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GOP Congressman Says Central America Too Dangerous for Congressmen—But Not for Kids

| Thu Jul. 17, 2014 6:38 PM EDT

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), who spent the weekend visiting Honduras and Guatemala with six other members of Congress, reaffirmed his belief on Wednesday that the ongoing humanitarian crisis along the southern border is to send migrants home—even though he found his host city too dangerous to go outside.

Per the Santa Fe New Mexican:

Congressman Steve Pearce said Wednesday that most immigrants from Central America who are crossing illegally into the United States are driven by economic reasons, not fear of physical danger in their homeland.

...

Pearce said he and the rest of the House delegation that visited Honduras and Guatemala did not venture from their hotel very often because of the dangers, but the message they received in both countries was consistent: "Send back our children."

So to recap: Tegucigalpa is too dangerous for grown members of Congress to leave their downtown hotel rooms, but a perfectly fine place to send an eight-year-old kid. (According to a press release, the congressional delegation did leave their hotel to visit an outreach center funded by the US government. They also met with the president and first lady of Honduras.) Meanwhile, not content with the results of Pearce's investigation, a rival Congressional delegation, led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), is en route to Central America now. We'll see if they find it safe enough to walk around.

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Conservatives Are Freaking Out Because Comic Books Are Getting Too Real

| Thu Jul. 17, 2014 4:45 PM EDT

Before the penultimate issue of "Life With Archie" had even hit newsstands Wednesday, conservatives were preparing their outrage. As had been previously announced, Archie met his maker in Issue #36, heroically taking a bullet meant for his friend Kevin Keller. Keller, the series' first gay character, has been a lighting rod for controversy since first being introduced in 2010, prompting Singapore to ban the series. After his boyfriend was murdered in a mass shooting targeting gay people, Keller was prompted to run for political office on a strictly pro-gun control platform. Archie's death appears to be a heroic, selfless act at the end of the lighthearted redhead's saga, but conservatives are in an outrage—because his killer was a homophobe.

Archie Comics/AP

Christian Toto of Breitbart News' Big Hollywood doesn't want his kids exposed to the issues Archie presents: "There's a sense in conservative circles that there are fewer and fewer places they can enjoy, stories their kids can read or movies they can see without being force-fed a message."

Rod Dreher of the American Conservative responded to the news of Archie's death by saying it "seems like everybody is gay in pop culture today," and expressing concern that just "2 percent" of the population is engulfing the media.

Hot Air, a conservative news blog, had this to say about Archie's last episode: "Sticking Archie Andrews in the middle of an assassination narrative is like redoing 'Goofus and Gallant' so that Goofus is a meth head. When you lose the innocence, you lose part of the charm."

Before It's News weighed in on the issue in an opinion piece: "The formerly healthy, all-American Archie Comics franchise has gone to extremes to corrupt children with a depraved liberal sexual/political agenda."

The news swept Twitter and Facebook too, where conservatives even parodied Archie's final chapter with a cartoon featuring even more liberal agendas that could have replaced the ending:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though Archie Comics Publisher Jon Goldwater told the New York Daily News that the super-charged ending "had nothing to do with politics," this is not the first time Archie's political storylines have raised conservative ire. In Issue #10 of the Kevin Keller series, Keller confronts a woman upset about him kissing his boyfriend in public. "I don't mind promoting my work and talking about issues," writer and artist Dan Parent*, who created Keller, told Comic Book Resources. Though he claims he doesn't want Archie to be a billboard for gay rights, he admits that "serious issues" sometimes come up in a quality storyline and that the kiss was an important part of a discussion about "tolerance and acceptance."

The Archie death is not the only cartoon that's been criticized for its progressive qualities. Conservatives are also freaking out about Marvel Comics' decision to transform powerhouse hammer-wielder Thor into a woman, and the Council of Conservative Citizens nearly imploded when black actor Idris Elba was chosen to play a Norse God in Marvel Studios' Thor. Marvel's recent decision to make the next Captain America black is being described as "ridiculous" over Twitter, and Christian conservative groups threatened to boycott a gay Green Lantern in 2012.

The root of the Archie conservative ire appears to be the imposition of a political agenda. Maybe what they’re really worried about, though, is that their lily-white heterosexual fantasyland is officially too unrealistic, even for comic books.

Correction: This post originally said that Dan Parent wrote "Life With Archie" #36. The writer was actually Paul Kupperberg.

