Category Archives: banking

When Journalism Works

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.

Because of them, I have just returned from my first trip to the U.K. and Jersey since my 500-day travel ban and warmly welcomed by U.K. Parliament.

Journalists from The Guardian, BBCSunday Express and VICE magazine, in addition to Jersey’s Team Voiceled by citizen journalist-cum-bloggers, Neil McMurray and Rico Sorda, contributed to my pieces on this blog and in CNN/Fortunepaving 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.

Journalists for Jersey

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.

The reason the inquiry has taken some time is somewhat understandable. Jersey’s economic position is delicate… Continue reading When Journalism Works

Celebrating One-Year Anniversary Of My UK Ban

Last picture in Jersey (before being banned)

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.

#FreeJersey: A Small Island Fights For Its Democracy

The Jewel Of The Channel Islands

Almost everyone has heard of New Jersey, but few people have heard of “old” Jersey — the 5-by-9-mile island just off the coast of France that belongs to the British Crown and is best known for its wonderful Jersey cream, cows and potatoes.

What it is less known for: Jersey stows more tax-shelter money than any other offshore financial center on the planet.  (That’s right, more than the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Islands, you name it.) In fact, name any global bank or quote-unquote paragon of finance and it will almost certainly have some kind of presence here.

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.

Jersey’s Campaign

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.

 

Anarchy In The UK?

Haut de la Garenne, Jersey, 2011

The following story was commissioned by The Guardian after I was detained, questioned and banned from the United Kingdom in the wake of research for my next book in the Channel Islands, a $1 trillion tax haven off the coast of England. Many of you have asked what I have been working on — this is what I have been working on. My misadventures, along with those of several others whose names I am honored to see mine beside, are cited in The Guardian’s print edition today. I am fine, although I may now be the only member of the London Speaker Bureau not allowed to speak in London. I will truly miss the UK’s savory fish pies.

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.

This is where my own troubles began… Continue reading Anarchy In The UK?

Q&A With The Global Journal: Oil Trading And The Casino Syndrome

Happy National Pancake/Leap Year/Week before Super Tuesday Day, all. It has been a turbulent past few months and not just in the oil market. I will get into why very shortly but, for now, let’s just say that after a long and dark winter, I am once again available for dancing in the streets. Without any further cryptic remarks, I’d like to share an interview I just did with The Global Journal, based in Geneva, which rang me up to discuss ‘The Asylum’ and what the future holds for the energy market and gas prices during this, our illustrious Election Year.

(Q portions courtesy of Janine Huguenin-Virchaux, the magazine’s books and culture editor.)

Your book mentions that “the market is no longer reflecting supply and demand.” What is the use of a market that does not reflect the true price of oil? Do we need new hijackers?

That’s a great question – do we need new hijackers? If we could get some hijackers that could take back the market so that it does reflect supply and demand more clearly, then I would say yes, we do! However, I would also say that there is a serious debate going on about the extent to which price does reflect supply and demand. I think there is very good reason to believe that the price does not reflect it anymore. There is also a very technical reason for what has been going on that has not really been acknowledged or understood by many people. And that is the relationship between speculation and price discovery. A lot of the information that I get is from people who read the book and then they come to me and bring me stuff that nobody seems to really know about.

A lot of these guys are just regular traders who trade physical oil and feel that supply and demand is not reflected in the price correctly anymore. Whereas their entire lives – some of these men and women have been trading oil for thirty years or more – they feel the price did reflect it. So they believe there’s a huge difference in what they are seeing today in terms of the market fundamentals versus the price. And what they used to do was see price and fundamentals fit together better. They see a lot of distortion happening now. A lot of these people are concerned with that. I want to say, it’s not all about making money for these people: some of them look at this and say “Oh my God, it’s not acting the way it used to anymore and it doesn’t look like it’s headed anywhere good.” And that is aside from the fact that trading has become so ferocious that it is more about preserving a global casino than about supplying oil to people who need it.

That’s the problem. The casino aspect overshadows everything. Most of the people who play this game don’t want oil. They just want to play the game.

