Annals Of Grift, Chapter [n]: “Pastoral Medicine”

This story is a perfect example of a truly elegant con.  On one side, the marks:  suffering, credulous, and primed to both reject and crave authority.  On the other, the grifters, offering valiant rebellion against the establishment, all the comfort of faith, and the knowledge that the truly dedicated marks will become repeat customers.

Ladles and jellyspoons, I give you pastoral medicine!

You’ve probably heard of the credentials M.D. and R.N., and maybe N.P. The people using those letters are doctors, registered nurses and nurse practitioners. But what about PSC.D or D.PSc? Those letters refer to someone who practices pastoral medicine — or “Bible-based” health care.

It’s a relatively new title being used by some alternative health practitioners. The Texas-based Pastoral Medical Association gives out “pastoral provider licenses” in all 50 states and 30 countries. Some providers call themselves doctors of pastoral medicine.



V0011224 Doctor and Mrs Syntax, with a party of friends, experimentin Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Doctor and Mrs Syntax, with a party of friends, experimenting with laughing gas. Coloured aquatint by T. Rowlandson after W. Combe. By: William Combeafter: Thomas RowlandsonPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

And how do these fine practitioners roll?

[Stephen] Barrett [a retired psychiatrist and founder of the consumer protection] says the Pastoral Medical Association functions like a private club. Patients sign confidentiality agreements, pay out of pocket and are prohibited from suing if they’re unhappy with the care they receive. Any disputes are handled by an ecclesiastical tribunal.

“They’re claiming that ‘Any advice we give you is pastoral in nature,’ ” Barrett says. “In other words, ‘If I give you health advice that’s not health advice, that’s pastoral advice.’


The article goes on to dig up one person who felt helped by her pastoral “advisor” — a woman who believed “heavy metal detox, special diet and herbal supplements helped her lose weight and gain energy.”  And good for her! I’d hope she’d derive some comfort from her ~$5,000 donation to what the Pastoral Medical Association calls “the Almighty’s Health Care workers.”

A closing thought.  In the deregulated paradise sought by the Republican party and its Koch and Koch-esque paymasters, there’s no problem with such charlatanism.  Let people put their money where they like, regulatory oversight be damned, and let the market (and morbidity/mortality outcomes) decide the matter.  That sick people might not be fully at liberty to exercise their function as a homo economicus is somebody else’s problem.

Which is to say — this particular grift takes the form of the familiar American religious confidence game that has taken in its suckers since before the birth of the Republic.  At the same time, it’s a pretty good proxy for the long con being run on too many Americans by the folks who have come to use the Republican Party as its front.

Image:T. Rowlandson after W. Combe, Doctor and Mrs. Syntax and a Party of Friends Making an Experiment in Pneumatics, 19th c.


Wednesday Evening Open Thread: As the Stomach Turns, Episode 537

To quote wise guy man Charles P. Pierce:

It was one of the first articles of consensus here in the shebeen shortly after we opened it in 2011 that there is no functioning institution called the Republican Party anymore. There was simply a vast universe of orbiting centers of power, some of them secular and some of them religious, some of them made up of a single wealthy person and some of them an aggregation of organized interest groups, all of them operating independently according to their own private physical laws. This was apparent in the 2012 campaign when nobody could get fakes like Newt Gingrich or fools like Herman Cain out of the race until they were damned good and ready to exit the stage. Now, though, we look at not only the Republican Party institutions, but those institutions of government that the Republicans control, and we discover that nobody is really in charge. We go ship-by-ship through the Republican flotilla and discover as we do that nobody is on any bridge anywhere. It’s the Mary Celeste squadron, with all guns cleared for action. It is a menace to navigation in a functioning democracy. The only option may be the scuttle the whole business, just to keep the rest of the country from foundering.

…[Tuesday] afternoon, Ryan told us that we should count him out as a candidate for president. The setting was well-designed. It photographed beautifully. It will be an ornament to any campaign commercial he might choose to run. Playing the role of the greyhounds to Ryan’s mechanical rabbit were the members of the elite political media.

Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Dead Weight of History

trump bankrumpts convention toles

(Tom Toles via

Nice potted history of “upset” conventions, from Politico‘s Jeff Greenfield — “Can GOP Elites Really Turn Back the Clock in Cleveland?”:

There was a telling exchange on CNBC’s Squawk Box last month that provided the single best bit of insight into the central conflict that will likely embroil the Republicans when they gather in Cleveland in July. Co-anchor Becky Quick suggested to Republican National Committeeman Curly Haugland that there would be deep anger if the leading vote-and-delegate winner—likely to be Donald Trump–were somehow denied the nomination after failing to get the necessary 1,237 delegates on the first ballot.

Haugland calmly responded: “The media has created the perception that the voters choose the nomination. That’s the conflict here.” But what about the democratic process? Quick asked. Replied Haugland: “Political parties choose their nominees, not the voters.”

True, it used to be that way. But the problem that the GOP establishment faces is that hasn’t been that way since four decades ago, when the modern era of primaries and caucuses really began and voters took the initiative away from the denizens of the smoke-filled room. And now Republican elders who are desperately trying to derail Trump are openly contemplating going back to the old ways, handing the nomination to someone who never spent a day on the campaign trail, never tried to persuade single voter, and was simply delivered the nomination by an arena full of anonymous delegates. Somehow, the establishment thinks, it can instruct all those millions of Republican voters who came out for Trump and Cruz and Kasich to fall in line behind, say, Speaker Paul Ryan.

This is the nostrum being proposed to save the Republican Party. The greater likelihood is that it will blow the party up, triggering everything from brawls over rules and credentials, to post-convention efforts to launch a third party or write in campaign, to guerrilla wars at the state and local level, with primaries and party purges threatening anyone who embraced the “party will decide!” philosophy…

Supplementary reading, also from Politico — “An Oral History of the GOP’s Last Open Convention”:

… We tend to think of modern party conventions as staid, choreographed affairs, but not the 1976 convention, which was an electric party confab that drew gavel-to-gavel coverage on the networks. That year, Republicans entered the convention torn between incumbent Gerald Ford and conservative crusader Ronald Reagan—and the 20 attendees interviewed for this article, from then-Senator Bob Dole to Reagan adviser John Sears to Trump consigliere Roger Stone, remember a turbulent series of events, some never-before-reported.

“It was riotous,” says Craig Shirley, the author and historian who chronicled Reagan’s 1976 campaign in his book. “It went on for hours, and there were melees in the hall.”…

The list of those present at the chaos reads like a who’s who of the Republican Party. Dole, Ed Meese and Haley Barbour, not to mention John Kasich and his 2016 strategists Charlie Black and Stu Spencer were all in the Kemper Arena over those four wild days in 1976. Trump also recently hired 1976 veteran Paul Manafort, who helped lead the Ford floor operations, to lead his delegate operation in Cleveland. And many of them see Kansas City as a case study of how events could transpire in Cleveland this summer…

Apart from snark about proverbial elephants who never forget, what’s on the agenda for the day?

Saturday Evening Horrorshow: Ex-Speaker Denny Hastert (R)

On the one hand, this feels like pious voyeurism. On the other hand, his Repub fellows voted Hastert Speaker (to replace Newt Gingrich, who’d run into trouble over his own sexual/financial shenanigans) while grandstanding about that vile man Bill Clinton, who’d ‘taken advantage’ of a twenty-three-year old intern — a mere child, misled by a powerful older man, we were assured. More importantly, He’s old, he’s sick, he’s very sorry for what happened all those many years ago, is it really important we lock up some poor grampa who’ll never have the opportunity to re-offend? is the argument made every time another Catholic priest or other authority figure is exposed… and the near-universal answer from their victims seems to be “Yes, it’s important.”

