bookmark_borderAre You a Very English Butler? The U.K. Government Needs You

LONDON — Of the current vacancies in the British government’s hundreds of job listings for policy and strategy advisers, one stands out. Wanted: two butlers.

Duties include delivering “the highest quality V.I.P. hospitality for all government departments and ministers” and managing the government’s wine cellar.

Maximum annual salary: 30,000 pounds (not quite $40,000).

Only British nationals need apply, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which advertised the roles.

It may seem somewhat anachronistic that butlers are still being hired, especially in an age when digital assistants such as Alexa and Siri are available to relieve the burden of household duties like buying groceries or switching off the lights.

But the status symbol has endured in Britain, a country that cherishes tradition and heritage.

Grant Harrold, former royal butler to Prince Charles and a co-founder of The Royal School of Butlers, explained that the government’s job description was broadly in line with the requirements of a 21st-century butler.

“If you watch ‘Downton Abbey,’ we like to think a butler wears a white tie, stands behind tables and chairs, looking the part,” Mr. Harrold said, referring to the hit television series. “The reality of a modern-day butler is that it is evolving into this hospitality role.”

But he wondered whether the government had knowingly played on British stereotypes in naming the role.

“The government is not asking for ‘house managers,’ but ‘butlers’ because it is a very British thing,” he said. “The government is saying: ‘We want to have our own British butler.’ It is a bit of a show.”

According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hub of Britain’s diplomacy and international relations, limiting applicants to British citizens follows the rules of the department as a whole. The position’s responsibilities include managing stock and items worth as much as £3 million, as well as ensuring the smooth running of food and drink service for events with as many as 350 guests.

Staying true to the intended role of a butler (the word is derived from an Old French term for “bottle bearer”), good knowledge of “fine wines” and food service is listed as a minimum requirement for the job, since the butlers must also take care of the government’s wine cellar.

Malcolm Rifkind, the British foreign secretary from 1995 to 1997, said that having a staff to supervise the government’s hospitality program was nothing out of the ordinary.

“There is not a single country in the world that would not offer that type of hospitality,” Mr. Rifkind said. He added that most national governments would employ someone to oversee events held for foreign dignitaries — though not all would officially be called butlers.

“It is perfectly normal to have a luncheon or dinner for visiting foreign minister or heads of state,” he said.

He explained that for such a formal occasion, wine would be served by hospitality workers. “You do not use diplomats to do that; it is not in their training,” Mr. Rifkind said. “It would be a waste of diplomats’ skills.”

Nestled among the business-jargon-filled job titles on the Civil Service website, the ad for “government butlers” is distinctive. The role is not new, and there are currently three government butlers on payroll.

Applicants are required to work odd hours and complete physically demanding tasks, but the maximum salary offered is only marginally better than the median annual income for a full-time worker in Britain: £29,574.

Mr. Harrold, the former royal butler, said that the salary offered by the government was average for a butler working in Britain and that the position offered other benefits.

“The people you look after and the reputation and experience you get from doing that is priceless,” he said.

If prospective applicants were deterred by the Foreign Office’s remuneration, they would not be the first.

Britain’s diplomatic service found itself at the bottom of the pile regarding pay packages in an annual government staff survey of 98 organizations: Only one in 10 of the department’s London-based employees said they felt positive about their pay, the office admitted to a parliamentary committee last year.

The Foreign Office said that 70 percent of employees who left jobs there had cited poor pay as the main reason for their departure.

The department has also been criticized for wasteful spending, when it emerged last month that it had spent almost $16 million to buy a full-floor penthouse apartment for one of its diplomats in New York. A spokesman for the Foreign Office defended the decision.

Though the need for a butler is somewhat rare, the government is not the only agency hiring for the old-fashioned role.

A job vacancy for a trainee butler appeared in January on the Royal Household website, where positions working for the British royal family are posted, offering a salary of £19,935 a year, plus benefits.

One of the perks: The position is based in Buckingham Palace, the official headquarters of the British monarchy, and is a live-in role.

The Foreign Office butlers are expected to find their own housing.

 

bookmark_borderCommuting While Pregnant: A Long Ride Could Be a Risky One

“It’s time for employers and politicians to recognize that pregnancy is hard.”

Avra Siegel, former deputy director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, in her 2016 Fortune essay, “The Brutal Truth About Being a Pregnant Worker”

It’s no secret that the United States lags the rest of the developed world when it comes to policies that support mothers and families. As former President Barack Obama put it in 2014: “Family leave. Child care. Flexibility. These aren’t frills. They’re basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be the bottom line.”

Five years and little progress later, we’re learning more and more about the toll inflexible work cultures have on new and expectant mothers.

Last fall, a New York Times investigation exposed the devastating cost of pregnancy discrimination on women in physically demanding jobs. Now, a new study has explored the dangers of a long commute on pregnant women and their unborn babies. The longer the commute, the study found, the worse the impact.

The study, recently published by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Lehigh University, suggests that women who travel 50 or more miles each way to work by car may be at a “much greater risk” of having low-birth-weight babies (under 5.5 pounds) as well as fetuses with intrauterine growth restriction — a condition, in which the fetus doesn’t grow as fast as expected, that’s generally associated with mothers who have diabetes, high blood pressure, malnutrition or infections including syphilis.

Worse, for every 10 miles of travel distance added to a long commute, the probability of low birth weight goes up by 0.9 percentage points and the probability of intrauterine growth restriction rises by 0.6 percentage points, according to the study, which looked at pregnant women in New Jersey (a state with some of the longest commute times in the nation).

