Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Harper Government spent $7 million of your tax dollars to attack Justin Trudeau's position on marijuana

In yet another disgusting abuse of power and waste of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars by Stephen Harper and his government, it's now been confirmed that a laughable "Health Canada" ad campaign last fall - which featured dubious claims about non-existent science and a lot of misinformation - cost we taxpayers $7 million.

The ad campaign was clearly designed with Conservative party political intentions in mind to scare ignorant parents into opposing the liberalization of Canada's marijuana laws, which just so happens to be the position favoured by Harper's main political opponent, Justin Trudeau.

I'll copy the Canadian Press story in its entirety as the facts without comment are outrageous.  Those particularly outrageous, I'll highlight in bold:

Conservative government’s anti-drug advertising blitz last fall cost $7 million



-30-
This was not some innocent, non-partisan effort by Health Canada, clearly.

It represents the kind of despicable decision-making and disrespect for taxpayers' dollars that will not cease until Stephen Harper is removed from office.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

HuffPost's Michelson: "Yes, Billy Crystal DID Just Make A Homophobic Statement (And Here's Why It Matters)"

This story about Billy Crystal has been making the internet rounds this week.  

I thought I'd comment, mostly to post a link to this great article by Noah Michelson, executive editor of the HuffPost's Gay Voices section, who beautifully sums up the issue and articulates many of my own thoughts in reaction to Crystal's homophobia.

But first some background.  Crystal appeared on a panel this past weekend in Pasadena when he was asked what it was like to play one of the first gay characters on American TV (on the ABC show "Soap" in the late 1970s) and how television's treatment of gay characters has changed since that time.

Crystal reportedly said, "There were times where I would say to [the actor who played his boyfriend], 'Bob, “I love you,' and the audience would laugh nervously, because, you know, it’s a long time ago, that I’d feel this anger. I wanted to stop the tape and go, 'What is your problem?' Because it made you sort of very self-conscious about what we were trying to do then."

So far, so good.  But then Crystal started talking about recent television depictions of gay people: 

"And now it’s just, I see it and I just hope people don’t abuse it and shove it in our face -- well, that sounds terrible -- to the point of it just feels like an everyday kind of thing."

Crystal then alluded to some TV shows today (such as the new show 'How To Get Away With Murder,' which contains numerous sexy man-on-man sex scenes):  

"Sometimes I think, 'Ah that’s too much for me...Sometimes, it’s just pushing it a little too far for my taste and I’m not going to reveal to you which ones they are."

Michelson, in his HuffPost article, then quotes a follow-up comment from Crystal reacting to the negative feedback his comments received:

"First of all, I don't understand why there would be anything offensive that I said. When it gets too far either visually...now, that world exists because it does for the hetero world, it exists, and I don't want to see that either. But when I feel it's a cause, when I feel it's "You're going to like my lifestyle," no matter what it is, I'm going to have a problem and there were a couple of shows I went 'I couldn't watch that with somebody else." That's fine. If whoever writes it or produces it...totally get it. It's all about personal taste."

To me, this was just Crystal expressing probably what a lot of heterosexual men of his generation feel about the gays: you can exist, I just don't want to see too much of you.  Or something to that effect.

But I urge you to read all of Noah Michelson's commentary, who is fair to Crystal while also calling him out for his "homophobia."  Here is just a small snippet:

"I think we can all read between the lines there. Let's not forget that one of the great things about being straight is that no one is ever going to accuse you of pushing your "lifestyle" on anyone else because your "lifestyle" is already the status quo. It's everywhere! You don't have to worry about your televised kisses or -- sweet baby Jesus help us! -- sex scenes being referred to as some kind of gratuitous political statement (or a "lifestyle") because your kisses and -- sweet baby Jesus help us! -- sex scenes are fundamentally seen as normal and healthy. What other "lifestyles" could he be talking about? People in relationships with balloon animals? Vegans who refuse to stop wearing leather? Whatever they are, I'm willing to bet my 401k he isn't talking about being straight as a "lifestyle."

Now to celebrate how far American TV has truly come, I give you one of the hot gay sex scenes featured this past fall on ABC's 'How To Get Away With Murder."  Enjoy!   



Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sudbury Liberal opponents grasp at straws with OPP's help

When you tell someone they're not going to be your party's candidate in an upcoming byelection, that you're going to appoint someone else if they even try to run, but let's look at the bigger picture and consider not only what's best for the party but also how else you can stay involved politically instead of the job that's not available to you, is that a crime? 

When you don't offer someone an appointment or a job, are you actually offering someone an appointment or a job?  

Most reasonable people would say no.  But in the hyper-partisan world of Queen's Park, where desperate NDP and PC opposition MPPs have been grasping at anything slightly smelly or unethical for years to scream, "Crime!" or "Corruption!", the answer is yes.

Sadly, the Ontario Provincial Police continues to entertain the notion that somehow a crime was committed when a couple of Liberals spoke to former Sudbury Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier about options for staying involved politically after they told him he wouldn't be the party's candidate in the Feb 5th provincial by-election. 

"We have said repeatedly, and now the tapes have confirmed, that we were working to see if we could keep this young man involved in the team," said Premier Kathleen Wynne today. 

"There had already been a decision made that Glenn Thibeault was going to be our candidate, and so now we're just going to work very hard to get him elected."

Of course, no amount of common sense will prevent opposition MPPs from seeing "crime" where there is merely ineptitude or something unseemly.   It also seems Adrian Morrow of the Globe likes to hear things that aren't there too. 

I listened to the recordings that were posted this week by Andrew Olivier.  I have to agree that it doesn't appear that anything concrete was ever offered to him.  But it was strongly hinted in his conversations with Sudbury Liberal bigwig Gerry Lougheed and Liberal operative Pat Sorbara that if he supported Wynne's choice for candidate that he could possibly find other ways to stay involved politically, perhaps with a run for the party in the future. 

