Monday, September 16, 2019

Covering Climate Now and the Gulf of Maine

Ahead of United Nations Climate Summit in New York next week, more than 170 news outlets have signed on to Covering Climate Now, an effort organized by the Columbia Journalism Review, The Guardian, and The Nation to have reporters release local, national, and global climate stories in a singe week. This week in fact.

The Portland Press Herald signed on to the effort, and the first two stories -- by yours truly -- appeared in yesterday's Maine Sunday Telegram and today's Press Herald.

The first is on the unfolding climate crisis in the Gulf of Maine, the second fastest warming part of the world's oceans, a phenomenon scientists have linked to the rapid meltdown of the Arctic region and Greenland ice sheets, with have altered the qualities of the currents that feed the Gulf. This is essentially an update on what has been learned or experienced since our six-part series on the issue, "Mayday," appeared in 2015. (It got some additional national attention after being named a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.)

The second -- in today's paper -- is on the policy response. After years of inaction under Republican Gov. Paul LePage and his partisan allies in the legislature, Maine is now moving aggressively to make up for lost time, under a new governor and Democratic-controlled legislature. Congress, however, is still stalled. Details within.

My Press Herald colleagues continue the series this week, starting tomorrow with a story on woodlot owners and carbon sinks.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

United States nationhood and my forthcoming book


I recently completed my sixth book, which I expect will be on sale in the summer 2020. It's on the struggle to create a story of United States nationhood, told via the lives of the key figures who fought it out in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I'll have a lot more to say about it in the coming months, but I riffed a little on some of the themes in this blog post for the Law & Liberty blog, "The fraught battle to create an American nationhood." (That should really read "United States Nationhood," of course.) Hope you enjoy this small hors d'oeuvre.

This was itself a product of an academic symposium I participated in out in Boulder, Colorado this winter on "Liberty and the American Character." Some of my fellow participants have blog posts on their takes on this topic, including Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen, Villanova's Colleen Sheehan, and Michigan State dean emeritus William B. Allen.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Reviewing DeParle's book on migrants in Washington Monthly


Jason DeParle, a George Polk Award–winning reporter for the New York Times, embedded with a family of Manila slum dwellers thirty-three years ago and has kept contact with them ever since, allowing him to do something remarkable in his new book. A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves tells the story of global migration through the experiences of a single migrant family over three generations in intimate, often eyewitness detail. It’s a journey that starts in a one-room shanty open to rats and rain and ends on a cul-de-sac in a newly constructed Texas City subdivision. 

I had the privilege of reviewing  the book for the new issue of Washington Monthly and hope you'll take the time to read it and the book. It's a story that will leave you better understanding how the world works today and where we’re likely headed.


Thursday, August 29, 2019

In France


I've been in France this week. I can't say too much about it, except that it involved a television shoot, the Museum of the Freemasons in Paris, and maybe something about a pirate treasure. More on this in the months to come.

Along the way, however, I discovered this brilliant contraption in a rural train station in Champagne, which I can share with abandon. Here is a country that takes cultural production seriously.


Also: it's strange to see Notre Dame in darkness, all approaches closed off for a block around, including bridges, plaza, and subway entrances. A catastrophe, that fire was.




Wednesday, August 28, 2019

In Maine, study finds cruise ship passengers spend about half as much as previously claimed


Last year, I wrote a series for the Portland Press Herald exploring how Maine communities can balance the costs and benefits of cruise ship tourism, an issue that had already exploded into public controversies in Bar Harbor, Rockland, and several smaller ports.

One focal point was how much cruise ship passengers actually spend ashore, particularly in Portland, where the only existing study was rather a mess, probably inflating the numbers by 100 percent.

That issue came up again this month with the release of a state-sponsored study of passenger spending that found each spent not $109 to $110, but rather $61-and-change. I wrote about this in Monday's Press Herald, with reaction from municipal officials and response from the state's cruise industry office and the author of the previous studies in Maine. Hope you enjoy.




Saturday, August 24, 2019

Sinclair directs local TV stations across the country, including Maine's WGME, to promote Trump campaign merch


Sinclair Broadcasting, the conservative Maryland-based company that's the largest owner of local television stations in the country, this month directed its stations to publish "news articles" promoting Trump campaign merchandise.

