Monday, December 21, 2015

Talking American Nations on C-SPAN, Dec. 22, 8 pm ET

C-SPAN filmed my American Nations talk at Iowa State University earlier this fall, and now they've scheduled it for broadcast.

So, drop everything, cancel Christmas, and tune in to CSPAN-1 tomorrow, December 22, at 8 pm Eastern for an hour and thirteen minutes of riveting television. [Update, 12/27/15: C-SPAN rebroadcasts the talk Sunday, Jan. 3 at 4:45 pm Eastern.] [Update, 1/6/16: it also broadcast on at least two more occasions on Jan. 4 and 5.]

[Update, 12/23/15: the talk is now on CSPAN's homepage for asynchronous viewing.]

This was my most recent American Nations talk, but there are a whole host of events coming up this winter surrounding the publication of the book's sequel, American Character. I'll be announcing them here and, eventually, at my website's speaking tour page.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

How Martin Luther reinvented the book

Martin Luther didn't just spark the Reformation, he invented the modern book and the publishing industry. That's the intriguing story told on this, the eve of the 500th anniversary of his 95 theses, in Andrew Pettegree's new book Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe, and Started the Protestant Reformation

I reviewed the book for tomorrow's Washington Post. Here's a taste:

When Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door in the Saxon backwater town of Wittenberg, moveable type was something like the computer in the 1960s, a useful and expensive tool used by academics and elite institutions....Luther realized the untapped potential of print as a mass medium and used it to broadcast his message to lay readers across the German states, bypassing the traditional gatekeepers via this new social media. 

My most recent review for the Post was of Tom Gjelten's Nation of Nations in October.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

In Downeast Maine, an innovative attempt to save U.S. Atlantic salmon

Buffeted by dams, loss of habitat, commercial fishing off Greenland, and climate change, U.S. runs of Atlantic salmon are threatened with extinction and their numbers have been trending in the wrong direction.

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram I write about an innovative, Icelandic-funded project in eastern Maine that hopes to turn the tide. Here's a taste:

The approach, which turned a blighted river on the Scotland-England border into one of the greatest salmon angling locations in the British Isles, focuses on growing fitter fish. Pioneered over four decades by the late Peter Gray, the Scottish manager of a hatchery on the River Tyne, it hatches and raises baby fish in on-river hatcheries using local, unfiltered water and a variety of techniques that more closely mimic the natural environment of early life-stage salmon.

For more background on the problems facing Atlantic salmon in the U.S. and the Canadian Maritimes, please read this article from "Mayday", my recent six-part Press Herald series on climate change in the Gulf of Maine.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Iowa matters, for reasons that predate its existence.

Over at Politico magazine today, I have an extended take on why Iowa still matters in American politics, where it of course holds the first voting in the presidential nomination process.

The argument, powered by the American Nations model, is historical, ethnographic, and cultural. Iowa is the only state entirely dominated by the Midlands, the key "swing" region of American politics, and exhibits its proclivities and priorities in their most unadulterated form:

[The big reason] Iowa deserves to keep its spot as a American political capital: Despite being home to just 3 million people, about 2.9 million of whom are white, Iowa is the state most reflective of the nation’s most vital swing region—a culturally diverse, politically moderate swath of the country that transcends state boundaries and has proved decisive in American politics for the better part of two centuries.
Ever since the first Euro-American settlers poured into Iowa in the decades leading up to the Civil War, the state has been an ethnological mosaic, a place where cultural diversity was not only expected and tolerated, but where no one group was expected to dominate. In this way—neither an Anglo-Protestant-led “melting pot” (as in the New England-influenced northernmost tier of the country) nor hierarchical, post-plantation society like the lowland south—Iowa exemplifies a vital, often ignored, and politically consequential American regional culture that I call “the Midlands,” which is central to American presidential politics.
I enjoyed reporting this piece, which took me across 800 miles of Iowa roads, occasioned delightful conversations with longtime Rep. Jim Leach, journalistic titans David Yepsen, and others, and even got me back to my grandfather's hometown -- Primghar in Obrien County -- for the first time in 36 years.

[Update, 12/4/15: Thanks to the Aspen Institute for placing the piece at the top of their Best Ideas of the Day list at Time.]

For those of you who may have just discovered the American Nations Map and want to know more, read this for a cogent summary or, if you’re really in a hurry, go here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Canada approves oil exploration next to Georges Bank, entrance to Gulf of Maine

Canadian officials have granted Statoil an oil and gas exploration lease for a parcel immediately bordering on the Georges Bank exclusion zone and located at the mouth of the Northeast Channel, the primary oceanographic intake point for the Gulf of Maine.

As I reported in yesterday's Portland Press Herald, in a related development Shell Canada has begun actual drilling in its leases just to the east. BP Canada, which holds a lease for the next set of parcels, has applied to begin its own drilling.

For more background on the Gulf of Maine, its currents, and environmental challenges, consider reading the first part of "Mayday", our October 2015 series on these issues.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Passamaquoddy power struggle: an update

With the Thanksgiving break and such, I've been remiss in posting a story I wrote for last week's Maine Sunday Telegram on what appears a chaotic power struggle at one of Maine's tribal reservations.

