The Return of Stuff Happens, week 23: Bill Cosby wants to share his secrets

The other day, my son told me that Bill Cosby, comedy icon and professional predator, was going to start instructing men on how to avoid accusations of sexual assault. I scoffed at the notion.

“Scoff,” I said. “That’s clearly fake news.”

Well, is my face red. The story is true. One of Cosby’s representatives told an Alabama TV station that Cosby is planning a series of town hall meetings this summer to educate people, including young athletes and married men, on how to avoid accusations of sexual assault.

Well, if anybody should know, it would be him.

As for his hung jury trial last week, accounts differ on what went on in the deliberations. One juror said it was a fifty-fifty split, another said it was 10-2 to convict. One of the jurors was quoted as saying: “Whatever the man did, he has already paid his price, paid, suffered. A case that was settled in ’05 and we had to bring it up in ’17”

I don’t know if there’s any point in sending Cosby to court again. He’s Teflon. Even if some jury somewhere somehow shakes off the residual love for America’s dad, they are not going to want to send a nearly blind old man to prison. Maybe that one juror is right; his career is ruined, his reputation is ruined, his earning power is now zero. For an entertainer, there may be worse things than prison.

Speaking of Teflon …

This week, a special congressional election was held in Georgia to replace a Republican who is now in Trump’s cabinet. The Democrats had high hopes that they could pull off the upset. After all, Trump is a disaster, right? Worst president ever, agreed? A moron, an imbecile, a threat to world peace. Surely, at some point, Americans would want to send a message to Trump that they are fed up and embarrassed with their leader.

The battle was turned out to be the most expensive House of Representatives race ever, with about $36 million spent. The result? The Republicans win, again, as they have in four special elections since Trump won. One Democrat moaned after the vote “Our brand is worse than Trump’s”.

Meanwhile, Trump admitted this week that he did not record any conversations with fired FBI director James Comey. Trump had hinted, rather broadly, that he had, and poor Sean Spicer danced around answering tape-or-no-tape questions for weeks.

And one last bit on Trump. For a fun-filled read, check out the New York Times list of every lie Trump has told. Get yourself a cup of coffee and settle in. It’s a long read. 

Have you heard? The federal NDP is having a leadership race.

Don’t feel badly if you were unaware. Nobody outside of true NDP believers knows it is happening.

I have no idea who is going to win, and neither do I care. But a quote from one of the candidates, Niki Ashton, caught my eye and tells me everything I need to know about the current state of the NDP.

Ashton, apparently an MP, described herself as (get ready) “an intersectional eco-feminist”.

And no, I have no idea what that means. And neither do I care.

Fire update

The horrendous high-rise fire in London is still making news. It appears that the fire started in, of all things, a refrigerator. But that’s not the worst of it. The government collected 34 samples of cladding (external panels used to insulate buildings and improve appearance) similar to that used on the Grenfell Tower, and they all failed combustibility tests. The unsafe cladding has been found in 17 different locations around the country. In north London, 600 residents of a tower were told to leave the building as a precaution.

 

 

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 22: Sears Days are numbered

Good news from the retail front — there’s going to be a giant sale at Sears Canada in the near future.

Bad news from the job front — a lot of Sears Canada employees are going to be looking for work.

The retailer (sorry, that should be struggling retailer) admitted this week that its very future is in doubt. Its sales are falling through the floor, it can’t pay its debts, and nobody wants to lend it money. Or, in the parlance of Sears itself: “Based on management’s current assessment, cash and forecasted cash flows from operations are not expected to be sufficient to meet obligations due over the next 12 months … Accordingly, such conditions raise significant doubt as to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

In plain English, they’re screwed.

This is hardly a surprise. Sears has always been the plain Jane sister in the department store family. The Hudson’s Bay (which announced last week that it is laying off 2,000 employees, which is shocking in that I didn’t think the Bay had 2,000 employees) has always had the dominant position in Canada.  Canadian Tire does a better job of selling hard goods. Walmart has the cheap market cornered. Sears essentially has no identity. It’s not a fashion outlet (the Bay is better at that, and Simons from Quebec is making inroads across the country). It’s not, well, anything. A Sears store is a sea a beige. The end of Sears, which is all but certain, will be another giant sized headache for shopping malls across the country, many of which are still struggling to find a replacement for the failed Target experiment. Perilous times in the retail trade indeed.

Inferno

It looked like something from a 1980s disaster movie; indeed, I heard one TV news report rather shamefully call it a “towering inferno”.

imagesA low-income apartment high rise in London went up in a shocking blaze this week. At first, the death toll seemed remarkably low, just 11. As the week went on, the numbers — and the public anger — rose and rose. As of Sunday, the death toll is now 58.

How could this happen in the 21st century? The impact of this will be more substantial than any recent terrorist attack in London,as  it has been revealed that the landlord may have used substandard cladding in a recent renovation. Tenants, many of them immigrants at the lower end of the economic spectrum, are enraged, as it looks more and more like there is one safety standard for the lower classes, and another one entirely for the upper class.

American justice

A hung jury was declared in the first of probably many trials for Bill Cosby (once America’s dad and now America’s pervert) on sexual assault charges. The jury deliberated for days and could not come to a unanimous conclusion. Don’t ask me how they came to that conclusion. Also in the U.S., the St. Paul cop who shot a black man named Philando Castile, while his girlfriend live streamed the event, was found not guilty of manslaughter.  The Cosby case and the Castile case illustrate the obvious once again — getting a conviction against a cop or a celebrity in the U.S. is near impossible.

Oh, babies!

Let’s say you’re pregnant in Alberta right now. If so, congrats! And let’s assume you want to name the baby, which is probably a good idea. If you were having a baby right now, would you want to name the child Liam, or Benjamin, or Lucas? Of if its a girl, anything ending with an A (Olivia, Emma, Sophia, Ava, Amelia)? You might want to, but unless you want your precious little bundle to go through their school years as “Liam with glasses” or “fat Olivia” or any other unfortunate nickname, then don’t do it. Once again, the same names appeared on the list of most popular Alberta baby names released this week. There will be literally thousands of little Liams and Emmas and Abigails and Olivers (Seriously? Oliver?) in Alberta schools. Pity the poor teacher of the future. A piece of advice to future parents. Clip and save the list of most popular baby names, and ignore them all. Go with something unusual, like, say, Maurice.

