Balkinization  

Friday, September 24, 2010

Weimar America

Sandy Levinson

In today's New York Times, Paul Krugman writes of the ever-increasing slide toward what he views as a Latin America "banana republic." There is much to his analysis, but let me suggest that we are better advised to look at Weimar Germany during the 1920s (rather than, say, contemporary Mexico or Argentina) to understand our present political situation.

Begin with the fact that more and more people, regardless of political party identification, have altogether justified contempt for Congress as an institution. When I last checked, the Gallup poll showed that a grand total of 19% of the America public "approved" of Congress, while a full 75% disapproved. Even if one believes, plausibly enough, that Democrats are more approving than Republicans, it's still impossible that many Democrats aren't in the "strongly disapproving" camp. I began touting Carl Schmitt's incisive (and altogether depressing) analysis of the Wemar Parliament several years ago; if anything, he's even more on the mark now than then.

One of his central points was that no one could possibly take seriously the notion of the Parliament as a genuinely "deliberative" body as described by liberal democratic theory. Among other things, such a model required that members (who in 19th century England included John Stuart Mill, among other notables) actually listen to one another and, at least on occasion, be persuaded by the better arguments made even by those considered political opponents. (This, of course, is part of what Madison meant by "republican virtue," which he argued, in Federalist 10, was absolutely necessary to maintain a "Republican Form of Government.") No one, of course, can seriously have this view of Congress. The Senate, which prides itself on being a "deliberative body" is a dreadful parody of any such conception. Almost all of its bloviating members speak exclusively to their outside "base" (or financial contributors, to whom they are ever more beholden), not to their fellow senators, just as Schmitt described the Weimar Parliament.

Furthermore, as we all know too well, the rules and practces of the Senate allow sometimes stunningly small minorities to prevent the body from doing its business. (One objection, for example, can prevent the Senate from holding necessary hearings while the Senate is in session.) The newest Senate thug is Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, who has put a hold on the nomination of Jack Lew to head the Office of Management and Budget unless President Obama lifts the moratorium on deep oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. And, of course, the fighting majority leader of the Senate, in a desperate fight for political survival in Nevada, has basically announced that the Senate will do nothing whatsoever until the lame-duck session after the November elections.

But, of course, the increasing irrelevance of Congress isn't the only reality, and in any complex system, what occurs in one realm can produce counter-reactions in another. Thus Bruce Ackerman has a powerful column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal condemning the process by which Elizabeth Warren has been named to preside over the creation of the new consumer protection agency. As readers well know, I am an avid supporter of Prof. Warren; I think it is a disgrace that it took Obama so long to name her. But, like Ackerman, I am disturbed that she wasn't formally nominated, even given the likelihood of a confirmation battle (i.e., a filibuster, since there is clearly a majority of the Senate eager to confirm her). Instead, as Ackerman argues, we see "another milestone down the path toward an imperial presidency," as Obama, with the support of many liberals, does an end run around the advice-and-consent clause, by naming her a presidential assistant in an ever-more-bloated shadow government that is fundametnally unaccountable to Congress. (I may hate the present Senate, but that does not lead me, nor should it lead anyone else, to believe that simply expanding presidential power is the solution.) But, of course, one can readily understand why Obama did what he did, just as one can readily understand the support he is receiving. The Weimar equivalent was the constant invocation of the (in)famous Article 48, the "emergency powers clause," which was used over 250 times during the 1920s to respond to the economic crises that certainly were facing Germany at the time when it became obvious that the Parliament was entirely inefficacious. If the Senate makes it impossible even to consider legilsation (or appointments), then the plausible altgernative is to use whatever power clever lawyers in the OLC and elsewhere can justify for unilateral presidential action. (This is the brunt of Elena Kagan's brilliant article in the Harvard Law Revivew on presidential administration.)

