Columns

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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Much Needed Prop 13 Reform Is on It’s Way with ‘Schools and Communities First’ Ballot Measure

August 26, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

There is a movement afoot to reform Proposition 13, with community organizations aligned with labor promoting the Schools and Communities First ballot measure. Why would anyone want to touch the third rail of California politics? The answer is simple: we can keep its central benefit to homeowners while closing an unnecessary corporate loophole that will help our schools, cities, and counties across California.

Ever since its passage in 1978, Proposition 13 has starved California’s schools and local governments of funding. While the measure was pitched as a way to keep individual homeowners from being buried by taxes, the real beneficiaries of Prop. 13 were not elderly folks or other vulnerable groups struggling to hang on to their homes, but super rich corporate property holders.

What most voters don’t know about Proposition 13 is that it gave huge commercial property owners like Disneyland the same tax break as your grandmother.

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Still Trying to Keep Martin’s Dream Alive         

August 23, 2019 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

Nothing has ever resonated with me more than the “I Have a Dream” prose and poetry Martin Luther King delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on a pleasant summer day in 1963.

I was about to enter my second year of teaching and I couldn’t wait to share my thoughts about Martin and about what he had to say that day just in case any of my sixth graders were, in their youthful innocence, confused about what was being said about him throughout the country – all the demonizing of him as a womanizer and the FBI describing him as a dangerous commie, a designated “enemy of the state.”

I was eager to sit down with such young learners and set the record straight, to give them a bit of insight on the man from a black perspective. Mine.

I wanted to throw in some facts into the mix of insinuations and accusations in the air so that they could know and understand that Martin, this remarkable human being, rather than being a threat to our way of life, was devoted to making us more loving and caring as a nation.

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Is the Democratic Party Leadership Afraid to Have a Serious Debate on the Climate Crisis?

August 19, 2019 by Jim Miller

Will Dems Even Be Allowed Have a Debate on the Crisis in the Midst of the Sixth Extinction?

By Jim Miller

It’s no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention that the Trump administration’s environmental policy is an out-of-control death train roaring down the tracks toward ecocide. The latest bit of insanity hit last week when the administration announced that it was significantly weakening the Endangered Species Act in the wake of the UN report last May warning that up to one million plant and animal species were at risk of extinction.

As the New York Times Editorial Board wrote of this decision:

Now comes what amounts to a thumb in the eye from the Trump administration: The Interior Department announced a set of rules on Monday that, far from enlarging protections, will weaken how the nation’s most important conservation law,

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In a Freedom State of Mind

August 13, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Freedom.

What an alluring concept: The power to move about in your world unhindered and unrestrained under normal circumstances.

But such a definition of “liberty,” based on my life experiences, is but a fantasy, as I’ve spent a lifetime pursuing it, relentlessly, like I used to go after rebounds back in my basketball days – but it’s been as elusive as a black cat, at midnight, in an unlit alley.

Because just when you think you’re about to finally board that freedom train, a young black quarterback, in the NFL, takes a knee as thousands of football fans, his fellow Americans, stand proudly with their hands over their hearts, straining their vocal chords as they end the anthem they’re singing with “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

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Summer Chronicles #8: Moments of Grace

August 12, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

We need to escape the prison of measured time.

Time as we know it is a social construct, a product of historical and economic forces which, in turn, serves to reify them so that we confuse them with nature.

Our particularly American sense of time is not just the product of centuries of the western progress narrative, but also of our unique mutation of the Protestant work ethic, born of Calvinism, secularized by Benjamin Franklin, and perversely systematized by Fredric Winslow Taylor, whose project to create a more efficient workplace in the early 20th century through time and motion studies fostered a gospel of time-management and efficiency that devalued everything that makes life worth living in the service of efficient production.

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Summer Chronicles # 7: We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves

August 5, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

I had to find an old picture the other day, and I found myself flipping through decades of photos in boxes and on my computer. Other than showing me, sometimes brutally, how much older I am now, I found that this exercise did much more than chip away at my vanity.

When we see images of ourselves in our childhoods, adolescence, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and on, it gives us a chance to consider how that thing we like to call “ME” is far more transient, indeed downright flimsy, than we sometimes like to think.

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Love Lifted Me! from Dripping With Love in a Sea of Hate

July 31, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Love lifted me!
Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me!

Oh, how I used to love hearing Sister Lillie Walls light up Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church singing that song on many a Sunday morn.

She had a silky deeply sincere voice that ranged between soprano and contralto that just settled into your bones and got you up on your feet and got you through the week until the next Sunday came along and love could lift you again.

We needed that like a junkie needs heroin. To “maintain,” as we used to say, considering we lived day to day in Tucson, Arizona, a Jim Crow town, where we, not to get into any detail at this point, were expected to, basically, stay in our “place”: out of sight.

Before I even started school I knew that wasn’t right.

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Summer Chronicles #6: Mourning the Passing of Animals from Our Lives

July 29, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Anyone who has ever cared for small children knows how central the role of animals is for fostering imagination and compassion in young people.

In my family’s case, our son’s childhood was awash in stuffed animals—beavers, raccoons, skunks, elephants, badgers, bears, rabbits, and a plethora of other creatures — every one of whom had a name, relatives, and a full-blown set of connections with other animals as well as with our family and friends.

His little pals would come over and learn the stories of our animal friends as would our grown-up pals. All of these animals had different voices and personalities and origin stories. It was our own domestic mythology for an imaginary chain of being.

Of course, everything was heavily anthropomorphized,

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We’re Seeing Clear Signs of How Freedom Isn’t Free

July 22, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Like any other American I appreciate the freedoms we have, especially the freedom to express one’s self, as I can’t exist without speaking up in some manner.

But I just wish I, and my people, were fully free, free to just go about our lives, like white people, like for instance, not having to instruct our sons regarding what to do if they’re walking down the street minding their own business and a cop rides up on them with his hands on his weapon, at the ready to commit a crime where there had been none.

That’s the kind of liberty we want, simply freedoms like being able to sit down and wait on a friend to join you in Starbucks or swim at a pool or barbecue in the park without somebody calling 911.

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Summer Chronicles 2019 #5: The Wonder of the Wild World

July 22, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

For me, memories of summer always start with the smell of a campfire in the deep woods. As a young boy, I found there was nothing more fun than my family’s camping trips up in the Redwoods where we’d park in our site, get the tear-drop trailer set up, and start the fire.

I remember pulling in late at night with a million stars out, the cold air biting my cheeks, and feeling like I was in some magical place as wonderfully far away from my Los Angeles home as I could imagine.

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Hell Yes the Man’s a Racist

July 17, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

The dumbest question I’ve ever heard is
“Is Donald Trump a racist?”
as that’s as obvious a question
as:
Does Dizzy Gillespie have big cheeks?
Do school children like to play hide and seek?
Is Mikhail Baryshnikov a dancer?
Are drum majors and majorettes
marchers and prancers?
Was Gone With the Wind a hit
and Mark Twain a wit?
Could Richard Pryor and Robin Williams
do a comedy bit?
Does a major league player spit?

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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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Socialism’s Been Very Good to Me

July 1, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Socialism is such a scary word to so many people.

They fear socialism as an enemy of capitalism, depicting it, as I saw recently in a cartoon, as “taking money from one person’s pocket and putting it in another’s pocket.”

Come on, really? I know in our economic system the almighty dollar is treated like a king, but why is that a reason for looking at another set of principles with narrow minds?

I read a meme that said a “socialist is a person too stupid to know he’s a communist.” What the hell does that even mean? Aren’t the “Red Scare” days, so steeped in stupidity as they were, supposed to be gone and forgotten?

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