Welcome to America, where our fearless leader's busy golfing and barely bothered by reports that the CIA's been hiding al-Qaeda prisoners in secret Eastern European jails formerly operated by the Soviet KGB.
Where our entertainment's provided by Team America's second-in-command, Dick "Terrorist Your Game Is Through" Cheney, who's lobbying Congress to defeat a righteous piece of legislation approved 90-9 by the Senate that would outlaw the torture and degradation of political detainees (this era's polite word for "prisoners").
Cheney's bossman's on record that Americans "do not torture." But Dubya's autism must have led him to forget Arizona's very own U.S. Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war who bears the scars of his own torture at the hands of his Communist North Vietnamese captors.
McCain has authored an amendment that would ban "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of any person in U.S. custody. That's McCain's M.O. It's a big part of what he's known for, like Lance Armstrong and his testicular cancer or Brooke Shields and how she hates her baby.
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So, if America doesn't torture, The Bird would like to know, why the hell is the White House working so hard to block McCain's proposed law, which would say just that?!
"It's hard to take the president at his word," Avi Cover told the winged one. Cover is a senior associate at the New York-based Human Rights First, an advocacy group devoted to the civil liberties of refugees, who gripes that the Bush administration "has gone about redefining the law, in particular the prohibition against torture, in a way that would famously permit interrogation methods that include sleep deprivation, restriction of prisoners' diet, stripping prisoners naked, forcing prisoners into inert positions, using dogs to prey upon prisoners' phobias, hooding prisoners, and exposing them to extreme changes in hot and cold temperatures.
"So when Bush says we don't torture," Cover continued, "he's being something of a [believe it or not, considering his English-language-mangling history] wordsmith, with terrible and fatal consequences."
Cover's saying, If we don't torture, then why has Bush vowed to veto any bill that contains McCain's anti-torture message, which our senior senator says he'll attach to any bill that comes to the Senate floor for a vote?
"It makes you wonder what's going on in these secret detainee camps if Bush won't endorse an amendment from a former POW," says Arizona Democratic party official Seth Scott. "McCain has more credibility on the long-term effects of torture on POWs than anyone in politics!"
While it's clear even to this bogus beaker that a majority of his colleagues will vote with McCain, it's also clear that McCain and company may be wasting their time. Because although Bush is the first president since James Garfield never to veto anything (and Garfield spent more than three years of his single term in office quite dead), he's certainly going to dust off ye old veto stamp for this one.
The upside for Democrats is, if they can manage to put the right spin on it, this could plunge Bush's approval rating so deep into the sewer that he'll never even get back to the toilet bowl.
As for McCain, he wants to ban "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" and establish the Army field manual as the universal policy on interrogation at Armed Forces facilities. While the manual includes an entire section on the proper folding of bedclothes, it does not address torture. Which, to McCain, means you don't do it. But, to Bush and Cheney, it means that stuff like the aforementioned "degrading treatment" and cruelty are permitted. They aren't prohibited, so they're okay. And, since there's no definition of torture in the manual, Americans "do not torture."
Meanwhile, Team America's co-captain continues to fight for an exemption for the CIA, so that that agency can continue to use the kind of interrogation methods McCain abhors. And Cheney continues to argue that the vagueness of terms such as "humane" and "degrading" could lead to limitations on all agencies' interrogation techniques. In other words, do we really want these jerk-offs to know we've got a law against torture?
Which is where McCain and his "torture is torture" routine comes in. While The Bird can find plenty to disagree with our fair Senator about (especially those cheesy dinner jackets he wears on national television -- Hey, John Boy! Read The Bird's beak: No more Macy's Labor Day sales!), it must agree with McCain that torturing prisoners isn't about the horrible crimes the prisoners may have committed, it's about defending human rights -- no federal agency excepted.
After all this, The Bird can't help but wonder how long it will be before the Bush-ites try to suspend habeas corpus and start spread-eagling fine-feathered Americans -- sans feathers, of course -- in the name of their version of the greater good. The Bird's alleged crime: failing to crap on the comb-over of a United States senator from Arizona for the first time.
What's Eating Gilbert, AZ?
The city of Gilbert must be covered in money. Otherwise, how can it afford to go after a guy who's committed the sin of growing a vegetable garden in his front yard? That is, how can the city's public servants have time to harass some old hippie about a few cornstalks, etc., he's raised up on his own damn property?!
Shucks. The Bird thought growing-your-own was a tradition on the outskirts of Phoenix. Yet the folks in this Stepford-like East Valley city are doing what they can to protect the beauty of their putting greens, patios and swimming pools from the icky ecosystem of Gilbert's Daniel Lee Thompson -- whose front-yard garden is a mass of romaine, Swiss chard and towering turnip greens.
The 57-year-old Thompson's an advocate of "sustainable farming methods," which really just means he's ripped out his suburban lawn and replaced it with a vegetable garden. But rather than eat some of his rutabagas, Thompson's ultra-anal neighbors are organizing to get a city code changed that right now allows non-homeowner-association residents to do what they please with their own property. The nerve!
