California’s Burning: What Will Rise from the Ashes?

December 11, 2017 by Jim Miller

Welcome to the future.

That’s the thing I’ve been thinking to myself as the frenetic news cycle over the past year has veered from political chaos to natural disaster and back again in a vertigo-inducing downward spiral. Increasing social division domestically as the rich pillage the rest of us, the intensified threat of international conflict, the brazen plundering of the commons, and utter disdain for the natural world amidst a myriad of sexual harassment scandals and horrifying mass shootings are punctuated by catastrophic natural disasters from the epic fires to supercharged hurricanes and yet more fearsome firestorms.

Reality is exceeding the capacity of our dystopian imaginations.

Now the Southern California fires are bringing it all very close to home as we turn on the news and see the city of Hollywood disasters ablaze in spectacular fashion.

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Taxing Our Democracy: The GOP Plan is Part of a Larger Assault on Democratic Institutions

December 5, 2017 by Jim Miller

Back during the halcyon days of the Obama administration, political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University published a seminal study on American democracy that illustrated that:

Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. .

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Will 2018 Be the Year of the Education War Inside the California Democratic Party?

November 29, 2017 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

One would think that in the midst of the Trump era, with so many threats not just to essential government policies and programs but to democracy itself, Democrats would have a pretty clear idea of who their enemy is.

A reasonable observer might also conclude that the Democratic Party in California which has, in many ways, been the vanguard of resistance nationwide would be laser-focused on not only maintaining the blue wall but on working to oust California Republicans from the House of Representatives.

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Learning Courage from Thoreau in Dark Times

November 20, 2017 by Jim Miller

One of the things that I am grateful for this Thanksgiving is the fact that I am fortunate enough to teach Henry David Thoreau every fall, particularly this 200th year since the great American author’s birth.

Most of my students at City College have lived, worked, and struggled more than your average college student and, consequently, Thoreau’s call to avoid a life of “quiet desperation” speaks to them more profoundly than it might to other students from different circumstances.

Simply put, they are in a college English class reading literature because they have chosen to be there. Running against the grain of all the siren calls for a more market-based education driven by efficiency and expediency, many of my students have decided that what moves them most is to read and think and to live a life they hope will be more meaningful because of it.

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Donna Brazile Is Still Right: the Culture of the Democratic Party Needs to Change

November 13, 2017 by Jim Miller

Last week brought welcome news for those of us looking for some light at the end of the tunnel as we close in on the first year of the Trump era when voters repudiated Republican rule by handing resounding victories to Democrats in Virginia, New Jersey, and elsewhere around the country.

While this is clearly a morale booster for beleaguered progressives, let’s hope that it does not stop folks from continuing to ask the hard questions that need to be answered if we truly want to change the course of the country from the dangerous path we are on.

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Education in the Trump Era: Bad for Your Mental Health

November 6, 2017 by Jim Miller
Graphic illustration resembling neural network filled with cognition related words

Fear and loathing in the classroom? Not exactly, but things aren’t that great either. According to a new study released last week by my union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the advocacy group the Badass Teachers Association (BAT), educators are feeling significantly more stressed these days.

As Education Week reports, “The survey found that educators find work to be stressful 61 percent of the time—and nearly a quarter of respondents said work was ‘always’ stressful. Meanwhile, workers in the general population report that work is stressful 30 percent of the time.”

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Republicans Try to Squelch Nathan Fletcher’s Bid for San Diego Supervisor With Jim Miller’s Old Quotes

October 30, 2017 by Jim Miller

 

By Jim Miller

Will Nathan Fletcher ride in on a magic carpet to the Board of Supervisors?

Tomorrow is Halloween. Are we in for something scary?

Not really.

While the vast majority of people in San Diego are not paying the least bit of attention to local races heading into 2018, there has been quite a bit of petty drama surrounding the San Diego Board of Supervisors District 4 race in recent weeks.

