There is no substitute for a culture of integrity in organizations. Compliance alone with the law is not enough. History shows that those who make a practice of skating close to the edge always wind up going over the line. A higher bar of ethics performance is necessary. That bar needs to be set and monitored in the boardroom.  ~J. Richard Finlay writing in The Globe and Mail.

Sound governance is not some abstract ideal or utopian pipe dream. Nor does it occur by accident or through sudden outbreaks of altruism. It happens when leaders lead with integrity, when directors actually direct and when stakeholders demand the highest level of ethics and accountability.  ~ J. Richard Finlay in testimony before the Standing Committee on Banking, Commerce and the Economy, Senate of Canada.

The Finlay Centre for Corporate & Public Governance is the longest continuously cited voice on modern governance standards. Our work over the course of four decades helped to build the new paradigm of ethics and accountability by which many corporations and public institutions are judged today.

The Finlay Centre was founded by J. Richard Finlay, one of the world’s most prescient voices for sound boardroom practices, sanity in CEO pay and the ethical responsibilities of trusted leaders. He coined the term stakeholder capitalism in the 1980s.

We pioneered the attributes of environmental responsibility, social purposefulness and successful governance decades before the arrival of ESG. Today we are trying to rebuild the trust that many dubious ESG practices have shattered. 


We were the first to predict seismic boardroom flashpoints and downfalls and played key roles in regulatory milestones and reforms.

We’re working to advance the agenda of the new boardroom and public institution of today: diversity at the table; ethics that shine through a culture of integrity; the next chapter in stakeholder capitalism; and leadership that stands as an unrelenting champion for all stakeholders.

Our landmark work in creating what we called a culture of integrity and the ethical practices of trusted organizations has been praised, recognized and replicated around the world.


Our rich institutional memory, combined with a record of innovative thinking for tomorrow’s challenges, provide umatached resources to corporate and public sector players.

Trust is the asset that is unseen until it is shattered.  When crisis hits, we know a thing or two about how to rebuild trust— especially in turbulent times.

We’re still one of the world’s most recognized voices on CEO pay and the role of boards as compensation credibility gatekeepers. Somebody has to be.

Bank of America’s Record Settlement: The tsunami of wrongdoing and excess that caused barely a ripple of inconvenience at the top.

The indisputable economic (and moral) fact of our time is that America’s most wealthy, from whom capitalism’s CEOs, directors, guardians and gatekeepers  are drawn, not only allowed this torrent of financial chicanery and deception to occur, they profited handsomely from it.

These pages have voiced strong doubts over the years about the leadership and compensation practices that prevail at many of America’s corporations. Chief among the criticisms were that these plans provided incentives and rewards that caused companies to take improper risks which allowed CEOs to rack up huge gains in the short run while investors — and, ultimately, society — were left holding the costly bag of empty promises when reality came crashing down.

Take Bank of America, for example, which recently settled with the U.S. Justice Department by agreeing to pay a record $17 billion in penalties and restitution.  In the long history of American business, there has never been anything approaching this outsized penalty.  It stems from improprieties at Countrywide Financial, which B of A bought in another fit of misguided thinking, just before the onset of the Great Recession. There were also irregularities involving disclosures about its takeover of Merrill Lynch as well as with Bank of America’s own mortgage practices.

You might think that CEOs and boards are paid well for keeping companies out of trouble and avoiding these kinds of disasters.  Half of that observation is certainly true.  In the five years leading up to the crash of 2008 and the beginning of the worst recession since the Great Depression, B of A’s CEO Ken Lewis was paid more than $200 million.  Each of the bank’s directors awarded themselves a minimum of $1.5 million in the same period.  Many collected more.

When  he retired in 2009, Mr. Lewis walked away with a further $83 million in retirement benefits. Others connected with B of A, such as former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain and Countrywide Financial’s former CEO Angelo Mozilo, also made off with huge fortunes as a result of deals made with the bank under Mr. Lewis.

And for all that, one of America’s most prominent financial institutions did not walk — it ran — into the giant propeller of U.S. government in a predictable and avoidable financial collision that resulted in this staggering record payout.

