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?


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


Stuff Still Happens, week 49: On the ‘lock her up’ chant, and the woman they DID lock up.

Last Saturday, the right-wing rabble rouser, Ezra Levant, roused the rabble just enough to host an anti-carbon tax rally at the Alberta legislature. The crowd of probably a few hundred heard the usual stuff from the usual suspects, and the event was mostly uneventful. The Edmonton Journal’s story on the rally, in the Monday paper, was fairly by-the-books, which is more than we can say for anything that comes from Levant’s so-called “news” site, The Rebel. But inside the Journal’s National Post section of the same paper there was a tiny story from CP that Conservative leadership candidate Chris Alexander (why he was there, nobody knows) did nothing to stop protesters from chanting “lock her up”, the odious chant made popular by Donald Trump’s more vocal (a.k.a. stupid) followers. Alexander can be seen on a video of the event, but he looks so afraid that it’s hard to tell whether he was egging on the crowd, or simply shaking in his boots. Alexander’s chances of winning the Conservative leadership, already thin, evaporated on the legislature steps.

The entirely predictable shitstorm erupted in the media and attention-seeking politicians. The Journal ran Graham Thompson’s ‘tsk tsk, isn’t this awful’ opinion column as its main story on the front page on Tuesday (call me old fashioned, but I thought front pages were for news). Even worse was a laughable column by Metro’s apparently 15-year-old columnist Danielle Paradis, who somehow linked the horrendous Montreal Massacre of 1989 to these pathetic yahoos at the legislature. She actually called it an “act of violence”; no, it’s an act of idiocy. Yes, politics is coarser and cruder than ever, but so is the whole freaking world (please note I said ‘freaking’, and not something worse, like ‘fudging’). A handful of yahoos shouting something stupid is not a sign of the apocalypse. It’s just idiots being idiots, something of which Alberta has no shortage.

The most sensible statements came from the target of the chants, Rachael Notley.

“I think that there’s a bit of an ugly edge to politics that’s developing,” Notley told CBC News in Vancouver. “But I still believe that — as a Canadian — that this is a very small minority of people.” Notley said the chant likely came from an “extreme alt-right, right-wing” group, and that the chant “goes against the heart of Canadian values.”

“I’m confident that most citizens reject that kind of politics.”


Musical money chairs

The Trudeau government announced this week that Viola Desmond will become the first woman to grace a Canadian banknote. Desmond was a civil rights pioneer (she went to jail for refusing to sit in the white’s section of a Nova Scotia theatre and refusing to pay the 1 cent tax; this was years before Rosa Parks famous act of defiance), and later a successful businessperson. I suppose she’s as good a choice as any, although I thought the indigenous poet/writer/speaker/early feminist E. Pauline Johnson made more sense. The Viola Desmond choice more closely represents the American experience than the Canadian one, but what do I know?

The new face of our ten.

So, Desmond is going on the $10 bill, which means Sir John A. Macdonald – who was no less than our first prime minister, which is a somewhat more significant accomplishment – will have to move. But to where? How about the five? Nope. The Bank of Canada has already announced that “another iconic Canadian”, yet to be chosen, will find a home on the five dollar bill, which means MacDonald AND Sir Wilfred Laurier, currently on the five, will move to the less common $50 and $100. That means the current residents of the $50 and $100 have got to go,so it’s bye-bye Sir Robert Borden (our WWI PM) and William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Think about this for a minute. King was the most successful politician in Canadian history, a man who kept a fractious nation together, led it through a world war, and was an all-round weirdo. He could, and should, be on the $20, kicking the Queen off her throne. The Queen is already on millions of stamps and millions of coins; surely she can give up the spotlight on one measly bill. But apparently, the last taboo in Canada is doing anything that will upset the royal family and its followers.

