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Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice

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    From the premiere of a Gingrich Productions production to a panel on how not to appear racist, this CPAC is fun-packed

    The 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference got under way on Thursday, and everyone is excited.

    Thousands are attending the three-day conservative convention to listen to a variety of rightwing favourites. This year, the convention has infamously become too conservative for many of the most famous conservative politicians, which means it should be tremendous fun.

    But with an event list that stretches to 16 pages, and that features scores of speakers, it can be hard to know what to attend. Here are five things, however, that Must Not Be Missed.

    Movie screening: Ronald Reagan – Rendezvous with Destiny
    Thursday, 8.30pm

    This one is billed as an award-winning look at the beloved 40th president, starring the Honourable Newt Gingrich & Callista Gingrich.

    A Gingrich Productions production, this 80-minute documentary "is a groundbreaking film that documents the life and legacy of the 40th President of the United States", according to Gingrich Productions.

    It is fronted by the Gingriches, and fans of their disjointed co-presenting style – see their energy-sapping appearance at the GOP convention in August – will know this is not one to miss. Witness Callista glaring, wide-eyed at the camera. See Newt's suit. Feel his love for Reagan. Behold Callista's 80s-themed, immaculately-coiffed hairstyle.

    "[Reagan's] rendezvous with destiny is a reminder that we all have a similar rendezvous," Newt says as he introduces the film. "And that together we can create a better future for America."

    Donald Trump: Friday, 8.45am

    Get up early for Trump.

    It's been a busy few months at the Trump Organisation. In October, Trump demanded Barack Obama reveal his passport and college details in exchange for a $5m donation to charity. (Trump later refused to reveal his own details when the Guardian asked, in exchange for a $0 donation to nothing).

    In January, Trump said he had uncovered definitive proof that he was not part orangutan, and sued comedian Bill Maher for $5m for suggesting otherwise.

    In February, it emerged that Trump's legal team had threatened an internet campaigner with a $25m lawsuit after 700,000 people signed a petition asking Macy's to "dump" the businessman from its advertising.

    Who will Trump take aim at this time? Will his weapon be a lawsuit or borderline blackmail? Turn up to find out.

    Rick Santorum: various times

    Santorum appearances have been relatively scarce over the past few months, but the one-time frontrunner for the Republican nomination is back with a vengeance on Friday. His Super Pac, Patriot Voices, has dubbed the day "Patriot Voices Day" (CPAC has not) and lined up no less than six Rick Santorum hosted events.

    Fans of Rick Santorum, and so presumably fans of the declaration of independence, shale, sweater-vests, etc, are in for a real treat.

    At 12pm Rick Santorum addresses CPAC attendees. At 12.30pm, why not enjoy Luncheon with Rick Santorum, followed by "remarks"? At 3.15pm Rick Santorum will host a movie screening. At 4pm Rick Santorum will host a book signing. At 5.30pm Rick Santorum will host a reception. And at 7.30pm Rick Santorum will participate in a roundtable discussion.

    Do not miss any of these events.

    Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You're Not One? Friday, 3pm

    The issue of race and racism can be a tricky one to navigate. Good news then, that it is the ever-sensitive Tea Party Patriots, who are sponsoring this discussion of How You're Not a Racist Even If Everyone Else Thinks You're Racist And Says You're Racist But You're Not Racist You Just Believe In America And What About These Illegal Immigrants And Take Back This Country And Etc Etc.

    Sadly, there is little information available about this event. But clearly it is a must for people who are sick and tired of being called racist, yet know they are not one.

    Sarah Palin: Saturday, 12pm

    The former governor of Alaska comes out of non-self-imposed exile to preach to the converted. Dropped by Fox earlier this year, Palin is bouncing back with a 16-minute address (actually one of the longer speeches) on the last day of the event.

    In her speech last year, Palin focussed on the combined evils of Planned Parenthood, the Environmental Protection Agency and Washington DC as a whole, in a crowd-pleasing, Occupy-protester-drowning speech.

    There's no word yet on whether Palin will plug the Christmas book she was commissioned to write this week, which will be provocatively titled: "A Happy Holiday IS a Merry Christmas" and is supposedly going to be a Yuletide-themed attack on political correctness as well as a defense of faith. Either way, this is likely to be one of the most popular events at CPAC.


