Three reasons fascism spread in 1930s America, and might spread again today

The last time fascism was brazenly embraced was in the 1930s, and the lessons of that crucial decade bear increasing relevance for modern American life.

Published Aug. 18, 2017, at 6:31 a.m.     |    

Three reasons fascism spread in 1930s America, and might spread again today

Posted Aug. 18, 2017, at 6:31 a.m.

The violent white nationalist rally in Virginia has reawakened simmering fears of American fascism. But the roots of these feelings — and the militant organizations that promoted them — did not begin with the election of President Donald Trump. The last time fascism was brazenly embraced was in the 1930s. The lessons of that crucial decade bear increasing relevance for modern American life. The three big factors that drove the spread of American fascism at that time are still relevant for America today.

Fascist ideas were quite popular in 1930s America

In the 1930s, fascist ideas were increasingly accepted. This was reflected in the energetic growth of Nazi organizations. Ku Klux Klan rallies were common and numerous; Trump’s own father was arrested at one such rally, reportedly while wearing a Klan outfit. A 1941 book found that more than 100 such organizations had formed since 1933.

The appeal of fascist ideas extended far beyond the fringe, reaching prominent citizens such as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh went so far as to praise Adolf Hitler as “undoubtedly a great man.” In 1940, Lindbergh’s wife published a best-seller that called totalitarianism “The Wave of the Future” and an “ultimately good conception of humanity.”

At the time, Jews served the same role for U.S. fascists that immigrants, Muslims and other minorities serve today: a vague but malicious threat they believed to be undermining America’s greatness. Surveys of U.S. public opinion from the 1930s are a startling reminder of just how widespread these attitudes became. As late as July 1942, a Gallup poll showed that 1 in 6 Americans thought Hitler was “doing the right thing” to the Jews. A 1940 poll found that nearly a fifth of Americans saw Jews as a national “menace” — more than any other group, including Germans. Almost a third anticipated “a widespread campaign against the Jews” — a campaign that 12 percent of Americans were willing to support.

The careers of anti-Semitic celebrities such as Catholic Rev. Charles Coughlin reflected the popular appeal of fascist ideas. Father Coughlin, as he was known, enjoyed the second-largest radio audience in the country (after President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats), frequently quoted Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and praised the Nazi quest for full employment and racial purity. He broke with Roosevelt in 1934, forming his own party, whose 1936 candidate received nearly 1 million votes. Coughlin was finally silenced by the Catholic Church in early 1942.

These voices welcoming fascism were not marginal radicals but mainstream writers, presidents of major associations and editors of popular journals. In his 1934 presidential address, the president of the American Political Science Association — the nation’s oldest and largest organization of political scientists — railed against “the dogma of universal suffrage” and argued for abolishing a democracy that allowed “the ignorant, the uninformed and the antisocial elements” to vote. If these reforms smacked of fascism, he concluded, then “we have already recognized that there is a large element of fascist doctrine and practice that we must appropriate.”

Three factors helped U.S. fascism spread

So what does the history of American fascism tell us about its resurgence? The good news is that the three major factors that drove its expansion are absent today.

The first was a major economic depression and social dislocation that undermined people’s confidence in democracy and led them to look for alternatives. As a U.S. economist complained in 1933, “democracy is neither very expert nor very quick to action” and cannot resolve “group and class conflicts easily.”

The second factor was fear of communism, which led many leading intellectuals to embrace fascism as a bulwark against Bolshevism and as the lesser of two evils. As in Europe, worries about communism intensified fascism’s appeal in the United States. “I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler,” argued popular Christian activist Frank Buchman in 1936, “who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of communism.”

The third factor was the rise of Nazi Germany as an economic and military powerhouse. Hitler’s ascent began a long period of German recovery, economic expansion and the swift end of unemployment in that country. By 1939, Germany had a labor shortage of 2 million people, while industrial production had more than doubled. Generations of historians have debated whether the recovery was real, but the widespread perception of German success attracted admirers regardless of its reality.

There could be a resurgence of fascism in the U.S.

Even though these three factors no longer exist, similar problems lurk under the surface of modern political life, problems that could conceivably drive a resurgence of fascist movements. The overall U.S. economy has been performing well, but levels of inequality continue to rise. Wide areas of America are increasingly mired in permanent unemployment and a massive drug epidemic. These are the sorts of economic conditions that drove fascist support in the 1930s; another major crisis like the Great Recession is likely to bolster nationalist appeals even more.

Few people worry about the communist threat today. Yet, fear of communism has been replaced by fear of globalists and elite technocrats (still often tinged with anti-Semitism) who supposedly seek to undermine and control the lives of ordinary Americans. The recently uncovered National Security Council memo reflected these sentiments clearly, arguing that Trump’s opposition is made up of a cabal of Islamists, cultural Marxists and global bankers. The extreme right-wing blogger Mike Cernovich, who has been praised by Donald Trump Jr., recently published a cartoon showing national security adviser H.R. McMaster as a puppet manipulated by George Soros, who in turn was being manipulated by a monstrous green hand labeled “Rothschilds,” a historically wealthy Jewish family.

The third factor — the appearance of an ideological rival that seemed to outperform America’s corrupt democracy — is today reflected most clearly in fears over the rise of China. Over the past decade, numerous observers have argued that liberal democracy is being supplanted by the kind of state capitalism exemplified by China, in which a capitalist system of production is undergirded by state ownership and guidance, with little room for democracy.

Americans cannot be complacent about democracy

Over the 20th century, democracy spread from a few isolated outposts to most corners of the world. Today, its superiority seems self-evident to people who have been steeped in its moral virtues and material successes. But over the past century, mere moral appeal has rarely been sufficient for its survival. It would be a convenient mistake to accept the victory of democracy as a historical morality play, the predestined triumph of good over evil.

For much of the 20th century, democracy’s success depended on the existence of powerful countries such as the United States, examples to be imitated. More than any appeal to freedom, democracy spread because it promised economic prosperity and political stability. But when democracies failed to deliver, as during the Great Depression, the tide of popular and elite opinion shifted just as readily and just as quickly against democratic institutions.

The key lesson of the 20th century is that democracy is more fragile than we might like.

Seva Gunitsky is an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.


A person signs a petition that is related to &quotAn Act to Allow Slot Machines or a Casino in York County" in October 2016 in Bangor.

The only person who could build a new Maine casino emerges from campaign funding shadows

The developer who would be the only one with rights to a new casino in York County under a 2018 referendum is finally taking a central role in the campaign.

Published Aug. 16, 2017, at 2:18 a.m.     |    

The only person who could build a new Maine casino emerges from campaign funding shadows

Posted Aug. 16, 2017, at 2:18 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 17, 2017, at 1:24 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The developer who would be the only one with rights to a new casino in York County under a 2018 referendum is finally taking a central role in the campaign alongside with others linked to his projects from Macau to Massachusetts.

A spokesman for Progress For Maine, a new political action committee that formed last week and has ties to China, said Shawn Scott, the U.S. Virgin Islands developer, is one of two partners who will be “leaders in the campaign over the next several months.”

That’s a big change: A committee run by Scott’s sister, Lisa Scott of Miami, is being investigated by the Maine Ethics Commission over $4.3 million in donations initially attributed to her in filings that were later amended to come from companies linked to her brother.

Shawn Scott is known for a web of offshore companies and David A. Wilson, his other partner in Progress For Maine can be linked to Bridge Capital, a Scott-run company in the U.S. Pacific commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Here’s how the network fits together.

The PAC is directed by the head of a California company, but looks to be the prime player. Progress For Maine said in a filing that it’s controlled by Michelle Wilson, who runs a California company founded by David A. Wilson. But the PAC was founded by Atlantic and Pacific Realty Capital, a New York company.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai’s website said that company is affiliated with Koa Overseas Consultants, Ltd., the Chinese firm that does consulting around the American EB-5 visa program.

Michael Sherry, a spokesman for Progress For Maine, said in a statement that the New York company and Capital Seven, LLC, a Nevada company, are the only two companies involved and that David A. Wilson and Shawn Scott are principals of both.

And Capital Seven was the company that Scott used in 2003 when he persuaded Maine voters to allow slots at a Bangor facility. He later sold it without getting a casino license and it became Hollywood Casino.

Wilson links the California company to China and one of his associates ties into a Scott-linked company in Macau. David A. Wilson has worked for Koa. A company website translated from Chinese features a picture of him and calls him president of its overseas consulting company. It also pictures Robert Wessels.

In March, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in Hawaii said Wessels was leading a planned $1 billion project to build 2,300 homes, a golf course, shopping center and lodge for an affiliate of Bridge Capital that is in foreclosure for the second time.

Wessels also shows up in a 2013 federal court ruling in Nevada in a case by an engineering company against Sanum Investments, Ltd., a Macau company run by Bridge Capital and used to invest in a casino in Laos that was seized by the authoritarian government there in 2015.

According to that lawsuit, Wessels was the managing director of a company that was looking to build a resort in Macau and Japanese lawyer Toko Kobayashi was Sanum’s director.

Kobayashi donated to a 2016 Massachusetts campaign that Scott was involved in behind the scenes. Scott ended up being tied to a referendum bid for a casino in Massachusetts that failed with just 40 percent of votes in 2016, but not for a while.

Before the election, the effort’s frontman, developer Eugene McCain, told the Boston Globe that Scott wasn’t involved in the project, though he had joined him in scouting properties. But six days before the election, McCain’s political committee amended filings to illuminate the sources of $1.6 million in campaign contributions initially sourced to a Delaware company.

Of that, nearly $855,000 came from Regent Able Associate Co., a Japanese consulting company, $390,000 from Bridge Capital and $200,000 from Kobayashi, listed as a Regent Able developer. All of this violated state law, with the committee agreeing to $125,000 in penalties.

And the ethics investigation in Maine centers on $4.3 million initially attributed to Lisa Scott. All of it actually came from Bridge Capital and Regent Able. So, the backers may not have changed, but Scott looks to be taking a public-facing role where he didn’t before.

Clarification: This post was updated to say Atlantic and Pacific Realty Capital is affiliated with and not controlled by Koa.

A Chinese flag is seen in front of the Friendship bridge over the Yalu River connecting the North Korean town of Sinuiju and Dandong in China's Liaoning Province on April 1, 2017.

China is the key to avoiding nuclear ‘fire and fury’ in North Korea

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un are playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship.

Published Aug. 13, 2017, at 8:38 a.m.     |    

China is the key to avoiding nuclear ‘fire and fury’ in North Korea

Posted Aug. 13, 2017, at 8:38 a.m.

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un are playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship.

North Korea got the world’s attention — and Trump’s — when it successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time on July 4. In response, the United Nations approved new economic sanctions against North Korea that, predictably, inspired a bellicose response from the rogue regime.

Trump threatened that further provocations will be met with “fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

In response, North Korea issued a threat of its own — missile strikes on the U.S. territory of Guam.

With tensions escalating, it is important to be realistic about how we can get out of this mess.

In short, any nonmilitary solution will rely on China choosing to apply its massive economic leverage over the North Korean regime. This is a point that Trump clearly recognizes. In July, he tweeted that Chinese trade with North Korea “ rose 40 percent in the first quarter,” highlighting China’s reluctance to punish North Korea for its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The poor quality of the data hinders a detailed analysis, but Trump’s overall sentiment is correct. China has increased its trade with North Korea in recent years and done little to forestall North Korea’s nuclear ambitions besides backing the most recent round of U.N. sanctions. China’s foremost objective seems to be promoting greater stability from its volatile neighbor.

Yet, a quick look at the data, however murky, shows just how much leverage China has, if it wishes to use it.

North Korea’s primary patron

In general, exports from one country to another can be mostly explained by the distance between them and the sizes of their markets, a pattern that holds for China and North Korea.

Geographically, they share a long border, which makes China a natural, though not inevitable, partner for trade. As a case in point, North Korea also shares a long border with South Korea, but these countries have almost no trade between them. In addition, North Korea shares a small border with Russia, with whom it has little, though ever-increasing, trade.

China’s large market, proximity and — most importantly — willingness to trade with North Korea has led to a situation in which North Korea has become highly dependent on trade with what has become its primary patron. About half of North Korean exports and imports go directly to and from China and most of the rest of its trade is handled indirectly by Chinese middlemen.

