Saturday, May 18, 2013

Acts 27 test, 6: The emerging IRS scandal, the Fair Havens moment principle, and the fate of democracy in America (today's leading democracy and a trend-setting nation in our civilisation)

 The US-based Online news medium, NewsMax reports how, after hearings with recently ousted IRS acting Commissioner Miller, US Representative and former 2012 Republican Vice Presidential Candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, went on record in some chilling words:
“The one answer we did get, though, is that the IRS withheld information from Congress,” the Wisconsin Republican told Jake Tapper on CNN. “We have many more questions that result from today’s hearing.” 
A member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Ryan was among the many panel members from both parties who grilled Miller on the agency’s singling out of groups with the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their names when evaluating applications for tax-exempt status.
When Tapper asked whether Ryan received the answers he needed from Friday’s session, he responded, “actually, no.” 
“Last year, we had these investigations in the Ways and Means Committee, we received all of these reports of this kind of harassment,” the 2012 vice presidential candidate said. “We questioned the IRS in hearings, in letters, and the IRS withheld all of this information that they were in possession of as to whether this targeting was occurring or not.

“We do now know this targeting did occur,” Ryan added. “That it was politically biased, it was only of conservative groups and now we’re getting lots of questions with respect to religious groups and other groups.”
In nearly four hours of testimony, Miller apologized for treating the conservative groups differently, calling it "horrible customer service.''
He said the treatment resulted from a misguided effort to handle a flood of applications, not political bias. 
"I want to apologize on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service for the mistakes that we made and the poor service we provided," said Miller, who was forced out this week by the White House as a result of the scandal. 
"The affected organizations and the American public deserve better. Partisanship and even the perception of partisanship have no place at the Internal Revenue Service." . . . . 

Rep. Dave Camp, who led Friday’s hearing, said the tougher examinations that conservative groups encountered seemed to be part of a "culture of cover-ups and intimidation in this administration." He offered no other examples. 
Camp, a Michigan Republican, also said the fact that Miller and another top IRS official are stepping down does not solve the IRS' problem.
"The reality is, this is not a personnel problem,” Camp said. “This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too powerful, too intrusive, and too abusive of honest, hardworking taxpayers."
 {Added: A video from Blaze TV of an outraged Pennsylvania Republican Congressional Rep. Mike Kelly, gives a good picture of the sort of concerns that have been raised:

Bozell's concern of a media about to go back to business as usual talking point games in defence of "their" party, in the face of this sort of over-reach, is also significant:

Frankly, with reports coming in of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse BOTH receiving first ever letters of notice of audit from the IRS, on the same day, shortly after publishing a "vote Biblical values" generic statement in a context that responds to the ongoing push to homosexualise marriage and other questionable trends, such is sobering. James Dobson's new Family-based ministry has been audited. And so on and so forth.

The letter Mr Franklyn Graham, son of Billy and head of both the BGEA and Samaritan's Purse, wrote to US President Obama on May 14th, is worth citing:
In light of what the IRS admitted to on Friday May 10, 2013,  and subsequent revelations from other sources, I do not believe that the IRS audit last year of our two organizations is a coincidence -- or justifiable. Yesterday you said, "If you've got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and non-partisan way, then that's outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions . . . "

Already, that is a red flag: there is no credible doubt that the IRS overstepped its bounds and in a way that targetted groups on one side of major politicised, morally tinged and government oriented issues. Nor is this merely a matter of violating traditions, it is a violation of basic rights and justice.

Graham continues, hinting at the point I have just made explicit:
Mr President the IRS has already publicly acknowledged it operated in a less than neutral and non-partisan way.  We also now know that the target of their improper actions was also much wider than political or Tea Party organizations. Will you take some immediate action to reassure Americans that we are not in a new chapter of America's history -- repressive government rule?

After the election
-->  What exquisite timing, the shadow of intimidation was maintained until after the main objective was achieved.
we did receive official notice that our organizations continue to qualify for exemption from Federal income tax and that our returns were accepted as filed. Unfortunately while these audits not only wasted taxpayer money, they wasted money contributed by donors for ministry purposes, as we had to spend precious resources servicing the IRS agents in our offices.  I am bringing this to your attention because I believe that someone in the Administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us. This is morally wrong and unethical -- indeed some would call it "un-American."
This is shameful, a disgrace to decent government.

