A Tribute to Conrad Black

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Today they sentence Conrad Black, an event that I have waited for like a kid waits for Santa.

Mr. Black has maintained all along that the remaining convictions against him are rubbish and even offered his opinion that this is a fine example of how US justice functions as a wealth redistribution system.

I would call him Conrad here, except I don't know him, nor do I think he would consider me his buddy. I don't think he is a member of the British House of Lords anymore, so it has to be Mr. Black. Anything else would be disrepectful.

Here we have a guy named Conrad Black, from Canada, being sentenced for BIG TIME fraud and obstruction of justice by the US legal system. Many people in Canada are thinking, well it's about time! He got away with far too much shit here for way too long. Where were our watchdogs and enforcers?

Hollywood screenwriters are on strike as I write this. A name like Conrad Black might be too hokey for an grade 'A' Hollywood movie script. It's like having a lawyer named Lipschitz as a hired mouthpiece.

Interest in Mr. Black has waned but this is destined to change as soon as he has been sentenced.

There have been conflicting reports on how long (or short) the sentence may be. One thing is certain, the behavior and attitude of our favorite felon since his conviction has been a textbook case of when to impose a longer sentence.

No remorse, no respect for the process, and absolutely no admission that he may have done something wrong. He has outdone Jeffery Skilling, now serving 24 years for his role in the Enron fraud.

If delusion was an Olympic sport, Mr. Black would be a favorite for the gold medal.

I have found that the best source of entertainment on our fallen hero to be a blog by Toronto Life columnist Douglas Bell.

Mr Bell is a pretty good writer in his own right, but he also includes great web links from elsewhere. And there are reader comments that include links from, well, everywhere.

My favorites have included a YouTube audio clip by the distinguished Britsh Member of Parliament, George Galloway, and a wonderful article by Slate writer Christopher Hitchens.

I had never heard of George Galloway before!

I hope for the day when I can tell a story as well as Mr. Galloway does, or write one like Mr. Hitchens can.

Both of these gentlemen have true stories to tell about their dealings with the subject of this blog. We await sentencing.


originally posted August 9, 2007

(Editors note: This was my first BLOG page, and for a long time it was the only blog page.)

Once I found myself in England preparing to travel to India. It is wise to be immunized before travelling to India, as a protection against most every affliction known to mankind. You need to be jabbed, and more than once.

Not a happy camper

If you once lived in Canada, but have since renounced your citizenship, but now you want to return, except that you are a convicted felon in a country that you adore, it is also necessary to be jabbed.

This is no guarantee that you will be allowed back in. But it's a start, just like the punchline to that old joke about "Whadda call a couple of lawyers at the bottom of the ocean".

Uh... Genson and Greenspan? I digress.

Where's Conrad?

Where's Conrad?

I have a confession to make. I am a Conrad Black news junkie. My first activity of the day (after starting up the coffee machine) is to turn on the computer, click on Goggle News, and read the headlines.

If Conrad Black does not appear in the headlines, then I request a search for any article with Conrad Black in it, sorted by date, because I have already read everything previously posted.

I am not proud of this. There are better things I could do with my life. But I am an addict. Lately, I have been reduced to scraping for updates on Wikipedia.

I know there are fellow addicts out there. We need each other in times like. Our usual supply of salacious news has all but dried up. We await sentencing.

So here you go fellow junkies …, hope this helps. This is my JAB.

Conrad Black is a Hairball

I'm drawing inspiration here from that brilliant TV series Hill Street Blues. A certain character, Lt. Belcher (or something like that) would address the low-lifes that he had just apprehended as "Hairball". What Belcher lacked in vocabulary, he made up in the delivery. OK hairball, you have the right to remain silent…

It's not much, but we call it home

Hairballs are usually associated with cats. Most everyone who has had a pet cat is familiar with this concept.

Like the US justice system and it players, coughing up a hairball is a disgusting process of a vile product.

Some cats, such as the lion, at the top the food chain, have a fondness for sitting around, looking majestic, licking themselves, and waiting for some wounded zebra to feast on.

