Tag Archives: politics

Geek out with the Architecture of Legislative Bodies.

Of course the UN General Assembly Hall is recognizable, but what does its semi-circle shape mean? Apparently, its one of the oldest–and a neoclassical go to for fostering consensus and democratic engagement.

The architecture of a legislative body tells a lot about how governance works in each respective body. A new book by Max Cohen de Lara and David Mulder van der Vegt explains, including their methodology:

To answer that question, we spent six years collecting the architectural layout for each one of those buildings. We’ve published our findings in our book “Parliament.” By comparing these plans in detail, we wanted to understand how a political culture is both shaped by and expressed through architecture. Organized as a lexicon, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the book for the first time allows a comparison of all national parliaments in the world.We found a clear pattern. Although each of the 193 United Nations member states has a parliament of some kind — albeit with varying degrees of democracy — their plenary chambers have a very limited number of shapes. Most surprisingly, these buildings have hardly changed since the 19th century.

Source: These 5 architectural designs influence every legislature in the world — and tell you how each governs – The Washington Post

The regional parliament of Nordrhein Westphalia, Germany

Also, don’t miss the website for the book, Parliament, to see schematics of a number of UN Member State’s legislative body, and even the UN in Geneva and interactive photos, facts, and more. Great stuff for policy geeks, parliamentarians, and designers interested in civic engagement and proxemics.

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Thinking Carefully about U.S. Power

Another reason to read the NYT: where else will you get a full half-page, above-the-fold analysis citing top scholars on the underlying reasons why Syria is a such a strategic, military and diplomatic conundrum:

It is an urgent problem that has consumed foreign policy discussions for the last few years. But much more is involved than the fate of a single country in the Middle East. Underlying the Syria issue is a set of questions that have animated every major debate over foreign policy for a century: What is America’s role in the world, what are its obligations, and what happens if it falls short of meeting them?
One strain of thought holds that America has a mission to champion democracy and human rights, granting it a unique role in the world, along with special powers and obligations. But that idea has always been controversial, with skeptics arguing it is an alluring myth — and a potentially dangerous notion.
via NYT

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Inside Negotiations for a Bipartisan Immigration Deal

A great article by Alec MacGillis in the NYT Magazine on how the Republicans and Democrats came together after Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama–with a historic window to negotiate an immigration deal. Who were the players. How did the deal come together. And how it fell apart.

Three years ago, the G.O.P.-led Housewas close to reaching a compromise on immigration — one that might haveneutralized the issue for the 2016 election.This is the inside story of what went wrong.

Source: How Republicans Lost Their Best Shot at the Hispanic Vote – The New York Times

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Terry Gross on How to Talk to Anyone

Diplomats, salespeople, missionaries, and journalists all talk to people. Some do it better than others. But nobody does it as well as Terry Gross, the NRP interviewer par excellance–who kept me informed and entertained as I worked a painting conservation job in college, swabbing dirt inch-by-inch across a gigantic, room-filling canvas. Foam-covered 1980’s era headphones attached to a Sony AM/FM/cassette Walkman were my lifeline to a world of fascinating ideas and people, thanks to Gross.

So when I saw this piece by Susan Burton on the art and craft of WHYY in Philadelphia’s master interviewer I wanted to see what could be learned. One insight: it takes a lot of work (and a little luck) to get a “real moment” in a hard-earned conversation, and it can be uncomfortable:

When the interview ended, Gross and her producers asked themselves, ‘‘Are we going to keep that in the edit?’’ Yes, they decided: ‘‘Maybe there’s not a really satisfactory, conclusive answer,’’ but ‘‘it felt like a real moment.’’ Gross went on: ‘‘Even if the real moment isn’t somebody being really honest and forthcoming and introspective, a real moment of friction, a real moment of tension, is still a real moment.’’

Occasionally the ‘‘real moments’’ can be awkward for Gross. In July, in an interview with the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, Gross began laughing in response to a story he told about being yelled at by a teacher. ‘‘See, it sounds like you’re laughing because, like, it’s funny if you’ve never been in the environment,’’ Coates said. Some on social media pegged Gross as a clueless white lady. But the exchange was constructive. Gross was simply reacting, and then listening as Coates explained his perception of her reaction. In doing so, he illuminated an experience of growing up in a culture of fear and violence.

