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US Capitol on Lockdown as Gunshots Are Reported

Mother Jones

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The US Capitol complex is on lockdown after gunshots were reported at the Capitol Visitor Center on Monday afternoon.

The Capitol’s sergeant at arms said that the shooter had been caught shortly after reports of the gunshots first surfaced.

Senate offices have received a notice urging everyone in the vicinity to seek shelter:

The White House was reportedly also locked down:

But the White House lockdown was soon lifted:

This is a breaking news post. We will update as more news becomes available.

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US Capitol on Lockdown as Gunshots Are Reported

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The Prestigious World Press Photo Finalists Are Out And They Are Breathtaking

Mother Jones

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Early each year, photographers submit their work to a slew of contests, but the most prestigious is the World Press Photo. Based in Amsterdam, the World Press Photo jury goes through thousands of images—almost 83,000 this year—to name the World Press Photo of the Year and recognize the best in different categories of photojournalism. It’s a long and sometimes grueling process. And no matter which photo is named Photo of the Year, vocal differences of opinions (if not outright controversy) in the photojournalism community often follow.

This year the jury named Australian photographer Warren Richardson‘s photo of a family crossing the Serbian-Hungarian border as the World Press Photo of the Year.

Below is a selection of winners in each of the categories. Congratulations to all the photographers.

World Press Photo of the Year and the first-place winner in the spot news, single-image category: A man passes a baby through the fence at the Serbia-Hungary border in Röszke, Hungary. Warren Richardson, World Press Photo

Spot news single image, second place: Demonstration against terrorism in Paris, after a series of five attacks occurred across the Île-de-France region, beginning at the headquarters for satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Corentin Fohlen/Divergence, World Press Photo

Spot news stories, first place: The aftermath of airstrikes in Syria Douma, a rebel-held city in a suburb of the capital Damascus, lies in the opposition bastion area of Eastern Ghouta and has been subject to massive regime aerial bombardment. The area has also been under a crippling government siege for nearly two years as part of a regime attempt to break the rebel’s hold in the region. Smoke rises from a building following reported shelling by Syrian government forces in Douma. Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP, World Press Photo

Spot news stories, second place: A wall of rock, snow, and debris slammed an Everest base camp in Nepal on April 25, 2015, killing at least 22 people and injuring many more. The avalanche was triggered by a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 8,000 people elsewhere in the country. Trekking guide Pasang Sherpa searches for survivors among flattened tents moments after the avalanche. Roberto Schmidt/AFP, World Press Photo

Spot new stories, third place: Syrians fleeing the war rush through broken-down border fences to enter Turkish territory illegally, near the Turkish border crossing at Akcakale in Sanliurfa province. Turkey said it was taking measures to limit the flow of Syrian refugees onto its territory after an influx of thousands more over the last days due to fighting between Kurds and jihadis. Under an “open-door” policy, Turkey has taken in 1.8 million refugees. Bulent Kilic/AFP, World Press Photo

General news single image, first place: A doctor rubs ointment on the burns of a 16-year-old Islamic State fighter named Jacob in front of a poster of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, at a Y.P.G. hospital compound on the outskirts of Hasaka, Syria. Mauricio Lima, World Press Photo

General news stories, first place: Refugees arrive by boat near the village of Skala on Lesbos, Greece. Sergey Ponomarev for the New York Times, World Press Photo

General news stories, second place: A Syrian girl cries at a makeshift hospital in the rebel-held area of Douma, Syria. Abd Doumany/AFP, World Press Photo

General news stories, third place: Nepalese villages watch a helicopter picking up a medical team and dropping aid at the edge of a makeshift landing zone in Gumda, Nepal. Daniel Berehulak, World Press Photo

Contemporary issues single image, first place: Tianjin, a city in northern China, is shrouded in haze. Zhang Lei, World Press Photo

Contemporary issues single image, second place: Adam Abdel, 7, was severely burned after a bomb was dropped by a Sudanese government Antonov plane next to his family home in Burgu, Central Darfur, Sudan. Adriane Ohanesian, World Press Photo

Contemporary issues single image, third place: Lamon Reccord stares down a police sergeant during a protest following the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by the police in Chicago. John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune, World Press Photo

