Columns

Looking Backwards: Taking Stock of the 10 Key Moments and Trends of the Last Decade

January 13, 2020 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

I took a week off from my soapbox for some holiday traveling and came home to a world on the brink of spiraling into a dangerous new global conflict. It wasn’t surprising.

In fact, crisis-all-the-time is our new normal, the zeitgeist of our era. While it would be easy to point to Trump as the central player in our increasingly overwrought national drama, the fact is that many of the trends that helped to shape the present preceded his presidency.

Thus, as we head into a new decade with the future on the line like it never has been before, it might be useful to consider some of the key moments of the last ten years along with the social, political, and economic forces that fostered them.

What are the ten most important happenings of the last American decade? Here is my best shot at the inevitably imperfect quick instant history:

* Occupy Wall Street: In the wake of the economic crisis and the steady, decades-long growth of economic inequality and bipartisan embrace of neoliberalism, Occupy exploded onto the American scene and forced issues of inequality, plutocracy, and the threat to American democracy into mainstream media circles and our national political discourse.

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Censored 2019: The Top 5 Most Under-Reported Stories of the Year

December 30, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Annually, Project Censored releases a list of the most under-reported stories of the year. In the past, their endeavor sometimes got pushback from defenders of the corporate media who claimed that their version of “censorship” was too loose or that it implied a corporate conspiracy that doesn’t exist. As I wrote in this space before, both of those criticisms fall flat.

Why?

Project Censored’s definition of censorship is a nuanced one:

We define Modern Censorship as the subtle yet constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality in our mass media outlets. On a daily basis, censorship refers to the intentional non-inclusion of a news story – or piece of a news story – based on anything other than a desire to tell the truth.

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Responding to Greta in a Different Way

December 24, 2019 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish girl, travels across the Atlantic Ocean to Lower Manhattan, in a sailboat, to save our world from the deadly forces of climate change.

For such a risk-taking endeavor she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.”

And our president, instead of offering her a High-Five, gets up at five and tweets that this wonderful girl is ridiculous and angry and needs to go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend and “Chill.”

Say what?

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Three Literary Stocking Gifts for Year Three of the Trump Era: Reading for Dark Times

December 23, 2019 by Jim Miller

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 (from local bookstores) to help them navigate our dark times is the next best thing.

Here are three notable political books of 2019 that flew further under the radar than they should have:

Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America
by Christopher Leonard.

Building on the excellent work done by Jane Mayer in Dark Money and Nancy MacLean in Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, Christopher Leonard outlines seven years of research into how the Kochtopus was born and grew into a nightmare for American democracy.

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Thoughts of My Generation Brought to Light by a Cartoon About a Quarterback

December 17, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

A high school classmate of mine likes to share his MAGA influenced leanings on my Facebook timeline.

Like the other day he sent me a meme with Colin Kaepernick saying “I’m kneeling to protest injustice against Black men in America!”

In the moment I read that I couldn’t help but glow inside, so grateful for this new generation of freedom fighters.

Then, a cartoon character, Charlie Brown, says “That’s odd. You joined Islam, a religion that still owns black slaves, and you don’t protest against that.”

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It’s Not Time to Vote for the Rich or their Apologists, It’s Time to Tax Them

December 16, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

There’s been a wave of pushback of late against progressive calls for big structural change. Corporate media pundits and neoliberal Democrats alike have been raising the alarm that America is not ready for bold policy when it comes to economics, healthcare, the environment, or anything else.

At the heart of much of this is the contention that it’s all too expensive and the Republicans will scare suburbanites into voting for Trump with cries of socialism and high taxes. Whatever we do, the argument goes, we need to beat back Warren and Sanders so Mayor Pete, Joe Biden, or maybe even Michael Bloomberg can come in and save the day with a healthy dose of “centrism.”

