Friday, April 08, 2005
In Memoriam - Fred Korematsu 1919-2005
Thursday, September 16, 2004
In 1942, I was arrested and convicted for being a Japanese American trying to live here in the Bay Area. The day after my arrest a newspaper headline declared, "Jap Spy Arrested in San Leandro."
Of course, I was no spy. The government never charged me with being a spy. I was a U.S. citizen born and raised in Oakland. I even tried to enlist in the Coast Guard (they didn't take me because of my race). But my citizenship and my loyalty did not matter to the federal government. On Feb. 19, 1942, anyone of Japanese heritage was ordered excluded from the West Coast. I was charged and convicted of being a Japanese American living in an area in which all people of my ancestry had been ordered to be interned.
I fought my conviction at that time. My case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in 1944 my efforts to seek protection under the Constitution were rejected.
After I was released in 1945, my criminal record continued to affect my life. It was hard to find work. I was considered to be a criminal. It took almost 40 years and the efforts of many people to reopen my case. In 1983, a federal court judge found that the government had hidden evidence and lied to the Supreme Court during my appeal. The judge found that Japanese Americans were not the threat that the government publicly claimed. My criminal record was removed.
As my case was being reconsidered by the courts, again as a result of the efforts of many people across the country, Congress created a commission to study the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans. The commission found that no Japanese American had been involved in espionage or sabotage and that no military necessity existed to imprison us. Based on the commission's findings and of military historians who reconsidered the original records from the war, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, declaring that the internment of Japanese Americans was unjustified. Finally, it seemed that the burden of being accused of being an "enemy race" had been lifted from our shoulders.
But now the old accusations are back. Fox News media personality Michelle Malkin claims that some Japanese Americans were spies during World War II. Based upon her suspicions, Malkin claims the internment of all Japanese Americans was not such a bad idea after all. She goes on to claim that racial profiling of Arab Americans today is justified by the need to fight terrorism. According to Malkin, it is OK to take away an entire ethnic group's civil rights because some individuals are suspect. Malkin argues for reviving the old notion of guilt by association.
It is painful to see reopened for serious debate the question of whether the government was justified in imprisoning Japanese Americans during World War II. It was my hope that my case and the cases of other Japanese American internees would be remembered for the dangers of racial and ethnic scapegoating.
Fears and prejudices directed against minority communities are too easy to evoke and exaggerate, often to serve the political agendas of those who promote those fears. I know what it is like to be at the other end of such scapegoating and how difficult it is to clear one's name after unjustified suspicions are endorsed as fact by the government. If someone is a spy or terrorist they should be prosecuted for their actions. But no one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist. If that principle was not learned from the internment of Japanese Americans, then these are very dangerous times for our democracy.
Fred Korematsu was awarded the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medial of Freedom, in 1998.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
More Right Wing Lies - the Propaganda Machine Oops
ABC News and the Washington Post reported that Republicans were circulating a memo that claimed the Schiavo case was a "great political issue."
Senate Republican aides claimed to be familiar with the memo but declined to discuss it on the record and gave no information about its origin.
Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, said the issue "stinks" of a news fabrication similar to the one that engulfed CBS anchorman Dan Rather during the 2004 presidential campaign, after he reported that President Bush did not fulfill his duties while in the National Guard, citing documents that CBS later admitted could not be authenticated. "I've never seen it, and nobody ever gave it to me," Mr. Bennett said of the purported Schiavo memo, adding: "As far as I'm concerned, it is an invention of the press."
"Senator Martinez has never seen the memo and condemns its sentiments," spokeswoman Kerry Feehery said. "No one in our office has seen it, nor had anything to do with its creation."
A survey by The Washington Times found that every Republican said the memo was not crafted or distributed by him or her. Every one of them said he or she had not seen it until the memo was the subject of speculation in major news organs, particularly ABC News and The Washington Post.
Rush Limbaugh "reports" that the memo was forged by Democrats to discredit Republicans
Washington Times Runs a story asking "Was the Schiavo memo a fake?"
On Chris Matthews on Sunday, at the end of the show when he asks, "Tell me something I don't know", Tucker Carlson said this:
"Last week a memo surfaced, reportedly written by the Republican members of Congress explaining how to make hay with the Terri Schiavo case, the Talking Points Memo, Ah, I think within a week or two it will become clear that that memo was a forgery, possibly written by Democrats on the hill in an effort to discredit Republicans. Bloggers are saying that now and it sounds like they may be right."