North Korea’s dependence on its neighbor has grown hand-in-hand with China’s increasing economic dominance of East Asia, which gained momentum 15 years ago when China joined the World Trade Organization. Since then, both Chinese gross domestic product as well as its annual trade with North Korea have increased nearly tenfold, to around $11 trillion and $6 billion, respectively.

North Korea imports nearly everything from China, from rubber tires to refined petroleum to pears, with no single category dominating. Meanwhile, coal constitutes about 40 percent of North Korean exports to China, followed by “non-knit men’s coats.”

Time to use that leverage?

Recent events — such as the use of front companies by Chinese firms to evade sanctions imposed on North Korea and China’s reluctance to cut off energy supplies to the country — have led to some uncertainty about the extent to which China is willing to use this economic leverage to rein in North Korea’s military ambitions.

On one hand, China claims that coal imports from North Korea have recently been stopped as part of an effort to punish the regime for recent missile tests and the suspected assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. If true, this would be an important signal of China’s willingness to support U.S. concerns about the missile program as it would represent a loss of about a third ($930 million) of North Korea’s import revenue.

But there is evidence that coal shipments in fact never ceased. And, in any case, China may have dramatically increased its imports of iron ore from North Korea to offset the lost coal revenues.

This is consistent with the idea that China carefully considers the resources and revenue that are available to the North Korean regime at any moment, and uses trade as a lever to control them. In this way, China walks a fine line between providing too many resources, and thus allowing the regime to prosper, and not enough resources, such that North Korea is in danger of collapsing. Ultimately, trade may be used as a lever to do some light scolding, but China’s overwhelming concern is preventing North Korea’s collapse.

Further evidence that China has tight control over the North Korean economy comes from a recent report from C4ADS. The research group found close, and often common, ownership ties between most of the major Chinese companies who do business with North Korea. This suggests that trade with North Korea is highly centralized and thus easily controlled.

Russia: North Korea’s other ‘friend’

China is not the only country that North Korea trades with, though the others currently pale in comparison. Other top export destinations include India ($97.8 million), Pakistan ($43.1 million) and Burkina Faso ($32.8 million). In terms of imports, India ($108 million), Russia ($78.3 million) and Thailand ($73.8 million) currently sell the most to North Korea.

Russia in particular may soon complicate U.S. efforts to isolate the regime. While still small, Russian trade with North Korea increased 73 percent over the first two months of 2017, compared with the same period of the previous year.

But whereas China is legitimately worried that an economic crisis in North Korea could lead to a flood of refugees or all-out war, Russia likely sees engagement with North Korea in much simpler terms, namely as an additional way to gain geopolitical advantage relative to the United States.

A way out?

Nearly all experts agree that there is no easy way to “solve” the North Korea problem. But one plausible approach is to encourage South Korea and Japan to begin to develop nuclear weapons programs of their own, and to only discontinue these programs if China takes meaningful steps to use its trade with North Korea to reign in the regime.

Threatening to introduce new nuclear powers to the world is clearly risky, however stable and peaceful South Korea and Japan currently are. But China is highly averse to having these economic and political rivals acquire nuclear capabilities, as it would threaten China’s ongoing pursuit of regional control. In short, this is a sensitive pressure point that could be used to sway the Chinese leadership.

One way or another, China must become convinced that the costs of propping up the North Korean regime through trade are higher than the costs of an increased probability that the regime will collapse.

Greg Wright is an assistant professor of economics at the University of California in Merced. This piece was originally published on

The Conversation

America no longer sees Kim Jong Un as a joke

Not many are laughing anymore.

Published Aug. 11, 2017, at 5:53 a.m.     |    

America no longer sees Kim Jong Un as a joke

Posted Aug. 11, 2017, at 5:53 a.m.

Commentators laughed last year when a photograph emerged of Kim Jong Un standing next to an orb, which a North Korean newspaper stated was a miniaturized nuclear weapon. “That’s a weird looking disco ball,” joked one intelligence contractor on Twitter.

Not many are laughing anymore.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that a U.S. intelligence assessment concluded North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead, a disclosure that rapidly intensified an already tense standoff with the rogue nation. Soon after the report, President Donald Trump warned Kim against making further threats, saying North Korea “will be met with the fire and the fury like the world has never seen.”

Whether Kim truly possesses the ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead — and successfully launch it on an intercontinental ballistic missile — is unknown and remains hotly debated. Yet, there is no doubt now that Kim has scored one major achievement: He is finally being taken seriously by the foreign policy establishment and intelligence agencies, evidenced by the latest assessment on his nuclear capabilities.

Kim came to power in 2011, and was immediately mocked for his funny haircut and pudgy appearance. Some Korea hands questioned if, at the age of 27, he could maintain his hold on power, speculating he would be dominated or pushed out by senior officials in the military.

But Kim has proven his skeptics wrong. He has eliminated potential rivals, including his uncle, whom he executed in 2013. He’s improved North Korea’s economy, in spite of international sanctions. And he’s steadily advanced North Korea’s nuclear and missile technologies, including the successful test of an ICBM on July 28 that showed a capability to travel as far as New York or Washington, D.C.

Moon Chung In, a national security adviser to South Korea’s president, said Kim has taken rational steps to shore up his regime, with a goal of deterring any form of U.S. attack or intervention.

“North Korea is very, very stable,” Moon said during a recent interview in Seoul. “Kim Jong Un has consolidated power fully.”

Jonathan D. Pollack, a Korea specialist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, recalled how Sen. John McCain of Arizona this year labeled Kim Jong Un as a “crazy fat kid.” He said seeing North Korea’s leader this way is risky.

“I treat it seriously,” Pollack said of North Korea. “It’s not a cartoon because of its increasing capabilities.”

If North Korea can now claim successful miniaturization of a nuclear weapon, it would bring it a step closer to credibly threatening the United States with nuclear attack, and by the same token, being able to credibly deter any attack on its territory and the Kim regime. Yet, analysts warn against exaggerating North Korea’s capabilities, noting the country’s mixed success in missile launches, and the fact that it has yet to demonstrate it can pass a missile through the upper atmosphere without damaging one of its warheads.

For many in the West, Kim’s development of nuclear weapons is the work of a deranged dictator, an image reinforced by North Korea’s bellicose messages. On Sunday, for instance, Pyongyang’s state-run KCNA news agency warned the United States against “believing that its land is safe across the ocean” with North Korea’s steady missile advances.

The warning came after the United States successfully urged the U.N. Security Council to adopt a new set of economic sanctions on North Korea.

Yet, some North Korea watchers say Kim has pragmatic reasons for accelerating development of nuclear weapons. For one, he wants to be in a stronger negotiating position with the United States, its archenemy since the Korean War cessation of hostilities in 1953.

Joo Seong Ha, a North Korean defector and journalist in Seoul, said that Kim hopes to use his nuclear weapons program to leverage economic concessions from South Korea and the United States. The nuclear weapons program is “the most powerful bargaining chip that North Korea has.”

Speaking on CNN Tuesday, Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Kim and other North Korean leaders have been steeped in the belief that the United States is preparing to launch regime change. “I think this paranoid, militaristic and capable young leader is someone whose threats we should take very seriously.”

It’s not clear that all of Trump’s aides view Kim that way. Speaking on Fox Business on Monday, Sebastian Gorka, a national security adviser, called North Korea a “Lilliputian nation” that was engaged in bluster and blackmail.

Trump’s “fire and fury” statement also provoked a strong reaction on Tuesday. McCain told an Arizona radio station that he took exception to Trump’s comments because “you’ve got to be sure that you can do what you say you’re going to do,” referencing Roosevelt’s words about walking softly, but carrying a big stick. “That kind of rhetoric, I’m not sure how it helps.”

Pollack said that Trump needs to show that he can’t easily be goaded into verbal battles with Kim. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, also was critical of the president’s comments.

“Isolating the North Koreans has not halted their pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Feinstein said in a statement. “And President Trump is not helping the situation with his bombastic comments.”


Sen. Dave Woodsome (right), R-North Waterboro, leans back in his chair while listening to arguments during the Senate's hearing on the state budget at the Maine State House in Augusta ahead of the 2017 government shutdown.

Unfinished business: Maine lawmakers delayed many key decisions

Lawmakers punted some major issues to whenever the House and Senate return to the State House, meaning the history of the 128th Legislature still has major chapters left unwritten.

Published Aug. 09, 2017, at 1 a.m.     |    

Unfinished business: Maine lawmakers delayed many key decisions

Posted Aug. 09, 2017, at 1 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 09, 2017, at 9:08 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — When the Legislature adjourned Aug. 2, it did so “sine die,” which essentially means “without another day scheduled,” closing the books on the longest legislative session in Maine history.

But it was only a rest stop on a much longer journey.

Lawmakers punted some major issues to whenever the House and Senate return to the State House, meaning the history of the 128th Legislature still has major chapters left unwritten. Whether the work continues later this year during a special session or waits until this Legislature’s second session in January, momentous decisions must be made. With Gov. Paul LePage finishing his tenure, those decisions will unquestionably come amid intense political infighting.

A river of bills remains in the queue. According to the Legislative Information Office, lawmakers carried over more than 340 bills until January. Legislative leaders also can allow new bills if they have budget implications or if lawmakers convince leaders that they’re emergencies. And LePage, who can offer new proposals any time he wants to, has already vowed new legislation in 2018.

Among the carried-over bills are a proposal to better deal with dangerous dogs, measures to crack down on human trafficking, a number of would-be amendments to the Maine Constitution, sweeping energy proposals, bills to address Maine’s drug addiction crisis, and further work on preventing abuse of senior citizens.

Ranked-choice voting is the elephant in the room. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in May that parts of the voting scheme enacted by referendum in 2016 are unconstitutional, virtually guaranteeing a legal challenge if Maine follows through with a ranked-choice election in 2018. After the court’s unanimous opinion, lawmakers acknowledged something had to be done, but ended up doing nothing. The debate boiled down to two bills: one to repeal ranked-choice voting altogether and one to hold another referendum to make it constitutional. Neither found the support needed for enactment, leaving the issue as a dark cloud over the State House — with thunder and lightning.

If you want to buy weed at a store next February, contact your representative. Recreational marijuana is legal in Maine after the November 2016 referendum, but that was just the start along a long and tedious road that (we’re told) might be more fun if you were high. Among a slate of outstanding issues is setting up a retail market, implementing testing procedures, taxation and implementing rules for personal and commercial cultivation. As one of its first acts, the Legislature in January made some technical fixes and delayed implementation of the sales and regulatory system three months beyond what the referendum called for to February 2018.

A special committee working on the issue has been meeting for months and is one of the few committees still working now that the Legislature has adjourned. There have been a few preliminary decisions, including the committee voting recently to cap the number of mature plants that can be possessed legally, but no decisions are final until votes in the full Legislature. Debate on major issues around pot legalization could open the floodgates for more proposals, including a push to overturn the law completely. In the meantime, there are still 31 bills in the committee’s possession, many of which could end up in a single omnibus proposal.

Because of timing constraints — upcoming elections for ranked-choice voting and that February 2018 deadline for marijuana — these are the two most important issues demanding legislative action. If there is a special session this fall, these will likely be the reasons why.

There were lots of calls to stiffen the process for citizen-initiated referendums, but we’re still waiting to see if that happens. There were five referendum questions on the November 2016 ballot, some of which resulted from heavy spending by special interest groups that focused their efforts in cities, where the 61,123 signatures that are necessary under current law come easier.

That prompted widespread calls to set the bar higher for ballot questions, which is a chorus that intensified when Maine Equal Justice Partners announced just two months after Election Day that they had collected enough signatures for a referendum about whether to expand Maine’s Medicaid program. Almost all of the signatures were collected on Election Day. Partisan divides in the Legislature have made big changes harder, fueling efforts to legislate by referendum and deepening concerns that citizen-contrived laws can lead to costly mistakes.

Lawmakers considered a number of proposals to change the process, and one of the bills debated during the waning days of the session would have proposed a constitutional amendment to require minimum thresholds for the number of signatures gathered in each congressional district, which proponents say would force referendum drives to include rural areas. However, disagreement reigned between the House and Senate and the bill was carried over until next year.

The Legislature still needs to decide whether to send bond questions to voters. Lawmakers received more than $1 billion worth of requests for new borrowing this year. But according to how much money is in the budget to make the payments, the state can afford a maximum of around $150 million. A $105 million transportation bond cruised through the Legislature last month and is en route to voters, but two others — $40 million for student debt relief and $55 million for investments in Maine’s biomedical industry — faltered. Both of those bonds, as well as most of the other bond bills proposed this year, were carried over for further consideration.

