Oh, c’mon now—

State Auditor Tom Schweich said on election night a couple of weeks ago that he wants to talk with friends and family before announcing that he’s running for Governor in 2016. Well, that’s not quite correct. He’s going to hold these talks before he announces WHETHER he’s running for Governor.

How many people in the audience when he claimed almost-unopposed victory in his re-election campaign believed that he hadn’t made up his mind yet? Probably about eight people sitting at a table in a distant back corner of the room who haven’t been paying much attention for the last, say, year or so.

Tom Schweich IS running for Governor. He hasn’t been raising the scads of money he has raised in this campaign because he was living in mortal fear that a Libertarian or a Constitution Party candidate was going to run away with the results. He hasn’t been traveling throughout the state (the political speech-making nit-picker notes that he said he’d been traveling “around” the state, which means he’s been traveling to our eight neighbors to make campaign speeches) because he wants to fill his state parks passport with stamps. He hasn’t been making well-greeted speeches at political events because he likes to each chicken and broccoli far more often than most people can stand.

Tom Schweich is running for Governor.

Do not underestimate this man, especially if you are one of the other potential candidates for the office in 2016. Tom Schweich is not a commanding figure physically. He looks a little geeky. He’s an AUDITOR for crying out loud. Auditor and Treasurer are not top echelon power positions that grab big-time headlines because of proclamations, probes, and prosecutions as Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General are. Auditor and Treasurer do rank ahead of Lieutenant Governor because they have constitutional responsibilities that are more important than presiding over the state senate, which is the big responsibility of the Lieutenant Governor, a position that has been occupied by men for the last forty years or so who have looked for things to do–and have convinced the legislature to make up some duties for them.

A lot of folks have underestimated Tom Schweich and then they have heard him speak.

“Damn!” they probably say, “This guy is pretty good!”  And when they get closer, they see a guy who’s pretty intense and smart.

He fired his first barrage as a candidate for Governor at his victory party on election night. This wasn’t an auditor thanking family and friends for their work. This was a candidate already on the attack. He didn’t mention names but there was no doubt he was talking about Nixon when he blasted those in leadership positions who “fly all around the state on expensive planes for photo ops” but “don’t make the tough decisions they need to make.” And is there any doubt he shifted his sights to former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway when he talked about “candidates who seem almost completely bought and paid for by one donor,” referring to the fact that almost all of Hanawa’s donations so far have come from Rex Sinquefield and she’s already come out in favor of at least one of Sinquefield’s favorite subjects–tax reform, including elimination of the income tax.

And he’s already looking past the August, 2016 primary. He also attacked Attorney General Chris Koster, the target of a New York Times article that has suggested he has gone easy on corporations that have given him campaign money (For the record, Koster has issued a reply to the allegations saying he thinks the contributions are on the up-and-up). Koster is considered by a lot of observers as the potential Democratic nominuee for Governor in ’16.

Schweich has talked about special interests “that have completely corrupted” state government. And he wasn’t bashful about tearing into Sinquefield, whose army of lobbyists and other agents “manipulate politicians like pawns on a chess board.”

Sure doesn’t sound like somebody who needs to have “the talk” with his family and friends before he announces that he’s running for Governor, does it?

State Auditors do not make speeches such as the one he gave on election night because they’re looking forward to another four years in an important but non-glamorous office.

Listen (or watch on YouTube) to Schweich’s speech and see if YOU think he hasn’t made up his mind.

Don’t read this as any kind of an endorsement of Mr. Schweich.  As we look through the foggy lens into the future, we see a tremendous campaign coming.  Of course, before it’s finished it will degenerate into cheap-shot allegations and innuendoes that will overshadow the competition of ideas.  But for now, let’s just live with the anticipation of a lively campaign.  There’s time later to dread what it will become.

But Tom Schweich is going to be in it.  .



Arrested, then shot–IV

Your Missourinet Naval Affairs Correspondent here again.
The visit on the USS Theodore Roosevelt obviously made a big impression on all of us. There are a few observations we want to share with you about life in this floating city before we resume the nasty business of examining Missouri politics.
The deck was quiet the morning after the night launches. We were allowed to roam pretty freely, spending a lot of our time talking to a lot of the folks who otherwise would be directing traffic coming in and flying off.
The ship was practicing with its accompanying destroyers the straight line sailing that would be used when the convoy went through, for example, the Straits of Hormuz.

