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.

What Happens in the University of Maryland NSA Facility Where Edward Snowden Worked?

| Wed Jun. 12, 2013 4:54 PM EDT
The Center for Advanced Study of Language near the University of Maryland, College Park.

Since the Guardian revealed Edward Snowden as the source behind its explosive scoops on National Security Agency surveillance, media outlets have been picking over the details of the whistleblower's life, everything from his stint in community college to the identity of his abandoned girlfriend. Here's another small detail about his background that intrigued some people: "[H]e got his first job in an NSA facility, working as a security guard for one of the agency's covert facilities at the University of Maryland." Some reporters were surprised to learn that the University of Maryland had a "covert" NSA facility operating somewhere on or near the school grounds. (The NSA itself is headquartered in nearby Fort Meade, Maryland.)

On Sunday, the Diamondback, the university's student newspaper, noted: "Which facility and exactly where it was Snowden worked is unknown, but the NSA has connections to several university facilities, including the Laboratory for Physical Sciences, the Office of Technology Commercialization and the Lab for Telecommunication Science." Later, the university confirmed that in 2005 Snowden worked for less than a year as a "security specialist" for the NSA-linked Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL), which serves as a research center for the intelligence community.

The research done at CASL ranges from cultural and linguistic studies to work on "spycraft" technology (click here to read a rundown of the Center's language research, published in the NSA's quarterly online journal). One neuroscience project reportedly focused on filling in the blanks of incomplete texts, such as documents from corrupted hard drives or intercepted communications. "CASL's cognitive neuroscience team has been studying the cognitive basis of working memory's capacity for filling in incomplete areas of text," a CASL document reads. "They have made significant headway in this research by using a powerful high-density electroencephalogram (EEG) machine acquired in 2006." Another project involved training subjects to control their own brain-wave activity.

The university administration has touted its NSA partnership. "In support of the nation's critical need for increased language capabilities, this Center will conduct groundbreaking research in areas such as language acquisition, contextual analysis of language, and human computer interaction and computer translation, and become the largest center for language study in the world," C.D. Mote, Jr., former president of the university, announced in September 2003.

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"The Purge": A Horror Flick About…Income Inequality?!

| Fri Jun. 7, 2013 7:56 PM EDT
Murderous, poor-people-hating teenagers in "The Purge" (2013)

The Purge
Universal Pictures
85 minutes

The Purge, a bloody horror movie starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, has as much to say about income inequality in 21st-century America as it does about triumphantly swinging an ax into the spine of an amoral, wealthy college kid who's trying to kill your family.

The film takes place in 2022. An unseen cabal known as the "New Founding Fathers" rules over America. The main plank in their party platform is the institutionalization of "The Purge," an annual night during which all illegal activity—murder, rape, robbery, jaywalking, you name it—is legal for a 12-hour stretch. The Purge was made official policy by the New Founders following a quadruple-dip recession that led to skyrocketing levels of crime and poverty. The idea was to give naturally violent human beings one night to vent their bloodlust and wrath. Cable TV talking heads claim that the annual nationwide orgy of violence and lawlessness has indeed brought down crime for the other 364 days of the year, and the New Founders brag of a flourishing economy and record low unemployment.

"The East": How Two Filmmakers' Freegan Summer Road Trip Became a New Political Thriller Starring a "True Blood" Vampire

| Fri Jun. 7, 2013 2:27 PM EDT

Brit Marling (left), Alexander Skarsgård (center), and Ellen Page.

The East
Fox Searchlight Pictures
116 minutes

The East, a new thriller directed by relative newcomer Zal Batmanglij, follows an eco-terrorist collective that finds elaborate ways to punish CEOs and pharmaceutical companies for committing "worldwide terrorism." The eco-terrorists, who call themselves The East, are infiltrated by Sarah Moss (played by Brit Marling), a former fed who works as an undercover operative for a private intel firm that looks out for rich polluters. A morally conflicted Sarah quickly comes to sympathize with East members including Izzy (Ellen Page), and grows increasingly attracted to their ringleader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård, of True Blood vamp fame). Bullets fly, sex in the woods occurs, and alliances are tested.

This political thriller is technically based on a true story. But the real-world inspiration for the script didn't involve any shoot-out or corporate espionage; it started with a rather unusual summer road trip.

"Arrested Development" Creator Explains How Herman Cain Inspired Season 4—and Cain Responds

| Wed Jun. 5, 2013 4:40 PM EDT

Herman Cain, left, and Herbert Love (played by actor Terry Crews).

The new season of Arrested Development has a sharp political edge that should feel familiar to fans of the show. The series' original three-season run on Fox, which aired between 2003 and 2006, contained some of the richest TV satire of the Iraq War and Bush years (bad WMD intel, "Mission Accomplished," "preemptive strike," Abu Ghraib, CIA dysfunction, war protests, and so on). The fourth season, which debuted on Netflix in late May, depicts the infamous Bluth family in the context of a new political era, one defined by the American housing crisis, economic collapse, and out-of-control drone warfare. But of all the political elements of this long-awaited season, arguably the most important—or at least most visible—real-world inspiration for this new batch of episodes is Herman Cain, the one-time 2012 GOP presidential front-runner and former pizza baron.

One of the fourth season's central story arcs involves an illicit sexual relationship between Lindsay Bluth Fünke (played by Portia de Rossi) and Herbert Love (played by Arrested newcomer Terry Crews), a charismatic, philandering California Republican congressional candidate explicitly modeled after Cain. Both are black, bespectacled, and intensely conservative and anti-Obama, and Love's "low-high" economic prescription sounds an awful lot like Cain's widely blasted 9-9-9 tax plan. (Furthermore, both men use Krista Branch's song "I Am America" in their campaigns, and Love's campaign manager looks, acts, and smokes like Cain's 2012 chief of staff Mark Block.)

Cain is well aware of this satirical, comic rendering of his 2012 "Cain Train"—he just couldn't care less about it. "I heard about it, haven't seen it, and I'm unfazed by it," Cain said in a statement sent to Mother Jones. "In the vernacular of my grandfather, 'I does not care.'"

Depressing Lede of The Day, Marijuana Arrest Edition

| Tue Jun. 4, 2013 10:24 AM EDT

A reminder, via Tuesday's New York Times:

Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data.

The racial disparity in pot-related arrests in America is no secret. Previous studies and analysis in various states have yielded similar numbers.

The Times story also features a graphic that highlights a few places in the country—including Iowa, Minnesota, and Washington, DC—where black Americans were even more disproportionately likely to be arrested for pot possession. During President Obama's first three years in office, the arrest rate for pot possession was roughly 5 percent higher than the average rate under his predecessor. It's a boost in the arrest rate for a crime that the president himself once frequently committed.

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