Friday, May 29, 2015

Maine: conflict with tribes heats up

This week the escalating tensions between the State of Maine and the state's Indian tribes reached a breaking point, with two of the three tribal representatives to the state legislature renouncing their seats in protest over the state's opposition to a wide range of tribal initiatives.

For yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I filed this story from the Penobscot reservation at Indian Island, where leaders of three of Maine's four federally-recognized tribes signed a declaration calling for Congressional intervention and saying they would no longer recognize the authority of the state to define their rights and powers.

For background on the conflict here in Maine, follow the links from these World Wide Woodard posts.

Photo: Tribal drummers at the Indian Island press conference. (c) 2015 Colin Woodard.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

In the Czech Republic

I've spent the past few days in the Czech Republic, including Prague, which I first visited during the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It's hard for any visit to measure up to that particular one, given the emotional poignancy of those glorious days when hope and change weren't empty slogans. And, alas, the old city has continued its inevitable transformation into EuroDisney East, complete with Segways and, yes, Starbucks in the Hrad. But we all knew that would happen.

In my limited sampling, what's really impressive is how prosperous and peaceful small town Bohemia and Moravia seem, a quarter century later, and the extensive infrastructure that's been built in recent years, from highways to neighborhood revitalization to university expansion to a network of truly top-notch zoos, of all things. I haven't researched it, but I imagine there must be some European Union money behind it all, but for an American living in the Northeast, where bridges, highways, and rail systems are lucky to hold their own, it's hard not to be given pause. Did we drain all our cash into the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan? Even if we had more of it, would there not be a political fight over any effort to, say, revitalize passenger rail in the northeast or give Atlanta the public transportation system it needs and deserves?

One thing is for sure: twenty-five years ago I wouldn't have dreamed that I'd be looking at provincial Czech infrastructure and institutions and be wondering how we've managed to fall behind.

Friday, May 15, 2015

In Salzburg

I'm in the midst of a trip in Central Europe, the first in several years. I lived in this part of the world for the better part of the 1990s and it's good to be back.

A few observations after five years' absence.

1. The region has discovered "take out coffee." This is a good thing. I wonder if Starbucks, a relatively new arrival, is responsible for this long-delayed innovation.

2. The Austrians still hold the Post-Imperial Area title for motorway engineering. If we Americans spent as much as they must have to build sound barriers in even the most rural of areas, I suspect it would have paid itself back in improved property values alone. It's still jarring to go from limping across southern Moravia or south Slovakia to the meticulously engineered, tunnel-intensive autobahnen, where the original 1967 Mission Impossible television soundtrack is required driving music.

3. In Budapest, the trend has continued, and it is now nearly impossible to find good Hungarian food in restaurants. The best gulyas I've had so far in the region was in Štúrovo, an ethnic Hungarian community in South Slovakia. Somebody needs to give Budapest's chefs some remedial education in the old ways.

4. If you want to see a town defy Rust Belt-ism, go to Zlin in the Czech Republic, the former Bata shoe factory town-cum-Capitalist worker's utopia. I wrote about the city five years ago in the Christian Science Monitor and the trend has only continued. The old factory complex -- largely empty last I visited -- is now a thriving neighborhood of hipster lofts, university expansion buildings, and business start-ups. And if this rural corner of the Czech Republic can build a rapidly expanding public university -- with new buildings popping up every year -- why can't Maine manage to keep the University of Southern Maine from imploding? I suspect this has to do with leadership, municipal, academic, and state.

5. Hungarian politics are as bad as they say. One could ask, "Who votes for this guy?" But I'm from Maine, so I don't need to.