Friday Briefing – The New York Times

More than 50 people have died in devastating wildfires on the Hawaii island of Maui. Survivors described fleeing for their lives from a fast-moving “total inferno” that left the town of Lahaina in smoking ruins. Thousands of people filled evacuation shelters, and tourists continued a grim exodus to the airport.

Fueled by unusual conditions that included winds from a distant hurricane, the fire now ranks as one of the nation’s deadliest in decades. Flames burned with such intensity that at least a dozen people escaped into the Pacific Ocean, where they were later rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. Firefighters continued to battle flare-ups yesterday.

The fire appeared to have been worsened by winds linked to a hurricane passing hundreds of miles away in the Pacific Ocean, though the exact causes were still unclear. Hawaii has battled a surge of fires in recent years, as wildfires have become more intense and frequent in the American West and beyond because of climate change.

Russia’s ruble hit a 16-month low against the U.S. dollar, raising fears of rising inflation. The Russian central bank took measures yesterday to stabilize the currency, amid the latest squall of financial volatility unleashed by the country’s war against Ukraine.

The Bank of Russia halted purchases of foreign currency for the remainder of the year “to reduce volatility.” The central bank’s move should help shore up the ruble, because when the bank spends rubles to buy foreign currency, it increases the supply of rubles in circulation, lowering their value.

Russia’s challenges are seen in both a struggling ruble, which is fueling inflation, and in government budget deficits, which raise concerns about the sustainability of Russia’s intense spending on the war. The central bank has forecast inflation between 5 and 6.5 percent this year.

Go deeper: Russia’s dramatically changing economy is challenging Moscow’s financial policymakers, who have nimbly reacted to wartime shocks but still face longer-term dilemmas. Yawning deficits, coupled with exports that are increasingly crimped by sanctions, have disrupted Russia’s economic equilibrium.

The U.S. and Iran reached an agreement to release five imprisoned Americans in exchange for several jailed Iranians and the unfreezing of about $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue. Three of the Americans had been imprisoned on unsubstantiated charges of spying. The money will be regulated so that Tehran can spend it only for humanitarian purposes.

The deal with Iran — a bitter adversary of the U.S. — is the latest prisoner swap engineered in secret by the Biden administration in an effort to bring home Americans whom the State Department deems wrongfully detained.

For decades, the walls of the Crooked House pub, located in the West Midlands in England, slouched sideways at a 16-degree angle, dizzying customers and delighting children. This week the landmark was abruptly reduced to rubble in a strange sequence of events that has raised suspicions of foul play and left locals looking for answers.

Harry Kane offer accepted: Bayern Munich has reached an agreement with Tottenham Hotspur for the striker.

2022 FIFA Best Goalkeeper winner: Mary Earps talks through how she plays the game.

Formula 1 summer report cards: Where each team stands halfway through the break.

From The Times: Japan, which won the Women’s World Cup in 2011 but entered this year’s tournament ranked 11th, might be the tournament’s most impressive contender.

“We’ve gathered here today to raise a glass to hip-hop,” Wesley Morris, a critic at large for The Times, writes. “It’s 50, baby! Half a century of effrontery, dexterity, elasticity, rambunctiousness, ridiculousness, bleakness, spunk, swagger, juice, jiggle and wit, of defiant arrogance, devastating humor, consumptive lust and violent distress, of innovation, danger, doubt and drip. Salud!”

And yet, he adds: “I’ll be honest, though. I knew the magazine covers and concerts and TV specials were coming, but I wasn’t feeling it. Seemed too arbitrary a date. Or maybe just impossible to ascertain. What I did feel was that hip-hop has so thoroughly infused the atmosphere of American life (we’ll just start with this country), that it has pushed so much forward — who cares that it’s pushing 50?”

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