Jim Miller

Thumbnail image for Why Read? In Defense of Uselessness

Why Read? In Defense of Uselessness

by Jim Miller 08.18.2014 Books & Poetry

By Jim Miller

While I still deeply love my chosen profession of teaching after twenty-five years of work at various colleges with the last seventeen of those at San Diego City College, it’s hard not to notice the constant drumbeat of critics casting doubt on the value of my life’s work in the humanities.

Whether they be corporate education reformers bent on imposing a business model on colleges or techno-boosters with a zeal to toss all that I hold dear into the dustbin of history, there is a long line of naysayers.

As David Masciotra recently noted in “Pulling the Plug on English Departments” in The Daily Beast, “The armies of soft philistinism are on the march and eager to ditch traditional literature instruction in favor of more utilitarian approaches . . . It is easy to observe the sad and sickly decline of American intellectual life, through the cultural and institutional lowering of standards, when prestigious publications promote the defense, if not the celebration, of lower standards.”

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Kevin Faulconer’s War on the Poor

by Jim Miller 08.11.2014 Activism

By Jim Miller

As Doug Porter did an excellent job reporting last week, the stage is set for a battle royal over San Diego’s minimum wage increase. Despite the fact that 63% of San Diegans support raising the wage, Mayor Faulconer vetoed the ordinance, definitively proving that he is more loyal to local plutocrats than to the people of the city, particularly those who work hard for very little.

Yes, with a stroke of the pen, Kevin Faulconer denied a raise to 172,000 people and took away earned sick days for even more local workers, a move that disproportionately affects women and people of color. Just as one could begin to feel good about the fact that our city did the right thing and stood up for those of our friends and neighbors who are most in need of a hand up, Mayor Faulconer struck them down.

When it was time to love his neighbors, he slammed the door in their faces. Rather than living with a more than reasonable compromise that will help rather than harm the local economy, he chose to declare war on the poor instead.

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In Paradise: For the Time Being

by Jim Miller 08.04.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time at Devils Postpile National Monument basking in the stunning beauty of that geological marvel and the accompanying reminder of the deep time that underlies the shallow surface history that we mistake for all that is.

Indeed, if there is a heaven, places like this are surely part of it. Nonetheless, while pondering the unintentional artistry of glaciers it was impossible not to notice how dry the mountains are now after several years of drought.

In and around Yosemite, the creeks, rivers, and waterfalls are drying up far earlier than usual, and the forests are perpetually vulnerable to fire. During my stay, I had to, as one always has to in the summer now, keep my eye on reports of fires—this time one was threatening the western edge of Yosemite near El Portal and had closed the Crane Flat, Bridalveil Creek, and Yosemite Creek campgrounds leaving firefighters to hold the line and keep the National Park open for the time being.

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After the Minimum Wage Win: The Battle Continues

by Jim Miller 07.21.2014 Business

By Jim Miller

San Diego’s progressive community got a well deserved shout-out last week in the national media with The Nation praising the good work of our city’s “expanding progressive base.”

More specifically, the article noted that the local movement to raise the minimum wage was comprised of many of the same folks who formed the community-labor alliance behind the David Alvarez mayoral campaign:

That coalition, Raise Up San Diego, includes the Center for Policy Initiatives as well as labor unions, immigrant rights groups and service providers. The campaign is endorsed by the San Diego LGBT Community Center, San Diego’s NAACP chapter and several other organizations and small businesses. Many of the groups had collaborated on issue work, elections and voter-turnout programs in the past . . . San Diego’s expanding immigrant community is just one indicator of the city’s transformation. Alongside its newfound diversity, the city has begun to shift politically, from reliably Republican to a more complicated patchwork of blue, red and purple.

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What Kind of City Are We? It’s Time to Raise the Minimum Wage

by Jim Miller 07.14.2014 Business

“The bottom line is that the minimum wage in 2013 is far less now than it was in 1968 despite the economy’s productivity more than doubling, and low-wage workers attaining far more education.”Economic Policy Institute

By Jim Miller

The San Diego City Council will consider today whether to pass an ordinance or put forth a ballot measure to increase the city’s minimum wage and provide earned sick days for local workers. Since the last time I wrote on this subject in late April, the original proposal of raising the minimum wage to the local Self-Sufficiency Standard of $13.09 with five earned sick days has been significantly lowered in order to address the concerns of opponents.

