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Tags: Axelrods-Firm | Promoted | Shariah | Candidate | Iran Bribes Argentina for Nuke Expertise | Monica Lewinsky Re-emerges as an Inspirational Speaker | Amtrak Bill Assures More Taxpayer Losses

Axelrod's Firm Promoted Shariah Candidate; Iran Bribes Argentina for Nuke Expertise

By    |   Sunday, 22 March 2015 02:31 PM EDT

Insider Report

Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. Monica Lewinsky Re-emerges as an Inspirational Speaker
2. Ex-Obama Aide's Firm Worked for Shariah-Backing Candidate
3. Amtrak Bill Assures More Taxpayer Losses
4. Report: Iran Bribed Argentina for Help With Nukes
5. Auto Loan Debt Tops $880 Billion
6. U.S. 'Death Tax' Called Poor Economic Policy

1. Monica Lewinsky Re-emerges as an Inspirational Speaker

After remaining out of the public eye for a decade, scandal-plagued former White House intern Monica Lewinsky is back in a big way, appearing at major events and openly discussing her plight during speaking engagements.

The woman at the center of the White House scandal of the 1990s holds a master's degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics, and splits her time among New York, Los Angeles, and London.

Her return to the public eye began last May, when she wrote an essay for Vanity Fair about the aftermath of her affair with then-President Bill Clinton as a 22-year-old intern. The essay was a finalist for a National Magazine Award, Jessica Bennett disclosed in an article for The New York Times' Style section.

Lewinsky, now 41, said in the essay that the time had come to "burn the beret and bury the blue dress" and "give a purpose to my past."

Part of that purpose is to help others who have been similarly humiliated, she told Bennett.

Since the essay appeared, Lewinsky has appeared at a benefit hosted by the Norman Mailer Center, at a New York Fashion Week dinner presentation for designer Rachel Comey, at the Vanity Fair Oscar party, and at the Golden Globes.

She recently took part in an anti-bullying workshop at a New York City school.

In October, she appeared onstage at a Forbes conference and spoke about digital harassment or cyberbullying, the modern-day equivalent of the scorn that commentators and others heaped upon her after details of the Clinton affair came to light — including The Wall Street Journal's characterization of her as a "little tart."

"I lost my reputation," she told the crowd. "I was publicly identified as someone I didn't recognize. And I lost my sense of self."

Most recently, she spoke on Thursday at a TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference in Vancouver, Canada, sponsored by the nonprofit Sapling Foundation.

Lewinsky "issued a biting cultural critique about humiliation as commodity," Bennett wrote. "The title of her 18-minute talk (and perhaps the line that best sums up her experience), which received a raucous standing ovation: 'The Price of Shame.'"

Lewinsky said: "Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop. We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy."

After a decade in the shadows, Lewinsky is now so much in demand that she has a public relations agent screening requests for her time.

One line that got a charge out of the audience at the TED conference came when Lewinsky asked: "Can I see a show of hands of anyone who didn't make a mistake or do something they regretted at 22?"

And she told Bennett that someone in a dark moment might benefit from "the knowledge that there was someone else who was, at one point in time, the most humiliated person in the world. And she survived it."

Editor's Note:


2. Ex-Obama Aide's Firm Worked for Shariah-Backing Candidate

The political consulting firm founded by Barack Obama's former senior adviser David Axelrod worked in support of a presidential candidate in Nigeria who has openly pushed for Shariah law.

Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan is being challenged by former dictator Muhammadu Buhari in the election scheduled for March 28 in the African nation of 174 million.

Axelrod served as Obama's senior adviser from 2009 to 2011, and as a chief strategist in his 2008 and 2012 election campaigns.

His firm AKPD Message and Media — formerly called Axelrod and Associates — was working for Buhari as recently as this winter, AKPD partner Isaac Baker confirmed to Buzzfeed News.

The firm had previously claimed it stopped working for him in March 2014, before the April kidnapping of 276 young girls in Nigeria by Islamic terror group Boko Haram.

"In December 2014, [Buhari's All Progressives Congress] hired AKPD for a three-week engagement to help the party in organizing announcement events," Baker said in an email.

Buhari, an army general who took power in a coup for a short time in the 1980s, was accused of presiding over human rights abuses and suppression of political activity as a military dictator. He has run for president three times since 2003.

Richard Grenell, a former spokesman for four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Times that the Nigerian election "could have a profound impact on the future of Africa."

Grenell quoted Buhari: "I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Shariah movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria. God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Shariah in the country."

