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Jon Wiener

Contributing Editor

Jon Wiener is host and producer of “Start Making Sense,” The Nation’s weekly podcast. He teaches US history at UC Irvine, and his most recent book is How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America. He sued the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act for its files on John Lennon. With the help of the ACLU of Southern California, Wiener v. FBI went all the way to the Supreme Court before the FBI settled in 1997. That story is told in Wiener’s book, Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files; some of the pages of the Lennon FBI file are posted here. The story is also told in the documentary, “The U.S. Versus John Lennon,” released in 2006.  His work has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Republic, and the Los Angeles Times. It has been translated into Japanese, German, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Italian.

Wiener also hosts a weekly afternoon drive-time interview show on KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles His guests have included Gail Collins, Jane Mayer, Joan Didion, Gore Vidal, Barbara Ehrenreich, Frank Rich, Seymour Hersh, Amos Oz, Mike Davis, Elmore Leonard, John Dean, Julian Bond, Al Franken, and Terry Gross.

Jon Wiener was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and attended Central High School there. He has a B.A. from Princeton and a Ph.D. from Harvard, where he began working as a writer in the late sixties for the underground paper The Old Mole. He lives in Los Angeles.


  • December 2, 2009

    From Grant Park to Afghanistan: Obama’s Defining Moment

    When Barack Obama gave his victory speech on election night last November, he picked Chicago's Grant Park – the legendary site of the battle between anti-war demonstrators and Chicago cops during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. According to campaign manager David Axelrod, Obama chose Grant Park to "symbolically overcome the damage done to American idealism forty years before."

    In 1968, Grant Park had dramatized the fratricidal split between Democrats over Vietnam. On the night of Nov. 4, 2008, Obama was suggesting all that had come to an end. The party was united and victorious.

    But Obama's speech tonight at West Point, announcing the escalation of the American war in Afghanistan, raised anew the specter of Grant Park in 1968. Once again a Democratic president is making a deeper commitment to an unwinnable war.

    Jon Wiener

  • Science and Health November 14, 2009

    Water on the Moon — and Money for NASA

    "Water found on the moon," the headlines said – water that "could be used for drinking," the LA Times reported, possibly enough for "future astronauts to live off the land." The "water" that was "found," however, consisted of 25 gallons. The average American uses about 80 gallons of water per day, according to the US Geological Survey. But most of that is for flushing the toilet and taking showers. If the astronauts used lunar "water" only for drinking, and if three astronauts each drank six eight-ounce glasses per day, they would drink the 25 gallons in about three weeks. There would be a problem, however. NASA didn't find one big frozen puddle – their spectrometers identified dust that suggested water molecules were "likely to be mixed in with the soil." Getting the H2O out of the frozen soil would take energy and equipment. Maybe it would be easier for our people to bring their own water.

    Jon Wiener

  • November 2, 2009

    Berlin, Israel, Mexico: Walls Across the World

    It's being called "the most ambitious commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany": "The Wall Project" in Los Angeles -- and its political message will surprise many. Artists commissioned by the organizers have promised works that draw analogies between the Berlin Wall and the wall the Israelis have erected along the border with the West Bank, and the wall the US has erected along the Mexican border.

    That's not exactly the sort of thing Ronald Reagan had in mind when he stood in Berlin in 1989 and said "Tear down this wall!"

    LA's Berlin Wall anniversary commemoration has been organized by the Wende Museum, a private institution in Culver City, with the support of the City of L.A. It includes "The Wall Across Wilshire," a one-hour event on November 8 at which a replica of the Berlin Wall 60 feet long will be erected blocking Wilshire Blvd. in front of the County Museum of Art at midnight.

    Jon Wiener

  • September 25, 2009

    U of Cal Budget Protests Draw Thousands

    Thursday was a "Day of Action" against draconian budget cuts at the University of California campuses, and thousands of people rallied in protest at all ten campuses. At UC Berkeley, 5,000 students and workers, along with many faculty members, rallied at noon. At the same hour at UCLA, 700 students and workers and a few faculty members gathered at Bruin Plaza. And 500 rallied at UC Irvine, which Time magazine described as "normally placid."

    The normally placid UC Irvine is where I teach.

    The best sign I saw at the UCI rally read "If I wanted to go to a private school, I would have been born into a rich family."

    Jon Wiener

  • Covert Ops September 9, 2009

    Obama’s CIA-on-Campus Program

    Shrouded in secrecy, "intelligence officer training" conflicts with universities' commitment to openness and free inquiry.

    Jon Wiener

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  • June 26, 2009

    Adultery in South Carolina: Blame the Woman

    Here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the famed "redneck Riviera," the death of the King of Pop has taken second place to the adultery of the Governor in the local news. But it's the comments posted online at South Carolina daily newspapers that suggest something about local sentiment on this issue. I guess I should not have been surprised by the number that blamed the woman, especially after the media identified her as Maria Belen Chapur, a journalist for the Argentine TV station Canal America.

    In the Myrtle Beach Sun News [all quotes verbatim]: "Like most married men, he got caught involved with a woman of ways who seduced him. . . His biggest mistake was getting involved with a woman that when he tried to end it, sent copies of emails to his wife and the press anonymously and all knows she did it"-- tooclassy4you.

    "This gal is having the time of her life. She's enjoying a sexual encounter with a governer in the US, AND most likely has another local stud on call for quickies. WOW! Ladies and gentleman this gal is a professional COUGAR" – ibshagn.

    Jon Wiener

  • June 20, 2009

    Hawaii Prepares for North Korean Attack

    Vacationing on Kauai, the westernmost of the Hawaiian islands, the only question most tourists ask is which beach to go to today – but visitors and locals alike were startled by Thursday's news from Washington: a North Korean missile is now aimed at Hawaii, and Hawaii's missile defenses are being fortified.

    Does that mean it's time to cancel the luau and get on the first plane home?

    A Japanese newspaper reported that North Korea may – repeat may – fire "its most advanced ballistic missile toward Hawaii around July 4." Secretary of Defense Robert Gates then announced moving ground-based "interceptor" rockets to Hawaii, and activating the SBX – Sea-Based X-Band Radar, a $900 million, 280 foot high seagoing dome that looks like the world's biggest floating golf ball. It rides on a self-propelled oil platform, and is based at Pearl Harbor.

    Jon Wiener

  • History June 15, 2009

    Frank Sinatra: His Way

    The bell ring-a-ding-dings for Ol' Blue Eyes

    Jon Wiener

  • May 18, 2009

    Harvard Strike 40th Anniversary

    This spring is the 40th anniversary of the Harvard strike, one of the iconic moments of 1960s student protest, but -- strangely -- the only notice thus far has been in the "Opinion/Taste" pages of the Wall Street Journal.

    They're still against it.

    The strikers – I was one of them (as a grad student) -- demanded an end to university complicity in the war (kicking ROTC off campus); an end to evictions of working-class people from property the university wanted to develop; and the creation of a black studies program.

    Jon Wiener

  • May 8, 2009

    Disaster in Dodgertown: Manny is Banned for 50 Games

    Somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; but there is no joy in Dodgertown: mighty Manny has struck out.

    Manny Ramirez, the baseball superstar who led Los Angeles to a record-breaking winning streak at home this season, has been banned from baseball for 50 games. He tested positive for performance enhancing drugs on Wednesday night, and the town is reeling.

    The drug in question, according to news reports, was human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), identified by Wikipedia as "a women's fertility drug typically used by steroid users to restart their body's natural testosterone production as they come off a steroid cycle." However Manny has never tested positive for steroids, and he said his doctor had prescribed it for "a medical condition."

    Jon Wiener