Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Is Pittsburgh in the Midlands?, a redux

One of the great American Nations debates is whether Pittsburgh should be in the Midlands (it should!) or in Greater Appalachia (which some argue for.) For the past five years, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff columnist Brian O'Neill has been occasionally revisiting this question, starting in 2013, with a personal lament that I put his city in the Midlands, and again earlier this year, when he conceded the Appalachian label might not be quite right either.

This week he calls in a third party perspective with this delightful conversation with a self-identified Appalachian, Eric Jester, who argues for an Appalachian identity for the city.

"It's an ambitious man who defines the identity of a people who struggle [to] do so for themselves," Jester says. "The Appalachian in me loves the way a ridgeline dips into some tight little holler with a name like Scotia or Calamity; the way an orange stream dances around and under a tight winding road to the Youghiogheny; the way those fading miners' hoses sag a little in the middle."

Hope you enjoy the piece as I did.

For the record: I'm sticking with the Midlands, though I certainly agree that county-level resolution doesn't capture the subtleties of even first order regional cultural geography. But this placement is due to early settlement history, and to revealing events like the 1794 (Appalachian) siege of the city during the Whiskey Rebellion and not, as Jester writes, because of some "assumption that a beautiful city, a center of education and technology, and an historical hotbed of progressivism, could ever be associated with Appalachia." Greater Appalachia has a great many cities with most or all of those attributes -- Cinci, Louisville, Roanoke, Charlotte, Asheville, Winston-Salem, Nashville, Dallas, and Austin, just to name a few -- and the region pretty much gave us the "democracy" part of our liberal democracy, much to the trepidation of most of the Founders.

Now if only we could get Columbus's columnists to weigh in on that city's inverted status: Appalachian in American Nations, with many residents arguing for the Midlands.....

Friday, October 5, 2018

The making of Terry Hayes, independent candidate for Maine governor


Here in Maine, there's a four-way race to replace Governor Paul LePage, and I've been writing in-depth profiles of each of the contenders for the Maine Sunday Telegram -- pieces that ask who they are, where they came from, and what shaped their world view.

The final installment is in this week's Telegram, and is on state treasurer Terry Hayes, one of two independents in the race, who was effectively orphaned at 11, built a career in education, and served in the legislature as a Democrat before becoming state treasurer with largely Republican backing.

The other stories in the series are on Democratic nominee Janet MillsRepublican nominee Shawn Moody; and independent Alan Caron.

Hope you enjoy.

I last wrote detailed profiles of Maine statewide candidates for the Press Herald during the 2012 US Senate race, which was won by Angus King (I), currently Maine's junior senator.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

In Japan

I'm at the end of an enjoyable, whirlwind week in Japan. Unless, that is, the whirling winds of Typhoon Trami close Narita airport this late afternoon.

I came on the invitation of the Tokyo daily, the Asahi Shimbun, to present about the American Nations paradigm and its ramifications for the rise of Trumpism at the keynote panel of their Asahi World Forum 2018. Had the pleasure of hanging around the green room for a couple of hours ahead of time with Princeton University's Jan-Werner Muller, author of What is Populism?,  and Pascal Perrineau of Sciences Po, a leading expert on France's National Front. Muller, it turns out, shares my keen interest in Hungary (where I used to live and where his wife is from) and Perrineau is a regular visitor to New England, on account of a recurring visiting lectureship at Middlebury.

Here's Asahi Shimbun's write-up of our panel, if you read Japanese or can make sense of the Google Translate treatment of it. It ran with this dramatic photo of me making a point, probably about the Puritan conquest of Maine.

In the middle of the week, I spoke to graduate students and faculty at the University of Tokyo's Center for Pacific and American Studies on the kind invitation of Prof. Yasuo Endo, and then travelled to Kyoto where I finally met Prof. Yoshio Higomoto, who led the translation of American Nations into Japanese. I enjoyed speaking to his students and colleagues at Doshisha University which, funny enough, was founded by Yankee Congregational missionaries and has remained a leading institution in the study of the United States here, especially early American history.

I was able to spend a beautiful day visiting the temples, mountains, and river gorges of the Kyoto area before Typhoon Trami's approach compelled my premature departure from western Japan. Last night I wound up in the midst of the deserted, sprawling, and beautiful hillside temple complex in the city of Narita, not far from Japan's international airport where -- fingers crossed -- my flight will be departing just as Trami begins battering the Tokyo region early this evening.



[Update, 10/1/18: Wheels up on my flight home about an hour before Tokyo shut down its entire rail system for the first time in history. Typhoon Trami made a mess of that city of 35 million's Monday commute. Two people died elsewhere in Japan.]

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Making of Alan Caron, independent candidate for Maine governor

There's a four-way race to replace Maine Governor Paul LePage, and I've been writing in-depth profiles of each of the contenders for the Maine Sunday Telegram -- pieces that ask who they are, where they came from, and what shaped their world view.

The latest is on one of the two independents in the race, Alan Caron, whose life has included an eight-month prison term, brushes with militant radicals, successful community organizing, a career as a leading campaign strategist and proselytizer for an innovation-led "new Maine economy."

