All posts by Jayel Aheram

Iowa a Test of Ron Paul as Mainstream Candidate

Mr. Paul’s libertarian views have moved from the fringe toward the mainstream of conservative thinking in the past several years, with his warnings about fiscal meltdown gaining new resonance and the 2008 financial crisis allowing him to press his longstanding critiques of the Federal Reserve.

Now, as he again seeks the Republican presidential nomination, he is hoping to show that he can translate the new attention into votes. And his first test is the straw poll next month, where he is hoping he can organize his band of followers into a political machine capable of beating some or all of his brand-name rivals.

It has been very interesting (and illuminating) to watch how corporate media treats the Ames Straw Poll in their reporting. It is at once both: a “political bell-weather” or a “test” that would make or break a presidential run, and utterly inconsequential with the corporate media-sanctioned front-runners (i.e., Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and inexplicably Gov. Rick Perry of Texas) not participating in the straw poll.

Regardless of the outcome of the straw poll in Iowa, one thing is for sure: Ron Paul would never be mainstream enough for corporate media. His consistent antiwar views has all but precluded him from that.

Botched Paramilitary Police Raids: An Epidemic of ‘Isolated Incidents’

An interactive map of botched SWAT and paramilitary police raids, released in conjunction with the Cato policy paper “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids,” by Radley Balko.

When does it stop becoming “botched” and starts becoming “protocol?” Or maybe this is as Jeffrey Tucker said, “The business of government.”

Socialism for the rich as Obama, GOP threaten cuts to seniors and the poor

Lost in this debt ceiling debate is the role of the Federal Reserve has played in it. While House Republicans and the White House quibble on fiscal policy and how much hurt they want to inflict upon America (while cooperatively ignoring the massive war spending that continues to drain this nation’s wealth), Sen. Bernie Sanders and the General Account Office (GAO) discovered that the Federal Reserve doled out $16 trillion in corporate welfare, many of them to the very same banks that were responsible for the housing bubble and the subsequent economic recession the United States finds itself in.

Below are the recipients of the Federal Reserve largesse, many of them foreign banks that are not going to “create jobs” in the United States.

Citigroup: $2.5 trillion
Morgan Stanley: $2.04 trillion
Merrill Lynch: $1.949 trillion
Bank of America: $1.344 trillion
Barclays PLC (United Kingdom): $868 billion
Bear Sterns: $853 billion
Goldman Sachs: $814 billion
Royal Bank of Scotland (UK): $541 billion
JP Morgan Chase: $391 billion
Deutsche Bank (Germany): $354 billion
UBS (Switzerland): $287 billion
Credit Suisse (Switzerland): $262 billion
Lehman Brothers: $183 billion
Bank of Scotland (United Kingdom): $181 billion
BNP Paribas (France): $175 billion

The amount of money the Federal Reserve gave to Citigroup and Morgan Stanley alone is more than the amount of spending both the White House and the morally bankrupt House Republicans are threatening to cut, which according to Robert Greenstein of the usually non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, will severely harm seniors and the poor.

The monetary policy enacted by the Federal Reserve is what drives and empowers the failed fiscal policy of Congress, regardless of which party is in momentary control. It is also the same monetary policy that funded and continues to fund Bush’s and Obama’s murderous foreign policy.

Unfortunately, corporate media has been successful in framing the debt ceiling “debate” as an ideological clash between “socialism” and those who believe in “small government.”

As Americans (the poor and the shrinking middle-class) tear each other to shreds, the Federal Reserve with the rich and politically-connected recipients of its gifts stand back and enjoy the spectacle.

Experts: Drone Strike Has the ‘Hallmark of al-Qaeda’

A missile from what witnesses described as an unmanned aerial vehicle left dozens of people dead and countless more injured in Pakistan’s volatile tribal region this morning, a deadly strike that experts say shows all the classic signs of Islamic terrorism.

Charles Davis’ excellent spoof of the media’s knee-jerk reaction to blame Muslims for any and all terrorist attacks.

