Saturday, March 5, 2011

Major Libyan oil plant ablaze -- Almost HALF the country's 1.6million barrel a day oil output knocked out

A major Libyan oil plant was ablaze last night as fresh fighting raged across the country leaving at least 50 dead – including 30 civilians and two rebel commanders.

It is unclear whether the facility in the port area of Zueitina, south of the rebel-held city of Benghazi, was deliberately set on fire or whether the blaze was triggered in battles.

Flames and clouds of black smoke engulfed the oil terminal, which can produce 500,000 barrels a day. (read more)

Sunnis and Shi'ites clash in Bahrain, several hurt

Fighting between Sunni and majority Shi'ite Muslims in central Bahrain injured several people overnight in the first sectarian violence since protests erupted in the Sunni-ruled kingdom two weeks ago.

But calm quickly returned on Friday after several hours of clashes, triggered late on Thursday by a family dispute or a car accident, or both, according to differing residents' accounts.

"There were about a hundred people involved," one resident of Hamad Town said as police helicopters circled overhead and ambulances rushed from the scene.

Bahrain, a Gulf island kingdom that is a U.S. ally, has been gripped by unrest since protesters, mainly from the disgruntled Shi'ite Muslim majority, took to the streets demanding democratic reforms.

Seven people died after the police and army used force to try to disperse the protests when they erupted two weeks ago, but violence stopped when the government ordered security forces off the streets under international pressure. (read more)

Qaddafi’s Militia Storms Key Town Controlled by Rebels

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s militia stormed the rebels controlling the town of Zawiyah on Saturday morning in what two residents described as a “massacre.” (Poster's note: Although, interestingly, once again there is no footage of any of this battle occurring. Hmm.)

“I am watching neighbors dying unarmed in front of their homes,” one resident said in a telephone interview, with the sounds of heavy weapons and machine-gun fire in the background. The resident said the militias were using tanks and heavy artillery, attacking from both the east and west gates of the town. “I don’t know how many are being killed, but I know my neighborhood is being killed,” the resident said.

In a telephone interview a little more than three hours after the attack began, another resident said: “Everything is burning. We don’t know from which side they are shooting us — from the buildings or from the streets. People are falling everywhere.” (read more)

Obama 'Considering Every Option' On Libya

Echoing statements made by British Prime Minister David Cameron, US President Barak Obama announced Thursday he is considering every option, including military intervention alongside European allies, due to fears Libya’s bloody crisis will devolve into chaos. Characterizing Libyan strongman Moammar Qaddafi's grip on power illegitimate, Obama said: "Colonel Gaddafi needs to step down from power and leave."

Obama's comments came on the heels of a statement by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said implementing a no fly zone in Libya would be an "act of war" and complained of "loose talk" about military intervention in Libya. Gate's seemed to be implying committing an overextended US military in Libya was an irresponsible proposition in light of ongoing operations in Afghanistan, phasing out commitments in Iraq, and Iran and the Persian Gulf as potential trouble spots. (read more)

Shell chief Peter Voser warns oil demand could outstrip supply

Lack of investment over the past two to three years will most likely be the biggest driver of high oil prices, he said on Friday.

"We may face a situation at one stage where supply cannot meet demand," Mr Voser said. "That's where OPEC spare capacity will help but we have to replace significant barrels because of natural decline over time."

The boss of Europe's biggest oil company said he had confidence in the ability of OPEC, the oil cartel, to compensate for the loss of 1m barrels per day of production from Libya. More than half the North African country's production has been lost as uprisings worsens and the nation heads towards civil war. (read more)

Oil price shock; you ain't seen nothing yet

The most common cause of a spiking oil price is supply shock. We may be seeing just such a phenonenon right now with the effective shut down of Libyan oil. But sometimes it’s excessive demand that does the damage.

Forget the present turbulence, which may or may not be temporary. You don’t have to look far into the future, perhaps as little as a year to 18 months, to see that a major demand challenge is looming which even assuming no further disruption to existing production, will challenge the present supply base to breaking point.

As it is, it’s fair to assume the world is closer to full capacity than producers care to admit. Rewind to the last oil price shock in the summer of 2008, and Saudi Arabia, pumping out oil at the rate of around 9.5 million barrels a day, was having to draw on inventories to meet demand. It’s therefore reasonable to assume that 9.5 million bpd then represented maximum capacity. (read more)

Britain at risk of another financial crisis, Bank of England chief warns

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mervyn King says that “imbalances” in the banking system remain and are “beginning to grow again”.

