We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“Not aimed at who?”: how distributed governmental stupidity McNabs the innocent

Here are a couple of recent stories, both recently linked to by Instapundit, that I think deserve to be put next to each other.

First, here is a quote I found while rootling about in the McCain/Feingold story, which Dale Amon has already posted about here. Here is the bit that interested me:

These laws are decidedly NOT aimed at online press, commentary or blogs, and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 was carefully drafted to exclude them. The FEC has now been asked to initiate a rulemaking to work out how to deal with different kinds of Internet political expenditures, and there will be plenty of opportunity for public commentary.

This denial is, of course, the result of the exact opposite having been alleged. I read it because one Winfield Myers of the Democracy Project quotes it, and notes that the quotee, a hot shot lawyer, makes very little of his past legal relationship with McCain. Bloggers prefer it when they know where people are coming from.

And the second quote, is from a review of a book called Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything.

McNab was a seafood importer who shipped undersized lobsters and lobster tails in opaque plastic bags instead of paper bags. These were trivial violations of a Honduran regulation – equivalent to a civil infraction, or at most, a misdemeanor. However, using creative lawyering, a government prosecutor used this misdemeanor offense as the basis for the violation of the Lacey Act, which is a felony. The prosecutor then used the Lacey Act charge as a basis to stack on smuggling and money laundering counts. You got that?

McNab was guilty of smuggling since he shipped lobster tails in bags that you can see through, instead of shipping them through bags that would frustrate visual inspection. He was guilty of money laundering since he paid a crew on his ship to “smuggle the tails.” Although it turned out that the Honduran regulation was improperly enacted and thus unenforceable, the government did not relent. A honest businessman lost his property and his freedom: McNab is serving 8-years in prison.

Okay, so what do the tribulations of a seafood importer have to do with the right of bloggers to blog what they damn well please? Well, what interests me is the political process involved in both matters. How the hell do the laws and the processes that got poor Mr McNab nabbed get put in place in the first place? The phrase “not aimed at” is the point of this posting. It may well be that the McCain/Feingold act is “not aimed” at bloggers, but the point being made is that, aimed or not, some other regulator will be able to pick it up and so aim it, and in fact may even have some kind of legal obligation to aim it thus.

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that there is now a crisis of excessive lawmaking in the West generally, and in the Anglo-Saxon world in particular. It is not that our political class is hell bent on tyrranny, impure and simple. It is more that they have become legislative entrepreneurs, so to speak. And just as a businessman who is delighted to make a fast buck selling mobile phones does not bother himself about the grief inflicted by railway travellers with mobiles on other railway travellers, so too, lawmakers who are “aiming” at one particular group of alleged wrongdoers have a tendency to neglect what you might call legislative collateral damage. The laws pile up, and the other legislators, the ones who you would hope would be sitting there solemnly trying to limit that collateral damage, neglect that duty, because they are too busy hustling through other little laws of their own, aimed at other preferred clutches of alleged wrongdoers. Laws go straight from legislative entrepreneurs to government regulators, without no intervening process of scrutiny that is worthy of that adjective.

Which means that government regulators are then tempted to mutate into what you might call regulatory entrepreurs. They cannot possibly enforce all their laws, rules and regulations. There are not enough hours in the history of universe for that to happen. So, just like the legislative entrepreneurs, they also lose sight of the big picture (it having become too big to bother with) and decide for themselves which regulations to take seriously. How? Any way they please. In accordance with what rules? Whichever ones they decide to go with.

Add a dash of right wing fervour (a point which Go Directly to Jail apparently brings out very strongly) about crime being very, very bad and having to be fought with implacable ferocity, and to hell with those silly old legal safeguards, and you end up with a kind of anti-lottery instead of a government. Any person, at any moment, is liable to be picked on and turned into a criminal. At any moment, in the words of those British National Lottery adverts, it could be you-ou!!! And everyone is obliged to enter this one.

