Stuff Happens, week 32: Markets dive; Calgary has arena envy

OK, now I don’t want to panic anyone, but if you’re in the stock market, I have a few words of advice.


Just a suggestion.

On Friday, markets around the world went in the crapper. the reason being, apparently, China. Seem the world’s no. 2 economy is loosing steamed rice. Last week, China devalued the yuan, and this week a report suggest the economy could be worse than the Chinese are admitting. Thanks to the perculiar logic of the markets, bad economic news in China results in people selling off Apple stock. Go figure. Anyway, stocks everywhere fell so far, so fast, that those in the know called it a “correction”, defined as a 10 per cent drop from a peak. That may not sound so bad, but if you fall, say 10 per cent off the peak of Everest, you’re screwed. When the markets reopen Monday, two things could happen. Investors could continue their panic and the fall will continue, or investors might just back to in cash in on lower prices. If that’s the case, then ignore my ALL CAPS warning, and substitute ‘THE MARKET IS RED HOT! JUMP IN NOW, PEOPLE!!”

OK, I don’t want to panic anyone — again — but ASHLEY MADISON HAS BEEN HACKED! IT’S A BLOODBATH, PEOPLE!

Never heard of Ashley Madison? Neither have I. Seriously, never heard of it. Ashley Madison is a Canadian website that promotes adultery; if you want to have an extramarital affair, but just don’t know how to go about it, Ashley Madison can help. Isn’t the internet wonderful? Someone or something, perhaps with a sense of morality, hacked the site (that’s computer talk for ‘burgled’) and leaked (computer talk for ‘stole’) the names of millions of of clients, and posted them. Turns out, a lot of people want to have affairs. Who knew? The Toronto Star did an analysis, based on postal codes, of which parts of Canada spent the most on Ashley Madison. Not surprisingly, the top address was the postal code connected to the head office of Ashley Madison. The number two address? Lloydminster, which straddles the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. The records suggest $142,000 worth of transactions originated from Lloydminster. Attention divorce lawyers … Lloydminster wants YOU!

The trail of Mike Duffy/Stephen Harper continued this week, at a pace that would cause a snail to say, “Can you speed it up a bit?” Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff, continued to assert that he never told his boss that he paid the $90,000 Duffy owed for his illegal senate expenses. This week, it was revealed that Harper’s current chief of staff, Ray Novak, also knew of the payment. And, if you want to believe this, Novak ALSO didn’t tell Harper. In fact, it appears that none of Stephen Harper’s closest confidants — the guys who ran his office and used the Senate like a personal plaything — told the boss about the Duffy payments. Two things: if all of Harper’s minions conspired to plan the Duffy payment and subsequent media lies and didn’t tell him, don’t you think they should all be fired? The alternative is that Harper knew all along (which seems much more likely),and Harper lied through his teeth (he does have teeth, although he never shows them), which means he should be fired. By us.

Remember a while back, when the barbarians of ISIS took over the huge ruins of Palmyra? It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and the fact it exists today is largely due to the work of Kahled al-Asaad, an archeologist who was so connected to the site, he was known as Mr. Palmyra. There were fears that the Islamic State would destroy the site, as they have when taking over other heritage areas. But this time, ISIS decided that destroying ruins was so 15th century, that they upped the ante by beheading the 83-year-old al-Asaad, then hanging his body from a post for all to see. ISIS: Keeping barbarity alive in the 21st century.

Well, this was just a matter of time,wasn’t it? With Edmonton’s new arena taking shape, it was certain that Calgary would want a piece of that sweet, sweet arena action. So this week, the ownership of the Calgary Flames (who also own the Stampeders) announced a grand plan for a new arena, PLUS a covered football stadium, PLUS a field house, all on the same site. The project, pegged at anywhere from $800 million to more than a billion (what’s a few hundred million?) would be paid for by a ticket tax, a community development levy, and a measly $200 million from the owners, who are some of the richest men in Canada. In other words, less than a third would be paid by the people who would directly benefit, with the rest coming from taxpayers/ticket buyers/the city. Of course, they want provincial dollars, too, and this puts the NDP government in a bind. If Rachel Notley agrees to kick in some money for the project (she shockingly didn’t completely rule it out immediately, giving rise to some hope that funds could be found), Edmonton will go with its hand outstretched, looking for the same amount. That would be nuts, of course. There is no way the NDP would give money to private enterprise for frivolous things like arenas, what with all the pressures on the provincial treasury. Is there?

RIP: Bud Yorkin, 89, the lesser known half (with Norman Lear) of the producing team responsible for All in the Family, Maude and Sanford and Son. ..Yvonne Craig, 78, actress best know as Batgirl from the old Batman TV series.

(Note: That panoramic photo of downtown Edmonton at the top of this blog was taken by my brother-in-law, Kim Griffiths.)

