Lincoln on Mars

I’ve been waiting for NASA’s rover Curiosity to land safely so I can tell you that we now have Lincoln on Mars. Yes, Abraham Lincoln on the Red Planet.

The penny, a 1909 “VDB” penny, is used as a calibration target for the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument, which is to be used to take extreme close-ups of rocks and soil. The penny, provided by MAHLI’s principal investigator Ken Edgettt, is a nod to geologists’ tradition to place a coin as a size reference in close-up photos of rocks.

Besides the penny, the MAHLI calibration target includes color chips, a metric bar graphic, and a stair-step pattern for depth calibration.

All of which you can see – with the penny mounted – over here.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Investigation of hospital chain finds unneeded cardiac procedures performed on patients

In the summer of 2010, a troubling letter reached the chief ethics officer of the hospital giant HCA, written by a former nurse at one of the company’s hospitals in Florida…In a follow-up interview, the nurse said a doctor at the Lawnwood Regional Medical Center, in the small coastal city of Fort Pierce, had been performing heart procedures on patients who did not need them, putting their lives at risk…

In less than two months, an internal investigation by HCA concluded the nurse was right…

The nurse, C. T. Tomlinson, didn’t have his contract renewed by HCA. And the company ethics officer, Stephen Johnson, acknowledged this was in retaliation for his complaints. Anyone surprised?

HCA, the largest for-profit hospital chain in the United States with 163 facilities, had uncovered evidence as far back as 2002 and as recently as late 2010 showing that some cardiologists at several of its hospitals in Florida were unable to justify many of the procedures they were performing. Those hospitals included the Cedars Medical Center in Miami, which the company no longer owns, and the Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. In some cases, the doctors made misleading statements in medical records that made it appear the procedures were necessary, according to internal reports…

At Lawnwood, where an invasive diagnostic test known as a cardiac catheterization is performed, about half the procedures, or 1,200, were determined to have been done on patients without significant heart disease, according to a confidential 2010 review…

In a recent statement, HCA declined to provide evidence that it had alerted Medicare, state Medicaid or private insurers of its findings, or reimbursed them for any of the procedures that the company later deemed unnecessary, as required by law…HCA also declined to show that it had ever notified patients, who might have been entitled to compensation from the hospital for any harm…

And some doctors accused in the reviews of performing unnecessary procedures are still practicing at HCA hospitals…

HCA denies its decisions at these hospitals were motivated by financial considerations, blah, blah, blah

…In 2000, the company reached one of a series of settlements involving a huge Medicare fraud case with the Justice Department that would eventually come to $1.7 billion in fines and repayments. The accusations, which primarily involved overbilling, occurred when Rick Scott, now the governor of Florida, was the company’s chief executive. He was removed from the post by the board but was never personally accused of wrongdoing…

RTFA. Cardiology makes a lot of money for HCA. Overbilling, unnecessary procedures are part of what is driving the public perception of American healthcare down to the level of lawyers and politicians.

It’s a long article filled with tales that now seem to be part of daily life in our tawdry economy. Giant corporation is fined for sleazy practices – and a few years later the same accusations appear in a different portion of their business model. The whistleblower is fired. Little or nothing is done to defend the whistleblower or the patients.

Medicare is screwed, Medicaid is screwed. Taxpayers are screwed and Hospital Corporation of America increases their profits at our expense. The stock market is happy and all’s right with the world.

The Tea Party’s plan to [further] cripple Congress

Tea Party Congress

Wave goodbye to members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Doing nothing has taken a lot out of them, so they have left Washington for five weeks of rest, relaxation and campaigning in the hope that voters will return them to office to do more of the same.

This is especially the case for the large Tea Party contingent among the several score first-term Republicans. They set out to change Washington but settled for simply paralyzing it.

They repealed Obama’s health-care law 33 times but didn’t change one word of its 2,700 or so pages. They stopped the Grand Bargain over the debt and deficit even at the cost of exposing Speaker John Boehner as a scaredy cat. They haven’t been able to curb the excesses of Wall Street, keep the debt ceiling from rising, or end government subsidies to NPR or Amtrak — but by God, they can bring the capital to its knees. Nearly everyone hates Congress (well, about 80 percent of Americans do) yet the Tea Party — fortified by Sarah Palin, Senator Jim DeMint and the Club for Growth — is about to do for the Senate what it did to the House.