Anders Breivik cites Jesus several times in his manifesto

Much ado has been raised about Anders Breivik’s hate-filled (and apparently mostly plagiarized) manifesto with the New York Times implying that American bloggers and right-wingers might have incited Breivik to violence.

The man accused of the killing spree in Norway was deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers and writers who have warned for years about the threat from Islam, lacing his 1,500-page manifesto with quotations from them, as well as copying multiple passages from the tract of the Unabomber.

Ignoring the spurious attempt to link the Unabomber with the right-wingers (he was anti-state, not anti-Muslim), this reminds me too much of the attempt to link Sarah Palin with the Giffords shootings (we found out later that the shooter was quite liberal).

Anders Breivik also cites Jesus in 32 out of the 1,500 pages in his manifesto, as well as mentioning Barack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi, and Al Gore.

It makes me wonder: is Jesus to blame for the killings in Norway?

(The answer, of course, is an emphatic “no.”)

U.S. State Department to command a brigade of mercenaries

Even more hope and change from the White House as Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s State Department blocks oversight of the massive mercenary army it is raising.

By January 2012, the State Department will do something it’s never done before: command a mercenary army the size of a heavy combat brigade. That’s the plan to provide security for its diplomats in Iraq once the U.S. military withdraws. And no one outside State knows anything more, as the department has gone to war with its independent government watchdog to keep its plan a secret.

I am willing to bet that the salaries they pay these mercenaries are five to ten times more than they pay the soldiers and Marines who continue to die in that forgotten war.

Arizonans’ dumb objection to Arabic words

Some in Arizona are objecting to their newspapers’ use of the word haboob, which is the actual meteorological term to describe the kind of dust storm that was seen in Arizona last week.

The blinding waves of brown particles, the most recent of which hit Phoenix on Monday, are caused by thunderstorms that emit gusts of wind, roiling the desert landscape. Use of the term “haboob,” which is what such storms have long been called in the Middle East, has rubbed some Arizona residents the wrong way.

“I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob,” Don Yonts, a resident of Gilbert, Ariz., wrote to The Arizona Republic after a particularly fierce, mile-high dust storm swept through the state on July 5. “How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?”

I have been calling intermittent streams (or temporary washes) using the Arabic wadi for awhile. And I am sure many of us grew up using the words alcohol, guitar, algebra, and chemistry without thinking twice about their Arabic origins.

My suggestion to these people in Arizona is to stop using English altogether, lest they accidentally utter an Arabic word that would offend the fragile sensibilities of returning soldiers and Marines.

More democracy, more openness

Jens Stoltenberg, prime minister of Norway, responds to the attacks in Oslo and Utoya:

Our answer is more democracy, more openness to show that we will not be stopped by this kind of violence. At the same time we shouldn’t be naive, we should understand that violence can attack our society – we’ve seen that today.

What a stark contrast to what George W. Bush said right after the attacks in New York City.

The United States could learn a thing or two from Norway.

Blowback: The Norway edition

Glenn Greenwald attacks the faulty premise that Norway is a peaceful country unfairly targeted by Muslim extremists (if it turns out that they were Muslims or jihadists as the New York Times is already claiming).

Regardless of the justifications of these wars — and Norway is in both countries as part of a U.N. action — it is simply a fact that Norway has sent its military to two foreign countries where it is attacking people, dropping bombs, and killing civilians.  Historically, one reason not to invade and attack other countries is because doing so often prompts one’s own country to be attacked.  Western nations typically only attack countries that are incapable of responding in kind, but those nations and their sympathizers are capable of perpetrating asymmetrical attacks of the sort that Oslo just suffered.

To be clear, Glenn Greenwald is not justifying these attacks against Norway, much in the same way Ron Paul never justified the attacks in New York City when he pointed out that the attacks are the inevitable consequence of Western violence and intervention in the Middle East.

