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.

Is "House of Cards'" Most Principled New Character Also a War Criminal?

| Fri Feb. 21, 2014 4:00 AM PST

Democratic congresswoman and war vet Jacqueline Sharp (played by Molly Parker) is one of the most sympathetic characters on the Netflix political drama House of Cards. In a series populated by dark, purely self-interested, and/or corrupt characters, Sharp is something of a refreshing outlier. She is smart and strong, particularly when in a room of cynical, powerful old men. She is generally a kind and upfront person. She demonstrates an aversion to unethical deal-making. And she isn't a heartless mass-manipulator on the scale of Vice President Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey).

"I don't think that this character is a sociopath. I think that she has a conscience," Parker said of her character. "I think that she's a principled woman in terms of her point of view, her perspective as a soldier."

However likeable or principled she may be, could she also be the show's first war criminal?

In the first episode of season two, Underwood informs Sharp that he wishes to have her succeed him as House Majority Whip. When she asks why he is so adamant, the morally bankrupt Underwood reveals that he picked her because of her "ruthless pragmatism" in wartime. He asks her about the number of missile strikes she ordered during the war, and how she ordered them knowing many innocent women and children would perish in the attacks. "I had orders to eliminate the enemy," she says, rationalizing the civilian casualties. "I watched apartment buildings, entire villages, gone, like they were never there."

Her actions clearly haunt her. In a subsequent episode, when she is in bed with her lover, she confesses in sorrow that she "killed a lot of people," before she tells him to continue bringing her to climax.

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Why Ben Affleck Is Qualified to Testify Before the Senate on Atrocities in Congo

| Thu Feb. 20, 2014 4:10 PM PST

On Thursday, John Hudson at Foreign Policy reported that actor Ben Affleck is set to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Wednesday to testify on the mass killings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Affleck's inclusion among the experts scheduled to testify invited some predictable skepticism and ridicule. In response to the news, Washington Post digital foreign editor Anup Kaphle tweeted, "zzzzzz..." National Review correspondent Jim Geraghty joked, "If a Congressman asks about his qualifications as a Congo expert, Ben Affleck should simply answer, 'I'm Batman.'"

"People serious about resolving problems—especially problems related to life and death—want to have serious conversations with experts and leaders in the field; not celebrities," a Republican aide at the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Foreign Policy's "The Cable." (House Republicans reportedly declined to hold a similar, Affleck-inclusive event.)

It's pretty easy to laugh at the idea of the Gigli and Pearl Harbor star now lecturing senators on atrocities in Central Africa. But the Oscar-winning future Batman knows his stuff. He isn't some celebrity who just happened to open his mouth about a humanitarian cause (think: Paris Hilton and Rwanda). The acclaimed Argo director has repeatedly traveled to Congo and has even met with warlords accused of atrocities. Here's his 2008 report from the country for ABC's Nightline, in which he discusses mass rape, war, and survival:  


ABC Entertainment News|ABC Business News

Affleck previously testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the humanitarian crisis in the African nation. That same year, he made the media rounds with Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) to discuss renewed violence in Congo. In 2011, he testified before the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee. In 2010, Affleck founded the Eastern Congo Initiative, an advocacy and grant-making 501(c)(3) organization. On top of all that, he made this video this month (in which he and Matt Damon humorously trade insults) to help raise money for the Initiative.

So, are there experts who know more about the Democratic Republic of the Congo than Ben Affleck? Of course—and some of them will also testify before the Senate committee next week. But celebrities testifying before Congress, or heading to the Hill to make their case, isn't exactly new. Harrison Ford has swung by the House and Senate to talk about planes, and Val Kilmer visited Capitol Hill last year to push for the expansion of Americans' ability to claim religious exemptions to Obamacare's health insurance mandate.

With Affleck, you get testimony from a famous person who has really done his homework.

Click here to check out our interactive map of celebrity humanitarian efforts in (and the "celebrity recolonization" of) Africa.

Obama Lookalike Satan Character Axed From Jesus Movie "Son of God"

| Tue Feb. 18, 2014 1:30 PM PST

Last March, when the 10-hour miniseries The Bible premiered on History channel, many observers (including Glenn Beck) noted that Satan (played by Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni):

...resembled Barack Obama:

Barack Obama
Elizabeth Cromwell/Wikimedia Commons

The internet had some fun with this, and the meme was especially funny when you considered the insane theories already out there that Obama was put on earth to do Satan's bidding. Anyway, History, Ouazanni, and producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett all rolled their eyes at the Obama comparisons. "Both Mark and I have nothing but respect and love [for] our president, who is a fellow Christian," Downey said in March. "False statements such as these are just designed as a foolish distraction to try and discredit the beauty of the story of The Bible."

But in the abridged film version of The Bible (titled Son of God), which hits theaters next week, Satan won't be getting any screen time. "Someone made a comment that the actor who played the devil vaguely resembled our president, and suddenly the media went nuts," Downey, who also plays Mother Mary, told the Hollywood Reporter on Monday. Downey elaborated on this in a USA Today op-ed published later that day: "The next day, when I was sure everyone would only be talking about Jesus, they were talking about Satan instead," she wrote. "For our movie, Son of God, I wanted all of the focus to be on Jesus...It gives me great pleasure to tell you that the devil is on the cutting-room floor."

