The Return of Stuff Happens, week 2: My hush money has arrived

Deposited into my bank account this week was a payment of $150, my “Alberta climate leadership adjustment rebate”. The rebate covers the period of January to June of this year, which is a rebate for money I haven’t spent yet (or, as I call it, a prebate). The prebate is part of the “climate leadership plan” which give a rebate for “lower and middle income” Albertans like me to compensate us for Rachael Notley’s carbon tax on fuel and natural gas. Who gets the rebate? Well, just about everybody. According to the government website, “60% of households will get a full rebate: $200 for an adult, $100 for a spouse and $30 for each child under 18 (up to four children). Single parents can claim the spouse amount for one child, and the child amount for up to 4 more children.

“Full rebates will be provided to single Albertans who earn $47,500 or less, and couples and families who earn $95,000 or less. Additional households will receive a partial rebate.”

Yep … full rebates for families who earn up to NINETY-FIVE THOUSAND a year, and partial rebates for others over that amount. So, if even families taking in $95,000 a year are getting $300 a year, and people making even more than that are getting some kind of rebate (I assume that means Darrel Katz is getting a rebate), then where is the incentive to cut back on your consumption, which is allegedly the whole point of the carbon tax?  The website goes on to say “the rebate is solely tied to income and not energy use, so eligible recipients have a financial incentive to reduce household emissions.”

Huh? If the rebate was tied to energy use and not just your income, wouldn’t you be more inclined to reduce household emissions?

The fact is that the whole carbon tax plan is a giant PR scam, designed to convince the world (or the Trudeau government) that we’re “serious” about reducing our carbon output, without causing the “average” Albertan any undue hardship. Even the title is clearly the product of public relations: it’s not a carbon tax rebate, but a “climate leadership adjustment rebate”. What’s not to like about leadership? And the climate?

jane-fonda-was-at-the-pea-012The “leadership” plan clearly did not impress the taut-faced actress Jane Fonda, who made one of those publicity-seeking trips to the oil sands courtesy Greenpeace, then held a press conference in Edmonton to decry the actions of “good looking liberal” Justin Trudeau. Rachael Notley simply said Fonda doesn’t know what she’s talking about, which pretty much sums it up. Frankly, people stopped caring what Jane Fonda thinks back around 1972 when she was known as ‘Hanoi Jane’ for her support of the North Vietnamese soldiers, depicted in this infamous photo of Fonda getting all chummy with North Vietnamese. (To be fair, she has apologized profusely for the photo and her actions.)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse …

… it gets worse.

This week, reports emerged that president-elect Donald Trump was the target of a campaign by the Russians to accumulate damaging intelligence about the bilious billionaire, apparently in the hopes of blackmailing him at some point. The report, released in full by the website Buzzfeed, is entirely unsubstantiated and unverified, and riddled with errors. Still, intelligence people briefed Trump and Barack Obama on the findings, apparently as a heads up about its contents. (The one allegation in the report that is causing much merriment is that Trump, while in Russia, hired two prostitutes to urinate on the bed that Hillary and Bill Clinton had slept on in a previous visit to Moscow – and that is might have been videotaped.) The suggestion in the report is that the Russians were gathering damaging info on Trump to hold some kind of sway over him, in case he became president. Frankly, I think the whole thing is questionable. It could explain to a degree Trump’s bromance with Vladimir Putin, but Trump is basically impervious to shame. I can almost believe anything about the fat fingered vulgarian that is Donald Trump, but the guy is coated in Teflon. Nothing sticks to him, and unless the report (produced on orders of Republican opponents to Trump) is found to be substantially true, this will be just another unbelievable moment in the career of the world’s most unbelievable politician.

Trudeau tour hits some speed bumps

Prime Minister Trudeau, facing some heat for his fundraising actions and high-end holidays, decided to skip next week’s Trump inauguration to go on a cross-country “listening tour” to hear from Canadians. Some media types (OK, almost all media types, particularly anyone in the solidly anti-Trudeau Postmedia group) have decried this tour as a cynical publicity gimmick. Personally, I think its pretty gutsy to go out to public forums to listen to average Canadians. He could have stayed in his Ottawa cocoon, but he chose to go across the country, where he heard a story like this heartbreaking one from an Ontario woman. My guess is that while this woman was talking, Trudeau was thinking, “Maybe it’s not too late to go to the inauguration.”