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    On the final day of the annual conservative jamboree, the speakers include Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter. Follow it live here



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    GOP veteran says Republicans must stop being seen as the 'anti-everything party' and should adopt a more positive message

    The former House speaker Newt Gingrich brandished a candle and a lightbulb as he denounced the Republican establishment on Saturday, urging the party to embrace new ideas to win back the White House.

    Gingrich echoed other senior Republicans who have used the Conservative Political Action Conference to urge the party to change, and said the Republican top brass was "just plain wrong about how it approaches politics".

    He said the GOP needed to "enter the age of the lightbulb" and praised Jeb Bush, seen as a potential 2016 candidate, who warned on Friday that that it needed to stop being seen as the "anti-everything party".

    On the final day of CPAC just outside Washington DC, Gingrich, who failed in his bid to win the Republican nomination for president last year, urged the party to adopt a positive message. He said: "We are not the anti-Obama movement. We are for a better American future."

    Gingrich insisted the party should better define itself as "for empowering individuals" and claimed that the GOP leadership had "learned nothing" since he first ran for Congress in 1976.

    "We have to disenthrall ourselves from the establishment's anti-idea approach. We must disenthrall ourselves from an accountant green eye shades approach to thinking about budgets. We must disenthrall ourselves from a consultant culture which believes politics can be reduced to raising money to run ads to attack somebody," Gingrich said.

    "It is sobering to me to be standing here as a senior member of this party telling you from 1976 from 2013 we have the dominant wing in this party which has learnt nothing, and is as mired in the quags and as mired in the stupidity as it was in 1976," he said.

    Criticism of the Republican party establishment has been a familiar theme at CPAC, which has refused to invite some of the party's most prominent but more centrist members such as New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

    On Thursday the Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, said that "the GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered" in his speech on Thursday.

    Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee in 2012, said on Friday that Republicans had to listen to the ideas of governors in Democratic-leaning and swing states, such as Christie, who is distrusted by many conservatives after he praised Barack Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

    In his speech on Saturday, Gingrich held up his props and embarked upon an extended metaphor about the Democrats being "trapped in the age of candles". He called on Republicans to "enter the age of the lightbulb".

    Gingrich said Republicans in Congress could be "having a hearing every week on the future … They could be contrasting the various and sundry bureaucratic candles that are trapped in the world of luminative light with all the breakthroughs in new science and technology".

    Gingrich made it clear he was not calling for an entire overhaul: he said the party should remain true to its principles but harvest new ideas about how to apply them. He stressed that the GOP "should unflinchingly stand on the right to life".

    His remarks were an echo of Bush's speech to CPAC on Friday. Speaking at the CPAC annual dinner, the former Florida governor said: "All too often we're associated with being 'anti' everything.

    "Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates even though they share our core beliefs, because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party."

    The extent to which Republicans are ready to accept the message from Bush, Gingrich and Romney is unclear. In particular, Bush's speech received only a lukewarm response.

    Delivering CPAC's top-billing address, Bush risked the wrath of his party in appearing to urge a departure from Republicans' traditional message of individual success. "It is not a validation of our conservative principles if we can only point to the increasingly rare individual who overcomes adversity and succeeds in America," Bush said. "Here's reality: if you're fortunate enough to count yourself among the privileged, much of the rest of the nation is drowning.

    "In our country today, if you're born poor, if your parents didn't go to college, if you don't know your father, if English isn't spoken at home, then the odds are stacked against you. You are more likely to stay poor today than at any other time since the second world war," he said.


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    The annual conservative conference was a surreal combination of performance art and serious politics. Oh, and zombies



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    George Packer does a fine job of charting US decline. But where's the anger?

    One of the odd things about American news programmes is how little American news they feature. Typhoons and hurricanes, crazies and lone gunmen, Barack Obama staging a press conference, 10 seconds about the Middle East, a famous actor doing something scandalous, back to the weather: all this giddy fragmentation is further punctuated by so many commercial breaks or mentions of what's coming up after those breaks that it can be hard to tell the difference between reportage and retail. America itself – its landscapes, rhythms, textures – is more invoked than evoked. A mere brand or sign. A tool to manufacture a togetherness that doesn't exist.

    George Packer's new book is about this missing America. Spanning three decades, it's a history of disassemblage, a chronicle of a nation where the "structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape – the farms of the Carolina Piedmont, the factories of the Mahoning Valley, Florida subdivisions, California schools". It's also a threnody, a lamentation about the silence, at least in political circles, around those collapsing structures: "An old city can lose its industrial foundation and two-thirds of its people, while all its mainstays – churches, government, business, charities, unions – fall like building flats in a strong wind, hardly making a sound."