On the other hand, maybe Oliver’s not so bad.

RIP

Don Matthews, 77, the most successful coach in CFL history. Matthews had a hand in 10 Grey Cup champions, five as an assistant coach, five more as a head coach. A controversial figure, his coaching philosophy can be summed up with this Matthews quote: “Coaching is a dictatorship, and I’m the head dick.” Here’s an excellent bio from Sportsnet.  … Helmut Kohl, 87, former German chancellor who led the reunification of Germany …  Stephen Furst, 62, who played  Flounder in the film Animal House … John G. Avildsen, 81, Oscar winner who directed the first Rocky movie, as well as The Karate Kid … Richard Tougas, 73, my oldest brother. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that life is fair. Richard – ‘Tougie’ to his family members – was one of those people who took excellent care of his health. He walked for miles almost every day, was a non-smoker, social drinker, hardly had an ounce of unnecessary body fat. He should have lived to be 83 or 93 or 103, but his kidneys went bad on him. He was in line for a transplant, but then he got serious liver problems, likely from a rare medical condition called Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia (HHT), a genetic disorder of the blood vessels that causes difficult to control bleeding.  The kidney and liver problems conspired to turn a robust healthy man into a shell of his former self. Yep, life is not fair. He was a good brother, a good man with many, many friends, a wife of some 50 years, Kathy, and two children, Michael and Nicole.

The world needs more people like Tougie, not fewer.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 21: Alberta’s legal disgrace

This week we heard one of those stories that just makes you shake your head (if it hasn’t already lowered in shame) and wonder how this kind of thing can happen.

Here’s the shocking story. An Aboriginal woman (there is a publication ban on her name, a typically Canadian thing to do, especially galling in that the woman is now dead) was severely beaten and raped by a local scumbag. During the preliminary hearing where she had to testify about what happened, she was somewhat incoherent in her answers, and sometimes belligerent. (The judge at one point called her by the accused’s name, which is enough to make anyone angry.) So, did the Crown attorney suggest she take a day off, or perhaps get her some help? No, it was her brilliant idea to send her to remand (that’s jail, by the way) because was a “flight risk”. The judge, incredibly, agreed, so off to jail for the victim. Yes, JAIL for the VICTIM. She spent five nights in remand, and more insults were to come. When she was taken to court, she was transported in the same van with the scumbag who attacked her! But wait, there’s more … she was taken into court in leg irons and handcuffs. Like a dangerous criminal.

How could this happen? How was there not one single person in the chain of command who said, ‘Whoa, this isn’t right’? I’m not one of those people who sees racism in every event, but to me there is no doubt that this would never have happened to a nice, middle class white woman. The government has apologized profusely and honestly, but that’s not enough. People should be fired for this. But they won’t. That’s not the way the legal system in this province works. Once you get a government job, no matter how egregiously you screw up, you’re set for life.

Utterly shameful.

The Comey Show is a hit

All of Washington stopped to watch the testimony of fired FBI director James Comey. I won’t go over the testimony here, because you’ve probably heard every last word of it by now. The takeaway is that Comey was invited to a private dinner with Donald Trump, and Trump said so many worrisome things that Comey made copious notes about the meeting immediately after the dinner. Comey had never done that before, in any meeting with anyone, including two other presidents. Comey says Trump asked him to go easy on the Russian investigation, without directly ordering him to. Comey said Trump lied about some things, and Trump retaliated by calling Comey a liar. Trump hinted in a tweet after the news broke that Comedy “had better hope that there are no TAPES” of the conversation. When Trump was asked by a reporter if he was hinting that there were tapes, he said: “I’m not hinting anything.  I’ll tell you about it over a very short period of time….Oh, you’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer. Don’t worry.”

Huh? What does ANY of that mean? I agree with Comey, who told the committee “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

Trump’s base, made up of mostly incredibly stupid people, will no doubt side with him. The rest of the world, I’m sure, will see Comey as being truthful, and why not? His testimony was rock solid, completely honest and forthright. Trump can’t put together a fully truthful sentence. There was no bombshell that would have destroyed the Trump presidency, but the chances of Trump surviving four years grows less and less remote every day.

Theresa May’s boo-boo

British Prime Minister Theresa May rolled the dice in calling an election almost three years ahead of the scheduled date, and it backfired. Not completely, but enough to likely cripple her political career. May’s Conservatives went into the election with a healthy majority, and only called the election to get an even healthier majority, supposedly to strengthen the British position on Brexit talks. She also calculated that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was entirely unelectable, leading to what was supposed to be a historic electoral rout (I read a story when the election was called that speculated if the Labour Party would even survive the election).

So, how’s that turn out, Theresa? Turns out May was a worse campaigner than anyone expected (she turned down televised debates), and Corbyn captured the youth vote in a Bernie Sanders-like way.  When the votes were tallied (which is such a slow process in England, I suspect they use Morse code to relay the results), the Conservatives were in a minority (or as they call it, hung) parliament, and have to depend on the support of a small third party to stay in power.

British politics is notoriously cutthroat. Unlike here, where a party leader is virtually unmovable, a British caucus can oust a leader. Hell, they did it with Margaret Thatcher. May’s days as leader of Britain, after this fiasco of her own making, can probably be measured in weeks, if not days. You can expect another election in Britain within six months, a year tops. This past election, by the way, was the country’s fourth major vote in as many years.

