Ky Sisson - "Ice Bucket Challenge": Don't Waste Water
Posted: 8/20/2014 6:10:00 PM EST

Scrolling through your Facebook or Twitter feed hasn't been the same in the last few weeks. 

Rich, poor, young, old, Dr. Dre, and your uncle you haven't seen in years have all been participating in the nationwide phenomena known as the "Ice Bucket Challenge." In the name of finding a cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease (also known as ALS), the "Ice Bucket Challenge" has raised $31.5 million in just over 3 weeks. The idea is simple: donate to the ALS Association or pour ice water on your head, challenge someone else to do the same, and post to social media.

Governor Jerry Brown of California was challenged by Sacramento mayor, Kevin Johnson and instead of taking on the challenge himself, he volunteered his Welsh corgi, Sutter. Ironically, the bucket of water is poured out in front of the California Capitol Building with what appears to be a water conservation sign in the background. Watch the video here.

The "Ice Bucket Challenge" has been scrutinized by critics in California where the state is experiencing the worst drought in recored history. The Long Beach Post estimates that 6 million gallons of water have been wasted on the challenge worldwide, but any water wasted in California is intolerable. State-mandated fines of $500 are in effect for those wasting water for any reason.

Many people don't understand that the challenge is meant to be a punishment for not donating to charity. Instead it has become an excuse to post a silly video on social media. 

Will Oremus of wrote:

"As for 'raising awareness,' few of the videos I’ve seen contain any substantive information about the disease, why the money is needed, or how it will be used. More than anything else, the ice bucket videos feel like an exercise in raising awareness of one’s own zaniness, altruism, and/or attractiveness in a wet T-shirt."

The 1.2 million "Ice Bucket" videos shared on Facebook show little knowledge of what ALS is (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) from their creators. They mostly consist of "Hi, my name is so-and-so and I challenge so-and-so." Giving a little education on the disease would at least justify those who are doing the challenge and not donating, which is what many younger people are doing. 

While there is probably people who do the challenge and donate to ALS research, the "Ice Bucket Challenge" is being called a ploy by those who claim to support a cause and aren't really doing anything. Some call it "slacktivism," a play-on-words for people who don't do much for the cause they are supporting (post a Facebook video, for example) and claim to be an activist for. 

Matt Vespa - REPORT: Fracking Doesn't Create Destructive Earthquakes
Posted: 8/20/2014 5:40:00 PM EST

The debate is over; fracking doesn’t cause destructive earthquakes. The highly non-controversial way of extracting natural gas, which has been used since 1947, has been a focal point of some absurd claims that they’re a threat to the environment (via Associated Press) [emphasis mine]:

Man-made earthquakes, a side effect of some high-tech energy drilling, cause less shaking and in general are about 16 times weaker than natural earthquakes with the same magnitude, a new federal study found.

People feeling the ground move from induced quakes — those that are not natural, but triggered by injections of wastewater deep underground— report significantly less shaking than those who experience more normal earthquakes of the same magnitude, according to a study by U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Susan Hough.

Fracking and natural gas exploration has been a huge issue for the environmentalists. They claim fracking contaminates water, which was disproven by the Environmental Protection Agency when they tested the water in Dimock, Pennsylvania in 2012. They said the water was safe to drink (emphasis mine):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today [July 25, 2012] that it has completed its sampling of private drinking water wells in Dimock, Pa. Data previously supplied to the agency by residents, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Cabot Oil and Gas Exploration had indicated the potential for elevated levels of water contaminants in wells, and following requests by residents EPA took steps to sample water in the area to ensure there were not elevated levels of contaminants. Based on the outcome of that sampling, EPA has determined that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action by the Agency.

Between January and June 2012, EPA sampled private drinking water wells serving 64 homes, including two rounds of sampling at four wells where EPA was delivering temporary water supplies as a precautionary step in response to prior data indicating the well water contained levels of contaminants that pose a health concern. At one of those wells EPA did find an elevated level of manganese in untreated well water. The two residences serviced by the well each have water treatment systems that can reduce manganese to levels that do not present a health concern.

As a result of the two rounds of sampling at these four wells, EPA has determined that it is no longer necessary to provide residents with alternative water. EPA is working with residents on the schedule to disconnect the alternate water sources provided by EPA.

