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(506) 2223-1327               Published Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 2          E-mail us
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Presidential race not as boring as it may appear
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country came out of the election blackout period Monday with Laura Chinchilla, the Partido Liberación Nacional candidate, appearing to maintain her lead.

But the campaign for the Feb. 7 election is not as boring as it might look. Ms. Chinchilla has to accumulate 40 percent of the vote to win on the first ballot. A runoff spells trouble for the leading candidate.

The advertising and campaign blackout that started Dec. 16 was not helpful to anyone but the leading candidate. However, the most recent poll done by Borge & Asociados for a magazine shows Otto Guevara of the Movimiento Libertario with 16.2 percent of the vote. Ms. Chinchilla was credited with 36.7 percent, not enough to win on the first ballot.

The campaign has been fairly sedate because Ms. Chinchilla is a strong favorite. But polling is an imperfect art. Four years ago, the pollsters said that Óscar Arias Sánchez would win in a walk. They gave him about 47 percent of the presidential vote. The nearest rival, Ottón Solís, was expected to get about 25 percent of the votes cast.

What really happened was an election squeaker for Arias. Both he and Solís ended up with about 40 percent of the popular vote. Arias won by the narrowest of margins, about 13,000 votes.

Why were the polls so wrong? It appears that the pollsters failed to consider enough of the youth vote, a demographic group that supported Solís strongly. Solís is a candidate again, but the pollsters give him about 8.5 percent of the vote.

The surveys show that there is a large group of persons who have not stated a preference. That should be enough to make any candidate nervous. The latest poll said about 15.5 percent of possible voters were in this category.

Luis Fishman of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana was computed to be in fourth place with just 2.2 percent of the vote. He is the stand-in for Rafael Calderón Fournier, the former president who was convicted of participating in a kickback scheme.

Polling is art mixed with science, Bad wording can skew a survey. Overly favorable wording can skew the results in the opposite direction. The only results that will count are those in the ballot boxes Feb. 7.
Drink 'em if you got 'em

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new election code passed late last year does away with prohibitions on alcohol around election day.

The old law used to be a drag for tourism operators who used creative methods to circumvent it.

Election day in Costa Rica also coincides with Superbowl Sunday, the professional football championship in the United States. Some say football and baseball were invented to encourage beer consumptions. It is true that bar operators had to be creative in Costa Rica to wet their customers whistles. In some cases they set up private parties.

All that is history now, and bars and restaurants will be operating normally Feb. 7.

Good Friday continues to be a dry day here.


At this point, as the underdog, Guevara has the advantage. He can afford to be bold and confrontational while Ms. Chinchilla has to tread lightly for fear of alienating supporters.

So the Guevara campaign launched a broadside Monday in television ads claiming that Ms. Chinchilla, who had been Arias' vice president, lacked leadership. The television ad said that although she opposed naming Ofelia Taitelbaum as defensora de los habitantes, all of the Liberación legislators voted for the nomination.

The Taitelbaum confirmation to what is more or less the ombudsman position in the country, has become a major political issue for those who oppose Arias.

Many were the same individuals who opposed the free trade treaty with the United States and other actions by the current president. The Guevara campaign is capitalizing on this discontent and pictured Ms. Chinchilla in its television ads with a large photo of Arias in the background.

In television political advertising, the content is secondary. It is the images campaign managers try to get into the heads of voters.

In this case the images say that Ms. Chinchilla is an Arias clone.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 2

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Cornell Winds
The Cornell University Winds Ensemble

Cornell musicians to visit;
Benefit concert on agenda

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Cornell University winds ensemble will be in Costa Rica for a working vacation starting Saturday. The trip includes a benefit concert for a Canadian charity here.

The 45 Ivy League musicians will be giving master classes to Costa Rican students and putting on other concerts. The first is Sunday at the Liceo de Poás where a concert for the San Pedro de Poas community follows master classes with students. The concert is at 5 p.m.

Monday the venue is in Pavas at the school of the Sistema Nacional de Educación Musica with another concert at 6 p.m. That follows a visit to Waterfall Gardens.

A week from today the group, called CUWinds, will be the featured performers at the Tuesday lunchtime concert in the Teatro Nacional. Then the university musicians go to the Sistema de Educación Música school in Desamparados with master classes there with students. An 8 p.m. concert is planned at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Escazú.

Jan. 13 will see master classes again in Desamparados with a concert with the Orquestra Nacional in the Catedral Metropolitana in San José at 7:30 p.m.

The visiting students will camp out one night near Pérez Zeledón and combine their visit there with more master classes. There is a concert Jan. 16 in Pérez Zeledón with the students there.

