IS THERE A DRAFT IN HERE

IF YOU STILL THINK THE NHL DRAFT LOTTERY IS FIXED AFTER EDMONTON WON THE CONNOR McDAVID SWEEPSTAKES LAST SATURDAY, YOU MAY NEED SURGERY TO REMOVE YOUR TIN FOIL HAT

NHL Headquarter, New York City. Some Time Last March;

            Gary Bettman: Gentlemen. It’s time we figured out who we’re gonna give this McDavid kid to. We better make sure we don’t mess this up because this kid looks like a real keeper, a face we can slap on hats and toys and deodorant and sell for years. Anyone got any ideas where we should stick him?

            Nefarious Conspirator 1: Well how about Toronto? We all know they’re the capital of Hockey and besides, we owe them for not having Hockey Night in Canada talk about them for precisely 8,319 hours this year. And have you seen the standings? They’re doing so bad we could totally fake and make it look like they actually won the lottery.

            Nefarious Conspirator 2: Well what about L.A.? We’ll talk to the refs and make sure they don’t make the playoffs (wink wink, nudge nudge) and then make sure their ball comes up in the lottery. We can market the hell out of him in LA LA land and haven’t done anything for them since we made Canada trade Wayne Gretzky to the Kings back in the 80’s.

            Nefarious Conspirator 3: Hey, y’know, speaking of Gretzky, what about Edmonton?

            Gary Bettman: Edmonton? You might be on to something there . . .

            Nefarious Conspirator 3: Yeah, think about it, we could make a total fortune by giving him to Katz and boys. I mean think of all the money we could make from a small Canadian city that ‘s practically Santa Claus’s neighbor. And you know this team is so well managed it’s practically on the verge of ending one of the longest playoff droughts in modern history! This is the last piece that could make them average!   Mediocre at the very least! You gotta hand it to the Oilers, those guys really know what they’re doing up there.

            Gary Bettman (banging his fist on his desk in a Eureka moment): Sold! Edmonton it is. How did we not see that earlier? It’s obvious he belongs with such an efficient organization. Nefarious Conspirator 3, you get a raise. You other two punch yourselves in the penis really hard. Right now. Now let’s go, we have a draft lottery to fix.

It’s funny, I was originally preparing to whip something up to dispute the inevitable screams of “conspiracy!” following last Saturday’s NHL draft lottery. For months, as the regular season wound down and a number of teams began positioning themselves for a chance to land Erie Otters super prospect and Next Big Thing Connor McDavid, murmurs that the NHL’s draft lottery to see who would snare the young phenom was rigged began getting louder and louder. The whole thing was a hoax, they said, the NHL was planning on awarding the top pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs because everyone knows Gary Bettman’s leash is held firmly by the Centre of the Hockey Universe (explaining why Toronto has never had a first overall pick and why they’ve gone nearly half a century without an appearance in the Stanley Cup final). They were going to hand McDavid to the Arizona Coyotes to sell tickets in the desert (because that was a strategy the NHL used to perfection during the nearly four years it ran the Coyotes while searching for an owner who wouldn’t move the money losing franchise to an actual hockey market). No, they were going to give him to the last place Buffalo Sabres because they wanted him playing in an American market, because as anyone who’s been paying attention can tell you Gary Bettman hates Canada and wants all the best players on American rosters (which explains why the sad sack Edmonton Oilers had the first overall pick from 2010-2012).

It was conspiracy roulette. Every day there seemed to be a new theory making the rounds. My father recently shared one he heard on his local all sports radio station, stating that the Leafs were going to get the pick as a reward for the boat loads of money Rogers (who owns half the Leafs and their other assorted affiliates) gave the NHL for the rights to Hockey Night in Canada. His proof? He’d “talked” to some “people,” people he of course couldn’t name (and isn’t that always the way?). On a recent story that appeared on The Hockey News website regarding the NHL’s decision to make video of the lottery public on its website, a poster was jumping at every opportunity to make ludicrous allegations that the draft was so obviously fixed that anyone who couldn’t see it was blind and stupid and when I and a few others politely challenged him on his desperately flawed logic (because he was missing a little thing called facts), he resorted to thumping his chest, calling us “pencil necked geeks” who he could beat up and not only were we all gay (something only considered an insult by a bigoted ass hat) but we were also performing sex acts on one another while we ganged up on him. Other then being your typical unintelligent, most likely inbred troll, he summed up what most conspiracy theorists, hockey or otherwise, truly are; stupid children who concoct things in the absence of actual knowledge to conform to their bigotry and prejudice in an effort to transform their ignorance into a comfort blanket.

