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Ishaan Tharoor

The build-up to Pakistan’s elections, which will be held May 11, has been clouded by a disturbing streak of violence. Suicide bombers, militants and gunmen have attacked rallies and assassinated candidates. Some of Pakistan’s leading secular political parties, including the incumbent ruling PPP, have even eschewed campaigning in public because of the alarming threat to their security.

The contest for governance, then, has become a battle between two more religiously-inclined heavyweights — former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. Of the duo, Khan’s story is far more interesting. Not long ago, he was known simply as a handsome star athlete with an alleged “playboy” lifestyle. But his subsequent entrance into Pakistani politics as a pious outsider keen to clean up the corrupt status quo galvanized much of the country’s youth and urban middle class.

He has been staging dozens of rallies across Pakistan — a series of which are documented here by Italian photographer Massimo Berruti. On May 7, at a rally in Lahore, Khan was being hoisted onto stage on a forklift when a press of bodies sent him sprawling fifteen feet head-first to the ground. His injuries include three fractured vertebrae, but he is expected to make a full recovery — and may well even go on to win an electoral outcome few thought possible only months ago.

Massimo Berruti is a photographer based in Paris and Rome, represented by Agence VU. In 2010, Berruti was awarded the Carmignac Gestion Prize for his work from Pakistan.

Ishaan Tharoor is a staff writer at TIME and co-editor of TIME World.

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Boing Boing has spotlighted "How's Your News" in years past, and I'm delighted to see the team reassembled to cover the 2012 presidential elections. The project features a team of reporters with various developmental disabilities roaming the halls at the Republican and Democratic national conventions, interviewing big TV news personalities and politicians: Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Diane Sawyer, Karl Rove, Sen. Rob Portman, Herman Cain, Anne Coulter, Jesse Jackson, Rep. Michelle Bachman, Olivia Wilde, Sen. Barbra Boxer, Stephen Baldwin, Piers Morgan, Jared Leto, Sen. Pat Leahy, Rep Barney Frank, and many more.

Download the hour-long documentary for $5. I watched it last night, and I strongly recommend. It's not "political," in the sense that it's not advocating a particular party or candidate; it's more about the culture of news and the surreality of what it's like to be at a convention. I've been inside that beast, and this is the most accurate capture of that weird world I've seen. Also, if you work in TV news? There are some scenes in this film that will prove to you, without any doubt, that politicians tend to spew prepared talking points as answers to questions, even when the questions are unintelligible non-word vocalizations.

Above, a trailer. Below, an exclusive clip, and a Boing Boing Q&A with director Arthur Bradford, and Matt Stone ( South Park, Book of Mormon ), who backed the project and is a big fan.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been involved with Arthur Bradford and "How's Your News" for 15 years. Matt tells Boing Boing, "It is a great relationship and a totally cool thing." Arthur also directed "The Making of South Park: 6 Days to Air," and received an Emmy nomination for that documentary.

Boing Boing/XJ: Matt, I know you're a big news junkie, what do you get out of watching this that you don't out of, say, reading the New York Times or watching CNN's coverage of the political conventions?

Matt Stone: Even to a news junkie like me, the current incarnation of the political conventions are pretty absurd. The regular news dutifully tries to distill the psychodrama and bullshit into a horserace of political power. How's Your News always puts a smile on my face because they so effortlessly resist that narrative. I need more How's Your News in my life. I am a huge fan.

Boing Boing/XJ: Arthur, my question to you, why are you doing this project?

Arthur Bradford: I've been making these How's Your News films for over fifteen years now. It really just just started as a lark at this summer camp I was working at. We wanted to make videos which we could show after dinner at the camp and have people laugh. When Matt and Trey got in touch way back in 1996, before they became famous, I thought it was both great and weird that people I didn't know enjoyed these videos. Over time we became friends and if it weren't for their encouragement, and later, financial help, this whole project would not exist. I like making these films because I think they are pure - we have the same motivations we did back at the summer camp, just wanting to make people smile and surprise them. I know of no less pretentious people than the reporters from How's Your News? I have learned so much from watching them approach and converse with the various public figures they meet. I honestly believe you can learn quite a lot about a person by watching the way he or she interacts with a person with a disability. In that sense I have found that the conversations which take place before our cameras are often more revealing than the supposedly hard hitting interviews we see on major networks. What I particularly like about this latest film is the chance to watch the way political figures, and the many handlers surrounding them, work so hard to manipulate the way they are portrayed in the media. Often the most interesting part of the interview for us is not the actual interview at all. It's the slightly uncomfortable negotiation which takes place beforehand as we ask them if they will speak with us. I liked being able to include those discussions in this new film. In the past we didn't have the freedom, or good sense, to do that.

Arthur Bradford: Over the years we have endeavored to produce How's Your News in many different ways, as a film festival entry, a DVD, an HBO documentary, and even an MTV series. This latest version, a completely independent, pay-per-view online stream/download, is truly the best form of distribution yet. For those of you who feel frustrated by commercial news media, I really urge you to support this kind of thing. Not to get on a high horse, but hey, this is It's the future of independent media. It's a very good thing.

