🌊 Bloods, Meet the Cryptos

Another crypto boss sentenced to prison

It took me longer to build a LEGO Millennium Falcon...

Today is the 83rd anniversary of the dedication of the Empire State Building. When you hear how long it took to build the iconic skyscraper, you may do a Looney Tunes-level "awooga" double take. The Empire State Building, which comprises 60,000 tons of steel and 10,000,000 bricks, took just one year and 45 days to build. I’m not sure we could fix a pothole in that amount of time today. What’s changed? We’re curious to hear your thoughts.

🎓 Columbia Protest Broken Up

💰 $34B in Taxes

🎈 Balloons Gone Wrong

–Max, Max, and Alex

KEY STORY

Hamas in China

Hamas and Fatah – the two largest Palestinian factions – met in Beijing

  • Hamas rules Gaza, is Islamist, and rejects Israel’s right to exist; Fatah rules the West Bank, is nominally secular, and recognizes Israel. The two sides have been enemies for years, and after Hamas defeated Fatah in 2006 Palestinian elections, they fought a brief civil war during which Hamas expelled Fatah from the Gaza Strip

  • Since October 7, Western and Arab countries have suggested Fatah will play a role in governing post-war Gaza. In recent days, the two factions have engaged in reconciliation talks in China’s capital

Dig Deeper

  • China’s foreign ministry said the sides “agreed to continue the course of talks to achieve the realization of Palestinian solidarity and unity at an early date”

  • While China has largely kept its distance from the war in Gaza, last week, its top diplomat said, “The only way to break the vicious cycle of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict . . . is to truly restore justice to the Palestinians, effectively enforce the two-state solution and bring about political settlement to the legitimate security concerns of all related parties”

KEY STORY

Trump: In Contempt

A judge found Donald Trump in contempt of court and fined him $9,000

  • Trump is on trial in Manhattan on charges that he falsified business records to conceal a $130,000 hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star. The court had ordered Trump not to post on social media about the case’s witnesses or jurors

  • On Tuesday, the judge overseeing the trial ruled that Trump had violated that order nine times and fined him $1,000 for each. He ordered Trump to take down posts from his Truth Social page and warned that further violations could result in his imprisonment

Dig Deeper

  • The trial – in its second week – is expected to last between six and eight weeks

  • Last week, the former publisher of The National Enquirer testified that in 2015, he, Trump’s former lawyer, and Trump established a “catch-and-kill” scheme under which Trump purchased the rights to stories harmful to Trump without any intent of ever publishing them

  • This week, a banker who helped facilitate the $130,000 payment is testifying

ROCA’S PARTNERS

Roca Reader x LMNT Spotlight

The person above is our staff writer, Alex Norris. Thanks to him, we have the daily news in this newsletter

  • But Norris – as we call him here at Roca – has long struggled with the headaches that come with typing so many words every day

  • Since he’s started using LMNT, though, he has really seen a difference: “Before LMNT, I used to get mid-afternoon (post-caffeine!) headaches,” he says. “Now, I feel great throughout the evening"

  • His favorite flavor is grapefruit, and he made sure to pack his drink mixes in his luggage as he heads across the world on his next reporting trip

Dig Deeper

KEY STORY

Binance Founder Sentenced

Former Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao was sentenced to four months in prison

  • Changpeng Zhao – "CZ" – is the founder of Binance, the world's largest crypto exchange by trading volume

  • American prosecutors accused him of failing to implement an effective anti-money laundering program, as required by law. Last year, CZ pleaded guilty to enabling money laundering; on Tuesday, a judge sentenced him to four months in prison

  • His sentence is much lighter than that of his rival, Sam Bankman-Fried, who has been sentenced to 25 years on fraud-related charges

Dig Deeper

  • Zhao remains influential, and The New York Times reported that he has been traveling around the US seeking his next move, including by exchanging messages with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman

  • On the day of his November plea hearing, Zhao said he plans on continuing to invest in crypto, biotech, and AI startups

KEY STORY

Walmart’s New Brand

Walmart rolled out a new premium brand, its first “private brand” launch in 20 years

  • “Private brands” are owned by and manufacture goods for a specific company. Walmart's main private brand – Great Value – is one of the United States’ largest food and consumable brands

  • On Tuesday, Walmart debuted a high-end private brand, “Bettergoods,” which seeks to rival competitors like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Examples of its new products are cardamom rose raspberry jam and curry chicken empanadas

