The Return of Stuff Happens, week 36: Trudeau vs. Trump

Donald Trump, the increasingly, dangerously irrational U.S. president, addressed the UN General Assembly this week. So, too, did Justin Trudeau, the poster boy for all that is liberal in the world. Their addresses could not be more different, which is to be expected. And thank God for that.

Trump was terrible, as expected. He gave the kind of speech that would, delivered by any other president or any other sane person, would have caused a billion jaws to drop. But for Trump, it was business as unusual. This week, he tore strips off the floundering former democracy Venezuela (“The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing. Their democratic institutions are being destroyed. This situation is completely unacceptable and we cannot stand by and watch, he said.), resulting in the Venezuelan president calling Trump “the new Hitler”. He had charming things to say about Iran (“It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran’s government end its pursuit of death and destruction.”), resulting in the Iranian president calling his comments “ignorant and absurd”. He saved his best shots for North Korea. “No nation on Earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles,” Trump said, referring to the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he has decided to call Rocket Man, which is actually pretty cool. (Wouldn’t Rocket Boy have been better?) “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” A North Korea spokesman likened Trump to a “barking dog”, which, as insults go, is pretty toothless. Bile, hatred and threats. Yep, pretty much par for the course.

Justin Trudeau, too, had a lot of bad things to say in his speech on Thursday. The difference was that all the bad stuff was about Canada.

Trudeau didn’t mention any of Trump’s whipping boys, concentrating his remarks on what a shitty country Canada has been in relation to its Indigenous people.

“For First Nations, Metis Nation and Inuit peoples in Canada, those early colonial relationships were not about strength through diversity, or a celebration of differences. For Indigenous peoples in Canada, the experience was mostly one of humiliation, neglect, and abuse.”

Trudeau spoke about the lack of safe drinking and bathing water in Indigenous communities across Canada, and about the youth suicide epidemics on some reserves.

“There are Indigenous parents in Canada who say goodnight to their children, and have to cross their fingers in the hopes that their kids won’t run away, or take their own lives in the night.”

Canada, he said, is a work in progress.

I don’t know about you, but this Canada place sounds like a hell hole. Good thing that nobody outside of Canada was listening.

Thanks, Kim

How bad is Donald Trump in the insult department? This week, he was burned  by a country that doesn’t speak English, and apparently only has access to dictionaries from the 1800s. This week, the Korean government issued a statement, calling Trump “a mentally deranged US dotard”.

Dotard?

Yep, it’s a word. It refers to an old person who has become weak and senile. It is not often used, to put it mildly. The New York Times reported that ‘dotard’ had only been used 10 times in its pages since 1980. (It’s apparently pronounced DO-terd, by the way.) I don’t know if anyone will remember dotard by this time next week, but for now, score one for North Korea.

On Sunday, the Dotard in Chief fired off a new salvo in America’s never-ending race war. Speaking to a rabid rally in Alabama, Trump called out NFL owners who refuse to discipline players who take a knee during the national anthem as a protest against the treatments of blacks in America.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

And he spouted off with a few opinions about the state of the league.

“The NFL ratings are down massively,” Trump said. “Now the No. 1 reason happens to be they like watching what’s happening … with yours truly. They like what’s happening. Because you know today if you hit too hard: 15 yards! Throw him out of the game!

“They’re ruining the game! That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game.”

Amazing how nobody even bats an eye anymore at vulgar language from the U.S. President, isn’t it? This set off an angry response from NFL players and the league itself. You never know with Trump whether he says something deliberately, or if it’s just an idiot spouting off like a drunk at a cocktail party.

Toys R In Trouble

Toys ‘Backwards R’ Us filed for creditor protection in the U.S. this week, usually the first foot in the fiscal grave. It seems the company has piled up debt like an Alberta government, upwards of $5 billion US. But before you rub your hands together at the prospect of picking up toys and games at close-out prices, hold the phone.

It seems while the U.S. parent company is floundering, the 84 Canadian outlets are doing very well, thank you, posting improved sales and actual honest-to-goodness profits. And the store is preparing to do its annual Christmas season hiring spree in October. But if the parent company shuts down, the Canadian arm will likely whither and die as well.

Conservatives are so-o-o-o stupid

Gerry Ritz, a Saskatchewan MP and registered idiot, issued a tweet this week, calling Environment Minister Catherine McKenna a “climate Barbie”, which is apparently a term coined by the creepy right wing website The Rebel. The outrage was swift and predictable, allowing the government to turn the tables on the Conservatives for a change. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Even dumber, however, was a Conservative Sen. Lynn Beyak who issued a letter this month calling for First Nations people to give up their status cards in exchange for a one-time cash payment, and said they could then practice their culture “on their own dime”. She somehow keeps her job as a senator (there is no firing senators for some reason) but she has been expelled from all committees. As someone who had to attend committee meetings in my past life, I can tell you this is not a punishment.

RIP

Jake LaMotta, 95, former boxer immortalized by Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull … Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, 72, former WWE wrestler, manager and commentator … Lilian Bettencourt, 94, French cosmetics businesswoman (L’Oreal), and the world’s richest woman.

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The Return of Stuff Happens, week 35: A game as old as hockey itself.

There was big news from Alberta’s second city this week — the Calgary Flames are unhappy. And if the Flames are unhappy, ain’t nobody happy.

As you may have heard, the Flames and the City of Calgary have been haggling over the construction of a new arena for some time. The dispute concerns trivial matters like where should it go and who should pay for it. (Sound familiar, Edmonton?) This week, with the weather cooler and the stench of hockey equipment in the air, the Flames announced that they would no longer be seeking deal to build a new arena. Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation president and CEO Ken King said Wednesday they would no longer be pursuing an arena deal in Calgary, saying that months of meetings were “spectacularly unproductive.”