So how far does one extend this unhappy analogy? Is there a Nazi Party on the horizon? Fortunately, I don't think so, but, that being said, we shouldn't discount the importance of the Islamophobia that is sweeping the country with the encouragement of the cynical "leadership" of the GOP, including, most prominently, Newt Gingrich (who just as clearly relishes the possiblity of running for the White House in 2012). Indeed, the New Right is so far from being classically anti-Semitic that it embraces the worst aspects of religious Zionism and thus makes far harder the achievement of any plausible solutions to the Jewish Israeli-Palestinian problem (I put it this way because one should never forget that Israel already is a "binational state" inasmuch as not all of its citizens are Jews). Instead, they can organize around the "Moslem Menace," which involves, obviously, tarring all Moslems with the acts of a few. (And, after all, many of the Bolsheviks were Jewish, just as was the case with the Rothschilds...)

I've also mentioned in an earlier posting Colonel Charles Dunlap's speculations, written some years ago, about a military coup in 2012. (He was not advocating it, simply describing the circumstances that made it a plausible scenario.) I don't think we are facing a classical coup. But I wouldn't be surprised if there are increasing calls, within the Republican Party, to "draft" the closest thing we have today to Gen. von Hindenburg, who is, of course, Gen. David Petraeus. (First time tragedy, second time farce, as Karl Marx noted.) Andrew Bacevich has recently published Washington Rules, a remarkable book that deserves a very wide readership. Among other things, Bacevich, who served 30 years in the United States Army and retired with the rank of colonel, excoriates the now-bipartisan faith that is being placed in this remarkably ambitious general who seems genuinely to believe that he knows the secrets of "nation building." As Dunlap argued, it would be precisely the increasing use of the military for such efforts, with the concomitant beliefs on the part of generals that they were equal to the task, that would lead to the coup. After all, one looks around the United States--and, even more, many of our "leading" states, beginning with California and New York--and sees increasing signs of "failure." There is a very good reason that most Americans believe the country is going in the wrong direction. Who, indeed, could make a plausible claim for the opposite? The best the Obama Administration can do is to say that their economic policies prevented a catastrophic depression, which I think is true and deserves our thanks. But we're mired in an economy that is destroying the hopes of millions and millions of our fellow countrymen and -women, and the Administration seems to have all too little to say about that. So why wouldn't Petraeus be the answer to Republican prayers, since at the present moment there is no presumptive candidate and each of the possibilities seems to have fatal flaws?

But, of course, a central explanation for our situtation and the national "malaise" is our dreadful Constitution. (I'll bet you knew that I'd return to this sooner or later.) Obama may have quasi-dictatorial powers with regard to Afghanistan or finding Elizabeth Warren a place in his administration, but he apparently can't even control the thuggish Mary Landrieu, let alone the collective band of thugs known as the Senate Republican caucus. It's not his fault, nor, for that matter, should one really blame the Republicans for acting as they are. (Sen. Landrieu is another matter, since she's a nominal Democrat.) It is a thoroughly dreadful feature of our political system that any organized political party wishing to win a presidential election should do nothing to provide an incumbent President who will be running for re-election with anything that can be labeled a "victory." Teddy Kennedy didn't realize this, and he thus helped, almost as much as Osama bin Laden, to elect George W. Bush in 2004, since Bush could tout No Child Left Behind and the prescription drug bill, neither of which would have passed without Kennedy's endorsements. The Republicans are smarter.

Thus, as always for me, it boils down to our Constitution and its monumental defects for our 21st century reality. We have a system crafted by James Madison and his friends that depended on 18th century notions of "Republican virtue" and the lack of decidedly non-virtuous factions called political parties, and we expect this system to function effectively in a decidedly partisan world of political parties. (Of course, Madison's vision had utterly collapsed by 1800, but that is another story.) If we had a parliamentary system, then no one would really care that the Republicans behave like made dogs; that is the function, and sometimes it is indeed a valuable function, of "opposition parties." But we don't have a parliamentary system. Instead, we have a system that depends on some kind of meaningful cooperation and dialogue between and among the branches, and that is, of course, what is basically disappearing.

