July 14, 2007

L.B.o.C., his Life of Crime?

Some of the commentary running up to the verdict seems a little overblown. Yet another piece (by Linda Diebel, who usually has better things to occupy her mind) on whether Lady Black will cut and run if Conrad is sent to Durance Vile? Evidence suggests it's unlikely, (which is L.D.'s conclusion as well), since she hasn't already, in any case why speculate? We'll know soon enough. But this passage simply jumps the shark:

"The horror, the horror," said Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness, and there is no question that Lady Black has peered into the same black maw. (Will she even remain Lady Black now there is pressure in Britain to strip Black of his peerage?)
--Linda Diebel, Toronto Star, July 14 '07

I have to doubt whether Barbara or Conrad (both of whom have cracked a fair number of books) would be in the least impressed by the sheer inept bathos of this literary allusion. Surely if anyone Lord Black, who's the one potentially doing time, would be facing that black maw. But culpable memories of massacres, with heads left on pikes for a demonstration? By no stretch of the imagination is Black contemplating a life gone so desperately far off its initial moral compass (such as it was) as that, and analogy with the Lady Black is even more farfetched. Kurtz's terror in the face of a death that resembled the death-in-life he'd descended to, had to be more considerable than Barbara Amiel Black's at being possibly subtracted from the nobility section of the British social register. (I must say they're getting finicky if Lord Black of Crossharbour's in danger of being crossed off their list. Time was if you wanted anything from a knighthood up, you'd pretty much better have ten to twenty years as a cutthroat pirate on your resume. Now suddenly it's the twenty first century and what? a mere conviction for fraud's enough to get you struck off their honour roll?)

Maybe the same can be said of a think piece on whether his upcoming sentence, if severe as the law allows, would be "cruel and unusual punishment". This, as they say in courtroom drama, calls for speculation. Will Bush pardon him as he did Scooter Libby? This is about the most ludicrous of the suggestions I've heard (and hasn't been made, to the best of my knowledge, in print--I heard it in elevator conversation). a) There's no political hook to a pardon for Lord Black; b) the Bush administration does favours for American citizens, not the Canadian or British variety; c) do you really imagine the two are at all close? I certainly wouldn't assert with definacy that Bush has never been on the guest list at a Black party, but I hardly think he'd have been seated above the salt. Politics makes strange cocktail mixers, but Lord Black and a man of whom it's darkly rumoured that one time, in the distant past, he spoke aloud a sentence of his own devising that was coherent and syntactically correct from beginning to end? in consideration of which he was allowed to graduate Yale? I can't see Bush and Black ever having been really tight.

But James Stribopoulous (quoted by Tracey Tyler, Toronto Star, July 14 '07) has a point:
"I don't think someone like Black, who is a nonviolent, first-time offender should go to jail for the rest of his life."
(Which is likely? Don't know, but it's certainly possible.)

Oh, I wouldn't go so far as to say Ken Lay or his cronies-in-fraud at Enron were non-violent criminals, not when shareholders and employees lost every penny they had and were hobbled with debt besides, only because they took these gentlemen at their word. I don't think the despicable hooligans behind the S&L scandal were nonviolent criminals either: you'd be hard-pressed to find a gangbanger as icily calm in his violence. But if Conrad Black was guilty of fraud, he wasn't guilty of defrauding people whose losses stripped them of houses and possessions and faced them with the live prospect of starving, or eking out scanty livings begging on our notoriously charitable streetcorners. Someone refresh my memory, how many years on average did the S&L criminals spend in jail? How much of the money they'd casually appropriated and squandered were they required to restore to their destitute victims? How many of those victims survive to this day on the kindness of strangers and the warmth on cold nights of sewer grates, and how many no longer survive? no: on that scale Conrad Black certainly isn't a violent criminal. In my view the only reason for ever imprisoning anyone for fraud is that the proceeds are most often too widely and thoroughly dispersed for restitution to be made. Proper penalty in a case of this kind would be full payback plus perhaps a fine of ten percent of the amount of the misappropriation as determined by court of law. Jail time on top of that? useless expense to the state, adds to the problem of congestion in prisons, gains us nothing except an easy satisfaction of our punitive, hence highly moral values. The fact that there might be 10,000 people in prison , poorer, less well-represented at trial*, who it's equally useless to imprison gives no reasonable grounds to make Conrad Black the 10,0001st.

*Now wait a minute--let's think this through. Good representation in Conrad Black's case? Expensive representation for sure, but Edward Greenspan's win record in court would be a mediocre batting average.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

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