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‘The Politics of Problem Solving’: Four big topics Americans need to discuss

Less than one American in five trusts the federal government. While the numbers are more favorable for state and local government, each of those entities generates respect from fewer than half of those surveyed.

Chuck Slocum

Additionally, nine in 10 Americans place “a safe country” as by far the top priority — followed by “responding to natural disasters,” clean air and water, safe food and medicine, and careful management of the immigration system, each measuring over 80 percent public support.

So, how is the U.S. Congress measuring up in the public’s mind?

For a number of years, public approval ratings of our U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have regularly fallen into the single digits, which means Congress is less popular than the Internal Revenue Service, banks, lawyers, the plague and Communism.

And things today are not much better at the executive level of our federal government. President Donald Trump — when compared to Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — has consistently registered lower numbers, though recent surveys have shown an uptick to above 40 percent approval for the current president.

Within my personal circle of people who are interested in such matters, I find a kind of growing apathy and frustration, with more cynicism and less confidence in our government to deal with the important things.

Yet few of us are doing much about this.

That is why I was delighted to learn about a forthcoming “The Politics of Problem Solving” session being planned by No Labels Minnesota for Minneapolis next week. The idea of people interested in working together to make the right things happen strikes me as most timely.

Below are four of the big topics affecting America that should be considered by an expected diverse group of 200 thoughtful Minnesotans attending the problem-solving discussion on May 29.

More and better jobs in the future. Job creation and our future workforce is a complex issue that includes work readiness of those now perceived as difficult to place, including providing early education assistance with a focus on literacy by third grade and adult one-on-one mentoring. Too many current workers have been both underemployed and unemployed, dating to the Great Recession of 2008. Joblessness is a national crisis short-changing people who want to invent, innovate, create and contribute. Simply decreasing taxes and regulations or increasing current taxpayer spending is only part of the answer.

Deficits and debt. America’s debt-to-GDP ratio is around 74 percent; that is higher than at any time in U.S. history, except for a short period after World War II, and more than double what it was a decade ago. The annual federal deficits that regularly top $1 trillion (that’s with twelve zeroes) and the $21 trillion  collective federal debt demonstrates that our nation’s spending has consistently outpaced the money we generate. The burden of our increasing debt — including the interest we pay on it — will eventually crash the system unless we can phase in responsible and growing budgets while preserving the safety net to those most in need. We must do this while dealing with an aging, longer-living population, with falling birthrates and rising short- and long-term health-care costs.

Long-term Social Security and Medicare solvency. Americans need assurances that the solvency of Social Security and Medicare will help provide necessary lifelines for recipients for decades into the future. Social Security and Medicare are not sustainable on their current trajectories. There are no easy answers to this very important challenge, and the discussion must not deteriorate  into an annual political football.

Energy security is a global challenge. America and the world need a lot more energy in the future; and that energy must be increasingly clean to mitigate the effects of climate change. That’s why American energy independence is no longer sufficient. What we and the rest of our interdependent world need is energy security. When the U.S. and other nations are energy-secure, it becomes far more likely that nations can manage unexpected but inevitable surprises in prices, an environmental crisis or an outbreak of war. America must strive for more energy supply from domestic sources; more efficient uses; modern, reliable and resilient electrical generation and transmission; and a more sustainable and cleaner fuel mix.

Here is hoping that this group of interested Minnesotans can help lead the way through an open, reasoned bottoms-up gathering to discuss the important stuff.

Chuck Slocum (Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com) is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm. Pew Research Center, MPR/APM Research Lab and SurveyUSA were among the sources for this essay.

“The Politics of Problem Solving” will be held on Tuesday, May 29. No Labels Chief Strategist Ryan Clancy will discuss “The Making of the Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus,” and will be joined by former Minnesota Party Chairs Mike Erlandson (DFL) and Chuck Slocum (GOP). 


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Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/26/2018 - 09:39 am.

    God save us from “consultants”

    Well, I hate to say but the 1980’s called and they want their “issues” back. In the year 2018 this list mostly misses the point.

    The problem right now isn’t jobs, we actually have a rather low unemployment rate. The problem is low wages and salaries. Despite the recovery and record profits American employers have simply refused to raise wages, as they always will. This is why the work force unionized decades ago, and it’s why we have minimum wage laws. The neo-liberal assumption that “market” forces would push wages up is simply facile, only the delusional remain mystified by the continued suppression of wages. None of the priorities Mr. Slocum mentions will raise wages and salaries across the board, literacy and education while decent enough priorities, aren’t holding wages down… employers are holding wages down.

