Thursday, May 31, 2012

PF 2012 Stand Your Ground - CON & PRO

For more about Public Forum Debate including topic analysis, strategies and links to evidence, *click here*.

More Musings on Stand Your Ground (SYG).  Here are some common positions I envision for both sides of the debate.  To read my topic analysis from the beginning, click here.

CON Positions
An interesting report has recently been filed by the Florida Stand Your Ground Task Force, chaired by Senator Chris Smith. The report presents a very good review of the reasoning behind the passage of the Stand Your Ground law in Florida stating:

"In the purported reasoning for passing the law, the legislature stated that the law was passed in order to give “law-abiding people” the right to protect their family and themselves from intruders and attackers without having to worry about criminal or civil penalties before taking action in defense of themselves and others."

It then adds the following:
"But some of the individuals who might be able to claim the protections of the law do not appear to be the types of “law-abiding” individuals the legislature sought to protect."
This very nicely summarizes one aspect of the debate, at least as it pertains to the Florida implementation of the law.


Ambiguous Interpretation
If SYG eliminates the fear of prosecution (and in the case of Florida, fear of being detained by Police) then a threatened citizen need not mull over the decision to use deadly force to defend oneself from a perceived threat.  Indeed, in the Supreme Court case of Brown v United States in 1921, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, citing the prior Beard case (see part 1 of this analysis) opined:

"Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife. Therefore, in this Court at least, it is not a condition of immunity that one in that situation should pause to consider whether a reasonable man might not think it possible to fly with safety or to disable his assailant, rather than to kill him."

Clearly, it seems logical to assume the intention of these rulings and laws are to acknowledge the fact that a person in a life threatening situation should not be required to pause and reflect whether other courses of action are available.  The threatened person needs to be able act and act immediately.

As I see it, the problem is not in the intention.  If a person is in danger of imminent bodily harm including death he should have the right to act.  The problem is the ambiguity of the perception of imminence and threat.  One may feel threatened when an assailant is in her face, another when the assailant is five yards away.  One may feel threated when an intruder is in the house, another when the intruder is standing on the driveway.  Which of these constitutes a reasonable interpretation of imminence?  The same kind of analysis can be done for threat of death or bodily harm.  At what point does an encounter morph into a legitimate fear of death?  When the aggressor exposes a weapon or when the aggressor is yelling threatening words?  By justifying the use of deadly force in self-defense and impeding prosecutorial review, each individual is more or less free to interpret the law in their own way and then act believing the action is fully in compliance with that interpretation instead of a standard determined by a panel of jurors who's opinion would be in accord with the principle of law examining, "what would a reasonable person do".

Shield For Crime
In some cases it may be possible for SYG laws to be used as a cover for killing someone, either premeditated or in the "heat of the moment".  Whereas, prior to the law the burden upon the killer would have been much greater than under a more unrestricted stand your ground law.  If I shoot someone in my front yard or in the mall parking lot, all I need do is explain how I sensed imminent threat of bodily harm from the victim.  I could claim, the victim had threatened me in the past for example. If I can show I did not provoke attack and had a legal right to both carry the weapon used and be at the location at that time, there is little the police or the prosecutor can do to question my purpose.  It would seem, even if there was a known history of trouble between myself and the victim and even if it was publicly known I hated the victim, my claims of self-defense under SYG could potentially protect me from prosecution.

Escalation of Violence
Prior to the implementation of SYG laws, there was a common law expectation one had a duty to retreat, if possible, from a threat.  By answering aggression with equal or greater aggression, there is an escalation of hostility that can quickly turn deadly.  An interesting paradox arises when the potential victim answers with aggression.  Is it possible the escalation of violence creates a justification for the aggressor to feel threatened and so act to defend against the initial victim.  In effect, the victim becomes the aggressor and the aggressor becomes the victim.  These situations ordinarily create dilemmas for prosecutors even though, often it is deemed that once an aggressor attacks he forfeits his civil liberties and right to self-defense.  In any case, the escalation of violence creates additional problems that potentially complicate the ability of justice officials to sort out.  Anytime the victim responds aggressively and the initial aggressor answers with even more aggression, the potential for a violent, possibly deadly ending escalates accordingly, when simply running away at the outset could have averted the problems in the first place.

PRO Positions

CON Arguments Misrepresent SYG
The fact of the matter is, any time one claims self-defense, there is a standard of proof that must be upheld.  At minimum, the claimant must not have been the aggressor and it must be shown the response was necessary to avert an imminent threat of harm.  Throughout this analysis, that mantra has resounded over and over.  SYG laws do not remove that burden of proof.  They merely say, the potential victim need not consider fleeing before choosing to defend oneself and in fact this right to stand ground has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The CON side of the debate wants to obfuscate the facts and leave that impression that somehow the laws bypass the burden of proofs for the requirement of self-defense. SYG does not do this.

