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We Did It!

Before: Banned from the UK - The Official Stamp
After: Unbanned from the UK - Work Visa Restored

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Lastly, I’d like to acknowledge… Continue reading We Did It!

Q: A Journalist Traveling to the UK Should Use Which Visa?

A: In my case, the answer is one of these. Can you guess which?

Overseas domestic worker – private household £270
UK ancestry £270
Fisherman operating inside UK waters (dependent on contract of employment) £270
Off-shore workers £270
Sole representatives £270
Van der Elst Free
Swiss posted worker Free
Turkish national to establish in business Free
Fishy is a relative term

DECEMBER 8, 2012 AT 1:50 PM

PH SAYS:

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.

Now for the good news… Continue reading Q: A Journalist Traveling to the UK Should Use Which Visa?

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.

 

A Very Good Six Years

Today marks six years of writing as a free agent. When I hung out my shingle back in 2006, I wasn’t sure what it would be like to get up in the morning, walk into the next room (my office) and find my job waiting for me.

I wondered, would it be a matter of time before my writing turned into more of a hobby than a profession?

Actually, it was the other way around.

My home life, for a long time, disappeared. In its place was my writing life, only my writing life. During this time, the phone would ring at all hours with editors making frantic requests that frequently fell under the rubric of pie-in-the-sky. (This often would be something along the lines of, ‘We really love what you did with the contango piece, but do you think we could add a talking dog? We’d really love a talking dog.’ To which, I’d say, ‘Of course, how could I have forgotten the talking dog?’ And just as often as not, we’d never speak of it again.)

When I relocated to London, the New York editors’ calls would roll in past midnight. The hardnosed, salty-mouthed (usually male) editors were my favorite. I strongly preferred them to the pinched Barnard ladies who would fuss and fidget over every last accent aigu until their magazine was put to bed. It was a long time before I learned how to balance the steady stream of demands with a life that allowed for, among other things, regular meals, the occasional exposure to sunlight and sleep.

But it was worth it, because any topic I stumbled across I could make into a story. The world, I found, was full of maddeningly fascinating mysteries nobody else seemed to be noticing. On an Emirates flight to Dubai, I thought, how is it we are allowed to quaff champagne on a Muslim airline — and have Muslims serve us without breaking with their faith? This led to a series of feature-length articles on Islamic finance.

My first book proposal was written from snatches of time over many weekends, because it was impossible to do during the busy work week. Once I returned to New York in late 2008 with my first book deal, Wall Street was falling apart. Yet even with half the magazines I’d written for cratering, there were still plenty of stories to write about the crisis for the publications left standing.

Whether boom or bust, it has never been boring. This is the reason, I believe, so many executives on Wall Street can’t bring themselves to ever leave. Certainly, there is the realization that any sickness of mankind will be exacerbated there and duly amplified. That is unavoidable. But the genius is there too. There is a loneliness among the truly gifted that seems to find a home along the corridors of Wall Street.

I have talked to many people over the years who say they would like to leave. But for what? The money is good. But that’s not the main stumbling block. It’s more furtive than that. It’s a feeling that to remove oneself from the vortex of power would be to forevermore live life in the outback. The vortex is addictive. And, ultimately, it’s not really about the money. It’s about being an insider. To leave would be to become an outsider.

Unless, that is, you leave for politics. Because the fight here is not for money, but personal relevance.

Even for mere Wall Street writers, this is true (despite the fact financial journalists are outsiders by definition). I could very well write about art and wine and great, great literature. Sometimes I do. But artists and vintners and writers will never be as interesting as the people I talk to on Wall Street. Sooner or later I am going to ask a vintner how much artisan wine is pressed in California annually or what the yearly cash flow is of an average vineyard and I will get a blank stare. Faced with a dearth of quantitative facts, I cannot help but be crestfallen.

On the other hand, Wall Street is never so banal. One of my favorite hedge fund managers is into extragalactic physics and biblical textual analysis. Not for any reason. Just for fun. How can any writer walk away from that?

I was raised by an English teacher and an artist. They did all could to ensure that I would never be interested in finance. They discouraged me from taking an unwholesome interest in balance sheets, Beige Books, black swans.

But as soon as I found out about triple witching, it was all over.

 

 

The Boy Wonder At The Heart Of A Disaster

Something to inspire your Friday: The story of a 30-year-old from Sunrise, Florida, who’s defying Wall Street — and not getting hit with a nightstick for it.

Who is James Koutoulas and how did this 30-year-old end up leading the charge to recover more than $1 billion for customers from one of Wall Street’s biggest bankruptcies?

By Leah McGrath Goodman, contributor

FORTUNE — James Koutoulas walked into one of the worst bankruptcies in U.S. history with almost zero legal experience.

“When I got up the first day in bankruptcy court and saw the look on the judge’s face, I couldn’t blame him,” he says. “Bankruptcy court is a rich man’s club where everyone is old, so I stood out. Honestly, when I’m shaved, I look like I’m about 12.”

Yet Koutoulas, 30, may be one of the only former customers of MF Global, the now-defunct futures brokerage house, with the gumption to publicly object to the way they are being treated. Since filing for bankruptcy Oct. 31, MF Global’s woes have rapidly piled up – chief among them losing an estimated $1 billion-plus of customer funds. The loss directly crimped the wallets of some of the futures market’s most active participants, from small-time farmers to ranchers to hedge funds.

