Friday, September 9, 2011


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:

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. 


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.

  •  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.

  • Overturn 123
  • Overturn START
  • Minimal deterrence
  • Arctic militarization
  • NATO expansion
  • Adoptions/orphans
  • Arm wrestle with Putin

Choosing Your Battles: The Art of Strategic Collapse

First off, I'd like to apologize to everyone, because I know you've waited for months for a new post with baited breath. I had my appendix out a few months ago, right after my last post. That marked an unprecedented stretch of apathy towards this blog, as I settled within myself in the name of self determination. Kind of like isolationist Japan, which is a great consulate ally in Age of Empires.  The bad news is I haven't blogged in three months. The good news is that I have fresh and brilliant ideas to share with the world as you all prep for the final qualifiers, regionals, and nationals. At least, I think they are brilliant. I could very well be wrong, but that's why we have the comment section at the bottom.

Edit: It's been so long since I blogged that I don't remember what font I like to use. =(

Our topic today is a deadly and difficult art form known as the strategic collapse. Like Shao Lin martial arts, this is a skill that many debaters have forgotten because it is counterintuitive to everything we are taught. First off, what is it? Here's a piece of evidence explaining it.

Strategic Collapse Definition
Sam Wolkenhauer (Former debater, blogger, winner of 3rd Grade Sunday School Trivia week) April 6, 2011
Strategic collapse is a negative strategy where the negative team intentionally drops large portions of their argumentation in the 2nr, in order to "collapse" the flow on a few major points, usually a few disadvantages or solvency. This strategy is used to consolidate the issues when affirmative argumentation contradicts itself, or when major issues are dropped.

How's that for a card? So, the strategy is pretty simple. Drop all but a few issues in the 2nr, and collapse the flow on those points. The reason people rarely (if ever) do this is because it is counterintuitive to everything we think we know. Dropping an argument is a huge no-no, so why would we do it on purpose? Well, allow me to explain how and why you the strategic collapse should be one of the primary weapons in the negative arsenal.

1. Benefits of the collapse
 There are many reasons that a collapse is beneficial to the negative team. Let's go over the three biggest ones. 

1. It leaves more time for weighing
Remember what I always say. Remember what every coach you've ever had has ever said. Weighing and impacting wins the round. How many 2nrs have you seen where they have continued argumentation on minor issues that have no bearing on the round? Nit-picky inherency and workability issues that carry no weight; evidence disputes; lame topicality; people regularly carry these issues all the way through, while they neglect the arguments that actually have impact and actually matter. 

A strategic collapse on issues that don't matter will give you more time, and condition you to, weighing the arguments of critical importance. 

2. It sets the field in your favor
A collapse allows the 2nr to pick only the issues that they are winning as points to debate. Arguments that the affirmative team has brilliant responses to get kicked, while the undercovered issues pull through. 

This is especially important because there are no new answers in the 2ar. If the aff responds to a major DA with a measly little de-link or uniqueness argument, you can collapse on the point, crush the aff response, and force them to try to respond to two minutes of 2nr DA analysis with their one little 1ar response. This is very difficult to do. If you keep all the arguments on the flow, in contrast to the collapse, the DA is never given the level of attention and the time it deserves, and the affirmative gets away with lame responses. Use the collapse to pin the affirmative on their weak points. 

3. Credibility gain
No joke. Kicking lame arguments makes you look very credible and mature in the judge's eyes. Let me share a comment I got on a ballot once where we did an epic collapse in the 2nr.

"Your willingness to conceded issues rather than arbitrarily arguing them helped me trust you on the issues you kept arguing." 

This isn't hard to understand. Nothing is more annoying to a judge than a debater who doesn't know when to quit arguing stupid issues. Drop and profit.

2. How to collapse
Well, I guess it's more like "how to know when to collapse." Collapsing in and of itself isn't that hard. Just drop the arguments you are dropping, and talk about the most important ones. Here are some guidelines for how to know when to collapse, and what to collapse on.

