Copyright 2014 by John T. Reed
My wife and I just got back from Las Vegas where we attended the 2014 Freedom Fest.
She had not accompanied me the previous two times I spoke there. It is a libertarian convention. She is sort of a feminist conservative if you can keep those two ideas in your head at the same time.
So I figured she would attend some sessions but probably spend more time shopping and attending some Vegas shows. Boy, was I wrong!
Freedom Fest goes from the 7AM complimentary continental breakfast to about 9 PM or later at night every day. There are a couple of one-ring circus programs in the big ballroom a day, but it is mostly about a six-ring circus with six seminars going on simultaneously at any given moment. There are also a number of lunch speeches you can attend for $75 each.
My wife after eating breakfast with me at around nine—we did not want to get up early enough for a 7AM continental breakfast—had a near perfect attendance record, always going to the best of the six classes going on at any given time. I often saw none that I was interested in during a particular time slot. She also went to a $75 lunch each day (with respectively, Grover Norquist, Dinesh D’Souza, and P.J. O’Rourke.) She wanted to know why I was not going to the lunches with her. “I see Grover and Dinesh around during the conference each year because we are fellow speakers. This is P.J.’s first year, but I expect we’ll see him because I am a fellow speaker.”
Indeed, I ran into Grover as he was arriving with his luggage and asked him if I was correct to spot him doing a cameo appearance in the new Atlas Shrugged film that we saw at the Freedom Fest. I was. Last year we sat at the same table for two meals. I ran into Dinesh last year at a meal. This year my wife and I ended up as “jurors” in a mock trial where Dinesh both argued against, and personified opposition to, the proposition that American foreign policy made the world a worse place since World War II.
At the end of the “trial” (in front of over a thousand people), the judge, “Kennedy” of Stossel fame (wisecracking woman who wears horn-rimmed glasses), directed Dinesh to “rise and face the jury.” He did a few feet away from us. He looked stricken, even though this was just for fun. Our “foreman” read the verdict. “Not guilty.” Dinesh looked as if he had just had a near-death experience. My wife and I both voted that American foreign policy was “not guilty” of making the world a worse place. The jury poll showed Dinesh won 7-5.
Your welcome, Dinesh. (Freedom Fest sells CDs and DVDs of the talks and things like the “trial” of Dinesh. I’m wearing a royal blue polo shirt in the front row of the 12-person “jury.” It was an interesting and entertaining “trial.”)
We’re going to see his new movie America tomorrow.
We had heard P.J. speak in San Francisco a couple of months ago. We ended up sitting at the table next to his for two meals at Freedom Fest 2014.
We saw the final part three of the Atlas Shrugged series of films: Who is John Galt?
We had seen the first part. I reviewed it unfavorably. http://johntreed.com/headline/2011/04/20/comments-on-the-movie-atlas-shrugged/
I intended to see the second part: The Strike, but it came out during my 35th Harvard Business School reunion. When I got back from the reunion—one week—it was no longer in the theaters! So I never saw it.
Those who saw all three, including John Stossel who was sitting about 20 feet away from me when he and I and my wife saw Part III for the first time, said Part III is the best of the three.
I thought Part III was good cinematography wise, but I found it a bit hard to follow in terms of story logic. It was better than Part I. There were cameos by Sean Hannity and Glen Beck playing themselves along with a couple of other Fox News personalities doing the same. They seemed discordant. Like the movie transported you to a different place and time, but when Hannity et al. suddenly appeared on the screen, talking about “John Galt,” it seemed as if someone had turned off the movie accidentally and tuned into Fox News instead.
Grover Norquist’s cameo was him playing one of the evil, powerful people meeting with the evil president of the United States in Part III.
I recommend Part III to free-market, Libertarian, individuality-rules types of people. Most others probably would not like it.
