Cladding Similar to Grenfell Tower Could Be on 600 U.K. Buildings, PM’s Office Says

  • After highly flammable cladding was discovered to have been one of the main contributors to the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire that claimed at least 79 lives, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office announced on Thursday that some 600 other buildings across London have been clad in a similar material.
  • In an address to the House of Commons on Thursday, May said that tests are being urgently carried out in apartment blocks across the United Kingdom at a rate of 100 per day. 
  • She also urged landlords to submit their buildings for inspection. Read more. (6/22/17, 10:51 AM)

Iraqis Celebrate Bitter Victory Over ISIS in Ruins of Mosul

Iraq’s prime minister declared victory over ISIS in Mosul on Monday, three years after the militants seized the city and made it the stronghold of a “caliphate” they said would take over the world. See more photos here. 

(Clockwise from top:  Fadel Senna / AFP - Getty Images;  Ali Abbas / EPA;  Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP - Getty Images; Felipe Dana/AP;  Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office)


Harry and Draco once tried sea swimming last year. They started making out half-way through, got confused, and ended up accidentally apparating into the British Prime Minister’s office. It was difficult to tell who was more confused.

Government (Part 1: Heads of State and Succession)

In stories, and especially in non-modern fantasy, there is a tendency to have a one-man government. There is a king (or, every once in a while, a queen) who seems to singlehandedly decide all foreign and domestic policy while also seeing petitioners and dealing with Court. This is the most impractical form of governance I have ever seen in my life. This is not how any government works. Ever. Here’s some stuff to think about when you’re making a government.

There are a lot of different forms of government. You can do a lot of reading about all of the many variations of the various types of governmental systems, but there are some basic things to think about. In this post, I’m going to cover types of heads of state/government, as well as means to gaining that title.

Who is the executive? (I am using primarily the modern European names as a simplification tool, as that is what most people know.)


An emperor/empress is the head of state of an empire. An empire is a group of states/peoples spread over an extensive geographical area who all fall under the same central authority (in this case an emperor/empress). Basically, that means that one person controls a whole bunch of groups of people (think: British Empire, which at one point had control over a fifth of the population of the world (1922)). While each individual state and/or colony and/or administrative territory, etc. might have its own leader, the central leader (if it is a single person) is the emperor/empress.

The one weird exception to this is the current Emperor of Japan [Akihito (明仁)], who is an emperor despite only being head of state (technically, sort of, because of Japan being a constitutional monarchy) of one state.


A king/queen is the head of state of a monarchy. It’s a little less clear-cut to define a king/queen than to define an emperor/empress just because of the looser definition of a kingdom and broader usage of the terms, but before modern times a king/queen was usually lower in rank than an emperor/empress. It’s harder to deal with because the Queen of England could technically could be said to be an Empress because of the weirdness of the Commonwealth Realms, but before fairly recently, the basic difference was that a king/queen ruled a singular state while an emperor/empress ruled a unified set of states.

Archduke/grand duke?

This is not usually a useful distinction to make in modern times (in English), because it usually either referred to a subset of leader within the Holy Roman Empire (which no longer exists) or was used when translating from a language that didn’t differentiate between a prince-who-was-the-son-of-the-king and a ruling prince.


This is usually used to describe the head of state of a republic (for most republics), though it can generally be used to describe a leader of a republic, a democracy, or a dictatorship. In most cases, the president is the executive office.

Prime Minister?

This is the title given to the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch (in a parliamentary system of government). Depending on the system of parliamentary government, they may also be the head of the government and head of the executive branch.

Religious leader?

This is where the head of state is also the head of the religion. Though this can go in the direction where the head of state therefore becomes the head of the religion (see: Church of England), this usually refers to a system where a religious leader (or the religious leader) is automatically the head of state. The Pope is an obvious example of this, as he is the sovereign (though not the President) of Vatican City.


In this case there would be no one head of state, but instead a council that decided (through majority, supermajority, or unanimity voting, or some other kind of decision-making process) matters of the state.


This is referring to the Ancient Roman version of a magistrate, who was the King of Rome, holding the powers of being head priest, lawgiver, judge, and commander of the army. Essentially, he (or she, if you were so inclined) was the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government simultaneously.


Princes/Princesses in this case refers not to the sons/daughters of Kings/Queens but ruling princes/princesses. With this, two would hold power simultaneously, which could go in a number of different directions. In some cases (i.e. Nubia) the co-ruling was between a King and a Queen. In other cases, no marital relations were needed. The two can have veto power over each other, or they could hold control over different areas (foreign policy vs. domestic policy, executive vs. judicial, political vs. religious, etc.).


