Thursday, September 29, 2011

American Nations is born

I'm pleased to announce the birth of my fourth book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, which went on sale in stores this morning at a healthy 372 pages.

At midnight, GMT, Bloomberg posted the first of a series of five daily excerpts from the book, for anyone who would like a preview of its thesis.

For those living in Maine, I'll be discussing American Nations in my keynote address at the Bangor Festival of the Book tomorrow evening, September 30. I'll also be at the Portland Public Library (Oct. 13) and Maine Historical Society (Oct. 26).

For readers in the nation's capital, I'll be giving a talk Oct. 17 sponsored by Zocalo Public Square and the Center for Social Cohesion.

[Update, 9/30/2011: Part II of the Bloomberg excerpt series is up across their platforms.]

Friday, September 23, 2011

Speaking on American Nations, Camden, Sept. 27

My fourth book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America comes out next week. As fortune would have it, I'm doing my first talk and book signing this coming Tuesday, September 27, in Camden, Maine at 4:30.

This worldwide premier is hosted by one of my favorite independent bookstores, Owl & Turtle. Here's some press on it from the local paper there, the Camden Herald (and fellow Village Soup publications.)

Please stop by if you're in the area.

If not, I'll be giving the keynote at the Bangor Book Festival on Sept. 29, staging a launch party at the Portland (Maine) Public Library Oct. 13, and giving talks at the ASU Washington Center in D.C (Oct. 17) and Maine Historical Society Oct. 26. More events as they're confirmed at the book tour page of my website.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Koch Bros. fund enviro lecture series in Down East Maine

I was intrigued to receive an invite over the weekend to the University of Maine Machias' inaugural Koch Speaker on Environmentalism and Freedom, October 6. It's part of a new lecture series sponsored by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the philanthropy of the conservative billionaire of the same name, who has been the subject of considerable scrutiny of late.

How did this arrangement come to pass? I explored this for this short piece in the new Portland Phoenix.

With space and time constraints, I left the bigger question open for unaddressed: is it appropriate for a public university to have a lecture series funded by a controversial and politically-engaged organization? If not, why not? If so, where does one draw the line, bearing in mind the academic ideal of being open to a diversity of opinion? Is, say, the John Birch Society an appropriate donor? How about the Church of Scientology? Is it ok, so long as local academics -- not foundation officials -- choose who to invite? Share your thoughts if you have any.

A side note: I requested the grant contract for the series from UMM -- a public university whose documents are public records -- just to be sure there were no unusual strings attached (as there were in the foundation's much larger grant to Florida State University.) Will update here after I read it.

[Update: 9/22/2011: I received the grant documents and associated correspondence from UMM, which handled my request promptly and professionally. They confirm the information imparted to me in interviews and reported in the story.

Correspondence also shows that Dr. Reisman was entirely open with his colleagues about his associations with the Kochs. He sent a May 2011 email to the entire UMM faculty informing them of his "growing relationship with the Charles G. Koch Foundation" and an upcoming trip to a Koch industries forum in Witchia on "management philosophy," for which he would receive (from the foundation) travel expenses and an honorarium.

In terms of transparency, Reisman and UMM both deserve gold stars.

The speaker series was originally to be entitled "Sustainability and the Road to Serfdom: Can Environmentalism and Freedom Co-Exist?," and was scheduled for last spring. It March, however, Reisman decided to postpone the program, largely because Gov. LePage's regulatory reform initiative had "heated up" Maine's environmental policy world. Reisman also decided the series should berecast with "a broader and perhaps less threatening topic." and the Koch foundation concurred.]

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Maine: the Olsen affair explored

This summer, Maine Governor Paul LePage's marine resources commissioner, Norman Olsen, tendered a fiery resignation, accusing his boss of bullying and having declared the state’s largest city to be his enemy, and his colleagues of having been involved in gross mismanagement and, perhaps, smothering his investigations. The governor's staff wasn't agile enough to fire back effectively, but Republican pundit Matt Gagnon helped them out by requesting scheduling documents that appeared to undermine Olsen's case. There were allegations and counter-allegations, and then the press lost interest.

So what really happened?

My piece in the current issue of Down East asks that question, and taps on additional public records to try to piece together a more complete picture of what occurred.

A side note: While researching this piece, I requested a range of public documents pertinent to determining whose version of events was correct. In a matter of days, the governor's office released perhaps half of the documents, promising to issue the remainder as soon as natural resources advisor Carlisle McLean returned from vacation (and after my piece was off to the publisher.) Alas, nearly two months later they have failed to do as promised, despite regular prodding from your correspondent. One hopes this is not because the remaining documents will contradict their version of events -- presumably they do not -- but sadly it may take legal intervention to compel the governor's staff to turn them over. Stay tuned for further developments.

