🌊 Spooky Season at the White House

Plus: School milk carton shortage!

If we’ve learned one thing about NFL fans in Germany, it’s that they love the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver. At the Chiefs-Dolphins game in Frankfurt on Sunday, the stadium erupted in song when the West Virginia anthem played on the loudspeakers. We couldn’t help but wonder why “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was such a hit over there. Was Roca’s own Max F. blasting John Denver that loudly in his Airbnb on his recent reporting trip there? Some research suggests it might have to do with the fact that the song plays at Oktoberfest each year, but I think we can still blame Max F.

In today's edition:

  • Biden losing to Trump in new polls

  • Incoming school milk carton shortage?

  • Roca Original: What happened in Flint?

 🔑 Key Stories

Biden Losing to Trump?

A New York Times/Siena College poll found President Biden losing to Donald Trump in five of six key battleground states

  • Per the poll, Trump leads Biden in Pennsylvania by 4 points; Michigan by 5; Arizona by 5; Georgia by 6; and Nevada by 10. Biden leads in Wisconsin by 2. The poll indicates that if the election happened today, Trump would easily defeat Biden

  • 71% of respondents said Biden is “too old.” They also favored Trump on the economy, immigration, and national security

  • The margin of error in each state was between 4.4 and 4.8 points

Dig Deeper

  • In a statement to Axios, a spokesperson for Biden’s re-election campaign said polling results are not always accurate: “Predictions more than a year out tend to look a little different a year later”

Afghanistan’s Opium Ban

Opium production in Afghanistan has fallen 95% since the Taliban banned it last year, the UN reported on Sunday

  • Opium is a highly addictive narcotic that is derived from the sap of the poppy plant and used to make heroin. Last year, Afghanistan produced 80% of the world’s opium supply and the value of its opium exports exceeded the value of all other legal exports

  • Last April, the Taliban banned poppy cultivation. In a report released on Sunday, the UN said opium cultivation declined 95% this year from last year. That cost Afghan farmers ~$1B in lost earnings

Dig Deeper

  • “Today, Afghanistan’s people need urgent humanitarian assistance to meet their most immediate needs, to absorb the shock of lost income and to save lives,” the director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said

  • UN officials also warned that the poppy crackdown could drive former opium producers to switch to other drugs, such as fentanyl or meth, which could produce new drug problems in the country

Future for Gaza?

The Palestinian Authority (PA) could rule Gaza after the Israel-Hamas war, its president and the US secretary of state said

  • The PA rules the West Bank. It withdrew from Gaza in 2007 after losing a brief civil war against Hamas. While many Palestinians view the organization as corrupt and ineffective, the US and many other governments consider it the legitimate Palestinian government

  • During a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Blinken said the PA could play a “central role” in ruling Gaza. Abbas said the PA would only do so under a “comprehensive political solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict

Dig Deeper

  • In related news, on Sunday, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended a lawmaker who said that using nuclear weapons against Gaza is “one of [Israel’s] possibilities”

  • In a statement, Netanyahu criticized that official, called his comments “detached from reality,” and said that Israel acts in accordance with “the highest standards of international law”

Hamburg Hostage Situation

A hostage situation at a German airport involving a four-year-old child ended on Sunday after 18 hours

  • At around 8 PM local time on Saturday, a 35-year-old Turkish citizen broke onto the tarmac of Hamburg Airport with his four-year-old daughter in the car. He shot a gun into the air, threw an explosive, and parked his car under a Turkish Airlines plane

  • Police shut down much of the airport and surrounded the car. They said the man abducted the child due to a custody battle with his ex-wife

  • On Sunday, the man surrendered “without resistance.” The girl was “unharmed,” police said

Dig Deeper

  • “I wish the mother, the child and her family a lot of strength to cope with this terrible experience,” Hamburg’s mayor said following the man’s surrender

  • 100+ flights were canceled or redirected due to the hostage situation, with hundreds of travelers being put into nearby hotels

  • As of Sunday night, flights had resumed through the airport

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🍿 Popcorn

ICYMI

  • The few, the Stroud: Houston Texans rookie quarterback CJ Stroud broke the NFL rookie single-game passing yards record, throwing for 470 yards and five touchdowns in a 39-37 win

  • Sprinting the marathon: Ethiopian runner Tamirat Tola broke the New York City Marathon’s course record by eight seconds with a time of 2:04:58, which averages out to a 4’45” mile pace

  • Don’t got milk? Dairy suppliers and state officials warn of imminent shortages in half-pint milk cartons for US school cafeterias. The shortages are reportedly due to supply chain issues

Wildcard

  • Oh no, John Cena…: The action comedy “Freelance,” starring Alison Brie and John Cena, debuted with the joint-lowest Rotten Tomatoes critic rating ever, 0%, tying movies like “Jaws: The Revenge”

  • Sober up, grizzlies: Dozens of grizzly bears “drunk” on fermented grains spilled from railcars – have died near Glacier National Park in Montana

  • True love: A Tennessee couple held their wedding reception at Waffle House. Guests ordered regular menu items, highlighted by a heart-shaped hashbrowns

👇 What do you think?

Today's Poll:

🧐 Do you think there's a realistic chance that a candidate not named Biden or Trump will win the White House in 2024?

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Today's Question:

What’s your take on the growing popularity of weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy?

Reply to this email with your answers!

See yesterday's results below the Wrap! 

🌯 Roca Wrap

In July 2015, a spokesperson for Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality sought to dispel fears of lead contamination in Flint, Michigan.

“Anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax,” he said.

Founded as a fur trading post in 1819, Flint grew in the late-19th century into an industrial hub nicknamed “Vehicle City.” General Motors (GM) was founded there and employed 80,000 local people at its peak in 1978.