It follows last week's story on Democratic nominee Janet Mills and a one on Republican nominee Shawn Moody the week before that. The series concludes with independent Terry Hayes on Sept. 30.

Hope you enjoy.

I last wrote detailed profiles of Maine statewide candidates for the Press Herald during the 2012 US Senate race, which was won by Angus King (I), currently Maine's junior senator.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Big in Japan, Part III: the tour

Iwanami Shoten, the Tokyo based publisher, released a beautifully-executed two-volume Japanese language edition of American Nations a year ago, resulting in an enjoyable in-person interview here in Maine with the New York bureau chief of the daily Asahi Shimbun a few months later.

Now I'm headed to Japan to go on tour, so to speak. Like Wham!, but without George Michaels. Or music. Or the stadium-sized crowds of adoring fans. Ok, not much like that, but still fun.

On September 25, I'll be on a keynote panel at the Asahi Forum 2018 in Tokyo, discussing the populist threat to liberal democracies with fellow presenters Pascal Perrineau (foremost researcher on France's National Front), Masaru Sato (a former intelligence analyst at the Japanese Foreign Ministry) and Princeton's Jan-Werner Muller (author of What is Populism?).

If you are missing the Forum -- registration is now closed -- I will also be presenting on American Nations in two university colloquia that are open to the public.

The first is September 26 at 5 pm at the University of Tokyo's Center for Pacific and American Studies, at their Kombaba campus. Details can be found here.

The following day, September 27 at 4:40 pm, I'll be giving the same talk in Kyoto at Doshisha University's International Institute for American Studies on their Karasuma campus. Details in the attached image:



Hope to see you there.

[Update, 9/30/18: Here's a short post on my trip from here in the field.]





Monday, September 17, 2018

The Making of Janet Mills, Democratic nominee for Maine governor

With Paul LePage term limited, there's a competitive race for Maine Governor this fall. Over the late summer, I've been at work on a series of in-depth profiles of the four general election candidates seeking to replace him -- pieces that ask who they are, where they came from, and what shaped their world view.

The latest is on Democratic nominee Janet Mills and appears in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram. It traces her origins in a western Maine political family closely allied to the late US Senator Margaret Chase Smith through a half-century career in public service as a criminal prosecutor, district attorney, legislator, women's rights advocate, and attorney general.

It follows last week's story on Republican nominee Shawn Moody. The series continues with independent Alan Caron (on Sept. 23); and independent Terry Hayes (on Sept. 30.)

Hope you enjoy.

I last wrote detailed profiles of Maine statewide candidates for the Press Herald during the 2012 US Senate race, which was won by Angus King (I), currently Maine's junior senator.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Speaking on Maine's identity, history, future in Blue Hill, Sept. 16

I'll be speaking on coastal Maine's cultural and economic background in Blue Hill, Maine next Sunday, September 16 at the Esther Wood Room of George Stevens Academy.

The talk -- entitled "Four Centuries of Coastal Maine Lives and Livelihoods" is sponsored by Colloquy Downeast in collaboration with six local partners, including the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries the Ellsworth American, Brooklin Keeping Society, the Wilson Museum, and the Sedgwick-Brooklin Historical Society. These are themes I explore in the second of my books, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier.

It kicks off at 3pm. Tickets are $5 at the door and include a light reception following the talk. There's a write-up in the American this week.

My next public talk thereafter is on the other side of the world: on American Nations at the 2018 Asahi World Forum in Tokyo September 25. Free book and a sake for anyone who makes both of these events in person.



Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Making of Shawn Moody, GOP nominee for Maine governor


Maine's bombastic governor, Paul LePage, is term limited and leaves office early next year. Over the past six weeks I've been at work on a series of in-depth profiles of the four general election candidates seeking to replace him -- pieces that ask who they are, where they came from, and what shaped their world view.

The first is on Republican nominee Shawn Moody and appears in today's Maine Sunday Telegram, tracing his ascent from the 12-year old kid left alone for a month after his mother was sent to the state mental institution to a self-made millionaire who vanquished three more experienced Republican figures to put the keys to the Blaine House within reach.

The remainder of the series rolls out like this: Democratic nominee Janet Mills (on Sept. 16); independent Alan Caron (on Sept. 23); and independent Terry Hayes (on Sept. 30.) [Updated this with links as available.]

Hope you enjoy.

I last wrote detailed profiles of Maine statewide candidates for the Press Herald during the 2012 US Senate race, which was won by Angus King (I), currently Maine's junior senator.




Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Talking American Nations with Maine Public radio's Maine Calling


I was the guest for yesterday's edition of "Maine Calling," the hour-long interview and call-in program of Maine Public radio, talking about the American Nations, their implications for US politics, and the ways in which the transcend the country's rural-vs-urban divide. (The latter the subject of this New York Times Opinion piece two weeks ago.)

The segment -- with some excellent questions from fellow Mainers calling in -- is now also available for online listening at this link.

Thanks again to Maine Public for having me on.

My next public talk in Maine is at the Colloquy Downeast in Blue Hill September 16 (on Lobster Coast themes).


