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Census 2010: There’s Nothing to Fear but the Fear of Others

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Census_Bureau_SealAround, if not on, September 11th, part time census worker, Bill Sparkman, was gagged, bound, killed and hung from a tree in rural southeastern Kentucky; the word “fed” scrawled across his chest. His body was discovered by local authorities on September 12th. Only recently has this atrocity been picked up by national news.

According to reports, it is speculative as to why he was killed. The area in Kentucky has a sordid past of anti-government sentiment. An abundance of marijuana fields and meth labs in the area may also have lead to a paranoid, preemptive defense from an owner of said operations.

Information is tight, if existent at all, as the investigation moves on. I, myself, work for the census and have been asked not to speak of the incident during this investigation, as not to hamper it in some way. I intend to do as they have requested, though it’s not as if I have any information to contribute on the topic, anyway. The aspects of the story I have laid out have already been broadcast on national news. What happened is what happened and I sincerely hope the person or people who did this to Mr. Sparkman are soon found out. There is a greater point raised in all this, however. The fear of the census these days, particularly found in the mindsets of republicans, is dangerous.

I’m not saying Sparkman’s death was intrinsically and certainly linked to anti-government sentiment. As mentioned above, he may have simply caught a glimpse of some crazy redneck’s meth operation and suffered the unfortunate consequences of seeing too much. However, whether or not anti-government sentiment was at the root of the killing, it was certainly a factor. Elsewise, why would the killer (or killers) brand Sparkman’s body with the word, “fed?” Obviously, his government service is something the killer(s) intended to bring attention to. Through this marking, as well as leaving the body on display, it seems that whoever did this to him was trying to make a point: “We don’t want no government up in here.” (And that’s probably how they’d say it, too.)

I don’t know if the person or persons who did this watch FOX News, or if they have cable at all. Certainly, though, FOX News, and their various commentators and political affiliates, have been hard at work instilling a fear of the 2010 census into their viewers. Such paranoid direction of animosity resulted in the shooting death of late-term abortion doctor, George Tiller, as he attended church earlier this year. Before that there was a less focused mass shooting in a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Gunman, David Adkisson, was admittedly influenced by FOX News commentators and conservative pundits. Whether or not Sparkman’s killer(s) were directly influenced, themselves, by FOX News or their political allies, one thing is clear: These people are creating a dangerous environment for census employees.

What is the census? Obviously, it’s a count of a country’s population. In America, its initial use was to determine the number of delegates each state would be allowed to receive in the House of Representatives. Since then, more questions have been added in order to gather a wider range of statistical information. Such information proves useful in a variety of ways, most of which leads to funding for necessary government programs. An example given by my census crew leader was something like this: If the census finds a particularly high cancer rate in a certain community, then it can be investigated and perhaps remedied.

And yet, more than a handful of right wing wackos insist on perpetuating a dire and irresponsible fear about this useful tool. From FOX News, to Michele Bachmann, to idiots with YouTube accounts, here is but a small sample of some of the fear mongering revolving around the 2010 census:

Aside from that nonsense, these same people are creating a ton of additional myths and lies about the 2010 Census. I remember sitting in my car, filling out my census paperwork and listening to radio host Neil Boortz as he made the claim that no work for the census was currently underway in America. Really, Neil? Why were they paying me and giving me assignments then? He also harped on that immensely wide spread idea that Obama moved the Census Bureau to the Executive Branch of government, away from the Department of Commerce. Again, my name badge, as well as my hand held map system, paperwork and training materials never mentioned any other government body than the Department of Commerce. As hardcore as the census is about keeping their materials up to date, this certainly would be a huge error to miss. That night, I sent Boortz a very professional, well versed and clear letter about the misinformation he was spreading. As I listened through subsequent days and weeks, he never issued a correction, let alone an apology for spreading his paranoia.

None of the questions asked by the census are as intrusive as these nutjobs would have you believe. Michele Bachmann seems to be largely concerned that the census asks for a phone number. First of all, the purpose of this is to prevent mistakes. Sometimes checkers will call and confirm that the visiting census taker actually did his or her job. The phone numbers may also be used simply to obtain additional information or clear up any uncertainties from the interview. However, isn’t it kind of dumb to worry about a government entity asking for your phone number? First of all, higher government powers probably already have it. Secondly, if they don’t have it, they can probably look it up in the Yellow Pages. Yet still, if it’s unlisted there, and they didn’t have it after all, then I suppose simply changing your phone number should put your worries to rest. Right?

The census also takes confidentiality very very seriously. Misplacing anyone’s private information is a firing offense in the census. Making such an error also leads to the assembly of a large, swift team with a goal of sweeping in and finding the misplaced information. A confidentiality notice is given to every person spoken to. Also, though statistical information takes commonplace, individual information is sealed away from the reach of any private or government body for 72 years before it can be retrieved. It was made clear to us in our training that it is illegal for the census to use any information provided for anything other than statistical information (except in the case of reporting child abuse, which we are required to do immediately if we become knowledgeable of its presence). It’s like this: If you robbed a bank, and told the census about it, they would have absolutely no power or ability to turn you in or use that information against you in a court of law.