Lawmakers made a deal with LePage to end the state shutdown, but promises must be kept. Late on July 3, the state shutdown looked as if it could go on for weeks, but Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon and LePage made a deal: eliminate a proposed increase in the lodging tax in exchange for routing more federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money toward early childhood education programs. The LePage administration also agreed to a two-year moratorium on changes the Maine Department of Health and Human Services wants to make to its care reimbursement structure that service providers say would be devastating. The moratorium delays the cuts but doesn’t cancel them, which means negotiations will have to continue.

Another funding promise involved two bills proposed by House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, and Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, which sought to increase funding for workers who care one-on-one for people with developmental disabilities. Those bills were funded at $14 million in the current, month-old fiscal year but not in the future, meaning the funding would disappear unless LePage and the Legislature appropriate more for the second year of the biennial budget.

The second year of each legislative session is designed to be less intense and busy than the first, but with so many issues outstanding, legislative elections looming and LePage with just a year left to cement his legacy, the rest of 2017 and 2018 promise to produce a memorable stretch in Maine politics, with deadlines on the calendar driving whatever progress is made.


Senator Susan Collins speaks with reporters ahead of a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington on August 2, 2017.

How Susan Collins’ Obamacare vote could harm her chances to succeed LePage

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is Maine’s most popular politician and if she runs for governor in 2018, she may be a shoo-in — if fellow Republicans don’t block her path to the Blaine House.

Published Aug. 05, 2017, at 7:21 a.m.     |    

How Susan Collins’ Obamacare vote could harm her chances to succeed LePage

Posted Aug. 05, 2017, at 7:21 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is Maine’s most popular politician and if she runs for governor in 2018, she may be a shoo-in — if fellow Republicans don’t block her path to the Blaine House.

The senator was one of three Republicans to vote against party leaders’ latest bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act last month, dealing a fatal blow to one of President Donald Trump’s key priorities. It led Gov. Paul LePage to escalate a intra-party war against her.

The conservative governor told party members in Canaan that she’ll “back down” on the gubernatorial run she’s considering if his base rejects her. He wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed saying Collins and Sen. Angus King, an independent who voted with her, are “dangerous.”

Collins has been named the most moderate U.S. senator and has irked conservatives before. If she stays in the Senate through her term’s end in early 2021, this may be little more than a flashpoint, since she regularly registers approval ratings above 65 percent here.

But if she runs for governor in 2018, several active Republicans told the Bangor Daily News that they would expect a tough primary fight. Mary Mayhew, LePage’s former health and human services commissioner, is the only Republican to declare so far with more hopefuls on the horizon.

Charlie Webster of Farmington, a former Maine Republican Party chairman, said if Collins entered the race months ago, other challengers may have scattered, but they won’t now.

“Honestly, I do not believe she can win the Republican primary,” said Bob Emrich, a Plymouth pastor and board member of the socially conservative Christian Civic League of Maine.

But moderate Republicans see rejecting Collins as nonsensical. She’d be the odds-on favorite to win a general election and they say her popularity could win a primary for her.

Mary Small, a former legislator from Bath, is still irked by a LePage-backed effort that ousted state Sen. Linda Baker, R-Topsham, in a 2016 primary to a conservative who lost the general election. She said “wackies” can dominate primaries, but Collins “has such broad support.”

And Jon Courtney, a Pownal lobbyist and former legislative leader, called Collins “one of the most successful politicians” in Maine and said he thinks anyone who takes her on will fail.

“You’re never going to find someone who aligns with your positions 100 percent, but you support people who are loyal to you,” he said. “That’s how I feel about Susan.”

That loyalty to all Republicans can be measured in dollars, but some relationships could fray. Her political action committee has given more than $115,000 to in-state party candidates and groups — including LePage and other harder-line conservatives — since the 2010 election.

Most of that came in small, reliable donations to legislative candidates. Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea, got $800 from Collins’ Dirigo PAC across three elections. She’s also one of the Legislature’s top welfare hawks, opposing Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Expansion could be a key issue in a hypothetical primary: LePage has vetoed it five times, Collins said in June that Maine may want to consider Indiana’s conservative approach to expansion and Mayhew called Collins’ stance “concerning” at her June campaign launch.

Sanderson said she was “disappointed” in Collins’ vote, noting that she has been a supporter of repealing the health care law and was ”very clear and strong on those points.”

However, it’s a complex issue. Collins voted against the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and later voted to repeal it, though she said during her 2014 election that it was too late to fully repeal it. That has been her line since and she has renewed a call for a bipartisan fix since the vote.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the latest Senate bill would have left 16 million more people uninsured by 2026. An earlier plan would have disproportionately raised premiums in Aroostook, Washington and Hancock counties, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis said.

Collins’ office didn’t grant a Thursday interview request, but spokeswoman Annie Clark said too many face “skyrocketing premiums, unaffordable deductibles, and diminishing choices” under current law. But she said the Senate bill would have “made matters worse.”

LePage has had differing stances on congressional repeal bids as they evolved, saying in a Friday statement that the Senate bill “was far from perfect,” but “that’s not the point” and that Collins killed debate on repeal by voting against the bill.

David Emery, a former Republican congressman from Tenants Harbor, said he understood Collins’ stance, using the Affordable Care Act — which was passed with only Democratic support — as an example of why one-party solutions are bad in the long run.

He said if Collins ran, she’d get his support, saying “politics has to be practical.”

“It has to be built around how you advance your core philosophy,” he said, “and certainly, you can do that better with one of your own in the Blaine House rather than someone who has an alien philosophy.”

But she’s going to face plenty of skepticism from Republicans. Jonathan McKane, a conservative former Newcastle legislator, said “voters are paying attention.” Carol Weston, a former Montville legislator, said Collins was thinking only in terms of “what I think will keep votes for me.”

“Overall, she’s done a great job,” said Webster, the former party chairman. “You just have to stand for certain principles and consistently stand for them.”

Mary Adams, a grassroots Republican activist from Garland, finished sixth in the 1994 gubernatorial primary that Collins won before losing the general election to King. She counts the senator as a friend and called her “the nicest woman,” but she’s not happy with her politics.

She said Collins’ health care vote “disappointed history” and that Collins “turned her back” on LePage, Mayhew and other Maine conservatives who have pushed national health care reform ideas similar to those passed here under a Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011.

“I will always want her for a friend, but I don’t really want her for a senator anymore,” Adams said.

And for a governor?

“Oh, heavens no,” she replied.

BDN writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.


Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, puts his hands to his face while listening to arguments during the Senate's hearing on the state budget in June.

Why no one is happy even though the Legislature is finally leaving Augusta

A recap of the 128th Legislature.

Published Aug. 03, 2017, at 10:02 a.m.     |    

Why no one is happy even though the Legislature is finally leaving Augusta

Posted Aug. 03, 2017, at 10:02 a.m.

The 128th Legislature finally wrapped up its first session Wednesday with far less camaraderie and good will than on the day it opened nine months ago.

Here’s a recap:

Gov. Paul LePage won more than he lost on veto day, but he wasn’t satisfied after lawmakers bucked him to raise Maine’s tobacco-buying age to 21. The Legislature — more specifically, House Republicans — backed the governor on 14 of 27 veto override votes on Wednesday, dooming key bills including a solar policy overhaul and one to ban handheld cellphone use while driving.

But he lost on a bill that will make Maine the fourth state to raise the tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21. After the Senate voted overwhelmingly against LePage, all but one Democrat and 19 Republicans in the House voted to override his veto.

He ended up losing by just one vote in the House of Representatives, where 10 Republicans were absent during the vote. LePage based his veto on an argument around personal freedom, saying a person who is old enough to enlist in the military should be able to buy cigarettes.

The governor said Thursday on WGAN that he’d submit a bill next year to raise Maine’s minimum military age to 21, saying “we’ve got to prevent our young soldiers from going to war until they’re of legal age to make decisions.” It wasn’t clear if that was a rhetorical argument, and federal law would almost certainly have something to say about that.

The last day of the session wasn’t a good day for parliamentary tricks. The House got off to a terrible start when a minor solar policy bill was hastily moved from a committee to the floor.

That decision was made by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who moved a bill to make clarifications to law around solar billing to the floor after the Legislature’s energy committee wanted to carry it over to 2018, drawing complaints from Republicans.

Democrats later agreed to move it back to committee, but members of both parties agreed it may have poisoned the later solar veto override vote — which Democrats lost by just three votes.

And the Legislature also left business unfinished that will likely bring them back in the fall. The messy session, which led to Maine’s first government shutdown since 1991, crowded out time that could have been spent on many other issues.

A special legislative session is likely in the fall, when lawmakers must pass a major bill regulating Maine’s new recreational marijuana market.

But they also must decide what Maine will do with ranked-choice voting — a law that has been deemed partially unconstitutional by the state’s high court — after lawmakers deadlocked on solutions to that issue earlier this year.

This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.


This solar shed is the result of collaboration between the Unity-based Backyard Buildings LLC. and the Pittsfield-based Insource Renewables.

Why small solar threatens the companies that deliver electricity in Maine

Residential solar power threatens profits at investor-owned utilities. Plain and simple. It’s also the most promising and readily deployable form of small-scale renewable energy. That’s why lawmakers in Maine are facing a significant pressure over a decision they face Wednesday, between two temporary schemes to value that solar power. [The …

Published Aug. 01, 2017, at 2:53 p.m.     |    

Why small solar threatens the companies that deliver electricity in Maine

Posted Aug. 01, 2017, at 2:53 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 02, 2017, at 10:51 a.m.

Residential solar power threatens profits at investor-owned utilities. Plain and simple. It’s also the most promising and readily deployable form of small-scale renewable energy.

That’s why lawmakers in Maine are facing a significant pressure over a decision they face Wednesday, between two temporary schemes to value that solar power.

[The two choices lawmakers face on solar power]

Neither of the outcomes will settle the bigger battle that looms over how utilities and policymakers deal with the coming growth in solar and other technologies that allow for small power generators to pop up all over the state and all over the electric grid.

Those customers get paid through a system called “net metering,” which allows customers to get credits for the kilowatt-hours of electricity they send out to the grid. The credits are good for up to a year.

The fight has drawn heavy attention to rather wonky energy policy because of the money and environmental impacts at stake. Broader trends show the fight is hardly going away.

[Why Maine’s fight over solar power billing isn’t going away, in charts]

Larger solar plants hint at the coming growth. In a guide to institutional investors, the World Economic Forum last year estimated solar power will cost less globally than coal or natural gas-fired generation by 2020.

And last year, solar generation capacity grew by the largest amount on record in the United States, with the one-year total of new utility-scale solar more than doubling the capacity built through the end of 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

What utilities stand to lose

A study for the U.S. Department of Energy published in April by the Berkeley National Laboratory estimates the trouble net metering and energy efficiency programs pose for utilities in the Northeast. While New England utilities don’t generate electricity, some of their revenue is tied to how much power customers use.

Technology like small-scale solar blurs that relationship. In some cases, it reduces the end-user’s reliance on power transported from generators far away. At other times, it makes the customer an actual supplier of electricity to the grid.

Utilities are worried about solar power growing under that system, particularly as net metering is a long-term commitment. The plans before lawmakers Wednesday both allow new residential customers to lock in net metering arrangements — which decrease in value annually — for 15 years from the installation.

The Berkeley study modeled that risk for a Northeastern utility, estimating the impact that aggressive energy efficiency investments and small-scale solar deployment would have on revenue.

The study found the combination stands to reduce utility earnings by 24 percent over 20 years while driving up the unit price of power, if regulators don’t break or change the link between utility revenues and electricity consumption.

Central Maine Power Co.’s rates that took effect in 2014 include such a thing, called a “revenue decoupling mechanism,” referring to the “decoupling” of utility revenues and power consumption. The company can adjust distribution rates in a future year — to a point — if they fall short.

John Carroll, a spokesman for CMP, said that change sought to prevent the utility’s business model from running counter to public policy goals of increasing energy efficiency, conservation and other changes like small-scale solar that reduce power consumption.

The study found efficiency and solar adoption also stand to hit the utility’s long-term bottom line, if those small generation projects defer the need for new power lines that are the bread and butter of large utilities.

