Morristown, Aug 14 (AP/UNB) — With a pair of weekend retweets, President Donald Trump amplified an unfounded conspiracy theory.
It was hardly the first time. His political career began the same way.
Trump has a long history of spreading falsehoods drawn from the conservative fringe. His unlikely rise to the White House was fueled in part by spreading the lie that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., and he has trafficked in numerous others to malign his opponents and advance his own views.
Now he has used the power of the presidency to promote a baseless claim about the death of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, breaking another norm of the office and further sowing public confusion over the apparent suicide of one of the most high-profile inmates in the federal system. Epstein, who faced up to 45 years in prison on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges, was found dead in his cell in a Manhattan jail early Saturday.
Epstein had ties to prominent people around the globe, including Trump, who partied with him in the 2000s, and former President Bill Clinton. Within hours of Epstein's apparent suicide, Trump retweeted an accusation that tied both Bill and Hillary Clinton to the death, one of many conspiracies circulating on social media. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
Trump defended the retweet on Tuesday, calling the original poster "a very respected conservative." He said he had "no idea" whether the Clintons were involved in the death, but continued to fan the theory, saying that the former president spent far more time on Epstein's private plane, and perhaps his private island, than known.
The Clintons have denied any wrongdoing. In a statement last month, Clinton spokesman Angel Ureña said the former president took four trips —one to Asia, one to Europe and two to Africa — on Epstein's airplane in 2002 and 2003. Staff and Secret Service detail traveled with Clinton on "every leg of every trip," Urena said.
Ureña also said Clinton had never traveled to Epstein's private island.
Trump has made a similar accusation before: that the Clintons had a hand in a high-profile suicide. He previously tweeted about the 1993 death of White House aide Vince Foster, calling it "very fishy." But there is no evidence of foul play.
As he was privately considering his own run for the White House, Trump began to try to stoke doubts about Obama's legitimacy as president. He began to get notice among hard-line conservatives in 2011 when he claimed that Obama, the nation's first African American president, was not born in the United States. Even after Obama produced his long-form birth certificate that proved he was born in Hawaii, Trump repeatedly voiced the belief, only fully backing off in the final stages of the 2016 campaign.
While birtherism was Trump's most infamous conspiracy theory, it was far from his only one.
He has promoted dozens of outlandish claims, many of which are so blatantly untrue that they have not required even a cursory fact check to disprove.
Among his claims:
— That Sen. Ted Cruz's father may have had a hand in President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
— That Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered.
— That thousands of Muslims celebrated in U.S. cities after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
— That 3 million to 5 million votes were cast illegally in the 2016 election, none of them for Trump.
— That vaccines may cause autism.
— That global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
— That wind farms may cause cancer.
With the weight of the Oval Office behind these claims — some containing deliberate misinformation, others ignorance — the theories carry a degree of peril, according to presidential historian Julian Zelizer.
"We expect some semblance of truth from the Oval Office and sending out conspiracy theories like this is a whole new level of danger," Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University. "People believe some of this, people can act on some of this. People can act violently, even, and part of that comes from a president dealing in untruths and conspiracies."
For his part, Trump sometimes says that a mere retweet absolves him of any responsibility.
Repeatedly, he claimed he was just passing on information to his Twitter followers — now over 63 million — while not recognizing the significance carried by words, distributed in any fashion, by the president of the United States or leader of the Republican Party. During the 2016 campaign, in just one example, Trump retweeted false crime statistics that dramatically overstated the number of white people killed by black people.
"Bill, am I gonna check every statistic?" he told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly then. "All it was is a retweet. It wasn't from me."
Berkeley Heights, Aug 13 (AP/UNB) — Trying to hold support in the manufacturing towns that helped him win the White House in 2016, President Donald Trump is showcasing growing efforts to capitalize on western Pennsylvania's natural gas deposits by turning gas into plastics.
Trump will be in Monaca, about 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh, on Tuesday to tour Shell's soon-to-be completed Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex. The facility, which critics claim will become the largest air polluter in western Pennsylvania, is being built in an area hungry for investment.
The focus is part of a continued push by the Trump administration to increase the economy's dependence on fossil fuels in defiance of increasingly urgent warnings about climate change. And it's an embrace of plastic at a time when the world is sounding alarms over its ubiquity and impact.