    We can decide that debts and deficit are a problem if we want to, whether or not they are actually a problem, and at what point they become a problem is debatable. What is NOT debatable is the fact that the only way to lower debt and deficits is to pay them down. We did this after WWII. If we want to pay down the government debt, and reduce deficits, we have to collect the tax revenue to do that… again, this is what we did after WWII with income brackets as high as 96%. It’s mathematically impossible to tax-cut your way our of debts and deficits, this is an obvious fact. The fact that decades of tax cuts produced these historic deficits was predictable and it was predicted. If we decide this IS a problem, the solution is actually obvious to anyone who isn’t thinking magically.

    Our economy is more than large enough to pay for Social Security and Medicare, but you have to collect the revenue. Again, this isn’t a big mystery. The first thing you would do is stop taking money out of SS to pay the tax for cuts that were supposed to reduce the deficit and debt (enough with the magical thinking already), simply doing THAT restores SS solvency until 2030. Remember Al Gore’s SS “Lock Box”? Furthermore if we raise (or better yet completely remove) the cap on SS contributions for those making more than $113k a year solvency is established for the foreseeable future. Medicare costs are high because our health care costs are 2 or 3 times higher than they should be. The only way to bring health care costs down in any meaningful way is to switch to a single payer system.

    Energy is a problem, but not the problem Slocum describes. Self sufficiency isn’t actually a rational priority, you can have a perfectly good country that imports it’s energy, England and the Netherlands for instance. The problem with the way we currently generate or provide our energy is that it’s damaging our climate and it’s unsustainable. The goal isn’t so much self sufficiency as it is environmental and economic sustainability. It just so happens that renewable energy sources work best when they’re located as close to those who are using the energy as possible, sustainable energy ends up reducing imports, but that’s not necessarily the objective. Furthermore, we can thank deregulation for the inefficient and decaying electrical grid we’re trying with less and less success to use to transmit our electricity. We need a massive overhaul and redesign of our energy grid, and that’s going to have to be pushed out by the federal government.

    These issues aren’t irrelevant but they’re actually quite low hanging fruit, the solutions are obvious and easy to implement, but those solutions have been kept off the table by Republicans and neoliberal Democrats who preferred free market “magic” instead of rational planning.

    I’m not trying to insult anyone but in the year 2018 any “list” that doesn’t include: Racial and Gender equality, Health Care, Infrastructure, and living wages, or education, is in serious jeopardy of missing the point entirely.

    The problem with education by the way isn’t about “having” one to pad your resume’, the problem is that we’ve degraded our educational system in a variety of ways to the point where it’s just not functioning at the same level you see among our peer nations… but that’s a whole-nuther story.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 05/29/2018 - 11:27 am.

      Excellent comment

      but really, all anyone needs to know about No Labels is that Joe Lieberman, former Senator from Connecticut, is national co-chairman.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2018 - 09:55 am.

        Speaking of Lieberman

        Yes, and Lieberman is a perfect example of disfunctional centrism. One of the reasons these perfectly resolvable problems have persisted for decades is that when neoliberal Democrats weren’t thinking magically, centrist Democrats were accommodating Republicans who didn’t want to resolve these issues or even recognize them as legitimate problems. To use a football analogy of sorts; centrism keeps pushing the goal posts out beyond reach as if THAT’S actually the objective rather than making a touch down once and while. With centrists half measures that fail are actually the objective, thereby making failure the best possible outcome of politics. Now if you want have a forum discussing THAT problem… sign me up.

  2. Submitted by Paul Yochim on 05/26/2018 - 07:55 pm.


    very well done.

  3. Submitted by Dave Arneson on 05/26/2018 - 08:52 pm.

    Mr Slocums Politics

    One only needs to remember were Mr Slocum came from. They willn’t be new answers but the same old package of answers, only in a new wrapper. I hope I’m wrong,but only time will tell.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/27/2018 - 05:59 am.

    Social Security

    If Republicans really believed Social Security and Medicare were unsustainable, they wouldn’t be cutting tares. It is simple as that.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/28/2018 - 09:52 am.


      If we’re talking about Republicans it’s important to understand that the “sustainability” of SS and Medicare are moot point for them. They’ve never believed those programs should have been created in the first place and they’re still trying to dismantle or privatize them. They cut taxes and create deficits and fiscal crises precisely so they can claim government spending is not sustainable, this is has been their strategy for decades. The point is that in the real world, these programs are perfectly sustainable as long as you sustain them. They only become unsustainable if you don’t believe in paying for them.

  5. Submitted by Glenn Melcher on 05/27/2018 - 11:36 am.

    Zero sum game mentality can be reversed with?

    The problems being touted as significant are Housing: Food: Healthcare.
    They all can be mitigated with the implementation of Universal Basic Income.. The Economic engine as we know today would be ignited by a flow of “new

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/28/2018 - 10:11 am.

