Promising start for the potential next 'Michael Jordan of politics'
& a call for harrumph-worthy commentaries
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Eric Zorn is a former opinion columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Find a longer bio and contact information here. This issue exceeds in size the maximum length for a standard email. To read the entire issue in your browser, click on the headline link above. Become a paid subscriber to receive each Picayune Plus in your email inbox each Tuesday and join our civil and productive commenting community.
Great speech, Mayor! Now comes the hard part
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson reminded us early Monday afternoon that he is a terrific political talent — a charismatic speaker with an uplifting vision and civic pride to spare. In a big-hearted inaugural speech that invoked the “soul of Chicago” some 20 times, Johnson issued a stirring call for unity across ideological lines to tackle the major problems facing the city.
He pointedly avoided making the mistake his predecessor Lori Lightfoot made when she called out members of the City Council during her inaugural four years ago, criticizing “shady back room deals” and then turning pointedly to the alders behind her as the audience cheered.
Instead, near the top of his speech, Johnson addressed the Council and said, “I'm gonna turn around and clap for you.”
“This is not a call out,” Johnson said about 20 minutes later, referencing leaders in the business community who are reportedly wary of his highly progressive leanings yet whose cooperation he’s going to need. “This is what organizers refer to as a call in. And I'm talking about calling in the wisdom of the soul of Chicago, calling in the compassion of the soul of Chicago, calling in the expertise. I'm talking about calling in every single person in the city of Chicago to build a city that works for everyone. So let's get to work.”
Earlier in the day, Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates had been quoted in the Sun-Times referring to Johnson as “the Michael Jordan of politics.”
He’s hardly the first leader to be compared to the Bulls’ superstar. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Michael Dukakis, Benjamin Netanyahu and Joe Biden are among the many graced with a metaphorical number 23.
But I hope Davis Gates is right. I hope Johnson’s motivational skills and passion for the dispossessed that were on display during the campaign and that shone brightly Monday will allow him to realize most of his lofty visions for a “better, stronger, safer Chicago.”
The Tribune’s Kori Rumore wrote an excellent review of the inaugural speeches of Chicago’s mayors for the last 100 years that revealed there was seldom a shortage of determination and optimism from new mayors on Day One.
For pure oratory, Johnson’s stands out as one of the best if not the best such speeches. But it’s premature to Jordanize him. MJ’s legend was built not on his flashy skills, but on his performance under pressure and his ability to overcome adversity when stakes were high and seasons were on the line.
Johnson could turn out to be the Kwame Brown of politics. Brown was a high school basketball phenom and the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NBA draft — by the Washington Wizards, for whom Jordan was then President of Basketball Operations. But he turned out to be a mediocre talent, averaging just 6.6 points a game over 13 seasons.
Tip-off time is now.
Announcing the Gov. Lepetomane award
In one of the many memorable scenes in Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy classic “Blazing Saddles,” Brooks, playing Gov. Lepetomane, ruler of the 19th century western frontier territory in which the film is set, ticks off a list of problems besetting the citizenry and declares, “We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!” The toadies who surround him immediately join in harrumphing:
Nominees for the Lepetomane should be headlines on or passages from opinion content or political speeches that come off insistent yet futile; hortatory yet feckless in a way that seems to require the addition of an impotent “Harrumph!”
Sun-Times editorial headline, May 14: “Too many Chicagoans witness gun violence. Stop flooding our streets and nation with firearms.”
Tribune editorial headline, May 2: “Enough with fake newspapers where propaganda masquerades as news.”
Yes, I fully expect readers to nominate me at some point.
And yes, I know the joke behind the fictional governor’s name.
Joseph Pujol (June 1, 1857 – August 8, 1945), better known by his stage name Le Pétomane was a French flatulist (professional farter) and entertainer. He was famous for his remarkable control of the abdominal muscles, which enabled him to seemingly fart at will. His stage name combines the French verb péter, "to fart" with the -mane, "-maniac" suffix, which translates to "fartomaniac." (Wikipedia)
Eyes out for nominees, please!
