Archive for March, 2010

Making Sense of The Census

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

A good friend of mine complained that my blog lacked edge and suggested I don’t hold back. I can’t afford to lose a reader so I will try to kick it up a notch. Where was I? Ah yes, most of you  received your 2010 census forms between 15th and 17th March with an attached letter requesting us to complete and mail back the the enclosed form today. In my case that would have been 17th March. Now if I complied with this official request, my form would not be strictly valid, for Question 1 on the form clearly asks: How many people were living in the house (including unwelcomed guests) on April 1st. Not many of us are psychic and we can’t be expected to know who will be in our house in two weeks time. If anwers to Question 1 are an indication of the accuracy of the information supplied by US citizens for the rest of the form, then God help us.

I was also perplexed by the apparent waste of  taxpayers’s money spent on mailing advanced notices advising us that the census form was on its way which duly arrived a couple of days later. This was followed by three postcards informing us that we should have received our census form. Was all this additional stationery necessary? According to U.S.  Census Bureau it was saving us money. The Census Bureau web site gives the following explanation under Frequently Asked Questions: 

Why does the Census Bureau send out so many mailings?

 We find that this is cost effective overall. Getting households to return their forms on time is the key factor for conducting a successful census. When people do not return their forms by mail, we must send a census worker to their household to obtain their answers. Many times this requires multiple visits, which can be very expensive.

 The Census Bureau estimates for each percentage point of the population that does not return a form during the 2010 Census, it will cost approximately $80-90 million to have census workers make personal visits to obtain the missing information. Conversely, if the mail-return rate increases, the non-response follow-up workload will decrease, reducing the cost of the census by approximately $80-90 million for each percentage point of reduction. On the other hand, if the mail-return rate decreases, then the non-response follow-up workload will increase, costing an additional $80-90 million for each percentage point of increase.

 Our “multiple contact” mailing strategy was developed to get the highest mail-return rate possible. Our studies have shown that mailing a letter telling you that a form is on the way and, after the forms have been mailed out, sending a postcard reminding you to respond increases the mail-return rate. We have found that the second mailing, or replacement mailing, increases the rate of mail return by about 7% to 10% and eliminates the need to send census workers to many homes, thereby saving millions of taxpayers’ dollars.

Is that clear to everyone? I remember in the eighties when my profession (town planning) ran a campaign for Governments to write in plain and simple English and refrain from gobbledygook. Apparently it fell on deaf ears at the Census Bureau who have decided to take  goobledygook a stage further by tossing in an ancient form of calculus.

This completely unnecessary mass mailing telling everyone that a census form will be delivered to their home, cost over $30 million when you factor in the paper, the envelope, printing costs and bulk-rate postage required to deliver it to at least 105,000,000 U.S.

Turning to the census form itself, there are only 10 questions but Questions 8 and 10 intrigue me:

Q8. Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin?

  • No
  • Yes Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano
  • Yes, Puerto Rican
  • Yes, Cuban
  • Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, of Spanish origin

Did you notice that one important question has been omitted? Are you a legal resident? More disturbing is why one question on the form (10% of the questions) is devoted to establishing whether a person is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin. Is there a hidden agenda here?

What exactly is the difference between Hispanic and Lationo and does it really matter in America? Pepe the local painter suggested that  one sells oranges on the freeway, and the other stands outside Home Depot looking for work. He must have been  joking unless he meant to say peaches instead of oranges.

The U.S. Census Bureau also concurs that Hispanic refers to region, not race, and uses the term to describe any person, regardless of race, creed, or color, whose origins are Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or of some other Hispanic origin. In fact, areas conquered by the Spaniards were considered part of a region originally called Hispania.You can find several definitions for both terms on the internet,but in simplistic terms the following descriptions appear to have some validity:

Latino generally refers to countries (or cultures) that were once under Roman rule. This includes Italy, France, Spain, etc. Brazilians are considered to be Latino, but are not considered to be Hispanic.

