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James Pindell - Who is Bill O'Brien in 2014?

The moment New Hampshire House Republicans picked Bill O'Brien to be the next House speaker there were a number of questions being asked in Concord as to what it all means to governing, what it means to Kelly Ayotte's re-election campaign and what it means to the state's political landscape in general.

But all those questions could be answered by a more basic one that we will know in the next few weeks: who is O'Brien in 2014.

Everyone in New Hampshire politics knows who he was when he was first elected speaker in 2010. He was the biggest crown of the Tea Party movement. He had a super-majority in the House. He had power and, gosh darn it, he was going to use it. While most New Hampshire House speakers are basically anonymous players outside of Concord, O'Brien in 2010 became probably the most well-known and most polarizing speaker in a century. The fact that he was exiled to back-bencher status after losing the majority in 2012, but was still in Democratic press releases in 2014, says something about the impact he left.

But after failing to win re-election as speaker in 2012 and after stunted run for Congress in 2014, who exactly is this O'Brien in 2014?

He tells people that he is both the same guy he has always been while at the same time he has learned lessons from his previous tenure as speaker. He says he will be "a kinder, gentler" speaker and talks about being more inclusive.

Providing a softer tone was essentially the argument of the Gene Chandler, the Bartlett Republican, O'Brien defeated on Tuesday. O'Brien defeated Chandler 116-112 in a closed door Republican meeting.

A lot these "kinder" statements from O'Brien could be posturing and a lot of it could be the legislative reality that he doesn't have near size of the Republican caucus than he did last time.

Still the kind of O'Brien that emerges will tell a lot about the politics we will have next year.

For example, there should be no doubt that Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan will want to use O'Brien as a political foil to blame everything on. Is unemployment up or the New England Patriots not in the Super Bowl? Well, if Bill O'Brien weren't house speaker who knows if outcomes would be different, Hassan could contend.

If Hassan does decide to take on Ayotte for U.S. Senate in 2016, who gets blamed in Concord for bad things will really matter. And, generally, the person who wins the blame game is the person who has earned the benefit of the doubt with everyday voters.

Heading into another term, O'Brien doesn't have that benefit of the doubt, given where his poll numbers have been lately. But a new term as speaker will give him a chance to re-brand himself if he chooses.

If and how he does that will be among the most interesting of subplots in the coming legislative session.

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

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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E. Scott Cracraft - If it looks like a duck . . .

