Feds Raid Gibson; Musicians Now Worried The Gov't Will Take Their Guitars Away

from the norwegian-wood dept

Last week, the feds apparently raided the premises of Gibson Guitar, searching for "illegal wood" used in those guitars. Apparently, the government and Gibson have been involved in an ongoing lawsuit for some time, after the feds seized some guitars in 2009 and a case commenced against the wood in the guitar (yes, against the wood, since it was one of those "in rem" cases): "United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms." Apparently, now the government is taking it up a notch, and while there is a grandfather clause, if you get your paperwork just marginally wrong and happen to own a Gibson guitar with illegal wood, the government could seize it and fine you. Apparently, a bunch of musicians are reasonably afraid, and some suggest not taking any such guitar out of the country if you ever plan on bringing it back:
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."

[....]

It's not enough to know that the body of your old guitar is made of spruce and maple: What's the bridge made of? If it's ebony, do you have the paperwork to show when and where that wood was harvested and when and where it was made into a bridge? Is the nut holding the strings at the guitar's headstock bone, or could it be ivory? "Even if you have no knowledge—despite Herculean efforts to obtain it—that some piece of your guitar, no matter how small, was obtained illegally, you lose your guitar forever," Prof. Thomas has written. "Oh, and you'll be fined $250 for that false (or missing) information in your Lacey Act Import Declaration."
And since this is a "strict liability" situation, asking the government for help in making sure you're being legal may actually make things worse. Much worse:
Consider the recent experience of Pascal Vieillard, whose Atlanta-area company, A-440 Pianos, imported several antique Bösendorfers. Mr. Vieillard asked officials at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species how to fill out the correct paperwork—which simply encouraged them to alert U.S. Customs to give his shipment added scrutiny.

There was never any question that the instruments were old enough to have grandfathered ivory keys. But Mr. Vieillard didn't have his paperwork straight when two-dozen federal agents came calling.

Facing criminal charges that might have put him in prison for years, Mr. Vieillard pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating the Lacey Act, and was handed a $17,500 fine and three years probation.
I'm all for not destroying the environment -- and if Gibson is really doing something bad, then that should be dealt with. But some of these other situations just seem flat out ridiculous. Don't the feds have more important things to do?


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:11am

    They sued pieces of wood? And I thought suing a network printer was silly...

     

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    Akiva, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:11am

    Clearly not

    The Federal government is the ONLY growth industry in the U.S.A. right now. Think of all the happy citizens now employed as enforcement officers. Would you put them on the unemployment line (for 99 weeks)? I say NO! Enforce every spitting on the sidewalk ordinance! Shut down every improperly licensed childhood lemonade stand! Be a country who enforces every law, regulation and ordinance to the very end, however close it may be and being brought faster!

     

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      Krusty, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:39am

      Re: Clearly not

      I've heard about governments like this, but it was before my time...in the 1930's...in Germany.

       

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      Berenerd (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:57am

      Re: Clearly not

      I know an investigator for the office I used to work for who...arrested 17 state senators for an illegal gambling ring (football pool in the state were illegal at the time) that law was quickly changed. Faster even them approving their pay raise.

       

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    herbert, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:19am

    of course the Feds have more important things to do. it's just that this type of thing is EASIER for them to do!

     

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      Jose_X, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 2:27pm

      Re:

      I still hold out some hope that in enforcing these broken IP laws they are helping to communicate to supporters of IP and citizens that these laws are broken and that we don't need more of them.

      If they don't enforce, the political attacks would be ferocious from those with money and IP rights.

       

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        Jose_X, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 2:35pm

        Re: Re:

        or maybe they know they have to enforce these rights if they want pharm and other rights to be enforced in India and elsewhere.

         

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    The eejit (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:31am

    No, the Feds are wasting time on one company that didn't pay politicians any dues. That's called a "democracy tax".