One of the emails authored by Conrad Black and presented at trial made some weird metaphor about wearing a hair shirt.

It seems only fitting now that we refer to our subject, henceforth, as Lord Hairball.

Freedom of expression

The best result of Lord Hairball's fraud and obstruction of justice convictions is that there is a new found freedom of expression in Canada, at least when it comes to the subject of Lord Hairball. It also helps that his ability to sue anyone and everyone for libel seems less likely, now that his cadre of sharks must focus on the sharks circling them.

Lord Hairball was well known for suing anyone who had a disparaging word about him. This is how it is in Canada. Our libel laws, derived from english common law, and virtually unchanged since, are a little rougher on the defendant than in England or the United States.

The truth is out there, we Canadians are just not allowed to hear about it. This is simply wrong, but I digress.

JR Ewing

Couple this with the fact that Lord Hairball became the largest newpaper publisher in Canada, with a ruthless reputation for firing newsroom staff, and you can understand the fear and loathing that most journalists and columnists here have for the man.

You could be fired and sued, in that order, for giving an informed and honest opinion of someone who makes ol' J.R. Ewing look like a choir boy.

The best primer for Lord Hairball's trial was Tom Bower's "Dancing On The Edge", published some six months before its start.

Tom Bower's Book

All of the good stuff presented in trail was chronicled in great detail in the book. But there were many other stories, anecdotes and interviews also included that are completely relevent to any informed opinion of Lord Hairball (but were out of bounds on the trial).

Lord Hairball, you see, has a very long history of dodgy deals and self serving behaviors.

You will hear from my lawyers

I am hoping that it is not lost on fellow Canadians that this book was published in England by a well established (read well financed) English writer who could, at least, weather the storm of Lord Hairball's wrath and expensive libel lawyers. He did have the advantages of publishing in tabloid-headline-crazy England. Things are different there.

Nonetheless, Mr. Bowers was served with an $11 million libel suit before the trial began.

Bootlicker journalism

Steyn looking stern Pete looking port

Lord Hairball does have his admirers. I think Mark Steyn and Peter Worthington are the high priests in this cult (sorry, special interest group).

Lord Hairball junkies will know who I am talking about. Claire Hoye is another disciple. Have a look at this column.

Facing the music, er, mircophones

Although the majority of Canadians think that Lord Hairball is finally getting his just dues, these writers are doing their level best to change our minds.

To be fair, they are columnists, not journalists; an important distinction. They have a right to their opinion, of course; just like they have every right to be a columnist even though they have shit for brains.

Lord Hairball wins accolades for being a great newspaperman and businessman! It is highly doubtful any of these writers owned Hollinger shares, and there is a probability they were handsomely paid, at some time or another, to write for one of Lord Hairball's publications.

Not all of his former hacks are of this opinion, though. Larry Derfner of THE JERUSALEM POST has a much different story to tell.

For deeper insights into Lord Hairball's regard for journalists see Black Envy

Other Hairball Links

CBC   TimesOnLine   Toronto Life

The Radler-Black business model

I was a long time subscriber to the Calgary Herald. It used to be a pretty good newspaper. My favorite sections were the comics, the editorials, and the frontpage news, in that order. But I would read them in reverse order, saving the best for the last.

It was usually the comics that best revealed the truth of situations.

When the Radler-Black team took over the Southam group, they followed the formula that worked so succesfully for them elsewhere. The newsroom staff was eviscerated and costs were cut.

Today, the Calgary Herald masquarades as a newpaper that whose main purpose is to deliver junky adverts and flyers to homeowners that have maiboxes that forbid junky adverts and flyers.

Forget about news. Don't expect to see anything resembling investigative journalism, especially if the subject is also an advertiser.

As for Lord Hairball the businessman? How about Massey Ferguson, Dominion Stores, Argus Corp. He is now referred to as the former newspaper baron. See a pattern here?

There were some very derisive comments about the jury and their verdict. That they were mostly women, overweight, they chewed gum, blew bubbles, bleached their hair.

