Monday, March 30, 2015


           It's taken me a few minutes to get my head wrapped around this one... I was under the mistaken impression that we didn't do this sort of thing in civilized countries anymore.  But then, who says the Tennessee criminal justice system is civilized?

           A report out of Nashville confirms that prosecutors in the district attorney's office have coerced defendants to undergo sterilization procedures in order to lessen the severity of their sentences.  The most recent case involves a 36 year-old woman with a long history of mental illness who fled a homeless shelter in Arkansas with her newborn child to come to Nashville.  She awoke in a Nashville motel five days later and found the baby unresponsive in the bed beside her, then waited two hours to take the child by taxi to a local hospital where the infant was declared dead.   Details from the article follow:

There was no sign of injury, and the cause of death was undetermined.

Police later learned that in 2004, Randers stabbed herself in the stomach while pregnant, though the fetus was not harmed. She told investigators that it happened when she fell down the stairs while cutting fruit.

The assistant district attorney who worked the case, Brian Holmgren, is a child prosecutor who speaks around the country, was once a senior attorney with the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse and serves on the international advisory board of the National Center for Shaken Baby Syndrome. He has been both praised and fiercely criticized for his aggressive courtroom tactics on behalf of children.

Harcombe said he previously asked that another client agree to be sterilized in order to get a plea deal. She refused and it didn’t become part of the plea deal reached in that case.

Holmgren did not respond to several messages seeking comment.

Nashville defense attorney Carrie Searcy said Holmgren asked that two of her clients who gave birth to children who tested positive for drugs undergo sterilization. Neither did, Searcy said, because both women had already undergone the procedure.

Assistant public defender Joan Lawson, who also supervises other attorneys, said she also had been involved in cases in which a prosecutor had put sterilization on the table. Lawson said it was typically not an explicit demand, was not an everyday occurrence and was made off the record. Lawson said she refused the idea and resolved her cases without sterilization.

“It’s always been more of ‘If your client is willing to do this, then I might be inclined to talk about probation,'” Lawson said.

This time, when Holmgren insisted Randers ungero sterilization to avoid prison, Harcombe complained to his boss. The district attorney took over the case, and Randers was not sterilized. The prosecutor agreed Randers was mentally ill, and she was institutionalized after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

“Any time a woman is given a choice between prison and this surgery, that is inherently coercive, even in cases where there is no mental illness,” Harcombe said.

             In all fairness, "forced" is not exactly the same as "coerced", though the difference might be a matter of semantics to a defendant eager to avoid serious jail time.

             You might think (as I did) that forced sterilization doesn't happen in America these days, but you'd be wrong.  According to that same report, in 2009, a 21 year-old unmarried mother of three in West Virginia agreed to have her tubes tied as part of her probation after being charged with the distribution of marijuana !  A Virginia man had a vasectomy in exchange for prison time in a child endangerment case there.

              We've apparently not come very far since the first eugenics law was passed in Indiana in 1907, when the sterilization of the "socially inadequate" became popular across the country. In those days it was not uncommon for certain genetic traits to be deemed "defective" (including"feebleminded, insane, criminalistic, epileptic, inebriate, diseased, blind, deaf; deformed; and dependent" – including "orphans, ne'er-do-wells, tramps, the homeless and paupers." 

               So if you're coming to Music City, remember to behave yourself... unless you're looking for a free vasectomy or tubal ligation, in which case, all you have to do is raise enough hell to look like you might be capable of passing along your particular defective gene thread to the next generation of tourists.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


             There has been a lot of speculation that Indiana Governor Mike Pence might be a strong presidential contender, or at least be in line for consideration as a vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket.  A lot of people across the country might not have been aware of Gov. Pence before last Thursday, but they've probably heard of him now.

             "Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith." was how Governor Pence summed up his reasoning for putting his signature on a law that will make it possible for private citizens and business owners to defend themselves from obvious lawsuits and claims of discrimination against gays, lesbians, and transgender people.

                But the Governor doesn't see it as a problem, even as various organizations and businesses consider "opting out" of Indiana for their conventions and annual meetings.  Even the NCAA, based in Indianapolis, has expressed serious misgivings about the new law.

