🌊 Take Mor Drugz

Plus: Chick-fil-A to sell chicken that was fed antibiotics

No gerrymandering jokes…don’t want to cross some lines.

Today is the 212th anniversary of the term “gerrymandering.” The term originated from a Boston Gazette comic strip that mocked the new electoral district that Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry drew due to its resemblance to a salamander. Gerrymandering is alive and well today, although a recent report found that partisan gerrymandering more or less cancels out at a national level. Can’t believe that gerrymandering lives on but the first name “Elbridge” doesn’t.

PS — Based on reader feedback, Roca is currently working on the next installment of our on-the-ground content. More on that soon!

In today's edition:

💊 Chick-fil-A to use drugs

🇺🇸 Vote for Literally Anybody Else 2024

💰Blackrock Part 1

And so much more!

–Max, Max, Jen, and Alex

FEATURED KEY STORY

We’re trying something new today in response to feedback from many of you who have expressed a desire for a more in-depth analysis of the most significant news stories. Starting today, we'll feature the day’s most important stories with an enhanced level of context and detail to ensure you're thoroughly informed about the events and their broader implications

US Allows Ceasefire Call

The US allowed the UN Security Council (UNSC) to pass a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, prompting Israel to cancel a planned White House meeting

  • The UNSC is made up of five permanent members – the US, China, Russia, France, and the UK – and ten non-permanent members. Each permanent member has a veto over UNSC resolutions

  • The US uses its veto to shield Israel from resolutions it deems overly critical. Since October 7, it has done so three times to block resolutions demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Among other things, the US has claimed that Israel has a right to defend itself and that any ceasefire should be contingent on a denunciation of Hamas and the release of all hostages

  • The Biden administration faces international and domestic pressure to secure a lasting ceasefire in Gaza, especially ahead of Israel’s planned invasion of Rafah, Hamas’ last stronghold

  • Last Friday, Russia and China vetoed a US-led resolution directly linking a ceasefire to the release of hostages. Following that defeat, the UNSC’s ten non-permanent members introduced a watered-down version of the US resolution that demanded both an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages, but did not make a ceasefire contingent upon the release of hostages. On Monday, the US abstained from voting, allowing the resolution to pass

Dig Deeper

  • The resolution “demands an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties leading to a permanent sustainable ceasefire, and also demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages”

  • While the White House’s spokesperson claimed the US’ abstention, rather than veto, does not reflect a “change in policy,” it was widely seen as a shot by the Biden administration at Israel’s government

  • Israel’s prime minister called the US’ abstention a “clear retreat” from its support for Israel, and Israel responded by canceling a planned trip to the White House this week, during which both sides were set to discuss Israel’s Rafah offensive

KEY STORY

Baltimore Bridge Collapses

A bridge in Baltimore, Maryland collapsed after being struck by a container ship, sending people and vehicles into the river below

  • Around 1:30 AM on Tuesday, a cargo ship struck a pillar of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which carries Interstate 695, causing the four-lane bridge to collapse into the Patapsco River

  • Baltimore’s fire chief said that authorities are searching for “upwards of seven people,” and that two have already been rescued from the water, one in serious condition. His department also confirmed that multiple vehicles are in the water

  • Baltimore’s police chief said there is “absolutely no indication” that the ship intentionally struck the bridge. Video of the incident appears to show the ship’s lights turn off, then back on, then off again prior to striking the bridge, suggesting it may have suffered power loss, which could have affected its steering capability

Dig Deeper

  • All vehicle traffic is being rerouted from the bridge, which last year carried 34,000 commercial and passenger vehicles daily. Vessel traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore has also been suspended

  • This is a developing story. Check back tomorrow for more updates

KEY STORY

Boeing Cleans House

Boeing announced that its CEO, Dave Calhoun, will step down by the end of the year

  • Calhoun became CEO in 2020 after his predecessor was ousted following the crashes of two new Boeing 737 Max planes. Those crashes caused a years-long scandal that damaged Boeing’s reputation and sales

  • This January, a 737 Max flight suffered a mid-flight panel blowout. Last month, a federal watchdog said missing bolts likely contributed to the blowout, and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) audit found “multiple instances” in which the company didn’t comply with quality control standards

  • Boeing’s chairman will also not seek reelection, and the head of its commercial airlines division will retire

Dig Deeper

  • While announcing his resignation, Calhoun called the blowout a “watershed moment” for the company that requires “humility and complete transparency”

  • Boeing faces a criminal investigation into the incident as well as legal action by passengers

SPONSORED

Hydration vs. Spring Break

With Spring Break upon us, a few of you may be traveling more frequently than usual — which means you’re more likely to experience dehydration with that extra airplane travel

