Aleksandr Kogan speaks!

Here's what that now-notorious "Russian-American academic" has to say about his background, his relationship with Cambridge Analytica, and—not least—the ludicrous (and bigoted) insinuation by the New York Times and Guardian that he must be a Russian spy, although he isn't Russian or a spy.

My thanks to FB friend John Schoneboom for contacting Prof. Kogan—and the latter for allowingme to send out his reply.

MCM

A call to purge our schools of “harmful” literary classics

From that citadel of free speech: Qatar.

MCM

It’s time to diversify and decolonise our schools’ reading lists

We don’t need to teach books that capitalise on inaccurate stereotypes and vulgar tropes about marginalised communities.

by Anjali Enjeti

Recently, a Duluth school district in Minnesota decided to drop Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” from its required reading list because of the books’ use of the n-word (The books will remain on a list that students have the option of reading). While this is an important step in the right direction, it barely scratches the surface of a more deeply troubling issue. Many white-authored classics are racist and damaging to students of colour, and their usage of racial slurs is merely the tip of the iceberg for why texts such as these should be left off of literature syllabi.

Both “Huck Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” incorporate the common white-saviour/”magical negro or native” trope whereby indigenous, brown and black characters exist as mere devices to help white characters attain moral enlightenment. Jim in “Huck Finn” and Tom Robinson in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” like other indigenous, black and brown characters in the predominantly white-authored literary canon, are flat and grossly stereotypical. They lack their own agency, autonomy and humanity, and exist in deplorable conditions only to be pitied by more vividly drawn white characters, victims whose victimhood is the crux of the frequently employed white saviour plot. The more helpless these characters are, the greater, more courageous, more impressive the white saviour’s rescue seems.

Some critics argue that the Duluth school district’s decision was a mistake because “Huck Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” teach students about racism. This is only the case, of course, if by “students” we mean white students. Indigenous, brown and black students don’t learn anything about racism written from the oppressor’s point of view, and the portrayal of such flagrant racism hardly reflects the reality of what many indigenous and students of colour endure in their daily lives.

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What’s “liberal” about NYU?

New York University: A center of militarism, mass surveillance and censorship

Part 1: NYU and the preparations of US imperialism for world war

By the IYSSE at NYU
19 March 2018

This is the first in a three-part series.

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/03/19/nyu1-m19.html

As thousands of high school students tour the country looking at prospective colleges to attend in the fall semester, many remain unaware of the transformation of numerous academic institutions into centers for military research and training.

New York University (NYU), one of the most prestigious and expensive institutions in the United States, likes to present itself as liberal and “diverse,” and as an “institution without walls.” Many of the school’s departments, including history, sociology or anthropology, count leading representatives of postmodernism and identity politics among their faculty, and the promotion of race and gender as having primacy over class is, in many ways, the official school ideology.

However, behind this surface of “diversity” lie extensive ties to big business, the Democratic Party and the military. As this series will demonstrate, NYU is now closely integrated into the preparations for war against both Russia and China, and, along with that, in the efforts of both the state and the major corporations to conduct mass surveillance and censor free speech on the Internet.

Part 1: NYU and the preparations of US imperialism for world war

NYU was one of the earliest universities to embrace the deepening collaboration between higher education and the US state in the “war on terror.” In 2004, the university was one of the founding members of the Homeland Security-Homeland Defense Education Consortium (HSDECA), run by US Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), established under the Bush administration to provide military support to police within the United States.

In a question and answer session held in April 2004, the HSDECA deputy of education and training, Stan Supinski, explained that the role of the consortium was to promote programs related to homeland security and to tap into academia to help “level the playing field for homeland security and homeland defense the same way it leveled the field during the Cold War.”

NYU as a Cold War University

NYU’s ties to the state go back to the Cold War, in which it helped US imperialism fight against the Soviet Union. The university played an exceptional role as an ideological base for liberal anti-communism.

During this period, NYU developed deep and lasting ties to the Ford Foundation. Established in 1936 through a donation from the founding family of the Ford Motor Company, the Ford Foundation has been known for decades for its close collaboration with the US state and military. Frances Stonor Saunders, a British historian of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), wrote in The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters that the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations were “conscious instruments of covert US policy, with directors and officers who were closely connected to, or even members of American intelligence.”

