Thursday, April 28, 2011

Speaking on the mast trade, South Portland, April 30

For those in Southern Maine: I'll be giving a special talk for the Tate House Museum's Annual Event this Saturday, April 30, at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.

My program, Maine and the Mast Trade: Strategic Resources, Geopolitics, and the Clash of Empires, tells the story of a half century period when Maine found itself at the center of a global trade in a scarce resource vital to military power and what we today would call national security. The Tate House (1755) -- the oldest structure standing in Portland -- was a major node in this vital trade in masts suitable for the battle line-suitable warships on which the security of the British (and Dutch, French, and Spanish) empire depended.

The event, a fundraiser for the Tate House, starts at 6pm, includes dinner and a cocktail reception, and costs $100 per person or $160 per couple. For more information, please call 207-774-6177 or email

(All of my speaking engagements are posted here as they are scheduled.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Republicans for DeCoster, LePage for teaching creationism

Ever wonder how Jack DeCoster, Maine's infamous egg magnate, has gotten away with it after all these years? One reason is that regardless of what he does -- triggers the largest egg recall in history, gets investigated for cruelty to his birds, gets fined for virtually imprisoning his Latino workers, falsifies trucking records, leaves mounds of dead chickens out in the open and won't bury them until sued -- he always seems to find friends willing to help him out.

Case in point: this week Maine legislators are considering a bill to do DeCoster a favor by depriving his workers of the minimum wage, overtime, and collective bargaining rights. Read the whats, whos, and whys in my piece in the new Portland Phoenix, which dropped today. (Also, check out Steve Mistler's earlier Sun Journal coverage of the bill's hearing.)

And, for your moment of Zen, here's a recent video of Gov. Paul LePage telling a conference of homeschoolers that he favors teaching creationism in Maine's public schools because "knowledge is power."

[Update, 5/29/2011, 16:00: In a nail-biter, the committee voted against the bill 7-6, with one Republican defecting from the DeCoster camp. The bill will likely be voted on by the full house.]

[Update, 5/29/2011, 16:50: In a bizarre twist, the committee revoted, passing the measure 7-6. Rep. Fred Wintle (R-Garland) -- who told reporters just hours earlier "I support collective bargaining rights" -- changed his position. 5/30/2011: The details on that.]

Saturday, April 23, 2011

American Nations on Amazon

An update from the Department of Shameless Self-Promotion:

My forthcoming book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, can now be pre-ordered at, at B& and, presumably, via your locally-owned independent bookseller. Viking officially releases it on October 3rd.

At this writing, Amazon doesn't yet have a description of the book, but there is one on the American Nations page of Viking's Fall 2011 catalog. [PDF] I'll be giving what will likely be my first American Nations talk as the keynote lecture at the Fifth Annual Bangor Book Festival October 1.

I now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chris Hondros (1970-2011)

The world lost two of its most courageous photojournalists yesterday. Tim Hetherington -- who directed Restrepo -- and Chris Hondros were killed by a rocket propelled grenade while covering the fighting in Misrata, Libya.

Hondros was a Pew Fellow in International Journalism a couple of years after I was, and we were briefly introduced at a 2007 reunion conference of sorts. There, he was on a panel about covering the Iraq war and, as program director John Schidlovsky noted today, talked about his work there with striking humility. I remember thinking the world was fortunate to have such people documenting what was happening in its most troubled corners.

If you don't know his name, you've probably seen the images he captured, often at considerable personal risk. There was this famous sequence from Iraq. And perhaps the most iconic image from the Liberian conflict (right). And all of these from conflict zones around the world. And the final set he uploaded from Misrata yesterday, literally from the midst of the fighting.

There aren't a lot of people who - like Hondros and Hetherington - have the courage, skill, and constitution for this kind of genuinely truth-telling work. The rest of us are impoverished by their passing.

[Update, 4/23/2011: On Hondros and his last days in Libya, from his best friend.]

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gov. LePage's first 100 Days: more bridges burned than built

My assessment of Maine Governor Paul LePage's first hundred days is up over at Newsweek / The Daily Beast. The abstract: he's caused himself a lot of damage over matters peripheral to his agenda and shows little indication that he's going to stop doing so anytime soon.

While I wrote the piece with in mind, it was published wearing Daily Beast livery, as the operational merger of the two outlets is now complete, giving the latter control of all original digital content. The piece ran as written, but with a tabloid headline: "Maine's Madman Governor Paul LePage strike s again." I'd prefer they'd have substituted "volatile" for "madman," as the latter term calls for speculation.

For Maine politicos, a couple of tidbits that didn't make it into the piece:

The eight senators who wrote the OpEd blasting LePage have agreed not to comment further on the matter, both Sens. Roger Katz and Brian Langley told me, as they wish to "move on" with the business at hand. I also learned that the they almost certainly acted with the blessing of the Republican leadership, as the OpEd was shopped around and placed by Senate President Kevin Raye's press secretary (and As Maine Goes editor) Scott Fish.

G.O.P chair Charlie Webster told me the OpEd was "a clear example of legislators representing their constituencies. I totally understand why eight people signed it If they'd taken it around they could have gotten more house members and maybe a few more senators. People in Maine who are working for a living are tired of this -- the mural, the whoopie pies -- they don't want to hear about these things."

