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The Download: Obama hits back

Posted in: Energy   Media   Municipal government   Current Affairs
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When it comes to taxes, presidents can’t get a break and Barack Obama is no exception. Obama is on the defensive after the announcement of a tax deal that includes a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits and a two-year extension of tax cuts for the middle class and the wealthy.

Although business leaders are pleased, politicos are another story. The plan has unleashed furious criticism from both sides of the aisle. The New York Times dissects the agreement here; an excellent graphic from The Washington Post is here. What this outcome means for the economy is uncertain as investors continue to hedge their bets.

However, the picture on Capitol Hill is crystal clear. Liberal Democrats continue to snipe at what they see as Obama's lackluster efforts to get any meaningful cooperation out of congressional Republicans. Hoisting the party’s champions-of-the-average-guy banner, US Rep. Michael Capuano opines on WBUR that Democrats should be “doing more for the middle class.”  US Rep. John Tierney tells the Salem News that he’s disappointed in the tax cut compromise, saying millionaires and billionaires don’t need tax breaks.

US Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent (and self-declared socialist), is even more bent out of shape, going ballistic recently on the floor of the Senate, arguing that "the middle class is struggling for existence." One YouTube clip of his speech has gotten more than 550,000 views alone. He vowed Tuesday to “do everything in my power to stand up for the American middle class and defeat this agreement.”

But Republicans aren't exactly jumping up and down either.  Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican and Tea Party trailblazer, vows to carry on the fight to make the tax cuts permanent. That doesn't bode well for Scott Brown, who  finds himself in a "dicey dynamic," says The Boston Globe's Scot Leigh. By supporting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's threat to gum up the legislative works unless the GOP got their way, Brown has "undercut his image as a solution-seeking compromiser," Leigh argues.

Yet some headlines focused not on the compromise/cave-in, but on the fact that Obama notoriously cool veneer finally cracked, with the president unloading two years worth of frustration on the White House press corps. The Washington Post described Obama's reaction at a Tuesday press conference as "alternately defensive and fiery, calling Republicans  "hostage-takers" (take that,  Sen. McConnell) and his base (here's looking at you, Sen. Sanders) "sanctimonious."  

Perhaps that reaction will dampen down the frustrations with "the Great Placator," as the Post's Courtland Milloy recently labeled Obama in a blistering column about the president’s inability to get riled up about anything.  Slate’s Shankar Vedantam is more diplomatic and proposes that the president simply summon up a "bit more spite," since being completely agreeable or outrageously unreasonable are both losing propositions on Capitol Hill.

                                                                                                                                                                                        --GABRIELLE GURLEY

ELECTION 2012

If tax policy is proving to be a huge headache for Obama, the Brookings Institution's Bill Galston, writing in the New Republic, says it could be his winning hand in the 2012 election if the president gets out in front on a total revamp of the tax code.

MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS

Sick leave and vacation buyouts are costing Salem $850,000 this year. Other communities face similar liabilities, the Salem News reports.

Fitchburg is in another standoff with its utility company, Unitil Corp. City officials claim Unitil is dragging its feet on negotiations to sell Fitchburg’s streetlights, so the city council is threatening to retaliate and table any matter the utility sends to the council.

Quincy officials are experimenting with an innovative approach to rein in runaway snowplowing costs by paying contractors a set amount per inch of snowfall rather than an hourly rate to plow certain wards, the Patriot Ledger reports.

Newly released tapes of the Methuen City Council’s illegal executive session indicate councilors were critical of highly paid police officers crying “poor mouth,” the Eagle-Tribune reports.

ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Freetown switched to a pay-as-you-throw trash system but the program is running a $50,000 deficit despite a marked increase in recycling and more than a 50 percent drop in trash, according the Herald News.

Cap and trade may be dirty words in Washington, but Governing magazine says it’s a policy that’s working in the Northeastern states.

Electric cars are still struggling to find their niche, but electric trucks have been carving out a nice market in short-haul deliveries.   

MEDIA

WBUR reports on its new boss, ex-NECN chief Charles Kravetz. So does the Globe.

Media Nation’s Dan Kennedy also comments.

PHILANTHROPY

Some of those duped by Bernie Madoff will get some money back, but the Globe says local institutions that rely on charitable giving could indirectly pay a price, as big-time Boston philanthropist Carl Shapiro agrees to return $625 million that he unknowingly earned off Madoff's schemes.

A new survey finds social change is the main reason for corporate giving. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that affecting social change was cited as the primary reason for corporate giving by 30 percent of business leaders in a recent survey. For 18 percent, the motives were less benevolent, as they cited building brand loyalty as the prime motive for company giving.

‘TIS THE SEASON

On the subject of company giving, IKEA is handing out free bikes to its employees for the holidays, NECN reports.

PROBATION

The attorney for embattled Probation chief John O’Brien tells the Herald independent counsel Paul Ware’s report on the department’s hiring practices ignored scores of thank-you notes – including one from Robert Mulligan, who’s now chief justice of the Trial Court. Mulligan’s note, written in 2000, thanked O’Brien for hiring a friend’s daughter; Mulligan tells the Herald he can’t recall whether he lobbied O’Brien to hire the woman.

Howie Carr picks up a dime dropped on a Brockton probation officer who allegedly got into a racially-charged fight on July 3, informed the arresting officers where he worked, and then wasn’t suspended until October 27.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette says probation should remain within the judiciary but independently run. Isn’t that basically how it’s run now?

EDUCATION

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s bid to cap school chiefs’ pay is running into opposition from his own party.

WASHINGTON

Old-line Republicans beat out Congressmen with Tea Party sympathies for several key House positions.

HEALTH CARE

The American Spectator says an expected ruling this month on a Virginia suit against the federal health care mandate could submarine the entire law because of the oversight omission of a severability clause in the law.

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