Saturday, March 20, 2010

The 2010 Census: Just Do It

Every household in America will soon be receiving their 2010 Decennial Census Questionnaire in the mail. Approximately one in every 500 households will also receive a much more detailed set of questions called the American Community Survey. Other people will actually be visited by a pair of census takers. As is usually the case every time the census is conducted, there are people asking themselves why does the government need all this information? Do I have to answer all these questions? Is this information any of their business? Could the government use the information against me in the future?

Americans may well have good reason to be suspicious of increased government information gathering, especially in the post-9/11 era of phone conversation eavesdropping. Government seems to be more engaged in our every day lives than ever before and people are legitimately concerned about potential infringement upon our Constitutionally-protected liberties and rights.

Nonetheless, the short answer to the question “Do I have to respond to the Census?” is “Yes.” You must by law answer the basic questionnaire and the American Community Survey.

The reason for taking the census of the American population every ten years can be found in the US Constitution, Article I, Section 2. “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers… The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

The principle purpose of the census is to provide the mathematical basis for apportioning taxes and the number Representatives to Congress each State shall elect. Then why does the Decennial Census need to know how people in my household are related, their gender and race, whether they are of Hispanic origin, and do we own or rent our home? And why is the American Community Survey asking so many detailed questions about things—like how much money I earn—that are nobody’s business? Will the Census Bureau share my personal information with other government agencies or sell my name and number to telemarketers? These are the kind of questions that many Americans are rightfully asking. There are pundits out there who have taken it upon themselves to provide advice regarding the census. Some are saying, if the Constitution only requires a population count, you are only required to answer the population questions and you can ignore the rest.

I hate to burst their bubble, but as the language in the Constitution cited above says, “…as they [Congress] shall by Law direct.” Congress has directed that the answers to certain questions be collected for the purposes of administering programs, responding to emergencies, providing disaster relief, sharing data with state and local governments to help them administer their programs, determining the location of federal facilities, deciding where to build transportation infrastructure such as highways and airports, allocating government services and the funding to geographic areas, and accessing the need and demand for future government services. More to the point, Congress has determined that this information is so important that you are required by law to respond to the Decennial Census in a timely manner and you are required to answer the questions in the American Community Survey, as intrusive as they may be.

Another equally important part of the law regarding the census is that the Census Bureau must keep all of your individual answers confidential. This means they cannot even share your information with other government agencies. Any Census Bureau employee who violates this provision may be subject to a $250,000 fine.

Certainly, one can argue that the gathering of all this information and many of these government programs are not necessary. Much of the information gathered through the American Community Survey is used to administer or develop federal programs that really amount to nothing less than social engineering. I believe many of the current programs are wrongly conceived, do not achieve the purposes for which they were established, and should be abolished.

Regardless of your feelings about government and government programs, let me suggest to you that there are other compelling reasons to respond promptly and accurately to your Decennial Census and the American Community Survey. While your individual responses are protected by law, the cumulative data collected is publicly available. This data is used by many different businesses and industry to determine market share, market potential, where to locate operations or stores, the community with the best potential labor pool when deciding where to build a new manufacturing facility. In short, business requires data—lots of data—to operate profitably, to grow, and to create jobs. Community Developers at your local chamber of commerce or economic development office use census data to recruit new businesses to the area. New businesses use census data to create business plans. Business plans not only increase the likelihood of a new business being successful, but they are now a virtual requirement to getting a bank loan or venture capital for a business start up.

We live in the information age. The U.S. economy is now more service-sector based than manufacturing. While we could debate the causes and merits of that transition, the fact is that our service-sector economy runs on information: population data, age and other demographics, income levels, assets owned or rented, etc. All this information that at first blush appears to be invasive probing on the part of government is what keeps a well oiled economy functioning and growing.

Filling out your Census forms is not just a Constitutional and legal obligation; it is a service to our economy. It is not only your duty as a citizen, but your job or your business may be dependent upon the information people provide through the census process. So, just do it, America! Fill out your Census forms and return them promptly, and if census workers knock on your door, treat them with dignity and respect. They are only doing their job.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Unraveling the Tapestry of Our Culture

America’s strength has always been founded upon its diversity. The melting pot of the world has become an economic juggernaut that now drives the world economy. The United States has demonstrated that the American Dream is accessible to anyone in a free enterprise economy and a democratic society that does not discriminate against race, color, or creed.

