Columns

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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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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Thinking About Race and the YMCA

June 27, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

An issue with racial overtones has come up in San Diego, centered on the Jackie Robinson YMCA located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

It’s caught my attention because I’m reminded of one other time I associated race with a YMCA.

First of all, though, I must say I love and appreciate YMCA’s.

I mean I was a Y brat as a kid.

I learned to swim and do arts and craft at the Y. I once held the pancake eating contest at the Tucson Y Camp where I also gained an appreciation for horseback riding and archery and backpacking and enjoying singing and roasting hot dogs and marshmallows around an open fire.

But back in those days, the 1940’s, I had to deal with racial overtones at my local Y.

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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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Tucson, the Town of My First Experiences in Life

June 18, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I read a woman’s critique of her hometown online the other day. She couldn’t stand the place of her birth, saying that the town was backwards and too “white bread” to her liking. And she didn’t feel like she ever belonged.

I kind of understood, at some level, where she was coming from as Tucson, where I grew up, was not what anyone would consider “hip” and it was heavy with white folks who could sometimes be a “trip,” going way out of their way to make me feel as though I didn’t belong.

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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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Why Should It Be Considered a Risk Trying to Get Rid of Trump?

June 6, 2019 by Ernie McCray

(Thoughts Inspired by Erica Jong)

by Ernie McCray

There’s so much talk about the risks that would be involved in trying to impeach the president.

And I’m thinking: Risks? What risks?

A literary hero of mine, Erica Jong, once said: “If you don’t risk anything, you risk everything” and to me it’s a bigger risk not trying to give El Numero 45 a pink slip than allowing him to sink the ship that is America.

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An Octogenarian Reflects on a Life of Writing

June 5, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Just finished year one
as an octogenarian,
glad to still be among
the living ones,
still holding on
to precious memories
that remind me
how good
life has been to me…

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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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At the Mic at Lincoln High

May 21, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Looking at students,
“The Hornets,”
from the mic
at Lincoln High,

I could feel
my journey
in the city
rising in my memory,

my history
as a San Diegan,
arriving, August, ’62,
with a wife,
three kids,
lacking the money
between us
needed to visit the San Diego Zoo,

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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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