Michael Barone - Putin losing oil price war. . . and that's good

Free enterprise is proving to be Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's most potent foe.

Moscow's February 2014 invasion of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and its immediate annexation drastically altered international diplomatic calculations. In a year marked by the homicidal rise of the Islamic State and Chinese probes of East Asian maritime borders, Putin's destruction of post-Cold War security arrangements is the most dangerous challenge to global peace.

Yet U.S. and Western European attempts to penalize the Kremlin its Crimean theft and blunt its relentless "slow war of moral attrition" in Eastern Ukraine have been erratic. Though France's decision to halt its sale of assault ships to Russia sent the message that business is not as usual, it was seven months late in coming. E.U. and Obama administration government-directed economic sanctions have been incrementally effective. Financial sanctions directed at key oligarchs in Putin's inner circle might undermine his power base, but that remains speculative.

However, the free market attack on Russian energy exports has hit the Kremlin hard.

The stunning surge in U.S. and Canadian energy production spurred the assault. Improved drilling and production techniques created the surge. The key technique is hydraulic fracturing, better known by its media nom de plume, fracking. Fracking has opened previously untapped "tight" gas and oil reservoirs. The U.S. has reduced its energy imports and in some markets is now exporting energy.

Oil has dropped from $110 to $75 a barrel. Even low-information American car owners see the wallet-level payoff. A gallon of gas now costs about a buck less than it did last year.

Private investment and commercial companies spurred the fracking revolution. If anything, the Obama administration, kowtowing to its hard-left environmentalist base, has attempted to hamstring the U.S. energy industry innovation. Radical enviro hypocrisy pollutes rational debate; at one time, many in their clan touted natural gas as a wonder fuel.
Well before Crimea, European nations resented Russian natural gas price gouging. The Kremlin used pricing threats to bully Ukraine, Poland and even Germany into political concessions.

After the Crimean travesty, the Baltic States and Poland demanded alternative gas supplies. The Obama administration quietly agreed to permit U.S. gas exports and the development of a liquefied natural gas exporting facility.

American LNG supplies might reach Poland in three years. That's good news. Here's the bad news: Putin has three years to exploit E.U. divisions and politically split NATO.

Or he had three years. Enter Saudi Arabia. America's "fracking" success challenges Saudi global oil dominance. What's the price point where fracking becomes unprofitable? Estimates run from $55 to $70 a barrel for oil. The Saudi oil ministry intends to find out and says it will not cut production. The market will determine price.

Though Russia can strangle Ukraine by denying gas supplies, the stunted and corrupt Russian economy survives on energy sales. Without its cash crop of oil, and gas, Russia is a big cabbage farm with a second-rate armaments industry. Cabbage, tanks, ICBMS and nuclear weapons mean Russian is not quite a petro-emirate writ large, but the cruel analogy has instructive utility.

If Russian nukes mean open war with Moscow is too risky, then attacking the Kremlin's cash generator is war by appropriate means.

Are the Saudis trying to defend Ukraine? I doubt it. The Saudis suspect they will be fencing with North American frackers for decades. It is very much in the Saudis' economic interest to retard the fracking revolution. It is also in their geo-political interest. Lowering oil prices sends a message to Washington that the Saudis matter; it also harms rival Iran.

The geo-political damage to Russia in ancillary but so welcome and so richly deserved. If the Obama administration wants to practice some truly smart diplomacy, it should expand oil and gas exploration on U.S. federal lands.

(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

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Froma Harrop - Obamacare and the middle class

Few truly appreciate the enormous economic benefits the Affordable Care Act will deliver to the American people over time, the middle class included. But you'd expect New York's seasoned Democratic senator, Charles Schumer, to "get it" rather than belittle the 2010 federal health care law as a political inconvenience for his party.

Amazingly, Schumer recently complained that reforms affected only "a small percentage of the electorate." Has he any idea what's going on — I mean beyond the calculations of the most recent election, the planning for the next?

A time-honored way to freak out the middle class is to call a government program a plan to "redistribute" income to the less fortunate. Obamacare's foes never miss the chance. Schumer plays into that narrative.