That’s a big threat to utilities reporting to investors who expect steady earnings, which the Washington Post reported in 2015 prompted a renewed push against net metering and solar power incentives in state legislatures and state utilities commissions across the country.

The initial fight sought to raise rates on solar customers, the Post reported, referring to conflicts of the kind that brewed in Maine in 2014. The disputes over solar power have continued to simmer in the meantime, which has meant a relatively heavy dose of lobbying in Maine, too.

[ Powerful interests shaping fate of Maine’s solar industry]

State records make it impossible to put a specific number on how much companies spent to lobby on any particular bill (lobbyists only itemize compensation per bill when monthly expenditures top $1,000), but records reveal who’s involved in the latest solar fight.

In total, 18 clients paid 19 lobbyists at least $34,800 to work on the issue, adjusting for the number of bills for which each client has hired lobbyists in the last year.

The number likely undercounts the total spend on the bill as the dollar figures only include payments to the specific lobbyist working on the solar bill while the total number of bills includes all of any client’s lobbying activity.

For instance, the Industrial Energy Consumer Group disclosed $18,113 in lobbying on the solar bill alone in June.

Maine’s fight for ‘fairness’

The fight over solar policy in Maine almost subsided in 2016 when lawmakers passed a plan to move on from net metering. It fell, by one vote, to a veto from Gov. Paul LePage.

The failure of that bill set the stage for regulators to step in and modify the net metering rules they first put in place in the 1980s.

They opted to gradually reduce incentives for small solar owners, prompting criticism from LePage that the measure didn’t go far enough and opposition from the solar industry who said it went too far.

[ Homeowners with solar panels affect your power bill. Maine’s debating whether that’s fair]

Central Maine Power Co., which publicly supported the failed 2016 compromise, has since come out in favor of leaving in place the PUC rules and sustaining LePage’s veto of a bill that would tweak those rules. Sara Burns, CMP’s president and CEO, called regulators’ proposal an “equitable transition away from the net metering subsidy” in an opinion article in the Portland Press Herald.

But the decision on whether to sustain the veto is, in the longer term, a decision on the direction in which to kick the can. Both options gradually draw down subsidies for solar power.

The vetoed bill directs the PUC to begin studying ways to eliminate net metering and propose alternatives to lawmakers by the end of 2018.

The PUC rules call for the policy to come up for another review when solar installations grow to 3 percent of a utility’s peak demand, which Maine’s previous public advocate wrote could happen as early as 2018.


Trump’s power to pardon is broad, but the public is unforgiving of its misuse

History suggests that the political implications are quite clear. Trump may find out that something can be both legal and, simultaneously, an impeachable offense.

Published July 28, 2017, at 7:31 a.m.     |    

Trump’s power to pardon is broad, but the public is unforgiving of its misuse

Posted July 28, 2017, at 7:31 a.m.
Last modified July 28, 2017, at 7:53 a.m.

Early Saturday morning, President Donald Trump declared via tweet that “ all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon.” It will come as little shock that many do not agree on this point, especially when it comes to the question of whether the president can pardon himself. In fact, a new wing of the internet has been opened to debate this point.

The pardon power is exceptionally broad

It is true that the pardon power is, indeed, one of the strongest unilateral authorities of the presidency. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution says that the president “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”

That language carves out two quick exceptions to the notion of “complete” pardon power. Presidential pardons cannot derail or overrule the impeachment process. And they can be used only for federal crimes, not for crimes that violate state law.

But those are relatively small limitations. Most presidential powers come with an asterisk of sorts. Appointees require Senate confirmation, for instance; vetoes can be overridden. The pardon power does not.

Justice Stephen Field, writing for the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1866 case Ex parte Garland (not Merrick), held that the pardon power was, except as already noted, “unlimited. … It extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission.”

Thus, pardons can indeed be issued even before someone is formally charged with an offense. And the pardon “cannot be fettered by any legislative restrictions.”

Pardons can be individually merciful

Field also called the power “the benign prerogative of mercy,” highlighting one of the reasons for its existence. Seen this way, the power is a check against judicial overreach, against a miscarriage of justice, available as an act of compassion.

For instance, past presidents routinely commuted the sentences of elderly prisoners at death’s door — or said to be. (William Howard Taft wrote in his memoir about two of his commutations along these lines: “One man died and kept his contract. The other recovered at once, and seems to be as healthy and active as anyone I know.”)

Without the pardon option, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 74, “justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.”

Pardons can be granted in the public interest

But as Jeffrey Crouch’s 2009 book about the pardon power notes, “mercy” is not the whole story: The other traditional rationale for including the power in the Constitution is as a tool to serve a broader public interest. Hamilton covered this, too, with the example of a “well-timed offer of pardon” to insurgents that “may restore the tranquillity of the commonwealth.” George Washington used the power in this manner in 1795 when he set aside the death sentences of two ringleaders of the Whiskey Rebellion.

In a rather different application, Thomas Jefferson pardoned all those convicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts. Both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson issued proclamations of amnesty relating to the Civil War. Jimmy Carter granted a blanket pardon to more than 200,000 men charged with evading the Vietnam draft.

And much more recently, in lieu of hoped-for legislation on criminal sentencing reform, Barack Obama used his clemency powers to shorten more than 1,700 prison terms he thought were harshly skewed by mandatory minimum sentences that punished nonviolent crimes.

Sometimes, of course, presidents use the “public interest” rationale to pardon specific people rather than groups. In late 1921, for instance, Warren Harding commuted the prison sentence of Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, who had been convicted of violating the Espionage Act by criticizing the U.S. government during World War I.

And in September 1974, in what Crouch calls “the most notorious pardon in U.S. history,” Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, who had resigned the presidency in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Ford explained that “the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost” by what could be a years-long prosecution of the former president.

Over time, many came to agree with Ford’s rationale. But the pardon had huge political consequences across several years. Ford’s approval rating rapidly dropped from above 70 percent to below 50 percent. His press secretary resigned in protest. The suspicion that he may have cut a deal with Nixon (with the latter agreeing to resign, if pardoned) prompted Ford to become the first sitting president in more than a century to travel to Capitol Hill to testify before a congressional committee. Republicans lost nearly 50 House seats in the 1974 midterm election, and Ford lost his bid for election in 1976.

Pardons can be very controversial

Thus, although the word “amnesty” comes from the same root as “amnesia,” people don’t tend to forget even the perceived misuse of the pardon power — that is, applied for neither reasons of mercy nor public policy, but rather out of self-interest. A long sequence of presidents have discovered this — as political scientist P.S. Ruckman notes, “Every generation of Americans has seen its controversial pardon … or nine.”

In recent administrations, George H.W. Bush’s lame-duck pardon of six officials caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal prompted accusations that Bush was seeking to conceal his involvement in the matter. George W. Bush spared I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby a 30-month jail sentence after Libby was convicted of perjury charges related to the leak of a CIA officer’s identity. (Bush, however, declined to grant a full pardon, angering Libby’s immediate boss, Vice President Dick Cheney.)

Bill Clinton granted clemency to 176 people just two hours before leaving office in 2001. Among them were his half brother, Roger Clinton, (for a 1985 drug conviction) and, most controversially, Marc Rich and Pincus Green, who had fled to Switzerland after a 1983 indictment for tax evasion. That decision was further tainted by the fact that Rich’s ex-wife had given close to half a million dollars to the Clinton presidential library fund (and more than $1 million to Democratic candidates since 1993).

If a president is ‘himself a party to the guilt, he can be impeached and prosecuted’

The category of self-serving pardons brings us back to the present day. Objections to the pardon power at the constitutional convention centered on the fear that a president guilty of treason would use it to shield his accomplices from punishment. But, James Wilson assured his fellow delegates, if the president “be himself a party to the guilt he can be impeached and prosecuted.”

Whether that implies the president cannot pardon himself, or simply that the framers could not conceive Americans electing a president who would need to, remains a question. But there is no consensus on the legality of such an act.

By contrast, history suggests that the political implications are quite clear. Trump may find out that something can be both legal and, simultaneously, an impeachable offense.

Andrew Rudalevige is Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. He specializes in the study of American political institutions, primarily the presidency and the interbranch relations, with a recent focus on presidential management of the executive branch. This piece was originally published on The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog.


People enjoy a great day on Sand Beach in Acadia National Park.

How summer vacation took hold in the US

Planning a trip to the beach, a lake, or some other spot in the great outdoors in the next month or so? Please take a few moments to thank a small but influential group of reformers, idealists, and busybodies who created an enduring American institution: the summer vacation.

Published July 17, 2017, at 12 p.m.     |    

How summer vacation took hold in the US

Posted July 17, 2017, at 12 p.m.

Planning a trip to the beach, a lake, or some other spot in the great outdoors in the next month or so? Please take a few moments to thank a small but influential group of reformers, idealists, and busybodies who created an enduring American institution: the summer vacation.

Before the late 19th century, few Americans took breaks from work. The ethic of hard work and deferred gratification popular among the Puritans — never mind the simple fact that few people could afford to get away from tending farms — limited leisure.

Well into the 19th century, summer vacations remained restricted to elites: wealthy slave-owners who fled to cooler climes in the summer, or elite merchants who could afford to leave their businesses in the hands of trusted subordinates. But most adult Americans, by choice or by necessity, simply toiled away during the summer months. As always.

The rise of the industrial economy changed all of this. But it wasn’t the factory workers toiling away 12 hours per day, six days per week, who got to take a break. It was the emerging professional, or middle classes: salaried managers, lawyers, clergymen and others. In the second half of the 19th century, doctors began worrying about the effects of “brain fatigue” on these white-collar workers.

In 1869, a charismatic preacher named William H.H. Murray published a guide to the rugged Adirondacks of upstate New York, extolling them as an antidote to the enervating effects of modern life. He wrote of his desire to “encourage manly exercise in the open air, and familiarity with Nature in her wildest and grandest aspects.” Murray spoke of how city dwellers weighed down by work emerged from the northern woods revived and bursting with health.

The book was an immediate bestseller, going through numerous printings. In 1869, hordes of tourists dubbed “Murray’s Fools” arrived in the Adirondacks via a new railway line, only to find themselves beset by flies, alarmed by deer tracks, and otherwise flummoxed by life in the great outdoors. The press had a field day with Murray, but the good preacher persisted, and each year more and more Americans arrived in the mountains.

The massive expansion of railroads opened this and many other locales to white-collar workers seeking a place to spend some time away from the stress of modern life, even if they sometimes made leisure a form of work. Many of today’s favorite summer destinations — the Great Lakes, the White Mountains, the Jersey Shore, the coast of Maine — all began as vacation meccas at this time.

But when parents contemplated bringing the kids, they immediately ran into a serious problem. At this time, schools followed one of two calendars, neither of which was compatible with the idea of summer vacation. In rural areas, schools opened their doors in the winter and the summer, but closed their doors in the spring and fall, when parents needed children to help out on farms with planting and harvesting. Cities, by contrast, remained open all year. Neither system was conducive to bringing the kids on summer vacation.

But it was precisely this same era that school reformers began voicing the same concerns about “brain work” that doctors had raised about adults. Horace Mann, arguably the most influential school reformer of the 19th century, wrote with conviction that “health itself is destroyed by overstimulating the mind.” Likewise, the Pennsylvania School Journal voiced anxiety that because children spent too much time in school, they were “growing up puny, lank, pallid, emaciated, round-shouldered [and] thin-breasted, all because they were kept at study too long.”

In cities, this argument had particular resonance, no doubt because poorly ventilated, sweltering classrooms were miserable for students and teachers alike. In rural areas studied by Kenneth Gold, a historian at the City University of New York, education reformers began pushing to revamp the school calendar, as well, creating the now standard school calendar.

In truth, much of the impetus for the shift likely came from the teachers themselves, who had by this time organized themselves. They pushed for summer vacation because, well, they wanted a break. As one reformer arguing against year-round schooling noted: “Teachers need a summer vacation more than bad boys need a whipping.”

By the early 20th century, the idea that parents and children alike needed to rest their brains and commune with the great outdoors had become an article of faith among the middle class. While summer vacation never grew to the outsized proportions found in many European countries, it has nonetheless persisted as an American ritual, with July and August the peak months for family sojourns.

In recent years, though, this once-solid institution has eroded. Many school districts, concerned about the “summer slide” that besets student performance, have begun to reinstitute school calendars that look suspiciously like the bad old days of the 19th century. The idea that kids might want to turn off their brains for 10 weeks is increasingly seen as counterproductive, given demands for ever-higher test scores.

