Roblox, the game company, showed prototypes to 10 teenage players, said Chris Aston Chen, a senior product manager at the company.

One possible method required players to get on a video call, while another checked government databases. Mr. Chen said the players gravitated toward using government IDs, an option they trusted and thought was convenient. (Roblox’s chief product officer is a board member of The New York Times Company.)

The technology will also make it easier for Roblox to keep out players it has barred because of inappropriate conduct in the voice chat feature. If those players log back in using a new account but try to verify their age using the same government document, they’ll be locked out.

one user said. The user noted that he had first bought the track on cassette “when I was about 12, almost 30 years ago.”

“This is a rule applied to video sharing platforms in certain countries,” YouTube’s customer support account responded.

Mr. Errington in Britain said YouTube had asked him for a credit card when he tried to watch “Space Is the Place.” He doesn’t have one. And he said he felt uncomfortable uploading a photo ID.

“I wasn’t prepared to give out this information,” he said. “So the Sun Ra video remains a mystery.”

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Mass Abduction of U.S. Missionaries Startles Even Kidnap-Weary Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Children on their way to school, street vendors selling their wares, priests mid-sermon — few Haitians, rich or poor, are safe from the gangs of kidnappers that stalk their country with near impunity. But the abduction this weekend of 17 people associated with an American missionary group as they visited an orphanage shocked officials for its brazenness.

On Sunday, the hostages, five of them children, remained in captivity, their whereabouts and identities unknown to the public. Adding to the mystery was a wall of silence from officials in Haiti and the United States about what, if anything, was being done to secure their release.

“We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help,” the missionary group, Christian Aid Ministries, an Ohio-based group founded by Amish and Mennonites that has a long history of working in the Caribbean, said in a statement.

The authorities identified the gang behind the kidnappings as 400 Mawozo, an outfit infamous for taking abductions to a new level in a country reduced to near lawlessness by natural disaster, corruption and political assassination. Not content to grab individual victims and demand ransom from their family members, the gang has taken to snatching people en masse as they ride buses or walk the streets in groups whose numbers might once have kept them safe.

President Jovenel Moïse. Violence is surging across the capital, where by some estimates, gangs now control roughly half of the city. On a single day last week, gangs shot at a school bus in Port-au-Prince, injuring at least five people, including students, while another group hijacked a public bus.

According to the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights, which is based in Port-au-Prince, this year alone, from January to September, there were 628 people reported kidnapped, including 29 foreigners.

“The motive behind the surge in kidnappings for us is a financial one,” said Gèdèon Jean, executive director of the center. “The gangs need money to buy ammunition, to get weapons, to be able to function.”

That means the missionaries are likely to emerge alive, he said

“They are going to be freed — that’s for sure,” Mr. Jean said. “We don’t know in how many days, but they’re going to negotiate.”

abducted 10 people in Croix-des-Bouquets, including seven Catholic clergy members, five of them Haitian and two French. The group was eventually released in late April. The kidnappers demanded a $1 million ransom, but it is unclear if it was paid.

Haitians have been driven to despair by the violence, which prevents them from making a living and keeps their children from attending school. In recent days, some started a petition to protest gang violence, singling out the 400 Mawozo gang and calling on the police to take action. But the police, underfunded and lacking political support, have been able to do little.

Transportation workers called a strike for Monday and Tuesday in Port-au-Prince to protest insecurity — an action that may turn into a more general strike, with word spreading across sectors for workers to stay home to denounce violence that has reached “a new level in the horror.”

“Heavily armed bandits are no longer satisfied with current abuses, racketeering, threats and kidnappings for ransom,” the petition says. “Now, criminals break into village homes at night, attack families and rape women.”

Christian Aid Ministries’ compound in Haiti overlooks the bay of Port-au-Prince, in a suburb called Titanyen.

On a visit there Sunday, three large delivery trucks could be seen on the sprawling grounds surrounded by two fences reinforced with concertina wire. Chickens, goats and turkeys could be seen near small American-style homes with white porches and mailboxes, and laundry hung out to dry.