More encouraging in regards to the governor's intentions, the report Mr. Olsen ordered has in fact been released, apparently without interference.

For a little additional context, here's my prior interview with Mr. Olsen in Working Waterfront.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Talking with National Geographic about how pirates talked

It's Talk Like A Pirate Day again, and everyone is coming up with their best effort at "arrrr" puns. (Today's leader: Where do pirates like to go on vacation? Arrrrrrgentina!)

But how did pirates really talk? And did some of them really say "Arrr"?

National Geographic interviewed me on the topic this morning, on account of my having written The Republic of Pirates. Their piece is now up on their site for those who arrrrrr interested.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bangor Book Festival keynote, Sept. 30

My fourth book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America will be released later this month by Viking Press. I've got a number of book talks in the works both in Maine and "abroad" for those of you who want to learn more about it.

One of the first: I'll be delivering the Bud Knickerbocker Keynote Address at the Bangor Book Festival here in Maine on Friday, September 30 at 7 pm at the Bangor Opera House. (Others coming up in Maine: Sept. 27 at Owl & Turtle in Camden; Oct. 13 at the Portland Public Library; and Oct. 26 at the Maine Historical Society in Portland; more on those shortly.)

Here's the press release from the Festival:

Bangor Book Festival announces list of 2011 Featured Authors

July 1, 2011

BANGOR – Award-winning journalist and author Colin Woodard will headline the Fifth Annual Bangor Book Festival, September 30-October 1, 2011, in downtown Bangor, the Festival Committee announced today. Joining Woodard for the annual Festival will be 33 more Maine and Maine-connected writers and illustrators, whose work includes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, historical fiction, young adult and children’s books, sports and nature writing, mysteries, memoirs, travel writing and creative writing instruction.

“We are thrilled with this year’s lineup of wonderful Maine authors,” said Barbara McDade, Director of the Bangor Public Library and Festival Co-Chair. “For this fifth year of the Festival, we will have more speakers than in any other year. Everyone will be able to find something of interest.”

Featured authors and illustrators will include Charlotte Agell, James Babb, Barbara Baig, Crash Barry, Ellen Booraem, Sarah Braunstein, Thomas Burby, Toni Buzzeo, Melissa Coleman, Susan Conley, Paul Doiron, Kathleen Ellis, Rebecca Emberly, Richard Foerster, Ardeana Hamlin, Hannah Holmes, Shonna Milliken Humphrey, Jennifer Jacobson, Carrie Jones, Margy Burns Knight, Kelly McClymer, Janet Mendelsohn, Thomas R. Moore, Dave Morrison, Eva Murray, Anne Sibley O’Brien, Maria Padian, Dawn Potter, Van Reid, Caitlin Shetterly, Christina Tree, Catherynne Valente, and Wade Zahares.

Keynote Speaker Colin Woodard is the author of four books, including The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier and American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, to be released this fall. A Maine native and an award-winning journalist, he has reported from more than 50 countries and is currently a foreign correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Christian Science Monitor, and is a contributing editor at Down East magazine.

A major partner for the first time this year is the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. “We’re truly proud to support this exceptional line-up of authors ,” said Joshua Bodwell, Executive Director of the 35-year-old literary arts nonprofit. “It’s been a banner year for books in Maine, and this quickly growing festival is a great way to celebrate that!”

The 2011 Festival is funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional sponsors of the 2011 Festival include the Maine Humanities Council, the University of Maine’s Fogler Library, the City of Bangor, the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, Cengage, and others.

For more information, please contact the Festival at, or c/o Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow St., Bangor, ME 04401; 207/947-8336.

See you at the Festival!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Talking U.S., Maine politics on WGAN...again

This morning I filled in again on WGAN's weekly "Eye on Politics" segment opposite former state Senator Phil Harriman. Today's topics: Rick Perry, Merck, and HPT vaccines; Anthony Weiner's old district in Queens, New York goes Republican for the first time since 1923; the Congressional prospects of President Obama's jobs bill; and early polling on the effort to restore same-day voter registration in Maine.

The segment is now online, for the die hard political junkies among you. Twelve minutes you'll never get back, but I promise it's more informative and intelligent than that peculiar crying Mormon they have on later in the day.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Orwellian moment: Maine Gov's office claims Ann Robinson not an advisor

Preti Flaherty lobbyist Ann Robinson has been showing up frequently in my reporting this year. She served as co-chair of Gov. Paul LePage's transition team, compiled his much-maligned "Phase I" regulatory reform agenda, and serves as his key regulatory reform advisor, even as she maintains her day job as a corporate lobbyist. She also serves on the committee that recommends judicial nominees to the governor and -- as expected -- was just nominated to the board of MPBN by the governor.

