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    The Heartland Institute's recent shaming has put the denialist camp on the defensive. But they've already done massive harm

    It's been a tough few weeks for the forces of climate change denial.

    First came the giant billboard with Unabomber Ted Kacynzki's face plastered across it: "I Still Believe in Global Warming. Do You?" Sponsored by the Heartland Institute, the nerve center of climate change denial, it was supposed to draw attention to the fact that "the most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen." Instead, it drew attention to the fact that these guys had over-reached, and with predictable consequences.

    A hard-hitting campaign from a new group called Forecast the Facts persuaded many of the corporations backing Heartland to withdraw $825,000 in funding; an entire wing of the institute, devoted to helping the insurance industry, calved off to form its own non-profit. Normally friendly politicians like Wisconsin Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner announced that they would boycott the group's annual conference unless the billboard campaign was ended.

    Which it was, before the billboards with Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden could be unveiled, but not before the damage was done: Sensenbrenner spoke at last month's conclave, but attendance was way down at the annual gathering, and Heartland leaders announced that there were no plans for another of the yearly fests. Heartland's head, Joe Bast, complained that his side had been subjected to the most "uncivil name-calling and disparagement you can possibly imagine from climate alarmists", which was both a little rich – after all, he was the guy with the mass-murderer billboards – but also a little pathetic. A whimper had replaced the characteristically confident snarl of the American right.

    That pugnaciousness may return: Bast said last week that he was finding new corporate sponsors, that he was building a new small-donor base that was "Greenpeace-proof", and that in any event, the billboard had been a fine idea anyway because it had "generated more than $5m in earned media so far". (That's a bit like saying that for a successful White House bid, John Edwards should have had more mistresses and babies because "look at all the publicity!")

    Whatever the final outcome, it's worth noting that, in a larger sense, Bast is correct: this tiny collection of deniers has actually been incredibly effective over the past years.

    The best of them – and that would be Marc Morano, proprietor of the website Climate Depot, and Anthony Watts, of the website Watts Up With That – have fought with remarkable tenacity to stall and delay the inevitable recognition that we're in serious trouble. They've never had much to work with. Only one even remotely serious scientist remains in the denialist camp. That's MIT's Richard Lindzen, who has been arguing for years that while global warming is real, it won't be as severe as almost all his colleagues believe. But as a long article in the New York Times detailed last month, the credibility of that sole dissenter is basically shot. Even the peer reviewers he approved for his last paper told the National Academy of Sciences that it didn't merit publication. (It ended up in a "little-known Korean journal".)

    Deprived of actual publishing scientists to work with, they've relied on a small troupe of vaudeville performers, featuring them endlessly on their websites. Lord Christopher Monckton, for instance, an English peer (who has been officially warned by the House of Lords to stop saying he's a member) began his speech at Heartland's annual conference by boasting that he had "no scientific qualification" to challenge the science of climate change.

    He's proved the truth of that claim many times, beginning in his pre-climate-change career when he explained to readers of the American Spectator that "there is only one way to stop Aids. That is to screen the entire population regularly and to quarantine all carriers of the disease for life". His personal contribution to the genre of climate change mass-murderer analogies has been to explain that a group of young climate change activists who tried to take over a stage where he was speaking were "Hitler Youth".

    Or consider Lubos Motl, a Czech theoretical physicist who has never published on climate change, but nonetheless keeps up a steady stream of web assaults on scientists he calls "fringe kibitzers who want to become universal dictators" who should "be thinking how to undo your inexcusable behavior so that you will spend as little time in prison as possible". On the crazed killer front, Motl said that, while he supported many of Norwegian gunman Anders Breivik's ideas, it was hard to justify gunning down all those children. Still, he went on, it did demonstrate that "rightwing people … may even be more efficient while killing – and the probable reason is that Breivik may have a higher IQ than your garden variety leftwing or Islamic terrorist."

    If your urge is to laugh at this kind of clown show, the joke's on you – because it's worked. I mean, James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has emerged victorious in every Senate fight on climate change, cites Motl regularly; Monckton has testified four times before the US Congress.

    Morano, one of the most skilled political operatives of the age – he "broke the story" that became the Swiftboat attack on John Kerry – plays rough: he regularly publishes the email addresses of those he pillories, for instance, so his readers can pile on the abuse. But he plays smart, too. He's a favorite of Fox News and of Rush Limbaugh, and he and his colleagues have used those platforms to make it anathema for any Republican politician to publicly express a belief in the reality of climate change.

    Take Newt Gingrich, for instance. Only four years ago, he was willing to sit on a love seat with Nancy Pelosi and film a commercial for a campaign headed by Al Gore. In it, he explained that he agreed with the California congresswoman and then-speaker of the House that the time had come for action on climate.

    This fall, hounded by Morano, Gingrich was forced to recant, again and again. His dalliance with the truth about carbon dioxide hurt him more among the Republican faithful than any other single "failing". Even Mitt Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts actually took some action on global warming, has now been reduced to claiming that scientists may tell us "in 50 years" if we have anything to fear.

    In other words, a small cadre of fervent climate-change deniers took control of the Republican party on the issue. This, in turn, has meant control of Congress. And since the president can't sign a treaty by himself, it's effectively meant stifling any significant international progress on global warming. Put another way, the various rightwing billionaires and energy companies who have bankrolled this stuff have gotten their money's worth many times over.

    One reason the denialists' campaign has been so successful, of course, is that they've also managed to intimidate the other side. There aren't many senators who rise with the passion or frequency of James Inhofe, but to warn of the dangers of ignoring what's really happening on our embattled planet.

    It's a striking barometer of intimidation that Barack Obama, who has a clear enough understanding of climate change and its dangers, has barely mentioned the subject for four years. He did show a little leg to his liberal base in Rolling Stone earlier this spring by hinting that climate change could become a campaign issue. Last week, however, he passed on his best chance to make good on that promise when he gave a long speech on energy at an Iowa wind turbine factory without even mentioning global warming. Because the GOP has been so unreasonable, the president clearly feels he can take the environmental vote by staying silent, which means the odds that he'll do anything dramatic in the next four years grow steadily smaller.

    On the brighter side, not everyone has been intimidated. In fact, a spirited counter-movement has arisen in recent years. The very same weekend that Heartland tried to put the Unabomber's face on global warming, conducted thousands of rallies around the globe to show who climate change really affects. In a year of mobilization, we also managed to block – at least temporarily – the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought the dirtiest of dirty energy, tar sands oil, from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf Coast. In the meantime, our Canadian allies are fighting hard to block a similar pipeline that would bring those tar sands to the Pacific for export.

    Similarly, in just the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands have signed on to demand an end to fossil-fuel subsidies. And new polling data already show more Americans worried about our changing climate, because they've noticed the freakish weather of the last few years and drawn the obvious conclusion.

    But damn, it's a hard fight, up against a ton of money and a ton of inertia. Eventually, climate denial will "lose", because physics and chemistry are not intimidated, even by Lord Monckton. But timing is everything – if he and his ilk, a crew of certified planet wreckers, delay action past the point where it can do much good, they'll be able to claim one of the epic victories in political history – one that will last for geological epochs.© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Download the data for yourself for each race, county by county and state by state
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    With votes by candidate from all 50 states now added to our primary and caucus results the presidential nomination 2012 dataset is now complete.

    We've been tracking the results and making the data available in an accessible format for each election as it happened. This is all the data behind the Guardian interactive guide.

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    A Romney ad's complaint against the Obama Super Pac spot is right: it was mean and unfair. Welcome to US politics 2012, Mitt


    Republican challenger Mitt Romney has not had a good summer. His campaign has been swamped by negative ads and tripped over its own feet on a disastrous foreign trip that even the Economist labelled "a horn-honking, floppy-shoed clown show". The result has been a slew of poor polls and the choice of radical Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as a "game-changing" running-mate (reminding everyone of the dynamic that prompted John McCain to take a risk on Sarah Palin in 2008).

    Well, Romney does not seem to be able to do much to stop his gaffes, including introducing Ryan as the "next president of the United States". But he apparently does think he can do something about President Barack Obama's highly effective attack ads. Hence the launch today of this defensive ad complaining about how mean the president is being.


    The 30-second television spot is called "America Deserves Better". It aims at blunting a controversial spot from a pro-Obama Super Pac called Priorities USA Action. That ad, which claimed a man's wife had died of cancer after losing healthcare when Romney's old firm Bain shut down a factory, has caused a firestorm of criticism– including from some Democrat strategists and media allies. This ad is aiming to build on that backlash.


    It came out originally at the end of last week, but has been re-released to coincide with Obama's trip to Iowa Tuesday.


    It is running in Iowa, trying to persuade the Hawkeye State that gave Obama his big break in 2008 that the president no longer shares their "be nice" midwestern attitudes. Of course, this is also the state where Romney's campaign destroyed Newt Gingrich so effectively that it might seem odd His Mittness is suddenly doing a Jimmy Stewart impression. The Romney campaign poured so much vitriol on Newt in Iowa that it not only popped his campaign bubble, but also sent Gingrich into such a tailspin of anti-Romney rage that the former House speaker himself ran anti-Bain documentaries.


    Mitt Romney is now shocked (shocked!) that people negatively campaign, distort the truth and smear opponents. Hence this ad. It is simple stuff, affecting a tone of po-faced disappointment.

    "What does it say about a president's character when his campaign tries to use the tragedy of a woman's death for political gain," the ad begins. Of course, it then gets in to some distorting of its own, by implying the offending ad is an Obama campaign spot, when it is actually a Super Pac ad that has no official link to Obama (a defence Romney himself used in Iowa to distance himself from the anti-Gingrich attack machine).

