A Flight Through the Universe

There are 400,000 galaxies viewed in this animation. They are in their real relative positions.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is pretty average. It has between 200 to 400 billion stars – like our sun. Our galaxy is but one of these in the animation.

Realize, please, how unimportant human beings are in the universe. Reflect on the absurdity of superstitions. They all think our species is the center of something-or-other.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Medicare spending is not out of control

It’s the season of holiday cocktail parties, demanding intelligent chit-chat over Chardonnay. In such data-free environments it is always safe to say, “Medicare spending is out of control!” Wise heads will nod, because it is a credo with wide currency.

After all, as I explained in my previous post, traditional Medicare, which still attracts about 75 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries, affords its enrollees free choice of providers and therapy. In the jargon of health-policy wonks, it is “unmanaged.” Thus, it would not be surprising if unmanaged Medicare spending were, indeed, out of control.

But some caution is in order. A really wise guy in the crowd, one familiar with relevant data, might challenge you with: “Oh, really? In what sense is Medicare spending out of control?”

These data, most of which have been published by the Office of the Actuary, Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, of the Department of Health and Human Services (see Table 16), show that in most periods Medicare spending per Medicare beneficiary has risen more slowly than per-capita spending under private health insurance.

The exceptions are the period 1993-97, when private managed-care plans appeared to be able to hold down their outlays on health care better than did Medicare, and 2002-7, because there was a jump in spending as Medicare began, in 2006, to cover prescription drugs under the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003.

So anyone claiming that “Medicare spending is out of control” can fairly be asked to explain on what data that assertion is based…

These columns…hardly support the assertion that Medicare spending is out of control. Relative to private insurance, the opposite appears to be the case

With very few exceptions, Medicare pays prices to providers of health care below those paid by private insurers, which individually negotiate prices with each provider…

Critics of Medicare — notably private health insurers — contend that the higher prices for health care paid by private insurers can be explained by a “cost shift” from government, notably Medicare, to private payers. This view reflects the idea that the providers of health care are to be “reimbursed” for whatever costs they incur in treating patients, rather than budgeting backward from whatever revenue they are “paid,” like other sellers (e.g., hotels or airlines), which can charge different prices to different customers for the same thing.

The cost-shift hypothesis appears to have widespread, intuitive appeal, especially among employers and their agents, private insurers. Economists, this one included, do not find it persuasive, as can be seen in this review of the economics literature on the cost-shift hypothesis and this summary. Economists believe that what is denounced as “cost shifting” in health care is mainly just good old-fashioned, profit-maximizing price discrimination…

Most of the anti-Medicare discussion is based on lies. Most of it is crammed, distorted into a fit determined by class-based ideology that says working people deserve nothing more than the lowest possible wage for their labor – even as they create the wealth of a nation. Programs funded by taxpayers still must be diminished, cut to the minimum, or the politicians who bow and scrape before the wealthiest class in this land will be shamed.

Screw ’em all.

Obama’s 2nd Inauguration – less tension, less celebration – more confidence in the country

Barack Hussein Obama will renew his oath of office just before midday today, ceremonially marking the beginning of another four years in the White House without the clouds of economic crisis and war that hovered over his first inauguration.

Crowds that are expected to swell to an estimated 800,000 people have begun assembling on the National Mall in front of the Capitol, eager to witness the start of the president’s second term. Mr. Obama, 51, was formally sworn in during a small private ceremony at the White House residence on Sunday, the date constitutionally mandated for inauguration.

Security in Washington was tight as Mr. Obama, the nation’s first black president, prepared to deliver his second Inaugural Address from the Capitol just after noon. Speaking on the day the nation sets aside to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Obama will take his oath with his hand on two Bibles: one once owned by Dr. King and another once owned by Abraham Lincoln…

Mr. Obama’s motorcade rolled slowly along Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol just before 11 a.m., prompting cheers of “Obama!” from crowds lined up along the road. At the same time, members of Mr. Obama’s cabinet began assembling in the bleachers behind the president’s lectern.

Later in the day, the Obamas will lead the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue toward an elaborate reviewing stand constructed in front of the White House. Celebrations are scheduled to continue late into the night at two official inaugural balls in Washington’s sprawling convention center, with performances by musical stars like Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley, Katy Perry, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder. Beyoncé will sing the national anthem on Monday afternoon.

As people started gathering for the inauguration, some chose to start the day at the monument to Dr. King…

Four years ago, a huge crowd of about 1.8 million people jammed into the grassy area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument as Mr. Obama hailed the choice of “hope over fear.” That day, the new president declared the country to be “in the midst of crisis,” citing the economic collapse that was still unfolding and wars that continued to rage in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“In this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words,” Mr. Obama said in his 18-and-a-half minute speech in 2009. “With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.”