     

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    Spaceboy (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:32am

    They should sue Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney for encouraging such monstrous atrocities against nature. How many elephants and ebony trees were murdered because of the song 'Ebony and Ivory'?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:32am

    Troll mode on:

    Oh yeah baby seize all those guitars from those artists :)
    If they are buying illegal wood they are criminals.

     

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      Oblate (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:59am

      Re:

      And of course any songs recorded using those instruments must be seized. And any other songs created while the criminal ('artist') is in possession of the illegal material. And all copies of cd's, and mp3s containing those songs. And the cd players or computer hard drives they are located in/on. And the rest of the stereo systems, computers, or other equipment (i.e. cars with cd players in them) contributing to the infringement. Or would that be crazy?

       

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      magic, Aug 30th, 2011 @ 9:22pm

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:32am

      You are just stupid and need elimination

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:35am

    Troll mode on:

    I hope they also start seizing movies original copies from studios that do illegal business in other countries.

    No matter where you are or what you do if the US government knows about it they can do anything they want including taking all your movies and making a profit from it after.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:48am

    Basically Gibson legally imported some wood from India that was legally cut down and the non-profit industry watch group Forest Stewardship Council said was legit. Gibson violated an Indian law that states that the wood must be finished by Indian workers.

    So, the US government is now the business of protecting the jobs in India while hurting the jobs in America?

     

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    Manabi (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:48am

    The wood isn't the only thing endangered

    Apparently it's not just the wood that's endangered, but common sense (at least within the government). We're in dire need of some of that when it comes to enforcing laws of all kinds. This is just more proof of it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:50am

    Is the wood smokable ?

     

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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 4:04am

    Why Do We Have “Strict Liability” Laws?

    Why can’t it be a defence to show that it’s simply not reasonable to try to protect yourself against breaking such laws?

     

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    bordy (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 4:04am

    When ICE started seizing websites at the behest of certain players within the entertainment industry, I started playing a game when government agencies made headlines with actions such as these. I ask: "Is there a competing industry/lobby/company prodding the feds into action?"

    I have no idea if such an exercise could be useful here, but perhaps someone with the applicable background can help?

     

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      Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 9:47am

      Re:

      Plastics. Quite reasonable to substitute plastics for all the wood parts in your guitar.

      I mean, it's not like you could hear the difference, and it's not as though wood were a renewable resource like plastic.

       

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        Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 10:02pm

        Re: Re:

        Well, I didn't get any flames, so I assume everybody's sarcasm detectors are in good working order. :)

         

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        Lutither, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 10:40pm

        Re: Re:

        To a untrained bigginer it won't make a difference in sound but to someone who has been studying guitars for years it will never sound like the real thing. And if the guitar already has wood how is it going to save a tree it will only waist quality wood.

         

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    Thomas (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 4:25am

    Just another attempt..

    by the U.S. government to destroy the business of any company that dares to actually manufacture anything within the U.S.. The government doesn't care if they put more and more U.S. workers out of a job.

     

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    gorf, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 4:29am

    resource protection

    Tropical hardwoods like ebony are excellent for making musical instruments, and are in high demand. These very dense woods take many decades to grow to a suitable size, and are becoming a scarce resource. Cocus wood, which was favoured by 19th century flute makers is now almost extinct. Someone has to ensure that these resources are harvested sustainably. I'm not sure it should be at border patrol, but where else? They already have established protocols for such work, and we don't hear too much moaning about their similar efforts to control the import of ivory, or the export of bear feet, for example.

     

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      AG Wright, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 4:59am

      Re: resource protection

      Gorph, What you didn't get in this whole thing is that Gibson is one of the companies that ONLY uses wood from renewable and supportable sources. They really are one of the good guys in the industry.
      They have bent over backwards to follow the law and now, without a change in the law.
      As a person that has multiple stringed instruments ranging from 5 to 45 years old I have no slightest idea how old the components of my instruments are.
      Is the nut of that 45 year old guitar bone or ivory? I don't know. I have no way of knowing. I bought the instrument 20 years ago in a pawn shop. It's my main guitar but I can't carry it out of the country, if I ever needed to travel with the laws in the current state.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 5:03am

    This is why I download my guitars off of pirate bay.