Trump sends signals

Donald Trump continues to cobble together his millionaire’s cabinet, and it’s not too hard to tell what direction he’s going to send his administration. His choice for labour secretary is the CEO of a fast food chain who is opposed to increasing the minimum wage. His choice to head up the Environmental Protection Agency is a climate-change skeptic and harsh critic of the agency. His secretary of defence is nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’. His head of national security tweeted a link to a story that falsely claimed Clinton emails contained proof of money laundering and sex crimes with children. His possible choice for secretary of state if a pal of Vladamir Putin. All of these guys will give Donald Trump time to do what he does best – write angry Tweets about Saturday Night Live.

Avast, ye Icelandic swabbies!

Pirates have taken over a European country. And I am not making this up.

In October, the Pirate Party of Iceland (that’s a country, right?) came in third in the national election, winning 10 seats of the 63 available, more than tripling its number of MPs. Iceland’s president (Iceland apparently has a president who is allowed to make weird decisions) asked the leader of the Pirate Party, Birgitta Jonsdottir, to form a coalition government. The Pirate Party, not surprisingly, has no experience in government, sort of the like the NDP government here (their colour is orange as well). The new prime minister has described herself as an anarchist “poetician”. This should be fun to watch. Keep coming back to this blog as your source for all Iceland political news.


John Glenn, 95, the first American to orbit the Earth (but not the first overall; back in the day, Russia did things other than hack into computer systems) … Greg Lake, 69, singer with influential groups King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. …Halvar Jonson, 75, longtime PC MLA and former cabinet minister … Andrew Sachs, 86. who played Manuel on Fawlty Towers … Van Williams, 82. who played The Green Hornet on the 1960s TV series … Bill Dineen, 84, former hockey player and coach who won the Stanley Cup as a player with Detroit, and won championships as a coach in the WHA, WHL and the AHL.

Tuesday with the Sunday New York Times, all three pounds of it.

Did you know that you can get the Sunday New York Times delivered to your door for about $26 a month?

Neither did I, until my dad pointed out an ad in the Globe and Mail with the offer. Anyway, dad suggested we give it a try for a while, so I have now entered the realm of the ubber-sophisticated by being a Sunday New York Times Reader.

Mind you, it didn’t arrive until Tuesday, so that kind of kills the cache a little bit. But so much of it is long-term reading, it’s still pretty cool.

First thing you should know about the Sunday NYT is that it is not a paper you read on the bus on the way to work, or polishing off during your morning dump. It weights THREE POUNDS, and there is no way you can get through it from the time you get up in the morning to the time you start work. This is a real newspaper, folks.

The first thing you notice about the Times front is that it’s kinda ugly. Dense type, small photos, multiple stories. The front page alone had five stories, two pictures, and a bunch of teasers for the inside. Once you got inside, it gets even denser. Admittedly, it takes some getting used to, but you get the distinct impression that the Times is giving you something for your money.

After the front section, which is heavy on American domestic politics and international stuff, there’s 28 pages of sports (which is about as many sports pages as the Journal prints in a week), a hefty business section, the Sunday review filled with lots of smarty-pants writing, and an actual book review pull-out tab (the Times, apparently, believes that books are still worth devoting some space to).

This week’s edition is especially beefy, with previews of what the Times calls “the New Season” in theatre, film, TV, architecture, art and other diversions. Divided into three parts, the largest is devoted to theatre — 40 pages of stories and full-page ads on the latest from the Great White Way (did you know Annie is coming back?). Then there’s another 24-page section on movies, and yet another 36-page section on pop, art (there’s a Picasso exhibit at the Guggenheim if you’re interested), TV, and even video games.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a New York paper without a style (i.e. fashion) section, 36 pages printed on a heavier, glossier stock (I only breezed through this). And if that wasn’t enough style, there’s also an entire magazine on style, 130 slick pages. This, too, I tossed aside, or at least tossed to my wife, who likes that kind of stuff. Of more interest to me was the New York Times Magazine, a thin but article-packed general interest magazine. Reminds me of the good old days when the Saturday paper used to come with a magazine, the last of which was The Canadian, as I recall.

