‘Paint-balling’ the Presidents

In arguing for peace with Iran, President Obama noted he had waged war in seven countries, an admission that if made by, say, Vladimir Putin would have set off tirades, but underscores how routinely violent U.S. presidents have become, a point made by a “paint-balled” mural in Washington, says Sam Husseini.

By Sam Husseini

new political mural has gone up in Washington, D.C. Well, sort of new. The mural has been there for a few years, but it’s been transformed just recently. Some might say, made more whole, reborn.

It’s a mural on the side of a restaurant formerly known as the Calvert Café in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. It features U.S. presidents from Eisenhower to Obama with Mama Ayesha, who founded the restaurant that is now named for her: Mama Ayesha’s, just near the Duke Ellington Bridge. The mural was originally labored over by Karlisima Rodas.

The "paintballed" mural in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

The “paintballed” mural in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

The recent transformation involves someone having apparently paint-balled all the presidents, shooting them in their balls with red paint. Or at least aiming for that part of their anatomy. Who ever did this seems to have been richer in inspiration than in sniper skills, which may on balance be a good thing.

The result is a bit messy, but the intent is fairly clear: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton I, Bush II and Obama — all shot in the crotch. Scrawled on the side is the phrase “The War Thugs,” an apparent reference to Barack Obama’s comments in April calling protesters against police killings who resort to property destruction “thugs.”

As USA Today reported: “President Obama doesn’t regret using the term ‘thug’ in describing the violent rioters in Baltimore this week, spokesman Josh Earnest said. ‘Whether it’s arson or, you know, the looting of a liquor store … those were thuggish acts,’ Earnest said.

“In discussing the [Baltimore] riots, Obama assailed the ‘criminals and thugs who tore up the place,’ and described them as a distraction from the real issues of police brutality.”

Of course, an examination of U.S. foreign policy puts the “thuggish-ness” of someone looting a liquor store to shame. From using nuclear weapons to bombing Vietnam and invading Iraq to deploying killer drones in country after country, the thuggish-ness of these presidents is hard to compete with.

One could imagine the augmented muralist going a bit further, perhaps giving us a lingering blot where Harry Truman’s crotch would be were he in the picture. That would be all too appropriate given that Truman gave rise to our “National Security State” and nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki exactly 70 years ago this week.

The date of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima — August 6 — is also the date of the imposition of the sanctions being imposed on Iraq in 1990, 25 years ago, economic punishment that would ultimately take the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, many of them children. In 1991, U.S. bombing of Iraq combined with the follow-on sanctions set the stage for the killing fields we now see — or rather, don’t see and manage to ignore in Iraq and beyond. Yet, the administration of George H.W. Bush is regarded by some so-called critics of George W. Bush’s presidency as enlightened.

From Hiroshima to Iraq, all these presidents have used violence. Massive violence. An augmented mural could include mushroom clouds in the background, and perhaps jet fighters, bombers and killer drones flying overhead.

Perhaps the greatest violence they’ve all used is to threaten the world with nuclear weapons. It’s not as though the U.S. only used atomic weapons against Japan at the end of World War II. As Daniel Ellsberg has noted, the U.S. uses nuclear weapons constantly, like a thief robbing people by waving a gun around. You don’t need to pull the trigger to “use” the gun.

So, take a look at From Wounded Knee to Syria: a Century of US Military Interventions by Zoltan Grossman. Among the U.S. aggression most have forgotten is Eisenhower administration issued a nuclear threat against Iraq in 1958 against invading Kuwait. Or that Johnson invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965; how many remember that? Or that the Carter administration began the Rapid Deployment Force, paving the way for future U.S. Mideast wars and began the backing of the mujahedeen to undermine the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The paint-balling — a sort of art work that is literally paint as paint — recalls the Edward Sorel piece that adorns Robert Scheer’s book Thinking Tuna Fish, Talking Death — which features “world leaders” dancing the can-can with missiles as genitalia.

There’s typically a taboo against graffiti artists “tagging” over each other’s work and this would seem to violate it, but there’s a case to be made that this more completes the piece than defaces it. Some people, including Karlisima, now seem upset by the addition of the paintballs, but murals are not typically done to glorify the high and mighty, and do so for the Great Leaders in traditions that shouldn’t be emulated.

