The Fees Over Taxes Shell Game


Painful Truth Number 178 Gazillion: I am slowly being killed by the American middle class I love so much.

No shit. You guys are killing me. Literally.

I developed a medical condition in 2014 called malignant, resistant hypertension. That’s the medical term for being a worrier, a workaholic, and a journalism lifer who gives a shit about their fellow Americans.

It means my blood pressure spikes so high when I’m agitated that it can result in a fatal stroke or aneurysm. I’ve been as high as 250 over 160, which is fatal for most people. A reading of 120 over 80 is normal, 140 over 90 is considered high blood pressure, and anything over 180 over 110 is considered life threatening.

I’m not a pretty sight when my pressure comes unglued.

My left eyeball has popped out of the socket three times since I was first diagnosed in 2014. The condition can also cause my sinuses to hemorrhage.

It can leave me on my hands and knees in a daze, stubbornly wiping up the blood streaming from my nose and mouth even as it continues to spatter the bathroom tiles beneath me. 

That’s why I write for a tiny audience at the nonprofit Cynical Times now. Even though I’m a journalism lifer with six national journalism awards, who broke the iconic story of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, and has worked for three of the world’s biggest news organizations. It’s also why my woman winces every time I sit down at the keyboard.

Not because I can’t write my ass off, but because I can’t stop caring about the poor and middle class Americans I grew up with in the Bronx, and in the public housing projects of Tacoma, Wash. I have lived and worked beside you guys in places like Anaheim, Calif.; Jersey City, N.J.; Statesboro, Ga.; Pekin, Ill.; Fort Pierce, Fla; Columbus, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Tulsa, Okla.; Omaha, Neb.; Des Moines, Iowa; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Osan Airbase.

I have listened to your idiot Jew jokes, fielded numerous invitations to go cow tipping and snipe hunting, and cracked wise plenty in return.

You’re not trash to me. You’re America.

Not the rich fucks of The Predatory 1 Percent waging class warfare against us.

The problem for me medically is that I understand exactly what’s going on in this nation.

I know that we’re losing our democracy and being reduced to debt slaves; I know we’re losing the compassion, unity and sense of sacrifice which once made our society a beacon to the world; I know our labor and housing markets are failing; and I know why. The only thing I do not know how to do is stop caring about it.

I’ve covered Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Michael Brown, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Cory Booker and loads of other politicians on the political beat. I’ve covered big oil, banking, insurance, economics and the Federal Reserve at a very high level and spent time with other newsmakers, too. Everyone from Stephen Colbert to John Bon Jovi to Reality TV douchebag John Gosselin 

In short, I’ve seen the political and corporate sausage being made and it’s rarely a pretty sight. Our nation’s toxic elites are not nearly as impressive in real life as they believe. At least not to someone who knows what it’s like to go to bed hungry, change their own oil, and use peanut butter and ramen noodles to make $20 last a month.

I also understand exactly how the middle class is being hollowed out by these sheltered sonsabitches in The Predatory 1 Percent.

However, sharing this knowledge with a middle class audience in terms they can understand can be a real challenge. Especially when we start talking about the two main sources of government revenue: taxes and usage fees.

Many of you don’t understand the difference and how the shift from taxes to fees has become a shell game that allows the vampires in the super rich to bleed us dry.

It’s really important you do. So, I’m gonna try one more time to explain how this shell game works. While I still can. I pray you’ll hear me out.

Here goes…

I woke up today to the post below from a military veteran celebrating one of the 10 days this year when :

“Yaaaay for the National Park Service!! Today is their birthday!! And yaaay for us because that means free admission at many national parks. We’re hitting Canaveral National Seashore in my state of FL this morning! See link for national parks near you.”

It’s a depressing post for those of us who understand the heinous nature of park admission charges and other usage fees – like bridge tolls and court costs. The very thing that makes my pressure start to rise.

Here’s why: We already pay for our government with income taxes, property taxes and sales taxes. That means we’ve already paid for our national parks. We shouldn’t be paying for them again. Ever.

This is the part of the story where you say: “Jesus Vic, I really don’t see what the big fucking deal is.”

Well, it is a big fucking deal. Here’s why.

It’s not about the national parks per se. It’s about the way fees are being used to double bill us for our own government so the super rich can pay less than their fair share.

It’s about the school kids begging outside our grocery stores for money for football equipment and class trips that already should be covered by our taxes.

It’s about the $250 speeding ticket that has replaced the old $50 speeding fine.

It’s about the huge increase in court costs for everything from marriage certificates to divorce filing fees.

It’s about your annual vehicle registration fee and the additional charges for your driver’s license and professional certificates. It’s about the monthly user fee we pay EZ Pass, the Internal Revenue Service’s electronic filing fee, and the duplication fees we have to pay for government documents. Copies made by government employees receiving salaries covered by our taxes, using Xerox machines purchased with our money.

It’s about the fee you have to pay for your passport, your own birth certificate and your parents’ death certificates.

It’s about the gas taxes that pay for our highways, the enplanement fees that pay for our airports, the hotel and rental car fees, and the cable TV and cellphone fees.