Both the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations were key instruments in establishing the so called “Cold War University,” in which academics, especially in the departments of physics, mathematics, politics and history, and the newly emerging field of international relations, placed their work at the disposal of the American state.

According to historian Udi Greenberg, “…the Cold War became an enduring presence on US campuses. Rather than demobilizing after World War II, professors, philanthropists, and state officials only tightened their cooperation. The US government forcefully encouraged this mission, pouring millions into new teaching programs, language training, and academic research agendas. Intellectuals and scholars who produced policy-relevant knowledge gained access to enormous funding, classified information, and open government positions. The global struggle with communism solidified universities’ new role as engines for domestic mobilization, government service, and assertive diplomacy.” (Udi Greenberg, The Weimar Century: German Emigres and the Ideological Foundations of the Cold War, Princeton University Press 2014, p. 56)

NYU was no exception to this development.

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“Assad preparing for a major US military attack”

This will be news to you, if you get your "news" from the NYTimes et al. 

MCM

Arabic press review: Assad preparing for a major US military attack

March 19, 2018

Russian troops have already been deployed to ‘critical locations’ to deter Washington while mysterious Arab country helps Jews immigrate to Israel

Damascus has taken a series of measures to prepare for an anticipated US military strike, Western diplomats told Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

The measures were decided on Saturday during a meeting of the National Security Council, chaired by President Bashar al-Assad, which included military and security leaders.

As part of the government’s preparations, letters were sent to Russia and Iran to request additional protection and Russian army troops have reportedly already been deployed to “critical locations” in order to deter Washington, one diplomat told the paper.

Russian troops may also be sent to protect civilian and military government institutions. It was also reported that the United Nations has moved staff, including diplomats, from particular areas of concern.

UK scientists refused to say that Russia made that dose of “novochuk

And it turns out that Iran was the first nation to synthesize it successfully, in 2016.

Craig Murray's three new pieces are invaluable. 

MCM
UK Scientists Refused Government Pressure To Say Nerve Agent Was Made By Russia
Boris Johnson Attempt to Refute My Sources on Porton Down the Most Hilarious Fail
By Craig Murray

March 18, 2018

Information Clearing House – The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has issued a statement to refute my report fromwell-placed FCO sources that the British government continually re-uses the phrase “of a type developed by Russia” because its own scientists refused government pressure to say the nerve agent was made by Russia, and as getting even agreement to “of a type developed by” was bloody, the government has to stick to precisely that rather odd choice of phrase.

This is the official British Government statement:

“We have no idea what Mr Murray is referring to. The Prime Minister told MP’s on Monday that world leading experts at Porton Down had positively identified this chemical agent. It is clear that it is a military grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. None of that is in any doubt”.

Which is perhaps the most hilarious fail in the history of refutation.

The BBC sprung that statement on me during a live interview on Radio 5 last night. They also sprung on me a statement by the Israeli Embassy and were attempting to lead me into accusing Israel of the attack. But even the BBC interviewer, Stephen Nolan, was flummoxed by the rubbish he had been given from the FCO. Here is an extract from that part of the interview:

Stephen Nolan: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have said to us tonight: “We have no idea what Mr Murray is referring to. The Prime Minister told MP’s on Monday that world leading experts at Porton Down had positively identified this chemical agent. It is clear that it is a military grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. None of that is in any doubt”. Well, you’ve already covered that Craig and you are zoning in on the fact that they are saying “developed by Russia”, they are unable to say whether it’s made – well they are not saying whether it was actually manufactured in Russia or the source of it or whether it was from Russia, right?”

Craig Murray Yes, exactly. No-one doubts that the Russians had the idea of making these things first, and worked on developing the idea. It has always been doubted up till now that they really succeeded. The Iranians succeeded under OPCW supervision some time ago and the chemical formulae were published to the whole world twenty years ago. So many states could have done it. The “of a type developed by Russia” thing means nothing, undoubtedly.

You can hear the whole interview here beginning about 5 minutes in.

First Recorded Successful Novichok Synthesis was in 2016 – By Iran, in Cooperation with the OPCW 250 

By Craig Murray

The line that novichoks can only be produced by Russia is now proven to be a complete lie. As I previously proved by referencing their publications, in 2013 the OPCW scientific advisory committee note the evidence was sparse that novichoks had ever been successfully produced, and that was still the line being published by Porton Down in 2016. You can find the hard evidence of all that here.