  • Airplane cabins are dry because they pull in air from high altitudes, where it's nearly moisture-free. This dryness leads to quicker dehydration by drawing moisture from our skin and breath, making it crucial for travelers to hydrate more than usual

  • Enter LMNT: A convenient solution to your hydration needs, specially tailored for the traveler

  • LMNT's compact, portable electrolyte packs are designed to fit seamlessly into your life, whether tucked into a pocket, a purse, your luggage, or even behind your ear if that’s your style

Dig Deeper

KEY STORY

Florida Children Off Social Media

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law banning those aged 14 and younger from using social media

  • The law requires social media companies to delete existing accounts of those aged 14 and younger and ban them from creating new ones after January 1, 2025. Children aged 15 and 16 must receive parental consent to use social media

  • The law defines social media sites as those that use personalized algorithms and “addictive features,” such as “infinite scrolling”

  • State lawmakers framed the law as a way to protect minors from harmful content and online predators. Tech trade groups are expected to sue over the law, arguing it violates free speech rights

Dig Deeper

  • The bill also demands that companies that post content “harmful to minors” – i.e., sexually explicit – implement age-verification software to ensure that viewers are 18 years or older

KEY STORY

Chick-fil-A to Use Antibiotics

Chick-fil-A backtracked on its decade-old pledge to not sell chicken that was fed antibiotics

  • Numerous studies have linked antibiotic use in farm animals to the rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), or the ability of diseases to resist antibiotics

  • In 2014, amid a wave of corporate pledges to reduce antibiotic use in their supply chains, Chick-fil-A pledged to use “no antibiotics ever” in its chicken

  • On Monday, the company adopted a new standard, “no antibiotics important to human medicine” (NAIHM), meaning it will sell chickens fed antibiotics not commonly given to humans. The change will take effect this spring

Dig Deeper

  • The change came a year after Tyson Foods, the world’s second-largest meat producer, announced it would switch from NAE to NAIHM. In a video announcing that switch, Tyson’s senior director of animal welfare claimed that the company’s new approach is “grounded in science” and would not negatively impact humans

  • A Chick-fil-A executive said the switch to NAIHM is in part due to the difficulties of acquiring enough antibiotic-free chicken

RUNDOWN
Some Quick Stories for the Office

🏎️ Ferrari announced that sales in Taiwan – a major chip producer – have doubled. AI has led to a surge in demand for chips, causing an economic boom there

In his first media appearance since his legal team accused his former translator of “massive theft,” baseball phenom Shohei Ohtani told reporters through a new translator that the former translator “has been stealing money from my account and has told lies”

🍫 The price of cocoa futures — a contract that guarantees a future cocoa price – topped $9,000 on Monday for the first time ever. Cocoa prices are being driven up by droughts and wildfires in West Africa

💻 Adam Neumann, the former chief executive and co-founder of WeWork, reportedly submitted a $500M+ bid to buy the bankrupt company, the Wall Street Journal reported

📺 Star MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski became the network’s latest staff to condemn the hiring of Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican Party until earlier this month

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 Wrap asks:  Can Artificial Intelligence create art? If yes, who is the author of AI-generated art: The algorithm itself or the team behind it?

I think the question of whether AI can create art needs to start with a discussion about what is art? It is not about whether AI can make a picture, music, etc. that is indistinguishable from what a human makes but whether art is merely the picture. I would say that art as a medium is meant to convey a message, whether that be as simple as beauty or a more complex social commentary. So can AI generate art independent of a message, I would say no. Could someone use AI to create art with a message, yet. 

Jeffrey from Elmira, Canada

Some of today’s movies are so formulaic, and the acting so rote that AI could certainly generate them. That said, TRUE art will likely only come from AI in the distant future, because currently AI isn’t designed to “think”, or innovate. AI takes massive amounts of historical data and essentially predicts an outcome. I doubt the movie “Everything, everywhere, all at once” would have been the outcome of any dataset. I do think that AI could be instrumental in creating even more realistic CGI for much less money, and could even branch into using deceased individuals as “actors”.

Courtney

AI is stealing away any and all humanity. People evolve to use the least amount of energy possible to survive and that’s what AI helps us do. Fast forward 20 years, because of AI, we’ll just have to sit on our chairs all day while AI does it all for us.

Peter from South Dakota

Yesterday’s Poll:

Is AI-generated “art” art?

