I was going to go in a different direction with this post. Over at the Huffington Post, Danielle Ivory reported wednesday that many women are finding that being raped makes them uninsurable. The problem? They may or may not have HIV, making AIDS -- despite the fact that they may not actually have the disease, a pre-existing condition.
This brought to mind an amendment to the defense appropriations bill introduced by Sen. Al Franken. That amendment addressed a problem with overseas contractors abusing the process of arbitration to avoid being sued for employee-on-employee rape.Think Progress explains the background:
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.
Franken's amendment bars the government from contracting with companies who use arbitration to keep rape victims out of court. It's pretty common sense; if ACORN can get fired from government work for giving bad tax advice, then Halliburton/KBR should probably get fired for covering up a rape and committing false imprisonment. In fact, Halliburton/KBR is getting off easy here, since all they have to do to keep working for the federal government is tweak their employee contracts. A list of senators who thought this was he worst thing ever and voted against the amendment.
All Republicans. It looked like the GOP's kneejerk obstructionism had finally become absurd. Late night talk shows lampooned the 30 who voted against it, blogs attacked the vote, and a satirical website -- RepublicansForRape.org -- was born. In public relations, this situation is known as a "crap storm" and the 30 were left wondering why they ever thought this was a good idea. Interviewing Jamie Leigh Jones and her attorney, Todd Kelly, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow introduced the segment this way:
In Idaho, the Lewiston Morning Tribune called out its two senators in an editorial titled, "Senators Crapo and Risch Cast an Inexplicable Vote."
In Mississippi, The Clarion Ledger editorialized, quote, "Senators Cochran and Wicker voted to protect corporations, not victims, and they should own up to that."
An opinion piece in the Osawatomie Graphic was titled simply, "Kansas Senators are Disappointing." In Tennessee, a Crossville Chronicle writer asked, "Whose Side are Our Senators On?"
The Athens Banner Herald in Georgia headlined a letter quote, "Georgia Senators Embarrass State." And in Louisiana, a Shreveport Times writer asks, quote, "What exactly is Sen. David Vitter problem with women?"
Originally, the vote was defended by saying the Franken amendment was just a political attack on Halliburton/KBR, to punish them for their close connection to Dick Cheney. But the amendment was just so common sense and obviously just that this defense didn't hold up. Finally, the right wing Heritage Foundation dusted off an old Republican bugaboo and used that as an excuse -- contractors are now completely defenseless against "frivolous lawsuits" involving allegations of gang rape. Of course, this is idiocy. A corporation is only going to arbitrate away a case that would stand up in court. No one's going to make up a complicated rape story to sue over, they'll manage to get their foot run over by a truck or something. The amendment doesn't bar arbitration in all cases, just cases "related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention."
Here's where things start to get stupid.
[Sam Stein, Huffington Post:]
An amendment that would prevent the government from working with contractors who denied victims of assault the right to bring their case to court is in danger of being watered down or stripped entirely from a larger defense appropriations bill.
Multiple sources have told the Huffington Post that Sen. Dan Inouye, a longtime Democrat from Hawaii, is considering removing or altering the provision, which was offered by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and passed by the Senate several weeks ago.
As usual, the biggest obstacle to Democratic common sense legislation are Democrats lacking common sense. Stein reports that Inouye's office "has been lobbied by defense contractors adamant that the language of the Franken amendment would leave them overly exposed to lawsuits and at constant risk of having contracts dry up. The Senate is considering taking out a provision known as the Title VII claim, which (if removed) would allow victims of assault or rape to bring suit against the individual perpetrator but not the contractor who employed him or her."
Worse, the amendment is opposed by the Defense Department -- an executive department -- meaning that the Obama White House is (either whole or in part) against it.
I was going to tie the "rape as a pre-existing condition" story to the contractor rape amendment and point out just how the Republican party has jumped the shark. But the truth is that, in both cases, Democrats are on that ski jump too. It'll be a lot easier to make fun of Republicans when Democrats stop being ridiculous boobs as well.
"[I]f this amendment had been in place when Jamie went to Iraq, her rape most likely never would have happened," Jones' attorney Kelly told Rachel Maddow. "What needed to happen is that companies like Halliburton need to have rules in place that forced their employees to obey those rules that needed to have oversight."
But that's not what's important here. What's important is that defense contractors keep on the Democrats' good side and that lobbyists are never, ever made unhappy.
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