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Inside the Rise and Fall of Toys ‘R’ Us

March 19, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Charles Lazarus, founder of Toys R Us. (Credit: Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

It was 1948, and Charles Lazarus had a hunch. Newly returned from World War II, he knew he wanted to go into business, and he knew—long before the term “baby boom” was a common phrase—that his friends were about to start having lots of babies.

“Everyone I talked to said they were going to go home, get married, have children and live the American dream,” he told Entrepreneur in 2008. “I decided that I would open a store in my father’s bicycle-repair shop. But instead of selling bikes, I would sell cribs, carriages, strollers, high chairs—everything for the baby. My instincts told me the timing was right.”

Those instincts didn’t just help Lazarus capitalize on the baby boom: They helped originate Toys ‘R’ Us. Once a retail juggernaut, the store dominated the entire toy industry—and children’s imaginations—by driving its competitors out of existence.

Now, the retail giant has been forced into bankruptcy, the victim of a retail model it helped pioneer. In March 2017, the 70-year-old business announced that it would call it quits. It was the end of an era for the store that once held a lock on the entire toy industry and made toy shopping—once a seasonal treat—into a regular family outing.

Charles Lazarus, founder of Toys R Us. (Credit: Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Lazarus opened his first store, Children’s Bargain Town, in Washington, D.C. in 1948. Specializing in baby goods, it only began selling toys once Lazarus realized customers didn’t come back for more strollers, high chairs and other baby goods with their second child. He started selling a few inexpensive toys, then added to his inventory as they proved popular.

But Lazarus wasn’t content to stop with a single store. He had an idea that was bigger than Children’s Bargain Town or any kids’ store he had ever seen—a massive store filled with every toy in existence. In 1957, he got out of the baby furniture business, renamed his company Toys ‘R’ Us and created the first ever big-box toy store.

The new megastore took a supermarket-style approach to toy selling, which distinguished it from every other toy store in existence. Most toy stores were small and family-run, and only carried a limited line of products. Lazarus’ stores, on the …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Is the #MeToo Movement Leaving Black Muslim Women Behind?

March 19, 2018 in Blogs

By Vanessa Taylor, AlterNet

Despite the larger movement addressing campus sexual assault, black Muslim women still share their experiences in whispers.


Over the past several years, colleges and universities have been pressured to address an epidemic that has been ignored for some time: the pervasiveness of sexual violence on campus. Studies find that 

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Source: ALTERNET

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Robert Reich: This Reagan-Era Financial Rule Has Got to Go

March 19, 2018 in Blogs

By Robert Reich, RobertReich.org

Until we eliminate stock buybacks, income inequality will continue to grow.


Trump and Republicans branded their huge corporate tax cut as a way to make American corporations more profitable so they’d invest in more and better jobs. 

But they’re buying back their stock instead. Now that the new corporate tax cut is pumping up profits, buybacks are on track to hit a record $800 billion this year. 

For years, corporations have spent most of their profits on buying back their own shares of stock, instead of increasing the wages of their employees, whose hard work creates these profits. 

Stock buybacks should be illegal, as they were before 1983.

Stock buybacks are artificial efforts to interfere in the so-called “free market” to prop up stock prices. Because they create an artificial demand, they force stock prices above their natural level. With fewer shares in circulation, each remaining share is worth more.     

Buybacks don’t create more or better jobs. Money spent on buybacks isn’t invested in new equipment, or research and development, or factories, or wages. It doesn’t build a company. Buybacks don’t grow the American economy.

So why are buybacks so popular with Corporate CEOs?

Because a bigger and bigger portion of CEO pay has been in stocks and stock options, rather than cash. So when share prices go up, executives reap a bonanza. The value of their pay from previous years also rises—in what amounts to a retroactive (and off the books) pay increase on top of their already outrageous compensation.

Buybacks were illegal until Ronald Reagan made them legal in 1982, just about the same time wages stopped rising for most Americans. Before then, a bigger percentage corporate profits went into increasing workers’ wages. 

But since corporations were already using their profits for stock buybacks, there is no reason to believe they’ll use their tax windfall on anything other than more stock buybacks.

Let’s not compound the error. Make stock buybacks illegal, as they were before 1982.