The star actor who played “John Galt,” a representative of the Ayn Rand Institute, and the financial backer went up on stage and took questions afterwards. Stossel moderated that session. I was very impressed with the financial backer John Aglialoro. I just looked him up and was astonished to see that he graduated from my high school in June 1961!!!! Had I known that, I would have made a point of going up to talk to him afterward. I did not know him in high school. I arrived at that school in October of 1961, four months after he graduated. I graduated in 1964. He is the CEO of Cybex, whose exercise machines I often use at my health club.
If you look up Up With People in Wikipedia, they list me as a “notable alumnus.” (Oops. I just checked. They no longer have that section. Other notable Up With People alumni include Glenn Close and author Tim Gallwey whom I have quoted in my books. I never met either of them.) But neither I nor John Aglialoro made it into the “notable alumni” of Collingswood High School. They do list the two that I often mention: Michael Landon and Richard Sterban (an Oak Ridge Boy). I cannot list myself. If I do they will erase it. I say that because I tried to modify my own Wikipedia bio, which is off base in some respects, but they instantly erase any changes I try to make. I will let someone who knows Aglialoro better than I add his name to the list.
I also did not make the “notable alumni” list at West Point (tougher competition than Collingswood) or Harvard Business School (MUCH tougher competition than West Point). My West Point claim to fame would be that I am the most prolific author to graduate from there. I once asked the head of publications of the alumni association how many more books I would have to write to be their most prolific author. He said they have no such records, but he figured I was already there.
But I am in good company as a non-“notable” West Point alumni. They list them by category. One alum who did not make it in the “sportspeople” category is General Bob Neyland, West Point class of 1916. He was the football coach at the University of Tennessee who went 173-31-12 and won four national championships, was a four-time SEC coach of the year, and is in the NCAA Football Hall of Fame. The Tennessee 102,000-seat stadium—fourth largest non-racing stadium in the U.S.—is named after him. But he is not a “notable alumnus” of West Point.
Duke basketball coach Mike Kryszewski, who was in the class behind me, did not make it in the “sportspeople” category either, in spite of 4 NCAA national championships, 2 Olympic gold medals, and induction into the basketball and NCAA basketball halls of Fame.
Now I don’t feel so bad.
Who is West Point’s most notable author alum? Nobody.
So I couldn’t even beat nobody? That’s harsh.
They do list “academicians.” But my freshman and sophomore year roommate Dan Kaufman did not make that list even though he was the dean of West Point and the founding President of Gwinnett College. Actually, I think another one of my classmates is a college president, too, and he’s not on the list either.
They also have an astronaut category. Apollo 11 crew member, Mike Collins, did not make the notable West Point grad astronaut list. Apollo 11 was the first moon landing. Buzz Aldrin, from West Point, and Neil Armstrong, not West Point, were the first men to set foot on the moon. Collins was orbiting the moon while they did that. I met him on an elevator in Dallas once. “C’mon, Mike. Make a little effort!”
After the screening of the Who is John Galt? movie, which does not come out in theaters until September, the actor, producer, and Ayn Rand Institute guy took questions with Stossel walking around the large audience with a hand mike. I raised my hand and he came over to me. I shook his hand and said, “Jack Reed.” He scrutinized my name tag which said “John Reed, Alamo, CA.” When they finished answering the prior question, John announced that I was “John Reed from Atlanta” and handed me the mike. I started by putting my hand on his shoulder and saying, “Actually, I’m from Alamo, California.” John did a theatrical re-look at my name tag.
I did not mention, and never have before told him, that he is one of only about 20 people on my list of living treasures whom we do not appreciate enough.
The guys on stage had gone on at some length about how Hollywood wanted no part of Atlas Shrugged even though it had been a best-selling book essentially every year since it first came out in 1957. Their explanation was that Hollywood was anti-business and anti-capitalism and anti-author-Ayn Rand’s philosophy.
My question was basically, “So why did Hollywood quickly make a movie of her first best-selling novel The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal? Ayn Rand herself was alive then and got herself named screen writer as well and managed to get an extraordinary amount of creative control.” (Ayn Rand’s pre-book author career was Hollywood and Broadway miscellaneous employee and aspiring playwright and screen writer.)