The Passamaquoddy reservation at Pleasant Point is the site of an ongoing struggle between Chief Fred Moore and Vice Chief Vera Francis, with four of the six tribal councilors currently siding with Francis. As the story reports, the council has suspended Moore, who himself had tried to suspend Francis, and just about everyone seems to be the subject of one recall petition or another. This follows an incident earlier this year where a tribal councilor was arrested and led away in handcuffs while organizing recall petitions against both Moore and Francis, only to have all charges dropped for lack of evidence.

I've no idea what is really going on at Pleasant Point, but it's hard to see it as a positive set of developments.

For background on the situation for the Passamaquoddy, start with "Unsettled," the 29-day series I wrote for the Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram in 2014.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Speaking on the world oceans crisis, Portland, Maine, Nov. 19

I'll be speaking on the crisis in the world's oceans -- climate change and all -- this Thursday, November 19th at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, Maine.

The event, held in their HUB Athletic Center at 119 Fort Road, kicks off at noon. It's free and open to the public and I hear there will be a book signing afterward.

Regular readers will be familiar with "Mayday," my recent six-day Portland Press Herald series on climate change and the Gulf of Maine. Longstanding  ones may know that I traveled the world in the late 1990s, reporting on oceans issues for The San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Chronicle of Higher Education while researching my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas. The talk draws from this experience, and from subsequent reporting around the world -- including from Greenland, the Baltic, Adriatic, Iceland and close to home.

My next public speaking event on the schedule is in early April, 2016, at the Boston Athenæum, where I'll be talking about what will then be my newly published book. American Character. There's a book tour coming up in March, though, so expect more events posted at my booktour page in the coming weeks.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

50 years ago today, the Peter Francis murder

As we digest the horrible attacks in France and Lebanon yesterday, I've been thinking a lot about both Paris and Pleasant Point, Maine today. Regarding ISIS, who appear at this writing to be responsible for the attack, I highly recommend this Graeme Wood article from The Atlantic's March 2015 edition.

As for Pleasant Point, readers of "Unsettled", the 29-part series I wrote for the Portland Press Herald on the harrowing recent history of Maine's Passamaquoddy tribe, will recall the horrific murder 1965 murder of Peter Francis by five white hunters. That killing -- for which the perpetrators were allowed to walk away from -- happened fifty years ago today.

My thoughts are with the families of Peter Francis and the late Christy Altvater, who was brutally beaten in the attack, and who celebrated the two  men's lives in a ceremony there today. The Francis family continues to seek justice for the killing, as four of the five Billerica, Massachusetts hunters who were involved in the attack remain alive.. (The fifth, amazingly, has a scholarship named after him at Billerica High School.) Don Gellers, the attorney who blew the whistle on local authorities' mishandling of the case and ultimately paid a terrible price for representing Indians in Maine, died just over a year ago.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Canada's new government unmuzzles scientists

In today's Portland Press Herald I have a follow-up to "Mayday," our six-day series on climate change and the Gulf of Maine.

While researching the series, my reporting efforts were repeatedly interfered with by Canadian officials tasked with preventing government scientists from freely communicating information about their research with journalists. The controversial policies -- implemented by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's administration -- had been condemned by the scientific community at home and abroad and had become a campaign issue in this October's federal elections.

Harper's party was humiliated in a landslide election Oct. 19, losing every single seat in Atlantic Canada to the Liberals, whose government was sworn in a few days ago. As I report today, within 48 hours, incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's appointees reversed the policies, directing scientists to speak freely with the media.

Before the changes, I spoke with CBC-New Brunswick about my experiences trying to report the series in Canada.

Last week I also also the guest on the Michelangelo Singnorile show on Sirius XM radio, talking about the series. When it posts online, will add a link.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Climate change and the Gulf of Maine series concludes

Our six-day, seven-part series on the rapidly warming Gulf of Maine wraps up in today's Portland Press Herald with this story on what can and isn't being done to address the challenges here in Maine. I also wrote a companion story on the release yesterday of a new study in the journal Science linking the rapid warming of the gulf to the failure of its cod stock to recover.

Yesterday's installment focused on the baleful effects of ocean acidification already being visited on clams, mussels, oysters and other commercial shellfish species in the state. Wednesday's focused on the expanding range and population of warm water invaders like green crabs, blue crabs (!), squid, black sea bass, and some unplesant tunicates.

The full series, entitled Mayday: Gulf of Maine in Distress, can be found at this landing page at the Press Herald.

Thanks also to CBC-New Brunswick and WCSH-6 here in Maine for their interest in the series, and also to New Brunswick's largest paper, the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, which I understand plans to republish the entire series in their print editions.

For those in Maine interested in learning more about the crisis in the world's oceans, I'm giving a talk on my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland at noon on November 19th. It's free and open to the public. There will be a book signing afterward held by the campus bookstore.

Thanks to photographer Greg Rec, designer Brian Robitaille, web designer Karen Beaudoin managing editor Steve Greenlee, graphics designer Michael Fisher, and my other Press Herald colleagues for helping create such a powerful package.

