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.

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.)


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Gov. LePage scuttled Wiscasset traffic compromise, attorney says

Maine Governor Paul LePage personally intervened to kill a compromise between the state transportation department and the town of Wiscasset over a controversial traffic project there, an attorney for the town told residents this week.

I have the details in today's Portland Press Herald, which is also available online here.

For fuller background on the project, this story lays it all out, including the governor's chain of aggressive correspondence with constituents about the traffic problems in the midcoast town and how the Maine DOT lost the confidence of town residents after reneging on promises made about the project, including the use of federal funds and the historic preservation reviews that come with them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Trump renews push to eliminate LIHEAP, Sea Grant, NEA, other programs

Last year, President Trump tried to eliminate a wide range of programs with an outsized impact in Maine, including Sea Grant, low income heating assistance, community block grants, the National Estuarine Reserve system, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Legal Services Corporation, a major  funding source for Pine Tree Legal Assistance. Congress ultimately told him to pound sand.

Yesterday, his new budget proposes again to eliminate these and other programs. As I report in today's Portland Press Herald, Maine's Congressional delegation -- from conservative Republican Bruce Poliquin to liberal democrat Chellie Pingree and more centrist US Senators in between --  is not on board.



Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Trumpism, the American Nations, and the 2016 election

My latest installment of the "Balkanized America" series is up over at Medium, this one interpreting what happened in the 2016 presidential election via an American Nations lens, with some lessons for what this means for the president's popularity going into this years' midterm elections.

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.)

Hope you find it useful.

Friday, February 2, 2018

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

I'll be speaking about the crisis in the world's oceans and in the Gulf of Maine on February 7th at the Portland Public Library here in Maine.

The talk -- 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.

[Update, 2/6/18: A heads-up that with weather on this way, this event could get postponed. Keep an eye on this space or the library website over the next 24 hours.]

[Update, 2/6/18, 1530 ET: Indeed, this event has been cancelled because of the storm. Will be rescheduling for March or April and update that here at World Wide Woodard.]

[Update, 2/14/18: This event is now taking place March 7th at 6pm.]

[Update, 3/7/18: The event has been postponed by yet another winter storm. New date: April 4 at 6pm.]



Monday, January 29, 2018

Bill would stop states from blocking municipal broadband projects

Last year I wrote about a bill introduced in Maine's legislature that would effectively block towns from building their own municipal high speed data networks, even when -- as is often the case in rural Maine -- existing providers have refused to do so for them. The bill, modeled on one created by the American Legislative Exchange Council that has become law in 17 other states and introduced by that group's state co-chair, was ultimately and unanimously defeated in committee.

Now a bill has been introduced in Congress to prohibit states from passing such legislation. I report in today's Portland Press Herald about why its been introduced, what ALEC thinks of it, and how one of its co-sponsors, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-ME01, has to say about the bill and its prospects in Congress.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Talking American Nations with KBUR's "Heartland Politics"

Recently had a conversation with Monmouth College political science professor Robin Johnson about America's regional cultures and their implications for the Midwest generally and the 2016 election results in the Upper Mississippi Valley in particular.

Our talk aired on this week's edition of Johnson's program "Heartland Politics" on KBUR in Burlington, Iowa, right in the heart of what I've called Trump Democrat country and with a broadcast area encompassing a swath of eastern Illinois (where Monmouth is located) and parts of northeastern Missouri. You can hear it again Tuesday morning at 0930 Central Time or right here online.

For more on voting patterns in the 2016 election, see this piece and this one.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Big in Japan, Part II


Earlier this month, Satoshi Ukai, the New York bureau chief of the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun was kind enough to come to my home here in Maine for an interview on American Nations, which is now available in Japanese. I enjoyed speaking with him and appreciate his newspaper's interest.

For those of you who read Japanese, his interview appeared in the January 24 edition. Online subscribers can find it here. The paper also ran this book review back in January 14.

Even from here, I can tell Asahi Shimbun has a print circulation of 7 million. Friends there tell me volume one of Iwanami Shoten's beautiful two volume hardcover translation has sold out everywhere, and even the English edition of the book hit #18 overall on Amazon.jp, which is pretty amazing.

In any case, I hope the book gets back into stock and that readers there find it useful. And thanks again to Mr. Ukai and his colleagues for their interest.

American Nations is also available in Korean and is forthcoming in Chinese on the mainland.

(Here, for search purposes, is the Japanese title:)

11の国のアメリカ史――分断と相克の400年(上)


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Maine Governor's nomination of Nestle Waters official to state BEP draws ire

In today's Portland Press Herald, I wrote about how Maine Governor Paul LePage's nomination of Mark Dubois, the public face of Nestle Waters (dba Poland Springs), to the state Board of Environmental Protection is drawing fire.

