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(506) 2223-1327                             Published Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Vol. 17, No. 44                             Email us
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Delays importing food called costly to consumers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents and visitors are paying 20 percent extra for food products because foreign shipments are taking an excessive amount of time to clear agricultural inspections.

That is the view of Randall Benavides Rivera, president of the Cámara de Exportadores e Importadores de Productos Perecederos, the perishable food chamber.

He and Mario Montero of the Cámara Costarricense de la Industria Alimentaria brought their complaints this week to the legislature's Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Agropecuarios.

Benavides said that the process of bringing food products into the country was prolonged and increases the retail price paid by the consumer. He said that sometimes 12 to 15 days are required for a shipping container to clear agricultural inspections. The cost of keeping a container in government hands is about $350 a day, including renting the space, the container and the electrical hookup, he said.

The additional costs, he said is passed on to the consumer and estimated that importing to 
Costa Rica take up to three times as that in the United States or a country like El Salvador.

Montro was even more blunt. He said that importers have lost all credibility in the institutions involved. He noted that in May 2015 the Ministerio de Agricultura y Gandería inexplicably and unilaterally halted importations from Chile.

A legislator who is a member of the committee, Danny Hayling Carcache, said it was clear that the Servicio Fitosanitario del Estado had infringed on a number of international agreements. The service is part of the agricultural ministry. He said that the agricultural health service appears to have taken decisions that are more political than technical.

The Servicio Fitosanitario del Estado has been in the news for blocking the importation of hass avocados from México and other products from Chile.  Hayling cited complaints of the sanitary service putting products into quarantine over alleged plant diseases that are not enumerated in the laws covering the agency.

U.S. Ambassador S. Fitzgerald Haney has been involved in the controversy defending U.S. products.

A Tico family takes in the sunset on Playa Guiones at Nosara while rain clouds gather in the west.

A.M. Costa Rica file photo

New, upscale face of Nosara featured in N. Y. Times
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nosara got a big tourism boost Wednesday when a New York Times reporter profiled the Pacific coast community. The article is online HERE and will appear in the printed newspaper Sunday, the newspaper said.

The story focused on John S. Johnson III, the Buzzfeed co-founder, who has purchased some hotels in the community.

The writer is Eric Lipton, identified as a Times Washington correspondent.

The North America winter is the time of year when favored major market reporters take off for warmer climes and return home with travel articles.

The article sketched the transformation of Nosara from a low-budget surfer paradise to a yuppie enclave.  Lipton said that Johnson gets $990 a night for a two-bedroom bungalow at Christmastime. The article also stressed that “Nosara puts a premium on natural preservation.”

Those who have not been to the far Pacific coast lately might be surprised to learn that 22

restaurants now exist at the Playa Guiones intersection.

Lipton relays mixed feelings about what some say is the New York-centric atmosphere. Of
Nosara, he said “. . . it has become an impromptu gathering place, particularly during the peak season, of filmmakers, fashion designers, journalists, Silicon Valley tech executives and New York bankers, their spouses, and children, as well as a sprinkling of European families who somehow heard about the place.”

The Times-style article is comprehensive and high in detail. However, Lipton fails to mention that Nosara, like the rest of Costa Rica's beach communities, are being challenged this year by the fears of potential tourists over the zika virus. In fact, community residents were shocked to learn that among the first zika cases in the United States was that of a Texas tourist who was in Nosara in December.

That is why the Ministerio de Salud has conducted extensive fumigation in the community and searched for potential mosquito breeding spots. The danger is not yet over. The ministry reported Wednesday that confirmed zika cases in nearby Sámara now total seven.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 3, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 44
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Symphony orchestra begins season Friday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional begins its new season this Friday with the usual repeat performance Sunday morning.

The invited performer this week is pianist Alexander Romanovsky of the Ukraine. The director is Carl St. Clair.

The Friday performance is at 8 p.m. and the Sunday one is at 10:30 a.m., both in the Teatro Nacional.

On the program are selections from “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss and “Der Rosenkavalier” by Richard Strauss.

 The piano work is Sergei Rachmaninov's “ Piano Concerto No. 3.”

The concert is the first of 12 that the orchestra will present through November. There will be guest conductors, including former conductor John Nelson and Costa Rican Eddie Mora, the orchestra said.

As is usual, there will be a discussion of musical themes in the theater foyer at 7 p.m. Friday.

