Michelle Obama is Right: ‘They Aren’t That Smart’ —They’re Just Greedy

January 14, 2019 by Jim Miller

Michelle Obama caused a small stir last fall during the London leg of her book tour when she observed that her time in the highest circles of the global power elite had revealed a startling truth about our faceless masters:

“Here’s the secret: they’re not that smart. There are a lot of things that folks are doing to keep their seats because they don’t want to give up power.”

More specifically, the former First Lady observed that, “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.”

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Lessons for San Diego Labor in the Wake of Mickey Kasparian’s Fall

January 7, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

One of the last bits of big local political news towards the end of 2018 was the resounding defeat of United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 135 President Mickey Kasparian along with his entire slate in their union election on the heels of two years of internal and external conflict.

After refusing to step down from his position as President of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council in the wake of multiple workplace and sexual harassment allegations in 2016, Kasparian split the labor movement, sought to divide local progressives, and fought a scorched earth campaign against his perceived enemies.

All of it ended badly with lots of damage being done along the way.

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Democracy Unchained: How to Win the Future

December 3, 2018 by Jim Miller

Last week in this space, I discussed how the new research on the stealth power of America’s oligarchical class continues to be a central obstacle to thoroughgoing democracy in the United States.

In that piece, I cited the work Page, Seawright, and Lacombe as well as Nancy MacLean’s work outlining how the right has managed over the last several decades to build a powerful, deeply undemocratic political network aimed at putting “democracy in chains.”

With that in mind, it was with great interest that I read MacLean’s post-election commentary in the Guardian, where she observed:

Republican party elected officials acted under pressure from the network of arch-right billionaires and multimillionaires

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America Is an Oligarchy : Billionaires Are Undermining Our Democracy and Killing the Planet

November 26, 2018 by Jim Miller

We live under oligarchy. Yes, we have elections, but the interests of a tiny opulent minority are far better represented in our government than the concerns of the vast majority of Americans.

That conclusion was the central takeaway of a Benjamin Page and Martin Giles study published a few years ago that grimly observed, “economic elites and organized interest groups play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.”

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‘New Deeds for New’: Young Activists and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Demand a Green New Deal

November 19, 2018 by Jim Miller

Nothing in the wake of the midterm elections made me quite as happy as the sight of the newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joining young climate activists who were protesting outside of Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington, D.C.

The protesters, who were part of the Sunrise Movement, put their demands bluntly: “They offer us a death sentence. We demand a Green New Deal.”

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Post Election Questions for Progressives at State, Local and National Levels

November 12, 2018 by Jim Miller

What many had called the election of our lifetimes is over, and while any moment for reflection was immediately stolen by Trump’s purge of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the subsequent fallout with regard to the Russia investigation, there are still big, important questions that progressives inside and outside of power will face in the coming months if we hope to present a vision that does more than say no to Trump while getting trapped in his diversions.

Can the Democrats in the House and elsewhere at the national level set a bold economic agenda?

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Some Good Things Progressives Can Do Down Ballot – Vote for Measure D, Tony Thurmond & David Alvarez; Against Props 5 & 6

November 5, 2018 by Jim Miller

This is perhaps the most crucial midterm election of our lives and all eyes will rightfully be on the national scene with everyone hoping for a Democratic take-over in the House of Representatives that will put a brake on the increasingly dangerous Trump Administration. Nonetheless, there are still a number of very important things that progressives can do at the state and local level that make it worthwhile to not neglect the down-ballot races and propositions.

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Democrats’ Midterms Anxiety

October 29, 2018 by Jim Miller

With the midterms a little more than a week out there is a good amount of handwringing in progressive circles about whether or not the “blue wave” will actually happen.

Nervous Democrats pore over the latest posts on the polling at FiveThirtyEight, and the talking heads on MSNBC parse the current numbers, muse about the accuracy of the polling, and commiserate about their post-traumatic stress after the 2016 election.

With decision day looming, the collective anxiety is getting more and more palpable. In between ranting about Russia and the Mueller investigation, the unthinkable question is on the tip of many a liberal’s tongue: could we actually blow it again?

