No Comment — October 19, 2008, 3:38 pm

Justice in the Gutter

Saturday the New York Times alerts us to a new opinion issued deep in the bowels of the Bush Justice Department. The decision emanates from the Office of Legal Counsel, an outfit stuffed to the gills with partisan hacks whose other criminal mischief includes a series of decisions issued to induce government operatives to engage in torture and other acts of official cruelty. The same hacks blessed the felonious surveillance of the communications of American citizens on terms which Attorney General Ashcroft and Deputy Attorney General Comey, neither a lion of civil liberties, considered untenable. According to the man who attempted in vain to clean up the office for Ashcroft, some of the opinions he was asked to render were designed–like the works of mafia consigliere–to provide a “golden shield” to protect policy makers at high ranks in the Administration from the near certain prospect of criminal prosecution. So dark are the works of this office that the Bush White House fervently wants to avoid them seeing the light of day.

When sunlight touches these writings, they tend to turn to dust. Exposed to the sanitizing criticism of the public, of Congress, and of the legal profession, they are revealed for works of glaring hackery. No proposition is too preposterous that it cannot be advanced in an OLC memorandum these days. They are now taught in law schools around the country as models of substandard, unprofessional and incompetent legal work.

But this week, the OLC coughed up another furball. This opinion is designed to grease the tracks for payoffs to the Karl Rove’s Christianist buddies, who were essential to the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004, and who hit paydirt almost immediately when team Bush moved into the White House. Still, the Christianists have faced some irritating restrictions in their prolific consumption of taxpayer dollars. One is the requirement that a federally funded entity not discriminate in hiring on the basis of confession. OLC has now opined that this presents no problem. In concept there is no reason why faith-based organizations should not be eligible to receive taxpayer money for the performance of services that serve a public need. But if they elect to take this money, they cannot be allowed to discriminate in hiring to exclude persons of other faiths. That is a fundamental principle.

The OLC opinion is obviously false as a proposition of law—it squarely contradicts a series of Supreme Court holdings. But the more troubling aspect of the opinion is that it reeks of corruption. It is designed to clear hurdles that stand in the way of the Administration’s voracious funneling of taxpayer dollars into the coffers of its loyal political retainers on politically skewed criteria. The scandal in the Office of Juvenile Justice, which I explored here and which was subsequently the subject of an exposé on ABC’s Nightline, shows just the sort of mischief which this OLC memorandum is calculated to enable.

It will be interesting to see after January 20, 2009, what other little presents remain hidden for us in the file drawers of the Office of Legal Counsel. One thing is clear, however. OLC will require a fully staffed special prosecutor working overtime for years just to craft a good catalogue.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Artwork by Imre Kinszki © Imre Kinszki Estate
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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Photograph (detail) by Balazs Gardi
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"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
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