Boing Boing/XJ: What's it like working with the correspondents?

Arthur Bradford: I've known all of them for so long now, they are some of my oldest friendships. And I do mean friendships. I first met Jeremy when he was just a kid, seven or eight years old. He was a crazy little ball of energy and we all wondered what he was going to be like when he grew up. Would people still think he was cute and charming? He's grown up now and, well, you can decide. Sue calls me up at least once a week, usually more. She is relentless when she's got something on her mind. This latest "How's Your News?" project came about in part because of her prodding. She was leaving messages on my phone saying, "Is this How's Your News horse dead or what? Come on!" Bobby is like an uncle to me. He was an usher at my wedding and plays with my children. I honestly don't know of anyone who can so easily mix and mingle with such a wide array of people. You could take him to a Hell's Angles rally in the morning and he'd have everyone hugging him and then attend a formal White House luncheon an hour later and he'd be cozying up the the Secretary of State. He'd know just how to behave immediately. It's a skill few of us have.

I hold our reporters to a high standard. I often feel like I'm the coach and they are my team. I have to assess who is feeling good and who will interact in the most interesting way with a given interviewee. I sometimes get frustrated with the reporters if they ask banal questions or act shy. I let them know it when I think they can do better. But I never feed them questions. That doesn't come off well. The questions need to come from them. If they are not having a good time and showing genuine curiosity then it's not enjoyable to watch. I find directing How's Your News to be exhausting and draining and usually after each one is done I swear I'll never do it again. But then Sue and Jeremy starting calling me up and we end up hitting the road. And in the end I'm glad we do it.

Download the documentary.

(All images courtesy Arthur Bradford)

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Photographer Davide Monteleone and I may have had one of the only drivers in the Gobi—that forbidding expanse of gravel and sand in southern Mongolia—who had no sense of direction. Granted, the instructions we received were pretty vague: at the second (or was it the third?) livestock path, we should take a left. What counted as an animal thoroughfare, we wondered? Was it that little indentation in the gravel? Or the line of hoof prints heading east?

After much bumping along, we finally reached our destination, a traditional Mongolian circular tent called a ger, surrounded by a crowd of camels, goats and other livestock. I wanted to talk to the herders, who were unhappy with the compensation they had received from Oyu Tolgoi, the copper and gold mine that is Mongolia’s biggest foreign investment project to date and which may add one-third of future value to the country’s GDP. Davide was photographing the forbidding panorama and the hardy nomads who live there. And then, just as he was trying to compose a picture that would convey the aridness of the landscape, it began to rain. Fat drops fell, landing on the camels’ eyelashes. Here we were in one of the driest places on earth, in the middle of a freak rainstorm.

Mongolia is a land of improbable contrasts. It is the most sparsely populated country on the planet, with fewer than 3 million people. Yet it is also, by some estimates, the world’s fastest growing economy, powered by at least $1.3 trillion in untapped minerals. The natural-resource boom is remaking the capital, Ulan Bator, which now boasts shiny new skyscrapers and luxury malls that contrast with the city’s decrepit Soviet architecture. Yet one-third of the country remains impoverished. Democracy, which the country’s citizens embraced after a peaceful revolution in 1990 that displaced the long-ruling socialists, gives people a voice through regular elections. But corruption has eroded the life-changing potential of the rush of foreign investment—valued at $5 billion last year in a country with a $10 billion GDP. Mongolia, today, is increasingly a land of haves and have-nots, a land of both wind-chapped nomads and mining executives who power Hummers, not horses. For anyone in Mongolia, our off-course driver included, it’s hard not to feel disoriented.

Hannah Beech is TIME’s China bureau chief and East Asia correspondent.

Davide Monteleone is a Moscow-based photographer represented by VII. See more of his work here.

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A year after they both captured the global imagination, the revolutions in Egypt and Libya are now poised on a knife-edge. The sense of hope that followed the departures of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi — the former nudged out of power by the army top brass; the latter eventually killed by rebel militia after a bloody eight-month civil war — has withered. In Egypt, the shadow of the country’s domineering military looms large despite the victory in presidential elections of a candidate from the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood. (Many liberals, meanwhile, question the Islamists’ commitment to a free and open democracy.) In Libya, the violent overthrow of the four-decade old Gaddafi dictatorship has left behind a fledgling state that is riven by tribal militias, even as the nation held elections last weekend.

Witnessing the upheaval firsthand, photojournalist Sarah Elliott set about documenting those who have had most to gain — and to lose — from the transformations of the Arab Spring: women. The revolutions in both countries, which were aimed at toppling an encrusted, deep-seated authoritarianism, presented women “with opportunities they had never before imagined,” says Elliott. Women massed on the frontlines of protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square; in Libya, some were on the frontlines as well — with machine guns.

