Oil prices rise above $104; natural gas sinks

The price of oil rose more than a $1 for the third time in the last four trading days, and closed above $104 for the first time since July 3.

Benchmark U.S. crude for August delivery rose $1.46 to $104.59 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Friday, the Nymex contract fell 6 cents to $103.13. Oil has gained 4.6 percent over the past four trading sessions.

Brent crude for September delivery, a benchmark for international oils, gained 44 cents to $107.68 on the ICE exchange in London.

Meanwhile, natural gas prices sank further below $4 on forecasts for cooler temperatures in parts of the U.S. Natural gas supplies haven’t been dropping as quickly this summer, as milder temperatures compared with last year reduce the need for homeowners to run the air conditioning full tilt low fee cash advance.

Natural gas fell 10 cents to $3.85 per 1,000 cubic feet.

At the pump, gasoline prices inched lower to an average of $3.57. That’s down 4 cents from a week ago and 11 cents cheaper than at this time last year.

In other Nymex trading:

— Wholesale gasoline rose 3 cents to $2.89 a gallon.

— Heating oil gained 1 cent to $2.86 a gallon.

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Second chamber has seen far worse

“The Senate, like sin and poverty, has always been with us.”

— Larry Zolf, Survival of the Fattest, 1984.

There is, in that pithy appraisal of Canada’s Senate by the singular and (in these lamentable times) deeply missed Larry Zolf, something almost biblical and entirely fitting.

The Senate is this country’s unreformable Rock of Ages, our national Trials of Job, an ongoing illustration of the perennial allure and inevitable cost of the Seven Deadly Sins (“pride,” not for nothing, foremost among them, “greed” hard on its haughty heels.)

What more can really be said about a legislative chamber that has had not one but two senators sit until they were past 100?

Quite a lot, actually.

In our freshest Senate fooferaw, the charges laid this week against suspended senator Mike Duffy, that erstwhile Upper House-man from Prince Edward Island, there is, as always, a satisfyingly Canadian flavour.

First, the charges themselves focus on amounts so comparatively trivial as not to threaten our growing national sense of superiority.

Second, coming as they do as the party of the second part (Duffy) to a transaction in which the party of the first part (the former PMO chief of staff) has been cleared, they seem as confusing to most Canadians as is our constitutional amending formula.

Third, in Mike Duffy, the disgrace really couldn’t happen to a chap more illustrative of the grasping sensibility that so many citizens find so very off-putting about the Red Chamber.

All things considered, the nation could be forgiven a brief smirk at the torments of a fellow who, long before tawdry Toronto Mayor Rob Ford began referring to himself as Rob Ford, had taken to calling himself “the Old Duff.”

Whatever the outcome of the charges against him, and the entertaining political machinations they will inevitably unleash, the Old Duff has for all time entered the pantheon of senators who left the reek of something unpleasant in their wake.

The granddaddy of them all was the Beauharnois Affair in the 1920s, when Senator Wilfrid Laurier McDougald became what Larry Zolf called “a walking conflict of interest” as both a sitting senator and chairman of the board for a corporation seeking the government nod to divert the St. Lawrence to build a dam and generate power.

More typically, and deliciously, the Senate has been characterized less by nation-shaking scandal in millions and billions than by fiddles petty, picayune and rather pathetic. Where else but Canada’s Senate could the explosive trinity of politics, religion and money come together to such unholy purpose?

As Claire Hoy chronicled in his 1999 book Nice Work: The Continuing Scandal of Canada’s Senate, Nova Scotia’s Sister Peggy Butts was chosen for the Senate by Jean Chr

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Oil rises past $103 on geopolitical turmoil

The price of oil rose 2 percent Thursday on lower U.S. inventories and concerns that geopolitical tensions could disrupt global supplies.

Benchmark U.S. crude for August delivery rose $1.99 to close at $103.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, the Nymex contract added $1.24 to close at $101.20.

Brent crude for September delivery, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 72 cents to close at $107.89 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

A series of geopolitical events pushed prices higher by raising concern that oil supplies could be disrupted, even though no disruptions were imminent. The Obama Administration announced new sanctions against Russian energy firms after the market closed on Wednesday, including against Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil producer. While analysts say it is unlikely to cause any dip in production or exports in the short term, it could prevent or delay future exploration and production.

The crash of a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane over Ukraine — which Ukrainian officials said was shot down — raised the risk of a sharper conflict between Ukraine and Russia that could lead to even tighter sanctions against Russia. And fighting in the Gaza strip intensified after a shaky cease-fire expired, yet another source of turmoil in the Middle East, the world’s most important oil-producing region.