Hispanic describes cultures or countries that were once under Spanish rule (Mexico, Central America, and most South America where Spanish is the primary language).

Q9. What is Person’s race? Mark one or more below.

  • White
  • Black, African Am, or Negro
  • American Indian or Alaskan Native
  • Asian Indian
  • Japanese
  • Native Hawaiin
  • Chineta, Korean, Guamanian or Chamaro
  • Filipino, Vietnamese, Samoan
  • Other Asian
  • Other Pacific Islander (Fiji, Tongan)
  • Some Other Race

Now I’m a great believer in equality so why do blacks have the option of being African American and/or negro and the whites are plain ol white. Shouldn’t the whites have the option of being Euro-American or caucasian? Furthermore, doesn’t the Census Bureau appreciate that not all African Americans are black?  You could have a bizarre situation where an American citizen might have to check white and black if he were an Afrikaan descendant. And who determined that each Pacific island is a race?

A concluding thought just occurred to me. Maybe, just maybe, the Census Bureau need to know the difference between Hispanic  and Latino etc. so they can ship the 20 million illegal immigrants back to their rightful countries when they catch up with them.

Anyway, I classified myself as Welsh-American under the category some other race, so bungling bureaucrats, do with me as you will.


Sunday, March 21st, 2010

A Layman’s Guide to Understanding the Real Story
Politics Will Decide the Fate of Your Healthcare Forever

The new Commissioner will set the health care standards and benefit levels with recommendations from an ‘Advisory Committee’. The Commissioner is appointed by politicians in Washington and members of the Committee by the President. Our health will now be subject to the political whims of whoever happens to be in power; our health benefits will be politicized forever as the Commissioner and Committee will be appointed by politicians in power.

Discrimination and Lower Quality Healthcare for Older Americans

This bill will force price controls on all Medicare Advantage (MA) plans (a supplemental plan to basic Medicare coverage). The bill also grants federal government unprecedented power to reject any and all MA plans as well as restricts MA plan payments to those of the scaled-down basic Medicare plan. The result is that the supplemental plan becomes crippled and ineffective. It will no longer be able to offer innovative benefits to those 65 and older; those citizens will lose the quality of healthcare they currently receive.

Loss of American Jobs

You may ask, ‘How does government-run healthcare equate to a loss of jobs?”. The independent Council of Economic Providers estimates a loss of up to 5.5 million jobs due to an imposed ‘play or pay’ tax on all businesses, small and large. Instead of absorbing the costs caused by additional taxes and imposed benefit standards, employers will be forced to lay off workers in fear of brutal ‘non-compliance’ penalties. (See “All Americans Will Make Less Money” below.)

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes, and more Taxes.

  • Individuals who do not purchase healthcare will now be taxed. (And, oh yes, do not forget that individuals only ‘option’ is the ‘public option’. See additional information below.) If individuals cannot afford to purchase the public healthcare program due to rising costs, they will still be penalized with paying a non-compliance tax. So, they are hit twice – some still will not have health coverage and they will be paying a fee.
  • Payroll taxes on companies that don’t play by strict government rules. (Play or Pay)
  • 5.4% tax on over half of all small business owners – the job creators that fuel the American economy and most likely the person(s) that created your job.
  • Unprecedented ‘wheelchair tax’ which imposes a new tax on all medical devices. The Congressional Budget Office stated the taxes will be passed on in the form of higher prices for the devices and ultimately higher premiums to you. This essentially perpetuates the very problem of rising costs which the bill is supposedly reducing!
  • After 2015, your state taxes will rise significantly because this bill will expand Medicaid by billions but will only pay for this expansion until 2014, forcing the states to pay for the expanded program.
  • If an employee decides to drop their employer’s plan and receive the government plan, the employer is still forced to pay 8% of that employees salary towards that government plan, even though the employer is also paying a substantial cost to a group plan to insure the rest of its employees.
  • A greater portion of middle-class Americans’ money will be taxed. (See information below.)

Who said, “Your Private Plan will Remain the Same??!”

