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U.S. picks Costa Rica for an anti-trafficking grant
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States, which is $16.4 trillion in debt, wants to give money to a Costa Rican organization to build a shelter for victims of human trafficking.

The U.S. State Department specifically listed Costa Rica as one of 14 countries to which grants will be made. Other countries include such Third World nations as Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Senegal, Kenya, South Sudan, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and México.

The complex procedure for applying for the grant is posted on the department Web site. The deadline for a statement of interest is Jan. 21.

The State Department said that Costa Rica and the other countries were chosen this year based on the 2012  "Trafficking in Persons Report" that came out in June. "Generally, the TIP Office prioritizes foreign assistance in countries ranked as Tier 3, Tier 2 Watch List, and in some cases, Tier 2, where governments lack the economic resources and trafficking expertise to effectively address the problem, ' said the State Department. Trafficking in persons is called TIP by the State Department.

Costa Rica was listed in the tier 2 category of the report this June, which means that the government does not fully comply with the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act minimum standards but is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with those standards. In 2011 the country was listed in the tier 2 watch list, which means, among other factors, that there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons.

Costa Rica just passed a trafficking law that created a $1 exit tax at airports. The law says the money will be distributed to organizations to fight trafficking, although trafficking is not defined in the law.

A.M. Costa Rica has pointed out a serious omission in the trafficking in persons reports as they relate to Costa Rica. Although much of the country-based information is prepared at the local U.S. Embassy, the report repeatedly fails to mention that prostitution is not prosecuted in Costa Rica and that men also participate in commercial sex. Reporters have brought the omission to the attention of U.S. Embassy officials without result.

Said the State Department about the grants:

The TIP Office seeks to fund programs in Costa Rica that focus on the country’s needs for: Providing direct victim services. According to the 2012 TIP Report, the recommendations for Costa Rica within this category are: Fund specialized

services for trafficking victims, possibly through the establishment of a shelter specifically for trafficking victims or through funding NGOs to provide services; Ensure that cases of trafficking not involving movement are investigated and prosecuted and that victims of these crimes receive appropriate services.

The department does not define what it means by  trafficking not involving movement. The department says that trafficking includes forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, and child soldiers.

But in Costa Rica, prior grants almost always have involved prostitution.

"Pending the availability of appropriated funds, the TIP Office anticipates awarding grants of up to $750,000 per project,' the department said.

The State Department is seeking applications from U.S. and foreign non-profit organizations, the NGOs, and higher education institutions. Profit-making firms are eligible as long as they promise not to make a profit, said the announcement.

The government also states its own opinion on prostitution: "The U.S. government is opposed to prostitution and related activities, which are inherently harmful and dehumanizing, and contribute to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons." Organizations that are successful in winning a grant must certify that they will not promote, support, or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or must certify that they are neutral to the practice of prostitution.

Similar grants in the past have been won by the Fundación Rahab. This is the organization that sends volunteers around with Fuerza Pública officers to coerce possible prostitutes into hearing about job options and to filling out forms containing identifying information.

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Nicaragua will accept
beef and pork from Canada

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nicaragua has approved imports of beef and pork from Canada, that nation's agriculture and trade ministers said Wednesday.

Effective immediately, Canadian producers can export beef to Nicaragua, with full access now restored after the closure of this
market in 2003 due to Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known as mad cow disease, said a release from the Canadian government. And, for the first time ever, market access conditions have now been established for Canadian pork, it said.

"We applaud the Government of Nicaragua's science-based decision to reopen its market to Canadian beef and pork," said Ed Fast. "Opening new markets and creating new opportunities that benefit Canadian businesses and workers are at the core of our government's broad and ambitious pro-trade plan." He is minister of international trade and minister for the Asia-Pacific

Access to the Nicaraguan market flows from the Canadian government's trade expansion goals in Central America and is the result of its ongoing efforts to create new opportunities and science-based trade for Canadian producers, as well as growing prosperity in the Americas, said the government release.

In 2011, Nicaragua beef imports were $1.6 million and pork was more than $17 million, a significant market now open to
our high-quality Canadian beef and pork products, said the Canadian government.

Immigration reports hike
in number of holiday exits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekend before Christmas, 26,409 people left Costa Rica for Nicaragua through the Peñas Blancas border, according to the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.  Only 10 percent of these persons were Costa Rican citizens.

This number is a 50 percent increase from the number of persons who left last Christmas, spokespersons said.

Immigration said that the process from getting these persons through the border crossing was fast.  Officials reported that 21 people were served each minute, and on average it took 30 seconds for border agents to service patrons.