    "What does it say about a president's character when he had his campaign raise money for the ad and then stood by as his top campaign aides were caught lying about it," the ad informs us. In the meantime, it mixes a montage of media quotes like "disgusting" with picture of Obama looking smug and smiley. At one stage, the words "scraping bottom" appear, which to this naughty postcard-minded correspondent conjures up all sorts of strange images. But I digress. The repeating of the word "character" is key.

    "Doesn't America deserve better than a president who will say or do anything to stay in power," the ad concludes. There are several things to say here. First, the notion that Mitt Romney can criticise a politician for being willing to "say or do anything" is staggering. This is a man who flip-flops so adroitly that if he wasn't campaigning for president, he would have been at the London Olympics winning gymnastics gold.

    Second, the ad has a point. The offending Obama spot was a horribly underhand piece of work, and in truth, the Obama campaign has always been dirty and ruthless (just ask Hillary and Bill Clinton, successfully tarred as racists in 2008). But Romney and the Republicans long ago lost their right to complain about it. Romney represents a movement that all too often tags Obama as a socialist. Or might-be Muslim. Or Kenyan. Or that believes his administration has been penetrated by sinister agents of the Muslim Brotherhood (courtesy Michele Bachmann!).

    In short, in modern American politics and the era of unlimited campaign money, neither side has the right to play the wounded party anymore. As is often said, politics ain't beanbag. Everyone knows this. Obama and Romney both play dirty. It just makes whining (from either side) look pathetic and hypocritical.

    But the really sad thing? In this brave new, cash-rich and morality-free world sponsored by Citizens United, no matter who wins the election in November, American politics has on some level already lost.© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    With the RNC shut down, it was left to Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain to vie for headlines with tropical storm Isaac

    When the rest of the convention is cancelled, what are you left with?

    Newt Gingrich started his seminar on "Obamacare" with a tribute to Neil Armstrong. Of course he did. The non sequitur spoke to the improvisational nature of this would-be first day of the Republican National Convention, hijacked by forces of nature – a category that should include Newt Gingrich's hair, in addition to his ego.

    Grinch was speaking at "Newt U", an official but ancillary event that escaped cancellation. Similar seminars and panels made for a full-enough day that the absence of a larger structure wasn't entirely obvious. One noticed it more in the aimlessness of those who bothered to show up to the convention hall. Reporters, mostly, but also vaguely shell-shocked delegates, craning their necks at the "DC celebrity" transplants (I'd name them, but then I'd have to explain who they are) smiling gamely into cell phone cameras.

    The metaphors available in Tampa to explain the current state of the Republican party are easier to grasp than the purpose of the convention itself. (Losing a day with no admitted effect on the end result only suggests that there was at least 25% too much convention to begin with.) The RNC's first day was shut down because of a chaotic event beyond the organizers' control? Let me show you some Ron Paul supporters. And then there are the gusts blowing convention-goers off course: surely Todd Akin is responsible for that. Finally, the driving rain: no longer able to rely on the old "culture war" verities to energise both base and swing voters, the GOP finds itself in a fluid situation – trying to catch and carry water in the palm of its hand.

    Romney has wisely refused to pick much of a fight on gay marriage and preferred to major on the economy, but how can you get people riled up to vote out the incumbent when your own nominee's favorite prop is a white board and not a flag?

    Gingrich's Obamacare seminar and moon landing celebration was a part of "Newt U", an attempted co-optation of whatever energy is left to Gingrich's insurgent campaign and a further example of Republicans' quest for a cohesive secular theology to match the more uniform religious one. Newt U is intended to "examine the convention's daily themes in greater detail and give delegates an opportunity to dive deeper into those issues": issues, yes; proposed policies, no.

    Hampered by Romney's own refusal to make his agenda more specific, the Gingrich panel focused on largely disingenuous criticisms of the Obama healthcare plan (such as describing the transfer of Medicare funds as a "cut") and left alternate proposals lofty and ambiguous.

    "What if we took the '200,000 apps for the iPhone' model," Gingrich asked, and "asked [Americans] to develop a better solution for Medicare." I wonder if that would be based on Angry Birds or Twitter. (Gingrich is a noted Apple fan and obviously enamored of what he probably thinks of as their free-market approach; I guess he hasn't read their end user agreement.)

    Arguments about Medicare are attractive because of the voter base potentially swayed, but it's actually a tangential issue for the large majority of Americans. The Romney campaign has admitted that every day they're not talking about jobs is a day that they lose, but they cannot agree on a way to talk about the economy beyond disparaging Obama's handling of it.

    "I think the fiscal issues we face are so big and so overwhelming that there's little reason to focus on the other things," House Representative Jeff Flake told the New York Times. But they're not just overwhelmed, they're confused. Take the latest rallying cry from another erstwhile would-be president, Herman Cain.

    "It's worse to imagine a world with Obama getting a second term than it is to imagine a world without pizza," as he told Time, Monday. "Because with Obama in a second term, there will be no pizza. For anyone."

    Yes, Republicans are making heavy weather of this election season.© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Mitt Romney looks increasingly like Michael Bluth in the TV show Arrested Development, unable to stop his family from careening towards oblivion

    My favourite TV programme of all time is, easily, Arrested Development, the brilliant show about the fall of a once powerful family, brought down by their own weaknesses, corruption and self-centredness. The sensible adult son, Michael Bluth, tries to rescue his family name and reunite his relatives but the family have no interest in helping Michael or themselves, bent as they are on self-destruction. Whether this is down to selfishness, short-sightedness or stupidity is not always clear but, for whatever reason, Michael can only watch as his family careen ever closer to their end, acting more deranged as they go.

    I think it is my fondness for Arrested Development that explains my enjoyment of the Republican convention currently taking place in Tampa, Florida. "Taking place" was nearly an overstatement as the convention has been curtailed owing to fears over hurricane Isaac. Strangely, there has been no word from former presidential candidate and dementor Michele Bachmann or modern-day Savonarola Pat Robertson about how this storm signifies holy displeasure, even though both have previously connected meteorological shifts with God. One year ago, Bachmann claimed that hurricane Irene, which caused at least 56 deaths, was God saying: "'Are you going to start listening to me here?' … Government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending." Robertson said that Haiti's 2010 earthquake, in which at least 100,000 people died, was retribution for the country's "pact with the devil". Maybe their speeches were among those that had to be cut because of the weather.

    This storm, as well as providing political journalists with the most obvious pathetic fallacy and metaphor since Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights, is both practically and historically awkward for Romney. The Republican party does not have good associations with hurricanes, a point only underlined by Isaac, which as well as derailing the convention is hitting New Orleans, seven years after the city was all but destroyed by Katrina, a name as verboten among Republicans as G-E-O-R-G-E W B-U-S-H.

    No party is ever homogenised in its views but, as the New York Times reported, the Republican party is "more factionalised – ideologically, politically and culturally – than Republican leaders could imagine in recent history", and many of the factionalisations are diametrically opposed, such as the hardline social conservatives versus the economic libertarians, who are far less interested in abortion and gay marriage than their vocal brethren.

    I suspect that the once pro-choice Romney would prefer these aforementioned vocal conservatives to keep shtoom, seeing as their hardline attitude is a proven vote-loser. Since Missouri Republican Todd Akin's infamous interview last week referring to "legitimate rape" he has fallen 20 points in the polls and fewer than two in 10 Americans support all abortions being banned with no exemptions. Yet, like the Bluths, these guys just can't help themselves. Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith recently justified his "no exemptions" stance by saying that a woman becoming pregnant out of wedlock is "similar" to pregnancy from rape: "Put yourself in a father's perspective; yes, it is similar," he bleated, proving, were proof needed, that these politicians are unable to put themselves in the woman's perspective and so obsessed with what goes in and out of a woman's vagina that they can't distinguish between rape and consensual sex.

    As MSNBC's Rachel Maddow discussed last week, these tendencies always existed quietly on the sidelines but "as the Republican party has slipped its moorings post-Bush and Cheney … these folks have taken over" and one of them, Paul Ryan, is now the VP candidate. One of Romney's difficulties is that he has to kowtow to these folks on abortion and immigration, but without alienating mainstream voters.

    There is a distinctly apocalyptic feel to this convention. At a Faith & Freedom Coalition gathering, former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and organiser Ralph Reed waxed firebrand evangelical, with the former claiming that President Obama condones the killing of children and the latter describing Obama's America as "a pockmarked bleak landscape".

    This sense of doom is understandable. In a recent WSJ/NBC poll, Romney scored a grand total of 0% support among black Americans. Yet as white babies now account for less than half of the births in the US, something will have to give soon in the Republican party's current incarnation.

    Political reporter Jonathan Chait suggests this explains Romney's hardline approach to the welfare state, trying to get in the changes while he can. Or maybe Romney – a man so value-free he, as David Brooks writes in the New York Times, would keep a mood ring transparent – is simply going where the party wind blows, even as it blows him over the cliff. It at least partly explains the self-destructive hysteria that has infected the Republicans.

    At the end of Arrested Development, Michael realises there is no saving his family and flees to Mexico. Considering some of Romney's recent statements about immigration, that country probably wouldn't even have him any more.© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    In accepting the party's nomination for president, Romney will take on two subjects that have pursued his campaign

    Mitt Romney will use his primetime speech at the Republican national convention on Thursday night to address the biggest of his perceived weaknesses: his Mormon religion and his record as chief executive of Bain Capital, the company where he made his fortune.

