Lesson for Paul Manafort and all of us: Honesty can lead to financial freedom

By Bear Gebhardt

I experience more financial freedom than Paul Manafort, even before he went to jail.

My more financial freedom than pre-jail Manafort came as somewhat of a surprise since Mr. Manafort recently earned over $60 million dollars in a single five-year period.

Bear Gebhardt is a Colorado writer. Learn more about him…

By “financial freedom” I mean free from excessive worry when it comes to money, free from hurry, free of looming cash deadlines that I can not meet. Free from having to think about money too much.

Here’s one lifestyle difference where Paul and I diverge: My mom bought me a suit several decades ago. It hangs in the closet for funerals and the as-yet-to-be received invitation from Stockholm to come and accept the Nobel—Peace, Literature, whatever. The suit used to be a little too big around the waist. No longer. Still, one suit is enough. (I live in cowboy country.)

I’m on Medicare (we all should be on Medicare!) and my payment for supplemental insurance for my wife and I is automatically deducted each month from our bank account. I pay my household and auto insurance once a year, on August 1. It’s a big chunk—in the low four figures. Two or three weeks ahead of that yearly payment I sell some of my losing stock investments to cover the premium. (If one invests in the stock market—what I have simplified down to “buying a little income”—one will with great certainty have at least a few losing investments. )

Curiously, this is a win, win, win deal. 1.) My insurance is paid up for the year and I don’t have to think about it again; 2.) I get to take a loss on my income tax for the stock I sold; 3.) I get a somewhat significant reduced rate on the cost of my insurance for paying it all at once, a year ahead. Such are the small victories in middle-class money management.

Paul Manafort’s secretary once sent several e-mails reminding him that his insurance payment was overdue and was going to be canceled soon if he didn’t send a check pronto. A check or a wire transfer from Cyprus. I’ve been in that circumstance (except for the Cyprus option.) Haven’t we all? It’s gut-twisting and a potential sleep depriver.

What do you think? Please take the short poll at the end of this article.

I’ve been happily married for close to a hundred years. We’ve been in our modest home for almost forty. Long enough to pay off the mortgage, be mortgage free. I planted all the shade-bearing trees that are now taller than the house.  I put up the fence, planted the grass, decades and decades ago. For us, our home is now a little slice of heaven.

Paul Manafort is worried his house—where he and his wife live—might go into foreclosure. Actually, he worries about several houses that might go into foreclosure. Maybe he could take out a loan…

Decades ago, I knew how he felt. Haven’t we all been squeezed, a time or two or three? But I’ve matured since then. Most of us mature. By the time most of us are Paul’s age, we’ve learned what’s important, what’s not.

House going into foreclosure: another sleep depriver.

As I said, I was surprised to discover—owing to a somewhat obsessive following of the Manafort trials—that in my current season I accidentally feel more financially secure, financially free, than Mr. Manafort did, with his sixty million.

So, other than suits, do Mr. Manafort and I have extremely different lifestyles?

On the one hand, yes: I don’t wear an ankle bracelet, telling my jailers where I am, moment by moment.

On the other hand, no: In the bathroom, we each take our pants off one leg at a time, and do our business, standing up or sitting down, for as long as it takes to do our business.

At night, when he is in his bedroom, and I in mine, and we each lie on our beds, close our eyes, fall asleep—the cost of the curtains is immaterial. The trust of our bed partner—and her easy sleep, and thus our own easy sleep—figures significantly.

Following the Manafort trials, I’ve come to see that financial freedom does not come from a number in the bank but rather from the relationships I cultivate with those around me—both people and institutions.

Honesty, transparency, forthrightness are all obviously necessary for financial freedom. Hard work over many decades, paying the monthly bills, also adds up to a certain freedom. But financial freedom is impossible if that hard work over many decades is not accompanied by open and honest dealings with co-workers, and the institutions that support that work. And it’s probably easier to do if the daily work is grounded in true service to a worthy cause.

Paul Manafort, lobbyist, political consultant, lawyer, and convicted felon for tax fraud, bank fraud and failure to report foreign bank accounts. Learn more…

Perhaps some small minority of people get born into a certain narrow type of “financial freedom”—where they hardly ever worry about money just because there’s so damned much of it. But this is rare, and not really relevant to most of us in our search for financial solvency.

