Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What seems to be the problem?

I read a column in MinnPost the other day that I believe nicely illustrates why facts are important and why we can't live in a post-truth world. Jeff Ernst, writing about What made Morrison County the most pro-Trump place in Minnesota?, has quotations from two people that I would have expected to have perspectives that overlapped more. First, from a Republican, political perspective,
“We’ve got huge underemployment,” said state Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, borrowing a favorite qualifier from his party’s leader.
For Kresha, who won re-election to a fourth term over Simmonds, the primary reason for Trump’s resounding victory is “jobs, jobs, jobs.” The unemployment numbers aren’t reflective of the economic situation in which many residents are mired. Many of the jobs that are available are part time or don’t offer the kind of pay or benefits that workers enjoyed in the past.
opportunity or "eyesore" rehab or demolish?
opportunity or "eyesore;" rehab or demolish?
Photo by J. Harrington

Then, from the local Chamber of Commerce, we learn:
Debora Boelz, president of the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, sees things a little differently. According to her, many local businesses are struggling to find employees. She cites the example of a local manufacturer, Airborn, which has advertised job openings in locations as far away as Chicago.

“These are $60,000- to $75,000-a-year jobs,” said Boelz.

To Boelz, the problem is not one of a lack of jobs, but of a lack of people willing and able to fill open positions. Too many people prefer part-time positions that allow them to maintain their eligibility for government benefits, she said, while others need training that would qualify them for positions such as those that were available at Airborn.
farm corn or wind?
farm corn or wind?
Photo by J. Harrington

Many years ago, part of my job responsibilities involved trying to get the Minnesota Legislature to enact certain legislative proposals to address some environmental problems. [As an aside, please note that neither quote above refers to environmental regulations as the source of the "jobs" problem.] The senator who, at that time, chaired the Senate Environmental Committee, was frequently heard to ask "What's the problem we're trying to solve here?" That was his way of calling attention to a perceived lack of fit between what the legislative provision was intended to accomplish and what it was likely to do, given the way it was crafted.

Even before I spent time in those committee meetings, I was taught in school that "The proper definition of a problem is half its solution." If a local Chamber of Commerce and its Republican legislator aren't in agreement about the problem facing their community, it seems unlikely to be satisfactorily resolved.

As I watch the next administration's cabinet being assembled in Washington, D.C., I find myself wondering what the problem was that the country thought it was solving with that last election. I suspect the country may have no better idea than the local community described in the quotations above. Something to watch over the next several years, especially for those of us who agree with John Muir's observation that "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." If we follow a beggar our neighbor economic policy, we'd best remember that everyone is someone's neighbor, right?

The Problem


By Jane Hirshfield


You are trying to solve a problem.
You’re almost certainly halfway done,
maybe more.

You take some salt, some alum,
and put it into the problem.
Its color goes from yellow to royal blue.

You tie a knot of royal blue into the problem,
as into a Peruvian quipu of colored string.

You enter the problem’s bodegas,
its flea markets, souks.
Amid the alleys of sponges and sweets,
of jewelry, spices, and hair combs,
you ponder which stall, which pumpkin or perfume, is yours.

You go inside the problem’s piano.
You choose three keys.
One surely must open the door of the problem,
if only you knew only this:
is the quandary edible or medical,
a problem of reason or grief?

It is looking back at you now
with the quizzical eyes of a young, bright dog.

Her whole body pitched for the fetch,
the dog wants to please.
If only she could ascertain which direction,
what object, which scent of riddle,
and if the problem is round or elliptical in its orbit,
and if it is measured in foot-pounds, memory, or meat.

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