And yet the fear persists and the danger increases. Personally, I have been greeted with a gun three times while doing my job. One fellow who insisted that I did not count his address on my map voiced a concern that “when it all went down” the government would use the information to shoot lasers to his front door. Seriously. Right before we parted, he made sure to inform me that people would soon begin shooting census workers as soon as they realized what we were really doing. Do we census employees really deserve to be shot? We’re just regular people looking to help out the greater good and make a little money in a tight economy. Some of us teach, work in food service or are retired. Some of us are artists, musicians or housekeepers. We visit homes, ask innocuous questions and fill out paperwork. We’re not devious masterminds in a conspiratorial web…we are bureaucrats…kind of. We woke up in the morning, ate breakfast, and left our homes…not our secret labor camps.

It is evident that the lies and fear regarding the census are being spread around as a result of disdain for the Obama administration. Those of opposing political viewpoints are quick to turn all they can into a supposed conspiracy in hopes of diminishing Obama’s influence and ability. Their hit job on the census is no different. So if you’ve fallen victim to believing the propaganda, please keep one thing in mind before killing a census worker: That person is just like you…except with less paranoia.

Public Schools: Obama is Iffy, but McDonalds is Awesome!

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

evil-mcdonaldsRemember a few weeks ago when the more paranoid among we Americans were living in dire fear regarding President Obama’s speech to the school children of the world? They were afraid he was going to mass hypnotize our kids and convince them to do something socialist…like joining Americorps, or giving a dollar to a homeless man. In the end, of course, the President’s message was simply that of inspirational basics. Stay in school…work hard…take your vitamins…whatever.

In case you missed it, here are some highlights…with some NASCAR people to kick it off, ironically.

All that freaking out over this? Okay. Whatever. We’ve come to expect it from the rightwing clowns, but we’ll get into a deeper discussion of clowns later.

My girlfriend’s son from a previous marriage is in first grade. His class did not watch the speech on the day it aired. Instead, the school presumably wanted to check it out first and make sure it was kosher. A few days later, they decided to show it to the classes, but not without a permission slip, signed by each child’s parents. Ridiculous, I know. And indeed, appalling, as my my girlfriend noted across the top of the release.

On the day of the viewing, some of the children had to leave the room. Let me say that again. Because of their parents’ right wing paranoia, several first graders were not permitted to sit in the same room as a television which showed the President of the United States speaking about the importance of being a good person. (And I wonder how many of these same children are familiar with Family Guy or Halo.) Okay. Whatever. People are stupid. We’ve already seen this at the teaparties, 9/12 protest and FOX News. What mattered is that my girlfriend’s son saw it and he was inspired.

Flash forward.

A few days later, he comes home from school hyped on the idea that he wants to sell coupon books. Of course, the reason he wants to sell coupon books is because the company that put the coupon books together came to his school, held an assembly and gave a pep talk about them.

These coupon books are full of “great deals” from a thick stack of corporate entities. They are ten dollars apiece and the more the children sell, the bigger the prizes they get. Apparently, the greatest prize, if they sell 100 of the coupon books, is a free trip to the zoo. So one hundred coupon books at ten dollars apiece basically equates to a $1000 trip to the zoo. So that’s $750 that apparently goes back to the school, leaving about $10 to cover the trip to the zoo and about $240 in the pockets of the coupon publishers. I guess it’s a lesson in capitalism.

My girlfriend’s son noted that as the coupon book people were giving their speech and announcing the “prizes,” the children of the school were cheering at every open moment. He found it particularly amusing that they cheered for the prize of a free dinner at McDonalds. He’s not very big on McDonalds, but even if he was, it’s still a lame reward for generating money for adults.

Okay. Here’s the deal. We try not to disallow him from doing anything that interests him. For better or for worse, he does want to try to flip a few coupon books and we have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is this:

Why did the students need a permission slip to see a self empowerment speech by the President of the United States of America, but no such permission was needed for a sales pitch from a corporate spokesperson? Why is it controversial for President Obama to talk to our children about working hard, but no mind is paid whatsoever to some random school administrator trying to win over our children with free junk food? Isn’t that almost on par with a stranger offering them candy?

This is highly reflective of the backwards priorities of this country right now, and particularly the Southeastern United States where I live. People who are supposed to be adults are teaching children to hate and fear our government, but to respect and love corporations, or at least the consumable products that these corporations are killing us with. These same so-called adults are then turning around and speaking out against health care reform. Effectively, this means they are simultaneously encouraging poor health in our children while fighting against their ability to receive quality care for that poor health.

Come on, America. Are we really that blindingly ignorant, or are we just that stubborn? Either way, it’s terrible parenting.