The financial freedom most of us yearn for is freedom from excess worry—not worrying about bouncing checks, making monthly mortgage payments, regularly paying off the credit card,  making the insurance premiums. It comes down to not worrying when shopping at the grocery store about being able to pay for what we want to eat this week.

Financial freedom means we can pay the cable bill and watch the Yankees game on television—without needing Paul Manafort’s $250,000 season tickets, a charge still showing up on his American Express bill long after the season has ended.

If he had the time—and the freedom—I’d like to take Paul Manafort to coffee and explain to him the “common man’s”  metrics for financial freedom, and the relatively simple things we need to do to attain such freedom. (Be open, be honest, work hard, pay your bills, hang in there.) Again, learning what’s important, what’s not.

And oh yeah, financial freedom is also much easier if you live the type of life that you seldom find yourself in the position where you must hire a bevy of expensive criminal lawyers. (I wonder if Mr. Manafort’s lawyers ever worry about his paying of their fees.  Or did they ask to get paid up front?)

I think I’ll go check to see how my small portfolio of stocks is doing.  And then watch a Yankee’s game on cable.

The True Privileged Class

By Bear Gebhardt

I recently recognized that I am privileged—that most of us are privileged—in ways that our President is not. Such recognition of my own privilege helped me find more compassion for that underprivileged man.

Here’s how it happened: I recently found myself hooked on a very well-done, in-depth, four-part  Netflix documentary called, Trump: An American Dream.“   It’s a picture-window into his personal history (raised in a mansion in Queens),  his view of the world (“some people are predators, some are prey”), and his adult “deal-making” philosophy (“I win when you lose”).

Bear Gebhardt is a Colorado writer. Learn more about him…

Watching the last episode, it suddenly struck me how truly rich I am, and how impoverished, in very simple ways, this poor rich guy is. I saw how I often experience life’s authentic abundance in ways that in the long run truly matter, nourish and sustain not only me but those around me. I don’t own a private jet or a yacht or tropical island with servants requiring privacy fences. I have never talked with bankers about billion-dollar projects or loans.

Still, I’m rich, privileged.

Watching this documentary,  I recognized what riches my ordinary life offered that I would have missed if my destiny had been different.

And with such insight, I was also struck with what the “born rich,” and the famous and powerful, usually miss out on, if they are not careful.  To wit:

  • Our President has never in his life had the small but genuine privilege of remembering to take out the trash on trash night
  • I suspect this man has never been privileged to play, and laughed for hours, at a  nickel, dime and quarter poker game with old buddies—a carpenter, a metal worker, a plumber, and a college professor.

    Has Donald Trump ever had the privilege of weekly coffee chats with old geezers?

  • Our tea-totaling President never savors a nightcap, with an intriguing book and the approaching midnight hour
  • I suspect The Donald has never had the privilege of a shared laugh with his wife while the two of them made up the guest bed in their guest room on the morning before their guests arrive.
  • Has Mr. Trump ever had the privilege of writing a late-night haiku about the beauty of life, with the train whistle sound in the background?
  • This President has never had the victorious feeling of getting his backyard fountain to work again, with his own hands, his own shovel and electrical tape, after the fountain’s sudden and mysterious shutdown.

    Scrabble and potluck for Donald Trump–probably never.

  • Has Mr. Trump ever felt the privilege of getting an email from his favorite cousins, announcing they’ll be stopping to visit, just passing through?
  • Has our President ever known the privilege of discovering his favorite chocolates on a “two for one“ sale at his neighborhood store?
  • I suspect DT does not know the deeply enjoyable privilege of a monthly scrabble game and potluck with old friends
  • I suspect he has never had the privilege of a regular, once a week coffee chat with fellow geezers held at the local grocery deli.
  • Has he ever had the small joy of checking off the final item on the grocery list at the grocery store, heading for cashier?
  • Has he ever felt relief at discovering an empty check-out lane at the grocery store with the cashier waiting for the next customer?

