One of the first things you learn as a writer is how to lower your expectations, lest you self-immolate.
Then, there’s the (very gradual) acceptance that your taste for great, great literature clearly exceeds your abilities…followed by a lifelong struggle to rectify that.
My transition from journalist to author — and then balancing the two — felt like an imperative, because I longed to delve more deeply into the topics about which I was writing. In journalism, there’s this need to retain a sense of immediacy at all times in a story, forcing current events to the forefront and important things like context and history into the background. Sure, there’s a little context, but it always takes a back seat — a waaay back seat — to unfolding events.
Yet you know as the writer that context and history mean everything. Hence, you are always fighting to put as much extra information as you can into whatever you’re writing.
Getting the necessary financing and logistics in place to allow yourself to write comfortably for months on end is, from a scale of 1 to 10, a solid 10 in terms of difficulty. I found that hewing to one goal — publishing my first book and then moving on to long-form writing — was the only way to get through to the other side. Anything between me and that had to be eradicated, and was. Although I did not know what lay on the other side. Continue reading On Writing…And The Point Of It All→
One year ago, a group of financial and political journalists put their heads together to tackle a very onerous task: raise awareness about what is happening on the highly influential island of Jersey – the largest of the Channel Islands, a global tax shelter of some stature and a so-called “peculiar possession” of the British Crown known for its sailing and golfing, as well as hiding money and committing unspeakable crimes against children.
The goal was threefold: restore my U.K. visa, eliminate a travel ban initiated by Jersey to keep me off the island and, most importantly, see to it that the children who were victimized for decades at the Jersey children’s home Haut de la Garenne – nearly 200 of whom are still alive to tell their tale – were no longer willfully ignored.
Today, I am very happy to report that all three of those objectives have been reached, thanks to a group of intrepid journalists whom I am honored to call colleagues.
Journalists from The Guardian,BBC, Sunday Expressand VICE magazine, in addition to Jersey’sTeam Voice, led by citizen journalist-cum-bloggers, Neil McMurray and Rico Sorda, contributed to my pieces on this blog and in CNN/Fortune, paving the way for the first glimmer of real hope for Jersey’s victims and the start of what may soon be some palpable changes on this idyllic island – a place that, while living in London, was my home away from home.
Politicians in both the U.K. and on the island also have put in long hours to bring these issues to the forefront.
Right after arriving in London on my visit, I was able to meet and personally thank the Member of Parliament most responsible for restoring my visa, John Hemming. Because of him, I received the first “writer visa” to be issued by Great Britain in years.
While the reasons for my travel ban remain under investigation (this is rather awkward, as it consists of the U.K. government effectively investigating itself) the MP and I had a chance to catch up at the Palace of Westminster, sit out on the back terrace overlooking the Thames and film this.
My trip to Jersey brought me a still warmer welcome. Many of the islanders stopped to ask questions, the politicians had news to share and, dining out, some of the restaurant owners came by my table to shake my hand. It was a truly humbling experience.
Hope For Jersey
As for the promising changes on the island of Jersey: this week, members of Jersey’s parliament voted unanimously for a senior U.K. judge to lead a £6 million Committee of Inquiry into the island’s legacy of atrocities against children. The significance of this cannot be overstated. One year ago, it looked as though the inquiry would never get off the ground. The fact that Jersey’s legislators were unanimous in casting their votes after years of infighting and objections means they finally realize the island must give this matter a proper airing.
This past week, I received my UK visa — a visa that will last me two years.
After 500 days to the day (including leap year) of being banned in the UK, my time in visa purgatory has ended, allowing me to re-enter the UK Common Travel Area to continue my investigative work. I will certainly have a fish pie to celebrate.
Here it is: the before and after photos of my visa status. Above to the left, you will see what is known among international travelers as the “black stamp of death,” typically issued to criminals and other unsavories if they try to enter Great Britain. (The last American who I could find banned from the UK was Martha Stewart in 2008 after she was convicted of insider trading. Others have included Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, Pablo Neruda and President Obama’s half brother, “Abo.” In my case, a clean legal and travel record were enough. I have found no record of any journalist banned from the UK inside the past decade.)
Above to the right, you will see my fully restored visa, valid for two years. While the UK no longer offers visas under the “Writer” category, this is an Offshore Worker visa that has been repurposed by Jersey Immigration to fit my intentions as a professional writer doing work in the UK and Channel Islands. (For those of you unfamiliar with Jersey, it is what is referred to as a “peculiar possession” of the Crown and the largest of the Channel Islands. For more see here and previous posts.)