From the Chicago Sun-Times, in his old stomping grounds:

The man who was once second in line to the presidency sexually abused five students while a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School decades ago, according to a new court filing by federal prosecutors.

A sentencing memorandum filed late Friday finally ripped back the curtain on damning sexual abuse claims at the heart of an indictment leveled against Hastert last May — claims that haunted the former U.S. House Speaker enough that he paid a fortune to hide them from the world…

Attorney Steven Block wrote. “While defendant achieved great success, reaping all the benefits that went with it, these boys struggled, and all are still struggling now with what defendant did to them.”

Hastert’s sentencing day will be the worst of his life, his lawyers have acknowledged. They have asked for probation for the ailing, once-beloved 74-year-old pariah in an apologetic plea for mercy filed Wednesday. Hastert has pleaded guilty only to a financial crime…

Politico includes a wealth of detail:

[E]ven as the prosecution laid out damaging claims that Hastert made sexual contact with at least three members of the wrestling team under the guise of giving them massages, the government stopped short of calling for prison time for the former speaker as a result of his guilty plea last year to a felony charge that he broke a federal law on reporting cash transactions while paying hush money to one of the former students.

The sentencing filing from prosecutors Friday night revealed that when the FBI first learned that Hastert was withdrawing large sums of cash from his bank accounts, he claimed he was being extorted by one of the former students. He even cooperated with the FBI in a sting operation of sorts by making recorded telephone calls to the unnamed man. Prosecutors said that Hastert did not follow the FBI agents’ instructions about what to tell the man and that the man’s “language and demeanor were inconsistent with an individual extorting defendant through threats.”
Read more

Tuesday Evening Open Thread: Return of the Reemergence of the Zombie-Eyed Granny Starver

Politico‘s Mike Allen is very excited about this week’s GOP fantasy savior:

On the eve of the Wisconsin primaries, top Republicans are becoming increasingly vocal about their long-held belief that Speaker Paul Ryan will wind up as the nominee, perhaps on the fourth ballot at a chaotic Cleveland convention.

One of the nation’s best-wired Republicans, with an enviable prediction record for this cycle, sees a 60 percent chance of a convention deadlock and a 90 percent chance that delegates turn to Ryan — ergo, a 54 percent chance that Ryan, who’ll start the third week of July as chairman of the Republican National Convention, will end it as the nominee…

Ryan, who’s more calculating and ambitious than he lets on, is running the same playbook he did to become speaker: saying he doesn’t want it, that it won’t happen. In both cases, the maximum leverage is to not want it — and to be begged to do it… Of course in this environment, saying you don’t want the job is the only way to get it. If he was seen to be angling for it, he’d be stained and disqualified by the current mess.

But Ryan, 46, a likable Midwesterner, could look too tempting to resist as Republicans finally focus on a beatable Hillary Clinton. He got rave reviews for a “State of American Politics” speech on March 23 (hashtag on his podium: “#ConfidentAmerica,” the title of his high-minded manifesto at the Library of “#ConfidentAmerica,” the title of his high-minded manifesto at the Library of Congress in December). In the “State of Politics” address, Ryan offered himself as the anti-Trump (without mentioning The Don): “Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults.”

On “Morning Joe” Monday morning, Joe Scarborough said that if Trump falls even one vote short of a clinch, the convention will “look for someone else”: “If Trump doesn’t get the number, they’ll say they have rules for a reason.” And Karl Rove told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last week: “A fresh face might be the thing that would give us a chance to turn this election and win in November against Hillary.”…

At least one CNBC analyst picks up the megaphone:

… More and more, it’s apparent a Republican leader who never was a candidate for president would have to be the compromise nominee if we do get a truly brokered convention. And despite all his protestations, House Speaker Paul Ryan would be the most likely choice in that kind of scenario. I’m not saying Ryan would necessarily be the best candidate, but he’s already been called upon to save the party once and it’s likely he would be again for a number of reasons. His experience as the vice presidential nominee four years ago means he will have at least a few people close to him experienced in national campaigning.