Dig Deeper

  • The brand offers products that fall into three categories: Trend-forward items; plant-based items; and items "made without" artificial flavors, colors, or added sugars

  • “All of our research tells us that the customer expects these types of goods,” one executive said

  • 300+ Bettergoods items will hit shelves by the end of this year

RUNDOWN
Some Quick Stories for the Office

🎓 Columbia University arrested and threatened to expel protesters, including those who barricaded themselves in a campus building late Monday

🏛 House Democratic leaders said Tuesday that they would block any effort to remove Mike Johnson (R-LA) as Speaker of the House. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is leading an effort to do so in retaliation for Johnson’s support for the Ukraine aid bill

💰 Blackrock, the world’s largest money manager, said Tuesday that it is launching a new investment platform backed by up to $5B from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. In 2019, firms distanced themselves from Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; now, they’re returning to it

🗞️ OpenAI reached a licensing deal with the Financial Times, a British newspaper, to allow OpenAI to train AI models on its archived content. Others newspapers are suing OpenAI for doing so without permission

🏀 NBCUniversal is emerging as the favorite to take over TNT’s NBA broadcast and streaming rights packages, The Wall Street Journal reported. TNT has had the rights since 1989

🌿 The Biden administration is expected to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I substance – with no accepted medical use – to a Schedule III substance, allowing some medical uses 

COMMUNITY

We founded RocaNews because we wanted news companies to give us just the facts – not tell us what to think. That inspires us to do the “Roca Votes” story each week, in which we summarize a controversial topic and see how Roca Nation feels about it.

This week’s Roca Votes Wrap asked: How should Columbia respond to a student who said “Zionists… need to not exist?” Our Wrap has the full context.

In response to Khaled from Egypt:

I see at least 1 reason why Columbia should respond. James's extended statements, explicit and non-hyperbolic as they are, could arguably be defined as "true threats" against Zionists and Jews. As such, they would not be protected under the First Amendment (see Virginia v. Black ruling, 2002-03).

U.S. university attendance is a privilege, not a right, a privilege earned through law-abiding behavior. James's statements arguably break the law. Columbia has a responsibility as a U.S. institution to respond publicly to statements it's student has made publicly.

Cooper from Minnesota

I think it should be noted that Columbia, as a private institution, is well within their rights to expell and forcibly remove protesters from their property, provide these removals are not based on a protected classification (i.e. race or sex) but on actions. They may continue to protest elsewhere, a right to protest does not include rights to do it wherever or however you want. This whole issue requires so much context and discussion about the evil on both sides that means most reasonable voices are unable to contribute to the resolution. I am hesitant to even join the discussion. The nature of this conflict, with many years of slights, deaths, and animosity makes clear moral decisions on how our governments interfere incredibly complex.

But the responsibility of our governments to uphold the rule of law and the safety and security of all individuals is clear. And right now it is clear that the combative and intimidating nature of these protests has compromised that rule of law and safety.

Jeffrey

In response to Khaled, I think that the university has a right to respond to James as they choose. It’s a private institution, so reprimanding him wouldn’t be violating their 1st amendment right, especially after he’s threatened imminent physical harm to others. If they don’t react, it could hurt the reputation of the university. That being said, I don’t think they should react harshly unless he engages is any violent activity.

Jacob from Los Angeles

My comments will seem to some as if I'm straddling the fence, but this situation is too complex to be solved in sound bites.

Regarding Israeli/Palestinian warfare:

1. Support for Israel does not necessarily mean support for the Netanyahu regime.

2. Support for Palestinians does not mean hatred of Jews.

3. Guerilla attacks and the deaths and capture of Jews is reprehensible.

4. Israel's response far exceeds anything appropriate.

5. Israel's response will only harden the hatred of Palestinians and other Arab/Muslim peoples.

6. Warfare has not gotten the hostages freed.

Regarding Columbia:

1. Palestinian supporters have a right to protest.

2. Palestinian supporters have no right to threaten or intimidate Jewish students.

3. Only the victim has a right to say if she or he feels threatened.

4. The university has a right and obligation to protect those students.

5. The nature of the protest should never involve violence; otherwise, protestors resort to what they object to in Gaza.

6. Protests should not preclude class attendance by students, many of whom or their parents make great sacrifices to receive a Columbia education.