Given that the IRS is patently one of the most feared, powerful and intrusive US Federal agencies, the evidence of political agendas pushing a widespread [It is not just two rogue lower level officials in Ohio . . . Daily Mail documents for instance how harassment also came from California and Washington DC] fishing expedition -- hundreds of groups seem to have been involved, up to 300 - 500 on various reports --  targetting conservative, Christian and Jewish groups supportive of Israel, is of concern.  As an example Daily Mail also documents one case where a group that reached out to High School and College students inter alia faced the following questions:

 No wonder, the article notes:
When a Tennessee lawyer asked the IRS for tax-exempt status for a mentoring group that trained high school and college students about conservative political philosophy, the agency responded with a list of 95 questions in 31 parts, including an ultimatum for a list of everyone the group had trained, or planned to train.
'Provide details regarding all training you have provided or will provide,' the IRS demanded. 'Indicate who has received or will receive the training and submit copies of the training material.'
That question was part of the tax collection agency's February 14, 2012 letter to Kevin Kookogey. founder of the group Linchpins of Liberty. He had submitted his application 13 months earlier.
'Can you imagine my responsibility to parents if I disclosed the names of their children to the IRS?' he asked MailOnline.
It's 'an impossible question to answer fully and truthfully,' he said, 'without disclosing the names of anyone I ever taught, or would ever teach, including students.'
That is in itself outrageous and the clear documentation raises further serious questions about the "if true" rider Mr Obama added to his own use of that word to describe what the IRS has been doing. Documents like this would have been instantly available to Mr Obama, if  he had wanted to be clear about the facts.

That this sort of outrage has been going on in a mounting way since 2010, 
{UPDATE: Thomas Moore indicates a case with a pro life group in Iowa in 2009 . . . 1st year of the Obama presidency, i.e. the Tea Party cases of 2010 on were a broadening of an existing campaign. The FrontPage article on the same issue notes:
A report about the IRS’s abuse of the Coalition for Life of Iowa was made available to the press by the Thomas More Society on August 4, 2009. Yet the timeline of IRS harassment, determined from the Inspector General for Tax Administration’s report on the scandal, dates the IRS targeting to March of 2010.

The Thomas More Society’s press release would mark the third “revision” of the timeline. Last Sunday, after reporting that IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a told a House Ways and Means subcommittee on March 22, 2012 that there was “absolutely no targeting” of conservative groups, the Associated Press, moved the timeline back to “as early as 2011.” The Inspector General’s report ostensibly moves it back to March 2010. Now it’s back to August 2009, meaning the IG’s report is flawed at best}
. . .  and since it was denied a year ago by leadership of the IRS in earlier hearings after the trend had to have come to notice as legal action was in train on behalf of targetted groups already, also speak volumes. 

So does the degree of intrusiveness we are seeing: demands for donor lists, substance of meetings, demands for "equal time" for the very agendas groups were formed in part to counter (such as Abortion), etc etc, all speak to ideological warping of the US Civil Service.

This,  in a context where for years now Bible believing Christians have been strongly scapegoated, are widely perceived as irrational and dangerous -- even, as "fascists" --among "progressives" and those they influence, and where there has been a wider intense polarisation of the American political culture coming in large part from the progressive- liberal side and championed on key points (homosexualisation of marriage is a classic case, and is  a civilisational watershed issue, a point of no return . . . ) over the past several years by members of the Obama administration. 

Flash-points like attempted homosexualisation of marriage that has been publicly championed by Mr Obama for the past year are only an indicator of a much broader, deeper trend.

It is worth noting that the timing and intensity of the targetting of Tea Party and other similar groups seems to have had a distractive, highly intimidatory, resource suppressing [tax exempt status is a major issue for donations to civil society groups, most of which are going to be small, operating on shoestring budgets and efforts of willing volunteers]  and debilitating effect during the recent election cycle. 

From the just linked NewsMax article, we see what the IRS pressure looks like to a typical shoestring budget activist issues group:
Anger over President Barack Obama's policies drove businessman Tom Zawistowski to file paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service nearly three years ago to create the Ohio Liberty Coalition.

His nonprofit organization largely attracted conservatives who were new to politics but concerned about the growth of government, fiscal issues and perceived threats to Americans' constitutional protections. It eventually swelled to more than 20,000 members . . . . Over the next few years, the Ohio Liberty Coalition would raise thousands of dollars to bus activists to rallies, run phone banks, rent a tent at a local fair, and knock on roughly 40,000 doors across Ohio to challenge the president and his fellow Democrats in the 2012 elections.

All the while, the organization was locked in a battle with the nation's tax enforcement agency over whether it should be granted tax-exempt status.

"They expected me to turn over the names of our members to the IRS. You'd have to kill me to get me to do that," said Zawistowski, who was among the first tea party leaders to formally protest the agency's actions last year. "I wouldn't accept tyranny."

