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September 26, 2017

Six days after Hurricane Maria churned over Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, destroying homes and leaving almost the entire U.S. territory without electricity during the hottest season, things are "brutal," resident Juan Bautista Gonzalez tells Bloomberg News. "No one can sleep. I spend all night tossing and turning. This is chaos." Many people don't have enough food or water, there is no internet, cellphone service is scarce, gas lines are long, and few people have air conditioning.

Maria cost $40 billion to $85 billion in insured losses across the Caribbean but mostly in Puerto Rico, catastrophe-modeling firm AIR Worldwide estimated on Monday. The federal government stepped up its relief efforts on Monday, sending FEMA head Brock Long and Tom Bossert to the island. Along with 1,400 National Guard personnel, FEMA said it has 700 people on the ground in Puerto Rico and the Energy Department has crews working on the long process of restoring power.

Congress is discussing an aid package, the five living former presidents extended their One America Appeal fundraising campaign to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Monday, and after being criticized for tweeting about the NFL but not a U.S. territory with 3.4 million suffering Americans, President Trump sent out some tweets on Monday night:

In an interview with Fox News, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló acknowledged the territory's debt problem but asked for Congress to send help to address the "unfolding humanitarian crisis" in part of America. Peter Weber

October 20, 2017

The White House on Friday called it "highly inappropriate" to question Chief of Staff John Kelly's mischaracterization of Rep. Frederica Wilson's (D-Fla.) 2015 speech at the dedication of a new FBI building. In addition to skewering Wilson for sharing the details of a phone call between President Trump and the widow of a U.S. service member killed in Niger on Thursday, Kelly claimed Wilson once "talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for" the FBI building. In a video from the dedication surfaced by the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Friday, Wilson takes credit for naming the building but does not claim to have secured its funding.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders maintained that Wilson "also had quite a few comments that day that weren't part of that speech and weren't part of that video that were also witnessed by many people that were there."

"[Kelly] was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money," a reporter pressed.

"If you want to go after Gen. Kelly, that's up to you," Sanders said. "But I think that, if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that's something highly inappropriate." Jeva Lange

October 20, 2017

Conditions in the United States are driving more people than ever to seek refugee status in Canada, Reuters reports. More than 15,000 people have crossed the border illegally this year alone, Reuters says, citing data through late October. That's in comparison to a total of 10,370 asylum claims made in Canada during the entirety of 2013.

Interestingly, many of those asylum-seekers told Reuters that they had been living in the U.S. legally, and would have considered staying if not for the Trump administration's recent immigration crackdown and forceful rhetoric. A transcript of one asylum hearing from January, in which a Syrian refugee expressed fears about the new U.S. government, showed a tribunal member saying, "That seems to be playing out as you have feared, and today on the news I know that President Trump has suspended the Syrian refugee program. You have provided, in my view, a reasonable explanation of your failure to claim in the U.S."

Lawyers working the refugee cases told Reuters that members of the tribunals who interview asylum-seekers have "grown more sympathetic toward people who have spent time in the United States." Sixty-nine percent of the claims filed by border-crossers that were processed between March and September of this year were accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board, higher than the overall acceptance rate for all types of refugee claims in Canada last year.

Much of the recent influx is said to be taking place at the Quebec/New York crossing, and the Canadian military has set up a temporary tent encampment in response. Right-wing, anti-migrant Canadian groups, however, are staging rallies against upticks in immigration, prompting Canadians to worry that such displays "set back the cause of tolerance a couple of years." Watch scenes from one such rally below, or read more at Reuters. The Week Staff

October 20, 2017
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A 1992 law set a deadline of Oct. 26, 2017, for the president to decide whether or not to unseal the 3,600 top-secret files about the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy. The decision, then, falls on President Trump to determine if the documents should be made public. Alternately, he could seal them away if he certifies that they would cause "an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations [that] outweighs the public interest in disclosure," BuzzFeed News reports.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has introduced a House bill urging Trump to allow the documents about the 1963 assassination to be released. "Obviously it's hard for me to believe that there wasn't a certain amount of complicity in all this development," said Jones. "I don't know about the second shooter, I still have questions about whether there was a second shooter or not, I think maybe there could have been, I don't know. This might help me find out. But I do think there were people behind [shooter Lee Harvey] Oswald, I have no question about that."

In the Senate, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sponsored a bill that mirrored Jones'. It is cosponsored by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.) who said: "Americans have the right to know what our government knows."

In the spring, Judge John R. Tunheim, the former chairman of the Assassination Records Review Board, said he knew of "no bombshells" in the papers. Murphy added: "I will say this: This collection is really interesting as a snapshot of the Cold War." Read more about Congress' effort to make the papers public at BuzzFeed News and more about what could be in the documents at The Dallas Morning News. Jeva Lange

October 20, 2017
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Let's get this said right off: Dadybones Puff Ball Phone Case ($35) "isn't designed for this world." Sure, it's easy to fall for. Created by artist Lola Abbey, whose pom-pom placement skills are "exceptional," it's a portable rainbow that you'll love looking at and that other people will love looking at, too. But the pom-poms are glued to a cheap plastic case, they make an iPhone so fat that you can no longer fit it in a pocket, and after a few weeks of shedding confetti, the case also starts shedding pom-poms. Is it worth all that trouble? Not really, but it "does seem like a piece of art." The Week Staff

October 20, 2017
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Starwatchers are saying that this year's Orionid meteor shower, which will be at peak visibility this weekend, is set to be particularly dazzling because it'll coincide with low levels of moonlight. The Orionids are actually left-behind fragments of Halley's Comet, which won't be visible from Earth until 2061 (its last appearance was in 1986).

Viewers in the eastern and southwestern U.S. will have the clearest skies for meteor-watching; between midnight and dawn is when the meteors will be flying the fastest. EarthSky estimates that people living in places with low light pollution could see up to 10 to 15 meteors per hour, as the Orionid meteor shower is one of the fastest and brightest we can see from Earth because its trajectory hits the planet almost head-on. Fortunately for us, the meteors are small enough that they burn up in Earth's atmosphere before they can make contact with ground. The Week Staff

October 20, 2017
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A Mississippi school district has removed Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird from its eighth-grade curriculum because it "makes people uncomfortable." The book is a harrowing tale of racial injustice in a 1950's Southern town. James LaRue of the American Library Association objected to the removal, saying that the "classic" novel "makes us uncomfortable because it talks about things that matter." The Week Staff

October 20, 2017
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A recently concluded study by the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., as well as government task force Lab @ DC found that the use of body-worn cameras by police officers had no significant effect on use of force, NPR reports. Body cameras similarly had little impact on the occurrence of citizen complaints. The results are a disappointment to both law enforcement and community activists who were hopeful that the technology would help increase police accountability and transparency.

Lab @ DC, a group within D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D)'s administration that uses science to shape policy, partnered with the MPD to randomly assign cameras to about 2,600 officers, allowing rigorous comparison between those with cameras and those without. The study — the most robust and long-running on the subject to date — found that there was no indication that officers outfitted with cameras acted any differently, used less force, or received fewer citizen complaints.

The news doesn't come as a surprise to everyone; technology and social justice experts like Harlan Yu point out that most footage of violent police encounters comes from bystanders' cell phones anyway. An officer-worn body camera could thus be redundant in the age of smartphones and connectivity. However, Metropolitan Chief of Police Peter Newsham says that D.C.'s body cameras aren't going anywhere for now: "I think it's really important for legitimacy for the police department when we say something, to be able to back it up with a real-world view that others can see." The Week Staff

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