Source: Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up – The New York Times

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Is ‘China’s Machiavelli’ Now Its Most Important Political Philosopher? | The Diplomat

If you think Machiavelli made important contributions to the history of political philosophy, diplomacy and leadership studies, consider Han Feizi.

 

The trend has been interpreted in various ways. In October, the New York Times called President Xi Jinping’s uses of ancient thought “an overlooked key to his boldly authoritarian agenda,” and specifically noted the importance of Han Feizi, “a Chinese nobleman renowned for his stark advocacy of autocratic rule.”While many experts would agree with that characterization, even referring to Han Feizi as “China’s Machiavelli,” others see him, and Legalist thought in general, in more positive terms. Scholars Orville Schell and John Delury, in an influential book on the history of Chinese reform efforts, credit “pragmatic” Legalist thought as being behind both much of China’s historical success and its ongoing rebirth as a great nation. For Confucians, who focus on ideals of loyalty, righteousness, and benevolence, little could be more repugnant than the Legalist position that “if a wise ruler masters wealth and power, he can have whatever he desires.”

Source: Is ‘China’s Machiavelli’ Now Its Most Important Political Philosopher? | The Diplomat

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The Roll Call Motion that Could (But Didn’t)

Today’s Roll Call Vote, an Explainer:

The Trump floor wrangler, Rick Gates, said “Our goal is to destroy them.” It didn’t work. 

Prior to the convention the Dump Trump delegate plan was to get to a roll call vote through a rule changes. According to Kyle Cheney in Politico, this is what happened:

They almost got the vote. The Never Trump delegates joined forces with a small but aggrieved band of GOP delegates — led Virginia delegate Ken Cuccinelli and Utah Sen. Mike Lee — furious with party leaders and the Trump campaign for their role last week in blocking a slew of changes to party rules that conservative activists favored. Together, they shocked Trump campaign and GOP leaders on Monday afternoon by producing signatures from a majority of delegates from 11 states and territories, far more than the seven jurisdictions necessary to force an up-or-down vote on the convention’s rules package. That would’ve left approval up fate to 2,472 delegates on the convention floor — and embarrassed Trump regardless of the results.

Next on the floor, Day 1 #RNCinCLE according to Chris Cillizza in The Fix (WaPo):

“Roll call vote” was the chant of the anti-Trump forces, a desire to have each state, one by one, announce their support or opposition not only for the rules package but, more broadly, for Trump.

Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack was — unfortunately for him — tasked with overseeing this chaos. The first time he tried to declare that the “ayes” (pro-Trump) votes had it, he was shouted down and left the stage. Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a leading voice of the anti-Trump movement, called that decision to flee “surreal” and admitted that he had no idea what would come next.

What came next was a return by Womack to the stage and a repetition of the voice vote. After declaring that the “ayes” had it (again), Womack noted that only six of the nine states demanding a roll call vote had stood firm. Seven states were needed.
And, scene. The Iowa and Colorado delegations walked off the floor. Boos cascaded down. But it was over. 

Details are emerging on which states caved–the recipients of some back room arm-twisting:  Maine, Iowa, Minnesota and the District of Columbia. 

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Machiavelli, reconsidered.

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“Redemption, rebirth, must take the form of going back to the founding principles” says an expert on the Florentine diplomat.  A lifetime of study helps Professor Maurizio Viroli of Princeton and UT Austin rebrand Machiavelli as a sage observer of political culture and a helpful resource for today. (Also, in his earlier works Viroli worked to redeem Machiavelli from being seen merely as sinister.)

His book, How to Chose a Leader: Machiavelli’s Advice to Citizens, offers solutions to contemporary political predicaments, say, the fallen Berlusconi or the rising Trump, for example. In the LA Review of Books Robert Zaretsky writes:

We are as weak now as we were then. We still want to believe, and not the small stuff. We want, instead, to believe the big stuff. The bigger the lie, the greater our satisfaction; the greater our satisfaction, the deeper our credulity. Yet Machiavelli, contrary to popular belief, does not applaud this sort of dissimulation. Instead, he agonizes over it. Time and again, he urges citizens to exercise their reason, to beware of leaders who appeal to their passions. In troubled times, he warns, citizens turn against minorities within their countries by turning them into scapegoats. This reflex, in turn, lifts to power those who promise to protect the people against their imagined enemies. The enemy of my enemy is not just my friend; he is my leader.