I want to confide that, at the final moment, this visa was held up by unseen hands, but Member of Parliament for Birmingham Yardley John Hemming put in a parliamentary question to Immigration Minister Mark Harper about the delay and my new visa arrived a few days later. (The magic of ministerial questioning.) This, after MP Hemming filed a parliamentary motion in my defense last September.
I also want to thank Trevor Pitman, the courageous member of Jersey’s Parliament who launched the petition that helped restore my visa on Change.org — and did so in spite of harsh political headwinds.
How are things progressing? It appears to be taking an exceptional amount of time to complete some simple form filling !!
LEAH MCGRATH GOODMAN SAYS:
To PH – and everyone else who has followed my misadventures:
If only it were that simple! Because of the bizarre way in which I was given the heave-ho, my return has been anything but a straightforward process. Those involved in my case have had different goals and — from what I can glean — not all of them aligned with my wish to return to Jersey.
The main problem: Jersey objected last year to my entering the UK on a Business Visitor’s visa. This is why I was thrown out.
Unfortunately, this visa is what journalists typically use for trips of 6 months or less. (For the record, I have only used this visa for trips of approximately 5 weeks or less.)
Once Jersey forbade me to enter the island on the Business Visitor’s visa (initially, it approved it, but then changed its mind a few times) my list of options for entering the country narrowed — greatly.
The UK has heavily restricted writers from entering the country in recent years (to be fair, this seems to be in response to the U.S. doing the same to Britons). This means I have been forced to comb through a netherworld of obscure visas that may or may not allow for my return. Remember, other journalists may travel to the UK on the Business Visitor’s visa, but I was denied the ability to do this.
And, yes, I feel I was targeted. Finding another way to the goal of visiting the UK has been a yearlong process.
Feeling grateful for supporters in the UK and around the world who have demanded my UK travel ban be overturned. Because of you — and the help of UK Member of Parliament John Hemming, it expires today.
To mark the ban’s one-year anniversary, Trevor Pitman, member of the parliament of Jersey (the British Crown dependency where I was conducting research before I got the boot) launched a petition on Change.org, urging the UK government to restore my UK Tier-1 visa.
Without this, it is unlikely I will be able to finish my work. Please, if you believe in defending a free press, take 10 seconds to sign this petition. Surrounded by ocean, Jersey has been isolated in its struggle for a free and fair democracy for far too long. It should be able to welcome journalists, not ban them.
For hundreds of years, Jersey was torn asunder by the territorial pissings of England and France — an accident of geography, really, since the island lies in the English Channel between the two countries. As a result, its roads all have very long, ornate French names, but the people of the island speak the Queen’s English.
Another result: the island has an institutional memory of war, not excluding its status as a major base for Germany in WWII (which regarded Jersey as a great jumping-off point for the final showdown it was planning with Britain). Because of this, Jersey has learned to be extremely wary of outsiders.
Jersey: Tiny, But Complicated
Jersey is a self-governing, parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy with its own financial, legal and judicial systems. Its currency is pegged to the British pound, but it prints its own money, votes for its own senators and makes its own laws. Indeed, Jersey has an extremely polished external image that has earned it a very high ranking among the world’s tax havens, but internally its democracy appears to be foundering.
As someone who fell in love with Jersey when I was living in the UK, I have friends on the island and found myself looking into the problems there. A flashpoint in my research was the scandal surrouding an orphanage called Haut de la Garenne, where unspeakable violence, abuse and possible murder took place against children for decades — and yet the government did not stop it. An investigation finally undertaken in 2008 was shut down and the chief of police was suspended — twice — which seemed gratuitous. Those who stood accused largely went untried, but when the island’s health minister objected to this — and would not stop objecting — he was jailed. Also twice. Some of those who were labeled “priority suspects” by the island’s police are now working in high-level government positions in health and education where they continue to have indefensible access to children.
Exactly one year ago today, I was banned from the UK as a result of my research into these events. I have continued my work from the U.S. and have had many outstanding supporters in the UK who have kept me going. Among them are Deputy Trevor Pitman, a member of Jersey’s Parliament, who put up a petition today in support of my return. If you believe in the power of the press and the right of even a very small, insular island to stand up for its democracy, please sign this petition (ten seconds) and spread the word. My ability to do my job in this case depends on it.
