Stuff Happens, week 32: Markets dive; Calgary has arena envy

OK, now I don’t want to panic anyone, but if you’re in the stock market, I have a few words of advice.


Just a suggestion.

On Friday, markets around the world went in the crapper. the reason being, apparently, China. Seem the world’s no. 2 economy is loosing steamed rice. Last week, China devalued the yuan, and this week a report suggest the economy could be worse than the Chinese are admitting. Thanks to the perculiar logic of the markets, bad economic news in China results in people selling off Apple stock. Go figure. Anyway, stocks everywhere fell so far, so fast, that those in the know called it a “correction”, defined as a 10 per cent drop from a peak. That may not sound so bad, but if you fall, say 10 per cent off the peak of Everest, you’re screwed. When the markets reopen Monday, two things could happen. Investors could continue their panic and the fall will continue, or investors might just back to in cash in on lower prices. If that’s the case, then ignore my ALL CAPS warning, and substitute ‘THE MARKET IS RED HOT! JUMP IN NOW, PEOPLE!!”

OK, I don’t want to panic anyone — again — but ASHLEY MADISON HAS BEEN HACKED! IT’S A BLOODBATH, PEOPLE!

Never heard of Ashley Madison? Neither have I. Seriously, never heard of it. Ashley Madison is a Canadian website that promotes adultery; if you want to have an extramarital affair, but just don’t know how to go about it, Ashley Madison can help. Isn’t the internet wonderful? Someone or something, perhaps with a sense of morality, hacked the site (that’s computer talk for ‘burgled’) and leaked (computer talk for ‘stole’) the names of millions of of clients, and posted them. Turns out, a lot of people want to have affairs. Who knew? The Toronto Star did an analysis, based on postal codes, of which parts of Canada spent the most on Ashley Madison. Not surprisingly, the top address was the postal code connected to the head office of Ashley Madison. The number two address? Lloydminster, which straddles the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. The records suggest $142,000 worth of transactions originated from Lloydminster. Attention divorce lawyers … Lloydminster wants YOU!

The trail of Mike Duffy/Stephen Harper continued this week, at a pace that would cause a snail to say, “Can you speed it up a bit?” Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff, continued to assert that he never told his boss that he paid the $90,000 Duffy owed for his illegal senate expenses. This week, it was revealed that Harper’s current chief of staff, Ray Novak, also knew of the payment. And, if you want to believe this, Novak ALSO didn’t tell Harper. In fact, it appears that none of Stephen Harper’s closest confidants — the guys who ran his office and used the Senate like a personal plaything — told the boss about the Duffy payments. Two things: if all of Harper’s minions conspired to plan the Duffy payment and subsequent media lies and didn’t tell him, don’t you think they should all be fired? The alternative is that Harper knew all along (which seems much more likely),and Harper lied through his teeth (he does have teeth, although he never shows them), which means he should be fired. By us.

Remember a while back, when the barbarians of ISIS took over the huge ruins of Palmyra? It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and the fact it exists today is largely due to the work of Kahled al-Asaad, an archeologist who was so connected to the site, he was known as Mr. Palmyra. There were fears that the Islamic State would destroy the site, as they have when taking over other heritage areas. But this time, ISIS decided that destroying ruins was so 15th century, that they upped the ante by beheading the 83-year-old al-Asaad, then hanging his body from a post for all to see. ISIS: Keeping barbarity alive in the 21st century.

Well, this was just a matter of time,wasn’t it? With Edmonton’s new arena taking shape, it was certain that Calgary would want a piece of that sweet, sweet arena action. So this week, the ownership of the Calgary Flames (who also own the Stampeders) announced a grand plan for a new arena, PLUS a covered football stadium, PLUS a field house, all on the same site. The project, pegged at anywhere from $800 million to more than a billion (what’s a few hundred million?) would be paid for by a ticket tax, a community development levy, and a measly $200 million from the owners, who are some of the richest men in Canada. In other words, less than a third would be paid by the people who would directly benefit, with the rest coming from taxpayers/ticket buyers/the city. Of course, they want provincial dollars, too, and this puts the NDP government in a bind. If Rachel Notley agrees to kick in some money for the project (she shockingly didn’t completely rule it out immediately, giving rise to some hope that funds could be found), Edmonton will go with its hand outstretched, looking for the same amount. That would be nuts, of course. There is no way the NDP would give money to private enterprise for frivolous things like arenas, what with all the pressures on the provincial treasury. Is there?

RIP: Bud Yorkin, 89, the lesser known half (with Norman Lear) of the producing team responsible for All in the Family, Maude and Sanford and Son. ..Yvonne Craig, 78, actress best know as Batgirl from the old Batman TV series.