What is the alternative? I mean, these are the people who are speculating on the price of oil. Is there anything that can change to make it different? To make it less casino-like?

Yes, I think so. I am considering writing about this much more, the nature of speculation… Continue reading Q&A With The Global Journal: Oil Trading And The Casino Syndrome

Final Words From U.S. Bank Watchdog Sheila Bair

Castle on the Fuschlsee

Not all banks are the same. A handful of banks — such as the one that invited me to speak in Austria this autumn– were not happy to see the multibillion-dollar bailouts, the hue and cry of the public and the resumption of the indefensible bonuses on Wall Street that have, again, given banks a bad name.

I had never been to Salzburg before, so I was heartened to see another American there who had not been either: Sheila Bair, the outgoing head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the federal agency that insures bank deposits and unwinds the banks that fail. Bair has been very busy these past few years.

Bair was the only other female speaker in a sea of bank governors, finance ministers and consultants from a wide range of European nations. What united the group, however, was a sense of urgency in examining the origins of the global debt crisis and its possible solutions. A prominent boutique bank in central and eastern Europe, Erste Group, held a series of panel discussions at a private castle in the Alps on Lake Fuschlsee with provocative titles such as “Who needs banks?” (The answer, according to the moderator, was that we would like more “normal banks, banks that take our deposits and don’t try to gamble with them.”)

Ms. Bair offered her own pearls of wisdom in a keynote speech sizing up the banking system and the current state of the world’s financial affairs from the perspective of a Washington insider:

– On the highly popular banking credo of profits will be privatized; losses will be socialized: “There is still an issue with Wall Street’s perception of too big to fail,” Bair says. “The problem is, too big to fail is not over until Wall Street thinks it’s over. I have argued that the ratings agencies should not be rating banks more highly than they deserve, based on the expectation they will be bailed out. It is unfair for the taxpayers to have to put their money at risk again.”

– On bank bonuses: “We have got to do something about these huge bonuses…We are still seeing huge political movements based on the anger generated from this. We do need some tough love to address this.”

– On the fight over the U.S. debt ceiling (our nation, by the way, now owes over $54.5 trillion): “I am not going to defend our politicians…it was appalling, unnecessary and self-imposed,” Bair says, adding: “I am not going to defend it and I feel somewhat helpless about it. It’s a very sad situation.”

– On U.S. politicians primarily being driven by “short-term interests” and “the idea of driving decisions based on keeping your job” (her words): “It’s not like you get into public service for the money, so if you’re not doing the public good, it’s like, why are you doing this?'” Bair, who has worked for George Bush senior and Bob Dole — both military men — offered her suggestion for a better type of leader: those who have gone to war. “If you are willing to go to war for your country, then you’re not just willing to lose your job, you’re willing to sacrifice everything.”

– The prognosis for global growth and stability… Continue reading Final Words From U.S. Bank Watchdog Sheila Bair

Dear The Fed: You Suck

I was cleansing my inbox today and found this friendly letter to the Fed from 2007 written by our comrades at Long or Short Capital (vaguely connected to our own fake hedge fund, Intergalactic Capital). I was all ready to take a whimsical walk down memory lane, since 2007 was the year before our  financial meltdown. Yet strangely, this missive does not seem dated.

To: The Fed
From:
Long or Short Capital
Re:
You suck

Dear the Fed,

You suck.  You don’t have a backbone and as a result you are slowly and very surely making our country and our currency irrelevant.  Usually the masses rebel and bring down great empires but luckily for us democracy fixed that problem.  Unfortunately, democracy can’t fix how lame and fickle you are and so you will be our ruin.

A few things to tell you:

1) Inflation isn’t 2% like your pathetic CPI ex-Food & Energy says it is.

First of all, as far as I can tell food and  energy are the only two items you should NEVER exclude from an inflation index.  Tell your wife and kids they can have everything in the consumer basket except food and energy and you will quickly see that they are actually the two MOST important and indispensable factors in the CPI.

You can find substitutes for, or go without, everything in the basket EXCEPT those two.

