November 10, 2015
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.
October 27, 2015
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?
March 11, 2015
In 2014, the European Union’s Court of Justice determined that individuals have a right to be forgotten, “the right—under certain conditions—to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them.” It is not absolute, but meant to be balanced against other fundamental rights, like freedom of expression. In a half year following the Court’s decision, Google received over 180,000 removal requests. Of those reviewed and processed, 40.5% were granted. Largely seen as a victory in Europe, in the U.S., the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. Was this ruling a blow to free speech and public information, or a win for privacy and human dignity?
February 11, 2015
America owes $6 trillion to China, our sprawling military complex often appears helpless against disparate threats abroad, and the War on Terror has stripped us of the moral high ground. Washington is paralyzed by bitter partisanship, our children are falling behind their international peers, and our middle class is no longer the world’s most affluent. But we’ve been warned about America’s decline before. Remember Sputnik? Yes, times are tough, but America is recovering from the Great Recession faster than almost any other advanced country, an energy boom could add billions to the GDP, we’re still a leader in technological innovation, and our military strength and geopolitical advantages remain unrivaled. Are our best days behind us, or should the world still bet on America?
September 09, 2014
In K-12 education, there is nothing more controversial than the Common Core State Standards, national academic standards in English and math. Adopted by more than 40 states, they were developed, in part, to address concerns that American students were falling behind their foreign counterparts and graduating high school without the necessary skills for college and the workforce. But is this the reform we’ve been looking for? Has the federal government overreached and saddled our schools with standards that have been flawed from the start? Or will the Common Core raise the bar and improve the quality of our children’s education?
March 05, 2014
With the drone strike on accused terrorist and New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, President Obama has tested the limits of the executive branch’s powers. Does the president have constitutional authority under the due process clause to kill U.S. citizens abroad, or is it a violation of this clause to unilaterally decide to target and kill Americans?
February 27, 2014
Affirmative action, when used as a factor in college admissions, is meant to foster diversity and provide equal opportunities in education for underrepresented minorities. But is it achieving its stated goals and helping the population it was created to support? Its critics point to students struggling to keep up in schools mismatched to their abilities and to the fact that the policy can be manipulated to benefit affluent and middle class students who already possess many educational advantages. Is it time to overhaul or abolish affirmative action?
February 12, 2014
Has Edward Snowden done the U.S. a great service? There is no doubt that his release of highly classified stolen documents has sparked an important public debate, even forcing what could be a major presidential overhaul of the NSA’s surveillance programs. But have his actions—which include the downloading of an estimated 1.7 million files—tipped off our enemies and endangered national security? Is Snowden a whistleblower, or is he a criminal?
January 15, 2014
With the disastrous launch of the HealthCare.gov website, critics of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” were given more fuel for the fire. Is this political hot potato's inevitability once again at stake? And is the medical community really on board with the law, or resisting (rewriting?) it from the sidelines?
November 20, 2013
The NSA collects data on billions of phone calls and internet communications per day. Are these surveillance programs legal? Do they keep us safe? If not for the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, most Americans would be unaware of the vast amounts of information their government is secretly collecting, all in the name of national security. But whether you believe leakers are heroes or traitors, an important public conversation has finally begun, and we should ask ourselves: What tradeoffs are we willing to make between security and privacy?
November 14, 2013
“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” –2nd Amendment
October 30, 2013
If we value a free market in goods and free movement of capital, should we embrace the free movement of labor? Reciprocal treaties would allow citizens of the U.S. and other countries to work legally across borders. Would the elimination of barriers in the labor market depress wages and flood the marketplace with workers? Or would the benefits of a flexible labor supply be a boon to our economy, all while raising the standard of living for anyone willing to work?
October 18, 2013
While gridlock and division in Washington make it difficult for either party or ideology to set the policy agenda, single-party government prevails in three-quarters of the states. In 24 states Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the legislature, and in 13 states Democrats enjoy one-party control. Comparing economic growth, education, health care, quality of life and environment, and the strength of civil society, do red or blue states win out?
April 03, 2013
The first attempt at establishing a national minimum wage, a part of 1933’s sweeping National Industrial Recovery Act, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1935. But in 1938, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law a minimum hourly wage of 25 cents—$4.07 in today’s dollars. Three-quarters of a century later, we are still debating the merits of this cornerstone of the New Deal. Do we need government to ensure a decent paycheck, or would low-wage workers and the economy be better off without its intervention?
March 13, 2013
It’s often taken for granted that America needs a strong dollar. When the value of the U.S. dollar is strong relative to other currencies, it becomes attractive to investors and allows Americans to buy foreign goods and services cheaply. But in times of recession, are we better off with a weak dollar that stimulates U.S. manufacturing by making our goods cheaper and more competitive? Or will the loss of purchasing power and currency manipulation abroad, offset the potential gains?
November 14, 2012
It was 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs." $2.5 trillion dollars later, drug use is half of what it was 30 years ago, and thousands of offenders are successfully diverted to treatment instead of jail. And yet, 22 million Americans-9% of the population-still uses illegal drugs, and with the highest incarceration rate in the world, we continue to fill our prisons with drug offenders. Decimated families and communities are left in the wake. Is it time to legalize drugs or is this a war that we're winning?
October 23, 2012
How do we fix the economy? The U.S. government's budget deficit is nearing a trillion dollars for the fourth straight year and unemployment remains high. With the Bush-era tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of 2012, what is the best move for continued economic recovery? President Obama says we should raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 to reduce the deficit. Others say that the richest 1% already pay more than a quarter of all federal taxes and higher taxes for job creators would slow economic growth. Are the nation's wealthiest not paying their "fair share," or should tax breaks be extended for everyone in the name of job creation?
