Sunday, August 4, 2019

Senate adjourned without action on election security, disappointing Maine leaders

As Senate, House, and the former special counsel all underscored that U.S. election systems are under attack by Russia and other nefarious actors, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked bipartisan bills to address the problem.

Now the Senate is on recess for five weeks, pretty much ensuring states won't be able to upgrade their voting machines and other sensitive equipment before the 2020 election. In the Portland Press Herald, I report on how Maine's top elections official -- Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who served on Trump's ill-fated voter fraud commission -- and US Senators reacted.

Senator Angus King, I-Maine -- who serves on the Senate intelligence committee -- has been banging the gong on this issue for the past two years. Here's what he's previously said, and more here.

For Dunlap's experiences with the "election integrity" commission -- which refused to take up the issue of Russian interference -- start here.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

American Nations becomes a Wall Street Journal Bestseller

Last week, my fourth book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, made the Wall Street Journal bestseller list for the first time, eight years after its initial release. For the week ending July 20, it made #7 on the Non-fiction e-book list. (If you don't subscribe, other papers publish this list.)

The book also made #106 on the USA Today Bestseller List for all types of books and editions.

As you will likely surmise, most of the sales were e-books and, since the New York Times doesn't have a category for that, it didn't make the grey lady's lists, alas. (My publisher, at least, requires three national lists before bestowing the title "National Bestseller.")

Thanks to everyone who bought an e-book last week, or any edition at any time really!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey discovers American Nations

I'm on Twitter quite a lot because, for better or worse, its the news media's nervous system and I'm in the news media. So I was surprised and pleased earlier this month when @Jack himself -- Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter -- piped up with this:

He probably hasn't seen my response -- I don't have a blue check -- but I said I'd love to do an analytical collaboration using the American Nations model and Twitter data. So, Jack, if you're listening, drop me a DM.

Dorsey's is the third famous person to plug American Nations in a Tweet in recent months, and I suspect this is the only book to receive praise from this particular trio, the other two being Jeff Daniels and Glenn Beck.

Meanwhile, at this writing, Amazon has the Kindle edition of the book on special for $1.99, for those who, unlike me, don't mind reading books on screen.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

How Gov. LePage spent his final year in office

Maine's erstwhile governor, Paul LePage, often tried to keep his travels secret, even taxpayer-funded trips, like his stays at the Trump International Hotel in Washington or his trade mission to Montenegro last summer, which wasn't disclosed to Maine's media until after it was underway.

So as soon as he left office, I requested his entire calendar for 2018 via a public records request. It took four months to get it -- and two more months to secure supporting materials on some of the trips -- so it's only now, a half year into a new administration that the public can learn what previous governors would have told them ahead of time.

A summary of what the documents revealed appeared in yesterday's Portland Press Herald, and is available online here.

For more on how shortcomings with Maine's public records laws allow public officials to thwart transparency, consider this piece from January.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Six years after lawmakers reverse ban, alewives have banner run in St. Croix River

For seven years now, I've reported on the strange saga of the alewives of the St. Croix River, which forms the border between the US and Canada in eastern Maine and southwestern New Brunswick.

They're the key forage food fish of the river system and near-coastal ocean, but back in 1995, the Maine legislature decided to order the fishways closed to them in the St. Croix, on the behest of guides for smallmouth bass, an introduced species they feared would be harmed by the native fish (an assertion lacking in compelling scientific evidence.)

In 2013 -- under heavy lobbying by everyone from the U.S. and Canadian federal governments to the Passamaquoddy tribe and Maine lobster fishermen --  lawmakers finally repealed the law and the fishways were reopened.

Now, six years on, the river's alewives have seen a record run -- nearly half a million fish, or double 2018's level and five thousand times the 2002 run of 900. I had the story in Monday's Portland Press Herald.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Leaving the Writing Cave

Regular readers may have noticed I've been relatively quiet for the past six months. The reason: I've been feverishly finishing a new book -- more on that later -- with little time to so much as keep up with my e-mail.

On Friday, however, I finally submitted the manuscript to my publisher and am able to leave my writing cave, squinting in the light of day, and able to read things unrelated to the nineteenth and early twentieth century fight over American nationhood. I've got a few interesting projects already lined up, so please watch this space.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Jeff Daniels discovers American Nations

Jeff Daniels has been driving sell out crowds to New York's Shubert Theater to see his performance of Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin's new adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird. Parade Magazine, that insert in what remains of America's Sunday newspapers, interviewed him for this past Sunday's cover profile.

It's a compelling profile on a timely topic -- Atticus Finch is a lawyer defending a falsely accused black man in 1930s Alabama -- and a worthwhile read. But the self-interested reason I'm talking about it here is, at the end, he's asked his "Fave Read." His answer: American Nations. "It's fascinating," he says in what are the last lines of the feature. "It's all about how this country developed and why we are the way we are. We've never been one nation under God. It was always 11 nations."

Daniels first mentioned my book in a tweet  November 4th -- in fact, the title was the only thing the tweet said. The play opened December 13th, so I want to imagine he picked it up while thinking about regionalism and the Deep South of the 1930s. Or maybe he just wanted an escape. Either way, thanks Jeff for the kind plug.

Politically minded television viewers will remember Daniels' famous speech in the pilot to Sorkin's television series, The Newsroom, where he plays a Yankee Republican distressed about the direction of the country, his party and all.

For contrast, the last celebrity to go out of their way to mention the book was the idiosyncratic Glenn Beck.