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Can Putin Withstand Falling Oil Prices?

December 5th, 2014 - 8:34 am

That’s the question, isn’t it? And the answer is… it’s complicated:

“It is not clear,” writes Martin Feldstein, the eminent Harvard economist, whether Putin’s regime (or similar ones in Iran and Venezuela) “could survive a substantial and sustained future decline in oil prices.”

It depends on who has the more accurate view of authoritarian power dynamics: Yegor Gaidar or Emmanuel Goldstein.

Gaidar, who died five years ago, is best known as an economist, a senior official in Boris Yeltsin’s post-Soviet Russian government and a promoter of the thesis that the Soviet Union collapsed largely because of a sharp drop in oil prices, brought about by Saudi Arabia’s decision in September 1985 to increase production.

The Saudi move, which Gaidar portrayed as a deliberate attempt to loosen Moscow’s grip on what was then a Cold War battlefield in Afghanistan, cost the Soviets approximately $20 billion a year, “money without which the country simply could not survive,” as he put it in a 2007 essay.

The Soviet Union was arguably in a stronger position, even in the mid-’80s, than Russia is in today. Certainly the USSR enjoyed much greater strategic depth, surrendered when the polyglot empire dissolved into its constituent SSRs. The Soviets also had a governing philosophy, bankrupt as it was — Putin has only a cunning thuggishness backed up by petrodollars.

And the petrodollars are drying up.

That’s not to say Putin’s government will necessarily fall. Cunning thuggishness has been enough to keep plenty of cunning thugs in power for a very long time. But his imperial ambitions may very well have to wait.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

December 5th, 2014 - 7:26 am

One year later, security is still an issue:

A new report, dated Sept. 29 but released on Dec. 2 by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, says improvements are needed to ensure the security of information provided to the IRS by health insurers and pharmaceutical manufacturers for the Affordable Care Act program.

In an earlier report, TIGTA listed steps the IRS needed to take to protect consumer tax information on ACA health insurance exchanges (see IRS Told To Beef Up Obamacare Scrutiny).

Security control weaknesses identified in the TIGTA audit could affect the IRS’s ability to reliably process the electronic reports submitted by insurers and drug companies that are used to accurately determine the applicable fees, according to the report.

The TIGTA review, conducted between November 2013 and May 2014, found that the IRS conducted security and other tests of the core system for handling the information from insurers and pharmaceutical companies. But it found that “improvements are needed to ensure the long-term success of the … system.”

It’s the IRS. You can trust the IRS.

There’s an Illegal App for That

December 5th, 2014 - 6:16 am


If pot is legal, a delivery service seems like a fine idea to me — let’s keep the stoners off the roads, shall we? But that’s not how they see it in the City of Buttinsky Angels:

The Los Angeles city attorney filed a lawsuit Tuesday to shut down a mobile phone application that arranges medical marijuana home deliveries.

The suit alleges that the iPhone and Android free app, Nestdrop, is a “flagrant attempt” to bypass restrictions contained in Proposition D, the medical marijuana law approved by Los Angeles voters last year.

Nestdrop links customers with delivery services. It started as an alcoholic beverage delivery service but added marijuana in November, promising arrival within an hour.

Pot delivery is currently only available in Los Angeles, but the company has said it wants to expand throughout Southern California.

California, the birthplace of beach music and hotrods, now takes the fun out of everything.

This is such a perfect teaser for longtime fans like me, that I’m just out of words.

Lame Duck Gone Wilder!

December 4th, 2014 - 1:14 pm

It’s Part II of Bill Whittle’s Trifecta Triple.

The ♡bamaCare!!! Bandwagon of Total Suckitude

December 4th, 2014 - 12:18 pm

First Schumer, now Harkin:

Sen. Tom Harkin, one of the co-authors of the Affordable Care Act, now thinks Democrats may have been better off not passing it at all and holding out for a better bill.

The Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, laments the complexity of legislation the Senate passed five years ago.

He wonders in hindsight whether the law was made overly complicated to satisfy the political concerns of a few Democratic centrists who have since left Congress.

