Bullshit Philosophy

Half-assed political and religious commentary from a cynical left-winger

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Irish Peace Activist Speaks About Gaza Flotilla

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2012

[Note: This is the second of two articles I wrote on behalf of Law Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group of which I was an officer during my time at Vermont Law School. I was relatively happy with how they turned out and thought sharing them here would be a good way to break my nearly two-year absence from blogging. This originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of The Forum, the VLS student newspaper, and can be found here (PDF, starting on p.1). For the first article, see here.]

On May 31, 2010, Israeli helicopters and assault boats attacked a multinational flotilla en route to the Gaza Strip in international waters. The ships carried humanitarian aid, and the human rights activists on board intended to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The most notorious aspect of the attack was the boarding of the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara, in which Israeli commandos killed nine passengers, including 19-year-old U.S. citizen Furkan Dogan.

One eyewitness to Israel’s attack on the Freedom Flotilla was Fiachra O’Luain, an Irish citizen who acted as second mate on the American-flagged ship Challenger I. O’Luain spoke at VLS on Jan. 12 at an event hosted by Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP), discussing his experiences on the flotilla and his subsequent abduction to Israel.

Israel’s land, air and sea blockade, begun in 2007 following the takeover of Gaza by the militant group Hamas, has drawn widespread international condemnation as collective punishment against the people of Gaza. Despite claims that the blockade was necessary for self-defense and aimed primarily at keeping weapons from entering Gaza, the Israeli government has blocked shipments of food, medicine, construction materials, and various other civilian goods. The people of Gaza are still reeling from Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s late 2008 – early 2009 invasion, which left up to 1400 Palestinians dead and devastated Gaza’s economy and civilian infrastructure.

Wanting to raise awareness of the plight of the Palestinians, O’Luain joined the Freedom Flotilla in attempting to break the Israeli blockade. In explaining why he became interested in the conflict, he compared the fight for Palestinian freedom to the history of liberation struggles in Ireland. He also cited the use of Irish passports by agents of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, in the 2010 assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai as a reason why the Irish should pay particular attention to Israel’s actions.

The flotilla participants were initially optimistic about their chances of success, O’Luain said. Several previous aid convoys had managed to enter Gaza by both land and sea, and they did not think that Israel would use deadly force against a nonviolent humanitarian aid flotilla that included journalists, politicians, and prominent peace and social justice activists. As a result, the attack on the Mavi Marmara came as a shock, he said. He and the rest of the Challenger I crew could hear the gunfire as Israeli forces boarded the ship, and urgently tried to warn them that the passengers were unarmed, he said.

Many of the details of what transpired on the Mavi Marmara are disputed. An Israeli inquiry into the attack claimed that the soldiers acted in self-defense, but the passengers maintained that the soldiers showed little concern for innocent life, firing live ammunition both before and after landing on the ship. It is clear that the passengers fought the commandos, but there is little publicly-available evidence that they were armed with anything other than improvised weapons. The Israeli narrative dominated mainstream media coverage of the attack, in large part because, as O’Luain noted from his own experience, Israeli forces carefully worked to confiscate photos and video possessed by the flotilla participants. In fact, O’Luain argued that Dogan, who was later determined to have been shot in the head at close range, was targeted because he was carrying a camera.

Eventually, the other ships in the flotilla were captured and towed to the port of Ashdod in Israel. The passengers of the Challenger I formed a human chain to prevent being taken off the ship, O’Luain said, but they were eventually forcibly removed. O’Luain said that he and other flotilla participants were beaten and threatened at gunpoint while in Israeli custody, and held incommunicado for several days; he showed obvious discomfort discussing his imprisonment. He refused to sign deportation papers, fully intending to contest the proceedings against him on the ground that he had not entered Israel voluntarily. Despite this, he was eventually forcibly flown out of the country along with other international activists.

