J.R. Smith feud with Olivia Harlan-Dekker, Twitter response

NBA star J.R. Smith touched off a feud with Sam Dekker and his wife this week after saying Dekker was the only teammate he disliked during his time in the NBA.

“Throughout my whole career, there’s only one teammate I don’t like,” Smith told Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson on the NFL star’s All Things Covered podcast.

“He know that. Everybody else I’m cool with. Man, this dude Sam Dekker. This dude. He said some bulls*** on the bus one day, talking some Trump s***. And I just wasn’t having it.

“The question he asked, it’s a thought pattern. You were taught that. It’s the hate you give. The privilege he has was taught to him, and he took heed of it and run with it even further than somebody who was oblivious to what they have and the life they lived.

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“Because some people just go through their life not necessarily knowing, but not aware and privy to someone else’s circumstances. He’s a person who’s just very aware of somebody else’s circumstances and want to keep them there, as opposed to try to help him elevate up. And I don’t respect anything about that.”

The alleged disagreement would appear to be from 2018, when Smith and Dekker were briefly teammates on the Cavaliers.

Olivia Harlan-Dekker, the daughter of NBA TV commentator Kevin Harlan, caught wind of the allegations and a Twitter war broke out with escalating accusations and confusion. First, Harlan-Dekker, a reporter for ESPN, called the insinuations “Extremely inaccurate and unfair.” And said to “Consider the source.”

Dekker, who is currently playing in the Turkish Basketball League, tweeted that he was “blindsided” by Smith’s dislike, according to Deadspin. Dekker deleted the tweet.

“Well I am just as confused as y’all,” Dekker wrote. “I’m pretty simple, I’ve never been one to get into politics. Especially ‘Trump s***.’ I’ve never been a Trump guy, so this blindsided me.”

Smith just won his second NBA title, alongside LeBron James, after the Lakers conquered the NBA bubble.

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Supply of PPE, vaccines would be jeopardized by investigation of COVID-19 response, Liberals say

The ability of the federal government to procure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), COVID-19 rapid tests and vaccines would be jeopardized if a Conservative motion calling for a sweeping investigation into the government’s pandemic response passes, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said today.

Anand said the extensive disclosure of documents requested by the Official Opposition — particularly those related to the purchase of PPE, medical devices and pharmaceuticals — could cause businesses to lose faith in the government’s ability to protect their sensitive trade information.

“As we are in the middle of the second wave and the number of COVID cases continues to increase, this is not the time for this motion to be passed,” Anand told reporters. 

“This is not the time to threaten and weaken our relationships with our suppliers, on whom Canadians’ health and safety depends.”

The comments come as the Liberal government urges MPs to reject the motion, which would direct the House of Commons health committee to probe the federal government’s COVID-19 response.

A final vote will take place in the Commons this afternoon around 3 p.m. ET.

If passed, the motion would empower the committee to call several cabinet ministers as witnesses and direct the government to hand over a trove of documents, emails and other records from a handful of departments.

It’s expected to pass with support from the NDP and Bloc Québécois despite public concerns raised by a variety of industry groups, companies and other experts that such a wide-ranging investigation could hamper the civil service as it manages the response to the pandemic’s second wave.

Part of the dispute comes down to who would get to choose what information to redact from the documents. The motion includes language providing for the withholding of any information that would interfere with “contractual or other negotiations between the Government of Canada and a third party.”

But it’s the House of Commons law clerk who would be making the decision of what particular information meets that threshold.

Anand warns that the House of Commons law clerk does not have the expertise in procurement to properly redact records that would surface through the probe. She said the Liberals proposed amending the language of the motion so that the Privy Council Office would make those decisions, but the Conservatives rejected that suggestion.

The Privy Council Office co-ordinates the actions of the government across departments and serves as the bureaucracy for the Prime Minister’s Office.

Opposition from health experts, industry

Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of the federal government’s COVID-19 immunity task force, also has concerns about the motion. Naylor told The Canadian Press in an email that the proposed study is too expansive and will ultimately create more work and distractions for the federal public service at a time when it is already working full out.

Last week, a major industry association said releasing confidential documents detailing the federal government’s business deals with suppliers of personal protective equipment and testing devices could hurt Canadian manufacturers and sully Canada’s global business reputation.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Canada is the latest to express concerns about the probe. In a letter to Health Canada, Pfizer says it wants to know how its commercial secrets will be protected.

Opposition parties have insisted there is sufficient protection for industry while accusing the Liberals of stirring fears.

The vote comes one week after the Liberal government survived a confidence vote on a separate Conservative motion that sought a special committee investigation into the WE Charity affair and other alleged examples of corruption.