Today, my travel ban will expire due to the efforts of UK Member of Parliament John Hemming.But I will not be able to work safely until my UK visa is restored. Hence, the reason for Deputy Pitman’s petition (which, if you haven’t signed it yet, again, here it is: http://chn.ge/QCp7qy).
In addition, a group of Jersey citizens — including bloggers, current and former elected officials and concerned residents of the island — have issued a statement of solidarity this afternoon. It is their hope that by joining forces online, where they can best reach the international community for help and support, they can make a stand in defense of their island’s democracy. Featured on the Web site of Neil McMurray, one of the lead bloggers, I have posted their statement here:
Jersey’s Citizen Solidarity
Today is not a day to focus on right-wing versus left-wing politics, but the difference between right and wrong.
When a democratic government abuses its substantial legal, legislative and financial powers to crack down on journalists’ freedom of speech, force policemen and elected officials from their jobs and systemically dismantle its own checks and balances so as to deny each of its targets due process, clearly it is a government that has lost its way.
Jersey, the jewel in the crown of the Channel Islands, may be one of the world’s leading offshore financial centres, but it has begun to use its clout against its own people –and it is keeping the rest of its population in the dark about it. This is now a place where court and legislative records – those that are public anyway – can now be redacted. This is an island where secret trials are now allegedly taking place and elected officials are forced to debate key issues in secret. Web content is banned and journalists booted out. This is not the way a democratic government is supposed to be run.
Again, this is not about politics. It is about standing up for truth, honesty and integrity. It is about restoring the good name of our beautiful island whose reputation has been dragged through the mud by those attempting to cover-up the facts surrounding some of the most heinous crimes known to man – crimes of violence against children. Crimes the vast majority of islanders would never defend, yet most of those who stand accused of committing them have not been brought to justice and continue to walk among us and our children. Worse, these alleged perpetrators remain entrenched in some of the very highest echelons of Jersey’s government –working in departments that focus on children. It is beyond comprehensible.
On an island where children in need of care have been let down by the government for decades – and continue to be let down – we cannot afford to ignore or repeat our mistakes. More broadly, challenging the government’s current decisions, particularly when not made in the best interest of the public, should not require bottomless financial resources and friends in high places. We are supposed to be a democracy, right?
With our checks and balances hamstrung, the international and independent media may be our last chance at reclaiming our democracy and re-establishing rule of law.
Today, Jersey politician Deputy Trevor Pitman launched an e-petition on Change.org in support of the return of U.S. investigative journalist and author, Leah McGrath Goodman, to the island to continue her research into decades of child abuse at Jersey’s state-run “care”homes and allegations of cover-ups in the wake of the government’s removal of the chief of police and shut-down of the investigation.
One year ago today, Ms. Goodman was banned from the UK and Jersey for two years after revealing to the Jersey Customs and Immigration Service during a voluntary meeting that she was writing a book on atrocities against children at Haut de la Garenne. According to the UK Border Force, she was flagged by Jersey Immigration authorities for removal upon her next border crossing – and that is exactly what happened. After the intervention of UK Member of Parliament John Hemming, the ban was reduced to one year and it expires today, 11 September 2012. That said, the UK and Jersey have so far declined to restore Ms. Goodman’s visa or allow her cross the border to continue her research. In order to do so safely, she will need to have her Tier -1 visa status fully restored – hence, the reason for Deputy Pitman’s e-petition.
Leah McGrath Goodman should be permitted to complete her work in order that there is an accurate record based on the available facts and evidence. Jersey needs to confront the failings of its past so it can redress them and, most of all, ensure the safety of our children’s future.
We ask readers who care about the island’s children, who care about the island’s reputation, who believe in a free press and who want the truth to be told to sign Deputy Pitman’s e-petition. We also ask fellow bloggers to copy and paste this blog onto their own Web sites so that we may show the world that Jersey wants the best for its future and its children. It is time to leave our island’s culture of secrecy behind and demand the kind of free and open society our island deserves. Those who would do otherwise are not representative of the majority of islanders.
Please spread the word and sign this petition. The Internet is the one thing Jersey authorities have not been able to lock down. For those who tweet this campaign, please use the #FreeJersey hashtag.
While Jersey may try to keep journalists out, it cannot keep us for letting the truth in.
