🌊 RFK vs. the World?

Plus: Meet Barbecue, the new ruler of Haiti

Kobe wuz here.

Unlike Roca, the Los Angeles Lakers evidently did not celebrate National Proofreading Day. Their newly-unveiled, 19-foot statue honoring the late Kobe Bryant features not one, not two, but three spelling errors. They fudged two players’ names and wrote “decision” as “decicion.” You would think a city whose writers were on strike for a third of last year would do better. But, oh well, it’s not like those typos are set in ston-… oh no…

In today's edition:

🗳 RFK Jr.'s fight for ballots

💿 The name of Kanye's daughter's debut album

🍳 Person of the Week

And so much more!

–Max, Max, Jen, and Alex


RFK Battles for the Ballot

RFK Jr. is battling to get on all 50 state ballots

  • Many states’ laws make it difficult for candidates outside the 2-party system to qualify for the ballot. It’s usually even harder for independent candidates to qualify than those representing minor parties. In some of the largest states, independent candidates have never qualified

  • RFK – independent after dropping his Democratic affiliation – has qualified in at least 5 states and is trying to do so in the rest. While not a libertarian, there is speculation he may run as one to use the party’s lower thresholds and existing ground game

Dig Deeper

  • Last week, RFK delivered a rebuttal to Biden’s State of the Union Address

  • “I can tell you that in every state of this union, people are rejecting fear-mongering,” he said. “80% of Americans say they don’t want to be forced to choose in this election between the lesser of two evils. They’re tired of voting against something or someone”

  • He added, “A growing number of Americans are rejecting divisiveness”


Haiti in Crisis

Haiti is in a state of anarchy as gangs intensify their efforts to topple the government

  • Last week, an alliance of gangs led by the self-proclaimed “revolutionary” gangster “Barbecue” conducted a mass jailbreak, laid siege to the country’s main airport, and attacked security forces across the capital

  • Chaos proceeded to engulf the country, with rampant looting and violence. 15,000+ have been displaced and the US has sent troops to defend its embassy and evacuate staff

  • The gangs demanded the resignation of the president and prime minister, who was in Puerto Rico. Late Monday night, he said he would resign once a new government was formed

Dig Deeper

  • Impoverished with a corrupt and ineffective government, Haiti often bounces between crises. The current crisis dates to July 2021, when the country’s then-president was assassinated. Henry became acting prime minister and president and promised to step down by February 7, 2024, but didn’t do so

  • The US is pushing Henry to enable a political transition that will enable a new government and deployment of an international police force. Various players in Haiti are seeking to form governments that the US opposes, and it’s unclear how Henry’s resignation will affect this


Biden’s Budget Reveal

President Biden proposed a $7.3T budget for FY 2025

  • The US government uses an October 1–September 30 fiscal year. Each year, the president proposes spending and taxes for the year ahead, setting the stage for negotiations to follow

  • Congress must approve the final budget although it is yet to do so for FY24, which would have taken effect on October 1, 2023

  • Biden’s proposal would raise taxes on corporations and those earning $400,000+. It would increase spending on social programs and defense, which accounted for over half – $895B – of the $1.6T in discretionary spending that Biden requested 

Dig Deeper

  • Given the upcoming election, this proposal is widely seen as a maneuver to show Biden’s priorities for the years ahead. DC-insider publication Politico called it “Biden’s last major chance to showcase his policy and spending ambitions before facing Trump”


Ramadan Begins; Tensions Rise

Ramadan began, marking the start of a period of elevated tensions in the Middle East

  • Israeli-Palestinian tensions often rise during Ramadan, when Muslims pray more frequently and fast from sunrise to sunset. Tensions frequently focus on the al-Aqsa Mosque, a holy site in Jerusalem that is physically connected to the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest place

  • Hamas accuses Israel of restricting access to the site and has called on Palestinians to converge there to challenge Israeli occupation; Israel has denied those accusations and warned against provocations 

Dig Deeper

  • On Sunday, the first night of Ramadan, Israeli police clashed with worshippers trying to access al-Aqsa

  • Palestinians accused Israeli police of beating worshippers and restricting access to the mosque; Israel said there was isolated unrest at one entry gate

  • Some right-wing Israeli politicians have called for restricting access to al-Aqsa, however officials and the prime minister’s office say they intend to allow the usual number of worshippers, barring unrest


Roca’s Community

Together with you!