Mr King urges high street banks to take a better, longer term view towards their customers and to stop focusing on the need to “simply maximise profits next week”.

He accuses them of routinely exploiting their millions of customers. “If it’s possible [for financial services firms] to make money out of gullible or unsuspecting customers, particularly institutional customers, [they think] that is perfectly acceptable,” he says.

The Governor criticises the “weight put on the importance and value of takeovers” and raises concerns that companies with good reputations have been “destroyed” in the search for short-term profits.

Mr King expresses regret for not sounding a louder warning over his concerns before the last banking crisis. (read more)

Arab World: New evidence of Iran’s nuclear ambitions - 5th Mar 2011

Recent reports from the IAEA have caused renewed consternation amongst those tracking the Islamic Republic’s enrichment efforts.

On March 1, the Pentagon announced it was sending the USS Monterey – a vessel equipped with the sophisticated Aegis radar system, capable of protecting Europe from a potential Iranian nuclear missile strike – to the Mediterranean.

The guided missile cruiser is the first part of a missile shield announced by the Obama administration in 2009.

Its deployment comes one week after the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a notably outspoken report on Iran’s nuclear activities and lack of cooperation with inspectors operating under the UN Security Council’s mandate.

Issued on February 25, the report appears to agree, at least in part, with the conclusions of a new US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, about which members of Congress and their staff were briefed a week earlier.
Read More

2,000 turkeys diagnosed with bird flu near Jenin - 5th Mar 2011

JENIN (Ma'an) -- A flock of 2,000 turkeys has been diagnosed with the H5N1 "bird flu" virus in the northern West Bank village of Silat Al-Harithiya near Jenin, government officials said.

The veterinary department of the Palestinian Authority Agriculture Ministry said it had managed to prevent an epidemic.

Director of the department in Jenin Jamil Makhamra told Ma'an that government and private vets examined the flock on Feb. 27 after many of the birds died.

Samples were examined at the veterinary medicine center in Ramallah, where it was confirmed that the birds had influenza A subtype of H5N1, also known as "bird flu." Read More

Poison likely cause of 31 Mimalayan vulture deaths - 5th Mar 2011

GUWAHATI, March 5 – The remains of a dog that had died due to poisoning could have had a role in the death of 31 Himalayan Griffon vultures (Gyps himalayensis) at Solmari in Goalpara district. It is now known that the endangered birds, with a dwindling population, could have died two or three days ago.

Today a team of experts from the Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre at Rani with support from forest personnel carried out a post mortem on three birds. The report, however, has not reached the State Wildlife Warden’s office at the time of filing of this report.

A forest official who had visited the site told The Assam Tribune that the vultures could have died after consuming the remains of a dog, which had been poisoned. Reports suggest that the dead vultures were found close to the spot where the poisoned canine was dumped a few days back. Read More

Britain on war footing: Libya -- British Army ready for mission at 24 hours’ notice

Sources confirmed that The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, had been placed on heightened readiness, prepared to deploy to North Africa at 24 hours’ notice.

The 600-strong infantry unit returned from Afghanistan in late 2009 and is based at Fort George near Inverness. “They’re ready, just in case,” said a source.

The Ministry of Defence insisted that the battalion was prepared for humanitarian relief operations, not combat.

But the disclosure that British troops are on stand-by came amid growing concerns that Col Gaddafi’s struggle to retain power could take Libya into a protracted civil war and cause a humanitarian crisis.

Nato members yesterday agreed to draw up contingency plans for how their armed forces could intervene. Britain is also preparing to send diplomats and specialist advisers to the eastern city of Benghazi, where the disparate Libyan opposition is based. (read more)

Boise County files for bankruptcy

In a move rare in the United States and perhaps unprecedented in Idaho, Boise County is filing for federal protection against a multimillion dollar judgment.

“This was not our first option. This was our last option,” said Jamie Anderson, chairwoman of the three-member Boise County Board of Commissioners. “This protects us so we can continue to operate.”

Chapter 9 protection, from a section of federal code expressly for financially distressed municipalities, means that creditors can’t collect while the county is developing a plan for reorganizing its debts.

Dan Chadwick, an attorney and executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, said he is not aware of any other county, city or taxing district in Idaho ever filing for bankruptcy. He’s been with the association for 20 years and before that was at the Attorney General’s Office for 10 years, he said.

Bill Nichols, McCall’s city attorney, said he is not aware of any other Chapter 9 filings in Idaho, either.

