Economic Crisis In Lebanon, New Government Formed

by Camryn Myrla, staff writer

OCTOBER 2021 – At least 28 people were left dead following a fuel tank explosion near Beirut, Lebanon on Aug. 15. The tank, illegally hidden by an unknown source, was being seized by the Lebanese army due to an ongoing fuel shortage affecting the entire country. People were lining up to receive gasoline, which was also a result of banks putting extreme restrictions on who could make withdrawals. Tensions arose even more when a militant group, Hezbollah, announced it would be forming a new government.

Lebanon is a relatively small nation, with a population of six million. Bordering Syria and Israel, the Mediterranean country is known for housing many different cultures, religions, and beliefs. However, Lebanese citizens have been suffering through multiple crises for years, many of which have been left out of the spotlight to people outside of the country. Photo by Camryn Myrla, staff writer.

Significant problems began to rise in October 2019 when the economy crashed. Public debt was growing. The banking sector — the industry that handles all things finance — was functionally bankrupt. Hundreds of thousands of citizens began to protest these conditions, causing the entire country’s cabinet to resign. Soon after, banks began to add harsh restrictions on withdrawals, meaning people were struggling to gain access to their own money. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that 77 percent of Lebanese families do not have enough food or enough money to buy food.

Conditions only became worse after the Beirut Port explosion in August 2020. A large fire in a warehouse ended in a massive explosion, killing more than 200 people. This blast, caused by the fire interacting with 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, was 10 percent of the size of the atomic bomb used on Nagasaki during World War Two in 1945. Approximately 300,000 people were left homeless.

The snowball effect continues to this day. Due to the government’s scarce resources, fuel imports have been limited and raised to a much higher price. Issa Petrol Trade, a leading fuel company in Lebanon, announced that a gallon of unleaded gas costs 202,400 Lebanese pounds, which roughly translates to $132.89 in the U.S..

Tamara Qiblawi, a CNN reporter for Lebanon, took to Twitter to discuss the hardships citizens face, “No fuel means no food. No fuel means no irrigation. No fuel means no trucks to transport whatever food and drinking water might be left. Perhaps it is time to start calling the situation in Lebanon for what it is. Not a crisis. Not a disaster. But a death sentence.”

The entire country was in political stalemate for over a year until it was announced on Sept. 10 that a new government would be formed.

This government would primarily be run by Hezbollah, a political party and militant group. The group, whose name translates to “Party of Allah,” has been labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States. Its political wing has been involved with the Lebanese government since 1992. The group has stated that one of their main goals is to achieve a “true democracy” by ending foreign occupation.

Cooper Lappe, a sophomore, knew about a separate issue occurring in Lebanon. “I believe there’s a massive refugee crisis going on there,” he stated, referring to Syrians seeking asylum in their neighboring country. Of the six million citizens in Lebanon, at least one million are refugees from Syria.

The crises that Lebanon is going through also affect the United States. The U.S. Department of State reported that more than $4 billion had been dedicated towards foreign assistance to Lebanon since 2010. Additionally, the U.S. and Lebanon have had a strong relationship when it comes to trade, which is currently at risk– one of our major exports to Lebanon is fuel.

However, conditions seemed to be slowly improving. The newly formed government received a funding injection from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They were able to receive $1.135 billion in Special Drawing Rights, an asset used by the IMF in place of actual currency. Yet, Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, believed this was nowhere near enough money to heal the economy completely.

“It’s [worth] less than one month of fuel imports. That said, this money today has to be used wisely and transparently,” Nader told Al Jazeera, a Middle Eastern news channel. 

Despite this, the future of Lebanon can not be known for sure.

Interviews with other Bio-Med students revealed that most of the events taking place in Lebanon weren’t widely known.

“I don’t know anything about that,” a junior, Tessa Wood, claimed. “I could point it out on a map, but nothing really else.”

The ninth grade history teacher, Mr. William Ullinger, knew how complex and nuanced the situation was. He also mentioned how it could be difficult to discuss issues in countries outside of the U.S.

“People don’t want to pay attention to it because they don’t want to get to a point where…. You do not want to seem xenophobic for speaking against human rights issues in other countries.”

Ullinger believed that Lebanon’s mixture of religion and government makes it even harder to talk about what has been going on. “You should do it without looking at religion at all, and just as a human rights issue. But religion is so intertwined in [Lebanon] that it’s hard to.”

To learn more about donating to those in need, visit the Lebanon Red Cross website.

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A Billionaire’s Space Race: Bezos’ and Blue Origin’s Fight to Win the Right to Take Humans Back to the Moon

by Logan Cook, staff writer

OCTOBER 2021 – NASA plans to return to the Moon by 2024, but there is controversy over who will take humans there. NASA’s Artemis program, the set of missions to take people to the Moon for the first time in 50 years, has been subject to many delays. Inadequate government funding has been a main cause of these delays and, more recently, billionaires have protested NASA’s plans.

NASA contracted three companies, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and Dynetics, to design a Human Lander System (HLS) on April 30, 2020. The task given to these companies was to design and develop a lunar lander that could safely ferry humans from the Orion capsule (the deep space habitat for astronauts) in lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon and back. NASA planned to take care of launching the astronauts from Earth via the Space Launch System (SLS) Rocket, and orbiting them around the Moon via the Orion Crew Capsule.

