Monday, August 27, 2012

DeCoster, Land o Lakes reward friendly lawmakers

Many of you may recall last year's fight over a special bill to reduce labor protections for worker's at Austin Jack DeCoster's notorious egg farms, home to serial violations of labor, environmental, health, and worker safety laws of frankly jaw dropping magnitude. The bill -- sponsored by Rep. Dale Crafts (R-Lisbon Falls) and backed by Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake (R-Turner) -- was approved in commitee, but struck down after Sen. Chris Rector (R-Thomaston) and other lawmakers learned they had been deceived about the company's recent track record.

Decoster subsequently sold his holdings to Land o Lakes subsidiary Moark LLC, and last session the legislature passed the sought-after labor restrictions on the egg farms' behalf.

Now the legislators involved appear to be reaping their rewards. Austin Jack DeCoster has donated $100 each to Mr. Timberlake and Mr. Crafts' reelection efforts. His longtime farm manager Doucas Goranites -- foster brother and genetic first cousin of Sen. Olympia Snowe -- has given Timberlake the maximum allowed donation of $350.

For its part, Land o Lakes has given both lawmakers -- and another Turner-area legislator, Sen. Garrett Mason (R-Lisbon Falls) -- the maximum $350 each through Moark LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary based in Fontana, California. Two of Moark's employees, General Manager Blair Hagy and DeCoster Farms official Laurin Hagy, also gave $350 apiece to Rep. Crafts. Blair also gave Rep. Timberlake and Sen. Mason $350 apiece. Altogether, egg interests have added up to what amounts to significant money in legislative races, which are often won with a campaign chest of just a few thousand dollars.

In the world of money and politics, it's rare one finds a clear quid pro quo, but every once in a while...

(Cross-posted from the Press Herald's Open Season)

Monday, August 20, 2012

FDR's park and America's second "day of infamy"

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's life was changed forever one morning on Campobello Island, located a few hundred yards over the Canadian border from Lubec. He was at his summer cottage, in bed. He tried to get up, but his legs didn't work. The doctor in Lubec was stumped. Nobody in the Passamaquoddy region had ever seen polio -- which FDR contracted at a Boy Scout camp in New York -- before.

Today, FDR's cottage is part of a unique and incredibly beautiful international park, co-administered and co-funded by the United States and Canada. That park has also faced a major upset -- the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks -- and, like its namesake, it has had to refocus its energies to recover.

I revisited the park earlier this summer, and my feature on its foundation, its namesake, and its current struggle is in the Insight section of this week's Maine Sunday Telegram. Read and enjoy.

One note: I've received a number of e-mails and calls from recent visitors to the island who have been told by Lubec customs that they don't really need a passport to get back into the U.S., just a photo i.d. It's great that Lubec is taking a practical approach to Campobello's strange geography, but technically they're doing you a favor. Officially you really do need a passport.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Six Rival Regional Cultures of Canada

Much of the attention for American Nations has come from within the United States, but I've always thought the book had at least as much relevance for Canadians, offering an explanation for English-speaking Canada's perennial identity crisis. Spurning some of my marketing-savvy, but Americo-centric friends, I even went so far as to include two Canada-specific chapters. (A pity that Penguin Canada declined to properly stock the book when it took off last fall.)

So I was especially pleased that Vancouver's independent online magazine, The Tyee, picked up on the book this week, and offers some Canadian perspective on the "nations" and current events. Crawford Kilian writes:

"It's both helpful and discouraging to look at Canada as contending nations, not just regions. Our disputes are not mere local squabbles. Nations are not open to calm, reasoned argument against their national interests; they yield only to force or to cost-effective bargains.

So after a century and a half of successful resource exploitation, The Far West has no reason to give a damn about The Left Coast's worries about pipelines and supertankers. Nor does the Left Coast care much for The Far West's corporate values. (But bear in mind that interior B.C. is solidly Far West.)

This contending-nations perspective implies no resolution to the Northern Gateway dispute (and many others) except by force or bribery. Given Woodard's thesis, the only solution for us Left Coasters is a new alliance of Canadian nations that could overcome the present coalition of the Prairies and the Ontario."

Of course, you could always join Cascadia...

Agreed the tension in Canada is between the Far West on one hand and Yankeedom, the Left Coast, and New France on the other. The big complication for those who don't much appreciate Stephen Harper's politics is that the continent's great swing region -- the Midlands -- is far and away the largest nation in Canada, encompassing most of its major population centers in southern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba.

