Under the Perfect Sun

Thumbnail image for The State Of the Union: Obama is an Eisenhower Republican

The State Of the Union: Obama is an Eisenhower Republican

by Jim Miller 01.26.2015 Columns

By Jim Miller

Last week, President Obama gave a pretty good speech in which he outlined a series of solid progressive policy proposals along with a few very bad ideas like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

What was most telling about the response to his speech, however, was how glowing the praise was in some quarters for what, in essence, was a fairly pedestrian list of things to do: raise the minimum wage, support collective bargaining, admit that climate change is real and act upon it in some way, tax the rich more than the middle and working classes, recognize basic civil rights, and make community college free for students as a way to expand opportunity, as well as some other modest initiatives.

These proposals, along with Obama’s threat to veto the Keystone Pipeline have encouraged many downtrodden Democrats and progressives as they should, but they hardly represent a significant shift in our politics.

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Thumbnail image for We Need Martin Luther King Jr.’s  “Fierce Urgency of Now”: Beyond Our Current Failure of Imagination

We Need Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Fierce Urgency of Now”: Beyond Our Current Failure of Imagination

by Jim Miller 01.19.2015 Activism

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” –MLK, speaking against the Vietnam War in 1967

By Jim Miller

It’s the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and we will be greeted, as is the case these days, with lots of empty gestures and vanilla rhetoric that erases the radical nature of King’s legacy and neuters the impact of his ideas. As I have noted in years past, King was not a moderate whose only idea was that we should all just get along and respect each other. He was a provocative thinker and activist who challenged the core values of our society both then and now.

King fought what he characterized as “the triple evils of racism, materialism, and militarism,” sought to restructure “an edifice which produces beggars,” and called for us to move forward with a “divine dissatisfaction . . . until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.”

He believed that the “whole structure must be changed” for America to be reborn as a truly humane, egalitarian, and civilized society. Only then would we have “democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action.”

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Thumbnail image for Notes From the Left Coast: California Democrats Need to Raise the Bar on Budget

Notes From the Left Coast: California Democrats Need to Raise the Bar on Budget

by Jim Miller 01.12.2015 Columns

By Jim Miller

Last week Eddie Kurtz of the Courage Campaign published a provocative column in the Sacramento Bee in the wake of Governor Brown’s triumphant release of the upcoming budget for the state. Rather than praising Brown and the state Democrats for being a model for the nation, as many in Democratic circles have been doing, Kurtz took the opportunity to raise the bar of our expectations as he pointed out that:

California is a deep blue state, but too often Democrats are more interested in appeasing corporate lobbyists and the Chamber of Commerce than fighting for families. Of course, the problem goes far beyond California. In Washington, D.C., many Democrats are often just as beholden to corporate power as their Republican counterparts. In fact, without an assist from Democrats in Congress, Republicans could not have gutted a key provision of the 2010 financial reform bill and handed the big banks a horrifying holiday present.

It should be noted that one of the lousy Democrats in question here is San Diego’s own Scott Peters whose vote, for this appalling bipartisan budget at the federal level did too much to hurt the poor to outline here. But, I digress as Kurtz’s main focus is on the Democrats in state office.

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Thumbnail image for Not So Happy New Year: Obama Pushing Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2015

Not So Happy New Year: Obama Pushing Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2015

by Jim Miller 01.05.2015 Business

By Jim Miller

Last week, I wrote about Project Censored’s Top 25 most underreported stories, one of which was “Wikileaks Revelations on Trans-Pacific Partnership Ignored by Corporate Media.” Coming in at number three on their list, Project Censored notes that what is important about this story is that :

Eight hundred million people, and one-third of all world trade, stand to be affected by the treaty—and yet only three people from each member nation have access to the entire document. Meanwhile, six hundred “corporate advisors,” representing big oil, pharmaceutical, and entertainment companies, are involved in the writing and negotiations of the treaty.

The influence of these companies is clear, as large sections of the proposal involve corporate law and intellectual property rights, rather than free trade. Corporations could gain the ability to sue governments not only for loss, but prospective loss. At the same time, patents and copyrights would see more protection. This means longer patents, leading to less access to generic drugs, and a lockdown on Internet content. Commenting on the leaked TPP chapter, which details how corporations could seek financial compensation for non-tariff barriers to trade, Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign observed, “The Tribunals that adjudicate these cases don’t have the power to literally demand that a government change its policies, but they can award payments worth millions and even billions of dollars, such that if a country doesn’t want additional cases brought against it, it gets the line.”

