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Friday, October 24, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Friday October 24 2008 - (813)

Friday October 24 2008 edition
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California Foreclosures Spike 228 Percent
2008-10-23 22:07:06
A record number of homes were lost to foreclosure in California over the last three months, up 228% from last year to a high of 79,511 homes. MDA DataQuick reported that more homes were taken back by lenders in the three months ended Sept. 30 than at any time since the company started tracking foreclosures in 1992.

In the previous three months, which also set a record, 63,316 homes were lost to foreclosure. That's a huge swing from an all-time low just two years ago of 637 in the second quarter of 2005.

Nationally, RealtyTrac Inc. reported that the number of homes being repossessed was up 126% over the last three months, totaling 250,091 homes from July to September. The five states with the most foreclosures were California, Florida, Michigan, Arizona and Texas.

At the same time, California saw a sharp decline in activity from banks taking the first steps toward foreclosure. The number of default notices that lenders send to homeowners fell last quarter for the first time in three years, down 22.5% from last quarter but up 29.9% from the same period last year.

Housing experts say that change is the direct result of a new state law that forces lenders to make repeated attempts to contact a homeowner before foreclosing on the home.

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Sony Slashes Earnings Forecast By $1 Billion
2008-10-23 22:06:45

Consumer electronics giant Sony Corp. Thursday slashed its earnings forecast for the 2008 fiscal year, saying profits will be down nearly 40 percent from a prediction the company made this summer and about 60 percent from the previous year.

In a statement released from its headquarters in Tokyo, Sony singled out sales of flat-panel televisions, digital cameras and video cameras as likely to be lower than previously expected "due to a deterioration in the market environment brought on by the slowing global economy." The company says it now expects earnings of 150 billion yen, or $1.5 billion, down from a July forecast of 240 billion yen, or $2.4 billion.

In the face of deepening worries about the economy, the electronics industry has tried to maintain an optimistic stance. The Arlington-based trade group Consumer Electronics Association released a study this week suggesting that sales won't be hurt as consumers tighten their belts. The CEA reported that, based on a recent consumer survey, it expects electronics sales will be up 3.5 percent during the upcoming holiday season over 2007. That increase would, however, be half the previous year's growth level.

Sony competitor LG Electronics reported a dismal quarter this week, with profits down 90 percent for the Seoul-based TV and mobile phone manufacturer. Sony's announcement further undermined even modest hopes among analysts today for this year's electronics sales.

"Clearly we're going to be in for a bad holiday," said Stephen Baker, a computer and electronics industry analyst with research firm NPD. "In a tough economy, people have to make some choices and typically they might not buy that new camera or flat-panel TV. As one of the leaders in this industry, Sony is going to get hit."

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Editorial: New York Times Endorses Obama For President
2008-10-23 22:06:20
Intellpuke: The following editorial appeared in the New York Times edition for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008.

Hyperbole is the currency of presidential campaigns, but this year the nation’s future truly hangs in the balance.

The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush’s failed leadership. He is saddling his successor with two wars, a scarred global image and a government systematically stripped of its ability to protect and help its citizens - whether they are fleeing a hurricane’s floodwaters, searching for affordable health care or struggling to hold on to their homes, jobs, savings and pensions in the midst of a financial crisis that was foretold and preventable.

As tough as the times are, the selection of a new president is easy. After nearly two years of a grueling and ugly campaign, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has proved that he is the right choice to be the 44th president of the United States.

Mr. Obama has met challenge after challenge, growing as a leader and putting real flesh on his early promises of hope and change. He has shown a cool head and sound judgment. We believe he has the will and the ability to forge the broad political consensus that is essential to finding solutions to this nation’s problems.

In the same time, Senator John McCain of Arizona has retreated farther and farther to the fringe of American politics, running a campaign on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism. His policies and worldview are mired in the past. His choice of a running mate so evidently unfit for the office was a final act of opportunism and bad judgment that eclipsed the accomplishments of 26 years in Congress.