“It doesn’t look like we’re going to get there and I think it’s time that we stop pretending,” King said.

Just to make sure the public knew he was serious, he brought in NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the Darth Vader of sports commissioners. Bettman issued his usual veiled threat that the team might move, without actually saying the team might move. He’s very good at this, having done it many times before.

“Without a new building, there will be consequences everyone will have to deal with. Negotiations are over. They’ll play out the string here for as long as they can,” Bettman said. Consequences. Playing out the string. Negotiations are over. Yep, all the classic lines.

The Flames power play, with the civic election just weeks away, seemed to work. Calgary Herald sports writer Eric Francis went into full panic mode, immediately dredging up the threat of a move to Quebec City (which will never happen), or Seattle, which conveniently announced a couple of days previous that it was looking at a $600 million arena that would be suitable for the NBA and … THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE!

Sound familiar, Edmonton? During the interminable debate over building a new arena here, Oilers owner Daryl Katz pulled his own Seattle scam, going to an event there in 2012 and conveniently having his photo taken. It didn’t work, and Katz issued a half-assed apology. He eventually won, getting the city and the taxpayer to pay the biggest chunk of the arena, while keeping all the revenue to himself.

I have no doubt that the Flames and the city will eventually come to terms. No Canadian city, particularly one that sees itself as ‘world class’ like Calgary, wants to lose an NHL team. Eventually, the city (a.k.a. taxpayer) will pony up a wad of cash, the Flames will kick in some of their money, and win control of a so-called public building.

Take a deep breath, Calgary. The Flames aren’t going anywhere.

Speaking of suckers …

Apple introduced its new iPhone this week, 10 years after the company revolutionized the way we do damn near everything with their smartphone. The new iPhone X (that’s 10, by the way), has facial recognition software, wireless recharging, and a bunch of other stuff I don’t care about because the phone will cost ONE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS in Canada. Yes, a $1,300 phone which will become a $1,300 paperweight the second you drop it in the can. In the U.S., it’s priced at almost a grand, so it’s marginally more reasonable. But no matter the cost, I have no doubt that there will be the traditional lineup of suckers and saps outside Apple stores for the rare honour of being the first to own the phone.

Speaking of suckers and saps, the Edmonton Oilers released their new jersey this week, and — I can hardly believe I’m writing this — people lined up before the store opened to buy one. Yep, lined up to buy a jersey that I could buy, immediately, right now, if I was stupid enough to part with $200+ for a hockey sweater.

RIP

Frank Vincent, 80, who played Tony Soprano’s chief nemesis, Phil Leotardo, on The Sopranos … Allan MacEachen, 90, former deputy prime minister and frequent cabinet minister in various Liberal governments … Harry Dean Stanton, 91, familiar American character actor, best known for important parts in Alien, The Green Mile and many, many other movies … Violet Brown, 117, world’s oldest living person. Well, she WAS the world’s oldest living person … Smith Hart, 68, the eldest of the famous Hart brothers of Calgary wrestling fame.

 

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 34: Dear Earth …

Dear Earth:

This is a difficult letter for us to write, but something has to be said.

Are you mad at us? I mean, seriously, seriously angry? It sure seems that way.

I mean, just look at your attitude of late. You sent a hurricane named Harvey to batter poor old Texas with levels of water never seen before. I’m mean, c’mon, earth! What has Texas ever done to you?

OK, bad example.

But while Texas was mopping up, you decided to send the biggest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded to shred some poor little innocent islands that nobody has ever heard of before. And then you sent that same hurricane to pummel Florida. Is this revenge for how Florida voters somehow managed to vote for George W. Bush instead of Al Gore? I mean, c’mon, Earthy, that was years ago!

Oh, and that Mexican earthquake? Seriously? Mexico? Don’t those people have enough trouble with having to build somebody else’s wall? Gawd, lighten up!

Then there’s the forest fire situation in B.C., which is like an extended bout of explosive diarrhea. You are aware that British Columbia has more tree huggers than anywhere else in Canada, right? And you’re trying to burn them out? Sheesh.

And don’t think we haven’t noticed the worst monsoon season in memory, way over there in India and surrounding countries. OK, we haven’t really noticed it all that much, what with your hurricanes and all. But 1,400 people have been killed. Whatever your point is, Earth, you’ve made it.

Is it this whole climate change thing? That’s it, isn’t it? If that’s it, we’re sorry. Really, really sorry. Well, not everybody is sorry. But you’ve made your point. We’ll try to turn the thermostat down a couple of degrees, but it will take a while. Maybe, oh, I dunno … a few decades. You OK with that, Earth?

Seriously. We get the message. Just cool off (pun intended), and let us fix this thing.

Sincerely,

Humanity

RIP

Don Williams, 78,  a singer of heartfelt country ballads who emerged as one of the biggest stars in country music during the late 1970s. His hits include You’re My Best Friend, Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good, and Tulsa Time. He had 52 Top 40 hits on the country charts … Troy Gentry, 50, of the popular country duo Montgomery Gentry. He was killed in a helicopter crash… Noel Picard, 78, former NHLer with the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues and Atlanta Flames

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 33: Water, water, everywhere …

Houston and much of Texas was devastated this week by Hurricane Harvey, or Wally, or Larry,  or whatever it was called. (Note to the people who name hurricanes: if you know it’s going to be a big one, give it a powerful name. Hurricane Harvey doesn’t exactly inspire fear, but if they had named it Hurricane Rex or Hurricane Skullcrusher, people would have taken it more seriously.) The damage is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, which is terrible news for homeowners, but great news for home renovators. If I had a home repair business, I’d be on the next plane to Houston.

