Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sen. Collins absence allows Pentagon biofuels ban to advance

The US Defense Department is in the midst of a series of pilot projects to reduce the military's fossil fuel needs. Under the Operational Energy Strategy program, the Pentagon has been installing solar panels at remote bases in war zones and experimenting with the substitution of various biofuels in aircraft and the escort vessels of aircraft carrier groups.

The biofuels programs are under fire from Congressional Republicans on account of their additional upfront cost. The GOP-controlled House passed measures to effectively kill them earlier this year, but it is expected to have trouble in the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

Nonetheless, similar measures passed a key Senate committee by a single vote on May 24. Which brings us to today's story.

Earlier this week, Politico's Morning Defense flagged a perplexing development: according to roll call votes, the measures passed the Armed Services Committee because of the sudden and unexplained absence of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) who has said she supports the biofuels effort. What happened? Read what I was able to learn in today's Portland Press Herald or the (front page of the) Kennebec Journal.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Maine's East-West Highway: savior or albatross?

My story in today's Maine Sunday Telegram explores the proposed East-West Highway plan, a $2 billion private toll road connecting Calais/St.Stephen, NB with Coburn Gore and south-Central Quebec. At this writing, it's the most read story on the newspaper's website today.

As you'll see, whether the plan appears to be a good idea or not has a lot to do with your mind set and frame of reference.

There's also a companion story from my colleague Tux Turkel on why the highway's promoter, Cianbro head Peter Vigue, travels with bodyguards.

For fellow policy wonks, I'll be adding a few documents to this post when I have an extra few minutes this weekend.

[Update, 6/5/12: An update on the Quebec angle to this story.]

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Obama and Appalachia, Obama and King

Amongst political denizens, Barack Obama's surprisingly narrow margins of victory in Democratic presidential primaries in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Arkansas have been the talk of the day. Needless to say, the American Nations paradigm would predict precisely this outcome.

Yesterday, to my pleasure, the blog world took notice.

First, The New Republic's Alec MacGillis blogged on what American Nations has to say about Obama's "Greater Appalachia problem".

I chimed in with an extra cent or two on Romney's shared weakness -- and links to the "nations map" -- over at Washington Monthly.

And then Andrew Sullivan -- who has one of the most read political blogs in the country at The Daily Beast -- flagged the TNR piece. This morning Politico's Charles Mahtesian joined in, with links back to my map here at World Wide Woodard.

Meanwhile, I was reporting out this story at the Portland Press Herald
on the low-intensity conflict over Maine independent US Senate candidate Angus King's political donations to Obama. (It was also quickly picked up by Politico's Mahtesian, undoubtedly unaware he'd made two Woodard posts in 24 hours.)

Not a bad day, digitally speaking.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Speaking on oceans, Rockland, Maine, May 24th

For those near the western shores of Maine's Penobscot Bay, I'll be joining Graham Shimmield, executive director of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, for a special Café Scientifique at the Strand Theatre, 345 Main Street in Rockland, at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 24.

Shimmield and I will be discussing the problems facing the world's oceans -- topic of my first book, Ocean's End:Travels Through Endangered Seas -- and their importance to human lives. Billed as "a conversation between a scientist and a journalist", it will open up to bring the audience into the conversation as well. Should be fun and, hopefully, informative, so come by if you're in the area.

Here's a write up from the local
Free Press.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Maine AG supports Citizens United, staying out of Montana case

For the subset of readers who follow federal campaign finance issues, this short piece in today's Portland Press Herald may be of interest.

Maine's Attorney General (and U.S. Senate hopeful), William Schneider, won't be joining 22 other state Attorneys General in supporting Montana's effort to reduce the scope of the Citizens United decision because he agrees with the court. Details herein.

I also have a brief post over at Washington Monthly that frames and flags my Telegram piece from this Sunday on the U.S. Senate money race here in Maine. (Mainers might find the link to The Hill story on the national Democrats' standoffish-ness of interest.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Maine: a detailed look at donors in the U.S. Senate race

Malaga Island has, to my pleasure, gotten all the attention, but I did have another story in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram of interests to politicos: a detailed look at the donors to each of the candidates seeking to replace Olympia Snowe in the United States Senate.

The piece sheds some light on who each candidate's allies are and how adroit they are at raising literal political capital. It's an early snapshot, though, as many candidates didn't declare until the first week of March, and the current disclosures only cover the period ending Mar. 31.

One correction: the print version of the piece stated that Angus King raised more than all his rivals combined. It was supposed to read "than all the Democrats combined." This was an editing error, and I'm pretty sure I was the culprit.

I'll be closely following political donations and spending in all Maine races this election cycle, and am looking forward to delving into fresh federal disclosures due at the end of the month.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Malaga Island tragedy, one century later

I have two lengthy stories in today's Maine Sunday Telegram, and it's the one way inside in the Insight section that's been the most popular, shared, and commented article on the paper's website today.

