Marsha Blackburn’s Gibson Guitar Fiasco

[UPDATE] 2:

Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz to meet with federal officials next week, and Fish & Wildlife will brief the House Energy and Commerce Committee in Congress. Look for more hysterical press conferences from House Republicans to follow as they exploit this story further to roll back environmental protections.

Love this part:

Meanwhile, the raid has created uncertainty in the music, furniture and timber industries, which routinely import exotic hardwoods.

In the case of musicians, some say they fear the U.S. government may decide to confiscate instruments made long ago from woods now considered endangered when musicians travel or their gear is shipped abroad.

“People are very confused,” said George Gruhn, a Nashville-based luthier, or guitar craftsman, whose global business entails shipping vintage guitars, some of which are made from woods that their owners might not be able to properly identify as the law now requires.

Yes, that’s because the Republicans and Gibson have done a masterful job of spinning this story for the express purpose of ginning up hysteria and creating confusion. The media has done little to dispel this confusion, either. Well done! Fish & Wildlife officials have already said they do not go after unknowing end consumers but rather “knowing actors transacting in larger volumes of product.”

Naturally, The Tennessean didn’t bother to ask Fish & Wildlife officials any general questions which may allay peoples’ fears, covering their ass with the “they declined to comment on an ongoing investigation” disclaimer.

And as for that “job creator” nonsense, via comments it appears Gibson has made all of its Epiphone guitars at a factory in Qingdao, China since 2002. Someone might want to ask Marsha Blackburn about that.

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[UPDATE]:

I knew I had written about this before, but it took me forever to find it! Before you shed any tears for guitar makers, please read my 2009 post, “Gently Weeping For That Guitar.”

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A rule of thumb in modern politics is if a Republican claims a Democrat is doing X horrible thing, you can guaran-damn-tee it that said Republican is doing it too.

For example, I give you Tennessee’s own Rep. Marsha Blackburn, coming to the defense of the Gibson Guitar company and claiming it’s politics, not violation of the law, which has prompted several raids on the Gibson Guitar factories in Tennessee. The issue is whether Gibson is violating the Lacey Act, which bars importation of endangered species products.

She says:

“When the President last night said that he wanted more products around the world stamped ‘Made in America’, I said — what about Gibson Guitar? Having armed federal agents raid an iconic American company is no way to inspire economic certainty and spur job creation. Instead, we need to cut back some of the out-of-control regulations and hold the Obama Administration accountable for selectively enforcing rules that are hindering job growth and killing small businesses. We want some answers.”

Oh you silly little woman. So because a company is “iconic” that automatically makes it immune to the law? Hey, Dow Chemical is an “iconic” American company, why don’t we let them release some toxic gas near your home. Let’s see how you enjoy their iconic effluent, honey.

The House Energy & Commerce Committee is even more strident. First, there’s the headline:

Gibson Guitar had been Importing the Wood in Question for At Least 17 Years – Indian Trade Officials Have No Problems with the Exports

Seventeen years! And the Indians have no problem with it, so why should anyone else? Isn’t that how we do things in America? You know, base our laws on how they do things in India?

Clearly the Obama Administration is out to get Gibson Guitars just … well, because why exactly? No one has said why Gibson is being picked on here, but Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz is sure he’s the victim of arbitrary law enforcement. He says:

“It seems to me they are gunning for us. They are just looking for us to make a mistake or do something wrong.”

Hmm, yeah, that’s kinda the point of enforcement, isn’t it? No one ever explains why the big, mean Democrats would be “gunning” for Juszkiewicz and Gibson Guitars, though. To hear the Republicans tell it, everything was going along just fine until big, mean Obama came along and decided to selectively enforce the Lacey Act for some unknown reason.

There’s a little problem with this scenario, though. For one thing, no one ever mentions that Gibson’s Nashville factory was raided way back in November 2009. Someone remind me, who was president back then? Thinking … thinking … (Brain fart… I was responding to internet reports that the Bush Administration also raided Gibson but the earliest raid I can document is November 2009.)

