I frequently give Claire McCaskill a hard time, and at the moment I am ripping into her, I mean it intensely. I have told her that she should consider this “cover from the left” and to keep doing exactly what she is doing, because truth be told, I couldn’t even pass my own purity test, and I sure don’t have the patience to deal with Mitch McConnell and a bunch of rabble like me giving her hell over what actually amounts to just one tiny little morsel of what is on her plate. It’s a hell of a lot easier being me than it is being Claire McCaskill, that’s for damned sure.
When I came to Kansas City in the 90s so my kids could have a single, shared high school experience, Claire McCaskill was the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney. I slept soundly at night because when Claire’s office locked up a dangerous thug, they stayed locked up. Prosecutions were tight and by the book (they still are, we don’t let republicans screw things up in KCMO and Jackson County) and there has never been a scandal in our prosecutors office involving faked evidence of cheating to achieve “convictions, no matter what.”
I started thinking about “Senator” McCaskill the minute the polls closed in 2004 and she lost the Governor’s Mansion by an eyelash after John Kerry pulled out of the state with three weeks to go, killing a lot of down-ticket candidtates on the way out. Claire was one of them.
In March 2005, in one of the very first posts I wrote, I was speculating about a Senator Claire McCaskill, before she had even made that first trip to DC to meet with party officials who had decided she could be the best chance we had of taking Harry Truman’s old seat back for the Democrats. But that isn’t why I am dredging up a five-year-old post this morning. I am excerpting it because of the last sentence:
Jim Talent of Missouri faces a tough fight to keep his seat. The freshman senator faces an angry electorate. After turning Red in 2004, Missourians are waking up the morning after and feeling used and duped. This seat can almost certainly be won by a Democrat. Right now it looks like he may face Jeanne Carnahan again, the widow who assumed her husbands seat when he died in a plane crash right before defeating John Ashcroft. Jeanne then lost a special election in 2002 to Talent for the right to serve the remainder of the term. But don’t rule out Clair McCaskill, a tough prosecuter from Kansas City, she ran for state-wide office as auditor, won, and did a stellar job. She lost a squeaker for the Governors Mansion to Matt “The Boy Blunder” Blunt. She may bide her time and wait for the next governors race, but she is a name and a face that Missourian’s know and trust, and she has a record to run on. A McCaskill/Talent race is one I would almost pay to watch, and should she run and win, she should reprise the Truman Committee. We have shitloads of trouble with procurement, but that is nothing compared with the trouble heading down the pike with mercenaries. Excuse me…Contractors. They are a genuine problem, and her skills as both a prosecutor and auditor are sorely needed.
As we all know, she ran, and she won. And her tenure in the Senate so far makes me look really damned prescient.
With her election, Democrats took control of the Senate in January 2007, and I started jumping up and down and yelling for a reprise of the Truman Committee.
The Truman Committee was created by unanimous Senate decree on 01 March 1941. Over the next three years, with Senator Truman at the helm, the committee held hundreds of hearings, traveled thousands of miles to conduct field inspections, and saved millions of dollars in cost over-runs. Senator Truman was not shy about threatening executives with prison time as he whacked greedy corporate snouts out of the public trough. It was through his chairmanship of the Truman Committee that Harry S Truman shed his image as a bagman for the Pendergast political/criminal machine that ran Kansas City and Missouri politics for decades, and set his course for the White House. (For those who are unfamiliar with Big Tom Pendergast…He out-Tammanied Tammany Hall.)
Now we face the need for another Truman Committee to investigate contractor abuses once more.
On Wednesday, 17 January, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness heard testimony from Thomas F. Gimble, the acting Inspector General (IG) for the Pentagon, and Katherine V. Schinasi, the Managing Director of Acquisitions and Resource management for the Government Accountability Office (GAO). (Links to opening statements are in .pdf format.) Full transcripts are not yet available, but the opening statements of these two career civil servants are disturbing enough.
Mr. Gimble, the IG for the Pentagon testified that the problems he uncovered were widespread and pervasive, and they ranged from rushing purchases to use funds that were about to expire without doing the appropriate market research and cost analysis; to DoD personnel without security clearances authorizing contracts for classified work. Office space was leased for the Counterintelligence Field Activity by using a service contract instead of following required procedures through GSA. Using service contracts constitutes an “end run” around regulation and if not curtailed, will effectively eliminate oversight.
Things haven’t gotten better in the last three years, but I shudder to think where we would be right now if Claire McCaskill hadn’t been on the job during that time, living up to the legacy she inherited when she came from the same place Harry did to take his seat. Like Truman before her, Claire was given a seat on the Armed Services Committee, and soon started doing what I worked my ass off to get her elected to do.