The articles, which were published and promoted (via Tweets) by Maine's WGME-13, have no sources and read much like a product catalog entry. Some stations linked directly to the Trump campaign's internet store product pages. Proceeds from campaign merchandise sales are used to fund the political campaign. I reported about this in Tuesday's Portland Press Herald.

It's not the first media ethics controversy involving Sinclair and WGME. I wrote about a scripted spot attacking alleged "fake news" broadcast by other news organizations last fall.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Trump's "judge whisperer" buys Maine mansion, hosts fundraiser for Susan Collins


In this past week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I have the story of how Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society and the man credited with pre-selecting Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and other conservative justices for the Supreme Court, bought a mansion on Maine's Mount Desert Island and held a fundraiser for Senator Susan Collins.

It features C. Boyden Grey (who co-hosted the Collins fundraiser Aug. 8 and serves on the Federalist Society board) and the Knights of Malta (a Catholic order that has many of the attributes of a sovereign state, including 108 embassies, postage stamps, passports, coins and a seat at the United Nations) and even the W.R. Grace company (the one featured in the book and movie "A Civil Action.")








Sunday, August 4, 2019

Senate adjourned without action on election security, disappointing Maine leaders

As Senate, House, and the former special counsel all underscored that U.S. election systems are under attack by Russia and other nefarious actors, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked bipartisan bills to address the problem.

Now the Senate is on recess for five weeks, pretty much ensuring states won't be able to upgrade their voting machines and other sensitive equipment before the 2020 election. In the Portland Press Herald, I report on how Maine's top elections official -- Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who served on Trump's ill-fated voter fraud commission -- and US Senators reacted.

Senator Angus King, I-Maine -- who serves on the Senate intelligence committee -- has been banging the gong on this issue for the past two years. Here's what he's previously said, and more here.

For Dunlap's experiences with the "election integrity" commission -- which refused to take up the issue of Russian interference -- start here.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

American Nations becomes a Wall Street Journal Bestseller

Last week, my fourth book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, made the Wall Street Journal bestseller list for the first time, eight years after its initial release. For the week ending July 20, it made #7 on the Non-fiction e-book list. (If you don't subscribe, other papers publish this list.)

The book also made #106 on the USA Today Bestseller List for all types of books and editions.

As you will likely surmise, most of the sales were e-books and, since the New York Times doesn't have a category for that, it didn't make the grey lady's lists, alas. (My publisher, at least, requires three national lists before bestowing the title "National Bestseller.")

Thanks to everyone who bought an e-book last week, or any edition at any time really!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey discovers American Nations

I'm on Twitter quite a lot because, for better or worse, its the news media's nervous system and I'm in the news media. So I was surprised and pleased earlier this month when @Jack himself -- Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter -- piped up with this:


He probably hasn't seen my response -- I don't have a blue check -- but I said I'd love to do an analytical collaboration using the American Nations model and Twitter data. So, Jack, if you're listening, drop me a DM.

Dorsey's is the third famous person to plug American Nations in a Tweet in recent months, and I suspect this is the only book to receive praise from this particular trio, the other two being Jeff Daniels and Glenn Beck.

Meanwhile, at this writing, Amazon has the Kindle edition of the book on special for $1.99, for those who, unlike me, don't mind reading books on screen.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

How Gov. LePage spent his final year in office

Maine's erstwhile governor, Paul LePage, often tried to keep his travels secret, even taxpayer-funded trips, like his stays at the Trump International Hotel in Washington or his trade mission to Montenegro last summer, which wasn't disclosed to Maine's media until after it was underway.

So as soon as he left office, I requested his entire calendar for 2018 via a public records request. It took four months to get it -- and two more months to secure supporting materials on some of the trips -- so it's only now, a half year into a new administration that the public can learn what previous governors would have told them ahead of time.

A summary of what the documents revealed appeared in yesterday's Portland Press Herald, and is available online here.

For more on how shortcomings with Maine's public records laws allow public officials to thwart transparency, consider this piece from January.





Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Six years after lawmakers reverse ban, alewives have banner run in St. Croix River


For seven years now, I've reported on the strange saga of the alewives of the St. Croix River, which forms the border between the US and Canada in eastern Maine and southwestern New Brunswick.

They're the key forage food fish of the river system and near-coastal ocean, but back in 1995, the Maine legislature decided to order the fishways closed to them in the St. Croix, on the behest of guides for smallmouth bass, an introduced species they feared would be harmed by the native fish (an assertion lacking in compelling scientific evidence.)

