Discover more from Eric Zorn: The Picayune Sentinel
Vallas leads the race for surprise endorsements
& some legislators want to add a claws clause to state law
3-23-2023 (issue No. 80)
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.
More Tweet Madness — The annual bracket competition moves on to the next round
Vallas leads Johnson in the contest for unexpected endorsements — very few of Johnson’s backers are going against type
News and Views — on the ComEd Four trial, proposed death penalty for women who obtain abortions, the baffling popularity of Ald. Jim Gardiner and more
Land of Linkin’ — Where I tell readers where to go
On the death beat —Human composting may get a vote in the full state House and the busybody legislator who doesn’t want you to have all your loved one’s ashes
“The Mincing Rascals” preview — including a soothing take from Mark Guarino on why the Lolla lineup should not make you feel old.
Tune of the Week — My wife, who is having a persona disco renaissance, touts Dua Lipa
More Tweet Madness!
Today marks the beginning of the round of 16 in which the surviving tweets from the original bracket of the top 64 tweets from the past year competed head to head. Now voters will narrow the it down to the elite eight. I’ve re-seeded the field based on winning percentages in the round of 32.
Last year’s Tweet Madness winner was “What haunts me is that I am just not smart enough for so many people to be this much stupider than I am” by @KateHarding. In the championship matchup it beat out “Do you remember, before the internet, it was thought that the cause of collective stupidity was the lack of access to information? Well, it wasn’t that” by @BamaFanGrl. Both tweets evidently appealed to Democrats and Republicans who saw in them implicit criticisms of the other side.
Meanwhile, my similar contest for best visual tweet of the year is raging here. Some readers have complained that the choices are just too difficult.
The regular tweet-of-the-week contest will resume after the conclusion of the tournament.
Vallas leads Johnson in the contest for unexpected endorsements
The political nerd in me follows the pre-election endorsement contest even though conventional wisdom has it that the only endorsements that matter are ones that come with money and/or ground troops to get out the vote.
Do voters care who current and former officeholders are supporting in the race for mayor?
Probably not much, particularly when the endorsements are fairly predictable. Progressive alders, liberal Democratic senators and members of congress and Black clergy giving the nod to the very liberal Brandon Johnson? Police and firefighters unions, business groups and middle-of-the-road Democrats lining up behind the right leaning Paul Vallas?
But what’s striking me as I look at the growing list of endorsements keeps growing at the April 4 election approaches is how many anomalous endorsements Vallas is racking up. I wrote last week that former progressive mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green’s announced support of Vallas played against type in a way that stood to give liberals permission to abandon Johnson. I felt this was true even though Green had been pitilessly critical of Johnson during the first round of campaigning.
Former Gov. Pat Quinn’s endorsement of Vallas Wednesday stands to have a similar effect, as Quinn had endorsed liberal U.S. Rep. Chuy Garcia in round one.
Vallas also has secured the endorsement of African American alders Roderick Sawyer, 6th; Michelle Harris, 8th; Anthony Beale, 9th; David Moore, 17th; Derrick Curtis, 18th; Walter Burnett Jr., 27th; and Emma Mitts, 37th as well as a thumbs up from such prominent Black Democratic politicians as former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, former Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones and former South Side Congressman Bobby Rush.
Cumulatively these stamps of approval seem likely to deny Johnson the overwhelming support of Black voters he’s likely to need to win, especially since Johnson doesn’t have many unexpected endorsements of his own to make those leaning toward Vallas stop to reconsider.
Bishop Larry Trotter of Sweet Holy Spirit Church on the South Side is one exception. In the first round he endorsed Willie Wilson, the most conservative candidate and current Vallas backer, but for the runoff he’s thrown his support to Johnson.
Meanwhile, on the endorsement front…
Gov. JB Pritzker has remained officially neutral in the mayor’s race, but the Huffington Post kinda drew one out of him:
Speaking on a conservative talk-radio show in December 2021, Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, argued that Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot were relying on executive orders to implement public health policy because it “gives them the ability to act like dictators” by circumventing their respective legislatures.
HuffPost … asked Pritzker’s political staff whether he had any response to Vallas’ most striking criticism of the governor.
Pritzker campaign spokesperson Natalie Edelstein replied with a statement that both defended Pritzker’s conduct and took a subtle jab at Vallas, homing in on his affinity for right-wing talk radio.
“Throughout the pandemic, Governor Pritzker spent every day fighting to save people’s lives and livelihoods. He did it by following the advice of the nation’s best virologists and epidemiologists, many of whom are at Illinois’s world-class research institutions and hospitals.
