American Insights Just another site Wed, 19 Aug 2015 16:44:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 One party system: What total Republican control of a state really means Wed, 19 Aug 2015 10:18:16 +0000
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The U.S. Constitution gives the states almost total control over how Americans live and vote. Republicans appear to have grasped the importance of this, but most Democrats have not. Since losing the White House and Congress in 2008, the GOP has focused time, money and talent on gaining control of state governments.

Their efforts have paid off. In the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, older, white and upper-income voters, including many Tea Party supporters, turned out in force, while Democratic constituencies, including many young and minority voters, stayed home. The result is that Republicans control both the governor’s mansion and legislature in 24 states, 70 of the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers, both chambers in 30 states, plus Nebraska’s single chamber, and 31 governor’s mansions.

Nearly 90 percent of the Republicans in the House of Representatives are on the far right of the conservative spectrum, described by Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution as “a radical insurgency -- ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited policy regime [and] scornful of compromise.”

This is also true of GOP state legislators. Republicans hold super-majorities in many states and have wasted no time in adopting radical elements of the Republican agenda.  What they’ve done so far provides a telling picture of what a red America could look like.

North Carolina is a poster child for how far a red state can go. Though its voters are almost evenly divided between the two parties, the Republicans have overwhelming majorities in the state legislative chambers, and the party has dominated the congressional delegation since the 2011 redistricting. Before 2010, the state’s congressional delegation was made up of eight Democrats and five Republicans. In the 2012 North Carolina congressional races, Democrats won more votes than the Republicans -- 50 percent to 48.9. Yet gerrymandering gave the GOP nine seats and the Democrats four. Republicans today hold 10 House seats, though they won only 55 percent of the 2014 congressional vote. The current state legislative numbers are similarly disproportionate: 74-45 in the house and 34-16 in the senate.


U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, May 20, 2009. REUTERS/Molly Riley

In 2011, when the Republicans took over in North Carolina, they soon began to implement a conservative agenda. They loosened gun rules, limited citizens’ rights to bring civil lawsuits and cut funds for early-childhood education programs. After a state panel warned of rising sea levels from global warming in 2012, the legislature banned any use of climate-change science in setting coastal policy

In 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, state Republicans immediately introduced and passed a massive voter suppression law -- it has 20 provisions, 19 of which make it harder to vote. The law has since been challenged, and a trial has just concluded.

In that same session, North Carolina reduced unemployment benefits, cut back government regulations, resumed executions and allowed concealed handguns in bars and restaurants. It also repealed the Racial Justice Act, which allowed convicted killers to be spared the death penalty if they could prove racial bias.

Meanwhile, North Carolina ended its earned-income tax credit, extended tax breaks for wealthy taxpayers and replaced its progressive income tax with a 5.75 percent flat tax.  Low-income earners now pay at the same rate as multimillionaires.

The North Carolina GOP has also revised local election rules in some of the state’s few Democratic pockets in ways that could increase GOP power. One measure, for example, banned Greensboro from changing council districts without the permission of the state legislature. All other North Carolina cities and towns don’t need such permission. A federal court struck down the law, ruling it had “no rational basis.”

Customers view semi automatic guns on display at a gun shop in Los Angeles California

Customers view semi-automatic guns on display at a gun shop in Los Angeles, California, December 19, 2012. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Local autonomy has been undermined in Pennsylvania as well. More than 100 Pennsylvania cities and towns have adopted their own gun control laws. Some, for example, banned guns from parks and other public areas, or limited gun ownership for people guilty of domestic violence.

These laws could disappear, however. Under state law, any gun-rights group to which a Pennsylvania resident belongs can now challenge the local ordinances. The National Rifle Association has sued many of these cities and small towns. Given budgetary constraints, few of these municipalities dared risk losing such a suit, with potentially millions in legal fees and other possible costs. So some have repealed their laws and ordinances.

The Tennessee legislature has also overridden local gun laws. In April, Tennessee authorized guns in parks, which overrode local bans and drew sharp criticism from the Nashville mayor. April was also the month when the NRA held its annual meeting in Nashville.

Meanwhile, abortion has been another prime target of GOP-controlled state houses. Many legislatures have focused on obstructing a woman’s right to an abortion. Roughly 267 abortion restrictions have been imposed in 31 states since 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

States increasingly require long waiting periods, repeated visits before a procedure and lectures by doctors. Stringent new medical regulations require clinics to be virtual mini-hospitals; many have been forced to close. In some parts of the country, a women’s constitutional right to an abortion has been smothered under these new laws.

