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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.

  • January 12, 2010

    Nixon and the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium

    In 1969, as the anti-war movement was reaching a peak, Richard Nixon's White House staff debated what they could do to "show the little bastards" what kind of man they were up against. They were concerned about what would be the biggest antiwar demonstration in US history on Nov. 15, 1969, when half a million people came to Washington D.C. to demand that an end to the war in Vietnam.

    Now, newly released documents from the Nixon Library provide fascinating details about the debate within the White House staff two months earlier about how the president should respond. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, at the time an influential member of Nixon's inner circle, suggested that the president could "take away the day" from the protesters if he would "close down" the White House "in sympathy."

    "That will show the little bastards," Moynihan said. He knew the kind of talk that impressed Nixon.

    Jon Wiener

  • January 11, 2010

    How the Healthcare Bill Will Hurt L.A.

    Los Angeles County has more uninsured people than anyplace else in the country – three million, many of them immigrants, and many of those undocumented. If the Senate version of health bill passes, with its ban on federal coverage of non-citizens, a million people in California will be denied health insurance--the great majority of them in L.A.

    That would be a disaster for Los Angeles.

    The Senate bill, like the House version, would create insurance exchanges and give federal subsidies to low-income people to buy their own coverage. The Senate bill, however, would prohibit those who are not U.S. citizens from participating in the exchanges. The House bill is slightly better -- it allows legal immigrants who aren't citizens to buy insurance through the exchange, although it denies them federal subsidies.

    Jon Wiener

  • January 7, 2010

    Schools Over Prisons: Student Protests Push Cal. Governor to Act

    Student protests against tuition increases at the 10-campus University of California system pushed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to announce on Tuesday an initiative to guarantee that the state spends more on universities than it does on prisons.

    The central role of student protests is not just my theory; it's the explanation offered by the governor's own chief of staff. "Those protests on the U.C. campuses were the tipping point" for the governor, Susan Kennedy said in an interview with the New York Times.

    She was referring to the coordinated actions at the start of the fall term, when 5,000 students and workers, along with many faculty members, rallied at Berkeley, while 700 gathered at UCLA's Bruin Plaza. Simultaneous protests were held at Riverside, Irvine, and other campuses. (That story HERE).

    Jon Wiener

  • January 4, 2010

    Fox News Scare Tactics: Get Obama-Care or “Go To Jail”

    "They'll send me to jail if I don't sign up for Obama's health care," an 89-year-old woman said at my family holiday gathering last week. She was agitated and angry. "Imagine sending someone to jail – at my age!"


    Even the Republicans in the room rushed to reassure her: "You're covered by Medicare. You're already signed up. Nobody is going to jail."

    "Well I don't like it one bit," she said, still upset.

    Jon Wiener


  • December 13, 2009

    Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album: Is this a Joke?

    Fans have been puzzled and troubled by Bob Dylan's new Christmas album. To help figure out what Dylan is doing, we turned to Sean Wilentz -- he's the official historian at the official website, and he also teaches American history at Princeton. He's written many books, including "The Age of Reagan."

    Q. "Christmas in the Heart" opens with "Here Comes Santa Claus," a Gene Autry song which, I have to say, is one of the most annoying holiday songs ever written, even before Bob Dylan sang it. "Hang your stockings, say your prayers" -- is this a joke?

    A. It's not a joke at all. This is Bob Dylan looking back to his own childhood. He sings the songs that he heard as a kid in Hibbing. He's recalling that time and those songs and that spirit.

    Jon Wiener

  • December 8, 2009

    Howard Zinn’s “The People Speak” — on TV this Sunday

    The first time Howard Zinn's now-classic book "A People's History of the United States" appeared on TV was in "The Sopranos" on HBO, when Tony's teenage son A.J. came home from school with a copy of the book and told his parents that, according to Zinn, Columbus was a slaveowner and murderer. Tony got mad, and replied, "In this house Columbus is a hero. End of story!"

    That was 1999. This Sunday, Dec. 13, Zinn's "The People Speak" – the documentary inspired by his books "A People's History" and "Voices of a People's History," will be broadcast on the History channel at 8 PM/7 Central.

    The documentary "gives voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout U.S. history," says Anthony Arnove, who produced and co-directed the show and co-edited the "Voices" book. The featured voices "forged a nation from the bottom up with their insistence on equality and justice" and "remind us never to take liberty for granted."

    Jon Wiener

  • 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