But all that aside, if the Edmonton Oilers winning the right to draft first in next June’s entry draft proved anything beyond a single shadow of a single doubt, it’s that the NHL draft lottery is the furthest thing on Earth from being fixed. Because Edmonton is the very last place on Earth the NHL wants to see McDavid calling home for the foreseeable future.

As an Oilers fan, I totally appreciate, agree and sympathize with the fallout and outrage that has followed the Oilers landing their fourth first overall pick in the past six seasons, particularly for a generational talent like McDavid, whose been likened to Sidney Crosby and received a ringing endorsement from none other then the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky. I agree with a lot of what’s been said about this turn of events (I had accepted that Edmonton would be picking third or fourth in this year’s draft and was wondering if blue liner Noah Hannifin would be able to step in make an impact on our beleaguered defence next season), and I sympathize with McDavid, who looked about as thrilled as a six year old in a dentist’s waiting room when it was announced the Oilers won the first pick. A number of NHL executives are reportedly irate that the Oilers, easily the most mismanaged franchise in the NHL, have had their continued incompetence rewarded with the NHL’s next superstar. But all the gnashing of teeth serves only to prove my point further, that the draft, in its current form, is a complete crap shoot and free from any meddling or interference from Gary Bettman or NHL brass.

Because while I may not agree with some that the NHL just lost millions of dollars by allowing McDavid to fall into the Oilers inept clutches (and remember, I’m an Oilers fan), the NHL gains absolutely nothing by seeing McDavid don a copper and blue jersey for the next few years.

Nothing.

I have to admit, up until last Saturday the conversations around a rigged draft were a refreshing breath of fresh air from the usual springtime temper tantrums. Usually around this time of year we’re treated to endless accusations that NHL referees are either selling playoff victories to the highest bidder or deciding games based on Gary Bettman’s explicit orders (because no one’s favourite team ever loses in the playoffs because their opponent is better). And it has been truly hilarious to see some of the logic acrobatics the really stubborn conspiracy nuts have been performing to try and twist McDavid’s inevitable arrival in the City of Champions into a 911-was-an-inside-job, Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim-Terrorist, the-moon-landing-was-faked, Elvis-still-lives level conspiracy. But while the playoffs usually separate the elite from the contenders, I hope last Saturday’s draft lottery managed to separate the simply foolish from the truly delusional.

Shayne Kempton

FIVE ALIVE

MY EDMONTON OILERS HAD THEIR PLAYOFF HOPES LAID TO REST MONTHS AGO. SO WHO TO FOLLOW THESE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS? HERE ARE FIVE VERY LIKEABLE CANDIDATES

So here we are, at the beginning of another campaign for Lord Stanley’s coveted chalice. Back in October there were thirty teams with visions of the Stanley Cup dancing in their head, but seven and a half months later the weak and the slow have been culled and we’re down to the sixteen most worthy teams; sixteen that will be reduced to a single champion in two months time.

But the biggest question I find myself asking is who to cheer for. I’ve made no secret that my heart belongs to the Edmonton Oilers, arguably the most dysfunctional franchise in all of professional sports (and I’ve also been one of their most vocal critics). The Oil were essentially banished from chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup some time around November, meaning that for a ninth year in a row, myself and other long suffering Oilers fans are left on the outside looking in (and worse yet, our current and failure obsessed management group seems oblivious or indifferent to the fan base’s growing frustration and fatigue). So I face a choice; ignore the playoffs altogether, choosing to deprive myself of the best hockey all year, or choose another franchise to champion my hopes and dreams. Cheer might be a little too strong for the limited emotional investment I’m willing to make, while support is probably a more accurate term of what I’m looking to offer some NHL franchise over the next few months. Now the question becomes how to narrow it down. While I may not have determined my franchise of choice for this season’s Stanley Cup playoffs yet, I have determined the five teams most worthy of my support. And why.