The fact that Ryan has not really attacked Trump or Cruz so far in this mean season will make him much more palatable to both camps’ delegates. He’s even wisely staying out of the country while his home state of Wisconsin holds this crucial primary today, (he voted absentee). And most importantly, he’s not named “Cruz” or “Trump.”…

According to The Hill, Ryan himself is shyly scuffing his feet, as any ‘surprise’ ‘compromise’ candidate would…

…“I do believe people put my name in this thing, and I say, ‘Get my name out of that,’” he said on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.” “If you want to be president, you should go run for president. And that’s just the way I see it.

“I’m not that person. I’d like to think my face is somewhat fresh, but I’m not for this conversation. I think you need to run for president if you’re going to run for president, and I’m not running for president. Period, end of story.”

Ryan also voiced uncertainty over the Republican National Convention in July, arguing it might have different rules than the 2012 version…

If thou be willing, remove this cup from me… Mr. Charles P. Pierce, in his part-time job as political theatre critic, judges that “Paul Ryan Is Very Bad at Pretending to Not Run for President”. Jon Chait, at NYMag, is even more dismissive of this idea, and of Ryan’s acting skills:

… Republican elites fervently, desperately hope that this [deadlocked convention] scenario would lead to Ryan securing the nomination. It is hard to think of a more natural fit to rescue them. If the United States had a parliamentary system, Ryan would be the Republican leader. No other figure combines the roles of public communicator and chief ideologist in quite the same way. Asked about such an instance by John Harwood, Ryan all but said he would take the job. (“You know, I haven’t given any thought to this stuff. People say, ‘What about the contested convention?’ I say, well, there are a lot of people running for president. We’ll see. Who knows?”)…

Ryan’s history is to acquire a reputation as lacking ambition even as he rockets up the ranks. His repeated denials of interest in serving as Speaker of the House were, in retrospect, merely a negotiation over the terms under which he’d accept the job. (The rebellious House Freedom Caucus, the counterparty to the negotiation, turned down Ryan’s demands. He accepted the job anyway.)…
Read more

Insert Clever Title About Glacial Speed

Seriously- that was quick:

The Panama Papers leaks apparently resulted in a political casualty Tuesday when Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned.

Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, the deputy chair of the Progressive Party, announced Gunnlaugsson’s resignation Tuesday on Iceland’s national public service broadcaster RUV.

Gunnlaugsson had been under intense pressure to step down since leaked documents hacked from a Panamanian law firm revealed his links to an offshore company, triggering mass protests in the capital.

Senior political figures in the Nordic nation have been holding emergency talks amid fallout from the Panama Papers leaks.
Critics said the revelations surrounding the offshore company, which allegedly had holdings in Iceland’s collapsed banks, shattered public confidence in Gunnlaugsson’s leadership and could harm the country’s international reputation.

Hee’s a decent explainer of the Panama Papers. this being an election year, I would be remiss if I did not add this:

The Panama Papers leak, that reveals how the rich and powerful rely on a secretive law firm to hide their wealth in tax havens, has drawn attention to a 2011 speech by Senator Bernie Sanders against the Panama-United States Trade Promotion Agreement, which became law in 2012. He noted that Panama’s entire economic output at the time was so low that the pact seemed unlikely to benefit American workers. The real reason for the agreement, Sanders argued, is that “Panama is a world leader when it comes to allowing wealthy Americans and large corporations to evade taxes.” Sanders said the trade agreement “will make this bad situation much worse.” We get reaction from Michael Hudson, senior editor at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which published the Panama Papers, and Frederik Obermaier, investigative reporter at Germany’s leading newspaper, the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung. He is co-author of the book “Panama Papers: The Story of a Worldwide Revelation.”

This is going to end up being the international story of the year.

