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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

The Looming Census Problem

The Daily Escape:

Breckinridge, CO – July 2020 photo by doughboyme

(The Wrongologist is taking a summer vacation starting today. We will return on August 9th. Wrongo urges all readers to also take a break. Got to get ready for the silly season that starts soon.)

Time to talk 2020 census. The Census Bureau’s follow-up visits to non-responding households were originally scheduled to begin in early May, but they were delayed by a freeze on census field operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, the Trump administration asked Congress to extend the deadlines for the Census Bureau to turn in their head count data. The Census Bureau independently postponed finishing field operations for the census from the end of July to the end of October.

The House agreed to the extensions, but the Senate hasn’t. Senate Republicans on Monday instead proposed additional funding as part of their HEAL bill to help conclude the census on time, without extending the deadline.

The Census Bureau is required to turn over numbers for apportioning Congressional seats by Dec. 31, and the numbers to be used for redrawing state and local legislative districts by March 30. The requested deadline extensions would push back the apportionment deadline to April 30 for Congress, and to July 31 for state and local districts.

The politics of these decisions are clear. Trump no longer wants a deadline extension, and he doesn’t want undocumented residents counted at all.

The timing of Trump’s memorandum excluding the undocumented and his abandonment of the request to push back the reporting deadlines suggests that the White House wants to ensure that the numbers are undercounted. Also, that Trump  receives the apportionment numbers while he’s still in office so they can be fixed if necessary.

House Democrats are wary of what they see as Trump’s attempts to politicize the 2020 census, and want the Senate Republicans to approve the request for deadline extensions. That would mean there’s a chance the final months of the data-crunching would take place under a Biden administration, assuming Biden defeats Trump in November.

Staying on the usual deadline probably means that many people, documented or not, won’t be counted. Only about 63% of Americans have been counted so far. That means about 55 million households haven’t responded, and will require visits by census takers.

The Census Bureau is about to send its 500,000 door-knockers out to begin surveying households that haven’t yet answered the questionnaire, and Pew Research says it will be difficult to get them to open their doors:

“Among those who say they have not participated in the census, 40% say they would not be willing to talk to a census worker who came to the door…”

The 40% breaks down into 16% who say they’re unwilling to talk to the Census people at all, and 24% say they are not very willing to speak with them.

So, what does it all mean for apportioning Congressional seats?

The job is to use the census data to equitably assign the House’s 435 seats to the 50 states. The first 50 seats are automatically assigned, one per state. A series of formulas called the method of Equal Proportions is used to divide up the remaining 385 seats among the states on the basis of their populations. The method of Equal Proportions was first used to apportion House seats in 1940 and has been used ever since.

The apportionment population of a state is defined as all persons residing in the state as of April 1, plus all American military and civilian personnel of the federal government and their dependents from that state who were residing abroad.

At the last census in 2010, the states receiving the largest number of seats were California with 53; Texas with 36 seats, and then Florida and New York with 27 apiece. Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming each received only one seat, the one they are granted automatically.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia did a preliminary estimate of how the House seats will be distributed once the 2020 census is in. It obviously is a projection, but the results are shown on this map:

Of the 10 states projected to lose one House seat each in 2020, only two are red states. Of the seven states projected to gain House seats in 2020, six are red states.

If the 2020 apportionment followed Trump’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants, this would be the outcome:

Eight states will lose nine seats with California leading the way. Seven of the eight seats lost would be in blue states.

Seven states would gain nine seats: Texas and Florida would gain two each. Six of the gains would be in red states.

Remember that a state’s votes in the Electoral College are equal to its seats in Congress. It’s not hard to see why Trump wants an undercount that favors Texas and Florida.

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2020 Census Brings Scams, Confusion

The Daily Escape:

Florida Beach in February – 2015 photo by Wrongo

(Posting will be light and variable until March 8th, as Wrongo and Ms. Right spend a few days warming up in Florida)

The 2020 census is about to start. That’s the way we estimate the number of people living in each location in our country. The census is more than just a headcount; it shapes the distribution of political power and government funding for the next 10 years. It will inform the redistricting process at every political level across the country. So Congressional seats and Electoral College votes hang in the balance.

The Census Bureau is running more than 1,000 census ads in the US through July 2020 to encourage all households to participate. The Census Bureau confirmed that all advertisements will include a disclaimer underscoring that participants’ information will not be shared with any other parties, presumably, like ICE.