It did not conclude what might be causing these adverse outcomes, but it found that pregnant women with long commutes were more likely to miss doctor appointments and delay treatment. Among these women, 15 percent skipped their first prenatal checkup or put off their first prenatal visit — some as late as their third trimester.

It also suggested that maternal stress, exacerbated by commuting, might be a factor.

The researchers said they hoped their work would lead to policy changes to expand maternity leave to include the prenatal period. For pregnant women with long commutes, time off can be “particularly important,” they wrote.

By the Numbers

13 percent

That’s how many Americans believe men are better suited emotionally for politics than most women, according to a new report from Georgetown University. That number is down considerably from 1975, when almost 50 percent of Americans doubted that women were emotionally fit for politics. Read the full report here.

What else is happening

Here are five articles from The Times you might have missed.

  • “At first, it all went according to script.” Brazil requires that at least 30 percent of each party’s candidates be women, but that did little to boost the participation of women. [Read the story]
  • “Misleading, falsely reassuring results from their incomplete testing can cost women’s lives.” Don’t count on 23andMe to detect most breast cancer risks, a study warns. [Read the story]
  • “A lot of girls ask me, ‘How do I get what I want?’ By asking.” Cardi B talks about financial literacy and how more women in beauty can “chase the bag.” [Read the story]
  • “They told me I was overreacting.” Patricia Ione Lloyd’s original play “Cold Hands Warm Heart” is a dystopian story about women’s health care, written for T Magazine’s Culture issue. [Read the story]
  • “The day that I flew on Air Force One with Bruce Springsteen was a biggie for me.” Helene Cooper talks about her experience as a Pentagon correspondent for The Times. [Read the story]

From the archives, 1973: ‘Women should no longer be afraid or ashamed.’

“The stress that our society places on the working mother is difficult to appreciate until you actually experience it,” Dr. Sally E. Shaywitz, a pediatrician, wrote in a 1973 New York Times Magazine article titled “Catch 22 for Mothers.”

In the article, Shaywitz described the climate for working mothers at the time, including the pressure to work like men in order to compete with men.

At a dinner that Shaywitz attended with female colleagues, for example, the conversation turned to boasts about who had been able to leave their baby the fastest and get back to work — an approach “applauded by the feminists” of the era, she wrote.

“In essence, we were telling each other what society had told us: If you want to mother and to work, your external gratification will be based on how much you can deny your maternal instincts,” she wrote.

In many ways, Shaywitz was ahead of her time, her thoughts more in line with feminism today. A mother’s desire to be with her child should be “acknowledged as a valid need,” she wrote. “Women should no longer have to go, head bowed, to their superiors asking for extra time off to be with their children.”

 

bookmark_borderHalf of England Is Owned by Less Than 1% of Its Population, Researcher Says

LONDON — Land ownership in England, a source of enormous wealth, is often shielded by a culture of secrecy harking back to the Middle Ages. But a researcher says that after years of digging, he has an answer:

Less than 1 percent of the population — including aristocrats, royals and wealthy investors — owns about half of the land, according to “Who Owns England,” a book that is to be published in May. And many of them inherited the property as members of families that have held it for generations — even centuries.

In the book, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, the author, Guy Shrubsole, an environmental activist and writer, identifies many of the owners and compiles data gathered by peppering public bodies with freedom of information requests and combing through the 25 million title records in the government’s Land Registry.

He reached a striking conclusion — that in England, home to about 56 million people, half the country belongs to just 25,000 landowners, some of them corporations.

The findings go to the heart of a potent political issue — economic inequality — that is roiling nations and feeding populist movements on multiple continents. Leaders of the opposition Labour Party seized on Mr. Shrubsole’s findings, first published this week in the newspaper The Guardian, as evidence for the case they have made for years against the governing Conservative Party.

“Don’t let anyone tell you our country doesn’t need radical change,” Jeremy Corbyn, the party leader, wrote on Twitter as he shared The Guardian’s article on Thursday.

Comparison to other developed countries is difficult, because they do not have national land registries. Records can be viewed only one at a time through hundreds of local registry officers, they are not fully open to the public and, as in the United States, ownership can be obscured through shell corporations.

But Britain has greater wealth inequality than peers like Germany, France, the Low Countries and Scandinavia — though less than the United States. And Britain has not seen the kinds of wars and revolutions that over centuries wiped away sprawling estates owned by nobility in most of Europe.

Who owns the “green and pleasant land” of the English countryside can be a well-kept secret, in part because a large segment of it does not even figure in public records. Government efforts to make a public accounting of land ownership date to the 19th century, but according to the Land Registry, about 15 percent of the country’s area, most of it rural, is still unrecorded.

“Much of the land owned by the Crown, the aristocracy, and the Church has not been registered, because it has never been sold, which is one of the main triggers for compulsory registration,” the registry, which covers England and Wales, says on its website.

Mr. Shrubsole began documenting England’s estates after the referendum on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, known as Brexit, in 2016. “If Brexit really meant ‘taking back control of our country,’ then I’d like at least to know who owns it,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Guardian a year after the vote.

Real estate prices in England are among the highest in Europe and have soared over the last generation. Mr. Shrubsole’s book documents ownership, maps unregistered land and argues that the concentration of ownership helps keep available land scarce and expensive.

Houses, stores, office buildings, schools and farms are often held under long-term leases, paying a steady stream of rents — directly or through intermediate leaseholders — to major landowners.

Mr. Shrubsole said that by publishing his research, he wanted to start a conversation.

“It should prompt a proper debate about the need for land reform in England,” Mr. Shrubsole said. The issue of land relates to the country’s housing crisis, to economic inequality, to climate change and the intensive use of farmland, he added.