Bank of America was, as we documented over the course of several years, far from alone in practicing financial acrobatics that were more suited to a travelling carnival than an iconic institution of capitalism.  Yet in this mighty tsunami of boardroom wrongdoing and excess that nearly upended Main Street, barely a ripple of bother was felt among the first-class decks of Wall Street and America’s financial elites.  No CEO has been sent off to jail.  No director  or chief executive has been forced to return any pay.  As we noted in The Fallacy of Giantsin most cases when these kinds of eye-popping settlements are announced, the company’s stock shoots up.  Government fines, no matter how staggering, and accusations of abuse and betrayal by top management and boards, no matter how shameful, are regarded by many business insiders and much of the market as just another cost of doing business.

The indisputable economic (and moral) fact of our time is that America’s most wealthy, from whom capitalism’s CEOs, directors, guardians and gatekeepers  are drawn, not only allowed this torrent of financial chicanery and deception to occur, they profited handsomely from it.  The result is that those same elites in the period between 2007 and now managed to gain an even larger choke hold on the wealth and income of America than at any time since the 1920s.  This, despite the fact that were it not for the bailout provided by America’s taxpayers who largely live on Main Street, not only would this expansion of wealth not have occurred, but capitalism itself  might not have survived.  On that point, is it not interesting that the same voices that are generally quick to rail against government excess and demand fiscal discipline when it comes to the public purse are uncharacteristically silent when it comes to the $5 trillion the U.S. Fed paid to finance the bailout? Does that have any connection with reality, or is it just another case, like CEO compensation, for instance, where there is one set of ever accommodating rules for those at the top and another for everyone else?

What happened with Bank of America, and other prominent institutions like it, and the ease with which moral and legal improprieties can be sloughed off with little consequence for those in charge, is at the heart of the current record level of public disaffection with  capitalism and those who lead it. Having spent nearly half a century working with and around capitalism and its leaders, it is hard for me to imagine that one day it may cease to exist.  But the too often overlooked reality is that the fundamental currency that sustains modern capitalism is not capital at all — it is the consent of the public.

If present trends in income equality and  corporate immorality continue, and its leaders fail to ensure that capitalism is governed by a set of values that is consistent with the needs and dreams of Main Street, it is hard to imagine how it will survive.

RIM Finally Runs Out of Shiny Objects

RIM Finally Runs Out of Shiny Objects

What a contrast is the deathwatch that now grips many RIM analysts.  Years ago, they were bedazzled cheerleaders.  We had some thoughts on the folly of that short sighted thinking at the time. Today, they seem more like jilted  fanboys in the face of the company’s announcement of record losses, shrinking sales and shipments and other setbacks in its new product launch.   

What is happening at RIM is sad for the company, its employees and investors.  What is sadder, still, is that, just like what happened at three other now vanished Canadian icons — Nortel, Livent and Hollinger — it was avoidable, and almost entirely the product of management arrogance that was unstopped because of bad corporate governance. 

We wrote about these same issues in these same companies long before anyone else because they foreshadowed the crisis that history predicted was coming.  In RIM’s case, it was a lesson that even major shareholders who claim a strong commitment to good corporate governance, like the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, were too blinded by the prospects of giddy returns to see.  So they and others gave a pass to the weak board structure and the mesmerized cast of directors who bought into a loopy management style.

These are not popular positions to take, as we often discover.  When we raised issues about RIM’s boardroom culture and ethically challenged top management — and we were the first on record to do so — a barrage of nasty, vindictive and occasionally threatening emails and telephone calls followed.  RIM, it seemed, could do no wrong even when it did (remember the stock option backdating fiasco?), and absolutely no one was interested in hearing a critical word because of the company’s success at the time.   “Who needs a board when you have Jim and Mike?” seemed to be how most saw it.  No one considered for a moment that RIM’s success might be fleeting, least of all entranced directors on its board.  But being a director, investor or analyst is about more than being a captive of a shiny object, whether it is a glittering gold watch or a spellbinding (co-) CEO.

Next on the agenda will be a succession of directors who start to bail out, not wanting their reputations to be tarnished when the Chapter 11 filing is made and not admitting that they, too, took too long to use their mentality to wake up to reality, as Frank liked to urge on Cole Porter’s behalf.

