Osgoode expert calls Black’s possible sentence ‘cruel and unusual’

Conrad Black’s day of reckoning came in a courtroom 710 kilometres from Toronto, reported the Toronto Star July 14. The day after the verdict, it’s legitimate to wonder why the former press baron faced justice in Chicago for crimes allegedly committed north of the 49th parallel. Was it simply because the American justice system is not only bigger and tougher, but faster than its Canadian counterpart in laying charges? James Stribopoulos, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, thinks that could well explain it.

"These charges could have just as easily been prosecuted in this country," he said Friday. "The Americans sort of got there first." US justice officials may have later reached an agreement with federal and provincial prosecutors in Canada to have Black tried in Chicago, Stribopoulos said.

That happens all the time in drug cases, he said. It’s for that reason Stribopoulos believes prosecuting Black in Chicago not only made little sense, but resulted in "a real injustice."

"I’m not the biggest fan of Conrad Black. He’s an easy guy to dislike. But there’s a bigger principle here," he said. "This is the kind of case that just makes you shake your head, because Conrad Black could have been prosecuted here and treated more fairly by our justice system and I think any right-thinking person should be troubled. I think it’s just deplorable that this man could very well spend the rest of his life in jail for these crimes. I don’t think someone like Black, who is a non-violent, first-time offender should go to jail for the rest of his life. I think that’s cruel and unusual punishment. It certainly is, by Canadian standards."

  • Stribopoulos also discussed Black’s sentencing prospects on "The Stafford Show" on CFMJ-AM in Toronto July 13.

Inside many high-achievers is a little voice saying, ‘You are an impostor’

Canadian actor Mike Myers jokes that no matter how successful he becomes, he can’t quiet the fear that the "talent police" are going to arrest him for impersonating a gifted comedian, began a Toronto Star feature July 14 on the impostor syndrome. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he can’t shake the demons that whisper in his ear, "You’re a fraud." He’s not alone. Some of the world’s most admired celebrities refuse to take credit for their abilities. People in all fields can be dogged by the irrational fear that they can’t live up to their billing.

They are sufferers of Impostor Syndrome. Diane Zorn, a lecturer in the School of Art’s & Letters in York’s Atkinson Faculty of LIberal & Professional Studies, rejects the prevalent notion that it’s a psychological syndrome and prefers to call it by its original designation – Impostor Phenomenon. Zorn says the research she’s been conducting since 1999 supports the claim that the issue is cultural, that it’s the way life is structured in universities, for example, or the fiercely competitive nature of some workplaces that makes high performing people feel isolated and as if they don’t belong. The higher people climb up the ladder, the more intense the feelings become, she says.

Need to clean is a compulsion driven by advertising

Our attitudes about housekeeping are deeply engrained, reported the Toronto Star July 14. They stem from a messy mix of mother’s best intentions, capitalism, social class snobbery, brain cells, even religion. "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" dates way back – some say to ancient Hebrew tracts. In 1791, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, used the proverb in a sermon in a way that indicated it was already accepted dogma. "The symbolism of clean and unclean are very deep in religions," says Molly Ladd-Taylor, a York University professor who specializes in women’s history in the Faculty of Arts.

In the early 20th century, cleanliness was also next to healthiness. Before the discovery of antibiotics, there were great concerns about contagious diseases. "Middle-class standards grew up along with the optimism that we can beat infectious diseases through cleanliness," Ladd-Taylor explains. Those middle-class standards were then preached to working-class and poor families who lived in small tenement apartments, sleeping and cooking in a couple of rooms. 

Cleanliness became good business. Advertisements promoted products as "wonder cleansers" or "scientifically formulated." From the 1920s on, Ladd- Taylor says, the standard of cleanliness dramatically increased owing to geared-up advertising and marketing. Then came television. Images of women nearly orgasmic over freshly sparkling floors were burned into the social psyche. A social revolution occurred as women took jobs that actually paid. "It became a vicious circle," Ladd-Taylor says. "Standards rose in tandem with more women entering the labour force outside the home." 

Bloggers reveal personal wealth

In every area of personal finance, an army of bloggers has risen, keen to post their war stories, reported the National Post July 14. The Frugal Canadian tracks the penny-pinching budget of one woman, who posts her running net worth and grocery bills. Another blog, Fat Pitch Financials, run by "George," offers an open invitation to join his "quest to find dollar bills for 40¢," through value investing and profiting from arbitrage. Perhaps it’s financial voyeurism that attracts clicks to these sites. But the real question is can these armchair planners teach you to be wealthy? Or, better yet, is their posted advice even sound? To find out, we sent a few random postings from these sites to Chris Robinson, a finance professor in York’s Atkinson School of Administrative Studies. At first look, he found the postings sensible. Digging deeper, he found a blend of succinct overviews mixed with rudimentary advice and simplistic opinions.

But what of this need to show your bank balance online? "I think social mores have changed in Canada," says Robinson, whose critiques are on the Post’s Web site. "Think about how openly people talk about sex. So, why not post your personal wealth?"

Investment safety net may be a bargain, says Milevsky

In the Akron, Ohio, Beacon Journal July 16, a personal finance columnist talked about “investment insurance,” so-called living benefits offered by many variable annuities. The most common benefits are that, no matter how your investments perform, you’ll be able to withdraw a minimum amount (such as a percentage of the amount invested) for "x" number of years or for life, or receive a minimum income for life, or get your principal  

Moshe Milevsky, a professor of finance at York ‘s Schulich School of Business, has published papers suggesting living benefits may actually be underpriced, said the writer. Products such as annuities with living benefits "effectively create downside protection in the critical early years of retirement" when investment losses can quickly deplete a portfolio, Milevsky wrote in the July issue of the Journal of Financial Service Professionals.

This assumes "the insurance fees charged for this protection are not too high," Milevsky says. A paper he published in June calculates that a living benefit with even an "abnormally high" charge of two per cent a year would still reduce a retiree’s chances of running out of money (of course, it would also reduce the actual investment return).

MPs and gifts: the need for accountability

In an editorial about conflict of interest rules July 16, the Windsor Star said the rules allow politicians to keep some very questionable gifts. It noted that Robert MacDermid, a political science professor and ethics expert in York’s Faculty of Arts, believes federal politicians shouldn’t be accepting personal gifts from either other governments or the private sector. "I don’t think it is appropriate to keep gifts since the person in that office is a representative of the people," said MacDermid. "It is really a gift to the people of Canada."