Wednesday, November 22, 2017

No Men-- Especially No Men In Public Office-- Should Ever Think They Are "Untouchable" When It Comes To Workplace Sexual Harassment


-by Valley Girl

I wrote an email to Howie a few days back saying in part "I totally agreed with your tweet. This is what leadership should be about. It seems that they are not willing to name names because it will hurt their own careers. Howie, you have a lot of connections. Is there any way you could winkle this information out of someone? Get them to name even a few names? My gut feeling is that once even a few names are mentioned, then the floodgates will open."

Howie asked me to do a guest post. I’ve been working on that. Getting into the weeds, as I usually do. I started checking out Barbara Comstock (R-VA), who I didn’t know anything about before, but who now seems to have little record of bravery of any sort. I’ve compiled quite a dossier on her.

And, reminding myself of the details of Jackie Speirs’ history-- 1978 including when she went, as a congressional aide to Leo Ryan, to Jonestown, Guyana. By the end of the trip, Ryan was dead-- the first and only congressman to be assassinated in office-- along with three journalists and one cult defector. Speier and nine others had been shot and left for dead at a remote airstrip; they waited 22 hours for help to arrive.

Yes, she does have a solid history of bravery, courage, and public service. Watch this for context as to what Howie was talking about-- a House hearing:

Also note that this video above leaves out something: via CNN: During the hearing to review the House's sexual harassment policies, Comstock said it was "important that we name names."... exactly what Howie challenged her to do in his tweet.

And, also from the same CNN link, note this, if you follow the link-- "Speier, a Democrat who has gone public with her own allegations of sexual assault while she served as a Hill aide decades ago, testified before the panel Tuesday that two currently sitting members of Congress-- one Democrat, one Republican-- have 'engaged in sexual harassment' but have not yet been reviewed." NO, CNN is wrong on this quote. Speier actually says: two members… one Democrat, one Republican, who have been subject to review, or not have been subject to review, who have engaged in sexual harassment.

Fast forward with the post I’ve been working one-- I’m on EST, so I missed this news by several hours, until I woke up this morning. And ended up ditching most of what I’d already written. Note again Speier’s actual comment above.

The Buzz Feed story blows the lid off one of these two-- John Conyers. Title and subtitle: She Said A Powerful Congressman Harassed Her. Here’s Why You Didn’t Hear Her Story. "When you make private settlements, it doesn’t warn the next woman or the next person going into that situation."
Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat and the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not “succumb to [his] sexual advances.”

Documents from the complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News include four signed affidavits, three of which are notarized, from former staff members who allege that Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sexual favors, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public. Four people involved with the case verified the documents are authentic.

And the documents also reveal the secret mechanism by which Congress has kept an unknown number of sexual harassment allegations secret: a grinding, closely held process that left the alleged victim feeling, she told BuzzFeed News, that she had no option other than to stay quiet and accept a settlement offered to her.

“I was basically blackballed. There was nowhere I could go,” she said in a phone interview. BuzzFeed News is withholding the woman’s name at her request because she said she fears retribution.

The woman who settled with Conyers launched the complaint with the Office of Compliance in 2014, alleging she was fired for refusing his sexual advances, and ended up facing a daunting process that ended with a confidentiality agreement in exchange for a settlement of more than $27,000. Her settlement, however, came from Conyers’ office budget rather than the designated fund for settlements.

In this case, one of Conyers’ former employees was offered a settlement, in exchange for her silence, that would be paid out of Conyers’ taxpayer-funded office budget. His office would “rehire” the woman as a “temporary employee” despite her being directed not to come into the office or do any actual work, according to the document. The complainant would receive a total payment of $27,111.75 over the three months, after which point she would be removed from the payroll, according to the document.

The process was “disgusting,” said Matthew Peterson, who worked as a law clerk representing the complainant, and who listed as a signatory to some of the documents.

“It is a designed cover-up,” said Peterson, who declined to discuss details of the case but agreed to characterize it in general terms. “You feel like they were betrayed by their government just for coming forward. It’s like being abused twice.”

