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July 3rd, 2008:

RIP, Larry Harmon

Larry Harmon, who played Bozo the Clown for over 50 years, has died at the age of 83.

Although not the original Bozo, Harmon portrayed the popular clown in countless appearances and, as an entrepreneur, he licensed the character to others, particularly dozens of television stations around the country. The stations in turn hired actors to be their local Bozos.

“You might say, in a way, I was cloning BTC (Bozo the Clown) before anybody else out there got around to cloning DNA,” Harmon told the AP in a 1996 interview.

“Bozo is a combination of the wonderful wisdom of the adult and the childlike ways in all of us,” Harmon said.

Pinto Colvig, who also provided the voice for Walt Disney’s Goofy, was the first Bozo the Clown, a character created by writer-producer Alan W. Livingston for a series of children’s records in 1946. Livingston said he came up with the name Bozo after polling several people at Capitol Records.

[…]

The business — combining animation, licensing of the character, and personal appearances — made millions, as Harmon trained more than 200 Bozos over the years to represent him in local markets.

“I’m looking for that sparkle in the eyes, that emotion, feeling, directness, warmth. That is so important,” he said of his criteria for becoming a Bozo.

The Chicago version of Bozo ran on WGN-TV in Chicago for 40 years and was seen in many other cities after cable television transformed WGN into a superstation.

Bozo — portrayed in Chicago for many years by Bob Bell — was so popular that the waiting list for tickets to a TV show eventually stretched to a decade, prompting the station to stop taking reservations for 10 years. On the day in 1990 when WGN started taking reservations again, it took just five hours to book the show for five more years. The phone company reported more than 27 million phone call attempts had been made.

By the time the show bowed out in Chicago, in 2001, it was the last locally produced version. Harmon said at the time that he hoped to develop a new cable or network show, as well as a Bozo feature film.

I guess that means that the version of Bozo that I recall watching from my childhood featured some other dude as Bozo. Not that it really matters, I suppose, since whoever it was had been trained by the master himself. Rest in peace, Larry Harmon.

Brimer sues to boot Davis off the ballot

I thought we were done with ballot access battles. Looks like I was wrong.

State Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, filed a lawsuit today against Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Steve Maxwell, Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie and his Democratic opponent Wendy Davis.

The suit requests the court to “disqualify Davis from the November 2008 general election.”

The suit follows the same line of argument as three Fort Worth firefighters charged back in January, when they alleged in a suit that Davis couldn’t run for the state senate because she didn’t officially step down from her seat on the Fort Worth City Council before filing her candidacy.

“In effect, Davis sought to become a candidate for the Legislature at the same time she continued to hold a ‘lucrative office’, exercise her duties and enjoy the benefits of office as a member of the City Council,” the suit alleges.

State election law prohibits officeholders from running for the Legislature, but state law also requires resigning officeholders to hold their seats until their successors are sworn in, according to city of Fort Worth officials.

A three-judge panel in that case ruled that the firefighters didn’t have standing to challenge Davis’ eligibility, only a political opponent did.

We asked Brimer back in February whether he would file his own suit. He wouldn’t say.

A copy of the suit is here (PDF) if any lawyers want to give it a look-see and offer an opinion; a timeline of events is here. Clearly, based on the original ruling, Brimer has a chance to win that the firefighters didn’t, since he has standing. I also think it’s pretty clear that the ethically-challenged Brimer is worried about losing this race, and is hoping to take out some insurance. I also think if he loses the court challenge he’ll suffer some blowback. But since a win means a guaranteed re-election, it’s easy to understand why he’s taking this gambit. Over to you, Tarrant County District Court. In the meantime, you can listen to my interview with Davis.

UPDATE: The Texas Blue suggests that the ruling in the Bill Dingus lawsuit bodes well for Davis.

UPDATE: Marc G has more.

And now they arrest the bosses

I had wondered why the recent ICE raid at a rag plant didn’t result in any charges being filed against the employers. Now I see that has happened.

This morning a U.S. magistrate in Houston is scheduled to preside over the initial court appearance of two owners and three managers of Action Rags USA. The eastside company, located in a sweltering factory near the Port of Houston, was the scene of one of Houston’s largest immigration raids when 166 undocumented workers were detained June 25.

Federal charges were unsealed late Wednesday after agents arrested company owner Mabarik Kahlon, 45, and his partner and uncle, Rasheed Ahmed, 58. Also arrested Wednesday were manager Cirila Barron, 38, resource manager Valerie Rodriguez, 34, and warehouse supervisor Mayra Herrera-Gutierrez, 32. Ahmed, who has health problems, was freed on his own recognizance until today’s court appearance. The rest remain in federal custody.

Barron and Herrera-Gutierrez are illegal immigrants from Mexico, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Houston.

The five are charged with conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants, inducing illegal immigrants to come into the country, as well as illegal hiring practices including knowingly accepting false work documents.

