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Gibson Guitar “Government Series”

I somehow missed last year that Nashville’s Gibson Guitar, target of a notoriously militarized regulatory raid by the U.S. government (“When I got there, there were people in SWAT attire that evacuated our entire factory“) has not let the matter be forgotten among its customers. It has launched a product line called the Government Series II Les Paul, which “uses the wood that the Feds ultimately returned to Gibson after the resolution and the investigation was concluded.” (The raid was in service of the surprisingly cronyish and protectionist Lacey Act, which restricts import of various foreign woods.)

From the company’s announcement:

Government Series II Les Paul Great Gibson electric guitars have long been a means of fighting the establishment, so when the powers that be confiscated stocks of tonewoods from the Gibson factory in Nashville—only to return them once there was a resolution and the investigation ended—it was an event worth celebrating. Introducing the Government Series II Les Paul, a striking new guitar from Gibson USA for 2014 that suitably marks this infamous time in Gibson’s history.

Good going, Gibson.

Behind the Gibson Guitar raid, cont’d

They wouldn’t show him the warrant because it was sealed [Bill Frezza, Forbes]:

While 30 men in SWAT attire dispatched from Homeland Security and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cart away about half a million dollars of wood and guitars, seven armed agents interrogate an employee without benefit of a lawyer. The next day [Gibson Guitar CEO Henry] Juszkiewicz receives a letter warning that he cannot touch any guitar left in the plant, under threat of being charged with a separate federal offense for each “violation,” punishable by a jail term.

Up until that point Gibson had not received so much as a postcard telling the company it might be doing something wrong….

Juszkiewicz alleges [federal prosecutors] were operating at the behest of lumber unions and environmental pressure groups seeking to kill the market for lumber imports. “This case was not about conservation,” he says. “It was basically protectionism.”

Earlier on the extraordinary Gibson case here.

Gibson Guitar agrees to $300,000 fine

The fine is well below the cost of mounting a legal defense in a case that had become a symbol of trigger-happy regulatory prosecution. [Nick Gillespie/Reason, Ann Althouse, AP] Besides, Ted Frank argues, “Gibson was planning on setting up camp at the RNC to promote the problem of overcriminalization,” so the Obama administration gets something of value too in an election season.

More: “The Lacey Act: Protectionism Through Criminalization” [K. William Watson, Cato at Liberty]

On the Gibson Guitar raid

Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, WSJ, excerpted at PoliceMisconduct.net:

In America alone, there are over 4,000 federal criminal offenses. Under the Lacey Act, for instance, citizens and business owners also need to know – and predict how the U.S. federal government will interpret – the laws of nearly 200 other countries on the globe as well. Many business owners have inadvertently broken obscure and highly technical foreign laws, landing them in prison for things like importing lobster tails in plastic rather than cardboard packaging (the violation of that Honduran law earned one man an eight-year prison sentence). Cases like this make it clear that the justice system has strayed from its constitutional purpose like stopping the real bad guys from bringing harm.

Harvey Silverglate says that while Juszkiewicz is right as far as he goes, he’s seeing only part of the picture. Earlier on the Gibson raid and Lacey Act here, here, etc.

Kim Strassel: “Stringing Up Gibson Guitar”

Kim Strassel has a must-read piece at the Wall Street Journal exposing the politics of the Lacey Act’s extension to importation of plant products, by no means fueled just by inflexible environmentalist sentiment: crucially, wood-products industry and union forces recognized that the law could serve as a way to eliminate competition from imports.

Trees are ubiquitous, are transformed into thousands of byproducts, and pass through dozens of countries. Whereas even a small U.S. importer would know not to import a tiger skin, tracking a sliver of wood (now transformed into a toy, or an umbrella) through this maze of countries and manufacturing laws back to the tree it came from, would be impossible.

Furniture maker Ikea noted that even if it could comply with the change, the “administrative costs and record-keeping requirements” would cause furniture prices to “skyrocket.” The wood chips that go into its particleboard alone could require tracking back and reporting on more than 100 different tree species.

Which is exactly what the Lacey expanders wanted.

The WSJ also recently interviewed Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz [related, Reuters; earlier] while Pat Nolan points out how the feds’ raid on the facility points up many evils of unbridled prosecution power [NRO] Musicians and others held a “We stand with Gibson” rally and concert [Mark Perry, rally pics] As for press coverage, Andrew Revkin at the NYT notes that outrage over the raid is energizing those horrid “anti-regulatory campaigners” [“DotEarth”] while an op-ed contributor at the paper explains that (not to sound like those same awful campaigners!) the operation of the Lacey Act does indeed menace innocent artisans who make musical instruments [Kathryn Marie Dudley] Tim Cavanaugh finds the L.A.Times strumming a derivative ideological tune, while Radley Balko notes, in a police-restraint-for-me-but-not-for-thee vein, that a reporter arrested at Occupy Nashville had mocked concern over the gun-toting Gibson raid. More: ABA Journal.

