It's been a week of major showdowns: Obama vs. Romney. Giants vs. Tigers. Berlusconi vs. the Italian IRS. Nation interns have rounded up other key contests, from a series of game-changing state ballot initiatives to Romney's attack on public land. 

Nader Atassi focuses on Middle Eastern politics and society.

What is a Car Bomb?” by Maya Mikdashi. Jadaliyya, October 19, 2012.

On October 19, 2012, a car bomb exploded in the middle of Beirut, Lebanon, targeting the head of the Lebanese intelligence Wissam al-Hassan, but also injuring and killing many other civilian bystanders. In this piece, Maya Mikdashi, a Beirut native who now lives abroad, reacts to this event with a piece analyzing what a car bomb means in this context. The piece is part a poetic deconstruction of bombs and the logic of violence, and part a personal reflection of the events that happened in Beirut that day. Why do car bombs scare us? Well, for one thing, it is because a car bomb is "a warning, or perhaps a reminder, that life is cheaper than TNT."

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

23 Ballot Measures to Keep an Eye On,” by Gavin Aronson. Mother Jones, October 24, 2012.

Mother Jones has compiled a great summary of what's at stake on the ballot in states across the country this year. From workers' rights to reproductive rights, conservatives and progressives alike are taking their issues directly to state voters. Some measures would repeal recently passed state laws, such as laws legalizing gay marriage in Maryland and Washington, or the undemocratic emergency financial manager law in Michigan, while others aim to advance a legislative or constitutional agenda by other means, such as efforts to legalize marijuana in states like Colorado. While less frequently polled than the presidential or most congressional races, these measures can radically transform the rights of individuals at the state level, and could even have an impact on national politics.

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

The All-Powerful President,” by Micah Zenko. Foreign Policy, October 23, 2012.

This article is about the "five core principles of U.S. foreign policy that are widely held on both sides of the aisle," which are actually reflections of a profound misunderstanding of how American foreign policy is conceived, formulated and executed. The article's a little thin, but it's a good jumping-off point for a discussion of how politicians visualize the foreign policy-making process—both in and out of the executive branch.

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

Kyaukpyu’s Muslim Quarter Razed to the Ground,” by Lawi Weng. The Irrawaddy, October 25, 2012.

At least 300 homes belonging to Rohingya Muslims were burned to the ground by Arakanese Buddhists in Burma. An unknown number were killed, although Burma's state-run media claims one death. Reports say the perpetrators razed the town in response to the killing of three Rakhine men. Horrid scenes of death and destruction, like this—the latest in a series of sectarian conflicts targeting Rohingya minorities—undermine the Burmese government's apparent tilt towards democracy. Burma's National League for Democracy and its Buddhist champion, Aung San Suu Kyi, maintain a position of silence when it comes to the plight of the country's Muslim minority. The Rohingyas, who are denied citizenship under Burmese law, will remain stateless and voiceless until more speaks out against their plight.

Adam Hudson focuses on war and peace-related issues.

Obama moves to make the War on Terror permanent,” by Glenn Greenwald. The Guardian, Wednesday 24, 2012.

The Washington Post recently reported that the Obama administration is making his kill list permanent. To fully institutionalize targeted killing, the administration created a "disposition matrix." This is a centralized database, created and overseen by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), that contains the "biographies, locations, known associates and affiliated organizations" of suspected terrorists. The government "expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years" (but focusing on the "kill" part). Glenn Greenwald eloquently warns how extreme this power is. It ensures that America will remain in an era of permanent war that shreds our basic civil liberties and human rights.

Ricky Kreitner focuses on corruption, influence and regulatory capture.

What a Romney presidency might mean for national park visits,” by Blane Bachelor., October 24, 2012.

I was surprised to read an article on outlining the consequences of Mitt Romney’s radical policies for shifting control over public lands to the states and private industry. Even more surprising, though, was the article’s willingness to openly discuss the hostile ideology behind those proposals. Thus, readers can have the pleasure of contemplating a future when national parks are operated with “a more capitalistic approach,” of voting for a candidate intent on “trimming the number of parks and decentralizing some of them to states or private nonprofits.” If Romney’s plan sounds like it was written by the energy industry, that might be because it was.

Annum Masroor focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Border Talk Crosses The Line In Afghanistan,” by Abubakar Siddique. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, October 24, 2012.

Like many post-colonial borders that exist today, relatively little is known about the Durand Line that separates Afghanistan from its neighbor to the east, Pakistan. Much of the talk surrounding the Durand Line revolves around its mountainous terrain that has hidden Taliban militants, jumping from one side of the border to the next. It was perhaps no surprise when U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, seemingly didn't see any harm in recognizing the demarcation during an interview this week. While some may interpret his remarks as an affirmation of established U.S. policy, others may recognize the connotations of such a statement for many of our Afghan allies. When British India and the Kingdom of Afghanistan drew up the Durand Line in 1893, they effectively split one of the world's largest tribal networks in two. Many Pashtuns in both Afghanistan and Pakistan still don't recognize the arbitrary border between them, and were offended by the U.S. embracing it. Its implications for a future Afghanistan without NATO forces could be dangerous; it's arguably at the forefront for much of Afghanistan's tenuous relationship with Pakistan, who they believe exploit the border's contentious status for their own military efforts inside Afghan territory. As the U.S. prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, will this be another issue it must address? Or will it be, as one Afghan calls it, "an issue for Pashtuns, and Pashtuns only"?

