Thursday, August 29, 2019

In France

I've been in France this week. I can't say too much about it, except that it involved a television shoot, the Museum of the Freemasons in Paris, and maybe something about a pirate treasure. More on this in the months to come.

[Update, 3/14/20: That's Josh Gates on my left, host of Discovery Channel's Expedition Unknown, who was preparing to head off to the Indian Ocean to try to find the pirate Olivier La Buse's purported treasure. The show, Season 8, Episode 6 -- "The Fortune of the Buzzard" -- premiered on Mar. 11 and can be found at Amazon Prime, your cable streaming service, and other outlets.]

Along the way, however, I discovered this brilliant contraption in a rural train station in Champagne, which I can share with abandon. Here is a country that takes cultural production seriously.

Also: it's strange to see Notre Dame in darkness, all approaches closed off for a block around, including bridges, plaza, and subway entrances. A catastrophe, that fire was.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

In Maine, study finds cruise ship passengers spend about half as much as previously claimed

Last year, I wrote a series for the Portland Press Herald exploring how Maine communities can balance the costs and benefits of cruise ship tourism, an issue that had already exploded into public controversies in Bar Harbor, Rockland, and several smaller ports.

One focal point was how much cruise ship passengers actually spend ashore, particularly in Portland, where the only existing study was rather a mess, probably inflating the numbers by 100 percent.

That issue came up again this month with the release of a state-sponsored study of passenger spending that found each spent not $109 to $110, but rather $61-and-change. I wrote about this in Monday's Press Herald, with reaction from municipal officials and response from the state's cruise industry office and the author of the previous studies in Maine. Hope you enjoy.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Sinclair directs local TV stations across the country, including Maine's WGME, to promote Trump campaign merch

Sinclair Broadcasting, the conservative Maryland-based company that's the largest owner of local television stations in the country, this month directed its stations to publish "news articles" promoting Trump campaign merchandise.

The articles, which were published and promoted (via Tweets) by Maine's WGME-13, have no sources and read much like a product catalog entry. Some stations linked directly to the Trump campaign's internet store product pages. Proceeds from campaign merchandise sales are used to fund the political campaign. I reported about this in Tuesday's Portland Press Herald.

It's not the first media ethics controversy involving Sinclair and WGME. I wrote about a scripted spot attacking alleged "fake news" broadcast by other news organizations last fall.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Trump's "judge whisperer" buys Maine mansion, hosts fundraiser for Susan Collins

In this past week's Maine Sunday Telegram, I have the story of how Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society and the man credited with pre-selecting Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and other conservative justices for the Supreme Court, bought a mansion on Maine's Mount Desert Island and held a fundraiser for Senator Susan Collins.

It features C. Boyden Grey (who co-hosted the Collins fundraiser Aug. 8 and serves on the Federalist Society board) and the Knights of Malta (a Catholic order that has many of the attributes of a sovereign state, including 108 embassies, postage stamps, passports, coins and a seat at the United Nations) and even the W.R. Grace company (the one featured in the book and movie "A Civil Action.")

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.