“We had the power to do it in a way that would have simplified healthcare, made it more efficient and made it less costly and we didn’t do it,” Harkin told The Hill. “So I look back and say we should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all.

Harkin’s comments are actually quite a bit more damaging than Schumer. Schumer only lamented the timing of the law, not its contents. Harkin is now on record saying the law is crap.

So my question to the Complicit Media (cough, Greg Sargent, cough) is: Does this mean ♡bamaCare!!! is working?


Cyrus Farivar reports for Ars Technica:

Newly discovered court documents from two federal criminal cases in New York and California that remain otherwise sealed suggest that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is pursuing an unusual legal strategy to compel cellphone makers to assist investigations.

In both cases, the seized phones—one of which is an iPhone 5S—are encrypted and cannot be cracked by federal authorities. Prosecutors have now invoked the All Writs Act, an 18th-century federal law that simply allows courts to issue a writ, or order, which compels a person or company to do something.

Some legal experts are concerned that these rarely made public examples of the lengths the government is willing to go in defeating encrypted phones raise new questions as to how far the government can compel a private company to aid a criminal investigation.

Two federal judges agree that the phone manufacturer in each case—one of which remains sealed, one of which is definitively Apple—should provide aid to the government.

And here’s a bit more:

Alex Abdo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, wondered if the government could invoke the All Writs Act to “compel Master Lock to come to your house and break [a physical lock] open.”

“That’s kind of like the question of could the government compel your laptop maker to unlock your disk encryption?” he said. “And I think those are very complicated questions, and if so, then that’s complicated constitutional questions whether the government can conscript them to be their agents. Then there’s one further question: can the government use the All Writs Act to compel the installation of backdoors?”

But, if Apple really can’t decrypt the phone as it claims, the point is moot.

If I understand correctly how iOS encryption works, then it’s true that Apple couldn’t crack your iPhone or iPad, even under court order and with Tim Cook being waterboarded.

But it’s still up to the user to password protect and biometric protect their devices.

If you have an iPhone 5S or later, and iPad Air 2, or an iPad Mini 3, you’ll want to add the extra convenience of using TouchID. The Feds have argued that the police may compel you to use your fingerprint to unlock a device, just like they may compel you to provide your fingerprints upon arrest.

But there are a couple things you need to know.

First, there’s some doubt as to whether the “thumbprint test” will stand. When taken into custody, your fingerprints are taken to establish your identity and to keep a record of it. But using your thumbprint to unlock your phone is an entirely different matter, enabling the police to rifle through your personal papers and effects without a warrant or even your permission. Yes, they’re both “just fingerprints,” but to entirely different ends — one constitutional, the other not.

Also, iOS devices automatically disable Touch ID after ten failed attempts, or after a power shutdown, or after any other loss of power. At that point, only your password can wake the device, and the courts have said that the police may not force you to provide your password without a warrant.

So use Touch ID, don’t use any obvious, easy-to-guess passwords, and shut down your device at the first sign of trouble. In the worst case, smash the thing on the ground, because they can’t force you to unlock a device which no longer works.

100 of Our Brains Are Missing!

December 4th, 2014 - 10:53 am


And no, this story wasn’t filed from the White House or from Capitol Hill. Read:

The University of Texas at Austin is missing about 100 brains — about half of the specimens the university had in a collection of brains preserved in jars of formaldehyde.

One of the missing brains is believed to have belonged to clock tower sniper Charles Whitman.

“We think somebody may have taken the brains, but we don’t know at all for sure,” psychology Professor Tim Schallert, co-curator of the collection, told the Austin American-Statesman.

My brain tells me they didn’t just get up and walk away.

The Economy Isn’t Hillary’s Friend

December 4th, 2014 - 9:46 am

That’s according to Sean Trende at RCP:

Let’s first use CBO’s estimate of 4 percent growth. This is probably on the high side (CBO has been forecasting a surge in GDP just around the corner for five years now) so we’ll asterisk it as a high-end probability. President Obama’s job approval rating is -10.8 percent today. If we plug these two variables into Time for Change Classic, it suggests that Republicans should be favored to win by about three points: 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent.

