Summer Chronicles 2019 #4: The Body Electric on the Beach

July 15, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

A stroll down the beach on a hot summer day is a prayer to the human body. To be in and of your body, just as it is, loving and unashamed, is everyone’s birthright. Feeling the sun on your skin, the sand underfoot, and the cool embrace of the sea is a divine pleasure, and surely if there was no one else on the shore, it would be sublime.

But at the height of summer, the crowd too is a delight.

As I lumber along in my now middle aged body, with its surplus flesh, scars, and gray hairs beginning to mix with the rest, I lose myself in the throng of other bodies—young and old, fat and thin, oddly and elegantly shaped, homely and beautiful—all the arms, legs, backs, stomachs, breasts, backsides, and faces sun-kissed and sprinkled with fine grains of sand—a collective expression of the embodied self.

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Summer Chronicles 2019 #3: Thoughts About Kerouac from San Diego to Big Sur

July 8, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Summer is here and for many that means it’s time to hit the road and see the country. Perhaps no other American writer is as synonymous with the road trip as Jack Kerouac, for whom San Diego was little more than a dull place to ride through.

Kerouac wrote in his journal in 1950:

“San Diego rich, dull, full of old men, traffic, the sea smell — Up the bus goes thru gorgeous seaside wealthy homes of all colors of the rainbow on the blue sea — cream clouds —red flower — dry sweet atmosphere—very rich, new cars, 50 miles of it incredibly, an American Monte Carlo.”

More impressive to Kerouac, cultural critic David Reid notes, was Jacumba, of which the king of the Beats wrote: “birds at misty and a man walking out of the trees of Mexico into the American sleepy border street of shacks and trees and backyard dumps–(Future place for me).”

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Summer Chronicles 2019 #2: Fried Egg Plants and Sage

July 1, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

The anarchy of my unkempt yard delights me. After a series of unseasonably late rainstorms, it is an unruly jungle of desert sage, fried egg plants, and delicate little yellow flowers I can’t quite identify. Usually by this time of year the grass is half dead and the gardeners have brutally hacked down the foliage out front, leaving nothing but stubs to grow back. But fortunately, the crew the property manager hired has been blessedly restrained and no one is complaining.

Sitting on the porch on a sunny day, the fried egg poppies are a wonder to behold. Most of the year their green stalks lie barren until late May when the buds appear, and, if there are good rains like this year, the bloom is abundant with large white flowers exploding atop the tall green stalks, a brilliant yellow pistil—a miracle at the center.

By the front gate, intermingling with the fried egg plants, is an overgrown desert sage with intricate purple flowers.

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Summer Chronicles 2019 #1: June Gloom

June 24, 2019 by Jim Miller

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 in comparable 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.

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Strong Economy For Whom? Things Aren’t So Great for the Average American Worker

June 17, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

A lot of the talk heading into the summer has been about how, despite all of the craziness at the White House, the “economy is strong” under Trump. And while the stock market has been robust and unemployment low, there is a lot more to the story than what this superficial narrative relays.

What doesn’t get measured by the statistical snapshots that capture headlines or are repeated ad nauseum by talking heads on TV is how the economy is working for the average American at a deeper level. Thus, when one probes a little bit beneath the surface, the U.S. economy doesn’t look so hot after all. Perhaps that’s why most Americans, according to recent polling, think the economy is only really working for “those in power.”

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Rebranding the ‘Kochtopus’? It’s All About Winning the Long War for the Radical Right

June 10, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Back in January of 2016, Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, reported on the Koch brothers’ efforts to partner with liberals on criminal justice reform in the New Yorker in which she noted that:

A new, data-filled study by the Harvard scholars Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez reports that the Kochs have established centralized command of a “nationally-federated, full-service, ideologically focused” machine that “operates on the scale of a national U.S. political party.”

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Will San Francisco’s Tech Bro Nightmare Become San Diego’s Future?

June 3, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Bohemian San Francisco is deader than a doornail. That was the theme of a recent Washington Post piece by Karen Heller, “How San Francisco Broke America’s Heart”, that observed how “the great American romantic city” had been ruined by an army of tech bros and the economic forces they represent. As Heller writes, “everyone agrees that something has rotted in San Francisco,” and it’s not a product of the city’s liberalism, but of a new wave of libertarian capitalism:

Real estate is the nation’s costliest. Listings read like typos, a median $1.6 million for a single-family home and $3,700 monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment.