It’s expected that scams will be everywhere. According to AARP:

– 70% of respondents were incorrect or unsure about whether the Census Bureau would use email to contact them. Actually, all correspondence is sent via US mail

– 35% expect or are unsure whether the Census questionnaire will ask for their Social Security number, bank account information or passwords, or that it will require payment of a fee

It’s clear that the AARP crowd skews older, so you might expect that there would be some level of confusion that could make them susceptible to scams.

In addition to scams, Republicans are taking the opportunity of the census to collect information and raise funds with a form letter labeled “Census”. Here’s a sample:

The document asks questions, some of which are leading and biased, such as:

“Do you approve or disapprove of the Democrats’ agenda to raise taxes, provide free health care and college tuition for all, open our borders to all immigrants, enact dangerous abortion policies, pack the Supreme Court, allow inmates to vote and abolish the Electoral College?”

There is also continuing confusion about whether the census is asking a citizenship question, despite the fact that the US Census Bureau was directed by the Supreme Court not to include it.

A Pew Research Center survey just found that most Americans believe, incorrectly, that the 2020 census will ask about whether each individual in the household is a citizen:

“A 56% majority of the public thinks the census will include a question about citizenship, according to the Pew survey. Another 25% are not sure. Only 17% know that a citizenship question will not be on the census. By demographic segment, here’s who knows there will be no citizenship question on the census:

14% of women, and 20% of men

20% of Democrats and 14% of Republicans

15 to 16% of adults under age 65 and 21% of those aged 65 or older

18% percent of Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites, but only 9% of blacks

21% of foreign-born Hispanics versus 16% of native-born Hispanics

26% of those with a bachelor’s degree and 13% of those with less education”

Whether this mistaken belief will suppress participation in the census, which is just a few weeks away, remains to be seen. Also, Pew says that certain groups are more hesitant to participate, including black and Hispanic adults. The Census Bureau says it is targeting black and Hispanic populations, as well as some groups of young adults, for additional outreach because they have been hard to count in the past.

The 2020 Census will be the first to be completed largely online, assuming that the Census Bureau’s plan goes off without complications. And Pew says that 60% are interested in doing so. But, the possibility of scamming will be ever-present.

People do have the option to request a paper form. One way to verify that the document received in the mail is an official Census Bureau form is to see if the enclosed envelope to mail it back is addressed to Jeffersonville, IN, or Phoenix, AZ, locations of the Census Bureau’s processing centers.

Like in the 2020 national elections, turning out for, and completing the census is very important to the future of the country.

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Trump Still Wants His Citizenship Question

The Daily Escape:

Sandia Mountains, New Mexico – 2019 photo by cameforthegames

On June 27, the Supreme Court held that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s March 2018 order directing the Census Bureau to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire could not go forward. At the time, we all thought that there would be no such question on the census.

Now, that’s no longer true.

“President Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr began working to find a way to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census just after the Supreme Court blocked its inclusion last month, Mr. Barr said on Monday, adding that he believes that the administration can find a legal path to incorporating the question.”

More from Barr:

“I felt the Supreme Court decision was wrong, but it also made clear that the question was a perfectly legal question to ask, but the record had to be clarified…”

The ruling left open the possibility that the citizenship question could be added to the census if the administration came up with a better rationale for it.

Here’s a way to look at what the Administration means: The Supreme Court said we couldn’t do this. Our reasoning was stupid and insulting. So now, we have to come up with something better. Yeah, we said it was too late for that, but we’re working on a brilliant new reason.

And you shouldn’t make anything of the fact that the lawyers the DOJ had working on it just quit:

“Barr also acknowledged that the career Justice Department lawyers who had worked on the census question had little appetite to continue on the case after Mr. Trump inserted himself into the process…. The Justice Department announced a day earlier that it was replacing them, a nearly unheard-of move.”

On Monday, the plaintiffs in the case asked a NY judge to block the DOJ lawyers’ withdrawal because they did not demonstrate “satisfactory reasons” for the change. On Tuesday, the judge denied the request, except for two DOJ attorneys.

Barr also said that the Trump administration would soon reveal how it plans to add the question, but he wouldn’t detail exactly how it would be justified.

On Monday, Speaker Pelosi announced that she intended to schedule a full House vote “soon” to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas for documents related to the census question. This had been recommended last month by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

If Barr goes forward, the question will be provisionally added, and a new time clock for the case starts again.

But, Trump may have screwed the pooch. He admitted that the whole point was to favor Republican redistricting, which was exactly what his lawyers have said is not the case, because that’s unconstitutional. Trump said we need the census citizenship question for many reasons:

“Number one, you need it for Congress — you need it for Congress for redistricting,” he said Friday. “You need it for appropriations — where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons.”