(Note: That panoramic photo of downtown Edmonton at the top of this blog was taken by my brother-in-law, Kim Griffiths.)

The Pain Campaign: Election 2015, week 3: Harper rejects your premise.

After months of being labelled “just not ready” by the Conservative attack machine, the Liberals have launched a counteroffensive. Let’s call it the Just Not Ready for Being Just Not Ready campaign.

The Liberals aired a campaign ad this week that featured Justin Trudeau — no tie, no jacket — addressing the Just Not Ready ads head on. In the ad, Trudeau agrees he’s just not ready — but he’s “just not ready to watch hard-working Canadians lose jobs and fall further behind.” According to a story in the Globe and Mail, a polling firm that tracks reactions to campaign ads found the Trudeau ad quite effective. The share of respondents who viewed Trudeau as the most competent leader and the one who “cares for people like me” went up six percentage points after seeing the ad. And the perception that Trudeau stands up for the middle class went up 17 per cent. of course, it’s always good to be on the side of “hard working Canadian families”. After all, what other kind of Canadian family is there? A hard working Canadian family is just like a good driver — everyone’s a good driver. Just ask anyone.

Meanwhile, the boy in the bubble, Stephen Harper, continued his invitation only campaign appearances, but one backfired badly. A group of Canadian military veterans said they were denied access to a Stephen Harper event held at a legion in New Brunswick Monday morning. Yep … veterans shut out of a legion. Things are not going well for Harper so far. He is dogged by questions about the Mike Duffy trial, which must be annoying for a guy who hasn’t taken a dozen question from the media in a year. Harper’s new tact when asked a question he doesn’t like is to say “I don’t accept the premise of your question”, which is a classic example of Harper-speak. He ‘answers’ a question by rejecting the premise, rephrasing it the way he wants it to sound, then answers his own question.

On the left side of the ledger, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was called just as dictatorial as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, according to a New Democrat turned-Green MP named Bruce Hyer. In a Facebook post Sunday, Hyer wrote that if voters handed Mulcair and the NDP a majority government this fall, Canadians would be on their way to enjoying “another dictatorial Prime Minister. “Mulcair is a ruthless man who will say and do anything to get elected. Just like Stephen Harper. He certainly is not Jack Layton, and the NDP is no longer the Democratic Party that it was under Jack Layton.” As perhaps the only person in Canada immune from the so-called charms of Jack Layton, this could be a good thing.

And finally, here is one video clip that perfectly encapsulates the classic Stephen Harper supporter. Check out this insane rant by a Conservative supporter directed at CBC and CTV reporters who had the temerity to ask Harper some questions he didn’t like.

Stuff Happens, week 31: Oil falls, gas goes up … again.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (and if you are, ask yourself why), you’ve probably grown tired of my ranting about Big Oil’s rip off of the Canadian consumer. From the Globe and Mail, a little proof: “Crude prices have tanked since early May, but gasoline prices have remained stubbornly high. The leading international benchmark, North Sea Brent, fell to $50 (U.S.) per barrel last week from $69 on May 1 – a drop of 28 per cent. But the average Canadian pump price actually rose over that period by three cents to $1.17.6 per litre last week, according to a survey done by Kent Group Ltd. Crude prices are 50-per-cent lower than last year, while the average pump price last week was down a mere 10 per cent, from $1.31.1 in the first week of August, 2014. Refining and marketing margins in Canada were 10 cents per litre higher as of July 21 than for the corresponding period last year, Natural Resources Canada reports.” Translation: we’re getting screwed. And just to add fuel to the fire (sorry) comes this week’s 15 cent a litre increase. The reason: a refinery went off-line in the Chicago area, resulting in an IMMEDIATE jump in the cost of gas in WESTERN CANADA in anticipation of a shortage. Yes, gasoline that was manufactured who knows how long ago went up 15 cents a litre overnight because of something that MIGHT happen. OK, I’m done with rants about oil. Seriously, I promise this is the last one …. until the next time.

CBC reporter Megan Batchelor was doing a live report from a music festival in Squamish, B.C. when a man planted a quick kiss on her cheek, took a selfie, and ran off. Summertime silliness at a concert, right? Nope. Ms. Batchelor said she was “rattled” by the incident, and the CBC asked the RCMP to investigate the “incident”. Yes, it’s an incident. There was, you may remember, the case of the idiot who screamed a vile vulgarity at a female reporter in Toronto earlier this year; the guy was ID’d and lost his job. But this? Turns out the guy came forward (he’s 17), and apologized. But really, have we gotten to the point where a silly little impulse is enough to “rattle” a TV reporter and serious enough to call in the cops?

On a much more serious crime note, have you heard of fentanyl? If not, you should.