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Thumbnail image for The Most Important Stories That the Corporate Media Didn’t Tell You in 2014

The Most Important Stories That the Corporate Media Didn’t Tell You in 2014

by Jim Miller 12.29.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

We live in troubled times but are increasingly ill equipped to deal with them. The average American is awash in a sea of ghastly, contextless headlines punctuated by inane trivia and pointless titillation. Somewhere between the latest massacre and Kim Kardashian’s most recent booty shot we got lost.

Indeed, some studies have even shown that the more news we consume the less we actually know. That’s because so much of what we have come to think of as “news” is really a form of corporate propaganda, a depthless mass of factoids designed to not interfere with the bottom line. Thus we know less as we amuse ourselves to death.

So what, more precisely, have we been missing?

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Thumbnail image for Stocking Stuffers, Lumps of Coal, and ‘Buy Nothing’ Christmas Gifts

Stocking Stuffers, Lumps of Coal, and ‘Buy Nothing’ Christmas Gifts

by Jim Miller 12.22.2014 Books & Poetry

By Jim Miller

As Christmas approaches along with the end of the year, it’s time to assess some of the best and the worst of 2014.

For those of you out there who just can’t jump on the “Buy Nothing Christmas” train, 2014 is a particularly good year to think about buying your friends and loved ones a book to stuff in their stocking.

This year saw the release of an unusual number of truly groundbreaking books that should inform serious intellectual discourse on the great issues of our day for years to come. So give the gift of knowledge rather than a shiny commodity fetish.

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Thumbnail image for On Torture: Deeper into the American Heart of Darkness

On Torture: Deeper into the American Heart of Darkness

by Jim Miller 12.15.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

A couple of weeks ago I evoked Joseph Conrad’s classic critique of colonialism when discussing the disposability of black and brown lives in the wake of Ferguson and our collective ability to dehumanize or “thingify” black and brown people at home and abroad.

As I observed then, “in Conrad’s classic novel Heart of Darkness we are taken on a journey into the core of the European colonial enterprise. And while the naïve reader may expect an adventure in the ‘savage’ world of Africa, what one quickly discovers is that it is the ‘hollow men’ of Europe bent on the ruthless exploitation of the land and the people who are the real savages, whose moral emptiness and desire to ‘exterminate the brutes’ is the actual horror.”

Well, sadly, last week the Senate report on torture officially revealed that “we are the hollow men” to steal a line from T.S. Eliot, “the stuffed men” whose lips “form prayers to broken stone.”

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Thumbnail image for Dystopia Now: “Anticipatory Grief” or “Real Grounds for Hope”?

Dystopia Now: “Anticipatory Grief” or “Real Grounds for Hope”?

by Jim Miller 12.08.2014 Activism

By Jim Miller

Just when you think you are living in a dystopian science fiction novel, the world keeps upping the ante. It’s not just scenes of burning cars and storefronts in Ferguson on TV evoking the mood either. There are some even darker clouds on the horizon that many of us just don’t want to acknowledge, no less come to terms with in a thoroughgoing and serious fashion.

Last week, as the country went through yet another round of dismay, rage, and painful racial self-examination in the wake of a New York Grand Jury’s failure to bring any charges against a policeman for the death by chokehold of Eric Garner, a pair of other unsettling stories emerged on the margins of the American media.

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Thumbnail image for Ferguson: America’s Heart of Darkness

Ferguson: America’s Heart of Darkness

by Jim Miller 12.01.2014 Activism

By Jim Miller

Along with so many people last week, I watched the events in Ferguson, Missouri unfold with profound dismay and anger while fighting a sense of despair over the intractable nature of American racism. We all knew it was coming, but that didn’t soften the blow.

On the social media, one might also have predicted the outpouring of callousness and hate toward Michael Brown and those protesting the Grand Jury verdict, but it made it no less loathsome. Even the subsequent torching of Michael Brown’s family church was not a shock, just eerily resonant.

There have been many eloquent responses to the great injustice that was the Wilson verdict last week, and I will not try to address the specifics of the case here. Instead, I offer a few observations from the longer view informed by the history of racism and exploitation in the West.