What happened in Germany was overdetermined, no doubt. But almost everyone agrees that the Weimar Constitution made its own contributions to the tragedy. It is that connection that seems almost completely absent in contemporary American discussion, at least if one looks at so-called "leaders" and "leading pundits." David Brooks prattles about culture, Tom Friedman about incivility and lack of seriousness, and so on. The only people who are making some serious arguments about the relationship between constitutional structures and outcomes are some members of the Tea Party. Thus a number of them (including the Idaho Republican Party) have called for the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment, which provides for direct election of the Senate. Advocates of repeal altogether plausibly argue that the Amendment removed a protection of "federalism," inasmuch as election of senators by state legislatures provided a mechanism by which senators could be held accountable if they supported programs that trenched too severely on state autonomy. I'm not very sympathetic with repeal arguments, in part because I'm not a particular devotee of federalism, but I applaud the Tea Partiers for a certain amount of intellectual acuity. The American left seems almost altogether brain-dead in this regard. Indeed, rather than genuinely respond to the advocates and repeal and offering a substantive defense of the 17th Amendment, they denounce advocates as simple kooks or whackos (for apparently believing there are any imperfections at all in the U.S. Constitution).

These are not happy times.

Comments:

I make my standard objection to the use of the term “thug” or “thuggish” to describe a member of the Senate, in this case Senator Landrieu, simply for exercising her rights under Senate rules. And it seems particularly inappropriate when she is simply attempting to defend her constituents from an administration policy that is costing thousands of them their livelihood. Particularly when it is not at all obvious that the policy is either necessary or legal.
 

Sandy:

Speaking as the resident Tea Party representative, we are not asking to change the Constitution so much as we want to enforce its check and balances again.

Our Constitution does not have an infamous emergency powers clause. The President and the bureaucracy simply act as if there is one and that they are not restricted to the enumerated powers of our national charter.

I would posit that the problem with Congress is not that the factions do not deliberate, but rather they only deliberate with one another and do not listen to the wishes of the People.

As an aside, it is hilarious to read Krugman - the man who constantly counsels the Obama Administration to double down on more debt in the name of stimulating the economy - saying the GOP plan to cut several hundred billion dollars in spending as saying: “Deficits are a terrible thing. Let’s make them much bigger.” Please.
 

Blankshot, why weren't you upset about government ignoring the "wishes of the people" while Dumbya was pissing away $1+ trillion in the Iraq Disaster?
 

Anyone who wants to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment just does want to change the current Constitution. This is not a debate about "interpretation."

Mary Landrieu may have "good motives." So does any other thug who, for example, wants to knock over a Seven Eleven in order to get the money to buy drugs for his sick child. If mls is as sympathetic to those people, who are often jailed for their criminal misconduct, then I will be more sympathetic to Sen. Landrieu's act of thuggish extortion. (And, yes, I know that she is not behaving illegally, which is, of course, part of the scandal.)
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

"These are not happy times."

I agree in various respects but can do without the references to the Weimer Germany but if we want to look at history, the ability of few or single members to hold up things was a reality historically. It is not really a novel thing.

Also, "The American left seems almost altogether brain-dead in this regard" doesn't work for me either. [1] The idea they don't have various ideas about changing the system is simply wrong. The idea the "tea party" has more "acuity" is not apparent.

[2] The alleged logic for revoking the 17A doesn't hold up. I wouldn't say "kook" myself, but I simply don't see the logic there. Why is a state legislature more able to serve as that check than the people, especially when they -- this is curious -- think said legislators are more likely to be in hoc to the entrenched powers?

Again, a bit of history would tell them, but their "acuity" tends to be a bit warped to be honest, that the 17A was put in place for that very reason. It's like when one of our brethren here [not BP] complains about the courts.

I keep on asking him for a historical era that provided a better option. Never answers me.

The answer to trouble btw is not more trouble, putting aside what the person Rick "let's do away with the bicameral system" Lazio lost to (among other alternatives out there in Nov.) in the Republican primary a few weeks back suggests.
 

Surely there have been plenty of other dysfunctional parliaments, including perhaps those which exist in the present world, without invoking the example of 1920s Germany!
 

I would not take throwing around words like "Weimar" lightly, as I assume Levinson has not. There are plenty of knuckleheads anxious to make such comparisons about everything.

As for a parliamentary form of government, there are certainly aspects of this that I find appealing. One example of a moment when America might have benefited from such a system occurred during the last year of George W. Bush's presidency. He was the lamest of ducks, and I certainly wished our government could have held a vote of no confidence and reshuffled the cards.

