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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?

Family

US: Physical fitness grade linked to body fat

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© Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune
Angela Gemini, mother of a fifth-grade boy, speaks Tuesday at a Hawthorne Elementary School meeting on the use of BMI data in determining physical fitness progress. Gemini said it isn't the school's place to be giving medical advice.
After parents protest, Elmhurst school says BMI data will no longer affect report card

Chicago, Illinois - Elmhurst students have long been checked on how long it takes to run a mile or whether they can do a pushup. But another physical fitness assessment tool has some parents fuming - one that aims at finding out whether their kids are too hefty.

A child's "body mass index," a computation of body fat based on height and weight, was one of six tests used at Hawthorne Elementary School to determine the physical fitness grade on a student's progress report.

But that practice ended abruptly Tuesday after about 25 parents met with school officials to express their displeasure with how the BMI data were being used. One mother broke into tears as she described how it affected her fourth-grade daughter.

Briefcase

Swiss banker linked to Wikileaks is found guilty

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© Reuters
Rudolf Elmer was fined but escaped a prison sentence
A former Swiss banker who said he gave Wikileaks details of rich tax evaders has been found guilty of breaching Switzerland's strict bank secrecy laws.

A judge at Zurich's Regional Court did so even though the leaked documents referred to accounts in the Cayman Islands.

Judge Sebastian Aeppli fined Rudolf Elmer more than 6,000 Swiss francs ($6,250; £4,000).

But he rejected prosecution demands to give Elmer an eight-month prison sentence.

Newspaper

UK: Gordon Brown to Warn Against Global Youth Unemployment Epidemic

Gordon Brown
© David Moir/Reuters
Gordon Brown will tomorrow make a speech on behalf of the world's young and unemployed.
Former prime minister will call for Barack Obama to take the lead in helping the 81 million people under the age of 25

Gordon Brown will warn on Thursday that the world faces youth unemployment of "epidemic proportions", as he urges joint action by the G20 group of developed and developing nations to tackle rising joblessness.

During a speech in London, the former prime minister will call for Barack Obama to take the lead in boosting education, training and job opportunities for the 81 million people under the age of 25 who are currently without work.

"Unemployment is an international timebomb for both developed and developing worlds," Brown will say in the Ted Kennedy/John Harvard memorial lecture.

Whistle

Wal-Mart Is Not a Person

AP_supreme_court_corporate_america300_CH
© Unknown
The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

- John Stuart Mill
In 2003, after my book Unequal Protection was first published, I gave a talk at one of the larger law schools in Vermont. Around 300 people showed up, mostly students, with a few dozen faculty and some local lawyers. I started by asking, "Please raise your hand if you know that in 1886, in the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons and therefore entitled to rights under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."

Almost everyone in the room raised their hand, and the few who didn't probably were new enough to the law that they hadn't gotten to study that case yet. Nobody questioned the basic premise of the statement.

And all of them were wrong.

We the People are the first three words of the Preamble to the Constitution; and from its adoption until the Robber Baron Era in the late nineteenth century, people meant human beings. In the 1886 Santa Clara case, however, the court reporter of the Supreme Court proclaimed in a "headnote" - a summary or statement added at the top of the court decision, which is separate from the decision and has no legal force whatsoever - that the word person in law and, particularly, in the Constitution, meant both humans and corporations.

Thus began in a big way (it actually started a half century earlier in a much smaller way with a case involving Dartmouth University) the corruption of American democracy and the shift, over the 125 years since then, to our modern corporate oligarchy.

Info

Vitamin D, Fluoride, and Vaccines: The Common Theme

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© Alliance for Natural Health
If government is going to act as a scientific arbiter, it needs to have clean hands. That means getting private commercial interests out of the decision-making process.

In this week's vitamin D update, we discussed the glaring conflict of interest in the recent IOM report on vitamin D. Unfortunately this is not an isolated case. Consider also the recent fluoride debacle.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls fluoride in drinking water "one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century," except earlier this month they stated that the levels they previously mandated are too high, and HHS and EPA are taking steps to prevent excessive exposure to it. Children's teeth are getting pitted and turning black or brown from dental fluorosis. An increasing number of scientists and health professionals argue that fluoride exposure has a negative impact on the whole body, including joint pain, hypothyroidism, kidney and liver damage, and the possibility of bone cancer.

Alarm Clock

2011 Financial Meltdown Fast Approaching

dollar burning
© Unknown
Despite the best efforts by the American mainstream financial media, the eager PR division of the United States Dollar Ponzi Scheme, to paint the rosiest of rosy pictures for blindly optimistic readers, the stubborn image of a debt-swollen jobless behemoth economy slowly toppling persists. No matter how much U.S. departmental data is primped, polished, and primed, no amount of lipstick is going to transform this fat pig into a princess.

This week's top harbinger headline points to the fact that the United States is once again bumping its fat head on the ceiling of its spectacularly stratospheric debt ceiling of $14.3 TRILLION dollars. That means an act of congress is once again necessary to lift that limit. The alternative is either a) a revaluation of the U.S. Dollar to reflect the depreciation inherent in Quantitative Sleazing as part of a debt restructuring, or b) default.

Default? Could it be?

Never, according to bright-eyed Harvard educated economists and Forexperts.
"The likelihood of a restructuring of US sovereign debt is zero," says MF global currency and fixed income analyst Jessica Hoversen. "As for a downgrade, while it's theoretically possible, it is still extraordinarily unlikely."
Well that's one opinion.