Housing Weakness Yet Another Indicator of a Sluggish Recovery

| Thu Jul. 17, 2014 3:01 PM EDT

Housing is the biggest single sector of the consumer economy, and pent-up demand for housing is usually the primary engine that pulls a country out of recession. But as Neil Irwin reports, we're just not seeing much of a rebound in housing:

Another disappointing reading on the housing market was released Thursday morning. The number of housing units that builders started work on fell 9.3 percent in June, to an 893,000 annual rate. The number of housing permits issued by local governments, a forward-looking measure that government statisticians consider less prone to measurement error, fell 4.2 percent. Forecasters had expected both numbers to rise.

....What makes the June results curious — and particularly disappointing — is that some of the excuses heard for weak housing numbers don’t hold water any more. The unusually bad winter weather that slowed construction in January and February is now long past....And mortgage rates spiked in the second half of 2013, perhaps leading builders to exercise a greater note of caution as they weighed new projects. But rates have fallen more or less steadily through the first half of 2014.

Now, as you can see from the chart, there's a lot of volatility in housing starts. So don't take the June decline too seriously. Nonetheless, after starting to rise in 2011, starts have been nearly flat for two years now. If housing is going to save the economy, it's sure taking its sweet time. More than likely, though, it's just not going to happen. It sure looks like we have many years of a weak, sluggish recovery ahead of us.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 17, 2014

Thu Jul. 17, 2014 12:20 PM EDT

A guided-missile destroyer departs Pearl Harbor for deployment as a child plays with a radio-controlled boat at Dog Beach. (US Navy photo by Canadian Armed Forces Sgt. Matthew McGregor)

64 Percent of Women Scientists Say They've Been Sexually Harassed Doing Field Work

| Thu Jul. 17, 2014 11:50 AM EDT

Most women working in the sciences face sexual assault and harassment while conducting field work, according to a study released Wednesday that is the first to investigate the subject.

The report surveyed 516 women (and 142 men) working in various scientific fields, including archeology, anthropology, and biology. Sixty-four percent of the women said they had been sexually harassed while working at field sites, and one out of five said they had been victims of sexual assault. The study found that the harassers and assailants were usually supervisors. Ninety percent of the women who were harassed were young undergraduates, post-graduates, or post-doctoral students.

"Our main findings…suggest that at least some field sites are not safe, nor inclusive," Kate Clancy, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. "We worry this is at least one mechanism driving women from science."

Many university science programs require students to complete fieldwork. Those who do work in the field are more likely to receive research grants. Consequently, women scientists "are put in a vulnerable position, afraid that reporting harassment or abuse will risk their research and a professional relationship often critical to their academic funding or career," the Washington Post noted.

The study comes as Congress investigates the response of US colleges to campus sexual harassment and assault. Two out of five colleges and universities have not conducted any sexual assault investigations in the past five years, according to a recent survey by the office of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Men vastly outnumber women in the sciences. According to Census data, women make up only about a quarter of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Commercial Jet Goes Down Over Ukraine

| Thu Jul. 17, 2014 11:48 AM EDT

From CNN:

A Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has crashed in eastern Ukraine, Russian news agency Interfax reported Thursday. The jet is a Boeing 777, according to Interfax.

The plane reportedly went down near the border between Russia and Ukraine.

Oh crap. Ukrainian officials are apparently claiming that the plane was shot down by a Russian missile.

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The Republican Foreign Policy Split Is Mostly a Myth

| Thu Jul. 17, 2014 11:15 AM EDT

Honest question here. I've been wondering about this for a while, but it crystallized last night after reading this Ross Douthat post about conservative foreign policy. My question is: Is there really a big foreign policy split in the Republican Party?

I hear about this a lot. Liberals love to write about it, for obvious reasons, but it's not just liberals. Conservatives talk about it too. But where's the evidence for the split? The answer is: Rand Paul. It almost always revolves around Rand Paul vs. Someone. Rick Perry. John McCain. Bill Kristol. Whatever. And since Rand Paul is a rising star with a Sarah Palinesque intuition for political theater, he's gotten a lot of attention for his contention that Republicans should adopt a less interventionist foreign policy.

The problem is that there's little reason to believe that Paul has had any more influence on mainstream Republican thought than his father did. The conservative coalition has always included both paleocons and libertarians who are skeptical of activist foreign policy, but their numbers have always been too small to carry any weight—and I don't see much evidence that this has changed. It's true that recent poll numbers suggest a declining appetite for foreign wars, but among conservatives those numbers are very, very soft. They change at even the slightest hint of aggression from Al Qaeda or Hamas or Vladimir Putin.