Dubois, whose firm has been on the scene for some amazing conflict of interest situations in the past, goes before a legislative confirmation hearing later today in Augusta.

That is all.

[Update, 1/25/18: The environment and natural resources committee endorsed Dubois 10-3 and the Senate confirmed him by a much closer, mostly party line, 18-15.]

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Right whales in crisis: speeding ships and missing calves

The disastrous year for the North Atlantic right whale, the world's second most endangered mammal after the species' Pacific cousin, doesn't appear to be abating. After seventeen of the whales have been found dead since June in New England and Atlantic Canada -- more than three percent of the total worldwide population of 450 -- scientists warned the species will be extinct in another 23 years if something doesn't change.

But the most recent news only increases anxiety about the whales: a series of speeding violations by ships in a zone of the Gulf of St. Lawrence set up by Canada to protect the whales and, separately, an absence of calf sightings on the whales calving grounds off Georgia and northeastern Florida.

I have the full story on these and other developments in the whales' odyssey in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram.

I reported last summer for the Press Herald about the right whale die off, with some additional background about the species and how its been monitored. I've reported on the species on and off for  a decade for other publications, context you can find by starting here.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Maine: what happens if there's a federal shutdown tonight

At this writing, the US government is within hours of its first shutdown since 2013. As President Trump and Congressional leaders try to come up with an agreement, Mainers may want to know how a partial government closure is likely to effect them.

I put together a piece on just that for yesterday's Portland Press Herald. Have a look while you're waiting for the news from Washington.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Gov. LePage's support for offshore drilling at odds with every New England member of Congress

This month, when the Trump administration unveiled its plan to open virtually all areas of U.S. federal waters to oil and gas exploration, most of New England's elected leaders expressed outrage. Every member of the US Senate and US House from the five coastal New England states signed onto a bipartisan bill to ban drilling in the region, while every governor from Massachusetts to Florida announced their intention to seek an exemption. Florida's governor even got one.

The one exception: Maine's Gov. Paul LePage, who not only didn't join the chorus, he'd written a letter in August asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to do just what he did.

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram I report on the controversy and how LePage's stance on drilling may complicate Maine's effort to get a Florida-like exemption.

I previously reported on oil and gas drilling in our region in late 2015, when Canada leased areas on their side of the border, at the entrance to the Gulf of Maine.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Trump admin to erase voter registation data in effort to deny other voter fraud commission docs to Dunlap

The struggle over transparency at President Trump's voter fraud commission continues even after its demise.

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I updated the ongoing drama between the White House and Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, one of four Democrats on the 11 member commission, who said he was frozen out of its deliberations for months and in November sued to gain access to working papers, past, present and future.

Trump pulled the plug on the commission Jan. 3, apparently on account of Dunlap's lawsuit, and Justice Department lawyers then informed Dunlap that, despite a court order, they would not be immediately turning over the documents. Dunlap then asked the court, in effect, to enforce its order, especially as the White House had said they were turning the voter registration data collected by the commission -- and its alleged "preliminary findings" -- to the Department of Homeland Security, which would continue the voter fraud work.

Only now that plan has been dumped.

This past week, the administration has instead announced it intends to erase all the voter registration data it collected, thereby removing one of the reasons Dunlap had argued he should be allowed to see its working papers. Dunlap told me it was "Orwellian."

Details in the story.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Trump disbands voter fraud commission, which now refuses to give Dunlap documents

President Trump this week pulled the plug on his controversial voter fraud commission, but the drama surrounding it has only escalated.

Trump's decision came on the heels of a federal judge's ruling that the commission had to turn over working documents to all of its commissioners, including Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who had filed suit to obtain them after he and the three other Democrats on the body were cut out of the information flow.

But, as I report in today's Maine Sunday Telegram, the Trump administration is now saying it will not comply with the judge's order on the grounds that, since the commission does not now exist, Dunlap is no longer a commissioner and not entitled to see its documents. Normally mild mannered Dunlap responded with outrage, saying the Department of Justice was showing contempt for the law and American values.

Today's story also describes how Dunlap's insistence on transparency may have caused the president to shut the commission down, and also what may or may not happen if the voter fraud effort is passed to the Homeland Security Department.

[Update, 1/10/18: Here's another incremental development, which I reported in today's paper: Dunlap has asked the court to order the government to share the docs with him and also not to transfer them to DHS or anyone else.]

For more on the voter fraud commission, start here.