1. Under-covered off-case arguments
Any solvency or disadvantages that are sparingly covered by the 1ar should be a point to collapse on. If the aff spends 4 minutes on inherency and significance, and then tries to blow through the off-case, it means you should jump on it. DAs and solvency are the most critical arguments for negs to win on.

2. Major DAs with no impact response
If you have a giant disadvantage with major impacts, but the aff only responds to links or uniqueness, it means you should collapse on the point and weigh it out. This is especially true with case-turning impacts. All too often affirmatives just try to de-link and squirm out, but concede the impact analysis. Collapse and profit, negative team. 

3. Contradictory affirmative arguments
Most of the time when the affirmative contradicts themselves, the negative just says 'THAT'S A CONTRADICTION LOL! =D"

NO. PLEASE NO. Instead of pointing out a contradiction and acting smug, how about the negative team collapse on the stronger of the two contradictory arguments. Then use the affirmative's contradiction to prove your point. Concede the weaker argument to win the stronger one. 

Listen to Courage Wolf, everyone...

The world will look up and shout, "Save us!"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

High North Strategy: Destroyed

The case for Arctic militarization just got owned today. The case tries to argue that Russia is trying to grab all the arctic territory so they can have a monopoly over all the oil and natural resources. Problem is, they are about to give BP access to drill, which straight up disproves the "monopoly" argument. 


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Terrible Topicality Tricks

Invariably you will run across an affirmative or negative team that thinks they have it all figured out. They will stand up at the podium and give a slow, sweeping, smug smile across the room. Then they will begin to talk. What will proceed from their mouth will be sound a lot like swahili. You know them. You can't stand them. The trick topicality team! They appear every year in a different form.

Illegal Immigration year there were teams that tried to define immigration as the movement of a plant or animal. India year teams tried to define India as the entire subcontinent of Southeast Asia. Environment year people tried to define Environmental Policy as the National Environmental Policy Act. Every year teams try to define key terms in the resolution in a strange or downright insane way. While you might be tempted to have them committed to the Ashecliff Hospital for the Criminally Insane on Shutter Island, that is rarely an option in-round. Instead, be prepared to straight up wallop them. 

Let's review a few of the more crazy topicality presses that might be run this year.

1) Russia =/= Russians
This is a pretty lame T press that negs run every time the res specifies a country. They argue that a country means government, not people, so any case that doesn't deal directly with the Russian government fails topicality. A few things to note here.
  1. This could hypothetically be legit if the resolution said "foreign policy." Foreign policy can be reasonably defined as the interaction between states. State, of course, means government.  
  2. The resolution is currently phrased without the words "with" or "foreign." "Policy towards Russia" is very vague in a way that benefits affirmative. The word towards indicates a very general direction to determine topicality. We'll talk a little bit more about that word in a minute, but for now remember that the resolution is phrased in a way that does not seem to indicate the necessity of interacting with the Russian government.
  3. A reasonable definition of Russia defines it as a country. It's important to know the difference between a nation and a state. A nation is a unified population mass that bears a single national identity. Population. Not government. A state is an institution that governs that population. Russia is a nation, not a state, so that includes the population. 
2) Geographical T
When will these people learn they are not clever? This is the argument that the effects of the plan have to take place in Russia. So, basically, if the BMD system is built in Poland, the plan is not topical because Poland is not Russia. Wait, what?
  1. Someone show me the word "in" in the resolution. Change our policy "in" Russia? That's a terrible resolution. This topicality press just straight up doesn't make sense. Still, we had this run on us a few times India year and people will probably try it again this year.
  2. This entire argument precludes the idea of a 3rd party. For example, counterweighting China, negotiating Kashmir, mediating Georgia, or sanctioning Iran. 3rd party cases are very common and perfectly legitimate. 
3) With vs. Towards
This is another topicality argument that you get in foreign policy years. People will argue that the resolution states "towards" and that means a bilateral policy is non-topical because it is "with" Russia. Then they will link it to a solvency argument about Russian fiat. We hit this two of our three affirmative rounds at nationals India year. They argued that because we try to sign an agreement with India, we were being abusive to the resolution by going for a bilateral plan. I think Dr. House has said everything there is to say about this T-press. ----------->

