Friday, June 29, 2012

The Policy Debate 2012 Infrastructure Topic - Aff ideas

Some AFF Ideas I Like

Thinking about the policy resolution and doing some basic research to support a decent topic analysis I have some idea for Affirmatives that are initially, fairly standard in that they try to avoid topicality issues (well, hopefully), they uphold the stock issues and are not overly complex.  I am not going to detail this much beyond describing the basic premises and thought process behind the ideas.  Bear in mind, these are not coming from any camp files, other blogs, or discussion boards and right now, I have no clue what kinds of actual Neg arguments are going to emerge.

These Aff ideas need developed, researched and reviewed.  They are conceptual and certainly will invite kritiks, counterplans and other challenges if not properly setup so as to avoid obvious topicality issues.  So I leave it the clever debater to do the real work.

NextGen Air Traffic Control
NextGen is the USFG's next generation air traffic control system which is envisioned to solve a number of technical and operational issues inherent in our obsolete, World War II vintage air traffic management systems.  The new system will be mainly a satellite-based system. There is currently funding but the project is falling on difficulties and facing cost overruns because it is not being funded to the level needed and there seems to be a higher level of FAA involvement than necessary.  A reprioritization, increased funding, decoupling of pork-barrel projects, and proper oversight can get this project back on track.  Generally projects that are not fully committed, that is they are done in long phases under limited budgets are difficult to manage over the long term and prone to costly inefficiencies.  While a portion of the project requires retrofit of existing commercial aircraft, this Aff should focus on the infrastructure comprised of the satellite based navigation system implemented in conjunction with the FAA, NASA and DoD.

Suborbital Flight Investments
This Aff would provide a substantial increase in the investments for the development and deployment of the Suborbital Commercial Air Systems used to transport goods and people around the world.  Such ventures are currently ongoing as the USFG provides funding and oversight to stimulate the emerging industry.  This Aff is a little tricky because the industry will mainly be a private, commercial operation.  To avoid topicality dispute, the Aff needs to focus on the USFG investment in the development of the industry because there is a huge potential spill-over effect with good solvency and many potential advantages.  While it may be possible to leverage some ideas from last year's space topic, certainly Neg teams can do the same and leverage the disadvantages.

NIPP (Concept) for Transportation Infrastructure Protection
This is the National Infrastructure Protection Plan proposed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is rich with ideas for Aff cases.  This program looks very interesting from a debater point of view.  Now, admittedly there may be some challenges to the idea that critical infrastructure is topical.  I think the Aff needs to work off the general concept of NIPP conceived by DHS and not necessarily NIPP itself.  In fact, the Department of Transportation has a plan as well, and there can be little doubt the programs will merge to various degrees.  The basic idea is to provide the investments required to implement a plan to secure and protect the infrastructure from, not only human enemies but other Affs could explore protection from natural disasters.

Intelligent Transportation System
Intermodal transport deals with the use of different transportation modes. For example, a cargo container may be transfered to a U.S. port via container ship, then moved onto a train, and finally onto a truck for delivery to the destination.  Despite emerging technological development in each of the modes, there is very little integration between them:
(Kiran 2007) The industry is structured around each individual mode of transportation and because of intermodal transfers often require the coordination of government entities and multiple private entities, physical and organizational bottlenecks sometimes develop the affect the performance of the entire freight system. Conflict between the intermediaries, who in the past have functioned predominantly within their own respective mode, has impeded the formation of mechanisms to coordinate access to intermodal equipment, facilities, and the flow of information between modes during intermodal operations.
Development of an Intelligent Transporation System will provide for the intermodal tracking of freight and solve bunches of harms and basically offer a range of advantages.  Variations of this Aff would cover people transportation and make commuting and traveling, safer, easier and least in the debate world.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Policy Debate 2012 Infrastructure Topic - misc

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.

A Note About Govt Spending
As I was prepping the previous parts of this analysis and talking about investments, I realized a lot of the discussion is based on economic theories and theories are - well - theories and some theories are disputed by other theories.  One of the core premises of the Affirmative case for investment is based on the belief that smart government spending creates jobs and otherwise stimulates the economy.  This is classic Keynesian economics, but proponents of the so-called Austrian school of economics think that is false. The Austrian school was mentored by Ludwig von Mises.  Senator Ron Paul, in fact, is a proponent of the Austrian point of view.

So I am saying this for awareness since it is possible for a Neg case to dispute the investment claims using Mises' economic theories.  For the most part, it should be possible for the Aff to  refute and defend based on the GAO and CBO budget studies issued by the USFG.  Evidence in those studies as related to Infrastructure spending, supports the point of view that, at least for this topic, government spending does stimulate the economy.  But if your judge has a Ron Paul sticker on her laptop, you may want to have an economic theory file.  You will have no problems finding academic support for the theories.

Types of Transportation and Related Infrastructure
Currently there are three general types of transportation to be considered, land (automobiles, trucks and trains), marine (watercraft) and air (aircraft and spacecraft).  When we think of goods which require transportation, we typically think of durable goods, consumer goods, and the like, that are moved in packages, crates, shipping containers, etc.  But there are other equally important commodities, requiring other forms of transportation that should not be overlooked.  For example, liquid and gas products are transported through pipes and conduits.  Data and communications are transported electronically over wires and broadcast over the airways and through space. Electrical energy is transported over wires and buss structures. It should be noted, water, energy, communication and data products are not typically considered part of the transporation infrastructure so Affirmatives which support investment in those kinds of things can expect major topicality challenges.  I mention them here because I would not be surprised to see some teams attempt to expand the definitions to include other kinds of infrastructures.  Be aware of this and be prepared to challenge it if necessary.

As I have pointed out in the "key definitions" portion of this analysis, energy infrastructure includes transportation as evidenced by the USFG's own reports. So why would energy not be part of transportation?  Good luck with this one if you decide we need more pipelines or something.  Let me know how it works out for you. Hey, the argument can be made - the question is, will the judge buy it?

