psychpol

May 4, 2013

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

Filed under: Psychology and Politics — psychpol @ 4:10 pm

Since we live in a very emotion-driven and divided country, it can be useful to examine facts regarding issues. While facts may contradict preconceived liberal or conservative ideas, it is an essential way to understand an issue and formulate a workable plan of action.

Many of us are unable to assimilate facts that contradict our cherished belief systems. Emotions such as anger prevent clear thought. But if we want to wake up to what is true, then the more facts the better.

Here are some facts from reputable sources that pertain to the issues of gun control, crime and education in the US. 

A current and emotional issue involves gun control.We have witnessed horrible crimes that repulse and enrage most of us.  In addition to routine carnage in our cities, there seems to be an almost daily incident involving bizarre gun violence. It is becoming the norm in a violence ridden culture.

For perspective, in 2011 8600 people were killed by firearms, a 10% decline compared to 2007, and 32,000 people died in motor vehicle collisions.

According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans rate gun control as the eighth most important issue, with the economy being first.

Did you know that of all the mass shootings since 1950, all but one have occurred in Gun Free Zones? And fully automatic rifles have been banned in the US since 1934?

Recent gun control efforts led by Senator Feinstein focus on “military appearing” features, such as the grip on the weapon. Some states like New York and Colorado have outlawed magazines beyond a specified number of rounds.

In Washington DC, a citizen had been unable to take a licensed gun out of their home, as if the streets were safe. Illinois had the same law, but it was overturned by the courts. In 2012, there were more murders in Chicago than for all coalition troops in Afghanistan.

President Obama has issued 23 executive orders pertaining to gun violence. The consensus is that none would prevent a horror like Newtown, Connecticut. Nonetheless, these are touted as “solutions” to gun violence, and often become the focus of discussion in the national media.

There are 6.6 million violent crimes a year in the US. However, in the past 10 years, violent crime is down 12.3% in the US. Why? Most observers believe this pertains to mandatory sentencing laws for violent offenders in many states. The safest way to protect the public is if offenders are imprisoned.

What would happen if the US had Federal laws mandating prison sentences for any gun crime?

The topic of race and crime is an emotionally volatile one in America, although racial status does predict crime rates in the general population.

Looking again at Connecticut, according to Uniform Crime Statistics published by the FBI in the most recent year, incidence data showed 10 – 15x the murder rate for African-Americans compared to Caucasians. The rate was 5 – 6x for rape, 8 – 9x for robbery, 4 – 5x for aggravated assault and 2 – 3x for burglary in the same direction.

In the US, 7% of the population are African-American males. They represent 50% of the murder victims and a majority of the perpetrators. Many murders are so-called black on black crimes.

It took one terrible, evil act by one Caucasian in Connecticut to spark a strong national gun debate that continues today. What about all the other violent crimes that have been ongoing in that and other states for decades? Have we become so numb to the suffering of the victims?

In looking at FBI crime statistics, it is difficult to get a handle on the incidence of Hispanic crime rates per capita. The reason is that Hispanics are an ethnicity and not a race. Therefore, their stats are combined with whites. The result is an inflation of white crime rates and a deflation in the differences between groups.

It is known that in the US prison population, 40% of all prisoners are Hispanic. And 20% of all prisoners are illegal aliens. For Hispanics, 48% are incarcerated for immigration offenses, and 37% for drug offenses.

Illegal immigration has accelerated since January 1, 2013, tripling at some border locations. 

But enforcement for immigration offenses has declined, so these numbers have probably changed for those violations. They are not being prosecuted by the Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement per order of the Obama administration. This usurps current Federal law.

During Obama’s tenure, there have been 15 thousand illegal and citizen fugitives who were felons that tried to purchase firearms and were detected. The Department of Justice has prosecuted only 44 cases or less than 1%.

Does this make sense to you?

In America, a black male in his early 30’s is 7x more likely to have a criminal record (22.4% of men) than to have served in the military (17.4%). Blacks have a murder rate of 7x per capita compared to whites, with 14.82/100K and 2.17/100K respectively.

Is this OK with our leadership? Is it mentioned much by the president and other leaders in the administration?  Politically incorrect, no? The perpetrators are not responsible for their actions? Who pulled the trigger?

 A teen who performed at the 2013 Inauguration was tragically gunned down in Chicago. Because she had a connection to the administration, and her death was publicized, our first lady appeared at the funeral and expressed her concern.

Then one of the kids who stood on the dais behind Michelle Obama at that event was later murdered.

Not a word from the president or the first lady. What about all the kids that had no connection to the Obama administration? Are their lost lives worthy of mention? The suffering of their parents, too often a single mother?

Regarding gun control, the left spends virtually no time addressing who the offenders are. This is quite remarkable. It is as if guns shoot themselves. For every gun crime, a person has pulled the trigger. Who are they and how did they get that way?

Doesn’t it make sense to focus on perpetrators involved and ways for us to prevent their actions? Doesn’t it make sense to propose legislation that addresses the real problems using workable solutions, and not feel good ideological ones?

