Treasury Issues Crackdown on State and Local Tax Workarounds

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WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department moved on Thursday to block high-tax states from circumventing new federal limits on state and local tax deductions, escalating a dispute with Democratic governors.

A proposed Treasury Department rule, which is certain to face legal challenges from several states, would limit the type of charitable contributions that Americans are allowed to deduct on their federal taxes. The rule would effectively exclude donations that are rewarded with state tax credits, such as charitable contributions made to certain private or charter schools and universities, land donated for conservation purposes and donations to housing assistance programs.

It is expected to affect only a small slice of the population, according to Treasury estimates, though it will likely be concentrated among high earners in high-tax states, like New York and California. The regulations would affect taxpayers who currently deduct more than $10,000 in state and local taxes, a group that officials put at about 5 percent of the population.

In proposing the rule, the Treasury Department is looking to block efforts by New York and other states to circumvent a provision of the new Republican tax law that set a $10,000-a-year cap on deductions for state and local taxes. The cap helped Republicans keep the estimated cost of the tax law, which centers on a sharp reduction in the corporate tax rate, under $1.5 trillion, to comply with a budget procedure that allowed the bill to pass without the support of any Democrats.

But the cap angered lawmakers in several states, and they moved quickly to find ways to circumvent the limits. New York and New Jersey passed laws that set up charitable funds for state services, such as schools, and award state tax credits based on donations to those funds. The idea was to create a roundabout way of funding state services which preserves a higher federal tax deduction for residents — because the charitable deduction, unlike the state and local tax deduction, remains uncapped.

The Treasury rule would render those credits effectively useless for taxpayers. They would still be paying the same amount to the state, but receive no additional tax deduction from the federal government for their trouble.

Under the proposal, someone who makes a $10,000 charitable contribution to the state and receives an $8,500 tax credit can deduct only $1,500 from federal taxes — the difference between the value of the credit and the contribution. Previously, Americans were allowed to deduct the entire value of a charitable contribution linked to a state tax credit.

The rule does not apply to state tax deductions, only to credits, and it does not affect taxpayers who receive a credit worth 15 percent or less of the amount they donate — a loophole that could exempt landowners who donate large tracts for conservation purposes.

The proposal is aimed primarily at high-tax states like New York that are trying to jury-rig a way around the cap. In New York, according to Internal Revenue Service data, more than a third of taxpayers took the state and local tax break in 2015, deducting more than $20,000 on average from their federal taxes. In Alabama, just over a quarter of taxpayers took the deduction, and claimed less than $6,000 on average.

More than 90 percent of households earning at least $200,000 in 2015 took the state and local deduction, writing off $269 billion in taxes. Those households accounted for less than 5 percent of all filers in 2015, but took nearly 50 percent of the total deduction that year.

Jim Tankersley reported from Washington and Ben Casselman from New York.

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One Tesla Investor Wants It to Stay Public

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Elon Musk has insisted that taking Tesla private would allow the company to achieve its potential.

On Thursday, one Tesla investor took issue with Mr. Musk’s argument.

In a public letter, Catherine Wood, the chief investment officer of ARK Invest, beseeched Tesla’s chief executive not to go forward with his plan.

On Aug. 7, Mr. Musk proposed in a tweet taking Tesla private at $420 a share, which would value the company at about $71.6 billion. He did not elaborate on any sources of financing that day but said he expected about two-thirds of Tesla’s current shareholders to “roll over into a private Tesla.”

In a blog post on Tesla’s website, Mr. Musk explained his reasoning. “As a public company, we are subject to wild swings in our stock price that can be a major distraction for everyone working at Tesla, all of whom are shareholders,” he said.

Ms. Wood — whose firm owned a roughly 0.26 percent stake in Tesla as of June 30, according to public filings — argued in her letter that the public markets would better support Tesla’s growth over the long term.

From her letter:

“If you do not take Tesla private, you will be surprised and gratified at investor reaction once they realize and understand the scope and ramifications of your long-term vision and strategies. With time, I believe that truth always wins out in the public markets, as has been the case for Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Salesforce, and other companies with visionary leaders.”

Ms. Wood said that over time, Tesla would become less of a hardware company and more of what she called a “mobility as a service” provider. That includes providing autonomous cars and trucks on demand, similar to what Uber and other companies are racing toward. By her firm’s calculations, that could lift Tesla’s gross margins from 19 percent to 80 percent.

