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(506) 2223-1327               Published Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 168     E-mail us
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5.26 million Americans overseas struggle for rights
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. government estimates that there are 5.26 million American citizens living abroad. These are individuals who are not affiliated with the U.S. government or its military.

The estimate of U.S. citizen residents in the Western Hemisphere is 2.2 million. The number in Costa Rica varies depending on who is making the guess.

There are expat organizations that say such overseas Americans are second-class citizens. For example, these numbers are just estimates because the U.S. Census does not count Americans living over seas.

These Americans may be retirees, as are many in Costa Rica. But they also could be employees or managers in private industry, missionaries, spouses of a foreign national or persons in any number of other circumstances that place them outside the U.S. borders.

Europe has nearly 1.5 million Americans, according to the estimates.

One organization that is an advocate for U.S. citizens abroad is the Paris-based Association of Americans Resident Overseas, which says if all these Americans were placed in one state it would be the 17th most populous in the United States.

Yet these Americans are easily forgotten because they are scattered across the globe and they face a number of obstacles in what to their counterparts in the U.S. appear to be normal activities like transmitting their nationality, banking and voting, said the organization.

Another organization is American Citizens Abroad in Geneva, Switzerland. This advocacy group sees these roadblocks to Americans abroad:

• U. S. taxation of citizens working overseas, which has led to them being too expensive for companies to employ.

• U.S. tax burdens on foreign subsidiaries of U.S. corporations.

• The recently-passed Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act that complicates banking relationships abroad. 

“As patriotic American citizens and observers from abroad of the U.S. economy, we are deeply concerned about the crucial need to increase the competitiveness of U.S. companies and to get more American companies on the export bandwagon,” said American Citizens Abroad.

The Association of Americans Resident Overseas agreed with the banking problem. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act is making overseas Americans pariahs in the banking world, the organization said. Existing U.S. accounts are being closed and new ones refused, and U.S. banks are citing the Patriot Act Know Your Customer rules as justification, it said. Due to the regulations, some banks overseas refuse to open new accounts for American citizens, and this seriously hampers the ability of Americans to live
Just how many are here?

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One problem with counting U.S. citizens in Costa Rica is the definition. Should so-called perpetual tourists be counted? How about ordinary U.S. tourists who find themselves here on the day the count is made.

Certainly permanent residents who are U.S. citizens should be counted. But what of dual citizens?

Should a youngster born by chance in Los Angeles to Costa Rican parents be counted as a U.S. citizen even if he left California when a month old?

Costa Rica has a census scheduled next year. Workers are testing the census form by counting residents in Palmares this week. But if the count is anything like the one 10 years ago, there will be no clear report on foreigners here and their nationalities.


and do business overseas, and is contrary to U.S. national interests, it added.

The Association of Americans Resident Overseas put fixing this problem on its 2010 list of goals.

Also listed was citizenship. All Americans should enjoy an equal right to transmit U.S. citizenship to their children at birth, including children born
to or adopted by a U.S. citizen abroad, the organization said. Children born abroad should be defined as “natural-born” U.S. citizens, it added. Their rights to transmit U.S. citizenship to children at birth now depend on where the U.S. citizen parent lives, the employer, and whether on not the parent is married, it said

Generally U.S. citizens born abroad have to have spent some time living in the United States in order to transmit citizenship to a child born later outside the country.

The organization also is lobbying for a Medicare program similar to the worldwide coverage provided by the Tricare for Life program for military veterans.

The organization also is fighting certain aspects of the Social Security laws that it says unfairly reduces Social Security pension benefits to Americans who have worked abroad during their careers. U.S. citizens working overseas should be able to contribute voluntarily to U.S. Social Security, it said. Self-employed overseas Americans should not be required to contribute to U.S. Social Security and Medicare in addition to social security programs where they live, it added.