Sardinal market ceremony to be July 25

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A cornerstone will be placed for the $52-million farmer's market in Sardinal July 25. That date also marks the celebration of the Anexión del Partido de Nicoya.

Lawmakers were told the date this week.

Construction of the sprawling facility is expected to take 18 months and provide work for 150 workers with more than 400 employed once the market is built.

Supporters of the project note that the location in La Cascada de Sardinal is 27 kilometers from Liberia and just 16 kilometers from the Daniel Oduber airport. They described the facility as a wholesale market.

Estimates are that producers in 11 nearby cantons will benefit from the market. Lawmakers already have approved the financing for the market.

The Anexión del Partido de Nicoya commemorates the decision by the politicians of Nicoya to join with Costa Rica in 1824 and not with Nicaragua. It is one of the country's more popular legal holidays.

Judicial drug agent detained for leaks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fellow agents detained a man who heads a drug task force in San Carlos Wednesday. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the man, a 22-year veteran of the judicial agency, is suspected of providing drug gangs in the area with investigator information

The man was detained at his Zarcero home and there also were searches of the bar and pool hall the man operates, agents said.

Metal piece might be from missing jet

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Australian transport minister Darren Chester says a piece of an airplane found on a beach in Mozambique will undergo testing in Australia to determine whether it is a part of the lost Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing with 239 people on board, just short of two years ago.

Chester told Australian lawmakers early today that it is too early to speculate on the origin of the one-meter-long piece of debris that a private U.S. citizen found washed up on the beach in the southeastern African nation. But he confirmed that the debris would be brought to Australia for analysis, although he could not give a projected date.

He also confirmed that the location of the piece was consistent with ocean drift models used by the Australian experts overseeing the search.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has been coordinating the international search and rescue operation, in support of the Malaysian accident investigation team, in the southern Indian Ocean.

U.S. and Malaysian officials say that based on early reports, the debris likely comes from a Boeing 777 jet, the same type of plane as the missing flight MH370.

But Malaysian Minister of Transport Liow Tiong Lai cautioned on Wednesday that officials "are not able to conclude that the debris belongs to MH370 at this time." He cautioned against undue speculation about the debris.

Writing on Twitter, the transport minister says Malaysia's civil aviation authority is working with Australian officials to retrieve the debris.

A U.S. official says the debris appears to be the leading edge of the right-hand horizontal stabilizer of a Boeing 777.

Flight MH370 was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew when it disappeared March 8, 2014 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The flight veered far off course about an hour after takeoff, and investigators believe it flew over the southern Indian Ocean for several hours before crashing.  Last year, authorities found a piece of what they think is the plane's wing on the shores of Reunion Island.

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Registry system praised as time saver for contractors and engineers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government is praising an improved online system for construction and real estate projects as saving time and trips to the Central Valley by distant architects and engineers.

The system is operated by the Registro Nacional and Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y de Arquitectos.  In a presentation Wednesday, government officials said that in the first two months of the year, engineers in Guanacaste, Limón and Puntarenas have sent 5,187 topographical maps to the system.

At the same time the system is reducing the steps that are needed to file the projects, officials said, estimated that in the first two months of the year more than 500 days have been saved in using the online system. In all there are 55 different applications that can be handled through the system.

Associated with it is the Registro Nacional's property registration system.
In addition, those who have presented applications through the system can keep track of the progress, said officials. The system is available HERE!

Defensora outlines the plight of the uninsured coffee harvesters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The defensora de los habitantes described the condition of some coffee harvesters in a way that resembled the treatment of Native Americans at the hands of the brutal Spanish conquerors.

The defensora, Monserrat Solano, told a legislative commission that the Ngäbe people on the coffee farms in the Los Santos zone do not have adequate health services, and sometimes not even adequate water.

She told the Comisión Permanente Especial de Derechos Humanos that her agency had been seeking better treatment for the native people for 17 years without success.
The migrant workers, mostly coffee pickers, have no health insurance or insurance for job-related injuries. She said that the health workers at the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social only care for the migrants' children and pregnant women.

She cited a case where 40 workers claimed their salaries had been withheld, but by the time the legal process moved ahead, the workers had gone. Most live in northern Panamá and travel freely across the international border to work.

The temporary living conditions sometimes also are grim, she said. The defensora was pushing at least for minimal health and workmen's comprehensive coverage for the migrants as well as recognition that the work day should be six hours.