Land Transport
When we think of land based transport we typically think of cars, trucks, buses and trains but we can also include motorcycles and animal-powered or human-powered vehicles such as carts, buggies or bicycles.  (Human-powered transport can even include strapping something or someone on your back and walking.) Vehicles come in a wide variety of designs, sizes, shapes, efficiency, and utility.  Wheeled vehicles need roadways, paths or rails of various construction and these roadways consume a sizable amount of real-estate which may be privately or publically owned.  Other kinds of structures support land transportation including bridges, tunnels, traffic control devices (signage and signals), safety devices (guard-rails, painted lines, more signage, etc).  Passenger stations, weigh stations, inspection facilities, rest areas and construction and maintenance facilities.

Marine Transport
Water-based transport supports all manner of boat traffic including ships, boats, barges, rafts, etc.  The structures which support these modes of transport include ports, seaways, canals, rivers, lakes, lighthouses, locks and dams, docks, etc.  The U.S. has an extensive network of waterways and a large volume of goods are transported by water.  In some areas, water based mass transit systems are common for transporting people and include the use of ferrys, rafts, water taxis and the like.

Air Transport
Another significant transportation source is aerial and includes various types of flying aircraft like airplanes (personal, passenger and air cargo), helicopters, and similar craft.  These are supported by infrastructure including airports, navigation systems and air traffic control.  I would also classify space transportation as a form of aerial transport although in some cases, space transport is considered a completely separate system and under some definitions may not be part of the transportation infrastructure at all. Indeed, small amount of materials and people are typically moved this way and the positive economic impact of this kind of transportation is only hinted at by entrepreneurs.  Presently, no enterprise uses space based transporation to move material and people for commercial purposes but their use for military applications have been exposed.  Still, the advent of next generation air transport envisions suborbital type aircraft which could cut transportation costs and travel times significantly and play a major role in the near future of air transport systems.

Energy and Data Transport
As previously discussed, the transportation of energy and data such as oil, gas, electricity, internet packets, communications, and electronic data, may or may not be part of this resolution and will depend on the kind of supporting definitions that can be found and the predisposition of the judge evaluating the case.  These commodites are transported on a network of pipes, cables, wires, towers, broacast facilities, satellites, etc.

Survey of Benefits and Problems
Investment in the transportation infrastructure has benefits and problems which can be briefly reviewed.  The economic investment expects an economic return and usually this can be considered a benefit.  Studies indicate, at least potentially, the benefit of job creation, reduced costs for goods, improved fuel efficiency, fewer accidents, and a generally enhanced capability to compete in the global market.  Public mass transit systems, carry the potential to reduce consumption of non-renewable energy, reduce harmful emmissions and reduce traffic jams in urban environments.

Of course, there are downsides to investment in the transportation infrastructure, not least of which include expenses required to maintain the systems, the environmental impact on land, air and water, the ecological impact on plants, wildlife and the food chain, ease of transport for disease and pestilence, possible continued reliance on non-renewable energy sources, and in direct opposition to some of the advantages, less efficiency owing to more traffic and traffic jams and increased numbers of accidents.


External Effects and Risks
In the interest of protecting investments, it is necessary to understand the risks of significantly increasing transportation infrastructure.  While some external events can ruin an investment, many risks are known in advance and evaluated. For example, we may be aware of the impact a transportation system will have on climate but what is the impact of global warming on transportation systems? 

Risks also arise from other kinds of natural causes such as earthquakes, floods, severe storms, fires, etc. Since one could argue the transportation infrastructure supports the the life-blood of the American economy, assessment of the risk and impacts of terrorist attacks and wars must also be considered.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Policy Debate 2012 Infrastructure Topic - key definitions

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.

While topicality files typically breakdown every single word of the resolution and provide alternative definitions, for the purpose of this analysis at this time, it is not necessary.  Instead I would like to provide a working definition of the key terms in the resolution, "transportation", "infrastructure" and "investment".  Merriam-Webster defines infrastructure as an underlying structure or basic framework.  Each of the definitions suggests the framework supports a system of some type. 'Infra' is the Latin word for below or under, structure is the arrangement of parts or elements and typically describe the arrangement of elements comprising a complex system. Thus infrastructure is the underlying structure of a system, in this case, a system for transportation.  Transportation is defined as a means of conveying people or goods from one place to another. Investment is defined as the "outlay" of money given for income or profit.  It is the upfront money given in order to realize a return in income or profit.  It can also be defined as an outlay of capital which may be any money or goods used to generate income.  So it does not have to be money but that is something we can explore later.  Based on these definitions we can thus claim, generally speaking, that a transportation infrastructure investment is the money given for the underlying systems used to provide for the movement of people and/or goods.

I personally think the use of the term "investment" can be very significant.  Simply put, an investment is giving money to a thing with the expectation of a profit. An investment requires assurance the upfront money will not be lost or wasted.  When people claim to invest in the stock market unless they have done a thorough risk analysis and have some type of security to protect their initial outlay of money, they are speculating rather than investing.  Therefore, this resolution states the USFG funding must be secured by some means, otherwise one could argue it is not a proper investment.  When buying a house, the mortgage is secured by the market value of the property (as well as other means).  So, if the homeowner defaults the lender can recover the investment by taking possession of the property.

Another potential conflict exists with respect to the usage of the term investment. It can be argued that money spent to maintain an investment is not in and of itself an investment unless the expenditure increases the value of the investment.  It should not be difficult to understand money spent to maintain an investment at present value is an expense.  In order to be considered an investment, the money spent for maintenance must sufficiently increase the value so as to protect the additional money as well as the initial outlay.  If a homeowner spends $10,000 to replace the roof, though it protects the initial investment it is an expense because it does not increase the value.  If the homeowner spends $10,000 to add a room, it may be considered an investment because the value of the property is increased.  Given this understanding, the Affirmative team will need to make the distinction between maintenance and investment and ensure their plans secure return for the initial principle as well as additional funds.  Without this assurance, the Negative team can potentially claim a topicality violation.

