Thursday, February 18, 2010


Carl Parker sez:

There is a saying--experience is a great teacher.  However, it is the only teacher that gives the exam first and then the lesson.  Charlie Wilson, who is now remembered as a master politician and legislative strategist, learned this early in his career in the Texas House of Representatives.

Charlie was a great pal of mine, as well as a great political ally.  We served together for several years in the Texas House of Representatives before Charlie went to the Senate and then to Congress.  We continued our friendship as I represented the nation of Liberia, and although not gathering enough notoriety to justify a movie, Charlie assisted me in tripling the United States’ aid to the nation of Liberia.  Liberia was key to American foreign policy, being our most friendly nation in West Africa.  It was also the location for the Voice of America for that quadrant of the world.

As a new member of the Texas House of Representatives, Charlie was a pupil in the school of experience early on; 1961 was a sea-change year for Texas government.  It was the first year Texas adopted a sales tax.  The issue was as hot as an issue gets in a legislative body.

Liberals condemned the sales tax as regressive, over burdensome on the poor and middle class, and basically an unfair tax on the people.   There had been several attempts at vetoes by the governor, and the issue faced a severely divided House of Representatives where the legislation had to originate. 

Charlie, of course, was among the loyal opposition vying a sales tax would pass only over their dead, political bodies.  After numerous attempts had failed on the floor in a called session on the subject, Charlie and his fellow liberals, met in caucus and decided the best strategy would be to introduce a tax bill themselves.   Traditionally in the House the author of a piece of legislation can have the final say on the fate of that bill.  Charlie’s group reasoned if they were the sponsors of the bill, and things didn’t go to suit them, they could simply pull the bill down and live to fight another day on that issue.  The bill was successfully ushered out of committee and reached the floor of the House where things took a rather disastrous turn.  It seems none of the amendments for the liberal group could pass.  The bill came to the floor decorated with all sorts of conservative ideas.  The bill went from a bill favored by Wilson and his fellow legislators to one they couldn’t stand.  Unfortunately, however, the House broke with tradition and when Charlie withdrew his support someone else simply stood up, took over sponsorship of the bill and passed Texas’ first sales tax.  Ironically enough, Texas’ first sales tax ended up bearing the name of Charlie Wilson of Lufkin, one of its most avid opponents.  In later years, Charlie began to see the humor in it and was not so nonplused when they rightly accused him of being the Texas sponsor of the worst tax measure of several generations.

Charlie’s good nature and humor saw him through several crises in his political career.  I remember on one occasion when Charlie was unfortunately charged with driving while intoxicated in Austin, Texas, he persuaded the authorities that he in fact was impaired because of taking prescription drugs to treat the symptoms of the flu.  The prosecutor also had a weird sense of humor and suggested he would dismiss the driving while intoxicated charge if Charlie would agree to plead guilty of driving under the influence of narcotics.  When some of us suggested that it seemed it was worse to have admitted to driving while having taken narcotics than consuming alcohol, Charlie replied, “It’s not in East Texas!” 

Charlie was well aware of the traits of his Bible-belt constituents in the Lufkin area.  He once confided in me the voters in his district were divided into two religious groups: Half were white, Southern Baptist, the other half were black Southern Baptist.

While his quick wit, humor and good nature saw him through many tough times, the experiences such as the one where he got “rookie dooed” into being the sponsor of the state’s first sales tax taught him lessons he never forgot.  They stood him in good stead as he became one of the premiere legislative strategists, politicians, and ultimately statesman in the history of the United States Congress.


Carl Parker sez:

Unfortunately, the battle cry of conservatism in Texas is, “No new taxes!”  Even more unfortunately, it was started by a Democratic Governor, Dolph Briscoe.  During his tenure as governor of Texas he boasted that there were no new taxes and pledged there would be none under his administration.

Of course, nobody wants to pay more taxes, so the battle cry is very popular with everyone.  As a matter of fact, taxes are so unpopular in Texas that no politician in his right mind can even discuss the matter and maintain any hope of being elected.  The sad part of this is that as a result of such angst against any taxation, we never have a public discussion or discourse concerning what would be a rational, reasonable tax policy in the public interest.  Farouk Shami recently admitted he would support a small increase on taxation of gasoline to help build roads in Texas.  Even that will cost him votes.  At least 99% of all other politicians seeking office when asked how they intend to balance the budget resort to the tired, old cliché—“we will scrub the budget and do away with waste.

As a ten-time member of the Appropriations Conference Committee (the committee which really writes the budget of for Texas) I can tell you, “There ain’t that much waste in Texas government.”

Republicans have had control of the Texas Legislature and most statewide offices, at least since 1995.  During that period of time the “no new taxes” has gotten to be more and more a phony issue.

In the late 1960's, for example, Texas ranked in the bottom 5 states in all of the United States in charging property taxes. In less than 15 years we have gone from near the bottom in property taxes to the top 5, if not the top 1 or 2.  The Republican Legislature, while beating their chests about passing no new taxes during the legislative session, have in fact mandated higher taxes on homes and small businesses because of the legislative mandates they issued without funding.  To simply pass it on to somebody else may not be new taxes; it is simply passing the buck.