The current proposal keeps the initial five earned sick days but now only raises the minimum wage to $9.75 in 2015 and $10.50 in 2016 before stopping at $11.50 in 2017 and indexing it to inflation after January of 2019.

Thus, despite the fact that the original proposal fell short of the landmark $15 an hour passed in Seattle and being fought for elsewhere around the country, the City Council still bent over backwards to appease the fears of those clamoring that any increase in the minimum wage would spell disaster for small businesses and the local economy. And they did this even though the preponderance of evidence shows that minimum wage increases elsewhere have actually helped the economy.

The response to this compromise from the Chamber of Commerce and company was to essentially flip the Council the bird and reaffirm their opposition to any measure that moves beyond the state’s minimum wage.

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What the Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn Decision Means for Workers and American Democracy

by Jim Miller 07.07.2014 Columns

“Our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” --James Madison

By Jim Miller

After last week’s slew of bad Supreme Court rulings much of the media attention rightfully went to the horrendous “Hobby Lobby” case where the rights of corporations were deemed more important than the rights of women.

But there was another big decision where the Supreme Court surprised some observers and ruled narrowly on Harris v. Quinn, the case which could have gutted public sector unions and virtually wiped out their ability to play in American politics by ending all public sector unions’ ability to collect agency fees. As the Daily Kos noted of the case:

Harris v. Quinn, is about the constitutionality of “agency fees” charged by public sector unions to all workers in a unionized setting, even non-union members. These fees are essential to their operation . . . Agency fees in principle are important to public employee unions because they’re required by law to bargain for all workers in a unionized setting. If agency fees for non-members are ruled to be a violation of free speech, unions fear they would lose funding, become less effective at bargaining for benefits and, in turn, lose members.

If the Supreme Court had ruled broadly it would have crippled public sector unions by making them much less effective, leading to a loss of political power, bargaining clout, and lots of members. And though Harris v. Quinn only involved public sector unions, their demise would have surely been a death knell for the entire American Labor movement.

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Endless Summer: On the Verge of the Sixth Extinction

by Jim Miller 06.30.2014 Columns

“The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

We’ve seen a lot of bad news lately from the dismaying results of our last local election and a slew of reactionary court decisions at the state and national level to the re-emergence of the chaos in Iraq and the seemingly daily news reports of growing evidence that our widening level of economic inequality is becoming an entrenched and sadly taken-for-granted part of our new normal.

Even as we head into the heedless days of summer, we are greeted by yet more studies showing that the climate change fostered by our unsustainable way of life is causing huge chunks of the antarctic to break off which will result in rising sea levels and more severe damage to our ecosystem and consequent human suffering.

If you are paying attention, it’s hard not to be angry.  But, of course, there is already a virtual industry in place designed to turn people’s anger in the wrong direction, to deny basic facts about history, the economy, political power, and the actual state of the natural world.  Thus, just when we need to be turning the car dramatically to avoid the crash, there’s no one at the wheel.

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San Diego Grit: Remembering Tony Gwynn

by Jim Miller 06.23.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Tony Gwynn died last week and it stopped me.  In part it was because he died too soon at 54, only four years older than me and many of my friends who grew up watching and admiring his skill as a player.  As is always the case when someone who has been a part of your collective experience goes, there is a new hole in your life, that sense that something’s missing that won’t come back except as a ghost, a haunting memory.

But it was more than that.  With the death of Gwynn, San Diego lost the last of his kind, a Southern California product who went to school at SDSU, came up with the Padres, and stayed here for his entire career, even when he could have left for greener pastures.  In an era of pervasive corporate delocalization in sports and the culture at large, Gwynn was an old school guy who embodied loyalty to his town and his team.  You couldn’t really think of San Diego without him.

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Thumbnail image for What’s Wrong with the Vergara Decision for Teachers

What’s Wrong with the Vergara Decision for Teachers

by Jim Miller 06.16.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew

Last week’s decision in the Vergara v. the State of California lawsuit that undermined tenure and seniority rights was a profound slap in the face to teachers who have committed their careers to improving the lives of our children.  It was yet another significant victory for those who are seeking to impose corporate education reforms by pitting teachers against children in a cynical, destructive, and utterly counterproductive fashion.

