“From wherever you stood, the opposing side offered respectable, credible views. In today's fractured culture the evening struck a blow for civility.”
- The Huffington Post
May 14, 2014
The Cato Institute’s James Dorn and the Hoover Institution’s Russell Roberts made this point at length during an Intelligence Squared debate last year in which they advocated doing away with minimum wages. “Right now there are people within a few blocks of where we are sitting who cannot find work simply because their skills are not worth $7.25 an hour,” Russell told the audience. “Why would you condemn those men and women to a wage of zero?”
April 22, 2014
Have you ever had a moment when you heard an argument that made you examine a long-held belief?
I had a moment like that recently when listening to an NPR Intelligence Squared podcast on college admissions. Intelligence Squared is a high-quality product, as the debate is civil, fact-heavy, and performed with great skill. In other words, it's everything that cable news is not, sort of like reading the best of the college football internet as opposed to relying on Holtz and May to analyze team strength.
April 15, 2014
The essence of due process, as Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman recently argued at an Intelligence Squared debate, is that “the government would not kill its own citizens without a trial.” That derived from the English Magna Carta of 1215, and the Framers of the U.S. Constitution had such a history in mind when, in the Fifth Amendment, they wrote that no one may “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
So this seems like an easy issue: The Constitution is clear that due process is required before the federal government takes a citizen’s life. But in many cases, that would fly in the face of common sense.
Professor Alan Dershowitz pointed out in the same debate that a bank robber firing at police as he flees is not entitled to a trial before police can shoot back at him. This exception is widened in the case of war, which is why the laws of war have never required a prior hearing before incapacitating an enemy combatant that is on the battlefield.
March 20, 2014
The intellectual case for preferences is looking increasingly shaky. Last month, a packed auditorium at Harvard Law School featured an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on whether “affirmative action does more harm than good.” Harvard professor Randall Kennedy, the author of the book For Discrimination, and Columbia professor Ted Shaw, the former head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, argued that diversity is an important and noble goal that universities must pursue. UCLA professor Richard Sander, author of the book Mismatch, and University of San Diego professor Gail Heriot, a commissioner on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, presented statistics from over 20 peer-reviewed studies that showed how the good intentions of affirmative-action supporters have had disastrous results.
March 06, 2014
Last night at the National Constitutional Center, NPR’s Intelligence Squared hosted a debate for broadcast on the limits of executive power, specifically is the president exceeding the constitutional powers of his office when, absent due process, he orders a fatal drone strike on an American citizen living abroad who is suspected of aiding or abetting terror plots that would harm American citizens or the homeland. Such was the case with the fatal drone strike executed against Anwar Al-Awlaki, a charismastic Imam and advocate for Jihad who was born in New Mexico.
The specific question being debated was not whether or not drone strikes are moral or legal, or even useful for advancing U.S. Foreign policy objectives, it was whether or not the president violated the constitutional rights of this particular American citizen. As per the premise of the show, the audience is polled about whether they are for or against the motion before the debate begins then again at the end. Before the debate, the audience vote tally was: 29% for, 44% against with 27% undecided.
March 04, 2014
Famed criminal defense lawyer, retired Harvard Law School professor and cable news gadfly Alan Dershowitz will be at the National Constitution Center tomorrow to debate the legality and ethics of drone strikes on American citizens. In advance of tomorrow’s debate, we got Mr. Dershowitz on the horn. DISCUSSED: When it’s OK for the President of the United States to order the assassination of an American citizen; his theory of a “Continuum Of Civilianality; why he is advocating for the court-supervised use of torture in so-called ticking time bomb situations; Zionism and how to resolved the Israeli-Palestinian crisis; is Edward Snowden a hero or villain; is mass surveillance of all American citizens constitutional under the Fourth Amendment; is O.J. Simpson innocent or guilty?