    Packer, a staff writer at the New Yorker and author of The Assassins' Gate, a 2005 study of the US war in Iraq, is also a novelist. The Unwinding is strongly influenced by the USA trilogy (1930-36) of John Dos Passos, a political radical in his early days and a literary modernist, who famously claimed that "Mostly USA is the speech of the people".

    Like him, Packer constructs his factual narrative from the stories of a broad range of characters: Madison-raised Dean Price is hauled out of his mixed high school by his racist father, weans himself on self-help books and opens up a slew of truck stops, convenience stores and burger joints before becoming an evangelist for biofuel. He is equal parts dreamer, indomitable entrepreneur, utopian Del Boy.

    Then there's Jeff Connaughton, an idealistic lobbyist, White House lawyer and former aide to Joe Biden who recalls in savage detail how his initial admiration for Obama's vice-president turned to disgust, not just because of Biden's foibles (cribbing from a Neil Kinnock speech, mistreating people close to him) but more importantly because of his absolute failure to push through legislation that would have broken up those national banks whose greed and corruption brought America to the brink of economic meltdown. Packer has a great deal of time for these men, and for Tammy Thomas, a black American woman from Ohio who grew up taking care of an alcoholic mother who was in and out of jail for drugs, fraud and robberies. Somehow, in spite of the steel mills in her home town closing down and having to raise her children in a gang-colonised neighbourhood, she becomes a community organiser. Less warmly – though by no means acerbically – portrayed is Peter Thiel, a billionaire venture capitalist and libertarian co-founder of PayPal, who finances projects involving seasteading and reversing human ageing.

    Like Dos Passos, Packer interlaces these stories, themselves recounted in small sections, with "newsreels" in which the mood of a particular year – or rather the hysterical sound-and-fury of its public discourse to which his own subsequent stories offer a more considered, infrasonic counterpoint – is jerry-built from newspaper headlines, tweets, television listings and pop lyrics. Also, again like Dos Passos, he includes potted and sometimes vinegary biographies of various American public figures including Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, conservative activist Andrew Breitbart and, a little puzzlingly, the writer Raymond Carver. These can be damning. Of Newt Gingrich, married to Jackie though widely known to be a philanderer, he writes: "He tried to keep it to oral sex so he could claim literal fidelity if anyone asked but within two years the marriage was over, another adoring woman about to become the next Mrs Gingrich, the advocate of civilisation standing at Jackie's hospital bed as she lay recovering from uterine cancer, a yellow legal pad with divorce terms in his hand." Mostly, though, they feel like material worked up from magazine profiles or overambitious efforts to anatomise a nation through its celebrities.

    Packer isn't too clear about when "The Unwinding" took place. At one point he asks if it began with the end of the Reagan recession in 1982 and the bubbles – bond, tech, stock, housing markets – that followed. Was it caused by the deindustrialisation of the 1970s? Many of the factories that disappeared for ever were "hot, filthy, body-and soul-crushing" but they offered decent wages and a sense of belonging – to a community, a class, a nation – since extirpated. Or were its seeds planted in the 1950s – a decade of unrivalled middle-class prosperity – with the rise in car ownership and shopping malls, developments that would contribute to the decline of Main Street as both a real and symbolic common space?

    Packer sometimes channels and sometimes overlays the voices of his confidants to point the finger at various modern criminals: lobbyists, Wall Street bankers, cynical politicians. But though he talks about how Washington was "captured" and ventriloquises Connaughton's growing disenchantment by talking about how "everything he had learned in law school… was bullshit", he doesn't name names and, like the sonorous and stylistically adept New Yorker writer he is, mostly keeps his anger in check.

    Yet the subtitle of The UnwindingAn Inner History of the New America– brings to mind JG Ballard's notion of "inner space". Deploying delirially anti-humanistic prose, Ballard drew on his fascination with America's dark psycho-interiorities to produce extraordinarily prophetic publications such as Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan as early as 1968. Equally, The Unwinding could have learned from the roiling prose-fire of Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi who likened Goldman Sachs to "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money".

    Packer's book – so decent, meticulous, concerned – reads like both a shrine to and the embodiment of a form of civics that barely exists in America these days. Is lambent lamentation enough?


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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."


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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.


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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".

