What is Friendship?

I have a friend who lost everything. I mean everything. His business, marriage and his apartment. I believe he lives out of his car now and he has been living this way for years.

Most of his wounds were self-inflected. He spent too much, was too arrogant and lost a lot of people’s money in a business deal that went south.  Now as a result, he is totally alone and on his own. His father passed away and the rest of his family lives overseas, so he no longer has a support system he can count on. He still lives in the N.Y.C. area, which is one of the most expensive places in the world to live, because he wants to stay close to his daughter.

He and I grew up together in N.Y.C.  Most of his closest friends still live there and most of them are financially well off.  Some even have multiple homes. Yet, nobody offers him a place to stay. Most of them know his situation, and from what I can gather, not one of them has offered to take him in.

His predicament got me thinking long and hard about what it means to be a friend. Is a friend just someone who we have a lot in common with and talk to frequently, or does it mean something more?

The city we grew up in is very liberal. There are numerous charities and programs to help the less fortunate. In fact, most of the people in our social circles give lots of money to charity and think of themselves as good people. And yet, when faced with actually doing something personal, like allowing him to stay in their homes, they all have punted. I think their actions say a lot about who they are.

Yet, I don’t believe their actions are any different than what most people’s would be under similar circumstances.

I believe that a true friend is someone that borders close to what we call family. Someone who would give the short off their back for you. The Japanese definition of friendship is likely the appropriate one. They have a term, kenzoku, which translated literally means “family.” The connotation suggests a bond between people who’ve made a similar commitment and who therefore share a similar destiny. It implies the presence of the deepest connection of friendship, of lives lived as comrades from the distant past. 

There is an interesting video in France wherein a reporter asks people on the street about the immigration crisis, the lack of housing and the effect it is having on the nation. Most of the citizens are quite welcoming of the immigrants. When asked if they would be willing to open their homes to them they all responded positively; yet, when presented with an actual immigrant who needs their help, they all decline. Check out the video to see what I mean.

The video is great at pointing out the fallacies and foibles of we humans. You see, we all tend to think of ourselves as humane, noble and kind; but, when truly given the opportunity to act in such a manner we decline. It is easier to give lip service than to actually be noble.

I know I’m no different and this pains me. Their are, however, exceptions. My wife used to pick up kids from the street in Ecuador and have them eat in her house. She has changed diapers and bed pans for the old and infirm.  I also have witnessed a friend of mine who, after divorce, took in her ex-spouses elderly relative to live with her. I am not sure I would have the spirit of heart to do something like that but she did. When measured against these people, I truly fall short.

This leads me back to my original question of what does it mean to be a friend? If we are only going to be there for the good times…the laughs… and only for the occasional inconvenience what is the point? Why have friends at all?

The fear of abandonment and failure scares us all. The Huffington Post ran an article that 70% of all Americans fear being homeless. The fear is real and felt by many. Yet, within my close circle of friends, we know someone who is homeless and nothing is being done. This is a tragedy. Its what’s underlying the despair and fear so many feel because we know if we ended up in his same predicament there would be no help. My friend now knows that he is on his own and must fend for himself. The tragedy is that all his friends know it too.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

 

A Chain of Events

One anchor. One person. One person was responsible for bringing in thirty people legally into the United States.

How did it happen? By one act of kindness.

Was it good for America? Not at all.

Magical World

My father was an entrepreneur who started many companies. Some failed while others did very well. And over his life he employed lots of people and helped create a lot of wealth for them One of his employees was families had immigrated from Colombia.

She was a lovely lady who cleaned the office and helped around wherever she could. In her later years she helped my father and mother at their home.She did not speak English and first came here illegally. Since my father did not want any problems with the authorities, he paid for a lawyer and got her a green card. And over time  she got all of her documents, paid her taxes and became a U.S citizen.

Yet having lived here her entire life, she never learned English. Never took the time to learn the culture and never fully integrated into American life. She always lived as an outsider within the American system. And she knew her life was far better here than it ever could be in Colombia.

So now as a U.S citizen with full rights, she helped bring over her entire family from Colombia.. Her sister, daughter, husband, and nieces all immigrated here. And even today, she continues to bring over her extended family, all legally.

