While the current administration is the least transparent Executive office in U.S. history, Americans do seem to be getting some traction in the concerns over the Census Bureau.  As a result of the Congressional hearings held last year regarding the American Community Survey, Census social scientists have been busy little FTEs (Fed-speak for Full Time Employees) in attempting to address “testimony that the Census Bureau repeatedly contacted households that did not want to participate” (2013_Zelenak_01, p. iii).  The studies generated in 2013 are very illuminating, giving the American public a view into this agency’s mindset, methods, and what we, U.S. taxpayers, can expect in 2014 ACS harassment.

As one might expect, they COMPLETLY.  MISS. THE. CENTRAL. PROBLEMS.  Consider this statement from another in the memoranda series following the Congressional hearings:

“In Congressional testimony about the mandatory nature of the American Community Survey (ACS), it became clear that Congressional staff were advocating on behalf of constituents who felt “harassed” due to multiple efforts by the Census Bureau to obtain interviews. These repeated contacts with sample households is a consequence of multiple mailings, repeated telephone call attempts using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) methods, and potential personal visits using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) methods. The ACS, like other household surveys, strives to maximize response to achieve the highest levels of quality by reducing the potential for nonresponse bias. In some instances, households could certainly perceive these multiple contacts and multiple modes of contact as harassment.” (2013_Griffin_01, p. 1, emphasis added)

Oh, why, don’t those unenlightened teeming millions understand the Census Bureau is acting for their benefit??

All the sarcasm aside, the *fundamental flaws* of the ACS consists of:  1)  the survey design; 2)  the ‘mandatory’ designation of the ACS; and 3)  the security of the data collected.  First and foremost, the design of the survey is seriously flawed.  The Privacy Act specifically provides that Personal Identifying Information gathered by Federal agencies may NOT be stored in a way that identifies any persons.  The ACS collects and then uses names attached to the selected addresses and the data is STORED BY NAME and ADDRESS. Such storage in easily-accessed databases are *prohibited* under the Privacy Act.  There would be fewer problems in this data collection if the ACS were to be modified to the survey number associated with the address.  DON’T collect names, period.  In this age of identity theft, DON’T ask for employer names and addresses, or the time an address leaves for work.  Come to think on it, you could cut out at least a third of the questions on the whole survey, which would increase a response rate, and probably generate some more reliable data.  As it is, there is simply NO method to really verify any of this data, essentially making this a busy-work endeavor to maintain a bloated and useless bureaucracy.  Making and intrusive and unsecured survey like this mandatory was the idea of social scientists (National Academy of Sciences) who were tasked with developing suggestions to increase the response rate of the ACS.  Making this worse are the new and ‘improved’ questions in the 2014 survey which demands to know about health insurance coverage.  Like Census isn’t gonna share this with the IRS.  Anyone want to buy a bridge?  Although Census claims they have a “97%” response rate for the ACS, other estimates indicate this is probably grossly inflated and the actual response rate is more around 40%.  But the program needs to publically demonstrate it is “effective” and so they are counting “partial interviews” in the completed category.  A “partial interview” usually contains even LESS accurate information than voluntary submissions, especially if it is based on neighbor interviews, trash scrounging, ACS encouragement of false responses, etc.  These abuses of U.S. citizens and their privacy needs to be stopped.  NOW.

There is no actual necessity to make this a mandatory survey, except that bureaucrats were unhappy that no one wants to answer these ridiculous questions.  We have private marketing research firms that already do enough of this stuff.  It also seems not much importance was attached to the survey, as the fine for not answering the ACS is $100.  Period.  (See my earlier Title 13 analysis)  The Census Bureau nattering on about a $5,000 fine attempts to scare people into answering the questions by trying to tie a completely different statute onto the actual statute involving Federal ability to request additional fines on conviction.  They think we’re idiots (another underlying fault of this waste of money)– the American people do not need to be ‘managed.’  We are free people, able to make both good and bad decisions– this is called LIFE.  Even if the Census Bureau ever attempted to prosecute anyone for not responding to the ACS, they could ask the Federal judge to impose the further fine following a conviction, but as they have NEVER brought anyone to court, it highly unlikely.  Also, the Bureau has absolutely *no* authority to impose the fine on its own, but must actually prosecute in Federal court in order to collect it.  For a statutory $100 fine, DOJ isn’t interested.  A 2002 GAO memo to Rep. Bob Barr stated that “[u]sing information provided by OMB, we found no other government surveys that respondents are required to fill out that request specific, detailed personal information similar to that required by the ACS.  The only information collections that met the conditions of being required or mandatory and affecting individuals or households for statistical or research purposes were those related to the 2000 decennial censuses, including the ACS.” (GAO to Congressman Bob  Barr, 4/4/2002, emphasis added)

Even more troubling is the apparent cavalier attitude taken to ACS data security.  A 2007 GAO report lists hundreds of laptops missing (What happened to the data?); and multiple incidents of survey information being published on public websites.  Who are the employees who allowed this to happen?  Who are their supervisors?  What were the punishments??  No mention of convictions or jail time — or even of firings — are mentioned.

