"Counter" Terrorism

Orson Welles, one of Hollywood's most enigmatic figures,  chose Elmyr de Hory as the subject of his final film, "F is for Fake".  Welles felt de Hory's story, told to him at a party over cocktails, was the stuff of legend, but not for the reason one might think. 

Elmyr de Hory, you see, was a painter of counterfeits. And, for a period of roughly twenty years he was able to sell between 750 and 1700 of his reproductions of Picasso, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Vermeer and others, as authentic. All done, most controversially, with the full knowledge of a network art-dealers and (a few) collectors alike.

Welles's documentary is difficult to watch and much too long for the subject matter, but the reward for your patience is this: The art world, with it's insatiable appetite for high-end works in post-war Europe and America, created the opening for de Hory and his kind. There was simply not enough of the good stuff to go around, apparently.

Welles details how in a boom economy, there is so much money floating around looking for a place to land, the demand for goods in the luxury category far outstrips the available supply. This synapse in the supply/demand chain creates a tremendous amount of pressure on suppliers. who must be able to deliver desirable merchandise for their customers, or risk being left behind in such an hyper-charged economic environment.

Fast forward to today. While most of the world suffers through what is being called an "prolonged economic downturn," there is a small, but (economically) significant, group of people to whom the last few years have been the rosiest of times. And in such panicked times, these people have made purchasing a hyper-priority. 

Which makes a rich landscape for those few souls, daring enough to create, market and peddle their wares to those seeking the best of the best. Compounding the problem is the newly-created market-segment of "Accessible Luxury," which has introduced tens of millions more consumers into the luxury equation.

Counterfeiters, in the face of this demand, have really stepped up production of their goods, and started to drift into innovative new areas of opportunity. Here are a few cases that have recently come to light. 

Marlboro Cigarettes

Philip Morris is bringing suit against 27 retailers, in New York and New Jersey,  for selling counterfeits of it's signature brand of cigarettes, Marlboro. In an area of the country where it is not uncommon to pay $10 per pack (retail!), the company was having a hard time getting the law enforcement community to enforce extant law until an enterprising economist was able to show how much money is being lost in non-captured tax revenue during the sale of the fakes. Cigarettes are one of the highest taxed items available for sale in the U.S.

Fake Batteries

Undercover Police were led to a stash of 17,000 fake Air Jordan's, Calvin Klein clothing, Louis Vuitton handbags and other items, after noticing a newly purchased set of Duracell batteries had a strange addition on the package. . . the Energizer Bunny!

Phony Tickets

With ticket scalpers using the Internet to increase their customer pools, thus increasing the premium for great seats, counterfeiters have really stepped up their production of phony tickets. Just think, you can use paper to make an one-hundred dollar bill, or you can opt to make a Super Bowl ticket and get $5,000-$25,000 for your work. this is a much bigger problem in overseas, where demand for Football (soccer) tickets remains white-hot!

Fake Micro-chips

Micro-chips are what got Jack Nicholson in trouble in Martin Scorcese's Oscar-winning movie,"The Departed." In a case that smacks of fiction, a group of people were recently arrested for selling "thousands of inferior chips, which had been painted over with premium brands". . .to the United States Navy! Notice to aspiring counterfeiters, don't sell crap to an organization with an unlimited amount of money and resources to find and kill you, the U.S. government.

Counterfeit 'Scripts

Prescription medicine counterfeiting is growing by 50% per year. A recent arrest uncovered a ring responsible for selling fake Claritin, Vicodin and Viagra. Which begs the question: What can you use instead of Viagra?

Hair Care Products

Police in Canada recently made a bust that netted a cache of fake flat-press irons. The phonies were spotted because they lacked safety labels. The idea of an electronic heating product, manufactured by someone solely interested in making the initial sale, gives me pause.

Counterfeit Gift Cards

Police in Cleveland, OH seek a group of people who have, thus far, used phony gift cards to net $70,000 in real gift-cards. I can't say I understand how that would work, but it wouldn't be the first time I didn't understand a criminal process. 
Counterfeit Cigars

The cost of premium cigars has skyrocketed, and with a continuing U.S. embargo on Cuba's most famous product, the market for Havana's best continues to be strong. One of the biggest fake cigar rings was recently busted up, an announcement that was big enough to merit space in the Cigar Afficionado.

Counterfeit Luxury Wine

The problem of counterfeit luxury wine is so pervasive, some authorities on the subject feel it has rendered the entire wine collecting business "in question." Benjamin Wallace's 'Billionaire's Vinegar' chronicles how the ultra-elite wine collecting set were fooled into believing an undiscovered stash of Thomas Jefferson's wine  had been found and was available for purchase. If such a read is not up your alley, perhaps a short article about the difficulties being experienced during this holiday period.

Counterfeit H1N1 Medication

How could criminals resist the temptation to cash in on the biggest global crisis of our times? Fake Tamilflu tablets and H1H1 vaccines have been recovered in countries around the globe. Fortunately, the United States have been spared of such a discovery thus far.

So the truth of Orson Welles's theory has proven to be enduring. The criminal class adopts behavior, it would seem, tailored to the whims of the marketplace. Currently, they seem to be focused on just about everything other than the highly-penalized area of money production. 

In the coming weeks and months one phrase will be at the forefront of my mind during my shopping trips, "Buyer Beware." If only because, in addition to F being for Fake, every other alphabet has joined the party.


Oh, Sarah. . .!

I was introduced to reading at a young age. There is no way of confirming this for certain, but the first book I can remember thumbing through was Alex Haley's 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X'. . .when I was 4 years old.

I did not have the pleasure of growing up (initially) in a household that included the works of Theodor Geisel, like so many of you. Scholarship (not education) was bald, robust and omnipresent.

Eventually I started school and, in second grade, got introduced to "books for my age group." These books were bequeathed to me via a new program, Reading Is Fundamental (R.I.F.), designed to inspire reading in the very youngest of Americans by giving them a wide range of books to choose from (literally thousands for each age group), then allowing us to choose two books free of charge every couple of months. 

I can recall the great joy of flipping the pages of that R.I.F. catalogue staring at the myriad assortment of fascinating reading choices, and the agonizing process of elimination, to get my choices down to just two. 

Even worse were the annual visit from the R.I.F. Vehicle Days, when the choices came not from a catalogue, but instead a semi-trailer, outfitted as a rolling library. 10 children at a time would be allowed on the bus, for 10 minutes, to make their two book choices. The way I described the experience to my son Sabik was, "It's like accidentally running into God while walking down the street and having 10 minutes to decide which two questions to ask." I always left the mobile library unit satisfied, but far from content. For who knew how much I left back there?

My affinity for reading comes out of these dual traditions, of serious reading at home and leisure reading at school. It carries through to this day in that, the things I "have" to read for work, others or because of cultural relevance are much lighter than what I read for personal pleasure. And each year, I would say, I read between 50-75 books. Not quite the torrid pace of my mid-twenties, when I easily read 100-150 books per. But hey, old bones, alcohol and smoke-machines catch up to even the best of us.

Books are in the news in a very big way right now. Did Joanne Murray pen another Harry Potter tome? Did some abandoned parish in England collapse, only to discover an unpublished work from the Bard of Avon? No and, ehh, NO! Sarah Palin has 'Gone Rogue.'