They had a good answer. The Institute guy said when Fountainhead came out Ayn Rand was a new, exciting writer and one of their own sort of. And it was about an architect insisting on total creative control over his buildings—analogous to the self-image of Hollywood people. Aglialoro pointed out Atlas Shrugged is unabashedly about the virtues of capitalism and businessmen, not about some lone, non-rich, creative genius fighting to preserve the integrity of his creation.
I strongly recommend the book The Fountainhead. I have tried three times to read Atlas Shrugged, but never got past the beginning of it. I also strongly recommend the movie The Fountainhead, which I own a VHS tape of. A recent media story said ebook sellers now can monitor the actual reading of the books they sell. They find that many books are purchased but not read. The all-time champ of that is Stephen Hawking’s A Brief of History of Time. Blessedly, the current Marxist nonsense best seller Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty is also not read beyond the first couple of dozen pages either. I’m guessing Atlas Shrugged ranks relatively high on that score as well.
Aglialoro said there may be a future miniseries made of Atlas Shrugged. That got a rousing cheer at Freedom Fest. I suspect that’s a better format because Atlas Shrugged is, reportedly, very long and complex. (The three part series is six hours long and they still had to cut a whole bunch. The typical length of a movie is 90 minutes.)
Part of Freedom Fest is the Anthem Film Festival. Film festivals show new, often not-yet-released films. In part, the festival is to help the filmmakers find distribution to theaters. So many are not available on DVD because releasing them on DVD would totally prevent them from getting theatrical distribution. Collapse, however, is available on DVD they said at the Fest. I’m going to get it—as soon as I figure out how. Their web site advertises the DVD, but offers no contact info or “add to cart” button.
I got to talk to a number of Libertarian and other celebrities at the Fest: John Fund, Tom Campbell (former Silicon Valley Congressman), Richard Vigurie, David Boaz, Steve Forbes, Matt Kibbe (the guy with the pointy sideburns who is often on Stossel), Nick Gillespie (Reason magazine guy who usually wears a black leather jacket when he appears on Stossel), John Allison (Cato Institute), Micheal Meese (son of Ed, West Point grad, and retired general). And I had the brief handshake encounters with Stossel, Grover Norquist, George Gilder, P.J. O’Rourke. And I saw and heard presentations by a bunch of other Libertarian/conservative celebrities like Kennedy, Stephen Moore, John Mackey, Charles Murray (AEI), Michael Steele, Matt Welch, Yaron Brook. And there were a bunch of people whom I would call Freedom Fest celebrities. With them I have friendly reunions and interesting discussions. The biggest FF celebrities are economist Mark Skousen and his wife Jo Ann. He is the owner of Freedom Fest. She heads the Anthem Film Festival and is co-producer of the Fest.
Oddly, General Meese went on at some length about our mission in Iraq—I think when he was “testifying” on behalf of the U.S. foreign policy in the last 70 years at Dinesh’s trial. Ah, one must be careful about such things when journalists or historians are present. I immediately noted that he was also asked about our mission in Iraq during the Iraq war at a West Point dinner where he spoke and I and my wife attended. Indeed, I wrote about it at the time. Here’s the link: http://johntreed.com/headline/2010/08/20/general-petraeus%E2%80%99-91007-report-to-congress/ The part about Meese’s comments on the U.S. mission in Iraq are under the subhead “Mission” in that article. Under the rules of evidence, my article from back then might be admissible as a “contemporaneous diary,” or might be allowed to help me “refresh my recollection.”
At one point during the Fest, Meese came over to thank my wife for her objecting to another speaker’s comment about the war in Iraq. Two additional people also thanked her. When Marty then introduced me to Meese, I pointed out that he got the mission in Iraq question twice, and had given two couldn’t-be-more-different answers. Marty told him I was a West Point grad. He asked hich class. When I said ’68, he lit up and said he knew one of my classmates—Dan Kaufman, who was the dean of West Point and his boss when he taught at West Point. Kaufman was not only my classmate. He was my roommate for much of the first two years. My wife pointed out to Meese that our oldest son is named after Dan. Kaufman and I are also the only memebres of the Class of 1968 who have been interviewed on 60 Minutes—both by Morley Safer.
