American Capitalism Is Fine, Thank You

The real debate is whether to accept the creative destruction at the heart of the free-market system.

Today, American Democrats have a more positive view of socialism than capitalism, and less than half of young adults have a positive view of capitalism. But the debate isn’t merely between left-wing socialists and right-wing capitalists. Even President Trump argues that capitalism generates prosperity abroad at the expense of American workers. Years of wage stagnation and diminished economic prospects have soured many Americans on the system that made the U.S. the world’s largest economy.

Compared with faster-growing economies in the developing world, America feels older, and not only because the elderly will soon outnumber children. Important parts of the economy, from smartphones and cellular carriers to airlines, resemble sluggish oligopolies more than dynamic marketplaces. Ever more sectors of the economy look like heavily regulated utilities that are at reduced risk of disruption or innovation. In health care, hospitals, physician groups and insurance companies are getting bigger and in some cases driving out competitors.

Sentencing Memo Paints Manafort as Someone Who ‘Repeatedly and Brazenly’ Broke Law

Federal prosecutors on Saturday portrayed Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, as a hardened, remorseless criminal who “repeatedly and brazenly” violated a host of laws over more than a decade and did not deserve any breaks when he is sentenced in coming weeks.

The prosecutors’ sentencing memo, filed in one of the most high-profile cases mounted by the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and unsealed on Saturday, painted a damning portrait of Mr. Manafort, 69, a political consultant who led Mr. Trump’s campaign during a critical five-month period in 2016.

The memo involved one of two federal cases against Mr. Manafort. Prosecutors did not recommend a sentence, instead citing sentencing guidelines of up to 22 years for a wide-ranging conspiracy involving obstruction of justice, money laundering, hidden overseas bank accounts and false statements to the Justice Department. But the two charges Mr. Manafort pleaded guilty to in the case carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

.. Over all, the prosecutors said, Mr. Manafort’s behavior “reflects a hardened adherence to committing crimes and lack of remorse.” Despite his age, they said he “presents a grave risk of recidivism.” They noted that under advisory sentencing guidelines, Mr. Manafort would face a sentence of 17 to 22 years.

.. The prosecutors reached far back into Mr. Manafort’s career in their efforts to portray him as a calculating lawbreaker. They noted that the Justice Department first warned him in 1986 about flouting the lobbying law known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.

At the time, Mr. Manafort was a director of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation under President Ronald Reagan, and he was faced with a choice: “either resign his political appointment” or “cease all his activities on behalf of foreign principals,” according to the filing.

He chose to resign.

But the prosecutors said that “in spite of these clear warnings and the personal ramifications to him for not adhering to the law, Manafort chose to violate the FARA statute and to get others to as well” in his Ukrainian lobbying.

Mr. Mueller’s team also made no recommendation on whether Mr. Manafort’s sentence in the Washington case should run concurrently with his sentence in the Virginia case. After a lengthy trial in Alexandria, Va., in August, a jury convicted Mr. Manafort of eight felonies including tax fraud and bank fraud — crimes prosecutors said Mr. Manafort committed “for no other reason than greed.”

Sentencing guidelines in that case would call for a prison term of 19 to 24 years.

The order of his sentencing dates may work against Mr. Manafort. He is scheduled to be sentenced first for the financial crimes by Judge T. S. Ellis III of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, and then by Judge Jackson in Washington.

Some allies of Mr. Manafort had hoped that Judge Ellis would have the last word because he seemed more sympathetic to the defense than Judge Jackson, and he might order the sentences to run concurrently.

 

Damage Control at Facebook: 6 Takeaways From The Times’s Investigation

In fall 2016, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, was publicly declaring it a “crazy idea” that his company had played a role in deciding the election. But security experts at the company already knew otherwise.

They found signs as early as spring 2016 that Russian hackers were poking around the Facebook accounts of people linked to American presidential campaigns. Months later, they saw Russian-controlled accounts sharing information from hacked Democratic emails with reporters. Facebook accumulated evidence of Russian activity for over a year before executives opted to share what they knew with the public — and even their own board of directors.

In 2015, when the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump called for a ban of Muslim immigrants, Facebook employees and outside critics called on the company to punish Mr. Trump. Mr. Zuckerberg considered it — asking subordinates whether Mr. Trump had violated the company’s rules and whether his account should be suspended or the post removed.

But while Mr. Zuckerberg was personally offended, he deferred to subordinates who warned that penalizing Mr. Trump would set off a damaging backlash among Republicans.

Mr. Trump’s post remained up.

As criticism grew over Facebook’s belated admissions of Russian influence, the company launched a lobbying campaign — overseen by Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer — to combat critics and shift anger toward rival tech firms.

Facebook hired Senator Mark Warner’s former chief of staff to lobby him; Ms. Sandberg personally called Senator Amy Klobuchar to complain about her criticism. The company also deployed a public relations firm to push negative stories about its political critics and cast blame on companies like Google.

