Even as the country struggled to come to terms with the extent of the damage to the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, where Schuld is, heavy rains caused more flooding in Germany’s east and south, killing at least one person, in addition to the 112 people pronounced dead in Rhineland-Palatinate.

In North-Rhine Westphalia, where the interior minister said 45 people had died, more storms ripped through the south of the country.

Flooding in Belgium killed at least 27 people, local news media reported the authorities as saying. Dozens remained missing there, and rescue workers spent much of the day going door to door looking for anyone who had not been able to escape the rising waters in time.

That the authorities still lacked clarity on Sunday over how many people were missing four days after the floods struck reflected the severity of the damage caused to local infrastructure in Rhineland-Palatinate, said Malu Dreyer, the state’s governor.

“The water was still flowing up until a couple of days ago, we have mud and debris,” Ms. Dreyer said. “Now we have the police, soldiers and firefighters who are systematically combing through the whole region searching for the missing.”

Ms. Merkel said that in addition to the financial support from the government, the German Army and other emergency assistance organizations would remain in the area as long as needed.

“Everything we have is being put to use,” she said, “and still it is unbelievably painful for those who have lost loved ones, for those who still don’t know what has happened and for those facing the destruction of their livelihoods.”

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Finance Ministers Meet in Venice to Finalize Global Tax Agreement

“I think first, this is an economic surrender that other countries are glad to go along with, as long as America is making itself that uncompetitive,” Mr. Brady said. “And secondly, I think there are too many competing interests here for them to finalize a deal that would be agreeable to Congress.”

Other nations must also determine how to turn their commitments into domestic law.

The mechanics of changing how the largest and most profitable companies are taxed, and of making exceptions for financial services, oil and gas businesses, will be central to the discussions. There are already concerns that carve-outs could lead to new tax loopholes.

Ms. Yellen, who is making her second international trip as Treasury secretary, will be holding bilateral meetings with many of her counterparts, including officials from Saudi Arabia, Japan, Turkey and Argentina. China, which signed on to the global minimum tax framework, is not expected to send officials to the gathering of finance ministers and central bank governors, so there will be no discussions between the world’s two largest economic powers.

Mr. Saint-Amans expressed optimism about the trajectory of the tax negotiations, which were on life support during the final year of the Trump administration, and attributed that largely to the new diplomatic approach from the United States.

“It took a U.S. election, and some work at the O.E.C.D.,” he said.

During the panel discussion on tax and climate change, Ms. Yellen’s counterparts said they appreciated the spirit of cooperation from the United States.

Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, said having the United States back at the table working to combat climate change was “welcome” and “transformative.” Mr. Le Maire thanked the Biden administration for rejoining the Paris Agreement.

“The U.S. is back,” he said.

Jim Tankersley contributed reporting from Washington, andLiz Alderman from Paris.

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The Tech Cold War’s ‘Most Complicated Machine’ That’s Out of China’s Reach

SAN FRANCISCO — President Biden and many lawmakers in Washington are worried these days about computer chips and China’s ambitions with the foundational technology.

But a massive machine sold by a Dutch company has emerged as a key lever for policymakers — and illustrates how any country’s hopes of building a completely self-sufficient supply chain in semiconductor technology are unrealistic.

The machine is made by ASML Holding, based in Veldhoven. Its system uses a different kind of light to define ultrasmall circuitry on chips, packing more performance into the small slices of silicon. The tool, which took decades to develop and was introduced for high-volume manufacturing in 2017, costs more than $150 million. Shipping it to customers requires 40 shipping containers, 20 trucks and three Boeing 747s.

The complex machine is widely acknowledged as necessary for making the most advanced chips, an ability with geopolitical implications. The Trump administration successfully lobbied the Dutch government to block shipments of such a machine to China in 2019, and the Biden administration has shown no signs of reversing that stance.

Congress is debating plans to spend more than $50 billion to reduce reliance on foreign chip manufacturers. Many branches of the federal government, particularly the Pentagon, have been worried about the U.S. dependence on Taiwan’s leading chip manufacturer and the island’s proximity to China.

A study this spring by Boston Consulting Group and the Semiconductor Industry Association estimated that creating a self-sufficient chip supply chain would take at least $1 trillion and sharply increase prices for chips and products made with them.

Moore’s Law, named after Gordon Moore, a co-founder of the chip giant Intel.