Secondly, stop using “Seasonally Adjusted Intervention Analysis” it’s as sketchy as the  Seldom-Accepted-Accounting-Principles (SAAP) we use to cook the books here at LoS.  I mean writing a computer program to automatically remove any items in the basket which deviate meaningfully from the previous year?  Isn’t the point of the data to SHOW the change versus the previous year, not hide it?  Oh, I found the list of items that you’ve adjusted for and it’s embarrassing. Continue reading Dear The Fed: You Suck

Cash or Credit: A Stuffing Under the Mattress Vs. A Hiding in the Closet

It took longer than usual to take up the pen today. Probably because it was imperative to check out the “Every Single Outfit Catherine Wore on the Royal Tour” feature in the Huffington Post.

Having done that, I now turn to more important matters.

Like this cash-or-credit debate taking place in the papers. Financial vigilantes are urging consumers to cut up their credit cards and throw them away. One article in SmartMoney actually sounded the shibboleth: “I’m going all cash!”

To which readers had a range of emotional responses. Two encapsulating these:

“This is simply an irritating article. I am willing to bet $1000 that the author
is lying and in fact is still using his credit cards and not wandering around
paying for everything with cash. If you’re going to write an article, at least
please be intellectually honest. Do you think we are that stupid?’

And:

“Already living this dream. In fact it is a great reality to know that you owe nothing to anyone. We do not have credit cards either, we have covered that with an emergency fund. We own a house (no mortgage) and we have paid cash for all of our vehicles (no financing). As far as I’m concerned, living within your means and being debt free is the NEW AMERICAN DREAM.”

The most compelling reason for getting rid of your credit cards is obvious: ordinary folk have to pay 14% interest on average for them. Yet banks pay less than 1% whenever they feel like borrowing from the government (yes, that includes JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America — even Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which received “bank holding company” status during the credit crisis).

Kind of annoying that the Big Banks get to play with money for almost nothing, but not us Little People, isn’t it? Continue reading Cash or Credit: A Stuffing Under the Mattress Vs. A Hiding in the Closet

How Now, Gold Cow?

So, I wrote a book…but I have not been goodly enough to do much blogging about it. This was not intentional. This was mainly because of the furious pace of travel, lawsuits, the odd threat — and the fact that I was serving full time as a journalism fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder, trying to do my best to live a quiet life. I have since made amends, and will be writing regularly about my continuing fascination with sins of affinity and cultures of corruption. Healthy stuff like that.

Let’s start today with Goldman Sachs letting us all know that oil supply is headed for levels that are “critically tight,” sending prices in the U.S. up to nearly $100 again and in Europe still higher. This contrasts somewhat with the bank’s remarks in April that “supply-demand fundamentals are significantly less tight,” made by the bank’s chief energy analyst David Greely. At the time, this prodded oil prices into a temporary swan dive that proved a good buying opportunity for — some would say — Goldman. Mind you, oil supplies in the U.S. have been near their upper limits for most of the year, so not sure what the rumpus is about.

By May, however, Goldman pulled an about-face with its global head of commodities strategy, Jeffrey Currie, predicting that the loss of oil production due to the conflict in Libya would cause oil prices to surge. On cue, they did. Never mind that the Libyan conflict began in February, raging throughout Goldman’s projection of a price crash. Or that Libyan oil production has been a tiny drop in the global bucket (1.6 million barrels a day to the 20 million-plus a day consumed by the U.S. alone).

All told, Goldman’s prediction came just a few weeks after the bank told its clients to dump their oil investments. It makes one wonder which bank doubling as the world’s largest commodities trader was buying oil during that time? Continue reading How Now, Gold Cow?

Quote from a great piece in this month’s Vanity Fair, penned by the illustrious Mr. S…

“Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself—one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0 percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest. When you look at the sheer volume of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent in this country, it’s tempting to see our growing inequality as a quintessentially American achievement—we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level. And it looks as if we’ll be building on this achievement for years to come, because what made it possible is self-reinforcing. Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth.”

– Joseph E. Stiglitz, economist and Nobel laureate