Their complaints to Gilbert officials have been heard by Town Council member Dave Crozier, who roused himself from his Barcalounger long enough to ask the city attorney to rule that Thompson's garden is a code violation. This failed, so Crozier's now looking into changing the ordinance that allows people to grow stuff on their own land.
Crozier's gotten a lot of heat over the whole mess.
"People are calling and saying, 'Are you anti-garden?'" Crozier confided to The Bird. "But this just doesn't look like any garden I've ever seen before. It looks like a lost Mayan temple in the jungle. There's vegetation overgrowing the whole house. There's insects, and a lot of bad smells, and a dead pine tree that [Thompson] said was a shrine to his Christmas tree from last year. Whatever this is, it's not your normal garden."
Aha! Now we're getting somewhere.
Dan Thompson's garden isn't normal, which in Gilbert is the darkest sin imaginable. Want to live in a pink stucco prefab tract home, attend church every Sunday and join the PTA? Gilbert will embrace you. Want to devote your life to raising half a dozen kids, and drive an SUV? The citizens of Gilbert will genuflect at the mention of your name. But don't even think about wearing tie-dye, or growing a garden in your front yard.
Unless you want your neighbors to rat you out to the cops and sic the Town Council on you.
The fine citizens of Gilbert, according to Crozier, aren't allowed to have weeds taller than 10 inches growing in their yards, but crafty Dan Thompson got around that by only growing plants he can eat. None of which smelled, by the way, when The Bird flew over.
Like every single eco-nerd The Bird's ever spoken with, Thompson can blather endlessly about stuff like hydro-mining and losing the rain forests and the magic of mulch.
"The state of Arizona doesn't have enough oxygen-producing plants to support its own mammalian population -- which is us!" Thompson said. "We should be reforesting as fast as possible, not trying to stamp out some guy's front-yard garden."
More interesting to The Bird than any of this front-yard-garden stuff is the fact that Thompson's writing a book about his experience. The Bird knows: Who isn't writing a book these days? But Thompson's book is called Kootznawoo, which its author swears means "fortress of the bear."
One thing's for sure, kootznawoo's a fun word to say. After The Bird had said it about 30 times, it asked Thompson what he thought Dave Crozier had against his vegetables.
"Dunno," Thompson snickered. "But I do know that my neighbors all have these anally retentive yards, all straight and neat and poisoned with Roundup, which is really just the same fucking thing as Agent Orange with a little flavor change. And all I know is, Gilbert can't touch me. So I'll just keep planting."
You go, Dan! Because you may be a nut-box, but you're a nut-box within your rights. Just don't forget to drop The Bird some extra seeds.
Flux at Lux
Among its perches throughout this parched parcel we call a city, The Bird often roosts at the cool downtown Phoenix java joint Lux Coffeebar and the adjacent Pane Bianco, sometimes to peck at morsels strewn amidst the rusted-metal patio by lunchtime litterbugs, other times to ogle such local luminaries as Mayor Phil Gordon or record-store mogul Kimber Lanning, because in Phoenix these people pass for celebrities.
The Bird has heard that Lux owners Daniel Wayne and wife Felicia Ruiz Wayne sold lock, stock and coffee-bean barrel to Jeff and Tara Fischer last month. Seems the Waynes have risen above the latte scene and are too busy prepping their soon-to-open eatery, Lola Tapas, to trouble themselves with the decaf crowd anymore. Good riddance, as far as The Bird's concerned. The white-leather couches at Lux were always a popular nesting spot, but reports were mounting, during the Waynes' reign, of rude behavior from behind the counter -- much of it from the Waynes themselves, particularly Felicia, who sometimes practically curdled the milk with her snarl.
The Bird won't miss the Waynes. Already, reports are in that the service at Lux no longer sux. But there's concern that the new owners aren't hip to the hip factor. Almost immediately, the new owners covered the cool concrete floors and started piping Bruce Springsteen from speakers that heretofore had known only the likes of Coldplay.
Concerned, The Bird phoned up Sloane McFarland, the Wizard of AZ. This guy has his finger in every pie in town, from Welcome Diner to the fashion boutique Passage. McFarland has an office behind Lux -- the coffee shop was the first business he masterminded, giving the Waynes the go-ahead when they approached, after waiting a long time for someone with just the right vision. (To be fair to the Waynes, they do know their coffee.) McFarland kindly assured The Bird that he handpicked the Fischers and even volunteered the news that the Waynes are opening a dance studio next door to Lux, in addition to the aforementioned tapas bar.
Maybe The Bird caught Jeff Fischer -- and Lux -- on a bad day. Because even a pigeon can see that there's been flux at Lux, despite the Fischers' promise, "We won't change a good thing!" When this avian visited last, it seemed that Lux was giving the Willow House a run for its shabby chic money.
In response to such frappuccino-fueled fears, a caffeine-jittery Jeff Fischer blasted The Bird, blaming the mess on the back-breaking work of taking over a business. Between blurting that he's getting "a negative vibe" from this peckerwood, the bartender-cum-coffee-hawker snapped, "Our goal is to retain the cool feel and design and try to develop and enhance it. If the carpets are that offensive, then I apologize."
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