 

 

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GOP Strategist Stuns MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle with a Horrifying Prediction

March 19, 2018 in Blogs

By David Edwards, Raw Story

Rick Tyler expects Trump to order Mueller fired “sooner than later,” but that's not all.


Republican strategist Rick Tyler asserted on Monday that President Donald Trump will eventually find a way to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and Republicans in Congress will do “nothing” about it.

During a panel discussion on MSNBC, host Stephanie Ruhle asked Tyler if Trump was running a campaign to “discredit” special counsel Robert Mueller.

“Here’s what’s going to happen, I’m going to go out on a limb,” Tyler began. “The president has calculated now — and I think it’s true — is the reaction from the Republicans. He is going to fire Robert Mueller. And you know what’s going to happen? Nothing. That’s what’s going to happen. There will be no response from Republican leadership, from Congress.”

Tyler continued as the other guests looked on in amazement.

“He is now going about — the reason to fire [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe], the reason to deny him his retirement is he has to discredit him,” Tyler said. “And he has to systematically discredit everybody who’s involved in this Russia investigation. And he has now seen that he can do these things without any recourse. The Congress is not going to rein him in.”

The GOP strategist predicted Mueller’s firing would come “sooner rather than later, before he can get any further… on money laundering or other tangential issues.”

“Wow,” Ruhle said at the conclusion of the segment. “It is not even 9:30 on a Monday morning and Rick Tyler just knocked my socks off. I wasn’t ready for that.”

Watch the video below from MSNBC.

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Source: ALTERNET

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This 14th-Century African Emperor Remains the Richest Person in History

March 19, 2018 in History

By Thad Morgan

Mansa Musa on his way to Mecca. (Credit: Print Collector/Getty Images)

In the vast fictional universe of Marvel Comics, T’Challa, better known as Black Panther, is not only king of Wakanda, he’s also the richest superhero of them all. And although today’s fight for the title of wealthiest person alive involves a tug-of-war between billionaire CEOs, the wealthiest person in history, Mansa Musa, has more in common with Marvel’s first black superhero.

Musa became ruler of the Mali Empire in 1312, taking the throne after his predecessor, Abu-Bakr II, for whom he’d served as deputy, went missing on a voyage he took by sea to find the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Musa’s rule came at a time when European nations were struggling due to raging civil wars and a lack of resources. During that period, the Mali Empire flourished thanks to ample natural resources like gold and salt.

And under the rule of Musa, the prosperous empire grew to span a sizeable portion of West Africa, from the Atlantic coast to the inland trading hub of Timbuktu and parts of the Sahara Desert. As the territory grew while Musa was on the throne, so did the economic standing of its citizens.

It wasn’t until 1324 that the world outside of Mali’s border would get a glimpse of the king’s expansive wealth. A devout Muslim in a majority Muslim community, Musa set off on a journey to Mecca for his Hajj pilgrimage. But the king didn’t travel by himself.

Mansa Musa on his way to Mecca. (Credit: Print Collector/Getty Images)

The voyage, which would span an estimated 4,000 miles, was travelled by Musa and a caravan that included tens of thousands of soldiers, slaves and heralds, draped in Persian silk and carrying golden staffs. Although records of the exact number of people who participated in the voyage are scarce, the elaborate convoy that accompanied Musa marched alongside camels and horses carrying hundreds of pounds of gold.

Of course, this spectacle was noticed by residents of the territories that Musa passed through—after all, a group so massive was impossible to overlook. The impact the Malian emperor left on the Egyptian people would reverberate for more than a decade.

Arriving in Cairo, Musa’s character was put on full display during his reluctant encounter with Cairo’s ruler, al-Malik al-Nasir. According to texts from the ancient historian Shihab al-Umari, Musa was greeted in Cairo by a subordinate of al-Nasir, who invited …read more

Source: HISTORY

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This Is How Trump Won Mindless Loyalty From Millions of Americans

March 19, 2018 in Blogs

By Jeremy Sherman, AlterNet

The simple, surefire formula for sycophants.


Many Trump supporters are proud of their absolute faith in him. You see it in the way they beam proudly when they tell reporters that they’d support him no matter what he does. Now that’s unconditional love!

