Our sister paper SF Weekly recently did a story on the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's extravagant attempts to make inroads among black churches by offering preachers such things as free vacations to faraway countries. Dozens of ministers have heeded Moon's call to throw out their crosses and replace them with crowns, the symbol of Moon's church.
The Reverend Bennit Hayes of the Gloryland Missionary Baptist Church in Sunnyside was cited as a minister who had a drawerful of discarded crosses from his parishioners (although the article didn't directly accuse him of taking free trips).
A Moonie in Houston?
The Reverend Bennit Hayes
Q. Has Reverend Moon paid for your travel expenses?
A. Naw, naw, naw, naw. See, that's one of the most misconceived things that most folks think. That just 'cause you're black you got to have folks pay for your travels.
Q. That's not what I meant.
A. Naw, naw, naw. I want you to just get what I'm saying. I came in paying my own way, up until the time I became a member of the executive committee. And once I got on the executive committee, my travels [are] paid for by the committee...I'm a giver. A lot of the black pastors do come on board for the free ride. That's a fact. But most of us come in here giving.
Q. Reverend Moon has said that the Holocaust is a consequence for the Jews' killing of Jesus. Do you believe that?
A. I was at the Holocaust museum in Israel. And let me say that the Jews themselves, the ones I met, repented for that.
Q. For the Holocaust?
A. No, no. That they actually did set up the murder of Jesus. They repented for that. Because they're the ones that led to the death of Jesus.
Q. But do you believe the Holocaust is a consequence of that?
A. I have my own views on that. But see, Reverend Moon doesn't control your mind. He gives you the liberty, you know, to think for yourself...Reverend Moon has done much more today than what Jesus did in his day. Jesus didn't travel all over the world. Reverend Moon has traveled all over the world. The Reverend Moon's been in prison. Jesus was never in prison. You see what I'm saying?
Q. Reverend Moon has called gays "dung-eating dogs." What do you think of that?
A. That's a little extreme for me. I wouldn't call them that. They're all children of God.
Q. But that kind of statement doesn't turn you off Reverend Moon?
A. Naw, naw. That's the human in him. That's what makes him not totally divine.
"Not totally divine" sounds like something Carson Kressley on Queer Eye would say, but we're sure Hayes wasn't implying anything.
Big Oil Under Investigation
U.S. Representative Joe Barton, a Republican from the Sixth District north of here, is doing something that's a little unusual for a hard-line conservative: He's taking on Big Oil.
Barton is fed up with the prices being charged to consumers, and as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he has launched an investigation into the matter.
Yes, Barton is on a crusade - because consumers aren't being charged enough.
He's taking aim against Citgo, which has announced deep discounts for low-income people needing heating oil. Citgo is owned by Venezuela, ruled by current GOP anti-Christ Hugo Chavez, and Barton is not going to stand for it.
Not that he wants to talk about it - his office referred us to the committee for comment, and a spokesman for the committee didn't return calls.
Other members of the committee have chimed in, though. Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.) issued a statement saying, "If I were to try to dream up an initiative to highlight that Republicans are on another planet when it comes to energy policy, this investigation would be it." So in a way he's a big supporter.
And Gene Green, who's also a Democrat but does come from the oil-company mecca that is our fair city, also thinks Barton is wack (although he doesn't quite use that un-congressional term).
"I think that if someone's willing to, whether it's Citgo or anyone else that can provide my constituents or someone else's constituents cheaper fuel prices, I'm for it," he told Hair Balls.
In a letter to Citgo, Barton said Chavez's "efforts must be viewed with concern he is attempting to politicize the debate over U.S. energy policy."
Yeah, you wouldn't want that. Up next for Barton: making sure this crypto-socialist guy called "Santa Claus" is only giving to the right kind of people.
Conscience of a Nation
The New York Times had a big front-page story March 2 on how state prisons nationwide shackle prisoners to their beds as they are giving birth. For anyone who's been in a delivery room, it was a revelation to discover that a woman in labor could be considered an escape risk.
The article didn't mention Texas; given our rep for progressive incarceration policies, it's a safe bet that 99 percent of the people who read the article assumed the Lone Star State not only enthusiastically used shackles, they probably Tasered the mom-to-be a couple of times just to be on the safe side.
Surprise, surprise - in this instance, Texas actually isn't one of the bad guys.
"When I read that, I thought, "Good God, who'd be handcuffing a woman in labor to a bed?" We don't do that," says Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Inmates may be handcuffed while they're being transported to the prison hospital in Galveston, but once it's baby time the cuffs almost always come off.
Not only that, TDCJ has a program called "Love Me Tender" for inmates who give birth. The program provides for new mothers to have two-hour visits five days a week with their infants, says Marsha Canright, spokeswoman for the University of Texas Medical Branch, which runs the hospital.
"It's kind of a silly name, but it's a good program," she says. About 150 of the 272 inmates who gave birth in 2005 took advantage of it, she says. (What, the other 122 didn't want to get a daily break from prison? They must really hate breast-feeding.)
No shackles? "Love Me Tender"? What's next, Godiva chocolates on the pillow of the death row gurney? TDCJ, you're going soft, man.
We Are So Terrific
You might have thought the orgy of self-congratulation that Houston has indulged in since Hurricane Katrina was finished. After all, there are only so many ways you can pat yourself on the back for helping out victims of that tragedy, right?
Wrong. Mayor Bill White is riding this thing for all its worth, and finding innovative new ways to make sure no one forgets how noble we are.
Houstonians received a letter from White with their most recent water bills, informing them they could now pay those bills online. (Welcome to the 21st century!! Finally.) Somehow, that mundane announcement tied in with our sainthood: "We, as a community, have opened our arms to new residents displaced by the recent events on the Gulf Coast," White's letter began. "With that, we recognize our continued responsibility to serve our own citizens. We thank everyone for their generosity and good will shown to the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and now as much as ever the City of Houston's top priority is to serve everyone's needs efficiently."
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We can hardly wait for other improvements to city documents:
"As Katrina showed, Houstonians have hearts as big as Texas. That said, you have jury duty in municipal court."
"Unlike Houstonians, who passed with flying colors an inspection of their generosity in trying times, the inspection sticker on your car was expired as you drove near Richmond and Montrose at 2:17 p.m. March 2. Pay up."
"Martin Luther King could not have been more giving than Houstonians were during Katrina. Therefore, there will be no trash pickup on January 15, MLK's birthday."