RIP

imgresAdam West, 88, the only true Batman (TV series from 1966-68), a serious actor who kept his tongue firmly in cheek during the campy, hilarious Batman TV series fondly remembered by people like me. Batman was, in its own way, one of the great comedies of the 1960s. … Sam Panopoulous, 83, the Greece-born Canadian restaurant owner who created the Hawaiian pizza at his pizza shop in Chatham, Ont. in 1962.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 20: RIP, USA

unknown-1Donald Trump, the Leader of the Free World crown, officially relinquished the title on Thursday when he announced that the U.S. – the second-biggest polluter in the world –would withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord. In stepping aside from the Leadership of the Free World position, the U.S. has now thrown its lot in with the only other countries in the entire world — Syria (which is barely a functioning country) and Nicaragua — which are not part of the accord. This makes sense, in a way. The U.S. and Syria – both led by despots, and in chaos – have a lot in common.

The reaction from around the world was universally negative. The reaction from inside the U.S. was almost as negative (minus Republican toadies); even mega-corporations came out against Trump’s decision, and important states (California and New York) denounced it. Trump’s reasoning for pulling out of the accord (whose modest goal is saving mankind from disaster) essentially boils down to this: he made the promise in the election campaign. End of discussion.

Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist, put it this way:

“America is living through a fractured fairy tale, in the grip of a lonely and uninformed mad king, an arrogant and naive princeling, a comely but complicit blond princess and a dyspeptic, dystopian troll (Steve Bannon) under the bridge.”

The U.S. now now little more than a supplier of entertainment to the world, appropriately led by a clown. Sad.

Terror in Britain … and more from Trump

A terrorist attack in London on Saturday has left seven people dead, including a Canadian. A van ran down people on London Bridge, while other terrorists stabbed people at a nearby night spot. This is the third attack in Britain three months; why Britain should be the target of so much violence is unclear. The mayor of London,  Sadiq Khan, condemned the attacks in the usual language, adding the public should remain “calm and vigilant”. Trump, of course, read this wrong. Instead of keeping his mouth shut (or his fingers taped together), Trump criticized the mayor, tweeting: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’ ”

Can Pence do the job? Nope.

With the Trump presidency hurtling towards the abyss, eyes are increasingly turning to Vice President Mike Pence. Can he do the job? Well, he looks the part. Pence looks like the kind of actor central casting sends over when they need someone to play the president, preferably one who is saved from assassination by, oh, I don’t know, Gerard Butler?

Would he be any better? Well, a chimp would be better, but Pence has little credibility. Consider this line, from the introduction he gave to Trump before his Paris announcement:  “With gratitude for his leadership, and admiration for his unwavering commitment to the American people, it is my high honour and distinct privilege to introduce President Donald Trump.”

Who says that kind of thing with a straight face? Incredible … sorry, that should be not credible.

And one last Trump bit

Trump gave more evidence that he is unstable with a post-midnight tweet that said, and I quote correctly, “Despite the constant negative covete” — and then it ended. Asked to explain, press secretary Sean Spicer said “The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.”

I hope that small group of people includes a psychiatrist.

Bad news from B.C.

Normally, the provincial election in B.C. is of little interest here in the People’s Republic of Alberta. But an announcement this week could have a direct impact on the next provincial election here.

On the Left Coast, the NDP and the Green Party have agreed to join forces to form the next government. The two parties will have one seat more than the incumbent Liberals. Premier Christie Clark, however, said she would attempt to form a government, which, as the party with the largest number of seats (43 to the NDPs 41), they have a right to do.

So why does this matter here? The NDP and the Greens are united in opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and will do everything they can to prevent what they have no constitutional right to stop. So, if the NDP/Green alliance lasts (which could last a week, a month, or a year) anti-pipeline parties are in control. Rachel Notley’s NDP is a big supporter of the pipeline (exactly the opposite what she would have been has they been in the old opposition NDP, but no matter). If BC throws up huge walls to the pipeline, Albertans will be pointing to the provincial NDP and wondering how they can’t get a pipeline built with their fellow travellers in charge. In the meantime, the provincial government continues to soften up the public. This week, the government announced $20 million for playgrounds in Alberta. This from a government that has to borrow money to keep the lights on. Makes perfect sense.

St. Patrick’s Gay

As if any further evidence that the world is a topsy-turvy place, get this.

Ireland, the most Catholic country outside of the Vatican, is about to have it’s youngest ever prime minister at only age 38. He is the son of an Indian immigrant. And he’s gay.

His name is Leo Varadkar, and he was chosen on Friday by the Fine Gael party to be its leader, and therefore the head of the centre-right governing coalition. He succeeds Enda Kenny, who is apparently a guy (you never know with those Irish names).

Meanwhile, Britain elects a new government on Thursday, with terrorist attacks still fresh in the minds of voters. Conservative leader Theresa May, who called the snap election in the belief she would win in a walk, is now in a race that is apparently so tight, she could actually lose it.

RIP

Manuel Noreiga, 83, former dictator of Panama, ousted by the U.S.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 19: Will there be ‘Scheer madness’?

At long last, the federal Conservatives have a new leader … and it’s NOT Maxime ‘Mad Max’ Bernier, who would have been the first deeply libertarian leader of a major Canadian political party.

After a vote counting process that was only slightly less difficult to understand than watching Game of Thrones midway through a season (the only thing I know about Game of Thrones is that everybody is either killing somebody, or having sex with them), Andrew Scheer emerged the winner, with a razor-thin 51% of the vote to Bernier’s 49%.

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Isn’t he adorable?

A Canadian Press story on Scheer called him ‘apple cheeked’, and it’s hard to argue with that description, even if it’s painfully dated.  Look at the guy… isn’t he just kind of adorable? While Justin Trudeau looks like the kind of most girls would want to marry, Scheer looks like the kind of guy most girls end up with.

 

He’s only 38, born in Ottawa, now an MP for a Regina riding. He’s won his riding six straight times, and for a while he was

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Children of the Corn

Speaker of the House. He’s fluently bilingual. So far, so good; a little East, a little West, a lot English and a little French. He has a nice family, even if it appears that he has indoctrinated them into the Saskatchewan Roughrider cult (see photo at right). Scheer is probably the best of a bad to awful lot, and certainly the safest. Bernier, a libertarian with a heavy French accent, was unelectable. The party dodged a huge bullet when Kevin O’Leary dropped out. The reptilian Kelly Leitch only managed about 7%, a pathetic number for someone who got so much publicity for her ‘Canadian values’ campaign. The rest were forgettable or regrettable.