Conservative Blogger’s write that the liberal media has made the story up…
On Freerepublic.com they write:
Further, the content of the memo is highly suspicious. Why would anyone mix political strategy points--the ones the Democrats want to talk about--with talking points for Senatorial argument? A competent staffer preparing a talking points memo wouldn't do that, but a Democratic dirty trickster would.
Does this prove the memo is a fraud? Not at all. It is possible that somewhere in the House or Senate there is a Republican staffer dumb enough to have produced and circulated it. The question, though, is: what is the evidence that the memo is genuine? At this point, there is none. And, with all due respect to Mike Allen, "trust me" is no longer adequate proof.
UPDATE: Reader Kyle Kveton makes a rather astonishing point:
Why the "GOP Schiavo memo" is a fake: The Real S.529 is a bill introduced by Grassley on 3-3-05 to establish a US anti-doping agency. No competent staffer would create a talking points memo with the wrong S. number on it. He's right. Maybe there is an explanation. But the burden now is clearly on ABC and the Washington Post to explain why they are not the victims of a hoax.
The Daily Standard writes:
To sum up, then: (1) The memo itself conveys no information about its source. (2) It is very poorly done, containing a number of typographical errors, failing to get the number of the Senate bill correct, and using points cribbed word-for-word from an advocacy group's website. (3) The politically controversial statements are out of place in a talking points memo, and seem, on the contrary, ideally framed to create talking points for the Democrats. (4) Somewhat bizarrely, after the contents of the memo had been reported, someone corrected those typographical errors--but only those errors that had been pointed out by ABC. (5) No one has reported seeing any Republican distributing the suspect memo; the only people confirmed to have passed out the memo were Democratic staffers.
A REASONABLE CONCLUSION would be that the "talking points memo" might be a fake, created by Democrats to cast aspersions on the motives of the Republican leadership. Every Republican who has been asked about the memo has denied knowing anything about it. Unless someone talks--at a minimum, identifying the Democratic aides who distributed the memo on March 17--we likely will never know who, exactly, created it.
Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in an interview Friday that he considered it "ludicrous" to suggest that his party created the document and said Republicans were using such talk to divert responsibility. "I guess the best defense is a good offense -- that's their theory," he said.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said he believed that the memo originated with the GOP because it is "totally consistent" with how the Republicans have operated for the past four years. "They just shouldn't lose their memos," he said.
The legal counsel to Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) admitted yesterday that he was the author of a memo citing the political advantage to Republicans of intervening in the case of Terri Schiavo, the senator said in an interview last night. Brian Darling, a former lobbyist for the Alexander Strategy Group on gun rights and other issues, offered his resignation and it was immediately accepted, Martinez said.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
More Evidence that the Right Wing Xenophobes are Idiots.
The problem is that most illegal immigrants do pay taxes. Sales taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, cigarette taxes, alcohol taxes, car taxes and just about every other tax paid that does not require a social security number.
But it turns out they are paying even more in taxes... take a look at this....
Illegal Immigrants Are Bolstering Social Security With Billions
By EDUARDO PORTER
The New York Times
April 5, 2005
STOCKTON, Calif. - Since illegally crossing the Mexican border into the United States six years ago, Ángel Martínez has done backbreaking work, harvesting asparagus, pruning grapevines and picking the ripe fruit. More recently, he has also washed trucks, often working as much as 70 hours a week, earning $8.50 to $12.75 an hour.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Martínez, 28, has not given much thought to Social Security's long-term financial problems. But Mr. Martínez - who comes from the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico and hiked for two days through the desert to enter the United States near Tecate, some 20 miles east of Tijuana - contributes more than most Americans to the solvency of the nation's public retirement system.
Last year, Mr. Martínez paid about $2,000 toward Social Security and $450 for Medicare through payroll taxes withheld from his wages. Yet unlike most Americans, who will receive some form of a public pension in retirement and will be eligible for Medicare as soon as they turn 65, Mr. Martínez is not entitled to benefits.
He belongs to a big club. As the debate over Social Security heats up, the estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are now providing the system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year.
