Category Archives: law

Take the Money? What Money?

Danish museum, Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, paid artist Jens Haaning 534,000 kroner to recreate two of his works from over a decade ago. Calculating the cost of material and labor, Jen Hanning says that it was criminally low and would’ve required him to pay money out of his own pockets to recreate the two works. Now, Haaning is a known conceptual artist and I really have no idea how much reproducing the works would cost, but he decided to just pocket the money and rename the series ‘Take the Money and Run,’ and sent the museum two blank canvases. The museum in return, hangs the two canvasses as part of an exhibition examining the relationship between art and labor, but ironically still plans to get the money back from Haaning, accusing him of breach of contract.

As conceptual art, bravo Jens Haaning! Excellent. Artists’ works are criminally undervalued. Artists are often seen as doing a hobby and are expected to finance their art with “real” jobs. It’s not uncommon to hear artists being asked to produce work for “exposure.” Heck, even making art and posting it on Instagram (which I do), technically gives Facebook millions of artistic work as content for free. So when Jens Haaning refused to honor the contract after being paid what he felt was too low, as an artist, I couldn’t help but root for him.

But as someone who has a basic understanding of contracts, Jens Haaning orchestrated the whole thing and played the Kunsten museum. He’s a bad actor, not a victim. For a contract to be valid, there must be a valid offer, acceptance, consideration, mutual obligation, and both parties must be competent in the time of their agreement. No one forced Haaning to agree to reproduce his works for the price he calls “criminally low.” He could very well have negotiated to a higher and more suitable compensation for his labor. But he didn’t. Instead, he agreed to a contract which I suspect he had no plans to fulfill in order to make viral news, appealing to the sympathies of artists worldwide. The museum in return gets to benefit a bit from the notoriety and will no doubt see more people through its doors hoping to see a blank canvas.

Let’s not get carried away here. The stunt is closer to a banana on a wall than an upturned urinal. It may be speaking of truths that artists suffer through, but I can’t help but feel that the artist is distastefully cynical in his approach. Whether the museum gets its money back or not will not change the value and the meaning of the two original canvasses. I doubt if it would hurt the artist much as well. Even if he does get sued, I’m sure it will be settled without hurting him financially. In fact, being sued might benefit him more and gain him more notoriety. But while ‘Take the Money and Run’ tries to address how artists are criminally undervalued, I believe in the long run, it will only contribute to the notion that art is excessive, ridiculous, and arbitrary, and thus perpetuate the harm Haaning claims he’s shining a light on among artists. After all, how could two canvasses be worth 534,000 kroner?

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Tired of Historic Events Yet?

Today, Trump’s MAGA goon squad marched and broke into the US Capitol in protest of President-elect Biden’s electoral votes being ceremoniously counted. This was a coup attempt. This was insurrection and sedition fueled by craven politicians telling MAGA supporters that there is still a way for Trump to win the presidency, that it was somehow stolen from his via complex global, pedophile conspiracies, and that what they are doing is akin to being patriots. The last time forces stormed the Capitol was back in the War of 1812, when the United Kingdom and Canada went to war with the United States. Confederate generals dreamed of someday flying their flag in the US Capitol, and Trump’s MAGA forces this possible. A few years ago, Trump was also in charge of judging whether Gary Busey should be pretend-fired on a pretend job interview. Now, a man with Trump’s wall tattooed on his arm and who traveled with a buffalo headgear to Washington broke several laws making a jackass of himself in the US halls of power. Now, four people are dead.

I love politics. But as much as I love politics, I also love the law and how it works. This was a disgraceful day in US history in what it has done to politics and what it has done to the law. Now, much has already been said about the Republican politicians who allowed this to happen and to the racist police force who let the seditious terrorists run wild in the government building, but I have to say, I have a bigger problem with the weakness of the Democrats.

Joe Biden, in his response to the terrorist attack, tells the nation that the actions of Trump’s supporters “borders on sedition.” Ridiculous. If that mob caught up to one Democratic senator, who knows what would have happened. Even at this point, he talks about “restoring order.” Restoring order? What about arrests? What about prosecution? People made a mockery and attacked the people’s house. The house of the nation who proclaims to be the model of democracy. The nation whose troops all over the world fight wars to defend. Idiot MAGA terrorists ran amok through those hallowed halls and we are still hesitating on calling sedition what it is?