Environment roundup

  • Price of California eggs soars following animal-rights measure [WSJ via Michael Greve] “An Orangutan Has (Some) Human Rights, Argentine Court Rules” [Brandon Keim, Wired via Althouse, related U.S.]
  • Trees cut down by utility “are priceless — each one I could value at $100K,” Fieger said” [Detroit Free Press via @jamestaranto, more on Geoffrey Fieger; henceforth sums of $100,000 will be known as “one Fieger-tree”]
  • As New Englanders struggle with energy costs, pols kill the gas pipelines that could bring relief [Urbanophile]
  • Power-plant regs from EPA, based on flimsy science, show “federal agency twisting statutory language to aggrandize its own power.” [Andrew Grossman; Cato brief in Michigan v. EPA]
  • California state agency proposes regulations purportedly easing burdens of notorious Prop 65 warning law [Cal Biz Lit]
  • “When I got there, there were people in SWAT attire that evacuated our entire factory.” [Chamber’s Faces of Lawsuit Abuse on Gibson Guitar raid]
  • Would a minimalist state funded by Pigouvian taxes run a budget surplus? [Bryan Caplan]

Environmental roundup

  • “Fine for killing birds” is susceptible of two meanings, you know [Coyote on energy production]
  • Lacey Act criminal provisions, of Gibson Guitar raid fame, owe much to influence of domestic forest products companies, and that’s just one of the links between crony capitalism and overcriminalization [Paul Larkin, Heritage]
  • Why California shut down its local redevelopment agencies, all 400+ of them [Shirley Svorny, Regulation]
  • “EPA’s ‘Waters of the U.S.’ Proposal: Coming Soon to a Back Yard Near You?” [Scott McFadin, WLF]
  • Taxpayers shell out handsomely to be sued under Endangered Species Act [Higgins]
  • “How Land Prices Obviate the Need for Euclidean Zoning” [Emily Washington]
  • Casting a skeptical eye on Vandana Shiva’s anti-GMO crusade [The New Yorker]

Let’s demilitarize the regulatory agencies too

One consequence of the events in Ferguson, Mo. is that people are talking with each other across ideological lines who usually don’t, a symbol being the attention paid on both left and right to Sen. Rand Paul’s op-ed last week in Time. And one point worth discussing is how the problem of police militarization manifests itself similarly these days in local policing and in the enforcement of federal regulation.

At BuzzFeed, Evan McMorris-Santoro generously quotes me on the prospects for finding common ground on these issues. The feds’ Gibson Guitar raid — our coverage of that here — did much to raise the profile of regulatory SWAT tactics, and John Fund cited others in an April report:

Many of the raids [federal paramilitary enforcers] conduct are against harmless, often innocent, Americans who typically are accused of non-violent civil or administrative violations.

Take the case of Kenneth Wright of Stockton, Calif., who was “visited” by a SWAT team from the U.S. Department of Education in June 2011. Agents battered down the door of his home at 6 a.m., dragged him outside in his boxer shorts, and handcuffed him as they put his three children (ages 3, 7, and 11) in a police car for two hours while they searched his home. The raid was allegedly intended to uncover information on Wright’s estranged wife, Michelle, who hadn’t been living with him and was suspected of college financial-aid fraud.

The year before the raid on Wright, a SWAT team from the Food and Drug Administration raided the farm of Dan Allgyer of Lancaster, Pa. His crime was shipping unpasteurized milk across state lines to a cooperative of young women with children in Washington, D.C., called Grass Fed on the Hill. Raw milk can be sold in Pennsylvania, but it is illegal to transport it across state lines. The raid forced Allgyer to close down his business.

Fund goes on to discuss the rise of homeland-security and military-surplus programs that have contributed to the rapid proliferation of SWAT and paramilitary methods in local policing. He cites Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop, which similarly treats both manifestations of paramilitary policing as part of the same trend.

As McMorris-Santoro notes in the BuzzFeed piece, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) has introduced a bill called the Regulatory Agency Demilitarization Act, citing such unsettling developments as a U.S. Department of Agriculture solicitation for submachine guns. 28 House Republicans have joined as sponsors, according to Ryan Lovelace at National Review.

There has already been left-right cooperation on the issue, as witness the unsuccessful Grayson-Amash amendment in June seeking to cut off the military-surplus 1033 program. As both sides come to appreciate some of the common interests at stake in keeping law enforcement as peaceful and proportionate as situations allow, there will be room for more such cooperation. (& welcome Instapundit, Radley Balko, Bainbridge readers; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

May 31 roundup

  • The American Illness: Essays on the Rule of Law, new book from Yale University Press edited by Frank Buckley, looks quite promising [Bainbridge]
  • So the New York Times gets spoon-fed “confidential” (and disappointingly tame) documents from the old Brady Campaign lawsuits against gunmakers, and then nothing happens;
  • IRS commissioner visited White House 118 times in 2010-11. Previous one visited once in four years. Hmmm… [John Steele Gordon, more] (But see reporting by Garance Franke-Ruta and commentary by Yuval Levin.) Did politics play role in 2011 Gibson Guitar raid? [IBD]
  • Supreme Court of Canada: “Judges may ‘cut and paste’ when writing their judgments” [Globe and Mail]
  • Lack of proper land title and registration holds Greece back [Alex Tabarrok]
  • I try not to clutter this blog with links to memoir-ish personal pieces of mine, but if you’re interested in adoption, or in how America manages to be at once the most conservative and the most socially innovative of great nations, go ahead and give this one a try [HuffPost]
  • Big Lodging and hotel unions don’t like competition: New York City’s war against AirBnB and Roomorama [John Stossel, Andrew Sullivan]

Law enforcement and prosecution roundup