Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Talking American Nations on CNN

I'm pleased to be one of the guests on a CNN special airing this Saturday, June 3 at 9 pm Eastern, where I'll be talking about the regional cultures outlined in my book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, and how they help explain the 2016 election.

The program is entitled "States of Change" and is hosted by Bill Weir, who travelled the world to create and host the CNN travel/history/culture series "The Wonder List," now entering its third season. It explores a nation divided and is a companion broadcast to his one-hour digital documentary  special, "Bill Weir: States of Change - Homecoming," which also features yours truly and streams on CNNgo and all CNN apps and devices starting this Friday.

Guests for Saturday's program include Chris Arnade, DeRay Mckesson (Black Lives Matter), Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, and former Michigan governor Jennifer Grandholm.

For friends overseas: yes, it's also airing simultaneously on CNN International.

More details here. [Update, 6/4/17: As would-be viewers discovered, the show was pre-empted at the last minute on account of the London Bridge terrorist attacks; the show is taped, so it will be getting a rescheduled air date.] [Update, 6/11/17: The show had its premier last night; I write about it here.] [Update, 6/20/17: You can now see the segment online here.]

My last contact with CNN was just last week, for a web story on the Caribbean pirates.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bill Cohen on Watergate and today

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I talk to former US Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen and several of his former aides about what it was like to hold a president of his own party accountable during Watergate.

In the summer of 1974, Cohen was a first-term Republican congressman from Maine's second district and was one of the first to break with his party to further the probing of Richard Nixon's White House tapes. His summer intern was a 21-year old college student named Susan Collins, who would, decades later, marry Cohen's then-chief-of-staff, Tom Daffron. (Also on Capitol Hill that summer: Maine's other current senator, Angus King, who was an aide to Sen. Bill Hathaway (D-Maine.))

What did Cohen and his staff experience that summer, and what do they see when they compare then and now? Read on.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Talking pirates with CNN Travel

Earlier this week, I spoke with CNN Travel's London based writer Chris Scott about Henry Avery and the golden age Bahamian pirates, the subject of my third book, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down.

Scott's piece on the "Real Pirates of the Caribbean" posted yesterday at CNN, and also features interviews with several other pirate researchers.

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the wreck of Sam Bellamy's Whydah, the capture of Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, and many other key events for the golden age pirates. There's also another one of those silly Disney pirate movies coming out.

For more on Blackbeard, consider this Smithsonian cover story I wrote a couple of years ago on some new discoveries.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

In Maine, an ALEC bill to support a rewrite the US Constitution

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I have another story involving a model text from the American Legislative Exchange Council making being introduced in the Maine legislature.

This one has national implications: a resolution to have Maine become the 13th state to call for a constitutional convention under Article V of the US Constitution, which would allow delegates to amend or theoretically completely rewrite the nation's fundamental document. It takes 34 states to make the effort binding.

Critics -- including the late Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Warren Burger -- have warned that since there are no rules laid out for how such a convention would function, absolutely anything could happen.

How did the text wind up in Maine? How is it up for a floor vote as early as tomorrow? Read on to find out.

I've written about ALEC in Maine three other times in the past month, including this article and a follow up  on a bill that would prevent towns from building high-speed broadband networks and this article on another that would prevent them from passing pesticide ordinances.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Study predicts Gulf of Maine will become too warm for most ground fish

Regular readers will likely recall "Mayday," a series I did for the Press Herald on the warming of the Gulf of Maine and the challenges it presents for its inhabitants, human and otherwise. In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I have a story on a new scientific study that models temperature changes in the Gulf at a much higher resolution than previous ones did.

The results are sobering: suitable thermal habitat for many traditional commercial fish species like cod, haddock, pollock, plaice, and redfish will essentially vanish in the last decades of this century. Read on for details.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ohio, Oregon media consider American Nations-guided secession

As readers of American Nations probably know, I'm not a fan of the idea of breaking up the United States, for reasons I outlined more directly in this book review I did for Washington Monthly a few years back. (In short: why would we expect it to turn out peacefully?)

