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(506) 2223-1327                    Published Friday, Feb. 1, 2013,  in Vol. 13, No. 23                Email us
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Disguised government spy irks journalism colegio
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The journalist professional organization is miffed because a government security agent pretended to be a television reporter and infiltrated a labor protest in Siquirres.

The organization, the Colegio de Periodistas, said it might file a formal complaint with prosecutors.

The organization is upset equally with Carlos Ricardo Benavides, minister of the Presidencia and other officials for refusing to talk about the affair. The colegio issued a formal protest Wednesday.

The agent appears to have been a member of the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad, which works closely with the executive branch. The man carried fake credentials. El Diario Extra published a photo of the man with credentials dangling from his neck.

Newspeople are sensitive about impostors because what they do may generate a negative reaction against real newspeople.
The security agent was observing and making recordings of individuals engaged in a non-violent protest at Matas de Costa Rica, an ornamental plant exporting firm that owes severance pay to workers.
Diario Extra said the agent claimed taking his photo was prohibited because his identity was a state secret. That happened Jan. 23.

A check of news files shows that police have pretended to be journalists frequently and all over the world. In some cases, they were freeing hostages. In Luxembourg disguised police killed a gunman. In the Philippine, rebels disguised themselves as journalists to raid a police station.

At the beginning of her term in 2010, President Laura Chinchilla promised that the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad would concentrate on organized crime and drugs. Past presidents have used the agency as a personal intelligence source basically to learn about any threats or political situations. There have been calls to abolish the agency with allegations of excessive wiretapping and other activities without oversight.

10-year study doubles number of known hoverflies
By the Servicio de Información
y Noticias Científicas

A team of scientists have described 24 new species of flower flies, of which only a further 24 species were known. The researchers, including two Spanish biologists, have been studying the forests of Central and Southern America for 10 years and they have now published their results in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

A 10-year study in forests of the American continent has resulted in the description of 24 new insect species from the Quichuana genus that are also known as 'flower flies'.

Up until now only a further 24 species were known. This genus belongs to the Syrphidae family, which is a group with similar characteristics to that of bees and wasps but with a different taxonomic order.

María Ángeles Marcos-García, researcher at the Ibero-American Biodiversity Centre of the University of Alicante and one of the authors of the study, the species of the Quichuana genus are "not well known as they live in tropical forest areas where insect studies are scarce."

Numerous studies in these forests have been carried out in the last 10 years that aim to understand and provide useful data for supporting conservation measures in those areas that are home to such high levels of biodiversity, said the biologist.

"Some specimens were captured as adults while in flight whereas others were taken as larva and were
new fly
CIBIO-University of Alicante photo
Adult specimen of Quichuana.

then raised in our laboratories as adults," said the researcher.

In this way it was possible to find out how larvae live in small spots of water retained in different parts of the plant and how a relationship has been established between the insect species and their plant development environment, added the researcher.

According to the author the discovery of this insect-plant relationship is especially important for establishing conservation methods, both for these species and others that share the same environment.

According to the entomologist, these insects, which also are called hoverflies are present in practically all terrestrial ecosystems and they carry out very important biological functions, such as pollination, nutrient recycling and biological control of plagues as their larvae feed on other insects that are damaging to crops and ornamental plants, such as plant lice.

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Our readers' opinions
China will present check
sometime in the future

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Re:  NY Times blames China for cyber attack

Costa Rica will rue the day that they have had dealings with this Communist country. While The New York Times has the backing of the massive U.S.A. technological industry and the U.S.A. government, Costa Rica won’t know what hit them when it happens, and it will happen. These loans and stadium have a huge price. Yesterday I went to Migración for my cédula. There were three Chinese getting their cédulas. They must have been investors.

I wonder how many Ticos they will hire to work in their businesses according to Costa Rican law? Perhaps they’ll hire them just like they did to work on the stadium. Anyone ever see how many Ticos go into Chinatown to work? Watch the follow up on the cyber attack on The New York Times and see what the U.S.A. does about punishing the attackers, then you’ll have an idea what Costa Rica can or can’t do when it comes time to pay the fiddler.

