The Road to the Senate Is Paved With Lawsuits

Over at the Yankee Institute I have an article on HB 7222, a bill currently sitting before the Joint Committee on Judiciary which would enlarge the powers of Connecticut’s attorney general, William Tong, to take action in civil-rights cases.

In the aftermath of last summer’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling by the US Supreme Court — in which the court sided with the baker who refused to create a cake for a gay wedding — Tong promised on the campaign trail to create a civil-rights division at the AG’s office. …

HB 7222, if made into a law as written, would allow the attorney general to investigate allegations that someone has threatened, intimidated, or coerced somebody else from exercising their civil rights. This would include criminal acts of bias or bigotry, all of which are felonies in Connecticut.

While I don’t object to the AG opening a civil-rights division, I’m very worried about the draconian language specific to HB 7222, which robs the accused of due process and puts them on the hook financially the minute the AG initiates an action. I won’t repeat those criticisms here; instead, you can read my article at Yankee.

The biggest violator of civil rights is government, full stop. It was government that enforced Jim Crow; it was government that refused to acknowledge gay marriages. If a baker doesn’t make me a cake for my gay wedding, I have multiple avenues of recourse: I can file a complaint with our Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and/or I can simply go to another bakery. But when the violator is government itself, I have little relief except through their own courts.

From justice reform to overworked and underfunded public defenders, there’s plenty of civil-rights beef in this state for a hungry AG to chase. However, I’m skeptical that Tong is interested in taking on government bodies, which is why I worry about the bill’s language — it’s aimed at private citizens or companies who rouse his ire, not at municipalities or public bureaucracies.

While writing the story, I kept asking the AG’s spokeswoman what kinds of actions Tong was interested in taking if the bill passed. Would there suddenly be a crackdown on bigoted bakeries? Or would he sue the police departments of municipalities cooperating with ICE in tracking the whereabouts of illegal immigrants, as was revealed last week by the ACLU? In other words, was he planning to sue private citizens or take action against government nonfeasance or malfeasance? She didn’t answer my question, but instead told me the AG would do so himself in his testimony before the Joint Committee, which occurred on Friday.

Reading Tong’s testimony (pdf) has only slightly mollified my concerns. In it, he cites several recent incidents as examples his office would investigate:

The Islamic Center in New London receives fake poison in the mail, or Klansmen ride in Stafford Springs.

African-American and Latinx people in Hartford are denied safe, quality housing while the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development sits on its hands.

Immigrants in our cities and towns are subjected to large-scale, systematic wage theft.

Connecticut residents with disabilities fear being pushed out of jobs because a big box store has decided to reclassify their position without accommodation.

Somebody sending poison, fake or otherwise, through the mail is a straight-up crime. Keep in mind that in Connecticut, there’s a strict division of responsibility between the attorney general, who pursues civil actions, and the chief state’s attorney, who prosecutes criminal charges, so this case would fall squarely under the latter’s jurisdiction. Moreover, terrorism through the mail is a federal crime and the Postal Inspection Service would be all over this long before the AG arrived on the scene. I don’t see what Tong could do beyond sue the culprit who should already be in prison.

As for the Klan incident, it was hardly a “ride.” Police suspect it was a handful of dumb teenagers at a party. Tong might as well sue the governor of Virginia while he’s at it.

The other three examples are more relevant, although it’s still unclear what action Tong would take in each of those cases. Sue HUD? Sue the feds to bring about immigration reform, so that more immigrants are legalized and thereby on the books? Again, no answers. Keeping a close eye on Walmart is probably the only thing Tong and I agree on.

More instructive, however, are the five cases Tong further lists in which state attorney generals — armed with the same kind of power granted by HB 7222 — won civil-rights victories, most of them through settlements rather than through the courts. The opponent in each case he mentions is a private company or institution.

Which I think is the clearest answer I’m gonna get. Tong isn’t interested in suing police departments cooperating with ICE. He isn’t interested in suing HUD or the Department of Homeland Security. He’s looking to sue companies.