The government has said today’s vote won’t be considered a matter of confidence.

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Phil Gould response food for thought for AFL grand final

Gould was accused of being one-eyed and grudging in his congratulations, but he stuck to his guns on Monday. And with his name – and their network – trending across social media, bosses at Nine, the owner of this masthead, would presumably be happy for Gould to play the villain in every game.

“They need to go back and listen again. They only hear what they want to hear. There is a difference between bias and honesty, I’m always honest,” Gould said on 2GB on Monday.

Cameron Smith and the Storm celebrate their grand final win on the whistle. Credit:Getty Images

Gould’s comments became a sideshow, and an acknowledgment that the television spectacle has become a huge part of the event. Whether you agreed with him or not, some would argue his commentary, and the fan engagement it provoked, helped take the grand final from sporting contest to prime time event.

His comments lit a fuse with many viewers, including those who had only a passing interest in league, or those in Melbourne who had only tuned in because the Storm were in the final. With so many people now watching with a device or phone in hand and keen to interact, Gould gave them plenty of ammunition to bond over.


Which brings us to the AFL grand final, held at night for the first time on Saturday, with its timeslot for next season and beyond a topic of fierce debate. On one side is the broadcaster, Channel Seven, which wants the grand final played in front of the biggest possible television audience – at night – and on the other the traditionalists, who want the focus to be on the football rather than the entertainment around it.

That is the choice facing the AFL, which ventured into this wider entertainment territory under lights on the weekend. Yes, many of the best matches through the season have been held at night for a long time but the grand final is a different beast. It’s about tapping into a wider market, particularly in the northern states, where the league is keen to leave a greater footprint. This is where the half-time entertainment also comes into play, for it helps add to the appeal of the overall event.

Brisbane outfit Sheppard was given the chance to headline the first half-time grand final show since 2012 and did a good job. The AFL will never be the NFL and boast a half-time array of mega stars that can overshadow the game itself but, nonetheless, it’s an important slot when tapping into the wider market.

The ratings for Saturday night’s clash, in which Richmond rubber-stamped a dynasty with three flags in four years, had executives at Seven West Media itching for more. It attracted 3.81 million viewers, the highest figure since 2016, when 4,121,000 people watched the Western Bulldogs humble Sydney. It was also up more than 30 per cent on the 2019 grand final, and gave Seven the largest prime time audience share from 6pm to midnight any network has enjoyed since 2001.


“It really celebrated the game with all the drama. The game was king but I thought the colour and drama of the game was complimented by being at night, no doubt,” Seven Melbourne’s chief Lewis Martin said.

But many Victorians, judging by the response on social media, would prefer more footy and less sideshow. Some fans were put out that the half-time entertainment was given more air time than analysis of the game itself, while Richmond captain Trent Cotchin and president Peggy O’Neal just like the tradition of the afternoon, and in O’Neal’s case are mindful of the need to appeal to families with young children.

The AFL has never been afraid to mess with tradition when necessary but the afternoon grand final at the MCG has remained a pillar.

Saturday’s clash boasted enough early drama, was a tight tussle to half-time and then had the late brilliance of Dustin Martin that it did not need a Gould-type remark from a Luke Hodge, Brian Taylor or Michael Voss to sharpen interest.

Gould’s comments undoubtedly would have sparked a response had the NRL final been in the afternoon.

But if the AFL wants its showpiece event to have mass appeal – and even to lift the broadcast rights fees it charges – Gould has shown there is no better time to be bold – or provocative – than in prime time.

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Alex McKinnon’s gesture to Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith after response to tragic tackle

‘‘I have no emotion when it comes to Cameron Smith these days,’’ McKinnon said this week. ‘‘I have forgiven everything that happened straight after the tackle, his response – I have forgiven him. It’s hard to hold on to hate. It really is. It’s wasted energy. It’s blinding.

‘‘At its worst, it can consume you and I’ll admit it did for a while there. There is no positive to being like that and, for that reason, I have moved past it and I hold no hard feelings at all.

Alex McKinnon on the ground after the tragic tackle in 2014 in Melbourne.Credit:Getty

‘‘The hard thing was for my family, my dad, to let it go. But I told them it didn’t do any of us any good at all to keep the hate. I talked with them about how it does not help anyone. And the family has been able to put it all to one side. My dad can now observe something that Smith has done and not see it in a negative light. Quite the opposite. And that has been some time in the making.

‘‘I work with [Knights coach] Adam O’Brien now and he has nothing but praise for Smith and [Storm coach] Craig Bellamy, and his love for Craig has certainly influenced my approach to the situation.’’

