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New York Times Opinion presents
Strongly-held opinions. Open-minded debates. A weekly ideas show, hosted by Jane Coaston.
July 21, 2021
No, But Really. Should We Contact Aliens?
With the U.S. government puzzling over U.F.O.s, and potentially habitable exoplanets in our telescopes, earthlings are closer than ever to finding other intelligent life in the universe. So the existential question is: Should we try to communicate with whatever we think might be out there? That’s the argument this week between Douglas Vakoch and Michio Kaku. Vakoch, the president of the research and educational nonprofit METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International, has dedicated his life’s work to intentionally broadcasting messages beyond our solar system. Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York and a co-founder of string field theory, thinks reaching out to unknown aliens is a catastrophically bad idea and “would be the biggest mistake in human history.”
July 14, 2021
Joe Biden and the Communion Wars
Could the Catholic Church pressure a politician into changing his or her stance on abortion? A debate has erupted in the Catholic community over whether a politician, like President Joe Biden, should be denied communion for supporting abortion rights. This week, Jane Coaston debates the pros and cons of using communion as punishment with Ross Douthat, a Times Opinion columnist, and Heidi Schlumpf, the executive editor of National Catholic Reporter.
July 7, 2021
Sway: Exercise, and Accept Your 'Inevitable Demise'
We're off this week! So we're bringing you an episode of another great Times Opinion podcast, Sway. The fitness industry has exploded into a nearly $100 billion sector, and Alison Bechdel is among the exercise-obsessed. Bechdel, the cartoonist whose comic strip inspired the Bechdel Test for female representation in Hollywood, says she has found transcendence in everything from yoga and karate to weight lifting and biking. Her new book, “The Secret to Superhuman Strength,” examines the exercise craze, and what it exposes about our attitudes around self-care, the booming fitness economy and even our mortality. In this conversation, Kara Swisher and Bechdel discuss the evolution of workout culture (“yoga boom” included), the politics of art (especially during the Trump era) and how mainstream cultural norms have finally caught up to, as Bechdel puts it, “where lesbians were back in the ’80s.”
June 30, 2021
Is Fox News Really All That Powerful?
Sometimes, it takes just one tweet to spark a debate. This month, the journalist Matt Taibbi suggested that the “financial/educational/political elite” hold real influence in America — not Fox and its viewers. According to Taibbi, America is controlled by the sensibilities of the few — especially those who run tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter. But where does that leave politicians, or the media, in the struggle for power in America? This week, Jane Coaston debates who’s really wielding power in America right now and to what ends, with Matt Taibbi, author of several books, including “Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another,” and writer of the newsletter “TK News”; and Michelle Cottle, a member of the Times editorial board.
June 23, 2021
Not Everyone Is Worried About America's Falling Birth Rates
U.S. birthrates have fallen by 4 percent, hitting a record low. And it’s not just America — people around the world are having fewer children, from South Korea to South America. In some ways, this seems inevitable. From an economic standpoint, there’s the expensive trio of child rearing, education and health care in America. From a cultural perspective, women have more financial and societal independence, delaying the age of childbirth. What might be troubling are the consequences on our future economy and what an older population might mean for Social Security. This week, Jane Coaston talks to two demographers who have differing levels of worry about the news of our falling birthrate. Lyman Stone is the director of research at the consulting firm Demographic Intelligence, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, a Robert Novak Journalism fellow and a Ph.D. student in population dynamics at McGill University. Caroline Hartnett is a demographer and an associate professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina. You can listen to this episode of “The Argument” on Apple, Spotify or Google or wherever you get your podcasts. A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.
June 17, 2021
Trevor Noah: ‘We Live in a World Where Having a Conversation Is Punished’
In this bonus episode of “The Argument,” Jane Coaston has an extended chat with the late-night host Trevor Noah. They discuss taking on the mantle of “The Daily Show” from Jon Stewart, cancel culture and why you can’t take old jokes out of the context of the society in which they were made.
June 16, 2021
Should It Be This Hard to Sue the Police and Win?
One of the strongest calls for police reform is to end a legal doctrine called qualified immunity. Advocates for change argue it would be one of the most immediate ways to hold officers more accountable for their actions. But critics say it would leave police vulnerable when they’re faced with life-threatening situations. Qualified immunity protects government officials from some lawsuits if they violate a person’s constitutional rights in the course of their duties. If you’ve heard of police officers getting away with unconstitutional behavior and wondered how, it might have been because they had qualified immunity. This week, Jane Coaston talks to two lawyers who strongly disagree about whether qualified immunity needs to go. Lenny Kesten is a leading defender of police officers with Brody Hardoon Perkins & Kesten, and Easha Anand is the Supreme Court and appellate counsel for the MacArthur Justice Center.