“Leadership requires making tough choices and not pandering to the loudest voices driven by politics. The next mayor of Chicago may be called upon to lead in a similar type of emergency and residents deserve to know if their next Mayor will listen to experts or instead to right wing talk show hosts when making decisions about people’s lives.”
I would not call that jab “subtle.” I would call it a firm poke in the solar plexus.
Capitol Fax has the transcript of the moment in question from the radio show:
Vallas: But I think for people like (Chicago Mayor Lori) Lightfoot and others, this is an opportunity. Well first of all, this gives them the ability to make decisions unilaterally with no input. How many executive orders has Pritzker [issued]?
WIND 560-AM host Amy Jacobson: Twenty-four
Vallas: Twenty-four. Illinois Policy does great work, great work in terms of reporting on these things. I mean, really, them and CWB, and of course, Wire Points and I mean, they just do great work on providing really independent research and reporting. On these executive mandates, no legislative input whatsoever. So it gives them the ability to act like dictators. The second thing it does is it creates the perception that somehow they’re being decisive leaders.
News & Views
News: The “ComEd Four” federal corruption trial is underway
View: Those following this trial on the front pages are seeing evidence of how venal, tawdry and allegedly corrupt the lawmaking process in Springfield truly is — or was anyway — under Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
But though Madigan has been indicted as part of this wide-ranging probe, he’s been gone for more than two years. Those currently in the dock — consultant Jay Doherty, lobbyist and former ComEd executive John Hooker, retired lobbyist Michael McClain and former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore — are hardly household names. So until “Himself” himself goes on trial next year, the voting public is unlikely to find the proceedings galvanizing.
In his “Illinoize” Substack, Patrick Pfingstens asked whether Democrats were “sweating” over the ugly revelations about how Madigan allegedly wielded his considerable power for corrupt purposes. The answer seems to be no. Even when Madigan was in office the Republicans had little success making their “But Madigan!” attacks stick.
View: I have repeatedly sounded the alarm that severe punishment for women who terminate their pregnancies is the logical end of the desire of abortion-rights opponents to criminalize the procedure. For years they’ve put forth the argument that says, “we see the woman who gets the abortion as a victim and she should not be punished,” as though that were anything other than a foot in the door, a way to soften their extreme views with preposterous expressions of sympathy and mercy until such time as they could begin treating abortions seekers as well as providers as murderers.
Their own logic makes a woman seeking an abortion no different from a woman who hires a contract killer. This is why, as the story says, “multiple Texas lawmakers have floated the idea of executing women who have abortions in the past.”
And it’s why those of us who support abortion rights shouldn’t believe any overtures that suggest a long-term compromise will make this issue go away.
View: I agree with Rich Miller of Capitol Fax, who wrote, “I’d expect to see more working from home by people who don’t want to sit in traffic all day. And that’s just gonna exacerbate the Loop’s financial trouble.” Many workers now know they have a choice and many supervisors may end up being quite sympathetic to their desires not to undergo the excruciating commute through construction.
News: “In contentious 45th Ward race, Ald. Jim Gardiner tries to secure reelection over attorney Megan Mathias.”
View: It is truly unbelievable to me that residents of our neighboring ward (we live half a block outside the 45th Ward boundary, thank goodness) are likely to reelect creepy thug Jim Gardiner.
The last four years have been marked by allegations he used his power as alderman to target political opponents, including a reported federal investigation into whether he sought to withhold ward services from some residents who opposed his agenda. … Gardiner’s ward superintendent, Charles Sikanich, was arrested last year on charges he tried to sell an antique machine gun to an undercover ATF agent while he was on the clock for his Streets and Sanitation job.
A sworn deposition was made public in January in a federal lawsuit against Gardiner that detailed how a former aide last autumn said the alderman obsessed over Facebook criticism and pledged to rid the ward of his detractors, who he referred to as “rats.”
Seriously, residents of the Fightin’ 45th? This guy? Sheesh.
News: Chicago mayoral candidates continue to duck and dodge.
View: The more I watch these debates, the more I’m inclined to say no, thank you, to these two. Just imagining how slippery one of these dudes is going to be when elected.
Vallas ducked a question about past comments he made criticizing Democrats on the blog site Barstool Sports….. At one point, Johnson was asked what consequences individuals who are repeatedly charged with gun crimes should face but he did not answer the question.