When you suggest sacrificing for the good of the team might benefit you in the future, is that a crime?  Or is it stating the obvious?  It clearly wasn't obvious to Olivier, I guess. 

Based on the phone recording, it's clear that Sorbara didn't offer Olivier anything concrete except possibilities.  Some of the options discussed Sorbara clearly has no power to offer, such as work in Thibeault's theoretical constituency office (should he be elected) or on the party executive.  Or even a provincial appointment.  

But what is clear is how intent Olivier now is to wreck havoc on the party and leader with whom he was prepared to stand just a few weeks ago.  His independent candidacy and the release of these recordings this week seem to be the last sticks of dynamite Olivier has loaded onto the bridge between him and the Liberal Party.  

I'm not a hyper-partisan Liberal.  I'm not really that active anymore.  While I have worked for the party and volunteered for the party for years, other mostly non-partisan, creative efforts command my attention these days.  But I understand how party politics works and I've seen dozens of people get shafted by the powers-that-be in the Liberal party. 

The true team players, when asked to make a sacrifice for the team, realize such sacrifices can possibly lead to future rewards.   Rarely are those rewards clear or obvious when you make those sacrifices.  There's usually only hope or a vague promise.   It's the gamble you take when you make the sacrifice.  I have no doubt in this case that Olivier is now just trying to exact some revenge.  It strikes me as quite spiteful and short-sighted that Olivier, at the relatively young age of 36, has decided this is the hill he's prepared to politically die on.  

Now his goal seems to be nothing more than ensuring the defeat of Glenn Thibeault in the by-election and electing the NDP, as his independent candidacy probably won't be garnering many votes come Feb 5th.   One thing is certain: he's finished as a Liberal candidate in the future.  That's too bad.

In the end, I suspect the OPP will again close the investigation, as will Elections Ontario, with zero charges laid.   I hope that happens before Feb 5th.  

You can dislike how things have been handled in Sudbury.  But just because you don't like them, doesn't mean you have the right to call them, "Criminal!" 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Two great films up for Golden Globes tonight: 'Selma' and 'Pride'

I have been busy lately catching some 2014 films I missed last year.

Scene from 'Selma'
The most recent viewing was director Ava DuVernay's superb 'Selma,' (pictured on the right) which chronicles the efforts of many led by the late Martin Luther King Jr. to achieve full voting rights for African-Americans in Alabama and across the racist southern states in the 1960s, specifically the Selma marches in 1965.

The direction of this film by Ava DuVernay is artful but also completely accessible.   The acting is exceptional, including the lead performance by David Oyelowo as King, who really captures the passion, determination, intelligence and grace of the man.   As a work of art and entertainment, the film works on all levels and is most deserving of the praise it's receiving, including a Best Picture (Drama) nomination in tonight's Golden Globe Awards.

As with any high-profile feature film about contentious events, there has been some controversy about the film's depictions.  Most particularly, a former Lyndon Johnson adviser, In fact, Selma was LBJ’s idea, he considered the Voting Rights Act his greatest legislative achievement, he viewed King as an essential partner in getting it enacted — and he didn’t use the FBI to disparage him."

The film's director effectively rebuffed the accusations on her Twitter account with:

"Notion that Selma was LBJ's idea is jaw dropping and offensive to SNCC, SCLC and black citizens who made it so.

"More detail here. LBJ's stall on voting in favor of War on Poverty isn't fantasy made up for a film. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/07/08/the-color-of-law"

"Bottom line is folks should interrogate history. Don't take my word for it or LBJ rep's word for it. Let it come alive for yourself."

Sage words not to forget.  That New Yorker article is a very detailed account of the events that led up to the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery, many of which seem to be depicted quite accurately in the film.   

"Johnson recognized the need for additional voting-rights legislation, and he directed Nicholas Katzenbach, soon to be his attorney general, to draft it. “I want you to write me the goddamnest toughest voting rights act that you can devise,” is the way he put it. But then progress slowed. Johnson had the most ambitious legislative agenda of any President since F.D.R. (his idol), and he explained to King that he was worried that Southern opposition to more civil-rights legislation would drain support from the War on Poverty and hold up bills on Medicare, immigration reform, and aid to education. He asked King to wait."  

After watching the film and doing my own research, I'd have to agree that the portraits painted in the film 'Selma,' are pretty much accurate.  Grassroots organizers including King found Selma as a primary example that could be used to justify the crucial importance of voting rights reform.  They did the heavy lifting.  There's no indication in the film that LBJ used the FBI to disparage King.  But the film does post verbatim transcripts of FBI logs that clearly show that King was being monitored throughout the entire period.  

It's probably true that LBJ first wanted political conditions to be in place before pushing for voting rights reforms over other priorities.  And the Selma experience ultimately created those conditions.   The film portrays King as being fully aware of that political reality and organizing to make it happen.  Without a doubt, King and his supporters and other activists were the primary players in those marches including their conception, plus obviously the execution: they walked those miles, they put their lives at risk.  The televising to millions of Americans and others across the world of the first march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge which ended with unarmed and peaceful protesters being brutally attacked by police under orders from the Alabama governor marked a turning point for the civil rights movement.  And the events gave Washington the impetus to push the reforms.

All in all, 'Selma' is a great example of civil rights history that deserves to be viewed and studied.

Another film nominated for the Globes tonight, 'Pride,' (pictured on the right) also depicts historical efforts against injustice and discrimination, albeit with a lighter, more humorous tone than 'Selma.'

Directed by Britain's Matthew Warchus, 'Pride' is a lovely film with great heart about gay activists in 1980s Britain raising money to help support striking miners in Wales and across the U.K.   Beautifully acted by a huge U.K. cast including Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Dominic West and a bevy of cute young men including Ben Schnetzer, the movie succeeds because it shows the great benefits of forming alliances between the downtrodden or attacked groups that otherwise might never interact.   Through those unlikely alliances, greater communication, understanding and personal growth result, sometimes in small intimate ways, and also in larger ways: because of the efforts of those few gay activists, huge swaths of Britain's labour movement became more supportive of queer rights.  