Monday, August 13, 2018

Speaking on the Scots-Irish legacy in Maine and the nation, Aug. 14, Brunswick, Maine

This is the 300th anniversary of the coming of the Scots-Irish to New England and to mark the occasion, there's a multi-day conference taking place this week at Bowdoin College sponsored by the Maine Ulster Scots Project.

The 2018 Diaspora Conference and Reunion opens tomorrow morning, August 14 at Bowdoin's Kresge Hall and continues through Thursday, with presentations from scholars on both sides of the Atlantic.

I'm pleased to be giving the opening keynote Tuesday night on the impact of the Scots-Irish migration on both Maine and North America, issues I wrote about in some detail in The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier and American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America respectively. I'm preceded by Norman Houston, director of the Northern Ireland Bureau, the diplomatic mission of that part of the UK to the US and Canada.

Conference information can be found here.

At 1 pm tomorrow I'm also speaking about the political ramifications of American Nations in Maine Public radio's live interview and call-in program, "Maine Calling." Tune in if you can.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Is Pittsburgh in the Midlands?

In the seven years since American Nations was published, most readers have endorsed their county's placement among the eleven regional cultures I write about in the book. Two locations have generated some sustained pushback, however, both of them border cities on the Midland-Greater Appalachia frontier: Columbus, Ohio (assigned to Greater Appalachia in large part because of lingual evidence) and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (a clear-cut Midland city in my reading of history, but surrounded on three sides by Greater Appalachia.)

This week, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff columnist Brian O'Neill revisited his city's regional identity in this column, where he emphasizes its competing influences and seems to concede that calling it Appalachia might not be sufficient. It's a nice synopsis from the field, and represents a bit of a shift from our friendly debate in 2013, when O'Neill lamented the city's Midland designation (it's "the Paris of Appalachia" he insisted.)

As for Columbus, I've heard both pro and con arguments from readers there for its Appalachian designation, but nothing from the city's intelligentsia. Let's hope they weigh in one of these days -- the Cleveland Plain Dealer did in regards to the Western Reserve's Yankee character in comparison with southern Ohio's Appalachian one -- but not a word from the Dispatch.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Talking American Nations with CityLab, Sen. Collins' Roe position with CSPAN

I recently spoke with CityLab's Laura Bliss about the American Nations framework, where it came from, and how I came to create it. Here's her piece, which appeared last week. (The framework has been getting renewed attention on account of a New York Times OpEd that appeared July 26.)

With a Supreme Court nomination struggle looming, all eyes remain on Republican Senate centrists Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Last CSPAN's Washington Journal about Collins' position on Roe v Wade and the nomination, and what outside legal experts have to say about it. You can find the clip here.
month I spoke with

I last appeared on CSPAN last summer, talking about American Character and The Lobster Coast with their mobile crew on their visit to the Portland, Maine area. Previously, they broadcast my full American Nations talk at Iowa State.

And to round matters out, I appeared in the UK's Bristol Post recently discussing pirates, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard's death. (This the subject of my third book, The Republic of Pirates.)











Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A New York Times American Nations OpEd

The New York Times asked me to write an opinion piece on the political implications of American Nations recently and, to my great pleasure, accepted it and built a terrific graphics package to illustrate the paradigm.

The result was published yesterday at the Times and -- thank all of you -- shot up to be the most read piece on the entire site this morning. I've mentioned before the power of the colorized map in drawing people's attention on social media, and I'm doubly sure of it now.

Thanks to John Guida and Bill Marsh for their time and attention.

For those new to the paradigm -- and wanting to know more, a couple of quick links:

To really understand what this is all about: please do read the book.

To wade in a little deeper without the book: start with this Tufts Magazine piece, which unpacks the paradigm in more detail and uses it to analyze a public policy issue -- violence and gun control -- that isn't presented in the book at all. Or, conversely, look at this Washington Monthly article to see why the (libertarian-captured) Tea Party Movement fizzled in places candidate Trump (relatively communitarian on the stump) would make inroads.

To see more data on the rural vs urban issue: dig into this piece I did for Medium.

For more on Trump and the 2016 election: check out this at the Portland Press Herald.

To find out what's up with Alaska, Hawaii and South Florida: go here.

To see me present the whole thing in detail to an audience: CSPAN's got that.

To explore the central debate of our federal experience -- the proper balance between individual liberty and the common good -- consider reading American Nations' sequel, American Character.




Saturday, July 21, 2018

Mainer makes Putin's interrogation wish list

In today's Portland Press Herald, I have the story of how a guy from Maine wound up on Vladimir Putin's list of Americans he'd like turned over for interrogation, a request he made of President Trump at this week's summit in Helsinki and one that - to widespread horror - Trump appeared to entertain.

Kyle Parker, raised in Old Town, educated at the University of Maine, is a pretty big deal: the guy who by most accounts made the Magnitsky Act happen. If you don't know what that is and why Putin cares, please dig into the story, which includes an interview with Parker.

For a deeper dive into Magnitsky, Parker, and Putin, I recommend this November 2017 story from GQ.

Meanwhile, just to keep things strange, Maine Governor Paul LePage showed up in Montenegro earlier this month to meet with President Djukanovic, supposedly because of the Maine National Guard's 12 year old partnership with the Balkan country. LePage's office, as usual, is providing few details.