    10. EASTWOODING.

    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.


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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."


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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."


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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    From the premiere of a Gingrich Productions production to a panel on how not to appear racist, this CPAC is fun-packed

    The 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference got under way on Thursday, and everyone is excited.

    Thousands are attending the three-day conservative convention to listen to a variety of rightwing favourites. This year, the convention has infamously become too conservative for many of the most famous conservative politicians, which means it should be tremendous fun.

    But with an event list that stretches to 16 pages, and that features scores of speakers, it can be hard to know what to attend. Here are five things, however, that Must Not Be Missed.

    Movie screening: Ronald Reagan – Rendezvous with Destiny
    Thursday, 8.30pm

    This one is billed as an award-winning look at the beloved 40th president, starring the Honourable Newt Gingrich & Callista Gingrich.

    A Gingrich Productions production, this 80-minute documentary "is a groundbreaking film that documents the life and legacy of the 40th President of the United States", according to Gingrich Productions.

    It is fronted by the Gingriches, and fans of their disjointed co-presenting style – see their energy-sapping appearance at the GOP convention in August – will know this is not one to miss. Witness Callista glaring, wide-eyed at the camera. See Newt's suit. Feel his love for Reagan. Behold Callista's 80s-themed, immaculately-coiffed hairstyle.

    "[Reagan's] rendezvous with destiny is a reminder that we all have a similar rendezvous," Newt says as he introduces the film. "And that together we can create a better future for America."

    Donald Trump: Friday, 8.45am

    Get up early for Trump.

    It's been a busy few months at the Trump Organisation. In October, Trump demanded Barack Obama reveal his passport and college details in exchange for a $5m donation to charity. (Trump later refused to reveal his own details when the Guardian asked, in exchange for a $0 donation to nothing).

    In January, Trump said he had uncovered definitive proof that he was not part orangutan, and sued comedian Bill Maher for $5m for suggesting otherwise.

    In February, it emerged that Trump's legal team had threatened an internet campaigner with a $25m lawsuit after 700,000 people signed a petition asking Macy's to "dump" the businessman from its advertising.

    Who will Trump take aim at this time? Will his weapon be a lawsuit or borderline blackmail? Turn up to find out.

    Rick Santorum: various times

    Santorum appearances have been relatively scarce over the past few months, but the one-time frontrunner for the Republican nomination is back with a vengeance on Friday. His Super Pac, Patriot Voices, has dubbed the day "Patriot Voices Day" (CPAC has not) and lined up no less than six Rick Santorum hosted events.

    Fans of Rick Santorum, and so presumably fans of the declaration of independence, shale, sweater-vests, etc, are in for a real treat.

    At 12pm Rick Santorum addresses CPAC attendees. At 12.30pm, why not enjoy Luncheon with Rick Santorum, followed by "remarks"? At 3.15pm Rick Santorum will host a movie screening. At 4pm Rick Santorum will host a book signing. At 5.30pm Rick Santorum will host a reception. And at 7.30pm Rick Santorum will participate in a roundtable discussion.

    Do not miss any of these events.

    Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You're Not One? Friday, 3pm

    The issue of race and racism can be a tricky one to navigate. Good news then, that it is the ever-sensitive Tea Party Patriots, who are sponsoring this discussion of How You're Not a Racist Even If Everyone Else Thinks You're Racist And Says You're Racist But You're Not Racist You Just Believe In America And What About These Illegal Immigrants And Take Back This Country And Etc Etc.

    Sadly, there is little information available about this event. But clearly it is a must for people who are sick and tired of being called racist, yet know they are not one.

    Sarah Palin: Saturday, 12pm

    The former governor of Alaska comes out of non-self-imposed exile to preach to the converted. Dropped by Fox earlier this year, Palin is bouncing back with a 16-minute address (actually one of the longer speeches) on the last day of the event.

    In her speech last year, Palin focussed on the combined evils of Planned Parenthood, the Environmental Protection Agency and Washington DC as a whole, in a crowd-pleasing, Occupy-protester-drowning speech.

    There's no word yet on whether Palin will plug the Christmas book she was commissioned to write this week, which will be provocatively titled: "A Happy Holiday IS a Merry Christmas" and is supposedly going to be a Yuletide-themed attack on political correctness as well as a defense of faith. Either way, this is likely to be one of the most popular events at CPAC.


