The end stage of a metamorphosis in which the idea took final flight

Now it’s just getting funny – all the bolts and sprockets flying off the “Secular Policy Institute” and landing in the middle of the banana cream pie.

Last week I was busy getting rid of a whole bunch of assholes so I missed Edwina Rogers’s comment at Almost Diamonds. I wish I’d seen it then, because if I had I would have known about it when I was accidentally introduced to her at the conference. (I did mention that I was accidentally introduced to her, right? I was. Her smile shrank quite a lot when she heard my name. I wasn’t very effusive myself.)

Rogers starts off by saying the post is fiction – which is amusing, given all the references in the post.

The blogger spins a story of the transformation of GSC into the GSI and its eventual emergence as the Secular Policy Institute (SPI). This is a breezy reconstruction of the actual events that almost suggests that the Secular Policy Institute is the latest incarnation of what began as the Global Secular Council, the end stage of a metamorphosis in which the idea took final flight. The account reads as an improbable and serpentine transformation of projects and organizations precisely because it is improbable and, well, untrue, too.

Oh yes? Then why is there so much overlap? So many of the same “experts” and “thought leaders” and “Fellows”? So many of the same photographs of the same people?

SCA participated fully in the development of GSC. Amanda Metskas and the Board participated in, and approved, its development as an SCA project (see March 27 board minutes). Amanda wanted a name without the word Institute, drafted part of the press release for it, and selected the term “expert” for the members of its Think Tank as she thought Fellow as sexist. It is fair to say that Amanda and I were collectively spearheading the implementation of the GSC at the time that she terminated me, assumed my position as Executive Director, and then discontinued working on the project.

The donor, Lloyd Rubin, was understandably incensed that his 50K was going to be squandered in my absence and with the discontinuation of the GSC project. He rattled his sabers and threatened to sue SCA (no surprise there) and in response, SCA gave the Secular Global Council with its Experts to Mr. Rubin, at which point he renamed it the Global Secular Institute. I know because I was a volunteer Fellow of the Global Secular Institute. Mr. Rubin put out a series of newsletters- yes, with pictures of this cats!- and soon tired of the work involved in the running of the Institute and allows it to lie largely fallow to this day. My understanding is that he discontinued its newsletter but that the organization still exits. It is a Think Tank Group. Not a coalition of organizations, but a stand-alone think tank group.

Oh, well then. That’s all very straightforward and respectable. The saber-rattling, the threats to sue, the cats, the getting bored, the convicted felon – nothing to see here folks, move along.

The Secular Policy Institute is not the reincarnation of the Global Secular Institute or GSC. Yes, SPI has a secular think tank of scientists and scholars dedicated to the separation of church and state in public policy making, but it is also a coalition of international groups; the world’s largest coalition, in fact.

Really? How many of those groups are part of the coalition voluntarily? How many of them were simply added without being informed they were being added? How many have asked to be removed with no success?

Also I just plain don’t believe that “world’s largest” claim, on the grounds that it’s Edwina Rogers making it plus it’s absurd.

It is a separate legal entity. It is sponsoring the World Futures Forum and drafting the World Future Guide, and has assisted in the implementation of a wide variety of projects nested within other secular organizations, including a website for UnitedCoR, a table at CPAC for American Atheists, a website for Freethought Film Festival, a website for Hispanic Freethought, a cash grant to the Youth Atheist Conference, a cash grant to the Association for Atheism in Turkey, a website and demonstration campaign for the United Church of Bacon, a website and Congressional visits for the Foundation for Critical Thinking, and a range of others. By contrast, the Global Secular Institute and GSC were never coalition organizations, never had any national or international affiliates, never had any projects or initiatives, and were (and still are) completely separate legal entities (although not actually even legal entities with any nonprofit status under any U.S. or foreign laws). In short, GSC/GSI and SPI are simply different organizations. SPI is a U.S. Charity approved by the IRS and exists legally while GSC and GSI are simply just names.

That’s what I said last year – they’re just names, with lists of people; they’re not doing anything. Nice of Rogers to confirm. But this business about how totally separate they are – don’t make me laugh.

