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Beck, Bachmann & the U.S. Census: Fears vs. Facts

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The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. — from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address

It may or may not be a coincidence that census worker Bill Sparkman was found dead with a rope around his neck on 9-12 — the word “FED” scrawled across his chest — on the same day that Glenn Beck’s  “9-12 Project” descended on Washington, where the teabaggers, deathers and birthers gathered to protest what Beck & Bachmann have warned are “the systematic efforts” by everyone from Obama Administration and certain Democratic members of Congress, to health care reformers, environmentalists and the folk at with the U.S. Census,”to destroy our wonderful country and threaten to wipe away our God gifted liberties.”

And it may or may not be a coincidence that Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, Michele Bachmann and other Capitol Hill GOPs have used the media and organizations such as Glenn Beck’s the “9-12 Project” as a forum for exercising their own “God gifted liberties” to stoke fear, hatred and conspiratorial disinformation about the Federal government, in general, and the U.S. Census, in particular — as if this 220-year-old, constitutionally mandaded U.S. Census (Article I, Section 2) were somehow a recent invention by the Obama Administration, designed to intrude into our lives and impose Nazi, socialist of communist (take your pick) control over the citizenry:

Certainly the collection of this information is going to be part of an ongoing political campaign by this administration. — RNC Chairman Michael Steele on the U.S. Census

I’ve made it very public what my position is, and I think there is a point when  you say ‘enough is enough’ to government intrusion.Michele Bachmann, explaining her plan to boycott the U.S. census

Can they, um, because I’ve considered not filling it out when I get it, but I want to make sure that they don’t use this  as a loophole to say that I can no longer have a permit for my gun. — Glenn Beck, during his interview with Michele Bachmann, hinting that the Feds might take away his 2nd Amendment rights, should he refuse to fill out his census forms — even as both have have just factually acknowledged that the Census Bureau’s stated fine for such is between $100-$5,000.

It is of no coincidence, however, that a certain percentage of citizens in this country have fallen under the spell of this “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” that has been spun by these GOP peddlers of terror, who have suggested that the census will be used by the Obama Administration to intrude into their lives, take away their guns and throw them into internment camps (the latter fear is courtesy of Michele Bachmann). A sampling of comments from Beck’s “9-12 Project” website reveals the extent of the terror, anger and hatred felt by their audience:

AMMO UP!!! I suggest ammo you don’t use yourself also. Never know when someone else could use it or trade for goods! Buy cheap/inexpensive ammo. I have my .308, .40 and 5.56.

I always thought they could only ask 2 questions? I am prepared for jail time! These are incredible times.

Why is the “census” so important right now? Two guess, [sic] it is the control this administration wants !

With the economy down and so many people out of work and worrying, the Dems are doing their best to side track this country . This is a cruel administration and it is doing everything it can to undermine our American way of life.

I think the best way to fight this, is to not participate in it. If it is going to be political and not fair anyway, why contribute to the fraud. When you get your census, just mark it, I refuse to answer these questions due to probable fraud.

Time to be sqirrels [sic] or whatever else cracks acorns. “When your [sic] a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

We have allowed, yes allowed the left to push us around for far too long. We have bowed and bent to every politically correct, tree-hugging, capitalist hating scheme they’ve come up with for fear of being called a racist, homophobe, hatemonger. I tell you what, they don’t know what a hatemonger is. It’s time to push back.

No, it’s no coincidence that our country is ripe for a lynching. After all, the Becks, Bachmanns, Steeles, Wilsons and Limbaughs of America have spent the past year working on the GOP tag team, taking turns goading their audiences into stocking up on assault rifles, ammo and grudges.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s still time to make a U-turn before something truly horrible happens.

And since Bachmann, Beck, Dobbs, Steele, Wilson et al show no signs of changing the incendiary tone of their rhetoric, it is up to each of us, as individuals, to unequivocally reject the agenda they are promoting:

  • first, by calling these people out — as have former president Jimmy Carter, Rep. John Lewis, Nancy Pelosi and others — whenever the rhetoric embraces hatred, threats and/or violence, and
  • second, by taking every opportunity to allay fears with facts.

Here is my contribution:

FEAR: Bachman says that she does not feel “comfortable” giving her personal information to an ACORN worker.

FACT:  Since 1970, the U.S. Census has been sent out and returned by mail. It’s simple. Citizens fill these out in the privacy of their own homes, then mail them back to the U.S. Census Bureau. Not to ACORN. Those citizens who do not return their form, or who return an incomplete form, are contacted either by phone or by an in-person interviewer, who was likely hired through one of several government contractors, including ACORN, so that the form may be completed. Mailing the fully completed census form to the Census Bureau entirely avoids the need for an in-person interview. (Read here for info on the federal laws that safeguard the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Data Protection and Privacy Policy,” and read here for more info on the use of GPS by the U.S. Census Bureau).

