With news that the Obama administration has used the IRS to target conservative groups applying for nonprofit status, I thought a look back at the experience of Democracy Project’s founders would be instructive. In 2003, the Dallas office of the IRS required us to answer 26 questions that were clearly designed to trip us up, at most, and harass us, at the very least. I wrote over 4,000 words in reply and critiqued the IRS in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, reproduced below, that ran on October 31, 2003.
Plato and the Taxman
By Winfield Myers
The Wall Street Journal
October 31, 2003
I once taught the Great Books in the honors college of a large Midwestern university. My colleagues and I lamented that careerist students demeaned the wisdom of the ancients by elevating the practical arts over humanistic studies. We drilled freshmen on the classics and stressed the efficacy of the knowledge students gained from foundational works. Knowing the origins of Western myths, history, philosophy and drama inoculated them against half-baked ideas or the schemes of demagogues, I assured them. I’ll never know how many believed me, but if I returned to the classroom, I could offer a contemporary case study on the practicality of Plato that would astound Allan Bloom and leave Leo Strauss speechless. For it seems that at the Internal Revenue Service, Plato rules.
This will perhaps surprise fans of the Service, who could be forgiven for assuming that IRS personnel come only in shades of CPA gray. But a recent encounter with the Dallas office of their non-profit approval division suggests that the IRS sees accounting not as a practical art but as a search for philosophical knowledge, or episteme. What’s more, they hold mere opinion, or doxa, in low esteem.
No doubt the source for this business model is Plato’s Republic, in which Socrates teaches that knowledge is superior to opinion in the same way that the universal idea of an entity is superior to any manifestation of it. Inasmuch as one comes to know the idea of justice or the good, one grasps the universal order and can live a happier, more complete life.
My own quest for happiness currently involves launching, with a few like-minded colleagues, a new nonprofit to educate Americans about democratic institutions and traditions and the foundational ideas of liberty, and to critique the intellectual sources of cultural relativism and multiculturalism.
The response to our February 2003 application to become an educational charity with 501(c)(3) nonprofit status not only demonstrated the agents’ philosophical bent; it left us wondering how best to answer the 26 questions demanded of us.
Aside from some queries about our finances, most centered on our opinions — or is it knowledge? — of the quality of American higher education, the wisdom of curricular trends in universities or the best environment for disseminating information.
Take question No. 2: “You also state that ‘advocates of multicuralism [sic] wreak havoc on the curricula of universities and within ethnic communities.’ Is this your opinion?” No. 11: “You state that higher education doesn’t teach American history to every college student. Is this your opinion? How many college students are taught American history?” No. 12: “Do you have proof that the teaching of literature, political science, European history, and other disciplines (?) [sic] have [sic] declined? Or is this your opinion?” Or my favorite, question eight: “What is ‘an environment free of academic cant or prejudice?’ How will your conferences be free of academic cant and prejudice? Why do you want your conferences to be free of academic cant and prejudice? Explain in detail and give examples.”
The Dallas agents didn’t make this stuff up. Attorneys with experience in the nonprofit sector weren’t as surprised by such questions as were those of us whose livelihood depends upon getting our organization up and running. While one noted that the response to our application had more “bite” than most, they’ve seen plenty of similar cases over the years.
IRS code for establishing 501(c)(3) nonprofits (Chapter 3, page 21) expressly forbids granting nonprofit status to organizations promulgating unfounded opinion rather than factual knowledge: “The mere presentation of unsupported opinion is not educational.” Furthermore, nonprofit classification may be denied to an organization if “the facts that purport to support the viewpoint [advocated by the organization] are distorted.”
At first glance such requirements appear logical, since taxpayers have no obligation to fund political or propaganda groups masquerading as educational corporations. As the revenue-gathering arm of the federal government, the IRS has a responsibility to ensure that unscrupulous individuals aren’t allowed to beat the system by constructing Potemkin villages designed to funnel assets to entities or individuals that don’t qualify for nonprofit status.
Closer examination, however, reveals the intellectually problematic nature of these rules, which can be interpreted so broadly as to proscribe the establishment of virtually any nonprofit educational entity. Scholars, statesmen and citizens have debated the nature of knowledge, the efficacy of education and the design of the ideal polity for centuries. Their conclusions across time and cultures may be rigorously derived and widely supported, yet mutually exclusive.
