We Interviewed Paris Hilton, the Most Underrated Pop Star of All Time
Matthew Lesko’s Life Lessons
VICE meets Matthew Lesko, the self-proclaimed federal grant researcher and infomercial personality who made it big in his “question mark” suit. He has written more than 20 books telling people how to get money from the US government.
In a recent article, VICE News speculated that the Department of Justice’s initiative Operation Choke Point may be putting pressure on banks like Chase to terminate the accounts of several high-profile porn performers, including Teagan Presley, Stoya, and Chanel Preston. On Twitter many other porn performers claimed that their accounts were being closed, and that they had been offered little explanation beyond being labeled “high risk.” An insider at Wells Fargo responded, “We encourage these industry workers to come to us,” according to TMZ. By the time Mother Jones was pushing back with a “Chase representative” claiming that Choke Point was notsingling out people in the porn industry, I was exasperated.
By and large, these articles failed to mention the fact that sex workers like myself are shut out of institutions every single day. Whorephobia, the fear and hatred of sex workers, is one of the very first things every single sex worker learns how to navigate.
Whether the work we do is criminalized or legal, all sex workers are subject to judgment. This judgment usually stems from sexist double standards, transmisogyny, and a general moral panic about sexuality. Ironically, we are often punished as we attempt to assimilate into “legitimate” society.
After clients pay us in cash, many of us declare the payment, filing taxes as freelance entertainers. Some strip clubs give us W-9 forms, and some porn companies send us 1099s. If we are shut out of banks, we must go to check cashing middlemen who charge exorbitant fees. We can’t book plane tickets or sign leases, putting that money back into the economy.
This 16-Year-Old Made an App That Exposes Sellout Politicians
With US politics swimming in so much corporate money that it’s pretty much an oligarchy, it can be hard to keep track of which particular set of lobbyists is trying to milk more cash out of healthcare, fossil fuels and other very important issues from one week to the next.
But thanks to 16-year-old Nick Rubin, keeping track of just how much politicians have sold out has become a lot easier. He created Greenhouse, a new browser plugin which operates under the motto, “Some are red. Some are blue. All are green.” The plugin aims “to shine light on a social and industrial disease of today: the undue influence of money in our Congress.” It sounds like a bit of a lofty aim for an app, but it’s actually pretty simple and effective—it provides a break down of a politician’s campaign contributions when that politician’s name comes up in an article. It is currently available for Chrome, Firefox and Safari and is completely free. As you can imagine, reading about how your Member of Congress voted in a recent health bill becomes all the more enlightening if you know how much money the health industry showered him in at the last election.
I spoke to Nick Rubin about the plugin, politics and what he calls the “money stories” behind what you read in the news.
VICE: Hi Nick. So how did you come up with the idea for Greenhouse?
Nick Rubin: Back in seventh grade, I gave a presentation on corporate personhood and ever since then I’ve been really interested in that issue. I think the one problem is that the sources of income for members of congress haven’t been simple and easily accessible when people have needed it. More recently, I’ve been teaching myself how to code and I thought that something like Greenhouse that puts the data at people’s fingertips would be a perfect solution. It really is the intersection of these two passions of mine—coding and politics. I made it after school and on weekends on my computer.
Why the name?
Well, green is the color of money in the US, and house refers to the two houses of Congress [the Senate and House of Representatives]. The name also implies transparency; greenhouses are see through and they are built to help things thrive.
Where did you get the information on the politician’s donations?
It uses the data from the last full election cycle which was 2012. This is simply because it’s just the most complete set of data that we have. But, the browser does provide access to the most up to date 2014 information by just clicking the name of the politician on the top of the window or theOpenSecrets.org link in the popup. So the 2014 data is just one click away.
I’m intending to update the data as a whole later in the election cycle as the 2014 contributions are more complete. These are updates I’m currently working on, as well as thinking of other ways I can expand the tool.
How to Be a Landlord in San Francisco
A fact about Frisco living is that we deal with a predictable litany of questions when we encounter someone from outside our urban womb: “You’re from San Francisco? How are the gays?” Or: “You’re from San Francisco? How are the earthquakes?”
But nowadays, instead, I get: “You’re from San Francisco? How are the evictions?” Evictions are the new earthquakes.
These days, San Francisco’s gonzo housing market is international knowledge. And yet, an unspoken truth about San Francisco housing is that the easiest job in the world is to be a landlord here. On the list of easy jobs, it edges out press secretary for the Secret Service, where the only words you ever get to say are, “That’s classified.”