Jan. 18 the Cornell musicians will be in Limón at a Sistema de Educación Música school for more master classes with younger students and a 7:30 p.m. concert. The next day the group has a concert planned for EARTH University.

The trip climaxes Jan. 20 with an 8 p.m. concert that is a benefit for the Asociación Caritativa Canadiense in the Eugene O’Neill Theater of the Centro Cultural Costarricense Americano. The director of the ensemble is Cynthia Johnson Turner, a Canadian. The association helps with school infrastructure projects.

The ticket price for the benefit concert is 10,000 colons ($18), and tickets can be reserved by calling Fred Boden or Lyn Statten at 2282-1146.

This is the third year that the Cornell group has visited Costa Rica. Usually the visitors make surprise donations of musical instruments at each school they visit.

Cornell is in Ithaca, upstate New York.


Alajuela seeking artists
for second mural contest


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de Alajuela has announced its second mural contest for artists with the goal of having historical murals painted in certain communities.

Some seven sections of the province have been selected as sites for the murals. They are Alajuela centro, San José, San Antonio, San Isidro, Turrucares, San Rafael and Tambor.

The paint company Pinturas Sur has donated the materials for the murals, said the municipality. Prizes are from the Banco de Costa Rica.

Artists who are interested should contact the Oficina de Cooperación Externa y Atracción of the municipality.

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This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching
The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

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Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 2

Water company gets a stealth increase in its rates
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency gave a major increase to the nation's primary water company under cover of the holiday break.

The agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos said Monday that the new rates went into effect Dec. 28 when they were published in the La Gaceta official newspaper. Most people were unaware of the rate increase or that the governmental newspaper was being published over the holidays.

The residential rates go up 15.2 percent now with another
increase approved for January 2011 of 8.58 percent. The rates are for the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, which is the major supplier of water to the nation. A rate increase of 36.7 percent was approved for  sewer service, the regulating authority said. That rate also will increase in a year by 9.85 percent, it said.

The agency estimated that a typical family would pay about 1,468 colons more or about $2.60 under the new rates. The family usage was computed at 25 cubic meters of water. The cost of commercial and industrial use is much higher.

The agency said that the new charges would appear in the next water bill.


Comedy legend reported to have had departure problems
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. gossip Web site is reporting that talk show host and  comedienne Joan Rivers had trouble getting on a plane at Juan Santamaría Sunday because of questions about her passport.

The story came from TMZ.com, which said that Miss Rivers presented a passport that contained her married name and her stage name. She is Joan Rosenberg in private life.

The confusion was enough to make her miss her plane and
spend another night in Costa Rica, the Web site said.

Miss Rivers is 76. The report on the Web site is unclear if the confusion was with an immigration official here or with a Continental Airlines employee.

Miss Rivers was scheduled to open tonight in the Laurie Beechman Theatre near Times Square in New York City with a new comedy act. She recently was host of the television show “How’d You Get So Rich?”

She is known for speaking her mind with a broad New York accent. She was born in Brooklyn.


New wind generating farm goes into service in Guanacaste
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new wind generation farm went into service last month and is now connected with the national grind, said the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which operates it.

The project is named Planta Eólica Guanacaste. The power is expected to be sufficient for 100,000 users, said the
company. The generating farm consists of 55 wind generators each with the capacity to produce 900 kilowatts. The generators basically are big windmills similar to those installed at the north end of Lake Arenal. The project is situated on 500 hectares, more than 1,200 acres.

The site is 30 kms north of Bagaces and about 8 kms from Guayabo near the Miravalles volcano.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 2

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Tourist from Texas among 70 who died over holidays

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A popular Houston, Texas, real estate broker was one of the 70 persons who met a violent death in Costa Rica over the holidays.

She was Angela K Probe, a tourist who died in a traffic accident in Santa Cruz Dec. 27, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. The details of the accident were unavailable from official sources, but a friend in Texas said that the woman was on a moped with a passenger, drifted into the oncoming lane and hit a bus.

"She was really excited to be going to Costa Rica," said the friend. "She had never been there before and one of the couples with them spoke the language, so that made it a little easier."

Mrs. Probe ran Angela K. Probe Real Estate Services and
specialized in the Houston Metro area, said her Web site. She also operated a travel Web site. She was affiliated with the ERA real estate organization. The friend said that she will be buried near Dallas, Texas. Services are Thursday.

"She was always helping out and doing things that she felt like helped the community," said the friend. "She gave her time willingly."

The Web site said that her husband's name was Jim and that they lived in Liverpool, Texas. A son, Lee, recently returned from serving in the U.S. Army in Europe, according to the Web site.