An abortion protester moves her sign out of the street in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston, Massachusetts

An abortion protester moves her sign out of the street in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, June 28, 2014. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

But new demands continue to appear. In April, Kansas banned dilation and evacuation, the second-trimester procedure recommended by the World Health Organization as the safest, most effective procedure and used in about 96 percent of the 140,000 annual second-trimester procedures.A Kansas state judge has temporarily blocked the law as probably unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma followed Kansas a few weeks later, and similar bills are pending in Missouri and South Carolina. The Supreme Court had relied on the ready availability of this method when it upheld a ban on a different procedure. Thirteen states have banned all abortions after 20 weeks and allow no exception even when the woman’s health is at risk. The Supreme Court has approved abortions up to 24 weeks and even later for health reasons.

Some states have tried other approaches. Medical abortion methods, like the RU-486 procedure, for example, require two separate pills. Arkansas and Arizona have both decided doctors must tell women that this procedure can be stopped mid-treatment by injecting the progesterone hormone after the first pill. This advice is based on a test involving six patients -- and succeeded in only four. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, this is “not supported by scientific evidence and not recommended.”

Other new measures involve longer waiting periods. The Supreme Court has allowed a 24-hour wait before an abortion, and about 12 states now require that. But in 2011, South Dakota imposed a 72-hour wait, and now Utah, Missouri, Oklahoma and North Carolina have done the same.

This extended waiting period may well be unconstitutional -- the Supreme Court described even a 24-hour delay as “troubling.” In any case, it can impose a heavy burden on women. Because most red states have fewer abortion clinics, longer waits can increase the length and cost of hotel stays and meals, as well as a possible greater loss of wages and more time away from family. These costs can be crippling because 69 percent of the women who seek an abortion are poor.

In Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and other red states, GOP governors and legislators are also moving to defund Planned Parenthood. They are citing secret videos shot and edited by a longtime antiabortion rights group that purport to show that the organization sells fetal tissue for profit. This is untrue.

Working people, whether in or out of unions, are also facing tougher times under GOP governments. Two years ago, North Carolina prohibited city and county governments from establishing paid sick leave or living-wage requirements for government contractors. A movement in a half-dozen red states is seeking to repeal longstanding laws requiring contractors to pay the locally prevailing wage on public construction projects.

Law enforcement keep protesters at a distance outside the Assembly Chambers as lawmakers meet in Madison

Wisconsin law enforcement officers block stairways to protesters in the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, March 10, 2011. REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson

Wisconsin, which eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public employees a few years ago, and Michigan have both passed right-to-work laws, which allow employees covered by a collective-bargaining unit not to pay union dues. GOP presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich pushed through legislation to end public-employee bargaining rights in 2011, but a referendum overturned the law.

Since 2010, other red states have cut income taxes for upper-income earners, assuring voters that this would produce prosperity for all. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s tax cuts produced a budget shortfall of more than $442 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. His promised tens of thousands of new jobs and population increases never materialized.

Rather than repeal some of the tax cuts, however, Brownback and the legislature have increased sales and excise taxes, and cut education funding by $51 million. Though the Kansas Supreme Court has found the state’s current education expenditure constitutionally inadequate,Brownback still wants to cut upper-income taxes in his “march to zero” income taxes.

Louisiana faces much the same problem. The legislature cut taxes for upper-income earners by $700 million and is now facing a $1.6 billion deficit. Despite this, Governor Bobby Jindal, like Brownback, wants to make still more upper-income tax cuts. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s tax-cut prosperity has also never materialized, leaving that state budget with a $541 million hole to make up.  

Financing government through sales and excise taxes falls particularly hard on the poor, for such taxes consume a far larger portion of their income. In Kansas, for example, the bottom 20 percent pay an average of 11.17 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the top 1 percent pay just 3.6 percent. Idaho, Maine and Ohio are also considering sales-tax increases, while Georgia and Mississippi aim to eliminate income taxes entirely and rely only on sales and similar taxes. 

Children are often the chief victims of these policies. In Kansas, a mass teacher exodus has left more than 700 teaching jobs unfilled. North Carolina cut 10,000 teachers and teaching assistants in the state’s public schools, and eliminated preschool for 30,000 children.

