🌊 Live from Berlin

We have a new billionaire, name too long to be registered, and Roca Reports sneak peek: Rise of the AFD

A little over three years ago, we hit send on our first-ever Roca newsletter. That went out almost exclusively to friends we forced to sign up and our moms. Since then, the Roca community has grown from a hundred to the hundreds of thousands and our team has grown from three to ten of the most committed Big News opponents you’ll ever meet.

Today, we’re excited to announce a new development in that movement: We are launching Roca Reports, our premium weekly newsletter!

One of the Maxes has been traveling around Europe for the last month, hitchhiking and sleeping little to cover some of the most fascinating and important issues on the continent today. From this moment on, we will have constant exclusive original reporting you will find nowhere else. We will be seeing the biggest stories in the world with our own eyes and presenting our unfiltered findings to you.

If you support this, you can subscribe and pay here. The reporting will be delivered in a Saturday-morning newsletter so you have something interesting to relax and read each weekend. We will be teasing the first installments free in this week's newsletters.

Subscribers will also get access to our exclusive community, which we will be launching once our subscribers vote on where that community should exist.

The Current will remain free, but your support of our on-the-ground reporting will mean the world — and bring the world to you (okay, we get one corny line per intro). Thank you, Roca Nation — let’s defeat Big News.

In today's edition:

  • We have a new billionaire

  • Name too long to be registered

  • Roca Reports sneak peek: Rise of the AFD

 🔑 Key Stories

Taylor the Billionaire

Bloomberg Wealth calculated that Taylor Swift’s net worth exceeded $1B for the first time

  • Most musicians who have become billionaires – including Jay-Z, Rihanna, and Kanye – did so through business. Few have done so through their music

  • According to the newest Bloomberg Wealth analysis, though, Taylor Swift is now a billionaire. Bloomberg’s analysis attributed that largely to the success of her Eras Tour and her decision to re-record her albums

  • The Eras Tour was one of the most commercially successful music tours in history, generating $700M+ from ticket sales over its first run from March to August. Off just that initial leg, Swift made an estimated $225M from ticket and merchandise sales

  • In total, Bloomberg estimates Swift has $370M in wealth from ticket and merchandise sales, $120M from streams, and $110M from the five homes she owns. The largest chunk of her net worth – conservatively estimated at $400M – comes from her music catalog

Dig Deeper

  • Swift’s catalog is uniquely valuable because of her decision in 2019 to rerecord her albums. That choice – intended to give her full control of her music and prevent others from profiting from it – has led to her controlling her music, which is her most valuable asset

  • According to Bloomberg, that catalog is now worth between $400M and $1B. For context, the most expensive catalog sale ever was when Bruce Springsteen sold his for $550M in 2021

Phillips Vs. Biden

Representative Dean Phillips (D., MN) challenged President Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination

  • Dean Phillips, 54, was first elected to Congress in 2018 and represents the suburbs of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Formerly an executive of his family’s liquor business, he is one of the wealthiest members of Congress with a $77M net worth

  • According to FiveThirtyEight, Phillips has voted with President Biden’s position 100% of the time and says Biden has done a “spectacular job.” Compared to the party’s progressive wing, he is considered a moderate

  • But Phillips, 54, has said the Democrats need a younger candidate to win in 2024. "This is an election about the future," he told CBS in an interview that aired Friday. "I will not sit still and not be quiet in the face of numbers that are so clearly saying that we're going to be facing an emergency next November"

Dig Deeper

  • Top Democrats played down Phillips’ entering the race. Minnesota’s governor wrote Friday that people in the state sometimes “make political side shows for themselves”

  • Another Democratic strategist told the BBC, "Many people will announce that they're running for president just to be able to get media hits and to be able to elevate themselves in a way that simply being a Congress member never would do”

SBF Testifies

Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) testified in his own defense at his trial on Friday

  • SBF faces seven charges related to the collapse of crypto exchange FTX and trading firm Alameda. He faces up to life in prison if convicted

  • Lawyers often advise defendants against testifying in their own defense, because it can create risk for the defendant. Defendants who have done so include Elizabeth Holmes, who ended up being convicted of four charges related to defrauding investors and customers with her blood-testing startup Theranos

  • On Friday, SBF testified and repeatedly said that while he made mistakes, he never knowingly defrauded FTX’s clients. He said the “biggest mistake” was not having a chief risk officer. He will now face cross-examination. The case could go to the jury later this week

Dig Deeper

  • SBF tried to distance himself from his companies’ businesses. When asked about FTX’s practice of lending funds to Alameda, he said didn’t know the day-to-day specifics. When asked about FTX customers wiring money to an Alameda bank account, he said, "I wasn't entirely sure what was happening.” At one point, SBF’s lawyer asked him if he had defrauded customers or taken their money; SBF answered, "No"

Israel Expands Gaza Invasion

The Israeli military (IDF) appeared to begin its ground invasion of the Gaza Strip

  • On Friday night, Israeli bombing left the Strip without internet or phone service. The next morning, Israel announced that its troops had begun “operating on the ground in the northern Gaza Strip.” On Sunday morning, the Israeli military (IDF) said its jets had hit “over 450 [Hamas] targets” in the past 24 hours, while its ground forces “struck terrorist cells” in Gaza

  • Throughout Sunday, the IDF said it was continuing such attacks. Internet and phone service have since resumed

  • Also on Sunday, the Palestine Red Crescent – an emergency services group – said Israel’s military had told it to evacuate from a prominent Gaza hospital. The organization has said that request is impossible, given the number of patients on life support and the ~13,000 displaced people who are sheltering there. The IDF has not commented on the evacuation order; the WHO has said it was “deeply concerned” by it