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FEAR: Michele Bachmann doesn’t understand why the government needs information, such as her phone number.

FACT: Had she actually bothered to seek an answer to this question, rather than rather than resort to passing on her fearful ignorance and suspicions, Rep. Bachmann would know the reason for each and every question, as these are painstakingly explained throughout the U.S. Census Bureau documentation, as well as  on their website, including info on how long each question has existed on the census. Regarding phone numbers, these are requested in case the U.S. Census needs to contact those folks who didn’t properly fill out their forms. Calling these individuals on the phone saves the time and expense of sending a personal interviewer to the house. Oddly, Bachmann & Co. were silent over the Bush Administration’s wiretapping program, which made it legal for our government to listen into our private conversations, sans the formality of a warrant. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel more threatened by having the government listen into my phone calls, than by the rote gathering of phone numbers, which are available to anyone with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Worst-case scenario regarding phone numbers (should the above facts not allay Rep. Bachmann’s fears), according to the U.S. Census website, her phone number is not required by federal law, which she would know, had she bothered to look before leaping to conclusions.

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FEAR: Michele Bachmann states that the U.S. Census short-form is 28 pages .

FACT: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “The 2010 Census questionnaire will be one of the shortest in history, consisting of 10 questions. It takes about 10 minutes to complete.” The 2010 short-form is 6 pages long, with the aforementioned “10 questions” being covered on one single page. The other 5 pages allow optional space for documenting up to 12 other household members, if applicable, and requests only basic information, such as race, age, gender, etc.

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FEAR: Michele Bachmann states that the U.S. Census short form is 28 pages .

FACT: Perhaps Rep. Bachmann, in her confusion, was referring to the 14-page American Community Survey (ACS) component of the U.S. Census, which went into effect during the Bush Administration, under a Republican majority Congress in 2005. The ACS replaced the now-obsolete U.S. Census “long census form,” which had been in use since 1940 and used on only a sampling of the population (5% of households in 1940, compared to 16% in the last several census counts). Today’s ACS asks essentially the same questions that were asked in the 100-question “long form” during the last two census counts, the only difference being that — rather than being used every 10 years, the ACS is (and has been since 2005) used on an ongoing basis every year. The theory is that, with our rapidly-changing demographic, economic, and housing data, there needs to be a more accurate system for tracking this data between censuses. (As an example of how rapidly our demographics change, the population increase from 1930 to 1940 was just under 9 million, whereas the population increase from 1990 to 2000 was nearly 33 million).  Too, the ACS uses a smaller sampling of households. Unlike the previously used “long-form” which was sent to 1 in 6 households, the ACS has been sent to an average of 1 in 9 households over a 5-year period. For those who have questions on how to fill out the form, a 16-page instruction guide available, but even this (the 14 page questionaire +the 16 page info guide) doesn’t add up to 28 pages.

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FEAR: Bachmann states that the census asks for the number of live births.

census birthFACT: The census has never asked for the number of “live births,” although it does seem logical that – since the primary goal over its 220-year history has been to keep an accurate count of the U.S. population — there would be at least some question directed toward tracking birthrates. Perhaps Rep. Bachmann was referring to question #23 (left) which has been part of the U.S. Census for 80 of the past 110  years. This information is reportedly used both to project population growth, as well as to serve as a planning tool for the Dept. of Health and Human Services to implement programs, per statutes. (see this U.S. Census Bureau pdf document for more specifics on this)

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FEAR: Bachmann states that the census asks how many bathrooms you have.

census  bathroom

FACT: No census has ever asked how many bathrooms a person has.  The census has asked, since 1940, whether a household has plumbing. This information is asked on the ACS form, not the short-form, which most households will receive. This information is used for various reasons, such as gauging poverty, determing risks for groundwater contamination, and for policy development by the U.S. Dept of Housing and Urban Development. (see this U.S. Census pdf document for specifics on this).

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FEAR: Bachman states that the census asks what time you leave for work and come home.

FACT: This question has been part of the census since 1960, and is one of several regarding transporation and the use of public highways. According to the U.S. Census:

“Transportation planners, using journey-to-work information, to plan for peak volumes of traffic in order to reduce traffic congestion, plan for parking, and develop strategies, such as carpooling programs and flexible work schedules. Decisions are made to build new roads or add capacity to existing roads, and to develop transit systems, such as light rail or subways, by projecting future needs.” Check the U.S. Census site (see pg. 35 of this 65-page pdf to both view the actual questions and to get more info on why this information is collected).