While it has been evident for years that illegal immigrants pay a variety of taxes, the extent of their contributions to Social Security is striking: the money added up to about 10 percent of last year's surplus - the difference between what the system currently receives in payroll taxes and what it doles out in pension benefits. Moreover, the money paid by illegal workers and their
employers is factored into all the Social Security Administration's projections.
Illegal immigration, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, co-director of immigration studies at New York University, noted sardonically, could provide "the fastest way to shore up the long-term finances of Social Security."
It is impossible to know exactly how many illegal immigrant workers pay taxes. But according to specialists, most of them do. Since 1986, when the Immigration Reform and Control Act set penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, most such workers have been forced to buy fake ID's to get a job.
Currently available for about $150 on street corners in just about any immigrant neighborhood in California, a typical fake ID package includes a green card and a Social Security card. It provides cover for employers, who, if asked, can plausibly assert that they believe all their workers are legal. It also means that workers must be paid by the book - with payroll tax deductions.
IRCA, as the immigration act is known, did little to deter employers from hiring illegal immigrants or to discourage them from working. But for Social Security's finances, it was a great piece of legislation.
Starting in the late 1980's, the Social Security Administration received a flood of W-2 earnings reports with incorrect - sometimes simply fictitious - Social Security numbers. It stashed them in what it calls the "earnings suspense file" in the hope that someday it would figure out whom they belonged to.
The file has been mushrooming ever since: $189 billion worth of wages ended up recorded in the suspense file over the 1990's, two and a half times the amount of the 1980's. In the current decade, the file is growing, on average, by more than $50 billion a year, generating $6 billion to $7 billion in Social Security tax revenue and about $1.5 billion in Medicare taxes.
In 2002 alone, the last year with figures released by the Social Security Administration, nine million W-2's with incorrect Social Security numbers landed in the suspense file, accounting for $56 billion in earnings, or about 1.5 percent of total reported wages.
Social Security officials do not know what fraction of the suspense file corresponds to the earnings of illegal immigrants. But they suspect that the portion is significant.
"Our assumption is that about three-quarters of other-than-legal immigrants pay payroll taxes," said Stephen C. Goss, Social Security's chief actuary, using the agency's term for illegal immigration.
Other researchers say illegal immigrants are the main contributors to the suspense file. "Illegal immigrants account for the vast majority of the suspense file," said Nick Theodore, the director of the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "Especially its growth over the 1990's, as more and more undocumented immigrants entered the work force."
Using data from the Census Bureau's current population survey, Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, an advocacy group in Washington that favors more limits on immigration, estimated that 3.8 million households headed by illegal immigrants generated $6.4 billion in Social Security taxes in 2002.
A comparative handful of former illegal immigrant workers who have obtained legal residence have been able to accredit their previous earnings to their new legal Social Security numbers. Mr. Camarota is among those opposed to granting a broad amnesty to illegal immigrants, arguing that, among other things, they might claim Social Security benefits and put further financial stress on the system.
The mismatched W-2's fit like a glove on illegal immigrants' known geographic distribution and the patchwork of jobs they typically hold. An audit found that more than half of the 100 employers filing the most earnings reports with false Social Security numbers from 1997 through 2001 came from just three states: California, Texas and Illinois. According to an analysis by the Government Accountability Office, about 17 percent of the businesses with inaccurate W-2's were restaurants, 10 percent were construction companies and 7 percent were farm operations.
Most immigration helps Social Security's finances, because new immigrants tend to be of working age and contribute more than they take from the system. A simulation by Social Security's actuaries found that if net immigration ran at 1.3 million a year instead of the 900,000 in their central assumption, the system's 75-year funding gap would narrow to 1.67 percent of total payroll, from 1.92 percent - savings that come out to half a trillion dollars, valued in today's money.
Illegal immigrants help even more because they will never collect benefits. According to Mr. Goss, without the flow of payroll taxes from wages in the suspense file, the system's long-term funding hole over 75 years would be 10 percent deeper.
Yet to immigrants, the lack of retirement benefits is just part of the package of hardship they took on when they decided to make the trek north. Tying vines in a vineyard some 30 miles north of Stockton, Florencio Tapia, 20, from Guerrero, along Mexico's Pacific coast, has no idea what the money being withheld from his paycheck is for. "I haven't asked," Mr. Tapia said.
