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.

Heroes

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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