Thursday, June 25, 2015

On Maine-New Brunswick border, a banner year for a newly liberated fish

I was in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick last week and learned that the St. Croix River's alewives -- which the Maine legislature banned from the river for 18 years -- are having a banner spawning run. Details are in my story in yesterday's Portland Press Herald.

The river's alewives have been at the center of a strange, science-denying political story for several years, one I visited in detail in this piece in 2012. I followed up on the story here, here, here, here, here, and here, and colleague Kevin Miller reported on a recent, unsuccessful effort by bass fishing guides to restrict the fish..

 More stories from my trip East of Downeast are coming up.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hungary's slide from democracy, Part II

For those not sure how to spend the rest of the spring solstice and Father's Day, let me suggest a review of the memoir of the former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, Eleni Kounalakis.

Kounalakis served in Budapest for the first three years of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's rule, a period in which he's turned Hungary away from liberal democracy and towards something closer to Russia, Singapore and China. Her book is surprisingly frank and paints a disturbing picture of the direction of the Hungarian state.

The review, which appears in today's Sunday Washington Post, is my second piece this week on the situation back in Hungary, where I lived for more than four years between 1989 and 1996, and where I returned recently. The previous one -- on Orban's construction of what he calls the "illiberal state" -- appeared in Politico Magazine a few days ago.

My most recent review for the Post was of former Rep. Barney Frank's memoir.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Maine: tribal effort to lift printing ban on portions of state constitution fails

For those following the strange story of Maine's redacted constitution: the effort to overturn the 1875 constitutional amendment supressing the printing of a section dealing with duties to the state's Indians has failed.

As I reported in today's Portland Press Herald, a bill that would have put the issue out to voters in a referendum was gutted after lawmakers became fearful of the possible cost of printing an additional ballot.

Rep. Henry Bear of the Maliseet tribe, the bill's sponsor, learned of the redacted passages of the constitution from reading my Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram series "Unsettled." (This piece in particular.) The bill initially had near unanimous support in the judicial committee.

Bear did not respond to requests for comment.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hungary's slide from democracy, Part I

I was recently in Hungary, where I lived for some five years between 1989 and 1996, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been making good on his promise to construct an "illiberal state" inside the European Union. In Politico Magazine today you can read my dispatch on the situation there.

A teaser: most worrisome is that the only effective opposition to Orban comes from the extreme right Jobbik Party, which are on the ascent despite not long ago maintaining a jackbooted paramilitary group that marched through Roma neighborhoods wearing uniforms and symbols reminiscent of the Nazi-era Arrow Cross.

A sad state of affairs for Hungary, which when I first moved there was leading the drive for democracy and independence in the Eastern bloc.

For those with a focused interest in Orban's rhetorical argument, reading his full "illiberal democracy" speech is clarifying.

More on Hungary coming soon.... [Update, 6/21/15: That was a reference to this review of former US Ambassador Eleni Kounalakis's memoir of her term in Hungary, which ran in today's Washington Post.]

Monday, June 1, 2015

Maine: legislators consider bill to print redacted sections of state constitution

In today's Portland Press Herald, I have a story on a bill before the state legislature to remove a constitutionally imposed ban on publishing sections of the state constitution which enumerate the state's treaty duties to Indian tribes, even though the passages remain in force.

The bill, LD 893, was endorsed 11-1 by the legislature's judicial committee and is expected to go to floor votes this week. It will create a constitutional amendment referendum question on this November's ballot that asks if the hidden portions of the constitution should again be printed.

Nobody testified against the bill in its public hearing last month. The only mtember of the judiciary committee to vote against it, Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Hartland, did not respond to interview requests, so it is not known what her objection is.

Rep. Henry Bear of the Maliseet tribe, the bill's sponsor, learned of the redacted passages of the constitution from reading the Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram series "Unsettled." (This piece in particular.)

[Update, 6/19/15: The effort failed, replaced by a weak resolution.]

Friday, May 29, 2015

Maine: conflict with tribes heats up

This week the escalating tensions between the State of Maine and the state's Indian tribes reached a breaking point, with two of the three tribal representatives to the state legislature renouncing their seats in protest over the state's opposition to a wide range of tribal initiatives.

For yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I filed this story from the Penobscot reservation at Indian Island, where leaders of three of Maine's four federally-recognized tribes signed a declaration calling for Congressional intervention and saying they would no longer recognize the authority of the state to define their rights and powers.

For background on the conflict here in Maine, follow the links from these World Wide Woodard posts.

Photo: Tribal drummers at the Indian Island press conference. (c) 2015 Colin Woodard.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

In the Czech Republic

I've spent the past few days in the Czech Republic, including Prague, which I first visited during the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It's hard for any visit to measure up to that particular one, given the emotional poignancy of those glorious days when hope and change weren't empty slogans. And, alas, the old city has continued its inevitable transformation into EuroDisney East, complete with Segways and, yes, Starbucks in the Hrad. But we all knew that would happen.

In my limited sampling, what's really impressive is how prosperous and peaceful small town Bohemia and Moravia seem, a quarter century later, and the extensive infrastructure that's been built in recent years, from highways to neighborhood revitalization to university expansion to a network of truly top-notch zoos, of all things. I haven't researched it, but I imagine there must be some European Union money behind it all, but for an American living in the Northeast, where bridges, highways, and rail systems are lucky to hold their own, it's hard not to be given pause. Did we drain all our cash into the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan? Even if we had more of it, would there not be a political fight over any effort to, say, revitalize passenger rail in the northeast or give Atlanta the public transportation system it needs and deserves?

One thing is for sure: twenty-five years ago I wouldn't have dreamed that I'd be looking at provincial Czech infrastructure and institutions and be wondering how we've managed to fall behind.