Even as Trump leaves this year, it will be a disappointing four years for Americans who are keen on democracy and justice. As much as Obama was beloved, he cursed America with probably the stupidest seven words he ever uttered, “We don’t look backwards, we look forward.” A recording of Trump committing an impeachable crime by pressuring officials to manufacture phantom votes for him in Georgia surfaced two days ago, and seemingly without even much consideration, we hear US representative Hakeem Jeffries saying those same dumb seven words, “We don’t look backwards, we look forward.” Then how can Trump or any other officials learn? What’s stopping people from committing crimes in the future? It doesn’t even make any logical sense. ALL crimes in order to fit the definition must have “actus reus,” the conduct of the crime. How else can you establish conduct if you don’t look backward? If someone slaps Hakeem Jeffries in the face, will he immediately respond by, “We don’t look backwards, instead, we look forward to the inauguration of a President Joe Biden and will not allow ourselves to be distracted by these slapping in the face issues.”?

See, back in 2020, armed protesters stormed the Michigan statehouse in order to protest wearing masks. They essentially held the statehouse hostage and the police barely touched them. Not much of consequence happened to the agitators as the nation moved on to the next outrageous thing in the news cycle. Fast forward to now and again, armed agitators fueled by conspiracy theories essentially invade the US Capitol. See how they didn’t learn their lesson?

But wait, that was under under Trump. Are the Democrats still to be blamed for that? Yes, because they have short memories and easily move on. Republicans fueled so many congressional hearing on four deaths in Benghazi. How many congressional hearings will come out of this? How many hearings came out of the storming of the Michigan statehouse? Heck, when Bundy ranchers pointed rifles at police officers during Obama’s presidency, Democrats essentially let them get away with it. Gabby Giffords got shot in the head and the Democrats didn’t use it as a rallying cry for some sort of sensible gun legislation. I’d call the Democrats weak tea, but that would be offensive to teas everywhere.

So yeah, even as progressives like Representatives Cori Bush and Ilhan Omar are calling for impeachment, most of the Democrats will likely try to oppose them or at least try to weaken their call to action. As Trump’s ugliness infected Republicans and the rest of body politic, so will Barack Obama’s weak look-forward, not backward continue to lull Democratic politicians to inaction and complacency. Don’t get too excited about Trump leaving, folks. As we learned in 2020, things can always, ALWAYS get worse.

Note my entry last week. Canada lost the World Juniors yesterday, and now there’s a failed coup. 2021 off to a great start.

December 31

I would like to think that next year will be better than 2020, but I have learned not to be too optimistic, lest I be disappointed. Christmas was a quiet affair spent watching Netflix. New Year’s Eve is probably going to be the same. I can feel myself getting old just thinking about it.

Here’s hoping that 2021 is indeed an improvement over this lousy year. 

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Things are coming along (the end of the world, that is).

As you can see, work on the ‘I Spy’ book is well on its way. This one is based on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It also recounts the story of “The Twa Sisters,” an early murder ballad, a subgenre of music that fascinates me simply because it exists. Why do we have so many songs about dead women?!

There’s not much I could say that hasn’t already been said about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. God bless her soul. I’m Canadian, but I’m aware of how much of an impact she’s had on women’s rights in the United States. There’s also not much I can that’s hasn’t already been said about Republicans in the US Senate trying to quickly fill her seat in less than six weeks after they delayed for nine months and didn’t even bother having a hearing to consider President Barrack Obama’s nominee back in 2016. They’re going to try to put a lifetime appointed judge to heavily lean the courts into the conservatives’ favor for decades to come. They’ll do it before the election; and even if Trump loses, they can still do it during the lameduck session after the election. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order. But what I find more galling is the weakness that the Democrats are demonstrating at the moment.

There are several ways Democrats can delay the Republican-led US Senate from confirming whichever right wing zealot Trump nominates to replace the iconic titan that was Justice Ginsburg. It is amazing that Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, in an interview with ABC, already gave up on one of the most reasonable things the Democrats can do, withhold budget negotiations and shutdown the government. No one wants to shutdown the government. Millions of people could potentially be hurt by such action, but the last time I checked, the government was already shutdown twice during Trump’s term, once over immigration and another over border wall funding. Essentially stealing the Supreme Court for the Republicans is more than enough reason to shutdown the government. A right wing court could strip the rights of workers, voters, unions, and women. It would be a gift to corporate interests as well as religious zealots.