As tenured professors in the community college system, union members, and parents of a child in California’s public school system, we have a unique perspective on this matter.  Although the “Vergara” decision has no effect on our jobs at San Diego City College, it does affect the professional lives of the educators who teach our son and it will do them, and him, more harm than good.

We have had our kid happily ensconced at a tremendous place–McKinley Elementary School in North Park.  This is a traditional neighborhood school that has a staff of devoted, loving, highly skilled professionals, many of whom have dedicated most of their careers to this place.

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June Gloom: Inequality for All, Really

by Jim Miller 06.09.2014 2014 June Primary

By Jim Miller

“When you skip voting it’s not rebellion, it’s surrender.”

That was the apt Facebook meme doing the rounds last week after a brutal primary election where a pathetically low turnout led to a very good night for Republicans and the corporate interests they represent. Of course this was not at all unexpected as June primaries have always been lethargic affairs, but this one was even more embarrassing.

Indeed, with labor significantly depleted after losing a big mayoral special election and fractured local Democrats still reeling, the right saw an opportunity to go for the kill and they did, outspending the Democrats in nearly every race and burying the community of Barrio Logan under a mountain of corporate-funded bullshit. As Doug Porter accurately observed, it was a triumph of environmental racism and plutocracy, pure and simple.

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Five Reasons to Vote on June 3rd

by Jim Miller 06.02.2014 2014 June Primary

By Jim Miller

What if they had an election and nobody came?

That’s the feel that this June’s primary has to it and, after a nasty and seemingly unrelenting political year from the Filner scandal on, it’s understandable that folks are burned out and/or disgusted enough to stay home.

Nevertheless, while most San Diegans are meeting tomorrow’s election with a collective shrug, there are a number of things at stake that will affect our lives and the future of our local and statewide democracy in important ways.

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San Diego City Works Press Calls for Submissions for Sunshine/Noir II: Writing from San Diego and Tijuana

by Jim Miller 05.26.2014 Books & Poetry

By Jim Miller

San Diego City Works Press is soon approaching its 10-year anniversary. SDCWP is run by a 100% non-profit collective and is the only small literary press in San Diego that focuses primarily on the publication of local writers with an emphasis on our region that moves beyond the postcard version of our reality.

In an era where commercial forces and hegemonic instrumentality are drowning out what remains of literary culture, we have persisted against the odds. We invite all interested parties to be a part of our beautifully useless endeavor.

To celebrate our anniversary, we are putting together a second edition of our first anthology, Sunshine/Noir II. All local writers are encouraged to submit work for consideration.

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San Diego Burning: The Facts We Hate

by Jim Miller 05.19.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

It was a little bit of hell on earth. With searing heat in the triple digits replacing May gray and fires sprouting up all over the county, San Diego’s mellow vibe turned menacing last week. As many of us, this author included, worried about the safety of friends and family members in harm’s way, it was hard not to be struck by a painful sense of déjà vu. We’ve been here before—three times in a little more than a decade. But not everybody felt that way.

The immediate response from County Supervisor Bill Horn was to raise the specter of arson when he said, “I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years, and I’ve had one or two fires but never anything like this.”

Upping the ante on Horn’s uninformed speculation, the far right fringes of the Internet jumped straight to conspiracy mode, sounding the alarm that our most recent firestorm could be the act of Islamic terrorists.

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What’s at Stake With Propositions B and C?

by Jim Miller 05.12.2014 2014 June Primary

“Everyone who wants to preserve community control over the planning process should be afraid because your community will be next!” –Georgette Gomez, Associate Director of the Environmental Health Coalition

By Jim Miller

As we head toward the June 3rd election, the same corporate interests who spent big money to fund a petition drive based on lies  to force a vote on the Barrio Logan Community Plan are now funding an equally dishonest campaign to defeat it.

The only thing that will stop a great injustice from happening in the case of the Barrio Logan Community Plan is if San Diegans stand up against this threat to their local democracy and vote yes on B and C. For that to happen, San Diegans need to be educated. The central organization doing this work in the service of the Yes on B and C Campaign is the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC).

This week, I interview Georgette Gomez, the Associate Director of the EHC to learn a little more about who the folks are who are fighting this good fight and what is at stake in this election.

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Remember the Folks Who Brought You the 8-Hour Day?

by Jim Miller 05.05.2014 Activism

By Jim Miller

Last week, May Day came and went and, while there was a small march downtown, most people barely noticed. Indeed most Americans don’t know much about May Day and if they do, they associate it with the state sponsored holiday in the former Soviet Union.

