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10 years later, first female fire fighter still is upbeat
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Many Costa Ricans remember the disaster of the Hospital Calderón Guardia fire July 12, 2005, that resulted in 19 deaths and patients climbing through smashed windows and standing on the ledges in order to be rescued.

Firefighter Carolina Fernández Durán was just three years on the job, but says it is a day that she still carries with her seven years later.

“It was very significant to me,” she said.  “I saw the persons burned, and I still remember them in my head.”

The early morning fire proved to be very difficult for Ms. Fernández and her coworkers.

“The fire was very complicated because there were a lot of people and a lot of patients that needed help,” she said.  “It was a very big fire, and many people died.  It was very bad.”

That day, Ms. Fernández was not just carrying the weight of a life saving professional but also one of being the first woman in Costa Rica to do the job.

In a machismo society such as Costa Rica, it can be difficult for women to assimilate into the workforce, especially in jobs traditionally reserved for men.

Ms. Fernández broke into the male-only fire force in 2002, shattering the stereotype that it was a man’s job.  Before she was working as a volunteer for the Cruz Roja.

After nine years of service with the humanitarian organization, firefighter acquaintances helped her get the necessary documents to start her new career choice journey, she said.

“It’s the best job in the world, and I am very thankful to be able to help people,” said Ms. Fernández.  “The people respond with so much thanks and are very appreciative.”

Being the first female in the country to be a firefighter did not come without challenges.  Firefighters not only put their lives in jeopardy to save others, but it also is a job that requires a lot of heavy lifting.

“The job requires a lot of physical force and is very competitive,” she said.  “It’s hard to be better than the others.”

According to Ms. Fernández, she received a lot of negativity from men who said she couldn’t do the job.  She didn’t let it bother her, but continued to climb up the ladder to success proving her capabilities along the way.
Ms.
                        Fernandez
A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Fire Lt. Carolina Fernández Durán

In March she was appointed a lieutenant of the Tibás fire station.  In her new position of authority. she has another obstacle to overcome, males who do not like to take orders from women.  This is something she has learned to accept, she said.

“I don’t say anything to them,” she said. “I only work with them, and soon they don’t want to leave for another station.”

After her firefighting shift, Ms. Fernández returns home for her second job as a wife and mother of two children.

“I have double the work, work in the house and in the force,” she said.

Luckily, she said, she gets a lot of help from her husband who also is a firefighter but at the San José station.  The two met at the Heredia fire station.

Knowing the details of the job, Ms. Fernández said her husband is very nervous about her working as a firefighter but offers her a lot of support.

However, Ms. Fernández does not forget recreational activities.  She and a group of other firefighters enjoy the beauty of the underwater scene by going out diving in their free time.

Over the last decade, the fire brigade in Costa Rica has grown to include 12 women.  This is important, because women have the same desire to help and the addition of women firefighters shows the development of the organization, said Ms. Fernández.

In regards to women wanting to join the organization, she gives this advice, “If you want to do it, you can do it.”

“It’s very hard and very tiring, but beautiful work,” she said.

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Some but not all of nation
returns to normal today


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although the country moves toward normality today as Christmas vacationers return to work, a number of public offices still are closed until Monday.

That includes much of the Poder Judicial, other central government offices and many offices of municipalities. Expats probably should make a phone call before attempting to do any official business.

Out at the Zapote fairgrounds, the Fiestas de San José still are in full swing. The carnival and the bull baiting will continue until Sunday. The Cruz Roja said Sunday that it had treated 122 informal bullfighters and that 34 persons went to area hospitals from the carnival grounds. No deaths were reported.

The rondel where the bull riding and bull baiting events are held continued to attract crowds over the weekend and through New Year's Day.

The Cruz Roja reported 80 violent deaths for all of December. Included were two water deaths, but the agency also said that it continues to seek a 13 year old who disappeared in the surf Thursday at  Playa Coyote and a young man of 24 years who vanished at Manzanillo. They probably are not yet included in the total. Another death was believed to have happened at Playa Punta Uva, also on the Caribbean coast.

The rescue agency said that 88 persons died in water accidents in 2012.

The Cruz Roja also reported 30 deaths related to vehicle accidents in December. There also were 16 deaths attributed to aggression, said the rescue agency.