This was attributed to the fact that 14 agents were available at the departure counter and 14 more at the return counter.  These two counters were in separate rooms.

The agency said that it expected from 15,000 to 20,000 persons entering Costa Rica from Nicaragua this week.
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
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Christmas season is not over until the rezo group sings
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Christmas season in not over. Expats can figure on observing holiday activities for another month.

Sunday is the Día de los Reyes Magos, the Three Wise Men. In a number of Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain itself, this is a big day for the youngsters. The Wise Men
wise men
Traditional view of Wise Men
bring the gifts. The day is celebrated here mainly by Mexicans, Spanish, Puerto Ricans and even some Italians.

Costa Rican youngsters will not reject small gifts to mark the day.

Some Spanish youngsters even write letters to the Three Kings respectfully listing the presents they seek. In some communities
the kings come in a cart to distribute presents.

Even if they do not celebrate the Día de los Reyes Magos, religious Costa Ricans cannot just take down the household nativity scene and pack it away for next year. There is a procedure to be followed.

The procedure is called rezo del Niño, a celebration of the birth of Christ with prayer, singing and the obligatory snacks and other goodies.

Spanish-language classifieds now contain advertisements of musical groups that will offer a rezo del Niño. Most have other specialties during the year, like karaoke, weddings and the occasional birthday. But right after Christmas, they prepare a rezo show.

Usually there is a moderator who leads the group in prayers. He or she may also be a singer who joins with the musical group for traditional religious songs.

The correct time for this is after Jan. 6, which also is Epiphany. The cutoff is around Feb. 2.

Not just households participate. Both the Costa Rican Tennis Club and the Costa Rican Country Club will have their rezos
nativity scene
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Dismantling the nativity scene requires a special ceremony.

del Niño. So will the Museo Nacional and other government offices.

There even are special cakes and dishes to be served after the prayers following a rezo del Niño. And perhaps a bit of 4 percent rompope.

For expats a rezo del Niño is a great way to meet the neighbors and participate in community life. Even if the Spanish-language prayers are foreign, the repetition makes them easy to learn. And all ages are invited, from tots to great grandparents.

José Ramos, long-time bishop here, marks 50 years as priest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

José Antonio Ramos, the first Episcopal bishop of the Diocese
of Costa Rica, is celebrating his 50 year anniversary as a priest.

Ramos is originally from Puerto Rico, where he was raised in a large family of 19 children.  Only he and two of his brothers attended church. 

The three faithfully worshiped at the Episocal Church of the Transfiguration in his hometown, according to his biography.

The bishop was ordained as a priest Dec. 23, 1962, five months after he and his twin brother were ordained deacons in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This was made possible through the 
Bishop Ramos
Bishop Ramos
bishop at his church in Puerto Rico.
One of his brothers, who was 10 years old at the time, told the bishop that they wanted to be priests. 

The bishop helped the three learn English and attend seminary school in the United States.

“At the age of 10, I felt that call and I answered, here I am, send me,” said Ramos in a Dec. 23 sermon.  “Supported by the church and others, I was able to get ready to be a messenger of God's word and sacraments, and here I am still as a messenger of good news amongst you, I hope.”

Ramos was the youngest priest to be elected into the Anglican communion after he began his job at the Diocese of Costa Rica.  He served in this position for 44  years, and retired after his 70th birthday. 

Currently, he serves as an associate in the Parish of the Good Shepherd in San José.  Last year a monument was constructed to honor Ramos and his brothers.

The Church of the Good Shepherd is on the Avenida 4 pedestrian mall between Calles 3 and 5 north of the Colegio Superior de Señoritas.

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Food concerns trump exercise as preliminary to weight loss
By the University of Michigan news service

People setting a goal to lose weight in 2013 may want to first ask themselves if diet or exercise is more important to success.

Whether a person believes obesity is caused by overeating or by a lack of exercise can predict whether he or she will gain or lose weight, according to University of Michigan research to be published in the journal Psychological Science.

With two-thirds of the adult U.S. population classified as overweight or obese and similar numbers in many developed nations, obesity has become an important health concern.

In a series of studies across five countries on three continents, the research showed that people mainly believe either that obesity is caused by a lack of exercise or by a poor diet.
"The greater the extent to which you believe it is diet, the thinner you are on average," said Brent McFerran, a marketing professor at the Ross School of Business.
The beliefs a person holds predict how that person will approach the goal of weight loss. McFerran said that people who believe obesity is caused by diet consume less food. Those who believe it is caused by a lack of exercise should work out more. The problem with that is that people tend to overestimate the amount of calories burned during exercise and underestimate calories in the food they eat.