For illegal immigrants, Social Security numbers are simply a tool needed to work on this side of the border. Retirement does not enter the picture. "There will be a moment when I won't be able to continue working," Mr. Martínez acknowledges. "But that's many years off."
Mario Avalos, a naturalized Nicaraguan immigrant who prepares income tax returns for many workers in the area, including immigrants without legal papers, observes that many older workers return home to Mexico. "Among my clients," he said, "I can't recall anybody over 60 without papers."
No doubt most illegal immigrants would prefer to avoid Social Security altogether. As part of its efforts to properly assign the growing pile of unassigned wages, Social Security sends about 130,000 letters a year to employers with large numbers of mismatched pay statements.
Though not an intended consequence of these so-called no-match letters, in many cases employers who get them dismiss the workers affected. Or the workers - fearing that immigration authorities might be on their trail - just leave.
Last February, for instance, discrepancies in Social Security numbers put an end to the job of Minerva Ortega, 25, from Zacatecas, in northern Mexico, who worked in the cheese department at a warehouse for Mike Campbell & Associates, a distributor for Trader Joe's, a popular discount food retailer with a large operation in California.
The company asked dozens of workers to prove that they had cleared up or were in the process of clearing up the "discrepancy between the information on our payroll related to your employment and the S.S.A.'s records." Most could not.
Ms. Ortega said about 150 workers lost their jobs. In a statement, Mike Campbell said that it did not fire any of the workers, but Robert Camarena, a company official, acknowledged that many left.
Ms. Ortega is now looking for work again. She does not want to go back to the fields, so she is holding out for a better-paid factory job. Whatever work she finds, though, she intends to go on the payroll with the same Social Security number she has now, a number that will not jibe with federal records.
With this number, she will continue paying taxes. Last year she paid about $1,200 in Social Security taxes, matched by her employer, on an income of $19,000.
She will never see the money again, she realizes, but at least she will have a job in the United States.
"I don't pay much attention," Ms. Ortega said. "I know I don't get any benefit."
Editor's note: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door." - Engraved on the United States Statue of Liberty.
Monday, April 04, 2005
Uncle Tom Collaborators: How the Right Wing uses House Negroes to Advance their Racist Agenda
by MAX BLUMENTHAL
[from the April 11, 2005 issue of the Nation]
In late February, inside a sterile conference hall at Washington's premier conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, a crowd of no more than seventy took off their snow-flecked coats and settled in for an afternoon with a group of speakers billed as "The New Black Vanguard." Perched on a platform above the audience, the speakers promptly launched a barrage of attacks on the civil rights establishment and "the entertainment-industrial complex." At first the audience seemed disengaged, even a bit overwhelmed by the cacophony of blustery rhetoric. Then the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson piped up. "W.E.B. Du Bois was a communist, socialist pig," Peterson crowed. A few of his fellow panelists blanched at his overheated language. But once the shock subsided, laughter rippled through the previously mute crowd, followed by vigorous applause.
It was vintage Peterson. Throughout his fifteen-year career as a right-wing evangelical minister, Peterson has never shied from bombastic assaults on targets ranging from civil rights leaders to liberal Democrats to undocumented immigrants. But while Peterson's strident style may be unique, with his extremist politics he is merely playing the role of front man for a murky, well-funded network of white nationalist activists and right-wing Beltway operatives. By deploying Peterson to gatherings like the Heritage event and into the media, this coterie of conservatives have been able to apply a bold veneer of blackness over the brand of bigotry they find increasingly inconvenient to espouse on their own. Peterson has no professional or political accomplishments to speak of, beyond directing a small inner-city aid ministry and hosting a radio show syndicated on a handful of AM stations across the country. To his sponsors, though, that's irrelevant; it is his immunity from charges of racism that matters.
A former welfare recipient and follower of Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson, Peterson says he experienced a political awakening fifteen years ago, when he simultaneously discovered Jesus and Ronald Reagan. "I was born a Democrat but I had no values; it was anything goes, whatever you want to do, and that came from the black leadership," Peterson told me. "But I finally started to examine it for myself and I realized the Democratic platform was an anti-God, anti-values, anti-American platform."