That kind of puts the lie to that whole, "we've been doing this for 17 years and no one ever had a problem with it before" thing. And I don't recall Marsha Blackburn holding press conferences and claiming President Bush was being unfair and arbitrary in his administration's enforcement of the Lacey Act then, do you?

But also, if anyone wants to know why Gibson's problems didn't crop up until 2009, it's simple: the Lacey Act was amended in May 2008 to include wood products (and Blackburn and pretty much every other House Republican voted against it). So it doesn’t matter what they did 17 years ago, or even five years ago. If they were importing endangered wood products, that would have been illegal after May 2008.

Blackburn and the other House Republicans know the Obama Administration isn’t being capricious and arbitrary in its Lacey Act enforcement. They just don’t like the law. They think free market fairies are supposed to protect rare stands of wood and they’re using a dishonest argument in trying to dupe the media and the American public into agreeing with them. In short, they’re playing politics. Shocker.

I’m not out to get Gibson Guitars, I’m sure they make a fine product and they support a lot of great music programs. But if they’re making their guitars out of illegal wood products then they need to stop. As should any company violating the Lacey Act. And that is the point of having a Fish & Wildlife Service: to make sure companies are not violating these laws. So Henry Juszkiewicz can call for the whaaambulance all he wants, I’m not feeling sorry for him. Sorry, dude. Maybe you need to attend one of the C.F. Martin company’s wood summits?

Of course, Republicans like Blackburn never mention these things. They paint a picture of an out of control government agency picking on the poor, little “job creator.” This story is just tailor-made for the GOP’s whole “environmental laws are killing jobs” mantra. Of course it’s not true, the idea that we have to choose between prosperity and poison is some crazy idea cooked up at a Koch Industries company picnic, but the Republicans are masters at exploiting disasters like high unemployment for their own political gain.

You know who’s playing politics here? Republicans like Marsha Blackburn. It’s all over every press release and news conference. Let’s look again at the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s statement, dripping with sarcasm and political spin. I really like this part:

The leaders also questioned the Obama Administration’s treatment of a leading job creator, writing, “The policies of this Administration should actively support American companies that create jobs at home. The Gibson Guitar Company appears to have done just that. The Financial Times, in reporting on the raids, noted: ‘In recent years, Gibson has hired 600 new workers as the US economy struggled to add jobs.’ While we respect your right to defend the signature legislative accomplishment of President McKinley, we are not so sure this was the proper instance in which to exercise that right.”

Oohh, that’s some world-class snark there, isn’t it? Someone remind me … McKinley belonged to which political party? It wouldn’t be the Republican Party, would it? So are today’s modern Republicans saying we can ignore any law passed by previous Republican Administrations as long as enough time has passed?

As an aside, don’tcha y’all just love how Republicans have suddenly discovered the words “job creator”? They’re attaching it to everything now, like fairy dust. It’s their Frank Luntz-approved justification for everything. Democrats need to learn how to do this. For example: you know who’s a job creator? ACORN. And Planned Parenthood. And, for that matter, the U.S. forest products industry, where one can buy wood to make things like, I dunno, guitars maybe?

Does it create more jobs here in the U.S. for guitar manufacturers to make their product from illegally-sourced foreign-grown wood from endangered trees, or from sustainably grown domestic wood? Now that’s an interesting question. But I digress.

I’m really disgusted with the air of superiority I’m reading on blogs about this. Sarcastic posts like: “Ohh get those criminals at Gibson, stop them before they strike again!” You know what? Fuck you. If you haven’t taken the time to educate yourself about the illegal trade in endangered species and how poaching destroys the planet’s rarest treasures, then I suggest you take a look at this picture. If anyone is selling you the idea that acts of violence like this are the price of American jobs, they’re lying. The destruction of rare tropical forests is no less a form of slaughter — more so, because thousands of acres of forest are destroyed to reach the rare trees used in making musical instruments and furniture (for more, read “Green Guitars” here.)