As Rep. Bachmann could attest, it would be much easier — and certainly less intrusive — for the U.S. Dept. of Transportation to simply pull this data out of thin air, as she does with so many of her “facts.” However, this approach is not particularly helpful to transporation planners when designing the highway and mass transit infrastructures that our government provides equally to all citizens, in much the same way that all American citizens are given equal access — regardless of income, disability, ethnicity, country of origin, gender, age or race — to public schools, fire departments, law enforcement and, hopefully one day, health care.

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FEAR: Michele Bachmann states that the U.S. Census does not ask if people are U.S. citizens.

FACT: The U.S. Census has been asking this very question for most of the past 180 years, beginning in 1820, when it was #13 of thirty-three questions, asking specifially for the “number of foreigners not naturalized” in the household. As Bachmann has also expressed some fear over the government’s interest in asking about age (part of the census since 1800), race (part of the census since 1790) and gender (part of the census since 1790) , it may be of interest to note that all but five of the 1820 census questions were devoted to asking the gender and ages of whites, slaves and “free colored persons.” For the record, question #8 on the 2010 census plainly asks, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Also, in April of this year, the U.S. Census acting director, Thomas Mesenbourg, announced to the media, “We’ll Work with ‘Community Organizations’ to Count All Illegal Aliens in 2010.”

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FEAR:  Michelle Bachmann fears that information from the census will be used to round up Americans into internment camps, (as was done to Japanese and other immigrants in 1942, in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor), and states that she wishes that the FBI, instead of the White House, were in charge of the census.

FACT: First of all, the the U.S. Census Bureau operates through the Department of Commerce, not the executive branch of the government, nor ACORN. Regarding the FBI’s role with the census, beginning in 1939, it was the FBI who used the information from the U.S. Census to profile Japanese and other immigrants and to eventually “round up” Japanese, Italians, Germans and Jews into internment camps, per an executive order signed by Roosevelt in 1942. The U.S. government officially apologized for this and awarded $1.6 billion in reparations in 1988, with President Ronald Reagan stating, as he signed the legislation, that the government’s actions had been based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

The reason there was no mention of the U.S. Census in Reagan’s apology is because it was anti-immigration fervor — not the census – that ultimately led to these internment camps. The pity is that folk like Bachmann — having neglected to learn their history before speaking authoritatively on it — doom the rest of us to re-witness our most despicable histories. A good starting point for absorbing some historical perspective on the internment camps is the draft for an article, written by Eleanor Roosevelt, aptly titled, To Undo A Mistake Is Always Harder Than Not to Create One Originally.

What Michele Bachmann, in her defiant ignorance, failed to tell her audience is what actually led to the internment camps. It was certainly not the census. It was, in great part, the culmination of 150 years of xenophobic fear and hatred toward Asians — stoked by the Bachmanns & Becks of the day — that was nearly as old as our country, itself, beginning with the Naturalization Act of 1790, which barred U.S. citizenship not only to slaves and blacks, but to Asians. This law was followed throughout the 19th and early 20th century with various Alien Land Laws, which barred the ownership, leasing or renting of land by those residents who were ineligible to citizenship (read that: slaves, blacks and Asians). The Naturalization Act of 1790 was amended in 1875 to allow citizenship to Africans, still barring citizenship to Asians.   

This nativist hatred of “the yellow peril” only intensified during the 60 years leading up to WWII and the internment camps — with anti-Chinese, anti-Japanese sentiments being epidemic from the 1880s through the 1940s, along side the existing prejudices against blacks, Jews and Catholics. This period saw the passage of a series of laws directed specifically against Chinese, Japanese and/or Filipino immigration — from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (which barred Chinese labor and immigration), to the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907 (in which Japan agreed to not allow its citizens to emigrate to the U.S.), to Immigration Act of 1917 (which barred immigrants from most of Asia), to the Quota Law of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 (both of which sharply reduced the immigration of Catholics, Jews and the Japanese, who were deemed “aliens inelibible to citizenship,with the 1924 act finally barring Japanese immigration entirely). Anti-immigration became, in the wake of WWI, the cause célèbre of the KKK and other nativist groups and fraternal orders of the day, which targeted immigrants for intimidation, threats and lynching, the most infamous being, perhaps, the 1915  KKK lynching of the Jewish pencil manufacturer, Leo Frank..  

As the Depression descended during the early 1930s, job scarcity only escalated the anger and fear toward immigrants — not unlike the climate being cultivated today in the rhetoric of Beck, Bachmann, Dobbs and others — with the rise of WWII facism only seeming to justify old fears, while also justifying new fears of subversive facist and communist elements within the U.S. In 1939-1940, the FBI began the “Custodial Detention Index Program,” which targeted not only the Japanese and Chinese, but also Italians, Germans and Jews,  categorizing these immigrants into  several classes of “subversives.” 

