The Return of Stuff Happens, week 49: Pure Canadiana

I’ve written so much stuff about American political craziness (more to come, I’m sure), I feel that I’ve been neglecting my home and native land. So this week, let us turn our gaze inward.

First, let’s go to Quebec, the Florida of Canada, the province that passed a law earlier this year that denied basic government services to anyone wearing a face covering (so that would be Muslim women and … bank robbers?). This week, the Quebec legislature (or, as they grandly like to call it, the ‘national assembly’) unanimously passed a resolution that  “all merchants and their employees who have contact with local and international clients to warmly greet them with the word ‘Bonjour.’ “‘

Whaaa? Why would they need a resolution to encourage retail people to be polite? I know the French are notoriously rude, but I thought that was only in France.

Well, in Montreal – Canada’s most effortlessly bilingual city – stores and restaurants routinely welcome visitors with “Bonjour-Hi”. If the person responds with ‘bonjour’, the speak French; if they get a ‘hi’ they speak English. Nice compromise, right? Very courteous, and very Canadian. Not to the Quebec ‘national assembly’. PQ Leader Jean Francois Lisée called it an “irritant and example of galloping bilingualism.”, as if bilingualism was a bad thing. The first I heard about this was in an online story from The New York Times, so it’s got international traction. The BBC also picked up the story. There will be plenty of people around the world, potential tourists, who will hear the story as “In Quebec, they’re not even allowed to say ‘hi’ to you. I’m sure as hell not visiting there.” Au revoir-goodbye, Quebec.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa …

A minister is in hot water (OK, maybe tepid water). Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr was meeting with a woman, Jennifer McCrea, who is part of a group of women suing the government over allegations they were denied benefits while on maternity leave.  McCrea said she specifically asked Hehr why Ottawa is continuing to fight sick women, to which he replied ‘Well, Ms. McCrea, that is the old question, like asking … ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ ” Ms. McCrea said he couldn’t reply, because her jaw hit the ground. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh appeared taken aback by the remark. “He can’t be talking about violence against women like that,” he said. “We need our leaders to be denouncing violence against women and in no way making light of it.” Seriously, Jaggy? Have you never heard that expression? And you’re in politics?

Hehr has, of course, apologized for the comment. But I don’t see much to reason to be sorry. The ‘beating your wife’ line is an old one, a way of indicating that you’ve been asked a loaded question that you can’t answer without looking bad. It’s fairly common, particularly in political circles. I can see how Mr. McCrea might not have been familiar with that expression, but surely Singh knows (or should know) that it has nothing to do with violence against women.

Man, I would hate to be in politics today.

RIP

Conrad Brooks, 85, an American film actor whose filmography includes some of the “best” of Ed Wood, including Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Among his other films were (ready?) Jalopy, Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls, The Mad Magician, The Sinister Urge, The Atomic Monster: The Beast of Yucca Flats, A Polish Vampire in Burbank, and F.A.R.T. The Movie … Fil Fraser, 85, longtime Alberta broadcaster … Christine Keeler, 75, the central female figure in the notorious Profumo Affair scandal in Britain in the 1960s.

 

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The Return of Stuff Happens, week 46: Trump loses it.

I swear I didn’t want to write another word about Donald Trump. But some weeks – almost any week, in fact – he’s inescapable. So, with apologies, here we go again…

When the history of the Donald Trump presidency is written (my guess is sometime around mid-2018), Dec. 1, 2017 will be seen as the beginning of the end of his presidency. At least, we can hope.

On Friday, Michael Flynn – the former national security advisor to Trump, a former U.S. general, the guy who lead “lock her up” chants at the Republican convention, and a guy who clearly fell in with a bad crowd  – pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians. He admitted to just the one charge (he was facing a whole raft of them) in exchange for telling the special investigation everything he knows about the Trump campaign’s links with Russia. Flynn is ready to spill the beans about who was giving the orders to talk to the Russians, and the word is that the source is very high in the White House, possibly Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, primary advisor and background extra on The Walking Dead. And if the orders came from Kushner, you’ve got to know that the First Father in Law was well aware as well. (A top White House lawyer called Michael Flynn “an ‘Obama administration official” in statement distancing Trump from Russia plea deal.) The walls are closing in on Trump and his clown posse.

The Flynn flip capped a brutal week for the president. Earlier in the week, he retweeted a batch of videos that purported to show Muslims doing bad things. One of them allegedly showed a Muslim attacking a guy on crutches, another allegedly showed Muslims throwing people off buildings, and another showed some swarthy types (i.e. Muslims) smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary. All of the videos came from Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of a far right wing outfit called Britain First. Fransen was thrilled with the attention, tweeting “GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP!” for giving her discredited organization a boost. And, of course, the videos had all been debunked a long time ago. The British government was outraged. A senior member of Teresa May’s government tweeted: “So POTUS has endorsed the views of a vile, hate-filled racist organisation that hates me and people like me. He is wrong and I refuse to let it go and say nothing.” The leader of the Labour Party called the retweets “abhorent, dangerous and a threat to our society.” Trump retaliated by tweeting at Theresa May, or so he though. He sent the tweet to someone named Theresa May Scrivner.

And just to wrap up the week in Trump, there are now people openly suggesting that he is mentally unwell. The guy who co-wrote Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, said on TV this week he thinks Trump is genuinely crazy, as in mentally ill. A poll found 56 percent of the population says he’s unfit to serve, and even senators have been caught on tape describing him as “crazy.” Aside from his core of fanatical followers (a large group, to be sure) it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t think that he’s mentally unbalanced.

So this is the situation we’re in. The United States of America, the bulwark of democracy, is crumbling before our eyes. It is under the control of a man who may not be in full position of his faculties. Crazy or sane, he’s dangerous, and the U.S. of A. is falling apart. Britain is in free-fall thanks to the Brexit decision. Germany – stable, dependable, powerful, no-longer warlike Germany – is struggling, since two months have past since the federal elections failed to produce a working majority for Angela Merkel (or anyone else), Germany is in a state of limbo, and Merkel’s time may be done. Meanwhile, China is getting stronger every day, and still a one-party state that brooks no dissent. Russia is led by a cunning, cold-eyed killer who will do anything to advance the cause of Russia. North Korea is under the control of fat little lunatic with nukes.

