Judd Legum

9 Incredibly Important Things That Happened In 2013 That Most People Aren’t Talking About

In a media environment increasingly dominated by celebrity, scandal and the political horserace, many of the most important stories receive scant coverage. Here are nine hugely important things that happened in 2013 that are rarely discussed:

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More than 60 Saudi Women Openly Defy Ban on Driving

Brushing off threats from the governmentmore than 60 Saudi women got behind the wheel on Saturday in a bold protest of the nation’s de facto ban on women driving.

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21 Things Republicans Have Demanded In Exchange For Not Tanking The Global Economy

Since the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 2011, they have repeatedly attempted to use the prospect of a government shutdown or a debt default as leverage. A shutdown would furlough close to a million federal workers and cut off essential services for millions more Americans, while a default on U.S. debt, even according to Speaker John Boehner, could devastate the global economy. While the recent debate has focused on Obamacare, that is just the latest in a series of demands made by Republicans. The following is a list of things that have been, at various times, demanded by Republicans under threat of a government shutdown or default:

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The Chicago Police Ruined John Collins' Life - and Now They Owe Him $1 Million

Seven years ago John Collins was charged with aggravated battery of a police officer, a felony in Illinois. He was sent to a Cook County jail and bond was set at $75,000, which he could not pay. The jail was overcrowded, so Collins slept on the floor. He remained there for 385 days, during which time he missed the birth of his first child, a baby boy. His fiancé brought his infant son to visit but he was not allowed to hold him, separated by a pane of glass. Sometimes, those visits were canceled “when the jail was put on lock-down for stabbings and murders.” Eventually, his fiancé left him, saying his time in the jail had changed him — he wasn’t the same person anymore.

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Zimmerman is Another ‘Sandy Hook’ Waiting To Happen

Police Chief Steve Bracknell, who is responsible for the Florida town where George Zimmerman resides, agreed in a series of emails that Zimmerman is a “ticking time bomb” and another “Sandy Hook” waiting to happen.

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7 Ways the Zimmerman Mindset Permeates America's Criminal Justice System

George Zimmerman killed one boy, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Although a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty, his attitude — that a young black male is an object suspicion and contempt — not only cost Martin his life but has infected the entire United States criminal justice system.

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Cops Shoot and Kill 16-Year-Old Kid in New York City

On Saturday night, two undercover police officers shot and killed 16-year-old Kimani Gray. According to the police account, the officers approached Gray when he “adjusted his waistband in what the police describe as a suspicious manner.” When the police asked him to “show his hands,” they claim Gray turned around and pointed a gun at the officers, who fired 11 rounds. The weapon police say belonged to Gray was not fired.

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Last-Minute Ohio Directive Could Trash Legal Votes And Impact The Election

A last-minute directive issued by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted could invalidate legal provisional ballots. Ohio is widely viewed as the most critical state for both presidential campaigns and — with some polls showing a close race — the 11th-hour move could swing the entire election.

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The Case Against Chris Cox

Meet Chris Cox, the man who helped produce the Enron scandal. Orange County Weekly reported that "Cox, as part of conservative Republicans' so-called Contract With America, spearheaded efforts to torpedo protections for corporate investors and shield companies -- like Enron -- and their accountants -- like Arthur Andersen -- from investor lawsuits." Cox's sustained effort to provide protections to corporate bad actors was successful; the nation's economy was not. Moreover, Cox pushed his securities reform bill through Congress at the same time he was a named defendant in two lawsuits for securities fraud. Cox's conduct raises serious questions about his ethical suitability for the job. For the last two-and-half years, outgoing SEC Chairman William Donaldson has worked to repair the damage Cox helped produce. But Cox remains committed to his ideological agenda, and, should he be confirmed, is ready to take the country back into the Enron era.