    Writing a late-night haiku? Not a pleasure the president has likely ever done.

  • Does he know the modest comfort, gentle pleasure of seeing the “auto-deposit” of this month’s social security payment?
  • Does he know how satisfying it can be to empty the dishwasher?
  • I know this President has never been able to say, simply, “good night, love,” to his spouse of forty-five years as she goes one more night upstairs to their shared bedroom.

Watching the documentary, it was clear the man in the White House is not a man like most of us. His life experiences have deprived him of privileges that  98%, even 99% of the men on the planet share every day. Thus, his basic expectations are different. His reality, his priorities are different. He has never, I would wager, mowed his lawn.

Somehow, these insights helped ease my alienation. The America he wants to “make great again” is not the already-privileged life in America that I know and my buddies know, my family knows, that most of us know. He’s never, I would guess, had the privilege of taking out the trash.

Our simple daily pleasure, obligations, privileges are what make life in America, and on this planet, worth living. The privilege of laughing with our kids, our spouses, our neighbors, our long-term buddies. The privilege of making little things work again—the backyard fountain, an oven light, a garden gate.

What do you think? Take the short poll at the end of this article.

Rather than getting “the bigger picture,” it struck me we can find wisdom in getting the “smaller picture.” What’s really important? The relationships we have with the people under the same roof. The relationships we have with people we have worked with, been in business with. The trust we have in each other. Trust that we are, at root, looking out for each other.

Which we are. A long, happy life has convinced me of this: we do indeed look out for each other, when we can, where we can, as a basic life value. This is true “privilege.”

We don’t need, as our President has insisted, a “killer instinct” to get along, to get ahead. “Ahead” meaning more love in our lives, more peace, more good-will and happy camaraderie. Even if we should be President of the United States, if we have not love, have not peace, have not humor, and the simple privileges of life, what have we?

Sometimes, it’s useful for ordinary, everyday people to talk to each other, remind each other, about ordinary things, and what makes life worth living. What makes this life truly privileged. This seems to be one of those times.

Trump’s ICE Agents Break At Least Four Ten Commandments By Stealing Kids

Trump’s immigration agents should disobey orders to tear families apart

 By Bear Gebhardt

Conservatives and liberals quickly agree (though for different reasons) that our current immigration system is badly broken.


Bear Gebhardt is a writer living in Colorado. Learn more about him…

There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrant workers and their families living in the United States. Sixty percent of them have been here for 10 years or more, and 3.6 million of them arrived here before their eighteenth birthday. (The average “Dreamer” was six years old when she or he was first brought to the United States.)

The current United States immigration system offers no reasonable, safe, easy, or fair path for these workers to obtain the documents they desperately need to continue working. For instance, a significant number of these undocumented workers—somewhere between 35 percent and 50 percent—at one time had viable work permits, but were forced to overstay their visas because our current regime does not recognize their brick and mortar value to the economy. Again, the system is broken, on both ends. Most everybody agrees. It needs to be fixed.

In the meantime, just how broken it is can be seen by the recent push to enforce the “letter of the law” of this broken system.  Recent actions by the agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency puts a majority of these agents in the extremely immoral position of being ordered to break at least four of the Ten Commandments. Even more importantly (if that’s possible), it makes these U.S. agents vulnerable to being personally charged under international laws first established at Nuremberg.

Obviously, the Ten Commandments give us at least a  basic hint of what moral and immoral action has meant to human beings over the past many millennia.  Dr. Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, writes, “there are some actions that are so intrinsically terrible that they run contrary to the proper nature of human beings. . . these are evil actions. No excuses are available for engaging in them. To dehumanize a fellow human being, to reduce him or her to the status of a parasite, to torture and slaughter with no consideration of individual innocence or guilt, to make an art form of pain, that is wrong.”

So, what are the ICE agents doing wrong?

 “Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father and Mother” is a cross-cultural moral injunction going back at least 3,000 years, with evidence of 5,000, even 10,000 years and more. Honoring the family structure recognizes these fundamental relationships as true, necessary and irreplaceable for human health and survival.


Under its zero-tolerance policy, the Trump Administration has taken more than 2,000 children away from their immigrant families in the last two months. Photograph from The New Yorker and by John Moore / Getty.

