It's not often that a U.S. first lady's gift makes news -- years after the fact -- but Michelle Obama's 2009 present to Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has sparked some comment among free trade boosters and guitar pickers. The gift in question: a Gibson Hummingbird guitar.
Gibson Guitar Corp. has been making some news of its own this week, which is why those in Washington with long memories recalled the gift to the music-loving French first lady. Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz was in town to raise awareness about a problem he has with a long-standing U.S. law aimed at curbing illegal trafficking in tropical hardwoods, among other materials. Federal agents raided two of his Tennessee factories and confiscated more than $1 million worth of rosewood, ebony and finished guitars. No charges have been filed but Gibson's chief says he is being investigated for possible violation of the Lacey Act of 1900. Read more about that here.
At a lunch with reporters and others, Juszkiewicz said he favors using sustainably harvested wood for Gibson instruments, and because guitars need such a small amount of tropical hardwoods for their fingerboards -- the wooden top of the guitar's neck -- that's well within the realm of possibility. But he says a 2008 amendment to the act is more protectionist than environmentally friendly. And he says the seizure of the materials his company needs to make the instruments makes it harder for Gibson's hundreds of U.S. employees. The Justice Department has refused to comment on the ongoing litigation.
The 2008 amendment to the Lacey Act passed during the Bush administration with bipartisan support, but still hackles were raised soon after the latest raids at the end of August.
About Michelle Obama's gift to Carla Bruni-Sarkozy: the Hummingbird model features a rosewood fingerboard "with rolled edges for an extremely comfortable in-the-hand feel," according to the company's website. And as the site says, "It all starts with the wood."