Adults, too, have retreated from summer vacation in recent years, with the average Americans taking a week less now than they did at the end of the 20th century. While vacation rates have experienced a modest uptick in the past year or so, they remain well below the long-term average.

Murray would not approve. In his classic work, he sought to reach those “pent up in narrow offices and narrower studies [who] long for a breath of mountain air and the free life of field and flood.” He exhorted his readers to listen to that yearning and take a break. A century and a half later, it’s advice that Americans of all ages should continue to heed.

Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, is a contributor to Bloomberg View.


This U.S. Navy file handout image shows Baker, the second of the two atomic bomb tests, in which a 63-kiloton warhead was exploded 90 feet under water as part of Operation Crossroads, conducted at Bikini Atoll in July 1946 to measure nuclear weapon effects on warships.

The UN just passed a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. That actually matters.

On July 7, the United Nations adopted the first treaty imposing a total ban on nuclear weapons.

Published July 17, 2017, at 8:42 a.m.     |    

The UN just passed a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. That actually matters.

Posted July 17, 2017, at 8:42 a.m.

On July 7, the United Nations adopted the first treaty imposing a total ban on nuclear weapons. This Nuclear Prohibition Treaty covers all aspects of nuclear weapons, including their use and threat of use, testing, development, possession, sharing and stationing in a different country. It provides a pathway for countries with nuclear weapons to join and destroy their nuclear arsenals. One hundred twenty-two nations — all non-nuclear — voted to adopt the treaty. Only the Netherlands voted against doing so, and Singapore abstained.

But the nine nuclear-armed countries — Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States — boycotted the negotiations. So did all NATO members (except the Netherlands) as well as Japan and South Korea, all of which are protected by U.S. nuclear weapons. Although there was jubilation in the negotiating hall after the successful vote, the United States, Britain and France announced in a joint statement, saying, “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it … clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment,” including the growing threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

The non-nuclear countries obviously knew that the treaty would not immediately cause nuclear states to give up their arsenals. So why did they put so much effort into it?

The Non-Proliferation Treaty creates nuclear haves and have-nots.

To understand that, let’s look at a little history. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) set up a “grand bargain” in which non-nuclear nations agreed not to acquire nuclear arms, while the five countries that possessed nuclear weapons at the time – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – agreed to pursue disarmament. Nearly 50 years later, there is still no real disarmament; in fact, most nuclear-armed countries are modernizing their arsenals. That leaves the non-nuclear nations frustrated that the nuclear powers didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.

That frustration led to a new campaign to delegitimize nuclear weapons. Launched in 2010 at a review conference of the NPT, the campaign highlighted the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. The campaign was led eventually by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa, with strong support from civil society groups. It builds on the humanitarian concerns of the grass-roots antinuclear movements of the 1950s, but makes a more explicit effort to link antinuclear activism to the framework of international humanitarian law.

Campaigners warned how using even a small number of nuclear weapons could kill millions of people in non-nuclear countries through radioactive fallout, drops in temperature and large-scale crop failures leading to famine. In highlighting the devastating medical, environmental and economic effects of nuclear war, the campaign challenges the identities of the nuclear-armed countries as “civilized.”

The campaign successfully mobilized the support of a majority of countries for a legal ban on nuclear weapons. In December 2016, the General Assembly voted by 113 in favor to hold treaty negotiations, despite objections from the Britain, France, Russia, the United States and 34 other countries. All NATO allies except for the Netherlands opposed negotiations. China, India, Japan, Pakistan and South Korea abstained.

The United States lobbied its allies against it. U.S. officials warned of dire consequences if it was adopted, arguing that it would undermine existing nonproliferation and arms-control efforts. However, here’s why the United States is really opposed: The new treaty is explicitly trying to delegitimize the nuclear deterrence policies on which the United States and other nuclear-armed countries rely.

But wait, how will a ban work if the nuclear nations won’t participate?

The treaty’s main goal is to unambiguously prohibit nuclear weapons, placing them in the same class as chemical and biological weapons – thereby strengthening the norms against nuclear weapons’ use and possession.

Advocates believe the ban fills the legal gap left by the NPT, which has allowed the five declared nuclear powers to hang on to their nuclear weapons indefinitely. Taking that first step – declaring nuclear weapons illegal – can be done without the nuclear states. Indeed, the strategy was to leave them out so that they could not stall action – as they did, for instance, by not ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has not come into force.

As one advocate put it, “You cannot wait for the smokers to institute a smoking ban.”

The hope of nuclear disarmament has been around for a long time. How is this different?

This new treaty exemplifies three trends.

1) The democratizing of disarmament politics. The nuclear powers are losing control of the nuclear disarmament agenda. The ban campaign took its playbook from past successful efforts to ban land mines and cluster bombs. In those earlier efforts, key countries, through simple majority votes, took the debate outside traditional consensus-based U.N. negotiating forums over the objections of recalcitrant nations. Now, as then, advocates worked to mobilize widespread support against a class of weapons.

2) The key role of civil society groups. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) united about 450 nongovernmental organizations around the world to work on this effort. As in the cluster bomb and land mines campaigns, these groups have reframed disarmament as a humanitarian, not simply a security, issue. NGO campaigners disseminated these arguments through the United Nations, proposed treaty language, critiqued drafts and lobbied member countries to adopt their preferred positions, often successfully. The treaty will encourage more citizen activism.

3) The adoption of new norms. The treaty promotes changes of attitude, ideas, principles and discourse – essential precursors to reducing numbers of nuclear weapons. This approach to disarmament starts by changing the meaning of nuclear weapons, forcing leaders and societies to think about and value them differently.

U.S. officials will reiterate that they are not bound by any treaty they did not join; therefore, by retaining nuclear weapons, they are not outside the law. Even so, a legal ban introduces new political challenges for the United States. The treaty’s prohibition on threats of nuclear weapons use directly challenges deterrence policies. It is likely to complicate policy options for U.S. allies under the U.S. nuclear “umbrella,” who are accountable to their parliaments and civil societies.

The new ban treaty may not result in the physical destruction of nuclear weapons anytime soon. But it is likely to have political effects internationally and domestically over the coming years, even in nuclear-armed states that did not, and will not, sign.

Tannenwald is director of the International Relations Program at Brown University and the author of “The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons.”

For other commentary from The Monkey Cage, an independent blog anchored by a group of political scientists from universities around the country, see


Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea (left), counts the votes on a vote board while Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, looks on during the House of Representatives vote on the state budget at the Maine State House in Augusta.

How LePage’s shutdown hardball will shape his last year and the race to replace him

The discord in the shutdown debate shows the divisions in Maine’s two major political parties well as both look for a leader to emerge to take LePage’s place in 2018.

Published July 09, 2017, at 7 a.m.     |    

How LePage’s shutdown hardball will shape his last year and the race to replace him

Posted July 09, 2017, at 7 a.m.
Last modified July 09, 2017, at 8:15 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The eventful era of Gov. Paul LePage probably was destined all along for the first state shutdown since 1991, and the fighting that led to it will have lasting implications on Maine.

The state’s three-day shutdown ended early on July 4, when LePage and majority Democrats in the House of Representatives struck a deal eliminating a voter-approved 3 percent surtax, replacing it partially with another $162 million in school funding without raising taxes.

By itself, the shutdown had little impact: It enveloped just one day of state business, workers will be paid for that day and state parks were open the whole time.

But the discord in the debate — real or kayfabe — shows the divisions in Maine’s two major political parties well as both look for a leader to emerge to take LePage’s place in 2018. Until then, he’ll continue to set a tone for Maine’s increasingly divisive politics.

The split between Senate Republicans and LePage’s harder-line camp is rawer than ever as the party grapples with an uncertain future beyond 2018. The LePage era has been kind to Republicans, who have gained the 2nd Congressional District and won back the Maine Senate during his term in a state that still has 53,000 more Democrats than Republicans.

But during the budget battle, Republicans weren’t on the same page or even honest with each other: LePage admitted Thursday that he left a false voicemail for Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, saying he was leaving town during the shutdown just so senators would call him back.

Senate and House Republicans were out of sync throughout the entire budget process, which stalled for months before Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, crafted their own deal less than a day before the shutdown.

LePage implored House Republicans to kill it in a Blaine House meeting on the morning of June 30. All but one Republican senator voted for it, but 60 House Republicans withheld the needed two-thirds majority, forcing the shutdown on a tense day at the State House.

All day, observers could see heated talks between senators and representatives in hallways, where rank-and-file Republicans from each chamber didn’t seem to understand each other.

Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, complained that evening that the budget made too many concessions to Democrats, saying “it was continually how much more do we give, how much more do we give, how much more do we give and we get nothing back.”

The same night, Sen. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, said she had just talked to a Republican House member who asked her, “Who’s drinking the Kool-Aid? You or us?”

“I would say that both parties were divided, but today I saw Democrats stand in line whether they hated that budget and voted and pushed that green button,” she said. “So, I would say that maybe the Republicans are more divided than we even realize.”

LePage, Thibodeau and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, are term-limited in 2018, so it’s unclear whose style will reign over the party. Seven Republican senators and 14 representatives face limits. Only one Democratic senator and seven representatives do.

With a progressive base but a legislative penchant for soft compromise, Democrats still are having trouble dealing with LePage. Maine Democrats have problems, mainly their diminished standing in the LePage era. Yet there’s an appetite for progressive policy. Four of five Maine ballot questions passed in 2016, including the surtax and a minimum wage hike.

But Democrats compromised the former away in the budget deal amid Republican opposition to it. Many also voted with Republicans to repeal a phase-out of the tipped minimum wage in the latter question, taking heat from the progressive Maine People’s Alliance in the process.

Gideon also faced criticism for her negotiating tack. Even some in Maine’s Democratic operative class questioned her early June offer to trim the surtax, wondering if she showed her hand early. Her initial deal with Thibodeau left Senate Democrats behind and led to criticism from them.

This showed when Gideon and Thibodeau appeared on Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” on Wednesday. Nico Jenkins of Blue Hill, a local leader of Indivisible, a progressive movement, called in to say the surtax compromise represents “the death of the Democratic Party.”

He said that Democrats “continue to negotiate with people who really aren’t interested in negotiating” and the surtax should have been non-negotiable. Gideon responded to say that keeping government open was her top priority and Maine can’t allow “death of government.”

She has also highlighted the $162 million in education funding as “the largest investment in public education in our state’s history,” matching Republican rhetoric on the issue which would be true if the surtax — which was expected to generate $300 million — never existed.

Taryn Hallweaver, a Maine People’s Alliance organizer, found a silver lining in a Friday podcast, saying while it’s “fairly mind-boggling” that a referendum question was wiped out in eight months, it nevertheless “shaped the debate of an entire legislative session.”

In 2018, Democrats will be looking for a leader: Their only well-known gubernatorial hopefuls are Sanford attorney Adam Cote and Hallowell lobbyist Betsy Sweet, with Attorney General Janet Mills of Farmington and former House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick mulling runs.

Mills and Cote milled about at the State House during the shutdown weekend, but neither is a progressive darling: The attorney general has fought civil libertarians on criminal justice policy and Cote ran for Congress as a moderate in 2008, making it unclear where liberals will land.

Whether he ‘won’ this battle or not, LePage remains the most powerful person in Maine politics and he’ll define next year’s race to replace him. The answer to the question of whether LePage or anyone else “won” in the shutdown depends on where you sit.

He got Democrats to amend out a lodging tax increase on the final day, but Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, offered that before the shutdown. In the end, LePage traded it for halting behavioral health system changes and allocating more federal money to early childhood education.

LePage was allowed back into the budget battle when House Republicans dragged negotiations within 10 days of the shutdown, the period of time that he’s allowed to sign or veto a budget. That forced legislators to come to him with a palatable offer, after he had effectively been blocked out of negotiations for months because the two-thirds majorities needed to pass a budget would be enough to override a veto.

This budget will set up a battle over another in 2018: It leaves funding for direct-care workers unaddressed in the second year and continuing it will require a supplemental budget.

For their part, LePage and House Republicans are acting like they won and will keep winning. Before he signed the budget bill, he praised the caucus for sticking together, saying Fredette told him “we’re going to be in the driver’s seat” during the supplemental budget fight.

Gideon has pushed back, saying on the radio LePage will be “less relevant” next year as a lame duck. But LePage has a way of dominating most Maine political debates and the 2018 campaign will be defined by him.