PHAWKER: Tomorrow, you’ll be at the National Constitution Center for the Intelligence Squared Debate. You’ll be arguing that President Obama was within the legal limits of executive power when he ordered the fatal drone strike on New Mexico-born Jihadist rabble-rouser Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. You will argue that the President can order the assassination of an American citizen absent any due process if he’s suspected of aiding and abetting the terrorists abroad in the killing of Americans. Can you summarize your argument for us?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Yes. I think that both international law and American constitutional law simply requires that the President determine under his war-power authority that the person targeted is a legitimate combatant, not a civilian. That’s the important line – the line is between combatant and non-combatant...
March 04, 2014
What if affirmative action actually hurts minorities?
Badger Pundit has the rundown on a debate at Harvard Law School over the proposition in the title of this post, Epic smackdown of affirmative action at Harvard — following debate, audience’s opposition rises nearly a third.
It’s a discussion that people on campuses don’t like to have. Good for Harvard Law School for hosting such a debate with well-qualified speakers arguing each side. Too often the argument against affirmative action is denegrated as racism.
A speaker in favor of the proposition argued that affirmative action is an “epic policy failure” because it actually hurts — not helps — minority achievement through lower graduation and professional accomplishment rates.
March 02, 2014
The White House is once again weighing whether to kill an American citizen overseas as part of its "targeted killing" program.
This extrajudicial killing program should make every American queasy. Based on largely secret legal standards and entirely secret evidence, our government has killed thousands of people. At least several hundred were killed far from any battlefield. Four of the dead are Americans. Astonishingly, President Obama's Justice Department has said the courts have no role in deciding whether the killing of U.S. citizens far from any battlefield is lawful.
The president, it seems, can be judge, jury, and executioner.
March 02, 2014
The president has the constitutional authority to target American citizens overseas.
This authority is derived from his war-making power as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. But this does not mean that the president has unfettered discretion to strike anyone he chooses.
The executive's war-making power is checked by the Founding Fathers' reservation in Congress of the power to declare war. The executive may not use this power unless authorized to do so by Congress.
February 28, 2014
A panel featuring Harvard Law School professor Randall L. Kennedy and others debated the pros and cons of affirmative action Thursday evening at the Law School’s Ames Court Room.
Arguing that affirmative action does more harm than good, University of San Diego Law professor Gail Heriot and University of California, Los Angeles Law professor Richard H. Sander asserted that affirmative action reduces the percentage of minorities who succeed at selective academic institutions.
On the opposing side, Columbia Law School professor Theodore M. Shaw and Kennedy argued in favor of affirmative action as a means of advancing university goals while benefitting the educational experiences of all students.
February 28, 2014
Intelligence Squared presented a very lively debate last night at Harvard Law School — “Resolved: Affirmative Action On Campus Does More Harm Than Good.” Arguing for the motion were Gail Heriot, professor of law, University of San Diego School of Law and member, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; and Richard Sander, professor of law, UCLA School of Law. Arguing against the motion were Randall Kennedy, professor of law, Harvard Law School; and Theodore Shaw, professor of law, Columbia Law School.
The debate largely focused on Rick Sander’s empirical work, which tends to show that affirmative action actually harms its intended beneficiaries. Regular readers will recall that Rick guest-blogged about this provocative work two years ago.
It was particularly striking to see this prominent debate on the Harvard Law School campus–since, ironically, it can often seem, on elite campuses, that the very topic of affirmative action on campus is taboo.
February 15, 2014
The Volokh Conspiracy’s Nicholas Rosenkranz links to the “particularly lively” Intelligence Squared debate this week in New York City: “Resolved: Snowden Was Justified.” Arguing for the motion were Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who delivered the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other media outlets in 1971; and Ben Wizner, legal adviser to Edward Snowden and attorney for the ACLU. Arguing against the motion were Andrew C. McCarthy, the guy who prosecuted the Blind Sheikh; and Ambassador R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA and chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
February 12, 2014
A New York audience devoted nearly two hours yesterday evening to a riveting Intelligence Squared debate about Edward Snowden and the surveillance regime that his disclosures revealed.
The motion up for debate was "Snowden Was Justified." Arguing for the motion were Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, and Ben Wizner, Edward Snowden's legal advisor and the director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. They debated Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, and Ambassador R. James Woolsey, a former CIA director. A pre-debate vote revealed the audience's feelings on the whistleblower to be evenly split, with 29 percent for the motion, 29 percent against, and 42 percent undecided.
