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The past two years have been challenging for everyone, especially U.S. universities and international students. While many people hope the Fall 2021 semester will bring a return to normalcy on college campuses, the world and Covid-19 may have other plans. To better understand the multitude of issues facing universities, employers and international students, I interviewed Kenneth Reade, director of international student and scholar services at University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Dan Berger, a partner at Curran, Berger & Kludt.

Stuart Anderson: How challenging is it for students to obtain visas today?

Kenneth Reade: In the university community, we face a “double-whammy” of pent-up demand for U.S. consular visa appointments: Not only this year’s newly admitted class but most of the international students admitted in 2020 who were not able to make it to the United States last fall or this spring. International students are seeking appointments, and we wish we could provide more reassurance at this anxious moment.

One bit of breaking news illustrates the situation. The State Department on April 30th announced a presidential proclamation barring most people coming to the United States from India, which raised questions and sparked fear among Indian students already facing a fraught time with the Covid-19 situation there. Hours later, the State Department clarified that students would be exempt. It’s very positive that the State Department is listening to the international education community. In this world of lighting social media communication, it would have alleviated more concerns if the clarification had been issued at the same time as the proclamation.

Dan Berger: It has been a busy time with lots of news. The new proclamation on India highlights the uncertainty. We do not know how the Covid-19 situation in India will affect U.S consular operations, or if the State Department will consider more interview waivers to keep cases moving. Everything is in flux. Just last week, the U.S. consulates in Russia cut back to emergency services, and there are hints that U.S. consulates in China may offer more appointments for students.

Despite this uncertainty, we are slowly seeing glimmers of hope. The State Department just issued updated guidance that students in all countries with Covid-19 travel bans (UK, Ireland, the Schengen area, Iran, Brazil and China) will be eligible for “national interest exemptions.” But at the same time, most countries in the world are now under a travel advisory, meaning travel for a visa appointment is uncertain. We still do not have clear guidance about how the travel bans apply to the spouses and children of students or more generally for scholars and staff.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has also rolled out an online version of the student work authorization (OPT) application, which seems to be very gradually cutting processing times to help graduates start jobs on time. But the in-person biometrics requirements for changes of status (for example for those working in H-1B status who go back to school and prefer not to travel abroad during the pandemic) makes those applications move glacially slow.

Anderson: What is the current policy on international students and in-person and remote learning at U.S. universities?

Reade: The April 26 updated guidance from SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) confirming the extension of existing guidance for the entire 2021-22 academic year is very helpful because it has come early. Last year we did not get guidance until the last minute, making it extremely difficult to advise international students. We appreciate being able to continue Covid-19-related “flexibility,” including being able to issue I-20 immigration documents electronically and letting currently enrolled F-1 students stay outside of the U.S. beyond five months while maintaining their underlying F-1 immigration status. The ability for individual campuses to classify themselves with SEVP as hybrid, fully remote, or fully in-person allows significant leeway depending on each school’s operational capacities and local Covid-19 conditions.

The current guidance does not force a hard return to in-person classes for international students. But even as our campuses move back in that direction, I foresee increasing complications. Zoom isn’t going away, and the line between in-person and online instruction is now perhaps irreversibly blurred. The resumption of standard F-1 regulations without temporary guidance exceptions will make advising F-1 students even more challenging in the future now that online instructional delivery is bound to continue in some form.

Berger: Yes, unfortunately, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program has offered essentially no updated guidance regarding student work programs, such as Optional Practical Training or Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for students currently stranded abroad. It does not make sense to require students to fly to the U.S. to file their OPT applications when the students are allowed to study remotely from their home country.

Anderson: What advice do you have for international students?

Reade: It’s easier said than done, but international students, especially new admits who have yet to secure an F-1 visa, need to try to remain as patient and flexible as possible, and know that their institutions in the U.S. support them fully and sincerely empathize with their concerns.

They should try to avoid the temptation to be distracted by online and social media “advice,” and instead rely on your U.S. institution’s guidance. Also, grab any type of U.S. consular appointment that may be available just to get into the State Department’s appointment booking system, even if the date is unrealistically far in the future (we’ve already had some new students offered consular appointment bookings for early 2022!).

The State Department is working on a plan to prioritize student visa processing for the fall. But we know it’s hard for students who are planning their lives and their move to wait—especially because last summer many did not make it to America.

Anderson: What advice do you have for university administrators?

Berger: Continue to be active in supporting international students through advocacy, and, if necessary, court challenges. Such efforts are still needed even with a new administration. Stephen Yale-Loehr, a Cornell Law School professor, shares this goal in a recent article. Advocate for more guidance and a positive message for international students, for a path to long-term status for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), TPS (Temporary Protected Status) and undocumented students, for the ability of refugees to attend U.S. colleges, and for increased consular services abroad so students can come to our campuses.

Reade: Listen to your senior international officers and include them in every aspect of fall campus planning, even if some of that planning is not necessarily “international” in nature. Remember that even though Covid-19 rates are declining in the United States and vaccinations are increasing, that is not the case in most of the world. Covid-19 conditions worldwide will continue to hamper U.S. consular operations, and fall international enrollment will continue to be negatively impacted as a result.