More to the point, I've seen no evidence of change within the mainstream of the party. Aside from Paul, who are the non-interventionists? Where exactly is the fight? I don't mean to suggest that everyone in the Republican Party is a full-blown unreconstructed neocon. There's a continuum of opinion, just as there's always been. But as near as I can tell they're nearly all about as generally hawkish as they've ever been—and just as eager as ever to tar Democrats as a gang of feckless appeasers and UN lovers.

So: Is this intra-party fight real? Once you remove the Rand Paul PR machine from the equation, is there anything left? Or is it mostly an invention of bored Beltway reporters trying to drum up some conflict?

Todd Akin Is Still Talking About Rape—and Suggests Bill Clinton Is a Rapist

| Thu Jul. 17, 2014 11:12 AM EDT

Todd Akin won't stop talking. And he won't stop talking about rape. On Thursday, the former Republican Missouri congressman and failed Senate candidate—best known for suggesting that the female body could self-terminate a pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape"—appeared on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown to talk about his new book, Firing Back, and to explain why he was totally right about the rape thing. During the 10-minute spot, he insisted that "legitimate rape is a law enforcement term." (He did not cite a source for this.) And he pointed out that Bill Clinton was accused of committing rape and "assault on women," yet the former president was applauded when he delivered the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic convention. "Seems to me, it's a Democratic war on women," Akin remarked.

Contradicting his comment about a woman's ability to "shut that whole thing down"—that is, to prevent conception following a rape—Akin claimed that he "had a number of people" working on his Senate campaign who "had been conceived in rape."

Watch:

More Kids Die in Hot Cars Than I Would Have Guessed

| Thu Jul. 17, 2014 10:42 AM EDT

Over at Vox, today's headline reads:

How many kids die in hot cars? Not as many as you think.

It's accompanied by the chart on the right, which shows exactly how many children die after being locked in hot cars. And it's....actually higher than I would have guessed.

Why? I think it's a function of media cynicism. In the same way that the press overhypes child abductions, leading to insane suburban fears and the passage of _____'s Law all over the country, I figure that the press is so eager to highlight grisly stuff like this that it ends up being national news every single time it happens. If that's true, it would suggest that maybe three or four kids die in overheated cars each year. But no! My cynicism is (slightly) misplaced. In fact, only a small percentage of these deaths make the front page.

Now, granted, this is still less than one death per year in each state, which means it's not exactly a spiraling epidemic. Still, if you'd asked me, I think I would have guessed the number was around five or ten. I also would have guessed that all the media attention would have led to a decrease in these deaths, but the chart doesn't suggest that either. Apparently, scaring the hell out of people doesn't really cause them to be any more careful.

Student Loan Relief in Sight, Maybe

| Thu Jul. 17, 2014 9:52 AM EDT

Hooray! A new bipartisan bill has been introduced in the Senate to address the student loan crisis. It wouldn't actually reduce the amount that grads have to pay (you didn't expect that, did you), but it does make repayment easier by taking a program that already exists as an option and making it the default repayment plan. Jordan Weissmann reviews the details:

It looks pretty solid overall. All federal loan borrowers would be enrolled in an income-based program where they paid 10 percent of their earnings each month, with a $10,000 annual exemption. Meanwhile, the government would collect the money directly from workers’ paychecks, just like tax withholding. One potentially controversial part: It would forgive up to $57,500 worth of loans after 20 years, but anything above that amount wouldn’t be forgiven for 30 years. (The current Pay as You Earn repayment program forgives all debts after two decades.) But borrowers who don’t like the income-based option could opt out and set their own payment timetable.

And now for the bad news. The bill is sponsored by Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Marco Rubio. And as Weissmann puts it in a family-friendly rewrite of Jon Chait, "Rubio doesn’t have a sterling track record of selling his own party on bipartisan policy proposals." No, he doesn't, does he? But who knows. Maybe after ripping his political guts out over immigration reform, Republicans will throw him a bone by supporting this bill. It's not like it really costs any money to speak of, after all.

Then again, passing the bill would represent getting something done, and Republicans these days seem to be convinced that getting anything done makes government look efficient and responsive and therefore redounds to the credit of Democrats. And we can't have that, can we?