Democrats could also impeach Trump a second time, not that there’s a lack of reason to do so. There’s campaign finance violations, violating the Hatch Act, conspiracy to corrupt the upcoming 2020 elections, advocating political violence, abuse of power by pardoning his crony Roger Stone, attacking the free press, or deadly incompetence in the face of the coronavirus. Putting up articles of impeachment would force the Republican-led Senate to take it on before any other business.

Other than these, they can also eliminate the filibuster or expand the Supreme Court to include more judges. Heck, appoint Hilary Clinton as a Supreme Court judge. She’s an excellent lawyer outside of her political career. That would drive the conservatives nuts, especially the Q-Anon types who believe she’s part of a pedophile Satan-worshiping cabal.

But so far, the only strong voice I hear from the Democrats comes from AOC who says that the death of Ginsburg should be radicalizing people at the moment. The day Justice Ginsburg died, I read Sen. Chuck Schumer “calls on Sen. Mitch McConnell” to withhold appointing her replacement. “Calls on?” He should be demanding it! Then we have Nancy Pelosi not only giving up one of her cards on a televised interview, she almost skips the problem as well as her active role in the process and just goes to the viewers and urges them to vote. Yes, people will vote. In the meantime, the Democrats don’t do anything about the Republicans stealing another Supreme Court seat. It is absolute weakness. It’s great to see tributes online and on television about the impact Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had on the judiciary and the lives of ordinary women, but tributes are a dime a dozen. That’s Instagram nonsense that doesn’t cost any political capital. What we have right now is abject weakness after the loss of someone so strong and courageous. Shame on the Democrats.

Continuing with politics, this time in Canada, RIP former Prime Minister John Turner. He only served for 80 days but he was still our leader for a time. He served right after the first Trudeau and was followed by Mulroney who famously instituted Canada’s Goods and Services Tax in the 90s. I didn’t know this, but John Turner became Prime Minister despite being born outside of Canada. Yes, us Canadians don’t limit our highest leadership exclusively to native-born Canadians.

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Internet Criming

Saint

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, also known as CDA 230, protects Web sites like Facebook or Twitter from liabilities which may be imposed due to third-party contents. So if a Facebook user promoted hate speech or whatever, Facebook as a company will not be held liable for promoting the hate speech, only the one who posted it is liable for it. Simply put, websites are not responsible if their users violate criminal or property law.

A law signed by Donald Trump two years ago poked holes into the protection CDA 230 provides. FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act) create an exception to CDA 230. Web sites are now liable for prosecution should their users promote sexual services. Advocates of the law have always looked at the worst case scenarios to push the law through, child sexual trafficking, but it ignores the fact that many sexual workers freely operate on the Internet, seeing it as a more secure avenue to ply their trade instead of going underground or on the street.

FOSTA and SESTA has not made the Internet safer for children. The laws simply haven’t. Just recently, a group of Korean teenagers were arrested for operating a Web site that trades, promotes, manufactures, and distributes child pornography. They were able to function for a time even with the laws already in effect. And they were the ones that were caught. Who knows if there are other operators out there currently distributing and manufacturing illegal material? The point is, the laws have just made it more complicated to operate such sites, but it hasn’t eliminated them. If anything, it just made sex work less safe for those who are willingly working in the sex industry. See, pedophilia and child pornography are already crimes. FOSTA and SESTA just makes criminals out of Web site operators and sex workers who have nothing to do with endangering minors. And really, if legislators are really serious about stopping criminals, they would criminalize bitcoins and all forms of cryptocurrency altogether. But you know they won’t.

But this rant is not about FOSTA and SESTA. It is about Facebook. I was just watching Joe Scarborough (I know, I know) rant about how Facebook is openly profiting from hate groups, harassment, and undermining democracy. Mark Zuckerberg does not care that his Web site has become an open market for false information. They were warned prior to the 2016 elections that their site was going to be used to undermine the elections and they were more upset at the people who raised the alarm. Fast forward to 2020, and Facebook is pushing ads on sites that push conspiracy theories and thinly-veiled (if at all) bigotry.

FOSTA and SESTA pierced CDA 230 in order to ineffectively protect children. It is very difficult to go against such legislation, because really, who isn’t against child sex crimes? But if anything was to greater than the love for freedom of speech, it’s the discomfort of people towards sex. This, I believe, is why FOSTA and SESTA were able to pass and why craigslist and backpage.com are no longer able to have people advertising sexual services. It’s not about protecting children. You can talk freely all you want, but once it’s about sex, then legislators are more willing to clamp down on your rights.