Some might take issue with the alliance between coal miners and gay activists if they value equality but not industries that clearly had grown inefficient.  In fact, the burning of coal is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases and continues to fall out of fashion.  Ontario has shut down all of its coal-burning energy facilities, as we know.   The film barely mentions the word, "coal," and instead focuses on the relationships between the characters.  The workers under threat in the film are fighting for basic survival and a way of life, not simply for coal.  They had followed paths laid out for them by their communities (most of which were single industry towns), only to see their livelihoods threatened in the name of an uncaring ideological government only concerned with the bottom line.

Had I been among the gay activists in the U.K. in the 1980s, I would've joined this movement for certain.  The film succeeds in depicting that era in the gay rights movement extremely well.  They were different times, indeed, and it's great to have this gem of a film to depict them.

While 'Selma' succeeds in showing both black and white activists coming together to fight injustice, the activists in 'Pride' are all lily-white.  No doubt, London's gay scene in the 1980s wasn't too racially diverse, nor were the mining towns of Wales.   But the themes of different groups coming together to fight for their rights resonate in both films.

I urge you to check out both of these films as soon as you can. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

UPDATED AGAIN: Wouldn't it be nice to have a Prime Minister who didn't try to take political advantage of terrorist tragedies?

The events this week in Paris were horrifying.   It's true that the West is currently being targeted by Jihadist militants, some isolated and deranged, some well-funded and trained.

Our values of freedom of expression and equality are incredibly important and our support for those values cannot waiver in the face of these evil threats.

However, I'm appalled that we have a Prime Minister and governing Conservative party willing to take full advantage of these tragedies to try to win political points and further their own narrow partisan interests, and even raise some extra cash, as this CP story makes clear:

"The Conservative Party of Canada has removed a "Donate Now" button from a web page which highlighted Stephen Harper's comments about the deadly Paris terrorist attack, after critics called it crass.

"The page on the party website, titled Standing Up Against Terrorism, featured the prime minister's reaction to the horrific shootings at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and noted that Canadians can count on Harper and the Conservatives to ensure their safety.

"Initially, the page featured a button in the top right corner where supporters could click to donate to the party.

"Liberal MP Marc Garneau was quick to condemn that as inappropriate.

""Conservatives fundraising off an ongoing terrorist act is offensive and totally crass," Garneau wrote on Twitter.

""Is there no limit?"

"The button was later removed to ensure people understand the web page was never meant to raise money, said Cory Hann, the Conservative party's director of communications."

You can read more here about how Harper's Conservatives are trying to turn this week's tragedy into a benefit for their own party. 

Here's the link to the Conservative Party's 'Standing Up Against Terrorism' page.

It's almost as if the Conservatives see a silver lining when terrorist attacks take place as it gives them another opportunity to bang their own drums and try to win more support based on the lie that Harper is doing much to combat this threat.

I long for Canadian political leadership that, while taking actual threats to Canadians seriously and taking action to prevent them, also approaches the international problem with a bit more nuance and less opportunistic, militaristic jingoism.

****UPDATE #1

This Globe article highlights how Harper's get-tough/shoot missiles approach to fighting Jihadists, particularly those who are homegrown and the greatest actual threat to Canadians, isn't working:

“I think the government could do more,” said Hussein Hamdani, a Ontario lawyer.

“They invest very little in the Muslim community, supporting the moderating voices. This is where the Muslim community can do the heavy lifting.”

****UPDATE #2

I don't usually praise columns by Lorrie Goldstein at the Toronto Sun, but this one deserves it.

"...covert operations, intelligence-gathering, infiltration of the enemy -- even mass arrests, coercive interrogation and targeted assassinations from Israel's perspective -- are necessary tactics for fighting terrorism.  But they are not a strategy to end it.

"For that, one has to understand what drives the terrorists and address it.  In other words, if our long-term, global war against terrorism is to succeed, and there are no guarantees, it will require both Harper’s tactics and Trudeau’s strategy."

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tuesday round-up: Harper finally meets with Wynne; Sudbury byelection looms

It's about time!  

After months of dumb stubbornness, Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally relented and met yesterday with Ontario's duly elected premier, Kathleen Wynne.

She only got less than an hour with him to discuss the many important issues facing the province and the country.  Harper made sure the meeting would be short because he had scheduled himself to appear at last night's World Juniors hockey game just over an hour later.

Even when he finally does the right thing, Harper still finds a way to throw his rabid base a bone: cutting a meeting with the leftie Wynne short so he can immediately rush off to restore his masculinity amid a celebration of jockdom.  I'm sure many Tories out there privately nodded approval as they sipped back beers watching the game themselves, probably thinking, "That's exactly what I'd do too after meeting with that annoying lesbian!" 

I do congratulate the Canadian team for its victory last night.  I didn't watch it though. 

Of course, Harper's move was not out of the kindness of his heart or a newfound standard of fairness.  It's all about damage control.  His longtime refusal to meet with Wynne looked petty and pathetic to everyone outside of the Harper's man-boy base.  I'm sure 95% of soccer moms in Ontario including in the all-important 905 belt which voted overwhelmingly for Wynne in June 2014 found Harper's move mildly insulting.  As Paul Wells agrees, yesterday's meeting was done by Harper simply to win votes in Ontario this year.

According to Wynne, the two leaders had productive talks on a number of issues, including the Ring of Fire mining project in Northern Ontario, which requires massive amounts of infrastructure spending to become a reality.