Unsurprisingly, Ben and Daniel won, decisively. In a fascinating back-and-forth, they demonstrated why we're all better off after Snowden, in a world with a window into a once-secret regime that everyone – including all three branches of government – is now debating out in the open.
February 06, 2014
In December, I predicted that “doc shock” was going to be a major problem for the U.S. health-care overhaul, as people found out that the narrow networks insurers use to keep premiums low often don’t cover the top-notch doctors you’d like to see if you get really sick.
I reiterated this in my recent Intelligence Squared debate: However much good, sound policy sense narrow networks might make, they are political poison. Regulators and politicians are going to find it very hard to withstand the appeals of constituents who have been restricted to the bargain basement of our nation’s health-care system. I simply don't think they’ll be able to stand it for very long. This is basically what happened to the managed-care revolution that held down cost growth in the mid-1990s -- people in those plans complained bitterly, in their capacity as both voters and employees. A combination of legal and market pressure forced insurers to open up their networks and approve more treatments. And then costs started rising again. As people begin using their Obamacare policies and start running into restrictions, the same sort of pressure will begin to mount.
January 21, 2014
Last Wednesday, Scott Gottlieb and I debated Jonathan Chait and Douglas Kamerow at an Intelligence Squared event on this proposition: “Resolved: Obamacare Is Now Beyond Rescue.” I was feeling a little trepid, for three reasons: First, I’ve never done any formal debate; second, the resolution gave the “for” side a built-in handicap, as the “against” side just had to prove that Obamacare might not be completely beyond rescue; and third, we were debating on the Upper West Side. Now, I grew up on the Upper West Side and love it dearly. But for this particular resolution, it’s about the unfriendliest territory this side of Pyongyang.
January 18, 2014
In a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared on Jan. 15, competitors argued on both sides of whether the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is so irreparably damaged that its successful implementation is beyond rescue. After the debate, aside from the sketchy numbers released by the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week, one question still lingered: does Obamacare have to be “popular” in order for it to survive, or can it evolve over time?
January 16, 2014
Last night, Douglas Kamerow and I debated Megan McArdle and Scott Gottlieb at Intelligence Squared over the notion, “Obamacare is now beyond rescue.” Intelligence Squared picked the topic two months ago, when the website was still broken, insurers were frantic, congressional Democrats were in a full-scale panic, and it seemed genuinely possible to many people that the law would simply fail.
The arguments McArdle and Gottlieb made last night bore little resemblance to the sorts of failure predictions that were widely circulating last November. Many of their arguments simply took issue with the law’s goals; they argued that Medicaid does not make people healthier, that healthy people ought to be able to enjoy the financial benefits of being skimmed out of the insurance pool, and that politicians will reverse all the mechanisms needed to finance the law. In other words, they argued that the law was doomed for the reasons opponents had argued it was doomed in 2010, or for reasons a conservative could offer to suggest Medicare and Social Security are also doomed.
January 16, 2014
Perhaps because of the abundance of raw data available in this Age of Information, many an argument comes down to contesting the essential facts and figures that underpin a given claim. In the Intelligence Squared debate held on Jan. 15, for instance, the subject in question was whether “Obamacare is now beyond rescue” and both sides referred to the number of canceled policies resulting from health care reform — five million, some have claimed — as a significant issue that has been hotly contested over the past few months. “Many journalists have tried to figure out exactly how many policies have been canceled,” Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine stated, “And they don't have good enough records to know, but they know it's not 5 million. And they suspect — the administration suspects it's closer to one-tenth of that figure.”
November 22, 2013
It couldn't be more black or white than this: "Spy on me, I'd rather be safe."
That was the proposition before two teams of debaters at the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate held Wednesday night in Washington, D.C. Defending the proposition were two former homeland security officials Richard Falkenrath and Stewart Baker. Opposing the motion were the ACLU's very own Senior Policy Counsel Michael German and Georgetown Law Professor David Cole.