But that kind of transformation would be more difficult to do as a private company, she wrote, given how much harder it would be for Tesla to tap public markets for financing.

ARK’s hyper-bullish valuation rests on a surge in Tesla’s revenue to more $180 billion over the next five years from $13 billion. Of course, Tesla has attracted plenty of investors with starkly different views of its prospects. They point to the company’s production delays, cash burn and increasing competition to explain their bets against the stock.

ARK would want to stay invested in Tesla if Mr. Musk succeeded, Ms. Wood said in a statement. Doing so might require revamping the rules of ARK’s mutual funds that are invested in the company, and its exchange-traded funds would have to sell their holdings.

If Mr. Musk keeps Tesla public, her firm’s forecast for what the company’s shares could be worth: between $700 and $4,000 in five years.

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Wheels: The Passion, and Sometimes Profit, of Vintage Racing

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“I didn’t have any money,” Mr. Barber said. “I was going to Harvard on a scholarship and driving a borrowed 20-year-old MG.”

Mr. Barber said couldn’t afford track time to practice, so he would tear around the roads surrounding Boston after 2 a.m., when nobody else was on the road. Those breakneck excursions through the moonlit countryside paid off. He won three Sports Car Club of America national championships in a row in the mid-1960s.

Along the way, he had an epiphany: If athletes in every other sport could benefit from coaching, why wouldn’t racecar drivers? More to the point, why couldn’t their instructor profit from helping them hone their skills on the track?

In 1975, with two borrowed Formula Ford open-wheel racers and four students, he started what is now called the Skip Barber Racing School, whose alumni include Mario Andretti, Tom Cruise and Jerry Seinfeld. Today, there are dozens of high-performance racing schools around the country, certified by the Sports Car Club of America and offering courses that can cost up to $7,000 for five days of instruction. The Skip Barber Racing School — Mr. Barber sold his controlling interest years ago — charges just under $2,000 for a one-day program.

Then there’s the matter of the car.

A race-worthy model — an old Mustang or Corvair — can be had for as little as $15,000 to $20,000, said Terry McGean, editor in chief of Hemmings Motor News. But that’s just the beginning.

“Chances are you’ll need to restore it, and that can cost another $15,000 to $20,000,” he said. “Or you can buy one ready to race for $50,000.”

Safety equipment will add to the cost: a helmet and a fire suit for the driver, while a HANS device — to support the driver’s head and neck — and a fire-suppression system must be fitted to the car. One ready to race, a vehicle that’s not road legal must get to the track, requiring a trailer and something to tow it. Any vintage racing event will be generously dotted with expensive motor homes.

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An Artist Warns of a Robot-Ruled Future. Or Is It Our Present? Let’s Discuss.

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No young artist has a sharper view of the future than Cao Fei. Her dreamlike visions of China’s full-tilt economic development, and the social dislocation and environmental abasement that have come with it, were the most beguiling and unnerving parts of her acclaimed midcareer retrospective at MoMA PS1 in 2016.

Ms. Cao, 40 (her full name is pronounced TSOW fay), revisits those themes with her new video work, “Asia One,” a mournfully beautiful hybrid of economic forecast and tragic love story, now on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum as part of the group exhibition “One Hand Clapping.”

“Asia One” transports viewers to a high-tech warehouse near Shanghai, staffed by only two workers — a smiling porcelain robot nearby scans their every move — who oversee the automated distribution of hundreds of thousands of packages. The near-absence of human workers may feel like the stuff of fantasy, but it’s not. The film was shot principally at the newest warehouse of, a $48 billion company often (inexactly) called the Amazon of China, where robots handle almost everything.

Ms. Cao’s fixation on economics, labor and development is rare among artists, and I was eager to discuss the plausibility of “Asia One” with someone who had studied China’s industries up close. So I invited a New York Times colleague, David Barboza, who was The Times’s Shanghai bureau chief from 2008 to 2015, to join me at the Guggenheim, where we discussed what the Guggenheim work has to say about a future we’re already moving into. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.

JASON FARAGO “Asia One” is set in a China of the near future — but like so many great speculative fictions, it’s really about the present. In economic terms, how did you perceive “Asia One”: more like science fiction or more like real life?

