Tuesday Reads: Crime and Movies, Obama’s Second Term, How the Wisconsin Uprising Got Hijacked, and Other News

Good Morning!!

I’ve got a selection of interesting reads for you today.

Late last night, the top story on Google news was this:

Coroner rules dingo to blame for Australian baby’s death.

A coroner ruled Tuesday that a dingo, a wild dog native to Australia, caused the death of a baby more than 30 years ago.

Azaria Chamberlain was just two months old when she disappeared from a tent during a family holiday to Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, sparking one of the country’s most sensational and enduring murder mysteries.

“The cause of her death was as the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo,” Elizabeth Morris, coroner for Northern Territory, announced to Darwin Magistrates court early Tuesday. “Dingos can and do cause harm to humans.”

The girl’s mother, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, long maintained that a dingo took her baby, even as she was sentenced to life in jail for daughter’s murder, a conviction that was later quashed.

Meryl Streep played Lindy in a movie about the case, A Cry in the Dark.

The movie was satirized in a Seinfeld episode.

Seriously, though, I’m glad that Lindy has finally received justice.

Another long-ago crime story has been in the news: the mysterious escape from Alcatraz by three convicts 50 years ago yesterday, June 11, 1962.

Fifty years ago, on the night of June 11, 1962, the three convicts were locked down as usual. Guards walking the tier outside their cells saw them at 9:30 and checked on them periodically all night, looking in at the sleeping faces, hearing nothing strange. But by morning, the inmates had vanished, Houdini-like.

Guards found pillows under the bedclothes and lifelike papier-mâché heads with real hair and closed, painted eyes. Federal agents, state and local police officers, Coast Guard boats and military helicopters joined the largest manhunt since the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932, scouring the prison complex on Alcatraz Island, the expanse of San Francisco Bay and the surrounding landscape of Northern California.

A crude raft made of rubber raincoats was found on a nearby island. But the fugitives were never seen again. Federal officials said they almost certainly drowned in the maelstrom of riptides, undertows and turbulent, frigid waters of the 10-mile-wide bay, their bodies probably swept out to sea under the Golden Gate Bridge.

But for aficionados of unsolved mysteries, the fantasy that Frank Lee Morris and the brothers Clarence and John Anglin had successfully escaped from the nation’s most forbidding maximum security prison and are still alive, hiding somewhere, has been a tantalizing if remote possibility for a half-century now.

The escapees would be in their 80s if they are still alive. According to this NPR story, there was a legend that they would meet again at the prison on the 50th anniversary of their escape. Believe it or not, U.S. Marshalls were there to meet them just in case. I haven’t heard of any old men being captured yet, but I’m writing this at 11:30PM, so I guess it could still happen.

Fifty years ago, three men set out into the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay in a raft made out of raincoats. It was one of the most daring prison escapes in U.S. history.

As one newsreel put it: The spoon proved “mightier than the bars at supposedly escape-proof Alcatraz prison.”

“Three bank robbers serving long terms scratched their way through grills covering an air vent, climbed a drainage pipe and disappeared from the forbidding rock in San Francisco Bay,” the report continued.

The men — Frank Morris and two brothers, John and Clarence Anglin — were never seen again. It was a brilliant plan, carried out with meticulous care and patience, but with such an unsatisfying ending. Did they make it? Or are they, as most people assume, at the bottom of the bay?

The legend has always held that if the men are alive, they will return to Alcatraz on the 50th anniversary of their breakout. There’s little chance that’s going to happen. But the anniversary is Monday, and I’m headed to the island to see if they show up. The U.S. Marshals say they will be there, too.

There have been a number of movies made about the daring escape. Clint Eastwood made a good one.

In political news, I’ve got a couple of long reads for you.

Ryan Lizza has a piece in The New Yorker about Obama’s second term: What would Obama do if reelected? In case you don’t want to plow through the whole thing, Atlantic Wire has a Reader’s Digest version: Obama’s Advisers Want You to Know He’ll Be a Lame Lame Duck President

If The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza is right, we might be in for four more years of compromise on things like climate change and nuclear proliferation. Lizza has an article this week forecasting Obama’s second term, or rather, what Obama’s advisers want you to know about the President’s second term.