Then there was this is the Tribune about the Fox 32 debate Wednesday:
After moderators asked the two mayoral contenders to address recent student-led protests decrying a lack of safety on campus, Johnson refuted the question’s premise that the Chicago Teachers Union called for removing police officers from schools.
However, the teachers’ union, which endorses and employs him as an organizer, signed onto a failed 2020 resolution to remove cops from CPS campuses in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police.
And this Sun-Times headline: “Johnson won’t identify ‘plan B’ for revenue if City Council, legislature resist tax hikes,” which they are quite likely to.
Johnson was asked whether he was prepared to sacrifice portions of his “invest in people” agenda if the only way to pay for it is to raise property taxes.
The candidate refused to be backed into a corner.
“You have a population decline on the West and South Sides of Chicago because it’s less safe and the property tax burden has crushed the working class,” Johnson said.
“You’re asking us to give up on working people. That’s what you’re asking us to do. And I’m not gonna give up on working people.”
Land of Linkin’
Politico’s Alexander Burns: “Stop Overthinking It: An Indictment Would Be Bad For Trump” — “Yes, the Trump diehards can be expected to rise up against Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg. But that still wouldn’t earn him a single additional vote.”
NPR reporter David Folkenflik reveals gross journalistic malpractice in “The FBI raided a notable journalist's home. Rolling Stone didn't tell readers why.”
NBC-5 is keeping a running list of endorsements in the mayoral race.
Wednesday’s Tribune editorial backs up its seemingly audacious premise: “Donald Trump and Jussie Smollett have much in common. Both merit attention from prosecutors.” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim “Foxx failed to see that the Smollett case had privilege at its core, and also huge symbolic importance. … If Smollett came with symbolic value, Trump eclipses that exponentially.”
The National Review outlined the other side of the Walgreens/abortion drug debate in “Democrats Aim at Walgreens, but Their Target Is Democracy.”
“A former Illinois prison guard gets 20-year sentence for fatal beating” is a compelling follow-up story to last year’s season four of Chicago Public Media’s excellent podcast series “Motive” about violence in the Illinois prison system.
This year’s just-concluded season five of “Motive” is also a very worthwhile podcast. Host Patrick Smith explores the complexities of Chicago’s gang violence problem and introduces listeners to some of the former gang members attempting to intervene and reduce the carnage. (disclosure: My wife, Johanna Zorn, is an independent audio consultant who is currently serving as interim editor of Chicago Public Media’s “Curious City” podcast)
“Florida considers ban on discussion of menstruation before sixth grade.” “The proposal comes as Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature, backed by Governor Ron DeSantis, has already passed a raft of laws limiting discussion in schools of gender and sexuality.”
The Republican Accountability Project helpfully offers “One and a half minutes of Tucker Carlson parroting Vladimir Putin."
Going down an Internet rabbit hole I found, “Many Baby Chicks At Popular Museum Of Science And Industry Exhibit End Up As Dinner At Lincoln Park Zoo,” a 2016 story by CBS-2’s Vince Gerasole: The popular Hatchery exhibit yields “cute fuzzy yellow chicks, roughly 20 a day, upwards of 140 a week and as many as 8,000 a year. … Most of those chicks have been destined as dinner (for animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo) for decades. Snakes enjoy them, as well as vultures, owls, (lion, crocodiles) and tigers.”
The Sun-Times reports, “State oversight agency alleges fathers’ rights lawyer Jeffery Leving charged ‘unreasonable fees’ to clients” and outlines what sounds like a cynical, exploitive grift. Leving has been a frequent contributor to the Tribune’s op-ed offerings but Editorial Page editor Chris Jones tells me that arrangement is now on hold pending resolution of the allegations.
The Picayune Sentinel preview: Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. I talk with WGN-AM 720 host John Williams about what’s making news and likely to be grist for the PS mill. The WGN listen-live link is here.