Dig Deeper

  • Israel said it is working with the UN and others to increase humanitarian assistance to Gaza and establish a safe zone for displaced Palestinians

  • Over the weekend, violence continued in the West Bank – another Palestinian territory – resulting in three deaths and bringing the number of Palestinians killed there since October 7 to 109, per the UN. West Bank groups and Hezbollah – a Lebanon-based militia – also continued to fire rockets at Israeli troops, towns, and cities

Maine Shooter Found Dead

The gunman who allegedly killed 18 people in Maine last week was found dead in a town near where the shooting took place

  • Police had launched a manhunt after the accused – Robert Card, 40 – escaped the scene of Wednesday night’s shooting. They enacted stay-at-home orders that turned much of southern Maine into ghost towns

  • At 7:45 PM local time Friday night, police found Card’s body in an unlocked shipping container in a town near Lewiston, Maine, where the shooting happened. He had died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot

  • The shooting – which killed 18 and wounded 13, some of whom remain in critical condition – was the US’ deadliest of 2023. For context, Maine averaged ~22 homicides a year over the last decade. The shooter’s motive is unknown

Elevate Your Hydration

While electrolytes might taste salty, many common electrolyte drinks mask this with excessive sugar. Not LMNT

  • LMNT offers a refreshing blend free from sugar, focusing on three vital electrolytes: Sodium, potassium, and magnesium. The combination is designed to mirror the natural ratios of electrolytes in your body and the amount lost through sweat

  • Electrolytes aren't just about quenching thirst. They power your nervous system, ensuring your heart's rhythm

  • A balance in electrolytes means the difference between feeling energized and vibrant versus facing headaches, low energy, or even confusion

Dig Deeper

  • LMNT is extending an exclusive offer to Roca readers: A complimentary sample pack with any purchase, giving you a taste of all eight delightful flavors. Think of it as the equivalent of eight premium sports drinks on us. Share with friends or savor the variety yourself. If it doesn't resonate with you, LMNT has you covered with a hassle-free money-back guarantee

🍿 Popcorn

ICYMI

  • RIP to a Friend: “Friends” star Matthew Perry died at 54. He was found dead in a hot tub at his Los Angeles home; the cause of death is unclear, but foul play isn’t suspected

  • Panera Buzzed: All Panera Bread restaurants now display “enhanced” disclosures about its highly caffeinated Charged Lemonade following a customer lawsuit

  • Getting Addison Rae-ted: TikTok is urging managers to assign more employees low performance ratings, the Wall Street Journal reported

Wildcard

  • Jiro dreams of safety: Japanese environmentalists warn of a surge in bear attacks due to food shortages in their natural habitats. Since April, bears in Japan have caused 158 injuries and two deaths

  • $50 for poor parenting: A Georgia restaurant went viral for applying a $50 surcharge on bills for misbehaving children. Its menu warns, “Adult surcharge: For adults unable to parent $$$”

  • Say that five times fast: A Spanish duke’s baby cannot be legally registered due to her excessively long name. Her name is Sofía Fernanda Dolores Cayetana Teresa Ángela de la Cruz Micaela del Santísimo Sacramento del Perpetuo Socorro de la Santísima Trinidad y de Todos Los Santos

👇 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 with this email, 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 here, starting with Germany, where he hitchhiked around the country meeting far-right activists. The first dispatch (Part 1 of 4) is below. We hope you enjoy!

For the first time since the Nazis, over 20% of Germany supports a far-right party.

That party is the Alternative für Deutschland, or AFD, and given Germany’s history, its rise has been big news. News outlets have been covering the party extensively, and the more I – Roca editor Max Frost – read about it, the more curious I became.

“Germany’s far-right party is more popular than ever — and more extreme,” reads a headline in the Washington Post.

“A German county elected a far-right candidate for the first time since the Nazi era, raising concern,” says one by the Associated Press.

“'Hitler or Höcke?' Germany's Far-Right Party Radicalizes,” wrote the New York Times.

The headlines were alarmist and the articles featured many interviews with political scientists, concerned officials, and experts. Few, if any, featured conversations with the voters themselves.

Then in April, messages leaked from the CEO of Axel Springer – the German media conglomerate that also owns Insider, Politico, and Morning Brew.

“The ossis [east Germans] are either communists or fascists. They don’t do in-between. Disgusting,” he wrote, referencing the AFD, whose base is in eastern Germany.

“My mother always said it,” he added. “The ossis are never going to be democrats.”

The messages affirmed my belief that I couldn’t rely on what I was reading about the AFD and needed to learn about them myself. To do so, I flew to Berlin at the start of September.

A videographer and I spent two weeks hitchhiking around the country, attending AFD rallies, visiting AFD groups, and interviewing people who both love and hate the AFD. The resulting story was far more complex and interesting than any outlets have presented it.

Part 2 tomorrow.

To get the full Roca Reports directly in your inbox on Saturday mornings, join our premium newsletter here!

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

 🌊 Roca Clubhouse

Yesterday's Poll:

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  • Bad: 12%

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Yesterday's Question:

Just 20 Qs!

🧠 Final Thoughts

So many people have emailed us asking how to support our mission. We’re so excited to release our premium newsletter to do just that and deliver the best of what Roca does: Our original, on-the-ground reporting of stories no one else is covering.

Thanks for supporting the wave and here's the link once more to sign up.

Have a great Monday!

—Max and Max