The meaty bits are starting to surface in the third week of the United States vs. Conrad Black et al. The Black Baron appeared more relaxed on entering the Chicago courthouse Monday, the crush of media covering the trial having dissipated to a handful. Asked by the Canadian Press wire service if the trial was progressing as he expected, Black replied “even better.”

He would do well not to become too relaxed and comfortable because he is now looking squarely into the sunglass-wearing eyes of RICO – the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act. It is the biggest book the US Federal Court can throw at you and it carries an automatic 20-year spell “up the river”.

RICO was introduced in 1970 as part of Organised Crime Control Act to clean up the Mob’s move into legitimate business fronts. Convicted racketeers also must forfeit all ill-gotten gains and interest in any business. The eponymous Rico acronym is thought to be a sly reference to a Chicago gangster named “Rico” played by Edward G. Robinson in the 1931 movie Little Caesar.

The Act was used to devastating effect last year when four members of The Gambino Crime Family (Terry Scaglione, Ronald Trucchio, Kevin Mcmahon, and Steven Catallono) were tried under RICO statues, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Black is charged with wire and mail fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, racketeering and obstruction of justice. In addition to his alleged involvement in the redirection of non-compete payments, he is also accused of misusing about $20 million in corporate funds on personal expenses.

Mike Reed, the former CEO of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc, gave evidence on Monday that his company had never requested a non-compete agreement from Black – or any of Black’s co-accused – when it negotiated to buy small U.S. community newspapers from Black’s former company.

Reed was involved in two deals with Hollinger International in 1999 and 2000. In both cases, he said, non-compete payments were agreed upon for the Chicago newspaper company, but those for Hollinger Inc. and for Black, Radler, Atkinson and Boultbee were added after the initial agreement and before the closing of the deal by lawyer Mark Kipnis.

The second deal, also included a request for payments of $4.5 million to each of Black and Radler, and $250,000 to each of Boultbee and Atkinson to be wired to specific accounts at closing, Reed said. He refused adding that “it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do”.

Reed was expected to be followed by witnesses Thomas Henson, David Paxton, CEO of Paxton Media Group and Angela Way, Kipnis’ former assistant.

Judgment hangs on Barbara. William Langley writes in the Sunday Telegraph:

Peter C Newman, the editor who hired her, recalls in his memoirs: “What I didn’t count on was the extent to which Barbara would use her striking appearance to further her career, and how much her sensual presence would upset the office. She was the sort of woman who kept spilling out of her dresses, then blamed the dresses. In her private life she readily confessed that she had “run amok among many lives”, but desperately wanted to be taken seriously.”

Another colleague, journalist Robert Miller, remembers: “She would come into my office on a regular basis and ask for help. She would come up behind me and sort of lean over my chair, her right breast nestled on my left shoulder, and exhale this wonderful aroma of Jaffa orange groves. She was just a very heady, sexy person.”

She has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but the bounds of her extravagance should, perhaps, have been apparent a long time ago. “Only a few women in the world can afford to dress like Mrs Black,” wrote Catharine Wente, a columnist on Canada’s Globe and Mail five years ago, “and Mrs Black may not be among them.” Sometimes it pays to listen to the vermin. Even if it hurts.

This sanctimonious whiff of disapproval. Terence Blacker becomes indignant, Indy:

On balance, it was probably not a very good idea for Lady Black, in the early days of the trial of her husband Conrad, to call a Canadian TV producer a “slut”. Nor was her subsequent characterisation of the entire journalistic profession as “vermin” particularly sensible or well-timed. As Barbara Amiel, Lady Black was once a columnist herself and her husband was a newspaper proprietor. Since he now faces the possibility of spending many years in jail if found guilty, it was, one might think, a moment to cultivate friends in the press rather than trashing them.

Admittedly, the Blacks had been on the receiving end of a comprehensive duffing-up in the press. He has been portrayed as a monstrous, overbearing robber-baron while she is presented as the unholy conflation of Lady Macbeth, Mata Hari and Imelda Marcos…

The English rather like a ne’er-do-well, so long as he conforms to type. Oliver Reed did a nice turn as a showbiz lush while Jeffrey Bernard earned a decent living as the acceptable face of alcoholism. In their own unsteady way, both played the parts expected of them…

In a timid age, with the ever-alert offensiveness police on all sides, one would like to think that journalists would, without condoning bad behaviour, at least recognise that the best of life, as well as the worst of it, comes from colour and diversity, from people who are different. Strangely, down among the rodents, the opposite seems to be the case. More and more, an unpleasant whiff of sanctimonious disapproval issues from within the comfy confines of the media establishment.

The mysterious Anglosphere movement. Naomi Klein The Guardian:

It makes sense that Lord Black is a nobody in Chicago. He never needed to bother with politics in the US – as far as he was concerned, the country was close to perfect. It was the rest of the English-speaking world that required his bombastic ideological lectures. Delivering those was his life’s mission.

Black is the world’s leading advocate of the “Anglosphere”, a movement calling for the creation of a bloc of English-speaking countries. Adherents claim that the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand must join together against the Muslim world and anyone else who poses a threat. For Black, the US is not just the obvious leader of the Anglosphere but the economic and military model that all Anglo countries should emulate, as opposed to the soft European Union.

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Peter Fray
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