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Helpful info for your Thanksgiving table debates

Ideological divideFive fast facts that might help you win (and five areas of common ground that might help you keep the peace)

It’s Thanksgiving week and, like a lot of people, you’re confronting one of the great challenges for 21st Century American families: what to do when the conversation turns to politics. It’s been a year, but you just know that Uncle Ted and Cousin Jane are lying in wait – ready to pounce with the newest “facts” they’ve gleaned from Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and the latest Focus on the Family newsletter

What to do?

Assuming that alcohol consumption has been modest and the room is clear of weapons, small children and frail seniors, here are two packages of information that could prove useful:

Five powerful and verifiable facts

Feeling feisty and energetic? If so, you may want to try one or more of these:

Fact # 1 – Times are tough in the U.S. and it’s not because Americans are soft and lazy. Research shows that immediately prior to the Great Recession, 62.7% of Americans held jobs. Since the start of the recession it’s remained below 60%. As of October, the number was 58.3%. Not surprisingly as a result, the most recent Census Bureau data show that almost 1 in 5 American families struggled to meet one or more of nine basic needs in 2011 (things like paying their rent, mortgage and utilities). This is not, however, because Americans are lazy. Worker productivity is actually rising at a good clip (it’s up 80% from 1973 to 2011). Despite this, however, wages (and overall employee compensation) continue to flat-line for all but the top 1%. Overall employee compensation is at its lowest point (as a share of the economy) in 50 years while corporate profits, incomes of the rich and the stock markets are at all-time highs.

Fact #2 – State spending in North Carolina has been plummeting for years. The fall-off didn’t just start when the Republicans took control of state government. Since 2008, state spending on K-12 education has plunged by 6.4% when you adjust for inflation and growth in student populations. Meanwhile, the last couple of state General Fund budgets have both taken a smaller share of state residents’ total income (less than 6%) than at any time in the previous 40 years.

Fact #3 – For all of its flaws, Obamacare is making enormous progress in the states in which leaders aren’t trying to sabotage it. In Kentucky, a mid-sized state with big rural sections and huge numbers of people who lack health insurance (and where the state has set up its own website and is doing its best to help people get signed up) nearly 60,000 people have signed up already. In California – another place where officials have tried to make things work – enrollment is surging and the state is well on its way to meeting its enrollment targets. Another point to keep in mind: Though the programs are certainly different, the now wildly popular Medicare Part D program had huge problems with its initial online rollout in 2005 but ultimately surpassed expectations. No one’s proposing to repeal it today

Fact #4 – North Carolina’s massive new voting law does a lot more than just require photo ID. First of all, the new photo ID requirement to vote does not go into effect until 2016. But laying that issue aside; it’s simply incorrect to describe North Carolina’s new law changes in this area as just being about “voter ID.” The new law includes dozens of provisions spread over 49 pages – almost all of which make voting harder to do for average people, including limiting opportunities to register, ending pre-registration for high schoolers and adding new roadblocks for people unsure of where to find their precinct. The law also makes it much easier for secret, outside groups to flood the state with big money ads.

Fact #5 – Pat McCrory still remains utterly flummoxed by important parts of his job. Consider the following recent examples: a) The Governor continues to claim that North Carolina leaders did not cut unemployment benefits this year – he told a Charlotte radio interviewer this week that “We didn’t take away unemployment benefits.” McCrory’s claim is preposterous. As multiple news sourcesincluding the John Locke Foundation have reported – North Carolina’s cuts to benefits and eligibility were significant. The National Employment Law Project called them “the most severe cuts to both state and federal unemployment insurance of any state in the nation”; b) In the same interview, McCrory was asked about his bizarre delivery of cookies to pro-choice protesters outside his mansion and uttered a reply that can only leave a caring and thoughtful person speechless: “I don’t care, I felt like doing it,” he said. “Who cares?”

Five areas of potential common ground

Okay, you’ve tested the waters and the logic and facts thing doesn’t look like it’s likely to bear fruit. In the interest of world peace, consider trying the following:

Area #1 – Corporate incentives are frequently a huge waste of money. Here’s something on which folks of differing ideologies can agree: giving millions of dollars to giant and highly-profitable corporations to move to North Carolina from out of state (or to move to one part of the state from another) is often a huge and corruption-laden waste of taxpayer dollars. This is not to say that there aren’t instances in which it can prove beneficial to struggling communities, but absent careful regulation and strong standards, incentives are unfair to homegrown taxpaying businesses and lead states and localities toward a suicidal “race to the bottom” in which corporate citizens don’t even contribute to support basic infrastructure like roads and schools that make their profits possible.

Area #2 – It’s absurd for state and federal taxpayers to keep rebuilding beaches (and giant investment properties) in areas prone to encroaching oceans. We don’t have to agree on whether the climate is warming or sea levels are rising at an alarming rate to agree that throwing billions of taxpayer dollars down the drain in a futile effort to keep beaches frozen in place – something that is scientifically proven to be impossible whether the oceans are rising or not – is a terrible idea. President Obama and New Jersey Governor Christie mean well, but their plan to rebuild New Jersey just as it was rather than to plan for the inevitable future changes is hugely irresponsible. Click here for more information.

Area #3 – Schools that receive publicly-funded vouchers ought to have to meet at least some standards. As NC Policy Watch reported here and here last week, at least one (and probably many) private schools that will be eligible for vouchers next year affirmatively bar gay children (and the children of gay parents!) from enrolling. Others rely on textbooks that teach students that dinosaurs and humans co-existed on Earth, that slaves were generally treated well and that gay people have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists. We don’t have to agree on vouchers to agree that schools ought to comply with at least some standards in order to receive public money.

Area #4 – North Carolina would be foolish not to expand its efforts to improve programs to help men and women leaving prison. This is one of the rare areas in which progressives and conservatives came together during the 2013 legislative session. Both sides recognize that the overwhelming majority of state prisoners will be released someday and that it’s a huge threat to public safety and the state corrections budget (given the likelihood of recidivism) not to have plans for providing them with a second chance after they’ve paid their debt to society. Learn more by clicking here. If this arguments proves successful and you’re feeling encouraged, you can also point out the growing number of conservatives who oppose the death penalty for fiscal reasons.

Area #5 – At some point and time, the public has a right to regulate weapons. We may differ on handguns and even assault weapons, but unless your Thanksgiving table partner is a member of the lunatic fringe, they’ll have to admit that society has some lawful authority to regulate mass killing machines like machine guns, bazookas, flamethrowers, artillery cannons, tanks and bombs, And assuming they will agree to this premise – admittedly, not a sure thing in all cases – you may have some hope for finding some common ground on this most vexing of subjects.

If none of these suggestions work, excuse yourself, back away from the table carefully and head to the kitchen for a second helping of pumpkin pie.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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