The major democracies are in crisis, the major anti-democratic nations are strong and confident, and getting stronger and more confident every day.  Just as Trump’s history may look back upon Dec. 1, 2017 as a pivotal moment in his presidency, future historians may look back on 2017 as a pivotal moment in world history.

And I’m worried what they’ll find.

RIP

Jim Nabors, 87, who played the amiable hick Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show, and later on his own show. Nabors spoke in a typically Southern drawl, but sang in a deep operatic baritone that was a weird contrast, to put it mildly. Go to about the 3 minute mark of this video to get a feel for Gomer Pyle the character, and Jim Nabors the singer.

The Return of Stuff Happens, weeks 44 & 45: Men behaving badly

This is not a good time to be a male. Every day, we are revealed to be dirtbags.

It all began with Harvey Weinstein. Once, this Oscar-winning deal maker was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Now, he’s its leading pariah. Weinstein’s long, long history of sexually harassing and even assaulting women has ended his career, and he may yet face criminal charges. Weinstein will no longer be known as a movie producer, but the man for whom ‘the Weinstein Effect’ was named – the deluge of sexual abuse allegations against prominent men.

After Weinstein, the next big name to fall was Kevin Spacey, one of the most acclaimed actors of the past few years. In Spacey’s case, he harassed or assaulted men, some of them very young. The accusations, which he did not deny, were so numerous that his career is effectively over. His TV show, House of Cards, was cancelled (no loss there), and he was even removed from a film that he had already completed, which reminds me of how the Soviet Union doctored photos to remove leaders who had fallen from favour.

Then there was Louis C.K., the reigning god of stand up comedy. I don’t even want to get into Louis C.K.’s very creepy behaviour towards women. His appalling behaviour shouldn’t have been entirely surprising, in that so much of his act revolves around what a lousy guy he is. But he wins the award for cynical behaviour in that he was a champion of female comedians. He issued a contrite semi-apology (he never said ‘I’m sorry’), but everyone around him is running for cover. I suspect in time he will be back – a foul-mouthed comedian will be given some leeway over a politician – but not for a while.

Then of course there’s politics. Of course, there’s politics.

First there is the ongoing, sordid saga of a guy named Judge Roy Moore, and Alabama (of course) Republican (double of course). He has been accused of sexually assaulting two women decades ago when they were teenagers; about a half-dozen other women have accused Moore of inappropriate conduct. His preference for teenage girls was so well known in Alabama, that he was actually banned from a shopping mall. There is no doubt this guy is a long time scumbag, but he is denying everything. Donald Trump, the patron saint of dirtbags, hasn’t come right out and supported Moore, but he tacitly supported him by saying that Moore has denied everything, as if that makes it all OK.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Al Franken was accused of forcibly kissing a woman while rehearsing for a 2006 USO tour. Franken was also photographed pretending to grope her as she slept. In Franken’s case, this appears to have been a one-time indiscretion, and it happened before he was elected to the Senate. Franken was a cast member and writer for Saturday Night Live, where one suspects lewd, laddish behaviour was fairly common. In his defence, several women, including ex-SNLers, said Franken was never abusive.

This week came the cruelest blow of all – legendary TV newsman Charlie Rose. A man of sterling reputation as a journalist and an interviewer, the career of this 75-year-old came to a humiliating end when it was revealed that he often walked around naked in front of young female employees (did he seriously think that a wrinkled old man’s body was going to turn on a twenty-something female?), was legendarily ‘handsy’, and made suggestive remarks to plenty of young female employees. This one really bothers me. Men in Hollywood behaving badly is practically par for the course (stories about ‘the casting couch’ have been around since silent pictures), and politicians have a long history of being hypocritical a-holes. But a respected reporter and interviewer? As Donald Trump would say … sad.

There are plenty of other examples, too many to mention here. The question then is what to do with bad boys. It seems to me that we can’t apply one standard for every miscreant male celebrity. For example, the aforementioned Roy Moore is clearly a longtime scumbag, and deservers to be dumped by the Republicans, and if not by the party, by the electorate. Franken, on the other hand, apparently made a one-time mistake. Does he deserve to have an impressive political career ruined by a couple of stupid moments before he was even elected? I think not. Charlie Rose is, sadly, finished, his credibility shot all to hell, and if you don’t have credibility as a journalist, you’re finished (or you can go to Fox). There are lots of guys who have done bad things in the past that will come out. Personally, I think they have to be judged on a case-by-case basis.  One indiscretion is worthy of censure after a fulsome apology. Repeatedly doing awful things calls for more severe punishment. You pay a fine for shoplifting; you got to jail for robbing a bank. A little common sense is called for here, but then there is nothing common about common sense.

On the other hand …

Andrew Scheer, the leader of the federal Conservative party, is about as far removed from the above mentioned creeps. Scheer (who looks like the guy in your neighbourhood you wave to, but don’t know) released this commercial to show what a common, everyday, non-Trudeau guy he is. He doesn’t even have his shirt tucked in, he’s so everyday! What I noticed about the commercial is that Scheer has his fists clenched, which doesn’t exactly say ‘nice guy’. I don’t know if dressing like a dad on his way to kill some time at Home Depot on a Saturday exactly screams “leader”.

And in the world of people with more money than brains …

Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi went to auction recently at Christie’s in New York. This relatively unknown painting (it’s no Mona Lisa) was expected to draw some interest from the well-heeled, maybe in the $100 million range. But nobody expected $450 million worth of interest, the highest ever paid for a painting. The new owner has remained anonymous, which seems weird. I mean, if you buy yourself a new car, don’t you want to show it to your neighbours? And if you paid $450 million for a painting, don’t you want to have your friends over? Or at least sell a line of t-shirts?

robby
Robby the Robot, Bob to his friends.