In short, our taxes should already cover this shit. So why are we being made to kick in yet a-fucking-gain?

It’s because we’re being robbed blind.

These fees are just gonna keep going up and up and up until you finally figure it out. At which point my blood pressure is going to go down, down, down.

I’d like that.

The political hookers in Washington D.C., who fool us on behalf of the billionaires, hit us with the same rhetoric about “no new taxes” each time we hold an election. They do this even as they’re fattening federal, state and local governments via higher fees.

A tax and a fee are the same things in the eyes of the average person. They’re the money the government takes out of our wallets. Right?


Taxes and fees are very different animals to the financially literate scoundrels of The Predatory 1 Percent. The super rich hate taxes because they’re based on percentages.

Those percentages make rich assholes like The Koch Brothers pay their friggin way and pull their weight. Just like everybody else.

Fees are just the opposite. They level us with billionaires like Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump, even though they make as much in a second as we make in a week.

Billionaires love fees, because they represent a free ride for them.

These rich sonsabitches are shifting government revenues to fees from taxes to reduce how much they pay into the kitty – at our expense. This switch is one of the primary shell games the ultra-rich employ to wage class warfare against their fellow Americans.

When political hookers say “no new taxes” they don’t mean they won’t be taking more money from the poor and faltering middle class. They mean they will be taking less from the rich.

Usage fees – like court costs and tolls – treat all Americans as if we have the same income. Which is a knowing lie.

Scaled taxes like an income tax, sales tax and or property tax put similar financial burdens on someone making $10,000 a year as they do on someone making $10 billion. Because the burdens are scaled and rely on percentages.

It’s easiest to explain percentages in a state with a flat income tax. Like Utah, where everyone pays 5 percent of their taxable income to the state.

If you made $20,000 a year in Utah you’d pay $1,000 in state tax. If you made $20 billion you’d pay $1 billion.

The results are scaled. That means the rich and poor pay the same proportionate amount of their incomes, which is 5 percent.

You pay more when you make more, and less when you make less, but the percentage of your income claimed by taxes remains the same.

When government services are funded via usage fees, the amounts are not scaled. That means billionaires pay $7.50 to use a national park and the rest of us pay $7.50 to use a national park. They pay $5 to cross a bridge. We pay $5 to cross a bridge.

Even though they may make more than $300 a second. Every second. Including those spent sleeping.

One thing that’s not the same is the stranglehold they exercise on our so-called representative democracy, which only represents them now.

You and I are not similarly situated, to put it mildly.

Case in point, The Great Recession which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. It dramatically reduced projected tax revenue in New York City and many other communities and states.

Instead of temporarily increasing city taxes by 1 percent, Mayor Michael Bloomberg – the richest elected official in U.S. history – raised usage fees. He dramatically raised the cost of bridge tolls, tunnel tolls, subway fares and bus fares.

The switch probably saved him about $90 million personally, which is what a 1 percent income tax hike would have cost someone making $9 billion a year. Meanwhile, a middle class family making $90,000 a year in one of the world’s costliest cities would have paid another $900 in taxes.

The tax hike would have ensured that we all kicked in equally to cover the city’s temporary budget gap.

Being the rich scoundrel that he is, Bloomberg hid behind the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey instead. He used them to lift the usage fee for crossing a bridge or tunnel into Manhattan from $12.50 to $17.50, and to lift bus and subway fares.

The increase cost daily commuters about another $1,305 a year, which is a lot of money for the poor and middle class. However, it’s just four seconds of income for Bloomberg, who makes more than $300 a second.

To put it another way, every hardworking middle class family in New York City paid another $400 – above and beyond what they would have paid with a 1 percent tax increase – so Bloomberg wouldn’t have to pay his way.

We subsidized his rich ass and all the other rich asses in the New York City area. Most of whom were employed at companies served by the Bloomberg LP information system.

The move represented a huge conflict of interest for a man whose moral compass is routinely subjugated to his personal financial concerns.

And it’s not like the higher tolls and fares were rolled back after the financial crisis. They’re still in place today.

This is the shell game the uber rich are using to commit treason.

Get it?


Hold on, I’m not done.

Every year, we get bombarded with stories about how it’s OK that we can’t afford to send our kids to college or to visit the dentist any more because we pay so much less in taxes than our counterparts in countries where education and medicine are free. Like Sweden and Germany.

Here’s what the propagandists writing these knowing lies don’t tell you: Their numbers don’t include government usage fees.

If they did we’d be the most ripped off citizens on Planet Fuggin Earth. By far. Which is who we really are.

If you want to change that, the first step is to call things by their right name.

Home of the free?

I don’t think so.

Home of the Asshole 1 Percent is more like it.

Just look at our asshole president. Donald Trump’s sole contribution to the greater good since taking office has been giving the rest of us a really good look at just how worthless our toxic elites have become.

Painful Truth No. 178.1 Gazillion: If they all went away tomorrow, this country would be a far better place.

Disclaimer: Some income taxes are based on a sliding scale, which charges a greater percentage as incomes rise.


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