I always had a good relationship with Lydia and it became closer when I married my wife Rocio. When I moved back to N.Y, Lydia and my wife hit it off since they both spoke Spanish. And as I had children, Lydia helped me with my kids.

Lydia was the first person that opened my eyes to an America and a system that I never knew existed and would never be part of. It all happened when one of my daughters got sick and I had to take her to the emergency room. When Lydia saw the bill I had to pay, Lydia was first shocked that I paid and even more dismayed by my naïveté for paying the bill.

Lydia seeing how I overpaid for my daughters medical bills and other such things began to educate me informed me there are many ways to go to the emergency room and not have to pay the bill. In fact she began to teach me about the massive government system of services that are free to almost anybody, a system that I had no idea that existed.

It reminded me of a Lydia who skit done years ago on Saturday Night Live where the black comedian Eddie Murphy dressed up as a white man in a  comedy and goes out to what it was like to live as a white man in America.

In the first scene the white Eddie Murphy enters a newsstand is not allowed to pay for the newspaper by the white owner, and as he surmises “I guess white people give each other things when black people are not around.”

In another scene, Eddie Murphy is on a bus which breaks out into a grand party after the last black person departs. Finally when Eddie Murphy goes to a bank to get a loan and is rejected by the black banker because he had no i.d, no job and no collateral, he eventually gets a $50,000 loan in cash, when a white banker intervenes on his behalf .

The skit is hilarious in that it was clearly over the top and yet when I began to see how Lydia lived, it reminded me of that skit. Comedy works because it touches on the nerves of truth. We all know that there are diffrent experiences people have that we will never be part of  because of our race, color or gender. It is normal. However, comedy of  my association with Lydia I was able to get a glimpse into the world of government programs and assistance that the majority of Americans have no idea they existed how they operated

Lydia had none or practically  no medical bills (Medicaid). She could go a Doctor at virtually no cost.She had access to free food (food stamps, E.B.T program). She received several monthly checks from a smorgasbord of government agencies that helped her pay for her housing and other miscellaneous expenses. She was set.

Although these programs and doors are supposedly open to all Americans, I would never be able to access them. They were never meant for people like me. They were not meant for “Normal Americans”. Think I am wrong? Take a look at how veterans are treated with sub standard care at the Veterans Administration Hospitals. These are the types of the because government programs normal Americans receive. It was designed that way.

A few years back I went to a finance conference where one of the panelist argued how efficiently the government operated. The panel laughed at her comments, but she continued “The money in government is by being inefficient. For example many companies can bid on a government contracts- and for many  they will never win the contract nor ever be able to complete the application. But with the right contact (and payoff) within the government, you will actually get your application completed and win the job.” That was my epiphany. The government is actually quite receive efficient if you know how to pull the right levers.

The reason why Lydia had great benefits and veterans have terrible ones is because Lydia and her ilk know how to bring the votes. The communities Lydia lives in know how to get people elected and keep them in power and because of that the government responds to people like her. Veterans don’t vote as a uniform block and because of that, they are recipients of an inefficient government.  Minority communities generally speaking  live close to each other (think Chicago, NYC) which makes it easier to concentrate their power. While veterans are spread out all over the United States.

Lydia did what any rational person would do, she told her family about the amazing benefits she received and tried to bring in as many of them as she could.And now as a U.S citizen she continues to live off the government.

As a country we are worse off having allowed Lydia into our country. It pains me to say it but it is the truth. The people she brought over came here to consume and better their own lives and their received but not the country which has given them so much. The irony was that my father was a veteran who never once took anything form the government and yet has helped many others to do so.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Time To Bug Out

“Bug Out” was a derisive term that emerged out of the Korean War after the U.S. Army hastily retreated from it’s holding position during attack. We abandoned our positions and fled en mass as the Chinese overran our positions. They “bugged out” the same way a cockroach flees when the lights are turned on. Weapons, equipment and radios were all left behind in the hasty retreat. That retreat by the U.S. Army left our Marine Corps brethren totally exposed on their right flank, which enabled the Chinese to completely  surround the Marines.