So, what do we know about Scheer’s policies? I can sum it up this way: he doesn’t mind being called “Stephen Harper with a smile”.

Oh oh.

We’ve seen this horror show before

There is a numbing familiarity to these things now. They follow the same sad, pitiful pattern. And we know we’re going to see it repeated somewhere else, sometime soon.

On Monday, a suicide bomber blew himself up as fans were leaving Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, following a concert by American pop tart Ariana Grande. There were about 21,000 people inside, predominantly female, predominately young, with a number of parents (fingers firmly in ears, no doubt) along to watch over their daughters.

After the suicide bomber did his foul deed, the familiar terrorist attack/reaction process began. Confused initial reports. Social media video. Death toll numbers rising (the first account was nine, by night’s end it was 22). Social media nitwits begin spreading false stories. The Twitterverse is filled with oh so sincere statements from people with no connection to the event, all solemnly pledging to send their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims, an expression so overused, so automatic, that it has lost any meaning it might have ever had. Politicians denounce the “cowardly” act (Donald Trump called the terrorist a “loser”, his version of the worst thing you can possibly say about a person). There was the usual pledge that “the resolve of (name of community) will not be shaken”. Police swoop in and arrest all sorts of people who days before were not considered to be arrest-worthy. Wall-to-wall media coverage for three or four days, with plenty of commentary how this level of cruelty ups the bar on terrorism, etc. By Saturday, the story has pretty much disappeared from the news.

We await the next terrorist outrage.

This week in Donald Trump…

Too much to cover here, so let’s just look at the highlights:

• Trump attended his first NATO meeting, and criticized all the other countries for not paying their fair share;

• Melania was twice seen refusing to hold hands with Trump (hey, would you?);

• he pushed aside another NATO leader to get to the front of a photo op;

• he shook hands with French President Macron so vigorously, it looked like a scene from that Sylvester Stallone movie Over the Top, the one about professional arm wrestling (Macron said “My handshake with him was not innocent. We need to show that we won’t make small concessions, even symbolic ones, while not overhyping things either.”);

• Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, top advisor and perfect face of corporate evil, is being looked at by the FBI for his role in the Russian scandal, AND a report says he wanted a direct, personal line to the Kremlin.

By my count, the impeachment clock is set at about 10 months.

 

RIP

Roger Moore, 89, the most debonair and most British of the James Bonds (he played Bond seven times), who also had the misfortune of being in some of the worst James Bond movie moments (he dressed as a clown — a clown! — in Octopussy, and went into space in the dreadful Moonraker. His last bond film was A View to a Kill, and the then 57-year old admitted he “was only about 400 years too old for the part.” … Gregg Allman, 69, a member of the Allman Brothers Band and one of the founders of ‘Southern Rock’  (“Ramblin’ Man”, “Midnight Rider”)  … Bill White, 77, longtime NHL defenceman and member of Team Canada ’72.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 18: Will the right unite; the ‘I’ word is spoken.

There was a seismic shift in Alberta politics this week. Only time will tell if it’s a real earthquake that brings down two (or maybe three) parties, or whether it just grunts and groans and nothing happens.

On Wednesday, Wildrose party leader Brian Jean and new Progressive Conservative party leader Jason Kenny officially signed a deal to unite the two right-of-centre parties into one entity, tentatively titled the United Conservative Party. If confirmed, it would shut down the Wildrose party, created by disgruntled PCers who thought the party had done too soft, as well as the PC party, which dominated the provincial landscape for more than 40 years. Having one united conservative party, the thinking goes, is the best bet to overthrow the Bolshevicks who fluked their way into power in the last election, sending those accidental NDP MLAs back behind their counters at Starbucks.

Of course, there is no guarantee a United Conservative Party will sweep to power in two years, but it has a lot better chance that either the Wildrose or the PCs would have has separate parties. The NDP won’t admit it, but their election was one of those periodic Alberta voter revolts, where the voters grab at any reasonable alternative to get rid of a government that is past its best-before date. There are hundreds of thousands of Albertans who would choose an hour-long colonoscopy over voting NDP who will flock to a united conservative party.

First, though, the deal has to be ratified by the memberships, and that is not a slam dunk. While the PCs only require a simple majority to approve the deal, the Wildrose has set a much higher mark — 75% approval. That could be tough. The Wildrose is the official opposition, with money in the bank and a likable leader in Jean, even if he has all the charisma of a carp. The PCs are massively in debt, a distant third in the Legislature, still widely hated in many circles, and led by by a ruthless political animal, the deeply unlikable Kenny.

So what’s in it for the Wildrose? Power. Two conservative parties going into the next election is a near guarantee of defeat for both of them; one conservative party has a solid chance at victory.

Assuming the deal goes through, then there will be another leadership contest, certainly pitting Kenny and Jean, and perhaps some others, like wildcard Wildroser Derek Fildebrandt. Some conservatives are drooling over the prospect of Rona Ambrose (the interim federal Conservative leader who stepped away from politics this week) joining the race. It seems unlikely, as she has just taken a job with a U.S. think tank. But if the deal goes through, there will be pressure on Ambrose to join the race. Ambrose leading a united conservative party is Rachel Notley’s worst nightmare.

They’re already talking impeachment

It was inevitable, wasn’t it? We knew it was coming, but maybe not quite this quickly.

I’m talking, of course, of the impeachment of the President of the United States, one Donald J. Trump.

It’s not a certainty, of course. And he can be impeached, and carry on as president. Sounds like something he’d do. But the chances of full impeachment hearings against Trump — who has been president only since January — gets more likely every day.

