If Polls Ruled: Guantanamo Forever?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series If Polls Ruled
A US Army guard checks on detainees at Guantanamo prison camp

A US Army guard checks on detainees at the Guantanamo prison camp. (Photo by Navy Petty Officer Michael Billings, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.)

In his State of the Union address, Obama reiterated his determination to close forever the Guantanamo Bay prison. If public opinion ruled, would we see the detention center finally closed?

Over a decade ago, the detention center was established at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station to hold and interrogate military prisoners considered to be especially dangerous. Over the years, it proved to be of dubious value for military intelligence, a venue for prisoner mistreatment, a terrorist propaganda and recruitment platform, and expensive.

Do Americans support Obama’s pledge to close the GTMO prison?

Public opinion is not on the president’s side. In four surveys since 2007, Gallup consistently found that the majority of Americans do not want the prison closed.

But Gallup asked this question in a complicated way, committing what survey researchers call a double-barreled question: essentially, one question that actually includes two questions but allows for only one answer.

Here’s the item: “As you may know, since 2001, the United States has held people from other countries who are suspected of being terrorists in a prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Do you think the United States should—or should not—close this prison and move some of the prisoners to U.S. prisons?”

Public opinion has been pretty steady on this issue. In 2014, 66% of Americans said we should not close the prison, while 29% said that we should. But we don’t know from these answers if the majority of Americans want the prison to remain open no matter what, or they want it to remain open because they don’t want the prisoners on American soil.

It seems to be the latter. In a 2009 Gallup poll, the question was asked about closing the prison but without any elaboration of what would happen to the prisoners. Forty-five said the prison should be closed, with 35% saying it should not.

Do you think the Guantanamo Bay detention center should be closed?
Should public opinion decide the matter?

Share your thoughts …

Share this column on Facebook or by email. You’re also free to print it out and share it that way.

Family Treasures: What prized item tells your family’s story?

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Family Treasures
Family Treasures exercise in a United America discussion series

Just some of the “Family Treasures” we’ve seen in groups discussing “United America.” Click on the photo to see the free activity guide that explains this exercise. You’ll enjoy sharing this idea with friends!

As Americans, we share more than divides us. That’s the message of United America, and the four activity guides that give groups sure-fire ideas to explore the core values that unite us. Last week, we introduced Taste of Home, a group exercise that invites participants to tell family stories behind food traditions.

This week, we introduce Family Treasures, an activity groups are using with the United America book to connect the importance of the 10 core values to family stories about … treasures.

Using the word “treasures” is likely to spark thoughts of treasure hunting. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island has been re-made more than three dozen times for radio, TV and movie theaters. PBS’s Antiques Roadshow has been a hit since 1979 because it suggests that anyone might have a valuable treasure gathering dust at home. The idea of finding hidden treasure shows up in stories from the world’s oldest sacred literature—and it fuels customers for state-run lotteries around the world, today.

Along with the American Images and Taste of Home guides, this Family Treasures activity often summons deep emotion. Group leaders have told us about total strangers who have bonded over stories of objects as simple as a grandfather’s “dog tags” or a grandmother’s candy dish, a hard-earned Boy Scout award or a piece of embroidery created with a mentor, a work-worn hammer from an old tool chest or even a seasoned cast-iron fry pan.

We have seen truly precious objects: jewelry, rare stamps, an antique Persian carpet and even a 100-year-old baseball card. And we have heard stories with great emotion spun around objects no one else would even recognize: a chunk of copper ore from a mine or an iron handle from an old wood-burning stove.

This exercise invites surprises!

This week in OurValues.org, we’re going to share some of our favorite stories. So, stay tuned for the next four parts in this five-part series. Perhaps these stories will help you to ponder the stories behind objects in your home.

Perhaps you’ll want to share this series with friends. Now is a perfect time to build interest in starting a discussion series on United America.

Your story is important!

The purpose of the OurValues Project and the United America book is to get Americans talking with each other—friends, neighbors and even total strangers who may enjoy gathering to talk about the values that unite us. That’s a dramatic and refreshing change for a lot of us, these days.

Please, share this week’s series with friends on Facebook or by Email. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them in  your small group to spark discussion. If you have a moment right now, add a comment below.