In less well-known auction news, the movie prop Robby the Robot went up for auction this week. Robby (7 feet tall, build at a cost of $100,000) first appeared in Forbidden Planet (1956), and pretty much set the template for movie robots. Anyway, somebody somewhere paid $5,375,000 for Robby, eclipsing the previous record for film memorabilia – the original Batmobile and the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch – which both sold for $4.6 million. And finally, for a little Canadian content, a painting by Group of Seven founding member Lawren Harris, Mountains East of Maligne Lakes, sold for just over $3 million this week.

Sorry, eh?

Canadians are one sorry lot. Consider the following list of apologies:

• Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the residential schools program that sought to wipe out aboriginal culture and language;

• In 2006, Mr. Harper apologized for a head tax and other measures used to restrict Chinese immigration to Canada;

•  Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for a notorious incident 103 years ago when hundreds of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu ship passengers were not allowed to land in Canada and instead returned to India, where things did not go well for them;

• Trudeau apologized to Omar Khadr earlier this year, the only Canadian held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba;

• On Friday, Trudeau extended the Harper’s residential-schools apology to former students of a similar program in Newfoundland and Labrador;

• Next week, Trudeau will officially apologize to public servants and members of the military and the RCMP who were victims of what’s sometimes called “the gay purge.”

It might just be simpler to issue a blanket apology to everyone and everything Canada has ever done to anyone, anywhere, and be done with. We’re just the sorriest damn people on earth.

And in sports …

Let us never speak of the CFL Western Final of 2017 ever again. I’ll leave the last word to my son Scott, who wrote about it here.

RIP

Owing to the fact that I somehow messed up on publishing Stuff Still Happens last week (hence the Week 44-45 headline), there are plenty of obits this week.

David Cassidy, 67, teen heart-throb from The Partridge Family TV show … Charles Manson, 83, notorious cult leader who led a murderous group of followers, resulting in one of the most infamous murder sprees of the 1960s … Della Reese, 86, singer and former star of Touched by an Angel … Mel Tillis, 85, longtime country music star and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame … Malcolm Young, 64, the guitarist and songwriter who with his brother Andrew helped found the Australian rock band AC/DC. … Ferdie Pacheco, 89, longtime boxing corner man, most famously for Muhammad Ali.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 43: It’s all politics, folks.

As you may recall, last week Premier Rachael Notley and her sneaky government laid a trap for the new leader of the united conservatives, Jason Kenney.

Making a mountain out of a molehill, the government introduced a bill to make it illegal for teachers to “out” kids who joined school sanctioned “gay-straight alliances”. Notley and her clever crew were clearly hoping that Kenney and his new United Conservative Party would oppose the bill so they could say that Kenney wanted to out gay kids which, according to Education Minister Dave Eggen, was “dangerous”. Personally, I thought the smart thing to do was to treat the bill for what it really is – a piece of political mischief – and let the government have its way. Not every government bill needs debate (believe me on this one), and this is one that could certainly be ignored. Ah, but Kenney couldn’t resist. The UCP is opposed to the bill, saying it should be up to teachers to make the decision about revealing membership in GSAs to parents.

Don’t we have more important issues in Alberta – real issues that impact all Albertans – than this minor bill? Of course we do. But the NDP is playing politics here, and the UCP is playing along. By taking the bait, Kenney has joined a game he can’t win. Any social issues, even ones as manufactured as this piece of political gamesmanship, will only fire up the far right wing of the conservative party, giving the NDP plenty of ammo to paint the new party as a home for lunatic right-wingers. Asinine statements are sure to follow, which the NDP will just as surely trumpet. For example, in the legislature on Thursday, UCP MLA Mike Lake suggested that GSAs are a sneaky way for the government to introduce sex education in schools, and  “to do after hours what it could not do in the classroom during school hours.” They are nothing of the sort, of course; a GSA is a student-led social group, nothing more. But this is just the kind of nonsense the NDP was hoping to hear from the UCP.

Rachael Notley goes sexist

In the legislature this week, Rachael Notley had this to say: “Can I just introduce a word into the legislature, the definition of which is follows: Hepeat, when a person who might be a man repeats what you say and takes credit for it.”

You probably didn’t hear about this, because it didn’t make news that the premier of Alberta made a clearly sexist joke.

Is this sexist? Well, let’s put it this way: if a male member of the legislature used the same joke, but called it a ‘shepeat’, there would be outrage and immediate apologies. A sexist joke is a sexist joke, regardless of which gender it is aimed at.

Go, Inuit, Go!

The mayor of Winnipeg made a little mischief of his own this week. With the Edmonton Eskimos facing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL western semi-final this weekend, Mayor Brian Bowman said the Eskimos should have a “more inclusive” name. Our mayor, the namby-pamby Don Iveson, had this to say on CBC radio:  “This conversation is not going to go away. With the Grey Cup coming here next fall, it’s going to be difficult to imagine that conversation not coming back in an even more significant way over the next year. I worry that what would otherwise be a very positive Grey Cup could be beset by a very charged conversation around the team name.”

Way to support your local sports team, Don.

Is the word Eskimo offensive? The head of a national Inuit organization says it is, but there doesn’t seem to be any overwhelming consensus. Is it dated? Yes; we don’t use the term anymore. But so offensive that it should be expunged from our vocabulary? Is it used in a negative way? I don’t think so. I think this is mostly a non-issue, and I’m disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that Iveson would wade into this non-issue.

RIP

John Hillerman, 84, who played Tom Selleck’s snooty boss on Magnum, P.I. … Roy Halladay, 40, former Toronto Blue Jay and Cy Young Award winner. Because he played for the Blue Jays, his unfortunate death was the top item on national newscasts … Murray Koffler, 93, founder of the Shoppers Drug Mart chain.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 42: When terrorism becomes routine

There was a terrorist attack in New York this week. A self-professed ISIS disciple used a rented truck to run down pedestrians and cyclists on a busy New York street, killing eight. Using rented vehicles to mow down pedestrians is the favoured tactic of these would-be terrorists; here in Edmonton just a few weeks back we thankfully avoided mass casualties when a terrorist-in-training tried the same thing, succeeding only in injuring a number of people and destroying a rental truck. There is nothing more to say about these outrages, except that they are becoming increasingly less outrageous. If the death toll doesn’t hit double digits, the event becomes barely a blip on the outrage radar. This is the new normal.

