Saturday, December 7, 2019

Sex, lies, videotape and...blackmail?

The NY Times has a very interesting story about how it, and two very prominent lawyers, became involved with a man who claimed to have access to videotapes of important men having sex with underrage women.  It touches on the subtle difference between blackmail and some kinds of legal settlement.

Jeffrey Epstein, Blackmail and a Lucrative ‘Hot List’
A shadowy hacker claimed to have the financier’s sex tapes. Two top lawyers wondered: What would the men in those videos pay to keep them secret?
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Matt Levine over at Bloomberg has an interesting followup article that begins this way:

"The basic “mystery of blackmail” is:

  1. If I know that you have done some bad secret stuff, it is totally legal for me to publish that information.
  2. It is also totally legal for me to keep it quiet.
  3. In general, if it is legal for me to do or not do something, and you’d prefer that I (not) do it, I can ask you for money in exchange for (not) doing it.
  4. But if I ask you for money in exchange for not publishing bad stuff about you, that’s blackmail, and it’s a crime.

The mystery is why blackmail should be illegal when its component parts aren’t. But there’s another practical mystery about blackmail, which is:

  1. If you have done some bad stuff to me, and no one knows about it, I am once again free to tell everyone, or not.
  2. If I go to you and say “give me a million dollars or I will tell people,” that is blackmail and I go to prison.
  3. But if I go to you and say “I am going to sue you for doing the bad stuff to me, I am filing my case on Monday, but I am willing to settle for $1 million and sign a nondisclosure agreement in connection with the settlement,” that is fine, that is just how lawsuits work."
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Earlier related posts (on blackmail as a repugnant transaction that is sometimes occasioned by the knowledge that the victim has engaged in a different repugant transaction, and that can sometimes be whitewashed by the protected transaction of legal action...):

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Friday, December 6, 2019

Testing your own DNA is illegal in France

Statnews.com has the story:

In France, it’s illegal for consumers to order a DNA spit kit. Activists are fighting over lifting the ban  By ERIC BOODMAN

"The French ban on direct-to-consumer genetic testing is part of the country’s bioethics laws, which legislators are supposed to revise every seven years. When those discussions got underway earlier this year, some geneticists expected the National Assembly to relax the rules about commercial DNA analysis. It didn’t. Now, Jovanovic-Floricourt and the other genetics enthusiasts in her education and advocacy group, DNA Pass, are agitating more and more to get some of these tests legalized, contacting lawmakers, chatting up scientists, promising a more vociferous campaign than they’ve waged before.

"But as one of the most vocal pro-legalization advocates, Jovanovic-Floricourt may have found her match in geneticist Guillaume Vogt and his bioethicist postdoc Henri-Corto StoeklĂ©. Theirs is an unusual standoff, in that they’re all motivated by the same ideas. Both sides hope to protect French genomes from exploitation by foreign companies. Both sides believe that French institutions are the best guardians for the job. They just disagree about how, exactly, to realize that vision. As Vogt, a scientist at the National Center for Human Genomics Research, put it, “Don’t change the law!”

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The still struggling legal market for cannabis

Here's an indirect update on the state of the American cannabis market, from the WSJ (hemp is a source for cannabidiol, or CBD):

Farmers Rushed Into Hemp. Now They Face a Glut.
Prices for the crops are falling, and some growers are struggling to unload their product

"A rush of farmers seeking to grow hemp, which became legal to cultivate in the U.S. last year, is creating a glut, damping prices and leaving some farmers struggling to unload their product. It is among the growing pains in the nascent industry for hemp-derived products—a potentially lucrative market, but one beset by regulatory uncertainty, financing constraints and other challenges.
...
"Hemp—which is the same plant species as marijuana, but with a minimal amount of the psychoactive compound in pot—was farmed legally in the U.S. until a 1937 federal law began a period of hemp prohibition. It became legal again because of a provision of the 2018 federal farm bill."

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Congestion and competition in college admissions (in the WSJ)

Is college admissions ripe for re-design?  (The problems outlined are real, but I'm skeptical that there's the consensus needed for a major overhaul...)

How to Fix College Admissions
Getting into a top school is a stressful, unpredictable process. Here are 10 ways to make it fairer and more transparent.  By Melissa Korn

"We asked college admissions officers, high school and private counselors, parents, students and others for ways to make the system fairer, more transparent and less painful for everyone involved. Here are 10 of their ideas—some easy to implement, others just meant to start a conversation—to reform the status quo.
...
"2. Limit the number of colleges to which students may apply. Thanks in part to the ease of applying online—especially through the Common Application, which allows applicants to use one basic form for hundreds of colleges—36% of students submitted seven or more applications in 2017, up from 10% in 1995. “The number of clicks you can make on the Common App causes congestion in the system,” says Alvin Roth, a Nobel Prize-winning Stanford University economist who helped to design the system that matches new doctors with residency programs.