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Underneath Impeachment: 25 Random Headlines from Last Week

December 9, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Her Heart Stopped for 6 hours. Now She’s Ready to go Back to Work

Fractured Forests Are Endangering Wildlife, Scientists Find

Killer Heat: US Cities’ Plans for Coming Heatwaves Fail to Protect the Vulnerable

Eight-Year-Old Girl Strip-Searched Before Visiting Father at Prison

No Sex in the Bunkbeds!: Tales from the Most Intimate Sharing Economy Start Up Yet

Google’s Anti-Worker Actions Evoke IBM’s Racist Past

This Has Been the Warmest Decade in Earth’s History

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Basketball Has Been Very Good to Me

December 4, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Late in the morning, on Thanksgiving Day, I turned the television on, thinking, in that moment, of what I’m thankful for: my beautiful children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, my sexy woman, my wonderful friends, my health, my pension, so many things…

The first image I saw when my TV came on was a basketball player, dribbling right at a defender and suddenly, ever so smoothly, with grace, pulled up and sunk a jump shot right in the defender’s face.

That very shot was always money in the bank for me back in my playing days.

And, in the blinking of an eye, I was reminded of something else I’m thankful for: the role basketball has played in my life.

I mean basketball in many ways probably saved my life – from the front end, giving me a kind of spiritual place to go to, a place where I would get caught up in the sound of a ball being bounced smartly on a gym floor, where I could hear my and my teammates’ pounding feet as we hustle down the court to the rhythm of a fast-break being nicely run, on its way to being complete – when all that was going on, old Jim Crow and the other manifestos of racism in America were screened out of my mind much as a dense cloud hides the sun.

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After Black Friday

December 2, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Nowhere to go, nothing to acquire. That’s the endgame.

As is the tradition in my house, we spent Black Friday in the desert wandering in search of Nothing. It’s been both a way to escape the toxic insanity of the soul-crushing consumer frenzy that defines what we call the holidays and how we teach our kid that life is about people and experiences, not buying more shit.

This idea is by no means original to us but comes out of the post-Situationist ethos of folks like those who founded Adbusters and other proponents of Buy Nothing Day, the international protest against over-consumption that encourages us all to enjoy what they call:

[A] day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life. The rules are simple, for 24 hours you will detox from shopping and anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

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True or Not So True? That’s the Question.

November 26, 2019 by Judi Curry

Dispelling the Rumor Around Showering and Doing Laundry On Same Day

By Judi Curry

The last few days have seen comments on Next Door that pertain to Senate Bill 606 and Assembly Bill 1668 –the legality of showering and doing laundry on the same day, beginning January 1, 2020.

It is amazing how difficult it has been to check this out and see if it is true – or false. The best that I can tell is that former Governor Jerry Brown did sign these bills, but it is a falsehood about residents being penalized for showering and doing laundry on the same day.

The legislation imposes restrictions on water use on cities, water districts and some larger agricultural water districts. There is no truth to the rumor that California residents have been limited to

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Thanksgiving and American Mythology

November 25, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

As we head into the holiday season in the midst of one of the most divisive cultural and political moments in U.S. history, many people might be looking to the long American tradition of Thanksgiving as a moment of solace that evokes national unity.

Unfortunately, just like the wholesome fantasies of the Golden Era of bipartisanship that never existed being sold in some political quarters, the story of the first Thanksgiving is equally mythological. It’s not just that tales of the first Thanksgiving that many of us learned in school or around our family dinner tables are largely inaccurate,

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Drifting on the Winds of Love

November 21, 2019 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

I look at a picture of little boy me and it seems as though I’m about to gently rise and drift in the air.

And that’s how my life has seemed, like I’ve drifted in the air, on the winds of love, because I have truly been loved in my life.

Love is the first thing I ever felt – without knowing, of course, as a baby, that it was love I was feeling.

But I sure felt it, from my mother’s milk, from the soothing way she sang rock-a-by-baby” to put me to sleep.

From the feel of my “pinky” toe being wiggled and the bottom of my feet tickled while she sang about some little piggy crying “wee wee wee” all the way home to greet me when I awakened from my sleep.

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Bashing the Sixties in the Trump Era?

November 18, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Mike Wise hates the Sixties.

Last week in an odd, contextless opinion piece in the Washington Post , Wise let loose his word hoard in a strange screed bemoaning what he sees as a wave of naïve nostalgia about the much maligned and romanticized decade. In sum, the piece is his chance to “tell everyone to stop the revisionist history and shut the hell up.”