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Tiny dragonfly may hold the world record as insect traveler
By the Rutgers University news service

A dragonfly barely an inch and a half long appears to be animal world's most prolific long distance traveler and flies thousands of miles over oceans as it migrates from continent to continent, according to newly published research.

Biologists at Rutgers University-Newark who led the study say the evidence is in the genes. They found that populations of this dragonfly, called Pantala flavescens, in locations as far apart as Texas, eastern Canada, Japan, Korea, India, and South America, have genetic profiles so similar that there is only one likely explanation. Apparently these insects are traveling distances that are extraordinarily long for their small size, breeding with each other, and creating a common worldwide gene pool that would be impossible if they did not intermingle.

“This is the first time anyone has looked at genes to see how far these insects have traveled,” says Jessica Ware, a university assistant professor of biology and senior author of the study. “If North American Pantala only bred with North American Pantala, and Japanese Pantala only bred with Japanese Pantala,” Professor Ware says, “we would expect to see that in genetic results that differed from each other. Because we don't see that, it suggests the mixing of genes across vast geographic expanses.”

But how do insects from different continents manage to meet and hook up? These are not large birds or whales that one would expect to travel thousands of miles. Professor Ware says it appears to be the way their bodies have evolved. “These dragonflies have adaptations such as increased surface areas on their wings that enable them to use the wind to carry them. They stroke, stroke, stroke and then glide for long periods, expending minimal amounts of energy as they do so.”

Dragonflies, in fact, have already been observed crossing the Indian Ocean from Asia to Africa. “They are following the weather,” says Daniel Troast, who analyzed the DNA samples in Professor Ware's lab. “They're going from India where it's dry season to Africa where it's moist season, and apparently they do it once a year.”

Moisture is a must for Pantala to reproduce, and that, says Professor Ware, is why these insects would be driven to even attempt such a perilous trip, which she calls a “kind of suicide mission.” The species depends on it. While many will die en route, as long as enough make it, the species survives.

Flight patterns appear to vary. The hardiest of the dragonflies might make the trip nonstop, catching robust air currents or even hurricane winds and gliding all the way.

Others may, literally, be puddle jumpers. Pantala need fresh water to mate and lay their eggs.

Rutgers University/Greg Lasley
Pantala flavescens or wandering glider.

If while riding a weather current they spot a fresh water pool created by a rain storm even on an island in the middle of a vast ocean, Professor Ware and Troast say it's likely they dive earthward and use those pools to mate. After the eggs hatch and the babies are mature enough to fly,  which takes just a few weeks, the new dragonflies join the swarm's intercontinental and now multi-generational trek right where their parents left off.

For the moment, the details of this extraordinary insect itinerary are an educated best guess, as are specific routes these migrations might take. Much more work is needed to bring many loose ends together. But now that their work has established a worldwide population of intermingling dragonflies, Professor Ware and Troast hope that scientists can work on plotting those routes in earnest. They would need to be innovative, because tracking devices that can be attached to larger animals are far too big to put on insects.

What the Rutgers scientists have discovered puts this dragonfly far ahead of any identified insect competitor. “Monarch butterflies migrating back and forth across North America were thought to be the longest migrating insects,” traveling about 2,500 miles each way, said Professor Troast, “but Pantala completely destroys any migrating record they would have,” with its estimated range of 4,400 miles or more. It also exceeds Charles Lindbergh's celebrated solo flight from New York to Paris by at least several hundred miles.

Pantala leaves many of its fellow dragonflies even farther behind. The mysteries of evolution are such that while Pantala and its cousin the Green Darner (Anax junius) have developed into world travelers, Professor Ware says that by contrast, other members of the family don't ever leave the pond on which they're born traveling barely 36 feet away their entire lives.

Vacation, travel and hospitality

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Click photo for another video

The Relocation/Retirement tour with the

 (as reported by the moving companies)
Visit many rental options to actually experience the price/amenity options available in more of the areas chosen by Expats for security, comfort, and quality of life.

Meet many Expats who are willing to share their experiences and how the tour has value long after the “lust” wears off.
See how to choose a Retirement tour video by past guest!

Ask the others what you get for your money, and then compare the quality of accommodations, quality, quantity and variety of food and drink to measure the best value for your money. 

Learn how others “talk the talk” and learn who really can “walk the walk”

Please visit my Web site  to contact my references.
George Lundquist, retirement, relocation columnist, Guide & Developer/Builder.


