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Intelligence Squared U.S. is the only public radio program to feature top authorities debating the day’s most pressing issues. Moderated by ABC News correspondent John Donvan, each episode brings together world thinkers, policy makers and journalists, two on two, arguing the pros and cons of cultural, domestic and foreign policy issues. Listeners weigh in and vote for a winning team. Expect ear-catching, provocative radio that enlightens, entertains and informs. More than 200 public radio stations broadcast the one-hour program.
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POLICE, RACISM: Is Policing Racially Biased?
ContentDepot and PRX Release Date: January 18, 2017
In 2014, the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, set off a wave of protests and sparked a movement targeting racial disparities in criminal justice. Since then, there have been other controversial deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement that have captured the public’s attention, from Tamir Rice, to Philando Castile. But there are some who say that these encounters, many of them recorded, have fed a narrative of biased policing that the data does not back up, vilifying people who are trying to do good in a difficult job that often puts them in harm’s way. What are the statistics, and how should we interpret them? How have recent incidents shaped our view of policing? Does crime drive law enforcement’s use of force, or is there racial bias?
CONSTITUTION: Should we call a convention to amend the Constitution?
ContentDepot and PRX Release Date: December 14, 2016
Almost everyone can think of something they would like to change in the U.S. Constitution. Some would like to update it to fit new technologies and evolving social mores. Others think the Supreme Court has illegitimately “updated” it too much already, and would like to restore its original meaning. Either way, it is always tempting to invoke Article V to amend the Constitution—to “fix" it, or “restore" it, or “improve" it. But, on the other hand, there is a substantial risk to tinkering with the Constitution: many amendments seem to have unintended consequences. And calling a convention for proposing amendments is even riskier, because it has never been done before—and it might inadvertently put the entire constitutional structure up for grabs. Is it worth the risk? Should the states call a convention to amend the Constitution?
FOREIGN POLICY: Is Obama's foreign policy a failure?
For many, Obama’s presidency will be defined by its accomplishments. Taking out Osama bin Laden, disengaging from fights in the Middle East that America cannot win, defusing the threat of a nuclear Iran, and refocusing our attention and resources to Asia, where our greatest opportunities and biggest long-term challenges are located. But for others, it has been marked by missteps and retreat—pulling back where action and leadership was needed, and presiding over policies that strengthened our adversaries and disheartened our friends. Has Obama’s foreign policy been a success?
GERRYMANDERING: Is gerrymandering destroying the political center?
It is alleged that the practice of gerrymandering—dividing election districts into units to favor a particular group—subverts democracy by making congressional districts “safe” for one party or the other. As a result, only those voting in primaries are in effect choosing our representatives. Are primary voters more extreme in their views, and therefore pulling democrats to the left and republicans to the right? Or is the impact of gerrymandering actually overblown, while other more divisive contributing factors like the emergence of ideologically charged TV and radio outlets, the role of the Internet and social network “echo chambers,” and campaign finance practices are in fact the real drivers of increasing partisanship? If gerrymandering is a major problem, is there policy or constitutional principles that might be part of the solution?
IMMIGRATION: Should we give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship?
There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and the question of what to do with them has sparked years of fierce debate, but no significant action. In 2013, the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” managed to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate, only to get it dropped by the House. And in 2016, a deadlocked Supreme Court decision stalled President Obama’s executive actions, DACA and DAPA, which would have saved 5 million from deportation. For voters, on this issue, the choice between presidential candidates could not be clearer. Should we give these immigrants a chance to earn citizenship through a process that would include paying a penalty, passing a security check, and getting in the back of the line? Or are we rewarding them for breaking the rules, and encouraging more of the same? Do they make positive contributions to the economy and complement our workforce, or do they burden taxpayers and create unwanted competition for jobs? Should we give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship?
HEALTH CARE: Is "Big Pharma" to blame for rising health care costs?
Health care costs in the U.S. are some 18 percent of GNP, nearly double what other rich countries spend. We read of drug therapies that cost $100,000 a year or more, and of drug price increases that are 6 times of the rate of inflation, on average, and often way more when mergers reduce competition in the industry. Is this a major driver of excessive health care costs? Or is it a by-product of the huge costs of getting new drugs approved? Has big pharma delivered drugs that reduce the need for costly surgeries, which extend life and improve its quality? Or do they deserve the blame that has been leveled against them?
