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.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 26: Greasy haired man caught with pants on fire.

The Donald Trump presidency has stumbled from one self-created crisis to another in the six months (is THAT ALL??) since he was inaugurated. Somehow, he has managed to brush them all away, predominantly because a new crisis/scandal/shocker has overwhelmed the previous crisis/scandal/shocker. But this past week there was a new development, involving Donald Trump Jr., that may in time mark the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.

DEnXTjgUwAAu3NcThe New York Times (sorry, that should be the “failing New York Times”) revealed that Trump Jr., who looks like every greasy-haired villain from every 1980s teen movie, met with a Russian attorney who promised to dish the dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trumps senior and junior, and everybody associated with the Trump presidency, have all repeatedly denied any sort of connection with the Russians during the campaign, but the Times uncovered emails that were so explicit, that even Trump couldn’t lie his way out of it.

A British music publicist, who looks like every fat, creepy music publicist from every 1980s teen movie, connected with Donnie Jr. with news that a lawyer with Kremlin connections wanted to give him some classified dirt on Clinton. “I love it”, Junior exulted in an email. Trump summoned his silent and creepy brother-in-law and White House jackass-of-all-trades Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, to attend the meeting with the Ruskie. When the Times told Trump they knew about the meeting, he came up with some story that the meeting was about Russian adoption. When the Times told him they were going to release his emails, disproving his poorly crafted lie, Trump Jr. released the emails himself in an effort to look “transparent”. True enough. The guy is transparently a liar.

Trump apologists are saying that digging up dirt on an opponent is business as usual in politics, and that is correct. But accepting dirt from a foreign national — particularly from a country that is an enemy of the country — is certainly NOT business as usual (imagine if Trump has met with an Iranian, or a Iraqi). Trump says nothing came of it, so what’s the big deal? Well, it’s a very big deal. Collusion, lying, possible criminal activity. Yes, very big deals.

No matter how many times Trump tries to put a finger in the dike, a new leak pops up. The Trump While House will soon be underwater.

In sports news …

I don’t normally write about sports, but there was an event in the Canadian Football League this week that bears mentioning.

The league runs a contest with the Safeway grocery chain called Touchdown to Win, which awards a $25,000 home theatre package to a contest entrant if one kickoff is returned for touchdown, and a million dollars if a second kickoff is returned for a touchdown in the same game.

Well, it happened … and then it didn’t.

A Winnipeg woman named Karen Kuldys had already won the home theatre package after the Toronto Argonauts returned a kickoff for a touchdown during their game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. An Argo returned a second kickoff for a touchdown, making Karen Kuldys a very happy and much richer woman – for about 10 seconds.

There was a penalty on the play, and the TD was called back. Fair enough, right? Rules are rules. But the penalty call was egregiously terrible in every way. By the rule book, the penalty call itself was wrong. Worse yet, the incorrect penalty was called a good 10 yards behind the player (who was just a few yards away from the end zone), and had no impact on the play. The erroneous call costs the Argos the game, and Karen a cool million dollars.

The CFL has reached out to poor (or at least, poorer) Karen, providing her with a VIP trip to the Grey Cup and other trinkets. If this had happened to me, I would swear off the CFL forever. The little league that wouldn’t die continues to ignore its biggest problem, the shocking incompetence of its officials. A referee should never be the focus of attention after a game, but in the CFL it’s a weekly occurrence.

CFL, I love ya … but you’re killing me.

I was assaulted at Commonwealth Stadium

OK, not in the strictly legal sense. But in another way, attending the Eskimo game on Friday was an assault on the senses.

