Russia’s aggression in Crimea gave GOP talking heads yet another chance to blather on about how weak Barack Obama is and how America needs to bomb more countries in order to gain respect. Don’t listen to them.
Michael C Ruppert on Syria, Obama, and global economic collapse: “The United States Empire is crumbling as we speak. The world doesn’t have a Plan B for what happens when the United States fails. But the United States NEEDS to fail. The US dollar NEEDS to fail. Not until you have killed the last fish, cut down the last tree, and poisoned the last river will you discover that you cannot eat money.”
Did Obama Just Screw Weed Legalization by Supporting It?
The Obama administration’s relative silence on the issue of marijuana legalization has been good for the cause. But in a recent New Yorker article the president’s stated position on the topic evolved. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” he said, adding, “It’s important for [state-level legalization] to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.” He tempered this support by gingerly detracting from legalization advocacy, saying that those who claim marijuana to be a panacea are “overstating the case.” He also referred to “some difficult line-drawing issues” between weed and other illicit drugs, paying homage to the classic, perhaps arcane argument often wielded by conservatives. As cautious as he was in stating it, Obama’s support for legalization, and more strongly decriminalization, may actually be more damaging to the effort than his silence. If we’ve learned one thing from the past six years of Obama, it’s that conservatives find it easiest to irrationally rally against him on social issues like this one.
Until now, the state-level legislative efforts to legalize weed have not included retroactively reducing the sentences of those currently imprisoned on marijuana-related charges, as pointed out by a recent LA Times piece: “It’s far easier to sell voters on the financial benefits of creating a lucrative new marijuana industry than it is to persuade them to open up the prison gates and set convicts free,” writes Matthew Fleischer.
VICE Meets Glenn Greenwald
We traveled to Rio de Janeiro to meet the man who broke the biggest news story of 2013. Glenn Greenwald is an American journalist and author who’s best known for reporting on the leaks of classified National Security Agency documents by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Before he was a journalist, Greenwald was a constitutional law and civil rights litigator, and until 2012 he was a contributing writer at Salon. He has authored four books: How Would a Patriot Act, Tragic Legacy, Great American Hypocrites, and With Liberty and Justice for Some. For 14 months Greenwald was a columnist at the Guardian, where he broke the first NSA story in June of 2013. He has since left the newspaper to team up with filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Jeremy Scahill to start a new media venture, First Look Media, backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
How to Make Foreign Policy Less Disastrous in 2014
Look, you might not like it, but the fact is, foreign policy has a lot to do with you. If you live in the US (and you probably do because I can see your iPod), then what Obama does with our bombs reflects you globally. And if you live in the world (and you probably do because I can see you’re human), then you still, for now, live on a planet where the USA has the most sway. And if you like gay people, or women, of all the superpowers available to humans, America is probably your best bet. Your votes appointed a bunch of people who are barely of average intelligence to run—or shut down—Congress and therefore hold some responsibility as to how this country operates.
As such, it’s obvious that last year you, YOU, dropped the ball, because looking back, 2013 was a really shitty year for foreign policy. Against the backdrop of grinding war in Syria, we cringed as Edward Snowden lifted the lid on the largest mass surveillance program in history. Terrorists staged mass prison breakouts and held entire cities to ransom. Egypt killed the hell out of itself and both sides blamed the US and literally nothing was done to make Syria any less hellish. In fact, it got worse. Well done. Meanwhile, on the part of the planet where you can’t even pretend to have any influence, the Chinese navy won a game of WW3 chicken in the Pacific. Somehow in all of this, Russia came out smelling of roses.
So, yes, frankly the US could be doing better. The Taliban are still with us, hiding in their caves, eagerly awaiting the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. And chaos eagerly awaits that. In Yemen, Pakistan and beyond, US drone strikes continue, making Obama the Peace Prize Winner look evermore like someone who uses flying robots to assassinate people. Thanks to an embarrassing climb-down over involvement in Syria, the very idea of the West intervening in another country’s problems has never been less in fashion. And looking at Afghanistan, still donning its A/W 2001 garb of shrapnel and loved ones’ viscera, it’s not hard to see why.