Last week, following on the heels of his shocking firing of FBI chief James Comey, a memo Comey wrote after talking to Trump was leaked to the Washington Post. The memo quotes Comey as saying that Trump has asked him to end an investigation into former national security advisor (and perjurer) Michael Flynn. If true, this could be construed as obstruction of justice, which is an impeachable offence. (Another report said Trump — who leaked confidential information to the Russians — told the Russian ambassador that Comey was a “nut job”.) Unless there are tape recordings of their conversation — which Trump hinted at darkly in one of his more threatening, Bond-villainesque Tweets — this will be a matter of whom do you believe. Do you believe Comey, a career FBI man with an unblemished record (OK, maybe ONE blemish), or chronic liar and egomaniac Trump? Not a tough call. A special counsel, a former FBI director, has been appointed to oversee the investigation into allegations that the Trump campaign and Russia collaborated to influence the 2016 campaign.

Even Republicans are getting antsy about this ugly mess. John McCain said the scandal is “of Watergate size and scale”. With support for Trump at historic lows (he never even had a post-election honeymoon), other Republicans are likely to distance themselves from the Orange Menace, particularly those facing re-election next year.

Trump is defiant, of course. The told U.S. Coast Guard cadets that he had been “treated worse than any politician in history”. Visitors to the Lincoln memorial in Washington said they were quite sure they heard a voice say, “Um, seriously?”

The not-so great cultural appropriation debate

Are you familiar with the term cultural appropriation? It’s all the rage in elite circles these days.

Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University, defines cultural appropriation as follows: “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

This could be a guy wearing dreadlocks, or hipsters at a music festival wearing a native headdress.

In certain circles (writers of books few people read, and writers of poetry that nobody reads) taking a contrary stand on cultural appropriation will cost you your job. Hal Niedzviecki, the editor of Write, the magazine of the Writers’ Union of Canada (there’s such a thing?) wrote “anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities,” and jokingly suggested there should be a “cultural expropriation prize” for literature. Cue the uproar! The union immediately issued a grovelling apology, and Niedzviecki resigned.

Later, Jonathan Kay, the editor of The Walrus (there’s such a thing?) wrote an opinion piece in the National Post that defended the right to debate cultural appropriation. Cue the uproar! Kay stepped down as Walrus editor.

And finally, the managing editor of CBC’s The National was reassigned for making “an inappropriate, insensitive and frankly unacceptable tweet” about the appropriation uproar. What did he say that was inappropriate, insensitive and frankly unacceptable? He volunteered to donate $100 to establishing the cultural expropriation prize. Cue the uproar! The ever-PC CBC immediately begged forgiveness.

If cultural appropriate a thing? Sure. Is it something that we can discuss? Apparently not. Deviating from the agreed upon orthodoxy in Canada is now a firing offence.

RIP

Roger Ailes, 77, the villainous genius behind Fox News, a organization that rejected objectivity in favour of rabid pro-Republican conservatism. Without Fox, there would never have been a Donald Trump presidency … Chris Cornell, 52, one of the most respected contemporary lead singers in rock music with his bands Soundgarden and Audioslave …  Brad Grey, 59, chairman of Paramount Pictures for a dozen years who played a pivotal role in the creation of seminal television hits such as The Sopranos .. .

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Powers Boothe

Powers Boothe, 68, actor known for playing bad guys in dozens of films and TV shows.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 17: Comey is one letter away from comedy; B.C. on the brink

When the presidency of Donald J. Trump comes to its inevitable premature conclusion — either through resignation, impeachment, or a massive, fatal overdose of KFC — the events of May, 2017 will be seen as the beginning of the end.

On Tuesday, Trump stunned the country with his entirely unexpected firing of FBI director James Comey. No politicians, pundits or TV gasbags were calling for his head. If anyone had grounds to demand his firing, it was Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. As you may recall, Comey injected himself into the dying days of the election campaign, making a public pronouncement that he was re-starting the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server because of some recently discovered e-mails. (Remember those innocent times, when the worst a presidential candidate could be accused of was using a private email server? How quaint.) Although there is no way of actually quantifying the impact, it seems almost certain that the re-emergence of the so-called “scandal” hurt Clinton. Comey later said the investigation found nothing new, but the damage was done. Candidate Trump was gleeful, heaping praise on Comey for doing the right thing, being courageous, etc.

But this week, when Trump dropped the hammer on Comey (which he did via a letter delivered to FBI headquarters by his personal bodyguard, which Comey didn’t get because he wasn’t there, resulting in Comey hearing about his firing via TV news), he said a negative report from the Justice Department about Comey’s handling of the e-mail investigation forced the firing. Nobody believed that. Not even Trump.

On Thursday, he told NBC News that he decided to fire Comey on his own even before seeing the allegedly damning report. He called Comedy a “grandstander” and a “showboat” (pot, meet kettle), and that the FBI was in chaos. He told NBC that he was going to fire Comey regardless of what the Justice Department said, which directly contradicted the White House line the day before.

“I was going to fire regardless of recommendation … and in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’ ” he said.

And there truth comes out. While he blamed Comey’s handling of the Clinton email scandal, the real reason was the FBI’s continuing probe into Russian influence on the Trump campaign, and the U.S. election. Yeah, that “made-up story”. His claims that the FBI was in chaos were directly contradicted by the deputy director, who said the bureau had, and still had, confidence in Comey.

Firing the head of the FBI is almost unprecedented. Bill Clinton fired the FBI head in 1993, but that was because of the director’s unethical use of government money. Trump’s actions — firing a man in charge of the investigation of the Russia-Trump campaign connection — smacks of the actions of a despot. It won’t stop the FBI investigation. But it might stop the Trump presidency.

Stil with The Donald (I’m sorry, there is no getting away from this guy), the president-for-now unleashed a broadside at TV people in an interview with Time magazine.  He said CNN’s Chris Cuomo looks like a “chained lunatic,” and CNN’s Don Lemon is “perhaps the dumbest person in broadcasting.” He saved the best for Stephen Colbert, whose nightly obsession with Trump has made the Late Show the late-night talk show leader.

