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(506) 2223-1327                     Published Monday, Feb. 11, 2013,  in Vol. 13, No. 29                Email us
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Jo Stuart

                Rica real estate

Judiciary setting up diversion plan for drug scofflaws
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A person with a drug addiction who commits a minor crime will now have another option to facing the criminal courts.  That choice is rehabilitation.
The judiciary and the Instituto Costarricense Sobre Drogas have created a diversion program that treat addicts who come through the system with misdemeanors.

The intitiative, Programa de Tratamiento en Drogas Bajo Supervisión Judicial, was put into letter form and signed by Doris Arias Madrigal and Mauricio Boraschi Friday.

Ms. Arias is a judge and the project coordinator, and Boraschi is the country's anti-drug czar.

Currently there is no niche where persons who are addicted to drugs can get help, and these persons have a special case and need special attention, said Ms. Arias. 

She also stressed that the implementation of the court-supervised drug treatment falls within a
 restorative justice program that will be a more effective response to crime with respect for human dignity and the equality of persons.

Those eligible for the program will be profiled and the Protocolo de Actuaciones Interno, the health sector of the Instituto de Alcholismo y Fármaco Dependencia, and the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz will choose a final group for the pilot phase. 

"The integration of the legal and health sectors will favor the treatment and approach to the imputed person, and gives collateral aid for effective reintegration that benefits victims and society by increasing satisfaction levels," said Ms. Arias.

The attendees will be monitored, documented and given a schedule of activities to follow.  After treatment they will be reintroduced into society, the officials said.

"This program offers alternatives for those people who commit minor offenses,” said Boraschi.  “The system offers a chance at three points: treatment, face the criminal system differently and reintegration to society. The commitment to multiple sectors is vital."

Pacific ecohotel featured on new YouTube channel
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A  Playa Grande hotel owner is being featured on a YouTube channel as an example of successful ecotourism.

He is Louis Wilson, who operates the Hotel Las Tortugas. The Florida native came to Costa Rica 40 years ago as a surfer.

The show is available on the Reserve Channel, which seems to be a cross between Public Broadcasting and travel programming.

The hostess of the expat segment of the channel is Savannah Jane Buffett, who with Wilson spends 24 minutes exploring the hotel, the dry tropical forest and the mangroves at the Pacific coast location.

Wilson, his wife, Carrie Bruggerman, and Ms. Buffett also highlighted an effective way for Costa Rica tourism businesses to promote themselves online. Unlike some of the YouTube clips from Costa Rica, the Reserve channel show is professionally produced. A lot of purported promotional material from Costa Rica appears to have been taped in someone's garage.

Wilson is featured correctly as one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Parque Nacional Marino las Baulas adjacent to his hotel. The beach is a major leatherback turtle nesting ground, but Wilson told Ms. Buffett that turtle arrivals are much lower now because the ocean is threatened.

The expat segment on the Reserve Channel shares billing with cooking, talk shows, health programs and even one on photography. The most recent photo program featured, among others, ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Another expat show features a man restoring buildings in the center of Panamá. All are fairly lengthy treatment of the subject. Ms. Buffett went on a boat ride with Wilson to explore the wild  
                        and wife
Reserve Channel graphic
Louis Wilson and his wife, both surfers, chat with Savannah Jane Buffett

areas, and he had plenty of time on camera describing his life and the construction of the hotel.

The reserve channel is a creation of Uncommon Content, which said it is creating and distributing seven original series for the Reserve Channel as part of YouTube’s Original/Premium Programming initiative. The initiative is a Google $100 million effort to get original content on YouTube.

YouTube rapidly is becoming major competition for traditional television. The videos and video channels feature subscribe buttons so that users can receive information by email and also be notified when a new segment is added.

So far, the Playa Grande segment with Wilson has had just 2,500 viewers, but it has been up just since Thursday. Some YouTube videos see hundreds of millions of viewers.  The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo has its own video channel on YouTube, now featuring the talking sloth from its $6.5 million 2011 campaign. The channel is not well publicized, however, and many of the videos have been up for a year or more but have fewer viewers than the expat sequence.

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Anti-trafficking law goes
into effect with publication

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security ministry confirmed Friday that a new law against trafficking in persons has gone into effect. The law became valid because it was published in the La Gaceta official newspaper that day.