Smith has also been criticised for not reaching out to McKinnon after the accident.

‘‘I’ve got to accept that there was an attempt soon after it happened and my family wanted to protect me from that,’’ McKinnon said.

I am now looking for players like him. It’s my job to find the next Smith.

Alex McKinnon

The next move came from McKinnon. ‘‘I got his number from Matthew Johns and contacted him,’’ McKinnon said. ‘‘It’s just how it happened. My view of Smith has all changed now in my role as a scout with Newcastle. I see him in a totally different way. I watch what he does on the field, his interaction with players. I watch Smith the player without emotion. And I am now looking for players like him. It’s my job to find the next Smith.’’

So will McKinnon be cheering for the Storm tonight?

‘‘I used to hope they would lose,’’ he admitted. ‘‘In the past, I got something out of that for sure. Now I can just watch. To be honest, I’ll be watching it thinking what will it take for Newcastle to be there one day, and I’ll be upset that we are not there now.

“I don’t have any particular leaning. If it was Souths, I’d want them to win for Wayne [Bennett]. But I no longer want the Storm to lose because they are the Storm.’’

Gus goes extra mile

At one point in his stellar young career, even the keenest Penrith observers feared they had lost one of the club’s best talents, Jarome Luai. And for a while, they did.

‘‘Where’s Broadbridge?’’ asked then Panthers general manager of football Phil Gould as he cast his eye over the team sheet while watching a junior side a couple of years ago. Broadbridge was there, he’d just changed his name to what it is today, Luai.

‘‘We were living at his grandmother’s house and, while we were there, she wanted him to go under his name,’’ Jarome’s dad, Martin Luai, said. ‘‘So he did. He decided to change back a few years ago and I am so proud when I see him out there.’’


The Panthers had another reason to fear they had lost him. Martin did two years in jail for drug trafficking. It was a bad decision made while his family was under huge financial pressure. That was a serious concern for the Panthers for a number of reasons, not least of which Martin faced being deported to New Zealand and the family being torn apart. References from Cameron Ciraldo – who coached Jarome throughout his junior career – and Gould helped Martin remain in Australia.

‘‘Martin Luai has acted illegally, irresponsibly and, dare I say it, stupidly,’’ Gould wrote. ‘‘Acting out of a sense of desperation to provide for his family is no excuse. Jarome is a hard-working dedicated young man … the qualities of Jarome speaks volumes for the loving and disciplined upbringing his parents have provided.

‘‘Your honour, Martin Luai and his family are already paying dearly for his actions. I genuinely fear for the welfare of the children and their futures if Martin is to be deported on top of his current penalty of incarceration.’’

Mum’s the word

Nathan Cleary has used grand final week to defend his father, Ivan, and the controversial way he joined the Panthers. He also declared that his mum, Rebecca, is the true hero of the Cleary family.

‘‘Mum is the rock,’’ he said. ‘‘She has helped both of us so much. She is probably the main reason we have been able to turn it around this year. She is the support system. She is always willing to have a chat. I’m so grateful to have her.’’

Roosters close in on Suaalii

We told you last week about Joseph Suaalii dropping the Rabbitohs and following the Roosters on Instagram. It’s hard to ignore because he is getting close to knocking back rugby and signing a deal with the tricolours.

A deal is being prepared and those who know the young man say he has been in discussions with the Bondi club. The Roosters are clearly working on a succession plan for James Tedesco, who is already regarded as the best player in the NRL.

Tedesco is off contract at the end of next year. He will be offered a deal that will extend his stay until at least the end of 2023. Suaalii is on a small deal with Souths next year, but every indication is that he doesn’t want to be there. The attraction of playing under Roosters coach Trent Robinson is significant to a young player.

Dally M muddle

The Dally M farce has led to unfair online attacks on News Corp journalist Phil Rothfield. He has been slammed for a mistake by another journalist, who published an article criticising the award, and for News Corp publishing the winners – including the winner of the Dally M Medal, Jack Wighton – before the ceremony began.

As big an error as it was – and as much embarrassment as it has caused the company and the game – there was no malice or intent as far as this column is aware. But the issue here is what happened on Fox Sports’ NRL 360. Rothfield was on the show on Monday night. He already knew the points tally, knew the winner and knew there was an unfolding drama with the story having been published accidentally. His phone was running hot on air.

When asked about the result, he said he was hoping Nathan Cleary would win. He should not have been asked the question because he already knew the winner and, therefore, could not give a genuine answer.

The only answer Rothfield could have, and perhaps should have, given was a declaration there and then that he knew who had won and had already filed a story on it. The credibility of the show would not have been brought into question.


