Monthly Archives: August 2017

People will take 1.2 trillion digital photos this year — thanks to smartphones

Thanks to smartphones, millions of people around the globe are turning into prolific photographers. According to estimates from InfoTrends, people will take a hundred billion more photos in 2017 than they did in 2016. As highlighted by this chart from Statista – which is based on the InfoTrends’ data – the vast majority of those photos will be taken on smartphones.

Sales of digital cameras have drastically declined over the years, dropping from 121.5 million in 2010 to an estimated 13 million in the first half of 2016, according to the Camera and Imaging Products Association. The sophistication of smartphone cameras allows everyday users to take high-quality pictures easily, and for most consumers, it makes no sense to spend extra money on a separate device just to take photographs.

The popularity of social-media sites including Facebook and Instagram has likely played another key role in the rise of smartphone cameras, since it’s generally much easier to upload photos from a smartphone than from stand-alone cameras. Chart of the Day 8/31

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Mike Nudelman/Business Insider

Microsoft’s CEO is once again standing up to Trump on immigration

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is speaking out in favor of DREAMers
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Getty Images/Stephen Brashear

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella took to LinkedIn on Thursday to stand up for the DREAMers – undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

With President Trump reportedly considering ending an Obama-era program that protected such immigrants from deportation, Nadella defended “smart immigration” policies, saying they can “help our economic growth and global competitiveness.”

“We care deeply about the DREAMers who work at Microsoft and fully support them. We will always stand for diversity and economic opportunity for everyone,” he wrote.

Nadella also discussed his own immigration story. As a child, he was inspired by the “ingenuity of American technology.” Later, he was able to come to the US to pursue his dreams thanks to the country’s then-welcoming immigration polices.

“This is the America that I know and of which I am a proud citizen,” he wrote. “This is the America that I love and that my family and I call home. And this is the America that I will always advocate for.”

Nadella’s note followed a post on Microsoft’s official blog by Brad Smith, the company’s president. Microsoft is “deeply concerned” at the prospect of Trump ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects DREAMers, Smith wrote, noting that the move would affect 27 company employees. Over the next decade, the program’s end could cost the American economy $460 billion in lost gross domestic product, and could mean $24.6 billion less in contributions to Social Security and Medicare, he said, citing unnamed studies.

“DACA recipients bring a wide array of educational and professional backgrounds that enable them to contribute in crucial ways to our nation’s workforce,” he wrote.

This isn’t the first time Microsoft officials have raised their voices to oppose Trump’s immigration policies. The company and Nadella also issued a statement when Trump announced his plan to ban immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Earlier this year, Nadella spoke at the White House, talking about his path to the American dream and advocating for diversity and opportunity for all.

You can read Nadella’s full statement here.

Here’s a look at Mike Pence’s visit to the Harvey disaster area

Vice President Mike Pence visited Texas to survey the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey on Thursday.

After touching down in Corpus Christi, Texas, Pence expressed support for victims and promised to help the state rebuild “stronger and better than before,” according to the Associated Press.

Texas endured five days of rain that flooded major cities, including Houston, with nearly 52 inches of water, a record for the continental US.

“The President sent Karen and I here today to survey the damage and ensure that the full resources of the federal government are being brought in support of the effort of state and local officials,” Pence said during a press briefing, “to rescue those that are in harms way, to help communities begin to recover, and to lay a foundation to rebuild Texas in the wake of this horrific storm.

Here’s a look at Pence’s trip to view damage from the Texas storm:


Pence and his wife Karen landed in Corpus Christi, Texas on Thursday to surveil the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey’s heavy floods.


Pence was greeted by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who recently mobilized all 12,000 members of the Texas National Guard to assist in relief efforts.

Source: Military.com


Pence visited the coastal town of Rockport, one of the towns first hit by Harvey’s devastating path of destruction, where he said that President Donald Trump’s administration was “with you and we will stay with you until Rockport and all of southeast Texas come back.”

Source: The Associated Press


Pence also visited Victoria, Texas, where organizations were providing supplies, such as cans of tuna, cookies, and cheese, to victims. Although the city lacks power, water is reported to be running.

Source: The Associated Press


“We are going to see our way through this crisis and the best days for Victoria and the best days for Texas are yet to come,” Pence said.

Source: The Associated Press


Pence and other state and local officials also helped clear out debris in Rockport.


