Thursday, February 15, 2018

Gov. LePage scuttled Wiscasset traffic compromise, attorney says

Governor Paul LePage personally intervened to kill a compromise between the state transportation department and the town of Wiscasset over a controversial traffic project there, an attorney for the town told residents this week.

I have the details in today's Portland Press Herald, which is also available online here.

For fuller background on the project, this story lays it all out, including the governor's chain of aggressive correspondence with constituents about the traffic problems in the midcoast town and how the Maine DOT lost the confidence of town residents after reneging on promises made about the project, including the use of federal funds and the historic preservation reviews that come with them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Trump renews push to eliminate LIHEAP, Sea Grant, NEA, other programs

Last year, President Trump tried to eliminate a wide range of programs with an outsized impact in Maine, including Sea Grant, low income heating assistance, community block grants, the National Estuarine Reserve system, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Legal Services Corporation, a major  funding source for Pine Tree Legal Assistance. Congress ultimately told him to pound sand.

Yesterday, his new budget proposes again to eliminate these and other programs. As I report in today's Portland Press Herald, Maine's Congressional delegation -- from conservative Republican Bruce Poliquin to liberal democrat Chellie Pingree and more centrist US Senators in between --  is not on board.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Trumpism, the American Nations, and the 2016 election

My latest installment of the "Balkanized America" series is up over at Medium, this one interpreting what happened in the 2016 presidential election via an American Nations lens, with some lessons for what this means for the president's popularity going into this years' midterm elections.

Earlier installments in the series have run the gamut from debunking the assertion that the greatest divide in US politics is between urban and rural voters (hint: regional cultures have a far greater effect) to how the existence of these cultures shaped the run-up to the 1787 constitutional convention and even the reproductive clustering of North Americans (which surprised even me, as the paradigm argues for cultural effects, not genetic ones.)

Hope you find it useful.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Speaking on the crisis in the oceans and Gulf of Maine, Portland, Me., Feb. 7

I'll be speaking about the crisis in the world's oceans and in the Gulf of Maine on February 7th at the Portland Public Library here in Maine.

The talk -- 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.

[Update, 2/6/18: A heads-up that with weather on this way, this event could get postponed. Keep an eye on this space or the library website over the next 24 hours.]

[Update, 2/6/18, 1530 ET: Indeed, this event has been cancelled because of the storm. Will be rescheduling for March or April and update that here at World Wide Woodard.]

[Update, 2/14/18: This event is now taking place March 7th at 6pm.]

Monday, January 29, 2018

Bill would stop states from blocking municipal broadband projects

Last year I wrote about a bill introduced in Maine's legislature that would effectively block towns from building their own municipal high speed data networks, even when -- as is often the case in rural Maine -- existing providers have refused to do so for them. The bill, modeled on one created by the American Legislative Exchange Council that has become law in 17 other states and introduced by that group's state co-chair, was ultimately and unanimously defeated in committee.

Now a bill has been introduced in Congress to prohibit states from passing such legislation. I report in today's Portland Press Herald about why its been introduced, what ALEC thinks of it, and how one of its co-sponsors, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-ME01, has to say about the bill and its prospects in Congress.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Talking American Nations with KBUR's "Heartland Politics"

Recently had a conversation with Monmouth College political science professor Robin Johnson about America's regional cultures and their implications for the Midwest generally and the 2016 election results in the Upper Mississippi Valley in particular.

Our talk aired on this week's edition of Johnson's program "Heartland Politics" on KBUR in Burlington, Iowa, right in the heart of what I've called Trump Democrat country and with a broadcast area encompassing a swath of eastern Illinois (where Monmouth is located) and parts of northeastern Missouri. You can hear it again Tuesday morning at 0930 Central Time or right here online.

For more on voting patterns in the 2016 election, see this piece and this one.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Big in Japan, Part II

Earlier this month, Satoshi Ukai, the New York bureau chief of the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun was kind enough to come to my home here in Maine for an interview on American Nations, which is now available in Japanese. I enjoyed speaking with him and appreciate his newspaper's interest.

For those of you who read Japanese, his interview appeared in the January 24 edition. Online subscribers can find it here. The paper also ran this book review back in January 14.

Even from here, I can tell Asahi Shimbun has a print circulation of 7 million. Friends there tell me volume one of Iwanami Shoten's beautiful two volume hardcover translation has sold out everywhere, and even the English edition of the book hit #18 overall on, which is pretty amazing.

In any case, I hope the book gets back into stock and that readers there find it useful. And thanks again to Mr. Ukai and his colleagues for their interest.

American Nations is also available in Korean and is forthcoming in Chinese on the mainland.

