Northern Ethiopia is rugged and poor. It is a place where people mostly get by as subsistence farmers. The government and international organizations like the World Bank have tried and failed for years to improve the well-being of locals. But then, one village went and did it all on its own.
The community is called Awra Amba. About 500 people live here in simple wattle and daub houses, and they keep busy in a variety of money-making activities.
The village has a mill, where grain is crushed into flour. There is a textile factory, where villagers make clothes for themselves and to sell. You will also find a café, a tourist hostel, and two stores that cater to people from outside the village.
With all of these businesses, Awra Amba has managed to pull itself out of poverty. Compared with the rest of the region, the average income here is more than twice as high. Literacy rates are higher than in neighboring villages. Mortality rates are lower.
“Everyone here dreams of becoming more prosperous — that’s a big reason why our economy has grown faster than others,” says Zumra Nuru, who founded the village 40 years ago as a kind of utopian community. He says at the time, he was dissatisfied by the injustice he perceived in traditional Ethiopian culture and wanted to organize a society along more egalitarian lines. He also saw the community as a way to increase wealth.
“We use all our time for work and to improve our village,” he says.
One reason the people of Awra Amba are able to work so hard is that they do not follow organized religion.
In neighboring Christian and Muslim villages, residents respect the Sabbath and holidays. “They have quite frequent religious days, so on those days, they don’t go to [do] farming work,” says sociologist Ashenafi Alemu of Ethiopia’s University of Gondar. “But for Awra Amba, this is not the case. They work every day.”
The lack of religion is not the only competitive advantage for Awra Amba. The village invests a lot of energy in educating its children and diversifying its economy. It also embraces gender equality. You will see women here doing what is traditionally considered “men’s work,” like plowing, which effectively doubles the workforce.
But by ignoring the region’s customs, Awra Amba has found itself under attack. Neighboring communities view the residents as heretics.
“They threw a grenade right into the center of the village once, but luckily, no one was hurt,” says village founder Zumra Nuru. “They’ve tried shooting members of our village. They’ve sabotaged our harvest on occasion.”…
(Reuters) - In 13 countries around the world, all of them Muslim, people who openly espouse atheism or reject the official state religion of Islam face execution under the law, according to a detailed study issued on Tuesday.
And beyond the Islamic nations, even some of the West’s apparently most democratic governments at best discriminate against citizens who have no belief in a god and at worst can jail them for offences dubbed blasphemy, it said.
The study, The Freethought Report 2013, was issued by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), a global body uniting atheists, agnostics and other religious skeptics, to mark United Nations’ Human Rights Day on Tuesday.
"This report shows that the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers although they have signed U.N agreements to treat all citizens equally," said IHEU President Sonja Eggerickx.
Since the early 20th century, with the rise of mass secular education and the diffusion of scientific knowledge through popular media, predictions of the deity’s demise have fallen short, and in some cases—such as in that of the U.S.—religiosity has actually increased. This ratio is changing. According to a 2013 survey of 14,000 people in 13 nations (Germany, France, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel, Canada, Brazil, India, South Korea, the U.K. and the U.S.) that was conducted by the German Bertelsmann Foundation for its Religion Monitor, there is both widespread approval for the separation of church and state, as well as a decline in religiosity over time and across generations.
In response to the statements “Only politicians who believe in God are suitable for public office” and “Leading religious figures should exercise an influence on government decisions,” even in über-religious America only 25 percent agreed with the former and 28 percent with the latter. All other countries reported lower figures (with Spain at or near the bottom at 8 and 13 percent and Germany in the middle at 10 and 21 percent, respectively). Moreover, most of the countries in the survey showed a declining trend in religiosity, especially among the youth. In Spain, for example, 85 percent of respondents older than 45 reported being moderately to very religious, but only 58 percent of those younger than 29 said they were. In Europe in general, only 30 to 50 percent said that religion is important in their own lives….
Whereas December 8, 2013 marks the first-ever public event at the Humanist Hub, a center supporting community life for Humanists, atheists, agnostics and the nonreligious in Cambridge and beyond; and
Whereas the Humanist Hub of the Humanist Community at Harvard is the first such center for Humanist community life in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and
Whereas this landmark event is part of a larger movement to build inclusive and inspiring, multi-cultural and multi-generational Humanist communities to serve the rapidly growing nonreligious population across the nation, while partnering with neighboring religious communities in acts of service to those in need; and
Whereas Humanists have made profound contributions to American history and society as a whole through their passionate promotion of universal human values such as reason, compassion, integrity, equality, and justice; and
Whereas the Humanist community may be viewed, from the perspective of the government and people of the Commonwealth, as one among the many ethical communities of conscience, striving together toward the common good;
Now, therefore, I, Deval L. Patrick, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, do hereby proclaim December 8, 2013 to be
HUMANIST COMMUNITY DAY
And urge all the citizens of the Commonwealth to welcome the Humanist Hub into the mosaic of our broader community, acknowledging, in the spirit of friendship and respect, that its members can contribute positively to the Commonwealth’s proud tradition of pluralism.