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

Former Israeli Spymaster: We Need To Talk to Iran,” by Laura Rozen. Al-Monitor, October 21, 2012.

If the final presidential debate wasn’t enough to convince you that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney would be bad for America’s foreign policy and our men and women in uniform, then take it from an expert. Efraim Halevy, a former Mossad intelligence director and all-around badass secret agent, says the Romney campaign’s politicization of Iran’s nuclear capability is bad for America and bad for Israel. Indeed, according to Halevy, the governor’s rhetoric is so intense that it is “mortally destroying” any hope for a peaceful resolution in halting Iran’s nuclear ambition.

Anna Robinson focuses on gender, sexuality and social justice.

Unfinished Business: Community Safety Act Needed to End Discriminatory Policing of LGBT New Yorkers,” by Andrea Ritchie. Gay City News, October 22, 2012.

Andrea Ritchie, a police misconduct attorney and co-coordinator of Streetwise and Safe and member of Communities United for Police Reform, writes of the importance of the Community Safety Act (currently before the New York City Council) for LGBT folks. This act is made up of the four parts which she sets out clearly: "(1) enact an historic, comprehensive, and, most importantly, enforceable ban on profiling based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, along with race, sex, age, immigration status, disability, HIV status, religion, housing status ,and occupation, (2) require officers who perform searches for which there is no legal basis other than a person’s consent to advise individuals of their rights and obtain proof of informed and voluntary consent and (3) to provide identifying information and a reason for a stop, and (4) create an Office of Inspector General charged with identifying patterns of discriminatory policing." Even after a recent victory in the form of an update to the NYPD Patrol Guide in June of this year that provides guidance for officers about interacting with trans and gender non-conforming people, LGBT folks continue to be subject to discriminatory profiling and harassment. Ritchie emphasizes the importance of community organizations such as Audre Lorde Project, FIERCE, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, New York City Anti-Violence Project, the LGBT Community Center and Streetwise and Safe in enacting these changes, and highlights the potential for local activism to make waves in cities outside the purview of the NYPD. However, despite past victories, she reminds us that organizers and attorneys must continue to fight for police reform and supporting the Community Safety Act is one of many necessary steps in the right direction.

Christie Thompson focuses on structural poverty.

Justice Department alleges 'school to prison pipeline' in Mississippi,” by Susan Ferriss. The Center for Public Integrity, October 25, 2012.

The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against a school district in Mississippi for funneling its students from the classroom to the cellblock for the most minor offenses. The case is the first time litigation has been used in an effort to address the "school to prison pipeline," a disturbing trend in low-income public schools around the country. The testimonies out of Mississippi—such as one student that was arrested for wearing the wrong-colored socks—are a disturbing reminder of the targeted criminalization of poor and minority youth, not only on city streets but in the hallways of their own schools.

Elisa Wouk Almino focuses on South America, particularly Brazil.

La renaissance des Indiens d’Amérique latine,” by Paulo Antonio Paranagua. Le Monde, October 23, 2012. (English translation available here.)

This article critiques the recent concept of an "American Indian Renaissance," as indigenous tribes increasingly resurface in South American countries. The terminology misconstrues these tribes as previously dormant, when in reality they have rich cultural legacies that have been kept isolated due to a history of discrimination and abuse. Patrick Bard and Marie-Berthe Ferrer's new book, Sortir de la longue nuit: Indiens d’Amérique latine, strives to record some of this cultural history through photo journalism.

Eric Wuestewald focuses on international conflict and human rights.

Syrian Forces’ Improvised Arms: Desperate Measures, or Deliberate Aid?” by C.J. Chivers. The New York Times, October 18, 2012.

A post from the New York Times's At War blog last Thursday revealed that the Syrian military and loyalist groups have been using improvised weaponry against anti-Assad rebel groups. While the use of makeshift weapons by ill-equipped revolutionaries in Syria and Libya has been frequently documented, the use of "barrel bombs" and improvised rocket-assisted munitions (IRAMs) by a conventional army and its affiliates is quite strange. If our information about the influx of arms from Russia, China and Iran is accurate, it's hard to imagine why pro-Assad forces would choose to Macgyver unreliable and inaccurate weapons. That said, there seem to be a few possibilities: 1) pro-Assad forces are running out of weapons (unlikely), 2) Assad is stockpiling weapons and equipment in case of a final stand (possible) or 3) outside groups are joining and supplying their own weaponry (probable). According to the article, the technology in these IRAMs were frequently used by Kataib Hezbollah, potentially implicating Iran and other regional actors of further military support for Assad."