Better to Error on the Side of Safety
The claim is made that SYG makes it easy for persons to get away with murder but that is a presumption not based on facts of law.  SYG does not remove the burden of proof and does not eliminate police investigation of each case.  SYG laws are designed to allow ordinary, law abiding citizens the right to defend themselves without fear of being drawn into a protracted and expensive trial and questioning of their duties when the conditions for the self-defense claim are clearly met.  In those circumstances where the facts are not so clear, where a crime may have been perpetrated by the claimant, it is better to error on the side of safety than force innocent to turn their backs to armed aggressors.

SYG Is a Legitimate Expansion of USSC Rulings
Even if one could cite flaws in the way a particular state legislature chose to implement an SYG statute, it does not mean we should issue a sweeping declaration that such laws are illegitimate.  The fact is, the laws are enacted as a response to the need to give law-abiding citizens the freedom to answer threats, as the U.S. Supreme Court has stated "Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife".  SYG laws are a legitimate expansion of the precedent already established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Beard v. United States.  There is no duty to retreat when the conditions for a self-defense claim are met.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

LD 2012 - Closing the Gap - part 3

For more about Lincoln Douglas Debate including topic analyses, strategies, and links to evidence *click here*

This is part 3 of a series of posts analyzing the 2012 LD national tournament resolution. It begins with part 1 here.

Are Income Gaps Good?
Until now, we have not considered that income disparities may actually be a good thing.  Of course those are NEG arguments and we have been trying to establish some understanding about how to support the Resolution.  Perhaps the best reason for claiming gaps are good is to look to the example of the economic model of the former Soviet Union. Under their form of socialistic, communism, income inequalities were very low across the vast majority of the citizens.  This resulted in very little competitiveness and it is reported to have hurt economic efficiency.  Frankly, people had very little motivation to participate and excel in the workforce since the chance for reward was slim.  Despite enormous potential and nonetheless, inspiring technological achievements, overall, the egalitarian worker model proved to be a disaster.  (at least that's what our western leaders told us)  One can always turn the point of view, and show that income disparity is a consequence of a healthy economy rather than a problem.  The argument is, a healthy, competitive, economy stimulates worker participation and a natural stratification emerges as the over-achievers or more highly motivated rise to the top.  Here are some links for further research:

The Value of Equality
Equality is certainly a popular concept in western countries and especially the U.S.  "All men are created equal..." is a foundational principle in our way of thinking and certainly a value to be defended.  Even when we acknowledge there are variations in skills, intelligence, strength, and motivation most agree there should exist equality in opportunity and freedoms and if the economic gap between rich and poor represses equality, governments have an obligation to rectify the situation.

The Value of Justice
Justice is certainly a popular Lincoln-Douglas value since the liberal definition can be applied to a vast array of resolutions.  The most common concept of justice, owing to the Greek philosophers, is giving each his due and while that may or may not be interpreted as equality, it certainly means proportionality with respect to reward and punishment.  If the working class are not receiving their just deserts or if the elite class is receiving more than they deserve, then for the sake of justice a government has an obligation to rectify the situation.

The Value of Fairness
Is fairness a value? I've not seen it used very often but the concept of fairness is well understood even if it is ambiguous and interweaves the previous two values. In many respects, fairness is the philosophical equivalent of justice in that it meets the Platonian definition of dispensing just deserts.  Evaluating fairness is much more subjective and requires one to consider whether the determination of fairness is means based or ends based. If income gaps are unfair, the government should reduce them.

The Value of Life (Quality of Life)
Life is a broad value concept and taken at face value one may question how income inequality denies life.  I think that is a tough debate.  Nevertheless there are aspects of the value that are meaningful, sufficiently narrow and applicable to the resolution.  Chief among these is the "quality of life". Granted, the quality of life is a subjective measure which various across societies but when evaluated within the context of each individual society is fairly determined.  The quality of life addresses the concept of the general well-being of the individual in terms of health, welfare, freedoms and general happiness or satisfaction. If income disparity harms the quality of life, then governments are obligated to correct the problem.

Governmental Legitimacy
Can a case be made that governments which allow economic inequality are somehow illegitimate? Perhaps if one considers the role of the so-called social contract as a sort of conceptual definition of the obligation of governments.  And so we look to the social contract as a measure (value criterion) for governmental legitimacy and determine that a government which allows economic inequality all of its apparent harms, violates the social contract and therefore must be rectified.

Why not.  Then you can pull in nice, well known philosophers like Kant and sweet philosophical concepts like deontology and double effect.  Making a case for a moral value is very doable I suppose.  I just don't want to to explore it because this past season of LD topics has "demoralized" me.

Societal Welfare
See quality of life and cross-apply social contract theories.

Good luck with this one.

