Government efficiency
July 24, 2014

The Social Security Administration has spent nearly $300 million over the course of six years on a new computer system to process 11 million Americans' disability claims. Now, a new report commissioned by the federal agency indicates that the system still doesn't work at all. After repeated delays, it is unknown when it will be complete, who is responsible for delivering the finished product, or what the final bill will be. A group of House Republicans blasted the failure in a letter Wednesday, calling the project an "IT boondoggle."

In spite of these major uncertainties, former Social Security assistant deputy commissioner Terrie Gruber, who has been appointed to review the project, took an optimistic perspective, saying, "We are absolutely committed to deliver this initiative and by implementing the recommendations we obtained independently, we think we have a very good prospect on doing just that."

A Pew Research Center poll from March revealed that millennials have a record lack of confidence in the beleaguered Social Security agency; more than half do not believe they will receive any Social Security benefits, and only 6 percent expect to get benefits at the rate current retirees receive them.

Bieber Roast
3:55 a.m. ET

Comedy Central broadcast its much-anticipated roast of Justin Bieber on Monday night, and on Tuesday night's Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jeff Ross, one of the head roasters, explained how he prepared to whack his easy target. His gleeful preparations included a chance encounter with Bieber's ex-girlfriend, Selena Gomez.

"Excuse me, my name is Jeff Ross and I'm America's roastmaster general, I'm on official business to roast Justin Bieber vicariously for the whole world, and I need some advice," Ross said he told Gomez when they met at a party at his agent's house. Her response, according to Ross: "Tell Justin the truth. The truth always worked for me." Ross' response doesn't match that level of class, obviously:

On Tuesday's Late Night, fellow roastmaster Chris D'Elia related his totally different Gomez experience — her fans inadvertently goaded him into making lots of Selena Gomez jokes at the roast, he told Seth Meyers. Watch D'Elia explain why roasting strangers is more perilous than mocking your loved ones, and why he gets delighted at the idea of dying at the hands of a 12-year-old Gomez fan. —Peter Weber

RIP
3:24 a.m. ET

In 1975, a freelance copy writer named Gary Dahl got the idea for the Pet Rock — an ordinary rock, packaged in a pet carrier, requiring no food or care — at a California bar, and the Pet Rock's astronomical success made Dahl an overnight millionaire. He died on March 23 in Jacksonville, Oregon, at age 78, and The New York Times remembers him in a delightful obituary posted late Tuesday.

"Despite the boon Pet Rocks brought him, Mr. Dahl came to regret the brainstorm that gave rise to them in the first place," notes Margalit Fox. And it wasn't just because he lost a six-figure lawsuit to one of his two investors:

Though the rock made him wealthy, it also made him wary, for he was besieged ever after by hordes of would-be inventors, seeking his advice on the next big thing. "There's a bizarre lunatic fringe who feel I owe them a living," Mr. Dahl told The Associated Press in 1988. "Sometimes I look back and wonder if my life wouldn't have been simpler if I hadn’t done it." [New York Times]

Simpler, it should be noted, isn't necessarily better. Read the entire obit of Dahl in The New York Times.

Last Night on Late Late Night
2:45 a.m. ET

When Parks & Rec ended its heroic run on network TV, Aubrey Plaza gave each of her costars little vials containing her blood, fingernails, and hair, she confirmed to James Corden on Tuesday's Late Late Show. That sounds a little creepy — at least to Corden's other guests, Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon — but Plaza's explanation is kind of sweet, in an offbeat sort of way. Sort of like Parks & Rec. Watch below. —Peter Weber

Clemency
2:07 a.m. ET
Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images

On Tuesday, President Obama granted commutations to 22 people serving time in federal prison for drug-related crimes, mostly involving the sale of cocaine.

"Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement. "Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years — in some cases more than a decade — longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime."

Tuesday's acts of clemency roughly double the number of sentences Obama has commented while in office, to 43 total. George W. Bush commuted 11 sentences over his two terms, Eggleston notes; he doesn't mention that Bush pardoned 189 people, versus Obama's 64 pardons so far.

Get Well Soon
1:21 a.m. ET
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was rushed to a hospital in the Los Angels area on Tuesday, her official website confirmed early Wednesday:

Mitchell, 71, was reportedly taken to the hospital by an ambulance at about 2:30 p.m. from her Bel Air home. While no cause for her hospitalization has been provided, Mitchell said last December that she has a rare skin disorder called Morgellons disease that keeps her from performing.

Puppies!
12:39 a.m. ET

Hey, if a German octopus can predict World Cup soccer matches, is using puppies to predict the winner of the NCAA men's basketball tournament so crazy? No, if you are Jimmy Fallon, as he had seven adorable pups preemptively crown a victor on Tuesday night's Tonight Show. Yes, if you are a fan of Duke, which got nothing more than a puppy tease. Watch, for the betting tip or for the puppies, below. —Peter Weber

Iran and the bomb
March 31, 2015
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The six-day marathon of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program went into overtime in Lausanne, Switzerland, blowing past a midnight Tuesday deadline and formally being extended to the end of April 1. Iran and Russia sounded optimistic notes late Tuesday, before talks broke for the night early Wednesday, but the U.S. said it will "walk away" if key elements in the political agreement can't be resolved and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared he will return to France until his presence would be "useful."

"One can say with enough confidence that (foreign) ministers have reached a general agreement on all key aspects of a final settlement to this issue," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia's TASS news service. "It will be put down in writing over the next few hours, maybe during the day." No other negotiator was quite that upbeat. The main sticking points, Reuters says, are how quickly United Nation sanctions would be phased out, whether they could be automatically re-instated, and if Iran would get the unfettered right to research and develop nuclear centrifuges after a 10-year window.

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