Gibson Guitars is marking what the company rightfully calls “a notorious moment” in the company’s history by releasing the new “Government Series Guitars.”
Gibson was targeted by bureaucrats and other government officials who questioned “the tariff classification of ebony and rosewood fingerboard blanks pursuant to the Indian government’s Foreign Trade Policy.” The U.S. Attorney who handled the case against Gibson admitted “certain questions and inconsistencies now exist” regarding those ebony and rosewood fingerboard blanks.
Gibson factories in Tennessee were raided twice. The first raid occurred in 2009 during President Barack Obama’s first year in office. At that time, Democrats held control of both the U.S. Senate and the House. On both raids, SWAT-style teams descended on the plant and a number of employees were terrified.
I interviewed Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz for a national column at Examiner in 2011 after the government’s second raid. Juszkiewicz told me three or four hourly employees were scheduled for interviews by government agents:
“We had to retain counsel for the employees,” Juszkiewicz said. “The federal prosecutor flew down from Washington and threatened the employees personally with 5 years in jail.”
At the heart of the issue were amendments to the more than a century old Lacey Act. The amendments were passed by both Republicans and Democrats when Democrats had control of Congress in 2008. Unfortunately the language is obscure and that obscurity provides the government a powerful weapon that can be employed politically.
A legal opinion on the Lacey Amendments written for the Michigan Law Review called for establishing a “due care” standard. That’s because you could be charged for a crime you didn’t even know you were guilty of and determining the grounds for those charges was under the control of bureaucrats who could opt to charge or not to.
Writing for MLR, Rachel Saltzman pointed out, “Laws governing timber and logging often include forest management schemes that can be difficult for foreign companies to monitor. Indonesia, for example, has over nine hundred laws, regulations, and decrees that govern timber exploitation, transportation, and trade.”
Gibson settled with the government for obvious reasons. The company could either spend millions on a case that could drag out for years, or agree to de facto extortion and settle. Gibson chose to settle, and confiscated wood was returned to the company. That wood is the inspiration for Gibson’s Government Series.
I believe the Lacey Amendments are in serious need of overhaul with a goal to set clear standards. Ignorance of the law at present is no excuse. If you have a product the government deems not in accordance with their confusing regulations, you could be charged with a criminal act.
Gibson placed a statement on the company website about the raids and settlement, with one part of the statement that indirectly goes to the heart of the obstruction of jobs in the United States:
“We feel that Gibson was inappropriately targeted, and a matter that could have been addressed with a simple contact by a caring human being representing the Government. Instead, the Government used violent and hostile means with the full force of the U.S. Government and several armed law enforcement agencies costing the taxpayer millions of dollars and putting a job-creating U.S. manufacturer at risk and at a competitive disadvantage. This shows the increasing trend on the part of the Government to criminalize rules and regulations and treat U.S. businesses in the same way drug dealers are treated. This is wrong and it is unfair. I am committed to working hard to correct the inequity that the law allows and ensure there is fairness, due process, and the law is used for its intended purpose of stopping bad guys and stopping the very real deforestation of our planet.”
The Obama Administration’s Attorney General Eric Holder dictated that Gibson hand over $50,000 to an environmental organization that I believe is aligned with Democrat ideology. That was in addition to a fine of $300,000.
That this could happen in the United States should concern every one of us regardless of political affiliation. Tennessee is a non-forced unionism state, by the way.
(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Feb. 1, 2014)