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A World of Water, Seen From Space


Space agencies across the planet launch the most ambitious plan yet to understand how the world’s water works. The GPM Core satellite launches from Japan on Thursday, February 27. Bill Ingalls/NASA. Late last week, from a launch pad at the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan, a rocket shot toward space. Nestled inside it was an amalgam of solar arrays and communications equipment and propulsion instruments, all of them cobbled together in the utilitarian-chic manner favored by aerospace engineers—one more satellite for the growing constellation of man-made objects sent to orbit, and observe, the Earth. NASA calls this latest satellite the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory. I propose we call it, to make things simpler for ourselves, “Core.” Core is, technically, a weather satellite, built to observe the workings of the Earth from beyond its bounds. But it’s more complex than a traditional satellite: Core gets its name from the fact that it is the central unit in a network of nine satellites studded across the exterior perimeter of the Earth, contributed to the cause by various countries and space agencies. Their job? To analyze the planet’s water, from beyond the planet. The Global Precipitation Measurement project, with Core as its central piece of orbiting infrastructure, will provide observations of the world’s snowfall and rainfall and cloud patterns, across a network, at three-hour intervals. Read the rest at The Atlantic.

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A World of Water, Seen From Space

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A World of Water, Seen From Space

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8 Surprising Facts About Cinnamon

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8 Surprising Facts About Cinnamon

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How A Leaderless Climate Change Movement Can Survive

Mother Jones

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

The history we grow up with shapes our sense of reality—it’s hard to shake. If you were young during the fight against Nazism, war seems a different, more virtuous animal than if you came of age during Vietnam. I was born in 1960, and so the first great political character of my life was Martin Luther King, Jr. I had a shadowy, child’s sense of him when he was still alive, and then a mythic one as his legend grew; after all, he had a national holiday. As a result, I think, I imagined that he set the template for how great movements worked. They had a leader, capital L.

As time went on, I learned enough about the civil rights movement to know it was much more than Dr. King. There were other great figures, from Ella Baker and Medgar Evers to Bob Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X, and there were tens of thousands more whom history doesn’t remember but who deserve great credit. And yet one’s early sense is hard to dislodge: the civil rights movement had his face on it; Gandhi carried the fight against empire; Susan B. Anthony, the battle for suffrage.

Which is why it’s a little disconcerting to look around and realize that most of the movements of the moment—even highly successful ones like the fight for gay marriage or immigrant’s rights—don’t really have easily discernible leaders. I know that there are highly capable people who have worked overtime for decades to make these movements succeed, and that they are well known to those within the struggle, but there aren’t particular people that the public at large identifies as the face of the fight. The world has changed in this way, and for the better.

It’s true, too, in the battle where I’ve spent most of my life: the fight to slow climate change and hence give the planet some margin for survival. We actually had a charismatic leader in Al Gore, but he was almost the exception that proved the rule. For one thing, a politician makes a problematic leader for a grassroots movement because boldness is hard when you still envision higher office; for another, even as he won the Nobel Prize for his remarkable work in spreading climate science, the other side used every trick and every dollar at their disposal to bring him down. He remains a vital figure in the rest of the world (partly because there he is perceived less as a politician than as a prophet), but at home his power to shape the fight has been diminished.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the movement is diminished. In fact, it’s never been stronger. In the last few years, it has blocked the construction of dozens of coal-fired power plants, fought the oil industry to a draw on the Keystone pipeline, convinced a wide swath of American institutions to divest themselves of their fossil fuel stocks, and challenged practices like mountaintop-removal coal mining and fracking for natural gas. It may not be winning the way gay marriage has won, but the movement itself continues to grow quickly, and it’s starting to claim some victories.

That’s not despite its lack of clearly identifiable leaders, I think. It’s because of it.

A Movement for a New Planet

We live in a different world from that of the civil rights movement. Save perhaps for the spectacle of presidential elections, there’s no way for individual human beings to draw the same kind of focused and sustained attention they did back then. At the moment, you could make the three evening newscasts and the cover of Time (not Newsweek, alas) and still not connect with most people. Our focus is fragmented and segmented, which may be a boon or a problem, but mostly it’s just a fact. Our attention is dispersed.

When we started five years ago, we dimly recognized this new planetary architecture. Instead of trying to draw everyone to a central place—the Mall in Washington, D.C.—for a protest, we staged 24 hours of rallies around the planet: 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries, what CNN called “the most widespread of day of political action in the planet’s history.” And we’ve gone on to do more of the same—about 20,000 demonstrations in every country but North Korea.