International reaction to the attack on the Freedom Flotilla was swift and fierce. Although the Obama administration fully supported Israel’s actions, many other countries criticized the attack. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay described Israel’s blockade as illegal and criticized Israel for using disproportionate force against the flotilla. The harshest denunciation came from Turkey, which unlike the United States took issue with its citizens being killed on the Mavi Marmara. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described the attack as “state terrorism”, and Turkish-Israeli relations reached a historic low point.

The attack on the flotilla resulted in an investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC). O’Luain testified to an HRC fact-finding mission, and the commission’s report published in September 2010 condemned Israel’s use of force as “not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrat[ing] levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence.” O’Luain’s evidence was also used in a separate inquiry into the attack commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon: the so-called “Palmer Report”, named after former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, who headed the committee that produced it.

The Palmer Report, which declared Israel’s blockade legal and questioned the motives of the Freedom Flotilla, was criticized by some observers as a whitewash. O’Luain compared the report to the Widgery inquiry into the infamous Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972, which exonerated the British military for the killing of civil rights protestors in Northern Ireland. He accused the Palmer inquiry of being more concerned with repairing relations between Israel and Turkey than reporting the truth about the attack on the flotilla.

O’Luain, ready to take a break from activism following his experiences with the flotilla, plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Development Practice at Trinity College in Dublin.


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“Refusal to be Displaced” is Nonviolent Resistance

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2012

[Note: This is the first of two articles I wrote on behalf of Law Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group of which I was an officer during my time at Vermont Law School. I was relatively happy with how they turned out and thought sharing them here would be a good way to break my nearly two-year absence from blogging. This originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of The Forum, the VLS student newspaper, and can be found here (PDF, p.22). I have edited it slightly for stylistic reasons. For the second article, see here.]

Palestinian professor Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh has been involved with opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine his whole life. “Just by being born” near Bethlehem in the West Bank, “I was participating in nonviolent resistance,” he said, as a result of continuing to live in an area which Israeli authorities have long been allegedly trying to ethnically cleanse of its Palestinian inhabitants.

Qumsiyeh spoke at VLS on March 28 at an event hosted by Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP). He is a professor at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities, chairman of the board of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People, and coordinator of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Beit Sahour. His most recent book is “Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment”.

Contrary to the typical mainstream media portrayal of Palestinian resistance as exclusively violent (involving heavy reference to suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and armed groups such as Hamas), Qumsiyeh argued that such acts are exceptions. He identified roughly fifteen major Palestinian uprisings between the 1880s and the present (and thinks another is coming soon), all of which he said were overwhelmingly nonviolent even as the authorities often used violence in response.

One common method of nonviolent resistance used by Palestinians is demonstrations. Qumsiyeh frequently participates in protests against Israel’s wall, the proposed and partially-completed route of which effectively annexes West Bank territory in many areas and frequently cuts residents off from their land and livelihoods. “I’ve been in the U.S. four weeks and I’m already missing the smell of tear gas,” Qumsiyeh joked. He noted that protests are often violently suppressed by the Israeli military, with demonstrators beaten and sometimes killed. “Colonizers aren’t about to let any resistance go on,” even if it is nonviolent, he said.

Palestinians also engage in civil disobedience against the occupation. As an example of this, Qumsiyeh cited the closure of Palestinian schools by Israeli authorities during the First Intifada (a major Palestinian uprising that began in 1987). In response, Palestinians continued running and attending schools clandestinely, running the risk of jail time if caught.

Ultimately, violence on either side is just a symptom; the root cause of the violence is “apartheid and ethnic cleansing,” Qumsiyeh said. He argued that a true resolution of the conflict requires respect for what he noted were “four words that couldn’t be found” in the “road map” for peace outlined by former President George W. Bush: human rights and international law.

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BLAST FROM THE PAST: Keep the Illinois National Guard Out of Iraq

Posted by Kevin on December 20, 2008

[originally posted 9/20/06]

To be honest, I didn’t write most of this; it’s actually condensed from Whitney’s more lengthy position paper on the subject. The task they gave me was to shorten it to be usable as a press release.

