Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Barbara Bush, 1925-2018, an obituary

Former First Lady Barbara Bush died last night at 92. I had the privilege of having written her obituary for her summertime local paper, the Portland Press Herald, which you will find in today's print edition.

The Bushes identified themselves with Texas for political reasons, but through their lives Walker's Point in Kennebunkport has been the only constant. They got engaged there, held weddings, family events, and high-level diplomatic events, and spent nearly every summer at the compound. It was their only home in the U.S. during the years they lived in Beijing and at the US Naval Observatory and White House. During World War II they also lived briefly in Lewiston-Auburn, while he was training at the naval air station there.

The Press Herald also has a photo gallery of her life up at the website.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

US Surgeon General on American Nations and public health

I ran across this one accidentally on Twitter. Last week, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams gave the keynote address at the American Public Health Association's National Public Health Week Forum in Washington, DC.

Turns out Dr. Adams is an American Nations fan, and he spent several minutes talking about the importance of the paradigm in understanding regional differences in public health challenges and outcomes. "When you look at what's done, when you look at asset health care coverage, when you look at immigrant rights, at contraception and abortion, when you look at drug policy and reduction, two places, Paris, France and Berlin, Germany, that tried to blow each other off the face of the planet, are closer together than Dallas, Texas and Boston, Massachusetts," Adams said. "We truly are a country of different nations."

Here's a clip of his remarks culled from C-SPAN-2's coverage of the event.

Monday, April 9, 2018

How did ranked choice voting become a polarized, partisan issue in Maine?

In June, Maine is expected to hold the first-in-the-nation statewide primary election using ranked choice voting, with contests for governor, US Senate, and Congress on the agenda. But it is shaping up to be a potential disaster, as partisan differences have placed state election officials in the impossible position of being under a legal obligation to hold an election while not being given the means -- financial, administrative and possibly constitutional -- to do so. If nothing changes, there could be long delays in getting results, and the gubernatorial races in particular could be mired in law suits.

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I asked how a theoretically neutral electoral reform intended to reduce partisanship and polarization has become mired in polarization and partisanship, with Maine voters and legislators sharply split on party lines. The answers may surprise.

I last wrote about ranked choice voting in Maine just a week before, in this magazine piece for Politico.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Maine TV anchors among those recording Sinclair's "fake stories" promo

Over the weekend, a montage went viral that featured dozens of local television anchors at Sinclair Broadcasting stations across the country reciting the same promo about their concern over "fake stories" being carried by other (unnamed) media outlets. The anchors expressed their concern about "the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing out country" and denounced "some media outlets" for publishing "these same fake stories...without checking their facts first" and for using "their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think."

As I report in today's Portland Press Herald, WGME-13, southern Maine's CBS affiliate, was no exception, with anchors Kim Block and Gregg Lagerquist producing the requisite segment, which ends with the observation "This is extremely dangerous to democracy." The promo also runs on Sinclair's local FOX affiliate, WPFO-23. (Here's a link to the clip.)

Critics noted that the Sinclair stations themselves have a troubling reputation for running one-sided, pro-Trump opinion segments and nightly "Terrorism Alert Desk" updates produced at their Maryland headquarters and distributed on a "must run" basis to all of their nearly 200 local stations' newscasts. They're also currently seeking Trump administration approval to buy dozens more stations nationwide. More details in the story.

I last wrote on Sinclair and WGME last summer, when the chain was under fire for "must run" segments featuring a former Trump aide.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maine's ranked choice voting odyssey

My latest for POLITICO Magazine is on Maine's ranked choice voting odyssey, which at the time the piece came out 48 hours ago already had more twists and turns than the roller coaster at Old Orchard Beach. And today's there's been several more.

The story describes why Maine -- a purple state with a penchant for independents and third party candidates -- has been relatively fertile soil for electoral reform advocates, and how their effort to make ranked choice voting the law of this pine-covered land has faced and jumped a variety of hurdles.

But this morning -- to the surprise of everyone in Maine politics -- Secretary of State Matt Dunlap told legislators he'd been made aware of a technical flaw in some operative legal language that may prevent ranked choice voting from being used in the June 12 primary after all. This announcement has prompted outrage from the Attorney General (who is also running for governor), the House speaker, and the RCV effort's leaders, who have also asked a court to issue an injunction compelling Dunlap to use RCV in the primaries. Confused? So is everyone else, but my Portland Press Herald colleague Kevin Miller has been trying to sort it out for you.

My last story for POLITICO was on inventor Dean Kamen's effort to commercially cultivate customized human organs in the old Manchester, New Hampshire millyards.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Speaking on the crisis in the world's oceans and Gulf of Maine, April 4

It's been snowed out twice already, but on Wednesday, April 4 I really am going to finally speak about the crisis in the world's oceans and the Gulf of Maine at the Portland Public Library here in Maine. (The talk was originally to have taken place in early February.)

The event -- which kicks off at 6pm in the Rines Auditorium in the main library on Monument Square -- is the 2018 Sustainability Series Keynote. It's free and open to the public.

As a foreign correspondent, I long focused on oceans policy and global environmental reporting, and my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, took me to Antarctica, the tiny atoll states of Central Pacific, the coral reefs of Belize, the depleted cod banks of Newfoundland and the troubled waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Black Sea. My second book, The Lobster Coast, told the story of coastal Maine and its ecosystem, and "Mayday," a 2015 series I wrote for the Portland Press Herald, was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

I'll be speaking about the nature of the multi-faceted marine crisis, what it means for humans, and what might be done about it. Hope you can make it.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Maine: LePage administration threatens Wiscasset on traffic project, town says

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I have an update on the increasingly fraught struggle between Maine Gov. Paul LePage's Department of Transportation and the town of Wiscasset, site of Maine's most infamous summer traffic bottleneck.

To recap, the town originally supported the plan, but turned against it and ultimately filed suit against the DOT, alleging that it is violating town ordinances and state law and that it changed the project after receiving approval. Among other things, the DOT suddenly decided not to use federal funds, which were to pay for 80 percent of the project's $5 million price tag, thereby avoiding historic preservation requirements. LePage then personally started throwing fuel on the fire with blustery notes to constituents telling them he's had enough of Wiscasset's obstruction, then allegedly vetoing a draft compromise worked out between the department and town.

Now the department has allegedly told the town they might go ahead with their project -- which includes removing all on-street parking on Main Street in the historic village -- without building replacement parking (as the plan has called for all along) if they are made to follow local ordinances. It's the nuclear option, so to speak, and one local businesspeople say would kill the historic downtown. Details within.