Census is playing differently in 2014.  While they may have reduced the number of calls to a residence, I have the feeling the pressure and tactics of “personal interviewers” is going to be much nastier and prolonged.  This time, I’m ready.  I’m not playing.  Neither are my neighbors.

References I’ve cited above and much, much more can be found at this enlightening little page:  http://www.census.gov/acs/www/library/by_series/acs_research_evaluation_program/

The papers here are excellent material to gain insight into bureaucrats run amok.

So, here’s the scoop on what you can expect on the new ACS process:

First– Census want you to answer all those instrusive, not-the-Feds-business questions online! Wow! They even send out *paper* instructions by snail-mail to ‘help’ you understand (’cause now apparently no individual or entity is capable of self-government) how important it is for you to share this information.

Second– Based on memoranda detailing studies Census did following Congressional hearings on the ACS, non-response will generate fewer calls from ACS call centers. In a breath-taking exhibit of common sense, ACS research discovered that, while obtaining complete surveys over the phone is difficult, the number of surveys obtained after the fifth call to a residence zeros out. The *fifth* call– their script used to mandate up to 25 calls! The bad news in this initial call reduction is that cases get referred to the ACS stalkers more quickly.

I’m still reviewing all the research that ACS assembled last year (2013)– but it is clear Census has no intention of making changes which would address citizens’ very real, substantiated concerns about the security (and eventual use) of the ACS information. They actually seem surprised that there are people who have a problem with a gov’t agency knowing what time they leave home for work, name, address, & phone number of employer(s), number of bathrooms in the house, if anyone in the home may have disabilities, etc. Imagine that.

A significant gap in their research (and perhaps I’ve not hit the memorandum addressing the “personal interviewers”) consists of the tactics that the field workers engage in when going to targeted residences. Apparently, Census is ok with their people going through trash, bullying citizens, interrogating neighbors and accepting that information, knocking on doors at all hours (my last ACS stalker had a habit of showing up after 9pm and hanging around for awhile), parking outside people’s homes for extended periods of time, and other criminal (yeah, CRIMINAL) behaviors.

More later…

The ACS is BACK. Despite a move, despite assurances of it being “like, totally random!” once again I am “The Resident.”  One comment that really extremely irritated me about this process from an obvious CB plant on a comments section said something to the effect that– “It is SO difficult to “manage a country of 300 million people” so you should just all shaddup and sent in your ACS.”  Manage?  MANAGE?  Look, I’m a free, grown-up, non-criminal adult.  I don’t NEED managing.  I NEED to be left alone to be a productive, PRIVATE citizen without looking over my shoulder or worrying when Personal Identifiable Information (PII) is going to be posted on public websites for identity thieves because some CB peon had its laptop/notebook stolen.

More fun to ensue, I’ve found some recent ‘research’ which MISSES. THE. POINT. completely re: why citizens are *not* answering these awful (in so many ways) questions.

You’re not alone. You don’t have to answer this stuff– EVER.  More on the non-response contact process as soon as I can get a good summary together.

Parsha Masei, 42

The Shabbos of Parsha Mattos/Masei is the longest of our year (when these two parshot are read together).  Usually, I have studied at least the Rashi for each parsha prior to Shabbos, and hopefully Sforno’s commentary as well.  I had only gotten through the first couple psukim of Masei, so I hadn’t thought about the list of Bnei Yisrael’s journeys contained in Masei.

And then it hit me.  42.  42!!  While there are other counts, Rashi’s count (accepted by other commentators) states that the number of journeys during the 40-year period in the Wilderness total 42.  I haven’t touched my Douglas Adams books for awhile, so I don’t know why this suddenly hit me, aside from the fact that some friends have become (seemingly) much more strident in their atheism lately.

I have always enjoyed Douglas Adams’ books, but it continually amazes me how (or WHY) he continually has to bring up G-d, or rather, his “disbelief” in the Creator.  This is something consistant with “celebrities” who are very public about their belief in disbelief.  To paraphrase the bard of centuries ago, I think they dost protest too much.  Why would you feel the need to have a “monument” to your non-belief?  If truly you DON’T believe, then you’re just free to go on your merry little way!  If G-d is so absent from your perception of the world, why bring it up so much?

