Foreign Policy Chat - Shuttle Flys Home, Argentina's New Toy, & Prize Winning Images From The Arab Spring
Shuttle Discovery Flies Home
For anyone living in the Washington, DC area today, there was really only one story: Shuttle Discovery hitched a ride on the back of a 747 to make its final trip out to Dulles, in preparation for it becoming the newest edition to the Air and Space Museum. For anyone who wasn't outside on the Mall at 10am, photos of the shuttle piggy-backing through the DC skyline were plastered all over Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. With this, the final conclusion of the US shuttle program, Americans have really given up on manned spaceflight for the near future. Some even argue that we've largely given up on space all together. For the first time ever, in 2011 China sent more rockets into orbit than the US - joining Russia in the club of nations beating America in number of space launches. While the US government still maintains a significant financial and technological edge over any other space competitor, it's hard to look at NASA these days and get inspired.
The conservative drive for budget austerity has eroded funding for space exploration and basic research, while Democrats have been focused on solving more concrete and earth-based problems. Say what you will about the tragicomic Newt Gingrich campaign, it was pretty exciting to think about a moon colony. While many Washingtonians gazed in awe at the shuttle soaring through the sky, I was thinking about how absurd it is that this remains the pinnacle of US manned space flight. Discovery was still in active service until March of last year despite being a piece of early 1980's technology. When compared to the amazing speed at which progress is being made in medicine and computing technology, the pace of major space advances seems downright glacial. If cellular phone technology can go from non-existence all the way to the iPhone in a mere 34 years, NASA should be out there folding space rather than flying around in museum relics.
Argentina Steals A Spanish Oil Company
The President of Argentina announced her intention to nationalize YPF, the largest energy company operating in her country. This is big deal for a couple of reasons. With real global trade liberalization creeping back onto the national and international agenda, those inclined to read the tea-leaves are suggesting this move could represent reversal of momentum. YPF was originally a state-owned enterprise until it was privatized in the 1990s as markets began to open up around the globe. The Obama Administration has finally shown some stomach for challenging potential free-trade partners on the prevalence of publically held firms, so this latest development in Argentina doesn't help. The second reason this story has legs is because the YPF isn't actually owned by Argentina; the majority of shares are controlled by the Spanish company Repsol. That means that Argentina is in the midst of precipitating an international incident as they functionally appropriate billions of dollars in foreign assets with the stroke of a presidential pen. The Spanish government is taking the position that "the most appropriate response to defend national interests and Spanish interests ...is to defend the interest of Spanish companies in Argentina." Many eyes will be on those two countries as the nature of that defense becomes clearer.
This year's Pulitzer prizes were announced with much fanfare. Of note to FoPoChat readers should be the award for International Reporting that went to the New York Times' Jeffrey Gettleman. The Times has a round-up available here of his winning reportage covering the conflicts in East Africa.
Also, John Moore, Peter Madiarmid, and Chris Hondros were all finalists for Breaking News Photography. FP has compiled a powerful slideshow of the gorgeous, iconic images they took - courageously -- documenting the Arab Spring.