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Princeton’s West takes shot at Obama

May 18, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Cornel West, a Princeton University professor and leading black intellectual, is harshly criticizing President Obama, a candidate he once supported but now calls “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.’’

West, a former Harvard University professor, faulted Obama in an interview with the website Truthdig.

“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,’’ West said. “It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white . . . When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening.’’

The White House did not have an immediate comment. West did not respond to messages left at his office.

Republicans have questioned Obama’s origins — to the point where he felt compelled to release his long-form birth certificate to prove he was born in Hawaii — but West also uses Obama’s past to draw into question the president’s racial bearings.

“Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive,’’ West said. “He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.’’

West is a professor at Princeton’s Center for African American Studies and the author of “Race Matters.’’ He left the Harvard faculty in 2002 amid quarrels with its president at the time, Lawrence Summers.

West also recounts personal slights by Obama — that his phone calls didn’t get returned, and that he couldn’t get a ticket with his mother and brother to the inauguration.

It is not the first time West has raised questions about Obama. Last year, in an interview with NPR, he said he wished the president were more “Martin Luther King-like.’’

— Matt Viser

GOP congressman rules out bid for Senate from Wis.

MADISON, Wis. — Republican Representative Paul Ryan said yesterday he would not run for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Herb Kohl, opening the door for former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson.

Hours before Ryan announced his intentions in a statement on his campaign website, two Republicans told the Associated Press that Thompson would strongly consider getting into the race if Ryan chose not to run. They requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak for Thompson.

Ryan’s departure could lead to a flood of Republican candidates more seriously eyeing the open seat, especially given political newcomer Ron Johnson’s success in coming out of nowhere to defeat incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold for Wisconsin’s other Senate seat last year.

Kohl, who announced Friday that he was retiring and wouldn’t seek a fifth term next year, is one of six Democrats vacating their seats next year. Two Republicans have announced they are retiring.

Republicans, who already control the House, need to pick up just four new seats to swipe the Senate majority away from Democrats.

Ryan, chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, said in statement that he felt he could make a bigger difference by keeping his current seat rather than running for the Senate. Ryan was first elected to represent southeastern Wisconsin’s First congressional district in 1998.

Ryan is the architect of the House GOP budget plan that would reduce spending by more than $5 trillion over 10 years by transforming Medicare into a voucher-like program and overhauling Medicaid while also making permanent all Bush-era tax cuts.

— Associated Press

Gingrich family owed up to $500,000 to luxury jeweler WASHINGTON — Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich’s family at one point owed as much as a half million dollars to luxury jeweler Tiffany’s, according to disclosures his wife filed in her former job as a Capitol Hill staffer.

Callista Gingrich filed ethics disclosures in 2006 and 2007 that indicated she or her husband owed anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 to Tiffany & Co. House ethics rules require disclosures of debt more than $10,000 and allow aides to report the figures in broad ranges.

The ethics form also indicated she or her husband owed between $15,000 and $50,000 to American Express.

A spokesman to Gingrich, a former House speaker who left office in 1999, did not immediately respond to a message seeking details about the debt, which was first reported by Politico.

The tax liens, which generally allow governments to seize assets or property to settle tax bills, ranged in size from a $195 property tax bill in the Atlanta suburbs to $1,969 in unpaid Missouri taxes.

Most of the liens were paid shortly after tax authorities filed them.

— Associated Press

Okla. Republican drops out of ‘Gang of 6’ deficit talks WASHINGTON — A top Republican senator in the bipartisan “Gang of Six’’ seeking agreement on a plan to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade dropped out of the group yesterday, saying that his colleagues weren’t willing to cut enough from such benefit programs as Medicare.

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said he doesn’t see how the group can reach agreement and that he would stop participating in its discussions.

“It’s got to be balanced. And I didn’t perceive where we were was balanced,’’ Coburn said.

The closely watched group has been working for months on a sweeping plan to wrestle the deficit under control through a mix of new tax revenues and cuts across a wide swath of the federal budget. Supporters hoped for a bipartisan deficit-cutting plan that might gain momentum despite the partisanship consuming Capitol Hill. The group will continue to meet without Coburn, members said. But it’s plain that major obstacles remain.

— Associated Press