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April 17, 2010

Tobacco manufacturers and retailers fined over UK price fixing

Tobacco manufacturers and retailers fined over UK price fixing

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lambert & Butler, one of the popular brands that was subject to price fixing.
Image: Wannanone .

Several tobacco manufacturers and retailers in the United Kingdom have been fined a total of £225 million for price fixing. The fines were imposed by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) following an investigation lasting seven years. It is the largest penalty ever issued by the OFT for breaches of the 1998 Competition Act, with the case involving two major tobacco makers and numerous British supermarkets.

Together the manufacturers involved, Imperial Tobacco (whose brands include Golden Virginia and Lambert & Butler) and Gallaher Group (who own Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges among others) make almost 90% of all cigarettes and roll-ups sold in the UK. They were fined £112 million and £50 million respectively.

The supermarkets facing the largest penalties were Asda and The Co-operative Group, at £14 million each. Other stores fined were First Quench, Morrisons, Safeway, Shell garages, Somerfield, T&S Stores (now One Stop) and TM Retail. Also taking part in the price fixing were Sainsbury’s, though they received immunity from being fined after alerting the OFT and co-operating with the investigation. Some of the other companies also earned reductions in their fines through co-operation with the OFT.

Similar allegations against Tesco were not pursued due to a lack of evidence.

Imperial Tobacco denied the charges, claiming in a statement that its dealings with the retailers were simply legitimate “promotional arrangements”. They have said they are considering an appeal against the decision.

In a press release the OFT said that the fines would send out a strong message. “Practices such as these, which restrict the ability of retailers to set their resale prices for competing brands independently, are unlawful.” said Simon Williams, OFT Senior Director of Goods. “They can lead to reduced competition and ultimately disadvantage consumers.”

“This enforcement action will send out a strong message that such practices, which could in principle be applied to the sale of many different products, can result in substantial penalties for those who engage in them.”

Full list of fines

Company Fine Notes
Imperial Tobacco £112,332,495 Manufacturer
Gallaher Group £50,379,754 Manufacturer
The Co-operative Group £14,187,353
Asda £14,095,933
Safeway £10,909,366 Now part of Morrisons
Morrisons £8,624,201
Somerfield £3,987,950 Now part of The Co-operative group
Shell £3,354,615
TM Retail £2,668,991
First Quench £2,456,528 Now in administration
T&S Stores £1,314,095 Now One Stop, part of Tesco
Sainsbury’s £0 Granted immunity from fines
Total £224,311,281



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February 13, 2010

Airborne laser successfully destroys ballistic missile

Airborne laser successfully destroys ballistic missile

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

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The ALTB in flight.
Image: Missile Defense Agency.

An infrared video of the Airborne Laser Testbed (right) disabling a threat-representative short-range ballistic missile (left) during the initial boost phase.
Image: Missile Defense Agency.

The United States Missile Defense Agency have announced that their airborne laser system has successfully shot down a ballistic missile for the first time. In a test on Thursday the “Airborne Laser Testbed” (ALTB), a modified Boeing 747-400F, detected a boosting short-range missile and tracked it using a low-energy laser. A second low-energy laser was used to measure and compensate for atmospheric disturbance, before the aircraft’s High Energy Laser was used to destroy the target.

The missile was liquid-fuelled and said to be “threat-representative”, possibly similar to a Scud. It was launched from sea, and shot down by the ALTB within two minutes. In a second test less than an hour later, a solid-fuel missile launched from a ground location was also successfully hit by the High Energy Laser, but deliberately not destroyed. A similar missile was destroyed on February 3.

In a press release announcing the successful tests the Missile Defense Agency said: “The revolutionary use of directed energy is very attractive for missile defense, with the potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of light, at a range of hundreds of kilometers, and at a low cost per intercept attempt compared to current technologies.”

The ALTB is described as a “pathfinder” for the use of directed energy in missile defense. It is designed to operate at high altitudes above the clouds, and to detect and destroy ballistic missiles soon after launch whilst they are still in their boosting phase. The aircraft is provided by Boeing, the main laser by Northrop Grumman, and the control systems by Lockheed Martin.

“Through its hard work and technical ingenuity, the government-industry team has produced a breakthrough with incredible potential,” stated Greg Hyslop, vice president of Boeing Missile Defense Systems. He said that the experiment had “made history”.

The US has been working on the program since 1996, and has faced numerous problems in that time. The megawatt-class High Energy Laser is known as the chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL), and consists of six modules, each as large as an SUV. The sheer weight of chemicals needed was almost too much for the 747 jet. The laser also had problems with accuracy due to atmospheric conditions.

February’s tests were originally scheduled to be carried out in 2002. The amount spent getting the project to this stage has also risen from a planned US$1 billion to $7.3 billion. Last year, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cut the program back to a single jet for research, suggesting it would not see actual deployment.

“The reality is that you would need a laser something like 20 to 30 times more powerful than the chemical laser in the plane right now to be able to get any distance from the launch site to fire,” Gates told Congress. “So, right now the [jet] would have to orbit inside the borders of Iran in order to be able to try and use its laser to shoot down that missile in the boost phase.”

Gates also raised concerns at the large number of planes that would be required, and the ensuing cost. However, he said that directed energy weapons still had potential for missile defense.



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January 31, 2010

Roger Federer wins Australian Open

Roger Federer wins Australian Open – Wikinews, the free news source

Roger Federer wins Australian Open

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

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Roger Federer today defeated Andy Murray 6–3 6–4 7–6 (13–11) in the final of the Australian Open, winning the tournament for a fourth time. The Swiss Federer, who is ranked world number one in men’s tennis, has now won a total of sixteen Grand Slam titles.

