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Will This New GMO Potato Take Off? McDonald's Has Spoken

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 3:28 PM EST
Which spud's for you? The Innate, left, is engineered not to turn brown soon after cutting.

Would you be excited to pluck a bag of precut, gleaming-white potato slices from supermarket produce bin—fresh not frozen, and ready to throw in the pan or the FryDaddy?

Your answer may decide the fate of the "Innate" potato, which has been genetically engineered to resist browning and to contain less of the amino acid that turns into acrylamide—a probably human carcinogen—when potatoes are fried at high temperatures. Developed by the agribusiness giant J.R. Simplot, a major player in the $3.7 billion American potato market, the product won approval last week from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The reason you can currently only buy frozen precut potatoes is that they turn brown quickly. The Innate solves this, uh, problem.

To understand why the success of the new potato will hinge on your desire for convenience, a little background is in order: Simplot is one of the three massive companies (alongside ConAgra and McCain Foods) that buy potatoes from farmers, process them into French fries—as well as tater tots, spiral fries, and wedges—freeze them, and distribute them to companies ranging from fast-food giants to supermarket chains.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 14 November 2014

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 2:58 PM EST

As you may recall, last week I regaled you with the news that cats (allegedly) love circles. Put a circular object on the floor, and they'll flock to it. But is this true? On Saturday, my sister visited and we performed our experiment: she laid down a scarf on the floor in a circular shape and we waited. I insisted that we do nothing to influence the cats, since that would ruin all the lovely Science™, but we didn't have to wait long. Hilbert came over first, and then Hopper followed. For the next 15 minutes they went nuts for the circle. By the time I took the picture on the right, the scarf was no longer all that circular, but it didn't matter. They loved it.

So there you have it. Cats do love circles. The reason, however, remains a mystery, so let's move on to this week's official catblogging. I've already mentioned that I have a hard time keeping up with our little furballs unless they're snoozing, so this week you get a picture of them snoozing (Hopper on the left, Hilbert on the right). I sent this to the shelter where we got them, and they thought it was hilarious. Our guys are not the kind of cats who curl up when they sleep. They stretch out as far as they can to air out their tummies, even if that means they're often hanging over the edge of a chair. But the couch is better. Even they can only fill up half a couch.

Study: White People Think Black People Are Magical Unicorns

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 2:47 PM EST

A new study featured in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science concludes white people may possess a "superhuman bias" against black people, and are therefore likely to attribute preternatural qualities to black people.

Jesse Singal explains at the Science of Us:

In a series of five studies, some involving so-called implicit association tests in which words are flashed on a screen quickly enough to "prime" a subject with their meaning but not for them to consciously understand what they have seen, the researchers showed that whites are quicker to associate blacks than whites with superhuman words like ghost, paranormal, and spirit.

This image of a magical black person, someone holding extraordinary mental and physical powers, has long persisted through American culture, whether it be through cringe-worthy movie roles or literature.

And the damage of such a potential bias is significant. While it's easy to understand why most clichés are both dangerous and destructive, the study suggests white people's tendency to cast a black person as a magical being—a stereotype that on its face some might claim is positive—is actually just as detrimental as say the image of the angry black woman, absent father, etc.

The superhuman image may be able to explain matters such as why young black men are perceived to "be more 'adult' than White juveniles when judging culpability," write researchers Adam Waytz, Kelly Marie Hoffman, and Sophie Trawalter. If true, such a perception could outline the overwhelming racial disparities seen in prison systems throughout the country. 

This bizarre phenomenon could even have contributed to the immense hope Americans placed on President Barack Obama in 2008. As the Boston Globe recently pointed out, back in 2007 David Ehrenstein described Obama's campaign as such:

Like a comic-book superhero, Obama is there to help, out of the sheer goodness of a heart we need not know or understand. For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems, the more desirable he becomes. If he were real, white America couldn't project all its fantasies of curative black benevolence on him.

Republicans later even attempted to make light of the stereotype with CD's featuring a song titled "Barack the Magic Negro."

Although the trope has been criticized for some time, researchers behind this recent study say it's the first "empirical investigation" into the matter.

(h/t Science of Us)

 

People Who Use Obamacare Sure Do Like It

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 1:43 PM EST

Jonathan Cohn points us today to a Gallup poll with yet more good news for Obamacare. In a recent survey, the people who are actually using Obamacare gave it very high marks: 74 percent said the quality of health care they received was good or excellent, and 71 percent said the overall coverage was good or excellent. What's remarkable is that these numbers are nearly the same as those for everyone else with health insurance, which includes those with either employer coverage or Medicare. Here's the bottom line from Cohn:

You hear a lot about what’s wrong with the coverage available through the marketplaces and some of these criticisms are legitimate. The narrow networks of providers are confusing, for example, and lack of sufficient regulations leaves some patients unfairly on the hook for ridiculously high bills. But overall the plans turn out to be as popular as other forms of private and public insurance. It’s one more sign that, if you can just block out the negative headlines and political attacks, you’ll discover a program that is working.

