News Extras

March 20, 2013

Education, Feature, Government, Politics

Obama:  U.S. Commitment to Israel is ‘Solemn Obligation’

Source:  American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama today pledged in Jerusalem that the United States stands by its commitment to Israel’s security, noting the alliance between the two countries “has never been stronger.”  During a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side, Obama said he’s “made it clear America’s commitment to the security of the State of Israel is a solemn obligation, and the security of Israel is non-negotiable.”

Today, the American and Israeli militaries and their intelligence establishments “cooperate more closely than ever before,” Obama said.  The U.S. and Israeli militaries also “conduct more joint exercises and training than ever before,” the president added.  Additionally, the United States is “providing more security assistance and advanced technology to Israel than ever before,” Obama said.

The U.S. military is providing support for Israeli missile defenses like the Iron Dome, Obama said. Earlier today, the president said, he’d visited the Iron Dome system, “which has saved so many Israeli lives.”  The Iron Dome, a short-range rocket and mortar defense system which was developed by the Israelis and funded in large part by the United States, prevented war following hundreds of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip in March 2012.America’s support for Israel’s security is “unprecedented,” Obama said, noting “the alliance between our nations has never been stronger.”

During meetings he’d had earlier in the day with Netanyahu and other senior Israeli government officials, Obama said he’d agreed to begin discussions on extending U.S. military assistance to Israel.  “Our current agreement lasts through 2017,” Obama said, “and we’ve directed our teams to start working on extending it for the years beyond.”  Obama also announced the U.S. will take steps to ensure that there’s no interruption of funding for the Iron Dome system.

“As a result of decisions that I made last year, Israel will receive approximately $200 million this fiscal year and we will continue to work with Congress on future funding of Iron Dome,” the president said. “These are further reminders that we will help to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge so that Israel can defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

And, the United States “continues to work with allies and friends and the Syrian opposition to hasten the end” of the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Obama said.  “We also share Israel’s grave concern about the transfer of chemical or other weapon systems to terrorists — such as Hezbollah — that might be used against Israel,” Obama said. “The Assad regime must understand that they will be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons or their transfer to terrorists.”

Obama said he and senior Israeli officials also discussed the topic of Iran.  “We agree that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to the region, a threat to the world, and potentially an existential threat to Israel,” Obama said. “And we agree on our goal.  We do not have a policy of containment when it comes to a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“We prefer to resolve this diplomatically, and there’s still time to do so,” the president continued. “Iran’s leaders must understand, however, that they have to meet their international obligations. And, meanwhile, the international community will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian government.”

Meanwhile, “the United States will continue to consult closely with Israel on next steps,” Obama said. “And I will repeat: All options are on the table. We will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting the world’s worst weapons.”  Meeting today’s challenges in the Middle East won’t be easy, Obama observed to Netanyahu, noting that “it will demand the same courage and resolve as those who have preceded us.”

Obama also observed that Netanyahu and his family, like other families across Israel, have “served and sacrificed to defend your country and to pass it, safe and strong, to your children just as it was passed on to you.  “Standing here today,” the president added, “I can say with confidence that Israel’s security is guaranteed because it has a great deal on its side, including the unwavering support of the United States of America.”

Besides Israel, Obama will also visit the West Bank and Jordan on the first foreign trip of his second term of office.

FAMM Welcomes Bipartisan Sentencing “Safety Valve” Bill in Congress, Releases New Report on How Safety Valves Help States

Source:  Cision

WASHINGTON, D.C. – FAMM President Julie Stewart today hailed the introduction of The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (S. 619), a bipartisan federal bill that would save taxpayer dollars by reserving scarce federal prison beds for the most dangerous offenders. The bill creates a “safety valve” that allows federal courts to impose sentences below the mandatory minimum sentence under specific conditions.