The Pences also visited a church damaged by the storm and led a prayer. Pence mentioned that the US was inspired by the actions of Texans in the face of adversity.

Texas, Louisiana begin long recovery from catastrophic flooding as the remnants of Hurricane Harvey move northeast

    Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast Friday, August 25, with winds topping 130 mph. By Thursday, August 31, it was making its way northeast across Louisiana as a tropical depression with winds up to 20 mph. A rain gauge near Highlands, Texas, registered 51.88 inches of rainfall, breaking the record for the continental US. At least 41 deaths have been reported, and officials expect the toll to rise. Tens of thousands of people have taken refuge in shelters as dangerous flooding slowly recedes.

The worst of Hurricane Harvey was over by Thursday, August 31, but recovery from the feet of rain the storm dropped in Texas and Louisiana should take months.

Harvey was downgraded to a tropical depression on Wednesday night, but many parts of Texas and western Louisiana were still underwater a week after the storm started. And the monster storm was not done yet – it’s expected to cause flash flooding through many parts of Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas through Saturday.

Harvey’s death toll continues to rise as family members and authorities report more fatalities. Galveston County Emergency Management confirmed three more deaths on Wednesday night, bringing the total to at least 41.

Some 33,000 people in Texas have sought refuge in more than 230 shelters, and 325,000 have signed up for disaster assistance, officials said.

“This is a landmark event for Texas,” Brock Long, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, said Monday. “Texas has never seen an event like this.”

Record rainfall and catastrophic flooding

Harvey arrived on the shores of Texas as a hurricane Friday night, packing sustained wind speeds as high as 130 mph. It made a second landfall as a tropical storm on the Texas border near Cameron, Louisiana, around 4:30 a.m. CDT on Wednesday. As of Thursday evening, it was classified a tropical depression with maximum winds of 20 mph.

On Tuesday, a rain gauge near Highlands, Texas registered 51.88 inches of rainfall – breaking the record for most rainfall from a single storm in the entire continental US. Houston saw 44 inches, plunging much of the city underwater.

The storm’s devastation continued to create problems in Texas. Early Thursday morning, a chemical plant in Crosby – 25 miles northeast of Houston – reported two explosions, and residents evacuated within a 1.5-mile square radius.

hurricane harvey houston flood

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Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas on August 27, 2017.
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REUTERS/Richard Carson

The “relentless, torrential” rain has moved east, and forecasters expect it to fizzle out by Saturday.

The federal Weather Prediction Center said Tennessee, Kentucky, the southeastern tip of Indiana, southern Ohio, and West Virginia could see 2 to 5 inches of rain from the storm through Saturday. Totals in isolated areas could reach 6 to 8 inches from western Tennessee to central Kentucky.

At 4 p.m. CDT on Thursday, Harvey was moving northeast across Mississippi at 20 mph, leaving flooding and destruction in its wake. The center of the storm was sitting about 109 miles north of Jackson.

The storm surge – the quick rise in water caused by a hurricane’s strong winds – crested several feet at the height of the storm on the Texas coast. By Thursday, all local storm surge warnings had ended.

The National Weather Service called the rainfall event “unprecedented“, and while the National Hurricane Center’s warnings of “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” have subsided, the floodwaters in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana will take days, if not a week, to retreat.

‘Widespread devastation’

Harvey’s devastating hurricane-force winds, storm surge on the Gulf Coast, and landmark flooding inland combined to make it a catastrophic event for Texas.

Officials expect more deaths to be confirmed as Texas and Louisiana dig out from the worst storm in over a decade. Houston police Chief Art Acevedo told The Associated Press on Monday that he was “really worried about how many bodies we’re going to find” when the floodwaters recede.

The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday that a police Sgt. Steve Perez, a 60-year-old man who had been on the force for 34 years, died in his patrol car after he took a wrong turn and got caught in the high water.

Long said in a press conference Monday (and reiterated on Wednesday) that crews were still focusing on rescue and recovery and would have to wait until the storm passed to fully evaluate the damage. Flooding and debris on roadways are still keeping emergency crews from reaching some places.

On Thursday, Houston firefighters started going door-to-door in order to search for survivors and survey the destruction. The Texas Department of Public Safety reported that at least 37,000 homes had sustained major damage and that 7,000 were destroyed.

Accounts of destruction in the areas hit hardest by Harvey have been steadily emerging.