Being a libertarian, I was never very inclined to think of government as being intelligent. My prejudice is that it is mostly evil, most of the time, and the only question is: in what particular way is it evil at this particular time? Right now, I find myself wanting to describe government as evil because of a process of distributed stupidity, a phrase I adapt from the phrase distributed intelligence, which is how we bloggers like to think of how we work and of what we produce.

And I do indeed hope that the blogosphere will have a lot to contribute towards unscrambling the mess that is distributed governmental stupidity.

The problem is basically one of scale and of incentives. We now live in a world where legislators get their brownie points by forcing through ill-considered and half-baked laws, which do not do much to solve their original problem, but which create a miasma of other problems and subjecting the McNabs of this world to undeserved prison sentences. Other legislators could spend their time denouncing this torrent of ill-considered legislation, but fear that this would make them look lazy and negative, and get them minus brownie points. So, they legislate crazily too.

What I would like would be a world in which a legislative entrepreneur who is thinking of thrashing out yet another of these stupid laws, just so he can get his name in legal lights, would pause, and, you know, consider, for fear of a shitstorm from the blogosphere, and thus eventually, after a month or two, from the regular old media that he has actually heard of. I want a world where other potential legislative entrepreneurs, instead read the blogs to see more McCain/Feingold horrors coming down the legislative tube, and try to get their brownie points by being praised by bloggers not for making one of these laws, but for unmaking a few.

I would like a world in which the McNabs have a voice, before they are hit by these idiot laws and idiot regulators, and while, and for ever afterwards.

Well, I think and hope that we might be moving towards just such a world. The distributed stupidity of government is now, I would like to think, being challenged by the distributed intelligence of the rest of us. Previously, we masses did not have the means to distribute our intelligence, so to speak. Now, we do.

This McCain/Feingold thing looks like it could be the next Trent Lott/Dan Rather/Eason Jordan blogswarm furore-story. Like many bloggers, I am uneasy about living in a world where the blogosphere measures its success by how many high profile careers it wrecks. But how many potentially bad (McNab-nabbing) laws it stomps on? That I could live with far more happily.

I hereby propose the verb “McNab”, to describe the process of innocent people being seriously screwed by crazy laws. As in: I’ve been McNabbed. Or maybe: I’m a McNab. By the sound of it, the original McNab deserves some good fame to set besides his horrendously bad treatment at the hands of the American criminal justice system.

33 comments to “Not aimed at who?”: how distributed governmental stupidity McNabs the innocent

  • Complexity theory has the idea of emergent behavior whereby the interaction of very simple rule sets produces highly complex and unpredictable behavior. Of course, the more rules the more likely an unpredicted behavior will emerge.

    We could easily see the same effect occurring in law. Its effect in criminal law might be hard to see but I think it occurs in regulatory law all the time. Perverse effects occur all the time in environmental, safety and labor law.

  • “Add a dash of right wing fervour (a point which Go Directly to Jail apparently brings out very strongly) about crime being very, very bad and having to be fought with implacable ferocity”

    Brian,

    I take exception to that sentence. I think you might want to reconsider it, given that, by and large, the right wing reserves that kind of opprobrium for crimes committed against persons (and to a lesser extent, property).

    It’s the Left which applies laws against trivia — eg. “hate speech”, “thought crime”, etc.

    I think you’ll find that more people were sent to Stalinist gulags in any five-year period than are currently sitting in American jails, for instance. Certainly, the gross number of prisoners under Communism far outweighs anything a Western democracy has ever done.

    That said, your major point is absolutely correct. The RICO Act, for example, was passed to deal with the “rackets” (ie. organized crime) back when organized crime was rampant (the Prohibition era).

    Since then, RICO has been used promiscuously against several organizations — the Clinton administration used it against anti-abortion groups, for example (not your Al Capone-type organization, surely).

    And the current McCain-Feingold mess has resulted in an absolute storm of resistance, as well it should.