Roca’s dedicated to showcasing brands and products that genuinely enhance our daily lives

  • Our selection process often begins with casual lunchtime discussions among our team. If a product sparks our interest, we contact the brand for a collaboration and feature them in this slot

  • We're also thrilled when the Roca community introduces us to brands they like and small businesses that improve their lives. We like to help them find new customers and recognition in our community

Dig Deeper

  • If you represent or know a company or small business worthy of a shoutout, let us know by replying to this email with a blurb about why you love them!

  • We’ll highlight some of those small businesses over the coming months

Some Quick Stories for the Office

✈️ An Indonesian passenger jet with 159 passengers veered 28 minutes off course when the pilot and co-pilot fell asleep. And speaking of planes…

✈️…First responders treated 50 people after a “strong movement” on a Sydney to Auckland Boeing 787 jet operated by Chile’s Latam Airlines

📈 Reddit’s IPO will value the company at $6.4B — below its 2021 $10B valuation and compared to Meta’s $1.3T and Snap’s $20B. Speaking of…

📈 Telegram’s elusive co-founder Pavel Durov said in a rare interview with the Financial Times that the messaging platform has 900M users and is weighing an IPO. He said investors recently valued Telegram at $30B

🇦🇷 Argentina’s libertarian President Javier Milei received a 48% pay raise – his administration’s first scandal. Milei called the payment a “mistake” and fired his labor secretary for overseeing it

🇺🇸 Donald Trump walked back his stated opposition last week to a TikTok ban. The US House is set to vote on anti-TikTok legislation this week


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 Wrap asked: What’s a bigger threat to democracy: The new book “White Rural Rage” – which argues that white rural Americans pose the greatest threat to American democracy – or white rural rage?

As a rural Kansan, I can say the republic is not in danger from us. However, the elitists and their way of life is. People tire of them robbing us blind to line their own pockets. They do not want us to revolt as others are currently doing in Europe.

Paul from Kansas

I'm white, live in rural Idaho, and I'm not raging. I do think there is a huge divide between urban and rural America though. Most people in rural areas are terrified of cities and going there unless it's a close city they are used to… City people imagine those of us as rural to be overly conservative, religious bigots, anti-gay, etc

Brian from Idaho

White rural rage is a problem. Drive through any small town (if people are willing to leave the safety of their bubble on the coast) or go to a Trump rally and you're going to see the Confederate flag which in today's society is pro slavery and thus racist… The bigger issue is that this is an issue, that people with different viewpoints can't have a respectful conversation, and thus each gets pushed further and further to the extreme end of what they believe.

Danny from Minneapolis

This book is accurate and says what everyone else is afraid to say. Rural, white America is the greatest threat to the united country that we should be. Take example one: Immigrants make this country’s farming industry work, yet middle America screams for closing the border???? Thank you to the authors for forming a cohesive argument around this.

Susan from LA

Reply to this email with replies and addition thoughts!

Yesterday’s Polls:

Is urban/coastal elitism a problem today?
Yes: 63% | No: 27% | Unsure: 10%

Is white rural rage a problem today?
Yes: 40% | No: 48% | Unsure: 12%

Some Quick Stories for Happy Hour

🤯 NFL gone wild! A wild day of NFL free agency sent Kirk Cousins to the Atlanta Falcons, Saquon Barkley to the Philadelphia Eagles, and Gardner Minshew to the Las Vegas Raiders

💿 Like father, like daughter: North West – Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s 10-year-old daughter – announced her debut album, “Elementary School Dropout,” a tribute to her dad’s 2004 “The College Dropout”