    Just to nit-pick for a moment or two…

    Mr. Slocum’s bio line is a actually a little weird:

    “Chuck Slocum (Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com) is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm. Pew Research Center, MPR/APM Research Lab and SurveyUSA were among the sources for this essay.”

    You don’t typically build reference sources into a bio like this, it’s kind of like saying:

    “Paul Udstrand is a photographer with a blog. He used material from the New York Times and Buzz to write this article.”

    This isn’t proper referencing, and the sources identified in the text so it’s not necessary.

    The way that Slocum includes it in his bio almost creates and pseudo affiliation with Pew, MPR, etc… Slocum is NOT affiliated with the organizations he cites, his only real affiliation is his own consulting firm, the Williston Group, THAT’S his bio.

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/29/2018 - 09:18 am.

    My thanks

    …to Paul Udstrand for sparing me a LOT of typing this morning. Yes, we (the state and the country) have problems, the vast majority of which could be relatively easily solved if People of Money had much less influence in government than they currently have, and if legislators at every level truly understood that there’s no free lunch. There’s simply no way, at least in this universe, to tax-cut your way to prosperity for the society as a whole, as opposed to further lining the already-stuffed pockets of the 1%. Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats do a major disservice to the public by suggesting otherwise.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/30/2018 - 12:12 pm.

      Ray if I might

      Piggy back? Get $ out of politics, companies are not individuals, with Citizens United the SCOTUS has created a land of Oligarchs that elect our politicians, to stuff their own pockets and destroy the American fabric. 100% Agree, tax cut your way to prosperity is a 100% failed concept! Real question is, why are there so many short sighted, minded folks that keep pumping the same old BS? We won’t solve any of the noted issues, until we get some honesty and objectivity back in politics, and that won’t happen until we get the $ out.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/30/2018 - 09:29 am.

    Just to put a finer point on it…

    If we want to have a meaningful discussion about political problem solving, there’s no need to discuss Mr. Slocum’s “topics”. We’ve been discussing this topics for decades. The question we would ask is why and how it is that we have a political system that refuses to implement the most obvious, efficient, and economical solutions and policies for decades on end? Unfortunately one of the answers to THAT question is the continued and perpetual practice of “discussing” these issues ad nauseam instead of implementing the solutions.

    In some ways “forums” like this actually divert our attention from substantive discussions by inviting us to pretend that after decades of study and debate we still have no workable solutions. The truth is that we’ve had workable solutions for decades, we just have a political system wherein power is distributed in such a way that status quo disfunction is preserved at the majorities expense. And I would point out that the status quo is preserved no matter which Party “wins” in a given election cycle. We’ve solved these problems, the problem is no matter who we elect, they won’t implement the solutions. If we’re not going to discuss THAT problem with our political system, we may as well stay home and walk the dog.

  9. Submitted by John Appelen on 05/30/2018 - 03:26 pm.


    It seems to me that Chuck’s problem statements are pretty good and challenging. And his bio seems good.

    What fascinates me is that the usual Liberals continue to propose their same old tired solutions to these challenging problems. “Just tax successful people more and give it to unsuccessful people” and “Just mandate higher wages via Unions or laws”…

    I have yet to understand how that is going to increase the capabilities of the American work force, encourage US consumers to spend money in this country, grow the wealth of America, pay down our debts, etc.

    Where as Chuck seems to be promoting better educational outcomes, working to attract employers, growing our economy, spending wisely, etc. I wish Chuck and the group success.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2018 - 08:55 am.

      What’s really funny…

      What’s really funny is when Republicans who’ve had one and one only “solution” to all problems (magic tax cuts) for decades try to characterize rational problem solving as “tired old solutions”.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/31/2018 - 11:20 am.


        It seemed to me that the writer proposed quite a few different potential solutions.
        – Improved education and training
        – Encouraging innovation
        – Effective taxation and spending
        – Deficit and debt reduction
        – Improved power sources

        All of which make sense to me… 🙂

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/31/2018 - 01:59 pm.

          Plenty of Nothing

          P.J. O’Rourke once said that a political speech is no good unless someone can disagree with it (you can argue that we do have something to fear other than fear itself). The same goes for policy statements. It’s easy to be in favor of “improvement,” “encouragement,” and “effectiveness.” Is there anyone out there who doesn’t want to improve education and training? Of course not, unless you are rigid that your ideas about “improvement” are the only conceivable way forward and the only things that would actually “improve” anything. Saying someone is in favor of “improvement” is saying nothing.

          Let’s hear what the real suggestions are.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/31/2018 - 02:36 pm.

            Problem Solving

            I think that was the point of the sessions he wrote about.

            It was the Liberal commenters who went all negative as is often the case here. 🙂

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/01/2018 - 06:04 pm.

          It’s Not Training

          Wages have been flat for those with some training, as well as those who are highly trained. So more training will not help wages rise.