Usually, natural disasters like this one have little to no impact on us here in Alberta, but this one is different. Texas produces a lot of fuel (the state has one-third of U.S. oil reserves), so when Texas refineries go offline, there is bound to be a ripple effect. But, as usual, Big Oil is taking advantage of a natural disaster to goose the price of gas.

I can understand how losing Texas production will result in higher prices eventually.  But across Canada, thousands of kilometres away from Texas, gasoline prices soared. This is the same gasoline that on Monday sold for one price, and on Tuesday sold for a much higher price. This is gasoline that was produced and sold days, weeks or months ago, but somehow becomes much more valuable overnight. The overnight price hikes, in my view, are straight-up price gouging, disguised as price reaction to a natural disaster. I may be wrong (it has been known to happen), but if anyone can explain to me how a disaster in Houston creates an overnight spike in gas prices in Canada, I’d love to hear it.

And now, a little perspective …

Not to downplay the disaster in Texas, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the disaster currently ongoing in Asia. In the past few days, more than 1,200 people have been killed, and the lives of some 40 million others turned upside down, by torrential rain in northern India, southern Nepal, northern Bangladesh and southern Pakistan. Yes, that’s one thousand, two hundred people. But, it’s a long, long way away, and disasters are part of everyday life “over there”, so you will be forgiven if this is the first you’ve the heard of this.

The return of Mr. X

Remember David Xiao? Probably not. Let me jog your memory.

Xiao is the shadowy ex-PC MLA for Edmonton-McClung, whose only only claim to fame is being one of the leading spenders on travel expenses ($32,000 for his own car in 2013, even though he lives in the west end within 20 minutes of the legislature). Before the last provincial election, he announced that he was going to step down to run for the federal Conservatives in the last election. But the Conservatives disqualified him, for reasons unexplained. Oh, and some time ago he announced he was suing CBC reporters, a couple of bloggers and Wildrose party members for making statements that he had “deliberately and improperly channelled government funds to his political fundraisers, was guilty of corruption, graft and improper use of government monies, (and is) dishonest and unethical.”

Let’s see now … a defeated ex-PCer, shunned by the Conservative party, suing media outlets and other politicians … sounds like one hell of a city council candidate. Please, if you live in Ward 5, keep this in mind.

RIP

Walter Becker, 67, guitarist, bassist and co-founder of one of my all-time favourite bands, Steely Dan. With partner Donald Fagen, Steely Dan produced unique hit songs like Reelin’ in the Years, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Hey Nineteen, Kid Charlemange, Peg, and of course, Deacon Blues, which is in the Top 5 of my all-time favourite songs … Shelly Berman, 92, a very successful stand-up comic in the 1960s, and frequent comic actor. He most recently played Larry David’s father on Curb Your Enthusiasm … Skip Prokop, 73, co-founder and drummer for the great Canadian band Lighthouse, described as the world’s first 13-piece rock orchestra. Lighthouse had hits with One Fine Morning, Sunny Days, and the truly great song, Little Kind Words.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 32: The history police strike!

The Ontario elementary school teachers’ federation has voted to ask the provincial government to remove the name of Sir John. A. Macdonald from Ontario schools. According to the teachers’ union (sorry, that should be ‘federation’), Macdonald is the architect of the “genocide” of Canada’s Aboriginal people.

Yes, it has come to this. Wiping out the name of the first prime minister of Canada – ‘The Man Who Made Us’ to quote from the title of the biography of Macdonald by Richard Gwynn – to satisfy our 21st century guilt.

Let’s look at the whole history hysteria for a moment.

Was Macdonald’s attitude towards Indians (the term at the time) racist? In the House of Commons, Macdonald suggested the government should withhold food from the starving Cree “until the Indians were on the verge of starvation to reduce the expense.” His government also started the much-reviled residential schools system. On the other side of the spectrum, he was in favour of giving Indians the vote, as long as they owned land, just like white folk.

Today, Macdonald wouldn’t last a second in Canadian politics.  Just like virtually all historical figures. But at the time, the kind of racist stuff Macdonald said was no doubt acceptable to a great number of Canadians. Racism was as commonplace as smallpox back in Macdonald’s day. The superiority of the white race was simply a given back then, and for a great many decades after. Sir Wilfred Laurier, a revered Liberal prime minister, thought it was perfectly OK to take lands from “savage nations”, as long as they were paid for their trouble.

Let us cast our net wider. No less a personage than Winston Churchill once said, in reference to the fate of Aboriginal people: “I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” Whoa. Tear down that Churchill statue in Churchill Square! And rename the square … as long as it’s not renamed Macdonald.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, arguably the greatest American president, locked up Japanese-American citizens during WWII. He was also worried about“the mingling of Asiatic blood with European or American blood.” Mackenzie King did the same thing here.

And how about Emily Murphy, the hero of Canadian feminists? She fought for the right for women to be legally recognized as “persons”. Great, right? Oh, but she wrote a work of fiction in 1922, called The Black Candle, about an international conspiracy of non-whites who had banded together to corrupt the “purity” of the white race with the help of drugs, turning them into sex slaves and drug addicts. She was by today’s standards a racist (and maybe of her time as well). And to top it all off, she believed in eugenics; she wrote that “race suicide” happened when the poor and mentally and socially “inferior” reproduced at a much faster rate than what she deemed the “human thoroughbreds.” Oh, my. Rename Emily Murphy Park! Take down her statues!

Or let us consider D.W. Griffith, the father of American cinema. One of the most important and innovative pioneers of the early days of film, his epic The Birth of a Nation from 1915 was widely hailed at the greatest achievement in the history of film (history being rather short at the time). Woodrow Wilson saw the film in the White House. Whites loved the film, blacks hated it, and with good cause. Despite its technical virtuosity, it is shockingly racist. Seriously, if you watch this film, prepare to have your mind blown. But in 1915, it was just rousing entertainment. Should all of the accomplishments of Griffiths be expunged because of his one, spectacularly racist film?

