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Published Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, in Vol. 17, No. 184
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Lawmakers seek a dedicated tax on plastic bottles
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would apply a small tax to plastic drink containers and those small cardboard boxes known as tetrapaks.

The proposal, No. 20.078, sets the tax at 10 colons per 250 milliliter container whether the plastic container or bottle is imported or fabricated locally.

That amounts to a bit less than 2 U.S. cents a container, but those holding milk or medicines are exempt, according to the bill. The tax would be indexed to inflation.

The bill makes the tax a specific one that goes to the Sistema Nacional de
Áreas de Conservación outside of the national budgets. Nine lawmakers have cosponsored the measure, which has been referred to the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Jurídicos.

The tax would be less for small and medium enterprises that are registered with the  Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio. Some small water companies would benefit from this reduction.  The tax would be refunded on each bottle recycled, said the bill, although the way of determining this was not spelled out.

A summary of the bill said that plastic bottles take 1,000 years to disintegrate and that Costa Ricans use 622 million such bottles a year. Of these just about 13 percent are recycled. The summary said that 9,221 tons of plastic bottles are imported each year.

Tetra Brik is a brand name held by a Swedish
tetrapak
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
This 1960s ad shows that the tetrapak has been around for years. The aseptic packaging  can hold perishable fluids at room temperature.

company. Some of the containers sold here have a small piece of aluminum reinforcement, which makes recycling economically feasible, said the summary. The Cooperativa Dos Pinos said it has recycled 332,364 kilos of containers since 2007, said the summary. The firm also has a diagram on its milk cartons that shows how to collapse them to take up less landfill space.

Environmentalists are expected to support this bill strongly.



Another mosquito virus shows up in the Caribbean
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just when researchers are making strides to develop a vaccine for the zika virus, a new mosquito-born disease has popped up in Haiti.

Experts wonder if this case signals the start of a new outbreak in the Caribbean.

University of Florida researchers have identified a patient in Haiti with mayaro virus, which is closely related to chikungunya virus and was first isolated in Trinidad in 1954. Most reported cases, however, have been confined to small outbreaks in the Amazon, the university said.

“While current attention has been focused on the zika virus, the finding of yet another mosquito-borne virus which may be starting to circulate in the Caribbean is of concern,” said Glenn Morris, director of the university’s Emerging Pathogens Institute. “Hopefully we will not see the same massive epidemics that we saw with chikungunya, dengue and now zika. However, these findings underscore the fact that there are additional viruses waiting in the wings that may pose threats in the future, and for which we need to be watching.” He was quoted by the university, which gave this additional account:

The case was identified from a blood sample taken in January 2015 from an 8-year-old boy

in rural  Haiti. The patient had a fever and abdominal pain but no rash or conjunctivitis. Because faculty from the Emerging Pathogens Institute were in the region during and after the 2014 chikungunya outbreak, plasma samples were obtained and analyzed for the presence of chikungunya virus RNA using a genetic identification technique known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction.

Dengue virus was detected in the patient, in addition to a virus that was subsequently identified as mayaro.

“The virus we detected is genetically different from the ones that have been described recently in Brazil, and we don’t know yet if it is unique to Haiti or if it is a recombinant strain from different types of mayaro viruses,” said John Lednicky, an associate professor in the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions. He, too, was quoted by the university.

The findings were published online Aug. 26 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The symptoms of mayaro fever are similar to those of chikungunya fever: fever, joint pain, muscle pain and rashes. Abdominal pain is also a feature of mayaro fever, however, and joint pain can last longer, said the university.

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A.M. Costa Rica's
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 184
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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

Dentistry


Dental
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Galaria
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes photo
A machine creates a space for a new lane for Ruta 2 at the antigua Galera in Curridabat so workmen can install uprights for a new pedestrian bridge. The new bridge over the Cartago-San José road will will cost 272 million colons or about $500,000. This will be the tenth pedestrian bridge built in the last few years.


Donated medical and soccer items coming

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Organizers of a GoFundMe campaign for Talamanca residents say they packed and shipped eight pallets weighing about 4,000 pounds that are being sent to Costa Rica.