🕵🏻‍♂️ “Where’s mom?” Florida police found a missing 52-year-old mother alive in a shipping container. She went missing last Wednesday, and police are investigating how she got there

🏀 Ball too hard: Police arrested Trayron Milton, the brother of LSU women’s basketball guard Flau’jae Johnson, for assault after he jumped onto the court during a scuffle involving Flau’jae

🐐 Goated evidence: Four dead goats helped guide Michigan deputies to an illegal marijuana operation. They found 140+ marijuana plants on the same property as the goats

🗺 Davy Jones’s school locker: While cleaning a Scottish beach, a woman discovered a pirate-themed message in a bottle launched by three schoolchildren in 1984

Person of the Week

Paula Deen felt most at home in her kitchen.

Paula’s love for cuisine began in Albany, Georgia, where she was born in 1947.

She spent hours in the kitchen with her grandmother, who showed her the art of “real farmhouse cooking, the kind that takes all day.” Paula learned to cook traditional Southern food for the family, however tragedy struck her own: A year after Paula married her high school sweetheart at 18, her father died unexpectedly at age 40 and her mother four years after that.

By age 23, Paula and her husband had two sons but she was unhappy in her marriage.

The couple struggled financially and Paula suffered from depression and agoraphobia, a phobia in which people perceive environments as unsafe. She increasingly spent time in the place she felt most comfortable: Her kitchen. 

By 1989, the marriage took a turn for the worse and the couple divorced. Needing income, Paula turned her home cooking into a catering service that made lunches for office workers and enlisted her sons to deliver the meals. Her business, “The Bag Lady,” was a success, and was soon delivering Southern meals to offices across the area.

In 1991, Paula decided to expand the business into a restaurant in downtown Savannah, GA. Her food developed a large and dedicated customer base, leading to another restaurant in 1996 and expansion to casinos across the country.

Then in 1997, she made the decision that would launch her to celebrity chef status: Putting her favorite recipes into a cookbook called “The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook.”

Marketed through the QVC home-shopping television channel, the book sold nearly 70,000 copies in one day and led to the premiere of Paula’s Home Cooking, a Food Network show. The show shot to the top of the network’s ratings, earned her an Emmy Award in 2007, and led to two more Food Network series.

Viewers loved Paula’s self-deprecating sense of humor and her authentic Southern charm, characterized by her strong accent and big, blonde hairstyles.

People also loved her rejection of health foods: While many cooks were pivoting toward low-fat, low-carb foods, Paula promoted sugar- and fat-laden comfort foods, such as her famous hamburger topped with a fried egg and bacon and served between two doughnuts

But her fandom wouldn’t last forever.

Paula became the target of sharp criticism when she announced in 2012 that she had been diagnosed with type II diabetes and had been hiding it from her fans. And then in 2013, a former employee filed a lawsuit against Paula alleging racial and sexual discrimination in the workplace.

Among the accusations, Paula allegedly suggested her brother’s wedding theme be a "true Southern plantation-style theme" with black male servers. She allegedly decided against the plans "because the media would be on me about that.”

During legal proceedings, Paula was asked if she had ever used the n-word.

“Yes, of course," she said, explaining that after a "black man" once burst into the bank and held a gun to her head, she probably used the word to tell her husband about the incident

She added that it had "been a long time" since she had used the word, saying, “That’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the ’60s in the south.”

While settled outside of court, the case led Paula to lose her Food Network contract and other business deals.

Forced to rebuild her brand, Paula launched "The Paula Deen Network," a subscription-based online network featuring cooking shows, recipes, and lifestyle content, in 2014. In 2015, she entered Dancing with the Stars as a contestant and published a cookbook with healthier recipes called “Paula Deen Cuts the Fat: 250 Favorite Recipes All Lightened Up.”

Yet that same year, she faced backlash again for a 2011 Halloween photo she posted of her son in blackface from a themed episode of her Food Network show. Covid provided another opportunity for Paula: In April 2020, she began regularly posting “Quarantine Cooking” clips to her YouTube channel. Through doing so, she developed a strong following and revitalized her brand.