Early clues to RIM’s fast approaching demise, which is clearly underway as the stock hurtles toward the five-dollar mark, were there for all to see, as they were, and are, for many other companies.  They always begin with how the boardroom culture dictates the exercise of power and accountability or whether it plays any meaningful role in that process at all.  But that is a view that too many inside and outside the boardroom, often  caught in a hypnotic state of denial on the one hand and over-deference to the beguiling CEO on the other, remain unwilling to see.  A change in fortune can always happen to the beneficiaries of great success and especially to those who make the mistake of assuming previous success is a guarantee for future wins, as JPMorgan’s board is in the process of discovering today in its widening scandal of losses, and as GM’s, Nortel’s, Lehman’s and Penn Central Railroad’s directors before them learned the hard way.  It seldom announces its impending arrival in a corporate wide email.

For those interested in learning more about the missed boardroom clues that brought RIM to the brink, our full series of 25 posts over the past six years can be found here

*  *  *

Happy Birthday, Canada.  Having survived the theatrics of Conrad Black’s renunciation, the vanishing of the Canadians icons he once headed like Hollinger, Dominion Stores, Massey Ferguson and Argus, and now his coming back to your forgiving embrace after being a guest of the U.S. penal system, you can survive anything.  More significant, however, and worthy of recognition and praise on such a day, is the sacrifice and courage shown by the men and women of Canada’s armed forces who serve to protect freedom and democracy here and in far off lands, along with their families who give so much.  A different kind of war is fought daily at home as well by those who battle poverty, injustice and the tyranny that is often inflicted by power on the part of governments, corporations and the media when that becomes untethered from moral values and human decency.  They seldom receive plaques or medals, unlike Mr. Black who continues to hold his Canadian distinctions despite disgracing them (it was on Canadian soil in Toronto that Mr. Black engaged in his obstruction of justice for which he was convicted in the U.S.). These foot soldiers of a civilized society represent in their often unremunerated and unsung work the best of what Canada stands for in the world.

Quoted on efforts to kill the Volcker Rule

And other overdue thoughts on Conrad Black’s return to Canada, Obama’s fall, RIM’s folly, Canadian healthcare death panels and the changeless universe of Wall Street

The Centre for Corporate & Public Governance was interviewed last week about the frequent behind-the-scenes efforts of the privately financed Washington-based Committee on Capital Market Regulation to turn back regulatory reforms the group thinks get in its way. The piece is by Emmy Award-winning writer Justin Rohrlich and presents a timely and detailed analysis of a too-overlooked aspect of American business.  It can be read here.

Once again, Wall Street’s memory makes an amnesiac’s recall look positively eidetic.  We had a few thoughts on the CCMR’s earlier efforts to weaken Sarbanes-Oxley legislation just months before the near collapse of the banking system.  Nobody in this group had the slightest concern at the time about excessive leverage, off-the-book transactions, credit default swaps that potentially ran into the trillions, or excessive boardroom pay scams that encouraged too many CEOs to take on too much risk.  Many boards had no idea what was happening around them.  Jimmy Cayne of Bear Stearns and Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers were thought of as Wall Street heroes.  Citigroup and AIG were proud supporters of the group’s efforts, then and now.

To our dismay at the time, then-treasury secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. was known to support the early efforts of the CCMR to roll back the regulatory clock.  A few months later, he was bailing out the very companies that had been squawking about too much government in their boardrooms.

That alone should have been enough to discredit the CCMR and anything it has to say now about the so-called excesses of Dodd-Frank and the Volcker Rule.  As we said in the article this week: “The idea that the CCMR has anything credible to say about what is necessary to protect capitalism has got to be one of the greatest scams ever foisted on the American public.”  

But in a world where memories are considered non-performing assets and rarely accorded any importance at all, the CCMR and its likes appear to have no difficulty in raising money in order to blunt the regulatory reforms of the government that saved capitalism from itself.  The spirit of E. Merrick Dodd Jr., who made a similar observation after the economic collapse that followed the Great Depression, would not be surprised.

 * * *

We have been less than regular in our comments and reporting of events that shape the accountability of leaders, the responsibilities of capitalism and the madness that continues to infect the boardroom on the subject of CEO compensation.  Life- changing events have a tendency to rudely interrupt even the most important of debates, and I must confess there have been a few in my family to deal with over the past 18 months. We may fool ourselves that we sit in the saddle able to command our direction and destination, but it is the horses of fate that are often in control of where we wind up, as any family suddenly faced with a medical trauma surely knows.  Such events tend to concentrate the mind on the preciousness of life.  Unfortunately, that appreciation is not as universally held in the health care system as one might think.  For while they were a concoction of anti-Obama forces during the great health care reform debate in the United States a few years ago, the shocking reality is that in Canada’s often praised but entirely unaccountable medical system, the specter of death panels, and a bias against what are seen as too costly efforts to prolong the life of the elderly, even for those with a chance of recovering, has now arrived. Extricating an elderly parent from the jaws of certain hospital death, whether from neglect or a predisposition by medical professionals to end that life, can be just as traumatic and debilitating to a family as the injury that put them there.