DAVID BARBOZA I’ve been to a lot of Chinese factories; that was one of my favorite things to do in China, actually. As an American, you have a natural interest in seeing all the hidden steps that go into making, say, a Nike sneaker or an electronic cigarette.

And I have been to one of JD’s logistics centers, much like the one where “Asia One” was shot. There were certainly more than just two employees. But you could see, as the boxes flew down the conveyor belts, the beginnings of this trend toward fewer and fewer people doing the work. In that sense, there was nothing surprising to me in the look or feel of this “futuristic” distribution center.

Maybe the reason Ms. Cao wanted to shoot there is that its lack of hustle and bustle is so jarring. China is a country with 1.4 billion people, and my own experience in visiting a manufacturing or distribution site was to be awed by the sheer mass of humanity you encounter. Everything is the biggest, with the most people. Now, though, China is undergoing a big demographic shift, with a steadily declining population of young people. In some parts of the country, there are already shortages of migrant labor.

FARAGO Hence the turn to automation. In the empty factory of “Asia One” there’s a banner that reads “Man and Machine Go Hand in Hand, and Create Miracles!” Which is a real JD slogan.

BARBOZA But if robots do too much, where are all the people going to work? China is moving ahead so fast with AI, faster than the United States or Europe, and yet the ramifications there could be the most troubling — a potential for massive dislocation.

FARAGO Ms. Cao is from Guangzhou, the megacity of the industrial Pearl River Delta, and her career as an artist has run parallel to China’s arrival on the global stage. My favorite work of hers before this one was “Whose Utopia” (2006), which she shot in a light bulb factory. It beautifully humanized the migrant workers who made the world’s cheap consumer goods; they formed a band, talked about their dreams.

In “Asia One,” China is no longer the back office but the main stage. The factory is gleaming — cardboard boxes dance across the screen as if they were in a Busby Berkeley musical — but no one is there. These two workers appear to be middle-class, and they’re managing this hugely complex set of logistical operations. Yet they might as well be the last people on earth, and they are under constant surveillance.

BARBOZA Ten years ago Chinese manufacturing was all about exports. This work is much more representative of the shift in Chinese business toward a domestic consumer class.

China is also going full steam ahead with facial recognition technologies, mobile payments and mass surveillance. There are cameras everywhere, CCTV everywhere. At lots of the factories I visited, companies had installed fingerprint recognition to better track and authenticate who was visiting the site. And Ms. Cao is playing with that — the female worker has a bar code tattooed on her wrist, as if she were the product rather than the employee.

FARAGO This is a future where everything is constantly scanned and scored: the goods but also the workers. The smiling robot scans the male protagonist and gives him a low “trust score.”

BARBOZA That’s already happening, too, in China with the social credit system. Outdoor surveillance cameras can record the image of a person’s face and know whether that individual has an unpaid parking ticket, has poor credit history or has made some radical comments online. This happens first in the factory, because the factory is the most controlled space, with cameras everywhere, recording every moment.

FARAGO Yet the film’s heroes exhibit no outrage. “Asia One” is shot through with pathos; it’s a thwarted romance as much as an industrial drama. The woman is so desperate for affection that at one point she hugs the robot. But she and the man can’t connect; he has to use his digital goggles to scan her face for emotions. There is no love in the age of data.

BARBOZA About a decade ago, a migrant worker might have worked three years in a factory, and then returned home to find a spouse or settle closer to home. A factory job allowed them to save money, and that’s obviously changed in recent years, as China’s economy has grown along with consumption. So I think the actors in this film do, in a way, represent what I have seen in China’s factory zones: this is now a more permanent state, and while the work may be mind-numbing, people are more resigned to it.

FARAGO At the Guggenheim, Ms. Cao is screening “Asia One” within an installation that features much more low-tech equipment, like a motorized rickshaw loaded with packages. There’s also a second film she made, a documentary, that shows couriers high-tailing JD deliveries to customers across Beijing. This is the other side of the contemporary factory: the migrant laborers who ferry clothes or baby formula or consumer electronics from the automated site to customers.

BARBOZA The documentary shows that the final steps of this logistics chain are still more reliant on humans than you would expect. When JD began operating some years ago, its couriers were delivering goods on motorbikes — or even bicycles, with your packages taped to the back!

Probably 90 percent of these delivery workers are migrants from elsewhere in China, and in Ms. Cao’s project you see the delivery men shoving odd-shaped packages into a van, racing through the alleyways of Beijing. And she takes you home with some of these people, where several generations live in a one-room apartment.