Of the 70 who died over the holidays, from Dec. 24 through Sunday, 26 were accident victims and 16 were suicides, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. Some 16 persons were murdered, the agency said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 2

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Researchers think cell phone
could be future checkbook

By the Oxford University news service

Oxford University researchers suggest that the cell telephone could become the checkbook or credit card of the future.

The UK Payments Council said Dec. 16 that cheques are to be phased out by 2018 and heightened the need for secure replacement payment systems. 

New security technology developed at Oxford University by Bill Roscoe and his team that allows people to make payments via mobile phones, offers a solution.

The technology is designed to work in almost all situations: person to person, in a shop or restaurant, at a vending machine, online, or as part of a telephone conversation.

Isis Innovation, the University of Oxford’s technology transfer company, is working with Roscoe to commercialize the technology.

"A key requirement of new payment systems will be the ability to make payments from person to person, such as paying a builder or a friend," said Roscoe of the university’s computing laboratory.

‘What we have is technology which enables anyone to easily create a secure connection between two devices: It can work via Bluetooth, WiFi, the internet or across ordinary telephone or SMS connections.

"The core of our technology is a new security protocol that enables strong cryptographic keys to be created with the least possible work. The key to the protocol is that it prevents anyone from doing any searching to break into the transaction."

The Oxford technology uses a system in which the payer checks whether a short numeric code (4-8 digits for most applications) generated within their own phone is the same as the one generated by the payee. This number is random and does not have to be kept secret. This ensures that the customer’s mobile is connected to the correct store, or to the mobile of the person they wish to pay. Payment then occurs without the exchange of sensitive details such as credit card numbers or PIN.

It is expected that no hardware modifications to the phones will be needed, and the Oxford team have built demonstration systems to show a variety of uses. The payment itself could be made in a number of ways: using electronic cash or credit stored on a mobile phone, via authorization of a credit card payment, or by instructing a bank to pay a merchant or another person a certain amount.

"The technology is designed to put the payer in charge of the connection and let him or her have direct control over how much is paid and to whom – very much like a check," said Roscoe.

"It is clear that banks will be looking for innovative solutions to avoid the limitations of current technology and that the ability to pay using mobile phones in the same way that you do now using a check will need to be phased in over the next eight years. The beauty of this system is that it can be used for many different methods of payment.’"

Consider the following scenarios:

* Emma chooses a ticket online on her PC and pays with her phone. Her phone and the agency connect by telephony. She enters the code and confirms the payment, perhaps by entering her PIN.

• Jim wants to make a low-value payment, say for a bus ticket. His phone makes a Bluetooth connection with the bus, and he confirms that the codes displayed on his phone and the ticket machine are equal by buying the ticket of this choice.

• A child has run out of credit. He rings his mother, who transfers money without fuss: She has previously created a permanent key between their phones that allows her to transfer credit without the child needing to take any action.

In each case the comparison of the codes makes it pointless for a man-in-the-middle to attempt to break the payment, particularly since the payee will transfer details such as a name, logo or photograph that is then checked by the payer and included in the electronic payment instruction that automatically goes to the bank.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 2


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U.S. economic picture
appears to be mixed bag

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Economic reports paint a mixed picture of the U.S. economy, with manufacturing rising and construction dropping. However, the job market looks better.

Monday's report from the Institute for Supply Management says an index of manufacturing rose 2.3 percentage points in December.

Factories are apparently boosting production to meet growing demand from government stimulus programs.  Demand is also helped by businesses that are rebuilding inventories that were drastically cut during the worst of the economic crisis.

A separate government report shows a very different trend.  The latest figures from the U.S. Commerce Department show construction falling to the lowest level in six years.

November's data show a .6 percent decline for the month, which is the seventh drop in as many months.

The number of newly laid off Americans has fallen to the lowest level in a year and a half, the latest sign the U.S. job market is on the mend.

The Labor Department reports new unemployment claims totaled 432,000 last week, down 22,000 from the previous week.  That is the lowest figure since July, 2008, and a significant reduction from the nearly 700,000 jobs that were being lost each week during the worst stretch of the economic recession in early 2009.

Global Insight economist Nigel Gault says unemployment is easing.

"The trend is clear," Gault said. "It is well established now, and the trend is down.  We are now roughly in the zone which is consistent with the economy just beginning to add jobs."

Not only are new job losses down, but the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits has also dropped by 57,000.  If the trend continues, the number of jobs created will outpace job losses, and U.S. unemployment, which stands at a 26-year high of 10 percent, will decline, according to Gault.

The federal government will issue its next unemployment reading next week.






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