Blog Posts by Stacy Curtin

  • 'Why have I paid £100 for a £45 phone from BT?'

    My aunt, now 88, who keeps records of everything, spoke to a named BT employee on the phone in April 2013.

    It was suggested that she buy a Graphite 2500 telephone for £45. It was then mooted that she could pay for it in six quarterly instalments which would be completed in October 2014.

    Several months ago, while reviewing her bills, I discovered that the quarterly payment was still being charged two years after the completion of the contract.

    We immediately cancelled the charge, but BT refused to repay the overpayments of nearly £60. This is a significant sum for my aunt, who lives alone and survives on a small pension. BT stated that the quarterly payments were due until such time as the subscriber requested to stop them.

    I have phoned BT on numerous occasions only to be put on hold and then kept waiting for more than 30 minutes until the line goes dead.

    My aunt wrote a comprehensive letter six months ago to BT but received no reply.

    DE, Surrey

    There is certainly a lot of

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  • Why N. Korea may have used VX to kill leader's half brother

    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Was it a poorly executed assassination or did North Korea want to showcase its stockpile of banned chemical weapons?

    The use of the highly toxic VX warfare agent to kill the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader has raised questions about Pyongyang's real motives in one of the strangest killings the world has seen.

    Some say North Korea, in allegedly bringing a U.N.-classified weapon of mass destruction to kill a man at a busy international airport, intended to show the world what it can do with chemical weapons, which are easily forgotten amid concerns about the country's advancing nuclear missile technologies.

    But other experts believe it's unlikely that North Korea wanted VX to be discovered. There's no reason for Pyongyang to risk taking another hit when it's already under heavy international sanctions over its nuclear program. It's also doubtful that the country would be suddenly willing to showcase its chemical weapons as a deterrent when it has

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  • Trump administration blocks changes on coal mining royalties

    BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Interior Department has put on hold changes to how the federal government values huge volumes of coal extracted from public lands, primarily in the Western United States, after mining companies challenged the agency in federal court.

    The move by the Trump administration means current rules governing the industry will remain in place pending decisions in the courts, according to an agency notification due to be published Monday in the Federal Register.

    The changes, crafted under the administration of President Barack Obama, were aimed at ensuring companies don't shortchange taxpayers on coal sales to Asia and other markets. Coal exports surged over the past decade even as domestic sales declined.

    Yet federal lawmakers and watchdog groups have long complained that taxpayers were losing hundreds of millions of dollars annually because royalties on coal form public lands were being improperly calculated.

    In 2016, companies sold 316 million tons of coal from federal

    Read More »from Trump administration blocks changes on coal mining royalties
  • Can 'La La Land' waltz away with all the Oscars glory?

    Hollywood will be sprinkled with stardust on Sunday at the Oscars, with dreamy nostalgic musical "La La Land" tipped for glory on the film industry's biggest night.

    Damien Chazelle's glossy tribute to the all-singing, all-dancing Golden Age of Tinseltown's studio system is vying for 13 statuettes, and many of its 14 nominees are sure-fire winners -- if the oddsmakers are right.

    The film, which stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as an aspiring actress and a struggling jazz musician who fall in love in Los Angeles, has charmed critics the world over and returned more than 10 times its $30 million budget.

    Gold Derby, a site that collates the awards predictions of experts, had the musical as a clear favorite in 10 categories late Saturday, including best film, director, actress, score and song.

    But it is expected to fall short of the record 11 statuettes achieved by "Ben-Hur" (1959), "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" (2003).

    - 'It's pretty exciting' -

    "La La Land"

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  • Trump administration blocks changes on coal mining royalties

    The Interior Department has put on hold changes to how it values coal extracted from public lands after mining companies sued in federal court to challenge the rules

    BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- The Interior Department has put on hold changes to how the federal government values huge volumes of coal extracted from public lands, primarily in the Western United States, after mining companies challenged the agency in federal court.

    The move by the Trump administration means current rules governing the industry will remain in place pending decisions in the courts, according to an agency notification due to be published Monday in the Federal Register.

    The changes, crafted under the administration of President Barack Obama, were aimed at ensuring companies don't shortchange taxpayers on coal sales to Asia and other markets. Coal exports surged over the past decade even as domestic sales declined.

    Yet federal lawmakers and watchdog groups have long complained that taxpayers were losing hundreds of millions of dollars annually because royalties on coal form public lands were being

    Read More »from Trump administration blocks changes on coal mining royalties
  • Oil giant taps China's vast geothermal reserves

    Chinese state-run energy giant Sinopec has drilled hundreds of wells across the country without finding a single drop of oil. But that was precisely the point: instead of black gold, the almost mile deep holes are providing clean heat for local homes.