And it’s not a bad strategy when you consider Tong’s long game. Tong clearly has ambitions for national office: he ran for Lieberman’s senate seat in 2012, only to lose to Chris Murphy in the primary. Our other senator, Richard Blumenthal, is 73. Winning settlements against big companies is a great way for Tong to build his brand and increase name recognition for the day when Blumenthal’s seat comes up for grabs. After all, it worked for Blumenthal himself, who forged his career with consumer-protection victories as our state attorney general.

The Latest

Over at the Yankee Institute blog, I interviewed Frank Cortese, operations manager for a Greenwich-based fuel and energy company, who said the installation of tolls on Connecticut’s highways would cost him more than $57,000 during the winter months and maybe even $72,000 a year — a cost he will pass down to his customers.

Separately I also reported on a bipartisan movement to eliminate Connecticut’s Business Entity Tax, which is a tax businesses pay simply because they, well, exist.

Slashing Prices

The Dead Ride FastToday marks the thirteen-month anniversary of the release of The Dead Ride Fast! 1 To celebrate, I’ve cut the price over at Amazon to a low and loco $0.99 for the e-book.

If you haven’t already picked up my collection of six strange westerns, now’s the time. That’s less than 17¢ per story!

Why am I doing this after thirteen months? Simple — no number is scarier than thirteen! 2 Also, it’s Halloween season AND today is the release of the much anticipated Red Dead Redemption 2 — so if you like the taste of spoopy peanut butter mixed in with your western chocolate, you’ll love The Dead Ride Fast. 3

This special anniversary edition features improved formatting in the manuscript text 4 and a slightly altered cover, now at a skinny 1:1.6 size ratio.

So if you enjoy short stories about outlaws, Laplace’s demon, lost Native American civilizations, existential loneliness, haunted silver mines, being condemned to freedom, or just a dude who smokes ground-up mummies in his pipe, mosey on over to Amazon and grab a copy.

As always, if you liked the book please leave a review at Amazon or the social-media site of your choice, 5 and thank you for your support! 6


1 Technically, no. When I initially uploaded the mobi file to Amazon, I did it a week prior to the public announcement so I could stamp out any bugs first.

2 The timing is completely unintentional. I couldn’t get my shit together last month.

3 Again, I wish I was that organized. I learned about RDR2‘s release yesterday.

4 Mainly I eliminated the breaks between paragraphs. I’m so used to working with HTML that originally I thought the e-book text was too crowded and bunched up without them, but after a year’s reconsideration I decided to switch to a more conventional format.

5 A positive review at Amazon or Goodreads would be helpful.

6 Did you know Bartles & Jaymes is still a thing? It is!

A Different Sunlight

Nightscript, Volume 4C.M. Muller’s fourth volume of Nightscript has hit the streets and it features a contribution of mine, “A Different Sunlight.” The story concerns a boy in northern England whose father attempts to develop a machine that can construct entire homes from scratch.

Randall’s father was proud of a particular innovation he developed. The new concrete ties were not prefabricated but rather poured into place by the machine using rebar and quick-drying cement. The possibilities of these materials soon seized the father’s imagination; he became distant and preoccupied at meals, given to odd remarks about what seemed to Randall as random news events or statements of fact: the Great Fire of Newcastle in ’54, or the lack of housing for the country’s exploding population, or of the cheapness and abundance of concrete itself. Then, after weeks of midnights spent at his drawing table surrounded by reams of tea-ringed paper, he emerged with plans for a machine even greater than the company’s steel snail chugging over the mountains.

Think of it, Randall, he said as he stabbed at various lines and shapes on the whiteprints, A machine that can build a house.

As might be expected, events turn out unexpectedly.

What’s funny is that when I wrote the story, I believed I had concocted the idea of one-piece cement houses from my imagination alone — I fancied a giant steampunk 3D printer, maybe scuttling around on mechanical spider legs, printing houses with concrete. Turns out that none other than Thomas Edison was way ahead of me, and while his houses weren’t created by a single machine, his motives were very similar to those of Randall’s father:

During this period, Edison also came up with the idea for building homes out of cast-in-place concrete. … In theory, this would result in a whole new kind of home with various benefits: fireproof, insect-proof, easy to clean, and at a very affordable $1,200 per house. Edison saw this as a potential solution for cities with housing shortages, allowing people to move from slums to cheap new residential areas of poured concrete houses.