Further thoughts on this third rail of the Canadian health care system will ensue.

 * * *

For all the pain felt mostly on Main Street and in the dire state of the U.S. deficit, but apparently long since forgotten on Wall Street, the aftermath of the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression has changed very little in American business.  Wall Street and big bankers have conveniently forgotten about the missteps that brought the financial system to the brink of collapse.  Boards continue to be out of touch with what is happening around them and still show up with the water hose long after the fire has erupted, as recent events at companies like Chesapeake Energy, CP, and Yahoo confirm.  Citigroup remains an under-five-dollar-stock, when you strip away its reverse one-for-ten split.  Bank of America seems headed in that direction, too. Lobbyists still make millions in their insidious attempts to skirt reforms and undercut measures to save the middle class.  CEO pay soars without any connection to performance or to the independent thinking of fully engaged directors.  And in the White House, the greatest hope for change in the way Washington works since FDR has permitted a sequence of blunders and mishandled events (support for an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts while failing to champion Simpson-Bowles, to cite just two) to tarnish that promise to the point where the presidential podium seems destined once again to become an institution of, by and for the billionaire class.  Barack Obama’s uncertain future in the face of a querulous electorate is all the more bewildering given that Republican contenders for their party’s presidential nomination have unleashed the most divisive assault against good judgment and common sense since the short- lived Know-Nothing party of the mid-19th century.  Not even the most recent Republican circus-like spectacle was sufficient to give the White House an edge, so bad has been its handling of major issues and how it has allowed them to be misperceived in a regressive sea of billionaire-supported super PACs.

Elsewhere, investors, along with once starry-eyed analysts who were too long prepared to give a pass to the governance failures and shortcomings of Canadian- headquartered Research In Motion, have at last been jolted by the carnage we predicted.   Company co-founder and long-time co-CEO and co-board chair (the titles alone reflected the dysfunctionality of the boardroom) Jim Balsillie, is gone.   The devastation wrought by years of board neglect will take much longer to fade away, if it ever does.  There is hope, however, in what Bill Ackman managed to pull off in awakening investors at CP and prompting them to replace a dozy, imperious board with a strategy that might add value, which is precisely what most boards should do but don’t.  There is little to take hope from in the Facebook IPO fiasco or the ceremonial (and that’s all it is) board that Mark Zuckerberg put together.

Also in Canada, the dark prince of the Canadian establishment, Conrad M. Black, has returned.  His reentry to the country whose citizenship he renounced to accept a British peerage (evocative of Sir Thomas More’s plaintive inquiry to a chief witness in his prosecution, “but for Wales?”, in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons), only hours after his release from the U.S. penal system, stunned many observers and immigration lawyers who claimed that such a deal would not be available to anyone else.  I do not begrudge Mr. Black’s return to Don Mills, a childhood haunt we both shared.  What I do take issue with is the special treatment hatched behind closed doors that has all the earmarks of Canada’s elite, including at least two former prime ministers and a string of A-list partygoers, going to bat for Mr. Black by influencing the Harper government to pull strings that are invisible, and most definitely unreachable, to anyone else. 

But then special treatment and a lifetime of doors opened expressly for him have been the recurring landmarks of Mr. Black’s public and business life.  He still holds the various national honors bestowed upon him which were revoked for other (actual) Canadian citizens when they fell into the criminal abyss.  Special parking spaces in the often busy nearby York Mills Shopping Centre surely cannot be far behind for his lordship.  In fact, Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood, one of Mr. Black’s newly recruited fans, might put her own talents to good use by inveigling, through poetry or other literate means, the City of Toronto to establish a special lordship-only lane that would permit Mr. Black to motor briskly without undue delay along Bayview Avenue for those quick shopping errands he missed doing for the past few years.  Once the special express train of privileges and exemptions gets rolling in Canada, where half of the legislative branch of the federal government is still appointed by the imperial wave of a prime ministerial hand with not a whit of public input, there is no stopping it.