So many things that Facebook is allowed to do under the protection of CDA 230 is openly harming people including children. Disinformation over vaccines and COVID-19 is endangering the lives of people. Freely allowing hate groups to operate on the site has led to not only harmful government actions like caging migrant children, but also a rise in hate crimes. Child sexual abuse is bad, but it’s not a suffering Olympics. Other forms of suffering can be just as bad and they are allowed to continue simply because they don’t have the ickiness of sex. One could argue that profiting from undermining democracy is treasonous and is right up there with inadvertently promoting pedophilia.

So what am I saying other than Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are garbage and that FOSTA and SESTA are dangerous pieces of law? I’m saying if legislators could find limitations to the umbrella of protection that CDA 230 provides, they should be able to do so with other offenses. Either that, or just go back to 2016 and make the Internet safer for sex workers. I’m also saying Mark Zuckerberg is a soulless creature that would gladly sell out his country and his neighbors to make a dollar. He won’t even police his own Web site. No patriots exist in the Facebook executive board. If you’re not using Facebook solely to for its Messenger app (because your relatives simply won’t get off it and find alternatives to messaging you), you should delete it. It would be better for you and for everyone. Go read a real newspaper.

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The Hobbyist

Hands Up

I don’t mind when celebrities later on in their career fancy themselves as artists and try to take up painting or photography. What gets to me is when they rely more on their celebrity status and the art they create and sell is clearly BS. I remember Richard Grieco, an actor who was famous in the 80s, had an art show with works clearly inspired if not poor copies of Pollock’s work. When asked about Pollock, he denied ever being inspired by him. Ugh. What a hack! Shows like these with garbage art amount to nothing more than expensive autograph sales.

Now back to 2016, there’s a story about a Korean singer-turned-artist who was charged with fraud. Cho Youngnam was “indicted of fraudulently selling artwork with his signature on it after having other people create most of the work and “doing only a small portion himself.” He was accused of paying a man surnamed Song to paint 21 pieces from 2011 to 2015, 17 of which he sold for a total of 153 million won ($126,000).

Cho claimed that it was common in the art world to have artists hire assistants to create most of the work. Initially, the court found that it was fraudulent for Cho not to divulge that his paintings were mostly done by his assistant. But then a higher court reversed the decision and proclaimed that buyers don’t need to know that the works were made with the assistance of another person, and the fact that there was an assistant was not an essential information in the sale.

A public plea session was held and it’s upsetting to hear Cho’s side argue that it’s customary for artists to have assistants do most of the work. For one, it’s not common. Second, their argument showed a lack of knowledge of art history or perhaps relied on the general public’s lack of knowledge of art history.

They cited artist Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ which was a simple store-bought urinal. The only thing the artist contributed was it’s positioning and the fact that Duchamp signed it. Duchamp was a pioneer of the Dada movement which used found objects in creating art. It was no secret that he was using objects he didn’t manufacture himself. Instead, he manipulated them and gave them new forms. ‘Fountain’ was created as a form of mockery of the Society of Independent Artist’s rule which accepted all works of art as long as the artist paid a fee. And honestly, looking at the number of pay-to-play galleries in Seoul. “Fountain” would serve as a biting critic of how the art world is, particularly in deciding who gets to have a show or not.

Cho was not making any statement regarding the material nor the process of his work. The fact that 90% of the work was done by a more skilled assistant was not part the work’s story. If Duchamp acted like Cho, Duchamp would have pretended to have moulded the urinal himself. It was a ridiculous comparison. If Cho wants to position himself as someone who thinks up concepts and hires other artists to fulfill his vision, he could very well have done that. Doris Salcedo is a famous installation artist who uses furniture. She famously stacked hundreds of chairs in an alley in her piece ‘Istanbul.’ She didn’t build all of the furniture herself, nor did she stack all of the chairs by her lonesome. Cho could’ve started out by doing the same. Instead, he marketed himself as a singer who found he had talent painting. He didn’t market himself as a singer who had ideas for paintings other more talented people could paint.

I grant that artists will have assistants and apprentices. One of my favorite sculptors is Camille Claudel, who was the student, mistress, and assistant to Rodin. Some may speculate that some of Rodin’s famous works have Claudel’s hand in them, but it is undeniable that even before Caludel, Rodin was already a known genius. Also, both artists shone as separate great artists, though Rodin’s shadow loomed large over Claudel. Cho is no Rodin. He is a rich singer who found a hobby.

