Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Onward, Christian soldiers! Marching as to war...

Religious nutjobs aching for a holy war with ISIS...and the best part of it is, this particular one was a serious contender for the presidency in 2008, and is thought to be considering the possibility in 2016.

From my article on Friendly Atheist:

And lest there be any confusion that this victory is entirely the product of some sort of divine intervention, Huckabee has been very clear: it’s up to us to “eradicate” ISIS. (He, apparently, is more in the “kill” than “convert” camp.) Clearly, the best solution to sadistic religious extremists who kill people over their interpretation of a “holy book” is Holy War based on a different book. The ending is already written in the Bible and God tells us that we’re going to win.
Hallelujah! I don’t know about you, but I’m putting in my order for a “Mission Accomplished” banner now.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cartoonist Mike Thompson on the minimum wage

Cartoonist Mike Thomson puts the minimum wage discussion in perspective. Because raising wages means economic Armageddon. For the lowest paid workers. Only. Ever. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Two Very Different Takes on the Phrase “So Help Me God”

"Two very different takes on the phrase 'so help me God'" -- my first guest post at Friendly Atheist. 

The news that an atheist airman refused to sign an oath that contained the words “so help me God” last month, and was subsequently denied reenlistment, has drawn some interesting responses. Among others, Law Professor Eugene Volokh and former United States Congressman Allen West have weighed in. Their takes are so profoundly different as to provide a useful study in contrasts.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Allen West celebrates forcing atheist airmen to pledge to god...and the reaction from his readers is not what you might expect

So this article from Allen West showed up in my facebook feed, shared by a family member (who knows I'm an atheist, does not believe I am evil incarnate, and yet still somehow justifies this bigotry with "all atheists are evil" nonsense. But I digress).

It's nothing very deep, and nothing very surprising -- West, in the past, has shown clear disdain for anyone who doesn't share his religious beliefs, and this is more of the same. It's a moderately sized rant-icle, but it can be summed up with the equally intellectually valid "neener neener". Seriously. There's the typical "Judeo-Christian principles" nonsense, a little appeal to his military service; but, mostly, this:

"Neener, neener, you atheists can't serve unless you swear to a god you don't believe in."

It starts with this:

I know there are times when you might feel there’s no good news — especially when it comes to contending with groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) or the oxymoronic Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). It does seem as though the secular humanists are winning, but sometimes there is hope.
Take a moment to consider the images of anti-religious persecution this language conjures up. Goodness, what are those nasty atheists up to now? Maybe they are trying to censure religious people, or religious belief? Maybe the religious are facing some sort of discrimination? Maybe the religious are being forced to swear off their beliefs as a condition of serving? Is the good news that now -- finally -- a Christian soldier doesn't have to choose between believing in god and being in the military (hallelujah indeed!)??

Well, not quite. West writes,
Today I get to share with you some good tidings. As reported by Military.com, “An airman’s career will be coming to an end unless he recognizes “God” in his oath of reenlistment. Months after the Air Force last year said “So help me God” was an optional line when taking the oath of enlistment or reenlistment, it reversed itself. 
Now, just in case you're thinking, "wait a minute, doesn't he realize that this isn't about Christians being able to affirm a belief in God (since that was never actually prohibited or limited), but about forcing atheists to swear to something they don't believe in an oath that should be sacred and fully  meant?!" ... Yeah, he gets it. In fact, his very next sentence is:

The decision will require atheists to infer a belief in a supreme being if they want to remain in the military.
He goes on for a bit with some revisionist tripe -- the usual our-country-is-based-on-Christian-principles nonsense, with the implied "therefore theocracy by and for theocrats" rather heavily, well, implied (for a discussion of the inaccuracy of such claims, see here). He notes that it is law, and complains that Evil Atheists might sue because atheists are horrible, evil, America hating people well, it's almost certainly not constitutional (he basically passes by the constitutional aspect of it altogether -- an Evil Atheist claims it's not right, but, you know, Jesus, Moses, America, and Judeo-Christian principles!)

In conclusion, he opines,

The last thing we need at this time are secular humanist lawyers tying up the United States Military with frivolous lawsuits. Worse than that, I can imagine President Barack Hussein Obama taking out his pen or phone and decisively making a determination — one he’d find easier than attacking ISIS. 
I proudly and honorably took the oath of office as a commissioned officer several times and also as a Member of Congress. That’s what Americans do.
He seems to ignore the glaring irony that the "good news" he is celebrating is that the Air Force is compelling an airman to either forgo serving his country, or to lessen the honor of that oath by including a portion that is not meant.

At any rate, as I said earlier, none of this is terribly new. Allen West has earned himself a place right alongside Rush Limbaugh and so many other bigoted bloviators; it really isn't shocking to hear that they've done or said something outrageous, offensive or insane, because it's their business. It's how they make their money, and how they keep their fan base engaged. Hate makes good money, minority groups are easy targets, and religious extremists always think that anything short of being allowed to strip everyone else of religious freedom is an attack on their religious freedom. Nothing new about any of it.