There was also a guard dog and a sign in Creole that forbid entry without authorization.

Because the area is so poor, at night the compound is the only building illuminated by electric lights, neighbors said. Everything else around it is plunged in darkness.

The Mennonites, neighbors said, were gracious, and tried to spread out the work they had — building a new stone wall around the compound, for instance — so everyone could earn a little and feed their families. They would give workers food and water and joke with them. And Haitians would often come in for Bible classes.

Usually, children could be seen playing. There are swings, a slide, a basketball court, and a volleyball court. It was very unusual, neighbors said, to see it so quiet. Sundays, especially, it is bustling.

But not this Sunday.

Andre Paultre, Oscar Lopez, Ruth Graham, Patricia Mazzei and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

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Evergrande’s Struggles Offer a Glimpse of China’s New Financial Future

HONG KONG — Xu Jiayin was China’s richest man, a symbol of the country’s economic rise who helped transform poverty-stricken villages into urbanized metropolises for the fledgling middle class. As his company, China Evergrande Group, became one of the country’s largest property developers, he amassed the trappings of the elite, with trips to Paris to taste rare French wines, a million-dollar yacht, private jets and access to some of the most powerful people in Beijing.

“All I have and all that Evergrande Group has achieved were endowed by the party, the state and the whole society,” Mr. Xu said in a 2018 speech thanking the Chinese Communist Party for his success.

China is threatening to take it all away.

The debt that powered the country’s breakneck growth for decades is now jeopardizing the economy — and the government is changing the rules. Beijing has signaled that it will no longer tolerate the strategy of borrowing to fuel business expansion that turned Mr. Xu and his company into a real estate powerhouse, pushing Evergrande to the precipice.

Last week, the company, which has unpaid bills totaling more than $300 billion, missed a key payment to foreign investors. That sent the world into a panic over whether China was facing its own so-called Lehman moment, a reference to the 2008 collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank that led to the global financial crisis.

struggles have exposed the flaws of the Chinese financial system — unrestrained borrowing, expansion and corruption. The company’s crisis is testing the resolve of Chinese leaders’ efforts to reform as they chart a new course for the country’s economy.

If they save Evergrande, they risk sending a message that some companies are still too big to fail. If they don’t, as many as 1.6 million home buyers waiting for unfinished apartments and hundreds of small businesses, creditors and banks may lose their money.

“This is the beginning of the end of China’s growth model as we know it,” said Leland Miller, the chief executive officer of the consulting firm China Beige Book. “The term ‘paradigm shift’ is always overused, so people tend to ignore it. But that’s a good way of describing what’s happening right now.”

speech accepting an award for his charitable donations.

He went to college and then spent a decade working at a steel mill. He started Evergrande in 1996 in Shenzhen, a special economic zone where the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping launched the country’s experiment with capitalism. As China urbanized, Evergrande expanded beyond Shenzhen, across the country.

Evergrande lured new home buyers by selling them on more than just the tiny apartment they would get in a huge complex with dozens of identical towers. New Evergrande customers were buying into the lifestyle associated with names like Cloud Lake Royal Garden and Riverside Mansion.

annual report was Wen Jiahong, the brother of China’s vice premier, Wen Jiabao, who oversaw the country’s banks as head of the Central Financial Work Commission.

elite group of political advisers known as the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

“He could not have gotten so big without the collaboration of the country’s biggest banks,” Victor Shih, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, said of Mr. Xu. “That suggests the potential help of senior officials with a lot of influence.”

Mr. Xu was also a power broker who socialized with the Communist Party’s elite families, according to a memoir by Desmond Shum, a well-connected businessman. In his book, “Red Roulette,” published this month, Mr. Shum recounts a 2011 European wine-tasting and shopping spree in which Mr. Xu took part, along with the daughter of the Communist Party’s fourth-ranking official at the time, Jia Qinglin, and her investor husband.