Winnipeg Jets: Perhaps the second biggest underdogs to even make the playoffs this season, the Jets have been playing desperation hockey for 82 games already, clinching their first post-season berth since landing back in the ‘Peg in 2011. Few pundits believed the Jets had a snowball’s chance to make the playoff dance, but Winnipeg has fought and clawed all season long. When the Evander Kane situation reached apparent critical mass last February, Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff overcame his trade reluctant rep and pulled the trigger on a deal that sent the talented but much maligned young power forward to the struggling Buffalo Sabres in a deal that improved his roster both today and down the road. Every time adversity reared it’s gruesome head, the Jets buckled down and pressed their collective shoulder to the grindstone even harder. It would seem the NHL’s smallest market is this year’s little engine that could, and have so far risen to the occasion through blood, sweat and intestinal fortitude. How can you not like that?

Calgary Flames: This was supposed to be just the second year of the Flames official rebuild. When Calgary traded franchise cornerstone Jarome Iginla in the spring of 2013, it signaled a long overdue changing of the guard for the Flames, one that was supposed to see them competing for the first overall pick in this June’s entry draft. But things haven’t quite followed that particular script. While Winnipeg may have been the NHL’s second biggest playoff underdog story, the Flames were by far it’s largest. Everyone kept expecting Calgary to fall out of playoff contention any day, but the Flames kept the naysayers waiting and silenced them for good when they fought and shoved their way into the playoff picture. The Flames were this year’s Come Back Kids, leading the NHL in comebacks when they trailed opponents by a goal or more entering the third period. To a man, Calgary embraced a new “Never Say Die” culture; one adopted by the new leadership Calgary ownership brought in to complete the rebuild. There’s a lesson there that Calgary’s provincial cousins down the road in Edmonton have failed to realize, and if the Flames go deep in this year’s playoffs, it will serve to embarrass the Oiler’s incompetent brass even more. And that’s reason enough to show them some love.

Ottawa Senators: Ottawa was another team that wasn’t supposed to be part of the playoff equation this year, but enough dominoes fell into place to allow the Ottawa Senators to stage the biggest second half turnaround in NHL history. And simply put, the Sens, bar none, were the NHL’s biggest Cinderella Story this year. Sure, the team played better under Dave Cameron, who replaced 2013 Jack Adams winning coach Paul MacLean after Ottawa fired the Walrus mid-season. And sure, new captain Erik Karlsson deserves a healthy dose of credit, leading the team in scoring (again) while leading all NHL blue liners in points (again), not to mention how important Ottawa’s young guns were to their success this season; with Mark Stone (who should win the Calder trophy for best rookie), Mike Hoffman (who lead both Ottawa and all NHL freshmen in goals), Mika Zibanejad (2011’s sixth overall pick who looks to have usurped Kyle Turris as Ottawa’s number one centre) and Curtis Lazar (a big part of Canada’s gold medal winning squad at this year’s World Junior tournament). But the Sens momentous turnaround belongs primarily to one player-Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond. When Ottawa’s regular net minders went down with injuries at the end of January and Hammond, who was posting less then mediocre numbers with the AHL Binghamton Senators, was thrust into the Sens crease, everyone pretty much stuck a fork in Ottawa’s playoff hopes (the Sens were 14 points out of a playoff spot at that point). But a funny thing happened-Hammond became the architect of a bona fide NHL Miracle on Ice. The Sens became supernova hot overnight and Hammond began breaking 80 year old records as he pulled Ottawa into the playoffs. And if that wasn’t enough of a storybook plot line for you, the team is pulling to give GM Bryan Murray, whose been battling terminal cancer all season long, one final season of memorable hockey and they’ll be dedicating every second of success to the memory of assistant coach Mike Lee who died a few days ago. This team will be playing with unimaginable emotional chutzpah.

