America’s Unwritten Constitution

October 29th, 2012

Perhaps more than at any other time in the history of the world, democracy is on the march. But the idea that people, individual citizens could engage in the practice of self government wasn't always so. In fact, it was only with the creation of our constitution, launched 225 years ago, that the idea was even appropriately articulated.

But that constitution as brilliant and profound and clever as it was, was not the be all and end all of democracy. It was a starting point from which we would develop laws, establish precedent, and nourish institutions which would provide the foundations of self government. Those things have grown to become, what Akhil Amar, the Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale, calls America's Unwritten Constitution.
My conversation with Akhil Amar:

The New Global Elite

October 25th, 2012

It was Scott Fitzgerald who said that "the rich are different than you and me." Today that difference goes a lot deeper. The very rich are very different! And that difference, that gap, is coming to define the future of America and of democracy.

Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandies got it exactly right when he said "you can have large amounts of money in the hands of the very few, or you can have democracy. You can’t have both."

Thompson Reuters digital editor Chrystia Freeland looks at this growing gap in Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else

My conversation with Chrystia Freeland:

American movies and the Cold War

October 24th, 2012

This week we mark what was arguably the height of the Cold War, in the 50 anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis.   That Cold War would, for years, permeate every aspect of our culture. The paranoia and anxiety of the period was perhaps most notably reflected in our films, and the divisions of the of the time were part and parcel of the industry that produced them.

One of our nations most distinguished film critics, J Hoberman looks at this connection between American movies and the Cold War in his new book An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War.

My conversation with J. Hoberman:


October 22nd, 2012

Creative destruction, while it may destroy and reshape individual companies, is an ongoing process. We all remember the earliest days of pay-per-view movies, which begat home video and the VCR, which gave rise to quaint local video stores, which gave us Blockbuster, which gave us Hollywood Video. Then the DVD made those spaces even more abundant. And then Netflix made video rental even easier. No late fees, door to door service and curation.

Now it seems Netflix is under siege. Digital delivery has replaced the DVD rental model and we’ll see how all this plays out.   Taking a look at this emblematic history is journalist Gina Keating, author of the much talked about book Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America's Eyeballs
My conversation with Gina Keating:

Obama v. Roberts

October 19th, 2012

We are reminded every day how polarized our politics have become. The gap between the Republican and Democratic parties is wider than ever. The lack of bipartisanship is not because we have leaders of ill will, but because the gap in ideas and vision has become so wide.

This is reflected in our elections, in our news, in Congress and in the Supreme Court of the United States. Barack Obama, our 44th President and John Roberts, our 17th Chief Justice personify the apex of that divide.

This is the back drop for Jeffrey Toobin's new book The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court.My conversation with Jeffrey Toobin:

Strom Thurmond’s America

October 15th, 2012

The longest serving US Senator from South Carolina made a career out of what he called “unreconstructed racism.” Arguing in a 1948 presidential campaign speech, that "there are not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation,” but segregation did change, as did Thurmond.

When we look at the Republican party today we see that it has changed greatly in the past 50 years, particularly in the south and sun belt. Many of us attribute much of this to Nixon's “southern strategy.” But it was only after his death that the full complexity emerged about Thurmond’s role in creating what is, for better or worse, today's Republican party.

Joseph Crespino looks at all of this in his new look at Thurmond in Strom Thurmond's America

My conversation with Joseph Crespino:

Progress in a Networked Age

October 8th, 2012

We are all part of networks. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram. All bring people together to share news, opinions and life. But in all this excitement about social networks, are we missing something?  Why aren’t we using them to better decipher our collective national temperature and to better understand, appreciate and help each other? Rather than the “long tail” of technology pulling us apart as some claim, perhaps it really is the key to bringing us together. Perhaps only by using networks and crowdsourcing to bring us closer together, can we really see the gulf between us.

Steven B. Johnson, author of WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM, points to the power of these peer networks in his new book Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age.

My conversation with Steven Johnson:

What’s the Matter with White People?

October 2nd, 2012

Back in 1980 Ronald Reagan rode into office on the strength of what were then called “Reagan Democrats.” Blue collar, less educated, middle class workers who, until Reagan, were part of the New Deal coalition.

Today, many of these voters are lost to the Democrats. And while President Obama certainly has done better with them than Al Gore or John Kerry, the culture war issues and the societal changes that they reflect, continue to drive a wedge between those voters and the Democratic party.

Joan Walsh, editor at large for, and an MSNBC political analyst looks at this changing political landscape in What's the Matter with White People: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was.

My conversation with Joan Walsh:

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