Sunday, 7 November 2010

Twelve Wisconsin Philistines in Congress

Well this has to be the oddest piece of news ever to leave the shores of the United States. We all remember the infamous 2006 Wisconsin Declaration, its poison influence is now spreading even as far as Texas. The ACCG has just posted on its website a facsimile of a letter on US Congress letterhead dated Sept 27th 2010, addressed to Secretary of State Clinton.
This is what it says:
Dear Madam Secretary,
we write today to express concern with certain actions of the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs ("ECA") that appear to undermine the legislative intent of Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act ("CPIA"), 19 U.S.C. Section 2601 et seq. This legislation which was drafted by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, furthers our national interest in promoting cultural access and trade which is central to our nation's values.

Recently, the ECA imposed restrictions on the importation of coins from Cyprus and China that clearly are contrary to the intent of the enabling legislation. In particular, we understand that the past Chairman of the President's Cultural property Advisory Committee stated in a declaration filed in federal court that his committee recommended against import restrictions on coins. However, ECA imposed them anyway. We also understand that Freedom of Information Act requests have confirmed that China never asked for import restrictions on coins, but that ECA provided them to China anyway.

The CPIA, "concerted international response" requirement is meant to ensure the comity and effectiveness of such import restrictions, but the rules on Cypriot and Chinese coins only discriminate against American collectors, and represent a taking of their private property. Foreigners - including collectors in Cyprus and China - continue to import coins without any restrictions. We request that you initiate a review of these two actions, and if it is concluded that the law or any procedures have been broken, that the State Department suspend these restrictions promptly.

We also understand that ECA is considering a renewal of the current MOU with Italy, which expires in January 2011 and possible expansion to include import restrictions on ancient Greek and Roman artefacts for another five years. Rules about import restrictions on cultural artefacts from Italy were first promulgated in 2001 and 2006. As a quid pro quo, Italy promised to increase long term loans to all US museums to facilitate the issuance of export permits for cultural goods legitimately sold within Italy, and to increase Italy's efforts against looters. We further understand that of these requirements, only the last related to Italy's enforcement efforts has been realised.

We hope that before any action is taken on renewing the MOU the State Department conduct a full review of Italian compliance with the current MOU's provisions concerning long term loans and the facilitation of export permits for legally acquired cultural items. Italian non-compliance with the current MOU should not be rewarded as that would only serve to deny Americans' promised cultural opportunities. Even more specifically, there should be no expansion of the MOU to include coins, commonplace items that stand outside the scope of the legislative intent behind CPIA.

We look forward to hearing your actions in support of our above requests to strengthen CPIA
The 12 Signatories are, to their shame:
Paul Ryan (R-WI), Thomas Petri (R-WI), John Culberson (R-TX), Michael Burgess (R-TX), Sam Johnson (R-TX), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), John Campbell (R-CA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) , Rob Wittman (R-VA), John Spratt (D-SC) and Joe Courtney (D-CT).

Ryan, Petrie and Culberson are recipients of ACCG Friends of Numismatics Awards. The ACCG notes that the lead in the preparation of this text was Ryan, so let's call them the 'Wisconsin 12'.

So it looks like the ACCG are going after Hilary Clinton now. If her Department does not find any law or procedure broken by its staff with regard to the China and Cyprus ancient coin import restrictions, but the Baltimore illegal coin import stunt case says otherwise, then will the ACCG press for her dismissal?

So checking Italy's "compliance", is that not the task of the CPAC?

Now, I really am puzzled by what the Wisconsin12 Congresspeople think is the "legislative intent" of an act called the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. Surely it is intended to implement the measures laid down in the Convention mentioned in its preamble, in other words the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property. Is that not so?

Now surely the aim of the Convention as its name implies is Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property between and within the territories of the various States Party, and not "furthering US national interest in promoting cultural access and trade" (whether or not making money from such trade is or is not "central to our nation's values"). Certainly the intent of the Convention is the trade in illegally exported cultural property should not become "central" to the national values of any of the States party. It seems to me that in their haste to prove themselves Friends of Numismatics by reducing the scope of the implementation of the 1970 Convention, the Wisconsin Twelve seem to lost sight of some of those key national values.

