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 Obama Meant When He Said He Fantasizes About "Going Bulworth"

| Thu May 16, 2013 12:12 PM EDT
"Bulworth" (1998).

"I would love to see Barack Obama be Bulworth." — actor Sean Penn, on Piers Morgan Tonight in Oct. 2011.

On Tuesday night, the New York Times ran a story examining the contrast between President Barack Obama's vision for his second term and the apparent deluge of scandal (and non-scandal) that has swamped the White House for the past weeks. The piece quotes Obama insiders and runs down bullet points for a second-term agenda, but the bit that's gotten the most attention (at least on Twitter and among the Washington news media) is the president's reference to a Warren Beatty political satire:

In private, he has talked longingly of "going Bulworth," a reference to a little-remembered 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a senator who risked it all to say what he really thought. While Mr. Beatty's character had neither the power nor the platform of a president, the metaphor highlights Mr. Obama's desire to be liberated from what he sees as the hindrances on him.

[...]

At the White House Correspondents Association dinner last month, he bristled at the idea that he should be pattern himself after Michael Douglas's assertive character in "The American President." Turning to Mr. Douglas, who was in the audience, he jokingly asked what his secret was. "Could it be that you were an actor in an Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy?" Mr. Obama asked.

(The irony here is that both films bear the mark of writer Aaron Sorkin. The American President—which Sorkin wrote while high on crack cocaine—is a hilariously optimistic look at liberal politics in America that inspired much of Sorkin's successful NBC series The West Wing. And although Bulworth had three other credited writers—including Beatty—Sorkin served as an uncredited script doctor, and it shows.)

For those unfamiliar with the film, Bulworth is a middle-aged, cynical, and suicidal Democratic lawmaker who is in the pocket of health insurance companies. Shortly after hiring an assassin and putting a hit out on himself, he drunkenly embarks on his reelection campaign with a newfound, smirking nihilism that manifests itself in the form of politically incorrect straight talk about the US health care system, poverty, Newt Gingrich, American intervention in the Middle East, and so on. His political ballsiness quickly earns him a sharp spike in popularity and the privilege to make out with Halle Berry in front of the campaign press corps.

Also, the straight talk often involves Warren Beatty performing original and topical rap music in public, including this "Big Money" song in which he trolls the right by slamming the oil industry and promoting "socialism." Here's an excerpt from the scene:

It's safe to assume that the president did not mean to say that, in the face of recent outrages and pervasive Republican obstructionism, he regularly fantasizes about drunkenly spitting pro-socialist rhymes at high-profile fundraisers. It's merely an expression of the perfectly understandable desire of any American president to (on occasion angrily) tell it like it is, rather than be bound by the decorum of the office. "Probably every president says that from time to time," David Axelrod, a longtime Obama adviser, told the Times. "It's probably cathartic just to say it. But the reality is that while you want to be truthful, you want to be straightforward, you also want to be practical about whatever you're saying."

The pop-cultural reference provoked some snark and mockery from reporters and commentators on the internet. But with the lousy few weeks the White House has been experiencing, it's mildly surprising the president didn't express a private fantasy about "going James Marshall":

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This Film Is "Snakes on a Plane," But With Air Force One, Terrorists, and an Escape Pod

| Tue May 14, 2013 10:07 AM EDT

POTUS.

Hollywood megastar and snake-punching virtuoso Samuel L. Jackson is going to be President of the United States.

At least he will be in director Jalmari Helander's English-language debut film, Big Game. This is a description of the upcoming movie, via the Hollywood Reporter (emphasis mine):

The movie is billed as an adrenaline-fuelled action-adventure and tells the story of a shy, nervous 13-year-old boy who, like his forefathers, takes a test of manhood by spending one day and night alone in the wilderness of a vast local forest.

Armed only with a bow and arrow, his task is to return with a prize to prove himself. But when Air Force One is shot down by terrorists, the young man discovers the U.S. president in an escape pod, and they have to team up as the terrorists close in.

This will be the most political and presidential thing Jackson has done since last September, when he starred in a pro-Obama web ad (funded by The Jewish Council for Education & Research, a liberal super-PAC) that demanded complacent Democratic voters "wake the fuck up" before the 2012 election.

Val Kilmer Was in DC This Week Lobbying for What?!

| Fri May 10, 2013 7:52 PM EDT

Val Kilmer is a part-time Washington lobbyist now.

Earlier this week, the film and stage actor (Batman Forever, Top Gun, The Doors, MacGruber) was on Capitol Hill advocating for the Equitable Access to Care and Health Act, which would expand Americans' ability to claim religious exemptions to Obamacare's health insurance mandate. Kilmer alerted the world to his latest foray into political advocacy with a series of tweets, which included a photo taken at the Hart Senate Office Building.

The description of "lobbyist" here should not be taken literally; a search on the House lobbying disclosure webpage does not yield Kilmer's name.