POLITICS: Are the elites to blame for the Trump phenomenon?
The elites of both parties have expressed contempt for Donald Trump, and Trump has succeeded in part by channeling his voters’ contempt for the elites. Does support for Trump reflect an uninformed populism and misplaced anger by a large swath of the American electorate? Or have the elites failed to empathize with their struggles, and failed to craft effective policies to help them cope?
CLIMATE CHANGE: Has the EPA gone overboard?
Reducing carbon emissions is clearly good for the environment but often imposes substantial costs. The costs are most obvious when coal companies go bankrupt, but can affect everyone indirectly through higher energy costs, slower economic growth, reduced employment, and lower business profits. Has the Environmental Protection Agency considered the costs and benefits of its regulatory mandates fairly and appropriately? Is its Clean Power Plan a bold initiative to reduce carbon pollution at power plants, or an unconstitutional usurpation of power?
Has the President Usurped the Constitutional Power of Congress?
The Constitution provides that "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States," and it goes on to grant Congress a robust-and fearsome-list of powers. James Madison assumed that "[i]n republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates," and he cautioned that the legislative department may tend to "draw all power into its impetuous vortex." But modern politics and law seem to tell a quite different story. With executive orders, administrative regulations, creative interpretations of federal statutes, and executive agreements with other nations, it may seem that the President, not Congress, is, in effect, wielding the most potent legislative power. Indeed, the Supreme Court is currently poised to decide whether President Obama's unilateral immigration actions usurped Congress's power and flouted his duty to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." But some argue that this is nothing new: they say that the President is not exercising legislative power; he is simply exercising his well-established executive discretion. Is Congress still the most powerful branch, or is this the era of the imperial presidency? Has the President usurped Congress's legislative power? Presented in partnership with the National Constitution Center.
Do Hunters Conserve Wildlife?
Whether in America’s state game lands or the African bush, hunting has become one of the most hotly debated issues in the media and online. Internationally, the killing of Cecil the lion triggered a firestorm of criticism over trophy hunting rules and regulations. Central to the debate here in the U.S. is the white-tailed deer. Its overpopulation has caused millions of dollars in property damage, over browsing in forests, and the spread of Lyme disease. Many believe that regulated hunting can be an effective way to manage healthy populations of deer and other wildlife. And with the funds raised from legal hunting—the purchase of permits in Africa, licenses and taxes here in the U.S.—hunters have contributed significantly to conservation efforts on both public and private lands. But hunting’s critics question whether big game revenues really benefit local communities and whether hunting could ever be a humane way to maintain equilibrium and habitats. Is hunting wrong? Or are hunters conservationists?
Should the U.S. Eliminate Corporate Subsidies?
The auto industry, agriculture, the energy sector. What do they have in common? These industries benefit from government subsidies in the form of loans, tax breaks, regulation, and other preferences. Critics from the left and right say that not only do these subsidies transfer wealth from taxpayers to corporations, they distort the markets and our economy. Proponents say that government has an important role to play in launching innovation via strategic investment, and its support helps American companies thrive. Do we need subsidies, or is this corporate welfare?
Should We Trust the Promise of Artificial Intelligence?
As technology rapidly progresses, some proponents of artificial intelligence believe that it will help solve complex social challenges and offer immortality via virtual humans. But AI’s critics say that we should proceed with caution. That its rewards may be overpromised, and that the pursuit of superintelligence and autonomous machines may result in unintended consequences. Is this the stuff of science fiction? Should we fear AI, or will these fears prevent the next technological revolution? This event is co-presented with 92nd Street Y, a world-class cultural and community center where people all over the world connect through culture, arts, entertainment and conversation. A featured program during the 7 Days of Genius festival, a week-long inquiry into the nature of genius — what it is, why it matters and how it impacts the world.
Is Free Speech Threatened on Campus?
Protests have erupted on university campuses across the country. To many, these students are speaking out against racial injustice that has long been manifested in unwelcoming, sometimes hostile environments. But to critics, their demands have gone too far, creating an atmosphere of intolerance for opposing or unpopular points of view. Are the protestors silencing free speech, or are they just trying to be heard? And are the universities responding by defending free speech, or by suppressing it? Presented at Yale University.
Are Lifespans Long Enough?
