From the Department of Small Things That I Should Probably Ignore But Can’t
The movement picked up an important ally when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—widely mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate—recently reached an agreement under which Amazon would collect sales taxes on his state’s online purchases in exchange for locating distribution facilities there.
How did an adjective like this1 make it into this article about online sales taxes? Was there a memo from Rupert Murdoch saying that every mention of Governor Christie has to mention “widely mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate”? I’d say odds are against Gov. Christie joining the Romney ticket.
Gibson Guitar was raided by federal marshals for alleged violations of the Lacey Act of 19001 – the facts are not clear yet, but it seems as if the federal government suspects Gibson of using banned materials in their guitars.
NPR’s Craig Havighurst notes that not every guitar manufacturer is upset:
Chris Martin, Chairman and CEO of the C.F. Martin Guitar Co. in Nazareth, Pa., says that when he first heard guitars built from Madagascar rosewood, he dreamed it might be the long-sought substitute for Brazilian rosewood, whose trade was banned in the 1990s due to over-harvest. Then the situation in Madagascar changed.
“There was a coup,” Martin says. “What we heard was the international community has come to the conclusion that the coup created an illegitimate government. That’s when we said, ‘Okay, we can not buy any more of this wood.'”
And while some say the Lacey Act is burdensome, Martin supports it: “I think it’s a wonderful thing. I think illegal logging is appalling. It should stop. And if this is what it takes unfortunately to stop unscrupulous operators, I’m all for it. It’s tedious, but we’re getting through it.”
Others in the guitar world aren’t so upbeat. Attorney Ronald Bienstock says the Gibson raids have aroused the guitar builders he represents because the Lacey Act is retroactive. He says they’re worried they might be forced to prove the provenance of wood they acquired decades ago.
“There hasn’t been that moment where people have quote tested the case. ‘What is compliance? What is actual compliance? How have I complied?’ We’re lacking that.”
It isn’t the first time that agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service have come knocking at the storied maker of such iconic instruments as the Les Paul electric guitar, the J-160E acoustic-electric John Lennon played, and essential jazz-boxes such as Charlie Christian’s ES-150. In 2009 the Feds seized several guitars and pallets of wood from a Gibson factory, and both sides have been wrangling over the goods in a case with the delightful name “United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms.”
The question in the first raid seemed to be whether Gibson had been buying illegally harvested hardwoods from protected forests, such as the Madagascar ebony that makes for such lovely fretboards. And if Gibson did knowingly import illegally harvested ebony from Madagascar, that wouldn’t be a negligible offense. Pete Lowry, ebony and rosewood expert at the Missouri Botanical Garden, calls the Madagascar wood trade the “equivalent of Africa’s blood diamonds.” But with the new raid, the government seems to be questioning whether some wood sourced from India met every regulatory jot and tittle.
It isn’t just Gibson that is sweating. Musicians who play vintage guitars and other instruments made of environmentally protected materials are worried the authorities may be coming for them next.
If you are the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood. Cross an international border with an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you 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.
John Thomas, a law professor at Quinnipiac University and a blues and ragtime guitarist, says “there’s a lot of anxiety, and it’s well justified.” Once upon a time, he would have taken one of his vintage guitars on his travels. Now, “I don’t go out of the country with a wooden guitar.”
The tangled intersection of international laws is enforced through a thicket of paperwork. Recent revisions to 1900’s Lacey Act require that anyone crossing the U.S. border declare every bit of flora or fauna being brought into the country. One is under “strict liability” to fill out the paperwork—and without any mistakes.
Which is all well and good, but this last sentence with its slam towards tree-huggers is out of place in any newspaper, except for a Rupert Murdoch joint, of course. Read:
You could mark that up to hypocrisy—artsy do-gooders only too eager to tell others what kind of light bulbs they have to buy won’t make sacrifices when it comes to their own passions. Then again, maybe it isn’t hypocrisy to recognize that art makes claims significant enough to compete with environmentalists’ agendas.