If you type the word "book" in Google's news aggregation page, the first 1,610 returned queries will be for the "Barracuda" herself, Mrs. Palin. This normally would not bother me, because I believe book readers are a dying breed. The problem I have with the coverage, response to and the book of Mrs. Palin is, it PROVES book readers are a dying breed!

None of the coverage is about the book itself, it is only about the former Governor's magnetism. The book itself, much like her vice-presidential qualifications 16 month's ago, is an afterthought. 

So what we are stuck with is an around the clock Sarah-thon, covered by all four major networks, each of the three major cable-news networks and hundreds of print media, all scrambling and fawning at "her ability to draw a crowd." This has created a news bubble that has easily over-inflated the importance of the book, the woman and the book-signings themselves. Before I burst this bubble and give a few of you liberals the relief you so desperately have been seeking since this farce began, let us examine a few of the headlines since the book tour began:

  • Popularity of Palin rising with book tour
  • Palin Draws Thousands to Book Signing at Fort Bragg
  • Thousands wait hours to meet Sarah Palin
  • Thousands line up in Michigan for Palin
  • Thousands throng to Palin as she begins book tour
  • Thousands wait in line in Fort Wayne for Day 2 of Sarah Palin's 'Going Rogue' book tour
  • Palin Supporters Crowd Noblesville Bookstore

and I would be remiss if I left out. . .
  • Billy Graham: God was using Palin 'to wake America up'
Which is a sentiment I can agree with, if the statement is taken only at the face value unintended by it's author.

So we are getting round-the-clock, up-to-the-minute, breaking-news updates on this book tour by every media outlet in this country because. . .Sarah has big crowds showing up at her book signings. The first reason to be unafraid by this development is clearly illustrated in the video below. In it you will see the kind of lucid, informed judgement residing in the folks that stand in line for an autograph from "Joe the Sarah."

So, seeing as though none of these interviews or book signings were held in the State of Alaska, each of these people are admitting to being without direction in their life before August 29, 2008, the day Sarah Palin was introduced to the world, as John McCain's Vice-Presidential running-mate. 

Everything they had learned up to that point (and whomever they learned it from) was not worthy of stemming the tide of "you-betcha-ness" from America's Hottest Hockey Mom.  A scene from "Up," one of the best movies of 2009, comes to mind. In the scene the main characters stumble upon a dog equipped with a collar that allows him to communicate his thoughts with an electronic version of the human voice. While the two humans are amazed by the invention and it's implications for understanding between the two species, the dog's thought process is regularly interrupted by his desire to focus only on chasing squirrels. The point being, sometimes that's all there is to it. For many of these people, Sarah is the new squirrel.

Next, I'd like to question the amount of coverage given to her crowd size. If this much coverage is warranted by "the sheer size of her crowds," as CNN's Andersen Cooper stated last Thursday, where were the media trucks and coverage on any of the following book signings? Feel free to click the links, as they are all real headlines.

and perhaps more in tune with the Palin Tour. . .

There was very little coverage of any of these stories, and appropriately so. Drawing a crowd to a book signing is not that big a deal, it's why they were created. And besides, I'd like to hear Katie Price's views on Cap and Trade. The answer could not be more ridiculous and may prove more interesting.

Last Wednesday, the "Going Rogue Tour" came to Cincinnati. Because of "security concerns"  for Mrs. Palin and "overflow concerns" for the anticipated crowd, the bookstore was closed to the public for 6 of the regular business hours. The only people allowed into the store at this time had to have already purchased the book from the store and be in possession of a signing ticket. The books were on sale for 14.00 and 750 tickets were sold, which means they made $10,500 for the day, minus the expenses of printing, marketing, enhanced security and the like. 

Borders bookstores, the nations second largest brick-and-mortar book retailer, is operating currently in "Liquidation Mode," as they continue to operate far below the depths of profitability, much to the surprise and guffaws of everyone in the retail industry. If Borders were taking in $10,500 per day, one week before Thanksgiving, at one of it's smallest stores, I'd have to think they'd shoot themselves in the head and abandon hope. So, for many, these book signings by Mrs. Palin are not the financial boon they are made out to be.

I think they are another example of what American Media has manufactured over the past 10-15 years, an escape from the reality of a sucky life. 

At a time of record joblessness, record corporate and governmental graft, record foreclosures, record evictions, record governmental secrecy, record media consolidation, record public service cuts, record privatization of the public works, record loss of life due to no access to healthCARE, record reduction in home values, record low test scores for American school children, record violence being committed on those school-kids, record violence against women, record infrastructure problems throughout the country, record budget-busting immigration problems and record lack of leadership on any of these issues, the Sarah Plain (oops! I meant Palin) Tour is a distraction. 

A distraction from the reality that America has a leadership problem. From  the White house, to the boardroom, to the classroom and extending all the way to the dining room. What lead to this dearth of leaders and leadership, is a complete blackout in developing critical thinking in this country, which too often (at least in this country) is given a name: sedition, trouble-making, boat-rocking, red-personality, loony or rebelliousness.
Americans are for slow, incremental changes to problems that were created by swift, radical swings in the wrong direction. Which is why I am all for America reading more. 

By expanding our viewpoint through learning (NOT EDUCATION), we allow ourselves access to new lines of thought with ourselves, previously unavailable.

I have no doubt, no matter how big the problem, the solution to America's issues lie in the bowels of that truck I first encountered 32 years ago. For reading continues to be fundamental!

Post Script:

God Bless Margaret McNamara. For at the very hour her husband Robert spent his days figuring how to drop bombs on the Vietnamese, she, on her own, created, founded and funded a program that has brought literacy to tens of millions of people, the world over. Innovation (and humanitarianism) in it's highest form.


3 Good Holiday Gift Books

The Holidays are upon us. Lots of bad gifts get handed out every year. Yeah I know it's the thought that counts, but most of your relatives "thoughts" cannot be expressed around children after receiving another fruitcake or turtle-neck tank-top.

I plan on posting gift idea I come across that seem interesting, unusual and unique. I hope you enjoy and all products will have pricing and links to purchase when necessary.

Holiday Books

Books make the best gifts. I really mean that. I have preferred receiving a book to just about anything else, save the occasional pair of runners, since I was 23 years old. These are a few new and interesting finds from the book stores this November.

The New York Times: The Complete Front Pages 1851 - 2009

It's just what it says, every single front page since the newspaper began over 150 years ago. Yes you get to see when every World War began and every figure was assassinated, but the real delight is reading the "other" stories that have graced the cover in their shadows.


Retail: $60.00, though Amazon has it for $36.00 + free shipping. (HERE)

Gourmet Today

Boo-hoo's were heard around the globe when the announcement came that Gourmet Magazine was shuttering it's doors after 70 years of excellence.

This is, at least for the foreseeable future, will be the magazine's last cook book. 1000 NEW recipes and a "free 12 month subscriptions (???)" await. Every foodie will bless you beyond the holidays for your kindness.

Retail: $40.00, Amazon has it for $23.50 + free shipping (HERE), though Costco has it for $21.00, if you have one nearby.

Art for Obama: Designing Manifest Hope and the Campaign for Change

Yes, I am admittedly kind of over the guy, but millions of you are not. This is the best of all the Obama books. Art for Obama is a compendium of all the amazing artwork; posters, placards, t-shirts, paintings and the like, that were created during the election and in the lead-up to the inauguration.

