Michael Stern

Michael Stern, a Palo Alto lawyer and independent filmmaker, is the chair of the Prospect's board of directors.  

Recent Articles

‘We Can Change the World. Let Me Show You How.’

A tale of technological utopianism versus movement politics

(General Magic, Tribeca Film Festival)
I spent the last five years working (as an executive producer and original story team member) on a feature documentary about a fabled—and doomed—Silicon Valley startup, where I was the general counsel. Our company was named General Magic. It was spun out of Apple in 1990 to create the next big thing after the Macintosh, a mobile intelligent personal communicator—or what we would today call a smartphone. Magic built an alliance of multinational consumer electronics giants and major national telephone companies to make compatible devices and host them on an interlinked global voice, email, and data service. After raising $100 million from its partners, it went public in early 1995 despite not yet having any revenue, let alone profits, and raised another $100 million. Magic’s hardware partners finally shipped devices that could communicate rich multimedia content anywhere, anytime, but they bombed—a classic case of an idea being too far ahead of its time...

Report from the Field: The Rust Belt’s Blues Turn It Red

In one Ohio Rust Belt town, energy flagged among Hillary Clinton volunteers in the weeks leading up to Election Day, offering a glimpse into the enthusiasm gap that did her in.

(Photo: AP/John Minchillo)
Mansfield, a former industrial town midway between Cleveland and Columbus, is the archetypal Rust Belt city, the heart of Trump country, and the epicenter of what went wrong for Hillary Clinton on November 8. Founded in 1808, the town was rescued from marauding Indians during the War of 1812 by Johnny Appleseed, who ran barefoot through the woods for 22 miles to the nearest militia garrison for help. (Like Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s senior U.S. senator, I’m a proud graduate of Johnny Appleseed Junior High.) But there has been no rescue here from the forces of deindustrialization and immiseration that have swept through the Midwest since the 1970s. When I was growing up in Mansfield the 1950s, it was a bustling manufacturing center and rail hub. Making things was the basis of its prosperous economy. The ARMCO steel mill, founded in 1914, was running at full capacity. The Westinghouse plant had nearly 8,000 employees—half the town’s total workforce—making...

Like Being “Buried Alive”: Charles Dickens on Solitary Confinement in America’s Prisons

In 1842 Dickens wrote a scathing critique of solitary confinement in America. Nearly two centuries later, little has changed. 

Pascal Parrot/Sipa USA/AP Images
More than 170 years before Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy denounced the “human toll” of solitary confinement practices in U.S. prisons in his concurring opinion in Davis v. Ayala this June (see “ Eight Principles for Reforming Solitary Confinement ” in the Fall 2015 issue of the Prospect ), Charles Dickens had reached the same conclusion. The system of “rigid, strict, solitary confinement” is cruel and wrong,” he wrote in American Notes , his 1842 report on his travels in America that year. When Dickens visited the United States, he was already a giant celebrity and media mogul, the most widely read writer in English on both sides of the Atlantic, the creator of a new form of publishing (cheap, serialized novels affordable by working people) and a new mass audience of newly schooled, newly literate working class readers. He was eager to visit the bustling democracy that he imagined was free of the vices of England’s class system...