But, you say, with 4 percent growth, Obama is unlikely to remain at -10.8 percent approval. Fair enough. But even if we move him up to a net-neutral job approval, the models forecast a narrow Democratic loss, 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent. Obama would have to reach a net job approval of +6 before the model would forecast the Democrat to win (narrowly). Obama has accomplished this four times in his six years in office: During his two post-election “honeymoons,” after the shooting of Gabby Giffords, and after killing Osama bin Laden. If he ties his post-2009 best of +12 percent net approval, the model would favor the Democrat by a point.

But what if the Fed forecast of 2.6-to-3 percent growth is more accurate? At 2.8 percent growth and using Obama’s current job approval, the model forecasts a Democratic loss of 4.6 points; at neutrality it forecasts a Democratic loss of 2.4 points, and even improving to a +12 percent net approval rating would suggest a very narrow Democratic win (.198 points, to be exact).

As always, don’t get cocky.

NSF Spends $25k on Party and Booze

December 4th, 2014 - 8:47 am

It must have been a really good party:

Internal investigators say a contractor picked by the National Science Foundation to run a national ecological monitoring study has been wrongly spending millions in government funds, charging that taxpayer dollars may have been wasted on items that included a $25,000 Christmas party, booze for company executives and a nearly $1,000 a month coffee service.

“The NSF is out of touch and out of control,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who will chair the hearing of the House Science Committee.

“Federal agencies must be held accountable for their waste and misuse of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” Smith added.

Honestly, I’d rather most federal agencies blow money on booze than spending our tax dollars the way they usually do — crimping our liberties and harming our economy.

In the Bad Old Days, we had a tiny, amateur government filled with unqualified cronies who were just in it for the paychecks. But a hundred years ago or so, the Progressives “fixed” that, and paved the way for a massive government filled with highly trained specialists who really care.

Which, in hindsight, seems preferable to you?

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

December 4th, 2014 - 7:35 am


Got cancer? ♡bamaCare!!! has you covered! Just not as well covered as you used to be:

People with Obamacare coverage who take medications for cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis, and other chronic diseases might pay more out of pocket next year. A greater share of insurance plans sold in the marketplace will require consumers to pay 30 percent or more of the cost of specialty drugs, according to a new analysis from consultant Avalere Health.

“Specialty drugs” is an oblique way of saying “the drugs which people with the worst things will need most badly.”

Let’s continue:

Avalere looked at how much cost sharing was required for drugs insurers considered “specialty” medicines. There’s no consistent definition of specialty drugs; the term generally refers to medicine used to treat severe or rare illnesses. The doses can cost thousands of dollars a month. Asking patients to pay 30 percent of that can mean some people skip doses they can’t afford.

Yet the share of silver plans—the most popular tier of Obamacare coverage—that required that level of cost sharing jumped to 41 percent, from 27 percent last year, according to Avalere. The analysis included plans on the federal marketplace and state exchanges in New York and California; other state-based exchanges were not included.

Blue state voters getting crushed under the weight of ♡bamaCare!!!? Seems like an opportunity to me.

The Democrats never hesitated to pull at the heart strings to pass this monstrosity. How about the GOP do the same, using ads with real-life HIV and cancer victims losing everything they have to pay for their once-covered meds?

Bomb Bomb Bomb Bomb Bomb the Norks

December 4th, 2014 - 6:24 am
"It would only be a little tiny preemptive war."

“It would only be a little tiny preemptive war.”

It seems like only an hour ago we last spoke of North Korea, but here we go again. Did you know that Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom’s new SecDef-in-Waiting is a Dick Cheney hawk? Read:

While Carter is likely to garner support from a majority of senators, he has in the past advocated preemptive strikes against North Korea, which continues to this day to carry out advanced missile work.

Carter, in 2006, called on the Bush administration to launch offensive strikes against North Korean missile sites, urging the former president in a Washington Post op-ed to “immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched.”

“Should the United States allow a country openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil?” Carter asked in a piece jointly written with former Secretary of Defense William Perry. “We believe not.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that is how desperate the White House is to get someone, anyone to act (and I do mean act) as the new Secretary of Defense — they’ll take someone who went full Dick Cheney.