Thursday, July 19, 2018

What did pirates look like? My Business Insider interview

The folks at Business Insider recently called to talk about what the Golden Age pirates really looked and acted like because, well, why not?

The interview is up over at their website, with a produced video to illustrate the conversation.

They reached out to me on account of my being the author of a detailed history of this pirate gang, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down, which is available in a bunch of foreign editions - UK, Poland, Spain, Hungary, China, Taiwan, Denmark, and Brazil, if you happen to live in one of those places.

Last week, Business Insider asked a bunch of Wall Street leaders what they recommended for summer reading, yielding a list of 22 books. Thanks to UBS Americas president Tom Naratil for including Republic of Pirates here as well.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Sen. Collins' stance won't save Roe v Wade, experts say

President Donald Trump will announce his latest nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States in a few hours, a nominee who will need 51 votes to be confirmed by the Senate.

Those concerned that abortion rights will be overturned by the new court have been focused on two Republican senators who say they support reproductive rights: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Maine's own Susan Collins.

Collins' position on Roe and the confirmation process has been consistent, but easily misunderstood for to those who don't follow her and the court closely. It's central tenant: she will judge the nominee based on their fidelity to precedent, with the assertion that this will protect Roe v Wade because it's "settled law."

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I asked several of the country's leading legal scholars what they thought of this reasoning. Most were unimpressed. Find the details here.

For more on Collins' position on this issue, start here.


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Talking American Nations on Wisconsin Public Radio, July 4th

For those of you in the Badger State: I'll be your Independence Day guest on Wisconsin Public Radio's morning program from 7 to 8 Central.

Appropriately enough, I'm talking about the ideas in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, and their implications for our history, politics, and shared stability.

For those further afield, I'll post a link to the podcast here when it's available. [Update, 7/6/18: Here's the audio link.]

I've appeared on WPR a couple of times in the past, including to talk about my POLITICO Magazine story on Milwaukee's 21st century reindustraliztion drive, and another on the sequel to American Nations, American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

For Sen. Collins, Roe v Wade won't be a line in the sand for Supreme Court confirmation

Senator Susan Collins, considered a critical potential swing vote for those hoping to protect women's reproductive rights in the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation process, will not be using support for Roe vs Wade as a criterion in her evaluation of the next nominee.

This clarification of her position -- which is that she will not use any "ideological litmus test" in the process, whether Roe or anything else -- is reported in yesterday's Portland Press Herald. It makes it far less likely that President Trump's nominee will fail to get the 51 votes needed to be confirmed to the lifetime position on the bench.

Details herein, with input from top officials at NARAL and the Planned Parenthood Foundation, AEI's Norm Ornstein, Maine Women's Lobby head Eliza Townsend and former Collins staffer Lance Dustson.

I last wrote about Collins in detail in December, in the aftermath of her divisive vote in favor of the Republican's tax cut measure. Read about her pattern of consistency here, and about her potential role as a check on presidential excess here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

11 Books That Will Make You Smarter About Politics


The folks at Business Insider have been kind to American Nations, re-upping their article on the paradigm a few times over the past couple of years, each time reaching a new cohort of readers previously unfamiliar with the book.

Today they've also included it in this "11 Books That Will Make You Smarter About Politics," in the company of some heavy hitters like David Halberstam, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Madeline Albright. So, thanks again BI!

Partly as a result of their June 18 re-up, for those in the Badger State, I'll be the guest on Wisconsin Public Radio's statewide morning show July 4, 7 to 8 am Central, talking about the American Nations framework and the lessons it brings us. Tune in if you're there!


Saturday, June 23, 2018

Rep. Pingree tours child detention sites in Texas, Rep. Poliquin speaks out against practice

I've been covering the Maine delegation's stance and reaction to the Trump administration's separation of migrant children from their families and the effort to reunify them for the Portland Press Herald.

Two developments:

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-ME01, is in southmost Texas (where I once lived) to inspect child detention centers there. Here's my dispatch -- still updating at this hour as her tour continues -- on what she's found. [Update, 6/24/18: this story now includes latest information on what bills or legislative actions Pingree, Poliquin, Sen. Angus King, and Sen. Susan Collins are taking on the issue.]

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-ME02, who for a time avoided discussing the issue, has taken a strong stance for immediate reunification, backing a new bill to that effect. Details in my story yesterday.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

It not only can happen here, it's already started

My congressional representative here in Maine is heading to southmost Texas tomorrow to join a score of her colleagues touring federal detention centers where migrant children taken from their parents are being held. Her questions -- and the fact that they're all legitimate ones -- illustrate where we're at as a country: where are the detained girls? where are the detained babies? are reports that caregivers aren't allowed to touch or hug traumatized children true? Or that kids are being kept drugged to pacify them? how is the government going to reunite children -- especially babies -- with their families, particularly if the parents have already been deported? are they even going to?

The central message of American Character was that liberal democracies fail when the balance between the two pillars of freedom -- individual liberty and the maintenance of the common good -- gets too far out of whack. Written in 2015, before Trump was considered a serious candidate, it warned that the US was in danger of falling into authoritarianism for this reason, and that all the warning signs were present.

