🌊 US and Iran in Talking Stage

Plus: Female athletes sue the NCAA

Let them eat snake.

"What's for dinner tonight?" "Python!" A new report out of Scientific Reports claims that python meat is a more sustainable alternative to beef, pork, and chicken. The scientists found that the giant snakes are uniquely efficient at converting protein, retaining meat, and reproducing. So… can anyone think of any downsides? If not, I may start farming them at home!

In today's edition:

👨‍⚖️ Female athletes sue the NCAA

🐀 Rats getting high in New Orleans

🧐 Conspiracy-themed 20 Questions!

And so much more! Here’s the link to today’s conspiracy-themed 20 Questions.

–Max, Max, Jen, and Alex

KEY STORY

US, Iran Secret Talks

The US held secret talks with Iran in an attempt to stop Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping

  • US and Iranian officials didn’t meet face-to-face, but spoke via intermediaries in Oman, a country that neighbors Yemen

  • Sources told the Financial Times that the talks – the first between the countries in 10 months – focused on Houthi attacks on international shipping and Iran’s nuclear program

  • A follow-up meeting was scheduled for February but postponed because of Gaza ceasefire negotiations 

Dig Deeper

  • In related news, US forces in Syria and Iraq have not been attacked in over a month

  • In late January, an Iran-backed militia attacked a US outpost in Jordan, killing three US soldiers; in response, the US bombed 85 targets. Since then, the attacks have largely stopped, although the Houthis have continued attacking shipping

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Dig Deeper

KEY STORY

Female Athletes Sue NCAA

Female athletes sued the NCAA for letting transgender athletes compete against them

  • The lawsuit centers on University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, a trans woman who won gold in the 500-yard freestyle in at the 2022 D1 NCAA Championship

  • The lawsuit alleges the NCAA knowingly violated Title IX, the federal statute that guarantees equal opportunity for men and women in college athletics, and violated the 14th Amendment by “destroying female safe spaces in women’s locker rooms”

  • The suit demands the NCAA change its competition rules, strip trans women of their titles, and award damages to other swimmers

Dig Deeper

  • The suit also accuses NCAA of crafting its rules on the “illegal premise” that “testosterone suppression” – a conversion therapy – “can make a male eligible to compete [against women]”

  • The lawsuit – organized by the Independent Council on Women’s Sports, a women’s sports advocacy group – is the first federal lawsuit seeking to change rules governing trans athletes

KEY STORY

Journalist or Rioter?

A hearing was held for Steve Baker, a journalist arrested for entering the Capitol on January 6

  • Baker, an independent conservative journalist, was one of ~60 reporters to enter the Capitol on January 6. He sold his footage to HBO and The New York Times

  • He said he “100%” approved of the riot, though, and proceeded to release reports that questioned the narrative about the day’s events

  • Baker was arrested earlier this month for illegally entering the Capitol, disorderly conduct, and related charges. The government says he was a rioter; he says he is being targeted for his journalism

KEY STORY

US Government Turbo Tax Revival

For the first time, the IRS launched a program to allow taxpayers to directly e-file taxes with it for free

  • ~80% of Americans who file taxes online do so with either Intuit or H&R Block. Those companies’ market dominance and costs led to calls for the government to create its own free e-filing service

  • The IRS rolled out that service, “Direct File,” in 12 states this week, marking the first time taxpayers can e-file directly with the IRS

  • The IRS claims the service will save American taxpayers billions of dollars annually; tax preparation companies called it a waste of taxpayer money

Dig Deeper

  • The IRS’ commissioner called Direct File a “milestone” that “marks the first time you can electronically file a tax return directly with the IRS”

  • Intuit said, “This scheme will cost billions of taxpayer dollars and will be unnecessarily used to pay for something already completely free of charge today”

  • The pilot only handles “simple tax situations,” such as those with simple W-2s and who claim a standard deduction

RUNDOWN
Some Quick Stories for the Office

🏥 A partial autopsy released Wednesday found that Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict died by suicide. The 16-year-old non-binary student died a day after a fight in a school bathroom, sparking protests and vigils

💰 Trump Administration Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he is assembling a group of investors to buy TikTok. Microsoft and Oracle are reportedly also interested

🇮🇱 Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the US’ highest-ranking Jewish elected leader, called for elections in Israel to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who he said has “lost his way” and is putting his own “political survival’ ahead of the “best interests of Israel”