Part of me, though, continued to imagine that a real movement looked like the ones I’d grown up watching—or maybe some part of me wanted the glory of being a leader. In any event, I’ve spent the last few years in constant motion around the country and the Earth. I’d come to think of myself as a “leader,” and indeed my forthcoming book, Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, reflects on that growing sense of identity.

However, in recent months—and it’s the curse of an author that sometimes you change your mind after your book is in type—I’ve come to like the idea of capital L leaders less and less. It seems to me to miss the particular promise of this moment: that we could conceive of, and pursue, movements in new ways.

For environmentalists, we have a useful analogy close at hand. We’re struggling to replace a brittle, top-heavy energy system, where a few huge power plants provide our electricity, with a dispersed and lightweight grid, where 10 million solar arrays on 10 million rooftops are linked together. The engineers call this “distributed generation,” and it comes with a myriad of benefits. It’s not as prone to catastrophic failure, for one. And it can make use of dispersed energy, instead of relying on a few pools of concentrated fuel. The same principle, it seems to me, applies to movements.

In the last few weeks, for instance, helped support a nationwide series of rallies called Summerheat. We didn’t organize them ourselves. We knew great environmental justice groups all over the country, and we knew we could highlight their work, while making links between, say, standing up to a toxic Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, and standing up to the challenge of climate change.

From the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, where a tar-sands pipeline is proposed, to the Columbia River at Vancouver, Washington, where a big oil port is planned, from Utah’s Colorado Plateau, where the first US tar-sands mine has been proposed, to the coal-fired power plant at Brayton Point on the Massachusetts coast and the fracking wells of rural Ohio—Summerheat demonstrated the local depth and global reach of this emerging fossil fuel resistance. I’ve had the pleasure of going to talk at all these places and more besides, but I wasn’t crucial to any of them. I was, at best, a pollinator, not a queen bee.

Or consider a slightly older fight. In 2012, the Boston Globe magazine put a picture of me on its cover under the headline: “The Man Who Crushed the Keystone Pipeline.” I’ve got an all-too-healthy ego, but even I knew that it was over the top. I’d played a role in the fight, writing the letter that asked people to come to Washington to resist the pipeline, but it was effective because I’d gotten a dozen friends to sign it with me. And I’d been one of 1,253 people who went to jail in what was the largest civil disobedience action in this country in years. It was their combined witness that got the ball rolling. And once it was rolling, the Keystone campaign became the exact model for the sort of loosely-linked well-distributed power system I’ve been describing.

The big environmental groups played key roles, supplying lots of data and information, while keeping track of straying members of Congress. Among them were the National Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, the League of Conservation Voters, and the National Wildlife Federation, none spending time looking for credit, all pitching in. The Sierra Club played a crucial role in pulling together the biggest climate rally yet, last February’s convergence on the Mall in Washington.

Organizations and individuals on the ground were no less crucial: the indigenous groups in Alberta and elsewhere that started the fight against the pipeline which was to bring Canadian tar sands to the US Gulf Coast graciously welcomed the rest of us, without complaining about how late we were. Then there were the ranchers and farmers of Nebraska, who roused a whole stadium of football fans at a Cornhuskers game to boo a pipeline commercial; the scientists who wrote letters, the religious leaders who conducted prayer vigils. And don’t forget the bloggers who helped make sense of it all for us. One upstart website even won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the struggle.

Non-experts quickly educated themselves on the subject, becoming specialists in the corruption of the State Department process that was to okay the building of that pipeline or in the chemical composition of the bitumen that would flow through it. CREDO (half an activist organization, half a cell phone company), as well as Rainforest Action Network and The Other 98%, signed up 75,000 people pledged to civil disobedience if the pipeline were to get presidential approval.

And then there was the Hip Hop Caucus, whose head Lennox Yearwood has roused one big crowd after another, and the labor unions—nurses and transit workers, for instance—who have had the courage to stand up to the pipeline workers’ union which would benefit from the small number of jobs to be created if Keystone were built. Then there are groups of Kids Against KXL, and even a recent grandparents’ march from Camp David to the White House. Some of the most effective resistance has come from groups like Rising Tide and the Tarsands Blockade in Texas, which have organized epic tree-sitting protests to slow construction of the southern portion of the pipeline.

The Indigenous Environmental Network has been every bit as effective in demonstrating to banks the folly of investing in Albertan tar sands production. First Nations people and British Columbians have even blocked a proposed pipeline that would take those same tar sands to the Pacific Ocean for shipping to Asia, just as inspired activists have kept the particularly carbon-dirty oil out of the European Union.