It was then that Peterson formed BOND, or Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, a faith-based nonprofit he now runs out of a ramshackle storefront in mid-city Los Angeles. Through BOND's counseling service and its boys' home, Peterson says, he teaches inner-city youth "that they're Americans, not African-Americans, and that they should start giving back to their country instead of complaining." But with a tiny staff and an annual budget just above $200,000--more than one-fourth of which it spent on rent in 2001, according to Guidestar.org, a group that tracks nonprofits--it's unclear how BOND could bring more than a handful of boyz in the hood to heel.
BOND's primary function seems to be to serve as a platform for Peterson's various publicity stunts. His flagship media event was "National Repudiation of Jesse Jackson Day," timed to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. If you're wondering why you never heard of this grassroots black backlash against America's most well-known living civil rights leader, you might not be as out of touch as you think: In its five-year life span (it was discontinued last year), Jesse Jackson's "repudiation" was not national (it was limited to a street corner outside Jackson's LA office), and it consisted almost exclusively of Peterson's friends, BOND employees, boys' home residents and small-fry demagogues like anti-immigrant border vigilante Glenn Spencer, who joined the crowd in 2004. Despite a lack of public interest, Peterson claimed to have gotten under Jackson's skin. On Sean Hannity's radio show in 2001, Peterson stated, "Sean, if anything happens to me I want you to make sure you turn this tape over to the authorities and have them look into Jesse Jackson's organization or anybody that's connected with him." (Only recently did Hannity admit that he "probably should have" disclosed his membership on BOND's board.) The day after Peterson's outburst, a NewsMax.com headline announced, "Civil Rights Leader Fears for Life After Jesse Jackson Confrontation." Peterson insists his campaign was successful, boasting in a recent Washington appearance that he "soundly repudiated" Jackson before moving on to his new targets: the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus.
Though Peterson's stunts border on self-satire, there is a method to his madness. In his hunt for recognition, Peterson has modeled himself after his hero, Booker T. Washington, the turn-of-the-century author and entrepreneur dubbed "the Great Accommodator." Like Washington, who allied himself with conservative whites in a quest for corporate grants for his cash-strapped Tuskegee Institute, Peterson demonstrates loyalty to the most rigid elements of the white establishment in ways that seem calculated to advance his personal ventures and increase his public stature.
"Blacks see racism everywhere they look, even though by most accounts there is really very little racism left among whites--certainly not among those with much power and influence. The sad truth is that black racism is far more pervasive today than is white racism," Peterson wrote in his 2003 polemic Scam: How the Black Leadership Exploits Black America. For conservative Republicans frustrated with the steadfast refusal of minorities to abandon their grievances, Peterson's words are a source of comfort. For white nationalists determined to intimidate and marginalize aspirant ethnic minorities, Peterson could embolden their crusade. It's no wonder both factions have promoted him so aggressively.
The first time I became aware of Peterson was when I slipped into a February 2003 gathering of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR), a local anti-immigrant organization designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Once the evening began, Peterson was introduced to the crowd by CCIR's director, Barbara Coe, a grandmotherly figure who might pass for a librarian were it not for her penchant for foaming-at-the-mouth references to Mexican immigrants as "savages." With an oversized sweater hanging from his portly frame, Peterson waved and flashed a forced grin as the crowd applauded politely. Later, Arizona border militia leader Chris Simcox stepped to the stage to spin ominous tales of Mexican immigrants spreading tuberculosis in America's public schools and Red Chinese troops spreading out across the US-Mexico border, poised for invasion. (Editor's Note: Simcox is the same guy who's organized the recent Minuteman Project in Arizona.)
I was reminded of Peterson during an interview I conducted this past September with Virginia Abernethy, a self-avowed "racial separationist" and editor of the journal of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist organization that evolved from the white Citizens' Councils formed in the 1950s South to fight integration. In an apparent effort to counter the commonly held notion that she is a racist, Abernethy informed me that she is friends with "a black minister in Los Angeles named Jesse Lee Peterson."
When I asked Peterson for his own views on immigrants, he explained, "There are illegals coming into this country, and they're bringing crime and drugs, all kinds of stuff. So there is a savage personality to what they're doing."