America (and the world, for that matter) didn't lack creativity in honoring this most inspirational of leaders.
Retail: $22.50, though Amazon has it for $15.30 + shipping (HERE)

Chopping Down A Trump

News of two units going into foreclosure at Chicago's Trump Tower comes this weekend. The bank action will be the first of it's kind in the long suffering project, though more than a few expect this to be only the beginning.

Over 25% of the condo units and 36% of the hotel-condo units remain unsold. Those units (over 200 in total) remain in the possession and on the books of the hotel development group. 

Two years ago (pre-opening) I warned about this very thing happening. I have regularly followed the buildings progress, and travails, since it's announcement on my favorite Chicago real-estate site, CribChatter. The Trump has had so many issues, it now has it's own tab on the site. And nothing in the past few years have changed the developments prospects for success. 

Consider, since 2007:
  • Pre-construction condo-owners in the building have waged a fierce bidding war with the Trump group to dump their properties to prospective owners in the building. This has led to massive price reductions on the sale of every unit since the Grand Opening. All you need know on that front is 25% off is the opening, and it just starts going down from there. This is why the developer still has the same amount of units since opening.
  • Chicago has entered a housing glut some describe as, "the worst in the nation." We have more empty units in the city of Chicago (with more on the way), than any city in the country. At last count, there were 22,600 unsold, EMPTY condo-units in the Loop and 4 surrounding neighborhoods as of 09.30.09. All told, analysts believe the city-wide number to be as high as 110,000, counting only the empties,tens of thousands of more "condos" were transferred to rental properties after sitting on the market for 2 years. A lot of that has to do with...
  • The Olympic Dream was foiled in October, so the city's plan of filling all these empties with the workforce that was sure to come with the jobs the Games would have provided.
  • Trump has remained a dick. Please read THIS farcical article from 2007 on how demand for living quarters at the property was so strong, he had to "cut out friends and family." If the Donald were being eaten by sharks in the open sea, while drowning, during an alien attack on the earth, he would say that it is "all a part of the plan and good for business." Everyone told him the building was too big, had too many units and was priced to high for the Chicago market. But his ego told him that he was the person who could introduce New York-style pricing to the Second City. Uh, computer says "no."
Look for more fire sales in the coming weeks and more foreclosures in the Spring, as Chicago's long-term job market prospects become clearer and more dreary.

But I close on a high note. The building, I must admit, is the best and most stunning addition (and clearly my favorite) to the Chicago Skyline in 20 years. Thank you for that, at least.


"Ghost" of Christmas Past

As we make the turn into Thanksgiving, all thoughts (in the Retail world) turn to the all-important Holiday Shopping Season. This year economist and retailers agree, there will be a rise in spending and moderate sales gains are expected in nearly every category. 

This outlook was confirmed and strengthened by the announcement of October's Retail Sales figures. Headlines captured the enthusiasm thusly:

While many view a win as a win, there are too many factors stacking the deck against a winning Holiday Season for the Retail Sector, and a closer look at these indicators  is enough to tamp down optimism across the board.

Starting with those "robust" October sales figures, the number came in at 1.4% over last year, and a paltry 0.2% if Auto sales are excluded. That (0.2%) number in itself is enough to cause concern, but coupled with the knowledge of that 0.2% was a year-over-year increase against last year's record-breaking -2.4% October number, which was even worse than the post-9/11 terrorist attack October of 2001. Including the increase, this year's number does not even get back to the 2007 level. So once again we have a case of media trumpeting a "win" in a situation that is much less "win" than "tread."

Next, the unemployment number is sitting at an official 10.2% (unofficial 16.5%), with the under-employment number at 18.8%. These are the largest numbers on record since 1983. There is no way you can have nearly twenty percent of the country's work-force fighting to meet their basic living needs and expect to have retail growth. The "ghosting" effect is to large to overcome. 

"Ghosting" is when a trend, negative or positive, impacts one segment of the population and the demographic groups that abut the affected, though not currently feeling the similar effects, change their behavior in anticipation of being drawn into the fire. Examples of this can be seen in the build-up before the housing crash, where people decided to purchase houses that were a bit more expensive than they would normally buy because their neighbors and families were enjoying gains in their housing values, or in the almost rabid quest to be vaccinated against the H1N1 virus in communities that have not experienced an outbreak.

So the ghosting number on an 18.8% under-employment number would stand at, minimally, 25%, which is an insurmountable number to overcome for an entire sector. There can be (and will be) a few winners, but this precludes any hopes of a positive number coming out for the December figure.

Another problem facing retailers this holiday is credit.

Every retailer (smartly) took steps, late last year or early this year, to reduce the amount of risk associated with consumer credit defaults by closing the accounts of the bottom 4-13% of store credit-card holders. The step that retailers took that confused me was the "tightening" of credit on even their most credit-worthy card holders. Even the best customers saw the amount of available credit on existing accounts shrank by 18% on average. This would mean a person with a $2500 credit-card limit, saw their available credit limit reduced to $2100 and in some cases $1500. 

While the drive to reduce risk by retailers can be understood, as it's not what they do (they sell stuff), what could not have been foreseen was the dramatic pull-back by financial institutions, the major credit-card issuers, this Spring and Summer. The fed just released a report that September saw a 10.1% drop in available revolving credit. Further, the expectation is that there will be a dramatic drop in credit-card purchases this November and December, anywhere between 10.1 and 28.3%! The tightening in both markets at the same time could prove catastrophic. 

That leaves cash, in a country with a negative savings rate. I don't think so.

Last year I was able to correctly forecast retailers begrudgingly adopting the arcane and formerly frowned-upon practice of lay-away. While it was a boon for those few who embraced the practice last year, this year the practice has exploded:

So we are looking at a sluggish October closing out the last quarter, record unemployment, a drastic reduction in available credit than last year and retailers embracing layaway early as a way to allay their concerns. There are two other factors that loom just as large upon the retail scene this year.

The first is the lack of a consensus must-have product, not just overall, but multiple categories are missing that "it" item. The Nintendo Wii seems to have reached it's apogee last year. The season's most anticipated game, 'Modern Warfare,' was released earlier this month, and with $550 million in sales within the first 5 days of release (including a record $350 million on day one), I doubt there will be much left on the table for that title post-Thanksgiving. There is no toy for toddlers that appears to be a clear winner. The trend in women's clothing seems to be sweaters, but will that really be enough to carry apparel? In accessory world, designer handbags have gone from non-issue (last year) to a nuisance (this year), as retailers struggle to strike a balance on how much to pull back. The only bright spot in the department store world seems to be UGG boots and that trend is now 6 years old. How much more blood is left in that turnip?
Every major phone carrier launched their signature cellphones early, as every month they choose not to compete against Apple's iPhone, they were losing 700,000 potential customers. 
And, speaking of iPhone, Apple chose to launch the next generation of their iPhone, the 3GS, in summer as opposed to holiday, so they are depending on their redesigned line of notebook and desktop computers to power another strong holiday season. 

The lack of a strong item to drive business is troubling. Especially considering most every retailer in America made a conscience decision to reduce inventory levels this holiday season in an effort to protect margins by selling more at regular price.

Last year's margin blood bath was evident early, as additional 40% off new markdowns were available in early November and by the first week of December, 60-70% off was not an unusual encounter. Additionally, there was so much merchandise and discounting became so prevalent across the board, swollen holiday inventories clogged the merchants books through the entire first quarter of 2009 and into the beginning of the second. 

This drove many of the country's biggest retailers into single-digit stock price territory. leadership at these companies have vowed to take a stand on both inventory and discounting.

