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.

5 Things You Might Have Missed in Obama's Proposed 2013 Budget

| Tue Feb. 14, 2012 4:41 PM PST
The federal chopping block, 2013

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the White House gifted to Congress the president's proposed budget for the 2013 fiscal year. President Obama has been pretty clear that the budget is also meant to draw a stark contrast between him and the Republican opposition. Conservative pundits and politicos have been equally clear that they intend to use the proposed budget as more proof that Obama is a die-hard economy wrecker.

There are plenty of hot-button items sure to provide much grist for the attack-ad-mill as November approaches: Taxing the rich, trimming military spending, cutting spending on some federal health programs, and so forth.

Here are a few things you might have missed about the 2013 budget released on Monday:

1. Arab Spring nations get modest earmarks: The Obama administration wants to allot $800 million in economic aid to certain countries affected by Arab Spring uprisings. State Department officials told Reuters that the bulk of the sum would go to "initiatives [supporting] long-term economic, political, and trade reforms for countries in transition such as Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen." 

Of that amount, $770 million would be set aside for creating the "Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund," which would provide aid to governments "prepared to make reforms proactively," the budget document notes.

Republican lawmakers like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the leading GOPer on the Senate budget committee, is skeptical for all the expected reasons:

First, I'm not sure who'll we'll be negotiating with, and who you could give the money to. And there seems to be some awfully extreme views within the Arab Spring movement. I think we have to be very careful that any money we provide would be well spent.

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Denzel Washington Shackled in "Safe House" of Clichés

| Fri Feb. 10, 2012 4:00 AM PST
Denzel Washington in "Safe House" (2012).

Safe House
Universal Pictures
115 minutes

Let me start by saying how relieved I am to see a Denzel Washington action film that has nothing to do with imperiled trains and wasn't directed by Tony Scott. It was also nice to see Washington play another charismatic, streetwise ass-kicker who gets his jollies up bullying a white-boy rookie—a formula Washington hasn't worked so well since 2001's Training Day.

That said, Safe House is a glut of miserably squandered opportunities.

Washington stars as Tobin Frost, a former high-ranking CIA official now wanted on four continents for selling agency secrets to Iran, China, Russia, and so forth. Just how badass is this character? We learn early on that he "literally rewrote the book" on CIA interrogation and personally convinced a top Hezbollah leader to become an informant during the Lebanese Civil War. Anyway, after finally falling into US custody, Frost is rushed to a black site in Cape Town, where relative newbie Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is waiting as a CIA "housesitter"—a job marked by long hours, crushing idleness, and, as one minor character puts it, "appalling remuneration."

Shortly after Weston's superiors begin waterboarding Frost, a gang of nameless thugs flourishing automatic weapons bust into the safe house, presumably to extract the high-value detainee alive. Suddenly, Weston and Frost are off on a mad dash to the next secure location, racing through the busy streets and shanty towns of South Africa in a blitz of gunfire, civilian casualties, and crashed getaway cars.

Al Qaeda and The Whales

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 5:57 AM PST
Be nice to whales. Or this will happen to you, your friends, and all your loved ones.

Did whales benefit from the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Turns out that question isn't as boneheaded as it sounds.

In July 2001, scientists from the New England Aquarium began a study of right whales in the Bay of Fundy in the Gulf of Maine, testing whale excrement for "hormone-related chemicals" that indicated the animals' stress levels. And when the September 11 attacks happened, a window of opportunity was suddenly open for examining whether sound pollution was a major cause of stress for these whales.

AFP has the story:

The steady drone of motors along busy commercial shipping lanes not only alters whale behaviour but can affect the giant sea mammals physically by causing chronic stress, a study published Wednesday has reported for the first time.

The findings were made possible, researchers said, by an event that at first glance seems far removed from the plight of cetaceans: the attacks on New York's Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Only a catastrophe of that magnitude, they explained, could have caused maritime traffic to suddenly drop off, making it possible to measure the impact of varying levels of sound pollution in the sea.

Over the last 50 years noise caused by cargo and military vessels, along with high-decibel sonars used for oil exploration, has gradually increased in intensity and scope. Baleen whales communicate at the same low-frequency wavelengths emitted by these ships, in the range of 20 to 200 hertz (Hz), and some species have adapted by emitting louder and more frequent acoustic signals.

Fascinating stuff.

State Department Preparing To Cut Iraq Embassy Staff By Half

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 3:10 PM PST

When the Iraq War officially ended late last year, many were quick to point out it was hardly a wholesale withdrawal. There are still 5,500 armed contractors stationed in Iraq to protect US government personnel (a figure nearly three times the number of hired guns the State Department uses to protect all its other diplomatic missions combined). A small (and controversial) fleet of surveillance drones are patrolling Iraqi skies. Oh, there's also that huge embassy complex in Baghdad that was recently on track to balloon to an even greater size.

But as Tim Arango of the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the State Department might end up nixing as much as half of the 16,000-strong embassy staff:

The expansive diplomatic operation and the $750 million embassy building, the largest of its kind in the world, were billed as necessary to nurture a postwar Iraq on its shaky path to democracy and establish normal relations between two countries linked by blood and mutual suspicion. But the Americans have been frustrated by Iraqi obstructionism and are now largely confined to the embassy because of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to justify the $6 billion annual price tag. ...

Michael W. McClellan, the spokesman for the embassy...said in a statement, "over the last year and continuing this year the Department of State and the Embassy in Baghdad have been considering ways to appropriately reduce the size of the U.S. mission in Iraq, primarily by decreasing the number of contractors needed to support the embassy's operations."...McClellan said the number of diplomats—currently about 2,000—is also, "subject to adjustment as appropriate." To make the cuts, he said the embassy, "is hiring Iraqi staff and sourcing more goods and services to the local economy."

For years, State Department officials have been pushing for substantial cuts in diplomatic operations to accomodate the reduced American role in Iraq. Budgetary realities, the scrapped plans for a residual force of American troops, and animosity between Iraqis and the security contractors have also contributed to the growing downsize-fever.

Also buried in the Times story is this glorious nugget about a major "difficulty" facing the thousands of contractors and diplomats who remained in Iraq after the December drawdown:

Convoys of food that were previously escorted by the United States military from Kuwait were delayed at border crossings as Iraqis demanded documentation that the Americans were unaccustomed to providing. Within days, the salad bar at the embassy dining hall ran low. Sometimes there was no sugar or Splenda for coffee. On chicken wing night, wings were rationed at six per person. Over the holidays, housing units were stocked with Meals Ready to Eat, the prepared food for soldiers in the field.

Uh.... I'll just let Andrew Exum bring this one home:

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