In addition, state universities have also become a prime target for red-state governors. Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett cut state university funding by 20 percent. Walker cut Wisconsin's university system by $250 million, and Brownback cut Kansas universities by $16 million.

So, this is what red America looks like today. Given the many legislative chambers Republicans now control and the top-heavy GOP margins, this is almost certainly not going to change soon. At least not until after the 2020 elections, when a new Census can translate into redistricting across the nation.

Republicans’ current state-level margins are so large, however, that they may survive substantial losses even if the Democrats do well in the 2020 state elections. Should that happen, the GOP could again be able to oversee the 2021 redistricting in the states they control.

Yet demographics in some states are changing. A few -- including North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Nevada and Virginia -- could turn purple or even solidly blue in the 2020 election. But that would require voters who are dismayed at what is happening to begin this process by turning out heavily in the 2018 mid-term elections.

The odds of this happening seem slim. Though there is an awareness of the problem among some in the party and among some wealthy donors, most Democratic politicians and voters seem uninterested in who controls the states. Remarkably, that goes for the national party leaders as well.

Unless this changes radically, what the Republicans have done in the past five years may be just a prelude to what’s ahead.

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American Insights: E-cigarettes the choice of a new – richer – generation Wed, 10 Jun 2015 18:44:15 +0000 Bodie Hultz with Vape Affliction, uses a trash can to create rings of vapor at the Vape Summit 3 in Las Vegas, NV

Bodie Hultz with Vape Affliction, uses a trash can to create rings of vapor at the Vape Summit 3 in Las Vegas, Nevada May 2, 2015. REUTERS/David Becker

Walk down the street these days and it’s not uncommon to pass near a fog of something that appears to be smoke coming from someone’s nose and mouth.

Often, it’s not actually smoke but the vapor of an electronic cigarette or a nicotine vaporizer. In fact, the 10 percent of adults say they e-smoke is now approaching the 19 percent of adults who say they smoke tobacco cigarettes, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. Of course there is a lot of overlap between the two groups, as tobacco smokers supplement their nicotine habit when they’d rather not light up, or can’t because it’s illegal.

This is is especially true among the crowd under 40:

This is clearly a market that is exploding and attracting a highly desirable demographic. Unlike traditional smokers, who tend to make less money, e-smoking rates rise as income rises:

Less than

Between $25,000 and $50,000

Between $50,000 and $75,000

More than

And this growth has largely occurred within the last year.

Of course, it remains to be seen if e-smoking is significantly safer than burning tobacco, but for now America’s nicotine fiends are increasingly turning to vapor, even if they are often doing it to augment smoke. In fact, the percent of Americans using tobacco or e-smoking is nearly 25 percent, up from 19 percent for tobacco alone:

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Twitter’s luffing sales also reflected in user doldrums Tue, 12 May 2015 18:33:28 +0000 Twitter’s stock took a pounding last week because of weaker-than-expected earnings and a warning from the company about the next quarter. But it should not be a great surprise, given the recent Reuters/Ipsos poll on social media use.

There is no doubt that Twitter remains a wildly popular service, especially among the media, but it remains well behind Facebook and now other social media services, such as Instagram and Snapchat, are gaining ground.

Here we see how Twitter’s use among American’s has barely risen:


And how Instagram has grown:

In polling conducted this week and last, about three quarters of Americans say they have a Facebook account and use it at least occasionally. If anything, Facebook use is stronger today than it was in the autumn of 2013, the last time these questions were asked. By contrast, just 25 percent of Americas say that of Twitter, about the same as in 2013. And Instagram is at about the same percentage as Twitter, growing from the teens 18 months ago. Snapchat now sits at about 15 percentage points, about double the previous rate.

Every way it’s sliced, Facebook remains far-and-away the most dominant social media service, with Twitter a distant second, including the 18- to 29-year-old crowd. Nine out of 10 in that group use Facebook, intermingling with their grand parents and parents. Four out of ten use Instagram and Twitter and three out of 10 use Snapchat.

Look at Facebook in that age group over time:

And now Twitter:

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Fake newscaster, real credibility: Jon Stewart stands at the peak of American punditry poll Thu, 07 May 2015 00:46:58 +0000 As Jon Stewart winds down his 19-year stint as host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, he and Stephen Colbert sit at the peak of American punditry despite their left-leaning view of life, the universe and everything.