Let's hope they have found the right balance.
The last, and perhaps the greatest, difference between Holiday 2008 and Holiday 2009, is optimism.
This time last year, Americans were terrifically optimistic. The Presidential election had produced a young, seemingly dynamic, clear-minded and decisive leader in Barack Obama. The Congress had rushed through, first a Troubled Asset Recovery Plan bill aimed at reducing stress in the country's housing market, then passed an $800 billion Stimulus Package to jump-start the stagnant jobs market. The Federal reserve made moves to stabilize  the Financial markets and, the end of a polarizing and unpopular President's term in office, was within view.
We can honestly say now that we are nowhere near that level of optimism this year, and much of that lack of optimism can be traced back to the failure of nearly everything on the previous list. The President is much less popular than a year ago, the TARP funds were not used as promised and therefore did not have an impact on the housing situation, over 50% of the Stimulus remains unspent, the Fed has come under fire for it's secrecy in dealing with the largest banks, economists are saying 2011 for a turn around and this President has 3+ more years in office and there are no elections with which to blow off steam. Optimism is really nowhere to be found.
I think this is too much for the retail industry to overcome. I am looking at a 2-2.8% decrease in sales for the sector and more than a few stores folding there tents for good. I feel there has not been enough emphasis on changing practices and getting smarter about winning market share since the downturn last September. Stores have focused, and maniacally so, on not repeating last years mistakes. But last year is gone. This economy presents, as I have laid out, a new set of circumstances. Looking back rarely assists in moving forward.
They are entering this year's gunfight with a knife.


The Parkers

I was born in Chicago, grew up in Chicago and therefore, wherever it is I live, I still call Chicago home. The following post is about Chicago, but easily applies to anywhere in the Union.

We can all agree, Chicago's parking situation is the worst in the country. How did we get here?

When parking meters were invented in the 1930's, municipalities (Chicago included) banned their use, as most considered the meter's usage would constitute "selling something to the public that we already own," the streets of our cities.

After their adoption in Oklahoma City, OK was allowed by their city council as a way to "break congestion" on high traffic streets, other cities bought in under the idea of civic betterment, or keeping roadways clear and safe, as evidenced by this 40-second clip about the instillation of the meter.

The first meters were relatively inexpensive, but because parking anywhere else was free, the idea worked well in clearing out those busy thoroughfares in cities that adopted the meter program. This was the normal state of affairs, using a low-cost deterrent, in high traffic areas, to help motorist's move more freely when visiting their Main Street. The effect was largely psychological for the first 30 years of the program, to the point of their being nobody specifically tasked with collecting the (few) monies from the parking apparatus.

The "Car Crazy" 1950's did not impact this, as there was a subsequent boom in the establishment of suburbs, therefore negating the congestion in the downtown metropolitan areas of most cities at the time.

The 1960's did, however, bring about the introduction of the all-female Meter-Maid brigade, tasked with the full-time job of collecting the revenue from the parking poles in the largest of cities, as more and more Americans found themselves moving to suburbs to avert the civil discord the encountered in the downtown areas on the way to and from work each day. This living there/working here arrangement meant untold scores of cars clogging the highways during rush hour each day and a mad scramble for spots to park the cars, once the destination was reached.

It was not unfamiliar to see cars on the curb or at the corner, alleys choked with automobiles parked in any fashion and even some of the city's park greenery space used as impromptu parking lots. Chicago answered this problem swiftly and headily.

Mayor Richard J. (Daddy) Daley was one of the few mayors in America that decided not to surrender his downtown to "flight," and so instituted a wide-ranging program in the late 1960's to deal with it's upkeep, street parking would become a part of this campaign of re-invention.

Daley called for the instillation of meters along all of Chicago's "critical through-ways" (deemed so not for their residential density, but for the amount of commerce that flowed along them), tripled the amount of Meter-Maids on the City payroll, expanded police power over vehicles (fines and towing) and banned all parking in the alleys of the city's downtown area (bordered by Roosevelt, Wacker, Desplaines and Columbus Avenues).

This was the parking plan for the City of Chicago up until the late 1980's, largely driven towards breaking congestion and keeping the city's main commercial areas free of congestion so that business could flow unimpeded. This flew in the face of a North Carolina Supreme Court ruling (Britt v. Wilmington, 236 N.C. 446, 73 S.E.2d 289) which stated:

Streets of a municipality are provided for public use. A city board has no valid
authority to rent, lease or let a parking space on the streets to an individual
motorist 'for a fee' or to charge a rate or toll therefor. Much less may it
lease or let the whole system of on-street parking meters for operation by a
private corporation or individual.

But most considered it, rightly, in the public good, since revenues were used to upkeep streets and repair curbs, a serious problem at the time.

In 1989, Richard M. (Sonny) Daley would be elected, by the slimmest of margins, Mayor of the City of Chicago, and how parking was viewed by the city government would shift, radically, in a new direction.

Almost immediately after Daley taking office, the city would condemn (and purchase) a number of buildings in the downtown area, then turn them over to private interests for little or no profit to the city, regardless of their being located in the (at the time) best business district in the United States. Overnight, work began at tearing these structures down to build new office and retail structures, all with a bonus feature, new to the city, multi-level parking structures.

Next, the Daley administration moved to make owning multiple parking tickets a felony, which failed miserably. In it's place, he convinced a split City Council to approve suspending the license of those with more than 10 out-standing parking fines (later removed by the state of Illinois and subsequently re-instated in the late-1990's).

By 1992, with the newly-built multi-level parking structures completed, the Daley Administration started restricting more and more areas of parking in the area surrounding the lots. First on one side of Michigan Ave, Dearborn, Clark and Wacker, then the other as well. Soon parking along Lake, Randolph, Washington, Monroe, Adams, Jackson and Van Buren would be prohibited, leaving only Wabash, with it's many jewelers, furriers and legal firms, untouched. If you wanted to park while you worked or shopped in the Loop, you now had no choice but to head to the convenient new parking structures.

Since so many Chicagoans rebelled by parking their cars on the streets, hazard lights flashing as they ran their errand, the Administration needed a new weapon to deter said behavior. This came, three-fold, with the passing of the laws for: doubling your fine after 60 days (1993), the Denver Boot introduction (1993) and the city creating an partnership with auto auctioneers, by which to sell cars that owed (at the time) in excess of $1000 and were impounded beyond 30 days.

Lastly, the 1995 budget for the City of Chicago shows an unusually large increase in expenditures for "parking enforcement," as well as a tremendous spike in expected revenues. The city purchased six times the amount of tow trucks it previously owned, started giving quotas to their foot patrolman for ticket writing, expanded the automobile Pound-system, increased fees at all extant parking meters, increased fines for expired meters, increased the "storage" fees at impound centers, added a towing fee (even though the task is done by city workers, which is kind of like being charged a "policeman's fee" when getting a speeding ticket) and, for the first time in 20 years, added parking meters and parking restrictions to residential areas that had no ties to commercial well-being or congestion.

Chicagoans were told this was not meant to impact the citizenry, but instead, "in preparation" for the upcoming Democratic National Convention of 1996 (another reason to breathe a sigh of relief for the Olympic fiasco blowing up). It took all of six months for city residents to have their worst fears realized, the parking coup was now complete. The City of Chicago no longer viewed parking as a tool to improve the flow of traffic in business districts. Parking, henceforth, would be treated as a revenue production arm of the City government.