According to Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Peterson's views on immigrants reflect his enlistment by a web of think tanks and foundations campaigning to make anti-immigrant politics mainstream. In February 2002, Beirich says, Peterson was invited by the anti-immigrant organization Numbers USA to a lobbying session with Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado in Washington's Cannon House Office Building. There, Peterson and twenty-six other right-wing activists were told by Numbers USA director Roy Beck that for their campaign to succeed, it "needs to look like a grassroots effort."
Immigrant-basher is only one of the many hats Peterson wears. And thus, "illegals" aren't the only savages he sees wreaking havoc across America. "What else can you call black-on-black crime? Anytime you kill an innocent child, it is savagery," he told me. During a February 26 appearance on C-SPAN's Washington Journal, he was only slightly less vitriolic: "Most black men are very weak and insecure." (The unmarried Peterson's views on black women are bluntly summarized by the title of Scam's thirteenth chapter, "Why Black Women Are So Mean.")
Rhetoric like this may not win any black Democrats over to the GOP, but it serves an important purpose for the right. "Jesse Lee Peterson gives the racists in the Republican Party deniability. He let's them say, 'What I'm saying can't be racism because black people are saying it,'" George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and the Chicago Tribune's former New York bureau chief, told me.
Curry, who has been a guest on Peterson's radio show, likens Peterson to Armstrong Williams, the disgraced black conservative radio host who admitted to having accepted taxpayer-funded bribes from the White House to promote its policies. "The bottom line with people like Peterson and Armstrong Williams is, if these people were not conservative, nobody would have ever heard of them," Curry said. "They're undistinguished, so they go to the short line, where there's plenty of payoff."
Indeed, though Peterson has no constituency to speak of, Washington's conservative elite have rolled out a welcome mat for him. He has become a fixture at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative influentials often referred to as "the unofficial Republican convention." According to People for the American Way, during the 2002 conference Peterson used his speaking slot to declare the civil rights movement "the worst thing that could have happened to the black community." This year, when Peterson returned, he was given the honor of introducing Zell Miller, who presented the "Courage Under Fire Award" to the anti-John Kerry front Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Just a week later Peterson was down the street, moderating the Heritage event, which was titled "Responding to the Call: The New Black Vanguard Conference." Heritage is bankrolled largely by reclusive oil baron Richard Mellon Scaife and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a group that made hefty grants in the early 1990s for studies intended to prove the genetic inferiority of blacks and other ethnic minorities. Besides Peterson, the few who actually responded to Heritage's call included Roy Innis, a longtime supporter of Holocaust-denier Lyndon LaRouche and an apologist for the genocidal African dictator Idi Amin; and Gloria Jackson, whose sole distinction is being Booker T. Washington's great-granddaughter. "I think the best times for black people were during those periods of darkness," Jackson said, harking back fondly to the pre-civil rights era.
Given their apparent nostalgia for the Jim Crow South, the "New Vanguard" of black conservatives represents a novel trend in American politics. There have always been black Republicans, but never before have they been able to reach an anti-civil rights consensus. Richard Nixon's Assistant Secretary of Labor, Art Fletcher, and William Coleman, who was Secretary of Transportation for Gerald Ford, ascended through party ranks despite, and possibly because of, their vocal support for civil rights. Yet by 1996, when delegates at the Republican National Convention heckled Colin Powell for praising affirmative action, it was clear the GOP's internal dynamics had changed.
"The Republican Party has chased out its moderate voices, both black and white, and now they're captive to the far right wing," explained Curry. "So today the litmus test [for black conservatives] is, you must be against affirmative action or the Republicans will have no use for you."
At the heart of the effort to cultivate an extremist incarnation of black Republicanism is the National Center for Public Policy Research, a think tank that, like Heritage, is funded in large part by Bradley and Scaife. Founded in the early 1980s to provide PR for the Reagan Administration's policy supporting Central American death squads, NCPPR shifted its focus to domestic politics during an explosion of racial tumult in post-cold war America.
In 1992, while race rioting engulfed Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King beating, civil rights leaders and black Democratic politicians took to the airwaves to criticize the draconian policies of the Los Angeles police department as the riot's root cause. In the absence of a coordinated right-wing response, NCPPR enlisted a coterie of black conservatives, including Peterson, to denounce the rioters as wanton criminals while hailing the LAPD's ham-handed response. Out of the campaign grew Project 21, a group providing cable news programs with a reliable stable of black talking heads willing and able to say what white conservatives can't.