The Eskimos have made a play for younger fans and their short attention spans and need to be distracted at all times. It’s almost as if the game is secondary (and with the frenzy over the ludicrously huge 50/50 jackpot – which topped out at $438,000 for the winner – plenty of spectators missed out on large parts of the game waiting in line for a ticket). At every break in the action, a DJ blasts rap or hip hop (I don’t know the difference; it’s all bad) at such volume that speaking to the person right next to you is a chore. (When did rap become the standard background music for sporting events? It has become the Muzak of sports.) During TV commercial breaks, there’s some sort of contest with a fan, also at max volume. Fans are endlessly ordered to scream and yell for the home squad. Every Eskimo first down is treated by the PA announcer like a game winning touchdown in the Grey Cup. (“That’s another Eskimo FIRST DOWWWWNNNNN!!!” Hey, I know. I’m right there watching.) There is, quite literally, not a moment of anything resembling silence. It’s exhausting. By the time I got home, I just wanted to sit in a quiet room to decompress.

Eskimo crowds have been getting smaller over the last few years. The Eskimos have made a very loud play for younger fans, but in doing so they may be alienating their older fans. Maybe they’re the ones staying away.

RIP

George A. Romero, 77, who changed the horror genre with his groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead cult classic in 1968. … Liu Xiaobo, 61, Chinese writer and human rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He died of multiple organ failure in prison, where he has been languishing for years for daring to challenge the Communist regime. This is the country that we’re so eager to do business with.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 25: Khadr’s big payday a big pain for Trudeau

I’ve always found the Omar Khadr story infuriating.

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That $10 million smile.

Khadr is, of course, the Canadian-born former child soldier (just 15 at the time) who was forced to join al-Queda by his despicable parents. His upbringing could be described as child abuse. His father was a pal of Osama bin Laden, and the family spent a lot of time in Pakistan and Afghanistan. One of his brothers told the CBC: “We are an al-Qaeda family”. A nice ‘thank you’ to Canada for taking them in.

Khadr was captured (and seriously wounded) in a fight in Afghanistan which killed an American soldier and gravely wounded another. Despite his age, Khadr was sent to the notorious Gitmo prison, and held for years after all other prisoners from other countries were returned to their homes. Khadr was subjected to brutal interrogation (without a lawyer) that amounted to torture, eventually confessing to throwing a grenade that resulted in the soldier’s death. (He later recanted the confession.)

There is no doubt that the Canadian government was complicit in violating Khadr’s rights. The Supreme Court said so, twice. And taking into account the fact he was only 15, legally a child soldier, there’s no doubt in my mind that Khadr was handled in a disgraceful manner by the government. Remember, had Khadr been charged with murder in Canada, as a 15-year-old he might have been charged as a juvenile, and there would have been a publication ban on his name.

Khadr’s lawyers sued the government for $20 million, a fanciful figure they certainly just pulled out of thin air. The Trudeau government this week settled for $10.5, and an apology. This is where things go off the rails.

Trudeau will carry the can for this, even though of all the politicians involved in this shameful episode, he is the least culpable. Khadr was captured and interrogated during the Jean Chretien/Paul Martin years, and he was deliberately kept in Gitmo, and demonized out of all proportion (the word “heinous” was used repeatedly) by Stephen Harper, for naked political reasons. Trudeau, in fact, is just cleaning up the mess left by previous governments; the Trudeau government had no choice but to respond to the suit, which was launched well before Trudeau took power.

Khadr and his lawyers saw a big payday in the offing with the suit, and it worked. Khadr deserves some compensation for this treatment post-capture, but $10.5 million?The figure seems to me to be grossly inflated; would a jury have given Khadr $10.5 million? Somehow, I doubt it, but the government’s lawyers clearly felt they could lose more in a trial, so they settled. Khadr now says he just wants to get on with his life, which is great. But if he really just wanted to put the whole thing behind him, why sue? The right thing to do would have been to drop the lawsuit, fade into the background and go on with his life, which most Canadians seemed willing to go along with. But the suit, and the $10.5 million, changes the equation. Now there is plenty of outrage over the settlement, and I’m not surprised. I hate the fact that Khadr (and his lawyers) are cashing a big cheque, but the government(s) messed up badly, for political reasons, and someone has to pay.

Turns out, it’s us.