    Republican party strategists said the main aim of the final day of the convention was to try and reverse the negative perception not only in relation to his Mormonism, but his image as a rich, uncaring businessman.

    Over the past few months, the Obama campaign has sunk $120m in ads that portrayed Romney as a out of touch elitist with questionable tax practices who made his fortune by shutting down businesses and leaving thousands of workers redundant.

    Mormonism is an especially sensitive issue, with many Christian evangelicals still queasy about the prospect of backing a candidate whose religion some have described as a cult. Instead of ignoring the issue as in the past, the Republicans have decided to address it head on at the convention.

    Republican officials, briefing reporters ahead of Romney's speech, said a senior member of the Mormon church would address the convention as well as two Mormon families who would tell how Romney helped them in their time of need.

    Paul Ryan, Romney's Catholic vice-presidential running-mate, touched on the issue in his contentious speech on Wednesday night, saying the two "shared the same moral creed".

    The convention will also address other perceived vulnerabilities, such as his time as governor of Massachusetts, when Romney introduced, to the disgust of many conservatives, a form of healthcare similar to that later introduced by Barack Obama.

    Thursday night is make-or-break for Romney. His speech, watched by tens of millions of Americans, provides one of the few remaining chances for him to open up a poll lead after months in which he has been tied with Obama. The convention, intended as launchpad for the autumn campaign, has so far been patchy, with the first day lost through Hurricane Isaac and a lack of energy in the days that followed, mainly because many delegates remain unconvinced by Romney as a candidate.

    On Wednesday, Ryan and Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state in the Bush administration, finally created some buzz with speeches that brought the delegates to their feet. But Ryan's speech, intended as a warm-up for Romney, left him at the centre of a major political row over a series of inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

    Even as Ryan was delivering his speech, reporters, political analysts and members of the public were pointing out the misleading statements, in particular that Obama had robbed Medicare, the popular healthcare programme for those who are 65 and over, to help pay for his own healthcare plan. Ryan's own budget plan anticipates the same cuts.

    Ryan also suggested the closure of a car plant in his home town of Janesville, Wisconsin, was Obama's fault, even though it was shut down before Obama took office.

    The Obama campaign's deputy manager, Stephanie Cutter, at a press conference Thursday morning, said: "There is no delicate way to put this: last night Paul Ryan lied."

    In a letter to potential Democratic donors, the Obama campaign manager Jim Messina wrote: "If you've seen any coverage of Paul Ryan's speech in Tampa, you know that the consensus among journalists and independent observers is that it was … factually challenged.

    "He lied about Medicare … he even dishonestly attacked Barack Obama for the closing of a GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin – a plant that closed in December 2008 under George Bush."

    Russ Schiefer, the organiser of the convention, in a conference call with reporters, said that in spite of losing the opening day of the convention because of hurricane Isaac "we have had a very good week".

    In his first response to an incident in which two Republicans threw peanuts at black CNN member of staff, he said: "It was absolutely deplorable."

    Romney was scheduled to be introduced by senator Marco Rubio, one of the most high-profile Latinos in the Republican party. The Republicans have another, mystery speaker lined up ahead of Romney's speech. Schiefer refused to disclose the identity of the speaker, but Oscar-winner Clint Eastwood, who backed the Republican presidential challenger John McCain in 2008 and also endorsed Romney, is in Tampa.

    The convention organisers said the build-up to Romney's speech would include business associates talking about his time as head of Bain Capital, including the founder of the Staples office supply company that Romney helped build up, his rescue of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and his tenure as governor of Massachusetts.

    Also warming up the convention for Romney are the former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who was one of Romney's challengers in the primaries and caucuses earlier this year, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

    Bush, in a round of television interviews on Thursday morning, acknowledged the difficulties Romney faced, given his lack of oratorical skills and failure to lack of warmth in public. He acknowledged he was never going to be "a new-age kind of guy". Bush said: "Where it matters is connecting with other people's concerns."© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Activists and delegates voice concerns over prevalence of negative advertising in the 2012 US presidential election

    "It has definitely gone negative," said Elizabeth McCann, a Denver-based lawyer. "We have been bombarded in Colorado because we are a swing state. We get ads constantly from both sides and I don't like the negative tone from either Republicans or Democrats."

    McCann, who is an elected Democratic state representative, is not alone in her dislike for negative advertising. At the party's national convention in Charlotte last week, many delegates were concerned about the tone of both sides' campaigns.

    "I actually think people are getting really sick of it," McCann said. "What I'm most worried about is that people in Colorado will say: 'We've had enough of this, we're not voting. We're sick of it, we're not going to vote.'"

    The tone was set during the Republican primaries, where Mitt Romney's repeated spending on attack ads helped him defeat first Newt Gingrichand then Rick Santorum.

    Since then, however, Barack Obama has joined the fray, regularly running negative spots including an ad which features a rather off-key Romney singing 'America the Beautiful' while critical quotes from news reports pop up on screen.

    "It's really unfortunate that the tone of the campaign has been very negative. I really don't think that negativity in campaigning has any place," said Ned Norris Jr, a delegate for Arizona. "It's not productive. It's anti-productive. And when we think about the negative campaigning that's going on we have to be concerned about what others see in that negativity. I think negativity campaigning just fuels negativity that's already going on throughout the United States."

    The overriding sense among delegates that this election cycle has largely been conducted in the gutter is supported by the data. In January, the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which studies election advertising, declared the Florida primary to be "the most negative campaign ever" , after finding that 92% of ads aired in the state during the final week of the Republican primary were negative in tone.

    Bill Benoit, professor of communication studies at Ohio University, had similar, if not quite as dramatic findings after conducting a wider study of the tone of adverts used across all the primaries.

    Benoit compared some 90 adverts run by Republican candidates across various states during the primaries to a database of ads run by politicians dating back to 1952. He added up all the statements in advertisements run by Republican primary candidates and found that 55% were negative, compared to an average of only 25% in ads run between 1952 and 2012.

    Benoit will conduct a study of Obama and Romney's advertising after the presidential election on 6 November, and he has a good idea what he will find.

    "I think as a whole 2012 will be remembered as one of the most negative campaigns ever if not the most negative campaign ever," he said. "There has always been incivility but it seems to me the partisan hostility has been even higher. It's just degenerated into a vicious vilification of everything the other party stands for."

    Florida was particularly hard hit in January, as Romney and Gingrich slugged it out in the primary. Voters in the crucial swing state have been targeted again this summer.

    "We have all these TV ads, all these mailers, just kind of flooding the markets with this really dirty messaging that they can do," said Amy Ritter, a Democratic delegate from Orlando, Florida. "It's made it much more difficult for the true message to come out because at the end of the day you want to hear what the candidates are going to bring, what they're standing for, not just slinging mud and digging in the dirt looking for ways to attack the other party."

    Ritter laid the blame squarely with the rise of Super PACs after the Citizens United v Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010, which said there should be no limit to the amount of money corporations can spend on advertising, as long as that money remains independent of candidates. It was a common criticism among delegates.

    "Campaigning has got very negative because of all the big money that's there. It's uncontrolled," said Larry Capp, a Democratic delegate from Miami, Florida, who called for campaign-finance reform. "We need to have spending limits on how much these private organisations can put into campaigns."

    However, even as Super PACs and candidates pump out more and more negative ads, there is no hard evidence that such advertising works.

    "The research clearly shows that negative ads are not more persuasive than positive ads," Benoit said.

    Stephen Craig, professor of political science at the University of Florida, said: "A lot of people have done research on this. Some studies show that negative attacks work, others show that they don't and there's really no bottom line.

    "On balance, it's that they work some of the time, and that's the big catch in all of this."

    Both Benoit and Craig said that the tone of advertising may be dictated by "anecdotal" evidence, which is relied upon among political strategists.

    Craig said: "Everyone remembers the races where a negative attack or series of attacks appears to have been decisive. That's the kind of knowledge candidates and consultants have – it's anecdotal evidence. The scholarly evidence doesn't back them up.

    "Here's the deal – why are there so many negative ads? Because candidates and consultants believe they work.

    "It really isn't the negativity that's effective. It's the message. Some messages are more effective than others, some messages resonate more than others. If you've got a powerful negative message that resonates with voters, then yeah, it's going to work. But if it's about something voters don't care about, if it's a message that's poorly presented, then they're not going to be moved by it.

    "Can it work? Yes. Does it work? Sometimes."© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Mitt Romney's campaign attempts another relaunch while Newt Gingrich stumps for embattled Todd Akin in Missouri

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    Impact of supreme court's 2010 ruling shown by report into outside money spent on this year's US presidential election

    Almost $465m of outside money has been spent on the US presidential election campaign so far, including $365m that can be attributed to the supreme court's landmark Citizens United ruling, according to a report released on Monday.

    Super Pacs, which came into effect following the 2010 Citizens United verdict, accounted for $272m of the expenditure in the study, conducted by the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit organisation devoted to increasing transparency in government.

    A further $93m has been spent by corporations, trade associations and non-profits which, according to the supreme court's decision, are able to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigning without disclosing the source of their funds.

    "This cycle's outside spending mostly comes in the form of 'independent expenditures' supporting or opposing political candidates by unions, corporations, trade associations, non-profit groups and Super Pacs," wrote Kathy Kiely, managing editor of the Sunlight Foundation.

    "This money enabled outside groups to run shadow campaigns for or against candidates of their choice."