    While two-thirds of China's electricity is generated by coal, almost all of the homes in northern Hebei province's Xiong district -- home to 400,000 people -- are heated by wells as deep as 1,500 metres (5,000 feet).

    In a new apartment in the district, a 60-year-old retiree watched his granddaughters hop about in bare feet, impervious to the frost outside.

    "This floor heating works like a dream," said Li Fuzeng. "And they say it's clean energy."

    The temperature inside his home was 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit) and a citrus tree in the corner showed no signs of winter.

    Chen Menghui, director of Sinopec's geothermal branch in Hebei, said the process depends on a cycle of running water.

    "These underground wells are pumped with

    Read More »from Oil giant taps China's vast geothermal reserves
  • Brexit churns unease for Britain's speciality cheese

    In the rolling countryside of southwest England, farmer Charles Martell is tending to his rare breed of cattle while two of his dairy workers get to work making Single Gloucester cheese -- a British delicacy.

    It has been two decades since Martell gained European Union protected status for his premium cheese, meaning it can only be made according to a pre-defined recipe and in a specific location.

    Britain's impending EU exit puts that status at risk.

    "The reason I did it was because people were starting to make the cheese outside the county, and I thought: 'Clear off! It's not your cheese, go away'," Martell told AFP, surrounded by his black brown Gloucester cows in the rural county of Gloucestershire on an icy February day.

    Dozens of Britain's signature foods and drinks are expected to lose their special EU status with Brexit, leaving producers like Martell facing uncertainty over how to protect their businesses.

    From Cornish clotted cream to Scottish wild salmon, Scotch whisky and

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  • Police: Car plows into parade crowd in New Orleans; 28 hurt

    NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A suspect is in custody after 28 people were injured Saturday when a vehicle plowed into a crowd watching the Krewe of Endymion parade in the Mid-City section of New Orleans, police said.

    Police Chief Michael Harrison said the suspect is being investigated for driving while intoxicated. Harrison was asked twice by the media if terrorism was suspected. While he didn't say "No" he did say it looks like a case of DWI.

    "We suspect that that subject was highly intoxicated," he said.

    Twenty-one people were hospitalized after the crash with five victims in guarded condition. Seven others declined to be hospitalized, city Emergency Services Director, Dr. Jeff Elder said.

    The victims range in age from as young as 3 or 4-years-old to adults in their 30s and 40s, said Elder.

    Among the injured was one New Orleans police officer. Harrison said the officer, who was on duty, was undergoing tests to determine the extent of her injuries. She was in "good spirits," he said.

    The accident

    Read More »from Police: Car plows into parade crowd in New Orleans; 28 hurt
  • Miners regain sparkle as commodity prices rebound

    Increased Chinese spending on housing and hopes of an infrastructure bonanza in the US and India are driving a recovery in resources giants, analysts said, with major miners raking in huge profits.

    A slowdown in the global economy, particularly in the world's top consumer China, and a supply glut hammered prices in recent years, pushing many firms to the brink of collapse and forcing others to slash jobs and spending.

    But with Beijing rediscovering its appetite for key metals -- and the economy showing signs of stabilising -- optimism is returning, although there are lingering worries the recovery might not last.

    "Most miners are going to be making very good cash, and better cash than they have been making for years," UBS commodities analyst Daniel Morgan told AFP.

    "Their cost bases are lower and in many cases they are back to sustaining capex (capital expenditure) rather than growing capex. So right now they'll be minting cash and improving their balance sheets."

    Iron ore, a key

    Read More »from Miners regain sparkle as commodity prices rebound
  • LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Meryl Streep on Saturday accused designer Karl Lagerfeld of spoiling her night at the Academy Awards ceremony by falsely accusing her of being paid to wear a gown on the Oscars red carpet.

    Streep was responding to a claim earlier this week by Lagerfeld that the "Sophie's Choice" actress had decided against wearing a Chanel gown at Sunday's Oscar ceremony because she could get paid by wearing a dress from a different designer.

    Lagerfeld's claims made headlines around the world.

    "The story was picked up globally, and continues, globally, to overwhelm my appearance at the Oscars, on the occasion of my record breaking 20th nomination, and to eclipse this honor in the eyes of the media, my colleagues and the audience," Streep, 67, said in a statement.

    Streep, the most admired and honored actress of her generation, is Oscar-nominated on Sunday for playing an eccentric opera singer in the comedy "Florence Foster

    Read More »from Meryl Streep accuses Karl Lagerfeld of spoiling her Oscars

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