Had any of us gone down the numerous ladders we went up and down during this trip sooner than we expected, we might have wound up in the ship’s hospital. Living conditions on ships are pretty basic and utilitarian and hospital care is no different. Our guide, Captain Stephen Paulette, is the ship’s oral surgeon and chief dental officer, which is why his shirt proclaims him a “Jawdoc.”

He had been in the Reserves but got tired of being called up so often, interrupting his life and his practice, that he decided just to join the regular Navy. And he says he’s having a great time.
People head to the medical section of the ship for all of the usual problems that get landlubbers into doctors’ offices and the ship is ready for just about anything, even births. Really, really, really serious stuff involves flying the ailing person to a land-based hospital.

  The operating room might not be as impressive as operating rooms at our local hospitals but luxuries found in stateside hospitals that are not really functional and basic aren’t to be found aboard ship. If it’s not utilitarian, it’s not necessary. So don’t expect to find nicely-carpeted and soothingly-lighted waiting rooms on an aircraft carrier. The care is excellent. Just don’t expect frills.
Lunch and a final visit with Captain Grieco in his office wrapped things up for us.

He told us the story of the night President Roosevelt slipped away from his security detail, paddled a boat across to a Navy base, and went for a submarine ride, becoming the first President to go under in a submarine. His security people were not pleased when he returned.
The carrier has a small museum of TR memorabilia, including a big stick that somebody gave him—he was given a lot of big sticks.

 Roosevelt, incidentally, is the first President to also fly. He was campaigning in for Missouri Republicans in 1910 when Arch Hoxsey took him up in a Wright biplane in St. Louis. The Library of Congress has a video of that day.

At the end, as Roosevelt is getting off of Hoxsey’s airplane, you’ll see Missouri’ Governor Herbert Hadley briefly. Hadley was Roosevelt’s floor manager at the 1912 Republican Convention where Roosevelt’s challenge to the re-nomination of William Howard Taft was rebuffed, leading him to call for a new Progressive Party for disenchanted Republicans that became known as the “Bull Moose” Party.

And that leads us to the big display case on the hangar deck with a moose head in it. We were told it’s a trophy moose President Roosevelt shot. But, we were told, more impressive antlers from a different moose were grafted onto it. The moose also is a symbol for the Bull Moose Party as well as being the ship’s mascot. .
The hangar deck is a fascinating place.

Be careful, we were told, as we walked through the dozens of planes there. Some of these wing edges are sharp. Some, in fact, were covered with bubble wrap. All of these planes were sitting quietly, waiting for the time they’d be rolled to the massive elevator and lifted to the deck to run hot and fast. But even as they sat, there was a quiet sense of power and concentrated purpose, lethal tools waiting for a job that might have to be done.
We stopped too briefly on the elevator–well away from the edge—and watched the grey Atlantic move past us.