    Kiely said around 78% of outside spending in 2012 – $365m of the total $465m – could be attributed to the "Citizens United effect". The 2010 ruling by the supreme court in the case of Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on campaigning, enabling Super Pacs to spend unlimited amounts as long as they had no coordination with the candidates they support.

    In reality, those running Super PACs have often have close ties to political parties. Former George W Bush advisor Karl Rove runs the conservative American Crossroads Super Pac, while Restore Our Future, a pro-Mitt Romney Super Pac, was founded by former Romney aides.

    The money spent by Super Pacs, unions, corporations and non-profit groups is more than double what those groups spent in 2010, the first campaign in which the supreme court judgment had taken effect. Although Super Pacs are usually thought of being aligned with presidential candidates, the Sunlight Foundation found that much of these groups' recent spending has been focussed on more localised electoral battles.

    "A deeper dive into the data shows that the latest uptick in outside spending is focused on congressional races: even in presidential battleground states, almost all the spending by outside groups is focused on House and Senate candidates," Kiely wrote.

    Recent expenditure includes Crossroads GPS spending $400,000 in Nevada against Democratic Senate candidate Shelley Berkley; Workers Voice, an AFL-CIO Super Pac, logged hundreds of expenditures in the $25-60 range in Florida, indicating a get-out-the-vote effort for senator Bill Nelson, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

    Of $465m of outside money spent so far in 2012 $460.8m comes from Super Pacs, corporations and other groups which do not have to register as political groups. An additional $4.1m comes from "electioneering communications": advertisements or political activities that focus on issues and policies – the oil industry, for example – and encourage voters to support a candidate without mentioning any politicians by name.

    The Sunlight Foundation's data shows a heavy skew towards negative campaigning, with $99.2m so far spent supporting a candidate and $360.7m opposing a candidate. Some $131.1m has been spent on communications opposing President Barack Obama, with a relatively small $50.7m spent opposing Mitt Romney.

    The figures also show that $21.3m has been spent opposing Rick Santorum – a nod to his surprising endurance during the Republican primaries – and $18.8m has been spent on opposing Newt Gingrich, who won the South Carolina and Georgia primaries before fading from the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

    Looking at the money spent supporting rather than opposing candidates, Romney comes out on top, with $15.7m spent in his favour. Gingrich comes second, having had $13.5m invested in his bid for the presidency. Just $6.4m of outside money has been spent in support of Obama.© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    At Akin's first big event since 'legitimate rape' controversy, Gingrich says GOP will eventually come around to support

    It is said there's someone for everyone. Who would have predicted, when Todd Akin, the Republican representative, was abandoned by his party for his "legitimate rape" comments a month ago, Newt Gingrich would be his knight in shining armour.

    But at the first major fundraising event held by the Akin campaign since the Missouri senate candidate was blackballed by the party funders and leaders, Gingrich pledged his support and said he was just the first in a wave of well-known Republicans to stand by Akin.

    Republican party leaders have said the controversial remarks have made it impossible for Akin to unseat incumbent US senator Claire McCaskill. They have pleaded with him to step down in time to name a replacement for the election.

    Gingrich came to Missouri on Monday to back Akin at a $500-a-ticket fundraising lunch, at which he addressed about 50 of the congressman's supporters – and earlier, the media.

    At at a press conference at a train station in Kirkwood, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, Gingrich said Akin was running a winnable race and made his own prediction – that the national Republican leaders, including Mitt Romney, would reverse track and back the candidate once they "adjust to the reality" that he is staying in the race.

    "If Todd and the people of Missouri prove it's a close race, what's the moral case for not backing the Republican nominee?" Gingrich said.

    Gingrich told the crowd, made up of reporters and a handful of supporters that it all came down to a simple question. "Do you want to keep Harry Reid as the majority leader?" Gingrich said to shouts of "No" from Akin supporters.

    Gaining McCaskill's seat is seen as vital if the GOP is to take over the Senate in November. "How do you go back to your donors and say: 'Let's throw the Senate away?'," Gingrich said.

    The former presidential candidate dismissed comments on Sunday by Republican national committee chairman Reince Preibus who declared on TV that there was no way any RNC money would be used to help Akin. "My expectation would be that in the crunch, in October, governor Romney is going to be for the entire ticket, and he's going to be for Todd Akin," Gingrich said.

    He compared Akin to Harry Truman, senator and later president who was dumped by the party machine in the 1940s.

    The fundraiser would have netted Akin up to $42,000 from the cost of the tickets alone, in addition to the $600,000 Akin has already raised online.
    Rick Tyler, a former longterm aide to Gingrich, who is now advising Akin, said he had "adequate funding" to fight the election.

    The polls are showing a close contest, and Tuesday is the last day that Akin could seek a court order to drop out. On Monday, he reaffirmed that he had no plans to withdraw, telling supporters that a number of prominent Republicans have already agreed to campaign on his behalf but declining to name names. He begins a four-day "Common Sense" bus tour.

    Akin has aplogised for the remarks on "legitimate rape" he made in a televised interview and has even drummed up a "Women for Akin" group. A video on his website has one woman weeping as she recounted having an abortion as she endorses the pro-life candidate she said speaks up for women.

    His supporters say he a mistake and should be forgiven for it. Paula Ritter, 78, who was at Kirkwood station with her husband to support Akin said he and other politicians needed to learn "who they are talking to". "I think he's sorry. But I don't think he's sorry for thinking that" she said. Ritter said she didn't agree with him "but I wouldn't change my vote because of it. I'm not for single-issue politics".

    Gingrich joked: "if saying something dumb disqualifies you, Joe Biden couldn't be vice-president."

    Akin's comments stirred up a wave of outrage and added to the perception of the so-called "war on women" among conservative Republicans.

    Outside the Branica restaurant where the former House speaker addressed some 50 Akin supporters, a similar-sized crowd had gathered to protest. One held up a banner which said: "Lets shut Todd Akin down" in reference to his comments that rape victims had a way of "shutting down" pregnancies.

    Jane Von Kaenel said his remarks had re-invigorated the feminist base in Missouri. "He's an embarrassment, he's out of touch," she said of Akin. "You just can't hold your nose and get away from the smell." She said she thought that "many, many" Republicans would vote for McCaskill.

    Susan Cunningham, 73, a retired teacher from Pacific, in Franklin, Missouri, who was holding the banner declaring "Let's shut down Todd Akin" said she was worried about Republican party becoming more and more conservative on social issues. She said: "I'm very worried about what is happening in this country. I'm against Todd Akin's voting record on everything, from women's issues, to the environment and education."

    "I don't understand why Newt Gingrich is supporting him, but to be honest I don't understand why Newt Gingrich does anything. Newt must have an ulterior motive. They are blowing smoke and they are very good at it. But Todd Akin is scary. When I think of my daughter and my grandchildren, are they going to have access to birth control of are they going to have to put a veil on? It's crazy here, we are going backwards."

    Gingrich refused to say what conversations he had with the party leadership that led him to predict a u-turn on Akin.

    Asked if anyone from the party had tried to stop him from coming out in support of Akin, he said: "I'm not going to talk about my conversations with party leadership."

    Tyler, a former long-term aide to Gingrich who now works for Akin, said he thought the candidate would raise an "adequate amount" of money to stay in the race, but added that he believed if would be "political malpractice" if the Republican party did not get back behind him.

    Marsha Walker, a social worker from Chesterfield, who attended the fundraiser, said she hoped the voters would forgive Akin his remarks. She said she was voting for him because of his strong pro-life views.

    "Everyone who has spoken has erred in some way, and not to forgive is unforgivable. We need someone like Todd to fight for morality in Washington, and Todd is s a fighter."© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Federal Election Commission tracks donations to presidential and congressional candidates over the first 18 months of cycle

    More than $4bn was spent on the presidential and congressional candidates and campaigns in the first 18 months of the election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission.

    Presidential candidates have received $601.9m of that money, the data released on Wednesday, shows, while $1.21bn has been donated to congressional candidates donated to presidential candidates personally.

    The Federal Election Commission compiled campaign finance reports filed between 1 January 2011 and 30 June 2012 to produce the report. The time period covers the Republican primaries and the buildup to the presidential race.

    In total $4.06bn was received by presidential candidates, congressional candidates, party committees and PACs over the 18-month-period. There are no direct figures directly comparing the same period available from 2008 or earlier, but Bill Allison, from the non-profit Sunlight Foundation, said ultimately more money will be spent on the 2012 campaign.

    "This is 18 months and we're at $4bn, 2008 the entire election cycle ended up being at $5.2bn, so there's still a quarter of the money to go," Allison said. "We'll definitely top that number. The current projection is about $5.8bn that we'll see for 2012."

    The fact that the FEC data shows money raised until 30 June 2012 accounts for the relatively small amount of expenditure in the figures. Of the $4.6bn raised in total, just $2.88bn had been spent in the same period, which candidates and organisations likely waiting until closer to 6 November to spend the money raised.

    The presidential candidates raised $601.9m over the 18-month period, spending $407.9m, although included in those figures is money raised and spent by Republican primary chancers such as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Interestingly, over the same period in 2008 presidential candidates raised far more money – $1.05bn – which Allison said was a reflection of both sides having to choose a presidential candidate.

    "In 2008 you have the primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – they both raised so much money and it ran all the way through June. Romney wrapped up the nomination in mid-April and for all practical purposes earlier than that, so you didn't have two candidates who were raising money all the way through."

    Elsewhere the FEC data show the money generated by congressional candidates has risen every election cycle since 2002. Back then, $610.1m was donated candidates running for congress and senate. That increased to $789.8m in 2004, and by 2010 $1.18bn was raised. In 2012, that amount was $1.21bn.

