The media have been grappling with some big questions this week: Is it a cliff or an obstacle course? Is she or isn’t she? She is? Will it be a boy or a girl? Meanwhile, violence continues in Syria and Pakistan, and Republican lawmakers in Michigan pushed through lame-duck anti-labor legislation. Check out the Nation intern roundup of the most important news below the fold.

Nader Atassi focuses on Middle Eastern politics and society.

As Rebels close in on Damascus, Obama warns he’ll Intervene if Chemicals are Used,” by Juan Cole., December 5, 2012.

A short, but comprehensive blog post by Juan Cole sums up the situation in Syria at the moment. Two things are happening simultaneously: the revolutionaries are closing in on Damascus, while Obama ups his rhetoric by threatening intervention if chemical weapons are used in Syria, after an intelligence report claimed that the Assad regime was preparing its chemical weapons stockpiles for use. Given these events, it is clear that we are now reaching a critical and decisive stage in the Syrian crisis, and we may be nearing the Syrian endgame.

Jeff Ernsthausen focuses on domestic politics and the influence of money on public institutions.

Michigan right-to-work bill expected Thursday; Dems promise fierce fight against it,” by Paul Egan. Detroit Free Press, December 5, 2012.

As early as December 6, GOP lawmakers in Lansing are expected to submit a bill that would make Michigan the twenty-fourth right-to-work state in the country, and the second in the industrial Midwest. Labor groups protested the action, with hundreds gathering in the Capitol rotunda Wednesday to voice their opposition. Republican governor Rick Snyder, who has previously said that right-to-work was not on his agenda, signaled earlier this week that he was open to considering such legislation during the lame duck session, which ends on December 20.

Stefan Fergus focuses on US media, the presidency and China.

Mr. China Comes to America,” by James Fallows. The Atlantic, December 2012.

Fallows is one of the best journalists writing about China these days. In his latest long piece for The Atlantic, he presents a picture of the changing manufacturing environment in China, and offers a surprising argument: that as China’s workforce becomes more demanding, some manufacturing jobs could come back to the US. I’m a little skeptical, but it’s a well-written, interesting piece filled with insight and plenty of context, from a reporter who spent a couple of years living in and travelling around China. The same issue also has a companion piece, “The Insourcing Boom,” by Charles Fishman, that also argues for the return of manufacturing to the United States.

Steven Hsieh focuses on US politics, the media and East Asian affairs.

Bradley Manning Gets No Love From The New York Times,” by Eliza Gray. The New Republic, December 5, 2012.

On charges of leaking millions of classified documents to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning spent five months in solitary confinement, facing humiliating, potentially illegal treatment from security guards. Regarding the implications on how we treat whistleblowers in this country, it’s hard to argue against the newsworthiness of Manning’s trial. Yet  The New York Times chose to sit this one out. Eliza Gray notes the egregiousness of the paper’s decision, especially considering how much it benefited from WikiLeaks last year. NYT public editor Margaret Sullivan has since conceded that they should have had a reporter present at Mr. Manning’s trial.

Adam Hudson focuses on war and peace-related issues.

US Commandos’ New Landlord in Afghanistan: Blackwater,” by Spencer Ackerman. Wired, December 5, 2012.

Remember that mercenary company Blackwater? The one infamous for massacring Iraqi and Afghan civilians and stealing guns from US weapons depots in Afghanistan. Well, Blackwater, now known as “Academi,” owns and operates a ten-acre forwarding operating base outside Kabul called Camp Integrity (somewhat of an oxymoron, considering their history). This base will house the US’s most important special operations force in Afghanistan—Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan. The unit, which has about 7,000 troops, will stay in Camp Integrity until they move to Bagram in summer 2013. While US conventional forces will leave Afghanistan by 2014, special operations forces and private military contractors will remain for some time. The fact that a private military base, owned by a company with an atrocious record, exists in Afghanistan is an example of this.

Ricky Kreitner focuses on corruption, influence and regulatory capture.

Obamacare architect leaves White House for pharmaceutical industry job,” by Glenn Greenwald. The Guardian, December 5, 2012.

Glenn Greenwald is the only person to read—besides conservatives like Timothy Carney at the Washington Examiner—for a consistent, principled critique of the Obama administration’s regular use of the revolving door. This week he draws attention to Elizabeth Fowler; in reading her resume one can actually hear the door spin: Max Baucus’s healthcare adviser, healthcare industry lobbyist, Max Baucus’s healthcare adviser, special assistant to the president for healthcare and, now, healthcare industry lobbyist. “It’s difficult to find someone who embodies the sleazy, anti-democratic, corporatist revolving door that greases Washington as shamelessly and purely as Liz Fowler,” Greenwald writes. Shenanigans like this are “what demonstrates that corporatism and oligarchy are the dominant forms of government in the US.” That such blatant examples of corruption are so infrequently covered in the nation’s respectable media shows that the same can be said of them.