Republicans can huff and puff all they want, but the evidence is clear: despite its rollout problems, Obamacare is a success. It's covering millions of people; its costs are in line with forecasts; and people who use it think highly of it. There's no such thing as a big, complex program that has no problems, and Obamacare has its share. But overall? It's a standup triple.

3 Ways Obama's Immigration Executive Action Changes Everything (and One Way It Doesn't)

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 12:19 PM EST

The details of President Barack Obama's much-rumored, much-debated executive action on immigration have been leaked to the press, and the broad outline, according to Fox News and the New York Times, includes deportation relief for upward of 5 million people.

Republicans are already lining up to block the White House's plans, and Obama's successor could go ahead and reverse course in 2017, anyway. Still, here are three reported provisions that could have a dramatic impact on the lives of the United States' 11 million undocumented immigrants:

1. Expansion of DACA, the program for DREAMers: Back in 2012, a Department of Homeland Security directive known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) extended deportation relief to those young immigrants who came to the United States before their 16th birthday and went on to graduate from high school or serve in the US military. As Vox's Dara Lind has reported, the program has been a success for the roughly 600,000 immigrants who received deferred action by June 2014, although just as many are eligible but haven't yet applied. According to the Fox News report, Obama's executive action would move the cutoff arrival date from June 2007 to January 1, 2010, and remove the age limit (31 as of June '12); a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report details how changes to the initial plan could make hundreds of thousands of immigrants DACA-eligible:

Migration Policy Institute, 2014

2. Relief for the undocumented parents of US citizen children: According to the Times, a key part of the executive action "will allow many parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents to obtain legal work documents and no longer worry about being discovered, separated from their families and sent away," a move that would legalize anywhere from 2.5-3.3 million people. The Huffington Post reported in June that more than 72,000 parents of US-born children were deported in fiscal year 2013 alone; of those, nearly 11,000 had no criminal convictions. (One 2013 report estimated that 4.5 million US-born kids have at least one undocumented parent.)

3. Elimination of mandatory fingerprinting program: Under Secure Communities, or S-Comm, immigrants booked into local jails have their fingerprints run through a Homeland Security database to check their legal status. (If they're unauthorized, they can be held by local authorities until the feds come pick them up.) The program, which began under President George W. Bush and was greatly expanded under Obama, has long come under fire for quickly pushing people toward detention and potential deportation, as well as for contributing to racial profiling and even the detention of thousands of US citizens. According to one 2013 report, S-Comm led to the deportation of more than 300,000 immigrants from fiscal years 2009 to 2013.

There are other reported parts to Obama's plan, including hundreds of thousands of new tech visas and even pay raises for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. Still, given this year's border crisis, it's notable that the president's plan seems to make little to no mention of the folks who provoked it: the unaccompanied children and so-called "family units" (often mothers traveling with small kids) who came in huge numbers from Central America and claimed, in many cases, to be fleeing violence of some sort.

The administration has been particularly adamant about fast-tracking the deportation of those family unit apprehensions, whose numbers jumped from 14,855 in fiscal 2013 to 68,445 in fiscal 2014, a 361 percent increase. Meanwhile, ICE has renewed the controversial practice of family detention (a complaint has already been filed regarding sexual abuse in the new Karnes City, Texas, facility) and will soon open the largest immigration detention facility in the country, a 2,400-bed family center in Dilley, Texas—just as Obama starts rolling out what many immigration hardliners will no doubt attack as an unconstitutional amnesty.

This post has been updated.

Wakey, Wakey! Your Life Is Wasting Away.

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 10:33 AM EST

Melissa Dahl points us to a Reddit conversation with Dan Ariely, a Duke professor who's an expert on time management:

Ariely: One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don't require high cognitive capacity (like social media). If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful in accomplishing what we truly want.

Q: What are those hours? I must know.

Ariely: Generally people are most productive in the morning. The two hours after becoming fully awake are likely to be the best.

That's a hell of a thing, isn't it? If Ariely is right, then almost by definition most of us waste the best hours of our lives. After all, by the time we eat breakfast, shower, get dressed, and commute to work, we've probably blown away the first 60-90 minutes of the day. And then, as Ariely says, we waste the next half hour chatting or checking email or working at some other low-priority task.

But not me! Mostly for time zone reasons, my habit for a while has been to wake up and come straight to the computer. After I get caught up on the news and write my first post, I eat a quick breakfast. Then I come back and keep blogging. My first two hours are consumed almost entirely by work.

So does that mean that my first two or three posts of the day are generally my best ones? I've never thought so. In fact, they're usually fairly short items. Later, as I engage more fully with the news of the day and the reactions of other bloggers, I start to write more substantive stuff. That's how it's always seemed, anyway. But maybe I'm wrong. What says the hive mind?