And everyone knows you never go full Dick Cheney.

No Indictment

December 4th, 2014 - 5:56 am

Andrew McCarthy sums up my feelings well:

The New York City grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner is much harder to justify than the St. Louis grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Michael Brown. It is very unfortunate that these cases come so closely together, which plays into the hands of the race-obsessed demagogues. And we should reserve final judgment about what happened in Staten Island until we learn about all the evidence the grand jury considered — although the extensive video in the Garner case makes it very hard to reserve judgment.

He also has a full column on it, which is worth your time.

I watched the video — an experience I’d rather not go through again. And all I can say after having seen it is, they ought to amend the old expression to say, “You can indict a ham sandwich, unless the ham sandwich took a cavalier attitude towards using a banned choke hold to subdue someone, resulting in their death for selling individual cigarets.”

How Many Kims…

December 4th, 2014 - 5:18 am

News of the Weird again comes to you from North Korea:

North Korea has ordered people who share the name of leader Kim Jong Un to change their names, South Korea’s state-run KBS television reported on Wednesday.

North Korea imposed similar bans on the use of the names of its two former leaders, Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, as part of propaganda drives to build cults of personality around them.

Kim Jong Un’s name is not allowed for newborns and people who share the name must not just stop using it but must change it on their birth certificates and residence registrations, KBS reported, citing an official North Korean directive.

I’m reminded of Steve Martin’s advice to criminals — make one crazy demand, so that in case you’re caught you’ll have a built-in insanity defense. “Give me a million dollars cash, a plane to Cuba, and the letter E stricken from the English language!”

Is Li’l Kim crazy enough to use nukes? He’s crazy enough to retrofit thousand of people’s names.

(H/T, James Joyner.)

Keep Austin Wired

December 3rd, 2014 - 2:14 pm

Google Fiber is signing up customers in Austin:

For consumers, there are three pricing options: a $130-per-month package that bundles gigabit broadband with TV service and 1TB of cloud storage, which can be used across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google+ Photos. If all you’re after is speedy web access, you can subscribe to the internet-only plan (which also includes the cloud storage) for $70 each month. And just as it does in other Fiber cities, Google is offering a “basic internet” tier that includes 5Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds for nothing — after you pay the $300 construction fee to get Fiber up and running, that is. The construction fee is waived with the other plans so long as you commit to keeping service for a year. Small businesses can get gigabit speeds by paying $100 each month.

Google previously revealed it’s “exploring” bringing Fiber to other areas.

That’s a whole lot of speed at a very tempting price — but I don’t trust Google to handle my email. I’ve even switched to Duck Duck Go as my default search engine on all my devices.

Would you give your online everything to Google in exchange for $130 gigabit speed?

Lame Duck Gone Wild!

December 3rd, 2014 - 1:22 pm

It’s Bill Whittle’s turn to host the Trifecta Triple, and I think the headline is about as much introduction as you’ll need before pressing Play.

I Can See Your Watch from Here

December 3rd, 2014 - 12:09 pm


That …thing… is the latest Samsung Gear S smartwatch, which looks like the mutant offspring of a phablet and a larger phablet. However it came into being, Engadget isn’t impressed:

The Samsung Gear S is a device that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Sure, it’s great that it can act as a standalone smartwatch and doesn’t need a phone to make or receive calls. Except, well, it does. Not only does the Gear S need to be paired with a phone to be activated, but that’s also the only way to install or remove apps and the only way to get notifications from services like Gmail and Twitter. Certainly, the Gear S works well enough if you don’t mind its chunky size, small app selection and occasionally buggy software, but $350 is just too much to pay for a smartwatch with this many shortcomings.

What really shocked me is that the watch comes with a full web browser, Opera Mini, pre-installed. I can think of a lot of functionalities I want on my wrist, but a fully armed and operational web browser isn’t one of them. Can you imagine trying to accurately tap on an old-fashioned hyperlink on a page full of banner ads? Samsung just doesn’t know how to edit.

