Wednesday, July 13, 2011

USPS racket

I'm starting to think we need to bring a class action suit against the USPS for its blatant refusal to acknowledge the existence of low-cost Parcel Post and Media Mail shipping methods.
If you doubt the need for this action, check on the problem yourself: Bring a package to your local post office and ask to ship it the cheapest way possible. You will be given a number of choices, none of which are as cheap as Parcel Post or Media Mail.
Even if you know about these methods of mailing AND specifically request them, postal clerks will do their best to talk you out of them. Here is a recent conversation I had with a postal clerk:
"I'd like to send this package by Media Mail."

"What's in it?"

"It's a book, and I'd like to send it Media Mail."

"If there's anything other than a book inside..."

"There's isn't. It's just a book. You can feel the book through the package, see?"

"Because we have the right to open the package and check."

"That doesn't matter. It's a book, and I'd like to send it Media Mail."

"Well, it will take several days longer to ship that way."

"I don't mind. Just send it Media Mail."

"For just a dollar-twenty more, you can have it there by Thursday."

"That won't be necessary. Media Mail is fine."

"I'm just saying that's a small price to pay to get the package there so much quicker."

"Nevertheless. Media Mail."

At this point, the clerk finally gave up. I paid the Media Mail rate. The clerk took the package, dropped it to the floor, kicked it into a dusty corner of the room and spat in that direction.

"Next."

The first few times this kind of thing happened to me, I imagined that it was just the pattern at my local post office. Since then, I have encountered the same behavior at other post offices. And friends and relatives have encountered it too. It really appears that this is a policy of the USPS. I don't understand why the postal service and its employees would deny the very existence of these low-cost shipping options. And how could postal clerks be motivated to try to talk customers out of those options when they know they exist.

Perhaps USPS allows postal clerks to pocket the difference in cost between the actual cheapest forms of shipping and the more pricey Express Mail.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Taxing churches

As we're tightening our government-budget belts, it might be a good time to consider the money that would flow into municipal, state and federal coffers by removing the various tax exemptions from churches and similar organizations.

These businesses pay no taxes on income or property, providing they do not engage themselves in political activity. Obviously, many DO engage in political activity. One church's whole reason for being seems to be to protest against the national agenda by picketing the funerals of fallen American service men and women. Another large church has for many years opposed political candidates based upon their views on the legality of abortion. That same venerable institution recently took a stand against the New York State Legislature's approval of same-sex marriage. So, the idea that churches have only other-worldly concerns is entirely a myth. On this grounds alone, the tax exemptions should be canceled, but no one in the government appears to be taking notice.

But there is a more basic issue. The establishment clause of the First Amendment is supposed to guarantee that no individual, group or business is given an advantage because of his, her or its religious beliefs. By granting a tax exemption to religious institutions, the government is effectively compelling ALL the rest of us to subsidize the religious institutions through our taxes. Our taxes pay to build and maintain the roads and sidewalks that lead to the churches. Our taxes pay for the police protection and fire protection enjoyed by the churches. In every way, the religious nature of the institutions provides them with a financial advantage that the rest of us do not enjoy. We are forced not only to pay for government services for ourselves but for others' churches as well.

Of course, there is much there for legal scholars to argue about. I'm more concerned with government budgets right now. So, how much money could we hope to gain for government by taxing churches?

The short answer seems to be: no one knows. Since any church income or property is not taxed, there seems to be very little interest in keeping track of just how much of it there is. Some sources note that 40 years ago the value of all church property in the U.S. was around $110 Billion. That figure sounds low. It is certainly a lot lower than the value of church property in the U.S. today. Sources place the annual church income of about 25 years ago in the neighborhood of $100 Billion. The current figure is probably much higher.

Potential property tax income is easy to calculate. Just run a reasonable property value figure through whatever mill rate is handy to get an approximation. Other taxes could be influenced by the way the churches kept their books. But, clearly, we're talking about a decent amount of money - enough to eliminate the need to cut important programs and employees and various levels of government.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Captain America

I hear that a movie about Captain America is due to open soon. I have to admit that I have always considered Captain America a bit of a national embarrassment. The guy's only weapon is a shield, and he doesn't even seem to know what it's for.
Other superheroes have all sorts of nifty weapons and powers. Even Captain Canada occasionally wields a broken beer bottle - Molson, I believe. And I hear Captain Antarctica has a mobile penguin launcher that does all sorts of damage. Captain America doesn't even have a utility belt. How can you expect to be a superhero with just a shield and no utility belt?
I've always felt that Thor was pretty lame as a superhero. But at least he's equipped with a hammer. When he's not clubbing criminals with it, he can use it on odd jobs around the house and can also make some pretty big holes in stuff. (The whole flying gimmick, in which he supposedly throws the hammer and then quickly grabs the handle to be carried along with it, is a bit of a stretch though.)
However, Captain America just has this big, colorful shield. And, at the first sign of trouble, he THROWS IT AWAY! I'm sure he gets a lot of ribbing from the other superheroes about that.