Fentanyl is a painkiller, but calling it a painkiller is like saying Michelangelo was pretty good with a pen. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine, and is not something you should play with for a quick high; an overdose as small as a grain of salt can result in death. But illegal fentanyl is flooding Canadian cities. Sometimes it is sold as Oxycontin, a very powerful (but often abused) painkiller, and frequently turns up at concerts, where it is sold to teens and young adults. A report released this week says between 2009-14, fentanyl killed 655 Canadians, and the numbers are soaring. In BC, there were 90 deaths in 2014, and 60 this year alone. Here in Alberta, there were six deaths in 2011 — and 120 last year. In Edmonton, there have been 36 deaths from fentanyl this year; in Calgary, that number is 45.  If we had 36 murders in Edmonton this year, we’d be up in arms. But 36 drug overdose deaths? Just one of those things, I guess.

The Mike Duffy trial continued this week, with testimony from former Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright. Wright, who gave Duffy $90,000 that he owed the government apparently out of the goodness of his heart, continued to assert that Harper knew nothing of the payment. But it stretches credulity to believe that Harper, the most controlling prime minister in this country’s history, wasn’t involved. Now, Harper’s current chief of staff is being drawn into the scandal, and he’s making the claim that he just didn’t read emails from Wright regarding the Duffy payment. It’s looking more and more that there won’t be a single, explosive revelation that will bring down Harper (dammit), but there is a good chance the steady drip, drip, drip of revelations of the Harper teams lies and deceit will wear down the Teflon Harper wears.

RIP: Frank Gifford, 84, NFL hall of famer, husband of Kathy Lee Gifford, and former Monday Night Football announcer for 27 years.

The Pain Campaign: Election 2015, week 2

Thomas Mulcair had a bad start to the week when a high-profile Toronto NDP candidate said one of those things that actually makes some sense, but in an election campaign is immediately torqued into something terrible.

Linda McQuaig, a high-profile journalist tuned star candidate, said on a CBC election panel that some of the oil in Alberta’s oil sands “might have to stay in the ground” in order to meet Canada’s environmental targets. Possibly true, in that we might have to cut back on production to show we mean business in the climate change battle. But of course, this kind of “anti-Alberta posturing” (in the words of Wildrose leader Brian Jean) is just the kind of thing the Conservatives feast on. You just know that all Conservative candidates in Alberta will be turning that legitimate statement into ‘the NDP wants to shut down the oil sands’.  You can bet that this won’t be the only time that Mulcair — striving to appeal to the great big centre where most Canadian voters live — will have to put out a fire started by a wayward candidate.

Stephen Harper, on the other hand, is unlikely to have this problem; the control freak leader doesn’t allow anyone to speak out of turn. The Conservatives also bring new meaning to the term ‘crowd control’. When Harper comes to town to speak (his imperial majesty blessed us in Edmonton with a visit), the crowd is carefully vetted. Only invited guests can show up, so there is no chance of a heckler, and no chance that Harper will actually meet a voter who might disagree with him. It’s a tactic called the bubble campaign, and Harper has elevated it into an art.

Trudeau (right) posing with topless woman (left).
Trudeau (right) posing with topless woman (left).

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau wades into crowds, and the crowds seem to love it. He cradles newborns, poses for selfies, shakes the hands of the great unwashed. This can, of course, backfire. A photo emerged this week of Justin Trudeau at a pride parade in Toronto last year, posing happily with a woman who seemed to have left the house without wearing a top. The photo appeared in some publications cropped, and in others with a cartoon depiction of the woman “to preserve her identity”, which is hilarious in that anyone walking down the street topless isn’t too worried about her identity. It might not have been the best idea for Trudeau to pose with a naked woman, but it does provide a perfect illustration of the difference between Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper. Trudeau is clearly a people person, regardless of their state of dress. Harper is the kind of person who showers wearing a suit.

Stuff Happens, week 30: HitchBOT bites it in Philly; the Trump circus rolls on

U.S. president Barack Obama unveiled a hugely ambitious, perhaps game-changing attempt to tackle greenhouse gasses this week, pushing ahead with tough curbs on coal-fired power stations. He is moving ahead because, he said with some emotion, “I believe there is such a thing as being too late … I am here to say that if we want to protect our economy, our security and our children’s health, we’re going to have to do more. The science tells us we have to do more.”

Say what you like about Obama, but the guy knows how to deliver a speech. Imagine, for a moment, our robotic, unemotional leader giving a speech like that, or making any kind of serious commitment to reversing climate change. In 10 years, our glorious leader has not one memorable quote to his name, except perhaps for calling the Northern Gateway pipeline a “no brainer”, when it should have been labelled “not gonna happen”.

HitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot, waiting for a ride.
HitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot, in happier times.