In 1997, ASML began studying a shift to using extreme ultraviolet, or EUV, light. Such light has ultrasmall wavelengths that can create much tinier circuitry than is possible with conventional lithography. The company later decided to make machines based on the technology, an effort that has cost $8 billion since the late 1990s.

The development process quickly went global. ASML now assembles the advanced machines using mirrors from Germany and hardware developed in San Diego that generates light by blasting tin droplets with a laser. Key chemicals and components come from Japan.

a final report to Congress and Mr. Biden in March, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence proposed extending export controls to some other advanced ASML machines as well. The group, funded by Congress, seeks to limit artificial intelligence advances with military applications.

Mr. Hunt and other policy experts argued that since China was already using those machines, blocking additional sales would hurt ASML without much strategic benefit. So does the company.

“I hope common sense will prevail,” Mr. van den Brink said.

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High Lumber Prices Add Urgency to a Decades-Old Trade Fight

In 2016, toward the end of the Obama administration, the American lumber industry petitioned the government to impose duties on Canadian softwood lumber imports in response to what it contended were unfair trade practices. The proceedings continued under the Trump administration, which in 2017 imposed duties of 20.2 percent for most Canadian producers. The rate was lowered to 9 percent last year.

The status of the long-running dispute took on a new urgency as the price of lumber soared over the past year. The National Association of Home Builders estimated in April that higher lumber costs had added nearly $36,000 to the price of an average newly constructed single-family home. A benchmark for the price of framing lumber set a record high of $1,515 per thousand board feet in May, four times the price at the beginning of 2020, before beginning to plummet. Last week, the price stood at $930, still more than double its level at the start of 2020, according to Fastmarkets Random Lengths, the trade publication that publishes the benchmark.

“As an economist, it is very hard to understand why we’re taxing something we don’t produce enough of,” said Robert Dietz, the chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders.

On the other side of the issue are U.S. lumber producers. The U.S. Lumber Coalition, an industry group, has argued that strong demand, not duties, is driving lumber prices and that the duties make up only a small portion of the total cost of lumber for new homes.

The coalition credits the duties with strengthening the U.S. lumber industry, saying in a statement that American sawmills had expanded capacity in recent years, producing an additional 11 billion board feet of lumber since 2016. “More lumber being manufactured in America to meet domestic demand is a direct result of the trade enforcement, and the U.S. industry strongly urges the administration to continue this enforcement,” the coalition said.

Dustin Jalbert, a senior economist at Fastmarkets, a price reporting firm, attributed the chaotic lumber market and high prices in large part to effects from the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, he said, sawmills “assumed the worst” and curbed production, only for the housing market to rebound and for demand to soar.

Mr. Jalbert said the duties stemming from the U.S.-Canada dispute were not a major reason for the high prices. “In terms of the short-term pricing situation, it’s lower down the list in terms of the factors that are driving the record prices that we’ve seen in the market,” he said.

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How Private Equity Firms Avoid Taxes

There were two weeks left in the Trump administration when the Treasury Department handed down a set of rules governing an obscure corner of the tax code.

Overseen by a senior Treasury official whose previous job involved helping the wealthy avoid taxes, the new regulations represented a major victory for private equity firms. They ensured that executives in the $4.5 trillion industry, whose leaders often measure their yearly pay in eight or nine figures, could avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes.

The rules were approved on Jan. 5, the day before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hardly anyone noticed.

The Trump administration’s farewell gift to the buyout industry was part of a pattern that has spanned Republican and Democratic presidencies and Congresses: Private equity has conquered the American tax system.

one recent estimate, the United States loses $75 billion a year from investors in partnerships failing to report their income accurately — at least some of which would probably be recovered if the I.R.S. conducted more audits. That’s enough to roughly double annual federal spending on education.

It is also a dramatic understatement of the true cost. It doesn’t include the ever-changing array of maneuvers — often skating the edge of the law — that private equity firms have devised to help their managers avoid income taxes on the roughly $120 billion the industry pays its executives each year.

Private equity’s ability to vanquish the I.R.S., Treasury and Congress goes a long way toward explaining the deep inequities in the U.S. tax system. When it comes to bankrolling the federal government, the richest of America’s rich — many of them hailing from the private equity industry — play by an entirely different set of rules than everyone else.

The result is that men like Blackstone Group’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, who earned more than $610 million last year, can pay federal taxes at rates similar to the average American.