    Some $1.29bn was received by Pacs – including corporate groups, labor groups, trade unions and Super Pacs, which can receive unlimited donations. A Sunlight Foundation study released this week showed Super Pacs had received $385.7m in donations as of Sunday 23 September.

    "We're almost in this wild wild west period of campaign finance," Allison said.

    "You have candidates raising money at $50,000 a pop for joint fundraising committees and party committees, you have Super Pacs taking in million-dollar contributions, you have Barack Obama doing some 200 fundraisers already – it's become this mad dash for cash."

    "It's as if it's all the politicians care about. But the sad thing is that after the election is over all the people who gave that money are going to be coming round asking for favours."© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    How much have the candidates spent so far on the presidential election campaign? $573.8m, according to the latest figures. This is how that data breaks down

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    Casino mogul is sparing no expense to get Romney elected, a win that would benefit his businesses and his bank account

    Every day three scenes, on the surface unconnected, unfold in different corners of the world. By breakfast time in Macau, China's gambling mecca, thousands of people are inside vast casino resorts spending money on baccarat, poker, slot machines and restaurants. Managers monitor the profit by the hour.

    By lunchtime in Israel commuters and shoppers are perusing Israel Hayom, a brash giveaway tabloid and the country's most-read newspaper. It supports the government of Binyamin Netanyahu. And it clobbers rival dailies to the point of extinction.

    By dinnertime viewers in Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and other swing states in the US presidential election are watching, for the umpteenth time that day, television advertisements attacking Barack Obama and promoting Mitt Romney. Their volume and cost have set records.

    This eclectic, global triptych is connected by a fourth, less visible scene. In the quiet hum of his air-conditioned Las Vegas headquarters a short, portly man with thinning red hair absorbs reports detailing it all, Macau, Israel, the election, because in every one he is a player. He crunches the profits, circulation and polling and ponders his next move. His name is Sheldon Adelson, and he is one of the world's richest men.

    "I suppose you could say that I live on Vince Lombardi's belief. Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," he told a recent interviewer, citing the legendary American football coach. "So, I do whatever it takes, as long as it's moral, ethical, principled, legal."

    No one doubts Adelson, 79, lives to win. But with the White House race entering the final stretch of what both sides call the most important election in decades there is growing controversy over his business interests and methods.

    "I've studied Sheldon Adelson closely but I don't claim to know him," said John L Smith, a Las Vegas-based author and columnist who tangled with him in a bitter court case. "I'm like a kid at the zoo watching the big predator but not understanding."

    How the son of immigrants – Adelson's Lithuanian-born father was a taxi driver, his British-born mother a seamstress – rose from poverty in Boston's tough Dorchester district to become a force in global politics and commerce is, depending on your perspective, an inspiring story of entrepreneurial grit and flair, or a cautionary tale of plutocracy and democratic dysfunction.

    Adelson, with a fortune valued at over $20bn, controls a unique web linking gaming empires in Nevada and Asia, media control in Israel and mega-donations to Romney and other Republican candidates.

    He represents a new breed of tycoon, said Chrystia Freeland, the editor of Thomson Reuters Digital and author of Plutocrats: the rise of the new global super-rich and the fall of everyone else. "The caricature is of conspicuous consumption, yachts and jets, but for the super-rich the real status symbol is having a voice, having an impact on public policy, and in that sense Sheldon is characteristic of his class."

    He is not shy about declaring his wealth. "You know," he reportedly bragged to George W Bush, when he was president in 2008, "I am the richest Jew in the world."

    If few knew that then, many know now. Adelson has burst onto the international stage by becoming, as one observer noted, "sugar daddy" to zionist and conservative causes.

    He is a modern Croesus who converts cash into influence. The question, which to critics becomes more urgent with each day of the campaign, is the extent to which he may convert, or try to convert, influence into cash. In a written reply to Guardian questions, Adelson said he wished only that the White House invite him to its annual Hanukah party and save him some potato pancakes.

    'He doesn't give up'

    A Romney victory could yield Adelson billions in tax cuts and make the White House an ally. His businesses are under investigation from the justice department and other agencies over alleged wrongdoing in Asia.

    There was little in his background to suggest Adelson would become the right's impresario. Reared in liberal Massachusetts, he worked his way through multiple jobs – vending machine salesman, court reporter, real estate dealer, toiletries packager – and scored big with Comdex, a computer trade show he launched in 1979.

    In 1988 he bought a chunk of the Sands hotel and casino, a fading, one-time rat pack haunt and turned it into Las Vegas Sands Corporation, a glitzy triumph with the Venetian as its flagship. He gambled, correctly, that if he built convention centres conferences would flock to Sin City.

    Even in a town known to be filled with tough operators, Adelson's steeliness stood out. He drove aides as hard as he did himself, did not take no for an answer, and did not forgive trespasses.

    He successfully sued the Daily Mail for libel and in a separate case went after Smith and his publisher, Barricade Books, over a depiction of Adelson in Smith's book Sharks in the Desert.

    Threatened with a $15m lawsuit, the publisher entered bankruptcy and agreed to a judgement of libel. Smith also entered bankruptcy. A judge dismissed the suit against him and ordered Adelson to pay some of the author's costs. "He's a real sweetheart," said Smith. "He doesn't give up."

    Ron Reese, a spokesman who who has represented Adelson for a decade, defended his boss. "It is easy to be a critic of someone if you don't know them, haven't taken the time to learn about their values, or if you are simply jealous of their accomplishments. It's a lot like criticising the coaches and players of a football match you didn't watch or attend. The fact is, Mr Adelson is among the world's greatest philanthropists and has created tens of thousands of jobs throughout his business career."

    What vaulted Adelson into a league Donald Trump can only dream of was Macau, the former Portuguese colony that is part of China and hosts gambling under the "one country, two systems formula".

    He outfoxed rival casino moguls to open the territory's first Las Vegas-style resort, the Sands Macao, in 2004. In reality it is two vast resorts, one of them the world's biggest. On its first day the crowd reportedly ripped doors off their hinges in a stampede for the gaming tables. Adelson recouped his $265m investment within a year.

    "In 2004-5 the big question was when Macau would overtake Las Vegas; it was taking about $4bn to Las Vegas's $6bn. Now Macau is taking nearly $40bn a year - and Las Vegas is still on about $6bn," said Aaron Fischer, head of consumer and gaming research at CLSA Asia Pacific Markets.

    Asia – he expanded into Singapore – has made him a multi-billionaire. "Other guys have made promises that may be they weren't able to deliver on. Sheldon stuck to the promises that he made [to officials] even though they have not always been perceived to have the best relationship," said Fischer.

    "He doesn't have a reputation for always saying the right thing. I really think he's a character. I respect him and I find him to be quite honest and very down to earth. Maybe that's sometimes been his problem; he's not very good at diplomacy."

    Sergio Terra, editorial executive director of the Portugese-language newspaper Tribuna Macau, said Chinese officials bristled even as they benefited from Adelson's investment.

    "He wanted everything and everything first. That's not the way the Macau government works. And he had to adjust to the Beijing approach. They don't like pressure."

    One veteran observer of the casino industry, who declined to be named, said Adelson charged through barriers. "It's served him well but he might have knocked down a few too many and used weapons that are going to be subject to review by regulators. I think his quest is to be the world's richest man – I don't think he's made any secret of that. He's always referring to his ranking."

    Las Vegas Sands faces three lawsuits over its Macau operations: a former executive, Steve Jacobs, claims wrongful dismissal and alleges the company collaborated with triads and sought to blackmail officials. The company is also snagged in a bribery scandal and claims it violated US anti-money laundering laws. Adelson vehemently denies wrongdoing. "We're going to be found absolutely clean," he said last year. The company blamed the accusations on disgruntled former employees.

    Breaking into the Israeli newspaper market

    Macau is the golden egg, but Israel is Adelson's enduring passion. The mogul often tells the story how he stepped off the plane for the first time wearing the shoes of his late father, who had been too poor to travel. His commitment has grown since marrying his second wife, Miriam, an Israeli, in 1991.

    The Adelsons have underwritten think tanks, exchange programmes, DC-based lobby groups and, most controversially, the interests of Netanyahu. Adelson believes Israel's hawkish prime minister is a necessary bulwark to supposed peace talks and Palestinian statehood, a prospect he abhors.

    After false starts, Adelson established his tabloid, Israel Hayom, in 2007. It now has a 38% share of the weekday newspaper market, compared to 36% for its main rival Yedioth Ahronoth, 11% for Ma'ariv and 7% for Haaretz.

    The heavily advertised paper is given away by uniformed distributors on the streets, outside supermarkets and at gas stations. It also has paid home-delivery sales.

    Its partisanship earned the nicknamed "Bibiton", a play on the prime minister's nickname and the Hebrew word for newspaper.

    Many have blamed it for the catastrophic demise of paid-for newspapers. Maariv faces possible closure. Haaretz is also in crisis, with layoffs and pay cuts looming. Yedioth announced cutbacks earlier this year, including dozens of job losses.

    The Israeli business website Globes quoted a senior Yedioth executive as saying: "You must know that Israel Hayom is destroying Israeli journalism not only at the professional level, with its embarrassing editorial conduct, but also at the economic level."

    Israel Hayom was breaking the market with ads at zero cost, crippling rivals' revenue streams, he said. "Israel Hayom has finished Ma'ariv, and it is now finishing Haaretz. Adelson has simply brought ruin."