I also discussed Meese’s Founder’s Day speech at http://www.johntreed.com/gotousma2.html under the subhead “Process versus results orientation.” Meese and other speakers from West Point at Founders Day dinners are big, these days, on talking about process—all the stuff they are doing to make the cadets great Army officers. But I’ll bet their counterparts in 1946 gave a different speech—one about results: enemy killed, wounded, or captured; territory liberated; planes shot down; concentration camp survivors saved; and so on. That discussion is under the subhead “1946” in that last link. See also my web article “Process orientation versus results orientation.”
Meese seemed like a really nice guy. His officer career resume has lots of eye-catching stuff. But he is also a retired Army general who has a typical retired Army general job (executive at an insurance company for military people) and who was in the belly of the process-oriented U.S. goverment beast from age 18 or so for about 40 years.
If West Point graduates are great leaders—and the retired West Point generals are, it says here, the best leaders among West Point graduates—how come almost none of them lead Silicon Valley start-ups or construction companies or manufacturing companies or transportation companies? They all seem to end up as middle managers in amorphous bureaucracies—usually related to the U.S. military or government—where their ability to get along with those around them is their main, or only, job requirement.
But I most enjoyed visiting the exhibit area during the seminar sessions when I could talk to representatives at length without interruption. I did that at the Pacific Legal Foundation booth, Libertarian Party, Heritage Foundation, Von Mises Institute of Canada. In the novel I am writing, my Unelected President convenes a meeting of all the free-market, liberty-oriented think tanks and asks them for policy recommendations and recommendations for persons to fill high administrative positions. So I told these guys about my novel and asked what they would say at such a meeting. I got lots of good stuff from them that will make the book better. Also talked to some DC political insiders about it and got details about how Congress and others would likely react to my unelected president—some of it unexpected.
One interesting pattern: think tankers react harshly to deviations from their catechism. I would have thought they would think a sudden libertarian president would be a great opportunity to get much of what they wanted. But they tended to focus on and attack those deviations—seeing the free market glass as half empty rather than half full with regard to the unelected president. Also, they did not like his military actions. I’ll put that quarrelsomeness in the book.
The Fest attendees seem to be of two minds on international military matters: isolationist or spread freedom—thus the 7-5 jury vote of Dinesh’s position. My unelected president is neither. He intervenes decisively and forcefully when needed and yanks troops out just as fast when he thinks they are not making adequate net progress. He deals with threats to U.S. security and has no interest in nation building or empires.
I had not understood what Matt Kibbe at FreedomWorks. They train Libertarians to excel at the ground game of politics—get out the vote and all that other mundane but crucial stuff. I am glad to hear that. My impression was that capital L Libertarians were more about philosophical debates than winning elections. They deny that but do not win many federal elections.
Bert Dohmen is the German immigrant guy I have told readers had a mother who traded paper currency for circulating coins in Germany before and during World War II. After the war, when real money was hard to get, she would spend the coins and typically the merchant would tell her to come to the back room to do the transaction and give her a better deal than the capital controls and price controls required. My prior version garbled that somewhat. I told him what I had been saying and he corrected me at FF. He is head of Dohmen Capital Research.
Here is an email my wife sent to friends about FF in general and hearing Grover Norquist speak at lunch:
FF has been quite enjoyable. .. I've never before been in a place with a couple of thousand highly informed anti big government people. John Stossel filmed his Fox Business News show here tonight and it will play next Thursday night. Topics include Obama's trampling separation of powers, a new movie called a Freedom from Choice, and a great segment with Steve Forbes [Forbes was a year behind Stossel at Princeton—1969 and 1970. My wife is class of 1970 from Drexel U. but she was only 20 when she graduated. I graduated from West Point class of 1968].