Stuff Happens, week 31: Oil falls, gas goes up … again.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (and if you are, ask yourself why), you’ve probably grown tired of my ranting about Big Oil’s rip off of the Canadian consumer. From the Globe and Mail, a little proof: “Crude prices have tanked since early May, but gasoline prices have remained stubbornly high. The leading international benchmark, North Sea Brent, fell to $50 (U.S.) per barrel last week from $69 on May 1 – a drop of 28 per cent. But the average Canadian pump price actually rose over that period by three cents to $1.17.6 per litre last week, according to a survey done by Kent Group Ltd. Crude prices are 50-per-cent lower than last year, while the average pump price last week was down a mere 10 per cent, from $1.31.1 in the first week of August, 2014. Refining and marketing margins in Canada were 10 cents per litre higher as of July 21 than for the corresponding period last year, Natural Resources Canada reports.” Translation: we’re getting screwed. And just to add fuel to the fire (sorry) comes this week’s 15 cent a litre increase. The reason: a refinery went off-line in the Chicago area, resulting in an IMMEDIATE jump in the cost of gas in WESTERN CANADA in anticipation of a shortage. Yes, gasoline that was manufactured who knows how long ago went up 15 cents a litre overnight because of something that MIGHT happen. OK, I’m done with rants about oil. Seriously, I promise this is the last one …. until the next time.

CBC reporter Megan Batchelor was doing a live report from a music festival in Squamish, B.C. when a man planted a quick kiss on her cheek, took a selfie, and ran off. Summertime silliness at a concert, right? Nope. Ms. Batchelor said she was “rattled” by the incident, and the CBC asked the RCMP to investigate the “incident”. Yes, it’s an incident. There was, you may remember, the case of the idiot who screamed a vile vulgarity at a female reporter in Toronto earlier this year; the guy was ID’d and lost his job. But this? Turns out the guy came forward (he’s 17), and apologized. But really, have we gotten to the point where a silly little impulse is enough to “rattle” a TV reporter and serious enough to call in the cops?

On a much more serious crime note, have you heard of fentanyl? If not, you should.

Fentanyl is a painkiller, but calling it a painkiller is like saying Michelangelo was pretty good with a pen. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine, and is not something you should play with for a quick high; an overdose as small as a grain of salt can result in death. But illegal fentanyl is flooding Canadian cities. Sometimes it is sold as Oxycontin, a very powerful (but often abused) painkiller, and frequently turns up at concerts, where it is sold to teens and young adults. A report released this week says between 2009-14, fentanyl killed 655 Canadians, and the numbers are soaring. In BC, there were 90 deaths in 2014, and 60 this year alone. Here in Alberta, there were six deaths in 2011 — and 120 last year. In Edmonton, there have been 36 deaths from fentanyl this year; in Calgary, that number is 45.  If we had 36 murders in Edmonton this year, we’d be up in arms. But 36 drug overdose deaths? Just one of those things, I guess.

The Mike Duffy trial continued this week, with testimony from former Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright. Wright, who gave Duffy $90,000 that he owed the government apparently out of the goodness of his heart, continued to assert that Harper knew nothing of the payment. But it stretches credulity to believe that Harper, the most controlling prime minister in this country’s history, wasn’t involved. Now, Harper’s current chief of staff is being drawn into the scandal, and he’s making the claim that he just didn’t read emails from Wright regarding the Duffy payment. It’s looking more and more that there won’t be a single, explosive revelation that will bring down Harper (dammit), but there is a good chance the steady drip, drip, drip of revelations of the Harper teams lies and deceit will wear down the Teflon Harper wears.

RIP: Frank Gifford, 84, NFL hall of famer, husband of Kathy Lee Gifford, and former Monday Night Football announcer for 27 years.

Stuff Happens, week 15: Oilers clean house, Notley cleans up

The Edmonton Oilers, the widely-despised local hockey squadron, continue to make a lot of news for a team that missed the playoffs. After lucking into the No. 1 draft pick, on Friday the Oilers named former Boston Bruin GM Peter Chiarelli as their major domo of hockey operations. With Bob Nicholson taking over as CEO of the Oiler Entertainment (?) Group, the Oilers have effectively shunted the much maligned Craig McTavish and the even more maligned Kevin Lowe to the sidelines. Disgruntled Oiler fans who threw their jerseys on the ice at especially bad Oiler loses are now flooding Jersey City locations looking to buy new jerseys. The optimism should last well into the first week of the next season.

The big story in Alberta was the provincial leaders’ debate. With the election apparently an actual horserace instead of a foregone conclusion like a Harlem Globetrotters game (sorry for mixing sports cliches), much was expected. There was no knockout punch that can turn an election around, but there is no doubt that NDP leader Rachel Notley staked her claim as a potential premier. She was slick and well rehearsed, clearly the best performer of the bunch, right down to the well-practiced smile. PC leader Jim Prentice (whose future as PC leader is on the line thanks to his ill-conceived election call) failed to land a punch. Prentice devoting so much of his attention on Notley was a godsend to the socialist leader; obsessing on Notley simply gave her the stage, and she seized the opportunity by rudely talking over top of everyone else. The PCs are in a real bind now; they have to defend their right flank from attacks from the resilient Wildrose, and their left flank by the surging NDP. With the polls so close and the undecided so high, it’s still anyone’s ballgame, to end with another sports reference.