[Update, 11/20/17: Two years later, the state has done very little to address the problem.]

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Talking with CBC, WCSCH-6 about Gulf of Maine and climate change

Mayday, our six day, seven part series on how climate change is affecting the Gulf of Maine, continues this morning in the Portland Press Herald with this story on how invasive species are taking advantage. Yesterday's story showed the ongoing retreat of many cold-loving native species.

Yesterday, I spoke with CBC-New Brunswick's prime time "Shift" program about how Canadian officials hindered my reporting of the series by blocking access to marine scientists. The interview is now available here.

I also spoke with Pat Callaghan of WCSH-6, Maine's flagship NBC affiliate, about the ongoing series. Here's that segment as well, which ran yesterday evening.

Mayday, which continues through Saturday, has its own landing page where you can find all the stories.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Climate Change and the Gulf of Maine, Parts 1 & 2

For the past ten years, the Gulf of Maine has warmed more rapidly than anyplace else in the world's oceans, save for a section of the Kuroshio Current northeast of Japan, with 2012 the hottest year on record since observations began in the Civil War era. The effects have been manifold and sobering, particularly when you consider that even at the more gradual projected warming rates, 2012-like conditions will be the "new normal" by mid-century.

For the past few months, I've been at work on a multi-part series on this issue for the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, where I'm a staff writer. The resulting series -- seven stories over six days reported from across the region -- kicked off in this week's Telegram.

The first story provides the overview, along with a sidebar on how, under outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canadian officials interfered with my attempts to communicate with government scientists there about their research.

Today's story -- Part 2 of 6 -- is on concerns over how warming will effect the sort-of "krill of the gulf", a copepod species that most everything else int he food chain ultimately depends on. Puffins and right whales are among our canaries.

"Mayday" has its own landing page where the additional stories will be posted as they come out.

Readers of the series may also be interested in my first two books, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas (which looks at the global crisis) and The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier (a cultural and environmental history of coastal Maine.)

I'll be speaking on Ocean's End at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, Maine November 19th.

[Update, 11/20/17: Two years later, the state has done very little to address the problem.]

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Reviewing Tom Gjelten's new book for the Washington Post

Fifty years ago, the United States liberalized its immigration regime, doing away with the racist reforms of 1924, which sought to prevent the country from becoming more diverse. Remarkably, neither proponents nor critics of the 1965 reforms sought to increase the country's racial and ethnic diversity; on the contrary, both camps argued the changes would not have this effect.

NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten's new book, A Nation of Nations, examines the consequences for the country in general and for Fairfax County, Virginia in particular. I review the book in today's Washington Post.

For readers of American Nations: Gjelten's detailed case study of Fairfax County provides ample evidence that at least this corner of Tidewater is likely transforming into something that looks and sounds an awful lot like the Midlands, and Fairfax's experience is likely replicated across much of fast-growing northern Virginia.

My last review for the Post was of former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Eleni Kounalakis's memoir of her years in Budapest, watching Hungary fall under the shadow of its autocratic leader, Viktor Orban (who I wrote about for Politico here.)

[Update, 10/21/15: The Denver Post picked up the review in their Sunday edition this week.]

[Update, 10/22/15: Australia's Financial Review has also reprinted the review.]

[Update. 10/26/15: The Kansas City Star as well.]

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Talking American Nations at Iowa State, October 6

For those of you in Iowa or covering the campaigns, I'll be speaking on American Nations at Iowa State University in Ames on October 6th.

The talk -- at 8 pm in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union -- is part of the university's National Affairs Series: When Values Are In Conflict, with co-sponsorship from ISU's Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication (which, I was surprised to learn, is not named for Portland Press Herald managing editor Steve Greenlee.) It's free and open to the public. Details are here.

Can't make it? Don't despair: C-SPAN is taping the talk for future broadcast. [Update, 1/6/16: C-SPAN has broadcast the talk several times and has it available for viewing at their website.]

I was last in Iowa a year ago, speaking at Simpson College. Iowa Public Radio did this interview with me.

[Update, 10/16/15: Thanks to all who came; enjoyed the event. Here's the campus paper's coverage.]

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Federal drug take back rule change curtails Maine data collection, cost saving

Yesterday's national drug Take Back day, sponsored by the US Drug Enforcement Agency, operated under new rules finalized last year, and the changes prohibited some of the public policy benefits of the program.

Back in early 2013, I reported on proposed state and federal rule changes that critics argued would reduce the environmental, cost saving, and drug abuse prevention benefits of Take Back programs in Maine. The federal changes would effectively prohibit longstanding data collection programs by pharmacy researchers that have saved the state's Medicaid program money by reducing the over-prescribing of oft-wasted drugs. The state changes would have allowed incineration of collected drugs at municipal -- rather than hazardous waste -- incinerators.

As I reported in yesterday's Portland Press Herald, both types of rule changes have since been implemented. Details therein.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Talking American Nations and the 2016 election at Colby College, Sept 22

If you live in Central Maine and have an interest in American regionalism, I'll be speaking about American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America and the 2016 election in Waterville this coming week.