The Government will force your private plan to give you less benefits and will increase your tax burden in the process.

There will be a forced reduction of your Health Savings Accounts (HSA), Medical Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA) to $2500. From this measly $2500, you will no longer be allowed reimbursement for ANY over the counter medicines from these accounts! So, not only will you have fewer benefits but more of your income will be taxed as few dollars are allowed in these tax-free accounts. This give the government’s money-grubbing hands $8.2 billion of Americans’ hard-earned money and they will get this money through reducing the quality of your benefits and taxing you at the same time.

The ‘Public Option’ Leaves No Options for Individuals

If you do not receive health insurance through your employer, it will be illegal to purchase healthcare in the private market. All individuals will be forced to purchase the government plan or be taxed. This is one of the greatest attacks on our liberties. Americans should have choices in their healthcare. This strips us of our rights.

Unlimited and Unchecked Federal Power over Private Plans

After five years, the government is empowered to impose any regulation and stipulation they wish on the private insurance sector. Your insurance assuredly will not remain the same. This will increase costs to your employer causing many employers to cease offering private insurance. If your employer chooses not to cover you, you will have no option and will be forced to join the public ‘option’ or be taxed.

All Americans will make Less Money

Follow the logic: Employers will be forced to meet strict, far-reaching coverage requirements. For those business owners who cannot afford to meet those requirements, those business will be slapped with an 8% additional payroll tax.** It will be illegal to pay employees less in order to absorb additional costs of new coverage requirements. The consequence would be that employers will hire fewer people and/or lay off workers to avoid breaking the law by paying workers less. Employers may also absorb the cost by simply paying new hires less for the same jobs. This translates into a net loss in jobs and less money in Americans’ pockets at the end of the day.

**This 8% tax is pro-rated for smaller businesses; however the tax is not indexed for inflation. So, eventually, everyone will be paying at least 8% because the threshold amounts will become irrelevant over time.

Unlimited and unchecked Federal Power over Private Business Could Result in Loss of Private Plans for Millions of Americans

Under this plan, government will have unlimited power to search and “investigate” your business for any reason that would lead it to believe you, the business owner, are non-compliant with new Government regulations. There will be a penalty of $100 PER EMPLOYEE, PER DAY if the Government deems you ‘non-compliant’, which could effectively force you out of business or simply cause you, the business owner, to cease offering benefits to your employees. Millions of Americans could lose their coverage under this scenario.

“Deficit Neutrality” Is a Joke: The American Debt Would Increase by Billions

This bill claims ‘deficit neutrality’; however, the Democrats have introduced a sister bill, H.R. 3961 that will increase the deficit by $200 Billion.

Furthermore, the accounting model of this “deficit neutrality” claim is severely flawed. The payment model for health programs in the bill undermine this ‘deficit neutrality’ claim. The Long-Term Care Program (LTCP) under the bill is one such example. If you would choose to opt-in to this supplemental program, you pay (‘contribute’) into the program to help pay for it. According to the bill, these individual contributions will actually pay for other programs written in the legislation for 10 years. The Democratic Senate HELP Committee said on record that after 10 years, the federal deficit would be increased substantially. Democrat Senator Kent Conrad called the program payment model a ‘Ponzi scheme’.

Violation of States Rights

States’ ability to ‘Opt-Out’ is a misleading fallacy. The truth is, according to this bill, states CANNOT opt-out of the program IF they have established medical malpractice caps in their laws! It is a known fact that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits increase physician’s insurance costs by hundreds of thousands annually. It is also a known fact that those costs are currently passed on to patients – you and me. If medical malpractice caps are lifted and inevitably costs further rise for physicians, those rising costs will be passed on to you and I, as HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE CASE! A rise in your healthcare cost when you see the doctor actually PERPETUATES THE VERY CRISIS for millions of Americans that this bill is supposed to eradicate!

