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Rep. Jeff Duncan has a plan to help us cope with information overload. His H. R. 1638 would simply eliminate all the data collection that the U.S. Census Bureau does except for the decennial population count. In particular, it would do away with the American Community Survey that has been undertaken in some form since a guy named Thomas Jefferson was president. (And along with it the Economic Census, the Census of Governments, the Census of Agriculture, the mid-decade Census and other information-gathering not explicitly stated in the Constitution.) The House of Representatives voted last year 232-190 to dump the ACS, but the proposal failed to gain traction in the Senate. That probably will be its fate this year as well.

Together with the Census itself, the American Community Survey used to be done every 10 years, with one of out six Americans required to fill out the "long form." But, as a cost-saving measure, President George W. Bush switched it to a annual survey of one in 38 households. Advantages: cheaper and more up-to-date. The problem, according to Republicans like Duncan (as well Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Poe of Texas who want it to be optional), is that ACS is too invasive.

Not only does it ask 14 pages of questions about how many people in a household are working, details of their commuting habits and their ethnic ancestry, what fuels they use to heat their dwellings, and whether they have computers and internet access at home, but also, OMG, how many toilets they have. The latter seems particularly to perturb the survey's foes.

The ACS data, massive amounts of it, provide insight on a whole range of economic issues. Without it, publishing economic indicators simply isn't possible. Says Ken Prewitt, the former director of the U.S. Census who is now a professor of public affairs at Columbia University, there would be no unemployment rate and no report on the gross domestic product. There also wouldn't be information about how to distribute federal grants, 70 percent of which are now guided by ACS, according to the Brookings Institution.

"Do they understand that these data that the Census Bureau collects are fundamental to everything else that's done?" asked Maurine Haver, founder of business research firm Haver Analytics and a past president of the National Association for Business Economics. "They think the country doesn't need to know how many people are unemployed, either?"
More about the risk of cutting off these Census surveys below the fold.

Do they understand? Always a puzzle where these right-wing loons are concerned. Are they just ignoramuses who let ideology trump facts? Or do they understand fully and are determined to make it harder for everyone else to understand? One hallmark of the Reagan administration was to reduce information available to the public from the federal government, everything from matters of occupational health and safety to a study of handguns used in crimes. The Reaganistas also sought to ax questions from the 1990 Census about housing, employment, income and migration patterns. Besides paperwork reduction, what could have been the purpose behind those particular choices?

Terri Ann Lowenthal, of the Census Project Blog, points out that resources Congressman Duncan has made available on website depend on information his bill would trash:

I think I get where Rep. Duncan is coming from. His biography says he wants to create a new congressional Committee on the Elimination of Nonessential Federal Programs, “with the express purpose of reducing federal outlays.” No data? No way to identify society’s challenges and to allocate federal resources prudently. Mission accomplished.

Cool! Then we might not need congressmen, because just about all of them rely on Census Bureau data to justify their existence.

What's at risk in cutting off these Census surveys is a foundational tenet of our democracy: the need for an informed citizenry. Nothing aids malignant governance more than keeping people in the dark.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Wed May 01, 2013 at 11:12 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  They are the Know-Nothings (15+ / 0-)

    The parallels are incredibly strong on immigration and general insularity, the division into, as Sarah Palin put it, "real America" and everyone/where else.

  •  Somewhere, Nate Silver is breaking out in hives. (22+ / 0-)

    Didn't we endure eight years of a president who proudly operated "from his gut" and to hell with learnin' and knowledge and all that fancy stuff?

    Aren't we all still laughing at pundits such as Peggy Noonan, who just knew, deep down, and damn the facts, that Mitt Romney was going to cruise to victory?

    Can't we understand by now that when any of us has a feeling in our guts that we should probably just take a Tums and lie down for a bit?

    Give me the charts and facts and numbers, please.

    How about I believe in the unlucky ones?

    by BenderRodriguez on Wed May 01, 2013 at 11:23:09 AM PDT

  •  Those fuckers already know nothing (9+ / 0-)

    They pat themselves on the back for it.