The lecture, hosted by Colby College's Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, takes place on September 22nd at 7pm on the first floor of Diamond Hall. It's free and open to the public.

Find more details here. Do come and say hello.

My next American Nations speaking event thereafter is at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, October 6th. My next public Maine speaking appearance is on Ocean's End and the environmental crisis in the oceans at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, November 19. More details to come here at World Wide Woodard.

[Update, 9/24/15: Thanks to all who came and filled the house for the talk, and to Colby-Goldfarb for having me.]

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Gov. LePage, upset with EPA, threatens to give them his powers

Gov. Paul LePage, upset with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's position regarding water quality standards around the Penobscot Nation's reservation and other locations in the state, has issued a threat: he'll give up his administration's powers under the Clean Water Act to them.

If it sounds nonsensical, you're in good company, though an attorney for the effected industries says the loss of Maine's delegated water quality programs under the Clean Water Act wouldn't make much difference.

My story in Friday's Portland Press Herald lays it all out, including reaction from all of Maine's members of Congress, who LePage wrote, pleading for help against the agency. The story includes links back to previous coverage of the governor's heated dispute with both the EPA and the Penobscots.

Monday, September 7, 2015

On Penobscot Bay, contamination fears surround port dredging plan

Searsport, Maine's second busiest port, is overdue for maintenance and, its advocates argue, an upgrade, allowing larger vessels to reach the dock, and moderate-sized ones to not have to wait for high tide to enter or leave. But an Army Corps of Engineers plan to do both those things is running into stuff opposition from a wide range of interests on the shores of Penobscot Bay because of how the federal agency has proposed to dispose of the nearly million square yards of dredge spoils that will be produced.

My story in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram explores the issue, focusing on expert assessments of what to do with mercury-contaminated spoils (which the Corps intends to dump in western Penobscot Bay, in conical bottom pockmarks one former Maine State Geologist says are methane vents.) An excerpt:

“If you sat down and tried to find a way to guarantee you would contaminate the entire food web with methyl mercury, they’ve come up with it,” says Kim Ervin Tucker, the Lincolnville attorney representing many of the opponents, including local lobstermen, businesspeople and the Sierra Club. “You can accomplish the project’s goals in a smarter, cheaper way that doesn’t put existing lobstering and tourism and other industries at risk.”
Last week, concerns over mercury contamination in the bay were heightened when a federal judge ordered the owners of the primary culprit, the former HoltraChem plant 20 miles up the Penobscot River, to pay for studies on how to clean up mercury contaminated river bed and estuary areas.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is currently considering whether to grant the project required permits. The head of that department, Patricia Aho, left office Friday, replaced for now by another former Pierce Atwood industrial lobbyist, Avery Day.

[Update, 1920 EST: The Corps, having apparently read this story, withdrew their application today.]

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Facing blowback, Maine gives Jeb Bush's education foundation the cold shoulder

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I report on how the administration of Paul LePage dissolved once-close ties with Jeb Bush's education foundation, which had apparently become a political liability.

Back in 2012, I wrote this investigation of the ties between Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, for-profit digital education providers and the Maine Department of Education, which outsourced much of the drafting of Maine's inaugural digital charter school rules and policies. (The two-part investigation won a George Polk Award that year.) We followed up with additional details here and here and here showing the Foundation's central role in the creation of the "grading schools" initiative, the governor's "education summit" and other education reform efforts.

But after Commissioner Steven Bowen left office in the late summer of 2013, emails and other correspondence show, the relationship quick cooled, and future commissioners didn't even join the Foundation's Chiefs for Change group, which Bowen had been an active participant in. Here's an excerpt:

Foundation officials reached out again...offering to “touch base on how we can best support your efforts after grades are made public.” [the department] again turned them down, and rejected the foundation’s subsequent offer to issue a news release in support of the new grades.

“In sharp contrast to last year, we’ve been able to maintain very positive coverage around the rollout of this year’s grades because we haven’t connected it to any larger national reform work,” [the department spokesperson] explained in a May 14 response. “Honestly, I do not think a statement from the foundation would be helpful to us or our messaging here in Maine at this time, however, we really respect the work the foundation is doing and the importance of school grades becoming more widely used across the county (sic).”

After May 2014, correspondence between the foundation and the department quickly dwindled to the receipt of mass mailings and short, infrequent exchanges of policy accomplishments and news releases.

Enjoy the story.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Has Jack DeCoster, Maine's most infamous businessman, returned?

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I have the story of how the Maine egg farms formerly controlled by infamous serial rule-breaker Jack DeCoster have been sold to a company with deep past DeCoster links. Indeed, the owner of Hillandale Farms once ran afoul of Ohio regulators for hiding the fact one of his egg companies was actually controlled by DeCoster, who was reportedly forbidden to run egg operations in that state.