Lawmakers have periodically tried to force private equity to pay more, and the Biden administration has proposed a series of reforms, including enlarging the I.R.S.’s enforcement budget and closing loopholes. The push for reform gained new momentum after ProPublica’s recent revelation that some of America’s richest men paid little or no federal taxes.

nearly $600 million in campaign contributions over the last decade, has repeatedly derailed past efforts to increase its tax burden.

Taylor Swift’s back music catalog.

The industry makes money in two main ways. Firms typically charge their investors a management fee of 2 percent of their assets. And they keep 20 percent of future profits that their investments generate.

That slice of future profits is known as “carried interest.” The term dates at least to the Renaissance. Italian ship captains were compensated in part with an interest in whatever profits were realized on the cargo they carried.

The I.R.S. has long allowed the industry to treat the money it makes from carried interests as capital gains, rather than as ordinary income.

article highlighting the inequity of the tax treatment. It prompted lawmakers from both parties to try to close the so-called carried interest loophole. The on-again, off-again campaign has continued ever since.

Whenever legislation gathers momentum, the private equity industry — joined by real estate, venture capital and other sectors that rely on partnerships — has pumped up campaign contributions and dispatched top executives to Capitol Hill. One bill after another has died, generally without a vote.

One day in 2011, Gregg Polsky, then a professor of tax law at the University of North Carolina, received an out-of-the-blue email. It was from a lawyer for a former private equity executive. The executive had filed a whistle-blower claim with the I.R.S. alleging that their old firm was using illegal tactics to avoid taxes.

The whistle-blower wanted Mr. Polsky’s advice.

Mr. Polsky had previously served as the I.R.S.’s “professor in residence,” and in that role he had developed an expertise in how private equity firms’ vast profits were taxed. Back in academia, he had published a research paper detailing a little-known but pervasive industry tax-dodging technique.

$89 billion in private equity assets — as being “abusive” and a “thinly disguised way of paying the management company its quarterly paycheck.”

Apollo said in a statement that the company stopped using fee waivers in 2012 and is “not aware of any I.R.S. inquiries involving the firm’s use of fee waivers.”

floated the idea of cracking down on carried interest.

Private equity firms mobilized. Blackstone’s lobbying spending increased by nearly a third that year, to $8.5 million. (Matt Anderson, a Blackstone spokesman, said the company’s senior executives “are among the largest individual taxpayers in the country.” He wouldn’t disclose Mr. Schwarzman’s tax rate but said the firm never used fee waivers.)

Lawmakers got cold feet. The initiative fizzled.

In 2015, the Obama administration took a more modest approach. The Treasury Department issued regulations that barred certain types of especially aggressive fee waivers.

But by spelling that out, the new rules codified the legitimacy of fee waivers in general, which until that point many experts had viewed as abusive on their face.

So did his predecessor in the Obama administration, Timothy F. Geithner.

Inside the I.R.S. — which lost about one-third of its agents and officers from 2008 to 2018 — many viewed private equity’s webs of interlocking partnerships as designed to befuddle auditors and dodge taxes.

One I.R.S. agent complained that “income is pushed down so many tiers, you are never able to find out where the real problems or duplication of deductions exist,” according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation of partnerships in 2014. Another agent said the purpose of large partnerships seemed to be making “it difficult to identify income sources and tax shelters.”

The Times reviewed 10 years of annual reports filed by the five largest publicly traded private equity firms. They contained no trace of the firms ever having to pay the I.R.S. extra money, and they referred to only minor audits that they said were unlikely to affect their finances.

Current and former I.R.S. officials said in interviews that such audits generally involved issues like firms’ accounting for travel costs, rather than major reckonings over their taxable profits. The officials said they were unaware of any recent significant audits of private equity firms.

For a while, it looked as if there would be an exception to this general rule: the I.R.S.’s reviews of the fee waivers spurred by the whistle-blower claims. But it soon became clear that the effort lacked teeth.

Kat Gregor, a tax lawyer at the law firm Ropes & Gray, said the I.R.S. had challenged fee waivers used by four of her clients, whom she wouldn’t identify. The auditors struck her as untrained in the thicket of tax laws governing partnerships.

“It’s the equivalent of picking someone who was used to conducting an interview in English and tell them to go do it in Spanish,” Ms. Gregor said.

