The NSDA Lincoln-Douglas Debate topic for 2017 Jan/Feb is:
Resolved: Public colleges and universities in the United States ought not restrict any constitutionally protected speech.
“Public” (government-owned) college and universities receive state and federal funding (most private universities also receive significant state and federal support via student loans, research grants, and tax-deductions on contributions).
The Constitution’s First Amendment bans any laws restricting freedom of speech:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Campus speech is in the news with the recent riot at the University of California at Berkeley. How should universities respond to student, faculty, or guest speakers whose talks are deemed by some as intolerant, insulting, or provoking outrage? Well, Congress is barred from making laws “abridging the freedom of speech.”
Did Congress or the State of California pass laws restricting freedom of speech at UC-Berkeley?
FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) is critical of campus speech codes and litigates against them. FIRE’s “What Are Speech Codes?” page explains:
FIRE defines a “speech code” as any university regulation or policy that prohibits expression that would be protected by the First Amendment in society at large. Any policy—such as a harassment policy, a protest and demonstration policy, or an IT acceptable use policy—can be a speech code if it prohibits protected speech or expression.
FIRE’s statement on the Berkeley riots (February 2, 2017):
FIRE condemns both violence and attempts to silence protected expression in the strongest terms. We also urge that decisions affecting long-term policy be made only after all the facts are gathered and with appropriate opportunity for reasoned discussion.
Last week, Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks wrote a letter to the university community rightfully refusing demands that the university cancel the event ahead of time. Dirks pointed out his disagreement with Yiannopoulos’ views, but insisted that “[c]onsistent with the dictates of the First Amendment as uniformly and decisively interpreted by the courts, the university cannot censor or prohibit events, or charge differential fees.” He also warned those threatening disruptive protests in an effort to shut down the speech that the university “will not stand idly by while laws or university policies are violated, no matter who the perpetrators are.”
But though the Berkeley administrators and campus police tried, they were overwhelmed by protesters. Then President Trump joined the controversy. The FIRE post continues:
This morning, President Trump weighed in with a tweet reading, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” It is true that, under current law, public universities that enforce blatantly unconstitutional speech codes and private universities that violate their own promises of free speech do not face the same potential loss of federal funding for censoring campus speech that they do for violating other federal civil rights laws and regulations. However, FIRE has so far seen no evidence that Berkeley as an institution made any effort to silence Yiannopoulos.
Shikha Sood Dalmia, a Senior Analyst at the Reason Foundation, posted on Facebook:
Any honest condemnation of the violence at U-C Berkeley has to begin by condemning also the extremists who invited Milo [Yiannopoulos] to speak in the first place. What IS the point of having this loathsome creature on campus except to bait and incite and flex your muscles in Trump’s America?
How do college administers decide who should be allowed to teach at or give guest talks on college campuses? Lots of presentations can sound controversial. That’s one way to get students’ attention.
I give talks on debate topics on college conferences organized by the Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL). UIL had a topic on campus speech codes a couple years ago, and in a session I asked students if anything said would be okay: “How about: A woman’s place is in the House…” Of course there was immediate commotion and noisy responses from students who wouldn’t be able to hear me continue “… of Representatives.”
Shouting down a speaker prevents audiences from hearing enough to make up their own minds. But audiences, especially students, can be drawn into worlds of violent and hateful ideas. Teachers and administers try to provide some guidance in high school and college classrooms and campuses. But what happens when teachers or college professors are accused of promoting violence…
An article on CNS News (Conservative News Service), titled “College Instructors Tell Students: America’s Founding Fathers Ran ‘A Terrorist Organization’” complains:
Instructors at the taxpayer-funded University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) reportedly told students enrolled in their team-taught humanities class that America’s founding fathers ran “a terrorist organization” and used “violence and terror to influence opinions” in their fight for independence from Great Britain.
The CNS News post says: Benson and Lee compared the colonists’ revolt to modern-day terrorists. That may sound a controversial or hateful way to look at America’s Founding, but revolutionaries do use violence and the threat of violence to achieve their aims. They claim that the ends justify the means.
Though Hollywood is not our best source for history, Mel Gibson’s 200o movie The Patriot could have been titled The Terrorist. UK’s The Guardian was not amused, and explains in “The Patriot: more flag-waving rot with Mel Gibson” (July 23, 2009).
