Drugs & Our (In)Justice System

This article is a re-print from Bill Holmes' excellent blog on just about everything.  If you get a chance, check it out at https://billyjim47.blogspot.com/

This article is about a recent interview done on our podcast Two Old Guys Drinking Beer!  The Interview was with Sydney Friedrichs, a Mentoring Coordinator with the Pathfinders organization. Enjoy the read.

I had a very enjoyable, informative, and uplifting afternoon today. Although in some ways it was frustrating because of what I heard. My podcast partner, Dennis Sherrard, and I recorded an episode today with an inspiring young woman. Her name is Sydney Friedrichs and she works for Pathfinders of Tarrant County. One of their programs is pre and post release counseling and assistance to those incarcerated for drug offenses. Sydney works with the female offenders, she has a co-worker who deals with the male offenders. 

The program is very successful. Compared to recidivism statistics for those not aided by Pathfinders, those in other states, jurisdictions or nationally, these folks rank at or near the top. Unfortunately, they can only reach a small number of those incarcerated primarily for drugs. You can hear more about the specifics of the program in Sydney's own words on the podcast. 

This post is about the stuff you didn't necessarily hear on the podcast. Dennis and I had a chance to talk with Sydney before the recording session and afterward over lunch. She has a diverse background and history, not always ideal. She is smart, articulate and most importantly, dedicated to helping others. 

For an old guy like me, this is very encouraging. We too often have only negative impressions of the younger generations. While I personally don't share those generalized views, it is nice to meet someone from those generations who truly is giving back.

I'm a Baby Boomer, one of the older ones, and overall I'm not happy with what my generation has done. We started out OK in the 1960's. We did change some social structures and norms. Unfortunately, many of us abandoned those ideals for financial security and conformity. But that's the subject for another post. 

Let's face it, drugs are a huge problem for our country. I think it is made much worse by the way we treat those who have addictions, especially how the criminal (in)justice system treats them. But again I stray from my main point.

As an old fart, I was truly inspired today. I know Sydney and her cohorts are making a valiant effort in spite of the overwhelming odds against them. We need more of these efforts which of course means more funding and acceptance by the penal and judicial systems. And of course by the public and our politicians.

Most of the young people I come in contact with are just fine. Sydney happens to be one of the outstanding ones. Give them a chance, they can't do much worse than the Boomers did.

Please, listen to the podcast. You will hear firsthand from someone on the front lines. As a society, we must do better. Please also check out the Pathfinders website to donate or help in other ways.

As always, the Two Old Guys Drinking Beer podcast is on iTunes and Google Play as well as our podcast archive website. This episode's direct link is http://2ogdb.libsyn.com/episode-13-the-interview-sydney-friedrichs?tdest_id=515247

Mr. Trump defiles the Office of the Presidency

It is no secret that President Donald J. Trump is having some struggles in his new job.  It's hard to imagine someone so "un-ready" for this job, who at the same time seems to have no interest in learning what to do in this job.  His "Everestian" ego suggests to him that he doesn't need to sweat the details, his previous successes in his career are foundation enough to do this job.  After all, it's just management, delegation and negotiation, right?  

Wrong Mr. President.  It is certainly helpful to have experience in a leadership role.  Your experience however, is the wrong experience.  Since you've assumed the mantle of the head of the Trump organization, TrumpCo, or whatever you'd like to call it, you have ruled by fiat.  You have had no checks and balances except the consequences of your actions.  There were no constitutional boundaries for you in your private life. You could do as you pleased.   Your staff you could hire and fire with impunity and exact loyalty oaths and require flattery and fealty.  You apparently have assumed you could do the same with this job.  The evidence is voluminous and clear in that your attempts to intimidate or cajole declarations of faith and loyalty from people like James Comey belie the fact you don't understand how our system government works.   Certainly you could fire James Comey.  As a member of the Executive Branch, the FBI falls under the supervision of the Department of Justice, which is a cabinet level organization reporting to you.  What you don't get is that there are consequences for your actions. Every action you take as President is an action that is done on behalf of the people of this country.  You are not in this job for yourself whether you understand that fact or not.  You are not the CEO of the country.  You don't get to dictate how things will happen and most certainly the manner by which they will happen.  You were elected to lead because you convinced enough people that you would lead efforts of change on their behalf.  You weren't elected to cast aspersions on people, deride national institutions like the Judicial Branch of this country, or get into petty squabbles with the 4th estate in the country; the press.