What if we didn’t have to grow old and die? The average American can expect to live for 78.8 years, an improvement over the days before clean water and vaccines, when life expectancy was closer to 50, but still not long enough for most of us. So researchers around the world have been working on arresting the process of aging through biotechnology and finding cures to diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer. What are the ethical and social consequences of radically increasing lifespans? Should we accept a “natural” end, or should we find a cure to aging?
Should the U.S. Let in 100,000 Syrian Refugees?
Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, more than 4 million Syrians have fled the country, creating the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Most have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, but many have risked death to reach Europe and the possibility of a better life. Unlike Europe and Syria’s neighbors, the United States has had the advantage of picking and choosing from afar, taking in just over 2,000 Syrian refugees since the war’s start. The Obama administration has pledged to take another 10,000 in 2016, but there are some who suggest that we are falling well below the number that we can and should accept. What are our moral obligations, and what are the cultural, economic, and security issues that must be taken into account? Should the U.S. let in 100,000 Syrian refugees?
Does The Equal Protection Clause Forbid Racial Preferences In State University Admissions?
The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that: "No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Yet many state universities give substantial preferences to certain races in their admissions decisions. In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), the Supreme Court approved such preferences, but the case was close, and controversial, and the question will be back before the Supreme Court this term. One side may argue that these preferences level the playing field, remedy prior discrimination, and enhance diversity within the classroom, thus redeeming the true promise of equal protection. But the other may say that these preferences – in favor of some races, at the expense of others – are racial discrimination pure and simple, the precise evil that the Equal Protection Clause was intended to forbid. (Presented in partnership with the National Constitution Center.)
Can Central Banks Print Prosperity?
Central banks all around the world have been printing money. This policy, known as quantitative easing in banker jargon, has driven up the price of stocks and bonds. But will it lead to real and sustainable increases in global growth, or is it sowing the seeds of future inflation?
Do U.S. Prosecutors Have Too Much Power?
Today, a national debate rages about the functioning of our criminal justice system. Is it fair? Does it serve the ends of justice and public safety? Does it apply equally to all? Prosecutors, endowed with both autonomy and immunity, hold immense power within this system. They control secret grand jury proceedings, who will be prosecuted, and the specifics of charges. Moreover, those charges are often based on complex laws -- and enforced by long mandatory minimum prison sentences -- creating strong incentives for defendants to capitulate to lesser charges, perhaps even to crimes they did not commit. Indeed, more than 90% of both federal and state court cases never go trial, but instead are resolved through plea bargaining. Autonomy and secrecy, complex criminal code and mandatory minimums -- in combination, these factors have given prosecutors enormous leverage, and the opportunity to wield it relentlessly and selectively. The results, critics charge, are the undermining of the right to jury trial, mass incarceration, public skepticism regarding equal justice, and immense pressure on every defendant. Yet there can be no justice without empowered prosecutors. And is abuse really endemic? Isn't the national crime rate down over the long-term, showing that these powers work? And would changes reducing the leverage of prosecutors in the criminal justice system weaken their critical responsibility to prosecute crimes of great complexity, keep communities and the nation safe, and secure justice? Do prosecutors have too much power? (Presented in partnership with Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago.)
Should College Students Be Allowed to Take Smart Drugs?
If you could take a pill that would help you study and get better grades, would you? Off-label use of “smart drugs” – pharmaceuticals meant to treat disorders like ADHD, narcolepsy, and Alzheimer’s – are becoming increasingly popular among college students hoping to get ahead, by helping them to stay focused and alert for longer periods of time. But is this cheating? Should their use as cognitive enhancers be approved by the FDA, the medical community, and society at large? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? (Presented in partnership with FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.)
Should the Federal Gas Tax Be Raised to Fund Infrastructure?
The Highway Trust Fund provides funding for road, bridge, and mass transit projects across the country – and it’s running out of money. Its revenue source, the federal gas tax, at 18.4 cents a gallon, has not been raised in over two decades. Congress has been kicking this can down the road for years. There are many arguments for a leaner fund, among them, the idea that scaling back the program would force government to prioritize projects and eliminate waste. But proponents of the tax say that it still plays a vital role in supporting infrastructure, and that perpetual shortfalls have led to construction delays and uncertainty. Should Congress raise the federal gas tax?