Monday Morning Open Thread: Dark Doings in the Silver State

One of our regular commentors went to their local county convention over the weekend, and reported back:

… I spent the day with a huuuuge gang of Bernistas and Hillary-ites, and I’ve gotta tell you, after the first 2 hours, I changed from a casual “yeah, I support Hillary” to a “I will call, go door-to-door, whatever is necessary to beat Sanders” die-hard fan. His supporters, by and large, were *that* awful at the convention. They booed Hillary’s name always, they drowned out any speaker who asked that we all support whoever gets nominated with unending “Bernie,Bernie” chanting, they regularly paraded around the convention center, also chanting, several individuals walked through the seats spouting really hateful, dishonest crap about Hillary, they had long, loud conversations about how the committee counting the delegates was “obviously” trying to cheat for Hillary. Also, the debacle at the Arizona primary? ALL Hillary’s fault. She, personally, decided to cut the number of polling places. It was as close as I ever want to get to being at a Trump rally. Things were that uncomfortable & out-of-whack.

And then, the chair threw out for a voice vote “Should we seat all elected alternates and unelected alternates as delegates?” It was seconded & passed. Turns out part of the Bernie campaign’s tactics was to get as many people as possible to just show up as “unelected alternates”, get them counted & essentially steal the county. Hillary won here by (I believe) 8-9 points in the popular vote. Bernie won the convention, technically by the rules, but unethically as hell.

In a WTF conversation about it with a fellow Hillary delegate, I was told by a Bernista that it was only fair, because his supporters are so much more enthusiastic, their votes should count for more. She was entirely serious.

I found out today that the convention chair, who was a Sanders supporter, was removed early yesterday morning, after sharing information with just the Sanders campaign & not the Clinton campaign. There is also talk about how delegates were checked in, an email that was sent to Hillary supporters who were told that if they pre-registered they didn’t have to show up at the convention, and more. The whole experience, from caucus to convention, is so tremendously fucked-up and undemocratic that it makes me nuts…

ETA: and the scheduling makes zero sense. The county convention was scheduled for all day Saturday on Final Four weekend, guaranteeing that Culinary Union & most service-industry people will be working. The state delegate convention is scheduled for May 14 & 15, which is also the date for UNLV and UNR’s graduation. Planning, WTF?

Local political expert Jon Ralston reports:

Despite losing the state on Feb. 20 in the caucus, Bernie Sanders’ campaign swarmed the Clark County caucus and probably flipped two delegates from Hillary Clinton’s camp.

Clinton was presumed to have a 20-15 delegate edge after the caucus based on her 5 percentage point win in the caucuses. But because the caucus process allows some delegates to be unbound, 12 of those were up for grabs at the 17 county conventions Saturday. Sanders had 600 more delegates in Clark on Saturday despite losing the state’s most populous county by nearly 10 percentage points.

That is expected to switch two delegates to Sanders, giving Clinton an 18-17 lead in Nevada, but that is still pending the results of the state convention next month when those 12 slots could again change. (Sanders also dominated in Washoe and did well elsewhere.) Ah, the caucus process…

The horse-race touts at the Washington Post preferred to formulate it as “A scrappy Sanders campaign narrows the Nevada delegate count six weeks after the caucuses”.

Between the Wisconsin primary coming Tuesday and the media’s excitement over the New York primary on April 19, it looks like this contretemps will be seen as important only to those most immediately concerned. On the other hand, a large part of Bernie Sanders’ marketing appeal has been based on his reputation as The Last Pure Crusader — the only guy in politics who preferred ideals to low, nasty politicking. Eroding that elite image (and if even Jeff Weaver is whining, it’s hurting Sanders) damages Bernie’s most valuable political asset. When Nevada’s delegates are finally appointed in June, and when the DNC meets at the end of July, it’s the hardcore activists who’ll remember what happened in Clark County, and that won’t be good for Sandernistas.
Apart from scrapping for every marginal advantage, what’s on the agenda as we start another week?