The legislation was introduced on March 20 by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Stewart also announced the release of a new FAMM report entitled, “Turning Off the Spigot: How Sentencing Safety Valves Can Help States Protect Public Safety and SaveFAMM Money.” The report details how eight states have embraced sentencing safety valves as a way of reducing prison populations and saving money, while at the same time protecting public safety.

“I am thrilled that Sen. Leahy and Sen. Paul are promoting this common-sense sentencing reform,” said Stewart. “The mandatory minimum sentences Congress chose might be appropriate in many cases, but certainly not in every case, especially those involving nonviolent offenders. By giving courts more flexibility, Congress will ensure that judges use our scarce prison beds and budget to keep us safe from truly violent offenders.”

“Congress has too often moved in the wrong direction by imposing new mandatory minimum sentences unsupported by evidence while failing to reauthorize crucial programs like the Second Chance Act to rehabilitate prisoners who will be released to rejoin our communities,” said Sen. Leahy.

“Our reliance on mandatory minimums has been a great mistake.  I am not convinced it has reduced crime, but I am convinced it has imprisoned people, particularly nonviolent offenders, for far longer than is just or beneficial.  It is time for us to let judges go back to acting as judges and making decisions based on the individual facts before them.  A one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing does not make us safer.”

Sen. Paul said that “Our country’s mandatory minimum laws reflect a Washington-knows-best, one-size-fits-all approach, which undermines the Constitutional Separation of Powers, violates the our bedrock principle that people should be treated as individuals, and costs the taxpayers money without making them any safer. This bill is necessary to combat the explosion of new federal criminal laws, many of which carry new mandatory minimum penalties.”

Currently, federal prisons are overcrowded, at 138 percent of their capacity, and the prison budget consumes a full quarter of the Justice Department’s budget, a financial situation the Justice Department has called “unsustainable.” A recent Congressional Research Service report called for repealing or reforming mandatory minimum sentences as a solution to this crisis.

The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 authorizes federal courts to depart below a statutory mandatory minimum sentence only after finding, among other things, that providing a particular defendant a shorter sentence – say, seven or eight years in prison for a drug offense rather than the 10 year mandatory minimum – will not jeopardize public safety. The bill does not require judges to impose shorter sentences, and for many crimes, the mandatory minimum established by Congress will be appropriate.

But in cases where the mandatory minimum does not account for the offender’s limited role in a crime or other relevant factors, the judge would be allowed to consider those factors and craft a more appropriate sentence. Finally, the bill requires a judge to state on the record why the mandatory minimum sentence in that particular case is not necessary to protect public safety. FAMM was involved in the creation of the existing federal safety valve, which is a strict test that has allowed courts to give 80,000 nonviolent federal drug offenders fairer sentences since 1995.

The existing safety valve – applicable only to drug offenders – has saved taxpayers millions in unnecessary prison costs. During this same period, the nation’s crime rate has dropped to its lowest level in a generation.

Stewart also announced the release of FAMM’s new state report, “Turning Off the Spigot,” which highlights how state safety valve laws are helping states save money and keep crime rates low. “We want to make sure state legislators across the country are aware of this common sense reform. While repealing mandatory minimums is the best option, passing a safety valve that lets judges bypass them in certain cases is another smart approach,” added Stewart.

The FAMM report begins with a foreword by Republican State Senator Stewart Greenleaf of Pennsylvania. Greenleaf wrote:

“Just as I was once an advocate for harsher, longer sentences, I am now at the forefront of the movement to balance our criminal justice system in favor of more rehabilitation and judicial discretion.  In Pennsylvania, we have recently made great progress with landmark alternative sentencing statutes, and I hope that soon mandatory minimums will be more widely accepted as an area in need of reform.  The following report should serve as a guide to lawmakers and policy advisors across the country who are seeking to reduce their states’ inmate populations and save precious resources currently spent on incarceration.  FAMM has demonstrated that we can be tough on crime as well as smart on crime.”

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One Comment on “News Extras”

  1. Carl Matthews Says:

    Thanks for the marathon run with your Blog!
    Best Success … Carl M. and Brand “U”

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