Anderson: Have you been pleased with Biden administration policies that affect international students?

Reade: I think it’s fair to say that most, if not all, immigration practitioners are relieved by the positive tone of the Biden Administration’s policies on immigration. I will say, however, that there is a remaining sense of exhaustion at trying to keep up with the updates to advise our international students. Similar to policy directives during the Trump Administration, Biden’s new policies are equally challenging—albeit in a very different way— since absorbing the updates often leads to more questions.

Anderson: What else would you like to see the Biden administration do?

Berger: We would like to see more guidance based on back-and-forth communication, such as to:

1) Continue the very welcomed trend of setting visa policies at U.S. consulates abroad based on the public health situation there, and updating policies as the Covid-19 situation evolves, but keep open to ways to avoid in person services in countries where the pandemic is spiking.

2) Expand the “special student relief” granted recently to students from two countries in dire situations—Syria and Venezuela—to support all students during the pandemic (at least through the end of 2021).

3) Continue issuing clarifying FAQs (frequently asked questions) on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program guidance about the flexibility schools have to support international students abroad or taking online classes during the pandemic. Uncertainty can be difficult and discouraging for international students. More communication will help move beyond the fear that lingers from last year.

4) Revive high-level communication between the government and higher education by bringing back the Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council.

Reade: I would like to see progressive reform to student visa regulations be decoupled from the larger debate over “comprehensive immigration reform.” Immigration has sadly become such a toxic political football that lumping international education regulatory reform together with all of the other critical but highly contentious immigration issues such as border security, asylum and refugees, DACA, etc., can be a recipe for policy stagnation.

Reforming international student policies should instead be presented for what they are: an undeniable national economic benefit crucial to competing for the world’s most talented individuals. Over the years, whenever I have spoken with members of Congress and their staff about international education issues, there is near-unanimous support, regardless of one’s side of the aisle. And it’s because the issue is ultimately a local one.

The significant economic impact to the district and state that international students bring speaks for itself whether it be tuition revenue or the high-skilled jobs created by our international graduates through startups and other local business development. International education touches on so many areas that are often not linked together: the economy, national security, public diplomacy, education and the labor market, to name a few.

We have a golden opportunity to take international student policy to the next level with the Biden Administration. It needs to be driven steadily and confidently by facts and data about the value of international students, and with the aim of removing regulatory impediments for students. We need to continue to welcome the world’s most talented young minds to this country for education, and reward them with an opportunity to contribute to American society and the economy.

More and more, customers are taking control of their experience. Amazon.com is a perfect example of how a company has given complete control to its customers. They can research products, compare prices, learn from customer reviews and ratings, and more. That’s self-service at every step of the customer’s journey. Even when it comes to getting customer support, Amazon encourages a self-service solution before talking to one of its customer service agents. And regarding that customer support, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, said, “The best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works.”

The legend is that Bezos claimed Amazon didn’t need a customer service/support department. It should be so good that the customer never needs to call. That worked well until the customer had a problem, even if it wasn’t usually Amazon’s fault. Once the merchandise left the warehouse it was out of their control. Maybe the item was damaged or lost in transit. Maybe it was accidentally dropped off at the wrong address. So, if there was a problem, even if it wasn’t the company’s fault, the customer still needed someone to call.

The idea behind customers picking up the phone to call a customer support department is becoming an antiquated way of thinking. Just as customers enjoy the Amazon experience, in which they have total control, they are starting to enjoy taking control of their customer service. That means they don’t always call the company. They take matters into their own hands and try and find answers to their questions and resolutions to their problems on their own.

I recently interviewed Jeff Nicholson, global head of CRM for Pegasystems, for an episode of Amazing Business Radio. He shared some stats and facts from the brand new Relevance Revolution Report that make the case for self-service customer support and why it needs to improve.

·        56% of consumers go to a company’s website before they call customer service. I have to wonder, “Why not more?” Read the next stat.

·        82% of consumers say they are willing to use self-service options, but 46% of them don’t expect good results. And there is the answer. Almost half don’t expect to have good results.

Based on these stats, it looks like some companies that offer their customers self-service options have a long way to go. It’s not that the technology isn’t there – it’s that the right technology isn’t there. Two things are driving dissatisfaction in the self-service solutions that don’t meet the customer’s expectations. One is that the customer has learned what great service looks like from rock-star companies that get it right. Two is that many companies haven’t implemented or properly thought through their service offerings.

 Nicholson believes customers now expect a higher level of self-service, whether they know it or not, and he refers to this as autonomous service.

You are most likely familiar with autonomous self-driving vehicles. Artificial intelligence (AI) is what drives (no pun intended) a self-driving car or truck. The same is happening in the customer service industry. AI and automation are becoming more and more important in the customer’s journey to get questions answered and problems resolved. Many customers now prefer these self-service options over contacting a live agent. They only go the human-to-human route if self-service options fail. And that is okay, provided the route to the human agent is easy and seamless and the customer continues the journey rather than having to start over once they reach an agent.

