🌊 O, Say, Can You Smile?

Plus: America’s happiness tumbles in new report

Shohei Ohtani is Buckingham Palace’s new favorite baseball player.

#KateGate lost its conspiracy stranglehold on social media yesterday thanks to a bombshell report out of the baseball world. The report claims that Japanese baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani has been the victim of a “massive theft.” His lawyers say that his longtime interpreter stole millions from him to gamble. Indeed, at least $4.5M in wire transfers were sent from Ohtani’s bank account to a bookie. But the internet ain't buying it. Not only does footage from this week show Ohtani and his interpreter being cordial together, but many wonder how a sportsbook would let an interpreter accrue a $4.5M gambling debt. Might baseball’s $700M man be involved? Time to put on those tinfoil batting helmets! Kate can exhale!

In today's edition:

😪 US' bleak happiness ranking

🐾 Nashville's new pup

🇭🇹 Haiti's BBQ

And so much more!

–Max, Max, Jen, and Alex

KEY STORY

US Happiness Tumbles

The US is no longer one of the 20 happiest countries in the world, the World Happiness Report found

  • The report, produced annually by the UN, Gallup, and Oxford University, is based on data from ~100,000 people from 150+ countries

  • Per the 2024 report released on Wednesday, Finland was the world’s happiest country for the seventh consecutive year, followed by Denmark and Iceland

  • Meanwhile, the US fell to #23, its worst-ever ranking. Young Americans largely drove that drop: Americans under age 30 ranked 62nd globally in happiness, an all-time low for that demographic

Dig Deeper

  • Northern European countries often top the rankings, which analysts attribute to those countries’ strong social nets, high life expectancies and incomes, and strong sense of purpose

  • Afghanistan ranked as the world’s unhappiest country, followed by Lebanon, Lesotho, and Sierra Leone. China ranked #60; Russia, #72; the State of Palestine, #103; Ukraine, #105; and India, #126

KEY STORY

Record-Expensive Drug

A new gene therapy will cost $4.25M in the US, making it the most expensive drug in history

  • The drug is the first to treat MLD, a fatal genetic disorder affecting one in every ~40,000 Americans. The disease – which has no cure – leads to total motor and cognitive loss

  • On Monday, the FDA approved the first drug to treat early-onset MLD. Orchard Therapeutics set the drug’s wholesale price at $4.25M. Previous versions of the drug sold for $3.9M in Europe

  • Orchard defended the price tag by citing a nonprofit that called it “the highest value-based price for any [drug] it has evaluated”

Dig Deeper

  • In a trial of 37 patients with early-onset MLD, all children treated with the new drug, Lenmeldy, survived to at least age six, compared to 58% who didn’t receive it. At age five, 71% of the patients could walk and 85% had normal language and IQ scores

  • Orchard’s CEO called it “a paradigm-shifting medicine”

KEY STORY

Schneider Apologizes

Ex-Nickelodeon producer Dan Schneider – who created iCarly, Drake & Josh, and more – apologized over claims he tolerated a toxic work environment

  • A new docuseries, Quiet on Set, featured former child actors alleging that Schneider made sexual jokes and tolerated a toxic work environment. Nickelodeon had severed ties with Schneider in 2018, reportedly over his verbal abuse of staff

  • On Tuesday, Schneider apologized, saying he “was wrong” for making people uncomfortable. He also said that any jokes from his shows that are now seen as inappropriate should be cut from reruns: “Every one of those jokes was written for a kid audience because kids thought they were funny,” he said. “So if there’s anything that needs to be cut because it’s upsetting… let’s cut it”

Dig Deeper

  • In the docuseries, Drake Bell – star of Drake & Josh – accused Nickelodeon and Schneider of treating staff like “garbage” and said he was sexually abused by a dialogue coach who worked with Schneider on several shows

  • Schneider became emotional when talking about Bell on Tuesday, calling the day he found out about the sexual abuse the worst of his career and claiming he had told Bell, “I’m here for you”

KEY STORY

Biden Impeachment Hearing

A former Hunter Biden associate testified as part of Republicans’ attempt to impeach President Biden

  • Tony Bobulinski is a former business associate of Hunter Biden whose claims are at the center of Republican allegations that during and after his vice presidency, Joe Biden used his influence to aid his son’s business dealings