     

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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 5:07am

    In the immortal words of George W. Bush:

    "Need some wood?"

     

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    MAC, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 5:38am

    Ridiculous

    I bet if they were made in China the Feds would not have a problem with them...

    They don't have problems witb anything else that their chinese 'masters' make...

     

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      xenomancer (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 3:24pm

      Re: Ridiculous

      Toothpaste
      Dog food
      Children's toys
      ...

      I know these were mostly consumer pursued, but regulatory authorities based in big brother did step in.

       

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    Scooters (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 5:56am

    Dear artists, how does it feel?

    Notice: My post will appear to be trolling, but rest assured, it is not. This is another example of issues going beyond the scope the law intended and does nothing more than hurt those affected by the "longer arm of the law".

    Did you see I wrote "longer" and not "long"? Every day, artists sit back and do nothing over the laws which are formed regarding their rights. Now, when another law now targets them, they now stand up and speak their mind?

    Do these artists not see the hypocrisy with this? Where's Nina and her new strip? Where are the editorials about the rights of wood? Where are the ACs posts regarding why this law is beneficial to the environment?

    None of it can be found. Instead, we get stories of people "worried" they'll lose their musical instrument because a piece of legislation now gives law enforcement this right.

    Poetic justice or karma. Take your pick. I feel bad for those who genuinely have this fear, but realize this is the world I live in, when one day, a subpoena may grace my front door because someone believes I'm infringing the works created from those guitars, whether they be in mp3 format or the background music of the latest movie.

    Benjamin Franklin was absolutely right, wasn't he, when discussing security for liberties.

     

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      Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 8:25am

      Re: Dear artists, how does it feel?

      a piece of legislation now gives law enforcement this right.

      Laws do not give the government or its agencies "rights" - it only grants them powers.

      Rights are held either by individuals or states. Neither the federal government, nor states, no matter what powers they are granted, can violate those rights. Powers can be taken away by other laws, or by the courts if they are impeding the rights of the states or individuals.

       

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    Copywight watcher (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:02am

    Game of Illuminati(Steve Jackson)
    The "Debbie Gibbson Gitar Group" attack Paper jamz You-tuber with 'Copywight' lawyers. Paper Jamer counterattacks with enviro Feds against DGGG for illegal wood in gitars. Unfortunately PJYT destroyed because of illegal wood in copy of gitar and Beatles song used in YouTube video.
    (Libertarian groups strangely do not add or subtract from this)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:04am

    Here they come. If we keep letting them, they'll keep coming. Hey, here's a great idea...let's continue to watch Snookie's fat-dumb ass, and Beyonce's future fat ass. That'll keep us occupied while the "new world order" wipes out our EVERYTHING...

     

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    Omali, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:13am

    Under arrest...

    "You're under arrest"
    "Under what charges, Officer?"
    "For rocking too hard."
    *Cue Bill and Ted air guitar*

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:15am

    Well Mike, I guess it must be easy to second guess these environmental protection initiatives while you sit in your ivory tower.

     

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      Vincent Clement (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:49am

      Re:

      This is about using errors or inconsistencies in government paperwork to scare people into paying fines. It has nothing to do with environmental protection initiatives.

      And you should be second guessing those initiatives. While you protect some hardwoods in a foreign land, up here in Canada, Alberta is being scarred by oil sands development.

      How much environmental damage has been done in China to mass produce cheap goods available at your local Walmart or Target?

       

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    David Muir (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:27am

    Government over the people, besides the people, against the people.