The original mural is not destroyed, it’s not painted over, but used to make a perhaps unexpected point. Further, the original mural it seems was not so much done to convey a vision of the artist as much as commissioned by the DC Arts Commission and various other governmental bureaucratic entities. The mural that used to adorn that wall was of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where Mama Ayesha was born. But it was replaced and the collective wisdom had it that the environs of Washington, D.C. were lacking in sufficiently honoring our war presidents, pretending all is smilingly well as they are brutal.

The new mural now features Mama Ayesha in her beautiful Palestinian dress bring the war-makers together, their vulnerability, what they likely had thought of as a source of their dominating power, made evident. And they’re smiling, accepting, perhaps gaining in empathy.

As it is, there continue to be sprawling U.S. military bases the world over — and it’s not as if things are getting better by any objective measure — the U.S. just reopened its military base in the Philippines to little notice. All these presidents have continued the U.S.’s backing of Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians as Israel has effectively destroyed a people over their collective tenure.

The paintball artist perhaps admirably exercised restraint from engaging in figurative head shots. After all, virtually every president has killed, not least of all the current inhabitant of the White House, who has commented he’s “really good at killing people.”

The U.S. is killing people using drones in Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Obama is often depicted as something approaching a pacifist by some for not having bombed Iran already. Never mind that he escalated the war in Afghanistan, has now stepped up U.S. bombings of Iraq and Syria, bombed Libya along with NATO, and so on and so on.

But our society, media and art largely ignore all this. They focus on celebrity silliness or, worse yet, treat presidents like revered celebrities when their hands are covered in blood that is all too real.

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini

21 comments for “‘Paint-balling’ the Presidents

  1. Deschutes
    August 9, 2015 at 05:50

    Who cares about articles like these? If I read the article, will things change? If I write my Sentator, the President, or Congressman that I am against America waging war in so many countries, will things change? No, they won’t. The readers of this website and its authors are utterly powerless to change US foreign policy. All we can do is visit stupid echo chambers like this website and shout at each other about how fucked up everything is–but in truth elicit NO change. And this is one thing that is never going to change.

  2. John
    August 8, 2015 at 06:42

    Lest people be deluded into thinking that Clinton would be a reasonable President or a change of pace, let’s realize that the political climate which allows her to lead in the polls is the same political climate that makes Bush and Trump GOP frontrunners, and puts Christie into the discussion at all. Bush, the one who’s best known thanks to a legacy of failure. Trump, the one who’s successful because he recognizes and capitalizes on America’s disinterest in sophistication. Christie, the one who might have had a reason to be there for standing on principle about surveillance, if he wasn’t simply flat-out wrong about it.

    And let’s not forget Obama, who, unless he’s trying to impress the world with his lack of ethics, should have probably gotten off of his anti-Russian high horse a long time ago.

  3. August 8, 2015 at 06:27

    Revered celebrity presidents eh? Do you include JFK in that pantheon. I ask, Sam, because your comment that Harry Truman created “our” national security state clashed with what I had learned about Kennedy from Noam Chomsky. If JFK, together with his psycho brother, created the national security state, at home and abroad (South America), then how is that Truman did so also? I don’t ask as a way to disagree. I do have my doubts about our coming to an agreement on JFK, but that’s owing to the fact that almost everyone, Right and Left and everything in between, carries “ideological shackles” when it comes to JFK and Camelot. I’d be surprised if you were lighter than normal in that regard. But if you are, then I’m delighted and in need of some clarification on the status you confer on Harry Truman here.

    “The Week The World Stood Still” by Noam Chomsky (http://bit.ly/1glziOy)

  4. Joe Tedesky
    August 8, 2015 at 01:32

    The United States of America needs a ‘mindset change’, and pronto! It’s in the news that Senator Schumer is feeling some financial heat, because move on.org is withholding campaign contributions in the area of 8 million some odd dollars. Bingo, and how much is AIPAC investing? Who knows, who really cares, but what it does say is money buys influence. Just ask the Donald. “Hillary came to his wedding”.I’m no historian although I would bet we could find ‘shadow governments’ all through the history of man kind. There are groups everywhere.

    Besides a major scaling back of our defense budget, we need to attempt to implement a checks and balances back into the system. There is a good argument to be made about if this check and balance ever really worked, but this is all we got. Even if just in concept. We could watch Jimmy Stewart’s ‘Mr. Smith goes to Washington’, or something. I hate to say this, but even with all that the shadow in some form will still exist. What is needed is a strong leadership, who by some means of transparency will deny the hand of corruption. Good luck with that unless you have a small and commercial free press. But in the end it’s all about the money.