This week we learned that we're already there, replete with detention camps for babies and children, border agents effectively kidnapping children to terrorize migrants, and a stunning set of lies and reversals issued from the pulpits of the Trump administration on the issue.

The federation is at a crossroads, and its soul at stake. Let's hope we pass through in one piece.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Talking Maine's 1820 split from Mass. with KQED's California Report


This November, Californians will be asked if they want to split their state into three, a measure spearheaded by venture capitalist Tim Draper. I wrote about some of the problems Draper's borders present, in historical-cultural terms, over at Medium last month.

But this week, I got to talk about an entirely different aspect of historical background on KQED's statewide "California Report": the lessons and precedents set by Maine's split from Massachusetts in 1820.

Readers of The Lobster Coast are aware of the two entities were separate colonies back in the 1640s, when the English Civil War pit Royalist, Anglican, semi-feudal, West Country-dominated Maine against Puritan, Parliament-backing, East Anglia-settled Massachusetts. The execution of the King cleared the way for Boston to annex the Maine settlements, which they ruled as a colony -- the District of Maine -- for nearly 70 years. The War of 1812 -- when Massachusetts refused to defend eastern Maine or help the federal government rollback the British occupation of it -- was just the final blow to Commonwealth unity.

But I digress. Here's a link to the audio of our interview, and here's the web story. (KQED is the San Francisco NPR affiliate, and one of the nation's public radio "superstations."



Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Cruise tourism impacts in Maine, a series

Over the past four months I've been at work on a series on the impact of cruise ship tourism in Maine, where most ports of call have a smaller year-around population than the compliment of the larger ships themselves. The results have been appearing in the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram this week, with the final part in today's paper.

The bottom line for Maine communities: taking an ad hoc, reactive approach to cruise tourism has considerable dangers, but if you plan, prepare, and negotiate properly, you can get the outcomes your citizens want, rather than the ones that will just happen to them.

The full series -- Pier Pressure -- consists of five articles over three days, and they're all here for your convenience:

Day 1: "Some in Maine fear cruise ship tourism has gone overboard" (featuring Bar Harbor and the global, business, and historical contexts Mainers should know about.)

Day 1 sidebar: "No discharge fight comes to Acadia region" (Maine has the weakest marine discharge protections in New England, but there's a good explanation for why.)

Day 2: "Long touted economic benefits of cruise tourism far overstated" (How assumptions have been way off for passenger spending and net economic benefits in Portland, Maine.)

Day 2 sidebar: "Lone Portland passenger study made assumptions, overestimated economic impact" (A flawed 2009 study led city officials and residents to unrealistic expectations.)

Day 3: "Cruise ships trigger identity crises for a small city in Maine" (on Rockland and solutions generally for Maine ports.)

Photos by the ever-awesome Greg Rec.

Bar Harbor voters decide today if they want to buy an abandoned ferry terminal so as to ensure it becomes a multi-use facility, not a cruise ship mega-pier. [Update, 6/13/18: They approved the purchase by a more than five-to-one margin.]

In an unrelated note, my thanks to peers and colleagues in the Maine media for kindly recommending me to Pine Tree Watch's list of Maine's Most Trusted Journalists. The others so honored are my Press Herald colleagues (and, remarkably, immediate newsroom desk-neighbors) Mike Lowe, Eric Russell, and Bill Nemitz; Lewiston Sun-Journal managing editor Judy Meyer; Maine Public's Steve Mistler, Don Carrigan of WCSH-6/WLBZ-2, and the Bangor Daily News's Erin Rhoda, Chris Cousins, and Jake Bleiberg. All of us well know this is not an exhaustive list, as Maine is blessed with a great and varied press corps.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Talking pirates with Hilary Duff on TLC's Who Do You Think You Are?

In an unlikely development, I recently returned to Blackbeard's Bath, North Carolina haunt to chat with actress Hilary Duff about one of her ancestors, the man responsible for the pirate's death 300 years ago this fall.

Duff was being whisked around the world for what became this week's episode of the cable television program "Who Do You Think You Are?" on TLC.; I was there as author of The Republic of Pirates, which tells the story of how Blackbeard came to be in Bath and how Duff's ancestor organized the expedition to kill him. The segment was shot on an unusually cold January morning -- so cold in fact that Bath Creek had frozen over, making boating impossible, so we spoke on a dock surrounded by
mirror-like ice.

Here's an extended clip of our conversation. The full episode -- S9:E4 -- is available here to US cable subscribers with TLC in their package.

Thanks to the excellent team at Shed Media for an enjoyable mid-winter dive into piracy.

I'll next be talking piracy in Nassau, site of the Bahamian pirate republic, in mid-July, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the pirates' downfall. Stay tuned for details. My next public talk is at the Chautauqua Institution in far western New York state July 3, on American Character.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Speaking at the Chautauqua Institution, July 3

On July 3 I have the honor of speaking at the Chautauqua Institution's summer speaker series on the lake in Chautauqua, New York. The event kicks off at 2:30 pm in their Hall of Philosophy.

