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(506) 2223-1327       Published Wednesday, May 6, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 88     E-mail us
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Kindle, iPod, something new . . .
Can these devices be the future for online reading?

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What will online reading be like in a few years?

Right now most online material comes via the computer, either a desk version or a laptop, or via an iPod or cell telephone.  In all cases, the material is low definition and frequently hard to fit within the computer screen. Cell phone users have to squint.

Amazon led the revolution toward a device dedicated to online reading, the Kindle, but this flat screen is mainly for books.

Now the newspaper industry is gearing up to promote a hand-held device that provides a bigger screen and presents publications in the way they were designed.

The advantages are light weight, portability and no need to plug in the laptop at the coffee shop. The prototypes have long-life batteries.

The Hearst Corp., the newspaper and magazine publisher, has joined with the private Plastic Logic firm to develop a reader specifically for newspapers.

If the device continues to evolve and is successfully marketed, it could be a lifesaver for print-based publications that are having serious financial troubles. There would be no need to buy expensive newsprint.

Plastic Logic says its 16-ounce reader is the size of

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Like Kindle, the device can handle books
Plastic Logic photo
Prototype weighs just a pound.

an 8.5 by 11-inch sheet of letter paper. The sales will begin later this year.

One problem is that the first devices will deliver publications on a gray scale, like a 1950s newspaper page. But industry analysts expect the technology to evolve, driven by high-impact magazines that depend on color. Resolution probably will improve, too, perhaps even to the quality of National Geographic.

Apple also is said to be working on a reader that is much larger than the screen of the iPod or iPhone.

Plastic Logic says it was founded in 2000 by researchers out of the Cambridge University Cavendish Laboratory and that the company has received more than $200 million in funding from leading international technology firms and investors.

Production facilities are in Germany.

The company said it has made agreements with the Financial Times, USA Today and leading content aggregators for sales and distribution of digital editions of newspapers, magazines, books and more.

And that brings up a downside for lightweight electronic readers: subscriptions. Most of the publishing companies involved with such devices, including Amazon, are anxious to have users pay to read. The publications do not come from the Internet but from a special digital feed that users access each day.

However, the firms say that users can surf the Net, too, making it possible to read free publications like A.M. Costa Rica.

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Travelers have to fill form out
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The U.S. Embassy said that Costa Rican health officials might deny entrance to the country to foreigners who show flu symptoms and are well enough to travel elsewhere.

The Ministerio de Salud said that it has distributed 200,000 blank forms to immigration officials, and that those leaving the country and those arriving are being asked to fill out a form.

The embassy said that the forms ask if the traveler has any symptoms and what countries he or she has visited in the last two weeks.

In the case of residents and citizens who arrive with flu symptoms, the embassy said that Costa Rican officials will refer them for medical treatment. Curiously, the embassy officials sent the announcement to some private U.S. citizens who were supposed to distribute it and posted it on the embassy Web site but seem to have neglected to send the bulletin to the mass media.

The health minister, María Luisa Ávila Agüero, told a press conference Tuesday that suspicious flu cases had risen to 425. These include the 369 for which swine flu has been discounted. There continues to be seven probable cases and one confirmed case.

The health minister said that ministry workers had visited more than 2,000 establishments to distribute information about hand washing and other protective measures.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the number of confirmed swine flu cases worldwide is close to 1,500, marking an increase of more than 400 infections since the day before. Some 30 people around the world have died from the disease. In the United States, health officials are no longer recommending that schools close because of swine flu.

At a global news conference coming out of Geneva, the World Health Organization's Keiji Fukuda said the organization held a virtual science meeting with investigators from several countries who have examined people with the virus, sharing clinical information with doctors worldwide.

Fukuda, a physician, said the investigators have confirmed that this particular virus continues to infect mainly young people. "When investigators are looking at the average age of people getting infected, you know, this is often in the age range of people around the 20s, mid-20s - a little above, a little below," he said.

He said experts are not sure why this is the case. It might be because many of those infected are world travelers — a demographic largely composed of young people. Fukuda said there might be alternative explanations. "Because there may be something about older people, which is preventing them from being infected," he said. But Fukuda stressed this is speculation, and that more study is needed.

In Costa Rica the suspected cases seem to be distributed equally among age groups and by sex.

Richard Besser, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the virus has turned out to be milder in the United States than originally feared. "When you get to situations that are approaching that of seasonal flu, then the downsides of school closure start to outweigh the benefits that you might get in your community," he said.

Last week, U.S health officials advised schools to shut down for about two weeks, if there were suspected cases of swine flu. Hundreds of schools around the United States have closed temporarily because of the virus. There are more than 400 confirmed swine flu cases in the United States, with officials saying the number likely will increase significantly as more lab-test kits are distributed across the country.

