at high levels.

Card - VISA

World needs $100 trillion more credit, says World Economic Forum

Earth
© Alamy
The global credit stock has already doubled in recent years, from $57 trillion to $109 trillion between 2000 and 2009.
The world's expected economic growth will have to be supported by an extra $100 trillion (£63 trillion) in credit over the next decade, according to the World Economic Forum.

This doubling of existing credit levels could be achieved without increasing the risk of a major crisis, said the report from the WEF ahead of its high-profile annual meeting in Davos.

But researchers warned that leaders must be wary of new credit "hotspots", where too much lending takes place, as the world emerges from a financial catastrophe blamed in large part "to the failure of the financial system to detect and constrain" these areas of unsustainable debt.

Star of David

Wikileaks on Israel's Gaza Onslaught: US was Cheerleader for Massacre

operation cast lead
© Unknown
CounterPunch has accessed Wikileaks' file of cables on Israel's Gaza assault two years ago (Operation Cast Lead, December 27, 2008 through January 18, 2009). Though the cables often simply rehash Israeli press reporting, providing little new insight into Israel's attack or the planning behind it, they show with pitiless clarity the U.S. government to be little more than a handmaiden and amanuensis of the Israeli military machine.

The cables make clear, were any further disclosure needed, exactly where the United States stands with respect to Israel's unprovoked attacks on Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors. Although Operation Cast Lead took place in the last days of the Bush administration, ending two days before Barack Obama was inaugurated, every Obama policy in the succeeding two years - including the administration's repudiation of the Goldstone Report detailing Israeli atrocities and war crimes during Cast Lead - has demonstrated a striking continuity of support for Israeli actions.

The cables give a notably one-sided account of the assault. Because they take their daily reporting primarily from the Israeli media, the cables keep a tally of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza and dramatically describe "burned dolls and destroyed children's toys" at an unoccupied kindergarten in Beer Sheba hit by a rocket, but make virtually no mention of Israel's intensive air and artillery bombardment of Gaza, including its civilian population. There are no reports of burned Palestinian babies or very few of destroyed property in Gaza. Even the western media provided more accurate coverage of Palestinian casualties than this.

Stormtrooper

Bombs kill at least 50 along pilgrim route to Shiite holy city of Karbala

Image
© Xinhua/Reuters Photo
Image from an August 3, 2010 bomb attack in Kut, Baghdad
A pair of car bombs blasted through security checkpoints ringing the Iraqi holy city of Karbala Thursday and killed at least 51 people, most of whom were Shiite pilgrims headed to observe yearly religious rituals.

It was the latest in a wave of attacks in recent days, as insurgents test Iraqi security forces ahead of the planned U.S. withdrawal at the end of the year.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the bombings bore the hallmark of al-Qaida and other Sunni-dominated extremist groups that frequently target Shiite pilgrimages in hopes of re-igniting sectarian violence that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war just a few years ago.

Authorities estimated as many as 183 people were wounded in the near-simultaneous blasts set off by suicide bombers driving cars packed with explosives.

Alarm Clock

US: Mark Ruffalo's Crusade Against Fracking: 'The World Is Leaving Us Behind'

Mark Ruffalo
© Joanna Zelman
On what many New Yorkers deemed a snow day, one overflowing gallery in the city was filled with artists and activists who decided to leave their warm apartments and hot chocolates behind in support of a cause worthy of traipsing through the snow. The event was "Fracking and Its Effects: A Panel Discussion," in support of Exit Art's "Fracking: Art and Activism Against the Drill," an exhibit open through February 5th.

The panel was hosted by Mark Ruffalo, an acclaimed actor/activist known among Huffington Post readers for his insightful pieces, famous among film watchers for his recent award-nominated performance in The Kids Are All Right, and now infamous among government officials as a man who won't stop talking about fracking.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process that can be used to retrieve natural gas. It involves injecting chemicals, sand, and millions of gallons of water into shale rock. The shale is then shattered, releasing trapped gas. The problem is that when the gas comes to the surface, some water returns as well, and this water is often tainted with poisonous, carcinogenic chemicals.

The harmful effects of fracking are all too tangible, and Mark Ruffalo will be the first to tell you this. His friend's one-lane country road became a 30-foot highway for sonar pounding, and the quiet region of New York where Mark lives with his family may soon be destroyed by natural gas drilling.

Hourglass

Nudge, nudge, wink wink... How the Government wants to change the way we think

Pavlogs dog1
© Unknown

Shame, vanity, laziness and the desire to fit in are all to be used as tools of Government policy by ministers acting on the advice of a new psychology unit in Whitehall.

The first glimpse into the confidential work of the Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insight Team came on Tuesday when ministers suggested members of the public should be able to make small charitable donations when using cashpoints and their credit cards.