Montreal Canadiens: The Habs were Canada’s lone post-season representative last year and they battled all the way to the Eastern Conference final before being eliminated by the New York Rangers. It is quite possible those two meet again this spring, possibly battling once again for the privilege of representing the East in the Stanley Cup Finals and a potential rematch between these two powerhouses will be epic as both teams have improved significantly since last June. I’ve always favoured the NHL’s masked men and while not taking anything away from the aforementioned Andrew Hammond or the Minnesota Wild’s Devan Dubnyk (who pulled a similar resurrection act with Minnesota’s flailing playoff hopes), Carey Price has quietly put together an historical campaign that has put his name alongside legends like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy. His season long numbers have guaranteed him the Vezina trophy as the League’s top goalie and there’s also plenty of chatter about him taking home the Hart as the NHL’s most valuable player as well. And while I’ve never denied his flaws, it never fails to amaze me how little respect P.K. Subban gets, especially after his heroics last spring against the Boston Bruins (Subban took home the Norris trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in 2013 and was the NHL’s second highest scoring blue liner this season). Maybe another deep post season run will get him some much-deserved respect. But my biggest reason for wanting to see the Habs enjoy some Stanley Cup success is Jeff Petry. Petry became the most recent in a long line of whipping boys for Edmonton Oilers management and fans despite numbers showing he was the best defenseman on a team where the blue line was their biggest weakness. The Oilers showed him little respect, signalling they were planning on trading him when they signed him to a single year deal last summer and then followed through on their intentions by shipping him to the Habs for draft picks at last March’s trade deadline. Yes, a team with a notoriously weak blue line gave away their best d-man for nothing (reason number 517 why Edmonton has spent the better part of the past decade well outside the playoff bubble). Seeing Petry, who was immediately slotted into the Habs top defensive four upon arrival, playing for the Stanley Cup will be an added bonus to humiliate Oilers brass.

Minnesota Wild: With the previous four entries on the list hailing from north of the border, this selection may leave you scratching your head a bit. And make no mistake, I’d love to see the Stanley Cup return to the Great White North for the first time in 22 years, but I’m also a pragmatist and with American teams constituting two thirds of playoff bound squads (including heavy hitters like the Rangers, Chicago, Anaheim, Nashville and others), the numbers are stacked against a Canadian captain skating victory laps holding the Cup aloft this June. And I do admire the way the Wild, a perennial playoff absentee a few years ago, have built their team, combining smart drafting, patient and efficient player development, shrewd trading and a few big free agent splashes into a recipe that has turned them into everyone’s favourite dark horse in the West. But my true motive for wanting to see the Wild raise a banner or two following this spring’s playoffs is Minnesota goaltending hero and former Edmonton Oiler Devan Dubnyk. You see, like Jeff Petry was this season, Dubnyk was Edmonton’s scapegoat last year, being dealt to the Nashville Predators for (overpaid) fourth line grinder Matt Hendricks.   During the lockout shortened 2013 season, Dubnyk, whose career had been trending upwards, finally seized hold of Edmonton’s top net minding job, but as soon as Dallas Eakins came on board as the Oilers bench boss, he was among a number of young players whose careers went south in a hurry (sophomores Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz being the other two). Now Oiler apologists will point out that Dubnyk fared poorly with Nashville after the deal in question and never played a single minute for the Canadiens when the Preds dealt him to Montreal later that season. But what those pundits fail to point out is that when Dubs landed in Nashville he was well behind Pekka Rinne on the depth chart and when he arrived in Montreal he was behind Carey Price, Peter Budaj and Dustin Tokarski. When the Arizona Coyotes signed him to a one-year deal last summer, Dubs began posting numbers superior than starter and former Olympian Mike Smith (on a horrible team, no less) and when the Wild acquired him for the bank breaking price of a third round draft pick last January, Dubnyk (who set new standards for work horses everywhere, starting all but one game between then and the end of the season) turned Minnesota’s fortunes around nearly as much as Hammond did Ottawa’s. In fact, my dream final this year is a Minnesota-Montreal matchup, where no matter who wins, one of Edmonton’s head slapping mistakes will be on full display, and one will eventually have his name etched onto the Stanley Cup.

Shayne Kempton

BLUE NOTES

THE RECENT TEMPER TANTRUM OVER KANYE WEST’S BLUESFEST GIG SHOWS HOW MUCH OTTAWA MUSIC FANS NEED TO GROW UP AND GET OVER THEMSELVES

            No one ever started a petition against Gene Simons coming to Ottawa. Remember that a little later on.

But for now Ottawa music fans need to get over themselves.