Investment Security
Having established that an investment requires some kind of assurance of positive return it is necessary to understand some ways in which the government secures itself against loss when giving money for infrastructure.  I have stated in the first part of this analysis that the transportation infrastructure has contributed to the growth of the nation.  Investment generates a cited "spillover" effect which stimulates growth beyond the scope of the initial project and these effects are more difficult to quantify.  In general, companies deliver products and services via transportation.  Companies which sell products generate income and hire employees, companies and employees pay taxes, taxes are income for the government.  Therefore, one of the principle ways the government recovers its investment is through corporate and employment taxes.  Another significant tax revenue is realized in energy taxes, in particular, the tax on gasoline.  The more transportation, the more gasoline is consumed generating income for the government.  Additionally federal funds, released to the states are returned to the Federal government (or supposed to be) through various revenue streams.  To be sure, there are other ways the USFG recovers its investment and these can be discovered by researching "rate of return" + "transportation infrastructure".  In a somewhat dated study by the Congressional Budget Office, they reported:

"Carefully chosen federal investments in physical infrastructure such as highway and aviation projects would yield economic rates of return higher than the average return on private capital."

The Treasury Department's 2012 study stated:

"Many studies have found evidence of large private sector productivity gains from public infrastructure investments, in many cases with higher returns than private capital investment.  Research has shown that well-designed infrastructure investments can raise economic growth, productivity, and land values, while also providing significant positive spillovers to areas such as economic development, energy efficiency, public health, and manufacturing."


A 2011 report by the Carnegie Endowment:
"Public investment in transportation infrastructure remains appropriate. It is estimated that for every 0.1 percent increase in the rate of GDP growth, the deficit could be reduced by $288 billion over ten years. The federal government now spends about $70 billion annually on all modes of surface, marine, and air transportation, about $52 billion of which is devoted to roads, rails, mass transit, buses, and connecting infrastructure (stations, transfer hubs, access improvements, and so on). The arguments for additional investment to support America’s competitive position in a growing global economy are well documented and compelling.  However, the massive sums committed to public capital investments in transportation infrastructure need to be strategic, ef¤Éicient, and backed up by cost-benefit analyses that target the total benefits to society as the core purpose of investment."

Also see:

Investment Performance Failure
A study of the the current state of transportation infrastructure investment will show there has been good historical performance, meaning the rates of return have been good.  However some reports will show that rates of return on highway projects have decreased.  This may be a reflection of the fact that continued investment in certain kinds of infrastructure may be unsustainable.  The GAO study linked above, reveals that in the last seven years, the more federal money for certain kinds of infrastructure projects has been given to state than is returning.  Investments are not supposed to lose money and over the long term, such kinds of investments are downgraded and potentially reclassified.

For clarity, just because an investment fails to generate a return does not automatically indicate the financial outlay was not an investment in the first place.  Sometimes despite the best analysis and projected valuations, investments fail for a variety of reasons.  Evidence of investment failure should not trigger a topicality violation for this resolution as long as the initial criteria for definition as an investment was met.

Many of the studies will tell you that not all infrastructure investments are created equal.  Some will be considered good investments with high rates of return over a longer period of time.  Others will have short term, low rates of return.  For the topicality of this resolution, this has implications when the Negative team challenges the "significantly increase" terminology of the resolution with respect to the Affirmative plan.  For sure, one thing that may need clarified with regard to "significantly increase ... investment" is what exactly does it mean to increase an investment?  Does it mean to simply pour in more money or does it mean to increase the rate of return?  I would not be surprised if some clever Negative team finds evidence to support the latter.

Limitation of Definitions
Now we can define transportation and we can define infrastructure but when we combine the terms do we truly know what a transportation infrastructure is or more properly, what it is not?  We read of several key types of infrastructures in the United States such as energy infrastructure, water system infrastructure, etc.  So can a system of conveyance such as an oil pipeline be considered part of the transportation infrastructure? Clearly, tanker trucks, trains, and ships utilize the transportation infrastructure to convey oil, what about pipes?  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce when undertaking the task of establishing guidelines and methodology for measuring infrastructure investment performance, gave the following definition:
"Clearly define “transportation infrastructure” as the underlying structures that support the
delivery of inputs to places of production, goods and services to customers, and customers to
marketplaces. The structures are:
* Transit
* Highways
* Airports
* Railways
* Waterways (Ports)
* Intermodal Links"


In another report, they offered the following, more specific definition:
"It is important to establish a definition of transportation infrastructure in order to establish the scope of the index.General Definition: Moving people and goods by air, water, road, and rail. Technical Definition: The fixed facilities―roadway segments, railway tracks, public transportation terminals, harbors, and airports―flow entities―people, vehicles, container units, railroad cars―and control systems that permit people and goods to traverse geographical space in a timely, efficient manner for an intended purpose. Transportation modes include highway, public transportation, aviation, freight rail, marine, and intermodal.  Note that pipeline infrastructure is not included in this definition. For purposes of the Infrastructure Performance Index it is considered an element of energy infrastructure."
(emphasis mine, src:

In 2011 a policy statement issued by the City of Denver, Manager of Public Works gave the following definition:
"Transportation infrastructure is defined as any facility designed for transporting people and goods including, but not limited to, sidewalks, trails, bike lanes, highways, streets, bridges, tunnels, railroads, mass transportation and parking systems."
The Denver definition, though interesting, would be inadequate since it is local in scope and does not include other forms of transportation such as air and water. Any definition which includes a phrase like "not limited to" is an open door to contention in policy debate.