    • Joe Tedesky
      August 8, 2015 at 01:44

      I’m not a very good reporter. Senator Chuck Schumer is catching heat from move on because he is going to vote against the P5+1 agreement. I don’t know if there are any other groups such as move on.org or not. I hate to say it, but on the political side of America is really does comes down to influential money campaign donations. Maybe, someday we may all have a conversation about Washington Think Tanks.

      Hillary went to Donald’s wedding…that’s all there is!

  5. Abe
    August 7, 2015 at 14:53
  6. Abe
    August 7, 2015 at 14:40

    On Display: The Presidential Crotch

  7. Abe
    August 7, 2015 at 13:21

    Helen Thomas, an American author and distinguished member of the White House press corps, was originally going to be the female centerpiece of the Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant Presidential Mural.

    Thomas covered the administrations of eleven U.S. presidents—from the final years of the Eisenhower administration to the second year of the Obama administration.

    On February 9, 2009, Thomas was present in the front row for newly elected President Obama’s first news conference. President Obama called on her with the statement, “Helen. I’m excited, this is my inaugural moment,” seemingly a reference to her long-term presence in the White House Press Corps.

    Thomas asked if any Middle Eastern country possessed nuclear weapons. Obama replied that he did not want to “speculate” on the matter.


    In a later interview, Thomas said, “I want to ask him if he ever found out whether anyone in the Middle East has nuclear weapons.”

    On May 27, 2010, American Jewish Heritage Celebration Day, Rabbi David Nesenoff questioned Thomas as she was leaving the White House via the North Lawn driveway. When asked for comments on Israel, she replied: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” and “Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Poland…” When asked where Israeli Jews should go, she replied they could “go home” to Poland or Germany or “America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?” She also mentioned she was of “Arab background.”

    A one-minute excerpt of the May 27, 2010, interview was posted on Nesenoff’s website on June 3.

    On June 4, 2010, Thomas posted the following response on her Web site:

    “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

    Thomas’s agency, Nine Speakers, Inc., immediately dropped her as a client because of her remarks. Craig Crawford, who co-authored Listen up, Mr. President, said “I … will no longer be working with Helen on our book projects.” Her scheduled delivery of a commencement speech at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, was canceled by the school. The White House Correspondents’ Association, over which she once presided, issued a statement calling her remarks “indefensible.” In January 2011, the Society of Professional Journalists voted to retire the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement.

    In an October 2011 radio interview, Thomas said that she realized soon after making the comments that she would be fired, stating, “I hit the third rail. You cannot criticize Israel in this country and survive.” She added that she issued an apology because people were upset, but that ultimately, she still “had the same feelings about Israel’s aggression and brutality.”

    On June 7, 2010, Thomas abruptly tendered her resignation from Hearst Newspapers. The next day, in an interview on NBC’s Today Show, President Obama called her remarks “offensive” and “out of line” and said her retirement was “the right decision.” He remarked that it was a “shame” her celebrated career had to end in such controversy, and at the same time he recognized her long service covering U.S. presidents, calling her “a real institution in Washington.”

    Thomas died on July 20, 2013, at her home in Washington, D.C. at the age of 92, two weeks short of her 93rd birthday. President Obama released a statement calling her “a true pioneer” and that “she never failed to keep presidents—myself included—on their toes.”

    • Abe
      August 7, 2015 at 14:23

      Helen Thomas’ comments about Israel and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict had no bearing on the creation of the Presidential Mural.

      The mural, created by El Salvador-born artist Karla Rodas (aka Karlisima), was funded by the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant, and private donors.

      It was Thomas who graciously declined the portrayal and supported Mama Ayesha as the female centerpiece. Karlisima started the mural in 2007 and completed it in 2009.

  8. Abe
    August 7, 2015 at 12:44

    The Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant Presidential Mural’s concept was planned by Mama Ayesha’s family members, who have run the restaurant since its opening in 1960.

    Originally Mama Ayesha was not going to be the female centerpiece of the work. The family had invited Helen Thomas, a renowned White House reporter and regular customer at the restaurant, to be included in the mural; she was to be shown seated at a desk with pen and paper in her hand.

    The family’s request was politely declined by a “modest” Thomas, who supported portraying Mama Ayesha in her place.