June 9, 2021
Whose Pride Is It Anyway?
It’s Pride Month, which means cities across the country will be having parades and other festivities, albeit scaled-down versions. In New York and several other cities, parade organizers have said uniformed police officers may not march as a group. Organizers say the move acknowledges that a Pride march isn’t just a celebration and that it began as a statement about police violence against L.G.B.T.Q. people at the Stonewall Inn. This week, Jane Coaston speaks to André Thomas, a co-chair of NYC Pride, which organizes the parade, and Brian Downey, a New York Police Department detective and the president of the Gay Officers Action League.
June 2, 2021
Could Spilling Big Pharma’s Secrets Vaccinate the World?
Just 12.5 percent of the world has been inoculated against Covid-19. To protect every country from the pandemic, regardless of economic level, there are many approaches global leaders could take. But they have to act fast. In this state of planetary emergency, should pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines be forced to break their patents? Is that the best or fastest way to get lower-income countries to catch up with vaccination rates? Weighing the pros and cons of a vaccine intellectual property waiver with Jane Coaston this week is Rachel Silverman, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, and Tahir Amin, a co-founder and co-executive director of I-MAK, the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge.
May 26, 2021
'Republicans Are Very, Very Close to Driving Democracy Into a Ditch'
The clock is ticking for President Biden. He’s got a choice to make: compromise with Republicans or forgo them to push his agenda through with fellow Democrats. He has emphasized bipartisanship, but we’re now just days away from his self-imposed deadline of Memorial Day to strike a deal with Republicans on his infrastructure package. While negotiations continue, the parties are deadlocked on the size of the bill. It’s perhaps not surprising, given that this month the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said that “100 percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.” This week, host Jane Coaston is joined by two people who disagree on whether Biden’s push for bipartisanship is the right move. Jason Grumet is the founder and president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Aaron Belkin is the director of Take Back the Court, which advocates expanding the Supreme Court.
May 19, 2021
Does Teaching America It’s Racist Make It Less Racist?
Who would have guessed that a school of thought from the 1970s could cause controversy in a handful of states among politicians, on school boards and in college classrooms in 2021? Critical race theory originated as a way of examining racism within the structures of American society. But now, for some it is synonymous with school curriculums and workplace diversity training. It has also become the battleground for a new culture war between conservatives and liberals who disagree on how helpful or harmful these teachings are. This week, Jane Coaston talks to John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University who has written extensively on race and language, and Michelle Goldberg, an Opinion columnist at The New York Times. Mentioned in this episode: “Why the Right Loves Public School Culture Wars” and “The Campaign to Cancel Wokeness” by Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. “How the N-Word Became Unsayable” by John McWhorter in The New York Times. “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, published in 2001. “Faces at the Bottom of the Well” by Derrick Bell, published in 1992.
May 12, 2021
Is This the Year D.C. Becomes a State?
The District of Columbia can almost taste statehood. Last month, House Democrats passed a bill that would make it the 51st state. This is the second time in history that such a legislation has been passed in the House. But it’s not only a question of representation: Making D.C. a state would add two probably Democratic senators and one Democratic representative, at a time when Democrats could use all the votes they can get. And Republicans aren’t willing to give in that easily. This week, we’re debating the future of D.C. and the trade-offs of potential statehood. Dan McLaughlin is senior writer for National Review and a former attorney. George Derek Musgrove is an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a co-author of “Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital.” Mentioned in this episode: “The District of Columbia Should Not Be a State,” by Dan McLaughlin in National Review “The 51st State America Needs,” by George Derek Musgrove and Chris Myers Asch in The New York Times “The 51st State?” on the “Today, Explained” podcast by Vox.
May 5, 2021
Grading Biden on the F.D.R. Curve
If you’re fully vaccinated, you might give President Biden an A-plus on his first 100 days. But how’s he doing on everything else? A president’s first 100 days are considered a major milestone. Franklin D. Roosevelt came out with legislation that became part of his New Deal. Lyndon B. Johnson started a war on poverty. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and Donald Trump, what can we expect from the rest of Biden’s presidency? This week, Jane Coaston talks to two progressives who have different takeaways: Anand Giridharadas, author of The Ink newsletter and “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” and Osita Nwanevu, writer at The New Republic. Mentioned in this episode: “Joe Biden Isn’t Close to Being a Historic President Yet,” by Osita Nwanevu in The New Republic. “Welcome to the New Progressive Era,” by Anand Giridharadas in The Atlantic.
April 28, 2021
Police Reform Is Coming. What Should It Look Like?
