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.

Obama Administration Ducks for Cover on UN Arms Trade Treaty

| Tue Jul. 31, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Last Friday, the Obama administration ditched negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty, the potential UN deal aimed at tightening regulations on the estimated $60 billion global trade in conventional weapons. The past four weeks of negotiations were focused on stemming the flow of arms and ammo into the hands of regimes and actors responsible for perpetrating mass murder and war crimes.

The breakdown occurred on the eve of the Friday deadline, with several countries with large stakes in the international trade (Russia, China, etc.) raising objections to the working text. But major human rights groups including Oxfam and Amnesty International reserved some of their harshest criticism for the Obama administration. "The White House walked away at a critical moment," Scott Stedjan, Oxfam America's senior policy advisor, wrote in a statement. "In the United States we already have tough regulations governing the trade of weapons—and this Treaty is about leveling the playing field with the many countries around the world that have weak or ineffective regulations, if any at all."

Why did the US bail? As the New York Times reported, political pressure came, unsurprisingly, from the NRA and other gun-rights advocates. They claimed that the UN was trying to dismantle the Second Amendment:

Treaty supporters [and activists] expressed anger at the failure after early bouts of optimism that a draft of the treaty circulated this week would satisfy American concerns, notably its possible infringement on the...right to bear arms — an especially delicate issue during a presidential election year in the United States. The supporters contended the treaty’s language specified that it would have no impact on such rights. But gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association said the treaty remained "seriously flawed."

...

Fifty-one senators had urged the administration not to sign it in a letter sent Thursday. That letter sent an important signal of defeat because ratification requires 67 Senate votes.

There is a long-running, baseless conservative meme that the United Nations is hell-bent on confiscating firearms from unsuspecting, law-abiding Americans. Folks including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the National Association for Gun Rights, and even veteran political analyst Chuck Norris have all fervently warned about the coming "Small Arms Treaty" as a tool of confiscation. (Just for the record, the Small Arms Treaty does not actually exist in any form.) And just recently, the far-right Gun Owners of America pushed the novel theory that the massacre at a theater in Aurora, Colo., was engineered by big-government agents and the UN. (Did they engineer these 55 other massacres too?)

As for the Arms Trade Treaty, diplomats told reporters that negotiations are expected to reboot at some indefinite time in the future, with a UN General Assembly vote hopefully to be held within a few months.

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"Step Up Revolution": Batman Turned Upside Down

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 4:27 PM EDT

Step Up Revolution
Lionsgate
100 minutes

For an hour and forty minutes, this movie wages a jihad on the human capacity for patience. It's the aggravating cinematic equivalent of playing Dance Dance Revolution with far too many middle-schoolers, all of whom are tripping balls on Gorilla Glue. It's a paper-thin, stodgily choreographed, criminally acted exercise in how many people from season six of So You Think You Can Dance you can legally fit into one movie.

It's also a sap-sodden love letter to the working class (in 3D): Coursing through the veins of Step Up's cookie-cutter plot is the moral message of impoverished masses rescuing society from excesses of the mega-wealthy. Politically, it is the exact inverse of The Dark Knight Rises. [Mild spoilers to follow.]

PHOTOS: 111 Dogs That Can't Vote in Virginia

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Voter-fraud paranoia has been known to drive Republicans to believe nonsensical, sketchy stuff.

Just take the latest installment in the epic, dystopian Dogs Are Voting saga: To hear Matt Drudge and Mitt Romney's campaign tell it, dogs—leftist dogs—are registering to vote in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And it's the Democratic Party's wily foot soldiers who are aiding and abetting.

The State Department's Latest Exercise in Oxymoron

| Tue Jul. 24, 2012 4:26 PM EDT
#Metaphors

This will make your head hurt:

Can a government document be both publicly available and properly classified at the same time? That is not a Zen riddle. It is a serious question posed in a provocative lawsuit filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union, and on Monday a federal judge said the answer was yes.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of Federal District Court in Washington ruled that [PDF here] the State Department had acted correctly in withholding more than half of 23 classified diplomatic cables sought by the A.C.L.U. — all of which had been posted on the Web months earlier by WikiLeaks...The State Department, acting as if the cables were still secret, withheld 12 of the 23 cables completely and released 11 with some redactions.

Did you get that? Wikileaks did what they do and went about wikileak-ing a load of top-secret State Department correspondence. The ACLU, being cute and wanting to prove a point, filed a lawsuit to try to force the government to own up to information that is now widely available to any child with a wireless router. The State Department responded by exercising its authority to withhold already publicly available information, and continued to deem—Oxford English Dictionary be damned—the cables classified.

A federal judge then concurred that state secrets that are definitely no longer secret can still be kept legally secret-ish by a secretive State Department. Basically, it's the same kind of maddening, circular logic used in that scene in ABC Family's pious, cheese-heavy teen soap The Secret Life of the American Teenager, when Adrian Lee and her lover Ricky are debating the true meaning of the word "before":

But to be serious for a moment, a ruling like this raises crucial questions for those wishing to blog, tweet, or report on the juicy details buried within a Wikileaks, or Wikileaks-style, data-dump. If a reporter were to write about publicly available documents that the State Department does not offically recognize as declassified, would that journalist be open to prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917, simply because the government clings to a legal technicality? It's a situation in which the definition of the term "classified" is potentially in limbo.

This episode is merely another drop in the bucket of the $12 billion+  that the Obama administration has spent in the past year alone to pummel transparency.

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