The White House did not respond to a request for comment regarding Devil Obama being dropped from the movie. Here is a clip, via THR, of Jesus (played by Diogo Morgado) meeting the allegedly presidential Satan in last year's miniseries:

Actress Ellen Page Comes Out As Gay: "Happy Valentine's Day. I Love You."

| Sat Feb. 15, 2014 11:29 AM PST

Oscar-nominated actress and self-described "tiny Canadian" Ellen Page (Inception, The East, Juno) came out as a gay woman on Valentine's Day.

She made the announcement in a moving speech delivered at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's inaugural Time to Thrive conference in Las Vegas. You can watch the 26-year-old actress's remarks above. Here is an excerpt:

I'm inspired to be in this room because every single one of you is here for the same reason. You're here because you've adopted as a core motivation the simple fact that this world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another. If we took just 5 minutes to recognize each other's beauty, instead of attacking each other for our differences. That's not hard. It's really an easier and better way to live. And ultimately, it saves lives.

Then again, it's not easy at all. It can be the hardest thing, because loving other people starts with loving ourselves and accepting ourselves. I know many of you have struggled with this. I draw upon your strength and your support in ways that you will never know.

I'm here today because I am gay. And because...maybe I can make a difference. To help others have an easier and more hopeful time. Regardless, for me, I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility.

I also do it selfishly, because I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered and my relationships suffered. And I'm standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of that pain. I am young, yes, but what I have learned is that love, the beauty of it, the joy of it and yes, even the pain of it, is the most incredible gift to give and to receive as a human being. And we deserve to experience love fully, equally, without shame and without compromise.

There are too many kids out there suffering from bullying, rejection, or simply being mistreated because of who they are. Too many dropouts. Too much abuse. Too many homeless. Too many suicides. You can change that and you are changing it.

But you never needed me to tell you that. That's why this was a little bit weird. The only thing I can really say is...what I have been building up to for the past 5 minutes. Thank you. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for giving me hope, and please keep changing the world for people like me.

Happy Valentine's Day. I love you.

After her speech, Page received the following show of support from House of Cards star Kate Mara:

(As flagged by TheWrap, Page satirized lesbian rumors about her in a 2008 Saturday Night Live sketch.)

Page is set to star alongside Julianne Moore and Zach Galifianakis in Freeheld, an upcoming drama based on the true story of the late Laurel Hester, a terminally ill New Jersey police lieutenant who fought a long battle to pass on pension benefits to her female domestic partner. Page, a proud feminist, has long been a supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights. She is also passionate about climate action, reproductive rights, and raising awareness about human rights abuses in Burma. Here's a video for the US Campaign for Burma from 2008, in which she declares, "Hitler is alive in Burma":

Watch This DJ Respond to a Rapper Who Threatens to Rape a Woman

| Fri Feb. 14, 2014 7:46 AM PST

On Monday, a young and rowdy crowd gathered at The Jump Off in London for an old-fashioned rap battle. Everyone was hoping for a good time, an evening free of any publicly declared threats of back-alley rape of women.

Then this happened:

The man you see intervening (at the 31-second mark) is Nihal Arthanayake. He is a 42-year-old BBC Radio presenter, DJ, and family man. His artistic and professional influences include Mos Def, Bill Withers, Jon Stewart, and Mark Ronson. He hosts shows devoted to discussing and debating the issues facing British Asians. He interviews a wide variety of guests, including Fatima Khan, mother of a British doctor who died while being held in custody in Syria. Nihal has also occasionally stepped in controversy.

He can also rap—and on Monday, he put that skill to particularly good use. During the rap battle, MC Lighte The Boom Box said to his female opponent MC D'Klastro that, "bitch, after this, in the alley, you gonna get raped." This did not seem to go over well with the audience, and seconds later, Nihal (who was a judge at the event) interrupted the battle, got on-stage, and grabbed a mic. Here's part of what he said:

What the fuck, you fat idiot?

Didn't you have a mum? Didn't you have a sister? Why you so dumb?

Misogynistic prick. Talking, you think you're sick.

The video of this was picked up later in the week by several news outlets, such as Jezebel, the Independent, and Entertainmentwise. Nihal says that this was the first time he has ever had to halt a rap battle out of pure outrage.

"That was unique," he tells me. "And, as I haven't rhymed properly for over 15 years, I proved I was a little rusty, to say the least."

Nihal says that the response to the video has been positive, save for "a few men [on Twitter] questioning my rap skills...and calling me names for being so sensitive to a rape-based battle rap." He says he has not interacted with Lighte The Boom Box since Monday's battle, nor does he wish to.

"I said what I had to say," Nihal says. "I'm not a white knight (guess I'd be a brown one anyway), nor a hero, nor a feminist. Just a husband and a father who has spoken to many victims of domestic violence in my job as a phone-in host for the BBC...I just thought about the women in my life and that the male MC had betrayed rap music by resorting to something so base and disgusting. I'm not a prude, I grew up on rap music. But raping a woman as a battle lyric—that's just nonsense."

"The crowd reaction told you that even in the most urban of environments that type of lyric won't fly anymore," he added.

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