Given the particularly ugly nature of Mr. McCain’s campaign, the urge to choose on the basis of raw emotion is strong. But there is a greater value in looking closely at the facts of life in America today and at the prescriptions the candidates offer. The differences are profound.

Mr. McCain offers more of the Republican every-man-for-himself ideology, now lying in shards on Wall Street and in Americans’ bank accounts. Mr. Obama has another vision of government’s role and responsibilities.

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New York Mayor Bloomberg Wins Fight To Extend Term Limits
2008-10-23 22:05:48
Arguing that New York needs his financial skill to guide it through the crisis on Wall Street, Mayor Michael Bloomberg persuaded City Council to amend the term-limits law Thursday so that the billionaire independent can run for re-election next year.

By a 29-22 vote, the council agreed to allow officeholders three consecutive four-year terms. Existing law limits them to two terms, and Bloomberg's second is up at the end of 2009.

The vote dramatically alters the city's political landscape. Many would-be mayoral candidates are expected to drop out of the race rather than run against a popular incumbent with unlimited cash to spend. Bloomberg founded the financial news service that bears his name and is worth an estimated $20 billion.

The former CEO was first elected as a Republican in 2001, while smoke was still rising from the ruins of the World Trade Center; he later became an independent.

Bloomberg's announcement three weeks ago that he would try to rewrite the term-limits law led to a bruising debate - and a politically damaging one for the mayor, who had previously backed the term limits law and even vetoed a 2002 bill to amend it, saying it was an attempt by politicians to change the rules for personal gain.

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E.U. Plans Online Backup Copy of European Civilization
2008-10-23 19:05:35
A new online encyclopedia of Eurpean culture, called "Europeana", is set to debut in November. It's a rival to the Google Library Project, but also something else - the start of a vast digital backup copy of what's in Europe's libraries, museums and national film collections.

Henry Kissinger famously said the European Union would give Europe a phone number. Now it wants to give the continent a Web site, too.

Not just a page with some facts and figures; the E.U. has plenty of those. What an E.U. commissioner has in mind is a rich digital encyclopedia of Europe's cultural heritage. "Europeana" is an ambitious project to digitize large portions of the continent's national libraries and put as much of European civilization as possible - books, maps, paintings, photos, films - online for free.

The Web site at the moment just has a demonstration tour. But Viviane Reding, E.U. Commissioner for Information Society and Media, has promised to have two million digitized "objects" available for full public browsing - in English, German and French - by November 20.

Europeana will let a reader start, say, with an image of the Mona Lisa. Then it will encourage a stroll through related paintings, music, books or other artifacts using data tags ("Leonardo da Vinci," "portraits," "Italy," even a color) - or a timeline of European history.

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How Big Oil's Lobbyists Contributed To Big Finance's Crash
2008-10-23 14:47:10
Working Americans are reeling from the "unintended consequences" of their relentless war against regulation.

In a monumental about-face, U.S. Security and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox became the latest deregulation devotee to confess utter failure, repudiating the policies to which he had committed his life's work and saying, "The last six months have made it abundantly clear that voluntary regulation does not work."

Unless the current financial meltdown is to become a permanent state of ruin, the SEC is hardly the only government agency that must immediately be reformed. Among others, the Commodity Futures and Exchange Commission (CFTC) - the government agency that regulates futures markets - now needs a heavy dose of re-regulation.

The house of cards that is the deregulated futures market has so far benefited the remaining top two investment banks, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs - and one industry, Big Oil. Even with the recent wild volatility in the price of oil (a hallmark of deregulated markets), Big Oil has maintained its spot as the largest economic victor the world has ever known, profiting from an area of "voluntary regulation" that should be far more worrisome for the average American and for the global economy than the collapsed subprime mortgage market.

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Justice Department Targets ACORN, But Ignores Republican Voter Suppression
2008-10-23 14:46:31
On the eve of the 2008 election, the Justice Department leaks an FBI probe of ACORN but remains silent on widespread voter intimidation tactics.