So what was interesting about this? The comments. There were a good number of people -- conservative people -- who took considerable issue with West's disregard for the constitution. Now, before going further, I do need to caution...there were tons of bigots on board with West in these comments. I was surprised at the number of atheists who spoke out against his glee, but whether this particular topic just happened to draw the attention of the tea party's fifteen atheists, or if there are wider implications to this, we certainly can't tell from this one thread. I think we can allow, however, that it is encouraging to see a showing of conservative atheists -- whatever proportion of the tea party they comprise -- combating West's bigotry. Alright, so without further ado...some of my favorites:

"TruConserv" quoting and responding to a line from West's piece

"Tom Trevor" responding to the same quote, and another poster educating him about what an atheist could possibly be affirming to under oath

Commenters taking issue with bigoted statements by other commenters

"Unsubscribe please"


Now, remember my caution from earlier, that these posters certainly were not expressing the only or even the majority viewpoint? Allow me to reiterate that. Along with all the folks who were more or less making sense, we had...well, things like this: "Here's the deal -- and go watch the recent video of Phil Robertson and Sarah Palin"

So, yeah...it's great to see conservative atheists standing up for themselves. But there is definitely a ways to go there...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Apparently you can't risk your life for your country unless you believe in God. Yes, in America.

So this is a story from a few days ago, that I missed until it showed up in one of my social media feeds. ThinkProgress' Ian Millhiser writes:

An unnamed airman in the United States Air Force wants to continue to serve his country. Yet, the Air Force reportedly told him that his service is unwanted unless he swears an oath that concludes with the religious affirmation “so help me God.” According to the Air Force Times, the airman crossed out the words “so help me God” when he signed his reenlistment contract. He was subsequently told that he must either swear this religious oath or leave the service.

Think about that for a moment. The Air Force is asking someone to take an oath of loyalty to their country. Now that's the key part: they need to ensure that the person enlisting is genuinely committed to "support[ting] and defend[ing] the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic". They need to know that that person will "obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over" him or her.  But none of that has to do with a god.

Furthermore, it's in the Air Force's (and the country's) best interests to maintain the meaning of that oath, and the commitment with which it's said. But by forcing someone to pledge to a belief that they might not hold they are actually compelling a patriotically person to either 1) forgo serving our country or 2) pledge to something they don't actually believe. Neither of these are beneficial outcomes. We have a volunteer force, so we want committed volunteers. And we want that oath to be as sincerely meant as it can be. Introducing extraneous elements, and making service contingent on them, is not beneficial to anyone involved.

Millhiser notes,

...Congress did pass a law stating that members of the armed forces should swear an oath that includes the words “So help me God,” [but] the Constitution trumps an act of Congress, and requiring servicemembers to comply with this portion of the law is almost certainly unconstitutional. In the 1961 case Torcaso v. Watkins, the Supreme Court held that “neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’” 
Admittedly, the courts often show greater deference to the government in military matters, but the Supreme Court has also indicated that this deference does not permit servicemembers to be forced to swear a religious oath. “The test oath is abhorrent to our tradition,” the Court stated in its 1946 decision Girouard v. United States. “Over the years, Congress has meticulously respected that tradition and even in time of war has sought to accommodate the military requirements to the religious scruples of the individual.”

A philosophy to move us all

And by move, I mean, convince you to move toward the couch. With a beer in-hand. (But hopefully not before following Pearls Before Swine, because, really, it's an awesome strip).

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Wisconsin shortfall might force budget repair bill despite Walker's brilliant governing

So, if you talk to any Wisconsin Republicans, you already know (*ahem*) that Scott Walker is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Walker has given us forced ultrasounds, repealing equal pay, enacting the largest education cuts in WI history, repealing environmental protections for big donors, depriving the working poor of health care, closing women's health clinics, lying his butt off to get re-elected, unethically and possibly illegally coordinating donations, and so much more. Indeed, lately we're learning a lot about this "so much more". Like, for instance, Walker's brilliant governing has left the state facing a shortfall of $281 million. And, in case you didn't know, there are consequences to being that far in the red. 

Last week, the Walker administration reported that state tax collections fell short of expectations by $281 million last fiscal year. 
If the state doesn't make up this missing money by June 30, 2015 — either through higher-than-expected tax revenue or lower-than-expected spending going forward — the state budget would be $115 million in the red by next summer. 
That projected shortfall is more than enough to trigger the $79 million threshold in state law for a budget repair bill, the fiscal bureau reported.

Don't worry, though. Our illustrious governor has it all figured out.

However, the number is just a projection and could change. Walker has already said that he plans to trim state spending to help close the gap. Tax revenues could also improve or further fall behind projections.
Walker and other Republicans have said that lawmakers don't have to take action because his administration will address the problem. 
So after his election year bribe of piddly tax cuts (for the average voter), Wisconsinites are going to be left with more of Walker and Co.'s cuts. And, if he can't cut enough, we'll need emergency budget repair procedures enacted. "Moving Wisconsin forward" indeed, governor!