Things would get worse for the boy prime minister. In a rambling talk about climate change, etc. Trudeau said: “We can’t shut down the oil sands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off our dependence on fossil fuels.” Any suggestion of phasing our the oil sands is red meat to Alberta conservatives, setting off the expected hyperbole. Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who represents Fort McMurray, was practically apoplectic. Trudeau should know better than to put the words “phase out” and “oil sands” in the same sentence. In the foreseeable future, there will be no phasing out of the oil sands. Love them or hate them, the oil sands fuel the Alberta economy, pouring billions into provincial and federal coffers. And after approving pipelines, how much sense does it make to talk about phasing out the oil sands? There are times when I think Trudeau is a pretty smart guy, and other times when I think he is an empty-headed pretty boy. This is one of those pretty-boy moments.

Pure Canadiana II

Continuing with my weekly series of historical tidbits (not Timbits) about Canada in honour of hour 150th year,  let’s pause to reflect on the contributions of Canadians to American comedy.

Canadians have made an impression on all sectors of the entertainment industry, but we have arguably had the biggest impact on comedy. Here is an incomplete list of Canadian comics, actors or comic creators who rose to stardom in the U.S. (and therefore the world, since the one things Americans can still do better than anyone is entertain): Dan Akyroyd, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Michael Cera, Mike Myers, Leslie Nielsen, Catherine O’Hara, Seth Rogan, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Samantha Bee, Russell Peters, Lorne Michaels, Norm MacDonald, Howie Mandel, David Steinberg, Colin Mochrie, Dave Thomas, Dave Foley, Rich Little, The Kids in the Hall, Will Arnett, Nathan Fielder, Tom Green. OK, there’s not all great, but all that matters in entertainment is success, right?

RIP

Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, 146, legendary form of family entertainment, closing down in May. Declining ticket sales got even worse when the circus announced it would no longer use elephants … The San Diego Chargers, 53, NFL team that has decamped to Los Angeles because the city of San Diego wouldn’t build a new stadium for the team … Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snooka, 73, longtime pro wrestler … Dick Gauthier, 83, handsome actor best known as Hymie the Robot from Get Smart … Anthony Armstrong-Jones, 86, photographer and first husband of the late Princess Margaret, younger sister of the Queen … William Peter Blatty, 89, author of The Exorcist which was adapted for the screen as one of the scariest movies in history …   Clare Hollingsworth, 105, the British journalist who had the greatest scoop of all time – she broke the news of the German invasion of Poland in 1939, signalling the start of World War II … Larry Langley, 83, former CBC weatherman and Edmonton city councillor … Tony Rosato, 62, one of only three performers (along with Martin Short and Robin Duke) to appear on both SCTV and Saturday Night Live, although he made little impression on either show. Rosato’s story is a tragic one. In 2005, Rosato went to police in his wife’s hometown of Kingston to report wife and baby daughter had gone missing, replaced by impostors, the result of a rare mental condition known as Capgras delusion. Police charged him with criminal harassment and threw him in jail for almost 800 days, until his trial last summer. A judge handed Rosato a conditional discharge (with no conviction) and a probation order under the Criminal Code requiring Rosato to “reside” at Kingston’s Providence Care Mental Health Services for a maximum of three years … Kenny Wharram, 83, who played 14 seasons with the Chicago Black Hawks … Ulf Dinkelspiel, 77, Swedish politician included on this list because I love the name Ulf Dinkelspiel.

 

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The Return of Stuff Happens, week 1: The taxman cometh

Here in the Glorious People’s Republic of Alberta, we have begun the process of saving the Earth, 4.5 cents a litre at a time.

The NDP government introduced its Climate Change Plan Jan. 1 , slapping taxes on the stuff that we use to drive our vehicles and heat our homes. The fuel tax is not especially onerous at 4.5 cents a litre – not even half the increase Big Oil slapped on gasoline just before Christmas, without explanation – but it is enough to get some sectors of the province frothing. The Wildrose’s Derek Fildebrandt tweeted a picture of himself loading up gas cans on Dec. 31 to avoid the tax, part of a wildly exciting New Year’s Eve party, I assume. Two days after the tax came into effect, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips snickered that Alberta was “still standing” after two days, a typically condescending comment from Rachael Notley’s smuggest minister. Wildrose critic Don MacIntyre issued this overwrought statement:  “It is a rather typical move on the part of a socialist government to tax its businesses into insolvency and its people into poverty and then offer us a crumb or two of our own money and expect us to be grateful. Well, we’re not.” MacIntyre wasn’t done yet. Taking the bait from Edmonton Journal columnist and NDP cheerleader Graham Thompson, MacIntyre managed to blurt out that the science around climate change “isn’t settled”. In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, what a maroon.

Continuing their propaganda offensive, the government set up one of those photo-ops with and “average” Albertan to announce that rebate cheques were on the way. The event was staged at an “average” Albertan’s household, and the “average” Albertan obliged by saying he was “wildly proud” of the government. I know this because the media, always a sucker for these dog-and-pony shows, dutifully reported from the scene. Here’s my question about the rebates: how can the government give out carbon levy rebates after the carbon taxes has only been applied for five days? Shouldn’t you get rebates after you’ve spent the money, not before? Doesn’t that make it a prebate?