It appears that local Republican operatives have decided to kill Nathan Fletcher’s most recent political aspirations

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Mel Freilicher’s ‘American Cream’: Rewriting the Radical Past to Redeem the Future

October 23, 2017 by Jim Miller

Mining the Heart of the American Left to Address Today’s Bleak Realpolitik

Mel Freilicher will be reading and discussing “American Cream” in San Diego City Works Press’ Release Event at Verbatim Books, located at 3793 30th Street in North Park, on Friday, Oct. 27, at 8 p.m.

Longtime San Diego resident, writer, educator, and activist Mel Freilicher was the editor of the regional literary journal Crawl Out Your Window for 15 years and taught at San Diego State and in UCSD’s literature department for several decades. In addition to this, Mel has published in a wide range of publications and anthologies including two chapbooks on Standing Stone Press and Obscure Publications.

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The New Democrats Crab-Walking with the Radical Right, San Diego Style

October 16, 2017 by Jim Miller

Last week in the second part of my review of Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” I noted how the complicity of neoliberal Democrats with the aims of the Right is one of the reasons why fighting the Koch brothers of the world has been so difficult.

Thinking they are reasonably compromising or engaging in a savvy war of position, these Democrats are instead simply crab walking us over a cliff.

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Democracy in Chains: Crab-Walking Our Way Over a Cliff — Part II

October 9, 2017 by Jim Miller

Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America is disturbing reading. Last week, I outlined how she exposes the missing link of the Right’s plan to “save capitalism from democracy—permanently.” As centrally important as it is to understand that basic premise of the Right’s agenda, it is equally valuable for progressives to learn precisely how and why that is the case and what, ultimately, the end-game looks like.

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Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America – Part I

October 2, 2017 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America” is the single most important new book for progressives to read this year if they want to understand how we got to the dark moment of the present.

As I noted in my recent column on the right-wing assault on public sector unions, MacLean takes us to the roots of the current crisis via an intellectual history of James McGill Buchanan, the thinker whose work, more than anyone else’s, informs the machinations of the Kochtopus, that shadowy network of interlinked billionaire-funded right-wing think tanks driving American politics.

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Lessons from Naomi Klein: Learning How to Resist Trump’s Shock Politics

September 25, 2017 by Jim Miller

Part Two

Last week, I discussed what I see as the first central lesson of Naomi Klein’s new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need—that Donald Trump represents nothing new in American politics but rather, is the logical extension of decades of terrible ideas and policies. Today I’ll focus on the second key lesson of Klein’s work.

Neoliberal Incrementalism Brought to You by Democrats Is Not Enough

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Learning How to Resist Trump’s Shock Politics

September 18, 2017 by Jim Miller

Lessons from Naomi Klein – Part One

Last week at the San Diego Free Press, Sharon Carr provided a nice overview of Naomi Klein’s new book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. These next two weeks, I’d like to follow up Ms. Carr’s good work by underlining what I see to be the two central insights in Klein’s book and why they matter.

In essence, Klein’s book is centered on two key points: 1) Despite all the drama and spectacle, Trump is nothing new; and 2) Neoliberal incrementalism is a dead end and we require bolder vision and practice to win the world we need. This week, we’ll consider the first proposition.

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The War on Public Sector Unions Is a War on Progressive Politics and Democracy Itself

September 11, 2017 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

As the Trump circus keeps people focused on daily scandals along with assaults on immigrants, transgender folks, and a myriad of other battles, the right is busy trying to quietly win the long war. Last week in my Labor Day column, I noted how the upcoming Janus v. AFSCME decision will help make it possible to gut public sector unions and the labor movement as a whole in order to change the power structure of the entire country and rig American politics in favor of the interests of the rich and our corporate oligarchy.

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What Good is a Union in 2017?

September 4, 2017 by Jim Miller


What is there to celebrate this Labor Day for the average American? We live in troubled times and many of us in the United States are increasingly anxious or angry as we see the American Dream slipping away right before our eyes as the middle-class shrinks and the gap between the very rich and the rest of us continues to grow.

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Following the Lead of the Liars: How Conservatives Are Winning Their War on Reality

August 28, 2017 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Nothing about the Trump-driven spectacle of the last few weeks should be shocking if you have been paying the slightest amount of attention to American politics.