  • On Wednesday, Bobulinski alleged during House testimony that “Joe Biden was ‘the Brand’ being sold by the Biden family” as part of a “foreign influence peddling operation” that involved China and Ukraine. “I know [Biden] committed high crimes and misdemeanors. I was involved and saw them happen,” he said at one point

  • Democrats sparred with Bobulinski during the hearing, with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) at one point challenging Bobulinski to cite specific statutes Biden had violated

Dig Deeper

  • Another Hunter Biden associate – calling in from an Alabama prison, where he is serving a prison sentence for fraud – also testified that Joe Biden made phone calls to assist Hunter’s business deals

  • He used the term “Biden lift” to refer to the boost that the former vice president gave Hunter’s businesses

  • The hearing was frequently interrupted by representatives bickering with witnesses and one another. Representative Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) wore a Vladimir Putin mask during the hearing and at one point reportedly shouted at Bobulinski, “Keep going, you fool!”

RUNDOWN
Some Quick Stories for the Office

🇫🇷 The director of Russia’s spy service said France – a NATO member – is preparing to send 2,000 troops to Ukraine. France’s government has neither confirmed nor denied its intention to send troops to Ukraine

🇮🇪 Ireland’s prime minister resigned, citing “personal and political, but mainly political reasons.”  His party has suffered repeated electoral defeats while a cost-of-living crisis has worsened

🇻🇳 Vietnam's president resigned over unspecified violations amid an anti-corruption campaign led by the ruling Communist Party's secretary-general, making him the second president to do so in just over a year

🇺🇸 The US Justice Department has discussed a possible plea deal with Julian Assange's lawyers wherein Assange would plead guilty to mishandling classified documents, the Wall Street Journal reported

⚾ The Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly fired superstar Shohei Ohtani’s longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, amid allegations of a “massive theft” in the range of millions of dollars

🚗 The Environmental Protection Agency has set new rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from cars, potentially resulting in 56% of new vehicles sold between 2030 and 2032 being electric or semi-electric

💰 Planning for retirement involves more than saving. With a Gold IRA, you can diversify your portfolio and safeguard your retirement from market shifts, economic uncertainty, and inflation. See our list of Best Gold IRA Companies to start planning a better retirement*

COMMUNITY

Weekly Debate

Most news companies repress ideas they don’t agree with. We are different. To prove it, we’re making this a place where people can have a free and open debate. Each week we lay out a debate on Monday and feature responses below, replies to those the following day, and so on.

This week’s Roca Votes asks: Is the dating market dominance of Match Group — the company behind 40+ dating apps including Tinder, Hinge and Match.com — concerning?

Reply to this email with replies to the below or additional thoughts!

It’s not the monopoly that’s the problem. I don’t think dating apps are an important enough service for that to be concerning. What’s concerning is that there are now so many dating apps, it’s now taboo to meet someone the “normal” way. And it’s allowed people to have such outrageous standards that “average” people are left behind. And since it’s weird to meet people in person, you have a large group of people that are just lost. And it may be controversial, but men bear the brunt of that problem

Zach from Pennsylvania

Dating apps are arguably the most important service. Their algorithms determine how tens of millions of people meet – they set the rules of "the game," thereby forcing people to present themselves in ways that win the game. Match's monopoly therefore gives the company essentially unchecked power to control if people can meet a partner, and thereby people's self-esteem, the quality of their relationships, and more. The financial monopoly isn't necessarily concerning, but the social monopoly – controlling the matchmaking market – is. 

Rahul from New York replies to Zach

Yesterday’s Polls:

If you’re single, are you currently using a dating app?
Yes: 10%
No: 71%
I’ve stopped: 19%

If you’re in a relationship, where’d you meet your partner?
Apps: 16%
Friends: 25%
Work or school: 39%
Other: 20%

POPCORN
Some Quick Stories for Happy Hour

🏠🔥 Burning down an open house: While preparing for an open house, a Sydney real estate agent accidentally set fire to a four-bedroom property valued at ~$3M

🥁 The safety dance: Cambodia’s prime minister has ordered a ban on musical vehicle horns after social media videos showed people dancing on roads and roadsides to their tunes

💸 Glassdoor shattered? Glassdoor – a website for anonymous company reviews – faces backlash for allegedly revealing users’ real names in profiles

🐾 Aww, my little fanaloka: The Nashville Zoo celebrated the birth of a fanaloka pup weighing 0.2 pounds. The fanaloka is a small, nocturnal mammal native to Madagascar

🍸 No rules, just right: An Outback Steakhouse in Michigan mistakenly served a 12-year-old boy a rum-filled strawberry daiquiri instead of a non-alcoholic one

🏀 Minnesota-Rod: Baseball great Alex Rodriguez and entrepreneur Marc Lore have reportedly submitted the paperwork to acquire 80% of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx

ROCA WRAP
Person of the Week: Haiti’s BBQ

Jimmy Chérizier was born amid the poverty and violence of 1960s Haiti.