It often takes "social welfare organizations" a year to get tax-exempt status, which requires them to prove they're not primarily devoted to politics. But the IRS acknowledged last week that it inappropriately applied heightened scrutiny to conservative groups even though it's supposed to regulate the nation's tax laws without political interference. The revelation drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats, sparked a Justice Department investigation and prompted Obama to call the allegations "outrageous" if true . . . . 

Zawistowski's experience is not uncommon among tea party and conservative groups.
As it did with other conservative groups, the IRS largely ignored Zawistowski's application for a year and a half and then refused to approve his nonprofit status unless he revealed the identity of the group's members, times and location of group activities and printouts of its website and Facebook pages, according to IRS correspondence reviewed by The Associated Press.

The IRS also requested "detailed contents of the speeches or forums, names of the speakers or panels and their credentials" for all future and past public events, according to one of the IRS letters.

"The intent of this was to hurt the ability of tea party groups to function in an election year. They were successful to a degree," said Zawistowski, a 57-year-old businessman who had virtually no political experience before joining the tea party movement. "It took an enormous amount of time and energy for me to handle this."
It is also worth highlighting that targetting Ohio in particular is not an accident, the major political battleground in the election just past was in that state.

 Now, multiply such by the waves of other scandals, trends and issues that are also headlined.

The upshot of all this is that at this time, the Christian faith, traditional, Scripture-rooted moral values and principles, and Christians as individuals and groups in our civilisation are under unprecedented pressure in our day in our civilisation.

In one word: Apostasy.

We are very much at what increasingly looks like a Fair Havens moment, where c. AD 59 Paul spoke up during a ship's council meeting on the dangers of the proposed action of sailing out if a seemingly favourable wind popped up, to get to a more desirable anchorage down the coast from Fair Havens, Crete. 

But sailing was dangerous at this time [Mid October on, it seems], and so the warning was well needed.

Needed, not heeded.

Caught in the storm of Ac 27,
due to duly democratic but unsound decisions
Notwithstanding the need, the influences of the Merchant Ship Owner, the advice of his technico, the Kubernete and the sentiments of the crowd all led to a poor decision by the Governmental Leader, the Centurion Julius.

The democratic decision was made: if the winds look favourable, we sail.

Soon, a sweet little south wind came up.

The technico, knowing how his bread was buttered, kept his mouth shut about what that could be a sign of.

They did sail out.

Bang, disaster, as an early winter storm struck suddenly.

Ship lost, cargo lost, hoped for profits lost; nearly, lives lost. 

Lives saved only by God's grace.

 I fear that such unwise decisions based on manipulation of democratic politics and a public only too willing to go with those who tickle our ears with what we want to hear, is exactly what is happening with our civilisation today, and I therefore suggest we need to re-read No. 1 in this Acts 27 test series.

Serious, concerned Christians need to stand up and be counted now, in a day when sound counsel is unpopular and not likely to be heeded.

We must be willing to be watchmen on the wall, blowing the trumpet of warning.

Not least,  in order to be able to stand up as a good man in a storm, when -- not, if -- the storm comes and hits us in the heart of the vulnerabilities opened up by poor and reckless, even wicked decisions that were duly arrived at democratically.

And the public at large needs to recognise that Democracy is not just about the -- too often ill-advised, imprudent and manipulated -- majority having its way.

No, sir.

No, madam.

It is therefore vital that the minority [down to a lone, courageous individual], especially the public spirited minority calling for sound reform, be heard, respected, protected and -- as the balance of evidence soberly considered indicates -- as appropriate, heeded.

It is also vital that the majority demands to be soundly informed, and that we shun those who are evidently manipulating us to gain an advantage.  

That means we must be willing to hear out some pretty unpalatable news and views, not jumping to dismissive conclusions. 

(And BTW, have we made sure to bone up on the range of credible and relevant facts, as well as on relevant knowledge, and reasoning skills? How do we come to regard facts and sources as credible and to be listened to? Is it because they tell us what we want to hear, or because there is good reason to see them as sound? is it because our minds have become poisoned and polarised, thus dismissive against certain sources? Are we sure we are not locking out the voices of godly wisdom we most need to hear? On what grounds? For instance, what is our attitude to the gospel and the Scriptures, and their counsel, in light of say this evidence on why these are indeed the credible word of God?)

Those who tickle our itching ears with what they think we want to hear are exactly the ones we most need to shun.

Hard to do, but vital.

And necessary in a hard day. END