The Lesson of the Bonsai Tree – and an Idea for Government

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It
is perhaps appropriate that a bush rat like me would find a metaphorical
center of gravity in a plant whose primary virtue is its restrained
existence. The bonsai is the result of the ancient art of taking
a tree and keeping it artificially small with constant care and
intention. The tree urgently desires to reach its genetic potential,
to reach for the stars, growing tall and wide. If left to its own
devices, and if the conditions are conducive, it will continue to
grow year after year. It is, of course, easier to just let it grow.
The art of severely restraining its expansion is very involved.
It is tricky to say the least, because the tree's every inclination
is to actively oppose the restrictions. It requires remarkable dedication
to achieve. It seems to me that this level of commitment is only
possible when the destination is known. In the case of the bonsai,
it is in knowing and understanding how exquisite the addition to
a home this remarkable plant will be.

I have the
McCarthy community in general, and my life here in particular, to
thank for my evolution into a political being. When I arrived here
in May of 1999 I was a leaf blowing in the wind. I woke up in a
new world every day, sometimes throughout the day! Like everyone
that settles at the end of the world, I too stayed in McCarthy because
of the freedom that I found here. Freedom is a large and vague concept
and perhaps this story will be better served if I use the word liberty:

Liberty: 1.a.
The condition of being free from restriction or control. b. The
right to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own
choosing. c. The condition of being free from confinement, servitude,
or forced labor. 2. The freedom from unjust or undue government
control. (American Heritage Dictionary)

"…to
secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our Posterity…"
(Preamble to the Constitution)

"…Liberty
and Justice for all." (The Pledge of Allegiance)

If our government,
initially framed in 1787, and for all its flaws, was initially birthed
with Liberty in mind; if the balance of decidedly limited federal
powers described in The Constitution was intended to protect the
people from their government by restricting the government, not
the people; if the bonsai is an apt analogy for the framework of
sustainable self-determination; then it seems clear that the gardener
disappeared a long, long time ago and it is high time we got a prunin'!

From a tent
to the 2008 Alaskan Republican Convention

I hope that
you are willing to grant me the privilege (temporarily) of oversimplification
so that we can establish a beginning. During my adult life, the
Republican side of the aisle has tended philosophically towards
conservatism; small government, faith in "the market",
fiscal prudence; moderate, cautious, restrained. The Democratic
side of the aisle has tended toward omni-present government as the
means to correct the inequities of justice and the tyrannies of
evil men. Ultimately, in my experience, the adherents to either
direction have very similar intentions, but very different beliefs
in how a sustainable attainment is accomplished.

This is where
we run into our first problem. Beliefs are important, to be sure,
to most of us, but they have no place in a philosophical inquiry.
To be effective at actually unraveling a problem and getting to
the nut of the matter, it is essential to question constantly the
givens, and the act of belief is an act of acceptance. One of the
primary differences between "conservative" and "liberal"
positions concerns the market. My personal inquiry into this and
the more general subject of economics has led me to discover what
may be a great misunderstanding. My involvement last month on March
14th and 15th at the Alaska Republican Convention
has confirmed my developing suspicion. Neither side of the aisle
understands the market and both sides are equally guilty of "believing"
something that just isn't so.

Six months
ago I discovered a gentleman that does understand this subject,
thoroughly, and contrary to what we all believe is not possible,
he is an honest politician on the national stage! His name, of course,
is Ron Paul! When I first discovered him I just about dropped my
lunch. As I found out more, I spread the word as far and wide as
I could about this remarkable man and the grassroots revolution
bearing his name whose call word is Liberty. Ron Paul is a medical
doctor who has spent 10 terms in congress leaving the pork in Washington
and voting his ideology relentlessly, refusing his congressional
pay and working tirelessly to trim the tree of government. The more
I learned, the more excited I became, and a small Ron Paul movement
developed during the dark days of winter here in our quaint little
hamlet of McCarthy. On Super-Tuesday we held a preference poll for
the Republican Party where eleven votes were cast. I was sent by
district 6 to the state convention with eleven other delegates,
four of whom were to represent the ideas of Ron Paul.

Before we
get back to philosophy and the market, it is important to clarify
some things Republican. The Republican Party, like any large party,
is a mixture of interests and the past twenty years has seen the
party on the national scale drift in action quite far from its conservative
inclinations. So much so that the Republican establishment of 2008
actually loathes Ron Paul and would very much like him to go away.
Ron Paul regards himself as the most fiscally and politically conservative
member of congress, and he very well may be right. So why is he
intentionally marginalized by many of his peers? To answer this
very important question we must move back to the market.