          A few years ago, some of the most highly trained and sought after people in the economy, software engineers, found out the system was rigged. The corporations who hired the best of them had conspired to hold down wages by not bidding up their wages. Rigged? You bet.

          Also in recent years, Boeing, a very profitable corporation also employing very highly skilled employees, gave them the beat down too. Without even claiming they need to lower labor cost to stay profitable, they demanded employees give up their defined benefit pension. Virtually every politician in the blue state of Washington joined in putting massive pressure on the workforce to make unneeded concessions. Boeing also moved thousands of jobs to anit-worker South Carolina.

          Oh yeah, get trained, get screwed. The game is rigged.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/01/2018 - 10:15 pm.


            The reality is that I am not too concerned about software programmers, machinists, engineers, equipment assemblers, etc. I work with these folks daily and am one, and we are all doing okay.

            I often ask folks here, do you personally pay more than you need to?
            Or do you negotiate for the best value? (ie price, quality, etc)

            Why do you think businesses should pay more than required?
            Do you think customers will pay more because the company paid too much?

            I am much more concerned about adults who do not complete High School or barely scrape by.

            The unfortunate reality is that American consumers want great value, just like our businesses and their investors.

            The American citizens may say they want higher compensation, but this does not stop them from buying products and services from over seas to save a few bucks… It is an interesting catch 22.

            1. I want to be paid more than market…
            2. I want to pay less than market…

            No wonder we lost so many jobs in the USA.

            • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/02/2018 - 02:23 pm.

              The Fallacy

              Is that there is this mythical “market” that impartially decides all such things. It doesn’t exist now, it never did. It’s why Wall Street was able to tank the economy, and no one went to jail. And now, they will loosen the rules, all because we haven’t had a crash for ten years.

              1. I want an economy based on competition
              2. I want to rig the game to eliminate all of my competitors, or at least secretly meet with them to divide market share

              No wonder no one believe the barons of industry who sing the praises of the market.

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/02/2018 - 04:59 pm.


                Please remember that there were many people who contributed to the great recession. (ie business, government, investors, mortgagees, other) This video explains it well. Who did you want to send to jail.

                What companies do you think have this near monopolistic power?

                I mean Apple sure has some serious competition in all the Droids.
                The Big 3 automakers were nearly wiped out, because US consumers have no loyalty to the American workers.
                Boeing has serious competition in Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier and China is working to create their own world class planes.
                There are thousands of software firms…
                There are hundreds of banks.

                Now please remember that if we think a company is and can stay monopolistic, then we should buy their stock. I did buy Bank of America stock when it plummeted from $54 to $6 per share, even though they do have a lot of intense competition.

                Again, my priority is how do we push, prod and/or pull all citizens to being educated and/or skilled. That way they can pick the job they want and make a lot more money.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/31/2018 - 02:18 pm.


      The same old failed and tired solution from the right is: Take from the poor (any way you can, legal twisted or not, sign them up for lifetime financial servitude call it free market) and give to the rich, somehow magically it will trickle down and make them wealthy! I have yet to understand how that has or will ever work. Lots of ideals spouted, but as said below, when the opportunity to put the rubber to the road comes around, it never happens. Should we start with the $1.5 T + deficit funded tax break for billionaires?

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/31/2018 - 02:34 pm.

        Take from the Poor

        Our society gives everyone a free K-12 education. And we provide free healthcare, food, housing, higher education, etc for many unsuccessful citizens…

        These are all paid for through progressive taxation of the successful citizens.

        How again are we taking money from unsuccessful people?

        Do you mean by expecting them to pay some of their bills?

        • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/01/2018 - 12:37 pm.

          The answer

          We can’t arrive at reasonable solutions to the 4 topics, because folks can’t agree on the logic or the process. The response logic looks like: Poor folks are rich because they get stuff for free, and rich folks are poor because they pay taxes to sup[port free stuff! Back at the example increased the deficit and gave $1.5 T+ to rich (poor) to make the poor (rich) better off.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/01/2018 - 01:43 pm.


            I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say.

            “Poor folks are rich because they get stuff for free, and rich folks are poor because they pay taxes to support free stuff!”

            Ian asked good related questions over here.

            “Why should any government punish people for making bad decisions? Who’s the arbiter of this moral standard? What constitutes a “bad’ decision?” Ian

            To which I answered.

            “To improve our society for the good of all citizens.
            All citizens through their vote and our government.
            Whatever our society decides.

            As Lincoln said at the Gettysburg address.

            “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

            Now does that mean we reward unsuccessful people with money taken from successful people? Allowing them to stay as they are?


            Do we use the power of our society to ensure all citizens strive to learn, work and support the America for the betterment of all Americans?

            I don’t have the answer, but they certainly are good questions…”

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