Ever since the Gibson factories were raided, and then raided again, questions about how the Lacey Act is going to affect the guitar industry have been running rampant in music media outlets like MMR, GuitarWorld.com, Music Trades. Here at TheToneKing.com, we wanted to take a closer look at the implications of this law and how the media seems to be going crazy train over it.
Lacey sounds sexier than it really is
The Lacey Act was signed into law by Pres. Billy McKinley in 1900. Introduced by Iowa Republican Representative John F. Lacey, the idea was to stomp a mudhole in the asses of anyone who screwed with plants and wildlife. This included the prohibition of trade of wildlife and plants that were taken illegally.
In 2008, the Lacey Act was amended to expand protections for plants and wildlife with a specific focus on logging. The 2008 amendments included consideration for foreign commerce laws.
That’s the part that seems to piss most people off the most. From what I can gather, the logic works something like this.
“Who gives a damn what other countries think or say, I should be able to import as many baby seals as I want no matter how many of them I have to club to death to do it!!!”
…Or something like that.
This seems to stem from the idea that American companies should only have to adhere to American laws. Of course, the real world doesn’t work that way. If you’re going to play fútball in Spain, you’ll look like an asshole if you bring a helmet.
In fairness, the inclusion of foreign law does create a lot of ambiguity on how this law gets implemented. Of course, this is nothing new. Companies that are involved with international trade already have to worry about rules established by the WTO, GATT, TRIPS and a whole host of other acronyms, not to mention national, state, and county statutes that also affect their day-to-day business. So, the US government setting regulations that specify that foreign commerce laws need to be considered is really nothing new.
What is new is that Gibson was the one that got in trouble.
Baby got background
This all started in 2009 when Gibson’s Nashville plant was raided by the FBI and the Fish & Wildlife Department and $261,844 worth of ebony fingerboard blanks were seized. The reason for the raid is that the ebony was imported in from Madagascar.
If everything you know about Madagascar comes from the movie with the talking Zebra, then you might be a bit confused.
In addition to many other embargos imposed on them as a result of political turmoil, “the harvest of ebony in and export of unfinished ebony from, Madagascar has been banned since 2006.”
In 2008, Mr. Nix from Gibson went to Madagascar. He was told that the 2006 ban would keep him from getting some of those unfinished ebony blanks. When Mr. Nix got home, he told his bosses something like, “Hey dudes. We ain’t gettin’ no wood here. Cops got that shizz locked down.”
Since that trip, according to the Department of Justice, Gibson has received four shipments of Madagascar ebony. DOJ was all like, “WTF?!” And raided the hell outta Gibson. According to the DOJ, “Gibson had purchased ‘fingerboard blanks,’ consisting of sawn boards of Madagascar ebony.” Which was a no-no. Since the raid, Gibson has stopped importing ebony from Madagascar.
The second raid came in August of 2011. This time, the government said it had evidence that “Indian ebony was ‘fraudulently’ labeled in an attempt to evade an Indian ban on exports of unfinished wood.” And they confiscated another $240,000 or so worth of wood. Hey! That’s a lot of wood you got there.
To offer some explanation as to why his wood was mislabeled, Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz Henry said, “It is very possible that a broker made the mistake in filling out a form.” He went on to say that the wood was partially finished and that Indian officials say that’s cool enough by them.
Either way, Gibson settled with the government in both cases. As part of the settlement, Gibson had to pay $300,000 bucks in fines plus $50,000 in community service payments, set up a program to make sure this don’t happen again, and forfeit the Madagascar load of ebony. The Indian ebony was returned to Gibson.
Send in the clowns
In July, Music Trades put out an article titled, “Was Gibson Unfairly Targeted?” What follows is a long, carefully crafted discussion of all of the facets of the Lacey Act/Gibson controversy.
But the article is four paragraphs long and my 13-month-old daughter giggled when I read it aloud. It also includes a juicy tidbit from Henry Juszkiewicz about what he thinks the systemic problem really is.
“‘We were not high on the list of people you would go after, so clearly there was something else there.’ The raids on Gibson, he added, reflect a much larger problem of ‘excessive power’ in the executive branch of government. ‘The system allows executives to make arbitrary decisions for bad reasons, that don’t necessarily reflect the intent of the law or the will of the people, and these people are never held accountable. There is a systemic problem. And I’ve committed myself to fighting back for years to come.’”