If it were jihadists that carried out the attacks, Norway did not get attacked because the “terrorists” hate their freedoms and socialized healthcare; Norway was attacked because it was bombing defenseless countries in the Middle East.

UPDATE: Lew Rockwell’s always insightful commentary regarding the attacks in Norway.

I do not know who murdered all these Norwegian children and adults, God rest their souls, but I do know this: their deaths will be used as an excuse to kill many, many more children and adults, and to fasten the screws of the police state even more deeply into Europeans and us.

UPDATE: The Daily Mail is reporting that Norwegian authorities have nabbed a suspect by the name of Anders B. Breivik. Others have tracked down the suspect’s Twitter account, with a single ominous tweet published days before the shooting.

The question in everyone’s minds: is the shooting and the bombing connected somehow?

Rasmussen: Ron Paul is electable after all

Ron Paul polls 37% versus Obama’s 41% if he were to be the Republican nominee, according to the latest data released by Rasmussen.

It is a mere four-point gap compared to the corporate media-sanctioned “serious candidates” like Huntsman’s 16-point gap or Pawlenty’s anemic 12-point gap.

Whether or not the Paul campaign can find its momentum and win the Republican nomination is still in question, one thing is clear from the polls: Obama is vulnerable.

Principled liberals protest Obama’s illegal wars, but where is the Tea Party?

The ANSWER Coalition held a spirited antiwar rally in front of the White House yesterday, protesting the illegal, unconstitutional Libyan War. It should not come as a surprise that not a word of the rally was mentioned by the corporate media.

It is heartening and extremely encouraging to see that there are principled antiwar activists still active in the Left. However, where is the Tea Party?

We saw the Tea Party turn out in mass protests against Obama’s healthcare scheme and rightly pointed out that the program will not only be too costly, but a massive threat to civil liberties. If only the Tea Party were to apply this same logic to protest the biggest government programs America is undertaking.

With the exception of Sen. Rand Paul, few of the self-proclaimed Tea Party leaders are calling for mass protests against Obama’s unlawful wars. Until they do, the Right’s new-found concern for austerity and its fixation on the debt is just talk.

Art and Artifact

Exploration of the relationship between artifact and sacrifice. Written by Matt Hecht for Jayel Aheram.

As a student of the classics I have always found myself drawn to the allure of mankind’s past achievements, those efforts and artifacts of “divine inspiration” or royal vanity which so defined much of what we know of ancient Egypt, classical Greece, and the Renaissance. Past artistic achievements which we still maintain define civilizations with systems of aesthetic value that seem far grander in scope than our own societies—with our advanced technology and global economies—can possibly muster.

It would seem that through the course of history, in abandoning old ways for the conveniences of modern life, we have confined much of our art to the space upon the perched and temporary canvas; there is little room remaining for the quintessential master, pouring his entire life into one masterpiece. Likewise, there is no longer a place for the monoliths of kingdoms. The question is: have we gained or lost in this exchange? Better still, is there any hope for the resurrection of the artifact in a middle class world which values convenience over quality?

In turning to the truly massive works of the old monarchies we see what initially existed not as art, but as testaments to the potency of a ruler’s power over his people; in many cases these were only delusions of divine providence. Achievements which today cannot be replicated, the Egyptian pyramids at Giza and the ziggurats of the Mesoamerican jungles represent the zenith of manpower pushed to its often fatal end. They remain particularly simplistic in their aesthetic appeal, yes, and yet it can be said that the sheer determination of their commissioners—often dedicating their entire reign to the construction of one immense monument—provides enough mythical origin to render these constructs art in their own right. The same stands for the more pleasing vistas provided when strolling before Notre Dame in France, or Bernini’s Piazza di Pietra before the Vatican. Unfortunately, we come upon our greatest challenge to the resurrection of these epic projects in perusing the sacrifices made to create them.