This is the law that criminalizes promoting Costa Rica as a sex tourist destination. The law also provides penalties for those who transport prostitutes even though prostitution is not prosecuted.

The law also increases the exit tax at international airports from $28 to $29. The money goes into a fund to be distributed by a new commission to fight human trafficking.  The recipients likely will be non-governmental organizations.

The measure against sexual tourism provides four to eight years in prison for those who promote or realize programs, campaigns, publicity announcements or making use of whatever media to promote the country nationally and internationally as a tourist destination accessible for commercial sexual exploitation or prostitution.

The measure also sets for the first time penalties of from three to five years in prison for those who benefit from trafficking in persons, the illicit traffic in migrants and similar activities. The penalty is aimed at operators of locations involved in trafficking.

The new law also covers exploitation of those under 18 with stiff penalties of from 10 to 20 years if the person doing the exploitation is a relative or has custody.

The measure is law No.  9095.

A.M. Costa Rica addressed some aspects of the law when it was reported out of committee nearly a year ago. The newspaper said at the time that the measure clearly is an effort to appease the United States, whose State Department usually lists Costa Rica as below par in fighting human trafficking. The last State Department report put together by the U.S. Embassy staff never mentions that prostitution is not illegal here.

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería said the bill was passed to cause Costa Rica to conform to U.N. treaties it has adopted.

Employees union says minister
is on an obsessive crusade

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's public employee union has accused the finance minister of conducting an obsessive crusade to raise more taxes, and he is directing the campaign against workers.

The union, the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, expressed its unhappiness with the suggestion that the government would begin taxing Christmas bonuses, lottery winnings, and the salario escolar.

The minister, Édgar Ayales Esna, said Wednesday that everything was subject to review as the government seeks new sources of income. He said a new tax bill would be made public within a year and specifically mentioned the three new possible levies.

The union said on its Web page that the government's financial problems are due to an unjust tax system. There is gigantic evasion and a system of exonerations that does not help the country. The union said that fully 6 percent of the gross domestic product was subject to exemptions from taxes. That's a tax base of about 1.2 quadrillion colons, about $2.4 trillion, the union estimated.

The union contended that the working class pays its taxes on time both as income tax and in sales tax whenever a purchase is made.

Costa Rica has a system of tax exonerations for companies coming here and also a system of free trade zones where normal tax is not assessed.

The salario escolar is a system of untaxed salary deduction designed to provide parents money for children's clothing and supplies when they return to school.

Two 4.5 earthquakes
take place on weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two earthquakes of magnitudes of 4.5 took place over the weekend.

The first was at 8:18 a.m. Saturday. The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica estimated the epicenter to be just off the South coast of the Osa peninsula near Carate. Then at 10:52 Sunday a second quake took place in the hills above Puntarenas at Zagala Nueva de Montes de Oro.

Quakes of that magnitude are not likely to cause great damage.

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

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 29
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Some in La Fortuna consider triple murder to be a message
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some La Fortuna residents say that the murder of three persons early Saturday was designed to send a message. They don't know what the message is, but the killers clearly have connections for others in the community, the residents say.

There is a lot of speculation in the community dominated by Arenal volcano because a single murder is infrequent there. So a triple killing of a local hotel operator and his two sons is a shocker.

The man,  Geovany Soto, 52, engaged in making high-interest loans, but an expat who was involved with him said he was a decent businessman and not a shark.

Agents believe that Soto and his sons went from their La Fortuna home and were brought to the family hotel, the Hotel Mountain Paradise outside of town. They may have been seeking money or something else to satisfy their abductors. Fuerza Pública officers found the 20-year-old son, Emanuel. He had been riddled with bullets and left in a vehicle near the Río Fortuna waterfalls, a tourist spot. Neighbors reported hearing gunshots. That was about 1 a.m. Saturday.

Not until about 6:30 a.m. did police receive a report of two bodies found in a lot. They were the father and the son, Mauricio, 29. Their throats were cut.

The Judicial Investigating Organization has placed the man's wife and younger child in protective custody. She will be a key witness, but it is likely that those who abducted the trio were small-time gang members from the San José area who had been hired for the job.

