The Hand of George Soros Seizes Fingerboard Blanks

 A recent Woodshop News article reported a legal settlement between the U.S. Justice Dept. and Gibson Guitars. It’s unusual but not totally unheard of to find an article in a peaceful woodworking trade publication that easily leads back into complex environmental import regulations, musical instruments, and right wing conspiracy theories.

Gibson Guitar Corp. entered into a criminal enforcement agreement with the United States, resolving a criminal investigation into allegations that the company violated the Lacey Act by illegally purchasing and importing ebony wood from Madagascar and rosewood and ebony from India.

[…] The agreement defers prosecution for criminal violations of the Lacey Act and requires Gibson to pay a penalty amount of $300,000 and a community service payment of $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Gibson also relinquished any claim to the illegally obtained shipments of ebony valued at $261,844. Some supporters of the updated Lacey Act’s intent to protect endangered natural resources thought the raid might have been un-needed. But Gibson’s anti-regulation supporters blamed the imaginary hand of George Soros for instigating the legal action and federal raids that preceded the recent settlement.  
Back in the Bush administration, beginning in May 2008, under the updated Lacey Act of 1900, it became illegal to import plants and plant products (trees of course are plants and lumber is a plant product) harvested and exported in violation of the laws of another country.

Gibson Guitars purchased ebony lumber that was already sawn into “blanks” for guitar fingerboards from a supplier. The Gibson supplier had been receiving the ebony “blanks” from a Madagascar exporter after a 2006 ban and did not have authority to export this product.

In 2008, an employee from Gibson traveled to Madagascar and was told of the 2006 law and that it in fact banned ebony fingerboard “blank” exports. The Gibson employee informed his superiors yet Gibson Guitars still received four shipments of the Madagascar ebony between October 2008 and September 2009.

The Justice Department raided and seized the wood from Gibson’s Nashville facility in two separate raids. This action was quickly seized on by Republican Speaker John Boehner, who had the Gibson CEO by his side at a State of the Union speech as a walking, talking victim of alleged over-regulation. Tea Partiers howled and cried about “Government jackboots kicking down doors, etc. …”  Republican legislation was soon in the works in Congress limiting the Bush era amendments to the Lacy Act.  

Almost as rapidly, a charge blaming George Soros was in the works too. The unsupported accusation was that the Environmental Investigation Agency (a self-described independent organization committed to bringing about change that protects the natural world from environmental crime and abuse), under influence of George Soros, had exerted pressure on the Justice Department to raid Gibson because of Gibson's Republican ties. This rumor went into heavy rotation. Everyone suddenly knew the imaginary hand of Soros was at work behind the scenes, secretly lobbying and organizing the government takeover of innocent fingerboard “blanks”.  

After the raids but prior to the settlement Gibson decided that it would partner with the Heritage Foundation and sponsor a VIP bus at a music event at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. A Justice Department official points out that as of now

"Gibson has acknowledged that it failed to act on information that the Madagascar ebony it was purchasing may have violated laws intended to limit over-harvesting and conserve valuable wood species from Madagascar, a country which has been severely impacted by deforestation."

However it appears Gibson Guitars will continue to leverage their political alliance to weaken a law they fell afoul of. This leaves hanging the question a woodworking industry blog posed: Will Gibson Guitars come away from this venture with its reputation intact?

Ya gotta wonder, is it worth the risk of alienating the many left-wing guitarists who might buy Gibsons? Will Gibson Guitars become the next Chick-fil-A?

Or is Gibson trolling for new customers to join Ted Nugent (who plays a Gibson Byrdland)?

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