    But they have the money and the power and clearly they do whatever they want no matter what we say.

    I wonder how they can pull that off: knowing nothing but being in complete power.

    If I could know that, perhaps there's hope.

  •  Duh, of course they want the consequences (6+ / 0-)

    of their very bad governing to be swept under the rug as much as possible.

    This one is pretty much a no-brainer; almost mandatory really.

  •  It is pretty anti-American when you (11+ / 0-)

    consider the fact that the Census was established by the Founders so as to keep government honest in its representation and governance.  

    I remember when I first learned about the Census and like most people I really had no idea how brilliant, important and democratic the idea really was and still is.

  •  Another thing to privatize (16+ / 0-)

    they are assiduously dismantling the US right before our eyes.  And I'm not entirely sure they won't succeed.

  •  republicans and toilets: never a good combo (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mortifyd, a2nite, Matt Z

    Howard Fineman needs to have a chat with Chris Cilizza about Grecian Formula and its effects on punditry

    by memofromturner on Wed May 01, 2013 at 01:31:46 PM PDT

  •  The parallels are difficult to ignore (5+ / 0-)

    I always thought that the more we knew about anything, the better we could understand it. But no.

    On the other hand, think of how many more times Megan Kelly will have to leave the studio and walk back to the number-crunchers because the Know-Nothing pundits at Fox will just be making stuff up for every election (like they don't already).

    -7.75, -8.10; . . . Columbine, Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Boston (h/t Charles Pierce)

    by Dave in Northridge on Wed May 01, 2013 at 02:45:32 PM PDT

  •  Ms. Haver asked: (4+ / 0-)

    "They think the country doesn't need to know how many people are unemployed, either?"

    I think they would actually rather NOT know.

  •  Facts? Who needs facts? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poorbuster, Eric Nelson, Matt Z

    The Republicans govern (to the extent that they do) based on dogma.  No need to muddy the picture with facts.

    Besides, without facts, nobody will be able to prove that austerity doesn't work.

    The most violent element in society is ignorance.

    by Mr MadAsHell on Wed May 01, 2013 at 04:06:36 PM PDT

  •  Being stupid is a Republican value (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, Matt Z

    eom

  •  Federal Reserve Dual Mandate (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    Keep inflation in check...
    Keep Unemployment Low(Wingers Not fond of this)

    Presumably they'll go after the labor department next......

    I want 1 less Tiny Coffin, Why Don't You? Support The President's Gun Violence Plan.

    by JML9999 on Wed May 01, 2013 at 04:08:40 PM PDT

  •  The Repubs have to just be playing to their base. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RJDixon74135, Eric Nelson, Matt Z

    How many half-baked things have they proposed in the last years? Without a chance of getting passed.

    They've abandoned adult-style governance entirely.


    Actual Democrats is the surest, quickest. route to More Democrats

    by Jim P on Wed May 01, 2013 at 04:13:02 PM PDT

  •  You are about to hit a semi truck head on... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Observerinvancouver

    The GOP solution to that problem?  Close your eyes.

    The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. -- John Kenneth Galbraith

    by richardak on Wed May 01, 2013 at 04:15:28 PM PDT

  •  They did claim Jobs would be their sole focus (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Observerinvancouver

    So, short of actually helping make some, what else do they have left but erasure of all unemployment statistics.

    Numbers, statistics, math, and arithmetic - so troubling for the GOP.

    Too much of a job to wrap their head around.

  •  the GOP is taking its cues from Orwell.. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kitsap River, a2nite, Eric Nelson, Matt Z
    The Ministry of Truth -- Minitrue, in Newspeak -- was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air. From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:

    WAR IS PEACE

    FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

    IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

    The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. -- John Kenneth Galbraith

    by richardak on Wed May 01, 2013 at 04:19:39 PM PDT

  •  Science, data what has that ever done for us? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    happymisanthropy, a2nite, Eric Nelson

    Alice, could you pass the tea?  I'm too busy trying to text and fine the car keys.

    sh

  •  OMG, MB, in re: your title (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades, Matt Z

    I thought that was obvious. I thought that has been obvious for lo, these past few decades.

    Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

    by Youffraita on Wed May 01, 2013 at 04:29:16 PM PDT

  •  Another "Denial of Reality" Attack from the GOP (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rfall, Eric Nelson

    I guess when your entire world view is based on making shit up and calling it gospels, things like 'evidence', 'observation', and 'asking questions' would be seen as  work of the DEVIL!!

  •  It's intentional (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    clutch1, Matt Z

    When nobody knows anything for sure, the Republicans can fall back to their favored position: "The American people want" blah-de-blah. Now, there's going to be at least one person somewhere who wants just about anything you can name. Lower taxes for wealthy people? You bet! "The American people*" want that. Less regulation of hazardous chemicals? Uh huh. There are certainly American people who want that! Particularly the American people who want to store gazillions of pounds of hazardous chemicals in one place without sufficient precautions and nosy inspectors sniffing around because that would cut into profits.

    Without actual, hard numbers, anything becomes a defensible position, and the Republicans can bull ahead, heedless of the public good because there's always somebody somewhere (usually a well-heeled somebody) who approves of whatever reckless course they're pursuing. Facts and their notorious liberal bias just get in the way. So, out they go!

    *In this case, defined as wealthy folks who just happen to contribute to Republican campaigns.

    •  yes. maybe i'm paranoid, but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Matt Z

      i look at the motive as pretty clever/diabolical...however long it takes (in an age where realtime is fairly run of the mill) as long as they continue to plant seeds, pave ways in whatever medium available, eventually sufficient numbers of people will only know what they are told, couched in the silveriest tongue.
      "what use is detailed and available knowledge of the behavior, etc of the us population, when you can simply listen to us?"
      or well that ends...well.

  •  No news here. Look elsewhere. Carry on. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    Facts? Dem-o-graphic facts? Of what conceivable use are they?

    "Know thyself" is something to do with old Greeks. Being not a biblical adjuration, it is without any value whatsoever.

    Besides, we don't need any of those there figures in our Home Schooling programs. The only numbers we care about are the students we save from outside influences.

    When a member of the GOP says something is "too invasive," you have to think it's hitting pretty close to home!

    2014 IS COMING. Build up the Senate. Win back the House : 17 seats. Plus!

    by TRPChicago on Wed May 01, 2013 at 04:39:43 PM PDT

  •  When a society moves to modernity (0+ / 0-)

    from subsistence farming by mostly illiterate individuals one of the first thing is starts doing is gathering a census of the people in society.

    The subsistence farming societies are run by wealthy aristocratic families and the education system caters to those families. Such societies are class societies.

    No modern society can last with an illiterate population. The census is required if only to predict how the public education system will be structured. But this is something else the rather primitive conservatives want to end, isn't it? Public Education.

    The question on toilets is about public health. More toilets means less risk of cholera.

    Dr. Francis Fukuyama explains that when modern societies collapse the default form of organization is tribalism.

    The US Supreme Court has by its actions and rhetoric has ceased to be legitimate. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - over

    by Rick B on Wed May 01, 2013 at 04:39:49 PM PDT

  •  This is as it should be. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    At least for the GOP and its "free market", Randian wing.

    These functions, I'm sure they believe, are best done by for-profit groups which would collect the data demanded by the marketplace, and sell it for a profit.  Problem solved.

    Unfortunately, who would want data about the poor?  The unemployed?  How sad that the "invisible hand" of the market slaps those groups down.

    They would shed crocodile tears and move on, no doubt.

    "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions." - Thomas Jefferson

    by rfall on Wed May 01, 2013 at 04:41:37 PM PDT

  •  Well, of course! Without facts, they can tell (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    people any BS they want and many of them will believe it. Orwell must be turning over in his grave.