Bill to ban the declawing of cats advances in Springfield
The Illinois House last Thursday passed by a 67-33 vote House Bill 1533 — a measure to ban declawing domestic cats. If passed by the state Senate and signed into law it would make Illinois the third state after New York and Maryland to enact such a prohibition. (corrected sentence)
The Humane Society of the United States is on board with the idea:
Declawing is the amputation of the last bone of each toe. It would be like cutting off your fingers at the last knuckle. The standard method of declawing is amputating with a scalpel or guillotine clipper. The wounds are closed with stitches or surgical glue, and the feet are bandaged. Another method is laser surgery, in which a small, intense beam of light cuts through tissue by heating and vaporizing it. Both can cause lasting physical problems for your cat. … Declawing can cause paw pain, back pain, infection, tissue necrosis (tissue death) and lameness. Removing claws changes the way a cat's foot meets the ground and can cause pain like wearing an uncomfortable pair of shoes. Improperly removed claws can regrow, causing nerve damage and bone spurs.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals opposes the practice on similar grounds, adding:
We believe the only circumstances in which the procedure should be considered are those in which all behavioral and environmental alternatives have been fully explored, have proven to be ineffective, and the cat is at grave risk of euthanasia. …
Legislation to make declawing illegal, while well-intentioned, can be problematic, because, in rare cases, the procedure may be justifiable as a last resort to prevent euthanasia. There is also no meaningful way to enforce a law that includes this exception.
Therefore, we believe … veterinarians should decline to perform declaw procedures except in the rare instance where all other humane alternatives have been exhausted.
The American Veterinary Medical Association offers a balanced review of the practice citing surveys that show “cat owners who declawed their cat report a perceived increase in the quality of the owner-cat relationship” and that vets report that about half of their clients with declawed cats would no longer own their cats if they had not been declawed.
After I discussed this measure approvingly during my weekly appearance on WGN-AM 720 with John Williams (11:30 a.m. Tuesdays; set an alert on your phone) I heard from several cat declawing enthusiasts who swore by the positive impact the procedure had on their lives and the lives of their pets.
Ashes to ashes, corpses to compost: This could be a big week for natural organic reduction in Illinois
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, tells me it’s likely that House Bill 3158, her proposal to allow for composting of human remains, will get a vote in the full House by the end of the week. She said she has added some amendments to clarify regulatory aspects of a body dispensation process based on a method already used for disposing of livestock. In “human composting,” the body is placed in a reusable container along with wood chips, alfalfa, straw wildflowers, leaves or other organic materials that accelerate decomposition as the container rocks or rotates. Heating the container to 131 degrees kills off any dangerous pathogens.
In roughly a month, everything has turned into about two wheelbarrows worth of odorless, nutrient-rich soil that biologists say is “unrecognizable visually, chemically or microbiologically as human remains” and suitable for use in a garden or elsewhere on private property.
“The funeral directors were initially opposed, but they’ve moved to neutral,” Cassidy said. The Catholic Church remains opposed, according to Capitol News:
Daniel Welter, the recently retired chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago, spoke to lawmakers at the request of the Catholic Conference of Illinois on (March 7).
“Turning the mortal remains of a human person into compost for the purpose of fertilization, as one would with vegetable trimmings or eggshells, degrades the human person and dishonors the life that was lived by that person,” he said during the committee hearing.
Welter added that he and the church “oppose any tendency to minimize the dignity of a human being, even after death.”
That’s certainly one opinion.
For some context, a pro-cremation site notes:
For much of its history, the Catholic Church banned cremation for Catholics. Catholics were to believe that man, created in the likeness of God, could not experience resurrection at the end of time unless their bodies were “intact.” Cremation was also banned to counter Roman pagan beliefs, which involved burning deceased bodies.
But, along with other major changes in the Catholic Church, cremation was approved for use in 1963, and in 1997, allowed for cremated remains to be a part of the funeral mass, if these remains are treated with the same reverence as a body.
In today’s Catholic practice, the body is a “holy temple,” and a person’s soul will rise at the end of time if the body becomes cremains.
More background on this evolution is here.
The burial service in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer says “we therefore commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” which hearkens to the words in Genesis 3:19 when God tells Adam, “Dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Cassidy has the salient question: "Why in the world should the Catholic Church get to tell me how my body is supposed to be handled after death?”
(Hear Cassidy’s interview on Wednesday’s City Cast Chicago podcast)
Meanwhile, at least one lawmaker wants to control what you do with your loved one’s ashes
Democratic state Rep. Anthony DeLuca of Chicago Heights filed a bill earlier this year to take control of cremated human remains away from family members and give it to funeral directors.
House Bill 1367 “provides that cremated remains must (rather than may) be disposed of by placing them in a grave, crypt, or niche in a designated cemetery.” Yes, under the proposal, family members may be allowed to have half a pound of ashes (out of the four to eight pounds that typically result) to strew in some significant spot or mingle with another’s ashes, but this way the burial industry gets paid.
DeLuca and I spoke by phone Wednesday and he said he’s concerned with what will happen with the tons and tons of cremated human remains now being generated every year.