Overall during the sampling in Dimock, EPA found hazardous substances, specifically arsenic, barium or manganese, all of which are also naturally occurring substances, in well water at five homes at levels that could present a health concern. In all cases the residents have now or will have their own treatment systems that can reduce concentrations of those hazardous substances to acceptable levels at the tap. EPA has provided the residents with all of their sampling results and has no further plans to conduct additional drinking water sampling in Dimock.

Dimock became the epicenter for the drinking water contamination hysteria thanks to Josh Fox’s 2010 documentary Gasland.

Right now, environmentalists and green energy advocates have to solve a few problems with their own pet projects, specifically in solar fields where 28,000 birds are bursting into flames over the intense heat emitted from the plants. Additionally, wind turbines are killing hundreds of thousands of migratory birds and turning nearly a million bats into burgers (via NRO):

California’s massive Ivanpah solar power plant can produce enough electricity for 140,000 households — but the environmental cost is nothing less than an avian slaughter.

Temperatures near the towers can reach up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, heat certainly sufficient to fry a fowl.

That’s a common occurrence, the AP continues; federal investigators saw a bird burn roughly every two minutes. Ivanpah owner BrightSource estimates that “about a thousand” die each year, and one environmental group says the plant kills up to 28,000 birds each year.

Ivanpah isn’t the only green darling with a lot of bird blood on its hands, either. The American Bird Conservancy estimates wind turbines slay 440,000 birds each year, and the an analyst writing in the Wildlife Society Bulletin says it’s closer to 573,000 — in addition to 888,000 bats.

So, does this mean we should all live in teepees? 

Ky Sisson - Low Approval Ratings Prompt More Obama Press Conferences
Posted: 8/20/2014 5:00:00 PM EST

President Obama has held more press conferences this year than all of 2013 in light of constant national and international turmoil that has plagued the president's second term. Republicans believe it is due to Obama's record-low approval rating, which according to  Real Clear Politics reached an average of 41.8 percent. 

For a president that has been criticized for being out of touch and hard to reach, Martha Joynt Kumar, a political science professor at Towson University, told  USA TODAY that Obama has held 16 press conferences up until July of this year, more than 2013, which totaled 14 appearances.

Kumar in  USA TODAY said:

"You need to have the public know who you are...That's an issue for him." 

The White House is quick to say that the trend is more about the issues and less about the president making a renewed PR stunt to slow his bleeding legacy.

Republican strategist Rich Galen told USA TODAY:

"They're looking for anything that can stop the slide...If you don't define yourself, your opponents will do it for you."

Even while on vacation, President Obama has made five press statements during his time at Martha's Vineyard. Earlier today, he spoke on the tragic beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS militants. 

Kevin Glass - Why It Matters That Obama Doesn't Hold Much Sway On Capitol Hill
Posted: 8/20/2014 4:00:00 PM EST

Many analysts subscribe to the theory that the Congressional GOP is the main source of all dysfunction on Capitol Hill. Their monolithic will to block progress, this theory goes, impedes legislation on Capitol Hill and there's really nothing anyone can do about it but ask constituents to apply pressure.

Vox's Ezra Klein writes that Capitol Hill Democrats' frustrations with President Obama are "ridiculous." This is in reference to a New York Times article that described those frustrations. While the NYT got multiple Democrats on the record with those complaints, Klein cites "a lot" of conversations he has with members of Congress, saying that all of them agree that their voting pattern has not been changed by President Obama's behavior.

Putting aside one obvious thing - no legislator wants to admit that their ideals that underlie their voting behavior is so shallow and malleable that a cup of coffee with POTUS will change it, especially to a member of the press - we could find a myriad of examples in which President Obama's lack of sway within his own party may have impeded legislative action on the Hill.

Just this year, Democrats on the Hill led action against a bipartisan piece of trade legislation that the White House was publicly in favor of. As the Financial Times reported, Sen. Sherrod Brown and other pro-labor Democrats helped block legislation sponsored by Max Baucus and Dave Camp for the Trade Promotion Authority.

Now, this is a relatively small-bore issue, and it might be that no amount of Obama politicking would have caused Democrats to back off their opposition to trade legislation. Democrats can be quite monolithic and uncompromising when it comes to free trade agreements. (Why, one might be surprised that Democrats are often just as monolithic and uncompromising as one thinks Republicans to be!) But it's not just here. President Obama's relationship with Harry Reid has proven to be fractious, and it's not hard to imagine a better working relationship resulting in Harry Reid himself working harder for Democratic comity. Obama politicking might not be enough to pass gun control measures (though some have said that a more shrewd White House might have found victory on extended unemployment benefits extension), but to point out that Republicans have a few pet issues on which they won't compromise is not to excuse the White House.