The difficulty in establishing a universal definition is reflected in many of the sources I have examined and so makes it very difficult, if not impossible to establish an agreeable limitation to what exactly constitutes the "transportation infrastructure".  Yes, we can broadly conceptualize it, but how narrowly can we define it before it no longer meets an acceptable interpretation is any one's guess.  This is critical to the topicality debate and figuring out if the transportation of commodities through pipelines, and wires is "fair game" in this debate.

I suppose one way to deal with the problem is confirm that pipelines and power lines are explicitly defined as part of the energy infrastructure, as in this 2001, Department of Energy Report:
"Our energy infrastructure is comprised of many components, such as the physical network of pipes for oil and natural gas, electricity transmission lines and other means for transporting energy to consumers. This infrastructure also includes facilities that turn raw natural resources into useful energy products..."

Unfortunately, there is no exclusivity to the definition because the same report overlaps the energy and transportation infrastructures.  Note the conclusion to the above quotation:
"...The rail network, truck lines, and marine transportation are also key components of America’s energy infrastructure..."
"The infrastructure used to transport energy products includes ocean tankers; inland barges; specialized trucks for oil and refined products, such as gasoline and heating oil; railroad tank cars and coal cars; and the waterways, highways, and railroads upon which they travel. There is also a substantial inventory of river and oceanside port facilities that are used for moving energy materials." 


Overlapping definitions such as this blow open the "T" debate and potentially broaden the current resolution into other possible affirmatives, that some debaters may not have previously considered.  The overlap and cross-definitions of the types of infrastructures may in fact be necessary in order to face the realities of 21st century interdependency of our systems, particularly when looking at security issues and how to protect the infrastructure investment.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Policy Debate 2012 Infrastructure Topic - introduction

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.
This is the first in what should develop into a series of articles on the NFL policy debate topic for 2012 - 2013.  I think most people knowledgeable of the topic would agree that at one time, the U.S. transportation infrastructure was the envy of the world.  This included the fixed resources necessary to support surface transportation including roads, highways, railroads, bridges, tunnels and ancillary systems such as the communications, fueling stations, supply networks, maintenance facilities, rest stops, transportation centers, etc.  It also includes non-surface transportation such as airports, and related support systems and structures and to some degree space transport facilities.  While many of the vehicles and systems (for example commercial rail systems) were privately owned, the U.S.F.G. provided funding, right of ways, and other forms of direct and indirect support for the construction of the systems.

It can be shown, the U.S. transportation system had a substantial positive impact on the economic growth of the country and indeed on the well-being of many other countries around the world.  The transportation system supported the rapid and economical delivery of goods and services across the country and around the world and supported military and defensive objectives as needed.  It can also be shown there has been numerous negative impacts not least of which includes the environmental impacts of the system.  The impact on the energy systems of the earth is also a major concern resulting in questions as to how long we can hope to sustain our present systems even if funding was not a problem.  Further, it can be argued that modern transportation systems which make the "world a smaller place" contributes to the ease which disease and war can spread.

Currently, the once famous U.S. transportation system has fallen onto hard times.  The system requires a massive expenditure to maintain.  The funding comes from many sources, including various use fees, taxes, and other forms of direct and indirect funding by the government.  While some USFG spending for surface transportation is considered discretionary a large percentage of transportation expenditures also fall under the classification of mandatory spending.  The division between discretionary and mandatory spending generally becomes a contentious issue in political debate.  In any case, the transportation infrastructure is beginning to decay since expenditures are not meeting the current requirements to maintain the current system.  A study by the Urban Land Institute estimates $2 trillion is needed over the next five to ten years to restore and modernize the nation's transportation infrastructure.

The current status of the system invites comparison to transportation systems in other countries.  Many reports will claim that our system is "falling behind".  This begs the question what are the criteria for deciding what is the standard of comparison.  Why is one country behind another and what are the impacts?  If we accept that expenditures must be made, one must consider what are the best kinds of transportation infrastructure investments required to carry the U.S. into the next century?  Does it make sense to continue to place sizable premium on surface transportation systems which support internal combustion engines or can existing roads and highways be adapted to support other kinds of vehicles?  Another very important question is why should the government provide the funding and resources in the first place?  We have seen already, that strides are being made to privatize many of the activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in particular, the transportation of men and materials into space.  Why not other kinds of privatization which reduces the need for government spending to support transportation rather than increases it?

A recent report by the U.S. Treasury Department ( claims that the time to act is now not only because the spending would support long-term business activities but also because short term benefits are realized through increased employment opportunities.  The term "investment" is important because the idea behind investing is to realize a positive return on the expenditure.  To be sure, investments carry a certain risk and do not always result in positive return but it is the responsibility of the investors to ensure the risks are minimized and proper oversight is utilized.  The Treasury report details ways the funding can be realized and reviews proposed investment targets which can help generate a near-term, positive return.

Over the next weeks I will begin to dive into specific topics which could evolve into case ideas for both the Affirmative and Negative.  I am not sure where this may go as I will be developing the case ideas "on the fly" and as independently as possible from other resources such as camps and the opinions of other experts in policy debate.

Check back soon.

Related posts:

Key definitions - what about pipelines and broadband?

Potential LD Topics 2012/2013 - Part 5

For links to LD topic analyses and articles, click here.

Resolved: Oppressive government is more desirable than no government.
This and the next topic about rehab vs. retribution are true Lincoln-Douglas topics, in my opinion and so I would expect to see these kinds of topics debated in Nov/Dec or Jan/Feb.  They would also make pretty good National Tournament topics which would have a wide appeal to the traditional judges.

(November/December 1986 - Resolved: an unjust government is better than no government at all.)
(January/February 1996 - Resolved: an oppressive government is more desirable than no government.)
(January/February 2002 - Resolved: oppressive government is more desirable than no government.)
Fourth time around for this topic. For this resolution, the debaters need to come to some kind of agreement about what is an "oppressive government".  This should not be a source of major conflict between the Aff and Neg but there are many kinds of oppression and certainly not all of it is a direct result of government policies.  This resolution is a comparison between a government which restricts personal liberties or natural rights (whatever definition is agreed) versus the unlimited liberties of no government and while it seems some may consider no government better than living under a regime which restricts liberties, consider that living without a government can be considered the philosophical equivalent to living in the state of nature where life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" (Hobbes).

