American Elephants


Are the Feds Going to Confiscate Musicians Guitars? by The Elephant's Child

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander is concerned about the summer concert season. Nashville is home to one of Gibson Guitar’s factories, and to many of the famed bands and stars  who use Gibson Guitars. According to the Examiner.federal agents are poised to seize the instruments made by Gibson Guitars, theoretically because the wood used in Guitar frets may not meet Indian and Madagascar environmental law, although the governments of India and Madagascar insist that they do.

Gibson Guitar factories in Nashville and Memphis were raided by armed federal agents nine months ago supposedly for violating the Lacey Act; and though they have been operating in a sort of legal limbo since last August, no formal charges have been forthcoming.  The Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (whose career staff is notorious for pursuing a green agenda)  and senators are working to solve the situation. Alexander and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) met with representatives from the music industry, the wood import business and environmental and conservation groups on Thursday to settle on a solution. Alexander said:

“We held this roundtable because instrument makers like Gibson Guitars in Tennessee are an important part of our music industry, and if the Lacey Act as written is keeping them from being able to get the wood they need to make instruments, we need to make every effort to fix the regulation,” said Alexander.

“The law was intended to prevent illegal logging and protect U.S. jobs that are threatened by illegal logging, it was never intended to seize instruments or wood products that were obtained prior to the passage of the Lacey Act amendments in May 2008 because they were made from imported wood—and when laws have unintended consequences, Congress has a responsibility to promptly make changes,” he added.

This is a very odd case. It seems like an example of government gone wild, or at least government asserting their power— because they can. The Justice Department is already in difficult territory with their failure to prosecute the voter intimidation case of the Black Panthers, and Congress is pursing the Fast and Furious gun-running case. There is a significant amount of over criminalization going on.  We have a number of departments in the Executive Branch that seem to be out-of-control, and acting illegally. I don’t know how this will play out, but it is very worrying.

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4 Comments so far
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Why do you keep writing “supposedly” and “theoretically”? I’d either drop the words or use “ostensibly”.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

Um. possibly because I was writing with my choice of words?

Comment by The Elephant's Child

It hides your message. What is the “theory” that would lead to federal agents seizing guitars? And either the agents raided the guitar factory for violating the Lacey Act, or that was their pretext (“ostensibly”). But by saying “supposedly”, it suggests that you’re not sure. Maybe that’s what you mean, but I doubt you would want to be vague on such an important point.

I’m surprised that Senator Wyden would say “The law was intended to prevent illegal logging and protect U.S. jobs that are threatened by illegal logging.” Come again?

The Lacey Act dates back to 1900, in the heyday of America’s first wave of environmental protection. Its origins were in the preservation of hunted wildlife, not to protect jobs in logging. As explained here:

In 1900, illegal commercial hunting threatened many game species in the United States. The original Act was therefore directed at the preservation of game and wild birds, making it a federal crime to poach game in one state with the purpose of selling the bounty in another. The law prohibited the transportation of illegally captured or prohibited animals across state lines, and addressed potential problems of the introduction of non-native species of birds and animals into native ecosystems.

It was the first federal law protecting wildlife, although today it is primarily used to prevent the importation or spread of potentially dangerous non-native species. The Lacey Act also makes it unlawful to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any plant in violation of the laws of the United States, a State, an Indian tribe, or any foreign law that protects plants. The Lacey Act was most recently amended as of May 22, 2008, when the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 expanded its protection to a broader range of plants and plant products.

What the crackdown on Gibson sounds like is more an (over?) enforcement problem than a problem of the law per se.

It would be useful if there were a more dispassionate and more international discussion of these issues. Illegal harvesting of tropical timber, and of endangered plants and animals, is still a huge problem in countries with poor governance, like Madagascar, which has a unique forest ecosystem. And although the people running the governments of these countries (often in league with the poachers) may be OK with such poaching, citizens within the affected areas, especially native tribes, sometimes give their lives in attempts to stop it.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

Environmentalists’ theory is that restricting what can be imported to the U.S. will somehow save tropic forests. Yes, if you had followed the links in the piece, you would have noted that the Lacey Act was intended for internal U.S. wildlife and poaching and crossing state borders to avoid prosecution. It has changed over the years to become vague and useful for the government to criminally prosecute unknowing citizens for supposedly disobeying foreign laws. One man just got out having served several years for importing lobsters in plastic bags instead of boxes, or something like that. I forget exactly, and I don’t want to take the time to look it up. There have been quite a number of victims of this kind of overcriminalization.

What the government wants you to believe is different from what the law seems to say, which is wide open to interpretation, and since Gibson is the only one of several guitar makers that has been raided, though all use similar products, and Gibson just happens to be the only one that is run by a Conservative who actively supports Republicans, it all seems a little odd, except that Obama has an “enemies list” of anyone who is supporting Republicans, and is acting on it. Also odd, is the fact that they were raided 9 months ago, but no charges have been forthcoming. The latest incarnation of the Lacey Act was rammed through Congress by Ron Wyden who attached it as an amendment to a popular farm bill that was sure to pass. The supposed excuse is that though the imported ebony was finished, it wasn’t finished enough. The imported ebony for guitar frets is not illegal under U.S. law, and the governments of India and Madagascar say that it is quite legal under their laws.

It is well-known in DC that the Environmental and Natural Resources division of the Justice Dept. are eco-zealots, according to what I read. People are being prosecuted for criminal offenses that barely measure up to being civil offenses. Do you nit-pick everyone’s choices of words, or do I just rate special attention?

Comment by The Elephant's Child




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