Equally concerning for a program that trades on its strong opinions and bags plenty of people for their errors, there was no mention of the stuff-up. The hosts of the show had the opportunity to come clean the next night and didn’t.

Sorry state

A group of officials on either side of the NSW-Queensland border are set to hand ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys his first significant defeat of 2020.

V’landys and NRL boss Andrew Abdo have backed and approved Karl Stefanovic’s behind-the-scenes Origin documentary, which was being shot for streaming service Stan. But now the blazer brigade, with support from Maroons coach Wayne Bennett, are set to block the move. V’landys won’t go down without a fight.

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While most states got thousands of people sleeping rough off the streets during COVID-19, Western Australia wound back its response

The thin walls of Neville Riley’s makeshift tent don’t do much to block the constant sound of passing cars and trains.

His is one of about 30 tents set up on a patch of sandy soil on the outskirts of Perth’s CBD, bordered by an overpass, a stormwater drain and the railway tracks.

On a wall nearby are the words: “Welcome to Tent City.”

“No other name we could come up with,” said Mr Riley.

A 45-year-old with arms covered in prison tattoos, Mr Riley said it is not safe in Tent City.

“It gets cold, you got rubbish lying around, we got no bins down here — not even toilets for the ladies to go to the toilet, there’s no washbasins of no sort.”

“It’s just like living in the jungle with no security of any sort at all.”

When the pandemic hit Australia, most states got thousands of people sleeping rough off the streets and into emergency accommodation like hotels and backpackers’ hostels.

But when the virus failed to gain a foothold in WA, the State Government wound back its response. It stopped looking for emergency COVID-19 accommodation in places like hotels and rec centres for people like Mr Riley.

Neville Riley said he did not feel safe at the camp.(ABC News: Alex Mann)

WA Minister for Community Services Simone McGurk said her Government’s response was more of a trial.

“We were ready to do more but we didn’t need to,” she said.

“It was really a health response to make sure that we had eyes on whether that would be effective if we needed to get people off the street quickly.”

But leaked correspondence seen by the ABC’s Background Briefing program shows how many of the state’s NGOs believe that response was an incredible missed opportunity.

Email called the response ‘reactionary and uncoordinated’

Tent City is the place that put homelessness on Perth city’s political agenda but it’s just the most visible sign of a problem that’s been simmering in towns across WA for years.

There are more than 15,000 households on the public housing waiting list in WA.

A few years ago, that number went down but it’s on the rise again this year.

Mr Riley said he’s been waiting 5 years.

“You forget about things like that there because you’re waiting too long,” he said.

“How long are we going to wait for? Why do we put ourselves in a newspaper? Why do we talk to the media? Why? Because we’re homeless.”

When COVID-19 hit Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, more than 7,000 people were given shelter.

Those cities’ councils and state governments used the pandemic to rethink their approach to homelessness.

But in Perth, just 24 people were placed in a CBD hotel, while another 47 were put up in a youth and recreation centre.

In one letter co-signed by 22 organisations working in the homelessness sector from April this year, the response is labelled “reactionary and uncoordinated and not informed by the collaborative work undertaken in good faith”.

One of the signatories was Amanda Hunt, the CEO of Uniting Care West.

“We were agitating for radical change because of the old adage [about] an opportunity and a crisis, thinking that, you know, perhaps if we thought differently, we could actually come up with a solution that hadn’t been thought of before,” she said.

“At the time, we were all feeling like there had to be a better way.”

That sentiment was reiterated one month later, in another letter seen by Background Briefing, by representatives from Shelter WA and the WA Alliance to End Homelessness.

“It [is] telling that it has been the comparable Departments of Communities and/or Housing in QLD, NSW, VIC and Adelaide that have proactively facilitated hundreds and hundreds of rough sleepers to get off the street, fast-tracked strategies funded and put in place to then secure longer-term housing options,” the letter reads.

Its authors warned they were witnessing an escalation of anxiety and mental health issues in those sleeping rough — and it wasn’t good enough for the Government to blame a lack of available accommodation.

“We [are] concerned that the current position of government is not to take people off the streets unless there are housing options they can go to.

“We noted your comment that this position has been crafted in part as a response to the acute shortage of social housing.

“This is a challenge other states face also, but the re-purposing of vacant accommodation, fast-tracking of repairs to vacant public housing and innovations such as rental subsidy are among measures that are being rolled out.”

Ms Hunt said they wanted the State Government to take the next step.

“What we really wanted was a commitment to more housing.”

The WA State Government recently announced new spending to build and repair public housing.

But at the same time, it’s also demolishing old ones.