Since I am talking about values let me just mention a personal rant of mine.  The categorical imperative, social contract, deontology and utilitarianism are not values.  They are standards at best so please stop trying to make them into values.

The AFF Case
Based on the foregoing analysis, it should now be possible a construct a very substantial, clean, logical case without tricks, word salad, or gimmickry.  The concept is simple. There exists a gap between the rich and poor (yes you need to prove it), the gap creates harms to individuals within a state, the state has an obligation to mitigate the harms.  Now notice something significant in the foregoing.  I have not given one second of time to determining how the state should solve the harms.  Should they redistribute wealth, tax the rich, guarantee minimal income?  I don't know.  I don't care.  If I was a policy debater I would need to answer this, but today I am a Lincoln-Douglas debater and I need only prove that the gap ought to be lessened and trust the policy makers to figure out how to do so without violating other values in the process.

The NEG Case
Okay. I confess I have been a little lax in helping the NEG debater approach this resolution and at the end of the day, I confess the NEG debater may actually have a very tough job.  You will be facing judges, very often they are ordinary working stiffs who may feel disenfranchised and isolated from the movers and shakers that live at the top of the economic pyramid and the judges may be predisposed with a sense of general unfairness and when AFF points out all of the harms being laid upon the lowly working stiff judges, getting up and saying, oh, that's not true, gaps are good will require a very convincing argument.

In typical, true clash form, the NEG debater may refute that gaps exist.  Of course even if you could smash your opponent with overwhelming evidence that economic gaps are fantasy, it does not change the case, that if they did exist, governments should lessen them. Perhaps NEG could acknowledge gaps but argue they are not harmful and indeed, substantial evidence can be found that the gains of the rich have been met by corresponding gains by the lower groups and so the net gap has remained fairly constant.  Certainly, there is a plethora of information showing that economic inequality is a desirable thing in the sense that it is a sort of impetus for upward mobility, innovation and competition.

Additionally, NEG may address specific harms one by one and show other causation.  AFF would be trying to establish a cause-effect relationship between income gaps and perceived harms.  In order to determine a cause-effect, there must be uniqueness between the cause and effect (I discussed this as a policy debate subject some time ago).  If the opponent can link any other causation to an effect, the uniqueness of AFFs claimed relation is broken and therefore AFF can not claim a direct cause-effect.  It is an effective strategy under certain conditions, definitely when dealing a small number of specific effects.

I must say, all of the approaches I have mentioned above are problematic.  Especially when debating at the national level and expecting your opponents to be skillful and well prepared.  I still think the above approaches must deal with an entrenched mindset among the citizen judges.

An Effective NEG Strat?
Going point-by-point against the AFF is probably not going to be an effective strategy, so here is a suggestion.  Acknowledge AFF's case.  Accept AFFs harms. You may even (cautiously) accept AFFs value and absorb all of the major premises of AFFs case except one.  Tell the judges you completely agree with all of AFFs points except one.  Government is not the actor that can solve the problem and then tell them who solves better.  The judges will love it.

I will leave it at that.  I bet you can quickly come up a with a list of potential entities that can solve the issue without depending on governments except perhaps to merely facilitate with favorable policies.

Good luck at Nationals!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

LD 2012 Income Inequality - Part 2

For more about Lincoln Douglas Debate including topic analyses, strategies, and links to evidence *click here*

This is part 2 of topic analysis for the 2012 LD National Tournament topic.  For part 1 click here,

Some Preliminary Words About Research
At the outset we need to be clear about one thing. The most recent data will likely not be as recent as you hope.  The fact of the matter is, economic data generally takes a long time to collate and analyze so it is very likely the best sources will only present economic data through 2009 perhaps 2010 at best.  Often, more recent data tends to be preliminary.  Nevertheless, this should not be considered a problem since the economic trends emerge over the course of many years.  Very short term or recent studies are probably meaningless.  Take a good course in statistics and you will understand the necessity for many samples before meaningful conclusions can be realized.

As you research this topic, gathering facts from studies in the U.S. as well as the rest of the world, you are likely to discover that in many cases the gap between the rich and poor has not grown or may have even decreased.  Even if these trends are valid, it need not undermine the AFF case as the debate is not to prove the gap is widening or shrinking but rather to prove that because there is a gap, some bad things result which governments have an obligation to correct.  Additionally, you are likely to find a lot of information (especially when researching the EU) concerning the widening economic gap between countries and its impact on globalization.  Since the resolution, limited the discussion to the citizens of a particular state, the economic gap between states is not a concern unless the income disparity between nations is a factor in the internal disparity among the citizens of a state.