Contemporary issues stories, first place: A photo series portraying the plight of Talibes, boys who live at Islamic schools known as Daaras in Senegal. Under the pretext of receiving a Quranic education, they are forced to beg in the streets while their religious guardians, or Marabout, collect their daily earnings. They often live in squalor and are abused and beaten. Abdoulaye, 15, is a Talibe imprisoned in a room with security bars in Thies, Senegal, to keep him from running away. Mário Cruz, World Press Photo

Contemporary issues stories, second place: Migrants rescued off the Libyan coast gather on the deck of the Doctors Without Borders rescue ship and attend a service in Strait of Sicily, Mediterranean Sea. Francesco Zizola/NOOR, World Press Photo

Contemporary issues stories, third place: Although they hadn’t planned it, Emily and Kate, who live in Maplewood, New Jersey, got pregnant within weeks of each other through artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, respectively. Their sons were born within four days of each other, and the couple embraced the challenge of raising the two babies at once. Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, World Press Photo

Sports single image, first place: The Czech Republic’s Ondrej Bank crashes during the downhill race of the Alpine Combined at the FIS World Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Christian Walgram/GEPA Pictures, World Press Photo

Sports single image, second place: During the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) 2015 Mens Basketball Tournament game with Wichita State versus Indiana, Ron Baker shoots over Nick Zeisloft while Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Rashard Kelly battle for position at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Greg Nelson/Sports Illustrated, World Press Photo

Sports single image, third place: Members of the Neptun Synchro synchronized swimming team perform during a Christmas show in Stockholm, Sweden. Jonas Lindkvist, World Press Photo

Sports stories, first place: Players of an amateur hockey team in provincial Russia rest in in the locker room at halftime. Vladmir Pesnya, World Press Photo

Sports stories, second place: The Gris-gris Wrestlers of Senegal performing rituals at a tournament. The events resemble a festival and include dance performances, music, and wrestling shows. Christian Bobst, World Press Photo

Sports stories, third place: Erison Turay founded the Ebola Survivor’s Football Club to support survivors after 38 members of his family died. Tara Todras-Whitehill/Vignette Interactive, World Press Photo

Daily life single image, first place: Chinese men pull a tricycle in a neighborhood next to a coal-fired power plant in Shanxi, China. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images, World Press Photo

Daily life single image, second place: Indigenous Munduruku children play in the Tapajos river in the tribal area of Sawre Muybu, Itaituba, Brazil. Mauricio Lima, World Press Photo

Daily life single image, third place: Raheleh, who was born blind, stands behind the window in the morning in Babol, Mazandaran, Iran. She likes the warmth of the sunlight on her face. Zohreh Saberi/Mehrnews Agency, World Press Photo

Daily life stories, first place: Chilean, Chinese, and Russian research teams in Antarctica want to explore commercial opportunities that will arise once the treaties protecting the continent for scientific purposes expire. A priest looks on in the bell room, after a vigil at the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity in Fildes Bay, Antarctica. Daniel Berehulak, World Press Photo

Daily life stories, second place: Tibetan Buddhists take part in the annual Bliss Dharma Assembly in Sichuan province, China. The last of four annual assemblies, the weeklong annual gathering marks Buddha’s descent from the heavens. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images, World Press Photo

Daily life stories, third place: A group of friends from Alemão, a slum in Rio de Janeiro, formed a media collective called Papo Reto, or “straight talk.” Social media allow them to report stories from their community that are otherwise ignored by traditional media. In this photo, Papo Reto collective members meet at Complexo do Alemao near a cableway station. Sebastián Liste/NOOR, World Press Photo

People single image, first place: A child is covered with a raincoat while she waits in line to register at a refugee camp in Preševo, Serbia. Matic Zorman, World Press Photo

People single image, second place: A mine worker takes a smoke break before going back into the pit. Miners in Bani, Burkina Faso, face harsh conditions and exposure to toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Matjaz Krivic, World Press Photo

People single image, third place: Portrait of a Syrian refugee family in a camp in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, on December, 15, 2015. The empty chair in the photograph represents a family member who has either died in the war or whose whereabouts are unknown. Dario Mitidieri, World Press Photo