Still, there's something to be said for some states wanting to reconfigure their own borders in ways that better reflect the centuries-old cultural fissures on the continent. This talk has been growing of late, with a split up of California often at the top of the list.

Consider just the past week. Newspapers in two less-discusssed states with massive cultural fault lines -- Oregon and Ohio -- floated secession ideas rooted in American Nations' map.

The first, from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's digital arm,, muses about Ohio's (New England-settled) Western Reserve becoming the 51st state. (For some more on their overarching topic -- the differences between Cleveland and Cincy -- check out this piece in Cincinnati Magazine.)

The second, from the other Portland's Willamette Week, considers multiple scenarios for dividing the state and the Pacific Northwest. Sadly, they inform us that the American Nations approach is politically unviable because, as they put it, "who wants to show a passport just to visit Pendleton?" (I had to look that up too: it's a small town in eastern Oregon.)

If you're new to this American Nations stuff and want to learn more, try this piece or, of course, the book itself.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Speaking on American polarization, Brunswick, Maine, May 20

I'm pleased to be a panelist alongside Harvard University's Theda Skocpol at the 2017 Maine League of Women Voters Convention this Saturday morning, May 20.

Skocpol, a scholar who studied the Tea Party movement early and thoroughly, and I will be talking with each other, the moderator, and the audience about the roots of the current American political polarization. I'll, of course, be bringing in some of my thinking via American Nations (and, in Maine, the cultural cleavages discussed in Lobster Coast.) Our panel kicks off at 11am.

The convention -- which also features Lewiston Sun-Journal editor Judy Meyer and Maine Public's Irwin Gratz -- kicks off at 9 am at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick. It's open to the public with a $30 registration fee, which includes lunch.

My next public talk is on August 17 at the annual meeting of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society where I'll be talking Republic of Pirates.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Maine: Dam owner wants to walk away, alarming lakeside residents

In Saturday's Portland Press Herald, I have a story from the eastern borderlands of Maine and the United States, where a pulp and paper company has announced it wishes to surrender ownership of two dams, a process that normally would result in their gates being left open, permanently lowering the water level of the lakes they impound.

This, as you'll read, is an alarming prospect to the communities around East Grand Lake -- Maine's eighth largest -- which could fall by six feet, turning waterfront property into interior lots and playing havoc with the local tax base, tourism economy, and ecosystem. Canada's not happy either, and they own half the lake bed and the land under one half of the most prominent of the dams. More, as always, in the story.

I previously wrote about Eastern Maine dams when the state Department of Environmental Protection messed up during the federal relicensing process (again) and also during a debate about allowing the passage of (native) alewives up the river system, and its possible effects on (non-native) smallmouth bass.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Collins mum, King alarmed by Trump's shifting explanation on Comey firing

In Friday's Portland Press Herald, I had a follow up on how Maine's two US Senators -- both of whom sit on the committee leading the key probe into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia -- were reacting to President Trump's shifting explanation for why he fired FBI Director James Comey. On television, Trump said he planned to fire the director regardless of what the Justice Department thought, and made remarks that suggested the FBI investigation of Trump and Russia that Comey was overseeing had something to do with it.

The senators had very different stances.

When asked, Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, promptly sent a statement expressing concern and alarm over the president's "bizarre" statements. Republican Senator Susan Collins -- whose initial statement on the Comey firing accepted and defended the President's original, now discarded explanation -- declined to comment, even though the senator's language has shifted and toughened in more recent public statements on the firing.

More in the story.

[Update, 5/18/17: Here's what Collins had to say about the revelation that Comey wrote memos describing Trump asking him to stop part of his Russia probe from today's Press Herald.]