Partisan considerations still appear to be contributing to the Department of Justice's actions when it comes to enforcing the nation's voting rights laws.

With Election Day less than two weeks away, proponents of more tightly regulating the voting process - this time led by congressional Republicans - have gotten their desired response from the nation's guardian of civil rights' laws: a FBI investigation into ACORN, the low-income advocacy coalition that registered 1.3 million new voters in 2008.

Last week, two FBI officials told reporters an ACORN investigation was underway, violating Department rules for disclosing information on cases that could impact an election. The Obama campaign's response was to ask the Attorney General to include that leak in a special prosecutors' investigation of the U.S. attorney firing scandal. No response to that request has been forthcoming.

More disturbing to civil rights attorneys is the Department's silence on what voting rights lawyers say are myriad voter suppression tactics by partisans in the campaign's final weeks. These efforts include attempts by Republicans to disqualify legal voter registrations, unlawfully purge voters, threaten individual voters with polling place challenges, fabricate barriers to student voting and abuse prosecutorial authority by investigating 2008's early voters.

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Greenspan's 'Shocked Disbelief' Over Credit Crisis, Says Unemployment Will Rise
2008-10-23 13:35:22
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congress today he was in "shocked disbelief" at the breakdown of credit markets that has triggered "a once-in-a-century credit tsunami" inflicting great damage on the U.S. economy.

"This crisis ... has turned out to be much broader than anything I could have imagined," Greenspan told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in his first congressional appearance since financial markets began melting down last month. "Given the financial damage to date, I cannot see how we can avoid a significant rise in layoffs and unemployment."

Greenspan, who stepped down as Fed chairman on Jan. 31, 2006, after nearly 20 years in the position, reiterated comments he made early this year about his surprise that financial markets had allowed the credit crisis to develop. And under questioning he admitted that the crisis showed flaws in his strong free-market ideology .

"As I wrote last March, those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders' equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief," said Greenspan. "Such counter-party surveillance is a central pillar of our financial markets' state of balance. If it fails, as occurred this year, market stability is undermined."

Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-California) summoned Greenspan, along with former Treasury Secretary John Snow and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox, to testify Thursday at the third in a series of hearings he is holding to determine the reasons for the financial crisis.

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China, An Engine Of Growth, Faces Global Slump
2008-10-23 13:34:50
For three decades, China has fueled its remarkable economic rise by becoming the world’s workshop and unleashing a flood of low-priced exports. But faced with a possible global recession and weakening demand for Chinese exports, the question now is whether the ruling Communist Party can prevent the financial crisis from derailing the country’s economic miracle.

This question is pressing not just for China but also for the rest of the world. American officials and many economists say continued Chinese growth is vital to the global economy as the United States and Europe face severe downturns.

Yet to navigate the crisis, many analysts say, China will need to recalibrate its economic model, stoke domestic investment with heavy government spending and promote policies to increase consumer demand in a nation known for high savings rates.

The global crisis is also arising at a politically resonant moment for China. This month is the 30th anniversary of the reform policies that first ignited its market-oriented growth, a milestone that has raised inevitable questions about the next steps China must take to become a fully modern economic and political power.

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Rise In U.S. Jobless Claims Exceeds Forecasts
2008-10-23 13:34:10
The number of American workers filing new claims for jobless benefits rose by a larger than expected 15,000 last week, government data showed on Thursday, reinforcing evidence that the labor market is weak.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits increased to a seasonally adjusted 478,000 in the week ended Oct. 18, from a revised 463,000 the previous week, said the U.S. Labor Department.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast 470,000 new claims versus a previously reported count of 461,000 the week before. The Labor Department said that the effects of Hurricane Ike in Texas added roughly 12,000 claims to the total.

“The story is that the underlying trend is moving up pretty strongly and job losses are clearly getting worse,” said Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts.

