The Johnson Amendment Survives Trump’s Executive Order

During the National Prayer Breakfast in early February, Donald Trump promised his religious allies that he would “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

The Johnson Amendment – which was sponsored by Senator Lyndon Johnson and passed in 1954 – circumscribes the political speech available to religious entities registered as nonprofits. It ranks among the clearest legal lines separating organized religion and elected office, preventing religious charities from endorsing (or campaigning against) candidates while empowering the IRS to strip offending nonprofits of their tax-exempt status.

Earlier this month, Trump announced that he would soon sign an executive order designed to “vigorously promote religious liberty,” making good on his earlier promises to scuttle the law. What he actually signed, however, was a little less than what his religious supporters hoped for. This line from the order sums up its weakness:

All executive departments and agencies shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by law, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech.

Effectively, the Johnson Amendment remains on the books. The ACLU, which was preparing to challenge the executive order should it greatly empower religious organizations to discriminate, released an official statement that deemed the document an “elaborate photo op with no discernible policy outcome.” As for now, the organization is not pursuing action in court.

Perhaps – as some pundits have pointed out – this is merely a rhetorical ploy intended to create the impression among Trump’s evangelical supporters that he’s expanding their political power. It could, of course, also be step one of a larger plan to dismantle the legal framework that enshrines the United States’ founding principle that church and state remain separate.

If the Trump Administration did eliminate the Johnson Amendment at some juncture, it would enable religious nonprofits – which already receive less IRS and government scrutiny than their secular counterparts – to deploy untaxed resources on behalf of candidates. This would be an unfair advantage, and would turn religious charities into processing plants for anonymous political funding.

Campaign financing is already shadowy, complex, and in dire need of reform. Striking down the Johnson Amendment is not going to better enable organizations to pursue their missions, but it will create a deep fissure of trust between organizations and the constituents they are supposed to serve.

Paris Agreement Likely to Take Force This Year

(World leaders gather during COP21 talks last year)

Finally, some great news for the environment.

Dozens of nations have signed on to the Paris Agreement, bringing international action on climate change closer than ever to reality. The new signees come just after the United States and China – the world’s two largest carbon emitters – announced their intention to sign the agreement earlier this month.

The news came during this week’s UN gathering in New York City, where 31 countries formerly pledged to join the Paris Agreement. Also known as COP 21, the agreement was negotiated merely a year ago. Compare this lightening fast turn-around to the hurdles faced by the Kyoto Protocols – which took seven years to initiate – and the speed with which governments are moving to find common ground on climate change is, indeed, encouraging.

Among the nations that signed on this week, many rank high on the list of top polluters, including Brazil (5th largest polluter) and Mexico (13th largest polluter). Other states signing on this week include Albania, Honduras, Mongolia, The United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Morocco.

The fact that a total of 60 countries accounting for a full 48 percent of the entire world’s carbon emissions are now on board is a massive step for the international community in facing this existential threat. Now, all that remains is for additional signees accounting for a further 7 percent of the world’s carbon emissions to join before the agreement’s stipulations commence.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke about the historical nature of initializing the agreement:

This momentum is remarkable. It can sometimes take years or even decades for a treaty to enter into force… This is testament to the urgency of the crisis we all face.

There are, of course, the typical gamut of climate-deniers who would love nothing more than to scuttle the agreement. Republican presidential candidate and serial conspiracy theorist Donald Trump has – in perhaps one of the most absurd instances of conservative intransigence on this issue – claimed that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese government to derail US business interests.

His campaign has announced its intent to cancel the agreement should Trump win the November election. This, thankfully, is much more difficult than it sounds. Upon signing the agreement, a nation agrees to stringent protocols in the event that it chooses to leave the agreement. The process is so laborious that it would likely require more time than the lifespan of a potential Trump administration in order to successfully accomplish.

Nonetheless, forces hostile to the social good will continue trying to obstruct meaningful action on this paramount threat. Socially invested entrepreneurs, activists, and conscientious politicians need to keep up pressure on the Donald Trumps of the world in order to ensure maximum impact of green initiatives, for sake of all nations and future generations.

Trump Feuds with Fallen Soldier’s Parents

(Arlington Cemetery)

In his latest indiscretion, Donald Trump has committed a cardinal sin of public life – denigrating soldiers and their families. Following the DNC, the erstwhile reality star and Republican presidential candidate has gotten himself into hot water over his aggressive response to the parents of a fallen US solider.

In unscripted remarks in Philadelphia, Khizr Khan – father of Humayun S.M. Khan, a captain killed in Iraq protecting the lives of his fellow soldiers – lambasted Trump, who he said was ignorant of the US constitution. He further explained that Trump’s divisive rhetoric is an insult to those who have sacrificed so much for the country. In his speech, Khan rhetorically asked Trump:

Have you ever been to Arlington cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America – you will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.


