"This place is just so inundated with corruption—it’s steeped in corruption like a teabag. There was a Roman emperor—Caligula—who appointed his horse to the senate. At this point, the system has gotten so bad that if the Koch brothers appointed their horse to the Senate, it wouldn’t even make a difference. That’s where we are."
Crude Journalism: Chevron Bought a Newspaper to Mask Its Bad Record on Safety Abuses
Richmond is tucked into California’s western tricep, a former wine town with a population just over 100,000. Under the administration of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the town is thelargest city in the United States with a Green Party mayor. It’s also an oil town—in 1901, Standard Oil set up a tank farm, choosing the location for its easy access to San Francisco Bay. Soon after, a western terminus of the Santa Fe Railroad was built in Richmond to handle the outflux of crude. Over the course of the 20th century, Standard Oil became the Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL), and later, Chevron.
Throughout the 90s, the Richmond refinery was fined thousands of dollars for unsafe conditions, explosions, major fires, and chemical leaks, as the plant oozed chlorine and sulfur trioxide into Richmond’s atmosphere. In August of 2012, the Richmond refinery exploded after Chevron ignored the warning of corroding pipes from the local safety board. The disaster was linked to aging pipes, which were simply clamped instead of replaced altogether. Some 15,000 residents in the surrounding area were forced to seek medical treatment, and Chevron’s CEO, John Watson, got a $7.5 million dollar raise.
I Accidentally Got a Scammer Tortured by Police in Tanzania
It was when they manhandled him onto the table, tethered him to a water pipe coming out of the ceiling, and pulled his pants down to his ankles that I experienced a change of heart. For weeks I’d been consumed with hatred for the man on that table. But it’s funny how your perspective changes when someone is about to be tortured, especially when you’re the one that put him there.
It had begun, like many tales of misadventure, in that most anarchic staging post for travel: the Tanzanian bus station. Ever been to one? This is how it goes: The long-distance buses tend to leave at dusk or before; schedules are mind-bogglingly irregular; a tourist tax on the price of a ticket is all but inevitable. Like transport hubs the world over, they’re a magnet for the wretched, the transient, and the dispossessed. And you endure it all for the privilege of cramming yourself into a bus driven by some prepubescent boy-racer in a country with a traffic-accident rate six times worse than that of the UK.
Why the Sochi Olympics Are the Most Expensive in History
The Olympics are as much about money as they are about sports. Between broadcasting rights, merchandising, sponsorships and construction of the Olympic venues themselves, there’s a lot of money to be made. In the case of Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, there’s more money to be made than ever before, especially if you’re a friend of President Putin.
The 2014 Winter Games have cost Russia about $50 billion, making them the most expensive in history. Corruption watchdogs say it’s ordinary Russians who will end up footing the bill for this excess, not private investors as Putin has suggested.
We went to Sochi to investigate the claims of corruption and kickbacks, tour some of the most expensive Olympic venues ever built, and talk to Sochi residents who have been pushed aside to make room for Putin’s man-made mountains of money.
(Source: Vice Magazine)
Swazi Gold, Part 2
Swaziland is a landlocked country sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique. Despite Swaziland’s small size, it boasts more hectares of land dedicated to growing Cannabis than all of India. It is also home to Swazi Gold, the legendary sativa strain.
Hamilton Morris travels to Swaziland hoping to chemically analyze the cannabinoids present in some of the local strains. Instead, he finds a country steeped in political corruption and economic turmoil. Cannabis is viewed by many growers, users, and politicians as a drug that will cause insanity, but it may be Swaziland’s only hope for economic stability.
I Spent Six Months in Lebanon’s Most Notorious Prison
VICE: Hi Khodr. What were the reasons for your detention?
Khodr: It was related to my activities and connections with members of the Free Syrian Army, particularly from al-Zabadani [a city in south-western Syria, close to the Lebanese border], who were probably under surveillance. They were buying weapons from Palestinian militias in Ain el-Hilweh [the Palestinian refugee camp in the southern city of Saida] and others, including Shia groups who supported Assad but wanted the money.
And they thought you were involved?
