Our Antibusiness Cultural Heritage Center
by Peter Tompa
American Express is running advertisements in the United States promoting "Small Business Saturday." The campaign underscores the importance of small business to the American economy, something that one also often hears from politicians of both political parties as well.
Such a promotion also needs to be run for the Obama CPAC, the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center. President Obama may claim that he sympathizes with small business, but no such sympathy was on display at CPAC's recent meeting on a proposed MOU with Bulgaria.
Instead, Jane Levine, a former prosecutor for the FBI's Art Crime team who now runs Sotheby's compliance department and who is an Obama CPAC pick for a trade slot on CPAC, seemed to suggest that it should be "easy" for the small businesses of the numismatic trade to comply with the certification requirements for legal import of items on the designated list under the CPIA.
Really? As I explained to Ms. Levine, the small businesses of the numismatic trade (most of which are sole proprietorships) really don't have the resources of a Sotheby's to cope with all the red tape involved (even assuming that European sources would be willing to provide the required certifications for EACH restricted coin that is imported). And as I also noted, Customs has been known to go well beyond the documentation requirements of the CPIA and only allow restricted items entry if they are pictured in a catalogue predating any import restrictions. This of course forecloses the import of virtually every ancient coin type on the designated list, as perhaps only one in every 10,000 or so coins actually is significant enough to be catalogued in this manner.
Although one hopes there is enough common sense left somewhere in the State Department or Customs to realize that the CPIA's restrictions were never meant to apply to such numerous and inexpensive artifacts like most ancient coins, one suspects that this really won't matter to a group of AIA members or supporters that hold that that the only legitimate exchange of cultural artifacts is a long term loan from a source country museum to a like institution in the United States.
Hopefully, someone in the Obama White House political operation will realize there is a problem at CPAC and the State Department that is threatening to turn ancient coin collectors (most of whom are likely Democrats) against President Obama's reelection bid. Can the President's appointees really afford to alienate at least 50,000 serious ancient coin collectors and the hundreds of small businesses of the numismatic trade, particularly when the number of public comments recorded in support of MOU's is so infinitesimal?
Peter Tompa is, as usual, right on target with these observations. The State Department's Cultural Heritage Center is a bureaucracy whose whole approach to everything is inherently anti-business and anti-commerce. These rabidly anticollecting bureaucrats are doing their best to drive everyone in the US art market, including coin dealers out of business and to destroy their ability to compete in the world market, where they can earn valuable foreign exchange and economically benefit our nation and its citizens.
That's just what one could expect from bureaucrats with a private ideological agenda, who are totally divorced from economic realities and from the needs and the rights of US citizens whose interests they theoretically represent to the world.