Emergency crews plucked people from rooftops using aircraft, dump trucks, and boats as the floodwaters rose.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said 911 emergency services in the city had received over 56,000 calls by Monday. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said on Wednesday that 8,500 people had been rescued statewide.

The Associated Press estimated that the storm knocked out power for about 300,000 residents over the weekend, and that there were still 107,000 power outages in Texas on Wednesday afternoon. Energy companies were working hard to restore power.

Turner announced a curfew on Tuesday night, extending from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday, amid reports of looting, armed robberies and people impersonating police officers.

Near Port Arthur, Texas, a city located about 90 miles east of Houston in Jefferson County, over 26 inches of rain were recorded on Tuesday alone. Residents in the area were desperate to escape, and 150 boats came to find them. Mayor Derrick Freeman told CBS News that 20,000 homes had as much as 6 feet of water in them.

The coastal city of Rockport, Texas, located near the point where the hurricane initially made landfall, sustained extreme damage. Residents have been told it is not safe to return for the time being (a mandatory evacuation was put in place there). Mayor Charles Wax of Rockport told CNN there had “been widespread devastation.”

As the storm approached Friday, Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Rios of Rockport requested that people who did not evacuate write their names and Social Security numbers on their arms in case rescuers later needed to identify them.

hurricane harvey rockport

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A Rockport, Texas, firefighter went door-to-door on Saturday looking for people who may need help after Hurricane Harvey passed through.
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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Harvey could cause up to $75 billion in damage, Enki Research estimated – and other projections are even higher.

The Category 4 storm Hurricane Ike, the most recent major hurricane to hit the Texas Gulf Coast, caused $38 billion in damage in 2008. When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, it caused over $100 billion in damage.

Why Harvey’s hurricane category didn’t tell the full story

Hal Needham, a hurricane scientist at Louisiana State University, wrote in a blog post on the weather site WXshift that a storm’s category doesn’t fully convey how dangerous rainfall could be and how much damage it could cause.

“Hurricanes and tropical storms throw three hazards at us: wind, rainfall, and storm surge,” he wrote. “Think of the impacts separately. Storms with weaker winds are more likely to stall and dump heavier rainfall. This shocks people, as it would seem intuitive that a Category 5 hurricane would tend to dump more rain than a Category 1 hurricane. But the opposite is true.”

While strong winds can rip shingles off roofs and tear down power lines, flooding often causes more widespread, costlier damage – and can be more dangerous for humans. The scale used to distinguish a hurricane from a tropical storm is based solely on maximum sustained wind, but Needham explained that “storms are too complex to define by one number.”

Saffir-simpson hurricane scale

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Ana Pelisson/Business Insider

Trump’s ‘first serious’ crisis

Hurricane Harvey is Donald Trump’s “first serious” crisis from a natural disaster as president. He flew to Corpus Christi Tuesday morning with first lady Melania Trump to survey the damage and relief efforts, and made a stop in Austin to attend a briefing on emergency operations from Texas leadership.

“We want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it,” Trump said at a press conference alongside Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “This was of epic proportion. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this.”

How Texas and Louisiana prepared

Thousands of Texas residents, many in the towns of Port Aransas, Port O’Connor, and Corpus Christi, near where the hurricane first made landfall, evacuated before the storm. The Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority began busing evacuees to San Antonio on Thursday.

Houston didn’t order evacuations before the storm hit, and only issued orders in some areas of Harris County on Monday and Tuesday. Jeff Masters, a meteorologist at The Weather Company who cofounded the weather-data website Weather Underground, recommended evacuating only if local emergency experts said to do so. Many of the deaths during Hurricane Rita in 2005 occurred as people tried to evacuate.

hurricane harvey flooding refugees disaster victims rain RTX3DQKG

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Residents wade through floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Beaumont Place, Houston on August 28, 2017.
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Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Abbott declared a state of disaster August 23 for 30 Texas counties, then added 20 counties to that declaration on Saturday and another four on Sunday, freeing up state money and resources to respond to the storm.

He also issued a federal disaster declaration in 33 counties, which Trump approved. Trump has approved emergency disaster declarations in both Texas and Louisiana, directing federal aid toward the affected areas.

On Monday morning, Abbott activated the entire Texas National Guard of 12,000 people, and increased the number deployed to 24,000 National Guard troops on Thursday.

Before the storm hit, the American Red Cross opened pop-up shelters throughout Houston and San Antonio. Dallas opened shelters as well, and Mayor Mike Rawlings invited those stranded to seek refuge in a press conference Tuesday morning.