The audits of her clients wrapped up in late 2019. None owed any money.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to “eliminate the carried interest deduction, well-known deduction, and other special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors, and for people like me, but unfair to American workers.”

wanted to close the loophole, congressional Republicans resisted. Instead, they embraced a much milder measure: requiring private equity officials to hold their investments for at least three years before reaping preferential tax treatment on their carried interests. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who had previously run an investment partnership, signed off.

McKinsey, typically holds investments for more than five years. The measure, part of a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, was projected to generate $1 billion in revenue over a decade.

credited Mr. Mnuchin, hailing him as “an all-star.”

Mr. Fleischer, who a decade earlier had raised alarms about carried interest, said the measure “was structured by industry to appear to do something while affecting as few as possible.”

Months later, Mr. Callas joined the law and lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson. The private equity giant Carlyle is one of his biggest clients.

It took the Treasury Department more than two years to propose rules spelling out the fine print of the 2017 law. The Treasury’s suggested language was strict. One proposal would have empowered I.R.S. auditors to more closely examine internal transactions that private equity firms might use to get around the law’s three-year holding period.

The industry, so happy with the tepid 2017 law, was up in arms over the tough rules the Treasury’s staff was now proposing. In a letter in October 2020, the American Investment Council, led by Drew Maloney, a former aide to Mr. Mnuchin, noted how private equity had invested in hundreds of companies during the coronavirus pandemic and said the Treasury’s overzealous approach would harm the industry.

The rules were the responsibility of Treasury’s top tax official, David Kautter. He previously was the national tax director at EY, formerly Ernst & Young, when the firm was marketing illegal tax shelters that led to a federal criminal investigation and a $123 million settlement. (Mr. Kautter has denied being involved with selling the shelters but has expressed regret about not speaking up about them.)

On his watch at Treasury, the rules under development began getting softer, including when it came to the three-year holding period.

Monte Jackel, a former I.R.S. attorney who worked on the original version of the proposed regulations.

Mr. Mnuchin, back in the private sector, is starting an investment fund that could benefit from his department’s weaker rules.

Even during the pandemic, the charmed march of private equity continued.

The top five publicly traded firms reported net profits last year of $8.6 billion. They paid their executives $8.3 billion. In addition to Mr. Schwarzman’s $610 million, the co-founders of KKR each made about $90 million, and Apollo’s Leon Black received $211 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm.

now advising clients on techniques to circumvent the three-year holding period.

The most popular is known as a “carry waiver.” It enables private equity managers to hold their carried interests for less than three years without paying higher tax rates. The technique is complicated, but it involves temporarily moving money into other investment vehicles. That provides the industry with greater flexibility to buy and sell things whenever it wants, without triggering a higher tax rate.

Private equity firms don’t broadcast this. But there are clues. In a recent presentation to a Pennsylvania retirement system by Hellman & Friedman, the California private equity giant included a string of disclaimers in small font. The last one flagged the firm’s use of carry waivers.

The Biden administration is negotiating its tax overhaul agenda with Republicans, who have aired advertisements attacking the proposal to increase the I.R.S.’s budget. The White House is already backing down from some of its most ambitious proposals.

Even if the agency’s budget were significantly expanded, veterans of the I.R.S. doubt it would make much difference when it comes to scrutinizing complex partnerships.

“If the I.R.S. started staffing up now, it would take them at least a decade to catch up,” Mr. Jackel said. “They don’t have enough I.R.S. agents with enough knowledge to know what they are looking at. They are so grossly overmatched it’s not funny.”

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Offshore Wind Farms Show What Biden’s Climate Plan Is Up Against

A constellation of 5,400 offshore wind turbines meet a growing portion of Europe’s energy needs. The United States has exactly seven.

With more than 90,000 miles of coastline, the country has plenty of places to plunk down turbines. But legal, environmental and economic obstacles and even vanity have stood in the way.

President Biden wants to catch up fast — in fact, his targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions depend on that happening. Yet problems abound, including a shortage of boats big enough to haul the huge equipment to sea, fishermen worried about their livelihoods and wealthy people who fear that the turbines will mar the pristine views from their waterfront mansions. There’s even a century-old, politically fraught federal law, known as the Jones Act, that blocks wind farm developers from using American ports to launch foreign construction vessels.

