The Bangladeshis Who Make Your Clothes Have Been Given a Raise
As discouraging as it is, no number of documentaries or worthy articles is suddenly going to make everyone in the world care about the people making our underwear for $1.50 a day. A large part of that is probably because it’s hard to comprehend how shocking the working conditions in Bangladesh’s clothing factories are until you visit them for yourself—until you meet the workers being slapped around by their bosses and the kids being hidden on the factory roof every time Western buyers come to town.
In response to those working conditions and wages, which are among the lowest in the world, some workers have been striking for weeks, their frustration often turning to violence as they clash with police. And those violent protests have won them what looks like a victory: the Bangladesh government announced over the weekend that the minimum wage for garment workers is going to be increased by 77 percent, to $67 a month.
I flew out to Bangladesh a couple of weeks before the pay raise was announced to meet some garment workers. Upon arrival, a contact took me to a poor factory neighborhood—a slum, comprised as it was of a few beaten up huts—on the outskirts of Dhaka. There, he introduced me to Bilkiss, a sweet, pretty 18-year-old who had worked at the same garment factory for five years. She is one of an estimated 4 million in Bangladesh who make our clothes.
Canada’s New Medical Weed Program Puts the Poorest Patients Last
At the moment, 40,000 Canadians are currently authorized to possess medical marijuana. Until April 2014, these patients can purchase their supply from a licensed personal producer, or they can get permission to grow it themselves, but soon every Canadian medical marijuana user will be forced to comply with a new medical program that will push them to buy legal medical weed from commercial government-regulated facilities.
Canada’s new “Marihuana for Medical Purposes” (yes, they spell it with an ‘H’ for some reason) program is creating an emerging for-profit market that will regulate crop control, dump money into the economy, and attempt to position Canada as one of the world’s top exporters of medical marijuana. But it’s the patients who are caught in the middle of an evolving system that threatens to make medical weed so expensive many will no longer be able to afford it, forcing them to continue growing their own personal stashes—which will be illegal as of April 2014—or buying it from regular ol’ pot dealers.
According to Health Canada, no one’s trying to turn sick Canadians into criminals with these new laws. It was more in response to problems with the current Marihuana Medical Access Program(MMAP), which a Health Canada spokesperson says is “open to abuse.”
The Exploited Laborers of the Liberal Media: Interns
Editor’s note: For years, VICE has used part-time unpaid interns—a practice that we recently halted. Our current policy is to pay interns $10 an hour and limit them to 20 hours a week during the school year and 25 hours a week during the summer.
I was 21 years old when I took out my earring, combed my hair, and tried concealing my distaste for power and Washington, DC, in order to ask questions at press conferences. It was the summer of 2006, and I had just left college to go work for a small, do-gooding nonprofit that covered Capitol Hill for public radio.
I went through the whole experience of being a journalist in the nation’s capital: attending deadly boring policy luncheons, interviewing near-dead lawmakers and dead-inside lobbyists, and dying a little inside myself every time I saw my work “edited”—turned into shameful garbage—before going on air.
Like any other reporter, I pitched stories at morning meetings and then did the legwork to put them together, in the process learning the job. While my gut impulse at first was to righteously confront the powerful with strident questions highlighting their logical inconsistencies and factual errors, I soon found it was often smarter to affect an earnest demeanor just a hair shy of sarcastic. You need to let the person being interviewed explain why he is terrible, which is more easily done when he thinks you are stupid or on his side.
Colombian Trade Unionists Keep Getting Assassinated
On the afternoon of Sunday, August 25, Huber Ballesteros was snatched by police and arrested as he ate his lunch in the Colombian capital of Bogota. Two days later he was charged with “rebellion” and “financing terrorism” at the Attorney General’s office, and denied bail. At the moment, he’s languishing in Colombia’s notoriously squalid prison, La Picota, without a trial date.
Ballesteros is one of Colombia’s most prominent social justice activists and a key personality in the country’s newest grassroots peacebuilding movement, the Patriotic March. Two weeks prior to his arrest he had helped organize nationwide strikes against the appropriation of rural peasants’ land by multinational corporations, but the Attorney General has strenuously denied the two had anything to do with each other.
Ballesteros is currently housed in a maximum-security wing, which means he’s cut off from daylight. He’s supposed to share his cell with just three other men, but if new prisoners turn up they just get packed in, with many ending up sleeping on the floor. Food rations are also dwindling—not that it makes a great deal of difference to Huber; he’s diabetic and the prison won’t cater to his diet. And the constant, pervasive smell of rotting meat does little to stimulate appetites, anyway.
These two ads from a new campaign for Swarovski jewelry feature bony models getting “caught” buying and—gasp—even damn near eating food. Ladies? Better get yourselves some shiny baubles to deflect attention away from your disgusting habit of consuming life-giving sustenance.
—The Worst Advertising, Marketing, and Social Media Screwups of November
I Spent a Decade Working for Churches (and It Was the Worst)
Before I started doing comedy and writing full time, I spent over a decade working for churches. Let me preface this by saying that I am not an angry atheist, or even someone who bashes organized religion. There are so many churches doing fantastic work for their communities and truly helping people with little or no attention from the media. I’ve worked for some that I’ve seen firsthand do tremendous work and even helped me with difficult times in my life. With that said, I’ve seen some of the most repulsive, sickening behavior you could possibly imagine by men and women claiming to be representatives of God. I worked with organizations in the smallest of towns and I’ve worked with some of the biggest names in religion, so I know what I’m talking about. I’m not someone judging from the outside. I’ve been a part of it, which, at times, felt like the worst thing that could possibly happen to me.