When loans are demanded to be paid, the World Court and the World Trade Organization will decide the sanctions against Costa Rica and how they will be paid, not Costa Rica. More and more land/businesses and political influences. They will want politicians that will represent the ever growing Chinatown and then, where will it end?
Art Sulenski
Los Angeles Sur de Alajuela

Individuals need to make
a stand on their futures

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

An environmental group is on the case of the volcano hydro project.  I am not here to state if they are correct or not, but to make some observations on the current state of the environment vs man vs economy.  There may come a time when we, individually, will need to take a stand on our collective futures.

It has been ordained by U.N. Agenda 21/Sustainable Development (a/k/a by warm fuzzy names: Smart growth; Visioning projects; social justice; consensus, public/private partnerships, et al.) that we must adopt the three pillars:

(1) Economic Prosperity: "…current lifestyles and consumption patterns of the affluent middle class--involving high meat intake, use of fossil fuels, appliances, home and work air conditioning, and suburban housing are not sustainable."--Maurice Strong, opening speech at Agenda 21;  

(2) Social Equity:  "Individual rights will have to take a back seat to the collective" in the process of implementing Sustainable Development -- Harvey Ruvin;

(3) Ecological Integrity:  Individual rights subordinated to nature -- NATURE OVER MAN.

Capitalism has been accused of profits over man and therefore should be put down like some rabid animal.

I don't know about anyone else, but all this juggling for supreme power (economic or environmental) over man leaves me feeling quite vulnerable:  Is it a false choice that unless we surrender our property and freedoms, unless we subsume our individual rights to the good of the community our planet will not survive?  

Can we not respect our environment as individuals without the control of international groups and the seductive lure of U.N. grants and retain our rights, freedoms, and national identity?  Can we not encourage economic growth through a responsible free market economy — a/k/a capitalism — which has a track record of creating the most overall wealth of mankind and ability to encourage and lift people out of poverty?  Is our only choice the adoption of socialism or a superpower of mankind (U.N., Al Gore or his ilk of mega-rich looking to transform from multi-millionaires to billionaires to trillionaires), which has historically kept the poor in poverty and in dependency of government handouts?

I contend it is not capitalism we need to fear. We need to eradicate crony capitalism — the patronage we see today in our own backyard.  Along with it, corruption.  These things alone do more to stifle man's personal liberties and prosperity on all levels than anything devised by some superpower grab of the planet or its commercial assets.  

"Nature over Man" or "Profits over Man" — either way the destiny of man is at the whim of one small group or another looking out for only themselves to grow richer or increase their power.  

Making use of or benefiting from resources many not necessarily mean the destruction of the environment.  Or does it?

Mary Jay

Expats need explanation
on where to get new plates

Dear A.M. Costa Rica;

One of the first things I do when I boot up my computer in the morning is to check out what is on A.M. Costa Rica.  I have been waiting for a year for your publication to update the information on new plates for our motor vehicles.  Nothing new in about a year.  There was a news item last year about doing it at the post office, but no info on how to properly complete the process.  The news item stated bring your plates in to the post office and you will receive new plates in a couple two or three days more or less.  

Does that mean, I have to drive around for that time period without plates?  Could you please give all us expats an update on the proper way to get this done without having to go to San José.

Changing the subject.  Your publication is so focused on what is going on in the U.S.A and other areas you seem to miss some of the really important situations that are going on in this country.  Most of the news you print about the U.S.A. is a day (or 2) late and a dollar short.  

Do you really think that people that read A.M. Costa Rica on the their computers do not already know about the news stories you print about the states.  I have been reading the articles the last few weeks about the colon/dollar situation and the tourism impact, but you missed a story concerning the major increase in the liquor license rates.  This new tax is killing restaurateurs that cater to tourists because they have to raise their drink prices.  

This is not a small increase, check it out, I think you would be appalled, reminds me of the new traffic fines they passed a couple of years ago. In closing I would just like to see more articles concerning Costa Rica.
Douglas Sehr
Quepos/ Manual Antonio

EDITOR'S NOTE: For license plates you can go to any post office in the country, not just San José or at the regional offices of the Registro Nacional where you can get plates the same day.
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
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary

Costa Rican news summaries are disabled
on archvied pages.

Have you seen these stories?
From A.M. Costa Rica

Top story news feeds are disbled on archived pages.

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Third News Page
 advanced design
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb, 1, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 23
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Lawmakers view winning proposal for their new building
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers got their first look Thursday at the design for what may be the new legislative building.

The design melds existing structures in the legislative complex with a new, multi-story, environmentally friendly addition.