There was encouraging news from Mexico, the epicenter of the swine flu virus. Mexican President Felipe Calderón said the outbreak is waning, and that businesses should reopen soon. Universities and high schools are scheduled to resume classes on Thursday, and younger children are set to return to school in Mexico next week.
One private school suspended classes in Costa Rica, and classes there resumed Tuesday.

Jailed U.S. fugitive recounts
time as informant in Jacó

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A former Jacó real estate broker got 71 months in federal prison and a $15,000 fine Monday in Virginia, according to the Virginia Pilot newspaper.

He is Adam Blackiston, who was 36 when he was arrested Sept. 12, 2007. Immigration officials said that he was in Costa Rica illegally but at his trial the man said he was involved in a year-long extradition case, the newspaper said.

At his sentencing hearing, Blackiston also identified himself as a part-time informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration while he was here, said the newspaper. He also claimed, it said, that there were many attempts to kill him and that he cut down hedges around his house for a clear view of would-be assassins.

He pleaded guilty to one count of cultivating and distributing marijuana, said the newspaper, adding that officials attributed to him the sale of more than 220 pounds of marijuana from 1995 to 2002.

He fled Virgina in 2002 as police closed in.

The newspaper story said Blackiston claimed he had some knowledge of Costa Rican drug dealers and contacted the local police to offer his assistance. He told them he knew who the dealers were, and he even had information on a homicide, he said, according to the newspaper.

"I spent a lot of time openly going to the police," he said, according to the newspaper. "I was making a conscious effort to leave the drug world for good."

U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar noted that Blackiston has $382,000 in assets, which includes a home in Costa Rica, said the newspaper.

Chemical fire trial continues
as lawyers dispute assessment

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The trial in the case of Químicas Holanda probably will last longer than today. A number of witnesses appeared Tuesday, including Ana Lorena Lobo, who was director of the Atlantic zone for the Ministerio de Salud when the fire at the firm's chemical storage facility broke out in December 2006.

The Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo is considering a 3.5 billion colon ($6.2 million) assessment against the company for environmental damage stemming from the blaze.

Lawyers for the company are disputing the damage assessment, which includes cleanup of water sources near the Moín plant. More than 20,000 persons were without running water for two months as a result of the chemical spills. In addition some were displaced by the thick, toxic smoke,

Among those expected to testify today are firemen in the  Cuerpo de Bomberos who battled the 12-hour explosion and fire. The trial was expected to take two days, but additional time is needed, said a tribunal statement Tuesday.

Three held for investigation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers intercepted a car containing three men and held them because they were said to be involved in a murder investigation.

Officers stopped the car in a section of La Uruca known as  Bajo de Los Ledezma. They identified the three men by their last names and ages as Navarro Gutiérrez, 22, Soto Delgado, 32, and Algaba Sandoval, 31.

Wilberth Solano, chief of the Fuerza Pública in La Uruca said that investigators also were interested in the vehicle, which was impounded. The men were en route to Pavas when they were apprehended.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 88

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Tax policy talks are not a time for fabrications and flak
The Obama administration announcement Monday that it is cracking down on offshore companies and expats was lacking in intellectual honesty.

President Barack Obama bemoaned the loss of millions in taxes from U.S. subsidiaries located in foreign countries. He did not point out that a company incorporated outside the U.S. has no tax responsibilities on profits until the profits are returned to the U.S. parent.

In addition, many companies are moving their headquarters offshore to drastically cut their income taxes. Some benefit from tax treaties set up by the federal government and the offshore jurisdiction. Some come here.

None of this is illegal. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has said a taxpayer has the right to structure affairs so that the tax burden is less.

Obama blamed lobbyists for the loss of U.S. taxes. But lobbyists do not vote on U.S. legislation. These laws were passed by the House and Senate of which he was a part.

Obama also said that the United States would be cracking down on wealthy citizens who use offshore jurisdictions to avoid taxes. Tell that to the less-than-wealthy Social Security recipients who have had their accounts frozen by Banco de Costa Rica because they have failed to comply fully with new money laundering rules.

There once was a time when U.S. citizens offshore did not pay any taxes on income earned there. Now the U.S. government wants to put 800 new international Internal 
Revenue agents in the field to find more taxes. It would be nice if they put a few at the U.S. Embassy to explain the rules at tax time each year. There is little help for expats now.

This decision marks the change from a voluntary tax system where most citizens are honest and follow the law to a coercive system. Tax cheats should be prosecuted, but the government should not treat all offshore taxpayers as cheats.