While providing no firm commitments, the meeting has given Wynne another chance to shine in her role as conciliator and adult in federal-provincial relations.   It might also stand her in good stead in the upcoming Sudbury provincial byelection, which apparently might get called this week for early February.

The byelection must be held to fill the seat after newly-elected NDP MPP Joe Cimino suddenly resigned in November.  The Liberal who came about 1,000 votes short of keeping the seat Liberal last June, Andrew Olivier, had wanted to run again for his party.

Unfortunately for him, the party wanted someone else this time: Sudbury NDP MP Glenn Thibeault, who agreed to resign from federal politics and the NDP to run for Wynne's Ontario Liberals.  It was quite the coup. 

Anyone who has the gumption to run for office must have a sizable ego.  Clearly, such egos don't take kindly to being pushed aside in favour of anyone.  I felt badly for Olivier being pushed aside for a stronger candidate.

But such is party politics.  Every party, including the NDP, has its internal fights and squabbles.  The true professionals fight to promote themselves respectfully, keeping anger private when one inevitably doesn't get their way. 

Witness how former Sudbury provincial candidate Paul Loewenberg, who almost beat Liberal incumbent Rick Bartolucci in 2011, stepped aside this week in favour of the party's obvious establishment choice for the pending by-election, Suzanne Shawbonquit.  Instead of huffing and puffing and going public with his gripes, like Olivier did, Loewenberg is smart, cutting a deal with the NDP establishment to seek the federal nomination instead to replace Thibeault.  

Political parties are like companies.  If you don't like a decision your company makes, you don't rush to attack the company publicly.  That's how you lose your job.  It's also how you prove you're not a team player. 

Now Andrew Olivier says he'll run as an independent candidate in the Sudbury by-election, despite the fact just weeks ago he wanted to run for Kathleen Wynne's Liberals.  I don't know much about Olivier personally, besides the fact he seemed decent enough during the provincial election and has overcome many personal challenges since becoming a quadriplegic after an accident in the 1990s.

He was nominated late in Sudbury for the provincial election in a seat that had been Liberal for 19 years.  And he lost the seat by 1,000 votes, despite the fact the Liberals were winning a majority across the province. 

I'm reminded of another Liberal candidate in the provincial election, Nancy Leblanc, who also was nominated just as late in her riding of Parkdale-High Park, a riding with a strong, longtime NDP incumbent in Cheri DiNovo seeking re-election.   With the same amount of time, Leblanc campaigned hard, raised a tonne of money and came within 525 of winning in an opposition-held seat.

If Olivier was such a great candidate, why couldn't he hold a Liberal seat?  In fact, he lost it by a wider margin than Leblanc.  Now he's running as an independent, against the very team with which he stood just months ago.

Politics is a team sport.  If you enter politics always expecting to win and get your way, you're in for quite a disappointment.  It's sad to see how Olivier has reacted to this disappointment with such spite. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

UPDATED YET AGAIN: My favourite 2014 films

***Updated Jan 17, 2015

Actor Ellar Coltrane as seen in "Boyhood" from age 6 to 18
My Top 13 Films of 2014:

1)  Boyhood (One of my favourite directors, Richard Linklater, finally looks poised to win big at the Oscars with this gem of a film, shot with the same actors over 12 years, showing the evolution of a family through the eyes of a boy who literally grows up before our eyes within 165 onscreen minutes. Intimate, quiet, heart-breaking, highly-relatable, these characters remind us of ourselves, warts and all. It's so nice to see what could've been a filmmaking disaster instead turn into such a masterpiece.) 

2) Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson's finest film was a delight from start to finish, hilarious, colourful, charming, with great performances from what seemed like half of Hollywood appearing at least once.  I truly hope Ralph Fiennes gets a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars for this.)

3) Pride (I just got a chance to watch this lovely film about gay activists in 1980s Britain raising money to help support striking miners in Wales and across the U.K.  And I can say it's jumped into my Top 11 list.  Told with great heart and humour, beautifully acted and directed, the movie succeeds because it shows the great benefits of forming alliances between the downtrodden or attacked groups that otherwise might never interact.  A very lovely experience watching this.  I'm going to blog about it very soon with its own post above.)

4) Selma (I also just got a chance recently to see this great history film, which depicts the efforts by Martin Luther King Jr. and many others to achieve full voting rights for Blacks in Alabama and across the racist southern states in the 1960s.  The direction of this film by Ava DuVernay is artful but also completely accessible, detailing the campaign to raise awareness and pressure the political powers-that-be to dismantle racist barriers to voting for African-Americans.  I'll blog too about this film separately soon.  It's sickening that many right-wing Republicans still try to limit voting rights today with rules designed to disenfranchise the vulnerable, and many of the issues raised here are still absolutely relevant today.)   

5) Guardians of the Galaxy (Finally, a superbly crafted and entertaining "super heroes" movie with flawed, lovable characters we can relate to.  Hollywood will try to imitate this unique success in the years ahead and may or may not succeed.  Looking forward to the sequels.)

6) Tom at the Farm (I wasn't a Xavier Dolan groupie fan until I saw this stunning suspense thriller and now I have to admit the Canadian wunderkind can do no wrong.  This was released in festivals starting in 2013, but I saw it this year at Inside Out in Toronto and it's still making the festival rounds.  I can't wait to see Dolan's new film 'Mommy'.)

7) Birdman (Finally checked this out due to all the hype and I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised, after disliking most of the director's previous films.  The film took a little while for me to get into it, but once I got used to the rhythm including the never-stopping camera, I was hooked.  Michael Keaton is superb as the aging and troubled actor who may be hiding either mysterious super powers or slight insanity.  I also very much appreciated Edward Norton's sexy performance as an uber-narcissist actor, as well as Emma Stone's great work as Keaton's daughter.  The film does soar as high as its hero. Well done!)