Trump apparently doesn’t realize that America bases redistricting on the population of the district, not the citizens in the district. Yet, there’s still a strong possibility that his question will be part of the census.

In the case mentioned above, four Supreme Court justices said they would vote for literally any position the administration takes on the issue. And a fifth vote (Chief Justice Roberts) searched in vain for any possible fig leaf that would allow him to join them. When he couldn’t, he sided with the liberals.

Americans should be outraged that the Trump administration willingly engaged in an illegal action, and then lied about it in federal court. They should be outraged that four members of the Supreme Court thought that was just fine. The Chief Justice thought it could have been fine, had they come up with a less blatant pretext, which he invited them to provide. Any Chief Justice worthy of the title would have simply ruled that the process couldn’t be salvaged.

The big story here isn’t the census question. It’s the DOJ’s legal team refusing to continue working on the case. This is unprecedented, and a really big deal.

The most plausible explanation for their quitting is that they told the Supreme Court it had to decide by June 30th, or the question couldn’t be included. If they now have to go back to SCOTUS, they would have to admit that was a lie.

We have to hope that the administration’s malevolence will be ruined by their incompetence.

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Dysfunction in the House?

The Daily Escape:

Doubtful Sound, NZ – photo by patlue1101

Wrongo doubts that the way Congressional Democrats are going about their business will make them completely successful in 2020. The media would have us believe that the House is all about investigations. That is compounded by the way they are spinning their wheels about a decision to impeach Trump.

In reality, House Democrats haven’t been squandering time. In addition to the investigations, they’ve been passing legislation. In all, the House has taken up 51 bills since January, of which, 49 have passed.

Do you remember the House voting to end the longest government shutdown in history? Or, passing a bill to lower prescription drug prices, or to protect preexisting medical conditions? They also passed nine bills on veteran’s issues. You should remember HR-1, aimed at getting money out of politics and increasing transparency around donors, and expanding voting rights.

A complete list of what the House has passed is here. Despite Trump’s complaints about doing nothing on infrastructure, lots of legislation has been passed in the House.

The few things the House has been able to agree with Senate Republicans on include the bill to reopen the federal government, a resolution to end US involvement in Yemen (later vetoed by Trump), and the recent federal disaster aid agreement.

So why does the media make it seem like Congress isn’t getting anything done? The vast majority of their bills hit a dead end in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the media is only interested in the investigations, and the fight with the White House.

Trump’s attempts to thwart these investigations have turned into a mud wrestling contest between the administration and the Democratic committee chairs. Congress is attempting to perform its constitutionally mandated role of overseeing the executive branch, while Trump is attempting to obstruct their oversight.

A few individuals have agreed to testify, others, including AG Bill Barr and former WH counsel Don McGahn, have been held in “civil contempt” of Congress.

In the case of the Census question, the media gets it wrong. The DOJ handed over tens of thousands of pages about the Census question, but the media didn’t mention that those materials were not what was subpoenaed, and in some cases, not even relevant. Thus, Barr’s contempt citation.

Civil contempt has no teeth, unless enforced by the courts. Even then, after a federal court held that Trump cannot block a House subpoena targeting his accounting firm, Trump’s lawyers filed a brief asking a federal appeals court to reverse this decision. That case will languish until it is decided by the Supreme Court, most likely, next year.

We could nap from now until September, and wake up to find zero progress in Congress on their investigations. Nothing will happen until after the August recess, and most likely, we won’t see much until next year.

A decision to open an impeachment inquiry strengthens immeasurably all of Congress’s arguments for information. They would have an unambiguous Constitutional basis for their demands, much stronger than what backs their common legislative oversight demands. It all might still wind up in the courts, but Congress’s chances of prevailing would be enhanced.

Finally, Trump walked into a propeller on Wednesday when he said he would accept opposition research from a foreign government. It is illegal to accept foreign campaign contributions, although an exchange of political information isn’t unambiguously a contribution. Mueller didn’t decide if opposition research provided for free by a foreign government constitutes a “thing of value” and thus is an illegal foreign campaign contribution.

OTOH, you would think that Mr. Art of the Deal must know that if he accepts information that is useful to his campaign from a foreign government, it comes with strings attached. When he then says he’d do it again, he shows that he’s learned nothing from 2016, or from the Mueller Report’s conclusion about foreign government intervention in the 2016 election.

Trump has again invited the Russians and others to intervene in our elections. The question is will he get away with it?

Should Congress continue down the path of waiting on the courts to decide to get them the information they need to make a case? Or, should they launch an impeachment inquiry that limits the legal defenses of the administration?

