Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On My Dime

I’ve long been a news junkie. I have lived in places where it was a matter of life and death to have access to credible news sources. These days my less adventurous life allows for less hypervigilence. My main sources of news are NPR,, NY times and Jon Stewart – not necessarily in that order when it comes to integrity or credibility. I listen to NPR when in my car. I can’t access it from inside my home with any clarity. The other day I heard a tidbit that piqued my interest; apparently the IRS, not known for its innovative thinking, is considering the provision of a receipt for taxes paid. The belief behind the idea is that Americans need to feel a sense of patriotism and citizenship when they pay their taxes and a receipt would go a long way towards showing individuals how much money they have contributed to various government functions by paying their taxes.

Sounds like a plan, possibly even a good plan, as long as they actually print receipts that show the truth. I suspect there would be a surge in anti-war sentiment if we actually knew, with accuracy, how much of our tax dollars go to conducting our multiple wars. There might even be a bit of a peak in the desire for a reduction in Pentagon spending – after all how many more obsolete weapons do we need to manufacture considering that we currently have the world’s third largest airforce parked near Tuscon, Arizona, each plane carrying a multi-million dollar price tag while it earns a few dollars as a tourist attraction ( Perhaps we might also experience a little embarrassment, even shame, when we see how small the percentage of our tax dollars go to provide international aid -less than 1% of GDP. You would think the Christian right who like to tout the moral and fiscal value of tithing at a rate of 10% would be outraged by our collective miserliness in this respect.

Perhaps we might get to learn the multiple places and services where our government sends financial support. Personally I would like to see an end to corporate welfare. I don’t know how much of my money goes to places like Exxon and Shell and even British Petroleum – how do they qualify for my tax dollars? Bernie Sanders has done us a great favor by publishing the list of the top ten corporate Welfare Queens. And none of them are driving up to the supermarket in cadillacs – they are sending their personal shoppers to Washington to bring home the cash.

Is there anywhere I am willing to send my money? Of course there are a myriad of places.

Recently I had the privilege of applying for my first American passport. After living here for almost 20 years, the 2008 elections inspired me to go forward with my application for citizenship. I knew it was time to vote.

The process of passport application has changed somewhat since I stepped my American children through the process. I guess they want to make it appear that the process can weed out the nefarious types who might have the audacity to apply for an American passport.

Once the photo, my original citizenship certificate, the application, and the check for $110 was placed carefully into the packet by the Post Office employee all I had to do was wait. The $25 check I had to write for the Post Office seemed like a small price to pay to get the passport and my original certificate returned. Presumably it also paid the young woman who was filling in for the usual passport person. She had to field five phone calls to deal with hostile inquiries while I sat in her office completing paper work and ultimately swearing that what I said was true and I truly qualified for an American passport. Would that it would be so easy for our President to put to rest the persistent birther bovine scatology.

Life has a way of flipping over on itself sometimes bringing us into places we may have witnessed but not experienced first hand. When that happens we hope that those who have walked paths of treachery or despair have done so with dignity leaving us a trail to follow. Within a week my sister in New Zealand suffered two strokes followed by complications that left doctors few options but to wait. I was stunned that my younger sister with whom I had just planned a summer vacation was now unable to communicate and in a very serious and unpredictable condition.

There are many things that must be tended to before taking off for a long vacation, especially if you plan to leave in a hurry. A new suitcase was purchased, the winter clothes were laundered and stacked in piles ready to go into the new suitcase, the neighbors were informed, the process for shutting off the water and securing my little townhouse was discussed, rides to and from the airport were arranged, care for the yard and my plants negotiated, mail hold at the post office put off until the last minute. The greatest concern was my passport. It was not due back for another four to six weeks.

The young woman at the Post Office had highlighted a number to call for any emergencies or just to track the passage of my passport. Much to my surprise I could call any time between 8:00am and 10:00pm. Imagine that, a government office open until 10:00pm. About eight o’clock one Wednesday evening I called the number. After determining that I wanted the English option I got to speak to Roberta right away. I explained to Roberta that I needed to expedite my passport. She checked and was able to tell me it was being processed in Chicago, another surprise. She then carefully and succinctly explained my options. If it was possible to expedite, they may be able to get it to me within two to three weeks. If it was a life and death matter and I had a flight arranged within the next 48 hours, they would get it to me. There would be a charge.

I was not concerned about the charge. I didn’t have a flight arranged until June but thought my passport would be the first thing to arrange. I then explained to her my situation. She listened attentively, expressed her concern and then asked me to pick a date by which I wanted my passport. I dithered. She gently made it clear that she couldn’t pick the date for me; I had to pick. So I chose a date that fell just after the Easter holiday and within that 2-3 week period. She summarized everything for me, expressed again how sorry she was that my sister was ill and I reciprocated by saying how pleased I was that this could be done and so late in the evening. She chuckled a little and said that I had picked the right evening to call.

On Friday morning I received a phone call from an unknown number. I was keeping my phone in my pocket and switched on. I was talking with my principal at the time of the call. As soon as we finished speaking I listened to the message. It was a very clear message from a young man in the Chicago passport office telling me that my passport application had been approved and expedited and my credit card charged. He informed me that the passport would be sent out in that day’s mail, express mail. It was less than 36 hours since I had talked to Roberta. I was impressed.

I suspect that the receipt from the IRS will contain a “miscellaneous” category. In it will probably be lumped all the places that receive less than one percent of our tax dollars, places like National Public Radio, the Environmental Protection Agency, International Aid, Research and Development (most of the money goes to military R&D), the Department of Energy, the Small Business Administration, the National Endowment for the Arts – all these areas currently being slated for huge cuts in their already meager budgets. I’m sure that the department that issues passports will not even feature on the receipt. But, as far as I’m concerned, that is one government department where they do deserve a raise, and they are welcome to it on my dime.

1 comment:

  1. I listen to NPR on the computer. It where I get a large part of what news I get (Jon Stewart is another as is the NYTimes). I go to (the UNC-Chapel Hill NPR station). I always learn something each day while listening to NPR and often use what I learned as an idea for a lesson in one of my classes. I enjoyed your post, though I am a little late in reading it.