Consuls (in the Roman Republic sense) were two elected officials who served concurrent one-year terms where they alternated holding power.


This is a head of state who holds a huge amount of person power who is (generally) oppressive and/or abusive.

How do they end up in that position?

Direct election?

A direct election is basically a popular-vote election. The results can be based off of a plurality (more votes than anybody else), a simple majority (more than 50% of the votes), an absolute majority (more than 50% of the people who could have voted), a supermajority (some cut-off higher than 50% i.e. two-thirds, three-fifths, etc.), or a double-majority (a majority of votes in a majority of states/provinces/etc.).

Representative election?

A representative election (or indirect election) is where a group of people are voted for who then choose the leader (by seniority, voting, or other qualifications). This is true in the US, for example, where each state gets a number of electors equal to the number of members of Congress they have, and the electors are chosen by popular vote in the state, and then go on to choose the President and Vice President. This can also be true where a legislature is elected and then goes on to choose the head of state.

Parliamentary selection?

In this case (which can be a representative election), the head of state is determined by vote by a parliament. In some cases (where a head of state i.e. a King/Queen/etc. exists) the parliament nominates a candidate, who is then appointed by the head of state (see: Japan). In other cases, the head of state chooses a candidate, who is approved by the parliament (see: Spain). In yet other cases, the head of state chooses a prime minister, who must then gain a vote of confidence from the parliament (see: Thailand). The new head of government may also be the leader of the largest (or second largest) political party in the parliament, or may be selected by direct election by the parliament (see: Greece and Pakistan, respectively).

Council/soviet system?

A local soviet/council is elected for a city, and it holds legislative and executive power for the city. These council delegates then elect their delegates for the district council, and so on for the provincial council, the regional council, all the way up to the national council, with each council holding legislative and executive power for the territory it governs.

Hereditary succession?

In this case, the new leader is determined based on heredity. There are a number of different ways for this to happen (virtually always codified in the law of the land):


In basic terms, the oldest child of the current head of state becomes the new head of state. There a lot of different types of this, which I will quickly summarize.

-Absolute primogeniture: firstborns inherit, regardless of gender

-Patrilineal primogeniture: eldest male child inherits, to exclusion of females, traced through the male line.

-Male-preference primogeniture: female descendants inherit only if there are no living brothers or legitimate heirs of deceased brothers

-Uterine primogeniture: firstborns inherit, traced through female ancestors. Sometimes only men can inherit, in which case the King’s sister’s son would inherit after the King

-Matrilineal primogeniture: eldest female child inherits, to exclusion of males, traced through female line

-Semi-Salic law (or agnatic-cognatic primogeniture): female succession only at extinction of all male descendants of male line

Agnatic seniority:

The succession is traced through the male line, but instead of the firstborn son of the King being the successor, the younger brother is.

Proximity of blood:

Succession is determined by closeness in degree of kinship, and as such usually plays a part in one of the other types of hereditary succession. For example, if a monarch has no children and no siblings, the “closest” cousin would inherit.

Rota system:

Similar to agnatic seniority, though after the last brother (whether the youngest or, sometimes, the fourth) dies or abdicates, the throne passes to the eldest son of the eldest brother who had held the throne.


The youngest child inherits rather than the eldest. This is really rare.

Appointed succession?

In this case, the new head of state/head of government is appointed by the previous head of state/head of government. The appointed new head of state/government could be a child, but wouldn’t have to be.

Criterial succession?

In this case, a set of children sharing the same characteristics could be found and trained, and then one is chosen when the time comes. Alternatively, one child could be found, as in the case of the Dalai Lama, and trained as the new leader.

It is important to remember that these are just options that exist now/have existed in the past. You can come up with literally anything as long as it fits these two criteria: it makes sense in the society that the government is for (or how it used to be, if it’s a relic of the past), and that you can give some logical explanation for it (in the logical of the society).

In the next post I will cover other parts of governments.

Ireland's New Prime Minister Assumes Office

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister and the EU’s youngest national leader, was formally instated on Wednesday, less than two weeks after his election on June 2. Varadkar’s predecessor, Enda Kenny, announced his resignation in May after a 15-year reign as party leader. Both Kenny and Varadkar are members of Fine Gael, a center-right party founded in 1933. Kenny previously nominated Varadkar—who went on to secure 60 percent of the vote—as his replacement.