Since Labor came to power in March 2017, the total number of available houses actually went backwards by more than 1,000.

“That has been an absolute challenge,” said Ms McGurk.

Labor Member for Fremantle Simone McGurk.
Minister for Community Services Simone McGurk said the WA Government remained focused on long-term solutions to homelessness.(ABC News: Andrew O’Connor)

“Some of the areas where we’ve decommissioned some of the housing stock is because it was so old and completely unacceptable.”

It means that although the Government is investing in addressing homelessness, it’s still struggling to provide long-term housing solutions for people like those shacked up in tents next to the train line.

“I’m confident that with our housing-first policy, with new builds in social and public housing and working in partnership with the community sector, we can start to make a difference,” said Ms McGurk.

“Having said that, people who are street-present and the sort of congregations or tent cities which we’re seeing in East Perth at the moment aren’t acceptable.”

“They’re not safe for people there, they’re not safe for the public.”

“If need be, [the Government would look at] emergency accommodation for those people. So they’ve got a safe place, a roof over their heads and the proper supports that they need.”

Falling through eviction moratorium gaps

If Tent City is the most visible sign of homelessness in WA, forced evictions are one of its hidden causes.

After COVID-19 arrived, the State Government put in place a moratorium on evictions from private and public housing.

In spite of this, people were still being forced from their public housing homes.

Dorinda Abraham was one of those facing eviction.

Dorinda and Margaret Abraham, Dorinda left is wearing a black hoodie and smiling.
Dorinda Abraham and her sister Margaret are living together after Margaret was forced to leave her home.(ABC News: Alex Mann)

Lately, life for Ms Abraham and her extended family has become much more complicated.

A few months ago, her two sisters Hayley and Margaret moved into her house along with their kids.

They were escaping violent partners and had been evicted from their own houses.

Now, 13 people are living in her house.

On top of that, after a long series of neighbourhood complaints, the WA Department of Housing served Dorinda with an eviction notice.

Hayley, left, and Margaret, right, standing against the wall of the house they have now moved into.
Hayley and Margaret, sisters of Dorinda Abrahams, have moved into the house with their children.(ABC News: Alex Mann)

Ms Abraham decided to fight it in court and on Wednesday had her case adjourned until next year.

“I just been very stressed and thinking, what’s going to happen? Am I going to lose my home and what’s going to happen with my kids and stuff?” she told Background Briefing.

Jesse Noakes, a legal advocate who has represented both Ms Abraham and her sister Margaret in their fight against eviction, said her case is still very much up in the air.

“I would hate to see the same thing [as happened to her sisters] happen in Dorinda’s case,” said Mr Noakes.

“It would be the third sister in three years to lose her home to a three-strikes eviction, and this time they’d all be out on the street.”

“It would really be ‘three strikes, you’re out’ in this case.”

The three-strikes rule

In recent years, WA has evicted tenants from around 600 public housing properties per annum.

Most of those are for unpaid rent but others are for disruptive behaviour, under what’s called a three-strikes eviction policy.

But finding a new place will be near impossible for anyone who loses their home.

An aerial shot of the inner-city Perth suburb of Mount Hawthorn
Perth’s housing market has become competitive as people return to the city.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

With COVID-19 under control, the economy back up and running, and sections of the mining industry at full steam, there’s been an influx of people returning to Perth.

“We’ve got a private rental market that is at an all-time low. The vacancy rate is approaching just 1 per cent. Listings are down more than 50 per cent on this time last year.”

Racism and discrimination have also been found to be widespread in the private rental market.

“So for people who are already locked out or who are facing the door like Margaret and Dorinda, trying to get back inside anytime soon is like climbing Everest with a blindfold for an Aboriginal family to access the property market in WA at the moment.”

Betsy Buchanan, a veteran advocate and a colleague of Jesse Noakes, said if the Government is serious about addressing the problem of homelessness, the first step should be stopping the evictions.

“The Government evicts hundreds of people every year and with Aboriginal people, that would be dozens and ultimately thousands of children.

“That just creates a crisis that’s just rolling on and rolling on”, she said.

The WA Department of Housing said in a statement that it doesn’t comment on individual cases and that it doesn’t keep statistics on the overall number of children evicted from public housing.

Betsy Buchanan says that’s not good enough.

“How can you possibly end homelessness when you’ve got a department that is supposed to be housing people, that is basically committed to un-housing them?”

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‘He shot himself in the foot’: Seniors repelled by Trump’s pandemic response

“He knew everything all the way back in February and he didn’t take the precautions … he didn’t believe in science. He doesn’t believe in doctors,” Montesinos said. “He always tries to blame somebody else, like a little kid.”