Is Aristotle or Thomas Jefferson correct on the nature of democracy? Who is the better literary critic, Harold Bloom or Michel Foucault? Which authority on college curricula is right, Charles Eliot or Mortimer Adler? To attempt to prove one’s answer, whatever it is, is to enter the realm of debate upon which academic life rests. It is not, however, to prove conclusively that the position of one’s opponent is based on mere opinion rather than knowledge.
More questions follow naturally: How much proof is needed to convince an IRS agent of the validity of one’s positions? If it must be demonstrated that one’s positions on key issues are correct in order to win nonprofit status, are educational or charitable organizations holding competing positions illegitimate and illegal? (That is, must we choose between the Heritage Foundation and People for the American Way?) Do Americans want IRS agents to wield broad interpretive powers over complex scholarship, or would they prefer that such conflicts be decided in the marketplace of ideas?
I’m happy to report that once our case was referred to the Washington office of the IRS, it was resolved in our favor professionally and quickly. For Dallas we compiled answers totaling some 4,000 words, including a decidedly non-Platonic four-page bibliography listing authorities from Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Nathan Glazer to Lynn Cheney and Jacques Barzun. We established that we deserve the chance to seek supporters who share our belief that democracy needs strengthening. And we demonstrated that knowledgeable people can hold differing opinions and that persons sharing opinions may know different things. At least that’s my opinion.
Mr. Myers writes from Wilmington, Del.
FrontPage Magazine published my article on the lead up to the great speeches of Pamela Geller and Greg Buckley, Sr. at Chabad of Great Neck and Congregation Beth-El of Edison, NJ on April 14, which was a victorious day for truth and freedom.
“A Tale of Two Synagogues”
This is the story of the glorious miracles that happen when freedom-loving people stand up, refuse to be intimidated and fight back. It all began back in February 2013, when the Men’s Club of Great Neck Synagogue on Long Island, NY, planned a quiet informational breakfast on Sunday morning April 14, with Pamela Geller speaking on the “Imposition of Shari’a in America” and Greg Buckley, Sr. giving a first-hand accounting by a father of his son’s tragic insider “Green on Blue” murder at the hands of jihadists in Afghanistan. But astonishingly, a raging firestorm of intimidation, threats and harassment erupted against Geller’s invitation to speak that eventually forced the synagogue to cancel the event. This is an account of the events which ultimately ended in a victory for freedom of speech and conscience, which sent the profound messages of Pamela Geller and Greg Buckley Sr. reverberating across the nation. Read more…
Immediately upon reading new Pope Francis’ Easter speech in St. Peter’s Square, I tweeted, “Read the beautiful #Easter message from #PopeFrancis for inspiration on what this day is really about.” Within Pope Francis’ speech, he stated:
How many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross! Above all, the desert within, when we have no love for God or neighbor, when we fail to realize that we are guardians of all that the Creator has given us and continues to give us. God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14).
One aspect of Pope Francis’ speech reminded me of my own readings in the Desert Fathers (Father Joseph Lucas’ Prayer of the Publican and Father John Chryssavgis’ In the Heart of the Desert), when the Pope said [h]ow many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross.” The Desert Fathers — the earliest of Christianity’s monks — understood this and set out to the Scetes Desert in Egypt to model themselves on Jesus’ forty days in the desert living an austere existence, fasting, and praying to the Lord. Through this experience in the desert, came Christian monasticism and the Apophthegmata Patrum (Sayings of the Desert Fathers), which are some of the most delightful of all writings in Christendom. One wonderful example comes to mind:
The same Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, ‘Say something to the Archbishop, so that he may be edified.’ The old man said to them, ‘If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.’
Human beings are strengthened by the deserts we travail. As the Apostle James said in his beautiful Epistle, “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12) (RSV).”
The fraudulent interfaith community has launched a coordinated attack to shut down the April 14th breakfast event at Great Neck Synagogue featuring Pamela Geller and Greg Buckley, Sr. What makes this so appalling is that this wonderful event was planned and executed to enable Greg Buckley, Sr. to tell the story of his son’s tragic insider murder by jihadists in Afghanistan, to shine the spotlight on the plight of our brave young soldiers and military families and their demand for respect and justice from our government, which has so far been denied.
First Vice President of the Islamic Center of Long Island, Habeeb Ahmed has been mobilizing a lynch mob of local liberal activists and community organizations to harass Rabbi Polakoff from Great Neck Synagogue with 100’s of phone calls, demanding he cancel the event or protests will ensue. Mr. Ahmed is also Commissioner of the Nassau County Human Rights Commission. It is an absolute disgrace that a man of public office should roll out a campaign of intimidation and censorship because he objects to the viewpoint of one of the speakers.