We have mixed feelings about absolute faith and unconditional love. Sometimes we regard them as the highest virtues. Sometimes we think such commitment is pretty dangerous. Unconditional? Would you still love a partner who turned into an ax murderer?

On the receiving end, absolute faith and unconditional love are pretty handy. Gaining that kind of unconditional respect means you can do no wrong, which frees you to do all the wrong you want.

So if you’re into that sort of thing, here’s all it takes to get it. And if you’re not into that sort of thing, here’s what to watch out for.

  1. Target people who can’t stand uncertainty: Go for the hungry, anxious, eager to believe; people who have had their fill of uncertainty and can’t stand anymore.
  2. Target people who don’t notice the downside of absolute faith: These are people who get all dewy eyed when thinking about faith, the kind who either ignore a faith they regard as wrong-headed or will tell you that wrong-headed faith is not really faith.
  3. Get their guard down: You’ll want people who see you as the answer to their prayers, people who want to align with you for a boost in their morale, status and prospects. Charm them. Listen to them and feed them whatever will satisfy them. The hungry are the easiest to eat.
  4. Make bold, vague statements that speak directly to them. (Trump’s “Make America Great” is a great example.) Great how? Your targets can fill in whatever comes to mind. Likewise, you can court someone personally with a line like, “Wow, I can really tell that you’ve got talent for understanding what’s going on!” Bold, flattering, vague. Suckers line right up.
  5. Include them in your “winner’s circle” with talk about the idiots “out there”: Nothing wins faith like disparaging others. You see it at rallies where the speaker riles the audience by ridiculing everyone outside your circle. You can hear it in …read more

    Source: ALTERNET

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Jared Kushner Condemned for Outrageously Corrupt Real Estate Practices

March 19, 2018 in Blogs

By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams

The Housing Rights Initiative did not mince words.


When Jared Kushner was chief executive of Kushner Cos., his family's New York City-based real estate firm, the company “routinely filed false paperwork with the city declaring it had zero rent-regulated tenants in dozens of buildings it owned across the city when, in fact, it had hundreds,” according to a report by the Associated Press.

Kushner stepped down from his role at Kushner Cos. last year, when he accepted a position as a senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump, but he has recently come under fire for potential conflicts of interest and ethics violations regarding continued involvement with the real estate firm. His top-secret security clearance was downgraded last month amid heightened scrutiny over how his financial holdings may have influenced his actions on behalf of the White House.

The tenant rights watchdog group Housing Rights Initiative, the AP reports, “found the Kushner Cos. filed at least 80 false applications for construction permits in 34 buildings across New York City from 2013 to 2016, all of them indicating there were no rent-regulated tenants. Instead, tax documents show there were more than 300 rent-regulated units. Nearly all the permit applications were signed by a Kushner employee, including sometimes the chief operating officer.”

“While none of the documents during a three-year period when Kushner was CEO bore his personal signature,” the AP notes, “they provide a window into the ethics of the business empire he ran before he went on to become one of the most trusted advisers to the President of the United States.”

Kushner Cos., when reached for comment, blamed the false filings on third parties, claiming that it outsources document preparation. But no matter how the false filings occurred, they provide insight into how the firm was able to purchase three Queens apartment buildings in 2015, quickly conduct renovations, raise the rent, and then sell the buildings for a multimillion-dollar profit just two years later.

Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics chief and current chair of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), compared the revelation to Kushner's troubled attempts to retain security clearance for his government role.

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Source: ALTERNET

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Saudi Arabia Has Become a Geopolitical Loose Cannon

March 19, 2018 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Saudi Arabia’s thirty-two-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin
Salman is touring the West seeking to buy arms and encourage
investment. A stop in Washington was mandatory.

The de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, known as MbS,
has been busy wreaking havoc internationally, punishing political
enemies domestically, loosening social controls at home, and
burnishing his image abroad. Amid rising opposition to
Saudi-generated carnage in Yemen, the Trump administration appears
to be abandoning proliferation concerns in seeking to sell nuclear
reactors-even as it complains about Iran’s presumed nuclear
ambitions.