Of course, the article doesn’t bother to provide any evidence to the contrary, and only serves to prove one side of the argument. I’ve written tons of articles, and the quickest way to imply something is to put it in the form of a question and put it at the top of the gorram page.
(Note: The Music Trades online article has been pulled. For reference to the quote, I supplied the original source on Fox News.)
Is The Music Trades Magazine full of paranoid nutbars?
So many media outlets have quickly come to the aid of Gibson that you would think that the president himself threw their boss down, set him on fire, and put out the flames with a steady stream of piss. Gibson suddenly became a martyr of the music manufacturing industry, a poster boy of government oppression. Suddenly, we are treated to an Obama vs. Juszkiewicz cage match. (An O.J. cage match?)
Mr. Juszkiewicz doesn’t seem shy on promoting the hysteria either. It has become a campaign of his to “fighting back” against what he considers a “systemic problem.” One of the attacks that he has leveled at government is that he claims that they are forcing him to outsource work by having the blanks finished in India instead of the US. Of course, it’s India that wants those blanks finished before they’re shipped out, but that’s beside the point. For the most part, he’s been notably silent on the Madagascar incident.
Of course the spread of the hysteria doesn’t stop with Music Trades, several other media outlets have been toting the “Big Government targets little Gibson” line. The most obvious being Fox News.
Since the raid, Oh Henry has been a frequent on Fox News. Most notably, the Mike “Huckleberry” Huckabee show.
Nothing says cool like having a 57 year-old ex-politician awkwardly holding your guitar. As a mediocre bass player, Huckleberry has a keen insight into the world of guitar manufacturing and helps provide Gibson with yet another outlet for their point of view.
Why are we still talking about this?
Since the supposed controversy surround the IRS singling out conservative groups hit the streets– I say “supposed” because most of this has already been debunked - new vigor has been given to the government conspiracy against the Gibson line. Now, many other outlets are suggesting that President Obama singled out Henry Juszkiweicz because he is a Republican and donates to Republican campaigns.
I’m sure that the trillions that Mr. Juszkiweicz contributes to Republican causes is monitored closely by the President of the United States because he has very little else to do with his time. Of course, one might take note that Bain Capital, the group that owns Guitar Center, are also heavy contributors to the Republican Party. Maybe, it was the president’s fault that GC ran up all that debt and are having problems paying their bills.
Also, the aforementioned $500,000 dollars or so of confiscated wood from both raids combined, has somehow swelled to over a million dollars for just the second raid alone. Inflation’s a bitch. Suddenly, Gibson has entered martyrdom and calls are being made to repeal the 100 year-old Lacey Act in its entirety.
I do have to give out some kudos here. Out of all of the articles that I’ve read on the Lacey/Gibson thingy, I have to say that the article from Gutaracifionado.com was certainly the most balanced. Here, they talk to manufactures that believe that, while there are some minor issues with some of the wording of the law, overall the Lacey Act is a step in the right direction.
Although, the overblown circus that the media has ginned up around Gibson and their recent troubles with the law is comical, there are some issues with the Lacey Act that do need addressing.
One of the most problematic wordings in the law involves the transportation of existing guitars with exotic woods. Depending on who you ask, the wording in the law is either unclear about or threatens to confiscate existing guitars with illegally obtained woods. Players are having nightmares about having their precious guitars confiscated as they travel from state to state.
Luckily, the USDA and the US Fish and Wildlife Service have both “issued statements that citizens traveling with their musical instruments are not an enforcement priority.” While this is somewhat relieving, it would be best that this wording be included in the existing law.
There are other notable questions that can be made about the existing Law. While most manufacturers believe that both the Lacey Act and the 2008 amendment are moves in the right direction, there are improvements that need to be made. Unfortunately, most of the media has tried to polarize everybody into two parties: The ones who think that the law is infallible, and those who think that the government is coming for all of our axes while screaming, “They’ll have to pry my guitar from my cold, dead hands!” Hopefully, the media outlets will make their money selling hysteria, then everybody can calm down and talk about this in a civilized manner.
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About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for TheToneKing.com, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.