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Dispatches : Politics

Barefoot Bandit Nabbed in High-Speed Boat Chase

The "Barefoot Bandit", Colton Harris-Moore, has been apprehended by police after a dramatic high-speed boat chase in the Bahamas, CNN reports. The teenage fugitive has been playing cat and mouse with authorities for over two years, earning his moniker by committing his crimes without shoes.

The elusive teen's capture could not have been more dramatic, befitting a high-octane action film. At 2 a.m, Harris-Moore was spotted running barefoot with a knapsack and a gun at the Romora Bay Resort on Harbour Island. "They're going to kill me," he told the marina's security director, Kenneth Strachan.

As Harris-Moore attempted to steal a boat chased by a flotilla of police vessels, he ran aground, not realizing how shallow the water was. Police soon surrounded the boat and shot out its engines.

"At one point the boy threw the computer in the water and put a gun to his head.He was going to kill himself. Police talked him out of it," Strachan said.

Harris-Moore, who has been on the run since 2008 when he escaped from a juvenile halfway house in Renton, Washington after pleading guilty to three counts of burglary, is suspected of breaking into airports in South Dakota and Nebraska, of flying a stolen plane in the Bahamas and is linked to a string of burglaries and several car thefts in Oregon and Washington. 

"We've confirmed that it's him--the 'barefoot bandit', Colton Harris-Moore" said Steve Dean, assistant special agent in charge for FBI's Seattle Washington office. "I'm glad this is over,". 

Read more about the Barefoot Bandit in our January feature, "The Ballad of Colton Harris-Moore".

--Shauna Sweeney

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Cuba Travel Ban Waning

Photo courtesy of alobonzo on Flickr. 

Photo courtesy of alobonzo on Flickr.

On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee voted 25-20 to do away with the long-standing restrictions on American citizens visiting Cuba. The vote was largely partisan, the New York Times reports. While the result of the vote seems to indicate the diminished weight of cold war politics, vestiges of such politics were evident in arguments made by both sides.

Democratic Representative Collin C. Peterson, a proponent of the bill, argued that an American tourist presence in Cuba might "show the Cuban people how great Democracy can be."

Meanwhile Representative Tom Rooney, a Republican from Florida and opponent of the bill, said, "Every dollar spent by American tourists in Cuba would contribute to the [Castro] regime’s bottom line."

In April of last year, President Obama allowed Cuban-Americans to visit relatives in Cuba. The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act would extend the same approval to all U.S. citizens. The bill still must pass through a second House committee, the full House, and the Senate before it can take full effect.

--Riley Blanton

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Gulf Spill Threatens 70,000 Turtle Eggs

Picture 1 

Courtesy of NOAA.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will coordinate the collection of 70,000 turtle eggs from 800 nests on Alabama and Florida beaches within the next two weeks, according to the Associated Press. If left in place, hatchlings from the eggs could be soaked in crude or poisoned by consuming oil-coated food.

The eggs, primarily those of endangered loggerheads, will be dug up by hand, packed in sand in Styrofoam containers, trucked to the Kennedy Space Center, and stored in a climate-controlled warehouse. All eggs will be hatched at the facility, and the hatchlings will be placed individually on Florida's east coast.

"This is an extraordinary effort under extraordinary conditions, but if we can save some of the hatchlings, it will be worth it as opposed to losing all of them," Chuck Underwood of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said."There's a chance of losing a whole generation."

--Riley Blanton

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Lightbulbs Get "Lighting Facts" Labels in 2011

Picture 1 The Federal Trade Commission announced last Friday that lightbulb packaging will have to include a new label - though in a format familiar to anyone who's been to a grocery store - by the middle of next year.

The "Lighting Facts" labels will have to be featured on the front of packaging and will have to include information such as bulb brightness in lumens, annual energy cost, bulb life expectancy, and whether a bulb contains mercury.

The FTC hopes that the new label will make it easier for consumers to recognize energy-efficient bulbs as low-efficiency incandescent bulbs are phased out of the U.S. market by congressional mandate.