Turner, Houston’s mayor, said Tuesday that more than 9,000 people were seeking shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the largest shelter that has been opened so far. It has a 5,000-cot capacity.

The Health and Human Services Department deployed assets to Texas and Louisiana ahead of Harvey’s landfall, moving six teams of emergency medical responders to the Dallas area as well as teams to support medical personnel in both states.

FEMA said it readied over 4.6 million meals, more than 5.1 million liters of water, and 15,000 federal staff members for the storm response.

Long, the FEMA administrator, recommended that people seeking to help those affected by the storm donate to an organization on the site www.nvoad.org.

Incredible satellite photos show Texas before and after Harvey flooded the region

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Flooding in Simonton, Texas, left by Hurricane Harvey and its remnant storms.
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DigitalGlobe

As eastern Texas saw its first clear skies and sunshine in days on Wednesday, satellites in space got to work photographing the damage left by Hurricane Harvey.

Harris County and Greater Houston in Texas, which is home to roughly 5 million people, took the brunt of the storm’s record-breaking rainfall.

So far only drones and airplanes have been able to perform photo surveys from above the storm’s devastation, which claimed dozens of lives.

On Thursday, however, companies that operate satellites in orbit and sell the image data – like Deimos Imaging, UrtheCast, and DigitalGlobe – released a fresh batch of before-and-after photos of Texas.

Here are some of the most revealing views of the devastation. To compare pre- and post-Harvey images, drag the slider to the left and right.


Simonton, Texas.


A zoomed-in area of Simonton.


Angleton, Texas.


Brookshire, Texas.


Rosenberg, Texas.


Wharton, Texas.


A zoomed-in area of Wharton.


Holiday Lakes, Texas.


DigitalGlobe also released this pre-Harvey image of the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas.

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The chemical plant as seen by the WorldView-3 satellite on January 29.
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DigitalGlobe

No “after” image has been released yet, but flooding caused the chemical plant to explode twice on Thursday, sickening nearby emergency workers with clouds of fumes.

Trump just took a big step in undermining Obamacare

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President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016.
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REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The Trump administration is taking a big step toward undermining the Obamacare exchanges for 2018.

The budget for outreach to encourage people to sign up for 2018 insurance through the Obamacare exchanges will be sliced by a total of $116.5 million, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Typically the Obama administration poured money into outreach during the open enrollment period – the few months out of the year that people could sign up for health insurance for the coming year – to help get as many people covered as possible.

But the budget for advertisements encouraging enrollment will be reduced dramatically this year – to $10 million, down from $100 million in 2016, according to HHS. Additionally, the budget for the Navigator program, which trains people to assist others in signing up for coverage, will be cut to $36 million from $62.5 million last year.

A release from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that new funding levels were determined “based on previous evaluation of past Exchange outreach efforts.”

Increasing enrollment is a big step to ensure that younger, healthy people sign up for coverage. This not only provides them with insurance, but it helps balance out the risk pool, keeps costs down for all enrollees, and mitigates losses for insurers participating in the exchanges.

If enrollment declines, it could lead to higher costs for Americans and an uptick in the uninsured rate according to Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy think tank.

“There’s little question that cutting back on outreach and advertising will result in more people uninsured,” said Levitt. “Those who fail to sign up will be healthier than average, which will cause the risk pool to deteriorate and premiums to rise. This is not a signal that the administration is trying to make the law succeed.”

The moves come after the Trump administration already slashed the length of open enrollment in half. It is now from November 1 to December 15. In past years, open enrollment ran from the start of November to the end of January.

The move was swiftly condemned by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“The Trump administration is deliberately attempting to sabotage our health care system,” Schumer said in a statement. “When the number of people with health insurance declines and costs skyrocket, the American people will know who’s to blame.”

LaMelo Ball now has his own $400 Big Baller Brand shoes raising concerns about college eligibility

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

While it might feel like ages, it was only months ago that LaVar Ball entered our lives with a slew of loudly-stated scorching-hot takes that basketball fans and the media at large couldn’t help but revel in.

One of the first takes that put the Big Baller Brand on the map was LaVar’s insistence on a billion-dollar shoe deal for the branding rights to all three of his sons over the course of their respective NBA careers.

Ball was rejected by Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour and chose to forge ahead on his own, realeasing Lonzo’s first signature shoe under the Big Baller Brand.