When you put the two films together, you have this portrait of a Chinese economy with a lot of automation, but still a lot of heavy lifting and arduous tasks. And she shows you the challenges for the human worker in 2018, and the coming challenges of isolation, loneliness and perhaps joblessness — or the absence of jobs. And of technological control.

FARAGO Toward the start of “Asia One,” as a robotic vehicle glides across the empty factory floor, Ms. Cao plays a clip from a Mao-era patriotic song: an early ode to logistical infrastructure, with a soprano singing about piers and cranes and the Great Leap Forward. There are also some unexpected dance sequences, too, with performers sliding down chutes on the factory floor, that have the feel of a Maoist pageant.

In the U.S. we think of shipping and robotics as economic questions, but of course they are deeply political in China. And this gets to why I think “Asia One” is such a monumental work: Ms. Cao somehow convinced one of China’s most valuable companies, with deep government ties, to let her shoot this tragic portrait of China’s future — our future, too — right inside its flagship warehouse.

BARBOZA Whether you’re a private company or a state-owned company in China, everyone knows that you need to be on the same page as the government. You have to seem to promote the interests that they want to promote, even if you don’t believe in them.

And in “Asia One,” Ms. Cao invests this empty factory with this romantic, heroic, Cultural Revolution-style rhetoric. You’re really working for the benefit of the company and its shareholders, but you have to fuse that with national priorities and ambitions. It’s all about the goals for the nation.

FARAGO Liu Qiangdong, the chief executive of JD, recently said that China “can realize the dream of Communism in our generation,” which is not what we usually hear from billionaires. But the old Marxist dream that robots will free us from the drudgery of labor doesn’t convince Ms. Cao: They seem to have subjugated the two heroes instead, and stunted their capacity to feel and to love.

BARBOZA To me, Ms. Cao is trying to portray that, even in a dehumanized environment like the automated warehouse, you need that inspiration or that order from up high. And who knows, maybe the idea is that these two characters make themselves able to cope with this need, this illusion that they are part of something bigger. You know, it’s a beautiful dance. We’re doing something for the party. We’re doing something for the country. Because the future is going to be very challenging.

One Hand Clapping
Through Oct. 21 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; 212-423-3500,

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Purveyors of Juice-Box Style, Nicotine-Filled E-Liquids Quit Selling the Products

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WASHINGTON — Makers of e-cigarette and vaping liquids like One Mad Hit Juice Box, V’Nilla Cookies & Milk, Unicorn Cakes and other products with packaging that could appeal to children have stopped selling them, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The agency said on Thursday that the 17 makers, distributors and sellers of nicotine-containing e-liquids for e-cigarettes had agreed to take the products off the market, after the agency issued a warning in May.

“When companies market these products using imagery that misleads a child into thinking they’re things they’ve consumed before, like a juice box or candy, that can create an imminent risk of harm,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the agency’s commissioner.

The letters, 13 of which were sent in partnership with the Federal Trade Commission, which regulates advertising, were sent to companies involved in the sale of a range of vaping and e-cigarette products that the F.D.A. said appealed to children. Among those cited were:

• One Mad Hit Juice Box, which resembled apple juice;

• V’Nilla cookies & milk, packaged like cookies;

• Unicorn Cakes, which included images and cartoons of a strawberry drink and unicorns eating pancakes, evoking the “My Little Pony” television and toy franchise.

The F.D.A. said it expected some of the liquids would still be sold under revised labeling and advertising.

According to the F.D.A., more than two million middle and high school students were users of e-cigarettes and related products in 2016, with flavorings given as one of the top reasons for use. Besides the threat of nicotine addiction, the agency is also concerned about a rise in e-liquid poisonings of children younger than six. E-liquid poisoning and other liquid nicotine exposure in young children can cause seizures, comas and even death from cardiac or respiratory arrest.

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Eric Lindblom, a former F.D.A. tobacco official who is now at Georgetown Law School, called Thursday’s announcement a good first step.

“But,” he said, “tobacco companies know all sorts of sophisticated, under-the-radar ways to attract kids to their products. What this is doing is addressing the visible tip of the iceberg.”

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Elon Musk Wants to Take Tesla Private. Can He Make the Math Work?

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What’s that about SpaceX?