We know it wasn’t moving past us. We know we were moving through the water. But you understand the sensation. Someone who lives along the Missouri River and understands its power could not help but be moved by the view from the elevator for that couple of minutes. And music came to mind. “The Song of the High Seas” from the legendary 1954 television documentary, “Victory at Sea.”
But we had to move on. To the engine shop. Engines for helicopters, for CODs, and–of course–for F-18s. A fighter jet has an engine problem. Easy to replace that engine. There’s one ready to go, right now.
 Open a door, wheel it out onto the deck, open up the belly of the F-18, undo just three bolts and drop the bad engine into a repair rack and take it to the shop for repairs while the new engine is bolted into place and within about three hours that plane is ready for launch again. This, folks, is a REAL jiffy-lube operation.
Another thing about life on the Roosevelt. Money. The crew doesn’t have any. One might imagine the problems that can arise in an enclosed community if money and cards start playing together. Crew members have debit cards. But we met one of the people who knows where the money is. And sometimes she has a lot of it. She’s a lady with a million-dollar smile.
 Meet Chea Hill-Hernandez, who is a Supply Officer/Disbursing Officer. She’s from Cape Girardeau. When the Roosevelt docks in a foreign port, she opens the safe, sticks a million dollars in a backpack and trots off to pay the port fees. “Trots off” is not exactly right. She does have armed escorts. We’ll do a story about her on our regular Missourinet page one of these days.
Before we wrap up, we want to tell you about one other TR item that is a point of pride on the ship. It’s on the wall of Captain Greico’s office. It’s a letter that Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Navy Secretary John D. Long on March 25, 1898, more than five years before the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight in North Carolina. Roosevelt had just seen some pictures of “Professor Langley’s flying machine,” referring to Samuel Langley’s efforts to build a manned flying machine. He could get his models to fly but the full-scale versions failed. Perhaps Roosevelt was intrigued by the fact that Langley’s models flew after being catapulted from a boat on the Potomac River.
“It seems to me worth while [sic] for this government to try whether it will not work on a large enough scale to be of use in the event of war. For this purpose I recommend that you appoint two officers of scientific attainments and practical ability, who in conjunction with two officers appointed by the Secretary of War,. shall meet and examine into this flying machine….”

We had been living in a world unimaginably beyond anything Roosevelt, Langley, and Long could have imagined.  We had just missed witnessing tests of a technology that is the next thing in Naval Aviation.  It would have been great to watch the X-47B take off and land.

It’s a drone.  About three weeks before we dropped in on the Roosevelt the X-47B made test flights off its deck.  On August 17, An F-18 Super Hornet took off and the X-47B went right behind it.  They flew around for about ten minutes before the X-47B did a touch-and-go. After several more minutes of flying the drone landed, snagged the wire, folded its wings and was taxied to the side so the Super Hornet could land. The thing even made night launches and landings and the Roosevelt folks told us it came down within three feet of where it was supposed to land every time.
It was early afternoon when our group donned its life vests and cranials and climbed back into a flying machine that then steered its way to a catapult. Again we were seated facing the rear of the Greyhound. again we were strapped into our seats with a four-point harness. Again we knew something was about to happen.
And then BANG!! We were pitched forward, against our seat harnesses and by the time the brain registered that we were being shot off the bow of the carrier, just as the F-18s we had been watching was shot off the bow. By the time the mind absorbed what had just happened, there was the sensation of flight. It’s that fast. 0-120 knots. I turned to my seat mate, and we high-fived with smiles on our faces. What an adventure!
I flew home the next day. I wonder if any of the American Airlines passengers with me knew why I was quietly smiling when our plane lifted gently into the air from Norfolk and settled gently on the long runway at Lambert-St. Louis Airport several hours later.

(There’s a side story to this adventure that we’ll recount later about how a Missourian who’s been dead for more than half a century and a company in Sedalia saved our lives during this visit to the USS Roosevelt. But it’s time to talk about other issues for a while.)


Arrested, then shot–III

For the last month or so, this scribe has trying to imagine fighter jets landing in the pasture of the five-acre Illinois farm where he grew up, the tail hooks catching mom’s garden fence, stopping the planes before they nosed into the neighbor’s kitchen.  And I’ve tried to envision that same plane taking off from that same pasture, climbing out over the surrounding fields of deep green corn or soybeans.

Deduct our house and mom’s garden from those five acres and there would be an area the size of the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt.                                 Looks pretty big, doesn’t it?   The flight deck is more than twice as long as the Missouri Capitol.  But as we watched F-18s land and take off and move around on that 4.5 acre deck, we watched some amazing things happening in a space that turned out to be pretty small. And to see those things happening on a cloudy, starless night, well, that is something to see, indeed.

We started on the back side of Vulture’s Row, the top observation area to the left side of the island.  That’s the windowless deck just under the radar domes that you see here from the front.                                island

We were watching small flashing red lights off to our left, aft of the ship.  There was little sense of motion as we watched that light.  But the video shows we were, in fact, moving.  The deck below was so dimly lighted that our cell phone camera didn’t show the light.  Our escorts had ordered us to turn off any flashes in our cameras and our cell phones.  The movement in the video, while not entirely an accurate portrayal of what is happening with the carrier, is a reminder that people flying these planes are skilled beyond our imaginations.