Indeed, Hillandale and DeCoster owned the Iowa egg farms at the center of the infamous 2010 salmonella outbreak that the US Centers for Disease Control estimate sickened 56,000 across the country. Here's an excerpt:

[Hillandale founder] Orland Bethel, whose Iowa egg farm was forced to recall 170 million eggs in 2010, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before Congress about the outbreak. The contaminated farm – doing business as Hillandale Farms of Iowa – bought eggs, young chickens and feed from the DeCosters’ Iowa egg farm and feed plant. DeCoster also was apparently an investor in the Iowa farm. A Hillandale spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal in 2010 that the farm and the DeCosters’ feed entity were “financially affiliated,” which allowed them to avoid state feed inspections. 

I've written about DeCoster a number of times in the past, including an expose in Down East Magazine back in 2011 (when Republican state legislators were pressing to pass a bill to loosen labor regulations at his Maine farms) and this piece for the Press Herald in April, when DeCoster and his son were sentenced to three months in prison for their role in the salmonella scandal.

It's unknown if DeCoster is still an investor in Hillandale, and unclear if he retains ownership of the Maine egg farms, which were acquired three years ago by Land O'Lakes in a ten year lease-to-own deal.

[Update, 9/2/2015: DeCoster does indeed retain ownership of the farms, as I reported in the August 25, 2015 edition of the Portland Press Herald, along with some other details of the deal.]

[Update, 9/2/2015: The Portland Press Herald ran this editorial Aug. 27 connected with these two stories.]

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Talking Lobster Coast in Damariscotta, Maine, Aug. 13

Damariscotta, Maine -- in the heart of the Midcoast -- chose Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier as their 2015 Community Read, with nearly 500 people signing up to simultaneously read and discuss the book this summer.

The finale is this Thursday, August 13 at 7pm: my free lecture and Q&A at the Lincoln Theater on Main Street. It's convened by the Skidompha Library just down the street, where I'll be signing books for people after the talk. Here's a write up in the Boothbay Register.

Come by and say hello.

[Update, 8/15/15: Thanks to the some 300 of you who came and filled the Lincoln Theater. Enjoyed meeting many of you, and this marquee:]

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Too many towns? Lessons on consolidation from the Maritimes

For decades, Mainers have debated whether our "home rule" system of strong, usually tiny municipal government is holding the state back. Here every one of our more than 400 towns is a small republic unto itself, with broad powers that in southern or mid-Atlantic states would lie with counties. The vast majority have such small populations -- often less than 2000, and not infrequently under 1000 -- that they retain the town meeting form of government, a pure form of democracy where the assembled citizens vote directly on measures by a show of hands. But, critics say, perhaps a state of just 1.3 million can't afford such a system; thus calls to merge towns or to confer some of their powers on Maine's counties, which currently have hardly any at all.

I wrote on this topic a few months ago in the Maine Sunday Telegram, and in the process became interested in the experiences of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canadian provinces very similar to Maine in physical size, population size, economics, environment, and culture. Both provinces have worked to consolidate municipal government -- "amalgamation" is the word Canadians use -- for decades, but with mixed success. In Nova Scotia, counties have generally assumed powers of towns that find they are no longer viable, while in New Brunswick there was a campaign to force towns to merge.

How did it all turn out? While in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick earlier this summer, I looked for lessons for Maine. What I learned is in this piece in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram. Here's an excerpt:

“Most of the arguments about efficiency don’t really pan out,” says James McDavid of the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, who studies municipal mergers. “You might get some efficiencies if you talk about amalgamating infrastructure like roads, sewer and water, but the argument falls off the rails when you’re dealing with functions involving human beings interacting with residents.” That’s because wages and benefits usually rise after a merger, especially when unionized police, fire or public works departments are involved.

Enjoy the piece.

[Update, 8/12/15: The Portland Press Herald editorial department came out with this editorial based on the piece.]

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Charges dropped against Passamaquoddy elder who tried to recall tribal leadership

In Friday's Portland Press Herald I had an update on the story of the Passamaquoddy elder and tribal councilor who organized recall petitions against a chief and vice chief and was led away in handcuffs.

Last week, I wrote about the story of Mary Creighton, 72, who organized the recall, only to be arrested and recalled herself. The situation was illustrative of the legal vacuum that exists in regards to "internal tribal matters" like elections, so long as the Maine tribe lacks a constitution.

The new development: the county district attorney has dropped charges of aggravated forgery (allegedly involving recall petition signatures). Here's an excerpt:

Creighton’s attorney, Steve Smith of Lipman and Katz, said prosecutors dismissed the case because their witnesses were not cooperating. “We are pleased that the Washington County prosecutors have seen the justice in dropping what is purely a political case against Ms. Creighton,” Smith said. “It’s safe to say there is no enthusiasm for this case.”
Creighton has no way of challenging her recall, which she said wasn't conducted properly, but she says she intends to sue tribal leaders for defamation. Pleasant Point Chief Fred Moore declined to comment.

For more background on the Passamaquoddy, consider reading "Unsettled," the Press Herald series that ran last summer, and which is also available as an ebook.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

VOA, Texas Monthly, New Orleans Times-Picayune, others on American Nations

American Nations continues to benefit from its second freak virality incident on the Internet, which first manifested itself a week and a half ago at the Washington Post and last week via Business Insider's much circulated articles.

