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,

Read the full article → 0 comments

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.

Read the full article → 0 comments

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—

Read the full article → 0 comments

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.

Read the full article → 0 comments

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.

Read the full article → 0 comments

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.

Read the full article → 5 comments

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.

Read the full article → 0 comments

Antonio Villaraigosa: A Candidate Backed by the Billionaire Boys Club and Trump Megadonors

May 14, 2018 by Jim Miller

Getting bored yet with all the glossy Anthony Villaraigosa commercials touting the utopia that will be California if only the former mayor of Los Angeles rises from the basement in the polls and becomes our next governor? Just a few weeks ago, Villaraigosa was languishing at 9% in the polls, having fallen behind the no-name Republicans in the race to see who would compete against Gavin Newsom in November. Now the airwaves in the Golden State are awash in all things Antonio all the time.

What gives?

Read the full article → 4 comments

Earth’s Atmosphere Crosses Another Threshold

May 7, 2018 by Jim Miller

Last week after I sent off my column about why I wrote Last Days in Ocean Beach, a novel about living on the border between dread and wonder in the Anthropocene, the news cycle was full of coincidental but eerie echoes. A Los Angeles Times story observed of the recent floods in Kauai, “A Hawaiian island got about 50 inches of rain in 24 hours.

Scientists warn it’s a sign of the future,” while the Washington Post reported, “’Fallen off a cliff’: Scientists have never observed so little ice in the Bering Sea in spring.”

Read the full article → 1 comment

‘Some San Diegans Want to Keep Having a Beach Party at the End of the World’

April 30, 2018 by Jim Miller

Author of Last Days in Ocean Beach Explains How We Live on the Border Between Dread and Wonder

Last Days in Ocean Beach is an effort to capture the mood of deep unease and uncertainty that permeates our era and informs the thinking of many writers, artists, and intellectuals, even if they are not quite saying it out loud.

It was written before the election of Donald Trump, but it is clear that his election only underlines the chasm between the cartoon reality driving much of our social, cultural, and political discourse and the unrelentingly grim truth that we are killing the world whether many of us want to admit it or not.

Read the full article → 2 comments

Shedding Light on the Shady Money Trail of a Candidate for Calif. Superintendent of Public Instruction

April 9, 2018 by Jim Miller

Recently, when the San Francisco Chronicle endorsed Marshall Tuck for California Superintendent of Public Instruction, they did so because, according to their editorial board, he has “the skills and vision to bring about needed change” and would stand up to “the status quo” (read: teachers’ unions).

While it has become quite common for mainstream corporate media outlets to blindly parrot the rhetoric of corporate education reformers, in this case, it is an exercise in doublethink of Trumpian proportions. Far from being a populist outsider fighting the establishment, Tuck is the pure product of the billionaire class.

Read the full article → 0 comments

Back to the Spring Rituals of Baseball

April 2, 2018 by Jim Miller

Baseball is back, and, as I do every year—no matter how bad the Padres are—I enjoy re-immersing myself in the game. And, as opposed to our president who argues in this ridiculous interview that talent comes strictly from innate ability and is made manifest on the Social Darwinist proving ground of sport, I know that it’s all about focus and work. Perhaps the most important thing of all is failure that leads to more focus and work and honing one’s craft.

You alone with the thing itself.

On the diamond this cliché holds true: even the best players fail most of the time, sometimes quite badly. .

Read the full article → 2 comments

If the Democrats Want a Blue Wave Next Election, Don’t Sell Out Main Street for Money

March 26, 2018 by Jim Miller

I have long thought that if you wanted to look back to find one of the key moments that showed how out of touch the Democratic establishment was on economic issues that it might very well blow the 2016 Presidential election, you’d likely want to revisit the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Indeed, in 2015, in the wake of the riots in Baltimore, I observed how President Obama could sound great on some social justice issues while badly missing on key economic ones:

So while Obama might be talking social justice this week, he is walking corporate rule. death panels.