8) The Imitation Game (Not perfect, but pretty damn close.  The film puts the tragic story of an obscure gay hero named Alan Turing front and centre.  Turing literally saved millions of lives and helped to end WWII early thanks to his genius breaking the Enigma Code, only later to be prosecuted as a gay man.  In the role, Benedict Cumberbatch is superb.) 

9) The Theory of Everything (Thoroughly enjoyed the love story and the great acting.  One might've hoped for more physics and explorations of Stephen Hawking's ideas perhaps, but as an adaptation that looks at his life through the eyes of his wife, this was great.)

10) Still Alice (Julianne Moore is simply great in a tough role in a film about a subject most of us don't want to know much about: early onset Alzheimer's.  She should hopefully win her first Oscar for this.)

11) Under The Skin (Weird, mesmerizing and unforgettable, one of Scarlett Johansson's great roles this year.)

12) Nightcrawler (Surprisingly strong and disturbing portrait of the media's obsession with violence and the vicious exploitation it creates.  Jake Gyllenhaal and everyone else here are amazing.)

13) Praia do Futuro, or Future Beach (Atmospheric, contemplative portrait of a Brazilian gay man struggling with identity, love and family.  Loved it from start to finish.) 

Totally Awesome, but not quite top 13:

X-Men, Days of Future Past

Elena

The Way He Looks

Foxcatcher

St Vincent

Life Itself

Lucy

Wild

Words and Pictures

Maleficent

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Land of Storms

Into The Woods

Love in the Time of Civil War

Love Is Strange


Haven't seen these, but they're on my list to watch asap:

Mommy

Snowpiercer

Whiplash

Dear White People

Mr Turner
Ida

Chef

Starred Up

Unbroken

Cake

A Most Violent Year


Quite decent:

Noah

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

American Sniper

Neighbors

The Interview

My Mom Is A Character

Dracula Untold

My Straight Son

The Great Beauty

Interior. Leather Bar.

300 Rise of an Empire

Pasolini


Not good, but noteworthy for prurient reasons:

I Am Happiness On Earth (Mexican director Julián Hernández has made several artsy gay films that feature massive amounts of beautiful male nudity, and he does so again with this film.)

That Awkward Moment (Nothing special, but it contains Zac Efron's first onscreen nude scene, so it deserves some attention.)

Disappointing:

Gone Girl (Sorry, but I hated the characters and didn’t care about what happened to them.  Why didn’t she just kill Ben Affleck and set it up like he killed himself?  And spare us this long, drawn out piece of bullshit masquerading as "intelligent, subversive commentary on modern relationships"?  But at least it was slickly produced.) 

Interstellar (Re-thought this from my initial assessment.  It was visually stunning at times but also way too drawn out with way too many ideas, most of which weren't really explored in satisfying ways.   Perhaps this is Christopher Nolan's weakest film.)

A Most Wanted Man

Test

The Third One (How could a movie about a hot gay threesome be so boring?) 

Maze Runner (It should’ve been Lord of the Flies, but instead was full of shit)

Enemy  (Misogynist crap.  Denis Villeneuve just dropped several points in my estimation.) 

Divergent  (Crappy, boring, unoriginal.) 

Transcendence


Just plain bad:

Pompeii

Horns

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My early 2015 federal election prediction

I'm extremely proud that I was able to predict way back in the fall of 2013 that Kathleen Wynne would win re-election with a majority government in Ontario.  Good friends can attest to my accuracy.  At the time, the main elements that would decide the Ontario election were already in place: Kathleen Wynne, an impressive, spirited newcomer leading a scandal-plagued minority government, a mediocre Conservative leader in Tim Hudak who had blown the 2011 election, and a spunky NDP leader in Andrea Horwath who had already mostly turned her back on urban, progressive causes in a bid to win over conservative voters in the ROO (Rest of Ontario.)

My autumn 2013 prediction of an Ontario Liberal majority assumed two important elements coming to pass: 1) Wynne's campaign being run extremely well, taking full advantage of the opportunities presented by the flaws of the opposition, and 2) Tim Hudak continuing to perform badly.  

Hudak did not disappoint.  His atrocious campaign this year - including his, "Let's cut 100,000 jobs to stimulate the economy" promise - couldn't have been worse.  In the end, I overestimated him.  At the same time, Wynne's progressive 2014 budget and subsequent campaign perfectly undercut Horwath's rightward tilt, giving progressive voters in Toronto many reasons to abandon the NDP and elect Liberals.

One day before the Ontario election in June, I was the only person who correctly guessed a "Liberal majority" in Hill and Knowlton's Twitter election result contest.  I even guessed 59 seats, which was the Liberal total on election night (before a recount in Thornhill made it 58.)  I won a $200 gift card of my choice (I picked Cineplex movies and enjoyed dozens of films this year - I'll post later this week my 2014 Favourite films list.)  Once the final result was called, most mainstream commentators called Wynne's Liberal majority "shocking."  But I wasn't shocked. 

I've learned to trust my analysis and instincts and ignore most of the noise that masquerades as political commentary these days.  Some of it can be intelligent and relatively agenda-free, like this piece by Paul Wells laying out the challenges all 3 federal leaders face next year.

But I've generally learned that collectively the "political commentariat" in Canada has zero impact on election results.  It can be dizzying following their day-to-day descriptions of what's allegedly happening on the hustings.  You'll recall the atrocious Toronto Sun cartoon which depicted a viciously beaten Kathleen Wynne after she allegedly got "crushed" by Tim Hudak in the Ontario election debate.  Many commentators including Robin Sears and Warren Kinsella declared Wynne finished after that 90 minutes and began to guess at the size of the Hudak majority.  Meanwhile, the only sensible pollster, Nanos, had produced poll numbers before the debate - Libs 38%, PCs 31%, NDP 24% - which ended up almost completely in line with the final vote totals two and a half weeks later.  The big debate and all that bullshit commentary had zero impact on the results.  