Most U.S. citizens here own corporations. Most are not tax cheats. And they do not need Uncle Sam looking over their shoulder at every bank transaction, as is proposed.

Perhaps the remark by Obama that was farthest off the mark was when he labeled the registry of corporations in the Cayman Islands as a tax scam. He went to Harvard Law and does not understand the concept of registered agents?  One address there alone houses 18,857 corporations, he noted and suggested wide-eyed that this must be a very big building or a tax scam.

It is neither. It is a mail drop for companies that have legally chosen to make the Caymans their corporate home. And many of them do not have a relationship to the United States. He knew that.

Is this man simply getting bad information or is he playing to the bleachers?

U.S. tax policy is too important to use falsehoods and innuendos. Obama should just say the government needs the money so the rules are being changed to get more income.

Pilot project designed to expedite setting up a business
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration Tuesday launched a pilot program to cut the delays in setting up a company from 39 days to two by use of the Internet. But the program only applies to those seeking to set up a business in Curridabat. The project is called the Sistema Digital de Formalización de Empresas and it is under the jurisdiction of the Programa Nacional de Competitividad.

Setting up a business in Costa Rica requires a number of permits and approvals. First there is the inspection of the premises and a health certificate from the Ministerio de Salud.

For companies with low sanitary risk, such as one moving into an existing office building, the permission can be
sought via the Internet under the new system, officials explained.

In addition, the business owner can register as a taxpayer with the Dirección de Tributación, get a workman's compensation policy with the Instituto Nacional de Seguros and apply for a municipal business license and an account with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

However, the Web page to do this does not seem to be in operation yet, even though President Óscar Arias Sánchez inaugurated the project.

Arias promoted this project since his election and has named an individual to promote competitiveness for Costa Rica. Officials plan eventually to expand the system to other jurisdictions.

2009 road deaths are up but alcohol blamed in fewer cases
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic officials are calling the new alcohol law a success even though 12 more persons died in the first four months of 2009 than did in 2008.

In all there were 115 highway deaths, but the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes is attributing only eight of the deaths to alcohol.

In 2008 19 of the 108 victims were reported to be driving drunk, the ministry said. The number of highway deaths is not off the charts. In 2007 140 persons died during the first four months.

This year the categories with the most road deaths were
excessive speed with 35 and pedestrian error with 32, said the ministry. A category of invading the opposite lane listed 12 victims.

At the beginning of the year, the new alcohol law went into effect and raised the fine for drunk driving from 27,000 colons, about $47.50, to 250,000 colons or about $440. Plus there is the possibility of going to jail and having the vehicle confiscated.

Transport officials noted that in September when the remainder of the new traffic law goes into effect, pedestrians will face fines for crossing unwisely or failing to use bridges. The fine will be 45,000 colons, about $79.25. This will be the first time that pedestrians will be ticketed in Costa Rica.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 88

Some U.S. guns in Mexico may come from deserters there
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. border agents are now checking México-bound vehicles for illegal guns. But so far their searches have turned up just one handgun at the El Paso, Texas, crossing.

Initial claims that 90 percent of guns used by criminals in Mexico came from the United States turned out to be based on faulty data analysis. The real figure is probably less than half, but hard to determine because there is no coordinated system between Mexico and the United States for tracing and identifying guns.

In addition, there is a strong possiblity that many of the U.S.-manufactured guns come from Mexican military deserters.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration is citing the crime situation in México as a reason to beef up U.S. weapons laws.

Crossing the border from Mexico to the United States can sometimes involve long waits as Customs and Border Protection agents examine papers and search vehicles. But these days the crossing into Mexico also takes a little more time because federal agents target some vehicles to search for guns.

"We are basing a lot of what we are doing out here on intelligence, just information we are gathering from working in this environment, and we are targeting vehicles that we suspect might be conducting that type of business," explained Bill Molaski, director of the Port of El Paso.

Although the searches at this particular border crossing have only produced one handgun so far, the effort is praised by Mexico's consul general in El Paso, Roberto Rodríguez.

"It is a good start to see what the American authorities are doing, especially stopping the trafficking of guns. Most of the guns used by the gangs in Mexico are coming from the United States," Rodríguez claimed.

But American gun store owners say it is unlikely gangs are getting many weapons from them.

Charles Wagnon, who owns Tex-Guns in Austin, Texas, says no one comes here to buy an arsenal.

"There is certainly not anybody here buying anything in any kind of quantity to pass them on," he said.

Wagnon says he cannot obtain or sell fully automatic rifles or grenade launchers like the ones being used by criminal
gangs in Mexico. He says some semi-automatic weapons can be converted to full automatic, but only by someone with expertise.

