Friday, October 16, 2009

Franken-Style CHUTZPAH

As a comedian Al Franken was no stranger to the rhetoric of chutzpah, and he took that rhetoric with him when he moved into the talk show circuit. So it was not so much a question of whether he would bring chutzpah to the Senate floor as of when he would do so. On the basis of Emily Douglas' latest blog post to The Notion, Franken has found the right opportunity. Here are Douglas' opening paragraphs:

In April of 2008, KBR employee Dawn Leamon went public. A few months earlier, she had been raped and sexually assaulted by co-workers while deployed at Camp Harper, in Iraq, and after weeks of being pressured not to report the incident, forced to work alongside her attackers, and medically neglected, Leamon brought the story to a Houston attorney and to The Nation. Leamon joined a slowly building chorus of female defense contractor employees who'd been raped or sexually assaulted by co-workers while in Iraq, to utter impunity on the part of their assailants. In response, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called a hearing to investigate why the Justice Department had not prosecuted any sexual assault allegations in Iraq since the going to war in the country.

When it turned out that defense contractors often required employees, as a condition of employment, to submit to binding private arbitration in disputes with the contractors (including allegations of sexual assault), instead of bringing complaints to public courts, and that the Department of Defense claimed they couldn't prosecute for this very reason (even though these clauses only prevented civil suits), Senator Ben Nelson, who called the hearing, offered a simple solution: "This might be something you want to require and include in your contracts--before you award them," Karen Houppert reported in The Nation.

Freshman Sen. Al Franken took Nelson's suggestion seriously, and has pushed through an amendment to a Defense Appropriations bill that would prevent the Pentagon from doing business with contractors who force employees into binding arbitration over rape and sexual assault charges.

I like to think of this as the chutzpah of shining a light where no one particularly want to look. As Douglas observes later in her post, opposition is already lining up against Franken from the usual suspects; so this may be his first sobering lesson in how things get done (or fail to get done) in the Senate. However, politics is all about picking the right battles; and this is one whose campaign may be served with chutzpah. So Franken gets the Chutzpah of the Week aware, and I anticipate that he will have to make shelf space for more of them!

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