Harms Arising from Economic Inequality
The Impact of Economic Inequality on Education
To begin with, there are strong correlations in the U.S., Europe and much of the world between education levels and income levels. Its a generally accepted principle that the wealthier people are better educated.  This is important to understand because there are strong correlations between lack of education and other harms and often is very difficult to draw distinctions between the economic and educational factors which lead to harms. So we begin this examination by citing the impact of socio-economic status on education. The research will show overwhelming positive correlations between education and the ability to attain a better socio-economic status; the adage "to get a good job, get a good education".  But there are far fewer studies which examine the reverse correlation, the effect of socio-economic status on education but they do exist. (see: Birdsall, N. (1999). Education: the people’s asset. Center on Social and Economic Dynamics, Working Paper 5; Mayer, S. E. (2000). How did the increase in economic inequality between 1970 and 19
90 affect American children’s education attainment? Joint Center for Poverty Research, University of Chicago.)

The Impact of Income Inequality on Health
Many studies show a strong correlation between income and health.  Simply put, poor people do not live as long as their wealthier counterparts and it is easy to surmise some of the reasons that is so.  The health inequality has a significant impact on the overall economy of the nation which tends to exacerbate the problem even further. The New York Times (Bernasek, 2005) (see:
 reported that

"Some scientists believe that growing inequality leads to more health problems in the overall population — a situation that can reduce workers' efficiency and increase national spending on health, diverting resources away from productive endeavors like saving and investment."
Interestingly, Bernasek cites the studies arising in Europe where such inequalities are more difficult to explain in nations where health-care is provided as a government service. One recent European study is Machenback, et al 2007 found here:

While the EU study does not suggest leveling the economic gap as a solution to the health problem, it is reasonable to say that any LD case which suggests the solution to economic inequality is to lower the economic status of the wealthy would be hard pressed to deal with the potential health impact such an action could have. (note: additional impacts can be found between socio-economic status and birthrates but I have not looked into the resulting affects).

The Impact of Income Inequality on Political Participation
One of the key arguments advanced in the December Public Forum debate topic on income disparities address the impact of income disparities on political representation and participation in the political process.  There is a body of evidence to suggest that poorer citizens feel disenfranchised from the political process and so feel their participation (for example registering to vote) has little impact on their situation.  Evidence also suggests that as participation goes down at the lower end of the economic scale, the wealthy also reduce their political activities.  One theory for this reduction by the wealthy stems from the fact they no longer see the need to protect their positions from the political activities of the lower class.  To be sure, the impacts on political participation are clear but complicated.  Many studies and commentaries are easily found on the web so I refer to one typical one here:

The Impact of Income Inequality on Crime
This is another of the seemingly obvious impacts of disparity in socio-economic status and the causes for the increase in violent crime in particular is still the subject of various theories trying to explain the pressures which may trigger criminal responses. The following is taken from Inequality and Violent Crime, Fajnzylber, et al, 2001 (see:

"One of the leading sociological paradigms on crime, the theory of "relative deprivation," states that inequality breeds social tensions as the less well-off feel dispossessed when compared to wealthier people (see Stack 1984 for a critical view). The feeling of disadvantage and unfairness leads the poor to seek compensation and satisfaction by all means, including committing crimes against both poor and rich...The main conclusion of this article is that an increase in income inequality has a significant and robust effect of raising crime rates. In addition, the GDP growth rate has a significant crime-reducing impact. "

Other Impacts from Income Inequality
There are of course other, perhaps equally harmful impacts to economic disparity and the diligent research will have no trouble finding them.  For example, I have not mentioned the impact of income disparity on the ability of the poor to elevate their status from poor to wealthy.  This "upward mobility" has long been a motivation in the U.S. for the determined, poor to attain wealth through diligence and perseverance but as the gap widens, does the same opportunity exist as it once did?

Many general works and studies enumerate the various impacts of Income Inequality.  Here is one such paper:

Having identified some of the harms which arise from economic inequality it may now be possible to focus on classic Lincoln Douglas value-value criterion structures.  In the next part, I will try to briefly review some values then discuss how to advance an AFF and NEG case.  If time permits, I may discuss potential kritiks, but I doubt the National Tournament LD champion will win on a K. But, hey, you never know.

Click here for part 3

PF Stand Your Ground - Part 2

For more about Public Forum Debate including topic analysis, strategies and links to evidence, *click here*.

This is the second part of my analysis of the National Forensics League, 2012 Public Forum debate national Tournament topic.  For part 1 click here.