MbS presides over a virulently intolerant authoritarian
theocracy, but no matter. His modest social innovations-most
notably allowing women to drive and opening cinemas for
everyone-have created the image of a Western modernizer, allowing
him to accumulate a host of besotted liberal groupies, such as
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

The Saudi state is an artifact of Western militarism and
imperialism, growing out of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire
after World War I. Abdul Aziz ibn Saud eventually fulfilled his
lengthy quest to unify the peninsula. Discovery of oil in 1938 gave
his country an unexpected international importance.

Why does Washington
continue to embrace the Saudi royals? Its relationship with the KSA
is embarrassing, counterproductive and unnecessary.

Four decades ago the Islamic revolution in Iran, which inspired
Shia in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, and
seizure of Mecca’s Grand Mosque by Islamic extremists caused
the monarchy to turn its theocracy in a totalitarian direction. The
royals enforced the Wahhabist clergy’s fundamentalist
interpretation of Islam in return for the latter urging obedience
to the Saudi state. Hence, ruling princes mixed private libertinism
with public piety, treated women as inferior, prohibited non-Muslim
faiths, and deployed the mutawa, or religious police. Also, they
provided large-scale subsidies to spread Wahhabism abroad, through
mosques, schools, teachers and textbooks.

The result was a decrepit, corrupt gerontocracy undermining
virtually every Western value and interest. However, the doddering
monarchy, passed among the aging sons of ibn Saud, possessed oil
and money aplenty. This earned the regime plenty of affection in
the West, and especially the United States.

And so it went with only minor variations until January 2015
when King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud died. Salman bin Abdulaziz
al-Saud, now eighty-one, became king. Within two years the latter
broke with tradition and installed his favorite son, Mohammad bin
Salman, as crown prince.

MbS took firm control, brutally crushing any potential
opposition. He transformed an inefficient but collegial monarchy
into a far more ruthless but stunningly incompetent administration.
So far, however, pervasive failure has only encouraged MbS to
double down, usually to the detriment of anyone not a member of his
faction …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Pompeo and Changing U.S. Policy Toward China

March 19, 2018 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

U.S. foreign policy is changing. With the selection of CIA
Director Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of
state, President Donald Trump appears to be taking charge of his
foreign policy. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense
Secretary Jim Mattis remain counsels of caution on many issues, but
the former’s tenure could be short, and the latter might
choose to exit if his advice has increasingly less effect.

Secretary Tillerson’s departure reflected both personality
and substance. He and the president never established personal
rapport. Last fall the secretary was reported to have called the
president a “moron,” which suggested a relationship
irreparably sundered. Moreover, the two disagreed on many, if not
most policy issues: negotiation with North Korea, nuclear agreement
with Iran, the dispute between Saudi Arabia/United Arab Emirates
and Qatar, Russia, climate change, and free trade.

The outcome is likely to result in several course corrections,
mostly in a more confrontational and hawkish direction. China in
particular is more likely to become a target of the administration.
That already has happened on trade, with Peter Navarro, more
nationalist than economist, pushing for a trade war against
virtually everyone, ranging from Europe and Mexico to South Korea
and the People’s Republic of China. Although Pompeo is no
protectionist, unlike Tillerson he probably won’t challenge
his boss on the issue. After the administration announced its
tariffs on aluminum and steel, Pompeo cited “trade or the
theft of intellectual property” as areas where the
administration was “pushing back against” the PRC.

Whatever the prospective
secretary thinks of China, he must work to make the relationship
work.

On both Iran and North Korea, the CIA director disdained
diplomacy. Indeed, he appeared to welcome possible regime change in
Pyongyang, in contrast to Secretary Tillerson, who denied such an
interest in an attempt to assuage North Korean concerns over giving
up the regime’s missiles and nuclear weapons.

Secretary-designate Pompeo also appears to take a harsher
attitude toward the PRC. Of course, Rex Tillerson suggested the
possibility of interdicting Chinese ships in the South China Sea
during his confirmation hearing. However, he took a more restrained
and responsible stance once in office.

Nevertheless, Pompeo starts with a negative view of Beijing.
Last year, regarding security threats, he said in one interview:
“It’s hard to pick between China, Russia and Iran to be
honest with you. I guess if I had to pick one with a nose above the
others, I’d probably pick China.” He pointed to the
PRC’s economic strength, population, and intellectual
property theft. Moreover, he said, “I think it’s very
clear when they think about their place in the world, they measure
their success …read more

Source: OP-EDS