    John McCain is a pissy little power freak, and the sooner the voters of Arizona throw him out of office, the better.

  • Kim du Toit

    What I had in mind with the right wing fervour thing was not that the final application to trivia is necessarily done with fervour by rightists (although I bet it sometimes is), but that the law itself is drafted with fervour, to the point where the people enforcing it can be as fervent as they like, and indeed sometimes are obliged to be fervent. Anti-terrorism laws, for instance, ferociously drafted to make those damn terrorists quake, then gets fervently unloaded on non-terrorists by government people empowered to do pretty much as they please. That kind of thing.

    Or how about that whole confiscating the assets of drug dealers thing? That is morphing into confiscating stuff from others. Yes?

    I’m guessing that this is the kind of thing the writer of the book had in mind, but only guessing because I’ve not read it.

  • Jhn'1

    I believe that we have reached the point where all federal law should “sunset”. The exact period should be based upon how large a majority it recieves, ie; simple majority is good for one year from date of passing, 60% is good for 5 years from passage, ect. ( 100% is good for 20 years only)

  • Giles

    There’s also the Corporate Social Responsibility angle; if corporations have social responsibility, then all busineess, inlcuding individual business men should responsibilty as well. And if they have responsibilty they are like “citizens” with rights and responsibilties. And one of those responsibiilties is culpability for crimes.

    But here’s the problem – for individuals eveyone has good common sense about what if moral or not. But since no one ever wrote a bible about firms and corporations, most people lack any check on what is moral or immoral from companies. So they just go along and enforce the law, without thinking becasue they have no frame of reference from which to think.

  • Sylvain Galineau

    The implied assertion here is that legislators and pols who get their brownie points from the blogosphere would somehow produce more for the better good than those who seek them from the media or the electorate. As if the blogosphere – whoever that is – would somehow be above the fray and better able to prevent unintended consequences and other externalities.

    Which, of course, is fervently believed and preached by every single activist group out there. “If they listened to us…..we told them so…”

    Never mind what the blogosphere thinks is a function of what blogs you choose to read. Somehow, I don’t think my perception of bloggers’ opinions is the same as Michael Moore’s or John Edwards’. Why would those people suddenly choose to listen to those blogs that go against their own political interests, or that of the institutions they support or belong to ?

    Lastly, I grew up in France and, until I was able to escape the darn place, got to watch loud, thuggish, tiny minorities of unionized leeches either legislate or undo legislation from the street by paralyzing them, blocking the main roads, the railways or even damaging private property, all sheepishly defended by the local media as ‘social debate’ and ‘ freedom of expression’, of course.

    I don’t see how having legislators and governments freely elected by millions bending to the allegedly enlightened musings of a few thousand bloggers would be an improvement. If only because the bloggers they will most likely listen to are the ones who demand more direct and indirect government power.

    What bloggers do bring to the table, however, is effective, widespread, low-cost representation where there wasn’t any. If you were not a trade union, a political group or a party, an organized lobby and didn’t have access to the media, you essentially didn’t exist and could be McNabbed without anyone being the wiser. Not so anymore, as you point out. Bloggers can lubricate the media world and add liquidity to the opinion market.

    But the goal shouldn’t be to have pols getting their brownie points from these people instead of those. That’s why the system blows in the first place. If blogs could prod larger chunks of the media and the electorate to the point where politicians see political capital in enacting laws and regulation that apply to, and benefit all, instead of this narrow group at the expense of that other one, it would be a huge first step.

    But then again, one would have to assume that the overall blogosphere were generally sympathetic to that goal. I don’t believe it is. For every Samizdata, there is an Atrios, or any other from a multitude of conservative and socialist advocates of bigger government. Which ones are more likely to be heard ?

  • Sylvain,

    Judging from the readership stats, the Lefties have it over us, in spades.

  • Most excellent commentary. Thank you very much. I would be ashamed to say that I am just confused about how one sees through “opaque” bags, except I have no shame.