The Times reported that people involved in the process are evaluating how SpaceX, Mr. Musk’s privately held rocket company, could help bankroll a deal for Tesla. SpaceX was valued recently at $21 billion, and Mr. Musk owns about half the company.

SpaceX is believed to be profitable and have cash on hand. But a person familiar with the company’s finances, who was not authorized to speak publicly on behalf of the company, said it does not have so much cash that it could contribute a meaningful stake to a buyout of Tesla.

Another, more likely maneuver would see Mr. Musk sell some of his SpaceX stake to help finance the Tesla deal, or use it as collateral for a big loan. In that case, Mr. Musk would need a buyer for his SpaceX shares. “The intention is not to merge SpaceX and Tesla,” he wrote in the letter to employees.

What happens next?

Investment banks, private equity firms, sovereign wealth funds and elite law firms are already working to structure a potential transaction. Three Tesla board members are evaluating the prospects of a deal as well.

If Mr. Musk can muster enough support for a deal, he will bring forward a proposal. If the board approves it, shareholders will be given the opportunity to roll into a newly private Tesla, or tender their shares.

But to ensure that the deal is protected against legal challenges, a majority of Tesla’s shareholders, excluding Mr. Musk, would most likely have to vote for the deal, said Charles M. Elson, a professor of finance at the University of Delaware. So instead of simply needing 31 percent of Tesla shareholders to combine with Mr. Musk’s 20 percent stake, a much larger proportion of the minority shareholders would in theory need to vote for the deal.

With the stock trading around $320 per share — higher than a month ago, but far below the $379.52 it closed at on the day of his fateful tweet, not to mention the prospective buyout price — investors appear to remain skeptical that taking Tesla private is a done deal.

Erin Griffith contributed reporting.

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Common Sense: Should These Tests Get a Failing Grade?

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I haven’t had to take a standardized test in decades. Before I took the SAT, when I was a senior in high school, I had no coaching or test preparation. As far as I know, none was then offered in the small Midwestern city where I grew up. Still, I did well enough to gain admission to DePauw University, and later Harvard Law School, and I doubt I’d be where I am today were it not for my test scores.

So when The New York Times recently published a set of sample questions from New York City’s admissions test for its selective high schools, known as the SHSAT and owned and administered by Pearson, the same company that runs the GMAT and a slew of other career-defining tests, I decided to try to answer them.

Suffice to say I would not be attending Stuyvesant or Bronx High School of Science were I now an eighth grader.

In the great sorting process that can begin in preschool, there’s no question that standardized test scores matter. For admission to New York City’s elite high schools, like Stuyvesant or Bronx Science, they’re the only criteria. And the stakes get higher in the next rung of educational aspiration. Even at Harvard, which prides itself on its holistic approach to admissions, high test scores are vital, as a recent lawsuit alleging discrimination against Asian-Americans makes clear.

Elite schools, in turn, boast about the eye-popping average test scores of their students, which is a crucial factor in determining their U.S. News & World Report ranking.

Students at the top three U.S. News-ranked business schools — Harvard, Chicago and Wharton — have average GMAT scores of 731, 730 and 730 out of a possible 800. Fourth-ranked Stanford was even higher, at 737.

But the problems I encountered when taking the SHSAT online demonstrate how even one standardized test question might derail a promising student’s future.

In fact, I was thrown off by the very first question on the test:

To answer the question, I focused on the phrase “precise revision.” I took that to mean the revision that most precisely, exactly or accurately reproduces the original.

The question didn’t say how many people the reporter interviewed, and a reader has no way of knowing. So an accurate revision would need to be equally vague. Any revision that specified “three contestants” is not an accurate reproduction of the original, but an embellishment. That eliminated answers B and D.

Answer C refers to “some of the winners,” but doesn’t say winners of what. The original is explicit: “the contest.” And C embellishes “talked”: “discussed the contest.” The original doesn’t say what the reporter talked to the winners about. So C failed on two counts.

That left A, which is both vague and explicit in the same way the original is, and thus the most “precise revision.” I chose it and pushed the “submit” button and got an immediate response.


My confidence was badly shaken, and it was pretty much downhill from there. (Somewhat rattled, I got three of five questions wrong before finally throwing in the towel.)

Days later, I found myself still fretting over the question about the reporter and the cooking contest. I looked up the meaning of “precise”: “marked by exactness and accuracy.” At the least, I thought, my reasoning was legitimate.