As of this writing, it appears that the Senate—which was never really in reach—is out of the question but

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The Trump of Pahrump, the Unholy Trinity and Other Dystopian Tales

October 22, 2018 by Jim Miller

The Trump of Pahrump is dead.

Yes, the world’s most famous brothel owner, Dennis Hof, left this world peacefully last week in bed at the Love Ranch only hours after celebrating at his birthday party/campaign rally.

The event was held to aid Hof in his quest to secure a seat in the Nevada state legislature as a Republican, a race he was heavily favored to win. Hof is best known for his HBO reality TV show about the Moonlight Bunny Ranch and his biography, The Art of the Pimp, which gleefully riffs off of the title of the President’s paean to himself.

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Two New Books Explore San Diego’s Impact on the Psyche – Release Reading at Tiger! Tiger! Oct.21

October 15, 2018 by Jim Miller

San Diego City Works Press, a project of the San Diego Writers Collective, is proud to present the release reading for local novelist Josh Turner and San Diego poet, Joe Medina on Sunday, October 21, at 4:30 at Tiger!Tiger! in concert with Verbatim Books,

Baxt and Medina’s works continue the tradition of SD City Works Press of birthing first books by homegrown authors. In fact, Fall 2018 marks 13 years of publication by City Works Press. The San Diego Writers Collective is a group of San Diego writers, poets, artists, a

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Marshall Tuck: The Republicans’ Trojan Horse

October 8, 2018 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

In last week’s column, I wrote that “the future of public education and the heart and soul of progressive California” were at stake in the Superintendent of Public Instruction race. What makes this race so important is that it represents an attempt by moneyed interests and forces on the right to play in Democratic politics through the use of stealth and dishonesty. Indeed, if you like the way the Lincoln Club intervenes in and tries to upset the Democratic apple cart in races here in San Diego, you’ll love how the right is trying to game California’s Democratic voters in this contest.

It’s so bad, that the state party came out with this extraordinary assertion last May leading up to the primary in response to Tuck’s refusal to disavow his Republican allies:

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Why Electing Tony Thurmond as Superintendent of Public Instruction Is the Most Important Race in California

October 2, 2018 by Jim Miller

Andrea Gabor’s After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform, thoroughly exposes the fact that over the last twenty years or so, “the billionaire boys club has favored a punitive, hierarchical, undemocratic, one-size fits all approach that has hurt students more than it has helped them.”

These corporate education reformers come to the table with an endless supply of money and a set of prejudices that favor:

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After the Education Wars: Someone Needs to Save Us from Our Billionaire Saviors

September 24, 2018 by Jim Miller

After failing to prop-up Antonio Villaraigosa’s flagging gubernatorial campaign last June, Michael Bloomberg apparently spent the summer pondering whether it would be wiser for him to personally save the United States rather than waste his time trying to rescue California by proxy. Last week the New York Times reported that Bloomberg was mulling a run for the Presidency as a Democrat because that represented the most viable path to victory. As the Times story observed, while Bloomberg has engaged in some good work on guns and the environment, many of his other positions might not be very likely to win over the liberal base of the Democratic Party.

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A Blue Wave is Not Enough: Progressives Need to Win the Long War for Democracy

September 17, 2018 by Jim Miller

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club about the Lincoln Club and the history of the American Right. In that presentation, I noted how the ultimate aim of the Right was to dishonestly promote deeply unpopular policies through stealth politics that take advantage of the general public’s naiveté about their agenda.

Locally, groups like the Lincoln Club do their best to intervene in Democratic primaries and shift the landscape in their favor so they can win elections and promote policies that further enrich the elite. As I have written in this space, that’s how San Diego’s “shadow government” has rolled for decades.

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San Diegans in America’s Finest Tourist Plantation Struggle to Make It … But Nobody’s at the Barricades

September 10, 2018 by Jim Miller

Speaking to the Anger Beneath the Postcard?

It should come as no surprise to anyone who ventures outside San Diego’s hermetically sealed and relentlessly marketed image of itself as a carefree paradise by the sea that the reality of our city is quite different than the happy fantasy.

A recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) confirmed this when it released a report that noted of America’s Finest City, “45% of San Diegans fall into an auspicious category: people who work full time and still struggle with poverty.”