So, the fact that I, uh… partially contributed to this has nothing to do with why I’m posting it. 😛

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 19, 2006


Jennifer Rose, Campaign Manager
Whitney for Governor, whitneyforgov.org

Tim Tacker, Communications Director
Whitney for Governor, whitneyforgov.org

As governor, Green Party candidate Rich Whitney will work to end the involvement of the Illinois National Guard in the occupation of Iraq and will prevent any further mobilization, making him the only gubernatorial candidate to have a position on this important issue.

As a congressman, Rod Blagojevich voted to authorize President Bush to attack Iraq. Rich Whitney opposed the war before it began, understanding that the real goal was to ensure control of Iraq’s oil and economy by giant U.S. corporations – the same corporations that buy the votes of Democratic and Republican politicians.

“I will not consent to sending our young men and women to fight and die in the service of corporate greed, in an ill-conceived war that is making us less safe and more hated around the world and that is starving our state and local governments of funds to meet human needs at home,” Whitney said.

As commander in chief of the Illinois National Guard, the governor has the authority to veto deployment of Guard units for federal duty. Whitney acknowledged that, in response to the refusal of several state governors to consent to mobilizations for operations in Central America under the Reagan administration, Congress limited the power of governors to veto a mobilization “because of any objection to the location, purpose, type, or schedule of such active duty.” However, he argued, this leaves open the possibility of a veto because of the illegality of the mission.

The invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq is plainly illegal under
international law, particularly the U.N. Charter, which “as a whole imposes a general prohibition on the use of force to resolve conflicts in international relations,” Whitney said. The only exceptions are a specific authorization by the U.N. Security Council or the right of self-defense, the latter of which did not apply because the U.S. was neither attacked nor even threatened by Iraq.

As such, Whitney said, the invasion and occupation were and remain acts of aggression, a war crime under international law. Further, he argued that as a government official, he would be legally required to not participate in such a crime by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which states that “Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity… is a crime under international law.”

“I will not be even a complicit or passive participant in a crime under
international law,” Whitney said. “I will do everything possible to prevent the sacrifice of any more human life in the service of such a crime.”

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BLAST FROM THE PAST: Chicago-Style Big-Box Law Good For Illinois

Posted by Kevin on December 20, 2008

[originally posted 9/19/06]

The fact that I wrote this has nothing to do with why I’m posting it, I swear 😛

Yeah, I know, I’ve said that before, and I’ll say it again when my National Guard release goes out in a day or two.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 18, 2006


Jennifer Rose, Campaign Manager
Whitney for Governor, whitneyforgov.org

Tim Tacker, Communications Director
Whitney for Governor, whitneyforgov.org

Green gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney, lamenting the failure of the Chicago City Council to overcome Mayor Richard Daley’s veto of an ordinance requiring “big-box” retailers like Wal-Mart and Target to pay a living wage, will work to pass and implement a similar law for the entire state of Illinois if elected.

“While I don’t buy the complaint that the ordinance would drive big retailers out into the suburbs, the solution would be to expand the law statewide,” Whitney said, pointing out that retailers would have to comply with the law in order to access the Illinois market.

The vetoed Chicago ordinance would have required stores larger than 90,000 square feet to pay workers $10 an hour with $3 an hour in benefits by 2010.

“A full-time job should provide enough income to support a family,” Whitney said, but even on this state’s minimum wage, increased over the federal minimum, it is still possible for people who work hard every day of their lives to fall under the poverty line. Requiring big-box retailers to pay living wages has the potential to improve the lives of thousands of workers at a time when the buying power of the minimum wage is at an all-time low.

In response to claims that requiring big-box retailers to pay decent wages will increase joblessness and decrease economic growth because such companies will invest less in Illinois as a result, Whitney disputed the notion that more Wal-Marts are the solution to our economic woes.

“All that more Wal-Marts and Targets means is more dead end, low paying and low benefit jobs,” Whitney said. “Should we really be patting ourselves on the back for that? Instead, I think we should pass laws supporting small, locally-owned business that properly reward the contributions of their workers by giving them a more level playing field on which to compete with corporate giants.”