So I sent the question to Mary Norris, author of “Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen” and a legendary copy editor at The New Yorker. If anyone understands revisions of English prose, it’s she. I didn’t tell her anything about my experience and asked her to answer the question and tell me what she thought.

“I got so confused!” she said when we spoke a few days later. “To revise that sentence precisely would be to make it as lame as the original.”

She said she was stumped immediately by the reference to “people” who “did the best in the contest.” Can multiple people be the “best?” Can there be more than one “winner”? What kind of “contest” would that be? “To say there are three people adds information that isn’t in the original,” she said. “And we have no way of knowing if that’s accurate.”

C was tempting. “It’s nice and vague, and in this context, vague equals precise,” she said. Nonetheless, she picked answer B. “At least it doesn’t say ‘winner,’” she reasoned.

Wrong again!

The “correct” answer, according to the New York City Department of Education, is D. “The top three” in that answer is more specific than “some people who did the best” in the original.

“I would never have picked D,” Ms. Norris said.

Daniel Koretz, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the author of “Measuring Up” and “The Testing Charade,” and one of the country’s foremost experts on standardized tests, agreed that the question is, at best, ambiguous. “Problematic items do sometimes occur even in good tests, and that is one more reason it is never acceptable to make a consequential decision based on a single test score,” he said.

It’s hard to know how prevalent tainted questions are, since Pearson and other test administrators don’t disclose the data they collect on specific questions and answers.

Mr. Koretz said that several years ago, he was contacted by a parent whose son had been denied admission to Bronx High School of Science because of one question. The parents disputed that the “correct” answer was, in fact, correct.

“It was totally ambiguous,” Mr. Koretz said of the question, adding, “I got the wrong answer.” He contacted the New York City Department of Education, but was unable to obtain standard data on reliability and validity for the question. “I got nowhere,” he said.

Will Mantell, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Education, said Pearson investigates “any items with problematic or unusual results.”

“If an error is found,” he added, “the item is not scored.”

The risk of erroneous answers is reduced if students can take a test multiple times, as they can with the standard college admissions test. But students can take the SHSAT only once, except in unusual circumstances.

As for the question that stumped me and Ms. Norris, Mr. Mantell said Pearson had already spotted a problem and revised the question. (He added that the question was never used on an actual test.)

Here’s the new question:

Read this sentence. During a nightly news segment about a cooking contest, a reporter talked to some people who did the best in the contest.

Which revision uses the most precise language for the words “talked to some people who did the best in the contest?

“Precise” now modifies “language,” not “revision,” which struck me as an improvement.

The answers remain the same, and D is still “correct.”

But neither Ms. Norris nor Mr. Koretz found this to be satisfactory. “I had to read this a few times, assuming incorrectly that they did something to fix the ambiguity inherent in the answer choices. They didn’t,” Mr. Koretz said.

A problem is that C is now more precise than D in saying that the people discussed “the contest.” And the confusion over how a contest can have multiple winners or people who “did the best” remains.

“I’m not at all sure I’d get the right answer,” Ms. Norris said. “I’d still have the same problem. The revision doesn’t make the case for improving the sentence at all.”

She pointed out that the original sentence would be much improved if the reporter interviewed some of “the losers” rather than “people who did the best in the contest” since any contest involving three or more people would be expected to produce multiple losers. The answers would need to be revised accordingly.

A spokesman for Pearson, Scott Overland, said the company’s assessment team was examining the revised question in light of the issues I raised. He added that the test undergoes a “rigorous, multi-step development process” and that “the New York City Department of Education is involved in all aspects of the test development process and provides final approval before students take the SHSAT.”

Mr. Mantell declined further comment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has caused an uproar by proposing to abolish the SHSAT, and admit students to elite schools based solely on grades and class rank. He said it was “insane” to rely on one taking of a single test. Some elite colleges are now making standardized tests optional.

My experience suggests they may have a point. Test scores, at least, shouldn’t be the sole basis for admission.

“I guess I wouldn’t get into an elite school today,” Ms. Norris said. “Maybe it just shows you don’t have to go to the best schools to succeed.”

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Corporate Chiefs Say Trump’s Immigration Policies Are Hurting U.S. Economy

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Dozens of American business leaders are challenging the Trump administration over changes to immigration policy that they say threaten the livelihoods of thousands of their skilled foreign workers, and the nation’s economic growth and competitiveness as well.