The project is estimated to be about $76 million. The current legislative complex and buildings associated with it are in disrepair and have been condemned several times by the health ministry. Rodents and insects are thriving.

The winning design was one of 23 that were blind judged by a panel from the Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos. The design is from Nagel Arquitectura S.A, which bears the name of Karin Nagel, who studied architecture at the University College in London.

The money will be handled by the Banco de Costa Rica in a way that lawmakers said they hoped provided full transparency to the public.

The selection process took two years. Lawmakers were going to rent a structure on the Circunvalación in Zapote, but that idea was rejected.

There is no clear timetable for the construction of the new building. Nor is it guaranteed that the design presented Thursday will be the one that is actually built.
Partido Liberación Nacional photo
Lawmakers seem very impressed by the design.

To sleep: perchance to dream: Ay, there's the way to go!
Dreams have been a part of my life since I can remember.  I am talking about the dreams you have when you are asleep, which some people remember and others don’t.  Sleep is a part of everyone’s life.

Lately there has been much written about sleep and its importance to health on many levels.  Our moods, our efficiency, our attention, all are affected by how much sleep we get.  Sleep deprivation and gaining weight seem to be related.  Driving while drowsy is considered as dangerous as driving while drunk. 

There are many studies being done on the various conditions that deprive us of a good night’s sleep and therefore affect our health.  Medical researchers are studying sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, snoring, sleep walking, even medications and narcotics that interfere with a proper night’s sleep, which is now determined to be between 8½ to 9½ hours a night.  It has long been known that sunlight wakes you up, and when the sun goes down, one tends to lose wakefulness.  This works for many in Costa Rica because the sun regularly rises around 6:00 a.m. and sets at 6:00 p.m. Many expats have adjusted their sleeping habits to these hours, which is good, because scientists believe that getting the morning sun helps one to sleep at night. 

Hand in glove with sleeping are dreams.  It is believed that everyone dreams, although some people don’t remember their dreams.  People have been dreaming and talking about dreams since the beginning of time, but surprisingly little is definitively known about dreams.  Different societies regard the importance of dreams differently. Western society knows only what it can prove scientifically about dreams. So far that is limited.  But since we spend about two hours of our sleeping dreaming, it does deserve more insight.

Odors seem to affect dreams since the sense of smell is linked to that part of the brain that is also associated with dreaming.  Logically, pleasant smells tend to make for pleasant dreams.  I am sure aroma therapists would confirm this.  There is also something called lucid dreaming, when the dreamer is aware that she is dreaming and therefore has some control over the outcome.  Scientists, however, advise that we let our dreams follow their own course.
Freud and Jung seem to be the only researchers who have done any heavy thinking about dreams and they have different
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

opinions. Both believed in the unconscious, but for Freud (generally speaking) dreams were a way to satisfy our suppressed desires, while Jung saw the unconscious as more spiritual and dreams as a means to help us live life well.  (This is a wildly incomplete and superficial distillation of their beliefs).

Since the scientific method requires repeated and consistent results for any behavior or activity to be ‘proven,’ dreaming continues to elude them in terms of a theory.

I became even more interested in dreams when I learned that days before she died, my mother spent more time sleeping than being awake until one day they simply could not wake her up.  She just went on sleeping, to my mind.  That has made me think that perhaps as we get older sleeping is a more interesting state than being awake.  In dreams you can be any age, do many things and have experiences that when awake your body and mind just can’t manage.  It might be interesting to study.

Meanwhile, what got me interested in writing this was a dream I had this past week.  In my dream I had hired a tutor for some child I was caring for.  The tutor was a young man.  He picked up a cone-like object from the ground and said, “We call this a glue.”  “How interesting,” I said.  “Why do you call it a glue?”  He threw down the glue and said he no longer could tutor because I interrupted so much.  I realized I had been interrupting.  “I’m sorry,” I said.  “Please continue and I’ll keep quiet.”

“No,” he said.  “I’m done.”  So I asked him how much did he want for his work so far?  “Two hundred dollars,” he said.  “But you’ve only been here fifteen minutes!” I said.  He crossed his arms, sat back, and said, “Two hundred dollars.”

“You know,” I said.  “All I have to do is wake up and poof, you are out of here.”  And I woke up.  Now that is something you can do in dreams but not in your waking life.

