US workers continue to fall behind in key skills

Good news: young workers the world over are getting more and more skilled. But US workers don’t appear to be keeping up with their peers overseas.

One Harvard Business School professor’s analysis of OECD adult assessment data has found a striking trend: younger adults in the US are more competent than their older American peers, but the trend is even more pronounced in other countries, with younger workers elsewhere now outstripping young US workers.

These results don’t just show up in literacy. Math and problem-solving skills look similar to the literacy picture.

Source: Jan Rivkin

One caveat here: this data looks at all adults, working and not. But if these trends are true for workers alone, and if US workers continue to have lower skill levels than their foreign peers throughout their working lives, it could be a reason for concern. Rivkin’s assessment is that this is a “serious challenge” to US competitiveness in the global economy. The causes here are likely complicated, but Rivkin for his part believes subpar outcomes among US children in the classroom (despite high public spending) play a part…

Source: Jan Rivkin

…If the US were creating more skilled workers and all other countries were declining, that would be troubling — skilled workers are key to economic growth, and trade can bring the economic gains from skilled workers elsewhere to US shores. So if workers in Japan or Germany are getting better and better educated and creating better and better products, it can to a certain extent boost economic activity in the US and elsewhere.

But if it is true that American workers are falling behind, that creates its own concerns. There is something to be said for American workers remaining competitive with their foreign counterparts and, for example, creating better products rather than simply selling the better products that are created overseas.

Americans – especially those who are silly enough to believe conservative and populist politicians – are likely to continue to shift the blame onto furriners – and American companies doing business abroad. The classic rationale being something like iPhones “made in China”. However, analysis of that manufacture concludes that 80% of the components in that smartphone are manufactured outside China, as nearby as Mexico. The cost of labor in that phone is 4% – which means the difference between US assembly and China assembly is less than $5-10. The critical difference between production of a range of products at a Foxconn plant and, say, an American plant in Texas or Tennessee is that Foxconn has 1500 capable process engineers in-house at each plant who can lead a complete manufacturing line changeover in 2 days or less.

No – our education system sucks and has IMHO for fifty years. Diminishing returns are the chickens that are coming home to roost and setting standards for the sake of standards is only part of the solution. It’s what the standards are – that is key. Listening to teachers who believe the myth of laissez faire choice for the kiddies – or 19th Century political minds who believe we can catch up to the world through Arithmetic 101 and school prayer – is going to achieve exactly what we’ve gotten to through a half-century of paying more attention to subsidizing Pentagon contractors than looking at what works in the countries preparing to run right past us within the global economy.

9/11 could have been stopped

The U.S. government pretended that 9/11 was unforeseeable…But overwhelming evidence shows that 9/11 was foreseeable. Indeed, Al Qaeda crashing planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was itself foreseeable.

The fallback government position is that the problem was that intelligence agencies were prohibited by law from sharing intelligence, because there was a “Chinese Wall” put up between agencies focusing on foreign and domestic threats.

Washington’s Blog spoke with senior NSA executive Thomas Drake about this claim.

9/11 was Drake’s first day on the job at the NSA. Drake was tasked with investigating what intelligence NSA had on the 9/11 plot, in order to document that 9/11 wasn’t NSA’s fault. However, Drake discovered that NSA had a lot of information on the hijackers, and could have stopped 9/11 had it shared its data with other intelligence agencies.

Drake’s NSA bosses didn’t like that answer, so they removed Drake from his task of being the NSA’s investigator and spokesman regarding 9/11…

WASHINGTON’S BLOG: A lot of people blame a “Chinese Wall” between foreign intelligence activities and domestic intelligence activities for not sharing the pre-9/11 data.

THOMAS DRAKE: That is a completely false “wall.” It was essentially to protect the status quo, or what they call “equities.”…It’s not true at all.

WASHINGTON’S BLOG: Was it a turf war?

THOMAS DRAKE: Yes, it’s partly that. People have this idea that the government is all powerful, all-knowing, and everybody is in league with each other.

That’s not true. In fact – in this space – you more often than not find agencies at war with each other, effectively. Such that NSA is at war with Congress to keep them in the dark about what they’re really doing…

WASHINGTON’S BLOG: If they’re actual bad guys, then you can go after them.

THOMAS DRAKE: Yes! And you had mechanisms where you actually end up putting them on trial. You have mechanisms where you can introduce that as evidence…

There isn’t a “wall” … it’s because there’s due process. With foreign intelligence, we had standing procedures.

We’ve tried bad people … in Article III courts. You didn’t have to do the rendition stuff. And you don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to be put on trial.

RTFA for more detailed description of this part of the interview. The video up top gives you another expanded version of agency turf wars.

Finally, the page at Washington’s Blog containing this segment on agency wars and 9/11 – has other pieces on NSA spying on journalists – how the NSA collects all our data not just metadata – and, yes, we ARE in a police state.

NASA debuts selfie of Earth

Click to enlarge

NASA has unveiled a global selfie, a stunning mosaic of the planet Earth seen from outer space that was stitched together from tens of thousands of self-portraits taken by people from around the world.

The Earth images were created with more than 36,000 selfies that were submitted to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory this year on Earth Day, by people from 131 nations or regions. In the mosaic, self-portraits with blue backgrounds illustrate oceans, those with white backgrounds illustrate clouds, and photos with brown backgrounds illustrate continents.

Thanks, Ursarodinia