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?


Thursday Reads

Happy Festivus Everyone!!!

A little more about the Festivus tradition from Wikipedia:

Festivus is a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 as “another way” to celebrate the holiday season without participating in its pressures and commercialism[1]. It was created by writer Dan O’Keefe and introduced into popular culture by his son Daniel, a screenwriter for the TV show Seinfeld,[2][1] as part of a comical storyline on the show. The holiday’s celebration, as shown on Seinfeld, includes an unadorned aluminum “Festivus pole,” practices such as the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength,” and the labelling of easily explainable events as “Festivus miracles”.

Celebrants of the holiday sometimes refer to it as “Festivus for the rest of us,” a saying taken from the O’Keefe family traditions and popularized in the Seinfeld episode to describe Festivus’ non-commerical aspect.

[….]

The holiday, as portrayed in the Seinfeld episode and now celebrated by many,[1][5] includes practices such as the “Airing of Grievances,” which occurs during the Festivus meal and in which each person tells everyone else all the ways they have disappointed him or her over the past year. After the meal the “Feats of Strength” are performed, involving wrestling the head of the household to the floor, with the holiday ending only if the head of the household is actually pinned.

The original holiday featured more peculiar practices, as detailed in the younger Daniel O’Keefe’s book The Real Festivus. The book provides a first-person account of an early version of the Festivus holiday as celebrated by the O’Keefe family, and how O’Keefe amended or replaced details of his father’s invention to create the Seinfeld episode.

We’re getting really close to that other holiday, Christmas. Through most of my adult years, I found the Christmas season extremely stressful. Frankly some of my happiest Christmases have been years when I spent the day alone. In recent years, I’ve gotten quite a bit closer to my siblings and I’ve enjoyed some family Christmases; but when all of us get together it can still be pretty crazymaking.

This year I’ll be going to my sister’s house with my mom. I’m hoping it will be quiet and peaceful, and I’m hoping the snowstorm we’re expecting won’t be too bad. We lost my dad in March, so this will be the family’s first Christmas without him. I know that will be really hard for all of us, especially my mom.

I’m not going to go through all the legislation that passed yesterday or write about President Obama’s self-congratulatory press conference. I think we should keep it light today. I’m just going to throw out a few links that I found interesting and let you all do the same in the comments.

I really got a kick out this article at Buzzflash by Peter Michaelson, a psychotherapist from Ann Arbor, MI: The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears.

According to Michaelson, Boehner’s frequent “crying jags” stem from his troubled childhood.

Boehner cries a lot in public, even when debating bills in the House. He cries when he talks about his humble past. Son of a bar owner, he grew up with 11 siblings in a two-bedroom house with a single bathroom. He said recently on “60 Minutes” that he no longer visits schools or even looks at kids playing outside because he immediately starts crying.

[….]

Boehner had a scrappy upbringing, running cases of beer and mopping the floor in his father’s bar. He put himself through school, “working every rotten job there was.” The circumstances of his childhood, along with his manner of describing it, strongly suggest that, at times, he felt unappreciated, disrespected, and lacking in value.

Since Boehner rarely does anything to help deprived children, why does he burst into tears when he sees them? Michaelson see this as a form of projection.

When Boehner cries around kids, he’s not necessarily feeling their pain. He’s not seeing the world through their eyes. Rather, he’s imagining that they’re seeing the world through his eyes, through the self-doubt and pain with which he saw the world as a child. Unconsciously, he experiences himself and his political life in ways that are under the influence of these unresolved negative feelings.

He sees the children through what is unresolved in himself, through the pain he has repressed from his childhood. He’s also likely crying with relief because, unconsciously, he believes that, through his elevation to fame and power, he has liberated himself from those haunting feelings.

It’s an interesting hypothesis. We’ll probably learn a lot more about Boehner when he becomes Speaker of the House–probably a lot more than we ever wanted to to know. I wonder if he’ll cry frequently while going about his Speaker duties? I’ll bet he cries during the swearing in anyway.

Last night some moron drove his Plymouth Barracuda onto the North Dallas lawn of Mr. and Mrs. George W. Bush.

A suspect accused of driving a muscle car erratically onto the lawn at former President George W. Bush’s north Dallas home Wednesday night was detained by the Secret Service.

The former president and former first lady Laura Bush were in the Preston Hollow neighborhood home at the time but were unharmed and never in danger, officials told NBC station KXAS.

That must have been exciting.

Have you heard about the new Broadway sensation, “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark?” There have been so many mishaps with this production that they had to call off Wednesday’s scheduled performances.

The Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” canceled its two Wednesday performances to test a new safety plan for the show’s 38 aerial and stage maneuvers, which involve actors hoisted or tethered in harnesses, including the maneuver that failed at Monday night’s performance when a stunt actor fell more than 20 feet and broke his ribs.

By canceling the performances at a cost of roughly $400,000 in ticket sales, and by adopting safety measures recommended by state and federal officials, the producers of “Spider-Man” sought to project a sense of urgency and understanding that action was needed to make the show safer. While the producers said that Thursday night’s performance would go on, they also committed, according to state safety officials, not to hold performances until the new measures were in place. The state officials said the plan could be tested successfully by Thursday night.

Under the plan, one offstage crew member will attach the harness and related cables, wires or tethers to the actors, and a second stagehand will verify that the attachments are made. That second stagehand will then verbally notify a stage manager that they are safely connected. The actor will also verify that the attachment is made. Previously, there was no second stagehand to verify or communicate with the stage manager, and the actor was not required to check his harness.

Well I sure hope everything works out okay…

Did you know that “Rev.” Pat Robertson supports legalization of marijuana?

“We’re locking up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next thing you know they’ve got 10 years with mandatory sentences,” Robertson continued. “These judges just say, they throw up their hands and say nothing we can do with these mandatory sentences. We’ve got to take a look at what we’re considering crimes and that’s one of ’em.

“I’m … I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t get me wrong, but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda thing it’s just, it’s costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals. That’s not a good thing.”

Hmmm….could this explain where Robertson gets his wacky ideas about the causes of hurricanes and terrorist attacks?

Here’s one more goofy story, and then I’ll let you guys take over. From The Independent UK: North Korea threatens to attack South over Christmas lights

Seasonal goodwill is in short supply on the divided Korean peninsula, where both sides are again at potentially deadly loggerheads – over a Christmas tree.

North Korea’s military is reportedly preparing to shoot down a floodlit tower decorated with Christmas lights which overlooks the border near the South’s capital, Seoul – home to millions of Christians.

The provincial governor, Kim Moon-soo, has warned that firing at the tree would be a reckless and “provocative” act. The South’s Defence Minister was more blunt. “We’ll retaliate decisively to take out the source of any shelling,” Kim Kwan-jin told parliament yesterday. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said fighter jets were on standby, ready to strike back.

OK, that’s it for me, except for this gratuitous kitty picture.

What are you reading this morning? Feel free to post links to serious stories, if you must.