See the explicit email documentation at Atlas Shrugs and TrentoVision. This is proof of the devious tactics that the enemies of human rights and free speech are using. Commissioner Ahmed is using the imprimatur of his public office to censor Pamela Geller’s and Greg Buckley, Sr.’s freedom of speech as well as those who wish to come and hear them!
We promise you that the Great Neck Synagogue Men’s Club will not stop this event for the nefarious agenda of a few local thugs and bullies. In response Rabbi Polakoff has issued the following statement:
“Great Neck Synagogue rejects the categorizing of any religious majority based on the actions of a minority. It does though believe that it is absolutely appropriate to speak about the actions of such a minority and to evaluate their impact on the perception of the majority of their co-religionists, and on the community in general. It is within such a framework that the Men’s Club has invited Pamela Geller to speak. She will be joined by Greg Buckley, Sr. father of Marine Corporal Gregory Buckley Jr, who was murdered by Jihadists”
To all our freedom loving friends, the word is out now. So now you’ve all got the go ahead! Please feel free to spread this message far and wide, of this malfeasance and censorship, and let’s gather in force at Great Neck Synagogue on April 14. We need to assemble a big crowd inside as well as outside with flags and signs: “We will not be silent against jihad,” “Commissioner Ahmed must resign!” “We will not be censored!” “Support Israel, Defeat Jihad,” and “Justice for LCpl Buckley” etc.
We also need to call Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and tell him that Commissioner Ahmed of the Nassau County Human Rights Commission is calling on the public to harass the Rabbi of Great Neck Synagogue and shut down the event honoring the grieving father of a U.S. Marine murdered in an insider terrorist attack in Afghanistan.
Please call Executive Ed Mangano – 516 571-3131 – and demand that he investigate and dismiss HRC Commissioner Habeeb Ahmed now for his reprehensible actions as a public official!
Stay tuned for more to come as we unite and organize for this decisive event!
Perhaps nobody can write of the despicable legacy of Hugo Chavez better than DP friend and Human Rights Foundation President Thor Halvorssen. As a member of the Venezuela diaspora, Halvorssen has been battling Chavez’ thugs since he came to power, and his mother was even shot by them. In this excellent article in Reason Magazine, Halvorssen states that the battle for Chavez’ legacy rests on the political point of view of the individual doing the reviewing. As Winston Churchill famously stated, “History is written by the victors.” Truth is with the intellectual victory of Marxism in the West, particularly in South America, Chavez’ legacy will definitely be a hard fought battle and one that likely depends on the future course of history in the Western hemisphere.
I sent the following letter to Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, Brooklyn College officials, and local Councilmembers calling for Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, and Political Science Dept. Chairperson Paisley Currah to be fired. It was also published as an open letter on FrontPageMag. As one reader astutely pointed out “Larry Summers was fired as President of Harvard several years ago for dropping an innocent comment about gender and math ability.” But another commented that the real reason was his support of Israel. Friends, we have a real war on our hands in academia. Please keep the pressure on the CUNY Chancellor to investigate and fire these inept anti-Semitic ideologues.
Open Letter to CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein
Chancellor Matthew Goldstein
Office of the Chancellor
535 East 80th Street
New York, NY 10075
I write this letter calling for the resignation of Brooklyn College President Karen L. Gould and Paisley Currah, chair of the political science department for their unscrupulous actions in violation of students’ First Amendments rights, sanctioning blatant viewpoint discrimination, and promoting biased political propaganda under the auspices of the City University of New York. As a former adjunct instructor in the CUNY system and a New Yorker concerned with how my tax dollars are spent in our publicly-funded City University system, I add my voice to the growing concern incurred by the college president and political science department chair over the irresponsible manner in which they handled the virulent anti-Semitic event on February 7 co-sponsored by Brooklyn College’s political science department, entitled “BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement Against Israel,” which serves to promote a global boycott of Israeli businesses, academics and institutions, and deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Read more.
The day I met Ambassador Mark Palmer was a whirlwind — he stopped by Hudson Institute in 2003 with an idea — to put the ideas set forth in his brilliant book, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil into law. Mark was that way, a bit like the Tasmanian Devil with a bow-tie — he always had someone interesting with him — whether a member of the Falung Gong, or the brilliant human rights activist James Mawdsley, who wrote the heart-wrenching book, The Heart Must Break, about his time battling the brutal regime in Burma.