The party flew to Europe on a private jet, with the men playing a popular Chinese card game called “fight the landlord.” At Pavillon Ledoyen, a Paris restaurant, the party spent more than $100,000 on a wine spree, downing magnums of Château Lafite wines, starting with a vintage 1900 and ending with a 1990. On a trip to the French Riviera, Mr. Xu considered buying a $100 million yacht owned by a Hong Kong mogul, Mr. Shum wrote.

To supercharge Evergrande’s growth, Mr. Xu often borrowed twice on each piece of land that he developed — first from the bank and then from home buyers who were sometimes willing to pay 100 percent of the value of their future home before it was built.

property grew to account for as much as one-third of China’s economic growth. Evergrande built more than a thousand developments in hundreds of cities and created more than 3.3 million jobs a year.

cool down, the damage caused by Evergrande’s voracious appetite for debt became impossible to ignore. There are nearly 800 unfinished Evergrande projects in more than 200 cities across China. Employees, contractors and home buyers have held protests to demand their money. Many fear they will become unwitting victims in China’s debt-reform campaign.

Yong Jushang, a contractor from Changsha in central China, still hasn’t been paid for the $460,000 of materials and work he provided for an Evergrande project that was completed in May. Desperate not to lose his workers and business partners, he threatened to block the roads around the development this month until the money was paid.

“It’s not a small amount for us,” Mr. Yong said. “This could bankrupt us.”

Mr. Yong and others like him are at the heart of regulators’ biggest challenge in dealing with Evergrande. If Beijing tries to make an example out of Evergrande by letting it collapse, the wealth of millions of people could vanish along with Mr. Xu’s empire.

protested on the streets and complained online about delays in construction. The central bank has put Evergrande on notice.

And China’s increasingly nationalistic commentators are calling for the company’s demise. Debt-saddled corporate giants like Evergrande were given the freedom to “open their bloody mouths and devour the wealth of our country and our people until they are too big to fall,” Li Guangman, a retired newspaper editor whose recent views have been given a platform by official state media, wrote in an essay.

Without proper intervention, Mr. Li argued, “China’s economy and society will be set on the crater of the volcano where all may be ignited any time.”

Michael Forsythe reported from New York. Matt Phillips contributed reporting from New York.

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Poverty in U.S. Declined Thanks to Government Aid, Census Report Shows

The share of people living in poverty in the United States fell to a record low last year as an enormous government relief effort helped offset the worst economic contraction since the Great Depression.

In the latest and most conclusive evidence that poverty fell because of the aid, the Census Bureau reported on Tuesday that 9.1 percent of Americans were living below the poverty line last year, down from 11.8 percent in 2019. That figure — the lowest since records began in 1967, according to calculations from researchers at Columbia University — is based on a measure that accounts for the impact of government programs. The official measure of poverty, which leaves out some major aid programs, rose to 11.4 percent of the population.

The new data will almost surely feed into a debate in Washington about efforts by President Biden and congressional leaders to enact a more lasting expansion of the safety net that would extend well beyond the pandemic. Democrats’ $3.5 trillion plan, which is still taking shape, could include paid family and medical leave, government-supported child care and a permanent expansion of the Child Tax Credit.

Liberals cited the success of relief programs, which were also highlighted in an Agriculture Department report last week that showed that hunger did not rise in 2020, to argue that such policies ought to be expanded. But conservatives argue that higher federal spending is not needed and would increase the federal debt while discouraging people from working.

difficult to assess changes in health coverage last year. Census estimates conflicted with other government counts, and officials acknowledged problems with data collection during the pandemic.

federal supplement to state unemployment benefits lapsed. She fell behind on bills, setting in motion events that ultimately left her family homeless for two months this year.

New aid programs adopted this year, including the expanded Child Tax Credit, helped Ms. Long, who moved into a new home last month. She said she had noticed improvements in her children, particularly her 5-year-old son.

“It was bad, but it could have been so much worse, and we have come out the other side once again unbroken,” Ms. Long said.