“Although oil balances will not be impacted, it gives the oil complex another reason to inject some geopolitical risk premium,” wrote energy analyst Jim Ritterbusch in a research note to investors.

The jitters about potential disruptions came on the heels of a surprisingly large decline in supplies in the U.S. On Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude oil inventories fell by 7.5 million barrels to 375 million barrels in the week of July 11. The fall was more than double what analysts had expected, and reversed what had been a three-week slide in prices.

In other Nymex trading:

— Wholesale gasoline closed unchanged at $2.882 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 16.5 cents to close at $3.954 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil rose 0.1 cent to close at $2.859 a gallon.

AP Writer Pablo Gorondi contributed to this story from Budapest.

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US stock index futures point to lower open

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stock futures pointed to a slightly lower open on Thursday after mixed news about the economy and a batch of corporate earnings.

KEEPING SCORE: Dow Jones industrial average futures slipped 33 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,024 as of 8:54 a.m. Eastern time. Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures fell seven points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,967. Nasdaq 100 futures lost 12 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,909.

MIXED PICTURE: Government reports showed a mixed picture for the economy. While the number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week, home construction fell in June to the slowest pace in nine months, a setback to hopes that housing will boost economic growth.

MICROSOFT LAYOFFS: Microsoft said early Thursday it will eliminate up to 18,000 jobs over the next year as it works to integrate the Nokia business it bought in April. The company has about 127,000 employees now. Microsoft’s stock jumped $1.27, or 3 percent, to $45.35 in premarket trading.

BANK WIN: Morgan Stanley’s quarterly profit more than doubled, thanks to strong results from its investment banking and money-management units. Its stock rose 40 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $32.90 in premarket trading.

EUROPE AND ASIA: Global stock markets were lower. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.6 percent and the CAC-40 in France slipped 0.8 percent. Germany’s DAX eased 0.7 percent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 edged down 0.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was flat and China’s Shanghai Composite fell 0.6 percent.

BONDS AND OIL: Bond prices rose in the market for U.S. Treasurys. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.51 percent from 2.53 percent late Wednesday. Benchmark U.S. crude for August delivery jumped $1.73 to $102.93 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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Drunk driving charge dropped against Raptors

Drinking and driving charges against Toronto Raptor centre Jonas Valanciunas has been dropped, according to reports.

Valanciunas was arrested in April in Wasaga Beach just prior to the start of the Raptors first round playoff series against the Brookly Nets.

Whether Valanciunas faces any further discipline from the team or the NBA wasn’t immediately known.

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Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe reveals he is gay

SYDNEY—Five-time Olympic swimming gold medallist Ian Thorpe for the first time publicly confirmed that he is gay during a television interview on Sunday, ending years of speculation about his sexuality.

Thorpe, who had long denied that he was gay, told British talk show host Michael Parkinson in an interview broadcast on Australia’s Channel 10 that he just recently realized the truth about himself.

“I’m not straight,” Thorpe said. “And this is only something that very recently — we’re talking in the past two weeks — I’ve been comfortable telling the closest people around me exactly that.”

For years, Thorpe took great pains to hide his sexuality. In his 2012 autobiography, This Is Me, Thorpe wrote, “For the record, I am not gay and all of my sexual experiences have been straight. I’m attracted to women, I love children, and aspire to have a family one day.”

Thorpe, 31, said being asked about his sexuality by journalists when he was just a teenager forced him to adopt a defensive attitude toward the issue. He was too young to know whether he was gay or straight, and said he responded that he was straight to avoid teasing from classmates. Things spiraled from there.

“I felt the lie had become so big that I didn’t want people to question my integrity,” he said. “And a little bit of ego comes into this; I didn’t want people to question . . . have I lied about everything?”

Now, he says, he wishes he had come out sooner.

“I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man,” he said. “And I don’t want young people to feel the same way that I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.”

Part of his reluctance to come out, he said, was fear of letting his family and his fans down.

“I wanted to make my family proud. I wanted to make my nation proud of me. And part of me didn’t know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay,” he said. “But I’m telling not only Australia, but I’m telling the world, that I am payday loans direct lenders.”

Thorpe added that he is looking forward to living his life openly, without the burden of carrying a secret. He wants to find a partner, he said, and start a family.

Swimming Australia president John Bertrand congratulated Thorpe on his interview and said the former swimmer was “courageous to speak so publicly.”