Clearly, it’s not particularly difficult to find actions and words by historical figures that are repulsive to our ears today.  There are two things the history police have to take into consideration: context, and the big picture.

In the days of Macdonald and Murphy and even up to Roosevelt and Churchill, white people were widely considered to be the superior race. Times change, opinions change, even what is considered to be the truth changes. If Macdonald had racist views, they simply reflected the views of the population at large.

More importantly, however, we have to look at the big picture.

We can’t cherry pick what we want from our historical figures. Overall, Macdonald was a giant of Canadian history. Did he do and say some things that we would find abhorrent? Yes. But the totality of his accomplishments far outweigh his worst moments. Hey, I’m all for discussion of the good and the bad of historical figures. But the new breed of historical revisionists look only at the bad, and ignore the good. If, upon further examination, the good outweighs the bad, then leave the statues and schools alone. I’m all for anything that gets Canadians talking about our history, but the new revisionists are looking at history through a microscope, and only selecting things that suit their 21st century world view.

If we keep this up, the only statues left in Canada will be of Terry Fox.

Sports farce of the century

P.T. Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute. He was correct, and clearly there are a lot more suckers around today, with a lot more money.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a sports spectacle quite as disgusting as the fight between boxer Floyd Mayweather and mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor. Mayweather was undefeated (and retired), while McGregor is the top draw in mixed martial arts. (Confession: I may be wrong about this. I pay no attention to MMA.) Somebody came up with the great idea of putting the two together in the same ring, and see who wins. Since they were only allowed to box, and not kick and gouge and whatever else they do in mixed martial arts, the outcome was assured. Still, the Bout to Knock the Other Guy Out became a big deal. Reports vary, but Mayweather is expected to net at least $100 million, and possibly up to four times that amount. Poor McGregor will have to setting for anywhere from $30 million to $75 million, depending on the report.

No championship belt was on the line. No title. No nothing. It was a gimmick, pure and simple, and lots of people fell for it. Within 24 hours, the whole spectacle will be forgotten.

Oh, as if it matters, Mayweather won.

RIP

Jerry Lewis, 91, one of the most popular, and often critically reviled comics in film history. Lewis began in vaudeville, and reached dizzying heights of stardom when he teamed with Dean Martin. The popularity of Martin and Lewis at their peak was rock-star like, but in time the partnership blew up. Lewis went on to make many smash hits and the public loved him for it. Although it sounds like an urban legend, the French really did love Jerry Lewis, showering him with honours. His best films, like The Nutty Professor, The Bellboy, The Stooge, Cinderfella, are considered comedy classics. But then again, lots of people can watch a Jerry Lewis movie completely stone faced … Tobe Hooper, 74, director of the seminal horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and later Poltergeist.

 

 

 

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 31: Isn’t summer supposed to be a quiet time?

The world is truly moving too fast. Or at least it is in the United States of America, the flickering beacon of democracy. It seems like more stuff happened in the States in the past week than we experience in a typical month, or even a year. For simplicity’s sake, I will revert to the tried-and-true dodge of bullet points:

  • On Monday, trying to do a little damage control after his notorious “both sides” comment about the Charlottesville, Va. white supremacist demonstration/riot, Trump read a prepared statement saying “racism is evil”. When Trump reads a prepared statement, he always sounds like a child reading from a book report written by his parents. It was entirely unconvincing, but it helped to tamp down the firestorm of criticism that greeted his remarks after the Charlottesville killing.
  • On Tuesday, Trump undid what little he had accomplishment by engaging in a wild, off-the-top-of-his-weirdly-coiffed head press conference that caused a collective jaw-drop across the country. In a combative exchange with aghast reporters (he could have simply walked away and said nothing, but he’s not the kind of person to say nothing), Trump went back to his first comment, calling it “very fine”, said there were “good people” even on the neo-Nazi/white supremacist side, apportioned blame to the counter-protesters for attacking the Nazis (who, after all, had a permit!), and finished it all by bragging about his winery (“one of the largest in the country”) located in Charlottesville.  It’s worth reading the entire transcript, which you can do here.  Most TV news people were stunned by the comments. Even some Fox News people, who are unflinching in their support of Trump, couldn’t believe it; one reporter said it almost brought her to tears, and one especially right-wing commentator called his comments “a moral disgrace”. To be fair, Trump did go after the neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but his desperate bid to stay in their good graces by levelling blame on both sides backfired in the worst possible way. Apparently his strategy (if it can be said he has a strategy for anything) worked, because he did get rave reviews from a couple of sources: former KKK leader David Duke, who wrote “God Bless You for setting the record straight for ALL AMERICANS”, and from Richard Spencer, head of a white nationalist group, who said he was “proud of him for speaking the truth.” When Nazis and racists are giving you an ‘atta boy!’, you might want to reconsider what you’ve said. (For a truly chilling look at the Charlottesville incident, check out this Vice News report from inside the demonstration. It’s the horror movie of the year.)
  • On Wednesday, members of Trump’s hand-picked economic advisory council, top execs from major corporations, began to bail from the council. So many quit that Trump just abandoned the whole thing. Also, his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, got awfully chatty with the media, contradicting Trump’s position on North Korea, criticizing colleagues in the administration and mocking Trump officials over trade policy.
  • On Thursday, Trump weighed in on the controversy over statues to Confederate heroes, saying the statues were “beautiful” and it was “foolish” to remove the statues.
  • On Friday, he fired his chief strategist Steve Bannon, almost the last man standing of his original set of advisers.
  • On Saturday, Bannon was back at work at Breitbart, his extreme right-wing website. Friends (which apparently exist) says that Bannon is going nuclear now that he is unchained from the White House.