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The Costs of Endless Wars

May 27, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

If you don’t know someone in the military, sometimes it can be easy to forget that the United States has been in a war that never ends since 9/11. As a professor at City College, I see the effects in and out of the classroom as the stream of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and/or dealing with war related health issues continues unabated and is frequently unrecognized by the community.

The same could be said of the skyrocketing suicide rates for active duty military and veterans .

As for the fallen that Memorial Day is meant to remember, the numbers since 9/11 are troubling with 480,000 dead from wars in the Middle East and Asia, including 280,000 civilians, according to a recent study from the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Other studies put just the number of Iraqis killed in that conflict at a cold 1,000,000.

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The Great Backlash is Upon Us: Women’s Reproductive Rights Are Under Assault

May 20, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew

The war on women is on.

Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, and, soon, Louisiana, will join several other states to enact draconian legislation aiming to criminalize abortion, and, by extension, women’s reproductive freedom. The purported endgame is to wave a red flag under the noses of the Supreme Court to get them to overturn Roe v. Wade and abolish legal abortion in the U.S. once and for all.

As Michelle Goldberg put it in the New York Times :

“You can see, in the anti-abortion movement, a mood of triumphant anticipation. Decades of right-wing politics have all led up to this moment, when an anti-abortion majority on the Supreme Court could end women’s constitutional protection against being forced to carry a pregnancy and give birth against their will.”

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The Earth is Dying – Is Anyone Up to Facing this Historic Crisis?

May 13, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

The headlines screamed across front-pages last week. “One Million Species Face Extinction, U.N. report says. And Humans will Suffer as a Result,” blared the Washington Post . “Humans are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace,” the New York Times echoed. “Human Society Under Urgent Threat from Loss of Earth’s Natural Life,” warned the Guardian).

Suffice to say, this is a big deal. As the Post piece noted, the UN Report outlines “alarming implications for humanity” in that:

The landmark report by seven lead co-authors from universities across the world goes further than previous studies by directly linking the loss of species to human activity. It also shows how those losses are undermining food and water security, as well as human health.

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Taking Stock of Life on My Birthday

May 6, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Today my column falls on my birthday, and while I have never been much for formal celebrations, there is something about turning the page (in this case to 54) that makes one stop for a moment and ponder the passing of time and the meaning of this day in the stream of all the others. It is, in fact, just another day, one we arbitrarily mark in the larger collection of them that we call our lives.

For this reason, the Buddhists prefer to say things like “Happy Today’s Day” or “Happy Continuation” rather than attaching themselves to the illusion of measured time. Surely this is a wise practice.

Nonetheless, the Western temptation to measure and/ or evaluate persists, so we like to notch our belts as we go with lists of accomplishments: I got a degree, a job, a marriage, a family, a set of social or material accomplishments, etc.

By this reckoning, the birthday can become a sort of life resume check

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May Day in San Diego: Remember the Folks Who Brought You the 8-Hour Day

April 29, 2019 by Jim Miller

May Day March Kickoff:
Wednesday, May 1st at 3:30pm
at Thomas Jefferson School of Law
701 B St. San Diego, CA. 92101
Rally: 5:00pm at Sempra Energy
488 Eighth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
After Rally, March Continues to Barrio Logan

By Jim Miller

The majority of Americans don’t know much about May Day or they simply associate it with the state sponsored holiday in the former Soviet Union. For the most part, it’s lost down the memory hole. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover a whole forgotten history of American workers and their struggle for basic dignity and rights in the workplace and in society.

The truth of the matter is that May Day has deep American roots. It started in 1866 as part of the movement pushing for the 8-hour day. As historian Jacob Remes reminds us:

The demand for an eight-hour day was about leisure, self-improvement and freedom, but it was also about power. When Eight Hour Leagues agitated for legislation requiring short hours, they were demanding what had never before happened: that the government regulate industry for the advantage of workers.

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Want a Better Future for San Diego? Support Students for Economic Justice

April 22, 2019 by Jim Miller

Fundraiser for the Center on Policy Initiatives’ SEJ Summer Fellowship Program – Friday, April 26th

By Jim Miller

In so many ways we are giving this generation of young people a raw deal. Whether it be saddling them with crushing debt if they choose to attend college, allowing economic inequality to hinder their opportunities, or imperiling their future by failing to address the threat of catastrophic climate change, we have done our youth a great disservice.