Soto used to manage the well-known  Hotel Montaña del Fuego and perhaps one other hotel before buying the Hotel Mountain Paradise.

The La Fortuna residents say that because the trio were treated so badly and left in the open to be found, the motive for the
crime was to send a message. Investigators have ruled out kidnapping and robbery.

The investigation may determine that the Sotos borrowed money themselves from the wrong people. Tourism has been slow for several years, and many hotel owners have been in a financial bind.

Those in business in Costa Rica are continually approached with offers ranging from storing drugs to laundering money. Costa Rica ranks high as a money laundering and drug transit location. But crooks need someone to insert the money into the local economy so the funds appear to be legally earned. Retail stores, restaurants, casinos and hotels are the types of businesses with the cash flow to disguise illegal money. The merchant simply reports the dirty money as sales and makes a bank deposit. They also pay the appropriate taxes. The money can be returned to the drug lords in a number of ways.

In some cases, investments are made in Costa Rica real estate. Or fake overseas purchases are arranged. Before Sept. 11, 2001, there was a steady business in swapping dollars for Colombian pesos. The business was legal, and couriers from Bogota declared the money at the airport. Increased international scrutiny ended that type of operation.

But now some restaurants and retail stores with hardly any customers are reporting impressive monthly incomes.

Typically it is those in the trucking business who end up storing and transporting drugs. A kilo of cocaine may arrive by launch in the Caribbean and find temporary storage there. But before it leaves Costa Rica for the north, it may have been housed in three or four locations, sometimes to keep investigators from becoming suspicious. Local business people have been detained for their roles in drug traffic. Typically the merchant makes regular shipments of product to the United States, Canada or Europe. The cocaine is hidden within the legal product. Processed food, pineapples and even rugs have been found to be a cover for cocaine. Anti-drug police found cocaine in shipping containers in Limón already this year.

Unique works of two artists on display at country club
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two artists with two different themes and two different mediums will come together in an exhibit for Galería Valanti.  What is the thing that links the art together? Color.

Maricel Alvarado works to create three-dimensional glass works in a process called painting with light and absolute fusion.

“I work from plates of transparent glass and stained glass, glass dust and enamels,” said Ms. Alvarado.  “I cut the glass, paint them with enamels and with the glass dust and add plates of color, one on top the other, to obtain colors and different textures. Once I think that at least the first part is ready, I take it to a special stove for glass to temperatures of even 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours. Every work has been baked at least twice.”

Her work represents women who are afraid to talk and positions them in a world that is honest and equal, she said.

Carlos Tapia paints acrylic on a canvas using his knowledge of architecture.  The artist studied to become an architect and draws inspiration from his background.  He also paints tropical flowers.  All his work encompasses bright colors.

The exhibition, “Color en Movimiento” was chosen by the gallery to capture a vibrant spirit for the new year.
"We have the intention to start the year full of joy, color and positivism, interpreted by two artists in different media with very good quality initiatives," said Marta Antillón, director of Galería Valanti.

Ms. Alvarado is a seasoned artist and her work has been selected in different museums and galleries in Mexico, the United States, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and Costa Rica. 

This will be Tapia’s first Costa Rican showcase.  His work appeared last year in Caracas, Venezuela.  All 10 of his canvases were painted between 2010 and 2011.

Galería Valanti photo
This is 'Clementina,' a Maricel Alvarado work on glass.

The exhibit opens Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Country ArtCafé in the Costa Rican Country Club.  It will be on display until March 30.

Visits are by appointment, which can be made by phone at 2253-1659 and 8872-9181.

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 29
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Some readers are unhappy with article on modified crops
Proliferation of GM crops
is scam by Monsanto

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your Feb. 8 headline "Maize genetics debate pits science against emotions" is one of the most misleading headlines I have seen in your publication in quite some time.  It suggests that those opposed to the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops are using irrational arguments to support a politically-motivated agenda.

I know a little about this subject, having retired from Shell Chemical after 30 years of service, 12 of which were in agricultural chemical Research & Development and during which time I authored or co-authored 53 U.S. patents in the area of chemical insect and weed control.