4) Reform =/= Create
Every year. Every year someone decides to run this. The resolution asks you to reform an existing policy not create a new one blah blah blah. Every time this argument gets run, it sends shock waves of agony through my brain. People think this argument is very clever because it seems to be a reasonable, albeit unconventional, interpretation of the resolution. Here's why it's not. 
  1. "Its" versus "A". The resolution asks the affirmative to reform the body of its policy towards Russia. Its policy. Not a policy towards Russia. Grammar matters, kids. 
  2. A new policy will reform the larger body. Reform is generally defined as "to modify to put into an improved form or state." If a new policy is implemented, and it brings advantages, then the larger body of policy has been put into a better state. Shabam. 
5) Russia = Former Soviet Countries
This will be the year's sneaky affirmative topicality justification. I have seen three dictionaries that define Russia as the current name of the former Soviet Union. Some wise-acre affirmative will concoct a case to change policy towards Ukraine or Belarus. Or even Estonia, heaven forbid. Insidious. Be ready to smash this one kids. Always keep a definition file with standards and context. 

Please Read! This means you!
I am not, in any way, shape, or form, advocating any of these topicality arguments as legitimate strategies. So remember that anyone goes off and says "Oh, I saw this on Wolkenpower and he was talking about it and stuff." This was intended to expose affirmatives (and negatives) to topicality tricks that they may be hit with, so that they can think through these ahead of time and crush them when they get run. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

CTR: The looming menace

I'll admit. When I heard at nationals that the new resolution was Russia, I cast a meaningful glare at the Region 8 tables and silently sobbed into my arms. I think a lot of people did the same. The thought of three consecutive years of CTR can make even the most stalwart debaters cry. This year, far more than India and certainly more than Environment year, CTR is a hugely relevant issue that will effect lots of debates and cases. Even if you aren't running a CTR case, you should know how it works.

So what is CTR? I did a google search and got a result on the Center for Turbulence Research. In the context of Russia, it refers to Cooperative Threat Reduction, which is a program stemming from the Soviet era that seeks to secure the myriad of nuclear materials and warheads across Russia. It implements a variety of different security and consolidation measures, the details of which will be inconsequential to the debate round. Even if you don't plan on running CTR, you still need to know how it works, as it will effect the debate round in a myriad of ways. 

It's important to understand that Russia really dislikes CTR. This is one of the biggest reasons I'm advocating the "abolish CTR" case. Russia really hates the darn thing, and it seems to present a legitimate threat to the relations reset. They have repeatedly denied us access to a lot of their more sensitive facilities and when we push for access, they get testy. Any case regarding nuclear weapons, terrorism, or relations needs to be aware of this proverbial thorn in Russia's side. Take the time to research CTR, understand the history, and the way it causes Russian mistrust of US motives. 

Check out a few of these articles:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Theory Throwdown: The Worldview Affirmative

Recently there has been some discussion over the legitimacy of what is known as the "worldview affirmative." This is a case that argues in favor of a fundamental shift in the mindset behind our policy towards Russia, and attempts to use affirmative fiat power to change the mindset of our government. Hypothetically, if the affirmative plan was passed, every member of the federal government would wake up the next day and have a completely different mindset about how to deal with Russia. 
Here's a discussion on Homeschool Debate Forum discussing the matter. Just remember, as a general rule, do the opposite of what you hear discussed on this forum. 

The controversy arises over the following question: does fiat power allow the affirmative team to change or manipulate the opinions of government? I think not. This is problematic for a few reasons. 

1) It misrepresents fiat power
The argument primarily postulated by worldview affirmative teams is that fiat power allows the affirmative to change the minds of members of government. After all, by using fiat to pass START, you must have changed the minds of all those senators to make them vote for it. Unfortunately, this is an over-simplification of the concept of fiat.

  • Fiat works through legal implementation levers

Okay, what on earth does that mean? It means that when the affirmative fiats the government, their plan is passed through an institutional means of power application. Still confused? Let's put it this way. When congress passes a bill and the president signs it, that is a "legal implementation lever." It's a part of US law, and the action is legitimized by the law. If President Obama invites Putin to come over and play golf, that isn't an institutionalized or legally recognized activity. Obama did it, but that doesn't make it a legal act. 