With the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor — and the U.S. officially at war with Japan — long-simmering hatred toward Japanese escalated to a flash-point, sparking both threats and actual acts of violence against Japanese-Americans. From this specific climate and turn of events, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the order to authorize the internment of Japanese Americans. 

It was not until the 1950s-60s that the anti-immigration laws barring citizenship and land ownership to the Japanese began to be lifted. Speaking before Congress in 1960, Senator Warren G. Magnuson – who, himself, had earlier been a proponent of the Japanese internment camps — urged a repeal of the alien land laws, describing the climate of fear that had led to these laws and, ultimately, to the internment camps: 

I am convinced that these anti-alien land laws helped substantially to create the prejudices which were fanned by hysteria in 1942, into and incident that has been described as ‘our worst wartime mistake.’ I have referenced to the mass military evacuation of 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, regardless of citizenship, age, or sex from their homes into interior interment camps.

It was not until the Immigration Act of 1965 that barriers against Japanese immigration were effectively lifted, allowing the Japanese an equal path with other nationalities to citizenship and, thereby, putting to rest 175-years of laws that served to legitimize prejudice within our immigration policies. 

It is of no coincidence that the Immigration Act of 1965 coincided with the Civil Rights and Votings Rights Acts of 1964-65, which afforded, after some 250 years, equal rights of citizenship to blacks. But as any white supremacist could tell you, it’s one thing to make a law; it’s another to enforce it. There continue to be in this country certain elements that work, like rust, to undermine the rights of non-whites. Harry Dent picked up the cause for white supremacist politicians in 1964, passing the torch to Lee Atwater in the 1980s, then to Karl Rove. Today, this same torch is being carried by Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann and, by virtue of their silence on the matter, by the entire Republican Party, who are exploiting old fears to further political agendas — stoking fear, hatred and, potentially, violence in the process. 

To borrow from the words that came back to haunt Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.” It is this fear that ultimately led to the internment camps, and it is this fear — not the existence of the U.S. census — that could ultimately doom us, as a country, to repeat old history.   

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America’s history with race and immigration is infinitely complex. I can no more do justice to this history in five or six paragraphs than Bachman, Beck, Limbaugh or Dobbs can lend in the various one-liners they broadcast over the airwaves each day, their dire predictions designed to raise ratings and political capital, entirely at the expense of the people they terrify and the victims who pay the price of this terror.

 

Henchmen to Road Rage? To a Lynching?

To date, we don’t know. But the fact that we are even asking these questions speaks volumes about the fears that have been cavalierly tossed about and taken root over the past year or so. 

This is how history repeats itself — by the perpetuation of old fears and old ignorance. It has taken me several hours to track down the facts and write them here for public consumption to set the record straight on just a tiny fraction of the irresponsible disinformation that it took Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann just a few minutes to broadcast to a national audience.

That’s the thing about terror.  It clutches at peoples’ hearts, entirely by-passing their minds, propelling them into survival mode. They’ll do whatever it takes to protect themselves from the enemy, the bogeyman.  These terrified  folk don’t ask questions. They believe what their politicians tell them. They believe what they hear on the TV box. They believe, with all their hearts, that the government is, in the words of Glenn Beck, out to “destroy our wonderful country and threaten to wipe away our God gifted liberties.” Too, there are a certain percentage who may know better, but are, indeed, acting on old hatreds.

From there, all it takes is a small spark. Perhaps an angry man in a pick-up truck who, seeing my Obama bumper sticker, rushes up behind my car on a rural road in South Carolina, threatening to rear-end my car, then nearly side-swipes me as he tries to run me off the road. Or, perhaps, a simple knock on the door by a census worker. That’s all it would take to incite the sort of rage that would compel men to murder complete strangers or to, perhaps, lynch a Boy Scout leader, a cancer survivor, a teacher, a single father to a son.

Whether or not the truth of the latter is fact or fear is a question that has yet to be answered. But it is a question that more and more American face each day – from the President, to members of Congress, to ordinary citizens like myself. It is a terrifying question, to be sure — one that no one should ever, ever again have to ask in this country. Yet, there are some in this country who would doom us to repeat it.

Again, it’s not too late. We can still make that U-turn before something truly horrible happens if, indeed, it hasn’t already.

VIDEO ABOVE: Michele Bachmann’s approach to stopping health care reform: “We have to today make a covenant, slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass.”

 

VIDEO ABOVE: The Young Turks show broadcast on some of Michele Bachmann’s more bizarre statements, including her “slit our wrists” covenant, from the previous video.

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by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers

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