Time has come for the Congressional Democrats to leave the “do little, say less” portion of their current term behind. We are already six months into the current Pelosi Speakership. That means just 18 months remain until the House is up for re-election.

The war for 2020 has already begun. Democrats shouldn’t worry about the political implications of an impeachment inquiry. It’s time to do what’s right by holding the Trump administration accountable.

It’s time to let America know what Democrats in the House are doing.

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New Evidence: Citizenship Question Added to Suppress Minority Voting

The Daily Escape:

Wallis Sands, NH – 2018 photo by CaptainReptar

“If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” David Frum

Sometimes, the proof you need shows up just a little late. The Supreme Court will rule in June on whether or not a citizenship question can be added to the census in 2020. The case, Department of Commerce v. New York was argued before the Court back in April. At the time, most observers felt that a majority of the justices seemed inclined to support the administration’s position that there was no political agenda behind asking the citizenship question.

On Thursday, the NYT reported about a related lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York, which shows that all of the relevant information to decide the case was not available. The new evidence was obtained from Thomas Hofeller. Hofeller was the Republican Party’s guru on redistricting of electoral districts for political advantage. After Hofeller died, his estranged daughter found his computers and hard drives, and her mother gave them to her. She discovered files that demonstrated quite clearly that her father had been central to the creation of the census citizenship question.

From The New York Times: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Files on those drives showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.”

This article on Thomas Hofeller offers evidence of the vote suppression intent of the census citizenship question that the Supreme Court is likely to approve in a few weeks. The new court filing shows that Hofeller’s digital fingerprints are all over the US DoJ actions to add a citizenship question:

  • The first was an Aug. 30, 2017 document from the Hofeller hard drives. The document’s single paragraph cited two court decisions supporting the premise that more detailed citizenship data would assist enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. That paragraph later appeared word for word in a draft letter from the Justice Department to the Census Bureau that sought a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
  • A second instance involves the official version of the Justice Department’s request for a citizenship question. It was a more detailed letter sent to the Census Bureau in December, 2017, presenting technical arguments that current citizenship data falls short of Voting Rights Act requirements. The plaintiffs in the new case show those arguments are presented in exactly the same order, and sometimes with identical descriptions as in a 2015 study by Mr. Hofeller. In that study, Hofeller concluded that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” in redistricting.

Seems damning, but why should the Supremes need more evidence? Three federal district courts had already decided this question without seeing this additional evidence. They were able to see through the transparent attempt by the GOP to undermine voting rights.

The 14th Amendment, Section II says:

“Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.”

The founder’s intent there seems pretty clear: The whole number of persons. And since when is it the responsibility of a member of Congress to only represent the eligible voters in his or her district?

The new smoking-gun evidence shows that government officials lied when they used the Voting Rights Act as their excuse for including the question. But, that will likely be seen by the SCOTUS as irrelevant, assuming they believe that the actual reason is a permissible action by the Commerce Dept.

Republicans love to complain about those Democrats who are now advocating for eliminating the Electoral College, saying that doing so would amount to “changing the rules because Democrats lost.” What should be obvious is that Republicans are constantly, and relentlessly changing the rules. See Mitch McConnell’s rewrite of his Merrick Garland policy just this week.

Over and over, Republicans gerrymander and suppress the vote in whatever way they can. They do this as part of their effort to shore up the voting power of their white voter base, while diluting the voting power of minorities.

They know demographics are not on their side, so they are willing to take extreme measures to solidify their position, regardless of the impact on the nation.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 1, 2018

Hopefully, none of you brought any of these cute little babies home for Easter. Wrongo’s parents once brought home some baby chicks for the holiday. The family dog ended their stay very quickly. Just don’t do it!

Easter falls on April Fool’s Day. We’ve been invited to a family party. We’re hoping someone’s really home when we get there. The men’s college basketball championship is sandwiched around April 1st, and Wrongo will be watching. Sadly, the UConn women’s basketball team lost in their final four for the second year in a row.

We endured another week of non-stop foolery by our elected representatives, and this week’s cartoons show just that.

There will be new census questions, but its doubtful that these will make the cut:

The new questions come with a few new tools:

The Roseanne show reboot was cause for concern by Dan:

Trump has the best irony. Trump should pay more and so should Amazon:

We didn’t hear Bob Dylan at the #March for our lives, but Congress should have:

Trump’s legal problems actually have an easy solution:

Trump’s careful diplomatic approach will certainly win the trade negotiation with China: (from the Economist)

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