Mark Ciavarella Jr, a 61-year old former judge in Pennsylvania, has been sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison for literally selling young juveniles for cash. He was convicted of accepting money in exchange for incarcerating thousands of adults and children into a prison facility owned by a developer who was paying him under the table. The kickbacks amounted to more than $1 million.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned some 4,000 convictions issued by him between 2003 and 2008, claiming he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles – including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea. Some of the juveniles he sentenced were as young as 10-years old.
Ciavarella was convicted of 12 counts, including racketeering, money laundering, mail fraud and tax evasion. He was also ordered to repay $1.2 million in restitution.
His “kids for cash” program has revealed that corruption is indeed within the prison system, mostly driven by the growth in private prisons seeking profits by any means necessary.
Put him under the jail.
Ok but what abovet the company that benefited from these people being locked up?
“The conventional bombs of World War II were called “blockbusters”, filled with 20 tons of TNT they could destroy a city block. All the bombs dropped on all the cities during World War II amounted to some 2 million tons of TNT — two megatons. Coventry, Rotterdam, Dresden and Tokyo — all the death that rained from the skies between 1939 and 1945 — a hundred thousand blockbusters, two megatons. Today, two megatons is the equivalent of a single thermonuclear bomb — one bomb with the destructive force of the second world war. But there are tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. The missile and bomber forces in the Soviet Union and United States have warheads aimed at over 15,000 designated targets. No place on the planet is safe.
The energy contained in these weapons — genies of death, patiently awaiting the rubbing of the lamps — totals far more than 10,000 megatons; but, with the destruction concentrated efficiently, not over six years but over a few hours. A blockbuster for every family on the planet; a World War II every second for the length of a lazy afternoon. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 70,000 people. In a full nuclear exchange, in the paroxysm of global death, the equivalent of a million Hiroshimas would be dropped all over the world. And, in such an exchange not everyone would be killed by the blast and the fire storm and the immediate radiation. There would be other agonies. The loss of loved ones; the legions of the burned and blinded and mutilated; disease; plague; long-lived radiation poisoning the soil and the water; the threat of stillbirths and malformed children; and, the hopeless sense of a civilization destroyed for nothing. The knowledge that we could have prevented it and did nothing.”
Here is what is peculiar. Many conservative Christians, mostly Protestant but also a number of Catholics, have come to believe and proudly proclaim that the creator of the universe favors free wheeling, deregulated, union busting, minimal taxes especially for wealthy investors, plutocrat-boosting capitalism as the ideal earthly scheme for his human creations. And many of these Christian capitalists are ardent followers of Ayn Rand, who was one of - and many of whose followers are — the most hard-line anti-Christian atheist/s you can get. Meanwhile many Christians who support the capitalist policies associated with social Darwinistic strenuously denounce Darwin’s evolutionary science because it supposedly leads to, well, social Darwinism!
Meanwhile atheists, secularists and evolutionist are denounced as inventing the egalitarian evils of anti-socially Darwinistic socialism and communism. It’s such a weird stew of incongruities that it sets one’s head spinning. Social researchers like myself ask, how did these internal conflict come about? And why are not liberals and progressives doing the logical thing and taking full advantage of the inconsistencies of right wing libertarianism by loudly exposing the contradictions?
How Nonviolent People Are Sentenced to Die in Prison Because of the War on Drugs
In the United States, one can be sentenced to life in prison for the following crimes:
Possessing a crack pipe
Possessing a bottle cap containing a trace amount of heroin (too minute to be weighed)
Having traces of cocaine in clothes pockets that were invisible to the naked eye but detected in lab tests
Having a single crack rock at home
Possessing 32 grams of marijuana (worth about $380 in California) with intent to distribute
Passing out several grams of LSD at a Grateful Dead show
Acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 worth of marijuana to an undercover cop
Selling a single crack rock
Having a stash of over-the-counter decongestant pills
These are not hypothetical. Every single one of these petty, nonviolent drug crimes have landed Americans in prison for life without parole.
Life in prison without a chance of paroleis, short of execution, the harshest imaginable punishment. Life without parole (LWOP) is permanent removal from society with no chance of reentry, no hope of freedom. One would expect the American criminal justice system to condemn someone to die in prison only for the most serious offenses.
Yet across the country, thousands of people are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes such as those listed above.
As of last year, 3,278 people were serving life in prison without parole for nonviolent crimes, according to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week.
And to no one’s surprise, about 79 percent of the 3,278 prisoners serving LWOP were sentenced to die in prison for nonviolent drug crimes in the federal system.