By the government’s official definition, the number of people living in poverty jumped by 3.3 million in 2020, to 37.2 million, among the biggest annual increases on record. But economists have long criticized that definition, which dates to the 1960s, and said it did a particularly poor job of reflecting reality last year.

7.5 million people lost unemployment benefits this month after Congress allowed expansions of the program to lapse.

Jen Dessinger, a photographer who lives in New York City and Los Angeles, said work dried up abruptly at the start of the pandemic. A freelancer, she didn’t qualify for traditional unemployment benefits but eventually received help under a federal program created last year to help people who fell outside the regular system.

Now that program has ended in the middle of another surge in coronavirus cases. Ms. Dessinger said a single positive coronavirus case could shut down a photo shoot. “It’s made it a more desperate situation,” she said.

Democrats on Tuesday said experiences like Ms. Dessinger’s showed both the potential for government aid to protect people from financial ruin, and the need for a more expansive, permanent safety net that can support people in bad and good times.

A White House economist, Jared Bernstein, said on Tuesday that the new poverty data should encourage lawmakers to enact the $3.5 trillion Democratic measure that includes much of Mr. Biden’s economic agenda, which the administration argues will create more and better-paying jobs.

“It’s one thing to temporarily lift people out of poverty — hugely important — but you can’t stop there,” said Mr. Bernstein, a member of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers. “We have to make sure that people don’t fall back into poverty after these temporary measures abate.”

“reckless taxing and spending spree.”

Conservative policy experts said that although some expansion of government aid was appropriate during the pandemic, those programs should be wound down, not expanded, as the economy healed.

“Policymakers did a remarkable job last March enacting CARES and other legislation, lending to businesses, providing loan forbearance, expanding the safety net,” Scott Winship, a senior fellow and the director of poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative group, wrote in reaction to the data, referring to an early pandemic aid bill, which included around $2 trillion in spending. “But we should have pivoted to other priorities thereafter.”

Jason DeParle and Margot Sanger-Katz contributed reporting.

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Companies Begin to Mandate Covid Vaccines for Employees

Some of the nation’s largest employers, for months reluctant to wade into the fraught issue of whether Covid-19 vaccinations should be mandatory for workers, have in recent days been compelled to act as infections have surged again.

On Tuesday, Tyson Foods told its 120,000 workers in offices, slaughterhouses and poultry plants across the country that they would need to be vaccinated by Nov. 1 as a “condition of employment.” And Microsoft, which employs roughly 100,000 people in the United States, said it would require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors and guests to gain access to its offices.

Last week, Google said it would require employees who returned to the company’s offices to be vaccinated, while Disney announced a mandate for all salaried and nonunion hourly workers who work on site.

Other companies, including Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, and Lyft and Uber, have taken a less forceful approach, mandating vaccines for white-collar workers but not for millions of frontline workers. Those moves essentially set up a divide between the employees who work in offices and employees who deal directly with the public and, collectively, have been more reluctant to get the shots.

different set of reasons that are not primarily political. They say many of their members are worried about potential health side effects or bristle at the idea of an employer’s interfering in what they regard as a personal health decision.

Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, representing 1.3 million employees in grocery chains such as Kroger and at large meatpacking plants, said he would not support employer mandates until the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the vaccine, which is being administered on an emergency basis.

“You can’t just say, ‘Accept the mandate or hit the door,’” Mr. Perrone said in an interview on Monday.

After Tyson announced its vaccine mandate on Tuesday, Mr. Perrone issued a statement that the union “will be meeting with Tyson in the coming weeks to discuss this vaccine mandate and to ensure that the rights of these workers are protected and this policy is fairly implemented.”

several meat plants became virus hot spots. Now, it is requiring its leadership team to be vaccinated by Sept. 24 and the rest of its office workers by Oct. 1. Frontline employees have until Nov. 1 to be fully inoculated, extra time the company is providing because there are “significantly more frontline team members than office workers who still need to be vaccinated,” a Tyson spokesman said.

Throughout the pandemic, companies have treaded carefully in carrying out public health measures while trying to avoid harm to their businesses.