Just as many ultraconservatives often label as Marxist those who may simply be liberal or progressive, there is also a tendency for liberal and progressives to call conservatives "fascists." Of course, there are even conservatives who like to compare liberals, like President Obama to fascists like Hitler or Mussolini. None of this is fair. Fascism is a very specific type of right-wing socio-political movement.
Not all conservatives, even extreme conservatives, can be called fascist. However, the Tea Party and similar movements which have infiltrated even traditionally moderate state Republican parties often possess certain characteristics that make may make them the closest thing we have seen to an American fascist movement in decades.
Fascism is not conservatism or "top-down" authoritarianism as in military dictatorships. Indeed, as was the case in Italy and Germany, it starts as a mass, "grass roots," or even "democratic" movement of middle class and even working people who are afraid, disaffected, and insecure, quite often for very legitimate reasons. But, propagandists are able to use this disaffection to turn people away from the real reasons for their problems to finding convenient scapegoats.
These scapegoats can vary. In the case of the Italians, it was communists and those who were thought to be destroying "traditional Italian values." For the Germans, it was the communists and the Jews as well as those promoting "social decadence." In the case of the Tea Party it may be the poor, educators, unions, liberals, immigrants, or those who challenge "traditional American Christian family values." Fascists also use patriotism and the fear of outside threats while accusing opponents of not being "true" Germans, Italians, or Americans.
Propaganda is also important. The best type of propaganda is that which contains half-truths that can be twisted. Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, believed in the "Big Lie." The Germans at the time were some of the best-educated people in the world. Telling them a lot of little lies would not work. So they were told big lies over and over by people who were assumed to know what they were talking about.
Big lies work because even intelligent people will think that one would not make such outrageous statements (e.g. the Jews were responsible for Germany's problems) unless they were really true! Likewise, the Tea Party and its propagandists have been able to convince a significant percentage of the American people that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, Obama is not a U.S. citizen, he is a radical Muslim, or he plans "death panels" for the elderly.
Fascist movements can use the democratic political process. For instance, in Germany, Nazis were elected to the German parliament long before Hitler became chancellor. There, they created legislative gridlock unless they got their way. Sound familiar?
But, as successful as these tactics can be, what such a mass movement needs is support from a country's entrenched "power elite." Mussolini received the support of the church in Italy. Hitler would not have come to power without the support of Germany's corporate leaders and the German "military-industrial complex." In fact, Mussolini once defined fascism as the melding of corporate and government power.
A lot of Tea Party propaganda serves the interests of our own power elite while promoting the movement as a middle class movement. Powerful corporations fund PACs and "think tanks" that put out propaganda swallowed by this movement. Even formerly "moderate" Republicans are cowed by them and consider them their "base." There was a time when Senator McCain actually sounded moderate and even supported health care reform until he had to cater to this base and select a very extreme and incompetent running mate. And, conservative religious bodies often support them because they promote conservative "Christian" values.
No, the Tea Party has not yet taken to extreme acts of violence. But, why is the movement arming itself? I hope I am wrong but as the old saying goes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it may well be a duck.

(Scott is a U.S. citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and resident of Gilford)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Michael Barone - Why (maybe) the polls were wrong

Were the polls wrong? It's a question asked after every election. Sometimes, as in 1948, the answer seems as obvious as the answer to the question, "Why did Custer lose at Little Bighorn?" Sometimes the answer is less obvious, as it is this year.

"The polls were skewed toward the Democrats," writes Nate Silver, who as proprietor of FiveThirtyEight has earned the distinction of being the nation's most assiduous polling analyst.

Silver gives short shrift to partisans — Democrats this year, Republicans in 2012 — who complained that polls were systematically biased against their side. The skew varies unpredictably, he says, perhaps because pollsters overcompensate in response to previous mistakes. He finds polls skewed against Democrats in 2006 and 2012 and against Republicans in 2002 and 2014 — all winning years for those parties.

Silver measures the skew by comparing the percentage margin for candidates in his website's average of the most recent pre-election polls to the percentage margin for candidates in the actual results. He finds that Republicans this year won bigger margins than in the polls in 24 of 36 Senate races and 28 of 35 governor's races.

Here's another way of looking at it, concentrating on those races that were seriously contested. In seriously contested Senate races — the chief event of this election cycle — the polls were quite accurate in presaging the percentages received by seven Democratic incumbents. Those Democrats ran from 3.2 percent ahead to 1.7 percent behind their RealClearPolitics polling averages. Also, three of the four Democrats running in open Democratic seats ran within that range of poll results.

Where the polls missed was in projecting Republicans' votes in Republican-held seats. Pat Roberts ran 10.6 percent ahead of polls in Kansas, Mitch McConnell 7.2 percent ahead in Kentucky and David Perdue 5.2 percent ahead in Georgia.

There's a similar but not identical pattern in seriously contested races for governor. In seven states where Democrats were defending governorships, Democratic nominees ran very close to the polls in five. Only in two close New England races, where polls had high undecideds, did they run further ahead.

In nine states with Republican-controlled governorships, Republicans all ran ahead of their poll numbers, from 3.2 percent in Alaska (where final results are not in at this writing) to 7.4 percent in Kansas.