5. The blogger makes all kinds of hay over Mr. Lloyd Rubin’s felonious background and his unsavory involvements with secular start-ups. Actually, Mr. Rubin mostly funded standing groups, not start-ups. He donated to groups like the American Humanist Association, American Atheists, the Secular Coalition for America and Americans United. The blogger is quizzically critical of my bringing Mr. Rubin into the donation scene for SCA without mentioning his donations to a wide variety of other secular groups who relished his support. Of course, other groups, such as Amanda Metskas’ CampQuest organization, were not successful in their efforts to lobby Mr. Rubin for support; he supported only those that he viewed to be worthy secular projects.

Wait. Where’s the part where she explains why “the blogger” is wrong to point out Lloyd Rubin’s felonious background? I completely missed that part, and I can’t find it how hard soever I look. She says nothing at all to explain that. Too busy wrapping party favors in sheets of dollar bills?

6. “Lloyd Rubin was gong to give 2,333 paintings to the Vatican”.
Actually, that was a joke. A cruel joke because he was angry. He was angry because he had given 2,333 pieces of art to SCA and we worked for a year to find a donor to bear the considerable expense associated with cataloging, packing, shipping, housing and building a website for this 1.5 millions dollar’s worth of art so that the proceeds could go to the various member groups of SCA. When SCA terminated me, however, that donor in Ohio who had pledged $250k for these expenses withdrew his support out of protest (as did MANY donors to SCA) killing the project (and the 1.5 million of donations) and leaving Mr. Rubin holding his art work after a year of brokering its liquidation for a suitable cause.

Money. Money, you see. Mr Rubin had lashings of money. That’s really all that matters, don’t you agree?


  1. Silentbob says

    I was accidentally introduced to her at the conference. (I did mention that I was accidentally introduced to her, right? I was. Her smile shrank quite a lot when she heard my name. I wasn’t very effusive myself.)

    Cool. Did she provide escorts?

    (OK. Now I’m just trolling. 😉 )

  2. John Morales says


    Too busy wrapping party favors in sheets of dollar bills?

    Gratuitous, in my estimation; I think this jars with the rest of your the post, which is about actions rather than character.

  3. yazikus says

    John Morales

    I think this jars with the rest of your the post, which is about actions rather than character

    Well, she did make a video about doing just that… So not sure how it wouldn’t fall under actions.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    … a metamorphosis in which the idea took final flight

    Final flight indeed, as in crashed ‘n’ burned on takeoff.

    Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of the cocoon…

  5. John Morales says

    yazikus, yeah, of course it’s an action… but what I quoted refers to something long before her involvement with the “thought leaders”, when she had a different remit for a different job.

    But thanks. I am rethinking this, because if the post is actually about Edwina’s character*, then it fits and I was wrong.

    (PS I haven’t missed the money leitmotif)

    * Rather than about the awkwardness of the meeting and the reasons for that, which is what I thought.

  6. iknklast says

    It would be interesting to know exactly how many donors were lost when Edwina was terminated. Is she just aggrandizing herself? Or is she really that important?

  7. yazikus says

    John Morales,
    Ah, I see. Wasn’t trying to be a pill. I wouldn’t envy the awkward meeting where when your name is mentioned the other smile drops. One of the perks of anonymity?

  8. says

    2,333 pieces of art worth 1.5 sounds like a skeevy tax dodge to me. One of those: “I gave a non-profit stuff worth 1.5 million, so I write that off on my taxes. And now it’s their problem that they couldn’t get more than $19.96 for the refrigerator-art my nephew did, it’s worth millions, dang it! Millions!” Seriously. That is “WTF” territory, right there (speaking as someone who has dealt with some pretty creative tax dodges over the years) The main reason an non-profit would accept assets rather than cash is in order to assign the appreciation on the asset to the non-profit. So if I have 10,000 shares of stock in some company, that I got as stock options for $10,000 and they are now worth $2m, I give something to the non-profit that cost me $10,000 and the non-profit (being a non-profit) gets the tax liability for the $1.999 million profit. I still declare I gave them something worth $2m but I never register it as income. (This is how big foundations like The Clinton Foundation, etc., work. Don’t tell me you thought they actually were charities?) Anyway… It reeks of fish. Old fish. The kind of fishy smell that lingers around lobbyists that are used to moving money unobtrusively and buying influence off the books.

  9. John Morales says


    Marcus @9,

    So if I have 10,000 shares of stock in some company, that I got as stock options for $10,000 and they are now worth $2m, I give something to the non-profit that cost me $10,000 and the non-profit (being a non-profit) gets the tax liability for the $1.999 million profit. I still declare I gave them something worth $2m but I never register it as income.