The four-week average of new jobless claims, a better gauge of underlying labor trends because it irons out week-to-week volatility, declined to 480,250 from 484,750 the week before. This was the lowest reading since late September, but remained at a high level.

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U.S. Vows More Help For Homeowners
2008-10-23 22:06:57

With foreclosures mounting, Bush administration officials said Thursday that they were preparing to step up efforts to help struggling homeowners.

A senior policy maker told a Senate committee that the administration was working on a plan under which the government would offer to shoulder some of the losses on loans that are modified.

The insurance program could cost tens of billions of dollars, according to a person briefed on discussions about the plan, and would be run by the Treasury Department under the $700 billion financial rescue bill Congress passed earlier this month.

The remarks about the plan, made by Sheila C. Bair, the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation,  came as a new report showed that foreclosure filings jumped 71 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier. At the hearing, Congressional Democrats criticized the administration for not doing enough to help homeowners even as the Treasury and Federal Reserve have moved to inject hundreds of billions of dollars into banks and the financial system.

Bair, who has been one of the most ardent proponents of loan modifications, acknowledged that more needed to be done. “We are behind the curve,” Bair told the Senate Banking Committee. “We are falling behind. There has been some progress, but it’s not been enough, and we need to act and we need to act quickly and we need to act dramatically.”

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Poll: Obama Strong With Some Bush Backers
2008-10-23 22:06:34

Senator Barack Obama is showing surprising strength among portions of the political coalition that returned Geroge W. Bush to the White House four years ago, a cross section of support that, if it continues through Election Day, would exceed that of Bill Clinton in 1992, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News polls.

Underscoring his increasing strength in the final phase of the campaign, Obama led McCain among groups that voted for President Bush four years ago: those with incomes greater than $50,000 a year; married women; suburbanites and white Catholics. He is also competitive among white men, a group that has not voted for a Democrat over a Republican since 1972, when pollsters began surveying people after they voted.

Of potential concern for Obama’s strategists, however, a third of voters surveyed say they know someone who does not support Obama because he is black.

Voters were also closely divided about Obama’s ability to handle a crisis, a finding that came after Republicans seized on remarks by his running mate, Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., of Delaware, that foreign leaders were likely to test him in the first months of his term if he is elected.

Over all, however, the poll found that Obama would defeat McCain if the election were held now, with 52 percent of those identified as probable voters saying they would vote for Obama and 39 percent saying they would vote for  McCain.

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Jury Foreman Asks That Juror Be Removed In Sen. Stevens Trial
2008-10-23 22:06:01

The foreman of the jury in Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' corruption trial asked Thursday that a juror be removed following "violent outbursts" with other jurors and her refusal to "follow the rules and laws" during deliberations.

In a note to the judge, the foreman said he represented the views of 10 other jurors in requesting that the juror, identified only as No. 9, be removed from the panel. He also described her as "rude, disrespectful and unreasonable."

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan declined. He read the note in court and summoned the panel into the courtroom for what he called "a pep talk." He told the jurors to act with civility and sent them back to deliberate in the first trial of a sitting U.S. senator in more than two decades.

Stevens, a Republican, is charged with lying on financial disclosure forms to hide receipt of more than $250,000 in gifts and renovations to his home in Girdwood, Alaska. Jurors listened to a month of testimony from more than 40 witnesses and began deliberations Wednesday.

As they left the courtroom this afternoon after listening to the judge, most jurors were smiling. Sullivan noted that they did not seem to express any concerns about resuming their deliberations.

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German Bank Demands Bonus Money Back From Ex-Employees
2008-10-23 19:05:48
The beleaguered state lender IKB has called for bonus repayments from several of its former managers in the first public demand for money from specific employees by a German bank in the credit crisis. Meanwhile, more German state banks have hinted that they might take federal aid.

The private German lending bank IKB has demanded hundreds of thousands of euros from four top managers it fired in 2007 after the first wave of the credit crisis brought the bank to its knees, according to the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. It's the first call by a German financial institution for restitution from its former employees.