Montesinos, who is from West Palm Beach, Florida, said he still plans to vote for Republicans in other races.

“It hurt me so much” to hear the president recently dismiss the pandemic by saying Americans were “pandemic-ed out,” Montesinos added. “He was going to be the best president the U.S. ever had if he had taken care of the coronavirus.”

Trump is attempting a repeat of his first stunning victory by banding together a base that’s still mostly white, largely male, less educated and older.

Underpinning Trump’s success in 2016 was, in part, an army of seniors that made up a large slice of the electorate and backed him by 7 percentage points over Hillary Clinton, according to national exit poll data. Older voters are among the most likely to vote and have sided with Republican nominees in every presidential election since 2004, reinforcing Trump four years ago and helping tilt key battleground states in his favor.

But this cycle, former Vice President Joe Biden is cutting into Trump’s coalition, making significant gains with older voters across the U.S., particularly in must-win states for Trump. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found the two men running even among likely voters 65 and older nationally — 48% to 49%.

In Florida and North Carolina, two states Trump narrowly won in 2016 and considered crucial for him to win in 2020, the president’s advantage over Biden with seniors is slightly better than his national standing but still well short of his margins over Clinton.

Trump leads Biden by 8 points in Florida and 10 points in North Carolina among likely voters over 65, according to a pair of ABC News/Washington Post polls — margins slashed by roughly half compared to 2016 when he carried this demographic by 17 points and 23 points, respectively, in the two states.

Trump campaign aides have grown weary of the president’s declining support among older Americans, a group they know is critical to his reelection chances, especially in states like Florida and North Carolina, sources told ABC News. Perhaps the most telling sign of concern in Trump circles over seniors is the president’s campaign schedule, with a rally set for Friday in The Villages, a sprawling mecca for retirees in a conservative pocket of central Florida.

“With the President at the helm,” Trump campaign spokesperson Ken Farnaso said in a statement, “seniors can rest assured their voice will be heard in Washington.”

In follow-up interviews with more than a dozen independent and Republican voters over 65 who participated in recent ABC News/Washington Post polls in Florida and North Carolina, including some who voted for Trump in 2016, most said they’re repelled by the president after four years. His fumbled response to the pandemic and derogatory rhetoric outweigh his much-touted economic gains, the voters said.

‘Trump just wants to get reelected’

“It was a really hard decision to make. From an economic perspective, I would be better served by President Trump,” said Cindy Cook, an independent voter in North Carolina. “I have trouble respecting President Trump. I find him to be offensive to many people. … He takes advantage of people — [Dr. Anthony] Fauci is one of them.”

The 68-year old from Durham, where Biden stopped last weekend for a campaign event, voted a mixed ballot, she said, but at the top of the ticket she chose Trump’s rival.

Al, a Republican living in Broward County who is now voting for Biden after backing Trump in 2016, said he took particular issue with how Trump has targeted Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases, amid the pandemic.

“No reason for it. [Trump’s] wrong. Fauci knows what’s going on. Trump just wants to get reelected and make everything he does terrific, but he hasn’t done anything,” he said.

The president has ramped up attacks on Fauci in the final days before the election, blasting the leading member of his own coronavirus task force at rallies and as a “disaster” on a recent all-staff campaign call.

“I believe Fauci. I don’t believe anything Trump says unless somebody of substantial means can verify it. Because he just lies all the time,” said Al, who noted that while he’s supporting the Democratic nominee this election he will still be “a Republican now and a Republican after Trump.”

A path to victory for the president runs through the Sunshine state. In 2016, Trump won Florida by just over 100,000 votes, after Florida voted for Obama twice, solidifying its reputation as a swing state.

Trump’s path to victory also winds through North Carolina — a bellwether known for split-ticket voting after electing both Trump and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in 2016 — where changing demographics and polarization between urban and rural areas have helped maintain the state’s purple hue.

It’s a state that got behind Obama only once in 2008. In 2016, Trump edged out Clinton by fewer than 4 percentage points, offsetting Democrats’ strength in the cities and suburbs by running up the score in whiter, more rural stretches.

Arlie Thompson of exurban Union County, North Carolina, outside of Charlotte, told ABC News he’s voting for Biden, believing Trump’s response to the defining crisis of his first term eclipsed any progress made with an economy he inherited from Obama.

“He certainly dealt himself a blow by not dealing with the pandemic like he should have,” said Thompson, 77. “The economy is a mess now.”

