Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Speaking on Ameican Nations, Castine, Maine, June 27

For those in the PenBay and Hancock County regions of Maine, I'll be giving my American Nations talk in Castine tomorrow evening, June 27, at 7pm. It's free and open to the public.

The talk, part of the Maine Writers Series at the Witherle Library and jointly sponsored by the Wilson Museum, the Friends of the Witherle Library, and the Castine Historical Society, takes place at the Unitarian Universalist Parish House which, if I recall correctly, is on the town green. There will be a signing afterward, and I hear Blue Hill Books will have copies of the book on hand.

For a prequel of the talk, try my essay in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Running for President on a Divided Continent

My recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, argues that there's never been on America, but rather several Americas, each with their own founding ideals and takes on the great American policy questions: what is the correct balance between individual liberty and communal freedom?; what is the right relationship between church and state?; what does it mean to be American?

It also argues that the political differences between these regional cultures can still be seen on today's political maps, including the "blue county / red county" maps of most every closely contested presidential contest of the past two centuries.

Skeptical? You may find the results of the recently completed 2012 presidential primaries sobering. It's the subject of my essay in the new issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, now available online for your reading pleasure. (Hint for academics: a brilliant core text to adopt for your 2012-2013 courses.) Regionalism played an overwhelming role in the G.O.P. contest, and revealed continued weaknesses for President Obama in Greater Appalachia.

This paradigm - and this all-revealing map of the "nations" [pdf] - has been getting renewed attention of late. Last week on Slate's "Political Gabfest" podcast, the magazine's chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, recommended American Nations.to Obama and Governor Romney as they prepare themselves for the general election. Steve Kornacki at Salon weighed in further on what is now being called "Obama's Greater Appalachia Problem," perhaps pivoting off earlier discussions from Alec MacGillis at The New Republic, Politico's Charles Mahtesian, and Andrew Sullivan's "The Dish" at The Daily Beast.

Regionalism: ignore it at your peril.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The (200th anniversary of) the war that made Maine a state

It's the bicentenial of one of the United States' most poorly understood conflicts, the War of 1812, in which foreign troops sacked the federal capital, burned the White House, and occupied a good portion of my native state. Americans suffer from historical amnesia and unlike, say, Hungarians or Serbs, tend to especially forget those conflicts that didn't go so well.
That's a pity for Mainers because the conflict played a central role in our reemergence as a separate polity after a century and a half spent as an internal colony of Massachusetts. The British invasion of eastern Maine -- and the Bay State's tepid reaction to it -- fueled the drive for statehood, a story I tell in this feature in today's Maine Sunday Telegram.

For more context on Maine' historical relationship with Massachusetts, may I suggest my second book, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Slate's reading recommendation for Obama and Romney: American Nations

Last week on Slate's "Political Gabfest" podcast, the three co-hosts discussed book recommendations for President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to help them along the campaign trail.

I was pleased, of course, when the magazine's chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, recommended American Nations. Right on. (The audio for this starts at 46:55.)

Meanwhile, Steve Kornacki at Salon weighed in further on what is now being called "Obama's Greater Appalachia Problem." This is a reference to one of the regional cultures in the book, and Kornacki provided a hyperlink to my nations map for reference, which some hundreds of people clicked on last week. If you haven't seen the map yet, click as well. No, really, click it. You know you want to.

For those curious what the book's paradigm has to say about this presidential campaign season, check out my essay on this subject in the Chronicle of Higher Education's Chronicle Review this week. (It's not yet out online.) [Update: 6/25/12: Now it is.]

Or, if you happen to live in the Penobscot Bay region of Maine, come to my free public talk in Castine this coming Wednesday, June 27, at 7pm. It's part of the Maine Writers Series at the Witherle Library and jointly sponsored by the Wilson Museum and Castine Historical Society.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New England senators reject GOP mercury emissions cuts

A bit of regionalism in action at the U.S. Senate yesterday. Every New England member -- including Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (Maine), Scott Brown (Mass.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) voted against a measure to nix tighter emissions standards for mercury and other toxic metals from coal-fired power plants. A number of southern and western Democrats voted for it.

More in my story in today's Portland Press Herald.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

U.S. fish management doing well, so what's up with New England?

Last month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service released their annual Status of U.S. Fisheries, which indicated that management is continuing to succeed, with more stocks rebuilt and rebuilding.

Here in New England, the story has been bleaker, with Maine's groundfishing industry tottering on the verge of extinction and recent stock assessments of cod suggesting the signature species is not recovering as previously thought. So why is New England an exception in the brightening world of U.S. fisheries management?

My story on the front of this morning's Portland Press Herald offers some explanations and background for the vast majority of you who don't follow fisheries policy closely.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Talking money in politics, Hallowell, Me., June 13

For those in Central and Southern Maine, I'm one of the panelists discussing money and politics at the OneMaine round table this Wednesday evening, June 13, at Hallowell Town Hall, just south of the state capital.

My fellow panelists include Anthony Corrado Jr. of Colby College and the Brookings Institution, Lance Dutson of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, Alison Smith of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, Bowdoin College's Michael Franz, and the executive director of the state ethics commission, Jonathan Wayne. It being a small state, my wife, Sarah Skillin Woodard, is moderating.

The event runs from 5:30 to 7 pm and is free and open to the public.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Maine's U.S. Senate money race: a pre-primary survey

For those curious about the race to replace U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, the field is about to narrow considerably. On Tuesday, a small subset of my fellow Mainers will vote in the party primaries, presumably reducing the number of candidates from twelve to four: a Democrat, a Republican, a dark horse independent candidate with no shot of winning, and presumed frontrunner Angus King, an independent who served two terms as governor in the 1990s.