When ICE agents follow orders to remove children from their parents and place these children into warehouses, warehouses with cages, these agents are breaking a fundamental moral human law that goes back millennia. They could be, and should be, held accountable.

 “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” Stealing children from their parents and stealing parents from their children must surely be recognized as one of the most horrific thefts possible. This is true even if some local warlord or bureaucratic regulation makes such child theft temporarily “legal” in that particular part of the jungle, that part of the world. Again, thou shalt not steal is a moral law that goes back millennia. When ancient kings wanted to torture their enemies, they stole their children.

Thou Shalt Not Lie (Bear False Witness.).” When ICE agents tell the parents and the children, as they do, that this is only a temporary condition and that it will be over soon, they know—and the parents know—that this is a lie. Being “ordered” to lie does not change a lie into a truth. The agents are lying, and they know they are lying. Because of the backlog caused by recent crackdowns, undocumented workers arrested in the U.S. are now held for weeks, months, even years. “It will be over soon” is a lie.

“Thou Shalt Not Kill.” We don’t know how many physical deaths are caused directly by ICE Agents “following orders,” since such statistics are not kept, or at least made public. We do know that high-speed chases, dangerous terrain and inhumane smuggling tactics have led to thousands of immigrant deaths. Can ICE agents be held directly responsible for this? Hardly, and yet they are part of a system—following orders in a system—which does lead directly to such human suffering.

And certainly their actions have led to the “deaths” of the dreams and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of people. Jesus said, “If you just think of committing this sin, you are doing it.” His understanding was that inflicting mental “death” should be seen as real as physical actions leading to death.   

“Do not Put Any Other Gods in Place of Me.” ICE agents are required to put the ICE system, procedures, rules and behavior ahead of—in place of—their own inner moral compass. There may be a few—a very rare few—ICE agents who experience a perverted personal pleasure at the wailing of children and pleading of parents as they “follow orders” to enforce the regulations of the broken immigration system. But we have to assume, just because we know the ICE agents are human, that most of these agents feel deep angst and sorrow as the results of being forced to follow such orders.

And this brings us to the Nuremburg Trials—those trials which were held at the end of World War II to judge those who had been participants in the horrors of both mass incarceration and mass extermination. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Nobel Laureate who helped bring down the Soviet Regime by documenting the horrors of the Gulag, considered the Nuremburg Trials as one of the highest expressions of human moral evolution.

“Following orders is not an excuse for committing immoral actions.”

It was at the Nuremburg Trials that the international standard was established: “Following orders is not an excuse for committing immoral actions.” Even more importantly, it established that there are in fact immoral actions that we, as human beings, in every part of the globe, recognize as being, indeed, truly immoral.

What ICE agents are currently doing with our broken immigration system is wrong. They know it, when they go home to their families at night. We know it, when we read about it online and in our daily newspapers.

What can we do about it? Speak out, like we are doing here in this essay (please share). And let all of our ICE agents know we support them when they refuse to follow immoral orders.

Conservatives and liberals can agree: We don’t want another cause for Nuremberg Trials, here after the current administration has ceased to rule. The immigration system we now have is broken, does not work. Let’s not make a false god of this broken system.

Learn more:



Turn Off the NFL

By Bear Gebhardt

When riding a tiger, one should have a plan for dismounting.”                                                                           – old Chinese proverb

Our minority president hopped aboard a tiger when he took on the NFL kneeling practice. I predict this just might be the issue that gets bigger and bigger until it pushes him out of the oval office. You heard it here first.

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

How paradoxical for a man who completely flaunts the long-established protocol for the highest office in the land to demand from his fellow millionaires that they follow established protocol!

In common with millions of other American men and women, I love football. As a kid, we boys—and occasionally girls—spent hours and hours playing the game in both front and back yards, in the parks and—a small minority of the time—on the regulated football field. In high school, as most guys, I was not good enough to be the starting quarterback, or even third-string string quarterback, guard or wide receiver. Indeed, I didn’t make the team. (We had 750 students in my graduating class.)

