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.

Meet the Agent Who Protected Presidents, the Popemobile, and the Factual Accuracy of "Olympus Has Fallen"

| Fri Mar. 22, 2013 8:16 AM EDT
Actor Gerard Butler.

In Olympus Has Fallen (FilmDistrict, 118 min.), highly trained and well-armed North Korean terrorists storm the White House, murder nearly every Secret Service agent in Washington, DC, and take the president hostage in the underground command center. The terrorists explode large chunks of the White House, tear down its American flag in particularly heinous fashion, kill a lot of innocent civilians, and knock over the Washington Monument in the process. And a lone agent (played by Gerard Butler) is the only one who can save the day, mostly by using sharp objects, assault weapons, and Die Hard-emulating trash-talk.

Given that the real-life White House is fairly well protected—maybe with lasers—and hasn't been burned down since the British invaded in 1814, this film isn't going to win awards for realism. (The assumption of such paramilitary competence on the part of the North Koreans is also really, really funny.)

But even the most intentionally unrealistic action movies aim to get some details right. The Core, a 2003 sci-fi disaster movie about scientists who travel to the center of the Earth to set off nukes, had its very own scientific consultant. And Olympus Has Fallen director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun) sought out a good deal of Washington and Secret Service advice on how to craft his thriller. One of the technical consultants was Joe Bannon, a former special agent with the Office of the Attorney General and Department of Justice in Los Angeles, where he also worked as an allied agent with the Secret Service.

"I understand the terrorist mindset [of] willing to lay down their life for what they believe in."

Bannon now teaches presidential and heads of state protection—as well as a form of martial arts that combines "ancient Shaolin Wisdom with Modern Medical Science"—at the Bannon Institute of Martial Arts and Executive Security International in Colorado. And as brawny as that may sound, when he talks about protective services, Bannon blends religious convictions and psychological maxims. "I understand the terrorist mindset [of] willing to lay down their life for what they believe in," Bannon told me. "Not that I agree with any attack on the United States or the White House, but I have to respect that value."

In his long career as a special agent assisting the Secret Service, Bannon says he served on protection details for George W. Bush, the Clintons, the Gores, Ted Kennedy, Dianne Feinstein, the Saudi royal family, the first family of Kurdistan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Pope John Paul II. "I provided close-quarter protection for the Popemobile when he gave a service at Mission Dolores in San Francisco in 1987," Bannon said. "I helped him down the stairs of the Popemobile and he smiled at me and touched me on the shoulder. Everyone wanted to rub my shoulder after that to get, like, a blessing out of me."

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McCain's Lesson From Iraq: Surge Hard, But Don't Lie America Into War So Much

| Tue Mar. 19, 2013 7:09 PM EDT

"There hasn't been a very happy ending."

Regret was the running theme when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) talked about Iraq at an event Tuesday hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The panel discussion, held on the tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, also included Gen. Jack Keane (ret.), who McCain praised as a prime intellectual "architect of the surge" in Iraq in 2007. The two featured speakers bounced back and forth between a range of topics, including the slaughter in Syria and the "spinning centrifuges in Tehran." McCain gave his backhanded approval to the Obama administration for "finally" committing a billion dollars to the expansion of America's national missile defense systems—a move by the Pentagon last week meant to counter a (nonexistent) threat from North Korea.

The focus of the event was, of course, the lessons learned in the ten years since the war in Iraq kicked off; it has been over a year since the official end of US involvement in combat operations.

Since the troop surge began in January 2007, McCain has trumpeted his support for the 20,000-strong surge—and its perceived success in stabilizing the country—as a point of political honor. And his message during this ten-year anniversary event was no different: "If I have a scathing critique of the Bush administration, it is this: It took them three years to figure this out," McCain said, regarding the administration's delay in boosting the number of American troops in Iraq. (During defense secretary Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearings, McCain grilled him for his staunch opposition to the deployment of those additional troops.)

The Pentagon Is Spending $1 Billion to Protect America From North Korea's Nonexistent Long-Range Nuclear Missiles

| Tue Mar. 19, 2013 2:30 PM EDT

Last week, US defense secretary Chuck Hagel announced something superficially alarming: Due to the recent tough talk coming out of Pyongyang, the Pentagon has announced a nearly $1 billion project to improve America's defenses against a potential nuclear attack launched by North Korea. The boost in mainland missile defense will increase the number of ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska to 44 from 30 over the next four years. Part of this plan will involve resurrecting a missile field at Fort Greely, Alaska. "We will be able to add protection against missiles from Iran sooner while also proving protection against the threat from North Korea," Hagel said during Friday's Pentagon briefing.

The move comes on the heels of the North Korean government amping up its threats against the US: Along with conducting a third (suspected) nuclear test in seven years and declaring an end to the armistice with South Korea, the regime threatened to nuke American soil amid new UN sanctions. "The White House has been captured in the view of our long-range missile, and the capital of war is within the range of our atomic bomb," or so goes the narration in a propaganda video post to the North Korean government's YouTube page on Monday. The video includes a poorly produced animated sequence of the White House and Capitol dome exploding.