And remember … Trump was on vacation this week.

But it’s not all bad news …

On the plus side, the reptilian Ezra Levant’s far right website The Rebel is in serious trouble. After one of his “reporters” named Faith Goldy gave sympathetic coverage to the alt-right protest (the fact that The Rebel sent a correspondent to a white power/Nazi gathering speaks volumes about the site), there was a mass exodus of sponsors and employees from Levant’s little money-maker. Conservative politicians won’t go near the site anymore. You can read the details in this National Post story, and watch the video from a former employee who was offered “hush money” from Levant. It’s damning to say the least.

The last word on Fildebrandt

Derek Fildebrandt was at one time a star in the Wildrose party. Now, he’s a politician without a party.

After it was revealed that Fildebrandt was charged with hit-and-run, the ex-Wildrose finance critic finally admitted defeat, and left the new UPC party. The demise of Fildebrandt has all the earmarks of a political hit. After he blasted former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, saying he was not a leader, suddenly the media was tipped off to all sorts of stuff: renting his government-subsidized apartment for is personal gain; a few minor cases of expense account screw-ups (chump change, in the area of $200); and now the emergence of the old hit-and-run charge. I suspect that people inside the ex-Wildrose caucus wanted desperately to rid themselves of a troublesome member, and orchestrated a series of leaks to the media. Mission accomplished.

This week in atrocities

ISIS may have been routed in their base of operation in Iraq last month, but the international organization of evil has long tentacles. This week, a van smashed through the tourist-clogged street called Las Ramblas, in Barcelona, killing 13, including a Canadian. A woman died in a second vehicle attack early on Friday in the town of Cambrils. Five suspected jihadists were shot dead by police in the second attack. And it turns out that a house explosion earlier in the week in a town called Alcanar was connected to the 12-person terror cell. Police say 120 gas canisters were found in the house, and the terrorists were planning to use them in vehicle attacks. Meanwhile, peaceful Finland has its first terrorist incident when a man went on a stabbing spree in Turku, killing two women. The suspect, an 18-year-old Moroccan asylum seeker who arrived in Finland last year, was shot in the leg.

RIP

Joseph Bologna, 82, American comic actor you’ve no doubt seen, but don’t know his name. His best roles were as the tyrannical Sid Caesar-like TV star in the fine comedy My Favorite Year, and in the little seen but hilarious The Big Bus … Dick Gregory, 84, pioneering black stand up comic who brought race issues to the comedy stage, and who later devoted his life to “agitating”. As he said: “The next time you put your underwear in the washing machine, take the agitator out, and all you’re going to end up with are some dirty, wet drawers!”

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 30: Bad boy gets caught with hands in cookie jar

The political career of Derek Fildebrandt is coming to an end. We hope.

Fildebrandt, the United Conservative Party (and fanantical former Wildrose) MLA for Strathmore-Brooks, was revealed last week to be cashing in on his taxpayer-supported rental apartment in downtown Edmonton. Out-of-town MLAs get $23,160 a year to own or lease property in Edmonton. Fildebrandt has taken to renting out his apartment on Airbnb when he isn’t using the apartment, which is most of the time. So while he was reimbursed for this apartment rent ($7,700 for January to March) he was also renting it out.  He’s OK with that, even if everyone else wasn’t.

“Find someone under 35 with a downtown apartment that doesn’t let their apartment if they’re gone half the year,” he shrugged. “It would be a waste … to have an apartment that sits empty half of the year and not let it out when I’m gone out of session,” he said, failing to point out that nobody else gets their rent paid for them by the government.

The blowback was fierce. On Thursday morning, Fildebrandt issued a statement offering to donate his Airbnb earnings of $2,555 to help pay down provincial debt. He’s a funny one, that Fildebrandt. By Friday, he had stepped down as finance critic.

Fildebrandt is one of the nastiest of the ex-Wildrosers. You may recall that he was the gy who in May, 2016, launched into a nasty broadside about Ontario’s financial position — while Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was watching from the visitor’s gallery. (He screamed “Invite Premier Wall here! Invite Premier Wall!” at Premier Rachael Notley, invoking the name of his hero, the Saskatchewan premier.) On the far-right of the already right-wing party, Fildebrandt is the type of guy who thinks every penny spent by the government is a penny wasted. The irony of this parsimonious MLA pocketing extra money on top of his government grant is just too much, and could easily spell the end of his career.

So, where did this information come from? The original story (which I think came from the Edmonton Journal) didn’t indicate where the tip came from, but last week Fildebrandt leveled a broadside at his old boss, ex-Wildrose leader and UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, saying he has seen Jean’s leadership up close, and won’t have anything to do with him. Now, this damaging information comes to light.

Coincidence, I assume.

This is a holiday?

Donald Trump began a lengthy holiday this week, which for a few brief moments gave us all the hope that the Idiot in Chief would take a break and let us all forget for a few blissful days that the leader of the free world is a lunatic.

No such luck.

When asked about North Korea’s increasingly bellicose statements about attacking the U.S.A., Trump threatened to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, the likes of which the world has never seen. He also said the U.S. is “locked and loaded” and ready to attack. In North Korea, roly-poly mad man Kim Jong-un couldn’t believe his good fortune. Having a U.S. president threaten “fire and fury” against his pathetic little nation played right into his chubby little hands.

Trump wasn’t done yet. In Venezuela, strong-man president Nicolas Maduro is systematically destroying democracy in that country. When asked to comment, Trump said: “We are all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and people are suffering and they’re dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.”