Judicial agents detained a 37-year-old man after a 7 p.m. Monday traffic accident in Liverpool, Limón, the Judicial Investigating Organization  reported. A roadside test determined that one driver was under the influence of alcohol, agents said. His vehicle crossed the center line and collided with a vehicle containing a man, his wife, two children, 3 and 6,  and a brother-in-law just 16, they said. That second driver, identified by the last name of Muñoz, died, they reported. He was 40. The wife and the 3-year-old were hospitalized in critical condition, they added.

A firearms death took place about 7 p.m. Monday when three men tried to hold up a small supermarket in Fray Casiano in Puntarenas, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. One man brandished a knife and another had a pistol, and they threatened customers in the store, said agents.

But then the store owner appeared, and he, too, had a firearm. In an exchange of shots with the crooks, the owner managed to hit one of the robbers three times, said agents. The bandit died on the spot. The other two fled, the agency said.
 
 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
 HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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lake view
Volcán Concepción to the left and Maderas in the distance.
A slippery day on the way to the Ometepe island volcanoes
I panted heavily as I leaned up against a tree next to the ascending path covered in muddy rocks and roots.

A stiff wind blew across me further chilling my skin and my t-shirt that had become saturated with sweat and humidity.

As I looked around, I marveled at how enclosed I felt, not by the dense jungle canopy and undergrowth that towered around me, but by the thick clouds that had enveloped the forest. While the plants, flowers and clay mud had vivid colors, the fog seemed to both brighten and sap these colors away.

The combination of the fog, the droplets forming on my glasses and the endorphins of the hike made the scene of the dormant Maderas volcano on Ometepe island in Nicaragua a dreamlike hue of whitish gray.

Text and photos
by Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ometepe island is situated in Lake Nicaragua about an hour-long ferry ride from Rivas and about a four-hour ferry ride from Granada. The island is dominated by two volcanoes, the active 1,640-meter (5,400-foot) Concepción, and its older sibling, the dormant 1,370-meter (4,500-foot) Maderas.

The combination of the volcanoes with the remoteness and limited accessibility has made the island a unique destination for tourists. Adventurers come for the grueling, seven-to-10-hour hikes up the volcanoes for the reward of looking inside the mildly-active crater of Concepción.

However, Ometepe lacks the massive resorts and elegant hot springs that surround Arenal volcano (though that might change with the newly constructed runway for small planes). The island is instead dotted with small B&B’s in towns and dirt-cheap hostels in the more rural areas. Often the hostels are called fincas or “country properties” where the owners and staff seek to give guests a very rural experience, often serving food produced on site.

One such hostel, El Zopilote or “the Vulture,” houses guests in lodges in the jungle, and guests must make a 10-minute hike from the road passing through the forest and other farms in order to get to the facility. Guests also can purchase loaves of bread, eggs, vegetables, chocolate sauce and other products made on site.

However, guests should be prepared to fully embrace nature. The dormitory lacked screens to prevent mosquitoes, lizards and an assortment of other bugs and small critters from entering. The facility also lacks plumbing, but does have complimentary filtered water. Although it does have wireless Internet, guests must sit outside the small residence of the owner of the hotel in the jungle in order to use it.

Those tourists that are not interested in such a natural experience may prefer to stay close to bigger towns of Moyogalpa and Altagracia. However, those looking for a weekend getaway in the lap of luxury may want to skip Ometepe and visit Arenal in Costa Rica instead.

Although the island has other attractions including small museums, horseback rides, hot springs, canopy tours, pre-Columbian petroglyphs and beautiful beaches on the lake, the main attraction is still the volcanoes. Guides are a must on either volcano because numerous trails that cross one another make it easy for tourists to get lost.

Most hotels, regardless of how expensive they are, can arrange guides with only a night’s notice. The guides can accompany tourists up either of the volcanoes. These guides usually cost about $20 per person for the day (all tours are cheaper per person with more people), but they are usually locals who do not speak English. These guides experience the flora and fauna by living on the island, but they are not trained tour guides and they may not be able to answer all questions that the tour may yield. The tour companies in towns that line the main street in Moyogalpa are able to offer more comprehensive tours in English, but usually at a higher price.

Both volcanoes are a very different experience. While Concepción is rocky and lacks any vegetation on it after a certain point, Maderas, which means  “wooded” in Spanish, is completely covered in thick woods and undergrowth.

Normally tourists can hike up both volcanoes, or at least to the tip of the crater on Concepción, but officials have closed the volcano above 1,000 meters as a result of the recent earthquakes in Costa Rica and the eruption of the San Cristobal volcano further north in Nicaragua.