For example, a 20-ounce java chip frappucino from Starbucks contains 580 calories.

It would take the average person four hours to walk it off.

This is not to say that exercise does not help reduce weight as long as calorie intake doesn't also increase, said co-author Anirban Mukhopadhyay, a marketing professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

"Our finding is simply that people who believe strongly in lack of exercise as the primary cause, rather than poor diet, tend to have higher body masses." Mukhopadhyay said.

Frogs found to be dynamic producers of unique antibiotics
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A bit of old Russian folk wisdom could produce a crop of new antibiotics.

With drug resistant bacteria a growing public health threat worldwide, a type of frog Russians have used to keep milk fresh could provide a fresh source of germ fighters.

Moscow State University chemist Albert Lebedev grew up in a rural part of Russia, where many people kept their own cows. In the days before refrigeration, it was a challenge to keep milk from spoiling.

So people enlisted the help of the local amphibians.

For small portions of milk to drink, they used to put a frog inside, he says. "A small frog over there could prevent the milk from being spoiled.”

It turns out that putting a frog in your milk is not as crazy as it might sound.

About 25 years ago there was another surprising discovery about amphibians.

The eggs of African horned frogs are a popular tool for scientists studying the innermost workings of cells. In the late 1980s, Michael Zasloff was surgically removing frog ovaries for his research at the National Institutes of Health.

Zasloff noticed that when he put the frogs back in their slimy aquarium homes, without the benefit of antibiotics, “The frogs healed after surgery without exhibiting any signs of infection or inflammation.”

Zasloff and his colleagues discovered that’s because the skin of the African horned frog produces unique anti-microbial compounds.

Then they discovered that other species of frog also produce potent cocktails of antibiotics.
“What is amazing is that no two frogs have the same cocktail,"
he says. "They’re all different, and all beautifully tuned to deal with the microbes that these animals face.”

And for frogs, dealing with microbes on their skin is a matter of life and death. They breathe and drink through their skin, and spend much of their time in waters teeming with microbes.

Moscow State University’s Lebedev says the more scientists looked, the more kinds of chemicals they found coming out of the skins of amphibians.

“They can be antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, antitumor, neuropeptides, analgesics," and so on," he says. "So, a lot of various functions.”

All of these functions are performed by chemicals known as peptides.

When Lebedev studied the frogs Russians used to keep their milk fresh, “We found something like 80 peptides," he says.

And each one is apparently responsible for something.

"We don’t know now exactly what every peptide is for,” he says, "but they do know that several of them kill staph bacteria, a kind of germ responsible for serious skin infections; and salmonella, which causes food poisoning.

That would explain why a frog in the milk keeps it fresh.

Lebedev says the frog chemicals work at very, very low concentrations, “which is fantastic. This is the scale of activity of very potent antibiotics.”

It will be years before these antibiotics find their way into doctor’s offices and hospitals, if they ever do. Lebedev says developing peptide drugs is expensive and difficult.

But some are in development. Zasloff, now at Georgetown University, has been working on a drug to treat diabetic foot infections, based on one of the African horned frog peptides.

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Patti Page, 50s era icon,
bridged pop and country

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

American singer Patti Page, 85, who sold more than 100 million records during her seven-decade-long career, has died.

The Oklahoma-born Ms. Page was a major star and the premier female popular singer in the pre-rock 'n roll era of the early 1950s. Her best selling recordings of “The Tennessee Waltz” and “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” were standards, and appealed to fans of pop tunes as well as those of country music.

She also was a pioneer in the recording technique known as overdubbing, in which she sang along with recordings of her own voice being played back.

In addition, Ms. Page hosted television variety shows and appeared in films.

She was scheduled to appear at next month's Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles to receive a lifetime achievement award.

Hillary Clinton discharged
from New york hospital

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was discharged from a New York hospital Wednesday.  She had been treated for a blood clot in her head. 

Ms. Clinton's discharge follows three nights at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, during which she received blood thinners to help dissolve a blood clot behind her right ear in a vein between her brain and skull.  Doctors say the clot did not result in a stroke or neurological damage.