"Schools pursue aggressive outreach, urging even fairly unqualified applicants to apply, then boast every spring about how many they rejected, as if exclusivity is proof of quality. Ballooning application numbers, combined with stagnant class sizes, cause acceptance rates to slide even lower into the single digits at places like Columbia and Pomona. As a result, high-school seniors apply to more schools just in case, and the vicious cycle continues—creating havoc for schools that can’t predict their yields. The overall yield rate for new freshmen at U.S. colleges fell to 34% in 2017 from 48% in 2007.
...
"Almost nobody needs to submit 20 applications; a reasonable limit would be as low as a half dozen, assuming that students receive meaningful counseling. High schools could enforce the cap by only agreeing to submit a certain number of official transcripts to colleges. The College Board and ACT could also limit distribution of SAT and ACT results, but they have little incentive to do so, since they make money from sending scores.
...
"9. ...Even more radical, schools could try some version of the algorithm used to determine matches for medical residency programs, which involves programs and medical students ranking one another and then being paired up by a computer system. This would be a heavy lift, however, as colleges would need to coordinate their procedures to rank candidates, run the computer program and inform all parties about the outcomes."

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Seema Jayachandran on the Banerjee, Duflo, Kremer Nobel, in the NYT

The Economic View column of the NY Times, by someone who knows the subject, and the subjects very well:

When a Disappointment Helped Lead to a Nobel Prize
The winners of this year’s Nobel in economics did pioneering field experiments that sometimes didn’t work as expected.  By Seema Jayachandran

"The negative finding about textbooks was important in the development of Mr. Kremer’s career. “I’m happier when I find that something works,” he said. “But I’m not in despair if I don’t — the key thing is listen and learn from it.”

Monday, December 2, 2019

Who is a refugee? Remembering U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata

The Lancet recalls the life and work of Sadako Ogata, born 16 September 1927; died 22 October 2019.

Sadako Ogata
"Sadako Ogata began to transform UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, almost as soon as she became UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1991. At the time, the Gulf War had displaced more than a million Iraqi Kurds and thousands were blocked from crossing into Turkey. They were in desperate need just inside the Iraqi border. Ogata quickly sought to expand UNHCR's rules to allow it to provide aid not only to refugees but also to people displaced within their own country. “Most of the senior leaders in UNHCR were against providing assistance to those Kurdish refugees because they were inside Iraq”, said Izumi Nakamitsu, who was based in Turkey at the time for UNHCR and accompanied Ogata on her first mission as High Commissioner to visit the displaced Kurds. “The refugee law says that you're not a refugee until you cross the border and senior officials advised her against providing protection and assistance. But she instinctively felt this was wrong”, said Nakamitsu, who is now a UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs. Ogata's insistence that UNHCR provide aid to people who are internally displaced is one of her lasting legacies."
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And from the Guardian:

Sadako Ogata obituary
Independent-minded head of the UN agency for refugees, who expanded its role to help millions more displaced people

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Divorce as a repugnant transaction

A recent obituary reminds me that divorce used to be a repugnant transaction, to which there were barriers even when both partners in a marriage were eager to end it on agreed upon terms.  It was a repugnant transaction because of the way we regard marriage as a protected transaction.

Jerome Wilson, Key in Revamping New York Divorce Law, Dies at 88
As a legislator in 1966, he led a commission that pushed to broaden the legal grounds for divorce. New York had been the last state to recognize only adultery.

"Jerome L. Wilson, a former Democratic state senator from Manhattan who helped liberalize a rigorous 18th-century law that had left New York as the sole state that required a spouse to prove adultery as the only legal ground for divorce, died on Friday
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"The amended act, which took effect on Sept. 1, 1967, added four other grounds for divorce: cruel treatment, abandonment for two years, the sentencing of a spouse to prison for five years or more and a couple’s living voluntarily apart for at least two years.
...
"In the second year after the law went into effect, the number of divorces granted in New York ballooned to 18,000 in all five categories, compared with 4,000 granted only for adultery during the last year that the old law was in effect.

"Supporters of the changes said the new law also reduced instances of perjury (because so many estranged spouses had to lie about allegations of adultery) and end runs by wealthier couples who could afford to fly to Mexico or Nevada and remain there for two weeks to qualify for a divorce.
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"Mr. Wilson’s first marriage, in 1957 to Frances Roberts, ended in divorce."