Cquote1.svg I can cry like Roger, it’s just a shame I can’t play like him. Cquote2.svg

—Andy Murray

Going into the final Murray had won six of the ten matches where the two players had met before, and had hopes of becoming the first British man to win a Grand Slam title in 74 years. The last was Fred Perry, who won the US Open in 1936. In 2008 Federer and Murray met in the final of that tournament, where the Swiss player won an easy victory.

This time the match was closer, with Murray fighting hard in the third set and at one point leading it 5–2. Federer pulled back to force a tie break, where he eventually triumphed after 2 hours 41 minutes of play.

After the match an emotional Murray said: “I can cry like Roger, it’s just a shame I can’t play like him. I loved every minute of it and hopefully one time I can come back and win here.”

Federer said he was “over the moon” to win again, and congratulated Murray on his performance in the tournament, saying he was “too good a player not to win a Grand Slam.”

The Australian Open, held on hard courts at Melbourne Park, is the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year. The top prize is A$2,000,000. Federer previously won in 2004, 2006 and 2007.



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January 27, 2010

Healing ozone layer may contribute to global warming

Healing ozone layer may contribute to global warming

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Climate change

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The ozone hole over Antarctica in September 2006, when it was at its largest recorded size.
Image: NASA.

Scientists from the UK’s University of Leeds and the University of Kuopio in Finland report that the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer over Antarctica may have offset some of the effects of climate change, and that as it heals, warming could accelerate. Their paper is published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The group studied twenty years of records of global weather conditions and wind speeds. They say that beneath the ozone hole, wind speeds are increased, which whips up more sea spray. Salt from this is carried upwards and makes the clouds brighter, reflecting more of the Sun’s radiation. This helps cool the Earth, counteracting the effects of global warming.

The ozone layer in the atmosphere protects life from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, and the discovery of its rapid depletion in the 1980s caused widespread alarm. The Montreal Protocol adopted in 1987 forced countries to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the man-made chemicals thought to be largely responsible for the hole.

Professor Ken Carslaw, of the University of Leeds School of Earth and Environment, was one of the co-authors of the paper. He warned that as the ozone hole healed, warming in parts of the Southern Hemisphere could accelerate.

“If, as seems likely, these winds die down, rising CO2 emissions could then cause the warming of the southern hemisphere to accelerate, which would have an impact on future climate predictions,” he said

Describing the findings as “unexpected and complex climate feedback”, Professor Carslaw emphasised that this research was not a reason to try and keep the hole open:

Cquote1.svg The ozone hole was potentially a major catastrophe for the planet that was only stopped by the Montreal Protocol, so we can’t go back on that Cquote2.svg

—Professor Ken Carslaw

“You can’t correct two wrongs in that way. The ozone hole was potentially a major catastrophe for the planet that was only stopped by the Montreal Protocol, so we can’t go back on that.”

He said instead that carbon emissions should be cut drastically.

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence Programme.

Judith Perlwitz, a resercher at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that the group’s data were sound but she disagreed with some of the paper’s conclusions. Perlwitz claimed that rising temperatures due to global warming would increase wind speeds anyway, leading to the same effects as the ozone hole.

“The question is whether the wind is really going to slow down, and that I doubt,” she said.

According to a World Meteorological Organization report in 2006, it is likely to be at least fifty years before the ozone above Antarctica is back to its pre-1980 state.



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World Economic Forum security chief found dead on eve of summit

World Economic Forum security chief found dead on eve of summit

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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The head of security for the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, has been found dead in his hotel room on Tuesday morning, a day before the international summit gets underway. A government spokesman refused to comment on the cause, but in a statement local police said that “all signs point to suicide.”

Davos, Switzerland
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Markus Reinhardt, 61, was head of police for the canton of Graubünden (also known as Grison). He had held the position since 1984, and has been responsible for security at the annual WEF summit for several years. He had previously been a prosecutor for the canton.

In a statement the WEF expressed its “great sadness and regret” at the news:

“During the many years during which we co-operated with him over security for our annual meeting at Davos, we appreciated his professionalism and his kindness. Our thoughts are with his loved ones and his colleagues. The security forces continue to have our full confidence and trust in their work.”

Marcel Suter will replace Reinhardt as head of WEF security, and Robert Willi will temporarily head the Graubünden police.

Speaking to Dow Jones Newswires, an unnamed spokeswoman claimed that the death had “nothing to do with” the summit, but some have raised concerns about security.

Robert Seiden of Confidential Security and Investigations, a New York firm, said: “There will have to be a full risk assessment to determine if there is an ongoing threat especially in view of the high level of attendees at the conference.”

Over 2,500 politicians and business leaders from 90 countries are expected to attend. The conference will run from Wednesday to Sunday.



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January 26, 2010

British military secrets leaked on social networking sites

British military secrets leaked on social networking sites

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted sixteen instances of sensitive information being leaked on social networking websites in the past eighteen months. Ten employees have been disciplined for misuse of the sites. The revelations follow a Freedom of Information request by Lewis PR and computer security company F-Secure.

The MoD would not comment on what disciplinary action was taken, or whether the leaks involved operational information. The ministry’s guidelines state that staff must obtain clearance to release any information that is related to sensitive, controversial or political matters, or military operations.

“It’s worrying that employees in sensitive positions have been sharing confidential information via Twitter and other means,” said Mikko Hypponen, of F-Secure. “Loose Tweets can cost lives.”

According to Lewis PR, computers on the main MoD networks are blocked from visiting social networking sites. However there are a small number within the department which have unrestricted Internet access. Some personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq also have access through internet cafés on military bases.

The ministry’s “online engagement guidelines”, released in August last year, recognise the importance of social media such as Facebook for personnel keeping in touch with friends and family. According to the document: “Service and MOD civilian personnel are encouraged to talk about what they do, but within certain limits to protect security, reputation and privacy.”



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