(Watch Khan’s powerful speech at the DNC in Philadelphia.)

Trump, known for is incautious language and offensive remarks, disparaged Khan and his wife, Ghazala Khan, in an interview with ABC. “If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say,’ Trump said, describing Ms. Khan, a grieving mother. “She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”

When the candidate had an opportunity to pay homage to a deceased solider and his family, he instead felt compelled to analyze Ghazala Khan’s behavior in a baffling display of narcissism and condescension. Ms. Khan, in turn, wrote an op-ed, explaining that she could not speak because merely looking at photos of her son is such an intolerable act that it brings her to tears.

Trump’s lack of empathy has brought widespread condemnation, including from his fellow Republicans. John McCain – a US prisoner of war, Senator, and one-time GOP presidential candidate – released a statement condemning Trump:

In recent days, Donald Trump disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents. He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States – to say nothing of entering its service. I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.

Sally Bradshaw – a Republican strategist and co-author of the Republican Party’s “autopsy report” following the 2012 elections – has officially left the GOP over Trump’s response to Khan’s speech, stating that:

Donald Trump belittled a woman who gave birth to a son who died fighting for the United States. If anything, that reinforced my decision to become an independent voter. I’ve been considering the switch for months. Ultimately, I could not abide the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump and his complete lack of principles and conservative philosophy,

As the gaffes pile up, Trump’s ability to safely navigate alliances within the GOP establishment seems increasingly limited. His sheer disdain for political norms – while endearing to his fringe base – has officially steered into hitherto unknown territory. As John Oliver expressed well on his show Last Week Tonight, when he discussed the dumbfounding quality of Trump’s injudicious remarks:

Honestly, the main takeaway from these two weeks is that, incredibly, we may be on the brink of electing such a damaged, sociopathic narcissist, that the simple presidential duty of comforting the families of fallen soldiers may actually be beyond his capabilities – and I genuinely did not think that was a part of the job that someone could be bad at.


(John Oliver discussed Trump’s dumbfounding comments to the Khan family.)

Sobering and serious words from a comedian more prone to using sarcasm and ridicule to make his points. The haunting prospect of a Trump presidency appears to weigh heavily on Oliver, as it has begun to do so for so many others in the public arena.

Donald Trump Incites Russia to Hack Hillary Clinton’s Emails

It what Donald Trump is now describing as a sarcastic remark, the Republican presidential nominee prodded the Russian government to hack and release Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails from her private server at a press conference in Doral, Florida.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said in front of reporters.

The response from across the political spectrum was one of astonishment. How could a presidential candidate incite a foreign power to commit espionage against the United States government? Critics decried the remarks as ignorant at best, treason at worse.


(Weekly Standard writer and conservative analyst Jay Cost contemplates Trump’s Russia remarks)

To contextualize the reality star’ comments, Wikileaks disclosed thousands of private emails from DNC officials last week that indicate a strong bias toward Hillary Clinton over rival Bernie Sanders in the nominating contest for the Democratic party. One email even appears to show insiders discussing how to use Sanders’ Jewish background against him in conservative regions.

The fallout from the disclosure led to the ouster of DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a formal apology to Sanders supporters from the Democratic establishment. These emails were beyond inappropriate, and indicate a party structure in dire need of reform in order to more fairly represent its electorate

Interestingly, the emails were strategically disclosed in the run-up the DNC in Philadelphia. A cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic party has traced the origin of the breach to two shadowy organizations named Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, hacking groups likely sponsored by the Russian state.

Putin’s government spends lavishly on its internet espionage operations, as detailed in a lengthy report by the New York Times that explores the labyrinthine underworld of state-employed trolls and hackers tasked with disseminating pro-Russian propaganda throughout the web.

Writing for Vice, King’s College Profressor Thomas Rid explains that the

forensic evidence linking the DNC breach to known Russian operations is very strong. The forensic evidence that links network breaches to known groups is solid: used and reused tools, methods, infrastructure, even unique encryption keys.

In other words, the Russian government appears to be actively meddling with the US presidential election. The revelations about the DNC’s anti-Sanders collusion is repugnant, but the manipulations of the United States’ democratic processes by a foreign power is unsettling to say the least.

And this is where we return to Trump. The candidate’s unprecedented campaign has strung together a number of unorthodox policies that are objectively pro-Russian. Even if Trump isn’t actively courting Russian assistance, and even if his remarks were truly a joke, the fact remains that Russia’s autocratic leadership would love to see a Trump presidency.