Anytime you help people obtain benefits they couldn't afford before, money is going to move. There is redistribution all around us, in Social Security, in Medicare, in farm subsidies, in the tax code.

George W. Bush and a Republican Congress pushed through a Medicare drug benefit for which the poor paid almost nothing and richer beneficiaries paid more. And because these modest sums funded little of the program, almost the entire cost was shifted to the taxpayers. The Medicare drug benefit was redistribution big-time.

There is indeed some redistribution in Obamacare. When you include the value of health coverage, the reforms boost income in the bottom fifth of earners by at least 6 percent, according to The Brookings Institution. This number would have been higher had 23 states not rejected the law's offer to cover more of the working poor under Medicaid.

Whose income is being sent to the less wealthy? Those in the top three-quarters, Brookings says, though their income loss is proportionally quite small.

Bear in mind that government subsidies are available to folks earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

That means the help goes well into the middle class.
The soaring cost of medical coverage deserves much blame for today's stagnant wages as employers take it out of workers' paychecks. The Affordable Care Act is already credited with starting to curb the rise in health care spending. It stands to reason that companies will eventually pass some of the savings on to their employees.

The health reforms redistribute a lot more than money. They expand peace of mind and freedom to start a business.

Knowing that an insurer can't drop your family when a member gets ill is priceless. Under the old regime, even the well-to-do couldn't get coverage if someone had a pre-existing condition.

And there's the redistribution of opportunity. Many Americans not cushioned by wealth nevertheless dream of founding their own company. They continue working for others rather than lose their family's health benefits. We call this "job lock." Offer them dependable, affordable health coverage and many will take off, leaving job openings for newcomers.

Meanwhile, the structure of work is changing. As companies depend more on part-time labor, more workers must stitch together several part-time jobs, none offering health benefits. Many positions are now being filled by independent contractors — that is, people who work for themselves. Both groups need a way to obtain coverage at reasonable cost.

The rich can pay for their own health care, and the destitute get it free. The assurance that a medical crisis won't sink a family is a gift to the middle class.

So the Affordable Care Act is not some distraction in the quest for more jobs and better pay. It is more jobs and better pay. It's an economy less burdened by a bankrupting health care system. It is big, and even our politicians should know that.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

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James Pindell - Will Speaker O'Brien decides who runs for governor in 2016?

In Republican circles there is near certainty that a one of the newly elected 14 GOP state senators will end up running for governor.

There are a lot of eyes on Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley to go for it. But, of course, Senate President Chuck Morse has told friends over the years he would like the state's top job. Then there is the case of state Sen. Andy Sanborn, who would all but be running already if he were not dealing with some recent health issues.

Which of one the three, or maybe someone else in the Senate, ends up putting their bid forward in two years will depend on a lot of factors. However, one major and unexplored factor in figuring out who can put together a plausible path to victory may actually be Bill O'Brien.

To be sure, there are other Republicans looking at a run for governor. The GOP nominee this year, Walt Havenstein, is trying to keep his name out there. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu is also looking at running.

Last week, O'Brien was the Republican choice to return as house speaker. While he narrowly won that contest among Republicans, he is expected to be officially elected by the entire House on Dec. 3.

There are already a lot of questions about O'Brien's tone and priorities for the next two years, but where the nuances will really matter is in his relationship with the state Senate.

When he last served as speaker in 2011-2012 O'Brien clashed with the Republican majority in the state Senate as much as he did with Democratic Gov. John Lynch.

O'Brien's fights with the Senate then usually had the same dynamic: the House had a conservative position and the Senate had a moderate position. Suddenly senators who thought they were very conservative were suddenly perceived not to be that way among the base.

Bradley and Morse, who are the Republican leadership, are carefully watching O'Brien. If either of them ran for governor they would most surely face a Republican primary challenge of some sort. If O'Brien goes full-on conservative by backing bills that would never be signed into law, Bradley and Morse will face decision after decision to either go along and please the Republican base or potentially hurt themselves in a general election should they get that far.