Hundreds upon hundreds of migrants died Sunday in the Mediterranean, victims of Libya’s human traffickers preying on people desperate to flee the war-wracked country. It is the worst mass drowning since the Second World War. You may not have heard this story, because they’re just a bunch of poor immigrants fleeing a war zone, after all, not something important like Bruce Jenner coming out as a woman. Now, THAT’S a news story.

Here’s one of those stories that just drives right-wing, anti-environmentalists crazy. In eastern Ontario, a mammoth, 324-hectare, nine-turbine wind farm has been kiboshed because of the Blanding’s turtle. The turtle apparently lives in the area, and because of fears that the turtle might get run over by the roads that will be built to accommodate the wind farm, the Ontario Court of Appeal has put a stop to the project. Nobody knows how many Blandings turtles live in the area, but the court said it doesn’t really matter. One crushed Blanding’s turtle is apparently one too many.

The Mike Duffy trial continues in Ottawa, with the revelation that the rapacious expense hog claimed $81,332.54 for living expenses …. for his own house in Ottawa. Seems the senator “from” PEI (where he has a cottage, not a home) claimed for expenses senators are entitled to while doing their duties in Ottawa, even though he had a home there for years. Also this week, it was revealed he fought like a very fat tiger to have expenses for his make-up artist to be covered by his senate budget. When the Senate said no, he simply paid for the make-up artist through a phoney-baloney company he had a friend set up.

In non-news, some Native Americans walked off the set of an Adam Sandler movie because they found it demeaning to their culture. A better reason to walk off the set of an Adam Sandler movie? It’s an Adam Sandler movie.

RIP: Here’s a passing to make you feel old: Lois Lilienstein has died at 78. The name Lilienstein means nothing to you, but if you just use her first name, and add her partners Sharon and Bram, you’ve got beloved Canadian children’s entertainers Sharon, Lois and Bram … Sawyer Sweeten committed suicide this week, just short of his 20th birthday. Sawyer was one of the boys who played Ray Romano’s twins on Everybody Loves Raymond.

Stuff Happens, week 14: And they’re off! But why?

This week, Premier Jim Prentice called his uncalled-for election. The question remains,  why?

The election — a year ahead of the lawful election date — has no validity. The PCs have a majority that any government in Canada, or the world, would kill for (and in some countries, that’s exactly how they do it). His “transformative” budget is unpopular, an ugly hodge-podge of tax hikes and service cuts. It does not, in any way, address the basic problem of the Alberta economy. The only possible outcome of this election is a win for the PCs, of course. But with the NDP polling well in Edmonton (with the shoddy track record of polling lately, this means nothing), and with the Wildrose showing signs of life (sympathy votes and anti-PC votes could give make them a surprise), the PCs are almost guaranteed to end the election with fewer seats than before the election. And if things go really, really wrong, the PCs could end with a minority. There is a very real chance that calling a 2015 election may be seen as a monumental blunder by Prentice. We shall see…

The National Hockey League season ended this week with thrilling playoff races. This surprised me, since I paid so little attention to the Oilers, and therefore the NHL, I wasn’t even sure it still existed. Anyway, I thought I’d try to catch a few of the games, secure in the knowledge that there are dozens of games on the various channels. Turns out, not ONE game I wanted to see was on TV. In any event, here in Edmonton we are forced to watch as REAL NHL teams in Ottawa (Go Sens! I guess), Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary (ugh) and Vancouver (double ugh) enjoy the thrills of the playoffs. By a quirk of the schedule, two of the five Canadian teams will be eliminated for sure in the first round, as they play each other (Calgary vs. Vancouver; Ottawa vs. Montreal). On the plus side, that means either Calgary or Vancouver will be eliminated.

Once again, an unarmed black man was shot and killed by a white cop in the U.S. But this time, the whole sickening sequence was capture on video. TV news has replayed the killing repeatedly; this poor guy had died a thousand deaths. Remember the days when it was considered in the worst possible taste to show someone actually getting KILLED on TV? Not anymore.

The Walterdale Bridge is a year behind schedule; the steel required to build the structure was delivered months later than planned. Considering how no city project ever finishes on schedule, this is the least surprising news of the year.

The trial of Mike Duffy, the scandalous senator, finally began in Ottawa. Charged with making umpteen false expense claims, the money claimed by Duffy is small change compared to the real prize — Stephen Harper. So far, we’ve heard that Duffy was so quick to suck on the government teat that he filed an expense claim on his very first day as a senator. We’ve also heard that the rules around senate expense claims are so loosy-goosy as to be almost non-existent. Basically, it’s the honour system. And we all know how much honour there is amongst senators.

RIP: Stan Freeberg, 88, comic and voice character actor. Freberg produced his 1951 Dragnet parody, St. George and the Dragonet, which was a No. 1 hit for four weeks in October 1953. He was considered the father of the funny commercial. His Wikipedia entry is well worth reading to get the scope of his career.