By Craig J. Cantoni
June 3, 2007
According to the US government, my mother is a scofflaw. If she continues to be contemptuous of the law, she could be turned over to the Justice Department for prosecution and a fine of up to $5,000.
It doesn’t matter to government agents that the law in question is unconstitutional and is the grand finale of a series of unconstitutional laws. Nor does it matter to them that my mother has dementia and is unable to comply with their request. Hey, they’re only following orders.
Worse, it doesn’t matter to the majority of citizens and the press that the federal government has become a rogue government that harasses elderly women and violates the Constitution with impunity. If they read this, they will yawn and ask, “What’s the big deal?” Their elected representatives, observing their lamb-like passivity, won’t care, either.
We’re a nation of laws. So was the Third Reich. So was the Soviet Union. So is North Korea. What is supposed to distinguish the US from the others is that the US is a constitutional republic with clear limits on government and clear safeguards on liberty. Those who violate the limits and safeguards are the true scofflaws, not my mother. Unfortunately, they have more boots and guns than my mother.
What law has my mother broken? She has failed to complete and return “The American Community Survey,” which is issued by the US Census Bureau of the US Department of Commerce. A cover letter signed by the Director of the Bureau, Charles Louis Kincannon, asks my mother to complete the enclosed 24-page survey, scolds her for failing to complete a previous copy that was supposedly mailed to her three weeks earlier, and reminds her that “You are required by U.S. law to respond to this survey.”
On May 10, 2007, my mother was given a memory test by a neurologist. The first question was, “What’s today’s date?” My mother answered, “April 19, 1999.” Yet the US government expects her to know how many apartments are in the nursing home, when the home was built, how many acres the home is on, what fuel is used to heat the home, what is the cost of utilities for the home, what the home would sell for if it were sold, and many other questions beyond the capacity of my mom to answer.
Since the survey says nothing about excusing people from completing the survey if they are unable to complete it, I telephoned the 1-800 help number printed on the cover page. After listening repeated times to a menu of options and finding myself sidetracked to numerous dead ends, I was finally able to speak with a customer service representative. After hearing me describe my mother’s situation, the representative said that if my mother fails to complete the written survey, she will be contacted and asked to give the information over the phone. Failing to do so, the representative said, could result in my mother being turned over to the Justice Department for possible prosecution and a fine of up to $5,000.
The first words on the cover page of the survey are: “People are our most important resource.” The first words that Jews, Gypsies, Communists and other undesirables saw upon entering Auschwitz and other death camps were, Arbeit macht friei, or in English, “Work shall set you free.”
Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that there is a moral equivalence between the survey slogan and the death camp slogan. But I am suggesting that but both slogans reflect the kind of insensitive irony that can only come from the bowels of obedient bureaucrats.
To continue with the analogy, the US government seems to be as obsessed with race as the Third Reich was. For example, Questions 5 and 6 are as follows:
Question 5: Is this person Spanish/Hispanic/Latino? Mark (X) the “No” box if not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino.
_ No, not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino
_ Yes, Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano
_ Yes, Puerto Rican
_ Yes, Cuban
_ Yes, other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino - Print group:
Question 6: What is this person’s race? Mark (X) one or more races to indicate what this person considers himself /herself to be.
_ Black or African American
_ American Indian or Alaska native - Print name of enrolled or principal tribe:
_ Asian Indian
_ Other Asian - Print race:
_ Native Hawaiian
_ Guamanian or Chamorro
_ Other Pacific Islander - Print race:
If my mother were capable of understanding the two questions, she would look for a checkbox labeled “Italian.” Of course, there is no such checkbox, because the government lumps Italians in the “White” category, along with scores of other unique ethnic groups and nationalities. However, for a reason that only an apparatchik can understand, Spaniards, Hispanics and Latinos are given their own special category, although many of them are just as white (olive?) as my mom. Perhaps the government is planning to put Spaniards, Hispanics and Latinos in boxcars and send them to a camp where work will set them free.
Or maybe the government doesn’t know world geography and thus doesn’t know that if a Spaniard crossed the Pyrenees and walked east about 250 miles, he’d be in Italy. It’s beyond me why someone on the western end of that short distance warrants his own racial classification but someone on the eastern end does not.
On second thought, maybe the answer is that there aren’t many Italian illegal aliens in the United States, but there are over 12 million illegal aliens of Spanish extraction. Maybe the government is planning to round up the aliens and deport them in boxcars for breaking the law. Naw, that can’t be it. The government might prosecute an 86-year-old native-born citizen for breaking the law, but it is not about to prosecute millions of people here illegally. After all, the aliens have more boots and guns than my mom has, or for that matter, than the federal government has.
I asked the Census Bureau apparatchik, er, customer service representative, where the government gets the authority to mandate that my mother divulge personal information and to prosecute her if she is unable to comply. She initially responded by citing the relevant US Code, but after further questioning by me, she said in exasperation, “The Constitution.”
Article 1 of the US Constitution authorizes a census every 10 years for the narrow purpose of apportioning representatives and direct taxes among the states. It does not authorize the collection of extraneous information in intervening years. Until Article 1 is amended, those who attempt to do so are scofflaws.
The extraneous information is gathered in intervening years because other constitutional limits have been ignored by the government. Specifically, the information is used to apportion federal funding among the states for mandated programs that are not authorized by the Constitution. In other words, law breaking has begotten law breaking. It also has given federal agents an excuse to delve into the personal lives of 86-year-old women and frighten them with threats.
For those of you who are not yawning, two questions: What kind of government harasses an 86-year-old woman, and why do we put up with it?
An author and columnist, Mr. Cantoni can be reached at email@example.com.