In 2013 -- under heavy lobbying by everyone from the U.S. and Canadian federal governments to the Passamaquoddy tribe and Maine lobster fishermen --  lawmakers finally repealed the law and the fishways were reopened.

Now, six years on, the river's alewives have seen a record run -- nearly half a million fish, or double 2018's level and five thousand times the 2002 run of 900. I had the story in Monday's Portland Press Herald.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Leaving the Writing Cave

Regular readers may have noticed I've been relatively quiet for the past six months. The reason: I've been feverishly finishing a new book -- more on that later -- with little time to so much as keep up with my e-mail.

On Friday, however, I finally submitted the manuscript to my publisher and am able to leave my writing cave, squinting in the light of day, and able to read things unrelated to the nineteenth and early twentieth century fight over American nationhood. I've got a few interesting projects already lined up, so please watch this space.



Thursday, May 23, 2019

Jeff Daniels discovers American Nations

Jeff Daniels has been driving sell out crowds to New York's Shubert Theater to see his performance of Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin's new adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird. Parade Magazine, that insert in what remains of America's Sunday newspapers, interviewed him for this past Sunday's cover profile.

It's a compelling profile on a timely topic -- Atticus Finch is a lawyer defending a falsely accused black man in 1930s Alabama -- and a worthwhile read. But the self-interested reason I'm talking about it here is, at the end, he's asked his "Fave Read." His answer: American Nations. "It's fascinating," he says in what are the last lines of the feature. "It's all about how this country developed and why we are the way we are. We've never been one nation under God. It was always 11 nations."

Daniels first mentioned my book in a tweet  November 4th -- in fact, the title was the only thing the tweet said. The play opened December 13th, so I want to imagine he picked it up while thinking about regionalism and the Deep South of the 1930s. Or maybe he just wanted an escape. Either way, thanks Jeff for the kind plug.



Politically minded television viewers will remember Daniels' famous speech in the pilot to Sorkin's television series, The Newsroom, where he plays a Yankee Republican distressed about the direction of the country, his party and all.

For contrast, the last celebrity to go out of their way to mention the book was the idiosyncratic Glenn Beck.



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Warming of Gulf of Maine choking right whale food supply


In recent years, the endangered North Atlantic right whale has effectively abandoned summer feeding grounds in the eastern Gulf of Maine, showing up instead in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, where many were mowed down by ships before officials realized what was happening and impemented a speed ban.

Now scientists appear to have nailed down why they moved. As I reported in yesteday's Portland Press Herald, the warming of the Gulf of Maine has decimated the copepod the right whales feed on, forcing them to look elsewhere for sustenance. Details in the story.

Scientists have said the right whale could go extinct by 2040, after a spate of deaths. Last year was one of the warmest on record in the Gulf of Maine.

For more on the warming of the Gulf, copepods, and a lot of other context, consider this 2015 series.






Thursday, May 9, 2019

Speaking on American Nations, Needham, Mass., June 5


I'll be speaking about North American regionalism and its effects on U.S. politics, history, identity and most everything else in the western Boston suburb of Needham on Sunday, June 5 at 7 pm.

The talk, based on American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, is the keynote for the annual meeting of the Friends of the Needham Public Library and is free and open to the public. It takes place at the library, 1139 Highland Avenue (directions and parking information here.)

Delighted to see any metro Boston readers who can make it.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A colloquium in Boulder


Earlier this month I participated in a small colloquium out in Boulder on "Liberty and the American Character," featuring a mostly conservative group of scholars and thought leaders, many of them trained in political philosophy. Five of us presented papers -- mine used ideas in American Nations, American Character and a forthcoming book on the struggle to create America's first myth of national purpose to show why U.S. self-definition an especially fragile and vital project -- and all fifteen discussed them. It offered a fascinating window into how conservative academics trained specifically in republican theory look upon the republic's contemporary crisis.

A few takeaways:

This group -- convened by Michigan State University's Willam Allen and including Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, New York University's Lawrence Mead, Mark Lilla of Columbia University (and the New York Review of Books), and Colleen Sheehan of Villanova -- sees a pressing threat to liberal democracy. For most, however, the threat that preoccupies them is that which identity politics presents to liberal education at universities. Without prodding -- occasionally provided by yours truly -- Trump and Trumpism played surprisingly little role in the conversations. When it came up, most voiced concerns, but the gravitational pull of the identity politics issue was too great to allow this the topic to ever achieve escape velocity. I personally found this fascinating and, on an intellectual level, extremely difficult to understand. (Even if you think Trumpism is a good thing, it's clearly a topic for debate.)

