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.

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Are the Congressional Chaplains Attending an Anti-Obama Prayer Breakfast?

| Thu Jan. 17, 2013 5:52 PM EST

Just before President Barack Obama's swearing in on Monday, a group of religious conservatives plans to hold a prayer breakfast featuring a number of anti-Obama conspiracy theorists. The Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast—billed as offering "prayer, worship, and reconciliation of the nation"—will feature the editor of the birther site WorldNetDaily and minister and media mogul Pat Robertson, according its website. The organizers of the prayer breakfast also claim the House and Senate chaplains will speak at their event—appearances that may conflict with the non-partisan nature of the chaplain job.

House Chaplain Rev. Patrick Conroy and Senate Chaplain Barry Black (who has been in the news recently for his prayers during the fiscal cliff negotiations asking God to "save us from self-inflicted wounds") are listed under the "Prayer for the Nation" portion of Monday's event, just ahead of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). But featured speaker Joseph Farah, the WorldNetDaily editor, has drawn the most attention, given his website's regular assertions that President Obama was actually born in Kenya and allegations that he is "the first Muslim president." The event also features "messianic rabbi-pastor and author" Jonathan Cahn, who believes that there are signs of the apocalypse encrypted in Obama's communications.

The group Faithful America started a petition on Thursday asking the chaplains to skip this "anti-Obama" event, which gathered more than 5,000 signatures in less than a day. But it got weird when Mother Jones asked the chaplains if they were actually attending the event. "Chaplain Black has NOT agreed to attend," Senate Chaplain Black's office responded via email. "We are working with the organizers planning the event to get his name taken off any promotional materials associated with this."

A spokeswoman for the prayer breakfast who declined to give her name told Mother Jones that Black is scheduled to deliver a prayer at the event. "He spoke directly with us and said he was," she said, adding that they will have to "clear up" any confusion.

We also reached out to House Chaplain Conroy's office, but he was traveling and had not responded to a request for comment at press time.

The breakfast organizers seem to be having a hard time figuring out who is actually speaking at the event. On Wednesday, Media Matters detailed a rather bizarre exchange with organizer Rev. Merrie Turner as to whether or not Farah is an official speaker at the event.

UPDATE: Elizabeth Flock at US News reported on Friday that Senate Chaplain Black will not be attending the inaugural prayer breakfast. However, House Chaplain Conroy's office said that Conroy will be in attendance and will recite a quick prayer. (Conroy's office stated that he will not "stay too long," though.)

As of 4:00 p.m. ET on Friday, the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast website continues to list the Senate Chaplain as a featured guest for their "Prayer for the Nation."

Military Suicides in 2012 Hit Yet Another Record High

| Tue Jan. 15, 2013 1:15 PM EST

Surely, one of the more depressing ledes to run this week:

Suicides in the U.S. military surged to a record 349 last year, far exceeding American combat deaths in Afghanistan, and some private experts are predicting the dark trend will worsen this year.

The figures are tentative, pending the completion of full reports on each case later this year. The number of US military suicides surpassed the number of combat deaths for the third time in four years. (For 2012, the Associated Press recorded 295 American combat deaths in Afghanistan.) The previous record high was 310 suicides in 2009, after the rate began a disturbing upward trend starting in 2006.

A breakdown of the suicides among active-duty troops last year by service:

  • Army: 182
  • Marine Corps: 48
  • Air Force: 59
  • Navy: 60

According to the numbers released by the Pentagon, the suicide rate among active-duty military is still below that of the civilian population.

Here's the AP rundown of the Pentagon's analysis of military suicides in 2011:

Each year the Pentagon performs an in-depth study of the circumstances of each suicide. The most recent year for which that analysis is available is 2011, and among the findings was that those who took their own lives tended to be white men under the age of 25, in the junior enlisted ranks, with less than a college education.

The analysis of 2011's 301 military suicides also found that the suicide rate for divorced service members was 55 percent higher than for those who were married. It determined that 60 percent of military suicides were committed with the use of firearms - and in most cases the guns were personal weapons, not military-issued.

In 2009, the Army began developing required surveys for all new and current soldiers. The goal of the survey was to determine causes of the uptick in military suicides, and to learn how best to prevent suicides. The panel that developed the survey also launched the largest study of its kind: a $50 million, five-year study run by Army and the National Institutes of Mental Health. Professors from Harvard, the University of Michigan, and Columbia also sat on the panel of experts. A whole host of other studies—both private and backed by the government—are examining causes and prevention for military suicides. For instance, late last year, the Department of Defense announced a three-year, $10 million study, conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina, that tests whether fatty acids in fish oils can help cure the anxiety suffered by combat veterans, thus hopefully reducing the rising suicide rate.