For more coverage on the Russia-Trump investigation and Maine's senators, click the Russia label here at World Wide Woodard.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bill banning Maine towns from regulating pesticides came from ALEC

I've written a fair bit over the years about the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC), a secretive, corporate-funded group that acts as a conduit for corporations to write narrowly self-interested bills and -- behind closed doors --  place them in the hands of willing lawmakers to introduce in state houses and call their own. Often fellow lawmakers and the public don't know where the bills really came from.

ALEC has popped up here in Maine's State House a couple times this week. The latest instance, which I revealed in Wednesday's Portland Press Herald: Governor Paul LePage's bill to stop municipalities from passing pesticide ordinances, which mirrors the ALEC bill drafted by a task force  whose members include two major national pesticide makers and their industry association. Last week, it was a bill to hamper Maine towns from building their own broadband networks when legacy cable and phone companies refused to do so.

There's a pattern here: preemption of local control. Read the story to learn more.

ALEC was also one of the forces involved in drafting LePage's initial rules governing digital charter schools on behalf of national providers K12 Inc and Connections Academy, the subject of this 2012 investigation.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Collins ok with Trump firing Comey, while King calls for him to head Senate investigation

Maine's US Senators have a key role in the investigation of the Trump campaign's contacts with and ties to Russia. They both sit on the senate intelligence committee, possibly the only viable probe remaining that might get to the bottom of this issue, and they've generally provided a common front in arguing that it can and will proceed in a professional and bipartisan manner.

But last night's explosive development -- Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey, who was overseeing that agency's own probe of the issue -- appears to have shattered that unity.

As I reported last night and in today's print edition of the Portland Press Herald, the two are taking very different stances on what may be the most explosive development in US politics since President Nixon fired Archibald Cox during the Watergate investigation. Collins -- like Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME2) is ok with the firing -- while King (like Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME1) -- is sounding the alarms.

Actually, King went a step further this morning, suggesting the senate committee should hire Comey to head their probe. I have the story on that up at the Press Herald now as well.

[Update, 5/11/17: In the last story, Susan Collins is now the lead because she's said she's considering supporting having the current deputy AG appoint a special counsel for the investigation, a move King described earlier in the day as not helpful in restoring public confidence.]

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Independent on American Nations

Early this morning I did an interview with a reporter from The Independent, Bridie Pearson-Jones about American Nations. Here's the resulting feature, with lots of maps and not a few quotes from me.

Note that not all the quotes are quite accurate -- I invited a comparison between the 1916 and the 2008 or 2012 presidential county result maps, rather than the 2016 one (which has some distinctive features), and I said we're *not* becoming a purple nation because of the self-sorting phenomenon -- and also that my last name is rendered throughout with an extra w"... but I'm nonetheless pleased book has continued to draw attention on the other side of the Atlantic. [Update, 5/11/17: The Independent has kindly corrected all of this as of yesterday.]

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

An ALEC bill blocking municipal broadband appears and dies in Maine

In today's Portland Press Herald, I had the story of how a bill developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council -- or ALEC -- aiming to hamstring towns and cities' efforts to build their own high speed internet networks appeared in the Maine legislature. Introduced by ALEC's state co-chair, critics denounced the bill as an effort by the major national internet providers like Comcast and Charter/Time Warner to block competition, even in markets they'd chosen not to serve adequately.

In tomorrow's Press Herald there's the news that the legislative committee considering the bill has voted 12-0 against it, with even the bill's author voting not to pass it. This, for all practical purposes, kills the measure.

I wrote extensively about ALEC in 2012, when the organization played a critical role in trying to ghostwrite Maine's digital education policies on behalf of national providers K12 Inc and Connections Academy.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Speaking on American Character May 3 at UMF in Farmington, Maine

I grew up in Western Maine, for a time in a house surrounded by the campus of the University of Maine at Farmington, so it's always a pleasure to return there to speak.

This Wednesday, May 3,  I'll be talking about the ideas and history in my most recent book, American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good at UMF's Lincoln Auditorium. The talk -- co-sponsored by the Political Science Department and the Maine Geographic Alliance -- is at 11:50 am (corresponding to when classes change there.) Come if you can.