”Immigration is a political issue and until it is solved politically, any employer is at risk,” said David Gerger, a prominent Houston attorney who is representing the owners. ”But as far as this case goes, we will defend it in court and not in the press.” Gerger represented former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow during his criminal case.

The arrests of the company leaders were applauded by those who favor tough enforcement of immigration laws.

”Employers who knowingly hire illegals need to face the consequences, and the consequences are prosecution,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble. ”Employers have been getting a pass way too long on hiring illegals and not being held accountable for it.”

Well, if that’s the approach you’ve chosen to take, it’s better to arrest the employers as well as the employees, who after all wouldn’t be there without those who hired them. But again, this is a stupid way of doing it. Make it easier for companies like Action Rags to legally import and hire foreign workers, and ensure those workers have a path to citizenship and the same rights and protections as native born workers, and a whole slew of problems go away. Why is this so hard?

A letter to the editor puts that same sentiment in a slightly different fashion:

Monday’s Page One article, “ICE Raids often spare employers” quoted U.S. Reps. Ted Poe and John Culberson calling for the prosecution of employers hiring illegal aliens.

I have supported both congressmen in the past and consider them great allies on many different causes, but their comments reveal an alarming hostility to the folks who provide jobs in our city, state and nation. Employers must navigate the minefield of laws that govern the workplace. On one side, Immigration and Customs Enforcement tells them, “Don’t hire any illegal aliens, or you might go to jail your-self!” On the other side, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tells them, “Don’t look at that ID too closely or we will sue you for discrimination.” People forget that five years before ICE raided the Swift meatpacking plants, Swift had paid out a $200,000 settlement to the Department of Justice for scrutinizing its employment documents too closely.

Employers are caught in a Catch-22 created by our government’s failure to solve the immigration problem. Poe and Culberson should spend more time trying to pass sensible immigration reform and less time bashing the folks who put food on the table for millions of people in this city and great state!

NORMAN E. ADAMS, Houston

There’s a huge amount of room to make improvements here, and no good reason not to. What’s holding things back is a strong and persistent belief among some vocal opponents of immigration that meeting the real needs of the employment market by increasing the number of visas available for both skilled and unskilled labor would be harmful to American culture. They’re wrong, and we need to get past that attitude or we’ll never solve this problem.

Finally, I recommend Council Member James Rodriguez’s words on the initial ICE raid, which are quoted at Marc Campos’ site. Well said.

AMA runs ad criticizing anti-Medicare vote

As we know, the Texas Medical Association recently rescinded its endorsement of Sen. John Cornyn after his vote against a Medicare-funding bill, HR6331. Now the American Medical Association is getting into the act.

Reflecting physicians’ frustration with a group of senators that blocked action last week on legislation that would stop harsh Medicare physician payment cuts, the AMA began airing new TV and radio ads urging opponents of H.R. 6331 to put patients’ access to care before insurance profits. The ads will run through this week’s congressional recess, initially in Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming. The ads can be viewed online.

“Congress had six months to effectively address harsh Medicare cuts that will harm seniors’ access to care,” said AMA President Nancy Nielsen, MD. “Despite broad bipartisan support in the House of Representatives for legislation to stop the Medicare cuts, action was stymied by 39 senators.”

Because the Senate failed to act, this year’s Medicare cut of 10.6 percent will begin today — and a full 60 percent of physicians say this cut will force them to limit the number of new Medicare patients they can treat. Over 18 months the cuts will total more than 15 percent, while medical practice costs continue to increase. The AMA is asking the Senate to make good on bipartisan support for legislative action that would replace Medicare physician payment cuts with updates that better reflect increasing medical practice costs. Last week the House passed the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (H.R. 6331) by an overwhelming vote of 355 to 59.

The new radio and television ads open with a reference to Independence Day then say: “there’s no celebrating for the millions of Medicare patients — seniors, the disabled and military families — who will lose their access to health care. A group of U.S. senators voted to protect the powerful insurance companies’ huge profits at the expense of Medicare patients’ access to doctors.”

“The AMA is activating a full-court press — both advertising and grassroots — in the states during the Independence Day recess,” said Dr. Nielsen. “Over the month of June, more than 41,000 calls by patients and physicians have been made to Congress urging action through the AMA’s grassroots hotline alone. Physicians and patients will be holding their senators’ feet to the fire.”

The ad, or at least the online version of the ad, doesn’t mention any Senator by name, though one presumes it would be easy enough to alter the voice-over to tailor it for each particular state; they could also show a graphic with the appropriate Senator’s name and phone number if they wanted to. More like this and the campaign funding gap between Cornyn and Rick Noriega will shrink a bit. If this winds up mobilizing doctors against Cornyn – by no means a sure thing, as they have not endorsed Noriega yet – that could cause him some problems. Link via BOR.