But when I look at countries with parliamentary governments, it's not clear to me that we would be any better off in the long run. It's true that our congress is divided to the point of being ineffectual, but then Americans are very divided, as well. Also, a major problem is the way our pols are beholden to the corporate world. I don't see how a change in the structure of things would solve this.

America has had its share of tumultuous times, and its share of ineffective government. As freaked out as many people are right now, I don't really know how it compares to the Viet Nam years, the thirties, the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement. If the American system survived the Civil War, I have a hard time imagining that we have reached such a catastrophic moment that a complete rewrite is in order.
 

I have a fundamental problem with your thesis, Sandy: We had the same Constitution back when things were WORKING. So how can a constant be responsible for a change?

I'm with Bart on this: While our Constitution is hardly optimal, most of the current problems are due to the government NOT following the Constitution.

You persist in blaming the consequences of a dysfunctional political culture on a Constitution which is hardly in force anymore anyway.

For instance, the Congressional leadership compel the general membership to vote on legislation they haven't had time to read. And therefore could scarcely debate the were they even so inclined.

How is this driven by the Constitution, beyond the general direction that each chamber make it's own rules?

I'd say a major part of the dysfunctional of the legislative branch, is that the leadership have learned to game the system to effectively transfer almost all of the legislative power to themselves. By so doing, they've effectively rendered the ordinary members powerless drones.

Given that status, why would you expect them to act like their roles were meaningful? They're not really legislators, the way the system is being run now. They're just legislative window dressing on an oligarchy.
 

Brett:

While this is a House rule rather than a provision of the Constitution, it will be refreshing if the new GOP House reinstates the old Gingrich CWA transparency reforms Pelosi threw out - like the ability to read the bill and offer amendments. No more Congress as Supreme Soviet rubber stamp.

What is of constitutional import is the GOP Pledge's partial reversal of Congress' utterly unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the unelected executive bureaucracy by requiring a vote of our elected Congress to enact regulations which impose $100+ million in costs on the People. After 155,000 pages of regulations dwarfing the US Code, this reform is LONG overdue.

These folks better keep their promises.
 

"For instance, the Congressional leadership compel the general membership to vote on legislation they haven't had time to read. And therefore could scarcely debate the were they even so inclined."

So, one senator can hold up nominations and legislation but leadership is "compelling" membership to not read legislation.

I don't quite buy it; nor is last minute revisions and such somehow something that was invented circa the Clinton Administration either.

The Constitution is not really the problem, but sometimes changing times (like when the lame duck session was shortened) and personnel makes certain provisions problematic.
 

I have a fundamental problem with your thesis, Sandy: We had the same Constitution back when things were WORKING. So how can a constant be responsible for a change?

The same way a baseball game can change if it's played in the Astrodome or at Coors Field (sans humidor). The same way human beings change when they move from tropical environments to the tundra (and no, it's not evolution).

The external conditions of society strongly affect the way the workings of the Constitution play out. That's why you see so much emphasis among the Founders on virtue as a condition of republics.

What did they mean by virtue? A willingness to put the interests of the nation above an individual's or group's interest. Maybe we once had that (see below), but we don't any more. The Republican Party today has cast off any pretense of governing; its only interest is the factional one of perpetuating its own power.*

I also question what you mean when you claim that the Constitution used to "work". Segregation? No rights for women? No, the system used to "work" only because those in power could abuse others without cost. What we see now is the attempt to regain that former power to abuse, the use of bigotry, fear, and lies to perpetuate the power of an oligarchy that can't live without victims.

I don't know if we're seeing the last gasps of a dying class or the first stages of the counter-revolution, but it isn't pretty and it probably won't be for a while.

*The Democrats are often guilty, but at least try some of the time.
 

There is an interesting series of articles at the Constitutional Accountability Center site there, each one addressing a separate constitutional amendment which the tea party platform calls for abolishing. The author of several of the articles recently posted at balkinization, as well.

With respect to comparisons between Weimar's papier mache collapse to the condition of the US' current government apparatus' functionality, I would suggest a few alternatives to the important collection of malfeasances described in professor Levinson's article.