Read the full article → 1 comment

The National School Walkout: Welcome to the Future

March 19, 2018 by Jim Miller

Sometimes just the act of standing up against injustice starts to make things right. Speaking the truth to power can be redemptive. That’s how it felt last week as I watched my own family and my students (who I love like family) take part in the National School Walkout Day. If you are middle-aged like me and have participated in too many protests and political activities to count, it’s easy to start to see activism as work, a job that needs to be done but takes its toll– particularly in these grim times. You get tired, weary of the endless fight.

Then, once in a while, something happens that gives you renewed life, helps you see the world again with fresh eyes.

That’s what watching my kid get ready for the Roosevelt Middle School Walkout did for me.

Read the full article → 0 comments

Notes from the Class War: the West Virginia Strike Shows That Solidarity Wins

March 12, 2018 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

In the early days of the Trump administration, most savvy observers were quick to note that, populist bluster aside, Trump’s policies would be a disaster for America’s already historic level of economic inequality. As economist Charles Ballard wrote in The Hill, “the main thrust of policy proposals from President Trump is to maintain, and even accelerate, the anti-egalitarian policies of recent decades.”

A year later, it’s now abundantly clear that the anti-egalitarian nature of this administration has only poured gasoline on the fire.

Read the full article → 0 comments

Marshall Tuck’s Dirty Secret: How Right-Wing Money Infiltrates Democratic Politics

March 5, 2018 by Jim Miller

Recently in the lead up to the Janus vs. AFSCME case that hit the Supreme Court last week, I wrote several columns focusing on the impact of the Koch brothers’ network’s attack on the union movement, the Democratic Party, and public education. Thus, I was cheered to learn that the California Democratic Party overwhelmingly endorsed the stalwart progressive Tony Thurmond over Marshall Tuck for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

While this is a low-profile affair as statewide races go, it is important because lots of moneyed interests see it as a way to push their agenda under the radar here in super blue California.

Read the full article → 0 comments

Teachers, Guns, and Money

February 26, 2018 by Jim Miller

The generalized rage and indiscriminate, spectacular violence that characterized the first year of the Trump era shows no sign of abating. In the wake of yet another horrifying mass murder at a school in Florida, the President’s response is to meet senseless violence with the threat of more violence.

Speaking to justify his breathtakingly stupid proposal to arm teachers as a defense against school shootings, Trump opined that if the educators at Stoneman Douglas High School had weapons they would have stopped the attack, “A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened.”

The logic of Trump’s cartoon Western version of the world is chilling.

Read the full article → 0 comments

Working People’s Day of Action at Convention Center Park – February 24th

February 19, 2018 by Jim Miller

This coming Saturday, Feb. 24th thousands of workers, along with their families, friends, and allies in the community, will gather in San Diego to stand up for the rights of working Americans in the face of the impending Janus vs AFSCME decision by the Supreme Court that aims further rig the system against us. Against this assault, we will continue to insist on our right to form strong unions, raise our collective voice, and fight for equitable pay, affordable health care, civil rights, strong communities, and quality public education for all.

As public sector unions confront the threat of Janus, it is important to remember that fifty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Memphis to support striking city sanitation workers. By the time of his assassination, King had come to see that it was impossible to fight for civil rights without including economic rights. The battle for racial equality was inextricably linked to the fight for economic opportunity.

Read the full article → 1 comment

Will ‘Money Is Speech’ Logic of Supreme Court Be Used to Screw American Workers?

February 12, 2018 by Jim Miller

In the wake of my last column on the agenda of the billionaire backers of the Janus vs. AFSCME case soon to be heard by the Supreme Court, the Los Angeles Times published a solid piece that outlined the broader context and suspect reasoning guiding this shameless attack on American labor:

This year, the high court is poised to announce its most significant expansion of the 1st Amendment since the Citizens United decision in 2010, which struck down laws that limited campaign spending by corporations, unions and the very wealthy.

Now the “money is speech” doctrine is back and at the heart of a case to be heard this month that threatens the financial foundation of public employee unions in 22 “blue” states.

Read the full article → 0 comments

The Koch Brothers’ War on Unions is a War on Democrats, Education, and Democracy

February 5, 2018 by Jim Miller

There’s blood in the water. That’s the sense that the money behind the American Right has as we head into the second year of the Trump era. And with recent polls showing the big Democratic polling edge ebbing, the sharks are beginning to circle.