    The mogul's friends disagree. "He put his money up for an alternative voice and people liked it. That's capitalism," said Sig Rogich, a businessman and media consultant in Las Vegas. Rogich also defended his friend's plunge into this year's US presidential and congressional races after years of confining himself to Nevada politics. He has shattered records by spending an estimated $70m backing Republican candidates nationwide.

    "This is a country built on the principle of freedom of speech," said Rogich. "When George Soros funded the other side no one complained. Sheldon has been transparent (about his contributions). You have to admire the truthfulness of standing up and telling the world that's he's responsible for the message."

    Adelson backed Newt Gingrich in the primaries but rowed in behind Romney. As the money has flowed, and as Paul Ryan and other Republican figures paid homage to their benefactor in Las Vegas, the New York Times, among others, asked what does he expect in return.

    Consciously or not, at a private fundraiser Romney echoed Adelson's views when he appeared to dismiss a two-state solution and said the Palestinians had no interest in peace. The Republican's proposed tax cuts could swell the mogul's bank account by about $2bn.

    In an interview with Politico, Adelson, who runs the only non-unionised resort on the Las Vegas strip, accused Obama's administration of waging a vendetta. If Romney wins, observers will closely watch the fate of the probes into Adelson's businesses.

    Onkar Ghate, a vice-president of the Ayn Rand Institute, which champions free markets, said tycoons had a right to fight back against vindictive governments: "If they spend money purely defensively then I think that's entirely correct."

    But others, including the Economist, fret that Super Pacs backed by the "0.1%" are rigging the system and entrenching inequality. "It is hard to believe that this surge of cash from the richest will have no impact at all."

    Freeland, the author of Plutocrats, said Adelson's activism raised profound issues. "Democracy is supposed to be one person, one vote. But when economic disparity grows and transfers into political disparity, well, you have to ask where it's going."

    A conversation with Sheldon Adelson

    Guardian: You have made substantial donations to the Romney campaign. Do you expect a return from this investment? How do you respond to critics who say you are buying influence?

    Sheldon Adelson: I do not expect any type of return, except that if the candidate we are supporting becomes president he maintains this country's freedom and its free-market capitalist ways, as opposed to his opponent who I believe is following socialist policies – it may work in other countries, but not here.

    There is absolutely no expectation of any favoritism whatsoever, though If I'm fortunate enough to be invited to the White House Hanukkah Party I hope someone would save me a couple of potato pancakes. They ran out the last time I was there.

    Guardian: Some critics also say a Romney victory could yield you billions in tax cuts and possible protection from multiple investigations into your business affairs. How do you respond?

    SA: I would be entitled to no preferential tax cuts or any other type of preferential treatment whatsoever. Any tax cuts that would apply to me would apply to President Obama, his wealthy donors, and everyone else. By the way, what is wrong with supporting a candidate whose economic views and values are the same as yours?

    Guardian: It's been said of you that you are probably the most aggressive, unforgiving individual in the business world today. What do you say to that?

    SA: Friends I've had for as long as 70 years would never match that word with me or my way of life. The word unforgiving and my name don't belong together – it is inconsistent with my concept of giving away much more than I make or spend on my family to help repair the world – through our drug treatment centers which rehabilitate drug addicts, specifically women who turn to prostitution because of drugs; our medical research foundation; the strong support we provide for our military veterans here in the United States and many other causes.© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    From Perry's 'oops', to Biden's 'big stick', via RuPaul and Lena Dunham, here are my highlights of this political crazy season

    It's been the costliest election in American history and it sure feels like the longest. It has also been one of the weirdest. The GOP primary provided a mini-series' worth of clown-car exits and debates, Twitter gave celebrities the chance to make themselves seem as unself-aware and smug as pundits (and vice versa). YouTube gave the world the presidential candidate we deserved – Bronco Bama – and hashtags organized the terse poetry of the truly bored.

    Here is a list of some things that actually – no, really, for serious – happened.

    1. Lindsay Lohan live tweeted the foreign policy debate.

    2. A bayonet company spokesman called Obama "ignorant" for joking that troops no longer need horses and bayonets "because troops still use bayonets".

    3. Donald Trump promised Americans that "their president will become transparent." Not a reference to RNC magic tricks, he instead made a public appeal for Obama to turn over his college transcripts in exchange for Trump donating $5m to a charity of Obama's choice. This did not happen.

    4. Rick Perry forgot the third government agency he wanted to eliminate.

    5. Twitterers speculated over what incriminating material was in the "missing two minutes" somehow deleted from footage of Mitt Romney dismissing 47% of America.

    Other Romney moments, many longer than two minutes: "I like being able to fire people," friendships with NASCAR team owners and football team owners, "corporations are people," "binders full of women", insulting London and:

    "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals."

    6. Bases on the moon: a thing Newt Gingrich proposed. "I think the moon primary would come late in the [campaign] season."

    Twitter then gave the world @gingrichideas.

    Newt's best idea, however, was to go to lots and lots of zoos.

    Second best idea? This press release.

    7. A supporter of GOP primary candidate Rick Santorum said on live television::

    "Back in my days, [women] used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives."

    (Note: the idea was that they held the tiny pills "between their knees", thus preventing … you get it.)

    8. Political analyst Mark Halperin trolled Las Vegas diva Cher over Twitter. And it worked?

    9. We debated "Muslim rage".


    11. Someone let Paul Ryan pose for pictures working out while wearing a backwards baseball cap – and those photos were on the internet.

    12. Speculation about the sex life of a private citizen becomes international news.

    13. Various Herman Cain things: his tax plan came from the video game Sim City, "Imagine there's no pizza", at the end of one of his best debate performances he quoted the theme song from Pokemon

    And, lest we forget, his campaign manager's "smoking man" ad.

    14. Drag queen RuPaul chased Ron Paul around New Hampshire.

    15. Amercia

    16. Failed presidential candidate Thad McCotter made an even more failed TV pilot.

    17. Palin said, with apparent seriousness, that Obama should "grow a big stick".

    18. Joe Biden promised the country, with apparent seriousness, that Obama "has a big stick."

    19. Not-very-popular presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Tweeted this about not-very-popular rock musician Captain Beefheart:

    I wonder if a tweet where I admit how much I like Captain Beefheart will make the followers skyrocket even more!

    20. Romney pushed various food items upon his traveling press:including pastry, Panera! "high end stuff" according to Romney, and beef jerky.

    21. The Biden team locked a reporter in a closet.

    22. Someone thought they could just switch some numbers around in poll results and call them "unskewed" and then people will believe them. It worked.

    23. Hipsterish celebrity, Lena Dunham, cut an absurdist, but earnest, ad for Obama comparing voting to sex. It made conservatives mad.

    24. Two legitimate candidates for the US Senate had to hold press conferences to clear up their ideas about how bad, and what the definition is, of rape.

    25. Hillary Clinton became an icon of nonchalant competence.

    26. Binder reviews on Amazon became a new comedy art form.

    27. Rick Santorum argued repeatedly that marriage-marriage and gay-marriage were not the same, because:a napkin is not a paper towel, water is not beer, a cup of tea is not a basketball and a tree is not a car.

    So that's clear.

    28. We talked about transvaginal ultrasounds. A lot.

    29. A reporter asked Mitt Romney, "What about your gaffes?" And it was a reasonable question.

    30. Bronco Bama. We're tired, too, Abby, we're tired, too.© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Tea Party says Romney was too moderate while leaders like Marco Rubio urge outreach to minorities as path to success

    The election may yet be remembered less as the day Mitt Romney lost the presidency and more as the day the Republican party died, at least in the shape that has existed for decades.

    The post-mortem into Tuesday's disastrous election results was already under way Wednesday. There was near consensus that the party needs a drastic overhaul. Does it move further to the right or to centre? Does it reach out to women, the young and minorities, eating into the Democratic coalition?

    Some conservatives, especially those from the Tea Party, argued for a shift further to the right, saying that first John McCain in 2008 and then Romney this year were too moderate, both Rinos ("Republican in name only").

    In an early taste of the blood-letting to come, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said he and figures such as Karl Rove – George W Bush's former strategist and co-founder of the Super Pac Crossroads – had been wrong in focusing on the economy. The party needed a rethink, to reach out to Latinos and other ethnic groups. "Unless we do that we're going to be a minority party," Gingrich said.

    The party has been and remains overwhelmingly male, old affluent and white.
    It has survived as an election fighting machine for so long only because of what Republicans describe as the southern strategy. That strategy is dependent on a guaranteed bloc of support among whites in southern states the party has enjoyed since the 1960s civil rights era. Throw in Christian evangelicals and others from the mid-west and the mountain states, and there was an election-winning combination.

    But, as Tuesday night showed, that no longer works. Not only did the Republicans fail to take the White House, they also failed for the second time in two years to take the Senate. The latter is almost as bitter a disappointment as the failure to win the presidential race.

    The chances are the shape of a new-look Republican party will not be decided by Gingrich or Rove or others of that older generation but the younger one, figures such as Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who gave the stand-out speech at the Republican convention in Tampa this year. He is already a front-runner for the 2016 presidential nomination.

    In a statement released yesterday, Rubio identified two targets. The first was that the Republicans had to expand its reach, to be seen as the party of not just the affluent but as the party that helps people become upwardly mobile.

    Like Gingrich, he called for outreach to ethnic minorities. "The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them," Rubio said.

    He is well-placed to make the argument as a Latino himself, the son of Cuban immigrants.

    The party has to not just appeal to Latinos but to begin to take at least some of the African American vote too from the Democrats. As well as addressing its failure among ethnic groups, the other priority is to address the alienation of gay and female voters.