The ancient idea that wealth meant land does not always hold true in modern times. But in Britain, land accounted for half of the country’s net worth in 2016, according to data from the Office of National Statistics — double that of Germany and higher than in countries like France, Canada and Japan.

Britain’s net worth more than tripled between 1995 and 2017, driven primarily by the value of land, which rose much faster than other kinds of assets.

“The main economic challenge and the social justice issue is that for the last 30, 40 years, landowners have enjoyed enormous unearned windfall gains at a faster rate than wages or the economy have grown,” said Josh Ryan-Collins, head of research at the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London.

“There is nothing that the landowners have done to earn those incomes,” he said.

Even agricultural land has become the object of speculative demand, pushing prices and gains for landowners up further, he said.

But even if land reform has not been on the agenda of the Conservative government, it has had to address the housing crisis and agricultural subsidies. Recently, Conservatives have focused their criticism on the European Union’s farming and forestry subsidy system, which has put aristocrats, the royal family and wealthy investors among the top recipients of taxpayer-funded aid.

Queen Elizabeth II’s estate in Sandringham, north of London, received £695,000 in aid in 2017, or more than $900,000, according to a public database of payments.

An agriculture bill, currently in Parliament, promises to change farm subsidies after Brexit. Instead of direct payments based on the total amount of land farmed, payments in the new system would be based on factors like contributions to the environment, animal welfare and public access to the property.

“As we know, many of the beneficiaries are not even U.K. or E.U. citizens, but foreign citizens who happen to have invested in agricultural land,” Michael Gove, Britain’s environment secretary, said during a debate on the bill in Parliament last year. “It is a simple matter of social justice and economic efficiency that we need to change that system.”

Most of the European Union is also grappling with concentrated ownership of farmland, though not to the same degree. A 2017 report by European Parliament lawmakers said that in 2010, 3 percent of farms controlled half the agricultural land with in the bloc.

“Agricultural land is not an ordinary traded good, as soil is nonrenewable and access to it is a human right,” the report said. “As with the concentration of financial wealth, too high a concentration of agricultural land splits society, destabilizes rural areas, threatens food safety and thus jeopardizes the environmental and social objectives of Europe.”

Scotland, where land ownership is in the hands of even fewer people and organizations, has enacted a set of land reform laws. In 2004, it abolished feudal rules that were still in effect, helping many longtime tenants to become outright owners of their land. Other legislation introduced the right to roam, giving the public access to vast privately held lands.

“The example of successful land reform programs in other countries, like Scotland, should give us hope,” Mr. Shrubsole wrote in his book. “Get land reform right, and we can go a long way towards ending the housing crisis, restoring nature and making our society more equal.”

 

bookmark_borderBetting on the Royal Baby

On the Paddy Power betting website, more than $325,000 hinged on a single unborn baby.

When will it arrive? What will its name be? The shortest odds were on (1) this week and (2) Diana.

But isn’t it kind of icky to put money down on a woman’s pregnancy? Even if that woman is Meghan Markle, arguably the most famous American in Britain, and definitely the best-known actress turned duchess there? Even if the baby is a Royal Baby?

“The idea of tens of thousands of strangers voting on the sex of your unborn baby is frankly bizarre, but it’s part of the buildup to a royal birth and an acceptable part of the narrative,” said Katie Nicholl, who comments on the royals for a living and wrote a book titled “Harry and Meghan: Life, Loss, and Love.”

She added: “It’s generally seen as harmless fun, and an age-old tradition that’s synonymous with royal births.”

It’s also a chance to make a lot of money off a newborn.

Last year’s wedding of Prince Harry and Ms. Markle — now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — was popular with gamblers. There were guesses about her dress (Givenchy), his beard (intact) and the weather (lovely).

But there are far more bets on Baby Sussex, who will be seventh in line to the throne. At the bookmaker William Hill, wagers are expected to reach $1.3 million. Another bookmaker, Boyle Sports, is taking bets on categories like the baby’s godparents and weight.

That’s more action than for each of the baby’s three royal cousins — the children of Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince William, Prince Harry’s brother — who are third through fifth in the succession lineup.

On the BookMaker.eu website, odds favor the baby’s being born in the morning on a Sunday, said Angus Hamilton, an entertainment specialist for the sports betting platform, who remembers similar wagers being placed when Princess Diana was pregnant.

The betting market for royal babies is not enormous, Mr. Hamilton said. On BookMaker.eu, there is less than $100,000 in related wagers, compared with the $1 million in bets that the Oscars sometimes draw on the day of the ceremony.

“It’s not college basketball or the Super Bowl, but it’s a bit of fun,” he said. “Royal babies are big news in the U.K., but people are excited about this one in particular.”

That’s why Tilletts, a jeweler in Norwich, is marking the birth by charging $5,500 for a jar of diaper rash cream. The lid is made of silver, engraved with the British and American flags and set with diamonds, inspired by “the sparkling warmth and charm of Meghan’s personality,” according to the company.

The proceeds will be sent to Ickle Pickles, a charity that provides intensive care equipment for premature babies.

Baby Sussex is expected to be an economic stimulus for British pubs, restaurants, souvenir shops and museums, with an uptick in tourists, especially from the United States, said Richard Haigh, the managing director of Brand Finance, a consulting firm. Last year, it estimated that the Sussex wedding fueled $1.5 billion in spending.

Immediately after the birth, sales of memorabilia and other baby-related products could reach nearly $100 million in Britain and the rest of Europe, with some related spending in North America, according to the Center for Retail Research in Norwich.

Stores in Britain have already geared up for a boom in baby-related spending.

Biscuiteers, a London company specializing in iced cookies, is marking Baby Sussex’s birth with a luxury biscuit tin of decorated sweet treats featuring crowns and baby onesies that customers can buy for 45 pounds, or about $59.