Koutoulas, chief executive of three-year-old commodities fund Typhon Capital Management, stumbled into the courtroom drama accidentally. His Chicago firm, which conducts the bulk of its business in the futures market, discovered shortly after MF Global’s bankruptcy that $55 million of its $70 million under management had been dragged into the proceedings. This was a surprise, because, by law, customer funds are supposed to be kept completely segregated from a brokerage firm’s own assets. That wasn’t the case with MF Global. For Koutoulas and tens of thousands of other MF customers, it was a rude awakening.

“My goal is real simple: getting everybody’s money back,” he says. Continue reading The Boy Wonder At The Heart Of A Disaster

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

A Certain Stylishness In Hating The Rich

In Marie Antoinette's days, the guillotine was called the 'National Razor.'

Our national discourse on the nature of wealth has been a good cure for sanity of late.

News that a book coming out from the surviving son of Bernard Madoff, mastermind of the largest Ponzi scheme in history, elicited comments from readers that could be called anything but charitable. Alongside an interview with Madoff’s wife, Ruth, whose picture speaks volumes about the toll the scandal has taken on her life — not in the least the suicide of her other son — are comments that plainly show how bitter the feud has become between the rich and the working class in our country. In response to Ruth’s claims of not knowing of her husband’s illegal financial dealings, readers wrote:

“What a bunch of lies. Anyone in the industry knows that the returns had to be made up…the sons knew it, the wife knew it, everyone knew it.”

“I do not think Ruth knew, but she strikes me as remarkably incurious and shallow.”

And:

“This is a woman who married at 18 and never took responsibility for her own financial security. True, she raised their children but she chose to ignore the choices made by her husband.  Now she claims to be a victim. I am sorry but I do not buy this. She chose to remain ignorant.”

Overlooked was this part of the interview, in which Ruth Madoff discusses falling in love with her husband, as it would inevitably inspire some modicum of humanity.

Aside from Madoff-venting, the debates rage about the solutions. At Occupy Wall Street, which I visited last week, you have, on the one hand, a number of concerned Americans questioning — or outright decrying — capitalism in all its trappings. They suggest that the only solution is to raze and rebuild the entire political and financial system.

Unfortunately, they are still experimenting with new models to offer in its place.

On the other, you have national leaders quick to denounce the financial crisis, but just as quick to vote down any new rules aiming to prevent a financial crisis in the future.

Two G-Men (Goldman, that is): Obama and Corzine wave for the crowd

Already, we are seeing the results of this splintering of the populace: we remain effectively paralyzed to redress our own fragility, forced to lurch from one crisis to the next. Large financial powerhouses continue to fail spectacularly as the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission and a smattering of other government agencies struggle to keep up with reports of unchecked theft, negligence and fraud amid budget cuts frequently meant to hobble them (as if the backlog of cases they’re drowning in wasn’t enough).

In the meantime, too much money in all the wrong places undercuts the healthy cleansing that might otherwise be achieved through a democratic elections process. As one hedge funder told me while in New York last week: “Nothing can pass C0ngress, because the Republicans believe all regulation is bad. They don’t want another financial crisis, but they don’t approve of any new rules either. They haven’t quite worked out their dogma yet.” And we know Obama and the Democrats, whatever the dogma, do not appear capable of executing a plan.

Last week, former U.S. senator, New Jersey governor and high-ranking Goldman Sachs executive, Jon Corzine, stepped down from a job he held for just over a year as head of the world’s largest futures brokerage house. The 200-year-old-plus brokerage, MF Global, handled traders’ transactions in the multitrillion-dollar futures market, where people bet on the future prices of everything from soybeans to gasoline to interest rates.

Corzine’s company, which sought to become a mini-Goldman Sachs, filed for bankruptcy after betting more than $6 billion on bonds tied to the European debt crisis and getting caught short. Corzine, a self-described son of an insurance salesman who grew up on a “small family farm” in Illinois, raked in hundreds of millions at Goldman as he ascended to its highest echelons after starting out as a bond trader there.

Given his trading background, Corzine very likely understood exactly what kind of risk his brokerage was taking ahead of its downfall. (“A good rule of thumb is, if the guy is not a former trader, he probably didn’t know what hit him,” the hedge funder told me over a nice-sized steak. “But if you’re a former trader, you get the joke. You probably wrote the joke.”) Continue reading A Certain Stylishness In Hating The Rich

Fortune Features ‘The Asylum’ As Weekly Read

Since publishing “The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked The World’s Oil Market,”  I have received a great deal of response (most of it in private correspondence and some in public forums, such as the press and in the courts, where I spent the better part of my summer languishing in sunless quarters).

You would think it would be the very traders about whom I wrote who would have caused the most trouble. This has not been so. On the contrary, most of them have been supportive to an unwarranted degree, including a rare few who have had every reason to be furious about what I wrote, but instead were reasonable.

Many of them also expressed a sincere belief that the global oil market has run off the rails and that prices are no longer set by supply and demand.

Enter the “market fundamentalist” academics, think tanks, lobbyists and politicians. These folks have been some of the worst offenders. What I have had difficulty understanding, mainly, is what they are getting on about and why. They certainly do not get paid well enough by Wall Street to justify the damage they cause by promulgating misinformation. Any money tossed their way is literally kibble, compared with what is being made off their backs. How much does a senator or academic cost? Not very much, I’m afraid. Continue reading Fortune Features ‘The Asylum’ As Weekly Read