The executives, members of the Business Roundtable, expressed their “serious concern” over the administration’s immigration moves in a jointly signed letter delivered late Wednesday to Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security.

Some of the most prominent chief executives in the United States signed the letter, including Timothy D. Cook of Apple, Ginni Rometty of IBM, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Laurence Fink of BlackRock, Marc Benioff of Salesforce and Indra Nooyi, the departing head of PepsiCo.

The letter comes during a week when the broader debate over the country’s immigration policies has been reignited by the arrest of a Mexican laborer in the killing of an Iowa woman. It also underscores the continuing tension between America’s globally minded corporate establishment and the Trump administration’s “America First” agenda.

Business leaders have praised President Trump’s tax cuts and rolling back of many regulations. But they have deplored some of his statements and some of his administration’s actions, including on immigration.

In one of the most notable examples of the strain, several White House business advisory councils dissolved last year after Mr. Trump blamed “many sides” for white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va.

In June, a group of top executives condemned the administration for the forced separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexican border. The Business Roundtable described the separations as “cruel and contrary to American values.”

With their letter on Wednesday, the group’s members took issue with a series of immigration enforcement guidelines that they said were “arbitrary and inconsistent” and created new and unnecessary hurdles for skilled foreigners working in the United States.

The changes, the letter stated, were “causing considerable anxiety for many thousands of our employees while threatening to disrupt company operations.”

The business group’s complaint focused on new guidelines and practices by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security that vets visa applications and administers immigration policy.

A letter’s main focus was the treatment of applications for, and renewals of, H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers. The visas are used by companies to hire computer engineers and other professionals.

As a result of the changes, there has been a sharp increase in the number of denials and requests for more information. A recent analysis of government data by the National Foundation for American Policy, a nonpartisan policy research group, found that the denial rate for H-1B visa petitions had increased 41 percent in the government’s fourth fiscal quarter of 2017, compared with the third quarter.

Government examiners’ requests for additional information on H-1B visa applications tripled in the same period. The government’s fiscal fourth quarter began in July 2017, a few months after Mr. Trump issued his “Buy American and Hire American” executive order.

The policy foundation’s analysis, published last month, was meant to examine the “Trump effect” on immigration for skilled foreign workers, said Stuart Anderson, executive director of the foundation and a former immigration official.

The Trump administration, experts said, was using the government’s regulatory apparatus, which it has so often scorned, to serve its policy goal of clamping down on the flow of foreign workers into America.

“Step up investigations, slow things down, and you can accomplish your policy goals without legislation,” said Hal Salzman, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University.

The H-1B program was created to provide a pathway for talented foreigners whose special skills were expected to strengthen the American economy. Today, the nation’s technology hubs are filled with H-1B alumni who have become entrepreneurs, executives, venture capitalists and, quite often, United States citizens.

In recent years, however, the visa program has been criticized because corporations, especially Indian technology outsourcing companies, have exploited legal loopholes in the H-1B regime to replace American workers and shift jobs out of the United States. The immigration service has said its increased scrutiny and enforcement actions were intended to strengthen “protections to combat H-1B abuses.”

But to the business leaders, the policies are vague and capricious, creating uncertainty for their workers and in company operations. For example, the group’s letter stated, “Companies now do not know whether a work visa petition that was approved last month will be approved when the company submits the identical application to extend the employee’s status.”

A particular concern, the business leaders said, was that the immigration service was expected to revoke work eligibility for spouses of H-1B visa holders. The spouses, they said, are often highly skilled workers who have built careers in America.

“Revoking their U.S. work authorization,” the letter said, “will likely cause high-skilled immigrants to take their skills to competitors outside the United States.”

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Profile: In ‘Small Fry,’ Steve Jobs Comes Across as a Jerk. His Daughter Forgives Him. Should We?

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‘I Hope Thanksgiving’s OK’

None of that, of course, was imaginable when Ms. Brennan-Jobs was born on May 17, 1978, on a commune farm in Oregon. Her parents, who had met in high school in Cupertino, Calif., were both 23. Mr. Jobs arrived days after the birth and helped name her, but refused to acknowledge that he was the father. To support her family, Ms. Brennan cleaned houses and used government assistance. Only after the government sued Mr. Jobs did he agree to pay child support.

