🌊 A Benjie for a Barrel?

Amazon enters the AI wars, the return of The Office, and Russell Brand

On this day, 54 years ago, The Beatles released their final album: Abbey Road. Upon its release, the album cover fanned the flame of the infamous “Paul is dead” conspiracy. The theory asserted that Paul McCartney had died and been replaced circa 1966. Some saw the Abbey Road cover as a coded message for Paul’s funeral: The procession was led by John Lennon dressed in white like a religious figure, Ringo in black like the undertaker, Paul barefoot smoking a cigarette symbolizing a corpse, and George in denim like the gravedigger.

Well, 54 years later and still humming, the Paul McCartney replacement has really committed to the bit…

In today's edition:

  • Amazon enters the AI wars

  • The return of The Office

  • Russell Brand

 🔑 Key Stories

Oil Prices Near $100 Per Barrel

  • The price for a barrel of crude (unrefined) oil rarely exceeds $100. It last did so between February and July 2022, immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine; before that, it last happened in 2014

  • High crude prices can fuel inflation. Last year, $100+ prices pushed the average US gallon of gas to $5+ and inflation to a 40-year high

  • Prices have now been rising since May and are ~$90, and some analysts think they are headed back to $100. A gallon of regular US gas now costs $3.88 on average, up more than 25% since January

Dig Deeper

  • Economists fear that rising gas prices will decrease consumer spending, decreasing economic growth and increasing the chances of a recession. Some also worry it will keep inflation high, with August’s 3.7% inflation reading – up from 3.2% in July – was driven almost entirely by rising energy prices

  • Others argue the price spike is only temporary and likely won’t greatly affect consumer spending

Migrants Eligible to Work

The Biden administration enacted a policy that will let 472,000 Venezuelan migrants in the US legally work

  • 472,000+ Venezuelan migrants that entered the US between March 2021 and July 2023 still have pending asylum applications. Those with pending claims are not legally allowed to work because it is unclear whether they can legally remain in the US

  • Last week, the Biden administration granted those migrants "Temporary Protected Status" (TPS), a legal designation that protects certain migrants from deportation and allows them to seek employment legally

  • The rule – which applies to those who arrived before July 31, 2023 – shields them from deportation but doesn’t provide a path to residency

Dig Deeper

  • Some politicians praised the decision, arguing it will reduce the burden on cities and states and allow migrants to contribute to the economy. New York’s governor, who had spoken to President Biden last Tuesday about the issue, said she was “grateful the federal government has acted so speedily” to grant TPS

  • Others criticized the decision, though, arguing it will cause more Venezuelans to enter the US illegally in the hope that the US will further extend TPS privileges in the future

Amazon Drops $4B on AI

Amazon announced a $4B investment into AI startup Anthropic

  • While Google and Microsoft have made massive investments in AI startups – including Microsoft’s $13B into OpenAI – Amazon has kept its AI development in-house. It has said that kept its costs down and led to more useful products

  • On Monday, though, Amazon announced an up-to-$4B investment in Anthropic, an OpenAI rival co-founded in 2021 by 2 former OpenAI employees

  • The investment is Amazon’s fourth-largest ever and largest yet in an AI company

Dig Deeper

  • Two former OpenAI employees co-founded Anthropic in 2021. The company produces “Claude,” a ChatGPT-esque chatbot that Anthropic claims is safer and less prone to manipulation. Google has invested nearly $400M into Anthropic, helping drive its valuation to $4B

Cubans Fighting for Russia

Russia is recruiting Cubans to fight in Ukraine

  • Russia and Cuba have been allies since Cuba's communist revolution in the 1950s, when Cuba relied upon the then-Soviet Union's support. During the Cold War, the USSR financed the Cuban government; in exchange, Cuba supported the USSR’s foreign policy

  • POLITICO reported that Russians have promised Cubans up to $2,100 a month – over 10x the average Cuban salary – and citizenship if they fight for Russia. Hundreds have reportedly taken up the offer and ended up fighting in Ukraine

  • Cuba’s government has said it will crack down on a “human trafficking network” that is recruiting for Russia

Dig Deeper

  • Several Cubans told POLITICO that their travel documents listed them as tourists when they arrived in Russia. They were then brought to an empty school and asked to sign a document. “Once you’ve signed the contract, defecting is tantamount to treason,” a legal advisor told POLITICO of those forms. Many were then quickly trained with weapons and then transported to the front lines in Ukraine