In any case, I have a doctor's appointment this morning (chemo round 4, only 12 to go!), so I shall sadly be wasting my most productive hours. On the bright side, the medical staff will presumably be at its peak. That's not a bad tradeoff, I guess. See you on the other side.

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Obama Is About to Make the World's Biggest Pledge to Help Poor Countries Fight Climate Change

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 10:23 AM EST

What a week! First President Barack Obama announces a massive climate agreement with China designed to lower both countries' carbon emissions while doubling down on clean energy development. Now this morning, the New York Times is reporting that the president will soon announce a $3 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund, a UN-administered account that will help developing countries clean their energy sectors and adapt to the impacts of global warming.

A $3 billion pledge from the United States would double the size of the fund; the biggest donations up to this point were $1 billion each from France and Germany. More countries are expected to make commitments at a UN meeting in Berlin next week. The fund's stated goal is to reach $15 billion before a key meeting next month in Lima, Peru.

Obama's pledge "is a strong and important signal to developing countries that the US is serious ahead of climate negotiations in 2015," said Alex Doukas, a sustainable finance analyst at the World Resources Institute.

From the Times:

It is not clear whether Mr. Obama's $3 billion pledge will come from existing sources of funding, or whether he will have to ask Congress to appropriate the money. Since 2010, the Obama administration has spent about $2.5 billion to help poor countries adapt to climate change and develop new clean sources of energy, but Republicans are certain to target additional requests for money linked to climate change and foreign aid.

So there are still some details to work out. But like the US-China climate deal, the most immediate impact of this pledge announcement will be to encourage other countries to up the ante on their own commitments.

These 7 Conservatives Would Impeach Obama Over Immigration

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 6:00 AM EST

As early as next week, President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order that would allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country without facing deportation. Not unexpectedly, Republicans are outraged, and some have hinted that the only way to stop the plan is impeachment. Here are seven conservative politicians and pundits who have preemptively dropped the I-word in response to Obama's rumored immigration policy:

Sarah Palin: "Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, 'no mas.'"

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa): "We know there is the 'I' word in the Constitution that none of us want to say or act on… In this context, everything is on the table. We cannot have a president of the United States that believes that he can make up the law as he goes."

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.): "[Obama] either enforces the laws on the books—as he was hired and elected to do—or he leaves Congress no option… This is not our choice, this is the president's choice and I would advise him to uphold the law on the books."

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas): "Well, impeachment is indicting in the House and that's a possibility. But you still have to convict in the Senate and that takes a two-thirds vote. But impeachment would be a consideration, yes sir."

Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano: "If [Obama] tells Homeland Security and Border Patrol, 'Look the other way when illegals come in,' that is violating his oath because it's a failure to enforce the law… so if the practical effect of his executive order is the opposite of what the law requires, I hate to say this—Republicans don't want to do it, and I understand why—he's a candidate for impeachment."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.): "We've got three years to get this guy out… Hopefully he—well, let me put it this way, I think he probably has been engaged in these unconstitutional approaches that may make his own ability to stay in office a question."

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas): "For all I know, Obama is preparing to process five million illegal immigrant kids and teenagers into the United States… He wants us to impeach him now, before the midterm election because his senior advisers believe that is the only chance the Democratic Party has to avoid a major electoral defeat. Evidently Obama believes impeachment could motivate the Democratic Party base to come out and vote."

Bonus: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) says she would also move to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Jonson: "I would nominate [impeaching] the head of Homeland Security who will execute the laws on the border."

Obama and the GOP Congress Unite to Push US Meat Overseas

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 6:00 AM EST

The US meat industry has a problem: American consumers have been eating less flesh. The solution is straightforward: find meat-ravenous people overseas. The opening of the China market to US-grown pork and poultry has helped stabilize the industry through a rough decade of waning domestic demand and elevated feed prices.

But now the meat giants want more. As a new report by Ben Lilliston of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy shows, the industry is licking its chops at the prospect of a massive trade proposal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would dramatically lower trade barriers among a group of nations that includes the US, Canada, Chile, Peru, and Mexico on this side of the Pacific, and Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam on the other. " The TPP would establish a free-trade bloc stretching from Vietnam to Chile and Japan, encompassing about 800 million people and almost 40 percent of the global economy," Reuters reports.

Book Review: The Unspeakable

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 5:30 AM EST

The Unspeakable

By Meghan Daum

FSG

In a series of essays reminiscent of a slightly restrained David Sedaris, Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum comes off as humorously dysfunctional and occasionally deranged as she plunges into topics best avoided: her true feelings as her mother lay dying, disdain for motherhood, bad dating choices, courting of lesbians (she's straight), abject failure as a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor and prospective foster parent, and even her awkward encounters with the singer Joni Mitchell. Reading The Unspeakable is a bit like watching Zach Galafianakis act: funny and slightly unsettling. You're not sure you like Daum, but you can't wait to see what she'll say next.