I have now been sent the vital information that in late 2016, Iranian scientists set out to study whether novichoks really could be produced from commercially available ingredients. Iran succeeded in synthesising a number of novichoks. Iran did this in full cooperation with the OPCW and immediately reported the results to the OPCW so they could be added to the chemical weapons database.

“Social media” is a (propaganda) euphemism, like “Department of Defense,” or “the intelligence community”

Edward Snowden: Facebook is a surveillance company rebranded as ‘social media’

by Daniel Chaitin

This story was updated at 10:37 p.m.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden ripped Facebook in a tweet Saturday after the social media giant suspended Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm which worked worked for President Trump’s campaign.

Facebook accused the firm on Friday of not deleting data it had improperly harvested from Facebook users, which number in the tens of millions, but Snowden pinned the blame squarely on Facebook and lumped in other social media companies for being just as reckless.

“Businesses that make money by collecting and selling detailed records of private lives were once plainly described as ‘surveillance companies,'” Snowden said. “Their rebranding as ‘social media’ is the most successful deception since the Department of War became the Department of Defense.”

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Theresa May’s big poisoning story is the ultimate “conspiracy theory”—because it may just end up killing all of us. (8) Inbox x

For those who hope to snap their fellow-citizens awake, and so prevent our last "world war," these eight pieces offer much that we're not getting from the NYTimes/WaPo/CNN/NPR/MSNBC. 

So please read them, if you haven't yet, and send them far and wide.

MCM

Russian to Judgement

by Craig Murray, March 13, 2018431 

 

The Strange Case of the Russian Spy Poisoning

by James O’Neill, March 13, 2018

Russia Statement: Jeremy Corbyn questions why nerve agents samples haven’t been sent to Moscow

by Lizzie Buchan, March 14, 2018

UK blocks Russia’s draft UN Security Council statement on Skripal poisoning case

 
RT, March 15, 2018

Killing Diplomacy

by Dmitry Orlov, March 16, 2018
 

The Skripal Case: Stakes Up?

Oriental Review, March 16, 2018

Maria Zakharova blows apart poisoning hoax: US should “be put under question”

“Novichok” nerve agent most likely originated in the UK, Slovakia, Czech Republic or Sweden.

by Alex Christoforou, March 17, 2018
…. and, finally, a useful “briefing paper” on the so-called “Novichoks” deployed (reportedly) to kill Skripal (assuming that he’s really dead): 

Doubts about “Novichoks”

The following briefing note is developed from ongoing research and investigation into the use of chemical and biological weapons during the 2011-present war in Syria conducted by members of the Working Group on Syria, Media and Propaganda. The note reflects work in progress. However, the substantive questions raised need answering, especially given the seriousness of the political crisis that is now developing. We welcome comments and corrections.

Authors: Professor Paul McKeigue and Professor Piers Robinson (piers.robinson@sheffield.ac.uk/+447764763350)

Working Group on Syria, Media and Propaganda (syriapropagandamedia.org).

Novichoks and the Salisbury poisonings

In the House of Commons on 12 March the Prime Minister stated that:

It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. It is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok. Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so, Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the Government have concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. 

The Prime Minister said if there is no “credible response” by the end of Tuesday 12 March, the UK would conclude there has been an “unlawful use of force” by Moscow.

Summary of key issues that need to be addressed

1) There are reasons to doubt that these compounds are military grade nerve agents or that a Russian “Novichok” program ever existed. If they were potentially usable as chemical weapons, people on the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board who were in a position to know the properties of these compounds would have recommended that they be added to the list of Scheduled Chemicals. They have never been added. 

 2) Synthesis at bench scale of organic chemicals such as the purported “Novichoks” is within the capability of a modern chemistry laboratory. Porton Down itself must have been able to synthesize these compounds in order to develop tests for them.  The detection of such a compound does not establish Russian origin. 

Details

(1) Doubts about the history of the “Novichok” Programme

The history of the alleged “Novichok” program remains unclear. The original source for the story that a new class of organophosphate compounds was developed as chemical weapons under the name Novichok in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s is from Vil Mirzayanov, a defector in the 1990s. Mirzayanov described the chemical structures of these compounds and stated that the toxicity of an agent named Novichuk-5 “under optimal conditions exceeds the effectiveness of VX by five to eight times”. Mirzayanov alleged that Russian testing and production had continued after signing the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993.