Grenell wrote: "Agitation? Is this an indication that Mr. Buhari supports violence because the end goal of the terrorist attacks throughout Nigeria and Africa is an Islamic state?"

Buhari has also spoken sympathetically about members of Boko Haram, which has pledged its allegiance and support to ISIS, and has cautioned against a rush to judgment on its members.

Grenell concluded: "President Goodluck Jonathan has committed to defeating Boko Haram and overseeing a free and fair election. The Nigerian economy has been growing faster than South Africa's. Buhari's election would be a disaster for Africa. The Obama administration should be doing more to ensure Africa's most populous country doesn't slip away."

Editor's Note:


3. Amtrak Bill Assures More Taxpayer Losses

A bill passed by the House and sent on to the Senate will subsidize Amtrak with an estimated $7 billion from 2016 to 2020 — despite the fact Amtrak has cost taxpayers more than $45 billion over the last 44 years.

Amtrak has run operating losses every year since it began operating in 1971. The rail service lost $452 million in 2011, and $361 million in 2013. Amtrak reported a "strong result" last year, with a loss of "only" $227 million.

"The operating loss is unlikely to continue to decline due to the losses in Amtrak's long-distance routes, which bleed about $600 million annually," according to a report from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

Amtrak runs more than 300 trains a day over 21,300 miles of track, reaching 500 destinations in 46 states.

The rail service's food and beverage service has been cited by Congress in recent years for its wasteful use of funds. Amtrak lost more than $900 million in the decade ending in 2013 on food services alone.

Testimony at a 2012 congressional hearing disclosed that a $9 cheeseburger sold on an Amtrak train costs the railroad $16 to provide. Taxpayers had to subsidize the $7 shortfall.

In 1981, Congress required Amtrak to turn a profit from its food and beverage service, but it never complied.

Amtrak's largest expense is labor. Salary and benefits for its more than 20,000 employees cost more than $2 billion last year. The average onboard employee earned $41.19 an hour in 2012, while railroads that contracted out services to private firms paid their workers from $7.75 to $13 an hour.

Amtrak workers were also able to collect $185 million in overtime pay in 2013.

"Amtrak has never made a profit because it doesn't need to" due to government subsidies, the Manhattan Institute report noted.

"Privatizing Amtrak is the only option certain to prevent billions of taxpayer dollars from being wasted while providing the benefits that accompany competitive services. Congress should develop a plan to privatize the railroad and allow for private companies to compete for routes."

The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 passed the House by a margin of 316 to 101. Amtrak has been operating without official funding authorization since the previous bill expired in October 2013.

Editor's Note:


4. Report: Iran Bribed Argentina for Help With Nukes

Iran helped to finance the 2007 campaign of Argentinian presidential candidate Cristina Kirchner in an effort to secure Argentina's help in its nuclear weapons development program, according to a new report in a South American media outlet.

The Brazilian magazine Veja asserts that the deal was brokered by Venezuela's then-President Hugo Chavez and is based on the testimony of three former Chavez cabinet members now living in the United States.

Iran also wanted Argentina to cover up Iran's link to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 and injured hundreds, Veja reported.

The three former cabinet members said Iran's then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Chavez on Jan. 13, 2007: "I need you to broker with Argentina for aid to my country's nuclear program. We need Argentinians to share their knowledge on nuclear technology. Without this collaboration it is impossible to advance our program.

"Don't worry about the expenses required for this operation. Iran will support everything necessary to persuade the Argentinians."

According to Veja, the Iranians were interested in Argentina's experience with a heavy-water reactor because they wanted to produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.

Back in the 1980s, Iranian nuclear scientists had received training at Argentinian nuclear plants.

"I can't say that the government of Argentina gave nuclear secrets, but I know it took a lot by legal means and illegal means in exchange for something valuable to the Iranians," one of the former cabinet officials told Veja.

On August 4, 2007, authorities discovered nearly $800,000 in cash inside a suitcase carried by Venezuelan-American Guido Antonini Wilson at a Buenos Aires airport. U.S. prosecutors have alleged that the money was sent to help Kirchner, who won the election and remains in office.

Veja reported that the money came from Iran and Chavez was only the middleman.

Regarding the bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina has accused the Iranian government of directing the attack on the AMIA Jewish community center and the terror group Hezbollah of carrying out the bombing, but no arrests have been made.

The Veja report backed the charge made by Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman in January that Kirchner decided to "not incriminate" former senior officials of Iran and tried to "erase" their roles in planning the bombing, the Jewish Daily Forward reported.

On Jan. 18, Nisman was found dead in his apartment with a gunshot wound to his head, one day before he was to present evidence pointing to a conspiracy by Kirchner and her associates to cover up Iran's alleged role in the 1994 bombing.