More than a decade after its formation, however, Project 21 is still hamstrung by its dearth of publicly recognized members. Besides the group's most well-known spokesman, Peterson, Project 21's roster includes the eminent Murdock Gibbs, described in his bio as a "Dallas-based entertainer, speaker and freelance writer." Then there's Kevin Martin, whose career as "an environmental contractor in Maryland" must have made his transition to punditry a no-brainer. (Martin showcased his political sophistication during a July 13, 2004, appearance on the Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes in which he compared the NAACP to the Ku Klux Klan.) And finally, Project 21 boasts the seasoned insider Eddie Huff, an insurance agent from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
NCPPR's executive director, David Almasi, coordinates Project 21's strategy, churns out its press releases and even provides its spokespeople with talking points before they appear on air. But as Project 21's only white associate, he tries to keep behind the curtain while his cadres bash everyone from black basketball players to civil rights veterans. Almasi's cover was blown in July 2004, when he decided to fill in for a Project 21 spokesman who had gotten a flat tire on his way to an appearance on C-SPAN. As Joshua Holland reported in the Internet magazine The Gadflyer, while introducing Almasi, the show's bemused host turned to him and stuttered, "Um...Project 21...a program for conservative African Americans...you're not African American."
"I'm an employee of Project 21, my bosses are the members of Project 21, the volunteers.... I take my marching orders from them, not from anybody else," Almasi blurted.
Despite Almasi's bungle, Project 21 remains a crucial gear in the right's propaganda factory. Most recently, the group dutifully attempted to stifle Democratic opposition to Condoleezza Rice's nomination as Secretary of State. On November 19, two days after Rush Limbaugh went on air to condemn a series of political cartoons mocking Rice, including a Doonesbury strip depicting Bush calling her "brown sugar," Almasi sent out a press release blaring, "President Bush's nomination of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state has resulted in harsh liberal criticism that members of the black leadership network Project 21 consider racist."
Like clockwork, the right cranked up its Mighty Wurlitzer. While Peterson took to Hannity & Colmes to blast Democratic critics of Rice like Barbara Boxer and John Kerry as sworn "enemies to black people," Talon News's now-infamous former White House correspondent, Jeff Gannon, lifted a quote verbatim from Almasi's press release: "The recent racist attacks and mimicry of Condoleezza Rice are infuriating and despicable." Meanwhile, Project 21 member LaShawn Barber distilled news of the mock controversy on her blog, LaShawn Barber's Corner. With Rice under fire from Democrats for hyping bogus intelligence to build the case for invading Iraq, Project 21 managed to shift the discussion from the content of her character to the color of her skin.
Without well-heeled Republican operatives like Almasi behind them, Peterson and the rest of Project 21's cadres would probably be at home screaming at the TV. But instead, they're on TV, screaming at civil rights leaders who have spent their lifetimes representing millions of constituents. As Stephen Carter wrote in his 1991 memoir Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, "When the black folks get out of hand...many white folks think that it is nice to have another black person to shut them down."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Uncle Tom n. (1922) Origin US; applied to a servile black man; from the name of the hero in Harriet B. Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, (1851-52). 1967, Punch, "An obligation… applies constantly to all underdog groups, constantly tempted by rewards to uncle-tom, to pull the forelock." 1977, New Yorker, "Pryor goes through his part pop-eyed, playing the Uncle Tom for Uncle Toms."" This definition and usage can be found in The Oxford Dictionary of Slang(41). In the New Dictionary of American Slang, a short definition is given. "Uncle Tom n. a black man who emulates or adopts the behavior of the white majority"(451). The Random House Dictionary, the 1987 edition, gives a more detailed definition; "Uncle Tom, disparaging and offensive. a black man considered by other blacks to be subservient to or to curry favor with whites. 1. Uncle Tomism, a policy of relationship between whites and blacks involving a benevolent but patronizing attitude on the part of the whites and a willingly submissive attitude on the part of the blacks"(2056-57). Random House’s earlier edition (1966) has a slightly different definition, "Uncle Tom n. Contemptuous. A Negro who is abjectly servile or differential to whites. Also called Tom." The definition for Uncle Tomism remains the same except for the term black (1987 edition) which replaced Negro (1966 edition).