The truth of the matter is, however, that May Day has deep American roots. It started in 1866 as part of the movement pushing for the 8-hour day.

In the course of this effort, the nationwide American labor movement was born. Workers joined together in the service of the principle that, in the emerging industrial age, they should have a say in their economic lives and a voice in our politics—neither of which would come without a struggle.

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Raise Up San Diego – Do the Right Thing About the Minimum Wage

by Jim Miller 04.28.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

These are still tough times for most working people in the United States. We are in the midst of a new Gilded Age of historic economic inequality. The rich are carving out a bigger slice of the pie at the expense of nearly everyone else in America. As I noted in my column last week, corporate profits are at their highest level in 85 years and employee compensation is at the lowest level it has been in 65 years.

And this is happening despite the fact that the average American worker is more educated and more productive than ever before. The result of all this is a declining middle class, economic instability, and the hijacking of our democracy by moneyed interests.

Here in San Diego, we have one of the highest costs of living in the United States, and the picture for workers at the bottom end of the economic spectrum is grim. More than 300,000 households in our city have incomes too low to meet basic expenses, and our tourism industry has the largest number of employees with incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard with more than half of those workers failing to make ends meet.

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Who Owns America? Not You

by Jim Miller 04.21.2014 Columns

“We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” –Louis Brandeis

By Jim Miller

In the wake of the McCutcheon decision, there was a brief flurry of outrage about the growing power of moneyed interests in our politics, but it predictably ebbed. One might reasonably argue that this is because the American public has become immune to such bad news.

Indeed, a cursory survey of the media over the last couple of weeks alone is enough to give any concerned citizen a depressing snapshot of where we are now with regard to wealth versus commonwealth.

The New York Times reports that “Corporate Profits Grow and Wages Slide” noting that, “Corporate profits are at their highest level in at least 85 years. Employee compensation is at the lowest level in 65 years.”

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“Taxifornia” Dreaming: Who Really Pays in California?

by Jim Miller 04.14.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Tomorrow is tax day, and we are likely to hear the usual histrionics from the pity the millionaire crowd about how the draconian taxes on the affluent and businesses in “Taxifornia” are killing growth and jobs and driving folks out of the state. There is only one problem with this—it’s not true. Indeed, far from the socialist hamlet that the anti-tax zealots like to portray us as, California’s tax system is still more regressive than progressive.

This is documented in the California Budget Project’s (CBP) Annual report “Who Pays Taxes in California?” that shows that, “Contrary to the oft-repeated claim that high-income Californians pay an unfair amount of taxes, it is actually California’s low-income households who pay the largest share of their incomes in state and local taxes.”

Consequently, the CBP argues that “Given widening income inequality over the last generation, and the ongoing economic challenges facing Californians in the aftermath of the Great Recession, policymakers could take specific steps to reduce the regressive nature of California’s system of state and local taxes and to promote economic security for low-income families.”

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Supreme Insanity: How the High Court is Killing Your Democracy

by Jim Miller 04.07.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Last week was a very bad week for American democracy. With the McCutcheon v. FEC decision, the Supreme Court of the United States dealt a sweeping blow to existing campaign finance laws that seek to limit the influx of money in American politics.

In the wake of the Citizens United case that opened the door for big spending by Super PACS and dark money, this ruling takes another step towards plutocracy by striking down overall limits on campaign contributions. By doing so McCutcheon rudely thrusts us further into a new Gilded Age where our economy and our politics are thoroughly dominated by a small minority of the opulent.

Senator Bernie Sanders put it best when he observed that, “The Supreme Court is paving the way toward an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will control our political process.” And that’s why it’s increasingly hard to get anything good for everyday people done in Washington D.C., even when a healthy majority of Americans approve of a given policy.

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Zen and the Art of Baseball

by Jim Miller 03.31.2014 Editor's Picks

It’s spring and opening week is here and that makes me very happy. Baseball helps me live. It’s perhaps the best American manifestation of the kind of daily ritual that enables us to achieve a small portion of the balance and harmony we need to provide ballast against the chaos of the world. Whether it’s playing the game or simply contemplating it, baseball provides one with precisely the kind of focused yet purposeless activity that can take you out to the ballgame and into the heart of the moment.

