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. You see, 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 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.

Remember That Thing I Wrote

Woman pouring alcohol from a cane into her Coca-Cola.
Library of Congress, 1922

Here’s a blast from the past: I just learned the entry I wrote on the Prohibition of Alcohol for the Cato Institute’s Encyclopedia of Libertarianism was put online last summer. Way back in 2008, I was asked to contribute a thousand words on the subject as a result of an article I had written in Reason on Prohibition in and around New York City, but until now the Encyclopedia was only available in very expensive print.

America’s discomfort with alcohol developed in the mid-19th century. Previously, alcoholic beverages were an established facet of American society: George Washington operated a whiskey distillery, Thomas Jefferson dabbled in viticulture, and Samuel Adams had his brewery. Hard cider and rum enjoyed mass appeal, and rum was a common barter item in the cash-strapped New World. Even religiously rigid groups such as the Puritans and the Quakers stressed moderation rather than abstinence.

Not long after the book was published, I read a review of it on a libertarian website which spent a disproportionate amount of pixels criticizing my entry. The issue lay in my very different interpretation of how Prohibition’s repeal came about in 1933. The standard libertarian narrative states that repeal occurred once politicians realized they stood to make more money by taxing alcohol rather than banning it, and therefore as rational actors they responded to market incentives and re-legalized booze, albeit under heavy regulatory control.

It’s true there were some politicians at the time who justified repeal to their constituents with such logic, but the real story is a lot more messy and, frankly, human. While in the beginning Prohibition was popular among certain groups of Americans, opinion had turned against it by the end of the 1920s, mainly because of its association with crime and violence. Arguably the biggest turning point was the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of seven gangsters in Chicago, which seems quaint considering how habituated we are today to an endless stream of violence, imprisonments, and overdoses in the name of the War on Drugs.

By 1932 — an election year — politicians had jumped upon the issue, which (if you read my entry) ranked higher in people’s minds than the economic crisis. At the Republican convention, Herbert Hoover, who was a staunch temperance man, refused to buckle to overwhelming public pressure for all-out repeal, so as a compromise the Republicans chose a “moist” platform, which called for the legalization of beer and wine but a continued prohibition of hard spirits. Like most compromises, this satisfied no one; the American public wanted full repeal while the Anti-Saloon League and their acolytes wanted to stay the course.

The Democratic convention followed afterwards. Seizing the opportunity, Democrats voted on a full repeal platform, and a group of them opposed to presidential contender Al Smith (who was Catholic and had enemies within the party) offered the nomination to Franklin Roosevelt, Jr. on the condition that he switch his stance from dry to wet. FDR was never one to let personal principles interfere with his ambition and flipped on the spot. Of course, he won the 1932 election, and before the end of his first year in office, the 21st Amendment had been ratified by the necessary 36 states.

I learned long ago to ignore that certain stripe of economist-slash-libertarian who assumes people are automatons single-mindedly programmed to chase dollar bills. My experience in anthropology and history has taught me that while, yes, humans are generally rational, the internal code that dictates that rationality is often a mix of fear, love, sex, vengeance, and a whole host of emotions beyond a simple appetite for monetary advantage. A man who pushes his child out of the path of a runaway car is not motivated by his economic desire to avoid hospital bills.

Anyway, I’m glad to see my entry finally made available to the wider world, even if its dated style has far too many thuses and therefores. Weren’t we just talking about writers being embarrassed by older work?

Wide Wide Sea

Weirdbook 37This morning I woke to the news that the latest issue of Weirdbook is now available. The issue includes my story “Wide Wide Sea,” wherein humanity has fled under the waves due to an unspecified cataclysm on the Earth’s surface. Also, because I wrote it, there’s ghosts.

“My mother,” says the sailor, “I saw my mother.” And he proceeds to explain to Dupont, in an unsteady tone that grows stronger and higher through the telling, that as he proceeded along the passage on his way to retrieve two washers and a nut to fix a corroded container bolt, he was stopped in his tracks by the apparition of his dead parent before him. She regarded him squarely with an expression the sailor could not exactly define but which he takes great pains to describe, then turned away to walk forward and vanish through the locker door. When he opened the locker, the sailor made his discovery.

“Wide Wide Sea” developed from the recognition that all post-apocalyptic fiction (which I’ve been reading a lot of lately) more than a few years old is a kind of alternate history. Post-apoc by definition pinpoints a catastrophe in time, whether it’s in the past, present, or future. During the Cold War, the apocalypse was going to be nuclear annihilation or alien invasion; nowadays we’re anxious about pandemics and AI and climate change. When invariably that apocalypse fails to pass, the work molts into a kind of retro-futurism, leading not into what-could-be but rather branching into what-could’ve-been.

With that realization in hand, I imagined what events in the 19th century might have precipitated a global apocalypse (I know what happened — do you?), and then fast-forwarded to the early years of the 20th century to paint a story of submerged survival. With ghosts.

And look at that cover art! I have no idea what’s going on there — it’s not from “Wide Wide Sea” — but man is that a great scene of tentacley horror and gloom. It reminds me of my days writing for Dungeon, so evocative of dangerous quests through the hex-map swamps. I don’t know who the artist is, but damn.

You can order a hard copy of Weirdbook 37 at Wildside Press’s site. You can also pick it up at Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

Cyber Funday

Over at Amazon I’m running a promotion where I’m giving away ten free copies of The Dead Ride Fast between now and midnight on Monday, November 27.

It’s 100-percent free. Doesn’t cost you a thing.

Want a copy? The best part is you don’t have to jump through any hoops. You don’t have to subscribe to my newsletter or retweet me or tell me my kids are cute. All you gotta do is go over to Amazon and click away.

Afterwards if you feel inclined to leave a review or award it a few stars on Amazon or Goodreads, I’d appreciate it.

Click here for a free copy of The Dead Ride Fast. Did I mention it’s free? Because it’s free. It’s a free e-book. Free!

The Dead: Now Riding Even Faster!

The Dead Ride Fast is now available on Smashwords and through a number of e-book retailers, including the iTunes bookstore.

I was reluctant to list The Dead Ride Fast with Smashwords and didn’t include it in my original marketing plan for the book, instead choosing to upload directly to each individual site. The price for maximum control was convenience, but as previously noted, control has been my overriding goal from the start.

Smashwords markets itself toward the, shall we say, less technically skilled e-book publisher. Their process uses a Word doc as the basis of an e-book, which it then transmutes into an epub via proprietary software called Meatgrinder before distributing it to retailers. As there is no way on God’s green earth you can produce a svelte, 100-percent functional ebook from a Word doc, I initially refused to consider Smashwords as a venue.

However, upon failing to list The Dead Ride Fast on the iTunes store, I reconsidered Smashwords as an end-run around Apple’s cumbersome process, and after some snooping I discovered you can upload a finished epub of your own making to Smashwords, thereby bypassing the Word/Meatgrinder channel. The only downside is that homemade epubs have to pass a manual inspection for compliance, which (I think) the Meatgrinder products don’t have to endure. That inspection delayed availability for a few days but was hardly a dealbreaker.

Once an e-book is accepted by Smashwords they blast it to practically every e-book retailer on the planet, so if you prefer some other store beyond Amazon, it’s probably available. For a full listing, head over to The Dead Ride Fast page on Goodreads and shop away. Don’t forget to leave a review there or anywhere else! Five stars are a writer’s bread.

You may also notice some shiny updates around this site, including a fresh author photo and a brand new contact page. Too shy to leave a public comment? Feel free to reach out in a non-creepy way by sending a DM! Or even reach out in a creepy way. ‘Tis the season, after all.