Your recent actions with tweeting the juvenile insults about Mika Brezinski are further evidence of your lack of readiness for this job.   What you did was something a bullying 10 year old might do in a schoolyard. Is this really something you want to be part of a Presidential legacy?  Really?  You're comments reek of insecurity and victim-hood.  You spend energy on responding to personal affronts from the media that would be better served on resolving the problems the country elected you to focus on.  Grow up Mr. President.  While this is unlikely ever to happen, you would be better served to take some examples from your predecessors in the job.  Every President since George Washington has had their issues with the press.  Their responses ranged from good to bad.  You've got a wealth of lessons there on how to behave.  Spend time understanding what they did. Take the best of the lessons and make that part of your Presidency, because it will be highly likely, if you continue the current path you are on, you will be nothing more than a laughing stock who will be held up for decades to come as the most ridiculous person to have ever held that office.  

Honesty is the best policy

One of the first lessons we are taught as children is the importance of being honest. I remember countless times where my parents would stress the importance of telling the truth. It is fairly obvious that if one consistently lies, prevaricates, etc. then one gets a reputation that cannot always be trusted.

The current tribulations Mr. Trump is going through right now are due in large part to his inability to be honest. His casual and cavalier relationship with truth telling has given him a credibility deficit that puts him in a very bad position concerning his current issues with former FBI Director James Comey.

The situation is becoming worse for Mr. Trump each day. Mr. Comey, according to the New York Times, wrote a memo to file recounting a private conversation with Mr. Trump where the President supposedly asked the Director to back off the Flynn investigation. Of course, the White House has flatly denied this.

At issue is the question of trust. Mr. Comey, in spite of the recent bungling of the Clinton investigation, has a life-long reputation for honesty and his credibility has been affirmed by his colleagues at the FBI, and perhaps most importantly, by Democrats and Republicans alike on Capitol Hill.

As the information continues to come out, the President continually looks to be on defense relative to who said what, and the more this goes on, the worse it appears for the President.

Suppose what Mr. Trump says is true, that Mr. Comey is not being factual relative to the events described in the memo recounting the meeting he and the President had. But, given Mr. Trump's reputation of falsehood, embellishment, and downright lying, who is more likely to be trusted?

Someone once said we are taught the most important lessons of our lives when we are children. Perhaps the President was just not listening.



Illuminating Interview

I don't know how many people saw the interview between Lester Holt of NBC News and Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States last night, but I found it to be an illuminating half an hour.  As usual, Mr. Holt did a good job in his chat with the President.  

The interview consisted of a lot of conversation around the recent firing of FBI Director James Comey.  As we have all seen, the White House communications staff along with the VIce President of the United States, MIke Pence, have maintained that the firing came upon the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.  The President had something else to say. When asked about the matter, Mr. Trump responded that he had made the decision to fire Comey much earlier.  Saying "There is no good time to do this", he sides-stepped the issue about the memo from the Deputy Attorney General and said that he had already decided to remove the Director, and had asked for counsel from the AG, Mr. Sessions and the Deputy AG.  

Mr. Holt also asked about the statement in the termination letter written by the President that had thanked the Director for informing him on three separate occasions that "he was not under investigation".  When pressed, the President said that the occasions for the statements by the Director came at a dinner, and two telephone calls where Comey assured Mr. Trump he wasn't the subject of an investigation.  Mr. Trump offered his side of the conversation: 

"I actually asked him" if I were under investigation, Trump said, noting that he spoke with Comey once over dinner and twice by phone.

"I said, if it's possible would you let me know, am I under investigation? He said, 'You are not under investigation.'"

The president also said that he welcomes an investigation into potential Russian action in the election of 2016.   He indicated he wants to get to the bottom of this quickly, but he also said that this whole thing was made up by the Democrats still smarting from an election loss.