Take Trump’s stance on NATO. In recent weeks, Trump has suggested that the US refrain from assisting NATO allies should they come under attack. Like many of his other scattershot opinions, these comments drew considerable condemnation from members of his own party. The NATO alliance has long been considered a central component to the United States geo-political strategy, enjoying broad support on both sides of the aisle. The Republican presidential nominee, however, views the organization like he does all other institutions, asking: hey, what can I get out of this?

As Zack Beauchamp explains at Vox, a US pivot away from NATO would be a massive boon for Putin:

[Trump’s NATO remark is] music to Putin’s ears. He sees the NATO alliance (correctly!) as a major bulwark against Russian expansionism in eastern Europe, and would be thrilled if it fractured. That would make it far easier to install friendly dictators in small nearby countries, like Estonia, or even annex them entirely.

While open collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is unlikely, the fact remains that many in Trump’s coterie possess interests in Russia. Trump himself has been positively gushing in his support for Putin personally: “I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an ‘A,’” Trump explained of the Russian dictator, “and our president is not doing so well.”

That Trump would praise a murderous dictator and call on another nation to breach the cybersecurity of one of the United States’ major parties is beyond the pale. One is tempted yet again to see Trump’s antics as the result of the devil-may-care attitude of a performer who doesn’t really want to be president.

But then the reality that a Trump presidency is a distinct possibility sets in, and things get scary – fast.

Plagiarism at the RNC: New Low for Trump Campaign

(Donald Trump appearing with his wife Melania Trump at a campaign event)

The first day of the RNC in Cleveland was certainly eventful. From the last ditch effort of the #NeverTrump movement to derail Trump’s nomination to the rampant fear-mongering of the convention’s bizarre speaker lineup, the day threw into sharp relief the divisions within the GOP as well as the rather desperate tactics that the party is leaning on to propel its reality star nominee to the White House this November.

As part of this most unconventional convention, Trump himself made an appearance to introduce his wife, Melania Trump, who held the primary speaking slot for the evening.

This was an unprecedented move. The presumptive nominee for both parties has hitherto appeared only on the final night to formally accept the nomination. And while Trump’s campaign may say otherwise, last night’s shakeup of convention tradition doesn’t stem from Trump’s self-styled spontaneous approach to politics. The breach of tradition instead reflects the party’s inability to fill the speaking slots with high-ranking republicans, who have exhibited historically high levels of reluctance to appear at the convention (or to vocally support the presumptive Republican nominee at all).

But what made the evening’s closing speech most remarkable was the fact that Melania’s speech was plagiarized.

In what may amount to one of the most embarrassing moments of Trump’s entire presidential campaign, Trump’s wife repeated nearly verbatim two paragraph’s from the First Lady’s 2008 DNC speech.

Melania’s speech last night including the following words:

From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise.

That you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son, and we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow, because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

Following the speech, journalist Jarrett Hill was quick to point out the stolen lines:

While Melania herself likely had nothing to do with the speech’s composition, this blatant plagiarism is yet another example of Trump’s flippant and juvenile organization, which has struggled to exercise the basic functions of a presidential campaign. How his handlers and aids could have overlooked something so egregious is beyond comprehension.

Following the revelations, Trump and his surrogates have offered many excuses, from somehow blaming Hillary Clinton to pointing out that English is Melania’s second language. Mistakes this lazy and unprofessional, however, result from an inward-looking campaign that has prided itself on its lack of political orthodoxy. In the end, there is no one to blame but Donald Trump himself.

Breakdown of the 2016 DNC and RNC

(Pro- and anti-Trump protesters could clash in Cleveland during the RNC)

Philadelphia and Cleveland are preparing for the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention respectively.

The scale of these events is quite massive. In Philadelphia, more than 50,000 visitors from around the country will gather July 25-28 to watch political and cultural luminaries speak, as well as the Democratic candidate accept the nomination at the Wells Fargo Center – home to the Flyers and the 76ers. Approximately 20,000 individuals from national and international media outlets will be in attendance.

As part of the city’s welcoming preparation, Philadelphia has commissioned and displayed 57 painted donkey statues throughout town.

While some commentators argue for the economic benefits of hosting the convention in terms of national visibility and long-term tourism promotion, there are other cost burdens on the hosting city. National conventions have a long history of attracting large protests. Half of nearly a dozen requests for protest permits have been granted for this year’s DNC, with more unplanned protests expected to pop up around the city.

The 2000 Republican National Convention, which occurred in Philadelphia, culminated in nearly 400 arrests.

