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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.

  • 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

  • April 14, 2009

    Hurricane Expert Fired by Bush Allies at LSU

    Louisiana State University is firing a leading hurricane scientist who was scheduled to testify as an expert witness in a case against the Army Corps of Engineers for their pre-Katrina work in New Orleans. Ivor van Heerden, who had been deputy director of LSU's Hurricane Center, says the school's former president, previously a Bush appointee, had earlier threatened to fire him if he testified.

    Jon Wiener


  • March 30, 2009

    South Carolina Suffers While Gov. Rejects Stimulus Funds

    On a recent visit to a state whose Republican governor rejected $700 million in federal stimulus funds, I got a sense of how deep the economic slide has been. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a prime resort destination for families from New York and New Jersey to Ohio and North Carolina. But the unemployment rate in Horry County, home of Myrtle Beach, reached 14.3 per cent in February, with the state as a whole at 10.7 per cent, among the worst in the nation (where the average in February was 8.1 per cent).

    Nevertheless South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has said he will reject federal stimulus funds – to keep the government off our backs, of course. Now Republicans competing to succeed him are debating his decision.

    Tourism is life on the Grand Strand, with its long, long beach lined with miles of high-rise timeshare condos and hotels and more than a hundred golf courses in the area. But for families coping with job loss, cancelling the summer vacation at the beach is one of the most obvious moves – which means economic disaster here.

    Jon Wiener

  • March 25, 2009

    Obama’s ‘Katrina Moment’? Never Mind.

    The AIG bailout bonuses were "Obama's Katrina Moment" -- that's what Frank Rich argued in his New York Times column on Sunday. Just three days later that seems like a ridiculous claim.

    The original "Katrina Moment" came when the public turned against George W. Bush, definitely and permanently, after seeing his massive incompetence in handling the aftermath of the hurricane in August 2005. Bush's approval ratings dropped below 40 percent, and never went back up.

    Obama's approval ratings in contrast actually have gone up since Rich made his pronouncement: in a new CBS poll released Tuesday, 64 percent of Americans say they favor the job that Obama is doing right now – two points more than CBS's poll earlier this month. Even more significant, ratings for the president's handling of the overall economy increased from 56 to 61 percent.

    Jon Wiener

  • March 19, 2009

    Obama Takes Fight to Southern Calif. GOP

    When Barack Obama appeared on Wednesday at a town hall-style event at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Southern California, he was challenging the Republicans in their historic heartland. The area had been ground zero for the Goldwater revolution in the early 1960s. Orange County provided the core supporters and the money that launched Ronald Reagan's political career in the mid-sixties. Reagan won 75 per cent of Orange County's vote in 1984; George W. Bush won 60 per cent in 2004. The county has always been solidly Republican.

    Until Obama.

    The hardest of hard-core Republican congressional districts in California is coastal Orange County, centered on the wealthy town of Newport Beach – previously Chris Cox's district before George Bush elevated him to head the SEC. California political experts were stunned on Nov. 4 when Obama carried the district – by 2,500 votes. And in the city of Costa Mesa, Obama beat McCain 51-45.

    Jon Wiener

  • March 17, 2009

    AIG’s “Best and Brightest”

    "We cannot attract and retain the best and brightest talent," AIG says, unless they pay those bonuses -- $165 million. Barney Frank had the best and brightest reply: on the Rachel Maddow Show Monday night, he said: "I don't want to retain them."

    He's talking about the people at AIG who brought down the company and then the financial institutions and then the rest of the world economy. "If you are trying to undo mistakes," Frank said, "it‘s very often not a good idea to keep the people who made the mistakes in there."

    But that $165 million is only the latest in outrageous payments to "the best and brightest" talent at AIG. The disaster was rooted in AIG's Financial Products Group in London. In 2008, when the unit was collapsing, "they were still paying the head of the unit a consulting fee of $1 million a month," according to Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times, interviewed Monday on "Fresh Air with Terry Gross."

    Jon Wiener

  • March 12, 2009

    Stop the Presses?

    "It's time to stop the presses" at daily newspapers, and turn them into online-only publications – that's what former L.A. Times staffer Rick Wartzman says. Writing in Business Week this week, he says it's the only way to preserve the mission of journalists everywhere: report the facts on what the powerful are doing, and what's happening to the rest of us, and do it with the skill, professionalism and ethics often missing in the blogosphere. We need journalists, he says, but we don't need newsprint.

    Wartzman is not some teenage blogger. He's worked in the heart of print journalism: he's the former Business Editor at the L.A. Times, and for a while he edited the paper's West magazine. Before that he worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. (He's also written a couple of terrific nonfiction books.) He took the Times buyout recently and now is director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University. He's not an enthusiast for reading the news on the web; he calls himself "a guy who loves to go out and pick up the three newspapers that land on my front lawn every morning."

    But he calls the end of daily newsprint "inescapable" – an economic necessity. The alternative, he says, is simple: daily newspapers will go broke and disappear completely. Denver's Rocky Mountain News has already stopped publishing. The LA Times is owned by The Tribune company, headed by the evil Sam Zell (so much for journalistic "neutrality" online), which is in bankruptcy. Also in bankruptcy: the owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Hearst Corp. will probably close the San Francisco Chronicle sometime soon.

    Jon Wiener