                 But hey, if you want a ticket for the Pander Express, you have to pay a little homage to the knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing troglodyte base of your Party.  And make no mistake about it, Mike Pence has just had his ticket punched.

                 All aboard!  ( " ...'cept you faggy lookin' guys in the back... and you, the chick with the short hair and the androgynous clothes... and especially YOU, since we can't even decide whether you're a 'setter' or a 'pointer' when we watch you headin' toward the bathroom..."

                 But it's all okay, if God says so, right?  

Friday, March 27, 2015

THE NEW OREGON TRAIL: ELIMINATING OBSTACLES IN THE VOTING PROCESS (as red-state legislatures mine the polling place harbors...)

            Are you registered to vote in the next election?  If not, you've probably got some hoop-jumping in front of you.  If you live in a "red" state, you might need to get your papers in order, comrade, because it's not as easy to sign up as it used to be.

            Like the swine flu vaccine, new voter ID laws in Republican leaning states are a cure without a disease.  The premise for these blatant voter suppression tactics is the non-existent threat of voter fraud, a problem so rare it barely registers a blip on statistical reports.  And yet, GOP legislatures all over America have figured out a way to keep millions of likely Democratic voters away from the voting booth by putting up the straw man argument that our precious elections are being stolen from us on a regular basis.  Undocumented immigrants and felons are swarming to the polls on election day to subvert American democracy!  Be afraid, be very afraid!

            While courts have routinely overruled many of these suppression tactics, a lot of them have been ratified into law in crucial swing states.  In fact, so many barriers have been placed in front of the poor, elderly, and students that the outcome of the next election cycle could be radically affected.  Mission accomplished, if you're a Republican and realize your Party's policies can't win on their own merits.

              But while legislatures in many states have been hard at work making it difficult to register to vote, the state of Oregon has done something remarkable.  If you've applied for and received an Oregon drivers license, you're registered to vote.  No need to fill out a voter registration form.  No need to show identification.  No rent or utility bills to present for public scrutiny.  You don't have to dig up your birth certificate or pay to have a special photo ID made.  Got a drivers license?  You can vote.

               How bold (and sane!) is that?

               Oregon's governor challenged the other forty-nine states to follow her state's lead, and already some in California's legislature are giving indications that they intend to present bills making that state the second to automatically register citizens known to qualify to vote.

               What a concept.

               And what a contrast.  Look at the barriers Republicans are needlessly putting up between the American people and their constitutionally protected right to free and fair elections.  Then look at what Democratic legislatures are doing to simplify and encourage the voting process.  The stark difference in democratic ideals couldn't be more evident.

                This is something all Americans should demand on a national level.  Our Congress should pass a law opening up the voter registration process to all taxpayers based upon their IRS information.  Old enough?  Valid citizenship?  Have a mailing address?  You can vote, regardless of what state you're visiting when election day rolls around.

                 What could be simpler, or more democratic than that?


Wednesday, March 25, 2015


           (heavy sigh...)

           It's not that I'm a speed demon or anything.  Hell, I used to drive pretty fast everywhere I went.  But as I've gotten older, wiser, and less willing to part with my meager resources due to speeding tickets, I've slowed my happy ass down.  I still get where I'm going faster than most people, though, and have to admit I can be one of those white-knuckle, vein bulging, impatient maniacs on the bumper of the car ahead of me if that person is texting and driving ten miles per hour under the speed limit.  Hang up and drive, asshole...

           But all that's about to change.  According to this article, things are heading our way that will take all of that "choice" shit right out of our hands when it comes to speeding.

           The Ford Motor Company has announced that their second generation S-Max cars in Europe will be sold with an optional technology capable of reading street speed limit signs and then restricting the fuel supply to the engine in order to adjust the car's speed accordingly.  A driver will have the option to temporarily override the system in order to pass another vehicle or avoid an accident, but it will routinely bring the car's speed back down to legal limits.  

            An insider quoted in the article says technology is in the works that will transmit speed limit information directly to our car's computer system, and our cars will be designed to maintain speeds at or below those limits.