Did you hear the one about the hitchhiking Canadian robot?

No, it’s not a joke, but it does have a punchline — he got his face kicked in in Philadelphia.

HitchBOT is (or was) a robot created by two Canadian professors that worked its way across Canada and parts of Europe, relying on the kindness of strangers. (Here’s a report from CNN, which contains a remarkably prescient prediction.) HitchBOT was travelling in the U.S. when a random asshole in Philadelphia, all by himself and under no peer pressure, kicked the crap out of HitchBOT, destroying it. Philadelphia may call itself the City of Brotherly Love, but it not nice to robots. Thanks, Americans, for confirming every stereotype we have about you.

Speaking of American stereotypes, Donald Trump continues to amuse the masses with his inane, unfiltered comments. Trump was the main attraction at the first Republican presidential debate Thursday, watched by an estimated 24 million people. During Thursday’s presidential debate, Fox News fox Megyn Kelly pressed Trump about misogynistic, sexist comments he made in the past, such as calling some women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” Trump slammed Kelly, saying her questions were “ridiculous” and “off-base.”

“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes,” Trump told CNN’s Don Lemon on Friday night. “Blood coming out of her wherever.”

Well, this set off the predictable firestorm of criticism, and The Donald was even disinvited from a Republican event. Trump, of course, did not apologize, and said he has nothing to apologize for. Ya gotta love this guy; he has no filter, says whatever pops into his impossibly coifed head, never worries about the consequences, and the public loves him. I’ve said before that there is no possible way that Trump will win the nomination — the vote for which is a YEAR away — but for now, he’s great copy during a slow news summer.

RIP: Chris Hyndman, 49, host of the CBC lifestyle show Stephen and Chris.

The Pain Campaign: Election 2015, week 1

Welcome, reader(s), to the Pain Campaign, your weekly recap of the longest and certainly ugliest election campaign in modern Canadian history.

First, a probably unnecessary warning. Don’t come here if you’re looking for reasoned, balanced analysis. I just can’t do that, because I loathe Stephen Harper, more than any other Canadian politician, ever. I think Harper is the worst thing to happen to Canada since the Spanish flu. He has done tremendous damage to Canada, and if we don’t get rid of him in October, the damage may be irreversible.

Now that you know where I stand, let’s look at the first week of the campaign.

For those of you keeping track (or with very, very long memories) there hasn’t been a campaign this long in Canada since 1872. Back then it was somewhat more difficult to campaign, in that there were no airplanes, phones, radios, TV, or internet. Back then, it might take days for a campaign promise or gaffe to travel the country. So, why are we having an 11-week campaign in the 21st century?

In explaining why we need an additional six weeks of electioneering, Harper came up with the complete fantasy that the longer campaign will ensure that the parties use their own money to campaign, and “not from the government resources, parliamentary resources or taxpayer resources.” In fact, the only party abusing public money is the Conservatives, with their hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars used to promote government giveways to “hard-working Canadian families”, and his ministers travelling the country giving away millions. In another fact, the parties get money from the taxpayers for the campaign, and one party stands to benefit hugely from the longer campaign. Can you guess which one? If the Conservatives spend the new maximum allowed, they will be reimbursed $26-million in public money. No other party has the resources to spend the new maximum, so the long campaign benefits only the Conservatives. It’s like the Eskimos deciding that they can have double the number of players on their roster, and playing 90 minute games. Harper made his laughable claim with a straight face, pretty much the only facial expression he has.

When the election was announced, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair gave his statement with the Parliament building as a backdrop. Remarkably, Mulcair — who is very quick on his feet — took no media questions, which raised some eyebrows.  Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was flying to Vancouver when the election was called, so he missed the opportunity for invaluable free airtime on the TV networks. He was on his way to Vancouver for a gay pride parade, which no doubt played right into the prejudices of starch conservatives who see him as a light-in-the-loafers friendly dilettante. Bad move, but when he finally made a statement, he answered all question from the media, until they finally collectively said “Can we go home now?”

Thursday was the first — and possibly last — all parties debate, shown on CITY TV, which gave the show the production values usually associated with cable access. Thanks to Harper’s refusal to participate in the traditional debate run by the networks, this may be the only debate featuring all leaders.

After the Conservatives attempted to set the stage by saying Trudeau only had to do well if he remembered to wear pants, Trudeau proceeded to not only remember to wear pants, but an entire suit. And he looked good in it, too.