I'll be talking about the issues raised in American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good, which was a finalist for the 2017 Chautauqua Prize. The morning session just ahead of me is with Jelani Cobb of the New Yorker, so I'm looking forward to that as well.

For those of you attending Chautauqua this season, I look forward to meeting.




Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Talking about Maine's Ranked Choice Voting odyssey on NHPR, May 17

For those of you in the Granite State, I'll be your guest in the morning on New Hampshire Public Radio's "The Exchange," talking about Maine's Ranked Choice Voting odyssey.

The program, which runs from 9-10 Eastern, also features Saint Anselm College's Erik Cleven and Connecticut Mirror Capitol bureau chief Mark Pazniokas.

I reported on the crazy twists and turns of Maine's RCV drive for Politico back at the end of March, and on how it the voting reform effort became a partisan flashpoint in the Maine Sunday Telegram early last month.

I'll post the audio of the conversation when it becomes available. [Update, 14:30 ET: the audio is now available at the same link.]

I was last a guest on "The Exchange" back in 2016 about American Character, the epic struggle over how to define freedom in America and how it might be resolved.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bad borders: what US secessionists' proposals miss

The sixth installment of my "Balkanized America" series is up over at Medium, looking at how contemporary US secessionists and state-splitters -- from Ted Draper's "Six Californias" and CAL3 plans to create an independent Cascadia or Texas -- set themselves up for failure by ignoring centuries-old regional fissures.

Those are, of course, the American Nations fissures.

Earlier installments in the series have run the gamut from debunking the assertion that the greatest divide in US politics is between urban and rural voters (hint: regional cultures have a far greater effect) to how the existence of these cultures shaped the run-up to the 1787 constitutional convention and even the reproductive clustering of North Americans (which surprised even me, as the paradigm argues for cultural effects, not genetic ones.)


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Speaking on American Nations and the gun debate, Gloucester, Mass., May 19

I'll be speaking about how the existence of the American Nations helps explain enormous geographic disparities in violence, capital punishment, and gun policies at a public event on Massachusetts' North Shore May 19.

It's the keynote of "Finding Common Ground," a four-hour symposium on gun violence and the application of the Second Amendment organized by the Gloucester Meetinghouse Foundation taking place from 2 to 6pm at the Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Church, and including presentations from Gloucester High School students, the commander of the area American Legion Post, and others. My talk starts at about 4. Donations welcome.

Details on the event can be found here.

I wrote on the disparities of the regional cultures in regards to these issues in this 2013 Tufts Magazine cover story.

My next public talk is July 3 at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York, on the themes raised in American Character, which was a finalist for last year's Chautauqua Prize.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Maine's US Senators seek federal response to warming Gulf of Maine

Last week I reported on Canadian researchers having found record-warm water pouring into the primary deepwater entrance to the Gulf of Maine and Maine scientists confirming that they've seen similar, Gulf Stream-derived water filling some of the Gulf's deepwater basins -- all worrying signs that the region's stunning long-term warming trend is continuing.

Earlier this week, I had this update: US Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) have written the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asking for a beefed-up federal research and monitoring response to determine causes and effects. The rest of Maine's Congressional delegation -- Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME2) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME1) -- said they also strongly support the senator's actions.

Details herein.

For more on the warming of the Gulf, consider this comprehensive Press Herald series on the issue, plus this follow-up on how little the State of Maine has done to address it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Record-warm deepwater pouring into the Gulf of Maine, researchers find

In today's Portland Press Herald, I wrote about a Canadian research team's discovery that record-warm Gulf Stream water is pouring into the Gulf of Maine, probably because of a weakening of the normally dominant, very frigid Labrador Current flowing down from Greenland via Atlantic Canada. The water - at depths of more than 200 feet - was a balmy 57F earlier this month, 11 degrees above the norm for this time of year, and other scientists say such water has been filling deepwater basins inside the Gulf for months.

Exactly what will happen next is uncertain, but the fear is that when the water upwells to the surface -- usually during winter - it could contribute to another "ocean heat wave" like the one in 2012 the wrecked havoc with just about everything in the Gulf and set off a chain of events that had New Brunswick lobstermen detaining trucks filled with Maine lobster at the gates of Canadian processing plants.

[Update, 5/2/17: Prompted by this story, US Senators Angus King and Susan Collins have asked NOAA to take action.]

For more on the warming of the Gulf of Maine and the possible consequences, consider my 2015 Press Herald series "Mayday." I last wrote on the situation -- and Maine's lack of response -- in November.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Barbara Bush, 1925-2018, an obituary

Former First Lady Barbara Bush died last night at 92. I had the privilege of having written her obituary for her summertime local paper, the Portland Press Herald, which you will find in today's print edition.

The Bushes identified themselves with Texas for political reasons, but through their lives Walker's Point in Kennebunkport has been the only constant. They got engaged there, held weddings, family events, and high-level diplomatic events, and spent nearly every summer at the compound. It was their only home in the U.S. during the years they lived in Beijing and at the US Naval Observatory and White House. During World War II they also lived briefly in Lewiston-Auburn, while he was training at the naval air station there.

The Press Herald also has a photo gallery of her life up at the website.