🚀 SpaceX’s Starship successfully reached orbit during its third test launch, a major step forward for the world’s most powerful rocket

🇺🇸 Vice President Kamala Harris visited an abortion clinic, making the first time a US president or vice president has done so

📱 Swaths of Central and West Africa were left without internet on Thursday after an underwater internet cable failed. The exact cause of the cable failure was unclear

POPCORN
Some Quick Stories for Happy Hour

🐀 Ratatouille 2? Rats are reportedly consuming confiscated marijuana and getting high in the New Orleans police headquarters. “The rats eating our marijuana, they’re all high,” one cop said

🕍 Temple Run IRL: A 47-year-old man in Thailand reportedly took meth with a monk friend at a temple, went on a violent rampage, and died after a Buddha statue impaled him

🏒 Thieves on ice: Thieves stole 25,000 Jaromír Jágr bobbleheads that were supposed to go to Pittsburgh Penguins fans at their home game against the San Jose Sharks

🐝 Can you bee-lieve it? ~10,000 bees prevented a California Highway Patrol’s helicopter from taking off. The pilot had to call a local bee removal expert to remove the bees from the helicopter’s nose

🛳 WFC (Work from cruise): Virgin Voyages is offering the “Scarlet Summer Season Pass,” a four-week Mediterranean cruise for remote workers, starting at $10,000 for two passengers

🫐 Blueberries are different down under: Guinness World Records declared that an Australian farm produced the world’s heaviest blueberry at 20.4 grams, six times larger than the average

ROCA WRAP
A Fateful Triangle

This is part 2 of 2-part Wrap on Chinese drug lord Xizhi Li. If you missed part 1, you can catch up here.

In May 2017, US law enforcement arrested a Brooklyn mailman.

The man, Jiayu Chen, wasn’t just any mailman: Ledgers showed he had helped move $2.8M in dirty money – and had connections to Xizhi Li.

In the wake of Xi Jinping’s crackdown on foreign money transfers, Li and his colleague, Tao Liu, created a money-laundering network that moved billions of US dollars.

US counterintelligence officials told Roca that network – which still operates today – can be thought of as a “Triangle Trade.”

The trade begins in US cities, where Mexican cartels generate huge amounts of cash by selling drugs, such as cocaine and fentanyl. The cartels then hand off that cash to a Chinese intermediary, who notifies his superiors in Latin America, such as Li, that the hand-off has occurred.

Usually within 24 hours, officials told Roca, Chinese launderers based in Latin America hand off an equivalent amount of pesos to cartels, minus a commission fee.

The cartels now have their pesos, and the Chinese launderers have an equivalent amount of US dollars plus a commission. Some of that cash is laundered through restaurants or other types of businesses, usually Chinese immigrant-owned.

The rest is handed off to a new player in the money laundering business: Chinese businessmen, who take some of the drug cash and invest it into US real estate or other legal enterprises, thereby converting dirty dollars into clean cash and allowing them to get their money out of China. The businessmen, in turn, transfer an equivalent amount of Chinese yuan into accounts controlled by Chinese launderers in China, plus a commission.

Thus, the cartels have their pesos; the Chinese businessmen have US dollars; and the launderers have yuan, all of which are distanced from the drug trade. On every transaction, the launderers make commission.

Those transactions – known to law enforcement as “mirror transactions” – occur nearly instantaneously across three continents.

Because no cash ever crosses borders – the drug money stays in the US, the pesos in Latin America, and the yuan in China – the transactions are nearly impossible to track. US law enforcement officials told Roca that Chinese launderers make so much money off the process that they can guarantee the cartels that they’ll get 100% of their drug money – essentially eliminating a massive chunk of the risk associated with the drug trade.

In 2019, the DEA lured Li to Mexico, where Mexican federal police arrested him and handed him over to US officials.

Li later pleaded guilty to laundering and received a 15-year sentence; Liu was also arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison. Yet one law enforcement official who helped catch Li told Roca that his arrest did little to disrupt the laundering network: Cartels use the “next man up” mentality, he said, and the system pioneered by Li is still operating in US cities today.

All of the US officials who Roca spoke to said that China’s government at least tolerates the trade by not working with US law enforcement to track the web of payments involved in the scheme. They said China’s government views the US drug trade as an exploitable weakness.