By the end of the debate, the civil libertarians decidedly ruled the day, moving 21 percent of the audience to their side and achieving a 62 percent majority against the proposition, "Spy on me, I'd rather be safe."
There's something to take from this, even if you dismiss it as wonky fun. When pro-surveillance advocates are pitted against civil libertarians who not only argue against dragnet surveillance on principle but because it simply doesn't work, the fear wanes and people see mass surveillance for what it is: unconstitutional and un-American.
As German, a former undercover FBI agent, made clear, the idea that a balance must be struck between liberty and security is a false choice. The procedural safeguards—such as reasonable suspicion and probable cause—that govern how government agents do their jobs doesn't only protect our liberties and privacy, it makes them better investigators who better protect the public from violent threats.
April 11, 2013
Free market advocates tried to convince an audience at Washington, D.C.‘s Burke Theater last week that the minimum wage should be abolished.
James Dorn of the Cato Institute and popular economist Russ Roberts faced Jared Bernstein from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Karen Kornbluh, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, in an Oxford-style debate facilitated by the organization Intelligence Squared.
April 04, 2013
Had a rousing and often substantive debate last night sponsored by the group Intelligence Squared. My partner was the great and eloquent Karen Kornbluh (listen to the podcast -- I really thought Karen did a great job merging morality, compassion, and the facts of the case); the opposing team was Russ Roberts and Jim Dorn. The proposition was "the minimum wage should be abolished." I'll let you guess which side Karen and I took, but the good news: the audience votes at the beginning and end of the debate and team that gets more people to switch to their side wins. We won.
March 14, 2013
Does the U.S. need a strong dollar policy?
The Kaufman Center played host to a debate on monetary policy Wednesday night. Officially the resolution under consideration was "America Doesn't Need a Strong Dollar Policy"—although what it really ended up being about was the wisdom of the gold standard.
The sponsor of the Wednesday night's debate was an outfit called Intelligence Squared U.S., which turns these things into podcasts, and public radio and television broadcasts.
November 15, 2012
Feisty exchanges in New York last night reflect a country wondering more than ever about radical drug-law change.
Legalization is in the air right now, and an unusually constructive debate was waged in Manhattan last night on whether the US should end its prohibition on all currently illegal drugs. Hosted by the Intelligence Squared foundation, to be broadcast on NPR and Channel 13, it featured what debater Nick Gillespie (editor-in-chief at Reason.com, for the motion) characterized as four sometime participants in the drug war: a soldier (Paul Butler, law professor at Georgetown University and former federal prosecutor, also for legalization); a general (Asa Hutchinson, former DEA administrator and Congressman, against); a medic (Theodore Dalrymple, former prison doctor and psychiatrist, against); and a "conscientious objector" (Gillespie himself).
Butler kicked off with a passionate plea to end America's mass incarceration, in which he used to collaborate. Noting that "No country has ever found a way to stop people using drugs," he drew attention to the grotesque racial disparities in drug-law enforcement in a country where black people use drugs no more than white people, but are far likelier to be imprisoned for it. Doubting that Hutchinson would call the cops if he caught his own daughter using cocaine, Butler concluded that "What is good enough for our children and friends is also good enough for African Americans." Hutchinson admitted that many changes are needed in the way US drug laws are enforced, but said that this doesn't mean the drug laws themselves should disappear. Stating that a $2.5 trillion total drug-war expenditure has helped to halve illegal drug use in the last 30 years, he argued, "The idea that prohibition isn't working may appeal to the popular culture, but does not pass muster on closer examination."
Gillespie made the libertarian case for "pharmacological freedom": granting adults the right to decide what they put into their own bodies. "If we don't have the right to change our minds [by using drugs]," he asked, "then what rights do we really have that are worth a damn?" A drug user who no longer boozes ("because I'm a bad drinker: I tried and tried, but..."), he raised laughs with his sense of the ludicrous—at one point imagining "fair-trade methamphetamine." But he predicted that full legalization would change little, except to jail fewer people, give us "a couple more options" in our bathroom cabinets, and "Monday mornings would be a lot easier to face." Dalrymple responded by focusing on the harm drugs can do—noting the huge addiction and overdose toll of opioid painkillers in the US, "all created perfectly legally." Citing examples like buprenorphine use in France, he argued that making drugs legal increases their availability, and that "Supply can produce a large and disastrous demand." He conceded Butler and Gillespie's point that most people who take drugs don't become addicted, adding, "but then 99% of drunk drivers get home perfectly safely—I know, because I've done it myself."
