Health Care Myths Die Hard
Republicans pushed for a Senate vote to repeal last year’s hard-won health care reform legislation, resurrecting a series of dubious or outright fraudulent assertions: Health care reform will kill jobs—it will not. Reform will bankrupt the nation—in fact, the Congressional Budget Office reports it will shave $143 billion from the deficit by 2019.
While legislative gestures like these make good political theater, they will not succeed in reversing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In fact, they are not intended to. But there is evidence that the various rhetorical attacks on reform are having at least one desired effect—spreading disinformation. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation pop quiz on reform, only 1 percent of people surveyed were able to respond correctly to 10 questions about the actual impact of health care reform. It is no surprise that Democrats scored best on the quiz—32 percent got 7 or more right. Only 18 percent of Republicans could match that unimpressive performance.
Many respondents still believe (mistakenly) that reform means the creation of a government-run insurance plan and that it will allow undocumented immigrants to receive government assistance to purchase insurance; 40 percent still believe the package includes the Republican-invented, fictitious “death panel” that can make end-of-life decisions for people on Medicare.
These survey results suggest that proponents of reform must do a better job of persuading the public of its benefits. They might begin by more aggressively defending against the mischaracterizations or outright fabrications by those who are attempting to kill this nascent movement toward a health care system that will provide for all with dignity and equity.
Through Arab Eyes
The world has turned upside down again. U.S. policy had imagined that “stability” in the Middle East and Mediterranean Africa came from support for Arab dictators—and unquestioning defense of Israel. Dictators might squelch democracy, but they would “keep the lid on.” Unexpectedly, in Tunisia and Egypt the lid is now off.
Why are we surprised? Because the corporate media—cable and satellite companies, like Comcast and DirecTV—fearing pressure from the Bush administration during the Iraq war and from the Israel lobby at all times, have frozen out Arab voices.
Suddenly our media have discovered that Al Jazeera, the Arab television channel based in Qatar, has beaten them to the punch in Egypt with round-the-clock coverage in Cairo, Suez and elsewhere. Traffic to its English-language Web site increased by 2,500 percent in a single week.
Its journalists cover both sides, but they want to restore the balance lost by the West’s media bias. In 2006 Al Jazeera opened a Washington bureau with Dave Marash, a veteran of ABC’s “Nightline,” as anchor. But viewers in the United States outside of Washington have virtually no access to Al Jazeera broadcasts.
The Web site Aljazeera.com demonstrates both the professionalism of its journalists and their dedication to ideals that Americans share. The American cable and satellite operators have a moral and civic obligation to carry Al Jazeera news. The alternative is to discover again, too late, what is wrong with a one-sided view of the world.
Lower Rate, Fewer Loopholes
Since the U.S. federal corporate tax rate (35 percent) is higher than that of many other countries, business interests claim the rate hinders their global competitiveness. Look for that argument to be made often, and for the current rate to be trotted out to justify a corporate tax cut if Congress takes up tax reform. Businesses would have a valid point if the 35 percent rate corresponded to what corporations actually pay. But it does not.
Legal loopholes allow many corporations to avoid paying the official rate. Some pay almost nothing. In one egregious example, The Carnival Corporation, a cruise line, paid a mere 1.1 percent of its multibillion dollar profits in taxes—federal, state, local and foreign combined—over the last five years (The New York Times, 2/2). To cite another example, one in five of the Fortune 500 companies paid less than 20 percent in taxes; 39 of those paid less than 10 percent. Such figures show that claims of lack of competitiveness due to high taxes is a ruse.
The two biggest loopholes, in terms of lost federal revenue, are deferred income from foreign sources and accelerated depreciation of equipment and machinery. Loopholes also cause problems: a focus on finding deductions can distort business decisions. And because some companies pay much higher tax rates than their peers, depending on the savvy of their tax lawyers, the current system lacks fairness. No tax cut alone would solve these problems.
Any reform worth the name must contain two provisions: a lower tax rate and the closing of loopholes, at least those that are the most significant for raising revenue and establishing peer fairness. A law with both provisions could make corporate tax reform a boon to government and to corporations, a win-win solution for all but the most loophole-dependent.