Most of all, I've learned to ignore the many crappy pollsters out there - especially Forum, Ipsos Reid and, just yesterday, Angus Reid.  I only give credence to Nanos nowadays.  While I enjoy following ThreeHundredEight.com and his analysis, averaging out bad poll numbers can still tell us little about the final results.  Eric Grenier too was predicting a Liberal minority government in Ontario based on what pollsters were telling him. 

All this being said, I now look ahead to a federal election in 2015.

If Stephen Harper runs again as Conservative leader (which I think he will), I'm predicting he'll at best be reduced to a minority government. But there is an excellent chance Harper will lose outright to a Liberal minority government.  If Justin Trudeau performs near perfectly and coalesces the anti-Conservative vote behind the Liberals, including in Quebec, he'll win a majority. 

We've already seen the polls change a bit in Harper's favour this fall.  He's been in full re-election mode, doing everything he can to get his numbers up, acting the conservative statesman on the international scene, the tough guy taking on ISIS and standing up to Vladimir Putin, while also stepping up against homegrown terrorists and in favour of working parents.  It's a cunning, toxic caricature that Harper has perfected after years in power.  He's come a long way from his days as head of the National Citizens Coalition.

By re-taking a narrow lead in the polls of late, making the 2015 election a real race, the dynamics of the pre-campaign will change.   Instead of focusing on Justin Trudeau, voters will instead contemplate the question: "Do we really want another four years of Stephen Harper?" 

This is actually good for Trudeau's Liberals, in my mind.  They'll continue to unveil their own compare-and-contrast campaign, focusing on Harper's considerable weak spots, which have been glaring ever since he cleared out the truly talented people from the PMO thanks to the Mike Duffy scandal.   If the Liberals are smart, they'll also soon start describing themselves as the "underdogs" in this federal election, reminding everyone that they are the humbled third party, that they've done their time in the penalty box, that they've learned the hard lessons of defeat and have developed a fresh new team with a clear, progressive vision for the country courtesy of a lot of "hope and hard work." 

TRUDEAU'S SUCCESSES

Trudeau has succeeded on numerous crucial fronts since winning the Liberal leadership in the spring of 2013.  He's managed to replace Tom Mulcair's NDP as the unofficial opposition in the minds of Canadians, despite the fact the Libs have only one third the seats.  Repeated by-election results have confirmed that trend and most of the media now believe only Trudeau's Liberals can knock out Harper's Cons.  And they're right.

One of Trudeau's most senior advisors, Gerald Butts, previously worked wonders for Dalton McGuinty in 2003, helping to design a platform at the time that perfectly spoke to the concerns of Ontarians after 8 years of provincial PC rule.  It was an unabashedly progressive agenda and would set up the themes that would win power for the Ontario Liberals.  Those themes - ensuring quality public education, health care and other public services including infrastructure - continue to resonate and keep the Ontario Liberals in power today.  I'm seeing many echos of that successful strategy in many of Justin Trudeau's pronouncements, including on infrastructure, the middle class, tax fairness and even marijuana.  Trudeau's also talking about banning government advertising that is clearly partisan, which was another major plank in the 2003 Ontario Liberal platform.   And Trudeau lately has been criticizing Harper's penchant for secrecy and centralization of power and control.

Trudeau is setting himself up to be the great antidote to 9 years of Harper rule.   If his platform is convincingly progressive enough, he may be able to win more NDP votes than previously thought. 

Still, Trudeau is just 43.  To many, he will appear green on the hustings.  He may even spit out some uninspiring or worrying nonsense in a scrum or two.   The media will have a field day over such moments, of course. 

At the same time, I predict NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will largely unimpress outside of Quebec.  When most Canadians get to know Mulcair better, they'll find him to be what I've always thought of him: generally unlikeable, even occasionally irritating.   He's certainly no Jack Layton.   We'll know Mulcair is merely trying to save the NDP furniture should his platform continue to tilt far left.  Then, he'll be able to credibly say to progressives: vote NDP to ensure you get the government you actually want, instead of a mushy centre-right-left government under Justin Trudeau.   Mulcair will get in his blows.  He'll be aided by conservative media commentators who will declare him victorious in the debates just to try to undermine Trudeau.  But ultimately, none of that noise will matter.

Harper's campaign will be impressive, but will for the first time take several major hits from his opponents.  His support will sag and the Conservatives will run neck-and-neck with the Grits in the polls throughout most of the campaign.  If Trudeau performs as well as he wants, the Grits will surge ahead.  The NDP will vacillate between the high teens and the low-20s and back to the teens again.  Quebec will consider abandoning the NDP to vote Liberal to beat the Tories once and for all.  

A lot of what may happen depends on how well Trudeau can perform, how clearly and succinctly he lays out a realistic and progressive agenda, and how well he dispels worries about his readiness to lead the country.  For Trudeau, there are many variables yet to be defined which make predictions extremely difficult.  I, like most fair-minded, progressive Canadians, believe Trudeau will eventually get there and lead a federal government that again makes us proud to be Canadian.  I'd love it to happen in 2015.   It's certainly possible.  

Will Trudeau perform when it matters most?  Or will he fall on his face and force Canadians again to choose Harper as the allegedly safer option?  My gut tells me we'll see something like what we saw when Trudeau took on then-Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in the boxing ring in 2012 (pictured above).  Greatly underestimated, Trudeau will fight a disciplined battle and surprise everyone, especially the Conservatives. 

The end result: I think we'll be seeing a Liberal victory in 2015 in Canada, probably a minority government.  If Quebec swings hard behind the Liberals to stop the Conservatives, it will be a majority.  In answer to the ballot question, "Do you want another four years of Harper?," the answer will be, "No."   The country has had enough of the Harper show.  We're tired of him.   Efforts to soften his image and promise something slightly different will prove unconvincing.  After an inspiring campaign that hits all the right notes and, to the shock of the "commentariat," makes few mistakes, Canadians will give the younger Trudeau a chance to chart a path that actually reflects the realistic and progressive values of the majority of Canadians, not the conservative minority for whom Harper governs. 

