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Controversial billionaire George Soros faces attacks on multiple fronts

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: George Soros has become a magnet for conspiracy theories; Stephen Poloz offers perspective on economy's direction; carbon taxes and campaign platforms; how health care is riling midterm voters

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Billionaire George Soros, founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations, attends the European Council On Foreign Relations Annual Meeting in Paris in May. A bomb was sent to the mailbox at his estate in Katonah, NY, this week, and his university is retreating from Hungary under political pressure. (Francois Mori/Associated Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • George Soros, the 88-year-old financier-turned-philanthropist, has become an all-purpose bogeyman for right-wing populists all over the world, and the common thread in America's darkest political conspiracy theories.
  • Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz offers some perspective on rising interest rates.
  • The Prime Minister's outline of the federal carbon tax and rebate plan has the feel of a central election campaign issue being defined, writes Rosemary Barton.
  • A top issue in the run-up to the U.S. midterm elections is America's broken health care system, but solutions are a subject nobody seems to be able to agree on.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.


Generous billionaire or one-world mastermind?

George Soros operates a non-profit that supports democracy and human rights in more than 100 countries. And since its 1979 beginning — offering scholarships to black students in Apartheid-era South Africa — he has given away more than $32 billion US.

Yet the 88-year-old financier-turned-philanthropist has also become an all-purpose bogeyman for right-wing populists all over the world, and the common thread in America's darkest political conspiracy theories.

Soros was the first high-profile Donald Trump critic to receive a pipe bomb — hand-delivered, apparently, to the mailbox at his estate in Katonah, NY, 70 kilometres north of Manhattan, on Monday.

A bomb was mailed to a house owned by philanthropist and hedge fund manager George Soros in Katonah, NY, on Monday. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

But it's far from the only attack he's experienced this week.

Today, the university that Soros created in his native Hungary basically threw in the towel after years of sharp criticism and bureaucratic hostility from the government of Viktor Orban.

Despite trying to meet strict new legal conditions, the U.S.-chartered university has been unable to get Hungary's government to renew an agreement that allows it to operate.

The Central European University, run by former federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, announced that it will start transferring its degree programs from Budapest to a satellite campus in Vienna, Austria.

Demonstrators in Budapest hold posters at an April 2017 protest against Prime Minister Viktor Oban's efforts to close the Central European University. (Janos Marjai/Associated Press)

The move comes five months after Soros' foundation relocated its Budapest operations to Berlin following Orban's landslide re-election victory, and the Hungarian prime minister's promise to crack down on foreign NGOs with a law he dubbed the "Stop Soros" bill.

Orban, who was once the beneficiary of a Soros scholarship, has accused the billionaire of encouraging people from the Middle East and Africa to migrate to Europe en masse, evoking a plot to undermine the continent's culture.

A poster at a bus shelter is seen in Budapest in February, with the message: 'Soros would settle millions from Africa and the Middle East. Stop Soros!' (Pablo Gorondi/Associated Press)

And the notion that Soros is some sort of one-world-mastermind has spread much further.

Last weekend, a vice-president for the Campbell Soup company took to Twitter to endorse a popular far-right belief that the Open Society Foundations are planning and funding the caravan of Central American migrants that is currently making its way across Mexico.

And over the past couple of years, Soros has been accused of being the shadowy money man for a vast variety of causes, from the kneeling protests of NFL players, to the Women's March on Washington, and the gun-control efforts of survivors of the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre. (All of which might tax even the limits of his remaining $8 billion US fortune.)

The U.S. president is a believer in Soros' omnipresence. At least when it comes to those who protested Brett Kavanaugh's elevation to the Supreme Court.

(Trump repeated the evidence-free claim three more times over the following two weeks.)

Soros has been a favourite target of shouting heads like Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones and Bill O'Reilly for more than a decade. He has an outsized presence in the right-wing echo chamber — a media analysis found almost 8,000 mentions of Soros on conservative sites like Breitbart and InfoWars over a 10 month period in 2016 and 2017.

Canada's The Rebel is similarly obsessed, accusing Soros of directing "pro Islam propaganda" and having "teamed up" with Justin Trudeau to "bring Muslim migrants to the West."

In a New York Times op-ed yesterday, Alexander Soros, the billionaire's son, wrote that his family is no stranger to hate and hostility, having lived under Nazi occupation and the post-war Communist takeover of Hungary.

"My father acknowledges that his philanthropic work, while nonpartisan, is 'political' in a broad sense: It seeks to support those who promote societies where everyone has a voice," Soros explained. "There is a long list of people who find that proposition unacceptable, and my father has faced plenty of attacks along the way, many dripping with the poison of anti-Semitism."

Albanian opposition supporters shout anti-government slogans during a protest in Tirana, Albania, on Jan. 27. (Malton Dibra/EPA-EFE)

But Soros suggested that something has changed since Donald Trump's election in 2016, with once extremist views now finding expression in the mainstream.  

