🌊 Get Off My Lawn, Students

Plus: Grindr on the hot seat

25 years of nautical nonsense.

Tomorrow marks 25 years since SpongeBob SquarePants debuted on Nickelodeon. Unsurprisingly, the show's creator, Stephen Hillenburg, studied marine biology in college and worked at a marine institute after college. What is surprising, however, is his professors teaching him that squirrels live in domes under the water and lobsters are greedy capitalists.

🎓 Columbia Student Barricade

🚔 World Ear Biting Championship

🇮🇷 Rapper's Demise

–Max, Max, Jen, and Alex

KEY STORY

Columbia Student Barricade

Columbia University students broke into and barricaded themselves inside a campus building on Monday night 

  • On Monday morning, the university's president ordered students – who had been camping out on the main quad – to “voluntarily disperse” by 2 PM or risk suspension. The protesters had been demanding Columbia divest from and boycott Israel

  • The president said“constructive dialogue” with the encampment organizers had stalled. By the afternoon, a few dozen students and ~80 tents remained

  • Around 5:30 PM, the university said it had begun suspending student protesters. Overnight, footage emerged of students smashing through windows to enter a hall, where they have since locked themselves inside

Dig Deeper

  • A student group called Columbia University Apartheid Divest posted on Instagram, “An autonomous group of students has taken matters into their own hands. They will remain in Hamilton [Hall] until the University divests from death”

  • Police have arrested ~900 protesters across US universities in the past two weeks, including 100+ at Columbia. The university had previously suspended students arrested for camping out on campus

KEY STORY

Grindr on the Hot Seat

LGBT dating app Grindr is in the spotlight after back-to-back scandals involving it

  • Last week, a class action lawsuit was filed against the app alleging that it shared users’ HIV status with advertisers, who used that information to target people with ads

  • Separately, earlier this month, an openly gay UK parliamentarian resigned from the UK’s Conservative Party after admitting to having shared intimate photos and the phone numbers of other members of parliament with an anonymous user on the app

  • The person who leaked their correspondence kept their identity secret, and speculation is reportedly rife in Parliament about who it was and whether it was a hostile government

Dig Deeper

  • Grindr’s CEO said that the situation reflects not a problem with the app, but with how people use it: “Ultimately, users need to be careful about how they use the product”

SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT

A Family’s Opioid Substitute

When Roca Reader Paul Murdoch fell off a roof in 2012 and shattered his tibia, he was left in “excruciating pain.” 20 surgeries and opioids did little to help 

  • Then his wife Whitney created a CBD concentrate: The all-natural product worked wonders and helped Paul get back on his feet. Paul, Whitney, and their kids were so impressed that they decided to turn CBD into a business

  • Today, four generations of the Murdoch family run Horn Creek Hemp, the US’ most awarded CBD hemp farm, selling chocolates, gummies, flowers, and more. Their mission is to bring the healing power of nature to you

  • All their products are federally legal and non-psychoactive. We visited their farm and can’t recommend their products enough

  • Learn more here — and be sure to use code ROCA for 15% off!

KEY STORY

Elon’s Robotaxis

As Tesla’s sales and stock price struggle, Elon Musk is shifting attention toward self-driving taxis

  • Tesla stock is down 32% so far this year, largely due to plateauing demand for electric vehicles and increased competition in the market

  • While Musk has been predicting imminent autonomous taxi production since 2019, he shifted attention back to it on April 5 when he tweeted, “Tesla Robotaxi unveil on 8/8”

  • Musk subsequently mentioned it in a shareholder letter. He has said the so-called robotaxi will have no pedal or steering wheel

Dig Deeper

  • In the past, Musk has laid out his vision for self-driving cars: “You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app…and have it generate income for you while you’re at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost”

  • While Tesla is a leader in auto-pilot driving features, the software has run into some problems and is not necessarily indicative of Tesla’s proximity to releasing a fully autonomous vehicle

KEY STORY

States Must Pay For Surgery

A federal court became the first in the country to rule that state health care plans must pay for gender transition surgery

  • The court ruled 8-6 to uphold two lower court rulings which had found that North Carolina's state employee health insurance plan discriminated against transgender people by not covering surgeries for "sex changes or modifications," and that West Virginia's Medicaid program discriminated by excluding "transsexual surgeries”

  • Liberal judges ruled in favor of coverage; conservative ones ruled against

Dig Deeper

  • Justice Roger Gregory, representing the liberal majority, wrote that the restrictions explicitly discriminated on the basis of sex and gender

  • Judge Jay Richardson, dissenting from the ruling, wrote that federal courts should not dictate health plan coverage specifics and said that doing so oversteps legal boundaries

  • The case drew national attention: 21 Republican-led states had asked the court to rule against covering transition surgeries, while 17 Democrat-led ones and Washington, DC, had advocated for it

RUNDOWN
Some Quick Stories for the Office

🇮🇱 Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Hamas to accept a ceasefire proposal that reportedly calls on it to release up to 40 hostages in exchange for a ceasefire and Israel freeing Palestinians jailed in Israel

🇺🇦 On an unannounced visit to Ukraine’s capital, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said NATO allies had “not delivered” the military aid they had promised Ukraine but said “it is not too late for Ukraine to prevail“

🎵 Taylor Swift landed her 14th Billboard number one album with "The Tortured Poets Department," tying Jay-Z for the chart’s all-time record for most number one albums by a solo act

📺 Ahead of an expected merger with Skydance Media, Paramount removed its CEO and replaced him with an "office of the CEO" shared by a trio of executives

🏠 Institutional investors bought more than a quarter of the single-family homes sold in 2022, The Wall Street Journal reported. The data suggest increasing competition between financial firms and individuals in the housing market

🇵🇸 World Central Kitchen, a food aid group founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, resumed food delivery in Gaza on Monday, weeks after Israeli strikes killed a group of its workers

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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.