             Which means the old computer-free muscle cars of my youth will be even more popular than they are now.

              Hint to folks wanting to make a killing:  Buy up old pony cars and GTO's and hot rods before they're all gone.  They'll be worth a fortune in a few years.

              Before long we'll just climb into our climate controlled electric cars, sit back and stare at the electronic "newspaper" in our hands while geo-positioning satellites take our vehicles to our designated destinations... at the correct speeds, with proper following distances, and ever mindful of changing road and weather conditions. We'll have as much to do with it as a dog in a crate being hauled to the vet.

              Like I said...  sigh.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


            When my lovely (and dangerous) wife and I set out to assume guardianship of her nine year-old niece (whom I'm told resents being referred to as my "wife's" niece, instead of "our" niece, something I'm determined to work on) we knew our lives would be forever altered.  Gone were those carefree days of hedonistic behavior and those nights of (fairly) loud, unrestrained sex.  Suddenly we've found ourselves dealing with elementary school lunches, drop off and pick up schedules, piano lessons, voice lessons, dance lessons, random bouts of strep throat, stomach viruses, loose teeth, and a million other challenges.  Just dealing with a fourth grader's homework assignments has turned out to be humbling.  You know that show, "Are you Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?"  Well, as it turns out, I don't believe I am...

             Our afternoons and evenings have gone from having a beer on the back deck to relearning how to multiply and divide fractions.  For the record, I volunteered those particular brain cells to the Hooey Gods in exchange for righteous buzzes years ago, and have found retraining other, less adaptable grey matter to those mathematical disciplines difficult.  I no longer remember how to do some of the most basic functions I (surely!) must have learned as a child.  My fall-back response when faced with the prospect of helping "our" niece with some of her work is "Hey, I've already passed the fourth grade.  This is your job, work it out!"

             I get a lot of eye rolls and heavy sighs, and usually I sit down and "work it out", too.

             But some of her assignments are massive undertakings, and that's what I've called you all here for today.  I'm wondering exactly when did the fourth grade morph from pasting cutout hand-shaped Thanksgiving turkey art to an academic endeavor requiring multi-media presentations and research that would daunt the NSA?  I KNOW I never had to do anything like this when I was in the fourth grade.  Or middle school.  Or high school, for that matter.

              For example, Sarah has to present a "famous person report" to her class in the school cafeteria in front of her fellow students, their parents, grandparents, and the faculty.  She's required to show up in costume, be prepared to make an 8 minute presentation (minimum) about said famous person, then take 10 more minutes of questions from anyone in the room.  She has to turn in a bibliography of research materials used, supply a drawing of that person, provide a few props that help portray that person's background and accomplishments, describe that person's childhood, siblings, parents, activities, adult endeavors, education, and provide details of her famous person's life and death.  

            In short, this isn't something a kid can dash off between Minecraft marathons.

            Obviously, choosing a famous person is a wide open opportunity to make your life miserable.  You could choose someone everyone knows everything about, thus making everyone in the room an expert on your particular famous person.  Or you could choose someone obscure, and bluff your way past all the particulars.  

             Sarah has chosen to give her report on Helen Keller.  We don't know why she chose Helen Keller, and neither does she, apparently.  When asked, she told us, "She was the only famous person I could think of when I was asked who my report would be on..."  Further questioning revealed that Sarah didn't know much of anything about Helen Keller, other than the fact that she was blind.  She's not even seen the Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke version of "The Miracle Worker", a movie you might think would be readily available on Netflix or any of a hundred other movie sources.  But you would be way wrong.  Youtube has a lot of clips from that film, but no one seems to offer the entire movie.  (sigh...)

              So she's got this massive report to prepare, on top of her regular homework, piano lessons, voice lessons, Minecraft marathons, and all the other things that suddenly fill up our days around here.  And when I say "she's" got a report, what I mean is "WE'VE" got a report to prepare for, too.  See, we're expected to be there when these little dissertations are given in the cafeteria, and no one wants to be the parent of the unprepared kid...

               I think I'm lucky I got through the fourth grade when I did.  I can paste hand cutout Thanksgiving turkey artwork with the best of 'em...