I’m trying to remember when the House leadership rallied to the defense of one American company in such a way. I can’t. Of course, Gibson looks like the poor innocent victim here, until you pull away the curtain on this political theater and get to the facts. Gibson’s Juszkiewicz is a notorious character in Nashville; right now he’s the Republicans’ darling because his situation is useful to them. That won’t last long, however. Republicans will move on to their next shiny-sparkly piece of political theater, and Juszkiewicz will be left out in the cold.

Let me add: so far the media’s handling of this story has been piss-poor. There’s been little effort to get the other side of the story, or even put out the basic facts. This is par for the course, but it needs to stop. Do your damn jobs, people.

And musicians, quit ringing the alarm bells. No one is coming for your guitars:

Guitarists now worry that every time they cross a state border with their instrument, they will have to carry sheaves of documents proving that every part of it was legally sourced. Edward Grace, the deputy chief of the FWS’s office of law enforcement, says this fear is misplaced: “As a matter of longstanding practice,” he says, “investigators focus not on unknowing end consumers but on knowing actors transacting in larger volumes of product.”

Musicians have been hosting fundraisers and benefit concerts to protect the rainforest. Don’t pretend you don’t understand what’s at stake here.

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24 Comments

Filed under environment, politics, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Republican Party, Tennessee

24 responses to “Marsha Blackburn’s Gibson Guitar Fiasco

  1. D.

    Anything after January 21, 2009 is on Obama’s watch, I’m afraid.

    That caveat aside, this is right on the money.

  2. “They think free market fairies are supposed to protect rare stands of wood and they’re using a dishonest argument in trying to dupe the media and the American public into agreeing with them. In short, they’re playing politics. Shocker.”

    This is untrue. They don’t think the free market fairies will save the trees and they don’t give a fuck about the trees.

    Southern Beale:

    Did you already have this tidbit:

    “The company noted that its chairman and CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, sits on the board of the Rainforest Alliance, an NGO that certifies products for their environmental credentials. Juszkiewicz announced Tuesday he is taking a leave of absence from his role in the wake of the investigation.”

    from here: http://news.mongabay.com/2009/11818-gibson.html

    • Actually, Juszkiewicz resigned from the Rainforest Alliance board after the 2009 raid, according to what I read, dated 11-19-09:

      Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz has taken a leave of absence from the Rainforest Alliance in the aftermath of a federal raid on Tuesday. He won’t return until after a federal investigation has concluded, the alliance said in a statement.

      Feds stormed Gibson’s Nashville plant, and seized documents and instruments in an effort to find out if the company was importing an endangered species of wood from Madagascar, which violates a law known as the Lacey Act.

      Feds did not make any arrests on Tuesday. However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has sought an affidavit to unseal court documents on the matter.

      Juszkiewicz served on the Rainforest Alliance for more than 15 years and urged the industry to use more sustainable woods.

      “It’s very difficult to know what’s happening at this point,” Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance told The Tennessean newspaper. “Our hope indeed is there will be no violations of the Lacey Act.”

  3. Earl Butz

    Saw your post over at Balloon Juice and followed the link.

    I worked at a very high-end boutique guitar maker for four years of my very interesting life, and then went on to work for an importer of guitars for another few years. They shall remain anonymous because I do like my own anonymity, especially when commenting on matters like this.

    Three of the folks I worked at the factory with were former Gibson employees (including a factory manager), so I got a lot of insight into what working for Gibson was like. There’s a reason it consistent shows up as one of the worst places to work in America on Glassdoor. Henry Juszkiewicz is a terrible human being, he allows his managers to run his company like a slave labor shop, and he is a tyrannical employer.