Look at what has happened so far in the Republican primaries: Only the purest, most virginal conservatives are being chosen as the party’s standard bearers in November…

Each victor campaigned against Washington insiders who had impermissible contact with the enemy. Nominating your most conservative candidate in the primary is more satisfying than letting another weak one get in. And if these candidates do get elected, inactivity is preferable to approving legislation that even contemplates the possibility that any American could get so much as a food stamp he is not entitled to.

This is what the Grand Old Party has come to…Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could become majority leader but actually lose power: Boehner, his weakened counterpart in the lower chamber, doesn’t lead his troops so much as try to keep from being run over by them.

The Senate, as George Washington is supposed to have told Thomas Jefferson, was designed in part to calm the tempers and passions of the House, just as a saucer is used to cool off hot tea. If the saucer itself is scalding, then the whole brew will be too hot to sip.

If the paintywaist Dems don’t muster enough of their base to reduce the harm presently being done to responsibility and governance in Congress, this is what we get to look forward to. Though, the addition of another war or two – as we wind down the last couple of Republican adventures in imperialism – is also a possibility, as well.

I don’t see any patriots in the Kool Aid Party speaking out against invading Syria, Iran, Quemoy, Matsu, China and Mexico.

Rich family offices have fastest growth, replacing bank branches

They call it “money camp.” Twice a week, 6- to 11-year-old scions of wealthy families take classes on being rich. They compete to corner commodities markets in Pit, the raucous Parker Brothers card game, and take part in a workshop called “business in a box,” examining products that aren’t obvious gold mines, such as the packaging on Apple’s iPhone rather than the phone itself.

It’s all part of managing money for the wealthiest families, says Katherine Lintz, founder of Clayton, Missouri- based Financial Management Partners, which runs the camp for the children of clients. Supplying the families with good stock picks and a wily tax strategy isn’t enough anymore. These days, it’s about applying the human touch, she says…

In sheer size, the family office units of banks dominate the ranking. Nine of the top 10 are associated with banks. HSBC Private Wealth Solutions…is No. 1 by total assets under advisement for the second consecutive year, with $123.6 billion as of Dec. 31, an increase of 21 percent over 2010…

It’s easier to grow when you’re small. Even so, of the top 10 fastest-growing firms in the ranking, only one — HSBC Private Wealth Solutions — was part of a big bank. The other nine were boutiques such as FMP — small companies that are often willing to accept thinner profit margins to mind money, prepare taxes, pay bills and arrange the purchase of private-jet shares for the ultrawealthy…

Boutiques…are eating into a business that the banks rely on. Their middle-class clients are getting poorer. Median household net worth in the U.S. declined to $77,300 in 2010, the lowest since 1992, according to a June study by the U.S. Federal Reserve…

That makes banking for the wealthiest more attractive than ever. To take in more family cash, many big institutions are trying to look smaller — and more blue-blooded…

Even Swiss banks, which have minded family money for centuries, are elevating their game. Zurich-based UBS, whose Global Family Office is No. 6 on the Bloomberg Markets list, is working hard to gain clients in Asia, where new dynasties are forming at the fastest clip.

RTFA. It’s long and loaded with anecdotal information.

If you’re reading my personal blog, the odds are pretty good you’re not one of those wealthy enough to need services like this. But, I can tell you from personal experience, if you find a company that’s thoughtful and careful about who they accept as clients, it’s not a bad gig.

It’s not really service in the Edwardian sense of the word. And it can be both interesting and rewarding.

Kangaroo condoms get the jump on Olympics organizers

London Olympic organizers are investigating how a bucket of Australian-tagged condoms found its way into the athletes’ village without official consent.

Australian BMX cyclist Caroline Buchanan tweeted a photograph from the athletes’ village of a container of condoms with a placard reading “Kangaroos condoms, for the gland downunder” with the picture of a boxing kangaroo.

She joked that the container seemed to back up rumors that the athletes’ village becomes a hot bed of sex activity as thousands of competitors complete their events and celebrate after years of working to get to the Olympics.

“Haha, the rumors are true. Olympic village,” tweeted Buchanan, whose BMX contest starts on Wednesday.

Barcelona started the trend of supplying free condoms to athletes when the Spanish city held the Olympics in 1992, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) endorsing the move to help AIDS awareness and prevention. The handouts came with health information.

The London Olympic organizers, LOCOG, have provided 150,000 free condoms in dispensers for the 10,800 athletes at the Games. They are supplied by Durex, part of British consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser, which paid for the supply rights…

We will look into this and ask that they are not handed out to other athletes because Durex are our supplier,” said the Olympics spokeswoman.