On the plus side though, I understand that if left on its own, the Gear S has the ability replicate itself thousands of times in the process of converting Jupiter into a small star.

News You Can Use

December 3rd, 2014 - 11:15 am


What do you do during the holiday season when you’re homeless, broke, and require the services of a professional clothing removal engineer? You steal an ambulance and head for the state line:

The Pontiac man, whose name was not released, came across the unlocked Star EMS ambulance outside of the emergency entrance at McLaren Oakland Hospital in Pontiac around 11 p.m. Sunday.

EMT personnel — a 20-year-old Sterling Heights resident and a 40-year-old Milford resident — had rushed a patient into the hospital and left the keys in the ignition, according to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.

“They came back outside and their rig was gone,” said Undersheriff Michael McCabe.

One of the emergency medical technicians had left a cell phone in the ambulance and police were able to track the vehicle to an area near 18 Mile and Ryan roads in Sterling Heights. Oakland County sheriff’s deputies then worked with Sterling Heights officers to locate the ambulance and pull it over.

“They asked him what was going on and he said ‘I’m going to the Booby Trap to see a dancer,’” McCabe said.

There’s no happy ending to our tale, as The Booby Trap had closed down some time ago.

Count Floyd Says: Oooh, Scary Stuff, Iran!

December 3rd, 2014 - 10:33 am

The Mullahs have revealed oodles of new military gear:

The new military hardware was widely publicized by Iranian military leaders following an order by Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei urging the country’s armed forces to step up their combat readiness despite an extension in nuclear talks with the West.

The Iranian Navy displayed a crop of new vessels equipped with cruise missiles and other rockets. Also unveiled were new attack helicopters “equipped with Iran’s latest home-grown torpedoes,” according to Iranian military leaders quoted by the country’s state-controlled press.

The show of force is likely meant to send a message to the United States and other Western nations following another failed round of talks over Iran’s contested nuclear weapons program.

Color me unafraid.

Iran has been showing off new wares for a couple of decades now, and pretty much all of it has come to naught. They don’t have the engineers, the experience, the manufacturing base, or the electronics to make any of this stuff work. The best they’ve been able to manage is to keep their ’70s era Soviet and American warplanes flying, in ever decreasing numbers, by cannibalizing the ones they can’t make fly at all any more, and sometimes by jury-rigging homegrown spare parts.

What they can’t do is field a credible air force in any numbers.

Me and My Deadly Shadow

December 3rd, 2014 - 9:56 am


The Army is making some big upgrades to its oldest UAV:

he Bv2 model has a lot of improvements and the army is in the process of upgrading all 400 of its existing RQ-7Bs to the v2 standard. Among the improvements is the use of the same communications system (TCDL) used in the larger MQ-1C. TCDL is encrypted, has higher throughput, is more reliable and allows data to be shared with other aircraft or ground troops using the latest comm and network gear. The v2 wings are 42 percent larger helping to increase endurance to nine hours. It’s now easier to remove and install different (or just malfunctioning) sensor packages. The sensor packages now come with a laser designator.

Version 3 is already in development, and this one will include a more powerful and reliable engine as well as the ability to use weapons.

We’re damn near reaching a Singularity in the ongoing increase of deadly firepower available to the individual combat soldier. But as each soldier becomes deadlier, he also becomes more expensive to train, equip, supply, and send to war — and to lose.

As a result, we need to get out of the Occupy & Rebuild business we’ve been in since WWII, to declining success rates. Occupation of a relatively civilized place like post-Imperial Japan or post-Nazi Germany can be accomplished with a comparatively light footprint. Defeating the Iraqi Army only took three weeks and about five divisions — but pacification of a place like Iraq or Afghanistan can’t be accomplished without a lot more boots on the ground and the patience of Job. But we lack the patience and Cold War-sized Army is out of the question.

When dealing with great numbers of primitive barbarians, the proper role for a small, professional and deadly military is the same as it was for the professional legions of ancient Rome or imperial Britain: The punitive expedition. Get in, get out, and by the damage done leave one simple and unforgettable message…

“Don’t make us come back here.”