Still, my 90-year-old mother, who always had a corner on the family’s supply of sympathy for Mr. Black (fortunately for him she did not see Mr. Black’s recent performance with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge), and whose survival from an incredible array of medical blunders and the arrogance of an astonishing assemblage of unaccountable actors in the Canadian health care system could only have been produced by Divine intervention, is heartened to know that Mr. Black will finally get to enjoy his August by a Don Mills ravine.  At this point, that’s good enough for me.  Like the Canadian author Barbara Gowdy who made it famous, and Mr. Black, I, too, participated in its wonders and delights for many years with friends sadly lost to the mists of the retreating years and still not recoverable by the famous Facebook time machine. 

Mr. Black has paid his formal debt to U.S. society.  Civil servants often easily manipulated at the behest of their political masters, along with the rich and powerful, may have skirted the rules to allow a preferred outcome in Mr. Black’s case.  And further explanations and inquiries are surely appropriate in a land where the rule of law, and not the power of individuals, is supposed to be the defining principle of its civil society.  But at least for this summer, Mr. Black should have his chance to gaze upon the woods from his baronial mansion and to ponder the freedom of the foxes at dusk and how their survival still depends, as it forever has, upon the cunning of their instincts and the swiftness of their mind.

* * *

Our rambling journey from the White House and Wall Street to Don Mills and Canadian health care death panels barely scratches the surface of thoughts unvoiced on these pages over the past many months.  No mention has been made of Irish Setters (a rescue joined our family not long ago); the Titanic; Davos and the G8 (two modern day hubris-afflicted and overrated Titanics of another kind), the Great Pyramids of Giza, which can never be overrated; Jazz and the unique vocal stylings of Stacey Kent; Oliver Jones, who somehow manages to put more piano notes in a song than even another favorite, Oscar Peterson; the magical clarinet tones of the great Artie Shaw; Muskoka sunsets; the 1960 World Series;  Clare Island salmon; the Susan Hampshire rose; and any movie written by Robert Bolt and directed by David Lean. 


These and other favorite topics will have to await another day.

Which Conrad Black?

Is it the good turtle soup or merely the mock?

Finally, the long legal ordeal of Conrad M. Black, at least as it concerns the U.S. criminal courts, has come to an end.  There has been a trial, a jury verdict, a sentence imposed, an appeal, an appeal of an appeal, prison time served, a further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, another appeal hearing and a re-sentencing which will lead to more prison time to be served.  There was merit in some of his contentions regarding innocence, according to the American legal system, and there have been affirmations by that same system of his guilt as a man in a position of trust who stole from shareholders, committed fraud and obstructed justice.  Many of these and other points about Mr. Black have been covered here over the years.   The disintegration of Mr. Black’s business assets and the demise of two once profitable and mighty empires (Argus and Hollinger) under his leadership have also been widely canvassed on these pages.

It is the human, and not legal, side of Mr. Black that is of continuing interest at this point.  What his appearance in federal court for his re-sentencing on June 24th, and his statements before U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, revealed is a picture of two Conrad Blacks.  One once mocked shareholders as a cheap form of capital and disparaged employees of his various companies, from Dominion Stores to Hollinger, while deriding modern practices of corporate governance. Then there was that weird self-comparison he made with the nobility of revolutionary France. The other quotes from Kipling and speaks of compassion and a deep love for his family.  He even backtracks on his approach toward corporate governance and the effect of that hostility upon Hollinger.  As the poem If teaches (and Mr. Black would not be the first to have had those verses committed to memory upon the instructions of a dutiful father) triumph and defeat are indeed imposters.  But so, too, are those who clothe themselves as virtuous leaders by day, only to betray that trust in the long nights of greed and conceit.

