And as they have for the past nine years, the people most astute at doing that are at the Common Sense Foundation. The progressive, nonprofit organization is a font of research and lobbying on important issues and on behalf of people who don't have anyone else to look out for them (which is most of us).
As we've reported in the past, these are tough financial times for Common Sense. But hope's in sight. Recent fundraising parties in Chapel Hill and Durham raised more than $5,000, another is planned at The Cave in Chapel Hill in September, and they're looking for people to host similar parties in Raleigh and Cary. The effort to find 20 people to contribute $1,000 each is past the halfway mark.
The search for a new executive director to replace founder Chris Fitzsimon is nearing an end. And grant applications are in the works, says acting director David Mills.
"It's a really good time for Common Sense in a lot of ways," he says. "We're still turning out a lot of good research, and people seem to be very interested in what we have to say. Certainly, nobody else is covering all the issues that we cover from our perspective."
Here's some of what they've been saying recently in their regular e-mail alerts, called "Consider This," that are available at their Web site, www.common-sense.org:
On Senate President Pro-tem Marc Basnight's suggestion of raising taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, instituting a lottery, and cutting income tax rates by 10 percent: "Let's get this straight ... Sen. Basnight wants to raise regressive taxes substantially so that he can then use the money to make deep cuts in the income tax, the most progressive revenue tool in the state's economic toolbox. That's simply robbing the poor to give to the rich."
On a proposal to extend the program that gives $1,800 to North Carolina residents who attend private colleges in the state to include those who attend religious colleges: "North Carolina should not be spending taxpayer dollars to help rich kids go to Duke and Davidson; that much has long been both obvious and outrageous. But expanding this program to include schools that actively discriminate on the basis of religion represents a new low in state education policy."
On a proposal to make it harder for immigrants to get driver's licenses, in the name of fighting terrorism: "We have to make sure that all North Carolina drivers, regardless of their country of origin, are insured and know the traffic laws."
If you'd like to help keep this kind of insight flowing, send your checks to the Common Sense Foundation, P.O. Box 10808, Raleigh, N.C 27605.
We're still accepting ideas on ways to express your patriotism beyond sticking flag magnets on car doors, to run in our July 2 issue We're talking about things you can do to stand up for the Constitution and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence in the face of a far right-wing national government determined to jack-hammer away our civil rights in the name of fighting terrorism, and keep state and local governments in the deep pockets of special interests. Things like fighting for a living wage, or supporting the needs of undocumented Latinos--or supporting groups like the Common Sense Foundation.
Send your ideas by June 23 to email@example.com, or mail them to the Durham post office box on the left side of the page.