Another organization working for expats is the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas, Inc. Leaders of all three of these organizations come together to lobby the U.S. Congress and the administration once a year during what they call Overseas American Week.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 168

Costa Rica Expertise
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montage
Graphic montage by Marina Mecl for Women's Equality Day
Clockwise from top left: Elizabeth Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Carrie C. Catt, Sacagawea, Lucretia Mott.

Women's Equality Day:
Time to cherish right to vote


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Every year when Aug. 26 is nearing, I feel a tug at my heart. Women’s Equality Day was designated by a joint resolution of Congress in 1971 at the behest of Bella Abzug. It’s easy for me to remember the year because it’s when I moved back to Europe. Bella was right to insist on an official designation of this day: it means we can never forget the significance of the signing of the 19th Amendment to our Constitution in 1920 which gave women in the United States the right to vote.

To me, this day not only commemorates the contribution of the suffragettes and the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it reminds me of the wonderful women in my own family and all the women of all races, religion and cultures in the United States – past and present -- who have helped me become a woman, that is to say an equal member of society and a person with self-respect and confidence.

In an election year, Aug. 26 also reminds me that it’s time to get ready to exercise my right to vote again. I study the candidates, check how they measure up on the issues important to me, and take my annual look at how equally women are represented in our government. Although still far less represented than men, it is encouraging that a record number of seats are held by women today. I’ll make an aside to mention age demographics as well. While visiting the Constitution Center in Philadelphia a few years ago, I was surprised to learn at how young our founding fathers were when they launched our country. Their average age was much younger than that of today’s congressional representatives! In fact, Congress is now older than it ever has been.
 

Age and gender of the current Congress:

Age in the Senate:

1 senator is 36                                       
8 are 40 – 49
30 are 50 – 59
34 are 60 -69
27 are over 70
 
Gender in the Senate:

17 are female
83 are male
 
Age in the House of Representatives

1 representative is 29
18 are 30 – 39
68 are 40 – 49
155 are 50 – 59
143 are 60 – 69
54 are over 70
 
Gender in the House of Representatives:

76 are female
363 are male

May Women’s Equality Day be a reminder to ALL of us to express our precious right to vote! Look up your candidates, see where they stand on the issues, make your choice and vote on Nov. 2 — whether you live at home or abroad!
 
Here are some election resources and further reading on Women’s Equality Day:

The Woman’s Vote: Who’s Who  — A compilation of biographies of suffragettes by Beverly Bandler, June 13, 2010. Link to article is on the Federation of Women’s Clubs Overseas Web site.

Non-partisan information about Congress including more demographic information: Congress.org

Non-partisan information on elected officials' voting records and candidates' positions: Project Vote Smart
 
A non-partisan organization that provides young women and girls with the skills and confidence they need to become the political leaders of tomorrow: Running Start

A non-partisan organization providing online tools and services for U.S. voters living abroad: Overseas Vote Foundation and Youth Vote Overseas http://www.overseasvotefoundation.org

Marina Mecl
Overseas Vote Foundation

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

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

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

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

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 168

Democrats

Lawmakers, Sala IV deliver blows to Ms. Chinchilla's plans
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The administrations plans for national development suffered two body blows Wednesday. First, opposition political parties in the legislature managed to impanel an investigatory committee to look into the central government practice of awarding concessions.

Lawmakers were from Acción Ciudadana, Movimiento Libertario, Unidad Social Cristiana, Accesibilidad sin Exclusión,  Frente Amplio, Renovación Costarricense and Restauración Nacional, said a spokesperson from Acción Ciudadana.

That appears to be every lawmaker except those in the government Partido Liberación Nacional.

Although Acción Ciudadana said that the commission would mainly look into the proposal to lease out the docks at Moín and Limón in concession, the political party said the commission also has the power to look into other concessions.

The government has been using concessions to bring foreign development money into the country. A major expansion of Juan Santamaría airport, now under the control of Houston Airport Systems, is being done via a concession.  So was the construction of the troubled San José-Caldera Autopista del Sol.