Notes and comments from readers —lightly edited —- along with my responses
Steven: Regarding your takedown of the Tribune Editorial Board’s call for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the national debt is way too high. We do need to get the federal budget under control. The Republicans (and a few Democrats) who say that are right. The Republicans are hypocrites in only complaining when there is a Democrat signing all those debt-laden budgets. The Democrats who insist that deficits don't matter are wrong.
Credit the Tribune for publishing a few critical letters on that editorial. In his letter, Peter Felitti of Chicago wrote, “I find it interesting how the editorial takes the Democrats to task for not negotiating but glosses over the numerous times that the debt ceiling was raised under Republican presidents — three times under Donald Trump — without the Democrats holding the U.S. hostage economically the way the Republicans have no problem doing.”
Onur Melen of Chicago wrote, “The editorial puts the entire blame of the pending fiscal crisis on the Democrats’ spending. There is not a single word about the Republicans’ reckless tax cuts in just about every administration since Ronald Reagan that predominantly benefited the wealthy — “starve the beast,” as they put it, which is not an insignificant factor in the budget deficit. Now the Republicans want spending cuts that would hurt the middle class and particularly low-income people. They even denied a budget increase to the Internal Revenue Service to enable the collection of taxes mostly from corporations and the rich. Please, some balance in editorializing.”
David O.: The federal government has so far accumulated $100,000 of debt for you, me and every other American. We will soon be paying $1 trillion each year to service it. Any Econ 101 book will tell you that rising debt increases expectations of higher rates of inflation and erosion of confidence in the country's currency. At some point, probably not in my lifetime, we will have to pay the piper. Here is a site showing countries who have had debt crises. It’s a long list.
Zorn: The problem with the "just cut spending!" mantra is that neither party really has an appetite for it. Most government spending is popular and arguably necessary. Not all, of course, but look at what happened when that stubborn ideologue Bruce Rauner was governor... he banged on about cutting spending, but then couldn't find nearly enough popular cuts to make.
David L.: Regarding government spending and deficits, I readily agree that both parties are complicit. But I do want to add context to spending legislation passed at the end of 2020 during the Trump administration. In October, the Trump Administration had proposed a spending bill of $1.6 trillion dollars which included $300 billion dollars of COVID-19 relief funding. But speaker Nancy Pelosi and the majority house Democrats demanded much higher spending, and only after extended negotiations did the parties agree on a spending bill of $2.3 trillion dollars which included $900 billion dollars of COVID relief. So the blame for a good portion of that deficit spending goes to Pelosi and the Democrats. In retrospect, we now see that the supposed COVID relief funding to governmental entities was nothing more than a gift to these constituencies.
Zorn: There’s no question that pandemic relief funding was poorly managed and invited dismaying levels of fraud and waste, but to say it was “nothing more” than a pretext to fund special interests and pet projects is inaccurate. From The New York Times:
More than 150 million households received stimulus checks. And about $62 billion was ultimately spent expanding the food stamp program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The nearly $2 trillion that went to these groups helped avoid the kind of economic collapse that many had feared, and it aided the recovery by giving consumers money to spend on food, electronics, home furnishings and other goods.
It also helped prevent millions of people from falling into poverty. A University of Michigan analysis of Census Bureau surveys found the largest benefits went to the poorest households and those with children …
So far, the verdict is mixed.
A recent analysis by the economist Michael Dalton found that every $1 in wages that would have been lost without the Paycheck Protection Program cost $4.13 in relief money. Because the program wasn’t narrowly targeted — virtually every small business in the country was eligible — it benefited some companies that didn’t need the money, and loose fraud controls allowed scammers to skim off billions.
But for hundreds of thousands of businesses it was a life preserver..
Rick W.: On ephemeral tattoos that fade after a few years: One of my guitar buddies had a teenage daughter who really wanted to get a tattoo. He walked her over to her closet and asked "How many of these clothes do you think you'll still want to wear in two years?" She passed on the tattoo.
Zorn: My readers, who are likely older, on average, than the typical tattoo acquirer, liked the idea of semi-permanence being offered by a new parlor in the West Loop.
And while I totally get the idea of wanting to memorialize a sentiment or an era or a person, not just banner it for a while, I also see the wisdom in recognizing that certain feelings pass and that we change.