My close friends — Jonathan and Vahni — flew from London to Jersey this winter to oversee the packing of my things, mostly personal belongings and papers, after the Jersey authorities flagged me for removal at the UK border following my research into the Haut de la Garenne scandal.
These things also included fancy dress shoes, which were of apparent interest to the authorities.
The boxes arrived in the U.S. many weeks later, slashed open by X-Acto knives and in some cases (such as the box pictured below) ripped open by human hands. The boxes arrived with a form stating that a “contaminant” was found inside, but it did not say what that contaminant was. Frankly, it’d be nice to know.
Below, a transcript between Vahni and the United Parcel Service, which was entrusted with my packages, hinting that the possibility of poisonous UK-Jersey soil on my dress shoes had established grounds for a lengthy search of my belongings. All of which makes one wonder why we are allowed to walk off planes in street shoes after taking international flights?
Based on the fact all the boxes were opened and the shipment arrived weeks late, we can only deduce someone had a very strong interest in going through my stuff.
Initial Question:Receiver [Leah McGrath Goodman] has just told me that ALL packages opened/damaged. Things actually spilling out of them. They were just left at side door without knocking. They were delivered after the promised delivery date.
UPS Sammy A.: Hi, this is Sammy A.. I’ll be happy to assist you! Vahni: As you can see – not happy!
UPS Sammy A.: I need to connect you with a representative who can track your international package. Can I connect you now? Vahni: yes please UPS Sammy A. has disconnected. UPS Ursula P.: Hi, this is Ursula P.. I’ll be happy to assist you. Vahni: can you see my prior chat? Very unhappy with the condition of shipment.
UPS Ursula P.: Yes, I can see the prior chat. Just a moment while I review your tracking information. Vahni: there are 7 packages in that shipment. ALL were opened and not reclosed securely. Vahni: And were left at side door without knocking to see if anyone was there to receive them. UPS Ursula P.: Please give me a couple of minutes to check what happen with your packages and i will also find out about the delivery. Vahni: We’ll be checking carefully through the items to see if anything is damaged or missing. Vahni: if so, what is the procedure for filing a claim? UPS Ursula P.: I understand that you need to know about this packages. I would need a couple of minutes to find all the information for this packages. Would that be okay with you? Vahni: Yes. Basically I need to know why they arrived in such bad condition UPS Ursula P.: Thanks, Just give me a moment. UPS Ursula P.: Thanks for your patience. I review all the information of this tracking number in the system. The system shows that your package was held by the U.S. Customs Agency. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) required the package to be cleaned and disinfected the 11 pairs of shoes. Soil from another countries is not allowed to enter the USA. the customs inspector cleaned and disinfected the shoes. Then the package was back to UPS for delivery.
Vahni: Yes. but all the shoes were in one box. All the boxes were opened, and not reclosed properly. Vahni: Things were poking out of them. Vahni: Why? UPS Ursula P.: I am sorry.
I was in fifth grade the year of the Chernobyl disaster. I watched with morbid rapture all the great nuke movies — Silkwood with Meryl Streep, Marshall Brickman’s Manhattan Projectand Hal Hartley’s Trust (which is as amazing as it is impossible to find). I grew up believing that nuclear energy — despite being low-carbon and, well, cheap — was most definitely not the answer to the world’s energy problems. But then Jean-Christophe Nothias, editor-in-chief at The Global Journal, asked me to do the story excerpted below. Here’s why my entire worldview on nuclear changed.
Since 2001, a project has been underway to determine ‘alternative’ nuclear technologies, conducted by a large group of scientists from over 15 nations. The list of specifications is very demanding, but with a simple objective: can science provide radical new solutions to allow us to dispense with ageing second- and third-generation nuclear technologies? The group came up with a set of discoveries promising remarkable advances. So, why does no one talk about them? Nuclear energy, it seems, remains a sensitive subject at the global level. Our reporter, Leah McGrath Goodman, decides to throw some light on the matter.
A Strange History
It is a little-known fact that the heavily guarded, Cold War-era fortress that houses the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Washington is named after – as one official jokes without a trace of irony – “a deeply depressed man.”