Cox's crusade to weaken investor protections

Cox claimed on the floor of the House on 3/7/95 that securities law was "a legal torture chamber ... more suitable to the pages of Charles Dickens' 'Bleak House' than a nation dedicated to equal justice under law." Cox's efforts to weaken protections for investors culminated in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which provided extensive legal protection to corporate executives, accountants and lawyers who made misleading statements. The bill was enacted into law over President Clinton's veto "after heavy lobbying from Andersen [and] the rest of the accounting industry." Duke University Law Professor James Cox (no relation) called the law "the ultimate in special-interest legislation." Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, said Chris Cox's law "made it not only possible but likely that something like Enron would occur."

How the Cox law protects corporate crooks

According to OC Weekly, "[i]ndependent legal analyses and securities lawyers agree" that Cox's bill "significantly raised the bar at several points in the litigation process, making it much harder for plaintiffs to bring lawsuits." Specifically, plaintiffs "would have to prove there was a 'strong inference' that the defendant acted with the required state of mind for fraud. Securities lawyers refer to this requirement as "'scienter' - a mental state embracing intent to deceive, manipulate or defraud." It's an extremely difficult standard to meet. When the standard was interpreted by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals it "even forgave executives who said they forgot to disclose bad financial news to investors."

How the Cox law protects Kenneth Lay

Cox's law provided additional protections for executives who made inaccurate "forward looking statements" about the future of the company to investors. So when, 12 weeks before the company declared bankruptcy, former Enron CEO Ken Lay told a reporter from Business Week, "We think the company is on solid footing, and we're looking forward to continued strong growth," he was unlikely to face legal consequences.

Cox misrepresents the impact of law

Cox has blatantly misrepresented the impact of the law. For example, according to Cox, his law "requires a company and its officers to constantly update and correct any forward-looking statement once made." The official Congressional Research Service summary of the law, however, "[s]tates that there is no duty upon any person to update a forward-looking statement."

Cox was sued for alleged involvement in Ponzi Scheme

Cox's efforts to limit the ability of investors to sue for fraud was informed by his personal experience. Cox worked for the law firm of Latham & Watkins from 1978 to 1986 before leaving to join the White House counsel's office. On 9/17/94, the LA Times reported, Cox was sued for his work at Latham that involved him in a business scheme that robbed nearly 8,000 investors of approximately $136 million. The scheme cheated customers out of their retirement nest eggs by enticing them to invest in phony mortgages. High-level officers at First Pension Corporation, the company at issue, pled guilty to fraudulently diverting funds. The charge against Cox was that he helped write a deceptive plan to sell mutual fund shares. Cox claimed ignorance and said he was only distantly involved in the case, but information uncovered later revealed him to be more involved with the convicted dealer than he previously let on.

Details murky on resolution of class action lawsuit against Cox

Two suits were filed against Cox: a class action by the investors of First Pension Corp. and another by the court-appointed receiver. On 6/15/96, the LA Times wrote that although Cox was dropped as a defendant from the receiver's case (a move that was meant to "streamline the case," according to the receiver), Cox remained a defendant in the class action. The other major defendant, the accounting giant Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) was found guilty in July 2000 by a California Superior Court jury, according to the LA Times, for having "misrepresented First Pension's condition, concealed material information and abetted the company's managers in the fraud." In August 2000, the LA Times reported that the class action was settled before the damages phase could be entered into, but "terms of the agreement were not disclosed."

Conflict: Cox sought to pass Class Action Reform Bill while named in class action suit

Cox was named in a class-action suit brought by the defrauded investors of First Pension. At the same time he was named in the suit, Cox was holding hearings on the Hill on the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, a bill that, according to the WSJ, would "sharply limit the circumstances in which investors could bring class-action lawsuits." The AP noted, "Cox was informed one week before the bill was introduced that attorneys were threatening to add him as a defendant in a securities lawsuit." Although the bill did not directly affect the case against him because the case was filed in state court, the AP noted, "it could affect future legal actions brought in federal court against him or his former law firm, Latham & Watkins, which is named as a defendant in the suit." Despite there being an obvious conflict of interest involved with Cox's legislation, the House took no action against him.