Now, the youngest Ball brother is getting in on the action as well.

LaMelo Ball is still in high school, but is currently the seventh-ranked player of the 2019 draft class according to ESPN. He’s committed to follow both of his older brothers’ path and play at UCLA before leaving for the NBA, but the release of his shoe, the $395 “Melo Ball 1,” raises concerns about LaMelo’s eligibility once he makes it to the Bruins.

Playing at Chino Hills High School, LaMelo isn’t violating any rules as the man behind his own shoe, but according to NCAA rules, the use of any player’s name or image to advertise or promote a product is strictly forbidden, leaving some questions about what would happen if LaMelo went to UCLA with a shoe named after him already available for purchase.

“We’ll worry about it when we get there,” said Ball family patriarch LaVar to ESPN, confident as ever. “We’ll worry about it when we get there. Who cares? If he can’t play, then he can’t play. It doesn’t mean he’ll stop working out and getting better. Maybe in two years they’ll change the rule and he’ll be able to the NBA straight out of high school.”

The Melo Ball 1’s are available for pre-order now at Big Baller Brand with a starting price of $395.

Trump’s legal team reportedly told investigators that Trump did not obstruct justice by firing James Comey

President Donald Trump’s legal team has met with and sent memos to special counsel Robert Mueller arguing that Trump did not obstruct justice when he abruptly fired James Comey as FBI director in May, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.

In one June memo, Trump’s lawyers reportedly argued that the president has full authority, granted by the Constitution, to hire or fire whomever he wants, and therefore did not obstruct justice.

Another memo expressed doubt that Comey would be a reliable witness, accusing him of being prone to exaggeration, providing unreliable congressional testimony, and leaking information to reporters, according to the Journal.

In response, White House special counsel Ty Cobb told the newspaper that the Trump administration has “great respect for the special counsel.”

“Out of respect for his process we will not be discussing incremental responses,” Cobb said.

Mueller and his team are investigating potential collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives during the 2016 election. The memos and meetings between Trump’s legal team and the special counsel are the first glimpse into the sweeping, secretive investigation since Mueller was appointed by the Department of Justice following Comey’s firing.

According to the Journal, Mueller did not respond to the memo that declared Trump had not obstructed justice by firing Comey, nor did he respond to the argument questioning Comey’s reliability as a witness.

One legal expert told the Journal that such interactions between Trump’s legal team and Mueller were not out of the ordinary.

“Your objective is to find out what they’ve got and get ahead of them,” Julie Rose O’Sullivan, a Georgetown Law professor who worked on the independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton’s Whitewater scandal, told the Journal. “You definitely want some contact so you get a sense of where it’s going and take their temperature.”

Ivanka Trump says the equal-pay initiative her father blocked wouldn’t have worked — but they don’t have a better solution

    White House officials blocked an Obama-era initiative to collect salary data sorted by employees’ gender, race, and ethnicity. Ivanka Trump, who has been an outspoken supporter of women’s equality in the workforce, supported the move. Critics say the wage gap will persist if we fail to enact policies that promote equality.

Much is assumed about the pay gap, but high-quality data is hard to come by.

That was set to change in 2018, when an Obama-era rule requiring businesses to collect salary data sorted by gender, race, and ethnicity was supposed to go into effect.

On Tuesday, White House officials announced a plan to roll back the rule, calling it “enormously burdensome” to companies, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Equal-pay advocates argue, however, that pay discrepancies among employees create an undue burden for those paid less for equal work.

Private companies with 100 or more employees, as well as federal contractors with 50 or more, already report demographic data, including employees’ gender, race, and ethnicity, to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The newly blocked initiative would have required employers to add aggregated salary data as well.

Companies took issue with the rule when it was introduced, claiming that the data would not shed light on the reasons behind pay discrepancies. Employers feared that reporting the information would be a costly undertaking as well, because demographic data and payroll data are usually housed in different software systems.

Ivanka Trump, a self-described “advocate for the education & empowerment of women & girls,” supported the White House’s decision, telling The Journal in a statement:

“‘Ultimately, while I believe the intention was good and agree that pay transparency is important, the proposed policy would not yield the intended results,’ Ms. Trump said. ‘We look forward to continuing to work with EEOC, OMB, Congress and all relevant stakeholders on robust policies aimed at eliminating the gender wage gap.'”

