Category Archives: generally embarrassing events

Part I: How To Harass A Journalist

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FEBRUARY 2012

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.

 

 

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?

Sunday’s News Shows, Brought To You By Big Oil

Gold Bricks: An Interesting Backdrop For The American Petroleum Institute Sign

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).

The BP commercial, however, took the cake… Continue reading Sunday’s News Shows, Brought To You By Big Oil

Oil and Gas Politics: Just The Nonpartisan Facts

I’ve been writing a series for Fortune in recent weeks tackling questions like, if the U.S. is now selling more petroleum products than it is buying for the first time in more than six decades, why is most of the country paying around $4 a gallon for gas? And if 30% of U.S. oil is drilled from federally owned lands and territories (read: areas owned by us, the taxpayers) why are we not being paid competitive rates for them by the oil companies? 

With the Senate recently voting down a measure to eliminate billions of subsidies for Big Oil, for those not looking to attack either Republicans or Democrats, the 1% or the 99% – just those operating on common sense – it should raise some questions.

Between 2007 and 2010, more than 70% of the increase in U.S. oil drilling took place on federal territories, representing 3.5 million barrels a day, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. Since then, oil drilling in the U.S. has climbed higher, topping 6 million barrels a day  this spring for the first time since 1999.

The appeal of drilling in the U.S. has grown in recent years, as oil companies develop new technologies to capture energy resources locked in North America that were previously seen as out of reach. Big Oil also has grown wary of the legal and financial uncertainties that often plague their drilling activities in more exotic and restive regions, such as Venezuela and Nigeria, North Africa and the Persian Gulf.

Bottom line: drillers see America as the promised land compared with the dreary alternatives, because the U.S. is by far a safer and stabler place to do business.

Oil Still Fetches 1987 Rates

Yet Americans might be shocked to learn how much the oil companies are actually paying for the privilege to drill on taxpayer-owned territories. As of this writing, the starting bid for leases on parcels of land that allow an oil company to drill for 10 years is $2 an acre. Yes, the prices can get up into the thousands during the bidding process, but more often the land is sold for next to nothing.

And it’s been that way since 1987.

It is as though oil hasn’t budged from $20, the price per barrel the same year Bon Jovi released “Slippery When Wet” (no pun intended regarding the use of ‘slippery,’ however apropos.) Continue reading Oil and Gas Politics: Just The Nonpartisan Facts

PAST PERFORMANCE IS NECESSARILY INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RESULTS

S also stands for 'sinister,' 'scurrilous' and 'slippery'

It met rarely and whined often. It gave up before the actual deadline (Nov. 23). It sought to shear over a trillion off the national budget, but came up with peanuts. It inspired satire in the form of, among other things, superhero cartoons. It was the “supercommittee.” For these reasons and so many more, America’s elite political body truly lived up to its name in that was super-lame.

This again proves that when Congress gets together and can’t make a deal, guess what? Moving the date back and getting together again — on the taxpayers’ dime, replete with catered lunches — still doesn’t lead to a deal. Funny how that works.

Whenever confronted with the need to make an actual decision, Congress prefers instead to commence lengthy studies, probing inquiries and cerebral surveys — all of which require much munching and lunching and the drinking of fresh coffee and spring water — that rack up bills yet infrequently give rise to any answers… Continue reading PAST PERFORMANCE IS NECESSARILY INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RESULTS

How To Make Someone Else Swallow Your Losses, The Mastercourse

It’s official: when a Wall Street powerhouse suddenly collapses and (possibly) more than a billion dollars goes missing, it’s no longer just the ordinary taxpayer’s problem. Now, it has moved up the chain. Below, the piece I wrote today for Fortune on what traders do when you misappropriate their money.

While Occupy Wall Street was holding its two-month anniversary rally in Manhattan last week, traders were quietly mounting a rather more sophisticated version of OWS on their own. Call it Occupy Wall Street Bankruptcy Court.

FORTUNE — Big institutional investors are getting a taste of what many frustrated taxpayers experienced during the financial crisis: Being on the hook for losses of a major financial firm against their wishes.

This time, of course, it’s MF Global at the center of the dispute. A once-trusted brokerage with roots dating back to the 1700s, MF Global is now a bankrupt firm suspected of misappropriating customer funds to the tune of at least $600 million.

More than two weeks after MF Global’s Halloween bankruptcy filing, there are more questions than answers and a surfeit of conflicts in an investigation that should be aiming to restore the public’s confidence, but is doing the opposite. On Monday, the bankruptcy trustee for the case announced that there may be much more than $600 million missing from MF Global accounts — perhaps as much as $1.2 billion.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of trading capital and collateral were frozen without notice, dramatically disrupting the derivatives marketplace and ushering in a phalanx of federal prosecutors, regulatory agencies and forensic accountants working around the clock to determine where the missing money is. This, after a lawyer for MF Global assured a New York judge earlier this month “there is no shortfall.”

What’s different about this case?  One hedge fund executive summed it up best: “What is scary about MF Global is that there is no political will in this country to look out for people. Let this be a lesson that, if someone tries to steal from you, there is no one who is going to save you. I mean it is literally the most frightening thing that can happen in finance.”