    In May 2010 Thomas was approached by Rabbi David Nesenoff with a camcorder outside the White House asking about her opinion on Israel.

    Thomas replied “I think they should get the hell out of Palestine”, and when the Rabbi furthered his questions, and asked where she thought Israelis should go, Thomas said that they should go home to Poland, Germany and other countries where they came from.


    In an interview with Playboy magazine, Thomas defended her stance by saying that she is not anti-Jewish nor she is anti-Zionist, and said that the Jewish people are no longer marginalized nor face persecution.

    “What I meant was they should stay where they are because they’re not being persecuted—not since World War II, not since 1945,” she said.

    “If they were, we sure would hear about it. Instead, they initiated the Jackson-Vanik law, which said the U.S. would not trade with Russia unless it allowed unlimited Jewish emigration. But it was not immigration to the United States, which would have been fine with me. It was to go to Palestine and uproot these people, throw them out of their homes, which they have done through several wars,” she added.

    Instead Thomas defended the Palestinians by saying that their current situation is “not fair” and that she wanted people to understand the root causes of Palestinians’ anger.

    “They are incarcerated and living in an open prison.”

    Playboy asked Thomas whether if she knew how controversial her statements were, she said that she was “going for broke”, because she was fed up with how the Palestinians had been treated for decades.

    “Sure, the Israelis have a right to exist—but where they were born, not to come and take someone else’s home. I’ve had it up to here with the violations against the Palestinians.”

    In a country penetrated by a strong Zionist lobby, Thomas protested against their influence in the interview and said that the lobby controls what happens in Congress and the White House.

    Asked about how she will be remembered as a journalist, Thomas cried and said that the obituary writers would remember her as anti-Semite.

    “As the person who asked why. That’s what I want as my epitaph: ‘Why?’ It’s always been my favorite question, even though it rarely gets answered.

    Thomas was known for her reputation for being the one asking tough questions; she questioned Bush policies of extraordinary rendition and torture, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    • Abbybwood
      August 7, 2015 at 21:19

      This brings to mind the book written by Rep. Paul Findley, “They Dare To Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby” written in 1985.

  9. Abe
    August 7, 2015 at 11:51

    Generals gathered in their masses,
    Just like witches at black masses.
    Evil minds that plot destruction,
    Sorcerer of death’s construction.

    In the fields the bodies burning,
    As the war machine keeps turning.
    Death and hatred to mankind,
    Poisoning their brainwashed minds.
    Oh lord yeah!

    Politicians hide themselves away,
    They only started the war.
    Why should they go out to fight,
    They leave that all to the poor.


    Time will tell them they are Power Blind,
    Making war just for fun.
    Treating people just like pawns in chess,
    Wait till their judgment day comes.


    Now in darkness world stops turning,
    Ashes where the bodies burning.
    No more war pigs have the power,
    Hand of God has struck the hour.
    Day of judgment God is calling,
    On their knees the war pig’s crawling.
    Begging mercies for their sins,
    Satan laughing spreads his wings.

    Oh lord yeah!

    Black Sabbath – War Pigs

    • Joe L.
      August 7, 2015 at 12:41

      That’s ironic, I am listening to Ozzy Osbourne right now – “Perry Mason”! I remember also in the 80’s there were songs like “Gods of War” by Def Leppard or “Land of Confusion” by Genesis but yet nowadays I don’t really here any revolt against the clear militarism that is destroying our world – where have they all gone? What would John Lennon say today, if he was alive today in the age of the internet?

      I have to say Abe that I get so angry at the US government, and even my own government (I am Canadian), for the clear imperialism that it is undertaking. There was a time where I believed that we were the good guys but that was dashed with the lies told about Iraq and then I started to look deeper and came to the realization that maybe we were never the good guys. Also, I came to the conclusion of how childish the notion of “good guys” and “bad guys” truly is. I don’t know how people like Robert Parry or John Pilger report on the evil that our governments are undertaking around the world day after day and not go completely crazy. I know for myself that I have to turn this all off sometimes because it is so depressing to look at a world under US leadership of endless wars, endless death, and endless deception. What might be most frightening is the willful ignorance of many people putting “patriotism” above “logic”. There has to be a price for this! How can anyone proclaim that they have the exclusive right to kill anyone, anywhere, anytime and there not be severe criticism? I am pretty sure that Hitler proclaimed these very things about the Nazis, they were exceptional, and somehow this sanitized any atrocity that they undertook – which almost has a religious or cult like status. How is it, in this day and age with the internet and real history at our fingertips, can this imperialism still survive? Are we living in the Matrix? I don’t know, maybe I am just babbling now but I truly believe there needs to be a day of reckoning, which will hopefully not be WW3, for the US and the western world in general. I have to believe that, karma, otherwise I will go insane…

