🌊 The Juice is Loose

Plus: Lamb-scaping solar farms?

The Juice is forever loose.

Just as we were about to hit send on today’s newsletter, news broke that OJ Simpson has died. There are few confirmed details at the moment, but his family reports that he succumbed to a battle with cancer. To call OJ controversial would be an understatement. His trial in the '90s has become a canonical cultural event. Now he’s gone forever, leaving tabloids with extra column inches to fill up. We'll have more on OJ’s death tomorrow.

In today's edition:

💦 End of the forever chemicals era

🏈 Terrell Suggs meaner off the field?

💊 Why are drug prices so high: Part 1

–Max, Max, Jen, and Alex

KEY STORY

PFAS Regulations

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first-ever national regulations on “forever chemicals” in drinking water

  • Many manufacturers use chemicals called PFAS, which take thousands of years to break down naturally. They have been linked to numerous health effects, and a 2020 study found that the drinking water of ~200M Americans is contaminated with them

  • On Wednesday, the EPA set strict limits for six PFAS in drinking water. The new rules give utilities three years to test their water for PFAS and two further years to install equipment to remove them

Dig Deeper

  • The EPA said it will allocate $1B to help states and utilities pay for initial testing and treatment

  • The rules place the responsibility on utility companies, not manufacturers, to limit PFAS contamination

  • Some utility companies opposed the ruling, arguing that the government is imposing unrealistic limits and not providing enough funding to achieve it. Others praised the ruling, calling it a step toward tackling widespread PFAS contamination in drinking water

KEY STORY

Olympic Payday

Track and field will be the first Olympic sport to give direct cash payments to gold medalists

  • The modern Olympics was conceived of as a competition between amateur, not professional, athletes. As such, athletes aren’t paid, although some countries, such as the US, pay their medalists

  • On Wednesday, track and field’s world governing body announced that starting with this summer’s Paris Olympics, it will directly pay gold medalists $50,000 each. Relay teams will split the prize

  • The plan marks the first time that an Olympic governing body will pay Olympic athletes. Track and field’s governing body said it plans to begin paying silver and bronze medalists by the 2028 Games

Dig Deeper

  • The president of track and field’s governing body, Sebastian Coe, is widely seen as a contender for the presidency of the International Olympic Committee. His decision to award gold medalists prize money may foreshadow a broader overhaul of the Olympic structure

KEY STORY

Inflation Stays High

Prices rose 3.5% in March from a year prior, fueling speculation that the Federal Reserve (Fed) won’t lower interest rates in June

  • Since last year, falling inflation raised hopes that the Fed would begin cutting interest rates in early 2024, thereby boosting the economy. Those hopes contributed to a stock market boom

  • On Wednesday, the government released data showing that yearly inflation was 3.5% in March, higher than expected. That dispelled hopes of a June rate cut and caused all three major stock indexes to fall

  • Investors who had previously bet on a June rate cut now see an 85% chance that the Fed will not do so that month

Dig Deeper

  • Core inflation – which excludes food and energy – rose 3.8% in March from a year prior, .1 percentage points higher than expected

  • The inflation news came after a stronger-than-expected job report, raising concerns that despite high interest rates, the economy remains strong

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Dig Deeper

KEY STORY

The Sheep Are Here

Major expansions in US solar capabilities are being assisted by flocks of sheep

  • Solar installations have been expanding rapidly in the US. Last year, large solar projects produced enough energy to power 14M households, up 16% from the year prior

  • Solar plants often bring in sheep to eat vegetation surrounding their panels, preventing overgrowth that can block light

  • A nonprofit estimates that 80,000 sheep are now involved in grazing ~100,000 acres worth of solar fields across 27 US states

Dig Deeper

  • An executive at DE Shaw, a Wall Street trading firm, told the Financial Times that the company has found sheep useful: “We typically sign contracts for what we call vegetation management, which is just a fancy way of saying ‘cutting the grass and weeds’, and in a lot of our portfolios we consider whether sheep are a practical option…in some instances it’s a really natural fit,” he said

RUNDOWN
Some Quick Stories for the Office

🇮🇱 Israel warned it will strike targets in Iran if Iran attacks it from Iranian soil

✈️ The Secretary of the US Air Force says he will fly in an AI-piloted jet to test out autonomous flying, which the Air Force has been developing for years

🇦🇺 President Joe Biden said he is “considering” a request from Australia for the US to drop espionage charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange 

🇦🇺 Independent presidential candidate Cornel West tapped a Black Lives Matter activist as his running mate. West, a former Harvard professor who has written extensively about race, is mounting a longshot presidential bid

🏈 The Green Bay Packers will play the Philadelphia Eagles in São Paulo, Brazil on Friday, September 6, in the NFL’s first-ever South American game

🇷🇺 An EU court partially lifted sanctions against Russian oligarchs Petr Aven and Mikhail Fridman. The court found that there was insufficient evidence to justify EU sanctions imposed against them in February 2022

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 topic asks: Are celebrity political endorsements dumb?

I think celebrity endorsements are super powerful and useful. They’re people who are tapped into power and meet a lot of important people and know how the world works in ways other don’t, or just dont have time for. Makes it easy for me to know how to use my vote

Kyle from Iowa

While [celebrities] can certainly be in places to meet powerful people with money, their "knowing how the world works in ways others don't" is a statement so off base.  These are rich, spoiled, entitled, power-hungry, often criminal people… Hollywood as a whole has a very left leaning agenda and one that is in with left leaning politicians.  So much so that any celebrity that has had more conservative views on anything has been basically black listed.  I could name a few but I'm sure we all know who they are.  I am a conservative but I certainly don't look to celebrities to tell me how to vote.  That's scary.  Please reconsider your position on that.

