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American Community Survey - or "How Big Brother Became My Friend"

I was concerned I was having a complete mental breakdown the other evening. The cause of which, as most of you are probably now imagining (and shame on you), was not from an inordinate intake of chemicals or booze. Nor from gambling debts, syphilis, aging, paranoiac delusion or bad veal. No, no, no.

A few nights ago, while perusing comments on various right wing blogs, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with a cabal of shit-house crazy, dyed-in-the-wool, reactionary fucknuts.

Our mutual hatred of Obama has certainly brought us closer lately, despite the reasons for this embitterment being at polar ends of the political spectrum. They argue he is a foreign usurper/communist/terrorist hell bent on destroying the United States of America and our way of life.

And I argue that he is a moderate republican with the same agenda.

We just seem to wildly disagree on how he will achieve that end.

My connection with the wingnuts on this night, however, was born of the school that Big Brother is looming ever larger and becoming quite nefarious in information seeking and surveillance of its own populace. The sole difference in this fear we share is that I find the intrusions of privacy a violation of the Constitutional rights and civil liberties of all citizens- and they pretty much concern themselves only with how it is effecting the white folk. Ya know, the real Americans.

Which brings us to our commonality.

The American Community Survey.

I was naively unaware of this offshoot from the required ten year census, having filled that out last Spring. A chore I find as a duty for being a citizen of this country. The American Community Survey, however, is a whole other beast of seemingly dubious intentions.

I'm pretty sure, after reviewing the questionnaire and its accompanying literature, that it is exactly the sort of thing Orwell was trying to warn us about.

The Pig People on the right wing blogs were full of the correct fear and justified sense of outrage. They, as always, though, were blaming the wrong fucking source for this governmental overreach. This survey is not your convenient left wing conspiracy to gather information in order to round us up and force us all into Obama's labor camps. This is a bi-partisan policy decision to gather information in order to round us up and force us all into labor camps.

Okay. Overstated. But my conspiratorial juices have been flowing since reading this thing. This is not your Daddy's survey, My Friends. This isn't for counting heads to properly appropriate legislative representation or apportion direct taxes. This baby digs deep into the citizen's soul. And you are reminded that the completion and return of it is not voluntary. Quite the contrary. They let you know about fines you will face for non-compliance. A lengthy tour of many websites offered stories about census agents visiting the homes of those who did not submit and harassing them with phone calls for months. Some cases, apparently, went to court over trespassing and assault issues (if the "You kids get off of my lawn" types are to be believed). No one has apparently been killed or physically harmed over it yet. There is also no record of anyone having to pay a fine either. The Department of Commerce (the providers of the survey) insist they are not a law enforcement body and can take no direct action. Well, thank heavens for that.

A little history...

The American Community Survey began in 1995 as an answer to the declining return rates of the decennial survey long form, which was randomly generated for a smaller percentage of the population by the U.S. Census Bureau. The ACS began its rollout in 1996 with the first test data produced in 2000. It has slowly built since then, reaching 3 million households per year (250,000 every month) now that the program has attained full implementation in 2010.

There has been significant opposition to the survey at the citizen level. The politicians? Not so much. After all, the information gathered assists them in obtaining monies for their districts and states as the majority of the questions pertain to housing, commuting and health factors.

That legislative trend-bucker, Ron Paul, was on point once again in that true libertarian way he has. I admire the man for walking the walk while other so called "small government" types remain silent on these sorts of intrusions, as well as warmongering, empire building and civil liberties violations when it's politically expedient to do so. Paul said of the ACS:

"The new survey, unlike the traditional census, is taken each and every year at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. I introduced an amendment last week that would have eliminated funds for this intrusive survey in a spending bill, explaining on the House floor that perhaps the American people don't appreciate being threatened by Big Brother. The amendment was met by either indifference or hostility, as most members of Congress either don't care about or actively support government snooping into the private affairs of citizens. The American Community Survey is patently offensive to all Americans who still embody that fundamental American virtue, namely a healthy mistrust of government. The information demanded in the new survey is none of the government's business, and the American people should insist that Congress reject it now before it becomes entrenched."

Why, I could almost vote for that Randian motherfucker. But I like trees and detest financial genocide.

The conspiratorial paranoia surrounding this survey has a lot of merit. And I am not usually one to immediately take the position that the U.S. government is always acting out of a sense of pure evil or, at the very least, shrewd underhandedness. But... lately... over the past eleven years (much longer than that)... well... show me when it's not true. We have lost our moral foundation and sense of boundaries. Both at home and abroad. But don't believe me, believe your lying eyes. Brace for The Outrage.

Here are samples of the questions on the American Community Survey (no lie, they are all real):

General niceties:

First off, they want your phone number.

Age and date of birth.


Residence questions:

Type of building.

Year it was built.

When you moved in.

If a home, how many acres of land?

Dollar sales from agricultural products.

How many rooms?

How many bedrooms?

Does it have flush toilets?

Hot and cold running water?

Stove or range?


Bathtub or shower?

Type of fuel used for heating?

How many automobiles?

Monthly electric, water, oil and gas costs?

Food stamps (I liked how they slipped that one in)?

Monthly rent?

Selling price on today's market?

Annual real estate taxes?

Cost of fire hazard and flood insurance?

Monthly mortgage payment?

Second mortgage?


Place of birth?


Education level?

College degrees including major?

Ancestry or ethnic origin?

Other language beside English spoken at home?

Former residence (if less than one year at current address)?

Health insurance?


Do you have difficulty concentrating or making decisions, performing errands, walking or climbing stairs, dressing or bathing due to a health issue?

Marital status?

Married, widowed or divorced in the past year?

How many marriages?

Given birth in the past year?

Grandparents responsible for children in the house?

Military duty?

Employment status?

Location of employer?

How did you get to work last week?


What time did you leave home to get to work (hour and minute required)?

How long is your commute to work?

Laid off in the past six months?

Type of employment (private, government, self-employed, etc)?

Name of employer?

Most important work duties?

Income in past year?

Interest, dividends, estate income, etc?


Soooooooo. Definitely not a name, rank and serial number sort of inquiry. And your response is mandatory, cited by Title 13 Section 221 of the U.S. Code of law.

As you can imagine, when first reading this over I was sure it was a mistaken form forwarded to me from some dead letter office in East Germany circa 1983. Or maybe, in a moment of drunken weakness as a self-employed writer and general layabout seeking a can of government cheese, I had sent off for welfare forms and forgotten all about it. Or, was it some kind of prank from the Cato Institute to test my true resolve that the government does need to take care of the citizenry on a certain social level to remove the profit margin from such entities as law enforcement, health care, infrastructure, environmental concerns and education?

Yet, one of my regular faves, Tom Tomorrow was making fun of my worry. He was conveniently associating me with the fans of Michelle Bachmann in a straw man (woman?) argument. But that's his right as an artist who temporarily lost his mind on this particular Constitutional issue. Limiting your artistic vision to the medium of the paneled canvas Ernie Bushmiller once graced must be humbling in and of itself.

Don't get above yourself, Cartoonist!

Actually, to my shame, I considered filling the damn thing out just to avoid the headache of a follow up visit from some bureaucrat nosing around my bid'ness. Then, I remembered Obama and W., the wars (now three?!), the lies, the torture, the bailouts, Dick Cheney's sneer, the corporatism, the plutocracy, the loss of the rule of law and the emergence of the rule of men- the original tyranny we fought against to birth this goddamn great nation. I soon flashed on the heroes of civil disobedience- MLK, Gandhi, Assange, The Weather Underground, Chavez, Thoreau, Ellsberg, Bradley Manning, those Buddhist monks who immolated themselves (Well, I won't go that far for a little ol' questionnaire)- and decided, "Fuck 'em!". Fuck them right in their overstepping asses. I have rights. I am still a citizen of this country (until my clandestine midnight boat ride to true freedom across Lake Michigan to Canada in a few weeks. Eduardo says all will go well if we just get to the storage crate in time).

I demand respect and recognition of my concerns, along with my newfound brothers and sisters from across the political aisle. No matter how sewer-rat, shit-fumes crazy they are on every other issue. We are still Americans. And I believe with that, comes the inalienable right to tell whoever we want to go "fuck off and die".      

And perhaps, most importantly, I've come to the realization that the inefficiency of the lurching beast called the U.S. government with regards to matters such as census taking made my fears of prosecution laughable.

If I was Muslim, meh, I might be worried.

But, I'm a Caucasian writer with a lot of psychological down time to think about how I could balloon any arrest or imposed fine into a fully throbbing FOX News "Stalin's America" exposé.

That is, if I'm not rendered to some CIA black site in Yemen before I talk to Bill-O.

Fight the power, People!

We have nothing to lose but our chains!

If you get one of these (and you will, eventually) another option is to offer this neatly packaged review of your rights and a Supreme Court ruling along with your blank form.

To Whom it May Concern,

Pursuant to Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, the only information you are empowered to request is the total number of occupants at this address.  My “name, sex, age, date of birth, race, ethnicity, telephone number, relationship and housing tenure” have absolutely nothing to do with apportioning direct taxes or determining the number of representatives in the House of Representatives.  Therefore, neither Congress nor the Census Bureau have the constitutional authority to make that information request a component of the enumeration outlined in Article I, Section 2, Clause 3.  In addition, I cannot be subject to a fine for basing my conduct on the Constitution because that document trumps laws passed by Congress.

Interstate Commerce Commission v. Brimson, 154 U.S. 447, 479 (May 26, 1894)

“Neither branch of the legislative department [House of Representatives or Senate], still less any merely administrative body [such as the Census Bureau], established by congress, possesses, or can be invested with, a general power of making inquiry into the private affairs of the citizen. Kilbourn v. Thompson, 103 U.S. 168, 190.  We said in Boyd v. U.S., 116 U. S. 616, 630, 6 Sup. Ct. 524,―and it cannot be too often repeated,―that the principles that embody the essence of constitutional liberty and security forbid all invasions on the part of government and it’s employees of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of his life.  As said by Mr. Justice Field in Re Pacific Ry. Commission, 32 Fed. 241, 250, ‘of all the rights of the citizen, few are of greater importance or more essential to his peace and happiness than the right of personal security, and that involves, not merely protection of his person from assault, but exemption of his private affairs, books, and papers from inspection and scrutiny of others.  Without the enjoyment of this right, all others would lose half their value.’”

Note: This United States Supreme Court case has never been overturned.


A Citizen of the United States of America

Courtesy of: http://www.truthistreason.net/how-to-legally-refuse-to-participate-in-the-census-survey.

Reader Comments (2)


This is indeed disturbing...and you're quite right to notice that some professed libertarians ignore issues like this when it is politically expedient - or even just inconvenient - to do so. Say what you will about 'Ayn' Rand Paul, but he really does walk the walk.

And it's funny you mentioned someone else being 'sewer-rat, shit-fumes crazy.' Why those are the exact words I always use to describe you!

With a twinkle in my eye, of course...



April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLance Lyle

Glad to see you're coming around to the right way of thinking. Buy ammo while you can.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Lon Mackey

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