The result of Mark’s idea became the ADVANCE Democracy Act — a bill that was written by Mark, Mike Horowitz, Eric Kadel, and myself, to make it the mission of the State Department to promote democracy. While the bill was passed into law as part of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 — many of its best elements were gutted. However prior to its enactment, the State Department didn’t have to answer for being on the wrong side when they supported dictatorships across the globe. Through the ADVANCE Democracy Act, it’s now the State Department’s and America’s mission to end dictatorship — a radical and symbolic departure that has changed the way the department does business.
To say Mark changed my life is an understatement. Truthfully, this organization and blog would never have existed but for his inspiration and ideas, and he served as an official Advisory Board Member to Democracy Project until his death. Mark lent his brain and credibility to so many democracy promotion efforts that never would have existed but for the spark of inspiration that came from the brilliance of his mind: the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, the Community of Democracies, and the sustained vibrancy of Freedom House as it stands today.
During the past three or four years, Mark battled cancer valiantly and like any soldier in the fight for his life he had his ups and downs — his good days and bad ones. I remember his frustration with me in his final years because I failed in my pursuit for freedom for the world’s least fortunate. Holding my tongue in exasperation I remember thinking we can’t all be Mark Palmer — tearing down the Berlin Wall with Ronald Reagan.
But upon reflection — we all should try to be like Mark. He was a true patriot, who traveled the world for his country, but never forgot that he was still a Yankee from Vermont. I encourage you to read The Washington Post’s thoughtful obituary of my friend and mentor, as well as The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board’s piece on his Cold War heroics as inspiration for a life well-lived.
There is no better summary of President Obama’s view of American foreign policy and the use of our nation’s power in this century than the nomination of former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Like John Kerry, Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran who can no longer stomach the sight of war. He’d rather see its elimination, than realize its reality. Wikipedia summarizes Hagel’s view on many important policy positions relevant to the post for which he seeks:
* Supported the Iraq War before he turned his back on it opposing the surge calling it “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it’s carried out.” Hagel was wrong about the surge, refuses to admit it even in his confirmation hearings just a few days ago.
* Opposed the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah stating that: “The sickening slaughter on both sides must end and it must end now. President Bush must call for an immediate cease-fire. This madness must stop.” He also said “Our relationship with Israel is special and historic… But it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice.”
* Despite authorizing the use of force as a United States Senator immediately after 9/11, has stated more recently in a 2009 Washington Post op-ed after being nominated as Chairman of President Obama’s Intelligence advisory board, that “We cannot view U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan through a lens that sees only ‘winning’ or ‘losing,’ Iraq and Afghanistan are not America’s to win or lose.” And that “We can help them buy time or develop, but we cannot control their fates.” In 2011, after he left office, Hagel stated that President Obama needs to start “looking for the exit in Afghanistan”, and that “We need to start winding this down.”
No wonder so many of Hagel’s former colleagues have serious reservations about his confirmation — including his formerly close friend Senator John McCain. It’s sad that President Obama’s foreign policy apparatus — if had his way — would be led by two Baby Boomer peaceniks like former Senators Kerry and Hagel whose beliefs are as wobbly as the old vinyl records they used to play.
Many conservatives and libertarians don’t like the United States Postal Service (USPS), but my response to them has always been, “at least it’s in the Constitution.” “Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution, empowers Congress ‘To establish Post Offices and post Roads.’” So much of what our Federal Government participates in is not mandated in the Constitution — whether national healthcare (Obamacare), Social Security, or government promoted research such as the National Institutes of Health, but yet the Postal Service is.
And for good reason. The United States Postal Service binds this large republic together. With the unilateral announcement today that the USPS will be ending Saturday service — an announcement made by Patrick R. Donahoe, Postmaster General and CEO of the Postal Service — many are questioning whether such a decision can be made without Congress’ approval. As noted above, the USPS is a congressionally mandated organization. When the computers freeze-up and you can’t get your email or Twitter, or Fed-Ex and UPS go-under or change names because they merge or are bought out, who is always there for you, but the United States Postal Service? This Postal Service was established by Benjamin Franklin to help this great nation grow and expand from Boston to Seattle from New York to Miami and to Honolulu and Anchorage. Where else can you send a letter for $.46 every day of the week except the Lord’s Day half way across the Globe to Guam or the Virgin Islands?