    I can say this: the kind of violation that Gibson has been accused of is rampant throughout the industry, with the exception of Martin and Taylor Guitars, and the reason why Gibson got nailed is very simple – everyone else is too small to go after. A guitar builder that has more than 10 people on staff and a million dollars a year in gross revenue is, by a luthier’s standards, a large shop. Companies like Martin, Gibson or Taylor that employ thousands and make millions are the exception rather than the rule. And Gibson is the only one of the large three acoustic makers (no one uses rare wood in electrics, by and large) that has a history of playing hanky-panky with their wood supply.

    So far as I can tell, BTW, what they’re being accused of THIS TIME is transshipping wood from Madagascar through India and labeling it as being from India. That was stupid. India has comprehensive and very well enforced laws regarding shipments and documentation of their wood products – all wood is, as I recall, state property by law – and such an arrangement could and obviously was easily caught.

    One hilarious and telling final note about Henry Juszkiewicz – I met him two years after leaving the guitar factory at Summer NAMM 1996 – or 97, it’s been a while. At any rate, he showed up wearing sunglasses, with two very obvious black eyes. Apparently he’d gotten into a fight several days previously at a local golf course and gotten his ass beaten, and then apparently tried to go after the guy again and got beaten some more. You can see this behavior pattern in his dealing with the government. He got his ass whipped in 09, he’s come back for more and getting it beaten again right now, and he’ll keep getting it beaten until someone hits him hard enough to make him stay down.

    • I have heard some of what you say about Gibson. That place really is a revolving door, they are notoriously shitty to their employees. Pay sucks, people are treated like crap. Of course, none of that is illegal, but it doesn’t inspire a lot of sympathy.

      I think it will be interesting to see what happens when Juszkiewicz is no longer the GOP’s pet “job creator.” I think he will go ballistic.

  4. Earl Butz

    “And musicians, quit ringing the alarm bells. No one is coming for your guitars”

    Oh yeah, this. Not one musician I know has even given this a second thought. And the reality of the situation is this: Most musicians aren’t making anywhere near the kind of money that it takes to leave the country, but even the ones that are can’t drop three to four thousand dollars on a guitar. Most expensive guitars out there that could use the wood in question are getting sold to businessmen and collectors, typically the same kind of guy who buys a $30,000 Harley.

    • Well, Gibson has created a petition over at Change.org that’s full of incorrect information and political spin. I guess the phony progressives over at “Change.org” will let ANYONE create a petition — even a corporation accused of wrongdoing. And the unwitting public just signs away, no clue …

  5. Is there a cut-off for when Gibson became an Asshole of the World employer?

    • I heard horror stories about HJ and the Gibson company years and years ago, way back in the ’90s. Again, being an asshole isn’t illegal, being a crazy asshole isn’t illegal. Importing endangered wood IS and IF that is what they have done they need to stop playing the victim card, stop allowing themselves to be used as a political prop by the GOP, promise full cooperation with Fish & Wildlife authorities, etc.

      Someone over there knows what’s really going on, and I’d say it’s someone who is underpaid, overworked, and perhaps been berated one times too many by the boss. Stay tuned …

  6. Maybe the reason that Mr. Obama’s nanniejacked thugbooters are goin’ after the shrub is that Gibson he was given by Mark Wills as the levees failed in N’awlins.

  7. Min

    Methinks Henry doth protest too much. If he didn’t do anything wrong, then he and Gibson Guitars will be vindicated

    And Marsha’s the most annoying bottle blonde in the Mid-State area.

  8. Obama is not done….until the country won’t run.

  9. Mr. Juscowitts

    My question is whether anyone in the media or government will ask Henry Juszkiewicz to defend his claims about being “set up” by “the government,” or more specifically the Obama Administration, as he has stated to CNN, Fox News, etc.

    Who specifically is setting him up and where is his evidence? Are the Fish & Wildlife Service, Customs and Border Patrol, The Dept. of Homeland Security, and Juliet Griffin, the Magistrate Judge who signed the affidavit for the search warrant, all being ordered by some top Democrat to harass Gibson Guitar? Is Mr. Juszkiewicz specifically claiming agents mentioned in the affidavit, including Wildlife Inspector Kim Theurer, Agriculture Specialist Raina Dodson, CPB Officer Bruce Clark, and Special Agent John Rayfield are corrupt? If Mr. Juszkiewicz is claiming this where is his evidence to back it up? If the agents actually working on the case aren’t to blame, then who is?

