Russian activist hospitalized: History shows crossing Kremlin can be a health hazard
Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories
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- Pyotr Verzilov, a critic of the Russian government and one of the people who helped launch the band Pussy Riot, has been hospitalized after a suspected poisoning.
- On the At Issue panel tonight: It was not, perhaps, until protesters were taken away in handcuffs yesterday that Ontarians realized they were dealing with a new era of politics.
- From spacecraft to soccer stadiums, the market for naming rights is booming.
- Missed The National last night? Watch it here
Russia's passion for poison
It took just two hours for Pyotr Verzilov to go from full health to the intensive care unit of a Moscow hospital last night.
The 30-year-old Russian-Canadian political activist first started to feel ill, lost his vision, then the ability to talk or walk, all before the ambulance arrived.
His friends say that doctors have yet to provide a medical diagnosis, but they believe they know the cause — poison.
These days, Verzilov is the publisher of Mediazona, an independent online news site that focuses on human rights issues in Russia and is frequently critical of Vladimir Putin.
He is also in a relationship with Veronika Nikulshina, a member of Pussy Riot, and was part of the group's on-field protest against political repression during the final of the FIFA World Cup in Moscow in July.
Poison has long been a favoured weapon of the Russian state and its intelligence services.
Sometimes the poison is delivered in spectacular fashion, like infamous 1978 assassination of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, who was pricked by a ricin-tipped umbrella as he crossed Waterloo Bridge in London.
Other times, the attacks have been more mundane.
In 2004, someone slipped TCCD, a substance 170,000 times more deadly than cyanide, into the soup of Viktor Yushchenko, then a candidate for president of Ukraine. He survived and went on to win the election, but the toxin disfigured him.
In 2008, Karinna Moskalenko, a well-known human rights lawyer, found mercury scattered inside her car. It was an attempt, she suspected, to keep her away from the trial of the men accused of killing her friend Politkovskaya.
The list goes on. Last year, the website Buzzfeed published an investigation that alleged 14 Kremlin critics had died under mysterious circumstances in Britain over the past several years.
Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichny, another U.K. resident, dropped dead while jogging in 2012 after he was served some soup containing gelsemium, a poisonous plant found only in the wilds of China.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, a leader of the Open Russia pro-democracy movement, survived two poisonings before he moved to the United States.
Why the Russians seem so fond of poison when there are so many other, less suspicious ways to kill, isn't so clear.
Perhaps it's a sense of history. The Grand Duke of Moscow, Dmitry Shemyaka, was felled by arsenic in his chicken dinner in 1453. Prince Mikhail Skopin-Shuisky, a rival to Tsar Vasili IV, was poisoned by his wife — on royal orders — in 1610.
But part of the appeal is clearly the fear factor of potential death lurking in every appetizer, tea pot, or spread across your front door.
Earlier today, the two men whom British authorities have identified as their prime suspects in the Novichok poisoning of ex-Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia gave an interview to Russian television.
"Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town," said Petrov.
"There's the famous Salisbury Cathedral, famous not only in Europe, but in the whole world. It's famous for its 123-metre spire, it's famous for its clock, one of the first-ever created in the world that is still working," Boshirov added, displaying a surprising amount of knowledge about Wiltshire attractions.
They said that their real goal had been to visit Stonehenge, 20 minutes outside of the city, but that the weather was too cold.
A monumental explanation for what authorities allege was a Kremlin-hatched plot.
A note to readers
I'm taking tomorrow off to celebrate the birthday of the late, great Maurice 'Mad Dog' Vachon. The National Today will return on Monday, Sept. 17. In the meantime, if you're enjoying the newsletter, would you consider recommending it to a friend? They can sign up here.
Rosemary Barton on what's coming up tonight on The National's At Issue panel:
It was not, perhaps, until protesters were taken away in handcuffs that Ontarians realized they were dealing with a new era of politics.
Such were the events of yesterday when members of the public and those elected were tossed from the Ontario legislature for causing such disruption as they loudly protested the reintroduction of a bill halving the size of Toronto's city council.
This was the product of a government that has decided to make its agenda happen and not let anything stand in its way. Not even the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The legislation, deemed earlier in the week by a judge to contravene voters' rights to freedom of expression, was tabled a second time Wednesday using the rare notwithstanding clause, so that it would not be struck down again.
The issue, of course, is whether it was the right move or whether it was heavy-handed, as some suggest.
At Issue panelist and Toronto Star national affairs writer Chantal Hébert suggests this may now mean Quebec becomes the next province to use the clause. She reminds us in her column in the Toronto Star that, "The notwithstanding clause is more widely seen as a legitimate tool in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada. But it would be simplistic to conclude that repeated use has normalized the practice."