I personally, have never really considered the state of nature or an anarchical state a place where one must deal with roving bands of potential murders or a place where someone is just as likely to steal from you as say "hello".  But there can be no doubt that people choose to organize into societies and form governments because it has benefits which contributes to the survival of individuals and the species.  Despite, the potential benefits there are governments which repress and restrict people so severely, the benefits are greatly outweighed.  But if one holds to the idea that life without government greatly reduces one's survivability or well-being to such a severe degree, perhaps it is better to live under the oppressive government.  After all, some may consider they would rather die than live under oppression, yet most convicted criminals would rather live in prison than be executed.

As a coach, it bothers me that cases from the previous years are online.  Hopefully, debaters will see value in researching and writing their own cases for this now classic resolution.

Aff Position
If the Affirmative wishes to take a pragmatic point of view, the case must spend time establishing that living under no government is equivalent to a death penalty.  Hobbes claimed the state of nature is continual war.  It could be argued that when a government reaches some threshold of institutional oppression, it loses its legitimacy and is no longer considered a government.  Also, one can claim that if the resolution was true it would always be true.  But if an oppressed nation was surround by enemies, the inhabitants may desire to live under the oppressive regime as long as it protects them from the enemies demonstrating that even oppressive governments can provide benefits that living under no government can not supply.

Consider that under some frameworks, government is an inevitable consequence of people's desire to survive and so even if no government existed it would not be long before people banded together to establish one.

Neg Position
There seems to be a general philosophical belief that it is somehow better or more noble to die rather live under oppression and so there should be plenty of support for the Neg debater.  One may look to modern Somalia as a pragmatic example of how people have chosen to live with no central government rather than endure the former oppressive regime, but be aware, that Aff will argue that even a tribal leader or war-lord establishes a kind of "government".  In my opinion, the better cases will stick to the philosophical framework and rely on the judge's natural aversion to oppression to win the day.

None - just look online.

Resolved: Rehabilitation ought to be valued above retribution in the United States criminal justice system.
Finally we wrap-up our short analysis of the potential LD topics for 2012-2013 with this very debatable, very LD-like resolution.  This is another I would expect to see in the middle of the season.

(1989 NFL Nationals - Resolved: the American criminal justice system ought to place a higher priority on retribution than on rehabilitation.)
(2003 NFL Nationals - Resolved: rehabilitation ought to be valued above punishment in the U.S. criminal justice system.)
This topic can cover a very broad area as it attempts to establish the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system.  Should the focus be upon rehabilitation or punishment?  Granted there are elements of criminal justice that are likely to be discussed such as the need to prevent certain undesirable behaviors from reoccurring, restitution and the principle of deterrence.  However, I think one can argue that incapacitation, restitution and deterrence can result on both side of the debate.

Retribution is an interesting word.  It is another word for punishment and suggests that one must pay a price for bad behavior.  It is not the same as restitution in which some attempt is made to compensate the victims.  One may also consider retribution to be another word for revenge but revenge carries a negative connotation which gives one the impression that retribution may be a just and proportional response to a bad behavior while revenge may not necessarily be just nor proportional.

Aff Position
The Affirmative will argue that rehabilitation is the most humane goal of criminal justice as it ultimately restores the criminal to some useful capacity to the benefit of society and reforms bad behavior.  Despite the statistics which may lead one to conclude that rehabilitation does not work, it does not nullify the argument that it may be more desirable in principle than simply punishing an offender.

Neg Position
The Neg debater can find substantial support in the philosophy of Immanual Kant who believed that nothing should be done to benefit the criminal and the sole purpose of criminal justice was retribution.

When and if this resolution becomes a topic for the season, I will discuss it in more detail.  Past cases are online, hundreds of essays on both sides have been written and I am certain if you wish to get a jump on the upcoming season, you will have little problem uncovering arguments for both sides.


Proposed LD Topics 2012/2013 - Part 4

For links to LD topic analyses and articles, click here.

Resolved: On balance, labor unions in the United States are beneficial.
At best, this resolution may be able to explore some of the issues surrounding worker's rights which I guess are a kind of superset of human rights but I wonder how this came under consideration for LD.  

The history of the labor movement in the U.S. is worth investigating. Why did unions arise in the first place?  By familiarizing oneself with this history one sees the abuses of so-called worker's rights and the amount of control companies exercised over the lives of their employees.  One could say, workers were effectively enslaved by their employers and by organizing themselves and acting as a collective body rather than individually, they found an effective means to regain some measure of control over their lives which gave them the ability to negotiate with their employers for better benefits and working conditions.

The downside of this kind of organization is, according to the business side, an increase in costs and indeed one could make the argument that rise of labor unions played a significant role in the collapse of large corporations from the late 1970s to present which could no longer pay pensions and benefits demanded by the employees.

In today's economy, a significant portion of the work-force is comprised of skilled and technical jobs which tend to be more competitive.  Companies have an incentive to keep these employees reasonably happy or they will simply move to a competitor.  Therefore, the need for these kinds of workers to organize and demand better working conditions is probably no longer necessary.

Debaters should realize the judges for these rounds will have their opinions about the value of unions.  In most school districts, teachers are unionized.  Additionally, there are very strong political influences behind one's opinion of the utility of labor unions so I would not be surprised if there is a lot of confusion over how judges ultimately view these cases.

Aff Position
Affirmative will argue that unions do provide benefits so Aff will be espousing positive economic benefits as well as improvement in the life-styles of workers.

Neg Position
The Neg debater will provide evidence that unions are generally harmful due to their negative impacts on the ability of companies to flexibly react to changing market conditions.  Additionally there will be mention of abuses perpetrated by the unions (organized crime, cronyism, etc).