For additional context on the LePage administration, I offer this fresh Down East article on his environmental policies, a prophetic piece from January and, of course, the "Secret Puppeteers" cover story from the Portland Phoenix.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Maine Gov.LePage vs the Environment.

The current conversation around political campfires here in Maine focuses on whether Gov. Paul LePage's star has already set, less than four months after taking office. I've argued here that he's certainly taken a hit, while Portland Press Herald columnist and editorial writer Greg Kesich has gone so far as to declare "the LePage era is over."

Murals aside, one of the principal causes of Mr. LePage's loss of influence has been his ill-considered assault on Maine's environmental and product safety laws, which has featured a range of proposed regulatory rollbacks that appear to benefit only the out-of-state chemical, toy, and pharmaceutical companies whose lobbyists wrote much of the governor's reform agenda. In this month's Down East, I explore the origins of and political reaction to the governor's rollback plan, much of which has been stricken from the relevant bills by the Republican-controlled legislature.

Maine politicos will also find a partial answer on where the Maine Grocers Association really stood on the effort to put BPA back in babies' bottles and sippy cups, a LePage proposal that was defeated 145-3 in the House last week, and 35-0 in the Senate yesterday. In case you're curious, the holdouts were Larry Dunphy (R-Emden), Beth O'Connor (R-Berwick), and Heather Sirocki (R-Scarborough).

For the record, LePage has not changed its position on BPA. "The LePage Administration would not have crafted the rule as it was produced by the last administration and that the Governor still opposes the product prohibition," his spokesman, Dan Demeritt told me Mar. 28.

[Update, 9/16/2011: Yglesias picked up on my story today.]

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Academe: does the pursuit of global "excellence" in faculty hiring have a downside?

I've been a correspondent of The Chronicle of Higher Education for twenty-two years now, covering research and university affairs from locations around the world. My latest story -- from Canada -- explores if there's a downside to the current trend in the globalized hiring of faculty, at least in regards to social sciences and humanities fields, where "local knowledge" can be critical to a university's mission.

Canada offers an interesting case study. It's a small country (30 million) that was once so concerned about having its faculty become dominated by Americans that it spawned a powerful "hire local" campaign, the Canadianization movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But that movement has run its course, scholars argue, and there are some grounds for concern that important, Canada-specific scholarship may become impoverished as a result.

The story is behind the Chronicle's pay wall, so if you're not a subscriber, you might be prompted to pay up to read it.

As always, you can find all of my journalism articles posted at my website.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gov. LePage begins paying political price

Maine's controversial governor, Paul LePage, has been in office less than three months, but he's already galvanized progressives, lost the support of two-thirds of self-declared moderates, and reportedly alienated leading figures in his own party, including party chair Charlie Webster and, now, nearly half of the G.O.P. Senate delegation.

Readers need little review of Mr. LePage's ill-advised actions and remarks, as they've been sufficiently outrageous as to have him in the national media spotlight on an almost weekly basis. From telling the NAACP to kiss his butt on the eve of the M.L.K weekend to joking (ho-ho) that the reason he supported the return of the banned substance BPA to baby's bottles and sippy cups was that the worst thing that could happen is that some women would "grow little beards" to marking the anniversary of the infamous Triangle Fire by announcing he would dismantle a mural of Maine's labor history hanging in the Department of Labor to kicking off Sunshine Week by denouncing users of Maine's Freedom of Access Act as being engaged in "internal terrorism," Mr. LePage has appeared hell-bent on making as many enemies as possible as quickly as he can.

One of the biggest questions in Maine politics has been whether or not Maine's legislative Republicans -- who control both chambers of the State House -- would support his unpopular and often pugnacious agenda. In ordinary times, there would be no question that they would not: the state party has been a bastion of old fashioned Yankee Republicanism as personified by Margaret Chase Smith, Bill Cohen, and Olympia Snowe. But last year there were signs that the moderates may have lost control to the pitchfork-bearing Tea Party sympathizers who nominated LePage and passed a party platform calling for, among other things, vigilance against a "one world government."

Now it's becoming clear that many Republican legislators will abandon LePage's ship before he steers them into any more icebergs. Last month every Republican on a key committee rejected his unpopular BPA campaign. Last week, Senate Republicans met with the governor about, as he put it afterward "zipping my mouth and not offending them." And next week, the Bangor Daily News just revealed, an OpEd piece blasting the governor will be published signed by at least eight G.O.P senators. "We feel compelled to express our discomfort and dismay with the tone and spirit of some of the remarks coming from him,” it reportedly reads. "Were this an isolated incident and not a pattern, we would bite our collective tongues, because we are all human. But, unfortunately, such is not the case. We feel we must speak out.

Since entering office, Mr. LePage has shown little understanding of how the political chess of governance is effectively played, or even how the pieces move. He's quickly learning one lesson: a king with few allies rarely remains on the board for long.

[Update, 4/4/2011, 0745: The OpEd has been published, signed by eight Republican Senators and written by Sens. Katz and Langley (the two candidates who also criticized the RSLC's false attacks on their opponents during the campaign.)]

[Update, 4/14/2011, 0917: The Republican-controlled State House has resoundingly defeated LePage's effort to rollback the ban on BPA in baby products. The vote was 145-3 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate. In case you're curious, the holdouts were Larry Dunphy (R-Emden), Beth O'Connor (R-Berwick), and Heather Sirocki (R-Scarborough.)]