Earlier this week I was interviewed by Voice of America for their "All Things America" blog; that article posted late yesterday. Here's a teaser:

As people move around, one might assume the country would become more homogenous, but Woodard says the opposite occurs, with Americans becoming more polarized as they move to regions they identify with
“That means, in essence, that we are self-sorting,” he said. “That when somebody has an opportunity to move…people tend to be moving to places where they feel more at home, where they are surrounded by like-minded individuals. That ends up with a self-sorting effect that ends up reinforcing the differences between these regional cultures.”
Woodard expects the characteristics of these cultures to remain fundamentally constant over the next century, a key reason he aspires to make more Americans aware of their forgotten past.
Meanwhile, Minnesota Public Radio picked up on the Business Insider piece, emphasizing the great gulf between the two "superpowers", Yankeedom and the Deep South. Meanwhile the Bakersfield Californian named American Nations as one of the ten things their readers needed to know, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune flagged it in regards to what it says about New France, and provoking lots of comments. (For the record, New Orleans itself is shared between New France and the Deep South (and probably the Spanish Caribbean as well, if I ever got into that.))

Somewhere in the fray, Texas Monthly's John Nova Lomax posted this fun article which uses American Nations and Spotify data to explain why various Texas musical genres succeed in being popular in certain areas outside of the Lone Star State. I greatly enjoyed it. An excerpt:

In a way, the Spotify lists lend credence to reporter and author Colin Woodard’s eleven nations of North America map, in which four distinct cultures converge within Texas. Spotify did not provide data for Woodard’s “Midlands” strip of Texas – the northernmost counties of the Panhandle – but his “El Norte,” which he calls “the oldest, and most linguistically different, nation in the Americas” is exemplified by Spotify’s Spanglish El Paso chart, one of the most unusual in the United States.
And he kind of shares my own long-held observation that the Deep South doesn’t really end until you get to Brookshire on I-10, which is where real Texas finally begins. Music tastes bear this out. For example, even if Houston rappers aren’t specifically well-received in Louisiana or the Deep South in terms of style, the lists of both Humble and Houston in East Texas have a bit more in common with Baton Rouge and Memphis than they do with, say, San Antonio or even Dallas. Both of the East Texas population centers show far more of a taste for various African-American music styles (mostly hip-hop, but also blues and zydeco) than places west of the Brazos and north of College Station, where country takes over. Houston’s western suburb of Katy is more akin to Lubbock than it is to Humble.
- See more at: 
In a way, the Spotify lists lend credence to reporter and author Colin Woodard’s eleven nations of North America map....He kind of shares my own long-held observation that the Deep South doesn’t really end until you get to Brookshire on I-10, which is where real Texas finally begins. Music tastes bear this out. For example, even if Houston rappers aren’t specifically well-received in Louisiana or the Deep South in terms of style, the lists of both Humble and Houston in East Texas have a bit more in common with Baton Rouge and Memphis than they do with, say, San Antonio or even Dallas. Both of the East Texas population centers show far more of a taste for various African-American music styles (mostly hip-hop, but also blues and zydeco) than places west of the Brazos and north of College Station, where country takes over. Houston’s western suburb of Katy is more akin to Lubbock than it is to Humble.
I also did Fox News Radio's John Gibson Show, but I don't think the segment's online, so you should have been listening!

Thanks to all the new readers who've reached out this past week. Enjoy the book and look out for the sequel.
In a way, the Spotify lists lend credence to reporter and author Colin Woodard’s eleven nations of North America map, in which four distinct cultures converge within Texas. Spotify did not provide data for Woodard’s “Midlands” strip of Texas – the northernmost counties of the Panhandle – but his “El Norte,” which he calls “the oldest, and most linguistically different, nation in the Americas” is exemplified by Spotify’s Spanglish El Paso chart, one of the most unusual in the United States.
And he kind of shares my own long-held observation that the Deep South doesn’t really end until you get to Brookshire on I-10, which is where real Texas finally begins. Music tastes bear this out. For example, even if Houston rappers aren’t specifically well-received in Louisiana or the Deep South in terms of style, the lists of both Humble and Houston in East Texas have a bit more in common with Baton Rouge and Memphis than they do with, say, San Antonio or even Dallas. Both of the East Texas population centers show far more of a taste for various African-American music styles (mostly hip-hop, but also blues and zydeco) than places west of the Brazos and north of College Station, where country takes over. Houston’s western suburb of Katy is more akin to Lubbock than it is to Humble.
- See more at:

Monday, August 3, 2015

Is this the future of clamming?

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I write about an experimental, commercial-scale, owner operated clam farm intended to empower clam diggers and save an allegedly imperiled resource. Some diggers and clam scientists love it, others fear it, and with the future of the commons at stake, everyone has a strong opinion.

Here's a taste:

Behold Maine’s first commercial-scale soft-shell clam farm, an experimental project that aims to test whether a single owner-operated farm can earn a worthwhile return for clam diggers who heretofore relied exclusively on the whims of nature to earn a living from the seafloor. If it works, it could revolutionize Maine’s second most valuable fishery, enhance the livelihoods of diggers and stop the assault of the green crabs in their tracks.

