Under the Perfect Sun

‘New Deeds for New’: Young Activists and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Demand a Green New Deal

November 19, 2018 by Jim Miller

Nothing in the wake of the midterm elections made me quite as happy as the sight of the newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joining young climate activists who were protesting outside of Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington, D.C.

The protesters, who were part of the Sunrise Movement, put their demands bluntly: “They offer us a death sentence. We demand a Green New Deal.”

Despite Pelosi’s tweet applauding the protesters and calling for a “committee” to address the climate crisis, the young activists were not satisfied, noting that the presumed next Speaker of the House was “bringing a squirt gun to a wildfire.” Echoing the protesters’ concerns, Ocasio-Cortez called on Pelosi to

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Democrats’ Midterms Anxiety

October 29, 2018 by Jim Miller

With the midterms a little more than a week out there is a good amount of handwringing in progressive circles about whether or not the “blue wave” will actually happen.

Nervous Democrats pore over the latest posts on the polling at FiveThirtyEight, and the talking heads on MSNBC parse the current numbers, muse about the accuracy of the polling, and commiserate about their post-traumatic stress after the 2016 election.

With decision day looming, the collective anxiety is getting more and more palpable. In between ranting about Russia and the Mueller investigation, the unthinkable question is on the tip of many a liberal’s tongue: could we actually blow it again?

As of this writing, it appears that the Senate—which was never really in reach—is out of the question but

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The Trump of Pahrump, the Unholy Trinity and Other Dystopian Tales

October 22, 2018 by Jim Miller

The Trump of Pahrump is dead.

Yes, the world’s most famous brothel owner, Dennis Hof, left this world peacefully last week in bed at the Love Ranch only hours after celebrating at his birthday party/campaign rally.

The event was held to aid Hof in his quest to secure a seat in the Nevada state legislature as a Republican, a race he was heavily favored to win. Hof is best known for his HBO reality TV show about the Moonlight Bunny Ranch and his biography, The Art of the Pimp, which gleefully riffs off of the title of the President’s paean to himself.

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Two New Books Explore San Diego’s Impact on the Psyche – Release Reading at Tiger! Tiger! Oct.21

October 15, 2018 by Jim Miller

San Diego City Works Press, a project of the San Diego Writers Collective, is proud to present the release reading for local novelist Josh Turner and San Diego poet, Joe Medina on Sunday, October 21, at 4:30 at Tiger!Tiger! in concert with Verbatim Books,

Baxt and Medina’s works continue the tradition of SD City Works Press of birthing first books by homegrown authors. In fact, Fall 2018 marks 13 years of publication by City Works Press. The San Diego Writers Collective is a group of San Diego writers, poets, artists, a

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Marshall Tuck: The Republicans’ Trojan Horse

October 8, 2018 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

In last week’s column, I wrote that “the future of public education and the heart and soul of progressive California” were at stake in the Superintendent of Public Instruction race. What makes this race so important is that it represents an attempt by moneyed interests and forces on the right to play in Democratic politics through the use of stealth and dishonesty. Indeed, if you like the way the Lincoln Club intervenes in and tries to upset the Democratic apple cart in races here in San Diego, you’ll love how the right is trying to game California’s Democratic voters in this contest.

It’s so bad, that the state party came out with this extraordinary assertion last May leading up to the primary in response to Tuck’s refusal to disavow his Republican allies:

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Why Electing Tony Thurmond as Superintendent of Public Instruction Is the Most Important Race in California

October 2, 2018 by Jim Miller

Andrea Gabor’s After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform, thoroughly exposes the fact that over the last twenty years or so, “the billionaire boys club has favored a punitive, hierarchical, undemocratic, one-size fits all approach that has hurt students more than it has helped them.”

These corporate education reformers come to the table with an endless supply of money and a set of prejudices that favor:

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A Blue Wave is Not Enough: Progressives Need to Win the Long War for Democracy

September 17, 2018 by Jim Miller

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club about the Lincoln Club and the history of the American Right. In that presentation, I noted how the ultimate aim of the Right was to dishonestly promote deeply unpopular policies through stealth politics that take advantage of the general public’s naiveté about their agenda.

Locally, groups like the Lincoln Club do their best to intervene in Democratic primaries and shift the landscape in their favor so they can win elections and promote policies that further enrich the elite. As I have written in this space, that’s how San Diego’s “shadow government” has rolled for decades.

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San Diegans in America’s Finest Tourist Plantation Struggle to Make It … But Nobody’s at the Barricades

September 10, 2018 by Jim Miller

Speaking to the Anger Beneath the Postcard?

It should come as no surprise to anyone who ventures outside San Diego’s hermetically sealed and relentlessly marketed image of itself as a carefree paradise by the sea that the reality of our city is quite different than the happy fantasy.

A recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) confirmed this when it released a report that noted of America’s Finest City, “45% of San Diegans fall into an auspicious category: people who work full time and still struggle with poverty.”

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Lessons for 2018: Labor Solidarity Works!

September 4, 2018 by Jim Miller

It has been the worst of times and the best of times for the American Labor Movement in 2018.

Economic inequality has continued to spiral out of control as policy coming out of Washington, DC designed to tilt the scales in favor of the rich and corporations weakened the rights of working Americans at every turn.

At the Supreme Court level, anti-labor justices joined the assault against labor and undermined public sector unions’ rights to collect dues.

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The Wages of Inequality Keep Growing: Only Working People’s Power Can Save Our Democracy

August 27, 2018 by Jim Miller

It shouldn’t be news to readers of the OB Rag that life here under the perfect sun isn’t always so easy, particularly for working people. Indeed, as a Bloomberg report outlined last May, “The gap between the have and have-nots in San Diego was the ninth-highest out of 100 cities between 2011 to 2016.”

