Skip to main content

Dennis Hastert and Walter Block

Image result for dennis hastert news

Pity former Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert.

He is now the defendant in a lawsuit brought by one of the anonymous individuals who were apparently extorting money from him. The extortionist wants $1.8 million.

Lest we forget, Hastert has been sentenced to 15 months in prison for having been too sneaky about withdrawing the funds he was using to pay this guy off.

From an NBC report:

When the FBI questioned Hastert about the money, he lied and said he just wanted to keep it in a safe place, prosecutors said. His lawyers later contacted agents and told them he was actually being extorted by an ex-student with a false claim of sexual abuse from decades ago.

With recorders running, the agents had Hastert speak with Individual A and claim he was having trouble coming up with the next payment. They said the other man's tone and remarks were not consistent with an extortion plot.

So the key legal distinction here is between "extortion" on the one hand and the settlement of an unbrought civil lawsuit for millions. The FBI decided the tone of the person demanding the money seemed more to fit into the latter classification than the former. That, in turn, proved to be very bad news for Hastert.

But what exactly is the distinction? Was the tone a symptom that someone was on one side rather than the other of a distinction that itself seems devilishly hard  to describe? Is it that the claims used to get money from Hastert were true? (As a matter of law, that does NOT seem to be a tenable distinction.)

I'm reminded of a once-notorious book by the libertarian philosopher and gadflyWalter Block, Defending the Undefendable.

One of the 'undefendable' characters Block defended consisted of "the blackmailer," defended under the heading "free speech." If -- that is, most of us, aside from Walter Block -- if we condemn blackmailers: why? And does the reason why do so allow any room for the distinction of "tone" that seems to have swayed the FBI here?

Okay, don't pity Hastert. But the situation seems odd.


  1. It seems to me significant whether the claims used to get money from Hastert were true. If they were false, then the person making them was threatening to defame Hastert, and defamation, even if not a crime, should be viewed as contrary to public policy. We do not want people to have to sue to preserve their reputations. Therefore, I would treat a threat to defame someone unless he pays the person making the threat as criminal extortion.

    By contrast, if someone threatens to reveal something true, then I do not see a reason to consider it extortion or blackmail. But perhaps a reason exists, even if I don't see it. I am open to suggestions.

    Let me broaden the question: Should any threat to do something legal and non-defamatory ever be considered extortion or blackmail? How about a threat to bring a frivolous lawsuit--for child custody, say? The trauma that such a suit might inflict on the defendant, even if her or she could easily win the suit and perhaps even recover attorney's fees from plaintiff, is something that we should want to prevent.

  2. Are you trying to earn cash from your websites or blogs by using popunder ads?
    In case you are, did you take a look at Ero-Advertising?

  3. Did you know you can shorten your urls with BCVC and receive money for every click on your shortened urls.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

Hume's Cutlery

David Hume is renowned for two pieces of cutlery, the guillotine and the fork.

Hume's guillotine is the sharp cut he makes between "is" statements and "ought" statements, to make the point that the former never ground the latter.

His "fork" is the division between what later came to be called "analytic" and "synthetic" statements, with the ominous observation that any books containing statements that cannot be assigned to one or the other prong should be burnt.

Actually, I should acknowledge that there is some dispute as to how well or poorly the dichotomy Hume outlines really maps onto the analytic/synthetic dichotomy. Some writers maintain that Hume meant something quite different and has been hijacked. Personally, I've never seen the alleged difference however hard they've worked to point it out to me.

The guillotine makes for a more dramatic graphic than a mere fork, hence the bit of clip art above.

I'm curious whe…