Bug Out

The Marine Corps were able to extract themselves from this precarious situation by doing a retrograde to the Chosin Reservoir and narrowly escaping the Chinese horde. Had it not been for the Marines bravery and resiliency, the outcome would most likely have been a total disaster for them.

The term “bug out” came to mind as I sat watching the Twin Towers come down 0n 9/11/01. Earlier that day, I had been in Tower 5 , one of the buildings connected to the World Financial Center, and was able to escape with my life. Later that same afternoon, my wife and I, joined by friends,  gathered on the lawn opposite the Twin Towers to watch the inferno while trying to gain some understanding of what had just happened.

At the time, we lived in a community in Jersey City populated with many people from Latin America.  These were our friends…Brazilians, Argentinians and Mexicans to name just a few. For the most part, we all worked in the banking sector and our lives were connected by families and jobs. Since I spoke Spanish fluently, most had no idea I was an American or that I had served in the military. They all thought I was an immigrant, like them, who was here under a work visa.

While they were all dismayed and distraught by the events on 9/11, to a person they all had the same plan in mind, to bug out, to leave the country as quickly as possible. The day before they were all happy living and working in the U.S., thrilled that they had high paying jobs and great careers as they had been unable to find these opportunities in their home countries. Yet, on the day of the attacks, they were already beginning to pack their bags and head home to, what they perceived to be, safer venues.

In a sense I could understand their concern. They were foreigners in a foreign land and, consequently, had no horse in the race. The U.S was being attacked and they were not willing to risk their lives as they were not Americans.  They all wanted to leave. I get that…to a point. On the other hand, they were willing to reap all the benefits American society had to offer them as long as they didn’t have to assume any of the responsibilities that citizenship required.

In essence, this is the problem of immigration (illegal and legal). If the only reason people want to come here is to extract benefits, in the case of my neighbors and high paying jobs, how was is that group of people any different from the illegal aliens who come here for free government benefits?  Neither group is here to benefit the country, only themselves.

When I was in the Marines, I had the honor of serving with a Marine from Ireland and one from the Dominican Republic, both of whom had joined the Marines as a path to citizenship. They served with honor and would have paid the ultimate price for this country. However, when I worked in the banking sector I was surrounded by foreigners whose main aim was to make as much money as possible and then “head home.” Hardly any of them had any real interest in understanding the country and the sacrifices people have made to make this country an economic juggernaut.  Admittedly, not all of them were like this; but, the majority was.

There is clearly something awry with an immigration policy that allows in economic “hit-men” (and women) whose sole purpose is to get as much money as possible from the American companies they work for and take it elsewhere.

Part of the reason Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls is his “pro U.S. worker” message. The middle class has felt the economic squeeze via illegal immigration as these immigrants compete with the middle class for jobs. Yet these same immigrants don’t pay any of the taxes for publicly funded programs, such as education and health care. The middle class feels unduly burdened because they are taking the hit and paying for it, too.

The white collar worker has felt the brunt of legal immigration, especially in banking and technology sectors via the HB-1 visa program which now pits Americans against immigrants for these high paying jobs. Many corporations know these immigrants will work for less performing the same job. The recent Disney scandal where American workers were forced to train their foreign replacements as a precondition for receiving termination benefits shows the great lengths to which American employers will go to bring in cheap labor.

The United States was founded on principles of Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness. Many Americans and countless   families have paid the ultimate price for this great nation’s founding and its existence ever since. Today many people, especially the young, are attracted to the financial structure of socialism..being sold as an alternative to capitalism. But economic socialism is a derivative of a failed political system: Socialism. Capitalism is not. It is a purely economic model…one which has brought more wealth and innovation to the Western world, and more economic relief to the world in general, than any other in human history.

We were not meant to be a system of commerce where each and every transaction is to be judged by its optimal economic return. The immigration policies that the U.S has created, which incentivize illegal immigration by way of free benefits, undermines the ability of capitalism and free markets to self-correct.

Ultimately, the brilliance of the American citizen, and in particular the American worker, is that we are a nation that was built on showing up and staying the course…not bugging out. The path to citizenship should be one that honors that history.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com