Offshore turbines are useful because the wind tends to blow stronger and more steadily at sea than onshore. The turbines can be placed far enough out that they aren’t visible from land but still close enough to cities and suburbs that they do not require hundreds of miles of expensive transmission lines.

approved a project near Martha’s Vineyard that languished during the Trump administration and in May announced support for large wind farms off California’s coast. The $2 trillion infrastructure plan that Mr. Biden proposed in March would also increase incentives for renewable energy.

The cost of offshore wind turbines has fallen about 80 percent over the last two decades, to as low as $50 a megawatt-hour. While more expensive per unit of energy than solar and wind farms on land, offshore turbines often make economic sense because of lower transmission costs.

“Solar in the East is a little bit more challenging than in the desert West,” said Robert M. Blue, the chairman and chief executive of Dominion Energy, a big utility company that is working on a wind farm with nearly 200 turbines off the coast of Virginia. “We’ve set a net-zero goal for our company by 2050. This project is essential to hitting those goals.”

rely on European components, suppliers and ships for years.

Installing giant offshore wind turbines — the largest one, made by General Electric, is 853 feet high — is difficult work. Ships with cranes that can lift more than a thousand tons haul large components out to sea. At their destinations, legs are lowered into the water to raise the ships and make them stationary while they work. Only a few ships can handle the biggest components, and that’s a big problem for the United States.

Government Accountability Office report published in December. That is far too small for the giant components that Mr. Eley’s team was working with.

So Dominion hired three European ships and operated them out of the Port of Halifax in Nova Scotia. One of them, the Vole au Vent from Luxembourg, is 459 feet (140 meters) long and can lift 1,654 tons.

Mr. Eley’s crew waited weeks at a time for the European ships to travel more than 800 miles each way to port. The installations took a year. In Europe, it would have been completed in a few weeks. “It was definitely a challenge,” he said.

The U.S. shipping industry has not invested in the vessels needed to carry large wind equipment because there have been so few projects here. The first five offshore turbines were installed in 2016 near Block Island, R.I. Dominion’s two turbines were installed last year.

Had the Jones Act not existed — it was enacted after World War I to ensure that the country had ships and crews to mobilize during war and emergencies — Dominion could have run European vessels out of Virginia’s ports. The law is sacrosanct in Congress, and labor unions and other supporters argue that repealing it would eliminate thousands of jobs at shipyards and on boats, leaving the United States reliant on foreign companies.

Demand for large ships could grow significantly over the next decade because the United States, Europe and China have ambitious offshore wind goals. Just eight ships in the world can transport the largest turbine parts, according to Dominion.

200 more turbines by 2026. Dominion spent $300 million on its first two but hopes the others will cost $40 million each.

For the last 24 years, Tommy Eskridge, a resident of Tangier Island, has made a living catching conchs and crabs off the Virginia coast.

One area he works is where Dominion plans to place its turbines. Federal regulators have adjusted spacing between turbines to one nautical mile to create wider lanes for fishing and other boats, but Mr. Eskridge, 54, worries that the turbines could hurt his catch.

The area has yielded up to 7,000 pounds of conchs a day, though Mr. Eskridge said a typical day produced about half that amount. A pound can fetch $2 to $3, he said.

Mr. Eskridge said the company and regulators had not done enough to show that installing turbines would not hurt his catch. “We just don’t know what it’s going to do.”

who died in 2009, and William I. Koch, an industrialist.

Neither wanted the turbines marring the views of the coast from their vacation compounds. They also argued that the project would obstruct 16 historical sites, disrupt fishermen and clog up waterways used by humpback, pilot and other whales.

the developer of Cape Wind gave up in 2017. But well before that happened, Cape Wind’s troubles terrified energy executives who were considering offshore wind.

Projects up and down the East Coast are mired in similar fights. Residents of the Hamptons, the wealthy enclave, opposed two wind development areas, and the federal government shelved the project. On the New Jersey shore, some homeowners and businesses are opposing offshore wind because they fear it will raise their electricity rates, disrupt whales and hurt the area’s fluke fishery.

Energy executives want the Biden administration to mediate such conflicts and speed up permit approval.

“It’s been artificially, incrementally slow because of some inefficiencies on the federal permitting side,” said David Hardy, chief executive of Orsted North America.

Renewable-energy supporters said they were hopeful because the country had added lots of wind turbines on land — 66,000 in 41 states. They supplied more than 8 percent of the country’s electricity last year.

