Thursday, June 23, 2016

Talking American Character on NHPR's The Exchange

Thanks to New Hampshire Public Radio for having me on their hour-long interview program, "The Exchange" yesterday morning. I talked with guest host Dean Spiliotes, political scientist at Southern New Hampshire University, about my new book, American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good. The audio is available here.

I've been a guest on "The Exchange" several times over the years, including talking about American Nations on New Hampshire primary day in 2012 and Lobster Coast, way back in 2004.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

How Cincinnati transformed the "nation's most dangerous neighborhood"

My latest installment for Politico's "What Works" series on successful urban innovations is on how Cincinnati, Ohio transformed Over-the-Rhine -- a neighborhood that in 2009 was declared the nation's most dangerous -- into perhaps the most happening and sought after place in the city, and did so in the proverbial blink of an eye.

The controversial bit, as you'll read, is that the city accomplished this by outsourcing the problem to the corporate community, which funded and govern a private non-profit tasked with executing the neighborhood's rescue. That they've succeeded in turning the neighborhood around is undeniable and an extremely impressive feat. But have they avoided simply gentrifying Over-the-Rhine? Long-time residents aren't so sure.

Don't miss Mark Peterson's brilliant photo essay from Over-the-Rhine as well.

Thanks to Cincinnati's ABC affiliate, WCPO, for featuring the story on their Friday news cast, and to NBC affiliate WLWT for plugging it earlier that morning.

This is my fourth "What Works" piece as a POLITICO Magazine contributing editor. The others were on how Des Moines went from dull to cool; how Manchester, New Hampshire turned its vast 19th century millyard to spinning high-tech gold; and how Denver built its game-changing light rail system, only to discover its most powerful effects were not what they'd expected.

Where am I off to next? Hint: lots of mothballed ships.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Speaking on the crisis in the oceans and Gulf of Maine, Wells, June 16

I'll be speaking about the crisis in the world's oceans and in the Gulf of Maine at the Wells National Esutuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine this coming Thursday, June 16.

The event, which kicks off at 6pm, is entitled "Ocean's End: the Crisis in the World's Oceans from Antarctica tothe Gulf of Maine" and keys off my global reporting on the oceans crisis, my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, and the recent Press Herald series "Mayday," which was a finalist for this year's Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting. The talk is part of the reserve's Ted Oxford Climate Stewards Lecture series.

The good news is the event is free and open to the public, with a suggested $5 donation. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Talking oceans on MPBN, liberal democracy on WERU

Earlier this week, in recognition of World Oceans Day, I joined Don Perkins of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Nichole Price of the Bigelow Laboratory to talk with MPBN's Keith Shortall about climate change and the Gulf of Maine on Maine public radio's hour-long interview program, "Maine Calling."

You can hear the full program here. I discuss some of the issues brought out in my six-part Portland Press Herald series "Mayday" -- which was a finalist for this year's Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting -- and my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas. Thanks to Perkins, Price, Shortall, the callers and MPBN for an engaging hour on an important topic.

On May 20, I joined University of Maine political scientist Amy Fried and Ann Luther of the state chapter of the League of Women Voters to kick around the issue of "government as the enemy" on WERU, Maine's fairly famous independent radio station out of Blue Hill. The role of government -- as both a tyrannical force and a guarantor of individual liberties -- is a central theme of my latest book, American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good. You can hear that discussion here.

I'll be doing public talks on both themes in the coming months. On June 16, I'll be talking about climate change, the Gulf of Maine, and the world oceans crisis at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine, part of their climate stewards lecture series. On Sept. 25, over on the other coast, I'll be talking American Character and American Nations at Portland, Oregon's First Congregational United Church. (More details on that to come.)

Monday, June 6, 2016

North Woods Lawless IV: a "sham" hearing

For those following the "North Woods Lawless" story, a belated update on last week's "hearing" by the Maine legislature's Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. For anyone who has read the story and its follow ups -- with multiple corroborating witnesses alleging a pattern of misconduct and even lawbreaking by undercover game warden Bill Livezey, the hearing was amazing to watch, a case study in how not to conduct a real inquiry.

Here's the Portland Press Herald editorial board's take yesterday, bluntly describing it as a sham. "Only handpicked witnesses were called to testify, and they presented only one side of the story," they noted, along with the fact there was no pubic comment, no adversarial questioning, and no asking of even the most obvious follow up, like "how do you know the allegations are untrue, since you have just said you will not investigate them?" In summary: "a legislative committee spent a few hours giving a government agency a chance to hide from public scrutiny."