Despite the questionable claim of Messrs. Henry I. Miller of Stanford, and Graham Brookes, a UK economist, that "the reduced need for spraying chemical pesticides on pest-resistant genetically engineered crops, the health risks – primarily poisonings — for farm workers and their families are significantly lower than for conventional crops," a very recent (2012) Washington State University study found that pesticide chemical use on U.S. farms has increased by 183 million kilos since GM crops were introduced in 1996. 

Of that total, herbicide use increased by 239 million kilos while insecticide use decreased by 56 million kilos.  One wonders if Messrs. Miller and Brookes are somehow on the Monsanto payroll.  By the way, Mr. Miller is a fellow in scientific philosophy and public policy at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, a conservative public policy think tank.  He was a member-scientist of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, a public relations group backed by Philip Morris to undermine science showing the ill effects of cigarettes on human health.

Realistically, the driver behind GM crops is the opportunity for Monsanto to sell more Roundup, the world's top selling herbicide for many years.  And they have succeeded.  Unfortunately, that success comes with an unfortunate price tag.  The use of herbicide-tolerant GM crops has resulted in the rapid spread of Roundup resistant weeds in countries where GM crops are planted due to over-reliance on a single herbicide, i.e., Roundup. 

This is a typical pattern seen with pesticides where increasing use leads to the development of resistance to that pesticide.  The mechanism is straightforward and universal.  When the toxin is applied, some percentage of the exposed pests, because of natural genetic variation, is resistant or immune to the toxic effects of the chemical.  Those resistant or immune individuals survive the application of the pesticide and then propagate throughout the population.  The susceptible pests, i.e., those killed by the chemical, obviously don't propagate.  Over time, the increasingly resistant pest population is less and less affected by the pesticide.  This ultimately results in the need for more of the same chemical or the introduction of additional chemicals to maintain control of the invasive species.  We have seen similar effects in the overuse of antibiotics in humans leading to more virulent strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The over-reliance on Roundup has resulted in the development of so-called "superweeeds" unaffected by traditional dose rates of the chemical.  Farmers are using more Roundup than previously in order to maintain the same level of pest control.  In addition,  Monsanto has begun subsidizing farmers’ purchases of competing herbicides to supplement Roundup as a means of maintaining control.

As for Monsanto's claim of improved crop yields, a Union of Concerned Scientists study based on peer-reviewed research and official U.S. Department of Agriculture data concluded, "Commercial GE [genetically-engineered] crops have made no inroads so far into raising the intrinsic or potential yield of any crop. By contrast, traditional breeding has been spectacularly successful in this regard; it can be solely credited with the intrinsic yield increases in the United States and other parts of the world that characterized the agriculture of the 20th century."

One could easily argue that the proliferation of GM crops is a scam perpetrated by Monsanto solely for the purpose of greater profits and with little regard for the consequent increased contamination of soil and groundwater by toxic chemicals.  Exercising their corporate power, they have convinced a gullible public that poisoning the environment is in the public's best interest.

Finally, today (Feb. 8), an article in the UK-based newspaper the Daily Mail revealed the results of a new study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) describing a virus gene that could be poisonous to humans and which the international approval process for GM crops, involving biotech companies, universities and government regulators failed to identify.  This work was conducted by independent experts, not GM critics.  They discovered that 54 of the 86 GM plants approved for commercial growing and food in the U.S., including corn and soya, contain the viral gene, known as "Gene VI".   The researchers concluded that the presence of segments of Gene VI "might result in unintended phenotypic changes" including the creation of proteins toxic to humans. They could also trigger changes in the plants themselves, making them more vulnerable to pests."  The real problem is that no comprehensive health monitoring program has been implemented to establish the long-term safety of GM crops.

In the end, the laws of physics, chemistry and biology will prevail regardless of the efforts of Monsanto and its allies to deflect them.
Steven A. Roman
San Antonio de Belén

He's feeding his animals
non-modified corn

Dear A.M. Cost Rica:

It is nice to see some articles on GMOs. A previous writer was correct. They are coming up everywhere.  The two main constituents of all commercial animal feed in Costa Rica is GMO corn and soy.  I looked for a couple of years for non-GMO feed for my animals with no luck.  I ended up finding some native non-GMO corn seeds and contracting out with some organic farmers here to grow them for me.  That is how bad it is. 

