Jeff Sessions: Completely Out Of Touch With Honesty Or Truth?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest penalties possible for criminal defendants. CreditMichael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — As a senator, Jeff Sessions was such a conservative outlier on criminal justice issues that he pushed other Republicans to the forefront of his campaign to block a sentencing overhaul, figuring they would be taken more seriously.

Now Mr. Sessions is attorney general and need not take a back seat to anyone when it comes to imposing his ultratough-on-crime views. The effect of his transition from being just one of 535 in Congress to being top dog at the Justice Department was underscored on Friday when he ordered federal prosecutors to make sure they threw the book at criminal defendants and pursued the toughest penalties possible.

“This is a key part of President Trump’s promise to keep America safe,” Mr. Sessions said on Friday as he received an award from the New York City police union to mark the beginning of National Police Week.

Given Mr. Sessions’s long record as a zealous prosecutor and his well-known views on the dangers of drug use, his push to undo Obama-era sentencing policies and ramp up the war on drugs was hardly a surprise. But it was still striking, because it ran so contrary to the growing bipartisan consensus coursing through Washington and many state capitals in recent years — a view that America was guilty of excessive incarceration and that large prison populations were too costly in tax dollars and the toll on families and communities.

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In an increasingly rare achievement, conservatives and liberals had come together on the issue, putting them on the verge of winning reductions in mandatory minimum sentences and creating new programs to help offenders adjust to life after prison. Given the success shown by similar changes at the state level, bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate seemed eager to move ahead on the issue last year.

Despite the strong support, stiff opposition from Mr. Sessions and a few other outspoken Republicans — Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia among them — stalled the bill in the Senate and sapped momentum from a simultaneous House effort.

As the 2016 elections approached, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, shied from bringing to the Senate floor the politically charged issue that had divided his party. So the effort died, much to the disappointment of the unusual cross-section of advocates behind it.

Backers of the sentencing overhaul say that Mr. Sessions, who as a senator from Alabama supported legislation that would have made a second marijuana trafficking conviction a capital crime, is living in the past and is badly misguided.

“Locking up people who don’t pose a threat to public safety is a waste of taxpayer money, a waste of resources and doesn’t deter crime,” said Steve Hawkins, the president of the Coalition for Public Safety, a sentencing reform advocacy group whose partners are as diverse as the liberal Center for American Progress and the conservative FreedomWorks.

These organizations, along with Koch Industries, argued for sentencing changes as a way to save governments the huge costs of maintaining prisons and to make more productive contributors out of nonviolent offenders — a rare win-win for ideologically divided factions.

The wide backing, which came as an opioid crisis was hitting economically struggling communities across America, struck a chord with Republicans who might usually balk at a less punitive model. Prominent Republican backers in the Senate included John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 party leader; Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman, who was instrumental in advancing the legislation; and Mike Lee of Utah, a well-respected younger conservative.

But while these lawmakers saw an opportunity to take a new approach to sentencing and incarceration, Mr. Sessions was not convinced. Despite a broad decrease in crime in recent years, Mr. Sessions believed that a recent surge in violence in some cities showed that America was again at risk. An early backer of Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions shared his stark vision of an urban America besieged by criminals, and argued that plea deals disguised the real nature of crimes committed by people portrayed as nonviolent.

Mr. Sessions repeatedly said that going soft on crime would accelerate a return to the days of drug-fueled criminality across the country — a point he reaffirmed on Friday.

“We know that drugs and crime go hand in hand,” he said. “Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business.”

In the Senate, Mr. Sessions was more than willing to cede the limelight on the issue to Mr. Cotton, a rising star among conservatives who referred to the Senate legislation as the “criminal leniency bill” and said America was suffering from an “under-incarceration” problem. But Mr. Sessions remained a crucial force.

“He’s been the No. 1 opponent of the bipartisan effort in the Senate to reduce mandatory minimums for low-level nonviolent drug offenses,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, who was one of the chief authors of the bipartisan bill.

