Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fears of a Clown

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) sponsored an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that is a major victory for justice and accountability for private contractors. The amendment that would “withhold defense contracts from companies like KBR ‘if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.'”

In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. She was detained in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” (Jones was not an isolated case.) Jones was prevented from bringing charges in court against KBR because her employment contract stipulated that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration.

In speaking for his amendment on the Senate floor, Mr. Franken said:

The constitution gives everybody the right to due process of law … And today, defense contractors are using fine print in their contracts do deny women like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court. … The victims of rape and discrimination deserve their day in court [and] Congress plainly has the constitutional power to make that happen.

The bill was opposed by several Republicans, including Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who called the amendment “a political attack directed at Halliburton.”

The amendment passed 68-30; all of the 30 votes against it were Republicans. I would like to hear from at least one of these 30 people who claim the title of the Party of Personal Responsibility and Law ‘n’ Order as their legacy why victims of rape should have no legal recourse against their attackers. That should be an interesting discussion. To their credit, ten Republicans, including Florida’s new Sen. George LeMieux, voted for it.

The GOP talking point against Al Franken during the campaign and the ever-lasting recount was that he wasn’t a serious candidate and that the Senate was no place for guy who made his living as a comedian; Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) labeled him as a “clown.” (Oddly enough, we didn’t hear the GOP making the same point when Sonny Bono and Fred Grandy ran for Congress and won, but they were Republicans, and the biggest fear was that they would be as good at legislating as they were at comedy.) I think that so far, the Republicans’ biggest fear about Al Franken has been realized: he’s far more serious and effective as a senator than Norm Coleman, who had his own way of being unintentionally funny, ever was.