Monday, May 2, 2016

In Europe, talking US politics

I spent much of this past week in Europe, engaged in a whirlwind cultural exchange speaking tour to help explain U.S. politics and 2016 election dynamics to (often perplexed, frequently worried) Europeans. The tour, sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, had me and co-presenter Sewell Chan of the New York Times speaking at five events in three countries over three days, plus a few equally engaging dinners.

Arriving in Brussels -- where the airport departure hall and parts of the metro system were still closed on account of the recent terrorist attacks -- we kicked things off at the European Parliament, at a well attended talk sponsored by EU40 -- an organization of young members of parliament -- and the U.S. Mission to the European Union. Victor Negrescu, MEP from Romania, acted as our formal host, but the audience was a mix of diplomats, parliamentary staff, businesspeople, American expatriates, and European officials. Here and elsewhere, I kicked things off with a five-minute lesson on the Balkanized nature of the U.S., a country comprised -- as per American Nations -- of rival regional cultures, most of which date back to the colonial period.

The most frequent questions here and throughout our tour were about Donald Trump, who most West Europeans find horrifying and who their American counterparts had previously (and incorrectly)
assured them would drop out of the Republican nomination contest early. Would Republicans try to stop him at the convention? (I suspect not, as their runner-up would likely also lose the general election, meaning they'd be damaging their coalition without a clear pay-off.) Are Americans ready for social democracy on account of Sanders? (The younger generation in three or four of our regions may be, but they will likely have to settle for something more akin to New Deal national liberalism on account of the libertarian-minded nations: Deep South, Greater Appalachia, and Far West.)

Later that first afternoon we presented and took questions from another full house at the German Marshall Fund's Brussels office, and the following morning -- traveling to France by train -- at their Paris office in St. Germain. I had a couple of hours free to roam the Seine, including the neighborhood where my wife and I stayed last I was here, in those glorious-if-less-consequential days before the kids. Won't be too long before they're old enough to make the trip.

That second evening we flew on to Belgrade via Air Serbia, a three-year old successor to JAT which serves a pretty decent late night dinner. Although I spent most of the 1990s in neighboring Hungary, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, I'd never visited Belgrade, first on account of the war and, later, because as successor to David Rohde at the Christian Science Monitor -- a fellow Mainer who won a Pulitzer for finding (and being arrested on) the Srebrenica mass grave sites -- Serbia wouldn't issue me a visa. I was just there one full day, but it was personally meaningful to be there, especially in a context where I could talk about the challenges to sustaining a liberal democracy (the topic of my new book, American Character.) There are a lot of souvenir merchants
selling Putin paraphinalia -- and even a few with t-shirts celebrating the mass murderer Ratko Mladic -- but there are also clearly a lot of people fighting for change, for integration with Europe (and, thus, weaker ties with authoritarian Russia), and a refutation of the Milosevic era.

As far as speaking venues go, its hard to beat Belgrade's Aeroklub, in a mansion that once belonged to the Serbian monarchy, with art deco details and frescos on the ceilings. There, hosted by the GMF's Balkan Trust for Democracy and moderated by GMF's vice president, Ivan Vojvoda, we fielded questions from Serbian journalists and civil society representatives.  No surprise that they instantly got the American Nations paradigm -- it was my time in the Balkans that helped me see the fissures at home, so it felt poignant to be bringing it back, full circle. That evening we gave a talk at the University of Belgrade's Faculty of Political Science, which has a Center for American Studies.

Thanks to all of our hosts -- and to my excellent co-presenter Sewell Chan -- for a delightful and informative trip. I look forward to seeing many of you in future.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Washington Post review of American Character

In this past week's Sunday Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Oshinsky gives a lengthy if qualified review of my new book, American Character, along with measured praise for its "quirky" predecessor, American Nations.

Oshinsky, a professor at New York University, doesn't think the two should have crossed paths in the new book which, of course, I think misses the key point of the American experience, its regional nature. I could go on, and will if Oshinsky visits, but suffice to say he hasn't read the first book, or he'd know the answer to the question he poses at the end: how his state wound up divided between three regional cultures.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Talking American Character with WLRN and KUER's "Radio West"

This week I was fortunate to have been the guest on two excellent public radio interview programs, talking about my new book, American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good.

On Monday, I joined South Florida's public radio powerhouse, WLRN, and "Topical Currents" host Joseph Cooper for an enjoyable conversation and call-in. That segment is available here.