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Lessons for 2018: Labor Solidarity Works!

September 4, 2018 by Jim Miller

It has been the worst of times and the best of times for the American Labor Movement in 2018.

Economic inequality has continued to spiral out of control as policy coming out of Washington, DC designed to tilt the scales in favor of the rich and corporations weakened the rights of working Americans at every turn.

At the Supreme Court level, anti-labor justices joined the assault against labor and undermined public sector unions’ rights to collect dues.

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The Wages of Inequality Keep Growing: Only Working People’s Power Can Save Our Democracy

August 27, 2018 by Jim Miller

It shouldn’t be news to readers of the OB Rag that life here under the perfect sun isn’t always so easy, particularly for working people. Indeed, as a Bloomberg report outlined last May, “The gap between the have and have-nots in San Diego was the ninth-highest out of 100 cities between 2011 to 2016.”

As usual, this report received not much more than a shrug in the place where happy happens as we were too busy spectacularly failing to address our shameful homelessness crisis yet again while the supply of high-end condos downtown and elsewhere continues to grow. So it goes.

It’s the same old story over and over again here–and everywhere else.

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Trump Tweets While California and the World Burns

August 20, 2018 by Jim Miller

The world just keeps getting hotter, and California burns ever-more-furiously as one epic blaze after another strain not just our resources, but our ability to cognitively adjust to the fact that this is the new normal. As I wrote in response to the huge fires in Los Angeles last December, “Reality is exceeding the capacity of our dystopian imaginations.”

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The Music of the Street – Summer Chronicles 2018 #9

August 13, 2018 by Jim Miller

There is music in the street. It’s easy to be enthralled by the sounds of the natural world, but urban noise frequently distresses us, disrupts our head space or intervenes into the sounds we are plugged into at the moment. But sometimes, the city bustle has its charms. So much of the urban noise that we think of as a distraction from some other narrative that has captured our attention or an intrusion into our sealed-off domestic space is seen as ugly.

But perhaps we just need to learn to listen. Is it the sounds themselves that are the issue or our reactions to them?

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‘Already Dead’: A Lunch Poem for Golden Hill – Summer Chronicles 2018 #8

August 6, 2018 by Jim Miller

On the back cover of Frank O’Hara’s classic City Lights Books collection, Lunch Poems, he defines his efforts succinctly:

Often this poet, strolling through the noisy splintered glare of a Manhattan noontide,

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When the Padres Still Played Baseball in Yuma: Summer Chronicles 2018 #7

July 30, 2018 by Jim Miller

It’s the dog days of summer but it’s Spring Training all year round in San Diego as the Padres sort through their stock of minor leaguers to see who might still be around in a few years when they hope to be competitive.

That means losing a lot. Watching a good amount of losing baseball requires a different lens and an appreciation for the small things inside and outside the game.

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Thinking of Bukowski at Del Mar – Summer Chronicles 2018 #6

July 23, 2018 by Jim Miller

Every year, opening day at Del Mar brings out the beautiful people. Handsome, well-heeled (or at least trying to look that way) young men and women get dressed to the nines and parade around the track, seeing and being seen. It is a classic San Diego moment: shiny happy people in an elegant place on a perfect summer day.

Not a trouble in the world.

Until they start betting and losing and betting and losing.

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Gentrifying Dystopia in Bombay Beach – Summer Chronicles 2018 #5

July 17, 2018 by Jim Miller

There’s something compelling about desolation, about lost places filled with traces of forgotten histories both personal and collective. That’s why I’ve always had a penchant for little towns around the Salton Sea, the vast, dying body of water I describe in my first novel, Drift:

It was a mistake, the product of a vulgar utopia gone awry. At the turn of the century, they dreamed of transforming the desert into a garden by bleeding nature of more than she readily offered.

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Summer Chronicles 2018 # 4: Getting Inside the Inexhaustibility

July 10, 2018 by Jim Miller

“A desire to be inside the inexhaustibility.”
–Karl Ove Knausgaard My Struggle

In Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, he writes eloquently about how writing is what helps one escape the prison of our “purely fabricated world” that gives us the feeling that “the world is small, tightly enclosed around itself, without openings to anywhere else.”