I worked with an organization called Master’s Commission, which is basically a Bible college that combines the educational part of ministry with actual hands-on work. I had been involved with the program in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in Orlando, Florida. A pastor in Louisville, Kentucky, named Tony had seen the work that Master’s Commission had done and contacted my boss in Orlando about starting one at his church.
Exploring the Depressing House of Michael Jackson’s Disgraced Dermatologist
Having visited a handful of them (and never, mind you, under positive circumstances), I can confidently state that the homes of Hollywood’s countless hangers-on are all the same. The following ratio, seemingly without exception, dictates the dispersion of their possessions: 60% sun-bleached photos of them with former celebrities, usually dating from the 1980s and 1990s; 10% formerly modern furniture, usually dating from the 1980s and 1990s; 10% formerly modern art, usually created by equally sycophantic succubi like Andy Warhol and David LaChapelle in the 1980s and 1990s; and 20% what can kindly be described as “complete and utter fucking garbage,” usually acquired in the late 1990s (what I like to call the “wild card.”)
The wares currently being peddled at the bankruptcy-forced estate sale of Dr. Arnold Klein, much-maligned former dermatologist to the stars, are no exception to this rule.
In happier times, Liz Taylor, Cher, Dolly Parton, Lady Gaga and, rather infamously, Michael Jackson were regulars at his Beverly Hills practice; a solid decade of lawsuits, criminal investigations, and embarrassing press appearances, however, have irreparably tarnished the legacy of the man once hailed as the “Father of Botox.” Miscellaneous effects from the estate of the good bad doctor, infamous enough to have his own “Saga” page on TMZ’s website, are shamelessly being hawked in his seized Hancock Park mansion through Saturday.
In order to enter the house, which is currently in shambles and in escrow (its listing describes it as a “rare yet tarnished treasure”), I had to sign a waiver. The company putting on the sale (probably rightfully) feared I’d fall into a gaping, construction-related hole and decide to get litigious. I understand their desire to cover their own asses; those unfortunate enough to still be affiliated with Klein already have enough problems.
Black Gold Blues: The Hazards and Horrors of the Makeshift Oil Industry in Rebel-Controlled Syria
Deir ez-Zor, Syria’s sixth-largest city, is also the country’s oil capital. For four decades, the al-Assad regime (first run by Hafez, and now by his son Bashar) struck deals with Western oil companies like Shell and Total that resulted in the extraction of as much as 27,000 barrels of black gold from the sand every day. A pittance compared with other Middle Eastern countries’ production, but it made Syria a bona fide oil-exporting nation. At least this was the case until international sanctions were imposed in 2011 in response to the regime’s crackdown on the antigovernment protests, which quickly morphed into a civil war.
Located in the middle of the desert and less than 100 miles from the Iraq border, Deir ez-Zor dominates the eastern portion of the country and has had a long, fruitful relationship with the petroleum industry: before the war, its 220,000 inhabitants often worked for oil companies as engineers, technicians, and laborers.
Downtown Deir ez-Zor is still home to many modern glass-walled buildings erected by Western firms, but in the past two years, they’ve been largely abandoned as the battles between the rebels and al-Assad’s forces, each of whom hold portions of the city, have left them pockmarked, windowless, and scarred.
When I visited Deir ez-Zor in September, there were snipers lurking on roofs as combatants exchanged fire from Kalashnikovs, mortars, and heavy machine guns below. Beyond the city limits the suburbs give way to the mostly empty desert where the oil wells are located and where the rebels—most of them hard-line jihadists, and many of them with ties to al Qaeda—are in complete control. It’s a very different place than it was prerevolution, but it is still an oil town, albeit one of an entirely new sort. Instead of multinational corporations, it’s now the Islamist rebels who are providing jobs to the locals.
We Went to the McDonald’s Build Your Own Burger Test Restaurant
On the outside, the McDonald’s in Laguna Nigel, California looks like every other store in the chain. There’s sad white walls, three kids running in circles while their parents beg them to stuff more fries into their faces, and the prominent golden arches luring you inside to get your weekly grease injection. Upon further inspection, this McDonald’s was like no McDonald’s I had ever been to, because it’s the tester restaurant for their new build-your-own-burger gimmick.
My first thought was “damn, this place is clean.” It was clean, you guys. The counter was shiny, and the walls were painted with stripes to look futuristic and European. What shocked me the most, however, was the sheer friendliness of the employees. Three teenaged girls in white button-up shirts greeted me instantly with big smiles. “Welcome to McDonald’s!” They were like the Stepford Wives, but a fast-food employee version.
This McDonald’s is the McDonald’s of the future. I’m not saying that just because it’s really clean and people are happy. I’m saying that because this McDonald’s has iPads! What do these iPads do? They are the tool with which you customize your burger order. With this magic iPad, you’re able to order such exotic menu items as an “artisan roll,” and “guacamole.” Yeah you heard me, a McDonald’s that serves guacamole. Welcome to the 21st century, fuckers. Obviously, little things like “clean dining areas,” “friendly service,” and “freedom of choice” are not features that can be rolled out to every McDonald’s all at once. No, those things have to be “tested,” and Laguna Nigel is the only place where you can enjoy the aforementioned amenities.