Resolved: The United States ought to guarantee universal health care for its citizens.
For some reason, this year the NFL seems to think that headlines make good debate.  Perhaps true if this were Public Forum, but these are proposed Lincoln-Douglas topics.  Still, this topic, though very much a divisive issue in the U.S. politics, has the potential to side-step current legislation and political ideology and deal with the obligations of government.  Indeed, there is no reason for this debate to even mention the current health care bill nor the controversy over its provisions (constitutional or not).

The reality is, in the United States, health care costs have skyrocketed and as a result, unless a person has insurance or other kinds of financial resources, it is impossible for many Americans to afford proper health care.  Even though hospital emergency rooms and trauma centers are required to treat people without considering their ability to pay, it is generally agreed that routine wellness care increases the quality and longevity of life but due to costs, routine care is out of reach for many Americans.  So the question becomes, given these realities, does the government have an obligation, perhaps a moral imperative to provide some level of care for those citizens who otherwise can not obtain it?

One of the troubling aspects of this particular resolution is the inclusion of the word "guarantee". What does that mean?  On the one hand, because the word is included we may not need to discuss who provides the health care but on the other hand, if the government does not have to provide it and yet still guarantees it, is there an element of coercion?

Aff Position
There are several good ways to address this topic.  I think by looking at the impacts in the status quo and revealing the evidence of increased mortality and degraded life-styles due to lack of affordable health care, the Affirmative can establish support for a philosophical or moral framework with respect to the obligation of governments to promote the general welfare of the people.

Neg Position
I think a reasonable case can be made that governments do not need to provide universal health care based on the fact "health care" in reality, deals with wellness care which tends to be a private matter more than a public matter.  Public health care issues are already serviced by the government.  For example, the spread of contagious diseases are controlled by the government since it affects the public at large.  But if an individual is unable or chooses not to provide wellness care for one's family, what business is that of government and why is the government obligated to remedy that if it does not impact the general population?  I do see this as a difficult argument, however, because the Affirmative can provide the facts about the impact lack of affordable health care has on society as a whole.  Negative will have a tough fight.  Certainly a detailed analysis will be required to figure out how this topic can be negated most effectively.


Proposed LD Topics 2012/2013 - Part 3

For links to LD topic analyses and articles, click here.

Resolved: In a democracy, voting ought to be compulsory.
(Click here for a full analysis of this resolution)
Initially, one is inclined to think compulsory voting is an infringement on personal autonomy but then again, what about other kinds of compulsory requirements which are commonplace in democratic societies such as military service or jury duty?  If you research this one, you will find there are countries in the world which do have compulsory voting.  For example, in Australia it has been in place since the 1920s.  Currently in the U.S., voter turnout is considered low by some analysts, typically around 60% or less depending on the scope and importance of the election.  By other measures, some would consider a 60% turnout quite high considering there is no legal obligation to vote at all.  Rather, there is a prevailing sense that it is one's civic duty to vote.

I think the real question to ask is what are the impacts of lower or higher voter turnout in democratic societies.  Which system generates a less polarized electorate, which promotes a fairer treatment of political issues such as ordinances, levies, taxes, etc. which are typically decided by voters or which system may be more easily corrupted or abused to leverage political advantage?

It may be possible to introduce some philosophical arguments with regard to the duties of citizens, in particular, the duty to preserve the nation and its way of life.  I think this would be a decent novice topic.

Aff Position
This is one of those debates that can focus on the impacts of low voter turn out and propose compulsory voting as a solution to the impacts.  The use of examples such as Australia will no doubt be effective in establishing a viable case.  As mentioned previously, creating a philosophical framework around the duty of citizens may also help the Affirmation position.

Neg Position
Probably one of the biggest Negatives to compulsory voting arise when one considers that often voters are not well informed about the candidates or the issues. Compulsory voting may create a negative impact when one considers that a voter who goes out to vote without obligation is likely somewhat informed and at least passionate enough to get involved.


Resolved: On balance, the privatization of civil services serves the public interest.
This resolution will require debaters to weigh the relative value of a course of action, in this case the privatization of civil services.  So naturally, before one can decide if that is a good thing, one must know what are civil services and what is privatization?  In my opinion, this is not so easy to do because the term "civil service" has many meanings in government, not to mention the United States, for example, provides civil services at the federal, state and local levels and since the resolution does not specify one should consider the intent is to cover civil services in a general way as a class of government services.

I think the root of this resolution is based in the age-old political argument that the private sector can provide services more efficiently than the government and so it would be in the best interests of the general public to privatize the services.  Still, it seems this topic can become much more complicated due to a number of court rulings which reveals intentions which run much deeper than the need to save money, most notably, the implementation of policies designed to eliminate the "spoils system", which means giving jobs to citizens as a reward for political loyalty.  Consider this idea of rewards for political loyalty becomes much more important in light of the fact that within the U.S. it is possible for Corporations to give huge contributions to political campaigns and these may be the same Corporations that would be in competition to receive civil service contracts.

I am not not sure how this is considered an LD topic.  Certainly it requires an analysis of laws and politics (at least as seen in the U.S.) but I question if there is any worthwhile philosophical basis a debater can stand upon other than some generic principles which can be stretched over the topic.

Aff Position
I suppose, the Affirmative must push the idea that efficiency, especially cost-wise, is one of the main issues that must be resolved.  The debt problems faced by nations such as the U.S. and the countries of the European Union provide evidence that governments should find ways to reduce their spending and provide services more economically.  Of course, shifting the attention to the benefits of reducing government debt would add weight to the "on balance" requirement of the resolution.  In response to the Negative counter-arguments which are likely to swirl around the "spoils" issue, the Affirmative can generalize by acknowledging that potential for abuse always exist and there problems need to be solved by legislation but on "on balance" the benefits of privatization far out weigh the harms.