People stories, second place: Young girls between the ages of 7 and 11 are chosen every year as “Maya” for the “Las Mayas,” a festival derived from pagan rites celebrating the arrival of spring, in the town of Colmenar Viejo, Spain. The girls are required to sit still for a couple of hours at a decorated altar. Daniel Ochoa de Olza, World Press Photo

Nature single image, first place: A massive “cloud tsunami” looms over Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, as a sunbather reads, oblivious to the approaching cloud. Roahn Kelly/News Corp Australia, World Press Photo

Nature single image, second place: Divers observe and surround a humpback whale and her newborn calf while they swim around Roca Partida in Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico. Anuar Patjane, World Press Photo

Nature single image, third place: This image taken in Colima, Mexico, shows the Colima Volcano during a powerful night explosion with lightning, ballistic projectiles, and incandescent rock falls. Sergio Tapiro, World Press Photo

Nature stories, first place: In this and other images, the lives of wild orangutans are brought to light. Threats to these orangutans range from fires and the illegal animal trade to loss of habitat due to deforestation. Many orphan orangutans end up at rehabilitation centers. A Bornean orangutan climbs over 30 meters up a tree in the rain forest of Gunung Palung National Park, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Tim Laman, World Press Photo

Nature stories, second place: This image was part of a series that portrays the armed groups that profit most from the illegal ivory trade and the people at the frontline of the war against them, as well as others affected. A Lord’s Resistance Army fighter holds two ivory tusks on Near, Sudan. Ivory is a means of financing the LRA and is used for both food and weapon supplies. Brent Stirton/Getty Images for National Geographic, World Press Photo

Nature stories, third place: Madagascar holds more than half the world’s chameleon species; however, as a result of deforestation and habitat loss, 50 percent of the chameleon species is endangered. A Furcifer ambrensis female with an extendable tongue forages for insects in Montain d’Ambre, Madagascar. Christian Ziegler for National Geographic, World Press Photo

Long-term project, first place: This photo is part of a series portraying women who have been raped or sexually assaulted during their service with the US Armed Forces. Now, only 1 out of 10 reported sexual-violence cases goes to trial, and most military rape survivors are forced out of service. US Army Specialist Natasha Schuette, 21, was pressured not to report being assaulted by her drill sergeant during basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Though she was hazed by her assailant’s fellow drill instructors, she refused to back down, and Staff Sergeant Louis Corral is now serving four years in prison for assaulting her and four other female trainees. The US Army rewarded Natasha for her courage to report her assault, and the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention office distributed a training video featuring her story. She is now stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (See more here). Mary F. Calvert/ZUMA Press, World Press Photo

Long-term project, second place: A daughter photographed her own parents, who were in parallel treatment for stage-four cancer, side by side. The project looks at love, life, and living in the face of death. Howie and Laurel Borowick sit next to the bathroom telephone as they hear the most recent news from their oncologist. It was good scans for both of them, and their respective tumors are shrinking. Nancy Borowich, World Press Photo

Long-term project, third place: This photographer documented urban and rural North Korea, capturing the daily life of its citizens, military events, and ceremonies. Few outsiders have ever had a glimpse of the country. The photographer negotiated unprecedented access and took more than 40 trips to North Korea. A woman sits next to models of military weapons at a festival for the “Kimilsungia” and “Kimjongilia” flowers, named after the country’s late leaders, in Pyongyang. David Guttenfelder, World Press Photo

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The Prestigious World Press Photo Finalists Are Out And They Are Breathtaking

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Cop Tells Drivers to Run Over Black Lives Matter Protesters

Mother Jones

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A St. Paul, Minnesota police officer has been placed on administrative leave after allegedly telling drivers to run over Black Lives Matter protesters who planned to block traffic as part of a march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Around 1 a.m. on Saturday, a Facebook user named “JM Roth” posted a comment on a Pioneer Press article about the scheduled protest that said: “Run them over. Keep traffic flowing and don’t slow down for any of these idiots who try and block the street.” The comment then suggested how drivers could legally justify hitting protesters with their cars:

Screenshot by Andrew Henderson, via St. Paul Pioneer Press

Andrew Henderson, a local activist who maintains the Minnesota Cop Block Facebook page, first noted and reported the comment, which has since been deleted, to the St. Paul Police Department. In phone conversations he recorded and uploaded to YouTube, Henderson told Saint Paul Police Department officials that the “JM Roth” account belonged to Sergeant Jeffrey M. Rothecker. Henderson said Rothecker had admitted in previous comments that he was “JM Roth.”