“Small Fry” describes how Mr. Jobs slowly took a greater interest in his daughter, taking her skating and coming over to her house for visits. Ms. Brennan-Jobs moved in with him for a time during high school, when her mother was struggling with money and her temper, but Mr. Jobs was cold and had extreme demands for what being a member of the family entailed. The neighbors next door worried about the teenage Lisa, and one night, when Mr. Jobs was out, they moved her from his house and into theirs. Against Mr. Jobs’s wishes, the neighbors paid for her to finish college. (He later paid them back.)

In an interview, Ms. Brennan-Jobs spoke of “not wanting to alienate people” she loves, but acknowledged that her memoir might do just that. Aside from Mr. Jobs, all the central characters are very much alive. “I hope Thanksgiving’s O.K.,” she said.

Her mother, Ms. Brennan, is portrayed as a free spirit who nurtured her daughter’s creativity — but could be mercurial, hot-tempered and sometimes neglectful. “It was horrendous for me to read,” Ms. Brennan said in an interview. “It was very, very hard. But she got it right.”

Mr. Jobs’s infamous venom is on frequent display in “Small Fry.” Out one night at dinner, Mr. Jobs turns to his daughter’s cousin, Sarah, who has just unknowingly offended him by ordering meat. “‘Have you ever thought about how awful your voice is?” Mr. Jobs asks Sarah. “Please stop talking in that awful voice,” he says, adding, “You should really consider what’s wrong with yourself and try to fix it.”

Ms. Brennan-Jobs describes her father’s frequent use of money to confuse or frighten her. “Sometimes he decided not to pay for things at the very last minute,” she writes, “walking out of restaurants without paying the bill.” When her mother found a beautiful house and asked Mr. Jobs to buy it for her and Lisa, he agreed it was nice — but bought it for himself and moved in with his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs.

Ms. Brennan said that her daughter has, if anything, underplayed the chaos of her childhood. “She didn’t go into how bad it really was, if you can believe that,” she said.

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S&P Edges Up as Tech Stocks Gain; Jackson Hole in Focus

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(Reuters) – The benchmark S&P 500 edged higher on Thursday as technology stocks rose, though gains were restricted by declines in commodity-related stocks and trade-sensitive sectors after new tariffs took effect in the U.S.-China trade war.

In their latest back-and-forth, the United States and China imposed fresh tariffs on $16 billion worth of each other’s goods, despite ongoing trade talks between the countries.

The trade-sensitive S&P industrials sector dipped 0.16 percent, weighing on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The technology index rose 0.64 percent, bolstering the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite.

The energy index fell 0.68 percent and the materials index dropped 0.61 percent as prices of crude oil and metals declined with the escalation in Sino-U.S. trade dispute and the dollar strengthened on expectations of higher U.S. interest rates soon.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s speech at the Jackson Hole central bankers’ symposium on Friday will be keenly watched for clues on future rate hikes.

“The main thing on our radar right now is the two-day Jackson Hole symposium and investors are waiting on Powell’s speech to figure out what kind of hike path the Fed is on,” said Michael Antonelli, managing director, institutional sales trading at Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee.

“Political headlines in the past few days have had very little impact on people’s thoughts around the markets.”

Financial stocks were down 0.25 percent, as the two-day Jackson Hole meet kicks off on Thursday.

At 9:57 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 11.11 points, or 0.04 percent, at 25,722.49, the S&P 500 was up 2.75 points, or 0.10 percent, at 2,864.57 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 28.18 points, or 0.36 percent, at 7,917.27.

Data showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week, a sign the labor market was holding firm despite trade tensions that have spawned restrictions on global commerce.

But U.S. meat producers have said increase in Chinese tariffs on beef and pork have led to domestic oversupply and forced price cuts for competing meat such as chicken.

Shares of Hormel Foods fell 2.8 percent and Sanderson Farms dropped 1.3 percent after the packaged food makers posted disappointing results, laying the blame partly on China tariffs.

Victoria’s Secret-owner L Brands dropped 9 percent, the most on the S&P, after cutting its full-year profit expectations.

Synopsys gained 6.7 percent, the most on the S&P, after the electronic products and software maker beat quarterly estimates for revenue and profit.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.60-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.02-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 14 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 85 new highs and 7 new lows.

(Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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