IKB's former chief executive, Stefan Ortseifen, has been asked to return €805,000 ($1 million) in bonus pay, while three other ex-managers - Volker Doberanzke, Markus Guthoff and Joachim Neupel - have been asked to repay amounts in the range of half a million euros each. IKB said it had started to withhold Neupel's pension payments in May 2008 to settle his debt, and Neupel has sued for the pension money to be released. Former CEO Ortseifen has sued IKB for firing him.

Another manager who still works for IKB, Claus Momburg, has already returned €558,000 in bonus pay, according to the Suddeutsche Zeitung. The bank reached a settlement with a sixth manager, Frank Braunsfeld, who left the bank last year.

IKB said the bonuses in question were "payments dependent on performance" for the business year 2006-2007, when failed speculations cost the bank billions of euros and nearly caused it to collapse in mid-2007. The bad investments were later found to be the result of mismanagement.

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Financial Panic Now Sweeping Through South America
2008-10-23 14:47:23
While the United States wrestled with financial meltdown this fall, Latin American leaders often boasted that their economies were models of stability in an otherwise tumultuous global landscape.

Such confidence gave way, however, to panic this week, as the effects of the U.S. credit crunch and an international downturn wreak havoc on Latin America's formerly booming economies.

On Wednesday, Brazilian officials stoked investor fears by allowing the country's two biggest state banks, Banco do Brasil and Caixa Economica Federal, to buy stakes in private financial firms. Many of the country's largest banks have seen their stock prices plummet, while smaller banks have been strangled by the global credit freeze.

Just a day earlier, Argentina's government shocked the financial world by announcing it planned to nationalize the country's private pension system, which holds about $30 billion in assets, a move that conjured memories of the country's 2001 economic collapse.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said the nationalization was designed to protect people's pensions from market fluctuations. Most economists, however, read the action as a desperate bid to stave off government loan default in the face of diminishing tax revenues.

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Early Voting Sees Reports Of Voter Intimidation, Machine Malfunctions
2008-10-23 14:46:50

Early voting has begun, and problems are already emerging at the polls. In West Virginia, voters using touchscreen machines have claimed their votes were switched from Democrat to Republican. In North Carolina, a group of McCain supporters heckled a group of mostly black supporters of Barack Obama. In Ohio, Republicans are being accused of trying to scare newly registered voters by filing lawsuits that question their eligibility. We speak to NYU professor Mark Crispin Miller, author of "Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy".

Just days after reports that six early voters in at least two West Virginia counties claimed their votes were switched from Democrat to Republican, a couple in Nashville, Tennessee reported similar problems with paperless voting machines. In West Virginia, one voter said, "I hit Obama, and it switched to McCain. I am really concerned about that. If McCain wins, there was something wrong with the machines."

In Tennessee, a filmmaker couple also had difficulties casting their vote for the Democratic candidate, the Brad Blog reports. They had to hit the Obama button several times before it actually registered, and in one case it momentarily flipped from Obama to Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney. Patricia Earnhardt said, "The McKinney button was located five rows below the Obama button." The couple in Nashville were using machines made by the same company as those in the counties in West Virginia-by Election Systems and Software.

Meanwhile, there are reports of long lines at early voting sites in several other states, including some counties in Texas, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.

 Mark Crispin Miller is a media critic who's been focused on voter problems and election fraud in this country. He's a professor at New York University, author of several books. Most recently he edited "Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008". His previous book, "Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election and Why They'll Steal the Next One Too".

Mark Crispin Miller now joins us in the firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Great to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your concerns right now, Mark?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, you've referred to a couple of them already. We now see a burst of vote flipping by machines, electronic voting machines in a couple of states. This is something that we saw in at least eleven states in the 2004 election, hundreds and hundreds of people coming forward to say, "I pushed the button for Kerry, and the button for Bush lit up." So, clearly, this was a systematic programming decision by the people in charge of the machines, which in that case and this one is the Republican Party. We're also seeing systematic shortages of working voting machines in Democratic precincts only. This is also something that did not happen only in Ohio in 2004, but happened nationwide. That election was, in fact, stolen.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know that?

