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.

A Horror Flick Secretly Filmed at Disneyland. What Could Go Wrong?

| Thu Sep. 12, 2013 5:56 PM EDT

Mickey Mouse has got to be pissed.

The trailer (posted above) for first-time director Randy Moore's black-and-white horror flick Escape From Tomorrow was released online Wednesday. A hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival, the film has been riding a steady wave of publicity for the past nine months, not only for its noir-ish artistic merits, but also for the fact that it might be a heaving pile of illegality.

Escape From Tomorrow tells the story of a troubled family's trip to a Disney theme park. Their day of fun unravels into maelstrom of "paranoid visions, bizarre encounters, and an obsessive pursuit of a pair of sexy teenage Parisians," according to the film's synopsis. There is also a scene in which the lead character is vomiting and defecating simultaneously at the theme park. The movie was shot on location at both Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and Disneyland in Anaheim, California—without the permission of the Walt Disney Company. This is an example of "guerrilla filmmaking." (Moore also reportedly edited it in South Korea to try to keep it a secret from Disney.)

Filmmakers are generally required to negotiate and secure legal access to filming locations, so it wouldn't be an enormous shock if (the famously litigious) Disney were to take legal action against the movie, particularly with its October theatrical release around the corner. One prime example of Mickey Mouse getting his litigation on was the nearly decadelong 1970s court battle Walt Disney Productions v. Air Pirates, in which a group of countercultural cartoonists published two issues of the alt-comic Air Pirates Funnies. The issues showed beloved Disney characters indulging in sex, narcotics, and naughty language. The underground artists were sued by Disney for copyright and trademark infringement, among other things. The rebel cartoonists lost every case and appeal in the eight-year saga, which ended with a whimper: Disney decided not to try to have them thrown in jail and ended up dropping the lawsuit.

So of course a large part of the film's publicity revolves around whether or not Disney will do anything to suppress it. "The following motion picture has not been approved for all audiences by the Walt Disney Company," reads a title card at the start of the trailer. The "first trailer for Escape From Tomorrow will seriously make you wonder how Disney is not suing," declares Indiewire. When asked in January if he was concerned about Disney's potential response to his film, Moore said, "Yes."

"Constantly in the back of my head there are legal things, like, 'What could happen if I say this or that?'" Moore said.

There are a lot of things you could say about Disney. It's an unsettling corporate and entertainment empire bearing the name of a far-right reactionary that manages rides that are possibly covered in dead people. But Disney executives aren't stupid, and they've been keeping very, very quiet about the film since January—already knowing that waging a legal war on a small horror movie would likely generate exponentially more attention for the filmmakers and create a situation in which Disney looks like a multibillion-dollar bully. For instance, Disney declined to sic their armada of lawyers on the people behind Exit Through the Gift Shop, a 2010 documentary that also included some rogue filming at Disneyland. Neither Disney nor Moore have responded to Mother Jones' requests for comment, and Producers Distribution Agency—which is distributing the film—did not confirm whether or not Disney has pursued any recent legal action.

Now, to drive home the point of merging Disney theme parks with surreal psychological and physical horror, here's the poster for Escape From Tomorrow:

Escape From Tomorrow poster Disney
Via Wikimedia Commons

And here's a clip from the film:

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A Political History of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"

| Wed Sep. 11, 2013 3:52 PM EDT

"The Gang" is back for its ninth season of dedicated nihilism and political incorrectness.

The new season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia premiered last Wednesday, this time on FX's newly launched spin-off channel FXX. The series—starring Charlie Day as Charlie, Glenn Howerton as Dennis, Rob McElhenney as Mac, Kaitlin Olson as Dee, and Danny DeVito as Frank—has a much-deserved reputation for outrageous and low-brow comedy ("Seinfeld on crack," it's been called). During a blind date with a beautiful woman, a nervous, sweat-drenched Charlie lies about his job by telling her he's a philanthropist, but mispronounces it as "full-on rapist." When Dennis visits his old frat house, the brothers are torturing a pledge with a stun gun to the genitals. You know, stuff like that. But the copious layers of crude humor mask one of the show's less appreciated virtues: Oftentimes, it gets damn political—and on a wide range of issues, from foreign policy to welfare.

Latest GOP Meme: Obama Can't Be Trusted On Syria Because…#Benghazi

| Wed Sep. 11, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The caskets of US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, and security officers Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty

Wednesday marks the 12-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks—and the first anniversary of the Benghazi, Libya, terror attack that left four Americans dead, including ambassador Christopher Stevens. It's a tragedy that partisans have exploited ever since, trying to create an explosive Obama scandal ("Watergate and Iran-Contra together and multiply it times maybe 10 or so," as GOP Rep. Steve King described it) that quite frankly just isn't there.