--Riley Blanton

Photo: Courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission

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Fordlandia: Mis-Adventures in the Amazon

Fordlandia_300dpi Greg Grandin's Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City, a Pulitzer-Prize finalist, is a 20th-century tale of industrial ambition, mismanagement, and failure. The head of the whole thing was Henry Ford, who, by 1927, was at the top of his entrepreneurial game. Threatened by the possibility of a British latex cartel, the automobile-mogul set his sights on the jungles of Brazil with the goal of raising a rubber plantation. But it wasn't just about rubber; he wanted to Americanize the locals, too. All this was a huge challenge--one that proved insurmountable in the end. Outside spoke with Grandin about Ford, his grand experiment in Brazil, and the costly mistakes that made for one helluva mis-adventure in the Amazon.

What prompted you to write this book?
I kept seeing mention of Fordlandia in different places--mostly books on the Amazon. The late Warren Dean, for instance, a pioneer in environmental history, dedicated a chapter to Fordlandia in his wonderful, Brazil and the Struggle for Rubber. The story of Ford's bid to transplant Americana to Amazona was usually folded into a well-known list of quixotic attempts to conquer the Amazon, from El Dorado to the making of Fitzcarraldo. But I was struck that there wasn't a full-length history of it. There is the novel Fordlandia, written by Eduardo Sguiglia, an Argentine author. I read somewhere that Sguiglia had set out to write a non-fiction account, but the evocative nature of the tale led him to fictionalize the story. It's a great novel, but I thought perhaps this was one of those cases where history could be stranger than fiction.

There was still plenty of unexplored territory in the world during Ford's time. What do you think his motivation was for trying to set up a colony in the Amazon: exploration/adventure, industrial progress, social evolution, capitalism, or something else entirely?
That's the million-dollar question--or rather the quarter-billion-dollar question, which is how much Ford spent on Fordlandia, adjusted for inflation. The initial reason for obtaining a tract of land the size of a small American state in the middle of the Amazon was to grow rubber to bypass a proposed British latex cartel. But by the time the project got underway, the economic logic had changed. The price of latex had collapsed. Yet Ford ignored advice and went forward anyway. And the more the project failed, the more he plowed more and more money into it.

Ford was less motivated on laying control over yet another raw material as he was by a restless dissatisfaction with the way things were going at home. Ford, the man who unleashed the power of industrial capitalism by perfecting the assembly line, spent most of his life trying to put the genie back in the bottle, to tame the forces he set loose. He tried doing this by founding a number of so-called "village industries" in the U.S., small factories powered by hydroelectricity manned by "mechanic-farmers." But through the rolling 1920s and depressed 1930s, Ford found himself frustrated on one front after another, as well as implicated in many of the vices he condemned. So he turned to the Amazon.

Ford made a lot of mistakes in setting up this colony, ignorance being a major one. Do you think Forlandia was doomed from the get-go? Was its failure inevitable, or did the whole thing collapse because of a series of bad decisions? Was there any way for Fordlandia to have been successful?
It didn't help that Ford refused to seek out expert advice--from a botanist, agronomist, plant pathologist, or anyone who might have had some knowledge of Amazon rubber and its threats, much less someone versed in the complexities of Brazilian politics and society. In retrospect, it is hard to see how it could have succeeded, though perhaps failure would have been a little less spectacular had Ford consulted individuals with experience.

There were two great waves of failure at Fordlandia. The first was social: Ford's attempt to raise an American town and impose his brand of Puritanism on Brazilian workers--making them eat whole-wheat bread and brown rice, for example, or enforcing prohibition--led to a series of revolts and riots. Rather than Our Town, the early years of Fordlandia seemed more like Deadwood, in terms of the brothels, gambling halls, and bars set up around its periphery. After a while, the company managed to establish control, but then nature rebelled. By ignoring expert advice and planting rubber trees close together--as a way of replicating industrial mass production in the jungle--Ford effectively created an enormous incubator as bugs and fungi reproduced like wildfire to lay waste to the plantation repeatedly.

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