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.

LISTEN: Here Is a Song About the Twitter Feud Between Paul Krugman and the President of Estonia

| Mon Apr. 8, 2013 6:39 PM EDT

A night at the opera, President Ilves (left) and Paul Krugman.

There is a new European musical production, sung and performed in soaring operatic style, that tells the true story of the June internet war between Paul Krugman, the noted Keynesian economist, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia. The first shot rang out when Krugman published a blog post titled "Estonian Rhapsody" criticizing the Baltic state's austerity measures. Later that day, Ilves, a national figurehead who commands no real executive power, retaliated by opening up a salvo of indignant and sometimes vulgar tweets, decrying Krugman as ignorant, "smug, overbearing & patronizing."

Toomas Hendrik Ilves shit Krugman tweet

Naturally, someone would have to see this and think of it as musical-theater gold: "I couldn't avoid the tweets," Scott Diel, an Estonia-based American writer and lyricist for the show, tells me. "They just sort of recommended themselves."

This is not the Onion. It's the true story behind an original production that debuted Sunday night to a packed house at the historic House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads in Tallinn, Estonia, as part of the Estonian Music Days festival. A subsequent performance is in the works for the Estonia business conference Pärnu Konverentsid in the fall, and for a performance by Sinfonietta Riga in Latvia on October 18. The piece, titled Nostra Culpa, which means "our fault" in Latin (the expression was used in one of Ilves' angry and sarcastic tweets), isn't satirical, does not stake out a partisan position, and is not particularly critical of either Krugman or Ilves.

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Obama Administration: Don't Worry, We'll Only Drag Small Asteroids Toward Earth

| Mon Apr. 8, 2013 12:54 PM EDT
Official NASA portrait

Last Friday, the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) blasted out a press release noting that President Obama's forthcoming budget plan (to be released on Wednesday) includes a $100 million initiative to abduct an asteroid, tow it toward Earth, place it into our moon's orbit, and claim the space rock for 'Murica. American astronauts would then travel to the asteroid and potentially conduct mining operations and research ways of deflecting future civilization-ending asteroid attacks on Earth.

The Obama administration has confirmed the existence of this section of the president's upcoming budget proposal. An official close to the matter filled me in on some of the details. The source wanted to make two things clear. First, the proposal does not increase NASA's budget—existing efforts and funds would be redirected to the $100 million asteroid-lasso plan. Second, if the audacious-sounding mission goes through, NASA promises only to drag small asteroids toward Earth and into lunar orbit. If something were to go horribly wrong, the relatively small size of the target asteroid would ensure that the rock is harmless to the planet.

In other words, Barack Obama is not risking accidentally throwing a killer asteroid at the world with this plan.

Last year, the president established a goal of landing astronauts on a near-Earth asteroid by 2025. This new plan could bump up the date to 2021. ("NASA is in the planning stages of an innovative mission to accomplish the President's challenge of sending humans to visit an asteroid by 2025 in a more cost-effective and potentially quicker time frame than under other scenarios," an administration official wrote in an email.)

"This is part of what will be a much broader program," Nelson said last week, during a visit in Orlando. "The plan combines the science of mining an asteroid, along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars." Nelson was recently on the Senate panel responsible for grilling scientists about the consequences of an asteroid impact. In March, a highly publicized asteroid the size of a city block came sorta, kinda, maybe close to smashing into Earth. In February, a truck-sized meteor exploded over Russia's Ural Mountains, creating a sonic boom, injuring roughly 1,500 people, and damaging many buildings.

On a related note, here's the trailer for Asteroid, a 1997 NBC miniseries about the president of the United States and a FEMA director scrambling to stop asteroids from killing America:

Does Obama Have a Plan to Capture an Asteroid?

| Fri Apr. 5, 2013 4:16 PM EDT
Not on Obama's watch, says Obama, according to Bill Nelson.

Does President Barack Obama intend to capture an asteroid and place it into lunar orbit?

This seems more like a Newtonian (as in Gingrich) idea. But on Friday afternoon, the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) blasted out a press release disclosing that Obama's forthcoming budget includes a $100 million plan to tow an asteroid into moon orbit. And this will be done for freedom—that is, for the purpose of saving the planet Earth from complete annihilation. (This is not about just serving the Democratic Party's base.)

Here's the gist of the press release:

Bill Nelson press release on NASA and Obama asteroid tow

An excerpt (emphasis mine):

Tucked inside President Barack Obama's proposed federal budget for next fiscal year is about $100 million to jump start a program scientists say is the next step towards humans establishing a permanent settlement in space. That, at least, is what U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson says we're likely to see when the White House unveils its fiscal year 2014 budget around the middle of next week. Nelson has been briefed by scientists...In a nutshell, the plan in NASA's hands calls for catching an asteroid with a robotic spacecraft and towing it back toward Earth, where it would then be placed in a stable orbit around the moon.

Next, astronauts aboard America's Orion capsule, powered into space by a new monster rocket, would travel to the asteroid where there could be mining activities, research into ways of deflecting an asteroid from striking Earth, and testing to develop technology for a trip to deep space and Mars.