Chérizier’s mother gave birth to him in a slum. After her husband died five years later, she was forced to sell grilled chicken on the street. According to Chérizier, he got his nickname “Barbecue” through that chicken business.

Others say it’s because he lit his enemies on fire.

It’s unclear exactly how, but Barbecue earned one of the few good jobs available in Haiti – becoming an officer in Haiti’s National Police Force.

He worked in an anti-riot division until 2018, when the police threw him out for the use of excessive force. Authorities accused him of moonlighting as a gangster – and in 2017, organizing a massacre in a Haitian slum that burned at least 400 homes and killed 71 people. Barbecue called his ouster unfair and denied the accusations – yet he soon faced many more.

In 2020, Barbecue formed the “G9 Family and Allies” gang alliance.

Articulate and charismatic, he cast himself as a protector of the poor amid Haiti’s violence and poverty, often wearing a beret while handing out food and patrolling the streets. The authorities, meanwhile, accused him of killing civilians in gang wars and blocking supply routes, including to fuel terminals, for political capital. The US and the UN have sanctioned him over such accusations.

Barbecue claims to be a revolutionary who drew inspiration from other violent leaders in the past, including Che Guevara and the dictator who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971. He said the G9’s mission was “an armed revolution” and promised to “put guns in the hands of every child if we have to.”

Government corruption not only opened the window for Barbecue to become an authority, but the government actually paid him to rule.

By 2021, the country’s president reportedly paid half of all the G9’s income as part of a pact intended to extend the government’s control into gang territory. Yet less than a year after the G9’s formation, that president was assassinated, throwing Haiti into further chaos.

Two days before his assassination, the president had appointed Ariel Henry as his prime minister. Upon the killing, Henry became both interim president and prime minister. While he promised elections, he continued to cite gang violence as reason to delay them and refused to step down when promised. The gangs did not like Henry, and his efforts to stay in power enraged them.

Amid those developments, Barbecue emerged as Henry’s most prominent critic.

Earlier this year, he brought a fragmented network of hundreds of street gangs together by advancing one agenda: Overthrowing Henry by any means necessary. When Henry traveled to Kenya last month to lobby for an international police force to fight the gangs, Barbecue seized the moment.

Almost simultaneously, his forces broke into two prisons, releasing thousands of inmates; attacked security forces; and laid siege to Haiti’s main international airport to prevent Henry’s return.

The violence – including gang raids on neighborhoods – killed hundreds of people and displaced 15,000+ while causing food, energy, and water shortages.

Barbecue warned things could get worse: If Henry refused to resign, it would “lead us directly to a civil war which will end in genocide,” he said.

On Tuesday, Henry promised to resign once an interim government was established. Meanwhile, a US- and UN-backed international police force said it would deploy to Haiti to quell gang violence.

Barbecue blasted both announcements, declaring that the gangs represent “the Haitian people” but have been excluded from negotiations about the country’s future.

Last Wednesday, Barbecue released a WhatsApp message threatening anyone who joins the government: “Don’t you have any shame?” he asked. “I’ll know if your kids are in Haiti, if your wives are in Haiti…if your husbands are in Haiti.” He called Henry’s resignation only “a first step in the battle.”

Haiti’s next steps – and its future – may be determined by Barbecue.

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

EDITOR’S NOTE
Final Thoughts

Were you surprised or not surprised to read that the US has fallen out of the world’s top 20 happiest countries? Do you agree that levels of happiness have fallen in recent years?

We can’t help but blame Big News — with their breaking news headlines, obsessions over partisanship, and political extremism — for some of that sadness. We hope this newsletter may be a reason to smile and that it brings you a bit of happiness each day. You definitely bring some to our team!

Have a wonderful Thursday,

— Max, Max, Alex and Jen