I would know what an easy job it is because I am a San Francisco landlord. That’s why I started Small Property Owners for Reasonable Control as a PAC of insignificant landlords. We are small landlords (we own four or fewer rental units), and we support tenant protections, rent control, and limits on evictions because, as landlords, we know we’ve got it way too good.
Ten years ago, I bought a house in North Bernal with an in-law unit using a down payment I inherited and a mortgage I shouldn’t have been allowed to get. You know the kind of mortgage that caused the housing bubble and wrecked the world economy? I had one. Then, through no acumen of my own, my neighborhood became the Hottest Real Estate Neighborhood in America™. I got out of my sketchy mortgage and into a low-rate 30-year fixed because my home value rode a wave of appreciation fueled by the relentless power of startup pixie dust and tech VC hot air.
Now, because it is so groovy and desirable and close to the Google (and Apple and Yahoo and Genentech and Facebook) buses, no one I know can afford to live in my neighborhood. So instead of having friends nearby, I get to charge obscenely high rent. I don’t want to charge obscenely high rent. I’d rather have friends.
A ‘Rich Kid of Instagram’ Had Four Luxury Cars Destroyed in Arson Attacks Last Week
The Rich Kids of Instagram (#RKOI) is a group made up of the sons and daughters of the world’s one-percenters. They enjoy showing the internet how filthy-rich they are, posting pictures of themselves jumping into the water out of helicopters and their gaudy toilets made of gold tiles, among other annoying things. But if you look past the worry-free lifestyle they promote on social media, you’ll find they have it just as hard as the rest of us. Last week, “Lord Aleem”—a.k.a. 19-year-old Aleem Iqbal, whose father owns a Birmingham, UK–based luxury-car rental firm—had four vehicles torched in as many days, totaling around $850,000 worth of damage. Of course, you might argue it was his own fault—that any of us might attract the attention of arsonists if we relentlessly posted photos of our luxury-car collections—but it’s never a nice feeling to watch your most valued possessions being set on fire.
Following the attacks, Aleem suggested that they could either be “a vile act of jealously,” or simply some “mindless vandals on an arson spree.” Regardless of the motive, he promised that “when they get caught” they’ll be “going down for a long time.”
Speculative statements are all well and good, but the news still made me wonder whether any other #RKOI are now worried that their own belongings are going to be targeted by marauding fire starters. To find out, I searched for the Rich Kids of Instagram hashtag and spoke to a few of the people I found.
VICE: What do you think of what’s happened to Lord Aleem?
@a_george_life: Lord Aleem shared his address on Instagram, which was a mistake. I’ve met Aleem a few times. He’s a polite and kind-natured individual, but he sometimes lets his “fame” get ahead of him.
Do you worry a similar thing could happen to you?
I keep a tight lid on my location, and I’ve never taken pictures of my house or of the area I live in. I have a very high level of security, so I feel safe. You’re right—you never know if someone is planning to attack you out of jealousy, but I’m well prepared for such an event.
You don’t share your address, but you do post photos of license plates and that kind of thing.
The plates don’t matter because I register the cars in other people’s names and keep them in garages. Besides, I’ve since sold a lot of cars on there and now have different ones.
Why did you first decide to show the internet how wealthy you are?
I simply enjoy looking at other people’s pictures, and I’m sure people enjoy mine. For example, I buy rounds of drinks because I like to share what I have with my friends. I like to give other people an insight into that lifestyle. I don’t do it to flaunt my wealth or try to be a Z-list celebrity—I use #RKOI to help share my pictures because Rich Kids of Instagram is popular and I’m happy people gain pleasure from my pictures.
Fair enough. Do you get many haters online?
I receive very little backlash from haters, but when I do it doesn’t bother me; I couldn’t care less about the opinion of someone I don’t know. I appreciate kind words because I believe a positive attitude leads to positive accomplishments, whereas being negative leads nowhere.
Reasons Why Washington, DC Is the Worst Place Ever
The United States capital really never had a chance. On July 16, 1790, President George Washington signed the Residence Act, which created a special district to serve as the seat of government for the former colonies of England. Creating a city with the explicit purpose of bottling up all of the most powerful people in the nation guaranteed that it would evolve into a breeding ground for the ruthless, the tactless, and the shameless.
Many of the six million souls who live in the metro area work for, or alongside, the federal bureaucracy. For some of them, life is a never-ending House of Cards-esque quest for power, influence, controlled substances, and sexual gratification. These people pretend their BlackBerry is a lethal weapon, and can only get hard when they see their name on Politico.
For everyone else, Washington, DC is a hellishly humid pit of despair. The city is swarming with 30-year-olds still trying to show off their entry-level position by handing out business cards for a congressional office or obscure think tank—a job that barely pays for rent. Somehow, they’re the lucky ones. The District has been struggling with rampant poverty and crime for decades now, and due to an ossified local government, that’s not changing any time soon.