The donation is from the HandsOnSports Foundation of Cleveland, Ohio. Five of the pallets contain medical supplies, and three contain soccer supplies, according to a message from organizer Otto Orf, founder and executive director of the foundation.

The medical supplies will be used to set up mobile clinics in multiple locations throughout the jungle, said the foundation, adding:

Each clinic location will hold a gathering where the people of the community will receive the sports equipment, shoes and other supplies and games will follow. The staff will be housed in Suretka and they will meet with the elders of the BriBri and the Cabécar and discuss needs of the communities throughout the reserve.

The value of the material shipped was put at $40,000 and were a donation by an associate.

The organization said it still was receiving donations to its online campaign.


Election tribunal budget called austere

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Luis Antonio Sobrado González, president of Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, said that his branch of the government had submitted an austere budget for 2017 even though workers there are getting ready for the 2018 general elections. He also noted that 15 percent of the Tribunal budget is given to political parties as state support for their activities.

The legislature is considering a proposal to reduct this amount.


Time to register to vote

The U.S. Federal government’s overseas voting agency has issued a reminder that Nov. 8 is the presidential election.

“It is time for Americans living, working or traveling abroad to take steps to vote,” said the agency,” the Federal Overseas Voting Program.

Helping overseas Americans is difficult because each state has its own rule, and expats are supposed to vote in the U.S. state where they last were a resident.

Many overseas voters will receive absentee ballots from their registered county of residency. Others may elect to file a federal absentee ballot just for federal offices.

In addition to the federal program, the Overseas Voting Foundation can assist voters. The Web site gives deadlines for each state, plus other information.



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Residency

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 184
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Parade
Kury Vega photos
Ricardo Barrantes, 7, appreciates a mustache as other Escuela Santa Catalina de Sena students in Rohrmoser celebrate.
Law officers report just two major incidents during independence day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Only a murder and a fatal boating accident marred Costa Rica’s independence day Thursday.

Otherwise, the celebration was one of parades, political speeches and family gatherings.

The murder was in the San Sebastián section of San José. Investigators said that men barged into the home of a 42-year-old clothing salesman about 2 a.m. and tied him hands and feet.

The man also was gagged, and that was what is believed to have caused his death. He was identified by the last name of Murillo.

The crook sacked the home after rendering the man’s 18-year-old son unconscious. The men then took the son to an area around the Paso Ancho traffic underpass and dumped him, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. He survived.

In Barra del Colorado in extreme northeast Costa Rica, the death of a man in a boat was linked to the independence day celebration. Residents there said an elderly man was backing his boat from a dock to a small channel off the Río Colorado. They

described the boat as being homemade and low in the water with just a small outboard.

Three men who earlier had been seen marching and cavorting in the small local independence day parade were in a larger open boat with a powerful 140-horsepower outboard. The larger boat passed over the smaller one and caused fatal damage to the older man’s head, a local said. Judicial agents and the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas are investigating.

The dead man had been en route to pick up his wife who had been selling homemade pastries at the independence event.

Otherwise, police reported just eight detentions Thursday, mostly for having open containers of alcohol at parades.

A typical parade was the one at the Escuela Santa Catalina de Sena in Rohrmoser where elementary-level students decked in Colonial-style clothing took to the streets to display their patriotism. There were at least 50 such parades Thursday. At Parque Nacional, President Luis Guillermo Solís urged passage of new taxes to keep the government running.

Wednesday night all over Costa Rica students also paraded with their faroles, the street lanterns suggesting 19th century styles.


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A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page

San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 184
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Interamericana
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo
A truck moves along the new roadway above a complex engineering solution.
Collapse of the Interamericana Sur cost $2.3 million to repair
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When a chunk of the Interamericana Sur fell away Jan. 15, 2015, highway engineers had a challenging problem.

The road clung to a hillside along a steep dropoff.

The damaged area was about 100 meters, some 328 feet.  The location is at La Cangreja at about kilometer 34 of the highway.

Then the geologists were called in.
For awhile motorists had to take alternate routes. Then the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad prevailed on the adjacent landowner to allow some bulldozing to open a temporary route.