President Donald Trump reacted immediately, demanding the cancellation of a program (called, remarkably, a visa lottery) that allowed the suspected terrorist into the country. When the Las Vegas gunman killed 49 people last month, Trump said not a word. Guess his reaction depends on who is doing the killing, and with what.

Let’s play politics!

The Alberta Legislature session began this week, and the NDP government immediately resumed playing the media like the cheap fiddle it has become.

On the first day of the session, the NDP staged a brazenly phoney “caucus meeting”, resulting in a huge front page picture in the sad Edmonton Journal of a beaming Rachael Notley surrounded by her adoring apostles. The Journal wrote dutifully that reporters were “invited” to hear her speak, and just as dutifully reported her carefully scripted anti-Jason Kenney screed.

The NDP hit new lows for themselves in the legislature. Backbench government members are allowed to ask questions of the government, which are almost always ‘puffball’ questions that any grown adult should be ashamed to ask. But backbench government MLAs are nobodies, and any time in the spotlight is seen as something you can’t pass up. But they abused the privilege by asking questions related to the new United Conservative Party policies and Kenney, when the rules of the legislature explicitly state that questions are only about government policy.  Using precious question period time for brazen political attacks is shameful.

There was more shame to come. The next day, the privacy commissioner revealed that the government and political staffers had deleted 800,000 emails – yes, that’s eight hundred thousand – in direct violation of rules about preservation of public records. Hillary Clinton’s entire presidential campaign was scuttled by 33,000 deleted emails. But the government of Alberta deleting 800,000 emails? Oops, said the government, we didn’t know. Oh well, we’ll try to do better.

And finally, the government introduced a bill regarding the establishment of “gay-straight alliances” in public schools, explicitly banning schools from outing gay students. The government is clearly hoping the new UCP will tie itself in knots over this relatively inconsequential issue, but so far Kenney and his party have refused to take the bait. The Journal, again following the government like an eager puppy, ran a huge front page picture of a Education Minister Dave Eggen, smiling ear-to-ear with a transgender student as they pointed to a copy of the act. Two glorious photo ops on the front page of a daily newspaper in four days. The NDP communication people must be having a good laugh at how easy their job has become.

And finally, two examples of people with too much time and too much money

First, a Rolex watch owned by Paul Newman sold for $17.8 million at auction recently. One watch, $17.8 million. It tells the same time as a cheap Casio, but it wasn’t on Paul Newman’s wrist, which apparently added seventeen million, seven-hundred ninety-nine thousand and fifty dollars to its value. On a smaller scale, thousands of people lined up for hours – and in some cases, days – to be the first to buy the new Apple iPhone. The cost? Here in Canada, a mere $1,300. Yes, lined up overnight to spend $1,300 on a phone you could buy the next day, or the next day, or anytime after that, for the same $1,300. I wonder, do the people who were first in line to buy the new iPhone brag to their friends that they waited for hours to buy a phone?

RIP

With all due respect to the people who died this week, I’ve never heard of any of them, so no RIP this week.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 41: Now the hard part begins for the UCP

The United Conservative Party – somehow fresh-faced and old at the same time – has chosen its first leader.

 

Jason Kenney, a career politician who has spent his entire life has been devoted to right-

UCP Leader - Jason Kenney
Someone has a lousy poker face.

wing politics and causes, is the first leader of the shotgun marriage party. He defeated the much more likeable and quite inoffensive Brian Jean, to assume the leadership of the UCP. As you can see from the picture here, he was absolutely delighted with the result.

Kenney is one of those increasingly common people whose only career is “public service”, as they call it. Checking out his bio on his website, Kenney seems to have never held down a job other than leading the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which he founded. He was a Conservative MP and cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, having been elected as an MP for the Reform Party at age 29. He is unmarried and has no children, a bit of a disadvantage in the photo-op department.

A lot of conservatives see Kenney as their saviour, the man who can deliver Alberta from the reign of error of Rachael Notley, leader of the Peoples’ Republic of Alberta (For Now). While there is no doubt that a single conservative party will have a much better chance of relegating the NDP government to the one-hit wonder status, it’s far from a sure bet. Kenney is very conservative, to a degree that may make ‘progressive’ Albertans uncomfortable. On the economic front, Kenney and the UCP will appeal to many Albertans who are disgusted by the ‘let’s worry about this tomorrow’ spending of the NDP, and who are angry about the whole carbon tax thing. (I’m not; I’ve actually made money thanks to the program, although I’m still waiting for the free lightbulbs the province has promised.) But hot button social issues are likely to cause the UCP trouble, and the NDP knows it. One of the first bills the NDP will present in the fall session of the legislature concerns tightening up the rules surrounding gay-straight alliances in schools, ensuring the privacy of students in a gay-straight alliance. It’s no coincidence that the government has decided that this ludicrously overwrought issue – one of those culture wars things parties like the Wildrose/PCs often get tripped up on – will be one of the first to face Kenney and his new party.

A bigger problem facing the UCP is that it is a party without policy. The UCP website doesn’t have a menu for policy; I couldn’t even find the word policy on its website. Right now, it appears the party’s only policy is the defeat of the NDP. That’s OK for now, but come election time the party will have to show voters something much more than just one policy. In any event, this should be interesting.

The Catalonia crisis explained … sort of

Spain was plunged into a literally existential crisis this week.

The Catalan region of the country, following a controversial referendum, declared its independence this week. The Spanish government immediately said “Not so fast,” or whatever the equivalent is in Spanish, and took over the Catalan government, firing the government and its police force. (While this seems rather ham-fisted for a democracy, it’s worth remembering that Spain was a dictatorship under Francisco Franco until 1975 when Franco died, and its transition to democracy has been fraught with challenges.)