Sophie Allport, a British housewares brand, has designed a bone china mug adorned with American flags and Union Jacks. The baby’s name and date of birth will be applied to the inside rim of the mugs and delivered to customers after the birth.

Not on the High Street, an online gifts retailer, is making the most of the regal fanfare by putting together a page of “Royal-Baby-Worthy” gifts that it says will have babies feeling “like royalty.”

Brands will also be keeping an eye out to see if Baby Sussex makes an appearance wearing their products, the kind of endorsement that can clear stores out of cute children’s cardigans.

“From the day the pregnancy is announced, we see an increasing flow of traffic to the website and noticeable demand and searches online for classic and vintage-inspired clothing,” said Pepa Gonzàlez, founder of Pepa & Company. Her company made the outfits worn by the pageboy and flower girl at the 2017 wedding of Pippa Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister.

In the child’s first five years, the Center for Retail Research expects nearly $800 million in spending on Sussex-inspired children’s wear and infant products. In the first two years, more than $130 million of those purchases will come from the United States.

The Sussexes have had a complicated relationship with public attention and have opted to shun the traditional photo opportunity after the birth. In the past, these first moments in the glare of the press have also given the makers of the dresses and shawls adorning the mother and baby unparalleled publicity on newspaper front pages.

But Ms. Markle will not be in seclusion. In the waning weeks of the pregnancy, the Sussexes started an Instagram account, which they used to ask well-wishers to donate to charities rather than send baby gifts. The account garnered a million followers in less than six hours, far faster than the previous record holders: Pope Francis and the K-pop star Kang Daniel, according to Guinness World Records.

 

bookmark_border4 Tax Strategies That Could Make a Divorce Settlement Easier

Strip out the acrimony and emotion, and divorce can be boiled down to a business negotiation. Harsh as that may sound — there are often children stuck in the middle — when a couple gets down to completing their split, the numbers matter: assets, support, time allotted with children.

Divorce negotiations are never easy, and they became more complicated this year. The Republican lawmakers’ sweeping overhaul of the tax code changed many of the calculations that factor into the logistics of divorce.

Many Americans learned this year how tax changes affected their return, with some people owing more than they had expected. But others are realizing a slew of unforeseen consequences.

A few weeks back, I wrote about how a provision meant to spur companies to invest in equipment has also been an enormous tax break to business owners interested in buying a private plane. The revised tax code has brought similar surprises to couples going through a divorce, to the point where lawyers and financial advisers are suggesting their wealthier clients bring accountants into the mix to lay out the tax implications of age-old strategies.

Here are four strategies for taxpayers to consider:

Move alimony into a trust

It all started with the change in how alimony would be taxed. Lawyers last year warned clients in the midst of a divorce to hurry up. But like love, divorce cannot be rushed.

For divorces completed this year forward, the spouse paying alimony can no longer deduct the cost, as if it were a business expense, while the spouse receiving the money no longer has to claim it as income.

The reason for changing a provision of the tax code that dates to 1942 was that vastly more people claimed the deduction than reported the payment on their income tax. The revisions were a way for the Internal Revenue Service to make up the shortfall.

For individuals, the loss has made alimony payments more costly to the paying spouse because it eliminated a tax break that often served as a mechanism to bring about an agreement.

Take someone earning $300,000 a year who had to pay a third of that in alimony to a spouse who did not work. If that divorce was settled last year in a state with no state income tax, the paying spouse could deduct the full amount and be left with $157,250 after taxes, said Craig Richards, director of tax services at Fiduciary Trust Company International. This year, that person would be left with $123,126, or about $34,000 less.

On the other side, the receiving spouse, who would have paid $15,416 in taxes in a divorce settled last year, was able to keep the entire $100,000 tax-free this year.

The difference grows as income grows. Mr. Richards ran a similar projection with someone earning $2 million and paying out $400,000 in alimony. Because of the lost deduction, that divorce cost at least $120,000 more this year.

That increase, divorce lawyers said, has already slowed down negotiations. Peter R. Stambleck, a partner at the family law firm Aronson Mayefsky & Sloan, said that what he called “the legal spread where the government was eating the difference” in taxes often helped the two sides come to an agreement.

One way the wealthiest are looking to get around this change is by setting up trusts for their former spouses that will pay out income equivalent to the alimony but without the tax burden. There’s a bit of a science to setting up these entities, called grantor trusts, and an art to persuading the receiving spouse to pay taxes on the money paid out.

The trusts need to be funded with assets that will generate income as a substitute to the alimony payment and established after the divorce has been finalized, or else the spouse funding it will be responsible for the taxes, said Eugene Pollingue Jr., a partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr. “It’s not alimony,” he said. “It’s a property settlement, and that’s tax-free.”

To sell it to the spouse who will then have to pay taxes on the distribution, Mr. Pollingue said, the trust ensures payments continue even if the paying spouse dies — alimony stops at death — and whatever is left when the receiving spouse dies can go to heirs.

Some accountants caution that the technique is too aggressive.

“Let’s say you created a trust for the benefit of a spouse, and you’re guaranteeing $2,000 a month,” said Carrie Baron, a certified public accountant and co-founder of the accounting firm Baron Strohmenger. “The I.R.S. could say that’s just disguised alimony.”

Others complain that such trusts are another tax provision that favors the ultrawealthy.

“If you don’t have a lot of property to split up, you’re going to have to pay alimony, and now you’re going to have to do it in after-tax dollars,” said Christina M. Baltz, partner at the law firm Withers. “To a certain extent, you can say this is another Trump tax change that’s hit the middle class and not the upper class.”