A more scholarly review is The Patriot: Movie Review, in the Journal of American History (Vol. 83, No. 3) which notes:
The most serious deficiency of The Patriot is its almost complete omission of the Loyalists. A significant segment of the population of the Carolinas and Georgia remained loyal, and much of the fighting there was a civil war between Tories and Whigs. Though Loyalist provincial and militia units constituted one-half of the British army in the South, the film portrays only one Loyalist soldier, Captain Wilkins (Adam Baldwin) in Colonel Tavington’s (Jason Isaacs) dragoons. …
The film gives the impression that Tavington’s regiment is British and that Captain Wilkins is the only Loyalist in its ranks. No other Loyalist soldiers appear in The Patriot.
Students may wonder why this post has drifted from constitutionally protected campus speech to patriots as terrorists in the Revolutionary War. My point is just that there is often more to controversial claims and stories, and suppressing the presentation and discussion of those stories limits our knowledge of the world.
College guest speakers or faculty with a talk on “America’s Founders as Terrorists” might get banned, fired, or shouted down before they can make their case. Students can disagree after hearing controversial claims about the past or present, but they are left living in narrow worlds without occasionally exposed to disruptive and sometimes illuminating ideas and claims.
Speech and debate competition is valuable for students to widen those worlds as they develop skills to research and articulate views as well as consider, evaluate, and agree or disagree with the views of others.
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle
The Nov/Dec, 2016 Lincoln-Douglas Debate topic is controversial: “Resolved: The United States ought to limit qualified immunity for police officers.”
Lincoln-Douglas debaters should read widely on the police/citizen clashes over the last year, and consider values including, of course, justice and safety.
Police working in high-crime neighborhoods are under pressure and deal with many difficult situations. But life can be difficult and tense too for the people who live day-to-day in high-crime neighborhoods.
But just as most property crime and violence in high-crime neighborhoods is caused by a small minority of young men, most incidents of police misbehavior is caused by a small minority. (Link to 2015 Brooking Institution post.)
Shikha Dalmia in “How police unions actually hurt police officers,” (The Week, July 18, 2016) argues these “bad apples” are protected by union procedures designed for other purposes. Part of the challenge, Dalmia writes is lack of reported data on police/citizen incidents:
The Crime Control Act of 1994 asked the FBI to annually compile and publish data about the use of police force in all instances so that the country could keep track of trends of police violence, identify problematic precincts, or catch enforcement bias. But union representatives of law enforcement agencies successfully lobbied the feds to make reporting optional. So most departments now simply plead poverty and refuse to comply.
This is a huge problem. In the absence of good data, it is impossible to say definitively if racism is driving police abuse in black communities. And because it is impossible to identify the size and scope of this problem, it is impossible to craft and enact a solution to it — a solution, mind you, that would not only better serve and protect minority communities, but also keep police safer, too.
This is but one example of police unions going to eye-popping lengths to protect rogue cops at the expense of citizens (and the many decent cops who are tainted as well). Consider the binding arbitration that has become a standard feature of virtually all police contracts, which are often negotiated in secrecy. Binding arbitration allows cops to appeal any disciplinary action taken by their superiors to outside arbitrators such as retired judges. In theory, these folks are supposed to be neutral third parties. In reality, they are usually in the pockets of unions and dismiss or roll back a striking two-thirds of all actions, even against cops with a history of abuse and excessive violence. The upshot is that police chiefs are powerless to clean house, even as community complaints pile up. This is exactly what was happening in Baltimore when Freddie Gray died during his ride to the police station last year.
Students are encouraged to read the article for more on Dalmia’s argument on the role police unions play in protecting the minority of police involved in violent or aggressive incidents with the public that appear unjustified after review.
For more, see Conor Friedersdorf, “How Police Unions and Arbitrators Keep Abusive Cops on the Street,” in The Atlantic (December 2, 2014)
Police institutional procedures like binding arbitration clauses and procedures in union contracts should allow fair evaluation of complaints about violent incidents between police officers and the public.
And more directly on the LD topic, Evan Bernick, Assistant Director of the Center for Judicial Engagement at the Institute for Justice, has this May 6, 2015 article in The Freeman, “To Hold Police Accountable, Don’t Give Them Immunity,” drawn from his April, 2015 remarks to the US Commission on Civil Rights.