    Brian, I am interested in your topic because it seems like the pinnacle of Libertarian logic to me. The more adaptive Conservative position of practicality fails completely when we see how far Janet Reno types are able to pervert the legal system from the inside out. The combination of sophisticated criminals on both sides of the bar, leaves our society wide open to abuse. I can offer only a partial solution: Never elect Liberals or Leftists (Democrats) to high office.

    Kim, we will always be outnumbered. Thankfully, the opposition can never contain their self-detonating excesses.

  • Bernie

    “I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that there is now a crisis of excessive lawmaking in the West generally, and in the Anglo-Saxon world in particular.”

    Lets call it “an epidemic”.

    “It is more that they have become legislative entrepreneurs, so to speak.”

    I don’t like the use of “entrepreneur” being used to describe such people. I get the idea and I agree with you, but an entrepreneur is someone who satisfies a need or want which is noble and hence valued whereas the products of the people you describe are shunned.

  • “…an entrepreneur is someone who satisfies a need or want which is noble and hence valued whereas the products of the people you describe are shunned.”

    But they’re not shunned. That’s the problem.

  • Doug Collins

    Brian-

    I am unclear after reading your article as to where McNab is imprisoned -Honduras or the USA?

    I am absolutely in agreement with your sentiments. I don’t see, though, how bloggers are going to put pressure on pols who have not committed some transgression like dallying with Monica or forging old National Guard records.

    McCain appears to be one of those obnoxious goody-goody types who pass judgement on everyone else and have neither the courage nor the imagination to sin themselves. This passes for virtue with them. Feingold appears to be yet another bitter leftwing woman who also sees her bitterness and bile as strident virtue. I believe C.S.Lewis described her type in great detail.

    The problem is: What are the blogs going to get them on? It will have to be newsworthy and it will have to be something that calls their authority into question. The first, so that the attack cannot be ignored by the MSM and the electorate; the second so that the faith, held by the average voter, in their judgement and good intentions will be shaken.

    To say that you don’t like their proposed law for reasons A, B and C isn’t going to make much impression on someone who doesn’t know the difference between a blog and a virus. So you don’t like it -So What?

    Let me propose a Test. If McNab is in jail in the US, let the blogosphere find out:

    1. Who is responsible for this. I mean names, phone numbers, bosses names etc.

    2. Then put some heat on these people. Make them feel it. Bureaucrats loathe publicity and seek their anonymity like roaches scuttling into the dark places.

    3. IF the blogosphere is as powerful as we hope, get him out. He doesn’t sound like he belongs behind bars. If we can do this, we will put the fear of God into a lot of statists.

    If we can’t do anything specific, then we are just talking. It might do some good or it might not. But I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

  • Sudha Shenoy

    ‘Legislation is more dangerous than gunpowder’ – F A Hayek. The current epidemic of legislation began in the 1920s. We got on for 800 years with next-to-none.

    Hayek also points out these democratically-elected thugs want to expropriate the dignity of (true) law for their orders. Legislatures pass statutes. They cannot pass law. Don’t give them even that moral victory.

  • Sudha Shenoy

    ‘Legislation is more dangerous than gunpowder’ – F A Hayek. The current epidemic of legislation began in the 1920s. We got on for 800 years with next-to-none.

    Hayek also points out these democratically-elected thugs want to expropriate the dignity of (true) law for their orders. Legislatures pass statutes. They cannot pass law. Don’t give them even that moral victory.

  • Bernie

    “”…an entrepreneur is someone who satisfies a need or want which is noble and hence valued whereas the products of the people you describe are shunned.”
    But they’re not shunned. That’s the problem.”

    I meant that they are not appreciated as a good by those who receive them.

  • If the Federal Election Commission actually tries to crack down on blog based free speech, the resulting blogswarm won’t compare to Lott/Rather/Jordan/Gannon. Instead, for the first time ever, there will be a completely bi-partisan blogswarm. History will finally get to see what happens when both sides of the blogosphere come down with the full weight of their wrath.