I haven’t read the book in the article, Aesthetics Scandal, but I want to look at the pull quote, “The manner of conduct that the Korean art world showed during the process was regrettable. They provided the wrong information to the judiciaries for the first hearing. Saying that physical execution is crucial to art, that authorship lies in the skills of the execution, that fine art does not use assistants, that one is only allowed to use an assistant when the process of the work takes the theme as a meta experiment […] All pieces of wrong information that stemmed from a lack of understanding of contemporary art were used as evidence for the first court’s ruling. The art world is in need of self-reflection and introspection.”

I agree, there is so much nuance to art that it is unwise to say make sweeping rules regarding authorship. However, when it comes to law, defining fraud is much clearer. In Canada, “Every one who, by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, whether or not it is a false pretence… defrauds the public or any person, whether ascertained or not, of any property, money or valuable security or any service” commits fraud. How were the pieces sold? What was Cho’s compelling story regarding finding a new passion in visual art? Did he say he discovered he had a knack for painting of did he say he had a knack for coming up with ideas for his assistant to paint? Isn’t this just a visual arts version of Millie Vanilli? Someone else sang and recorded the songs, while two guys lip-synced and danced to them. For Cho, someone else did most of the hard work, while he painted a few corners and acted like an artist.

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Thoughts on Peter Nygard

Squidy

I was a bit surprised to learn about the allegations regarding Peter Nygard. For the uninitiated, Peter Nygard is the founder and was the head of Nygard Fashion. He immigrated to my hometown in Canada at a young age and built Nygard Fashion to become one of the richest men in Canada. His stores are all over Canada. I remember them being a common presence in department stores where women can buy athletic wear at a reasonable price.

I always remember Peter Nygard as a patron of the arts. When I was in art school, I and other artists were invited to suspend our studies for a semester in order to work and make art in his property in the Bahamas. It seemed like an amazing opportunity at the time, but it also meant abandoning the current semester. Not only did I have student loans at the time, I was also the recipient of a couple of scholarships. I wasn’t sure how dropping my studies for a semester would affect future loan and scholarship applications.

The person in charge of coordinating the whole project seemed a bit stand-off-ish as well. The sculpture tech in the studio, him and my sculpture professor at the time seemed to be far too in-love with their own greatness to be good instructors who encouraged their students. Honestly, I was going to pursue sculpture instead of drawing in university, but that sculpture professor turned me off completely. Anyway, I decided not to go.

I heard from some people who worked on the project, and they weren’t too happy about the experience. There was the usual work during the day and get blink drunk and party at night stories, but that didn’t really surprise me. Any kid in university or a fresh graduate on his first job would more than likely be indulging a bit. What surprised me are stories about people being overworked and being woken up at odd hours in the morning for what seemed like random tasks. I also heard about people contracting infections or getting ill during their stay, but I always dismissed that to being in a tropical environment and not being used to it.

Anyway, I didn’t really think about those anecdotes too seriously since I sorta admired the guy. He’s a self-made man. He’s an old-school patron of the arts. He reminded me of Bob Guccione. And, he dated Anna Nicole Smith, who I kinda had a thing for after watching the third Naked Gun movie. Just looking at Peter Nygard, he looked like the head of an elderly man with long, slick gray hair photoshopped into the tanned body of a club bouncer. He’s built like a boss villain in a King of Fighters video game.

So it was a bit tragic to hear that he is now being investigated for sexually assaulting around 36 women, 17 of them being Canadian. Apparently some of them are minors as well, with at least one incident occurring in my hometown. Several close executives are being investigated as well for covering up and allowing the crimes to continue. The Bahamas property was also alleged to be one of the places where he would gather women, many of them locals who happen to be minors, and force them into sex acts. There’s even allegations that he had minors defecate into his mouth. Interestingly, this is very similar to what the founder of McAfee, John McAfee, was accused of having women do to him in his private depraved kingdom in South America.

Nygard International has filed for bankruptcy protection in the wake of the allegations against Peter Nygard. There goes a legendary patron of the arts from my hometown. If all is true, what a scumbag!

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The Log Jammed in your Democracy

Rat King

Matthew 7:3, And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

The US has always prided itself as a champion of democracy. Americans are not shy with hyperbole. “The US is the greatest country in the world.” President Ronald Reagan called the country “the shining city on a hill.” Just last week, I kept hearing that the US Senate was “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” There are several reasons for Americans to get involved in the internal affairs of other countries outside of their own global interests, with the most noble being to spread democracy and uphold the rights of the locals being abused by a tyrannical rule. Sure, the Bush administration lied about the existence of WMDs, but the invasion of Iraq was also sold as liberating its people. This is why the toppling of the Saddam’s statue was such a monumental image at the time. The Americans were being “greeted as liberators.”

