Las Vegas FreedomFest Rallies Libertarians From Around the World

Steve Forbes took the Republican establishment to task for their ineptitude on healthcare (
Steve Forbes took the Republican establishment to task for their ineptitude on healthcare (WKYUFM).

From July 19 to 22 libertarians from around the world will gather at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino for the 10th annual FreedomFest, a gathering place for liberty-lovers which will feature academics, business leaders, politicians, intellectuals, filmmakers, writers, and artists from across the classical liberal diaspora. The theme for this year’s convention is “Exploring New Frontiers”, an homage to libertarian-enthusiast William Shatner, who long starred in the Star Trek series, and will deliver a keynote address entitled “The Fountainhead of Freedom: Striking the Balance Between Business and Art.”

On opening day, conference attendees were treated to the Atlas Film Festival, an event dedicated to advancing Ayn Rand’s philosophical ideals of liberty and individualism over collectivism and tyranny. It’s a fantastic opportunity for emerging artists to showcase their work in an ideologically hospitable forum. Today the festival commenced with an afternoon screening of several short documentaries:

Adrienne Levy’s “A Lifetime Later” examines the problems with mandatory minimum sentencing in contemporary America, and the need to defend one’s home and property.

Rob Montz’s “Silence U” showcases the radical campus left’s assault on free speech at Rhode Island’s Brown University. In the hyper-charged politically correct atmosphere of today’s Ivy League campus activists, “data and statistics” themselves have now become structures of oppression. Controversial opinions on race, class, and gender, or politics and economics are not welcomed, or even shouted down, or met with physical assault. University faculty and administrations are increasingly stacked with hardcore leftists who tolerate, condone, or even encourage outright attacks on the First Amendment, in what can aptly be described as “an addiction to indignation.”

Jeff Gasser’s “And My Prison Bars Bloom” tells the story of Cuban poet Armando Valladares who spent 22 brutal years as a political prisoner during the early years of the Castro regime. When Valladares refused to submit to “political rehabilitation”, he was sent to eight years of solitary confinement. He began to write poetry, smuggled out from prison, at one point writing on onion skins with his own blood. His poetry collection “From My Wheelchair” became an international best seller, infuriating the Cuban regime, and eventually shaming them into granting his early release.

In Tyler Ann Lowe’s “Regulating Rideshare: Uber and Lift in Austin TX” we are given an inside look into the political and legal battle that eventually led to the departure of ridesharing from the city. Austin’s population has skyrocketed in the past decade. When you combine this with a lackluster public transport system, you have the perfect market for the disruptive technology that these services provide. Yet, the Austin City Council, led by councilwoman Ann Kitchen and funded by the taxi industry, imposed onerous restrictions on such services including fingerprinting requirements.

While it has been proved that Uber’s technology is better, passengers are safer with an Uber driver than with a taxi company, and the city of Boston found that Uber’s security measures were exemplary, Kitchen and her progressive allies succeeded in driving ridesharing out of city. The documentary brilliantly describes how you can’t apply yesterday’s regulations to today’s technologies. While one would think that transportation regulations would be in place to protect the consumers, really they serve to protect existing taxi companies from competition. Thus, Lowe’s work makes a call for technological civil disobedience. Ultimately Austin’s Prop 1 failed by a 44% to 56%…thanks to progressive political ideology. Uber and Lyft thus pulled out of Austin, as they had threatened to do.

Later in the day, Mark and Jo Ann Skousen, the co-founders of FreedomFest, discussed the history of the pivotal libertarian event. Reminding the audience that FreedomFest is a social event, as much as a networking and policy gathering, he offered some words of wisdom to the movement as a whole. In Skousen’s view “a strong part of capitalism is also cooperation,” while he notes that “his biggest fear is that we splinter too much.”

Here at FreedomFest, every major player in the fight against big government has a presence, from Cato to Reason, to Americans for Prosperity, to the Foundation for Economic Education, to Students for Liberty. Ultimately Skousen observes that libertarians are an eclectic bunch and they don’t always agree on everything: “I lost control of FreedomFest years ago when I decided to make it an open conference.”

During afternoon sessions in the grand ballroom, James O’Keefe of Project Veritas spoke about his recent undercover journalism work which exposed a CNN producer confessing that the Russia investigation had little merit, while Van Jones admitted on camera that the Russia collusion investigation amounted to a “big nothing burger.”

O’Keefe was followed by a rousing panel discussion between Michael Medved, Deneen Borelli, Larry Elder, Wayne Allen Root, and Andy Puzder, titled “New Frontiers on the Free Enterprise: Can Business Make Government Better?” The discourse veered into a review of Trump’s first six months on the job.

Andy Puzder, Trump’s original pick for Labor Secretary, told the story of how a personal smear campaign coupled with left-wing activism, particularly on the part of unions, impeded his path to the nomination in a Senate with only 52 Republicans. Puzder noted, “my focus would have been creating jobs, not protecting the unions…I don’t want the president to have a loss on the Senate floor with my name on it.” Noting the intransigence in the current GOP Congress, he added, “politics is a team sport. There are just some people on our team who don’t seem to get that.”

Political commentator Michael Medved noted, that in addition to Trump’s victory, there was a massive Republican wave down the ballot in 2016: “This was a massive rejection of statism, of big government, of high taxes…Republican ideas are more powerful than any discussion of personal identity.” He concluded, if we can’t proceed with a political agenda, “we will have squandered the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Moderator Mark Skousen criticized the GOP establishment on healthcare reform, observing that the Democrats were far more effective, even with small majorities in Congress: “They were able to do it with thin margins. What is the problem with the Republicans?”

Former Libertarian vice presidential nominee Wayne Allen Root suggested that Donald Trump needs to say, “the politicians of both parties suck and they can’t get it done. I’m going to call a meeting of the smartest business people in America, put them in a room until they come up with a plan to solve healthcare.”

The night wrapped up with a speech by Steve Forbes, who took the Republican leadership to task for their ineptitude, and called on the party to return its focus to implementing real free-market reforms to address the gaping holes left by ObamaCare. He called for greater transparency on the part of hospitals and insurance companies, and noted that it is ludicrous that insurance companies can not currently offer plans across state lines.

Forbes was also honored by former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman, who proclaimed July 19, 2017 to be “Steve Forbes Day” in Las Vegas.

Conference attendees have three more action-packed days to which to look forward.

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