Trump's appeals to blue-collar workers helped him win Beaver County, where the plant is located, by more than 18 percentage points in 2016, only to have voters turn to Democrats in 2018's midterm elections. In one of a series of defeats that led to Republicans' loss of the House, voters sent Democrat Conor Lamb to Congress after the prosperity promised by Trump's tax cuts failed to materialize.
Today, Beaver County is still struggling to recover from the shuttering of steel plants in the 1980s that surged the unemployment rate to nearly 30%. Former mill towns like Aliquippa have seen their populations shrink, while Pittsburgh has lured major tech companies like Google and Uber, fueling an economic renaissance in a city that reliably votes Democratic.
The region's natural gas deposits had been seen, for a time, as its new road to prosperity, with drilling in the Marcellus Shale reservoir transforming Pennsylvania into the nation's No. 2 natural gas state. But drops in the price of oil and gas caused the initial jobs boom from fracking to fizzle, leading companies like Shell to turn instead to plastics and so-called cracker plants — named after the process in which molecules are broken down at high heat, turning fracked ethane gas into one of the precursors for plastic.
The company was given massive tax breaks to build the petrochemicals complex, along with a $10 million site development grant, with local politicians eager to accommodate a multibillion-dollar construction project.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump would be touring the plant and delivering remarks "touting his Administration's economic accomplishments and support for America's expanding domestic manufacturing and energy production." Shell announced its plans to build the complex in 2012, when President Barack Obama was in office.
But "fracking for plastic" has drawn alarm from environmentalists and other activists, who warn of potential health and safety risks to nearby residents and bemoan the production of ever more plastic. There has been growing alarm over the sheer quantity of plastic on the planet, which has overwhelmed landfills, inundated bodies of water and permeated the deepest reaches of the ocean. Microplastics have also been found in the bodies of birds, fish, whales and people, with the health impacts largely unknown.
While many in town see the plant as an economic lifeline, other local residents, community organizations and public health advocates are planning a protest Tuesday to coincide with Trump's visit. Cheryl Johncox, a local organizer with the Sierra Club who lives in Ohio, said she expects several hundred people to attend to voice opposition to the plant, as well as demonstrate against Trump's immigration and gun policies.
In addition to concerns about the safety of their air and groundwater, her group has heard from residents "dismayed these facilities will create single-use plastic," she said.
"Of all the things we could invest in, of all the things we should be prioritizing, of all the companies we should be giving our taxpayer money to, this seems like the worst of all worlds," said David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, a statewide environmental advocacy organization, who called the project "a pretty big taxpayer boondoggle for a pretty dirty project."
A spokesman for the company, Ray Fisher, said Shell has "dedicated a great deal of time and resources" to ensure emissions from the plant meet or exceed local, state and federal requirements. "As designed, the project will actually help improve the local air shed as it relates to ozone and fine particulates," he said.
Republicans, who worry that Trump has failed to expand his voter base beyond his 2016 supporters, are eager to shift the focus from recent controversies to economic gains made on his watch.
The project currently has 5,000 construction workers. Once operational, however, the site will employ far fewer — 600 — permanent employees.
And the area still faces other headwinds. The nearby Beaver Valley Power Station, a nuclear plant that has employed 850 people, has announced plans to close in 2021.
More importantly, the area lacks younger workers, with college graduates moving east to Pittsburgh for better opportunities. The median age in the county is now 44.9, compared to 32.9 in Pittsburgh.
Dhaka, Aug 13 (UNB) - The US federal government has announced an overhaul of the way it enforces the Endangered Species Act, a law credited with preventing countless extinctions reports BBC.
Trump officials say the new plan will reduce regulations, but environmental groups warn it will "crash a bulldozer" through the landmark 1973 legislation.
The plan removes automatic protections for threatened species and allows economic factors to be considered.
Critics say the new rules will speed extinction for vulnerable wildlife.
Ten state attorneys general have announced plans to sue over the new regulation.
The Endangered Species Act, which Republican President Richard Nixon signed into law in 1973, protects more than 1,600 plant and animals species today, and is credited with saving the California condor, the Florida manatee, the gray whale and grizzly bear among others.