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Thumbnail image for Thanks for Nothing (and Everything): On Walmart, Black Friday, and Thich Nhat Hanh

Thanks for Nothing (and Everything): On Walmart, Black Friday, and Thich Nhat Hanh

by Jim Miller 11.24.2014 Business

By Jim Miller

It’s Thanksgiving week and Walmart is getting ready to ruin the party by asking nearly one million of its workers to come in on the holiday to get a jump-start on the Black Friday consumer frenzy. Given its size and influence, Walmart’s move, if successful, is likely to set a trend in the industry and wreck Thanksgiving for millions more underpaid service sector workers in the future.

Fortunately, OUR Walmart is responding in kind by promising the biggest Black Friday Strike ever with allies in labor and the community promising to join hands with them in their protest. As Think Progress recently reported:

Workers have gone on strike and protested for the past two Black Fridays. This time, they will also be joined by “tens of thousands” of community members, according to Stephanie Ly, AFT New Mexico president and a teacher, the “largest mobilizing of working families we’ve seen in recent history.” Teachers, elected officials, members of the clergy, and others will participate in protests at stores, flash mobs, marches, and prayer vigils.

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Thumbnail image for The United Taxi Workers Victory and the Struggle for a New Labor Movement

The United Taxi Workers Victory and the Struggle for a New Labor Movement

by Jim Miller 11.17.2014 Activism

By Jim Miller

Last Monday’s victory for the United Taxi Workers of San Diego provided a much-needed boost for local labor.

After a year that has included some tough losses at the polls and the effort to save the minimum wage ordinance, it was inspiring to see the taxi drivers (largely East African immigrant workers) burst into celebration and pour out of Golden Hall chanting “USA!” as they embraced each other, mounted the planter boxes, and cheered for joy.

It was the kind of genuine expression of collective exuberance that comes when workers feel, perhaps for the first time, that they have taken ownership of their lives and destinies.

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Thumbnail image for Post Election Notes from the Left Coast: Apocalypse Now?  Just Say No

Post Election Notes from the Left Coast: Apocalypse Now? Just Say No

by Jim Miller 11.10.2014 Activism

By Jim Miller

Last week progressives in California rightfully felt a bit relieved that their state served as a seawall against the ocean of red that washed across America.

Outside of our reactionary little backwater here in San Diego where Carl DeMaio can pretend to be moderate and almost win despite multiple scandals, there were bright spots in the rest of the state like the election of rising progressive star Betty Yee as State Controller and the re-election of Tom Torlakson who beat back the billionaire boys club’s effort to put a corporate education reform advocate in the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office.

Thus, just as New York’s Democratic Governor Cuomo launches a civil war against the unions in his state in the service of corporate interests, California will serve as an alternative model of cooperation rather than confrontation. In most places on the Left Coast, even when nobody shows up, the right just can’t seem to win, and Brown, while far from perfect, prefers to sit happily on the fence between the neoliberal Democrats and the progressives, ruling in his distinctly idiosyncratic fashion.

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Thumbnail image for 3 Critical Votes Where You Can Make a Positive Difference on November 4th for California and San Diego

3 Critical Votes Where You Can Make a Positive Difference on November 4th for California and San Diego

by Jim Miller 11.03.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Most political observers are predicting bad results for the Democrats at the national level, but there are a few important races where progressives might be able to win key victories that will have a real effect here in California and a number of largely ignored down ballot contests where we can elect solid people while keeping some dangerous, incompetent characters out of public office.

More specifically, tomorrow we can:

1) Take a significant step away from the colossal stupidity of the last several decades of the war on drugs, senselessly draconian three strikes laws, a ballooning prison industrial complex, and surging economic inequality by passing Proposition 47. Proposition 47 would reduce six nonviolent crimes involving petty theft and drug possession from felony to misdemeanor status and divert hundreds of millions of dollars in cost savings into education, crime prevention, and treatment.

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Thumbnail image for Goodbye San Francisco Bay Guardian; Hello Wankergate

Goodbye San Francisco Bay Guardian; Hello Wankergate

by Jim Miller 10.27.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Recently, California lost one of its last remaining, genuinely progressive weeklies, the San Francisco Bay Guardian. As [people.power.media] tells the story:

The San Francisco Bay Guardian, the prize-winning newspaper and progressive voice, was shut down immediately by the San Francisco Media Company, after 48 years of “printing the news and raising hell.” No warning for staff, just pack your boxes and get out. Boom. This historic independent newspaper, so long a pivotal force in San Francisco progressive politics and culture was suddenly treated as a corporate portfolio item, and lopped off the balance sheet . . .