Nevertheless, even though I, and most other guys, were not stars, or even on the team, we loved the game. And as old geezers, most of us still watch it and talk about it and carry on as if it mattered. That said . . .

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

With the NFL Commissioner’s latest letter saying all players should stand during the National Anthem, it’s time, at least for me, to turn off the NFL. (Though I suspect I’m going to peek.)

The commissioner has revealed he has no backbone. He caved in and gave his lunch money to the schoolyard bully and suggests we all do the same. He can do it, but I, and you can bet your jock strap a whole bunch of the NFL players and coaches, are going to say no.

Don’t forget to take the short poll at the end of this article.

That’s why I suspect this issue isn’t going to go away with the commissioner’s letter suggesting everyone give up their lunch money.

I admit, as an NFL veteran myself, I was conflicted to begin with on this take a knee deal. (I’m a veteran because I sold hot dogs at the Denver Broncos games throughout high school and first years of college.)

Even before the knee deal, however, I had growing reservations about spending my time watching the NFL. I have good friends who haven’t watched football in years—just out of principle—not willing to eat the bread or go to the circuses sponsored by the ruling classes. (Yes, indeed, I have commie buddies).

And then last year a good friend stopped watching the NFL games out of deference and respect to those players who have suffered long-term damage not only from the concussions (a new study revealed  96 percent of former NFL players show brain damage) but also leg and arm and back and butt injuries which often make their later years almost insufferable.

In years past, a different good buddy, watching the “injury time out” for a player on the opposing team, used to quip, “I hope he’s feeling better right after the game,” e.g., after our team wins!  A good way to think about it, we thought at the time.

Now, seeing an “injury time out,” if we’re honest, we have to admit that the injury just suffered, leaving this player on his back on the field, such that we had time enough to cut to a Budweiser commercial, might lead that player to fifty more years of pain and disability.

The guys on the field know the dangers of their work. But they have honed their skills to a degree unfathomable to we high school and college players they long ago left behind.  We ordinary blokes have the greatest respect for not only these players’ natural talents but for thousands and thousands of hours they logged in disciplined training, both on and off the field.

So when one, and then two, then dozens and dozens of these men take a knee to bring necessary attention to the pressing issues of police brutality and institutionalized racism, we have to accept, and respect they know what they are doing.

I am of course a patriot and proud and grateful to be a citizen of the good ol’ USA. One of the things I love most about the USA is our freedom of speech, our freedom of conscience, our freedom from being forced to believe or act in certain ways. We have a history of this. Not always perfect, but nevertheless working in that direction. I’m proud to be an American.

But my basic allegiance, even before to the nation-state, is to humanity itself. Before I was an American, I was born a human being, born a citizen of the earth, with seven billion other citizens. All people, even before they are citizens of the state, come endowed with certain inherent rights.

Every human deserves respect, the right to say, in a non-violent way, what’s on his or her mind. The right to be treated fairly and openly under the law, regardless of skin color, religions conviction or athletic ability. These are not just American values. These are human values.

So when some NFL players make a brief, non-violent, creatively defiant gesture to bring attention to the fact that the nation is not living up to the ideals of justice and equality symbolized by the flag, I respect not only their Constitutional right to do that, but also their human right.

When the NFL commissioner took a knee and bowed to the school bully, handing him his lunch money, it made me sad. It also made me ready to finally give up football, at least until we get a new administration, in both the NFL and Washington.

I do think our Minority President waded into a swamp where the alligators outnumber the “protocol” guys. I suspect the Take a Knee biz will finally show him to be in a position way beyond his skills. He will not easily extricate himself from this—just watch—increasingly fiery issue.

Recent news on the kneeling issue:

Oct. 17, NFL.com: What you need to know from the Oct. 18 owners and players’ meeting.

Oct. 17, New York Times: Trump criticizes NFL for not penalizing anthem kneeing.



Why Al Franken’s “Giant of the Senate” Is a Must-Read for Resistors

By Bear Gebhardt

Muna Abdulah was born in Somalia but fled with her parents as refugees to a small town in Minnesota, where her father had been sponsored to work on a turkey farm.

