Unless you have the right friends in government (photo by Adam Lempel):

It’s fitting that former mayor Giuliani, himself one of the elites responsible for America’s decline and the explosion of crony capitalism, would denounce Occupy Wall Street as consisting of lazy hippies.  His accusations are false, exposing his embarrassing ignorance about the plight of ordinary Americans today, and he conveniently omits any talk of his own criminal efforts to enrich himself and his friends through government.

The first thing to be said is that nearly everyone I’ve met at Occupy Wall Street has a job, albeit one that is very much beneath their qualifications, leaving them grossly underpaid and lacking benefits.  And those who are unemployed are not so by choice.  One friend I’ve made, Max, is a carpenter.  He’s extremely smart, educated and articulate.  But he doesn’t make much money and has a liver condition which will kill him within the next decade or so if he fails to get surgery.  Of course he can’t get that surgery in America, thanks to our corporate health care system.  He will have to eventually move to Costa Rica, which has superior health care even though it’s a poor country, or die. 

Another friend I’ve made, Adam, is also very smart and well-read.  He’s an artist, a painter.  He should be able to paint professionally or use his talents to become a teacher or a writer—something which entails truth and beauty.  But no such jobs exist.  Teachers in particular are ridiculed in America, blamed for the deficit.  Instead Adam must toil away in a dead-end job as a waiter.  He doesn’t make much money, and he works long and hard hours.  But when he has time off he comes to Occupy Wall Street because he feels he deserves better.

One girl I met, Claire, is a talented comedian.  But it’s nearly impossible to make a living in that profession.  So she must serve as a bartender, routinely working eleven hour shifts during weekends.  She has almost no free time.  And she has struggled to maintain access to health care, even though she has had health issues in the past.  She also told me about her epic struggle to help her father get treatment, lest he die of cancer.  She comes to Liberty Square whenever she can, sacrificing her few off hours for a noble cause.  Another girl I met, Lauren, is a waitress who has to save up to be able to afford a routine visit to the doctor.  All these people are doing much better than the tens of millions who are unemployed, living in dire poverty and facing the end of unemployment benefits.

And then there’s me.  I’m an unusual case compared to the Occupy crowd, which consists mostly of young folk suffering from massive debt.  I come from one of the richest communities in America, Riverdale, New York.  My parents paid for me to go to NYU, albeit very grudgingly.  I’m very lucky in that I didn’t have to take the first available job immediately after graduation to pay off student loans.  But I want to be a writer of dissident journalism.  Everyone with experience in the field that I have spoken with, from the president of the Nation Institute to legendary journalist Chris Hedges, agrees that there is no future for young people.  Those who seek to be journalists of any kind, especially those who strive to challenge power and expose truth, will have no jobs.

When I started a year ago, I didn’t believe it.  I believed in the myth of the internet.  It’s the same myth pushed by celebrity culture—the American Dream; that if you just believe in yourself and work hard, anything’s possible.  That if you put yourself out there someone will discover your talent and help you rise to prominence.  But for every successful celebrity we hear about there are thousands, equally qualified, who never make it.  Celebrities, especially those from humble beginnings, are held up by the corporate media as evidence that in America anyone can achieve wealth and fame.  But this is a lie.  Most people do not rise to fame.  Most people have to struggle.  And statistics show that America ranks near the bottom among industrialized nations in upward social mobility.

I may come from wealth, but I have rejected the life I was offered.  My family adheres to a militant form of Orthodox Judaism.  They are right wing fanatics who believe blacks are stupid niggers, all Palestinians deserve to rot and global warming is a liberal hoax.  When I renounced my faith years ago, my parents pressured me to hide my true identity from people, lest I bring shame to the family.  And when I graduated from college, during which I faced endless threats to stop paying tuition and other forms of harassment if I failed to conform and maintain the façade of religion in front of my grandfather and neighbors, I was given a choice.

I could marry some Jewish girl, have children and receive huge inheritance money.  I could get a lucrative job in finance through the community.  Or I could go to law school without having to bury myself in debt and, ideally, serve rich people.

