4.13.2024

Facts, without motives.
 

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Good morning. It's Saturday, April 13, and in this weekend edition, we're covering rising floodwaters in parts of Russia and Kazakhstan, the approval of a US surveillance bill, and much more. First time reading? Sign up here.

 

You share. We listen. As always, send us feedback at [email protected].

One Big Headline
 

Russia-Kazakhstan Floodwaters

Mass evacuations are underway in cities in southern Russia and northern Kazakhstan due to floodwaters that have risen to critical levels after river embankments and a dam in the region burst last week. The rivers, including Europe's third-longest river (Ural), swelled as warm temperatures melted snow and ice, mixing with heavy rains. The flooding is the worst to hit the area in 80 years.

 

Thousands of residents in the Russian city of Orenburg, which lies roughly 900 miles east of Moscow and near Russia’s border with Kazakhstan, were asked to evacuate Friday. The floodwaters had risen 37 feet in Orenburg Friday, leaving thousands of homes submerged in water. See photos of the flooding here. See satellite imagery here. More than 120,000 people have been evacuated so far from areas experiencing flooding.  

 

The total damage in the region is expected to cost roughly $227M. Government officials are also investigating whether construction violations may have caused the dam to collapse.

Quick Hits
 

US issues travel warning for Israel as Iran attack believed to be imminent.

Iran has vowed to retaliate after Israel's airstrike on an Iranian embassy complex in Syria earlier this month that killed three senior military officials and wounded four others. The US State Department has restricted its employees from traveling to parts of Israel and has reportedly sent more US troops to the Middle East. 

 

US House passes bill renewing contentious surveillance program.

The House approved the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, by a vote of 273-147, ahead of an April 19 deadline. The bill extends the act for two years, down from a previous proposal for a five-year extension. FISA's provisions (see overview) include allowing the US government to collect the communications of non-Americans located outside of the country without a warrant. A separate vote on an amendment to require a warrant failed with a tie.

 

At least one dead after semitrailer crashes into Texas public safety office.

A stolen 18-wheeler crashed into the Texas Department of Public Safety office Friday, killing at least one person and injuring 13 others. The driver, identified as 42-year-old Clenard Parker, was taken into custody. The office had rejected Parker's renewal for a commercial driver's license a day earlier.  

 

Biden administration to forgive $7.4B in student debt.

The Biden administration announced it would be canceling student debt of more than 277,000 borrowers as part of its latest action geared toward income-driven repayment plans. The White House claims the latest effort brings the total amount of student loan forgiveness to $153B under the current administration. 

 

Oil and gas companies to pay more to drill on public US lands.

Energy companies will need to pay 16.67% in federal royalty fees, up from 12.5%, for drilling on public lands, per final rules issued Friday by the US government. The new fee will last until August 2032. Other measures include requiring companies to pay $150K per lease on federal lands, up from $10K, which was established in 1960.

 

Robert MacNeil, creator of 'PBS NewsHour,' dies at 93.

In 1975, MacNeil, along with the late Jim Lehrer, launched a half-hour nightly news program that later became America's first hourlong evening broadcast. The show won a plethora of awards, including an Emmy for its live coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings. MacNeil left the show in 1995 to focus on writing; Lehrer took over until 2009 and died in 2020. MacNeil died Friday due to natural causes. 

 

Roberto Cavalli, Italian fashion designer, dies at 83.

Cavalli launched his namesake fashion brand in the 1970s and was known for bold animal prints and "stretch jeans," which he pioneered by adding Lycra (a synthetic elastic fiber) to denim. His designs have been worn by celebrities, including Taylor Swift, Madonna, and Zendaya. The cause of his death was not announced.

 

James Webb detects origins of brightest cosmic blast since Big Bang.

In 2022, researchers discovered the brightest gamma-ray burst ever recorded, dubbed the "BOAT" for the "brightest of all time." The event is now known to have come from the explosion of a giant star. Such explosions, known as supernovas, have been theorized to produce heavy elements like gold and platinum. However, no such metals were found from the BOAT, leaving researchers to question how these metals are produced.

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Humankind
 

Former middle school teacher fulfills a 1978 promise to host 100 former students for a solar eclipse watching party. (More)

 

An 81-year-old woman has been donating blood since she was 22 and holds the world record for most units of blood donated in a lifetime by a woman. (More

 

Two former pool rivals end decadelong feud after one donates his kidney to the other, becoming "kidney buddies for life." (More)

 

San Diego family reunites with their dog, who was found over 2,000 miles away in Detroit. (More, w/video) 

 

Restaurant owner drives six hours to deliver a cancer patient's favorite meal, donates $1K to her hospice care center. (More)

From our partners: Global news and analysis, without the clickbait, agenda, or bias. Written by former diplomats with over a decade of experience, International Intrigue scours hundreds of international sources daily to deliver high quality insights and analysis on the top stories around the world. Trusted by government officials, CEOs, and leaders everywhere, sign up for the free 5-minute briefing today.

Humankind(ness)
 

Today, we're sharing a story from reader Lorie N. from Salem, Oregon.

 

"I was heading into the UPS store with a small package to return. The woman going in front of me had a handful of boxes, so I offered to open the door for her. She was so appreciative, and then let me go ahead of her in line. When I got to the counter, the QR code was not showing in my email and I was getting antsy. The young man who was helping me asked for my phone, so I gave it to him, and he performed his magic, and before long, the QR code showed up. Then, when I was leaving the store, the same woman said, 'Here, let me get the door for you!' The whole thing was just a great experience and reminded me that kindness goes a long way."

 

What act(s) of kindness did you experience this week? Tell us here.

Etcetera
 

Bookkeeping

> Guide dog nicknamed "Dogfather," who fathered 323 puppies, retires from service

> Canadian grandma planks for 4.5 hours, breaking women's world record.

 

Browse 

A collection of vintage eclipse-viewing glasses.

> What it was like being in your 20s in 18th-century London.

> Ranking the world's 25 largest yachts

Bulgari unveils world's thinnest watch

> When your cashier Zooms in from a different country.

 

Listen 

> The economics of top-level domains and how two letters at the end of web addresses can make up the national budget of some small countries.

 

Watch 

> Emperor penguins leap off a 50-foot Antarctic cliff.

> Up close with the industrious and unique star-nosed mole

Why can't millennials afford a home, and what is redlining? Real estate expert answers these questions and more

 

Long Read 

How beepers, the precursor to cellphones, were once caught in the crosshairs of parents, schools, and lawmakers—and tied to drug dealers.

> An audio-visual dive into what cicadas look like and how they sound.

 

Most Clicked This Week: What do the abbreviations AM and PM mean?  

 

Historybook: President Thomas Jefferson born (1743); New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art founded (1870); Author Eudora Welty born (1909); Sidney Poitier becomes first Black male to win best actor at Oscars (1964).

"A person doesn't have to change who he is to become better."

- Sidney Poitier

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