Wednesday, I was the guest on "Radio West," Doug Fabrizio's excellent interview program out of KUER in Salt Lake City. Fabrizio reads the books front to back and thinks about them, which really shows in a format like this, as we got talking about aspects of the book I think are really important and interesting, but which haven't surfaced in the thirty some-odd interviews I've done to date. The interview is up online here.

I was previously on "Radio West" in 2014, talking about the golden age pirates.

Thanks to both programs for having me on, and also to Portland, Maine's The Studio for hosting the remote hook-ups for both shows on my end.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Speaking on the US election at the European Parliament, Apr. 25

I'm pleased to be joining Sewell Chan, London-based International Editor of the New York Times, for a series of discussions on the U.S. election and political situation next week in Europe, where I gather our political contest is being watched closely and perhaps with a bit of trepidation.

Our events -- five in three days in Brussels, Paris, and Belgrade -- are primarily hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, as part of its longstanding mission of promoting Trans-Atlantic understanding. Most of these, as I understand it, are invitation only, but one exception, if you're willing to jump through some administrative and security hoops, is our discussion at the European Parliament in Brussels this coming Monday, April 25.

This particular event, convened by the U.S. Mission to the European Union and EU40, a group of young members of the European Parliament, takes place from 14:30 to 16:00. (RSVPs are mandatory.) It will be hosted by Victor Negrescu, MEP from Romania, and moderated by Michael DeTar of the U.S. Mission.

Thanks in advance to GMF, EU40, and the U.S. Mission for having us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Pulitzer Prize Finalist

I was surprised, honored, and elated to learn that a series I wrote for the Portland Press Herald was named a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

The six part series, "Mayday," was about climate change and the Gulf of Maine and appeared in the paper in late October, with the brilliant photographic work of my Press Herald colleague Greg Rec. Here's the paper's own write up.

The prize, also announced at 3pm Eastern yesterday, went to T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Ken Armstrong of the Marshall Project for a series on police failures in investigating rape. The other finalists were a reporting team from the Wall Street Journal who exposed how pharmaceutic companies relentlessly raise drug prices.

I'm especially pleased that this recognition came for a series on the oceans and climate, a beat I covered relentlessly in the 1990s and early aughts while a foreign correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Chronicle of Higher Education. My first two books -- Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas and The Lobster Coast -- were fully and partially about these issues respectively, one with chapters from Antarctica, Belize, the Marshall Islands, Black Sea and beyond, the other focusing on the Gulf of Maine. I came away from it feeling like readers just weren't that interested, so having "Mayday" honored is especially meaningful.

Thanks to all my colleagues at the Press Herald, the second smallest daily newspaper honored in yesterday's announcements, and especially to my editors there, Cliff Schechtman and Steve Greenlee, designers Brian Robitaille and Karen Beaudoin, cartographer Michael Fisher, and the previously mentioned Greg Rec, photographer extraordinaire. (It's not easy being a small regional paper these days, but we're been doing something right.) And thank you to the Pulitzer judges for this tremendous honor.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Talking oceans, climate change with PBS' White House Chronicle

Llewellyn King, host of the public television series "White House Chronicle" was kind enough to pay me a visit at the Portland Press Herald newsroom to film an interview on the crisis in the world's oceans, climate change in the Gulf of Maine, and my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas.

The segment has been airing this week on 200 public and community television stations across the country -- including WETA in Washington, DC and Rhode Island Public Television -- as well as Voice of America and Sirius XM radio's POTUS channel. It's also now available for online viewing.

For those interested in learning more about how climate change is effecting the Gulf of Maine, the six-part Portland Press Herald series we discuss in the segment -- "Mayday" -- can be read from here. On the oceans crisis more broadly, there's Ocean's End and my subsequent reporting from places like Greenland, the Adriatic, and Iceland.

While in Maine, King also interviewed me for a segment on American Nations, my book on North American regionalism, which aired last month.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Talking American Character with Iowa Public Radio

I had the pleasure of returning to Iowa Public Radio's hour-long interview program, River to River, on Thursday, talking about how to balance individual liberty and the maintaincence of a free society in the American context. It's the subject of my new book, American Character, and the answer often eludes us because we're a balkanized country, as per my previous work, American Nations.

In any case, the interview is now up online. There's even a brief plug by host Ben Kiefer for my recent Politico Magazine piece on how Des Moines transformed itself.

Later this month, I'll be speaking with south Florida and Greater Utah public radio stations about the same.