The game changer is that Autonomous Service is connected inherently to each customers’ journey at the center. By organizing around the customer journey, rather than generic one-size-fits-all information, or around channels, customers have the opportunity to be treated to the same level of service they may get by speaking with an agent. It starts with advanced knowledge bases and video tutorials. It moves to sophisticated IVR (interactive voice response) systems and AI-fueled intelligent virtual assistants (IVA’s). The system recognizes individual customers, can understand what they are asking, and can even anticipate their individual needs. In some cases, it can proactively or even preemptively support the customer, resolving a problem before the customer even knows there was a problem. Autonomous service is a simple, convenient way for the customer to receive their customer support.

This will only be accepted by customers if, simply put, it works. For customers to embrace the concept of autonomous service, or any digital self-service solution, the 46% of customers who don’t expect to have a good experience has to get much lower, ideally to zero percent. That only happens when the customer’s experience is on-point, predictable and consistent.

I asked Nicholson if autonomous service would eventually eliminate the live agent. His answer was reassuring to those in the customer support world. “In five years, there will still be a need for human customer service agents, but the nature of their work will be more meaningful as mundane inquiries and inquiries that may require lower levels of human empathy will be handled through autonomous capabilities.”

Among other things, Amazon’s 2021 first quarter results confirm its long-standing strategy, which I first talked about early in 2018 and touched on again toward the middle of 2019: vertical integration as a logistics operator.

The company revealed an 80% increase in its capital investments earmarked for logistics-related operations, both in its fleets of vans, planes and trucks, as well as new warehouses, with the aim of becoming its own end-to-end logistics operator, which would be a huge coup for both private courier companies and, in many countries, national mail operators. By 2019, Amazon was already carrying almost half of its own shipments in the US, and by now that figure is almost two-thirds, bearing in mind that the pandemic has seen huge growth.

Amazon has always been highly customer-centric, which means that many of its metrics measure end-customer satisfaction, driving rigorous quality control at all stages, or applying a “no questions asked” returns or complaints policy. A good part of the problems the company encounters are related to shipments, to the moment when the package leaves an Amazon warehouse and is placed in the hands of a different logistics operator.

The logistics business is not characterized by this kind of customer care, and despite the fact that quality has been improving over the last few years, we are still talking about a high incidence of mishandled shipments, missed delivery schedules and other similar problems. When a good part of the complaints a company receives are beyond its control because they originate from logistics partners and it is forced to take them on to some extent as part of its customer satisfaction policy, it makes sense to go for vertical integration and handle its own logistics, despite the huge barrier to entry that is involved in setting up a shipping infrastructure on the scale of the e-commerce giant. However, everything points to the fact that, once these entry barriers and heavy initial investments have been overcome, these types of systems develop their own momentum, so that continuing to operate them from a given point becomes much simpler. In fact, such logistics integration would be key to improving the company’s expectations in terms of reducing the logistics cycle, with increasingly faster deliveries.

This would be in line with Amazon’s strategy of converting all its investments into platforms that are then offered to third parties. In this sense, part of the investment that Amazon mobilizes for the construction of its delivery system would be assumed by companies that would use it as an operator when selling through Amazon, in the same way that happens with the capacity of its warehouses or with the operation of its cloud computing. We can expect Amazon at some point to stop using Fedex, UPS or DHL and start competing directly with them, generating, due to its large volume, major disruption.

The FedEx executive who played down Amazon’s efforts to develop its complete logistics back in 2018, saying that the company “should not be confused as competition” may soon be eating his words. Not only is Amazon a competitor, it’s one of those competitors companies should really be afraid of. In the United States alone, logistics is a $1.5 trillion business. It remains to be seen how much of that market Amazon can take, and how many of its competitors will fall by the wayside in the process.

Net-zero climate commitments are all the rage. Former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney recently led the launch of the Glasgow Finance Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ). The UN-convened Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA) announced net-zero commitments from 43 global banks. At President Biden’s climate leaders’ summit, numerous countries were pressed about their paths to net-zero. The emergence of net-zero as a climate goal is a positive development that is based on the latest climate science. However, understanding the challenges behind the “net” in net-zero is critical for meaningful climate action.

A Tight Budget

In 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued an alarming report. The planet had warmed about 1°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and impacts were already being felt in “more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice.” The report explored the impacts of further warming on societies, ecosystems, and the Earth overall. Their conclusion was sobering: “every extra bit of warming matters…warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes.” The research indicated that planetary systems could be highly sensitive to small changes in temperature. As a result, keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C became a critical goal in limiting the worst impacts of climate change.

However, the world currently emits around 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year (2020 emissions were lower due to the COVID-19 crisis). Since the industrial revolution, human activities have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by 50%. These rising carbon dioxide levels (and the production of other greenhouse gases) has raised temperatures at an unprecedented rate. While some greenhouse gases are relatively short-lived in the atmosphere, most carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries or longer. Thus, cumulative emissions can determine future temperatures. As a result, there is a very limited carbon budget to hold warming below 1.5 °C. Estimates of the remaining budget range from 6 to 11 years at today’s emissions levels. These emissions are wholly incompatible with global climate goals. As a result, the world needs undergo rapid emissions reductions to remain within its carbon budget. The IPCC stated that a 1.5 °C-aligned path will require anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and to reach “net zero” around 2050.

Why “Net”-Zero?