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    GOP veteran says Republicans must stop being seen as the 'anti-everything party' and should adopt a more positive message

    The former House speaker Newt Gingrich brandished a candle and a lightbulb as he denounced the Republican establishment on Saturday, urging the party to embrace new ideas to win back the White House.

    Gingrich echoed other senior Republicans who have used the Conservative Political Action Conference to urge the party to change, and said the Republican top brass was "just plain wrong about how it approaches politics".

    He said the GOP needed to "enter the age of the lightbulb" and praised Jeb Bush, seen as a potential 2016 candidate, who warned on Friday that that it needed to stop being seen as the "anti-everything party".

    On the final day of CPAC just outside Washington DC, Gingrich, who failed in his bid to win the Republican nomination for president last year, urged the party to adopt a positive message. He said: "We are not the anti-Obama movement. We are for a better American future."

    Gingrich insisted the party should better define itself as "for empowering individuals" and claimed that the GOP leadership had "learned nothing" since he first ran for Congress in 1976.

    "We have to disenthrall ourselves from the establishment's anti-idea approach. We must disenthrall ourselves from an accountant green eye shades approach to thinking about budgets. We must disenthrall ourselves from a consultant culture which believes politics can be reduced to raising money to run ads to attack somebody," Gingrich said.

    "It is sobering to me to be standing here as a senior member of this party telling you from 1976 from 2013 we have the dominant wing in this party which has learnt nothing, and is as mired in the quags and as mired in the stupidity as it was in 1976," he said.

    Criticism of the Republican party establishment has been a familiar theme at CPAC, which has refused to invite some of the party's most prominent but more centrist members such as New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

    On Thursday the Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, said that "the GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered" in his speech on Thursday.

    Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee in 2012, said on Friday that Republicans had to listen to the ideas of governors in Democratic-leaning and swing states, such as Christie, who is distrusted by many conservatives after he praised Barack Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

    In his speech on Saturday, Gingrich held up his props and embarked upon an extended metaphor about the Democrats being "trapped in the age of candles". He called on Republicans to "enter the age of the lightbulb".

    Gingrich said Republicans in Congress could be "having a hearing every week on the future … They could be contrasting the various and sundry bureaucratic candles that are trapped in the world of luminative light with all the breakthroughs in new science and technology".

    Gingrich made it clear he was not calling for an entire overhaul: he said the party should remain true to its principles but harvest new ideas about how to apply them. He stressed that the GOP "should unflinchingly stand on the right to life".

    His remarks were an echo of Bush's speech to CPAC on Friday. Speaking at the CPAC annual dinner, the former Florida governor said: "All too often we're associated with being 'anti' everything.

    "Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates even though they share our core beliefs, because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party."

    The extent to which Republicans are ready to accept the message from Bush, Gingrich and Romney is unclear. In particular, Bush's speech received only a lukewarm response.

    Delivering CPAC's top-billing address, Bush risked the wrath of his party in appearing to urge a departure from Republicans' traditional message of individual success. "It is not a validation of our conservative principles if we can only point to the increasingly rare individual who overcomes adversity and succeeds in America," Bush said. "Here's reality: if you're fortunate enough to count yourself among the privileged, much of the rest of the nation is drowning.

    "In our country today, if you're born poor, if your parents didn't go to college, if you don't know your father, if English isn't spoken at home, then the odds are stacked against you. You are more likely to stay poor today than at any other time since the second world war," he said.


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    Final day of the annual conservative jamboree hears from Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Scott Walker



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    The annual conservative conference was a surreal combination of performance art and serious politics. Oh, and zombies



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    George Packer does a fine job of charting US decline. But where's the anger?

    One of the odd things about American news programmes is how little American news they feature. Typhoons and hurricanes, crazies and lone gunmen, Barack Obama staging a press conference, 10 seconds about the Middle East, a famous actor doing something scandalous, back to the weather: all this giddy fragmentation is further punctuated by so many commercial breaks or mentions of what's coming up after those breaks that it can be hard to tell the difference between reportage and retail. America itself – its landscapes, rhythms, textures – is more invoked than evoked. A mere brand or sign. A tool to manufacture a togetherness that doesn't exist.

    George Packer's new book is about this missing America. Spanning three decades, it's a history of disassemblage, a chronicle of a nation where the "structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape – the farms of the Carolina Piedmont, the factories of the Mahoning Valley, Florida subdivisions, California schools". It's also a threnody, a lamentation about the silence, at least in political circles, around those collapsing structures: "An old city can lose its industrial foundation and two-thirds of its people, while all its mainstays – churches, government, business, charities, unions – fall like building flats in a strong wind, hardly making a sound."