Every year it’s the same thing; the organizers of BluesFest announce their lineup of musical acts following a week of hype and anticipation (it’s like Christmas in March for live music fans) and for the next week or so people complain and whine about the lineup on social media. There isn’t enough of this or too much of that or this isn’t good enough etc. etc. For the week or so following the official announcement of who will be gracing the multitude of BluesFest’s stages, everyone becomes an expert in music festivals and the entire music industry. And then the noise subsides, spring pries winter’s last icy fingers off the world and when July rolls around everyone is at a loss to find the words to describe how awesome BluesFest was and how great the headliners (who they were bashing just a few months previous) were, and how they can’t wait until next year. For ten days the biggest complaint is about people sitting in lawn chairs with the weather a close second. And then the following March they’re bitching all over again, recycling the same complaints over and over.

But this year there’s a fresh new twist. It’s been both hilarious and disappointing to watch so many “music lovers” in the Nation’s Capital lose their minds over Kanye West’s inclusion as one of this year’s headliners. When the announcement was leaked hours before being formally made last week, Ottawa’s musical pretension really hit the fan-at Mach speed. People weren’t just upset-they were pissed. The announcement’s vocal opponents stammered at how horrible a choice he was because not only was he a terrible musician, like the worst one ever, he had a huge ego, an unforgiveable crime in and of itself. There were people claiming they were personally insulted by the choice, others screaming that everyone should boycott the annual festival, there’s already a Facebook page devoted to hating both the man and his selection and there’s even a petition circling the internet (complete with thousands of irate signatures), demanding that Bluesfest’s organizers cancel his appearance, replacing him with someone, anyone, else.

Seriously?

Look, I’m not a fan of either West or his music, but not only this entire thing beyond absurd but it’s the kind of thing this city too often pulls that has earned it the name “the town fun forgot.” First of all let’s give the organizers behind Bluefest a much deserved round of applause. Most people struggle to successfully pull off small shows at small little clubs (trust me, I know) so most people can’t imagine the enormous logistical effort needed to plan such a huge event. What’s involved in booking dozens of acts, ranging from popular headliners that will attract thousands of show goers every night to finding up and coming indie acts that can take advantage of the crowds lured in by the top performers to expand their own fan base is beyond imagining. Scheduling all of that to accommodate everyone’s already extensive travel schedules, providing a wide range of content to satisfy almost everyone’s musical tastes, coordinating with sponsors and ticket sellers and stage builders and municipal bureacrats (which is about as fun as a colonoscopy from a barbed wire salesman) to beer vendors and the port-a-potty suppliers is a truly Herculean task. And once that’s all said and done and finally in place, the organizers get to spend the duration of the festival fire fighting the infinite number of problems that pop up on a minute-by-minute basis and keeping their fingers crossed that the weather co-operates and the stages don’t collapse. Everyone who considers themselves a music fan in this city shouldn’t merely applaud the movers and shakers behind Bluefest, but they should also be lining up to buy them a beer or five once it’s done. Hopefully we’ve retired the stale “but it isn’t about blues anymore” argument; Bluesfest has transcended a single musical genre and wisely embraces all of them, and judging by the festival’s attendance, the expanded range is a huge success. Last year’s festival, headlined by the likes of Lady Gaga, Queens of the Stone Age, Blake Shelton and Snoop Dogg (among many others) set a new attendance record of just over three hundred thousand people. If the festival was still just about blues, not only would it have failed to come anywhere close to that number, it would have died a quiet death years ago. Future Shop just became a memory, tossed on the same heap of failure along with Target and Jacob’s and Mexx, the entire music recording industry is perched on the edge of collapse and network broadcasters and cable companies are beginning to panic as their business models are being challenged by innovations in the marketplace-all because they refused to adapt to changing times. Bluesfest has successfully navigated the music industry’s rapidly changing waters with calculated agility and should be commended for it. Supporting local and independent music acts on top of all that is extra icing on an already awesome cake.

But back to West. I get that plenty of people don’t like him. Calling him controversial is like saying the NRA kind of likes guns, but the man sells-his albums have sold more than 21 million copies (with another staggering 66 million digital downloads) while his live performances sell out the world over. Amy Lamothe, the person behind the anti-West Facebook page, said that Bluesfest organizers would be wiser to invest the sizeable chunk of change they spent to land West in a better, more relevant act. Better for whom though, exactly? Musical tastes are perhaps the most subjective things on the planet and just because Lamothe doesn’t think he’s a good artist doesn’t mean that millions of others don’t. And don’t rap fans get to have an act or two at the city’s largest music festival every now and then? Love him or hate him, the fact remains that West has won 21 Grammy awards that say he is indeed quite relevant, you can bet a week’s pay that when his day on the Bluesfest main stage arrives, there won’t be an empty seat in the house and his numbers will likely challenge (or even surpass) last year’s record setting attendance.