Now the 1.25 billion ($2.3 million) colon job is done. There are 10 terraces below the highway to provide support from deep in the valley.

Such roadway collapses are frequent along the nation’s main highways because builders had to cut into mountains and hillsides to create rights-of-way.

Vacation, travel and hospitality


HIdden Garden graphic
Put Costa Rica on your walls
The Hidden Garden Art Gallery near the Liberia airport is the perfect place to find quality Costa Rican and international art for your home or office.  With over 60 artists and 15 rooms full of paintings, prints, sculptures, and diverse artistic expressions, we have been your source for fine art since 2010.  We also offer commissioned pieces so you can create your own unique masterpiece to cherish forever. Located just 5 kms west of the Daniel Oduber International Airport (towards the beaches).

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Contact us: 
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Real estate-related services (paid category)
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Real estate rentals (paid category)

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Real estate for rent (paid category)

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9066-9/17/16





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A.M. Costa Rica's
  
Fifth news page
Salsa Lizano
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 184
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International court to seek
environmental land cases


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Criminal Court said Thursday that it will start focusing on crimes linked to environmental destruction, the illegal exploitation of natural resources and unlawful dispossession of land.

The United Nations-backed court, which sits in The Hague, has mostly ruled on cases of genocide and war crimes since it was set up in 2002.

Now, in a move widely hailed by land rights activists, the court said that environmental destruction and land grabs could lead to governments and individuals being prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

The court, which is funded by governments and is regarded as the court of last resort, said it would now take into consideration crimes that have been traditionally underprosecuted.

Land grabbing has become increasingly common worldwide, with national and local governments allocating private companies tens of millions of hectares of land in the past 10 years.

The anti-corruption campaigners from Global Witness say this has led to many forced evictions, the cultural genocide of indigenous peoples, malnutrition and environmental destruction.

"This shift means it can start holding corporate executives to account for large-scale land grabbing and massive displacement happening during peacetime," said Alice Harrison of Global Witness.

The move comes ahead of a decision by court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on whether to investigate a case filed by human rights lawyers in 2014 accusing Cambodian officials and businessmen of engaging in illegal land dispossession.

The firm representing the Cambodian plaintiffs said the court’s policy shift opens the door for the case to be investigated by the court.

Cambodia's government has dismissed the case as politically motivated and based on fake numbers of people being affected by land grabbing.

Last year was the deadliest on record for land rights campaigners, with more than three people killed each week in conflicts over territory with mining companies, loggers, hydroelectric dams or agribusiness firms, Global Witness said.


U.S. refugee count likely
to reach 85,000 by Oct. 1


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

With two weeks remaining in the U.S. fiscal year, refugee aid agencies around the country are in the middle of what is projected to be one of the busiest months for arrivals in at least a decade, following a surge to bring in more Syrians fleeing civil war and Islamic State militants.

As of Thursday, nearly 79,000 refugees from 78 countries have come to the U.S. since Oct. 1, 2015, a figure that hasn’t been reached in 17 years, according to official data.

The U.S. refugee program, which is run by several federal agencies, including the State Department, still expects to reach the target of 85,000 arrivals by the end of this month.

“We’ve set a goal for 85,000 and that's where we're going to shoot, and that's where I think we're going to end up,” Mark Storella, deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said this week.

Michel Tonneau, global program coordinator of the U.S. refugee program at the International Organization for Migration’s Washington bureau, said his agency had booked enough plane tickets for the targeted number of refugees. September is frequently a peak time for arrivals as the federal government closes out its budget for the year and the refugee program tries to get close to the designated ceiling without exceeding it.

"It’s a remarkable year. I've been in this program for probably 30 years. I do not recall we've ever been able to match the admission level number,” Tonneau said.

The actual number of refugees often falls just shy of the target, as was the case last year, when the ceiling decided by the president in collaboration with the State Department was 70,000 refugees and the country admitted 69,933.

As Europe struggled to process hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers in 2015, the Obama administration announced an increase in the number of refugees the U.S. would accept for resettlement in fiscal 2016 to 85,000 from 70,000. The decision, which included the goal of 10,000 Syrian refugees, placed increased pressure on local groups that help the newcomers.