“I don’t think there has been anyone in the Northwest that has used this, other than an irrigation district in the state of Washington,” Nichols said. (read more)

Peak Oil: New information that Saudis have overstated their oil reserves

John Vidal's report on US diplomatic cables from Saudi Arabia raises the spectre of premature peak oil: an unexpected deline in global oil production in an oil-dependent world. The US government is among many administrations that routinely reassure the public that supplies of oil can go on growing far into the future. But in private, top diplomats have been telling Washington that they hold deep concerns about supplies from the world's number one supplier. This is an issue that has far-reaching consequences for an oil-importing nation like the UK, and for the global economy.

The latest batch of leaked cables report the views of Sadad al-Husseini, a former board member of the national oil company Saudi Aramco and a geologist who headed exploration and production for the company from 1986 to 2004. He and the US consul-general met in November 2007, when Saudi Aramco were halfway through a $50bn investment programme aiming to lift Saudi maximum daily production capacity from 9.5 million barrels a day to 12.5m by 2009.

Al-Husseini told the Americans he believed that the 12.5m barrel a day target would prove impossible. The kingdom might get to 12m barrels a day given 10 years, but before then – perhaps as early as 2012 – global production would have hit the highest level it ever will, and given that demand won't be abating by then given levels of economic growth in China and India, the oil price will soar. He told the Americans plainly that the Saudis will not be able to ride to the rescue: the Saudi oil industry was overstating its recoverable reserves so as to spur foreign investment, he alleged, at the same time as it was badly underestimating the time needed for bringing new oil on tap. (read more)

U.S. experimented on disabled citizens and prison inmates

Shocking as it may seem, U.S. government doctors once thought it was fine to experiment on disabled people and prison inmates. Such experiments included giving hepatitis to mental patients in Connecticut, squirting a pandemic flu virus up the noses of prisoners in Maryland, and injecting cancer cells into chronically ill people at a New York hospital.

Much of this horrific history is 40 to 80 years old, but it is the backdrop for a meeting in Washington this week by a presidential bioethics commission. The meeting was triggered by the government's apology last fall for federal doctors infecting prisoners and mental patients in Guatemala with syphilis 65 years ago.

U.S. officials also acknowledged there had been dozens of similar experiments in the United States - studies that often involved making healthy people sick. (read more)

We're Rapidly Approaching the Cataclysmic Economic Crisis to Which 2008 Was a Warm Up

Stocks broke down in a big way this week, falling below the trendline that has supported them since late August. Indeed, it looks as though we not only broke below this line but have since rallied to retest it: a classic pattern during corrections.

The question now is if this is just a minor correction or the start of something more. The S&P 500 appears to have formed a rising bearish wedge pattern (see above), which usually is a termination pattern that results in the underlying security falling to retest its base (in this case 1050 or so on the S&P 500). (read more)

Saudi Arabia witnesses first signs of unrest as 'day of rage' planned for March 11th

THE POPULAR uprisings across the Middle East are sparking similar unrest in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with youth groups and workers in that country now calling for a “day of rage” demonstration in the capital, Riyadh, on March 11th.

Already there have been protests in the city of Qatif and other towns in the country’s oil-rich Eastern Province demanding, among other things, the release of political prisoners and a raft of social reforms. There are also reports of prominent Shia clerics being detained by the Saudi Sunni authorities, and security forces mobilising in anticipation of further protests.

Sadek al-Ramadan, a human rights activist in al-Asha, Eastern Province, said: “People here are watching closely the protest movements across the region, which are tapping into long-held demands for reforms in Saudi Arabia.” Al-Ramadan said that there are “deep frustrations” in Saudi society over high levels of poverty, unemployment, poor housing and perceived widespread corruption among the rulers of the world’s top oil exporter whose gross domestic product last year is estimated at $622 billion. (read more)

Racial tensions brewing in US: Feeling left out, Texas group launches scholarship for white men

A non-profit group has launched a college scholarship for a demographic it claims are under-represented in society - white men.

The Former Majority Association for Equality will give grants of $500 to any man from Texas who is at least ‘25 per cent Caucasian’, has good grades and can demonstrate they are in need.

Its founder Colby Bohannan claims whites feel ‘excluded’ when they apply to college and that they are ‘left out’ when it comes to funding. (read more)

Fighting corporatism: Bank protesters turn branches into laundry, hospital services

Anti-cuts activists opposed to the bank bailout occupied 40 branches across the country on Saturday, pilling on the pressure against RBS, Lloyds and Natwest.