What’s really comical is that all the people ripping their hair out and claiming that this is the end of both art and civilization seem to be trying to sell the idea that they’re repulsed by his ego. Really? Because KISS front man and notorious womanizer/marriage hater Gene Simmons has an ego so large that it pretty much generates its own gravitational pull, and I don’t ever recall anyone throwing a temper tantrum over any of his appearances in O-town. Like I said, I’m not a fan of West, but people need to realize that his infamous ego, along with his award show shenanigans and even his marriage to Kim Kardashian is all a part of his brand, just like Brittany Spear’s sex kitten outfits and Gene Simmons extensive list of sexual conquests and Keith Richards six drug overdoses are a part of theirs. And all this gnashing of teeth is just adding to West’s luster in the eyes of his very, very large fan base (see his sales numbers above). You don’t like him? Fine, don’t go to the show, it’s that simple, but starting a petition to can him is just petty and stupid. The truth is his ego isn’t what offends most of the offended, it’s the idea of having a rap act headlining what has traditionally been a rock show that has no shortage of under garments in a twist. Besides, this is what the Bluefest organizers do all year round, and as the numbers of fans who are drawn to the show every year ranks in the hundreds of thousands, I’d say they know what they’re doing and are a little more savvy a then their critics. So Ottawa music fans, consider this a much-needed call to grow up and get over yourselves.

Shayne Kempton

CRUZ CONTROL

LEAVE IT TO A CANADIAN TO PROVE THAT THE TEA PARTY AND THE AMERICAN FAR RIGHT IS RACIST

A few weeks ago the worst kept secret in American politics was revealed when freshman Texas senator Ted Cruz threw his hat into the ring to be the Republican candidate in the 2016 Presidential election. The Canadian born Cruz’s hungry ambitions for the Oval Office have been well known ever since he bounded onto the world stage following the 2012 elections and the fierce loyalty he’s inspired among the Tea Party crowd south of the border has only fueled his leadership fires further.   And since Cruz announced his plans to earn the right to carry the GOP’s standard into 2016, first dropping the mic on Twitter late Sunday night and then officially announcing his intentions at Liberty College last Monday (in a speech that was mandatory for the entire student body), a lot of mockery has been making the rounds, along with one question that current President Barrack Obama probably never wants to hear ever again.

Where’s the birth certificate?

And the answer is something that most of us have long suspected, one that finally lays bare the double standard based on the fact that Cruz is white while Obama makes the unforgiveable mistake (in the eyes of the far American political right) of being half black.

Ever since Barrack Obama was elected in 2008, the American right, with the “grassroots” Tea party movement as their chief attack dogs, have dogged him with constant, often racist questions about his birth certificate. He was, as his many detractors allege, born in Kenya and therefore not eligible to be President (citing the “natural-born citizen” clause in the American constitution regarding who can be President). Regardless of what Obama and his camp have provided proving he was born on American soil (Hawaii, to be precise), the voices questioning his citizenship have increased and have often been sponsored by far right wing media. When the White House tried to finally put the issue to bed and provided Obama’s long form birth certificate in 2011, FOX News regular Eric Bolling blew up a copy and used a laser pointer to indicate “flaws” and “irregularities” on his show. It wasn’t a new trick, rather one he picked up from Donald Trump, who has harassed the U.S.’s Commander-in-Chief relentlessly on this issue. He’s allegedly dispatched an army of private investigators to Hawaii to disprove Obama’s claims and in 2012, just two weeks before the last Presidential election, he taunted Obama with an offer to make a five million dollar donation to the charity of the President’s choice if Obama offered his college transcripts and passport application (as a funny side-note to that little carnival, Trump and those who applauded his offer fully supported then Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s refusal to provide tax returns going back more then two years).

