🌊 Cool Refreshing CRISPR
Realtors collude for higher commission, this last name is banned from flying, and Roca Reports: Migrants and Extremists
Snow cover is at record levels for the start of November. On Wednesday morning, snow covered 17.9% of the lower 48 states. The average temperature in the lower 48 states was 31.3 degrees. But we would like to send our thoughts and prayers to Florida readers, who saw temperatures dip into the upper 50s yesterday evening. Stay strong.
In today's edition:
Realtors collude for higher commission
This last name is banned from flying
Roca Reports: Migrants and Extremists
🔑 Key Stories
First CRISPR Treatment
A new therapy could become the first using the CRISPR-Cas9 (CRISPR) procedure to receive US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval
CRISPR is a gene-editing technique that allows scientists to remove, add to, or alter the genome. It is the simplest and most versatile gene editing method available to scientists, and while it is widely used in science, it hasn’t received FDA approval for use in humans yet
The FDA is now considering approving a CRISPR therapy for sickle-cell anemia (SCA), a disorder that affects hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Those with SCA develop sickle-shaped proteins, which can block blood flow and cause excruciating pain, strokes, organ failure, and death. 100,000+ Americans have SCA, 90%+ of whom are African-American
The FDA is now considering approving a new therapy, exa-cel, that uses CRISPR to genetically alter SCA patients’ stem cells and potentially cure SCA. On Tuesday, a panel of FDA experts found that data from clinical trials suggesting the procedure is safe are convincing
The FDA solicited individual feedback from advisors, not votes on specific topics. One of the panel members said the drug’s “benefits far outweigh the risks”; another said the FDA should be careful “to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good”
The FDA will likely make a decision on its approval by early December
Landmark Realtors Case
A jury found several real estate brokerages liable for $1.8B for artificially inflating real estate commissions
Real estate agents work for a commission, which is a percentage of the money exchanged in a property sale. Sellers usually pay the commissions, which are then split between the seller’s and buyer’s agents. In the US, commissions are usually 5-6% of a home’s sale price
In 2019, a group of home sellers sued the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and other groups for allegedly conspiring to use their influence over the industry to keep commissions artificially high
On Tuesday, a jury found the NAR and others liable for $1.8B. Under antitrust laws, the judge could triple that fine, possibly increasing total penalties to ~$5B. The judge could also impose an injunction overhauling portions or all of the US’ current commission structure
“This matter is not close to being final as we will appeal the jury’s verdict,” NAR’s president said following the ruling
The same lawyers who brought that case announced shortly after the verdict that they had introduced a new lawsuit against NAR and other brokers, such as Redfin, over other commission-related issues
SBF Trial Heading to Jury
Lawyers presented closing arguments in Sam Bankman-Fried’s (SBF) criminal trial
For weeks, prosecutors have presented evidence and called on former FTX executives to testify against SBF to try to prove he committed fraud. SBF’s lawyers argued he made mistakes yet didn’t commit fraud
SBF testified himself, during which he repeatedly told prosecutors he couldn’t recall specific events. Prosecutors claim he did so “over 140 times”
On Wednesday, both sides presented closing arguments. A jury may begin deliberating on the case as soon as Thursday. SBF faces up to life in prison if convicted
In the defense’s closing statement, SBF’s lawyer portrayed the government’s case against SBF as an effort to find a scapegoat. “The reason the government focused so much of its case on Sam…is because every movie needs a villain,” he said. He added that prosecutors used irrelevant information about SBF, such as his physical appearance, to try to demonize SBF instead of proving his guilt
During the prosecution’s closing arguments, a prosecutor accused SBF of creating a “pyramid of deceit” built on a “foundation of lies and false promises.” He also attempted to turn SBF’s decision to testify against him: “The defendant took the stand and he told a story – and he lied to you”
Reservists Warned of Shooter
Texts and a letter sent by Army reservists reveal the extent to which they were concerned about Robert Card, the alleged killer of 18 people in Maine
Card, 40, was a reservist who was committed to a hospital this July after hearing voices. Police believe he killed 18 people during a shooting in Maine. He was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot
In messages from September, a reservist warned another to change the code to the base’s guns and said, “I believe [Card’s] going to snap and do a mass shooting.” He added that Card “refuses to get help”
“If [Card] should set his mind to carry out the threats…he would be able to do it,” one of those reservists also warned police in a letter
“Please…[Card’s] messed up in the head…I’m afraid he’s going to f*ck up his life from hearing things he thinks he heard,” one of the reservists also wrote in a text message exchange in September. “I love [Card] to death but I do not know how to help him and he refuses to get help or to continue help. And yes he still has all of his weapons”
A correction for a header from yesterday: “Saudi Arabia Hosting 2024 World Cup” should have said “Saudi Arabia Hosting 2034 World Cup.” Our copy-editor had her first espresso and was moving too fast on the keyboard. Our apologies!