And this is not just a collective failure of society in general.

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The State of the Nation: Unhappy and Burned Out

April 15, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

If our morning commutes tell us anything, it’s that there are a lot of miserable, angry people out there. Sometimes on my drive to the gym, I make the mistake of counting the number of people who either cut me off, speed up to not let me change lanes, or dangerously tailgate my car.

Let’s just say the numbers are regularly dismaying.

It’s a Social Darwinist nightmare out there on the road in F-You Nation, and I have long thought that this phenomenon spoke to something larger afoot in the country—a collective darkness seems to be on the rise, and not just on the political front. We are an unhappy bunch.

As the Washington Post recently reported:

Americans are unhappy, according to the report, an annual list ranking the overall happiness levels of 156 countries — and it’s only getting worse.

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3rd Annual Progressive Labor Summit 2019 in San Diego, Saturday April 13th

April 8, 2019 by Jim Miller

All Day Conference at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Mission Valley at 7450 Hazard Center Drive from 9:00 AM until 5:30 PM.

Want a great crash course in local, statewide, and national progressive issues and politics? Then you won’t want to miss the third annual Progressive Labor Summit this Saturday, April 13th in Mission Valley. This one-day event will feature a wide range of speakers and breakout sessions on labor, the environment, immigration, housing, transit, education, local politics, organizing, and much more.

Some of day’s highlights include: the first San Diego mayoral forum with Todd Gloria, Tasha Williamson, and Barbara Bry; a discussion with leaders from the unions whose recent strikes woke up the country—the United Teachers Los Angeles and the Oakland Education Association

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In Defense of ‘Meh’: Enough With this AOC Character Already!

April 1, 2019 by Jim Miller

This post was written for April 1st.

By Jim Miller

Recently, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took an unwarranted shot at the heart and soul of American Democracy: the moderates. As NBC news reported, AOC opined that:

“Moderate is not a stance. It’s just an attitude towards life of, like, ‘meh,’” she said, shrugging her shoulders for emphasis. “We’ve become so cynical, that we view ‘meh,’ or ‘eh’ — we view cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude, and we view ambition as youthful naivete when … the greatest things we have ever accomplished as a society have been ambitious acts of visions.

“The ‘meh’ is worshiped now. For what?” she continued to cheers.

What can one say about this impudent snark other than, how dare she?

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The College Admission Scandal Shows Us Who We Are: A Plutocracy Posing as a Meritocracy

March 25, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

This is who we are now: a country where the criminal rich brazenly buy their kids’ ways into elite colleges while the sons and daughters of ordinary Americans scrape and claw to gain admission and then struggle to pay for the skyrocketing costs of higher education. As a recent Public Broadcasting Service story on the college admissions scandal put it:

The multimillion-dollar bribery scheme unveiled by the Justice Department this week has sparked equal parts outrage and incredulity over the astonishing lengths some wealthy parents have gone to get their children into the prestigious universities of their choice.

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Hey, American Labor! Listen to the Next Generation on the Green New Deal

March 18, 2019 by Jim Miller

 

Labor Needs to Listen to the Next Generation and Help Craft a Green New Deal with Strong Labor Provisions

By Jim Miller

Young people across the world are making sure their voices are heard. I was proud of my son, his friends, and their classmates last week when they walked out of San Diego High School to participate in the Global Climate Strike during which over a million students worldwide in two thousand locations across one hundred and twenty-five countries stood up to call for urgent climate action .

Moments like these serve as lights in the greater darkness.

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From Super Bloom to Super Bust: The Water Crisis that Could Kill Borrego Springs

March 11, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

The formal beginning of spring is just around the corner, but an unusually wet winter already has visitors flooding into Borrego Springs in search of desert sunflowers, verbena, lupine, poppies, and primrose.

Thanks to a chain of storms, the desert is green and bursting with the promise of a rare “super bloom” that will likely carpet its floor with wildflowers in and around Anza-Borrego State Park. For local Borrego Springs businesses and hotels, this event is an economic boom that floods the town with a wave of commerce and full hotel rooms.

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The System Is Rigged Because We Allow the Rich to Rig the Discourse

March 4, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

In my last column on the rocket-speed escalation of economic inequality in the United States, I noted how one of the central problems we face is that “the current neoliberal ideological hegemony finds basic economic justice unimaginable.”