To this may be added the fact that the proceedings -- led by Sen. Paul Davis of Sangerville -- completely ignored all the follow-up stories, in which the allegations against Livezey were echoed by witnesses to his operations in four other counties across the state, and by defense attorneys involved in a fresh case in Washington County. Are all of these people lying? Wouldn't legislators or Chief Warden Joel Wilkinson like to know? How would they if neither conducts an investigation? None of these questions were asked and, indeed, Davis announced at the end that he would not be pursuing further into the matter, even as Wilkinson declared he would not be investigating the accusations against Livezey.

Nor did anyone challenge Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock's extraordinary claim that the entire story was "fabricated," an assertion for which he offered no evidence at all. Note that he didn't say all the people interviewed from Allagash were lying, rather he asserted that the story itself had been invented. For this to be true I would have had to either invent people who do not exist or have invented what they said. Neither is, of course, the case, which is why he would have been unable to support his assertion, had anyone actually pressed him for such.

For those curious which lawmakers participated in this particular variety of legislative oversight, here's a list of the committee's members:

Senator Paul T. Davis, Sr. (R-Piscataquis), Chair
Senator Scott W. Cyrway (R-Kennebec)
Senator Susan Deschambault (D-York)
Representative Robert S. Duchesne (D-Hudson), Chair
Representative Roland Danny Martin (D-Sinclair)
Representative Stanley Byron Short, Jr. (D-Pittsfield)
Representative Robert W. Alley, Sr. (D-Beals)
Representative Dale J. Crafts (R-Lisbon)*
Representative Stephen J. Wood (R-Greene)
Representative Roger E. Reed (R-Carmel)
Representative Patrick W. Corey (R-Windham)
Representative Gary L. Hilliard (R-Belgrade)
Representative Peter A. Lyford (R-Eddington)
Representative Matthew Dana II (Passamaquoddy Tribe)

[Update, 6/9/16: Rep. Jeffery Evangelos blasts his legislative colleagues for the conduct of the hearing in this OpEd.]

[Update, 6/10/16: Kennebec Journal columnist Douglas Rooks also blasts the hearing, suggests wardens shouldn't have undercover ops at all. The column is syndicated in the Times-Record, Portsmouth Herald and other papers.]

[Update, 6/15/16: A legislator and former aide to the U.S. House's judiciary committee writes this OpEd arguing that the warden service's undercover operations require real oversight.]

[Update, 6/17/16: While the speaker of the Maine House called on them to hold a hearing, the legislature's Right to Know advisory committee will not be taking up the Warden Service's handling of our public records request, at least not in their next meeting.]

[Update, 6/22/16: Former Sportsmen's Alliance of Maine head George Smith has again called for changes at the warden service in his latest Kennebec Journal / Morning Sentinel column.]

[Update, 6/23/16: At their monthly meeting, the Right to Know committee has voted unanimously to hold a hearing on the warden's handling of our public records request on July 20.]

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

North Woods Lawless III: undercover warden accused of improprities in seven counties

Tomorrow, the Maine legislature's Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee is holding hearings on the accusations in "North Woods Lawless", the May 8 Maine Sunday Telegram investigation I wrote on a controversial Maine Warden Service undercover operation and dramatic raid in the remote northern Maine town of Allagash.

But in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I have this follow up story in which seven witnesses and two defense attorneys come forward with allegations of similar behavior in four more operations led by the same undercover warden, Bill Livezey, who conducted the Allagash operation. This is in addition to the events in Fryeburg a decade ago in which Livezey's conduct was parsed by a judge and in York County more recently, the subject of this story published May 13 by my Press Herald colleague Scott Dolan (with an assist from yours truly.)

That's a total of seven operations based in seven Maine counties (and the state of Pennsylavnia) in which Livezey is accused of similar misconduct.

You won't hear from critics at tomorrow's hearing; the legislators are calling only three witnesses: the chief warden, the warden's boss (the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner), and the person at the attorney general's office who is tasked with assisting in public records requests, Brenda Kielty, who features in a related controversy over the wardens' flouting of public records law during our reporting of this story. (On this, don't miss the entire Kafka-esque email chain, posted here.)

For more background on all of this, see my previous post, "North Woods Lawless II," encapsulating the complex events from May 8 to May 19. There's also this landing page for "North Woods Lawless" at the Press Herald.

[Update, 6/6/16: The hearing was, in the words of the Press Herald editorial board, a "sham."]

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News reviews American Character

I was in Kentucky briefly earlier this week, signing some copies of American Character at Newport's Barnes & Noble en route to CVG, so it seems appropriate that the Bowling Green Daily News just reviewed said book, and glowingly so.

Thanks to Western Kentucky University's Aaron Hughey for the kind words. "“American Character” is an eye-opening critique and analysis that should be read by anyone interested in the future direction of our republic," he concludes. "I recommend it highly."

For those in Ohio, there are now signed copies of this and other titles at The Booksellers on Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati and at the B&N in Columbus's Polaris Mall.