These Starship prototypes are ready for flight tests at SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas launch facility. SN15, pictured on the right, was the first Starship to complete a high altitude test flight without subsequent explosion. NASA chose SpaceX to modify this Starship design to be able to land the next humans on the Moon.

SpaceX and Dynetics chose to make their designs alone, while Blue Origin formed the “National Team,” a joint design team composed of Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper.

NASA’s $2.89 billion contract to build the HLS was awarded solely to SpaceX, on April 26, 2021. Lisa Watson-Morgan, the project manager for HLS, stated “We’re confident in NASA’s partnership with SpaceX to help us achieve the Artemis mission and look forward to continuing our work toward landing astronauts on the moon,” when asked about the contract in a phone conference with the Washington Post.

A long time partner of NASA, SpaceX was founded by Musk in 2002, with the mission of pioneering the commercial space industry. NASA chose SpaceX to demonstrate the ability of its Falcon rockets to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) in 2006. SpaceX’s Falcon rockets proved themselves as reliable resupply vehicles and have launched both supply and manned missions to the ISS in collaboration with NASA.

Musk, a multibillionaire, has been able to use his fortune to foster innovation within SpaceX, namely leading the way for reusable rockets. SpaceX’s combination of innovation and continued success has made them one of NASA’s most trusted commercial partners.

SpaceX’s HLS design includes the Starship, a reusable, multiplanetary rocket and the largest rocket ever built. SpaceX hopes Starship, which is currently being developed and tested, will have the capabilities to take humans to both the Moon and Mars.

SpaceX is modifying a version of Starship to function solely as a lunar lander for HLS. SpaceX’s plan for a lunar landing involves launching the lander into Low Earth Orbit with subsequent Starship launches to refuel the lander. After being refueled, the lander would take its trip to the Moon. This process could take a total of 16 launches in two week increments, a focal point for the argument of Blue Origin, who is trying to win a piece of the contract.

One of the other companies chosen by NASA, Blue Origin, was founded by Bezos in 2000. Bezos, the founder of Amazon and a multibillionaire, claimed to be passionate about space, but rarely provided Blue Origin with the funding requested by engineers. Blue Origin’s flagship rocket, New Glenn, is still in the design stages, has faced multiple delays, and has yet to perform an orbital launch of a system designed in house.

The National Team split the overall design among its members, delegating the transfer vehicle to Northrop Grumman, the lunar lander to Blue Origin, the ascent vehicle to Lockheed Martin, and the navigation systems to Draper. The proposal does not involve designing new rockets, opting to use already proven United Launch Alliance rockets. The transfer vehicle, lunar lander, and Orion capsule would each launch separately, a total of three launches. The components would then dock together in lunar orbit.

Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper all publicly accepted NASA’s decision to award the HLS contract solely to SpaceX.

In contrast to its National Team partners, Blue Origin began a public relations campaign to protest the choice of SpaceX. Blue Origin designed a series of infographics that described the risks behind SpaceX’s plan, calling the plan “Immensely Complex & High Risk.” The National Team’s design was displayed on the infographics, being described as “Safe, Low-Risk, Fast.” Blue Origin’s argument stands on the basis of SpaceX’s possible 16 launches being unnecessary compared to the National Team’s proposed three launches.

Pictured is a Blue Origin infographic outlining the risks of SpaceX’s plan to take humans back to the Moon. Blue Origin has used these infographics to attempt to gain public support in an effort to overturn NASA’s choice of SpaceX as the sole company to design the next lunar lander.

Blue Origin used the public relations campaign to claim that NASA’s decision to only choose one company would breed uncompetitive business and delay the program. Blue Origin claimed that if NASA were to award the contract to two separate companies, it would incentivize the companies to work competitively and improve their designs.

Blue Origin filed a complaint based on these claims, with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in late April, which was just days after SpaceX won the contract. The GAO determined that NASA’s actions were fair and lawful, stating in their decision that “NASA’s current fiscal year budget did not support even a single [HLS] award.” The protest delayed SpaceX from starting the contract for 95 days.

Blue Origin filed the same complaint with the Federal Court of Claims (FCC), after the GAO’s ruling. A U.S. Judge set a hearing date of Oct. 14. In response, NASA delayed SpaceX’s ability to continue work on the contract until Nov. 1. The FCC has the ability to overturn NASA’s decision on the contract.

“I understand why NASA would choose SpaceX over Blue Origin,” said 10th-grader Zachary Totaro. “SpaceX is actively testing their design, and Blue Origin is not testing their design, yet. [Blue Origin] has been around for longer than SpaceX but has gotten less done, so I think NASA’s decision is just common sense.”

Musk took to Twitter to voice his view on Bezos’ actions. “The sad thing is that even if Santa Claus suddenly made their hardware real for free, the first thing you’d want to do is cancel it,” Musk wrote in a tweet. Musk and SpaceX have taken no legal action to counter Blue Origin’s.

All four National Team members, along with Musk and SpaceX, did not respond to The Hive’s request for commentary on the situation.

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