Mary Mayhew, his former welfare chief and the only well-known Republican running to replace him now, will praise him. Democrats will joust to show how vociferously they oppose him. Independent Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes of Buckfield may point to her sides and shrug.

Until he’s gone, it’s still LePage’s Maine and we’re still living in it.


Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon

Gideon calls LePage ‘less relevant’ but he’s already gearing up for next fight

Gideon said “the governor’s participation in the legislative process become less and less relevant as he heads into his last year of government.”

Published July 06, 2017, at 10 a.m.     |    

Gideon calls LePage ‘less relevant’ but he’s already gearing up for next fight

Posted July 06, 2017, at 10 a.m.
Last modified July 06, 2017, at 3:21 p.m.

The two-year state budget may be signed, but Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature’s top Democrat have already teased their tacks for the next standoff, likely to happen sometime next year.

The budget agreement reached by the Republican governor and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, will likely require a supplemental budget in 2018 because it leaves additional funding for Maine direct-care workers unaddressed in the next fiscal year.

Before he signed the budget on Monday, LePage praised the loyal House Republicans for holding up two budget deals before that by withholding needed two-thirds majorities, saying they “held together and controlled the majority” and “kicked butt.”

He also relayed a conversation with House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, saying, “Ken told me the next supplemental budget, we’re going to be in the driver’s seat,” foreshadowing a continuation of their strategy to boost LePage’s voice in the Legislature.

On Wednesday, Gideon was pre-emptively fighting back along those lines in an appearance with Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, on Maine Public’s “Maine Calling.”

She said “the governor’s participation in the legislative process become less and less relevant as he heads into his last year of government” before he leaves office in early 2019.

But he’s hinting at a power play: While he signed a budget that added $162 million in education funding, he told WGAN on Thursday that it was a “ransom” for eliminating the voter-approved surtax on high income for schools and told that group of lawmakers on Monday that there would be “hell to pay in education,” according to Maine Public.

LePage, who was in the Blaine House for much of the shutdown, also blamed protesters for “keying Republican cars” over the weekend, even though there’s no evidence of that.

It was a reference to reports of vandalism from two lawmakers, Reps. Sheldon Hanington of Lincoln and Tim Theriault of China. But the Kennebec Journal reported that Capitol Police found no intentional damage to Theriault’s car and Hanington’s truck was damaged in his Lincoln driveway.

This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.


House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (right), R-Newport, watches as votes come in on a vote board during the House of Representatives vote on the state budget at the Maine State House in Augusta.

Maine’s short government shutdown was months in the making

Those seeking people to blame for the shutdown can look in the mirror all the way back to the last election and plenty of flashpoints along the way.

Published July 05, 2017, at 5:03 p.m.     |    

Maine’s short government shutdown was months in the making

Posted July 05, 2017, at 5:03 p.m.
Last modified July 06, 2017, at 3:21 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine has a two-year budget after a three-day government shutdown and months of stalled negotiations. Those seeking people to blame can look in the mirror all the way back to the last election and plenty of flashpoints along the way.

Nov. 8, 2016: Maine votes to raise taxes on high earners as rural voters helped Republican Donald Trump get elected president in a schizophrenic election entrenching a divided Legislature.

The 3 percent surtax on high earners for education funding passed with 51 percent of votes, Democrat Hillary Clinton won Maine’s presidential race, but dropped the 2nd Congressional District to Trump and legislative Republicans and Democrats kept their respective Senate and House majorities, but with weaker margins.

Partisans could get a host of mixed messages from the referendum process: Republicans complained that voters didn’t know the intricacies of the four of five ballot initiatives that passed. But Democrats held it up as a sign that voters want progressive change.

In legislative elections, Maine picked 94 Democrats, 90 Republicans and two independents. Nobody complained that voters didn’t know them well enough, but nobody had a mandate.

Dec. 23: The newly elected House speaker picks a LePage foe to lead the key budget-writing committee, while House and Senate Republicans divide on style.

About a week after House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, was elected as the chamber’s leader, she and fellow leaders made their round of committee assignments that set the tone for the 2017 session.

Gideon named Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who became a Maine household name in August when LePage left him a profane voicemail that set off a damaging controversy, to co-chair the Appropriations Committee. In the last Legislature, Gattine co-chaired the Health and Human Services Committee, fighting LePage on welfare policy.

House and Senate Republicans made differing choices: Sedate co-chairman Sen. James Hamper of Oxford, and Sen. Roger Katz, a centrist LePage enemy, kept seats alongside LePage-aligned Reps. Tom Winsor of Norway, Jeff Timberlake of Turner and Heather Sirocki of Scarborough.

Jan 6, 2017: LePage releases his final two-year budget plan, proposing a flat income tax by 2020 and deep welfare cuts, but it never has a chance.

After the Legislature enacted two straight two-year budgets over LePage vetoes in 2013 and 2015, the governor released a proposal that contained many of his old ideas, including a flat income tax and deep welfare cuts.

Gideon called the ideas “old” and “tired,” while Republicans praised the overall focus of the budget but stayed away from many of the details. Then, they all went to work crafting a new budget.

April 6: Democrats roll out a countering plan, while Republicans dismiss it and say they won’t accept a budget that does not repeal the voter-approved surtax.

Legislative Democrats’ unveiled their “Opportunity Agenda,” a plan to spend $265 million in anticipated new revenue using the last budget as the framework. Much of it was directed at property tax relief. Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, called it “a therapy session.”

Republicans also dug in against the surtax, with Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, saying his party “will accept nothing less than a repeal” in the budget.

June 13: Budget negotiations stall in the Appropriations Committee, so Thibodeau and Gideon convene — and lead — a special committee whose work is poisoned from the start, allowing LePage to re-enter the process.

The budget-writing committee voted out four different budgets in early June, then Democrats offered to trim the surtax, angering their base. But it didn’t land with Republicans and Maine’s budget impasse became dire.

So, Thibodeau and Gideon took their chambers into procedural votes allowing them to send it to a six-person committee. House Republicans weren’t on board with that plan and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, told the Bangor Daily News on the first day the panel met that its work was “doomed to fail.”

Rank-and-file Republicans groused that the two presiding officers named themselves to it, and some Democrats didn’t like it, either. Days later, the process stalled further in that committee and Gideon blasted House Republicans for holding out.

But that allowed LePage back into the budget process, stretching negotiations into the 10-day window before a shutdown, the period of time that the governor can hold a bill before signing or vetoing it. It effectively meant that any budget deal would have to pass LePage’s muster.

July 1: In a show of loyalty to LePage, 60 House Republicans block a Thibodeau-Gideon budget and force a shutdown, then make a counteroffer.

Just more than a day before Maine’s Saturday shutdown, Thibodeau and Gideon grew tired of the committee’s lack of progress and cut their own budget deal, sending it to the floor on June 30, which angered House Republicans and Senate Democrats alike.

It proposed cutting the surtax but included $162 million in additional education funding, but it left a lodging tax increase in place that LePage had already expressed opposition to earlier in the day. The next day, he held a hastily arranged news conference to say he wouldn’t sign it.

But the Thibodeau-Gideon deal moved to the floor anyway and was officially defeated just after the state shut down at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, with 60 House Republicans voting against it to keep it from getting two-thirds support.

Drama under the State House dome heightened after that, when Republicans said LePage had his own plan and a list of his demands circulated in the hallways and lawmakers went home.

About 200 protesters led by the state employees’ union descended on the State House after sunrise, chanting “shame” at the holdout Republicans, whose plan was fleshed out by day’s end, keeping the framework of the Thibodeau-Gideon budget with the lodging tax increase out and additional education and conservation reforms in.

July 2: The panel mostly ignores that plan and votes out another package defying LePage’s no-tax hike warning.

In a late-night vote, Thibodeau and Gideon lead the panel into voting for yet another budget that defied LePage by leaving the lodging tax increase in after he issued a Facebook video saying he wouldn’t agree to a tax increase. House Republicans signaled that he wouldn’t sign it.

July 3: House Republicans again block that deal, but LePage and Gideon hastily negotiate a deal to ax the lodging tax increase and end the shutdown.

When that deal went to the House floor, a smaller group of 54 Republicans again withheld their votes to block a two-thirds majority. But negotiations dragged on in private.

By 9:30 p.m., LePage and Gideon hammered out a deal that eliminated the lodging tax increase in exchange for blocking changes to Maine’s behavioral health system and adding federal funds to early childhood education programs.

The Legislature approved it easily and the shutdown ended when LePage signed it just after 1 a.m. on July 4, holding a celebratory signing alongside a group mostly made up of House Republicans and praising them for holding firm to control majority Democrats.

“And once you do that, it’s over for the majority,” he said, foreshadowing what could be a House Republican strategy next year. “You are now formidable.”


Dan Brown finishes milking his cow, Sprocket, by hand at Gravelwood Farm in Blue Hill, May 14, 2014.

The chocolate milk survey revealed our ignorance of science, but not in the way you think

To us as researchers studying science communication and public understanding of science, factors in the survey itself and in the way the media report on it raise questions about how much to read into these findings.

Published July 01, 2017, at 8:09 a.m.     |    

The chocolate milk survey revealed our ignorance of science, but not in the way you think

Posted July 01, 2017, at 8:09 a.m.
Last modified July 06, 2017, at 3:22 p.m.

It’s been all over the news lately: a survey by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy suggests that 7 percent of American adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

The takeaway of much of this reporting is that Americans are science illiterate as well as uninformed about how their food is produced. This interpretation is intuitive: research has suggested that Americans lack understanding of many scientific concepts and the storyline of Americans as woefully ignorant of science is perennial.

As a society, we are also urbanizing and fewer people work in agriculture, so it’s unsurprising that many don’t know how food is made. These survey results line up with this prevailing wisdom.

But is this what the survey is actually telling us? To us as researchers studying science communication and public understanding of science, factors in the survey itself and in the way the media report on it raise questions about how much to read into these findings.

Survey’s results aren’t publicly available

Researchers are trained to look for the original methods whenever they read a new study, especially if the results are surprising. Learning how the study was done provides information that helps determine whether the science is sound and what to make of it.

The chocolate milk survey is described as a nationally representative survey of 1,000 American adults, but this is impossible to verify without seeing how respondents were selected. Likewise, how the survey was conducted — whether it was a phone or online survey, for instance — can have significant impacts on its accuracy. Research suggests phone surveys may be less accurate than online surveys because they require people to give their responses out loud to another person instead of quietly clicking away in privacy.

For instance, someone who holds racist views may feel comfortable checking a box about it but might avoid openly professing those opinions on the phone to a stranger. It’s unlikely the chocolate milk survey ran into such problems, but depending on the questions asked, other challenges may have presented themselves.

Likewise, it’s difficult to interpret the results of the chocolate milk question without seeing how it was worded. Poorly phrased or confusing questions abound in survey research and complicate the process of interpreting findings.

An NPR interview with Jean Ragalie-Carr, president of the National Dairy Council, is the closest we can get to the actual wording of potential responses: “ there was brown cows, or black-and-white cows, or they didn’t know.” But as Glendora Meikle of the Columbia Journalism Review points out, we don’t know if those were the only options presented to respondents.

This matters. For instance, if respondents associate some color cows with dairy production and other color cows with beef production, it’s easy to see how people could become confused. If this is the case, they’re not confused about where chocolate milk comes from, but about the difference between dairy cows and beef cows.

Social scientists call this a problem with validity: the question doesn’t really measure what it’s supposed to measure. Of course, without seeing how the question was worded, we can’t know whether the chocolate milk question had validity.

Indeed, early media coverage focused on the 7 percent statistic but left out the fact that 48 percent of respondents said they don’t know where chocolate milk comes from. This gives context to the 7 percent number. While it’s conceivable that 7 percent of the population doesn’t know that chocolate milk is just milk with chocolate, the idea that a full 55 percent — over half of adults — don’t know or gave an incorrect response begins to strain credulity. This points toward a confusing survey question.

We reached out to Lisa McComb, the senior vice president of communications for Dairy Management Inc., about the survey. She confirmed it’s not publicly available.

“The purpose of the survey was to gauge some interesting and fun facts about consumers’ perceptions of dairy, not a scientific or academic study intended to be published,” she told us.

Story feeds a popular narrative — and media missed it

Questions about the original findings aside, there’s reason to explore how the media covered the chocolate milk survey.