Advocates of the sentencing changes say they hope that the unilateral move by Mr. Sessions will stir Congress to intervene and establish new policy through legislation. And Jared Kushner, the president’s adviser and son-in-law, has been assigned the job of working on a criminal justice overhaul, among other issues.

But pushing the bipartisan approach would require confronting the sitting attorney general and perhaps the president — a challenge many Republicans may not be willing to accept. None of the chief Republican backers of the Senate legislation issued any public reaction to the new Justice Department directive on Friday — not a good sign for proponents of an overhaul.

As a senator, Mr. Sessions succeeded in stalling the sentencing reform movement. As attorney general, he has sent it reeling in Washington, and it could be very hard for advocates to regain their footing while he is the nation’s chief law enforcement official.

Pope Francis Viciously Insults the Jews — Again

Yesterday, Pope Francis referred to EU refugee centers as ‘concentration camps.’ “These refugee camps — so many are concentration camps,……

Source: Pope Francis Viciously Insults the Jews — Again

Most East Europeans don’t want Jews in their family, Pew finds

Fewer than three-quarters want them as neighbors, 10% don’t want them as citizens; numbers higher in countries with highest Holocaust death tolls

Source: Most East Europeans don’t want Jews in their family, Pew finds

Rise of Hard-liners Alarms Moderates in Indonesia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

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Rise of Hard-liners Alarms Moderates in Indonesia

Protesters take to the streets in Jakarta on April 28 to demonstrate against outgoing Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. (Goh Chai Hin/AFP via Getty Images)

Jakarta, Indonesia- In¬mid-February, Muhammad al-Khaththath, leader of the hard-line Muslim Community Forum, held court on the top floor of a Jakarta fast-food joint. With key deputies gathered around, he explained the direction in which he hoped to push relatively secular, democratic Indonesia.

Sharia would become the law of the land, non-Muslims would lose their leadership posts and thieves, in accordance with Islamic law, would have their hands lopped off, he said. He also criticized Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s pluralist president.

Widodo “isn’t a liberal Muslim,” Khaththath said. “He’s a Muslim who doesn’t get it.”

Six weeks later, Khaththath was detained on treason charges, accused of plotting a coup. But in an April 19 runoff election for governor of Jakarta, his preferred candidate, fellow Muslim Anies Baswedan, defeated the Christian incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, after a campaign laden with religious overtones.

Since then, hard-line Islamist groups have gained stature; their ability to mobilize huge crowds was considered crucial to securing Baswedan’s lopsided victory. But a strong backlash also has emerged, led by moderate Muslims who worry that conservative Islamists are wrecking Indonesia’s tradition of religious tolerance.

Khaththath had taken over as the leader of a powerful protest movement against Purnama, a Widodo ally, in the months leading up to the gubernatorial election, after the previous leader was summoned by police on pornography charges.

But police came for Khaththath in late March, escorting him from his hotel room to the detention facility where he remains. A few weeks later, on the eve of the election, Khaththath managed to send a letter to his supporters.

“From my detention room, I tap on the sky door,” Khaththath wrote. He hoped the tap would be felt by “every Muslim heart” and would persuade the faithful to “choose a Muslim governor.”

Not every Muslim heart felt the tap, but enough did to secure a clean victory for Baswedan. The high-stakes election campaign was marked by the largest conservative rallies in generations, as well as by intensifying — and controversial — legal efforts by the Indonesian government to rein in the hard-line groups’ leadership.

Now that the election is over, many moderate Muslim leaders say they are treating it as a wake-up call about the growing power of Indonesian hard-line organizations and the need to take stern action to stop them.

“I am not worried about the candidates who won,” said Sidarto Danusobroto, a former speaker of the Senate and key adviser to the president. “I am worried about the groups that supported them — the Islamic Defenders Front and Hizbut Tahrir.”

“Islam is different from how the Islamic Defenders Front portrays it,” said Mohammad Nuruzzaman, head of strategic research for Ansor, a moderate Muslim youth movement that has been working with the police to break up hard-line Muslim gatherings.

In one of a number of efforts in the past few weeks to curb extremists, police officials and nationalist groups in the central Javanese town of Semarang prevented the Islamic Defenders Front from opening a branch.