    Hm. I find your example confusing, because I can’t see a shift in tax liability between parties, as you intimate.

    You wrote that at the time X was donated by A to B, X was worth @2m, which implies there is no capital gain applicable to B; but even if at the time of transfer X was worth $10k + δ (where δ ≤ $1.990m ≥= 0), then the taxable capital gain by B is $2m – ($10k + δ).

  10. says

    @John Morales – the trick is that the charity may not have to pay the same tax on the income. So if I have a 1.999 mil gain I pay (well, unless I offshore the transaction) ~35% of that in taxes leaving me with 1.3 mil. If I give it to the charity they, as a non-profit, end up with 2.0 mil. The way a tax shelter usually works (like the Clinton Foundation) is they they turn around and hire you as a financial manager and pay you a percentage of the total amount annually (let’s say 10% of the 2 mil) giving you an annual revenue of 200k. In 10 years you have all your money back plus interest and if you grow the money you get even more. Or you can hire your frogspawn (again like the Clinton Foundation) effectively giving them a life-long annuity as long as they manage the principal effectively.

    The taxable capital gain structure of a charity is not the same as a private individual. And if we’re talking stock options that were exercised within the last year (not long-term capital gains) the government can take a pretty large bite of that. So basically you’re arbitraging the difference in tax liability between a normal citizen or a charity. Some people (like Mitt Romney) do it by using the money as seed capital to start a business (which has to pay taxes but may be in a different jurisdiction or have different tax liability than an individual) and then the business gives the individual medical insurance, a corporate jet, corporate car, corporate housing etc etc. That’s a trick a lot of fat cats use so they can give their mistress a nice annuity (Richard Dawkins Foundation … ) by hiding the money. Some people (I’ve seen this done) go overboard and do stuff like have the business rent space in their personal property, so they are in effect paying themselves a whopping rate-per-foot of their own floor-space for their home office. A lot of law firms and some small venture capital firms do a variant of that trick: they buy expensive art-work (I know one VC boardroom full of original Frederick Remington bronzes…) to decorate the office-space, depreciate them off the books over a period of ten years, then sell them to the executive for a nominal price way below market. I know one exec who paid $5,000 for a Ferrari his company let him drive (and the company maintained) for the time he worked there.

    Anyhow, that’s a long way of saying “smells fishy.” $2m artwork given to a charity makes my little quid-pro-quo detector start to jingle.

  11. says

    I wrote:
    money as seed capital to start a business

    Which you can then run at a loss, by pissing money around in weird ways like the Richard Dawkins foundation does. *ahem*

  12. John Morales says


    I appreciate your elaboration, Marcus, but again: the tax liability is accrued to the capital gainer, whether that be a corporation (enjoying tax breaks) or an individual.

    What escapes me is how Rubin supposedly gains the capital profit of the worth growth of something he has donated whilst eluding the tax liability for that same profit by somehow shifting it to the recipient of the donation.

  13. chrislawson says

    Yeah, it strikes me as very odd — that’s a lot of paintings to donate to a non-art organisation, with apparently all of the cost of transporting, storing, and cataloguing to be borne by the organisation that is supposedly receiving the charitable donation. Why not just sell the art at market and give the proceeds to charity? It really sounds like a dodge to me. Especially since they asked another donor to give $250K in order to make the transfer happen. And was the $1.5M according to an independent, professional art valuer?

  14. says

    @John Morales – I agree it doesn’t make sense but that’s how it is. If you are holding shares in your portfolio that appreciate in value, the tax only gets applied when you sell them, and then it’s on the delta in value. If you don’t sell them, and someone else does, it’s not your problem – you’ve given away shares you paid $10,000 for.

    My information might not be current, either. As you can imagine there is a constant struggle between Sith Accountants and the IRS to identify these sorts of dodges and run a truck through them. (In my case back in 1998 I used a similar dodge to give $2m worth of stock I paid $5000 for to an animal shelter rather than having to write the IRS a check for $400k… So it is a real “thing”…)

  15. Numenaster says

    @John Morales, the system Marcus describes is still very much a real thing. I get solicitations regularly from the charities that I support urging me to donate stock to them. They are explicit that I can avoid the taxes on appreciated assets this way.

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