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September 7, 2017

Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 monster with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, was passing just north of Puerto Rico on Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Center said, and Puerto Rican authorities said about half of the island doesn't have power and some 50,000 residents don't have water. Parts of the U.S. territory could be without electricity for four to six months, Puerto Rico's power utility has warned.

Before hitting Puerto Rico, Irma's eye passed over the British Virgin Islands on Wednesday afternoon and raked the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin, and other islands, after damaging or demolishing nearly every building on Barbuda. About 60 percent of the island's 1,400 inhabitants are now homeless, the telecommunications structure was destroyed, and a 2-year-old child was killed, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne tells The Associated Press.

Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, is expected to remain a Category 5 or 4 hurricane over the next few days as it hits the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba, en route to Florida on Sunday. Right now, the hurricane is forecast to hit the Miami metropolitan area, though it could change direction. "This thing is a buzz saw," says Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach. "I don't see any way out of it." One plausible path has Irma pounding Miami then working its way up Florida's entire eastern coast before hitting Georgia and North and South Carolina, all of which have declared states of emergency.

President Trump has approved emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But he could be affected, too. "If it goes right up the Gold Coast like the current models are saying, then the Gold Coast is going to become the Mud Coast," says Jeff Masters, director of the Weather Underground forecasting service. "That includes Mar-a-Lago."

Irma has fed on near-perfect conditions, including water that is 1.8 degrees warmer than usual and no upper winds slowing it down, explains AP science writer Seth Borenstein. "You can't exaggerate how bad this thing is. This is nature at its most fierce."

Hurricane Irma follows on the heels of Hurricane Harvey. Two other Category 1 hurricanes, Jose and Katia, are building up steam right behind it. Peter Weber

8:47 a.m. ET
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When Attorney General Jeff Sessions meets with state attorneys general next week to discuss whether tech companies are suppressing free speech, it seems he'll now have one more thing to talk about.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that in the wake of President Trump's 2017 travel ban, Google employees discussed tweaking the company's "search-related functions" to direct users towards pro-immigration groups to which they could donate money, as well as to tell them how to get in touch with lawmakers.

This report is based on a series of leaked emails obtained by the Journal, which also show that Google discussed ways to "leverage" search results in order to counter "islamophobic, algorithmically biased results" for certain words, such as "Islam" and "Muslim."

Google says none of these concepts ever went into effect and that the emails simply show a "brainstorm of ideas." The company added that it has "never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology." Even in the email exchanges themselves, one executive warned that "we need to remain fair and balanced" and said that if they were to do this, it must also promote organizations that support the ban, suggesting the plan received some internal pushback before ultimately being discarded.

Nevertheless, Trump supporters, some of whom have argued without evidence that Google manipulates its algorithm to damage the president, seized on the report, with Donald Trump Jr. tweeting it out to his followers on Friday. Brendan Morrow

7:08 a.m. ET
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Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's fellow defenders have not embraced Ed Whelan's elaborate multi-tweet theory that Christine Blasey Ford is accusing the wrong specific man of holding her down, groping her, and stifling her screams as he tried to remove her clothes at a high school house party in the early 1980s. Ford said there was "zero chance" she would confuse Kavanaugh with the other man, now a middle school teacher whom Ford said she "socialized" with in high school and has since visited in the hospital.

Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the White House distanced themselves from Whelan's doppelgänger theory. But Whelan "had told people around him that he had spent several days putting together the theory and thought it was more convincing than her story," The Washington Post reports, citing "two friends who had talked to him." And he wasn't the only one considering the idea, the Post says. "Kavanaugh and his allies have been privately discussing a defense that would not question whether an incident involving Ford happened, but instead would raise doubts that the attacker was Kavanaugh, according to a person familiar with the discussions."

Whelan, a former clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia and former White House colleague of Kavanaugh's, has been an adviser on Kavanaugh's confirmation push along with his friend Leonard Leo, the head of the Federalist Society. His mistaken-identity theory was not well-received on Twitter, but if he really believes it to be true, Whelan probably has enough clout to get President Trump to order an FBI investigation. Peter Weber

5:47 a.m. ET

Congressional Republicans planned to run for re-election on their biggest legislative accomplishment, the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul they passed in December with zero Democratic votes. Taxes are the top issue in GOP ads, mentioned in a third of those that ran Aug. 29 to Sept. 12, USA Today reports, but more than two-thirds of those ads attacked Democrats rather than defending the GOP tax cuts. An internal survey commissioned by the Republican National Committee suggests why: By a 2-to-1 margin, voters believe the tax cuts benefit "large corporations and rich Americans" over "middle class families," according to Bloomberg News, which obtained the poll.