Critics of these reform proposal and the focus on police misconduct point to dramatically increasing violence in many inner-cities, and police pull back. (Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities (New York Times, August 31, 2015.) Murders have increased through 2016 in Chicago and other cities.
Economist Thomas Sowell draws from The War on Cops for his National Review article: “The Race War No One Can Win” (National Review, July 13, 2016)
Reason magazine’s critical review of the book: “There Is No War on Cops: A new book from a prominent right-wing commentator fails to make the case.”
And New York Times review article of “The Problem With Modern Policing, as Seen From the Right and From the Left” (June 27, 2016).
The NSDA September/October Lincoln-Douglas Debate is: “Resolved: Countries ought to prohibit the production of nuclear power.”
Nuclear power concerns include:
The pronunciation problem… see this short Ask the Editor video for guidance.
Safety concerns from Hollywood’s Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and Michael Douglas in The China Syndrome (1979). The movie premiered just twelve days before the Three Mile Island nuclear accident.
Safety concerns from three real world nuclear power accidents:
Total deaths from these and other nuclear accidents are hard to measure. Online sources say 56 direct deaths from Chernobyl accident and “no confirmed casualties” from Fukushima, nor direct deaths from Three Mile Island. The debate over increased mortality from radiation exposure caused by these accidents is complex. Radiation exposure risk, like poisons, is a matter of dosage. Exposure to small amounts of radiation doesn’t seem to be harmful.
Jon Basil Utley, in his July 6, 2014 article, “Raising the EPA Radiation Limit Will Save Thousands of Lives and Billions of Dollars,” reports:
The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has recently insisted that the EPA establish realistic limits in accordance with the latest science. …
… After the catastrophic meltdown at the Japanese nuclear power plant in 2011, some 130,000 people were forcibly removed from their homes in accordance with strict radiation standards. This resulted in the unnecessary and unfortunate deaths of some 1600 elderly and ill persons. Yet no residents died—or even became ill—from the radiation. Even so, Japan closed down 48 nuclear plants and Germany announced it would close all of its plants. The cost to their citizenry in higher electricity prices—and higher carbon emissions—is staggering.
All energy production is dangerous, as is walking, swimming, driving, rock climbing, and jumping out of airplanes even with a parachute.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) lists fatalities per year in the coal mining industry. From 1960 to 1982 fatalities fell gradually from 325 per year to 122 per year. Annual fatalities continued to fall most years, dropping below 50 in 1993, then to 20 and below since 2011.
Oil and gas workers also face risks, with 142 deaths in 2014. Fatal oil and gas injuries listed in this 2015 article (Oil And Gas Worker Deaths Rise In 2014) were at 98 or higher almost every year since 2004.
Critics of nuclear power can counter that risks from a potential nuclear accident are far higher than alternative energy sources, and can argue that we’ve been lucky to avoid bigger nuclear disasters so far.
Related concerns are the complexity and age of U.S. and other nuclear power installations: The average age of U.S. commercial reactors is about 35 years. Most people understand that driving a 35-year-old car is risky because key component are worn out or wearing out. And both cars and nuclear plants designed and built decades ago lack today’s safer designs and features.
Additional nuclear power concerns include political, engineering, and economic problems with transporting and storing nuclear waste. However coal production also involves storing waste. This 2009 Economist article discusses problems with coal ash waste from coal-powered energy production:
A worrying loophole in America’s rules was revealed in December of last year when a collapsed dyke sent a billion gallons of toxic sludge pouring into 300 acres of rural Tennessee. The sludge, a mixture of water and ash from a coal-fired power plant, contained significant amounts of poisonous heavy metals. Officials say the local drinking water is still safe, although the spill has killed fish in nearby rivers. The utility concerned, the Tennessee Valley Authority, says it is spending $1m a day on the clean-up.
That coal-ash pond in Tennessee is just one of about 1,300 similar repositories across America. The EPA believes that lax disposal of coal ash has led to the contamination of groundwater in 24 states. But under pressure from utilities it had previously dropped plans to classify coal ash as hazardous waste.
So all energy production (including installation and operation of onshore and offshore wind mills plus molten salt and rooftop solar power) involves costs and risks. Lincoln-Douglas debaters calling for prohibiting nuclear power are calling for increasing energy production from fossil and renewable fuel sources.
Interestingly too, this 2007 Scientific American article claims Coal Ash Is More Radioactive Than Nuclear Waste
… the waste produced by coal plants is actually more radioactive than that generated by their nuclear counterparts. In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.