How is this possible?
Mandatory sentencing laws that stem from America’s fervent, decades-long crusade against drugs.
The vast majority (83 percent) of life sentences examined by the ACLU were mandatory, meaning that the presiding judge had no choice but to sentence the defendant to a life behind bars. Mandatory sentences often result from repeat offender laws and draconian sentencing rules. Such federal standards for drug convictions are what land nonviolent criminals in prison for LWOP.
The prevalence of LWOP sentences for nonviolent offenses is a symptom of the relentless onslaught of more than four decades of the War on Drugs and “tough-on crime” policies, which drove the passage of unnecessarily harsh sentencing laws, including three-strikes provisions (which mandate certain sentences for a third felony conviction) and mandatory minimum sentences (which require judges to punish people convicted of certain crimes by at least a mandatory minimum number of years in prison).
These inflexible, often extremely lengthy, “one-size-fits-all” sentencing laws prevent judges from tailoring punishment to the individual and the seriousness of the offense, barring them from considering factors such as the individual’s role in the offense or the likelihood that he or she will commit a subsequent crime.
Federal judges have long been outspoken in their opposition to mandatory sentencing laws. Judge Andre M. Davis of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote: "I say with certainty that mandatory minimums are unfair and unjust. These laws, created by an overzealous Congress decades ago … hinder judges from handing out fair and individualized sentences, while prosecutors are given unwarranted power to dictate sentences through charging decisions."
How do petty drug crimes add up to life without parole?
Three federal drug offenses can result in LWOP, even if the offenses are relatively minor. For example, a federal conviction for possessing 50 grams of methamphetamine carries a mandatory life-without-parole sentence if the defendant has previously been convicted of two other felony drug offenses, which can be as minor as selling personal amounts of marijuana.
A handful of states have instituted mandatory LWOP sentences for certain drug offenses. In Alabama, a conviction for selling more than 56 grams of heroin results in a mandatory LWOP sentence. Similarly, a person convicted of selling two ounces of cocaine in Mississippi must receive LWOP. To put these sentences in perspective, the average time served for murder in the U.S. is 14 years.
While laws such as these were enacted in part out of concern about drug abuse and drug-related crime, the penalties they prescribe have not succeeded in curbing drug use or addiction rates, which have essentially remained flat for 40 years. Instead, the laws have contributed to mass incarceration in the U.S.
The ACLU report contains the in-depth stories of 110 individual prisoners waiting to die behind bars for nonviolent offenses, along with more detailed information about mandatory sentencing.
Ron Reagan, the son of former President Ronald Reagan, has recorded a radio ad promoting the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The ad has been running on the progressive radio program “The Randi Rhodes Show.”
In the ad, which has been running all month, the former Air America host and atheist advocate warns listeners of the “intrusions of religion into our secular government” and asks them to join FFRF in the organization’s efforts against religion in politics:
I’m Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I’m alarmed by the intrusions of religion into our secular government. That’s why I’m asking you to join the Freedom From Religion Foundation — the nation’s largest and most effective organization of atheists and agnostics, working to keep state and church separate. Phone 1-800-335-4021 or visit the Freedom From Religion Foundation at FFRF.ORG. Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.
In 2004, three weeks after his father’s death, Reagan told The New York Times that he would be an “unelectable” candidate for president because of his secular affiliations.
"I’m unelectable. I’m an atheist. As we all know, that is something people won’t accept,” Reagan said.
Reagan, who stopped attending church at the age of 12, has also served as an outspoken advocate of stem-cell research, criticizing religious justifications for opposition to the scientific exploration.
“It does not follow that the theology of a few should be allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many,” Reagan said of stem-cell research at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
In 2009, Reagan was awarded FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, and he spoke at the 32nd annual convention of the FFRF, where he touched upon the negative impact of religion on politics.
"Religion may indeed inspire acts of great kindness and courage. But it also trains people to believe things for which there is no evidence. This makes religion’s intrusion into the political sphere all the more troubling," Reagan said during the speech.
“We’re so grateful to Ron Reagan for recording this commercial for FFRF, and for being willing to speak out publicly as an atheist for so many years,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a news release Monday.
The Christian American Patriots Militia is openly calling for the assassination of President Barack Obama on their Facebook page. The Christian militia calls Obama a “dictator,” and claims the “authority to kill Obama comes from the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution.”
According to a report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dated Nov. 22, the U.S. Secret Service is aware that Everest Wilhelmsen, leader of the Christian American Patriots Militia, is calling for Obama’s assassination.
The Christian American Patriots Militia sent out a post to the more than 1400 members of their Facebook group declaring the militia now has the “authority” to assassinate President Barack Obama:
“We now have authority to shoot Obama, i.e., to kill him,” Wilhelmsen wrote on the group’s Facebook page.