Top News Stories for Today – March 15, 2017
25 killed in Damascus court bombing
At least 25 people were killed Wednesday in a suicide bomb attack inside the main Damascus justice building, according to Syria’s official news agency. The attack occurred inside the Palace of Justice, a courthouse in central Damascus, state media said. No other details were immediately available.
The suicide bombing Wednesday comes just less than a week after a similar attack on a Shi’ite Muslim cemetery left at least 40 people dead and more than 120 wounded. The attack was claimed by a Syrian al-Qaida affiliate. Most of those killed were Iraqi pilgrims, the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. VOA
Trump’s 2005 tax return leaked
President Trump earned more than $150 million and paid $36.5 million in income tax in 2005, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reported on Tuesday. He paid another $1.9 million in self-employment taxes. Someone mailed Trump’s return, unsolicited, to investigative journalist and tax specialist David Cay Johnston, who discussed them with Maddow. Trump also reported a $103 million business loss that year.
Trump’s earnings and federal income taxes mean he paid an effective 25 percent tax rate, higher than the 10 percent the average American pays but below the 27.4 percent that people earning $1 million a year paid in 2005. Most of what Trump paid was due to the alternative minimum tax, which he has sought to eliminate. The White House noted that “it is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns,” slamming the “dishonest media” for making Trump’s taxes “part of their agenda” while Trump focuses on tax reform to “benefit all Americans.”, The Week
China anxious about trade war with US
China is warning about the possible impact of a trade war with US, even as the world’s two biggest economies take steps to map out relations under the administration of President Donald Trump. Speaking at an annual news conference Wednesday, at the end of high-level political meetings in Beijing, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang talked up the benefits of good relations between the two countries. He said he was optimistic about ties, but also warned a trade war would hurt American businesses first.
“We do not want to see any trade war breaking out between the two countries. That would not make our trade fairer and would harm both sides,” Li said. “Our hope on the Chinese side is that no matter what bumps the China-US relationship hits, we hope it will continue to move forward in a positive direction.” VOA
US applications for New Zealand citizenship up 70%
In New Zealand, the number of Americans who applied for a grant of citizenship rose by 70 percent in the 12 weeks following the election of President Donald Trump when compared to the same period a year earlier, The Associated Press said.
In response to an AP freedom of information request, New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs said that in the two days after the US election in November, the number of Americans who visited its website to find out about citizenship was up more than tenfold from the same two weekdays a month earlier. Most Americans who apply for New Zealand citizenship must first live in the country for five years. AP news via Yahoo
Fed expected to hike interest rate today
Investors have already priced in a rate hike from the Fed on Wednesday, but any surprises could still come from Fed Chairwoman Yellen and what she says about rates and the strength of the US economy. The so-called dot plot that captures the central banker’s projections on future rate hikes is expected to send a hawkish signal. The rate announcement comes out at 2 p.m. Eastern Time, followed by Yellen’s press conference at 2:30 p.m. Market Watch
Dutch election and anti-immigrant right’s strength
Dutch voters head to the polls on Wednesday in closely watched parliamentary elections that will determine whether a wave of populism, which already has fueled the UK Brexit decision and President Trump’s win in the US, will be repeated in the Netherlands.
Far-right anti-immigrant firebrand Geert Wilders, who wants to ban Islam and exit the European Union, is one of the frontrunners for prime minister. He is vying against liberal Dutch incumbent Mark Rutte in what will be the first of several Western European contests in 2017 testing the strength of the anti-immigrant nationalists on the far right. USA Today, The Week
Fat Leonard bribery case
US Justice Department of on Tuesday charged eight current and former Navy officials with corruption and other crimes stemming from the “Fat Leonard” bribery case. One of the people charged was Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, a high-ranking Navy intelligence officer. The other defendants included Navy captains and a retired Marine colonel.
The Navy personnel were indicted for allegedly accepting bribes, including lavish gifts such as $20,000 boxes of Cohiba cigars, as well as prostitutes, from Singapore-based defense contractor Leonard Glenn Francis. The contractor has pleaded guilty to charges that he received insider information in exchange for the bribes, and used it to gouge tens of millions of dollars from the Navy from 2006 to 2014. CBS News, The Week
The upcoming French elections, meanwhile, continue to be marked by scandal. Republican nominee François Fillon was placed under formal investigation Tuesday on multiple counts, including embezzlement of public funds. He is accused of paying his wife and children for work they did not do. Fillon was already under pressure to stand down as a nominee, and those calls will likely get louder now.
And he’s not the only one: Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, a Trump supporter and a front-runner, is also under scrutiny after several members of her staff were accused by officials of being paid for non-existent jobs. She is also under inquiry for violent images she sent on Twitter of ISIS killings. CNN
Premature death tied to air pollution
New research from China suggests clean air can save millions of lives. Researchers at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention compared the levels of particulate air pollution in 38 of China’s largest cities. Over a three-and-a-half-year period from 2010 to 2013, the researchers recorded more than 350,000 deaths. Examining those deaths, the researchers found that 87 percent of them could be tied to high levels of particulate matter in the air.
And the more research they did they discovered that air pollution “appeared to have a much greater impact on deaths due to cardiorespiratory diseases,” the researchers said in a press release, “such as asthma and chronic lung disease (COPD), than it did on deaths due to other causes.” Mean while in US, Trump administration may be ready to roll back some regulations covered by the Clean Air Act limiting some pollutants that contributed to smog-choked American cities in the 1970s. VOA
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