We don’t know if we’ll win the northern half of the Keystone fight or not, although President Obama’s recent pledge to decide whether it should be built—his is the ultimate decision—based on how much carbon dioxide it could put into the atmosphere means that he has no good-faith way of approving it. However, it’s already clear that this kind of full-spectrum resistance has the ability to take on the huge bundles of cash that are the energy industry’s sole argument.

What the Elders Said

This sprawling campaign exemplifies the only kind of movement that will ever be able to stand up to the power of the energy giants, the richest industry the planet has ever known. In fact, any movement that hopes to head off the worst future depredations of climate change will have to get much, much larger, incorporating among other obvious allies those in the human rights and social justice arenas.

The cause couldn’t be more compelling. There’s never been a clearer threat to survival, or to justice, than the rapid rise in the planet’s temperature caused by and for the profit of a microscopic percentage of its citizens. Conversely, there can be no real answer to our climate woes that doesn’t address the insane inequalities and concentrations of power that are helping to drive us toward this disaster.

That’s why it’s such good news when people like Naomi Klein and Desmond Tutu join the climate struggle. When they take part, it becomes ever clearer that what’s underway is not, in the end, an environmental battle at all, but an all-encompassing fight over power, hunger, and the future of humanity on this planet.

Expansion by geography is similarly a must for this movement. Recently, in Istanbul, and its allies trained 500 young people from 135 countries as climate-change organizers, and each of them is now organizing conferences and campaigns in their home countries.

This sort of planet-wide expansion suggests that the value of particular national leaders is going to be limited at best. That doesn’t mean, of course, that some people won’t have more purchase than others in such a movement. Sometimes such standing comes from living in the communities most immediately and directly affected by climate change or fossil fuel depredation. When, for instance, the big climate rally finally did happen on the Mall this winter, the 50,000 in attendance may have been most affected by the words of Crystal Lameman, a young member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation whose traditional territory has been poisoned by tar sands mining.

Sometimes it comes from charisma: Van Jones may be the most articulate and engaging environmental advocate ever. Sometimes it comes from getting things right for a long time: Jim Hansen, the greatest climate scientist, gets respect even from those who disagree with him about, say, nuclear power. Sometimes it comes from organizing ability: Jane Kleeb who did such work in the hard soil of Nebraska, or Clayton Thomas-Muller who has indefatigably (though no one is beyond fatigue) organized native North America. Sometimes it comes from sacrifice: Tim DeChristopher went to jail for two years for civil disobedience, and so most of us are going to listen to what he might have to say.

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How A Leaderless Climate Change Movement Can Survive

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Company to start slaughtering horses next week, despite arson and lawsuit

Company to start slaughtering horses next week, despite arson and lawsuit


Hey, horse, did you try to burn down that New Mexico slaughterhouse?

A New Mexico slaughterhouse plans to begin killing horses for meat on Monday — despite a looming lawsuit and an apparent arson attack.

Refrigeration units at the Valley Meat Co. in Roswell., N.M., lit up in flames on Tuesday. Firefighters extinguished the blaze, but not before five compressors were damaged beyond repair. The company pledged to replace them in time to begin slaughtering horses and chilling their meat on Monday. From Albuquerque’s KOB Eyewitness News 4:

Chaves County Sheriff’s Department said substances that could have been used to start the fire were found on the units and there is reason to believe it was arson. The owners are sure of it.

We’re not endorsing arson. But this was the same meatpacking company whose worker shot a horse in the head on camera and said, “All you animal activists, fuck you.”

Perhaps an animal activist out there reciprocated the “fuck you” sentiment.

Other horse lovers have been taking a different tack in attempting to prevent the facility from starting its slaughter. From a July 2 New York Times article.

Several animal rights groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the Agriculture Department, seeking to prevent it from inspecting horse meat that some companies want to produce for human consumption. …

The animal rights groups involved in the lawsuit — the Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, Marin Humane Society, the Horses for Life Foundation and Return to Freedom, along with five individual plaintiffs — contend that the Agriculture Department did not perform reviews required by the National Environmental [Policy] Act before authorizing Valley Meat to operate.

“The U.S.D.A. has failed to consider the basic fact that horses are not raised as a food animal,” Hilary Wood, president of Front Range Equine Rescue, said in a statement. “Horse owners provide their horses with a number of substances dangerous to human health. To blatantly ignore this fact jeopardizes human health as well as the environment surrounding a horse slaughter plant.”