Norquist thinks current grid lock in DC is better than all the compromising that went on during Nixon and Kennedy years, for example. He feels both Dems and Repubs like big and bigger government. His Tax Pledge program and the Tea Party pressure are keeping both major parties in check right now. Said ban on pork is great. .. made it like smoking in restaurants. .. anti social.
He called the Repubs the party of Stupid and the dems the party of Evil. The less compromising the better.
He talked about Republicans having an easier time in the long run because they are the coalition of "leave us alone" constituencies. Home schoolers. Gun owners. Religious right. Lower our taxes. Regulate us less. Conversely, the Dems have to try to unite a coalition of "takers" at cross purposes. Union workers. Environmental activists (anti pipelines and other job making opportunities). Welfare recipients. Teachers. Tort lawyers.
Very interesting perspective and kind of encouraging.
Norquist is tired of hearing how clever and politically savvy Obama is and doesn't believe it. Says Obama has made two huge important mistakes:
1. Suggesting and agreeing to sequester. He really believed the Repubs would beg to be relieved of cuts to military spending. But no Repubs broke ranks. First time real cuts were made.
2. Letting Bush tax cuts expire totally. He thinks Obama and Dems gave up a perfect negotiating tool to extract more taxes and spending from Repubs.
Anyway, thought provoking, good stuff!
I love Grover’s talks because he is very factual, logical, and always reveals angles you did not think of.
The after-lunch big session on Thursday 7/10/14 was extremely interesting. It was a panel where each panelist spoke about a big region:
Steve Forbes (covered the U.S.)
Barbara Kolm (Europe)
Mark Klugmann (Latin America—he is working with Honduras to create a sort of Hong Kong or Singapore city in that country—last I heard it will have the laws of the State of Texas—really)
Li Zhao Schooland (Asia—see said that Communist China military has only gone outside its borders three times—1940, 1950, and 1970 and got their butts kicked each time by the Japanese, U.N., and Vietnam respectively; she also told three horror stories about banking in China that made the place sound exactly like the large banana republic I keep saying it is)
Leon Louw (Africa—he says the continent is booming if you avert your gaze from the news footage of various civil wars—his basic message seems to be that the poor countries have tried socialism and watched the non-socialist places like Hong Kong and Singapore boom and have decided to try that model—and it’s working)
John Browne (Middle East)
Each of the six were very interesting and had surprising information. You can buy a recording of that panel from FF and I would recommend it.
Obama recently got criticized for saying the world is more peaceful now, people are less poor and more healthy. Actually, it’s true. Many speakers at FF, including John Mackey, head of Whole Foods, said that and showed the numbers. The percentage of people in the world who make $1 a day or less is approaching zero. Perhaps because of that, people are living longer and dying less often in wars. The news media can always fill your TV screen with violence,and they will because if it leads it bleeds. But you have to look at the world wide numbers to see the accurate picture. And that picture is accurately described by a new book title I got from the Manhattan Institute at FF: Smaller, Faster, Lighter, Denser, Cheaper by Robert Bryce.
I love the book so far. It is basically about innovation and how it has improved the world miraculously over the past several hundred years. It is also about the Luddites and “environmentalists” and so on who fight tooth and nail to stop innovation because it disproves their fondly held Malthusian theology.
The title really can be summarized in one word: better. Innovation, also known as productivity gains, is simply people figuring out better ways to do things. They don’t just make it smaller; they also make it bigger than ever before. They make it better and sometimes smaller is better and sometimes bigger is better. More efficient size is really what it’s about. The book says we have never reached peak oil or peak anything and it looks like we never will. For example, we keep finding more and more oil because of technology breakthroughs like fracking. Same is true of other minerals and stuff that the Chicken Littles say we are going to run out of. We are going to run out of nothing. Plus, where did stuff that we consumed go? To another planet? Outer space? It’s still here. True, oil that has been burned now exists in the form of different molecules that are less easy to covert to energy like hydrogen and carbon dioxide, but the component parts of oil molecules are still very much here.
Various innovations have made almost everything cheaper; many in digital information (e.g., Skype) and medicine (e.g., genome) have shrunken costs to near zero!