You can play an important role in building a healthier community.

Ebola: Does hysteria make sense?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Ebola
10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group

WANT TO WORRY? CLICK ON THE TOP CHART to see it expand and learn the “10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group,” the most recent version compiled by the CDC. CLICK ON THE LOWER CHART to see it expand and learn the “10 Leading Causes of INJURY Death by Age Group” from the CDC.

There was a time when hysteria made sense and fleeing for the hills was a prudent survival strategy, notes sociologist Claude Fischer. When yellow fever and cholera were prevalent and the mechanisms of transmission (and hence prevention or treatment) were unknown, leaving town was the best way to avoid illness. Of course, this meant that the burden of a disease fell disproportionately on the poor and the immobile.

Is Ebola another time for hysteria?

Drawing upon history, Fisher argues “that, while alarm and drastic emergency actions are needed in a few West African countries, the U.S. has the expertise and the resources to contain this kind of infectious disease.”

He notes that during the same three-week period in which Thomas Duncan was diagnosed and died, thousands of Americans died from other contagious conditions. Some of these conditions are medically contagious; others are socially contagious:

10 Leading Causes of Injury Death by Age Group“…during an average three-week period in the United States: 35 people die from tuberculosis; 3,200 from influenza and pneumonia–500 of those people under 65 years of age; 1,100 from suicide by gun; 650 from homicide by gun; 1,000 by alcoholic cirrhosis; and 1,900 by motor vehicle accident. These deaths are not only vastly more numerous, they are much more contagious, either in a medical sense or in a sociological sense. Where are screaming headlines for those risks?”

The threat of Ebola has captured our attention. But the diseases and conditions that occur slowly and in some ways acceptably elude our concerns. Fischer questions whether we have the will “to contain the much greater killers like alcoholism, firearm use, and motor vehicles.”

Is hysteria warranted when it comes to Ebola?

Should we be focusing on other killers of Americans?

Ebola: Changing your travel plans?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Ebola
CDC Symptoms_of_ebola

DOES IT REASSURE YOU (or make you more anxious) TO KNOW THE SYMPTOMS? This information comes from the Centers for Disease Control and was posted as a graphic to Wikimedia Commons by Mikael Häggström.

So far this month, I’ve been on 10 different planes and through several major and regional airports in the U.S. I have to admit that Ebola crossed my mind from time to time, but I haven’t changed any travel plans. Have you? Has anyone you know?

More than eight of ten Americans (83%) are following the news about Ebola at least somewhat closely, according to new national poll results just released yesterday by Rasmussen Reports. Forty-five percent say they are following the Ebola story very closely. A quarter of all Americans (26%) are very concerned personally about Ebola, with an additional 31% reporting that they are somewhat concerned. Only 15% say they are not personally concerned at all.

The level of concern has abated slightly since Rasmussen Reports’ poll on the same issues in early October. This slight decrease is noteworthy because, since the earlier poll, two nurses in Texas were diagnosed with the disease. It remains to be seen how Americans react to the news released yesterday that the people who were closest to the Ebola patient who died in Texas have passed the 21-day period without any symptoms and are free to leave their homes.

And some Americans are changing their personal travel plans because of the occurrence of Ebola in the United States. Just over one in ten (12%) say that they have done so, according to Rasmussen Reports. Men and women are equally likely to have changed their personal travel plans.

Most Americans (83%), however, say they have not changed their personal travel plans because of the Ebola threat.

What is your current level of concern about Ebola in the U.S.?

Have you changed your personal travel plans due to the occurrence of the disease in the U.S.?

Fear of War: U.S. troops back on the ground?

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Fear of War
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Dempsey

This week, General Dempsey called into question the claim that no American military personnel will be deployed on the ground in the current crisis with ISIL.

“No boots on the ground” is a mantra with the Obama Administration. The president reiterated this theme in his recent address to the nation, stating that the effort to fight ISIL “will not involve American combat troops on foreign soil.”

But do you think we will see U.S. combat troops on the ground anyway?

