I'll be writing a bunch about urban innovations in U.S. cities for Politico this year as I help spearhead their What Works series. My first effort -- on how Des Moines, Iowa transformed itself from dull to cool -- posted Friday. Short answer: it took a generation, a lot of cooperation and a long-term vision, and the execution was more akin to setting up the conditions for a chemical reaction than working one's way through a checklist.
Whats next month's installment? Hint: it's Manchester, New Hampshire. (Yes, there's a certain geographic pattern to be detected here.)
Oddly enough, my last piece for Politico was also from Iowa, on what makes that state tick. It's something of a companion piece to the Des Moines article, as it explains the Midland ethos (as per American Nations) that's at the root of the Iowa advantage: an almost uncanny ability to cooperate, undercutting the need for strong government steering.
Ever since presidential hopeful Ted Cruz (R-Deep South) accused his fellow demagogue, Donald Trump of having "New York Values", the internet has plunged into a discussion of what constitutes such values and whether distancing oneself from them will "work" politically for Sen. Cruz. Trump predictably went to the 9/11 response as illustrative of such values; Cruz responded with a denouncement of abortion and gay rights, correctly said to be widely championed in the Big Apple.
It should come as no surprise that I'd argue "New York Values" are centuries old, dating back to the fundamental ethos of tolerance, materialism, and multiculturalism of the New Netherland colony and the Golden Age Amsterdam culture that created it. It's an argument laid out in my book, American Nations, of course, but I haven't had a chance to distill it for insertion the current debate.
Thankfully, Jordan Fraade, a student of urban policy at UCLA, has done it for me. Writing at Al Jazeera America, Fraade lays out the city's culture, correctly recognizing that tolerance is a double edged sword: tolerant of difference, yes, but also of slavery. It's the sort of place that would never vote for Donald Trump, but certainly helped nurture the creation of a morally flexible, highly materialistic real estate baron with global branding ambitions and a relatively liberal stance toward social programs (for "real Americans" as opposed to those dirty "others" on whom the people's problems can be blamed.) He's not a tolerant fellow, to be sure, but in other ways he's recognizably New Netherland-ish. It's hard to imagine him having grown out of Greater Appalachia, even though that's where the core of his support is.
For Ted Cruz, attacking the tolerant, diverse world of New Netherland makes sense: his base isn't much fond of either, nor are the Evangelicals who mysteriously support Trump, who Cruz needs to peel off to win the GOP nomination.
Tim Marshall, veteran foreign correspondent for Britain's SkyNews, has a new book out on geopolitics. Prisoners of Geography argues the influence of geographic elements is under recognized in our contemporary foreign policy and historical discourse and aims to fix that.
He does so with mixed success, as I argue in my review in yesterday's Washington Post. Marshall is strong on Russia, weak on North America and the Pacific, and doesn't really make a case for a new (or even renewed) way of analyzing world events.
My last review for the Post was on Brand Luther, a new book on Martin Luther's game-changing effect on the greatest social media innovation of his time: the printed book.
The occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon by armed militants rightly surprised many Americans. Their aims and ideology, however, are part of a regional heritage that goes back to when it was first colonized by European-Americans.
The pull-quote: "Thoughtful political
theory for divisive times."
The book is available for pre-order at Amazon and presumably your local independent bookstore which, in my case, is Longfellow Books (where I'll be doing one of my first book tour appearances), Gulf of Maine Books, or Sherman's.
To kick off your New Year, I have an update on an ongoing controversy at Maine's Public Utilities Commission, where an outgoing commissioner months ago charged that pricing forecasts are being manipulated to kill projects unloved by Governor Paul LePage and to boost those he likes.
That commissioner, holdover Gov. Baldacci appointee David Littell, said in dissenting opinions last winter that some of those forecasts should be made available to the public immediately to maintain accountability, transparency and the reputation of the PUC. The LePage appointees on the three-member commission overruled him, saying the data was still in active use, but could be released when this was no longer the case.
I am an award-winning journalist and author of American Nations, American Character, Ocean's End, The Lobster Coast, and The Republic of Pirates. I'm a staffer at the Portland Press Herald, where I won a 2012 George Polk Award for my investigative reporting and was named a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist.