The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, April 03, 2000, Page 5, Image 5

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    Building con-census
_ / Census data, though it may seem irrelevant, could be useful
In 1932, the United States gov
ernment began an experiment in
Macon County, Alabama. For four
decades, African-American men
with syphilis were studied but not
treated. Our government spent fort^
years compiling information on
untreated syphilis. In the end, the
victims were given a pathetic sum of
money and an apology from a presi
dent that wasn’t even alive when the
study began.
Government abuse of citizens
has existed since governments them
selves were created. We should not
be surprised when American citi
zens feel they cannot trust their gov
A new debate has emerged over
the age-old question of whether or
not we should trust our bureaucrats
and politicians, and this time it has
sprung up because of the 2000 U.S.
All Americans are required by
law to complete a census question
naire, and one in six American
households is required to fill out the
now infamous long form. The long
form consists of 53 topics ranging
from family income and assets to
the number of bedrooms in a home
and indoor plumbing.
After publicly announcing that
Americans should not answer ques
tions they feel uncomfortable with,
Nebraska’s esteemed Sen. Chuck
Hagel last week announced he
would introduce a bill that would
make answering many questions
Hagel says the questions “go too
far.” He says, “More information,
more government.” As much as it
pains me to disagree with him in
this instance, I must. This is a more
complex issue than Hagel’s call for
smaller government implies.
Why Leave it Blank?
Hagel says people have called
his office complaining about having
to answer questions in reference to
their income and assets.
This is an unreasonable com
The problem with this complaint
is the Internal Revenue Service
already has this information. Unless
people are worried about remember
ing the fiction they may have spun
earlier, I don’t see how this should
keep one from answering the cen
I don’t hear people complaining
about filling out their tax forms due
to privacy concerns. Don’t get me
wrong; people cry about taxes too,
but not because of privacy. Do we
believe this information is less
accessible than the census data?
The Big Brother argument does
have some validity. How do we
know that the CIA doesn’t tip-toe
over to the files on which the census
information resides? The govern
ment could have a huge, covert data
base with all of our vital informa
Somebody call ADT; I think I
need a home security system.
It’s a little late to start trying to
fight large databases. If you have a
friend, or enemy, with a professional
occupation, try looking up their
license on the Web. It’s easy. You
may even want to take a look at the
University of Nebraska’s student
and faculty directories while you’re
at it.
Why Fill it Out?
The obvious reason to fill out
the census is it’s the law. Refusing to
answer the census can result in a
$100 fine. The fine for providing
false information is $500.
This census has tried its hardest
to court the minority members of
our society who are historically
underreported. This, of course,
helps these people receive public
funds they need and deserve.
In addition to public funds, seats
in the U.S. Congress are appor
tioned by the census numbers.
Census information on an indi
vidual is also held confidential for
72 years. So, presumably, we would
-be dead before anyone other than
the census bureau could attach our
information to our name. The raw
numbers are made public, but are
not attached to the names.
The census bureau is also forbid
den by law to share the information
with any other government agency.
For example, if you are an illegal
immigrant, the census bureau can’t
- tell the Immigration and *
Naturalization Service. This is done
to encourage people to answer cor
The floodgates have already
been opened. The information age is
upon us. So, you may ask, why do
we need a census if all this informa
tion is already out there?
ALL information is not avail
able, of course. And demographics
are constantly shifting. Many people
other than the government, like soci
ologists for example, use the census
to conduct social research and eval
uate existing programs.
Can information be misused? Of
course. But the benefits of the cen
sus outweigh the risks. It’s better to
have the government in possession
of the best data on our bathrooms
and plumbing possible. You never
know when they are going to need
Michael Donley is a senior sociology major and a Daily Nebraskan columnist
Substance over symbolism
Flag burning amendment defeat a sensible decision
“If our democracy is to flourish,
it must have criticism. If our govern
ment is to function, it must have dis
sent. Only totalitarian governments
insist upon conformity, and they do
so at their peril.”
—Henry Steele Commager,
Last Wednesday the U.S. Senate
rejected, for the third time in five
years, a proposed Constitutional
amendment to prohibit desecration
of the American flag. Senator Bob
Kerrey led the opposition, supported
with statements from national heroes
and felloyv veterans, such as Gen.
Colin Powell and former Sen. John
Of course, the amendment sup
porters will not go away quietly. The
Citizens Flag Alliance and other
groups will use these votes to punish
those senators1 who opposed the ban,
and veterans groups will probably
push for the measure to be intro
duced again next year.
In doing so, they will elevate a
symbol of freedom over the very
substance of freedom.
Supporters of the ban believe the
flag is a sacred symbol of what vet
erans fought and died for.
“Too many have died defending
the flag for us to allow it to be used
in any way that does not honor their
sacrifice,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel.
(Omaha World Herald, 3/30/00)
This is incorrect. Mfen and ? I
women who fought and died in con
flicts around the globe didn’t do it
for a cheap piece of cloth with some .
silly stripes and stars. They may have
done it out of duty, loyalty or fear. Or
they may have done it for what that
cloth represented to them: freedom.
A constitutional prohibition on
/lag burning wotild protect the cloth
and destroy what it represents.
Burning the flag is such an offen
sive act to most people that the per
son doing it has a reason; he or she is
usually dissatisfied with government
policy in some area, whether it is
taxes, foreign intervention or human
rights. The very fact that the act is
offensive draws attention to the mes
Although burning the flag usual
ly backfires, it may transmit the
message that something is so terribly
wrong with the country that people
need to wake up and pay attention.
In his famous essay “On
Liberty,” John Stuart Mill discusses
why tolerating unpopular opinions is
so important for society.
The first one, of course, is that
the reviled opinion may actually be
the correct one. The only way to
know is to evaluate it fairly. Even if
it is incorrect, it will create a better
understanding of why the truth actu
ally is the truth.
As Mill said, “Mankind
ought to have a rational
assurance that all objec
tions have been satisfac
torily answered; and how
are they to be answered if
that which requires to be
answered is not spoken?”
Even when mostly
false, unpopular opinions
may also contain an ele
ment of truth. In Mill’s
words, “Heretical
opinions.. .are gener
ally some of these
suppressed and neg
lected truths, burst
ing the bonds which
kept them down...”
Much like our
legal system is
based on an adver
sary process, the
only way to find
these “suppressed
and neglected”
truths is to allow
[ them to enter the
marketplace of ideas >*j
and clash with cur- ^
rent conceptions.
In a practical sense, a
ban on flag burning is unnecessary.
The actual act is rather rare, much
more so than all the attention it
receives from legislators.
It seems grossly unjust to incar
cerate someone for it, and the per
sons who are most likely to bum the
flag have probably been arrested in
previous protests for loitering,
breach of peace or disorderly con
duct. An additional charge will be no
This is not a question of patriot
ism. If America has any patriots,
they are Sen. Kerrey (who lost a leg
in Vietnam) and Gen. Colin Powell,
both of whom oppose the ban.
Supporters believe the ban will
restore respect for the country. When
a country has to force its citizens to
respect it through criminal sanctions,
it has deteriorated past the point of
Respect, as the saying goes, must
be earned.
Flag burning, although distaste
In effect, burning the flag transmits the
message that something is so terribly
wrong with the country that people
need to wake up and pay attention.
fill, should not be illegal. Justice
Brennan, in one of his last great civil
rights opinions on the Supreme
Court, said it best: “We do not con
secrate the flag by punishing its des
ecration, for in so doing we dilute
the freedom that this cherished
emblem represents.”
Although I’m increasingly aware
of all the evils done in its name, the
flag to me is still a symbol of free
dom. I would never bum it. That is,
unless it became illegal to do so. For
then I would truly know that all it
stood for had become a lie.
Neal Obermeyer/DN
Jeremy ratrtcK is a jirst-year law student ana a Daily rseorasKan columnist.