Philippe Reines, deputy assistant secretary of State, said Ms. Clinton's medical team "advised her that she is making good progress on all fronts, and they are confident she will make a full recovery."  Reines says Ms. Clinton is "eager to get back to the office."  Even before her release, Ms. Clinton was working the telephones, he said.
"She has been talking to her staff, including today.  She has been quite active on the phone with all of us.  But she also made some calls on Saturday to a couple of foreign officials," said a State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland.
The first call was to United Nations-Arab League special envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, to discuss his recent visit to Damascus.  The second call was to Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani to discuss Syria, Afghanistan and financial support for the Palestinian Authority.

Ms. Clinton's illness forced her to postpone testimony before Congress on the September attack against the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

State Department officials say she still intends to appear before the House of Representatives and Senate committees investigating that violence, and that they are working to arrange that, dependent on her health and the schedule of a new Congress.

Google exec will travel
to reclusive North Korea

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The executive chairman of Google is reported to be planning to make a trip to North Korea, the reclusive, Communist state considered to have the toughest Internet restrictions in the world.

Eric Schmidt will take part in a “private, humanitarian mission” led by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson as early as this month, said a report.

It is unclear who the delegation will meet in North Korea, which does not have diplomatic relations with the United States. There is also no word on the agenda of the trip, which comes at a sensitive time in North Korea-U.S. relations.

North Korea last month provoked international outrage after successfully launching a long-range rocket that placed what it said was a weather satellite into orbit. Washington and others condemned it as a covert ballistic missile test.

Just days later, Pyongyang announced the arrest of Korean-American tourist Kenneth Bae, and threatened to put him on trial for unspecified crimes against the state.

Richardson, a former United Nations ambassador, is no stranger to North Korea, having visited at least six times since 1994, including two trips to help secure the release of detained Americans.

Schmidt has served as Google's main political and government relations representative and has been a vocal supporter of providing people around the world with Internet access.

Internet access is restricted to all but the most privileged and influential in North Korea. Media access is also tightly controlled, with Pyongyang demanding that all radios and televisions be pre-tuned to only receive government approved channels.
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Young mother killed
near Nicaraguan border

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another young mother has been murdered, and the suspect is her male companion.

The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the dead woman by the last name of Urbina and said she was 21. The killing happened on the second floor of the home the couple shared with a 3-month-old child in Caño La Venada, de Chorreras, de Pocosol de San Carlos, said agents.

The woman died from a bullet from a small-caliber rifle about 3 p.m. Monday, said agents. The male suspect then left the area and took the child with him on a boat to nearby Nicaragua. He was detained by Nicaraguan police, and the child was put in the custody of an aunt there, said the judicial agency.

Agents are seeking a motive.

Man found murdered
in mangroves at Orotina

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents are investigating what they think is the murder of a 65-year-old man in the vicinity of Orotina. The body of the man came to light Tuesday afternoon, and the victim's hands were tied and he was gagged.

Agents said they think that the body, which was located in some mangroves, is that of a man with the last name of González, who was reported missing by his family Dec. 21.

Woman survives attack
after fleeing quarrel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman fled a domestic quarrel, but agents said that the man involved followed her and shot her in the head Tuesday night.

The woman, identified by the last name of Nuñez, fled the home in San Miguel de Desamparados after an argument. She took refuge at the home of friends in Calle la Gloria, Guatuso de Patarrá de Desamparados, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

But soon a man arrived with a gun and tried to kill her. Agents said that someone deflected the weapon, and the bullet did not have the result that the gunman expected. Then he fled, they said. Fuerza Pública officers detained a suspect later.

The woman was hospitalized.

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Monetary Fund cool on U.S. fiscal deal

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Monetary Fund says U.S. actions to avoid the fiscal cliff did not go far enough to address the country's long-term economic problems, including its deficit and overall debt.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said more remains to be done to put U.S. public finances back on a sustainable path without harming what it said was the still fragile recovery.

U.S. lawmakers, in a late night session Tuesday night passed a measure to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, with a plan President Barack Obama calls one step in a broader effort to strengthen the American economy.

​​​​"Today's agreement enshrines, I think, a principle into law that will remain in place as long as I am president: The deficit needs to be reduced in a way that's balanced," said Obama. "Everyone pays their fair share.  Everyone does their part.  That's how our economy works best.  That's how we grow."

The president spoke late Tuesday, shortly after the Republican-dominated House of Representatives approved the measure passed early in the day by the Senate.

Some conservative House members tried to add more spending cuts to the plan, but did not have enough support among their fellow lawmakers to take such action.

President Obama and congressional Republicans have sparred for more than a year over tax rates, the extent of government spending, chronic budget deficits and the country's mounting debt. 

Congressional leaders described Tuesday's deal as imperfect, but in the best interest of the American people.