As I started the hike early one September morning with my guide, who preferred to be called José Luis, I saw why this was the slow season and not the best time to hike up the volcano. The volcano looked imposingly large from the foot, but the upper-third of the volcano was covered in a thick blanket of clouds. Since it is now the dry season, these cloudy days are less frequent.

However, we hiked on anyway, passing farms where my guide cut mangos off of trees as snacks for later.

Within minutes of entering the forest, and ascending the volcano itself, I was breathing heavily and urging myself to make every step forward.

Meanwhile, the soil became wetter and wetter as we ascended, and sometimes the path had carved a small canyon into the clay soil and a stream flowed down the slick rocks and roots. In other places, the path was so waterlogged that mud would swallow my entire foot when I stepped down.

“It’s muddy,” said my guide coolly after he looked back and saw my foot completely submerged.

As I calculated each and every step still slipping dozens of times in my trail-running shoes, my guide coolly and elegantly took each step with quick but graceful provision, using the tip of his machete to keep his balance. Whenever he felt he might lose his balance, he would swiftly but gently plant his machete into a nearby tree trunk to steady himself but not cause harm to the tree.


cloud forest
Clouds embrace the trees along the route

hikers
Guide José Luis and mud-splattered author

muddy trail
Muddy trail to the Maderas volcano.

petroglyphs
Petroglyphs found on Ometepe island.

We climbed the volcano for three and a half hours, along the way stopping at vistas from which we could only see deep-white clouds. After a short but steep and treacherous climb into the crater, we reached the lagoon, where we shared lunch. My guide told me that climbers often swim in the lagoon, but he had never done it himself, despite having climbed the volcano 50 times.

The way down was much less physically taxing than the ascent, but it was also more mentally challenging as I tried to quickly calculate where to put my foot without slipping and injuring myself. Additionally within two hours, my knees began to quake with every footstep I took.

I lost my balance and fell on my backside four times on the way, all within the same 10 minutes where there was only mud and no rocks or roots on which to steady myself. Within this same 10 minutes, though, my guide walked down the path with ease, holding his machete in one hand and casually browsing the ringtones of his cell phone with the other.

The complete hike took about seven hours, and included sightings of monkeys and countless plants and trees.

Although I came down without the weight of the two liters of water that I brought with me for the hike, I felt like I carried that weight with me in my waterlogged clothes and the mud caked on my pants and shoes.

On either volcano, novice hikers should bring lots of water and nutritious food, and they should expect to stop a lot. Also, a good quality shoe with traction can make the difference between an exciting hike and a miserable one, especially when the ground is wet.

Although there is a small runway for planes that has been recently constructed on the island, it is not yet operational, and the only way to access the island is by ferry. Several ferry companies make daily trips to and from the town of San Jorge near Rivas and the island daily. The lake can be choppy, and visitors prone to seasickness may prefer the car ferry over the simple passenger and cargo transports.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 1
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Police action continues to cut down the Flamingo party crowd
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opponents of a five-day beer blast in Flamingo say that police action greatly reduced the number of participants.

Instead of some 5,000 persons, one estimate was that only about 500 persons attended Monday.  Police shut down the party at the Ambares drinking establishment about 4 a.m. Monday, residents reported. Residents oppose the event because of the trash, the blocking of a main access road and the noise.

Fuerza Pública officers appear to have discouraged participating by preventing visitors from parking their cars and by enforcement of an open container law.

Residents continued to photograph the event in anticipation of a continuation of their Sala IV constitutional court appeal to shut down the annual event. They said they were irked that the band and the crowd moved to the beach.
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 Flamingo partygoers enjoy music on the beach.


150 years ago Lincoln proclaimed slaves in South to be free
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tuesday was the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln that said "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious areas "are, and henceforward shall be free."  This was a major step in ending slavery in the United States and giving the U.S. Civil War a strong moral focus.

As the Library of Congress notes, from the beginning of the Civil War, Lincoln was pressured by abolitionists and some Republicans to issue such a document. Congress eventually passed a measure July 17, 1862, that freed the slaves of everyone in rebellion against the government, the Library of  Congress notes. That same month Lincoln created a draft of his decree, said the Library of Congress.
President Barack Obama noted this week that with the proclamation Lincoln opened the Union Army and Navy to African Americans, giving new strength to liberty's cause.

Lincoln's cabinet supported the measure because some members believed that it was a military measure designed both to deprive the Confederacy of slave labor and bring additional men into the Union Army, said the Library of Congress. Other members of the cabinet were not as enthusiastic.