What is more genuine and enduring is the character of an individual and how the often unexpected arrivals of success and failure are greeted.  There were clearly important aspects of Mr. Black’s character that were lacking in the past, as it is generally agreed that criminal convictions, especially those sustained through such a lengthy appeal process, are not viewed as character assets. The one exception to that rule appears to rest with many Canadian elites, who often praise the U.S. system of justice — except when it involves one of their own.  And in Mr. Black’s case, the common view among certain quarters of Canada’s most powerful and privileged is that American justice has inflicted unspeakable cruelty upon the former media baron.  Few, including Mr. Black, have had little to say over the years about the troublingly frequent incidents of wrongful conviction in Canada that have seen innocent souls spend years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Others in Canada have been stripped of their national medals in the face of criminal convictions.  Mr. Black, however, seems still to be exempt from this precedent in the eyes of the lofty custodians of the Order of Canada, who appear to accord no legitimacy whatever to the outcome of the U.S. legal process — except for the decision of its highest court which led to some of Mr. Black’s convictions being overturned.   There cannot be one standard for Conrad Black and another for the rest.  Mr. Black made a major miscalculation when he thought along those lines.  So, too, do Canada’s elites in continuing to allow a convicted felon to hold one of the highest honors in the land.

As to how real Mr. Black’s change is and whether he sees humanity with a deeper and more kindhearted perspective than he did before, only time will reveal. We have always acknowledged that there is an admirable side to Mr. Black.  We were struck by the Conrad Black standing before Judge St. Eve, who was,by all accounts, along with others in the court, moved by his more humble bearing.   Nothing illustrates the sea change in Mr. Black more than the fact that in the effort to have the judge reduce his sentence, he chose to rely upon the character references of other felons, including drug dealers and those convicted of violent crimes — a checkered cast that a few years ago Mr. Black would have been the first to condemn.  Has Mr. Black truly changed?  Will his transformation from a status-seeking baron of excess and vainglory to one of a more fully formed human being be permanent?  As Cole Porter so aptly wondered in situations like this:  “Is it the good turtle soup or merely the mock?”

The criminal justice system will soon be finished with Mr. Black.  Whether he will be finished with it is another story.  And new travails in the civil courts and perhaps with his own health apparently await still.  His words and actions in the future will define if and how Mr. Black has really changed and whether the stained mantle of convicted felon recedes, to be succeeded by the persona of heroic champion of noble causes.

That is an outcome that will in large part be determined by the extent to which Mr. Black heeds these sound words from Kipling:

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

What Were They Thinking?

Evan Bayh bemoans partisan politics in Congress.  Canada’s Olympic Committee gets the gold for marketing hyperbole.  Conrad Black bewails Russia as a nation of fraudsters from the confines of his prison cell.

A few things hit our desk with a hollow thud over the past week. Senator Evan Bayh’s recent discovery that politics is actually going on in Washington was one of them. He has held his senate seat from Indiana since 1998.  His father held it from 1963 to 1981.  Few are given such a golden opportunity to serve and to effect change. He was a favorite for re-election in the fall, unlike many of his Democrat colleagues. You might have thought he had an idea or two about what could be done to improve Washington, instead of declaring defeat and retreating to Indianapolis.

Canada’s Olympic Committee slogan at the Winter Games in Vancouver, “Own the Podium,” seems to have run into a snag in the mortgage department. Even with impressive displays by many host country athletes, Canada has fallen to fourth place in the medal count.  It has been an unusual exhibition of bravura that detracts from the Olympic spirit and from the reputation of a country known for its modesty and civility.  How odd that the worst display of sportsmanship and performance from the Winter Games comes from the highly paid marketing geniuses who dreamed up this twaddle.

But the ultimate chutzpah award would have to go to Conrad M. Black, who, with the help of the National Review, looked into the vanity mirror of Grimm Brothers fame and asked who was the biggest fraudster of them all.  Why it’s Russia, the mirror answered back, to the man serving 78 months at Coleman Correctional Facility in Florida for his conviction on fraud charges and obstruction of justice.

Mr. Black observes, apparently with no fairy tale in mind:

Russia is a fraud. Its population is in steep decline and chronically afflicted by alcoholism. The governmental system is authoritarian and corrupt, allied with protégés who have been given monopolistic concessions and who repay their rulers with obscene kickbacks.

He makes his sweeping generalization without advancing much in the way of specifics.  On the other hand, Mr. Black is a highly certified fraudster.  Whether the Supreme Court upholds or overturns his conviction, at the current time, the law is required, and society is entitled, to view him as being officially guilty of the crimes for which he has been convicted.  The comment about alcoholism is a recurring theme for Mr. Black.  Before rendering his pronouncement about Russia in this regard, he claimed it to be a disease endemic to the profession of journalism.  But Mr. Black should know as well as anyone that this is an illness that touches families around the world.  Some have even lived among the mansions of Toronto.  And about those monopolistic concessions: Where, exactly, would one place non-compete payments from companies in which you have an interest, Mr. Black? (See United States of America v. Conrad Black.)