It’s dark. It’s noisy. The dimly lighted carrier deck is in motion.  Somewhere out there is a pilot who will, in effect, put a piece of thread travelling 140 mph through the eye of a needle moving in the opposite direction, pitching and yawing with the movement of the ocean.

We’re watching a red light become three lights.  And suddenly there is an F-18 on the deck below us.  Good God!

Our shepherds led us forward along a pitch-black gangway to watch the night launches. Blind as a bat (actually worse because bats have some kind of animal radar), I used the dim light from my cell phone screen to see what was ahead of my feet and was firmly admonished to turn the thing off.  Not even that much light was allowed.  That’s how serious this night landing business is.

From the front of Vulture’s Row we watched a new and fascinating F-18 Ballet.   Flashlights of varying colors replaced people in different-colored shirts.  In a climate too noisy for voices to be heard and too dark for hand signals to be relied upon, flashlights become critical communications devices, directing the movement of planes from landing areas to ready areas to the catapults and then to the order to launch.  A sudden, long streak of flame.  And the F-18 that abruptly appeared below us on landing has disappeared into the dark off the carrier’s bow, leaving behind the flashlights directing the next ballet movement.

The full appreciation of what we witnessed that night from Vultures Row took time to settle in. Absolute precision.  Totally disciplined actions.  Everybody had the most important job on the ship.   It is a magnificent thing to see. And to know that so much of that heavy responsibility is being carried out by some people who are at least a couple of years away from attending their high school class five-year reunion is nothing short of astounding.                                         DSCN0269 Their focus, their commitment, their belief in the essential nature of their jobs is—–

Well, a few days ago were interviewing a state legislator who has been in the middle of the Ferguson disturbances as she talked about young people who are “rootless.”

The young people she was talking about on the streets of Ferguson and the young people of the same age on the flight deck of the Roosevelt are worlds apart.

We saw a lot of breath-taking things on this trip. But the most impressive thing we saw, when all was said and done, was the people we met, talked to, and watched, most of them young and purposeful.   It was an honor whenever some  of the members our group got to stand with them on their flight deck..                                          DSCN0229 Our quarters for the night were on DV Row, a series of two-person staterooms that included a couple of small desks, locker space, bunk beds, and some shelves. The room numbers described where the rooms were located but if you had put us in the other end of the ship and told us to find our rooms we probably would have been trying to figure out the code for most of a day.                               DSCN0189DSCN0190 They had a “DV Row” symbol on the floor, which was a good thing because without it, we found it easy to get lost in the carrier catacombs going to and from the head,  the bathroom. Do not ask an embarrassing question about the details of  how the essential nature of that symbol was discovered.                                   DSCN0188

About the only things in our stateroom that were not steel were the mattresses and the pillows.  I have wondered what percentage of the wood on the Roosevelt is in the Captain’s office and in the Executive Officers office.  The reason just about everything is steel is simple.  Wood burns a lot more easily than steel.

Sleep did not come easy that night for roommate Greg Willard and me, in large part because we were pretty wound up from from the day’s activities culminating in the excitement of watching the night takeoffs and landings.  The fact that our rooms were about two decks below a catapult certainly delayed slipping into the arms of Morpheus, as it were.  The launches stopped at about 1 a.m. and we were quickly sound asleep. For five hours.  The ship public address system jump-started the next day for us at 6 a.m..

Crew members say they’ve gotten used to the noise that is part of life on an aircraft carrier most of the time.  We were never buried so deeply in the lower decks that we didn’t hear or feel what was going on up top.  But we’ve camped beside fast-moving streams, lived next to busy highways,  and spent a night in a motel next to the Union Pacific main line in Nebraska.  Eventually, we know, human systems adapt.

It might take a little (a lot?) longer to adapt to F-18s being shot off the bow of an aircraft carrier right over your head, though, than it takes to adapt to a Great Smokey Mountains stream flowing past a campground.

(We’ll get shot in the concluding episode.)