Back to 42.  In the Hitchhiker’s  Guide books, 42 is *the* answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.  (Of course, then one is asked what the actual question is.)  Mr. Adams was always very clear that he didn’t believe in G-d, that it was ridiculous, etc.  All the things that militant atheists go on about, making one wonder if they are really all that secure in their beliefs.  (See the “atheist monument” in Florida– when did NOT believing in something need a monument??)

Seems the “Universe” may have strung Mr. Adams along for an interesting ride.  In The Dirk Gently Detective Agency, the main character moonlights as a psychic.  When his predictions actually end up coming into being, he stands on the roof of a building, shaking his fist at the sky yelling, “Stop it!!”  If anyone would point out the significance of 42, and I have no idea if anyone mentioned this to Mr. Adams, I wonder if he wouldn’t have done the same thing.  I understand he was horrified when a young cancer patient found comfort in “knowing where your towel is” and was told she passed peacefully holding hers.  Taking the step into belief, or even faith can be a very frightening thing, especially if you are coming from a relatively secular background.  True faith, actual emunah, takes work and practice and patiently accepting all we are given to work with or overcome.  And that it is all for the best.

42 is quite significant, from the journeys of Bnei Yisrael in the Wilderness, to one of the names of G-d.  Or as Mr. Adams himself put it, “How many roads must a man walk down?  42”

My sole point here is that whether YOU ‘decide’ to believe or not, there is something more than we can ever know guiding, teaching, and making sure everything is for the best.  Mr. Adams had an incredible talent, but one that also dried up for long long periods of time.  Whether or not it was a call for introspection or repentance, who can tell?  As for me, I simply don’t understand how you can look around at the world, especially the natural world, and NOT see the Creator.  Who I also think has a great sense of humor, as demonstrated by all the connections possible with simply– 42.

So, I’ve been busy.  Living a life, raising my family.  It is rather difficult to keep up with the commenting, as I do have at least 12 other things that either need doing or that I would rather do.  But, on a business trip back to the middle of the U.S., I noticed some rather startling developments.  Or, should I say, startling to me.

I’ve been tired of reading about the “obesity epidemic” for some time now.  I’m taking care of my own problem, getting healthy, keeping the A1C and glycomark numbers as close to normal as I can, etc.  But going out & about in middle America, and yes, we’ve got some problems.  Obesity being just one, and to my mind, not the worst.  However, I also believe all theses issues I’m going to put out are also the sole provenance of every individual.  In other words:  Personal. Responsibility.

Ok, first.  If you are heavy, aside from that being your problem, DO NOT compound it by wearing clothing that is 1) ill-fitting and/or 2) leaving important parts hanging out/uncovered.  Truly– ew.  I thought the droopy drawers and not-there skirts on my commute were a problem, but WOW.  If you wear low-rise pants, make sure they are the right size and then have a top that at least covers the waist band.  If (there’s no other way to say this) your behind interfers with the hemline of your skirt, you need a longer skirt.  Sheesh.  If you are over 40, sleeves are good thing.  Just sayin’.

Now, when did paganism take over the Midwest??  What is it with the earspools, ‘cannibal’ nose rings, and tattoos???  (Tattoos, btw, are NOT a clothing substitute.)  When did this happen?  Where did I land?  Now, I do have friends from various Indian tribes who have tattoos rooted in their traditional observances, but for the most part, they are unobtrusive and mostly covered or small.  Fine– their tradition.  But to just *have* them– ostentatious and just there so you can’t even really cover them up if you wanted to?  Um….again, ew.  And then to wear clothing as if people actually wanted to look at something in the small of your back?  This is just….incredible.  And it isn’t always going to look as good or even like anything at all decades after you get it.

All right, so I have definitely changed a bit in my outlook and religious observance.  In my neighborhood, we all walk a lot, and as there are not many restaurants we eat at even in our neighborhood, fast food isn’t an issue for many of us.  I didn’t realize how this may actually effect people’s appearance and deportment.  Yes, there are overweight people, but if you are dressing modestly, perhaps it isn’t quite as noticeable as when someone’s fat is hanging out in plain view.

So I tried not to really notice, but I am appalled that this has apparently become normal.  It does indeed appear that you can’t go home again.

My resolve to not have broadcast/cable or rush after anything in “popular” culture has been renewed and strengthened.  My resolve not to have my children in public schools– likewise.


GOP Representatives in the House have prepared legislation to alter the American Community Survey.  Unsurprisingly, people who obviously have not dealt with the ACS in their own lives are upset by this.  There is a lot of whining on various policy blogs & etc. about “How will we KNOOOOOW where to spend tax dollars!”  See– http://www.governing.com/blogs/view/census-american-community-survey-house-vote.html; http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/civil-rights/226165-dont-count-out-the-american-community-survey; http://www.tucsonsentinel.com/opinion/report/051512_acs_gop_op/killing-community-survey-bad-govt-and-business/; and a bunch of ridiculous “the earth will stop”-hysteria over at the New York Times that I won’t link to.  I don’t care how “useful” it may be to businesses or gov’t– NOT the point.  My individual privacy and freedoms are worth much, much more than being a data point in some pinheaded report for ANY agency or business.