Despite Obama’s pledge, voices are rising that advocate for the use of U.S. ground troops. In August, a Washington Post editorial stated that the administration “must put boots on the ground to stop the Islamic State.” House Speaker John Boehner recently said that the use of ground troops should not be ruled out.

The most telling remarks, however, came in the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that took place yesterday. Both Secretary of State Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) testified. As widely reported, the nation’s top military commander said that U.S. troops on the ground were a possibility, if airstrikes are not effective. (Here you can view the Department of Defense’s video of the hearing.)

A majority of Americans support airstrikes against the jihadist group, but only about a third say that combat troops should be used, too.

Do you support or oppose the use of U.S. troops to combat ISIL?

Regardless of your support or opposition, do you think that the U.S. “boots on the ground” is inevitable?

Fear of War: Could YOU become a victim of terrorism?

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Fear of War
176 victim photos of the 9 11 attacks

176 VICTIMS ON “9/11” This photo array comes from one of the many online displays of the nearly 3,000 victims in those 2001 terrorist attacks. It takes 17 of these 176-photo arrays to represent all 3,000 victims.

Diplomats from 25 nations gathered yesterday in Paris to discuss strategies for responding to the growing threat of ISIS (also known as ISIL), the jihadist group responsible for a wave of atrocities, including three beheadings of Westerners. While the focus is on a coordinated global response, almost half of Americans feel we are less safe at home now than we were before 9/11. Many Americans are worried about terrorist acts on our soil.

Personally, how worried are you that you—or a member of your family—will be a victim of terrorism?

Just over four of ten Americans (41%) say they are worried, according to a CNN/ORC poll taken about a week ago. Thirteen percent say they are very worried that they or a member of their family will be a victim of terrorism.

How well is the U.S. government doing to reduce the threat of terrorism?

Only 17% of Americans say the government is doing very well, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, with an additional 39% saying that the government is doing fairly well. Almost two of ten (19%) feel the government is not doing at all well to reduce the threat, more than double the number that felt the same way in 2013.

You can see some of the results from both polls I’ve cited in this aggregation of recent polls.

Of course, the results I’ve just reported might change as the response to ISIS unfolds. Already, well over 100 airstrikes have taken place.

How worried are you that you or your family will be a victim of terrorism?

Is the U.S. government doing enough to reduce the threat of terrorism?

Will the 25-nation response to ISIS reduce—or raise—the threat of terrorism at home?

Fear of War: Pope says ‘War is madness,’ but is it inevitable?

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Fear of War
Spread of ISIL in the Middle East

THE SPREAD OF ISIL, (aka The Islamic State) as of mid-September 2014: GRAY is controlled by ISIL; SALMON is controlled by the Syrian government; MINT GREEN is controlled by Syrian rebels; GOLD is controlled by Syrian Kurds; YELLOW-GREEN is controlled by Iraqi Kurds; MAGENTA is controlled by the Iraqi Government. (Map courtesy of Wikipedia.)

“War is madness,” said Pope Francis in a papal Mass to remember the victims of the First World War. The Mass took place two days ago in northeast Italy, a scene of intense combat between Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops in the war.

“Greed, intolerance, the lust for power—these motives underlie the decision to go to war,” said the pontiff, “and they are too often justified by an ideology; but first there is a distorted passion or impulse.” You can read the pope’s entire message here.

Just a few days prior, Obama addressed the nation, outlining his strategy to deal with the growing terrorist threat. The objective, he said, is “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.”

Considering these and other international news stories in recent days: Do you fear a new round of war?

Many Americans feel unsafe. New polls report that more Americans feel unsafe now than at any time since 9/11. Almost half of Americans (47%) say the nation is less safe, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Almost all Americans (94%) say they have heard of the beheadings of the two American journalists, the poll reports—and this poll was taken before the claim of a third beheading, this one of a British journalist.

A clear majority of Americans (61%) favor military action against ISIS (which the administration calls ISIL, with the L that denotes “land” rather than “state”). These supporters say that military action is in the nation’s interest.

Four of ten Americans (40%) say that military action should be limited to air strikes, while about a third (34%) say that air strikes and combat troops should be involved. Only 15% say that we should abstain from military action.

Do you agree with the Pope that “war is madness”?
Do you think war is inevitable?
Do you fear a new round of war?