Barbs flying despite ‘truce’

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama and Mitt Romney may have officially suspended their election campaigns to concentrate on relief for victims of hurricane Sandy, but with just a week to go before the election, it’s clear some political foot soldiers and commentators have not got the message.
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Mr Romney five times ignored questions put to him at an Ohio event – officially a storm relief fund-raiser – about comments he once made advocating stripping funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Instead, he told the audience in the city of Kettering: ”We have heavy hearts, as you know, with all of the suffering going on. I appreciate what you have done.” Reporters at the event noted women showing off T-shirts that read ”Obama – you’re fired”.

Having spent Monday night at the White House keeping tabs on the storm’s progress and overseeing the emergency response, Mr Obama visited a Red Cross shelter in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.

”We certainly feel profoundly for all the families whose lives have been upended … The most important message I have for [those affected] is that America’s with you,” Mr Obama said.

But even before the storm surge had peaked, high-profile conservative columnists attacked the President for playing politics.

”He says he’s not concerned about the impact on the elections,” Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News.

”I’m sure he’s very sincere on that. It is a little odd that he shows up in the [White House] Briefing Room, where he hasn’t shown up in the Briefing Room for about, what, a month-and-a-half on Libya, or for everything else for that matter? Then you get the photo-ops of him in the Situation Room deploying, I guess, the utility crews who will restore power all over America.”

Meanwhile, a Salon南京夜网 commentator wrote that Mr Romney’s Ohio event was ”surreal enough to be a campaign parody, with the candidate comparing the federal government’s hurricane relief efforts to the time he and some friends had to clean up a football field strewn with rubbish and paper products”.

Perhaps the weirdest political comments on the storm came from Michael Brown, the Bush administration’s emergency management chief who was widely blamed for that administration’s lacklustre response to hurricane Katrina.

On Sunday night, he accused the President of getting involved too soon. He stood by those comments on Tuesday.

One man who has garnered universal praise for his response is the combative New Jersey governor Chris Christie, one of Mr Romney’s most high-profile surrogates. On Monday, he attacked the Democrat mayor of Atlantic City before praising Mr Obama for his response.

How the storm will have an impact on the election is unclear. Three of the eight major daily tracking polls have been suspended.It is also unclear whether its impact could hinder people from getting to the polls next Tuesday. If that is the case, polling places could open longer.

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Syrian warplanes bomb the capital

A SYRIAN fighter jet has hit targets inside Damascus for the first time, a watchdog says, as air strikes pounded rebel bastions around the country and an air force general was shot dead.
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The fighter dropped four bombs on the eastern Damascus neighbourhood of Jobar, near the opposition-held suburb of Zamalka, where rebel fighters were in fierce clashes with regime troops, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Only helicopter gunships had previously been used to strafe areas inside the capital, said the observatory’s director, Rami Abdel Rahman.

The strike came as state television reported that a Syrian air force general had been assassinated in Damascus.

”As part of their campaign to target national personalities and scientists, armed terrorist groups assassinated Air Force General Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi in the Damascus district of Rukn al-Din,” state television said. It gave no further details.

The general was a member of the Syrian Air Force command and was shot dead on Monday evening as he left a friend’s home, a security source in Damascus said on condition of anonymity.

The regime has intensified air strikes against rebel-held areas in recent days, with more than 60 raids on Monday, the most in a single day so far, the observatory said.

The north-western town of Maaret al-Numan, a key supply route between Damascus and Aleppo in the north seized by rebels this month, was also hit, with seven civilians killed including four children, it said.

Tuesday also saw clashes between rebels and troops backed by Palestinian fighters at the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, home to 148,500 people, near Damascus.

Anwar Raja, spokesman for the pro-regime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said its forces clashed for about an hour with rebels trying to infiltrate the camp but there were no casualties. More than 510,000 Palestinian refugees are living in Syria.


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The view

IT STARTED a year ago with The Slap. That masterfully crafted series ticked all the boxes in terms of Australian drama production, giving ABC viewers something substantial to engage with and affirming the value of the national broadcaster. This was the kind of series Aunty should be making.
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Its arrival marked the end of a protracted period of fitful and generally unexceptional ABC drama offerings. The upswing in production, spurred by the Rudd government’s injection of much-needed funding in 2009, is now appreciable.

This year has had a range of offerings, from The Straits and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries to Jack Irish and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, with Devil’s Dust to come. The quality has varied, but there’s undeniably more depth and diversity on the slate.

Now, like a bookend to a year that started with The Slap, comes the six-part anthology Redfern Now, which premieres Thursday, November 1. Produced, written and directed by indigenous Australians, it also offers a timely and topical view of urban Australia, albeit from a notably different perspective. Its skilfully realised stories are rich in nuance, restrained in style and, at least on the basis of the first two, ”Family” and ”Joyride”, concerned to end on an optimistic note.

The series focuses on a part of the country that’s been largely absent from our screens, except as a location for negative news stories. Redfern Now gives the suburb of the title and its community a face, a distinctive spirit and a compelling vitality.

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Oliver gets feel for an Americain fairytale

French perfection … Melbourne Cup favourite Americain strides out at Werribee recently.PUNTERS always rally around a fairytale come Melbourne Cup time, and for those investors with a decent memory and a bit more than a fleeting interest in the sport, the standout in the bad-story-turned-dream-result category this year is undoubtedly Damien Oliver and Americain.
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This year’s Melbourne Cup marks 10 years since Oliver’s memorable victory on board Irish raider Media Puzzle, an emotion-charged win that came just days after his brother Jason was killed when he fell from a horse in a barrier trial in Perth.