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Police Chief Thomas Smith have denounced the comment and announced that an investigation into the matter is underway. Senior Commander Shari Gray, the head of the department’s internal affairs unit, also met with Henderson on Sunday, according to the Pioneer Press.

“There is no room in the Saint Paul Police Department for employees who threaten members of the public,” Coleman said in a statement released on Monday. “If the allegation is true, we will take the strongest possible action allowed under law.”

The St. Paul Police Federation, the union for officers, is representing Rothecker, according to the Star Tribune.

The news comes one year after motorist Jeffrey P. Rice struck a teenage girl who was protesting outside a Minneapolis police station. The girl was part of a November 2014 demonstration that took place after a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. The girl suffered a minor leg injury. Last October, Rice, who is from St. Paul, pleaded guilty to a charge for failing to yield to a pedestrian. He was fined $575 and ordered to attend a driver’s education course.

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Cop Tells Drivers to Run Over Black Lives Matter Protesters

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Bowe Bergdahl Ordered to Face Court Martial

Mother Jones

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Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant whose 2014 release by the Taliban prompted a firestorm of controversy over the nature of his five-year captivity, was ordered by a high-ranking Army commander on Monday to face a court martial on charges of desertion and endangering his fellow soldiers.

If convicted of leaving his post in Afghanistan without permission, the New York Times reports, Bergdahl could face a life sentence. The date of the hearing will be announced at a later time.

An Army lawyer had previously recommended Bergdahl face lesser charges for his alleged offenses. The decision on Monday also comes just days after the popular podcast Serial launched its second season, which will investigate Bergdahl’s divisive story.

In 2014, five Taliban leaders were released in exchange for the Taliban’s release of Bergdahl.

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Bowe Bergdahl Ordered to Face Court Martial

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These Are the People Who Really Run the NRA

Mother Jones

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The National Rifle Association claims to speak for more than 5 million gun owners. But most of the shots at the organization are called by a hush-hush board of 76 directors. The majority are nominated by a top-down process and elected by a small fraction of the organization’s life members.

Since 2013, when we last looked at the NRA’s board, only five new members have joined. Two of them, Timothy Knight and Sean Maloney, played roles in the successful 2013 effort to recall two Colorado lawmakers who had voted for stronger gun laws. (A complete list of current board members is at the bottom of the page.)

by the numbers

Overall, the NRA board members are 93 percent white and 86 percent men. Most are hunters and/or shoot competitively or for sport. About a third are current or former lawmakers or government officials. About one-tenth are entertainers or athletes; nine percent own, work for, or promote gun companies. Here’s a breakdown of the current board, based on bios posted by the NRA (since deleted) and other sources:

According to the NRA’s own tax documents, all of its board members reside at the office of its general counsel. Here’s where they actually hail from:

notable members

Some noteworthy members of the current board of directors include celebrities, politicians, and a few whose family history with firearms the NRA prefers not to publicize.

Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I. Globe Photos/Zumapress

Tom Selleck
The Magnum, P.I. star, gun buff, prolific water user, and vocal gun-rights supporter was the top vote-getter in 2008’s board election. (Fellow ’80s TV heartthrob Erik Estrada sought a seat on the NRA board in 2011 but eventually withdrew his candidacy when the chips were down.)

Grover Norquist
The president of Americans for Tax Reform is a NRA Life Member and member of the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association. After Newtown, he echoed the NRA’s line: “We have got to calm down and not take tragedies like this, crimes like this, and use them for political purposes.”