And the other writer is way way off on the dangers of GMOs.  We are not talking about crossing one variety of fruit with another to make a third type of fruit.  No, this is combining different species of life that would never come together in nature.  Regarding research, most research is bought and paid for by the corporations, and they subsequently own the results.  Therefore if the results tendered aren't what they are looking for, they don't get published.   Hence no studies from major universities and the like alerting us to the dangers, only ones that support GMOs.

Meanwhile every credible independent research has indicated major problems particularly with the reproductive and immune capabilities of test animals consuming GMO food.  Also now we are starting to see problems agriculturally with GMO crops, which normally includes increased pesticide use and other performance issues.  Not to mention, that Monsanto's goal is to control the seed supply of the planet.  We are now to believe that the company that brought us agent orange wants to save the world.  Get real.  

Albert Lusk
San Isidro, Heredia
Unintended consequences
just like the killer bees

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The AM Costa Rica article, "Maize genetics debate pits science against emotions," is more true than perhaps the A.M. Costa Rica staff realizes. The article, in fact, is not only guilty of its own headline, but further smudges the issue by inserting a political bias.

In the fourth paragraph of the article, the authors choose to label one of the opponents of GMO's as "left-leaning." A more fair and balanced review of the GMO issue would have mentioned that the major theme of the article was based upon critiques from right-wing journalists whom the article entitled, "Scientists Smell A Rat In Fraudulent Genetic Engineering Study."

Upon exploring these citations, the reader should wonder whether or not these scientists have been 'influenced' or incented in some way by GMO corporate interests much as scientists have been used by the tobacco industry for their vested interests. Why did AM Costa Rica chose to report in so little detail just exactly what the scientists of the rat study wrote in their response to their study critics?  In fact, after reading the refutations, the reader may conclude that the "right-wing" scientists' criticisms are unsupportable and suspect.

The article also uses the statement, "Ironically, genetically modified crops most likely are part of the daily diet here" [and elsewhere around the globe] to justify the introduction of more GMO's. Isn't this specious reasoning? Why should any society continue a potentially harmful or devastating worldwide practice just because it's being done already? The fact that GMO crops are more productive or that less herbicides and insecticides are not needed, is not the most important issue that is presently being debated in Costa Rica.

Why didn't the article also make reference to the many other scientific studies and data that point to the dangers of GMO crops? For instance, there are now concerns about a newly discovered virus within a majority of the GMO crops that may or may not be harmful to humans. Shouldn't this virus be further studied before we are further subjected to GMO crops? See this study.

Why was no mention made of "super weeds" that are now "galloping" throughout the Midwest and South of the U.S.?  Just like strains of bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, these super weeds have become resistant to Monsanto's herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) used on Monsanto's corn and soy GMOs that are engineered to survive Roundup?  "Nearly half (49 percent) of all U.S. farmers surveyed said they have glyphosate-resistant weeds on their farm in 2012, up from 34 percent of farmers in 2011.

Resistance is still worst in the South. For example, 92 percent of growers in Georgia said they have glyphosate-resistant weeds. But the mid-South and Midwest states are catching up. From 2011 to 2012 the acres with resistance almost doubled in Nebraska, Iowa, and Indiana. It's spreading at a faster pace each year: Total resistant acres increased by 25 percent in 2011 and 51 percent in 2012. And the problem is getting more complicated. More and more farms have at least two resistant species on their farm. See this study reported in Mother Jones.

In 1957, the Brazilian government allowed biologist Warwick E. Kerr to import into Brazil 26 Tanganyikan queen bees to create a bee that was more prolific in making honey and better adopted to the tropics.  He assured the government that it was safe to do so. Despite his best attempts to keep them in his facility, we now have Africanized bees throughout much of South and Central America and within the borders of at least eight States and spreading.  There are many other examples of intentional animal and plant species' insertions into foreign environments that have gone very wrong.

We are now being reassured by vested interests such as Monsanto, who is one of the worst corporations on record for lying to governments and the scientific community, along with their cadre of scientists, that by planting "experimental plots" in Costa Rica and elsewhere the original genetic heirloom of corn and other endemic species will not be cross-pollinated and thus forever changed. Do they indeed have a plan that will without question completely protect related endemic crops from all types of pollinating insects and winds from dispersing the GMO pollens?