The sheer gall of the Republican leadership is amazing.  The current governor, Rick Perry, is blasting his primary opponent, Kay Bailey Hutchison, for having voted for the bailout.  According to Perry she is a big-spending liberal for having done so.  Perry fails to mention the fact $12-billion of the bailout allowed him and the Legislature to balance the state budget without a tax increase at the state level.

It seems Perry hypocrisy is without limits.  While accepting $400,000,000 federal funds with strings all over it for highways in Texas, the governor piously refuses to even allow Texas to compete for $400,000,000 in educational funds and turns down $200,000,000 which would have shored up our unemployment reserve fund for unemployed workers in Texas.

Perry’s “do as I say” rather than “do as I do” conduct does not end there.  While piously asking agency heads to cut their budgets by 5% which will wreak havoc with programs designed to help poor people and with higher education, Perry spends thousands of dollars taking himself, his family and his whole entourage to Israel to receive some sort of award.

If you think the “no new tax” across the board budget cuts are not harmful to Texas and ultimately to you, you are quite mistaken.  Because of draconian cuts in higher education, tuition continues to escalate at a record pace.  The cost of higher education is at or near exceeding the ability of most middle class Americans to send their kids to college without amassing huge debt.  While law and order right-wing Republicans boast about being tough on crime, their bare-bones, and stingy budget has put the Department of Public Safety in a position of being 400 troopers short on our highways and 100 investigators short in its criminal division.  Instead of biting the bullet and ponying up adequate pay for our state police, the current administration in Austin opts to simply reduce the qualifications in hope of luring people, qualified or not, to be troopers.

Another foolish experiment growing out of Republican clichés is that if we ran government like a business, we would save millions of dollars.  The Bush administration tried this by privatizing the human services division in charge of determining qualifications for food stamps.  It was a disaster.  It was so bad they ended up having to spend twice as much to get rid of the private company they hired in an offshore island to do the job and re-employing state employees out of retirement at hirer pay than before to do the job.  Deregulation of electric rates has not saved Texans much, if any at all.  In fact it has cost most Texans three times what the rate used to be.

Since the time of Christ there have been hypocrites in the world; most of the time, unfortunately, in leadership positions.  While I am certain the situation was bad in that time resulting in an unjust crucifixion, I believe the hypocrites of Jesus’ day were pikers compared to the ones we have now.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Carl Parker sez:

The recent fiasco with the Toyota recall, along with the Honda recalls, shows exactly what is wrong with the anti-jury trial movement in the United States.  The anti-jury trial movement is sometimes self-proclaimed as the Tort Reform Movement.  Republican politicians almost unanimously want to take judgment out of the hands of juries and either cap damages or place artificial limits on the value of life. 

Under the guise of saving millions of dollars of medical payments, the Texas Legislature capped damages for medical malpractice at $200,000, in general, and Republican congressman keep touting the same type legislation as a way to improve medical care in the United States.  While the Texas legislation did in fact save money in the hospitals and insurance companies, it saved precious little, if any, to the average citizen of this state.  Capping damages is not the only method used by this group to rob American citizens of their right to trial by jury. 
One of the long standing methods of robbing Americans their right to have disputes settled by a jury of their peers is the proposition that if the government sets a standard and a manufacturer meets it, it should preclude a lawsuit.  The recent Toyota and Honda recalls of hundreds of vehicles show exactly why this type of policy is wrong.  Several people have died as a result of manufacturing defects in the Toyota accelerator.  When they rolled off the assembly line all these cars presumably met federal standards.  If Republicans had their way, these defective government-approved vehicles which could lead to death or severe injuries would leave victims with no option to seek recompense in a court before a jury.

There are several things wrong with the idea of simply insulating manufactured goods in the United States from responsibility in a court at law if they pass government standards.  First of all, in most industries, the standards are generally set or unduly influenced by the manufacturers themselves.  Look how long it took to overcome the inertia brought about by automobile manufacturers to simply put in safety devices such as seat belts and airbags.  Another glaring example of how the automobile industry has controlled standards was a lawsuit complaining about the collapse of an automobile seat in a rear end collision.  Tests, photographs and movies show clearly that in a modest rear end collision, automobile seats with few exception, almost instantaneously collapsed backwards.  Anytime the automobile industry is sued over such an occurrence, it will site the seats meet or exceed federal standards.  In one case that I know of, an engineer constructed a seat out of cardboard that met or exceeded federal standards in this respect.

The oversight of agencies such as the Federal Drug Administration and the agency that oversees the safety of automobiles are woefully under staffed.  The agency dealing with automobiles has fewer then 700 employees to oversee the safety of automobiles manufactured or imported into the United States. 

These industries are not concerned with adequate safety.  They are concerned with money.  They do not want to be liable for shoddy construction or manufacturing.  They spend millions on lobbyists getting drugs approved prematurely.  Weaknesses in manufactured goods such as automobiles, is overlooked or blessed.  Most of all, they do not want to face a jury of ordinary citizens in order to justify their short comings or wrong doings.  While some would argue that good regulation is enough, the best regulation against unsafe products or goods is the threat of a good trial lawyer and a jury of honest citizens.  Which do you think is most likely to keep the attention of a multi-billion dollar corporation, a slap on the wrist by a regulatory agency for manufacturing something of poor quality or a mean competent trial lawyer holding them accountable in terms of thousands, if not millions of dollars?