Sell the family home

The limitations on state and local tax deductions surprised many who saw their tax bill go up. When it comes to divorce, that limitation can turn the home, a prime marital asset, into a hot potato.

Until this year, the spouse with less money would often want to keep the marital home for the children, but doing so now has become more costly, said Alvina Lo, chief wealth strategist at Wilmington Trust.

In one example Ms. Lo’s group worked on, a spouse who earned $70,000 got the house, worth $1.5 million, while the other spouse kept an equivalent amount of liquid assets. But with property taxes of $25,000 a year that were no longer fully deductible, the client’s tax bill increased by 25 percent. She had to sell.

“When you’re counseling clients, they feel like they can control their spending and the money going out, but when you show them their number, this is not discretionary spending,” Ms. Lo said. “These are hard dollars you owe Uncle Sam regardless of your expenses.”

In a high-property-tax state like New Jersey, some divorcing couples are looking to get rid of second homes as well, said Sandra C. Fava, a partner in Fox Rothschild’s family law group.

“People have vacation homes at the Jersey Shore, and now they’ve lost the deduction for property taxes on their main home and second home,” she said. “That’s caused a real difference to their finances.”

Some states, like New York, further complicate the process by having a set of standards that were created when alimony and state and local taxes were deductible on federal tax returns. The standards are meant to protect spouses with less money and create a framework to equitably distribute assets. The deductions have changed, but the standards have not — and aren’t likely to.

The New York guidelines “were heavily negotiated,” Mr. Stambleck said. “It was too cumbersome a process to think it will happen again. We’re stuck with a state statute that doesn’t conform with federal statute.”

But in a twist, New York State stills allows a deduction for alimony.

Negotiate the value of dependents

The tax value of children in a divorce was also changed in the tax overhaul. So, too, has the value of spending time with them, particularly if they are college bound.

In financial terms, children have become a smaller deduction. The exemption for each dependent — $4,050 per person — was eliminated, but the child tax credit was increased to $2,000 from $1,000.

That credit starts to phase out at $200,000 of income for an individual and disappears at $240,000. This matters because it can be used as a negotiating tool in a divorce. The credits can be given to the spouse with lower income in exchange for a break elsewhere in the negotiations, said William P. Allen, principal at the Brisbane Consulting Group.

A more valuable financial break may come with the amount of time children spend with each parent. Children spending more time with the spouse earning less could tip the scales when it comes to financial aid down the road, Mr. Richards said.

If a family uses the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, the income of the parent who has the children more often will be given more weight in the aid decision, he said.

“You might want to give the spouse who makes less money a day more or a week more so the tiebreaker goes to them,” he said. “There’s the potential they might be eligible for financial aid.”

Practice before filing

Advisers say the only way to have some sort of certainty is to do a practice, or pro forma, tax filing.

“It’s not only one thing that changed in tax reform,” Ms. Lo said. “You really need to factor in everything. You have to know how it’s going to impact your spending going forward.”

And that advice goes for people who are in the midst of a divorce. Ms. Fava is working on a divorce where the couple filed their taxes jointly but owe $7,000 more than they did last year.

“Had information been exchanged at the right time, I might have asked them to run the return both ways,” she said. “I wonder what the return would have been had they filed separately. They might have had a lesser overall burden.”

Now, they have just one more thing to fight over.

 

bookmark_borderAncestry.com Apologizes for Ad Showing Slavery-Era Interracial Couple

The genealogy company Ancestry.com has apologized and taken down a video advertisement that seemed to romanticize slavery in the antebellum South.

The ad depicts a white man in clothing from the 1800s holding out a ring to a black woman and beckoning her to run away with him. “Abigail, we can escape to the North,” he says. “There is a place we can be together, across the border. Will you leave with me?”

The screen fades to black. “Uncover the lost chapters of your family history with Ancestry,” a voice-over says.

The ad aired on television stations in Utah early this month, but it drew a flurry of criticism on social media on Thursday after it was discovered on YouTube. Many critics said it whitewashed the nature of sexual relations between white men and black women during that time period.

The uproar prompted the company, which is based in Lehi, Utah, and offers DNA testing to help people research their genetic roots, to issue an apology.

“Ancestry is committed to telling important stories from history,” Gina Spatafore, an Ancestry.com spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “This ad was intended to represent one of those stories. We very much appreciate the feedback we have received and apologize for any offense that the ad may have caused. We are in the process of pulling the ad from television and have removed it from YouTube.”

Ms. Spatafore declined to elaborate further. But, according to a report in The Salt Lake Tribune, the online ad was originally targeted at Ancestry.com’s Canadian audience. Many people who escaped slavery fled to Northern states or went farther, crossing the border into Canada. The journey, though, was perilous, with escaped slaves beaten or killed if they were captured. Some made their escape via the Underground Railroad, a network of people who offered shelter as slaves made their way north.

Sexual relations between white men and black women during that era often involved rape, given that Southern slave owners treated the women as property and the women had no power to protest advances. Women who had to acquiesce to their owners’ demands sometimes bore them children of mixed race. Most famously, Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman, had several children with Thomas Jefferson, the former president and a slave owner.

The backlash to the ads on social media was swift.

“These are not love stories,” Kimberly Atkins, a senior news correspondent for the Boston radio station WBUR and an MSNBC contributor, wrote on Twitter.

Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University, wondered if the ad had tested well with focus groups. She asked on Twitter, “Was there no other scenario that could illuminate the value of DNA testing?”

 

bookmark_borderHow Luxury Developers Use a Loophole to Build Soaring Towers for the Ultrarich in N.Y.