Stopping Cybercrime

Sponsored by Incogni

Since 2001, the worldwide number of online cybercrime victims per hour has increased from 6 to 91 and the hourly financial losses from cybercrime increased from $2K to $1.2M

Since 2001, the worldwide number of online cybercrimes per hour has increased from 6 to 91, and the hourly financial losses from them have increased from $2K to $1.2M

  • In 2022, 1.6K of every 1M United States internet users were a victim of a cybercrime (up 8% year over year)

  • In addition to careless online activity, people can be the target of cybercrimes because bad actors online use their personal information against them (e.g. identity theft, financial scams, and more)

  • These bad actors can obtain your personal information from data brokers who buy and sell your data – SSNs, DOB, home addresses, health information, contact details

  • Enter Incogni, a personal data removal service that scrubs your personal information from the web by contacting and following up with data brokers around the world (hundreds of hours worth of work!)

Dig Deeper

🍿 Popcorn

ICYMI

  • Okay, it’s happening! A reboot of The Office – with the original showrunner Greg Daniels returning – is reportedly in the works ten years after the show ended

  • DeSantis v. Newsom: Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis will debate California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom on November 30, hosted by Fox News’s Sean Hannity

  • RIP, Rite Aid: Drug store Rite Aid plans to close hundreds of its 2,100+ stores due to its $3.3B debt and numerous opioid lawsuits

Wildcard

  • The tooth phairy: Japanese pharmaceutical startup Toregem Biopharma is developing a drug to stimulate new tooth growth, with plans to release it by around 2030

  • Netflix and reminisce: Netflix will mail its last DVDs this week in its signature red envelopes, ending the original business that jump-started the company 25 years ago

  • Buddha burglar: Los Angeles police are investigating an overnight heist in which a thief stole a $1.5M, ~250 lb. Buddha statue from a gallery known for its ancient art

👇 What do you think?

Today's Poll:

Do you know anybody (including yourself) who has fallen victim to a cyberattack?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Today’s poll is sponsored by Incogni. Use code ‘ROCA10’ to help scrub your personal info from data brokers with the help of Incogni

Today's Question:

Are social media companies responsible for the user-generated content on their platforms?

Reply to this email with your answers!

See yesterday's results below the Wrap! 

🌯 Roca Wrap

One of Russell Brand’s earliest memories was watching his father’s pornography.

Brand was born in a small town east of London in 1975. His parents divorced when he was six months old, and Brand’s mother mostly raised him. In a 2007 autobiography, Brand wrote how he was playing with Playboy and Juggs magazines when he was an “infant.”

One of his earliest memories was watching porn while his father “diddled birds in the room next door,” he wrote, which over time made him a “weary connoisseur of my dad’s pornography.” Brand’s mother developed cancer three times before Brand turned 17, and he developed a bad relationship with his mother’s partner.

By age 16, he had moved out of the house. Around that time, his father brought him on a vacation in Asia, during which the two “had sex with loads [of] prostitutes,” Brand later wrote in an autobiography. “I felt that I had my dad's unequivocal approval.”

During that period of his life, Brand said his only escape from his depression was through acting, which taught him that “life doesn’t have to be a…trudge through misery.” He performed in school productions and discovered a love for stand-up comedy. He remained unhappy, though, and turned to drugs including LSD, ecstasy, and heroin.

In 1991, Brand was accepted to a prestigious London performing arts school, but was expelled after a year for drug use and poor attendance. Broke and addicted to heroin, he joined London’s stand-up beat, where he often joked about his own criminal and sexual past. He rose in the comedy scene and leveraged that into a job as a video journalist at MTV – only to be fired in 2001 for coming to work the day after 9/11 dressed as Osama bin Laden.

Brand’s big break came in 2004, when he hosted “Big Brother's Big Mouth,” a UK spinoff of the American show “Big Brother.” Audiences loved Brand’s humor and wittiness, and his career took off. He began starring in movies, including 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and 2010’s “Get Him to the Greek,” on whose set he met Katy Perry. The couple married at a Hindu ceremony in India the following year but split a year later.

Brand spoke often about his sex addiction and claimed to have had sex with thousands of women, including nine in a single evening. The Sun, a UK tabloid, named him “Shagger of the Year” three years in a row between 2006 and 2008. In his 2007 book, Brand said he went to rehab for his condition after realizing his actions “might become damaging to my career.”

Sexual misconduct allegations followed Brand throughout his career.