Fewer Physicians to Provide Care for those in Need

Doctors will make less money for doing the same amount of work under the new bill. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office states that doctors will make thousands less per year, even accounting for the additional millions of people that will be part of the program. Eventually physicians will opt-out of taking ‘Public Option’ patients because they will make substantially less for the same amount of work.

If It Weren’t for the Sheep and Welsh there wouldn’t be any Irish

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I hope you are all having a happy St Patrick’s Day. While I do not begrudge Americans celebrating St Patrick’s Day so vigorously and in vast numbers, I must take umbrage with them for completely ignoring St David’s Day which falls on March 1st. St David is the patron saint of Wales which is celebrated by Welsh people all over the world. According to one fellow writer, the celebration usually means singing, eating and reciting poetry. What, no drinking? Apparently, St. David’s Day meetings are not the boisterous celebrations that accompany St Patrick’s Day and there lies the problem. Welsh ex-pats need to show the world how they can party!

 I realize America will never embrace St. David’s Day with the same enthusiasm as they do St Patrick’s Day purely on the basis of numbers. In the 2000 Census, 1.75 million reported Welsh ancestry (0.6% of the U.S. population) compared to 42 million Irish Americans. There are more than seven times as many Irish-Americans as there are Irish residing in “The Emerald Isle.”

St Patrick’s Day has almost evolved into a national holiday with nationwide sales in stores and St Patrick’s Day greeting cards adorning the shelves. But who in his right mind would bother to send a St Patrick’s Day card? Don’t tell me; 42 million Irish Americans!  Major cities around the country will hold lavish parades marching to the swirl of the bagpipes, the river in Chicago will be dyed green while bars in New York, Boston and Savannah will be serving green beer. Even the traffic lights remain green on St Patrick’s Day.

Most Irish-Americans assume that St Patrick was an Irishman, but it is not so. Though Patrick’s birthplace is debatable, most scholars seem to agree that he was born in the area of southeastern Scotland known as Strathclyde, a former Celtic kingdom and Welsh-speaking at the time. (However, a few scholars continue to regard St. David’s in Pembrokeshire, Wales as the saint’s birthplace; the tiny city was formerly directly in the path of missionary and trade routes to Ireland).

 Don’t get me wrong; I love the Irish. I have visited the country several times and always received a warm welcome. I’ve played golf there a couple of times and if you can put with the inconsistencies of the weather, there’s nothing better than links golf in Ireland. Even the golf starters can add a new dimension to your game. I was teeing off at the first hole one rainy morning and managed to slice my drive into the starter’s hut located at right angles to the tee box. The ball ricocheted  several times on the tin clad hut before the starter gingerly emerged with hands on his head and asked in a tentative voice: “Is it safe to come out now?”

 I once played a course which ran alongside a cemetery. I was coming to the end of the round and for once we had enjoyed a warm sunny day. The sun was now setting; casting a purple hue across the cemetery.  I was standing on the tee box patently aware of the assorted headstones to the right of me. I kept telling myself: “Whatever you do, don’t slice the ball into the cemetery.” Needless to say the ball exploded off the club and  headed towards the hallowed ground like an exocet. But fate had a hand to play. My ball decided to play ping pong with several headstones before rejoining the fairway approximately 100 yards from the tee box; much to the myrth and admiration of my playing partners.

I love the quirkiness of the Irish which is infectious. My wife and I were staying in Cork a few years ago and enjoyed a night out in one of neighboring Kinsales’s several gourmet restaurants. We were taking a night stroll attempting to shake off some our food excesses when we heard live music coming from a pub.  It was fairly late but we decided to check it out with a view to partaking in a night cap before returning to our hotel. The place was jammed to the rafters and we weren’t sure if we would be able to get a drink before they called time. We needn’t have worried. Closing time duly arrived but we were locked in for the night. We were found seats and happily succumbed to the craic (a Gaelic word which loosely translated means fun, entertainment and enjoyable conversation) generously provided by the locals. We emerged five hours later to witness the sunrise above our hotel; tired but enriched by the experience of an Irish lock-in.