There is already one major issue where the Senate and O'Brien will have to work out a major disagreement: Medicaid expansion. Bradley and Morse crafted the current law, and O'Brien vehemently disagrees with it.

Both parties can decide to work out some agreement in private or if not do it in public.

Then there is the case of Sanborn. Since he is not in leadership and since Republicans have an cushion going from a 13-11 majority to a 14-10, Sanborn could return to the Senate willing to be the odd man out if it means good politics.

He surprised some by voting for the state budget last session meaning that it passed 24-0. This time around he could be O'Brien's greatest supporter in the Senate and undercut his own Senate leadership.

How O'Brien decides to play the next two years, and how certain Republican Senators decide to play back, could frame who gets to run for governor and who doesn't.

(James Pindell covers politics for WMUR. You can see his breaking news and analysis at WMUR.com/political scoop and on WMUR-TV)

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Pat Buchanan - Who are the cowards now?

In July of 1967, after race riots gutted Newark and Detroit, requiring troops to put them down, LBJ appointed a commission to investigate what happened, and why. The Kerner Commission reported back that "white racism" was the cause of black riots. Liberals bought it. America did not.

Richard Nixon said of the white racism charge that there is a "tendency to lay the blame for the riots on everyone but the rioters."

The Nixon-George Wallace vote in 1968 was 57 percent to Hubert Humphrey's 43. In 1972, Wallace was leading in the popular vote in the Democratic primaries, when he was shot in Laurel, Maryland. In November of 1972, Nixon and Agnew swept 49 states.

Among the primary causes of the ruin of FDR's great coalition, and the rise of Nixon's New Majority, was the belief in Middle America that liberals were so morally paralyzed by racial guilt they could not cope with minority racism, riots and crime. And so they lost the nation for a generation.

That same moral paralysis is on display in the aftermath of the grand jury conclusion that Officer Darren Wilson acted in self-defense when he shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri.

When initial reports came in, that a police officer had confronted an unarmed black teenager on a main street at noon and shot him six times, it seemed like a case of a cop gone berserk. But, day by day, new facts emerged. The "gentle giant" Brown had, 15 minutes earlier, pulled off a strong-arm robbery, grabbing a store clerk half his size by the throat while stealing cigars. And Brown was in the middle of the street, and maybe high on marijuana, when he refused an order to move onto the sidewalk.

Then came leaks from the grand jury that the 6'4", 292-pound, 18-year-old punched the officer in the face in his patrol car and went for his gun, which fired twice, wounding Brown in the hand. Wilson got out and told Brown to get on the ground, as Brown walked away. After this, what happened is in dispute.

Several grand jury witnesses perjured themselves by testifying that Wilson shot Brown in the back. All of Brown's wounds were in the front. Others said Brown turned and faced Wilson, with four of them saying Brown moved toward or charged the officer.

The pattern of shells from Wilson's gun indicates he was backing away while firing at Brown.

The grand jury concluded that not only did most witnesses support Wilson's version, but the forensic evidence was consistent with what Wilson said had happened, and contradicted Brown's lying companion.

Hence, no indictment, and wisely so. No jury, based on the known evidence, would conclude "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Wilson committed murder or manslaughter.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch concluded he had no case and would not prosecute unless a grand jury, which had seen and heard all the evidence, concluded otherwise. It did not.

Yet, Michael Brown's death, whatever the grand jury decided, is an irreversible tragedy, horrible for his mother and father.

But what happened last week was not a tragedy but a national disgrace, a disgusting display of adult delinquency.

Monday night we witnessed in Ferguson a rampage of arson, shooting, looting and vandalism, with police and National Guard ordered not to interfere. Stores and shops, the investments of a lifetime for their owners and the livelihood of their employees, were firebombed and pillaged as police looked on.

For a week, mobs blocked highways, bridges and commuter trains from New York to Oakland. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was disrupted. On Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, moms and their kids at malls had to climb over unruly protesters to do their Christmas shopping. The civil rights of law-abiding Americans were systematically violated.

And where were the president and his attorney general?