This same promotion of democracy was the reason for getting involved in Iran, the Philippines, South Korea, El Salvador, Vietnam, Libya, etc. Of course there are different geopolitical self-interests in each theater, but the most prevalent way of selling intervention is the promotion of democracy and that the Americans are doing it for the good of the locals in the long run.

Spread democracy, sure. Ironically, the same senate that calls itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body” has stalled hundreds of bills passed by the House and simply gave Donald Trump a free pass after an absolute sham trial with no witnesses. It has given Donald Trump, a failed casino owner and an admitted sexual predator, freedom to commit crimes and be an unchecked dictator. When Robert Mueller decided not to definitive state whether Donald Trump committed a crime, Donald Trump immediately started to extort Ukraine to cheat on the 2020 elections. And now when the US Senate decided no to indict Trump for extorting Ukraine and trying to cheat on the 2020 elections, Trump immediately begins exacting revenge on witnesses who decided not to participate in his cover-up. He also orders the Attorney General to pressure the justice department to be lenient to his conspirators.

The US president holds full control over the Senate, a body made conservative due to a heavily gerrymandered process. He control the justice system with an Attorney General who will nakedly do his bidding for him and a stacked Supreme Court with two conservative judges brought in under very questionable circumstances. And right now, the Democrats on the House are too slow to act and to weak to boldly counter the President’s criminal actions. They’re also too busy attacking their own and propping up Pete Buttigieg, an ex-mayor with very little experience but comes with heavy corporate backing. It’s almost like they want Trump to win in 2020.

Donald Trump attacking witnesses and nakedly trying to help his lackeys a few days after not being indicted is a sign of unaccountable abuse of power. And who could blame him? He has never once shown any sign of restraint, ethics, or grace. He has never shown any sign of learning any lesson or demonstrated contrition. His behavior will only get worse until he finally makes true on his previous boast of being able to shoot someone on broad daylight in the middle on Fifth Avenue. Cowardly and corrupt Republicans as well as the weak and feckless Democrats allowed this to happen. This past week, we witnessed the full realization of a dictator ruling over the shining city on a hill. Even Jesse Watters, a conservative talking head, could plainly see it, “It’s fun living in a banana republic, isn’t it guys?”

A political commentator asked, “We saw what happened when South Korea’s Democratic Republic was threatened. We saw what happened when Hong Kong’s Democracy was threatened. What will we do?

The Americans will do nothing. Americans don’t have the patience or the attention span to do what the Koreans did or what the courageous students in Hong Kong are continuing to do. Koreans were able to oust their corrupt leader in less than a year. It took a long time to get through the Ukraine scandal and even longer for the Mueller investigation… and yet Trump is unscathed and currently enjoying a surge in popularity. The march towards November is long and sad, and if things continue the way they do, we will see four more years or more of Trump being the first American dictator. I love the law. I love the study of law. It hurts to see the rule of law being ignored completely and have a country which models itself a champion of democracy devolve into a cheap criminal enterprise.

Maybe before the US gets more involved in conflicts overseas in order to spread democracy, it should try to fix its own democracy first.

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Criminality and being “right”

Old Man with Wings

It’s very difficult to follow hockey when the Trump impeachment is going on. I wasn’t able to follow the Clinton impeachment back in the 90s, but what’s happening right now is a great learning experience if not a historic event which would probably be discussed in law schools in the future. It’s quite engrossing, especially with the brazenness of the government officials (and non-government goons) protecting Donald Trump and the bravery of the long-time career officials who tried to function amid all of the chaos but have no choice now but to call out illegal behavior. What’s even more engrossing is the almost soap-opera aspect of all of the twists-and-turns. Just a couple of hours ago, it was revealed that Devin Nunes, ranking member and the Republican lead of the House Oversight Committee, was linked with Lev Parnas, the Guiliani associate who was indicted for illegally directing funds from a foreign government to US officials. This puts an ethical dilemma on Devin Nunes and his role in the hearings into question since he is now implicated on the whole thing depending on how far the Democrats would push the issue.

It is all pretty compelling stuff. And the issues at hand are more serious, not just a man hiding his affair from his wife. I’m pretty sure I would’ve been tired of the whole Clinton impeachment drama after a couple of days. I don’t know how Jay Leno at the time stretched that out into a nightly comedy staple.