Neg Position
So yeah, it probably seems obvious Neg will take a position which exposes the harms of privatization in light of the political realities of today.  The potential of abuse is huge.  Legally, the weight of the resolution seems to be on the Neg side but Neg should not depend on Court rulings to carry the case since this alone will not address the "on balance" evaluation demanded by the resolution


Friday, June 22, 2012

Proposed LD Topics 2012/2013 - Part 2

For links to LD topic analyses and articles, click here.

Resolved: United States Supreme Court justices should be subject to term limits.
The debate in a nutshell: The U.S. government is comprised of a executive, legislative and judicial branch each empowered in such a way to provide a system of checks and balances against abuse of power.  Of these, the executive and legislative are selected by popular elections and the executive is subject to a specified term limit of eight years.  Only the members of the Supreme Court are granted life-time tenure.  The general view among some is this is bad because, justices may become so aged they are out of touch with the realities of modern society, and there exists an opportunity for Presidents to appoint young nominees to the Court who politically favor the President's policies and will continue to support those policies long after the President's tenure has ended.  Nevertheless, the Constitution of the United States establishes that members of the court hold their terms in office "during good behavior" (Art. III - Sect. 1) which is interpreted to mean, so long as they commit no crimes.

This resolution may be a good novice topic for early in the year but I see very few opportunities to establish a philosophical framework since it specifically deals with the principle of Separation of Powers specific to the United States.  Further, there exists some significant undertones, suggesting the elderly are somehow unfit to serve in a day and age when humans are living much longer than they did in 1787.

AFF Position
I don't see any major conflicts arising from the language of the resolution.  Its intent is precise and clear.  As always, the Affirmative debater must establish that the current practice of granting life-time tenure to members of the USSC harms some aspect of governance, jurisprudence, and/or the well-being of American society.  Either the balance of power is abused or the Court is somehow failing to serve its purpose due to life-time tenure.  This will require, in my opinion, a pretty deep analysis of how the balance of power was intended to function and clear examples of how it may be abused.  AFF need not show that the Court is currently abusing its power or somehow not fulfilling its purpose, only that the potential for harms exist under the current practice of life-time appointments.

NEG Position
The NEG debater should look deeply into the rationale behind how and why the Court was established and in particular the intent of the "during good behavior" clause.  There is a reason the founding fathers did not limit tenure considering a desire to establish a judiciary free of political pressure.  An alternative position may be to limit the age a justice may serve rather than establishing a term limit if AFF presents a convincing (yet controversial) argument that elderly jurists are somehow incompetent to serve.

(This topic will be analysed in detail if it is chosen as an NFL resolution.)


Resolved: The United States is justified in intervening in the internal political processes of other countries to attempt to stop human rights abuses.
Certainly anyone who knows me knows I favor topics dealing with international relations since they typically allow for rich and varied debates that can incorporate philosophical and moral frameworks, fundamental human rights, international law and interesting theories about how nations interact with one another.  This resolution assumes that in the status quo it is unjust for a nation to violate the political sovereignty of another nation in order to stop human rights abuses.  Because this resolution specifically says the United States is justified it should not necessarily be viewed as a limitation.  In fact it would make no sense to assume the resolution should be interpreted as "only" the United States is justified.  The United States currently serves as good example of the general principle since it has the resources and capability to intervene in the internal politics of another country but it could just as easily applied to China, Russia, Great Britain, Iran or any number of capable countries.  So this means if the case is made that a country has the obligation as a general principle, the fact it is the United States adds nothing additional to the argument.  Further, the kind of intervention is not specific so it could be overt or covert. It could be military intervention, economic sanctions, or forms of soft-power through the manipulation of public opinion directly and indirectly.

A few other points need to be made.  The resolution is not one that suggests obligation.  It does not claim there is a moral imperative to intervene and even though that case can certainly be made, it is only valid insofar as the obligation is used as a justification.  The distinction is important because, lacking an obligation, the U.S. would be justified to intervene if it so chooses, but conversely would not necessarily be unjust if it chooses not to intervene.

Neg Position
For this brief analysis, I think we must start with the Neg position.  As a first principle, it seems Neg must claim it is unjust to intervene in the internal politics of another country, even if human rights abuses are occurring.  This implies a world where state sovereignty outweighs human rights.  Such an argument may be very difficult to stand upon when Aff is claiming dead bodies under the heavy hand of human rights abuse.  Still, a convincing argument can be made that it is the duty of each state to protect the rights of its citizenry and their failure to do so does not justify an outside nation from impinging state sovereignty.

Even though I feel the general principle of intervention being just is the intent of the resolution, Neg can take advantage of the fact that the U.S. is specified and put forth an argument that unilateral intervention is unjust.  In other words, since the resolution does not say "countries are justified..." unilateral action without the support of the world community is implied and this is unjust.  Such an argument would hold the U.S. does not have authority to interfere unilaterally under international law and so intervention would not be justified.

In general, I think Neg will have her work cut-out for her.  This is one tough resolution to oppose when the judge's sympathies can be exposed to images of abuse.  Obviously, if this resolution is ultimately chosen for the upcoming season, I will need to do a much deeper analysis to determine sound positions for the Neg side.

Aff Position
Affirmative should create a framework or world-view in which the the protection of human rights outweighs the sovereignty of states.  Impacts are the key and will go a long way toward evoking the sympathetic response of the audience and creating a sense of urgency to act, even unilaterally, to avoid such violations.  Also, I suggest the best way to frame the justification will be through a philosophical, moralistic point of view.  Legal justification will prove more problematic, I suspect.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Proposed LD Topics 2012/2013 - Part 1

Part 1 of a review of proposed Lincoln Douglas resolutions for 2012/2013
For links to LD topic analyses and articles, click here.