The action co-ordinated by UK Uncut saw people set up "essential services" in banks, including creches, hospitals, libraries and job centres on Saturday.

Campaigners pointed out that the banking bailout had cost billions but had only led to super profits for the rich, while the government is gearing up to slash public spending.

In Islington, North London, 50 activists set up a laundry in an RBS branch in reaction to cuts to services for the elderly, including a much-needed laundry service.

Local Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn who took part in the action saluted UK Uncut: "The banks caused the crisis of 2008. Public money bailed them out and now the poorest pay the price." (read more)

Fears over new leak at Chernobyl spark plea for radiation shield

Fears that the destroyed nuclear reactor at Chernobyl could collapse and again leak deadly radiation have prompted European agencies to seek hundreds of millions of pounds to fund the construction of a vast steel building to encase the site.

As the 25th anniversary of the worst nuclear accident in history approaches, there is a funding shortfall of €740m (£631m) for projects to build a "shelter" over the destroyed reactor and to safely store nuclear fuel from the other nuclear reactors at the site.

The new shelter for the destroyed reactor is being funded by the European Union and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in co-operation with the Ukrainian government, but European officials say they urgently need countries to pledge money for the project, which is under way but underfunded. They hope that a conference in April, ahead of the anniversary of the disaster, will see governments donate the missing funds. (read more)

DENMARK - 30 Danish swans die in droves, foul play suspected - 4th Mar 2011

The bodies of 30 mute swans, Denmark’s iconic swan species, have been found dead in the span of a single month in the vicinity of Copenhagen’s Lakes.

Most of the dead swans were found in the area around Peblinge Lake, the body of water between Queen Louise’s Bridge and the start of Ã…boulevard, in the month of February. Many of the swans appear to have died in the span of a week.

An autopsy conducted on one of the swans by the National Veterinary Institute in Aarhus indicates that it died as a result of an infection that gave rise to blood-poisoning, according to veterinarians from the Danish Ornithological Association (DOF).

It was DOF that first contacted the City of Copenhagen in early February, when residents began finding the bodies of mute swans, that had suddenly died for inexplicable reasons.

Most of the dead swans were fully grown and well-nourished, so it’s unlikely that starvation or cold killed them, according to Knud Flensted, a biologist with DOF. Read More

British troops on 24 hour Libya standby - 5th Mar 2011

CRACK British troops are on 24-hour standby for a mission in Libya, it emerged last night.

Five hundred of the Black Watch were secretly made ready on PM David Cameron's orders.

And 200 have already been moved to an air base in South Cerney, Wiltshire.

A third warship - Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster - has also sailed for the region rocked by an uprising against tyrant Colonel Gaddafi.

NATO planners are drawing up a range of potential military scenarios - from rescue sorties to a no-fly zone.

But the most likely task for the Black Watch, based at Fort George near Inverness, would be a humanitarian mission rather than a combat role.

An MoD official said: "The whole region is extremely unstable at the moment, so it makes sense to have the Black Watch on immediate standby." Read More

In addition from the Daily Mail:

Britain is to send teams of spies and diplomats into Libya to help oust Colonel Gaddafi, it emerged last night.

MI6 operatives backed by the SAS are to land in the east around the key rebel stronghold of Benghazi 'within days'.

British diplomats and spies have been engaged in intensive efforts to speak to opposition forces, which are led by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the rebel National Libyan Council.

Now ministers have approved a presence on the ground to gather information and boost the chances of the rebels. Read More

Libya: 'SAS Unit And Diplomat Held Hostage' (by REBELS) - 6th Mar 2011

Up to eight members of an SAS unit and a British diplomat have been detained in Libya, it has been reported.

According to the Sunday Times, the elite soldiers are believed to have been escorting the junior diplomat through a rebel-held area in the east of Libya when they were taken hostage.

It is understood that all have now been transported to the rebel-stronghold of Benghazi.

The SAS's intervention has allegedly angered Libyan opposition figures who ordered the armed and plain-clothes soldiers to be locked up on a military base.

Opponents of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's fear he could use any evidence of western military interference to rally patriotic support for his regime.

Sky News defence correspondent Niall Paterson said: "Neither the Foreign Office nor Ministry of Defence are as yet saying anything about this matter.

"But people I have spoken to give me no reason to doubt the report." Read More

UPDATE: SAS Soldiers Released; Eight SAS soldiers who had been detained by Libyan rebels near Benghazi have left the country aboard HMS Cumberland, according to Sky News sources. Read More