In an era of diffused voices and divided politics, they are well known, widely admired, and speak to Americans in ways that no one else does, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.

No one on the right of the political spectrum comes close; not Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly. And few others else cross political lines on the left, certainly not John Oliver or Bill Maher.

About 40 percent of Republicans say Jon Stewart shares their world view, at least some of the time. That’s just about 10 percentage points less than the country as a whole:


Among Republicans:

But beyond Stewart and Colbert, the former Comedy Central host, punditry largely appeals to the expected audience.

Consider O’Reilly. In some ways, he has been Stewart’s foil in recent years. His Fox News program The O’Reilly Factor is among the top-rated shows on television. And he is largely admired by Republicans. But beyond the GOP, only a third admire him:

Among non-Republicans:

In fact, among the 10 pundits the poll tracked (Stewart, Colbert, Maher, John Oliver, Rachel Maddow, O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and Rush Limbaugh), those on the right of the political spectrum seem to have the hardest time gaining traction outside their core audience.

O’Reilly’s “admiration” rating, at 36 percent, was fifth-highest but tops among conservatives. Among the liberal crowd, only Rachel Maddow, at 32 percent, was lower. At the bottom, Rush Limbaugh’s score was just 25 percent, though he scored 52 percent among Republicans.

It should also be noted that all but Maddow on the left are comedians at heart. None of the conservatives are as trained in telling an intentional joke.

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Americans think college athletes should be paid, but how much? Thu, 30 Apr 2015 18:40:18 +0000 Starting on Thursday, the NFL began picking the next collection of professional football players. A handful will be offered money that could translate into generational wealth. And many of the 250 or so drafted players will go from being athletic paupers to a nice salary, to say the least.

Yet the odds are long (no more than 2 in 100) that a collegiate footballer will ever see a such payday, according to the NCAA. Sure, theoretically, they are offered a free education from the university for which they play though many though that seems a debatable fact, given the graduation rate for players from major schools is 10-25 percentage points below other male students, according to the College Sport Research Institute.

All the while, the universities, conferences, and National Collegiate Athletic Association make billions on the sport. Yet the players cannot profit from their names or likeness. They can’t take a job that pays them more than $2,000 a year.

Americans seem to believe that’s fundamentally unfair, though they are reluctant to turn collegiate football into a professional league, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. About 53 percent believe college football players should be paid a small salary for playing the game. Additionally, support is about the same for allowing players to sell their autographs and their likeness.


Conversely, there is tepid support, about 30 percent, for allowing athletes to negotiate salaries or even having them paid a salary comparable to other minor-league sports, such as baseball.

To explore more on the issue, go here:!search/amateurs or pros

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Not that kind of libertarian: Poll shows fondness for government programs Thu, 30 Apr 2015 16:47:03 +0000 Is libertarianism a growing trend or a red herring?


As this Reuters graphic shows, a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted earlier this month found that one in five Americans self-identify as libertarian, with percentages skewing higher the younger the cohort. One in three respondents aged 18-29 consider themselves libertarian, but just 12 percent of those 60 or older similarly self-identify. Additionally, 25 percent of independents consider themselves libertarian, a rate considerably higher than that of either major party.

What's murkier is how closely libertarian self-identification tracks to actual small government initiatives. Reuters's Amanda Becker writes that many who claim to dislike big government still support specific middle class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, and to a lesser degree, programs for the poor, like food stamps and Medicaid.

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The Supremes and gay marriage Wed, 29 Apr 2015 16:53:17 +0000 If the Supreme Court rules against gay marriage at this point, it could potentially invalidate thousands of same sex-unions across 37 states. Such a decision would also show just how far behind the rest of the country the court is on the issue.

But they could and it would be a decision in direct contraction to most American’s view, with the exception the one-third of adults who identify themselves as Republicans. In that community, nearly 60 percent oppose gay marriage according to Reuters/Ipsos polling and they would presumably cheer on the court if it struck down gay marriage:

But the numbers entirely flip for the rest of Americans. For Democrats, independents and all others, only 29 percent oppose same-sex marriage, while about 60 percent support it:

And the same holds up for all age groups, except those over 60.

People also want the Supreme Court to rule that a marriage in one state must be recognized in all states.

Beyond that, they want government officials to register gay marriages regardless of an official’s personal religious beliefs:

So now, let’s assume the court stands with the gay marriage movement. What do all those who oppose gay marriage do when invited to a loved one’s homosexual union? It appears they’ll be heading off to the party, regardless of the party they vote for.