Some of the tallest residential buildings in the world soar above Central Park, including 432 Park Avenue, which rises 1,400 feet and features an array of penthouses and apartments for the ultrarich.

But 432 Park also has an increasingly common feature in these new towers: swaths of unoccupied space. About a quarter of its 88 floors will have no homes because they are filled with structural and mechanical equipment.

The building and nearby towers are able to push high into the sky because of a loophole in the city’s labyrinthine zoning laws. Floors reserved for structural and mechanical equipment, no matter how much, do not count against a building’s maximum size under the laws, so developers explicitly use them to make buildings far higher than would otherwise be permitted.

The towers benefiting the most from the zoning quirk have all sprouted during the past half-decade: enormous glass and steel buildings with lavish condominiums that sell for millions of dollars. Many line the blocks around Central Park, some of the most expensive and coveted real estate in the city, and have become second homes for Chinese billionaires, European tycoons and out-of-state hedge fund investors.

But the proliferation of these buildings is provoking a backlash amid a broader debate about affordable housing, megaprojects for the ultrarich and the city’s identity. Now, officials are seeking to rein in developers by proposing rules that would apply unusually large mechanical spaces toward a building’s height limit.

The motivation to build tall is obvious: panoramic views for residents and hefty profits for developers. A 95th floor condominium at 432 Park Avenue sold in December for $30.7 million, or about $7,592 a square foot. That same month, a unit about halfway down the building sold for $4,216 a square foot.

“It’s pretty outrageous, but it’s also pretty clever,” said George M. Janes, a planning consultant who has tracked and filed challenges against buildings in New York with vast unoccupied spaces. “What is the primary purpose of these spaces? The primary purpose is to build very tall buildings.”

The effort by the city to curb building heights has ignited a showdown with the powerful real estate industry, which has criticized the proposed rules as overly restrictive and misguided.

Harry B. Macklowe, who developed 432 Park Avenue, said he agrees with the effort to establish firm rules around mechanical spaces, but he rejected claims that his building was using them to rise higher. Every mechanical floor, he said, has equipment necessary for the building to function.

“It offends me,” Mr. Macklowe said, “because we created a very nice building that fits into the skyline perfectly.”

[Read more: Our columnist wrote that these towers “cast shadows that are both literal and figurative.”]

Many of these towers stay vacant most of the year, so their owners are not subject to local and state income taxes because they are not city residents. As a result, the state and city have already begun a separate crackdown on them.

State lawmakers proposed a pied-à-terre tax, an annual recurring tax on second homes valued at more than $5 million, but it was derailed under intense lobbying from real estate groups. Instead, lawmakers embraced a one-time fee on the sale of multimillion-dollar homes.

New York City’s complicated building regulations are meant to produce predictable developments. Height requirements are imposed in most of the city, though parts of Manhattan are exempt. Every block is also effectively assigned a maximum square footage, which can be spread across smaller buildings on a block or condensed in larger developments.

Savvy, well-heeled and patient developers have worked that system to their benefit. A developer seeking to build a supertall tower might start with one lot on a block and then buy unused square footage from its neighbors.

With advancements in engineering and construction, that developer can take the accumulated square footage and concentrate it in a skinny mega-tower. Floors of mechanical space, exempt from the square footage calculations, make the tower even taller.

“There is no question that they have become this lightning rod because they are not just luxury housing but uber-luxury housing,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the Municipal Art Society, a nonprofit group that seeks to preserve the city’s architecture and urban design. She said they were unaffordable not only for the 99 percent but also for most of the 1 percent.

The city’s proposal aimed at supertall buildings — which needs to be approved by the City Council — would not eliminate enormous mechanical spaces but would penalize projects that have them.

Oversized mechanical floors — those greater than 30 feet tall, or about three times the size of a typical apartment’s ceiling height — would be counted toward the building’s maximum size. The rules would largely apply to developments around Central Park and in parts of Lower Manhattan.

Two other cities with skyscrapers, Chicago and Miami, have similar zoning codes but regulate mechanical floors differently.

In Chicago, big empty spaces — those greater than 5,000 square feet — are not counted toward the tower’s overall size, though officials said they knew of no complaints about developers exploiting the rule. In Miami, mechanical spaces are subtracted from the maximum size unless the area is an atrium or an open-air feature.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the proposed rules would “stop luxury developers from gaming the system.”

“Artificially tall mechanical spaces that serve no purpose but to boost views of top-floor apartments violate the spirit of our zoning regulations,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement.

But the Real Estate Board of New York, the industry’s influential lobbying arm, said the rules were too restrictive and at odds with engineering trends, such as the future need for large spaces for batteries to support renewable energy.

At a recent public hearing, engineers and architects said the proposal would drive up the cost of construction.

Bart A. Sullivan, an engineer in New York who has worked on high rises around the world, said supertall skyscrapers need large unoccupied floors for complex mechanical and structural equipment, including elevator motors, heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Developers, he said, could work within the proposed restrictions but would have to spend more on structural features.

“Most anything is possible if you throw enough money at it, but these projects have to make sense from an economic point of view,” Mr. Sullivan said. “They are tying the hands of the design professionals.”

There are legitimate reasons for large areas in buildings for mechanical and structural features, he said. At 432 Park Avenue, clusters of unoccupied sections throughout the tower allow wind to flow through and stabilize the building.

That tower’s structural engineer, Silvian Marcus, said that without the large, open-air mechanical floors, 432 Park Avenue would noticeably sway and be unacceptable to residents.

“When they come home, they want to feel like they are at home and not like they are on a boat, airplane or motorcycle,” he said.

Mr. Marcus used a similar engineering technique at Central Park Tower, which at 1,550 feet tall will be among the most slender residential skyscrapers in the world. More than a fifth of its height will remain unoccupied.

