Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng

Reporter

Asawin Suebsaeng is a reporter at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. He has also written for The American Prospect, the Bangkok Post, and Shoecomics.com.

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A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., Asawin came back to DC with hopes of putting his flimsy Creative Writing major, student newspaper tenure, and interest in human rights and political chicanery to some use. He started cutting his teeth at F&M's student-run weekly, The College Reporter, serving as editor in chief. He has interned at The American Prospect, been a reporter for the Bangkok Post, and scribbled for ShoeComics.com. His favorite movie is either Apocalypse Now or Pirahna 3D, depending on the day or mood.

Martin Sheen Reprises His "West Wing" Role—for a Sentencing Reform PSA

| Tue Apr. 22, 2014 12:37 PM EDT

On Tuesday, Brave New Films released a new PSA calling on Congress to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act. The proposed sentencing-reform legislation aims to reduce prison populations and costs by creating less severe minimum terms for nonviolent drug offenders. (On Monday, Yahoo News reported that President Obama could grant clemency to "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of nonviolent drug offenders by the end of his second term.) The video was produced in partnership with the ACLU and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), and stars actor Martin Sheen. It's titled "President Bartlet has a message for Congress," in reference to Sheen's role on Aaron Sorkin's political drama The West Wing.

Watch it here:

"When BNF joined with FAMM and the ACLU to rally support for the Smart Sentencing Act, we couldn't think of a better spokesperson than Martin Sheen," Brave New Films president Robert Greenwald said. "When he portrayed President Bartlett on The West Wing, his character commuted the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders. In the real world, Martin Sheen has been an advocate for sentencing reform and alternatives to the harsh, long prison sentences we give to nonviolent drug offenders."

Sheen isn't the only one in Hollywood trying to raise awareness about this. Last year, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson starred in the drama Snitch, a film about a father who reunites with his estranged son after the kid is thrown in prison due to draconian mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The film is based on a 1999 episode of PBS' Frontline titled, "Snitch: How Informants Have Become a Key Part of Prosecutorial Strategy in the Drug War." (FAMM teamed up with Participant Media, the production company behind the film, to create awareness about the issues of mandatory-minimum drug sentencing.)

Now, here's a clip of Sheen as Bartlet on The West Wing, talking about the failing War on Drugs and the American prison population:

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"Veep" Just Aired Its Best Episode Yet

| Sun Apr. 20, 2014 11:00 PM EDT
Biden meeting with Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who plays Vice President Selina Meyer on "Veep"), as she sits at his desk in his West Wing office on April 12, 2013

This post contains some spoilers.

When I spoke with Veep creator Armando Iannucci last year, we had some fun discussing (among other topics) how he does his research for the HBO satire and why he would never, ever, ever allow Joe Biden on the show. But what really stood out to me was when Iannucci talked about his characters' professional and personal frustrations—and how those frustrations reflect his view of Washington's effect on the soul:

I don't want [the characters in Veep] to seem like caricatures—I want them to be viewed as real people, with their own problems, and hopes, and dreams, and frustrations…And it's that frustration and exasperation that I look for in comedy…What I want to do is show what the system can do to you, and to have [the audience] sympathize with the terrible set of circumstances these characters have to deal with every single day.

Iannucci is a brilliant satirist and a clever political observer. His brand of comedy and commentary (also seen in British TV series The Day Today and The Thick of It, and the latter's brilliant 2009 spin-off film In the Loop) is a mischievous deromanticization of political and media elites. It's smart, wildly funny stuff that's full of carefully constructed, linguistically acrobatic profanity.

But with many of Veep's episodes, that sympathy he mentions in the above quote doesn't always come through. Your average viewer might watch a random episode and come away with the impression that it was written by someone who despised Washington, DC, and all its inhabitants. (Iannucci is actually a self-described "politics geek" who finds DC "fascinating.") However, in Sunday's episode, "Alicia" (directed by Chris Morris and guest-starring Tracie Thoms), Iannucci's humanist outlook is more apparent than it ever has been before in the series. This is the reason why "Alicia" is perhaps the finest episode Veep has yet to pull off.

The US Government Really Isn't Worried About "Transcendence" Happening in Real Life

| Fri Apr. 18, 2014 6:34 PM EDT

This post contains spoilers, but the movie is bad so I don't think you'll care.

Transcendence is an awful movie—two hours of squandered potential. (You can read my colleague Ben Dreyfuss' review here.) The film stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, and Kate Mara. It was executive-produced by Christopher Nolan, and marks the directorial debut of cinematographer Wally Pfister (the guy who made Christopher Nolan movies look like Christopher Nolan movies). The plot goes something like this: Depp plays a renowned artificial-intelligence researcher named Will Caster. He gets assassinated by a terrorist group that fears super-intelligent, sentient machines will one day rule the world. Will's wife Evelyn (played by Hall) has the bright idea to upload his consciousness to a big computer thing, hoping he'll live on in cyberspace or something. It works, and this achieves technological singularity (when A.I. becomes greater than the human mind), which Will calls "transcendence."