Besides just driving down wages and benefits, big-box retailers also hurt workers another way. Studies show that far from creating jobs, they actually cause a net loss of jobs in the communities they enter due to driving other local businesses and the fact that they typically employ fewer people to obtain the same amount of sales. For instance, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development estimated in a 2004 study of the impact of a proposed Wal-Mart store on Chicago’s west side that its opening would cause a net loss of 65 jobs.

Therefore, Whitney said, it makes sense to require that big-box retailers pay decent wages to compensate for the loss in jobs and economic activity. This would also be a boon to local economies, he said, because “the greater purchasing power in the hands of working people is largely expended directly on goods and services in the community. In contrast, wealth extracted from poorly paid workers, accumulated in the hands of a few wealthy corporate owners, is largely taken out of the community.”

A living wage law for big-box retailers would also benefit taxpayers by decreasing government expenses on social programs. Because companies like Wal-Mart refuse to give the workers their fair share, we pay more in the form of increased reliance on Medicaid and welfare programs, costing the state over $2 billion a year according to another UIC study. “This is money that could be going to improve our schools or fund research into clean energy,” Whitney said. “Instead, it is being used to indirectly subsidize giant corporations that post massive profits and could easily bear the costs.”

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BLAST FROM THE PAST: Illinois Green Party Ballot Drive Surpasses 25,000 Signatures

Posted by Kevin on December 20, 2008

[originally posted 6/17/06]

From the Illinois Green Party. The fact that I wrote most of this has absolutely nothing to do with why I’m posting it, I swear. 😉



Phil Huckelberry, Co-Chair, Illinois Green Party, 309-268-9974,
Jennifer Rose, Whitney for Governor, 618-528-8683,

“Illinois politics-as-usual is about to change,” said Jennifer Rose,
campaign manager for Green gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney, as the Illinois Green Party recently collected its 25,000th signature on the way to getting its slate of candidates to appear on the statewide ballot this fall.

“New” parties are forced by state law to collect 25,000 signatures
between March 28 and June 26 to qualify for the fall ballot. The
Green Party has now surpassed that number, and Greens are continuing to collect signatures through June 26 to buttress against a possible challenge.

The six-person statewide slate includes: Rich Whitney (Carbondale)
for Governor; Julie Samuels (Oak Park) for Lieutenant Governor; David Black (Belvidere) for Attorney General; Karen Young (Chicago) for Secretary of State; Rev. Dan Rodriguez-Schlorff (Chicago) for
Treasurer; and Alicia Snyder (Centralia) for Comptroller.

The Green Party will also field more legislative candidates in
Illinois than ever before. Already ballot qualified are Nathan
Helsabeck for 8th State Rep (Oak Park, western Chicago); Phil
Huckelberry for 88th State Rep (Bloomington-Normal); and Charlie Howe for 115th State Rep (Carbondale area). Other legislative candidates currently petitioning include Dorian Breuer for 1st State Senate (Chicago); Robert Cepeda for 2nd State Rep (Chicago); Kathy Cummings for 4th State Rep (Chicago); Tim Curtin for 78th State Rep (Oak Park); and Tom Abram for 103rd State Rep (Champaign-Urbana).

The success of the petition drive in spite of harsh ballot access laws
could indicate that the Green message resonates well with voters this election cycle, some in the party say. “We have done very well this year because the general public is mad at both the Democrats and the Republicans,” said Huckelberry. “We talk about real issues like alternative energy, and have real solutions to problems like
education funding. This makes us more credible than the entrenched
parties in the eyes of many voters.”

For more information on Green campaigns in Illinois, see also:

Illinois Green Party – http://www.ilgp.org
Rich Whitney for Governor – http://www.whitneyforgov.org
Dan Rodriguez-Schlorff for Treasurer – http://www.schlorff.com

And while I’m talking about the Greens, check out Sheldon Schafer’s op-ed in the Peoria Journal Star on the petition drive.

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