Protect Your Data
Data brokers are like the internet’s nosy neighbors who not only peek into your mail but also sell your secrets to the gossip-hungry masses. They're trading in your digits – SSNs, DOBs, phone numbers, and more — to the highest bidders
Enter Incogni, a personal data removal service that scrubs your personal information from the web
Incogni connects with data brokers around the world on your behalf — a task that can take hundreds of hours for someone to do on their own
With Incogni, you can lounge in your PJs, kick back and binge-watch that show everyone's been talking about, while someone else does the digital dirty work. Goodbye, identity theft anxiety. Hello, peace of mind
For all of November, Incogni is offering Roca readers an exclusive Black Friday sale: 60% off Incogni annual plans with code ‘ROCA60.’ Protect your personal details with Incogni today, and make your online footprint as hard to find as a polite comment on social media
Tip…or else: DoorDash is testing a new feature in its app that alerts some customers with a pop-up message if they choose not to tip, warning them that their order may face delivery delays
NO TOUCH BAR (Edna Mode voice): Apple has unveiled a new 14-inch MacBook Pro, signaling the end of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar keyboard
The power of “Mission Impossible”: Joe Biden reportedly became alarmed about AI after watching “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” which featured a nonhuman AI villain
TSAy-yo that name is unfortunate: The British government has barred a man with the surname “Fu-Kennard” from traveling overseas, citing its potential offensiveness
Use your brains, Patrick! Scientists have discovered that the so-called “arms” of a starfish are extensions of its head, not parts originating from its body or trunk
When taxis fly…: Chinese startup EHang received the world’s first certificate for an autonomous flying taxi. The two-seater EV can cover ~19 miles at speeds of up to 80 mph
Loan behold: Own a home? See how you can tap into your equity with Lendgo, the free platform connecting borrowers and loan providers. Get your quote today*
*Sponsored Popcorn by Roca’s partner picks!
👇 What do you think?
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🌯 Roca Wrap
Since we launched Roca, we’ve wanted to do consistent on-the-ground reporting. Starting this week, we are.
In the past, we’ve reported from Ukraine, Colombia, the US/Mexico border, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. With each of these trips, we’ve sought to not just tell the news but bring our readers with us on the adventures.
Roca Reports will now deliver that immersive journalism every week. Our co-founder and editor Max Frost has spent the last two months in Europe traveling and reporting in six countries. We’ll be publishing that coverage in a premium weekend newsletter, starting with Germany, where he hitchhiked around the country meeting far-right activists.
We ran the first three dispatches in Monday’s, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s newsletter. The fourth dispatch is below. We hope you enjoy! And don’t forget to subscribe here to receive future installments direct to your inbox on Saturday mornings.
Smoking indoors is illegal in Germany – but Berlin doesn’t enforce the rules.
In cafés, restaurants, clubs, and bars across the city, people smoke. Many establishments have cigarette vending machines, but the Berlin way to smoke is to hand-roll a cigarette: Open the paper, sprinkle in the tobacco, and smoke it with your beer or espresso.
The first smoking café I went to was an “anti-capitalist” cooperative that I dropped into while exploring Sonnenallee, Berlin’s “Arab Street.”
Arab Street was indirectly a product of the Nazis. The destruction wrought by World War 2 led West Germany’s government to launch the “gastarbeiter” (guest worker) program in 1955. Seeking to reduce the post-war labor shortage, between then and 1968, West Germany struck deals to import temporary low-skilled workers from nine countries.
While most of those countries were in southern and eastern Europe, the one that most impacted Germany was Turkey. 750,000 Turks came to Germany as guest workers, and many ended up staying. Turkish-Germans are now everywhere in the country. Germany’s most popular street food – a kebab pita known as döner kebab – was invented by Turks in Berlin in 1972.
Although many Turks are now so thoroughly integrated that they are culturally indistinguishable from Germans, Turkish neighborhoods can be found throughout the country. One of them is Sonnenallee, a long thoroughfare that cuts across southern Berlin. Once a Turkish neighborhood, it’s now predominantly Arab with thousands of Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians.