An investigatory commission is at least an embarrassment
 to the Laura Chinchilla administration. But late in the day a report from the Sala IV constitutinal court said that magistrates had ordered the reinstatement of the Limón dockworker union leaders who oppose the concession plan.

The majority of the union workers support the plan, and some stand to pocket up to $100,000 in exchange for accepting termination of their employment. But not the prior union leadership.

Other unions, such as the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, were joyful. They had supported the former union leaders. The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados called  Ronaldo Blear Blear and other members of his board of directors the legitimate leadership in a story rushed onto its Web site Wednesday night.
 

The former leadership of the union had directed a number of blockades, work stoppages and slowdowns for various reasons. Exporters, mainly those with perishable products, lost millions. Some of the protests were violent.

Blear was ousted at union assemblies in January.

A similar concession project resulted in payoffs to dockworkers in Caldera and the leasing of the facilities to a concession holder that is making major improvements. Many of the dismissed dockworkers immediately found jobs with the concession holder.


A disorganized mass of unstable air, shown in yellow, drifts in the gulf while two storm systems are en route.
hurricane tracks
U.S. National Hurricane Information Center graphic

Atlantic storm season begins to produce more systems
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The good news for the country is that Danielle, now a category 2 hurricane, seems to have veered north, and the U.S. National Hurricane Information Center says that the storm continues to move northwest.

Although that track may mean trouble for Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and eventually the United States, the storm seems to have put plenty of distance between itself and Costa Rica.

A second Atlantic storm, this one called Earl, still is far off, and seems to be heading due east. This weather system is still a tropical storm and not a full-scale hurricane, but it could develop.

A large area of disorganized showers and some thunderstorms continues to drift westward over the western
Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters doubt that it will develop further.

In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Frank continues to move north along the Mexican coast. It is well away from Costa Rica's Pacific coast that suffered from some of its spinoff weather.

None of these storms was responsible for the rain Wednesday afternoon and evening. More were predicted overnight. Another of those tropical waves, troughs of low press, was moving onto the Caribbean coast, bringing with it unstable weather.

The wave swept along the coast of Panamá during the day. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional predicted rains for the Pacific coast, the Central Valley, the northern zone and the mountains of the Caribbean coast. This is wave No. 39 for the season.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 168

Escazú Christian Fellowship
xx
Guoadalupe Missionary Baptist Church


10-year study confirms complex organic web of life

By the University of Michigan news service

Proponents of organic farming often speak of nature's balance in ways that sound almost spiritual, prompting criticism that their views are unscientific and naïve. At the other end of the spectrum are those who see farms as battlefields where insect pests and plant diseases must be vanquished with the magic bullets of modern agriculture: pesticides, fungicides and the like.

Which view is more accurate? A 10-year study of an organic coffee farm in México suggests that, far from being romanticized hooey, the "balance and harmony" view is on the mark. Ecologists John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto of the University of Michigan and Stacy Philpott of the University of Toledo have uncovered a web of intricate interactions that buffers the farm against extreme outbreaks of pests and diseases, making magic bullets unnecessary. Their research is described in the July/August issue of the journal BioScience.

The major players in the system — several ant species, a handful of coffee pests, and the predators, parasites and diseases that affect the pests — not only interact directly, but some species also exert subtle, indirect effects on others, effects that might have gone unnoticed if the system had not been studied in detail. 

A key species in the complex web is the tree-nesting Azteca ant (Azteca instabilis). The ants aren't particular about the kind of tree they live in, but for some reason their nests are found in only about 3 percent of shade trees on the farm, and ant-inhabited trees aren't randomly distributed — they're found in clumps. 

The researchers believe the clumpiness results, at least in part, from the ants' vulnerability to a parasitic fly. Ant colonies expand by sending off queens and broods to nearby trees, but when all the trees in an area have ant nests, the flies can more easily find ants to parasitize. So high-density clusters are preferentially attacked and eventually disappear, either because the ants all die or because the ants move to other trees. 