A hearing for that lawsuit is scheduled for Friday.

The slaughterhouse’s attorney is reminding reporters that the Bush-era Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act could lead to the arsonist being charged with terrorism.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Company to start slaughtering horses next week, despite arson and lawsuit

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For the First Time, NASA Took a Photo of the Sun’s Tail

Interstellar material builds up in front of the star LL Ori. Photo: NASA / Hubble Heritage Team

Yesterday we wrote about how the Earth is awash in the solar wind, charged particles that flow from the Sun and interact with everything in their reach. When the aurora light up the poles, that’s the solar wind. When people talk about the Voyager probes ‘leaving the solar system,’  they’re talking about the the edge of the reach of the solar wind.

Solar wind particles can stream from the Sun at speeds of more than two million miles per hour. When these particles hit the Earth, they push against our planet’s magnetic field—squashing it in the front and stretching it into a long tail in the back. The solar wind does this to all the other things in the solar system with a magnetic field, too—the tail of Jupiter’s magnetic field stretches up to 304 million miles. But the Sun’s magnetic field is being pushed as well, and for the first time researchers with NASA have taken a photo of the Sun’s stretched out tail. It may not look like much, but science is often just a bunch of colored blotches:

The Sun’s tail, or ‘heliotail,’ as seen by IBEX. Photo: NASA / IBEX

As the Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way, it passes through what’s known as the interstellar medium, a mélange of dust and gas and cosmic rays. Like a ship passing through the ocean, the Sun’s passage through the interstellar medium causes the Sun’s magnetic field to build up in front of the solar system, and to sweep the Sun’s magnetic field back in a long tail behind it. According to NASA, though we’re learning a lot about the Sun’s magnetic field because of a relatively new satellite known as the Interstellar Boundary Explorer, we still don’t know how far the Sun’s tail may be.  NASA has more detail on how they took their photo:

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For the First Time, NASA Took a Photo of the Sun’s Tail

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Poll of the Day: Nobody Wants to Get Involved in Syria

Mother Jones

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A new Pew poll tells a remarkable story: not only does the American public not want to get more involved in Syria, the American public doesn’t even want to send arms to the rebels. What’s more, this feeling is entirely bipartisan: Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all oppose arming the rebels by a margin of about 70-20. When was the last time that happened? It’s a sign of the strength of the Beltway consensus in favor of intervention that despite this, President Obama was feeling pressure from all sides to do exactly the opposite of what 70 percent of the public wants. The war gods are strong in America.

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Poll of the Day: Nobody Wants to Get Involved in Syria

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True Femininity: No Razor or Wax Needed.

Sheila M.


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$1.9 billion wind project coming to Iowa

$1.9 billion wind project coming to Iowa


/ David LeeThis wind turbine in Iowa is going to get a lot more company.

America’s wind energy boom is about to deliver the biggest economic investment in Iowa’s history — and blow a whole lot of cheap, clean electricity into the appliances and lightbulbs of the state’s residents.

Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Co. announced it would spend $1.9 billion building new wind turbines in the state, increasing the amount of wind energy generated in Iowa to about 6,000 megawatts, up from 5,000 megawatts today, according to a report in the Des Moines Register. The state aims to have 10,000 megawatts of wind operating by 2020. From the article:

The company said the project would “be built at no net cost to the company’s customers.” The added wind generation is expected to cut consumer rates by $3.3 million in 2015 and grows to $10 million annually by 2017, the company said. “This is real money back in the pockets of Iowans,” [Lt. Gov. Kim] Reynolds [R] said. …

[Gov. Terry] Branstad [R] and [Midamerican CEO] William Fehrman said green energy has been critical to attracting companies like Facebook, the social networking giant that last month announced it would build a $300 million data center in Altoona. State leaders expect Facebook to push its investment to nearly $1 billion over six years.

Facebook has pledged to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2015. …

Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said he felt everything about MidAmerican’s announcement was positive for Iowa’s economy and for future job growth. “This is home-grown energy coming from right here in Iowa. It is renewable, it is clean, and that is all a good thing for Iowans,” he said.

John Upton is a science aficionado and green news junkie who


, posts articles to


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Even the Tea Party is pissed about the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’

Even the Tea Party is pissed about the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’

Denis Giles

Everybody’s gotta pitch in to bring down Hulk, er, Monsanto.

Feeling angry about the “Monsanto Protection Act”? You know, the sneakily passed piece of legislation that allows GMO crops to be planted even in defiance of a court order? Well, you’re not alone! The law is so scary that it’s inspiring outrage from the far right.