To stop six day a week service is to say we’re throwing in the towel on this experiment of America. That our Republic is no longer number one — we’ve gone the way of Rome — and the Barbarians are at the gate and they are us. Pax Americana can go to hell — our goods and letters and correspondence just ain’t worth it. Rather, what’s more important are the bread and circuses that keep the masses in the great empire happy — Obamaphones, Obamacare, and Obama’s lies that keep us placated and anesthetized to John Lennon’s truth that “we’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.” What’s the solution? I can tell you what’s not the solution. Paying more in postage and taxes to receive less in service. Cutting 193,000 jobs? How’s this plan supposed to stimulate the economy?
The following excellent letter, written by Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, City University of New York Trustee, was originally slated to be published as an op-ed in the New York Post, but was cancelled when all available space went to memorialize Ed Koch. The letter was written to the administration at Brooklyn College in response to the upcoming February 7 event sponsored by the Political Science Department entitled “BDS Movement Against Israel.” BDS is an anti-Israel hate movement calling for divestment, boycotts and sanctions against Israel. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), whose mission is “helping end Israeli apartheid and the illegal occupation of Palestine” is co-hosting the event. Please spread the following letter far and wide to protest the bald-faced intellectual corruption and anti-Semitism of a once fine academic institution.
Letter to the anti-Semites at Brooklyn College
In my 13 years as a trustee of CUNY, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe the intellectual corruption and anti-Semitism of many in America’s academic elite. I hear about it from trustees in colleges and universities across America and it’s become more common at CUNY, with Brooklyn College as an unexpected hotbed. The current plans for an anti-Israel BDS conference with the school’s co-sponsorship by the political science department raise new questions.
If an individual professor engages in selective hatred of Israel and the resulting intimidation of Jewish students, that is bad enough. If branches of the MSA (Muslin Students Association, all chapters of which are affiliated with ISNA – the Islamic Society of North America, which is the Muslim Brotherhood on our soil), that is bad enough. I’ll be damned however, if I were to be silent on the official co-sponsorship of an entire academic department of a Nuremberg-like conference on a CUNY campus. This is a misuse of tax-levy funds. This is NOT an academic conference in any sense. Furthermore, other than the intimidation of liberal arts professors who might support Israel, how do we know that EVERY professor in that department supports this drivel?
We must also look at the hypocrisy and intellectual corruption of these accusatory, one-sided conferences The Islamic world, having evicted nearly all of its Jews following the reconstitution of the Jewish State in 1948, murdering many and plundering all of their property, is now exterminating its remaining Christians, Bahais and Zaroastrians – in fact, anyone non-Muslims – whose adherents may have resided in these lands for millennia. Brave columnists like Fouad Adjami, Amir Taheri and other brave Muslims chronicle this dysfunctionality – and far worse – at great risk. Inter-Muslim murder rivals their states’ crimes against other groups as well.
From 1920 to the present, approximately 100,000 Jews and Arabs have died in all the conflicts involving them – most Jews and Israelis as victims of terror and in defensive wars and most Arabs as a result of Israel’s defense or their brethren having cowardly used them as “human shields.” 100,000 Syrians alone have been brutally murdered by the forces of Bashar Assad in the last 2 years. Do these BDS hypocrites care?
These BDS advocates single out Israel as a cover for rank anti-Semitism. It is not about saving Palestinians (who mostly need to be saved from themselves and their leaders); its purpose is to delegitimize and destroy Israel. They do NOT want a two-state solution. To them Tel Aviv and Haifa are “occupied territories” as much as Gaza, long vacated by Israel and now one of the world’s most prominent terrorist launching points. They want a one-state solution – to have yet another of the many Arab states. They deny – as anti-Semites do – the eternal connection, since recordable history, of the Jewish people to their land. They reject all peace offers by Israel. They subjugate their own people to a vile existence in the false belief that they can “wait out the Jews.”
I call upon taxpayers to draw a line here and make it known: taxpayer dollars should not fund illegitimate, racist and anti-Semitic activities by any academic department. Those of us who care about Israel would do no less if others were similarly treated. Additionally, academic administrators should be reminded that Jewish students are no less entitled – under applicable federal law – than other students to an educational environment free of intimidation and prejudice.
Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, Trustee
The City University of New York
535 East 80th Street
New York, NY 10075