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Obama slams Trump as Democrats roll out their big gun ahead of U.S. midterms

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: former U.S. president Barack Obama hits midterm campaign trail, delivers stinging rebuke of Trump presidency; Barcelona developer under fire for plan to lease teeny-tiny living pods to cash-strapped young workers

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

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign on Friday, slamming President Trump and saying that Americans, 'need to determine just who we are, just what we stand for.' (John Gress/Reuters)

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  • Barack Obama's pointed and political speech at the University of Illinois this afternoon, including a stinging rebuke of the Trump presidency, marks the former president's return to the hustings
  • Tonight's new Pop Panel on The National dives into the decision by Nike to throw itself behind America's most polarizing athlete, Colin Kaepernick
  • A Barcelona developer is under fire for its plans to lease out teeny-tiny living pods to the city's cash-strapped young workers
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Obama: 'You need to vote'

Barack Obama is back and on the offensive.

Since he left office in January 2017, the former U.S. president has been keeping a low profile — at least by the standards of globally famous celebrities.

But a pointed and political speech at the University of Illinois this afternoon marks the 57-year-old's return to the hustings.

"Every time we pull ourselves closer to our founding ideals — that all people are created equal … somebody, somewhere, has pushed back," Obama told a crowd of students, going on to make it clear just who he had in mind.

In his speech Friday at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Barack Obama urged people to vote in the midterm elections. 'You need to vote, because our democracy depends on it. These November elections are more important than any in my lifetime.' (John Gress/Reuters)
"It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He's just capitalizing on the resentment that politicians have been fanning for years," the former president declared.

In the run-up to the Nov. 6 midterm elections, Obama will be one of the Democrats' biggest weapons as they attempt to turn 23 seats in the House and two in the Senate, and wrest control of Congress away from the Republicans.

Tomorrow he will headline a rally for congressional candidates in California. Next week he will stump for Richard Cordray, the Democratic candidate for governor in Ohio. And there will be more appearances in Pennsylvania, New York and beyond.

The message is simple enough — those who oppose Trump and his brand of politics must demonstrate it at the ballot box.

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses his supporters at a campaign rally at the Ford Centre on Aug. 30 in Evansville, Ind. In a speech Friday, Barack Obama said Trump 'is capitalizing on the resentment that politicians have been fanning for years.' (Denny Simmons/Evansville Courier & Press via Associated Press)
"We need to determine just who we are, just what we stand for," Obama said today. "You need to vote, because our democracy depends on it. These November elections are more important than any in my lifetime."

Almost two years removed from power, Obama remains a marquee attraction. For example, more than 22,000 University of Illinois students registered for a lottery that doled out the 1,300 seats for today's appearance.

And the ex-president's scant public speeches like his July address in South Africa to mark the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth, or last weekend's eulogy for Republican Sen. John McCain — have received widespread, international attention.

Yet he has been reluctant to engage politically, and until today, had rarely even mentioned Trump's name, let alone openly criticized him.

The official explanation has been that Obama wanted to respect the tradition of past presidents and try to rise above the partisan fray.

He has also been busy goofing off and making money.

Michelle and Barack Obama's first post-White House months were an extended and exotic vacation — kitesurfing in the Caribbean with billionaire Richard Branson, kicking back in Tuscany and Hawaii, and sailing the seas of French Polynesia with Oprah, Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen aboard David Geffen's luxury yacht.

The couple has also been busy working on their forthcoming memoirs, for which they received a record $65 million US from Penguin Random House. (Michelle's, entitled Becoming, will be the first to land, hitting store shelves on Nov. 13).

Former first lady Michelle Obama's memoir, 'Becoming,' is scheduled to be released on Nov. 13. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)
In May, they signed a multi-year production deal with Netflix for an undisclosed number of documentaries, scripted series and feature films that will highlight issues that the Obamas championed during their eight years in Washington.

Barack Obama has even delivered a few paid speeches — three to Wall St. audiences last fall, and a more recent keynote at a Las Vegas tech conference — for a reported $400,000 US a pop.

In addition, there's the Obama Foundation, a non-profit which runs programs to promote leadership and political participation, and will oversee the still-to-be-built Obama Presidential Center and museum on the South Side of Chicago. According to its first annual report, released last month, the charity has raised $232 million US to date and spent about $22 million of it, with roughly half going to programs.

The Obama Foundation has raised $232 million US to date, according to its first financial report. (Themba Hadebe/Reuters)
All of which suggests that the former president is more than capable of filling his days without having to return to the campaign trail.

Some have suggested that Obama's political return has to do with Trump's shredding of America's political norms — that he has somehow been freed of an ex-president's obligations by the current administration's attempts to undo his policies and erase his legacy.

Perhaps, but Obama was never known for his temper.

The more likely explanation is that the Democrats need him.

Two years after his departure from office — with a 59 per cent job approval rating — there is no-one in the party who comes close to matching Obama's popularity with voters.

In a deeply divided nation, where elections hinge on turnout, having a star attraction can't hurt.

Pop Panel

Tonight's new Pop Panel on The National dives into the decision by Nike to throw itself behind America's most polarizing athlete, Colin Kaepernick, writes producer Tarannum Kamlani. We'll also look at the controversy that erupted after a photo of Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens bagging groceries at Trader Joe's was posted in the Daily Mail and went viral:

Tonight marks the debut of The National's Pop Panel, a new segment on the program where Ian Hanomansing and some of Canada's sharpest pop culture thinkers unpack the stories we're all talking about.