That's what my gut is telling me.  I could be wrong.  We shall see. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Stephen Harper's taxpayer-funded campaign of lies against marijuana backfiring...

Stephen Harper is being taken to task a lot lately for spending $600 million of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars on 'Government of Canada' advertising that does little more than promote his own partisan interests.

The latest and most blatant example, chock full of lies, paranoia and doubtful science, is the offensive anti-marijuana ad campaign from "Health Canada" released this fall.  You'll recall how many health care professionals refused to participate in it or lend it credence, rightfully aware the campaign was little more than a political attack on Harper's main opponent, Justin Trudeau.  I won't post a link to the YouTube ad as I don't want to give it more traffic or insult your intelligence further.   

But John Doyle sums it up nicely: 

"Marijuana Use, in which over deeply ominous music, it was announced, “Did you know that marijuana is on average 300 to 400 per cent stronger than it was 30 years ago? And that smoking marijuana can seriously harm a teen’s developing brain?” Actually the science is limited and, actually, the commercial is political, not medical. Irritating to think we are taken as fools."

Exactly.  The Harper government conducts no scientific research on marijuana.  Certainly, it hasn't been monitoring strength levels of street marijuana for 30 years.  So the claim is about pot being 400% stronger today than 30 years ago is unquantifiable.

The ad also remarks how marijuana use lowers IQ, as it plays a solemn chord from the Canadian national anthem, a staple from all federal government ads.

Andrew Woodbury describes it eloquently: 

"But there’s a problem: the public service announcement doesn’t stem from any type of health concern whatsoever; instead, it’s an arrogant, offensive election grenade. And the Canadian public sees right through the insult.

"Not only is the ad misinformation — the video fails to name a single source — it’s a not-so-subtle attack on the leader of the opposition, Justin Trudeau. And with that, the ad is revealed for what it really is: a political ploy."

Using tax dollars to attack an opposition leader: truly sleazy and exactly right up Harper's alley.

"The spot was chosen after that message (warning parents about pot hurting teen IQs) got the strongest reaction from focus groups of parents who were privately shown a similar ad and several alternatives in cities across Canada in June. 

"The parents, described by the interviewers as "generally uninformed regarding marijuana health risks," reacted with alarm when told marijuana can trigger psychosis, schizophrenia and a drop in IQ in young, still-developing brains. 

"The information on the harmful effects of cannabis on mental functioning was "surprising and scary" to them, says a newly released report by Harris Decima, commissioned by Health Canada at a cost of $95,000."

These messages may scare the Tory base, the only voters Harper has ever truly cared about.  But I think that Harper's instincts are getting dull.  His garden of potential voters is shrinking.  His show is getting very old and more and more Canadians are open to an alternative. 

Stephen Harper did some media interviews last week and didn't inspire much confidence that another four years of him would provide much improvement.   It'll be the same old Harper going forward: all of Canada's economic eggs in the oil basket, evidence and reason thrown out the window in favour of ideology, ham-fisted ideas without any basis in evidence or fact implemented into law, and taxpayer dollars used to promote Tory propaganda.

Meanwhile, we've learned that many Canadian soldiers now consider marijuana their drug of choice.

And more and more, mainstream Canadians seem to be coming over to the pro-legalization arguments.  Marijuana is not the boogeyman Harper hopes we still think it is. 

And the fearmongering is unjustified when looking at the experiences of other countries or regions which have liberalized their marijuana laws.

One study in the U.S. shows that teen use of marijuana is actually going down at a time when more states are moving toward legalization and regulation of the substance.  There goes one of the main planks in Tory fear and paranoia against liberalization of our pot laws. 

The experience in Uruguay has also been positive.  

"In a country that is a major exporter (and consumer) of beef, perhaps the metaphor is only a bit corny that Uruguay has taken the bull by the horns in the battle against cannabis. It has accepted the inevitable – that cannabis will be and is being widely used – and is trying to regulate its production and use to reduce consumption and crime." 

It would appear that, yet again, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is more in touch with the views of Canadians than our ham-fisted, intellectually rotting prime minister.   This is but one issue where Harper is clearly now more than ever offside with a big majority of this country.   And that divide is getting wider just in time for the 2015 election.

Stay tuned for a new post very soon about my predictions for the 2015 election. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Let's dissect Andrew Coyne's little lies and bad arguments...


Columnists are not reporters.  Facts are less important to them than spouting off on their biases.  They're not supposed to outright lie in their commentaries.  They can omit important facts that may destabilize their arguments.  But to misrepresent the facts openly should be a no-no.  

I can handle listening or watching commentators spout opinions I don't necessarily agree with as long as they're well-articulated, thoughtful and don't include little lies.   Andrew Coyne's usually are. 

But these little lies need to be exposed.

Andrew Coyne, who is one of the four Caucasian regular participants on the weekly At-Issue panel on CBC's National (and, don't forget, one of 3 straight guys too,) has long argued there is ZERO support amongst Canadians for any meaningful action on climate change.   This is baseless, of course.  Public opinion about the need to take meaningful action to save the planet is building strength in Canada.  If you look at growing protests across the country as an indication, any reporter being honest would have to admit this is true.   More and more people are questioning the status quo including the dubious environmental review process governed by Stephen Harper.  This was made clear in a recent column by Chantal Hebert, Coyne's At-Issue colleague.

As most policy analysts agree, a carbon tax remains the smartest way to begin to address the inherent problems in our dirty oil-loving economy.  But Coyne regularly provides cover to Harper government talking points that a carbon tax is nothing but "job killing."  Coyne and the Harperites, of course, ignore the fact that carbon taxes have been good for the economy.  They reward companies that make environmentally-wise decisions and punish polluters.
 