I see 0 reasons why Columbia should respond to James. The First Amendment protects the right to free speech from Government interference. Is it reasonable for a private institution to encroach upon this right? James' statements aren't on behalf of Columbia, so why should they be concerned? The way I see it is that if Columbia expels them, they should face a lawsuit. At the same time, Zionist students stand for the genocide of Palestinians... Will Columbia sanction them too? Or is this just selective censorship of ideologies that don't the government's views?

Khaled, an Egyptian medicine student living in Italy.

James should be expelled from the school, barred from any higher education and arrested. He is a terrorist. He has a lot of nerve saying who should be killed. 

Zach from Philadelphia

[Roca] shouldn't be giving a voice to someone so bigoted who blatantly threatened the lives of others.

Adam

Reply to this email to keep the conversation going!

POPCORN
Some Quick Stories for Happy Hour

🐊 Where’s Wally? Wally, a well-known emotional support alligator from Pennsylvania, disappeared on April 21. His owner suspects someone stole Wally in Georgia

🎮 Call of Decline: Microsoft announced a 30% year-over-year decline in Xbox Series X and S revenue

🚔 World Ear Biting Championship: UK police are investigating a video from the World Snooker Championship that shows a man whispering in and then biting a boy’s ear

🥊 Jake Paul mutht be thcared: The July 20 fight between YouTuber Jake Paul, 27, and former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, 57, will officially be a sanctioned, professional fight

🍫 Willy’s Influencer Experience: Two months after a Willy Wonka-inspired event in Glasgow went viral for its lackluster decor, a similar event in Los Angeles drew dozens of attendees. It featured the same Scottish actress – known as “Meth Lab Oompa Loompa” – from the Glasgow event

ROCA WRAP
Rapper’s Demise

In 2021, Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi released “Rathole.”

In the song, Salehi blasted “hack journalists, tabloid reporters, court artists, officers, thugs, mercenaries, forced executioners, useful idiots, appointed officials, [and] opportunist reformists” for Iran’s problems.

He warned of a reckoning: “Remember, blood can only be washed with blood.”

Salehi’s song became a major hit, shocking Iranians who weren’t used to hearing such explicit criticism of Iran’s regime.

It also put Salehi on a collision course with authorities.

Salehi came from a politically active family: His father, an engineer and political dissident, spent eight years in jail for his views.

His brother introduced Salehi to rap, and by the time he was a teenager, he was venting his frustration with Iran’s regime through lyrics.

“The upper classes have a voice enough. I think rap is the voice of the suffocated throats,” he once said.

“Rathole” blew up in popularity, prompting Iranian authorities to accuse Salehi of spreading propaganda and arrest him.

#FreeToomaj went viral, though, and eight days later, he was released.

Following that incident, Salehi pinned a post on his X account: “Shall the pen that doesn’t write break. Behold what these people have suffered.”

In September 2022, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested by morality police for improperly wearing her hijab, sparking Iran’s largest protests in years.

Amid those, Salehi posted videos at protests and published songs criticizing the government. In one, he rapped, “We come to streets like ghosts and become a nightmare for the government…Neither suppression nor execution can stop us.”

In another, Salehi directly alluded to Amini: “Someone’s crime was that her hair was flowing in the wind. Someone’s crime was that he or she was brave and were outspoken.”

Salehi was arrested again and, per multiple rights groups, tortured into making a confession.

He was charged with “corruption on Earth,” which carries a potential death penalty, but was released on bail in November 2023.

After being released, he posted a video in which he alleged having been tortured; days later, he gave an interview to CBS News, during which he called Iran’s government is “a mafia that is ready to kill the entire nation“

Iranian authorities arrested him a day later and sentenced him with a range of charges.

After months of captivity, his lawyer told media on Wednesday that he had been sentenced to death.

Rights groups and foreign officials blasted the ruling, with Human Rights Watch calling it a “cruel and outrageous assault on fundamental freedoms.”

Salehi reportedly plans to appeal.

Is Salehi’s pen mightier than Iran’s government’s sword?

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

EDITOR’S NOTE
Final Thoughts

Thank you all who have subscribed to our premium newsletter We the 66. On Sunday we shared two conversations from inside Gaza. One person saw the war through Israeli eyes; one through Gazan eyes. Both were fascinating stories. You can watch the full conversations on our YouTube here.

— Max, Max, Alex and Jen