Since getting all this revenue-grab infrastructure in place in 1996, the Daley Administration:

  • Moved to become the first city in America to sell late parking fines to second-tier credit functions (debt-collection companies), thus allowing parking tickets to go on credit reports. This meant, for the first time ever, money that was not borrowed, and never changed hands in any fashion, became a financial (debt) product in it's afterlife (after the non-payment).

  • Increased the number of "No Parking" and "Tow Away" zones outside of the central business district.

  • Opened multi-level parking structures in neighborhoods across the city.

  • Increased fees and fines seven times.

  • Shortened the doubling of unpaid fines from 60 days to 30 days.

  • Hired a ticket-writing brigade that enforces the spaces on the few streets where they are available.

  • Introduced neighborhood parking permits, which granted the streets (city property) as a right to those that owned homes (private property) by proxy.

  • Recently, and illegally (see this article), became the first city in America to sell it's civic parking system to a private entity.

Meanwhile, the rates for parking in these off-street parking facilities have become prohibitively expensive. $20 for the first hour is not unusual. So there are fewer places to park and costs more when you do. We have not even included the tens of millions of dollars in revenue from red light cameras, installed four years ago.

All of this in an era of simultaneous, yearly budget cuts and rate increases on the public transportation system that many residents are forced to use, by Daley and team.

Daley has declared war on our wallet and we have been an unaware participant in this battle that has seized upon the assets of our fair city, sold them to the highest bidder and made life for all citizens and visitors of our fair city miserable.

And even these transgressions don't begin to explain his latest idea of selling off our share of one of the largest supplies of freshwater in America, Lake Michigan and our other waterways.

Incidentally,the first parking ticket went ever issued went to a Reverend, for an expired meter. He was able to beat the charge in court, explaining that he had gone into a nearby store to get change for the device. This prompted cities like Cincinnati to adopt, until this day, meters that give you ten minutes for free at the push of a button, so as motorists are given time to acquire the appropriate change to pay the meters.

I fear that in the case of Chicago,a Reverend won't do, we may need to seek his superior.


The Good Things in Strife

An AP report released Friday about Consumer Spending in the United States found, that while the overwhelming majority of Americans are still making sacrifices (or holding back altoghter) in the retail habits, the wealthiest members of our society have returned to pre-(market) crash spending levels. The story can be read in it's entirety by clicking the headline below:

Rich buying again, but middle class still hurting

Since the economic downturn last September required tax-payer infused bailout money to flow to the coffers of so many companies, marketing efforts and purchasing by wealthier Americans have been slavishly pursuing one goal, discretion! And somtetimes to outlandish degrees.

Consider that last holiday season, Tiffany & Co., the premier brand in upscale jewelry, had a reward program for it's employees who brought in used bags from other retailers so that it's customers could leave their stores with anonymous purchases, well disguised from papparazzi that had stationed themselves along 5th Avenue.

At The Master's golf turnament in May, the familiar Banking logos that, up until then, grace the ultra-elite corporate sponsorship area, were missing. All the same companies were present, and at the same cost. However, the firms on Madison Avenue (rightly) decided it might put many Americans off to see the JP Morgan, Citibank, Bank of America or Goldman Sachs logos spending millions at a golf tournament mere months after recieving "emergency funding" from the government. The super low-key approach even extended to a "no business cards" ban in the tents.

This shroud of marketing secrecy has extended to most all product categories tailored to the wealthy, which has led to huge drops in revenue at magazines like Vogue, Town & Country and Robb Report, and even the demise of a venerable titan, Goumet.

I thought it might be interesting to illuminate, for the readers of this blog, a few of the products and services that have become available since last September. These were all launched during the downturn, have had viturally no advertising and are available for purchase as of today. Some are outrageous, some are alluring, and all make the Neiman Marcus Ultimate Holiday Gift look like Sharper Image.

The World

The World is a luxury residential property, which is not unusual distinction, in and of itself. What makes The World different is that it floats! The World is a private residential cruise ship that spends time in different "exotic locals" throughout the year. The boat stays no longer than two-weeks at a time in any one of it's twenty-three destinations. This allows diversity for residents that choose to truly live on board the ship, vs. those that keep it as a vacation residence and meeting the ship in different ports of call.

The residences start at Studio's, of which there a very few, and include one, two and three-bedroom condominiums that resemble nothing you will enocounter on a Carnival cruise. The ultimate luxury experience can be found in one of the two, six-bedroom Penthouses on board (one is still available).

The World boast a deli, a grill and 4 world-class restaurants that operate 365 days a year. There is a first-run cinema which seats 150 guests, at each port of call there are on-board lectures about the culture of the region being visited, a bookstore, a wood-paneled library, an full-sized internet cafe, a tea garden, tennis courts, a full (and beyond) range Spa and most luxuriously, the only floating Graff Jewelry boutique on the planet.

Price Tag: Unavailable, though the Studios sold for a bit more than $700,000 and were fractional ownwerships. Speculation is that the 2 bedrooms, which comprices the greatest number of the ships residences, start at $2.7 million + 8% ($216,000) annual maintenance fees.

More info at: aboardtheworld.com

The Manor

The Manor is a single-family residence located in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles, California. The home is not entirely new, but after the former owners could not find a buyer, a decision was made to nearly gut the home and give it a dramatic upgrade. Construction started at end of 2008 and will be complete in March 2010 (though the realtor states it's "move in ready").

The property sits on 4.7 acres of some of the most expensive land in the United States. One of the more unique things about the property is all of the acreage is on flat land, a rarity for property of that size in the hills of L.A.

The residenceboasts over 56,000 square feet, not counting the 17,000+ square feet of attic space, home to the in-house beauty salon. Additional features include: 16 carports, 3 tennis courts, an observatory, one indoor and one outdoor olympic sized pool, manicured landscaping and enough marble to make the Pope blush. The good news is it sells for $1.5 million per room. The bad news is there are 100 rooms (not counting the aforementions attic).

Total Cost: $150,000,000.00 from current owners Aaron and Candy Spelling.

More info at: Christie's Great Estates

Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita

I am no car-head, but I know "hot damn" when I see it. The Koenigsegg brand is known to produce some of the most expensive cars in the world, but they really went all out on this one. As soon as the nickname leaked (Diamond) the car world went all atwitter.

Since I have no idea how much power a unit of horsepower produces (or why we still measure cars by animal standards?), lets go straight to the particulars. All you need know is there are only (?!?) 3 available world-wide and the paint job for the car is done in diamond dust!

Seats: two
Total Cost: $5,ooo,ooo

More info at: koenigsegg.com or deatiled at jalopnik.com

Oakley Elite C-6 Sunglasses

The Oakley Elite C-6 sunglasses block the sunlight from your eyes. . . so you can see better. . .kind of like your hand. . .only more elite-like.

Each of pair of sunglasses take 90 man-hours to create, which is why the company has "limited production to 200." That was hard to type bcause the cost of each pair of these Oakley's will set you back. . .


More info at: Oakley

Hermes Crocodile Hoodie

I think the title is self-explanatory, but if I have to I will write it out for you again. This is a hoodie, made of crocodile pelts, by Hermes.

Who in the world is asking for such a thing, you ask? Well, one famous owner of this utla-indulgent piece of clothing is Mr. Pharell Williams. How much did he pay for his? More than likely, nothing. How much will you need to pay for yours?