    It’s politically easy to blame “the government” and it’s a convenient distraction from smuggling accusations. Whether or not Gibson is guilty of breaking the Lacey Act is for the court to decide. In the mean time, since Henry wants to make this political, can someone ask him to defend his accusations with evidence, not just with vague political statements designed to stir public reaction?

    • They don’t need no stinkin’ evidence because OBAMA and SOCIALIST and … and … OBAMA …

      I mean please. You’re asking a logical question, and this situation is one of politics. As such, there is no logic here. It’s about spin, PR, exploitation of a gullible public and lazy news media, and selling the conservative message that environmental regulations cannot coexist with economic prosperity.

    • My question is whether anyone in the media will question Obama as to why he hasn’t charged these guys after 2 years. If they broke the law, charge them. Otherwise, apologise and move on.

      • Because the investigation is still open, according to everything I read.

        That’s a nice trick the GOP has, though. Cut funds to these agencies and then holler about how long it takes to develop a case. The GOP’s budget slashed Fish & Wildlife’s budget by 21% this year, from an agency that didn’t have any fat to trim to begin with.

      • Not to mention that it’s pretty unlikely that Obama is personally handling either the investigation or possible prosecution. And if he were to try, the same people that are screaming now that Gibson hasn’t been charged would promptly start screaming about the executive branch interfering in the business of the judicial.

  10. T. H. Cook

    With all the talk of the Fish and Wildlife Service discouraging job creation at Gibson, I’m surprised that it’s not more widely noted that Juskiewicz and David Berryman (company president and his partner at Gibson) have moved so much production to China, including Baldwin pianos (formerly the largest US manufacturer of keyboard instruments) and Epiphone guitars.

  11. Just noticed an interesting little tidbit – the statement ‘In recent years, Gibson has hired 600 new workers as the US economy struggled to add jobs.’

    Hmm, Gibson only runs about 400 employees. Which means that Gibson has NOT created new jobs as is being touted. It means that their turnover must be absolutely outrageous to have hired 600 people to have a staff of 400.

    • Good catch. I also noticed they have two factories in China. So maybe some of those jobs weren’t created here. :-)

      Gibson does have super-high turnover, or at least they used to. Back in the dark ages when I was looking to work for someone else I noticed they always had jobs advertised — good jobs too, management and PR and marketing and corporate office stuff.

    • Mr. Juscowitts

      Yeah. There’s constant turnover. There’s a few people who have been there forever but alot come and go. Reviews on glassdoor.com give a pretty good description of the place. http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Gibson-Guitar-Reviews-E6869.htm

      Also, check out some of Henry’s political donations. Kinda shoots a whole in his “Democratic competitors are out to get me” theory.

      http://www.campaignmoney.com/political/contributions/henry-juskiewicz.asp?cycle=10

      • “Recalls Stalin’s best years.”

        Yeesh. Yeah this all confirms everything I’ve heard, which is why I’ve stayed far, far away despite how tempting and exciting some of the jobs looked. Thing is, it’s been like this for years. I can’t imagine how they can continue to function with years of this behavior. And as I stated earlier, with this many disgruntled employees, surely investigators will find someone eager to talk.

        He gave to Jim Cooper, but remember, Cooper also voted against the 2008 Lacey Act changes. Cooper’s a Blue Dog, what can I say …

      • Mr. Juscowitts

        It’s purely gossip but word around the place is that Henry screwed over a few too many people a few too many times and someone blew the whistle. Can’t back that up but it’s not too far fetched of a theory.

        Mediamatters.org did a great piece on the Fox News coverage. Spread this around everywhere possible.
        http://mediamatters.org/blog/201109130020