“There’s nothing funny about what he says,” Trump told Time about the “no-talent” Colbert. “And what he says is filthy. And you have kids watching. And it only builds up my base. It only helps me, people like him. The guy was dying. By the way, they were going to take him off television, then he started attacking me and he started doing better. But his show was dying. I’ve done his show … but when I did his show, which by the way was very highly rated. It was high – highest rating. The highest rating he’s ever had.” (Not true, by the way.)

Colbert was gleeful, of course; this is exactly what he wanted. Personally, I’ve grown a bit weary of Colbert. As much as I like him as a performer, Trump is ALL he ever talks about, and the quality of the writing on his show is sub-standard. (Seth Meyers is the best comic/commentator of the late night crowd.) But Trump, who is more obsessed with ratings and numbers than any network president, can’t restrain himself.

In another interview with The Economist, Trump said his renegotiation of NAFTA will be “massive”. He said “everything in NAFTA is bad. That’s bad, everything’s bad.” After using the phrase “prime the pump” (which has been in use since the 1930s), Trump said: “Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just…I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good.” He claimed the U.S. is the “highest taxed nation in the world” (not true: the U.S. is actually among the lowest taxed countries in the world ). He said he might release his tax forms “after I’m finished because I’m very proud of them actually. I did a good job.”

There’s more, of course. There’s always more with Trump. But I’m exhausted.

Meanwhile, in La La Land North…

In Ottawa this week (remember Ottawa?) Prime Minister Trudeau tried out his new Question Period idea. Trudeau has decided to answer all of the questions for the opposition for one day a week, just the way they do it in London, called Prime Minister’s Question Time. The Opposition doesn’t like this, so they asked him a variation of the same question EIGHTEEN TIMES, and he gave the same non-answer EIGHTEEN TIMES. The Opposition asked Trudeau how many times he has met with the ethics commissioner about his Christmas-vacation junket to a private island owned by the Aga Khan, complete with private helicopter transportation. Trudeau, inexplicably, didn’t answer how many times he had met with the ethics commissioner, giving a formula answer that wasn’t an answer. All he had to do was say “once” or “twice” or whatever it is, but he dodged the question every time. I don’t know which is stupider — asking the same easy-to-answer question 18 times, or refusing to answer the same easy-to-answer question 18 times.

Meanwhile, in La La Land Pacific

British Columbians went to the polls this week, the the result does not auger well for Alberta, pipelines, or the Alberta New Democrats.

The majority Liberal government of Christie Clark was reduced to a razor-thin minority, which could still result in the NDP taking over. The Liberals won 43 seats, the NDP 41, and the Greens won three. However, one riding, Courtenay-Comox, was won by the NDP by just nine votes. If the recount flips the result, which could happen, the Liberals will have 44 seats, a bare majority. But wait — there are two recounts underway, so the final result of the election won’t be known for some time.

As it stands right now, the Liberals will have to court the three-member Green Party caucus to remain in power. If they can’t, the government could fall immediately, resulting in either the NDP taking over with the support of the Greens, or a new election. Either way, the tail is now wagging the dog in B.C.

Why is this bad for pipelines, Alberta and the Alberta NDP? The B.C. Dippers are solidly anti-pipeline, putting them at odds with Rachael Notley’s government. The Liberals are sorta-pro pipeline (as long as there was some money in it for them), but in order to stay in power they might have to take an anti-pipeline stance. So either way, it’s going to be much more challenging to get that Kinder-Morgan pipeline built. And if the NDP takes over and becomes virulently anti-pipeline, that will reflect badly on Notley’s NDP, and will certainly become an election issue here in a couple of years.

RIP

GIJoe_OriginalLineup
The original Joes.

Stan Weston, 84, whose concept for a military action figure became the heroic G.I. Joe, one of the most popular toys ever produced, as well as a catchy commercial jingle (“G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe, fighting man from head to toe …”). I got a G.I. Joe for Christmas one year, and my brothers mocked me mercilessly by changing the lyrics to “fighting doll from head to toe”. Joe first appeared on toy store shelves in 1964, and has never left.

 

 

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 16: I’m done with the NHL.

When the Oilers are eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs — maybe tonight, maybe Wednesday, maybe in the next series — I can officially quit watching hockey.

I  can’t do it right now. That would be like watching 90 minutes of a two-hour movie and turning it off, or reading 275 pages of a 350-page book. Gotta see how this ends, after all. But once the Oilers are done, I’m done with the National Hockey League.

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This is your National Hockey League. 

The great and wonderful game of hockey, Canada’s undisputed greatest gift to the world, is being raped and pillaged by the NHL, the game’s professional guardian.

The NHL had a very bad week, which is to say, it had a typical week. First, Pittsburgh Penguin superstar Sydney Crosby was concussed (again) after being hit in the head. Crosby was savagely slashed by Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin (no penalty), before being cross-checked in the head by Ovechkin’s Washington teammate, Matt Niskanen (who was penalized). There are plenty of people who celebrated Crosby’s injury, because Crosby has twice this year avoided penalty for injuring players (he slashed one guy so hard he shattered his finger, and speared another guy in the Netherlands). Then there’s the Edmonton-Anaheim series. The Ducks are running wild (at least as much as a duck can run wild) on the rink; Ryan Getzlaf appears to have been given a limitless number of Get Out of Jail Free cards. Then we had the whole imbroglio over goaltender interference in Wednesday’s Edmonton-Anaheim game, a decision which has turned the whole series around in Anaheim’s favour. Just for good measure, the sequel was played on Friday, and unlike most sequels, this one was even better than the first. Elsewhere, a Pittsburgh Penguin named Nick Bonino took a shameful, soccer-style dive that drew a late game penalty that snuffed out any chance of a Washington comeback. (Don Cherry, whom I have very little use for anymore, called him out.) This is just in one week.

NHL hockey is, to be blunt, lousy, and it’s in large part due to the way the league officiates the game.  Interference is rarely called, no matter how egregious (it’s just “finishing the check”, I guess), but tiniest impediment with the stick is considered hooking. Cross-checking as a penalty has vanished, but a gentle tap on the new breed of hockey stick (as delicate as fine china) is considered slashing. And God forbid if a player accidentally flips the puck into the crowd. I look forward to the day when the Stanley Cup is decided on a delay of game penalty for accidentally flipping the puck into the crowd.

