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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.

  • November 22, 2008

    Hillary’s Big Ethics Problem: Bill

    What guidelines should govern Bill Clinton's future activities if Hillary becomes Secretary of State? Recent events suggest that at least two are necessary: no more favors for human rights violators in exchange for big contributions to the Clinton Foundation; and no more lying to the news media about such deals.

    It's worth remembering the nearly-forgotten story we could call "Bill Clinton and the Kazakh uranium." As Jo Becker and Don Van Natta Jr. of the New York Times reported in January, 2008, Bill Clinton was part of a corrupt three-way deal in 2005 involving the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose human rights record has been criticized by many, including the Bush White House -- and Senator Hillary Clinton.

    Kazakhstan has uranium--one fifth of the world's reserves. The president of Kazakhstan wanted to be named head of an international election-monitoring organization--the same one that had ruled his election fraudulent. What to do?

    Jon Wiener

  • November 19, 2008

    McCain’s Favorite TV Show, ’24,’ Brings Torture Back Sunday

    John McCain's favorite TV show, 24 -- the one that glorifies torture - is returning to Fox TV this Sunday night with a two-hour special.

    McCain named 24 as his favorite show on his Facebook page. The show has done more to advance the Bush White House defense of torture than anything else in the American media. According to its "ticking time bomb" scenario, the only way to stop terrorists from exploding a nuclear weapon in the heart of an American city is to torture them into revealing their fiendish plot.

    During the campaign McCain was asked by a reporter which celebrity he most identified with. "It's Jack Bauer," he replied -- the Kiefer Sutherland character who does most of the torturing. "We have a lot in common." And in 2007 he talked about 24 on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart: "I watch it all the time," he said. "I'm sort of a Jack Bauer kind of guy."

    Jon Wiener

  • November 5, 2008

    California Initiatives: Go Figure

    In California's wild world of ballot initiatives, the chickens defeated the egg factory owners, and an anti-abortion parental notification proposition was defeated.

    Prop. 8, the ban on gay marriage, is winning 52-48 with 95 per cent reporting: see our separate coverage today by Richard Kim.

    California's anti-abortion/parental notification initiative is losing, 52-48, with 95 percent of precincts reporting. The campaign was deeply dishonest – proponents called their proposition "Sarah's Law," supposedly in honor of a 15-year-old girl who died from an abortion gone wrong 14 years ago, an abortion where the parents were not notified. As the LA Times pointed out in an editorial, "Much of that is false. The girl's name wasn't Sarah; she lived in Texas, not California; and though she was 15, she already had a child and was in a common-law marriage, which means she wouldn't have been covered by the law Californians are being asked to consider."

    Jon Wiener

  • November 5, 2008

    Life After Election Day

    No more Todd, no more Track, no more Bristol.

    No more Jon Stewart.

    No more Colbert Report.

    Jon Wiener

  • November 4, 2008

    The Undecideds: What’s Their Problem?

    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:

    Jon Wiener

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  • November 4, 2008

    White Voters and Obama

    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,, 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.

    Jon Wiener

  • October 28, 2008

    Six Ways McCain Could Still Win

    Six ways McCain could still win:

    6. Thirty million young, first-time voters oversleep, forget to go to polls on Nov. 4.

    5. Sarah Palin reveals secret past as Rhodes Scholar; admits "hockey mom" thing was just a ruse -- to avoid being called an "elitist."

    Jon Wiener

  • October 27, 2008

    Rich Old White Men: Still the Problem

    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.)

    Jon Wiener

  • October 25, 2008

    The Suffering of Wall Street Wives

    "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."

    Jon Wiener

  • Music September 15, 2008

    Nixon Dirty Trickster on McCain Team

    The man instrumental in a White House move to deport John Lennon in 1972 now heads McCain's transition team.

    Jon Wiener