      • August 7, 2015 at 20:35

        no..you are not alone…i live in the US…it just keeps getting worse…who to believe, who will deceive me next?…and when i see the vast proportions of the real problems we face now…i get depressed…i wonder if i can adapt enough in this new world order to survive, and still keep my soul…where has the olive branch gone?…when can we beat the swords into plowshares again? i hope bernie is that small glimmer we need again…the future looks dark, hope is sputtering against the war machine

      • Joe Tedesky
        August 8, 2015 at 02:10

        John Lennon would have booked a Russia-China tour. God, only knows what he would do. I remember at the time he said it, there was a very good chance that more teenagers would should up to see the Beatles, over Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ no I’m not here to argue with any of you over that…this isn’t the 60’s. It’s over, go listen to the Stones.

        Joe-l, a couple weeks ago I stated the same thing about another time, and I how was deceived by our corporate news media. Others on this site replied on their comments about how they to had had this experience. There must be a pill for this. This is America isn’t it? But yes somehow we are all now getting informed. Yet, what to do. I have been under the spell for such a long time. Now I find out we are not so exceptional, but what should I do. Let’s see how do I turn on this Internet thingy.

        The one place still left to create a good change maybe with the youth. Right now I am encouraging my grandchildren to read Kennedy’s American University Commencement Speech. Possibly the youth will desire and succeed at taking the money out of government. This in itself will be a terrible task, but let’s hope we have taught them well. Then the rest is cake.

        • Joe Tedesky
          August 8, 2015 at 15:05

          Joe-L read this by Paul Craig Roberts;


          Roberts says it way better than I can.

          • Joe L.
            August 10, 2015 at 10:24

            I just wanted to say thank you to dj leisure & Joe Tedesky for proving that I am not alone in my thinking, and frustration, at the world that we live in today! Frankly, I don’t have any animosity towards Iranians, Russians, North Koreans or anyone else that I am programmed to hate by my government and media. I think without governments that we would all get along splendidly – so why do our governments try to divide us? Maybe for that very reason because if we all got along then there would be no more wars for them to profit off of…

  10. Joe L.
    August 7, 2015 at 10:20

    Could you imagine Vladimir Putin bombing in 7 countries, covert operations in 75 countries, exclaiming that he had the right to kill anyone, anywhere, anytime and how exceptional Russia and Russians are? Clearly comparisons to Hitler, and Mein Kampf, would definitely be made and they would be justified… so why aren’t the same comparisons being levelled against the United States? Bombing in 7 countries, with covert operations in 75 countries, is clear “imperialism” yet there are no sanctions against the US, or allies, or threats of war. But hey we are the “good guys”! I just wonder when the rest of the world will have had enough of our BS.

    • Joe L.
      August 7, 2015 at 17:31

      You know roger, I recently read an article on the UNICEF website which claims that modern war casualties, from 1990 onward, are civilians:

      “Civilian fatalities in wartime climbed from 5 per cent at the turn of the century, to 15 per cent during World War I, to 65 per cent by the end of World War II, to more than 90 per cent in the wars of the 1990s.”

      Being that yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on “civilians”, I am sorry that I am not waving the flag. Yes, these wars are “imperialistic” and if any other leader, especially our “enemy” what we would childishly refer to as a “bad guy”, did the exact same thing that our governments are doing then we would demonize that person to no end, if not calling for outright war. I don’t what offended you, the fact that I used Putin as an example or the facts of us, the west, bombing in 7 countries (with covert operations in 75 countries) and you can’t come to the reality that this is “imperialism”. Or maybe you simply bought the line of we do everything for “democracy” and “freedom” yet the US trained 11 Latin American dictators at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia and overthrew “democracies” all across Latin America installing them – so much for “democracy” and “freedom”. Are you afraid to look in the mirror my friend or is it simply more comfortable to throw stones?

    • Gregory Kruse
      August 7, 2015 at 18:57

      Not me.

    • michael
      August 7, 2015 at 22:31

      One can only hope soon!

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