What seems to have set him off was a Janis Joplin revival and a 60 Minutes feature on research into psychedelics. A sample:

Interest in hallucinogenic drugs has rarely been stronger. The Oct. 13 episode of “60 Minutes” featured Johns Hopkins University’s ongoing psilocybin research studies.

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Wanting to Live for My Children

November 14, 2019 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

Life. Is there anything more precious? I think not.

But it can be crippling at times, for an extended period of time or, in moments, like the other day when I clicked on a picture of my kids, all of them.

My first impulse was to smile because they were smiling and looked lovely to me.

Then, suddenly, instead of making my face look like theirs, I was failing at holding back tears, shuddering, in that moment, as I realized I was looking at the images of four people when, for years, the answer to “How many kids do you have?” was “Six.”

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The Toll of Endless War on American Veterans

November 11, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

As America’s endless wars grind on, largely out of view, we have become good at bombastic displays of patriotism at ballgames and other public venues, but underneath our ritualized nods to the service of our veterans the unseen psychic toll suffered by those who fight our wars remains mostly invisible.

In fact, in the age of the all-volunteer military, most of us don’t really need to think that much about it.

Still the suffering is deep and pervasive, like it or not. Many of us don’t know that one out of ten homeless people on the street is a veteran (with some estimates putting it much higher). Thus, despite our official love of veterans, as a society we are clearly quite comfortable treating them like disposable people. Think about that the next time you see somebody sleeping in a storefront doorway: perhaps that person risked their life for your country.

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A Letter to a Little Boy Who Had His Life Taken Away

November 7, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I came across a letter the other day. A letter I had written to a boy who had his life taken away. A two-year old. Anthony was his name.

It was a letter which my heart insisted I write to maintain my sanity after sitting, as a juror, in a courtroom, where an attorney, a lawyer who was but a wielder of smoke screens on a clear windy day, trying to sway our opinions with what amounted to bullshit by any definition.

I mean I had sat for days being blown away, looking at pictures with arrows pointing

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Building a New World Out of the Ashes of the Old

November 4, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

One day last week, I was sitting at a table in a public space in San Diego doing political advocacy around education funding. And while the young activists I was with had a productive day and talked to a good number of engaged citizens, the thing that stood out to them the most, the thing we joked about, was the “zombie walk.”

This was the blank-faced, numb carriage of the majority of people closed off by ear buds or zoned out on their phones who couldn’t be bothered to even grant us (or anyone else for that matter) human recognition.

We were dead to them as they were to themselves.

That’s what you notice if you spend a lot of time watching people in public. It’s not that folks are angry or even alienated; they’re beyond alienation.

Of course, in the virtual world on our screens and on social media, we are full of animation, thrilled at our representations of ourselves or angry, very angry about the latest outrage usually committed by those outside of our self-selected silos.

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Trying to Help Children Create a Peaceful World

October 29, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Trying to help children create a peaceful world is difficult, to say the least. The reason being, I suppose, is because war seems to be the default way human beings have chosen, over time, to solve problems between nations.

Children are groomed to accept armed conflict in such a world.

I mean I grew up in the 40’s running around with my buddies, loudly mouthing the whistling and booming noises of bombs exploding and the rat-a-tat-tat sounds of war we learned how to playfully mimic at the movies on many a Saturday afternoon.

We were grunts and swabbies and jarheads and flyboys all wrapped in one, anchoring aweigh and flying off into the wild blue yonder and storming beaches and rolling those caissons along, practically every day.

Nobody ever said “Hey, haven’t you children ‘play killed’ enough people today?”

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As We Watch California Burn Yet Again It’s Time to Say Yes to ‘Save Our San Diego Countryside’

October 28, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

California’s burning (again) with Governor Newsom declaring a state of emergency for Los Angeles and Sonoma Counties in the wake of twelve fires raging across the state. Smoke swept throughout the Bay Area and parts north and delayed flights into San Francisco. Schools were closed in the affected regions, and close to two million people suffered through pre-emptive power shut-offs to try avoiding yet more blazes.