Debates are usually judged on a winner/loser basis, but in this debate, there was only one clear winner — the voter. The leaders staked out their positions clearly. Harper was Harper, and aside from telling some half-truths (which is the most you can expect from him), he was his usual rock-like self. Mulcair was solid, although he has a weird speaking style that is just a little creepy when his eyes bug out of his head. And Trudeau performed well, too, although he always sounded like somebody who has so much to say that everythingjustgetsjumbledtogether. His closing statement was a real performance, painfully corny and rehearsed, but he didn’t stumble over it and require notes, the way Mulcair did. It’s too bad Elizabeth May is the leader of a fringe party; she’s a good speaker and a good debater.

Overall, no clear winner, and no clear loser. Trudeau probably gained the most by being aggressive and solid and remembering to wear pants, and Mulcair may have lost the most with a few weak spots. Overall, not a game changer this far from election day, but generally a plus for Trudeau. We can only hope that we have a few more debates.

imgres-1BLUNDER OF THE WEEK: Surprisingly for a guy who is so buttoned-down his hair combs itself, Harper made the first blunder of the campaign. In an online promo, Harper, trying his best to look human (and failing), spoke with that painful looking smile and talked about how much he liked movies and TV. Behind him was the Netflix logo. Based on no facts whatsoever, Harper pledged never to tax Netflix. Nobody has ever discussed taxing Netflix. It was amateurish and baffling and Harper became an online laughing stock. Harper also inexplicably decided to take a shot at the Rachel Notley NDP government, calling it a “disaster”. Really? I’m no fan of the NDP, but to call a three-month old government a disaster is pure partisan BS from Harper that won’t endear him to anyone in Alberta except rabid conservatives.

RECOMMENDED READING: A scathing column by John Robson from the Conservative-supporting National Post.

Stuff Happens, week 29: I’m ‘Just Not Ready’ for an election, but here it is.

Are you sick of those ‘Just Not Ready’ commercials from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives? Tired of seeing that baggy-eyed old man, that mandatory immigrant with the heavy accent, and the generic woman looking over Justin Trudeau’s ‘resume’? And are you sick of hearing “Nice hair, though”?

Well, get ready to get even sicker.

Harper performed the traditional anachronism of asking the Governor-General to shut down parliament Sunday morning in order to hold an election. Since the date is already set (Oct. 19) that means we’re have an election campaign that goes through August, September and into October, the longest in Canadian history. So, why would Harper force an 11-week election campaign, instead of the traditional 37 days? You see, under the new election laws, the spending for a 37-day campaign is capped at $25 million per party. But under the new law (written by the Tories), the parties can spend $675,000 a day after day 37. Only one party has enough money to spend on an 11-week campaign — can you guess which one? My guess is that minute after the election campaign begins, we’ll see a whole new raft of anti-Trudeau ads that will run with such repetition, you will either buy into the bullshit they spew, or turn violently against Harper for ruining your TV viewing. And, once the destruction of Justin Trudeau is complete, they’ll move on to character assassination of Tom Mulcair. Welcome to Canadian politics, Harper style.

Last week, Harper announced that he is not going to appoint any more senators. Sadly, he continues to appoint Supreme Court justices, with the expected outcomes.

On Monday, Harper appointed an Edmonton judge, Russell Brown, to the top court. To the parochial Edmonton Journal, this was rah-rah Edmonton stuff. The front page story was all praise, with only passing mention that Brown was on the advisory council of something called the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. But to the Globe and Mail, it was another example of Harper appointing a conservative judge. The Globe said his appointment was “fast tracked”, and that he is a “rising conservative star”. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom was described by the Globe as a “conservative legal group” that has as one of its core views “economic liberty”, including property rights, which have not been accepted by the Supreme Court. The Globe put an emphasis on the conservative angle, while the Journal did not — in fact, the word conservative doesn’t appear at all in the Journal story. So, is Russell Brown just a hard-working brainiac, or another conservative plant? You have one guess.

This week’s international outrage concerns a lion. Not just any lion, mind you, but Cecil.

Cecil is (or was), Zimbabwe’s most famous lion, who overcame the stigma of being named Cecil to become a bit of a star. Cecil met his maker recently in the form of a Minnesota dentist and big-game slaughterer named Walter Palmer. The not-so good doctor outsmarted the wild animal by first luring it out of a national park at night using bait, then shot Cec with a bow and arrow (well, mostly the arrow). Poor Cecil wandered around with an arrow in his back until the next day, when Palmer courageously tracked him down and killed him, followed by beheading and skinning. The only thing worse than  being Cecil right now is being Walter Palmer, who is under relentless online attack for his actions. Hey, I’m not a big fan of online shaming (read Jon Ronson’s excellent book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed), but Palmer deserves every bit of online shaming he is enduring (minus the inevitable death threats). I’m not a big fan of hunting, but it’s part of North American life for many to go out and blast a few ducks from the sky in the fall. But killing a lion by luring him outside a national park? No, that’s just not humane. Why anyone would take great pride in outsmarting a wild animal, with all the technology and advantages a human has at his disposal, is utterly beyond me.