When asked if he was talking about a U.S.-led military operation, Trump said: “We don’t talk about it. But the military option is certainly something we could pursue.”

Trump is the gift that keeps on giving. The Venezuela government went into hyperdrive, calling Trump’s statements “cowardly, insolent and vile” and “the gravest and most insolent threat ever voiced” against Venezuela, and “an act of craziness”.

Venezuela, of course, poses no military threat to the U.S., and Trump’s idle threats of military action are mother’s milk to the anti-American movements in South America.

And Trump wasn’t finished yet. On Saturday in the small city of Charlottesville, Va., white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered for a ‘Unite the Right’ rally. There were the inevitable clashes between the alt-righters and counter-protestors, and the event would have been a one-day wonder until a man drove his car into the crowd, killing one woman and injuring many more. The driver was a white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer. (An aside: I heard a report from ABC News that said the driver was a fan of “mass murderer and dictator Adolph Hitler”. Is it really necessary to add a description of Hitler? Could there be anybody in the world who would say, “Who is this Hitler fellow?” End of aside.) Trump was called upon to make the pro-forma “we abhor these actions” statement. Trump, reading from a prepared statement (you can tell it was prepared because of the big words), said in part “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence,”  So far, so good, but then added “on many sides, on many sides”. By adding the “many sides” line, Trump gave a free pass to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis, equating Nazis with peaceful counter-protestors. Good Lord. What’s easier than criticizing white supremacists and Nazis? Amazing.

(For a truly disturbing read, check out the transcript of Trump’s entire statement here. I’m not sure if English is his first language.)

RIP

Glen Campbell, 81, country singer who achieved huge mainstream popularity with a string of hits like Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, and Rhinestone Cowboy. In his last years, he became the public face of Alzheimer’s Disease; if you have Netflix, I highly recommend the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which follows his final tour. He had a late career revival thanks to some brilliantly-produced albums like Meet Glen Campbell and See You There. His final album was called Adios … Bryan Murray, 74, former NHL coach and GM (Ottawa, Washington, Detroit).

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 29: Western nation in crisis … guess which one.

An important democracy in the Western Hemisphere is lurching towards a dictatorship after the election of a crazed, megalomaniacal leader.

And no, this isn’t another blog about Donald Trump. (Betcha ya didn’t see THAT coming, did ya?) No, this week, it’s Venezuela.

We don’t hear much about Venezuela. To be honest, I had to look up how to spell Venezuela. But there’s big trouble in the South American oil producing giant. President Nicholas “Nick the Knife” Madura didn’t take too kindly to the opposition parties winning a majority of seats in the National Assembly in 2015, so he stacked the Supreme Court with supporters to block any impeachment attempts. Last week, the country held a hotly disputed election to create a new lawmaking body, the Constituent Assembly, which would have the power to rewrite the constitution, effectively placing all branches of government under Madura’s control. The assembly met for the first time this week, and in a unanimous vote, fired Attorney General Luisa Ortega. In addition to barring her from ever seeking public office again in Venezuela, lawmakers prohibited her from leaving the country and froze her assets. Just before the vote, government troops prevented her from entering her office.

The economy is in tatters, with inflation out of control and basic food supplies are falling short of what is needed. There is a real humanitarian crisis going on there.

So what does that mean to us? Venezuela has the largest oil reserves on earth, and any disruption in oil distribution (or increase from Venezuela) will result in a jump in gas prices, which the oil companies will conveniently blame on the situation in Venezuela. And we could possibly expect a surge in refugees from Venezuela to hit Canada, after they’ve worked their way through the U.S., their current preferred destination. If you don’t think that’s possible, consider this other development this week: Montreal has opened the Olympic Stadium to house an influx of refugee claimants from Haiti, who are fleeing the U.S. in fear of being deported.

We is an education powerhouse

In the ‘What? Really?’ category, a worldwide survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has found Canada’s teenagers are among the best educated in the world. Yep, the same teenagers would can’t figure out 10 per cent of anything without using their phone are in the top 10 in math, science and reading. You can read the details in this article from the BBC.  Well, that’s pretty cool, I guess. But naturally, there was backlash against a laudatory article from – where else? – Canada, specificially this article from Huffington Post Canada. This is so Canadian, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, in what’s left of Washington …

OK, just this past week …

• New White House chief of staff fired Anthony Scaramucci, the vulgar communications director, who lasted just 10 days (Roger Stone, evil Republican fundraiser, said last week of Anthony Scaramucci” “None of us are ever really gone. He still has the president’s cellphone, the president’s private number. Just because he’s not in the White House no one should think his influence has gone.”);

• Special Counsel Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury into the Russia situation, giving him major subpoena powers;

• Trump announced plans for strict controls on immigration, favouring the wealthy and those who speak English.

Phew. That was a fun week. But things should be quiet for a while now that the Tweeter in Chief is on a 17-day vacation. That’s as long as North Korea doesn’t go entirely off the rails, now that the U.N. has slapped the rogue nation with the strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country. Stay tuned, and keep watching the skies!

RIP

Goldy McJohn, 72, Canadian keboardest for Steppenwolf … Ernst Zundel, 78, frequently jailed Holocaust denier … Maurice Filion, 85, former coach and manager of the Quebec Nordiques … Sam Shephard, 73, Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright and sometime actor (nominated for a supporting actor Oscar in 1983). New York magazine called him the greatest American playwright of his generation.

 

 

 

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 28: Justin Trudeau, the free world’s best hope … really?