    Frankly, I’m looking forward to it. By the time the blogosphere is done, they’ll need to check dental records to identify the bodies.

  • I favour the idea they had in ancient Greece: you could stand up in the agora and propose any damn fool law you liked, and it could be voted up or down. But, there was a guy standing behind you with a ligature round your neck, and if your proposal got voted down, you were instantly garotted.

  • Kenny

    Mr. Collins-
    Only because your factual error makes it impossible to read the rest of your post without distraction:

    Feinstein is the female senator from California

    Feingold is a male senator from Wisconsin

  • Blair is the master of providing solutions to problems he caused.

    He has presided over rising crime, increased delinquency amongst our youth, plummeting educational standards and a deteriorating NHS.

    New Labour rants on about how it will improve all these ills as though it inherited them only yesterday.

    Lately, his education minion talks about restoring public faith in the quality of A levels- not that she’ll admit they’ve become degraded, of course.

    Will we fall for this? You bet we will….

  • I seem to remember Gingrich attempting (key word!) to have a day a week dedicated to finding laws to repeal. I think that’s how the Spanish-American War era telephone tax came up for repeal.

    As far as I’m concerned, not only should all new legislation come with an expiration date, but some process should be worked out to force EVERY law to come up for review.

  • MalcolmS

    All civilized countries should enact a constitutional provision that it should be possible for an ordinary citizen of Grade 8 education to read and comprehend ALL of the laws and regulations pertaining to a citizen in a set period of time (e.g. 3 months to a year.).

    Once this limit is reached, no more laws or regulations may be passed unless others are removed.

    Currently, the US Federal register increases by 70,000+ pages per year. Even the legislators cannot and do no read the laws they vote for.

    A concerned citizen would have to read 280 pages of new laws and regulations per working day to keep up and make sure they were not in danger of breaking new laws or regulations.

    After all, if God Himself can summarize the Law in Ten Points, and the complete set of sanitary and religious laws of the Hebrews can be read in a single day, it should be possible to limit the laws of our land so that it will be humanly possible to know and follow the law.

  • Darvin Hansen

    Brian, you might have a point in general regarding the use of laws in this manner, sunset clauses etc.

    However, you are only presenting one side of the story in the McNab case, making McNab out to be a martyr. It’s as laughable as the “Free Mumia” campaign. I googled this:

    “The case stems from the seizure of 70,787 pounds of spiny lobster tails by NMFS in February 1999. The lobster tails were from Honduras, sold by David Henson McNab, who owns a fleet of boats. The prosecution charges that the vessels regularly kept undersized lobsters, and they also cut off eggs of female lobsters, instead of releasing them. The government introduced testimony from three Hondurans who were partners in a seafood processing company, who claimed that McNab knowingly dealt in shorts.”

    I mean, come on. That’s 35 tonnes, McNab owned the boats, it’s not small scale. The fish is being processed by McNab, for McNab. He has likely been running a crooked operation for a long time, and deserves everything he gets. I daresay that 35 tonnes is the tip of the iceberg.

    From what I know from working in another fishing industry, every fishing industry of value must be regulated and enforced. Otherwise what invariably happens is a tragedy of the commons. Even when fisheries are regulated, it’s a constant battle between poachers and law enforcement. Poachers are notoriously hard to catch and convict. There are huge swaths of coastline to police, poachers can dump their illegal catch whenever the heat gets on, and there are big incentives for doing it.

    It’s possible to have a large degree of self management (i.e. industry controls quota, size limits etc) but someone still must do the policing. Usually the government. Who else is going to do it? I know this is a libertarian site, and I lean libertarian (used to be card carrying actually), but this is a case where the alternatives are either:
    a) accept that your fishery will be fished into the ground by open slather, with negative environmental AND economic consequences, or
    b) accept that fisheries need to be regulated somehow (for instance some industries divide the Total Allowable Catch into individual quota certificates that can be traded) and policed.

