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Talking Points: Of killer whales and Volkswagen fails

Speed read the news with our Talking Points round-up, and sound like the smartest person in the room


 
Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

Need an answer for that? Trying to look like the smartest person at the dinner party? Our Talking Points have you covered. Read our short takes on some of the big stories from the week that was:

Is the U.S. economy finally improving?

It looks like the answer is yes. The U.S. economy added an impressive 271,000 jobs in October. That was better than even the most bullish forecasts, and helped push U.S. unemployment down to a seven-year low of five per cent. More important, the upbeat data is expected to prompt the U.S. Federal Reserve to hike interest rates in December for the first time since 2008. If it does, the central bank will have marked an important milestone by waving goodbye to the Great Recession once and for all.

What was the most important handshake of the week?

The one that happened in Singapore. As grip-and-grins go, it was truly one for the ages. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou briefly shook hands for TV cameras before ducking into a hotel conference room in Singapore. It was the first such encounter since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communists drove Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists from the Chinese mainland. Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since having a falling out over the Iran nuclear deal. True, neither meeting accomplished much. But sometimes just getting to the table is a breakthrough on its own.

Are we safe at home?

A new study says no—that house could sink you financially. It sounds like a bad magic trick: if real estate prices drop by 20 per cent, the net worth of 260,000 Canadian homeowners could suddenly disappear. Worse, a new study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says such a housing correction would hit young Canadians the hardest, with one in 10 homeowners under 40 at risk of being underwater on their mortgages. Don’t believe in magic? The Bank of Canada estimates Canada’s house prices are currently overvalued by 10 to 30 per cent, while some private sector economists say the figure could be even higher.

Will Volkswagen actually do right after its cheating scandal?

Not by the immediate looks of it. Volkswagen surely knew it wasn’t going to be easy to re-establish trust with customers after its emissions cheating scandal. But offering affected owners a $500 prepaid Visa card, $500 in dealership credits and three years of free roadside assistance as “goodwill”—two months after VW’s initial apology—simply doesn’t cut it, even as a starting point. Resale values have dropped and any fix for the 11 million affected vehicles will likely ding the cars’ fuel economy. Still want the vouchers? Sorry Canadians—the deal apparently applies only to U.S. owners. Talk about das insult. 

In this photo made available Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, and provided by Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, Egyptian Military on cars approach a plane's tail at the wreckage of a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Russian cargo plane on Monday brought the first bodies of Russian victims killed in a plane crash in Egypt home to St. Petersburg, a city awash in grief for its missing residents. (Maxim Grigoriev/Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations/AP)

In this photo made available Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, and provided by Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, Egyptian Military on cars approach a plane’s tail at the wreckage of a passenger jet bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt, on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The Russian cargo plane on Monday brought the first bodies of Russian victims killed in a plane crash in Egypt home to St. Petersburg, a city awash in grief for its missing residents. (Maxim Grigoriev/Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations/AP)

Do we know more about what destroyed a Russian plane?

Investigators are getting closer. The Russian plane crash in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which killed all 224 people on board, is looking less like a mystery. French investigators ruled out the possibility of a technical failure, while Egyptian investigators are “90 per cent sure” it was a bomb. Islamic State militants in the region quickly took credit for the attack, suggesting the movement is even more fanatical than previously thought. After all, no good has ever come from waking the Russian bear when you’ve already got your hands full fighting someone else.

Will Miss World Canada 2015 make it to the finals?

Maybe not, and it has nothing to do with her performance. Anastasia Lin didn’t win the title of Miss World Canada 2015 solely because of her looks. It was also because she spoke out passionately against Chinese human rights abuses. However, this year’s Miss World finals take place in China and Lin—no coincidence, we’re sure—has yet to receive the necessary paperwork for her visa application. The Miss World Organization says it has no control over who gets a visa, which means Lin could be left out of the finals. If the pageant wants to back up its slogan of “beauty with a purpose,” it should stand behind participants who choose to speak up, or move the competition to a country where they can.

Will SeaWorld finally see the error of its ways?

Here’s a whale of a tale. In the face of growing criticism and declining attendance, SeaWorld will phase out its theatrical killer whale shows at its San Diego theme park by 2017, replacing them with a more “natural” orca experience. The change, which so far isn’t being implemented in other SeaWorld parks, comes on the heels of a popular documentary a few years ago that alleged mistreatment of the animals and drew calls for bans on breeding orcas in captivity. While SeaWorld executives say they’re responding to customers’ changing interests—not critics’ demands—it’s clear the sharp public outcry has finally penetrated blubbery heads.

Should Stephen Harper have flown back to Calgary in a taxpayer-owned jet?

It’s a basic sign of respect. There’s no reason to cry foul over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to let his predecessor fly home to Calgary in a taxpayer-owned VIP Challenger jet. Even though Stephen Harper is now technically just another MP, he capably served as Canada’s leader for nearly a decade and deserved a respectful departure from Ottawa. Perhaps one day, after time has polished memories of the Harper years, he will also have the honour of touching down at Calgary’s Stephen J. Harper International Airport—once petitions opposing the idea have subsided.


 

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