The Sun-Times has a new occasional series titled “Inking Well” in which people tell the stories behind their tattoos. Find. But in the interest of balance, every once in a while the paper ought to go to one of the many laser tattoo removal businesses in the area and interview customers about how and why they embossed themselves in haste. The editors should call the column “Regerts” after this famous if perhaps apocryphal tattoo fail:
David O. — You criticized the suggestion of new Tribune contributing columnist Willie Wilson that all Chicago Public School students be required to learn a trade while in grade school, saying it was unrealistically expensive/ I agree, but introducing grade-school students to the trades is a good idea. I would hope schools are already bringing tradespeople in to talk to young students about the life of a carpenter, a nursing assistant, a welder, or any of the more than two dozen vocations listed this site . Many trades are desperate for people. Such exposure could be life changing for some students.
Zorn: Totally. Vocational training is an excellent idea for public education. But not as a grade-school requirement. Investing in trade programs for interested high school students seems, in contrast, to be an excellent idea.
Marc M. —Trump looks like a walking heart attack to me, but he is probably no less fit than Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker or former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. I wouldn't bet on any of their longevities. The average life expectancy of a 76 year old is 87, but for overweight men the average is 78. Biden looks pretty good for an old man, but based on his shuffling gait and caution on stairs, I wouldn't challenge him to run anywhere, least of all up a flight of stairs. His current life expectancy is 87 and his father died at 86. Health issues increase, with age, for everyone. The VP candidate running with either of these men should be a more serious consideration than usual.
Zorn: It’s stunning and sad that our political parties are so unresponsive to public opinion that they seem likely to give us a 2020 rematch in 2024, a contest that a significant majority of us don’t want to see.
Connell: Regarding WTTW-Ch. 11’s decision to move “Chicago Tonight” to 5:30 p.m. just four months after moving it to 10 p.m. from 7 p.m., If the station news director grows a brain, he’ll move the show back to 7 p.m. and expand it back to an hour. The half hour iteration feels rushed at times. The show has great talent, and one hour at times may be a little long but mostly is right. Viewers don't need more of these useless British TV shows. The station sends me letters every week begging for money, but I have a tendency to not raise my contributions to places that screw things up when they were working fine.
Zorn: However things were working earlier, station execs looking at the numbers clearly thought the show would be better — sharper, with fewer re-run segments — at half an hour. I agreed with them and still do. “Chicago Tonight” remains the show to watch for news nerds like me, particularly on significant days in the region. I liked the 7 p.m. slot but, with the DVR, I can watch it at 7 p.m. if I want to. Or later.
Garry H. — Shortly after the earth cooled, I became a Chicago Tribune daily & Sunday home delivery subscriber. I fondly recall many gifted columnists. And when the Thursday edition was oversized with the week’s sales flyers. And when the Sunday edition was so bulky it required larger plastic delivery bags.
But time marches on, and I’m resigned to a roughly 30-page, 3-section weekday edition. The auto-billing of $231 every two months was steep but bearable.
Yesterday, however, I received a postcard saying that my rate was rising to $319 every two months starting May 15th -- a 38% increase. If I weren’t housebreaking a new puppy right now, I’d cancel.
But here’s my plan: in a month or two, when I don’t need the physical newsprint for my puppy, I’m going to drop my subscription for 40 days. Then I can resubscribe for $200 a year according to the Tribune’s own web site, which they tout as a “91% savings”.
Are the people from Alden just batshit crazy? Or if I call and threaten to quit, do you think they’ll offer me a better rate?
Zorn: Give it a try and let me know. As I’ve said before, exploitive, borderline abusive pricing designed to soak the most loyal customers is not a practice limited to the Tribune.
Ya gotta see these tweets!
I often run across tweets that rely on visual humor and so can’t be included in the Tweet of the Week contest (the template I use for that poll does not allow me to include images). Here are a few good ones I’ve come across recently:
I’m unclear on the sources for a few of these, which in some cases probably didn’t originate on Twitter. Vote for your favorite. I will disqualify any tweets I later find out used digitally altered photos. I’ll share the winner in Thursday’s main edition.
There’s still time to vote in the conventional Tweet of the Week poll!
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