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The Lacey distrACTion
I really wanted to let this one go. Shut up brain and write about something else.
Until this headline - probably written by a former reporter - popped up on a press release in my inbox on May 23: "Markey, Blumenauer: Musicians ‘Can't Get No Satisfaction' from Guitars Made of Illegal Wood"
Here's the skinny. New amendments were added to the federal Lacey Act in 2008 to cut down on illegal logging and created a requirement for importers to declare the species and country of origin of plant or plant products, including wood.
For the past several years, anybody who imports has been watching and waiting to see how the requirement is enforced. Currently, declarations are required only for certain furniture items, including seats with wood frames and some accent items.
Gibson Guitar's Nashville, Tenn., facilities have been raided twice for non-compliance, most recently last fall. The illegal imported wood to be used for fretboards was from Madagascar and India.
In the media battle for hearts and minds that has ensued, Gibson and the anti-amendments side began enlisting support from musicians; well, actually both sides eventually started doing this.
Initially it seemed like guitar makes were kind of representing the face of this issue as wood interests. But then.... the musicians started getting involved. The musicians agree on one thing - they disagree about the Lacey Act.
Who cares? When did the Lacey Act get hijacked by musicians? It looks like classic sleight of hand to me.
If either side of this issue really really wanted to bring in an actual stakeholder to talk about Lacey, then they'd bring in somebody who lives in the Amazon, or a citizen of Madagascar, or the protected Indian forests, or a profiteer of illegal logging - someone with an actual stake in the spirit of the law.
If revisions need to be made, then let luthiers, rare wood dealers, the Environmental Investigation Agency, the Composite Wood Products Assn., the American Home Furnishings Alliance and the International Wood Products Assn. and other similar groups work it out.
Not Willie Nelson or Maroon 5. Does it matter if Mick Jagger and Lenny Kravitz support the Lacey Act? Or is it just noise?
It's a free country too. But when it's so obvious they've strategic recruits with a casual passing interest in such a big picture issue that they obviously have funds to deal with, it cheapens the debate and our perception of effective government.
Musicians are obviously not the epicenter of this law.
Just like the Founding Fathers didn't need Wayne Newton give them a thumbs up when the Constitution was signed, Steely Dan guitarist Jeff Baxter doesn't have to testify before Congress.
Just like I'd never turn to Hank Williams Jr. for meaningful political insight, I'd never ask him on "Face the Nation" to debate policy wonks.
My thought is yes; maybe the amendments ought to be revised just to grandfather in any old wood currently in this country. Make the market safe for trade in those instruments or pre-amendment inventories of rare or collectible wood species.
Make some kind of an exception for composite panel products.
But find a way to make the amendments effective and have enough teeth to deter unlawful logging.
It's why the NFL was right to suspend New Orleans Saints Coash Sean Payton for a year. It sends a message.
It's hard enough for anything meaningful to happen in Washington, D.C., so give the law enough teeth to make it effective where forest misuse has a negative effect on local populations or where violent regimes use the forests to gain power.
And listen up musicians, the U.S. Department of Justice said innocent owners aren't the target of this law. So why are we still so focused on musicians?
If the government catches you smuggling wood that was illegally sourced into the U.S. and you broke the law, then you broke the law. Musicians learned to live without tortoise shell picks. Piano makers learned to live without ivory.
Life goes on.
Also - I was on a cruise last year in a foreign country, and hundreds of people were "smuggling" six-foot-tall tribal masks back on the boat. I'm not sure anybody got "caught" by customs. Nobody asked these folks to speak before Congress.
The folks on the ground we should be hearing from are actual stakeholders, not the steak eaters on the tour bus. If you're worried about your guitar being confiscated upon return to this country, take the Taylor next time. Or if you've made a million dollars selling records, hire somebody to do some background work.