The younger Soros, who serves as deputy-chairman of the family foundation, expressed hope that the pipe bomb crisis might serve as a wake-up call, convincing Americans to "find our way to a new political discourse that shuns the demonization of all political opponents."

Today, he will be disappointed.

Twitter and right-wing websites are busy spinning a new conspiracy theory.

That George Soros is behind all those mailbombs; part of a "false flag" effort to discredit Donald Trump and the Republicans before next month's midterm elections.


Economic perspective from Poloz

Peter Armstrong and CBC's business team have been investigating Canadian consumer debt levels, and they got some insight about where the economy is headed from Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz.

Stephen Poloz, Governor of the Bank of Canada, speaks in Ottawa on Wednesday after raising interest rates. He's trying to perform a delicate economic balancing act. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canadians owe a lot of money.

For every dollar we earn, we owe a $1.69. Equifax says the average Canadian owes more than $23,000 — and that doesn't even include mortgages.

When you do factor in mortgage debt, Canadians as a whole owe a staggering $2.1 trillion.

And the cost of that debt is now rising.

The Bank of Canada's key overnight lending rate was as low as 0.5 per cent in the summer of 2017. A whole generation of homeowners came of age never knowing anything but cheap money sloshing around the financial system.

But with the economy finally chugging along, the central bank wants to get rates back to "neutral" (which is somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent). The Bank of Canada hiked its rate to 1.75 per cent this week, and borrowers beware, we aren't done yet. Borrowing costs will continue to rise.

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz sat down with CBC News after yesterday's rate decision, and we talked about how managing interest rates is a delicate balance. Especially as two wildly different narratives of the economy emerge.

The one being told by markets is full of fear and pessimism. Fear that a China-U.S. trade war is imminent and that a decade-long bull run has come to an end.

Poloz says he can also see the case for optimism. Jobs are being added in droves, wages are finally rising, and the USMCA deal removes some long-standing uncertainty and puts wind in the sails of exports and business investment.

In either case, he says rates need to rise. If the optimists are right, the economy doesn't need new stimulus.

But Poloz is also a pragmatist — sure, things are fine now, but who knows what danger lurks around the next corner? If the pessimists are right, the central bank needs wiggle room to cut rates if things go sideways.

"We're at the stage where the economy's operating where it can. It's where it should be, and the question is how much longer it can go? And the answer is a really long time if nothing happens to mess it up," he says.

That's as close as a central banker will come to paraphrasing Mike Tyson's famous line that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

  • WATCH: Peter Armstrong's story Debt Nation tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

Canadians eye their mortgages as interest rate is hiked | Debt Nation

The National

2 years agoVideo
4:43
The Bank of Canada raised its key lending rate today, from 1.5 to 1.75 per cent. Canadians with variable-rate debt could quickly feel that pinch, but even some homeowners with fixed-rate mortgages are becoming more worried about their financial future. 4:43

Taxing issues

As election campaigns start to come together, tonight's At Issue panel tackles the issues around controlling carbon emissions, writes Rosemary Barton.

I've been away most of the week in Ohio covering the U.S. midterms (more on that next week), which means I've been keeping tabs on the carbon tax story from afar. Watching the Prime Minister's press conference on Tuesday, I had a distinct feeling that I was seeing a central election campaign issue starting to be defined.

In short, after warning provinces which did not impose their own carbon tax that the federal government would do it for them, Justin Trudeau was not only making the plan for taxing emissions clear. He also promised Canadians in those provinces that they would get a rebate directly from Ottawa that would be higher than the taxes people paid themselves.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media and students at Humber College in Toronto on Tuesday regarding his government's new federally imposed carbon tax. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The plan was roundly dismissed by both Conservative Premiers and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who called it a "gimmick."

I'm not suggesting an entire election will be fought over a carbon tax. I'm not even suggesting each side can somehow find new voters with their well-entrenched positions. But it does seem to be a clear point of difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives — and elections certainly can end up being all about the stark differences.

Of course, one of the problems is that we have yet to hear from the Conservative leader about his own plan, which he has promised for many months now.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

At Issue's Andrew Coyne has concerns about the Liberal plan, but as he points out, "The Liberals' plan remains superior to the alternatives. Indeed, as of today, it remains the only plan on offer."

Paul Wells, who is joining us on At Issue this week, wonders if the federal backstop programs of rebates will be so tantalizing for the other provinces that they simply ditch their own plans and request the Ottawa version.

I imagine it'll take us the whole panel to figure all of that out.

Join Chantal Hébert, Andrew and Paul for At Issue, my favourite night of the week.

- Rosemary Barton

  • WATCH: At Issue tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online  


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Obamacare versus Trumpcare

A top issue in the run-up to the U.S. midterm elections is America's broken health care system, writes Los Angeles bureau reporter Kim Brunhuber.