Derek Chauvin has been found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. But whatever bittersweet feelings the rare outcome elicited were short-lived, since instances of police brutality compound almost daily. There’s no debate: Policing is broken in America. But how do we fix it? To answer that question, Jane brings together a round table to debate solutions ranging from modernizing training, stronger ties between police misconduct and financial culpability, and divesting from policing to invest in community-based services. Joining Jane is Randy Shrewsberry, a former police officer and the executive director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform; Rashawn Ray, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and a David M. Rubenstein fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution; and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, a leader in the Movement for Black Lives and an executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee.
April 21, 2021
Should America Go Nuclear?
President Biden has set an ambitious goal for the United States to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Achieving it means weaning the country off fossil fuels and using more alternative energy sources like solar and wind. But environmentalists disagree about whether nuclear power should be part of the mix. Todd Larsen, executive co-director for consumer and corporate engagement at Green America and Meghan Claire Hammond, senior fellow at the Good Energy Collective, a policy research organization focusing on new nuclear technology, join Jane Coaston to debate whether nuclear power is worth the risks. And then the Times columnist Bret Stephens joins Jane to talk about why he thinks America needs a liberal party.
April 14, 2021
Why the Anti-Abortion Side Will Lose, Even if It Wins
The Supreme Court — and its post-Trump conservative majority — is currently deciding whether to take up a case that could be the final blow to Roe v. Wade. Overturning Roe, the 48-year-old decision protecting the right to an abortion in America, would leave abortion regulation up to the states. But some abortion opponents think that’s not far enough and are pushing the movement to change its focus to securing a 14th Amendment declaration of fetal personhood. Ross Douthat wrote about the diverging anti-abortion movement and why both factions are doomed to fail as long as the movement is shackled to a Republican Party that refuses to enact public policy to help struggling families. Michelle Goldberg wrote a response column to Ross’s, claiming his argument was a fallacy. To bring their dueling columns to life, Jane Coaston brought the two writers together to debate the future of abortion protection and restriction in America. Referenced in this episode: Ross’s Sunday Review column “What Has the Pro-Life Movement Won?” Michelle’s responding column, “The Authoritarian Plan for a National Abortion Ban” John Finnis’s article in the Catholic journal “First Things,” “Abortion Is Unconstitutional” Emma Green’s article in “The Atlantic” “The Anti-Abortion-Rights Movement Prepares to Build a Post-Roe World” “Defenders of the Unborn” by Daniel K. Williams Share your arguments with us: We want to hear what you’re arguing about with your family, your friends and your frenemies. Leave us a voice mail message at (347) 915-4324. We may use excerpts from your audio in a future episode. You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Argument" at nytimes.com/the-argument, and you can find Jane on Twitter @janecoaston. “The Argument” is produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez and Vishakha Darbha and edited by Alison Bruzek and Paula Szuchman; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair; music and sound design by Isaac Jones.
April 7, 2021
The Reality of Vaccine Passports
More than 19 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and upward of 665 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide. As these numbers continue to rise, countries have begun issuing or considering “vaccine passports.” Vaccine passports — proof through a phone app or on a piece of paper that you’ve had your shots — are a potential ticket to freedom for millions of vaccinated people around the world. Israel already has them. The European Union and China have also announced a version of them. In the United States, there’s talk about what such a certification might look like. But vaccine passports also raise huge ethical questions, with 85 percent of shots worldwide having been administered in wealthier countries. And with private tech companies working on creating these passports in the United States, there’s worry about the risks of sharing health records with third-party apps. Both Texas and Florida have prohibited government-mandated vaccine passports. On today’s episode, our guests debate the concept of a vaccine passport and discuss the ethical and privacy considerations that come along with them. Natalie Kofler is a molecular biologist and bioethicist at Harvard Medical School. Ramin Bastani is the founder and chief executive of Healthvana, a patient platform that delivers test results and is supplying vaccine passports. He says we should think of them more like an everyday health record. Then, we turn to listener voice mail messages as they share their thoughts on the reopening of schools. Referenced in this episode: “Vaccine Passports Won’t Get us Out of the Pandemic,” in The Times. “Vaccinated Workers Are Getting Benefits That Those Without Covid Shots Won’t,” in Bloomberg, about vaccine passports in Israel. WBUR’s episode on the pros and cons of vaccine passports. Share your arguments with us: We want to hear what you’re arguing about with your family, your friends and your frenemies. Leave us a voice mail message at (347) 915-4324. We may use excerpts from your audio in a future episode. You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Argument" at nytimes.com/the-argument, and you can find Jane on Twitter @janecoaston. “The Argument” is produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez and Vishakha Darbha and edited by Alison Bruzek and Paula Szuchman; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair; music and sound design by Isaac Jones.
