Nice wood you got there. Consider it seized.

That “laser-like focus” of the Obama administration on jobs?

Maybe they meant “on destroying jobs.”

Agents of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, armed with sub-machine guns, again last week raided and shut down production at the factories of the Gibson Guitar Corp. in Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.

Gibson manufactures acoustic and electric guitars, and Baldwin-brand pianos.

As with a previous set of raids in 2009, Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Nashville-based Gibson, said at a news conference last week that authorities wouldn’t even tell him what the heck they were investigating during Wednesday’s armed raids, but have suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers may be “illegal” under some U.N. edict.

Mr. Juszkiewicz said his company has taken steps to ensure all its wood is properly imported. Guitars and other musical instruments are often built from tropical hardwoods, which are subject to United Nations edicts which attempt to limit “unsustainable” forest harvesting by penalizing final users in the civilized world, instead of trying to block actual cutting of the trees at the source, an undertaking which presumably could get the dashiki-clad kleptocrats killed.

During the 2009 Gibson raid, authorities seized guitars and “ebony fingerboard blanks from Madagascar.” The feds are still holding the wood seized at that time, though no criminal charges have ever been filed.

“The wood the government seized Wednesday is from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier,” Juszkiewicz said.

If Fish & Wildlife (I’m still trying to deal with the mental image of a bunch of rangers in Smokey the Bear hats, wielding grease guns) had any evidence the wood seized back in ’09 was stolen, smuggled, cut with the wrong color saws, or contraband by any other real-world definition, wouldn’t you think two years would be long enough for Mr. Obama’s agents to get around to filing charges? Instead, Mr. Juszkiewicz has been put to the trouble of gathering sworn statements and documents from the Madagascar government showing the seized wood was legally exported from that country, which documents he and his lawyers have now presented in a case pending in federal court to have Gibson’s property from the 2009 raid returned.

It doesn’t stop there. Musicians who play vintage guitars and other instruments made of environmentally protected materials should worry the authorities may come for them next.

“If you’re the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood,” Eric Felten reported in his piece on the raids for The Wall Street Journal of Aug. 26. ( “Cross an international border with an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you’d better have correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument. Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent — not to mention face fines and prosecution.

“It’s not enough to know that the body of your old guitar is made of spruce and maple: What’s the bridge made of?” Mr. Felten asks. “If it’s ebony, do you have the paperwork to show when and where that wood was harvested and when and where it was made into a bridge? Is the nut holding the strings at the guitar’s headstock bone, or could it be ivory?

“Consider the recent experience of Pascal Vieillard, whose Atlanta-area company, A-440 Pianos, imported several antique Bšsendorfers. Mr. Vieillard asked officials at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species how to fill out the correct paperwork — which simply encouraged them to alert U.S. Customs to give his shipment added scrutiny.

“There was never any question that the instruments were old enough to have grandfathered ivory keys,” the Journal reports. “But Mr. Vieillard didn’t have his paperwork straight when two dozen federal agents came calling. Facing criminal charges that might have put him in prison for years, Mr. Vieillard pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating the Lacey Act, and was handed a $17,500 fine and three years probation.

“Given the risks, why don’t musicians just settle for the safety of carbon fiber? Some do — when concert pianist Jeffrey Sharkey moved to England two decades ago, he had Steinway replace the ivories on his piano with plastic. …”

Can you imagine what that costs — what ALL U.S. users of imported hardwoods are now spending in an attempt to constantly prove they’re “in compliance” with feel-good United Nations “forest stewardship” edicts and the latest updates to the loony federal “Lacey Act” … which the feds won’t even cite?

Could the pieces of your granddad’s chess set be made of ivory? Might grandma’s hat contain the fur or feathers of some now-endangered species — which it was perfectly legal to import in 1932, and for which no one ever bothered to keep any “documentation”? Could someone go to prison if you tried to sell those heirlooms to a collector, today?

Can you imagine how many new jobs could have been created, if the firms being raided and fined over this nonsense were free to use those resources on something more productive, like building banjos, pianos, and guitars?

No, no one wants to see the last elephant die, or the last stand of teakwood, or whatever.