7. Forcing divestiture of Israeli investments will not hurt Columbia but might hurt common folk in Israel.

8. What stocks Columbia might sell will be bought by others, creating a zero sum result.

9. Incitement to violence should be dealt with in the strongest terms, no exceptions.

Overriding principles:

1. All rights have responsibilities.

2. All rights have limits.

3. The framers of the constitution saw free speech as freedom from government interference, not freedom to say whatever you want, regardless of harm potential.

Robert

Reply to this email to keep the conversation going!

POPCORN
Some Quick Stories for Happy Hour

😵‍💫 Uncle Sam, you drunk? A Pennsylvania man said the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue charged him $34B in overdue taxes, penalties, and interest. The IRS says it’s investigating

💰 Bless me, App Store, for I have sinned: A Catholic priest in Pennsylvania allegedly used a parish credit card to spend $40,000 of church money on Candy Crush and slot machine apps

🐦 Who’s that Pokémon? A photographer in Oregon captured what may be the first known blue rock thrush (a bird species native to Europe, Asia, and Africa) sighting in US history

🦓 Might be their first rodeo: Four zebras escaped from a trailer and roamed around Washington state, prompting state patrol and a former rodeo bullfighter to wrangle three of them

🤑 Dave & Bettor’s: Restaurant and arcade chain Dave & Buster’s will soon let customers bet on arcade games like Hot Shots basketball and Skee-Ball through its app, with wagers at $5

ROCA WRAP
Balloon Fest

In 1986, a charity released ~1.5M helium balloons over Cleveland, Ohio.

The charity, United Way, conceived of the event as a publicity stunt to raise money and boost philanthropy among younger Americans. It set out to break the Guinness World Record of 1.2M balloons released the year prior for the 30th anniversary of Disneyland.

In preparation for the event, United Way created a massive net in Cleveland’s Public Square and gathered 2,500+ volunteers, mostly high school students. Volunteers worked around the clock to inflate the ~1.5M balloons the charity sought to release. One witness compared the efforts to a factory “assembly line,” adding that it worked “non-stop.”

On the day of the event, ~100,000 people congregated in Public Square hoping to catch a glimpse of the release. There was a problem, though: Meteorologists had predicted a 70% chance of rain, and ahead of the scheduled release time, storm clouds were gathering. Fearful that the rain could ruin the event, organizers decided to release the balloons early.

At 1:50 PM local time on September 27, 1986, organizers released ~1.5M balloons, which quickly rose into the air, creating a dazzling display. Event organizers expected the balloons to continue rising until they lost helium, causing them to slowly descend after spreading out over a large area.

However, the balloons quickly hit the incoming storm front, causing them to rapidly descend.

The balloons – still inflated – fell to the ground in the hundreds of thousands, choking parts of Cleveland and surrounding areas. They clogged some local streets, causing at least one 10-car accident, and fell onto the runway of a nearby airport, causing a 30-minute suspension of flights. Amid the chaos, police shut down at least one road, and a bulldozer was called in to clear it.

Organizers predicted 10% of the balloons would end up in the nearby Lake Erie; in reality, over half did, covering the lake’s surface with hundreds of thousands of balloons. By chance, that same day, the US Coast Guard was searching for two missing fishermen who had fallen off their boat.

One searcher described the lake as an “asteroid field” of balloons, which made it difficult to distinguish between the balloons and, say, the victims’ heads or life jackets. The two men later washed up dead, although they may have died before Balloonfest.

The family of one of the fishermen sued United Way for $3.2M, and the case was later settled out-of-court for an undisclosed sum.

A woman in a nearby county also sued after the balloons spooked her prized Arabian horses, causing them permanent injuries. Again, the case was settled.

When factoring in legal fees related to Balloonfest, United Way ultimately lost money from it. Guinness did acknowledge the stunt as the largest-ever release of balloons at a single event and included it in its 1988 edition.

However, it later abolished the category altogether.

Reply to this email to let us know what you think!

EDITOR’S NOTE
Final Thoughts

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts on the Columbia situation. We’re proud that this newsletter is a place where people can discuss the most important issues of the day in good faith.

Speaking of which, we are very excited about our new podcast episode: We interviewed the former guitarist of Mumford and Sons, who was canceled and, effectively, forced to resign from the band he co-founded. You can listen to the conversation here: YouTube, Spotify, and Apple.

— Max, Max, and Alex