"This is part of what will be a much broader program," Nelson said today, during a visit in Orlando. "The plan combines the science of mining an asteroid, along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars."

The president already has established the goal of landing astronauts on a near-Earth asteroid by 2025. This new plan would bump up the date to 2021. As in, not a moment to waste.

Nelson, a former astronaut, has an affinity for asteroids and United States asteroid policy; last month, he was on a Senate panel that grilled scientists about the consequences of an asteroid striking earth. He was keen to know if there is any way for humankind to fight back against asteroid aggression.

Obama has often been slammed for supposedly not being bold, for not being tough enough with foes. But if Nelson is right, Obama is ready to do what's necessary to take on the asteroid threat and make the United States the first nation to claim a giant space rock. Forget Spock or Luke Skywalker; he's going the full Bruce Willis:

A Thorough & Comprehensive Review of "Jurassic Park 3D"

| Fri Apr. 5, 2013 12:36 PM EDT


It is Jurassic Park, but in 3D.

Samuel "Hold Onto Your Butts" Jackson's arm comes straight at your face. (As do the velociraptors.)

Here's a CliffsNotes version of the film performed in Legos:


Jurassic Park 3D gets a release on Friday, April 5. The film is rated PG-13 for belligerent dinosaurs. 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 Asawin co-hosts with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg, click here.

One More Reason to Miss Roger Ebert: His Love of Trash

| Thu Apr. 4, 2013 7:15 PM EDT

Roger Ebert (center), with his wife Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert (left) and actress Nancy Kwan.

Chances are good that Roger Ebert, who died Thursday at age 70, was the first film critic you ever heard of. He was also the only one in recent memory to rate a eulogy from the White House: "For a generation of Americans—and especially Chicagoans—Roger was the movies," President Obama said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.

Ebert's decades as a critic in print and on television made him easily the most influential man in the business—and his ability to adapt in the rapidly changing landscape of news and media only made his dominance more evident. "A [Roger Ebert] tweet is worth as much traffic as a small Digg or YCombinator hit. Crazy. That's some distribution power," Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal observed last August.

Ebert passed away just days after announcing a "leave of presence" to deal with a recurrence of cancer. In 2006, Ebert had a near-death experience during surgery to remove cancerous tissue; following that operation, he lost his ability to speak and part of his lower jaw. He'd recently expressed a desire to devote more time to writing about his illness.

Beyond his career as a Pulitzer-winning movie critic, Ebert was an author (I recommend his excellent 2011 autobiography), a raging liberal (especially via social media), and a screenwriter (he wrote the 1978 Sex Pistols film Who Killed Bambi? that was junked after financing fell through). When a figure of this caliber leaves us, they inspire a deluge of praise, listicles, and remembrances; I will leave it up to you to choose the most comprehensive or definitive.

But what I will remember Ebert for is this: It is rare for a man of his influence and fame to so gleefully and unabashedly embrace (and I write this with the greatest enthusiasm) cinematic trash. No snobbery, no pretentiousness, and absolutely no shame in indulging in guilty pleasure—that's what impressed me the most about his criticism. His favorite films of all time were critically acclaimed gold mines like Werner Herzog's beautiful and notorious Aguirre, the Wrath of God or the 2011 Oscar-winning Iranian film A Separation. But he had a soft spot for popular garbage: Remember that ridiculous and disposable Vin Diesel action flick from 2002—the one so groggily titled XXX? If you don't remember, it's the Vin Diesel movie where Vin Diesel goes snowboarding in an avalanche. Here's an excerpt from Ebert's loving, nearly four-star review:

If Bond is a patriot, [Diesel's] Xander is a man who looks out only for No. 1, until Gibbons threatens him with prison unless he agrees to go to the Czech Republic and stop a madman with, yes, a plan to destroy and/or conquer the world. This villain, named Yorgi (Marton Csokas), apparently lives in the Prague Castle, which will come as a surprise to President Vaclav Havel. He's a renegade officer of the evil Czech Secret Service; the movie doesn't seem to know that the Cold War is over and Czechs are good guys these days, but never mind: The movie was shot on location in Prague, part of the current filmmaking boom in the republic, and the scenery is terrific.


Is "XXX" a threat to the Bond franchise? Not a threat so much as a salute. I don't want James Bond to turn crude and muscular on me; I like the suave style. But I like Xander, too, especially since he seems to have studied Bond so very carefully. Consider the movie's big set piece, totally in the 007 tradition, when Xander parachutes to a mountaintop, surveys the bad guys on ski-mobiles below, throws a grenade to start an avalanche, and then outraces the avalanche on a snowboard while the bad guys are wiped out. Not bad. Now all he has to work on is the kissing.

That's what did it for me: An earnest, glowing review of an inconsequential popcorn flick, and laced with political observation and a modest wit. Ebert's flair for this sort of thing lasted right up until the very end. And it's just one of the reasons why he is already sorely missed.


Front-page image credit: Jaimie Rodriguez/Globe Photos/ZUMA Press

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