Before Madrid took over the Catalan government, the region had one of the greatest levels of self-government in Spain. It has its own parliament, police force and public broadcaster, as well as a government and president. Catalans had a range of powers in many policy areas from culture and environment to communications, transportation, commerce and public safety. And Catalonia is rich. With just 16% of the population, it produces 19% of its Gross Domestic Product and more than a quarter of Spain’s foreign exports. And it has Barcelona, which is a tourist magnet; Catalonia is easily the most visited area in Spain. And it is home to Barcelona FC, one of the world’s premiere soccer teams (which is probably the biggest reason Spain wants to hold on to Catalonia.)

We faced – and on a simmering level, still face – the same threat in Canada. However, we did it right.

Quebec held two referenda on separation, and both times the public voted to stay in Canada (although not in the kind of numbers that anyone would call a ringing endorsement). We have reached a kind of détente between Quebec and the Rest of Canada that works for us. But then, we’re level-headed, pragmatic Canadians. We may not be entirely happy, but why rock the boat, eh? Something tells me that Spaniards are not quite so inclined towards calm discussion about shared values.

The last word (almost) on JFK

Thousands of pages of documents on the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 were released this week. Media and assassination fans poured over the documents, hoping to find a smoking gun that pointed away from Lee Harvey Oswald and pointed towards the Russians/CIA/Cubans/Mafia, pick your conspirator. Turns out, the information didn’t point towards anything other than confusion and a certain amount of ass-covering by the FBI. The Russians, in particular, appeared worried that they would take the blame, precipitating a nuclear war. While they showed that Oswald was certainly on the radar of the FBI, there is still nothing that points to anything other than one lone crackpot. But there is hope for conspiracy theorists – there are still some documents to be released. Hope springs eternal.

RIP

Juliette, 91, at one time one of Canada’s most popular singers as star of her own long-running TV series which ran from the 1950s to the 1970s. She was known as ‘Our Pet Juliette’. Different times, different times  … Fats Domino, 89, rock and roll pioneer, famous for hits like Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That A Shame, and I’m Walkin‘. Fats joins an all-star roster of music stars this year who are now singing in the heavenly choir, including Tom Petty, Chuck Berry, Gord Downie, Walter Becker of Steely Dan, Glen Campbell, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, and Greg Allman  … Robert Guillaume, 89, star of the 1970s sitcom Benson.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 40: The photo-op PM wearing thin

The bloom is off the Justin Trudeau rose, and the opposition (and much of the media) is in full attack mode.

The government is in mid-term stumble right now, lurching from one self-imposed miscue from the other. The government’s attempts at tax reforms – always promoted as aimed only at the very rich and in support of the “hard working” and “struggling” middle class – has backfired on Trudeau, even more so on Finance Minister Bill Morneau, a shining star of the cabinet who now looks like he’s flaming out.

We’ve known that Morneau is a rich dude, but we didn’t know he was THAT rich of a dude.

Morneau holds nearly 2.07 million common shares in some company called Morneau Shepell (which has something to do with pensions, I think) through an Alberta numbered company. At their current value of just over $20 per share, those holdings would be worth more than $40 million. Morneau Shepell shares currently pay monthly dividends of 6.5 cents per share, meaning those holdings would pay him dividends of about $135,000 per month. Morneau is looking bad, very bad, on this.  (My question: if you were getting monthly dividends of $135,000 a month, why the hell would you subject yourself to the indignities of petty Canadian politics? I would have just retired to my villa in France, which is something Bill Morneau actually owns. )

I don’t really understand any of this tax reform stuff. I don’t care, honestly, because I am not in the tax bracket impacted by the proposed changes. I suspect that most Canadians are indifferent, or bewildered, by the changes. By the time the next election rolls around, this whole Morneau kerfuffle may be entirely forgotten. But the criticism of Morneau for hiding his vast fortune from the tax man has been relentless, and he looks bad, so bad that he might not survive.

After the longest honeymoon in Canadian political history,  Canadians are getting tired of his photo-op government (their poll numbers are sinking), and after two years Trudeau has little to show but broken promises, a severely wounded finance minister, and legalized pot.  And the outlook is not good. With a cabinet loaded with political newbies, overwhelmingly very young, very inexperienced and “inclusive” with almost cynical perfection, it’s no wonder his government is stumbling. Trudeau built his whole career based on appearance over accomplishments, and now it’s coming back to bite him.

Quebec bans face coverings, superheroes

The Liberal government in Quebec passed a shocking new law this week: no one covering their face will be allowed to access government services, everything from seeing a doctor to riding a bus. Also, don’t expect to get a government job of any sort.

So, who covers their face? Well, bank robbers for one. Superheroes, of course. Anyone walking into the wind on a -20 day. Oh, and a tiny number of Muslim women who wear the niqab or the burka. I don’t think this law is aimed at either of the first three groups.

Quebec Premier Phillipe Couillard says the bill – supposedly insuring ‘religious neutrality’ – isn’t aimed at any religion. Apparently, Couillard is auditioning for Juste Pour Rire.

“We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face,” Couillard told reporters. “We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that.”

The bill passed with no supporting votes from the opposition parties … who don’t believe the law goes far enough. While this kind of law is not uncommon in some European countries, this is a first for a North American jurisdiction. What a proud moment for Quebec!

Personally, I think both the niqab (a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear) and the burka (a complete covering) are creepy and weird. But we have religious freedom in this country, and if you want to go around looking like a time traveller from the 15th century, have at it. I agree with one part of the bill – if you’re going to cover your face, don’t expect to get a government job of any sort, because that’s not how we roll here. But this denial of basic services every Canadian has a right to is beyond the pale. As has been pointed out in Quebec, is a bus driver supposed to leave a woman at a bus stop in -30C weather because she’s wearing a niqab?

Trudeau tip toed around the issue, saying his views are well known, without actually condemning the rule (there are seats to be preserved in Quebec, after all).  To be fair, this is a minefield for all federal parties. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer certainly can’t support it, although a lot of Conservatives no doubt agree with it. He hasn’t said a word about it yet, but he will have to eventually. New NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has said he is “completely opposed” to the law, which could cost him dearly in Quebec.

We can only assume that the Quebec government feels this law is a winner. No government would introduce a law this draconian without believing it has wide public support. The shock waves from this law will reverberate for some time to come.