This week, one story dominated so many conversations … the unveiling of Colin Kaepernick as the face Nike's new ad campaign, marking the 30th anniversary of the company's "Just Do It" slogan.

This image taken from the Twitter account of former NFL player Colin Kaepernick shows a Nike ad featuring him. Kaepernick already had a deal with Nike that was set to expire, but it was renegotiated into a multiyear agreement to make him one of the faces of Nike's 30th anniversary 'Just Do It' campaign. (Associated Press)
President Trump and many NFL fans took major offence. Many think the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback is a traitor for kneeling during the U.S. National anthem, calling the act disrespectful to the flag and to veterans.

Kaepernick and his supporters maintain the act was to call attention to racial injustice in the U.S.

President Trump, of course, expressed his feelings about the ad campaign on Twitter, asking this morning: "What is Nike thinking?"  

Tonight Ian and our panelists will try and answer that very question.

Joining Ian in The National's studio in Toronto are Donnovan Bennet, staff writer with Sportsnet, Sarah Boesveld, senior writer with Chatelaine Magazine, and columnist and author Stephen Marche.  

Oh, and if you want a live view of the panel taping, we'll have a livestream going on Facebook, YouTube and Periscope starting at 4:30 p.m. ET today. Hope you'll join us!

- Tarannum Kamlani

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A Barcelona developer is under fire for its plan to lease out teeny-tiny living pods to the city's cash-strapped young workers.

Haibu 4.0 — a company that takes its name from the Japanese word for beehive — has been advertising the 2.4-square-metre spaces, which will rent for €200 a month ($305 Cdn), for several weeks. It says it has received more than 500 applications.

Each pod contains a bed with storage space underneath, a folding table, small television, an electrical plug-in, USB charger and free wi-fi. The renters will share bathrooms and be able to spread out in common areas, but they should be prepared to sleep in exceptionally close quarters, with 15 capsules squished into a 100-square-metre space.

French inventor Nicolas Veger shows his 'Very Good Box,' a single piece of furniture to eat, sleep, wash and work, designed to expand the living space in small apartments, at the Paris Fair on May 3. (Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images)
The company is only accepting applicants between the ages of 25 and 45, who make at least €450 a month ($687), and who have no criminal record.

Rents in Barcelona soared almost 30 per cent between 2014 and 2017, and the average apartment now goes for more than €900 a month -- about half the average monthly salary.

But the city, which mandates a minimum apartment size of 40 square metres, says it hasn't issued a licence for the project and has no intention of doing so.

"Fortunately, piling up people is prohibited. The law does not allow this type of dwelling," Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, told reporters yesterday.

Haibu, which defends its plan as being better than hostels or homelessness, says it will export the idea to Copenhagen, Paris or Rome if Barcelona rejects it.

Hive living may sound extreme, but it's simply a contraction of a growing trend — microapartments.

Kong Kyung-soon, who lives alone, does kitchen work in a space that consists of a toilet, bathroom and kitchenette in her tiny rented apartment that has two square metres of living space in Seoul, Korea. (Lee Jae-Won/Reuters)
In Hong Kong — ranked as the world's least affordable housing market for eight years straight  — there has been a 52 per cent jump in sales of apartments smaller than 27.9 square metres; roughly the size of two parking spaces.

A quick search of the internet turns up new ultra-cramped apartment projects in Vilnius, Lithuania (25 square metres), Chicago, and Wolfville, N.S., where student digs that go for $1,000 a month during the academic year double as hotel rooms in the summer.

A San Francisco developer built a high-rise full of 23-square-metre studios that rent for $1,850 US a month, and has plans to cram four-bedroom apartments into just 60 square metres.

And there are similar projects on the go in Cape Town, Finland and Minneapolis.

Although there are limits to what people will accept, even in the tightest markets, as evidenced by the reaction to a listing last month for a 13-square-metre New York City apartment, where the mini-fridge sat atop the bunk bed. The asking price was $1,375 a month.

In this December 2015 photo, Stage 3 Properties co-founder Christopher Bledsoe demonstrates a retractable bed that turns into a sofa in one of the apartment units at the Carmel Place building in New York, part of a city-sponsored 'micro-apartment' project. (Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)
It's all a stark contrast to the reality of older, wealthier people who live ever-roomier homes.

A recent study produced by a British housing supply firm crunched 1,000 real estate listings from 13 countries and came to the conclusion that Canadians have the world's most spacious dwellings, measuring 150 square metres on average. Americans were close behind, at 130 square metres, followed by Kiwis.  

Hong Kong was judged to have the smallest average home size, at just 31.9 metres. Surely a reflection of all those teeny-tiny apartments.

A few words on …

The political legacy of Puerto Rico's hurricane disaster.

Quote of the moment

"I was preparing for this sort of thing. You run risks."

- Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right front runner in Brazil's presidential election, speaks from his hospital bed after being stabbed in the stomach during a campaign rally yesterday. He underwent emergency surgery to repair extensive damage from the 12-centimetre-deep wound.

Brazilian right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro gestures after being stabbed in the stomach during a campaign rally in Juiz de Fora in southern Brazil on Thursday. (Raysa Leite/AFP/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

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Today in history

Sept. 7, 1995: Jacques Parizeau poses the 1995 Quebec referendum question

The Quebec Premier called his question "clear and honest," but at 43 words and with two subordinate clauses, there was plenty of room for doubt. The campaigns for the Oct. 30 referendum were labelled "Oui" and "Non." It was up to the voters to figure out just what they were agreeing or disagreeing with.

Jacques Parizeau unveils his blueprint for Quebec sovereignty which includes a long-awaited - and controversial - referendum question. 6:30

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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.