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.

Arab Spring-Inspired Show "Tyrant" Had Plenty of Muslim, Arab Input

| Tue Jun. 24, 2014 5:42 PM EDT

Tyrant—a bloody, tense family drama that just so happens to be set in an Arab dictatorship—is a TV show that feels destined for controversy. And that's familiar territory for  showrunner Howard Gordon, best known for his work on the hyper-controversial, torture-heavy 24.

The new series, created by Gideon Raff, tells the story of Bassam "Barry" Al-Fayeed (played by Adam Rayner), the son of a brutal dictator of a fictional Middle Eastern country, as he reluctantly returns to the family business from a happy life in the United States after two decade living in self-exile. (Think The Godfather meets the Assads.) Tyrant premieres Tuesday night on FX—and Gordon has been gearing up for any potential backlash it might bring his way:

"Bring it on!" Gordon told reporters in January.

"Come on, Roger [Ailes]!" he joked. "I've been called an Islamophobe and a torture monger, so what else can they call me?"

I've only seen the first episode (which is visually gorgeous and rather compelling), so I have no idea why the series might possibly piss off the Fox News president or his platoon of commentators. However, it certainly isn't hard to imagine that a TV show focused on trigger-happy, iron-fisted Arab Muslims might irk certain groups and people concerned about negative stereotypes and hackneyed cultural depictions in American entertainment. But Gordon has taken steps to assure potential viewers that he was more than aware of such concerns, and acted accordingly. More on that from the Daily Beast, which interviewed him: 

Howard Gordon has done something different with Tyrant: He has included Arab-Americans and Muslims in the creative process. As Gordon explained to [the Daily Beast], his motivation in doing this arose from being "concerned that there might be potential sensitivities that I may not be aware of."

Gordon did a few things to include Arabs and Muslim voices in Tyrant…For one, he hired an Arab-American for the writing staff. Plus he reached out to a well-known Muslim-American group, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), over a year ago for their input on early drafts of the pilot script.

As Gordon explained: "MPAC has had a significant impact on the development of this project from its inception." Gordon added: "I tried to address their concerns regarding cultural inaccuracies and potentially incendiary characterizations. I may not always have been entirely successful, but the dialogue has always been open and fluid."

Suhad Obeidi, the head of the Hollywood bureau of MPAC, spoke positively about the experience of working with Gordon. Obeidi explained that Gordon truly did revise the script in many—not all—places flagged by MPAC.

It wouldn't be the first time that Gordon consulted a Muslim-American group regarding controversial content. When the Washington, DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reached out to Fox and 24's producers to express concerns over the fourth season of 24 (which features a Muslim-American Los Angeles family that leads an Islamist sleeper cell), they responded by inviting CAIR representatives out for a meeting in LA to share their thoughts and criticism. In the months and years that followed, CAIR and the 24 crew maintained an open dialogue.

"They were very, very receptive," Rabiah Ahmed, a former CAIR employee who attended the meeting, told me. "Howard Gordon was such a gentleman. He pulled me aside after the meeting and said their intentions were never to harm the community, and that they are very sensitive about how we feel, and how their work impacts the larger society…I was very touched by his sincerity."

Still, Gordon's latest offering has attracted some harsh words from a familiar organization: "[CAIR has] asked reviewers to address stereotyping of Arab and Muslim culture inherent in the new FX Networks series Tyrant," the group wrote in a press release last week.

Now, here's an FX "first look" at Tyrant:

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Here's the Full Justice Department Memo That Allowed Obama To Kill an American Without Trial

| Mon Jun. 23, 2014 1:45 PM EDT

In September 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical US-born cleric, was killed ​​in an American drone strike in Yemen. His death was the first public example of the US government targeting and killing one of its own citizens abroad based on the suspicion of terrorist activities, though the names of other Americans also appear on the Obama administration's "kill list."