RIP

Gord Downie, 53, the poet laureate of Canadian rock as the lead singer and songwriter for The Tragically Hip.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 39: The world of perpetual crisis

I’m too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis (what a pleasure, for once, to be ‘too young’ to remember something). From what I know of it, it sounds like a truly terrifying time. The USSR was installing nukes on Cuba, within easy reach of the U.S. mainland. The U.S., not surprisingly, objected. This resulted in a showdown between the world’s only two nuclear powers. For a few days, the threat of nuclear war hung in the air like a radioactive cloud.

There hasn’t been anything quite like it since. I’m not saying we’re witnessing a repeat of that scary time today, but we’ve never been closer. And this one looks like it’s going to be around for a long time.

Consider the situation. A rogue nation, a true hell-on-earth called North Korea, is ruled by a diminutive, fat-faced, all -powerful dictator named Kim Jong-un. North Korea has nukes, and Kim says he’s not afraid to use them against South Korea, Japan, and even the U.S.

Incredibly, he’s the least of our worries.

Another rogue nation, the former beacon-of-democracy called the United States of America, is ruled by a fat-faced, orange-hued lunatic named Donald Trump. The U.S. has nukes, lots and lots of nukes, and Trump says he’s not afraid to use them.

Of the two demented leaders, the one that scares me is Trump.

Kim knows, I am sure, that a first strike from North Korea will result in an instant counterattack that will vaporize his shabby little country, killing tens of thousands and causing thousands of dollars in damage (nothing in North Korea is worth much). Kim, and whatever brain trust he has around him, surely knows that an unprovoked nuclear attack by his country will end his regime, and destroy all the monuments to his father and grandfather. That’s a pretty big deterrent.

Trump has the upper hand, with a much larger arsenal and the support of the western world – IF the U.S. is attacked first. A preemptive strike by the U.S. would surely work to crush the North Korean threat, but America’s allies would turn against the country and plunge the entire world into chaos (exactly what Russia’s Vladamir Putin, the World’s Most Dangerous Man, would like).

Kim Jong-un may be a tinpot dictator, but Trump is nuts. Vanity Fair published a truly disturbing story about the Trump which said he is, basically, teetering on the brink of full-on nuttiness. Here’s a sample…

One former official even speculated that (chief of staff John) Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first strike. “Would they tackle him?” the person said. Even Trump’s most loyal backers are sowing public doubts. This morning, The Washington Post quoted longtime Trump friend Tom Barrack saying he has been “shocked” and “stunned” by Trump’s behaviour.

While Kelly can’t control Trump’s tweets, he is doing his best to physically sequester the president—much to Trump’s frustration. One major G.O.P. donor told me access to Trump has been cut off, and his outside calls to the White House switchboard aren’t put through to the Oval Office. Earlier this week, I reported on Kelly’s plans to prevent Trump from mingling with guests at Mar-a-Lago later this month. And, according to two sources, Keith Schiller quit last month after Kelly told Schiller he needed permission to speak to the president and wanted written reports of their conversations.

Oh, my. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

It’s election time …. zzzzzzzz

It’s election time in Edmonton, and never have I been more disengaged. And this comes from a lifelong political junkie.

I live in a ward with an interesting race, in that there is no incumbent and a number of candidates who seem quite viable (with one exception; I won’t mention this name, but let me just say do NOT put your X next to a guy whose name starts with the same letter). But the Edmonton mayoralty race is a joke, a sham, a bit of a disgrace to the city. Take a look at this clip compiled by CBC from “highlights” of this week’s mayoralty forum. There is no legitimate alternative to Don Iveson, which is a shame since the deadly dull Iveson has been a bit of a flop as mayor. He should be on the ropes, but he’s young and pretty and ‘progressive’ and projects the image Edmonton wants to project to the world. Incumbent mayors only get turfed when they’ve gone well past their best before date, and even then it takes a herculean effort and lots of money. Unfortunately, Iveson is utterly unbeatable, and with the financial bar set so ridiculously low for any chump to enter the mayoralty, the result in a gong show.

I am a little envious of Calgary right now, where there is a full-on brawl for the mayoralty. Incumbent Naheed Nenshi could actually lose to a guy named, believe it or not, Bill Smith. Switching from the first elected Muslim in a major city to a white bread guy named Bill Smith is enough to give you whiplash. But left-right politics have taken hold in the civic election in Calgary. Right-wingers – chaffing under the double yoke of an NDP government in Edmonton and a Liberal government in Ottawa – have set their sights on the progressive Nenshi, and there is a real chance he could lose. What fun!

And finally in Calgary, I have to mention the story of incumbent councillor Ward Sutherland. At a public forum, he was commenting on a hot issue in Calgary  (public art, and how it is chosen) when he said the following: “As I dove into the weeds, I found one of the biggest issues was the fact that the people, the committee that was picking the art, first of all, 10 out of the 10 people were artists. And, when they were looking at it, they’re going, ‘Well, Johnny Jew from New York, he’s the best artist, so we’re going to use him and not even look at it.”

‘Johnny Jew’? Yikes. The backlash threatens to destroy his re-election chances. But later, Ward came up with this absolutely stellar explanation: he didn’t say ‘Johnny Jew’, he said ‘Johnny Choo’, which he said was “a famous New York designer with the last name of Choo”. Unfortunately for Ward, the comment is on tape, and if you think Ward said ‘Johnny Choo’, get yourself to an audiologist. You can watch it here.

RIP

Y.A. Tittle, 90, American hall of fame QB with Baltimore, San Francisco and New York.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 38: Trans Canada pulls the plug; Vegas joins the club

Pipeline builder Trans Canada dropped a bomb on the Liberal government on Thursday when it cancelled its $15.7-billion proposed Energy East pipeline, which was designed to carry 1.1-million barrels a day of Western crude to Eastern refineries and export terminals.. The reason, according to Trans Canada: “changed circumstances”.