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Salsa Lizano
San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 3, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 44
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Imprisoned drug lord seeks
quick extradition to U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzmán has asked his lawyers to speed up his extradition to the United States, saying he is being mistreated.

Guzmán, who has twice escaped from Mexico's maximum-security prisons, faces an array of charges linked to the hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroin and other drugs he has shipped across the border.

Guzman's lawyer, Jose Rodríguez, told a local radio station Wednesday that Guzman has reached his limit and urged him to push for fast extradition. "I saw a defeated, humiliated man," Rodríguez said.

Guzmán has complained that guards at the Altiplano prison will not let him sleep. Officials have acknowledged that guards at the prison wake him every four hours for a head count.

He has also complained about the amount of communication he is allowed with his family and the amount of time he spends in his cell.

Guzman's lawyers had previously vowed to fight extradition as long as possible, and Mexican officials had acknowledged it would take at least a year, and perhaps more, for the extradition process to work its way through Mexican courts.

Guzmán was first captured in 1993, but escaped in 2001 with the help of prison guards.  After more than a decade on the loose, he was recaptured early in 2014, with the help of intelligence that U.S. authorities provided to México. He escaped for a second time last July 11 through a 1.5-kilometer underground tunnel, dug in secret from his cell to a nearby village.

GOP appears to be stuck
with Trump as the candidate

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Republican Party struggled with a new reality Wednesday after voters in a diverse array of states clearly signaled their support for Donald Trump as the party's nominee. The results set up a difficult choice for party leaders, donors and voters: allow Trump's unorthodox and sometimes offensive beliefs to redefine the party or risk heading into the general election without a candidate to support.

Trump argued for party unity in a victory speech Tuesday night, saying "the Republican party has become more dynamic, more diverse. We're taking from the Democrats, we're taking from the independents. We have a lot more people."

But many Republicans see that redefinition as a complete dilution of the party's message. They say Trump's neutral statements on the Ku Klux Klan and more offensive ones on Muslims, undocumented immigrants and women do not represent their beliefs.

The choice "cuts to the core of not only what the party believes but who it feels is within its coalition," said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The Super Tuesday results not only solidified Trump's lead, the voting also narrowed options for his opponents. Republican strategist John Feehery summed up the difficult choice. "Party leaders are going to try to make a distinction in their own minds — who is worse, and then keep going with the other guy," he said.

In the days leading up to Super Tuesday, Marco Rubio positioned his candidacy as the Republican establishment alternative to Trump. But he struggled to clear the 20 percent threshold needed in many states to win delegates, and only won Minnesota, his first and sole first-place finish in the primary contest season.

"Rubio's night on Super Tuesday was quite embarrassing," Hudak said.

Instead, Ted Cruz's wins in Oklahoma, Alaska and his home state of Texas positioned his faltering campaign as the leading alternative to Trump. Cruz has often mentioned that he is the only candidate to beat Trump in a head-to-head contest, but his path forward is narrow.

"He doesn't have much institutional support. He's not liked among his colleagues in the Senate," Hudak said. "He's going to have a tough time rallying Republicans."

Ohio Gov. John Kasich shows no signs of leaving the race, despite trailing significantly in delegate totals. Kasich hopes the geographic shift to voting in Midwestern states will play to his strengths. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson said Wednesday he does not see a political path forward after the Super Tuesday results.

As Feehery notes, the dysfunction in the Republican Party benefits candidates who haven't made a strong case with voters.

"There's nothing chasing them out other than the hopes and expectations of a political establishment that doesn't have any power anymore," Feehery said.

The confusion could extend all the way to July, when the Republican Party holds its nominating convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

Hudak noted there is no hope now for Cruz or Rubio to win the nomination by a delegate count, but they could find an opening if Trump holds a significant share of delegates without winning the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination.

"The only hope right now is for a brokered convention," Hudak said. "But that comes with a cost. Imagine the backlash that Trump supporters are going to mount and that Trump himself will mount if the nomination is taken from him."

Divided Supreme Court hears
Texas abortion clinic case

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared sharply divided Wednesday as it heard arguments about the country's biggest abortion rights case in nearly a quarter-century, a dispute that could change the constitutional rights for the procedure and affect huge numbers of women.

In 90 minutes of intense arguments, the court's four liberal justices signaled that they believe abortion regulations adopted by the southwestern state of Texas are an unconstitutional curb on women's rights that would lead to the closure of more abortion clinics in the country's second-biggest state. But the court's conservative justices said there is little evidence that the law has forced the closure of clinics or will lead to still fewer abortion centers in Texas.

