Saturday, December 31, 2016

End of the year round-up on POLITICO cities project

2016 is thankfully about to end, though I suspect we will long for it by the second quarter of next year. In parting, a quick round-up of items related to my series on successful innovations in American cities for POLITICO Magazine.

The Vermont "hack": Burlington Electric, the city-owned utility in Vermont's largest city, is in the news today because they discovered malevolent Russian state "hacker" code on one of their computers. I profiled the utility last month for the series.

Roanoke Times editorial: thanks to Roanoke, Virginia's newspaper of record for this editorial discussing how to move cities forward, with special focus on my POLITICO article on that city, and the work of The Atlantic's James Fallows. Much appreciated.

Bloomberg View on homelessness: Syndicated columnist Noah Smith took up the issue of work and
 homelessness this week, citing my most recent piece for the series on Albuquerque. The column was carried across the country, including at Maine's Bangor Daily News.

And, separately, thanks to columnists at the Herald Dispatch in Huntington, West Virginia and the Post Register in Idaho Falls, Idaho for taking up American Nations this month. Much appreciated.

Happy New Year, everyone. Let's hope it outperforms expectations.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Maine: How will Trump administration effect LePage's education reform drive?

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I write about how the incoming Trump administration -- and its education secretary nominee, billionaire school voucher and charter school champion Betsy DeVos -- might effect the landscape for Gov. Paul LePage's school reform drive.

The most likely effect, experts say: new pressure to lift the 10-school cap on taxpayer-financed, privately-operated charters schools. Read on for details.

DeVos is a board member and major contributor to Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, a focus of this 2012 investigation for the Telegram.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How Albuquerque took on homelessness

My latest for POLITICO Magazine's What Works series is on how a concerned Republican mayor and an out-of-control police department created the context for an impressive and comprehensive effort to deal with homelessness in Albuquerque, New Mexico's largest city. From a van that picks willing panhandlers off the street and puts them to work for the day for $9.50 an hour to a drive to get the most vulnerable homeless people into permanent homes immediately, the city has been turning heads and pointing the way toward more effective strategies for helping people get off the streets.

This is my tenth 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;  how Winston-Salem, North Carolina pivoted from tobacco manufacturing to high-tech innovation and how Burlington, Vermont -- Bernie Sanders' hometown -- became the country's first all-renewable-powered city. 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 for What Works? Hint: for one religious denomination, it's literally the Holy Land.

[Update, 1/16/17: Bloomberg View columnist Noah Smith took up this story in his syndicated column.]

Monday, December 19, 2016

Maine: should casino funds be helping the horses?

Maine's casino industry got its start more than a decade ago by appealing to Maine voters to help the state's agricultural sector: let harness racing tracks have slot machines and that will support horse farmers, which will keep other farmers growing hay for them and so on. The casino industry has expanded away from the tracks  -- the Oxford Casino has no formal tie to harness racing -- but some $8 million a year of their revenues still makes its way to the harness racing tracks, betting parlors, and the purses awarded to the owners of race-winning horses.

As I report in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, a lot of the horses don't benefit from this. Some 200 leave the track each year -- many at age 3, all by age 14 -- and dozens of those face an uncertain future. The animals live to be 30, but cost a lot to maintain. Some perfectly healthy horses (who were not exceptional racers) are sold for slaughter in Quebec. But horse rescuers and advocates see an opportunity for the state to deal with this problem. Details within.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

F-35, criticized by Trump, employs nearly 1000 Mainers

In today's Maine Sunday Telegram, I have a piece on the F-35 program in Maine, occasioned by President-elect Donald Trump's critical tweet earlier this week.

Two takeaways: it employs - directly or indirectly - nearly 1000 Mainers. Secondly, for this reason it has had the enthusiastic backing of both of Maine's U.S. Senators, Rep. Chellie Pingree, and Gov. Paul LePage (who famously seized the opportunity, when inside an F-35 simulator at the local Pratt & Whitney plant, to express his interest in bombing the Press Herald building.) This pattern - minus the fantasy air strikes - is replicated in 45 states across the country, making the program politically bulletproof.

I've also written recently on the possible effects for Maine of Trump's proposals to defund NASA Earth Science research and to take an aggressive stance against Canadian softwood lumber imports.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Trump plan on Canada lumber trade could help Maine sawmills

Last month a Trump transition memo obtained by CNN had Canadian media and politicians expressing concerns about the effect on their country's softwood lumber industry, the people who make spruce, fir, and pine dimension lumber of the sort you frame a house with. Trump, the memo suggested, would take an aggressive stance with our neighbor to the north on its softwood lumber imports.

This had me wondering what the effect of new trade restrictions would be for Maine's softwood lumber mills and harvesters. As I report in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, they would probably benefit, though the devil is in the details.

On Trump transition watch at the Press Herald, I last reported on how his proposal to slash NASA's earth science missions would damage Maine science.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Republic of Pirates, now in China

A parcel of these arrived in the mail the other day: the handsome, simplified Chinese edition of The Republic of Pirates from Social Sciences Academic Press in Beijing. I'm pleased the book is now available in the world's most populous country. (The title there is apparently

海盗共和国:骷髅旗飘扬、民主之火燃起的海盗黄金年代 精装.)

For those in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao, Republic of Pirates is also available in complex Chinese from Taipei's Business Weekly.

My only other title to be translated into Chinese is Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, but I suspect that's now out of print.