    Packer, a staff writer at the New Yorker and author of The Assassins' Gate, a 2005 study of the US war in Iraq, is also a novelist. The Unwinding is strongly influenced by the USA trilogy (1930-36) of John Dos Passos, a political radical in his early days and a literary modernist, who famously claimed that "Mostly USA is the speech of the people".

    Like him, Packer constructs his factual narrative from the stories of a broad range of characters: Madison-raised Dean Price is hauled out of his mixed high school by his racist father, weans himself on self-help books and opens up a slew of truck stops, convenience stores and burger joints before becoming an evangelist for biofuel. He is equal parts dreamer, indomitable entrepreneur, utopian Del Boy.

    Then there's Jeff Connaughton, an idealistic lobbyist, White House lawyer and former aide to Joe Biden who recalls in savage detail how his initial admiration for Obama's vice-president turned to disgust, not just because of Biden's foibles (cribbing from a Neil Kinnock speech, mistreating people close to him) but more importantly because of his absolute failure to push through legislation that would have broken up those national banks whose greed and corruption brought America to the brink of economic meltdown. Packer has a great deal of time for these men, and for Tammy Thomas, a black American woman from Ohio who grew up taking care of an alcoholic mother who was in and out of jail for drugs, fraud and robberies. Somehow, in spite of the steel mills in her home town closing down and having to raise her children in a gang-colonised neighbourhood, she becomes a community organiser. Less warmly – though by no means acerbically – portrayed is Peter Thiel, a billionaire venture capitalist and libertarian co-founder of PayPal, who finances projects involving seasteading and reversing human ageing.

    Like Dos Passos, Packer interlaces these stories, themselves recounted in small sections, with "newsreels" in which the mood of a particular year – or rather the hysterical sound-and-fury of its public discourse to which his own subsequent stories offer a more considered, infrasonic counterpoint – is jerry-built from newspaper headlines, tweets, television listings and pop lyrics. Also, again like Dos Passos, he includes potted and sometimes vinegary biographies of various American public figures including Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, conservative activist Andrew Breitbart and, a little puzzlingly, the writer Raymond Carver. These can be damning. Of Newt Gingrich, married to Jackie though widely known to be a philanderer, he writes: "He tried to keep it to oral sex so he could claim literal fidelity if anyone asked but within two years the marriage was over, another adoring woman about to become the next Mrs Gingrich, the advocate of civilisation standing at Jackie's hospital bed as she lay recovering from uterine cancer, a yellow legal pad with divorce terms in his hand." Mostly, though, they feel like material worked up from magazine profiles or overambitious efforts to anatomise a nation through its celebrities.

    Packer isn't too clear about when "The Unwinding" took place. At one point he asks if it began with the end of the Reagan recession in 1982 and the bubbles – bond, tech, stock, housing markets – that followed. Was it caused by the deindustrialisation of the 1970s? Many of the factories that disappeared for ever were "hot, filthy, body-and soul-crushing" but they offered decent wages and a sense of belonging – to a community, a class, a nation – since extirpated. Or were its seeds planted in the 1950s – a decade of unrivalled middle-class prosperity – with the rise in car ownership and shopping malls, developments that would contribute to the decline of Main Street as both a real and symbolic common space?

    Packer sometimes channels and sometimes overlays the voices of his confidants to point the finger at various modern criminals: lobbyists, Wall Street bankers, cynical politicians. But though he talks about how Washington was "captured" and ventriloquises Connaughton's growing disenchantment by talking about how "everything he had learned in law school… was bullshit", he doesn't name names and, like the sonorous and stylistically adept New Yorker writer he is, mostly keeps his anger in check.

    Yet the subtitle of The UnwindingAn Inner History of the New America– brings to mind JG Ballard's notion of "inner space". Deploying delirially anti-humanistic prose, Ballard drew on his fascination with America's dark psycho-interiorities to produce extraordinarily prophetic publications such as Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan as early as 1968. Equally, The Unwinding could have learned from the roiling prose-fire of Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi who likened Goldman Sachs to "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money".

    Packer's book – so decent, meticulous, concerned – reads like both a shrine to and the embodiment of a form of civics that barely exists in America these days. Is lambent lamentation enough?


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