“As the country’s youngest holder of this office, [Varadkar] speaks for a new generation of Irish women and Irish men,” Kenny said Wednesday, adding that Varadkar “represents a modern, diverse, and inclusive Ireland … an Ireland in which each person can fulfill their potential and live their dreams.” Varadkar’s own speech on Wednesday seemed to echo this sentiment. “The government that I lead will not be one of left or right,” he said. “The government that I lead will be one of the new European center as we seek to build a republic of opportunity …  in which every citizen gets a fair go and in which every part of the country stands to share in our prosperity.”

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Despite Kenny and Varadkar’s bumpy political relationship, their admiration is mutual. At his confirmation ceremony in Dublin on Wednesday, Varadkar thanked Kenny for calling a 2015 referendum on marriage equality, prompting Ireland to become the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. “Enda Kenny’s leadership enabled me to become an equal citizen in my own country two short years ago and to aspire to hold this office—an aspiration I once thought was beyond my reach, at least if I chose to be myself,” Varadkar said. Less than two decades ago, homosexuality in Ireland was considered illegal.

Despite his ten years in parliament, Varadkar did not reveal his sexuality until a 2015 interview with Ireland’s national RTÉ Radio. “It’s not something that defines me,” Varadkar said at the time. “I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician, or a gay politician for that matter. It’s just part of who I am.” In addition to being Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister, Varadkar is also the nation’s first prime minister of an ethnic-minority background (his father is Indian and his mother is Irish).

In the wake of his election, Varadkar seems intent on expanding the social progressivism of his predecessor. While addressing parliament on Wednesday, he said that Ireland would hold a referendum next year over the nation’s abortion laws, which the UN human rights committee has recently called “cruel and inhumane.” Ireland’s eighth amendment currently gives citizenship rights to unborn children, effectively banning abortion throughout the country.

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As prime minister, Varadkar will also be tasked with easing tensions ahead of Brexit negotiations. As the only EU country to share a land border with the U.K., Ireland’s economy and trade negotiations will likely be affected by the U.K.’s departure. Varadkar has previously called for Northern Ireland, a British province, to remain in the EU’s single market and maintain access to EU programs even after the U.K.’s formal leave.

On Monday, Varadkar also said he would “emphasize” the U.K.’s proposed deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party in his future communications with Prime Minister Theresa May. May is currently weighing the idea of asking the DUP for support in hopes of retaining her position, but experts warn that such a deal could disrupt peace in Northern Ireland. Varadkar’s speech on Wednesday focused less on this political turbulence and more on the recent string of “terrible tragedies” in the U.K. According to The Guardian, one of Varadkar’s first calls to a foreign leader is expected to be a conversation with May, where he will express his condolences for Wednesday’s Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 12 people.

Above all else, Varadkar’s address to parliament conveyed a sense of appreciation for the responsibility he had been given. Quoting the Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s “The Republic of Conscience,” Varadkar said: “At their inauguration, public leaders must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep to atone for their presumption to hold office.” His approach to the position, he said, would be one of “profound humility and respect for what has gone before.”

Read more from The Atlantic:

This article was originally published on The Atlantic.

U.K. Turns to Emerging Markets for Trade as Brexit Talks Begin

Britain is turning to the world’s poorest countries to shore up trade as Brexit puts existing deals on an uncertain footing.

The government promises improved access to U.K. markets for the world’s poorest countries and to maintain existing duty-free access for “everything but arms” for 48 countries including Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Haiti, according to an emailed statement from the prime minister’s office. Britain will also seek to expand relationships with nations including Jamaica, Pakistan and Ghana.

After decades of access to the European Union’s single market, the U.K. now has to strike out alone, following the 2016 vote to leave the bloc. In the Brexit negotiations that began June 19 in Brussels, the EU is demanding clarity on the future of its citizens living in Britain before talks on a post-EU trading relationship begin.

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Trade Secretary Liam Fox has been in discussions with countries including the U.S. and India to lay the groundwork for new deals, since the government is barred from completing talks while still part of the EU.

“Our departure from the EU is an opportunity to step up to our commitments to the rest of the world, not step away from them,” Fox said. The announcement “shows our commitment to helping developing countries grow their economies and reduce poverty through trade.”

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The U.K. currently imports around 20 billion pounds ($25.6 billion) a year from developing nations including Bangladesh and Sierra Leone, the government said. Almost 80 percent of the country’s tea comes from the “least developed” nations, and slightly less than a quarter of all coffee imports.

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