Although I’m often not happy with the weakness of the Democrats, I’m very pleased with how t he hearings are going. Today with Dr. Fiona Hill, we get to hear her say that the notion that the Ukrainians were the ones who hacked the 2016 elections and not the Russians is basically the product of Russian disinformation. This makes everyone perpetuating the stupid conspiracy theory, including Donald Trump, a tool by the Russian government. Yesterday, we heard Ambassador Sondland admit to the quid pro quo and name all of the major players in the attempt to pressure Ukraine into announcing a fake investigation into Trump’s political rival. Ex-Ambassador Yovanovitch provided more details regarding the conspiracy and was even subjected to harassment by the president in the middle of her testimony. And of course there’s Lt. Col. Vindman who testified to what he witnessed and remind everyone that in the end, despite of how low the state of politics around the world is now, he still believes that in his country, “right matters.”

And I think in the end, that’s what separates the good guys and the bad guys from the very beginning of the Trump nightmare to now. It’s the notion that right matters. It’s not the matter of whether something is illegal or not. It’s whether something is right… doing the right thing despite the limits of your role. And vice-versa, doing the right thing despite the ease and freedom you are given to abuse your power.

Sure the US government could ban people from the United States based on their religion according to the Supreme Court. But is it right? The US government could endlessly detain people attempting to apply for refugee status. But is it right? Even with the smaller things. Sure the president is entitled to spend most of his time in a golf course on the tax payers’ dime. But is it right? Evil has skirted on legality and it beat people down to being too tired to vigorously call out wrongdoing when evil is no longer hiding and what is happening is plainly illegal.

I think one of the biggest culprit of this is Mueller himself. He was tasked with rooting out Russian interference in the 2016 United States election and suspicious links between Trump associates and Russian officials. He had the ability to expand his investigation into other things related to the Trump organization in order to learn more about its criminality, but instead, he strictly focused on most limited of scopes. A number of Trump associates were indicted as a result of the investigation, but he didn’t even bother interrogating Donald Trump Jr. He was also happy to let Donald Trump mail in answers to an interview as if he was earning a degree online. Mueller stuck to what his role was. He stuck to his reputation of being a strict, no-nonsense actor… leaving the final conclusion of a Trump-Russian connection to House of Representatives and a Senate that won’t act on it. Right matters. But for Mueller, he decided to play it safe and stand by while Trump, Barr, and other right wing hacks proclaim that Mueller’s lack of firm conclusion exonerated the president. Mueller was a soldier and a hero, but I don’t think he has the courage of a whistleblower, the courage to stand up and point out wrongdoing if it means stepping out of your role.

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has fallen into this same trap. She wanted to narrow the impeachment inquiry strictly on the conversations regarding Ukraine. Now she is free to do so, and expanding beyond the business with Ukraine could be seen as overstepping or a “witch hunt.” But with a creature like Trump, someone who makes impeachable offenses on Twitter during the hearing, doing the right thing is not sticking to your role and limiting yourself to the advantage of your enemies. The right thing to do is to be just as courageous as the whistleblower, be just as courageous as the witnesses. There are limits to one’s roles, but loving your country and upholding the oath of office sometimes requires going beyond that.

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Dog Whistles

Reyes_Joseph_Assiniboine_12inx14in

A friend of mine, Jordan Miller, is a gallery owner. She also rents out space for small events. Recently, a local wing of a political group rented her space for an upcoming meeting. She agreed and the meeting was scheduled.

Sometime later, she receives an e-mail warning her to cancel the event unless she wants a boycott of her business. The e-mail comes from Omar Kinnarath, an activist who appears to be quite active speaking against the alt-right. (I’m guessing from the alt-right’s point of view, that makes him antifa? Correct me if I’m wrong.)

My friend tells me about the situation and it doesn’t take much Googling to find out that the political party that rented her space was the People’s Party of Canada. It’s a party that was just created last year. About a week ago, several members of the party resigned after learning about racist members in the group. From what little I gather, it seems to be one of those typical libertarian types which unfortunately is a gateway to extreme rightwing politics. They want to privatize the postal service, have more private companies in the healthcare system, limit immigration, ease gun ownership, etc. They sound nuts.

Anyone would be smart to stay away from this group fresh from the controversy that they just had, especially if you’re a gallery that caters to an open community of artists.