    Implicit in option b) is the fact that there is an incentive to cheat the system, it is hard to catch the cheats even when the police force knows darn well who cheats, and that it is necessary to do everything within the laws and draft new ones in order to nail a few of the very creative bastards that ruin an industry for everyone in order to minimize poaching.

    So in summary, be careful you don’t become a useful idiot in the process of campaigning for McNab.

  • Bill

    Unfortunately, Darvin Hansen’s comment shows precisely the nature of the regulatory problmem. Reasonable people implement what seem to be reasonable laws to address real problems. Once said laws are on the books, other reasonable people find other perfectly legitimate needs that said laws can address (After all, obtaining creative enforcement of existing laws is much easier than convincing the entire public of your cause.). And, at the end, we are left with the situation of a man serving an 8-year prison sentance for the terrible, awful, horrible crime of…selling too-small lobsters.
    McCain-Feingold played out in much the same way. The public was eager to get “big money” donors out of the political landscape. At the end of the day thats an understandable, if not laudable. goal. Of course, its only fair and reasonable to also include organizations such as unions that can provide huge in-kind donations to candidates in lieu of cash contributions. Of course, what applies to union donations…
    We seem to forget too easily that the tragedy of the commons can just as easily apply to the political sphere as the economic world.

  • Great insights, Brian.
    But I think you’re missing the reason there is political support for every expanding laws.

    The desire for Unreal Perfection.

    As long as voters expect the gov’t to provide a “reality” where “bad things” don’t happen, there will be pressure to have another law to stop another bad thing. And pressure to use current laws, like income tax enforcement, to get Mafia crooks like Al Capone.

    Thanks, David Hansen, for more info — it especially makes it reasonable to NOT use the “McNab” label for this more general problem Brian is describing. (Sorry; I liked it, too, acoustically.)

    The blogosphere DOES have the possibility to increase transparency of gov’t, tremendously. I hope we use it.

  • “I don’t like the idea of ‘entrepreneur’ being used to describe such people. I get the idea and I agree with you, but an entrepreneur is someone who satisfies a need or want which is noble and hence valued whereas the products of the people you describe are shunned.”(Bernie)

    Matt MacIntosh rightly points out that the problem is that the products of the political class are not shunned. And neither is the political class itself. And it’s not a right or left “fervor” problem. It’s simply a political class problem created by and encouraged by a lazy, sub-literate, greedy electorate that continues to reward such behavior by the political class. Sure, some of the rascals get thrown out–”Dascheled” as it were–;but only the most egregious examples and only when it’s not going to impact political business as usual. And yes, every now and then cream rises, but how rare and shocking is the idea of a decent person of unusual ability entering the political class?

    This idea of “distributed stupidity” is nothing new, of course. A good term for the over-arching subjects of “Departmental Ditties” and Barrack Room Ballads”? The concentration of evil and stupidity in the political and civil servant class is something Kipling dealt with extensively. Particularly apropos might be these lines from “A Servant When He Reigneth”–

    “Three things make earth unquiet
    And four she cannot brook
    The godly Agur counted them
    And put them in a book –
    Those Four Tremendous Curses
    With which mankind is cursed;
    But a Servant when He Reigneth
    Old Agur entered first…

    …So, when his Folly opens
    The unnecessary hells,
    A Servant when He Reigneth
    Throws the blame on some one else.

    His vows are lightly spoken,
    His faith is hard to bind,
    His trust is easy boken,
    He fears his fellow-kind.
    The nearest mob will move him
    To break the pledge he gave…”

    A sunset on laws? A universal sunset (and a pox! *heh*) on politicians would be a good thing, as well, IMO. There was more than one reason the Founders feared democracy…

  • 2b

    Brian your overall point is good, especially if you take note of the good comments above – however I have one additional point to make. Beware of falling victim to the very thing which you despise:

    Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.