The EACH Act is sponsored by Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), best known for getting his six-pack abs splashed on the cover of Men's Health. Under the EACH Act, Americans can avoid the insurance mandate if they file an affidavit stating that their religious faith bars them from buying insurance. Various religious groups have fiercely opposed the law, and Obamacare already includes a "religious conscience exemption."

Kilmer did not respond to requests for comment and it's not known whom he met with (he reportedly had dinner with Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York). "We have no idea why he was at the Hill; we have nothing to do with that part of his life," a representative for the actor said. "He doesn't have a publicist now, and he doesn't really do interviews."

Kilmer's visit is likely linked to his religious faith; he is a committed Christian Scientist. "It is quite a challenging faith," he told Esquire in 2005. Certain Christian Scientists' beliefs about health care, particularly their denial of modern medical care to children, are controversial, to say the least.

This isn't the 53-year-old actor first brush with politics. A few years ago, Kilmer considered making a run for governor of New Mexico, consulting with strategists and politicos; then-New Mexico governor Bill Richardson said he liked Kilmer's prospects partly because "he was Batman." He has engaged in some environmental activism and supported Ralph Nader in the 2008 presidential election. In 2010, Kilmer teamed up with the ACLU to win the right to convert his ranch near Santa Fe into a posh bed-and-breakfast.

It's hard to say if Val Kilmer will continue his public charge for Obamacare religious exemptions. As for merging elements of his faith and profession, it's still a work in progress: For more than a decade Kilmer has been working on a "tragicomic" film about Mark Twain—and Christian Science church founder Mary Baker Eddy.

A Political History of the Cicadas

| Fri May 10, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The "Great East Coast Cicada Sex Invasion of 2013" is upon us.

After 17 years of feeding and living under the earth's surface, billions of "Brood II" cicadas will emerge this summer between Connecticut and Georgia, swarming in thick, forbidding billows of shed exoskeletons and raucous insect lovemaking. (To get an idea of what the cicada mating call sounds like, click here for audio.)

For all their physical creepiness and loud public sex orgies, the (actually completely harmless) bugs have a rich cultural history in the United States. Bob Dylan wrote a song about the cicadas, for instance. But cicadas also have a rich political history in this country. Here are their greatest hits:

1. Ronald Reagan name-checks the cicada: In June 1987, Greatest President in American History Ronald Reagan delivered one of his weekly radio addresses on the budget plan for fiscal year 1988. In his prepared statement, he used the cicada in a simile to bash Democratic budget proposals:

Like the cicadas, the big spenders are hatching out again and threatening to overrun Congress.

President Reagan then asked the American people to get behind a balanced budget amendment and the line item veto to "make the cicadas in Congress go back underground."

The subsequent UPI headline read:

Ronald Reagan cicadas democrats

2. John Kerry and the cicada-morphing attack ad: Reagan wasn't the only Republican (or politician, for that matter) to invoke cicadas in a political attack. During the 2004 presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee launched a 1:15-long web ad comparing Democratic candidate John Kerry to the "Brood X" cicada. The attack ad includes an up-close shot of a cicada's face morphing into a picture of a confused-looking John Kerry:

The video, which (naturally) painted Kerry as a serial flip-flopper, was emailed to approximately 700,000 supporters of President George W. Bush: "Every 17 years, cicadas emerge, morph out of their shell, and change their appearance," the narrator observes. "Like a cicada, Sen. Kerry would like to shed his Senate career and morph into a fiscal conservative, a centrist Democrat opposed to taxes, strong on defense."

The Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee responded to the ad by saying they were "not bugging out" over it.

John Kerry would go on to lose to George W. Bush in the November election by about 3 million votes.

3. Teddy Roosevelt vs. the anti-imperialist cicadas: In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt gave a Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery. During that speech, he passionately defended American imperialism in the Philippines and his administration's policy of imposing "orderly freedom" on the Filipino people.

5 Directors Who Should Have Directed "The Great Gatsby" Instead of Baz Luhrmann

| Fri May 10, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The Great Gatsby
Warner Bros. Pictures
142 minutes

The new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's American classic/required high school reading The Great Gatsby is exactly how I remember the book: With a hip-hop-tinged drunken pillow fight in 3-D starring sweaty Tobey Maguire.

As an elevator pitch, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Baz Luhrmann's ultra-modern take on The Great Gatsby. His thoroughly modern update of Shakespeare—which, like Gatsby, stars Leonardo DiCaprio—is a joy. Plus, the timelessness of the 1925 novel makes any playful anachronisms (rap and rock music in the soundtrack, grinding dancing, and so forth) all the less suspicious.

But the result is almost unforgivably terrible, gratingly earnest in a way that the novel never was. When classic lines of narration from the beloved book start floating directly at your face as a 3-D special effects gimmick, it's a challenge not to groan audibly in your seat.

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