Annum Masroor focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

About those who survived,” by Murtaza Haider., December 5, 2012.

When the words “terrorism” and “Pakistan” are found in the same sentence, they are usually in reference to the Pakistani military’s behind-the-scenes relationships with terrorist organizations. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that little media attention is paid to the Pakistani victims, both dead and injured, of terrorist attacks. In the US, the debate is often centered on “control,” Afghanistan, radical Islam, foreign aid and the occasional push for “diplomacy.” In Pakistan, the news of Pakistani casualties from terrorist violence is either ignored or swiftly mentioned in a hyperactive media cycle. But is there more to Pakistan’s seemingly quiet reaction? Maybe the country is experiencing nationwide PTSD, and such horrific news has lost much of its shock value. As Murtaza Haider points out, “The ubiquitous violence in Pakistan has left 45,000 dead in the past decade alone,” with an equally large number of Pakistanis injured. He goes on to describe the psychological and financial difficulties that victims and their families have had to endure, from trying to find food to no longer being able to afford a decent education. These findings address one of the gravest consequences of the current state of terrorism in Pakistan: that its survivors, plunged into the poverty gap, remain its victims for years to come.

Nick Myers focuses on the military, environment and politics in pop culture.

The Hawkeye Initiative puts our favorite archer in superheroine poses,” by Kevin Melrose. Comic Book Resources, December 3, 2012.

I personally love it when the girls in comic books look like total babes. But that just demonstrates how geek culture is pretty sexist and terrible, which the instantly successful tumblog, “The Hawkeye Initiative,” aims to prove. Scrolling through the images should give even the most neckbearded nerd pause and highlight the ridiculousness that many comic artists force their female characters to endure.

Anna Robinson focuses on gender, sexuality and social justice.

Who’s Afraid of Black Sexuality?” by Stacey Patton. The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 3, 2012.

Patton traces the development of the academic study of black sexuality, from its relatively recent non-existence to its current state as a burgeoning (but still at times fraught) subject of inquiry. Although this chronicles specifically academic considerations, it has wider resonance for ways in which the media looks at black sexuality and black bodies and how these often unexamined attitudes play into broader representations of cases such as Anita Hill’s, public health issues and AIDS, state support systems and “welfare queens,” as well as Michelle Obama’s appearance.

Christie Thompson focuses on structural poverty.

Proposal to drug test welfare recipients may gain steam in Kansas,” by Brad Cooper. The Kansas City Star, December 5, 2012.

Legislation is under consideration in Kansas that would require anyone seeking welfare or unemployment benefits to take a drug test before they qualify for support. The clincher? Applicants would have to pay for the test themselves, which could set them back roughly $50. “If their test turned up negative, the state would have refund the expense in a ‘timely manner,’ ” Cooper writes, which sounds like yet another bureaucratic nightmare for those in need of assistance. It’s no coincidence that the proposal comes while legislators are debating how to balance strained state budgets. Though supporters claim it is to encourage welfare recipients to “get help,” such regulations are about saving money by finding any excuse to cut people off from vital social services.

Elisa Wouk Almino focuses on South America, particularly Brazil.

Oscar Niemeyer: a life in architecture—in pictures.”  The Guardian, December 5, 2012.

Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian modernist architect, died last night at the age of 104. Most famous for his near-utopian project in Brasília, Niemeyer took inspiration from Le Corbusier and the “machine for living,” but designed an architecture that was distinctly his, marked by organic form and structural lightness. As a member of the Communist Party, Niemeyer faced obstacles during the Brazilian dictatorship and even here in the US, during the Cold War, but continued to create and build until the end of his life. Though his architecture did not engender the just society he envisioned, it was not a futile goal, and neither should it be forgotten. As Dilma put it, there are who “few dreamed so intensely, and accomplished as much, as he did.”

Eric Wuestewald focuses on international conflict and human rights.

Has-Maher-a! The Not-So-New Depths of Bill Maher’s Delusion and Depravity,” by Nima Shirazi.

As a self-identified progressive, I constantly find progressives in the media who firmly grasp one element of the equal rights cause, and completely dismiss another without thought. Bill Maher’s recent interview with the Jewish Journal is no different. The interview is a deeply troubling look into a man who, despite his penchant for being an outspoken critic of inequality and religious extremism, holds thoughts on the Israel-Palestinian conflict that rest somewhere between staggering misunderstanding and complete racial bigotry. This excellent piece by writer and Middle Eastern analyst Nima Shirazi explains some of the more confusing, dismissive and occasionally Zionistic statements Maher has made in his career, and effectively addresses why its troubling for progressives when such statements don’t diminish the credibility of a mainstream liberal commentator and entertainer.