Friday, May 28, 2010

Maine Magazine: trouble afoot?

Since he took over Port City Life -- and renamed in Maine. The Magazine -- publisher Kevin E. Thomas has turned it into an extremely attractive catalog. Modeled on the lines of his other magazine, Maine Home + Design, it runs lots of nice pictures and soft features on advertisers, painting an image of an alternate Maine where the upper middle class has finally purged the state of poverty, politics, and unethical behavior, or at least have the good sense not to write about them. But if Angela Adams ever puts out a $400 skin for your iPod, you can can count on Maine. The Magazine to break the news, and even give you the URL to order one.

Check out their "profile" of Roxanne Quimby in the new issue. Here's a piece on one of the state's most divisive figures, without the slightest hint that her enormous land purchases (and draconian management approach) have upset half the people living in the northern half of the state. (It certainly didn't ask why a person who advocates for earth-friendly living and who gave large sums to defeat Maine casino proposals would allow her non-profit land holding foundation to invest in Harrah's Entertainment, Avon Products, Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil, and Dow Chemical.) But when I happened to turn to page four, the editorial reasoning became clear: the entire page is taken up by an ad from, yes, Roxanne Quimby. Hard to trust the editors have the reader's interests in mind when features and adverts appear to be sold as a bundle.

But integrity aside, something appears to be going on over there. Senior editor Peter A. Smith and Art Director Jennifer S. Muller just vanished from the editorial box and have presumably been let go or replaced. The "editor's notes" feature in the front of the new magazine has been occupied by an oddly pleading note from the advertising account manager, accompanied by unaudited circulation figures.

Meanwhile, publisher Kevin Thomas appears to have troubles of his own. In December, his name appeared in the police blotter at the Forecaster (reportedly arrested on a warrant for domestic violence), and then again in March in the Lewiston Sun-Journal (for drunk driving, a violation of previous bail.) Rumor has it that the swift-footed Press Herald is on the story, though I'll believe that when I see it.

It's not clear what all this means for the magazine, whose latest issue was thick with ads, but I wouldn't be shocked if more changes are coming up.

[Update, 6/30/2010: Some further developments included in this news roundup.]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Maine Turnpike: Friend of Foe?

The Maine Turnpike Authority -- a "quasi-state entity" with a virtual monopoly on overland travel to the rest of the Union -- has been locked in a battle with the Town of York over a controversial plan to rebuild the state's most important toll plaza.

Critics say they've got their heads in the sand and are building an expensive plaza with obsolete technology. Some would like to see the Authority merged with the Maine Department of Transportation, and wonder how it came to be separate in the first place. There's concern that our tolls are perhaps inflated because they are not being spent wisely.

The Turnpike is the subject of my Talk of Maine column in the new issue of Down East magazine, in stores and online now. As you'll see, the Turnpike's corporate-cum-government structure does raise eyebrows, but their defenders' arguments generally hold water.

[UPDATE, 5/27/10: Rep. Dawn Hill, who didn't make herself available for an interview with me, has announced a probe into the Turnpike Authority, including how it is overseen and whether its resources could be used for state highways. (Notice Maine's media has been scooped on this by a paper in New Hampshire.)]

Monday, May 24, 2010

Otten on Maine GOP platform and other things

Maine Republican gubernatorial candidate Les Otten held a Live Chat with readers of the Maine Today Media papers this afternoon.

Two questioners asked Otten if he supported the Maine GOP's new Tea Party-style platform. (A week after the platform passed, Otten told the AP he hadn't had time to study the three-page document.)

Here's Otten's non-answer: "I did [have time to study it] and I have and while I do not agree with everything in the platform, it is still my studied position that the things that are most important to Mainers - creating jobs, decreasing taxes and downsizing state government - is compatible with what I want to do.

Uh, and your "studied position" on the platform is what, exactly? Are those things "most important to Mainers" compatible with the new platform, which would seal the border between Maine and New Brunswick and concentrate on Austrian School economics, among other things?

Another asked, "Do you support casinos? Baldacci wants one."

Otten: "I support casinos on a statewide basis with decisions made by local communities. Further, ownership needs to be in Maine, management needs to be in Maine and Maine needs to properly tax these establishments for their benefit. Further, last time I was in Bangor I thought Governor Baldacci had his casino.

He also had an interesting observation about Lubec, Maine (where voters are considering closing their high school) and Campobello Island, New Brunswick (right next to Lubec, but isolated from the rest of Canada.)

Otten: "I think the current consolidation scheme is a one-shoe fits all law or mandate. What works in York and Cumberland Counties clearly does not work in Aroostook and Washington Counties. A great example where we are missing the boat is in Washington County where Lubec, on the American side and Campobello, on the Canadian side are barely 5 minutes apart yet our consolidation policies dont' permit the creation of an international school that would benefit both communities."

That's an intriguing idea that's new to me, at least. Might look into that one when I'm in the area next long as nobody has sealed the border.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ocean's End: the documentary series?