As those Syrian families filtered through an expedited processing system in Jordan, the summer months saw a jump in arrivals.

“July and August were so crazy. We definitely felt the push,” said Aerlande Wontamo, regional director for Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area. The group finds immediate housing for refugee families, picks them up at the airport, helps enroll children in school and supports their adjustment to a new home country.

They and other resettlement groups say they can meet the demand of additional refugees and have advocated for an increase to as high as 200,000.

The government originally set a goal of 100,000 for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Media reports this week have indicated the president will raise that target to 110,000.

“We’re excited to hear more refugees are going to be coming,” said Ms. Wontamo. “That’s a great need.”

Though the U.N. refugee agency registered 16.1 million refugees in 2015, only about 107,000 of those individuals were relocated to so-called third countries that volunteer to take in the displaced, like the U.S., Canada and Australia. There are simply too few offers to match the needs of people who cannot go back to their home countries and cannot stay in their asylum countries.

Bill Canny, who heads migration and refugee services for one of the country’s longest-serving resettlement agencies, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, believes the current effort is just not good enough.

“Those figures are incredibly low relative to need,” Canny said. “We can all do better, including the United States.”


Maine faces a referendum
on gun background checks


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Judi Richardson doesn’t understand how a gun background check can be a burden to anyone.

She pages through a binder stuffed with newspaper clips that tell the story of the last six years, starting with the night in 2010 when a still unidentified intruder broke into her 25-year-old daughter Darien’s Portland, Maine, apartment and shot six bullets into her body.

It’s a moment that brought Mrs. Richardson and her husband, Wayne, to the South Portland office of Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, just weeks before voters across the state will make a decision on the ballot initiative they co-sponsored. Maine’s unusually open system for ballot questions means that, with enough citizen signatures, any proposed law can come up before voters. Citizen referendums like Question 3 are often the most deeply personal and fiercely debated issues to go before voters every election.

For the Richardsons, the fight for Question 3 began with the discovery that the gun that killed their daughter was involved in another murder, but was untraceable because it had been sold privately without a background check.

“We said, 'Well, what do you mean there was no background check?'” Mrs. Richardson says. She’s repeated the story many times in these past six years, during meetings with state and national lawmakers, while testifying on preventing gun violence and even with President Obama, but the shock is still evident in her voice.

“In Maine, if you sell it privately, you don’t have to have a background check. You don’t have to conduct that if you’re not a licensed dealer. That’s the loophole we’re trying to close,” she says.

An estimated 40 percent of all firearms transferred in the U.S. are transferred by unlicensed individuals, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. If voters pass Question 3 in November, Maine will become the 19th state to extend background check requirements to include at least some private firearms sales.

Upstairs, while Richardson talks, a team of volunteers work phones to educate voters on the reasons they should vote yes. Nationwide polling on the issue shows that should be an easy sell. A December 2015 survey found voters support requiring background checks on gun purchases at gun shows or online 90 percent, with 55 percent of U.S. voters saying it’s too easy to buy a gun in this country.

But here in Maine where hunting and gun clubs are a way of life woven into the state's identity a ballot question proposing background checks on private gun sales is seen as a threat from outside political influences. The signs of that fierce debate dot the back roads of this rural state’s small towns, with yard signs declaring “Keep NYC Out of Maine! Vote No on Question 3!”

Critics point out that much of the money for the campaign, including the constant stream of ads on local TV, comes from known gun control supporter and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Ballot initiatives require in-state sponsors like the Richardsons along with signatures from 10 percent of the population that voted for governor in the last election, about 61,000 signatures in Maine. But even those signatures have come under scrutiny.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, is one of those opponents who says the initiative is not even close to being a grassroots citizens' campaign from within the state.

“Over the last hundred years, a culture has developed. We live with firearms. We hunt. We recreationally shoot, and we do it safely,” he says. “We should be looked at as a model state, not as a state for Michael Bloomberg to come in and change somehow.”

Trahan’s organization has worked to educate local hunters and gun owners on the details of Question 3 in the lead-up to Election Day because, as he sees it, the initiative is an effort to destroy Maine’s hunting culture “because that’s the community that defends the right to own firearms most aggressively.”