Concerns over security and violence this year, however, are even larger for Cleveland, which will host the RNC at the Quicken Loans Arena. Donald Trump – the presumptive Republican nominee – has run perhaps the most contentious and polarizing campaign in modern US history, attracting condemnation for racist and controversial statements while shoring up support among predominately white populations across the country dismayed with the political elite.

Cleveland anticipates 50,000 visitors for the RNC, scheduled for July 18-21. Hate groups, including white nationalist and neo-nazi organizations, as well as the anti-LGBTQ Westboro Baptist Church, are among those planning to travel to the RNC.

While organizers point out the safety and successful security perimeters of previous conventions that attracted large protests, this year’s RNC is unique. Left-wing protesters usually predominate at Republican conventions. Authorities anticipate anti- and pro-Trump protestors clashing in the streets, largely because they expect large volumes of right-wing protesters for the first time in recent history.

If the violence of previous Trump rallies is any indication, this mixture of political voices could prove combustible.

Indeed, the Trump campaign has created a safe space for racist nationalists. A racist organization at the center of recent violence in California announced plans to “protect” Trump supporters.

The Tap will cover events at both conventions while they unfold, and will explore the economic, cultural, and political aftermath of both the RNC and the DNC during this contentious political season.

Trump’s Money Claims: Less Than Honest

Donald Trump – the presumptive Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential bid – lauds himself for his business acumen, a characteristic that has supposedly generated untold riches.

How large that wealth is, however, is still clouded in secrecy, as the Trump campaign insists that it has no intention of releasing Trump’s tax returns – something every candidate in modern history has done.

Critic’s view his bluster as a smokescreen for what may actually be a smaller pot, earned less by Trump’s business smarts and more by the bizarre lifestyle brand he has cultivated.

As reports concerning Trump’s casino empire in Atlantic City emerge, there seems to be a growing body of evidence to prove this assertion.

Trump has bragged that his casinos and assets in the east coast gambling capital – which has been on a long, steep economic decline – triumphed over those of his competitors. Documents indicate otherwise, as Vox has helpfully broken down.

Trump considered financial success the enormous earnings he made, which stemmed largely from personal bonuses and salaries, paid for in part by selling junk bonds and bilking investors and shareholders of earnings. Indeed, his public company, according to Vox, “never turned a profit, leaving behind a trail of losses for shareholders and bondholders, and unpaid bills to contractors and subcontractors.” He may have earned money, but his businesses failed disastrously.

There seems to be a parallel between his suspect dealings in Atlantic City and his supposedly self-financed campaign. As it turns out, much of the funding he put toward his primary campaign was structured as loans to be paid back at a later date – presumably through further fundraising and financial support from the RNC.

Financial support from the Republican establishment – however – may not amount to much. Republican donors are allegedly nervous about supporting a Trump bid for the White House, which has many party officials wringing their hands as Trump continues to insult more demographics and double-down on certifiably racist policy proposals.

Their concerns are not unfounded. Trump’s flagrant bigotry and strong-man demeanor has sparked an exodus of moderate Republicans from the party.

If the GOP and its donors don’t show up for Trump, perhaps the bombastic candidate’s financial gymnastics won’t play out as well for his political campaign as they did for his abysmal casino ventures.

Was Trump Foundation’s Political Donation Intentional?

The IRS clearly states that charity organizations are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign.”

A brewing controversy involves one of today’s most recognizable names potentially breaking this cardinal rule. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) requested that the IRS undertake an investigation into a gift made by the Trump Foundation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

If CREW’s hunch is correct, Donald Trump’s namesake foundation may have made a colossal misstep by gifting $25,000 to a group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. The donation arrived in the same week that Bondi began investigating charges of fraud at Trump University – the now defunct educational enterprise of Trump and current hot topic of debate in the Republican presidential race. Trump’s opponents have pointed to the failed endeavor as an emblematic case of the candidate’s disastrous business record and potentially fraudulent practices.

Trump has chalked up the donation as a clerical error, in which Bondi’s political support organization – And Justice For All – received a check that was designated for a Utah-based nonprofit of the same name. To further complicate the situation, the gift was listed as going to yet another organization – a Kansas-based pro-life nonprofit called Justice for All – in the Trump Foundation’s 990.

The coincide, however, is quite staggering. Bondi ultimately dropped the investigation into Trump University, and has since endorsed the real-estate mogul and front-runner for the Republican presidential candidacy.

CREW Communications Director Jordan Libowitz remarked that “there’s so much going on here that the IRS really needs to investigate and find out where the truth was.”

Key Elements Group will cover the developments relating to Donald Trump and the political donation his foundation made as CREW continues to lobby for an investigation and the presidential race brings more candidate controversies to the national discourse.

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