January 10, 2012 -- This documentary film about the rise and fall of some of the biggest modern nightclubs in the U.S. is a cautionary tale about the abuses of police and legal power as well as a tale of two fundamentally different political views of capitalism.
The central figure in this film is Peter Gatien, one of the most successful entertainment entrepreneurs in modern New York History. At the height of his reign, he ran four monstrous night clubs in New York City alone, taking in $600,000 per week, employing hundreds of people and attracting millions of patrons every year. Despite the millions his businesses brought to the city, he was literally run out of the country by city and federal government legal action against him.
In fact, the city and federal government spent millions of dollars and years of effort to shut down Gatien's nightclubs, even though most of the charges brought against Gatien did not hold water. The one charge that did stick, underpayment of taxes, was not thought to be major enough to cause Gatien, a Canadian native, to be deported, but he was. Years later, he still can't return to run businesses in the U.S.
Gatien appears in the film along with many others, including former employees and associates as well as former police officials who dealt with him. Gatien is a colorful figure with a distinctive face and an eye patch, the result of losing an eye playing hockey in his youth. Gatien used his injury settlement to start a string of successful businesses, eventually leading him to New York City, where he became the king of the nightclub scene.
The film is filled with strange characters, including drug dealers and murderers who operated in the city's nightclub scene. The film tries to make the argument that Gatien maintained a distance from the drug dealing that went on in his clubs and did not profit from those sales. However, the film also makes the argument that one drug, at least, ecstasy (also called MDMA) tended to make large crowds at the clubs easier to manage, whereas another drug, ketamine (special k), led to fights. It would seem that Gatien had plenty of incentives to encourage the use of ecstasy at his clubs, and to discourage the use of ketamine because both actions would have increased profits and reduced problems for him.
The first part of the film shows Gatien's rise to success, while most of the rest of the film concerns his downfall as a result of legal problems. Gatien was charged in relation to the drug use in his nightclubs, but authorities were unable to prove that Gatien had anything to do with the drug use. Drug enforcement agents at the clubs were able to document very little drug use, let alone tie any drug sales to Gatien. The film argues that the government finally deported Gatien as a way of getting even with him for losing its very long, expensive drug case against him. The film goes into great detail about the colorful characters who testified against Gatien. They, as well as a couple of suspect DEA agents, were not credible.
After being declared not guilty, Gatien tried to resurrect his nightclub empire, only to run into police resistance, particularly his very popular rap music parties which drew large numbers of blacks to white neighborhoods. When he was finally deported, he was fairly broke. He won in court, but still lost his businesses and his income. This is an interesting story. It rates a B.
This whole story is a good illustration of the nation's disastrous war on drugs, which is very similar to its disastrous prohibition era war on alcohol. The act of outlawing drugs like ecstasy makes them less safe and more profitable. Illegal drugs are the financial backbone of organized crime. It costs trillions of dollars in law enforcement, jails, prisons, courts, lost tax revenues, immigration problems, violence, deaths and corruption both here and in many other countries.
Some leading conservatives, like the late William F. Buckley and current Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, have argued for an end to the federal war on drugs. That is essentially the libertarian view, get the government out of drug sales, and, if you will, get government off the backs of drug dealers. That is pure capitalism. So-called “social conservatives” have a different view. They want government regulation of drug sales and a lot of other government regulations which intrude deeply into people's lives. They want big government that regulates what you can do in your bedroom, who you can marry and what goes on inside your womb. Libertarians want small government. They want minimum government regulations on business and maximum personal liberty. Both views fly under the Republican banner, but they are not really compatible.
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