On Tuesday, the Heritage Foundation, one of DC's conservative think tanks, hosted an event marking the anniversary of Benghazi-gate. Allen West—the former congressman and one-term tea party hero who plays fast and loose with facts—delivered the keynote. He discussed the supposed cover-up perpetrated by high-ranking officials (a claim hyped loudly by GOP lawmakers, Fox News, and other right-wing news outlets), as well as the "unintended consequences" of intervening in Libya—as well as Syria. "You cannot talk about Syria unless you talk about what occurred in Libya," West said.

"I find it very hypocritical that at this moment in time the American people are being told that they have a moral obligation to go into Syria because of the chemical gas attacks, yet I never heard the same type of indignation coming from the president, nor this administration, when our national security interests were attacked" in Benghazi, he added toward the end of his address. "If there was a time to commit the United States forces to do something, that would've been the time. I guarantee you, you would've had old retirees like me saying, 'I'll suit up, I'll go.'"

Vogue's Puff Piece on the Assads Is Back Online—for Now

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Vogue has run a large number of profiles on famous and successful women. For their most recent September issue, the fashion magazine profiled Texas state senator Wendy Davis, photographed in her "Carolina Herrera dress and Reed Krakoff pumps." Vogue profiled Yahoo's Marissa Mayer—the "CEO of the moment." And there was, of course, the Katy Perry cover story.

And for their March 2011 issue, Vogue (published by Condé Nast) printed a glowing, 3,200-word profile of Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a dictator well-known for his love of Western dance-pop, and also for the mass-murder, torture, and imprisonment of at least tens of thousands. The piece, written by Joan Juliet Buck, was published online right before the Arab-Spring civil uprising kicked into high-gear in Syria, and Vogue soon removed the article from its website. You can still see the URL here, but when you click on it, you get this:

Vogue Asma al-Assad profile
Screenshot: Vogue.com

But last Friday, the news and gossip website Gawker reprinted the article in full, remounted with Gawker's pull quotes and graphics. For example:

Vogue profile Assads Gawker
Screenshot: Gawker.com

The website has apparently done so without the blessing of the author or Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue's US edition and chief inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada. "We did not ask permission beforehand," John Cook, editor of Gawker, tells Mother Jones. "I think it's important that people are aware of how Vogue and Wintour...felt about the Assads, and characterized the Assads. It came out almost exactly as the regime embarked on its campaign of murdering women and children...And now in the context of the United States possibly going to war with Syria, it's important for people to see how the magazine portrayed them...[Wintour] was pushing her people to give cover to a tyrant and murderer." (Wintour, along with being a Vogue editor since the late '80s, was also one of the Obama 2012 campaign's biggest bundlers. Wintour hosted overseas fundraisers for the president, starred in a video for him, and was reportedly on Barack Obama's short list for an ambassadorship to the UK or France.)

As of Monday, Cook said that he has yet to receive pushback from Buck or anyone at Vogue about Gawker's unauthorized reprinting. (When reached by Mother Jones on Monday, Vogue did not have an immediate comment.) However, if Vogue or Condé Nast ever pursued legal action against Gawker Media, Cook says he and his team are ready. "I mean, there's a very important public interest behind publishing [the profile] in a vastly different context than the one it was originally presented. And we are certainly prepared to make that argument anywhere."

The profile was a product of a coordinated public-relations effort in large part managed by Brown Lloyd James, an international firm that also conducted business with the similarly mass-murdering Qaddafi regime in Libya. The firm was paid $5,000 per month to help sanitize the image of the Assad dictatorship. The Vogue feature describes Asma as "glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies" and presents both Asma and Bashar in a positive, Western-friendly light; the Syrian first couple are shown doing things like making Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt laugh. (Keep in mind that even before the Syrian civil war and recent chemical weapons atrocity, it didn't take more than a two-second Google search to find out that Bashar al-Assad had a lousy, torture-rife human rights record.)

The profile quickly became a frequent topic of discussion among journalists, commentators, and activists. Over a year after the profile's original appearance, Wintour issued her mea culpa; Brown Lloyd James issued their rationalization; and Buck wrote her regret-imbued explanation. Following Vogue's efforts to wipe every humiliating trace of this it could, the article in its entirety could be found only on relatively obscure corners of the internet, until now.

"Our goal," Cook says, "was to make sure that the actual artifact is readily available."

5 Toxic Syria Conspiracy Theories

| Mon Sep. 9, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

As with all American military efforts, proposed or executed, the Obama administration's push for intervention in the Syrian conflict has inspired a rash of conspiracy theorizing. And it's not just crazies on the internet or bloviators on talk radio—it's coming from our elected representatives, too.