Two staffers alleged in their signed affidavits that Conyers used congressional resources to fly in women they believed he was having affairs with. Another said she was tasked with driving women to and from Conyers’ apartment and hotel rooms.

In her complaint, the former employee said Conyers repeatedly asked her for sexual favors and often asked her to join him in a hotel room. On one occasion, she alleges that Conyers asked her to work out of his room for the evening, but when she arrived the congressman started talking about his sexual desires. She alleged he then told her she needed to “touch it,” in reference to his penis, or find him a woman who would meet his sexual demands.

She alleged Conyers made her work nights, evenings, and holidays to keep him company.

In another incident, the former employee alleged the congressman insisted she stay in his room while they traveled together for a fundraising event. When she told him that she would not stay with him, she alleged he told her to “just cuddle up with me and caress me before you go.”

“Rep. Conyers strongly postulated that the performing of personal service or favors would be looked upon favorably and lead to salary increases or promotions,” the former employee said in the documents.

Three other staff members provided affidavits submitted to the Office Of Compliance that outlined a pattern of behavior from Conyers that included touching the woman in a sexual manner and growing angry when she brought her husband around.

One affidavit from a former female employee states that she was tasked with flying in women for the congressman. “One of my duties while working for Rep. Conyers was to keep a list of women that I assumed he was having affairs with and call them at his request and, if necessary, have them flown in using Congressional resources,” said her affidavit. (A second staffer alleged in an interview that Conyers used taxpayer resources to fly women to him.)

The employee said in her affidavit that Conyers also made sexual advances toward her: “I was driving the Congressman in my personal car and was resting my hand on the stick shift. Rep. Conyers reached over and began to caress my hand in a sexual manner.”

The woman said she told Conyers she was married and not interested in pursuing a sexual relationship, according to the affidavit. She said she was told many times by constituents that it was well-known that Conyers had sexual relationships with his staff, and said she and other female staffers felt this undermined their credibility.

“I am personally aware of several women who have experienced the same or similar sexual advances made towards them by Rep[.] John Conyers,” she said in her affidavit.

A male employee wrote that he witnessed Rep. Conyers rub the legs and other body parts of the complainant “in what appeared to be a sexual manner” and saw the congressman rub and touch other women “in an inappropriate manner.” The employee said he confronted Conyers about this behavior.

“Rep. Conyers said he needed to be ‘more careful’ because bad publicity would not be helpful as he runs for re-election. He ended the conversation with me by saying he would ‘work on’ his behavior,” the male staffer said in his affidavit.

The male employee said that in 2011 Conyers complained a female staffer was “too old” and said he wanted to let her go. The employee said he set up a meeting in December 2011 to discuss “mistreatment of staff and his misuse of federal resources.” The affidavit says that Conyers “agreed that he would work on making improvements as long as I worked directly with him and stopped writing memos and emails about concerns.”

Another female employee also attested that she witnessed Conyer’s advances, and said she was asked to transport women to him. “I was asked on multiple occasions to pick up women and bring them to Mr. Conyers['] apartment, hotel rooms, etc.”

“I don’t think any allegations should be buried... and that’s for anyone, not just for this particular office, because it doesn’t really allow other people to see who these individuals are,” said the former staffer. “When you make private settlements, it doesn’t warn the next woman or the next person going into that situation.”

Another staffer said Conyers’ reputation made people fearful to speak out against him. Aside from being the longest-serving House member and the ranking member of a powerful committee, Conyers is a civil rights icon. He was lauded by Martin Luther King Jr. and is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Your story won’t do shit to him,” said the staffer. “He’s untouchable.”
Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is the second most senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee after Conyers. This was his statement yesterday: "The allegations against Ranking Member Conyers are extremely serious and deeply troubling. Obviously, these allegations must be investigated promptly by the Ethics Committee. There can be no tolerance for behavior that subjects women to the kind of conduct alleged. We also must support efforts to reform the way the House of Representatives handles these matters to make the process easier and more supportive of victims, as well as more transparent."