Ms. Lefton, the regulator who oversees leasing of federal waters, said future offshore projects would move more quickly because more people appreciated the dangers of climate change.

“We have a climate crisis in front of us,” she said. “We need to transition to clean energy. I think that will be a big motivator.”

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Global Tax Deal Reached Among G7 Nations

LONDON — The top economic officials from the world’s advanced economies reached a breakthrough on Saturday in their yearslong efforts to overhaul international tax laws, unveiling a broad agreement that aims to stop large multinational companies from seeking out tax havens and force them to pay more of their income to governments.

Finance leaders from the Group of 7 countries agreed to back a new global minimum tax rate of at least 15 percent that companies would have to pay regardless of where they locate their headquarters.

The agreement would also impose an additional tax on some of the largest multinational companies, potentially forcing technology giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google as well as other big global businesses to pay taxes to countries based on where their goods or services are sold, regardless of whether they have a physical presence in that nation.

Officials described the pact as a historic agreement that could reshape global commerce and solidify public finances that have been eroded after more than a year of combating the coronavirus pandemic. The deal comes after several years of fraught negotiations and, if enacted, would reverse a race to the bottom on international tax rates. It would also put to rest a fight between the United States and Europe over how to tax big technology companies.

has been particularly eager to reach an agreement because a global minimum tax is closely tied to its plans to raise the corporate tax rate in the United States to 28 percent from 21 percent to help pay for the president’s infrastructure proposal.

EU Tax Observatory estimated that a 15 percent minimum tax would yield an additional 48 billion euros, or $58 billion, a year. The Biden administration projected in its budget last month that the new global minimum tax system could help bring in $500 billion in tax revenue over a decade to the United States.

The plan could face resistance from large corporations and the world’s biggest companies were absorbing the development on Saturday.

“We strongly support the work being done to update international tax rules,” said José Castañeda, a Google spokesman. “We hope countries continue to work together to ensure a balanced and durable agreement will be finalized soon.”

said this month that it was prepared to move forward with tariffs on about $2.1 billion worth of goods from Austria, Britain, India, Italy, Spain and Turkey in retaliation for their digital taxes. However, it is keeping them on hold while the tax negotiations unfold.

Finishing such a large agreement by the end of the year could be overly optimistic given the number of moving parts and countries involved.

“A detailed agreement on something of this complexity in a few months would just be lighting speed,” said Nathan Sheets, a former Treasury Department under secretary for international affairs in the Obama administration.

The biggest obstacle to getting a deal finished could come from the United States. The Biden administration must win approval from a narrowly divided Congress to make changes to the tax code and Republicans have shown resistance to Mr. Biden’s plans. American businesses will bear the brunt of the new taxes and Republican lawmakers have argued that the White House is ceding tax authority to foreign countries.

Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said on Friday that he did not believe that a 15 percent global minimum tax would curb offshoring.

“If the American corporate tax rate is 28 percent, and the global tax rate is merely half of that, you can guarantee we’ll see a second wave of U.S. investment research manufacturing hit overseas, that’s not what we want,” Mr. Brady said.

At the news conference, Ms. Yellen noted that top Democrats in the House and Senate had expressed support for the tax changes that the Biden administration was trying to make.

“We will work with Congress,” she said.

Liz Alderman contributed reporting from Paris.

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Boris Johnson’s Former Top Aide Tells of Inept, Chaotic Covid Policy

LONDON — He suggested that a doctor inject him with the coronavirus live on television to play down the dangers to a nervous public. He modeled himself after the small-town mayor in the movie “Jaws,” who ignored warnings to close the beaches even though there was a marauding shark offshore. As the pandemic closed in on Britain, he was distracted by an unflattering story about his fiancée and her dog.

That was the portrait of Prime Minister Boris Johnson painted by his disaffected former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, in parliamentary testimony on Wednesday. While Mr. Johnson flatly rejected several of the assertions in his own appearance in Parliament on Wednesday, they nevertheless landed with a thud in a country still struggling to understand how the early days of the pandemic were botched so badly.

“When the public needed us most, the government failed,” said Mr. Cummings, the political strategist who masterminded Britain’s campaign to leave the European Union and engineered Mr. Johnson’s rise to power before falling out bitterly with his boss and emerging as a self-styled whistle-blower.

a much-criticized road trip he made with his family that breached lockdown rules, saying he had fled London because of threats against his family. And he apologized for his failure to act sooner when he realized that Britain’s delay in imposing a lockdown last March was courting disaster.