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb, 1, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 23
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Concert band in Limón continues a long and unique tradition
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When vacationers plan their escape to Costa Rica, many schedule a few days at the Caribbean coast to partake in the laid back vibe and Afro-Caribbean food and music.

In 1906, the Ascensión Esquivel Ibarra administration saw a need to protect this asset and founded a concert band in the region.  It was called Banda de Conciertos de Limón and was designed to captivate the musical essence of the culture and was made an institution under the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud.

The clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and percussion players would harness the reggae and calypso beats and recreate it for the future generations in Limón as well as persons in the other provinces.  They also play Latin American classics.

“A remarkable feature of this band is that each presentation consists of a suitable repertoire, with particular emphasis on the rescue of the Afro-Costa Rican music,” said the band biography, adding:

“This versatility seeks to satisfy the tastes and expectations of the majority, and reach the most remote communities to bring people to the music and art.”

The vision of the Banda de Conciertos de Limón is to be an important local and international cultural institution, and to execute this task with professionalism and intellect, it said.

The band gives concerts the second and last Sunday of every month at the Explanada de la Catedral de Limón at 7:30 p.m.  They also give cultural concerts to communities outside Limón one Sunday out of the month.

Special concerts are preformed in theaters, auditoriums and .
Banda de
Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud photo
The band is heavy on brass and percussion.

schools around the country as well as in prisons and nursing homes

Keeping with the volunteer spirit, the band will give a free concert today at 2 p.m. en el Hogar de Ancianos de Cieneguita in Limón.  Director Juan Carlos Meza Solano will lead the performance.

go fast boat
Ministerio de Gobernación. Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
Anti-drug agents extract packages of cocaine that were hidden in the go fast boat.
Another pursuit nets Guardacostas another go-fast boat, cocaine
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The go-fast boat just couldn't go fast enough, so the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas captured it off Manzanillo near Cahuita early Thursday.

The coast guard said that its officers found 400 kilos of cocaine hidden in a double floor of the boat.

This is the second boast of this type that the agency captured within a week in the Caribbean. Jan. 24 a coast guard patrol
boat ran a similar craft onto a beach in northeastern Costa Rica. That resulted in the confiscation of 375 kilos of cocaine.

The 11-meter, open go-fast boats typically carry three 200-horsepower motors. The one captured Thursday carried a satellite communication device and a GPS locator. The coast guard said that both of the captured crafts left Rincón near Cartagena in Colombia. The two crew members were detained.

The events leading up to the chase and capture were not given, but there are U.S. Navy vessels and spotter planes in the area.

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Senate also approves
raising U.S. debt limit

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Senate has joined the House in suspending the debt ceiling, a limit on how much money the federal government can borrow to meet its debts.

The Senate passed the bill Thursday, 64 to 34. The House of Representatives approved it last week and President Barack Obama has said he will sign it.

The bill puts off any action in Congress to raise the debt ceiling, which now stands at $16.4 trillion, and it ensures the United States will not default on its financial obligations this month, which had been a possibility. The bill will allow the government to keep borrowing money to pay salaries, pensions and interest on bonds until the middle of May.

The debt ceiling bill sets an April 15 deadline for passage of a budget for the current fiscal year, which ends in September. If that condition is not met, the legislation would stop salary payments for all members of Congress.

The lengthy and often bitter debate over U.S. government spending and the nation's growing debt has been marked by partisan political differences. Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, have called for sharp cuts in federal spending programs to reduce the national debt and balance the budget. Democrats, who hold the majority in the Senate, have supported the White House position that spending cuts must be accompanied by an increase in government revenues, coming from higher taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans.

Hagel has a bad day
at confirmation hearing

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Senate confirmation of President Barack Obama’s pick to be U.S. defense secretary remains uncertain after a contentious hearing before the Armed Services Committee.  Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel faced hours of intense and sometimes combative questioning from one-time colleagues.
If Hagel’s goal for his confirmation hearing was to win the backing of Republican lawmakers, his exchange with Sen. John McCain seemed ominous.

McCain repeatedly asked if Hagel regretted his opposition to the 2007 U.S. troop surge in Iraq.

“The question is: were you right or wrong? That is a pretty straightforward question,” he said.

Hagel declined to answer. “I am not going to give you a yes or no.  I think it is far more complicated than that. As I have already said, my answer is: I will defer that judgment to history,” he said.