The ants have a cozier relationship with the green coffee scale, a flat, featureless insect that is a serious coffee pest in some regions, but not on the farm where the study was done. Azteca protects the scale from predators and parasites in return for honeydew, a sweet, sticky liquid the scale secretes. One of those predators is the lady beetle (Azya orbigera), whose adult and larval forms both feed on scale. When an adult beetle tries to attack a scale insect, the ants chase it away. But beetle larvae, which are covered with waxy gunk that gums up the ants' mouthparts, are able to polish off plenty of scale. The ants even aid the murderous larvae, albeit inadvertently. In the course of shooing off parasitic wasps that attack scale, the ants also scare away bugs that parasitize beetle larvae. 

The beetles also seem to influence the ants' distribution patterns by preying on the scale, on which the ants depend for honeydew. The researchers explored the relationship using theoretical modeling and found that if ants take over the whole plantation, the beetle goes extinct because adult beetles can't get enough to eat. If the ants disappear from the farm, the beetles go extinct because the larvae starve. But if ants are confined to clusters, due to the influences of both beetles and parasitic flies, the beetles thrive and keep the scale insects under control.

"The interesting thing is that the beetles could not exist except for the highly patterned ant population, but it could be those very same beetles causing the pattern formation in the first place," said Vandermeer, a professor of biology. "The beetle creates the conditions for its own survival."

The white halo fungus, a disease of scale insects, also
Ladybug
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Ladybug or lady beetle plays a role in the complex coffee farm web of life.

enters in. The disease occurs here and there throughout the farm but runs rampant only where large populations of scale are found, which is only where the ants are protecting the scale. By suppressing the scale, on which the ants depend for honeydew, the fungus indirectly affects the ants' survival. But that's not all: The fungus also attacks coffee rust, a notorious pest that virtually wiped out coffee production in Sri Lanka, Java and Sumatra in the mid-19th century and has since infiltrated Central and South America but has not caused serious problems in those areas. White halo fungus only works its magic against coffee rust, however, in the process of conducting major assaults on scale, and those assaults happen only where there's lots of scale — in other words, where the scale is under ants' protection.

In addition to Azteca, other ant species protect scale, and some of these ants are predators of the coffee berry borer and leaf miner, which are also coffee pests. The researchers are still working out the details of the relationships among the various ants and the other species with which they interact. 

As the research team continues to discover more species that are part of the web and more complex direct and indirect interactions among all the members, it's increasingly clear that the naïve view of nature working in harmony closely matches the scientific facts.

"There are many farmers in the tropics who have been on their land for a long time — sometimes many generations — and have seen these things happening and intuitively understand the connections," said Vandermeer. "The stories they tell about the balance of nature sound almost romantic and religious sometimes, but if you just change the words, they start sounding like what we're describing."

Though this study is being done within the confines of a 300-hectare (740-acre) farm in southern Mexico, the researchers believe their approach and findings are more broadly applicable.

"Our view is that interaction webs of this sort will prove common in agro-ecosystems in general," said Perfecto, professor of ecology and natural resources. "Although widely appreciated in natural systems, such webs haven't been seen in agro-ecosystems because the people studying them haven't looked at them in this way. They're looking for magic-bullet solutions. They want to find the thing that causes the problem and then fix it. Our approach is to understand systems that are working well, where there are no problems. By doing that, we can define systems that are more resilient and resistant to pest outbreaks."


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 168

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Ex-president in hot water
over call to Washington


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prosecutors moved to obtain sanctions against former president Miguel Ángel Rodriguez Echeverría Wednesday after they learned he had contacted the secretary general of the Organization of American States about his corruption case.

The Poder Judicial said that prosecutors asked a judge to order Rodriguez not to contact witnesses and not to obstruct the judicial process.