Last year, when major retailers began requiring customers to wear masks, they quietly told their employees not to enforce the rule if a customer was adamant about not wearing one.

Companies like Walmart have tried a similarly tentative approach with vaccine requirements.

Walmart announced last week that it was requiring the roughly 17,000 workers in its Arkansas headquarters to be vaccinated but not those in stores and distribution centers, who make up the bulk of its 1.6 million U.S. employees.

In a statement, the retailer said the limited mandate would send a message to all workers that they should get vaccinated.

“We’re asking our leaders, which already have a higher vaccination rate, to make their example clear,” the company said. “We’re hoping that will influence even more of our frontline associates to become vaccinated.”

Lyft told their corporate employees last week that they would need to show proof they had been inoculated before returning to company offices.

Requiring vaccinations “is the most effective way to create a safe environment and give our team members peace of mind as we return to the office,” said Ashley Adams, a spokeswoman for Lyft.

But those mandates did not extend to the workers the companies contract with to drive millions of customers to and from their destinations. The drivers are being encouraged to be vaccinated, but neither Lyft or Uber has plans to require them.

Public health experts warn that limited mandates may reinforce the gaping divide between the nation’s high- and low-wage workers without furthering the public health goal of substantially increasing vaccination rates.

They also say it’s naïve to think that workers who resisted vaccines for ideological reasons would suddenly change their mind after seeing a company’s higher-paid executives receive the shots.

“Ultimately we want to ensure that they really have the broadest reach,” Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, the vice dean for population health and health equity at the University of California, San Francisco, said of company directives. “Failing to do that, I think, will only cause others to be more suspicious of these types of mandates.”

Legally, companies are likely to be on solid ground if they mandate vaccines. Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said employers could require immunization, though companies that do could still face lawsuits.

George W. Ingham, a partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells, said companies with mandates would potentially have to make difficult decisions.

“They are going to have to fire high performers and low performers who refuse vaccines,” he said. “They have to be consistent.” Reasons an employee could be exempted include religious beliefs or a disability, though the process of sorting those out on an individual basis promises to be an arduous one.

Companies may also have to contend with pushback from state governments. Ten states have passed legislation limiting the ability to require vaccines for students, employees or the public, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Disney is among the few big companies pursuing a broad vaccine mandate for their work forces, even in the face of pushback from some employees.

In addition to mandating vaccines for nonunion workers who are on-site, Disney said all new hires — union and nonunion — would be required to be fully vaccinated before starting their jobs. Nonunion hourly workers include theme park guest-relations staff, in-park photographers, executive assistants and some seasonal theme park employees.

It was the furthest that Disney could go without a sign-off from the dozen unions that represent the bulk of its employees. Walt Disney World in Florida, for instance, has more than 65,000 workers; roughly 38,000 are union members.

Disney is now seeking union approval for the mandate both in Florida and in California, where tens of thousands of workers at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim are unionized. Most of the leaders of Disney’s unions appear to be in favor of a mandate — as long as accommodations can be worked out for those refusing the vaccine for medical, religious or other acceptable reasons.

“Vaccinations are safe and effective and the best line of defense to protect workers, frontline or otherwise,” Eric Clinton, the president of UNITE HERE Local 362, which represents roughly 8,000 attraction workers and custodians at Disney World, said in a phone interview.

Mr. Clinton declined to comment on any pushback from his membership, but another union leader at Disney World, speaking on the condition of anonymity so he could speak candidly, said “a fair number” of his members were up in arms over Disney-mandated vaccinations, citing personal choice and fear of the vaccine.

“The company has probably done a calculation and decided that some people will unfortunately quit rather than protect themselves, and so be it,” the person said.

Lananh Nguyen contributed reporting.

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A Great Inflation Redux? Economists Point to Big Differences.

“It gave me a feeling of déjà vu, because that’s what we were doing in the ’70s — we were trying to get supply-side effects,” said Barry P. Bosworth, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who led the Council on Wage and Price Stability under President Jimmy Carter. The efforts failed to control overall inflation, he said.