One such significant, and, in my view meritorious, difference may be seen in the US' societal milieu of acceptance. The early twentieth century was notable in Europe for several racially premised theories of fascism. While the rhetoric may live still, in some permutation, in the US and elsewhere, I do not foresee that brand of reactionary politics becoming a norm in the US. However, I share the author's concern that the appurtenances of race bias have infused much of factional politics in the US at times.

The Weimar as failure motif certainly is a daunting image. I think Kagan's Harvard Law Review article mapping out executive branch theory is important, but needs several sequels, which I hope she is organizing materials to inform her future auuthorship on the topic.

The latter point brings me to a concept of modern society in the US which I think is an unwritten part of the constitution, or, perhaps resembles much of what blogger M Field mentioned above. My view is one of society as analog of cloud computing, and perhaps government bureaucracy belonging in that same cloud as well. Namely, there is much about the governmental milieu and our social interactions in the US which have transcended any forms literal textualists might have devised based upon conditions in European governments three centuries ago when authoring our constitution. To select some examples, EPA and OSHA are agencies which have eforcement modalities. Or, looking farther afield, it is commonplace to read of elected officials whose spouses' surname differs; society has accepted the new look of the family with both parents working.

Yet, I agree with the author's observations concerning senate procedural stasis, when by-laws of the chamber permit an equation validating a Landrieu hold to balance approval of a new OMB directorship vote with a demand that the president rescind the order declaring a partial ban on drilling to allow time to review discovery of possible work safety shortcuts and short-shriven environmental regulations in a sleepy corner of the bureaucracy. The linked article explains the partial ban is set for expiration in 60 days, giving the hold hortatory value during by-year elections to be held 2 weeks before the ban ends and one side of the hold equation is reduced to nullity.
 

There is an interesting series of articles at the Constitutional Accountability Center site there, each one addressing a separate constitutional amendment which the tea party platform calls for abolishing. The author of several of the articles recently posted at balkinization, as well.

With respect to comparisons between Weimar's papier mache collapse to the condition of the US' current government apparatus' functionality, I would suggest a few alternatives to the important collection of malfeasances described in professor Levinson's article.

One such significant, and, in my view meritorious, difference may be seen in the US' societal milieu of acceptance. The early twentieth century was notable in Europe for several racially premised theories of fascism. While the rhetoric may live still, in some permutation, in the US and elsewhere, I do not foresee that brand of reactionary politics becoming a norm in the US. However, I share the author's concern that the appurtenances of race bias have infused much of factional politics in the US at times.

The Weimar as failure motif certainly is a daunting image. I think Kagan's Harvard Law Review article mapping out executive branch theory is important, but needs several sequels, which I hope she is organizing materials to inform her future auuthorship on the topic.

The latter point brings me to a concept of modern society in the US which I think is an unwritten part of the constitution, or, perhaps resembles much of what blogger M Field mentioned above. My view is one of society as analog of cloud computing, and perhaps government bureaucracy belonging in that same cloud as well. Namely, there is much about the governmental milieu and our social interactions in the US which have transcended any forms literal textualists might have devised based upon conditions in European governments three centuries ago when authoring our constitution. To select some examples, EPA and OSHA are agencies which have eforcement modalities. Or, looking farther afield, it is commonplace to read of elected officials whose spouses' surname differs; society has accepted the new look of the family with both parents working.

Yet, I agree with the author's observations concerning senate procedural stasis, when by-laws of the chamber permit an equation validating a Landrieu hold to balance approval of a new OMB directorship vote with a demand that the president rescind the order declaring a partial ban on drilling to allow time to review discovery of possible work safety shortcuts and short-shriven environmental regulations in a sleepy corner of the bureaucracy. The linked article explains the partial ban is set for expiration in 60 days, giving the hold hortatory value during by-year elections to be held 2 weeks before the ban ends and one side of the hold equation is reduced to nullity.
 

"So, one senator can hold up nominations and legislation but leadership is "compelling" membership to not read legislation."

Again, holds are a consequence of Congressional rules, not the Constitution. They're part of that political culture.