The results were instantly shared and republished by a mind-boggling number of outlets — a Google Trends search for “chocolate milk” and “brown cows” shows a spike beginning June 15. This factoid likely garnered such massive attention because it feeds into a popular narrative about American ignorance and science illiteracy.

Our research suggests that people who are often accused of being “anti-science” are not necessarily as unscientific as one might think. The rapid spread of this story is likely related to the desire, unfortunately prominent among many liberals, to see and label other people as ignorant.

Studies suggest we are more likely to accept new information when it confirms what we already want to believe. In this case, the chocolate milk statistic fits well with the notion that Americans are fools, so it’s accepted and republished widely despite the numerous red flags that should give scientifically minded people pause.

But the fact remains that many reporters and news outlets decided to run the story without having seen the original results, instead citing one another’s reporting. This led to some interesting challenges when trying to fact-check the survey: The Washington Post links to Food & Wine’s coverage, which linked to the Innovation Center’s website, which originally publicized the survey results. The Innovation Center, in turn, links to a story on, which linked right back to the Food & Wine article. This type of circular reporting without seeking out the original source can lead to the spread of misinformation. Unfortunately, as news stories quickly pop up and go viral online, it’s all too likely that we will continue to see such problems in the future.

Importantly, none of this disproves the notion that some adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. It certainly does nothing to undermine the need for increased science education in the United States or suggests that a better understanding of our food production system wouldn’t be beneficial to society. All of these points are still valid. Likewise, this isn’t necessarily evidence that the survey itself is flawed. As McComb notes, the survey is not a scientific one and isn’t meant to be taken as evidence of Americans’ knowledge (or lack thereof) of dairy products. The problem is that it’s being reported on as though it is.

So this survey did point out a lack of science understanding. Ironically, rather than showing Americans’ ignorance of chocolate milk’s origins, the fact that media coverage of this survey was reported so widely and with so few caveats instead showed that many people are not skeptical of the science they read.

Lauren Griffin is the director of external research for the College of Journalism and Communications at University of Florida. Troy Campbell is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Oregon. This story was originally published on

The Conversation

President Trump’s travel ban still doesn’t make any sense

“There is no finding that present vetting standards are inadequate, and no finding that absent the improved vetting procedures there likely will be harm to our national interests,” the judges of the 9th Circuit wrote.

Published June 30, 2017, at 6:25 a.m.     |    

President Trump’s travel ban still doesn’t make any sense

Posted June 30, 2017, at 6:25 a.m.
Last modified July 05, 2017, at 11:58 p.m.

It’s not surprising that President Donald Trump was “very pleased” following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Monday to partially reinstate the White House’s travel ban on refugees and citizens of six Muslim-majority countries. Two iterations of the controversial executive order prompted protests at airports and legal challenges, and both were thwarted by injunctions issued by federal courts. For a president short of significant political victories and surrounded by scandal, the high court’s announcement felt like a win.

“Very grateful for the 9-O decision from the U. S. Supreme Court. We must keep America SAFE!” he tweeted following the decision.

But it’s hardly a triumph. The Supreme Court decided to allow a limited version of the ban to come into effect — targeting the supposedly “terror-prone” countries of Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Sudan — but it will hear arguments in the case in the fall.

Given that the executive order was framed as a temporary stopgap while the Trump administration revamped vetting procedures, the court may very well rule there is no longer a need for such a blanket ban. Other observers counter that the nature of the court’s unsigned opinion suggests its justices are seeking compromise and will be loath to take such a politically provocative act as scrapping the ban outright.

Moreover, the court made a significant exemption: It said the ban “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

What does this mean in practice? “For now, if you have a relative here, have been hired by a U.S. employer or admitted to a U.S. university, you can still probably get a visa,” my colleague Matt Zapotosky explained. “But if you’re applying cold as a visitor or through the diversity visa program, you probably can’t.”

[More: Trump travel ban expected to start tonight, will hurt innocent people, Maine Arab leader says]

It is already extremely difficult to get a visa to the United States from most developing countries without the right family connections or justification, such as enrollment in an American university. As a result, the pool of people likely blocked by the current ban has shrunk drastically. Of course, refugees still remain frozen out — unfairly so.

Undoubtedly, the new status quo will throw up its own wrinkles and challenges. Who, for example, decides what a “bona fide relationship” is?

But whatever the case, it’s important to remember that the travel ban on its face makes very little sense.

“There is no finding that present vetting standards are inadequate, and no finding that absent the improved vetting procedures there likely will be harm to our national interests,” the judges of the 9th Circuit wrote. “These identified reasons do not support the conclusion that the entry of nationals from the six designated countries would be harmful to our national interests.”

Not a single person has died in a terrorist attack on American soil carried out by a citizen from one of the six nations covered by the ban. Since the Refugee Act of 1980 set up a system for vetting refugees to the United States, no person accepted as a refugee has been implicated in a fatal terrorist attack. Critics of the order have also nitpicked in the past about the absence of other “terror-prone” nations in the ban’s purview, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan or even Saudi Arabia, whence 15 of the 9/11 attackers came. And, while Trump voices fear over foreign threats, he has been conspicuously quiet about the scourge of domestic terrorism within the United States.

The broader point the ban’s opponents make is that singling out immigrants, tourists and refugees based on their country of origin will do little to keep the United States safe, while badly damaging the nation’s reputation abroad.

“Far from being foreign infiltrators, the large majority of jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents. Moreover, while a range of citizenship statuses are represented, every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident,” a recent report by the New America Foundation concluded. “In addition about a quarter of the extremists are converts, further confirming that the challenge cannot be reduced to one of immigration.”

The judges of the 9th Circuit added that simply emphasizing the imperatives of national security can’t be a “‘talismanic incantation’ that, once invoked, can support any and all exercise of executive power.”

The White House repeatedly points to the efforts of the Obama administration, which originally drew up a list of seven countries that required further scrutiny when vetting visa applications. But President Barack Obama never called for citizenship-based immigration bans and actively pushed for Syrian refugee resettlement in the face of heated domestic opposition.

The underlying impetus has always been Trump’s desire to make real a campaign promise for some kind of Muslim ban — “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” as he put it in 2015. Taking into account the statements of both Trump and his allies before and after last year’s election, the 4th Circuit court had ruled that the executive order “in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.”

The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday doesn’t strip away the moral validity of the arguments posed by the ban’s critics. And the court’s justices wrote “the relief we grant today” should enable the White House “to conclude its internal work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments within the 90-day life of [the order].” If the Trump administration seeks to extend the ban well beyond the summer, it will be all the more clear that its motives aren’t quite as benign as it claims.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.


How much does it cost to influence an election? About $400,000

That’s the sum it takes to buy followers on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, hire companies to write and disseminate fake news postings over a period of 12 months and run sophisticated websites to influence public opinion.

Published June 29, 2017, at 11:52 a.m.     |    

How much does it cost to influence an election? About $400,000

Posted June 29, 2017, at 11:52 a.m.
Last modified July 04, 2017, at 2:33 p.m.

Want to influence an election? All you need is about $400,000, according to cyber-security consultant Trend Micro Inc.

That’s the sum it takes to buy followers on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, hire companies to write and disseminate fake news postings over a period of 12 months and run sophisticated websites to influence public opinion, according to Udo Schneider, a security expert for the German-speaking market at Trend Micro.

“Hacking the actual voting process isn’t worth it as it leaves traces, is very expensive and technologically challenging,” Schneider said Wednesday at a security conference organized by Deutsche Telekom in Berlin. Yet influencing public opinion via fake news and data leaks, as is believed to have happened during the U.S. and French election campaigns, is relatively simple and “could also happen ahead of the German elections.”

German politicians are increasingly concerned that outside forces will try to influence the country’s Sept. 24 vote, in which Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term. Senior security officials have pointed to Russia as pushing fake news and silently supporting hackers who have targeted the German parliament as well as two think tanks associated with the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, Germany’s two main parties. Russia has repeatedly denied it’s hacked foreign governments.

Germany’s political parties are “completely transparent” for motivated hackers because their infrastructure usually isn’t well protected, according to Frank Rieger, a spokesman for the Chaos Computer Club, a German collective of about 5,500 hackers that acts as a tech watchdog in Europe’s biggest economy. Manipulating preliminary results on the eve of the elections is “entirely possible,” he said at the same event.

Germany is trying to shore up its defenses, from the armed forces setting up a new cyberdefense security unit that will soon have 13,500 staff to placing cyber security experts with the federal election commissioner. In May the BSI, the country’s top technology security agency, held talks with counterparts such as France’s online security agency to gather information on thwarting attacks like one that targeted the presidential campaign of Emmanuel Macron.

German authorities are confident they can protect the vote-counting process, which is largely done by hand and the telephone, and have warned regional and local election officials about the potential threats involved, said Andreas Koenen, who heads an IT security division at the German Interior Ministry.

Deutsche Telekom this year released a cybersecurity product for free to all major German parties, and several members of Merkel’s CDU are already using it to protect their mobile phones, according to Shridhar Mittal, the chief executive officer of Zimperium Inc., the company that developed the app called Mobile Protect Pro. “Mobile devices are the next frontier for hackers,” as they’re usually the weakest link in the portfolio of digital devices, Mittal said by phone.

Yet even if Germany’s defenses are up now, things may be too late already. Pawn Storm, a hacker group believed to be linked to Russia, in 2015 successfully hacked into the IT network of Germany’s Bundestag parliament, stealing about 16 gigabytes of emails and other data. There have been no leaks yet, but most lawmakers expect to see those 16 gigabytes again shortly before the elections. What that will mean remains to be seen.

If the hackers gathered explosive content, then it will be dumped shortly before the vote, Rieger of the Chaos Computer Club said.

“But I actually am not too worried that they have much,” he said. “German parties are inherently boring.”


Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport makes his way to the House floor through a throng of protesters at the State House on Tuesday, June 27, 2017.

Here’s what happens when state government shuts down

A shutdown that lasts for many days promises to frustrate Mainers in many ways.

Published June 28, 2017, at 2:11 p.m.     |    

Here’s what happens when state government shuts down

Posted June 28, 2017, at 2:11 p.m.
Last modified July 03, 2017, at 2:27 p.m.

With no agreement in sight on a two-year budget in the Maine Legislature, the state is as close to a government shutdown as it has been since 1991.

Gov. Paul LePage has wide authority to determine which state employees work during a shutdown. While he hasn’t released a plan, he sent a memo to state employees on Wednesday that mostly sticks to the shutdown strategy of John McKernan, the former Republican governor who presided over the last shutdown.

We can glean a lot from the last shutdown on who may work. Courts will likely be scaled back and Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices closed. A lasting shutdown promises to frustrate Mainers around — and particularly after — the Fourth of July weekend. Here’s how it would work.

What is a shutdown? When the state has no authority to issue payments because it has no budget at the beginning of a new fiscal year beginning on July 1, the government ceases operations — for the most part.

That would happen if the Legislature doesn’t enact a budget by Friday night. However, the calendar provides a bit of a buffer, because July 1 falls on a Saturday. Monday, July 3 is a working day for state employees, but July 4 is holiday, lessening some of the immediate impact.

How much authority would LePage have in a shutdown? Even more than usual.

The 1991 shutdown under Gov. John McKernan, a Republican, came after he proclaimed a state of emergency in Maine. State law gives the governor wide authority during shutdowns, letting them do everything from suspending enforcement of certain laws to banning alcohol sales.

But LePage’s most important authority in an emergency is to choose that skeleton crew of state workers by deciding which employees are emergency or non-emergency.

What happens to those workers? Employees deemed essential must work without pay, but they’re paid for that work once there’s a budget. Non-emergency workers must stay home without pay.

LePage’s Wednesday memo was similar to McKernan’s in 1991, with the governor saying that emergency workers will be defined as “those that relate directly to ensuring the health and safety of Maine citizens and the protection of property from substantial damage.”

Like McKernan, LePage said that emergency workers who don’t show up for work could be disciplined, as could non-emergency workers who do show up. Vacation time couldn’t be used during shutdown days — even for people who had already scheduled vacations. LePage’s memo says the administration is unable to answer that before a budget is enacted.

However, the state’s needs can change as the shutdown goes on. In 1991, media reported that the number of emergency workers rose from 2,000 to 3,000 later in the shutdown.

LePage’s memo also said that paychecks will go out to state workers on June 28 and July 5 for work performed in June and that they won’t lose health insurance coverage.