“It doesn’t work,” he said. “As a macro policy, you can’t go around trying to put your finger in the dike everywhere it pops up.”

The big price spikes in the 1960s and 1970s reversed once the underlying conditions that created them eased. But not all the way — in each case, the rate of inflation bottomed out a bit higher than the time before. Many economists believe that pattern had to do with human psychology: Workers and businesses had come to expect a higher rate of inflation, and had adapted their behavior accordingly, creating a self-sustaining cycle.

Economists particularly highlight the role of wages. Businesses can cut prices just as easily as they can raise them, but cutting wages is harder. No worker wants to be told that a job that was worth $10 an hour yesterday is worth just $9.50 an hour today. And if workers expect prices to rise at 5 percent per year, they will want raises to keep up with inflation.

Most economists believe that the forces driving the current surge in inflation will ease in the months ahead. The question is whether that will happen before expectations shift. Some surveys have found that consumers are already beginning to anticipate faster inflation to stick around, although that evidence is mixed. Wages, too, have continued rising as employers struggle to rehire workers, although it’s not yet clear that they are taking off.

One reason that temporary price increases turned into permanent wage increases in the middle of the 20th century is that many union contracts had escalator clauses that tied wage gains directly to inflation. Those provisions effectively helped lock in price increases, feeding into the price spiral, said David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied the role of union contracts in inflation. Far fewer workers are members of unions today, and few contracts have inflation clauses, in part because they haven’t been necessary in a period of low inflation.

Perhaps the largest difference of all? Time. In the 1960s, it took years of price spikes and policy failures for Americans to lose confidence that their leaders could keep inflation under control.

“What happened by the ’70s took almost 10 years to develop,” Mr. Card said. “I don’t think it’s that feasible that it could happen that quickly.”

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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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The Cost of Being an ‘Interchangeable Asian’

On a recent Tuesday evening, Jully Lee and her boyfriend curled up on the couch and turned on the TV to watch the Ovation Awards, a ceremony honoring stage work in the Los Angeles area that was held virtually this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ms. Lee, an actor, had been nominated for her role in the play “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” which was in production before the pandemic.

Ms. Lee, 40, had submitted a prerecorded acceptance speech in case she won. During the ceremony, each nominee’s photo was shown as his or her name was announced. When Ms. Lee’s category arrived, her name was called, and a photo appeared on the screen. A photo of the wrong Asian: her colleague Monica Hong. The announcer also mispronounced Ms. Lee’s name.

“I was just stunned,” Ms. Lee said. She added that after a pause, she and her boyfriend started cracking up. “When things are awkward or uncomfortable or painful, it’s much safer to laugh than to express other emotions. It’s like a polite way of responding to things.”

The LA Stage Alliance, which hosted the ceremony, disbanded in the wake of outrage over the blunder.

The irony of a mix-up like this wasn’t lost on Ms. Lee. It was rare to even be performing with other Asian actors, rather than competing for the same part. “It’s so funny because when there’s so many Asians, then you can’t tell them apart, but in media there are so few Asians that you can’t tell us apart,” she said. “What is it?”

The invisibility of Asians in pop culture is part of what, scholars say, contributes to the “wrong Asian” experience: When people aren’t accustomed to seeing Asian faces onstage or onscreen, they may have more trouble telling them apart in real life. To put it another way: If all you really have to work with are John Cho, Steven Yeun, Aziz Ansari and Kal Penn, that’s not going to go a long way in training you to distinguish among men of Asian descent offscreen. In contrast, Hollywood has given everyone plenty of training on distinguishing white faces, Dr. Nadal said.

Out of Hollywood’s top 100 movies of 2018, only two lead roles went to Asian and Asian American actors (one male and one female), according to a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Donatella Galella, a professor of theater history and theory at the University of California, Riverside, said that popular culture has long reflected the Western world’s xenophobic views toward Asians, which resulted in placing them in diminished roles onstage and onscreen — the villain, the sidekick. That entrenched a kind of marginalization feedback loop.

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