Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng


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

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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 His favorite movie is either Apocalypse Now or Pirahna 3D, depending on the day or mood.

Here's Why the Syrian Electronic Army Targeted Justin Bieber With Homosexuality Rumors

| Tue May 7, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The Syrian Electronic Army, a loosely defined collective of hackers supporting the mass-murdering regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, are known for disrupting the social-media operations of news outlets, activists, and human rights groups. Over the weekend, the army found itself a new target: pop icon Justin Bieber and his devout fanbase of "Beliebers."

On Saturday, somebody claiming to be an SEA member hacked the Twitter account of the entertainment news outlet E! Online and sent out the following tweets:

Justin Bieber Syrian Electronic Army tweet gay
Justin Bieber E! Online tweet

Nearly an hour after that first tweet, the Assad-loyalist hacker sent this from the E! house account:

Justin Bieber gay Syrian Electronic Army Twitter hacking E Online

The phony tweets also contained links that reportedly directed followers to malware downloads or other damaging websites. As a result, the E! Online Twitter account was briefly suspended. "Eonline's breaking news twitter and sms accounts were compromised today," an NBCUniversal spokesperson said in a statement. "We're working to have this resolved as quickly as possible and are fully investigating the incident. We apologize for any confusion that the erroneous news alerts may have caused." (Justin Bieber and his publicist did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

So why did the SEA target Justin Bieber and his adoring fans? Or Spring Breakers star Selena Gomez or Angelina Jolie, for that matter?

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Depressing Headline of the Day

| Mon May 6, 2013 6:13 PM EDT

Here it is:

US Air Force sexual assault headline

Here's an excerpt from the Stars and Stripes story:

The chief of the [US] Air Force's sexual assault prevention and response branch was arrested this weekend and charged with sexual battery.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, of Arlington, Va., was arrested Sunday morning, according to the Arlington police. He's accused of approaching a woman in a parking lot and grabbing her breasts and buttocks, according to the crime report. He has been removed from his position, an Air Force spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity.

Krusinski heads up the Air Force's sexual assault prevention and response branch, an Air Force spokeswoman confirmed.

Read the whole thing here.

Like Most Libertarians, Iron Man Grows Up and Moves On

| Fri May 3, 2013 6:46 PM EDT

Iron Man 3
Walt Disney Studios
129 minutes

"There's no politics here; it's just good old-fashioned revenge," Tony Stark (a.k.a., Iron Man) declares to a swarm of TV news reporters, following a terrorist attack that leaves a good friend of his in a coma. "There's no Pentagon, it's just you and me," Stark says to his latest nemesis. 

This statement also applies to the film itself.

The third installment in Marvel's Iron Man series is the first in the franchise that wasn't directed by Jon Favreau. The man at the helm this time around is writer/director Shane Black, who is famous for penning Hollywood action flicks like 1987's Lethal Weapon, and for directing 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also starring Robert Downey, Jr. The first two films portrayed Tony Stark/Iron Man as he was intended to be depicted: as a suave, hard-partying, right-wing billionaire who battles America's enemies, foreign and domestic. In the DVD commentary of the first Iron Man, Marvel frontman Stan Lee discusses why he created the character in the first place. He wanted to piss off some hippies:

It was the height of the Cold War. The readers—the young readers—if there was one thing they hated it was war, it was the military, or, as Eisenhower called it, the military-industrial complex. So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer. He was providing weapons for the army. He was rich. He was an industrialist. But he was good-looking guy and he was courageous…I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like—that none of our readers would like—and shove him down their throats and make them like him.

Though no one should ever accuse the Iron Man movies of pulling for any particular political agenda, the first two films did preserve the comic books' gleefully rightward lean. (After all, Favreau identified Elon Musk, the libertarian billionaire who co-founded the galactic transport company SpaceX, as the inspiration for the on-screen version of Tony Stark; Musk also had a cameo in Iron Man 2.)

In the first Iron Man, Stark's bad-boy charisma is defined by his belief in a Peace-Through-Strength-on-steroids mindset:

Although he undergoes something of a personal and political makeover later in the film, the beginning of Iron Man 2 shows Stark in familiar form. When he's called to a hearing on Capitol Hill, lawmakers pressure him to turn over his terrorism-fighting toys to the US government and military. In response, a defiant Stark denies the government his property, cockily mocks the panel of lawmakers, and brags that he "successfully privatized world peace." This is met with wild cheers from the gallery.

