Hot Docs: Obama, McCain in Dead Heat; Bottled Water or Tap?; Reading the News at Work

Today's selection of timely reports.

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Election a Dead Heat: The latest survey from the Pew Research Center shows sentiment holding at 46 percent for Barack Obama, 44 percent for John McCain—about where it was prior to the political conventions. Among likely voters, it's a tie, with 46 percent of respondents favoring each party. The poll also asked likely voters what they think about the parties and candidates. When asked to describe each candidate in one word, the top answer for Obama was "inexperienced"; for McCain, it was "old." (The second-place choices are more positive terms for both.) The report notes that enthusiasm for McCain seems to be rising—25 percent now call themselves "strong" supporters of his campaign.

Bottled Water or Tap?: Americans should choose tap water instead of bottled water, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. In testimony before a Senate subcommittee, NRDC attorney Mae Wu observed that tap water is more closely tested and regulated by government agencies against contaminants like E. coli and other bacteria. Moreover, the plastic water bottles themselves create trash and may expose consumers to potentially harmful chemicals. Wu notes that the process of manufacturing and transporting a liter of bottled water actually consumes 9 liters of water. The long-term solution to the nation's water availability issues, she argues, is to improve our tap water infrastructure, rather than switching to bottled.

Should You Be Reading This at Work?: Seven in 10 workers who use the Internet to scan the news while at work, even though most admit it's not necessary for their jobs. A poll from the Pew Research Center reveals that people who don't need to know the latest headlines check the news almost as often as those who do. Most cubicle-dwellers are turning to the Internet, with radio and television far behind. Despite the apparently widespread interest in news, people may not be paying very close attention. The survey also included three basic political questions, and only 18 percent of respondents got them all right.

War in Space?: The strategic importance of satellite imagery and communications is growing, and in the past two years the United States and China have each demonstrated that they can destroy satellites in orbit. Now that this "space Rubicon" has been crossed, Bruce MacDonald writes in a report for the Council on Foreign Relations, space may be the next venue for military conflict. He notes the value of communications, positioning, and weather satellites, and warns that losing these assets could "quickly throw U.S. military capabilities back 20 years or more and substantially damage the U.S. and world economies." MacDonald recommends "a combination of policy, programmatic, and diplomatic options" to deter attacks, promote international cooperation, and establish the "rules of the road" for future space operations.

Homeland Security 3.0: The United States should "build a national homeland security enterprise that is as agile and seamless as those who seek to harm us," argues a new study by the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Rather than limiting its focus to the Department of Homeland Security, the administration should take a "more holistic" approach, enlisting businesses, communities, and individuals to join the government in taking responsibility for preparedness, the report advises. The study outlines 25 policy recommendations designed to enhance international cooperation, streamline the government response, improve the nation's infrastructure, and encourage a "culture of preparedness" against natural disasters and terror attacks alike.