Conflict: Cox amended the legislation after learning of his own liability

Though Cox claimed he only performed a small amount of legal work for one of the convicted securities dealers, the AP uncovered documents that showed Cox had actually worked with the felon in another major transaction. When confronted with the new evidence of the relationship, Cox said, "I don't have any independent recollection of that work." Back on Capitol Hill, Cox added an additional protection for targets of securities fraud lawsuits. "The day after the AP questioned Cox about [the relationship between him and the convicted dealer,] the congressman amended his legislation to prevent lawyers and others from being sued if they 'genuinely forgot to disclose' important information."

Cox's questionable campaign contributions

Throughout his career in Congress, Cox has received more than $254,000 from the securities and investment industry, the fourth-largest industry contributor to Cox. He received another $206,000 from the accounting industry. Taken together, the securities and accounting industries combine to form the largest industry contributor to Cox. Cox's single largest contributor is the law firm of Latham & Watkins, the former employer that both involved him and absolved him of his personal legal troubles. Cox received $2,000 from William Cooper, owner of First Pension, but was forced to return the funds as controversy surrounding Cox's involvement in the scandal grew. Cox received a campaign contribution from ethically challenged lobbyist Jack Abramoff in 1996. He also received $2,000 from an Andersen Accounting executive in the 2001-02 cycle.

The Death Squad Option

To deal with the skyrocketing insurgency, the Pentagon is considering creating secret death squads in Iraq. Now, the Pentagon's brave new solution for democracy in the Middle East is to revisit the reprehensible "Salvador Option," the clandestine operation implemented by the Reagan White House in the 1980s in El Salvador. According to Newsweek, "Back then, faced with losing a war against the Salvadoran rebels, the United States government funded "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads which killed scores of innocent civilians." Today, according to an explosive new article in Newsweek, the Pentagon dusted off that model and has a proposal on the table to "advise, support and possibly train" secret Iraqi squads, "most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria."

It's unclear whether the current proposed policy would direct the Iraqi squads to assassinate their targets or "snatch" them and send them to secret facilities for interrogation. In plain language: the squads would be either hit men or kidnapper/torturers. The United States has recently come under serious criticism for whisking suspects to countries with questionable interrogation techniques. Recently, for example, a German national was allegedly kidnapped by Macedonian authorities, turned over to the United States and flown to a prison in Afghanistan where he claims to have been repeatedly beaten, all because he shared a name similar to one of the 9/11 suspects. Other reports show the CIA has employed a secret private jet to ferry terror suspects to places with terrible human rights records, such as Egypt, Jordan, Afghanistan and Libya.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has held El Salvador up as a model for Iraq. And during the recent Vice Presidential debates, Vice President Dick Cheney stated, "Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had a guerilla insurgency that controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead. And we held free elections ... And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections." According to a 1993 U.N.-sponsored truth commission, however, up to "90 percent of the atrocities in the conflict "were committed by the U.S.-sponsored army and its surrogates, "with the rebels responsible for 5 percent and the remaining 5 percent undetermined." These death squads "abducted members of the civilian population and of rebel groups. They tortured their hostages, were responsible for their disappearance and usually executed them."

John Negroponte, the current U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, is no stranger to death squads. In the 1980s, Negroponte served as the U.S. ambassador to Honduras. At the time, he was cozy with the chief of the Honduran national police force, Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, who also ran the infamous Battalion 316 death squad. Battalion 316 "kidnapped, tortured and murdered more than 100 people between 1981 and 1984." According to Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, "Negroponte publicly adopted a see-no-evil attitude to this army death squad."

President Bush also appointed neocon Elliot Abrams to be his senior adviser on the Middle East. Abrams was also a staunch supporter of the Salvador Option in the 1980s: when newspapers "reported that a U.S.-trained military unit had massacred hundreds of villagers in the tiny Salvadoran hamlet of El Mozote, Abrams told Congress the story was nothing but communist propaganda." When confronted with the United Nations report that the vast majority of "atrocities in El Salvador's civil war were committed by Reagan-assisted death squads," Abrams's response: "The administration's record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievements." Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress about Iran-Contra in 1987 – he was pardoned by George H.W. Bush in 1992.

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