    Your desire to make others bow before the blogosphere is just the first symptom. Next is thinking that all of your opponents are evil and stupid and their ideas can be dismissed as unworthy.

    Governments should be mistrusted – but they are a necessary part of any healthy organized society. You need to work WITH the politicians – resist the temptation to abuse your own power to achieve the perfect world according to you and those around you.
    :-)

  • Rick

    I come very late to this thread, and I am a little disappointed that it took over thirty comments before Mr Hansen did the obvious: dig a little deeper for the whole story. Quite probably, the whole case of Mr McNab is a story of imperfect, and perhaps rough, justice. I think, however, that I’ll reserve my sympathy for better examples of innocent victims of government overreach.
    Many of the examples of “entrepeneurial law making” are in fact, desperate responses to entrepeneurial criminality. I would seriously like to see fewer, better and simpler laws, but in the desire to achieve that, we only hurt the cause when we rush to embrace “innocent” victims like McNab.
    I picked up a hint of possible trouble in this story with the misunderstanding of the word “opaque”. I don’t know what the real story is, but it’s at least possible that the confusion is deliberate, to obscure the fact that McNab was, in fact, trying to conceal his violations.
    I was strongly sensitized to this sort of selective outrage a nunber of years ago. There was a story, quoted in Reader’s Digest, about how a group of nuns in (I think) Chicago was denied the opportunity to provide a shelter because the building they wanted to use was several stories tall, and had no elevator. The ADA required a retrofit, which the nuns couldn’t afford, and thus the project was abandoned, to everyones disadvantage. It was only some time later that I chanced across Christopher HItchen’s “The Missionary Position” wherein he stated that the chief problem was Mother Theresa, who had a creepy fondness for the virtues of suffering. The authorities (according to Hitchens) found funding to do the retrofit, but she refused, because she didn’t want the elevator. I don’t know where the truth lies, but in all the subsequent reading I did, I never found anyone challenging Hitchen’s account.
    This tendency to misquote, distort and conceal facts is an unfortunate characteristic of polemecists on both sides of the political spectrum, though there has been far more of it on the left. Let us not embrace their tactics.

  • Well, what interests me is the political process involved in both matters. How the hell do the laws and the processes that got poor Mr McNab nabbed get put in place in the first place? The phrase “not aimed at” is the point of this posting. It may well be that the McCain/Feingold act is “not aimed” at bloggers, but the point being made is that, aimed or not, some other regulator will be able to pick it up and so aim it, and in fact may even have some kind of legal obligation to aim it thus.

    And of course, it is not a new phenomenon. W. B. Yeats had this to say, a long time ago, to the Irish Parliament:

    “The Government does not intend these things to happen, the Commission on whose report the Bill was founded did not intend these things to happen, but in legislation intention is nothing, and the letter of the law everything, and no government has the right, whether to flatter fanatics or in mere vagueness of mind, to forge an instrument of tyranny and say that it will never be used.” (Quoted in Robert Conquest, Reflections on a Ravaged Century, 2000)

  • Cap'n Dan

    A court clerk told me about a man who was prosecuted for drunk driving in her court. Police had come to his street to question one of his neighbors, and while they spoke to the neighbor this guy stood in his own front yard yelling at them. Not liking what they heard, the police went to talk to the man and found out two things – he was intoxicated, and he had the keys to his car in his pocket. He had not been driving his car and had no plans to, but in retaliation for his big mouth, he was arrested under the state’s DUI law, which states that you may not be in control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Possession of the keys was ruled to be “in control of.” The judge backed up the cops, and this poor schlub was convicted. Law enforcement, or legal abuse?

  • Doug Collins

    Kenny wrote:
    “Only because your factual error makes it impossible to read the rest of your post without distraction:

    Feinstein is the female senator from California

    Feingold is a male senator from Wisconsin”

    Kenny is absolutely correct and I was mistaken.