But the project has been contentious here in Georgetown, a coastal community 6 miles south of Bath, where some clam diggers fear that self-employed clam diggers like Warner and themselves will eventually be pushed out by corporate growers if the succulent mollusks are farmed rather than gathered in the wild.
I also got to do something I haven't in a while: do a photo shoot. The scenic environment in Georgetown, Maine made it easy.

Photo credit/copyright: Colin Woodard.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Business Insider on American Nations....twice

American Nations is in the midst of its second episode of mysterious internet viral-ness, this time prompted by the organic growth of traffic to a 19-month old blog post on the concept at the Washington Post, pushing the story to #1 Most Read on their site Sunday.

Business Insider has pushed it along with not one but two articles this week. The first, based on a recent interview with one of their reporters, posted on Monday afternoon and has, in two days, racked up over 330,000 views. Here's an excerpt:

Woodard says that among these 11 nations, Yankeedom and the Deep South exert the most influence and are constantly competing with each other for the hearts and minds of the other nations. "We are trapped in brinkmanship because there is not a lot of wiggle room between Yankee and Southern Culture," Woodard says. "Those two nations would never see eye to eye on anything besides an external threat."

Yesterday, the site followed up with this short article on how American Nations explains regional variations in violence, a topic I treated in greater detail in a Tufts Magazine article which prompted the first viral episode in 2013.

I'll also be on John Gibson's Fox News Radio show at about 1:20 Eastern tomorrow to talk about the book

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Passamaquoddy elder challenges leaders, gets led away in handcuffs, recalled from office

Readers of "Unsettled" -- my 31-part series on Maine's Passamaquoddy tribe -- learned about the legal vacuum that exists on Maine's easternmost reservations, where there is no tribal constitution and the conduct of elections and anything else that can be categorized an "internal tribal matter" is beyond the judicial review of the tribe's own courts, better yet state or federal ones.

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram I write about what can happen in such an atmosphere. Here's an excerpt:

Mary Creighton decided to take on tribal officials she thought were mismanaging affairs. She found herself handcuffed in the back of a tribal police van bound for the Machias jail.

Creighton, 72, was subsequently ousted from the tribe’s governing council in a recall election after a hearing presided over by the very official she herself had been trying to recall. Someone tore down the sign of the gift store she runs from an addition to her home on the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy reservation, located between Eastport and Perry in easternmost Maine. She faces criminal charges of aggravated forgery...

Welcome to the rough and tumble world of Passamaquoddy tribal politics, where politicians operate within an elections system without judicial review, on reservations that lack a constitution, and where almost everyone is connected by blood or business, marriage or divorce. Here a candidate for chief can be bounced from the ballot days before an election, defeated governors can order subordinates to dole out a $40,000 “severance payment,” and a tribal elder with a recall petition can quickly be recalled from office.
If you missed the story Sunday, it may have been because it was initially given The Most Boring Headline in the Universe -- "Recall effort backfires under tribal law on Maine reservation" -- which it is cursed to carry in Facebook and Google's metadata for the rest of time.

[Update, 8/10/15: Charges were dropped against Creighton, as reported in this update.]

Monday, July 27, 2015

At Washington Post, 2 year old American Nations article hits #1 Most Read

Remember that time in late 2013 when my then-two year old book, American Nations, suddenly went viral on the Internet? It started with a story I did for Tufts Magazine explaining the profound regional differences in violence, gained steam organically (with the newly colorized map), and then went berserk when the Washington Post's Reid Wilson put up this post at the paper's GovBeat blog. It got millions of hits in the first week, prompting newspaper columns and national radio and television appearances, and pushing the book to #50 of all books sold on Amazon.

Well, that GovBeat post just won't quit. After "trending" for the past two weeks, yesterday the year-and-a-half old post surged to No. 1 on the Post's Most Read list and, as of this morning, is still at No. 3. The paper put this Facebook status update up last night, which generated over 900 shares and nearly 2000 likes in its first three hours alone.


So, for those of you who may have just discovered the American Nations Map and want to know more, read this for a cogent summary or, if you’re really in a hurry, go here.

My next open-to-the-public speaking appearance on the American Nations will be in Ames, Iowa October 6. Stay tuned for details.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Recapping the strangest month in Maine governance for Politico Magazine

This past month has been the strangest in memory for Maine governance, starting with the governor squeezing a rubber squeaking pig at a Christmas Tree-themed press conference and ending with him under legislative investigation, the threat of impeachment, the shadow of a federal civil rights law suit, and having provoked a potential constitutional crisis while letting dozens of bills he opposed become law and burning bridges with many of his natural allies.

My round up of this chaotic period posted at Politico Magazine today. Here's a sample:

“For whatever reason the governor has chosen to demonize the entire legislature and people in both parties who don’t always agree with him on everything,” says Sen. Roger Katz, a moderate Republican whose face adorned one of the ornaments on LePage’s Christmas tree. “There is so much he could get done if he chose to work with the legislature instead of against it.”

My last piece for Politico Magazine was on the reasons for our regional disunity and, prior to that, this Letter from Budapest.