The Cremation Association reports, “In 2021, the US cremation rate was 57.5%. … By 2025, the US cremation rate is projected to reach 64.1%.”
“What ultimately happens to them as the years go by and families collect generations of urns?” he asked. “Where do the ashes go? Are they thrown away in the garbage? Dumped in our waterways? Is there an environmental impact? At some point this is going to catch up to us, and I introduced this bill to get the conversation started.”
The conversation was mostly criticism, DeLuca admitted. The idea that the government will tell you what to do with a relative’s ashes does not sit well with most folks, even though the proposal does allow for survivors to take away half a pound of cremated remains (out of about five pounds that the process generates) to scatter or keep on the mantle.
“As a clergy member, I have done services for many families who have chosen to have their loved ones cremated,” Suzanne Anderson-Hurdle, a Romeoville-based hospital chaplain, wrote in a recent letter to the Tribune. “Some of these families bury the cremains; some take the cremains home and keep the cremains in a place that brings them comfort. Some have scattered the ashes in a place of significant meaning to them and/or their deceased loved one. … I believe this would cause undue emotional, financial and spiritual harm to family members who are already grieving the loss of a loved one.”
The proposal is dead, DeLuca told me. He effectively withdrew the bill this week. But he insisted that disposal of cremains is an issue “that will be discussed for some time to come,” and that he’s glad to have initiated it.
And I’m glad to be among those telling him no. Just no.
This week’s episode of the award-winning Mincing Rascals podcast starts with a jolly conversation about Lollapalooza in which host John Williams quoted a vintage Facebook post from panelist Mark Guarino:
The reason you don't recognize 90% of the names on that Lollapalooza bill is not that you're "old." You're not old. You know plenty of bands. It's because no one recognizes them. Not even the people buying the tickets.
The names on that bill are largely background acts that couldn't fill the Empty Bottle.
The reason: Lollapalooza is now a lifestyle festival, not a music festival. The producers know they only need to pay big money for about four or five artists on that bill that in the retail world are called "loss leaders."
They discovered that they could save money by packing in daytime filler programming because the teenagers who are buying the tickets are there mainly for Instagram shots and "experiences."
Working bands with a national profile are expensive. So why build a big music budget when your ticket holders are just fine with background blah? Stop using a crass, uncool business model as a barometer of your coolness.
Mark Jacob and I round out the panel, and we’re all feeling eh! about the mayor’s race.
Subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. Or bookmark this page. If you’re not a podcast listener, you can now hear an edited version of the show at 8 p.m. most Saturday evenings on WGN-AM 720.
Don’t miss John’s Tribune op-ed “Telling jokes on WGN radio was a chance to share laughter during the pandemic,” a history of his daily Speed Jokes feature.
And regarding the somewhat grim conversation that ended the podcast, listener Ruth O. sent over a link to “After an Alzheimer's diagnosis, her husband asked for help to die with dignity.”
No Tweet of the Week polls while Tweet Madness goes along, but I thought I’d share this not funny but kinda true offering that caught my eye:
The cities you track on your weather app tell an unspoken story. … @LindaInDisguise
Tune of the Week
I walked into the kitchen Wednesday evening and Johanna was playing disco through her phone. “A Tune of the Week” I suggested. She obliged:
I’m a little (well, three years) late to the party. But I recently heard Dua Lipa telling the story behind the lyrics and music of her 2020 song “Levitating” on the “Song Exploder” podcast. And I can’t get the song out of my head. I’m not complaining, it’s a dose of pure joy. It’s impossible not to sing along (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah) or — if no one is looking — dance along.
Here is a version that includes the rapper DaBaby:
I lived through the first disco era, and liked it, though rock and punk were my preference. But as it circles back again, and as I hear it everywhere – in stores, restaurants, on the grammy awards - I’m giddy that it has returned. Now, please, someone invite me out dancing!
There’s another place where I’m listening to disco music, and that’s on the job. I’m very fortunate to be interim editor at Chicago Public Media’s Curious City these days where we answer questions from listeners. We received a question about the history of disco in Chicago, why did it rise in the 1970’s then fade away just a decade later?
We answered that question this week, and as you can hear on ”When Disco Ruled Chicago’s Dance Scene,” the Curious City podcast that posted Thursday. It’s a story both about gay liberation and the birth of house music. Take a listen. And yes, by popular demand, the story includes a snippet of Dua Lipa’s “Levitating.”
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