None of these choices appeal to me, though I realize most people don’t have such opportunities because they don’t have the requisite connections.  Instead I chose to pursue the only thing I can do, the only thing I must do—writing.  I’ve essentially been cut off from my family because of my choices.  But there’s no other way—to me the unexamined life is not worth living; either you follow your heart and convictions, or you have wasted your life.

I spent last year writing columns for an online magazine.  They could not pay me a living wage because there’s no money to go around; indeed, all other publications that have published my work paid nothing.  Like the film and music industries, only perhaps more so, journalism is dying because, with the rise of the internet, people think journalists must work for free.

I have left the magazine and started my own blog, which I may be able to monetize eventually and use as a springboard for book deals, but that will take a long time, if it happens at all.  Readers typically ridicule me for asking for donations.  My friends support me for now, though I will likely have to either quit journalism or find some supplemental source of income, which will doubtless damage the quality of my research and writing.

Thus far, my search for a stable, secure tutoring job in writing and reading comprehension has yielded the following reply, and I must inform the reader that I am a magnum cum laude graduate from NYU with some tutoring experience, and a professional journalist who scored a 750 on the SAT writing section:

“I’m not currently hiring and I don’t think you’d be a particularly good match for my company…  Very few small tutoring companies actually hire people- the industry relies heavily on independent contractors…  There is absolutely no guarantee of having any particular number of hours…  It is difficult (not impossible) to make a living as a reading/writing tutor, since that is a relatively crowded area.  If you want to/are qualified to work in that area alone, I have a feeling your best bet is to work with a relatively large, high volume tutoring agency…  I have a friend who teaches ESL full time for Kaplan.  He makes $21/hr for teaching and minimum wage for prep.  That seems to be the trade-off for working for a large company that can guarantee a steady schedule.”

These are the words of one of the masters in a neo-feudalist society.  We live in a country of masters and serfs, with no hope, no prospects.  Workers have no power, and living expenses, especially in New York City, are astronomical.

Some will call me lazy for pursuing independent journalism and dismiss my work as a mere hobby, but they have no clue how much work goes into quality journalism.  True, I make my own hours, but I often put as much as fifty hours of work into a single article, between the research, interviews, writing, fact-checking and editing; all this on top of carefully following the news and learning how to navigate new media.

My conception of what work should be is extremely different from how most of us have been brainwashed to perceive work.  Work should entail dedication and all-encompassing effort, but it should not be a chore.  I think everyone has a talent and a passion and should be able to explore his passion and maximize his talent through work, which should be the ultimate form of self-expression, since, after all, it consumes the bulk of our time on this planet.

But most Americans believe work is something that must be hard, boring, mechanical and invasive.  Either you are a slave to some corporation, either you agree to forfeit your freedom and work when your boss, your master, tells you, the way he demands, for whatever salary is thrown your way, or you are deemed lazy.

I tried that route during a year on leave after my freshmen year in college, when I worked for a cash advance company.  But I believe in democracy in the workplace—that the workers should own their work and the means of production, rather than be slaves to management.  That everyone should be treated as equals, which would incentivize them to work harder, since so long as all workers share in the profits, the more they produce the richer they will all become.  This is a better incentive than the predominant one of our age—the fear of getting fired.

Everyone should be guaranteed good jobs, housing, free education, free health care and protected pensions, so long as they work for it.  The government should work to ensure this.  And primarily the wealthy should pay for a strong welfare system through heavy taxation, rather than let the homeless starve.  There is no such thing as a utopian society, since we are all fundamentally flawed; but we can do much better.

I guess this makes me a Marxist, a leftist.  I suppose Shakespeare was simply a naïve Marxist too (which, amazingly, is what occurred to me the first time I encountered the following soliloquy years ago, thanks to a lifetime of corporate indoctrination), since he has King Lear utter, out on the heath in the midst of a violent storm after he has relinquished everything to his ungrateful daughters and for the first time of his life experiences poverty,

Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

Indeed, it is only through compassion and empathy that we can “take physic” as a society, which is why the humanities are so important.  This is why the corporations, which control the education system through mechanisms like No Child Left Behind, work hard to suck all the life out of education by making it entirely subservient to standardized testing, which, together with the preparation courses, is itself privatized and extremely lucrative—the ETS is a multinational monopoly and the Princeton and Kaplan Reviews are huge money-makers, albeit for those at the top.  Only that which serves a strictly utilitarian function is valuable.  Art for its own sake is worthless.  Even Shakespeare itself has been transformed into a commodity—an NYU professor once told a class I attended that he hosts business seminars on how the wisdom of Shakespeare can be used to increase the bottom line.