Here's what's crazy about all this: The Pentagon is spending $1 billion on a gesture. Virtually no one in the US government actually believes that North Korea (or Iran, for that matter) is close to having the ability to hit any part of the United States with nuclear missiles. It is also unclear how close North Korea is to being able to convert their tested nuclear devices to function as warheads. (Click here to get an idea of the state of the supposed North Korean missile threat just last year.)

Harrison Ford Heads To Congress To Talk About Planes, Yet Again

| Tue Mar. 19, 2013 10:01 AM EDT

Harrison Ford is all that is man.

He has played two of the most iconic roles in cinematic history. His global box office grosses amount to a sum equal to the GDP of three Sierra Leones. And in his spare time the 70-year-old Harrison Ford goes before Congress to talk about airplanes:

The "Indiana Jones" star – who is also a pilot –  will join members of the House General Aviation Caucus [on Tuesday] to discuss "issues of importance to the general aviation community," Missouri Rep. Sam Graves's office announced in a press release on Monday.

"I'm pleased to welcome Harrison Ford to tomorrow's discussion, and look forward to hearing his thoughts on the timely issues of importance to America's pilots," Graves, a co-chair of the caucus, said in the release.

This is hardly the first time Harrison Ford has gone to Congress to talk about planes: In October 2011, Ford stopped by the Senate General Aviation Caucus during discussions about jet fuel and tax burden on pilots. Ford's background in aviation includes piloting a Bell 407 helicopter to rescue a dehydrated hiker in Idaho in 2000 on behalf of a sheriff's department ("I can't believe I barfed in Harrison Ford's helicopter," remarked the grateful 20-year-old hiker Sarah George). "Bikes and planes aren't about going fast or having fun; they're toys, but serious ones," is probably Ford's most Harrison Ford-y comment on planes. There's also this ingeniously terse statement on planes, which doubles as an edict on muscular foreign policy:

Basically, Harrison Ford spends most of his time talking about planes and helicopters, rescuing strangers with helicopters, and going to Congress to talk about planes.

As for his other political activities, Ford is a staunch Democrat who's been critical of hawkish neoconservatism and America's lax gun laws.

"Stoker": An Exquisitely Twisted Family Drama

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 6:05 AM EDT

Fox Searchlight Pictures
98 minutes

This didn't have to be Park Chan-wook's first English-language film. Years ago, the South Korean director (famous for films, like Lady Vengeance and Oldboy, that are equal parts gruesome and poetic) was approached by Sam Raimi to helm the Evil Dead remake. Park graciously turned him down. Later on, he was offered the chance to direct the Cold War flick Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth. He turned that down too and it went on to snag Oscar nominations in acting, writing, and music.

Instead Park opted for Stoker, a gorgeously insane family drama written by the star of the defunct Fox series Prison Break, and produced by the late action-film maestro Tony Scott and his brother Ridley.

So why this one? According to the 49-year-old director, the decision was based on a mix of love and fear. "It wasn't a matter of not being drawn to those particular genres—it's completely the opposite," Park told me. "It was purely a matter of loving to bits these two films. With Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I loved John le Carré's original novel so much. And Sam Raimi's original Evil Dead is a film I completely adore. That is why I didn't want to touch them: Out of the fear that I would not do the original justice, that I might ruin them."

Park Chan-wook director
Park Chan-wook. iffrotterdam/YouTube

It's a shame we won't get to see what his riff on Raimi or le Carré would look like. But the English-language debut we are getting from him is potent, frightening, and darkly seductive—all hallmarks of a Park Chan-wook joint.

Much of Park's filmography is composed of deliriously twisted and graphic tales—rapturously shot, uniquely stylish—imbued with the passion of a Greek tragedy. Park has already excelled in a number of genres: He directed the single best movie involving the DMZ between South and North Korea. But with Stoker, Park is squarely at home: A small, modern-day story about extraordinarily screwed-up people. Park turns the Hitchcock up to 11 while showcasing his abilities to elevate the grisly and deeply perverse to the level of macabre elegy.

Stoker takes place in a wealthy rural town straight out of gothic America. Bullied emo-teen India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska, formerly Alice in Wonderland, and featured in last year's terrific Lawless) loses her father (Dermot Mulroney) to a supposed car accident on, as luck would have it, her 18th birthday. On the day of her dad's funeral, long-lost Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode, in top eldritch form) shows up and decides to move into the Stoker estate. Charlie's icy charisma and proficiency in gourmet cooking is enough to literally charm the pants off India's newly widowed mom Evelyn (Nicole Kidman, last seen urinating on Zac Efron with a Southern accent in a Lee Daniels art film). And from there, dour India and mysterious Uncle Charlie start doing a bunch of bleak and unforgivable stuff in a murder-drenched coming-of-age saga.

I won't spoil any of the film's surprises, but here's its trailer to supplement the requisite summary:

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