J. William “Bill” Carter
Carter is a retired Border Patrol agent whose record was cited in a 1994 New York Times investigation into “the agency’s historic failure to hold managers accountable for egregious wrongdoing.” He is the son of former NRA executive vice president Harlon Carter, who helped set the organization on its current hardline course, and who, as a teenager, shot and killed a 15-year-old boy in Laredo, Texas.

Larry Craig
The former Idaho senator sponsored a 2005 law protecting gun makers from liability in connection with their products being used by criminals. He is the longest serving member of the NRA board.

Ted Nugent Amy Harris/Zumapress

Ted Nugent
At the NRA’s 2012 annual conference, the Nuge announced, “If Barack Obama becomes the next president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year,” prompting the Secret Service to meet with the R-word dropping, “tiger dick” eating Motor City Madman.

Gage Skidmore

Mercedes Viana Schlapp
Schlapp, a new board member, is a former Bush administration spokeswoman. She runs a Virginia public-affairs firm with her husband, Matthew, who is a former Koch Industries vice president and is the current chairman of the American Conservative Union.

H. Joaquin Jackson
Jackson is a retired 27-year veteran of the Texas Rangers. His son Don Joaquin is currently serving a 48-year prison sentence for his involvement in a double homicide. In his memoir, One Ranger, Jackson quotes his son’s partner in crime, who said that he had committed the murder because he was “drunk and the gun was available.”

Oliver North Globe Photos/Zumapress

Oliver North
“I love speaking out for the NRA in large part because it drives the left a little bit nuts,” says the Iran-Contra conspirator-turned-conservative pundit, who was once better known for invoking the Fifth Amendment rather than the Second.

Karl Malone
In 2010, the retired NBA player upset some gun fans when he penned a column for Sports Illustrated in which he opined, “The big picture is that guns won’t protect you. If someone really wanted to get you, they would…For you to say you need a gun for your protection? My goodness gracious, how are you living that you need that?”

Patricia Clark
A record-holding shooter, Clark has been on the NRA board since 1999 and is the head of the NRA’s nominating committee, which helps pick the majority of board members. She lived in Newtown, Connecticut at the time of the 2012 school massacre there.

Ronnie G. Barrett
Founder of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing and inventor of the .50 sniper rifle, which can penetrate armor from more than 4,500 feet and is legal for civilian purchase in 49 states.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hands a pen to Marion Hammer at a 1999 gun bill signing. AP Photo/Eric Tournay

Marion Hammer
Hammer, a former NRA president, helped craft and implement Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which provided a model for similar self-defense laws in 24 other states.

David Keene
He is the former president of the NRA and the former chairman of the American Conservative Union. In 2003, his son was sentenced to 10 years in prison for shooting at another driver during a road rage incident.

Carl T. Rowan Jr.
Rowan was formerly a cop, FBI agent, and vice president of the private security firm Securitas. He is the son of columnist Carl Rowan Sr., who once caught a teenager swimming in his backyard pool and wounded him with an unlicensed handgun.

R. Lee “The Gunny” Ermey Gene Blevins/Zuma Wire

R. Lee “The Gunny” Ermey
Former Marine gunnery sergeant turned actor is best known for his turn as a drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket (who is gunned down by a suicidal recruit). He’s also a spokesman for Glock.

Robert K. Brown
The former Special Forces soldier and big-game hunter is the founder and publisher of Soldier of Fortune, which was sued in the late ’80s for running want ads for mercenaries and guns for hire.

Roy Innis
The head of the Congress of Racial Equality, a civil rights organization that’s morphed as a climate-denying astroturf outfit. While representing the United States at a United Nations arms conference in 2001, Innis explained, “The Rwanda genocide would not have happened if the Tutsis had had even one or two pistols to fight back with.”

the current board

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These Are the People Who Really Run the NRA

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Book Review: My Life As a Foreign Country

Mother Jones

My Life As a Foreign Country

By Brian Turner


In this moving account of his time as a sergeant in Iraq, Brian Turner, whose poem “The Hurt Locker” was the namesake for the Oscar-winning film, delivers a succession of oddly beautiful, appropriately devastating reflections that drive home the realities of war. Turner takes us from training camp to war zone and home again, where, in bed with his wife, he dreams he’s a drone, flying over countries of wars past.