Great minds, am i rite?

Nightscript, Volume 4 features stories by 20 other authors as well, including terrific writers like Steve Rasnic Tem and V.H. Leslie (who also appeared with me in issue 31 of Black Static, way back in 2012). It’s available at Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

The Land of Steady Hazards

Longtime readers may have noticed that in recent months I’ve dialed down my griping about the state of Connecticut on this blog.

Because why give away the milk for free! Over at the Yankee Institute, I’ve been turning my criticisms into hard currency with a series of spitballs aimed at Hartford.

To wit:

Most economists agree that while raising minimum wages benefits a majority of workers, some jobs are lost no matter how small the increase. A paper by a DC think tank duplicated the methodology of a similar Congressional Budget Office study and found that those job losses affect young, unskilled entry-level workers, thereby disproportionately hitting the workforce in already struggling cities like Bridgeport and Hartford. The study suggests that governments can aid low-income workers without jeopardizing any jobs by instead expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. I didn’t know this when I wrote the piece, but in 2011 Connecticut cut the state EITC to 25 percent of the federal credit, down from 30 percent.

Just last week I wrote about how CT’s Department of Labor mandates that employers report all new hires to the state within 20 days. The state even has a website telling you how to do it: just print out a form and either mail or fax it in. That’s right, unless you’re willing to use the state’s hyper-complicated FTP format, there’s no way to send the information online because the website hasn’t worked for at least three years. Instead you must send a piece of paper to Hartford, where presumably somebody manually punches it into a database. Connecticut — the land of tomorrow!

But my favorite so far has been a piece of investigative journalism in which I reported the state gave $5 million to a Wall Street company to move from White Plains to Stamford. With companies like Aetna and General Electric routinely abandoning Connecticut for more salubrious shores, Malloy’s Department of Economic and Community Development has been throwing corporate welfare at anybody with more than two house elves on the payroll if they’ll move to CT or, if they’re already here, just simply stay put. In this case, the DECD handed out a $1 million grant and a $4 million loan to a company called FSC CT, of which only $1 million had to be paid back.

Except it turns out the guy running FSC CT, Leonard Tannenbaum, was a crook:

In October 2014, Tannenbaum went public with an IPO for Fifth Street Asset Management, a company which in turn invested in two other publicly traded companies he also started, Fifth Street Finance (FSC) and Fifth Street Floating Rate Corp. (FSFR). Both FSC and FSFR were business development companies (BDCs), financial instruments that offer loans to small and mid-sized businesses.

On the eve of the IPO, Tannenbaum owned 94 percent of FSAM, raising the value of his shares to $684 million once it went public.

Yet not long after the IPO, FSC revealed that many of its loans to businesses were considered nonaccrual loans, meaning they couldn’t generate interest because the borrowers hadn’t been paying them back and were in danger of default. On top of that, FSC had been overpaying fees to FSAM.

A bunch of lawsuits and one SEC investigation later, the whole pyramid collapsed, burying at least $2 million of the loan irretrievably. The state will probably never see the $1 million grant again either.

There’s more of my work to come at the Yankee Institute. In the meantime, Yay, Connecticut!

The Privateers of Black Rock Harbor

On Wednesday, May 30 I’ll be giving a presentation at the Fairfield Museum and History Center on the privateers that sailed in and out of Black Rock Harbor.

There’s a fine line between a pirate and a privateer — and it’s as thin as a piece of paper issued by the government. Come hear how such Fairfield luminaries as Thaddeus Burr, Samuel Smedley, and Caleb Brewster as well as many other “gentlemen of fortune” banded together to attack the British on the high seas during the Revolutionary War.

I’ll talk about the differences between privateers, pirates, and traditional navies; how the booty from captured ships was divided not only between the owners and the crew but between the officers and sailors themselves (a scheme that relates back to the Golden Age of Piracy); and how many of the privateers in Black Rock didn’t sail aboard large ships but rather hunted in wolf packs of armed whaleboats.

The lunchtime presentation starts at 12:30pm. Full details here.