Emotions, and especially politics, should be taken out of the scientific debate on maize genetics and they certainly should not be included in supposedly unbiased journalistic reviews of such.
Gene Warneke
La Garita

Debate just boils down
to two points of view

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Congratulations on this well reasoned story.  It seems that the genetically modified food controversy comes down to two points of view:

1.  Activists:  This could be bad, lets not jump into it.

2.  Montsanto:  So far, we have no evidence of harm, in fact, quite the opposite, it is much safer for farm workers.

View number one, the anti-GM food activists, is much more prevalent in Europe, and countries such as Costa Rica, that have very active social awareness networks.  In the European Union many in the scientific and educational community are opposed to GM foods, although as Monsanto says, "food derived from authorized genetically-modified crops is as safe as conventional (non-GM-derived) food".  It is tempting to surmise the EU attitude is because the population of the United States is so unconcerned regarding the controversy.  Recent scientific studies, originating in China have groundbreaking new evidence about the impact of all food to the DNA that concern activists.  Another possibility is the distrust of Monsanto, manufacturer of DDT, Agent Orange, and Roundup, among a wide variety of products.

View number two, promoted by the manufacturer, who has a huge investment, apparently is widely accepted in the United States, but  conscientiousness is rising.  Read "Background: The Controversy in the United States and Abroad".  It seems fair to say the attitude of Monsanto that "There is no need for, or value in testing the safety of GM foods in humans" is cavalier.

A criticism, your characterization of the party, or representation of, Frente Amplio as "left-leaning" is an editorial statement.  Does this need to be said?  Are your readers smart enough to make up their own minds?

John Connaghan
Playa Potrero

Letters always are welcome,
but if you choose to write
on genetically modified crops,
we would appreciate if
you address issues
that have not been
addressed here

Send your views to

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Hollywood residents hope
Obama tackles economy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

Americans hope that President Barack Obama can improve a sluggish economy and bring down the high unemployment rate in his second term.  In one Los Angeles neighborhood famous around the world, people have hopes similar to those in other parts of the country.

Hollywood is known for its ties to the movie industry. So it draws tourists from all over the world. 

But on Hollywood's back streets, people live and work around sound stages and production studios. Some will be watching the president's State of the Union Address, including local resident Solomon Jefferson.

“What I want to hear is about him tackling the primary issue right now, is the economy,” he said.

He says lowering the unemployment rate, now at 7.9 percent, is a priority, but for that Republicans and Democrats will have to cooperate.

“To basically find a median, or some good amount of compromise, where they can meet somewhere in the middle, so that way these goals an get accomplished,” stated Jefferson.

The nation's poor are on the mind of John Pouliot, a film editor.

“And I'd like to see him double down on that and say, hey, we have the resources, we have to tax people in the right way.  We have to actually collect the taxes, close all the loopholes," he added. "And the deficit is not as important right now as making sure everybody in this country can stand on their own two feet.”

They say it won't be easy, but people here are hoping for a happy Hollywood ending to the President's second term.

Political parties' concerns
hinge on automatic cuts

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

U.S. lawmakers of both major political parties agree President Barack Obama should focus on America’s economic challenges and fiscal woes in his State of the Union address Tuesday. But they differ sharply on the proposals they want Obama to put forward.

Republican legislators say President Obama must confront out-of-control federal spending. Specifically, they want the president to propose targeted budget reductions to replace automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that will go into effect next month if Congress does not act.
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor spoke on NBC’s Meet the Press program.
“These are indiscriminate cuts. We can do a lot better. And what I hope to be able to hear from the president in the State of the Union is he wants to join us in trying to effect much smarter cuts in spending.”
The automatic cuts, known as sequestration, would be divided evenly between national security and domestic programs. President Obama has called for a mix of spending reductions and revenue enhancements to match the sequestration’s deficit reduction target.
Democrats call this a balanced approach to improving America’s fiscal health — one that would preserve federal investments in education and other priority areas.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi appeared on Fox News Sunday.
“Nothing brings more money to the Treasury of the United States than investment in education of the American people. So we have to recognize that — which cuts really help us and which cuts hurt our future.”
Democrats want tax deductions enjoyed by wealthy Americans curbed or eliminated to bring in additional revenue. But many Republicans oppose raising taxes. Sen. John McCain, a Republican, also spoke on Fox News Sunday.
“I do not want to see taxes increased. What I would like to see is the president call leaders over to the White House and say, ‘Look, we have to solve this problem.”
While hardened partisan battle lines have been drawn on fiscal matters, there are other issues in which the possibility of compromise between Democrats and Republicans seems less remote: including reforming America’s immigration system and strengthening the regulation of gun sales.