All this suggests that pollsters did a better job of finding Democratic voters than they did of finding Republican voters. That accounts for the Democratic tilt in polling Silver finds when looking at candidates' percentage margins rather than percentage totals.
One possible reason is that Republican-leaning voters were more hesitant than Democratic-leaning voters about committing to vote for their party's candidates. The bulk of those undecided in polls in Kansas, Kentucky and most of the states with Republican governors were Mitt Romney voters in 2012.

There has been a similar phenomenon when pollsters ask people to rate the two parties' members of Congress. During most of this campaign cycle (but less so toward the end), Republicans in Congress were getting lower ratings than Democrats in Congress because more Republican voters gave their own party's members negative ratings.

Another possible reason, advanced by Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is that pollsters are doing a poorer job of sampling opinion in rural areas than in large metropolitan areas. Outside their states' three major metropolitan areas, Roberts won 63 percent of the vote, and McConnell won 61 percent. Polls seem to have missed this.

A third possible explanation — and all three may be overlapping — offered by RealClearPolitics analyst Sean Trende is that local pollsters were able, because of their greater experience and understanding of their states, to spot Republican trends that national pollsters missed. Trende credits the University of Arkansas poll, Ann Selzer's Des Moines Register poll in Iowa and Charles Franklin's Marquette University Law School poll in Wisconsin.

Pollsters face an increasingly difficult task. Telephone polling techniques were developed in a nation with universal landline phones ervice and a population that answered the phone when it rang. We no longer live in such a nation.

Only 9 percent of pollsters' calls resulted in completed interviews, the Pew Research Center reported in 2012. Maybe rural Republican voters are harder to reach or maybe they're too grumpy to commit until they have to.

In 1948, Gallup famously stopped polling eight days before the election, and "Dewey Defeats Truman" became one of history's most famous headlines. Gallup stayed in the field later after that had happened. The good news is that today's pollsters too can learn from experience.

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

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 November 2014 12:03

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Froma Harrop - Democrats are a depressed lot

"Smiles at the gas pump," my local headline reads. The price of gasoline has fallen below $3 a gallon.

When the national average rose last year to $3.51, Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, complained that "the liberal anti-free market policies of the Obama administration discourage the exploration of American sources of energy and hinder production and job growth."

Now it's below $3. By the way, U.S. production of oil and gas is at record levels.

So where is the brass band? This is a question for Democrats.

And we won't get a good answer until Democrats shake off their chronic depression. Democrats tend to internalize the relentless attacks against them. Constantly on the defense, they explain rather than proclaim. When they ignore their successes and avoid the president who oversaw them, voters think that perhaps the other side has a point.

"You cannot win if you're afraid," former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, said after his party's recent electoral losses.

To be honest, presidents have little power over the price of gasoline. And to be evenhanded, when Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he blamed $4-a-gallon gas on George W. Bush. Yesteryear's gas price wasn't Bush's doing, and today's isn't Obama's.

But if one's political foes smash this particular ball over the net, the other side surely has a right to return it under favorable circumstances. If people are smiling at the gas pump, why isn't the Obama administration smiling with them? Where are the tubas?

Last year, we heard the baloney that Obama's reluctance to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, expand some offshore drilling and back the Keystone XL pipeline had caused gasoline prices to surge — 86 percent from the day the president took office.

Firstly, Obama started his presidency in the jaws of an economic meltdown. The prices of a lot of things were collapsing then, among them gasoline.
Secondly, from 2002 to 2008, when Bush was president, gasoline prices exploded 397 percent, to $4.11 a gallon. Would anyone have accused George W. of being hostile to energy development?

It was not Obama's genius but the revolution in drilling technologies that opened up the new production. Nevertheless, under Obama, the United States has replaced Russia as the largest non-OPEC supplier of gas and oil. Suffice it to say, Obama has hardly stamped out energy development in this country.

Sadly, Obama has never been much for cheerleading, an important skill for a president. He never mastered the art of the bully pulpit. Democrats are justifiably frustrated by these failings.