Money laundering is only one part of China’s role in the US drug trade.

US law enforcement accuses Chinese companies of supplying Mexican cartels with the chemical precursors to produce fentanyl, which claimed ~75,000 American lives last year.

While that’s become a focal point of US-China tensions, the role of Chinese criminals in the money laundering trade has received far less attention.

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

COMMUNITY
💰 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

Clue 3: Not a question - it’s family

Cue 4: Orange and white stripes overhead

Clue 5: 900 + 14 = 3B

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

COMMUNITY
20 Questions

As is Roca tradition, every Friday we ask our readers 20 questions or polls and include the answers the following Friday. Let us know your thoughts!

20 questions logo

#KateGate is the story that's launched a thousand conspiracies. Like you all, we are tired of royal family stories. We're from the land of freedom, bald eagles, and Dave & Buster's, so none of it should matter. But.... #KateGate has us hooked. So in honor of #KateGate, let's do a conspiracy theory-themed 20 Questions. Put on those tinfoil hats... let's get heretical!

Here’s the link! Have a great weekend.

Last Week’s 20 questions:

Last week, we asked you college sports themed questions in honor of March Madness. Below we included a few replies per prompt or the percentage breakdown:

  1. Quick bias check: Which college do you root for the most in sports?
    Hundreds of colleges mentioned – a diverse group of Roca readers!
    (Ohio State did get the most votes, though…)

  2. Better sport: college basketball or college football?

    College basketball: 65%

    College football: 35%

  3. Do you think NIL (players being able to make money outside their schools) has been a good thing?

    Yes: 40%

    No: 30%

    Unsure: 30%

  4. More iconic college athlete: Tim Tebow or Johnny Manziel?

    Tim Tebow: 80%

    Johnny Manziel: 20%

  5. Is there a better playoffs in US sports than March Madness?

    Yes: 44%

    No: 66%

  6. Which fanbase is the most annoying?

    Duke: 21%

    Notre Dame: 20%

    Ohio State: 40%

    Michigan: 19%

  7. More iconic coach: Nick Saban or Coach K?

    Nick Saban: 50%

    Coach K: 50%

  8. Better rivalry: Iron Bowl (Auburn-Alabama) or Michigan-Ohio State?

    Iron Bowl: 67%

    Michigan Ohio State: 33%

  9. Are you pro storming the field in football?

    Yes: 35%

    No: 65%

  10. Are you pro storming the court in basketball?

    Yes: 25%

    No: 75%

  11. What is the best college sporting event you've attended?
    March Madness

    The Rose Bowl
    1998 Tennessee vs. Florida (Football). Tennessee had a dismal recent record against Florida and Steve Spurrier. Winning this game in OT got a huge monkey off of the back of the team, which went on to win the National Championship. It was the most electric atmosphere I have ever been a part of!
    University of Cincinnati football games! The stadium is in the middle of campus + is one of the few college stadiums that sells alcohol too!
    I never have (Canada lol)

  12. What is your favorite college sporting moment to watch?
    Tennessee beating Florida State in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl and winning the National Championship
    The underdog team beating a highest ranked team in March Madness

    Any losing effort by an SEC team

  13. Do you like Jim Harbaugh?
    Yes

    No

    Meh

    Who?

  14. Better mascot: Sparty (Michigan State) or Uga (Georgia's bulldog)?

    Sparty: 20%

    Uga: 80%

  15. More iconic venue: The Rose Bowl or Cameron Indoor (Duke)?

    The Rose Bowl: 90%

    Cameron Indoor: 10%

  16. Have you watched Caitlin Clark play?

    Yes: 40%

    No: 60%

  17. If you could go to any college sporting event, what would it be?
    Final Four

    Rose Bowl

    Football championship game

  18. More cliche college mascot: Wildcat or Tiger?

    Wildcat: 45%

    Tiger: 55%

  19. Favorite fictional college athlete? (If you need to go to high school athletes that's fine.... shoutout Tim Riggins)
    Troy Bolton

    Forest Gump

    Tim Riggins
    Bobby from the waterboy
    Monica Wright, love and basketball

  20. One thing you would change about college sports?
    No NIL

    Ticket prices

    The portal

EDITOR’S NOTE
Final Thoughts

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day weekend! We hope you enjoy the festivities — and pints — and we’ll see you all back here on Monday.

— Max, Max, Alex and Jen