In Los Angeles, residents agonized through hellishly hot fall temperatures and respiratory problems while blazes in San Diego county broke out in Valley View and Ramona, reviving traumatic memories of apocalyptic fires past for many. In San Diego county, the damage has been minor so far, but the hot, dry, windy conditions ensure that another firestorm is always just around the corner.

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The Season of the Angry Moderate

October 21, 2019 by Jim Miller

National Democrats: Angry Moderates Attack Solidarity in Defense of Status Quo

By Jim Miller

It appears to the be the season of the angry moderate.

At least that’s what it looked like at last week’s Democratic presidential debate, as usually smug neoliberals like Joe Biden, Mayor Pete, and Amy Klobuchar took aim at Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ support of Medicare for All, with Klobuchar calling it a “pipe dream” while both Buttigieg and Biden waved the red flag of higher taxes that some Americans might be asked to pay in order to assure that everyone of us has free healthcare.

Of course, part of this is political, with Biden seemingly on the wane and Buttigieg and Klobuchar seeing an opening in the unapologetically moderate (read neoliberal) lane of the primary race. But the larger issue shouldn’t get lost under the political noise.

What the neoliberals’ attack on Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, the wealth tax and other proposals for bold structural changes reveals is the true nature of the National Democratic Party leadership.

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A Boy’s Dream Come True

October 16, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

It was a dream come true when I first stepped into a classroom of my own in 1962.

A dream born on my first day of kindergarten, as I sat at a desk going out of my mind, as there’s only so much “See Spot run” a five-year-old, who can already read, can take, for goodness sake.

Not to mention that school had barely begun when I heard a loud “Whack!” which was the sound of the school principal, Sister Mary Benedict, grand slamming my knuckles to kingdom come with a yardstick, like Willie Mays hitting a game winning homerun – because I had dozed off at my desk.

Needless to say that woke me up. Talking about “not seeing it coming.”

But how do you not cop a nod in a non-air-conditioned classroom in late August or early September in Tucson – freaking, Arizona?

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Labor, Community and Environmental Activists Need to Find Common Ground for a Green New Deal

October 14, 2019 by Jim Miller

Labor and the Environment Panel – Wednesday, October 16th

By Jim Miller

In Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, she outlines precisely how challenging it will be to respond to the climate crisis in the urgent fashion called for in the last UN IPCC report:

Pulling off this high-speed pollution phaseout, the report establishes, is not possible with singular technocratic approaches like carbon taxes, though those tools must be a part. Rather it requires deliberately and immediately changing how our societies produce energy, how we grow our food, how we move ourselves around, and how our buildings are constructed.

What is needed, the report’s summary states in its first sentence, is “rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

In the face of this daunting task, the answer to the question “What can I do as an individual?” is, Klein tells us, “nothing.”

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Restoring Justice Heart to Heart After the Racial Taunts From San Clemente High

October 7, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

If there is an American tradition that has lasted longer than “racial taunting” I’d like to know what it is.

It’s truly as American as apple pie.

And it often comes out of nowhere, rising at any time and at any place, as the Lincoln High Hornets Cheerleaders found out not too long ago at an away football game against the Tritons at San Clemente High.

Oh, they were just bouncing and dancing and prancing and chanting on behalf of their guys, trying, by the way, to hold their heads up high as the other guys were winning the day, big time, and the home crowd was feeling it, big time, having a grand old time, hugging each other and high fiving and dancing on their feet, their marching band tapping away with snappy victorious drum beats, the brass section blasting their horns until the cows come home…

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American Inequality is Still Surging Along, Now is the Time to Finally Address It.

October 7, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Back in June I noted in this space that despite the mainstream media chorus about our “good economy” things weren’t so great for the average American worker when –

“4 in 10 Americans couldn’t put together $400 in cash to meet an emergency expense, 6 in 10 couldn’t meet 3 months of expenses if they lost their jobs, only 36% of workers are on track with their retirement savings, and a quarter of Americans have skipped some kind of medical treatment in the past year because of finances.”

