Under the Perfect Sun

‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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:

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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 . . .

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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.

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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. .

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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.

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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.

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Donna Brazile Is Still Right: the Culture of the Democratic Party Needs to Change

November 13, 2017 by Jim Miller

Last week brought welcome news for those of us looking for some light at the end of the tunnel as we close in on the first year of the Trump era when voters repudiated Republican rule by handing resounding victories to Democrats in Virginia, New Jersey, and elsewhere around the country.

While this is clearly a morale booster for beleaguered progressives, let’s hope that it does not stop folks from continuing to ask the hard questions that need to be answered if we truly want to change the course of the country from the dangerous path we are on.

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Education in the Trump Era: Bad for Your Mental Health

November 6, 2017 by Jim Miller
Graphic illustration resembling neural network filled with cognition related words

Fear and loathing in the classroom? Not exactly, but things aren’t that great either. According to a new study released last week by my union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the advocacy group the Badass Teachers Association (BAT), educators are feeling significantly more stressed these days.

As Education Week reports, “The survey found that educators find work to be stressful 61 percent of the time—and nearly a quarter of respondents said work was ‘always’ stressful. Meanwhile, workers in the general population report that work is stressful 30 percent of the time.”

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Republicans Try to Squelch Nathan Fletcher’s Bid for San Diego Supervisor With Jim Miller’s Old Quotes

October 30, 2017 by Jim Miller

 

By Jim Miller

Will Nathan Fletcher ride in on a magic carpet to the Board of Supervisors?

Tomorrow is Halloween. Are we in for something scary?

Not really.

While the vast majority of people in San Diego are not paying the least bit of attention to local races heading into 2018, there has been quite a bit of petty drama surrounding the San Diego Board of Supervisors District 4 race in recent weeks.

It appears that local Republican operatives have decided to kill Nathan Fletcher’s most recent political aspirations

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Mel Freilicher’s ‘American Cream’: Rewriting the Radical Past to Redeem the Future

October 23, 2017 by Jim Miller

Mining the Heart of the American Left to Address Today’s Bleak Realpolitik

Mel Freilicher will be reading and discussing “American Cream” in San Diego City Works Press’ Release Event at Verbatim Books, located at 3793 30th Street in North Park, on Friday, Oct. 27, at 8 p.m.

Longtime San Diego resident, writer, educator, and activist Mel Freilicher was the editor of the regional literary journal Crawl Out Your Window for 15 years and taught at San Diego State and in UCSD’s literature department for several decades. In addition to this, Mel has published in a wide range of publications and anthologies including two chapbooks on Standing Stone Press and Obscure Publications.

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The New Democrats Crab-Walking with the Radical Right, San Diego Style

October 16, 2017 by Jim Miller

Last week in the second part of my review of Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” I noted how the complicity of neoliberal Democrats with the aims of the Right is one of the reasons why fighting the Koch brothers of the world has been so difficult.

Thinking they are reasonably compromising or engaging in a savvy war of position, these Democrats are instead simply crab walking us over a cliff.

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Democracy in Chains: Crab-Walking Our Way Over a Cliff — Part II

October 9, 2017 by Jim Miller

Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America is disturbing reading. Last week, I outlined how she exposes the missing link of the Right’s plan to “save capitalism from democracy—permanently.” As centrally important as it is to understand that basic premise of the Right’s agenda, it is equally valuable for progressives to learn precisely how and why that is the case and what, ultimately, the end-game looks like.

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Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America – Part I

October 2, 2017 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

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.

As I noted in my recent column on the right-wing assault on public sector unions, MacLean takes us to the roots of the current crisis via an intellectual history of James McGill Buchanan, the thinker whose work, more than anyone else’s, informs the machinations of the Kochtopus, that shadowy network of interlinked billionaire-funded right-wing think tanks driving American politics.

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Lessons from Naomi Klein: Learning How to Resist Trump’s Shock Politics

September 25, 2017 by Jim Miller

Part Two

Last week, I discussed what I see as the first central lesson of Naomi Klein’s new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need—that Donald Trump represents nothing new in American politics but rather, is the logical extension of decades of terrible ideas and policies. Today I’ll focus on the second key lesson of Klein’s work.

Neoliberal Incrementalism Brought to You by Democrats Is Not Enough

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Learning How to Resist Trump’s Shock Politics

September 18, 2017 by Jim Miller

Lessons from Naomi Klein – Part One

Last week at the San Diego Free Press, Sharon Carr provided a nice overview of Naomi Klein’s new book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. These next two weeks, I’d like to follow up Ms. Carr’s good work by underlining what I see to be the two central insights in Klein’s book and why they matter.

In essence, Klein’s book is centered on two key points: 1) Despite all the drama and spectacle, Trump is nothing new; and 2) Neoliberal incrementalism is a dead end and we require bolder vision and practice to win the world we need. This week, we’ll consider the first proposition.

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The War on Public Sector Unions Is a War on Progressive Politics and Democracy Itself

September 11, 2017 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

As the Trump circus keeps people focused on daily scandals along with assaults on immigrants, transgender folks, and a myriad of other battles, the right is busy trying to quietly win the long war. Last week in my Labor Day column, I noted how the upcoming Janus v. AFSCME decision will help make it possible to gut public sector unions and the labor movement as a whole in order to change the power structure of the entire country and rig American politics in favor of the interests of the rich and our corporate oligarchy.

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Higher Education and the American Political Imagination

August 21, 2017 by Jim Miller

As I enter my thirtieth year as a professor at a public college of one kind or another, I’m used to the constant political fray that comes with being in the middle of funding battles, debates about education reform, and the culture wars, but this may be the first time in my long career that I have begun a new semester with the knowledge that a large number of Americans no longer see higher education as a public good.

Over the summer, the Pew Research Center released an interesting poll that helps explain where we are at this political and cultural moment in America. The survey revealed that most Republicans now believe that institutions of higher education have an adverse effect on the United States.

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Beauty in the Age of the Anthropocene: Summer Chronicles #6

August 14, 2017 by Jim Miller

We live in a world of profound beauty and horror. One can turn on the news and view famine, war, and terror attacks and then stroll down the street to the park and revel in a glorious summer day.

Of course, it must be said that this is evidence of our privilege as citizens of the first world nation where we live in relative comfort compared to our fellow humans and across the globe, millions of whom don’t have enough to eat or have been forced to flee their homes due to circumstances beyond their control.

Here in San Diego, our own homeless are

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