“His bravery and honesty will inspire many Australians, just like he did in the pool, and our team is really looking forward to catching up with him in Glasgow over the coming weeks at the Commonwealth Games,” Bertrand said Monday.

Thorpe retired from swimming in 2012 after winning five Olympic gold medals, three silvers, and one bronze, and setting 22 world records.

Known to fans as the Thorpedo, he was just 14 when he was first chosen to represent Australia, and became swimming’s youngest world champion at that age when he won the 400-metre freestyle at the 1998 worlds in Perth.

His career peaked at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he won three gold and two silver medals. He retired after the 2004 Athens Olympics, citing a lack of motivation, but made an unsuccessful comeback when he tried to qualify for the 2012 London Games.

In the interview, Thorpe also spoke at length about the often crippling depression he has struggled with since he was a teenager, which led him at one point to contemplate suicide. When antidepressants failed to help, he said, he turned to alcohol to ease his pain.

“I kind of felt that it was unfair, that I was doing the right thing, taking the antidepressant, and I’m still miserable,” he said. “So I tried drinking.”

“How hard?” Parkinson asked.

“Well, I didn’t have to try that hard,” Thorpe responded with a laugh.

Meanwhile, Thorpe said he is still struggling with a broken shoulder. He contracted a serious infection when he underwent surgery earlier this year and said he still faces the prospect of more operations.

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Israel widens air assault, hits mosque; Gaza death toll tops 125

GAZA, PALESTINE—Israel widened its air assault against the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers on Saturday, hitting a mosque it said was hiding rockets, as Palestinians said their death toll from the five-day offensive rose to over 125.

The military said it has struck more than 1,100 targets, including Hamas rocket launchers, command centres and weapon manufacturing and storage facilities, in a bid to stop relentless rocket fire coming Gaza. Officials in the territory said that besides the mosque, the strikes also hit Hamas-affiliated charities and banks, as well as a home for the disabled, killing two women.

The central Gaza mosque was being used to conceal rockets like those militants have fired nearly 700 times toward Israel over the past five days, the military said. However, the strikes in the densely populated Gaza Strip show the challenge Israel faces as it considers a ground operation that could potentially pose further dangers to civilians.

While there have been no fatalities in Israel from the continued rocket fire, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said overnight Israeli strikes raised the death toll there to over 125, with more than 920 wounded.

Hamas militants have been hit hard. Though the exact breakdown of casualties remains unclear, dozens of the dead also have been civilians.

MORE ON THESTAR.COM:

Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ anti-rocket system changing face of battle

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Rising anger in Israel, Palestine fuel fears of Third Intifada

The offensive showed no signs of slowing down Saturday as Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said his country should ready itself for several more days of fighting.

“We have accumulated achievements as far as the price Hamas is paying and we are continuing to destroy significant targets of it and other terror organizations,” Yaalon said after a meeting with top security officials. “We will continue to punish it until quiet and security returns to southern Israel and the rest of the country.”

Hamas said it hoped the mosque attack would galvanize support for it in the Muslim world.

“(It) shows how barbaric this enemy is and how much it is hostile to Islam,” said Husam Badran, a Hamas spokesman in Doha, Qatar. “This terrorism gives us the right to broaden our response to deter this occupier.”

The Israeli military released an aerial photo of the mosque it hit, saying Hamas hid rockets in it right next to another religious site and civilian homes. It said Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza militant groups use this tactic of abusing religious sites to conceal weapons and establish underground tunnel networks, deliberately endangering civilians.

“Hamas terrorists systematically exploit and choose to put Palestinians in Gaza in harm’s way and continue to locate their positions among civilian areas and mosques, proving once more their disregard for human life and holy sites,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman.

Critics though say such allegations are too sweeping, and that Israel’s heavy bombardment of one of the densely populated territories is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk.

Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, “this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well.”

Israel issues early warnings before attacking Gaza targets and the military says it uses other means to do its utmost to avoid harming bystanders. But Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed family homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough following the Israeli warnings faxless pay day loans.

“Justifying all Israeli attacks that lead to civilian casualties by saying Hamas is using human shields is factually incorrect,” she said.

The rocket fire from Gaza militants appeared to tail off somewhat Saturday, with a new round resuming later in the day. The “Iron Dome,” a U.S.-funded, Israel-developed rocket defence system, has intercepted more than 130 incoming rockets, preventing any Israeli fatalities so far. A handful of Israelis have been wounded by rockets that slipped through.