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An Enduring Progressive Majority in San Diego is Possible

September 30, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

As we move into yet another election cycle, perhaps it might be useful to start with a little perspective. Back in 2003 in the introduction to Under the Perfect Sun, Mike Davis, Kelly Mayhew, and I summarized the political landscape of San Diego as such:

War, tourist spectacle, endangered dissent: these are the perennial axes of modern San Diego history. Here, where illusion is a civic virtue, reality has always nestled inside spectacle like a set of Russian nesting dolls.

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Teaching About the World

September 24, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’ll always remember my first year of teaching, back to the very first day.

There I was standing before close to 40 sixth graders and I don’t recall at all what I had planned to say to start the day.

But before I could say anything I noticed that my students were looking me up and down like somebody assessing a used car at “U Can Trust Us Autos.”

I could tell they had questions on their minds, and then it dawned on me what they wanted answers to and I answered their questions before they asked me to:

“Six-five. Size fourteen. And, yeah, I play basketball.”

That set the tone for that year and for the rest of my career, a career well chosen because it fit me to a T, allowed me to totally be myself: to teach the way I wished my teachers had taught me.

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Student Voices from the San Diego Climate Walkout

September 23, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Last Friday – Sept.20 – , students in San Diego joined millions of people across the world and participated in the youth-led Global Climate Strike. In the face of condescending calls from many adult “leaders” for gradualist political “realism” to address the threat of mass extinction, young people are standing up to demand solutions commensurate with the problem we face.

What stands out to me about the message these young people are delivering is how clearly they see what far too many of their elders fail to recognize: that the responsibility for the climate crisis does not just fall on “all of us” equally but is disproportionately being driven by the global elite. Along with that, young people see that what we need is “systemic change” not incrementalism. Their clear-eyed analysis and urgency should inspire us all to wake up and stop failing future generations with yet more political cowardice.

Inside are two local voices

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Corporate Mea Culpas, Corrupt New Democrats, and Progressive Populists

September 9, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

This just in: our corporate overlords have turned over a new leaf. At least that’s what they were saying publicly quite recently. As the New York Times reported :

Nearly 200 chief executives, including the leaders of Apple, Pepsi and Walmart, tried on Monday to redefine the role of business in society — and how companies are perceived by an increasingly skeptical public.

Breaking with decades of long-held corporate orthodoxy, the Business Roundtable issued a statement on “the purpose of a corporation,” arguing that companies should no longer advance only the interests of shareholders. Instead, the group said, they must also invest in their employees, protect the environment and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers.

What to make of this development? Not too much, most likely.

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A School Day I’ll Never Forget

September 4, 2019 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

Friday, November 22, 1963.

I woke up that morning as I did every morning, cursing my alarm clock for waking me.

Getting that off my chest I got my day underway primping and talking to that dude in the mirror about what he and I might do that day to keep about 40 sixth graders at Oliver Hazard Perry Elementary excited and challenged and eager to come back for more the next day.

So when I made my merry way to school in my raggedy 49 ford (all I could afford at the time with the paltry pay a second year teacher raked in) I was probably humming and singing the tunes of the day: “Our day will come,” adding my bass; “You’ve really got a hold on me,” thinking of love with a smile on my face; “Walking the dog” for a change of pace…

That was literally how I “rolled” on the mornings of a school day.

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Labor Day 2019: Unions Weather the Storm and Look to Build a Brighter Future

September 2, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

These last few years have been particularly challenging times for the American Labor movement as we’ve faced everything from a host of anti-labor policies coming from Washington to a Supreme Court decision designed to gut public sector unions. The good news is that despite all of that, the union movement has persevered and the number of Americans who support unions and say they would like the opportunity to join one is the highest it has been in decades.

Of course, the difficulties that unions face aren’t just the product of the politics of the present. They are, as labor writer Steven Greenhouse observes, the product of what he calls an American “anti-worker exceptionalism” that makes us stand out in comparison to most other developed nations with our lack of things like national laws guaranteeing maternity leave, paid sick days, or vacation time.

The United States also has one of the lowest minimum wages

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