Of course, America is a capitalist country where the interests of the powerful shape the ideological landscape, but there have been moments in our history when counterhegemonic forces and ideas have opened space for more egalitarian thinking and politics. For instance, the rise of both the labor and civil rights movements pushed back against and altered the status quo as have other, more short-lived but still significant eruptions of dissent. Indeed, just last week, public school teachers in Oakland

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When Will We Finally Find the Courage to Challenge the Status Quo?

February 25, 2019 by Jim Miller

The Wages of Inequality Continue to Grow, Year after Year

Over the last few weeks, the national political discourse has been chock-full of ridiculous handwringing in what stands in for progressive circles over whether Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and “the left” will push the Democrats beyond what whoever the pundit of the moment is deems the “acceptable” political boundaries.

Apparently, Trump can flirt with authoritarianism, push the world toward ecocide, and lie through his teeth every day but Democrats cross the line when they fail to properly genuflect before our plutocratic masters.

Meanwhile, America’s moneyed elite are laughing all the way to the bank. The rich are getting richer so fast that it’s hard to keep up with them.

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It’s Not Those Pushing the Green New Deal Who are Naïve About Our Current Crisis

February 18, 2019 by Jim Miller

The Moderate Threat to Climate Action

By Jim Miller

As heartening as the emergence of the Green New Deal as a political rallying cry and litmus test of sorts for the early field of Democratic presidential candidates is, the predictably negative response in other quarters is equally dismaying.

Of course, the most obvious naysaying comes from the Republicans and the rightwing media following the lead of a president who suggests that snowstorms and cold weather are evidence that climate change isn’t happening.

But that’s not the real problem.

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Fear of a Socialist Planet: From Davos to D.C. to the Democratic Party, a New “Red Scare” Emerges

February 11, 2019 by Jim Miller

Last week in the State of the Union, Trump unveiled one of the pillars of his re-election campaign in the midst of his speech:

“America will never be a socialist country.”

While this line of attack is clearly a predictable jab at the rising popularity of policy ideas promoted by Democratic Socialists Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez like free college, Medicare for all, and raising taxes on the rich, it also reveals a rising fear on the part of the global elite that a populist left might be far more dangerous to their interests than the current brand of extreme rightwing populism in the United States and elsewhere across the globe.

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Labor Council in San Diego On Board With the Green New Deal

February 4, 2019 by Jim Miller

The San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council Passes Resolution in Support of a Green New Deal

Sometimes the unexpected happens. Last year, during one of her first visits to the Capitol as a newly elected member of the House of Representatives, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines by joining a group of young activists from the Sunrise Movement protesting outside Nancy Pelosi’s office and calling for a Green New Deal. Since that time, Pelosi has formed a committee to address the idea, but, even more importantly, a Green New Deal has emerged as one of the key progressive talking points in the early days of the Democratic presidential race, forcing even some reluctant candidates to at least give it a nod.

Not surprisingly, probable candidate Bernie Sanders is at the front of the line, but he has been joined by Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and even some less likely suspects who despite their “centrism” seemed to feel it necessary to voice qualified if grudging support to some form of a Green New Deal.

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Lessons from the LA Teachers Strike

January 28, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

After a little more than a week of striking, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) captured the public’s imagination, helped transform the national narrative about education, won a solid new contract, and positioned themselves well for the battles to come.

For those of us in education this was an inspiring moment that showed the potential for smart organizing and activism to change the game in important ways.

As I wrote last week, UTLA was taking a lead from both the social movements of the sixties and other, more recent examples of militant protests and strikes by fellow educators elsewhere in the United States from Chicago to West Virginia.

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The United Teachers of Los Angeles: Walking the Picket Line in the Footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 21, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

This year the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday falls in the midst of one of the biggest teachers strikes in recent American history. And Dr. King, who gave his life while supporting a public sector sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee because he saw it as a model for his Poor People’s Campaign, would recognize the spirit of this strike.

By the end of his life, King, who had long supported labor, came to question not just racial injustice, but also the economic and political struggles he identified as the edifices which produce beggars in the marketplace. His call for questioning the evils of racial, economic and other forms of institutionalized exploitation led him to challenge the American power structure and the unjust business as usual of our society.

That is precisely what the teachers in Los Angeles are doing.

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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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