They suspected me of being part of Free Syrian Army logistics, not a fighter. I denied any connection to the people they mentioned in my interrogation, but they found their numbers and names in my phone, as well as on my Facebook and Skype. In the military court they accused me of obtaining a counterfeit visa and activities assaulting the security of the Lebanese state. At that moment, I realized the seriousness of the situation.
What were the first couple of weeks like inside Roumieh?
It was really hard to adapt. I suddenly found myself in this incredibly shady place, surrounded by hardened criminals and drug abuse. I’d never been in a place like that. I was very depressed and scared.
How rampant was the drug abuse?
I’d say 90 percent, or higher, of the inmates were using. It stretched from prescription drugs, like benzocaine and Tramol, to hashish, cocaine, and heroin. Everything is available: benzocaine being the cheapest, with heroin and cocaine the most expensive. There is no chance of rehabilitation. I remember one inmate saying to me, “The only thing they have imprisoned here is my dick.”
The Families of Colombia’s ‘False Positive’ Victims Are Still Fighting for Justice
I arrived in Soacha, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Bogota, on an overcast July afternoon. We had driven away from the city center and the building that dominates its skyline—a huge structure covered in LED lights that slowly change color; a gaudy beacon for Colombia’s wealthy elite—and had pulled up on a residential side street.
I was there with the NGO Justice for Colombia to hear about the country’s ‘false positives' scandal, which first broke five years ago and shows no sign of relenting any time soon. The scandal has its roots in the Colombian 50-year civil war between the government and the left-wing peasant insurgent group FARC. In the early 2000s, then-president Alvaro Uribe, out of an apparent concern for the army’s reputation, started putting pressure on soldiers to increase their kill figures.
According to media reports, soldiers were promised cash payments and more vacation time if they produced the bodies of dead FARC guerrillas—an accusation the government denies. In an effort to increase their quotas, soldiers allegedly started luring young, impoverished men away from their homes with the offer of work. Once away from their families, the soldiers executed the men, dressed them up in guerrilla uniforms, and presented them as combat kills. Many victims were dismembered and buried hundreds of miles away from their families.
The National Victims Movement protests against the state’s “false positive” scandal. (Photo courtesy of Justice for Colombia)
When the scandal broke, the Colombian government insisted false positives were isolated incidents. By 2012, however, nearly 3,000 murders were recorded and, in 2007—the worst year for this type of killing—one in every five combat kills recorded was a false positive. In Soacha, 19 mothers lost their sons in the false positives scandal, and so far only one of them has seen the killers convicted, but his conviction was appealed and the main defendant, an army major, became a fugitive.
After parking up among the ownerless dogs and football-playing boys that seem ubiquitous in Bogota’s suburbs, I was led up some steps to a little house set back from the street. Waiting for me were three women, smartly dressed, warm and hospitable. They shook my hand and sat me down. As I waited for the rest of my group to file in, I noticed school pictures on the wall of young boys in suits—the dead sons of the women I’d just met.
How the Rob Ford Smoking Crack Scandal Is Just Like ‘The Wire’
The allegation that a crew of drug dealers had a video of mayor Rob Ford smoking crack has resulted in a prolonged and sad controversy in Toronto. Our city’s once triumphant king—who we have heralded for his ability to charmingly pose for terrible photographs, or conquer his rivals after getting fired—has become a political pariah while keeping both ass cheeks firmly on the throne. After the firings and resignations of several disloyal staff members and some accusations from the Globe and Mail that his brother Dougie used to sell hash, his other brother Randy kidnapped a dude who owed him money, and his sister Kathy (who was shot in the face by her boyfriend) hung out with Nazis, the once sparkling face of the Ford dynasty is now looking pimply and scabbed up.
What with City Hall, the police, Toronto’s drug dealers, and the media playing a major role in events, there’s no real-life parallel to this evolving story—it’s more like a work of fiction, specifically David Simon’s much-lauded TV series The Wire, and even more specifically the really implausible plot points in season five. (You can imagine a writer pitching a hard drug–abusing mayor to Simon and Simon tossing that suggestion out for being unrealistic.) But if Toronto’s crackgate (or whatever we’re calling it now) is The Wire, who are the analogues to the major players in the scandal? Here are the answers I came up with.