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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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?
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.)
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?
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.)
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.)
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Should the U.S. Adopt the “Right to Be Forgotten” Online?
Released March 18, 2015
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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? The debaters are Paul Nemitz, Eric Posner, Andrew McLaughlin, and Jonathan Zittrain.
Are Liberals Stifling Intellectual Diversity on Campus?
Released March 3, 2015
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What is college for? For many, it’s a time for personal and intellectual growth, to meet new people, and to explore ideas and philosophies that challenge their beliefs. Or is it? Recent cancellations of conservative speakers, rescinded honorary degrees, and scrutiny of certain campus groups have heightened perceptions that there is pervasive liberal intolerance on campuses. Are liberals shutting down speech and debate on campus? Or is this theory a myth, based on the preponderance of liberals at universities rather than intentionally discriminatory actions? The debaters are Greg Lukianoff, Kirsten Powers, Angus Johnston, and Jeremy Mayer.
Should the World Bet on America?
Released February 18, 2015
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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. 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? The debaters are Josef Joffe, Peter Zeihan, Chrystia Freeland, and James Rickards.
Is Amazon a Friend to Readers?
Released January 22, 2015
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In late 2014, Amazon and the publishing house Hachette settled a months-long dispute over who should set the price for e-books. In Amazon’s view, lower prices mean more sales and more readers, and that benefits everyone. But for publishers, the price of an e-book must reflect the investment made, from the author’s advance to a book’s production. The conflict, resolved for now, has only raised more questions about the value of books, Amazon’s business practices, and the role of publishers. The debaters are Joe Konrath, Matthew Yglesias, Franklin Foer, and Scott Turow.
SPRING 2016 RELEASE DATES
Are Lifespans Long Enough?
ContentDepot and PRX Release Date: February 10, 2016
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?
Is Free Speech Threatened on Campus?
ContentDepot and PRX Release Date: March 8, 2016
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.
Artificial Intelligence: Could the Risks Outweigh the Rewards?
ContentDepot and PRX Release Date: March 23, 2016
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 are sounding the alarm, going so far as to call its development an “existential threat” to mankind. Is this the stuff of science fiction? Could the “Terminator” become reality, 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.
Should the U.S. Eliminate Corporate Subsidies?
ContentDepot and PRX Release Date: April 13, 2016
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?
Do Hunters Conserve Wildlife?
ContentDepot and PRX Release Date: May 18, 2016
In 2014, a permit to hunt a single endangered black rhino was sold for $350,000… as part of a program to support its conservation in Namibia. Counterintuitive? Through funds raised from legal hunting—the purchase of permits in Africa, licenses and taxes here in the U.S.—, hunters contribute significantly to wildlife conservation efforts. Hunting has also become an important tool in the effort to control animal populations, to the benefit of humans and wildlife alike. But are big-game revenues really benefiting conservation and local communities? And is hunting a humane way to maintain equilibrium and habitats, or are there better alternatives?
Constitutional Debate: Topic TBD
ContentDepot and PRX Release Date: June 15, 2016
Presented in partnership with the National Constitution Center.