I spend a lot more of my Tuesday reading the Sunday Times than I had anticipated, which is not an entirely good thing. I should be working, or working on my freelancing, or even cleaning up the long-term storage area we call our basement. But the Times siren song was too strong for me to resist.

Ah, what a pleasure it is to read a newspaper that takes more than one bowl of Froot Loops to read.

On the Journal’s bias, and Pastoor’s departure.

Does the Edmonton Journal have an anti-Alberta Liberal party bias?

I’ll answer my own question: yes, it does.

For a number of years, I’ve noticed what short shrift Alberta Liberals get from Journal reporters and editors. When I was an MLA, there were countless times when the Journal didn’t bother to talk to Liberal MLAs about important issues, or, when they did, the comments were either buried or edited out of the piece. I thought it was just lousy reporting, but it has gone far beyond that now.

Take today’s coverage of the opening of the Legislature, which was typical of the Journal’s recent tact. The front-page story concerned the flood of legislation dumped on the legislature, accurately described as “an information dump critics say stifles debate and undermines democracy”.

The subhead declared “Wildrose leader slams move”, and five paragraphs in came the obligatory comment from NDP leader Brian Mason, the Journal’s favourite politician. Then came a statement from Wildrose leader Danielle Smith. The story went on for several hundred more words — without a single comment from the Alberta Liberals.

Why is this odd? Because the Liberals are the OFFICIAL OPPOSITION. And Raj Sherman is the LEADER OF THE OFFICIAL OPPOSITION. The Liberals, despite the loss of Bridget Pastoor (more on that later) are still the second party in the Legislature, with more seats than the NDs and Wildrose combined. But not a word from a Liberal MLA.

The only extensive mention of the Liberals came in Graham Thompson’s column, which he devoted primarily to Pastoor’s departure. This is not surprising, in that Thompson never misses a chance to dump on the Liberals. (If you want to read a superior column on provincial politics, check out Don Braid in the Calgary Herald.)

The Journal’s anti-Liberal bias has been on display for some time. Just a few weeks ago, I read a story (can’t remember the topic) online at the Journal, which contained a comment from a Liberal MLA. When the story appeared in the paper, the quote disappeared. This, sadly, is not uncommon.

The Journal has decided, based on opinion polls, that the Wildrose Alliance (four members, three of whom were elected as Tories, and whose leader is not in the legislature) is the Official Opposition, and the NDP (two members, third in voting last election) is the back-up party, and the go-to people for quotes on anything. The Liberals (second in seats and votes in the last election) will be included as an afterthought … if they get in at all.

I’m not saying that the ALP deserves to get top placement in every story, or that they should be allowed a comment for everything, or that its continuing struggles do not deserve coverage. But willfully ignoring the no. 2 party is unfair, and bad journalism. I admit to being biased, but the Journal shouldn’t be.

Now, on to the departure of Bridget Pastoor.

Pastoor’s departure is a blow to the party, no doubt. Losing an MLA from a nine-person caucus hurts, and it hurts Raj Sherman’s leadership. But if you look at Pastoor’s quotes, it says a lot more about her than it does about him.

“It certainly is not any reflection on Raj,” Pastoor said. “I have very, very deep respect for somebody who believes so strongly in what he did. He put everything on the table and left. That takes a lot of courage, and a lot of guts.”

Former leader Kevin Taft quoted Pastoor as saying that when she departed, Pastoor looked right at Sherman and said:  ‘Raj, you are a great leader and you’ll do really well in the next election.”

Incredibly, she downplayed the party switch, saying it is like going from one brand of car to another, which displays her quite stunning lack of understanding of politics.