German education minister
quits over plagiarism charge

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

For a second time in two years, accusations of plagiarism have resulted in the resignation of a key member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

Chancellor Merkel announced Saturday that she had accepted the resignation of Education Minister Annette Schavan, a close ally and confidante.

The departure comes four days after a panel at Heinrich Heine University voted to strip Ms. Schavan of her doctorate, saying that she plagiarized parts of her thesis in 1980.

Ms. Schavan denies the allegations and has vowed to fight the decision. However, she said she is stepping down to keep her case from causing strain" in the education ministry.

Two years ago, Ms. Merkel's defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, quit over allegations of plagiarism.

The chancellor said she had accepted Ms. Schavan's resignation with a "very heavy heart." She said a regional minister, Johanna Wanka, had been appointed as Ms. Schavan's successor.

The ministry shake-up comes as Ms. Merkel prepares for parliamentary elections in September.
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Fitch rating firm keeps
Costa Rica's B designations

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Fitch Ratings has affirmed Costa Rica's Long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) at BB+. Fitch has also affirmed the Short-term foreign currency rating at B and the country ceiling of BBB-.

The rating firm said the outlook for Costa Rica was stable.

The affirmation of Costa Rica's ratings is supported by the country's institutional stability and strong social indicators that have facilitated large foreign direct investment inflows, thereby contributing to steady growth, high per capita income and better financing of the country's large current account deficits, the firm said.

The ratings are constrained by the lack of political consensus to address high structural fiscal deficits that result in negative debt dynamics, and by limited monetary and exchange rate policy flexibility, it said, adding:

Costa Rica's diversified value-added export-based economy should continue to be resilient in the face of sluggish global growth. Costa Rica's economy is estimated to have expanded 5.1 percent in 2012, outperforming the 4 percent median of BB peers amid a fragile global economy. Fitch said it expects the economy to expand an average of 4 percent over the next two years. Risks stem from renewed weakness in the U.S. economy, the country's main export destination and source of investment flows.

Pressures on domestic interest rates stemming from hefty fiscal needs could exacerbate already large portfolio inflows, thereby increasing challenges for the monetary and exchange rate policy, the firm added.

Northeast U.S. returning
to normal after storm

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Northeastern U.S. communities are digging out of a major snow storm, but airlines appear to have resumed their schedules.

Some 5,700 flights were canceled in anticipation and during the storm, but major airports and airlines went back into service late Saturday. Still there were some flight cancellations Sunday.

Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela appeared to be running normally Sunday.

Juan Viñas gets new station

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The canton of Jiménez in Cartago province has a new police station in the principal community of Juan Viñas.

Officials inaugurated the structure Sunday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, Vol. 13, No. 29
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Artist conception of asteroid passing by the Earth.

Chunky asteroid will zip nearby Friday

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Astronomers around the world are preparing for a record-breaking asteroid flyby Friday.

Measuring 45 meters in diameter and weighing an estimated 130,000 metric tons, Asteroid 2012 DA14 is considered small by scientists who track the solar system's rocky debris, but it will zip past Earth so closely that it will be even nearer than orbiting weather and communications satellites.

It is the closest-ever-predicted approach for an object this size. Experts emphasize there is no reason for concern. 

"There's no danger to the planet at all," said Lindley Johnson of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Near-Earth Object Observations Program in Washington. "We know the orbit quite well now."

Johnson said Asteroid 2012 DA14 will come as close as 27,700 kilometers, about one-tenth the distance between the Earth and the Moon and about 17,200 miles. 

"Close flybys of asteroids happen quite frequently," said Johnson, who said more than 20 asteroids have come between the Earth and the Moon in the past year. "But they're usually very small-sized objects, maybe only a few meters in size." 

The 45-meter asteroid will speed past us at about 7.8 kilometers per second, about 4.8 miles per second and nearly 10 times faster than a speeding bullet.