“Crazy ant” pesticide now available

Good to know.

Help may be on the way for Houston-area residents driven to wits’ end by the relentless attack of crazy Rasberry ants, which have caused damage estimated at $30 million in Harris and six other Southeast Texas counties.

Acting on a request by the Texas Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday approved a crisis exemption for use of fipronil (Termidor SC) on crazy ant infestations. The crisis exemption is in effect until the EPA rules on the state’s request for a specific exemption so the pesticide could be used for three years.

Crazy Rasberry ants, called “crazy” because of their zigzag march and named after Tom Rasberry, the Pasadena exterminator who discovered them in 2002, now infest Harris, Brazoria, Galveston, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery and Wharton counties.

[…]

Jason Meyers, a Texas A&M University doctoral candidate who is considered an expert on the ants, said the poison likely will be an effective management tool of the pests but “not an end-all.”

“It should be useful for individual homeowners,” he said, “but it’s not going to eradicate the ants from any area. Not by any means.”

Just as well, given that these critters eat fire ants, who are the greater evil in just about any entomological equation.

Observer on Yanez

The Texas Observer has a nice bio of Supreme Court candidate Linda Yanez, who if elected this November would be the first Latina on the Texas Supreme Court. She’s got an interesting life story that’s worth your time to read, but I think the bit that most caught my eye was this:

A majority of the court has swung so far to the right that even some of its own judges have recoiled at recent rulings. On May 16, the court ruled 6-3 in favor of McAllen Medical Center in a long-running malpractice lawsuit. The hospital was asking the court for a writ of mandamus–a seldom-used judicial maneuver that allows the defendant to do an end run around the appeals process. Rather than wait for a decision in the lower courts before appealing, McAllen Medical Center asked the higher court to dismiss the case.

The 13th Court of Appeals, where YaƱez sits, had already denied the hospital’s request for mandamus. The Supreme Court approved it, saying the problems associated with medical malpractice lawsuits were too costly to be delayed with a trial.

The ruling is an extraordinary departure from precedent. So big, in fact, that it warranted a reply based on a cartoon fantasy. State Supreme Court Justice Dale Wainwright opened his dissenting opinion with lyrics from the theme song to the 1992 Disney animated film Aladdin.

A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view
No one to tell us no
Or where to go
Or say we’re only dreaming …
It’s crystal clear
That now I’m in a whole new world with you.

The dissent continued: “A whole new world in mandamus practice, hinted by opinions in the last few years, is here. The Court’s heavy reliance on costs and delay to support its conclusion that the hospital has no adequate remedy by appeal marks a clear departure from the historical bounds of our mandamus jurisprudence.”

Signaling that the decision could make it harder for plaintiffs to make lawsuits stick, the dissent continued: “Such cases should be the exception; they may now have become the rule.”

Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and Justice Harriet O’Neill joined Wainwright in the dissent. Justice [Phil] Johnson signed on with the majority, in favor of the hospital.

Justices Jefferson and Wainwright are on the ballot this fall, along with Justice Johnson, who is Yanez’s opponent. It’ll be interesting to see if this ruling, and in particular Wainwright’s sarcastic dissent, is a part of any campaign coverage we get of the Supreme Court races, or if any newspaper bases endorsement decisions in part on it. It’s awfully hard for judicial races to break through into the news, even those at the top and even when there are known issues, but that kind of disagreement among ballotmates is an easy hook for a story line. Anyway, check it out.

A delay for you is an opportunity for someone else

I know that every cloud has a silver lining and all that, but somehow that thought isn’t enough to cheer me up as I read this.

As fliers like Perez spend more time waiting in airports — in part because of modern security requirements, and possibly in the future by planned flight cutbacks — high-end stores are becoming more prevalent, said Steve Johnson of HMSHost, which runs Destinations.

The store in Terminal C includes a boutique called Occhaili da Sole that sells $685 Dior sunglasses for those who want ultra-stylish UV protection.

“(Travelers) are spending more time in airports, having more time to shop and more time to eat,” Johnson said. “Pre-9/11, people kind of flew through airports.”

So to speak.

Idle passengers have created opportunities for businesses like HMSHost, the biggest airport concessions operator in the country and one of nine at Intercontinental.

Retail consultant Jeff Green said that even though carriers are planning to run fewer flights to minimize record fuel costs, the reduced service also should cause more delays.

“People expect to spend longer in airports,” Green said. “It is just an opportunity for retailers to catch that customer who has to wait.”

[…]

Experts familiar with airport concessions, like Bruce Katz of Retail Focus, said the upscale trend is the future of airport concessions.

“High-end customers going through airports is definitely being reflected in retail,” Katz said. “You have more fashion orientation than ever before.”

How nice to know that as I am forced to kill time in the airport, at least I can spend more money on higher-end junk. Somehow, I just don’t find that particularly comforting.