More info at: Hermes

Dartz Prombron Monaco Red Diamond Edition SUV

The people at Dartz set out to create the world''s most luxurious Sport Utility Vehicle in March and, when they delivered on the promise this past October, the amenities became the talk of the industry. The automobile includes gold-plated bullet-proof windows, 22 inch Kremlin Red Star gold-plated rims, Tungsten and white gold gauges with diamonds and rubies, white gold, diamond and ruby grill and sideboards, Kevlar coating, a special-edition Vertu 9the world's best) mobile phone and three bottles of the most expensive vodka on the planet, Russo-Baltique.

However, all of these appointments took a backseat (literally) to the creative path taken in choosing seat covers for the Red Diamond Edition, whale penis. They choice was based on the mammal being "submerged for the entirety of it's life" and the organ only being exposed to the outside of the body for "short periods," which thus produces "a luxuriant skin, soft beyond compare." Since a whale's penis can "only reach 8 feet long, each vehicle needed nearly two of them for each car in production. How much for ride on this gentle giants genetalia?


More info at: Jalopnik

Hublot Black Caviar Bang Wristwatch

While there are countless wristwatches that exceed the Black Caviar Bang's asking price, nothing in this price-range (or even close) has been produced in the hourolocical world since the market meltdown of last September.

The Caviar's cache resides not in it's complex mechanics, but instead in the watches surreal engineering. Although the case is made of 18 karat white gold, it is not visible to the eye because of the black diamonds, cut in various shapes and sizes, that seem to maghically float on the case and face of the watch.

The watch houses 28.5 carats tw of diamonds and took 2000 hours of work to produce. To hide this under your tree will cost how much?


More info at: Hublot

Eton Diamond Shirt

The shirt-maker Eton was founded in 1928 and for the first 79 years, they were pretty much a sane company. That all changed when it came time to celebrate their 80th Anniversary. They wanted to celebrate the occasion with a bang. Instead from sartorialists around the world started measuring their management staff for straight-jackets.

What Eton produced for the big date was the Diamond Shirt, which is a shirt made of the "finest and rarest of Egyptian cottons" and features five colored diamonds on each botton along the placket and cuff.

There is no dry-cleaner on earth I would trust not to lose one (or all) of these buttons, but if you do, the Diamond Shirt can be yours for. . .

$38,300.00 each

More info at: nowhere. the shirt sold already at Harrods.

Ralph Lauren Notorious

What percentage of the cloth used in making Ralph Lauren's pants is needed for the area covering his balls? I would think nearly all of it, or at least 90%.

When he annouced a launch of his signature frangrance early this year (it's now available), nobody could imagine he would race to the top of the chart as one of the most expensive on the market. For the sake of comparison I have to let the cat out of the bag early on this one. The 2.5 ounce bottle comes in at a whopping $4,000.00.

I know there are (few) more expensive fragrances on the market (the Clive Christian's Imperial Majesty at $215,000 comes to mind), however none of them have launched in the past 3 years and on a per-ounce basis are arguably a better value. The IM comes in at $12, 800 per once, to Ralph's $1,850. The difference is, when you are done with the Notorious, you will have an empty bottle, whereas upon completing your Imperial Majesty, you will still be in ownership of a hand-crafted Baccarat container with an 18-k gold collar and a 5 carat diamond at the crown of the stopper.

Both Katie Holmes and Elton John wear Imperial Majesty, and unopened bottles (only 10 of each men's and womens are produced each year) are verified to be housed in airtight safe-deposit boxes as investment goods by collectors. Thus far, there are no significant names attached to the Lauren offering. And to quote David Allen Grier, Ralph Lauren "Have you lost your damn mind?"

Lastly and just in time for Thanksgiving. . .

4505 Meats Turducken

Is it possible that I could convince you that an uncooked Thanksgiving turkey could be considered a luxury product? Well you are correct, a turkey cannot be counted as such.

However we are not talking about a turkey, we are talking about a Turducken, which is described by it's seller, 4505 Meats, as:

a combination of turkey, duck and chicken which comes on a bed of root
vegetables in a roasting pan and includes an electric thermometer with a preset
alarm on it, making it simple for home cooks to follow the directions and pull
the bird from the oven when the thermometer beeps.

The 15-20 pound bird (or bird, bird, bird) is going fast so place your order NOW!


More info at: 4505Meats and pick up an "spritual t-shirt" from them while you're shopping, because God help us all.


What's in a Name?

Growing up with a name like mine was not easy. And while it provided (and to this day provides) ample fodder for idiots to mock, I never wanted out. Though it took me a while to love my name, I always fully embraced it.

The idea of changing my name to John, or Bill, or Harry crossed my mind about as much as John, Bill and Harry pondered the idea of making the jump to Sirami, which means never.

I often wonder why people make fun of names? The name "Shelonda," for instance, was outrageous in the 80's, but now seems tame and pretty mainstream. The martin family caused a mini-uproar when news started coming in that their baby was named Apple. 10 years later, no so much of a big deal.

As a youth in the 1970's, NOBODY had a name that was out of the ordinary. When my teacher took attendance, even she would join the chorus of guffaws as she butchers my name. Take a poll of the people you know older than 35, you will encounter nothing but biblical or Anglophilic names, usually running straight down the center of the mainstream. Perhaps this was because many of our parents were born in the 1940's and 50's, the very height of America and the American Ideal. Conformity as a stated goal never has been, and (hopefully) never will be so, universally accepted as the goal of society was the thinking of those times.

One recent trend is naming children after celebrities. Which got me to thinking about who celebrities were named after. This led me on a slippery slope to a startling discovery: many celebrity names are NOT their actual names. Why these people chose to go with a pseudonym is obvious in some cases, unclear in others, but sad in all. They would still be the fantastically-talented individuals they are today, but all the while carrying on the tradition their parents bestowed upon them.

So if you name your child a celebrity name, to borrow from Steveland Jedkins (sic Stevie Wonder), make sure you're sure.

A Sampling of Celebrity Name Changes:

Actor Cary Grant was born...
Archibald Alexander Leach

Actor Billy D. Williams name is actually...
William December Williams Junior (born in April)

Singer Shania Twain was born...
Eilleen Regina Edwards

Singer Garth Brooks was born...
Troyal (with cheese) Garth Brooks

Director Spike Lee was born...
Shelton Jackson Lee (which explains the glasses)

Actor Charlton Heston was born...
John Charles Carter (in a town called "No Man's Land, IL" later incorporated into the city of Wilmette, IL)

Author Danielle Steele was born...
Danielle Fernande Dominique Schuelein-Steel (her family founded Lowenbrau beer)

Singer Rihanna was born
Robyn Rihanna Fenty

Performer Fergie was born...
Stacy Ann Ferguson (and did voice-over work for the "Sally" Peanuts characters at age 9. Some may be of the opinion she currently does voice-over work for the adult characters in Peanuts while in concert.)

Musical Producer Ne-Yo was born...
Shaffer Chimere Smith (he was, reluctantly, given the nickname NEO (yes, that neo) for his "ability to see beyond the music." It would later morph into it's more familiar form.)

Comedian Jay Leno was born...
James Douglas Muir Leno (and was once advised by his high-school guidance counselor to drop out of school.)