Left uncertain was the crucial vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who suggested that lower courts might need to hear more evidence in the case and wondered whether the state's 2013 law was responsible for the closing of about half of the 40 clinics that once operated in the state. Abortion rights supporters say even more clinics will close if the law is upheld.

Kennedy has mostly sided over the years with abortion rights justices on the court, after the pregnancy-ending procedure was legalized in a contentious 5-to-4 ruling in 1973. It is a decision that has never quieted the public and political debate over abortion in the U.S., and is an issue at the forefront of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Kennedy was the deciding vote in 1992 upholding the right to the procedure, but said that states could regulate it as long as they did not impose an undue burden on a woman's right to an abortion.

Kennedy's vote is even more crucial now on the eight-member court, left with a vacancy by the unexpected death last month of Justice Antonin Scalia, an adamant foe of abortion rights.

If Kennedy sides with the liberal justices, the Texas law requiring that abortion clinic doctors have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals and that the clinics be built to the same standards as ambulatory surgical clinics could be overturned. Such a ruling could affect some of the more than 250 abortion restrictions that have been passed by various states in the U.S. over the last five years.

But if Kennedy sides with the court's conservative justices in a 4-to-4 ruling, the Texas law would be left standing, although no national precedent would be set.

Wednesday's hearing played out before a packed courtroom, with Scalia's chair draped in black to mark his death. Hundreds of chanting protesters outside endured biting, blustery winds under sunny skies to voice their opinions for and against abortion and the Texas law.

The lawyer for the abortion clinics, Stephanie Toti of New York, told the court the Texas law amounts to unnecessary regulations that create an undue burden on women's constitutional right to abortion. But she was almost immediately interrupted by justices, including Kennedy, who sharply questioned her on what evidence she had that the law has caused the closure of the clinics.

Ms. Toti said that eight had closed in anticipation of the law taking effect, and another 11 on the day it took effect. Justice Samuel Alito, an abortion foe, pressed Ms. Toti for proof that the Texas regulations were forcing the closure of the clinics. She said there is tangible proof that 12 of the 20 clinics that have closed did so because of the newly stringent Texas law.

Justice Elena Kagan, an abortion rights supporter, offered support at one point for Ms. Toti's contention the law is limiting access to abortion in Texas, observing, "It's almost like a perfectly controlled experiment, isn't it?"

Texas has argued that the law should be upheld, to protect the health of women in safe medical facilities. It is a contention the abortion supporters reject, saying the law is simply an effort to curb the 70,000 abortions that Texas women seek each year.

Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller told the justices that despite the law, abortion is legal and accessible in Texas. But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an abortion rights supporter, questioned whether the state had any evidence that its existing state law was not sufficiently protective of women's health.

Keller answered that 210 women had to be hospitalized in the state in a recent year because of complications from an abortion.

Outside the court, some of those favoring abortion restrictions carried signs saying, "Protect women, protect life," while those opposed to the Texas law had signs saying, "The burden is undue," alluding to the specific standard that a decision in the case may turn on.

One abortion protester, David Heatherly, said he drove 1,060 kilometers from the southern state of Alabama to be outside the court. "I support life," Heatherly said. "I consider it my personal ministry to be a voice for the voiceless."

But an abortion rights supporter, Steph Wolfran of Washington, said, "This is really important to support this right for women. It's dishonest to say they're helping women" by increasing restrictions on abortion clinics.

Bob Dylan archive going
to an Oklahoma university

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A treasure trove of concert films, hand-written lyrics, diaries and other artifacts belonging to American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, one of the most notoriously private figures in pop music history, has been acquired by a consortium of institutions in the western state of Oklahoma.

The archive of more than 6,000 items was acquired by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Tulsa, for an estimated $15 to $20 million. It is estimated to be worth more than $60 million.

At the heart of the archive is the collection of Dylan’s extensive notebooks in which he first drafted and then meticulously refined many of his songs.

Dylan issued a statement saying he is honored that his papers “are to be included with the works of Woody Guthrie and especially alongside all the valuable artifacts from the Native American nations,” referring to the collection of Native American art that also is part of the collection of those institutions, along with a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Plans call for a gallery that will make some of the material accessible to the public, but most of the archive to scholars.