“We have a tolerant city,” said Iwan Santoso, a representative from the Red and White, a group that takes its name from the colors of the Indonesian flag. “We don’t want students to be instigated.”

This past week, police in East Java, apparently acting at the urging of moderate Muslims or nationalists, shut down a planned university event featuring Felix Siauw, a Chinese Indonesian convert to Islam who has become a major hard-line preacher. In a Web video subsequently uploaded to his Facebook page, Siauw said, “We should have a nation of laws, and the laws should apply to all.”

But moderate Muslim and civil society groups increasingly are calling for bans on organizations that push for the creation of a caliphate. Nuruzzaman, of Ansor, compared such organizations to the Indonesian Communist Party, a boogeyman from Indonesia’s past.

“The goal of Communists and those who support the caliphate are similar — both want all countries in the world to be run under one system,” he said.

Last Tuesday, police announced that they were reviewing the legality of Hizbut Tahrir because of the international Islamist group’s embrace of a global caliphate. Muhammad Ismail ¬Yusanto, a spokesman for Hizbut Tahrir here, protested that its goal of establishing a caliphate does not violate the Indonesian constitution.

“All we do is convey Islam’s teachings,” he said in an interview. Besides, he argued, the constitution can be amended.

Hizbut Tahrir is banned in many countries around the world, including Germany, China, Egypt and numerous other Arab states. But it has operated for nearly 20 years in democratic Indonesia.

Some rights activists oppose banning the group. Andreas Harsono, Indonesia representative of Human Rights Watch, said that although Hizbut Tahrir’s ideology is deeply discriminatory — toward women, LGBT people and minority faiths — that does not mean the organization should be shut down.

“It is not illegal to say, ‘I want to discriminate against women,’ ” he argued, acknowledging that the case is “complicated.”

More worrying to Harsono are the Indonesian government’s efforts to pursue radical religious leaders for alleged offenses unrelated to their Islamist activism, or on exaggerated charges. Habib Rizieq, perhaps the nation’s most powerful hard-line figure, was brought in for questioning by police over pornographic images he is alleged to have exchanged with a woman who is not his wife, while Khaththath was charged with trying to organize a coup.

“It’s very concerning,” said Harsono, who said he knows of no evidence that Khaththath was plotting the violent overthrow of the government.

Marcus Mietzner, an associate professor at Australian National University, expressed concern that heavy-handed charges would harm Indonesia’s democracy.

“What they should not do is arbitrarily throw criminal charges at individual leaders that are either excessive, like the treason accusation, or unrelated, as the pornography case,” he wrote in an email. “This, in turn, will only increase the sense of victimization among conservative Muslims.”

That already appears to be happening. Achmad Sofyan, a Khaththath deputy who was also investigated by police, said: “It isn’t fair. The case was engineered.”

Mietzner suggested that the government has legal ways to handle hard-line groups but has opted for different tactics in part to avoid a messy public debate. If the state prosecuted these groups, “it would have to argue in front of the courts why Islam should not be Indonesia’s primary legal-political foundation,” he wrote.

For Nuruzzaman, it is crucial to oppose the hard-liners, whatever the difficulties.

“We don’t want the government to take repressive measures,” he said. Nonetheless, “we have to confront them.”

The Washington Post

Erdogan says he is working to halt ‘judaization’ of Jerusalem

(One thing is a certain, Erdogan is as much a friend to anyone, as Trump is, and can be trusted about the same.)

 

Meeting Palestinian PM hours after blistering attack on Israel, Turkish leader says he is paying ‘huge’ attention to holy city

Source: Erdogan says he is working to halt ‘judaization’ of Jerusalem

Erdogan lashes ‘racist’ Israel, calls for Muslims to flood Temple Mount

(Here in the States we have learned that it is common for the biggest racists to be the ones who are singing that tune the loudest.)

 

Turkish president warns against moving US embassy to Jerusalem; slams mosque-muffling bill; Israel rejects his ‘baseless slander’

Source: Erdogan lashes ‘racist’ Israel, calls for Muslims to flood Temple Mount