  •  There Are Valid Objections (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    Of course, the Pubbies want to kill off the program because it produces data that conflicts with their ideology, but that doesn't invalidate the actual problems with the system.

    One big one -- someone who gets a long intrusive nitpicky form and then is told that he is required to fill it out is probably going to do what I did a few years ago: just make stuff up whenever answering a question accurately would requite the effort of digging up old records about the electric bill or whatever. Someone who is particularly annoyed is going to contaminate even the easy questions with plausible but fictitious gibberish. Thus, the mandatory nature of the survey works against accuracy.

    On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog... but everybody knows if you're a jackass.

    by stevemb on Wed May 01, 2013 at 05:04:44 PM PDT

  •  Not only are Republicans totally stupid, but . . . (0+ / 0-)

    they want the whole country to make itself ignorant and stupid too.  

  •  Because they reflect their evil stupid voters; (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    They fixed it to win with an evil minority but we didn't. Don't care that I shouldn't call them stupid cause they are.

  •  H.R. 1628 IH: An act to protect the freedom to.. (0+ / 0-)

    ..rig elections and [many] other purposes.

    Nothing aids malignant governance more than keeping people in the dark.
    That is exactly it

    Republicans can't hide what they do like they used to and get away with it as easily. They're trying to "fix" that problem they have

    I've noticed a trend developing in the republican agenda. Information concealment. They pretend it's about freedom from "government oppression" but it's about protecting  Randian "objectivism" or the right to do whatever they want, including  using the very government they claim to despise for their own purposes, siphoning off revenue to their corporate cronies.  

    And because the GOP can no longer win democratically if people really know what they're about

    Also too: their entire platform if it was known to busy working folk who normally don't have the time to investigate the wrong doings of the GOP, the republicans wouldn't just lose elections many of them would be in prison. - Wall streeters etc. (and we had an AJ forced by an informed public's outrage to indict the crooks)

     imo

    They're getting their asses kicked since modern technology has made the collection and reporting of data quickly accessible. The republicans have been flouting laws all along - we're now finding out just how big a problem they really have been for a long time now.

    This behavior of stealing elections (Bush v Gore) or voter disenfranchisememt seems new, but it's not. They're just getting caught now.

    It's no wonder that the RWNJ keep coming up with anti-transparency moves. They're crooks & Liars. They know we know it and hopefully this latest attempt at more concealment fails, even more people will know it.

    Great links btw.

     This is bad - I'm glad this story is getting told

    Sorry for the rambling on - pissed me off

  •  it is WAY too invasive.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    stevemb

    all that stuff is none of the government's damn business. the census is to count people not database and spy on us. we waste too much taxpayer money on this

    Msongs www.hawaiilovesart.com batik, digital design, photography, songwriting

    by Msongs on Wed May 01, 2013 at 05:43:07 PM PDT

  •  no surprise. Duncan is an ALEC member (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    link to his membership
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/...

    the guy is ignorant (just peruse his facebook postings) and dare i say, drunk with power from ALEC backers.  

    Faux News ruined my state

    by sc kitty on Wed May 01, 2013 at 05:46:17 PM PDT

  •  I take it none of these guys ever studied their (0+ / 0-)

    family tree.  The census information is vital for planning and understanding our past.

  •  Duncan's district, SC-3, is poor. (0+ / 0-)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/...

    The 3rd Congressional District of South Carolina is a congressional district in western South Carolina bordering both Georgia and North Carolina. It includes all of Abbeville, Anderson, Edgefield, Greenwood, McCormick, Oconee, Pickens and Saluda counties, most of Laurens County. The district is mostly rural, but much of the economy revolves around the manufacturing centers of Anderson and Greenwood.
    Every county in the district except Oconee is well above the national poverty rate.

    http://www.census.gov/...

    Perhaps that's an embarrassment and he would rather his own constituents were not aware of it.