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Notes from the Class War: Killing “The Year of the Populist” in the Crib?

by Jim Miller 03.24.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Recently, in “Neoliberalism and Its Discontents: What’s Left Beyond More Impoverished Choices?”, I continued my analysis of the national debate that followed the publication of Adolph Reed’s sharp criticism of what qualifies as the “left” in the contemporary American political landscape.

After that column was posted, Reed wrote yet another piece in American Prospect, this time responding to Harold Meyerson’s dismissal of his call for a left less tethered to a Democratic Party increasingly colonized by Wall Street and other corporate interests.

In it Reed makes a key point about both the current political landscape and the recent history that has produced it

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Rebel Green and Bacchanalia: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

by Jim Miller 03.17.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Today lots of people will try to skip out of work early to grab a pint of Guinness at a bar or perhaps find something green to wear whether they are Irish or not. St. Patrick’s Day, for most of us, is just a fun day to party, watch a parade, or listen to some Irish music. For better or worse, even if we aren’t getting drunk, we don’t think that much about it. Nonetheless, there are still some interesting bits of history behind the holiday.

The actual origins of the “Wearing of the Green” are political, dating back to 1798 when Irish soldiers wore green uniforms on March 17th to signal solidarity with the Society of United Irishmen whose aim it was to end British rule in Ireland. That’s when the song and the color green became synonymous with both rebellion and St. Patrick’s Day.

Before that in the United States, the first official St. Patrick’s Day came to be when George Washington proclaimed the holiday as a way to thank Irish soldiers fighting for the cause of American Independence in 1780. But there were celebrations before that in the United States dating back to as early as 1756 when the first St. Patty’s bash was held at the Crown and Thistle tavern in New York City.

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Neoliberalism and Its Discontents: What’s Left Beyond More Impoverished Choices?

by Jim Miller 03.10.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

The debate rages on. Last week after I spent the final part of my column addressing Adolph Reed’s provocative Harper’s piece on the dismaying state of American politics, “Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals, the argument just kept going across the national progressive media landscape.

In a sharp rebuttal to Reed in The Nation, Michelle Goldberg attacked what she characterized as “Electoral Nihilism” by essentially dismissing what she called his “left wing disappointment” and reasserting the very strategy that Reed so adeptly critiqued in his article:

So yes, for liberals, there is only one option in an election year, and that is to elect, at whatever cost, whichever Democrat is running. The rest of the time, those who find the current choices intolerable should join in the long, slow groundwork that would allow for better ones.

Goldberg points out some current signs of hope for progressives nationwide, particularly a wave of progressive new mayors in places like New York and concludes that this makes it a “bizarre moment” for Reed to put forth his argument.

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What’s Left: Surrender or Resurgence?

by Jim Miller 03.03.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Just when you thought the Obama administration’s education policy couldn’t get any worse, it did.

Last week Obama nominated founder and CEO of New Schools, Ted Mitchell, to the second highest post at the Department of Education. Mitchell and his organization have been at the forefront of the education privatization movement and this confirms the bad news that rather than rethinking some of its unsuccessful, wrong-headed education policies, the administration has doubled down and is now completely in the tank with the corporate education reformers.

As Capitol and Main reported, this signals continued “corporate influence at the Department of Education”:

“He represents the quintessence of the privatization movement,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, tells Capital & Main. “This is a signal the Obama administration is committed to moving forward aggressively with transferring public funds to private hands.”

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Ghosts of City Heights Past: Chaos, Wonder, and Love

by Jim Miller 02.24.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

In my first novel, Drift, there is a passage where the main character, Joe, is driving through City Heights pondering the poetry of the streets.

He notes the “funky majesty” of a store front church sandwiched between a pharmacy and a liquor store and revels in the cacophony of signs in Vietnamese, Spanish, English, and more while he loses himself in the street life passing by as “everything bled together seamlessly in the twilight and became part of the mystic fabric of impending night.”

Joe’s musings mix with music on the radio as he contemplates the “blue feeling” of minimarts to jazz and rolls by massage parlors, 99-cent stores, and the Tower Bar. When I read this passage back in 2007, I had the pleasure of being accompanied by Gilbert Castellanos on trumpet and his melancholy solo lent the perfect air of blues dignity to the piece. It was, of course, a love song to my old neighborhood and the present hard-edged marvel that is City Heights.

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