The Birthers, as the birth certificate conspiracy theorists are now known, not only refuse to accept Obama’s validity as an America ciizen and President, but they’ve taken their often violent rhetoric one step further, painting him as an Islamic terrorist transplant bent to ruin the United States from within, to give away its sovereignty and eventually convert everyone into Muslims. California resident Orly Taitz has become the Birthers folk hero, and it’s almost impossible to count the number of lawsuits she’s filed alleging Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery (she also subscribes to the “secret Islamic terrorist” theory, among many others). Taitz’s judicial absurdity was so bad that in 2009 she was ordered to pay twenty thousand dollars to the American federal government for all the time and money her shenanigans had wasted (to that point). This of course played right into her and the Birthers conspiracy narrative and they’ve cranked up the noise even louder since. While this all goes on, championed by the likes of FOX News and Rush Limbaugh, mainstream American conservatives quietly but approvingly look the other way with a smile on their face. It’s also important to remember for later, this whole fiasco unfolded with complete and absolute acknowledgement that Obama’s mother was indeed an American citizen when he was born. Whether you like Obama or not, you have to admit that what he’s been subject to on this front, something a white politician would never have to endure, is beyond ludicrous.

So given all that, when Cruz made his formal announcement to the world in front of an auditorium of mostly uninterested college students (a group wearing Rand Paul t-shirts were caught on camera a number of times) you’d expect an equally loud outcry of alarm from Taitz, Trump, the Birthers and the Tea Party. Except the only noise coming from those corners so far is crickets.   There has been some token commentary made about Cruz’s citizenship (Trump has said it may pose a problem for Cruz’s nomination, but little else) while others have meekly offered that since Cruz Sr. was an American citizen when Cruz Jr. was born, that technically makes the Senator an American born citizen and eligible for the office. Except you’ll remember that nobody questioned that Obama’s mother’s American citizenship when she gave birth to him, so even if he had been born in Kenya (which he wasn’t), all of the nonsense that he isn’t allowed to be President is wrong according to the logic people are using to defend Cruz. It’s logic Cruz himself has used to defend his eligibility, but yet in 2012 he said such criteria, criteria identical to his own credentials, wasn’t enough for Obama. Apparently his logic only applies to conservative white guys.

And that’s what this all boils down to: simple racism. It’s never been a secret that the Tea Party is an unapologetically racist movement and Orly Taitz and the Birthers are merely reflections of that reality. But the far right’s defence of Cruz, who is guilty of the exact same crime they believe Obama is, while vilifying the first American President of colour, betrays the fact that much of what passes for conservatism in the Unites States right now has an ugly current of racism just beneath the surface. I’m not saying all American conservatives are racist, but you have to wonder why no prominent voices on the American right has called out the Birthers on their obvious stupidity while in less then forty-eight hours after Cruz announced his candidacy more then a few came to the Texan Senator’s defence. When I was in high school we described that as things that made us go hmmmmmmmmm . . . . . . .

Does Cruz have a chance? Who knows? Since his formal announcement he’s jumped to the head of the Republican hopeful class in recent polls, but how those numbers look a year from now as things are reaching their conclusion is anyone’s guess. In fact his Senate election nearly four years ago was described by some pundits as the biggest upset that election cycle. During his time in office he’s gone out of his way to alienate other Republicans (New York representative Peter King has already said Cruz is more carnival barker then Presidential material), the only thing of substance that he’s accomplished was to spearhead (and then cheerlead) a twenty-one day shutdown of the American government to (unsuccessfully) kill Obamacare (which he recently signed up for, raising more then a few eyebrows) and his announcement was met by just as much mockery as it was celebration. And yet all of that may also serve to galvanize his base behind him entering primary season, as what remains of the Tea Party embraces the “rogue” image he’s fashioned for himself. But one thing is for sure; Republican spin-doctors are going to be busy trying to deflate the racist double standard and hypocrisy over the next year or so, political pundits have an entire mine of new material to write about and comedians the world over just won the lottery.

Shayne Kempton

GUN SHOP OF HORRORS

IF GUN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS EVER WANTED TO KNOW WHY THEY OFTEN GET A BAD NAME, THEY NEED LOOK NO FURTHER THEN THE “CONTROVERSY” FOLLOWING AN INNOCENT REMARK BY STEPHEN HARPER

Last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper caused quite the stir during a speech when he related gun ownership to public safety, particularly for rural residents who often lived “minutes away” from emergency responders. It immediately blew up (as anything a Federal politician says or does during an election year is likely to) with legal experts quickly pointing out that Canada doesn’t need vigilantes and that shooting someone entering your home is a crime and so on and so on. In response, Harper’s supporters fired back, vocally flocking to social media and trotting out all the usual points defending gun ownership (much as the anti-gun crowd pounced on the story, armed with their favourite anti-gun points). A few days later Harper addressed the uproar, labeling attempts to brand his remarks as approval for wild west, vigilante style justice as absurd. The whole argument flared up again when Quebec lost a court battle to retain data from the long gun registry that the current government buried in 2011.

