Volkswagen is in deep trouble. These 5 points explain the whole unbelievable scandal.

Volkswagen is in deep trouble.

The grimace on this bright red Beetle pretty much says it all:


That is one anxious hatchback. Photo by Emelian Robert Vicol/Pixabay.

The car company is currently embroiled in a scandal that is rocking the United States and Europe.

And it is — to a large extent — bananas.

The coverage has been so scattered, it's hard to get a sense of what, exactly, the hell is going on. Which is a shame because you can basically sum the whole thing up in five admittedly bonkers bullet points:

1. Volkswagen is accused of installing a secret device in millions of cars that allows them to cheat on emissions tests.

This is what diesel exhaust looks like:

Photo by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/Wikimedia Commons.

At first glance it might seem like building a machine that emits a thick, black smoke not unlike the ashen upchuck of a thousand demons belching from the maw of hell might not be super ideal for the environment, generally speaking.

But for years, Volkswagen has been making passenger cars powered with the stuff. Lots and lots of 'em. Passats, Jettas, Beetles, Golfs, Audi A3s — the full fist.

They had lots of good reasons to do so, too. Diesel vehicles often feature better engine performance and fuel economy. Volkswagen argued they were clean enough, and sure enough, year after year, its vehicles passed inspection. But here's the thing:

The whole time customers thought they were getting this?

You're telling me I've finally parallel parked this car, and now it might be recalled? Photo by IFCAR/WIkimedia Commons.

They were actually getting this:


Not pictured: Imperator Furiosa.

According to a blockbuster investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, many Volkswagen on-board computers were programmed with a secret algorithm that can sense when the car is being tested for emissions and lower the output of the engine accordingly. When actual tests were run, Volkswagen's diesel vehicles were spitting out up to 40 times (!!!) more nitrogen oxide than U.S. limits allow.

Initially, everyone thought the device was only installed in a few hundred thousand cars, all in the United States. But Volkswagen has since acknowledged that the modification was made to over 11 million vehicles worldwide.

This is exactly the type of extreme corporate malfeasance that usually results in coverups, denials, counter-denials, counter-coverups, and Matt Damon racing with smoking-gun documents in hand to a meeting with the FBI but Tilda Swinton is already waiting there with a hitman so no one ever finds out except maybe for his estranged ex-lover Jessica Chastain, who is seen opening a mysterious envelope in the very last shot.

"Oh God. Morris. Morris. I believe you, Morris. I finally believe you." Those are the lines Jessica Chastain's agent would — probably — negotiate an extra $300,000 for her to say. Photo by Mladen Antonov/Getty Images.

Yet somehow, none of that happened in this case. Mostly because:

2. The company said, "¯\\_(ツ)_/¯," and basically up and admitted to all of the above.

To recap, the United States government accused Volkswagen of manipulating consumers, hoodwinking regulators, deceiving shareholders, and poisoning the atmosphere our great Mother Earth provided for her children to enjoy for all eternity.

And Volkswagen's response was, essentially, "Yep."

A former Volkswagen executive, attempting to express human emotion. Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

Or, more specifically, "Yep, uh. Yeah."

The evidence appears to be so rock solid that the company is ... not really denying anything. Either Volkswagen is playing the most head-scratchingly amazing game of 17-dimensional chess anyone has ever played, or they are really, world-historically screwed.

3. The CEO has resigned but claims he didn't know anything.

Until Sept. 23, 2015, the buck at Volkswagen stopped with CEO Martin Winterkorn, seen here, probably watching James Bond struggle to free himself from a glass cage that's slowly running out of oxygen because, well, just look at him. Jeez:

"My plan is absolutely ... breathtaking, Mr. Bond," says Martin Winterkorn — probably. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Winterkorn has denied all knowledge of any wrongdoing, and yet almost immediately stepped down from his post, quietly disappearing into some hedges surrounding VW's Wolfsburg, Germany, headquarters, never to be heard from again.

"Into the mists of time, go I," says Martin Winterkorn — almost definitely. Photo by Nigel Jones/Geograph.

We are, I assume, supposed to see Winterkorn's denial as credible. Nevermind that this basically requires us to believe that some employee was sitting around the break room one day, halfheartedly playing Temple Run and thinking, "I've got this incredible idea for a complicated, quasi-legal international scheme that could either save the company or cost us billions and send dozens of our executives to prison. I'll just assume I have the green light."

But OK. We're with you, Marty. You do you.

4. The company has budgeted over $7 billion to deal with the fallout.

According to an NBC News report, Volkswagen has allocated $7.2 billion to "win back the trust of our customers" in the wake of the scandal. Not only is that, in corporate accounting terms, an everloving crapton of money, it's more than the nominal gross domestic product of 43 countries, as this street scene from Guinea-Bissau pretty well illustrates:

Guinea-Bissau would love to win back the trust of its customers, but it's gonna need to spend a hunk of that cash getting this old rusty tank out of the road first. Photo by Mariomassone/Wikimedia Commons.

There are at least two possible explanations for this.

One is that, well, Volkswagen did the math and realized that jacking their tiny, sketchy computers out of a bunch of lightly-used Passats and the ensuing awkward ad buy to admit what they did was really going to cost them.

The other is that Volkswagen is still hiding something they're really, really embarrassed about. Which, for a car company founded by literal Nazis is saying something.

You will enjoy the power steering, yes? Photo via German Federal Archive/Wikimedia Commons.

5. In a really bizarre, messed up way, this is good news for the environment. I know. I know. Just go with me here.

Many argue that here in the U.S., we should always be trying to cut our government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Which is all well and good so far as it goes. Until some jerkwad company decides to start ejecting sooty, greasy, demon smog into the air. And you can't breathe. And you're like, "Uh ... government? You in there?"

"Whew, yeah, uh ... so sorry about that whole thing. Government? You ... OK?" Photo by Yannick Trottier/Wikimedia Commons.

The Volkswagen bust is an example of the Environmental Protection Agency doing what it does best: protecting the hell out of the environment in a way that has not just national but global implications. It makes the decision not to drown the EPA, despite repeated calls to do so, pretty darn sage.

And the best part? We get it on the cheap. The EPA runs the U.S. taxpayer just over $7 billion a year. "Now wait a minute," you might be thinking, "I thought you just said that was a crapload of money." And in car company terms, it is. But in U.S. government terms, it's pocket change. The Department of Defense, for comparison, set us back nearly $500 billion in 2015. You could have 71 EPAs for every one DoD.

Thankfully, we don't need 71. Because, as the Volkswagen saga makes abundantly clear, at the end of the day, one jacked up, 'roided out EPA is plenty good for the Earth.

Gets no love, but amazing in the clutch. Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.

Let's hope they keep on swinging for the fences.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
True

In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 10.23.15


Getting people who don't suffer from anxiety issues to understand them is hard.

People have tried countless metaphors and methods to describe what panic and anxiety is like. But putting it into the context of a living nightmare, haunted house style, is one of the more effective ways I've ever seen it done.

Brenna Twohy delivered the riveting poetic analogy recently in Oakland, starting out by going off about some funny "Goosebumps" plots. It's lovely, funny, sweet, and relatable, and it's totally worth the short time to watch.

Keep Reading Show less
True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."