Another iconic (sorry) writer released a new book this week, but with much different critical results. You may remember Harper Lee’s “new” book, Go Set A Watchman, was released to much fanfare and lousy reviews. But this week, the greatest children’s writer of all, the long-dead Dr. Seuss, came out with another book, What Pet Should I Get?, described by one reviewer as “genius on every page”. Almost makes me wish I had kids to read books to again …. almost.

Rowdy Roddy Piper
Rowdy Roddy Piper

RIP: Rowdy Roddy Piper, 61, longtime professional wrestler, apparently of cardiac arrest. In the days when I used to watch wrestling with my sons, Rowdy Roddy Piper was one of my favourites. He always seemed to be one of those guys who did his act with a bit of knowing humour, kind of a sly wink to the viewers, but always gave his all. Rowdy Roddy, who was Canadian, joins a long, depressing list of former pro wrestling stars who dropped dead far too young. He will be remembered not just for his wrestling, but for his eternal moment of fame from The Simpsons, when Groundskeeper Willie was referred to as Rowdy Roddy Peeper on the Rock Bottom scandal TV show. .. Flora MacDonald, 89, longtime Canadian Conservative MP and a pioneering female politician … Lynn Anderson, 67, country singer best known for her 1970 hit (I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden … Anne Rule, 83, American true crime writer, most famously for The Stranger Beside Me, the story of Ted Bundy.

Stuff Happens, week 28: Your bribe is in the mail; Republicans are Trumped

So, have you received your bribe yet? Stephen Harper’s utterly shameless federal Conservatives are in the process of giving away $3 billion in tax dollars to “hard working Canadian families” (is there any other kind of Canadian family?) in the form of monthly cheques for families with kids. The benefit cheques are larger than usual due to changes the Conservatives introduced last fall – $160 a month for children under 6, up from $100, and a new payment of $60 a month for seven- to 17-year-olds, regardless of family income. The cheques, going to roughly 3.8 million families, include the regular monthly amount for July plus catch-up payments for the first six months. Note that the payments are universal, meaning the poorest Canadian gets $160 a month for children under 6, and so does your local millionaire or billionaire. Yes,  Daryl Katz is getting a benefit cheque. Of course, it’s insanity to give $160 a month to the poorest of the poor (who need it), and the same $160 to the richest of the rich (who don’t need it, and might not even cash it). But “hard working Canadian families” is a voter-rich constituency, and Harper believes they can be bought. The Conservatives are spending untold millions advertising the giveaway (with your tax dollars), with the not-so subtle theme that this free money is coming to you via Stephen Harper and his Conservative party. And yes, it is entirely coincidental that an election is coming in October.

The American media is going absolutely bonkers over the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, the reptilian Republican. This week, Trump denigrated the war heroics of Sen. John McCain by saying he was only a hero because he got caught, and Trump prefers his heroes to not get caught. The backlash was swift and universal, as expected. Equally expected was Trump’s refusal to drop out of the race, especially in light of the fact he is the no. 1 choice in the Republican race amongst the 487 delusional clowns running for the nomination. Let’s make this clear, folks: Donald Trump will never, ever, EVER win the nomination. He will stay in for a long time because he has the money and none of the shame. But even by Republican standards, he’s off his nut. I admit to a grudging admiration for anyone who says whatever brain-damaged idiocy comes into his head, and doesn’t apologize for it.

There was yet another tragic mass shooting in the US, when a 58-year-old man killed two civilians and injured nine in Lafayette, Louisiana, before killing himself. By recent mass shooting standards, this one was almost small scale.  If you’re thinking that mass shootings seem to be fairly common in the Excited States of America these days, you’re right. In the United States from January 1 to July 23, 2013, there have been 204 mass shootings, according to a website called (yes, this is real) Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced website that monitors gun-related deaths. The tracker defines a mass shooting as an incident “when four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events, likely without a cooling off period.” Not all of these mass shootings resulted in a death.

Summer in Edmonton, so we’re still talking hockey. The Oilers — whose ability to dominate the local media is truly remarkable — opened a virtual arena this week, displaying the seats in the new arena (wider, for our more corpulent population), with cup holders (hey, how do you think we got more corpulent?) and, or course, way higher prices. The Oilers have 38 price points; you can get a season ticket for as little as $1,950 for the nosebleed section all the way up to $23,000 for the top seat. Remember, however … you’re still just watching the Edmonton Oilers.

RIP: E.L. Doctorow, 84, author of the acclaimed novels Ragtime and Billy Bathgate … character actor Alex Rocco, 79, best known for his distinctively gravelly voice. He played Moe Greene in The Godfather, and was the voice of Itchy and Scratchy studio head Roger Meyers Jr. on The Simpson.