But what we’re seeing here, incarnate in this Draconian, job-destroying law, is the pernicious anti-capitalist doctrine that Europe, the United States and Japan do not “deserve” the wealth and improved standards of living they’ve been able to create for their people through voluntary-exchange capitalism, that they must be made to suffer punishment for their ongoing crime of “exploiting” the Third World by somehow “seizing” from these perfectly willing sellers their “endangered resources.”

The premise is familiar from the Washington dog-and-pony shows in which “underage” teen-age girls from independent Latin American nations are hauled in to testify before Congressional committees about being somehow “forced” to work in Honduran or Guatemalan “sweatshops” (whether air-conditioned or not) manufacturing garments for American consumers. Afterwards, only the lonely reporter from the Cato Institute bothers to draw from the cheery lasses outside on the Capitol steps the fact that they’re paid much more than their nation’s prevailing adult agricultural wage, that they’re actually quite happy the “greedy capitalists” came with their expensive machines to multiply the value of the labor of their townsfolk, that their only other option to support their families, should the “sweatshop” close, would be prostitution.

What is the best, time-proven method to make sure resources such as wood lots are not overutilized, threatening their ability to regenerate? Private ownership. Private owners have a vested interest in making sure the resources will still be there for their children and grandchildren, which is why private timber companies tend to re-plant their acreage, which can grow into stands so lovely they confused a studio publicist into initially bragging the 1992 version of “Last of the Mohicans” had been filmed in a North Carolina “virgin forest.”

In contrast, communal ownership famously leads to the “tragedy of the commons,” in which perverse incentives encourage the first users to grab as much as they can, regardless of whether the town green gets overgrazed, since “Somebody else is going to get it if I don’t.”

Do you suppose the United Nations “forest stewards” understand this?

Mr. Juszkiewicz told The Associated Press the absence of the materials taken in last week’s raid has hurt his company’s ability to produce, and that he hopes to re-start production soon, since each day of non-production costs the firm a million dollars.

Maybe he can make that up with some layoffs.

5 Comments to “Nice wood you got there. Consider it seized.”

  1. Alan Fanning Says:

    Once again we are faced with the question of how much worse do we let it get before . . .

    Suppose we take the Tea Party seriously and believe that they (the conservative/libertarian alliance) actually cut the size of government. It seems that this kind of regulation would be the easiest to expunge. The real test would be how quickly the War on Drugs ends. If that happens then maybe there is a chance to push this country off the road to serfdom.

  2. Bruce Says:

    I live in an area where it is difficult to see a doctor and it’s a 2 hour ambulance trip for emergencies. (Oh, yeah, it’s part of the wonderful Canadian health system so many of you Americans covet). My minor health issues I occasionally need to have treated with antibiotics. I know the drugs, I know the symptoms but can I buy the medications without going to a doctor to have the ‘scrip written? Of course not. I actually had a doctor say to me “If we let you self medicate we wouldn’t have much of a business would we”. Great, thanks. The systems job is to ensure as much is raked off into the monopoly as possible, making sure every one who is part of the system gets a cut, even if you don’t really need them. I believe what the Tea Party must do if they end the war on drugs is also to end the war on the right to self medicate without a prescription. Oddly, it will prove far easier to end the War on Drugs and allow people to use “unregulated drugs” than to remove the stranglehold on “regulated drugs” which we should also be free to use.

  3. Steve Says:

    Mexico allows anyone to buy drugs with no scrips at all in 90 percent of the cases. Replace the lenses in your glasses no prescription, just make copies of your present lenses. Now, how do their doctors survive I wonder….

  4. Mac' Says:

    They need to leave the US and go somewhere their productivity is appreciated. The fact they give money to the party out of power right now might have something to do with it too. Chicago politics – mighty nice business you have. It would be a shame if something happened to it.

  5. Earl Haehl Says:

    Or could it be that while the documentation was in order, there was a failure to provide compensation to the correct campaign. In 1893 the Justice Department was created to enforce the Sherman Act. I tend to watch mergers and there is different treatment of similar mergers in different administrations–in a kleptocracy the application of green lubrication is a necessity.

    A question to ask is why Gibson rather than Martin or Fender–or are they next?