Beginning in the 1980s, though, automakers began shuttering factories, causing Flint to enter a prolonged crisis.

By the 2010s, its population had nearly halved and it had one of the US’ highest crime rates. In 2011, Michigan’s state government declared Flint to be in a state of “financial emergency.” To address that, Governor Rick Snyder appointed officials to overhaul the city’s budget.

In 2013, the officials announced that by switching the city’s water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to a new utility company, it could save $200M over 25 years.

However, the new company was not immediately ready to begin supplying Flint with water. As a short-term solution, officials decided to begin pumping water from the local Flint River.

The city immediately sought to dispel rumors that the river water was unfit to drink. In one press statement, it quoted an official at Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as saying that the water quality “meets all of our…standards” and “is safe to drink.”

Flint River water began pumping into homes in April 2014. That August, officials detected E. coli and total coliform bacteria – a bacteria found in feces – in the water and advised residents to boil it before drinking.

Months later, officials detected total trihalomethanes (TTHM), a carcinogenic byproduct of disinfectants used to clean the water. Throughout that, residents complained that the water was smelly, discolored, and tasted foul.

A month later, a city water test revealed “high lead content” in one resident’s home – 104 parts per billion (ppb), far above the federal government’s official limit of 15 ppb.

Later that year, a Virginia Tech analysis found “‘serious’ levels of lead in city water,” including a recording of 13,200 ppb in one test – far past the point at which water is considered toxic waste.

“The levels that we have seen in Flint are some of the worst that I have seen in more than 25 years working in the field,” the professor leading that survey told Michigan Radio at the time.

Public officials repeatedly denied that the water was unsafe, with several suggesting the media was trying to manufacture a crisis for political reasons.

One DEQ official accused Virginia Tech of spreading “broad, dire public health advice based on some quick testing” and “fanning political flames irresponsibly.”

“Residents…concerned about the health of their community don't need more of that,” he said.

Yet a study that September found that 4% of Flint children ages 5 and under had elevated blood lead levels, versus 2.1% prior to the switch to Flint River water.

Subsequent studies confirmed the high lead content, and within a month, the city had switched back to Detroit’s water system. As the crisis in Flint gained national coverage, Governor Snyder and President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint.

Snyder also announced for the first time an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease – a form of pneumonia – that killed 12 Flint residents and is believed to have been linked to the water.

Today, it’s known that a series of avoidable failures led to the contamination of Flint’s water. One primary cause was the lack in Flint’s water of what is known as “corrosion inhibitors,” which utility companies add to water to prevent it from corroding lead pipes.

The lack of the compounds in Flint’s water meant lead from outdated pipes seeped into the water supply. Compounding that issue were local and state officials’ repeated denials that anything was wrong.

The Flint Water Crisis, as it’s now known, became a nationwide scandal.

Several state and local officials resigned, and federal and state agencies poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Flint to provide bottled water and filters and replace its lead pipes.

“Let me be blunt,” Snyder said while testifying before Congress in 2017. “This was a failure of government at all levels. Local, state, and federal officials – we all failed the families of Flint.”

The next month, a panel found the state government “fundamentally accountable” for the crisis.

Beginning in April 2017, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette – a Republican – began charging state and local officials over the crisis.

One defendant, a state health official, pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation. Yet the other cases stalled, and Schuette controversially didn’t charge Snyder, a Republican.

In 2019, Attorney General Dana Nessel – a Democrat – replaced Schuette. She dismissed all outstanding criminal charges against public officials over the Flint crisis, arguing the cases were flawed. She then assigned new prosecutors to oversee the investigation, and in 2021, they brought 42 charges against nine defendants, including Snyder.

Nessel called the charges justice for the water crisis; Snyder and other Republicans called the charges politically motivated. Prosecutors used a procedure called a “one-man jury” to bring charges against those officials.

Only three states, including Michigan, allow one-man grand juries, wherein a single judge acts as a grand jury. The procedure has been used for 100+ years in Michigan and has secured thousands of criminal convictions. Those charged through that procedure do not have certain rights granted to other defendants, such as the ability to see evidence that was used to charge them.

The defendants in the Flint case criticized the use of the procedure and challenged it in court. Last year, Michigan’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the defendants, arguing that the one-man jury violated their rights.

Then on Tuesday, the Court declined to revisit the case on appeal. That upholds a previous court decision that invalidated the cases that used the one-man jury

On Tuesday, prosecutors called that ruling the “final nail in the coffin of the Flint Water Prosecutions.”

“The residents of Flint deserved their day in court,” they added. “If a jury decided that the defendants were not guilty of the charged offenses, so be it. To deny the opportunity to present the evidence and to let the victims tell their story is truly heartbreaking.”

Snyder praised the ruling in a Facebook post, claiming it ended “political persecution” of him. The ruling doesn’t affect civil proceedings, including $626M in penalties the state has been ordered to pay city residents.

Federal and state agencies have also poured millions into the city to improve its water supply, revitalize its economy, and prevent further crises.

Yet with no state or local official ever charged in relation to the crisis, has justice been served?

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

 🌊 Roca Clubhouse

Yesterday's Poll:

Have you ever watched an episode of Martha Stewart’s Cooking School? 👩‍🍳 Yes: 18.8% 🚫 No: 81.2%

Yesterday's Question:

Just 20 Qs!

🧠 Final Thoughts

Thank you again to everyone who has subscribed to our Roca Reports newsletter. We hope you’re enjoying it so far and appreciate all the positive feedback.

Now throw on some John Denver, and have a great Monday!

—Max and Max