Expansion of The Castle Doctrine

The Castle Doctrine (or Defense of Habitation Law) is a type of law enacted by more than half the states in the U.S. which basically says a person's domicile (home) may be defended against an intruder without fear of prosecution or civil lawsuit.  The law is derived from the English concept that a "man's home is his castle" hence the name, castle doctrine.  The law provides for the use of force and in most cases the force may be justifiably deadly under certain circumstances.  Some states have expanded the law to include workplaces and vehicles.  In nearly every case, the person defending himself must show there was a fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm and in most cases the force used must be proportionate to the level of threat.  As with most self-defense statutes, the fear of imminent death or harm and proportionality are common themes.  The key purposes of the law is to provide a legitimate defense against prosecution and in most cases provide immunity against civil lawsuits.  What this means is, in states with a Castle Doctrine type law, clients who kill an intruder may claim the legitimate right in accordance with the law. In those states without a similar law, the client needs to prove the action was a justifiable response due to the perceived threat and other factors.  In other words, a Defense of Habitation law clearly spells out the conditions which must be present to justify the action whereas, absence of the law requires clients to justify their defense on a much more subjective basis.  Moreover, the laws also prevent the client from being sued by the relatives of the deceased.

The so-called stand your ground laws are an expansion of these laws which extend the domain of the right to self-defense from the domicile to any location where the client has a legal right to be.  This basically legitimizes the use of deadly force not only in the home but on the street or anywhere else the defense may occur.  Similarly the laws also provide immunity from civil lawsuits.

Duty To Retreat

Prior to the establishment of Defense of Habitation laws and stand your ground laws, and continuing in those states which do not have such laws, the expectation is, that when a person is threatened he or she should retreat rather than respond with force.  Only when retreat is shown to be impossible a client may reasonably claim to have used force in legitimate self-defense.  Think about it for a second.  You claim your life was threatened.  The prosecutor simply says, why didn't you just run away rather than escalate the violence?  Even though the laws of the state may not explicitly say so, the expectation is one has a duty to retreat because any prudent person in similar circumstances would have done so.

The International View

There is nothing explicit in the resolution which limits the debate to the United States even though the wording "stand your ground" is kind of specific to a class of laws currently being enacted or considered in the U.S.  Therefore, for completeness, I should probably note the fact that a relatively small number of countries have similar laws which provide for the defense of homes and personal property. In fact in many cases, most notably, England as a good example, the right to self-defense is extremely limited and highly regulated. The defense of property is usually not considered legitimate.  Additionally the possession of guns is outlawed except under certain restrictive conditions.

What is the Debate?

No doubt the well-informed debater has heard of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, in which a man, George Zimmerman, shot and killed an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin on the street near Trayvon's home.  Zimmerman claims the killing was justifiable self-defense and the initial police investigation operating under the state's "Stand Your Ground" law, did not charge Zimmerman believing his actions where in accord with the provisions of the law.  The case triggered a national backlash, with racial undertones and has called into question the legitimacy of "stand your ground" laws.  In some cases, similar to this, there are no witnesses when the client kills a person claiming self-defense and the one person who could dispute the claims of the client is dead. In jurisdictions with stand your ground laws, prosecutors have much less discretion in deciding which charges, if any, are applicable.  Stand your ground laws are typically aimed at protecting the rights of the victim (that is, the one who acted in self-defense) rather than the rights of the aggressor.  In a situation where one kills an aggressor in the domicile there is evidence of forced intrusion and perhaps an overwhelming sense that persons who force their way into occupied dwellings are typically meaning harm.  When a person is killed on the street or in a parking lot, there is often no evidence other than the testimony of the client.

Undoubtedly, the judges at the National Tournament will have heard of the Trayvon Martin case as well and so I think there will be an underlying expectation in their minds the debate will center on the legitimacy of such laws in the light of the Florida incident and the controversy swirling around it.  But in my opinion, whereas, the Florida law may provide an example of how such laws are interpreted, the debate should center around the general principle of how far the right to self-defense can be expanded before the lines between legitimate self-defense and arbitrary killing become muddled beyond distinction.  Some of the issues that may be debated include:
  • Do such laws reduce the crime rate or increase the death rate?
  • Do such laws swing too much in favor of victims rights?
  • Do such laws hurt justice by limiting Prosecutorial Discretion?
  • Do such laws open the door to abuses which outweigh the good they are aimed at providing?
  • Why are such laws necessary in the first place?

The PRO Burden

It seems intuitive for PRO to defend the legitimacy of stand your ground laws, this side must show why such laws are needed within the context of current "self-defense" provisions.  The laws are being enacted for a reason. Why?  I think one will find, the general reasoning is such laws are aimed at removing the fear that ordinary, law-abiding citizens can not legitimately defend themselves because they will enter a quagmire of legal troubles in which every thought and action must be justified.  Many criminals are themselves armed and in a world where communication is rapid and available from many sources, we are aware that encounters with criminals often result in physical harm to the victims.  When confronted with a life-threatening situation, why must one consider the legal ramifications of defending oneself?  Why must one gather their wits enough to think, what would a prudent person do in this situation?

I think the PRO side would do well to divert the attention of the judge away from the Trayvon Martin case and the application of the Florida law in particular and concentrate on the legitimacy of stand your ground laws as a general principle.  After all, stand your ground, it can be argued, overrides the "duty to retreat" obligation.  This should not be particularly difficult to argue in light of the Beard v United States case discussed in the first part of this analysis.  PRO could acknowledge that perhaps some state's stand your ground laws are not implemented well but that does not mean such laws are not needed.  There are other states which have similar laws which have not seen the kind of negative exposure as the Florida law.