The proclamation did not affect slaves in the states that were not in rebellion. It took a Constitutional amendment to end slavery. But Lincoln's proclamation allowed the military to free slaves in territory that already had been captured and to continue to free slaves as they pushed on to victory in the South.

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Playboy's Hugh Hefner
bridges 60 years to marry


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Octogenarian Playboy founder Hugh Hefner briefly swapped his iconic silk pajamas for a tuxedo to marry Crystal Harris, the one-time runaway bride' who followed through this time at a New Year's Eve wedding.

"Happy New Year from Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Hefner!" the Playboy magazine publisher tweeted early on Tuesday.

The message accompanied a photograph of Hefner, 86, wearing what appeared to be purple silk pajamas under a black bathrobe and snuggling his bride, 26, still wearing her pale pink wedding dress. He also wore his trademark captain's hat.

An hour earlier, Hefner posted a picture of himself in a tuxedo with his bride under an arch of pink and white flowers at the wedding ceremony in the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, California.

"Crystal & I married on New Year's Eve in the Mansion with Keith as my Best Man. Love that girl!" Hefner wrote on Twitter with the picture, referring to his brother Keith Hefner, a songwriter.

The couple tied the knot more than a year after their planned 2011 wedding was scuttled when Miss Harris got cold feet.

The blonde Playboy Playmate of the Month for December 2009 jettisoned the adult entertainment mogul in what was called a change of heart' five days before a lavish June 2011 wedding before 300 guests.

Harris, who appeared on the July 2011 cover of the adult magazine with a runaway bride sticker covering her bottom half, tweeted on Monday that she was ready to commit and changed her name to Crystal Hefner' on the micro-blogging site.

Hefner, founder of the Playboy adult entertainment empire has been married twice before. He and his second wife Kimberley Conrad, also a former Playmate, divorced in 2010 after a lengthy separation. His first marriage to Mildred Williams ended in divorce in 1959. He has two children from each marriage.


Violent films again get
some blame for shootings


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The recent school shootings in Connecticut have again raised questions about the role of violent media in mass shootings. People in Hollywood are asking the same questions, but they say that violent action films are a staple in Hollywood and are not likely to disappear anytime soon.

Tim Gray of the entertainment business publication Variety said the debate over violent entertainment goes back to the paper's founding 100 years ago, and even further.

“It actually goes back 2,000 years, if you look at the plays that the Greeks wrote, the Greek tragedies, if you think about the gladiators in the Coliseum, violence and entertainment have always gone together, but it's so pervasive now. That's the big difference,” said Gray.

The famed shower stabbing scene from Alfred Hitchcock's film, "Psycho," shocked viewers in 1960, but it was one short segment in a highly crafted film that relied on dialogue to tell its story.

The upcoming Sylvester Stallone film, "Bullet to the Head," uses action to hold the viewer's attention.

The science-fiction film, "Pacific Rim," about an alien invasion, also should draw its share of adolescent movie-goers.

Jonathan Taplin is a producer whose credits include the early Martin Scorsese film, "Mean Streets," starring Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel. He is now a media analyst with the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication. Taplin said that guns, explosions and exciting chases sometimes substitute for careful story-telling.

“Action films are action films, and that's one of the things that Hollywood does well. And I'm not positive they know how to sustain a teenage audience without a lot of violence,” he said.

Taplin and others in Hollywood point to violent video games aimed at individual players, so-called first-person shooter games, as a much bigger problem than movies or television. 

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobbying group, has blamed both game and movie makers for the ongoing violence in the real world, as he rejected calls for stricter gun controls.

But much of the world watches Hollywood entertainment without a problem, said analyst Taplin. He said people elsewhere do not have easy access to high-powered weapons.

“You don't see mass shootings of children in many, many countries where Hollywood movies are the key source of entertainment,” he said.

Still, Taplin is disturbed by the violence that now pervades films, especially from movie makers like Quentin Tarantino, whose new release, "Django Unchained," tells a story of slavery and retribution in the American South before the Civil War.

The recent school shootings have many in Hollywood asking whether movie makers need to tone down the violence, said Gray.

“People are talking about the Connecticut shootings as if it's the tipping point that could make a difference. Maybe, but we have heard that before,” he said.


First 2013 meteor shower
will peak Thursday morning


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. space agency, NASA, says pieces of an asteroid that have been orbiting the Sun for hundreds of years could delight skywatchers this week.

The Quadrantid meteors will blaze trails across the sky when they enter Earth's atmosphere at about 145,000 kilometers per hour and burn up 80 kilometers above the planet's surface.

