The U.S. Hits a Tragic Covid Milestone

The U.S. Hits a Tragic Covid Milestone

By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, May 5, 2022

Good Thursday evening. Here’s what’s happening.

US Covid Death Toll Tops 1 Millon as WHO Says True Global Toll Is 15 Million

The Covid death toll in the United States has topped 1 million, according to NBC News, which calls the number “a once unthinkable scale of loss” that’s equivalent to the population of San Jose, California, the 10th largest city in the country.

The U.S. death toll is the highest officially recorded total in the world, far ahead of No. 2 Brazil, which has reported some 664,000 confirmed Covid deaths.

Yet as disturbing as the new U.S. milestone is, a new analysis by the World Health Organization finds that the full global pandemic-related death toll in 2020 and 2021 was nearly 15 million, or almost three times higher than the 5.4 million Covid deaths officially reported to WHO during that period. (The statistical analysis estimates that excess deaths over the 24-month period were in a range between 13.3 million and 16.6 million.)

The number of excess deaths in the United States was just over 930,000. The WHO said that nearly 70% of excess deaths were concentrated in 10 countries: Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and the United States. It said India has suffered 4.7 million Covid deaths, or some 10 times the official tally and almost a third of the estimated global total.

The WHO tally measures “excess mortality,” or the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would have been expected without the pandemic. It includes both deaths directly attributable to Covid-19 and those indirectly associated with the virus but stemming from its impact on health systems and elsewhere. The total also subtracts deaths that were avoided due to the pandemic, such fewer traffic and flu deaths. But WHO reportedly said that most of the 9.5 million “excess” deaths are believed to have resulted directly from the virus.

“These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general.

The Republican tax overhaul signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2017 requires companies to spread their tax deductions for research and development over five years, starting in 2022. But pressure is growing to reverse that rule, restoring corporations’ ability to claim the full value of their R&D expenditures in year one.

Late Wednesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in support of a nonbinding resolution to restore the tax break, part of an effort to include such a provision in the still-developing, multi-billion-dollar China competition bill, some version of which lawmakers hope to pass this year.

Supporters of the tax rule change frame it as a way to enhance American competitiveness. “By strengthening the R&D tax credit for startups and preserving other tax incentives for research here in America, we can outcompete countries like China,” said bill sponsor Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

According to Roll Call, the new five-year deduction horizon is hurting the bottom line of major companies, especially those that produce or use semiconductors, including Intel, Ford and Lockheed Martin, with the latter claiming that its operating cash will be reduced by $500 million this year if the rule is not reversed.

But critics say that immediate expensing of R&D expenses amounts to a roughly $130 billion give-way over four years to large corporations, rewarding them for work they would likely have done even without the tax incentives. And as the deficit hawks at the Committee for a Responsible Budget point out, those revenues were supposed to help reduce the cost of the 2017 tax law and, if eliminated, would contribute to a larger deficit over time.

One of the few senators who voted against the motion to restore the tax break – 90 senators voted in favor, five against – was Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who took the occasion to highlight lawmakers’ hypocrisy on the issue of deficits and tax breaks.

“Over and over again, I hear members of the Senate express their deep concern about the deficit,” Sanders said during debate. “We can't maintain a child tax credit to cut child poverty, we can't make sure that senior citizens on Medicare have teeth in their mouth. We just can't afford it. But apparently … we can afford to provide $125 billion in tax breaks over the next four years to some of the most profitable corporations in American, including Amazon, Intel, AT&T, Boeing – you name it. This amendment would repeal ... a modest tax increase on profitable corporations that President Donald Trump pushed to partially offset the cost of his massive tax giveaway to the rich a few years ago.”

Sanders suggested that greater solicitousness toward the rich and powerful may explain why lawmakers are held in such low regard. “Recent polls suggest that Congress has a 19 percent favorability rating, and I find that shocking,” he said. “Clearly, if that 19 percent had any inkling as to what goes on here in the Senate, that number would be much lower.”

TurboTax Maker Agrees to Refund $141 Million to Customers Tricked Into Paying for ‘Free’ Tax Prep

Intuit, the maker of TurboTax software, will pay $141 million in restitution to nearly 4.4 million customers who were unfairly charged for tax services that were falsely advertised as free as part of an agreement announced Wednesday by New York State Attorney General Letitia James. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the agreement.

“Intuit cheated millions of low-income Americans out of free tax filing services they were entitled to,” James said in a statement announcing the agreement. “For years, Intuit misled the most vulnerable among us to make a profit. Today, every state in the nation is holding Intuit accountable for scamming millions of taxpayers, and we’re putting millions of dollars back into the pockets of impacted Americans.”

The attorney general’s office opened an investigation into the company after ProPublica reported in 2019 that the company was tricking customers eligible for free filing into using paid tax preparation services. Affected customers will automatically receive refunds of about $30 for each tax year from 2016 through 2018 that they were deceived into paying for filing services.

Intuit also agreed to stop advertising practices that the attorney general’s office called deceptive and unfair.

In a statement, the company said it admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to the settlement and restitution payments “to put this matter behind it.” Intuit ended its participation in the IRS Free File Program last year.

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