The players are no innocents. Many have made an art out of the dive (or the flop, or ‘going to ground’), an especially odious, unsporting and unmanly form of cheating. Probably 75 per cent of goals are scored on deflections off of slapshots, a tribute to the hand-eye skills of the players, perhaps, but not very exciting.

The league introduced video replay this year in an effort to get calls right, and succeeded only in getting the calls wrong. (In the second goaltender interference fiasco on Friday, CBC commentator Elliotte Friedman spotted the infraction.) Seasoned hockey people say they have no idea what goaltender interference is anymore.

The players are too big, the rink too small, ticket prices ludicrous. The league’s American overlords have decided that the players cannot compete in the next Olympics. And into this mess we have a new team next year … in La$ Vega$! The only people who will attend hockey games in Vegas will be visiting Canadians.

Professional hockey in a train wreck. You folks can have your orange Oiler jerseys (great marketing gimmick), your car (or more often, pick up truck) flags, your willingness to spend any amount of money to support a team of millionaires owned by a billionaire. You’re welcome to it.  I’ve had it. I’m done.

Say what, Sajjan?

The baffling story of Harjit Sajjan dominated the news in Ottawa this week.

Sajjan is the Trudeau government’s Minister of Defence. A Sikh, Sajjan could have been seen as one of those “because it’s 2015” inclusion choices, but Sajjan was an actual soldier, and a good one by all reports (or, as he has often been called, a “badass”). This guy should be a star in the Trudeau cabinet. But instead, he’s bowing his head in shame.

Delivering a speech in India recently, Sajjan referred to himself as the “architect” of Operation Medusa, an operation in Afghanistan that was the first large-scale combat assault in NATO’s history and marked the first major Canadian battle since the Korean War. He was nothing of the sort; a valuable player, yes, but not remotely the architect. And it wasn’t just a slip of the tongue — he had said it at another event. So why did Sajjan embellish (or, to use another term, lie) about his role, when he actually had something to be proud of without embellishment? Nobody knows, even Sajjan, who apologized profusely and repeatedly. When asked point blank why he lied, he had no answer. He just muttered some lines written for him by the communications flacks. The opposition wants his turbaned head, but so far Trudeau has stuck by him, albeit at a distance.

Sajjan will probably survive this fiasco. Whether he should or not is another question. His credibility is in ruins.

This week in Trumpland

Now, a quick recap of the madness of Donald Trump:

• Republicans voted to repeal and replace Obamacare, the American health program. Trouble is, nobody likes it except the Republicans who voted for it. (One representative admitted on TV he hadn’t even read the bill he voted for.)

• Just after his great legislative victory, Trump told the Australian Prime Minister that Australia has a better health care system. Australia has, of course, a taxpayer supported health care system.

• President Trump spoke with the Philippine leader, Rodrigo Duterte, and invited him to the White House. Duterte has allowed and even encouraged death squads in the Philippines, targeting drug lords, leaving thousands dead. Duterte, for his part, said he was too busy.

• Last week, Trump released his first campaign ad – for the 2020 election.

• Trump suggested on Monday that President Andrew Jackson has been “really angry” about the U.S. civil war, which began 16 years after his death. He also questioned “why was there the civil war” in the first place. Apparently, he has never watched The Simpsons. 

And on this side of the border

Justin Trudeau wore Star Wars socks for international Star Wars Day, which is apparently a thing. While I didn’t see a word on this in a Canadian newspaper, the New York Times took notice. 

RIP

I get the items for the RIP section of Stuff Happens through a Wikipedia page Deaths in 2017.  Death is apparently on holidays, but I must take notice of the passing of Quinn O’Hara, 76, a Scottish-born American actress whose sold acting credit appears to be The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini.

 

 

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 15: O’Leary out; the return of softwood lumber

Just as Conservatives across the country were about to begin voting for their next leader, one of the front runners threw a wrench into the works.

Kevin O’Leary, the bombastic TV star (sort of a hairless, much smarter Donald Trump), pulled out of the race, causing a collective jaw drop amongst the Canadian political elite and talking heads. O’Leary, the only recognizable face in a ludicrously overcrowded race, was almost certain to be the early leader in the voting, and a decent bet to the the winner. Speaking to the media about his decision on Wednesday, O’Leary said some shockingly honest things. While he was confident that he could win the Conservative leadership (possibly true), his numbers showed that there was no path to federal victory for the Conservatives with O’Leary at the helm, because he had virtually no support in Quebec (completely true). He said he waited until the last minute to see if “the needle would move” in his Quebec support, but it didn’t.

He is absolutely right. O’Leary could have — and probably would have — won the Conservative leadership, but there wasn’t a single hope in hell that he would become prime minister without being able to communicate with 22% of the population that speaks French. Why it took him this long to come to that obvious realization, I don’t know. Maybe he looked at the agonies of Donald Trump and figured that leaving his cushy lifestyle for the grubby world of politics wasn’t worth it. Or maybe the idea of living full-time in Canada, instead of spending at least half his time in the U.S., wasn’t appealing.  Or maybe it was the pay cut he would have to take. Whatever the reasons, he was smart to quit. He could not become the next prime minister, and playing second fiddle to Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons was just too repulsive to contemplate. Anyway, O’Leary threw his support behind Maxime Bernier, a far right libertarian MP. Bernier was a contender from the beginning, but now he must be seen as the frontrunner. He’s too radical (abolish the CBC, etc.), and too French (his English is worse than Jean Chretien’s), but he is popular with the Western right wing of the party. He might win the Conservative leadership, but in a federal election he will be a loser, just like O’Leary would have been. Only Bernier doesn’t know it.

NAFTA and lumber and … zzzzzzzz

Few issues are more boring than trade matters, but attention must be paid since billions of dollars are at stake. So, here we go.