Actor Will Smith was born...
Willard Christopher Smith

Ben Affleck was born...
Benjamin Géza Affleck-Boldt

Sports Reporter Ahmad Rashad was born...
Robert Earl Moore

Actor Albert Brooks was born...
(No Kidding) Albert Lawrence Einstein

Actor Ben Kingsley was born...
Krishna Pandit Bhanji

Chaka Khan was born...
Yvette Stevens

Charlie Sheen was born...
Carlos Irwin Estévez

Demi Moore was born...
Demetria Gene Guynes

Elvis Costello was born...
Declan Patrick MacManus

Fatboy Slim was born...
Quentin Leo Cook

Flavor Flav was born...
William Jonathan Drayton Jr.

Hulk Hogan was born...
Terry Gene Bollea

Jackie Chan was born...
Chan Kwong-Sung

Judy Garland was born...
Frances Ethel Gumm

Lady Gaga was born...
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta

Jamie Foxx was born...
Eric Marlon Bishop

Nicole Richie was born...
Nicole Camille Escovedo

Martha Stewart was born...
Martha Helen Kostyra

Pter Coyote was born...
Rachmil Pinchus Ben Mosha Cohon

Larry King was born...
Lawrence Harvey Zeiger (and remains my favorite person in all of media)

Sally Field was born...
Sally Mahoney

Snoop Dog was born...
Cordazar Calvin Broadus

Whoopi Goldberg was born...
Caryn Elaine Johnson

Winona Ryder was born...
Winona Laura Horowitz


Three, 3, Three: Part I - Health

Three questions on the topic of:


1. When you buy car insurance, or home owners insurance, do you look for the absolute "least expensive" policy on the market, or do you look for the policy with the maximum coverage you you can afford at the time?

You, like I, choose to get the policy with the best coverage within your budget.

The Great American Health CARE Debate has been turned into the Great American Health INSURANCE Debate.

We are no longer talking about the health, well-being, sanity, care and comfort that every person in this nation should have as a natural birth-right. The discussion started there, most certainly. We are now talking about every person in this great country of ours getting a the gift of an insurance premium as a birth-right. Yes, you cannot be denied coverage anymore, but the flip side is you can no longer deny coverage. Just as every 16 year-old new driver in the country is met with the demand of being insured to drive, we will all be met with the demand of health coverage. . .upon being born.

I can recall being told insurance premiums would drop upon passage of the bill requiring all Illinois drivers to be covered in 1990. My first premium, pre-passage, was $79 per month, with a $350 deductible. My insurance premium today, without an accident in 19 years, is almost double.

The Bill being celebrated by the Congress today will hand the Insurance companies a new crop of 50-75 million new customers, who can no longer refuse their services. This has been a high-jacking and this high jacking was done by the only person with enough cache to pull it off on an angry nation, Barack Obama.

2. If you need a prescription to put "medicine" in your mouth, why are there no set limits to what "food" you can put in your mouth?

These are not mutually exclusive issues.

Upon admittance to ANY hospital, the first thing you can expect to happen is, your being put on a restrictive, guardedly-watched diet. Health care professionals know, you cannot bring the body into balance without a healthy diet, the medicine will not do the job on it's own. If such thinking applies to an unhealthy body, how can it not apply to a healthy body.

You would not allow your friend Willy to write you out a pill combination for that pain in your chest, why then are his recipe or restaurant suggestions taken as the gospel?

There is not one person , well actually there is ONE person, that understands the highly-chemicalized ingredient labels on the products we eat for nourishment. Few know that, in order to allow more products to reach the shelves for consumption, a new category that could go around the food laws had to be created. That category is called "Foodstuffs."

The word is old, but the category is relatively new, dating to the late 1970's. The problem with foodstuffs is they have, since their introduction, become an increasingly larger part of the food supply and American diet. Well in excess of 60%, on average, of every Americans diet is a foodstuff of some sort. Those wanting to test this theory are free to pick up the item closest to them (barring the miraculous occurrence that item might be a fruit or vegetable) and read the ingredient panel. If you understand the entire label, you are eating food. If not, FOODSTUFF ALERT!

This obviously doesn't include the staple item of almost every American meal, meat. This product has no ingredient label whatsoever. You are only able to ascertain whether this animal "passed" or not. Meat is not raised in a uniform fashion, the way corn, beans, wheat and rice are not raised in a uniform way. Each farm uses their proven (or experimental) method for producing carrion at the highest possible (I bet you think the next word will be quality, but sorry it's) profit. This, literally, smacks of FOODSTUFF.

I think we should start requiring prescriptions for eating because we need to have such an important facet of our existence in the hands of "trained professionals." No?

3. Why do so many people shun alternative health altogether?

Nobody is telling you to turn your back of your understanding of medicine up to this point in your life (well, actually. . .), but why is there such a hard and fast aversion to anything offered in the field of alternative medicine? It is really like telling me you can't stand peanuts, but love Snicker Bars.

The peanut, many times, is what the alternative health field is offering you. For example, many people need help falling asleep. These people would never consider a chamomile tea (for mild assistance), massage therapy to re-balance the body and help blood flow (medium-level assistance) or melatonin (hard core assistance), all of which are non-threatening, highly-effective and carry no (or few) side effects.

No you would rather have the Snickers because it's packaged beautifully, you saw it on television and in US Weekly, your friends eat them, they are readily available in every store and it tastes great. You would rather have Nytol, Unisom, Sominex, ProSom or Rozerem, which all have the peanut (natural product), to produce the desired effect, and the the chocolate (for flavor), nougat (for bulk in the hand and to the eye) and caramel (for digestive assistance) which produce the side-effects associated with the drug.

Why not just eat the peanut? Or at least stop cursing the peanut and find out more about it, which is usually far less expensive than it's mainstream counterpart. Maybe you might like your peanut in a different fashion, say peanut butter? By opening up our minds to all the possibilities involved with keeping ourselves healthy, we can only improve the odds with which to produce a desirable result.


Hiding in the Sunshine

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

- Ecclesiastes 2:17

A brutal series of killings. A community suffering from the trauma of living in the midst of a monster. 11 young women dead at the hands of a man that openly dared the authorities to discover his inner-fiend. Bureaucratic finger-pointing and obfuscating to explain why leads and neighborhood complaints had not been followed though to their logical conclusions. A Police force that missed several, obvious clues of blatant social misconduct.

I speak, of course,of Chicago.

The 1998 serial-rapist/murderer case of Andre Crawford, who terrorized Chicago's Englewood neighborhood, went to trial on Thursday in the shadow of what is an almost identical series of crime and circumstance in the Midwest's other "City by the Lake," Cleveland, OH.

These cases both share a startling number of similarities. Consider
  1. They both preyed upon economically-unstable, drug-addicted, young African -American women, using the promise of drugs as a lure..

  2. Each involve the rape and murder of 11 women (so far).

  3. Each involve a 12th victim that barely escaped with their lives.

  4. Each involve police ignoring community complaints about the (alleged) killer for months, or years.

  5. Each involve a suspect that remained in police orbit, or custody, for regular cycles during the investigation.

  6. Each involve communities that had to literally beg (in Cleveland, to no avail) for a task force to be set up.

  7. Each involve communities that came under fire by the media, after the discovery of the victims, as not being "aware" or "involved enough" with the neighborhood, thus creating an atmosphere that "allowed" the predator to thrive.

  8. In each case the accusation would be proven to be categorically false
And in each case, the suspects misfortune, or stupidity would bring him to justice, not the "boots on the ground."

