Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Right whales in crisis: speeding ships and missing calves

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 19, 2018

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

Only now that plan has been dumped.

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

Details in the story.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on the voter fraud commission, start here.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Big in Japan: American Nations, now in Japanese

Just as my son's first grade class was embarking on a unit on Japan a couple weeks ago, what should arrive at our front door but a package from Tokyo containing the handsome new Japanese edition of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.

Publishers Iwanami Shoten took particular care in creating their edition, which appears in two hardcover volumes, even asking if I could write an updated, Trump Age introduction for the Japanese audience, which I was delighted to do. Co-translator Yoshio Higomoto and was a pleasure to work with. The book looks to have been published in mid-October, though I missed that at the time.

Funny enough, the only other foreign language edition of American Nations is Geulhangari Publishers' Korean edition, and a simplified Chinese edition is coming soon. Northeast Asia leads the way....

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


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sen. Collins under fire from liberals, centrists after tax reform vote

Senator Collins' support of the Republicans' controversial tax reform bill has tarnished her reputation with liberals and centrists, experts told me for this week's story in the Maine Sunday Telegram, but it shouldn't have come as a surprise.

I talked to political scientists in Maine and across the country about how here vote matched with her long expressed principles about the importance of the legislative process, protecting health care, and the deficit. Fairly well, was the answer, in that she's always been for cutting taxes and, within that context, saw her role as mitigating some of the side effects of the legislation. Read on to see why they - and her spokesperson - say so.

None doubted, however, that this vote may well represent a parting of the ways between non-Republicans and a senator who was last reelected in a very purple state with 67 percent of the vote.

In February I did a detailed story on Collins' new, uncomfortable  role as a potential check on the Trump administration, and in April, I had this analysis of Collins' voting pattern over her tenure as Senator. Since then she briefly became a hero to at least non-Republicans in Maine when she opposed her party's uncertain repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but appears to have lost those supporters now.