New Normal?

An uncomfortable number of my friends and acquaintances dismiss the concern that our government is playing too much of a role in our lives. Perhaps they are among Professor Ian Morris’s (Why the West Rules; for Now) lazy, greedy, and scared people? There may be some of that, but for most of us, so far, I say no. I am not going to give up on Americans that easily. One problem is that we are now living in the age of information overload, and there is so much out there, and our day to day lives take so much effort, that too many of us don’t have, or make, the time to think about and understand what is going on. Furthermore, for nearly everyone in this nation, life is, if not luxurious, comfortable by world and historical standards. Comfort makes for complacency.

Among those who are doubtless no longer complacent are the management and employees of the Gibson Guitar company in Nashville and Memphis Tennessee.

Three times during the past two years, federal law enforcement agents brandishing firearms raided Gibson’s plant and seized contraband – that is, wood used to manufacture their guitars. Horrors! It seems that the Lacey Act, one of those ill-considered laws passed by members of Congress who no doubt did not bother to read, makes illegal the importation of agricultural – including wood products – that foreign nations have declared to be protected by their laws. It seems that the wood Gibson was using came from India and Madagascar. According to the U.S. Environmental Investigation Agency, it was contraband and was illegally imported because the trees it comes from were protected by the laws of those countries. Both nations have said that was untrue; their law were not violated. The EIA and Justice Department held otherwise, and commenced preparation of a criminal case against Gibson and several of its officers and employees, notwithstanding that they were acting in good faith reliance they were in compliance with the law.

One of the truest statements made about this outrage was made by Andrea Johnson, director of forest programs for the EIA. “This is a new normal,” she said, “and it takes getting used to.”

Gibson and its employees got lucky. Apparently the case was too shaky for even USDOJ goons to try. The case was resolved with a “criminal enforcement agreement” in which the federales required Gibson to adopt some “remedial measures,” pay a $300K penalty to the government, and make a donation to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (out of kindness, I suppose — my apologies to the late Townes van Zandt). The details of the agreement require a gag provision that Gibson will not contradict a factual resume appended to the agreement (whether true or not, I suppose).

Why did Gibson and its officers agree to this when the case was shaky, as it doubtless was? Because the possibility, remote though it might have been, of the company being shut down and hundreds of people put out of work while key employees went to prison for up to five years, was too great of a risk.

In a column by lawyer Harvey Silverglate in the Wall Street Journal (August 20, 2012), he says “In exchange for agreeing to read the government’s script, Gibson regained its ability to conduct business without a federal sword of Damocles dangling over its corporate head.”

If my friends who believe this “new normal” is overstated and it won’t happen to law-abiding persons, I recommend Silverglate’s book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. He is writing about YOU.  After you finish, it is your turn to write — to your Representative and Senator.

Also see my prior post Are you a Felon?

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