Voters turned off by age-old attacks

Throughout the election, Trump and his campaign have made targeting Biden, who turns 78 shortly after Election Day and would be the oldest sitting president if elected, as mentally inept and merely a feeble puppet of the “radical left.”

Trump has relentlessly attacked Biden as mentally “shot,” mocked his memory, and used campaign gaffes to paint the former vice president to be in mental decline — efforts that have turned off some older voters.

Trump, 74, is only three years younger than Biden.

“With my age, of course I get insulted,” said Olive Norwell, 93, when asked about the president targeting Biden’s age and mental health. Norwell, an independent who’s voting for Biden from Vero Beach, Florida, a ruby red area along the eastern shore, added, “but [Trump] himself is 74 — he’s not that far behind.”

Days after testing positive for coronavirus, and with polls showing his support among older Americans slipping, Trump released a video targeting seniors that looked to reassure them the pandemic was under control. The president called seniors “my favorite people in the world,” even casting himself as one.

Just hours later, though, the president posted an edited photo mocking Biden by depicting him in what appears to be a nursing home, sitting in a wheelchair, with the “P” in the former vice president’s campaign logo crossed out to read, “Biden for Resident.”

“It’s the pot calling the kettle black,” said Rick, 76, a Biden supporter from Wake County, a Democratic stronghold in North Carolina that contains Raleigh and its suburbs, and boasts the highest population of any county between the two Carolinas.

“President Trump is the same age I am,” said Dianne Wilkes, 74, who lives in Raleigh. “Those remarks that he’s making, it’s showing discrimination. … It’s not going to help him one iota.”

“[Voters] also are going to be looking at how he’s handled and what he says about COVID-19 and the ludicrous remarks that are not scientifically-based,” she continued. “I think he shot himself in the foot.”

Wilkes, a more than 50-year independent voter who backed Clinton in 2016, said she’s voting for Biden. She’s also supporting Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, saying she changed her mind about Cal Cunningham, Tillis’ Democratic challenger and an Army veteran, after his extramarital relationship was revealed earlier this month.

Biden tests Trump’s grip on seniors

With an opportunity to peel off some of Trump’s base, the Biden campaign has made a concerted effort to court seniors, both in their advertising strategy and travel itinerary. His team has been running multiple ads in battleground states casting the former vice president as the true protector of Medicare and Social Security, and he made multiple trips to Florida in October.

The candidate’s most recent visit to Florida focused almost entirely on his pitch to seniors, hitting heavily Democratic Broward County and honing in on Trump’s declaration at a recent campaign rally that COVID-19 affects “virtually nobody,” mostly “elderly people with heart problems and other problems.”

“He was talking about seniors. He was talking about you,” Biden said, speaking at a senior center in Pembroke Pines, Florida. “You deserve respect and peace of mind, but you’re not getting it because to Donald Trump, you’re expendable. You’re forgettable.”

In Johnston County, North Carolina, which is considered Trump country having voted for the president by 30 points four years ago, one voter is still uncommitted, vacillating between Trump, who he supported before, or Biden.

“I think Joe fits the mold of a person I would most likely want to see as a leader,” Dan, 77, who declined to give his last name, said. “Trump makes a lot of smoke.”

Asked if the election were held today and he had to choose, he said, “I’d vote for Joe.”

ABC News’ John Verhovek contributed reporting.

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Coronavirus: Evidence behind NI’s Covid-19 response published

Earlier on Tuesday Prof Young said there was “strong evidence” that

coronavirus restrictions imposed in the Derry City and Strabane council area are making a difference.

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Finland suspends extraditions to Hong Kong, prompting response from Beijing

FINLAND has suspended the extradition of suspected criminals to Hong Kong, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

President Sauli Niinistö on Friday approved Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson’s (SFP) proposal to suspend the application of the extradition treaty between Finland and Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.

The decision is linked to the strict security laws imposed on Hong Kong by China in July, a development that kindled a response from Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto (Greens). The much-criticised law grants authorities extensive rights to make arrests on grounds of national security and clamp down on crimes such as separatism, subversion and collusion with foreign nations.

Helsingin Sanomat on Friday wrote that dozens of people have already been arrested under the law and several opposition members have fled Hong Kong. China, meanwhile, has utilised the law to issue warrants for the arrests of six pro-democracy activists living overseas.

By suspending the treaty, Finland is following in the footsteps of countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The concern is that suspects extradited at the request of authorities in the semi-autonomous city could be transferred to and convicted in the not independent court system of Mainland China.