Reducing emissions so far and fast demands major changes across nearly all economic sectors. Unfortunately, some industries may be technically difficult or expensive to decarbonize. A few examples include aviation, shipping, and building materials (namely concrete). Given the challenge in decarbonization, these industries may continue producing emissions even after 2050. However, their emissions can be offset by activities that actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These activities may be natural solutions like reforestation or technological ones like carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). The key is that carbon dioxide emissions produced in 2050 are balanced by equivalent carbon dioxide removal, hence the “net” in net-zero.

While the mathematics of net-zero are sound, the application of offsets and negative emissions technologies has been more complicated in practice. Some carbon offset schemes have suffered from credibility issues. In certain cases, offset credits were given for projects that would have been completed anyway, a form of double counting. Others may plant saplings but claim credit for the potential emissions reductions of a mature forest, which may take decades to capture the emitted carbon dioxide. Most worryingly, in some projects indigenous people have been forcibly removed from land that has been designated for carbon offsets. These concerns mean that independent verification of offset project practices is crucial if they are to play a significant role in achieving net-zero.

Negative emissions technologies also have drawbacks. Carbon capture has long been touted by coal and gas power plant operators, but the economics have proven difficult. With solar and wind power plunging in cost, it is increasingly cheaper and easier to simply shift to non-emitting energy sources. Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and direct air capture (DAC) have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide and offset residual emissions. However, these technologies are largely untested at scale. In the case of bioenergy, fuel crops can compete for land with food crops, an issue exemplified by problematic ethanol production policies. For direct air capture, the technology is still massively expensive and only operational at a few demonstration sites. Negative emissions technology may help address the climate challenge, but its uncertainties should be acknowledged in any net-zero plan.

Net-zero represents a global goal. Governments, businesses, and societies must commit to reduce emissions. Based on the best climate scenario models, net-zero by 2050 represents the best way to manage the transition to a low-carbon future while minimizing the climate risks faced. However, the “net” component of the commitment is rife with uncertainties about sector decarbonization behavior and negative emissions technologies. Leaders striving towards collective climate goals should carefully consider the assumptions in the net-zero pathway they choose.

The recent launch of Airtags and iOS version 14.5, which uses Apple Watch to unlock an iPhone when the user is wearing a mask, again highlights Apple’s vocation for creating product ecosystems where the differentiating feature is the interconnection between different elements of the range.

The feeling of using not one product, but an ecosystem made up of several devices that “talk” to each other is by no means new. I have it every morning when I open my computer and it unlocks without prompting me while I feel the vibration of the watch on my wrist, and the same principle is now used to unlock the phone when I have my mask on.

The ultimate application of that principle has been developed by Apple for Airtags, which leverage the network of more than a billion iPhones distributed around the world (and even Android devices) as a way to geolocate a lost object, boosting its value proposition from what was until then the leader in that segment since its launch in 2012, Tile, which relies on the network of other similar devices distributed around the world (it has sold some 35 million of them so far, plus some other devices that license and incorporate its technology). In fact, Tile has joined Sonos, PopSockets and Basecamp in complaining to Congress about the extent to which big tech companies threaten innovation by leveraging elements of their ecosystem or platform model that allow them to develop their value proposition in a unique way, and the extent to which that is an unfair advantage.

The pundits have pointed out that the way Apple’s various devices work together is one of the strategies the company uses to increase its customers’ share: you buy one branded product, but its ability to function with another from the same brand is an incentive to remain loyal and get more products from the brand. This ecosystem development now extends not only to our devices, but also to those of other people we’ ve never met, but who make up a network that covers practically the entire planet and can help you locate on a map what you have lost, with all the guarantees of privacy that the brand provides. How many more uses can be derived from such a feature?

By definition, an ecosystem of products has a higher value proposition than a single product. Apple’s long-standing leverage is hardly news. But with Airtags, in many ways, it takes it to a higher level.

When Americans think about the contributions of immigrants to the defense of the nation we should recall there was a time when it appeared unlikely America would even be a nation. Alexander Hamilton played an important role in America’s early years and Thomas Paine galvanized public opinion with Common Sense, but Friedrich von Steuben played the most critical military role of any immigrant during America’s fight for independence. In a way, he was America’s first employment-based immigrant.

In 1777, Friedrich von Steuben, a former Prussian officer, met with Benjamin Franklin, the colonies’ ambassador to France, and Franklin’s chief agent in Paris, Silas Deane, and impressed them enough that they, in effect, recruited him to help the Continental Army. While Steuben had served admirably as a Prussian officer, by 1777, he was out of a job and agreed to travel to the colonies, present himself with Franklin’s recommendations to the Continental Congress and, it was hoped, become a paid officer for General Washington.

Franklin and Deane’s introduction to the Continental Congress overstated Steuben’s background. Moreover, Steuben did not possess the money to travel to the colonies. Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, a French playwright and friend of Steuben, gave him a loan.

What Steuben lacked in wealth and status, he made up for with other qualities. Nearing the age of 50, Steuben had amassed experience from many of Europe’s best military minds. “What set Steuben apart from his contemporaries was his schooling under Frederick the Great, Prince Henry and a dozen other general officers,” writes Paul Lockhart, author of The Drillmaster of Valley Forge. “He had learned from the best soldiers in the world how to gather and assess intelligence, how to read and exploit terrain, how to plan marches, camps, battles and entire campaigns. He gleaned more from his 17 years in the Prussian military than most professional soldiers would in a lifetime. In the Seven Years’ War alone, he built up a record of professional education that none of his comrades in the Continental Army—Horatio Gates, Charles Lee, the Baron Johann de Kalb and Lafayette included—could match.”