Kelly replies to Kyle

I'd like to know how you get the information that actors are "rich, spoiled, entitled, power-hungry, often criminal people". While this may apply to a percentage of many populations, we as a culture are obsessed with their fame because they come into our living rooms. We feel a sense of knowing who they are, but the reality is that we don't unless they put the information out there for us to consume. Hollywood may lean left and you vent they have an agenda, but that sounds more like a distressed conservative view, what A-List actor has been blacklisted for leaning conservative? The only thing they have is the ability to entertain us & I'm a liberal and I don't look to celebrities to tell me how to vote

David from DC replies to Kelly

Today's Poll:

Which celebrity’s opinion matters the most to you?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Yesterday’s Poll:

Would a Taylor Swift presidential candidate endorsement substantially impact voter turnout?
Yes: 48%
No: 30%
Unsure: 22%

POPCORN
Some Quick Stories for Happy Hour

🍔 McDonald’s nose best: McDonald’s franchises in the Netherlands have debuted the world’s first billboards that involve smell. Passersby can smell fries within 16 feet of them

👟 A soleless apology: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologized to Adidas Sambas fans after accusations surfaced of him ruining their credibility by appearing in a pair

🖼 Vincent van Gone: A Munich modern art museum fired a 51-year-old technical services team member and banned him from the premises for hanging his painting in the gallery

🌘 They tried to warn us: Google Trends indicates a significant spike in searches for terms related to Monday’s solar eclipse and eye health, including “my eyes hurt” shortly after the event

🐎 Just horsin’ around: An escaped racehorse wearing a beige raincoat entered a Sydney train station during heavy storms, trotted on the platform, tried to board a train, and chased a passenger

☕️ Venti Mistake: Ex-NFL star linebacker Terrell Suggs brandished a gun and said, “You wanna go? I’ll kill your b*tch a**” to a customer at a Starbucks drive-thru in Arizona

ROCA WRAP
Why Are Drug Prices So High?

You go to your doctor complaining of abdominal pain, fatigue, and a fever. They run a few tests and diagnose you with a serious illness: Hepatitis C.

If left untreated, hep C can lead to liver failure, cancer, or scarring – all potentially fatal. But your doctor delivers good news: There are a range of drugs, and 90%+ of patients who take them are cured within 8-12 weeks.

You conduct research and find you can take any of the following 12-week drug options:

  • Epclusa: $74,760

  • Harvoni: $94,500

  • Mavyret: $39,600

  • Vosevi: $74,640

  • Zepatier: $54,000

  • Sovaldi: $84,000

Those are the drugs’ “list prices,” the price set by pharmaceutical companies. Most Americans actually pay much less, but only after those list prices have passed through a murky world of middlemen and insurers. The US pharma system has contributed to the average American spending more on drugs than people in any other country.

How did this happen?

The drug development process begins with pharmaceutical companies researching and developing new drugs. That is an uncertain process – 90% of drugs don’t make it to market – and expensive: According to OJ Wouters of the London School of Economics, it costs $1.1B on average to bring a drug to market. Other studies suggest the actual cost is double that.

Once the drug is ready for sale, the company needs to set the price.

In many countries, governments negotiate the prices directly with the drug companies. If the government can’t reach a deal with the companies, it won’t sell the drug in its country. That leads to lower prices in other countries but less drug access, especially for cutting-edge therapies.

In the US, the government does not negotiate drug costs. Instead, drug companies set prices themselves.

In theory, competition in the US’ free market system should push drug prices downward. For many reasons, though, drug companies are protected from these pressures. The result is a market that has more drug options than any other – if you can afford them.

Because there is no government negotiator in the US, companies – rather than the government – negotiate with drug companies. Yet because any one health provider has limited negotiating power, insurers often turn to “pharmacy benefit managers” (PBMs) to do the negotiating for them. 

PBMs serve as middlemen between pharma companies and insurers, negotiating rebates – price reductions – on insurers’ behalf.

Today, three PBMs control 80% of the market. In theory, that means that they have substantial negotiating power to secure major discounts with pharma companies. However, the PBMs’ business model is to make money by taking a cut of the discounts, which means consumers receive only a portion of the discounts PBMs negotiate.

That convoluted system results in Americans paying much more for the same drugs sold in other countries at much lower prices.

One US government study found that Canadians, for example, pay 44% less for drugs than Americans – largely a function of Canada’s government negotiating drug prices. This year, to capitalize on cheaper prices abroad, the Food and Drug Administration approved Florida’s plan to import drugs from Canada, which the state expects will save it $150M annually.

Pharma companies say they have to charge a lot for drugs because of the high costs of bringing them to market. They also say their drugs provide innumerable benefits for patients, allowing them to recover quicker, avoid expensive hospital stays, and recover from previously incurable diseases.

Some studies have suggested that when factoring in the benefits of drugs – such as longer lifespans and fewer work hours lost – new drugs actually save Americans more money than they cost.

Tomorrow’s installment will look at whether that’s true and consider the mix of profit, lobbying, and regulation that has resulted in the average American spending $1,400+ on drugs each year.

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

EDITOR’S NOTE
Final Thoughts

Thank you all for the feedback on yesterday’s Wrap on Malcolm Miller! Jazmin from New York wrote, “The public… needs more stories like this to be shared. Stories of regular people doing their part to enrich others through their knowledge and dedication to community.” We promise to be a platform that continues to share the stories of such people.

Happy Thursday!

— Max, Max, Alex and Jen