What is telling about this interview is not so much about what was said, but what a stark contrast relative to the accounts of Mr. Comey's dismissal to what we were told just a couple of days ago.  There is a major gap in the telling of the tale from the Press Secretary and the Vice President and what the President said.  So, the question is: Who is lying here?  Is it Spicer, Sanders and Pence? Is it Trump?  Second question is: Can anything coming from the White House be trusted?  

The press has a lot to parse through given all the different accounts of the Director's dismissal. Not only the way it was done, but also the account from the President that the FBI was in turmoil over the last year.  Acting FBI Director McCabe, testifying in front of the Senate yesterday refuted the President's spokespeople that the people FBI had lost respect or confidence Director Comey.  The Acting Director indicated that Mr. Comey enjoyed a wide level of support and respect amongst the thousands of employees of the FBI.

One thing is sure, there will be more information coming on this topic and it will be very interesting to see how things shake out. 





What a week it has been

The recent firing of the FBI Director James Comey is just the most recent series of events that calls into question the stability of our government,  in particular the executive branch of the government. When the news broke Tuesday about the termination of Director Comey, the administration talking points claimed that Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, and the person in the Justice Department that Director Comey reported to, had made a recommendation on his own to the President that Director Comey's conduct warranted some level of action.   The legend, according to Sean Spicer, Press Secretary, and most recently, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Deputy Press Secretary, is that DAG Rosenstein had conducted this review on his own and by virtue of the content of that report, the President acted on the DAG's recommendations and concurrence from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to remove the Director from office.   

We are now finding out, through reporting done by the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, that the legend is not fact. Indeed, the reporting from these papers through their sources is that the President has been ruminating for weeks on how to slow down or end the investigation into potential collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russian actors, including perhaps the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin.  The reporting also claims that Mr. Trump was enraged by Director Comey's refusal to give him a "loyalty oath" personally affirming that he would be loyal to the President, apparently superseding his oath to defend the Constitution.   

The reporting also indicates that the firing comes a day after Mr. Comey told members of Congress that he was expanding the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and had gone to DAG Rosenstein with a request for more resources in the form of prosecutors and investigators.   The next day, according to the reporting provided by the papers mentioned above, the Memo was provided to the President, who drafted his cover memo informing Director Comey of his termination.

The timeline on these events suggests that the President is very worried about what the investigation may uncover. The action on the part of the administration does nothing to quell the questions surrounding the Russian connection, and in fact increases the volume and ferocity of those questions.  

This situation puts the administration into a deeper level of problems as they attempt to move forward.  Who will be the next director of the FBI?  the position is Senate confirmable, and it is highly unlikely that any Senator, Democrat or Republican, will vote to confirm a new director without exacting commitments from the candidate that they will remain independent and objective.  The circumstances of Director Comey's firing are also providing fuel for the upcoming mid-term elections in 2018. I seriously doubt, that any GOP representative in the House, particularly in a state that voted for Hillary Clinton will be pleased about having to campaign in that state for reelection if the Congress just "moves on" from this as they have been encouraged to do so by the administration.  This, plus the health care bill that the House passed, puts them into a situation of defending the indefensible.

The situation with the President has become deeply concerning.  Are the systemic checks and balances that were designed into our government strong enough to hold things together? Or, is Trump slowly eroding the ability of the Congress or the Judicial Branch to check his increasingly autocratic behavior.  I think they are, but the system is going through a stress test that we've not seen since the Nixon administration.  

Mr. Trump's approval ratings have fallen to 36%, which in terms of a new President in the first few months of their administration is remarkably poor.   It seems that the people in the country are not buying his story.  His continued volatility relative to his temper, his tweetstorms, his curious decision making all is beginning to exhaust the country.  He doesn't seem to be having a good time in this situation either.  Perhaps he will tire of this and go back to golfing, making deals, and get himself back on TV, which by all reporting to date, he misses quite a bit.  her's hoping he decides that's the better course of action. The current path he is taking could wind up with impeachment hearings and perhaps even criminal indictments.   

It doesn't seem that the investigations will cool off anytime soon.  The House and Senate investigations are now moving forward with more determination.  A Grand Jury was empaneled and subpoenas have been issued regarding the Flynn affair.  It's going to be a very interesting next few months. Time will tell what happens, but for now, there is chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and it doesn't appear that it will quiet down any time soon.