Rolling Stone magazine is the latest American media outlet to fall under the hypnotic spell of Justin Trudeau.

rolling-stone-justin-trudeau-cover-2017-3d7aab17-2daa-494f-ae91-9e1852456ba6The Perfect Prime Minister got the full Rolling Stone cover treatment this week, an occasion that had much of the Canadian news media in full snicker and guffaw mode. The article, some 6,000 or so words, was at the least complimentary, at worst fawning. Clearly, writer Stephen Rodrick was enamoured of Trudeau, but it seems that few journalists who come in face-to-face contact with Trudeau don’t fall under his spell. For Trudeau, “listening is seduction,” wrote Rodrick, a line that seemed to particularly vex Canadian media commentators. “His dark hair is a color found in nature,” is another line from the article that really seemed to anger some people, but clearly that just a jab at Donald Trump and his otherworldly hair hue. The online version of the story had a couple of truly egregious errors (the Liberal party became the ‘Liberty’ party; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were called the ‘Royal Canadian Mountain Police’), and some that were open to dispute. The National Post, which of course hated the article, was quick to mock errors in the story, so quick in fact that one of the alleged errors they pointed out – about the spelling of the St. John River (“It’s Saint John River”, the paper sniffed) – was incorrect, forcing the paper to correct its own correction.

I found the article to be not quite as fawning as it has been portrayed. Yes, it’s plenty complimentary, but it fairly pointed out flaws in his character,

trudeau-prom
Just a coincidence his photographer was there.

and contained a dollop or two of scepticism, pointing out that Trudeau’s official photographer always seems to be around when Trudeau runs past a wedding party (left), or does something else lovable. The things that seemed to really rile up some people were not the fault of the writer. The cover headline, “Why can’t he be our president?”, was obviously not meant to be taken seriously. (Fox News commentators loved that one.) And being called “the free world’s best hope” was a little over the top. OK, a lot over the top.The reaction in Canada to the article was just oh, so Canadian. “Oh, he’s not THAT good,” seems to be the reaction from many in Canada. There was little mention in the article about domestic issues that Trudeau has failed to deliver upon, but why would Americans care about Canadian domestic issues? Rolling Stone has done some very good political reporting (look up anything by Matt Taibbi, or read his collection of columns during the U.S. election, Insane Clown President),  but it’s not exactly The New York Times, so let’s not get too excited one way or another about this story. This is the same publication that put regularly puts sensationally untalented people on its cover.

Trudeau can be genuinely annoying, and his track record in government is spotty at best. But the underlying premise of the article is a cry of regret that Canada has a progressive, forward thinking, thoughtful leader, and the U.S. has … Donald Trump.

And speaking of Trump …

I wish I could go one week of writing this blog without mentioning Donald Trump. I’m sick of the guy, and I’m even sicker of writing about this freak. But every week, it’s a new fiasco, or, in the case of this week, a series of fiascos.

The week began, as usual, with a tweet. Out of nowhere, Trump announced that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the U. S military. The announcement flabbergasted pretty much everyone, including the guys who actually run the military in the Pentagon. The outrage was immediate, and predictable. TV news and late night comedy easily dug up Trump the candidate saying he was the best friend of the LGBTQRSTUV (sorry, got carried away there) community, revealing yet another layer of his deep hypocrisy. (As an aside, Stephen Colbert on his late night show pounced immediately, of course, and quoted Caitlyn ‘Don’t Call Me Bruce’ Jenner as saying that there are 15,000 transgender people in the military. Actually, most estimates are closer to 1,500 to 6,000.) This tweet should have been enough to satisfy the media for a week, but the Trump White House was just warming up.

On Thursday, the new communication director, Anthony Scaramucci, unleashed a vulgarity-filled attack on his fellow White House workers, in terms so vile that Tony Soprano himself would have considered to be over the line. If you haven’t read it, you can read it here … but it’s not safe for work, or anywhere else for that matter.

Scaramucci would have been fired in any other organization on earth, but the Trump White House is unlike any other organization on earth. As the week ended, Trump fired his chief of staff, the hilariously-named Reince Priebus, replacing him with a former general. Oh, and just in passing, the Republicans failed again to repeal Obamacare, thanks in large part to Sen. John McCain, coming off his sick bed to cast the decisive no vote.

I’m pretty sure there was some other stuff, but who has time to keep up with all the comings and goings in the White House? Not to worry, though … it will all be over in another six months or so.

RIP

June Foray, 99, one of the most famous female voices in cartoon history. She was Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Granny from any number of Warner Brothers cartoons, and many others.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 27: The right moves; Spicer quits, comics cry.

Well, that was decisive.

The Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives — the Hatfields and the McCoys of Alberta politics — agreed to a merger on Saturday. And it wasn’t even close.

Rank-and-file members of both parties voted in shocking numbers in favour of the merger of the two conservative parties. Remarkably (or suspiciously, if you’re that kind of person), the margins on the yes side were identical: 95% in favour. This couldn’t have gone much better for the two parties. The Wildrose set a high bar for a merger (75% had to be in favour), and they soared over it. The PCs needed a simple majority, and they blew past that.

The Wildrose, as you may recall, was formed by disgruntled PCs who didn’t think the Conservatives were conservative enough. They’ve never gotten along, but when Wildrose leader Danielle Smith crossed over to the PCs, with most of her caucus, in 2014, the animosity level went off the charts. So how did two parties with a deep history of mistrust come to unite?

It’s simple, really. They might distrust each other, but they both hate the NDP. The hatred for the NDP simply overwhelmed the dislike and distrust of the other side, and they decided for the good of their parties (and, as they see it, the good of the province), to end all the feudin’ and fussin’. The United Conservative Party, as the new entity will be cumbersomely known, will now choose a leader, which will certainly be a dogfight between Wildrose leader Brian Jean and Kenney.