Justin Trudeau, Superstar

The bloom may be off Justin Trudeau’s rose here in the Great White North, but clearly the prettiest PM is still hot stuff overseas.

Trudeau is travelling again, this time at the G12 summit. He stopped first in Dublin, where some members of the press swooned like love-sick school girls.

Columnist Jane Last wrote (apparently not tongue in cheek) “the Canadian prime minister appears to be, well, the perfect man.

“He makes politics look glamorous – and anybody standing next to him, basks in his glow.”  If that wasn’t enough, she wrote that Trudeau “is the kind of guy everyone wants to hang out with.”

He has charmed the socks off other world leaders. Donald Trump said Trudeau is doing “a spectacular job. Everybody loves him and they love him for a reason. So congratulations on the job you are doing.” As Donald Trump himself would say: FAKE NEWS!

But wait, there’s more.

“For the Canadians, you are all so lucky to have this man as prime minister. He has brought an incredible breath of fresh air, directness, commitment to the issues,” gushed World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Indian President Narendra Modi praised Trudeau’s interventions during a discussion on terrorism saying, “I’d also like to express my happiness in your interventions in the sessions we just had. The wavelength was the same, yours and mine.” And as the only youngster in the group, he was called upon to help figure out how to use their headsets and microphones during the summit. “Just ask Justin, Justin can show you,” German chancellor Angela Merkel told the leaders.

The Irish columnist may think Trudeau is a guy everybody wants to hang with, but there are a lot of people in Alberta who would just like to hang Trudeau, not hang out with him, after he forgot to mention Alberta in his Canada Day shout out to all the provinces. He immediately corrected himself, and apologized, but the damage had been done and a lot of Alberta trolls (and politicians, of course) immediately went into full umbrage mode. The only people who should be really angry are Alberta’s Liberal MPs – Randy Boissonault, Darshan Kang, Kent Hehr and Amarjeet Sohi.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 24: Enough Canada already … eh?

I am now, officially, Canada’d out.

Canada celebrated the 150th anniversary of Confederation on Saturday with an orgy of government-sponsored patriotism. Now, I’m as patriotic as the next person, but I feel like I’ve OD’d in the most Canadian way … on maple syrup.

Even that joke is too Canadian for me today. Sorry.

Oops, there’s another one. The ‘sorry’ trope. Sick of that one, too, and I’m not sorry I wrote that. Oh, and the headline of this blog, with the ‘eh?’ reference? Can we just lay that one to rest today? I can go days, weeks, or months without ever hearing anyone say ‘eh’.  It’s kinda sad, and at least partially true, that can’t we find something a little more distinctive that whatever the hell ‘eh?’ is? And nobody says ‘aboot’, Ever.

And the maple leaf? I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a maple tree. I just looked up a publication online called the Guide to Common Native Trees and Shrubs of Alberta, and maples weren’t even on the list.

Tolerant? Don’t want to hear that word for a while. Inclusive? Sick of it.

Now that it’s over, can we go back to being modest and self-effacing? It looks so much better on us.

For a different take, one I wrote before I overdosed on Canadiana, feel free to read my column in Prime Times, the monthly newspaper for seniors that I edit.

I try to be a good person, and look what happens

Have you heard of the Canada Revenue Agency scam? Here’s the way it goes.

You get a phone call from someone who claims to be an agent of the Canada Revenue Agency. The “agent” tells you, in no uncertain terms, that you have an outstanding tax balance that absolutely MUST be paid immediately, or there will be dire consequences. It’s all a scam, of course, to sucker unsuspecting (often elderly) people out of their money. The last time this scam was run, it was found to have originated out of a call centre in India, and a lot of people were arrested, and the calls stopped.

Well, it’s back. I got a recorded message this week, which is promptly hung up on. Then I got another call, but this one was left a recorded message from “Officer Craig Williamson” (I think, ‘Craig’s accent was very weird for a guy named ‘Craig Williamson’) threatening me with dire circumstances if I didn’t return his call.  Incredibly, ‘Crais’ left a number for me to call. Ha! Got you, you slimy bastard. So I went online to find the number to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. I called the number (1-888-495-8501) … and the phone service was out of order.