March 31, 2021
What's Wrong With Our Hate Crime Laws?
This month a gunman killed eight people at three Atlanta-area spas, including six women of Asian descent. Authorities say it’s too early to declare the attacks a hate crime. Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws on the books, designed to add further penalties for perpetrators whose biases led to their crime. But the recent mass shooting has prompted the question of when a crime is called a hate crime and who decides. It’s also unclear whether charging someone with a hate crime is the best answer we have as a society for punishing people who commit these kinds of crimes. On this episode of “The Argument,” we discuss whether hate crime laws are working and what our other options are, with Kevin Nadal, professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Steven Freeman, vice president for civil rights at the Anti-Defamation League. Referenced in this episode: Anti-Defamation League’s “Introduction to Hate Crime Laws” N.A.A.C.P.’s state-by-state database of hate crime laws Sarah Lustbader’s article “More Hate Crime Laws Would Not Have Prevented the Monsey Hannukkah Attack” in The Appeal. Share your arguments with us: We want to hear what you’re arguing about with your family, your friends and your frenemies. Leave us a voice mail message at (347) 915-4324. We may use excerpts from your audio in a future episode. You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Argument" at nytimes.com/the-argument, and you can find Jane on Twitter @janecoaston. “The Argument” is produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez and Vishakha Darbha and edited by Alison Bruzek and Paula Szuchman; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair; music and sound design by Isaac Jones.
March 24, 2021
Is It Time to Cancel Cancel Culture?
Whether it’s Mr. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss or Roseanne, allegations of cancel culture seem to have a regular spot among the trending topics of the internet. Almost every other week, someone’s cancellation becomes the subject of prominent discussion on Twitter, Substack and cable news. Yet its exact meaning is up for debate. What counts as a cancellation? Who gets to decide? On today’s episode, we argue over what being canceled means and if it’s time to get rid of the idea entirely. Robby Soave, a senior editor for Reason, has been sounding the alarm about cancel culture. And he wrote a piece about our other guest, Will Wilkinson, titled “Cancel Culture Comes for Will Wilkinson.” Wilkinson was arguably canceled after he wrote a tweet that led to his firing from the Niskanen Center, where he was the vice president for research. But he thinks the label of cancel culture is misleading, even when it’s used in his defense. Referenced in this episode: Read Will Wilkinson’s “Undefined Cancel Game” at his Substack. Robby Soave in Reason: “Cancel Culture Comes for Will Wilkinson” Share your arguments with us: We want to hear what you’re arguing about with your family, your friends and your frenemies. Leave us a voice mail message at (347) 915-4324. We may use excerpts from your audio in a future episode. You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Argument" at nytimes.com/the-argument, and you can find Jane on Twitter @janecoaston. “The Argument” is produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez and Vishakha Darbha and edited by Alison Bruzek and Paula Szuchman; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair; music and sound design by Isaac Jones.
March 17, 2021
To Fight Poverty, Raise the Minimum Wage? Or Abolish It?
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn’t changed since 2009. Workers in 21 states make the federal floor, which can be even lower for people who make tips. And at $7.25 an hour, a person working full time with a dependent is making below the federal poverty line. States such as California, Florida, Illinois and Massachusetts have approved gradual minimum wage increases to reach $15 an hour — so is it time to do it at the federal level? On Wednesday 20 senators from both parties are set to meet to discuss whether to use their influence on minimum wage legislation. Economists have argued for years about the consequences of the hike, saying employers who bear the costs would be forced to lay off some of the very employees the minimum wage was intended to support. A report by the Congressional Budget Office on a proposal to see $15 by 2025 estimates the increase would move 900,000 people out of poverty — and at the same time cut 1.4 million jobs. On today’s episode, we debate the fight for $15 with two people who see things very differently. Saru Jayaraman is the president of One Fair Wage and the director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Jeffrey Miron is a senior lecturer in the department of economics at Harvard University and the director of economic studies at the Cato Institute. Referenced in this episode: The Congressional Budget Office’s February 2021 report on the budgetary effects of the Raise the Wage Act of 2021. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ April 2020 report “Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers.” Share your arguments with us: We want to hear what you’re arguing about with your family, your friends and your frenemies. Leave us a voice mail message at (347) 915-4324. We may use excerpts from your audio in a future episode. You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Argument" at nytimes.com/the-argument, and you can find Jane on Twitter @janecoaston. “The Argument” is produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez and Vishakha Darbha and edited by Alison Bruzek and Paula Szuchman; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; music and sound design by Isaac Jones.