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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

11:39 a.m. ET

Former Team USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar admitted Wednesday to molesting seven girls, including three under the age of 13, NBC News reports. In total, Nassar, 54, is accused of having abused more than 130 of his patients during medical exams between 1998 and 2015.

Among Nassar's accusers are gold medalists Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman. In an Instagram post Tuesday, Douglas, 21, said she didn't tell anyone about the abuse because "for years we were conditioned to stay silent, and honestly, some things were extremely painful." Maroney accused Nassar of repeated abuse, including drugging her: "He'd given me a sleeping pill for the flight and the next thing I know, I was all alone with him in his hotel room getting a 'treatment,'" she wrote. "I thought I was going to die that night."

While entering his guilty plea, Nassar said Wednesday: "I am so horribly sorry that this was like a match that turned into a forest fire out of control." He agreed to a sentence between 25 and 40 years. Jeva Lange

11:31 a.m. ET

A former intern for Charlie Rose said Wednesday that the former talk show host made her watch a sexually explicit scene from a movie for 20 minutes under the guise of work obligations. Rose, a veteran journalist who was fired from PBS and CBS News after allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct were reported by The Washington Post, apparently additionally asked the intern, Sarah Gordon, if the scene made her feel aroused.

Gordon told NBC News that she was delivering mail to Rose's house when the incident occurred. "I proceeded to go into the living room, and he said I want to show you this scene from this movie," Gordon said. "And he said have a seat, you know, relax, and he proceeded to turn on the film Secretary, which is a sexually involved film involving S&M, unfortunately."

Although Gordon said Rose did not touch her during the incident, NBC News noted that the film in question "portrays a young woman becoming sexually involved with her boss." Gordon said that eventually, she was able to change the subject of conversation and leave the apartment.

Rose has been accused of sexually harassing young women who worked for him. On Monday, he issued a statement calling himself "an advocate for the careers of the women with whom I have worked" and apologized for his "inappropriate behavior," including reported inappropriate touching, sexually suggestive remarks, and exposing himself.

Gordon was rather forgiving of her former boss, telling NBC News, "I think he's probably troubled, and I have empathy for people that are troubled." Still, she added, his firings were justified: "I don't think someone like that deserves to have a position like that if they're going to abuse their power," she said. Kelly O'Meara Morales

10:37 a.m. ET

President Trump got a head start on the holiday weekend Wednesday when he arrived at Trump International Golf Club in sunny West Palm Beach to play 18 holes. But don't let his 77th visit to a golf club since becoming president fool you — it is absolutely not a "low-key day," his staff insists.

The White House made the specification that Trump, who is golfing, is not having a "low-key day" after Washington Post reporter Jenna Johnson sent this pool report at 7:56 a.m. ET:

[White House Deputy Press Secretary] Lindsay Walters briefly addressed the pool and said that the president has been briefed on the Navy aircraft crash. She also said that the president plans to make a number of calls this week, especially related to tax reform, and that the White House will provide readouts of those calls. Otherwise, she expects a low-key day. [Public Pool]

The report was followed not 10 minutes later by a correction:

A third pool report eventually followed: "At 9:26 a.m. the motorcade arrived at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach." Jeva Lange

10:19 a.m. ET
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After months of reticence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday officially referred to the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as "ethnic cleansing." In a press statement, Tillerson reiterated his support for a democratic transition in the country, but added that the crisis in the northern state of Rakhine counts as "ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya."

In August, Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts in Rakhine, prompting a brutal retaliation from Myanmar's military which reportedly razed villages and indiscriminately attacked civilians. The violence led to the mass exodus of Rohingya people east to Bangladesh. Myanmar's government has claimed that the Rohingya decided to burn their own villages and then willingly self-deported to Bangladesh en masse — more than 600,000 have fled in the last three months — but that claim has been widely disputed and debunked by reporters on the ground.

The State Department had previously expressed concern over Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya Muslims, but had stopped short of calling the situation ethnic cleansing. Rohingya Muslims in the majority Buddhist country of Myanmar have been denied citizenship since 1982 and are not officially counted as one of the country's official 135 ethnic groups.

The Hill speculates that Tillerson's decision to refer to the situation in Rakhine as ethnic cleansing will prompt the Trump administration to enforce new sanctions on Myanmar's government. But ultimately, ethnic cleansing holds no legal ramifications under international law. The U.N. recognizes genocide as a crime, but it is notoriously hard to prosecute and the international body is still deliberating whether the term is applicable for Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya. Kelly O'Meara Morales

9:32 a.m. ET
SERGEI KARPUKHIN/AFP/Getty Images

America has been defeated by Russia in a struggle for influence over postwar Syria, experts told Politico. While at one time both countries were vying for influence over Damascus, President Trump has all but backed off as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to host talks with regional leaders, without the U.S., in the waning days of the civil war. "Putin has won," declared Ilan Goldenberg, who worked at the Pentagon and State Department under former President Barack Obama.

Trump's reluctance to commit to the region reportedly stems from his belief that Syria is a failure of Obama's making. Instead, the Trump administration's foreign policy goals center on backing Iran — a regional ally of Putin's — out of having a say on Syria. "It's become quite clear that the [Syrian President Bashar] Assad-Putin-Iran gambit has almost completely won in Syria," explained the senior vice president of the Middle East Institute, Paul Salem. "[The Russians] want to show their relevance and influence beyond the military phase" by hosting further postwar talks.

One such meeting takes place Wednesday, as Putin hosts the presidents of Iran and Turkey in the Russian town of Sochi. Putin also reportedly met with Assad on Tuesday, and later called Trump to brief him on the details of the conversation. Jeva Lange

8:38 a.m. ET

The United Nations Command has released dramatic video of a North Korean military defector's escape to South Korea last week. The defector, whose name has not been released, can be seen racing toward the border in a car before crashing and fleeing on foot. North Korean soldiers opened fire on the defector — he was shot at least five times, The Guardian reports — and South Korean forces managed to crawl to where he was wounded and drag him to safety.

"The reason that he defected, risking death and facing a barrage of gunshots, was because he had positive hopes about South Korea," said the soldier's lead surgeon, Lee Cook-jong, adding: "He is fine. He is not going to die."

The United Nations Command claims the North Korean soldiers violated the armistice agreement at the DMZ by using their weapons in the region on the defecting soldier. Watch the dramatic video below. Jeva Lange

8:18 a.m. ET
Serge Ligtenberg/Getty Images

An international tribunal at The Hague on Wednesday found Ratko Mladic, the former Serb warlord known as "the Butcher of Bosnia," guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, The Washington Post reports. Judge Alphons Orie read the verdict after a trial that lasted four years, saying Mladic's crimes while commanding forces that carried out some of the worst atrocities of the Balkan wars "rank among the most heinous known to humankind." Mladic, 74, had been too ill to attend the trial, and he was removed from the courtroom before the verdict was read after shouting insults at the judge. Nearly 600 witnesses testified during the trial, including people who had been held in concentration camps during a military campaign against Bosnian Muslims. Harold Maass

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