In writing my columns, I spent the past year immersing myself in dozens of eye opening books, such as Deadly Spin, Winner Take-All Politics and Blood and Oil, about just how corrupt our system is.  My research has gradually pushed me away from all the propaganda I had been fed about America and capitalism and towards radicalism, which is only radical relative to the mainstream, which is itself the height of radicalism, since it promotes the destruction of the ecosystem, speculation, devastating boom-bust cycles, crony capitalism and likely nuclear holocaust.  Truth is almost always subversive.  Our government does not export freedom and democracy, but rather works to expand the tentacles of empire on behalf of multinational corporations like Halliburton and Lockheed Martin.

I have learned a ton and dramatically improved my research and writing skills.  But these skills are considered worthless in our society.  Literacy, truth and beauty are valueless compared to illusion and spectacle.  Hence Derek Jeter (whom I admire and root for) gets paid over $15 million a year to hit a baseball, and, much much worse, his boss, George Steinbrenner, makes billions.

Which bring me back to Giuliani.  The reason why billionaires like Steinbrenner make so much money is because of nepotism and corporate welfare lavished on them by gangsters like Giuliani.  Like my parents, who spout the wonders of the free market while they collect millions from my late rich grandfather and millions more from Medicare—they run a nursing home they inherited—Steinbrenner started off with wealth, his father was fabulously rich, and he received massive government subsidies.

As I’ve reported in a recent article, and I quote at length, “during the Reagan administration” Steinbrenner “made a fortune by ripping off the Navy for nearly half a billion dollars to build defective ships through a company he inherited from his father,” according to David Cay Johnston, author of Free Lunch, investigative reporter and specialist in tax and economic issues.

“Steinbrenner was therefore used to receiving massive handouts from the government when he built the new Yankee stadium a few years ago.  Because of his connections he was able to get every level of government to help him orchestrate the project, from the mayor to state councils to federal officials.  To build the stadium Steinbrenner used eminent domain to kick people out of their homes, forcing them to sell below market value, and seize public parks.  He then received over $600 million from the state to build the stadium.  And when the Yankees opened their new ballpark they jacked up ticket prices.

Johnston explains that the reason almost every major league baseball team has built a new stadium during the past two decades is because the owners, who are already filthy rich, get government subsidies.  Once the new stadiums are finished they raise ticket prices by over 40% on average.  Accordingly, the tax payer gets fleeced in every way imaginable—those who like baseball have to pay more to attend games at stadiums they paid for, and the majority of people who don’t care about baseball are nonetheless forced to pay.  The state claims the subsidies benefit the city by creating jobs, but this is a ruse—most of the jobs are seasonal, part-time and low wage; there are, after all, only eighty home games a year; and I can say, as someone who grew up in the Bronx, that Yankee stadium has not brought prosperity to the surrounding community, which is a shithole.

The real motive is crony capitalism…  Giuliani played a crucial role in helping Steinbrenner secure the deal [among many other favors over the years] and has been handsomely rewarded in return. According to Johnston ‘after almost every Yankee home game, Giuliani… loaded up the trunks of his and his entourage’s city cars with free warm-up jackets, signed baseballs, and other valuables, despite a city law that prohibits gifts of more than $50.  And Giuliani received Yankees World Series rings worth $200,000 but that Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice reported cost him only $16,000.’  Of course Giuliani has fired other government workers who have taken gifts like Broadway show tickets, but the rules apply only to those who are not ‘important.’”

So please, next time you hear a criminal fraud like Giuliani denounce Occupy Wall Street protestors as lazy hippies, don’t accept his bullshit.  Come join us.  We are fighting for a better future.  One where everyone gets a fair chance to attain a good job on a level playing field.  It will be far different from the system of corporate socialism and nepotism that dominates our society, and, indeed, the world.


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