Godfather IV

In the empire of crime, the U.S. mafia is just a supporting actor

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Thanks to Hollywood, the worldwide image of organized crime has had a “Made in America” label since the 1930s, when Edward G. Robinson defined the classic cinema mafioso in Little Caesar, a thinly veiled biography of Al Capone. Nearly half a century later, Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy was still convincing audiences from Singapore to Helsinki that the American mob was the final word in gangsterism.

In fact, the U.S. mafia is just a supporting actor on the international scene today — ready to do business with its Sicilian cousins, or the Colombian and Chinese cartels, but hardly in the same league as the rulers of the Empire of Crime. Part of the explanation lies in successful police efforts in the 1970s and 1980s to break the ties that linked the Castellammare clans to their distant relatives in New York.

But the deeper causes have to do with business acumen, pure and simple: The European, Latin American, and Asian crime machines have been far quicker to recognize — and exploit — the possibilities of the global economy. Like the chief executives of many U.S. corporations, America’s godfathers have been absorbed in domestic business, leaving the vastly larger profits of multinational commerce to more imaginative entrepreneurs overseas. Nor have American crime syndicates shown much interest in politics; unlike the governments of Italy, Russia, and Mexico, for instance, Washington remains innocent of widespread organized crime influence.

By contrast, the American consumer market remains as critical to the health of the Empire of Crime as it is to every other major exporter. Every twist in U.S. drug enforcement policies is immediately echoed in the production figures, costs, and transport logistics that regulate the dark underworld of the global economy.

The Empire of Crime can’t do without the United States, which is why the United States can’t afford to view the Empire as someone else’s problem.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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