Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cloistering the Monks

Al Diamon has taken the Maine Sunday Telegram to task for their tip-toeing around a memoir by a member of the influential Monks family (it's about mental illness). But I'm far more surprised that the New York Times agreed to report fiction as fact in their Aug. 11 article on Millicent Monk's book, Songs of Three Islands.

I've no desire to intrude on the Monks' privacy, but most anyone around here knows the photo accompanying the Times article was not taken "on a Maine island," as the caption asserts. Nor did the events in the article take place on an island, despite many statements to the contrary by writer Lisa Belkin. (Belkin should also have noted that "Northern Island," like "Crescent Island," is a pseudonym.)

There's nothing wrong with protecting your subjects' privacy, but the Times should have done so by writing around Mrs. Monks' geographical sleight-of-hand, not by repeatedly printing statements of fact they knew to be false. (Even the Telegram was wise enough not to descend down this very slippery slope.)

Next time I'm reading a Times piece about an influential person, I don't want to be guessing which passages are fact, and which are fiction.

[Update, 9/3/10: I invited Ms. Belkin to respond. She sent me a note that entirely ignored her central deception -- claiming she visited an island estate, when she was in fact in Portland's outer mainland suburbs -- and responding to my aside about Northern Island by pasting an altered version of the relevant passage, with quotes added around the island's name. Guilty as charged, apparently.]

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Things to Watch and Read, Aug. 26 edition

As summer draws to a close, a few items of interest:

Dan Quayle's creepy son wins primary: If events in Arizona have you concerned about the future of the Republic, here's some more to chew on. Dan Quayle's son, Ben, beat eight rivals to become the Republican nominee for one of Greater Phoenix's congressional seats. Of course he raised lots of money through his dad's connections, but he used it to create this creepy television ad, which apparently worked for him. When people vote for someone because they promise to be an angry bully, it's time to worry about the health of the body politic.

In Maine, official accountability crashes: The Portland Phoenix has an important piece on how the Pine Tree State's e-mail archiving system frustrates journalists and watchdog groups' efforts to keep an eye on public officials.

Shame of Maine: There's been a lot of national media attention paid to Maine's very own egg magnate, Austin "Jack" DeCoster, on account of the massive national salmonella outbreak traced to his Iowa operations. This has triggered a flurry of reports about DeCoster's disturbing pattern of gross labor, environmental, and food safety lapses in Iowa, Maryland, and, of course, here in Maine, where he was fined $2 million back in 1997 for abusing workers. Somehow, DeCoster keeps getting away with it, paying fines and making false promises to have "changed." Robert Reich suggests some businessmen are just plain "bad eggs," and suggests their state-level misdeeds should be more easily traceable across the nation.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Things to Read, Aug. 23 edition

I'm busy finishing my book, but a few items worthy of sharing:

LePage's lackluster record: Maine gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage has been touting his record as mayor of Waterville, which saw a reduction in taxes and improved credit rating and rainy day fund balance. The Bangor Daily News probed this so-called "Waterville miracle" and found the situation was largely due to the state's increase in aid to schools, and that Waterville's tax reduction was actually less than the average for towns of 7,500 or larger. Trenchant reading.

Irving paper silent on Irving Refinery accident: Residents of the east side of Saint John, New Brunswick woke up Friday to discover their cars, lawns, and homes were covered in a gritty gray dust, the result of an accident at the Irving Oil refinery there. The CBC reported the basics a few hours later and followed up Saturday: the oil company said the substances were non-toxic, advised people wear rubber gloves when cleaning it up, and offered car wash vouchers by way of compensation.

Surely, you might think, Saint John's daily newspaper would be all over the story, checking with federal environmental officials and refinery experts to see whether the company's claims were true. But the Saint John Telegraph-Journal is owned by the Irvings, as are all the other English-language daily newspapers and most weeklies in the province. As of this morning -- more than three days later -- the paper's website hasn't even mentioned the accident took place. Mainers might be happy they decided not to bid on the Portland Press Herald a couple years back. [Update, 8/24/10: there's been a repeat incident, but still no coverage at the Telegraph-Journal.] [Update, 8/25/10: CBC reports a previously unreported third incident, health concerns; newspaper website focuses on spaghetti suppers.]

In tough times, tax cuts for the rich: The New York Times' Paul Krugman calls attention to one of the more outrageous developments on Capitol Hill: permanent tax relief for the top one percent of Americans. In a healthy democracy, congressional supporters of such an irresponsible and transparently corrupt policy would be run out of town on a high-speed rail; they'll probably find a way to pass it off as striking a blow for "real Americans." (Indeed, Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have said cutting taxes on the rich will hurt small businesses.) How's this?: the rich can have a tax cut after the deficit is paid off.

Superdelegates uber alles: It's official: Democratic Party superdelegates will retain their powers to reverse the popular vote in the presidential nomination process, a story I broke over at Newsweek earlier this month. At their meeting in St. Louis last week, Democratic National Committee members -- all of whom are superdelegates -- rubber stamped the rules committee recommendation by an overwhelming voice vote. I'd provide a link to news coverage of this development, but apparently there wasn't any. The Associated Press stuck to the DNC press office's talking points.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Talking about America's component nations: Aug. 25, Boothbay Harbor

I've been posting less often of late, in part because I'm on deadline to finish my fourth book: a history of North America's rival nations and how the conflicts between them have shaped our politics, Constitution, and most everything else.