My first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, had me traveling the globe to explore the destruction of marine ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them.

In a little over a year I saw empty fishing towns in Newfoundland, deserted beach resorts on the Black Sea, bleaching corals on the Belize Barrier Reef, vanishing bayous around New Orleans, melting ice sheets in Antarctica, and eroding island nations in the center of the Pacific. From Atlantic Canada to former Soviet Georgia, ocean systems were in big trouble, often needlessly. They still are, and in most cases, the situation has gotten worse.

Junto Entertainment out in L.A. would like to make Ocean's End into a documentary series, and would do it in association with Lawrence Bender, the guy who made An Inconvenient Truth. Anyone familiar with the global state of the oceans knows the world needs a wake up call -- what's happening is literally out of sight, out of mind -- and film can bring it home like no other medium. Now they've got their treatment up on their revamped website, so any media mogul can find it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Maine: GOP gov hopefuls won't reject new platform

As most of you know, the Maine Republican Party adopted a Tea Party-inspired platform at their convention last week. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank calls it a "manifesto of insanity." Joan Walsh at Salon says it "commits the Maine GOP fully to the crackpot fringe."

So what do Maine's Republican gubernatorial candidates have to say?

The Associated Press asked all of them if they would accept a Democratic challenge to reject the document. None would.

In the quoted remarks, Peter Mills came the closest, saying it contained things most Maine Republicans don't support.

Bruce Poliquin said he agrees with parts of it; Bill Beardsely says he supports "the spirit" behind it.

Steve Abbott and Paul LePage didn't even respond.

Six days after the convention, Les Otten had the most remarkable reaction to the widely-available three page document: "I haven't studied the changes." He also added that he wasn't sure how it tied in with his campaign themes.

That's either a failure in political courage, or Otten spent the last week in a cave. Maybe Abbott and LePage are still inside....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Maine's "Tea Party coup": a full report

I spent much of yesterday reporting a proper story on how the historically moderate Maine Republican Party came to pass a new Tea Party-backed platform at their convention this weekend. Curiously, it appears largely a spontaneous act by the delegates, many of whom had never had a chance to read it prior to its presentation to the floor.

You can read what I learned over at The Christian Science Monitor.

Here, also, are links to the new Maine GOP platform (Word document) and the old platform (which had been proposed for renewal.)

[Update: 1600 EST: Mainers may be interested in this peculiar side note from the Forecaster regarding how the group that sponsored the new platform -- the Knox County Republicans -- conducted themselves in the public school classroom they were loaned during the convention. Also, later, Bill Nemitz comments in his Press Herald column.]

[Update: 1700 EST: A sampling of national blogospheric thinking on this story from The Week, Red State, Politico, Washington Monthly, and Matthew Yglesias.]

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Tea Party coup in Maine?

There appears to have been a Tea Party coup at the Maine Republican Party's convention this weekend.

Delegates reportedly jettisoned the proposed platform and replaced it with a Tea Party-praising document that everyone ought read.

[UPDATE, 5/11/10: I now have a full report with more details in The Christian Science Monitor.]

Among the planks of the Maine GOP's official new platform: sealing of our borders, a "strict adherence" to the second amendment, rejection of the UN Law of the Sea Treaty and the UN Treaty on the Rights of the Child, the promotion of "family values," a rejection of Cap and Trade, a freezing of stimulus funds and a prohibition on future stimulus bills, a "return to the principles of Austrian Economics," a removal of "obstacles created by government to allow private development of...natural gas, oil, coal, and nuclear power," a rejection of "the government takeover of healthcare" because "only market based solutions will solve the problems," elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, and a "repeal" of "any participation in efforts to create a one world government."

They also call for an end of "collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth" and "reassert the principle that "Freedom of Religion" does not mean "freedom from religion."

The Maine GOP leadership seemed completely surprised by the move, as evidenced by this video of the vote. The Press Herald asked party chair Charlie Webster if this represented a major ideological change; he responded "absolutely not" and asserted the new platform represents the values of working class Mainers. Gubernatorial candidate Peter Mills, quoted in the same piece, seemed to think otherwise. Some further background in the Kennebec Journal.

No word in the press on whether the Tea Party folks noticed their votes for presidential nominees will be meaningless under the proposed rules for the 2012 election cycle.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Who rightfully owns the plunder of war?

In recent decades, there's been an upsurge in claims for art and cultural objects seized in past conflicts or by occupying armies. Northern European museums face claims on their antiquities from governments in southern Europe or North African. Native Americans want stolen objects -- even bodies -- returned. Germany wants art taken by the Soviets during World War II and vice versa.

But returning wartime plunder to its rightful owner isn't at all straightforward, particularly for objects seized in the distant past. Who the 'rightful' owner is seems to depend largely on your point of view, and international law doesn't provide much help prior to the 20th century.

This is the subject of my cover story in the new issue of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, out on news stands shortly and online now.