This bubble world that the construct of modern civilization has locked us into is only exacerbated by the closed feedback loop of our cell phones and social media which pretend to expand our known worlds while, in reality, deeply limiting our consciousness to a simulacrum of screens.

What does writing do? Well, as Knausgaard observes, it speaks to our desire for more,

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Summer Chronicles 2018 #2: Learning to Be No One

June 25, 2018 by Jim Miller

Alone on the plane, I had the same thought that I always do: “we could crash and my life might end at any time.” As always, images of the moments before death subsumed me. I imagined the faces of my fellow passengers contorted in horror. I heard the weeping, the screaming, the voices futilely attempting to leave last messages for their loved ones on their cellphones, all to no avail.

My fantasy was real enough that amidst a banal announcement about expected turbulence, I came close to tears as I thought of never seeing my wife or son again and went on to consider the weight of the collective losses of all the souls on the plane.

But, in this case, what used to be a source of physical anxiety gave way to a feeling of absolute groundlessness.

There is something liberating about anonymity and the small pleasure of being unrecognized in the odd womblike environment of a passenger jet.

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Summer Chronicles 2018 #1: Scattering Ashes

June 18, 2018 by Jim Miller

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. The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds incomparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”

What Lispector left us with is an eccentric collection of “aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews, serialized stories, essays, loosely defined as chronicles.” As a novelist, Pontiero tells us, Lispector was anxious about her relationship with the genre, apprehensive of writing too much and too often, of, as she put it, “contaminating the word.” It was a genre alien to her introspective nature and one that challenged her to adapt.

More than forty years later, in Southern California—in San Diego no less—

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Thoughts on California Midterms: Defeats for Big Money, November Hopes Survive for Democrats

June 11, 2018 by Jim Miller

Thud! What’s that sound? It’s the unceremonious crash landing of tens of millions of dollars of Charter Schools Association money in the Governor’s race backing Antonio Villaraigosa.

Never has such an obscene amount of money been spent on a bad cause with so little to show for it. The good news here is that their efforts to turn the November election into a proxy war between the billionaire boys club and California’s educators failed miserably.

Now, rather than having to watch the tragic irony of a multimillion-dollar crusade against teachers’ unions standing in for our Governor’s race in California while elsewhere in the red states teachers are turning the tide against decades of austerity budgeting brought to us by the GOP, we can watch a Democrat cruise to victory against the Trump-endorsed Republican.

That’s more like it.

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A Few Last-Minute Reminders for the Procrastinating Progressive Voter

June 4, 2018 by Jim Miller

If you are part of that dwindling tribe who (like me) still prefer to show up at your polling place to vote in person, here are a few final reminders for the procrastinating progressives out there:

Defeat the Lincoln Club: There is only one way to foil the plans of the Lincoln Club in the San Diego County Board of Supervisors race and discourage them from spending big money to intervene in San Diego Democratic politics in the future: Don’t Vote for Lori Saldana. See Doug Porter’s column on this race here. See my column here.

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Lori Saldaña and the Lincoln Club? Just Say NO

May 29, 2018 by Jim Miller

Campaign flyer showing funding sources

By Jim Miller

There’s been a lot of controversy lately about Lori Saldaña’s previously floundering County Board of Supervisors run getting a big money boost in the form of an independent expenditure campaign by the Lincoln Club, and while Doug Porter did a fine job of connecting the dots and explaining why both the Lincoln Club and the Working Families Council would be involved in a dark alliance to attack Nathan Fletcher and promote Saldaña, some folks wandering the barren landscape of social media still don’t seem to grok precisely how troubling these connections are for those inclined to support Saldaña, the self-proclaimed savior of the Democratic Party.

Thus, some history is in order.

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Why It Matters: Re-Electing Alicia Munoz & Rick Shea to the San Diego County Board of Education

May 21, 2018 by Jim Miller

Last week, after I wrote about the billionaire boys club behind the California Charter Schools Association pouring millions of dollars into Antonio Villaraigosa’s bid for governor, even more cash flowed into their campaign war chest the very next day.

As the New York Post reported:

Mike Bloomberg has plopped down $1.5 million to help elect former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as California’s next governor.

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