She has been relentless in her time as a Senator going after Contractors, starting with the subcommittee she now chairs that she and I discussed during a Kitchen Table Talk at Penn Valley Community College in 2008, when it was still a concept. (transcript below the fold)
Yesterday, she held another meeting of that subcommittee, and lets just say that she was her usual bulldog self, coming at the rapacious and incompetent jerks with all the ferocity of the prosecutor who defended her community from the crimes of thieves and murderers so ably; and they ought to be quaking about now because she is showing no signs of getting distracted by a shiny object and letting this go.
What has her – and me – righteously exercised right now?
For several years, Afghan police recruits under the tutelage of private U.S. government contractors couldn’t understand why their marksmanship never improved.
The answer became clear earlier this year. Italian contractors also helping to train Afghan volunteers showed them that the sights on their AK-47s and M-16s had never been adjusted.
“We’re paying somebody to teach these people to shoot these weapons, and nobody ever bothered to check their sights?” Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said, after relating that story at a hearing Thursday.
To McCaskill, who chaired the hearing of the Senate Contracting Oversight panel, it illustrated why the U.S. has spent more than $6 billion on private contractors, but the police-training program remains rife with problems.
“It is an unbelievable, incompetent story of contracts,” she said. “For eight years we have been supposed training the police in Afghanistan. We’ve flushed $6 billion.”
Watch the whole thing:
(Second video after the jump)
Here is the brutal truth…when your country uses mercenaries, your country is on the downward slide. Mercenaries are not loyal to the nation nor the flag nor the Constitution nor the Honor Code nor the chain of command nor the Geneva Conventions. Sometimes they are completely devoid of any legal responsibility whatsoever, and their loyalty is to dollars.
Where it is in a national military’s best interest to bring operations to a close and go home to recruit, regroup and retrain, it is in the best interest of the mercenary to keep operations going as long as possible because if the operations cease, so do their paychecks.
I object to every penny of American taxpayer money that has gone to these bastards. They are all former military and special forces? They know god-damned good and well that you need to adjust the damned sights. I have known that since high school ROTC. Hell, the day before deer season opened when I was ten, my dad and I sighted the rifles we would take the next morning when I went deer huinting the first time.
This was not incompetence. This was willful and deliberate fraud. And it cost lives.
We need criminal prosecutions of some of these bastards, and since they are not living up to their contracts, they sould be subject to clawbacks.
Thank you, Senator McCaskill, for staying on this.
Show Me Progress: I’m that blogger [Blue Girl] she took a shot at, by the way. [audience laughter]
Claire McCaskill: Oh, I didn’t see your computer, honestly. I always assume there are bloggers – [crosstalk]
SMP: I read, I read white papers so other people don’t have to…
Claire McCaskill: There you go. Good for you.
SMP:…and one of them I read was the IG Report…[crosstalk]
Claire McCaskill: Let is know what the blog site is so everybody knows.
SMP: Oh, oh, Show Me Progress.
Claire McCaskill: Show Me Progress, this is Show Me Progress, guys. [applause][inaudible]
SMP: And also ‘They gave us a republic and we intend to keep it’, but that’s, that’s my personal blog. I read the IG Report put out by Stuart Bowen, all five hundred and thirteen pages of it.
Claire McCaskill: Good for you.
SMP: Yeah, my blood pressure’s still through the roof.
Claire McCaskill: Oh, it’s unbelievable.
SMP: I know that you and Jim Webb have been agitating for a reprise of the Truman Committee. In light of this report, do you think we might get something done there and maybe claw back some of that money?
Claire McCaskill: We actually have got something done there. [voice: “Good”.] Our bill passed in the defense authorization last year. The contracting commission has been appointed. It is a bipartisan commission. They are in the process of staffing up. Jim and I have been very active, in fact, I met with one of the commissioners about four weeks ago and talked about some of the staff challenges they’re having and you’re going to see another huge report coming out that is gonna to do even more in terms of a big hearing we’ll have in probably January as it relates to some of the contracting issues. The clawing back part, is going to be harder because of what the defense department has done. And, you know, the clawing back part makes me sick, but what will make me even more sick is if we don’t get this fixed. [voice: “Yeah.”] And believe me, I am boring, how focused I am on this. I mean, my office is sick of me just when we talk about contracting. But, in fact, I’m trying to get a subcommittee created just on government contracting because I think it’s so important.
SMP: I’ll volunteer to be an intern.
P.S….That offer still stands.