Wife, Child of ISIL Leader Arrested in Lebanon

December 3rd, 2014 - 8:48 am


The parameters of warfare keep expanding in unexpected ways:

The country’s defense ministry confirmed to NBC News that al-Baghdadi’s wife and child were detained. Military spokesman Col. Anis Khoury said the army is leading the investigation but declined to offer more details.

The Lebanese daily As-Safir was the first to break the news, saying the two were detained about 10 days ago near a border crossing point with Syria. It said the arrest was in “coordination with foreign intelligence agencies.”

The two were carrying fake identification cards, the Associated Press reported, adding that the woman is being questioned. A DNA test is underway to confirm that the child is her son, AP said.

I doubt the Lebanese government, already under pressure from ISIL, would hesitate to use al-Baghdadi’s wife and child as leverage. But you have to wonder if a killer like al-Baghdadi is susceptible to even that kind of leverage.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

December 3rd, 2014 - 7:39 am

The most transparent administration in history is at it again, being all transparent and stuff. Here’s former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey to explain:

“Over this Thanksgiving holiday, the president slipped into the federal register, another 334 pages of changes he’s making to the law.”

“Some of them are regulatory changes, but some of them actually lawlessly change Obamacare itself,” she explained.

“For example, changing the rules, the legal requirements for large employers — another one requiring that insurance companies cover out-of-network doctors as if they were in-network doctors for a period of time — that’s not in the law,” she said.

“Requiring that people with high-risk pool insurance is now going to be considered minimum essential coverage,” she added.

According to McCaughey, “a lot of these [changes] are in the weeds, but they’re actual changes to the law, and . . . the high court is going to be watching this because it wasn’t just one example of presidential lawlessness, the justices are seeing it again and again and again.”

The law means what the President says it means.

If the Congress and the Supreme Court don’t step up to reassert their powers, the next President with ambitions like Obama — and there will be another, Democrat or Republican — will be worse.

Capital Controls Coming to Russia?

December 3rd, 2014 - 6:27 am


If the ruble has another week like this, it’s almost inevitable:

The currency has been in freefall since Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states vetoed calls by weaker Opec members for a cut in crude oil output, a move viewed by the Kremlin as a strategic attack on Russia.

A fresh plunge in Brent prices to a five-year low of $67.50 a barrel on Monday caused the dam to break, triggering a 9pc slide in the rouble in a matter of hours.

Analysts said it took huge intervention by the Russian central bank to stop the rout and stablize the rouble at 52.07 to the dollar. “They must have spent billions,” said Tim Ash, at Standard Bank.

It is extremely rare for a major country to collapse in this fashion, and the trauma is likely to have political consequences. “This has become disorderly. There are no real buyers of the rouble. We know that voices close to president Vladimir Putin want capital controls, and we cannot rule this out,” said Lars Christensen, at Danske Bank.

Back in the bad old days, the official exchange rate for the Soviet ruble was… whatever it was. It isn’t worth remembering because the rate was a pure fiction. There was the official exchange rate, and then there was how many dollars you could actually get for a ruble — which was significantly less. When Western companies were allowed, in very limited numbers and in very limited ways, to do business in the USSR, the real trick was figuring out a way to repatriate any profits, because the ruble was just no good. And — we mustn’t forget this one tiny little detail — it was forbidden, comrade, to remove any rubles from the USSR.

Pepsi struck a sort of high-class barter arrangement: In exchange for selling Pepsi the babushkas in Russia, it could export Beluga caviar to the West. I’ve forgotten what mad scheme McDonalds had come up with to justify its massive Moscow outlet in the mid-’80s, but the USSR collapsed too soon after for it to matter.

It looks like the bad old days are coming back, as Putin’s neo-Soviet foreign and domestic policies drive Russia to its inevitable ruin.


Skynet Has Declared War — On High Prices

December 3rd, 2014 - 5:22 am


Those Roomba-looking robots aren’t for sale — they’re workers at Amazon Fulfillment Centers across the nation:

So far, Amazon said it hasn’t eliminated any jobs with the introduction of Kiva. In fact, the company says it’s hired more people in that time. Amazon wouldn’t say how many jobs it’s added after incorporating Kiva, but overall it’s hired 61,110 employees since 2011, the year before it bought Kiva. That’s roughly doubling its employee base over the past two years, though the company saw a decline in that growth last year.