It’s been an obvious fact for years that Trump is a racist and has done everything he can to stoke the ugliest aspects of the American political imagination. It was disgustingly clear when he led a campaign designed to “other” the first African American president of the United States by absurdly questioning his citizenship, and it was also evident in his very productive use of our long history of anti-immigrant fervor and xenophobia during and after his campaign for the presidency.

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Higher Education and the American Political Imagination

August 21, 2017 by Jim Miller

As I enter my thirtieth year as a professor at a public college of one kind or another, I’m used to the constant political fray that comes with being in the middle of funding battles, debates about education reform, and the culture wars, but this may be the first time in my long career that I have begun a new semester with the knowledge that a large number of Americans no longer see higher education as a public good.

Over the summer, the Pew Research Center released an interesting poll that helps explain where we are at this political and cultural moment in America. The survey revealed that most Republicans now believe that institutions of higher education have an adverse effect on the United States.

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Beauty in the Age of the Anthropocene: Summer Chronicles #6

August 14, 2017 by Jim Miller

We live in a world of profound beauty and horror. One can turn on the news and view famine, war, and terror attacks and then stroll down the street to the park and revel in a glorious summer day.

Of course, it must be said that this is evidence of our privilege as citizens of the first world nation where we live in relative comfort compared to our fellow humans and across the globe, millions of whom don’t have enough to eat or have been forced to flee their homes due to circumstances beyond their control.

Here in San Diego, our own homeless are

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Summer Chronicles #5: Two Conversations

August 7, 2017 by Jim Miller

Two recent conversations that stayed with me for some reason.

One was with a man who told me that he knew what it was like to feel so empty that the fragile construct that was him, his identity, could fall apart at any moment. He knew this, of course, because that is what happened to him. He had a breakdown; he broke down and the pieces of him fell off, down on the ground all around him — inexplicable shards of what used to be that thing he called himself.

It is remarkable when someone tells you such a thing. I was struck by the courage of the confession and also by the rawness of the moment, the trembling intensity that accompanied the admission and the heightened anticipation of what I don’t know.

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Summer Chronicles #4: Crossing Coronado Ferry

July 31, 2017 by Jim Miller

One of the great pleasures of San Diego in the summer is joining the gaggle of tourists and bike riders for the short trip across the bay from downtown to Coronado.

Like Allen Ginsberg who, in his poem “A Supermarket in California,” touches on Walt Whitman’s book and feels absurd–but wanders through the aisles dreaming nonetheless—I stand in line with young couples holding hands and whole families grinning and gabbing in the midday sun and muse about that which connects us all without our knowing it.

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The Utopia of the Next Moment: Summer Chronicles # 3

July 24, 2017 by Jim Miller

What would we do without wishful thinking?

Not much apparently. According to some of the most recent science on the way our brains work, the Zen Buddhists and psychoanalysts are up against it. No matter how much we try to focus on the present, we’ll be pulled away by the Utopia of the next moment.

As a New York Times piece on some of the most recent science of the brain explained:

[I]t is increasingly clear that the mind is mainly drawn to the future, not driven by the past. Behavior, memory and perception can’t be understood without appreciating the central role of prospection. We learn not by storing static records but by continually retouching memories and imagining future possibilities. Our brain sees the world not by processing every pixel in a scene but by focusing on the unexpected.

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The Wilderness of Silence : Summer Chronicles #2

July 17, 2017 by Jim Miller

Our noise is everywhere. Just try to sit for a moment in your house and experience a moment without some kind of artificial noise, whether it be passing traffic, the sound of your neighbor’s television or stereo or the now nearly ever-present buzzing of somebody’s ear buds.

But let’s say you want to head out beyond the sprawling reach of the homogenous exurban landscape, past even the glow of the Walmart on the edge of Small Town, Anywhere to what is left of the great American wilderness.

Any peace there?

Apparently not, according to the most recent research on our never-ending din.

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Summer Chronicles #1: When Things Fall Apart

July 10, 2017 by Jim Miller

Summer is here and it’s time to take a break from my usual column and stretch the form a little with some chronicles. As I explained when I started this summer series a couple of years ago, the chronicle is a literary genre born in Brazil:

In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven-year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil [The Brazilian News] not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,” a genre peculiar to Brazil. As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle, “allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes.