The most seriously wounded Israeli resulted from a rocket that struck a gas station Friday in the southern city of Ashdod, setting off a huge explosion. A house in Beersheba suffered a direct hit though the family living there was not home.

As a precaution, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv relocated its personnel assigned to Beersheba. However, militant rockets have reached further into Israel than ever before, with air raid sirens sounding even in the northern city of Haifa, 100 miles (160 kilometres) away.

The frequent rocket fire has disrupted daily life in Israel, particularly in southern communities that have absorbed the brunt of it. Israelis mostly have stayed close to home. Television channels air non-stop coverage of the violence and radio broadcasts are interrupted live with every air raid siren warning of incoming rockets.

The frequent airstrikes have turned the normally frenetic Gaza City into a virtual ghost town, emptying streets, closing shops and keeping hundreds of thousands of people close to home where they feel safest from the bombs.

The offensive is the heaviest fighting since a similar eight-day campaign in November 2012 to stop Gaza rocket fire. The outbreak of violence follows the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an apparent revenge attack.

Israel has pummeled Gaza at twice the rate of the 2012 operation and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press on with the campaign until there is a complete halt to rocket attacks from the seaside Palestinian territory. Israel has massed thousands of troops along the border in preparation for a possible ground invasion, with soldiers atop vehicles mobilized and ready to move into Gaza if the order arrives.

A senior military official said Saturday that Israel estimated Hamas still had thousands of rockets in its arsenal and it would take Israel more time to eliminate the threat to its civilians.

“There is no knockout. It is more complicated,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of military guidelines.

Israel has begun coming under international pressure as Palestinian casualties have grown. The United States and European leaders have stressed Israel’s right to defend itself, but the United Nations says it is concerned over civilian deaths in Gaza, and anti-Israel protests have taken place in Europe. In the West Bank, Hamas supporters clashed with Israeli troops over the Gaza offensive.

The Arab League said foreign ministers from member states will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Monday evening to discuss the continued Israeli offensive and measures to urge the international community to pressure Israel.

Egypt, which historically has served as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, appears less eager to help out this time. Hamas was particularly close to the Muslim Brotherhood, who the current leadership banned after driving it from power last year.

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Who is the call girl accused of callously murdering Google executive?

The details uncovered by investigators portray Alix Catherine Tichelman as a callous, calculating killer. Her mugshot reveals piercing, haunting eyes. And her social media trail portrays a troubled soul who battled addiction and body image issues.

The 26-year-old California call girl was indicted this week for allegedly leaving a Google executive for dead on his yacht after injecting him with a fatal dose of heroin.

Shortly before Thanksgiving last year, police found Forrest Timothy Hayes, 51, dead on his yacht — named “Escape” — in the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. The yacht’s security cameras show Tichelman injecting Hayes with heroin.

He slips into unconsciousness, but she doesn’t call 911. She did, however, collect her belongings — the heroin and needles — casually sidestepping Hayes’s body. “At one point, she steps over the body to finish a glass of wine,” police said, adding that Tichelman did one last thing before fleeing the boat: She closed the blinds, ensuring that no one would see the body from the outside.

“She showed no regard for him,” Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark told the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Tuesday. “She was just trying to cover her tracks.”

Hayes and Tichelman met, according to investigators, through the website “Seeking Arrangement,” which promises to help “Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies or Mommas both get what they want, when they want it.”

According to news reports, Hayes worked at Google’s innovation lab, where “moon shot” projects like self-driving cars and Google glass are dreamed up. An obituary written by his family describes Hayes as a beloved husband and father of five who enjoyed spending time with his family and on his boat. On a website that has since been taken down, friends and family shared fond memories of him, the Associated Press reported.

Tichelman’s life online tells a different story, not of a loving family but of destruction and an intense self-loathing disguised as bravado with a bustier and sultry makeup .

“Selling my soul would be a lot easier if i could find it,” she wrote on Twitter in July 2012. “I have always been attracted to the darker side,” she said in an interview with fetish magazine fiXE, according to news.com.au. “My parents said by the time I was there I was an intense child, and already liked horror movies.”

She appears to have struggled with addiction for years. On her Instagram account, she posted a photo in May, 2013 with the tagline: “My eyes are red red red quick pay day loan. . . combination of the glitter eyeliner and the medical grade I’ve been smokin on.” And in a note titled “heroin” posted on her Facebook page almost exactly a year before the alleged murder she wrote:

this private downward spiral-this suffocating blackhole

makes you feel so warm inside,

yet makes your heart so cold.

each day takes it’s toll,

your thoughts become emotionless,

your soul feels too old.

the demons whispers to me ever so lightly,

he never let’s go of his hold,

taking everything from me,

I’ll end up dying alone.