McCain fired back.

“I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir. And you are on the wrong side of it.  And your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not,” he said.

​​Hagel was also put on the defensive over past votes and statements concerning Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s backing for international terrorism, Israel’s influence in U.S. politics, and the necessity of America’s nuclear arsenal. Hagel repeatedly proclaimed his support for Obama administration policies, regardless of past statements or actions.

“I am on the record on many issues. But no one individual vote, no one individual quote, no one individual statement defines me,” Hagel said.

Sen. James Inhofe, another Republican, was not impressed.

“Senator Hagel’s record is deeply troubling and out of the mainstream. Too often, it seems, he is willing to subscribe to a worldwide view that is predicated on appeasing our adversaries while shunning our friends,” he said.

Hagel rejected the allegation. “My overall worldview has never changed: That America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world, that we must lead in the international community to confront threats and challenges together,” he said.

The hearing was not entirely hostile. Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat, noted Hagel’s service as an enlisted soldier in the Vietnam War. He holds two Purple Hearts for wounds received in action.

“It would be a positive message for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in harm’s way around the world to know that one of their own holds the highest office in the Department of Defense, and that he has their backs,” Levin said.

Hagel appears to have the support of Democratic senators, who hold a majority in the Senate. But he would need at least five Republican votes for confirmation if any senator used a procedural maneuver to force a three-fifths vote on his nomination.  He would succeed outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

World Health Organization
suggests less salt in diet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The World Health Organization has issued new guidelines urging adults to consume less salt and include a minimum amount of potassium in their diets.

In a statement released Thursday, the U.N. organization says adults should consume less than two grams of sodium or fewer than five grams of salt each day.  It also recommends a minimum of 3.5 grams of potassium as part of a daily diet.

The international health body says the recommendations are part of an effort to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke.

Sodium is found naturally in foods including milk, cream and eggs, and is present in much higher amounts in processed foods such as bacon and snack foods, it said.

Potassium-rich foods include beans, nuts and vegetables and fruits such as spinach and bananas.
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Vice president explains
delays in Limón project

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Vice President Alfio Piva Mesén told lawmakers Thursday that the massive Limón Ciudad Puerto project has been delayed but that he is certain it will be competed.

He blamed multiple reasons, including paperwork, for the delay.

The project is a renovation of the city, involving all sorts of improvements to infrastructure. It was a keystone of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration and was inherited by President Laura Chinchilla.

Piva was talking at a session of the Comisión Permanente Especial de Control de Ingreso y Gasto Público.  He said that in December the government installed new lighting in Limón Centro and also put up street signs.

In 2008 the World Bank approved a $72.5 million loan for the Limón project.

One part of the project is to control the flooding that hits barrios San Luis and Santa Fe periodically from the nearby Río Limoncito. Restoration of principal public and historic buildings also was on the agenda.

Go fly a kite may be
good weekend advice

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekend should be great for flying kites.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that strong winds will continue through at least Saturday.

But the kite better be sturdy, because the weather bulletin said that gusts in the Central Valley and Guanacaste might reach 80 to 90 kph or a bit more than 55 mph. Winds may be stronger in the mountains, it said

Kites may be a good idea, but pilots of small planes better have second thoughts. There also is a danger of falling trees and other wind-induced problems, said the institute.

San José mayor enters
election race formally

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Johnny Araya Monge, the mayor of San José, formally signed up as a pre-candidate for the Partido Liberación Nacional Thursday evening. The action is a formality because he is the last candidate seeking the party nomination for president.

He said he would work hard to win the support of the Costa Rican people.

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Cyber attacks linked to China increase

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chinese hackers have conducted a growing number of attacks against foreign companies and government institutions in recent years, leading a recent U.S. congressional report to call China the most threatening actor in cyberspace.

Although the attacks are difficult to trace to a specific source, many suspect the hackers are targeting overseas business, media, political and security institutions at the direction of, or with the permission of, the Chinese government or military.

Chinese officials have denied the charge, saying Beijing also is a victim of computer attacks and security breaches. They argue that just because cyber attacks may originate from Chinese soil does not mean China is sponsoring the attackers.

The latest accusation came Thursday from the New York Times, which said hackers employing methods known to be used by the Chinese military broke into its computers, in apparent retaliation for a scathing investigation into the wealth of Premier Wen Jiabao.

