Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump proposal to cut NASA Earth Science would hurt Maine research

Last week, President-Elect Donald Trump's space policy adviser reiterated his desire to cut or eliminate NASA's Earth Sciences programs, including the monitoring of climate and ocean conditions, areas researchers here in Maine excel at.

In today's Portland Press Herald, Maine-based researchers working with NASA data decried the proposal, saying it would essentially leave U.S. scientists without the tools to track and assess changes in the ocean and terrestrial environment.

For a sense of what is at stake in Maine, consider this Press Herald series, which was a finalist for this year's Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

As Trump Age dawns, a dispatch from the city Sanders built

At Politico Magazine, the subjects for the What Works series are picked months in advance, so it's by coincidence that, days after Donald Trump's upset victory in the U.S. presidential election, the series visit Bernie Sanders' hometown. I did field research for this story a couple weeks before election day; now it reads like a dispatch from an alternate universe, where a town with few meaningful fissures is creating a sustainable economy under the guidance of their municipal government, itself run for much of the past four decades by social democrats.

In any case, the new story is on Burlington, Vermont's 37-year drive to build a sustainable city, protected from international fossil fuel markets and the whims of distant corporate boards. The result: the first city able to power itself entirely from renewable energy -- it owns its own grid and generating capacity and could theoretically cut itself off from the outside world without interrupting power -- and one that is now working to become net zero in transportation and thermal energy use as well. It also grows a lot of its own food.

This is my ninth full-length "What Works" piece this year. The others were on how Des Moines went from dull to cool; how Manchester, New Hampshire turned its vast 19th century millyard to spinning high-tech gold; on how Denver built its game-changing light rail system, only to discover its most powerful effects were not what they'd expected; how Cincinnati transformed "America's most dangerous neighborhood"; how Philadelphia repurposed a 1200 acre former naval base;  how Milwaukee breathed life back into a legacy industrial district, creating the manufacturing park of the future; how Roanoke, Virginia went from a train city to a brain city; and how Winston-Salem, North Carolina pivoted from tobacco manufacturing to high-tech innovation. In addition -- on the occasion of the Republican National Convention -- I had this shorter story on how Cleveland revamped its long-neglected Public Square.

Where's next? Hint: They filmed Breaking Bad there.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Maine: Passamaquoddy political struggle persists

Thanks to everyone who has been asking about my take on the U.S. presidential election. I'm intending to write a proper American Nations-driven analysis, but other deadlines and missing data have held me back. Soon, I promise.

Meanwhile, I've written two updates in the Portland Press Herald on another ugly political situation: the power struggles at the Passamaquoddy reservation at Pleasant Point, on the Maine-New Brunswick frontier.

Last week, I had this story on the recall of the sitting Chief, Fred Moore III, by a more than five-to-one margin. Moore says he was ousted because he dared confront an alleged narcotics epidemic within tribal government itself.

Tribal officialdom was mum on why Moore had been removed until yesterday, when I put together this follow-up story. A tribal department director who spearheaded the recall drive against Moore says he was removed for self-enrichment and abuse of power.

All of this follows a more than year-long struggle between Moore and Vice Chief Vera Francis featuring efforts to depose one another, failed recall votes, and accusations of corruption. Before that, there was an unpleasant incident in which an elderly tribal councilor was arrested in connection with her circulation of a recall petition against Moore.

For more background on the tribe, there's this 29-part series.

Monday, November 7, 2016

American Nations in The Atlantic, Brazil, and Switzerland

There must be an epic, regionally-valent election coming up because American Nations has again been showing up in all sorts of places.

I'm greatly honored to have it included in The Atlantic's "Reading List for Those in Despair About Politics." The list was compiled by engaging an eclectic group of thought leaders, and Chai Feldblum, a commissioner with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was kind enough to chose Nations, saying it was "a eye opening experience for me....Many Americans say they love their country. The question is -- which country are they talking about.' There are a lot of other great titles in the list as well, including new works by Ta-Nahisi Coates and Yuval Levin and, most importantly, Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

Meanwhile, Brazil's Globo has this posting on the paradigm from University of Sao Paolo journalism professor Helio Gurovitz which has been getting  lot of traction on Twitter.

And, from Switzerland, there's an extended feature -- relate with color maps -- in Saturday's Neue Zurcher Zeitung from their U.S. correspondent Andreas Mink, who came up to Maine this summer to interview me. (Thus, Portland's Arabica has a cameo.) It's not online, alas, but for the one or two of you in Switzerland (or who subscribe to NZZ's e-reader) it's a fun three page spread (in German.)

And if you're a U.S. citizen, don't forget to vote. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

From U.S. cities, some lessons in protecting liberal democracy

This year's presidential election has exposed a long festering crisis: that tens of millions of Americans are ready to endorse a candidate who has pledged to use extra-constitutional means to solve the country’s problems, including the jailing of his opponent, an erosion of first amendment protections for the press, and ethnographic tests for federal judges.

Authoritarianism now has a sizable constituency in American politics, one that won’t be going away on Nov. 9, regardless of who is president-elect. The next president and congressional leaders will still preside over a country that is politically polarized, with differences that are geographic even as they are ideological, but the risks of inaction have grown.

In the new weekly print edition of my old journalistic home, The Christian Science Monitor, I have
the cover story on how we move forward and shore up our liberal democracy. This is the topic of my most recent book, American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good, but it's been reinforced by what I've seen on the ground as I've travelled the country this year for POLITICO, observing successful innovations of various sorts in cities from Utah to New Hampshire.

The story -- which appears in the print edition dated Nov. 7, but went up online yesterday -- explores how people can balance the individual freedom and the need to build and maintain the social and physical infrastructure that allows it to exist.

It's been a few years since I last wrote for the Monitor, but I'm a past Eastern Europe, Balkan, and Global Affairs correspondent for that paper, having written hundreds of stories from dozens of countries between the early 1990s and 2010 from bases in Budapest, Zagreb, Washington, South Texas and Maine. It's nice to be back in its pages again after a long hiatus.

[Update, 12/31/16: This story prompted editorials in both the Des Moines Register and the Roanoke Times.]