Politics roundup: British Parliament votes on Brexit again. Will they find a way out?


British PM Theresa May and her government are sweating over their exit from the European Union. Will they come up with a deal before it’s too late?

Brexit deal rejected again, Britain sweats

We are now two weeks out from March 29. For some, that will be a regular Friday, but for the people of the United Kingdom, it could turn out to be very significant. That’s because March 29 is the deadline for the U.K. to present its exit plan from the European Union. If no one comes up with a plan by then, Britain will enter into a “no deal” Brexit. That could have serious economic and social consequences for the U.K., the E.U., and the rest of the world.

Things have gotten especially worrisome this week, since the British Parliament has rejected the no-deal idea. On Wednesday, politicians delivered a dramatic 312 to 308 vote to reject a no-deal exit, no matter the circumstances. Ministers of Parliament voted the next day to ask the E.U. for an extension. They also voted against holding a second Brexit referendum, which would have given British people the chance to back out of the deal entirely.

May now has to meet with E.U. officials to work out the particulars of this new situation. She has said that the extension could be an additional three months, assuming that Parliament backs an as-yet unidentified exit plan before the next E.U. meeting.

However, the other 27 member nations of the E.U. also must agree to the plan before anything can happen. Meanwhile, if British MPs reject yet another deal, May might have to ask for an even longer extension. If that happens, Britain will have to hold European Parliament elections in May, which could keep it in the E.U. for even longer.

New aspects of federal investigations come to light

It’s never really a good time for the White House. Yet, this week was an especially rocky one. For one, Paul Manafort was sentenced to more than seven years in prison this week. That’s hardly a good look for the President and his loyalists, given Manafort’s role as campaign manager for the now-President in the 2016 elections.

On the same day of Manafort’s sentencing, former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker acknowledged another awkward situation. Whitaker allegedly said that he had raised concerns at the Justice Department about one of the investigations concerning former White House attorney Michael Cohen. Whitaker, who spoke privately with members of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, said that he thought the campaign finance charges levied against Cohen were “specious.”

According to reports, Whitaker also did not deny that he had spoken with the President about Cohen’s case. Some sources say that Whitaker merely said he had no memory of high-strung exchanges with the President, while others maintain that Whitaker’s comments were less dramatic.

If the President did discuss the case with Whitaker, though, that would be a difficult situation. Part of Cohen’s most recent saga includes the payment of two women who said that they had affairs with the President. If the White House were involved, there could be awkward connections between the government and the handling of the President’s private affairs.

It’s not all bad, though. The House of Representatives has voted almost unanimously to make the Mueller report public. Whenever it comes out — which may be fairly soon, if inside sources are to be believed – then we’re supposed to be getting the full content. It’s not a legally binding vote, but one that demonstrates overwhelming support to release Mueller’s findings.

Congress still can’t agree with White House over border

The Senate has passed a resolution to overturn the White House’s national emergency declaration, itself employed in order to secure funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Twelve Republican lawmakers crossed the aisle and joined Democrats in opposing the executive action. It’s a significant blow for the President, who has leaned hard into the notion of the wall in order to fulfill a key campaign promise.

Critics of the President’s order have said that it is an egregious example of executive overreach. Prior to all of this, Congress had already voted to dramatically reduce funding for the wall, from an original request of $5.7 billion. The President initially agreed to go along with it, in part to end a unpopular government shutdown (currently, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history).

Almost immediately, the national emergency declaration appeared. In short order, so too did Congressional opposition and legal challenges throughout the nation. Now, this resolution of disapproval will make its way to the Oval Office, where the President may well enact the first veto of his tenure.

NASA administrator makes a surprising announcement – here’s why it matters

Congressional politicians have a lot of jobs. They’re tasked with helping to run the government, ostensibly according to the wishes of their constituents. Right now, lawmakers are in the middle of an ongoing dispute about the U.S.-Mexico border, international relations, trade wars, investigations into Russian election interference, and more committees than most people would believe. They’re also involved with NASA.

It makes sense. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is a federal agency, though it operates independently and under its own budget. One of its most exciting projects right now is the Orion program, which will carry a crew of four astronauts to destinations at or beyond low earth orbit (that’s where craft like satellites and the International Space Station are currently hanging out). Ultimately, Orion is meant to take explorers into deep space, well beyond where any human has gone before.

First, though, we have to launch the thing. There have been multiple delays in this project, most of which come down to the propulsion systems. The Senate has been a big fan of the Space Launch System (SLS), a $12 billion project that can’t seem to get it together. The first, unmanned launch of an Orion craft was originally scheduled for summer 2017. Even with an amended launch date sometime in 2020, NASA can’t be sure that it will keep on schedule.

That’s where NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine came in. During a recent hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, he reiterated the difficulty of the project. He went on to outline an alternative to using the SLS – private companies. A single SLS booster is proving costly and difficult to implement. Why not use two smaller boosters supplied by a private company, like SpaceX or United Launch Alliance?

If this happens, it could be a major change in how humans get into space. To keep within schedule, NASA will have to select a company and rocket soon. NASA engineers will also have to figure out launch and docking procedures, as well as modifications to fit the Orion craft with a new launch system.

Linking a private rocket company with a potentially historic mission such as this could forever change the face of space travel. It may also allow space agencies greater freedom in developing new technologies. Congress’ emphasis on the SLS locked up NASA resources, which some argue could have been used for new research and engineering projects.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

On the surface of it, Helen Oyeyemi writes about fairy tales. But, that’s not quite right. Okay, so she writes gothic literature. Of course, that doesn’t fit, either. Really, it’s hard to pin her work down, beyond the notion that most of her novels and short stories are dreamlike, dark, floating, arresting, and everything encompassed therein. It all comes down to the notion that you should just read her work and experience it for yourself.

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Let’s keep this short, since chances are good that you’ll be immersed in Oyeyemi’s novels soon enough. Boy, Snow, Bird is a good place to start, especially if you’re intrigued by the complexities of the Snow White fairy tale. For shorter visits into her world, her short collection, What is Not Yours is Not Yours offers quite a few entry points. Granta also has a short story from her for free.

Most recently, Oyeyemi has released Gingerbread, another novel. Here’s a Longreads interview with her about the newest book, and another over at Vox to whet your appetite.