Many speakers at FF gave the impression that the people of the world have made dramatic gains almost everywhere because of innovation and that will continue. Also, they often offered evidence that the cause is addition to innovation is increased respect for the rule of law, free trade, and lower taxes and regulations.
On Thursday night, John Stossel taped his show that will air on Thursday July 17, 2014. My wife and I are in the audience. We pushed our chairs back in the right front section because we were packed in too tight, so we should be easy to spot. I’m wearing my yellow polo shirt. The show did not go as smoothly as last year’s—many do-overs.
One interview he did was with Wayne Allyn Root. He and I were on a radio show together once in 2008 and it ended up an unexpected debate. I answered a question about McCain saying I did not care for his coming home from prison to the wife who waited for him then promptly cheated on her with, among others, his second and current wife. Root’s response was something along the lines of “real men cheat on their wives.”
It was one of the times when I thought my opponent was doing so much damage to himself with his own words and manner that I clammed up and just let him go. Stossel seemed to do the same thing albeit perhaps for another reason. I would not be surprised if Root’s interview ended up on the cutting room floor, or most of it. He was his typical, overbearing self—sort of the Libertarian equivalent of that shrill Democrat talk show guy Ed Schultz—who famously called Laura Ingram a “right-wing slut.” If any of Root is included in the show, you will get the impression that Stossel is rudely intruding on the Wayne Allyn Root Show. Root is a past Libertarian Party VP candidate.
I discovered an organization I had not previously heard of: “The Atlas Network a nonprofit organization connecting a global network of more than 400 free-market organizations in over 80 countries to the ideas and resources needed to advance the cause of liberty.” I attended a lunch they offered and it was very informative.
I also discovered Students for Liberty which I had heard of. Stossel does a show at their convention each year I think. David Boaz told me that is probably the biggest Libertarian convention. It’s held in DC. I can’t imagine Mark Skousen holding Freedom Fest in DC—indeed the mere phrase “Freedom Fest in DC” is a contradiction in terms.
John Fund wrote a book on Eric Holder and spoke about it. Excellent talk. Holder is a really hard core bad guy and was before becoming Attorney General.
I started to watch a film called Freedom from Choice. I am fine with the basic premise of it: overreaching government, but I did not care for the examples they chose: suppression of the sale of raw milk, forced vaccinations, approval of genetically modified foods. I approve of all those suppressions. I’m okay with letting competent adults drink raw milk if they want, but I oppose they’re giving it to kids or others who are not able to take care of themselves. Vaccinations should be forced and there appears to be nothing wrong with genetically modified foods and they are better than non-GMO which is why they exist. I left early so I do not know what other examples they used. Stossel interviewed the creator of that film for his show.
I spoke about Maximizing your Return and Minimizing your Risk in Real Estate Investment on the final day.
The final dinner featured a parody Musical “Camelot.” It starred Steve Forbes, Mark Skousen, Grover Norquist, Matt Welch, Steve Moore, and some folks I did not recognize. Sample segment, after Lancelot was stabbed and fell to the stage, they hovered around asking if he had KingArthurCare and admonishing him to get a health savings account. Steve Forbes is probably the funniest of the bunch because he has such a serious demeanor. Humor is the combination of surprise and logic. Because of his no-nonsense manner, nonsense coming out of him is a surprise but well-written lines also have the required kernel of logic. Most of the humor in the show comes from this group of ponderous pundits being willing to look makes fools of themselves. You probably had to be there to appreciate it, or see the DVD of it—perhaps as part of a bit of research to determine if you want to attend next year. Here’s a photo I took:
The three guys on the left are, from the left, Matt Welch of Reason magazine, Mark Skousen te head of Freedom Fest, and Grover Norquist, head of American s for Tax Reform. Steve Forbes is wearing the Merlin the magicion cone hat on the right in the back.
These are serious, smart folks who see and discuss much cause for pessimism. But they also see and discuss much cause for optimism. And they do not take themselves too seriously to have a lot of fun.
John T. Reed