In December 1777, when Baron Friedrich von Steuben arrived in America, a colonial victory over the strongest empire on the globe looked uncertain. “Since losing a series of battles and being driven from New York the previous summer, Washington and his closest advisers had been uncharacteristically flummoxed by Gen. Sir William Howe, who led the 30,000 strong British expeditionary force in North America,” writes Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, authors of Valley Forge. “Throughout the spring and summer of 1777, Howe had orchestrated a series of feints that forced Washington into exaggerated countermeasures. He had dispatched some companies of his exhausted Continentals from their camp in Morristown, New Jersey, through rainstorms in searing heat as far north as the Hudson Highlands and as far south as the lower Delaware River.”

General George Washington, the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, chose to winter his troops at Valley Forge. Although the army had achieved surprising victories at Trenton and Princeton, the British occupied Philadelphia and Washington had yet to decide how next to deploy the Continental Army. In fact, the larger problem remained the state of the Army itself.

Steuben found the Continental Army at Valley Forge in bad shape. “What [Steuben] discovered was nothing less than appalling,” according to Thomas Fleming, author of Washington’s Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge. “He was confronting a wrecked army.” How wrecked? “The baron found soldiers without uniforms, rusted muskets without bayonets, companies with men missing and unaccounted for,” writes Erick Trickey for the Smithsonian. “Different officers used different military drill manuals, leading to chaos when their units tried to work together. If the army had to fight on short notice, von Steuben warned Washington, he might find himself commanding one-third of the men he thought he had. The army had to get into better shape before fighting resumed in the spring.”

Steuben grasped the key problems the army needed to overcome if it was to have a chance to defeat the well-trained and more experienced British Army. “Without ever having seen them fight, Steuben intuited that the resiliency the Americans had exhibited to this point in the war was offset by their professional limitations,” writes Drury and Clavin. “At less than three years old, the Continental Army lacked an institutional memory; its soldiers were no more adept at fighting a practiced, dedicated foe than its commissary officers were at feeding and clothing them. What few drills the army practiced were a mélange of the whims of individual state commanders whose influences, such as they were, ranged from bits of French, English and Prussian field guides to homegrown backwoods fighting techniques.”

Steuben understood his role could decide the outcome of the war. “It was only the Americans’ spirited tenacity that had prevented them from being completely swept away by polished British and Hessian soldiers at Brandywine and Germantown,” according to Drury and Clavin. “Such hardiness had been responsible for the surprise victories in Boston and at Trenton and Princeton. But Steuben knew that the Continentals’ tendency to expose the flanks of their long files of Indian style marching columns, for instance, or their inability to form swiftly into disciplined lines of fire, would ultimately lead to catastrophe.”

Steuben decided he needed to instruct the troops in drilling to instill discipline and professionalism in both soldiers and officers. He chose to “train” the trainers, teaching a twenty-man squad that could then be used to instruct other troops. He started with the proper standing position and moved to “dressing their ranks” or proper alignment, then the marching step. “The speed of the marching was entirely new to the soldiers . . . Finally, the men were taught how to face 90 degrees to the right, 90 degrees to the left, and to face to the rear, which must always be done by spinning 180 degrees clockwise on both heels,” writes Lockhart.

Baron von Steuben demonstrated drilling himself and punctuated his instruction with entertaining profanity in French or German, translated to the troops. He oversaw the drilling and showed unique insight into the character of the American troops, notes Lockhart. He understood American soldiers where not like European soldiers who were mostly peasants and naturally deferential, ready to obey those with higher social rank. “The genius of this nation is not to be compared . . . with that of the Prussians, Austrians or French,” Steuben wrote to a Prussian friend following the war. “You say to your soldier, ‘Do this,’ and he does it; but I am obliged to say, ‘This is the reason why you ought to do that,’ and then he does it.”

George Washington recorded favorable first impressions of Steuben but it was the former Prussian officer’s results that most gained Washington’s confidence. “Washington had ordered the cessation of all drilling not overseen by Steuben or his subinspectors,” according to Drury and Clavin. And this confidence in Steuben extended beyond drilling. “So meticulous was Steuben’s process, so indefatigable his diligence, and so burgeoning his influence that Washington was soon issuing a series of general orders suitable for, and nearly indistinguishable from, the Prussian army’s boot camp directives.”

The change was remarkable. “They went from a ragtag collection of militias to a professional force,” according to historian Larrie Ferreiro. “[It was] Steuben’s ability to bring this army the kind of training and understanding of tactics that made them able to stand toe to toe with the British.”

In addition to preparing the Continental Army to defeat the British army and win independence, Steuben made two other important contributions to America. First, he wrote the field guide for the army. “[That] spring the resulting Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States would be circulated among general Smallwood’s troops in Delaware as well as Continental regiments in New Jersey,” writes Lockhart. “The work eventually constituted the United States Army’s primary field guide for decades and its unique rationale—that European military methods could be integrated into a thoroughly independent-minded Army—may be Steuben’s greatest gift to his adopted country.”