Although Viking won't be publishing the book until next year, I'm giving a special preview talk at the Opera House in Boothbay Harbor, Maine on August 25, sponsored by the Boothbay Region Historical Society. I'll be signing books at the Historical Society (72 Oak St.) from 3pm to 3:50pm -- come by and chat if you're in the area -- then walking over to the Opera House (86 Townsend Ave.) to give the talk, which kicks off at 4pm. The talk is free, but they ask you reserve seats as space is finite.

Bear in mind, it's a work in progress, but I'm interested in bouncing the concepts and ideas off a live audience before putting the final touches on the manuscript.

I'll be giving my popular Lobster Coast talk in Maine at least one more time this year, in Wells. As always, I'll post details at my lecture tour page.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Talking about coastal Maine's identity, Aug. 18, Bath

Residents of the lower Midcoast: I'll be giving my talk on the past, present, and future of coastal Maine in Bath, Maine on Wednesday, August 18th at 6:30 pm at the Winter Street Center, 880 Washington Ave. The event is hosted by the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust -- in fact, it's their annual meeting -- but its free and open to the public. Space is limited, so KELT suggests you reserve a seat here. The talk is based on my New England Bestseller, The Lobster Coast.

Here's a blurb on it from Main Street Bath:

If you really want to know why Maine has a bone to pick with Massachusetts come to the Winter Street Center on August 18th at 7pm.

Colin Woodard, Maine author and award winning journalist, will be the guest speaker at the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust’s annual meeting. The presentation is free and open to the public, although donations will be accepted at the door.

Based on the New England bestseller, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier (Viking Press, 2004), Woodard will give a talk tailored for this region titled “The Lobster Coast: The past, present, and future of the Maine Coast”. He tells the riveting and unexpected story of the people of coastal Maine, including the central role the Kennebec River played in shaping early New England.

The evening begins at 6:30 with brief reports on KELT’s current projects including land protection and habitat restoration. At 7:00pm there will be a break for refreshments and Mr. Woodard will begin at 7:15. Q&A and book signing will follow his presentation.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Maine G.O.P: Have the Moderates Lost Control?

In a highly polarized, winner-takes-all, "damn-what's-right-do-whatever-helps-our-side-win" national political scene, Maine's Republican Party has long been an anachronism: a bastion of moderate centrists succeeding in the bluest of American regions. While the national party fell under the control of the Christian Right and Dixie oligarchy decades ago, Maine's G.O.P. has continued to put forward people in the old Nelson Rockefeller mold: Margaret Chase Smith and Bill Cohen, Jock McKernan,and Olympia Snowe. In Maine, it seemed, the center still held.

But with the volatile "Tea Party" crowd having succeeded in rewriting the party platform, securing their preferred gubernatorial candidate the party nomination, and taking over county committees, one wonders if the centrists have finally met their Waterloo.

My piece in the new Down East asks if the moderates have finally lost control of the party, with input from Cohen, former party chairman Robert A.G. Monks, vanquished gubernatorial candidate Peter Mills, triumphant candidate Paul LePage, Tea Party activist Andrew Ian Dodge, the conservative retired Bangor Daily News political columnist John Day, and others.

The answer, you'll see, depends on whom you talk to.

One correction: Sen. Snowe would face a possible primary challenge in 2012, not "next year" as I wrote in the piece. The oversight is mine.

Monday, August 2, 2010

How the DNC saved the superdelegates

It's not often one breaks a national politics story from Maine, but my piece over at Newsweek.com appears to be the first to call attention to the derailing of a key Democratic Party electoral reform last month.

Remember the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, when everyone got worried that unelected "superdelegates" might decide the race between Obama and Clinton, rather than the voters? There were calls to change the rules to take away these party luminaries' special powers, ensuring they would never overrule the electorate.

The body created to recommend reforms agreed with the critics, suggesting party big wigs should be required to cast their votes for a candidate assigned to them on the basis of electoral results. But as you'll see in my piece, the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee took a dim view of this suggestion. Barring a coup at the DNC meeting later this month, superdelegates are here to stay.

One strange event: while reporting this story, I received an anonymous call from a guy who insisted on giving me three "tips" (all of which proved false) and urged me to talk to three sources (none of whom returned messages.) They just don't make Deep Throats like they used to, I guess.

Also, by an odd coincidence, the piece posted within minutes of the Washington Post announcing it is selling Newsweek, and that editor Jon Meacham will be stepping down.

[Update, 8/3/2010: I like New York magazine's headline for this story. Also, some Maine Republicans found my piece and are trumpeting how "Dem Primary" is "Not in Voters' Hands," apparently unaware that their own caucus rules completely disenfranchise all rank and file voters, and that their state rules committee chose not to change them this year.]