The Ziegfeld’s Last Picture Show

emilydickinsonridesabmx (click photo to see source site). License: <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" target="_blank">Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic</a>.
Premier of “The Soprano State” at the Ziegfield Theatre. Photo by
emilydickinsonridesabmx (click photo to see source site). License: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

The Ziegfeld, New York City’s most elaborate movie theater, shut its doors after final screenings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on January 28. Its sumptuous decor in the tradition of early-1900s movie palaces made it the go-to place for premieres. A throwback even when it opened in 1969, let alone in an on-demand era, is its last bow a sign that the culture of moviegoing as a special event belongs just as much in the past?

More foreboding is the site’s planned transformation into a ballroom for “society galas and corporate events” (The New York Post, January 20). As a luxury experience available to a mass audience and iconic beyond its immediate function as a commercial space, it was perhaps rivaled in New York only by toy store FAO Schwarz (which folded last year). The venue that had offered a royal occasion for the price of a movie ticket will be reserved exclusively for the bona fide economic elite. Two years into Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty, the rich and poor “two cities” identified by his campaign are growing even farther apart.

Florenz Ziegfeld was skilled at foreseeing popular taste, discovering such talent as W.C. Fields, Will Rogers and Barbara Stanwyck for his stage shows. Yet his namesake, absorbed by the Clearview and Bow Tie chains, served up for its distinctive single screen the same movies — and the same popcorn — as the multiplexes. Meanwhile, innovative upstarts like Alamo Drafthouse have thrived with upscale menus and eclectic programming. And the popularity of their revival and special screenings demonstrates consumer demand for “going to the movies” as a communal activity, not only for convenience of access above all. Institutions of film culture are vanishing from the city of Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese not because they are unwanted, but because they are unaffordable. The Ziegfeld’s midtown Manhattan is the epicenter of a real estate bubble that has driven its clientele farther and farther away. The entrepreneurial spirit can tackle the economic gap as well.

A closer look at de Blasio’s programs for making the city affordable confirms what Samuel Stein (“De Blasio’s Doomed Housing Plan,” Jacobin, Fall 2014) observes: They operate “without fundamentally challenging the dynamics between developers and communities, landlords and tenants, or housing and the market.” De Blasio’s modus operandi is cutting deals with developers, offering preferential regulations and outright subsidies in exchange for construction including some rent-controlled units.

Politicians in any city can be more effective by getting out of the way.  Instead of granting preferential exemption from zoning restrictions in ways friendly to big business (and which accelerate gentrification), said restrictions could be repealed altogether, starting with those most burdensome to the neediest. Shifting tax revenue onto land value would make productive use of real estate more gainful than withholding. And corporate welfare handouts could be cut from nine and ten figures to zero.

The curtain has closed on the Ziegfeld, but the show can go on elsewhere — and tickets don’t have to cost a king’s ransom.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a contributing editor at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).

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Hands Up Don’t Shoot, Oregon Edition

English: A Picture of FBI SWAT officers. Origi...
A Picture of FBI SWAT officers. Originally from http://buffalo.fbi.gov/specialty_programs.htm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

“They shot him right there, he was just walking — I saw it,” says Victoria Sharp . “I swear to God, he was just walking with his hands in the air.” She’s describing the January 26 killing of LaVoy Finicum by FBI agents and an Oregon State Police SWAT team.

Sharp’s account doesn’t go uncontested. Mark McConnell, described as a “witness” even though he was a mile away at the time of the shooting and was just “told” what happened, describes Finicum as “charging” the police. And unidentified “law enforcement sources” tell CNN that Finicum “reached down toward his waistband where he had a gun.” Grainy overhead video of the shooting, subsequently released by the FBI, does more to stir the pot than to resolve the conflicts of account.

 

Sound familiar? It should. There’s another pair of competing legends in the making, both of which will incorporate preferred truths and discard inconvenient facts to reach the desired conclusions.

Most of those who decried police actions to evict the Occupy demonstrators and  wanted Ferguson, Missouri police officer Daren Wilson’s head on a platter for the killing of Michael Brown have already written the Oregon occupiers off as “terrorists” and pigeonholed Finicum’s death as “suicide by cop.”

Most of those who wanted the smelly hippies of Occupy swept from the streets and would cheerfully vote for Wilson for president if he was old enough to run, on the other hand, probably consider the Oregon occupiers heroes and Finicum a martyr.

I find myself in a strange position here. For once, I’m the moderate.

I don’t know exactly what happened on Canfield Drive in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, or along US 395 in rural Oregon on January 26, 2016. Neither, in all likelihood, do you. We weren’t there. All we can do is choose which glass to see those events through. Darkly.

I take that back. There’s another thing we can do. We can reaffirm the basic American principle that law enforcement personnel and other government employees aren’t special.

When a cop shoots someone under circumstances brought into question by credible evidence and/or testimony, that cop should be charged and tried just like you or I would be.

Culpability in Finicum’s death should be sorted out by a jury on the basis of reasonable doubt or proof of guilt beyond such doubt. The fact that his killer or killers wear badges and collect government paychecks is irrelevant to the matter.

Update: This column was revised the day after initial publication to reflect the release of FBI video of  Finicum’s death.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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So Much for Peak Trump

English: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in...
Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Donald Trump declared his presidential candidacy, quite a few people, including me, thought “never in a million years will he be the Republican nominee, let alone president.”

As his poll numbers rose, we thought “he’s got a hard ceiling; not a chance he’ll carry the race.” And “not even GOP primary voters could be THAT stupid.”

But it looks like I was wrong, and all those other people were too. With the Iowa caucus and then New Hampshire  just around the corner, Trump’s running as hot as ever. Not even his cowering, sputtering fear of Megyn Kelly, so disabling that he announced his intention to skip this week’s Fox News debate rather than face her, seems likely to dent his position as the Republican front-runner.

Heck, he might even win in November, proving once and for all that Mencken was right (“democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”).

Are there any consolations to be found in the possibility of a Trump presidency? Yes, I think there are.

When you get right down to it, he’s not any more especially authoritarian, xenophobic or narcissistic than the other “major party” presidential candidates. He’s just less filtered in how he presents himself.

The idea of his finger on the nuclear button bothers me, but not any more than the idea of Ted Cruz’s, Chris Christie’s or Hillary Clinton’s.

It might not be as bad as it sounds. Especially since the alternatives aren’t exactly attractive on their own merits.

Maybe a Donald Trump presidency would be right up in our faces enough, more so than the reigns of those other prospects, to get it through Americans’ heads: “Let’s never do THAT again.” I doubt it, but hey, it could happen.

More likely, it would just mark the final death knell of the Republican Party. Which, I admit, would make putting up with four years of Trump more than worth it, especially if it produced a whole new political alignment — Democrats alone on the right instead of splitting that side of the political spectrum with the Republicans, the Libertarians finally giving America a “major party” on the left (no, that was not a typo).

Scoff if you like, but don’t step on my dreams. As long as we’re considering the surrealistic nightmare of a prospective Trump presidency, I’m entitled to them.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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