Hmmm. An answer that deliberately vague allows politicians to fill in the blanks. The Trudeau government said it was a business decision, pure and simple; the price of oil has fallen since the project was announced, so it is no longer viable, Justin Trudeau shrugged. The opposition Conservatives interpreted “changes circumstances” as the National Energy Board changing the regulatory rules and making them so onerous that Trans Canada could not, or would not, comply. They are both right, to a degree. Methinks the Conservatives are a lot more right than the Liberals.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who led the ludicrously overwrought Quebec opposition, crowed that the cancellation was a “victory”.  That truly pissed of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who said: “I can’t believe, frankly, that anyone would take any glee in the loss of this incredibly important investment and in the loss of thousands and thousands of jobs and in the continuing reliance of his citizens on oil from foreign countries.”

“To me, that is not something to be celebrating.” (Edmonton’s mayor, the deadly dull Don Iveson, said nothing.)

New Brunswick’s government took the subdued route, saying it was disappointed. So was Rachel Notley, but she was “deeply disappointed”. Other reaction from Western Canada was somewhat off the charts. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said: “Our taxpayers in Saskatchewan and Alberta will continue to send, without question, about $2.5 billion in equalization payments to help support Quebec that receives $11 billion in equalization per year and $1.4 billion to Ontario. For the west to continue on like this in our federal system is the equivalent of having Stockholm syndrome.” Wall, not surprisingly, placed the blame entirely on Trudeau.

And then there was UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, who went all in. Jean called it “an attack on Canada and Alberta” and “a shameful moment in Canadian history.” He blasted Coderre, saying: “He’s proud of holding back Canada’s energy prosperity. Other provinces have declared war on Alberta. They are cheering for Canada to fail and threatening national unity.” Jason Kenny was, surprisingly, much less off the wall, tweeting: “The NDP promised their carbon tax would create ‘social licence’ for pipelines. What a joke.”

So, what to make of this? Until Trans Canada comes clean (their vague statement seemed mischievously designed to cause maximum consternation), we can only guess why they pulled the plug, at a cost to the company of more than $1 billion. Best guess is that the decision was due to a number of circumstances. The National Energy Board’s decision to retroactively include “upstream and downstream emissions” (in other words, the greenhouse gas impact from the production of the oil to the use of the oil) in its hearings made the approval process that much more costly and time consuming, if not impossible. With the Trump administration approving the Keystone XL pipeline (another Trans Canada project) the company may just have said, screw it, let’s just do Keystone.

Of all the pipeline plans, the Energy East project made the most sense to me. Canadian oil for Canadians. But if the most sensible, least environmentally questionable project won’t go, then what chance is there for all of the others? None, I suspect. Trudeau has bragged about approving three pipelines in his time in office, compared to zero for Stephen Harper. But he should hold off on the self-congratulations until something actually gets built. Which will probably never happen.

What happens in Vegas becomes international news

Last Sunday night, while 22,000 fans were enjoying an outdoor concert in Las Vegas by a country singer named Jason Aldean, a man in the Mandalay Bay hotel broke a window and opened fire. From almost 300 yards away, he opened fire with semi-automatic weapons. He killed 58 people and injured almost 500, the worst mass shooting in American history (TV has taken to using the term “modern American history”, as if there is some mass slaughter by one person that happened in another century that everyone has forgotten about). Four Canadians – three from Alberta – were killed, including a single mother of four.

What more can you say about the sick, twisted relationship between America and guns? How about some numbers? America has more than six times the number of gun deaths as Canada, 16 times as many as Germany.  Australia has 1.4 firearms killings per 1,000 people; America has 29.7. There will be demands for new controls, and just as certainly they will be rebuffed. Because America is a land where guns are cheap, and so are lives.

Late night laments

The Las Vegas massacre put America’s court jesters/commentators in a tough spot. The late night comics (Conan, Colbert, the two Jimmys, Seth, James … did I leave anyone out?) were once again put in the position of doing a frothy comedy/interview show on the day of an unimaginable horror. They did it with Sandy Hook, they did it with the Pulse nightclub shooting, and now Las Vegas. They all addressed the horror, with Stephen Colbert being the most politically blunt, and Jimmy Kimmel the most emotional. Kimmel, previously the least political of all the late night comics, has morphed into a sharp-tongued commentator since his son was born with a serious heart defect that required extensive surgery. Kimmel became an advocate for health care for all Americans, and launched blistering attacks on Republicans who were trying to dismantle Obamacare. On Monday night, the often emotional Kimmel – a native of Las Vegas – delivered this moving, angry commentary.

And in Trumpland …

This week, Donald Trump paid an overdue visit to the battered island of Puerto Rico, which, as he has said repeatedly, is surrounded by water, lots and lots of water. Trump, naturally, messed it up horribly. He made a lame joke about how Puerto Rico messed up with his budget plans (a joke that wasn’t even met with embarrassed titters). And in the worst photo op ever devised, Trump handed out supplies by lobbing rolls of paper towels at a crowd. Apparently, paper towels are just what flooded out people need. Hope they were Brawny and not some lousy generic.

Meanwhile, in another extraordinary leak from the White House, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was quoted by two news sources as having called Trump a “moron”. He didn’t admit it, but then he didn’t deny is completely, either. He’s no moron.

Update on the terrorist/not a terrorist

Details emerged this week about the Edmonton ‘not a terror’ attack last week. The perpetrator, Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, was on the RCMP radar after the cops were tipped off that he might have been radicalized. They investigated, couldn’t find any evidence, and dropped the matter. It has also emerged that Sharif was living in the U.S. in 2011 when he was ordered removed to Somalia. He was not detained, but when the time came for his return to Somalia, he had disappeared, presumably now in Canada. How did someone who had been expelled from the U.S. move to Canada and be granted refugee status? Good question. I think. And one that we probably won’t get an answer to, this being Canada, where the tough questions regularly go unanswered.