In photos posted on her Facebook page in 2012, Tichelman vacillates between skinny and emaciated. In one of them she boasts “size zero . . . no more size two for me.” She idolized Kate Moss, who also appears several times in her timeline photos. Her Facebook and Instagram photos, a combination of provocative professional model shots and sexy selfies, reveal a scantily clad split personality: a goth in fishnet thigh highs, a pinup girl in panties, heroin chic.

Tichelman doesn’t say much about her family. The notes section of her Facebook page includes a novel-in-progress about a girl named Kat (her middle name is Catherine). It’s not clear whether it’s autobiographical, but the tale tells of an alienated teen-ager who turns to heroin to escape a broken home where an alcoholic mother entertains “random men.”

According to USA Today, Tichelman’s parents now live in Folsom, Calif., where her father Bart is the chief executive of a tech company, SynapSense Corp. He took the job in November 2012, a year before the alleged murder, after working with Renewvia Energy Corp., a solar power project developer in Atlanta. Tichelman was living in Folsom at the time of her arrest but previously lived in Atlanta, according to her social media accounts.

Two years ago, she posted often about a boyfriend named Dean, who gave her a black and white diamond “promise ring” on June 22, 2012. There are pictures of them together playing with baby monkeys.

In her last post on Jan. 11, 2013, she counted among her blessings “a great boyfriend, nice house, monkeys, loving family . . . doesn’t get any better than this I don’t think.”

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Grain mostly lower, livestock lower

CHICAGO (AP) — Grain futures were mostly lower Tuesday on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Wheat for Sept delivery fell .50 cent to $5.5625 a bushel; Sept corn was 2.25 cents lower at 3.9825 a bushel; Dec oats were 1.75 cents higher at $3.4050 a bushel; while Nov soybeans declined 9.25 cents to $11.1625 a bushel.

Beef and pork were lower on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange no fax cash advance.

August live cattle fell 1.43 cents to $1.5352 a pound; August feeder cattle was 2.10 cents lower at $2.1590 a pound; while August lean hogs fell 1.97 cents to $1.2985 a pound.

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Summers joins fight to save Export-Import Bank

WASHINGTON • Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers is urging Congress to reauthorize the endangered Export-Import Bank, saying that allowing the agency to shut down while other countries have similar programs to boost their foreign sales would be “the economic equivalent of unilateral disarmament.”

Summers, who was President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser in 2009-10, added his voice to those of business leaders and Democratic officials who are fighting to save the bank in the face of Republican opposition.

Bank supporters are lobbying members of Congress aggressively to persuade them to reauthorize the export-assistance agency before its charter expires on Sept. 30

In an opinion article in the Financial Times on Sunday, Summers said the bank is crucial to U.S. economic engagement in the global economy.

He noted that the bank, which provides loans to foreign buyers of U.S. products and other assistance to exporters, does not require any taxpayer funding. It pays for its operations through interest and fees and last year sent a record $1.1 billion in profits back to the Treasury.

The bank “enables U.S. exporters to compete on a more level playing field with those of competitor nations, all of whom have similar vehicles,” Summers said.

“Only by maintaining a capacity to counter foreign subsidies can we hope to maintain a level global trading system and to avoid ceding ground to mercantilists,” he wrote no teletrack payday loans. “Eliminating the Export-Import Bank without extracting any concessions from foreign governments would be the economic equivalent of unilateral disarmament.”

Many House Republicans, including incoming Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, say the bank mostly helps large companies and amounts to unnecessary “crony capitalism.”

Although the bank does not require annual congressional appropriations, the government is on the hook for any losses on its $140 billion in outstanding loans and other assistance.

Summers said the U.S. needs to be more actively engaged on global financial issues. He criticized Congress for not approving reforms proposed by the International Monetary Fund that Obama administration officials have advocated.

The changes at the IMF would give China and other emerging market countries more say in the international agency’s decisions. Republicans question the effectiveness of the IMF and are worried the reforms would lessen U.S. influence over IMF actions.

“A failure to engage effectively with global economic issues is a failure to mount a strong forward defense of American interests,” Summers wrote. “The fact that we cannot do everything must not become a reason not to do anything.” 

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