As Joe Manchin told the New York Times, sometimes a little introspection is a good thing. It might be possible that there is literally nothing President Obama could have done over the previous six years that would have resulted in a better working relationship and more of his pet legislation passed. But no amount of anonymous conversations that Klein has with unnamed legislators will change that legislators, by and large, do think Obama could do better.

Matt Vespa - Republicans Shift Gears On Obamacare Attack Ads
Posted: 8/20/2014 2:40:00 PM EST

Just as Democrats are shying away from “War on Women” tactics since American women see them as too divisive, Republicans are shifting away from attacking Obamacare directly in attack ads. Now, they’re pivoting towards the law’s impact on the economy (via Bloomberg):

The shift -- also taking place in competitive states such as Arkansas and Louisiana -- shows Republicans are easing off their strategy of criticizing Democrats over the Affordable Care Act now that many Americans are benefiting from the law and the measure is unlikely to be repealed.

“The Republican Party is realizing you can’t really hang your hat on it,” said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. “It just isn’t the kind of issue it was.”

In April, anti-Obamacare advertising dwarfed all other spots in North Carolina. It accounted for 3,061, or 54 percent, of the 5,704 top five issue ads in North Carolina, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. By July, the numbers had reversed, with anti-Obamacare ads accounting for 971, or 27 percent, of the top issue ads, and the budget, government spending, jobs and unemployment accounting for 2,608, or 72 percent, of such ads, CMAG data show

It is a recognition that there’s more going on in this state and also nationally than just frustration over Obamacare,” said Jordan Shaw, Tillis’s campaign manager. “We have never had an approach to make this campaign all about the Affordable Care Act. You can’t have a conversation about Obamacare without talking about its impact on the economy.”

The Republican approach, long defined by a “repeal and replace” mantra, is also challenged by a policy void, said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “You can’t really repeal it without creating a mess,” she said, “and the problem is they’re not entirely sure what to replace it with.”

The reason for pivoting on the Obamacare ads could be Gallup noting that “the rate of uninsured people has dropped in all except five states. Two critical states, Arkansas and Kentucky, had the biggest declines. In Arkansas, the rate of people without health insurance fell from 22.5 percent in 2013 to 12.4 percent in mid-2014,” according to Bloomberg.

As more people enroll under the Affordable Care Act, the harder it’ll be for conservatives to campaign against Obamacare. Whether we like it or nor, the larger electorate will see these ads as Republican attempts to take away their health care. That problem will be magnified once more Americans are enrolled under the ACA by 2016. Will our 2016 GOP nominee really campaign on a platform that seeks to take away insurance from millions of Americans–or at least that’s how the media will frame it? If that’s the case, Election Day 2016 will be a short night, with a Democrat back in the White House.

Yet, that doesn’t mean conservatives should just stop fighting Obamacare legally on what are legitimate constitutional issues. The second front in that war is having a replacement plan; something to tell voters besides “repeal it!”

Avik Roy released his white paper of the subject last week. It’s worth a read. But, Republicans have had alternatives to fix our health care system since the Clinton administration. Chris Conover at Forbes provided a history of Republican health care alternatives last summer, most notably Bushcare. 

In 2007, President Bush had a “reform plan that would have replaced the current tax exclusion for employer-provided coverage with standard tax deductions for all individuals and families,” Conover wrote. “The Bush plan called for a tax deduction that would have applied to payroll taxes as well as income taxes. Moreover, if one were worried about non-filers, the subsidy could easily have instead been structured as a refundable tax credit in which case even those without any income taxes would have gotten an additional amount.”

If Democrats were willing to work with Republicans back in the day, the reward could’ve been reducing the number of uninsured Americans by 65%, compared to Obamacare’s 45% when the law is fully-implemented by 2016. Oh, and the Bush plan had no mandate.

Right now, Republicans could continue to bash the president’s signature domestic achievement; the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is still having trouble getting the Open Payments database off the ground. But what will get independents to tilt towards the right come Election Day is focusing on the law's impact on jobs and the economy, according to Republican pollster Whit Ayers. It’ll probably get even better once Republicans reach a consensus on how to replace Obamacare.  There's plenty of ideas out there.

Daniel Doherty - Obama: “No God Would Stand For What [ISIL] Did Yesterday”
Posted: 8/20/2014 2:05:00 PM EST

Speaking from Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, President Obama delivered a somber yet moving speech eulogizing the life of the late American journalist James Wright Foley, who U.S. intelligence officials confirmed today was beheaded by ISIL.

“Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the civilized world,” the president said before eviscerating the evil and gruesome tactics of his killers.

“Let’s be clear about ISIL,” he said. “They have rampaged across cities and villages killing innocent civilians.”

“They’ve murdered Muslims [by] the thousands,” he continued. “They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes whenever they can.”

He also noted that ISIL massacres, rapes, tortures, and even enslaves their victims -- describing their ideology as both “bankrupt” and of no “value to human beings.”

“ISIL speaks for no religion,” he said. “No God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day.”

Curiously, the president didn’t address how the U.S. would fight this growing terrorist threat. He did say, however, that the U.S. has no illusions about the dangers ISIL poses to the West and civilized societies everywhere.

“We will continue to confront this hateful terrorism,” he said. “We will do everything we can to protect our people and the timeless values we stand for.”

Still, the president didn’t take any questions from reporters, nor comment on the fact that an American journalist is almost certainly still being held prisoner by ISIL.

Instead, after reading his prepared remarks, he went "straight to the golf course."

Editor's note: This post has been updated.

Sarah Jean Seman - Who Was Journalist James Wright Foley?
Posted: 8/20/2014 12:40:00 PM EST

The Islamic terrorist group ISIS boorishly murdered American freelance photojournalist  James Wright Foley, decapitating him on camera in an attempt to shock the United States and President Obama into military stagnance in Iraq. Foley, a native of New Hampshire, lost his life to the very type of primitive and sadistic people he was attempting to expose.

This was not the first time Foley had been captured while working in the Islamic world. He was  abducted previously in 2011 by Qaddafi loyalists and held in Libya. After 45 days, he was released and sent a letter to his alma mater, Marquette University, a Roman Catholic institution in Wisconsin. He thanked the school for challenging him to “do more and be better.” After taking a volunteer trip to South Dakota and Mississippi with Marquette, Foley said he realized he was a “sheltered kid and the world had real problems.” 

During his imprisonment, Foley wrote that he prayed every day and even said prayers out loud with his imprisoned colleague, Clare. Here is a portion of the letter:

One night, 18 days into our captivity, some guards brought me out of the cell. In the hall I saw Manu, another colleague, for the first time in a week. We were haggard but overjoyed to see each other. Upstairs in the warden’s office, a distinguished man in a suit stood and said, “We felt you might want to call your families.”

I said a final prayer and dialed the number. My mom answered the phone. “Mom, Mom, it’s me, Jim.”

“Jimmy, where are you?”

“I’m still in Libya, Mom. I’m sorry about this. So sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, Jim,” she pleaded. “Oh, Daddy just left. Oh … He so wants to talk to you.

How are you, Jim?” I told her I was being fed, that I was getting the best bed and being treated like a guest.

“Are they making you say these things, Jim?”

“No, the Libyans are beautiful people,” I told her. “I’ve been praying for you to know that I’m OK,” I said. “Haven’t you felt my prayers?”

“Oh, Jimmy, so many people are praying for you. All your friends, Donnie, Michael Joyce, Dan Hanrahan, Suree, Tom Durkin, Sarah Fang have been calling. Your brother Michael loves you so much.” She started to cry. “The Turkish embassy is trying to see you and also Human Rights Watch. Did you see them?” I said I hadn’t.

“They’re having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don’t you feel our prayers?” she asked.

“I do, Mom, I feel them,” and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat.

The official made a motion. I started to say goodbye. Mom started to cry. “Mom, I’m strong. I’m OK. I should be home by Katie’s graduation,” which was a month away.

“We love you, Jim!” she said. Then I hung up.

I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone.

James Foley chose to continue exposing the problems in the Islamic world after his initial release and was  captured again in Syria in November 2012. The Committee to Protect Journalists began a petition for his freedom after his second abduction. Sixty-six journalists have died covering the conflict in Syria and seven have been murdered, according to CPJ’s site. It is the most dangerous country for the media. 

In a Facebook post Tuesday,  Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, said she has never been more proud of her son:

We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.

We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.

We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.

President Obama was briefed about Foley’s murder while flying back on Air Force One to his vacation spot at Martha’s Vineyard. He is expected to address Foley’s death during a press conference at 12:45 PM EST Wednesday. 