     

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    FTG and their NWO (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:35am

    It's not about environment at this point, when most of the desks in the the "elite" offices are made of rosewood, ebony and other delicate hardwoods, as well as Gold... but I guess we can overlook that little piece of history, since it's for our "Masters of Destruction". Don't get it twisted, it's all about money. That's it...period. Think I'm Lying? Do some research...and while you're at it, open your mind.

     

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    Joe Publius (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:36am

    United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms

    Leave it to us to find a way to prosecute 20% of the economic output of the island of Catan.

     

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    Beta (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 6:47am

    a silly question

    I know that laws don't have to make sense, but...

    How does this "paperwork" work? If I have papers that show that the ebony bridge of my guitar is legal, what happens when I have the bridge replaced by an unethical luthier in Lithuania? Does the certificate crumble into ashes? Is there a serial number etched into the legitimate bridge, perhaps with a cryptographic hash of the grain pattern?

    Is it really necessary that the papers be, well, papers? If Gibson keeps its supply chain in order, couldn't it provide downloadable compliance certificates, by serial number? Or maybe by model and year?

    And is it really necessary that the papers describe where and when the wood was harvested and carved into a bridge? Wouldn't it be enough to say that it's legal? The only purpose I can see for maintaining all of that information is to allow previously allowed instruments to be made "illegally manufactured" with the stroke of a pen, which sounds to me like retroactive law ("ex post facto"), which is unconstitutional. It also serves the purpose of making the law harder to comply with, but I usually attribute that to incompetence rather than malice.

    (P.S. Sorry, I don't often get to use the word "luthier", and I got a little carried away.)

     

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    ScytheNoire, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 7:16am

    It was another lobbying effort

    The real reason behind this is that Gibson's top market competitor is C.F. Martin & Co who is a Democrat supporter who has contributed to their campaigns. Thus, when Martin asked his politician friends to go raid Gibson for X reason, they did so, much like ICE with the RIAA/MPAA. Of course, Martin uses the same wood in their guitars, but they weren't raided.

    So, as we see, if you contribute to the right politicians, whether you want to call it campaign contributions or lobbying (it's all bribery), you can then use the US Government as your own personal police force to go after your competitors.

    The US Government, they are for sale.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 7:23am

    Don't the feds have more important things to do?

    In this current fascist police state they are running - no, they do not.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 7:36am

    "Don't the feds have more important things to do?"

    Grandstanding is important!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 7:48am

    And the government wonders why no one likes or trusts them

    Pascal Vieillard: "This paper is so complicated it's ridiculous. Federal Government, please help me make sure I filled this out right!"

    Federal Government: "His paperwork isn't filled out right? QUICK, DESTROY HIM WHILE HE'S STILL VULNERABLE!"

     

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    Atkray (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 7:54am

    Who knew?

    All those years of Pete Townshend smashing guitars, he was really just out in front of eliminating all the environmentally unfriendly ones.

     

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    Red, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 8:53am

    Stradivarius

    It looks like a Stradivarius uses ebony for tuning pegs, fingerboard, tailpiece and end pin...
    I wonder if their owners can show the correct documents.

     

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    D, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 8:55am

    Look out, here come the gestapo

    Well it looks like the Feds are really becoming the gestapo. They can enter your house and sieze anything without a warrant and label you, a law abiding citizen, a criminal. With this precedent, ANYTHING can be made illegal EX POST FACTO.

    Your house is made out of illegal materials. The government is going to sieze it. Your clothes are made out of illegal materials. Kiss those goodbye. The key here is EX POST FACTO.

    Making something illegal after the fact is in itself illegal. The criminals are the government, not some guy who happens to own a 1960's vintage Les Paul. Anyone who will argue that the Les Paul owner is a criminal is an ignorant Facist. You are the new Nazi's. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. You are being led by vicious people who are using you to their own end. The shame you will bring upon yourselves will last generations. Also, the evil people leading you will cast you aside when the time is right. You are simply their tools. You are all going to be labeled criminals of the worst kind. Wake up before it is too late.

