Something to Fret About

Let’s Give Them Something to Fret About…

Something to fret about:

Hmmm…… Our Founders, particularly George Washington warned about foreign entanglements.  

Martin guitars with rosewood fingerboards

CITES is an acronym for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. At a conference held in late 2016, this body ruled that all rosewood species of the genus Dalbergia, and also three species of bubinga, are to be protected. Since Brazilian Rosewood is already under CITES protection, this means that now all rosewood is protected.

Is CITES a treaty that I’ve never heard of? Did the Senate advise and consent? Somehow, I doubt it*.

Rosewood and ebony are used in most if not all types of stringed instruments for the fret-boards, not for only guitars. The fret-board (or key-board, if you prefer) affects the resonance and sound quality of the instrument. While I’ve seen maple on an electric guitar, I’ve never seen maple on a violin fret-board. I admit I’m not an expert, there may in fact be maple necks on violins, I just haven’t heard or seen of any.

This seems on first blush like the eco-nazi stuff that Gibson experienced back in 2012 or thereabouts.

New CITES Regulation Impacts International Import/Export of Rosewood…

From Sweetwater, the major online musical instrument and music production retailer in the world. They are located just west of Fort Wayne, IN. I found this in my inbox, since I am a customer.

TechDirt had this way back in 2012:

It’s been close to a year since the Justice Department raided Gibson Guitars for using “illegal wood” on the fingerboards. You’d think something like “illegal wood” wouldn’t require the use of the term “raid,” or the services of 30 agents with guns and bulletproof vests, but hey, welcome to America. The raid was authorized under the Lacey Act, an act whose original use was to curb poaching of illegal species, but soon spread (as these things do) to cover the importing other wildlife and plants.

The fun thing about the law is that staying in compliance requires knowing not only the particular details of over 200 other countries’ laws, but also a bit of mind-reading in order to suss out how the federal government will interpret each one of these laws. Put it all together and you’ve got Gibson’s situation, which is detailed in a post for the Wall Street Journal (gated) but also helpfully detailed at Cato’s new National Police Misconduct Reporting Project. The first indication that this raid was a complete abortion of justice is the fact that the wood Gibson used had made it into the country without being seized:

The fingerboards of our guitars are made with wood that is imported from India. The wood seized during the Aug. 24 raid, however, was from a Forest Stewardship Council-certified supplier, meaning the wood complies with FSC’s rules requiring that it be harvested legally and in compliance with traditional and civil rights, among other protections. Indian authorities have provided sworn statements approving the shipment, and U.S. Custom allowed the shipment to pass through America’s border and to our factories.

Gibson Guitars CEO Calls Out The Government For ‘Regulating Business Through Criminal Law’ [Updated] | Techdirt

The most informative comment I found at the TechDirt link above:

Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2012 @ 8:58am

This is my impression from following the case. I’m a big Les Paul fan, and I also like this sort of legal thing, so I’ve been watching this case for a while now.

There was a raid in 2009 that got several pallets of ebony that the government claimed was sourced from India but exported illegally because of labeling that was misleading to Indian authorities, resulting in violation of Indian export laws. No US laws were violated except perhaps the Lacey Act, and Indian authorities certified the export. No charges or civil cases were filed as a result of this raid

In 2011, the government filed a civil case regarding ebony that Gibson purchased from a German company that obtained the wood from Madagascar, making it illegally exported. Gibson at that time claimed that it was under the impression that the wood was legal, but later admitted that they had failed to act when they received information regarding the potential illegality of the wood. There was never a proven link between the ebony seized in the raid (which was seized under the premise that it was deceitfully exported from India) and the German supplier. The link to the German supplier was brought up by going through Gibson’s import records.

2 months later, the feds performed a second raid on the factory – this one with multiple armed agents and breach tactics – that was after Indian rosewood. All this wood was later returned, no charges were filed, and Gibson was assured they could continue importing Indian rosewood and ebony.  

Gibson settled the Madagascar ebony case without admission of wrongdoing, claiming the $350k fine plus the loss of the wood was much less expensive than the potential cost of fighting the case. It is possible that the ebony seized in 2009 was the Madagascar ebony, but it is equally likely that the seized ebony was the allegedly mislabeled wood from India, which was never brought into the case. A request to return the ebony was denied by the courts, and Gibson forfeited its right to the wood as a part of the settlement.

There was a pretty big outcry about the whole case, as Gibson regularly donates to conservative political candidates, several competitors (notably Martin guitars) donated heavily to the current administration. Indian ebony and rosewood from the same parts of India (which were the motivations behind the raids) are used by both companies. Gibson appears to have been singled out both for legal attention and police action. Even if the alleged political motivations are discarded, the whole affair appears to have been a fishing expedition enacted with very heavy hands. Gibson is noted for being eco-friendly, and the Rainforest Alliance certifies Gibson wood, including all the wood that was seized.

* Yes it seems that we are party to a treaty, which was signed by Nixon in 1974. I had to dig deep, but it seems that the US was the first to ratify the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1974. Any idea who the Pres was way back then? That’s correct, Richard Nixon.

However, we have not ratified the amended 1983 version. It seems strange that neither Reagan nor Clinton could get this done, and no, I have no idea what the amendment is.

Treaties Pending in the Senate (updated as of December 30, 2016)

Amendment to the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), done at Gaborone April 30, 1983 (Treaty Doc.: 98-10); submitted to Senate October 4, 1983.

It must be really bad. After 34 years, the amendment should no longer be pending. It should be gone.

So naturally, my question is which version of the CITES treaty was the outrage at Gibson that Obama conducted? 


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