Feds come out for the woodwork

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.

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, but they 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 their wood is properly imported. Guitars and other musical instruments are often built from tropical hardwoods, which are subject to U.N. edicts that attempt to limit “unsustainable” forest harvesting by penalizing final users in the civilized world, instead of trying to block actual cutting of trees at the source, an undertaking which presumably could get the dashiki-clad kleptocrats killed.

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

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.

If Fish & Wildlife (I’m still trying to deal with the mental image of a bunch of rangers in Smokey Bear hats, wielding grease guns) had any evidence the wood seized in ’09 was 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 exportedS.

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 Bösendorfers. 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.”

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 feathers of some now-endangered species — which it was perfectly legal to import in 1932, but for which no one ever bothered to keep any documentation? Could someone go to prison if you tried to sell those heirlooms, today?

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.”

What is the best, time-proved 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.

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, because “somebody else is going to get it if I don’t.”

Do you suppose the U.N. “forest stewards” understand this?

Mr. Juszkiewicz said the absence of the materials taken in the raid has hurt his company’s ability to produce, and that he hopes to re-start production soon. Each day of non-production costs the firm a million dollars.

Maybe he can make it up with some layoffs.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the daily Las Vegas Review-Journal, and author of “The Black Arrow” and “Send in the Waco Killers.” See www.vinsuprynowicz.com.

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