However, a review by Dr Robin Black, who was until recently head of the detection laboratory at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Porton Down), emphasizes that there is no independent confirmation of Mirzayanov’s claims about the chemical properties of these compounds:

In recent years, there has been much speculation that a fourth generation of nerve agents, ‘Novichoks’ (newcomer), was developed in Russia, beginning in the 1970s as part of the ‘Foliant’ programme, with the aim of finding agents that would compromise defensive countermeasures. Information on these compounds has been sparse in the public domain, mostly originating from a dissident Russian military chemist, Vil Mirzayanov. No independent confirmation of the structures or the properties of such compounds has been published. (Black, 2016)

The OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) appeared to doubt the existence of “Novichoks”, and did not advise that the compounds described by Mirzayanov, or their precursors, should be designated as Scheduled Chemicals that should be controlled under the Chemical Weapons Convention:-

[The SAB] emphasised that the definition of toxic chemicals in the Convention would cover all potential candidate chemicals that might be utilised as chemical weapons. Regarding new toxic chemicals not listed in the Annex on Chemicals but which may nevertheless pose a risk to the Convention, the SAB makes reference to “Novichoks”. The name “Novichok” is used in a publication of a former Soviet scientist who reported investigating a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons. The SAB states that it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of “Novichoks”. (OPCW, 2013)

The Scientific Advisory Board included Dr Black, and several other heads of national chemical defence laboratories in western countries. These labs would have presumably made their own evaluation of Mirzayanov’s claims and specifically would have done their own experiments to determine if compounds with the structures that he described were of military grade toxicity. Such studies can be done quickly and efficiently in vitro using methods developed for drug discovery (combinatorial chemistry and high-throughput screening). It is reasonable to assume that if these labs had found that these compounds were potentially usable as chemical weapons, the Scientific Advisory Board would have recommended adding them to the list of Scheduled Chemicals as the Chemical Weapons Convention requires.

Until independent confirmation of Mirzayanov’s claims about the toxicity of these compounds is available, and there is an adequate explanation of why the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board did not recommend that the compounds purported to be “Novichoks” and their precursors be designated as scheduled chemicals, it is reasonable to question whether these compounds are military grade nerve agents, or that a Russian “Novichok” programme ever actually existed. 

(2) Who Could Have Synthesized the ‘Novichok’ Compounds?

 The Prime Minister stated that:

There are, therefore, only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on 4 March: either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country; or the Russian Government lost control of their potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

However, Mirzayanov originally claimed that the Novichok agents were easy to synthesize:-

One should be mindful that the chemical components or precursors of A-232 or its binary version novichok-5 are ordinary organophosphates that can be made at commercial chemical companies that manufacture such products as fertilizers and pesticides. (Mirzayanov, 1995).

Soviet scientists had published many papers in the open literature on the chemistry of such compounds for possible use as insecticides. Mirzayanov claimed that “this research program was premised on the ability to hide the production of precursor chemicals under the guise of legitimate commercial chemical production of agricultural chemicals”.

As the structures of these compounds have been described, any organic chemist with a modern lab would be able to synthesize bench scale quantities of such a compound. Indeed, Porton Down must have been able to synthesize these compounds in order to develop tests for them. It is therefore misleading to assert that only Russia could have produced such compounds. 

 

References

Vil S. Mirzayanov, “Dismantling the Soviet/Russian Chemical Weapons Complex: An Insider’s View,” in Amy E. Smithson, Dr. Vil S. Mirzayanov, Gen Roland Lajoie, and Michael Krepon, Chemical Weapons Disarmament in Russia: Problems and Prospects, Stimson Report No. 17, October 1995, p. 21. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/105521/Report17.pdf

OPCW: Report of the Scientific Advisory Board on developments in science and technology for the Third Review Conference 27 March 2013. https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/CSP/RC-3/en/rc3wp01_e_.pdf

Robin Black. (2016) Development, Historical Use and Properties of Chemical Warfare Agents. Royal Society of Chemistry. http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/chapter/bk9781849739696-00001/978-1-84973-969-6