So, how much will the carbon tax cost the average Albertan? Well, I’m about as average as they come, so I’m going to keep track of how much it costs me this year. For the next 12 months, I’m going to keep track of how much gas I put in my motor vehicles, and how many gigajoules of natural gas I use. I’ll let you know how much it’s costing me, and how much I get back in rebates.

The Decline of the American Empire

The Trump Era hasn’t officially started yet, but the elected-by-a-minority president is already flexing muscles – or more precisely, his thumb muscles.

Last week, the new congress moved to gut the ethics watchdog’s office, an extraordinarily brazen act, even by Republican standards. Now here’s where it gets weird –  Donald Trump tweeted that he wasn’t happy with the gutting of the ethics office, and the Republicans immediately backed down and rescinded the order. Republicans, who run both the Senate and the House, are clearly terrified of Trump, and will do his bidding immediately and without question. Reminds me of another world leader,  Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

Things only got worse last week. Trump has openly questioned the consensus of the intelligence community that Russia was behind the hacks of the Democratic party, saying basically that he knows more about hacking than the CIA and the FBI.  And finally, Trump – the next leader of the free world, who should have a lot on his mind – took time to tweet an insult to Arnold Schwarzenneger, the new star of Trump’s old show, The Apprentice, which debuted to its worst ratings ever. Weirder yet, Trump is the executive producer of the show he dissed! It’s madness, people.

Thoroughly modern musical

I watch a lot of movies, but I don’t often go to the theatre. Most movies work perfectly fine on my home TV screen, and if if sucks, you just turn it off. But once or twice a year a movie comes along that demands to be seen on the big screen. Right now, that movie is La La Land.

La La Land is a movie movie, an entertainment that can only exist on film (or digital). It’s a musical, which for some audiences will take some getting used to. People randomly singing and dancing in public is, well, weird, but no weirder than wars in outer space and giant monsters destroying cities. Just accept the concept.

La La Land is a glorious throwback to old school movies, without ever seeming old fashioned. The director, Damien Chazelle, makes full use of the bag of tricks available to a 21st century filmmaker.

A musical is, of course, only as good as its music, and La La Land’s music will lodge in your brain (I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this). La La Land isn’t for everyone, but I loved it. It will be nominated as best picture when this year’s Academy Award nominees are announced on Jan. 24, and I’ll predict here that it will win. It is exactly the kind of movie that the academy loves, and while that sometimes results in mediocre movies winning, that won’t be the case here.  See it, and see it in the theatre.

Pure Canadiana I

In honour of this great nation’s 150th birthday, this year I will include in this blog one little thing you should know about your home and native (to some of us) land. I’ll call it Pure Canadiana.

robertson
The Robertson head screw.

Let’s begin with a tribute to two great Canadian inventions that you likely have used at some point in your life. First, there’s the Robertson screw (no, it’s not what you’re thinking). The Robertson screw is the one with the square indentation, first manufactured by P.L. Robertson in 1908. It locks in better than any other kind of screw, and is still most popular in Canada. The other great Canadian invention is the paint roller, the greatest time saver in the history of painting invented in 1939 by Torontonian Norman Breakey. Unfortunately, Breakey neglected to patent his creation, and some Americans (of course) made some minor modifications to his creation and patented it. Still, history records the paint roller as a Canadian creation. As someone who has used countless paint rollers, I think Norman Breakey shoud be, at the very least, on a Canadian stamp.

RIP

Milt Schmidt, 98, a Boston Bruins legend who was a player, captain, coach and general manager of the team during his career. He was a member of the famed Kraut Line which, in the 1939-40 season, finished 1-2-3 in the NHL scoring race. He was the oldest living ex-NHLer at the time of his death … Tilikum, 36, a captive orca who was responsible for the deaths of three people. Tilikum was prominently featured in the documentary Blackfish.

Stuff Still Happens, week 23: The year of the fallen icons

The Oxford English Dictionary defines icon as ‘a symbol or graphic representation on a screen of a program, option, or window’, which doesn’t work until you look at the second definition, which is ‘a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.’

There are few words in English usage today more overused than ‘icon’. It’s gotten so bad — even Khardashians are called ‘icons’ of one sort or another — that I vowed not to use the term. But this year, the word has been used correctly — again, and again, and again.