The story fits the pattern of many China-based journalists and activist groups, who have long complained of computer-based attacks and other techniques allegedly aimed at intimidating them and their sources from covering topics that upset Beijing.

Although The Times was able to employ a large computer security firm to help protect it from cyber attacks, observers say many smaller organizations with modest tech budgets are more vulnerable because they are unable to provide the same level of protection.

Chinese hackers also are believed to have spied on U.S. government and military activities, as detailed in a November report to Congress by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

The report said state-sponsored hackers often have stolen sensitive information to help advance China's political, economic and security objectives. It also said China often chooses to look the other way when hacktivists or independent cyber criminals, conduct attacks against U.S. business or government interests.

The report said the issue is complicated by the widespread existence of state-owned or state-controlled companies in China, which often employ hackers to steal trade secrets in order to gain advantages on foreign competitors.

Because of these factors, the U.S. panel called China the most threatening actor in cyberspace.

Recent data suggests the problem is only getting worse. A quarterly report last week from Akamai Technologies found that global cyber attacks originating from China more than doubled in the third quarter of 2012, compared to the previous three months. The study suggests that one-third of all cyber attacks now come from China.

Even though a growing amount of evidence suggests Beijing's involvement in cyber hacking, security analysts say it is difficult to trace the attacks directly to the Chinese government, in part because hackers use sophisticated methods to hide their tracks.

Thursday's New York Times story said the hackers tried to conceal their activities by routing their attacks through overseas computers and continually switching IP addresses. It also said Beijing maintains plausible deniability for hacking attempts by outsourcing attacks to skilled hackers.

Washington officials in recent months have warned of the dire threat posed by foreign computer hackers, including those in China. This week, the Pentagon moved to address those threats, increasing the size of its cyber security force by more than 4,000 people, up from the current 900.

The move comes just weeks after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that the U.S. faces the possibility of a cyber Pearl Harbor attack that could disrupt the country's power grid, transportation system and financial networks.

U.S. officials have repeatedly raised the issue with China, which continues to deny involvement in any cyber espionage. It argues that it has worked hard to crack down on Internet crimes, saying the Chinese government itself is the world's biggest victim of cyber attacks.

Google photo
This is a scene from the Arizona Trail in the canyon

Google posts virtual Grand Canyon tour

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Grand Canyon is an icon of the American landscape and receives about five million visitors a year, according to the National Park Service.

Still, the canyon’s remote location in the southwestern state of Arizona, make it hard for many to make the trip. Now, thanks to Google Maps, anyone with an Internet connection can take a virtual hike through the rugged terrain.

According to the Google Maps blog, the images cover 75 miles of trails through what is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

The Google team members strapped 40-pound, 15-lens cameras called Trekkers to their backs to capture the more than 9,500 images, according to the blog.

U.S. consumer spending reported higher

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. consumer spending rose two-tenths of a percent in December as incomes grew, according to Commerce Department data released Thursday.  Some economists say that fits a pattern showing a gradually recovering U.S. economy. 

Consumer spending is watched closely because consumer demand drives most U.S. economic activity.

The upbeat spending data may be evidence that an earlier report indicating that the U.S. economy shrank slightly over the past few months was a pause before modest growth resumes. 

A separate report showed the number of Americans signing up for unemployment compensation rose by 38,000 to a total of 368,000 applications last week. 

​​​​​Economists say the jump in jobless claims follows a couple of weeks of improving numbers and probably will not change the unemployment rate, which will be reported Friday and is expected to stay at 7.8 percent. 

The unemployment situation has been improving slowly since the end of the recession.

A Cornell University economics professor, Sharon Poczter, said current efforts to cut the jobless rate by cutting interest rates have not worked well.

"We see that almost nothing has changed on unemployment; it is exactly where it was when we started this recession," she said.  "We can see that monetary policy alone will not fix unemployment."

Ms. Poczter suggested a better approach would be to reform the U.S. education system so high schools better prepare workers for the growing number of high-income, high-tech jobs.

"Our standards for the high school diploma have stayed the same, while the needed skills for those jobs have increased," she said.  "So how could it possibly be that the high school diploma is sufficient anymore?"

Ms. Poczter said middle class jobs were disappearing and wages for the remaining jobs were falling even before the economic crisis and the recent recession accelerated that trend.
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