In the Chicago case, Andre Crawford freely preyed upon the women of Englewood, Chicago's poorest neighborhood, for a period of 6 years. When a task force was formed, 3.5 years after the missing persons reports started coming in, he regularly checked in with them to "see if there were any new leads in the case."

This despite the fact his whereabouts were unaccounted for, he actually sold articles of his victims clothes in the very neighborhood were they had mysteriously disappeared and he was know to be somewhat gregarious, but completely secretive about himself.

The neighborhood, during that period of 1993-1999, was in full panic mode. Understand, this is one of the most crime-ridden areas of the entire United States, but neighborhood alarm was never enough to move the authorities to act. No newspapers wrote of the disappearances, and only mild attention was given to the missing persons investigation. This was clearly not a priority, that is until the bodies started being recovered. By that time Andre Crawford had already disposed of his 9th victim.

Unlike the news reports of the time's boasting of "great police work" bringing him to justice, he was actually brought in because his twelfth victim, after spending weeks in fear, went to the police. He would be brought in and, almost as an after-thought, asked to give a DNA sample, which 5 days later came back linked to seven of the recovered corpses.

Paralleling this saga in the Cleveland serial-rapist/murder case are the exploits of Anthony Sowell. He preyed upon the same socio-economic group in that city's Mt. Pleasant neighborhood over a period of 3-4 years.

Mt. Pleasant residents also made numerous complaints about his odd behavior, unbelievably bad and unusual body odor and suspicious home (where all his victims have been discovered).

When residents of the neighborhood complained of the awful "smell of death" that emanated from the area around his house, and the postman that delivered mail to his home complained of the "horrible, putrid" odor of the dwelling, the city blamed the Sausage Producer on the corner of the block, forcing them to replace a sewer system and buy new grease traps. One store owner even spoke of how, upon entering his store, Sowell's body odor "immediately filled the entire place with such a disgusting smell," he had to open all the windows and doors to his establishment.

And yet, no suspicion from the authorities surrounded him. Even within a neighborhood with numerous missing persons reports, and living in a house that constantly gave off noxious fumes.

Because Sowell was a sex offender, police regularly were meant to check on him at his home to ensure he was in residence. Their last visit was, ominously, on September 22 of this year.

Later that very night, Sowell beat and choked a twelfth woman until she passed out, then raped her. The victim awoke and climbed out the front window of his house, naked and screaming. And, though neighbors reported the incident to the police, nothing was done.

Five weeks would pass before the victim could muster the energy and overcome the fear of reporting the crime. She told authorities of the attack and her feeling that she "would probably have been killed had she not awakened" when she did,

When two officers (not the S.W.A.T. team they seem to send out for the most routine instances these days) went to his residence there was no Anthony Sowell, they did, however, find two decomposing bodies in the middle of his living room floor. Finally, the killing would come to an end.

These cases are shedding light on an alarming situation that has long been a problem, effective policing policies in underprivileged areas.

We regularly (and rightly) get an Amber Alert within 15 minutes of a child's abduction coming to light. We routinely (and rightly) hear every footnote associated with the disappearance of any white female within the the nations borders, and sometimes outside (ie, Natalie Holloway).

Were is the "equal protection under the law" for the residents of such communities as Chicago's Englewood and Cleveland's Mt. Pleasant?

Robert Ressler, one of the founders of Forensic Psychology and Psychological Profiling, once famously stated that there are two serial killers at work, at all times, on average in each state in the Union. That means 100 predators are on the loose within the borders of our country. Increasingly, these predators are being born of, moving to and operating in the poor, minority, urban areas.

With such information in mind, consider that in the last 10 years the following killers have been apprehended (who knows how many are still operating?):
  • Terry Blair - After being released from prison for the murder of his children's mother and her unborn child, he would rape and kill 8 women, while raping another 3 in the Kansas City, Missouri area, all within a three-month reign of terror. He would go undetected until a person following the case in the newspaper thought it sounded like the same m.o. from the Blair killing of 25 years prior and called a tip line.
  • Ronald Dominique - Used the lure of money for sex to get his victims to follow him home in the suburban New Orleans area. He would kill 23 people, over ten-year period, before being stopped. He also went undetected until a man came forward to police with a story of Dominique's anger at his refusal to allow himself to be tied up. A casual, investigatory trip to the Dominique residence turned up bodies and brought the saga to an end.
  • Paul Durousseau - Killed 9 (as two of his seven victims were pregnant) women throughout the Southwestern United States from 1997-2003. He used as a cover his being a taxicab driver to gain proximity with his victims. Even though the mother of his first victim gave police the name of the cab company and the driver's first initial, "D," as clues to help them when her daughter went missing, police did not follow up on the lead. Midway through his spree, he would do a month in jail for forcing himself upon one of his passengers, who barely escaped. And still no detection. He was finally picked up for a parole violation and, while incarcerated, a DNA match linked him to the other murders.
  • Vincent Johnson - Preyed upon women in the impoverished areas of Brooklyn, New York in 1999 and 2000. While there was a task force set up after the 4th of his victims would disappear, he continued to go undetected. After police interrogated one homeless suspect over an extended period, they had to release him because his DNA did not match with the samples from the crime scenes. Upon his leaving he told them of another homeless man, Johnson, that frequently discussed "rough sex." When police approached Johnson, he refused to be questioned or to submit a DNA sample, which is voluntary in the State of New York. After releasing him, one of the officer's watched him spit when he got out of the car. They collected the sample from the street and positively identified him as the culprit of the murders. He soon confessed to killing 6 women over that period of time.
  • Maury Troy Travis - Murdered 12 (he claimed 17) women between 2000 and 2002 in the St. Louis, Missouri area. It took the discovery of the 7th body (he had already killed 13, according to his count) for police to admit to a serial killer being in the area. They would turn up few clues on the killer, while Travis spent his days talking with reporters covering the case and his nights claiming more victims. His downfall came when he decided to, anonymously, send a local newspaper a map to one of the body of one of his yet undiscovered victims. The reporter (not the police), thankfully, recognized the map was from the website Expedia.com. After contacting the company, the reporter was able to trace the map search back to Travis' computer. Authorities moved in and questioned a calm Travis over a two hour period. Finally, they asked if they might be allowed to look at his computer, to which he blurted out," DAMN COMPUTER!" and admitted to being the killer.

All killers of poor, ethnic minorities, in urban, economically-unsound communities. All of which break every notion associated with patterns used by serial killers prior to the 1990's. All pretty much left unchecked while they committed their crimes over long periods of time, while their communities cried out for help.

This is a new phenomenon and therefore needs to be taken much more seriously, as the clear acceleration of the number of predators is great cause for alarm.

I don't highlight these cases for the sake of sensationalism. I am merely pointing out the clear evidence of these criminals ability to thrive when preying upon a small underprivileged class of people that had the misfortune of sharing the same zip code with a monster. Every other serial killer (that has been apprehended) has operated in a large geographic, sometimes multi-state or national, area. It is only good fortune, not the full-court press of resources, that stopped the killing in each of the cases discussed in this post.
That is not good enough!

The lives of all people are sacred. These communities should not be forced to hang their heads in shame, as if they are at fault for the actions of these sick people. They are victims as well. But more importantly, they are fellow Americans and human beings that deserve our empathy and the support and protections that their, OUR, municipal leaders can provide before, during, and after such a crisis strikes.

Why is it, I ask, such a difficult thing for the people of these communities to have their concerns addressed? Even when it's a matter of life and death.