2.29.2024

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Good morning. It's Thursday, Feb. 29, and we're covering rapidly spreading wildfires across the Texas panhandle, the end of an era on Capitol Hill, and much more. First time reading? Sign up here.

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Need To Know
 

Texas Wildfires

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a disaster declaration this week for 60 counties as the Smokehouse Creek Fire became the second-largest in Texas history. Thousands of people were ordered to evacuate as the wildfire remains 3% contained and other wildfires burned, leaving at least one person dead (see updates). 

 

The Smokehouse Creek Fire broke out Monday and is one of multiple wildfires burning across Texas and into Oklahoma. As of this writing, it has grown to over 1,300 square miles (850,000 acres), larger than the state of Rhode Island, and has threatened homes, businesses, and farms. Wildfires have also caused the country’s main nuclear weapons assembly facility to temporarily shut down.

 

Texas has two wildfire peaks, one in the summer and winter, but they fall short of distinct seasons. This week, high temperatures and winds combined with dry, dead grass is believed to have fueled the spread of the fire. Those conditions are expected to ease in the coming days as winds ease. See photos of the fires here.

 

McConnell Steps Back

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced yesterday he would step down from the position following the 2024 election, two years ahead of the end of his current term. McConnell assumed the post in 2006 and is the longest-serving Senate leader from either party. 

 

The decision kick-starts a highly anticipated race to replace the 82-year-old Kentuckian. Candidates include a trio of Johns from his leadership team—former Majority Whip John Cornyn (TX), current Minority Whip John Thune (SD), and Caucus Chair John Barrasso (WY). The GOP enjoys a favorable electoral map this cycle, with the five most likely seats to flip held by four Democrats and independent Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), increasing the likelihood the winner becomes majority leader.  

 

The decision comes amid reports McConnell is deliberating over whether to endorse former President Donald Trump. The pair reportedly haven't spoken directly since 2021.

 

In related news, lawmakers reportedly struck a short-term deal to avert a government shutdown ahead of tonight's midnight deadline. The bill must pass both chambers today before going into effect.

 

Celebrating Leap Day

Today is leap day, Feb. 29, a date observed only once roughly every four years in the international standard Gregorian calendar. While the extra day serves a technical function, its uniqueness prompts celebrations around the world—especially by the estimated 5 million Leaplings born on the rare day.

 

Leap years are necessary because the Earth takes slightly longer than 365 days to revolve around the sun—roughly five hours and 48 minutes more (see explainer). For millennia, agricultural societies using a solar calendar to schedule plantings and harvests saw the seasons drift over time and instituted the extra day to compensate. The Romans made the current leap year approach official under Julius Caesar, but that calendar was overhauled 1,500 years later by Pope Gregory XIII because the seasons had drifted off by roughly 10 days. Learn how this prompted the disappearance of 10 days in 1582 here

 

In contrast, China's cultural calendar utilizes a leap month every three years. Learn how other non-Gregorian cultures approach leap years here

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In The Know
 

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> Richard Lewis, comedian and actor known for starring role on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," dies at 76 of a heart attack (More) | Michael Jones, WWE star better known by wrestling name "Virgil," dies at 61 (More)

> NFL scouting combine workouts kick off today from Indianapolis; see schedule and preview (More) | ... and latest NFL mock draft (More)

> Disney and Indian conglomerate Reliance will merge their media businesses in India, valuing the combined joint venture at $8.5B (More) | Donna Summer's estate sues Ye, formerly Kanye West, and Ty Dolla $ign for using an uncleared sample of Summer's "I Feel Love" on Ye's new album (More)

 

Science & Technology

> Researchers pinpoint key mutation, which potentially leads to the loss of tails in humans and primate relatives roughly 25 million years ago (More)

> Gene editing technique targeting the epigenome—compounds that help guide the human genome and tell it what to do—shown to help reduce cholesterol in mice for up to 11 months without drugs (More) | What is epigenetics? (More, w/video)

> New study suggests faint dwarf galaxies born shortly after the Big Bang were responsible for clearing away the universe's dense hydrogen fog, a key period known as reionization; long-running mystery was solved by data from the James Webb telescope (More)

 

Business & Markets

In partnership with Pernas Research

> US stock markets close lower (S&P 500 -0.2%, Dow -0.1%, Nasdaq -0.6%) ahead of inflation data to be released tomorrow (More) | Bitcoin surpasses $63K for first time since November 2021 (More)  

> Payments giant Stripe's valuation rises to $65B after inking deal with investors allowing current and former employees to cash out their shares (More) | Google hit with $2.3B antitrust lawsuit by Axel Springer, other European media companies over its advertising practices (More

> China's Country Garden faces liquidation petition over nonpayment of $205M loan (More) | Amazon merchant aggregator Thrasio files for bankruptcy (More) | Bumble to lay off 350 workers, or roughly one-third of workforce (More)

From our partners: Missed NVIDIA’s legendary run and looking for the next breakout stock? Pernas Research, run by a former $3.5B fund manager, has a verified track record of picking winners for the last 7 years (beating the S&P by 13% annually), and their latest report predicts a major comeback from an undervalued legacy stock. Get their detailed analysis and winning picks; sign up here, free for a limited time.

 

Politics & World Affairs

> Judge rules former President Donald Trump must post full $454M bond while appealing judgment in New York business fraud case; final decision on bond heads to five-judge panel (More) | Supreme Court to hear arguments over whether Trump is immune from federal charges stemming from his role on Jan. 6; case expected during the week of April 22 (More

> Hunter Biden testifies before House Oversight Committee and House Judiciary Committee in closed-door deposition as part of impeachment inquiry into his father, President Joe Biden (More

> Gaza's last functioning hospital shuts down due to fuel shortage and lack of medical supplies, according to hospital official; see updates on the war (More

 

In-Depth

> Ghostface and Grant 

Truly*Adventurous | J. Brian Charles. Grant Williams and Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah were inseparable in the late '80s, until they got caught up in the drug trade and Williams was later blamed for a murder he didn't commit. (Read)

 

> How Deep Can Humans Go? 

MIT Tech Review | Samantha Schuyler. A group of divers are experimenting with hydrogen to determine a century-long query: How can the human body withstand underwater pressure? (Read)

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Etcetera
 

A look at the booming "she"-conomy

 

Mapping where lightning strikes by state.

 

Appropriately named towns directly in the total solar eclipse's path

 

Lenovo unveils transparent laptops.

 

Former Brazilian leader probed for whale harassment

 

... and 31 critically endangered whales seen off Massachusetts.

 

Study finds cannabis associated with increase in heart attacks and strokes.

 

Inside the underground world of floppy disk music

 

Clickbait: A Girl Scout cookie, but make it makeup.

 

Historybook: Hattie McDaniel becomes first African American to win an Academy Award (1940); AIDS activist and "Real World" star Pedro Zamora born (1972); Rapper and actor Ja Rule born (1976); Singer and actor Davy Jones dies (2012). 

"What is the thing that Hollywood demands most? Sincerity. No place in the world will pay such a high price for this admirable trait."

- Hattie McDaniel

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