It’s always a delight to see the left and right agree on anything, and when it comes to fighting genetically modified giant Monsanto, it may well take just that kind of a passionate coalition to get anything done.

But it’s not the GMO issue that’s turning Tea Party Patriot Dustin Siggins’ stomach — it’s the precedent this could set for other corporations that might want legal immunity. From Siggins’ blog:

This all can be boiled down into a single, common phrase: a special interest loophole, and a doozy at that. We are used to subsidies, which give your tax dollars to companies to give them advantages over competitors. We are used to special interest tax loopholes and tax credits, which provide competitive and financial benefits to those with friends in Congress. And we are familiar with regulatory burden increases, which often prevent smaller companies from competing against larger ones because of the cost of compliance.

However, this is a different kind of special interest giveaway altogether. This is a situation in which a company is given the ability to ignore court orders, in what boils down to a deregulation scheme for a particular set of industries.

Great, Siggins! Now let’s skip the Kumbaya and the flag-waving, and get right to creating a broad-based coalition with the potential of defeating Monsanto, k?

Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for



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Investigators Discover NRA Materials in Newtown Killer’s House

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Shortly after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, police investigators seized a large arsenal of weapons from the killer’s home, according to search warrants made public on Thursday. That the home of Adam Lanza and his mother, Nancy, contained an array of powerful handguns and rifles is no surprise, but the documents reveal an even darker picture than previously known to the public: Investigators also found a cache of knives, samurai swords, 1,600 rounds of ammunition, a military uniform, and news clippings about prior mass murders in the United States and abroad.

They also discovered links to the National Rifle Association.

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In addition to the pile of weaponry, the home contained a certificate from the NRA bearing Adam Lanza’s name, a NRA guide to shooting, and training manuals for various firearms, including the Bushmaster that Lanza used to carry out the slaughter. The CEO of the company that sells Bushmaster rifles sits on a powerful committee inside the NRA, as we first reported in January.

For the NRA, which has been highly effective with its messaging in the gun debate over the years, the news is a blow. The new details begin to disarm the gun group’s strategy to divert attention from the highly lethal weapons Lanza used by focusing on him as just another deranged criminal with no connection to “good guys with guns.” In his audacious speech a week after the Newtown massacre, NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre talked of “genuine monsters” lurking across America, of “people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them.” He continued: “They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?”

Now we know that “next Adam Lanza” may well have NRA certification and know-how at his fingertips.

The NRA’s response on Thursday seemed telling: flat-out denial, with some defensive kick to it. “There is no record of a member relationship between Newtown killer Adam Lanza, nor between Nancy Lanza, A. Lanza or N. Lanza with the National Rifle Association,” it said in a statement. “Reporting to the contrary is reckless, false and defamatory.”

Since the NRA makes virtually no information available to the public about its inner workings or its alleged membership, naturally we’ll have to take the group’s word against that of Connecticut law enforcement officials.

Details in the newly released documents also underscore why Lanza was capable of such terrible carnage on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary. The military-style assault rifle and 30-round magazines he used—defended by the NRA as tools of hunting and sport—allowed him to unleash 154 bullets in less than five minutes. These were the same type of highly lethal firearms used in numerous other mass shootings, which the White House and Democrats in Congress seek to outlaw.

The news came on a day when President Obama appeared at the White House with Newtown families and other mass-shooting victims to once again demand action from Congress. (Though the president’s focus is now on passing universal background checks, with political prospects dimmer for legislation banning assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.) The anguish is still fresh in Newtown and well beyond, the president said, pushing back on the notion that the emotional impact of the tragedy has started to fade:

It’s been barely a hundred days since 20 innocent children and six brave educators were taken from us by gun violence, including Grace McDonnell and Lauren Russo and Jesse Lewis, whose families are here today. That agony burns deep in the families of thousands, thousands of Americans stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun over these last 100 days, including Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed on her way to school less than two months ago, and whose mom is also here today, everything they lived for and hoped for taken away in an instant.

The president didn’t mention the NRA or its allies, but he took direct aim at their argument against universal background checks, a policy he noted has extraordinary public support, with 90 percent of Americans—including an overwhelming majority of gun owners—behind it. “What we’re proposing is not radical, it’s not taking away anybody’s gun rights. It’s something that, if we are serious, we will do it. Now is the time to turn that heartbreak into something real.” Watch his full remarks:

Mother Jones

Investigators Discover NRA Materials in Newtown Killer’s House

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