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

Muna  excelled in the local public schools and her twin sister was voted homecoming queen. Applying to become a Senate Page, Muna  wrote a brilliant essay and then wowed the interviewers. She won the prize.  As a 17-year-old, she went to Washington, D.C., to work in the Senate.

“The day the new class of pages arrived in the senate,” Al Franken wrote, “I went down to the floor to meet her in person. Muna was easy to pick out of the group of twenty or so, being the only one wearing a hijab (headscarf) with her page uniform.  I went up to her and said, ‘you look like a Minnesotan’.”

I love Al Franken.  And after reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate (by Al Franken, of course) I not only love his wit, I am once again deeply moved by his integrity, his humility, his ability to bring hope and light where there was previously so much darkness and despair.

I confess, for many decades I have been so dismayed (disgusted) with the lack of courage, lack of wisdom, lack of love exhibited by most members of Congress that I had lost all hope that “anything good can come from Washington.”  Even Barak Obama, hope of our heart, as one of his first Presidential acts sent more troops to Afghanistan, directly contrary to his campaign promises.  What?

I threw up my hands, again. I’m not touching this stew pot of politics.  Nothing good ever comes of it.

And then along comes Al Franken. We knew him, first and foremost, of course, from Saturday Night Live—a brilliant and brave satirist, entertainer and all-around funny good guy. And then, thank God, he wrote that brilliant and brave book, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, and other observations,” saying exactly what all (or many) of us were thinking, knowing. But here was Franken saying it openly, clearly, without apology, and with great wit, intellectual vigor and historical perspective.

And then, a few years later, “Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A fair and balanced look at the right.” Again, a wise guy, a gadfly, truth to power, in clear, all-American prose, without flinching. We need a hundred more such brave, witty, and wide-thinking commentators.

Please take a few seconds and answer the poll at the end of this article.

When Franken ran for the Senate, we all thought it was a joke. But come to find out, he was serious. Eleven days before the 2002 U.S. Senate election, Franken’s good friend, Senator Paul Wellstone, died in a plane crash in Eveleth, Minnesota. His wife, Sheila, and daughter, Marcia, also died onboard.

Wellstone’s opponent, Norm Coleman, now a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia, narrowly won the election over Walter Mondale. Shortly after taking office, Coleman said, “I am a 99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone.”

Franken was infuriated. “You don’t say that about anyone who has died in the last six months,” Franken wrote. “And my God, you don’t say that about some guy who everyone agreed was a compassionate, tireless champion of the little guy, a loving husband and father, and a colleague whom every senator recognized for his passion and decency. Until that exact moment I had never thought about running for public office. But when I read that quote…my immediate thought was this: Somebody’s got to beat this guy.… At the time, I didn’t think that the ‘somebody” who was going to beat this guy would end up being me.”

After taking much heat for his comment, Coleman later apologized and explained, “I just meant I was a 99 percent improvement when it came to supporting George W. Bush.”  Enough said.

In running against Coleman, Franken had to learn NOT to be funny. Otherwise, people wouldn’t take him seriously. And he also had to deal with what he called (and trademarked) the “DeHumorizer.”  Coleman’s team combed Franken’s 30 years of comedy writings, satire and skits, including writings for Playboy, and presented them as if they were his personal political convictions.

In addition to these unique challenges, even though Franken had won the Senatorial Democratic nomination, the Democrats in Washington didn’t support him. They didn’t think he had a chance to beat an incumbent. So Franken was on his own.

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I won’t share any more of the details. Franken does it much better, quicker, wittier than I. Obviously, he did win—by one the narrowest margins of any race in Senate history. (He won his second race, four years later, hands down.)

What surprised me most about reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, was that it gave me hope again about our political process. Again, that’s something I haven’t had in decades (with the exception of my fleeting hope for the populist Bernie Sanders—a hope which Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Hilary Clinton quickly squashed with dirty tricks behind closed doors.)

Again, it was so strange and unexpected that I have to repeat: reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate gave me hope again about our political process. Made me think I might even start attending—or at least paying attention to—our local city council meetings.

That’s how powerful this book is. That’s how powerful this man is. He’s the real McCoy. Let’s work to get more like him in office, from the lowest to the highest offices of the land.