So even if Republican presidential candidates aren’t sure if they will toast the bride and bride or groom and groom, it seems like the people who will vote for them will.
Among Republicans:

And everyone else:

Reuters/Ipsos has been polling of the issue of gay marriage for more than two years. To explore additional questions and how opinions have changed over time, go here:!search/gay%20marriage

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Price of preventing one crime: between $700 – $1,700 Tue, 21 Apr 2015 00:52:20 +0000
Security cameras are seen on a building at the Bund in front of the financial district of Pudong in Shanghai

Security cameras are seen on a building at the Bund in front of the financial district of Pudong in Shanghai March 6, 2015. REUTERS/Aly Song

In the United States and other countries, surveillance cameras have become a popular approach to deterring crime. But do they really work?

According to my research: sometimes.

It’s difficult to determine cause and effect when looking at the issue of surveillance cameras. Cameras are often installed in areas where bad behavior has already occurred, or simultaneous with other crime-fighting measures, like hiring more police officers.

I recently studied the effects of surveillance cameras inside soccer stadiums, where in Sweden and other European countries, fan behavior sometimes becomes violent, and games are occasionally stopped due to unruly behavior. The police typically combat bad behavior, but more recently stadium owners have also relied on surveillance cameras.

Owners of Swedish soccer stadiums installed cameras in the grandstands throughout 2000 and 2001. In line with Swedish law, they used signs to identify the cameras. By comparing stadium incident reports from before and after the cameras were installed, I could estimate the effect of the cameras on unruly behavior such as the throwing of coins, bottles, lighters, firecrackers or batteries. (At these stadiums, neither the owners nor local governments took additional crime-fighting measures at the time that they installed the cameras, so I could isolate the effect of the cameras.)


I found that stadiums with cameras experienced approximately 65 percent fewer incidents than other stadiums. My findings also challenged the commonly-held belief that if crime is reduced in one area, it may be displaced to other areas. In stadiums outfitted with cameras, unruly behavior did not spill over to parking lots and other nearby areas. By dividing the overall cost of purchasing and installing cameras by the number of reduced crimes, I estimated that the cost of avoiding one incident was roughly $700.

In another related study, I evaluated the effects of cameras on crime in the Stockholm subway system. From 2006 to 2008, the Stockholm Public Transit Authority installed cameras in all 100 stations, sequentially. By comparing crime data from different stations, I found that cameras deterred pickpocketing and robbery in the city to a large extent: stations outfitted with cameras saw 20 percent fewer pickpocketing incidents and 60 percent fewer robberies.

However, the cameras had no effect on assaults and drug-related crime, an outcome I attribute to the fact that assaults in places like the subway are less planned than pickpocketing, for example. People who commit drug-related crimes may be under the influence of drugs, and therefore not as cautious.

Crime in the suburban stations was also unaffected by cameras, perhaps because those stations are farther away from police stations, so perpetrators have more time to flee the scene. I estimated that the average cost of avoiding one crime -- the total monetary cost of buying and installing all of the cameras, divided by the number of avoided crimes -- was approximately $1,700.

My finding that cameras can deter crime within specific, well-defined areas is backed up by other research, including a 2008 study showing that cameras on San Francisco street corners deterred property crime close to the location of the cameras by approximately 20 percent. That number is similar to what I learned about the Stockholm subway.

Whether the benefits of surveillance cameras justify their costs -- financially, and in terms of the intrusion on privacy -- is still an open question. But a benefit does, indeed, exist. People are less likely to commit certain crimes when they know they’re being watched.

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Americans see Putin as only slightly more imminent threat than Obama Mon, 30 Mar 2015 10:15:46 +0000
A huge video screen on Sword Beach shows U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin as they arrive for the International 70th D-Day Commemoration Ceremony in Ouistreham

A huge video screen on Sword Beach shows U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin as they arrive for the International 70th D-Day Commemoration Ceremony in Ouistreham June 6, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

People in the United States feel under threat, both from beyond our borders and within them. In fact, when asked about both U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was a pretty darn close call -- 20 percent saw Putin as an imminent threat compared to 18 percent who said the same about Obama.