Coyne's latest column in today's Post (which inspired this post) also goes to bat for Stephen Harper, defending our petulant Prime Minister's refusal to meet with the duly elected premier of Ontario because they have some disagreements on policy.   Any way you slice it, Harper is again behaving like a pathetic little boy in his refusal to meet with the Ontario Premier.  He doesn't want to give Kathleen Wynne a chance to describe his facial expressions in future, I guess.  Harper doesn't want to have to listen to another point of view that challenges his rigid view of the role of the federal government.   Harper's stubbornness speaks to how badly he's poisoned Canadian political life and why he needs to go as soon as possible. 

Yet Coyne tries to argue that Harper's justified because Wynne has said some critical things about Harper's policies and disagrees with him philosophically on some important matters.   Coyne gives short shrift to the Ring of Fire and the urgent need to invest in Ontario's infrastructure, but then focuses on Wynne's support for an enhanced Canada Pension Plan.  

And in so doing, Coyne inserts a couple little lies (see the bolded words below):

"The premier had demanded the prime minister sign on to her pet project of an expanded Canada Pension Plan, a proposal that would force a great many people of modest means who already have satisfactory pension arrangements to put aside money they can ill do without, in order to fix a problem affecting a small number of under-savers, mostly upper income — or, as in the case of her proposed provincial variant, to finance her as-yet-unfunded public works plans."

Oops.  Wynne's proposed pension plan would not apply to "people of modest means who already have satisfactory pension arrangements."  It specifically would only apply to workers who have no workplace pension arrangements.  Unless, of course, Coyne considers the existing maximum CPP payout of $12,000 a year a "satisfactory pension arrangement?"   Surely, he couldn't be arguing that living in extreme poverty in retirement would be "satisfactory."   Please tell me conservatives like Coyne don't believe that!

The fact is, except for those lucky enough to have sustainable pension plans through the public service or the rare private employer who doesn't go under during their employees' retirement, most Canadians have to rely on unreliable RRSPs for their retirement savings.   In 2008, we saw how reliable those arrangements are when criminals on Wall Street gambled them away for massive personal profits and an entire generation of "people of modest means" saw their hard-earned savings disappear into thin air.  It's this experience which is fueling the need to enhance satisfactory pension arrangements like the CPP, Mr. Coyne.  We've lost confidence in the private sector's ability to protect secure retirement plans.  An enhanced CPP would help people of modest means the most. 

As for Coyne's assertion that Wynne's pension plan proposal would "finance her as-yet-unfunded public works plans," I'm baffled.  It would seem he stuck in that line to further feed the conservative falsehood that an expanded CPP would somehow divert funds away from personal pensions and into other government expenditures like transit.  That's a complete lie and Coyne should be forced to recant that one. 

Coyne has also peddled other conservative BS like one-income families that make $120,000 a year are equal to two-income families that also make a combined $120,000 a year and therefore should be taxed the same thanks to Harper's income-splitting giveaway.   Of course, Coyne and others conveniently forget that one-income families have one major advantage over two-income families: if things get tough, the second non-working spouse can go out and earn a second income, thus inflating that $120,000 a year income up substantially higher.  The two-income earning family of course can't send out a third spouse to earn extra income.   It would be nice if Coyne admits this reality the next time he argues that Harper's income splitting proposal is somehow an "issue of fairness."

I usually have a lot of respect for Andrew Coyne's well-written or spoken commentaries.  But he's failing recently on the issues illustrated above.  I hope he does better in the future. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Harper continues to snub Wynne; I guess he thinks he has too many lesbians in his life?

Stephen Harper is proving he can be as classless as the worst of men.  

I'm tired of his petty arrogance being described as "competence" and "good judgment" by his supporters and apologists.

The man was never much of a leader and simply lucky, taking advantage of opportunities handed to him on a silver platter.  He came along at the right time when voters wanted change in Ottawa, and then benefited from two bad Liberal leadership choices.   But thankfully, Harper's luck is now up facing off next year against Justin Trudeau.

The Prime Minister of Canada should communicate regularly with the duly elected Premier of Ontario, especially one who just won an historic majority mandate.  But he continues to refuse to do so.  Apparently he can't get over how Wynne described his facial expression during a face-to-face meeting one year ago on the issue of an enhanced pension plan for the middle class.   And instead he now shrugs off the suggestion he meet with her again, signalling petty insults about Ontario's finances.  This is especially galling because his government, having cut over $1 billion in return transfer payments to Ontario this year, and exclusively backing Alberta's polluting oil sands industry with federal fiscal policy since 2006, leaving Ontario's economy high and dry, has made matters worse for Ontario.  Wynne doesn't support Harper's austerity agenda, which would push Ontario's anemic economy back into recession; instead she wants to invest in Ontario's infrastructure to push the economy forward for decades, but Harper refuses to help.

But being outwardly polite and kind to homosexuals has never been Harper's imperative as we know.   As Robert Benzies makes clear in this article, Harper has met with Vladimir Putin, the notorious homophobe, more times in the last year than he has with Kathleen Wynne. 

Wynne has responded like an adult:

“Those of us who get into politics have to be able, I believe, to focus on the issues that are important to our constituents and not get caught in . . . personal animosity,” the premier told reporters. 

“I really don’t think it’s helpful.  

“For me, Stephen Harper is the prime minister of Canada and I think that it is only rational that the prime minister of Canada would want to talk with the premier of Ontario.

“There’s an active conversation right now about General Motors in Oshawa. We worked well with the federal government in the auto sector. I’d like to have that conversation with the prime minister and how are we going to tackle our relationship with the auto sector going forward,” she said.

“Ontario is a huge net contributor to the federation — it’s very important to the country that Ontario do well.”

Kathleen Wynne and Ontario deserve more respect.