This review originally appeared in our September/October issue of Mother Jones.

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Book Review: My Life As a Foreign Country

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The Arab World’s Version of the Ice Bucket Challenge: Burning ISIS Flags

Mother Jones

On Saturday, three Lebanese young men in Beirut protested the Islamic State by burning the extremist group’s flag, a black banner emblazoned with the Muslim tenet “there is no god but God and Muhammed is his prophet.” The teens then posted a video of the flag-burning online, exhorting others to do the same to demonstrate their opposition to the movement led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In recent weeks, the Islamic State has allegedly beheaded a Lebanese army sergeant and kidnapped about 20 Lebanese soldiers. The flag-burning campaign, modeled on the viral “Ice Bucket Challenge,” quickly took off on social media under the hashtag #BurnISISFlagChallenge. “I nominate the whole world to #Burn_ISIS_Flag_Challenge. You have 24 hours. GO!!” wrote one Lebanese YouTube user.

Though the campaign hasn’t spread throughout the world yet, it has received considerable attention in Lebanon, where many citizens have rallied behind the cause. But some Lebanese officials are not happy about the protest. Lebanese Minister of Justice Ashraf Rifi has called for the “sternest punishment” for the flag burners for their “insult” to the Islamic religion and its symbols. He contends the flag is a religious relic, not a symbol of the Islamic State. And he claimed the flag-burning could “stir up sectarian conflicts” and, consequently, was illegal under Lebanese law, according to newspaper Asharq al-Aswat.

Nabil Naqoula, a member of Lebanon’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, took issue with Rifi and maintained that the protesters who started the movement did not intend “to insult the Islamic religion.” Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of the same group, offered legal support to the three young men who launched the flag-burning frenzy if they are charged with a crime.

The Islamic State’s flag has flown everywhere from a Chicago motorists’ window last Wednesday as he made bomb threats against the police, to the streets of Tabqa in northeast Syria where the extremist group seized a military airbase. The black banner has become synonymous with the group’s radical violence and mercilessness.

Here are a few examples of Lebanese activists taking the flag-burning challenge:


The Arab World’s Version of the Ice Bucket Challenge: Burning ISIS Flags

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Bowe Bergdahl, Then and Now

Mother Jones

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Speaking of Bowe Bergdahl, Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt have a fascinating piece in the New York Times that just went up. They got hold of a detailed report that was written two months after Bergdahl walked off, and what makes it interesting is that it’s based on extensive contemporaneous interviews. This allows us to compare what people are saying now with what they were saying back then. For example, there’s this:

A classified military report detailing the Army’s investigation into the disappearance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in June 2009 says that he had wandered away from assigned areas before — both at a training range in California and at his remote outpost in Afghanistan — and then returned, according to people briefed on it.

….Whether Sergeant Bergdahl was a deserter who never intended to come back, or simply slipped away for a short adventure amid an environment of lax security and discipline and then was captured is one of many unanswered questions about his disappearance. The issue is murky, the report said, in light of Sergeant Bergdahl’s previous episodes of walking off.

And this:

The report is said to contain no mention of Sergeant Bergdahl having left behind a letter in his tent that explicitly said he was deserting and explaining his disillusionment, as a retired senior military official briefed on the investigation at the time told The New York Times this week. Asked about what appeared to be a disconnect, the retired officer insisted that he remembered reading a field report discussing the existence of such a letter in the early days of the search and was unable to explain why it is not mentioned in the final investigative report.

And this:

Its portrayal of him as a soldier is said to be positive, with quotes from both commanders and squadmates — apparently including some of the men now criticizing him — describing him as punctual, always in the correct uniform and asking good questions. It quotes colleagues as saying that he expressed some boredom and frustration that they were not “kicking down doors” more to go after insurgents who were destroying schools.

And this:

The report is also said to contain no mention of any alleged intercepts of radio or cellphone traffic indicating that Sergeant Bergdahl was asking villagers if anyone spoke English and trying to get in touch with the Taliban, as two former squadmates told CNN this week in separate interviews that they remembered hearing about from a translator who received the report.