The TV ads asking for support of Question 3 try to tap into that hunting and gun culture by showing an older Maine hunter shooting in the woods with his grandson and talking about gun safety.

But those images haven’t convinced members of the Windham Goreham Gun Club in rural Maine. Some of them say they are waiting for an upcoming talk by Trahan to make up their minds, but all of them express concern about a portion of the law that would complicate long-standing Maine traditions of sharing guns among friends and extended family members.

“I’m concerned about the portion where I loan a friend a gun. It could be a problem for him and for me,” says Hank Snowman, a lifelong hunter who has lived in the area for 22 years. He says he has no problem with the private sale background check part of the law, but he would like to see more training on gun safety rather than a debate over loopholes. And he knows for certain that he won’t be swayed by TV ads bought with money that’s not from Maine.

“I don’t like people coming in from out of state and meddling,” he says.

Gun club member Luke House goes even further, saying the initiative is a ploy for even greater gun control. A lifelong Maine resident who says bear and moose hunting season is like Christmas and doesn’t believe there’s any such thing as a gun show loophole, House sees the ballot question as offensive.

“They must think we’re really naïve or really stupid or we just want to relinquish our heritage and our inalienable rights to protect ourselves,” he says. “It’s angering, and it’s frustrating because we didn’t ask for this. We didn’t ask to fight for our rights.”


Columbus, Ohio, promises
full probe of teen shooting


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Officials in Columbus, Ohio, are promising a thorough investigation into Wednesday's shooting death of a 13-year-old African-American by a white policeman.

The veteran officer shot and killed Tyre King after chasing robbery suspects when Tyre pulled a BB gun out of his waistband.

Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs held up a picture of the kind of gun Tyre had and said it looked like a "firearm that could kill you. Our officers carry a gun that looks practically identical to the weapon."

Officers wanted to talk to three young black men who fit the description of three persons involved in an armed robbery when two of the men ran away.

Police cornered them in an alley when Tyre pulled out a gun, according to police. Officer Bryan Mason fired at least four bullets into the teenager. He later died at a hospital. Mason is on leave while the shooting is investigated.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther struggled to hold back tears Thursday as he talked about the shooting.

"There is something wrong in this country, and it is bringing its epidemic to our city streets," he said. "And a 13-year-old boy is dead in the city of Columbus because of our obsession with guns and violence."

The Columbus shooting is reminiscent of a 2014 killing in another Ohio city, Cleveland, in which a white officer shot Tamir Rice, 12, who allegedly had waved a toy gun at people in a city park.

A grand jury declined to indict the officers involved, ruling both believed their lives were in danger and that the emergency police dispatcher did not mention Tamir was a child and had what looked like a toy.


Mrs. Clinton back on trail
with Greensboro, N.C. talk

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hillary Clinton returned to the presidential campaign trail Thursday for the first time after being laid low all week with pneumonia.

"It's great to be back," the Democratic candidate told an audience in Greensboro, North Carolina. She admitted that she tried to power through her illness before realizing it wasn't working and that she needed to stay home and rest.

"I'm not great at taking it easy, even under ordinary circumstances," she said. "But with just two months to go before Election Day, sitting at home was pretty much the last place I wanted to be."

Mrs. Clinton said she considered herself lucky to be able to afford time off if she gets sick. She said millions of Americans have no backup if they fall ill and are just one paycheck away from losing their homes or facing other catastrophes.

She said she was running for president to make life better for children and their families.

"Every child, no matter who they are, what they look like or who they love, is part of the American dream, now and way into the future," she said. "Let that be our message. Let that be our mission."

Later, Mrs. Clinton appeared before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, saying she would send Congress comprehensive immigration reform within her first 100 days in office. She said her plan would include a path toward citizenship for many undocumented immigrants.

Mrs. Clinton also tore into Republican rival Donald Trump, who in comments to The Washington Post again refused to say that President Barack Obama was born in the United States.

Mrs. Clinton urged voters to stop Trump, and what she called his bigotry, in the November election.