It will be the first meteor shower of the year, and it will last only a few hours. Its peak is Thursday at approximately 14 hours UTC.  That's about 10 a.m. Costa Rican time and well into daylight.

NASA says anyone located above 51 degrees south latitude will be able to see the Quadrantids, and that includes most of the world. The space agency adds that viewers with clear skies in Asia might have the chance to spot the largest number of meteors.

The Quadrantids have a maximum rate of about 80 per hour.

However, the Moon currently appears large and bright in the sky, and astronomers caution that this light will wash out many of the fiery meteors.

NASA says this meteor shower was first observed in 1825, and the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid called 2003 EH1.

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                          sub
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This is the doomed semi-submersible

U.S. Coast Guard releases
photo of Caribbean drug sub

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Coast Guard has released an air photo of a  semi-submersible drug boat that was spotted Dec. 4 in the Caribbean off Boca del Toro, Panamá.

This was the boat that became the centerpiece of a multinational anti-drug effort and eventually sank with the captain aboard, said officials at the time.

The Coast Guard Cutter "Resolute" as well as ships from Canada, Costa Rica and Panamá responded to the report of the drug boat. A Costa Rican coast guard boat was first on the scene and pulled three crew members from the water.

Officials said that the semi-submersible vessel sunk because of rough weather as it tried to evade the anti-drug boats.

Costa Rican coast guard crew members turned some of the confiscated cocaine and the three drug boat crew members over to Panamanian officials because the sinking took place in that country's waters.

But crew members of the "Resolute,"  a 210-foot medium endurance cutter based in St. Petersburg, Florida, picked up additional drug packages and debris from the Caribbean and brought the items to its home port, said the U.S. Coast Guard.

The semi-submersible drug craft was reported to be the sixth of its type that was encountered in the Caribbean.


Biggest job for fire fighters
turned out to be bee attacks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire fighters usually are thought to make the bulk of their emergency calls in suppressing flames, but in 2012, the Bomberos de Costa Rica answered the most calls, 12,602, as a result of bee attacks.

Bee attacks were up 23 percent over the prior year, said the annual report from the fire agency. So were fires. Fire fighters answered 1,102 structural fires, 25 percent more than in 2011, and 7,316 grass, field and woods fires, an increase of 57 percent, said the report.

Over all, fire fighters answered 27 percent more emergency calls than in 2011, the report said.

There were 3,040 traffic accidents that required the presence of fire fighters and 3,372 situations involved the escape of liquid petroleum gas, said the report. Both types of situations were up significantly from the prior year.












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House Republicans balk on Senate bill

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The compromise agreement on federal taxes that was passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday by the U.S. Senate appears to be in trouble in the House of Representatives.  House leaders have not decided when to bring the Senate bill up for a vote.
 
Lawmakers are dealing with legislation to pull the United States back from the so-called fiscal cliff, more than $500 billion in automatic austerity measures that economists say could plunge the U.S. economy into recession.
 
House Republicans and Democrats met separately Tuesday to discuss the compromise bill the Senate passed by a vote of 89 to 8.
 
The House Speaker, Republican John Boehner, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor issued a statement, saying there was universal concern among House members about the lack of spending cuts in the Senate bill.  Cantor went further, saying he does not support the Senate bill.
 
Throughout almost two years of negotiations, Republicans have called for severe cuts in federal government spending to reduce the soaring national debt.  Democrats have resisted cuts to social programs, and called for higher taxes for wealthy Americans.
 
On the House floor, Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, also indicated he would not support the Senate measure.
 
"When faced with a mountain of debt that we were heading for, like an airplane, did we climb over it?  No.  What we are going to do?  The present plan is to put nearly another trillion dollars of debt on the American people," he said.
 
Vice President Joe Biden, who helped to broker the deal on the Senate side, met for several hours with House Democrats.  Afterward, House Democratic leaders indicated they would support the Senate bill, and called on Speaker Boehner to keep his promise of holding an up or down vote on the measure.
 
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, challenged Boehner. "Up until now, our speaker has said when the Senate acts, we will have a vote in the House.  That is what he said. That is what we expect. That is what the American people deserve," she said.
 
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a Democrat, said, "The difference between a divided government and dysfunctional government is the willingness to compromise."
 
Some Republican House members have called for the Senate bill to be amended, which means the House would need to change it, vote to approve a revised version and send the bill back to the Democratic-controlled Senate for another vote.
 