The House bill passed its first journey, according to a Cato Institute blurb (that doesn’t get too much wrong, although they don’t seem to understand that the ACS has been brewing long before 2005): http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/useful-idiots-and-the-american-community-survey/

I don’t have much optimism about this bill going into the Senate, however.

None of the writers or commentors on this article seem to have any actual experience with either receiving the ACS, or actually *reading* the thing to see if they REALLY would fill it out.  Somehow, I think any reasonable individual would NOT appreciate being asked for all this information and would think seriously before letting a gov’t agency just have it– especially given Census’ past actions in disclosing this supposedly protected information that resulted in harm and harrassment of U.S. citizens (1942 and 2002 are verified, who knows how many other instances there are?).

Government cannot and SHOULD NOT be solving or think it needs to solve all the problems.  Yes, we need some government, and we need the government to enforce the laws that protect citizens.  When the government starts picking and choosing the laws it enforces (or for who it enforces them), we are in serious trouble.  We’re there now, and I don’t need the gov’t knowing *anything* about my private, law-abiding life.  ZERO.

That said, I am happy to see that some people in Congress are paying attention.

Now, although I believe that just ending the ACS would be a good thing, could the ACS actually be fixed?  Perhaps, with careful oversight and people dedicated to seeing that various statutes effecting the collection of citizens’ personal information are upheld.  Maybe.  First, remove any names from the survey.  If the survey is truly based on a “randomly chosen address” then THAT and only THAT ADDRESS as the only information– leave off the names, but have, say, Resident 1, Resident 2, etc.  Then, ditch the personal schedule questions, the income questions, the employer questions, the ethnicity questions…. hmmm, this appears to indicate that we could just ditch the ACS altogether.  When it comes to my personal information, I don’t care if it is “useful” or “helpful” for a gov’t agency to know– it is simply none of their business.  Commuting information?  What do you think those car-counter wires across streets are doing.  Why are they so interested in what languages we use in our home?  Did you know this has been used against citizens before, to intimidate and harrass or imprision?  WWI and II.

And let’s face it, like any self-reported information (or worker-gathered information)– there are serious quality issues.  The quality of these reports is only as good as the reported information, which for various reasons is more likely than not inflated or minimized, not reported, etc.  For instance– the information they have for my survey is ALL INACCURATE– because I did not give them anything and what they tried to use is INCORRECT.  So, for my address, the whole entry is bunk.  Useless.

And incorrect data is sometimes even worse than no data at all.  So I say, scrap it.  Just collect the number of residents and be done with it, as mandated by the Constitution.



So, finally, my ACS harrassment seems to have ended.  While as recently as April 3 I was still receiving the “out of area” hang-up phone calls (ie, no one left a message), they have since stopped.  (Yay.)

Unfortunately, however, there are some people who are just too helpful.  On March 31st, after 8pm, my doorbell began ringing and pounding on the door commenced as well.  Unfortunately, my neighbor’s elderly mother had been taking out her trash and the ACS worker began pumping this elderly Ethopian lady for information.  (My neighbors had been warned about this, but my neighbor hadn’t told her mom, who was visiting.)  I ended up screaming through the door at the ACS worker.  So, all they have is a name (incorrect), an approximate age (incorrect), number of people in my household (unverified) and a vague racial category (incorrect).  They sent a different ACS worker back the next weekend, who tried to interrogate another neighbor, who shut the door in his face.  (THANK YOU!) 

Major FAIL.  Just don’t play.  Don’t answer, don’t talk, do not engage.  If you live in a single family home, shred all documents before putting them out for trash pickup.  They are known to go through garbage/recycling.  If you receive an ACS form, scrub your web information, including job networking sites.  If you know someone who has received Census ACS greetings, encourage them to think about it and do research prior to participating.  Contrary to Census assertions, we are a free country and citizens DO NOT have to open the door to any gov’t employee wandering by.  If I do not wish to associate with you, I don’t have to.  (Census is not law enforcement, and they have NO RIGHT to trespass if the property owner makes it clear they are not welcome and will not be tolerated.)

The limited data they think they have is USELESS.  It is not correct.  There is no way to put ANY of the ACS data through a quality-control process.

Any data that cannot be checked for accuracy is useless, thereby making any reports using ACS data pretty much equally useless.

The Census Bureau has, according to the GAO, exceeded it statutory authority with the ACS.  Sooner or later, someone with some authority will actually slap this rogue agency back into compliance with both Federal statute and Constitutional limits.  May that day be soon.