Nevertheless, PRO must be prepared to answer the criticisms that are being raised across the country.  One must consider the charges that perhaps such laws are confusing for police and prosecutors, lead to increased numbers of killings under claims of self-defense and do little to reduce the crime rate.  Fortunately, there is enough evidence readily available on the web, that each of these arguments can be answered.  But in my opinion, PRO should be careful about allowing themselves to be pushed into a defensive position explaining why the CON arguments are not correct or overstated.  Instead, answer the CON arguments and then refocus the judge on why such laws are good and necessary expansions of the doctrine of self defense. Always, always refocus on the PRO side.

Certainly, PRO could leverage some advantage by appealing to the emotions of the judges.  I personally feel this must be done subtly so as to avoid the obvious charges PRO is resorting to a logical fallacy which may be raised by the CON.  I think a well chosen example which sufficiently demonizes the criminal and illustrates the innocence of the victim can go a long way toward bumping an emotional response from the judges while avoiding overt emotionalism.

The CON Burden

Several tactics and good arguments are available to CON in this debate.  I think, the CON side may gain some advantage by exploiting the current controversy in Florida.  Whereas, I would consider it bad form to accuse George Zimmerman of any bad intentions or illegal activity, it is reasonable to argue how the Florida case exposes potential abuses in a law in which the burden of proof becomes more subjective than evidential.  Since the case is a hot-button issue it may make sense to use that to the CON advantage aware...the Florida case evokes strong emotions on both sides of the issue and by focusing on that particular case CON may actually be hurting themselves by reminding judges why they feel strongly such laws are necessary.

Teams that wish to avoid the strong reactions which may swirl around the Trayvon Martin case can still make very strong arguments with sufficient emotional impact focusing strictly on the fact that such laws open may open the door to increased non-discretionary killing by people who merely perceive they are under threat.

Depending on the sources chosen, one can make the case that such laws do little to reduce crime and certainly there is evidence the number of killings has actually increased in states with stand your ground laws even though they would not be considered murders under the provisions of the law.  By eliminating the "duty to retreat", stand your ground actually has the potential to escalate violence rather than reduce it since the client need not take steps to avoid violence.  Additionally, CON can make a strong argument that stand your ground has the potential to eliminate the "due process" rights of the alleged criminal since the client assumes the role of judge, jury and executioner in those critical moments when perhaps running away would have been the more reasonable course of action.

Finally, and this may be the best tactic, CON may simply turn the PRO case by claiming that stand your ground laws are NOT necessary since such ideas have already been present in current self-defense laws as evidenced by the Beard v United States case.  There were no stand your ground laws when that decision was made and yet the Supreme Court expressed the opinion that Beard had the right under the circumstances.  it can be argued that the Beard case represents the best of American jurisprudence since the State did not arbitrarily accept Beard's claim of self-defense without giving due consideration to the man killed.  The goal of the State was to ensure that Beard did not literally get away with murder and while the court did ultimately side with Beard, no one can claim the rights of the deceased were not protected.

For more on CON and PRO positions - click here

Monday, May 28, 2012

LD 2012 Nationals Topic Analysis

For more about Lincoln Douglas Debate including topic analyses, strategies, and links to evidence *click here*

Resolved: A government has the obligation to lessen the economic gap between its rich and poor citizens.

PF had a somewhat similar topic at the beginning of the debate season (December, 2011), which addressed income disparities and
their threat to democratic ideals.  While reminiscent of that topic, this particular resolution addresses whether or not a government should actively seek to lessen, or I suppose, to minimize the gap between the rich and the poor citizens in a much broader context.  Whereas, the PF resolution dealt with one particular aspect of the question the LD resolution expands the question.  Specifically, the LD debater may claim a government has an obligation to lessen the gap because it threatens democratic ideals but there would certainly be many other kinds of arguments than can be made by the AFF in support of the resolution.  Throughout the 2011-2012 season, it seems LD debaters have been forced to struggle with questions of moral duty.  That no longer is the case in this resolution.  Good-bye doctrine of double effect, hello...hmmm maybe we should not be too quick to dismiss moral claims.

Before getting into a deeper analysis of the language and arguments in this resolution, let us first review the general issues encompassed by this resolution.  In most liberal democratic societies there exists an economic gap between the rich and poor.  This can be expressed and evidenced in many ways.  The rich get richer while the poor get poorer or ninety percent of the wealth is owned by ten percent of the people.  No matter how you say it, there is a certain imbalance.  Not only is there an imbalance between the rich and poor, but there is literally a gap.  Basically, this means not only do a minority of the rich hold the majority of wealth, but the difference is increasing which basically means the distribution of wealth is not even.  Look at this way. Think of a pyramid with the wealthiest percentage of the population near the top and poorer near the bottom.  The shape of the pyramid illustrates that near the top (the narrowest part), there are very few people but as we descend down the pyramid the number of people increases.  So if wealth is measured by how high one is on the pyramid, the gap can be illustrated if one takes the tip of the pyramid and literally severs it from the rest raising it even higher.  This is what I referred to as the decapitated pyramid in my analysis last year of the PF topic (see:  As the wealth of the few continues to rise and the number of poor continue to increase, the number who make up the middle portion of the pyramid begin to disappear. The so-called vanishing middle class.  So the question being asked, does a government have an obligation to reduce the gap?

Language of the Resolution
As "government" is the ruling authority of a society or more properly, a state. The chief responsibility of the government is to ensure the survival of the state which means it should provide for the security of the state from attack or takeover by outsiders and it should provide other levels of security for the citizens, such as economic security from unfair trade practices and the like.  Since there are many different kinds of governments arising from many different kinds of political and sociological ideologies, it becomes very difficult to detail specific duties or obligations which may be universal to governments.  For this reason, when we speak of governments, generally, we refer to "legitimate" governments (internationally recognized) which eliminates some from consideration and we usually refer to those which meet a western-centric, often pro-American form of government typically called a republic or democracy. For the most part, this eliminates most forms of government ruled by an elite class who hold office by virtue of their religious status or birth-right.  So while countries like England and Sweden are considered monarchies, the monarch's roles tend to be more ceremonial than functional.  Because there is such a variety of forms of governments the debater must somehow restrict the discussion to certain forms or abandon discussion of particular forms of government and debate the broader principles at stake.  I may be wrong, but what I would be concerned about is if a debater focused too heavily on a particular government, say the United States, then the NEG will discredit the AFF on the basis the AFF is over-limiting and fails to consider the many forms of government and NEG will claim she better upholds her value because she is more inclusive.

An obligation is a duty, commitment or responsibility which may be driven by a legal or moral principle or simply predicated on a vow or promise, such as the obligation to repay a debt.  If one were to slightly reword the resolution, would it make sense to say, "a government has a legal obligation to lessen the economic gap..."?  Perhaps in cases where such a law exists but as a general principle, it would not seem logical to hold a legal definition of the word obligation.  It does make sense to claim, a government has a moral obligation to take some action as that can be approached in a general way but as we have probably learned this past season, arguing moral concepts, while necessary, is not always easy.  Generally we can claim a country has a duty or responsibility to take some action, but we must be fully prepared to provide a justification as to why the obligation exists and in this particular case, we must avoid being overly specific with respect to which government or type of government we are referring.

The word lessen is obvious. It is a verb that means to reduce so it is an action to be taken.  While it may seem no further clarification is needed, remember that lessen is a word that can be very relative in many circumstances.  Just how much must the gap be reduced before both sides agree it was lessened?  Is it an ongoing action or a one time deal?  Hopefully you will not face any dispute over the word and its meaning so I just mention the ambiguity for the sake of awareness.

From my point of view, there is no real purpose to segmenting the remaining words in the resolution as the meaning is not effectively altered by doing so.  A government is obligated to reduce a gap.  What kind of gap? An economic gap.  What does the gap separate? The rich and poor citizens of the state.

Why Reduce the Gap?
Given the definitions in the wording of the resolution we realize, as with any debate resolution, there is a condition within the status quo which must be changed and it must be changed because some harm is arising out of the condition.  In Lincoln-Douglas debate, the harm usually results in the violation or inhibition of some fundamental value. By changing the status quo we undo the violation of that value or we may promote a another value which results in a more desirable condition. To put it simply...the economic gap between the rich and poor is a problem that governments have a responsibility to rectify. Before we can decide which value(s) are being diminished in the status quo, we must first define what specific harms arise from the economic gap between the rich and poor.

We shall discuss this in more detail, in part 2.


PF 2012 Nationals Topic Analysis

For more about Public Forum Debate including topic analysis, strategies and links to evidence, *click here*.

Resolved: Stand Your Ground laws are a legitimate expansion of the doctrine of self defense.


After two series of topics dealing with "self defense" type topics in Lincoln-Douglas, the National Forensics League has switched things up slightly and asked Public forum to examine a similar topic for the 2012 National Tournament.  Perhaps a little evidence sharing is in order since it seems reasonable to expect that some of the LD research could be applied to this topic.  This topic deals specifically with a class of laws called "stand your ground" based on the legal doctrine of "no duty to retreat" first defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1895, in the case of Beard v United States. (see:

I encourage you, as a debater, to read the case linked as it provides the full context of the circumstances surrounding the decision made by the court when it ruled

"The defendant was where he had the right to be, when the deceased advanced upon him in a threatening manner, and with a deadly weapon; and if the accused did not provoke the assault, and had at the time reasonable grounds to believe, and in good faith believed, that the deceased intended to take his life, or do him great bodily harm, he was not obliged to retreat, nor to consider whether he could safely retreat, but was entitled to stand his ground, and meet any attack made upon him with a deadly weapon, in such way and with such force as, under all the circumstances, he, at the moment, honestly believed, and had reasonable grounds to believe, were necessary to save his own life, or to protect himself from great bodily injury."
The right to self-defense has always been firmly established since ancient times and tested many times in courts of law which almost universally uphold the right of a person to exert the force required to repel an attack or imminent threat of attack.  Now, in almost all of those cases, there is a pretty universal understanding that the right is enabled under defined circumstances.  Use of deadly force to defend oneself may be justified in some or all of theses conditions:

  1. The client has reasonable grounds to believe he or she (or a third person) is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.
  2. There is no other option under the circumstances to avoid the use of deadly force.
  3. The client uses only the force necessary to answer the threat.

Usually in self-defense cases the client is required to provide some of kind of evidence that the above conditions existed.  The stand your ground, provisions sort of deal with the second of the conditions enumerated above and state the client need not try to escape, or retreat from the threat if the client has a perfectly legal and reasonable right to be at the location at the time the threat is exposed. This deals with the common idea that a person being threatened should first attempt to run away before using deadly force in defense.  If such retreat is not possible, then defense is justified.
The topic being debated states, that such "stand your ground laws" are a legitimate expansion of the doctrine of self-defense.  On the face of it, this seems one sided.  Why?  Because the U.S. Supreme Court already said in 1895 that such obligation to not retreat is legitimate. So it begs the question, why are such laws deemed necessary since the legitimacy of the principle has already been established?  Hopefully we can answer that in this analysis.

Breakdown of the Language

Having read the Introduction above and looking at the case of Beard v U.S. we should now have some good idea of the definition of a "stand your ground" law.  Basically, in the context of self-defense (conditions as enumerated above), one has no obligation to retreat to avoid conflict.

So what exactly is meant by "legitimate" with respect to this resolution? Looking at dictionary definitions, we realize it is not related to marriage, child-birth or theater, and one could argue it has nothing to do with misrepresentation.  Therefore the definition of legitimate can only mean, a thing which is accordance with law or established principles or rules. So while we can ask are such laws a "legal" expansion of the doctrine, that really makes little sense.  Therefore, I think we must consider that legitimacy in this sense, asks us to consider whether such laws are in accord with established principles of the doctrine of self-defense.  Really, it is probably not necessary to provide any kind of precise definition of the word in your cases.  We simply want to find out whether such laws conform to the doctrine which we will define below.

The term "expansion" is an interesting one.  Something that is expanded is increased or widened and as any policy debater will tell you, the meaning of increase is not always foregone.  On the one hand, we can say that expansion means widening or increasing an already existing thing and so excludes things which are non-existent.  In that sense, therefore, for "stand your ground" laws to be considered a legitimate "expansion" of the doctrine, then the principle must already be a part of the doctrine is some diminished capacity.  If it were not, then the argument is, those laws would be an addition rather than expansion.  So just how significant is this distinction?  Probably not at all since it seems clear, given recent headlines, there will be existing expectations among judges as to how this should be debated and we will discuss these expectations later in this analysis.

Now we come to perhaps the key terms of definition, the doctrine of self-defense. A doctrine is simply a belief or more properly a body of beliefs which are usually but not necessarily codified as laws, policies or rules. Therefore, the doctrine of self-defense would be the body of beliefs regarding the right to self-defense. So once again, on the face of it we can perceive the circumstances under which self-defense can be considered legitimate and even the use of deadly force in the exercise of self-defense.  The moral justification (leading, perhaps to a legal justification) is not always obvious.  For a full examination of the the problems and perils of justifying self-defense I refer you to the following essay by Wallerstein, 2005, "JUSTIFYING THE RIGHT TO SELF-DEFENSE: A THEORY OF FORCED CONSEQUENCES" (  Wallerstein, does reveal several possible moral justifications including what he calls, "the lessor of harmful results" principle and the "forced choice" argument.  Very interesting stuff, indeed.

While we can conclude, the right to self defense is a universal principle which crosses cultural and religious boundaries, the doctrine, or set of beliefs which legitimize it are not always so clear. I also suggest the interested debater review the various posting on this blog related to the LD Domestic Violence resolution as many of the general principles of the doctrine of self defense are discussed.

So having now discussed a few introductory principles, and having done our due diligence with the definitions of the terminology, what can one expect to debate as Pro or Con?  We shall attempt to examine that in the next part of this analysis.

For part 2 click here