Consider the icon toll of 2016. David Bowie, genuine music icon. Prince, another true icon. Harper Lee, literary icon, even if it was for only one book (To Kill a Mockingbird). George Martin, music icon for his production of The Beatles albums. Garry Shandling, comedy icon. Merle Haggard, country music icon. Morley Safer, TV news icon. Last week, Muhammad Ali, a cultural and sports icon. And now, on Friday, the first Canadian icon to fall. Gordie Howe, Canadian icon, sports hero and the greatest hockey player in the history of the game.

Gordie’s best playing days predated my interest in hockey. In fact, he was around for so long, Gordie’s career pre-dated me entirely. Even though the only time I would have seen him play was in his waning days in the old WHA (where he played with his sons, Mark and Marty), Howe was one of those people — yeah, an icon — who dominated the Canadian sporting landscape by being the best at Our Game. While Wayne Gretzky has been proclaimed by many (but not Wayne himself) as the game’s greatest, Gordie was clearly the best, the total package. He could score, of course, but unlike many other scorers, he didn’t need an enforcer to protect him. In an era of hockey where men were men, if you took a run at Gordie, he would extract his revenge — maybe months later, but he would get ya. But as ferocious a competitor he was on the ice, Gordie was a beloved gentleman off the ice. There are countless stories of Gordie, just being Gordie, leaving fans awestruck at the most fleeting of meetings. Gordie Howe was, in many ways, the ultimate Canadian hero. Small town roots, tremendous success (mostly in the U.S.), and a dignified retirement and exit. Icon, indeed.

Stunning mass killing surpasses all others

Early this morning, in an Orlando, Fla, gay nightclub, a gunman opened fire. A hostage taking incident ensued that went on for three hours. When the police finally stormed the nightclub, killing the gunman, they came upon a scene of unparalleled carnage, even by American standards. The death toll today, which was initially pegged at an appalling 20, is as of this morning at a stunning 50. Fifty! It is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The story is still developing.

Here comes the carbon tax

The NDPs carbon tax is now the law. What impact will this tax on consumption have on our carbon emissions, on our reputation around the world, or our ability to get pipelines built thanks to our new green cred?
Uh, well, nobody knows. Certainly not the government. The NDP is essentially experimenting with carbon taxation in the hopes that all sorts of wonderful things (see above paragraph) will happen, with no firm guarantees any of them will. Even Liberal leader David Swann, who is greener than Kermit the Frog, couldn’t support the bill.  “The government has essentially given itself no goals and no measures to which they can be held accountable,” Swann told the legislature. “Even our proposed amendment requiring the Auditor General to review the program after two years was voted down by the NDP.”
He’s exactly right. Good intentions, no proof that the plan will have any impact on climate change. Even the name, the “Climate Leadership Implementation Act” sounds like a PR exercise, which is exactly what it is — a multi-billion dollar PR exercise.

Hillary makes history, and history shrugs

South of the border, Hillary Clinton made history (or should that be ‘herstory’ … no, it shouldn’t) by becoming the first woman to win the nomination of a major American political party. Based on the polls, and the daily jaw-droppers from Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States of America.
So why are so few people excited? Shouldn’t there be ringing declarations about this Great Moment in Womankind? Why is the excitement so, well, muted? Almost perfunctory.
Maybe it’s because so few people really seem to like Hillary. While Barack Obama was a transformative figure — the first black president of a nation that practiced official racism well into the 20th century — Clinton’s victory looks more like the final victory of a grasping, calculating, say-anything-to-get-elected type of politician. The difference between Hillary and all of the other White House strivers over the years is that they wore pants, while she wears pant suits.
Clinton may be the luckiest person ever to win the Democratic leadership. She will face Donald Trump, the single worst presidential candidate in history, and the odds are pretty good that he will not only lose the White House, but bring down the Republican party. And a crushed Republican party will give Hillary Clinton and the Democrats the kind of power that Barack Obama has long been denied.

O, Canada, our home and PC land

Parliament moved a step closer to officially changing the national anthem this week. A private member’s bill to change the exclusive lyric “in all thy son’s command” to the inclusive “in all of us command”, passed second reading, and now goes to the Senate. But I must ask, why stop there? There are other lyrics that exclude members of the Canadian family. Take immigrants, for example. Shouldn’t we change the lyric “our home and native land” to something like “our home and chosen land”? After all, there are millions of Canadians who are not native to this country. What about these poor excluded people? And what of the the line “God keep our land”? What is God doing in our national anthem? How to atheists and agnostics feel about this? And what God are we talking about? There are lots of them, after all. Why should we do this? To paraphrase Justin Trudeau … because it’s 2016.

RIP

Kimbo Slice, 42, mixed martial arts star, … Theresa Saldana, 61, American actress (Raging Bull) … Peter Shaffer, 90, British playwright (Amadeus, Equus) … Bobby Curtola, 73, one time Canadian teen idol (Fortune Teller).