Has the governor said who will work? He hasn’t presented that plan yet, though he’s hinted at one. We expect to hear more later this week.

The administration hasn’t answered specific questions about any plan for who will work. LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said in a Monday email that the governor is “making preparations to ensure that vital services continue and that the Maine people are well served by their government.”

The Maine State Employees Association, which represents more than 9,000 state workers, told members in a guidance last week that it also hasn’t gotten much information about a shutdown, although the administration has promised a list of emergency workers when one is issued.

Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent who has been briefed by LePage’s budget department, said Tuesday that she has been told the governor will define emergency workers “very narrowly,” though she said she hasn’t been given specific figures.

In the Tuesday radio interview, LePage said he’d allow state parks to stay open because he fears “vandalism” if they close. They mostly operated with limited staffing in 1991. LePage also said that he would prioritize keeping workers who generate revenue for the state on the job.

Who else will probably work? Among the emergency workers in 1991 were obvious ones — state police, prison guards and mental health workers. Constitutional and public safety concerns will likely keep Maine’s court system at least partially open.

A court official said Wednesday that the plan is to reduce Maine dockets by more than half, with civil cases delayed except for urgent matters, including protection from abuse and harassment orders, child protective cases and involuntary mental health commitments. Criminal cases would be focused on people currently incarcerated. The Business and Consumer Court would close. It’s unclear which courthouses would remain open and which would close.

State workers who administer federally funded programs such as Unemployment Compensation, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program may also have to work. Unemployment and welfare offices were reopened days into the 1991 shutdown upon legal advice from then-Attorney General Michael Carpenter, a Democrat who now serves in the Maine Senate.

If the LePage administration doesn’t pay or allow people to apply for welfare benefits, Maine Equal Justice Partners, an anti-poverty group, has readied a federal lawsuit that it would file to force payments and allow applications, said Christine Hastedt, the group’s public policy director.

A shutdown wouldn’t have immediate impact on core functions at Maine’s university and community college systems, according to spokespeople. They’ll be open.

And who probably won’t work? Since LePage hasn’t signed off on plans, we don’t have too many answers, but it’s likely to be the rank-and-file state workforce — many of whom interact often with the public.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap plans to shut nearly his entire department, including closing Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices, said Kristen Muszynski, his spokeswoman. Most online services, including vehicle registration and license renewal, would remain available.

One of the bigger impacts of the 1991 shutdown was when the Maine Department of Transportation pulled inspectors and engineers from 100 major highway job sites, which stalled $3 million in work per week, the Associated Press reported at the time.

Maine’s construction industry is “nervous,” especially after work was delayed briefly for some companies in May during a dispute between LePage and Hayes over bonding rules. More delays could happen, but it’s unclear. There would be more impact that we can’t gauge now.

Will the private sector feel any pain otherwise? Yes, in many direct and indirect ways if a shutdown drags on.

Let’s start with the obvious: Employees represented by the Maine State Employees Association will lose wages that generate $2.5 million in daily economic impact, according to an analysis from the liberal Maine Center for Economic Policy, with $944,000 in Kennebec County alone.

Greg Dugal, the CEO of the Maine restaurant and innkeepers associations, called a shutdown “disconcerting,” particularly around the holiday.

And Dana Connors, the president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce who was transportation commissioner in 1991, said businesses could be hurt with delays in functions of government often “taken for granted,” such as licensing or inspections.

“It’s pretty widespread and the impact is pretty intense and far-reaching,” he said.


Protest signs are pictured in SeaTac, Washington just before a march from SeaTac to Seattle aimed at the fast food industry and raising the federal minimum wage and Seattle's minimum wage to $15 per hour Dec. 5, 2013.

The $15 minimum wage is working just fine

“Until you start seeing low-income people in Seattle and around the country taking to the streets to demand lower minimum wages, don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.”

Published June 28, 2017, at 9:08 a.m.     |    

The $15 minimum wage is working just fine

Posted June 28, 2017, at 9:08 a.m.
Last modified July 02, 2017, at 3:02 p.m.

When Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant and workers in the Fight for $15 were negotiating an increase in Seattle’s minimum wage back in 2014, opponents of their effort warned — as minimum wage opponents often do — that paying low-wage workers too much too soon would have harmful economic consequences. Two years after Seattle began increasing its minimum wage — for most businesses with 500 or more employees, it’s headed to $15 per hour next year — Seattle’s economy is as strong as ever. The Seattle unemployment rate in April, for example, was 2.6 percent, the lowest it has been in nine years. Yet, the release of a new study this week from a group of researchers at the University of Washington has brought opponents of minimum wage increases out of the woodwork again.

One would do well to dismiss these naysayers. The new study’s findings are out of step with a large body of research pertinent to Seattle’s minimum wage increase, and the study has important limitations. Another recent study without those limitations, from Michael Reich, Sylvia Allegretto and Anna Godoey at the University of California at Berkeley, is more consistent with other research and shows that Seattle’s minimum wage is having its intended effects. The Berkeley study also squares with the lived experiences of people across the country who overwhelmingly support making businesses provide fairer pay for a hard day’s work.

So what did the University of Washington team find, and why isn’t it a big deal?

Using confidential payroll data from the Washington Employment Security Department, the researchers compare employment, hours and wages of workers in Seattle and various other parts of Washington both before and after Seattle began raising its minimum wage. They argue that Seattle’s minimum wage increase reduced the total hours worked by Seattle’s low-wage workforce by about 9 percent. They also contend the increase raised low-wage workers’ wages by only about 3 percent, implying the costs of this wage hike outweighed its benefits for these workers.

But the idea that raising the minimum wage has a much larger effect on hours than on wages strains credulity, especially since, as economists Ben Zipperer and John Schmitt have noted, Seattle’s increase “is within the range of increases that other research has found to have had little to no effect on employment.” The study also finds that the minimum wage caused large employment and hours gains in higher-wage jobs, which suggests that its “methodology fails to account properly for the booming Seattle labor market during the period studied.” It’s not entirely clear why the University of Washington team gets such a weird result — since their data isn’t public, we can’t check it — but it’s worth noting at least two important issues with their study.

First, their data exclude workers at businesses that have more than one location; in other words, while workers at a standalone mom-and-pop restaurant show up in their results, workers at Starbucks and McDonald’s don’t. Nearly 40 percent of workers in Washington state work at multi-location businesses, and since Seattle’s minimum wage increase has been larger at large businesses than at small ones — right now, a worker at a company with more than 500 employees is guaranteed $13.50 per hour, while a worker at a company with fewer than 500 employees is guaranteed only $11 per hour — these workers’ exclusion from the study’s results is an especially germane problem (note that low-wage workers in Seattle have had an incentive to switch from small firms to large firms since the minimum wage started rising). In earlier work, in fact, the University of Washington team’s results were different depending on whether these workers were included in their analysis; including them made the effects of the minimum wage look more positive.

Second, the University of Washington team does not present enough data for us to assess the validity of its “synthetic control” in Washington — that is, the set of areas to which they compare the results they observe in Seattle. The Seattle labor market is not necessarily comparable to other labor markets in the state, and given some of the researchers’ implausible results, it’s hard to believe the comparison group they chose is an appropriate one.

The Berkeley researchers take a better approach. They construct the synthetic control in their study using an algorithm that matches Seattle with counties across the United States that are similar in terms of population size and a variety of economic characteristics. They use a publicly available data set — the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages — and include multi-location businesses in their analysis. They find much more plausible estimates of Seattle’s minimum wage increase on worker wages — each 10 percent increase in Seattle’s minimum wage is associated with a 2.3 percent increase in wages at limited-service restaurants in their study, for instance — and no statistically significant employment effects. (Each 10 percent minimum wage increase is associated with a smaller wage increase in the restaurant industry overall, possibly because Seattle restaurants have been making use of a new subminimum wage for tipped workers that lawmakers should eliminate.)

That doesn’t mean that nobody in Seattle will ever lose a job, of course, or that the University of Washington team’s research doesn’t merit further exploration. But it does mean that the Seattle minimum wage increase, like every minimum wage increase in American history, has lifted the wages of low-wage workers and been perfectly fine for the economy. Until you start seeing low-income people in Seattle and around the country taking to the streets to demand lower minimum wages, don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.

Ben Spielberg, a Teach For America alum and former member of the Executive Board of the San Jose Teachers Association, works on issues related to inequality, economic opportunity, and full employment with Jared Bernstein at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


A woman looks at a roller coaster sitting in the ocean after Hurricane Sandy, in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on Nov. 28, 2012. The roller coaster was on part of a pier that collapsed in the storm; climate change could contribute to such storms becoming more frequent.

Sea level rise isn’t just happening, it’s getting faster

In at least the third such study published in the past year, scientists have confirmed seas are rising, and the rate of sea level rise is increasing as time passes.

Published June 27, 2017, at 7:52 a.m.     |    

Sea level rise isn’t just happening, it’s getting faster

Posted June 27, 2017, at 7:52 a.m.
Last modified June 30, 2017, at 11:33 a.m.

In at least the third such study published in the past year, scientists have confirmed seas are rising, and the rate of sea level rise is increasing as time passes — a sobering punchline for coastal communities that are only now beginning to prepare for a troubling future.

[ Scientists say the rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled since 1990]

What was a 2.2 millimeter per year rise in 1993 was a 3.3 millimeter rise in 2014, based on estimates of the mass changes of a number of key components of sea level rise, such as the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the study in Nature Climate Change found. That’s the difference between 0.86 and 1.29 inches per decade – and the researchers suggest further sea level acceleration could be in store.

The chief cause of the acceleration was the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which went from contributing less than 5 percent of all sea level rise in 1993 to contributing more than 25 percent in 2014, the study found. The loss of ice in Antarctica and smaller glaciers over the same time period also contributed to quicker sea level rise.

The increase in the rate of sea level rise “highlights the importance and urgency of mitigating climate change and formulating coastal adaptation plans to mitigate the impacts of ongoing sea level rise,” write Xianyao Chen of the Ocean University of China and Qingdao National Laboratory of Marine Science and Technology, and colleagues. Chen’s co-authors hailed from institutions in China, Australia and the United States.

“We understand why the sea level is accelerating and we’re understanding what the components are contributing,” Christopher Harig, one of the study’s authors and a researcher at the University of Arizona, said.

Earlier this year, a different group of researchers found sea level rise was only about 1.1 millimeters per year before 1990, whereas in the period between 1993 through 2012 it was 3.1 millimeters per year. NASA, at present, puts the rate of sea level rise at 3.4 millimeters per year.

But while the individual estimates differ, the broader picture is that researchers generally agree that the rate of sea level rise is increasing – and that this will have major consequences for coastal regions, which will have less time to adapt if sea level rise acceleration continues.

“I think it’s gotten to the point where the observation is pretty robust,” Harig said.

In the latest paper, researchers re-examined the recent satellite record to derive a clearer picture of sea level rise acceleration and considered each of the individual components of sea level rise, which make up the so-called sea level “budget.” They then found that the different parts of the budget matched up well with measurements of sea level change taken by satellite altimeters over the past two decades.

“We’ve known the bottom line total sea level change over the last couple decades, and we’ve known the individual components on a year-by-year basis,” Bob Kopp, a Rutgers University sea level expert who was not involved in the study but is familiar with the work, said. “We’ve known the two match up pretty well. The authors show that, when you look a bit more sharply at the year-to-year total, it’s quite close to the total of the individual components. The sums work, not just on average but in each year. This increases confidence in the overall result.”

The key components of sea level rise in this equation include thermal expansion of ocean water as it heats up – previously the dominant component but, as the study notes, not any more – and the melting of Greenland, Antarctica and smaller glaciers distributed across the globe. Finally, there is terrestrial water storage or loss if, due to rainfall or other factors, the continents end up storing more water on their surfaces, or alternatively, lose it to the ocean.

The new study finds that losses of ice, and from Greenland in particular, are now becoming a bigger contributor to sea level rise than thermal expansion. And it notes rather pointedly that this contrasts with what the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the top authority on climate science, predicted would unfold across the course of the century in 2013. The more Greenland and Antarctica contribute to sea level rise, the higher it can go, since these are the two largest sources of land-based ice on the planet.

For coastal communities, Harig said, the significance of the paper is that there’s no way to avoid the reality that sea level rise acceleration, which was already expected to occur based on scientific projections, is now here.

“It’s no longer a projection, it’s now an observation,” he said. “It’s not something that they can continue to put off into the future.”