    Tea Party blames Romney for being a 'moderate candidate'

    But the shift to a new-look party will not be easy. Relations between establishment Republicans and the newer Tea Party activists threaten to become messy. Within minutes of the result being announced, Jenny Beth Martin, head of the Tea Party Patriots, blamed the loss not on the changing demographics or social issues but on the candidate.

    "What we got was a weak, moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment wing of the Republican party,"
    Martin said. "The presidential loss is unequivocally on them."

    The Tea Party had a bad election again, with its more outlandish candidates having failed at the ballot box, but it is not finished yet, and it will have a say in what the new Republican party looks like.

    The prime issues for the Tea Party are not so much as social as small government, a policy that has a big appeal throughout the country, especially in the mid-west and the mountain states, as well as cutting the deficit and lowering taxes. Above all, like Martin, it is anti-establishment.

    A Tea Party activist, Evelyn Zur, from Parker, Colorado, is fully behind the idea of reaching out to Latinos and African Americans; he sported a T-shirt at a recent rally saying "Black and Conservative Are Not Mutually Exclusive". Zur resented the way the Tea Party is demonised as racist. She argued there is a space for conservative views among blacks in urban areas who have fared badly under the Democrats. She also sees the move as pragmatic. "Blacks and browns are going to be majority so Republicans have got to get them aboard," she said.

    One of the younger generation of Republicans who will have a say in the reshaping of the party, Henry Barbour, nephew of the former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, shares the view that the party has to reach out to Latinos, blacks, women and the young. Some of the candidates the party put up came across as "hostile", he said, adding that he did not have to name them.

    Unlike the Tea Party activists, Barbour is mainstream, an influential figure in his native Mississippi and in the Republican party beyond its borders.
    The party was and will remain a conservative one, Barbour said, and policies such as opposition to abortion would remain a given. But the part could also learn from the Democrats about better organisation in identifying and getting out voters.

    He thinks the party should listen to figures such as his uncle Haley Barbour and former Florida governor Jeb Bush but that the people who will lead the party should be Rubio or Romney's running-mate Paul Ryan or someone else from that generation.

    The main message of the election was the need to be more inclusive. "What we have to do is do is take our message to people who do not historically support us - blacks, Latinos, Asians, the young, people who agree with but we do not sit down with and break bread," Barbour said. "We either do it or we continue to blow them off."© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Former presidential candidate calls party 'incapable of competing' if she decides on another bid for the White House

    It's still four years to go until the next US presidential election, but already the Republicans are having cold sweats over the prospect of facing Hillary Clinton at the ballot box, judging by the comments of Newt Gingrich.

    The one-time challenger for the party's 2012 White House nod expressed the thought that many of his GOP colleagues must be harbouring, but are too timid to mention: If Clinton decides to stand in 2016, they are toast.

    "If the competitor in 16 is going to be Hillary Clinton, supported by Bill Clinton and presumably a still relatively popular President Barack Obama, trying to win that will be truly the Super Bowl," Gingrich told Meet the Press on NBC. "And the Republican party is incapable of competing at that level."

    It has become the parlour game of the moment to wonder whether Clinton will run for the White House in 2016 once she stands down as secretary of state, which the New York Times says will be soon after the inauguration of Obama's second term next month. Should she decide to make a bid, her current popularity levels, at 61%, would make her a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination.

    Gingrich's frank words are revealing because they show how fearsome the Democratic trinity of the two Clintons and Obama appears to the Republicans. "She is married to the most popular Democrat in the country. They both think it would be good for her to be president. That makes it virtually impossible to stop her for the nomination, I think," he said

    Gingrich, who knows all about the terrifying powers of the Clintons having been Republican House speaker during the Bill Clinton administration, went further, saying that the Republican party in its current guise would be ill-equipped to take them on.

    "We didn't blow it because of Mitt Romney," he told NBC. "We blew it because of a party which has refused to engage the reality of American life and refused to think through what the average American needs for a better future."

    Still, Gingrich's penetrating soul-searching about the competence of the GOP to take back the White House appears not to extend to his own political suitability for the highest office. Asked whether he would put himself forward in 2016 he said: "I doubt it," but then added: "One never knows."© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Four years ago she was beaten and bitter, and now she's practically a shoo-in for 2016. GOP contenders, take note

    Newt Gingrich's declaration this week that "the Republican party today is incapable of competing" against Hillary Clinton should she run for president is, most of all, a statement about Newt Gingrich. That he made the pronouncement on NBC's Meet the Press was an indication of just how adrift his party is.

    The line is a testament to his genius for self-promotion and his ability to attach himself to prevailing winds. I've always presumed that Gingrich would be an excellent ambassador to his predicted lunar colony primarily because he only needs publicity, not oxygen, to breathe.

    But what does the quote say about Hillary Clinton? Not as much as progressives might hope. Post-giddiness has given way to an atmosphere among Democrats that magnifies all signs of Republican collapse, from the would-be "banishment" of Karl Rove at Fox to the diminishment of Grover Norquist. To be sure, the GOP is struggling with both identity and popularity at the moment, but the operative concept in Gingrich's formulation isn't either party but "today".

    Today, the GOP is incapable of beating Hillary, but that doesn't really matter. Besides, she's been inevitable before. Indeed, James Carville's quip on the show – that Democrats "don't need a primary. Let's just go to post with this thing" – might just be an indication of his memory for the last time she was a sure thing more than it is a statement of confidence in it this time around. In 2007, she went from inevitable to indefatigable into a period of incredulousness; she was the leader of a presidential primary run so ruthless and mathematically improbable it makes you wonder if she's given Mitt Romney a condolence call yet.

    Remember that? The desperation and lead-footed feints of the too-long-to-die Clinton campaign? Remember the denial of her most fervent supporters ("Party Unity My Ass!"), who couldn't believe they'd been outstripped by this newcomer, this stranger with a murky past and murkier ideology? ("Birthism", it may pain you to remember, started with Hillary die-hards.) He must have cheated somehow. The media had it rigged in his favor from the start, anyway.

    It sounds familiar, no? Yet out of that mean-spirited funk rose one of the most popular and visible secretaries of state in modern times. Looking at Hillary's shift from sore loser to next-in-line, one wonders if the way for the GOP to succeed in beating Clinton is learn from her. There are limits to how much a party can emulate a person, of course. It cannot retire to Chappaqua or grow its hair out.

    But there are some clues from Hillary's journey that Republicans – certainly individually, if not as a party – can follow.

    1. Start now. Hillary's speech at the 2008 convention threw all in for Obama and at the same time celebrated the idea of "never stopping". There's a tradition of coyness in presidential runs that runs right through to Hillary today, but if the GOP wants to dramatically change its fortunes, why not be dramatic? Encourage hopefuls to announce their intentions, let the American people start to get to know who they are, especially if those contenders put themselves in the public eye via their work and not media appearances. Which brings us to:

    2. Create policy, not catchphrases. Clinton gives good speeches. Not great speeches, and she probably realizes that. Her rise as secretary of state hasn't been on the back of rhetoric (unlike some presidents I could name), but distinct actions. It's another tradition for would-be candidates to do tours of various thinktanks and conferences to get themselves in the public eye; Hillary has gained popularity by doing most of her work outside of it. This strategy, applied to GOP candidates, would restrict the field to elected officials and government appointees – which might not be a bad idea for the party to consider. (Cough) Herman Cain (cough).

    3. You are not your supporters. Or: lead, don't follow. The Clinton example here is her deft handling of those disgruntled supporters: she praised their loyalty but didn't exhibit the desire let their loyalty determine her actions. And she didn't try to bribe or cajole them into staying with her once she started in a direction they didn't like. This is how the GOP should approach the Tea Party: So long convinced that it is the sole source of conservative "momentum," the Republican party seems unwilling to risk seeking support form a more, well, stable base.

    Really, every one of these strategies has at its heart a single logic: Putting the country's, or voters' interests before one's own. As a candidate for 2008, Hillary's negatives came from the perception that she was ambitious for the sake of ambition – she started being cool and more electable and more appealing, almost as soon as it became clear her ambitions was secondary to getting things done.

    Thus far in our short post-election season, the Republican party has shown little interest in getting things done – and a lot entitlement.© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Former presidential candidate – who previously called same-sex marriage 'pagan behavior' – says his party needs to change

    It's what passes for vision in today's Republican party: recognizing a new political reality and not closing your eyes in denial. Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio showed they have it when they called for a more inclusive party following Mitt Romney's defeat. Romney showed he doesn't have it when he blamed that defeat on "gifts" the president handed out to his base.

    Another guy who has it: Newt Gingrich, who is now encouraging Republicans to rethink their position on gay marriage.

    "I think that [same-sex marriage] will be much more difficult than immigration for conservatism to come to grips with," Gingrich told the Huffington Post. "It is in every family. It is in every community. The momentum is clearly now in the direction in finding some way to ... accommodate and deal with reality."

    What's charming about Gingrich is that he did not try to dress up this analysis as a change of heart. His argument, instead, is explicitly political: The public has moved – let's chase them.

    "The reality is going to be that in a number of American states – and it will be more after 2014 – gay relationships will be legal, period," Gingrich said.

    Ballot measures legalizing same-sex marriage passed last month in Maryland, Washington and Maine. It was the first time gay marriage had passed in a statewide referendum, as opposed to being instituted through a court decision.

