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.
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.
Did Robotraders Know the Financial Crisis Was Coming?
f you asked a stranger on the street to describe what the stock market looks like, most would probably mention a bunch of sweaty white-shirted types shouting and furiously gesticulating in a Wall Street trading pit. The more erudite might include references to retired rich people playing with their money over the computer or offices full of overworked geeks glued to multiscreen terminals.
These days the reality is that the average trader doesn’t have eyes or hands or emotions. They only have the numbers. Commodities markets the world over have been hijacked by robots or, more specifically, algorithms that can scan data and trade stocks so quickly that their meat-brained creators often can’t keep up with what they’re doing.
High-frequency trading (HFT) accounted for about half of US stock-exchange trades in 2012—approximately 1.6 billion shares a day, according to estimates cited by Bloomberg Businessweek. In many ways, these algorithms mimic human traders’ transactions buying and selling stocks among themselves, though to make trades as quickly as possible, they are equipped with only the most rudimentary analytic tools. Unlike human traders, whose actions are often undergirded by real-world data like a company’s reported quarterly profits or losses, algorithms react only to real-time market movement, and some scientists and analysts now say that all their unsupervised activity might be a problem.
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Negotiating Ransom with Somali Pirates
When pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama, as depicted in the film Captain Philips, their aim was getting their hands on ransom cash. Lots of ransom cash. Waterproof boxes, filled with US dollars, have driven a piracy industry worth millions.
Delivering the cash may seem a simple task, but the process can be drawn-out, dangerous, and complex. With lives on the line, emotions running high and hostages desperate for help, the situation usually calls for help from experts – normally paid for by the victims bosses, insurers or, if they’re unlucky, families.
According to one professional negotiator who’s handled scores of piracy cases, it may take some weeks after the attack before the phone finally rings: “after a kidnapping, the pirates want to know they’re safe, so they’ll sail the victims ship to somewhere they know and settle in before deciding on demands and making the call.” Typically, he says, the pirates will ask their victims for contact details of their employers and families, and will have a translator among their gang.
Professional Wingmen Will Get You Laid… for a Price
Trying to pick up a person while grocery shopping, in a park, on a train, or at a traffic light seems to be a lost art. Such weirdness is considered to be an awkward maneuver by outmoded Luddites, sad freaks who aren’t savvy enough to navigate the many online dating options available to anyone with a computer.
Still, whether its attributable to blind nostalgia, raw non-conformity, or just a poor internet connection, these folk continue to exist. Haplessly bolstering their efforts with new clothes, scents, and social dithering fuelled by increasingly precious cash, they still optimistically trudge out into the night (and day) to stalk their prey. Yet, without the reassurance of a buddy/friend/wingman or wingwoman, they are deemed desperate, weird, sadly unpopular, and friendless—an obvious disincentive for a potential “mate.”
A wingman/wingwoman/wingperson personifies reassurance for the casual observer, particularly potential dates. Akin to a bodyguard/maid/butler/counselor they serve as a guardian, ego booster, and ornate decoration that suggests you are palatable to at least one other member of the human race.
It’s irrelevant who a wingman is, as long as they present well and speak kindly of you. They could be a long-time friend, work colleague, neighbor or roommate. Unfortunately for some eager singles, finding a person to hit the dating scene with you solely for your benefit is difficult. Enter the paid wingman—giving romance-starved folks a second chance via a hired hand when they’re on the prowl.
Services such as Professional Wingman in New York and Wingman Pro in LA cater to the desperate and dateless. The former costs around $400 for basic services, with additional seminars, counseling, and classes on everything from dress sense to educated dining. A full blown wingman syllabus could set you back thousands of dollars.
How Much Will the Defense Industry Make from a Missile Strike Against Syria?
Even as diplomats work on a last-ditch effort to get Syria to hand over its chemical weapons to international authorities, the US gearing up to do what it does best: bomb a distant country. At this moment, six American warships are sitting in the Mediterranean, loaded with hundreds of missiles waiting to attack Syria should they get the order. If thecomplex, involved effort to get Bashar al-Assad to give up his chemical weapons fails and Barack Obama gives the go-ahead for a “limited” strike against his regime, those ships will let fly with hundreds of missiles—and that means the Pentagon will have to replace those weapons by purchasing them from defense contractors like Raytheon, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman. How much is that going to cost?
To begin with, the US will likely want to target Syria’s air force. To do that, according to a report by Christopher Harmer, a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War think tank, three types of missiles would likely be involved: Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs), Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSMs), and Joint Standoff Weapons (JSOWs).
Those kinds of missiles are a big part of what makes the US defense budget so massive.According to DefenseNews, the first few weeks of America’s intervention in Libya cost about $600 million, and more than half of that ($340 million) was spent on replacing munitions, in particular the hundreds of Tomahawk missiles it unloaded on the North African country at $1.4 million a pop. JASSMs and JSOWs are less expensive, but at about $900,000 and $285,000 apiece, respectively, they aren’t exactly a bargain.
Former Walmart Employees Demand to be Reinstated
Protests erupted at Walmart outlets across the country on Thursday, mounted by workers and their supporters who are demanding America’s largest employer provide a living wage. In Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Chicago, Orlando, the District of Columbia, and elsewhere coast to coast, Walmart entrances were clotted with men and women in the bright green T-shirts of Our Walmart, a campaign to improve working conditions at the mega-chain and at its suppliers.
Walmart employees—or as the company refers to them, associates—complain of low take-home pay, unaffordable healthcare, unpredictable hours, bullying, and discrimination from management at the retailer, which retains 1.3 million Americans on its payroll. Six members of the Walton family, decedents of Walmart founder Samuel Walton and owners of a near majority stake in the corporation, together have a net worth surpassing that of over 40 percent of American families combined. Walmart took in $16 billion last year alone, but the company’s smiley face insignia has become a symbol of exploitation to many who stock its shelves and man its registers.
“If people knew what is going on behind close doors,” said Lucus Handy, a former associate in the customer service department at a Walmart superstore in Fort Dodge, Iowa, “they would force Walmart to change.”
The Trickle-Down Economics of Nicaragua’s Drug Trade
Bluefields, the largest port on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, is in many ways a typical small coastal Central American city—bustling but poor, a natural center for all kinds of commerce, legal and illegal. If you hang out by the bay you’ll see cargo ships come in and passenger boats ferry people to and from the surrounding towns, some of which aren’t reachable by overland routes. By day, the streets are filled with garishly decorated taxis, starving stray dogs, and people selling mangos and pineapples. At night, a few downtown bars stay open late to serve beer and play reggae, bachata, and country music.
The majority of the men who aren’t cops or store owners work on boats, while women often turn their living rooms into sit-down restaurants or sell grilled meat and tortillas outside their homes. There aren’t many more options for the mostly black and indigenous population of 90,000—there’s no highway connecting Bluefields with the wealthier western part of the country, and without infrastructure there’s little prospect of outside investment.
Just about the only industry that’s pumped outside money into the local economy is drug trafficking.