There are no politics to Iron Man 3, beyond the political assertion that lethal and indiscriminate terrorism is bad. Director Shane Black, who co-wrote the screenplay, is far more concerned with the slam-bang fight scenes and the romance between Stark and his live-in girlfriend Virginia "Pepper" Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). So much of the film focuses on Stark, once the consummate care-free playboy, settling down with the love of his life. It's a genuinely interesting and tender part of the story—and the best and most convincing romance in the modern comic-books-as-film cannon. Their relationship demonstrates just how softened and vulnerable (touchingly so) Tony Stark can get.

With his single life, goes his ideology.

Check out the trailer for Iron Man 3:

Iron Man 3 gets a wide US release on Friday, May 3. The film is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content. Click here for local showtimes and tickets.

Click here for more movie and TV coverage from Mother Jones.

To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To listen to the movie and pop-culture podcast that Asawin co-hosts with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg, click here.

How Michael Pollan Inspired Zac Efron's Latest Movie

| Fri May 3, 2013 12:26 PM EDT

At Any Price
Sony Pictures Classics
105 minutes

At Any Price, a bleak family drama set against the backdrop of the Corn Belt, is essentially Death of a Salesman, but with genetically modified superseeds.

The film is co-written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, who the late critic Roger Ebert dubbed the new "director of the decade," soon after seeing Bahrani's 2007 film Chop Shop. At Any Price stars Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron (last seen getting peed on by Nicole Kidman in a Lee Daniels art film last year) as a father and son living their lives of noisy desperation.

Quaid plays Henry Whipple (no, not that Henry Whipple), an adulterous farmer and salesman entrenched in the ruthless, multimillion-dollar rivalry between Iowa's big-business farmers. Henry becomes the target of a corporate investigation after illegally washing and reselling patented genetically modified seeds. Efron plays Dean, a local stock car racing champion who dreams of ditching the family business and making a name for himself as a NASCAR driver.

The pair's disenchantment and bitterness result in a wave of betrayal, anger, and violence in their otherwise peaceful Midwestern town. The film is a quietly disturbing little picture, and features some magnificent acting, especially by Quaid.

The film is not (as Bahrani is quick to point out) in any way political, even though the story prominently involves GMOs, a controversial and extremely political topic these days. The origin of this apolitical film, however, is indeed rooted in Bahrani's very political interests. In a conversation I had with Bahrani and Quaid, the 38-year-old director explained how he went about writing At Any Price:

I was curious where my food was coming from. I was reading authors like Michael Pollan...And I started realizing that farms aren't romantic places anymore—they're big businesses. So Michael Pollan and I became email friends, and I asked him to introduce me to George Naylor, who's a farmer in Iowa who was featured in [Pollan's 2006 book] The Omnivore's Dilemma. So I went out and I lived with George for many months, and when I went out there, all the farmers kept telling me, "expand or die, get big or get out." And I met a seed salesman, [and] I never knew there was such an occupation as "GMO seed salesman"...And [he] made me think of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. And I thought combining these things would be a way to tell a human and emotional story...When you have a lot of race cars and infidelity, it's hard to be an "agenda film."

(So there you have it: You can thank Michael Pollan for indirectly causing the development of Zac Efron's newest movie.)

Bahrani pulled from John Steinbeck, John Ford, and Peter Bogdanovich for narrative and stylistic influences. He also shadowed several Iowa farmers, incorporating their sentiments and commentary into his screenplay. One day, Bahrani noticed that a customer of one of the farmers owned a stock car for figure 8 racing—an observation he used to craft Efron's character. "I YouTube'd [figure 8 racing] that night, and I made a point to keep going to Iowa to go see races," Bahrani says. "I thought it would be a good contrast [for the two characters]...It had a different pace, and a different energy, and a different adrenaline."

Dennis Quaid didn't have time to conduct anything close to this level of research for his role. His learning experiences were all in the midst of production: "We shot it on a real farm," Quaid says. "I didn't have a trailer for this; it was my car or the living-room couch of the Hermans, the family [whose] farm we were shooting on... I spent my time with them, trying to soak up the atmosphere."

Check out the trailer for this tense and surprising drama:

At Any Price gets a wider release on Friday, May 3. The film is rated R for sexual content including a strong graphic image, and for language. Click here for local showtimes and tickets.

Click here for more movie and TV coverage from Mother Jones.

To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To listen to the movie and pop-culture podcast that Asawin co-hosts with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg, click here.

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