Steuben also contributed as a leader on the battlefield. He undertook the defense of Virginia and was at Yorktown for the final victory over the British. “Steuben’s division was still in the trenches two days later, on the nineteenth, the day designated for the surrender ceremony,” according to Lockhart. “The Baron planted the American flag on one of the captured British redoubts with his own hands. A small satisfaction, perhaps, but satisfaction nonetheless. After he had done so much to make this day possible – both by training the victorious army and by holding Virginia until Lafayette could take his place – Steuben no doubt felt that he deserved the honor.”

Steuben made two critical recommendations that became another contribution to his adopted country. First, he formulated plans for a small professional army that could be supplemented by reserves. Such an army could act as a deterrent to European powers. “His notion of a small peacetime army, supplemented in times of war with a national militia, would . . . serve as the underlying foundation of the American military establishment for many decades to come,” writes Lockhart.

Second, he recommended a military academy and suggested a curriculum. “West Point, and indeed all of the American service academies are products of the Baron’s agile mind,” according to Lockhart. “Above all other contributions tower the concepts of discipline and professionalism in the army as a whole and in the officer corps in particular.”

“The Baron de Steuben’s is the classic ‘coming to America’ story writ large,” writes Paul Lockhart. “Like so many immigrants before and since, he cut himself loose from the Old World and journeyed to the new intending to reinvent himself. He did just that.” Friedrich von Steuben may have been America’s first employment-based immigrant, and, like many immigrants, his achievements benefited America.

Climate commitments are everywhere. Corporations and countries are constantly announcing net-zero emissions plans and other green initiatives. However, greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise, and the planet continues getting hotter. The science is clear, we must limit global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial temperatures to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. To do that, we must reduce global carbon dioxide emissions to net-zero by 2050.

We are rapidly burning through our carbon budget. The UN’s Emissions Gap report indicates that the pathway to net-zero demands annual emissions reductions of nearly 8% until 2030. By contrast, the COVID-19 economic crisis only reduced emissions around 6%. Net-zero demands dramatic action from governments, companies, and societies.

Unfortunately, many climate actions have been primarily cosmetic. Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, the largest global banks have provided nearly $4 trillion in financing to coal, oil, and gas firms. The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) projects that worldwide energy emissions will rise by 0.6% annually until 2050. Even emissions reductions claims may be less impressive than they seem. Although U.S. emissions have fallen annually, much of this decline is due to the switch from coal to gas, which is still a fossil fuel. In other developed nations, apparent emissions reductions have come from deindustrialization, as manufacturing (and its associated emissions) shifts to the developing world.

In America, the Biden Administration has signaled a desire to meaningfully increase the nation’s climate ambition. In the face of the climate crisis, incremental steps and half-measures are no longer enough. That said, Biden’s infrastructure plan and commitment to clean power are a good start. However, America can and should act far more assertively: mandating a path to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. The nation can already regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. The net-zero transition will make America a global climate leader, create well-paid green jobs, and unlock massive opportunities for American business.

A Powerful Tool

After years of post-WWII environmental degradation, poisoned air, and blighted communities, Americans took a stand against industrial pollution. Congress passed environmental regulations, most notably the updated Clean Air Act of 1970. To enforce the act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created. This landmark act has dramatically improved air quality, spared millions from debilitating respiratory diseases, and increased American life expectancy.

The EPA has a strong track record on reducing air pollution. In the 1970s and 1980s, burning coal released huge amounts of sulfur dioxide, causing acid rain. As lakes and forests died, environmentalists demanded action. The EPA used the Clean Air Act to create limits on sulfur dioxide leading to an effective cap and trade system. In 1970, over 30 million tons of sulfur dioxide emissions were produced, by 2020 that number had fallen well below 2 million, a reduction of nearly 95%. Acid rain has also greatly decreased.

Just as the Clean Air Act tamed dangerous pollutants like sulfur dioxide, it can be applied to harmful greenhouse gases. In 2007, the Supreme Court confirmed that the act allows the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as pollutants. The EPA should set targets for greenhouse gas emissions to put them on a trajectory to net-zero. Climate scientists have already developed credible emissions reductions pathways that the EPA could use not only to determine overall national emissions levels, but also appropriate sector-specific targets.

The Clean Air Act has also been used to help the U.S. meet international environmental commitments. When scientists discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were destroying the planet’s protective ozone layer, rapid action was needed to avoid surging cases of skin cancer and blindness. In 1987, the major countries producing CFCs signed the Montreal Protocol, pledging to eliminate the use of these destructive chemicals. An amendment to the Clean Air Act created regulations around CFCs and provided a schedule for their ultimate phase out. As a result of this global action, the ozone layer is expected to recover by mid-century, preventing nearly two-million skin cancer deaths worldwide each year. A similar amendment could be added to align American emissions with the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

The Mother of Invention

Some have raised concerns that climate regulation will stifle economic growth or reduce American competitiveness. These concerns are unfounded. Mandating alignment to a net-zero emissions pathway would be a powerful catalyst for innovation and an opportunity for American companies to be global leaders in a sustainable future.