Mark, if you dropped a human, without clothing, in Antarctica, they'd die of exposure in minutes. You might blame this on genetics, in that they're humans, not penguins, but you wouldn't argue that it was evidence of a defective genome. And you'd still be wrong about their dying due to genetics, because those guys who winter over at the pole aren't mutants, they're just using technology.

I'd scarcely argue that there was any kind of constitutional golden age in this country, but the complaints Sandy makes represent a change from earlier conditions, and a change which wasn't in response to constitutional changes. It was due to a change in political culture. The Constitution doesn't mandate transparency, for instance, but it doesn't mandate it's lack, either. It does, however, mandate any number of things, such as business not being conducted in the absence of a quorum, or revnue bills originating in the House, which we none the less don't get. So I've got my doubts a constitutional amendment mandating transparency would accomplish much.

It's our political culture that's keeping the Constitution from working, and if anybody is going to demand constitutional changes to fix the situtation, I'd like to see an explaination as to how those changes will cause our government to work, given it's current political culture. A political culture which is quite willing and able to ignore constitutional clauses which inconvenience it.

The first thing anybody arguing for a constitutional fix has to provide, is an explanation as to why the fix would actually mean anything, in the teeth of a judicial culture committed to making sure the Constitution doesn't stand in the way of the government doing as it likes.

That's why my chief proposal, as little chance as it has of being adopted, is to transfer the selection of federal judges to the state level. That is to say, to people who don't have quite so much motive to select judges who won't require the federal government to obey it's own constitution. Without some change along those lines, any other amendments will prove futile. Surely the 27th amendment has taught us that...
 

Mark, if you dropped a human, without clothing, in Antarctica, they'd die of exposure in minutes. You might blame this on genetics, in that they're humans, not penguins, but you wouldn't argue that it was evidence of a defective genome.

My point was pretty much the opposite. The human phenotype expresses differently according to climate. In cold areas, people tend to be short and broad, because they preserve heat better. In tropical areas, they tend to be tall and thin because that's better for dissipating heat.

Same with our Constitution. It will express differently in different political cultures, a point you yourself make. We seem to agree that the political culture is corrupt, I just think your diagnosis regarding the source of the corruption is entirely wrong.
 

"My point was pretty much the opposite. The human phenotype expresses differently according to climate. In cold areas, people tend to be short and broad, because they preserve heat better. In tropical areas, they tend to be tall and thin because that's better for dissipating heat."

You know, I've got real doubts about that, as a matter of simple scientific fact. Got any references for that theory?
 

"We seem to agree that the political culture is corrupt, I just think your diagnosis regarding the source of the corruption is entirely wrong."

Did we discuss my diagnosis? Here it is:

I think that we're nominally a constitutional democracy, but the politicians have accumulated a critical mass of institutional knowledge on how to game the system. Gerrymandering. Ballot access laws. Party establishments that act as gatekeepers. A compliant media. Traditions of appointing judges who will show deference.

We've developed a distinctive, and rather insular political culture, which is, (And is determined to remain!) self-perpetuating. This essay is rather to the point, I think.

A seat in Congress isn't viewed as an opportunity for public service, it's viewed as a sinecure, an opportunity for graft with a good pension. They're not there to do the work, they're there for the perks.

And if somebody actually gets elected who views things differently, they'll be denied committee posts, bills they introduce will be ignored, they'll find the party apparatus turned against them, and the media will treat them as kooks. All the members know the cost of challenging the system, so the Congressional leadership go unchallenged, and run a system where they exercise the real power.

We can make all the changes we want at the level of the nominal rules, and it won't matter, because the rules nominally in place aren't the real rules.

Sandy is complaining about those nominal rules, and ignoring to a large extent the way the Constitution simply is ignored.
 

You know, I've got real doubts about that, as a matter of simple scientific fact. Got any references for that theory?

I'm going out tonight, so it may take me a while.

I don't necessarily disagree with much in your last comment, but I do think there are changes to the Constitution which would ameliorate some of the problems you mention, and that in any case, we'd need to change the Constitution to make it function properly.
 

"but I do think there are changes to the Constitution which would ameliorate some of the problems you mention, and that in any case, we'd need to change the Constitution to make it function properly."