First of all, the political fallout from the Prime Minister’s speech is a whole lot of ado about a whole lot of nothing. Harper wasn’t talking about any particular piece of legislation or law change or campaign promise, he was addressing his base, as both he and his opponents do every election, and when Harper has dangled the gun ownership bait in the past it usually results in a brief but helpful bump in campaign donations from his grassroots supporters. Here’s a newsflash, guns are a big deal to Conservatives, even Canadian ones, and while the unspoken narrative that the Big Bad Left will one day come for everyone’s guns usually gets batted around once or twice prior to Canadians venturing to the polls, Harper wasn’t making that connection here (don’t worry, he has plenty of time to get around to it before the election in October). So everyone can relax.

But this isn’t directed at Stephen Harper or the Conservative policy on guns (or Canada’s gun laws, for that matter), but rather the crowd that stampeded to the Internet following the speech to defend everything guns. I saw this story on the Ottawa Citizen’s website and (mistakenly) decided to peruse the comments section after reading it (my initial reaction to the whole thing was a ‘meh’ accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders). The story had been up less then an hour and there were already hundreds of comments posted, and it took no time at all before the gun debate was in full and hyperbolic swing, with both sides calling the other names at the drop of a hat. But some of the remarks I saw from the pro-gun crowd. Someone needs to remind them that, from a public relations standpoint, they really need to learn how to take it down a notch or five and reign in their crazier members, because wow.

The “you need guns to protect yourself from intruders/predators/monsters in the closet” and “a bad guy with a gun can only be stopped by a good guy with a gun” arguments were on full and enthusiastic display, but there were plenty who took those lines of logic a few disturbing steps further.  One angry response to a post condemning gun ownership was, and I quote, “tell that to your wife when she’s getting raped by someone who’s broken in!” In fact, I saw the “they’ll rape your wife if you don’t have a gun to defend her” narrative a handful of times, and in each case they drew a chorus of agreement and applause. And remember, this was the Ottawa Citizen and not some fringe web site or pseudo-news source. After reading the long list of home invasion and rape scenarios I had to ask, where the hell do these people live? This is, after all, Canada but to hear some of the gun activists talk, they were living right next door to Mordor and regularly fighting off bands of bloodthirsty, baby eating Orcs. Seriously, if you live in a place where you’re genuinely concerned that someone is going to break into your home and violate members of your family while you watch helplessly, have you considered moving? Are these people aware that violent crime in Canada has been declining for the past thirty plus years? And remember the remarks in question were concerning rural gun owners; I grew up in the country, where help from the authorities is sometimes “minutes away,” and to my knowledge, we never had any difficulty with roaming bands of plundering intruders. Wanna know why? Because we lived in the country. There were precious few people around (but no shortage of big, loud dogs) so unless you’re living in an episode of Criminal Minds, the narrative that people who live in the country are eventual prey for wandering rapists is a tad much. I’ve often heard gun owners lament that they’re unfairly branded as fear mongers but when one of your loudest talking points has more in common with a violent nightmare then actual reality, your kind of inviting it.

To say I don’t like guns is a titanic sized understatement-my distaste borders on outright hatred-but I also realize that most Canadian gun owners are reasonable, intelligent people (regardless of their political leanings) and I’m more than happy with Canada’s current gun laws. Are they perfect? No. Do some people who shouldn’t have guns manage to get their mischievous hands on them? Unfortunately and tragically, yes. Nor am I trying to claim that crime doesn’t exist in the Great White North, but Canada probably has the best gun management and ownership laws in the western world short of an absolute ban. So the debate that erupted following the Prime Minister’s remarks wasn’t just unnecessary, it was dumb. Nearly as dumb as some of the rhetoric the pro-gun crowd unleashed in its wake.

Shayne Kempton