Paula now posts new videos almost daily, however they look different than the Food Network shows that made her famous: She no longer has corporate sponsors and her recipes are health-focused.

Nevertheless, they show Paula Deen doing what she loves most: Cooking Southern style food for the world.

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

Roca in Serbia

We send our co-founder Max Frost to investigate topics around the world and he writes about them here. He’s currently writing from Serbia. Subscribers receive the full stories.

Bor appears to be a polluted, depressed town full of decrepit communist-era buildings. Yet Chinese workers are flocking here by the thousands.

The mountains of eastern Serbia are rich in copper and gold. Foreigners have been exploiting them since the times of the Romans. Bor’s first mine opened more recently – in 1904, when a French company began digging the area’s copper. 

Yugoslavia’s socialist government nationalized that mine in 1951 and the government operated it until 2017, when Serbia signed a deal with the International Monetary Fund. Per the deal, the IMF would give Serbia $1.3B if its government would sell off the loss-making mine and enact other reforms. Serbia agreed and in 2018 sold the Bor mine to a Chinese company. 

The deal is ironic: The US and its allies are often discussing ways to prevent China’s expansion into Europe and to “counter” China’s infrastructure projects around the world. Yet the US and its allies also largely control the IMF – a free-market body that pushed the sale. 

It was a quiet late afternoon when I arrived in Bor. The bus dropped me on the empty main road next to a board announcing the town’s recent deaths, of which there were many. The nearby buildings were mostly dilapidated and from the communist era.

But while walking around the town, I ended up on an isolated stretch with several Chinese restaurants. The entire inside was reserved, so I took a seat outside next to two middle-aged Chinese men who were staring at their phones, drinking beer.

Over the next two hours, the place filled up completely with Chinese people. Inside, a group of men sat around a circular table loaded with bottles of liquor and beer. Each time I went in to get another beer or use the bathroom, the men were keeling over from laughter, cheersing, or yelling. When I went into the bathroom, one of the men was throwing up in the sink. 

Outside, a group of Chinese people in their 20s filled up the table behind me. 

“Where are you from?” I asked

“I from Japan. Konichiwa,” said one man who was drunk and giggling.

He bowed and giggled again: “I fake Japanese.”

He told me that the group had come from China to work in the mine for two years. He said working in Serbia paid more than working in China, but didn’t want to talk much beyond that.

The only Serbian at the restaurant was my waitress, who spoke neither English nor Chinese. To order, the Chinese guests and I had to point at the menu, and she had to then bring over the Chinese manager to write the order down. I ended up with an extremely spicy Szechuan chicken that was the best thing I ate in the Balkans.

After dinner, I walked to Bor’s central strip, where a handful of bars were packed with Serbians. Then I spotted a karaoke bar with a Chinese sign. I walked in.

A Serbian woman at the entry desk stopped me. 

“Are you Chinese?”


“Chinese only. 

I thought she was kidding. “Are you serious?”

“Yes, Chinese only.” A Chinese man who was standing next to us took a drag of his cigarette and nodded. 

“Saturday night, Chinese only,” she said again, flashing a sympathetic smile. 

The Chinese man took another puff of his cigarette as I walked back to the street. 

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

💰 Treasure Hunt

Welcome to the weekly Roca treasure hunt! The rules are simple:

  • Every day we give a hint. You get one guess, which you submit by emailing [email protected] with a Google street view screenshot

  • Unlock an extra hint each Thursday once you refer five friends

  • The first person to guess the answer wins this week’s prize: A free year of Roca premium!

Clue 1: It takes two hands

Clue 2: A quarter for the first

Know the answer? Send the Google street view screenshot to [email protected].

Final Thoughts

Robert Downey Jr.’s Oscar acceptance speech is making rounds on social media. He started it off: “I'd like to thank my terrible childhood and the Academy, in that order".

That has Roca’s office discussing: If you won an Oscar, who would you thank if your Oscar speech? We’d love to hear your thoughts, too!

Enjoy your day!

— Max, Max, Alex and Jen