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Are We Witnessing the End of Public Education as We Know It? — Part Two

July 5, 2017 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller / Kelly Mayhew

As I wrote last week, these are dire times for public education. With Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education leading the charge for big budget cuts, charter schools, and a radical privatization agenda, the possibility that free quality public education for all in America could soon be a thing of the past is real.

One would think that such clear and present danger to a cornerstone of our democracy coming from the right would unite Democrats behind the mantle of defending public education.

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Are We Witnessing the End of Public Education as We Know It? — Part One

June 26, 2017 by Jim Miller

Public Education

By Jim Miller / Kelly Mayhew

These are dire times for public education. With Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education leading the charge for big budget cuts, charter schools, and a radical privatization agenda, the possibility that free quality public education for all in America could soon be a thing of the past is real.

One would think that such clear and present danger to a cornerstone of our democracy coming from the right would unite Democrats behind the mantle of defending public education.

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The Top 5 Stories Getting Buried by the Trump Carnival

June 19, 2017 by Jim Miller

Carnival

By Jim Miller

Trump is a train-wreck, I know.

But while the pathetic carnival that is the White House continues to distract and horrify Americans, some hugely important news is getting lost in the din.

Here are a few of the stories that should be getting equal time but have been drowned out by the drama of the Disaster in Chief.

1. American public education is under an unprecedented assault.

Through a combination of budget cuts and calculated policies to encourage rapid and wide-ranging charterization, the Trump administration’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is no joke when it comes to seeking to “disrupt” public education and …

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Fear and Loathing in America

June 14, 2017 by Jim Miller

LoathingBy Jim Miller

A couple of weeks ago I saw Dead and Company open their tour in Las Vegas. The trip was filled with a bit of personal nostalgia for the many other times I came see the Grateful Dead play two or three show runs there before Jerry Garcia died.

Of course, all of those trips, taken with friends steeped in the larger history of the band, were full of easy, ironic references to Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where he tells the tale of his own savage journey into the Heart of the American Dream.

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Why the ‘San Diego Free Press’ Matters Now More Than Ever

June 5, 2017 by Jim Miller

Free Press
Editor’s Note: The San Diego Free Press is five years old this week. This is one in a series of posts reflecting on the paths we’ve traveled.

By Jim Miller

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the San Diego Free Press and that’s something to celebrate. I first started writing for the OB Rag and then subsequently became part of the birth of the SD Free Press because I loved the way that those outlets both paid homage to the legacy of San Diego’s countercultural press and continued its legacy into the digital age.

As part a key part of the local New Left and counterculture in the sixties and early seventies, Doug Porter, Frank Gormlie, and others offered a space for radical voices and cultural threads that were not acceptable in the mainstream, commercial media of the time.

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What’s the Matter with San Diego Labor (Part 3): A Divided Movement Hurts Us All

May 30, 2017 by Jim Miller

South Bay Democrats Show the Way with Resolution in Support of a United Labor Movement

By Jim Miller

Last week, the first meeting of the newly reorganized San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council was a refreshingly upbeat gathering as the local movement recommitted itself to weathering the storm and reinventing the Labor Council as a far more democratic and activist organization that will do everything it can to engage union members and organize the unorganized.

One of the most encouraging moments of the night came when Doug Moore of the United Domestic Workers spoke about the pressing need to rebuild real, less transactional relationships with our allies in the community. This is a very good thing.

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What’s the Matter with San Diego Labor (Part 2): Rank and Who?

May 22, 2017 by Jim Miller

Labor

It was a palace civil war and nobody in the break-away group even bothered to ask their members what to do.

By Jim Miller

Last week I outlined why the ill-conceived Mickey Kasparian-driven split in San Diego labor was such a bad idea, citing the recent history of the failed attempt of several national unions to form a break-away organization outside of the AFL-CIO called Change to Win (CTW) that eventually fell apart under its own weight accomplishing not much of note in the long run.

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