There’s no way to paint this but as anything but bad news for the NDP. There is a tremendous, deep rooted dislike for the NDP and its ‘What, Me Worry?’ economic policies. While the NDP has its core of fanatical followers, overall support for the party is a mile wide and an inch deep. Thousands of Albertans voted NDP to simply get rid of the PCs because there was no solid alternative, and would love nothing more than to send their MLA back to working behind the counter at Starbucks. But it’s not a done deal. Everything now depends on who the new party chooses as its leader, and just how far right the new entity will go. Albertans, I believe, are economic conservatives but generally progressive on social issues.  If the UPC can avoid the whack-a-doodle conservative eruptions that plagued the Wildrose (a major challenge), and not threaten to eviscerate public services like education and health care, they can relegate the NDP to being a one-term wonder (as in, ‘I wonder why we ever voted for these idiots?’).

The next election isn’t until 2019, so it would be a fool’s game to make any predictions. The only thing we know is that Alberta politics just got a whole lot more interesting.

The Week in Donald

Donald Trump sat down the the Failing New York Times for an Oval Office interview this week. The Times published a partial transcript of the interview. Just for fun, here’s some of the interview. I wish I could say I was making up any of this, but I’m not. It’s all for real.

TRUMP: Hi fellas, how you doing?

BAKER: Good. Good. How was your lunch [with Republican senators]?

TRUMP: It was good. We are very close. It’s a tough — you know, health care. Look, Hillary Clinton worked eight years in the White House with her husband as president and having majorities and couldn’t get it done. Smart people, tough people — couldn’t get it done. Obama worked so hard. They had 60 in the Senate. They had big majorities and had the White House. I mean, ended up giving away the state of Nebraska. They owned the state of Nebraska. Right. Gave it away. Their best senator did one of the greatest deals in the history of politics. What happened to him?

(Who knows what happened to him… whoever he is?)

 

HABERMAN: [In Paris], I don’t think I’ve seen you look like you were enjoying yourself that much since the convention, really.

TRUMP: I have had the best reviews on foreign land. So I go to Poland and make a speech. Enemies of mine in the media, enemies of mine are saying it was the greatest speech ever made on foreign soil by a president. I’m saying, man, they cover [garbled]. You saw the reviews I got on that speech. Poland was beautiful and wonderful, and the reception was incredible.

(I guess Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speeches have dropped a couple of notches.)

Speaking about French President Emmanuel Macron:

 TRUMP: He’s a great guy. Smart. Strong. Loves holding my hand.

HABERMAN: I’ve noticed.

TRUMP: People don’t realize he loves holding my hand. And that’s good, as far as that goes …  I mean, really. He’s a very good person. And a tough guy, but look, he has to be. I think he is going to be a terrific president of France. But he does love holding my hand.

(Macron was probably thinking: “Je ne peux pas croire a quel point sa main est petite”, which means “I can’t believe how small his hand is.”)

TRUMP: Ah, they’ve asked me. What was interesting — so, when Macron asked, I said: “Do you think it’s a good thing for me to go to Paris? I just ended the Paris Accord last week. Is this a good thing?” He said, “They love you in France.” 

(I think Macron was confusing Donald Trump with Jerry Lewis.)

TRUMP: We had dinner at the Eiffel Tower, and the bottom of the Eiffel Tower looked like they could have never had a bigger celebration ever in the history of the Eiffel Tower. I mean, there were thousands and thousands of people, ’cause they heard we were having dinner.

(No doubt a much bigger crowd than when Paris was liberated in WWII.)

Sad. Just sad. Almost as sad as Trump, apparently, discussing who he can pardon. Reports indicate that he was asking for legal advice if he could pardon his pinhead son Don Jr. – and even himself. It’s not the least bit suspicious, is it, that a guy would be inquiring about pardons before being charged with anything, is it?

 

Tragedy in the comedy world

Late night TV comics were in mourning this week the news came down that White House press secretary Sean Spicer had resigned.

Spicer was so bad at his job, you could almost feel sorry for the guy. From the first day he appeared, under Trump’s orders, to declare that Trump’s inauguration crowd was the largest crowd to ever watch an inauguration (“Period!”), Spicer has been a laughing stock and a media star. His daily press briefings were ratings gold for the news networks, which may be why Trump kept him around for as long as he did.

In honour of Spicy, please enjoy this collection of his greatest hits. We may never see his like again.

Scandal rocks Governor-General!

Oh! My! God! Did you hear the news? Governor-General David Johnston touched the Queen!

On Thursday, the National Post chose to trumpet the shocking news that the retiring GG violated protocol by briefly putting his hand on the Queen. This stunning event was deemed worthy of front page coverage in the National Post section of the Edmonton Journal, with a giant photo and a screaming headline.

When will this country grow up?

A story that should have been relegated to brief blurb inside the paper (if it merited coverage at all) was deemed to be the top story of the day. Is the National Post run by idiots, or by former Fleet Street hacks … or are they the same thing?

Still with the Governor-General — the appendix of the Canadian body politic — the appointment of Julie Payette to the pointless post was met with praise initially, until some modest snooping by the media found the former astronaut was briefly charged with assault (charge was dropped, never went to trial and was expunged from the record) and was involved in a fatal car crash (not her fault). This briefly became an issue, until it faded as fast as interest in the new governor-general.

RIP

John Heard, 71, best known as the dad from the Home Alone movies, and in dozens of roles since… Kenny Shields, 69, lead singer of the Canadian rock band Streetheart … Chester Bennington, 41, lead singer of the band Linkin Park … Martin Landau, 89, Oscar-winning actor (he played Bela Lugosi in the film Ed Wood). He first rose to fame in the old Mission: Impossible TV show as the disguise specialist Rollin Hand. His career bottomed out in 1981 when he appeared in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island, but he rebounded with three Oscar nominations and multiple Emmy nominations.