Last year, NBC's Michael Isikoff published a Justice Department "white paper" that details the legal rationale for targeting American citizens. Now, as the result of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the New York Times and the ACLU, the public has access to a redacted version of the full 2010 memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel justifying the Obama administration's controversial Awlaki assassination. You can read it below:

 

The CIA Wanted to Make Bin Laden Demon Dolls. Here Are 4 Other Bizarre CIA Plots.

| Thu Jun. 19, 2014 2:43 PM EDT
Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden

On Thursday, the Washington Post's Adam Goldman had the scoop on how, circa 2005, the CIA began secretly developing creepy-looking Osama bin Laden action figures in their war against Al Qaeda. You read that right:

The faces of the figures were painted with a heat-dissolving material, designed to peel off and reveal a red-faced bin Laden who looked like a demon, with piercing green eyes and black facial markings.

The goal of the short-lived project was simple: spook children and their parents, causing them to turn away from the actual bin Laden.

The code-name for the bin Laden figures was "Devil Eyes," and to create them the CIA turned to one of the best minds in the toy business…The toymaker was Donald Levine, the former Hasbro executive who was instrumental in the creation of the wildly popular G.I. Joe toys that generated more than $5 billion in sales after hitting the shelves in 1964.

It wasn't long before the CIA abandoned this project (you can check out photos of a demon-doll prototype here).

While we're on the subject, here's a quick look at some of the spy agency's other notably bizarre or goofy pet projects:

The Sukarno Porno Plot:

The operation that inspired the Ben Affleck movie Argo wasn't even the craziest CIA scheme that involved a fake movie: In the mid-'60s, the CIA was no fan of Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia. The agency began production on a sex tape (titled "Happy Days") and naughty photos of a Sukarno lookalike gettin' it on with a Russian lover. The CIA wasn't able to track down a double who looked enough like a nude Sukarno, so "Happy Days" never got its big premiere date. Regardless, Sukarno was overthrown in 1967 during Indonesia's transition to the "New Order," and replaced by general Suharto, a US-backed, genocidal military dictator who held on to power for more than three decades.

Spy Cats:

In the '60s, the CIA tried implanting small microphones into cats, which they would then send to spy on the Soviets. The project was dubbed "Acoustic Kitty." The first attempt at cat-espionage resulted in the animal getting crushed by a taxi near the Soviet embassy in Washington, just moments after the operation began. All other missions failed, as well, and the initiative was terminated in 1967. Here's a diagram of the secret project:

 

Poison toothpaste:

The poisonous toothpaste, concocted by a CIA chemist, was meant for the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Republic of the Congo. The idea was later vetoed, and Lumumba was murdered in a coup after barely three months in office.

Exploding cigar:

Fidel Castro: The CIA didn't like him all that much. So they wanted to blow up his head with a special exploding cigar. Click here to read about the other weird ways the CIA tried to whack Castro.

The White House Won't Comment on Whether President Obama Uses Emoji

| Wed Jun. 18, 2014 3:27 PM EDT
Does he even emoji?

ABC News reports:

President Obama showed just how "hip" he was [on Tuesday] when he made a reference to emojis in a speech in Pittsburgh…"Now, to her credit, Malia, for example, wrote me a letter for Father's Day, which obviously was a lot more important to me than if she had just texted a little emoji or whatever those things are."

It's unclear whether the president uses emojis himself, but with two teenager daughters in the White House, it's likely that he's come into contact with the popular animated characters sent via texts.

"President Barack Obama gave what was almost certainly the first public presidential statement on emoji," Business Insider's Hunter Walker reports.

For the uninitiated, emoji are small digital images that originated in Japan. Approximately 250 new emoji are on their way. Last year, the Library of Congress added an emoji translation of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick to its collections. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) made Senate history in March when his campaign used an emoji in a press release. Emoji is also quite possibly the most impenetrable form of NSA-proof communication.

The White House did not immediately respond to Mother Jones' request for comment on whether or not the president has ever dabbled in emoji.

(h/t Betsy Woodruff)

Fri Jan. 10, 2014 7:00 AM EST
Fri Dec. 6, 2013 1:27 PM EST