2005-03-11 / Columnists

The Progressive

Organized Crime
By John Paul Culotta


When I was a youngster, a popular television program, “The Untouchables,” intrigued Americans and the rest of the world with the exploits of Al Capone, Frank Nitti, and Elliott Ness.

I was not allowed to watch the program. It was not because my proud Italian-American parents did not want me to be influenced by the negative stereotype gangster image that many Italian Americans groups felt the program exploited. The reason I did not watch the program was because it was scheduled after my obligatory time to go to sleep. To my mother’s credit I was allowed to see the Kraft Music Hall Hour with Perry Como despite the scheduling conflict with my obligatory sleep time. She felt Mr. Como was a positive role model. I would have preferred to watch The Untouchables. Indeed, when rules regarding sleep were relaxed, I did watch the show when the programs were on summer reruns.

Public consumption of movies, novels and television shows regarding organized crime has increased since the days of The Untouchables. The Godfather Trilogy, Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco and the Sopranos entice the public into a glamorized view of the nefarious lifestyle of organized crime. The genre is similar to the western myth regarding justice that was popular. Some have commented that the organized crime genre is an urban version of the western with emphasis on the darker nature of man. Gratuitous violence, corruption by the police and elective officials, and the rudimentary justice of the criminal element may make for entertaining films and television programs but the reality is that organized crime groups cause human suffering and exploitation. Homeland Security may be adversely affected by organized crime groups.

Congress and the Bush administration need to address the role organized crime groups have in supporting terrorist activity. There is some evidence that the September 11 attack of four years ago may have been financed by the monetary gains from the world’s illegal sale of diamond and gold. Al-Qaeda needed help from criminals including groups in this nation to engage in the illegal sale of diamonds and gold. According to Paul Lunde the author of the book Organized Crime An Inside Guide to the World’s Most Successful Industry, one United Nations official commented, “There are no fingerprints on diamonds.”

Organized Crime is also in the business of selling “loose nukes”. Again according to Paul Lunde, “dozens of suitcase-sized nuclear weapons are now believed missing from former Soviet facilities.” Arms smuggling and the trafficking in people can only result in violence, fear, and misery for multiples across the globe. Concrete aggressive action by the international community is necessary to minimize the effects of organized crime. The United States would have been prudent to use our resources combating international terrorism by fighting organized crime than in attacking Iraq.

Ms. Ehrenfeld is director of the American Center for Democracy and the author of “Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed- and How to Stop It.” On January 3, 2005 she wrote an article in the New York Sun regarding the increased production of heroin in Afghanistan. She comments that the American government is not allowing the United Nations to use mycoherbicides to eradicate the poppy fields in Afghanistan. These mycoherbicides are used to eradicate coca fields. Heroin also finances terrorist groups.

The smuggling of people into western countries is a lucrative business. Prostitution and exploitation of the East European and Third World migrants begs a solution. We are allowing millions to live degraded lives. Many live in slave like conditions with no legal recourse. Allowing these groups to engage in these activities will cause untold unrest and agitation. Human decency calls for a campaign to combat organized crimes and its ties to terrorism.

Americans can begin to combat these problems by not buying goods that are counterfeit, illegal cigarettes. We need to demand our government start a health care solution to drug addiction and the eradication of drugs at the source. A humane immigration policy is imperative. Fighting terrorism will mean no glorification of the gangster lifestyle.

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