On Friday, the Cabinet Office again followed the unit's advice in proposing that learner drivers be opted in to an organ donation scheme when they apply for a licence, and also floated the idea of creating a lottery to encourage people to take tests to prove they have quit smoking.

These initiatives are examples of the application of mental techniques which, while seemingly paradoxical to the Coalition's goal of a smaller state, are likely to become a common feature of Government policy.

Calculator

UK: Energy Firms Cash In on the Cold Snap: Profit Margins Rise 50% to Record Levels

Image
© Josh Westrich/Corbis
Cash guzzling: The Energy Select Committee was told how the major firms were making a £65-a-year profit per customer
Energy firms pocketed record profits from every customer during the coldest December for a century, it has emerged.

Research shows their profit margins have increased by nearly 50 per cent in the last four months alone, to the highest level for more than five years, MPs heard yesterday.

The firms say customers' rising bills are simply a result of a 25 per cent rise in wholesale prices last year. But recent studies suggest the margin between what they pay for gas and the price they charge customers, has risen by more than 200 per cent since 2008.

Yesterday, the Energy Select Committee heard from energy regulator Ofgem how last September the major firms were making a £65-a-year profit per customer. Based on a typical annual bill of £1,200, that has already risen to £97 - and is likely to climb further.

Five of Britain's 'big six' energy firms increased their prices this winter - despite the long cold spell.

Bomb

Former NSA Chief Called CIA 'Out of Control'

William Odom
© Getty Images
William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, was known as an outspoken advocate for intelligence reform.

The CIA is "out of control" and often refuses to cooperate with other parts of the national security community, even undermining their efforts, said former National Security Agency head William Odom, according to a recently released record of a 9/11 Commission interview.

"The CIA currently doesn't work for anyone. It thinks it works for the president, but it doesn't and it's out of control," says a report summarizing remarks made by Odom, a retired three-star general who served as director of the NSA from 1985 to 1988.

Odom, who also served on the National Security Council staff during the Carter administration, was known as an outspoken advocate for intelligence reform. He died in 2008.

The 2003 interview, among others conducted by the 9/11 Commission, was posted on the website Cryptome, which is often compared to the secret-spilling WikiLeaks website. The report was not a leak, however, but one of many records relating to the 9/11 Commission that have been released and made available on the National Archives website.

Eye 1

Utah City May Use Blimp as Anti-Crime Spy in the Sky

A proposed unmanned floating airship surveillance system is being hailed by city officials in Ogden, Utah as one way to fight crime in its neighborhoods.

"We believe it will be a deterrent to crime when it is out and about and will help us solve crimes more quickly when they do occur," Ogden City Mayor Matthew Godfrey told Reuters.

Vader

The brutal truth about Tunisia

Tunisia  Zine el- Abidine Ben Ali
© The Associated Press
What's left of the face of ex-president Zine el- Abidine Ben Ali stares out from a torn poster in Tunis yesterday
Bloodshed, tears, but no democracy. Bloody turmoil won't necessarily presage the dawn of democracy

The end of the age of dictators in the Arab world? Certainly they are shaking in their boots across the Middle East, the well-heeled sheiks and emirs, and the kings, including one very old one in Saudi Arabia and a young one in Jordan, and presidents - another very old one in Egypt and a young one in Syria - because Tunisia wasn't meant to happen. Food price riots in Algeria, too, and demonstrations against price increases in Amman. Not to mention scores more dead in Tunisia, whose own despot sought refuge in Riyadh - exactly the same city to which a man called Idi Amin once fled.

If it can happen in the holiday destination Tunisia, it can happen anywhere, can't it? It was feted by the West for its "stability" when Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was in charge. The French and the Germans and the Brits, dare we mention this, always praised the dictator for being a "friend" of civilised Europe, keeping a firm hand on all those Islamists.

Tunisians won't forget this little history, even if we would like them to. The Arabs used to say that two-thirds of the entire Tunisian population - seven million out of 10 million, virtually the whole adult population - worked in one way or another for Mr Ben Ali's secret police. They must have been on the streets too, then, protesting at the man we loved until last week. But don't get too excited. Yes, Tunisian youths have used the internet to rally each other - in Algeria, too - and the demographic explosion of youth (born in the Eighties and Nineties with no jobs to go to after university) is on the streets. But the "unity" government is to be formed by Mohamed Ghannouchi, a satrap of Mr Ben Ali's for almost 20 years, a safe pair of hands who will have our interests - rather than his people's interests - at heart.

For I fear this is going to be the same old story. Yes, we would like a democracy in Tunisia - but not too much democracy. Remember how we wanted Algeria to have a democracy back in the early Nineties?