Rodríguez, who served briefly as secretary general of the Organization of American States, is on trial alleging that he accepted bribes from a company, Alcatel, that got a cell telephone contract. Rodríguez had to resign the hemispheric job in Washington, D.C., when the allegations arose.

The dispute appears to revolve around Rodríguez asking the current secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, by telephone to relocate a televised testimony of a witness. The testimony eventually was made from another venue.

There has not been any decision on the request by prosecutors.

Accord reached on budgets
for public universities


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government and heads of four public universities appear to have come to an agreement on funding over the next five years.

There was a meeting Wednesday night to negotiate the issue. The dispute has generated marches by students and university employees.

The government had offered a budget increase of 4.5 percent plus inflation for each year. The full details are not yet available but the central government is believed to have sweetened the offer.

Drought-resistant variety
of corn showing promise


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Increasingly frequent droughts across Africa threaten to destroy the livelihoods of millions across the continent, but a new study has found the adoption of drought resistant corn could save African farmers and earn them nearly $1 billion in the coming years.

Hundreds of millions of Africans rely on corn production for income, as well as basic sustenance in their daily lives.  But in recent decades, drought has wreaked havoc on populations across the continent, killing many and forcing others to rely on handouts to survive.

From 2007 through 2009 unusually low rainfall across East Africa devastated rural communities and forced the Kenya government to adopt measures to combat food shortages and rising prices.

But a new study conducted by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center has found new breeds of corn could help farmers fight the effects of drought and provide food throughout periods of low rainfall.  The study, conducted in cooperation with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found widespread adoption of so-called drought-tolerant corn could result in collective economic benefits of around $900 million for African farmers by 2016.

According to the study, the new breeds could also save consumers more than $500 million in drought related price increases during the same period.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 168


Latin American news
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Zetas blamed for killing
72 migrants in México


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican officials say a drug cartel is suspected in the massacre of 72 migrants from Central and South America.

Marines found the bodies of 58 men and 14 women at a farm in northern Mexico Tuesday. Mexican authorities say the migrants are believed to have been from El Salvador, Honduras, Brazil and Ecuador.

An Ecuadorean man, Luis Fredy Lala Pomavilla, claiming to be the only survivor of the massacre, said the migrants were kidnapped by an armed group and taken to the ranch, near the town of San Fernando.  He told investigators the captors identified themselves as members of the Zetas drug cartel. 

The man escaped and stumbled wounded to a highway checkpoint. Officials say troops went to investigate after the Ecuadorean man approached a checkpoint and said he had been attacked at the ranch.

The troops discovered the bodies following a shootout with suspected cartel gunmen.  One soldier and three of the suspects were killed.

San Fernando is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of the border with the U.S. state of Texas.

Mexico's drug cartels are locked in a violent battle for control of trafficking routes into the United States. 

Mexican President Felipe Calderón launched a crackdown on the cartels in 2006. More than 28,000 people have been killed in the country's drug war since he took office.

U.S. space agency asked
to help trapped miners

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Chilean officials organizing the rescue of 33 miners trapped 700 meters underground have asked the U.S space agency for help.

Rescue workers say they are concerned about maintaining the physical and mental health of the miners, who will likely have to wait for months before they can be rescued.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, known as NASA, has experience testing and training astronauts for extended periods of isolation. NASA officials say the agency is prepared to offer whatever support it can.

Rescuers in Chile are using two narrow drill holes to communicate with the miners and provide them with food and other supplies.

The miners became trapped nearly three weeks ago after a shaft collapsed in a gold and copper mine near the northern city of Copiapo. They have told officials they are fine.

Rescuers first made contact with the miners on Sunday.

Engineers are preparing to drill a 62 centimeter-wide rescue tunnel, but they say the work could take four months because of the depth and instability of the mine.

Officials say the miners appear to have organized themselves well and have rallied behind the group's leader, shift supervisor Luis Urzua.

The miners have been passing messages to loved ones, and have requested some items, including toothbrushes.




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