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.
Undecided voters--"or, as I call them, morons," Bill Maher says--remained a stubborn five or six percent of the electorate as the polls reported final results yesterday. Obama and McCain each have spent tens of millions on TV ads to persuade them, and thousands of hours of door-to-door canvassing to talk to them face to face.
What's their problem? The undecideds have been staring at the menu now for almost a year--why haven't they made up their minds?
In fact the "undecideds" include at least four different groups:
Why isn't Obama farther ahead in the polling? The objective factors that favor the Democrats this year are overwhelming: the worst economy since the Great Depression, the most unpopular incumbent president in the history of polling, and a money advantage in the campaign that is unprecedented for a Democrat. The polls all show that Obama will win – but the authoritative polling statistics website, FiveThirtyEight.com, predicts that Obama will end up with 52 per cent of the vote.
If Obama does get 52 per cent of the white vote today, that will be more than any Democrat in the last 40 years – more than Bill Clinton, who got 49.2 per cent in 1996 (when Ross Perot got 8.4 per cent) and more than Jimmy Carter, who got 50.1 per cent in 1976. But it's nowhere near LBJ's 60.1 per cent in 1964, or Ronald Reagan's 58.8 percent in 1984.
One reason why Obama isn't farther ahead may be race. The evidence here is of course problematic. When the New York Times-CBS poll in August asked white people whether they would vote for a black presidential candidate, only five per cent said "no"--impressive evidence that America has at last overcome its racist past.
The latest New York Times-CBS News poll identifies the demographic group with the highest level of support for John McCain: rich old white men. Coincidentally, they are also the people who control Wall Street, Congress, and the White House.
The poll defined "old" as "45 or older." Many will take issue with that definition, but those old white men supported McCain over Obama 48-42 per cent. White men under 45, in contrast, supported Obama, 50-43. And white women supported Obama, 45-42, whatever their age.
The poll also shows that rich white people are even more likely to support McCain - no surprise. Here the poll defined "rich" as earning $50,000 or more. Most will take issue with that definition, but those rich white people supported McCain 49-42. (The poll did not provide separate figures for women and men among rich old white people- probably their sample was not big enough.)
"Wall Street wives are finding that they must defer dreams and fancy things," the L.A. Times reported in a page one story on Saturday. One wife, who had been looking forward to her husband's retiring with "$10 to $12 million," told the Times she was "so angry" with the stock market meltdown, which was "not in her plan." The husband made $400,000 last year, "but there are no reports yet on what will happen to 2008 bonuses and options."
The same day a page one story in the New York Times reported on yard sales at foreclosed homes in working class neighborhoods in California: "three-year-old Marita Duarte's tricycle was sold by her mother, Beatriz, to a stranger for $3 - even as her daughter was riding it." The mother had lost her job as a floral designer two months ago, and now the house has been lost.
On Wall Street the average income is $365,000, according to the Times, "although top-flight managers typically make many millions more." Wall Street wives described to L.A. Times reporter Geraldine Baum "the pain of walking through malls and boutiques -how it hurts knowing they can't grab a few things for themselves that might catch their fancy."
My name is Jon, and I'm addicted to Sarah Palin.
I read everything I can about her. I watch TV, hoping Wolf Blitzer will say something about her. I get irritable waiting for the next Maureen Dowd column about her.
I've come to understand that this is not a bad habit, or a moral failing – it's a disease.
Sarah Palin took the biblical Queen Esther as her role model when she became governor, according to her former pastor--a report that suggests her ties to Jewish history are stronger than you might have expected.
When Palin took office as governor in 2006, according to the New York Times, she asked her former pastor in the Assembly of God church in Wasilla for "a biblical example of people who were great leaders and what was the secret of their leadership"--that's what Paul E. Riley, the pastor, told Kirk Johnson and Kim Severson of the Times. He recommended the Old Testament story of Esther, the beautiful Jewish queen who persuaded the Persian king to save the Jews from annihilation and instead let them kill their enemies. The story is celebrated by Jews annually in the Feast of Purim.
The parallels are clear. Esther was selected queen in a beauty contest; Palin was runner-up in the Miss Alaska pageant.
Those disparaging Palin's lack of achievements have forgotten that it was Palin who wrote the famous "Lumberjack Song," which of course is about life in Alaska: "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK/I sleep all night and I work all day."
The song generated controversy because of the next lines, "I cut down trees, I skip and jump/I put on women's clothing and hang around in bars."
And it was also Palin who co-starred in the famous "Dead Parrot" sketch, playing the pet shop owner who maintains that a "Norwegian Blue" parrot lying in the bottom of his cage is not dead: "no, he's resting. . . . he's probably pining for the fjords." The BBC named it the number one "alternative comedy sketch" of all time.
"We have presidential elections as a substitute for serious democratic politics" – that's what Andrew Bacevich says. He's been writing and teaching history and international relations at Boston University, after spending 23 years in the army and retiring as a colonel.
What would serious democratic politics look like? First of all, Bacevich says, we need a real debate about the idea of a global war on terror. Then we need a debate on what he calls our "empire of consumption."
"Obama and McCain agree on the global war on terror," he points out: McCain wants to fight it in Iraq, Obama in Afghanistan. "My own preference would be for an election in which we had one candidate making the case for the global war on terror – that would be McCain – but we would have an opponent who would make the case that the concept of global war as the response to violent Islamic radicalism is flawed. We ought not be in the business of invading and occupying other countries. That's not going to address the threat. It is, on the other hand, going to bankrupt the country and break the military."