Things get really creepy and it starts to look like Johnny Depp The Omniscient Computer really is trying to take over the world. The US government begins to wage a secret war on him/it, and gets into bed with some shady, gun-toting characters in doing so.

Anyway, that may sound like a cool premise, but the movie is really, very boring—but it did get me and my buddy thinking: What would our government do if this happened in real life? Does the government have a contingency plan if (as some believe is possible) sentient machines began outdoing mankind? What if the machines went to war against us? What would Barack Obama do???

Okay, this is stupid. But if America once drew up legit plans to invade Canada, maybe there's a chance we have a plan for this. I called up the Department of Defense, and was transferred to spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart. I asked him these questions, and if anyone working in cyber warfare had anything to say about this. His response:

I'm gonna be frank with you. There is nobody here who is going to talk about that...There are currently no plans for this. It's just a completely unrealistic scenario. We have a lot of people working on this team on serious stuff, but this just isn't a real threat.

"Well," he concluded, "at least not for now."

For now.

Obama's America.

Here's the trailer for the Johnny Depp movie:

Beloved Author Gabriel García Márquez Was Also a Go-Between for Colombian Guerrillas and the Government

| Fri Apr. 18, 2014 4:41 PM EDT
García Márquez (center) with the Colombian culture minister Paula Moreno (left) in 2009.

Gabriel García Márquez passed away on Thursday at his home in Mexico City. He was 87. The Nobel Prize-winning Colombian novelist was celebrated for such works as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. "The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers—one of my favorites from the time I was young," President Obama said on Thursday.

When a literary figure as towering as García Márquez dies, there are too many fascinating things to write about—his writing, his political history, his wild ride of a life. (Hell, I could see myself writing an entire term paper on his friendly relationship with Colombian pop star Shakira!) I'm not going to attempt anything close to a definitive obituary of a man who gave the world so much through his art. I'll leave that to others.

But I'd like to highlight one politically significant part of Gabo's life: García Márquez wasn't just an acclaimed writer and passionate supporter of left-wing causes—for a time, he was an intermediary between Colombian leftist guerrillas and the government.

Here's an excerpt from a 1999 New Yorker profile written by Jon Lee Anderson:

García Márquez who has often referred to himself as "the last optimist in Colombia," has been closely involved in the peace negotiations. He introduced [Colombian president Andrés] Pastrana to his old friend Fidel Castro, who could facilitate talks with the guerrillas, and he helped restore good relations between Washington and Bogotá. "I won't say that it was Gabo who brought all this about," Bill Richardson, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, said early this summer, "but he was a catalyst." García Márquez was invited by the Clintons to the White House several times, and friends say he believed that he was going to not only carry off the immediate goal of getting some sort of negotiated settlement between the guerrillas and the government but also finally help bring about an improvement in relations between the United States and Cuba. "The U.S. needs Cuba's involvement in the Colombian peace talks, because the Cuban government has the best contacts with the guerrillas," he explained to me. "And Cuba is perfectly situated, only two hours away, so Pastrana can go there overnight and have meetings and come back without anyone knowing anything about it. And the U.S. wants this to happen." Then he smiled in a way that indicated he knew much more than he was telling me, as usual.

The whole profile, which you can check out here, is definitely worth a read.

I now leave you with this footage of García Márquez visiting Shakira and dancing:

R.I.P.

"House of Cards" Veteran Wants To Make a Reality TV Show Starring Capitol Hill Staffers

| Thu Apr. 17, 2014 12:21 PM EDT

Oh, boy.

On Thursday, the Washington Examiner's Betsy Woodruff reported that a veteran of the Netflix political drama House of Cards is working to produce a reality TV show based in Washington, DC. The show would star local "up-and-comers," including Capitol Hill staffers ("the best and brightest on the hill") between the ages of 19 and 29.

A casting session is set to be held on April 26. One source told the Examiner that the first round of casting has already occurred. (It's unclear how many Hill staffers would actually be up for this, since most Senate and House offices probably wouldn't allow employees to take part in a potentially revealing reality series.)

Mother Jones obtained the casting call, which is dated April 14. Check it out:

House of Cards reality tv show casting call

Sharon "Rocky" Roggio, who's apparently behind the project, was the assistant property master on this year's season of House of Cards and worked on A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas and the Red Dawn remake. Jena Serbu served as a production designer on Amish Mafia and Breaking Amish: LA.

Other attempts at reality TV in Washington include MTV's The Real World: D.C. and Bravo's The Real Housewives of DC. In 2011, Doron Ofir Casting (the company behind such reality-TV hits as Jersey Shore) put out a casting call for "young hot politicos who care about America [and] follow the heated debates, rallies, protests and scandals!" Last month, the Washington Post reported that Leftfield Pictures, the Manhattan production company behind Bravo's hit show, Blood, Sweat and Heels, is considering launching a DC version of the series. TV dramas and comedies set in Washington, DC, include Scandal, Veep, The Americans, and the attempted sitcom H Street.

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