Audience votes were recorded before and after the debate, with a swing towards legalization seeing Butler and Gillespie declared the winners. But it felt more like a beginning than an end. With marijuana now legal in Colorado and Washington, America's drug-legalization debate is going to expand both in geography and scope. It will rarely remain this civil.
October 25, 2012
“The rich are taxed enough,” argued Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard.
The man who The New York Times called Mitt Romney’s “go-to economist” and who is considered a leading candidate to be treasury secretary in a Republican administration made his case at a debate in New York.
“Raising tax rates on the rich is both counter-productive and unnecessary to fund the government we want,” said Hubbard.
While steering clear of specifics, Hubbard told the audience at the Intelligence Squared Debate that “higher tax rates won’t necessarily produce enhancements in revenue.”
“We can and should achieve fairness and growth without taxing the rich more than they are today,” he said.
Hubbard’s somewhat dry tone was balanced by the passion of one of his debate opponents, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Speaking against the motion “the rich are taxed enough,” Reich argued called the idea “absurd.”
“The rich have done extraordinarily well but the rest haven’t,” said Reich to audience applause. “The percentage of total U.S. income of the top 1 percent has doubled in the past 30 years. Given where we are now, we shouldn’t even have this debate.”
Hubbard opposed raising tax rates for the rich but added, “We need a progressive tax system.”
“The wealthy should pay a disproportionate share of taxes,” he said.
Hubbard and his debate team colleague, Arthur Laffer, spoke out for tax reform that would lower rates but also broaden the tax base.
“We need to think about growth and fairness. Tax rates should not rise,” said Hubbard.
The United States already has one of the most progressive tax systems in the world, he argued. Comparing the U.S. economy to a tall building, Hubbard said the “lower floors are flooded” while the people in the penthouse are doing well -but “the elevator is broken.”
If the tax base were broadened with lower rates and tax reform, opportunity would be expanded and “we would get more revenues” to pay for the government,” he said.
September 13, 2012
Super-political action committees sound patriotic, as defined by David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics: “It’s Americans getting together and pooling their money to talk to other Americans.”
Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center, takes a darker view that super-PACs could hurt the country by corrupting the elected officials who benefit from their election spending.
July 04, 2012
A recent debate from Intelligence Squared U.S. examined the growing American shale gas boom and brought experts together to discuss the pros and cons of fracking.
July 02, 2012
After an Oxford-style debate Sunday night, environmental attorneys Deborah Goldberg and Katherine Hudson convinced 15 percent of the audience here to change their minds about hydraulic fracturing.
February 11, 2012
Sorry, Uncle Sam, but you’ve been benched in the fight against obesity. That’s according to the Intelligence Squared debate earlier this week, where more voters were swayed to believe that weight control is a personal decision—leaving little room for government intervention.
February 08, 2012
Last night, Intelligence Squared U.S. continued its spring 2012 season with a sold-out debate and a victory against the motion “Obesity is the Government’s Business.” In the final tally, John Stossel and Paul Campos won the Oxford style debate by convincing 16% of the audience to change their minds and oppose the motion. Overall 55% of audience members agreed that government should be involved in public health initiatives to combat obesity.
February 08, 2012
America is fat, but Americans disagree about what this means. Either the country’s obesity rates—one third of all adults are obese—are a dangerous health crisis, or they show that the nation is healthier and wealthier than ever. Either the government must act immediately to curb our waistlines, or we must act to curb our bloated government. These were the questions debated in NYU’s Skirball Center last night at the Slate/Intelligence Squared live debate, in which four health and policy experts argued the motion that “Obesity is the government’s business.”