Confirmation hearing for Attorney General deserves attention


Attorney General nominee William Barr underwent confirmation hearings this week. Here’s why you should pay attention in between all the other news happening.

William Barr’s confirmation hearing

Yes, it was only earlier this week that William Barr was testifying in confirmation hearings. He’s nominated to take over as Attorney General for Jeff Sessions, who resigned in November. The hearings, which were held on Tuesday, generated some attention, sure. But there was arguably as much press devoted to the fast food dinner offered up to Clemson football players at the White House on Monday.

While that junk food spread was good fodder for ragging on the government shutdown and the general state of political affairs (White House kitchen staff are furloughed thanks to the government shutdown), Barr’s confirmation shouldn’t be ignored. Given that he could very well be confirmed as the chief lawyer of the federal government, we should pay attention.

Chief among the questions at the hearing were Barr’s thoughts on the Mueller investigation. The White House has hardly been friendly to the probe. Mueller and his team have been tasked with looking into connections between U.S. representatives and Russian agents who intended to influence U.S. elections.

Former A.G. Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation after his own dealings with Russian representatives while Sessions was a senator came to light. Many speculate that this recusal led to his rejection by the president, which may have contributed to his eventual resignation.

Many wonder if Barr would be able to remain truly independent from the President. Would he instead shut down the investigation before it got too close to some uncomfortable truths? Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has already claimed that Barr will be impartial when overseeing the investigation.

Yet, Barr has publicly questioned the need for the investigation. He also said that any report issued by Mueller might be kept out of public view. Any information generated by the investigation would effectively be filtered through the Attorney General before it’s disseminated to Congress.

Is Mueller closing in on the White House?

It’s easy to get caught up in speculation over almost anything in U.S. politics at this point. So much happens behind closed doors that you can hardly blame anyone for jumping to conclusions. Even the wildest theories could come true in the current White House administration. At least, that’s how it feels for anyone who made it through the roiling, endless 2018 news cycles and survived.

So, let’s practice some restraint when we check in with the Mueller investigation, even though the sight of Rudy Giuliani uncomfortably walking back statements may spark a small, mean little joy in your heart.

William Barr’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday generated enough speculation about the ultimate fate of the Mueller investigation. Then, White House lawyer Rudy Giuliani started rephrasing.

Why has he started backtracking on over a year now of constant denials? More and more, it is becoming clear that key officials in the 2016 campaign and beyond had substantial links to Russia. Paul Manafort has admitted that he shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian political consultant. Kilimnik is turning out to be a significant figure in this investigation.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “I said the president of the United States…. The president did not collude with the Russians.” Is Giuliani simply clarifying months of muddled statements, which he did not care to do before, or is he moving the goalposts?

Brexit deal defeated by British MPs, but May’s government survives

Truth be told, many saw this coming. British Prime Minister Theresa May has championed her proposed deal for exiting from the European Union. The March 29 deadline for doing something is quickly approaching. If there is no deal by then, the UK will abruptly leave the EU, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Even with that sort of pressure, May’s proposed deal proved to be deeply unpopular. Members of her own government resigned in protest. Now, British Members of Parliament have voted 432 to 202 to reject the deal. Earlier, May had already delayed the vote, originally scheduled for December, in order to scrape together more support from an already suspicious Parliament.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn put forth a motion for another no-confidence vote. May had already weathered an earlier no confidence vote only months earlier. This time, her government survived again, but only by a margin of 19 votes.

So far, no one has come up with a compromise that satisfies all parties involved. Meanwhile, European nations are starting to consider the grim reality of a no-deal Brexit. Close trading partners of the U.K., like Ireland and the Netherlands, could also face serious repercussions. France has already started work on its own contingency plan, while Germany and Spain announced that they would also reinforce their own plans.

Shutdown still happening, still bad

Yep, that shutdown is still going on, now making it the longest ever in United States history. What new things have we learned at this point?

First, apparently all or most of the White House kitchen staff has been furloughed. This means that the Clemson football players who were hosted there this week were served… fast food? Paid for by the president, apparently, but it remained an unappetizing spread of presumably cold pizza and hamburgers. Here’s hoping for a truly American state dinner in the near future, where foreign diplomats and heads of state are served lukewarm grilled cheese sandwiches made by Karen Pence.

More seriously, many are expecting significant blows to the American economy. The financial consequences of this shutdown are turning out to be more serious than initially expected. Beyond missing paychecks for federal workers, the shutdown has started to slow economic growth and undermine confidence in the financial power of the United States.

While some of the effects should be alleviated once the shutdown ends (assuming that either the president or Congress will budge), it’s hard to tell what some of the lasting consequences will be. The longer this already record-breaking shutdown continues, the more dire many of these predictions become.

Meanwhile, the president and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have been busy needling each other over the shutdown. Pelosi has said that the president should delay his usual State of the Union address, ostensibly due to security concerns. The White House then argued that it will also delay Pelosi’s own planned trip overseas for work. All in the name of the shutdown, naturally.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

To be honest, the history of hell is typically way more interesting than that of heaven. I’m not talking from a theological stance, of course. That’s entirely up to you.

But, when we look at the social and literary history of how we think about the afterlife, hell takes the cake practically every time. If you’ve ever made it through Dante’s Inferno, then conveniently forgot to slog through Purgatorio and Paradiso, then you know what I mean. Lurid afterlife scenes of suffering and devils and such typically makes for more compelling reading.

Related Story. Politics roundup: Government shutdown lumbers on with little relief in sight. light

Scary as it might be, the concept of hell has helped to shape large swathes of humanity for much of our history. For more info, check out the New Yorker review of The Penguin Book of Hell, not to mention the book itself.

Cheerful? Probably not, unless you’ve got a very unique constitution. Fascinating? Almost certainly. If you’re up for it, the history of hell is a wild and informative ride.