Neither Barack Obama nor Eric Holder has yet to stand up and declare, unequivocally, that, in America, the full force of law will be used to halt, prosecute and punish those guilty of mob violence, no matter the nobility of the "cause" in which it is being committed.

America is a democratic republic, a free society of 320 million. That society and that republic will not survive if a precedent is set that masses of people can organize and attempt to shut it down when what happens within that system displeases them.

Make no mistake. The Ferguson riots of recent months were like neighborhood cookouts compared to Watts in '65, Detroit and Newark in '67, and Washington, D.C., and a hundred other cities after the 1968 assassination of Dr. King. But the reaction of our political, media and moral elites seems even more irresolute than that of the liberals of the 1960s.

Only three weeks in office, Eric Holder called us "a nation of cowards." Observing his and his boss' performance in the wake of the Ferguson riots and other rampages, the same word comes to mind.

(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

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Sanborn — Handy homeowner's Christmas gift guide

The Christmas holiday gift buying season is here again. Yahoo! Man, time flies! If you are looking for gifts for your hubby, remember this tip; don't buy him a new sweater or socks. A guy generally would rather have any kind of gadget or tool for the shop or yard. Especially, if he is into power tools. He might not use that chainsaw but once every year, but he has got it when he needs it and it can be proudly displayed on the shelf the other 364 days of the year. It's a man thing. Here are a few relatively inexpensive items that might you can give old hubby to help him do the list of projects you might have planned for him.

You'd never think of giving the old man a wheelbarrow for Christmas, but you know, you might have some yard work planned for him in the spring. The Worx Aero cart is actually a pretty cool replacement for the standard wheelbarrow, enough so that maybe you can get away with it. It is also an 8-in-1 all purpose lifter which converts to a dolly and a bag holder for picking up leaves among other things. The design makes it much easier to lift heavy loads than a wheelbarrow and it has tires that never go flat. You can buy one online at Amazon or Home Depot for about $160. They even make a snow plow attachment for about $40.

If you have some painting projects planned after the holidays, a Rockler Mixing Mate Paint lid would make the job a lot cleaner and neater. This ingenious lid makes mixing and pouring paint "as easy and mess free as pouring syrup from a restaurant style dispenser." No more paint down the side of the can, no more gummed up rims, and no more banging the lids back on and splattering paint everywhere! Turn the crank on the top to mix the paint, a spring loaded spout seals tight after each pour, and a pistol grip handle lets you pour the paint easily. The quart size lid is on sale on the Rockler Website for $9.99 and a gallon lid is $19.99.

I've always thought those lamps that you could wear on your head, like the old miner's lights, were kind of dorky. But sometimes you do need both hands free when you're doing something in the dark. So buy him a LED baseball cap and he'll be able to work on your next project until way after dark. You can find them on the net at PantherVision.com for as little as $10. Also check out places like LL Bean and Dick's Sporting Goods. If you want a light on your NE Patriots cap, the MasterVision 1001 % LED light clips right onto the visor. I saw it on Amazon for just over couple of bucks.

A perennial favorite are those plier-like multi tools such as the Leather man Skeletool that you can pick up at many hardware and big box stores for under $40. Seems like tool makers like to have "manly" or catchy names for their tools. How about some Vampliers? These nifty pliers are made to remove stripped, rusted, damaged screws, nuts, and bolts. Available on Amazon.com or VampireTools.com for as little as $26. Hey, I just like the name.

How about going out on a limb with a Ladder Limb? This device is so simple and handy I wish I had thought of it. It was named the best new tool by the DIY Network in 2013. Have you ever been up on a ladder and need another hand to hold something? Pretty likely! This tapered rubberized "limb" inserts into the hollow rung of any ladder and the protruding end has a spring clasp on it to hold your tool bag or paint can. Obviously, this limb can be put into the left or right side at any height making it very versatile. You have no idea how many times I have had to climb down the ladder to retrieve something I dropped! No more! Available at LadderLimbusa.com or Amazon.com for just

Please feel free to visit www.lakesregionhome.com to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others.
​ ​Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-677-7012.

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