This is where the worldview affirmative collapses. There is no legal implementation mechanism for "changing the government's mind." We are a democracy, and the very idea of the government mandating what someone thinks is straight up impossible. Therefore, the affirmative has no channel or mechanism to exert fiat power over the minds of the government.

  • Fiat never assumes a change in the minds of the government

Even if you fiat that the senate pass your plan, you don't assume that they will all like it. That's why we have political capital DA's, and backlash arguments. No affirmative has ever assumed that the entire government will like their plan. This idea that an affirmative can fiat the minds of the government is entirely new, and entirely illegitimate. To assert a change in the mind of the government is a cheesy and cheap way for an affirmative to try and fiat their way out of capital DA's.

  • The worldview affirmative relies on future fiat

The assumption is that the government will have the same mindset about Russia forever. Otherwise, the affirmative team's plan will mean nothing in 2012. The problem is that using fiat on future governments is universally recognized as illegitimate. If you fiat future governments to act the same way the current one does, we lose flexibility, our government policy becomes institutionalized and irrevocable, and the plan essentially leads to the downfall of the US. The ability of government to change is critical. I actually carried a "future fiat bad" block in my box at all times. Justifications are entrenchment and flexibility.

2) It creates Utopian possibilities 
This is the first thing that pops into my mind when I hear this case. Who on earth wants the entire government to think and act the same way? This gets into that messy area of fiat that we find when we debate state counter-plans. The assertion is that an ability to make all members of government act in unison (or all the states) is entirely unrealistic. We can't do it in the real world, so to fiat it takes to unrealistic places where we can fiat absurd things like world peace. In essence, worldview fiat is a sneaky form of conventionally despised multi-actor fiat. Multi-actor fiat is usually rejected even for negatives, so for affirmatives it is just plain evil.

3) Whole-Res style DA massing
So the affirmative fiats that we have a new and improved mindset of love and friendship towards Russia. The problem is, they don't have a specific plan of action. That's why it's called a worldview affirmative. This makes the affirmative team legitimately responsible for all disadvantages on every plan that results from their new mindset. The case is essentially a whole-res case, only worse because it doesn't even make sense. Run all the DAs on all the cases that result from their new mindset.

Bottom Line....
This case has nothing to stand on theoretically. It is, admittedly, an interesting and ambitious attempt to push the boundaries of fiat power. Ultimately, however, it has basic underlying flaws that destroy its viability. Multi-actor and future fiat are conventionally rejected, and the plan also deals with more general issues of DA's and solvency mechanisms. Beat this with theory. Godspeed. 

Thank you to reader Caleb for suggesting this topic. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Case Analysis: Jackson Vanik Amendment

You all know one. We've all witnessed the malaise. Perhaps you used to suffer yourself. The disease is, of course, Jackson-Vanik Mania. It afflicts many debate teams today, and the symptoms include schizophrenia, irrational paranoia, and hallucinations. Fortunately, there is a cure, and that cure is to smash the darn thing. So let's talk about how to do just that. Don't just beat the case. Ray Lewis it. 

1. Relations
Be sure to respond heavily to their relations advantages. If you want, start here for a refresher on why the advantage is bogus to begin with. It's even more bogus with Jackson Vanik because the world is still waiting on a few things.
  1. An actual Russian official saying anything meaningful about Jackson-Vanik.
  2. A single facet of the US-Russian relationship that has been hindered by JV.
  3. A single solid link card from JV to an actual impact.
In short, most of the evidence on relations that the aff will read comes from absolutely atrocious and nebulous articles that basically say "Oh btw, Jackson Vanik is bad for relations." We still got New-START and 123 through. 

So how do you respond to this? I'd go line by line and point out the missing links and bad evidence. Then I'd spend at least a minute doing generic "Russian Relations Good" status-quo pro arguments. The fact is that the aff doesn't have a serious leg to stand on here. An aggressive attack on this should beat it. I know it's a defensive argument, but it still works. 