I'll leave this post with a brief mention of the salience of "political correctness" in the societal explosion we're going through now. I borrowed it from an essay by Adam Serwer in The Atlantic: "Political correctness is a vague term, perhaps best defined by the conservative scholar Samuel Goldman. 'What Trump and others seem to mean by political correctness is an extremely dramatic and rapidly changing set of discursive and social laws that, virtually overnight, people are expected to understand, to which they are expected to adhere.' From a different vantage point, what Trump’s supporters refer to as political correctness is largely the result of marginalized communities gaining sufficient political power to project their prerogatives onto society at large. What a society finds offensive is not a function of fact or truth, but of power. It is why unpunished murders of black Americans by agents of the state draw less outrage than black football players’ kneeling for the National Anthem in protest against them. It is no coincidence that Trump himself frequently uses the term to belittle what he sees as unnecessary restrictions on state force."

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At 7:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a famous Capitol Hill story called the "Conyers Christmas Bonus," where his office was left with no money in the budget one year to meet the December payroll. I wonder why.

At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Michael Simmons said...

There are definitions of "politically correct" other than the one Trump and co. bandy about. Leftists who stifle speech they don't like also fall in that category. As a leftist -- and 1st Amendment absolutist -- I'm bothered by some of my brother and sister lefties who try and shut up ideas they find offensive. As the old saying goes, the 1st Amendment exists to protect speech we don't agree with, as well as the speech with which we concur.

At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Michael Simmons said...

There are definitions of "politically correct" other than the one Trump and co. bandy about. Leftists who stifle speech they don't like also fall in that category. As a leftist -- and 1st Amendment absolutist -- I'm bothered by some of my brother and sister lefties who try and shut up ideas they find offensive. As the old saying goes, the 1st Amendment exists to protect speech we don't agree with, as well as the speech with which we concur.

At 1:42 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

I'm with you on this one Howie Jackie & other congressional members must come out be bold & tell the world who did this to them otherwise there's no point to help their reelection campaigns.

At 4:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, the corruption that is the Democratic party has aided and abetted Republican crimes against the American people. The accusations against Al Franken and John Conyers has essentially eliminated media attention away from the harassment actions of Trump and Roy Moore, among others. There is no chance that FAUX or Breitbart or Alex Jones are going to return to covering the embarrassments that criminal Republicans represent as long as a single Democrat on the hot seat exists to distract. The people have repeatedly demonstrated that they believe the first negative headline about some one (especially a Democrat) regardless of any subsequent reporting.

As I have said several times on this site, the Democrats were going to fail in their quest to take the House and maybe the Senate. This scandal is sufficient to bring that about. Still not interested in a replacement party?

At 6:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I take it back. On another post I opined that conyers' wife might be worse than he is. I was wrong. She went to prison for graft. He's a complete fuckwad. perfect pairing.

We should have known about Clinton and conyers years ago.
Clinton formed the DLC in order to corrupt the entire democratic party. He succeeded in a year in turning the, admittedly troubled, party of FDR into pure feces in about a year. You think a douchebag like that would NOT be jumping on any and all willing trim he could find?
Conyers, admittedly on orders from Pelosi (who is probably worse than he is), refused to air Kucinich's articles of impeachment (cheney and AG Gonzalez) while chairman of the house judiciary committee. Any surprise a guy this corrupt is a fucking predator?

In cases like this, it is foolish to assume that even a new party would not have such problems, even though we absolutely need that new party. You give men power and privilege and you get those who abuse it just like this. The way to handle it is to punish and remove everyone who does it.

Of course, punish and remove haven't been done by voters or any kind of justice mechanism for decades. Which is why we now need an entirely new party.

What Clinton et al did in a year has not been fixable in the 35 years since, and won't be in an infinity of time going forward. Once having the sweet taste of money and power, the addictions cannot be overcome.


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