For those wanting to probe the map more closely, there's a high-resolution PDF here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Maine spurns EPA, but will back partial alewife restoration in St. Croix River

There's been a new development in the controversy over the restoration of alewives into the St. Croix River watershed on the border of Maine and New Brunswick.

A month ago, I wrote an extensive story in the Maine Sunday Telegram on the debate over the fish's future, which pit lobstermen, marine fishermen, environmentalists, the Passamaquoddy Indians, Canada, and the preponderance of scientific evidence against smallmouth bass fishing guides, who fear the alewives will harm the non-native game fish they rely on for their livelihood. Amazingly, the guides have had their way so far, convincing legislators to pass laws in 1995 and 2008 that bar the fish from traversing fishways at dams in the lower river.

The day after the story came out, the U.S. EPA directed Maine to let the fish into the river and declared the 1995 and 2008 "Alewife Laws" to be in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. After that, the offices of Attorney General William Schneider, Governor Paul LePage, and the U.S EPA's New England office all went silent, refusing to respond to requests for information about their positions or when they intended to declare what they were.

Today, we finally got answers from Schneider, who sent a letter to the EPA. As you can read in my story in today's Portland Press Herald, the Attorney General essentially told the EPA their decision had no relevance (which may come as a surprise to the federal agency), but that Gov. LePage had decided on his own to back a partial alewife restoration plan put together by an international body charged with resolving conflicts on the St. Croix.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Speaking to CBC-New Brunswick about the lobster blockades

Maine lobster prices have hit a thirty-year low, causing hardship and stress for lobstermen from Kittery to Lubec and most everywhere in between. Now the crisis has spread to lobster harvesters in eastern New Brunswick, who've seen prices collapse on the eve of the opening of their summer season, which was to start tomorrow. The difference is that their ire has been directed at, well, lobsters from Maine!

As I reported last week, hundreds of New Brunswick lobstermen have taken matters into their own hands, blockading local processing plants and even a Maine trucker to prevent our lobsters from being delivered there as they always are this time of year. (My colleague, Ed Murphy, got the truck driver, Leonard Garnett of Steuben, on the phone who told of the ordeal, perhaps made more harrowing because of a language barrier; unlike Down East Maine, the regions of New Brunswick that are in protest are largely French-speaking.)

As things heat up -- protests have spread to the northeast and the provincial capital, Fredericton -- I spoke to CBC-New Brunswick's "Information Morning" earlier this morning to give their audience a sense of how the issues are seen from Maine. (I join the show at 3:00, after a taped segment with John Sackton of news.)

For those interested in deeper context for the Maine lobster fishery and the communities that carry it out, I humbly suggest my second book, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Are there three strains of American libertarianism?

D. Robert Worley, senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Advanced Governmental Studies, has a new essay out on Huffington Post that posits that there are perhaps three strains of libertarianism in the United States, each with its own regional origins.

The argument draws explicitly on my latest book, American Nations, to identify the cultural regions at play, but you can also see the influence of Daniel Elazar's three political cultures: the moralistic, individualistic, and traditionalist. Those familiar with my thinking won't be surprised that I think Elazar's paradigm is handicapped by embracing state boundaries, but I if you apply his criteria to my map -- which Worley has -- it's far more compelling.

Worley's observation of the differences between the corporate libertarianism of the Deep South and Far West and the individualistic libertarianism of Greater Appalachia are fair enough, but from my perspective the most refreshing and provocative idea is that there is a "civil libertarianism" anchored in Yankeedom and the Left Coast that whose adherents "favor individual freedom and oppose all forms of unchecked coercive power, and...rely heavily on government solutions, specifically the Constitution's Bill of Rights and the federal courts."

I'd be curious what the rest of you think.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cheap Maine lobster triggers blockades at Canadian processing plants

Here in Maine, lobster prices have been at forty year lows, and the source of considerable consternation for those who harvest the crustaceans.

Thus I think many here will greet my story on the cover of today's Portland Press Herald with a combination of combination of sympathy and surprise.

Lobstermen in eastern New Brunswick -- who take July off but are to start their summer fishing season on Aug. 9 -- are furious at lobster processors there for filling up their inventory with cheap Maine-caught lobster, perhaps leaving no room to buy locally-caught lobster later this month. For the past two days hundreds have blockaded processing plants demanding an end to imports from the U.S. -- and even detained a truck driver from Steuben, Maine carrying a load of lobster to one of the plants.... But I've said too much already; read the story!

(For those interested in the history of our coastal fishing communities -- and lobstering in particular -- I humbly refer you to my second book, The Lobster Coast.)