RIP

Tom Petty, 66, one of the most enduring and widely popular rock and roll artists of the last few decades. From Breakdown back in 1978 (!), Petty logged 10 “Mainstream Rock Songs” No. 1s, among 28 top 10s, the latter the record for the most top 10s in the Billboard chart’s history. You may not have liked everything Tom Petty did, but chances are you liked a lot of it. This has been an especially bad year for musicians. Add Petty’s name to a list that includes country singer Troy Gentry, Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker, country/crossover legend Glen Campbell, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers, pioneer rock and roller Chuck Berry, and jazzman Al Jarreau,

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 37: Terrorism in my backyard

You know that it could happen in your town. You just don’t expect that it will.

I went to the Edmonton Eskimo game last night, and as I entered the stadium I was struck by how much security there is today. Bags are searched, and for some reason wands were used to check random fans for … I don’t know, weapons? Always seems excessive to me.

But later that night, right here in Edmonton, a man drove his car into a police barricade outside Commonwealth Stadium during a CFL game, striking a police officer and sending him flying through the air. He then jumped out of his car and stabbed the officer several times. Later in the evening, a U-Haul van went on a rampage in downtown Edmonton, striking pedestrians before finally landing on its side. Police are calling it an act of terrorism.

Thankfully, the cop was not gravely injured, and is in fact already at home. The pedestrians suffered a range of injuries, from broken bones to head injuries. The suspect is a Somali national who has applied for refugee status, and was on the government’s radar as being potentially radicalized. He was, however, deemed to be not a threat. Good call, guys!

What could have been a major incident with many fatalities instead becomes simply a close call. Edmonton joins the no-longer exclusive clubs of cities who have had to endure a terrorist attack. We can be thankful this was only a glancing blow, and not a direct hit. Cold comfort on a cool autumn day.

NDP cements third-place position

Remember just before the 2015 federal election, when it looked like Thomas Mulcair and the NDP had a chance, however unlikely, of forming government? Those were the days, right, Dippers?

On Sunday, the federal NDP cemented its permanent third-place position in Canadian politics by choosing Jagmeet Singh, a turbaned, bearded Sikh, as their new leader. A lot of people will see it as a sign of Canada’s “inclusiveness”, etc. etc. that a major political party in this country has elected a very visible religious minority as its leader, perhaps the first nation in the western world to do so. But that feel good stuff only goes so far. It is unpleasant to hear, but there are a lot of people in this country who would never vote for a Sikh, or any religious minority. The party is completely screwed in Quebec, once considered the party’s base during the Jack Layton years. Quebecers are solidly secularist, the only province in the country that has had angry public debates about religious symbolism in public life, and their hopes in that vote-rich province are now very, very dim.

Singh seems like a pretty decent young guy, and he will appeal to the core of hard lefties, but the chances of the NDP grabbing a large chunk of the Canadian vote just went up in smoke.

This week in Trumpism

Earlier this week, I was pondering if Donald Trump was a genius by cleverly distracting the population with trivial matters, or just an idiot with the world’s biggest megaphone. Today, I’ve voting for idiot.

Consider this past week. Last Saturday, at an Alabama rally (why does no one question his rallies, which must cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollar every time he has one?), Trump randomly went on a rant about the very tiny number of National Football League players who take a knee during the national anthem as a protest against racial inequality. (The player who came up with this protest, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, is currently unemployed despite the NFL’s dearth of quality quarterbacks.) He called any player who took a knee “a son of a bitch” and said they should be fired. Well, go figure … NFL players united in protest against Trump, with entire teams taking a knee during the anthem, or refusing to even show up. Some grandstanding NFL owners joined the team protests, some of whom donated to Trump’s campaign. (Maybe they are trying to atone for their sins?) This knee jerk reaction (get it? knee jerk?) dominated the news in the U.S. for a week, and Trump fed the flames with more incendiary tweets.

Was there other news in the U.S. last week? Sure, just a little. Trump’s son-in-law, the silent Jared Kushner, was revealed to have used a private email server after joining the White House staff. The Republican’s third attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare ended in failure. Trump’s new tax plan was immediately revealed to make the rich richer (including Trump, who it was calculated would have save a BILLION dollars in taxes under his tax plan). The government’s response to the catastrophic hurricane damage in Puerto Rico – which is without power and clean water, and is running low on food – is widely seen as badly mismanaged. When the mayor of San Juan criticized the Trump administration’s rescue efforts on Saturday, Trump responded – via tweet from his luxury golf course in New Jersey – that the mayor displayed “poor leadership”, that her comments were made on orders from the Democrats, and that she was unable to get city workers to help. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” Trump wrote. Yep, he blasted the mayor of a hurricane devastated town because she dared to criticize his relief efforts.

And also from the golf course, Trump derided the efforts of his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to talk to North Korea, tweeting that he told the Secretary of State that he is “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man … Save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done.”

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – this was Donald Trump’s worst week. Stay tuned for next week.

He comes from Alabama … I mean, where else?

The Alabama rally where Trump made his NFL remarks was in support of a Republican candidate in a senate primary with the Marvel comic-esque name of Luther Strange. Strange, however, lost the primary to a guy named Judge Roy Moore. And get a load of this guy.  Moore says (brace yourselves) that homosexuality should be illegal, doesn’t believe in evolution, and was twice kicked off the Alabama supreme court. When a Muslim congressman swore his oath of office on a Koran, he compared it to taking an “oath on Mein Kampf” in 1943, and said he should not be seated in Congress. He has called Islam a “false religion.” In August, he said: “There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois. Christian communities.” He later acknowledged that he had no idea if that was true.

This guy is one vote away from becoming a United States senator.

RIP

Hugh Hefner, 91, creator and publisher of Playboy magazine. Hefner’s impact on society can scarcely be understated. He created the first widely distributed magazine to feature female nudity (my teenage self thanks you, Hef). But it wasn’t just a nudie magazine; Playboy featured writing from some of the most important and influential writers of the 20th century. You could actually say that you read Playboy for the articles, and not be laughed at. He was a champion of civil and women’t rights, ironic for a guy who dressed women up in bunny costumes … David Mainse, 81, Canadian televangelist who created and hosted the long-running 100 Huntley Street …. Charles Bradley, 68, powerhouse American soul singer … Monty Hall, 96, the Winnipeg-born host of the long running game show Let’s Make A Deal.