Government policies can provide the private sector with the certainty that markets will exist for their products. This effective public-private collaboration was seen in FDR’s transformation of the U.S. economy during WWII. He demanded that America produce 50,000 planes per year, a number that shocked allies and enemies alike. Given clear direction, American corporations then competed to meet FDR’s targets, improving technology, reducing costs, and increasing efficiency along the way. In 1944, the U.S. produced 100,000 planes. Today, requiring companies to follow net-zero pathways will spur them to identify the research, investment, and production strategies to rise to that goal.

Another benefit of a net-zero mandate is alignment with the climate policies of key trading partners. Lower domestic standards often do not benefit multinational American companies. The big automakers recognized this when opposing the Trump Administration’s emission standards rollbacks. The rollbacks put American automakers at a disadvantage in global markets. Regulatory fragmentation increases costs and reduces efficiencies for companies confronting different expectations in different markets. With Europe aiming for net-zero by 2050 and major Asian nations doing the same, the U.S. cannot afford to lag behind.

If America can become a climate leader, American business will reap the rewards. Around the world, demand is rapidly rising for decarbonization solutions and climate-adapted infrastructure. The International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank Group, estimates that by 2030 climate investment opportunities in emerging markets will total $23 trillion. American innovation can meet these needs, creating well-paid green jobs at home while empowering a more sustainable and resilient world.

Beyond benefits to U.S. companies, all citizens will benefit from the transition to net-zero. A net-zero future will improve living standards for Americans by greatly reducing health effects from air pollution, improving mobility and transportation, and lowering long-term energy costs.

Right now, the world is seeing a flood of voluntary net-zero commitments. However, we remain well behind on critical emissions targets. Global decarbonization needs to happen far faster to avoid disastrous climate change. The Biden Administration should not just make net-zero a goal; they should use the Clean Air Act to make it a reality.

On April 17, when NASA revealed the result of its competition to develop a spacecraft to take astronauts back to the moon, it was clear that Elon Musk’s strategy of leveraging economies of scale had passed yet another milestone.

The competition pitted three proposals: Dynetics, a regular supplier to the Department of Defense; Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company, which had partnered with usual suspects in the aerospace world like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper; and Musk’s SpaceX.

Usually, NASA chooses more than one company for this type of arrangement, so as to cover its back and avoid any of them not being able to deliver its technology on time, but in this case it awarded the contract it in its entirety to SpaceX. In May 2020, NASA had also chosen SpaceX over the mighty Boeing to carry a mission with three astronauts to the international space station, and last week, they used another rocket from the company to send four astronauts more, making Musk’s company already one of the most trusted partners of the government space agency.

What made NASA choose SpaceX? Fundamentally, the aspect that differentiates Elon Musk’s companies: leveraging economies of scale. NASA’s $2.89 billion contract assures SpaceX the ability to develop, test and send two missions to the lunar surface: the second flight, which will be manned, is scheduled for 2024. But the value of the contract could be multiplied by a very important factor if, as expected, NASA continues, after this contract, to place its trust in SpaceX to continue sending regular missions to the moon to supply a base there with a permanent facility: in many ways, NASA’s contract is a major departure from what it has been proposing up to now.

This is precisely the most significant element of the decision, and where SpaceX had the biggest advantage: Blue Origin’s project was the most conventional, with a three-stage landing design, in line with NASA’s approach, but from which virtually no components were recovered. Dynetics delivered a more innovative and reusability-oriented proposal, but was unambitious, proposing to take just a few astronauts to the moon.

In contrast, SpaceX presented Starship, its huge rocket designed to reach Mars carrying dozens of people on a mission lasting about six months — which Musk insists will be ready before 2030, while accusing the European Space Agency of lack of ambition — making it oversized for the lunar mission, but which ensures the complete reusability of the spacecraft, a technological challenge SpaceX has been preparing for quite some time after carrying out multiple tests and launches. NASA’s support for such a bold project is an unusual gamble — government agencies tend to play it safe — but it makes sense given the dramatic change in scale involved.

In this sense, winning the NASA contract is critical to SpaceX’s ambitions to go to Mars, but it is also a change of scale for NASA itself, which until now could only aspire to launch one large rocket a year costing $2 billion, which was then lost in the ocean. Now, it can move on to thinking about carrying up to 100 tons of cargo, but building one rocket a month and reusing it dozens of times. More launches imply more experience, hence, more economies of scale. If $2 billion allows it to launch 100 tons of materials into space every two weeks, the dimension of the space program changes completely. 

Once again, Musk’s vision of economies of scale becomes the way to change an industry. Convincing NASA, in this case, was a matter of scale and pure economic logic: setting completely new rules of the game that no previous competitor had ever considered taking to that scale, allowing SpaceX to anticipate the savings to create an unbeatable value proposition while its competitors were playing by the old rules.

If you thought the rules governing industries were written in stone, now you know. There’s always room for a new approach.