Stuff Happens, week 27: ‘Ice’ to see you; El Chapo el escapos; oil spill oops.

The big non-news in Edmonton this week was the announcement that the area surrounding the new arena, previously known by the rather prosaic ‘arena district’, has been renamed Ice District. (Apparently, it is just ‘Ice District’, not ‘The Ice District’, according to the pretentious PR hacks behind this rebranding.) The Ice District (sorry) name was dreamed up by none other than Daryl Katz, the Oilers owner and arena co-owner. The grand plans for (cough, cough) Ice District include high rises with 1,000 units, 1.3 million sq. ft. of office space, a luxury hotel, restaurants, theatres, etc. Katz and co. didn’t bother to ask the city if they wanted the area renamed Ice District because, well, he’s Daryl Katz. Asking permission is for suckers. Bob Nicholson, vice-chair of the Oiler Entertainment Group, said the name will “capture the imagination of people in Edmonton and around the world.” Yes, I hear it’s the talk of the glitterati in New York already. My take? Who cares what they call it; it was just an attempt at cool PR move by the Oilers, maybe as an apology for allowing the new arena to be named (heavy sigh here) Rogers Place. Next up for Daryl Katz: buying up Chinatown, and renaming it the Rice District.

The Greek debt crisis is over. Sort of. After Greek voters roused themselves from doing nothing to vote against a package of austerity measures proposed by the European Union, the Greek government agreed to a package that was even worse than the deal rejected by the voters. In order to keep the money taps flowing, the Greeks have essentially agreed to turning over the keys to the Greek economy to the Eurozone, and by that I mean Germany. I won’t go into detail here because, well, I don’t understand it, but suffice to say that hard times are coming for Greece. There are even rumours that Greeks will have to start paying taxes! Part of the deal calls for Greece to sell off 50 billion Euros in assets. This could be difficult. How much can you get for an old pile of rubble like the Parthenon?

Oh, boy, is Mexico’s face red. Or even redder. Last year, the notorious drug kingpin Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman was finally arrested by Mexican authorities. El Chapo is such a successful criminal, he was once on Fortune magazine’s list of the world’s top billionaires. Anyway, El Chapo was safely behind bars in Mexico’s most secure prison, until he escaped via a 1.5 km long tunnel beneath the prison. The tunnel had lights, a ventilation system, and a motorcycle apparently used to transport the dirt. It is believed that the construction on the tunnel began basically right after El Chapo was sent to prison. A massive search is on for El Chapo, with police concentrating on, oh, I dunno … tunnels?

The big news in the literary world this week was the release of Harper Lee’s second (actually first) novel, called Go Set A Watchman. Lee, of course, wrote the classic To Kill A Mockingbird, one of the most beloved novels of the 20th century. It was believed that she never wrote another book, until the manuscript for Go Set A Watchman was found last year, apparently in a safety deposit box. Publisher Harper Collins has put millions of copies into print, 200,000 in Canada alone. Go Set A Watchman features the same characters from Mockingbird, Atticus Finch and his daughter Scout, but now Scout is all grown up and an attorney. That’s not the horror of the book, though; turns out Atticus is a bit of a racist! What next? Is there an unpublished manuscript that portrays Anne of Green Gables as a Nazi sympathizer?

Pipeline owner Nexen has a little oopsy this week, when a pipeline rupture in northern Alberta spilled a couple of swimming pools worth of bitumen and other guck into the muskeg. As the saying goes, these things happen, but there are safeguards in place so that when these things happen, a warning goes out. But the warning system didn’t work; if it weren’t for an engineer walking along the pipeline, the rupture would have gone undetected for who knows how long. The spill will be cleaned up, and Nexen will do its penance and mea culpas. In the short term, things get cleaned up. In the long term, with each spill it will become that much harder to get pipelines built.

Familiar with the dating site Plentyoffish (that’s Plenty of Fish for those of you who don’t read websitese)? Founded by Vancouverite Markus Frind in 2003, it now gets 2.2 billion views a month. Frind built the site without outside investors, so he owns the whole thing. This week, Frind sold Plenty of Fish to rival company Match Group for $575 million.

And finally, a royal non-scandal. The British lowbrow tabloid, The Sun, released a the 17-second-long film clip that shows the Queen — then about 7-years-old — at the family home in Balmoral, with her uncle Edward, mother and sister. The Queen Mother is seen raising her hand in the Nazi salute, and, after glancing at her mother, the Queen does the same, followed by Prince Edward, the future Edward VIII. You can see it here.  In the great tradition of British tabloids’ tradition of clever/hilarious/rude headlines, The Sun’s report was titled “Their Royal Heilnesses.” Experts say that kids at the time often did the Nazi salute as a joke, and the Queen and her family were well-known for their hilarious sense of humour. Just a little fun … nothing to see here, people.