    Others have simply gotten old. I prefer to think I've been tempered by time.

    by Just Bob on Wed May 01, 2013 at 06:09:57 PM PDT

  •  When most of your constituents... (0+ / 0-)

    still use outhouses and don't have phones, you probably don't want to ask questions about toilets or technology in the home.  You'd rather it all stay quiet.

  •  I never thought I'd see the day (0+ / 0-)

    When the Domesday book was too modern for Republicans.

    Governments throughout history have undertaken elaborate censuses, because you need to know more than just the number of people to run an effective administration, especially when we're talking about an enormous country like the US.

    Why not just pass a law forcing congress to work with blindfolds on?  It'd create a government just as ineffective.

  •  There's a big problem with the ACS as it is now (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    stevemb

    Picture yourself an elderly disabled widow living alone in a lightly populated rural area. You have no near neighbors, and there is not even a token police presence in the area. Your phone service can be iffy and you have no internet or cell phone access due to the topography in the area. Your phone is unlisted and you are very careful about giving out your personal information, because you don't care to be targeted by unprincipled people. You get your mail at a P.O. box in a town a few miles away, as there is no rural delivery, so very few people have your actual living address.

    Here comes ACS.  Not only does it ask in detail all the things a thief or other unprincipled person might prefer to know about a target, including what they might have to steal, but it makes it available publicly. There are even cool apps to map and sort it in various ways!

    The Census information used to be held carefully in privacy. The person who I'm describing above (a real person!) refused to fill out the form for the reasons above. She was nastily threatened but held her ground and eventually they gave up.

    Now tell me why she should be required to fill out such a form? Why should anyone? Make it wholly private for people's protection, and you might see a different attitude. Until she told me of her experience with this form and the agency, I too had thought it was a very important thing for us to do. Now I have my doubts; there are some prices that should not be paid.

    This aspect is NOT political, but simply personal survival; survival is tough enough without creating a data base of tasty potential victims.

    "THERE IS NO JUSTICE. THERE IS JUST US." spoken by DEATH in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.

    by Sailorben on Wed May 01, 2013 at 06:21:21 PM PDT

    •  If They Don't Take Obvious Privacy Precautions... (0+ / 0-)

      ...such as anonymizing the forms, how can their assurances be trusted? None of the statistical purposes require attaching names to data, so why not leave them out to begin with?

      On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog... but everybody knows if you're a jackass.

      by stevemb on Thu May 02, 2013 at 05:37:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly.. and it's not just names (0+ / 0-)

        I did some research for my friend described above.  The information is such that the precise location of the home, number and kind of residents, income, assets, etc. are available, including mapping and how long people are working outside the home daily. What a bonanza for people looking for easy targets! She is not by any means unusual in her area, nor in many other parts of this sprawling nation.

        I really appreciate the useful information the Census has brought us.. but when anonymity went out the window so did my support for this sort of questioning.

        "THERE IS NO JUSTICE. THERE IS JUST US." spoken by DEATH in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.

        by Sailorben on Thu May 02, 2013 at 06:36:35 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Dump ACS (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    stevemb

    Find some other way to get information and some other way to distribute federal money.

    •  It Can Be Mended Rather Than Ended (0+ / 0-)

      There are two simple fixes for the main problems:

      1. Remove the mandatory-response requirement. People who respond only becuse of (empty) penalty threats are at best not going to bother with accuracy on anything that any effort whatsoever (quick: Without looking it up, how much were your electric and water bills last month?) and at worst are going to poison the statistical well with bogus answers.

      2. Anonymize the form. Mail-in ballots keep the voter's name separate from the vote; why should the ACS rely on nothing but the government's double-pinky-swear assurance that the combined name and data on the same form will be stripped of personal identification later?

      On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog... but everybody knows if you're a jackass.

      by stevemb on Thu May 02, 2013 at 07:26:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's all part of drowning (0+ / 0-)

    the government in a bathtub, after which the only part of government left standing is the military and enough police to the protect property rights, the only legitimate use of government power according to Grover Norquist, de facto leader of the GOP.

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