Resolved: The constitutions of democratic governments ought to include procedures for secession.
This one's been around awhile, not only as a potential LD topic but as a condition for the ratification of the Constitution by Virginia and New York.  While debating the legitimacy of the proposed Constitution, those states basically made claims they retained a right to secession under certain conditions.  Be aware, the wording of this resolution is much broader in that it does not specify the United States nor the specific document we call "The Constitution of the United States".  So one must consider the meaning of "democratic governments", "constitution" and "secession". Given that a democratic state may not necessarily be comprised of "states" in the sense that the U.S. is comprised of 50 self-governed states, then what agents are to be granted the right to secession?  For example, what if a collective sub-group such as a labor Union or a University declared the right secede? What is the intent of this resolution?  Also consider, this resolution does not say, though it is implied, some agents may have the right to secession rather it specifies the procedures effecting secession must be included in the constitution.

AFF Position
Definitions will be pretty important because the resolution is broad and the language is vague.  One of the first things to be considered, is why?  What problems exist in the status quo that this resolution addresses?  It seems logical to assume, that most governments (democratic or otherwise) will see an attempt at secession as a threat to the unity of the state if there is no provision under which it can be done legitimately.  Therefore, as history clearly proves, governments will defend the integrity of their state with maximum force, if no other solution can be found.  Look to the United States and Russia as examples which resorted to war to preserve their unions, look to Canada as example of a country which negotiated a solution.  In either case, the government firmly resisted the agent wishing to secede.

In my opinion, the first job of AFF is to answer the "why" question.  AFF must establish a moral framework, philosophical justification or similar construct to justify the resolution.  Perhaps there is an inherent right within society or implied within the social contract which demands this resolution.  A careful study of both Locke and Hobbes will reveal ideologies which can be applied to AFF (Locke) and NEG (Hobbes).  Basically, AFF will argue the social contract needs an "escape clause".  Because of the vagueness of this resolution, there can be dispute about the structure of the secession provisions.  How limiting can they be?  For example, if the constitution provides that a regional entity may secede upon the payment of one hundred trillion dollars to the central government, is the burden met?

NEG Position
It seems a very logical opinion the NEG will argue there is no need for this resolution since it is more or less contrary to the basic rationale why governments are formed in the first place. In particular, democratic governments should be built upon principles which allow the central government to sufficiently meet the needs of the greatest number individuals to the mutual benefit of the societies within.  Any subgroup or entity within the nation should already possess the capability to influence the central government to protect or provide for their best interests insofar as their interests are in keeping with best interests of the union as a whole.  Beware of AFF arguments regarding the rights of minorities.  An argument can be made that allowing dissatisfied groups the right to secede could result in the collapse of the union so why bother to create democratic governments in the first place?

Where Does it End?
The vagueness of this resolution opens the door to some alternative points of view.  The United States, for example is comprised of 50 states each with their own democratic government and each with a State Constitution.  Does the resolution also apply to them and if so, what manner of chaos can ensue if states began dividing (check out the movement to divide California into two states)?

(This topic will be analysed in detail if it is chosen as an NFL resolution.)

Resolved: When making admissions decisions, public colleges and universities in the United States ought to favor members of historically disadvantaged groups.
(PF - March 2010 - Resolved: Affirmative action to promote equal opportunity in the United States is justified.)
(LD- November/December 1988 - Resolved: affirmative action programs to remedy the effects of discrimination are justified.)
As seen in the previous references, this topic has been seen before in both PF and LD.  The proposed resolution does not use the terminology "affirmative action" but let's be real. It is what this debate will devolve into only this time, the scope will be limited to college admissions, which is much narrower than the previous debates.  The basic idea behind affirmative action is reparation for past harms usually arising from discrimination but not necessarily.  To be sure, this resolution is not advocating equality.  I don't think any legitimate argument can be made which claims members of disadvantaged groups should NOT be admitted into Universities.  This resolution specifies preferential admissions based on past (historical) status.  To be sure, this resolution holds strong opinions on both sides and so I foresee (and have seen in the past) varying predispositions among judges.

The resolution is limited to public colleges and universities which eliminates private and parochial schools.  The limit is those institutions which cover a portion of their costs using Government money.  Further, this would only apply to those institutions which have more admissions applicants than seats available.  Thus, given two equally qualified applicants (meaning they equally meet the academic requirements and are not limited in financial capability) the institution should favor (give advantage to) the applicant who happens to be a member of a historically disadvantaged group.

The real problem I see in this resolution is what is the meaning of "historically disadvantaged groups"?  Throughout the history of the United States, many "groups" of individuals were disadvantaged due to poverty, discrimination and locality.  Historically, discrimination has occurred on the basis of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation and religion and it can be argued, for some groups, discrimination continues despite the fact it is illegal.  I think it is very important to note there is a distinction between Equal Opportunity and the remedy of favored admissions policies and NEG in particular must avoid the appearance of defending policies which deny equality.

AFF Position
In my opinion definitions will be important for the Affirmative debater.  It will be very important to establish there exists an inherent or unresolved disparity in the status quo that can only be remedied by favored consideration in university and college admission policies.  Certainly, there are strong arguments that can be made regarding institutional (structural) racism which limits opportunities for disadvantaged groups within the United States and preferential admissions may be a viable solution for these groups to overcome the structural barriers which exist, in particular in employment opportunities.  While quotas are explicitly illegal, the U.S. courts have upheld preferential admissions policies for Universities so a legal precedence should not be an issue for the Affirmative.  There exists good moral arguments supporting remedial policies in response to past harms.

NEG Position
Obviously, NEG will argue there is no problem in the status quo that requires favored consideration in admissions policies.  Discrimination is illegal and equal opportunity is the law of the land.  Strong objections can be raised with regard to so-called reverse discrimination and idea that preferential admissions harms non-minorities by denying them equal consideration.

There are many opportunities for kritiks if this resolution is selected.

(This topic will be analysed in detail if it is chosen as an NFL resolution.)

References: (the download is free - an excellent historical review and legal justification for affirmative action)

For a lengthy discussion/debate about Affirmative Action & Reverse Discrimination including evidence citations and links click here.