Out of order? What kind of phone service is out of order in the 21st century? So, I thought I would go to their online service and write a complaint. Not so fast. I needed a GC Key number, whatever that is. I had to create an account, which I tried to do, but the user name and password restrictions were so needlessly complex, I gave up in frustration.

Well done, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre! And keep up the scum sucking work, ‘Officer Craig’.

The bar is now on the ground

So, what was The Donald up to this week?

The tweeting twit president took aim at the hosts of an MSNBC morning news show, Morning Joe, in a twitter attack that was so person and abusive, even members of his own party were shocked and literally begging for him to stop.

Writing about hosts hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, Trump tweeted: “I heard poorly rated Morning Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”

Good lord.  A Republican representative, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois told CNN’s “New Day” Friday “that’s a tweet that’s not even becoming of a city councilman.”

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The New York Daily New front page from Friday. Perfect.

This is beneath the dignity of a president, even from a president who would have to look up the word dignity in a dictionary.

On Saturday, Trump came close to apologizing. See if you can spot the apology.

“Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses. Too bad!”

See the apology? They are “not bad people”. Just crazy and dumb as a rock… but not bad people. Just the way all Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers, but “some” are good people.

Trump wasn’t done yet. On Sunday, he posted a 28 second video using footage from his appearance on Wrestlemania with the CNN logo superimposed on Vince McMahon’s head, slamming McMahon/CNN to the ground. Wait, there’s more. The video was apparently created by a Reddit user named (ready?) HanAssholeSolo. This story resulted in one of the funniest lines I’ve read in a long time, from the Daily Beast website: “HanAssholeSolo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”

Can you take one more bit of Trump? On Saturday, he met with Buzz Aldrin, the second man in the moon, for some sort of signing ceremony. The official transcript of the comments — and this is true — went like this.

ALDRIN: Infinity and beyond. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: This is infinity here. It could be infinity. We really don’t know. But it could be. It has to be something — but it could be infinity, right? Okay. (Applause)

So long, Peter Mansbridge

Peter Mansbridge, anchor of the CBC’s creatively titled national newscast, The National, has retired. He got quite a lot of media coverage, most of it laudatory and deserved. Mansbridge has been good at his job for a long time … but does anybody really care about The National any more?

The National is in terrible shape. A formless blob, populated by barely competent reporters and talking heads. It still gets an average audience of about a million, but it trails the equally terrible CTV National News by a wide margin.  My guess is the audience for both broadcasts is made up of people over 60 getting ready for bed.

Still, the CBC must continue with The National, and it has already announced that it will have THREE anchors. Why three? Well … diversity? Inclusion? Yep, those word again.

So, who will anchor The National? We don’t know yet, but it’s certainly NOT going to be a white male. Ian Hanomansing is, I think, almost a lock. He’s very good at his job, and an immigrant (born in Trinidad and Tobago). After that, my guess is two women. One will be a woman of colour (the perfect candidate would be an indigenous woman). If they can do it, the CBC would love to have a transgender woman … that would cover all the inclusion bases quite nicely.

RIP

Dave Semenko, 59, who, as an Edmonton Oiler, made sure that NOBODY laid a glove on Wayne Gretzky. He was an enforcer who rarely fought, so fearsome was his reputation. A fan favourite and beloved by his fellow players … Smith Hart, 68, oldest member of the famed Hart family of wrestling fame … Michael Bond, 91, author of the Paddington Bear children’s book series.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Teflon …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire update

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

In plain English, they’re screwed.

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

Inferno

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

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

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

American justice

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

Oh, babies!

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

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

RIP

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

The world needs more people like Tougie, not fewer.

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

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

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

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

Utterly shameful.

The Comey Show is a hit

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

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

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

Theresa May’s boo-boo

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

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

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

RIP

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