News From a Former Hometown: Tax Dollars at Work

Two days ago in Nashville, TN, armed federal agents raided a Gibson guitar factory in the course of the execution of a search warrant. What were the feds looking for — drugs? Illegal workers? Nope.

According to the world-famous luthiers, the raid (which resulted in factory shutdowns in Nashville and Memphis) led to the seizure of “several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. ” You see, the wood was imported from India, but was not finished by Indian workers. Instead, Gibson workers were expected to finish the wood, and that’s a violation of the law. No, not American law, silly — an Indian law. Except there have been no complaints from India. According to Gibson, “This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.”

But you see, someone at DoJ has decided that Gibson’s actions violate the DoJ’s interpretation of the Indian law, and that theoretically puts Gibson in violation of something called the Lacey Act, which “prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, transported or sold.” Specifically, we’re told, this 111-year-old law “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.” As it happens, ignorance of the [hypothetically] violated foreign law is no excuse, and neither is the guitar company’s purchase of the wood in accordance with standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council. Heck, Gibson has even worked with Greenpeace on its wood-sourcing needs. But Bureaucratus locuta est: Send in the SWAT team.

So let’s review. An internationally respected musical instrument maker, with a history of commitment to environmental responsibility and fair trade, may be in violation of another country’s law about who can finish a piece of wood, and although that other country hasn’t made that claim, a U.S. civil service hack decides to call in the stormtroopers. At least we know this is a one-shot aberration, right?

Guess again. Gibson reports that this is very similar to a 2009 raid that resulted in the seizure of ebony fingerboards from Madagascar, and guitars with said fingerboards. No criminal charges have been filed, and Gibson has documents from Madagascar’s officials stating that no laws were broken there. DoJ is attempting to prevent Gibson’s civil action to recover its property.

Well, obviously this is just some rogue functionary at work, right? I’m not so sure. Imagine you’re a GS-13 somewhere. Don’t you occasionally feel the need to do something, and thereby justify your salary (+ geographic adjustment)? This is what these people are paid to do. And we’re paying for it.

In this case, the song may have ended, but the malady lingers on.

H/T: Robbie Rist (yes, “Cousin Oliver“) on Facebook.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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4 Responses to News From a Former Hometown: Tax Dollars at Work

  1. Alaska Jack says:

    At the risk of getting myself wound around the axle here, it seems to me that the folks at Gibson have either A Pissed off some sort of higher-up, B) Failed to pay off some sort of higher-up, or C) Fallen out with some higher-up who opposes/is opposed by the FSC and/or Greenpeace (or the other organizations with which Gibson may or may not work.

    As a woodworker who deals with some rather rare and exotic species of lignic interest, I can tell you that there are seemingly innumerable international treaties, conventions, laws, etc. all of which are designed to cover the issues of the now horrifically outdated (and in this case probably improperly applied) Lacey act of 1900 (as amended).

    If you knew what it takes for me to bring a sliver of Madagascar Rosewood, Cocobolo, or even that most amazing of plants, the Lignum Vitae–yes, the literal “tree of life” which has given modern medicine everything from over-the counter expectorants [guaifenesin] to the life-saving occult blood test [the guiaiac test], not to mention a nearly half-millennium old treatment for syphilis–all because the wood’s primary value to the modern world is in the manufacture of weaponry (it’s found inside every stern tube of every American warship build from Civil War days on to modern times used as a bearing block), frankly you’d be amazed. I could be arrested just for having the sawdust. without a permit.

    And heaven forbid either of the Lady Ms should ever develop cancer, as the now global-standard treatment for breast cancer is a chemical called Taxol, which thankfully was finally synthesized in a French laboratory in the 1990s; until then, then only to obtain it was to skin alive the Pacific Yew tree–leaving the wood to rot–in a clear violation of the Lacey act.

    Some days my country embarrasses me…

  2. Pingback: Taking An Axe to Red Tape | Professor Mondo

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