That man, General James Forrestal, former Secretary of the U.S. Navy, died in 1949 under strange circumstances. Depending on whom you believe, he was either assassinated or committed suicide by tying the end of a bathrobe sash around his neck, the other to a radiator, and throwing himself out of a hospital window. His body was found, shirtless, on a ledge, in an alley. The investigation into his death was marred by rumors of foul play, but he apparently left a suicide note… Continue reading Picking Your Poison→
When I was 29 and first embarking on my writing career in London, I discovered a beautiful island off the coast of England that I would return to many times in the years to come. Jersey not only has heavenly beaches and culinary delights, but the people of the island are some of the loveliest I have known. After a busy week in the City, a puddle-jump flight could see me there in less than an hour, soaking up the sun on the white sands under wildflower-draped cliffs. The island’s locals would sometimes hint that Jersey’s pristine exterior belied a dark side. But I couldn’t imagine it. How could a place with such warm people have a dark heart?
When I returned to the U.S. in late 2008 with my first book contract, it came as a shock when I witnessed, from a distance, Jersey’s horrific child abuse scandal. Day after day for weeks, I watched the deputy chief of police, Lenny Harper, give interviews to a crush of international press outside the shuttered orphanage of Haut de la Garenne. Harper seemed increasingly alarmed over the human remains his team was finding inside, although what to make of them was hotly debated by the media.
The islanders, who are quiet people, were quietly devastated. The notion that, for decades, their children’ homes might have been used as a sexual cafeteria for the rich and privileged – as hundreds of the victims contended – was distasteful in the extreme. During the probe government officials repeatedly stated that they fully intended to run a thorough investigation. Yet, within months, Harper and his boss, the island’s head constable, Graham Power, had been smeared by the local newspaper, The Jersey Evening Post, as unfit for their jobs and driven from the island. Their main advocate, Senator Stuart Syvret – then-health minister and one of the island’s most popular politicians – also found himself under siege, eventually sacked and jailed twice. The cases made against each man were as flimsy as the headlines were flashy.
It seemed that anyone who attempted to stand up for Jersey’s underprivileged or conduct a proper investigation into their treatment soon found themselves in the fight of their lives.
Evidence found at Haut de la Garenne – including bones that were “fresh and fleshed” before being burned and dozens of children’s teeth with the roots still on them in the furnace area – was turned over to a new police chief who downplayed its significance but also admitted to throwing some of it out. As an investigative journalist, I found it hard to understand how this could possibly inspire confidence. It seemed the situation needed to be looked at by someone without an axe to grind or an ass to save.
After I passed in my first book, which also focused on cultures of corruption (The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked The World’s Oil Market, HarperCollins 2011) I began to travel to the UK on a regular basis to conduct interviews with the victims, senators and law-enforcement officials.
While Big Oil is always active during an election season, this year news and radio shows have been particularly shameless about airing back-to-back commercials propounding the virtues of oil and gas. Just yesterday, Sunday’s lineup featured a parade of ads from the American Petroleum Institute — the Washington lobby for Big Oil — hailing oil and gas companies for paying for health care and schools and saying they have created 9.2 million jobs nationwide. It did not offer any independent sourcing to back up those claims, but I am guessing it’s safe to assume we can trust them?
If an oil company is building a school, frankly, I would like to know about it. I am still waiting to hear back on the name and location of these schools. Or even just one school.
Sunday is the major news networks’ time to roll out their TV version of The New York Times Sunday section. On “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” a commercial break featured the American Petroleum Institute, Chevron and British Petroleum — in a row.
Pandering To Oil And Gas
While it’s no secret news shows are increasingly desperate for cash, this gives the impression that some shows are literally for sale. If that’s true, it is a bad time for it, as this country is in dire need of objective, non-ad-fueled journalism. The Fourth Estate is the last barrier against obfuscation and corruption and, lately, it is not doing the greatest job of keeping its head above the fray.
If news outlets don’t take seriously the need for diverse messaging not only in the content of their programming, but also when it comes to their commercials, it isn’t that different from narrowing the conversation to hard Orwellian limits. Here, an example of what really happens during an American Petroleum Institute commercial shoot that purports to feature “real” Americans.
So, onto the commercials themselves (which were hilarious if you could ignore for one second that a single member of the viewing public might actually believe them).
A tip to the Big Oil marketing agencies: if you are going to make a misleading ad, try to not make it so hysterical.
Surreal Oil And Gas Ads
Among Sunday’s procession, the American Petroleum Institute managed to look the least ridiculous (which is kind of like complimenting someone for being the world’s tallest midget), while Chevron’s ad featured a young blonde woman, supposedly a Chevron employee, making intense statements about how “proud” she was of the company for investing in American concrete and American steel (a little too weird).