The lure of Ireland’s hospitality led us to Dublin where we had another enjoyable weekend. Before catching our flight back to London we decided to have a Sunday lunchtime drink in a bar dubiously called the “The Hairy Lemon” and I ordered two pints of Guinness. The barman declined to serve me Guinness because Murphy’s (another Irish stout) was conducting a promotional campaign and their beer was free which caused my wife and I to quickly down four pints each of the alternative black stuff before leaving for the airport.

Guinness is available worldwide in draft , bottles, and cans housing the mysterious widgets, but there is something special about the black stuff in Ireland which can’t be replicated anywhere else. It has a rich, smooth, creamy flavor with no aftertaste. On our last visit to  Ireland we toured the west coast, and almost every pub we visited had a middle-aged leprachaun sitting at the bar sipping a pint of Guinness.

The moral of my story is  Irish-Americans owe a debt of gratitude to the Welsh. Not only did we provide them with their Patron Saint, we were also responsible for providing them with their ancestors. I will be flying my Welsh flag  on March 17th in honor of the Welsh St Patrick, my fellow Celts and the sheep that made it all possible. Yachi Da (good health.)

The Return of Golden Balls

Friday, March 12th, 2010

David Beckham’s return to Old Trafford on Wednesday night (10th March) didn’t live up to the media hype that preceded him. Manchester Utd were leading 3-2 from the first leg against AC Milan played a couple of weeks ago In the Champions League. but Beckham failed to make the starting line up and had to be content with a substitute’s berth on the bench.

The second leg was only 10 minutes old when the current king of Old Trafford, Wayne Rooney scored with a bullet header to put the tie beyond doubt. By the time Beckham made an appearance well into the second half, his team were trailing 3-0 courtesy of another goal by Rooney and one from their South Korean international Ji-Sung Park. On the hour mark, Rooney left the arena to a standing ovation while Beckham joined the fray to rapturous applause from The United fans. It was ironic that in a space of couple of minutes the fans paid homage to a former and current hero whose careers were travelling in opposite directions.

I have never been a great fan of David Beckham. In my opinion he is probably the most overrated player of his generation. Yes, he has always had the ability to deliver a telling cross into dangerous areas and proved something of  deadball specialist, but he has never caused me to jump out of my seat in reaction to a telling run or a mazy dribble. In contrast,Wayne Rooney can explode into action which excites people. He can turn a defender, waltz through a defence and score goals in all shapes and form.

Notwithstanding international appearances for England, Beckham was making his first appearance at Old Trafford for the first time in seven years. His transfer to Real Madrid in 2003 was sanctioned by Alex Ferguson who was reportedly tired of the marketing hype surrounding the player. Beckham lacked pace but was very good at making the most of his limitations which didn’t match the genius of his Golden Balls marketing.

Wayne Rooney at the age of 24 is arguably the best striker in the world and could take the World Cup by storm in the summer. Rooney’s contribution of 30 goals in all competitions for Utd almost make him irreplaceable for Utd. Indeed he makes a better than average team into a very good one capable of winning the Premiership and Champions League. Without him they could end up with an empty trophy cabinet save for the Carling Cup.

As for Beckham, he milked the applause afforded a prodigal son by the Utd faithful while wiping a tear  from his eye maybe in response to a 4-0 drubbing handed out by him former team.  It is ironic that Beckham could make the England squad  for the World Cup at the tender age of 35 which would be his fourth successive appearance in the finals. Spare a thought for one of the all time greats from Manchester Utd, Ryan Giggs, who never managed to make a World Cup appearance due to his Welsh heritage.

The First of Many?

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Hello everyone,

Despite some glitches along the way, I finally have my own blog free from Facebook and other restrictions too numerous to mention here. I love sports so naturally they will be a strong theme in my articles. I am from Swansea Wales and now live in Atlanta. Consequently Swansea City Football Club, Wales Rugby Union, Atlanta Falcons and Braves will all figure prominently in future articles. I will be casting a Welsh eye on America and I hope you can enjoy the ride with me.