So, what kind of person walks out on a “great leader” and someone for whom she has “great respect”, and people she has worked with, some for almost eight years?  I don’t want to go too negative on Bridget — I worked with her for four years, and I liked her — but I’ve lost a lot of respect for her. Dumping your party, your leader, and your co-workers for no other reason than you like the leader of the other party is pathetic.


The Liberal leadership: Apocalypse next?

According to a front page story in the Journal Sunday, written by hyperbole-prone reporter Karen Kleiss, the Alberta Liberals are facing a “do or die decision” in selecting its next leader.

Choosing a leader is important for any party, but to categorize this election as one that will “perhaps even determine whether the 106-year-old organization will survive the next election” is overstating the case.

Consider this sentence, which sets up the rest of the story: “The party is plagued by internal fissures over controversial new voting rules, and strained by a fractious leadership contest.”  Kleiss offers up no proof of either claim, no anonymous insiders, no highly placed sources, nothing. Then comes the kicker: “As a result, many experts and insiders agree: Saturday’s vote is a question of survival.”

Kleiss comes up to exactly two political “experts” to back up this statement, which is not “many” by any calculation.

One of them is the ubiquitous Chaldeans Mensah, of Grant MacEwan. Mensah has become the go-to guy for the media on provincial matters. (I admit I used him in a story for SEE magazine, but only after I found the U of A communications people utterly useless. Mensah, on the other hand, is always available.) Mensah is used so often on TV news, I suspect the local channels have a camera stationed in his office. (I saw him on CFRN news yesterday… even on a holiday, the guy is available.)

Most of the time, Mensah is bland enough to be inoffensive, while sounding authoritative. But he was flat out wrong in his assessment of the Liberal party. According to the story, Mensah called the Liberals “an ideological party pursuing policies that are not in touch with most Albertans’s political preferences.”

Whaaa??? There is nothing strikingly ideological about Liberal policy. It’s consistently centrist and financially conservative. I would like to see Mensah provide proof of any ALP policy that is so far out in left field that it alienates Albertans. They simply do not exist.

Jim Lightbody from the U of A is much more accurate in his assessment.

“You can’t convince people to vote for you if you can’t convince them to listen to you,” Lightbody said. He’s right about that. The biggest problem facing the Liberals has been that is has never been able to convince Albertans that it is a government in waiting.

But Lightbody goes off track as well. He predicts the Wildrose will become the No. 2 party after the next election (could be), reducing the Liberals to No. 3. “If you’re a third party in a two-party house, it’s very, very difficult to be taken seriously, and very difficult to get people to listen to you,” Lightbody is quoted. Well, the NDP is the third party in a two-party house, and with just two members has had no trouble being heard.

I was most disturbed by comments by leadership candidate Laurie Blakeman, who painted an apocalyptic vision of the party, presumably if she isn’t elected.

“I think the party’s survival is on this leadership race,” Blakeman was quoted. “If we can’t offer people a big opportunity that is different, then I think we’re done. I think those few people that are left will go to the Alberta Party.”

I assume Blakeman is speaking of the party without her at the helm. I think this is bad form, to be honest. While I agree the Liberals have to do things differently, I don’t see anything in Blakeman’s leadership proposals that are particularly groundbreaking. And I don’t think she’s going to make any friends by agreeing with critics that the party is finished (without her at the helm, anyway). And suggesting that the Liberal party will fade away, and it’s few remaining members will go to the still-in-diapers Alberta Party gives the Alberta Party far more credibility than it deserves.

I agree with Hugh MacDonald, that predicting the demise of the Liberal party has been a cottage industry in Alberta. There are problems with the party, to be sure. I still think the name is its biggest problem, and its chronic changing of leadership has done nothing to gain public support. Support has been ebbing away over the last few elections, but the party still has the support of 250,000 voters.  You can’t just throw away 100 years of history and hundreds of thousands of voters.

Problems? Of course. Is this leadership vote important? That goes without saying. Is the party doomed if the wrong person (whoever that is) is elected? Only the next election will tell.