What's in the new regulation?
The new rules, which go into effect in 30 days, will for the first time allow economic factors to be considered when weighing what protections should be provided to vulnerable species.
Under current law, wildlife management decisions are only allowed to be based on science and "without reference to possible economic or other impacts of determination".
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, announced the change on Monday, saying the change allowed the law to "ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal - recovery of our rarest species," he said.
"An effectively administered act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation."
Gary Frazer, assistant director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, told reporters that cost of care will be disclosed to the public, and will not violate Congress' stipulation that economic costs not be weighed.
"Nothing in here in my view is a radical change for how we have been consulting and listing species for the last decade or so," he said.
'A wrecking ball'
Critics said the rule change would speed the extinction of many species, and was done just to allow industries to expand onto land required for ecological diversity.
Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity's endangered species director, said in a statement: "These changes crash a bulldozer through the Endangered Species Act's lifesaving protections for America's most vulnerable wildlife."
"For animals like wolverines and monarch butterflies, this could be the beginning of the end," Mr Greenwald added
Drew Caputo, from the group Earthjustice, threatened to sue, saying: "This effort to gut protections for endangered and threatened species has the same two features of most Trump administration actions: it's a gift to industry, and it's illegal."
Several critics noted a UN report from May, which warned that more than one million plants and animals are facing global extinction due to human development and climate change.
Democrat Senator Tom Udall, who represents the state of New Mexico, said the new regulation will "take a wrecking ball to one of our oldest and most effective environmental laws".
Erie, Aug 12 (AP/UNB) — A day care center where children could stay overnight as their parents worked was ravaged Sunday by a fire that killed five and sent the owner to the hospital, authorities said.
The victims in the lakeside city of Erie ranged in ages from 8 months to 7 years, Chief Guy Santone of the Erie Fire Department said.
At least four of the victims were staying overnight at the residential house that had been turned into a day care center, Erie Chief Fire Inspector John Widomski told the Erie Times-News.
The fire, reported at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday, was funneling out of every first-floor window when firefighters arrived, Widomski said.
Valerie Lockett-Slupski, standing across the street from the fire-damaged house, told the newspaper she was the grandmother of four of the children, and that they were staying at the day care center because their parents were working overnight. She said the family had two boys and two girls and had used the center for almost a year.
"So we are all at a loss, trying to figure out how this happened," Lockett-Slupski said.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation Sunday afternoon, Widomski told the newspaper.
The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership lists the Harris Family Daycare as "a 24 hour, 7 days a week childcare service including holidays."
The state Department of Human Services Office of Child Development and Early Learning listed the day care as in compliance with requirements following a Dec. 28, 2018, inspection. But a Jan. 3, 2019, inspection note on that listing highlighted "ashes and cigarette or cigar butts" in "a child care space, play space or food preparation area."
The day care center's response to the note reads, "I will make sure it will be cleaned up and remain that way," and the department listed the issue as corrected.
Another department note from the same date reads "protective receptacle covers shall be placed in electrical outlets accessible to children 5 years of age or younger," to which the day care's response was, "I turned the outlets so they were closed. I will make sure that they are turned closed when not in use."
That issue was also listed as being corrected.
Widomski told the newspaper that the fire appeared to have started in the living room area on the first floor. The department's two fire inspectors and three Erie police detectives trained in fire investigations are working to determine the cause of the blaze.
The owner of the center was flown to UPMC Mercy for treatment, Santone said.
Erie police detectives said the owner was in stable condition, the newspaper reported.
Santone said a neighbor was also injured.
Berkeley Heights, Aug 10 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump says North Korea's Kim Jong Un wants to meet once again to "start negotiations" after joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises end.
He says he's looking "forward to seeing Kim Jong Un in the not too distant future!"
Trump is tweeting more details from the "beautiful" three-page letter he told reporters Friday he'd received.
Trump said Saturday from his New Jersey golf club that Kim spent much of his letter complaining about "the ridiculous and expensive exercises." He says that Kim offered him "a small apology" for the flurry of recent short-range missile tests that have rattled U.S. allies in the region and that Kim assured him they would stop when exercises end.
The two leaders have met three times: in Singapore, Hanoi and at the Korean Demilitarized Zone.