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In U.S., Police Prepare For Post-Election Unrest
2008-10-23 14:46:10
Police departments in cities across the U.S. are beefing up their ranks for Election Day, preparing for possible civil unrest and riots after the historic presidential contest.

Public safety officials said in interviews with The Hill that the election, which will end with either the nation's first black president or its first female vice president, demanded a stronger police presence.

Some worry that if Barack Obama loses and there is suspicion of foul play in the election, violence could ensue in cities with large black populations. Others based the need for enhanced patrols on past riots in urban areas (following professional sports events) and also on Internet rumors.

Democratic strategists and advocates for black voters say they understand officers wanting to keep the peace, but caution that excessive police presence could intimidate voters.

Sen. Obama (Illinois), the Democratic nominee for president, has seen his lead over rival Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) grow in recent weeks, prompting speculation that there could be a violent backlash if he loses unexpectedly.

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Investors Flee As Hedge Fund Woes Deepen
2008-10-23 13:35:10

The gilded age of hedge funds is losing its luster. The funds, pools of fast money that defined the era of Wall Street hyper-wealth, are in the throes of an unprecedented shakeout. Even some industry stars are falling back to earth.

This unregulated, at times volatile corner of finance - which is supposed to make money in bull and bear markets -  lost $180 billion during the last three months. Investors, particularly wealthy individuals, are heading for the exits.

As the stock market plunged again on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones industrial average sinking 514 points, or 5.7 percent, the travails of the $1.7 trillion hedge fund industry loomed large. Some funds dumped stocks in September as their investors fled, and other funds could follow suit, contributing to the market plummet.

No one knows how much more hedge funds might have to sell to meet a rush of redemptions but, as the industry’s woes deepen, money managers fear hundreds or even thousands of funds could be driven out of business.

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Oil Prices Rise As OPEC Prepares To Cut Output
2008-10-23 13:34:33
Oil prices swung back above $69 a barrel Thursday, rebounding from a 16-month low as OPEC members met to decide whether to slash production to halt crude's slide.

Yet gasoline prices kept falling, dropping to levels not seen since exactly a year ago. A gallon of regular gas fell 3.6 cents overnight to a new national average of $2.82, according to auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express.

Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries were gathering in the Austrian capital of Vienna ahead of official talks Friday. Iranian oil minister Gholam Hossein Nozari called on the cartel to cut by 2 million barrels a day to stop a steep slide that has left prices more than 50 percent lower than their peak of $147.27 hit July 11.

Other OPEC members were more circumspect about a cut. Oil ministers from Kuwait and Algeria said a production of any size should be done in a way that doesn't bring more turmoil to already fragile global economies.

David Kirsch, an energy markets analyst at Washington-based PFC Energy, said he believes the market has already factored in a 1 million barrel a day cut, meaning prices wouldn't change much in the short-term if OPEC reduces output by that much.

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Jailed Chinese Activist Wins European Human Rights Award
2008-10-23 13:29:42
Hu-Jia, a soft-spoken, bespectacled advocate for democracy and human rights in China, was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Europe’s most prestigious human rights prize, on Thursday. The award was a pointed rebuke of China’s ruling Communist Party that came as European leaders were arriving in Beijing for a weekend summit.

Hu, 35, was given the prize by the European Parliament despite warnings from Beijing that his selection would harm relations with the European Union.

Last year, Hu testified via video link before a hearing of the European Parliament about China’s human rights situation. Weeks later, Hu was jailed and later sentenced to three and a half years in prison on a conviction for subversion based on his critical writings about Communist Party rule.

Hu has been one of China’s leading figures on a range of human rights issues, while also speaking out on behalf of AIDS patients and for environmental protection. The European award comes after he had been considered a frontrunner for the Nobel Peace Prize, only to lose to the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari. 

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