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General Interest

CAN WE GET SOME DILLINGERS HERE? A WILLIE SUTTON, MAYBE?

If there is any doubt that we are indeed living in strange days here in America, just take a look at our rogues’ gallery of home grown criminals. Who are our most notorious pubic enemies? Wall Street con artists like Bernie Madoff, anonymous identity thieves and credit card scammers who hack into retail data bases. It’s embarrassing! A nation that produced Jesse James, Billy The Kid, The Dalton Gang, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Al Capone, Dutch Shultz, Bonnie and Clyde, Meyer Lansky, Baby Face Nelson, Ma Barker, Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bugs Moran, John Dillinger, Lucky Luciano, Crazy Joey Gallo, Vito Genovese, Murder Incorporated and Willie Sutton can’t even muster a decent liquor store bandit these days.

If it weren’t for foreign-born terrorists we wouldn’t have any desperadoes around at all these days, and that’s not very satisfying because we hate those bastards. In the fairly recent past, America loved it’s flamboyant, larger than life bad guys, daring men and women with style, flair and attitude to spare, thumbing their noses at convention, living fast, dying young and leaving a good looking corpse. We wouldn’t have them any other way and sometimes these people were among the most popular Americans, right up there with Babe Ruth, Elvis and Clark Gable. Would Bernie Madoff have handed back his cash to a farmer like John Dillinger did during a bank heist, saying ” We don’t want your dough, Pop, only the bank’s.” Hell no! He’d have pried the poor guy’s gold fillings from his teeth for good measure (of course Bernie could never muster up the courage to knock off a bank with a gun instead of from the comfort of his penthouse suite).

When Frank and Jesse James were robbing trains in the 1870s, the railroads were the villains to much of rural America, not the James Gang, and with good reason. The Robber Barons who owned the railroads were notorious for robbing poor farmers of their land by force of arms, their hired company goons never hesitating to shoot down defenseless farmers, women too. Same thing in the 1930’s when the banks collapsed and went on an orgy of foreclosures of homes and farms trying to recoup their losses caused by their own greed. The trigger happy company goons were back. The nation cheered Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and a host of others who relieved the banks of their cash but never bothered working people. These famous crooks were often shielded by the rural communities hardest hit by the Great Depression. Similarly, urban workers refused to cooperate with police and Federal authorities nosing around for leads as to the whereabouts of their favorite Robin Hoods’ hideouts.

From the 1930s to the 1950s Willie “The Actor” Sutton was as popular as Frank Sinatra. This silky-smooth bank robber and master of disguise never carried a loaded gun because “somebody might get hurt,” explaining that he only carried a gun because “you can’t rob a bank on charm and personality.” A polite man, he also said “you can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.” This Brooklyn born quote machine also explained, when asked why he robbed banks, “because that’s where the money is!” Where are these guys today? These were real American icons!

Here’s what we have now: hackers, accountants and scam artists who never even meet their victims or look danger in the eye. There’s not a memorable quote to be heard, no trace of panache or gallantry and barely a discernible pulse to be found. There’s no passion, no zest for life on the edge, no wit and no grit. No background stories of any interest at all and no trace of any sense of humor, sardonic, ironic or otherwise. There’s not a tough guy in the whole crowd and every one of them turns snitch when they get caught in an age when police can’t touch a hair on their expensively barbered heads. Pathetic!

When these paper tigers are arrested and do their perp walks for the cameras, they cannot meet anyone’s gaze, averting their eyes in shame, trying to pull their entire heads into their designer suits like human turtles. Contrast that with pictures of real tough guys when they were in custody, looking the world dead in the eye, proud and defiant, their eyes gleaming and that unrepentant combination of a smile and a sneer on their wide open faces, declaring: “This is who I am. Take it or leave it!” And millions of rank and file Americans took it just fine, instinctively understanding these rebels against a haves versus have-nots society that was the America of their day, even more so than it is now.

That unflinching look told the world; “I may be a bad man, did some lousy things things, sure, but I’m a man and I’ll be damned if I’ll crawl for your amusement. Do your worst!” You never heard any lame bleatings like you get from our modern white collar crooks, about them not thinking they were doing anything wrong, or deeply regretting that they besmirched their sterling reputations, like they were the victims of their stealing all the money in the country. They just do not get it that they are ushering in a new era of haves versus have-nots by their boundless greed. The Dillingers and Suttons never hid behind such self-serving delusions. They knew where that train was headed when they got on board. They got on anyway, figuring at least they’ll make theirs a memorable ride.

In the Golden Age of Tough Guys, suspects were treated to the “Third Degree,” which consisted of beating confessions and cooperation out of prisoners. For days, if need be, with no platoons of thousand dollar an hour lawyers in sight until the cops either broke their man or their knuckles on his thick skull. These public enemies laughed in the cops’ faces and never squealed, taking their medicine of going to prison, where a lot of them broke out sooner rather than later. John Dillinger did so twice, once with his famous wooden gun carved in the prison wood shop, while Clyde Barrow rescued some of his loyal gang members from a chain gang in a spectacular shootout and Model T-Ford getaway. And when they made their exits, they went out with a bang, literally, often in a wild gunfight with cops, sheriffs or the Feds.

When Jesse James, John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde finally met their bloody fates, much of the nation mourned their deaths as they would a beloved president. When Willie Sutton emerged from prison in 1969, the public welcomed him home and he made even more money from banks as a security advisor and also made a popular television commercial for a credit card company. When the Enron wimps and the Madoff co-conspirators get out of jail, who will even notice? They are a national disgrace in a nation with a rich history of colorful folk hero bandits who flipped the bird at authority but embraced the masses.

Today’s noted criminals were the authorities, in effect, leading bankers and executives who were already very wealthy and had no reason to steal. They had no hard luck stories of having been born on the wrong side of the tracks and held no grudge against a world where the deck was stacked against them from birth. These bland idiots already had it made, already had everything the Dillingers of this world could only dream of. None of the great robbers would have ever understood rich guys blowing a sweet deal like that. Probably would have slapped them silly for being such dimwitted un-American chumps.

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