Yet when Elliott arrived in Libya last August, not long before the fall of the capital Tripoli, she entered a story that seemed — at least as it was being conveyed then to the outside world — bereft of women. While myriad images beamed out of North Africa depicted crowds of men chanting in the streets or strutting around abandoned tanks, “women were totally unseen, they were absent,” says Elliott. In Tripoli, she went to hospitals and prisons, civil society meetings and ransacked government buildings, interviewing women from all walks of life and political stripes. Her project includes both a pro-Gaddafi sniper, whom Elliott first encounters on a hospital bed and then at a makeshift prison, as well as a range of women affiliated with the rebellion—including one lady who would smuggle bullets in her handbag and another, a fighter on the front, who named her child after the popular “Doshka” machine gun.

Elliott’s photographs blend portraiture and reportage; the testimony of those she documents is important. “I wasn’t just snapping pics,” says Elliott. “I sat down with them for hours and kept in contact. I want to fully tell their story.” She hopes to expand the project from Libya and Egypt to cover the whole breadth of the Arab Spring — most immediately Tunisia, where last year’s seismic upheavals first began and where a fragile consensus exists between the Islamist and secularist forces that came to power in the revolution’s wake.

(Related: Egypt’s Muslim Sisterhood: What roles do Islamist women play?)

For women, much is at stake. The promise of sweeping political change has run up against the realities of conservative, deeply patriarchal societies. In both post-revolution Egypt and Libya, Islamist pressure led to the axing of minimum quotas for women in the countries’ new elected legislatures. Fears grow over a roll-back of the moderate gains made by women’s rights in the era of the dictatorships, which, while repressive, tended to be secular. In Egypt, incidences of sexual harassment and intimidation — which had a brief reprieve during the giddy days of unity at Tahrir Square — have worsened; many feel increasingly marginalized by the post-revolution status quo. “For women, there’s a sense that their revolution never really ended,” says Elliott. She hopes to follow them as their struggle continues.

Sarah Elliott is a Nairobi-based photographer. See more of her work here.

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From South Sudan’s refugee crisis and Spain’s historic Euro 2012 win to the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team trials and a polar bear cub’s piggyback, TIME’s photo department presents the best images of the week.

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Egypt recently carried out its first democratic presidential election in the country’s history. But five days after the vote, the question of who won remains a matter of contention. The contest pitted a former military man who had served in the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak against a leader of the regime’s longtime foes, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most observers believe the most votes went to Mohamed Morsy, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). The party claims a 1.2 million vote lead over Ahmed Shafik, the former military man and Mubarak prime minister. Shafik, however, says he has 500,000 more votes than Morsy. And with the official results still pending, the tension is rising as Egyptians wait to find out which candidate—if any—is telling the truth.

The presence of Egypt’s decidedly undemocratic military in its fledgling democratic process has only added to the atmosphere of uncertainty. Shortly after the polls closed on Sunday night, the junta, which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak stepped down, issued a decree that served to dramatically limit the powers of the incoming president. Just a few days before, the country’s constitutional court had moved to dissolve Egypt’s first democratically elected parliament—which had been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. And analysts say this latest decree seems tailor made to limit the impact of a Brotherhood win at the polls.

The Islamists have reacted to the pressure with a show of popular force; taking to Cairo’s Tahrir Square every night since, as the country awaits the electoral outcome. So far, the demonstrations have been largely symbolic. But they could turn violent if Shafik is declared the winner—an outcome that the Islamists have already said would be the product of electoral fraud.

Abigail Hauslohner is TIME’s Cairo correspondent.

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

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Nothing will change in their lives because someone will become a president. Nothing will change and they will live in the boundless spaces of the tundra under the enormous northern sky as their...

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Lars Tunbjörk is accustomed to seeking out the absurd. And on his first assignment covering U.S. politics, the Swedish photographer, best known for capturing the subtle humor in his native country’s suburban landscapes, didn’t need to look too hard. The frenzy of candidates, crowds and media that accompanied the Republican caucuses earlier this week in Iowa gave Tunbjörk absurdity by the ballotbox-full. This series of revealing and often humorous photos, commissioned to illustrate TIME‘s political coverage in the magazine and online, is a remarkable snapshot of American democracy in action. Tunbjörk often arrived early to watch campaign workers set up and stayed long after the the spectacle ended to capture them breaking down the stages. “The people of Iowa work hard during the process and take it very seriously,” the photographer says.

With a fresh eye, strong flash and unusual compositions, Tunbjörk captured the personality-driven candidacy of Rick Santorum as he prayed before a plate of nachos in Johnston, Iowa, and discovered Mitt Romney’s robotic rhetorical repetition on the trail in Clive and West Des Moines. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann were also photographed, and Tunbjörk shows the full spectrum of the long days both the candidates and Iowans endure, waiting at events and standing out in the cold during the sometimes grueling caucus process. Under the Iowa big-top, the marvels never cease. “Sweden is such a quiet country,” Tunbjörk says. “And this process is such a circus.”

Lars Tunbjörk is a Stockholm-based photographer and represented by Agence Vu in Paris and by the Gun Gallery in Sweden and Paul Amador Gallery in New York. He is the author of Vinter (Steidl, 2007) and his next book, L.A. Office (MACK) will be out this spring.  

Adam Sorensen is an associate editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter at @adamsorensen.

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