“People play a crucial role in fulfillment for Amazon,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations and customer service. “Take gift wrapping. Can we do it by machine? Yes. Does it look the same? Could you still have the same personal touch? No.”

Still, Amazon is working on robots that can grasp items, bringing them one step closer to being able to replace the role of human pickers like Rosales.

I for one welcome our new robot overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted internet personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.

News You Can Use

December 2nd, 2014 - 2:15 pm

You know you’re not supposed to…

…actually, this one is probably OK.

Goin’ South

December 2nd, 2014 - 1:44 pm


Social Security’s inevitable insolvency keeps getting pushed up:

Social Security’s trustees projected in 1983 that the recently enacted Social Security reforms would keep the program active for at least the next 75 years, through 2058. However, according to research by Rachel Greszler, a senior policy analyst, and James M. Roberts, research fellow for economic freedom and growth at The Heritage Foundation, that approach date has accelerated.

“If the trend since 1983 continues, the program will become insolvent in 2024—34 years earlier than originally projected,” Roberts writes.

The problem with the inevitable is that it always seems to happen. Sooner, in this case, than most people are willing to admit.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

December 2nd, 2014 - 12:12 pm

♡bamaCare!!! reaches out to small business, small business yawns:

A long-delayed section of the federal health care exchange website intended to help small business owners enroll their employees in health insurance plans for 2015 has drawn relatively little interest compared to the site’s plans for individuals, according to a published report.

The Washington Post, citing data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reported Sunday that the home page for the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) drew 200,000 visits during its first week. By contrast, more than 1.5 million people visited’s plan page for individuals over the same period. It was not immediately clear how many employers have offered health coverage to their employees through the plans or how many employees have bought them.

Brokers tell the paper that another reason for the tepid interest in the SHOP website as that under ObamaCare, businesses only qualify for tax credits if they have fewer than 25 workers, specified salary levels and other characteristics. Even if businesses do meet the criteria for tax credits, they only last for two years.

In addition to the Pain in the Ass factor detailed in that last graf, I suspect there’s a big “Screw you, too, buddy!” attitude on the part of small business towards the You Didn’t Build That administration.

In Living Color: Comet 67P

December 2nd, 2014 - 11:09 am

Comet 67P


If you thought the comet where Philae recently touched down (multiple times) was steel gray in color, we’ve got news for you — it’s actually a juicy red-brown. Despite the success of the orbiting Rosetta probe, it launched in 2004 so its camera doesn’t have the latest tech. As a result, all images of the Manhattan-sized rock have been strictly gray-scale so far. But an upcoming research paper has revealed new images using the full spectrum of Rosetta’s OSIRIS Narrow Angle Camera. The image appears blurry because each color slice was shot from a slightly different angle as Rosetta transited around the comet.


The Smoking Gun?

December 2nd, 2014 - 10:22 am

Jeff Dunetz has the story of the IRS, Austan Goolsbee, and the Koch Brothers:

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has agreed to hand over 2,500 documents that could show the IRS passed along confidential taxpayer data to the White House. These documents were collected by TIGTA, as part of an an investigation into whether the IRS was improperly giving information to the White House.

While the TIGTA investigated whether the IRS leaked confidential taxpayer data to the White House, but never released a report. But now they will turn the documents it collected to the group Cause of Action.

The TIGTA investigation began when Austan Goolsbee, the former chair of the White House’s Counsel of Economic Advisers, implied that Koch Industries doesn’t pay any corporate income tax. But Goolsbee would not legally have access to that information.

That’s a slender thread upon which to hang an entire scandal, but it’s the kind of thread which could unravel an Administration, if you keep pulling on it enough.

Required Viewing

December 2nd, 2014 - 9:47 am

What do you get after nearly six years of politicized race-baiting?

This, from the aftermath of that hammer murder in St Louis.

Some bad language, so be careful at work.