In understanding how formidable a candidate is and who they represent, it can be enormously helpful to follow their money, not just their speeches. With that in mind, I prepared a second survey of the Senate aspirants’ political fundraising – who’s giving to them, how much have they spent, and the like – for the Maine Sunday Telegram. It’s based on campaign finance disclosures that were to be filed May 31 and cover the period from April 1 to May 23. (For the first quarter, see this.)

The new data suggests that, in terms of political finance, two tiers have formed in both party contests, with Republicans Rick Bennett and Bruce Poliquin and Democrats Matt Dunlap and Jon Hinck having moved out ahead. King, meanwhile, is steadily building what is, for Maine, a formidable war chest.

One other pre-primary item: earlier this week I reported on the money bomb racino developers Ocean Properties dropped on the state senate primary in the Biddeford-Saco area. I have a blog post over at the Press Herald's Open Season on an additional PAC intervention there, this time by the National Association of Realtors. (As of last I looked, the byline on the post was incorrect, but, yes, it's me again.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Maine: first money bomb of legislative elections

Ocean Properties has made the first big independent expenditure to influence legislative races here in Maine over the past few days, dumping over $13,000 into three Democratic primary races in the Biddeford-Saco area, where their proposed racino would be located. The sum exceeds that of all six candidates' war chests combined and comes a week before the primary.

For details, here's my story in this morning's Portland Press Herald.

Two corrections in regards to background from 2011: the story says the racino was defeated 60-40 by the state's voters last year. The actual number was 54.3-44.6 (with some blank ballots making up the difference.) My fault there.

Also, although the Maine ethics commission website currently says Ocean Properties contributed $8.5 million on the ballot question, Peter Connell tells me the figure was more like $4 million. The discrepancy appears to lie with how the commission website tabulates OP's loans, but I haven't yet gotten to the bottom of it.

For more background on Ocean Properties' involvement in Portland's Maine State Pier project, read this.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Monitor review of Callum Roberts' Ocean of Life

My first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, aimed to alert the public to the unfolding crisis beneath the seas. Twelve years later, most problems have only gotten worse, yet they're receiving little more attention.

Thankfully one of the world's top marine scientists is taking up the task. I had the pleasure of reviewing Callum Roberts' new book, The Ocean of Life, for The Christian Science Monitor, and the review appeared there today. Enjoy the review, and the book.

For more oceans related reporting, try these posts.

Monday, June 4, 2012

American Nations wins Maine Literary Award

My thanks to the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance for giving the 2012 Maine Literary Award for non-fiction to my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. It's an honor to receive such an award, and especially so when it comes from peers here in my native state.

Congratulations also to the other winners, and thanks to Joshua Bodwell and MWPA for an enjoyable awards ceremony last week here in Portland.

American Nations was previously named a Best Book of 2011 by both The New Republic and The Globalist and as a Top Ten Politics Book for Fall 2011 by Publishers Weekly.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Following the money in Maine's 2nd U.S. House District race

As regular readers have probably gathered, I'm doing a lot of the political finance coverage for the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram and its sister papers. There's a fresh heap of data to explore, with both federal and Maine state candidates, PACs, and ballot committees having recently filed fresh returns.

Today's story in the Telegram looks at the money in Maine's Second Congressional District race. The general election will almost certainly pit state senate president Kevin Raye (a relatively moderate Republican) against incumbent Mike Michaud (a Blue Dog Democrat) in a rematch of their 2004 race. It's expected to be the most closely contested of the three federal races on the ballot in November. Article abstract: Michaud has a significant advantage accounted for by contributions from PACs, though that's not all that unusual for an incumbent,

The U.S. Senate is an arcane institution and, unlike the House, doesn't require candidates to post their campaign finance disclosures electronically, so there's usually a delay in gathering them all. (We asked all Senate candidates here in Maine to send us their full reports once they filed them, but only three -- Angus King, Charlie Summers, and Bill Schneider -- did so. Why anyone would refuse to provide a public document we'll all obtain shortly is something of a mystery but, rest assured, there will be attention paid to them later.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Washington Post review of Rutkow's "American Canopy"

My review of Eric Rutkow's debut book, American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation, will be in the Washington Post's Outlook Section tomorrow. For those outside the Capital region, it's also available online.

For those looking for additional reading selections, my most recent reviews for the Post were of E.O Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth and David Hackett Fisher's Fairness and Freedom.

Also thanks to all those who attended yesterday's benefit for Maine author Cynthia Thayer at Portland's Longfellow Books. Was a pleasure meeting you all, and I gather it was a successful event.

[Update, 6/10/12: The Denver Post picked up this review today as well.]

[Update, 6/17/12: Ditto for the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and Austin American-Statesman.]

Friday, June 1, 2012

Maine: Quebec and East-West Highway; prominent campaign donors

I have two short stories in today's Portland Press Herald.

In the first, we check in with officials in Quebec to see what they are thinking in regards to the proposed East-West Highway and the "missing link" from the Quebec border to the nearest existing highway at Sherbrooke. Short answer: it's not really on their radar screen. (For more on East-West highway issue, consider this feature in the Maine Sunday Telegram last week.)

The second is an early take on donations to Maine's US Senate and House hopefuls, as shown in early returns for the latest reporting deadline yesterday. My piece highlights a few prominent Mainers and who they're giving to. My colleague John Richardson has a round-up of the money totals thus far. More details to come.