On that occasion, Oliver was torn between immense grief and his savage need for competition, eventually producing a winning ride and a tearful salute to the heavens that will be forever remembered as one of the most touching moments in Australian sport and eventually the subject of a feature film.

Ten years later and Oliver is under the microscope again before the Melbourne Cup, but this time he is besieged by a betting scandal that threatens not only his integrity but also his career; the question this year is whether the champion jockey can triumph over adversity again.

At Werribee on Wednesday, when faced with a pack of racing and non-racing media, Oliver happily answered questions about Americain and how he came to have a seat on the 2010 Melbourne Cup winner, but when questioned regarding the ongoing Racing Victoria investigation into an alleged $10,000 bet he had placed on a rival runner, he played a straight bat. ”I don’t know anything about that [the investigation]. It’s just business as usual,” he said.

Oliver’s resolve during the investigation has been nothing short of steely. He was sacked from the Caulfield Cup ride on My Quest For Peace, and missed a ride on Cox Plate failure Green Moon after the betting scandal broke, but won the Thousand Guineas on Commanding Jewel. With rumour and scuttlebutt buzzing around the racing industry as to his potential betting activity, Oliver admitted that the offer to ride Americain came as a surprise.

”I was actually driving home from Ballarat and I nearly ran off the road. It was really exciting and a great opportunity for me,” he said.

At Werribee he was again focused on his work as he took Americain over 2000 metres with stablemate Shahwardi to complete their Melbourne Cup preparation. ”He’s an amazing horse, he’s in great condition and in great form, and it’s a great opportunity,” he said of Americain.

”From afar he’s such a big and imposing horse but I was really taken by his athleticism today. He’s really light on his feet and he’s got some great acceleration, and even through the line today was the best part of his work, after the line he just wanted to keep going.”

Shahwardi led out his stablemate in the gallop and maintained a four-length break on Americain until the final 50m when Oliver comfortably reduced the margin to a length at the post without asking his horse for an effort. Shortly after the line, Americain had gone four lengths clear of Shahwardi to highlight his finishing strength. ”As we know, he’s a great two-miler, and when he gets to Flemington on a big track, that’s going to be his biggest asset,” Oliver said.

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TV deal great fillip for code

TELEVISION’S love of live sport has another happy union to announce, with Football Federation Australia set to trumpet a four-year, $160 million broadcasting rights deal with Fox Sports and SBS, beginning July 1 next year.
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Soccer is the third code to cash in on TV’s need for live action, following last year’s AFL contract for $1.25 billion and this year’s $1.02 billion NRL deal.

It is understood Fox Sports will pay about $32 million a year and SBS $7 million to broadcast the A-League’s five games a week, including one free-to-air game on SBS, together with World Cup qualifiers.

FFA’s current seven-year TV deal is $19 million a year, meaning soccer has doubled its broadcasting revenue.

Fans will see the Socceroos’ World Cup qualifiers live on Fox Sports and on one-hour delay with SBS.

Although the contract officially applies from July 1, 2013, four World Cup qualifiers – against Oman, Japan, Jordan and Iraq – will be played before that date and shown on SBS on one-hour delay.

The new deal allows SBS, which has paid $25 million for all quadrennial FIFA World Cup tournaments until 2022, more than just a four-week window every four years. It can now pitch to advertisers its year-round coverage, produce preview and review shows and cement a relationship with FFA and FIFA.

The new Fox Sports/SBS arrangement is a minor technical breach of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s anti-siphoning laws, which insist that the Socceroos must be shown first on free-to-air TV.

But the one-hour delay is a realistic solution given the fact Conroy was forced to grant the sport a dispensation in 2005 because pay TV was the only broadcaster interested.

FFA’s windfall comes off the back of record TV ratings and crowd figures after its decision to start the A-League season in October, clear of the shadow of the AFL and NRL finals.

Fox Sports is convinced it can convert those AFL and NRL fans disinterested in cricket to continue their subscriptions over summer, rather than churn and renew with Foxtel offers in March.

”Soccer can become a summer sport in Australia and give pay TV year round consistency of football,” one analyst said.

TV ratings for soccer have risen this season, from an average of 65,000 viewers a game to 95,000.

The match between Sydney FC and Newcastle, featuring the A-League’s two highest-profile drawcards, Sydney’s Alessandro del Piero and the Jets’ Emile Heskey, was the most watched A-League game ever, with 164,000 viewers.

A-League ratings are still small compared with NRL and AFL but both FFA and TV chiefs are confident they will rise as more young players develop, international stars are signed as marquee players and popular Socceroos return when their careers with European clubs conclude.

”It’s an investment for the future,” one executive involved in the negotiations said.

The record broadcasting deal was the final task of outgoing FFA chief executive Ben Buckley. Buckley will be replaced by former NRL chief David Gallop, who will start on November 13.

Unresolved ahead of an official FFA announcement next week is the programming of SBS’s one A-League game per week.

FFA is tempted to follow the lead of the AFL and NRL and schedule its free-to-air match of the round on Friday nights, but Saturday evenings have been the A-League’s big ratings winner during daylight savings.

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