Strangely, the National Review seems to buying into this baronial display of intellectual dishonesty.  Its editors evidently have no problem publishing the thoughts of a convicted felon who is accusing others of the same crime for which he is presently serving time.  They refuse to disclose his current confinement status, which might be of interest to readers now and in the future.  In fact, they try to cover it up by describing him merely as an author.  By contrast, they describe Bill Bennett, the conservative commentator, as an author whose full-time job is talk show host.  Mr. Black’s full-time job is criminal serving time for fraud and obstruction of justice.  To further distort the truth, NRO pictures Mr. Black in a business suit.  His prison uniform has been his required attire for nearly two years.

While the contributions of the National Review are admittedly not something that prompt universal concurrence on these pages, there are aspects to conservative principles and philosophy that do resonate, especially after one has had the chance to observe the human condition for a number of decades.  One tenet central to many conservatives is the idea that consequences should flow when the law is broken.  It does not serve the interests of conservative institutions like the National Review or the ideas they seek to advance to hold Mr. Black to a different standard because he is one of their own.

As an aside, one has to wonder what Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) is waiting for before he calls the head of the Bureau of Prisons to ask exactly how it is that Conrad Black’s writing newspaper columns and giving lectures from prison to university students is consistent with established principles of justice and penal service.  One thinks that public confidence in the latter would demand a distinction between what Mr. Black is actually doing in prison and what he might otherwise produce from his Palm Beach mansion.

With this post we begin an occasional series of the same name in which we explore the thinking, or lack thereof, behind the statements and actions of prominent people.

Conrad Black’s Race to the Bottom

By attacking American presidential leadership under Barack Obama and invoking a racial slur in the process, Mr. Black continues to show who and what he is.

Conrad M. Black, famous for vituperative excess, renouncing his Canadian citizenship to become a British Lord, disdain for shareholders whom he viewed as a cheap source of capital and, more recently, his sojourn as Prisoner Number 18330-424 at the Coleman Correctional Facility in Florida, has made some year-end pronouncements on the future of the Untied States that are sure to gain attention.

In his regular column in Canada’s National Post, Mr. Black writes today:

For the first time in the history of the U.S. Presidency, Mr. Obama had to badger a foreign head of government to meet him (China’s premier Wen). Last year, shoes were thrown at the U.S. president. This year we had self-abasement before the Japanese Emperor and (unsuccessful) supplication to the Chinese. If this trend continues, by the end of this new decade, the U.S. president will be invited to international meetings as a shoe-shine boy.

Mr. Black begins the above paragraph with reference to President Obama and ends it by invoking the image of some future American president as a shoe-shine boy. Let’s brand this for what it is: an utterly disgraceful slur with a racial connotation that is being made in connection with the first African-American president in U.S. history.  It evokes images, long discredited, of an ugly past which have no place in the discourse of civilized people.

It is a stark reminder that Mr. Black is not a civilized man, but rather a crook who fleeced his own shareholders and perverted the course of justice.  In a normal world, we would not be reading what crooks have to say about American foreign policy or its justice system, or Canada’s for that matter.  The headlines of their thoughts would not blare across the top of editorial pages.

What happens at the National Post is anything but normal.  Mr. Black is accorded unique access to a significant, though disintegrating, piece of journalistic real estate in Canada, whose editors and publishers drift untroubled by the criminal proclivities of its op-ed columnist and prefer to portray him still wearing a business suit with not a hint disclosed to readers about his current forced confinement as a convicted felon.  The Post has been flirting with bankruptcy for some time.  It is part of the Asper media empire, which, in Canada, has become synonymous with financial folly on the grandest, indeed, almost Conrad Black-like, scale.  Sound judgment is the most underperforming asset in the company.  The Aspers do not just lose money; they hurl it out of their boardroom windows in bales.  Last month, their company experienced another ignominious fate which also parallels Black’s Hollinger:  Canwest  was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).

The Post continues to hemorrhage to the point where it is unclear how much further it can go.  But by publishing such repugnant views, it is demonstrating that its ethical standards, like those of the felon whose voice it trumpets, have already passed the point of insolvency.