The moral of this story is simple: memories can change, and once you’ve taken sides you’re likely to embellish things considerably. The stuff that Bergdahl’s critics are saying today may be accurate, or it may be a product of anger growing out of control over the passage of time. We really need to wait before rushing to judgment.

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Bowe Bergdahl, Then and Now

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Fertilizer facility blast in Texas claims multiple lives, destroys homes

Fertilizer facility blast in Texas claims multiple lives, destroys homes

A fertilizer mixing and storage facility exploded in rural Texas on Wednesday evening, killing at least five people, injuring more than 160 others, destroying homes, and filling the air with noxious fumes.

Reuters / Mike Stone

As many as 15 are feared dead, including five firefighters who responded to the fire that preceded the extraordinary blast at the facility in the small town of West, near Waco.

From The New York Times:

Homes and businesses were leveled in the normally quiet town of West, and there was widespread destruction in the downtown area, Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton of the Waco Police Department said Thursday morning.

“At some point this will turn into a recovery operation, but at this point, we are still in search and rescue,” he said.

Five to 15 people were killed and more than 160 people were being treated at area hospitals, Sergeant Swanton said, while also emphasizing that those early estimates could change. As many as five firefighters are still missing, he said.

There is no evidence indicating criminal activity, Sergeant Swanton said, “but we’re not ruling that out.”

It began with a smaller fire at the plant, West Fertilizer, just off Interstate 35, about 20 miles north of Waco that was attended by local volunteer firefighters, said United States Representative Bill Flores. “The fire spread and hit some of these tanks that contain chemicals to treat the fertilizer,” Mr. Flores said, “and there was an explosion which caused wide damage.”

Agricultural fertilizer is a big business — and it’s a notoriously dangerous business, involving vast volumes of ammonium nitrate.

From The Guardian:

One of the most common ingredients found in fertilizer is ammonia — made out of nitrogen and hydrogen — which is created by sending natural gas, steam and air into a large container. The nitrogen and hydrogen is isolated before an electric current is sent through to turn it into ammonium, which in this case was mixed with nitric acid to create the potentially explosive ammonium nitrate. This and all the other components of fertilizer have to then be whittled down and then mixed together before the final product is created.

Ammonium Nitrate is a strong oxidant — and is highly flammable in its raw state.

From Newstalk 1010:

The plant uses ammonium nitrate in fertilizer production, the same chemical used in 1995′s Oklahoma City Bombing. 2 tons of ammonium nitrate were used in Oklahoma City to set off a blast that killed 168 people & hurt hundreds. The West Fertilizer plant may have had as much as 100 tons of the chemical on hand.

From Slate:

The West blast comes one day after the 66th anniversary of the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history: the Texas City disaster of 1947, a fertilizer explosion that killed more than 580 people when a French-flagged vessel hauling ammonium nitrate caught fire, resulting in a chain reaction of fires and explosions that destroyed much of the port city.

UPDATE: The Dallas Morning News takes a look at the plant’s record:

Texas regulators knew in 2006 that the fertilizer facility that burned and exploded Wednesday night had two 12,000-gallon tanks of anhydrous ammonia and was near a school and neighborhood, documents show.

However, West Fertilizer Co., of West, Texas, told Texas Commission on Environmental Quality permit reviewers that emissions from the tanks would not pose a danger.

That assertion was based on expected routine emissions, not the possibility of a catastrophic failure.

The AP raises more concerns:

The Texas fertilizer plant … was cited for failing to obtain or to qualify for a permit in 2006.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigated West Fertilizer on June 20, 2006, after receiving a complaint June 9 of a strong ammonia smell. Agency records show that the person who lodged the complaint said the ammonia smell was “very bad last night” and lingered until after he or she went to bed.

And from The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: “The Texas fertilizer industry has only seen six inspections in the past five years – and the West Texas Fertilizer Co. plant was not one of them.”

Watch an absolutely chilling video of the West fertilizer explosion here, about 30 seconds in. Be warned that it includes audio of a terrified girl in pain after the blast:

John Upton is a science aficionado and green news junkie who


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Fertilizer facility blast in Texas claims multiple lives, destroys homes

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