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll asked more than 3,000 Americans what they see as some of the biggest threats to themselves and the country. You can slice and dice the information in literally hundreds of different ways here. People were shown a range of potential threats and then asked to rate how dangerous they were with one being no threat and five meaning the threat is imminent.

I think it’s safe to say that a national security expert might not agree with the public’s choices.

More people fear Boko Haram, a scary but ragged Islamic radical group in Nigeria that might have trouble paying for plane tickets to the United States, than Russia, which recently invaded a major European country. And a whopping 34 percent consider Kim Jong-un, the leader of impoverished North Korea, an imminent threat. Kim may have a couple of nukes, but otherwise his nation is a basket case, so poor that it relies on international aid to feed itself. Though considering how fast Sony Pictures pulled “The Interview” from theaters, I guess the public’s not alone in being afraid of the young man with the unique hairstyle.

Perhaps the most disturbing part, however, is how Americans view each other, simply because of the political party they favor. Thirteen percent of us see the Republican and Democratic parties as an imminent threat. That’s the same number who think the Chinese might be. Quick reality check: neither political party is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, nor could they cripple us economically in an afternoon. Nor has either party independently building an army that may soon be able to rival that of the United States -- that we know of, anyway.

It’s also interesting to see that both sides of the political aisle are worried about themselves: 38 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of Republicans think their own party is something of a threat. Politics makes for strange bedfellows, but when you're scared of the party you've gotten into bed with, something seems amiss.

Meanwhile, the world is certainly worried about the United States. In a Gallup survey of people in 65 countries, about one quarter named the United States as the greatest threat to world peace. Maybe that should not be so surprising, as only about half of Americans know which country was the only one to ever drop a nuclear bomb.

But the Reuters/Ipsos survey didn’t limit itself to "things that are imminent threats.” It also asked about "people who are imminent threats.”

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri -- the late Osama bin Laden’s replacement -- came in as number one, which makes sense since al Qaeda is the only Islamic militant group to successfully strike inside the United States.

What made less sense is that Jihadi John, Islamic State’s on-camera executioner, who is largely a media creation, right down to his name, is seen as an imminent threat by 38 percent of respondents. The man himself is somewhere in Syria or Iraq and isn’t even willing to show his face to the public, though he’s proud to show his bloody work.

The final survey category asked Americans which beliefs, movements, trends or phenomena pose a threat. While millions of people are trapped in minimum-wage, part-time jobs that offer little hope of every leading to a better life, terrorism is still considered threat number one, pulling in an impressive 55 percent. (Nine percent of people say they’re not sure what the top threat is, and that’s fair enough since Reuters threw a buffet of scary choices at them).

The number two perceived threat is cyber attacks and cyber spying. It’s not clear from the questions whether people are more afraid of cyber snooping from overseas or by the National Security Agency here at home.

Should we be surprised that 25 percent of respondents see Islam as an imminent threat? Only 24 percent see global warming -- a scientific certainty that will change the way everyone on the planet lives, and not for better -- the same way.

But threats come and go in the public’s mind as events change, and perhaps the list reflects what people are hearing as much as what they’re thinking.

Syria's Bashar al-Assad used to rank high in people’s imaginations. Only 17 percent see him as a threat now, but a year and half ago, Secretary of State John Kerry put him on a list he apparently keeps that also includes Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein. Today, despite being more alive than Hitler or Saddam, Assad is just “meh” to most of us.

Lower on the list of beliefs and movements we feel are imminent threats sit Judaism and Christianity (7 and 6 percent, respectively), thus pulling in all three major Western religions. Still, many Americans feel atheism is an even bigger threat -- 12 percent.

Depressingly, people see gay rights (12 percent) and women's rights (5 percent) as imminent threats. We haven’t come such a long way, baby.

We're scared here in the home of the brave. We see danger everywhere, even viewing the religious beliefs of our neighbors and the expansion of basic rights to all Americans as imminent threats. There are real bad guys out there, monsters who would do us harm. But far too many of these survey results suggest we are also very scared of each other. Now that is a real threat.

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What Hillary Clinton’s email, Benghazi troubles have in common with the living dead Mon, 16 Mar 2015 04:10:57 +0000
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is silhouetted by a stage light as she speaks at the University of the Western Cape about the U.S.-South Africa partnership, in Cape Town

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton silhouetted by a stage light as she speaks at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, August 8, 2012. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email trouble has its hands around the neck of her planned presidential run. The question is whether someone can figure out how to stop it before it kills her ambitions. The answer is that it’s going to be a close call.