And shouldn’t we preserve individual freedom wherever possible? The issue is criminals and the severely mentally ill, and the conditions that give rise to them, not the physical appearance of a weapon or the number of rounds.

A bill involving federal registration as a database to screen out criminals and those with some documented history of severe mental disorder (a very complex issue) was recently defeated in the US Senate. Was this such a radical step? 72% of Americans favored this measure. Politics again trumped a reasonable step toward addressing the larger problem.

What do we know about some of the perpetrators of gun violence?

One predictor of criminal behavior is academic failure. Overall, about 25% of our kids drop out before finishing high school. We spend more dollars per individual student than any country except Switzerland, $14 thousand in combined state, local and federal spending per student.

Of the 27 developed countries in one study, the US ranked 14th for college graduates. Achievement testing for high schoolers ranks the US at 17th for science and 27th for mathematics.

However, self-esteem ratings are generally favorable. In several surveys, the leading life goal of adolescents was to be “famous.” Period.

By groups, 50% of Hispanic kids drop out before completing high school. This is 3x the rate of whites and 2x the rate of black students. These are huge numbers and should be identified as a national emergency.

The average reading level of assigned high school texts is Grade 5. The last State of the Union speech was calibrated for Grade 7 language abilities.

Since 1950, there has been a 96% increase in spending on students, and a 702% increase in spending on non-teaching staff such as administration. There are 21 states with more administrators than teachers. Ohio is the state with the greatest imbalance.

Since 1970, spending on education has tripled. However, achievement test scores are flat and do not show appreciable improvement. Expending money as a solution is not working.

In the city of Chicago, there is a 45% dropout rate. Recently, the teachers union went on strike to demand more pay. Imagine you failing at work almost half the time and demanding a raise. Remarkable. No shame.

Many believe that teachers’ unions are a negative factor in the performance of our schools. Several of the states with the poorest school performance force teachers to join unions by law.

An interesting case example is the state of Wisconsin, formerly a mandatory union state. When this was overturned, to the dismay of the unions, 30% of the members dropped out of the teachers union. In addition, 60% dropped out of the public employees unions in that state.

An ancillary result was that health insurance plans selected and funded by the teachers union were opened to competition from other insurance companies. With this choice to date, 62% of school districts in Wisconsin are saving money on health insurance.

Speaking of choice, there are 55 million kids in schools nationwide. 22 of 23 studies have found that a parent’s ability to choose a school produced better educational outcomes. Of the total number of kids, 953 thousand have had school choice in their districts. The states of Florida, Indiana and Ohio have the most choice for families. Of note is that all have Republican governors.

Charter schools, those less regulated by federal and state bureaucracies, appear to produce excellent outcomes. In fact, there are long waiting lists for many of these schools. There are now 2.3 million kids in charter schools.

The Federal government is attempting to reassert power by developing a “new” common core curriculum to be taught by all US schools. This addresses standards in reading and mathematics. There are other elements that appear to represent a leftist world view, and these have drawn criticism.

Edicts from centralized bureaucracies will usurp the school’s prerogative to implement programs that best suit local communities. In addition, school choice and charter schools tend to be opposed by teachers’ unions, thus stifling local innovation.

Why? Because parents will move away from underperforming schools if given the choice. Who wouldn’t? And inferior teachers will be terminated, jobs lost and control shifted to local communities and families. The unions position is strictly an economic issue that has nothing to do with educating kids.

The Federal government and the teachers’ unions are fighting the trend of choice. To paraphrase the general counsel of the National Education Association a few years back, ” when kids pay dues, then we will listen carefully to their needs.”

Oh yah, the kids. We’d have a great school here if it wasn’t for these darn kids!

So, there is a direct correlation between educational success and criminal behavior. The better educated, the less likely to be a criminal. This ought to be a huge priority for us.

A failing school system means future generations lost, with implications for high poverty rates and dependency on government entitlements funded by productive citizens.

When we turn out large numbers of kids who have poor literacy skills, are unmotivated to learn and have dropped out, are they going to become software engineers?

Are they going to work in the declining area of American manufacturing? What are their options in an information based economy?

With both gun violence and educational performance, solutions are needed that work. There must be a context of personal responsibility as a starting point. Instead of ideology that has no relationship to the facts, society must create solutions based on the real causes of the problem.

So what would work regarding gun violence? What would work regarding poor school performance? What would work regarding criminality in America? Why do we have so much violence and criminality? Why do some groups have higher rates of social dysfunction?

As current neuroscience suggests, are there brain-based factors that predispose a child to violence as early as age 3? And what can do we now to prevent this?

It is facts and scientific evidence that should drive our solutions to make a better world for all. It is not partisan, ideological politicians that divide us for political gain. Our safety and our kids’ futures are too important.

We need to wake up and become active in electing leaders who will bring solutions to the table, not “feel good” rhetoric that does not work, or laws that usurp our freedoms and divide us even further.

We are fools if we allow our anger at one another to be stoked by radicals such as our current executive and congressional leadership. Knowledge is power and that involves understanding the facts of an issue and taking direct action.

It is our country, today and every day. Let’s make it work even better and solve the problem of violence in America.

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