Stuff Happens, week 26: Grexit explained; bike lanes deflated; Cowboyhatgate

The big international story this week continues to be the Greek debt, and the threat of Greece getting kicked out of the Eurozone, a situation called the Grexit (if this had been an American crisis, it would have been called Greekgate). As a service to my 27 regular readers, I will try to explain this situation as best I can, which is not say not very well at all.

Greeks have this thing about paying taxes — in general, they just don’t bother — but they still like all the comforts that come with a welfare state. In order to keep the country running (or in the case of Greece, casually ambling) Greece has borrowed billions and billions of Euros from the Eurozone. Turns out that the moneymen have a thing about getting their money back at some point, which seems fair. The Eurozone tried to force austerity measures on the Greeks, which were not well received; Greeks seem to believe the idea of repaying loans and living within your means is some form of capitalist slavery. The public voted down the austerity measures in a hastily called vote last week, setting off much celebration and, I assume, a lot of broken glasses. The stage for some sort of showdown between Germany and France (the top dogs of the Eurozone) and Greece is now set. Greece risks getting booted from the Eurozone, which would mean they will have to go back to their old currency, and good luck getting anyone to loan you any money when you want to repay with drachmas. But on Friday night, the Greek government voted in a package of austerity measures that were pretty much exactly what the people voted against! OK, so now do you understand it?

Here in Edmonton, a city under a permanent state of delayed construction, the gleaming new leg of the Light Rail Transit system is all set to go, and has been for months. But there’s apparently something wrong with the signalling system, and nobody has a clue when the first trains will run down the tracks. It’s a fiasco, joining the list of major city projects (not one, but TWO major bridges) that are hopelessly behind schedule. But on the plus side, city council voted to rescind the error of previous councils by eliminating some dedicated bike lanes, which were unused by most cyclists and hated by all drivers. The catch? It will cost about a million dollars to remove the bike lanes. Ah, Edmonton.

On Monday, Canadian Vsek Popsisil (now that’s a classic Canadian name, eh?) pulled off an amazing feat at the Wimbledon tennis championships. He played in singles AND doubles in one day — almost six hours of tennis, two matches, 10 sets, losing the doubles but winning the singles, advancing to the quarter finals. Remarkable, but according to the Edmonton Journal, it was not as amazing as …. you guessed it … Oiler no. 1 draft choice Connor McDavid scoring five goals in an intrasquad game. That was their page 1 sports story; Popsisil’s remarkable feat was relegated to page 5.

A new public opinion poll shows the New Democratic Party under Thomas Mulcair “represents the clearest change from the Stephen Harper government,” an indication that anti-Harper forces could coalesce behind Mulcair. Yet, the Conservatives continue to pollute the airwaves with their anti-Justin Trudeau “just not ready” ads, blinkered in their belief that Trudeau is public enemy no. 1. Sooner or later, they’ll catch on and start running anti-Mulcair ads. Might I suggest a tagline? Thomas Mulcair: Just Not Cleanshaven.

imagesPremier Rachel Notley had one of those ‘oops’ moments that, in the days before social media, would never even have been a moment. At the Stampede, the premier donned the traditional white cowboy hat, but she put it on backwards. This incited the usual Twitter snickering and general stupidity. The premier’s chief mouthpiece, the incredibly humourless Cheryl Oates, said: “It’s absolutely unintentional. She was born and raised here her whole life and she respects all the intricacies that go with that culture.” What a ponderous, political answer. The best response is no response at all (which the NDP is very good at already), or something funny. The best comment came from a hatmaker from Smitbilt Hats, makers of the famed chapeau, who said: “Hats don’t come with how-to instructions.” In 2005, Stephen Harper appeared at the Stampede looking like the picture at left, backwards cowboy hat and all, and somehow survived.

So, y’all excited about the Pan Am Games in Toronto? If so, you’re practically alone. The first event was a water polo game between Puerto Rico and Venezuela, played in a 2,000-seat pool built specifically for the games. Total attendance was 25. Pan Am fever: catch it! 

The other shoe drops: the Nine West chain of 48 shoes stores filed for bankruptcy protection this week. If the stores close, that will leave the typical Canadian shopping mall with only 25 shoe stores.

RIP: Omar Sharif, suave actor best known for his roles in Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, at 83 … Kenny Stabler, former QB for the Oakland Raiders, at 69 … Burt Shavitz, hippy beekeeper and co-founder of the Burt’s Bees lip balm and other products, at 80. By the way, Burt’s Bees was purchased by Clorox, the bleach people, in 2007 for $925 million.