Armageddon over Syria, and the US “leftists” clamoring to bring it on (3)

Reported two days ago by Reuters (and still unmentioned by the New York Times):

France’s foreign ministry tells reporters to stop all travel to Syria

 

Two strong pieces on the US “leftists” bellowing for further war in Syria (and who will evidently get it any day):

The “Alt-Right” Label: What’s Real, What’s Fake, And Why It Matters

by Caitlin Johnstone, March 16, 2018
 

The Southern Poverty Law Center has issued a full retraction and apology for a bizarre screed it published last week lumping anti-war leftists in with fascists and Nazis. As of this writing two other articles by the same author, Alexander Reid Ross, have also been pulled by the Southern Poverty Law Center “pending further review”.

Full disclosure I have a slight history with Ross. In September I attacked a shockingly awful Intercept article which quoted him extensively in a highly strained effort to conflate opposition to interventionism in Syria with Nazism. Since that time Ross has participated in the ongoing “Caitlin Johnstone is a secret Nazi” smear campaign, and one of his removed-pending-review articles was cited in a recent conspiratorial smear piece about me.

The retracted article is worth reading in light of the fact that the SPLC is unwilling to stand by its claims, so here’s an archive if you’re curious. It’s full of weird arrow graphs that would look more at home on an Illuminati conspiracy website and academic jargon like “Atlanticist”, “fascist engagées“, “Duginists”, “LaRouchite” and “Eurasianist” that most normal people don’t use or understand. Ross weaves that mess into a barely decipherable conspiracy theory about a “red-brown populist collaboration” to advance fascist regimes against American hegemony, making the anti-imperialist left “a willing accomplice” to fascism.

Right. Gotcha. It can’t possibly be that antiwar leftists recognize that US military violence is literally always disastrous and literally never accomplishes what its proponents claim it will accomplish. It can’t possibly be that the far right objects to American lives and resources being spent on pointless wars that create refugee crises. It can’t possibly be that for those two reasons the antiwar left and anti-interventionist right often inadvertently find themselves on the same side of the debate on issues like Syria. It’s that they both secretly love the idea of fascist foreign governments rising to power in a multipolar world. If you squint at it just right through Ross’ convoluted, conspiratorial reality tunnel, it almost kinda sorta makes sense.

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Syria: The Horrible End Versus the Endless Horror

Randy Shields
 • March 17, 2018

 

shutterstock_676668748

Neocon Max Boot now says it’s better for the Syrian people if Assad stays in power. But we still can’t get the American left to come to its senses about Syria.

Louis Proyect says in Counterpunch that the suffering coming out of East Ghouta is “on a massive scale reminiscent of Leningrad in 1941.”

According to Wiki, a million and a half people died during the Leningrad siege. According to the authoritative-sounding Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — one anti-Assad guy in a Coventry flat, relying mostly on reports from anti-Assad fighters — 1,000 people have been killed in East Ghouta, horrible to be sure but not Leningrad. In Leningrad, people were reduced to cannibalism. There was cannibalism in Syria in 2013: a commander for the left’s beloved Free Syrian Army cut the lungs out of a Syrian Army soldier and ate them on camera. A “moderate” rebel eminently worthy of CIA dollars — and spicy recipes.

While bringing up Lou-dicrous comparisons to 1941 Leningrad, Proyect fails to mention the US-destroyed Raqqa and Mosul from which dead bodies are still being found and dragged out of the rubble. Rest assured that the Great Satan will not rebuild those cities as Assad is doing with Palmyra and Aleppo. To the colonized mind of the American left, the crimes of America’s enemies are always worse and more worth talking about than the crimes of America itself. US airstrikes were responsible for most of the 40,000 dead civilians in Mosul and over 3,000 in Raqqa.

By the way, two thirds of the casualties in Syria have been Syrian soldiers and anti-government fighters. The anti-Assad left and the mockingbird media would have us believe that all 345,000 Syrian deaths have been civilians who Assad and Putin deliberately, personally and exclusively killed. The pressitutes tell us how unpopular the Alawite Assad is while the entire world sees a Sunni majority army fighting to the death for him and the rest of Syria by killing off Wahhabist Sunni fanatics. Huh? (Syria has never been a “civil war” or a “sectarian conflict” — it’s been a pre-planned destruction led by the US, piggy-backing on legitimate grievances of the Syrian working class.)