(Here, for search purposes, is the Japanese title:)


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Maine Governor's nomination of Nestle Waters official to state BEP draws ire

In today's Portland Press Herald, I wrote about how Maine Governor Paul LePage's nomination of Mark Dubois, the public face of Nestle Waters (dba Poland Springs), to the state Board of Environmental Protection is drawing fire.

Dubois, whose firm has been on the scene for some amazing conflict of interest situations in the past, goes before a legislative confirmation hearing later today in Augusta.

That is all.

[Update, 1/25/18: The environment and natural resources committee endorsed Dubois 10-3 and the Senate confirmed him by a much closer, mostly party line, 18-15.]

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Right whales in crisis: speeding ships and missing calves

The disastrous year for the North Atlantic right whale, the world's second most endangered mammal after the species' Pacific cousin, doesn't appear to be abating. After seventeen of the whales have been found dead since June in New England and Atlantic Canada -- more than three percent of the total worldwide population of 450 -- scientists warned the species will be extinct in another 23 years if something doesn't change.

But the most recent news only increases anxiety about the whales: a series of speeding violations by ships in a zone of the Gulf of St. Lawrence set up by Canada to protect the whales and, separately, an absence of calf sightings on the whales calving grounds off Georgia and northeastern Florida.

I have the full story on these and other developments in the whales' odyssey in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram.

I reported last summer for the Press Herald about the right whale die off, with some additional background about the species and how its been monitored. I've reported on the species on and off for  a decade for other publications, context you can find by starting here.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Maine: what happens if there's a federal shutdown tonight

At this writing, the US government is within hours of its first shutdown since 2013. As President Trump and Congressional leaders try to come up with an agreement, Mainers may want to know how a partial government closure is likely to effect them.

I put together a piece on just that for yesterday's Portland Press Herald. Have a look while you're waiting for the news from Washington.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Gov. LePage's support for offshore drilling at odds with every New England member of Congress

This month, when the Trump administration unveiled its plan to open virtually all areas of U.S. federal waters to oil and gas exploration, most of New England's elected leaders expressed outrage. Every member of the US Senate and US House from the five coastal New England states signed onto a bipartisan bill to ban drilling in the region, while every governor from Massachusetts to Florida announced their intention to seek an exemption. Florida's governor even got one.

The one exception: Maine's Gov. Paul LePage, who not only didn't join the chorus, he'd written a letter in August asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to do just what he did.

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram I report on the controversy and how LePage's stance on drilling may complicate Maine's effort to get a Florida-like exemption.

I previously reported on oil and gas drilling in our region in late 2015, when Canada leased areas on their side of the border, at the entrance to the Gulf of Maine.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Trump admin to erase voter registation data in effort to deny other voter fraud commission docs to Dunlap

The struggle over transparency at President Trump's voter fraud commission continues even after its demise.

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I updated the ongoing drama between the White House and Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, one of four Democrats on the 11 member commission, who said he was frozen out of its deliberations for months and in November sued to gain access to working papers, past, present and future.

Trump pulled the plug on the commission Jan. 3, apparently on account of Dunlap's lawsuit, and Justice Department lawyers then informed Dunlap that, despite a court order, they would not be immediately turning over the documents. Dunlap then asked the court, in effect, to enforce its order, especially as the White House had said they were turning the voter registration data collected by the commission -- and its alleged "preliminary findings" -- to the Department of Homeland Security, which would continue the voter fraud work.

Only now that plan has been dumped.

This past week, the administration has instead announced it intends to erase all the voter registration data it collected, thereby removing one of the reasons Dunlap had argued he should be allowed to see its working papers. Dunlap told me it was "Orwellian."

Details in the story.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Trump disbands voter fraud commission, which now refuses to give Dunlap documents

President Trump this week pulled the plug on his controversial voter fraud commission, but the drama surrounding it has only escalated.

Trump's decision came on the heels of a federal judge's ruling that the commission had to turn over working documents to all of its commissioners, including Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who had filed suit to obtain them after he and the three other Democrats on the body were cut out of the information flow.

But, as I report in today's Maine Sunday Telegram, the Trump administration is now saying it will not comply with the judge's order on the grounds that, since the commission does not now exist, Dunlap is no longer a commissioner and not entitled to see its documents. Normally mild mannered Dunlap responded with outrage, saying the Department of Justice was showing contempt for the law and American values.

Today's story also describes how Dunlap's insistence on transparency may have caused the president to shut the commission down, and also what may or may not happen if the voter fraud effort is passed to the Homeland Security Department.

[Update, 1/10/18: Here's another incremental development, which I reported in today's paper: Dunlap has asked the court to order the government to share the docs with him and also not to transfer them to DHS or anyone else.]

For more on the voter fraud commission, start here.