Now, the PPC as well as their supporters are spinning the story that my friend has a “struggling gallery” and that she was “terrorized” by Omar Kinnarath into reneging on lending out her gallery space. They labeled Omar Kinnarath, who happens to be brown, as a “terrorist” and my friend, who happens to be a white woman, a “small woman” and a “young woman.” (Note the save-the-white-woman misogyny here.) Some guy with a video channel on Facebook hanging a Gadsden flag in his studio recounts the events and even says that my friend was “directly attacked.” There are so many racist dog whistles here that it’s hard to miss. I’m just glad she didn’t go to that guy’s poorly-lit basement for an interview.

The Winnipeg Free Press wrote a story about the whole thing, with the headline “Anti-racists labeled as ‘terrorists’ by the PPC.” And yeah, it is ironic that the PPC, being accused of being racists, accuses an activist who happens to be brown, a “terrorist,” thus showing their racist colors. People online are accusing those who oppose the PPC as being against free speech, but free speech does not give everyone the right to say anything at a private property. My friend’s gallery is her property and she exercised her will and her free speech by reneging on the agreement. Omar Kinnarath exercised his free speech by telling my friend that he will boycott her gallery if she associates with what appears to be an organization that has racist members.

The whole episode is unfortunate, and it’s sad that my friend, who couldn’t care less about politics, had to be dragged along with it. But here’s a few pointers moving forward:

-If racists are on your side, then you’re probably doing something wrong. If you’re against “anti-fascists,” then you’re probably doing something wrong as well. Yeah, I know, some members of antifa can be unruly, but stick to the topic. What-aboutism is a lazy argument.

-Privatizing the postal service is dumb. When was the last time you saved so much money on UPS? Privatization leads to citizens relinquishing things to private companies, NOT competition in a capitalist society (True capitalism doesn’t exist these days). At least if something is run by the government, leaders are still accountable to their voters. Large private companies couldn’t care less about their customers.

-The Gadsden flag has been adopted by racists, thus making it racist, just like the okay hand gesture. If racists think it’s cool, then maybe stop using it.

-Free speech is not ultimate. Any first year law textbook will tell you that it has limits. Free speech also doesn’t protect people from the consequences of their speech. If a previous action is offensive, then maybe I won’t be too open in allowing you to practice your free speech in my private property. It’s not that difficult to follow.

-I don’t really know much about the PPC, especially whether they truly have racist members, but judging from the whole interaction, I would guess they don’t mind tolerating racism among their ranks. A proper political party that truly cares for a multi-cultural community (and actually wants to win support) would have handled this situation better.

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Art Forgery Drama

Good Beef

There is an interesting documentary on the works of the late Norval Morrisseau, ‘There Are No Fakes’. Morrisseau started the Woodland style of painting, using imagery from First Nations cultures showing the insides of creatures in a sort of x-ray effect.  His works are far more colorful and playful compared to the more traditional images in Inuit and West Coast art.

Unfortunately, many of his works have been forged, and a lot of what is passing off as original Morrisseaus could potentially be fakes made by an art forgery ring. I’m not sure if the documentary will show anything past what has already been detailed when I first learned about the Morrisseau forgery in Maclean’s last year, but what interested me was the very title of the film, ‘There Are No Fakes.’

Is it because somehow Morrisseau’s family was connected to the forgeries? Or is it because the forgeries themselves, just by the very fact that they are connected to the drama of Morrisseau and his legacy make them valuable on their own? Or does the documentary basically say that if you love an image and that you find it beautiful, you shouldn’t really care about its authenticity or its monetary valuable. That art is art. They are not objects to be traded or treated as real estate investments. They are far bigger than that. (I sincerely doubt that this is where the film will go.)

The leader of the forgery ring, Gary Lamont, was sentenced to jail back in 2016 for being a sexual predator. I’m not sure if many of the news media at the time mentioned his involvement with producing forged Morrisseaus, but according to one of the victims, the forged pieces represent a very abusive period. Gary Lamont would manipulate and abuse young men while the works were being produced, between 1993-2007, when there was increased demand for Morrisseaus and when the artist’s health was slowly declining.

I’m sure there are still more to this story, right now galleries and owners are still insisting on the authenticity of many works, but I do hope that the worst is over, and at the very least, no one is producing more forged works. Growing up in Manitoba, I remember seeing some of Morrisseau’s works and even more works inspired by him. After learning about the forgeries last year, I’m not even sure if I’ve ever seen a real Morrisseau.

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