The survey, completed Sept. 2, found that 61 percent of voters said the tax overhaul helps the rich while 30 percent picked the middle class. Independents agreed about the wealthy benefiting by 36 percentage points. Overall, 44 percent of voters approved of the law, 45 percent opposed it. "Voters are evenly divided on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act," the report said. "But, we've lost the messaging battle on the issue." (According to the Tax Policy Center, 25 percent of the law's gains will accrue to the top 1 percent by 2025, rising to 83 percent for the top 1 percent by 2027.)

"Most voters believe that the GOP wants to cut back on" programs like Social Security and Medicare "to provide tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy," the RNC survey concludes, attributing this to "a fairly disciplined Democrat attack against the recent tax cuts." Clearly, Democrats running on ObamaCare and Republicans shying from touting tax cuts was not how Republicans thought this would play out. "If we can't sell this to the American people," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after the Senate passed the tax bill, "we ought to go into another line of work." Peter Weber

4:15 a.m. ET

President Trump visited North Carolina on Wednesday, after the waters of Hurricane Florence had subsided in some communities, and he had a lot of things to say about boats, telling the owner of one destroyed home that at least he "got a nice boat out of the deal," Stephen Colbert noted on Thursday's Late Show. "His comments are so disturbingly inappropriate relative to this tragedy, the only way we could make them remotely palatable is to turn them into a children's book. So gather round, kids, it's time to read a little book we at The Late Show put together called Whose Boat Is This Boat? Comments That Don't Help in the Aftermath of a Hurricane. Just a quick reminder, these are all actual things that he said to the storm-ravaged people." Also, the illustrations are actually pretty great. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:29 a.m. ET

On Thursday, ABC News reported that Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime personal lawyer and "fixer," has spent hours talking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators about Trump's dealings with Russia and whether he had offered Cohen a pardon, which could amount to obstruction of justice.

The ABC News report cited "sources" for its scoop, but ABC's Meridith McGraw captured a tweet from Cohen's account, quickly deleted, seeming to confirm (in the third person) that Cohen had volunteered "critical information to the #MuellerInvestigation without a cooperation agreement."

Journalist Yashar Ali suggested that Cohen had been test-writing a tweet for someone else, and he appeared to be right, when Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis posted the tweet from his own account.

But Davis had a different explanation:

The bottom line would seem to be firsthand confirmation that Cohen is cooperating with Mueller. And that's potentially bad news for Trump. Peter Weber

2:05 a.m. ET
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As Terry Lauerman can attest, there's no better place to enjoy a cat nap than at an animal rescue.

Lauerman, 75, visits the Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Green Bay, Wisconsin, every day. The shelter's founder, Elizabeth Feldhausen, told HuffPost on Thursday that Lauerman walked into the facility about six months ago, armed with a cat brush, and said he wanted to help with grooming. Safe Haven rescues cats with disabilities that otherwise would likely be euthanized, and Lauerman spends about three hours a day there. During each visit, Lauerman will pick up a cat, start brushing it, and then doze off, still holding the feline.

Lauerman will sleep "for about an hour, then he'll wake up and switch cats," Feldhausen said. He knows all the cats, she said, and told her volunteering is "as great of an experience for him as it is for them." On Facebook this week, the shelter wrote a post praising Lauerman, and it immediately went viral. Lauerman said he hopes the attention will result in more donations to Safe Haven, and he also praised his fellow volunteers. Safe Haven is grateful for his dedication, writing on Facebook, "We are so lucky to have a human like Terry." Catherine Garcia

1:58 a.m. ET
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Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang died Friday from a "serious illness despite efforts by domestic and international doctors and professors,” state-run Vietnam Television reports. He was 61. Quang was appointed president in April 2016, and he last appeared in public on Wednesday, at a Politburo meeting and a reception for a Chinese delegation. He was one of three top leaders in the nation, along with the prime minister and Communist Party chief, and experts described his role as largely ceremonial. Before becoming president, Quang served as minister of public security, and before that he was a police general. He grew up in a small farming community south of Hanoi. Peter Weber

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