As he delivers his second Inaugural Address, Mr. Obama is presiding over an economy that has improved and warfare that has receded. But the world remains a dangerous place, the economy is still fragile, and many of the gauzy promises of action and progress from his first address have given way to the cold realities of politics and compromise and bitter gridlock.

The New York TIMES, polite as ever, prints that last paragraph without deeper description of a Republican Party that refused to accept that our nation elected its first Black president. The most racist elements in that poor excuse for a political party broke away to form the so-called Tea Party. Like demagogues before them, they lie about patriotism and rebellion as a theme to mask racism and reactionary politics.

I’ve been on that National Mall countless times. Generally to protest the evil cruds in charge of American foreign policy who inevitably resort to force of arms, to death and destruction to satisfy imperial greed. I’ve been there on those missions with upwards of a million and more of my fellow Americans in opposition to the VietNam war.

I’ve been on that National Mall countless times, trying to move this nation forward. Leaving racism behind, leaving institutional segregation and bigotry choking in the dust of history’s march forward. I’ve been there on that mission with upwards of a million and more of my fellow Americans to march behind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is an event worth watching. Personally, I don’t do inaugurations. At best they are interim steps in the fight for a better life for all of us who work for a living, for ourselves, our families, our class. Our nation. Good enough.

Dont’ ask, don’t tell is gone. Think that ended official bigotry against Gays in the military?

Nakisha Hardy spent the first nine months of her marriage on a remote Army base in Afghanistan, a tour of duty punctuated by sporadic mortar blasts and constant e-mails to her spouse back home.

The strains of that separation lingered even after First Lt. Hardy returned to Fort Bragg in September. So she signed up for a military retreat to help soldiers and their husbands and wives cope with the pressures of deployments and relocations.

But less than 24 hours after arriving at the retreat, she and her spouse were told to leave. The military chaplains who organized the program last month said that the couple was making others uncomfortable. They said they had determined that under federal law the program could serve only heterosexual married couples.

Anyone surprised a biblethumper decided bigotry was more important than helping service personnel?

Lieutenant Hardy is a lesbian in a same-sex marriage who had hoped that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011 would allow her to fully participate in military life. But she and many other gay and bisexual service members say they continue to encounter a raft of rules and regulations barring them from receiving benefits and privileges routinely accorded to heterosexual service members…

Gay marriage is now legal in nine states and in Washington, D.C. But because same-sex marriages are not recognized under federal law, the spouses of gay service members are barred from receiving medical and dental insurance and surviving spouse benefits and are not allowed to receive treatment in military medical facilities. Spouses are also barred from receiving military identification cards, which provide access to many community activities and services on base, including movie theaters, day care centers, gyms and commissaries.

Gay service members who are married are not permitted to receive discounted housing that is routinely provided to heterosexual married couples.

Don’t waste too much time on the crap states’ rights excuses offered by politicians and pundits. The military can ignore that hogwash easy as pie whenever they honestly feel like doing so.

No – this is one more instance of professional bigots in the Pentagon and Congress quietly backing up the good old boys club that still won’t give up on their stupid ideology.

Drug maker gets even more favors from Congress courtesy of the phony fiscal cliff

Just two weeks after pleading guilty in a major federal fraud case, Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology firm, scored a largely unnoticed coup on Capitol Hill: Lawmakers inserted a paragraph into the “fiscal cliff” bill that did not mention the company by name but strongly favored one of its drugs.

The language buried in Section 632 of the law delays a set of Medicare price restraints on a class of drugs that includes Sensipar, a lucrative Amgen pill used by kidney dialysis patients.

The provision gives Amgen an additional two years to sell Sensipar without government controls. The news was so welcome that the company’s chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts. But it is projected to cost Medicare up to $500 million over that period.

Amgen, which has a small army of 74 lobbyists in the capital, was the only company to argue aggressively for the delay, according to several Congressional aides of both parties.

Supporters of the delay, primarily leaders of the Senate Finance Committee who have long benefited from Amgen’s political largess, said it was necessary to allow regulators to prepare properly for the pricing change.

But critics, including several Congressional aides who were stunned to find the measure in the final bill, pointed out that Amgen had already won a previous two-year delay, and they depicted a second one as an unnecessary giveaway…

The provision’s inclusion in the legislation to avert the tax increases and spending cuts that made up the so-called fiscal cliff shows the enduring power of special interests in Washington, even as Congress faces a critical test of its ability to balance the budget.

Amgen has deep financial and political ties to lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and Senators Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, and Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, who hold heavy sway over Medicare payment policy as the leaders of the Finance Committee.

RTFA, read ’em and weep. It’s business as usual in Congress for so-called conservatives who save their philosophical discourse to limiting civil rights and civil liberties – with no limits on the kickbacks they take from corporate America.

It stinks on ice!