Meanwhile, Trump appeared on Thursday's broadcast of "The Dr. Oz Show," a talk show hosted by Mehmet Oz, and presented a letter from his doctors proclaiming him to be healthy after he took a physical exam last week.
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A.M.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 184
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Latin news from the BBC up to the minute
Prostate cancer treatments questioned

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Men with early prostate cancer whose doctors monitor their situation, as opposed to treating the cancer, have the same long-term survival rates. The finding was the outcome of a large British study comparing so-called watchful waiting with cancer treatment.

The ProtecT or Prostate Cancer Trial enrolled more than 82,400 men between the ages of 50 and 69. Of these, more than 1,600 men tested positive for early prostate cancer. They were followed for 10 years between 1999 and 2009.

They were randomized to receive active monitoring, radiation or surgery. The research teams at the University of Oxford, the University of Bristol, and nine other centers in Britain, investigated mortality rates, cancer spread and the side effects of treatment.

The researchers found that regardless of whether a man with early prostate cancer underwent treatment with radiation or surgery or was simply monitored, there was virtually no difference in terms of survival after a decade. In all three instances, 99 percent of the participants were still alive 10 years later, if the cancer was localized.

But the study did find that there was less progression of cancer among men in the treatment groups than in men whose disease was simply monitored. The cancer spread in one in five men who were not treated compared to less than one in 10 in those who received surgery or radiation.

The findings of the ProtecT study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Otis Brawley, Chief Medical Officer at the American Cancer Society, welcomed the findings. However, he suggested it will still be difficult to convince some men to forego treatment for prostate cancer.

“If you are diagnosed and you are observed in this study, 44 percent at 10 years still had not gotten any treatment. About 20 percent got treatment because their tumor was progressing or growing in size. But then there’s another 36 percent, literally a third of the men, who were in the observation arm threw up their arms at some point in time and said 'I can’t take being watched while I have cancer. I want treatment,'” said Brawley.

The British study found downsides to treatment. Men in the surgery group experienced urine leakage and difficulties with their sex lives after the operation to remove their prostate glands, called a prostatectomy, compared to men in the active monitoring or radiation group. Those who underwent radiation had more bowel problems.

Brawley said the study’s findings validate his own views on treatment for small prostate cancers.

“For most of my career, I’ve been writing papers on my concern that we’ve been overpromising in terms of the value of screening and aggressive treatment for prostate cancer. I do think that there is a place for it,” he said. “This actually provides some data to show that we really ought to be circumspect about policies for screening and treatment for prostate cancer.”

In the United States, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended against routine use of the PSA or prostate specific antigen test to screen for prostate cancer. The concern has been that there is a high rate of false positives or a detection of small tumors that never progress.

The American Cancer Society recommends that men talk to their doctors about the pros and cons of screening for prostate cancer.


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from Page 7:


U.S. retail sales reported dipping in August

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The consumer demand that drives most U.S. economic activity slowed a bit in August, which may reduce the chance that the central bank will increase interest rates next week.

Retail sales fell three-tenths of a percent last month, according to data published Thursday by the Commerce Department. Analysts said sales of autos, building material and furniture declined. Sales had increased very slightly in July.

Consumer spending is one of many issues that U.S. Federal Reserve officials, scheduled to meet next Tuesday and Wednesday, will consider as they decide whether to raise the key interest rate. It had been cut nearly to zero during the recession, officially from late 2007 to June 2009, in a bid to boost economic growth. The Fed raised rates slightly from that record low last December. Many economists predict Fed officials will not raise rates again until late this year.

The Fed uses interest rates the way a driver uses a car’s gas pedal and brakes. Low interest rates rev up the economy. Raising rates is like hitting the brakes. A spurt of inflation would prompt higher rates, but Thursday's report on price changes at the wholesale level showed that price increases and declines essentially canceled each other out.

Meanwhile, the number of newly laid off Americans signing up for unemployment compensation rose by 1,000 last week to a nationwide total of 260,000. While that is a slight increase, most economists say any reading below 300,000 shows a healthy job market.

A separate report on the flow of goods, services and investments between the United States and trading partners showed the U.S. current account deficit declined in April, May and June. A trade deficit eventually could hurt the value of the dollar and spark inflation, but there is no apparent evidence of that at the moment.