Stuff Happens, week 37: He’s Pope-tastic; cabbies go wild; NDP plays giveaway.

Pope Francis made his North American debut this week, and he was boffo. The pontiff, who is not very popular with the right-wing of the Catholic church (which means he is doing something right) drew ecstatic crowds in his first U.S. visit. English, however, is clearly his second or third or fourth language. Listening to his speeches made me want to grab him by the shoulders, shake him and yell ‘SPEAK FASTER!”, which is not something you do with a pope. But his English is way better than my Spanish, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.

The interminable federal election campaign has its third debate this week, this one in French. This of course meant simultaneous translation, which resulted in moments where five leaders were speaking at the same time, PLUS five translators. It was frequently incomprehensible, but from I can understand, Quebecers really have a hatred for the niqab, which is a major election issue there. (It’s not an issue outside of Quebec, but the French language debate is basically a Quebec issue debate.) The issue of Muslim women wearing wearing the full face veil while taking the oath of citizenship is a favourite of the Conservatives, who believe a bare face is required to recite the oath. The Liberals and the NDP disagree, and they seem to be offside with the Quebec voter, who is apparently anti-niqab in every way. The whole silly debate led Stephen Harper to say he would never demand that his daughter wear a niqab, which implies that the other leaders would. Such idiocy. The way I see it, if a woman wants to cover her face for religious reasons, fine, have at it. No big deal to me — but don’t expect that you can teach school or be a nurse or even work in the lowest civil service position with your face covered. That’s not the way we do things in Canada.

Is there a bigger scumbag in the business world right now than Martin Shkreli? Shkreli is the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, which jacked up the price for a medication from $13.50 per pill to $750 overnight. The medicine, Daraprim, which has been on the market for 62 years, and is the standard of care for a food-borne illness called toxoplasmosis caused by a parasite that can severely affect those with compromised immune systems. Turing purchased the rights to the drug last month and almost immediately raised prices, from $13.50 a pill to $759 a pill! A reporter from a newsletter called Fierce Biotech asked the company CEO, the above mentioned dick Shkreli, why he did it. His reponse was to call the reporter  “irrelevant” and someone who doesn’t “think logically” and called him a “moron”. Shkreli has backed down a bit, but not before he was installed in the Corporate Scumbag Hall of Fame.

Speaking of corporate scumbags, who thought Volkswagen would enter such hallowed company? The auto giant, which had a sterling reputation, was found to have cheated on the emission numbers for its diesel vehicles. Diesel vehicles are more efficient than those powered by regular gas but emit higher levels of bad stuff. In Europe, where rules emphasize fuel economy, diesel vehicles are common but until recently they struggled to meet U.S. emissions limits. VW has admitting using software that allowed its diesel cars to fool U.S. emissions tests. The company has been selling some of its most popular models, like the Golf and the Jetta, bragging about how environmentally sound they are, but it was all a lie. The company CEO has resigned, and damage to the company’s reputation is incalculable. Who would have thought that a company that developed cars for Hitler could do anything so awful?

Edmonton cab drivers don’t have the best reputation. It’s not hard to find people who have had miserable experiences in dirty cabs. Uber is eating into their market, and the cab drivers are fighting back in ways that will do their reputation no good at all. They went nuts at Edmonton city hall this week when changes to taxi bylaws were being discussed, screaming and yelling and taking off their shirts. Police had to be called in and councillors were forced to leave the chamber. I am sympathetic to their cause (they spend tens of thousands of dollars on their cabs, and now Uber comes along and arrogantly changes the rules), but disrupting a council meeting and exposing their flabby bodies to the public won’t win them any friends. I don’t think the public is particularly sympathetic to cabbies, even though they have a legitimate gripe. If they don’t, quite literally, clean up their act, they will never get the public onside.

Still with Edmonton city council, the spineless yes men/women we elected will, as always, do whatever a developer wants. This week, council overrode a five-year-old downtown plan to allow the development of three 40-storey residential towers downtown. The problem is that the shade from the towers will dramatically reduce the output of solar panels on an adjacent project under development. Architect and developer Gene Dub — who is quite simply one of the best friends downtown Edmonton has ever had — went the solar route at city council’s suggestion, and at a cost of $400,000 for his project. Now, the towers will put is building in shade, and reduce their output by 40%. Only one councillor, Ben Henderson, had the balls to say no to a developer. Like children, city council is fascinated by shiny baubles like big buildings, and they will never say no to a developer.

Finally, the Alberta NDP is acting like a real government — wreckless with public dollars and giving jobs to partisan hacks. This week, an NDP-dominated committee voted to give raises of 7.25% independent officers of the legislature, with no real reasoning. All of the civil servants made hefty six figure salaries and were in no need of pay hikes, but they got them anyway. The committee also voted to send itself on a junket to Boston. Opposition members from the Wildrose and PCs voted against, but no matter. For your information, the chair of the committee is the MLA-by-accident Denise Woollard  of Edmonton Mill Creek (edmonton.millcreek@assembly.ab.ca)  Also on the committee is Lorne Dach (edmonton.mcclung@assembly.ab.ca ),  Estefania Cortes-Vargas (strathcona.sherwoodpark@assembly.ab.ca ) Heather Sweet (edmonton.manning@assembly.ab.ca ), and David Shepherd (edmonton.centre@assembly.ab.ca ).  If you find their actions disturbing, feel free to send a few polite words to their email addresses provided.  Also this week in NDP land, the NDP appointed a new head of the public affairs bureau. The public affairs bureau is the propaganda arm created by the old PC government that should have been abolished years ago, but the NDP is apparently keeping it alive by appointing a new director. The new hire, of course, is a former manager from the big union side and an NDPer. The NDP has has one hard and fast rule for hires — only people with union/NDP experience need apply. Yes, they’re acting like a real government now.

RIP: Yogi Berra, 90, the legendary New York Yankees manager/player and member of 13 World Series championship teams. Berra was credited with saying, among many other things, “It’s like deja vu all over again,” which, incredibly, is the way a lot of not very bright people use that expression to this day … Todd Ewen, 49, hockey enforcer (St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim), by his own hand.

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