     

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    Power Trip, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 9:17am

    Look both ways before crossing the street...

    Meanwhile, POTUS now is spending his time as a weather person, advising people to obey authority re: rain and winds. I'd rather he spend his time on the "three letter" issue (jobs) that his VP talked about before the last election. These guys will go after low hanging fruit every time. It is important for them to look like they are doing something, anything, no matter that what (it doesn't have to make sense). Yo, Mr. Guv Man, how about a new WPA program? (It would only have to take a little bitty portion of the civilian contractor/defense/foreign aid budget.) Stop the war against the American people and businesses (hey, we LOST the War on Poverty!)

     

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    daryl mixon, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 9:52am

    Gibson Raid

    To rephrase a quote from the NRA folks, "They'll get my Gibson when they pry my cold dead from the neck".

     

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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 10:05am

    I guess my wife can't use my morning wood any more, at my age there's no proof it's a renewable resource.

    *rimshot*

     

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    David (profile), Aug 29th, 2011 @ 10:15am

    Burden of Proof

    When did the burden of proof fall to the defendant of a criminal case? I thought that our legal system was founded on the protection that the state had to "prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that a law was violated.

    I don't see that standard here.

     

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    Hardt, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 11:42am

    Government regulations and enforcement brought to you by the same "do gooders" who have stifled individual freedom in almost all aspects of our lives. From prohibition to the war on drugs, to being the policemen of the entire world. The time for revolution is now. Vote Ron Paul in 2012.

     

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    Last Hussar, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 1:08pm

    But is the story true? Or is it something someone has blown up out of all proportion?

     

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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 7:12pm

    Ebony And Ivory ...

    ... both now highly illegal. Stevie and Paul must be spinning in their recliners ...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 9:33pm

    As a guitarist I'd like to say Fuck You

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2011 @ 10:27pm

    But some of these other situations just seem flat out ridiculous. Don't the feds have more important things to do?

    In Fact this is what the Feds do for a living, everyone is guilty of one federal crime or another, from the baby to grandma.

    This is the reason that the founding fathers originally made the federal government weak. With the states having the power to police it's borders and people.

    Wickard v. Filburn and Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority both have been used to destroy state power and increase the power of the federal government.

     

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    ShellMG, Aug 30th, 2011 @ 4:09pm

    I didn't see this posted yet, but the Gibson raid, IF the Lacey Act as the Feds interpret it is enforced, we could have an international incident of First Lady proportions.

    Apparently Mrs. Obama gave Carla Bruni a Gibson guitar as a gift in 2009. And it features the felonious wood.

    http://www.gibson.com/en-us/Lifestyle/News/Michelle-Obama-French-406/

     

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    Anonymous Shredder, Aug 30th, 2011 @ 5:12pm

    papers?

    How do I determine provenance on the materials used in my air guitar? I'd hate to have it seized while doing Metallica impressions...

     

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    Magic, Aug 30th, 2011 @ 9:30pm

    Obama wood

    just give the wood to Mr Obama, that way he could take it to Africa on his next 10 Million dollar vacation, to see his family. Just put the work back into the madig forest and pay Gibson the tiny sum of 4 million dollars for what the feds have Stolen from an AMERICAN Corporation.

     

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    Air man, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 5:30pm

    One day someone will sue me over my air guitar

     

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    Air man, Sep 1st, 2011 @ 5:30pm

    One day someone will sue me over my air guitar

     

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    Winston, Sep 28th, 2011 @ 3:42am

    We have always been at war with Oceana.

     

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    Nancy Holden, Aug 19th, 2012 @ 2:24pm

    Government vs; Gibson Guitar

    Since the US government has become such a powerful entity as
    to have successfully reversed the U.S. Constitution's intention, which was to protect its citizens from an out-of-control, over-reaching government, perhaps it is time to re-visit the Declaration pf Independence and start over.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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