Daniel Doherty - FBI: We Think the Foley Video Might Be Genuine
Posted: 8/20/2014 12:20:00 PM EST

The video in question has already been taken down from YouTube. Nevertheless, after analyzing and appraising its authenticity, the FBI has reportedly reached this tragic conclusion: it’s real.

Reuters has the details:

The FBI believes the Islamic State video purporting to show the beheading of American journalist James Foley is authentic, GlobalPost reported on Wednesday.

"The FBI on Wednesday morning told the Foley family they believe the video is authentic," according to GlobalPost, a Boston-based online publication that employed Foley as a freelancer.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who is on vacation on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard, is likely to comment on the video later in the day, a U.S. official told Reuters.

U.S. authorities had previously said they were trying to verify the contents of the video, which was released on Tuesday.

Remember, we haven’t received any official confirmation that the man executed in the video is James Foley. But if the FBI is supposedly already telling Foley’s family the rumors are true, that’s an ominous sign. Presumably, too, when the president updates the nation today at 12:45 PM EST (or, perhaps more realistically, 1:15 PM or later) we’ll know more about what happened.

Sit tight for our write-up.

UPDATE: U.S. intelligence has confirmed the video is genuine.

Christine Rousselle - Contrast: David Cameron Suspends Vacation Over Foley Killing; Obama Heads Back To Vineyard
Posted: 8/20/2014 12:10:00 PM EST

Yesterday, a video depicting the beheading of American journalist James Wright Foley was posted on YouTube. The jihadist in the video spoke with a London accent, prompting questions about whether the man was in fact a British national.

In response to these questions, British Prime Minister David Cameron suspended his vacation and vowed to get to the bottom of the situation. Obama, on the other hand, returned to Martha's Vineyard late Tuesday evening to rejoin his family on vacation. A statement was released through a spokesman late last night that said Obama was "appalled" by the gruesome beheading.


The Prime Minister has broken off his holiday in Cornwall after just a day, having previously said that he would return "immediately" if the situation in Iraq deteriorated.

He made the announcement after Philip Hammond said that it appeared that the Islamic State extremist who beheaded Mr Foley is British.


President Obama went back to his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard Tuesday evening following less than 48 hours in Washington, leaving people puzzled over why he came back in the first place.

Obama’s two days in Washington were mostly quiet, and concluded with the president receiving his daily national security briefing in the morning, and joining Vice President Biden to huddle with members of his economic team in the afternoon.

Administration officials have insisted for weeks that the president just wanted to return to the White House for a series of meetings, but the explanation was met with a healthy dose of skepticism, since Obama rarely interrupts his vacations.

This is unacceptable behavior from the president, and he should look to Cameron for guidance on how to handle a situation like this. It isn't even confirmed that the man in question is British (for all we know, he could have been taught English by a Londoner or is a heck of an impressionist), yet Cameron recognized the gravity of the situation and did the appropriate thing by suspending his vacation.

It's no wonder ISIS thinks they can walk all over us.

Cortney O'Brien - McDonnell's Sister-in-Law Calls His Wife A "Vitamin Nut" During Corruption Trial
Posted: 8/20/2014 11:30:00 AM EST

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's (R) corruption trial became a testy family affair Tuesday when his sister-in-law had nothing but harsh words for her brother's wife. The former First Family has been charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from business executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for promoting his company, Star Scientific, which sells dietary supplements, and offering him access to the governor's office. On the witness stand this week, McDonnell's sister tried to  place the blame for the unethical relationship on her sister-in-law:

“There are two sides to Maureen,” she testified. “You’re not sure which one you’re going to get — which one will show up.”

One, she said, was “very sweet, very tender.” She recalled how the former first lady sat with her husband’s mother as she lay dying, rubbing lotion on the elderly woman’s legs and head.

But, Maureen C. McDonnell added: “She could be very manipulative. She could be very unpredictable. She could be very deceptive.”

McDonnell's sister also referred to his wife as a "vitamin nut," suggesting she is the likely culprit in wanting to promote Williams' products. She isn't the only who had an unflattering description of the First Lady. On Monday, one of Governor McDonnell's longtime aides accused his wife of being so "diva-ish" that her staff once threatened to quit. 

So, why is McDonnell's defense team employing a strategy that is so critical of his spouse? Well, if they make the case that McDonnell was simply a victim of his wife promoting Williams' company behind his back, it could earn him some sympathy from the jury.

Whether or not the jury takes the bait remains to be seen. Until then, this is one Family Feud that will not end in cheers from a studio audience.