    Gingrich came to power as a purported budget hawk and has never been a hero to the social issues ideologues in the GOP. He has shared the sanctity of marriage with three partners so far. During the recent presidential campaign he showed himself willing to totter plenty far out on the limb of anti-gay bigotry, at one point calling same-sex marriage "pagan behavior" – and meaning it in a bad way.

    The underlying sense, however, is that Gingrich doesn't care deeply about the issue, except for how it plays on the hustings. He has shown similarly sensitive antennae on the question of immigration, taking the kind of moderate position during the Republican primary debates that Romney could beat the stuffing out of. Romney did, and won the primary, and then lost the general against the very argument Gingrich already owned.

    As for Romney's belief that President Obama had used gifts to win reelection, Gingrich had the same reaction as Jindal and Rubio – except Gingrich, for once, was more succinct. ABC News asked him about Romney's remark last month.

    "I just think it's nuts," Gingrich said.© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    The split in the Republican House leadership may not herald a challenge from Cantor, but the speaker is in for a bumpy ride

    • Cantor's revolt exposes Republicans' growing rift

    It's rare for the top two members of the House leadership to split on an important vote. Bob Michel, the hapless leader of the House Republicans during a long period in the minority, and Newt Gingrich voted differently on the 1990 "read my lips" tax increase. They split again over the 1994 assault weapons ban.

    Even less common is a House speaker and majority leader going their separate ways on big-ticket legislation. The last major example is when the Democratic-controlled House debated funding President George W Bush's surge in Iraq. House speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed the measure to proceed to the floor and voted no. House majority leader Steny Hoyer voted yes.

    House speakers typically don't even vote at all unless it is necessary to break a tie. So it may have been a clarifying moment when speaker of the House John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor parted ways on the deal that ended the long national nightmare known as the fiscal cliff. Boehner voted for the bipartisan agreement negotiated between Vice-President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Cantor breathed the final moments of life into the opposition.

    In fact, the House Republican leadership team split right down the middle on the legislation. House majority whip Kevin McCarthy voted against; House Republican conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers sided with Boehner and voted in favor.

    When Pelosi and Hoyer disagreed on the surge, it was the speaker who sided with the majority of her caucus.

    House conservatives have increasingly chafed under Boehner's leadership. Four independent-minded fiscal conservatives – Justin Amash of Michigan, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Walter Jones of North Carolina, and David Schweikert of Arizona – were purged from their preferred committee assignments for their unpredictable voting behavior. Secret "scorecards" were allegedly used in making the decision, though this has been denied publicly. Conservatives helped defeat Boehner's "Plan B" compromise on the fiscal cliff before Christmas.

    The problem is that House Republicans are stifled by a Democratic Senate and president. Many of them hail from safe, conservative districts. A critical mass were elected in 2010 with high hopes for cutting government spending. Boehner's efforts to work within these constraints have not endeared him to some restless Republicans.

    Enter Eric Cantor. In closed-door meetings of the House Republican conference, he expressed his opposition to the Senate bill before Boehner had taken a stand. He expressed the sense of most Republicans that it raised taxes without getting any meaningful spending cuts in return, that it added to the deficit, and that it created the precedent that any cuts must be paired with tax hikes.

    President Obama's team released a statement that morning suggesting they agreed with that last point, practically singing, "Ding-dong, Grover Norquist's dead."

    Cantor had tried to establish himself as the right flank of the debt ceiling negotiations in the summer of 2011, famously irritating the president. But many conservatives regarded this as ambition talking more than principle. When the majority leader said out loud what most Republicans were thinking about the fiscal cliff bill, however, there was admiration.

    As reports of the meeting leaked out, observers began to wonder if a Cantor coup against Boehner was brewing. Cantor's spokesman, Doug Heye, took to Twitter to quell the rumors:

    Six hours later, Boehner and Cantor took opposite positions in the roll call vote.

    Could Cantor make a move? The conditions are there, but an exhausted Republican caucus may ultimately flinch from a change at such an uncertain time. And if Cantor doesn't run, it's hard to see anyone else mustering the votes to oust Boehner.

    Boehner also has a strong case to make. When Obama was re-elected, Republicans lost much of their leverage. That immediately set up a conflict between the spending cuts they hoped they were getting when they negotiated the debt ceiling deal in August and the Bush tax cuts that were always set to expire at the end of the year.

    Those spending cuts didn't really materialize – at least, not to the extent Republicans had hoped – and the top income tax rate is going up. (So are payroll taxes, though there didn't seem to be a strong constituency in either party for resisting that regressive tax hike.) But when the dust settles, House Republicans avoided being held responsible for an across-the-board tax increase, gave up substantially less revenue than Obama demanded, and most of them didn't even end up having to vote for the increase on the top earners.

    Nearly all rising stars and strong conservatives in the House – with the exception of Paul Ryan, who supported his ally Boehner by voting for the deal – were spared.

    It hasn't been pretty and it hasn't yielded significant conservative reforms, but Boehner has averted government shutdowns, a default, and the fiscal cliff under seemingly impossible odds. House Republicans live to fight another day, possibly as soon as the next debt ceiling extension. All that has to count for something.

    But Cantor doesn't have to vie for the top job now. More than four years passed between when Gingrich led the revolt against the 1990 tax increase and when he took over the leadership from Michel, who dutifully supported his president in raising taxes.

    For now, the leadership has covered all its bases, with key members able to tell rank-and-file Republicans they took both positions on the deal. But even with the gavel, Boehner is in for a wild ride.© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Politicians' books are worthless pap, but as Jeb Bush shows, a pile of books beats a soapbox for improving one's standing

    Jeb Bush left office six years ago, at the age of 54, and basically, has not held a job since. There was talk of him stepping forward to help rescue the Republican party from its 2012 hopeless slate of candidates, but he demurred. And there was talk about him becoming the National Football League commissioner at the tail end of his term as Florida governor, but Bush said he wouldn't even consider his next career step until he was out of office.

    He decided, evidently, to do – at least, officially – almost nothing at all.

    Until now. Now, he has co-written a book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution. On Sunday, he did all the morning talk shows. He'll be talking about this book for months and months to come.

    And that's what this column is about: books by politicians. Books as political career-building blocks. Books as legitimizing devices. Books as political objects.

    It is as expected as kissing babies that a politician who is aspiring to national office will write a book. Beside me, at my desk, for reasons I can't fathom, has been Mark Rubio's face for the last several months, on the cover of his book. Everybody who is going to run for president in 2016 will have a book. Maybe two.

    I think we can all safely agree that no one, except perhaps the emotionally disturbed, has ever read one of these books. It transpired during the Republican race last year that Rick Santorum had not quite read his own book. It is not a requirement, or even an expectation, that ambitious politicians write their own books.

    Barack Obama wrote a revealing book before he was a plausible contender, before he was likely at all to be anyone, and he probably wrote it himself. Then, after he became a viable candidate, he wrote another, probably much less by himself, which carefully said nothing at all.

    Still, these dishwater dull and insipid books are powerful. This is effective media.

    In Jeb Bush's case, a book wipes his indolence clean. The man might reasonably be hardpressed to explain just exactly what he was doing for the past six years, and on what basis was he supporting his family (which would open up the issue of sweetheart consulting deals and overpaid speeches). But having a book, especially on a policy topic, shows he was being an expert, pursuing the public's welfare, solving problems, that he was out-front, that he was leading. To prove it, he wrote a book.

    His book, as these books are, is one moderately diligent speech and the rest is almost wholly valueless padding.

    The core material itself – the basic stump speech, which he will now repeat at forum after forum – is hardly all that interesting. Bush tries to walk the fine line between Republican troglodytes who oppose all immigration reform, and the obvious necessity for a more tolerant position. In this, he offers a series of banal and slightly more tolerant policy proscriptions.

    But pay no attention to that, because no one will. Rather, the point is that because of this book, which no one will read or seriously review, Jeb Bush is now a spokesman for this issue. And that puts him on television as a man with a mission, instead of as a mere candidate. He doesn't have to say what is obvious ("I've just been waiting around for my time to run for president"). He can say, "I'm deeply concerned about immigration."

    Still, don't think a book by a climbing politician is just propaganda. It doesn't even provide that amount of feeling and commitment. In fact, politicians are really careful to say mostly nothing at all in their books – lest, when they do run, they are held accountable for what they may have written.

    These books a really more sleights of hand. They're pretend books. It's like being named a chairman of a worthy cause. It's wholly symbolic.

    So why do publishers collude in this deception?

    For one thing, the publisher doesn't really have to pay you. You certainly don't want to look like Newt Gingrich when Rupert Murdoch used his book company, HarperCollins, to funnel an extra $4.5m to Newt. (Indeed, if you hold office, there are no rules governing this sort of thing.)

    And you get free publicity. Jeb Bush's book tour masking as campaign launch will actually sell books. Not a huge number, of course, but perhaps 30-40,000 – that's a profit of several hundred thousand dollars to a publisher.

    Still. Here's a book without real thought, or information, or meaning, besides self-promotion, which exists only to provide a pretext to get the politician-author on television. You would think a publisher would have some gatekeeper pride before so willingly becoming part of this charade. At least, you might think the publisher would worry about the devaluation these phony books might have on books as a whole. (Really, it's hard to look at any book the same way, after you've tried to read one of these.) But alas …

    Curiously, these politicians who have written (or who have had someone else write) these phony-baloney books, actually come to think of themselves as authors, with a stack of new books always at their elbow. It's almost impossible to visit one of them and not come away with an autographed copy of your own.

    So here is Jeb Bush: with his book in hand – his artifact, his prop – on the hustings, surely aiming for his shot.© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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