It was purely through the implementation of slave labor that Khufu built the largest pyramid at Giza, and surely the religious imperialism displayed by the cultures which built the latter monuments can be called into question as inhumane. Today we see a similar quality in the means by which certain nations construct their own monuments to power—the gargantuan structures rapidly cropping up in Dubai come to mind, here, with a desert populated almost entirely by underpaid and commonly mistreated foreign laborers. In this sense, it is not with regret that we have abandoned our aspirations to pierce the firmament with our tangible ambitions. While precious to the modern world, these classical epics remain monuments largely to those who died needlessly to create them; it is inarguable that abandoning wanton torment of a people to construct art is a benefit—rather than a loss—to mankind.

It is further notable that advances in technology have led to a slimming-down of the artistic process. Our pigments are no longer procured through the grinding of semi-precious stones, nor are our mighty blocks hauled from quarries by mules and bleeding men. The forward march of industry provides us with the mechanized tools to throw up an entire skyline in less time than it took Brunelleschi to engineer the dome on the Florence Cathedral. Famous print-makers no longer exist, as our printing is computerized and mass marketed.

Even in the arena of painting and illustration, it seems we sell the works of human imagination short simply because of the existence of digital alteration. There are too many opportunities for second chances without loss of quality in the revision process, and the spontaneity of the painter’s brush has been dimmed by a Photoshop cloning tool. And how many modern artists’ names are household in this day and age? Beyond Frank Lloyd Wright and Andy Warhol, we find a dearth of renowned talent beyond the 1970s, not because there is none about, but because these talented minds have been buried by the sheer proliferation of access—to tools, to ease of use, to information. The title of “artist” thus becomes no more significant than that of “office administrator,” making it nearly impossible to gather the adoration enjoyed in life by a da Vinci or a Picasso. Of course, this is not to suggest that there is anything less “artful” about a drawing colored with agonizing detail in Photoshop, but the ease with which these abilities and options proliferate is worth considering.

And yet, we turn to one final glint of hope for the artifact in art, the very inspiration for this article. It appeared in the news recently, in passing, a little human interest story to break up the monotony of the world’s natural and man-made miseries. It is a simple thing: an eleven-foot-long tapestry of golden yellow cloth with native Madagascan designs embroidered into its surface; one might think to see it at a roadside tourist trap in a down-and-out nation halfway across the world, though the needlework is rather exquisite. Of course, the origin is moreso: this unassuming tapestry was woven from golden silk pulled from the spinnerets of more than one million golden orb spiders, painstakingly milked by numerous laborers over the course of four years. They used only hand-operated machines developed over a century ago to extract the silk, and all of this for one piece of immaculate, absolutely unique cloth.

While magazines and newspapers may rail on about the special scientific qualities of the fabric, it is the nature of its creation that makes it among the greatest, true artistic artifacts this world has seen in quite some time (or, at least, the first to see so much daylight.) Its conceivers sought only to accomplish an astonishing feat, pouring in finances and manpower over a tremendous period of time to create something that will sit merely as a desirable piece of museum finery—it serves no other purpose. For this reason, moving beyond all the bloodshed of the past, and the flimsy needlessness of today, there is yet hope for a revival in the object as art. It requires only an altruistic kind of surrender.

It is in sacrifice—willing, honest, committed sacrifice—that an artistic artifact is born. It is in Michelangelo’s painstaking brush strokes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, just as it is in the murals of London’s Banksy, who gives up identity for the sake of his work. It is in the manuscripts of Hemingway, who once said great writing required only that one “sit down at the typewriter and bleed,” and it is in the kissing art of Toni Garcia, who literally poisons herself for the sake of her portraits. With this understanding we can perhaps answer the questions asked at the beginning of this article. It is clear that mankind has only gained by disparaging the terrible monuments of the past, but we have not traded away our sense of artful significance—it has only taken to the shade in a crowded and capable world. It is up to the individual, as audience, to seek out artifacts, and for the artist to continue suffering for the sake of them.

Matt Hecht is a graduate in English literature from the University of Central Florida, with interests in fiction writing and editing. Follow him on Twitter at @Matt_Hecht.