Though the notes above and sources quoted are critical of coal as an energy source, modern coal-power plants pollute far less than in the past. A recent Wall Street Journal article reports General Electric is investing billions in new cleaner coal power production (GE Wants to Bring More Life to Coal, August 17, 2016).
Wired magazine’s March 25, 2014 cover story, Renewables Aren’t Enough. Clean Coal Is the Future makes the case for technology innovations to supply inexpensive yet clean power from coal. Charles Mann argues that coal is as key an energy source today as in the 19th Century:
Because most Americans rarely see coal, they tend to picture it as a relic of the 19th century, black stuff piled up in Victorian alleys. In fact, a lump of coal is a thoroughly ubiquitous 21st-century artifact, as much an emblem of our time as the iPhone. Today coal produces more than 40 percent of the world’s electricity, a foundation of modern life. And that percentage is going up: In the past decade, coal added more to the global energy supply than any other source.
And Mann notes that coal is key to China’s ongoing industrialization:
Nowhere is the preeminence of coal more apparent than in the planet’s fastest-growing, most populous region: Asia, especially China. In the past few decades, China has lifted several hundred million people out of destitution—arguably history’s biggest, fastest rise in human well-being. That advance couldn’t have happened without industrialization, and that industrialization couldn’t have happened without coal. More than three-quarters of China’s electricity comes from coal, including the power for the giant electronic plants where iPhones are assembled.
We should look also to the billions in the developing world working for a more prosperous future. The mortality rates attributed to coal and other fossil fuel exploration, mining, drilling, transporting, and processing are tiny compared to the mortality rates attributed to not having access to electricity. The World Health Organization (WHO), February, 2016, reports:
Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal.
Over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels.
Nuclear power and fossil fuel power production do involve risks: radiation exposure and particulate matter pollution, plus risks from waste storage. But these risks are much lower than the risks to children face living in homes without electricity and relying for cooking and heat on wood, dung, and coal stoves.
Bjorn Lomborg, in Why Africa Needs Fossil Fuels (January 22, 2016), notes:
More than 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity at all. … All this is not because Africa is green, but because it is poor. Some 2% of the continent’s energy needs are met by hydro-electricity, and 78% by humanity’s oldest “renewable” fuel: wood. This leads to heavy deforestation and lethal indoor air pollution, which kills 1.3 million people each year.
Apart from the deaths caused by lack of access to electricity is the burden lower-income women across the world bear without enough electricity for washing machines. Swedish statistician Hans Rosling explains in his famous TED video: The magic washing machine (now viewed over 2 million times).
Many advocates for nuclear power were mainly concerned about U.S. dependence on oil imports from the Middle East, Venezuela, Nigeria, and other unstable regions and countries. However, the astonishing production increases in recent years from Canadian oil sands and U.S. shale oil and gas fields have made US and Canada major oil exporters.
Here is the U.S. Energy Information Agency August, 2016 Drilling Productivity Report For key tight oil and shale gas regions (pdf)
So where can affirmative debaters look for values supporting ending nuclear power production? One possibility: the U.S. has strongly opposed Iran’s efforts to it develop and generate nuclear power. The concern follows the dual use of technologies that enable refining high-grade uranium fuel supplies. These technologies and knowhow can also provide uranium for nuclear weapons. That seems are reasonable concern, and probably the strongest among the various issues with nuclear power production and waste storage.
Also, a search of the NCPA website for “nuclear power” returns various studies and Debate Central evidence files.
Attention all LD debaters attending the 2016 NSDA National Speech & Debate Tournament! Debate Central has put together a FREE topic guide and brief! Feel free to share this with your friends and remember the NCPA when you use it to win! This year’s National’s topic is resolved:
“Immigration ought to be recognized as a human right.”
This free guide is complete with strategy, ready-made arguments, and a tremendous amount of fantastic evidence ready to go! Our brief covers both Aff and Neg so you’ll never be without evidence.
Headed to debate Nationals this summer?
Please feel free to use and share this graphic!
If you are having trouble viewing the image, the resolutions are:
Debate Central will be releasing our topic guides for the new PF and LD resolutions within the next few days, so be sure to check back! CXers, don’t forget to check out our resources for the policy topic, as well!
What do you think of these topics? Are you excited to debate them? Tell us in the comments!