"There are guns that are, apparently, easier to convert than others, but not without a good bit of knowledge," Wagnon explained. "I certainly have no idea who is out there doing that sort of thing."

International security analyst Fred Burton, who works for Stratfor strategic forecasting in Austin, said gun store purchases probably account for very few of the weapons used in Mexico crimes.
"If you think about the volume of weapons the narcos have in their possession any time there is a bust, what you see is an extraordinary number of automatic weapons of Chinese manufacture, Russian manufacture and you do see some weapons that have been stolen or purchased illegally here in the United States," Burton said.

He says many of the U.S. guns in criminal hands come from the Mexican military, which has a high rate of desertion.

"You have soldiers defecting with not only issued military weapons, it could be issued ammunition, issued grenades," he said.

Burton notes that one of the most fearsome drug gangs in Mexico, the so-called Zetas were members of an elite military unit that switched sides and have used their training and their weapons against their former comrades.

Many guns used by Mexican soldiers come from direct commercial sales by American companies, approved by the U.S. State Department, something Burton says should be examined more closely.

"I think that is going to be an issue as we look at some of the foreign aid initiatives into Mexico," Burton said, "meaning what are we issuing to them, what are we selling the Mexican government and where are the weapons going?"

Tracing and identifying guns is something Mexican Consul Rodríguez says should be addressed.

"We need to find a way to cooperate with each other in order to trace the guns in a proper way," Rodriguez said.

He says talks are under way between the two nations on how to establish a better system for law enforcement agencies in each country to share information on guns.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 88

A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

Nigeria displaces Hollywood
in annual movie production

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Nigerian film industry has overtaken Hollywood and closed the gap on India, the global leader in the number of movies produced each year, according to a new U. N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization report released Tuesday.

But in many countries, including Costa Rica, Hollywood still rules.

According to the survey, Bollywood — as the Mumbai-based film industry is known — produced 1,091 feature-length films in 2008. In comparison, Nigeria’s moviemakers, commonly known as Nollywood, came out with 872 productions — all in video format — while the United States produced 485 major films.

“Film and video production are shining examples of how cultural industries, as vehicles of identity, values and meanings, can open the door to dialogue and understanding between peoples, but also to economic growth and development,” said Koïchiro Matsuura, director general of the agency.

“This new data on film and video production provides yet more proof of the need to rethink the place of culture on the international political agenda,” he added.

The three cinema heavyweights were followed by eight countries that produced more than 100 films: Japan (417), China (330), France (203), Germany (174), Spain (150), Italy (116), South Korea (110) and the United Kingdom (104).

Key to Nollywood’s explosive success is Nigerian filmmakers’ reliance on video instead of film, reducing production costs, and, as the survey points out, the West African country has virtually no formal cinemas, with about 99 per cent of screenings in informal settings, such as home theatres.

The survey also revealed that about 56 per cent of Nollywood films are made in local languages, while English remains a prominent language, accounting for 44 per cent, which may contribute to Nigeria’s success in exporting its films.

According to the study, U.S. movies continue to dominate cinema admissions around the world, and all of the top 10 films seen in Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Namibia, Romania, and Slovenia were U.S. made.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 6, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 88

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Right watchdogs urge U.N.
to reject repressive states

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Freedom House and U.N. Watch strongly are urging United Nations members to block seven countries from obtaining seats on the Human Rights Council. Among the seven are three countries the organizations say are among the world's most repressive regimes. The non-government organizations released a report in New York Tuesday that indicates that nearly two-thirds of the 20 countries running for seats in next week's election either have poor or questionable human rights records.

The report raised further concern that a majority of the candidates may gain seats on the influential council — despite their records — because of a lack of competition from democratic states. However, each candidate must first secure an absolute majority of the General Assembly, or 97 votes, to win a seat.

"General Assembly members who care about human rights must not resign themselves to approving these noncompetitive slates," said Paula Schriefer, Freedom House advocacy director. "We urge member states to restore credibility to the council by rejecting those nations that do not uphold basic standards for human rights."

On May 12, the UN General Assembly is expected to elect 18 new countries to the Human Rights Council, more than a third of its total membership. Each regional group is apportioned a specific number of seats. However, in three of the five regional groups — Asia, Latin America and the Western European and Others group — the number of countries running does not exceed the number of open seats.

The study found seven countries not qualified: Azerbaijan, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The governments of three of those countries —China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia — rank among the world's most repressive regimes, suppressing nearly all fundamental political rights and civil liberties, according to Freedom House's Worst of the Worst report. An additional six countries have questionable or mixed human rights records: Bangladesh, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and Senegal.

Six countries were found to be qualified to sit on the council: Belgium, Hungary, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, United States and Uruguay.

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