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Signs of the Times  •  25 July 2017  •  No. 129

Art ©John August Swanson

Processional. Traditional Samoan Medley performed by Choloration, a combined choir of Westlake Girls and Westlake Boys High School in New Zealand.

Above: Elephants create an impenetrable barrier protecting the mother as she gives birth to a calf in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya. This rare photo—it’s impossible to know exactly when an elephant will give birth—show a formation taken in only two cases: when they are under attack by predators or during birth. —For more photos and this fascinating story, see Daniel Miller, “Try getting past this lot! Elephants huddle round female to protect her from prowling hyenas while she gives birth,” The Daily Mail

Invocation.Do You Call That Religion,” The Norfolk Jubilee Quartet.

We want the kind of health care which Donald Trump repeatedly promised in his campaign speeches: Better coverage, for more people, at lower cost.

Call to worship. “Dare to declare who you are. It is not far from the shores of silence to the boundaries of speech. The path is not long, but the way is deep. You must not only walk there, you must be prepared to leap.” —Hildegard of Bingen

Good news. In India 66 million trees were planted in just 12 hours (see photo at right), utilizing 1.5 million volunteers. The country has pledged to reforest 12% of their land by 2030 at a cost of $6.2 billion. This is part of India’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement. AJ+ (1:26 video. Thanks Harriet.)

Hymn of praise. “He is powerless, Hallelujah / Satan is powerless / He’s disappointed, Hallelujah / Satan is disappointed / He’s fleeing, Hallelujah / Satan is Fleeing” (English translation). —“Akanamandla” (He’s Powerless), South African freedom song, performed by Waldorf Students Choir, Quire, Colchester

I don’t know if the irony could be more bitter: Sen. John McCain, just out of surgery for brain cancer, gets clearance from his government-insurance-paid doctor to fly back to Washington to cast the deciding vote for the Republicans to resume their as-yet-secret health care legislation that will likely remove tens of millions from insurance roles, decimate Medicaid (which covers the poorest of the poor), and shuttle those with preexisting conditions into a high-risk-astronomically-expensive pool.
        Sen. McCain did, however, make an impassioned plea for a bipartisan approach to health care. —kls (1:44 video)

Highly recommended podcast. Jill Lepore, Harvard historian, summarizes a century of presidential attempts to get Congress to approve universal health care coverage in the US and what it will take to make this happen. New Yorker Radio Hour (15:30 audio)

Confession. “Despite having the most expensive health care system, the United States ranks last overall among 11 industrialized countries on measures of health system quality, efficiency, access to care, equity, and healthy lives.” Commonwealth Fund

Primum non nocere. “In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the American Medical Association's CEO James Madara wrote, ‘Medicine has long operated under the precept of Primum non nocere, or ‘first, do no harm.’ The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels.’” Dylan Stafford, CNN

Hymn of lamentation. “O God of earth and altar, / bow down and hear our cry, / our earthly rulers falter, / our people drift and die; / the walls of gold entomb us, / the swords of scorn divide, / take not thy thunder from us, / but take away our pride.” —Iron Maiden “O God of Earth and Altar” (click “show more” to see all the lyrics)

¶ “You say you’re pro-life, but then you want to limit health care for my disabled son.” Preston Yancey, Washington Post

¶ “Healthcare in America is more expensive than in any other rich country. . . . Compared to 35 other countries [in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development], Americans have spent more on their health every year since 2000. . . . Total health spending last year, including private out-of-pocket and government spending, was $8,985 per person in the US while the OECD average was just $3,633. And yet all that health spending hasn’t resulted in better health. The life expectancy of the average American is 78.8 years, putting the US a fraction ahead of the Czech Republic, where out of pocket spending was just $236 last year.” Mona Chalabi, The Guardian

¶ “Health insurance industry rakes in billions while blaming Obamacare for losses. Major insurance companies are enjoying record profits but claim they are losing money under the Affordable Care Act.” Amy Martyn, Consumer Affairs

Words of assurance.Glory, Glory Hallelujah” (Since I Laid My Burden Down), The Staples Singers.

¶ “The median household income in 2015 was $56,515, which the average healthcare CEO made in less than a day. . . . Since the Affordable Care Act  passed in 2010, the ‘CEOs of 70 of the largest U.S. healthcare companies cumulatively have earned $9.8 billion,’ according to a report by Axios's Bob Herman.” Not only is the Affordable Care Act not collapsing, as Trump says, but ‘Stock prices have boomed, and CEOs took home nearly 11% more money on average every year since 2010.’” Jake Johnson, CommonDreams

In case you missed this. Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel tells a moving first-person story about one element of health care the insurance companies want to limit (by making it unaffordable for most). Washington Post (2:02 video)

McKesson is the largest drug distributor in the US, and the fifth largest corporation. The role of such companies in the opiod epidemic is now coming under scrutiny. Take West Virginia, for example, with the nation’s highest rate of opiod-related deaths. In the small town of Kermit, population 392, drug companies shipped over a two-year period nearly 9 million highly addictive hydrocodone pills to a single pharmacy. “In six years, drug wholesalers showered the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills, while 1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those two painkillers.” Eric Eyre, Charleston, (WV) Gazette-Mail

¶ “The state of Ohio has sued five major drug manufacturers for their role in the opioid epidemic. In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, state Attorney General Mike DeWine alleges these five companies ‘helped unleash a health care crisis that has had far-reaching financial, social, and deadly consequences in the State of Ohio.’

