The end of the world
July 25, 2014
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In spite of what fantasists, conspiracy theorists, incompetent interpreters of the Mayan calendar and Roland Emmerich suggested, the world did not end on the 21st of December 2012. But earlier that year, on the 23rd of July, the world really did come extremely close to what NASA estimates would have been a $2 trillion economic and technological disaster.

A coronal mass ejection — a huge burst of hot plasma — from the surface of the sun exploded into space. And if it had hit the Earth, the burst of charged particles would have severely damaged Earth's infrastructure of satellites, computers, the electrical grid, medical equipment, and smartphones. Unshielded electric circuits would be fried.

"If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," Daniel Baker, of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, told The Guardian. He adds that "[i]f the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire."

The sun periodically blows off huge quantities of plasma. The last time Earth was struck was 1859, an event referred to in astronomy as The Carrington Event for its discoverer Sir Richard Carrington. That was before we came to rely on electrical equipment and computers for our modern way of life. But even then, it caused telegraph lines to spark enough to set fire to some telegraph offices. And the Northern Lights, were visible as far south as Cuba.

Nobody knows when such an event will occur again, but FEMA warns Americans should be prepared for the possibility, and recommends a series of steps for preparation, including making back-up copies of important digital data and information, keeping your car's gas tank at least half full, and filling plastic containers with water and placing them in your refrigerator or freezer. John Aziz

12:18 p.m. ET
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Following in the footsteps of big businesses such as Walmart and Amazon, NASCAR and its racetracks took a stand against the Confederate flag on Thursday in light of the allegedly racially motivated June shootings at a historically black church in South Carolina, releasing a statement asking fans to refrain from bringing the flag to races, NBC Sports reports.

"We are asking our fans to join us in a renewed effort to create an all-inclusive, even more welcoming atmosphere for all who attend our events," the statement reads. "This is an opportunity for NASCAR Nation to demonstrate its sense of mutual respect and acceptance."

On Wednesday, NBC Sports reports, the Daytona International Speedway announced that it will offer a "flag exchange" at this weekend's NASCAR races — fans can bring their Confederate flags and swap them for an American flag to wave at the track instead. NASCAR noted that fans who do choose to still bring Confederate flags to events will not be banned from races. Sarah Eberspacher

surveillance state
12:18 p.m. ET
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Following the news of last week's autopsy report which concluded that Freddie Gray suffered a "high-energy injury" that likely caused his death, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Wednesday that all of the city's police vans will soon be outfitted with cameras. 

"We're working through a process that will place cameras with recording capabilities in the backs of all our police vans, to ensure that we have a more complete record of what occurs there," said Rawlings-Blake to reporters. 

In April, 25-year-old Gray was arrested for the possession of a knife and placed in a police van for transport. During the ride, the young black man suffered a severe spinal injury which proved to be fatal. The van transporting Gray had a non-recording camera which could be used to monitor prisoners, but it wasn't functional at the time of his arrest.  Stephanie Talmadge

11:15 a.m. ET

The Dalai Lama likely gets many wonderful gifts and honors from influential leaders around the world (not least among them, the Nobel Peace Prize). However, the gift presented to him by George W. Bush might not be making it onto the walls of his home anytime soon.

During a tour of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas, the former president gifted the Dalai Lama with a portrait he painted himself. The canvas bears all the hallmarks of Bush's characteristic painting style, although of course its subject is the Tibetan Buddhist leader and not, well, dogs.

The Dalai Lama was reportedly flattered, though he joked that his "right eye could use some work." Jeva Lange

Greek debt crisis
11:06 a.m. ET
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As the battle for Greek votes heats up ahead of the country's crucial weekend referendum, Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has vowed to resign from his position if the Greek people vote 'yes' on Sunday to accept strict austerity measures that would come with a bailout deal. At this point in time, both Varoufakis and Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras are pulling for Greeks to vote 'no,' in hopes that they can avoid giving into European creditors' demands and gain more leverage in negotiating a third bailout program.

In Varouakis's opinion, which he expressed in a Thursday interview with Bloomberg TV, a 'yes' vote on Sunday would mean signing a new "extend and pretend" agreement that does not actually correct past mistakes or tackle issues such as debt sustainability.

Others, such as former Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, are urging the Greek people to vote 'yes' for fear that a 'no' vote could lead to a Greek exit from the eurozone, which could throw European economies into disarray. Eurogroup finance ministers decided Wednesday that they will hold off on entering negotiations with Greece until the results of the referendum come out on Sunday. Becca Stanek

survey says
10:09 a.m. ET
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An online poll of 2,000 adults found that 35 percent of Americans would consider expatriation if the circumstances were right. Among millennials, the number willing to move out of the country jumped to more than half at 55 percent.

This comparatively high willingness to move overseas is particularly interesting in light of the unprecedented rate at which Americans are abandoning their American citizenship: Before 2010, about 500 Americans renounced their citizenship and moved abroad each year. By 2014, however, that number spiked to more than 3,400.

For those uninterested in leaving, personal ties and a simple feeling that the United States is home ranked highest among reasons to stay. Of course, when that terrible candidate from that awful political party wins the presidency next year, we'll all be threatening to move to Canada. Bonnie Kristian

Eeny Meeny Miny Moe
9:57 a.m. ET
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Fox News has announced it will hold a presidential debate for the top ten Republican candidates based on national poll numbers, but which ten candidates are selected for the A-list could vary significantly depending on which polls Fox decides to use.

This week, Fox specified that it will compose the list based on "an average of the five most recent national polls... conducted by major, nationally recognized organizations that use standard methodological techniques." The ambiguity arises because, as The Washington Examiner notes, there are more than five polls that fit those criteria.

Of course, the second-tier debate, which will feature all the candidates who didn't make the top ten, is probably going to be a lot more fun anyway. Bonnie Kristian

This just in
9:48 a.m. ET
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BP has reached an agreement with Gulf Coast states and the federal government to pay a settlement of $18.7 billion in damages and outstanding liabilities for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which is considered to be the worst in U.S. history. The payments will be spaced out across a period of 18 years, and will be given to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas. Becca Stanek

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