Some local governments have taken matters into their own hands. In New York City, for example, a new law bars public and private employers from asking job candidates about their current or previous salary. The city’s public advocate, Letitia James, introduced the legislation, and she says that discussing previous salary information increases wage discrimination.

“Being underpaid once should not condemn one to a lifetime of inequity,” James said in a press release when the bill was passed in April. “We will never close the wage gap unless we continue to enact proactive policies that promote economic justice and equity.”

In the US, a woman earns on average $0.79 for every dollar a man makes, and the gap is larger for women of color. But the pay gap is not consistent across industries, companies, and positions, making the discrepancy difficult to root out and resolve. More data presumably would help achieve the goal of wage equality.

It’s well documented that low-wage earners suffer unduly from this gap, but even among the highest earners in the US, women earn on average $0.39 for every dollar made by men, according to an analysis of the 2015 American Community Survey by the labor-economics research firm Job Search Intelligence.

Top earners men and women

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Andy Kiersz/Business Insider

Taking steps to close the wage gap – especially among mothers – is something Trump, the author of the book “Women Who Work,” has long spoken about. Last year, while her father was campaigning for president, she told Business Insider:

“Women are the primary breadwinners in 40% of American households. So I think we’re at this point where we’re doing a lot and a lot is falling upon us, and we need support, and we need relief. And one of the things I’m very excited for is a policy plan that my father’s campaign is going to be rolling out shortly to articulate exactly what he would do to address issues, predominantly wage inequality in America and proposals specific to childcare as well.”

So far, a concrete plan to reduce wage inequality hasn’t materialized from the Trump administration.

Irma is now a major Category 3 hurricane as it moves across the Atlantic

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National Hurricane Center

Hurricane Irma is intensifying as it makes its way across the Atlantic. It’s now a major Category 3 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.

It’s too early to know whether the storm will make landfall in the Caribbean, Mexico, or the US, though some models suggest it could head toward the Eastern seaboard or Gulf of Mexico.

Irma has captured the attention of meteorologists, since it has the potential to become a Category 4 or even a Category 5 storm before reaching the Antilles next week.

“It’s way too early to say for sure if Irma is going to have any impacts on the United States, but anytime the forecast models are predicting a potentially strong hurricane headed northwest across the tropical Atlantic, I’d pay attention,” Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University who specializes in Atlantic hurricane forecasts, told Business Insider.

An analysis of Irma early Thursday morning showed 70 mph winds, making it a tropical storm. But by 11 a.m., sustained wind speeds had jumped to almost 100 mph with some higher gusts, causing it to become a Category 2 hurricane. By 4:30 p.m., Irma had sustained winds at 115 mph, making it the season’s second major hurricane – a term used for storms that reach Category 3 storms or above.

Michael Ventrice, a meteorological scientist at The Weather Company (the group behind the Weather Channel and Weather Underground) told Business Insider that “it could be the strongest hurricane of the year.”

Projections for where Irma will go from here vary greatly – if it turns north, it could veer off into the Atlantic, away from the US.

But certain projections show that a more direct path toward land is possible. A few models suggest Irma could head towards the East Coast. But Ventrice said that “some of the better performing models that are correctly handling [Irma’s] initial formation are more favorable towards the Gulf of Mexico” – the region that is still suffering from Harvey.

A combination of conditions – including a warm tropical Atlantic, a weak wind shear, and a change from drier to wetter weather – made it easy for Irma to pick up strength, according to Klotzbach. The storm could put us far ahead of the average accumulated cyclone energy (a measure of the energy of tropical cyclone systems) for this time of year, he said.

Both CSU and The Weather Company predicted an unusually active hurricane season this year. Irma is the fourth hurricane of 2017, but the average date of the fourth hurricane in a year is September 21. The peak of the season is around September 10.

Klotzbach said half of the season’s cyclone energy usually occurs in September, meaning major hurricanes are likely still to come.

Big hurricanes are usually defined by their wind force, but as we saw with Harvey – which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane but caused most of its damage due to heavy rain – the number doesn’t always accurately predict a storm’s impact.

Saffir-simpson hurricane scale

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Ana Pelisson/Business Insider

Since Irma formed so far to the east, it’s a real test for weather prediction, according to Ventrice. Forecasters will have a better idea of what to expect from the hurricane b the middle of next week.

At the same time, meteorologists are also monitoring a disturbance in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico that could bring additional rainfall to the already flooded Texas and Louisiana coasts sometime early next week.