How things work in TexasMolly Ivins
Creators Syndicate – November 30, 2004
AUSTIN, Texas -- Goody, goody, gumdrop. We could get Phil Gramm back again, this time as secretary of the treasury. Oh how I've missed that little ray of sunshine, the bleeding heart from Bryan, the man who thinks poor people are all fat. As author Jim Hightower used to say, if you need a heart transplant, try to get Phil Gramm's -- it's never been used.
Just what we need for treasury secretary: the banking industry's errand boy. The man who helped bring us Enron.
According to The Washington Post, President Bush wants a new economic team. Can't imagine why. Oh, here it is: It's "part of Bush's preparation for sending Congress an ambitious second-term domestic agenda." He wants someone "who can better relate to Congress and be more effective in dealing with financial markets and television interviewers."
There you have it -- Phil's perfect for the job. Mr. Charm. And he knows how to talk those seniors into getting rid of Social Security. He's in practice. He's been back here in Texas lobbying to make it legal to sell "dead peasant" life insurance to the Teacher Retirement System.
"Dead peasant" insurance is such a deal that Wal-Mart and lots of big companies do it. See, a company like Wal-Mart takes out life insurance on low-wage employees (that would be Texas teachers), then it gets to deduct the premiums from its taxes. And when the employee dies, the company gets a benefit between $64,000 to more than $250,000.
Gramm is currently vice chairman of UBS Investment Bank. Under the UBS plan, the Retirement System would buy annuities and life insurance policies on retired teachers and keep the proceeds when they die. Of course, the investment and insurance industries would profit from the premiums and brokerage fees.
Those of you who are regular readers know that I do not pick on the wives or children of politicians. I bring up Wendy Gramm because she is a player in her own right and also because this is a classic example of How Things Work in Texas.
Those who believe the entire nation is being Texasified should pay extremely close attention. Those interested in history will recall that W. Gramm was on the board of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission when it made what many regard as the key decision to set up the Enron scandal. She resigned from the commission a few days later and joined the board of Enron a few weeks after that.
But she has another legal case on her hands, State Farm Mutual and Wendy Gramm vs. Lopez, to be heard by the Texas Supreme Court, which is known here as the Dollar Docket. Texans for Public Justice, an excellent public interest group, keeps track of cases before the court every month and notes on its website the corresponding contributions to the justices from the parties and/or attorneys involved. This keeps us amused on slow days.
W. Gramm was on the board of State Farm Mutual Auto from 1994 through 2001. A policyholder lawsuit alleges that Gramm and other board members stiffed them on dividends after the company reported a $37 billion surplus in 1997.
Even though we elect justices in Texas, Gov. Goodhair Perry gets to make an appointment when one resigns. Phil Gramm gave Goodhair's campaign the $612,000 he had left over from his Senate campaign fund when he retired prematurely from that body after Enron collapsed. Goodhair had appointed Wendy Gramm to the Texas A&M board of regents a year earlier.
Gov. Goodhair in turn is close to James Leininger, who is the big sugar daddy of the Texas right wing. Leininger also created the Texas Public Policy Foundation (not to be confused with the Public Justice people), which is dedicating to shaping public policy here in the state. Leininger is particularly keen on school vouchers and abstinence education. He not only gives generously to members of our legislative and executive branches, but also to candidates for the Texas Supreme Court. Wendy Gramm is the chair of Leininger's Policy Foundation.
Now, Goodhair Perry appointed the current chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Wallace Jefferson, who was sworn in by Antonin Scalia, who is rumored to be on George Bush's list for chief of the U.S. Supremes. Goodhair has also appointed three other Texas justices, making four out of the nine.
You will be further amazed to learn that Goodhair Perry and James Leininger are such good buddies they went sailing together in the Bahamas last spring. Also, Perry's insurance commissioner has filed two amicus briefs for State Farm. His predecessor gets paid more than $200,000 to lobby for State Farm. There's more in this snake's nest of interlocking interests, but I wouldn't want to bore you.
Based on experience here in Texas, I can already tell you how this all comes out. Not only will Wendy Gramm and State Farm win the case, but the Republican legislature will then try to take away everyone's right to sue over anything like it, and you won't even know what happens after that because it will all be in sealed records. And anybody who objects gets accused of aiding the terrorists. Don't say I didn't warn you.