It will be closest to Earth Friday at approximately 19:24 UTC or 1:24 p.m. Costa Rican time. NASA says at that time the asteroid will be visible in parts of Eastern Europe, North Africa, Asia and Australia. Skywatchers will need binoculars or a telescope to glimpse the faint, quickly moving point of light.   

Astronomers in Spain first observed 2012 DA14 last February. Johnson said it is not surprising that the asteroid was not detected until recently.

"The orbit last year brought it close enough so that it would be within the detection limits of the observatories that we have doing this survey," Johnson explained. 

NASA estimates that about 100,000 objects this size are in Earth's vicinity. On average, one gets close every 40 years and hits every 1,200 years. 

In 1908, a slightly smaller asteroid exploded over Tunguska, Siberia, leveling trees over 2,000 square kilometers, about 770 square miles.

The flyby is a remarkable opportunity for scientists.

"It provides us the next best thing to doing a spacecraft flyby of an asteroid," said NASA's Johnson. "It's kind of nice that nature gives us these natural opportunities to examine these objects and learn all we can about them."

NASA has plans to launch a spacecraft in 2016 to study another asteroid and retrieve a sample for study here on Earth.

As for Asteroid 2012 DA14, NASA says that its next notable close approach to our planet will be in 2046.

U.S. Postal Service faces big decision

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The head of the U.S. Postal Service has dismissed union calls for his removal, saying his controversial plan to reduce Saturday mail service is necessary to prevent one of America’s oldest institutions from suffering the same demise as other iconic industries.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in an interview Friday that cutting service from six to five days would be only a “short-term solution” to address the agency’s $20 billion deficit, but that he couldn’t wait any longer for Congress to make long-term legislative changes to ease the burden.
​​“Time is money. If these issues would have been dealt with in 2008 or 2009, we would have been in much better shape financially,” he said, acknowledging it’s not a “happy decision politically.”
Donahoe, who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, once the steel capital of the world, says that industry’s steady decline left an impression on him. As the mills closed, he recounts, the newly unemployed would say, “I never thought management would let that happen to us.”
Now, as head of the Postal Service, Donahoe says he’s not going to let his postal workers suffer the way Pittsburgh’s steel workers did.

“We’re not going to kick the can and not do what we have to do and jeopardize this great organization that’s great for America, that’s great for American business, that’s great for employees,” he said. “We’ve got to make the right decision.”
But cutting service is the wrong decision, according to some members of Congress and labor unions, two of which are calling for Donahoe’s removal.
“He did not get the stakeholders of the Postal Service together to make this decision,” said Jeanette Dwyer, president of the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association. “He let the unions know less than 24 hours before the announcement was made.”
Ms. Dwyer questions Donahoe’s assertion that his plan could save $2 billion annually, and says costs to remote communities would outweigh the benefits. Part-time letter carriers who’ve spent years doing Saturday service in order to get full-time jobs will be cut, she says, and rural residents not connected to the Internet will be more isolated than ever.
“There are competitors out there that would like that mailbox for any of those six days,” Ms. Dwyer said. “I believe this could be the beginning of the postal service losing business.”

But the Postal Service has been losing business for a long time. It reported a $15.9 billion net loss for the 2012 fiscal year — three times the 2011 loss.

The service that once tied the country together, delivering letters and news to the biggest cities and the smallest towns by pony, steamboat, rail, road and air, has lost relevance with the rise of the Internet. As more people communicate and pay bills online, the volume of lightweight letters and packages sent through the post has declined dramatically.
The organization’s problems are far more complicated than a drop in First Class mail, however. Struggling with a kind of public-private identity problem, USPS receives no taxpayer funding, yet is an independent government agency. It is expected to make money, yet Congress, influenced by the lobbying power of private shipping and office-equipment companies, can tell it how to run the business.
It’s also legally required to pay for employee health retirement benefits for the next 75 years, a law to which no other public or private entity is subject.
For Donahoe, it is this dynamic that must change if the Postal Service is to stay open.
His push to cut Saturday service, which critics say may not be legal, is a way to force the issue.
“Why don’t we fix this thing once and for all,” he said.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs will hold a hearing on the issue Wednesday.
Donahoe will be there, as will Ms. Dwyer. If Donahoe’s plan works, Saturday service will end in August.
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