    However, not entirely mistaken. Ms Feinstein was also present and accounted for as a sponsor of the bill, she just didn’t get in as soon as Feingold did.

    Looking over the list of sponsors, (which I would have done before posting earlier had I realized that I had mixed up two similar people with similar names), I am struck by the thought that this group probably has a higher density of self righteousness than any other group of 32 congressmen you might select. I don’t know which group history will condemn more for damaging the First Amendment, this bunch, or the Supreme Court majority with such severe myopia that they couldn’t see anything wrong with the law.

  • e m but;er

    According to the legal documents I read,the lobster salesman was jailed for selling under-sized (illegal) and pregnant lobsters….not a word about packaging.. I could be wrong but people of either bent(right or left wing) exagerate(lie)..just to make their case more horrifiing..

  • Dianne Blandford

    My Husband Robert Blandford /McNab/along with 2 other co-defendants self-surrendered at the Federal Prison for a non violent ” Lacey Act Violation”
    Out of a 70,000 lbs lobster shipment 2.5 percent were undersize tails. 7 percent were females
    Red Lobster purchased our lobster tails

    He was sentenced to eight years one month in prison three years probation. He received a longer sentence than most drug dealers, or man-slaughter.

    Brief summary

    During the five years of doing business, all lobster shipments imported from Honduras cleared FDA(United States Food and Drug Administration), and United States customs. He was charged with Lobster smuggling. How can it be considered (smuggling) when the defendants followed the correct procedures

    The prosecution enhanced the charges by bringing in Money Laundering, Conspiracy. The Judge stated in the trial transcripts that he did not hear any evidence regarding Money Laundering and that he disagreed with it , didn’t understand it, thought it was prejudicial. Yet he allowed money laundering in.

    The money laundering charges were based on an absurd packaging violation that deemed all shipments illegal during 5 years of doing business because the Lobster tails were packaged in clear plastic bags rather than cardboard boxes.(Honduras Attorney General wrote to Attorney General John Ashcroft and stated no Honduras Laws were broken.

    In American you should be able to plea “Not Guilty” and not be punished 300 percent for not plea bargaining with the prosecution.

    My Husband (along with three other defendants) should not wither away in prison to satifly over-zealous prosecution. This case should have been nothing more than a minor infraction not eight years in prison for a first time offense Non -Violent crime .

    My husband respected the law and didn’t intentionally or knowingly do anything. We never heard of the Lacey Act before he was indicted. He has had his CITES for en-dangered species, and always complied with the HACCAP program. .

    .

    We were supported pro bono by Washington Legal Foundation (Paul Kamenar) Heritage Foundation Paul Rosensweiz NFIB NACDL and The National Wilderness Foundation
    who wrote an Amicus Brief on our behalf..

    Thank you very much for your time.

    Sincerely

    Dianne Blandford

  • Heather Johnston

    Henson McNab is a cocaine smuggler and the lobster business has been a laundromat for years. I was there in 1983 when he first started the operation. I can’t believe all this crap I’m reading about Poor Henson McNab! He’s a multimillionare who doesn’t pay his employees, and he virtually has every single politician in his pocket. The Bay Islanders are scared to death of him, and he couldn’t care less about them! He is an entreprenuer who got in bed with George W. Bush’s father back in the 80′s when he started doing business with the CIA and their drugs for weapons program during the Iran Contra affair. McNab himself told me this when we got acquainted on Roatan. I was working on a yacht and when we arrived, he was at the dock to greet us. Then, a CIA agent who was staying on the island on the weekends explained the whole business to me. I was not a threat, not a journalist, just a curious person who saw what was going on around me and asked questions. There were few tourists back then, trust me. This story is nothing about undersized lobsters, the lobsters were undersized back in 1983! This story is about competing drug Lords! End of Story! Henson is one of the biggest in the Caribbean!

  • Heather Johnston

    Libellous comment removed