The House of Representatives needs to act by noon Thursday, when the 112th Congress adjourns and the newly-elected members of the 113th Congress are sworn it or the new Congress would have to start over. 
 
Analysts warn that U.S. financial markets could fall sharply when they reopen today if there is no deal on the fiscal cliff.


U.S. fiscal deal passed by Senate

    * Approved by the Senate early Tuesday
    * Raises $600 billion over 10 years through higher taxes on wealthier
              Americans
    * Delays by two months $24 billion in mandatory defense and
               domestic
spending cuts
    * Extends farm bill provisions to prevent a spike in milk prices
    * Blocks cuts to payments for doctors who treat elderly Americans
    * Extends unemployment benefits to 2 million people for one year
    * Cancels a $900 cost-of-living raise for members of Congress


Farm subsidies and milk prices affected

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

 For many Americans, New Year’s Eve focused on the U.S. Congress going over the so-called fiscal cliff of massive tax hikes and spending cuts.  But congressional gridlock has produced another precipice, this one in the dairy aisles of U.S. grocery stores.

Beginning in the Great Depression of the 1930s, Congress wrote legislation intended to stabilize food supplies and keep struggling farmers in business.  Congress is supposed to rewrite the law every five years or so.  But the law has expired, and lawmakers have not passed a new one, says Mary Kay Thatcher, a lobbyist for the largest farmers’ group, the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"What happens when it expires is, it reverts to what’s called permanent law, . . .  laws that were written in the 1930s and the 1940s,” she said.

Under the 1940s law, the government will buy milk from farmers at about twice of what it costs today.  And prices for consumers will follow.

Thatcher says the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, will need a few weeks to implement the policy.  She says she hopes the issue will be settled by then because what’s being called the dairy cliff is just the beginning.  Programs supporting other crop farmers revert back to 1940s policy, too.

“The next cliff would probably be looking at wheat, because about March, the USDA would have to say, ‘Here’s what the price of wheat will be,” Ms. Thatcher explained.

And that is not all that is expected to happen with the expiration of the farm bill, says Roger Johnson, head of another leading farmers’ group, the National Farmers Union.

“The renewable energy programs are all gone.  A number of the conservation programs are gone.  A number of the beginning farmer and rancher programs are gone," Johnson says. "The disaster programs are all gone.”

The main reason comes down to food aid programs for the poor.  These are among the nutrition programs that make up about 80 percent of the spending in the farm bill.

Record numbers of Americans are using one key program, known as food stamps.  But at a time of record deficits, the program is a target for spending cuts, says the Farm Bureau’s Ms. Thatcher.

“And there’s quite a philosophical debate on the Hill where in general, Democrats don’t want to cut any funding at all out of food stamps, and in general, Republicans want to cut significantly more than either the House or the Senate have been willing to do so far,” Ms, Thatcher added.

And critics say the bill included subsidies for farmers that were far too generous.

The Democratic-led Senate passed a version of the bill; the Republican-led House of Representatives did not vote on its version.

So the previous law has expired, and milk will likely be the first casualty.  The irony, says Johnson with the National Farmers Union, is that a dispute over cutting spending might have the opposite effect.

“We could potentially end up with legislation that’s going to cost us far more money and produce far fewer benefits to the public, and all because we’ve got a Congress that can’t seem to do its job,” Johnson says.

And now the job for lawmakers is bringing farm policy back from the 1940s.


Criticisms comes from all sides

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Senate compromise intended to avert the most immediate consequences of the fiscal cliff is drawing criticism from many parts of the political spectrum.

A public interest group that has been urging Washington to do more to balance its spending and revenue, The Concord Coalition, said the Senate made no hard choices and solved no difficult problems. The group's leader, Robert Bixby, said the deal did not solve the problem of rising costs for pension and medical care programs for the elderly, did not reform the tax system, delayed efforts to cope with scheduled drastic spending cuts, and did not address the need to raise Washington's legal limit on borrowing.

The Campaign for America's Future, called the deal ugly, and echoed many of Concord's criticisms. The liberal group also said the Senate action would allow a temporary 2 percent cut in payroll taxes to expire. This could add $1,000 to the tax burden paid by someone making $50,000 a year. Some economists say the expiring tax cuts will slow the consumer spending that drives most U.S. economic activity.

​​Opinion articles in The New York Times called the measure tepid and a fiscal flop and said the compromise is a missed opportunity to make needed political and economic reforms. 

A story in The Wall Street Journal called the deal a classic compromise with something for everyone to love and hate.
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