Tuesday, April 10, 2018

US Surgeon General on American Nations and public health


I ran across this one accidentally on Twitter. Last week, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams gave the keynote address at the American Public Health Association's National Public Health Week Forum in Washington, DC.

Turns out Dr. Adams is an American Nations fan, and he spent several minutes talking about the importance of the paradigm in understanding regional differences in public health challenges and outcomes. "When you look at what's done, when you look at asset health care coverage, when you look at immigrant rights, at contraception and abortion, when you look at drug policy and reduction, two places, Paris, France and Berlin, Germany, that tried to blow each other off the face of the planet, are closer together than Dallas, Texas and Boston, Massachusetts," Adams said. "We truly are a country of different nations."

Here's a clip of his remarks culled from C-SPAN-2's coverage of the event.


Monday, April 9, 2018

How did ranked choice voting become a polarized, partisan issue in Maine?

In June, Maine is expected to hold the first-in-the-nation statewide primary election using ranked choice voting, with contests for governor, US Senate, and Congress on the agenda. But it is shaping up to be a potential disaster, as partisan differences have placed state election officials in the impossible position of being under a legal obligation to hold an election while not being given the means -- financial, administrative and possibly constitutional -- to do so. If nothing changes, there could be long delays in getting results, and the gubernatorial races in particular could be mired in law suits.

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I asked how a theoretically neutral electoral reform intended to reduce partisanship and polarization has become mired in polarization and partisanship, with Maine voters and legislators sharply split on party lines. The answers may surprise.

I last wrote about ranked choice voting in Maine just a week before, in this magazine piece for Politico.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Maine TV anchors among those recording Sinclair's "fake stories" promo

Over the weekend, a montage went viral that featured dozens of local television anchors at Sinclair Broadcasting stations across the country reciting the same promo about their concern over "fake stories" being carried by other (unnamed) media outlets. The anchors expressed their concern about "the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing out country" and denounced "some media outlets" for publishing "these same fake stories...without checking their facts first" and for using "their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think."

As I report in today's Portland Press Herald, WGME-13, southern Maine's CBS affiliate, was no exception, with anchors Kim Block and Gregg Lagerquist producing the requisite segment, which ends with the observation "This is extremely dangerous to democracy." The promo also runs on Sinclair's local FOX affiliate, WPFO-23. (Here's a link to the clip.)

Critics noted that the Sinclair stations themselves have a troubling reputation for running one-sided, pro-Trump opinion segments and nightly "Terrorism Alert Desk" updates produced at their Maryland headquarters and distributed on a "must run" basis to all of their nearly 200 local stations' newscasts. They're also currently seeking Trump administration approval to buy dozens more stations nationwide. More details in the story.

I last wrote on Sinclair and WGME last summer, when the chain was under fire for "must run" segments featuring a former Trump aide.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maine's ranked choice voting odyssey


My latest for POLITICO Magazine is on Maine's ranked choice voting odyssey, which at the time the piece came out 48 hours ago already had more twists and turns than the roller coaster at Old Orchard Beach. And today's there's been several more.

The story describes why Maine -- a purple state with a penchant for independents and third party candidates -- has been relatively fertile soil for electoral reform advocates, and how their effort to make ranked choice voting the law of this pine-covered land has faced and jumped a variety of hurdles.

But this morning -- to the surprise of everyone in Maine politics -- Secretary of State Matt Dunlap told legislators he'd been made aware of a technical flaw in some operative legal language that may prevent ranked choice voting from being used in the June 12 primary after all. This announcement has prompted outrage from the Attorney General (who is also running for governor), the House speaker, and the RCV effort's leaders, who have also asked a court to issue an injunction compelling Dunlap to use RCV in the primaries. Confused? So is everyone else, but my Portland Press Herald colleague Kevin Miller has been trying to sort it out for you.

My last story for POLITICO was on inventor Dean Kamen's effort to commercially cultivate customized human organs in the old Manchester, New Hampshire millyards.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Speaking on the crisis in the world's oceans and Gulf of Maine, April 4


It's been snowed out twice already, but on Wednesday, April 4 I really am going to finally speak about the crisis in the world's oceans and the Gulf of Maine at the Portland Public Library here in Maine. (The talk was originally to have taken place in early February.)

The event -- which kicks off at 6pm in the Rines Auditorium in the main library on Monument Square -- is the 2018 Sustainability Series Keynote. It's free and open to the public.

As a foreign correspondent, I long focused on oceans policy and global environmental reporting, and my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, took me to Antarctica, the tiny atoll states of Central Pacific, the coral reefs of Belize, the depleted cod banks of Newfoundland and the troubled waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Black Sea. My second book, The Lobster Coast, told the story of coastal Maine and its ecosystem, and "Mayday," a 2015 series I wrote for the Portland Press Herald, was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

I'll be speaking about the nature of the multi-faceted marine crisis, what it means for humans, and what might be done about it. Hope you can make it.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Maine: LePage administration threatens Wiscasset on traffic project, town says


In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I have an update on the increasingly fraught struggle between Maine Gov. Paul LePage's Department of Transportation and the town of Wiscasset, site of Maine's most infamous summer traffic bottleneck.