The Department of Defense's toll-free military crisis number is 800-273-8255.

Fox News Is Having an Ongoing Freakout Over Jack Lew's Signature

| Mon Jan. 14, 2013 6:39 PM EST

What ever could this mean???

You've probably heard by now that Jack Lew—the wonky White House chief of staff and President Obama's pick for next Treasury secretary—has quite the funky signature.

So strangely fascinating, so acrobatically whorling is his signature (pictured above), that it has taken on a life of its own since the announcement of Lew's nomination—after all, Treasury secretaries' signatures tend to end up on American currency: Lew's now-famous John Hancock has already inspired a meme, the Jack Lew Signature Generator, a billow of snarky Tweets, a camp of people maligning the signature as terrible, a competing camp praising the signature as awesome, this gorgeous Reddit thread, and this joke from the president.

It also inspired a mild-to-moderate freakout from the people over at Fox News.

First, there was this on Friday:

From the piece by reporter Cristina Corbin: "Dianne Peterson, a handwriting expert based in Tennessee, agreed that the squiggly autograph shows Lew cares little about others' opinion of him."

And then this happened the next day:

That was an edition of Fox & Friends last Saturday morning in which Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson, Alisyn Camerota, and Mike Jerrick spent an entire segment interviewing Michelle Dresbold, the Pittsburgh handwriting expert and author of the 2006 book Sex, Lies, and Handwriting. (Dresbold is also known for trying to uncover the identity of Jack the Ripper and concluding that he was an abortionist from Rochester, N.Y. She also weighed in on Casey Anthony's handwriting.) Here's a snapshot of their odd discussion:

Dresbold: [Jack Lew's signature is] repetitive, and what that means is the person is compulsive, they can't stop, their hand keeps repeating and repeating. So when [Lew] thinks about something, he thinks about it over and over and over again, and can never let go.

Jerrick: But because his signature's loopy, doesn't mean he's particularly loopy, does it? I mean...

Dresbold: It might, but I don't think he is...The thing you also want to notice is you absolutely cannot read anything in it, not one letter. And when you cannot read a signature it means that person does not want to give you any information about their personal life at all.

Jerrick: You can really read a person's personality by a signature?

Dresbold: Oh, definitely...

(Well, actually, no, no you can't, but whatever.)

Fox & Friends on Monday brought on bloviating ignoramus and reality-TV star Donald Trump, who also started talking about Signaturegate, and how Lew's signature showed the future Treasury secretary to be "unbelievably secretive":

Trump was kind enough to clarify later in the day with a Tweet:

In the recent past, Fox has had larger freakouts over things like The Lorax, a dog in a Christmas card, and the rabid leftism of Muppets. So there you go.

How Season 2 of "Girls" Resembles Season 6 of "Californication"

| Fri Jan. 11, 2013 10:17 PM EST
Two peas—in a terrible, patience-killing pod.

Last year, Lena Dunham's Girls on HBO was the next big thing—a profoundly bland and unstoppably irritating trek through a Brooklynite's perdition of unpaid internships, failed orgasms, and daunting First World Problems.

When it premiered last April, the series marked a new low for the premium cable network, even managing to surpass John From Cincinnati in its level of galling unwatchability. The inaugural season was practically drowned in its commitment to a mumblecore-hued comic universe defined by limp execution, clumsy timing, and deafening familiarity. It was inertia disguised as quirkiness, stock narrative masquerading as bold art, and peskiness paraded as high comedy.

Season 2 premieres on Sunday, ushering in another 10-episode, two-month reign of Girlsmageddon. And I'll be the first to admit there's been a noticeable improvement: Girls season 2 is definitely less of a crime against humanity than Girls season 1. But the modest boost in quality is nothing to write home about.

In the first four episodes, we find that some things have changed, but most have stayed exactly the same—preserved by the emotional permafrost of twentysomething New Yorkers.

Thu Jun. 12, 2014 5:51 PM EDT
Mon Apr. 28, 2014 12:48 PM EDT
Fri Apr. 25, 2014 6:05 AM EDT
Sun Apr. 20, 2014 11:00 PM EDT
Thu Apr. 17, 2014 6:00 AM EDT