Friday, June 23, 2017

A Sad Day for America

Today, Friday June 23, 2017, The Financial Services Committee of the House of Representatives held a hearing entitled "The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade." This is certainly a worthy topic of consideration, though the tone is not exactly what the title implies.  It's heartwarming, in one respect, that Congress has the time to consider these sorts of issues when the viability of our Republic is at serious risk.  On the other hand, it may say something about the very nature of representative government and who is actually represented versus who the electorate is.  The three bureaucrats testifiying before Congress in this hearing presented one point of view.  They understandingly deplored the loss of cultural property, but essentially blamed that loss on private ownership that evolved through trade with illegal sources -- "trafficking" is the operative word.  Not surprisingly, each heralded their own efforts to "save the past" for all of us.  Nobody in the room talked about the failure of law enforcement worldwide to stop "trafficking".  How is any buyer in an international market able to distinguish between an object recirculating in a vibrant and venerable trade from one stolen yesterday?  That is not the "buyer's" job, it is the role of law enforcement and the markets based on verifiable evidence -- commonly called "due diligence".  Does that mean providing extensive provenance on any object offered for sale?  In the case of minor antiquities that is unreasonable and impossible in far too many cases.  Still, some items may well appear "too fresh" and should be avoided by all sellers.  The burden of proof that something is illicit, however, remains with the accuser.

What those few elected representatives in Congress present did not hear (the room was nearly empty) was the six-hundred-year-old story of how private collectors of antiquities have saved countless objects from loss through physical destruction for intrinsic metal value (for example, melting down silver and gold coins) or the countless museums worldwide that are populated with cultural property donated by private collectors.  Why was that perspective not made clear?  Because the Archaeological community stranglehold on academia and bureaucracy has made alternative views all but impossible.  Why was the room nearly empty?  Maybe because this is a special interest and most representatives were juggling impossible schedules.  The approach of bureaucracy, in its mindless support of a small academic ("expert") interest, funded mainly by public support, is actually extralegal and counterproductive.  Academia and Bureaucracy have no actual control over foreign governments, so they turn their attack instead toward the innocent who are blameless.  This is most obvious in the liberal media where hardly a day goes by without some blatant and typically false propaganda.  The actual truth is that private collectors do far more to save the past than the loose-lipped academics ever dreamed of doing.

So, what actually is the chance of a fair discussion of the issues involved?  Virtually zero.  This hearing was essentially a checkmark for the next step in a well planned legislative or bureaucratic event.  The failure of governments and law enforcement in foreign lands to eliminate looting and wanton destruction has become a harpoon in the side of law abiding Americans who love the past.  Worse than that, the U.S. Government has become the advocate for a disgusting array of foreign sovereignties who have not the slightest regard for individual rights.  It's all about politics, not about justice or freedom.  Yet, the LAW is what bureaucracy uses as a hammer by distorting the will of Congress in its letter and intent with impunity.  It's a sad day for those who believe in the American system of Democracy and Justice.
“The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade”
“The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade”

What happened to the Debate?

 I was disappointed not long ago when I heard that Ann Coulter's scheduled talk at Berkeley was cancelled by the university and the conservative Young America's Foundation that had sponsored her.  The action was taken in response to serious concerns about student and project-sponsor safety.  Violence on campus has become a hallmark of that once prestigious university and the ultra-liberal element there has effectively abducted reason in their mind-boggling narcissistic tantrums.  One radio talk show host characterized the actions and attitudes of Berkeley students as "Fascist" in their physical repression of free speech—which ironically the liberal community loudly demands when it serves their own purpose.  How easily they forget that it is a right that ALL American citizens enjoy.

Back in the 90s, I don't recall the actual date, I was invited to participate in a program hosted jointly at Berkeley by the Classics Department of the University and the San Francisco Ancient Coin Club.  I delivered a paper about clasped hands as a symbol of marriage on ancient coins.  The atmosphere was very collegial and friendly.  Nobody threatened nor insulted me.  In fact, I was left with a very good feeling about Berkeley in general.  What in the world happened between then and now?

Whatever it was, it didn't just happen recently.  After founding the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild in 2004, I started attending U.S. State Department hearings of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in Washington DC.  My intention was to establish a dialogue with Archaeologists who opposed the 600-year tradition of private ownership of ancient coins and members of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs that was then becoming proactive in adding ancient coins to designated lists of material restricted from importation into the United States.  I had in fact sent a formal letter to Prof. Jane Waldbaum, then president of the Archaeological Institute of America, suggesting that our respective organizations had common interests and might explore areas of potential cooperation.  She was then a Professor in the University of Wisconsin system and I mentioned our common ground, at least geographically—since I was a post-graduate student at Wisconsin and a PhD candidate.  I never did receive a reply (in retrospect, no great surprise).  At one of the CPAC meetings about six months later, while waiting in the lobby for clearance to enter, I happened to recognize Professor Waldbaum standing alone in the room.  I walked over and introduced myself.  I mentioned that I had recently sent her a letter and wondered if she had received it.  She looked me straight in the eye and said "yes", then without another word, turned and walked away.  At that point, I had a pretty clear indication where we were headed.  Granted, I was only a PhD candidate at UW, but I had by that time become fairly well recognized in the field of Numismatics as an author, publisher and collector advocate.  She knew very well who I was and who I represented.  In a way, I suppose I should thank Jane Waldbaum for laying it out so clearly. That simple act of arrogance taught me a lesson that no classroom exercise ever could. Education is an ongoing adventure and my 75 years on this earth have certainly been adventurous.  What I have learned about people is worth its weight in gold.