How We Got the Skammerz Ishu Cover – We Spent Months Scamming a Scammer into Doing Our Work for Us
Scam-baiting is a form of internet vigilantism in which the vigilante poses as a potential victim to expose a scammer. It’s essentially grassroots social engineering conducted as civic duty or even amusement, a cross-cultural double bluff in which participants on separate continents try to outdo each other in an online tug-of-war for one’s time and resources—and the other’s private banking information.
The baiter begins by “biting the hook”— answering an email from the scammer. The “victim” feigns receptivity to the financial lure, engaging the scammer in a drawn-out chain of emails. The most important element of baiting is to waste as much of the scammer’s time as possible—when a scammer is preoccupied, it prevents him from conning genuine victims.
The cover of the issue you’re looking at is a trophy from the most elaborate bait I’ve ever been involved in. Three scammers, spread across Libya and the United Arab Emirates, set the con. They posed as a widow named Nourhan Abdul Aziz, a doctor named Dr. Ahmadiyya Ibrahim, and a banker going by Ephraim Adamoah. From Nourhan’s initial contact with my associ- ate, Condo Rice, to Ephraim’s actually donning an Obama mask and shooting our cover for us, 7,000 words were exchanged over nearly four months of emails. During that time, Condo and I negotiated our way through a labyrinthine net- work of fake websites, bogus documents, and broken English, and ended up with the weirdest photograph I’ve seen in a long time.
The human race is a larcenous, duplicitous one, isn’t it? Our ingenuity in the fine art of deluding knows few limits. To honor that ineffable nature of our being, we present December’s edition of VICE magazine: The Skammerz Ishu. Pick up a copy at one of these fine locations (it’s a steal) or muster the courage to subscribe here (do it already), and you can download the iPad version, which includes extras not available in print or online, here.
You won’t need to look any further than the cover to illustrate how scams, swindles, rackets, and grifts can take on unimagined forms. Artist Mishka Henner pulled a fast one on the very people who make their living off Nigerian-prince-style email scams by “scam-baiting” one particularly dedicated con man to create the image that graces our cover. Over the course of four months of correspondence, Mishka’s associate, Condo Rice, convinced the would-be trickster, who claimed to have lost treasure of the Gaddafi regime, into producing the surreal image above. Excerpts from the absurd email exchange can be found in the magazine alongside loads of other tales of scams, including but not limited to:
Our Dishonest Planet: Stories of common hustles and cons from around the world.
Pulitzer Prize and Polk Award-winning journalist John L. Mitchell and Jack Chang’s investigation into the death of Malcolm L. Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, who was killed when a Mexico City bar scam went tragically awry earlier this year.
Former VICE editor Aaron Lake Smith’s love song to the lost days of the Greyhound bus underworld, which looks back on years of riding with a forged Ameripass ticket.
“Sometimes We Taze Each Other, ” a short story by Adam Wilson, winner of the Paris Review’s Terry Southern Prize for Humor.
VICE’s own Krishna Andavolu’s look into the exploitative, horrific conditions endured by the (often undocumented) temp workers in the giant retail warehouses across America.
Amie Barrodale’s rememberance of her years of scoring free nights at the nicest hotels in the world, which she managed by claiming to be a travel writer.
NSA Spying on America’s Allies Is Business As Usual
Unsurprisingly, the news that the NSA has been monitoring the calls of dozens of world leaders hasn’t gone down particularly well with any of those world leaders. In fact, after suspecting that the US might have been snooping on her communications, last week German Chancellor Angela Merkel rang up Obama herself to demand some answers. A couple of days later, it emerged that her phone has potentially been monitored for more than a decade by the supposedly friendly American government.
In response to the latest revelations to be brought to light by Edward Snowden’s leaks, Germany and Brazil last week proposed that a UN resolution be drawn up to put a cap on America’s “indiscriminate” and “extra-territorial” surveillance. Twenty-one countries—including US allies Mexico and France—are now discussing such a resoluatoin. Ironically, there’s every chance that these talks about the issue will find their way into an NSA analyst’s earpiece at some point, since an earlier Snowden leak alleged that the US has bugged the UN headquarters in the past.
This type of surveillance isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, according to Carl Meacham of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Countries all over the world do surveillance of their friends and enemies,” he told me. “That’s been happening for years.” However, he did stress that “the scope and magnitude of these [spying] initiatives is shocking to some folks… On the one hand you have the Obama administration sending a clear sign of its willingness to partner with Latin America, to break with the past and regard these countries as equals. But on the other: ‘We’re also watching you.’”