Nine months ago, when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives created the Select Committee on Benghazi, it looked as if the controversies surrounding the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya and Clinton’s role in the events were going to join the ranks of the political walking dead: a scandal to some, a manufactured crisis to others and -- whichever it was -- an issue that, because of Congress’ subpoena powers and investigative resources, would not die.

But zombies do walk. As movies and television programs have indubitably shown, the undead do a lot of damage before someone figures out how to extinguish them.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the United Nations in New York

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking at a news conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York, March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

After the New York Times broke the news that Clinton had used a private email account and server for virtually all her official business, and that she had turned over to the State Department only emails that her staff deemed work-related, the uproar did not subside. So Clinton decided to hold a news conference.

Politicians in scandal trouble regularly harbor the notion that a climactic news conference can get them out of it. They convene meetings with their staff to craft their narratives, flush out all the hostile questions that journalists might ask and build watertight answers. They think they are at least as smart as the media and vastly superior in their ability to persuade the public.

Sometimes they are right. More often, however, a press conference turns out to be a wonderful device for keeping a scandal alive. The reaction to Clinton’s news conference is a case in point.

There were few surprises in the story she delivered during her news conference at the United Nations. She used a single email account, Clinton said, for the sake of convenience. She followed all applicable rules. She kept her server safe. When the State Department asked her for work-related emails, she turned over all that could plausibly be considered relevant.

This is far from the worst conduct one could expect from a public official whose family has been under microscopic public gaze for more than a quarter-century.


There are the obvious problems, like Clinton’s saying that she sent emails to other U.S. officials at their .gov addresses “so that” they would be preserved, as if she had a choice. Or her describing her non-work emails as involving her daughter’s wedding and her mother’s funeral, as if there were no gray area that includes, for instance, all of politics.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the United Nations in New York

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York, March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Beyond any substantive problems, though, is the problem of the dynamics of scandal. During a news conference, the journalists in attendance are like penned-in beasts, forced to elbow and outshout each other for attention. While they snort and paw the ground, the politician decides whom to recognize, how long the answer will be and when to cut off the proceedings. After the news conference, however, comes revenge for this ritual humiliation, meaning that the journalists extract, magnify and dissect all the moments of the performance in which the politician evaded or answered incompletely or misled or lied.

More than that, apart from the getting back, a news conference punctuates a scandal with a kind of exclamation point. It guarantees that everybody will need to cover it and get his or her 2 cents in.

So, since Clinton’s news conference, we have heard these things: 1) Although she said her server was guarded by the Secret Service and she didn’t email classified information, Clinton never answered questions about the security of her email communications;

2) Clinton used weasel words. For example, her saying, “Looking back, I should have . . . ” was not really an apology. Her saying she did not save emails is not the same as admitting that she deleted emails -- let alone that she destroyed what some people might consider evidence.

People are saying other things as well: 3) Clinton in effect asked her listeners to trust her, and trust is the last sentiment that the Clintons’ collective public career has inspired; 4) Clinton’s body language telegraphed discomfort, displeasure and moments of low confidence. (Come on, now: What else would you expect from a human being who has to live through that kind of 20 minutes?)

5) Clinton looked tired. She has fought in the political arena for more than 25 years, she’s been sick, her supportive mother died three years ago, and these days she spends much of her time in the homes of rich people who have less talent but more ease and luxury than she does. Maybe she doesn’t really want to run for president. (Fat chance.)

Much of this stuff is overwrought. At its best, it concerns processes and habits of conduct, not any incriminating substance in the emails that we have yet to see.

But it is more than enough to keep a scandal going. There are now calls for independent third parties to examine her server and for her geeks to come forward and justify their security procedures. The Benghazi committee is, for sure, going to subpoena something. The fight over the subpoena will make its own news.

The undead aren’t just walking: They’ve broken into a swift trot toward prey weakened by years of a bad reputation.

So how do you kill a zombie? Most authorities recommend a bullet or well-aimed hatchet straight into the brain. Though there is, of course, disagreement on the fine points. A more scientifically sober source says the job requires disrupting the zombie’s system “in a sufficient way to prevent the pathogen from utilizing the corpse.”

But what if the pathogen is a mistrust of the most profound and deep-seated sort? How do you prevent that kind of organism from continuing its march by seizing on one vehicle after another?

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