Pleeeze! Give me a break.

Those members of the jury were much better at their jobs, at only $40 a day each, than some of the highly paid former directors of Hollinger, Unravel, SkimThis & Whatever Inc.

I'm willing to bet a weeks wages that most every lawyer in that courtroom earned more per hour that that whole jury did in a day. This is a travesty of the US justice system.

Then of course, there was that blue chip Toronto law firm Tory LLP., that offered expert testimony, by video, that sometimes lawyers make mistakes. I am assuming here that offering video taped testimony was at the advice of their own counsel. "Travelling to the United States and its territories is a little risky right now. Think of vacationing in Europe instead."

Here, take this

There are some that seem to think the obstruction of justice verdict has the best chance of being overturned on appeal. Perhaps they can argue that, there is no proper DNA trail; there is no glove, and if there is a glove, it does not fit.

Maybe they could establish reasonable doubt about whether it really is Lord Hairball in that video!

What is very sad about this whole affair is that Lord Hairball was allowed to get away with as much as he did for as long as he did in Canada. It was an english writer who best chronicled his life, and the US justice system that found him guilty of fraud.

Here in Canada, we give him an award, the Order of Canada!

Following this trajectory, if Telus and BCE merge to become the world leader in Bad Customer Service, we could elevate Michael Sabia and Daryl Entwhistle prime minister and president for life! Again, I digress

I believe it was Lord Hairball who coined the phrase "social safety hammock" in describing his dislike of Canada costly social programs. This was to the delight of good wife Barbara Amiel, who used it as fodder in her Macleans columns.

The hand that rocks the hammock…

Imagine my surprise, a few years back (1999), when I discovered that my marginal tax rate clocked in at over 58%, even though my income for that year was just a little over $50K.

There was this little sidebar window that appeared on my computer screen as I was preparing my income tax return for the year. One of the line items was my marginal tax rate.

The marginal tax rate is the amount of income tax that you pay for every extra dollar that you earn, after all income and deductions are taken into account.

…is the hand that shakes the wallet

An MTR of 58% meant that for every dollar I earned on my last paycheque in 1999, the government let me keep less than 42 cents!

And that was only the income tax. It did not include GST, property tax, educuation tax, healthcare or any of the other new buttf**k taxes they call user fees.

My first thought was "this could not be right". I am not rich, not even close. I had two kids, a big mortgage on a small house, and all these non-deductible expenses. There must be some mistake.

I was wrong.

The reason for this was that I had been sacked that year and collected some employment insurance. When my income exceeded $50K, I had to pay back almost all of the employment insurance I had received through an income tax clawback arrangement.

This is how taxes work in Canada.

Now we learn, from the trial, that Lord Hairball's reviled former socialist state allowed him to collect some $80 million tax-free through an oily arrangement called the non-compete fee.

Right, whatever, stand on guard for thee, and all that crap.

In all fairness, it must be said that the government has since closed that loophole and Lord Hairball was found NOT GUILTY on all counts of tax evasion.

Our government's own Employment Insurance program, at the time, was netting $7 billion more per year more than it was paying out to claimaints. If it were a business, this would have made it the most profitable insurance company in the world; $42 billion dollars in net profit over seven years.

The rationale for collecting so much from each workers paycheque has always been the rainy day fund. Except there is no fund. The excess billions collected end up in general revenues.

Establishment Man

It makes you wonder if Lord Hairball had a secret hand in developing our Employment Insurance program, especially that income tax clawback thingy.

Create a program that looks good, sounds generous, but is rather complex.

Then refuse to pay dividends to common shareholders, disqualify them as you wish, for whatever reason, and make them pay, somehow, for any benefits they receive.

Skim the fat profits off for yourself.

I'm breathlessly awaiting the column that suggests Lord Hairball and other establishment elites surely deserve such favorable tax treatment for their efforts in making this such a great country. It seems to take a lot of lawyers to make arrangements like these, and lawyers are not cheap, you know.

