Dems. Take Over Senate Floor in Push for Gun Control

In breaking news, Democrats have taken control of the Senate floor in a filibuster-style move designed to push the chamber to do something about the nation’s epidemic of gun violence.

You can watch the takeover live here.

Spearheaded by Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, this bold strategy emerges just days after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. At the Pulse nightclub – a popular gay bar in Orlando, Florida – a lone gunman killed 49 people using an AR-15. This particular assault rifle was also used in the Newtown shooting, which occurred in Senator Murphy’s home state in 2012, claiming the lives of 6 adults and 20 children.

Upon embarking on the floor takeover, Murphy remarked:

This is a different moment today than it was at the end of last week. There is a newfound imperative for this body to find a way to come together and take action, to try to do our part to stem this epidemic of gun violence and in particular this epidemic of mass shootings. There is a fundamental disconnect with the American people when these tragedies continue to occur and we just move forward with business as usual. So I’m going to remain on this floor until we get some signal, some sign that we can come together on these two measures, that we can get a path forward on addressing this epidemic in a meaningful bipartisan way.

As we discussed on The Tap earlier this week, congress had an opportunity to prevent this week’s massacre last year when a measure to ban weapon sales to suspected terrorists went before the legislature. Republicans tied the measure to legislation designed to repeal the Affordable Care Act in a deliberate torpedoing of even this moderate, widely supported gun control measure.

Corey Booker, Senator from New Jersey, has also taken the floor today in support of Murphy’s filibuster. “What we’re seeking is not radical,” Booker said this afternoon, “What we’re seeking is not something that is partisan. What we’re seeking is common sense.”

The Tap will continue to provide coverage on the fallout following the anti-LGBTQ massacre in Orlando and the ongoing debate on gun violence that is sweeping the nation.

Congress Could Have Prevented Orlando Shooting

(The gunman who killed 50 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando used an AR-15 assault rifle, a military-grade weapon that the NRA wishes to keep legal for everyone to purchase)

The public’s response to the tragic Orlando shooting on Sunday has largely been hopeful and loving. Already, Equality Florida has raised more than $1 million through a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of victims and their families. Voices from around the world have spoken out against violence and fear and in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

Other responses – however – leave something to be desired. Presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared to congratulate himself for crediting the attack to Islamic extremists. A rather tone-deaf move as investigators still navigated the crime scene identifying victims.

Also, many politicians struggled to name the LGBTQ community as the target, belying the very real, continued presence of homophobia in our society.

Remaining optimistic in the face of nihilistic murder is a powerful statement, and the country appears ready to embrace this path. There are, however, real steps that politicians can take to prevent bigoted individuals and hate groups from exacting the awful toll that we witnessed this week.

Congress, in fact, had an opportunity last year to prevent individuals such as Omar Mateen – the perpetrator of the Orlando terror – from acquiring the kind of military-grade weapons that were used to kill 50 innocents at the Pulse nightclub.

Shortly after the San Bernardino shooting late last year, Senator Diane Feinstein sponsored legislation to block suspected terrorists from buying weapons. Virtually all Republican senators, however, voted against the measure.

The NRA’s influence among elected officials is well-known. Any attempt at even modest gun control – including the popularly supported, common sense effort to prevent suspected terrorists from buying weapons – is anathema to the extremist organization, which maintains a radical and uncompromising look at the second amendment.

As politicians begin blaming political correctness or targeting particular ethnic and religious groups over the Orlando shooting, remember that there was a very real chance to prevent this tragedy. An unstable and capricious individual such as Mateen hardly resembles the well-connected and resourceful terrorists that pull off carefully planned and coordinated attacks. The spontaneous, lone-wolf assault on Pulse nightclub is of a different mould – one that the United States can readily combat with the political willpower to move past the dangerous intransigence of the NRA.

Philanthropy Saves Monuments, How About Infrastructure?

There’s one thing everyone can agree on: the United States’ infrastructure needs an overhaul.

While a contentious debate over funding rages on, there is a demonstrable consensus that cracking roads, neglected bridges, and outdated technology not only pose a threat to the country’s economic viability, but also to the physical wellbeing of its people.