Lawrence Mead, the intellectual force behind welfare reform of the 1990s, presented a shocking paper apparently based on his new book, which was released yesterday. The paper argued that people descended from "non-western" cultures are unfit for the rigors of American republican citizenship and undermine the nation's vitality. This included African-Americans on the theory that -- despite eight to twelve generations in this country and a legacy of slavery that included the intentional destruction of family units and associated cultural transmission -- they retain African, "non-western" cultural characteristics. Ditto for Asians (despite doing better than whites in academic attainment), Latinos, and everyone else not descended from Europeans who, even if their people came from feudal Russia or Sicily, are apparently especially fit for the rigors of liberal democratic life. This paper was not well received.

Most of the session on my paper stuck to the opening part on the American Nations paradigm, defining terms (nation, state, cultural transmission) and probing its relevance. The message of longstanding structural disunity seemed to dissatisfy some participants, particularly when applied to undercut things like the universal relevance of Tocqueville's observations on (Yankee) municipal government or the legacy of Puritan values for the Founders. [Update, 9/12/19: Here's a blog post I wrote in connection with my contribution.]

I had a few hours free one morning and drove through the Rockies, stopping at Estes Park to see The Stanley, the hotel that inspired Steven King to write The Shining (after a creepy 1974 stay in Room 217.) After this photo on Facebook, I leaned from fellow Mainers that the hotel was built by the Stanleys of my home county in western Maine, and used to entertain their friends from Kingfield, one of the four hamlets that made up my school district. See, I've always been the caretaker.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Talking American Nations in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, April 30

I'll be speaking about the concepts, ideas, and historical lessons in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America at the Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, Maine on Tuesday, April 30th.

The event kicks off at 6:30 pm at the library, 6 Scott Dyer Road, and is free and open to the public. Some event details can be found here. Come if you can.

I have several public talks in the works and will post them at the speaking events page on my website as they're locked down. [Update, 4/22/18: I'm speaking on American Nations at the public library in Needham, Massachusetts on June 5th.]




Friday, April 5, 2019

Maine tribes could get power to try non-Indians accused of domestic violence

Maine's tribes have been excluded from provisions of the 2013 Violence Against Women Act that allow tribal courts to try non-Indians accused of domestic violence on reservations, but that may be changing.

The Penobscot Nation court was blocked from participation when the state of Maine -- and then-attorney general Janet Mills -- argued VAWA did not apply to Maine tribes under its interpretation of the 1980 laws that settled the tribes' claim to more than half of Maine's territory. As I report in today's Portland Press Herald, the US House has just passed a revised version of the act with language introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME01) that would explicitly include the Maine tribes.

For background and the bill's prospects in the Senate, please read the story.

For deeper background, settled into the 29-part series "Unsettled" on the land claims, the Passamaquoddy, and the fraught state-tribal relationship.


Monday, March 18, 2019

John Hickenlooper's time Down East in 1970


A few years ago, I was in Denver writing this POLITICO story on how the city built a metro-wide light rail system from scratch, a story that led to my interviewing then-governor (and former Denver mayor) John Hickenlooper.

He gets on the phone, hears I'm from Maine, and first thing he says is "You must know (D.L Geary Brewing founder) David Geary" (both men are micro brewing pioneers); the second is that as a teen he spent a summer volunteering at a free school in Maine. That school, it turned out, was in Robbinston and had been co-founded by Susan Tureen, who had been pushed out of her public school teaching job probably because she was married to Tom Tureen, the Passamaquoddy tribe's new attorney, in the midst of the epic land claims fight.

Now Hickenlooper is running for president, so I put a fuller story together for this week's Maine Sunday Telegram. Enjoy.

For more on the situation in Easternmost Maine in 1970, see the 29-part Press Herald series "Unsettled," especially Chapters 10 to 13.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Rep. Pingree reintroduced ocean acidification bill; this time it might pass

Ocean acidification, a potentially catastrophic threat to shellfish harvesters and the coastal communities they live in, is one of a variety of climate related risks confronting both the Gulf of Maine and Alaska.