[Update, 7/20/15, 18:00: Rachel Maddow's blog has picked up the story, which has been No. 1 at Politico for most of the past 48 hours, suggesting the nation has an unusual interest in Maine politics.]

Friday, July 17, 2015

Signing books, Whydah Museum in Provincetown, Mass., July 21

If you live on Cape Cod, I'll be meeting readers and signing copies of The Republic of Pirates at the Expedition Whydah Museum in Provincetown this coming Tuesday, July 21, from 4 to 6pm.

The museum was established by Barry Clifford, the explorer who found Sam Bellamy's flagship, the Whydah, and it houses many artifacts found at the wreck site in nearby Wellfleet. Ken Kinkor -- one of the world's most knowledgeable scholars of the Golden Age Pirates -- was the resident researcher there until his untimely death in 2013.

The museum is located on Macmillan Wharf; I'll be at the gift store, so you don't have to buy admission to come by and say hello.

My next pirates-related event is at the scene of the crime -- Nassau, The Bahamas -- in late October.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Jeb's "Walker's Point" Advantage

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I write about one of Jeb Bush's many fundraising advantages: the existence of the family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Walker's Point, a town park purchased by his great-great grandfather at the opening of the 20th century and developed into a summer retreat, has been the base camp of the Bush clan since Jeb's great-grandfather served in the U.S. Senate. Since then, the family has produced two presidents, and the compound has been used to host world leaders, national luminaries, and family weddings. Get an invitation to a party there, and you're probably going to say yes. As one campaign finance expert told me, Hillary Clinton has no Walker's Point.

And if Jeb had any reticence about publicly embracing his family's quasi-aristocratic legacy, he seems to have set it aside. He's just built himself a house on the compound and last Thursday co-hosted with his parents 300 major campaign donors for a reception and dinner.

Kennebunkport, it seems, is back on the political map.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Speaking on American Nations, Bridgton, Maine, July 9

For those in the Sebago Lakes, Maine-to-North Conway, New Hampshire corridor, I'll be speaking about the American Nations and their effect on our history and current events in Bridgton, Maine this Thursday, July 9th.

My host is the Bridgton Historical Society for which this is the annual summer lecture. It starts at 7pm at their Narramissic Farm. It's open to the public, but they're raising money for the institution, so tickets are $8, and you can get them here.

Here's the Society's description of the talk, which comes out of my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, with a bit of Lobster Coast to boot:

Thursday July 9, 7 p.m. at Narramissic, the Society will host its featured summer lecture.  We are pleased to host Colin Woodard, award-winning Maine author of American Nations, who will talk about Maine's cultural heritage.  Our immigrant ancestors helped to shape our culture of self-reliance, local governance, and the thrifty hardworking lifestyle that helped to promote innovation and industry.  It also helps explain our particularly New England character.  "There's never been one America," Colin Woodard argues in this award-winning book, "but rather several Americas, each with its own, centuries-old ideals, values, and religious and cultural heritage. Understanding the real map of the continent and its rival cultures is essential to grasping our history, from the divisions of the American Revolution and Civil War to the 'blue county / red county' maps of past and recent elections." A reception will be precede the event at 6:30, and a there will be a book signing fter the lecture--so bring your treasured copies of his books, or buy some at the event.

For more information, follow this link.

My next entirely public talk is for the community read (on Lobster Coast) in Damariscotta, Maine in August. Talks in Ames, Iowa and Nassau, the Bahamas follow in the fall.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Our Disunited States

For your Fourth of July reading pleasure, I bring you my take on our Disunited States in Politico Magazine. It's the weekly "cover story" so it has to be good.

It's a peculiar article in that I was tasked with explaining the United States' disunity -- via American Nations of course -- without explicitly mentioning the American Nations or unpacking the framework. Still, it seems to have gotten plenty of attention, and hopefully a subset of readers will dig further to uncover the full picture.

Factoid I learned while researching this article: the Fourth of July was celebrated in the Confederacy at least until 1864. As in the Antebellum Period, they chose to pretend the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence didn't exist, instead focusing on the other stuff about just rebellions against tyrants, the virtues of self-governance and all that un-revolutionary stuff. Fascinating.

This article also marks a milestone: the first national media mention of my new book, American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good, out with Viking on March 15, 2016.

For those new to my take on American regionalism, I've created synopses here and here.

My last piece for Politico Magazine was on Hungary's abandonment of liberal democracy, which came out just a couple weeks back.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

On Maine-New Brunswick border, a banner year for a newly liberated fish

I was in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick last week and learned that the St. Croix River's alewives -- which the Maine legislature banned from the river for 18 years -- are having a banner spawning run. Details are in my story in yesterday's Portland Press Herald.

The river's alewives have been at the center of a strange, science-denying political story for several years, one I visited in detail in this piece in 2012. I followed up on the story here, here, here, here, here, and here, and colleague Kevin Miller reported on a recent, unsuccessful effort by bass fishing guides to restrict the fish. [Update, 6/25/19: An update on the alewives story.]

 More stories from my trip East of Downeast are coming up.