On the street, I met a Lebanese man named Yusuf who had immigrated to Berlin in the 1970s. He walked me through the neighborhood, past hijab stores, hookah shops, and Arab cafés.
The man kicked at trash on the street and shouted in broken English, “Europa! This Europa!” then pointed at graffiti on a wall, “This Europa! Dirty!”
“Germany is not like America,” he said. “In America, Lebanese people make money. Good money. I know lots of Lebanese there.”
“In Germany, it’s not good. It used to be, but not anymore.” He said it changed in the 1990s, although he couldn’t express in English why.
“People in Lebanon say, ‘Ooh, Europa, Europa, it must be so good!’ No! This Europa!” He kicked at the trash again.
Other immigrants were far more positive. While I met few in Sonnenallee who spoke English, one man in his 20s entering a mosque spoke enough to say that he came to Germany from Syria as a refugee in 2015. Germany has been “very good” to him, he said, a sentiment others – including a pair of guys from an Iraqi religious minority who had fled an ISIS genocide – later reiterated to me.
The influx of over 1M mostly Muslim migrants to Germany since 2015 has driven support for the AFD, Germany’s most popular “far-right” party since the Nazis. To hear some thoughts on how that happened, I met a German media professor for dinner in Berlin.
The professor – whom I spoke with on background and therefore won’t say his name – considered the AFD extremists and didn’t know a single person who supported them. But he also blamed other parties for their rise.
Angela Merkel had shifted her party – the center-right CDU – noticeably to the left. Until Merkel, the CDU had a monopoly on most conservative Germans. But under Merkel, and particularly after the migrant crisis, she lost that. That created room for a further-right party – the AFD – to emerge.
Merkel has since retired and many in the CDU want to shift the party back to the right. But whenever they do so, the professor said, the opposition calls them fascists. That keeps them left and gives the AFD a monopoly on more conservative Germans. In the coming weeks, I heard this dozens of times from people across the political spectrum.
I asked: So was the AFD just a regular conservative party? Were the “far-right” and “extreme” labels merited?
Yes, he said. This was Germany, a country where a fear of far-right politics and Holocaust guilt are rightfully engrained. He claimed the party had purged its moderate members, including some of its founders, and the extreme right – read, Nazis – was now pulling the party further. He had just attended an AFD rally and said he was startled by the extremism he witnessed.
That piqued my interest. Where could I find a rally? I asked. He told me I’d have to “dig deep.”
Back at the Airbnb, I went down the AFD rabbit hole until I found one scheduled for Saturday, three days later. I wanted to meet the alleged extremists for myself.
We’ll have the next installments in this weekend’s Roca Reports premium newsletter.
Subscribe here to receive Roca Reports directly in your inbox on Saturday mornings, and to support our mission of delivering enjoyable, unbiased, and independent news. You’ll also gain access to our exclusive community and on-the-ground reporting!
🌊 Roca Clubhouse
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Jessica: “This immersive and on the ground reporting is great! It's a form of authentic journalism. I dislike other forms of reporting where it's a "he-said she-said they-said", second hand reporting. Reporters less and less go out into the field to compile the facts & report the facts of the occurrence without bias. I am very excited about this, and will be excited to share this newsletter with friends and family”
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What is the best costume you saw (or wore!) this Halloween? Pictures always welcome!
Peter from Long Island, New York: “My wife and I surprised my daughters with these! One loved it (she’s in the picture) one didn’t want to be associated with us and took the picture, lol.”
Susan from Tennessee: “Obviously my grandchildren were the cutest! My grandson, Mack (age 3), dressed as a Yak! My granddaughter, Garrison (age 2), dressed as a black cat”
Steve from Wellington, Florida: “I saw some great ones but think I pulled off Forrest Gump really well!”
MACole from Memphis, Tennesse: “Created costumes made from items from lost and found in my sister’s middle school. So clever!”
Erica from Blue Mountain Lake, New York: “My 9 year old son John and I went as Wayne and Garth! Party On!”
🧠 Final Thoughts
We could not be more excited to bring you Roca’s original reporting in our premium newsletter. From the start, we’ve set out to bring you unique stories no one else is covering. With your support, we are now able to do that from around the world, all year long.
Subscribing helps us live our mission to deliver enjoyable, unbiased, and independent news. We’re so grateful for this community.
—Max and Max