The lawsuit accuses the companies of engaging in a sustained marketing campaign to downplay the addiction risks of the prescription opioid drugs they sell and to exaggerate the benefits of their use for health problems such as chronic pain.” Colin Dwyer, NPR

¶ “Hundreds of people nationwide, including dozens of doctors, have been charged in health care fraud prosecutions, accused of collectively defrauding the government of $1.3 billion, the Justice Department said on Thursday.
        “Nearly one-third of the 412 charged were accused of opioid-related crimes. The health care providers, about 50 of them doctors, billed Medicare and Medicaid for drugs that were never purchased; collected money for false rehabilitation treatments and tests; and gave out prescriptions for cash, according to prosecutors.” Rebecca R. Ruiz, New York Times

Hymn of intercession.Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” Chant de la communauté de L'Emmanuel.

¶ “A 12-year study by the American Journal of Public Health documented the fact that “the odds of non-Hispanic white youth using cocaine were 30 times higher than African Americans. . . . Most notably, the findings of the study highlight the incongruity between drug use and incarceration rates along racial lines. According to estimated figures from the U.S. Department of Justice, of the males born in 2001, one in three African Americans and one in six Hispanics will be incarcerated at some point during their lifetimes. By contrast for Caucasians, that number is one in 17.” Robin Schder, AlterNet

When only the blues will do.Blue and Lonesome,” Little Walter.

President Trump’s statement about the Affordable Care Act “exploding” was not an idle threat. There are a number of things the administration can do to tweak the law’s regulations. And Wall Street is notorously fickle: if enough people shout “fire,” health care providers may continue to abandon the market-based plan. —see more at Amy Goldstein & Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post

By the numbers. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that more than half—or $2.5 trillion over 10 years—of the Trump administration’s proposed fiscal year 2018 cuts will come from programs that help low- and moderate-income Americans. To cover that deficit, our nation’s 350,000 religious congregations would each have to raise $714,000 annually, every year for 10 years, to make up that amount. —or more information see Bread for the World

Preach it. “If there is a major problem in spirituality today, it may be that we do not do enough to form Christians for resistance to evil. We form them for patient endurance and for civil conformity. We form them to be “good” but not necessarily to be “holy.” In the doing of it, we make compliant Christians rather than courageous ones, as if bearing evil were more important than confronting it. We go on separating life into parts, one spiritual, one not.” —Joan D. Chittister, OSB

Can’t makes this sh*t up. Essayist David Sedaris recalls an incident from his flight from Hawaii to Portland, Oregon. “This woman said, you are so lucky to be seated up front, it’s a great spot for people-watching. And I said, hmm, it could be, but we don’t really count you as people.” He meant it as wry humor. Alex Clar, The Guardian

Call to the table.Love Is Everything,” K.D. Lang.

The state of our disunion. “The Trump health care and budget plans will be harsh on the poor, which we expected. But they’ll also be harsh on the working class, which we didn’t. We’re ending up with the worst of the new guard Trumpian populists and the old guard Republican libertarians. We’re building walls to close off the world while also shifting wealth from the poor to the rich.” David Brooks, New York Times  

Left: Ricardo Levins Morales, ©RLM Art Studio

For the beauty of the earth. A Japanese puffer fish worked 24 hours a day, for a week, to construct a stunning ocean floor piece of art to attract female attention. (2:59 video. Thanks Laura.)

Altar call. “I was born to ignorance, yes, and lesser poverties / I was born to privilege that I did not see / Lack of pigment in my skin, won a free and easy in / I didn't know it, but my way was paved.” —John Gorka, “Ignorance and Privilege" (Thanks Peter.)

Benediction. “Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” —G.K. Chesterton

Recessional.Djelem Djelem,” Žarko Jovanović, performed by Barcelona Gipsy Klezmer Orchestra. The song, in the Romani language, tells about the atrocities Roma people suffered in World War II and the rise of the Roma people to come. (Click the “show more” button for more background.)

Lectionary for this Sunday. “The Love of Christ . .  / is the still, deep stream amid / Every tempest that knows / nothing, nothing, / can separate us from the / length and breadth / of Heaven’s reach.” —continue reading “The breadth of Heaven’s reach,” inspired by Romans 8:26-39

Lectionary for Sunday next. “. . . I have avoided the ways of the violent.” —Psalm 17:4a

Just for fun. Cat herders! (1:00 video. Thanks Pat.)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “The breadth of Heaven’s reach,” inspired by Romans 8:26-39
Other features

• “Religious liberty, or social mischief? Understanding the ‘wall of separation’ between church and state

Above: The newborn calf (see the story at top) reaches out to grab Mom's tusk to stand for the first time.

©Ken Sehested @ Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor, as are those portions cited as “kls.” Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

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