Here are some of the worst examples:

1. Assad got his chemical weapons from Saddam!

Rep. Lee Terry
Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) Official website

Right before the Obama administration released its assessment of the chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians, Rep. Lee Terry went on the radio on August 29 to promote the bogus theory that the Assad regime got its chemical weapons from Saddam Hussein—as in, the chemical weapons the Bush administration couldn't find in Iraq after the invasion in 2003. Here are Terry's comments, as flagged by the Huffington Post:

"The theory then and the evidence was that Iraq was an enemy of the United States and had direct plans in either support of Al Qaeda and/or with other weapons that we found out weren't there—which I still think they were moved to Syria," said Terry. "And it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the chemical weapons that have been used by Syria actually came from Iraq."

[...]

When Becka asked whether Terry's claim about the transfer of weapons was based on information he had received as a member of Congress, Terry replied, "Gut feeling…"

This theory isn't new. Senior Bush administration officials publicly flirted with the idea that Iraq transferred their weapons to other nations before the war, and conservative media has kept the theory on life support over the years. The thing is that there is zero credible evidence that this was ever the case. Rep. Terry's office did not respond to a request for comment on whether or not his "gut feeling" has shifted.

2. Obama is playing Wag the Dog with the Syria stuff.

Rep. Joe Wilson
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) Facebook

At last Wednesday's House hearing, Joe Wilson (the Republican congressman famous for shouting "You lie!" at President Obama) asked if the president's timing was influenced by a desire to cover up bad press for his administration. Wilson asked Secretary of State John Kerry:

With the president's red line, why was there no call for military response in April? Was it delayed to divert attention today from the Benghazi, IRS, NSA scandals, the failure of Obamacare enforcement, the tragedy of the White House-drafted sequestration or the upcoming debt limit vote? Again, why was there no call for a military response four months ago when the president's red line was crossed?

(The Benghazi and IRS accusations have amounted to nothing more than categorical nonscandals, but whatever. Rep. Wilson's office did not respond to Mother Jones' request for comment.)

Watch the video, which includes Kerry's response:

3. "False flag," cries the "intellectual godfather" of the tea party movement.

Ron Paul
Ron Paul. Pete Marovich/ZUMA Press

Former Texas Republican congressman and libertarian hero Ron Paul has jumped on the Bashar-al-Assad-was-set-up bandwagaon.

"I don't think [Assad] is an idiot; I don't think he would do this on purpose in order for the whole world to come down on him," Paul told Fox Business Network's Neil Cavuto on August 28, referring to reports of the Syrian government deploying chemical weapons. "Look how many lies were told to us about Saddam Hussein prior to that build-up. War propaganda: It's endless; it happens all the time."

"I think it's a false flag—I think, really, indeed," Paul emphasized. "And nobody knows; if indeed he was slaughtering people by the thousands, you know, with poison gas…that's a different story. But that isn't the case. Matter of fact, 100,000 deaths are the case…The implication is that Assad committed 100,000 killings. There are a lot of factions out there. Why don't we ask, you know, about the Al Qaeda? Why are we on the side of the Al Qaeda right now?"

Here's the interview:

4. Rush Limbaugh thinks Obama could be behind the whole damn thing.

Rush Limbaugh
rushlimbaugh.com

Prominent right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh (the man who thought Batman was an anti-Mitt Romney cinematic endeavor) unsurprisingly thinks that Obama might have planned the Syrian gas attacks.

"[T]here is evidence, mounting evidence, that the rebels in Syria did indeed frame Assad for the chemical attack," Limbaugh said on his September 3 show. "But not only that, that Obama, the regime, may have been complicit in it. Mounting evidence that the White House knew and possibly helped plan this Syrian chemical weapon attack by the opposition."

Limbaugh was basing this mainly on an article by Yossef Bodansky titled "Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?" Bodansky is an Assad sympathizer who has suggested that the 1995 Oklahoma bombing was orchestrated by Iran.

5. ISRAEL!

The above clip is from May, when evidence of earlier chemical weapons use in Syria was emerging. Current TV host Cenk Uygur chats with retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, ex-chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson floats the idea that Israel might have done it, without any actual or even flimsy evidence whatsoever:

We don't know what the chain of custody is. This could've been an Israeli false flag operation, it could've been an opposition in Syria…or it could've been an actual use by Bashar al-Assad, but we certainly don't know with the evidence we've been given. And what I'm hearing from the intelligence community is that that evidence is really flakey…I think we've got basically a geostrategically…inept regime in Tel Aviv right now.

To be clear, there is absolutely no reason to suspect that Israeli officials had anything to do with these chemical weapons attacks in Syria—unless you take the word of state-funded Iranian propaganda, that is.

For a few more crazy theories about Syria and chemical weapons, check out this post by Foreign Policy's Elias Groll.

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