The developer of the building, Gary Barnett, said he believed the city’s proposal was reasonable, but he said that critics had mischaracterized the mechanical spaces in Central Park Tower.

“There is one void and everything else is truly necessary mechanical space, amenity space and high-ceiling retail space for the first Nordstrom in New York City,” Mr. Barnett said.

Some supporters of the new legislation argue that the rules do not go far enough to curb supertall buildings. They would largely apply to neighborhoods around Central Park and would not touch other areas with high rises, including Midtown and Hudson Yards.

City planners first noticed the trend of using mechanical spaces in new buildings several years ago.

But a turning point emerged over the past year and a half when Rafael Viñoly Architects, which designed 432 Park Avenue, unveiled plans for another building, a futuristic, barbell-shaped 32-story residential tower on the Upper East Side. It would top out at 510 feet tall, thanks to a 150-foot-tall midsection devoid of residences.

Neighborhood associations, along with Mr. Janes, the planning consultant, filed a complaint with the city’s Department of Buildings, noting that “the project includes a huge void, which is larger than necessary for any mechanical use.”

But without changes in building rules the tower would be likely to avoid legal challenges: The developers described the super large midsection as an open area with structural features.

 

bookmark_borderIndia Elections 2019: Farmers Are Hurting and Millions Are Voting

NASHIK, India — Fed up with unfulfilled government promises to improve their lives, 35,000 farmers came in from their fields around the city of Nashik last year and marched 100 miles to Mumbai to demand help.

State leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party quickly promised to address their concerns — guaranteeing better crop prices, waiving farm loans and improving other assistance — and then quickly sent them home. But for many, things only got worse.

Now, as India holds the world’s biggest election and Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party seeks another five years in power, hundreds of millions of farmers will have the chance to express their frustration at the ballot box.

They are a big and suffering constituency: More than half of India’s 1.3 billion people still depend in some way on farming, even though agriculture accounts for only 17 percent of the economy. The country has struggled to create new jobs in manufacturing and services to make rural families less dependent on the land.

Government policies under Mr. Modi and the B.J.P. have complicated matters. Worried about the bouts of double-digit food inflation that hurt the previous government, the B.J.P. has focused on maintaining low consumer prices by encouraging production, curbing exports and promoting imports.

After several years of drought that had left many growers with big losses, the supply of crops like onions and legumes exploded last year, sending prices plunging. That was a godsend for many poor Indians. But farmers suffered, and the government largely reneged on promises to buy their crops at prices high enough to ensure a profit.

“In the name of the poor, you have robbed the farmer,” said Ashok Gulati, a prominent Indian agricultural economist who has occasionally advised the current government. Now, B.J.P. candidates “are facing the music,” he said.

With the voting underway across India, both the B.J.P. and its main rival, the Indian National Congress, are urgently courting farmers. Mr. Modi has reiterated his 2016 promise to double farmers’ incomes by 2022, while his Congress rival, Rahul Gandhi, has pledged a nationwide loan waiver and more nonfarm work for people living in rural areas.

Tukaram Namdeo Gaikwad, one of the farmers from Nashik who marched to Mumbai last year, was unimpressed.

“They talk about the farmers’ welfare, but they don’t do anything,” he said during a rally for Jiva Pandu Gavit, the lone Communist in the Maharashtra state legislature. Mr. Gaikwad said he would vote for Mr. Gavit, who helped lead the 2018 march and is now trying to wrest a seat in Parliament from the B.J.P.

A spokesman for the state of Maharashtra in Mumbai said that the government had made progress on farmers’ demands, including granting titles to farm public land to 43,600 people, purchasing legumes and soybeans from nearly 93,000 growers, and approving new irrigation projects.

As proof of his commitment to the rural poor, Mr. Modi has also pointed during his campaign to his national programs to bring electricity, toilets and health care to everyone.

But Mr. Modi has also acknowledged his government’s failures to meet farmers’ expectations. Campaigning in Uttar Pradesh last month, he admitted that the government owed sugar-cane growers in the state more than $1.4 billion in unpaid price guarantees and vowed to make it right.

In December, onion prices fell as low as a penny per pound, prompting one grower near Nashik, Sanjay Sathe, to send Mr. Modi the 1,064 rupees — about $15 — that he received for a whole truckload.

Mr. Sathe said this month that the government announces many aid programs, such as fertilizer subsidies and minimum sale prices, yet farmers never seem to reap the benefits. “Those schemes cannot be implemented on the ground,” he said.

Crop insurance, which planters must buy to get a bank loan, has enriched insurers even as farmers complain that their payments are often delayed or too small when their crops are wiped out. And even Mr. Modi’s pre-election program to give small landholders 6,000 rupees per year — about $87 — has not yet reached most people, farmers said.

Meanwhile, many farm families are struggling with debt. One banker in Nashik estimated that nearly half of the farm loans outstanding were not being repaid.

The state’s loan waiver program provides little relief to the neediest farmers since it forgives just a sliver of their total debts.

In desperate times, some farmers have turned to suicide, troubling local officials. In Nashik district, where the main crop is onions, 108 farmers killed themselves last year, up sharply from 2014, officials said. The deaths have continued this year.

Early on March 7, Bhausaheb Shivaji Kalkar, 44, hanged himself from a tree in his front yard — the third farmer in his small village to kill himself in the past five years.

Mr. Kalkar had amassed debts of more than one million rupees, or about $14,000, as he tried to switch his two-acre farm to grapes from onions and soybeans. While grapes require less water and can command high prices, the transition requires heavy investment and a wait of three years for the first harvest.