Panelist and PostMedia columnist Andrew Coyne has plenty to say about it as well, via his Twitter account:
The NWC is not only overkill, but superfluous: it’s ridiculous in the present case, but even in more plausible cases the underlying premise ,that the courts and the government would simply and permanently remains at loggerheads, is wholly contradicted by experience… <a href="https://t.co/niWqAbUnJZ">https://t.co/niWqAbUnJZ</a>—@acoyne
Needless to say, At Issue will spend some time on this tonight, plus Parliament returns next week and the NDP and Liberals are holding pre-sitting caucus meetings.
Andrew, Chantal and HuffPost Canada's Althia Raj join me for my favourite night of the week.
See you tonight.
- Rosie Barton
WATCH: At Issue tonight on The National on CBC television and streamed online
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A view to a shill
That was one of the earliest lessons of the rocket age, when NASA sent John Glenn into orbit in February 1962 and gave him some orange-flavoured crystals to mask the horrible taste of the Mercury capsule's life-support system water. For decades thereafter, Tang successfully sold itself as the drink of astronauts.
Now comes news that the U.S. space agency is thinking of voyaging to the final frontier of marketing and auctioning off the naming rights for its future spacecraft and rockets.
"Is it possible for NASA to offset some of its costs by selling the naming rights?," Jim Bridenstine, the space body's chief administrator, wondered aloud at a forum earlier this month. "I'm telling you there is interest in that right now. The question is: Is it possible? The answer is: I don't know, but we want somebody to give us advice on whether it is."
The Washington Post cites a recent study by the Science and Technology Policy Institute which predicted that a for-profit space station could earn between $455 million US and $1.2 billion a year by hosting tourists and corporate events, renting itself out as a film set, and selling its naming rights.
After all, businesses seem to be willing to pay almost anything to affix their names and logos to sports stadiums, arenas, theatres and other public edifices.
For example, Scotiabank is paying a record-setting $800 million over 20 years for the rights to confuse hockey fans in Toronto who go looking for what used to be the Air Canada Centre.
In the United States, State Farm insurance just splashed out several hundred million for the naming rights to the arena where the NBA's Atlanta Hawks play, as well as the Glendale, Ariz., stadium that is home to the NFL's Cardinals.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished dead last in NFC South last season with a 5-and-11 record, missing the playoffs for the 10th straight year, just signed a decade-long deal to put a local hospital's name on the team's new practice facility. (Perhaps the idea is to have medical professionals resuscitate the DOA football franchise.)
Across the pond, a recent consultants' report pegged the value of stadium naming rights for the English Premier League's 20 teams at a collective £135.6 million ($231 million Cdn.) a season, an 80 per cent increase since 2013. The market price to get your corporate name attached to Old Trafford, Manchester United's home ground, is just over £26 million ($44 million Cdn.) a year, the survey suggests.
Or there are outside-the-box options. The Dubai metro system has been selling of the naming rights for its subway stops, labelling them after nearby shopping malls and banks, which has generated some $700 million US in fees over the past decade.
A high school in Pennsylvania just sold the naming rights to its library for $2,500 US a year to an insurance company. Students will now surf the internet and serve detention at the Tri-County General Insurance Library of the Lackawanna Trail High School.
There's also a new brew pub in Auburn, Maine, that is looking for a company to put its name on its restrooms; price negotiable.
The perfect opportunity to boldly go where many people have gone before.
A few words on ...
Taking your safety cues from corporate America.
People are keeping a close eye on their local Waffle House in Wilmington, North Carolina as Hurricane Florence approaches. The local chain famous for staying open 24-hours has become a metric for determining how bad a storm is going to be. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheMoment?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TheMoment</a> <a href="https://t.co/CfSXHvp0I8">pic.twitter.com/CfSXHvp0I8</a>—@CBCTheNational
Quote of the moment
"3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico ... This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!"
- U.S. President Donald Trump puts himself at the centre of the hurricane in a series of tweets this morning.
What The National is reading
- Florence's 'meandering' could mean Harvey-like hurricane flooding (CBC)
- Toronto Police gun violence strategy: 200 more officers, one less shooting (CBC)
- Worldwide cancer cases are 'rapidly growing' says report (CNN)
- Suu Kyi defends jail sentences for 2 journalists in Myanmar (CBC)
- China's 'toilet revolution' is a boon for Japanese manufacturers (Asia Times)
- Accused serial dine-and-dash dater could face 13 years in jail (USA Today)
- Business lessons from Roald Dahl's most famous books (Telegraph)
Today in history
Sept. 13, 1995: Michael Moore's northern affection
Michael Moore has always had a soft spot for Canada. Perhaps it's his Michigan upbringing. Or maybe it's the fact that his first documentary, Roger & Me, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, winning plaudits and the People's Choice Award. However, we probably could have done without the tribute of Canadian Bacon, his one and only feature film. The 1995 political comedy had a great cast, including John Candy, Alan Alda and Rip Torn. But it was painfully unfunny, and made just $164,000 at the box office.
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