This week, Maine US Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) and Alaska's Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) reintroduced bills in their respective chambers that would take the first steps in mitigating the problem by directing federal authorities to identify exactly where the greatest risks and gaps in knowledge are. With Democrats in control of the House, Pingree told me she's pretty upbeat the measures might become law.

I have the story in yesterday's Portland Press Herald.

For more context on the problem, start with this series.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Frederick Douglass and "Allender's Jake": a research note

There are very few people who will be interested in this post, but for the few among you who study Frederick Douglass, a small research discovery.

Jake Ellis -- aka "Allender's Jake", aka William Dixon -- the fugitive slave Douglass encountered on his first day of freedom in New York City, the one who warned him about slave catchers and who was at the center of a years-long legal battle that pulled in underground railroad conductor David Riggles -- was not the property of Dr. Joseph Allender, as Blassimgame et al. suggested in the footnotes to their (excellent) annotated edition of My Bondage, My Freedom.

Period newspaper accounts of Ellis's trip explicitly say Ellis was the property of "Dr. William T. Alexander" of Baltimore. They got the name wrong. This would be William T. Allender (1807-1880), Dr. Alexander's son.

That is all. You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.


Friday, February 15, 2019

Speaking on American Nations / American Character, Bath, Maine, Mar. 2

I'm pleased to be speaking about North American regionalism, the central political argument it has fostered over the past 400 years, how it interacts with Trumpism, and the path forward to shoring up the world's oldest liberal democracy.... all on March 2nd at the Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine.

The event, based on American Nations and American Character, kicks off at 10:30 am and is free and open to the public. More details here.

My next American Character talk is at the HR Policy Association annual meeting in Orlando later in March, but that one isn't open to the public at large.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Maine poised to finally respond to Gulf of Maine climate threats


With Gov. Paul LePage gone and Democrats in complete control of state government, Maine appears poised to finally confront climate change threats to the state, including the implement of key recommendations of a bipartisan ocean acidification commission that wrapped up its work back in 2014.

I report on these developments in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram.

The Gulf of Maine is the second fastest warming part of the world's oceans, with far-ranging implications for Maine fisheries, the economy, and the ecosystem -- all this the subject of my 2015 Press Herald series "Mayday," which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize that year. Since then, Maine lawmakers have failed to respond, Congress and the Trump administration have refused to act, and the Gulf has continued to experience near-record temperatures.

For further background on the crises facing the world's oceans, consider my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, which took me from Antarctica to Micronesia, with Belize, Newfoundland, Louisiana and the Black Sea in between.

[Update, 3/15/19: Promising developments for ocean acidification bill at federal level as well.]

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Maine: public records withheld by LePage may soon see light of day

Maine has a notoriously weak public records law, one lacking in meaningful enforcement provisions. The result: bad actors in state government are able to defy the intent of the law and never turn over records. The Maine Warden Service provided one infamous example of sustained stonewalling a few years back, and the system demonstrated it was impotent to compel compliance. Governor Paul LePage provided another, failing to turn over the receipts for his emolument clause-relevant stay (or stays) at Donald Trump's Washington DC hotel.

But with the change of administrations, Mainers may finally see some of the results of some long suppressed requests under Maine's Freedom of Access Act. In Monday's Portland Press Herald I report on the hows and whys of this, and talk to experts about the shortcomings of Maine's FOAA and how it might be rectified.

Last week I reported on another public records problem: many older ones have likely been lost as information technology staffers purged servers.

[Update, 3/15/19: The documents were finally released to my intrepid Press Herald colleagues Kevin Miller and Scott Thistle, who reported on their content here.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Ten years of World Wide Woodard

Happy 2019 everyone, and happy birthday to this blog, which started 10 years ago today with this post from Reykjavik, where I was starting a reporting trip in the wake of that country's near-total (but ultimately short-lived) financial meltdown in the midst of the 2008 economic crisis.



Reflecting on the decade recorded on this blog, the major changes: (a) parenthood and (b) a not unrelated shift away from primarily foreign correspondent work to North American coverage; (c) becoming a staffer at Maine's largest newspaper (where we won a big award and was a finalist for another); (d) the writing, completion, publication, and dissemination of American Nations and its successor, American Character; (e) the continued life of Republic of Pirates, via an NBC television show, an Ubisoft video game, and a variety of foreign translations; and (f) a reduction in the frequency and geographical scope of my travels -- not-so-worldwide Woodard, as the decade turned out!

Here's to an interesting second decade.