As usual, this report received not much more than a shrug in the place where happy happens as we were too busy spectacularly failing to address our shameful homelessness crisis yet again while the supply of high-end condos downtown and elsewhere continues to grow. So it goes.

It’s the same old story over and over again here–and everywhere else.

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Trump Tweets While California and the World Burns

August 20, 2018 by Jim Miller

The world just keeps getting hotter, and California burns ever-more-furiously as one epic blaze after another strain not just our resources, but our ability to cognitively adjust to the fact that this is the new normal. As I wrote in response to the huge fires in Los Angeles last December, “Reality is exceeding the capacity of our dystopian imaginations.”

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The Music of the Street – Summer Chronicles 2018 #9

August 13, 2018 by Jim Miller

There is music in the street. It’s easy to be enthralled by the sounds of the natural world, but urban noise frequently distresses us, disrupts our head space or intervenes into the sounds we are plugged into at the moment. But sometimes, the city bustle has its charms. So much of the urban noise that we think of as a distraction from some other narrative that has captured our attention or an intrusion into our sealed-off domestic space is seen as ugly.

But perhaps we just need to learn to listen. Is it the sounds themselves that are the issue or our reactions to them?

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‘Already Dead’: A Lunch Poem for Golden Hill – Summer Chronicles 2018 #8

August 6, 2018 by Jim Miller

On the back cover of Frank O’Hara’s classic City Lights Books collection, Lunch Poems, he defines his efforts succinctly:

Often this poet, strolling through the noisy splintered glare of a Manhattan noontide,

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When the Padres Still Played Baseball in Yuma: Summer Chronicles 2018 #7

July 30, 2018 by Jim Miller

It’s the dog days of summer but it’s Spring Training all year round in San Diego as the Padres sort through their stock of minor leaguers to see who might still be around in a few years when they hope to be competitive.

That means losing a lot. Watching a good amount of losing baseball requires a different lens and an appreciation for the small things inside and outside the game.

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Thinking of Bukowski at Del Mar – Summer Chronicles 2018 #6

July 23, 2018 by Jim Miller

Every year, opening day at Del Mar brings out the beautiful people. Handsome, well-heeled (or at least trying to look that way) young men and women get dressed to the nines and parade around the track, seeing and being seen. It is a classic San Diego moment: shiny happy people in an elegant place on a perfect summer day.

Not a trouble in the world.

Until they start betting and losing and betting and losing.

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Gentrifying Dystopia in Bombay Beach – Summer Chronicles 2018 #5

July 17, 2018 by Jim Miller

There’s something compelling about desolation, about lost places filled with traces of forgotten histories both personal and collective. That’s why I’ve always had a penchant for little towns around the Salton Sea, the vast, dying body of water I describe in my first novel, Drift:

It was a mistake, the product of a vulgar utopia gone awry. At the turn of the century, they dreamed of transforming the desert into a garden by bleeding nature of more than she readily offered.

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Summer Chronicles 2018 # 4: Getting Inside the Inexhaustibility

July 10, 2018 by Jim Miller

“A desire to be inside the inexhaustibility.”
–Karl Ove Knausgaard My Struggle

In Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, he writes eloquently about how writing is what helps one escape the prison of our “purely fabricated world” that gives us the feeling that “the world is small, tightly enclosed around itself, without openings to anywhere else.”

This bubble world that the construct of modern civilization has locked us into is only exacerbated by the closed feedback loop of our cell phones and social media which pretend to expand our known worlds while, in reality, deeply limiting our consciousness to a simulacrum of screens.

What does writing do? Well, as Knausgaard observes, it speaks to our desire for more,

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Summer Chronicles 2018 #2: Learning to Be No One

June 25, 2018 by Jim Miller

Alone on the plane, I had the same thought that I always do: “we could crash and my life might end at any time.” As always, images of the moments before death subsumed me. I imagined the faces of my fellow passengers contorted in horror. I heard the weeping, the screaming, the voices futilely attempting to leave last messages for their loved ones on their cellphones, all to no avail.

My fantasy was real enough that amidst a banal announcement about expected turbulence, I came close to tears as I thought of never seeing my wife or son again and went on to consider the weight of the collective losses of all the souls on the plane.

But, in this case, what used to be a source of physical anxiety gave way to a feeling of absolute groundlessness.

There is something liberating about anonymity and the small pleasure of being unrecognized in the odd womblike environment of a passenger jet.

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Thoughts on California Midterms: Defeats for Big Money, November Hopes Survive for Democrats

June 11, 2018 by Jim Miller

Thud! What’s that sound? It’s the unceremonious crash landing of tens of millions of dollars of Charter Schools Association money in the Governor’s race backing Antonio Villaraigosa.

Never has such an obscene amount of money been spent on a bad cause with so little to show for it. The good news here is that their efforts to turn the November election into a proxy war between the billionaire boys club and California’s educators failed miserably.

Now, rather than having to watch the tragic irony of a multimillion-dollar crusade against teachers’ unions standing in for our Governor’s race in California while elsewhere in the red states teachers are turning the tide against decades of austerity budgeting brought to us by the GOP, we can watch a Democrat cruise to victory against the Trump-endorsed Republican.

That’s more like it.

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A Few Last-Minute Reminders for the Procrastinating Progressive Voter

June 4, 2018 by Jim Miller

If you are part of that dwindling tribe who (like me) still prefer to show up at your polling place to vote in person, here are a few final reminders for the procrastinating progressives out there:

Defeat the Lincoln Club: There is only one way to foil the plans of the Lincoln Club in the San Diego County Board of Supervisors race and discourage them from spending big money to intervene in San Diego Democratic politics in the future: Don’t Vote for Lori Saldana. See Doug Porter’s column on this race here. See my column here.

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‘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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