This week, Donald Trump threatened to immediately pull out of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA is a very big deal in trade circles, and even tinkering with it gives Canada and Mexico palpitations. Trump has said repeatedly that NAFTA was a horrible, horrible, bad, bad, very very bad deal for the U.S. (without even once articulating one single example of how it was bad), and that nice guy Canada snookered the U.S., which is untrue of course, but fun to contemplate.

After Trump threatened to sign an executive order to pull out of NAFTA (he said in an interview today that he was going to sign the order on Saturday, his 100th day in office). Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto both called Trump, and he supposedly changed his mind. It was probably a bluff by Trump to get Canada and Mexico on board with renegotiating the deal, since cancelling NAFTA would result in an economic earthquake for all of North America, and even Trump isn’t stupid enough to do that. But who knows?

Also this week in trade (stay with me here, it’s almost over), the Trump administration slapped hefty duties on Canadian softwood lumber coming into the U.S. If the term ‘softwood lumber’ sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because this is the FIFTH go round for this dispute. The U.S. (or more accurately, the American lumber industry) says Canadian lumber is unfairly subsidized by the government. Canada says this isn’t true, and the Canadian government has won international court challenges on the issue. But the U.S. lumber industry just keeps resurrecting the issue. It’s all insanely complicated, but from my reading of the issue, the continuing spat is a way for the U.S. lumber industry to raise prices, and profits, by making lumber more expensive. This in turn would result in higher home building costs in the U.S., but clearly nobody cares about the consumer. As in all the previous times this phoney has been raised, some sort of deal is ironed out, and everybody forgets about it until the next time.

RIP

Jonathan Demme, 73, acclaimed, Oscar-winning American movie director (Melvin and Howard, Philadelphia, The Silence of the Lambs, the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, Rachael Getting Married).

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 14: Trump casts his lizard eyes on Canada; I solve the Toronto housing crisis

This week in Donald Trump Land:

  • Remember last week, when Donald Trump sent an “armada” (actually just an aircraft carrier) towards North Korea as a warning to the maniac kingdom? But the New York Times, thanks to a photo send out from the ship, realized that the ship was actually steaming away from North Korea, not towards it. Trump, of course, blamed the military for bad information. It could also be that his administration just told another random lie, believing that no one would know.
  • Remember Donald Trump’s inauguration, the greatest of all time? Turns out, these things cost money to stage, and a lot of that money comes from private donors. The Times, again, looked through the list of people and corporations who donated to the event, to the tune of $107 million. Big surprise —  much of it came from multi-billionaires and major corporations looking to gain favour with Trump.
  • Trump has taken aim at a new evil — the Canadian dairy industry, which he says is treating the American dairy industry very, very badly. This came as quite a shock to the Trudeau government, which was sitting quietly in the back of the class while Professor Trump was rapping the knuckles of all the naughty countries sitting in the front. Trump unexpectedly said that what Canada had done to the U.S. dairy industry was a “disgrace” and “very unfair”. This broadside came after Trump heard complaints from Wisconsin dairy farmers; he certainly forgot the details seconds later. Canada, as you may know, has a carefully regulated market, restricting supply and ensuring higher costs for the consumer and healthy profits for farmers. The U.S. does not, and as a result the U.S. is awash in milk, and they want to start sending it to Canada, particularly something called ultra-filtered milk. But Canadian dairy farmers (and the government, which of course wants the support of the dairy industry, which is centred in Ontario and Quebec) said thanks, but no thanks, basically closing Canada to U.S. ultra-filtered milk . And with that, reader(s), you know more about the dairy industries in Canada and the U.S. than Donald Trump.
  • And finally, Trump had a few friends over for dinner the other night. Faded rocker Kid Rock, guitar god and gun maniac Ted Nugent (who once called Barack Obama a “mongrel”), and certifiable loon Sarah Palin. Nugent said Trump spent FOUR HOURS with the group, showing them around the While House and treating them to a fancy schmancy dinner. Turns out, Palin was the one invited to dinner, and she brought along Mr. Nugent and Mr. Rock. (You would have thought she would have brought her husband, Trig or Tag or Trog or whatever his name is.) On her web page, she wrote that she brought along Nugent and Rock “because Jesus was booked.” Personally, I think Jesus probably just came up with an excuse.

Attention, Toronto house buyers …

House prices are going insane in Toronto, as has the Toronto media, which is obsessed over the issue. House prices have gone up more than 33% year to year, resulting in average house prices of more than $1.6 million. The government is taking various measures to cool the market, including a tax on offshore, absentee owners, much like they did with some success in Vancouver.

I have some advice for anyone who wants to buy a house in Toronto.

DON’T BUY A HOUSE RIGHT NOW!

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? The prices are artificially inflated, wildly out of whack. A buyer today is unlikely to ever get their money back, and will certainly be saddled with ludicrous amounts of debt. The simple solution: don’t buy. Wait. Or if you really want a house, go to Hamilton. There are worse places to live. I think.

In other news …

Turkish voters voted in a referendum to change the country from a parliamentary democracy to strong presidential system of government. This gives lots more power to the nearly dictatorial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The referendum lets Erdogan stay in power until 2029 … British Prime Minister Theresa May stunned everyone by calling a June election, years ahead of schedule. Right now, it appears her Conservative party will win by historic margins, with some predicting the Labour Party will be essentially wiped off the map. Then again, everyone said Donald Trump would never be president, so stay tuned … France held the first round of its election today, and the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, will go onto the second round of the playoffs – sorry, election (got the Oilers on my mind right now). Le Pen is anti-immigrant and anti-Euro. She is a sort of French Donald Trump, except by all accounts she is a spellbinding speaker and intelligent.

RIP

Aaron Hernandez, 27, former New England Patriot whose promising career went a little off the rails when he was convicted of murder. He committed suicide in prison … Erin Moran, 56, who played little sister Joanie on Happy Days, and the same character on the mercifully short-lived Joanie Loves Chachi. Life did not go well for Moran post-Happy Days. She married and divorced twice and battled depression, This year, Variety reported that she was “reportedly kicked out of her trailer park home in Indiana because of her hard-partying ways”. And that is one unhappy ending.