Those efforts included depicting the billionaire liberal donor George Soros as the force behind a broad anti-Facebook movement, and publishing stories praising Facebook and criticizing Google and Apple on a conservative news site.

Facebook faced worldwide outrage in March after The Times, The Observer of London and The Guardian published a joint investigation into how user data had been appropriated by Cambridge Analytica to profile American voters. But inside Facebook, executives thought they could contain the damage. The company installed a new chief of American lobbying to help quell the bipartisan anger in Congress, and it quietly shelved an internal communications campaign, called “We Get It,” meant to assure employees that the company was committed to getting back on track in 2018.

Sensing Facebook’s vulnerability, some rival tech firms in Silicon Valley sought to use the outcry to promote their own brands. After Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, quipped in an interview that his company did not traffic in personal data, Mr. Zuckerberg ordered his management team to use only Android phones. After all, he reasoned, the operating system had far more users than Apple’s.

Washington’s senior Democrat, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, raised more money from Facebook employees than any other member of Congress during the 2016 election cycle — and he was there when the company needed him.

This past summer, as Facebook’s troubles mounted, Mr. Schumer confronted Mr. Warner, who by then had emerged as Facebook’s most insistent inquisitor in Congress. Back off, Mr. Schumer told Mr. Warner, and look for ways to work with Facebook, not vilify it. Lobbyists for Facebook — which also employs Mr. Schumer’s daughter — were kept abreast of Mr. Schumer’s efforts.

 

Related:

What Facebook Knew and Tried to Hide (28 min audio)

‘I like them very much:’ Trump has long-standing business ties with Saudis, who have boosted his hotels since he took office

For President Trump, Saudi Arabia is not just a political ally. It has also been a customer.

Trump’s business relationships with the Saudi government — and rich Saudi business executives — go back to at least the 1990s. In Trump’s hard times, a Saudi prince bought a superyacht and hotel from him. The Saudi government paid him $4.5 million for an apartment near the United Nations.

Business from Saudi-connected customers continued to be important after Trump won the presidency. Saudi lobbyists spent $270,000 last year to reserve rooms at Trump’s hotel in Washington. Just this year, Trump’s hotels in New York and Chicago reported significant upticks in bookings from Saudi visitors.

Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million,” Trump told a crowd at an Alabama campaign rally in 2015. “Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.

The Trump Organization issued a statement Thursday saying that although it has pursued new hotel deals in Saudi Arabia in the past, it has no current plans to do so.

.. Saudi royalty has been buying from Trump dating to 1995, with some of the deals coming during periods when Trump was in need of cash.

.. In 1991, when Trump was nearly $900 million in debt from failed casino projects, he sold his 281-foot yacht to Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal for $20 million.

.. A few years later, the prince bought a stake in Trump’s Plaza Hotel by agreeing to pay off some of Trump’s debts on the property.

.. Tim O’Brien, a journalist who wrote the 2005 biography “TrumpNation,” said these deals were one-sided — in the prince’s favor. He said Trump was in dire financial straits, so the prince got a good price.

.. But there was no indication, back then, that Saudis wanted to curry favor with Trump by giving him a better deal, O’Brien said. “Talal saw him as a profit center,” he said, “not as somebody who he was cultivating as a future president.”

.. In 2001, Trump sold the 45th floor of his Trump World Tower, in New York, to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for $4.5 million.

.. More recently, Prince Nawaf bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz al-Saud acquired what would become a 10,500-square-foot triplex apartment in a Trump building on the west side of Manhattan. Nawaf sold it in February for $36 million.

.. During Trump’s presidential campaign, he also seemed to be exploring plans to build a hotel in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city, part of an international expansion plan. In August 2015 — two months after he got into the race — Trump established eight new shell companies that included the name “Jeddah.”

.. The names of those corporations — four of which also included the word “hotel” — seemed to indicate Trump was planning a hotel in the city.

.. Since Trump won the presidency, Saudis have been patrons of three of his 11 Trump-branded hotels.

.. In early 2017, a lobbying firm working for the Saudi Embassy reported spending $270,000 on food and lodging at Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington. The rooms were used to house people visiting Washington to lobby against a law that the Saudi government opposed — a law that allows victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue the Saudi government.

.. the general manager at Trump’s hotel on Manhattan’s Central Park West

.. One major reason, General Manager Prince A. Sanders wrote: “a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”

Sanders told the investors that the Trump hotel’s Saudi guests did not include Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself because the hotel did not have a suite large enough to suit him. But, he said, “due to our close industry relationships, we were able to accommodate many of the accompanying travelers.”

.. Saudi bookings at Trump Chicago had gone from 81 “room-nights” in the first half of 2016 to 218 in the first half of this year — an increase of 169 percent. (In the same time frame, bookings from Saudi Arabia’s rival Qatar increased 1,633 percent, from three “room-nights” to 52).