Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Good morning, everyone.

I found this L.A. Times article as I scanned through the internet this morning. Recently, several news anchors and commentators have asked just what the U.S. Government can really do, besides clean up the mess, concerning the BP catastrophe. If this article is accurate, the answer may be: 'not much.' These deepwater drilling rigs are classified as ships and, as such, are 'flagged' in various foreign countries whose safety and environmental laws apply (if they have any at all) and whose governments are responsible for enforcing those laws.
"The Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico was built in South Korea. It was operated by a Swiss company under contract to a British oil firm. Primary responsibility for safety and other inspections rested not with the U.S. government but with the Republic of the Marshall Islands — a tiny, impoverished nation in the Pacific Ocean."

I see two things that really, really need to change but both require alterations in international, maritime law NOT U.S. law. First, the rigs can be classified as ships when they are moving from one location to another but once they reach the drill site that classification should change. I am not sure to what but once they are anchored to the ocean floor they should come under the laws of the nation in whose waters they are located. Second, whenever the U.S. leases out these sites, the contract should specifically allow for all U.S. law to apply no matter where these 'ships' are flagged.

HuffingtonPost also has an interesting little article on the increasingly 'bifurcated' labor market. The split, according to the authors, is between high-skilled jobs that require "problem solving, intuition, and persuasion" and low-skilled jobs involving "situational adaptability, visual and language recognition, and in-person interactions ". It seems that 'middle-skilled' jobs are an endangered species. Having spent a good many years in the academic study of history, I recall similar discussions of the labor conditions the beginning of the last century when most of the 'unskilled' jobs were mechanized out of existence and from the 1960s through the 1980s when many low-skilled jobs were computerized out of existence. I see a few problems these nice, antiseptic, academic studies paper over. These transitions in the labor market destroy many more jobs than the market creates in the same time. Then the people displaced from the jobs have to re-train for new jobs but they have fewer resources to enable them to retrain and, often, the wages they are training for don't provide a 'living' for the worker. Note that the low-skilled jobs the authors are describing require a high-school diploma AND some college. Higher skilled jobs require considerably more. That is an expensive proposition. Right now our system encourages workers to go into debt. I haven't seen any statistics which look at the higher pay the college educated MIGHT get and deduct for the debt they have to repay. I don't see that you gain much if, with a college education, you are gaining $100k OVER YOUR WORKING LIFE if you have to pay back $100k, principle and interest, in loans.

Here is another story which drives home what I said above. It is one that strikes a very painful nerve with me since I have had ten years of low wage jobs, temporary jobs, and unemployment stretches during which time my student loans have been in deferment or forbearance accumulating interest along the way.

We haven't heard much about the health of the nation's banks. This story from MSNBC, though, indicates that it might be still somewhat precarious. I don't think I need to comment; but, I did go to the web site linked to check on the health of my own bank. It is doing nicely from what I can see. There is a lot to be said for the small local banks.

No comments: