Friday, September 9, 2011

Moving

I'm going to be moving the blog over to a wordpress blog this year. I know that you all have Wolkenpower at the top of your "favorites" feed, so please exchange it for the following link:

https://wolkenpower.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Resolution Analysis: Revenue Generation

Most people who know me have already correctly guessed that next year this blog will be an NCFCA only blog. This is based on the fact that the teams that I coach and the majority of the debaters in my area are remaining NCFCA. Thus, my knowledge base will be on the NCFCA topic in order to meet the market demand. I do realize, however, that many families are still deciding which league to compete in next year. Hopefully this analysis of the Stoa resolution will be helpful.

There are three basic things that a resolution must do:
  1. It must provide an equitable playing field for aff and neg. This means avoiding bias and putting forward cases that offer good clash. Cases that are good, but not invincible.
  2. It must be interesting. No one wants to sit through a year of boring debate. Plain and simple.
  3. The resolution must be educational. This means a reasonable research burden (not too many cases possibilities) and a deep topic that promotes critical thinking.
Under these three criterion, there are two primary reservations that I have about this resolution. First I'll give credit where credit is due; this resolution would certainly be interesting. It's a highly relevant and complex topic that could spawn a lot of good debate. Unfortunately, the resolution also bites off more than it can chew. Let's go over a couple of points to consider:

1. Breadth
This resolution is impossibly broad. When people think of revenue generation, they think of taxes. So right away you can increase or decrease taxes, or overhaul through a flat tax, fair tax, etc. But taxes aren't the only form of revenue. Here are other places the government gains revenue:
  • Government aid: This can be from other countries or from intra-government transfers.
  • Selling treasury bonds: Sometimes simplified to government debt. When the government sells bonds to other nations or US investors, it generates revenue.
  • Royalties: The government generates revenue when companies pay royalties on natural resources. An affirmative could increase or decrease these royalties.
  • Fees: The government assesses fees on all sorts of things: vehicle licenses, hunting licenses, watercraft licenses, visa fees, etc.
So an affirmative could reform any of those sources of revenue. But then we get to the nasty bit. Read this explanation of revenue generation:

United Nations Development Programme [UNDP is the UN's global development network on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges]: "Fiscal Policy in Relation to Overall Development Policy" Published no earlier than 2002
 
There are two objectives why government raises revenues. One is to increase or raise revenue collections and second for  regulatory purposes.
"


According to this definition, raising taxes for regulation is still revenue generation. This means the affirmative could create new  or increase existing regulatory taxes. Examples:
  • Carbon tax
  • Legalize marijauna and assess a tax
  • Fat tax (extra tax on obese people - melike)
  • Gas tax
  • Pollution fees
  • Cigarette tax
  • Federal funds rate
  • Discount rate
  • Abortion tax
You could create a tax on literally anything you wanted to regulate. This makes the resolution immensly broad.

2. Equitable Competition
This resolution would be very very difficult to win on negative unless the affirmative is simply incompetent, for a rew reasons.

Bias will dominate the RFD
Pretty much everyone from every political leaning and social class has a strong bias here. Rich people want lower taxes, poor people want higher taxes, the middle class range on both ends. Given our judge pool, cases like debt limits, fair taxes, and reducing regulatory taxes would have great appeal. You can try to run deficit/debt da's to counteract (people hate debt as much as they hate taxes), but it's a long shot at best.

The status quo is indefensible
Pure and simple. Current revenue generation policy is failing on both ends: our government doesn't have enough money, and taxpayers are unhappy. So on a government and taxpayer end, there is dissatisfaction with the status quo. This basically makes inherency and significance instant wins for the affirmative. As long as the aff is smart with plan text writing and doesn't get too ambitous, they will breeze through with easy wins.

Counterplans will always be topical or non-competitive
Here's why: If the affirmative wants to change to fix some problem with our revenue generation, you can't solve without a topical plan. Only a revenue generation policy can fix our revenue issues. The definition of revenue generation makes all solvent plans topical.

If the aff plan is to regulate using taxes, you can regulate through another mechanism, but it will almost certainly be noncompetitive with the regulatory tax. In essence, you will always have either a messy parametrics debate, a noncompetitive CP, or you are forced to defend a terrible status quo. This leaves very little hope for negatives.

While this resolution is certainly intriguing, I believe that ultimately it will stretch negative teams thin and leave the wins heavily scewed towards the affirmative.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

5 Myths About Economics That Every Debater Should Understand

As nationals approaches, you will find that a few important things separate high-level nationals contenders from the rest. I'll give you a hint: It's not their speaking. Most people at nationals are good speakers. I'll give you another clue: It's also not their cases. So, what is it? In four years of competition I learned that the single factor that distinguishes good teams from great teams is knowledge. I'm not talking about having good evidence. I'm talking about truly understanding and truly owning the topic.


One area of discussion that many debaters are often ignorant in is economics. We often hear sound-bites in round about the economy that are simply tidbits of misinformation absorbed from the evening news. It's time to bust some of these myths, so the next time your opponents whine about economic gloom and doom, you can smack them in the head with the fist of truth. 


Myth 1: We are in a recession
Reality: The economy is growing. 
Happy MBA Man has reason to smile! 
Debaters throw around terms like "in this time of recession", "with the recession going on", "with our economy in recession" etc. Guess what? There is no recession. Recessions are defined as a sustained (2 quarters or more) period of GDP loss. As a matter of fact, the recession ended in June 2009.GDP growth has been positive every quarter since then. Jobs are being added at a rate beyond what even the most optimistic analysts predicted. If you check the data, you see a pretty healthy economic picture. 


Additionally, it is worth noting that recessions are often considered beneficial. As long as they are short and controlled, they can be very effective at tempering the inflation that comes from aggressive growth. The 09 recession gave us a brief period of deflation that has largely stabilized US currency worldwide. Stable currency is good, kids.



Myth 2: The government prints money 
Reality: The government expands the currency base, but does not pay for government programs with printed money. 


Here's one we've probably all heard a lot. "We can print money to pay for this plan." Erm, yes, but only if you want to destroy the economy. The US government DOES NOT print money to pay for its programs. It prints limited and controlled amounts to ensure a healthy growth of the currency base. But we have never once in history decided to print a stack of cash to pay for government programs. Policies like that lead to hyperinflation. 


For example, in 1920s Germany, the government began printing money to pay off its debts from World War 1. Inflation soared to over 5 billion percent, and it soon cost trillions of marks to pay for a loaf of bread. Currently, the government of Zimbabwe is in a program of aggressive printing to pay for infrastructure projects. They print so much that World Bank estimates are that their currency's value is cut in half every ten minutes. They are currently printing 100 trillion ZD notes. Unfortunately, you need approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 units of Zimbabwean currency to exchange for a US dollar. 


That's what happens when the government prints money to pay for things. Fortunately, our government doesn't do that. Neither should an affirmative plan. 


Myth 3: The government borrows money
Reality: Foreign nations purchase US T-bills.


Neg runs a spending DA: "We have to borrow money from China to pay for this!" Erm... no. The way it works is much more complicated and cooler than that. When the government has to spend in a deficit, it pays for the overspending by selling treasury bonds known as "T-bills." People can buy these bills, and then when the bonds mature they get nifty interest from the government. 


We run into "debt" when foreign nations decide to buy T-bills. It's interesting to note that a huge portion of our 14 trillion dollar debt is held by US citizens. When people like you and me buy t-bills, the government "owes" us the future interest on the bill. That's government debt. Unfortunately, we are often told that our debt is owed to China and Japan. In reality, this simply means that the governments of these nations have purchased our treasury bonds. 


What's perhaps most important to understand is that this "debt" isn't really a bad thing. There are certainly problems with being in debt, but the fact that foreign nations are willing to buy our T-bills is a sign of international confidence in the US economy, and in US finances. 


Myth 4: Free markets solve everything
Reality: Market failures create many problems.


Here's the sacred cow of conservative economics: freedom will solve any problem. It's a nice concept, but one that doesn't really work in practice. Free markets succeed at one thing: increasing profits for business. Unfortunately, this is often at the expense of socially optimal outcomes. 


For one, consumer ignorance makes a true free market undesirable. Consider lead in toy paint, toxins in gasoline, e-coli in spinach, etc. Things of such a nature are incredibly dangerous and have very real and harmful effects on consumers. Yet in the absence of government regulation, they can't be solved because consumers don't have the knowledge base to avoid these problems. Do you honestly think parents can test for lead in the paint on their child's toys? Not likely. Government solves ignorance.


Secondly, externalities are extremely damaging. We saw this in the case of BP in the gulf. Natural resources that are universal access like beaches, forests, and the air are subject to damage by free markets. No company has an incentive to protect the environment; they don't own it. We see this in northern states when it comes to roads. In the winter, people use studded tires for traction in the snow. But these tires tear up the roads, so in the summer the government is forced to pay to repair. Here's an example when a useful application for an individual (more traction) has a bad impact on everyone else (bad roads). Free markets are useful, but they aren't perfect. 


Myth 5: INFLATION!!!!
Reality: Our inflation rate is almost perfect.


Here's the debate blurb: "Prices are already rising!" What they fail to add to the end is the important bit: "but wages are rising faster." Inflation is a natural economic phenomenon that occurs as productivity, output, and the currency base grow. Long-term empirics show that the healthiest economies experience inflation of 1-2.5% annually as a natural outcome of growth.

American inflation has been right in this sweet spot for several years now. Yes, the price of food may rise, and gasoline is expensive. But this does not indicate the larger vulnerability or instability of the US dollar. Our currency continues to be valued internationally (remember the Zimbabwe example where their currency is literally worthless). In fact, in 2009 we had slight deflation where prices went down.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Plan Advocates

Before I begin this post, I'd like to quickly say that Climate Aid had an advocate. The GAO was totally in favor of defunding the programs. So don't be hating, kids.


It's time to delve into a subject that may be very touchy to all the squirrel huggers out there: plan advocates. I'm assuming everyone knows what an advocate is. It's someone who... advocates the plan. Not that hard. What baffles me is that there are teams everywhere that run cases without advocates. Hopefully they'll read this and repent. We can pray. 

The need for a plan advocate

Let's start with some basic groundwork. Why are plan advocates necessary for an affirmative team? Some debaters would tell you that they aren't. I respectfully (and correctly) disagree, for a few reasons. 

1) Advocates = Solvency literature
I've seen this happen to teams over and over again. They have a plan that makes sense on the surface, but has a gaping solvency hole that they just don't seem to understand. E.G, this year, I watched a team running a case to add Freedom of the Press as a requirement for Russia to graduate from Jackson-Vanik. They argued that because JV worked on emigration, it would work on other human rights issues too. What they didn't understand is that the JV amendment doesn't apply to Russia alone, so their plan was not only extra-topical but also illegal. Needless to say, they had no plan advocates and thus no evidence to get out of these holes. 
These issues are solved by having solid plan advocates. Good advocates don't just go "oh, bee tee dubs, why don't we try this?" They publish papers, testify before congress, and put out literature. That's why they are called advocates. 


2) Advocates save you the embarrassment of bad plan text writing
Plan advocates help you write solid plans, in one of two ways. They either write the plan themselves, or put out guidelines for what needs to be done. Let's take the cyber-warfare case, for example. While I'm not a fan of this case, it provides a perfect example of this type of advocate. Here's part of an advocacy card from the Center for Security and International Studies: 


"The recommendations in this paper are designed to accelerate reaching two goals: (1) expanding the number and quality of highly skilled cyber-security professionals and (2) giving those who hire those workers or who buy their services even better indicators of the skill levels of those whom they are engaging."


This card lays out criterion for a plan of action. These kind of advocacy cards help you make sure you aren't leaving things out of your plan when you write. 


3) Advocates make for better debate
It's true. Cases that are made up without the assistance of actual experts make for sloppy debate. Even congresspeople don't just make up their bills. They have teams of researchers and panels of experts that testify. Please do everyone a favor and have a plan advocate. If you try to write your plan on your own with no advocates or supporting literature, it means there won't be any specific evidence for or against your plan. It doesn't help you win, it just makes the debate ugly.

What makes a good advocate?
 So now you are probably wondering, "Wow, Wolky! That's brilliant! How do I make sure I have a good advocate?" 

Free Trade cures Lupus
I'm so glad you (I) asked that question. There a few things to remember when you are looking for a strong plan advocate.  First off, check and see if Dr. House advocates the plan. If he does, you don't need to look anymore. But if he doesn't, you should find someone else. Let's go over a few facets of good plan advocates. 

1. Field contextuality
First, remember that an advocate should have some sort of expertise or experience related to your plan. This seems common sense, but you'd be shocked how many teams quote random think-tanks or lobbyist groups. 

2. No money involved
Make sure your advocate doesn't have money/political victory at stake in the plan. Take, for example, when people quote the senators from Iowa advocate corn ethanol subsidies. Iowa exists because of corn. It's their largest crop and a huge source of campaign money for their representatives. Quite clearly, a senator from Iowa has a huge interest in getting money for corn ethanol, even if the subsidies are damaging to everyone else. 


3. No Think-Tanks
Don't quote think-tanks as plan advocates. Think-tanks universally get their money from corporations and lobbyists, and are essentially paid to advocate things that benefit the people that fund them. The CATO Institute was founded with a huge grant from oil companies. The Heritage Foundation gets lots of money from manufacturing and energy companies. The Brookings Institute gets donations from Israel. Accordingly, the things they advocate universally match the interests of these donors. Using a think-tank as a plan advocate opens you up to (justified) indictments. 


4. Texts, not Concepts

  • This is a plan advocate: The US and Russia should ratify a BIT based on the Russian model text.
  • This is not a plan advocate: Investment is good. 

A plan advocate should advocate the plan, not the concept or goal of the plan. This is important to remember. Don't just Google "Free trade good yummy" and expect to find a solid advocate. Remember: the more specific the advocacy card, the better. The advocate needs to support the plan text, not the goal of the plan. 

Debating against cases that lack advocates


So, what do you do when you are faced with an irritating and stupid case that doesn't have a plan advocate? It's easy to say that a case needs an advocate, but how do you translate that into a round? Here are some tips for how to slam an affirmative team when they don't have an advocate. 


1. Vagueness Fun
Teams that don't have advocates also usually have vague or poorly written plan texts. Instead of worrying about how to turn the lack of advocate into an argument, think about what it teaches you about the affirmative team. It tells you that they made the plan up themselves. Accordingly, they have invariably failed to account for important details, timeline issues, costs, etc. Throw up a vagueness block off of some of the bad plan writing, and watch them scramble to find solvency evidence that doesn't exist.


2. Focus on solvency
Remember what I said about  advocates going hand-in-hand with solvency literature? Well, you are debaters so I know you can follow this logic. If they don't have an advocate, they usually won't have a ton of solvency evidence either. And what's the first thing you should do if you know the affirmative doesn't have solvency evidence? I'd attack solvency, personally. But that's just me. 


3. Feel free to run bad DAs that barely link
You heard me. Run big DAs that have sketchy links to the affirmative plan. This will work in the absence of an advocate for a few basic reasons. First, because they can't say 'They didn't link our plan to the disadvantage with evidence" because that's exactly what they've done with their advantages. When there's no solvency/advocacy cards from the affirmative team, they set the precedence for the round that you can just run impacts with no evidence links. Secondly, they will usually lack the all-important spikes and turns that are characteristic of well written plans.


The bottom line is that plans without literature set the tone for the round. That tone is that you don't need evidence to link the plan to arguments. That's a precedent that favors the negative over the affirmative, and it's why you need an advocate. Go get one. 



Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Case Discussion: Withdraw from New START/Use New START as leverage

For those of you who don't know, my years of Team Policy debate were spent being debate partners with a dude named Sam Paul. Sam was pretty much awesome at debate (he averaged 28.3 speaker points last year), but he is very particular about his hair. Once, right before a tournament, he asked his brother Aaron to trim up a few long hairs on the top of his head. Unfortunately, Aaron flunked arts and crafts in kindergarten and is highly unskilled at using scissors. Simply put, Sam went to the tournament with a tiny bald spot on his crown. 

This highly traumatic experience is nothing compared to the state of his head today. You see, when people run cases like withdraw from New START, it makes good debaters like Sam pull their hair out in anguish and despair. Please, loyal reader: kill this case, and save Sam's hair. 

Despite everything that would be dictated by human decency, prudence, and intelligence; despite cries of terror from alumni and coaches everywhere, people are still running this case, in two different veins. Some people want to use New START as leverage on various policy issues (withdraw if Russia doesn't give us what we want), while some people are just withdrawing straight up. The differences are fairly minor, like agnostics and atheists: both groups are doomed to eternal torment, the difference is just how committed they are to their blasphemy. 

The signs are already apparent for those that watch. Earthquakes in Japan, tornadoes in North Carolina, and Scarlett Johansson is dating Sean Penn. This case is like the apartment building in Ghostbusters: it's drawing all the agents of the devil to earth. Kill it quickly, lest we perish.

Let's discuss. 

1. Withdraw from New START
So basically, Heritage hates New START so people think this case is a good idea. There are a few big problems with this case. Let's go over them.

Read the advocates, people!
I don't think any of the affirmative teams have actually read the articles from Heritage that they quote so blindly. NONE of these articles advocate withdrawing from the treaty. They all argue against ratification in the first place. While that in itself shows they are crazy, the fact is that withdrawing from a treaty is very very different from not ratifying. These same Heritage huggers are the same people who cling so fiercely to the constitution. So, let's talk about that.

Terms of withdrawal from the treaty
Affirmatives like to point out that there is a withdrawal clause in the treaty. Let's look at what it says. Unlike the affirmative, I've actually read the treaty. Here's what it says:

New START Treaty, Article XIV
"Each party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests." 

It also says that we have to give Russia detailed notice explaining the "extraordinary event." So what does this mean? Well, the aff case blatantly violates/abuses this provision for a few reasons.

I. "Extraordinary events"
This is pretty self-explanatory. An extraordinary event needs to happen. Like, we get nuked, or Russia violates the treaty, or something like that. The treaty is very clear and repeats this phrase several times. You can't withdraw just because you change your mind. Bummer, doods. 

II. "Related to the subject matter"
Here's the other violation. It says that the reason for withdrawal has to be related to the subject matter of the treaty. This means that missile defense can't be used as a justification to withdraw. The subject matter of the treaty is the numerical limits and deployment guidelines for intercontinental ballistic missiles and strategic nuclear weapons.. The words "missile defense" only appear once in the treaty, and not in the context of BMD. This means that any decision we make to withdraw has to be based on an event related to nuclear weapons; not missile defense. Oops. 

On that topic, let's hit the last issue here.

Missile defense is not limited
READ THE TREATY! There is no mention of missile defense limitations in the treaty. Russia tried to link BMD to the treaty in the preamble, but because it didn't make it into the actual text of the treaty, the aff has nothing to stand on here. 

2. Leverage New START
This case might be even more crazy than withdrawing, for two reasons.

It puts us in blatant violation of the treaty
Here's why. Remember the conditions for withdrawing from the treaty? Well, Russia refusing to comply with some crappy Human Rights standard, or not giving us CTR access, is in complete violation of those conditions. Linking START to some other random issue violates that standard on "events related to the subject matter of the treaty." 

Russia wouldn't comply
Maybe you've heard not to poke a bear with a stick. This case is equivalent to smacking a bear in the face with a baseball bat. There's already a distrust within Russia of American motives. To try and use START as leverage would vindicate all that distrust, and irrevocably strengthen anti-american sentiments within the government and the public. All those "return of the cold war" DAs apply to this case more than any other.

The bottom line
These cases offend me. They cling to outdated and offensive biases against Russia, and historically crazed sources. The effects of this case are being felt in galaxies far far away. Just look at what Obi-Wan had to say when this case won the Houston Open. 

Please, everyone. Listen to Ducreux. 


Monday, April 11, 2011

Wolky Rants: Better Mandate Writing, Better Debate

It's time to touch on an issue that is a personal pet-peeve of mine. How often have you sat in a round listening to the other team's mandates thinking about that stat with the monkeys.? You know the stat. 1000 monkeys with typewriters would eventually type Hamlet? Then you start wondering if it was, in fact, a monkey with a typewriter that wrote the mandate. Sloppy mandates make for lots of sloppy losses and sloppy debates. 

Here's the crux of the issue: having a good plan idea or conceptual solvency doesn't mean you can just write a plan up and send it through. We aren't debating concepts or goals. We are debating policies. If your mandate doesn't actually work as a policy, you can't win the debate. Let's go over some of the most common/most egregious errors in plan writing. 

1. YOU NEED A MECHANISM

This, to me, is the cardinal sin of plan writing. So I'll say this in all caps. YOU CAN'T FIAT RESULTS, SOLVENCY, FLUFFY FEELINGS, OR THE RETURN OF THE DINOSAURS. Understand? You can't use fiat to say the plan will work. Example. Mandate: The US will work with Russia and develop a plan to solve this problem. Yay! We solved the problem! Why? Because that's our plan.

When you write a plan, you need a mechanism through which to exert fiat and hopefully achieve solvency. Read through your plan. If you don't clearly specify the means of achieving solvency, you have a terribly worded plan. What are examples of mechanisms? Oh, I dunno. Just these little things we call POLICIES. Programs, laws, international organizations (please not NGOs) and government bodies in action. We are here to debate policies, not goals. Go fix your mandate, then come thank me when you start actually winning solvency debates on aff.

2. Agencies matter, kids
This one can actually bite you big-time in a round. If you don't research the specific government agencies that would administer your plan, you end up in serious trouble. If you try to give a bio-defense program to the Department of Education, what's gonna happen? They are gonna freak out and do a terrible job. But they have to do it, because you fiated them to do it. Make sure your plan fiats the agencies that are actually capable of doing the job. This means *gasp* research. Don't automatically assume that you can guess where the plan belongs. Lookitup. Profit.

3. Cut the fancy wordage
This is one that I find particularly annoying. How often have you heard this?

 Mandate: The US will require Russia to significantly improve its protection of fundamental human rights by making significant reforms to their court system and implement a substantial blah blah blah.

What do I mean here? Simply put, actual methods and specifics belong in a mandate, words like "significant", "substantial", "sufficient" and "legit" do not. I've seen so many teams over the years put words like this in the mandate in order to make the plan bigger. Or something. Cut out these irritating filler words and put in specifics that actually make the mandate.

Example:
  •  Crappy: Congress will eliminate grandfathering in the Clean Air Act and require coal plants to significantly reduce pollution.
  • Awesome: Congress will eliminate the NSR clause of the CAA of 1972 and require all pre-act coal plants to meet the DOE's current BACT standards.

Specifics are good. Filler words are not.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Juggernaut Index: Reloaded

Aight. The regional championships are rapidly approaching, and nationals slots are on the line. It's time to do a quick review of the juggernauts, young and old. Here are some cases of note.


The Top 10 
(Returning favorites are in italics, new contenders in bold)
  1. Smallpox eradication: This case is so yummy. You have many many different directions to go on justifications, the DAs are based on fear-mongering and not science, and St. Tucker is the advocate. 
  2. Bio-detection: Still awesome. Still winning. (Formerly ranked 1,2)
  3. IPR Enforcement: This case is lovely. I wish more people were running it.
  4. JVOS Conditioning: Makes JV worth watching. 
  5. Pull out Tactical Nukes: Why haven't we done this already? (Formerly ranked meh)
  6. MSSIS Integration: The ethos neg brief is useless if you want to beat this case.
  7. Bilateral Investment Treaty: Sketchy negatives are sketchy.
  8. Ban Cluster Bombs: I just like this case. I can't help it. (Formerly ranked 9)
  9. Jackson-Vanik Graduation: Begrudgingly, I will alot this a place on the hallowed list. It still bores me. 
  10. Space Weapons: Beat the T, and this case is sound. (Formerly ranked 3)



The Fallen (former juggernauts that have seen better days)
  • Cyber Security: I saw Peter Voell's brief on this case. Enough said. Keep this aff handy to use as fuel during a nuclear winter. That's about all it's good for.
  • Bush BMD: Turns out the status quo is better, the tech is glitchy, and the case is only tentatively topical. Oops. 
  • WTO support: It passed.



DON'T RUN ANY OF THESE CASES OR YOU WILL LOSE!
  • Overturn 123
  • Overturn START
  • Minimal deterrence
  • Arctic militarization
  • NATO expansion
  • Adoptions/orphans
  • Arm wrestle with Putin