Utah radio interviewer Doug Fabrizio explores the book with Viroli on KUER’s Radio West. It is well worth a listen for a few fresh insights into

 

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Arthur Brooks on Bipartisanship 

Consensus building in American politics is tough, if not impossible. We recently hosted retired U.S. Senator Larry Pressler who, among a career of good work and solid policymaking in the House and Senate is known as the only Member of Congress approached in the ABSCAM sting operation (Remember American Hustle?) to have refused the bribe–and then contacted the FBI to report it. As a political moderate and centrist in many of his views, his report on the state of finding middle ground was not encouraging.

How can citizens in the U.S. political culture overcome bigotry and contempt of the others side, weakening what Arthur C. Brooks calls “The Polarization Industrial Complex”?

The current polarization in America obstructs this kind of collaboration. So what’s the antidote? I asked the Dalai Lama, one of the world’s experts on bringing people together. He made two points. First, the solution starts not with institutions, but with individuals. We look too much to political parties or Congress to make progress, but not nearly enough at our own behavior.You can’t single-handedly change the country, but you can change yourself. By declaring your independence from the bitterness washing over our nation, you can strike a small blow for greater national unity.Second, each of us must aspire to what the Dalai Lama calls “warmheartedness” toward those with whom we disagree. This might sound squishy, but it is actually tough and practical advice. As he has stated, “I defeat my enemies when I make them my friends.” He is not advocating surrender to the views of those with whom we disagree. Liberals should be liberals and conservatives should be conservatives. But our duty is to be respectful, fair and friendly to all, even those with whom we have great differences.

Source: Bipartisanship Isn’t for Wimps, After All – The New York Times

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How the Rules of Party Conventions Matter

The 1948 Republican Convention in Philadelphia

When it comes down to the Republican Presidential nominee for 2016 it may come down to the rules of procedure. Parliamentary savvy can reveal modern U.S. politics to be a lot like its historical precedents (think: 1924 Democratic convention). But the existing (or even yet-to-be-enacted rules) reveal something about their party–as they shape the outcome in potentially surprising ways.

We don’t yet know how we’ll remember 2016, as a statistical outlier, a sideshow, or perhaps the year of the rise of the non-state (Establishment) actor.

Republican leadership is unhappy, and used to be able to call the shots. Here is how Trump could be removed (and mayhem orchestrated), assuming he enters the convention as the frontrunner but without the requisite threshold of votes:

  • Delegates become “unbound” and vote as they wish
  • Rules can change, aka, the “nuclear option” (see below)

“When you’re trying to bust up a convention, you can’t just take the risk on the nomination vote,” says Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the book Primary Politics. “Because if you lose, then he’s the nominee. There’s always a test vote beforehand. And it would probably be about the rules.”Now, fights over rules may seem arcane, but they actually present great opportunities for mischief. That’s because the delegates get to make their own rules and can change them however they like.

So supporters of one candidate are perfectly free to propose a last-minute rules change meant to hurt another candidate — and if a majority of delegates approves it, there’s no higher body that can overrule the decision

Source: Contested conventions, explained – Vox

As Chris Baylor writes, Trump may be a one-trick pony; future Republican contenders may not be able to replicate his success, and he may fail to even have the so-called “transformative” impact that some are suggesting. In that case, it will be all left up to the rules.

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Making Political Sense of Star Wars

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Yes, Star Wars doesn’t make a lot of sense when viewed through the lens of international relations, even if it is fun to see the political-geek-meets-nerd-world analysis by Seth Masket, a political science at the University of Denver.
Episode I featured a two-minute depiction of life in the Galactic Senate in an attempt to demonstrate the Old Republic’s dysfunction. That scene also revealed that Lucas doesn’t understand how legislatures function, what bureaucrats are, why legislative parties form, the function of the media, etc., but it still attempted to show institutional behavior.
Episode III contained a subplot in which the Emperor sowed discord in the government by appointing a plainly unqualified and inexperienced Jedi to the Council. This is all about institutional competition and the challenges of separation of powers.
Episode IV, of course, was all about the executive branch’s accretion of power at the expense of the legislature, which of course led to a violent rebellion headed by ousted senators. There were a farm boy and some robots, but that was a subplot
Note: Masket’s blog, Mischiefs of Faction, is now hosted by VOX.
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