Led by a sense of outrage — as well as the conviction that if they don’t look out for themselves, no one else will — investors have been pooling information and banding together to defend themselves for weeks. Continue reading How To Make Someone Else Swallow Your Losses, The Mastercourse

‘Unfortunately’ Hurricane Irene Does Not Elicit The Rapture

Madison Avenue minutes before Irene hit

In the end, it was all a little too anticlimactic. Despite the impressive turnout of Anderson Cooper at CNN, Shepard Smith at Fox News Channel, Brian Williams at NBC, Diane Sawyer at ABC and Scott Pelley at CBS, Hurricane Irene did not stick, stubbornly turning into a tropical storm before lashing New York City.

Those at the Weather Channel, who jumped on the story at the first sign of trouble in the tropics, could not hide their disappointment when the hurricane fell apart just before slamming into Manhattan — the disaster scenario they’d been hyping all week. “We’re not trying to scare you,” the Weather Channel’s Crystal Egger told viewers Friday. “We just want you to be prepared.”

As might be imagined, the doomsday forecasts riveted the city. In the days leading up to the storm, New Yorkers crammed every last bus, flight and train out of town — no buses or trains were left to any destination by midday Friday and a one-way flight to London from Newark on Friday night cost travelers as much as $10,000 a seat. (It will be interesting to see airlines’ quarterly earnings after so obviously gouging their passengers.)

Those who could not get out in time  — I was one of them — holed up and hoped for the best. At the Gansevoort Park Avenue hotel in midtown, where I hunkered down with a friend, the staff rationed out one glowstick per room and assured us the building had back-up generators. A swarm of wealthy refugees from the downtown “red zone” flooded its quarters — comically, with dogs, cats and birds in tow. Continue reading ‘Unfortunately’ Hurricane Irene Does Not Elicit The Rapture

Super Committee: Try And Say It With A Straight Face

'S' also stands for Sandbagged

Neither super, nor a committee. But it’s our un-super non-committee.

A few facts about this unholy union:

* There will be 12 members. Mostly picked for political reasons (read: not for their ability to actually fix what ails us).

* The 12 members have until November 23 to come up with $1.2-$1.5 trillion of budget cuts. Let’s just quietly move on and say no more about this joke deadline, shall we?

* The committee’s Republican members still don’t want to raise taxes; the Democrats still don’t want to slash entitlements. Funny how that works.

* Newt Gingrich thinks it’s a ‘dumb idea.’ And he knows a little bit about that.

* Everyone else thinks it’s a dumb idea. Not that our elected officials give a —-.

The most disturbing revelation about the birth of the Super Comittee: it confirms our worst fears about Congress — its own utter lack of awareness about how neither Americans, nor the rest of the world are buying into this false comfort — and what it truly believes about the simplicity of duping the national electorate.

When you ask yourself, ‘Why is America being run so poorly?’ consider it might be because our elected officials seem to think poorly of America.

We wouldn’t want members of Congress, who clearly think so highly of themselves, to have to run a poor operation.

Surely, they can move on to bigger and better things.

We should help them.

The Ascent Of Decline

The decline of ascent.

The shot across the bow in the Great American Decline came at the usual time: just before the weekend after the market closed on a Friday.

This time-honored tradition of announcing horrid things just as one tucks into Friday night was invented by flaks who believed — rightly — that nobody notices anything going on between 4:30 pm on a Friday and 9 a.m. on a Monday.

This hat trick does not always work. When Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating from ‘AAA,’ the highest rating possible, to ‘AA+’ this past Friday I was traveling through New York and working in offices on Park Avenue. In the streets, it was absolute bedlam.

Later, having dinner on Wall Street with friends it was the same.

This effectively strips the U.S. of its golden credit for the first time in history.

We have lost our standing in the world.

Debt Deal ‘Achieved’…By Leaving Tough Decisions To A Yet-To-Be-Convened Special Committee

Turns out it is not at all hard to find a picture of a sweaty wad of cash on the Internet.

The good news: in a deal yet-to-be-passed by either house, Obama and Boehner’s Raucous Caucus have finally agreed to raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion in two stages, in exchange for an equal amount of spending cuts — with $917 billion of the cuts to span the next 10 years.

How will the rest of the cuts be administered? By special committee. (That’s the bad news.) Why rush these cuts when we were all starting to have so much fun?

Part of keeping the fun going is that Americans will continue to live in the shadow of the sword. Due to a small proviso cleverly tucked into this legislation, if the special committee doesn’t come up with at least $1.2 trillion in additional cuts (the goal here, is actually more like $1.5 trillion in cuts) or Congress doesn’t agree to green-light them, something akin to martial law will kick in.

What will this look like? Think of a nail-bomb set in advance, designed to spray cuts to the military and Medicare if anyone makes one ill-advised move.

Basically, this part of the deal ensures that even you, the taxpayer, will be begging members of Congress to ratify every last spending cut, lest you dial 911 one day and find that nobody answers.

Hey, what’s a bill without a little blackmail?

Still, it is a sad state of affairs that the only way to get things done these days is to hold ourselves at gunpoint.

The bill is expected to be voted on today. Obama, for all his speeches, has been brutally cowed, again. Spending cuts reign supreme, while Bush-era tax cuts remain unchallenged. It is official: our president buckles like a belt.