In 2006, an Australian actress called him a “bit of a vile predator” after appearing on his show. “I certainly don’t think he has cured his sex addiction,” she said, adding that he “wouldn’t take no for an answer” and made vulgar remarks. In a 2014 book, an ex-girlfriend claimed Brand had sexually assaulted her in a hotel in 2007.

In a 2008 episode of “The Russell Brand Show,” which aired on the BBC’s Radio 6, Brand and a guest attempted to interview actor Andrew Sachs by phone. When he didn’t answer, they left him a series of vulgar voice messages. During that, the guest left a recording telling Sachs that Brand “f*cked your granddaughter,” referring to Brand’s former relationship with Sachs’ granddaughter. “Sachsgate,” as it was known, forced Brand to resign and the BBC to apologize.

Brand has since shifted out of the mainstream media while arguably becoming more influential than ever through his podcast, “Stay Free.” On hour-long episodes, he blasts capitalism, Covid policies, the media, Big Pharma, Big Tech, censorship, and more. He has amassed a massive social following, with 6.6M YouTube subscribers, 11.3M followers on X, and 6.3M between TikTok and Instagram. “Covid Tsar Admits Lockdowns Were NEVER About Science,” one of his most recent YouTube videos says; “Bill Gates Has Been HIDING This And It's ALL About To Come Out,” says another.

This month, three UK news outlets reported accusations that Brand sexually assaulted four women between 2006 and 2013. One of the women accused Brand of raping her at his Los Angeles house. She was treated at a rape crisis center the same day and sent Brand a text saying, “When a girl say[s] NO it means no.”

Another accuser alleged that she had a sexual relationship with Brand when she was 16 – above the UK’s age of consent – and he was 31. She said he referred to her as “the child” and sexually assaulted her on at least one occasion. London police have since confirmed they received a complaint against Brand.

The allegations led many businesses and organizations to cut ties with Brand, including his management company and some streaming services, which have removed his content. YouTube, Brand’s primary platform, announced he could no longer make money off his videos.

Brand responded with a denial: “Amidst this litany of astonishing, rather baroque attacks are some very serious allegations that I absolutely refute.” Claiming to have always been transparent about his promiscuity, he suggested there is “another agenda at play” behind the accusations.

While the allegations may derail Brand’s career, they may also have the opposite effect

Brand has built his brand by alleging that established institutions try to silence those who challenge them. On Thursday, Rumble – a video platform where Brand has over 1M followers – published a letter showing the UK parliament asked it to demonetize Brand’s page.

While many on social media expressed anger at the company for failing to do so, many of Brand’s supporters did just the opposite.

If you have thoughts, let us know at [email protected]!

 🌊 Roca Clubhouse

Yesterday's Poll:

Is it possible to “amicably” divorce?
Yes: 72%
No: 18%

Yesterday's Question:

Is it possible to have a trusted social media platform in a polarized country?

Louise from Belgium: "My go-to plane snack is M&Ms! They're so delicious and you can share them and I can't stop eating them and I always end up feeling sick from so much sugar, which is why I usually ONLY get them on planes (which doesn't happen very often). But I get them beforehand, I never buy snacks on the plane itself, because it is way too expensive for what it is"

Robin from Dallas, Texas: "a combo of unsalted, roasted mixed nuts that I put together myself. A Close 2nd would be Beef Jerky.”

Spencer from Tampa, Florida: "Nothing beats chewing gum on the airplane - best way to pop your ears!”

Yesterday's Wrap Replies:

Yesterday’s Wrap told the story of Rupert Murdoch and the rise of his Big News Empire.

Éanna: “Rupert’s words are correct, and I’m sure he knows from experience, as he is complicit in the meddling from what he calls the “elites”. Just because he’s pointed it out doesn’t absolve him of his role in it.”

Tom from Sacramento, California: “The liberals own and slant most of the media content in our country. I am a college educator and see how far to the left our education system is. Our children are being indoctrinated and brainwashed. You wouldn’t believe how many education dollars are not spent on academics in our colleges but on advancing the woke agenda.”

Jim: “What Rupert and Fox have done to media in the country is abysmal. He bought the places so many people seek for guidance. The fact that it was started to counter CNN proves my point. Why can’t media just inform and not push some agenda????”

🧠 Final Thoughts

Thanks everyone for the feedback to yesterday’s Wrap on Rupert Murdoch. We started Roca to counter the Big News narrative that pushes out stories founded on political agendas rather than facts. We promise to deliver nonpartisan, independent news each day.

Happy Tuesday!