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Thieves ‘R’ Us!

Bankruptcy judge approves $14M Toys R Us executive bonus payout

USA Today, Dec. 5, 2017

BERGEN COUNTY, N.J. — The judge overseeing the Toys R Us bankruptcy case ruled Tuesday that the insolvent retailer can pay its 17 top executives $14 million in incentive bonuses.

Toys R Us, which is based in Wayne, N.J., agreed to trim its original $16 million bonus proposal by $2 million, and to make $5 million of the bonus payout contingent on the company creating a business plan that allows it to emerge from bankruptcy.

The company said the bonuses are necessary because they motivate executives to boost sales during the critical holiday shopping season.

Bankruptcy Judge Keith Phillips overruled objections by the U.S. Trustee’s office, which serves as a public watchdog in bankruptcy cases, that executives at Toys R Us are already highly paid compared to other retail leaders, and that they also receive lavish perks, such as cars and drivers and private airplane trips.

READ MORE: 

 

How vulture capitalists ate Toys ‘R’ Us

The Week, March 16, 2018

Just a few years ago, Toys ‘R’ Us was an iconic American retailer. Six months ago, it filed for bankruptcy. Two days ago, it announced that all 800 of its American stores, and all 100 of its British ones, are closing or being sold. As many as 33,000 workers could lose their jobs.

What happened to America’s biggest toy store?

Simply put, vulture capitalists ate it.

Our story begins in 2004. After big success in the 1980s, Toys ‘R’ Us’ performance turned lackluster in the 1990s. Sales were flat and profits shrank. Toys ‘R’ Us was a public company at the time, and the board of directors decided to put it up for sale. The buyers were a real estate investment firm called Vornado, and two private equity firms named KKR and Bain Capital. (You may remember the latter from 2012 campaign ads: It was co-founded by former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, though he’d moved on well before this.)

The trio put up $6.6 billion to pay off Toys ‘R’ Us’ shareholders. But it was a leveraged buyout: Only 20 percent came out out of the buyers’ pockets. The other 80 percent was borrowed. Once Toys ‘R’ Us was acquired, it became responsible for paying off that massive debt burden, while also paying Bain Capital and the other two firms exorbitant advisory and management fees.

In theory, everyone wins in a leveraged buyout. It’s supposed to take an ailing company private and retool it into a leaner and more effective business. Then it’s sold back to public shareholders for a profit. The buyers make money; the shareholders get a healthier business; the workers stay employed.

What actually happened was Toys ‘R’ Us continued to stagnate. The company never really figured out how to respond to the changing market, or the rise of online retail. And it missed out on some opportunities, like licensing the Star Wars and Lego movie brands. Meanwhile, rising inequality and wage stagnation ate away at the broadly distributed middle-class consumer base that Toys ‘R’ Us and other retailers traditionally relied upon.

Whatever magic Bain, KKR, and Vornado were supposed to work never materialized. From the purchase in 2004 through 2016, the company’s sales never rose much above $11 billion. They actually fell from $13.5 billion in 2013 back to $11.5 billion in 2017.

On its own, that shouldn’t have been catastrophic. The problem was the massive financial albatross the leveraged buyout left around Toys ‘R’ Us’ neck. Just before the buyout, the company had $2.2 billion in cash and cash-equivalents. By 2017, its stockpile had shriveled to $301 million, even as its debt burden ballooned from $2.3 billion to $5.2 billion. Meanwhile, Toys ‘R’ Us was paying $425 million to $517 million in interest every year.

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Aleksandr Kogan, missing link

Question: What’s the connection between Cambridge Analytica and Russia?

Answer: There isn’t one.

Question: How does the New York Times IMPLY some such connection in its lead article* today?

Answer: By pointedly identifying Aleksandr Kogan, who snuck that giant trove of Facebook data to the British company, as a “Russian-American academic.”

Question: What exactly does that mean? Was Kogan born in Russia? Or is he only “Russian-American” by heritage (or DNA)?

This is not a rhetorical question. On what basis—if any—is the Times attempting to connect that giant theft by Cambridge Analytica (a theft that actually occurred) with Russia’s “meddling” in the last election (which—it’s now clearer than ever—didn’t happen)?

Let’s discuss.

MCM