2. Economy
Oh my gosh. Could a case have a more sketchy advantage? Well, there's always natural gas cars from last year. But other than that, not really. Affirmatives love to come up and say "Hey guys! Jackson Vanik hurts our trade and stuff!" Problem is, that's blatantly false. Like, I don't even know how to say how wrong that is. Respond to economic claims with
  1. No difference between PNTR and NTR
  2. Alternate cause: Corruption. 
The aff probably doesn't understand the difference between Permanent Normal Trade Relations and Normal Trade Relations. There is no difference. Well, PNTR is permanent and NTR is renewed every year. But the actual legal ramifications for trade are identical. Jackson Vanik prevents Russia from getting PNTR. They still have NTR, and it's renewed every time, so they get all the trade benefits Jackson Vanik would give them anyway. Cut cards on this.
    3. DA's
    Alright. Time for some offense. There are two good DA's to Jackson Vanik that I would recommend running. If I overlooked one, scold me in the comments or drop me an e-mail.

    1. WTO loss
    Basically, your offense is a double bind on relations. Structure the DA like this:

    A) Link: Jackson Vanik gets lifted if Russia joins WTO.
    B) Brink: Russia is unsure of WTO benefits (some of the good Putin cards)
    C) Impact: WTO = economic gains.

    You have a double bind here. Russia may or may not push to join the WTO. If the aff is right, and Jackson Vanik matters to Russia, then an aff ballot eliminates perhaps the last remaining incentive for Russia to join. If JV doesn't matter to Russia, then the DA falls but the aff has conceded significance. They will try to get out of this by saying that Russia won't join one way or the other. The problem with saying that is that right now Russia is clearly on the fence. When you compare the potential benefits of WTO to the advantages of Jackson Vanik, this DA outweighs on magnitude and probability. Remember impacting this.

    2. Human Rights/Appeasement
    So the aff is going to go on and on about how important Russian relations are. Great. Who cares? I would legitimately vote for a big DA on appeasement at the expense of human rights and values. First off, refer to my post on relations for a discussion of the problems with passing plans simply for soft power. It's an appeasement tactic that results in short term (but ultimately useless) soft power gains, at the expense of long term credibility on real issues. Here's how I would set up this DA.

    A) Link: Russia has epic HR abuses. This is pretty easy to prove. Trafficking, press issues, etc. 
    B) Link: Jackson-Vanik is symbolic for human rights efforts. This, again, is not hard to prove. The aff will come back by saying "well, it's symbolic, but doesn't actually do anything to fight trafficking. That's why you need the impact.
    C) Impact: Long term soft power loss on human rights
    Ethos has some good cards on this, but you will be able to find your own. The fact of the matter is, appeasement plans like Jackson-Vanik are terrible because they are long-term soft power losses. If the US begins abandoning critical leverage points in the name of making Russia feel better, it hurts our long-term ability to push for human rights protections. 

    General notes on both disadvantages
    Now, these disadvantages are not exactly typical. They aren't really "plan happens, this happens" DA's with an established and certain link to the impacts. They instead seek to do two things.

    1) Put Jackson-Vanik in context
    This case is totally insignificant. It literally does not matter to anyone. It just doesn't. The DA's put this insignificant little amendment in the context of things that actually matter: WTO membership and larger human rights efforts. Point this out when you run them. Your argumentation is so much bigger and more important than the affirmative's case is.

    2) Outweigh the darn thing in a huge way
    You've already done all the defensive argumentation and destroyed all semblance of impacting from the affirmative. Given the huge scope of your disadvantages, do a ton of calculus on impacts. At the end of the day, the negative is the only team that has arguments that matter.

    Jackson - Vanik Rankings
     - Significance: 1
     - Solvency: 2
     - Judge Appeal: 1
     - Topicality: 8
     - Research: 6
     - In-round debate: 1
     - Composite: 3.1 

    Go forth and conquer, people. Have some pump-up. Little known fact: all those orcs were running Jackson Vanik.