Oh, I agree. By analogy, suppose you had a web browser which worked just fine, but the malware people had discovered some exploits. You'd have to make changes to it anyway, because it's not enough to have a browser that works properly at well behaved sites.

It was a fine constitution in it's day, but those exploits need to be fixed, and the greatest of those exploits is the "appointing the judiciary that decides what you're allowed to get away with" exploit.
 

You know, I've got real doubts about that, as a matter of simple scientific fact. Got any references for that theory?

FYI: That's known in biology as "Allen's rule."
 

From Wikipedia: "In anthropology the contrast between the Maasai also Dinka and the Inuit people is often presented as an example of Allen's rule.

The Inuit people live and hunt within the Arctic Circle. The sub-zero temperatures encountered in the Arctic environment mean that heat conservation is essential. A short, squat body shape will help retain body heat."


Yeah, but you got any evidence on Inuits born and raised at the equator, and Maasai doing the same in arctic zones? You can explain their different body shapes by simple evolution, after all.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

Brett, you can find an explanation of the general principle here. The example given is from plants, but it applies to people as well. When I have more time, I'll find an explicit reference to human body type.
 

You can explain their different body shapes by simple evolution, after all.
# posted by Brett : 7:22 AM


Of course evolution is the driving force in body types. What did you think he meant?
 

Actually, I didn't mean evolution. What I meant was that the same genome can express itself in different ways depending on the environment.
 

The differences between the shape of the Inuit and the shape of the Masai are the result of natural selection as surely as the differences in skin color between northern Europeans and Sri Lankans are.

The phenotypical expressions are not the direct product of the environment, but rather the result of differential reproductive success over generations. I'm not sure how that relates to the metaphor you two are using in your debate, but it's definitely an example of evolution in progress.
 

There are 2 factors at play in biology. One is evolution. The other is the fact that phenotype can vary depending on the environment. For an explanation of the distinction, see here.

I was using the latter as an example of how an unchanged Constitution can lead to disparate results, i.e., the political environment has changed, so the same rules will lead to different results. This is an object lesson that obscure analogies are counterproductive. I should have stuck with baseball.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

May I suggest that a) we were having quite a good discussion of some very basic issues of constitutional design and politics, and b) there is no reason at all, with all due respect, to look to members of this list, very definitely including myself (and Jack) for genuine illumination on the intricacies of evolutionary biology.
 

Sorry -- I was just trying to make an analogy as part of my argument about the Constitution. The analogy was a poor one, as I noted.
 

Still, the link you provided was quite useful, Mark. I'll use it in my human variation lecture next week. Thanks for providing it.
 

Heh. At least we got some benefit from it.
 

I've been thinking about the Weimar republic for a long time, but for a different reason.

The way the Weimar republic constitution was written and electorate was composed meant the deck was stacked against the left wing parties. Even when the left wing did well in an election, the result was still government by the conservatives, a role the blue dogs play in our current tragedy. This coalition between the centrist conservatives and the left wing was highly dysfunctional and the left's name was tarnished by distinctively un-leftist policies, gutting welfare and social security for instance, which the governing conservatives could demand just to keep the coalition together. The result of these policies which were stupid but acceptably conservative was a government that couldn't respond to the depression and an electorate that gave up on the left and voted in extremists.

And it is the blue dogs that our governing our government. I'll admit even I didn't notice it back in early 2009 when it happened. But it was the blue dogs that institutionalized the filibuster. The republicans would have never won a single cloture vote if the blue dogs had just agreed to vote for their party on cloture then vote however they wanted on the actual vote. Nobody would have ever held it against them because the filibuster wouldn't have been an issue! They would have been applauded as being conservative for voting against bills that they voted for cloture on. Instead they actually make the bills more conservative by using their cloture votes and then get called liberals for voting for the bill! Why would they engage in such a politically suicidal course? Because it puts their tiny little blue dog faction in control of Congress and senators like to flatter their own egos.

The "centrists" now control Washington no matter who wins the election and they don't have the first clue of how to govern. That's how we are like the Weimar republic, government by the political kingmakers.

The good news is that the economy isn't nearly as depressed as it was in the Weimar republic. It's hard to imagine extremists taking over without that push. So instead we'll just get a painful slide to irrelevance.
 

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