Something is not right here!

Let's face it. White collar criminal activity, high level corporate chicanary, tax evasion, and even politcal graft are low risk, high profit businesses in Canada. We would ask John Felderhof, formerly of Bre-X, but he was unavailable for comment, in a land far, far away.

We stand on guard for thee

The securites regulation in this country should be rebranded as the Keystone Cops Group. Then more people would understand what it is they do.

The RCMP are even a bigger bunch of clowns. Just look at their handling of Air India, the Mohammed Arar file, or their own pension fund management! If the RCMP were a business, it would already be bankrupt; it simply has no credit, and it has no use.

Journalists in this country have had the best track record for uncovering high level dodgy dealing. Unfortunately their numbers are diminishing as well, courtesy of the Radler/Black business model.

And you have to wonder about some who remain.

And let's not forget our own government complicity here! The Income Tax Act should be tossed out and rewritten. It should be a handbook, not a bible, and written in simple text, not legal mumbo jumbo.

The RCMP should also be scrapped (and replaced). The same goes for securities regulation.

In praise of Bubblegum Blondes

Conrad Black was tried in a US court by a jury, a process he was entitled to ask for.

Trial by jury is a curious concept in most of the world. Almost everyone is aware of it, thanks to American movies and television, but most judicial systems do not have it as an option.

Lord Hairball's jury was composed of 12 ordinary people that were obliged to be there, were paid a pittance for it, and had to endure four months of lawyers sorting flyshit from pepper.

Spot the hairball

The media had its heyday, especially with speculation on how qualified a jury of commoners might be in judging a man of such accomplishment, influence, fashion, and arrogance.

In the end though, that jury seemed to do an excellent job in deliberating, reaching their verdict and offering insightful, thoughtful, measured comments afterwards.

It's almost like the jury had this idea that they were charged with a serious responsibility. Courts tend to respect the decisions of the common folk that compose a jury, because common folk tend to rely on common sense when they have to make a fateful decision.

They use simple words like bullshit, even when Lord Hairball, his buddies, and their lawyers call it everything but what it really is.

It's like the jury had this notion that a careful decision was going to be the best decision; and that their decision might send a message, that it might make a difference.

Guess what? It did. The jury was right. The defendants were wrong.

A new order is needed

The term governance is as important in the boardroom, as it is in parliament, in a legislature, a chamber, a community hall, a home.

The better the governance, the lesser the conflicts. We strive for happiness, as a nation, a community, and as individuals or companies that are its members. With good governance we can survive and thrive. It's really that simple.

We elect our politician to write our laws. Our judiciary has the reponsibilty to apply reasoned and fair application of those laws in cases where laws and rights conflict with each other. This can be an expensive, lengthy, and necessary process. It happens often. It almost always involves too many lawyers.

It's scary how often the authorities have the wrong guy, or the right one gets away.

By the measure of this trial and the decision of this jury, I propose a new model of particpatory democracy here. This is only fair, since, until now, I have been advocating something that resembles total anarchy ;-)

Participatory Democracy

There are many qualified and competent judges and jurists out there, from all professions - teachers, accountants, engineers, journalists, to name a few, who have led decent honest productive lives, can understand all kinds of complexities and have the life experience to smell a rat.

Do we need people like this? You bet. Do we have people like this? Not a problem.

Our aging population provides a wealth of people who have the time on their hands, the wisdom of experience and would love an opportunity to make a difference.

Maybe you appoint these people; maybe you elect them; maybe both. Give them a job to do, not a career. Let them write laws, or sit in chambers in judgement of those laws, or make reccomendation of what laws we should have and which are rubbish.

The pay would be nominal, if it was necessary at all, the position would be an honour. There are lots of people that would like to do this sort of thing. They have children, grandchildren, family and friends,and a community they care deeply for.

The concept of serving the community may have been a foreign one to Lord Hairball, but most Canadians cherish this value for reasons that are both selfish and noble. It's the community we live in; the people around us are like us, and it really is a better place when we work together and treat one another fairly.

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