Newsmakers of the week

Stampede slams, Meghan McCain's biopic, and Saddam Hussein's WMD confession

Stephen HarperEveryone loves a stampede
On Saturday, the leaders of Canada’s three major parties turned up in Calgary to take part in Stampede festivities and slip in a little meal-time campaigning. Speaking at a breakfast at the Calgary Zoo, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff blasted the Tories for their latest attack ads, which imply that the Bloc Québécois favours leniency for pedophiles. “I’m in politics to defeat the Bloc Québécois with real arguments,” Ignatieff told the crowd, “rather than slurs and vicious ad hominem personal attacks.” Not far away, at a barbecue in Heritage Park, Prime Minister Stephen Harper slammed the Liberals’ “timid and trendy” foreign policies and the NDP’s ethos of “tax and spend.” “Let the opposition parties threaten to get together to defeat us and replace us,” he said. “Canadians have been clear that they do not want another election.” Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jack Layton, invited by Calgary Herald reporter Don Braid to a barbecue at the Ranchmen’s Club, a well-known Conservative hangout, played nice, worked the room and, according to Braid, had “friendly chats with several people I wasn’t sure would talk to him at all.” He even braved a prairie oyster. “Not bad,” Layton said. “I think I’ll have another one.”

Malia ObamaLucky number 11
On July 4, Independence Day was not the only occasion being celebrated at the White House. It was also Malia Obama’s 11th birthday. President Barack Obama told the Associated Press that on the evening of July 3, Malia treated 20-odd friends to a sleepover at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. “There are 24 double-X chromosomes up in Camp David as we speak,” the President said. “It’s a little intimidating.” On Saturday, the gang returned to the White House for a barbecue and fireworks on the South Lawn and the U.S. Marine Band’s rendition of Happy Birthday. According to the Chicago Tribune, this year marked the first birthday Malia has not spent in a hotel since 2006. Her 10th birthday, for instance, was spent on the campaign trail in a Holiday Inn Express in Montana. The family celebrated by order­ing dinner and a cake to their room, and partying to Malia’s favourite songs by the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana.

Save Bahari
According to Iran’s state-run Fars news agency, Maziar Bahari, 41, the Tehran-based Newsweek reporter of Iranian-Canadian citizenship arrested last month by Iranian officials, has “confessed” to helping Western media generate civil unrest following the controversial June 12 presidential election. “As a reporter and a part of the West’s capitalistic engine,” he allegedly said, “I was put on the path of creating rumours toward a coloured revolution.” Alarmed Newsweek staffers rejected the confession and issued a statement defending Bahari’s reputation for “accurate” and “even-handed” reports: “Newsweek asks that world government use whatever influence they have with the government in Tehran to make clear that his detention is unwarranted and unacceptable and demand Mr. Bahari’s release.”

Sarah PalinRunning to 2012
To the surprise and bewilderment of her supporters, Sarah Palin stepped down as governor of Alaska last week for reasons not made entirely clear. She said that “prayerful consideration” helped her to conclude that “sacrificing my title helps Alaska most.” She also said of her administration, “we have accomplished more during this one term than most governors do in two.” But a lengthy interview with Palin in the new issue of Runner’s World suggests that she may just be resting up for a longer race. Palin, a lifelong runner, favours long distances and a slow-and-steady pace (both her parents were marathoners). When she runs, which she does most days, she listens to hard rock to keep her pumped—usually Van Halen or AC/DC. During last year’s presidential campaign, Palin said she tried to get Senator John McCain to run with her, but he declined. “I go wading,” he said when she asked him about sports. “That cracked me up,” she said. Asked if she could beat President Barack Obama in a race, she answered, “I betcha I’d have more endurance.” A clue?

Alain hits de bottom
After the New York Times Book Review published a scathing review of Alain de Botton’s latest pop-philosophical offering, Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, the British author lashed out at the reviewer, Caleb Crain, on Crain’s personal blog. “I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make,” he wrote. Later, in an interview with literary blogger Edward Champion, a sheepish de Botton tried to explain his outburst, which spread through the literary community like a supervirus. “I think that a writer should respond to a critic within a relatively private arena,” he said. “I don’t believe in writing letters to the newspaper. I do believe in writing, on occasion, to the critics directly. I used to believe that posting a message on a writer’s website counted as part of this kind of semi-private communication. I have learnt it doesn’t; it is akin to starting your own television station in terms of the numbers who might end up attending.”