Yes: 10%
No: 70%
It depends: 15%

POPCORN
Some Quick Stories for Happy Hour

🇺🇸 Literally Anybody Else 2024: Dustin Ebey, a seventh-grade math teacher in Texas, legally changed his name to Literally Anybody Else and announced a 2024 presidential run

🚢 Never stop bidding, Jack: The balsa wood piece Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet clung to in 1997’s “Titanic” sold for $718,750 at auction

🚔 All about the feds: Federal agents raided Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Los Angeles and Miami homes, reportedly in connection with a potential sex trafficking probe

🏈 Goodell cop, bad cop: The NFL officially banned the hip-drop tackle (above) after an analysis of 105 hip-drop tackles revealed that it was 25 times more likely to cause injury than a normal tackle

🇦🇺 Revenge is a dish best served cold: A Korean BBQ restaurant in Melbourne went viral for its billboard out front reading: “Hey Sophia, you broke up with me because I was poor. Now I have money to open a Korean BBQ, are you regretting it now?”

💵 Shawshank Fraud-demption: An Indian man convicted of murder learned printing techniques in jail as part of a vocational training program and used his skills to produce fake currency after release

ROCA WRAP
Blackrock: The Secret Weapon

BlackRock has been accused of everything from running the world to commercializing Pride Month. But what is BlackRock, and how powerful is it? Are its executives pushing agendas, or are they just doing their job: Making money?

BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager with $10T in assets under management – more than the GDP of every country besides the US and China. That money comes from pension funds for public employees like teachers, private sector 401(k)s, central bank savings, and others who trust BlackRock to invest their money for them.BlackRock, in turn, takes a management fee, a cut of the gained profits, or both.

BlackRock was founded by California-born Larry Fink in 1988, but its current form owes a great deal to 2008, when the US fell into a housing crisis and financial giants like AIG and Bear Stearns failed. To prevent a broader collapse, the US government bought those companies and injected them with cash, saving their assets and protecting their clients.

But the government needed expert help to figure out what to do with its new properties. Through a confidential process, it awarded BlackRock a contract to stabilize the banking sector. It did so without taking competing bids – a process the government defended as necessary to prevent a looming collapse.

Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner explained, “[BlackRock] comes with a world-class reputation...We thought the interest of the American taxpayer would be best served by having them there on our side as we made those consequential judgments.”

BlackRock needed to advise the US on what to do with the failing assets the US had acquired. Armed with an inside look at the situation, BlackRock decided to sell many assets to itself. Others, like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, it sold to financial institutions. That process made BlackRock the most important financial advisor to the US government and Larry Fink a linchpin between Wall Street and Washington.

The reason BlackRock was so well positioned to advise Wall Street dates to 1986, when Fink lost his job at First Boston bank after an incorrect bet on how markets would react to interest rate movements cost his company $100M. That experience inspired Fink to create Aladdin (The Asset, Liability, and Debt Derivative Investment Network), which he launched in tandem with BlackRock in 1988.

Aladdin was an AI software to which BlackRock fed data about every bond price and trade in the global bond market. The information quickly made Aladdin the leading bond analysis software, and in 2000, BlackRock began selling asset managers access to it. Financial firms around the world were soon using Aladdin to decide which bonds to buy or sell – giving BlackRock even more insights.

In 2006, BlackRock acquired Merrill Lynch Investment Management and began feeding Aladdin information on stocks, so it could advise on risks and opportunities related to those.

Then after BlackRock and Aladdin helped the US government manage the Great Recession, the US Federal Reserve and several European banks began relying on Aladdin to advise them on how to invest the money they printed. Aladdin gave them the same answer it gave BlackRock: Buy bank bonds.

Countries did so by the trillions, pushing up the value of BlackRock’s already massive bond holdings and giving the company vast information about various government finances.

In 2019, BlackRock paid $1.3B to buy eFront, which collected data on alternative asset classes, including private real estate. Aladdin then began guiding BlackRock’s and other asset managers’ real estate purchases.

Aladdin now advises on portfolios worth $20T+ – around the size of the US economy – including both BlackRock’s and other company’s assets. It helps financial institutions know exactly what they are holding and tells them about risks, enabling them to pick investments.

The global financial system’s dependence on Aladdin has raised concerns about groupthink, the hollowing out of internal analysis operations, and faulty algorithms. But BlackRock says the software helps investors test their own strategies, rather than push all investors toward the same.

Aladdin is now a foundational part of the global economy. In the words of New York Life Investments CEO Anthony Mallow, “Aladdin is like oxygen, without it we wouldn't be able to function.” That has given BlackRock huge power and responsibility.

What does it do with that? Tomorrow’s installment will cover that.

EDITOR’S NOTE
Final Thoughts

As a company with many ties to the Baltimore community, our hearts go out to the victims of the recent bridge collapse and everyone else impacted by the tragedy.

— Max, Max, Alex and Jen