Don’t expect much. Obama and his team aren’t revealing their cards on the pressing issues like the economy (Lizza mentions there’s time for one big policy change) or inflammatory issues like same-sex marriage. And their lack of specifics about the President’s second term has been a story in itself, especially when contrasted with Mitt Romney who has already imagined his first days in the White House. As Lizza reports, the message that the president’s team wants out there is that Obama will be banking on bipartisan support (a word that’s peppered the president’s first term) to maybe get things done in the short time he has.

It sounds a lot like the first term.

At TomDispatch, Andy Kroll has a lengthy article about how Wisconsin was hijacked.

The results of Tuesday’s elections are being heralded as the death of public-employee unions, if not the death of organized labor itself. Tuesday’s results are also seen as the final chapter in the story of the populist uprising that burst into life last year in the state capital of Madison. The Cheddar Revolution, so the argument goes, was buried in a mountain of ballots.

But that burial ceremony may prove premature. Most of the conclusions of the last few days, left and right, are likely wrong.

The energy of the Wisconsin uprising was never electoral. The movement’s mistake: letting itself be channeled solely into traditional politics, into the usual box of uninspired candidates and the usual line-up of debates, primaries, and general elections. The uprising was too broad and diverse to fit electoral politics comfortably. You can’t play a symphony with a single instrument. Nor can you funnel the energy and outrage of a popular movement into a single race, behind a single well-worn candidate, at a time when all the money in the world from corporate “individuals” and right-wing billionaires is pouring into races like the Walker recall.

Colin Millard, an organizer at the International Brotherhood of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers, admitted as much on the eve of the recall. We were standing inside his storefront office in the small town of Horicon, Wisconsin. It was night outside. “The moment you start a recall,” he told me, “you’re playing their game by their rules.”

Check it out. It’s well worth the read.

In other news,

Yesterday the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from some detainees at Guantanamo. At Mother Jones, Adam Serwer asks: Did the Supreme Court Just Gut Habeas Rights?

The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday not to hear appeals from a group of Gitmo detainees leaves the remaining 169 detainees at the facility with little chance of securing their freedom through US courts.

In the 2008 case Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled detainees at Gitmo could challenge their detention in US courts. That decision was seen as effectively ending the Bush administration’s attempt to carve out a legal black hole for suspected terror detainees. Shortly thereafter, Gitmo detainees began appealing their detentions—and frequently winning in court. But in the years since the decision, conservative judges on the DC Circuit have interpreted the law in a way that assumes many of the government’s claims are true and don’t have to be proven in court. By not taking any of these cases, the Supreme Court has ensured these stricter rules will prevail. Civil-libertarian groups say that essentially leaves detainees at Gitmo with habeas rights in name only, since the rules make it virtually impossible for detainees to win in court. A Seton Hall University School of Law report from May found that, prior to the DC Circuit’s reinterpretation of the rules, detainees won 56 percent of cases. Afterwards, they won 8 percent.

The march toward fascism continues. In other cheery news, a new Federal Reserve report says that the “Great Recession erased nearly 40% of family wealth.”

The Great Recession took such a heavy toll on the economy that the typical American family lost nearly 40% of its wealth from 2007 to 2010, shaving the median net worth to a level not seen since the early 1990s.

The Federal Reserve said in a new report Monday that median family net worth, the point smack in the middle of those richer and poorer, fell to $77,300 in 2010 from $126,400 three years earlier after adjusting for inflation.

The fall came with the collapse in the housing market and massive layoffs that slashed people’s incomes, and the pain was felt by families across the board — young and old, well-educated and less so, with children or not.