'Implementing the Convention' means implementing the Convention surely and not implementing a law which says the convention is all very fine but if we actually prohibit and prevent our citizens from being involved in the illicit import and transfer of cultural property certain key national values are going to suffer. I wonder what those key values could be?

The illicit import and transfer of cultural property involves stealing. Is theft from others a key national value of the Wisconsin 12's United States?
The illicit import and transfer of cultural property involves dishonourable trade practices, lies on the customs declaration forms, is dishonesty and dishonour now a key American value?
The illicit import and transfer of cultural property taken from other countries is a deep disregard and disrespect for the rights of the citizens of the countries from which they are illegally removed, since when was disregard and disrespect for others a key US national value?

"Our nation's values", what does the Wisconsin Twelve's letter to Secretary Hilary Clinton say about them? What message is the United States Congress giving out to the rest of the world here? Take a good look everybody at how the US democratic process works, apparently all you have to do is give out a few wall plaques made on the cheap in Turkey to a few congressmen and it seems from this letter that you can get twelve of them in your pocket. Nice.

I wonder to what extent the twelve signatories of this letter are aware that restrictions only apply to coins without documentation of legal export which can be supplied by two types of pieces of paper? There is no restriction on the movement through US borders of coins of the designated categories with the proper paperwork, nor of coins from those countries which do not fall in the designated categories. There is no sign in the letter that the Congressmen were appraised of this. On the contrary, it looks very much like from the wording of what they wrote that they had allowed themselves to be misinformed about the nature of the restrictions.

As for what they write about China, I fail to see why when a nation whose archaeological material includes ancient coins asks for archaeological artefacts to be protected it has to add "and coins". That's like saying legislation about canine vaccination must included the words "and chihuahuas and poodles". Coins ARE artefacts, unless they were made by the coin elves, maybe the Wisconsin12 believe in the coin elves and therefore think looting is quite unrelated to the trade in illegally exported artefacts? Who knows what they think? But I am of the opinion that they should be asked.

The Congress12 claim that American collectors are discriminated against by American laws, note that they fail to mention dealers. Why? Of course it is not just American collectors is it? Mexican coin collectors in the US will also have to comply with US law on this matter. It is of course true that collectors of the source countries have no restriction on "import" of these coins, they come from the soil there. Duh.

How can restricting the import of improperly exported coins "represent a taking of the private property" of collectors ? (Note again dealers are not mentioned.) How can a US citizen own something knowingly acquired in disregard of the relevant laws?

As for the Wisconsin12 saying that their letter is merely an attempt "to strengthen CPIA", they must think Secretary of State Clinton is a nine-year old to fall for that one. They are not only attempting to undermine the CCPIA, but also the intent of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Look on world, see how these 12 Congressmen value accession to an international Convention.

I do not understand why on the second page bearing the signatures (several of which give the impression have being done using the same pen) there are four empty lines. Were there initially supposed to have been four other Congressmen who had initially agreed to sign but had second thoughts when they realised what was going on? If so, good for them - may we know their names?

The ACCG urges "Ancient coin collectors who are represented in Washington by any of these Members of Congress are encouraged to contact the local or national offices and thank them for their support". There are, I firmly believe, large numbers of people who care for the protection of the world's archaeological record from commercial exploitation by looters to fuel the US no-questions-asked market in ancient coins (V-coins alone today 147 dealers in ancient dugups, 111,096 items, value: 22,341,929 dollars). If any of them are represented in Washington by any of these twelve Members of Congress signatory to this disgraceful letter I'd encourage them to contact the local or national offices and ask them just what they think they are doing. Is that how they represent the DECENT folk of their nation?

Photos of the Friends of Numismatics receiving tinny ACCG wall plaques from the ACCG website.

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