The title of the panel discussion sounded intriguing: Obamacare versus Trumpcare. It pitted a leading red-state physician against his counterpart from a blue-state. On this, they both agreed: the U.S. health care system won't work if Washington remains broken.

"Nobody agrees on where the hell we're going," said Kentucky's Dr. Steven Stack. "So we are on a journey with no shared agreement on the destination and no clear way to get there."

Many polls have suggested voters rank health care at the top of midterm issues.

A sticker on a car's window in support of Obamacare. In many polls, health care is ranked as a top U.S. midterm issue, but it's also a bitterly divisive one. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

And in a stark reversal of the last midterm elections, in which Democrats ran away from the issue, they now seem to embracing it. According to several surveys of political advertising, nearly half of Democratic ads mention health care, compared to only 21 per cent of Republican ads.

You see them everywhere on television here in the United States. In one ad, Senate Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, dressed in hunting clothes, claims his opponent supports a lawsuit that would take away health care from people with pre-existing conditions. Manchin then shoulders his shotgun, aims at a paper copy of the lawsuit mounted on a target, and blows a hole in it.

This battle isn't just being waged on the airwaves, it's part of a sustained ground war by party activists and voters alike. In the waning days until midterm ballots are cast, evangelists on either side of the debate are doing what they can to swing votes, driven by their own experiences of being saved – or ruined – by the Affordable Care Act.

In the affluent enclave of Rancho Cucamonga, 60 kilometres east of Los Angeles, for example, Susie Jacobson shuffles her medical bills like playing cards. After the ACA was passed, Jacobson says, the insurance premiums for her family of four quintupled.

Susie Jacobson of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., says her family's insurance premiums quintupled after the Affordable Care Act came into effect. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

"Obamacare is falling apart," Jacobson told me. "I'm living the nightmare I read about."

Farther north in Rancho Santa Fe, Terri Carlson said before Obamacare was passed that no-one would insure her pre-existing condition. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell follows through on his recent promise to repeal the ACA if the Republicans win enough seats in the November election, Carlson fears she could lose her coverage and be forced to pay her expensive medical bills out of pocket.

"No one should have to worry that one illness will put you on the streets," Carlson said.

Both Jacobson and Carlson have become accidental health care activists, trying to save – or – destroy what remains of the ACA.

Terri Carlson of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., has a health condition, and worries that she'll lose her medical coverage if the Republicans win enough seats in the midterms to force a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

In the end I couldn't fit Dr. Steven Stack, or another interview with Rhode Island physician Dr. Ahthony Cirillo, into the time allotted for my TV piece tonight for The National. But I thought the insight from both physicians was interesting – and troubling for Americans worried about health care.

Regardless of who wins in November, said Dr. Cirillo, "the polarization that exists will prevent anything good from happening in terms of legislation and we'll become stagnated and not really move forward to a better system.

"Health care is a casualty just to the ideological divide we have in the nation," Dr. Stack agreed.  "When those two tensions hit each other, health care sort of gets squished in the middle."

  • WATCH: Kim Brunhuber's feature on health care and the U.S. midterms tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online


A few words on ... 

The real national anthem.


Quote of the moment

"If they are very worried about iPhones being tapped, they can use Huawei."

- Chinese government spokeswoman Hua Chunying, replying to questions from a researcher at the Washington Post in relation to a story that says Chinese and Russian spies are tapping Donald Trump's cellphone calls.


What The National is reading

  • Bombs sent to former Vice President Biden, actor De Niro (Reuters)
  • Quebec's 'cocaine babes,' imprisoned in Australia, may have been pawns (CBC)
  • Putin's approval rating lowest since 2013, poll (Moscow Times)
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  • Tesla made a profit, so now what? (Jalopnik)
  • Africa's new debt crisis (Deutsche Welle)
  • Liverwort could be more medically effective than cannabis, research suggests (Science Daily)
  • Why peat is worse than coal when it comes to global warming (Irish Times)
  • Steve Bannon holds rally for Republican candidates, but none show up (Guardian)

Today in history

Oct. 25, 2000: Stockwell Day's geography lesson

Stockwell Day's greatest legacy as a federal politician might have been educating the public about which direction the Niagara River flows. During a campaign stop at the famous falls, the Canadian Alliance leader tried to make a point about the supposed "brain drain" to the U.S. being like Lake Erie emptying southward. Except that he got it entirely wrong — Erie flows north, over the falls and into Lake Ontario. Perhaps the biggest pratfall of his gaffe-heavy 15 months at the party's helm.

Stockwell Day's geography lesson

Digital Archives

20 years agoVideo
2:42
The Canadian Alliance leader mistakenly reverses the flow of the Niagara River in the 2000 election. 2:42

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.

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