April 24 marks the Armenian Genocide Memorial Day, a day to remember the victims of the Armenian Genocide. The day is observed by only a handful of states: Armenia, the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), Canada, France, Argentina and the State of California. The Armenian Genocide took place between 1915 and 1923 when 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were arrested, deported or murdered by the Ottoman Empire. Despite the staggering human cost of the Armenian Genocide, only some 32 countries have recognized the atrocities for what they are – genocide. As of April 24, 2021, and on this 106th anniversary of the atrocities, thanks to President Biden, this number increased to 33.

President Biden formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide said: “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring.” He added: “Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination. We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”

This formal recognition comes after several his predecessor refused to recognize the Ottoman Empire’s atrocities for what they were. Indeed, in 2019, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to recognize the atrocities as genocide, despite opposition from Trump Administration. The move from the U.S. Senate came only a couple of months after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution with the same message. However, the Trump Administration has rejected this recognition.

The formal recognition of historic cases as genocide is not a matter of semantics. Such a formal recognition is crucial for survivors and their families in their efforts to move on. It is crucial for reconciliation and discovery of the truth. It sends a clear message of solidarity with the targeted communities. It is also crucial to deter similar crimes in the future.

Indeed, according to the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, ‘history of atrocity crimes committed with impunity against protected groups’ is an indicator of the risk of genocide. If history of atrocity crimes committed with impunity is indeed a risk factor of genocide, this is all the reason we need to ensure that past atrocities are recognized for what they are as this knowledge will help us to analyze the situations against the risk factors and identify the risk of atrocity crimes. This should then be followed by informed responses to prevent the escalation and protecting the targeted communities from their ultimate annihilation. Denial can only achieve the opposite.

Other States must join in recognizing the Armenian Genocide for what it is. However, it should not stop at powerful words. As President Biden emphasized: “Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world.”

This week’s news has highlighted what the world may look like as women continue their unprecedented, planetary rise. When the gals get into power, they often seem keen on saving the planet. I have written in the past about the four big, transformative 21st century issues every company I work with is addressing. I call them the 4 W’s: web, weather, world and women. Technological revolution, climate change, globalisation … and the massive arrival of women into political, economic and social power for the first time in human history. I’ve always thought these 4 W’s were inter-connected, and here are two timely examples. A smell of spring – for all of us.

A Marriage of Tech & Climate

Microsoft UK and the UK’s Met office, the weather forecasting service, just announced a plan to build one of the world’s most powerful weather forecasting supercomputers. It “will take weather and climate forecasting to the next level,” promises the Met Office. Yet every bit as fascinating as the astonishing power of this machine (60 quadrillion calculations every second) is that the CEOs of Microsoft UK and the Met Office are both women, Clare Barclay and Penny Endersby respectively.

Microsoft used to be a typical, male-dominated tech company (full disclosure: they were a client). A decade ago, there was barely a woman to be found anywhere in its techie corridors. But under CEO Satya Nadella it has pushed for more gender balance. Clare Denby’s predecessor as head of Microsoft UK, Cindy Rose, is now President of Microsoft Europe. When promoted, the ladies are launching climate supercomputers. Just saying.

OK, you may object, this is just a feminist advocate’s fanatical attention to irrelevant detail. You may argue I’m doing a disservice to the ladies by mentioning their sex. But I will argue that the girls’ club looks climate focused and collaborative. Check out an earlier article about five female economists, all big on environmentally-inclusive policy design. Next, take a look at Germany.

Women Push Weather Into Mainstream

Germany needs to elect a leader to follow in the formidable steps of 16-years-in-power Angela Merkel. The Green Party just anointed Annalena Baerbock as their candidate for Chancellor. A young, 40-year old MP, she has, rather incredibly, turned the Green Party from an unelectable, junior coalition partner to potential leader-of-the-country. The two male contestants vying to lead Merkel’s CDU Party are in a fight-to-the-death turf war. It isn’t pretty.

In 2019, Baerbock was re-elected with a resounding 97% vote count. She offers a dramatically young and female contrast to the old, familiar male faces she will be running against. Watch this space in September’s election. But even the sober Economist magazine is enthused, saying “a Green German chancellor is no longer an outlandish bet.”

Just think a moment what the future could look like. A female-led German Green Party teaming up with Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, an outspoken advocate for climate responsibility. Von der Leyen is the driver behind what she calls “Europe’s man on the moon moment” as she launches her Green New Deal, aiming for Europe to become the world’s first climate neutral continent.

They may call in Christine (Lagarde) over at the European Central Bank to devise smart fiscal incentives to build momentum, based on the wise advice from economist Mariana Mazzucato and the other female economists putting climate at the heart of public policy making. And get Kristalina (Georgieva) at the IMF to build global agreements to prioritise our planet’s health.

Web, weather, world and women. When I first wrote the formula 20 years ago, it was an emerging trend and a wild wish. Now, it’s gathering momentum. And power.

(I can’t help noting that in the same week tech’s leading ladies were launching their climate supercomputer to help save the big ball we call Earth, the media was rather more entranced with the rumpus over a few male-dominated football clubs boldly launching – and promptly failing – to create a soccer superleague.) On which ball are we keeping our collective eyes?

Women managed the covid crisis better than their many of their male counterparts at the helm of countries. If this pandemic was a dress rehearsal for the climate mayhem coming down the pipe, we should get more women into power to face it head on. Let’s level the playing field. It’s time to start playing with some serious balls.