​​Under the plan, taxes will increase for individuals making more than $400,000 a year and couples earning more than $450,000, the first U.S. income tax increase in 20 years. The package will also extend unemployment benefits for a year and boost taxes on large inheritances.

The compromise delays mandated cuts to defense spending and domestic programs for two months, setting up a future battle between the parties. Analysts have said that without a compromise, the $500 billion in austerity measures could eventually plunge the U.S. economy into another recession.

Even as U.S. leaders wrangled over the tax and spending issues, they soon face a decision on whether to increase the country's borrowing limit, which hit its current $16.4 trillion cap Monday.  Officials say the country will be able to pay its bills for another two months, but by then will need to increase the debt ceiling, an action likely to spark another extended debate over Washington's spending priorities.

Obama said Tuesday he will not engage Congress in a debate about whether they should raise the debt ceiling to pay for the cost of the legislation they have already passed.

"We can't not pay bills that we've already incurred," said Obama. "If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic, far worse than the impact of the fiscal cliff."
Obama said he hopes lawmakers can work to solve the budget issues with "less drama" and "less brinksmanship" after a deal that required days of intense deadline negotiations.

The big question is what happens next

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Official Washington and many Americans around the country are voicing relief after congressional action on a compromise partial plan to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and budget cuts that could have plunged the U.S. economy into recession.  But more battles between the White House and Congress over spending and taxes are expected in a matter of weeks.

After months of political debate, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans were finally able to craft a narrow agreement to avoid tax increases for all Americans.

But the agreement does little to end the continuing battle over federal government spending, which Republicans remain determined to cut during the months ahead despite losses in last November’s general elections.

The next major clash could come as early as next month, when congressional action will be needed to raise the debt limit so that the government can continue to borrow enough money to pay its bills.

​​​​President Obama is already warning Republicans that any attempt to block raising the debt ceiling to demand cuts in government spending could harm the nation's fragile economic recovery.

“While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed,” he said.

But Republicans like Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama are unhappy that the latest compromise in Congress only prevented a tax increase and did little to cut government spending.

“There’s no spending cuts.  We’re adding $4 billion a day to the debt,” said Bachus.

The battle over spending cuts is also expected to resurface in two months, when Congress will have to take action to avoid mandatory cuts in defense and domestic spending.

Analysts say both Democrats and Republicans will need to show more willingness to compromise to avoid a deadlock.

Ken Duberstein, who served as White House chief of staff under President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, says that Republicans will have to accept the idea they will be dealing with President Obama for another four years.  But he adds that the president has a responsibility to reach out to Republican lawmakers if the two sides are to get much done during Obama's second term.

“So second-term presidents can learn that you can’t get it all your own way, you have to reach out.  You have to build.  You have to give a little bit more,” he said.

Even though Obama won reelection in November, many Republicans still see themselves on equal footing with the Democratic president because they kept their majority in the House of Representatives.

“In the old days, elections mattered more than they do now in the sense that a president who was reelected clearly had a mandate to do something, assuming his margin was decent," said Larry Sabato, who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "Well, Obama won by nearly four percentage points.  Decades ago that would have been enough to certainly get his top priority through Congress.  It doesn’t work that way anymore.”

Congress is also expected to tackle difficult partisan issues like gun control and immigration reform this year, two areas where the president has said he would like to see action during his second term.

But Republican analyst Scot Faulkner, who worked for Republicans in the House of Representatives during the 1990s and for the Reagan administration, says the fractious debate over taxes and spending could negatively affect other issues.

“Until people get off the campaign treadmill and think again about governing first and then standing on a record of governing instead of a record of rhetoric, we are going to keep on this treadmill,” said Faulkner.

Although Democrats hold more seats in the new Congress, the split remains between Democrats who hold a majority in the Senate and Republicans who control the House.

World markets respond favorably

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

World markets greeted 2013 on a high note Wednesday after the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama reached a last-minute deal to avert a financial crisis that analysts say could have sent the United States into a recession.  But experts say a potential crisis in the world’s largest economy has yet to be resolved.

Late Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a partial deal to avert more than $500 billion in spending cuts and tax increases.  In the United States, key stock markets soared, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ending the day 2 percent higher, the Standard & Poor's 500 climbing 2.5 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index advancing 3 percent.  Stocks also surged in Europe and Asia.

But analysts caution that investor optimism will be short-lived, as the so-called fiscal cliff agreement between President Obama and Congress delays for two months decisions about large federal spending cuts.

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