Another country is facing similar issues involving rote maintenance and the elusive funding necessary to pursue it. To account for the difference between the two cases, just trade a power grids for aqueducts.

Italy has had difficulty paying for the conservation and refurbishment of its extensive catalog of amphitheaters, churches, and various artifacts from its long and storied history. Along with many of its southern European peers, Italy has been slow to emerge from the recession. The country has sizable public debts, and Rome officials oscillate back and forth between filing the city for bankruptcy. In this cash-strapped climate, channeling public resources to highly expensive historical conservation is exceedingly difficult.

Tourism is an essential component of Italy’s economy, and state officials needed a solution. They turned to one area of the Italian economy that has weathered the last decade’s downturn – the fashion and luxury industry.

A variety of high-grossing corporations have stepped in to ensure the maintenance of Italy’s national patrimony. Tod’s, an Italian fashion company, is paying to refurbish the iconic colosseum. The company Fendi has shelled out $4 million to restore the Trevi Fountain. Bulgari has donated $2 million for revitalization efforts for the Spanish Steps.

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, discussed the public-private partnerships that are currently shaking up the country’s funding system:

Our doors are wide open for all the philanthropists and donors who want to tie their name to an Italian monument. We have a long list, as our heritage offers endless options, from small countryside churches to the Colosseum. Just pick.

Many Italians find Franceschini’s words troubling. While finding the necessary funding for such a trove of priceless artifacts and buildings is important, there are nonetheless a host of ethical questions for the Mediterranean nation. Will these partnerships usher in the commercialization of publicly held assets? Will good intention give way to future privatizations? Are these practices here to stay?

Italy is new to the corporate philanthropy scene. Public-private relationships of this nature are more common in the United States, which has an entrenched tradition of business philanthropy. Indeed, the United States has seen its share of philanthropists propping up national landmarks.

In 2012, David Rubenstein – the billionaire head of the Carlyle Group – donated $7.5 million to restore the Washington Monument in the country’s capital. After the famous obelisk sustained damages from an earthquake, the National Parks Service struggled to secure the funding necessary to repair the structure and to reenforce it against similar calamities in the future. Rubinstein – who has also contributed to the Smithsonian and the U.S. panda reproduction program – stepped in to front the cost.

As unfortunate as it may be that national symbols such as the Washington Monument in the United States and the Colosseum in Italy require private support, they may nonetheless carry a lesson for how the philanthropy sector can fill some of the gaps in infrastructure funding created by government inaction. By marrying art and infrastructure, private-public relationships can formulate and execute fundable projects. A provincial bridge does not carry the same import as the Lincoln memorial, but in recognizing the value of public art and its fundamental relationship with public infrastructure, creative philanthropic thinking can find solutions to these pressing issues.

Congress Gives Partial Extension to IRA-to-Charity Rollover

On December 16, the U.S. Senate voted to extend several charity tax breaks through only the end of 2014, though many in the nonprofit sector want a permanent implementation of the policies.

Many fundraising professionals support the IRA rollover tax break in particular, which they want implemented permanently. Before the vote, the tax breaks only applied to 2013 tax filings, but are now slated to apply to donations made by the end of the 2014 calendar year.

Enacted in 2006, the IRA tax-to-charity rollover allows 70-1/2 or older U.S. citizens to donate up to $100,000 from their Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) to public charity without being taxed. According to some sources, older philanthropists were waiting to see the result of the vote before making giving decisions in the final weeks of 2014.

The IRA-to-charity rollover encourages charitable giving among older prospective donors – especially those who do not itemize their donations. The tax break allows individuals to give large sums from their IRAs to charity without that allotment applying to their adjusted gross income. Additionally, the donations are applicable to required minimum deduction. This means that on joint-tax returns, a spouse can used a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) to exclude up $100,000 per his/her partner’s charitable giving through the IRA rollover.

In the past, Congress has voted on the retroactive applicability of the IRA rollover tax. If Congress picks up the debate again and passes similar legislation, the tax break could theoretically apply to the 2015 calendar year.

Other tax breaks given partial extension through the end of 2014 include conservation donation incentives that help modest-income landowners contribute to land conservation efforts and food inventory gift incentives that encourage farmers to donate excess food stock to food banks.

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