Guardian editor Steven T. Jones recounted to the Chronicle, “We were told at 10 a.m. (Tuesday) that this issue would be our last. They shut down everything — our sites, our social media, our passkeys, right away. We’ve all been laid off, effective immediately…I need an escort to go to the bathroom and get back to the office to pack up my stuff.”

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Thumbnail image for Utopia Revisited: Rethinking the Response to Faulconer’s Climate Action Plan

Utopia Revisited: Rethinking the Response to Faulconer’s Climate Action Plan

by Jim Miller 10.20.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Since I last wrote on the People’s Climate March in late September, the grim environmental news has just kept coming in, whether it’s the revelation that September was the warmest month ever on planet earth, the Stanford study linking California’s grueling drought to climate change, the World Wildlife Fund report that the earth has lost half of its wildlife in the last fifty years, or the unpleasant surprise that, “In what could be termed as the worst effect of degrading climatic conditions and global warming, a new study has showed that fish in large numbers will disappear from the tropics by 2050”—it just doesn’t let up.

Perhaps that’s why it seems so many people aren’t paying attention or are just trying to wish away or drastically underestimate the stark realities facing us.

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Thumbnail image for Notes From the Education Wars: Marshall Tuck and the Plot Against Public Education

Notes From the Education Wars: Marshall Tuck and the Plot Against Public Education

by Jim Miller 10.13.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

After my column last week on the battle between Tom Torlakson and the corporate education reform machine backing Marshall Tuck, I was pleased to see The Nation magazine’s special issue on schools. The writers aptly note that the struggle in American education is not one of the “status quo” versus “reform,” but rather, it is between a kind of educational class war dressed up as reform and a more progressive vision that seeks to empower all kids equally.

As the lead editorial observes:

The havoc wreaked by so-called education reform has had the upside of crystallizing a movement of parents, teachers, school staffers and kids who are fighting for education justice. Schools . . . are still a vital social safety net for children. A truly progressive vision for public education shouldn’t focus on stories of how a few kids competed their way out of blighted neighborhoods. Instead, it should focus on taking back that stream of money going to charter chains and corporate tax cuts and redirecting it toward schools anchored in strong communities and using proven methods for teaching kids—the very methods deployed in schools where the rich send their children. Indeed, the most disadvantaged kids should get even more support for their schools than their privileged suburban counterparts. Without education equity, we don’t have an educational system at all—we have a rigged rat race that starts in kindergarten. 

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Thumbnail image for Tom Torlakson Versus The Corporate Education Reform Machine

Tom Torlakson Versus The Corporate Education Reform Machine

by Jim Miller 10.06.2014 Columns

The Most Important Race on the Ballot is the One No One is Talking About

By Jim Miller

This fall in San Diego the Peters vs. DeMaio and Kim vs. Cate showdowns are getting all the attention, but my pick for the most important race on the ballot is one that nobody is taking note of at the statewide level—and that’s a problem. The race in question is for . . . (wait for it) . . . State Superintendent of Public Instruction!

O.K. I know, Superintendent of Public Instruction races don’t usually get peoples’ hearts pumping, but if you are dismayed by the full-court-press assault on teachers, public education, and democratic local control over schools, you should help re-elect Tom Torlakson, who has been steadfast in his support for quality public education in California.

Indeed if you care about the direction of education in California this is a crucial race because it will make a real difference. The contest between the incumbent, Torlakson, and his opponent, Marshall Tuck, is a battle royal over who owns the future of our schools: the public or corporate interests.

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Thumbnail image for San Diego City Works Press, Sunshine/Noir II: Writing from San Diego and Tijuana

San Diego City Works Press, Sunshine/Noir II: Writing from San Diego and Tijuana

by Jim Miller 09.29.2014 Books & Poetry

November 1st Deadline Approaching

By Jim Miller

San Diego City Works Press is still accepting submissions for Sunshine/Noir II until November 1st. In particular we are looking for creative non-fiction pieces about underrepresented communities in San Diego and generally uncovered topics with regard to life in our region. We are also looking for good fiction, poetry, and artwork that runs against the grain of San Diego’s official story.