Here are a few reasons why DC is the petri dish for the virus infecting America:
Washington, DC Is a Celebration of Itself
Washington is basically an open-air museum of America. There are monuments, historical sites, and gift shops dedicated to patriotic tchotchkes everywhere. A mood of reverence and constant satisfaction permeates the entire town. Pride is great, but it’s also that thing that goeth before destruction. For a country that purports to be a haven for reinvention, renewal, and second chances, its capital is preoccupied with patting itself on the back and habitually looking backward. This isn’t all that uncommon for a major world power, but maybe a dose of humility would be helpful when the thousands of well-paid politicians and operatives who live and work here can’t dig the country out of economic and social malaise.
Seattle Just Started a Nationwide Push for a $15 Minimum Wage
Last Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed into law a $15 minimum wage, by far the highest in any major American city. A policy that was once a left-wing pipe dream is set to become reality in the Emerald City over the next few years, and a handful of cities across the country are scrambling to keep pace lest they be exposed as enemies of a galvanized working class. If the predictions of disastrous job loss as a result of the higher wage are off base, Seattle may have created a new benchmark for what it means to do right by the poor.
"It’s quite earth-shattering in some ways because if you look concretely at what it is, it’s a transfer of $3 billion from the richest to the bottom-most workers," Seattle’s Socialist city councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who won her seat by campaigning for the proposal and led her grassroots army in pushing it through, told me in an interview. "That represents the opposite of the status quo we’ve had for decades, when the wealth has been gushing to the top. From that mathematical angle, it’s historic even that it happened."
I Confronted Donald Trump in Dubai
Donald Trump’s hair should not be.
It sits on his head like a soufflé, both airy and solid, as improbable as any building to which he’s given his name. In Dubai, I get to inspect Trump from all angles. His hair is otherworldly, but his face is more easily dissected. It’s tangerine, save two pale circles around his eyes.
Ivanka looks perfect, however. Even when her mouth is a moue of hate.
I am sitting two scant yards from Trump père et fille at a media briefing for the Trump International Golf Course, which is being built by the Emirati firm DAMAC Properties in conjunction with Donald Trump Townhouses and Villas. Trump has promised it will be the greatest golf course in the world.
Ivanka is angry because I asked a real question. In Dubai, this can land you in jail.
This May, I researched labor issues in the United Arab Emirates with a local journalist. To avoid being deported, he goes by the pseudonym Tom Blake. We interviewed construction workers building museums on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. In the richest city in the world, the workers we spoke to were little more than indentured servants. For between $150 and $300 a month, they worked 13 hours a day, six days a week. Their bosses kept their passports. They landed in the UAE owing more than a year’s salary to recruiters back home. They could be deported for striking.
In Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, they had families dependent on their wages. However brutal it was, the Gulf dream was their one shot out of poverty. They could not fuck this up.
The UAE is not uniquely guilty. Migrants throughout the world, in the US as well as the UAE, do the worst work and suffer the worst state violence. While my research focused on Abu Dhabi, poor conditions are typical throughout the Gulf. Thousands of workers could die building the World Cup stadia in Qatar. Figurative blood stains the gleaming steel of Earth’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
The day before Trump’s press conference, Tom interviewed workers building the luxury villas bearing Trump’s name. They told him they made less than $200 a month.
Class of 2014, You’re Fucked
It’s that time of year again, when deans across the country wear out their palms like chronic masturbators, shaking the hands of glee-eyed diploma recipients. Collegians of America are aiming high; the class of 2014 has helped push total student debt in the United States to over a trillion dollars.
A person could make it more than a fourth of the way to the moon traversing the tower of cash that would arise if all those loan dollars were stacked up one on top of the other—all $1,181,622,000,000-plus of them. It would make a great dare for pledge week, but unfortunately most of this year’s graduates will likely be crushed beneath their debt rather than surmount it.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would have just gone to work in a factory,” Cindy Klumb, who borrowed $30,000 to attain graduates degree in art and design at Pratt University in Brooklyn in 1992, reflected.
After consolidating and re-financing her loans over the years, Cindy owes $87,000 on the principal and $42,000 worth of accumulated interest. She is four years away from retirement and her social security will likely be going into the hands of Ed Financial, which took over her loan from the federal government. Cindy is one of 40 million Americans strapped with student debt, many of whom will never be able to pay off their loans.
“College is a bad investment that only pays off if you don’t have to go into debt to get your degree,” she said. “Borrowing to get an education guarantees you will never get anywhere or have even the most basic aspects of the so-called ‘American Dream.’”