In Mr. Kalkar’s case, said his widow, Hirabi, their first crop was destroyed by a hailstorm, and their second fetched low prices amid a grape glut. One day before he killed himself, the bankers visited. “They threatened to seize the land,” Ms. Kalkar said, sitting forlornly on the floor of their two-room house, a photo of her husband hanging on the wall.

Like most of their neighbors, the family survives by picking up casual work beyond the farm. Her 19-year-old son, Pravin, earns about $100 a month pumping gasoline.

No politician seems to be offering a solution to the Kalkars’ problems. Pravin said he did not know whom he would vote for when Nashik goes to the polls on April 29, although the family usually favors Shiv Sena, a right-wing party allied with the B.J.P.

Economists say the best way to provide immediate farm relief would be for the government to eliminate its maze of agricultural subsidies and instead provide direct cash support to rural families.

Longer term, they argue, tens of millions of people must move off the land and into manufacturing and service jobs — the model followed by China, Southeast Asia and much of Latin America to modernize their economies.

“You have to create more jobs outside agriculture,” said Pramod Joshi, director for South Asia at the International Food Policy Research Institute in New Delhi.

During his last campaign, Mr. Modi promised to add 10 million jobs. The economy has most likely fallen short of that target, although by how much is unknown, since the government has blocked the release of official employment data, claiming that it is unreliable.

Manish Rawal, director of V.M. Auto Parts in Nashik and a leader of the local industry trade group, said that the number of jobs in the urban area, which has about 1.5 million residents, had fallen since early 2018.

He has seen the decline firsthand in orders for the vehicle transmission parts he provides to tractor and truck makers. “Commercial vehicle sales are declining,” Mr. Rawal said.

Nashik’s major industries have long included global drug makers like GlaxoSmithKline and electrical equipment makers like Siemens. But in recent years, development stagnated, and efforts to lure defense and technology companies have brought only slow progress, Mr. Rawal said.

One alternative is to create more agribusinesses like Sahyadri Farms, a food processing company outside the city that is owned by its more than 6,600 member farmers.

One morning in early April, about 1,400 people were on Sahyadri’s factory floor washing green and black table grapes and packing them into plastic containers. By the end of the day, 19 tons of grapes were on their way to customers in Europe, the Middle East and China.

While grapes represented more than 70 percent of the company’s $50 million in sales last year, Sahyadri also runs fruit-and-vegetable stores in Maharashtra, sells wholesale, and packages concentrates and frozen foods.

The company guarantees to buy produce at a fair price from its member farmers, who share in the profits. Sahyadri provides advice, sells supplies like fertilizer, lines up loans and even sends trained pickers to harvest the best grapes for export.

“Ultimately, this value chain has to be controlled by the farmers,” said Tushar Jagtap, the company’s senior manager for farm operations.

One of the farmers working with Sahyadri, Dilip Patade, said the firm had done well by him. But other problems remain. Tomato farmers in his village were devastated by a 78 percent drop in prices last year, and the government still cannot supply steady electricity to homes here.

Mr. Patade said he has not decided how he will vote on election day. In 2014, he cast his ballot for the B.J.P., hoping that its campaign slogan — “good days” — would come true.

Five years later, he asked, “Where are the ‘good days’ for farmers?”

Maria Abi-Habib contributed reporting from New Delhi.

 

bookmark_borderHe Stopped a Global Cyberattack. Now He’s Pleading Guilty to Writing Malware.

LONDON — A British security researcher who was hailed as a hero for helping to stop a global “ransomware” cyberattack in 2017 has pleaded guilty to charges in the United States of writing malicious software in a separate case.

The researcher, Marcus Hutchins, was arrested at the Las Vegas airport in 2017, as he was on his way back to Britain from a conference.

“As you may be aware, I’ve pleaded guilty to two charges related to writing malware in the years prior to my career in security,” Mr. Hutchins, known online as MalwareTech, said in a statement on his website on Friday. “I regret these actions and accept full responsibility for my mistakes.”

Mr. Hutchins faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each of the charges, according to United States court documents.

In February, an American judge refused an application from Mr. Hutchins to suppress a statement he made at the Las Vegas Airport after his arrest, when he said he had been intoxicated, the BBC reported.

In 2017, a federal grand jury in the United States returned a six-count indictment against Mr. Hutchins. The indictment said Mr. Hutchins, then 23, and an unidentified accomplice conspired to create and sell malware intended to steal login information and other financial data from online banking sites.

A version of the program, known as Kronos banking Trojan and created by Mr. Hutchins, was sold by the accomplice for $2,000 in June 2015, the indictment said. But the document did not include details of how widely the malware was used.

The government has said it will move to dismiss the remaining charges in exchange for Mr. Hutchins’s guilty plea.

The global cyberattack that Mr. Hutchins helped stop disrupted Britain’s National Health Service and hundreds of other organizations worldwide, spreading to more than 70 countries. It used a variant of WannaCry, a piece of malicious software that locks victims out of their systems and demands ransoms. Mr. Hutchins was credited with disabling it.

In a blog post at the time, he explained that he had noticed the malicious software trying to contact a particular internet address, discovered the address was unregistered and bought it, which turned out to trigger a “kill switch” in the software.

Researchers at Symantec, a security company, attributed the attack at the time to a team of hackers known as the Lazarus Group, which United States intelligence experts say is most likely linked to North Korea. The attack used computer vulnerabilities revealed in documents leaked from America’s National Security Agency.

“Having grown up, I’ve since been using the same skills that I misused several years ago for constructive purposes,” Mr. Hutchins said in his statement on Friday about his work as a security researcher. “I will continue to devote my time to keeping people safe from malware attacks,” he added.