Buzz AldrinThe Buzz on Mars
Forty years ago this month, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, 79, set foot on the moon. He told the BBC the world is at a crucial juncture now, and it is time to think seriously about colonizing other planets. But Aldrin believes U.S. efforts to get back to the moon by 2020 are a waste of time. Mars, he said, is the better destination: “It is the only other habitable planet. We have sent over many rovers there and we have found conditions there that I feel can be made suitable for human existence much easier than the moon can.” On the downside, it’s “farther away.”

A fond farewell
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor General Michaëlle Jean and former PM Jean Chrétien were among those present to pay tribute to Roméo LeBlanc, at a state funeral for the late Liberal MP in Memramcook, N.B., last Friday. “I never met anyone who did not like him,” said Chrétien, who delivered the eulogy. LeBlanc, originally a journalist, served as press secretary for Lester Pearson in the ’60s and as fisheries minister under Pierre Trudeau. He joined the Senate in 1984, and in 1995 he was appointed governor general. His son, Dominic LeBlanc, Liberal MP for Beauséjour in New Brunswick, spoke at the service. “The country has lost a devoted Canadian who did his best to serve with humility and compassion,” he said. Roméo LeBlanc, who had Alzheimer’s and had recently suffered a stroke, was 81.

Saddam HusseinSaddam’s mea culpas
Last week, U.S. officials released accounts of interviews and conversations between FBI investigators and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein conducted in early 2004, under the Freedom to Information Act. According to the documents, Hussein, who was executed in 2006, admitted that he pretended to have WMDs because at the time, he felt he would rather provoke the U.S. than reveal himself to be weak in the eyes of Iran. He also admitted that it was a mistake not to allow the UN to oversee the destruction of Iraq’s WMDs, which was completed by 1998, for fear that this transparent process would render Iraq vulnerable to Iran. Of the rumour that he often used body doubles to confuse would-be assassins, he said, this was “movie magic, not reality.”

Hitler’s Formula One connection
Canadian Jewish Congress leader Bernie Farber was horrified last week by comments made in the British press by Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone on the subject of strong leadership. Speaking with the Times, Ecclestone admitted that he prefers totalitarian regimes to democracies. “In a lot of ways,” he said, “terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was, in the way that he could command a lot of people, able to get things done.” Farber told the Ottawa Citizen, “It’s absolutely astounding that in the year 2009 a person like Bernie Ecclestone, or anybody that has the ear of the public, would in any way pay any positive attention to the most evil figure in modern history.” He added, “the man is an ignoramus.”

Meghan McCainMel Gibson as dad?
Meghan McCain, the 24-year-old daughter of Arizona Senator John McCain, is writing her first book, due out next spring, which she describes as part political treatise, part memoir. “It’s like Primary Colours meets Tori Spelling’s STori Telling,” she told the New York Daily News. In the movie version—which exists, so far, only in her mind—McCain says she wants Hilary Duff to play her. “I think she’s hot,” she said, “hotter than me.” She also expressed her relief that she never had to adjust to life in the White House. “I did not get along with the Secret Service,” she said, “so it’s good that I’m not living there. You know those Disney movies [where princesses are always well-guarded]? Life in the White House is just like that, except there were no cute guards. Seriously, none of them were cute at all!”

Ruth MadoffHouse hunting
Last Thursday, three days after Bernie Madoff, 71, her husband of nearly 50 years, was sentenced to serve 150 years in prison for his multi-billion-dollar fraud scheme, Ruth Madoff, 67, was evicted from her Manhattan penthouse and, with one small bag, taken to an undisclosed location. Six U.S. marshals turned up at her US$7-million Upper East Side home to seize the property and all of its contents, part of a meagre effort to pay back some of what was stolen from her husband’s investors. Also appropriated were the couple’s other properties, yachts and several bank accounts. In exchange for her co-operation with the feds, Ruth Madoff is being permitted to keep US$2.5 million. Many Madoff victims were delighted to witness the seizure of Ruth’s home, but at least one person felt sympathetic: her lawyer, Peter Chavkin. He told reporters in her defence, “With a little over two days to pack up her entire life of 67 years and find a new place to live, Ruth still managed to move out right on time, in an orderly fashion and in total compliance with her court-approved agreement.”

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