Are China and the U.S. Long-term Enemies?
Is China’s ascendancy a threat to the U.S.? China’s rise as an economic and military power, coupled with its aggression in the South China Sea, have led some to call for a major rebalance of U.S. policy and strategy. Can China be trusted to act as a responsible global stakeholder? And will they be a long-term ally, or adversary?
Should Courts Or Campuses Decide Sexual Assault Cases?
High-profile cases have recently put campus sexual assault in the spotlight. One question that has repeatedly come up: why are these cases being handled by campuses at all? Title IX requires that every school receiving federal aid must take concrete steps to deal with hostile environments and sexual assault. This leaves colleges and universities with the task of figuring out what policies and procedures to enforce. Proponents say that campus investigations serve a real need, forcing schools to respond to violence and protecting the interests of victims in ways that the criminal justice system may fail. Can schools provide due process for defendants and adequate justice for victims, or do these cases belong in the courts?
Does the U.S. Need to Defeat ISIS, or Is Containment Enough?
In June 2014, the Sunni militant group ISIS declared that it had established a new caliphate spanning territory in Syria and Iraq. Since then, the region under its control has expanded, despite airstrikes and the deployment of U.S. military advisors, and Jihadist groups across the Muslim world have pledged their allegiance. What should the Obama administration’s next steps be? Should the U.S. goal be containment, or can ISIS be defeated?
Should States Be Required to License Same-Sex Marriages?
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides: “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” On June 26th, 2015, The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that all states are required to license same-sex marriage. This debate, held just before the ruling, has been updated to note the outcome, and gives many insights into the issues the supreme court considered while making their decision. The debaters are John Eastman, Evan Wolfson, Sherif Girgis, and Kenji Yoshino.
Is Obama’s Iran Deal Good for America?
In April 2015, the P5+1, the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, negotiated an interim nuclear accord with Iran. Among the key parameters: Iran’s enrichment capacity, enrichment levels, and stockpile would be limited; its Fordow site converted into a research center; and the Arak heavy water reactor redesigned. In return, the IAEA would gain greater access for inspections, and U.S. and EU sanctions would be lifted. Many in the U.S. fear that a deal as outlined would not go far enough and, instead of being a benefit, would strengthen Iran’s hand in the Middle East. Not to mention the important question of trust. Is this agreement a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to halt nuclear proliferation, or does President Obama have this wrong? The debaters are Philip Gordon, Thomas Pickering, Michael Doran and Mark Dubowitz.
Is Smart Technology Making Us Dumb?
Smart technology grants us unprecedented, immediate access to knowledge and to each other—a ubiquitous and seamless presence in everyday life. But is there a downside to all of this connectivity? It’s been said that smart technology creates dependency on devices, narrows our world to echo chambers, and impairs cognitive skills through shortcuts and distraction. Are smart tech devices guiding so much of our decision making that we are losing autonomy without even realizing it? Or are these concerns an overstatement of the negative effects of high-tech consumption? The debaters are Nicholas Carr, Andrew Keen, Genevieve Bell, and David Weinberger.
Should We Abolish the Death Penalty?
A recent Gallup poll found that Americans are still largely supportive of the death penalty, with 6 in 10 in favor as punishment for murder. Legal in 32 states, it has come under renewed scrutiny in light of several botched executions in 2014. At the heart of the debate are many complicated questions. Within a flawed criminal justice system, is it possible to know every person’s guilt with a sufficient degree of certainty? Does the fear of death reduce crime? Are there race and class biases in sentencing? Are some crimes so heinous in nature that punishment by death is the only appropriate measure, or is capital punishment always immoral? Should we abolish the death penalty? The debaters are Diann Rust-Tierney, Barry Scheck, Robert Blecker, and Kent Scheidegger.
Has the President Exceeded His Authority By Waging War without Congress?
The President has launched a sustained, long-term military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. But did he have constitutional power to do so? The Constitution carefully divides the war powers of the United States between Congress and the President. Article II provides that “The President shall be Commander in Chief.” But Article I provides that “The Congress shall have Power … To Declare War.” In this case, Congress has not declared war; the President ordered the attacks unilaterally. Did he exceed his authority and violate the Constitution? The debaters are Gene Healy, Deborah Pearlstein, Akhil Reed Amar, and Philip Bobbitt.