I'm pleased this is so, as it is on the Malaga Island tragedy, a shameful episode in our state's history that documentarians Rob Rosenthal and Kate Philbrick aptly termed "a story best left untold." Well the story -- of a Maine island community cleansed from the coast on the orders of the governor of Maine in 1912 -- is getting told, and by the Maine State Museum no less, which opened an impressive and symbolically important exhibit on the incident yesterday.

One correction: one of the islanders was declared "feebleminded" and incarcerated at a state asylum because she didn't realize Teddy Roosevelt had been succeeded by William Howard Taft as president. In the print version of my piece, I understand I wrote "Robert Taft" by mistake, which means I ought to have been sent to Pineland as well.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The (Pirate's) Revolution Will Be Televised

Regular readers may recall that my third book, The Republic of Pirates, has been in development as a potential NBC television drama, produced by Parkes / MacDonald (Gladiator, Men In Black).

On Monday, NBC announced it is adding the drama -- now titled Crossbones -- to next year's schedule. Deadline reported the straight-to-series order will be written by Neil Cross of BBC's Luther fame, with an initial run of ten episodes.

NBC has posted a description of the show at their website, along with some preliminary art. (Tagline: "The True Legend of Blackbeard").

As fans of the book know, Republic of Pirates tells the true story of the greatest pirate gang of all time, the golden age pirates who operated out of the Bahamas between 1715 and 1720 and are responsible for nine-tenths of all of our pirate pop culture imagery. The gang -- which included Blackbeard, Sam Bellamy, Charles Vane, Calico Jack Rackham, Mary Read, Anne Bonny, and the "gentleman pirate" Stede Bonnet -- founded a rogue state based at Nassau and, for a time, severed the commerce of three empires and threatened their colonies with dislocation, invasion, and rebellion.

For those wanting to learn more about these pirates, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, Nook, audiobook, Spanish and Danish editions. Links to all can be found at this page on the Republic of Pirates website.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

In Maine, "clean" candidates with PACs

In today's Maine Sunday Telegram, I've revisited a perennial issue in Maine politics: should taxpayer-financed "clean elections" candidates be raising money on the side for their personal political action committees, or PACs?

As you'll read, this has been an issue since 2000, when lawmakers noticed and exploited this loophole in the new clean elections law. It has been periodically raised in the legislature -- including last session -- and repeatedly condemned in newspaper editorials from Portland to Bangor.

Today's story examines which clean elections candidates raised and spent money from their leadership PACs in the first quarter of this year, where they raised it from, and who they spent it on. The quantities this quarter were substantial, but not Earth-shattering -- low $20k in and out, or enough to fund five typical House races or one senate one.

More updates next quarter.

A possible clarification: one legislator wrote me this morning to note that state law does prohibit lobbyists from giving to PACs during the legislative session itself (though not before and after.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Will Maine's GOP delegates get seated in Tampa?

As you've likely heard by now, supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul succeeded in taking over Maine's GOP convention this past weekend, electing one of their own to chair the meeting and, ultimately, 20 of the 21 electable delegates to the national GOP convention in Tampa this August. But while Paul supporters were extremely well organized for the takeover, they had a more difficult time actually running the convention, which reportedly descended into chaos, with U.S. Senate candidates having to abandon plans to address the audience at the Augusta Civic Center.

Romney supporters have indicated they would challenge the legitimacy of the Maine delegation, alleging violations of process, raising the possibility that Maine would wind up with only three votes at the national convention, rather than 24. My story in today's Portland Press Herald explores how such a challenge would occur, on what grounds, and what the impact would be of its success or failure. It being a relatively slow news day, it's the lead story in the Press Herald and both of its sister papers, the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.

For additional background on February's flawed Maine GOP caucus -- which is said to have motivated Paul supporters to seize the state convention -- try my piece in the current issue of Down East Magazine.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On Maine's flawed caucuses at Down East

I've been writing about the flaws in Maine's presidential caucus system for four years now, but I think Republicans will agree that the 2012 GOP caucus took the cake. I delve into the problems with the Feb. 11 poll -- and other, longstanding process shortcomings -- in the new issue of Down East.

Sadly, this piece is to be my last Talk of Maine column for the time being. On Monday, I officially joined the staff of Maine's largest newspapers, the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. My business card says State and National Affairs Writer, and I'll have dual roles of writing in-depth enterprise news pieces as well as more magazine-like context, analysis, and essay articles, many of which will likely find their home in the Telegram's Insight section.

I'll continue to work on my book projects and to write on national and foreign events for other outlets, but for those who follow my Maine writing, look for the vast majority of it to be in the Press Herald and its sister papers, the Kennebec Journal (in the state capital, Augusta) and Morning Sentinel (in Waterville, city of my birth).