Over the past 250 years, the United States of America has been the destination of choice for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses who have sought safe haven and opportunity by escaping from their homelands where they suffered under economic and social oppression.

Too be sure, diversity has not been an easy course for America. In a land where native peoples were conquered, slavery was once common place, U.S. Citizens of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and imprisoned, and anti-immigration sentiment has always run high, civil rights have been more of a concept and ideal than an absolute. It started with the phrase that helped frame our desire for independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Since that declaration in 1776, civil rights in America have been a work in progress more than a destination.

If diversity is the thread and colors that are woven together form the tapestry of American culture, then civil rights and the peaceable resolution of issues are the glue and the grease that hold it all together. And what a beautiful tapestry we have become—people from every nationality, race, language, and socio-economic background living in peace, governing ourselves, prospering and caring for one another, and helping the rest of the world to know the benefits of freedom and democracy.

There is, however, a pernicious trend in America that threatens to unravel the very tapestry of our culture. Political Correctness has permeated our culture, but being politically correct prevents us from acknowledging and embracing our diversity. We are no longer allowed to express ourselves freely. Instead, our language must be sanitized and our vocabulary purged of such terms as he or she, black or white, short or tall, winner or loser, fat or skinny, gay or straight, and stupid or smart. Especially perplexing is that any reference to the God of Judeo-Christian culture is systematically being expunged from our society while other religious references are tolerated.

This unraveling of our culture became clear to me when I served at the Department of the Interior as a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks where I helped oversee and set policy for the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

We received word one day that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was threatening to sue the National Park Service. The ACLU was incensed that a certain book, The Grand Canyon—A Different View by Tom Vail, was for sale in the bookstore at Grand Canyon National Park. The ACLU’s letter argued that by presenting the view that the Grand Canyon was created by the receding waters of the Great Flood as described in the Bible, the book should not be sold in a National Park Service venue. Their argument was based on the separation of church and state clause of the First Amendment and because the book differed from the National Park Service’s position that the canyon was formed over hundreds of thousands of year.

Of course, it did not matter to the ACLU that there is no consensus within the scientific community about how long it took to form the Grand Canyon. Nor did it matter that the book in question is a compilation of essays written by 23 people. Three of the essayists were theologians and the rest were highly acclaimed and well educated scientists with PhDs in geology, hydrology, geophysics, and atmospheric science, to name a few of the disciplines represented.

But, wait a minute. In this same bookstore, and almost every other bookstore in National Parks, there are numerous books about Native American spirituality and prayers. From the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, interpretive signs point out three of the most prominent peaks in the canyon that are each named after Hindu gods. And, in the bottom of the canyon, the most famous of the geologic formations is called Zoroaster Formation in honor of the ancient Persian prophet.

The point is that you cannot talk about America and what made her great without referencing our religious faiths. You cannot benefit from the strength of diversity by trying to sanitize our heritage. We cannot address what problems exist by denying or failing to recognize that people are all different. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, and if there are biological, biochemical, and physiological reasons for those differences, it is okay to acknowledge them.

Christian Faith and the Bible had a great influence on the Founding Fathers who established this great nation and wrote documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If you have ever been to Washington, DC, the monuments to Jefferson, Lincoln, and Washington all reference their faith and allegiance to Christian principles. The Supreme Court of this land is adorned with references to God and the Ten Commandments. To fail to recognize these facts, and worse yet to try to deny them through historic revisionism, will steadily erode our cultural heritage and unravel the tapestry of our culture today.

Like the Founding Fathers, I do not believe in State sponsored religion. I do not want my government telling me what to believe. I happen to be an unabashed believer in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. That is my choice and mine alone. I will defend my right to my faith and I pray I live my life as a good witness of my faith. I will also just as vigorously defend your right to believe in whatever or whoever you want. More to the point, I do not believe it is society’s or the government’s responsibility to purge our nation of those things, religious and otherwise, that make us diverse and strong. To try to homogenize America will completely unravel the tapestry of our culture that has made America what it is today—the beacon of hope to the rest of the world.