Monday, August 29, 2011

Reviewing "Seated By The Sea"

For the academic historians out there, my first review for a proper peer-reviewed journal can be found in the September 2011 issue of The New England Quarterly. The subject: Seated By The Sea, Michael Connolly's new history of the port of Portland, Maine in general and its stevedores in particular.

For those who don't have access to an academic library, the summary: Connolly tackles an important and long-neglected topic, and does an excellent job assembling the (largely Irish) stevedores' history, though his treatment of the associated history of the port has some weaknesses.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Maine: Saving the Turnpike

Earlier this year, scandal engulfed the Maine Turnpike Authority, whose books and records had finally been exposed to public scrutiny. As a result, the quasi-state agency's longtime head, Paul Violette, has resigned and is now the target of a criminal investigation by the Attorney General's office and a nearly half-million dollar law suit by the authority itself. Independent investigators from the state's Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) also identified a troubling relationship between the Authority and their lifelong contract engineering firm, HNTB, and noted a surplus would likely never be produced for the state coffers under the definitions then in place.

So can the Turnpike Authority be turned around? That's the question I explore in the new issue of Down East, which you can now read online. The short answer: it looks very promising, though some critics allege the rot goes higher and deeper than Mr. Violette.

The Turnpike Authority doesn't like the piece, telling us that the board of directors should receive the credit for the reforms enacted under interim director Peter Mills, but none of the responsibility for what occurred under Violette. A convenient arrangement, to be sure, if you can convince third parties of its legitimacy.

Readers may wish to read the OPEGA report for themselves [pdf]. (The agency has a growing library of similar reports on other government-ish programs and agencies available here.) For an especially aggressive piece of spin, check out the Turnpike Authority's Jan. 21 press release entitled "OPEGA Report Reflects Positively on Maine Turnpike Authority." [pdf] Wowza!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Maine: LePage to nominate favorite lobbyist to MPBN board

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is no fan of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, which operates Maine's only statewide network of television and radio stations. On the campaign trail he expressed a desire -- on MPBN cameras -- to punch the network's State House correspondent. In office he tried to zero out state funding for the broadcaster.

Now he has his first chance to nominate someone to MPBN's governing board. As I report in the new Portland Phoenix, his first choice is none other than Ann Robinson, the corporate lobbyist who already serves as a trusted advisor and a member of the panel he uses to find judicial nominees.

As readers of this blog well know, Robinson has also overseen the compilation of the governor's regulatory reform agenda -- past and future -- including the cutting-and-pasting of language from industry and corporate memos into the proposals LePage submitted to legislators. That she does this while remaining the registered lobbyist of many interested parties apparently doesn't trouble the governor, whose press secretary has failed to respond to requests for comment on this point.

Robinson isn't alone. Another Preti attorney, Carlisle McLean, serves as LePage's natural resources advisor. Pierce Atwood corporate lobbyist Patricia Aho currently heads the Department of Environmental Protection. But at least McLean and Aho had to give up their day jobs.

[Update, 9/13/11: As expected, LePage has indeed nominated Robinson to the MPBN board. A full list of his board and commission nominations can be downloaded here. [pdf]

Friday, August 12, 2011

Starred review for American Nations from Kirkus

Kirkus Reviews has given my forthcoming book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, a starred review. The full text posted on their website today, although non-subscribers will have to wait until the print edition comes out later this month to see it for free.

In June, Publisher's Weekly included American Nations in their Top Ten Politics list for the fall season. I, of course, hopes this bodes well for the forthcoming launch.

Book tour details will be forthcoming soon here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Torture

My latest feature in MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History on the rise, fall, and rebirth of torture by military forces just posted online. You'll find it on the news stands next week as well.

It tells the unlikely history of torture, which was all but abandoned by the west as a state-sponsored act in the mid-to-late 19th century, but came back with a vengeance in the 20th and early 21st. Military forces -- Japanese, German, Soviet, French, American -- adopted torture as a matter of operational policy. Part of the reason: the changing face of war itself, as counterinsurgencies, revolutions, and civil wars blurred the definitions of legitimate fighters and often boosted the value of coerced information.

A history of torture, as it were, from ancient times to the present. As the television anchors forewarn: this dispatch contains some disturbing images.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Talking US, Maine politics on WGAN

This morning I filled in on WGAN's weekly "Eye on Politics" segment opposite former state Senator Phil Harriman. To my surprise, I enjoyed the fast-paced format.

The segment is already online if you want to review or pan my performance.