To recap, the town originally supported the plan, but turned against it and ultimately filed suit against the DOT, alleging that it is violating town ordinances and state law and that it changed the project after receiving approval. Among other things, the DOT suddenly decided not to use federal funds, which were to pay for 80 percent of the project's $5 million price tag, thereby avoiding historic preservation requirements. LePage then personally started throwing fuel on the fire with blustery notes to constituents telling them he's had enough of Wiscasset's obstruction, then allegedly vetoing a draft compromise worked out between the department and town.

Now the department has allegedly told the town they might go ahead with their project -- which includes removing all on-street parking on Main Street in the historic village -- without building replacement parking (as the plan has called for all along) if they are made to follow local ordinances. It's the nuclear option, so to speak, and one local businesspeople say would kill the historic downtown. Details within.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Trump's Canadian metals tariffs could backfire on Maine


In today's Portland Press Herald, I have a piece on how President Trump's 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum could backfire on Maine manufacturers and others, particularly if Canada isn't exempted from the plan.

Details in the story.

Also, in an unrelated update, my talk on the crisis in the world's oceans and Gulf of Maine tonight at the Portland (Maine) Public Library has again been postponed by a winter storm. The new date: April 4 at 6pm.




Friday, March 2, 2018

Two ALEC bills before Maine lawmakers would facilitate rewriting of US Constitution


In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I have another story involving a model text from the American Legislative Exchange Council being introduced in the Maine legislature, and once again it has national implications.

ALEC's state co-chair, a Republican lawmaker from Hiram, has introduced two bills that would have Maine join the tally of states calling for the convening of a constitutional convention under Article V of the US Constitution for the first time since 1787. One of the bills -- having to do with a convention allegedly limited to passing a balanced budget amendment -- would make Maine the 29th state to make the official call, just five sort of the number necessary to compel a convening.

Critics -- including the late Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Warren Burger -- have warned that since there are no rules laid out for how such a convention would function, absolutely anything could happen. As the article reports, a well-funded model convention held two years ago in Virginia passed a number of amendments that would transform all aspects of American life.

How did the texts wind up in Maine? When are they up for floor votes? What on Earth is this ALEC you speak of?  Read on to find out.

I've written about ALEC bills in Maine four other times in the past year, including an effort last year to pass a similar bill,  this article and a follow up  on a bill that would prevent towns from building high-speed broadband networks,  and this article on another that would prevent them from passing pesticide ordinances.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Speaking on the crisis in the oceans and Gulf of Maine, Portland, Mar. 7

I'll be speaking about the crisis in the world's oceans and in the Gulf of Maine on March 7th at the Portland Public Library here in Maine. The talk was originally to have taken place in early February, but was postponed by a winter storm.

[Update, 3/7/18: Alas, this event has again been postponed by a winter storm. The new date is April 4, same time and place.]

The event -- which kicks off at 6pm in the Rines Auditorium in the main library on Monument Square -- is the 2018 Sustainability Series Keynote. It's free and open to the public.

As a foreign correspondent, I long focused on oceans policy and global environmental reporting, and my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, took me to Antarctica, the tiny atoll states of Central Pacific, the coral reefs of Belize, the depleted cod banks of Newfoundland and the troubled waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Black Sea. My second book, The Lobster Coast, told the story of coastal Maine and its ecosystem, and "Mayday," a 2015 series I wrote for the Portland Press Herald, was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

I'll be speaking about the nature of the multi-faceted marine crisis, what it means for humans, and what might be done about it. Hope you can make it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Senator King warns of Russian cyber threat to 2018 midterms

Senator Angus King, I-Maine, came by the Press Herald newsroom last week for a wide-ranging, on-record conversation with myself and my colleagues about everything from the state of the immigration debate to prospects for modest gun control legislation on Capitol Hill and even why he's not interested in joining the Democrats, who he caucuses with.

But the most pressing issue he wanted to talk about was the ongoing threat posed by Russian cyber attacks on our election infrastructure, which he says remain insufficiently addressed ahead of the 2018 midterms. The President, he argues, has not only declined to marshall a cross-government response, he's made matters worse by encouraging the public to regard Russian attacks as a hoax.

It's all in the piece, which ran in yesterday's print edition.

For more background on King's concerns with attacks on our election systems, there's this piece from an extended interview I did with the senator last year. On Maine's system -- relatively invulnerable to such attacks because of its intentionally low-tech design -- start with this interview with the state's top election's official, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Dunlap, other top state election officials received classified briefing on threats to voter systems

The U.S. intelligence community has been warning elected officials and the public for some time now about the past, present, and future threat Russia has posed to the integrity of election infrastructure. In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I report on an unprecedented briefing by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the office of the Director of National Intelligence on the matter given to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and nine other members of the executive board of the national association for secretaries of state.

I spoke to Dunlap for the story, and you can read his thoughts and message in the piece.

Dunlap is known nationally for his role in the closure of President Trump's controversial election fraud commission, on which he was a member. His suit to obtain working documents from the group -- which he says he and other Democratic commissioners were denied -- is still in federal court.

The Russian threat to election integrity was floated and quickly dropped by Dunlap in the early days of the commission, but has been a consistent priority for US Senator Angus King (I-Maine.)