This past week she's been under additional pressure from Democrats, after my Phoenix story revealed her to be the new state co-chair for the controversial American Legislative Exchange Committee. So, not surprisingly, the Bangor Daily News picked up on the story today, asking if it matters that corporations are writing many of the bills legislators introduce in Augusta.

But halfway down the story is a real shocker. Governor LePage's spokseperson, Adrienne Bennettt, told the News that despite "Democrats' claims," Ann Robinson is not an advisor to the governor!

Oh, really?

That's not what LePage's deputy chief of staff, Kathleen Newman, told the Portland Press Herald a few months ago. "Ann is a trusted adviser and friend to the governor and to our policy team," Newman said Feb. 11. "We appreciate her efforts to date and her commitment to continue to advise and assist the administration going forward as we seek to create clear, reasonable guidelines for businesses to grow and prosper while protecting our precious natural resources."

That's not what Bennett's old boss, communications director Dan Demeritt, told me in early February. "Ann Robinson is still advising the governor on regulatory reform matters," he said.

Indeed, that's not even what Ann Robinson's own web page at Preti Flaherty says today. "Ann served as Co-Chair of Governor Paul LePage's transition team, with specific responsibility for policy and regulatory review, and continues to serve in an advisory capacity," it reads.

Shame on Ms. Bennett for telling such a whopper. And shame on Eric Russell and his editors at the News for letting it go to print unchallenged.

[Update, 9/16/11: The governor's office has failed to respond to my questions about Robinson and ALEC, but in a round-about way I've obtained their response to this blog post. Dan Billings, LePage's in-house counsel and shadow communications chief, wrote Mike Tipping to complain that this blog post (cross-posted at Maine Politics) is misleading because it failed to note that Ms. Bennett had asserted that Robinson isn't a regular advisor to LePage.

Of course, as I wrote Billings, Robinson's "regularity" is irrelevant. LePage's office -- which describes her as a "trusted adviser and friend" -- allowed her to essentially write the governor's Phase I regulatory agenda. She presumably is still advising the governor on legislative and regulatory issues, even as she maintains her day job as a registered lobbyist for companies with interests in these issues and serves as ALEC's state co-chair. Billings' complaint appears entirely semantic in substance; Bennett is dismissing criticism on the grounds that Robinson isn't really an advisor when she actually is one, or at least was until, well, now.

Which raises another ambiguity: Bangor Daily News reporter Eric Russell has indicated in the comments section here that his understanding of the conversation he had with Bennett was not that she was asserting the regularity or irregularity of Robinson's status, but that she is not an advisor at this time.

So I posed the following questions to Billings to get to the bottom of things:

1. Is Robinson still an "irregular" advisor to the governor?

2. If not, when did she cease being one? Why the change in status?

3. How long has Robinson been affiliated with ALEC, beyond her new role as state co-chair?

4. Does your office have any conflict of interest concerns in regards to either her role at ALEC or her simultaneously compiling the governor's legislative agenda and being the registered lobbyist of interested parties?

He hasn't responded, but I'll let you know if he does.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Maine's new ALEC co-chair: the gov's favorite lobbyist

The American Legislative Exchange Council is one of the most powerful -- and secretive -- lobbying entities in the country, a channel for corporations to literally write state laws for willing or naive legislators without anyone being any the wiser.

Or at least that was the case until last month, when many of their confidential members-only documents were leaked to the world wide wonderland. Journalists are just starting to dig into the model bills, donor lists, and rolls of participating legislators posted at by the Center for Media and Democracy.

But, as I report in tomorrow's Portland Phoenix, a fresh leak has added a new twist for Mainers. It shows that the new state co-chair for Maine is none other than Ann Robinson, the Preti Flaherty superlobbyist and gubernatorial advisor who has been at the center of several stories I've covered this year, including "LePage's Secret Puppeteers" and "The LePage Files."

And for you political insiders out there, here, as a blog-only DVD extra, are the relevant pages from the leaked source document (the agenda of ALEC's August meeting in New Orleans.) [PDF]

[Update, 9/8/11, 14:00 EST: Maine Democrats put out this press release, pressuring the governor's office to disclose ALEC ties.]

[Update, 9/10/11: For those curious who else has participated in ALEC, Dirigo Blue recently reminded its readers that House Majority Leader Andre Cushing (R-Hampden) was at their annual meeting in New Orleans.]