“It’s true that I hit the panic button and said we’ve got to ditch the official plan,” Mr. Cummings said. “I think it’s a disaster that I acted too late. The fundamental reason was that I was really frightened of acting.”

testing 100,000 people a day. Mr. Cummings said he told Mr. Johnson to dismiss Mr. Hancock, as did the then-cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill.

move patients from hospitals to nursing homes without testing them.

“Hancock told us that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes, what the hell happened?” he said. “Quite the opposite of putting a shield round them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.”

A spokesman for Downing Street said on Wednesday that Mr. Johnson did not believe Mr. Hancock had lied to him.

reported by the BBC but denied by Downing Street.

Asked if Mr. Johnson was the right person to guide the country through the pandemic, Mr. Cummings responded simply: “No.”

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The Small Business Administration’s Gaffes Are Now Her Job to Fix

Isabella Casillas Guzman, President Biden’s choice to run the Small Business Administration, inherited a portfolio of nearly $1 trillion in emergency aid and an agency plagued by controversy when she took over in March. She has been sprinting from crisis to crisis ever since.

Some new programs have been mired in delays and glitches, while the S.B.A.’s best-known pandemic relief effort, the Paycheck Protection Program, nearly ran out of money for its loans this month, confusing lenders and stranding millions of borrowers. Angry business owners have deluged the agency with criticism and complaints.

Now, it’s Ms. Guzman’s job to turn the ship around. “It’s the largest S.B.A. portfolio we’ve ever had, and clearly there’s going to need to be some changes in how we do business,” she said in a recent interview.

When the coronavirus crisis struck and the economy went into a free fall last year, Congress and the Trump administration pushed the Small Business Administration to the forefront, putting it in charge of huge sums of relief money and complicated new programs.

confusing, often-revised loan terms and several technical meltdowns — the program enjoyed some success. Millions of business owners credit it with helping them survive the pandemic and keep more workers employed.

Economists are skeptical about whether the program’s results justify its huge cost, but Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden both embraced the effort as a centerpiece of their economic rescue plans. As the pandemic stretched on and the economy plunged into a recession, the Paycheck Protection Program morphed into the largest business bailout in American history. More than eight million companies got forgivable loans, totaling $788 billion — nearly as much money as the government spent on its three rounds of direct payments to taxpayers.

Fraud is a major concern. Thousands of people took advantage of the rushed program’s minimal documentation requirements and sought illicit loans, according to prosecutors, to fund gambling sprees, Lamborghinis, luxury watches, an alpaca farm and a Medicare fraud scheme. The Justice Department has charged hundreds of people with stealing more than $440 million, and scores of federal investigations are active. (During her confirmation hearing, Ms. Guzman promised that she would “prioritize the reduction of fraud, waste and abuse.”)

There were other problems. Female and minority business owners were disproportionately left out of the relief effort. A last-minute attempt by Mr. Biden to make the program more generous for solo business owners came too late to help many of them. This month, a new emergency popped up: The program ran short of money and abruptly closed to most new applicants.

“There was no warning,” Toby Scammell, the chief executive of Womply, a company that helps borrowers get loans, said of the latest debacle. His company alone has more than 1.6 million applicants caught in limbo.

low-interest disaster loans of up to $500,000 and new grant funds, created by Congress, for two of the hardest-hit industries: the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant for live-event businesses and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. (The hotel industry is pushing for its own version.)

Each required the agency to create policies and technology systems from scratch. The venue program has been especially rocky. On its scheduled start day, in early April, the application system completely failed, leaving desperate applicants hitting refresh and relying on social media posts for information and updates.

“I turned to my associate director and said, ‘I figured something like this would happen,’” said Chris Zacher, the executive director of Levitt Pavilion, a nonprofit performing arts center in Denver. The Small Business Administration revived the system three weeks later and has received 12,200 applications, but it does not anticipate awarding grants until late May.

have turned into primal screams of pain. (“I SERIOUSLY CANNOT TAKE THIS WITH SBA ANY LONGER” is one of the milder replies.) She said she understood the urgency.

“It’s definitely unprecedented — across the board, across the nation — and we are seeing multiple disasters at the same time,” she said. “The agency is highly focused on just still responding to disaster and implementing this relief as quickly as possible.”