The 74-year-old Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman, was inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Imported case of zika virus
reported by Cuban officials

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuba says it has detected the first case of zika virus on the island.

Health ministry officials say that a 28-year-old Venezuelan medical student is under quarantine at a hospital in the capital, Havana.

Officials say the student arrived in Cuba Feb. 21 and reported a fever shortly after. She was diagnosed with zika Monday. 

A statement says her husband contracted zika two months ago and that her brother had come down with symptoms shortly before her trip.

Health officials say they are monitoring other medical students who also reported symptoms.

The World Health Organization has warned that the mosquito-borne virus is spreading rapidly through the Americas and could affect as many as four million people.
World Health said people with the zika virus have a mild fever, skin rash and conjunctivitis with symptoms lasting between two to seven days. The best prevention against zika virus, experts say, is protection against mosquito bites as no vaccine or treatment is available.

Cuban President Raúl Castro has said some 9,000 soldiers will be sent around the country to spray for insects.

Zika virus has been tentatively linked to 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly in Brazil, a condition that results in abnormally small heads and brains in newborns. There is no treatment for microcephaly.

Unusually warm water hits
California fishermen hard

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Squid have pretty much disappeared off Southern California in the last several months.

“Squid’s kind of our bread and butter. That’s what a lot of us make our payments and survive on,” said Corbin Hanson, who fishes off the coast of Southern California.

”It’s extremely frustrating. It’s demoralizing to go out and not be able to catch anything,” Hanson said.

Hanson has not caught any squid for more than four months. Squid is one of California’s largest commercial fisheries, and much of it is exported to countries in Asia and the Mediterranean.

Oceanographer Andrew Leising with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said unusually warm water is causing squid and other fish to move farther north. At a meeting at the Aquarium of the Pacific, scientists explained one cause of the warming waters is what they call the blob.

“During the, say, 30-year record, this event, the blob, stands out far beyond anything we’ve seen in that 30 years. And in terms of that total warmth of the water, it’s pretty much the warmest we’ve ever measured and over an extremely large volume of water,” Leising said.

At its warmest, the blob is 4 degrees C above normal temperatures. While the blob warms the water’s surface layers, another weather phenomenon called El Niño is warming the deeper waters.

“We’re looking at a situation where we have two years of the blob warming the water. Now we’re going into El Niño warming the water, so we really have about three years solid of kind of these warm conditions that have been affecting the fisheries,” Leising said.

Oceanographers said while the blob is mostly gone, they don’t know if it will return. The National Weather Service’s Mark Jackson said there is a promising forecast for warm waters caused by El Niño.

“Those waters will cool through the summer, and it looks right now a very distinct possibility that we could be in a La Niña situation next winter,” Jackson added. “That’s where the waters in the eastern and central Pacific will actually cool below normal.”

Hackers are invited to test
cybersecurity at Pentagon

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Pentagon issued an invitation Wednesday to hackers, provided they're U.S. citizens and can pass a background check, to attack its Web sites as a test of its cybersecurity.

The pilot project is considered the first of its kind by the federal government.

"I am confident this innovative initiative will strengthen our digital defenses and ultimately enhance our national security," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement unveiling the pilot program.

"Hack the Pentagon" is set to begin next month and could involve monetary awards to participants who can spot weaknesses on the Pentagon's public Web sites. More sensitive networks or key weapons programs would not be included, the statement said.

"Once vetted, these hackers will participate in a controlled, limited duration program that will allow them to identify vulnerabilities on a predetermined department system," the Pentagon said.

So-called bug bounties are conducted by large U.S. companies that allow cyber experts to find and identify problems in their networks before malicious hackers can exploit them.

A senior defense official told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday that these outside experts will "use their skill sets and expertise... to make the country more secure."

Program details and rules were still being worked out, but one official said thousands of qualified participants are expected to join the initiative.

"I am always challenging our people to think outside the five-sided box that is the Pentagon," Carter said in Wednesday's statement.

During a trip to California's Silicon Valley Tuesday, Carter stressed national security in urging greater cooperation between the public sector and private industry regarding data security and encryption.

Carter had  traveled to the area, where many of the world's largest high-tech companies are located, to discuss cybersecurity. He warned officials that failing to improve U.S. defenses would allow China, Russia and others that do not favor a free Internet to set new global standards.