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 tenth 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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Thumbnail image for America’s First Banned Book and the Battle for the Soul of the Country

America’s First Banned Book and the Battle for the Soul of the Country

by Jim Miller 09.22.2014 Books & Poetry

By Jim Miller

It’s Banned Books Week and what better way to kick it off than with a salute to America’s first banned book: Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan published in 1637? New English Canaan is a three-volume affair containing Morton’s sympathetic observations about Native Americans along with a celebration of the beauty of the natural world and a fierce satire of the Puritans.

While some scholars point to other books such as John Eliot’s The Christian Commonwealth (written in the late 1640s) or William Pynchon’s The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption (1650) as the first books to be banned by the Puritans for theological or historical reasons, Morton’s New English Canaan precedes both of these texts and the conflict surrounding it is far more important and illustrative with regard to the political and cultural history of the United States.

Indeed, Morton’s book was banned because it told his side in one of the pivotal battles for the cultural soul of the New World. Morton, a perpetual thorn in the side of the great Puritan patriarch William Bradford, represented the untamable “other” of colonial America. When Morton set up his rival colony of Merry Mount in close proximity to Bradford’s Plymouth Plantation and invited the Indians and escaped indentured servants to join him, all hell broke loose.

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Thumbnail image for The People’s Climate March – What Will It Take to Save the Planet?

The People’s Climate March – What Will It Take to Save the Planet?

by Jim Miller 09.15.2014 Activism

By Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew

This coming Sunday, September 21st, is the People’s Climate March in New York City, here in San Diego, and elsewhere around the world.

The organizers hope that it will be “an unprecedented citizen mobilization” occurring “[a]s world leaders meet at the United Nations climate change summit” while marchers demand “the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities. . . . Other marches will take place around the world as we collectively call on our leaders to act on climate change.”

More specifically, according to the organizers in San Diego, the march is happening to “call for solutions that work for people and the planet – a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency, and a just and sustainable economy. We will press our elected leaders to implement a strong Climate Action Plan for San Diego; develop sustainable water policies; build affordable mass transit and facilitate healthy communities; and support green jobs and clean energy.”

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Thumbnail image for The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce: Oppressed Underdog?

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce: Oppressed Underdog?

by Jim Miller 09.08.2014 Business

A Pathetic Attempt to Re-Write History

By Jim Miller

Recently UT-San Diego sat down with San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Sanders for an interview so he could lay out the Chamber’s “new” aggressive political action plan.

During the course of the interview Sanders was steadfast in his insistence that the Chamber exists to respond to the mythic hegemony of labor in San Diego politics.

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Thumbnail image for Why Labor Day Still Matters: Unions and the Future of American Democracy

Why Labor Day Still Matters: Unions and the Future of American Democracy

by Jim Miller 09.01.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

Over the last year, the subject of economic inequality has been in the news quite a bit with the release of Robert Reich’s spectacular documentary Inequality for All and economist Thomas Piketty’s seminal work, Capital in the Twentieth Century. The picture they paint is a grim one and new bad numbers just keep rolling in.

For instance, a few weeks ago a Russell Sage Foundation study revealed that the wealth of the typical American household has dropped nearly 20 percent since 1984 and yet another study notes that private sector wages measured in real terms have dipped 16.2 percent since their 1972 high point. In the wake of that news, another US Census Bureau report came out showing that middle class household wealth fell by 35 percent between 2005 and 2011.

Thus while the last few years in particular have been incredibly beneficial for the ultra affluent, most of the rest of us have struggled to hold ground or not lose more. Some economists are even calling this phenomenon “the new normal.”

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Thumbnail image for K-Faulc Saves Golden Hill: Adventures in Infrastructure “Improvements”

K-Faulc Saves Golden Hill: Adventures in Infrastructure “Improvements”

by Jim Miller 08.25.2014 Columns

By Jim Miller

“There is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican pothole.”

Remember that pat line that Kevin Faulconer used ad nauseam during the mayor’s race? Well out here in the real world after the election, neither variety of potholes is getting fixed very quickly, and Faulconer’s fine words about efficiency and commitment to infrastructure are long forgotten once the press conferences are over.

A case in point is my Golden Hill neighborhood, where residents recently posted angry signs before they cleared several cone-blocked streets and dozens of “no parking” signs on their own after four months and counting of inaction in the wake of a Faulconer press conference where he promised big things.

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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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Thumbnail image for Kevin Faulconer’s War on the Poor

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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