So even though the Lacey Act has been on the books since 1900, Eric Felten wants you to equate it with Michele Bachman’s anti-CFL lightbulb crusade. Whatever dude.
Wikipedia; The Lacey Act of 1900, or more commonly The Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 3371–3378) is a conservation law introduced by Iowa Rep. John F. Lacey. Protecting both plants and wildlife by creating civil and criminal penalties for a wide array of violations, the Act most notably prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, transported or sold. The law was signed into law by President William McKinley on May 25, 1900, and is still in effect, although it has been amended several times [↩]
In July 1999, Communist Party of China (CPC) leadership initiated a ban on Falun Gong and began a nationwide crackdown and multifaceted propaganda campaign intended to eradicate the practice. In October 1999 it declared Falun Gong a "heretical organization."
Human rights groups report that Falun Gong practitioners in China are subject to a wide range of human rights abuses; hundreds of thousands are believe to have been imprisoned extra-judicially, and practitioners in detention are subject to forced labor, psychiatric abuse, severe torture, and other coercive methods of thought reform at the hands of Chinese authorities.
In the years since the suppression campaign began, Falun Gong adherents have emerged as a prominent voice in the Chinese dissident community, advocating for greater human rights and an end to Communist Party rule.
The allegations were first reported by BNET in 2009, and touched upon again by the New York Times today.
In the case, FGI alleged News engaged in a number of anti-competitive practices, including using stolen passwords to illicitly enter its computer system to review or download sales information. George Rebh, the owner of FGI, testified in a New Jersey federal court in 2009 that he had been contacted by Smuckers in January 2004 after the client became curious that News seemed to have confidential information about its business stored on FGI’s password-protected website for advertiser clients. Rebh testified:
We — our IT people looked at our password-protected site to see if there was any access to that site by unauthorized users.
They discovered that beginning in October of 2003 through the time that we discovered this, in January of 2004, in fact, right up to the day before, there had been unauthorized accesses into our system by people utilizing computers registered with an IP address to News America Marketing. IP address is registered to News America Marketing in Connecticut.
… There were 11 separate accesses over that four-month period.
The unauthorized access allowed users to see FGI’s clients’ advertising plans and sales records — crucial information that competitors could use to undercut FGI in negotiations with clients. Rebh testified that was exactly what happened: FGI lost its key account with Safeway supermarkets, and the company dwindled to just 25 employees at the time of the case, Rebh said:
In short, the loss of the Safeway contract marked the beginning of the end of our company.
FGI also alerted former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (now governor of New Jersey) and former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez asking for an investigation of the hacking. When the company got no response, it asked former U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine, current U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt to write to Christie and Gonzalez again, asking for an update. (Download the FGI v. News hacking memos here (PDF).) Christie’s former commercial crimes chief, Deborah Gramiccioni responded that the case was:
…under review by Assistant U.S. Attorneys in our Commercial Crimes Unit. Because the above-references matter may involve fraud, we are also forwarding copies of your letter and the attached information to the Febreal Bureau of Investigation for review.
The office of Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is claiming that Fox News chairman Roger Ailes is a confidential adviser whose interactions with the governor should remain secret under New Jersey’s executive privilege. Last month, after New York magazine reported that Ailes met with Christie last summer and called him this year to urge him to run for president, Gawker filed a request under New Jersey’s Open Records Act seeking any correspondence between the two men, as well as any records of meetings or phone calls with Ailes from Christie’s schedule or call logs.
Last week we received a rather surprising response: While declining to confirm the existence of any such records, Christie’s office said they “would be exempt from disclosure…based upon the executive privilege and well-settled case law.” In other words, Christie’s staff refused to search for any records—which, given the undisputed reports of a dinner and phone call, almost certainly exist—on the basis that Ailes is a confidential adviser whose comments should be shielded from public scrutiny.