But, as unsettling as that is, there is a lot more at stake than just one election cycle.

Read the full article → 0 comments

Two Bad Ideas for California Higher Education in Governor Brown’s Budget Proposal

January 29, 2018 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

It’s the first week of classes in the San Diego Community College District where I teach, and, as has become almost an annual ritual, the new year comes with a number of suspect education reforms from Sacramento.

Jerry Brown released his budget proposal recently, and unfortunately, there are two big, bad ideas that the Governor would like to be part of his higher education legacy: a new fully online college and performance-based funding. What unites these initiatives is that they are both driven more by corporate education reform ideology than sound pedagogy or evidence that they will be effective in reaching their stated aim.

I’ll start with the online college.

Read the full article → 2 comments

Welcome to Plutocracy: Wealthiest 1% of Americans Own 40% of Country’s Wealth

January 22, 2018 by Jim Miller

Buried under all the noise of the national circus over the last month was some fairly stark economic news. Despite all the hoopla about the stock market booming along and other financial happy talk, it appears the iceberg of economic inequality is becoming an even larger threat to our collective ship.

Late last December we learned that the world’s wealthiest people got a whole lot richer in 2017. As the Washington Post reported, “The richest people on earth became $1 trillion richer in 2017, more than four times last year’s gain, as stock markets shrugged off economic, social and political divisions to reach record highs.”

Read the full article → 0 comments

Love and Resistance: Lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 15, 2018 by Jim Miller

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, for those of us who deeply value his legacy, it’s hard not to greet the first official King holiday of the Trump era with a deep sense of painful irony. As I wrote last year at this time on the eve of his inauguration:

Today we are at [a] dead-end with Trump’s administration full of revanchist billionaires, right-wing demagogues, and military strongmen representing the triumph of market fundamentalism married to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and authoritarian militarism. Simply put, in Trump Nation, King’s “triple evils” [of racism, economic injustice, and militarism] are akin to the holy trinity.

Unfortunately, the last year has done little else but confirm this proclamation, making this year’s remembrance especially important. For King’s critique of American society is now even more relevant than it has been in the decades since his death—it haunts us like a ghost.

Read the full article → 1 comment

Reflections on 2017: The Year of Generalized Rage

January 8, 2018 by Jim Miller

My first column back after the holiday hiatus comes in the wake of all the usual end-of-the-year media ruminations on the significance of 2017, most of which focused on a notable person, seminal event, a list of significant trends, etc. While there were many astute observations to be found, the one thing that stood out to me as definitive of 2017 was not a person, place, or thing, but the phenomenon of generalized rage.

In his most recent book, Requiem for the American Dream: The Ten Principles of the Concentration of Wealth and Power Noam Chomsky describes the phenomenon that more than anything else defines the Age of Trump:

Read the full article → 0 comments

Burning the Christmas Greens

December 27, 2017 by Jim Miller

[Editor: Here are sites for San Diego’s Christmas Tree Re-cycling Program.]

In William Carlos Williams’s famous poem “Burning the Christmas Greens” he notes how at “the thick of the dark moment” in “winter’s midnight” we turn to the trees because “green is a solace” that we use to “fill our need.” Thus the “living green” along with “paper Christmas bells covered with tinfoil and fastened by red ribbons” seem “gentle and good to us.”

But then when their time is past we feel the relief as we clear our rooms and assign the greens to the fireplace and “in the jagged flames green to red, instant and alive.” And we stand “breathless to be witnesses as if we stood ourselves refreshed among the shining fauna of that fire.”

Read the full article → 1 comment

Progressive Stocking Stuffers for Year Two of the Trump Era: Reading for Dark Times

December 18, 2017 by Jim Miller

If you just can’t bring yourself to give up on the sordid consumer frenzy and go all in for a Buy Nothing Christmas, then perhaps getting your loved ones a few good books to help them navigate our dark times is the next best thing.

Here is my list of a handful of some of the best books of the last awful year:

As I noted in my first column on this fine book, “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 . . .

Read the full article → 1 comment

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.

Read the full article → 0 comments

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. .

Read the full article → 1 comment

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.

Read the full article → 0 comments

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.

Read the full article → 0 comments