But the biggest impact was felt by young middle-age families, those headed by people ages 35 to 44. For this group, the median net worth — total assets minus debts — fell a whopping 54% in the three-year period to $42,100 in 2010. Such was their financial hardships that only 47.6% of these families said they had saved money in 2010; that was the lowest among all age groups, where an overall average of 52% of families saved some money that year.

Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) is “‘worried’ by influx of dark money” in the 2012 election because of the Citizen’s United decision.

“The thing that worries me frankly the most is the huge amount of hidden money which is going to get into — it already is in — the Romney campaign,” he said on Current TV’s War Room.

“The Super PAC money worries me. The fact that Mr. Romney will not disclose who is bundling his money, he is keeping that secret as well… It’s bad enough that we have these unlimited amounts of money that go into Super PACs.”

Levin says that Congress could force SuperPacs to reveal the names of donors, but so far the Republicans have blocked his bill to do that.

At The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart asks why Bashar al-Assad isn’t on President Obama’s “kill list.” After all, he claims the right to kill just about anyone in the name of terrorism. If Assad isn’t a terrorist, who is?

Fine, you say, but there’s an executive order against assassinating heads of state. That’s true, but we don’t exactly abide by it. During the Cold War, the United States helped orchestrate coups that led to the deaths of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem and Chile’s Salvador Allende. The Bush administration launched the 2003 Iraq War with a decapitation strike aimed at killing Saddam Hussein. And whether or not the United States had a hand in Muammar Gaddafi’s death last fall, it was the predictable—and perhaps desired—result of the war we launched.

But doesn’t assassinating foreign leaders set a worrisome precedent? If we can kill Bashar al-Assad, what’s to stop the Syrian government from trying to kill Barack Obama? We might ask the same question about the sanctions we impose and the wars we launch. The point is that the U.S. violates other countries’ sovereignty in all kinds of ways we wouldn’t appreciate if they did it to us. And the reason they don’t is not because they lack a precedent; it’s because they lack the power.

I’m speechless.

So what is on your reading list today?


It Can Happen Here

Lakhdar Boumedienne

Now that President Obama has signed the 2012 Defense Authorization Act, what happened to Lakhdar Boumediene could happen to any of us.

In a horrifying op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times Boumediene described how he was arrested in Bosnia in 2002 and held in Guantanamo for seven years without due process. At the time of his arrest Boumediene was working as a humanitarian aid worker focusing on helping children. During his imprisonment, he was never allowed to see his wife or his children, and received only a few of the many letters they sent him. The ones he did receive were cruelly censored.

Boumediene writes:

I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.

When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo. I had never — for a second — considered this.

The fact that the United States had made a mistake was clear from the beginning. Bosnia’s highest court investigated the American claim, found that there was no evidence against me and ordered my release. But instead, the moment I was released American agents seized me and the five others. We were tied up like animals and flown to Guantánamo, the American naval base in Cuba. I arrived on Jan. 20, 2002.

I still had faith in American justice. I believed my captors would quickly realize their mistake and let me go. But when I would not give the interrogators the answers they wanted — how could I, when I had done nothing wrong? — they became more and more brutal. I was kept awake for many days straight. I was forced to remain in painful positions for hours at a time. These are things I do not want to write about; I want only to forget.

Eventually he went on a hunger strike that lasted two years and was brutally force fed twice a day. Finally, in 2008, his case reached the Supreme Court.

In a decision that bears my name, the Supreme Court declared that “the laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” It ruled that prisoners like me, no matter how serious the accusations, have a right to a day in court. The Supreme Court recognized a basic truth: the government makes mistakes. And the court said that because “the consequence of error may be detention of persons for the duration of hostilities that may last a generation or more, this is a risk too significant to ignore.”

When he was finally freed, France took him in, and he was reunited with his family. Boumediene writes that there are 90 prisoners at Guantanamo who have also been cleared to leave the facility, but they are being held because they are from countries where they would be tortured or killed if they returned.

So there they sit, not guilty of any crime but held in indefinite detention. Just as you or I could be held if this president or the next one decides we somehow helped or supported terrorism.