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puriscal photo
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 3, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 44
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News from the BBC up to the minute

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Latin news from the BBC up to the minute
Banning modified crops has big impact

By the Purdue University news staff

Higher food prices, a significant boost in greenhouse gas emissions due to land use change and major loss of forest and pasture land would be some results if genetically modified organisms in the United States were banned, according to a Purdue University study.

Researchers wanted to know the significance of crop yield loss if genetically modified crops were banned from U.S. farm fields, as well as how that decision would trickle down to other parts of the economy. They presented their findings at the International Consortium on Applied Bioeconomy Research in Ravello, Italy, last year. The findings of the study, funded by the California Grain & Feed Association, will be published in the journal AgBioForum this spring.

Th researchers are Wally Tyner, a professor of agricultural economics; Farzad Taheripour, a research associate professor of agricultural economics, and Harry Mahaffey, a graduate student,

"This is not an argument to keep or lose GMOs," Tyner said. "It's just a simple question: What happens if they go away?"

The economists gathered data and found that 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted about 181 million hectares of genetically modified crops in 2014, with about 40 percent of that in the United States.

They fed that data into a computer model, which has been used to examine economic consequences of changes to agricultural, energy, trade and environmental policies.

By eliminating all modified organisms in the United States, the model shows corn yield declines of 11.2 percent on average. Soybeans lose 5.2 percent of their yields, and cotton 18.6 percent. To make up for that loss, about 102,000 hectares of U.S. forest and pasture would have to be converted to crop land and 1.1 million hectares globally.

Greenhouse gas emissions increase significantly because with lower crop yields, more land is needed for agricultural production, and it must be converted from pasture and forest.

"In general, the land­-use change, the pasture and forest you need to convert to cropland to produce the amount of food that you need is greater than all of the land-use change that we have previously estimated for the U.S. ethanol program," Tyner said.

In other words, the increase in greenhouse gas emissions that would come from banning genetically modified organisms in the United States would be greater than the amount needed to create enough land to meet federal mandates of about 15 billion gallons of biofuels.

"Some of the same groups that oppose GMOs want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the potential for global warming," Tyner said. "The result we get is that you can't have it both ways. If you want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, an important tool to do that is with GMO traits."

With lower crop yields without GMO traits, commodity prices rise. Corn prices would increase as much as 28 percent and soybeans as much as 22 percent, according to the study. Consumers could expect food prices to rise 1 to 2 percent, or $14 billion to $24 billion per year, the study said.

In the United States, GMOs make up almost all the corn (89 percent), soybeans (94 percent) and cotton (91 percent) planted each year. Some countries have already banned GMOs, have not adopted them as widely or are considering bans. Tyner and Taheripour said they will continue their research to understand how expansion of and reductions of GMO crops worldwide could affect economies and the environment.

"If in the future we ban GMOs at the global scale, we lose lots of potential yield," Taheripour said. "If more countries adopt GMOs, their yields will be much higher."

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Moody's cuts China's rating over fiscal woes

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

China's struggling economy has prompted credit ratings agency Moody's to lower its outlook on the government's fiscal health from stable to negative Tuesday.

The New York-based agency said it downgraded Beijing's sovereign bonds due to increasing government debt, which jumped to an estimated 40.6 percent of gross domestic product at the end of 2015, compared to 32.5 percent in 2012.

Another factor in Moody's downgrade was China's declining foreign exchange reserves, which have lost about $762 billion since June 2014.  The agency also expressed doubt about Chinese policymakers' ability and commitment to fully implement economic reforms.

But Moody's retained Beijing's current credit rating of Aa3, the fourth-highest investment grade. It cited a series of buffers against an economic downturn, including a moderate level of government debt, high domestic savings and the country’s substantial foreign exchange reserves, which are still the world's largest at $3.2 trillion.

The agency warned it could downgrade China's rating if the pace of reforms needed to sustain economic growth slows.

The world's second-largest economy is struggling to transition from an export-driven economy to one sustained by consumer demand. The economy grew at an annual rate of 6.9 percent in 2015, its slowest pace in 25 years, because of manufacturing overcapacity and falling domestic and export orders.

Officials announced Tuesday that the Purchasing Manager's Index, which tracks activity in factories, dropped to 49.0 in February, down from the 49.4 figure posted the month before.

The recent news could spur policymakers in Beijing to launch another round of stimulus spending and boosting the money supply. The People's Bank of China late Monday announced it was cutting the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves by as much as 50 basis points. The PBOC also injected an estimated $100 billion in cash into the banking system to spur new lending.