But this habit of abandoning their president under assault by the right-wing noise machine is nothing new. Recall the 2000 presidential campaign, when Democratic candidate Al Gore distanced himself from the sitting president, Bill Clinton. The economy was bubbling, and the budget overflowing with surplus. But Gore had bought into his enemies' line that Clinton, because of his foolish tryst, had become despised across the land. Never mind that Democrats had made significant gains in the midterms after the scandal broke. Never mind that Clinton would leave office with a higher approval rating than did Ronald Reagan.

Fast-forward to today. Unemployment has fallen below 6 percent. Stocks are hitting all-time highs. And the deficit has been cut by more than half in less than six years.

It's true that Americans in the middle and lower economic tiers still suffer from stagnant wages, but Democrats could tell them: "You're next. This recovering economy is set to serve you. And don't forget that you now have the security of guaranteed health coverage."

But Democrats don't talk that way. What a depressed lot they've become.

(Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop writes for the Providence Journal.)


Last Updated on Friday, 21 November 2014 12:05

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Sanborn — The home seller's merrythought

Thanksgiving is but one of the holidays that center on the home. Kids always come home on the holiday making it one of the busiest travel days of the year. Gotta go to Grandma's house! It is a tradition. Home is where the heart is... and the turkey and stuffing. That's a tradition, too. Two helpings of everything and then a nap in that overstuffed chair.

There are other traditions on Thanksgiving starting with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with endless marching band, floats, and giant helium filled balloons in the shape of Snoopy, the Grinch, Pluto, Mickey, and a bunch of other characters that had nothing to do with Thanksgiving but now are a tradition. Of course Santa is a part of the parade to usher in the Christmas gift buying season which starts before your meal is completely digested.

Football has become a huge tradition on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys and the Lions have traditionally played on the holiday and recently the NFL increased the number of games two to three. Seems like a little too much tradition there. I think they did that so the men can stay on the sofa freeing up the ladies to go get an early start on the shopping.

Breaking the recently devoured turkey's wishbone is another holiday tradition that must be mentioned as this could be very helpful to any home owner trying to sell his house. The custom is that two contestants each grab the end of a bird's wishbone and pull. The lucky person getting the bigger piece is granted a wish. This tradition is much older than Thanksgiving itself and goes back many centuries originating with the ancient Italians called the Etruscans. The bone is technically called the furcular, which is formed from two clavicles fusing together. Clavicles are also known as collarbones and a few of them might get broken as well during one of the three football games this day.

The Etruscans really thought chickens were almost magical and that they could tell the future. Where that comes from no one knows. They used to draw a circle in the dirt, divide the circle into wedges, and assign each wedge a letter of the alphabet. Then they put chicken feed on the wedges and placed a chicken in the center of the circle. As the chicken ate the feed, a scribe would write down the corresponding letters in the exact order and the resulting message would reveal the future.

Anyway, when a chicken was killed they would put its wishbone in the sun to dry thereby preserving it so that they would still have access to the bird's fortune telling powers long after they ate it. This tradition was passed on to the Romans and then to the English who would rub the bone and make wishes. The English called this bone the "merrythought."
So if you are trying to sell your home this holiday season here's a fool-proof tip. Let your turkey's wishbone dry for three days (that is very important because the number three is very magical.) Then you get your realtor to come over and pull on the wishbone with you. No matter who gets the bigger half, you both (theoretically) will have wished for the same thing: a successful sale of your house. Now see, wasn't this a helpful tradition...

There were 112 homes that sold in the month of October in the towns covered by the real estate market report. The average sales price came in at $314,131. That's a pretty good month overall! There have been 839 residential homes sales through Oct 31 of this year at an average price of $315,000. That total is slightly off the 878 units sold last year for the same period at an average price of $305,806. Maybe we can make up the difference before the end of the year if everyone with a house for sale makes that wish.

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. Data was compiled using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System as of ​11/19/14.​ Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-677-7012.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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