October 10, 2012
PRESENTED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH CHICAGO IDEAS WEEKJust because we can extend life, should we? The U.S. is expected to spend $2.8 trillion on health care in 2012. Medicare alone will cost taxpayers $590 billion, with over 25% going toward patients in their last year of life. If health care is a scarce resource, limited by its availability and our ability to pay for it, should government step in to ration care, deciding whose life is worth saving? In other words, how much is an extra month of life worth?
September 13, 2012
The product of two court decisions, Citizens United and SpeechNow.org v. FEC, Super PAC spending is on course to make 2012 the most expensive presidential election in history. These supercharged political action committees may spend and receive unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, and unions to advocate for political candidates, as long as they are independent of the candidates' campaigns. How have Super PACs changed the political landscape? Are they good for democracy?
June 30, 2012
Natural gas, touted for its environmental, economic, and national security benefits, is often thought of as the fuel that will “bridge” our transition from oil and coal to renewables. The ability to extract natural gas from shale formations through a method called hydraulic fracturing has unleashed vast, untapped sources—by some estimates, the U.S. now sits on a 100-year supply. But contamination from toxic chemicals used in the fracking process has been the source of increasing health and environmental concerns. Can natural gas be part of a clean energy solution, or is it a dangerous roadblock to a fossil-free future?
February 06, 2012
With 33% of adults and 17% of children obese, the U.S. is facing an obesity epidemic. A major risk factor for expensive, chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, it costs our health care system nearly $150 billion a year.
October 25, 2011
For many Americans, unemployment is at the top of that list. In the face of a double-dip recession and an unprecedented long-term unemployment rate, President Obama unveiled the American Jobs Act before Congress. His plan? Lower the unemployment rate and stimulate the economy with $447 billion in employer tax breaks, jobless reintegration, state aid, and infrastructure projects, to be paid for with taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Will this plan bring a fast, effective boost to the job market, or will higher taxes punish job creators and sink us further into debt?
October 04, 2011
Commitments made to seniors decades ago failed to foresee the harsh economic realities of the present. Do entitlements saddle our children with unmanageable debt, asking them to sacrifice their future for the sake of the elderly? Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were created to provide a social safety net. But if we cut these programs, are we balancing the budget on the backs of the aged and sick, leaving behind society’s most vulnerable?
June 08, 2011
Description: The First Amendment protects freedom of the press, but how do we reconcile the conflict between national security and accountability? Do we err on the side of secrecy or transparency? From the Pentagon Papers to WikiLeaks, join the debate between the need for government secrecy and the public’s right to know. PLUS: Attend the debate and see the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times for FREE! Present your June 8 debate ticket stub at the Film Society of Lincoln Center box office to see the film free of charge. Opens June 17, 2011. *Please note that seating is not guaranteed if sold out.
May 03, 2011
America, built up by the hard work of its immigrants, now finds itself home to an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. The federal government, even under the reform-friendly tenure of President George W. Bush, has been unable to find the consensus to overhaul our country’s immigration laws. Both the Dream Act and an Arizona statute requiring police officers to detain anyone they suspect to be illegal, has brought the debate back to the forefront of national politics. Are immigrants taking American jobs, or, does immigration help our economy? Is there any difference between low-skilled and highly-skilled immigrants, and, if so, is it time to honor this distinction?
March 08, 2011
To drag our economy out of the biggest crisis since the Great Depression, America needs another moon shot. Can the investment of billions into the clean energy sector trigger the creation of millions of jobs and innovation? Or would we simply be pumping dollars into the myth of a green economy?
January 11, 2011
In March 2010 President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act, the biggest overhaul of our health care system in decades. According to a November poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 40 percent of the public would like Congress to expand the new health reform law or leave it as is, while 49 percent are in favor of repealing all or parts of it. Can the new law reduce the deficit and expand coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, or, as its critics warn, will it actually increase the deficit and fail to control costs that are spiraling out of control?
November 22, 2010
On Christmas Day, 2009, twenty-three-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 using explosives hidden in his underwear. A string of missed opportunities and errors by government security agencies culminated in what President Obama would declare a “systemic failure.” Is scanning everyone with expensive, high-tech equipment the best use of limited resources? Or should we use the information that we have—the knowledge that, while not all Muslims are terrorists, most terrorists are Muslim.
October 26, 2010
Just about everyone has a reason to question how the size of our government affects America’s financial and political future. Is government intervention in everything from economic policy to health care rewarding the “takers,” and not the “makers,” stifling innovators, entrepreneurs and business owners? Or has government done too little to support the growing poor and rapidly shrinking middle class?
January 19, 2010
California tried. And then it failed. Uniquely charged by its constitution to guarantee the “happiness” of its residents – the state empowered its people to demand by referendum whatever they wanted to spend money on – from better schools to bigger prisons and to refuse by referendum to pay the bills. A legislature paralyzed by the absence of a workable middle – and a requirement for a 2/3 vote to impose taxes – combined finally to dig the state into a possibly inescapable hole. Having now earned the lowest bond rating of any of the 50 states, the rates it pays to borrow keep getting higher. Yet borrowing seems to be all California can do to get through from day to day. That is what is known as The Road to Bankruptcy. “Happiness” thus engineered is doomed to collapse. The question is whether California is a special case–with a uniquely dysfunctional political culture–or a bellwether of failure soon to come to other high-spending states near you.