This is Ms. Guzman’s second tour at the Small Business Administration. When President Barack Obama picked Maria Contreras-Sweet in 2014 to take over the agency, Ms. Guzman went along as a senior adviser and deputy chief of staff. The women had met in the mid-1990s. Ms. Guzman, a California native with an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, was hired at 7Up/RC Bottling by Ms. Contreras-Sweet, an executive there.

“I was always impressed with her ability to handle jobs with steep learning curves — she has a quick grasp of complex concepts,” Ms. Contreras-Sweet said.

Ms. Guzman spent her first stint at the agency focused on traditional projects like its flagship lending program, which normally facilitates around $28 billion a year in loans. The time, the job is radically different.

community navigators” program, which will fund local organizations, including nonprofits and government groups, to work closely with businesses owned by people with disabilities or in underserved rural, minority and immigrant communities. It’s an expansion of a grass-roots effort by several nonprofits to get vulnerable businesses access to Paycheck Protection Program loans.

Ms. Guzman said she was bullish about that effort and other agency priorities, like expanding Black and other minority entrepreneurs’ access to capital — but first, like the clients it serves, the Small Business Administration has to weather the pandemic.

And to do that, it has to stop shooting itself in the foot.

The much-awaited second attempt at opening the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant fund was preceded by one final debacle: The agency announced — and then, less than a day before the date, abandoned — a plan to open the first-come-first-served fund on a Saturday. For those seeking aid that has not yet arrived, the incident felt like yet another kick in the teeth.

Ms. Guzman said she was aware of the need for her agency to overcome its limitations and rebuild its checkered reputation.

“This is a pivotal moment in time where we can leverage the interest in small business to really deliver a remarkable agency to them,” she said. “I value being the voice for the 30 million small and innovative start-ups around the country. What I always say to my staff is that I want these businesses to feel like the giants that they are in our economy.”

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John Cena Apologizes to China for Calling Taiwan a Country

John Cena, the professional wrestler and a star of “F9,” the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, apologized to fans in China on Tuesday after he referred to Taiwan as a country while giving a promotional interview.

Joining a long list of celebrities and companies that have profusely apologized after taking an errant step through China’s political minefields, Mr. Cena posted a video apology in Mandarin on Weibo, a Chinese social network.

Beijing considers Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island, to be a breakaway province and claims it as part of China. Referring to it as a country is often an offensive assertion in China, where matters of sovereignty and territory are passionate issues driven by a strong sense of nationalism.

Mr. Cena apologized for a statement he made in an interview with the Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS. In it, he told the reporter in Mandarin, “Taiwan is the first country that can watch” the film.

Xinjiang, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong or the status of Taiwan and Tibet.

a fierce backlash when Daryl Morey, then the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests in 2019. (LeBron James, one of basketball’s biggest stars, offered a China-friendly response, saying Mr. Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand” by supporting the protesters.)

Movie studios often preemptively ensure their content won’t run afoul of Chinese censors, a practice once mocked by “South Park.”

But quite often, the political problems arise in cases where a company appeared to have no idea it was accidentally crossing a line.

That list would include Gap, which in 2018 created a T-shirt that omitted Taiwan, parts of Tibet and islands in the South China Sea from a map of China on the shirt’s design. The luxury brands Versace, Givenchy and Coach said in 2019 they all made mistakes when they produced T-shirts that identified Hong Kong and Macau as countries.

“Versace reiterates that we love China deeply, and resolutely respect China’s territory and national sovereignty,” the company said in a statement at the time.

China ordered 36 airlines to remove references to Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong as separate countries on their websites in 2018, a step the Trump administration dismissed as “Orwellian nonsense.”

That year, Marriott clarified on its Weibo account that it “will absolutely not support any separatist organization that will undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” after a customer survey listed the territories as separate countries.

Mercedes-Benz Instagram account quoted the Dalai Lama, whom many in China view as a dangerous separatist advocating Tibetan independence.

The release of “F9” was delayed for a year during the coronavirus pandemic. It drew an estimated $162 million in tickets in eight international markets, including China and South Korea, over the weekend. As the newest film in a hugely successful series, “F9” is seen by Hollywood as the kind of blockbuster needed to draw people back to theaters.

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting from Taipei, and Claire Fu from Beijing.

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