China responded to the suspension without delay, by means of a firmly worded and to-the-point statement on the website of the Chinese Embassy in Finland: “The Chinese side urges the Finnish side to abide by the international law and the basic norms governing international relations, stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs in any forms to avoid harms to China-Finland relations.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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Coronavirus response sees Australia, Vietnam and Taiwan boosted on Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index

Australia, Vietnam and Taiwan have seen their power in Asia rise partly due to their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

That is according to the Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index for 2020, which ranks 26 nations’ power in the region according to a range of measures — from military capability and defence networks to diplomatic and cultural influence.

The index shows the United States remains the most powerful country in Asia but its power is continuing to decline in the face of Chinese ascendency, as well as a loss of prestige from its chaotic response to the pandemic.

“Handling the pandemic was a necessary but not sole condition for improving a country’s regional standing in Asia,” Herve Lemahieu, Asian power and diplomacy program director at the Lowy Institute, told the ABC.

Australia surpassed South Korea on the index this year, to be listed as the sixth most powerful country in Asia. It followed the US, China, Japan, India and Russia.

The military honour guard performs during the National Day celebrations in Taipei.
Taiwan’s military honour guard performs during National Day celebrations in the country.(AP: Chiang Ying-ying)

Rising China, sluggish India

Taiwan gained the most in terms of its international reputation, which Mr Lemahieu said contrasted with China’s “more belligerent diplomatic attitude this year in terms of the rise of wolf-warrior diplomacy”.

While Australia has seen its relations with China decline during 2020, it is not alone.

Beijing has found itself in diplomatic stoushes with India over the countries’ Himalayan border, with the UK over its banning of Huawei from the British 5G network, and with Canada over China’s detention of several of its nationals, to name just a few.

China has also clashed with Western powers over increased oppression of dissidents in Hong Kong, the mass detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and Beijing’s ambitious territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Indian soldiers stand in a formation after disembarking from a military transport plane.
Tensions between India and China are at their highest point in decades.(Reuters: Danish Siddiqui)

While China’s power remained unchanged according to the Asia Power Index, India lost its status as a “major power”.

The Lowy Institute said India’s position as a future competitor to China was “far less certain” because of the widespread economic and social damage unleashed by the pandemic.

The country has officially recorded more than 7.4 million coronavirus cases to date and at least 113,000 deaths.

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample of a shopkeeper during random testing for COVID-19 in a market in Gauhati, India.
A health worker takes a nasal swab sample from a shopkeeper in Gauhati, India.(AP: Anupam Nath)

“The resources for India’s rise are certainly there, but the point we’re making is it’s going to take much longer than many people realise.”

China, by contrast, has seen its economy bounce back following the worst of the crisis there.

And in what the Lowy Institute deems the “new space race” for soft power — responding to the challenge of climate change — China has recently committed to carbon neutrality by 2060.

“China’s rapid recovery will further entrench the country’s economic centrality in its region, while the relative importance of the US economy in Asia will likely decline,” Mr Lemahieu said.

American flags are displayed together with Chinese flags on top of a trishaw in Beijing.
The United States’ reputation has been damaged by its handling of the COVID-19 crisis.(AP: Andy Wong)

Australia’s strategic position favourable, but climate poses a threat

Asia’s economy had been projected to be larger than the rest of the world combined by 2020, but coronavirus has slammed the breaks on.

“The long-term economic fallout for [Asia] is pronounced, and that is a huge surprise,” Mr Lemahieu said.

Japan, for example, is expected to take until 2030 to fully recover from the economic consequences of the pandemic.

When unveiling the Government’s defence strategy in June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia needed to prepare for a post-coronavirus world that was “poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly”.

Australia’s increased power on the Lowy index was not only due to its effective handling of the pandemic, but also influence in South-East Asia and the Pacific, where it has directed foreign aid to assist economic recovery.

“Australia carries less ‘great power baggage’ and has demonstrated it can be far nimbler in South-East Asia than its US ally,” Mr Lemahieu said.

Canberra’s military capacity is dwarfed by that of Washington’s but the Lowy Institute has ranked Australia higher than the US in terms of defence diplomacy, citing its ability to maintain defence partnerships with countries such as Japan, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Children gather to get a closer look at an Australian Army Black Hawk helicopter in East Timor.
Children gather to get a closer look at an Australian Army helicopter near Dili in Timor Leste.(Supplied: Department of Defence)

Along with New Zealand, Australia’s island nation status and friendly relations with immediate neighbours, see it ranked as having the most favourable strategic geography in Asia.

But on the Lowy indicator of resilience, Australia declined this year due to major ecological threats and greater dependence on refined fuel imports than any other economy in Asia.

“Australia’s economic contraction in the wake of the pandemic is also set to be more pronounced than that of either Taiwan or Vietnam,” Mr Lemahieu said.

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