"Not only is [the Veja report] credible, but it underscores the allegations prosecutor Nisman put forth about Iran's longstanding desire to have Argentina restart nuclear cooperation with Iran," Toby Dershowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told Business Insider.

Editor's Note:


5. Auto Loan Debt Tops $880 Billion

Americans had a record $886 billion in outstanding auto loan debt in the fourth quarter of 2014, up nearly 23 percent from the same period two years ago, according to recent data from credit agency Experian reported by the Fiscal Times.

The percentage of new vehicles bought with financing in that quarter rose over the previous year to 84 percent.

The average loan amount also hit its highest level on record at $28,381 in the fourth quarter, up more than $950 from a year ago.

The main reason for the increase in auto loan debt is not surprising: increased vehicle sales.

Americans bought 573,633 new cars in February, bringing the total this year to 1.1 million, an increase of 2.8 percent over the first two months of 2014, according to Automotive News.

They also bought 683,986 light-duty trucks, bringing the year-to-date total to 1.3 million — a 15.2 percent rise from 2014.

The surge in vehicle purchases can be attributed in part to cheaper gasoline.

Prices fell nearly 61 percent from their high last summer to January, the Fiscal Times reported.

Lower gas prices are apparently encouraging the sales of larger vehicles. Sales of large SUVs rose a whopping 58.1 percent in the first two months of this year compared to the first months of 2014, and midsize SUVs rose 31.2 percent.

The increase in loan debt is also attributable to pricier vehicles. The average price of a vehicle has reached an all-time high, at $31,831 for new cars and $16,800 for used cars, according to TrueCar.com.

Also, auto loan interest rates rose slightly in the last quarter of 2014.

The share of all loans that were subprime loans — those made to Americans with credit ratings below 600 — was 20.3 percent in the last quarter of 2014.

FOOTNOTE: The top-selling vehicle in the first two months of this year was the Ford F-Series pickup, with sales of 109,606, followed by the Chevrolet Silverado pickup (81,501) and the Dodge Ram pickup (59,916).

Editor's Note:


6. U.S. 'Death Tax' Called Poor Economic Policy

The United States has one of the highest estate or inheritance taxes among developed nations — and eliminating it would actually boost federal revenue by $8 billion a year, according to the Tax Foundation.

Estate taxes are levied on the net value of property owned by a deceased person, while inheritance taxes are levied on the recipients of the property. Critics refer to the taxes as a "death tax."

The tax rate in the U.S. is 40 percent, fourth highest among the 34 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, surpassed only by Japan (55 percent), South Korea (50 percent), and France (45 percent), and tied with the United Kingdom.

But 15 of the 34 nations have no estate or inheritance taxes, including Canada and Mexico.

"Estate and inheritance taxes are poor economic policy," a Tax Foundation report asserted. "They fall almost exclusively on the domestic capital stock — the accumulated wealth that makes America richer and more productive as a whole.

"Taxes levied on the capital stock restrict job growth and harm the economy."

But the "death tax" in America in fact brings in little federal revenue, because the tax has a high exemption, which stands at $5,430,000 this year, up sharply from around $1 million in 2002.

The exemption in France is just $105,945, and is low in Germany ($423,782), Japan ($247,297), and the UK ($488,280).

Due to the high U.S. exemption, the tax will raise only $20 billion in 2015, accounting for less than 1 percent of annual federal revenue.

"While a relatively small number of estates pay the tax each year, many more have to plan for the tax," the report observes. "Privately owned businesses of all sizes spend money on this expensive endeavor."

The Tax Foundation maintains that repealing the "death tax" would increase investment, add jobs, and expand the economy.

According to calculations from the foundation, elimination would result in about 140,000 additional jobs, a 0.08 percent additional annual GDP growth in the decade after elimination, and additional federal revenue of $8 billion a year due to the increased economic growth.

"Many countries have recognized that estate and inheritance taxes are a poor source of revenue and eliminated these taxes altogether," the Tax Foundation concludes. "Given low revenue collections, high compliance costs, and a narrow base, the U.S. should seriously consider following suit.”

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Editor's Note:


Editor's Notes:

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Axelrods-Firm, Promoted, Shariah, Candidate, Iran Bribes Argentina for Nuke Expertise, Monica Lewinsky Re-emerges as an Inspirational Speaker, Amtrak Bill Assures More Taxpayer Losses, Auto Loan Debt Tops 880 Billion, U.S. Death Tax Called Poor Economic Policy
Sunday, 22 March 2015 02:31 PM
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