Ron Paul is
the rare political being who is not for sale — at all. His special
interest is Liberty, so much so that he speaks from the heart, in
his own words, and doesn't avoid questions, of any type, because
he is not concerned about what interest he may offend. His interest
is Liberty. It is becoming increasingly
apparent to me that the root of the
disease afflicting government is the sale of power. Liberal philosophy
generally holds that while the "free market" is useful
to move goods and services around, it is not to be trusted very
far and should be leashed and watched. The conservative philosophy
generally holds, in the words of the Alaskan Republican Party, that
the free enterprise system is the most successful means of achieving
economic justice. Yet neither side of the argument acknowledges
that they have never seen a free-market in action. The reason they
have never seen it is because the government has not let the market
work. Some of the interference has been well-meaning, in the form
of counterproductive regulations such as price controls and subsidies.
And some has been the direct result of the sale of power to curry
favor from powerful interests. The lynch pin of a free market is
the existence of a level playing field. There must be an equal cost
of entry into the market place for all interested players for the
noble benefits of competition to emerge, allowing for the profit
incentive to create sustainable action and the threat of losses
to correct inefficient behavior.

Here lies
the dilemma: Governments have power. People wield that power when
employed by government. People are flawed. Very quickly, they begin
to peddle that power, sometimes without even realizing it. This
gives advantage to one group over another. Lobbyists are specifically
in the business of buying influence, of paying for laws and regulations
and generally special treatment that favor them and necessarily
disadvantage others. They pay to institutionalize their profits
and put a floor under their losses. They, in short, pay to limit
competition and destroy the free market. The actually free market
has a name – laissez faire; "an economic doctrine that opposes
government regulation of or interference in commerce beyond the
minimum necessary for a free enterprise system to operate according
to its own economic laws." (The American Heritage Dictionary)
It is nowhere to be witnessed today.

Corruption
in the Alaskan GOP and Party Civil War

This brings
us to the convention and some necessary details. The Alaskan Republican
Party convention happens every two years and can host as many as
500 voting delegates. This year's affair brought 381 voting delegates
together, the most ever in the history of our young state. Every
convention deals primarily with the party platform and resolutions.
It also elects party officials and every presidential year, it elects
delegates to represent the state at the national convention. Many
guest speakers move across the stage, and generally the two and
half days are spent in formal and informal non-stop deliberation.
I am glad to report that it was quite exciting!

This years'
convention, however, was unusual. And not just because of the Ron
Paul contingent, which was 104 voting delegates strong. This year's
affair was dominated by the alleged criminal corruption taking hold
of the establishment and reaching right up to our highest national
representative. Much of the rank and file Republican contingent
traveled to this year's convention to impeach the party chairman,
Randy Reudrich, who is viewed by some to be front and center of
the corruption, or more specifically, in the sale of power. They
were unsuccessful.

And there are
a lot of ways to sell power. Some are to be found in the non-criminal
"conflicts of interest". A good example of this is being
personally invested in industries that you participate in writing
laws for. And some are more direct, like taking cash in the form
of campaign resources to shield a particular interest from the rigors
of fair competition.

This friction
and upheaval was better than TV! It was conducive to open and progressive
deliberation and to positive change. On the afternoon of the first
full day, Friday, March 14th, we separated into committees
to work on platform planks and resolutions. The Alaskan Republican
Party Platform begins by stating its mission and principles. They
typify conservative, and to some degree, libertarian thought. They
include: The conviction that America was founded on the fundamental
principles of Liberty and Freedom; that the government must preserve
individual freedom by observing constitutional limitations; that
the entrepreneurial spirit should be unburdened by excessive government
regulation; and that Alaskan Republicans believe in the sanctity
of human life, from the time of conception until natural death.

These sentiments
are very Ron Paul-ish. So why would his movement be reviled by the
establishment? We have to look closer. First of all, we must note
that most Republicans admit they agree with much of what Ron Paul
stands for. It is his relentless consistency on two specific issues
that create irreconcilable differences.

The first
is the most glaring. Republicans, even in Washington today, claim
to adhere to the principal of fiscal restraint while they continue
to deficit spend.

They claim
to want to reduce the size of government, while they add departments
and increase budgets. To be a fiscal conservative in America today,
you must cut spending, whether you reduce taxes or not. You must
cut programs. You must identify and eliminate waste, regardless
of how politically unpopular this will be.

The second
is less obvious to most. Ron Paul stresses that we must lead by
example, encouraging other nations to emulate us, and never down
the barrel of a gun. He is a fierce advocate of the sanctity of
all human life. The platform plank entitled Constitutional Rights
reads, "The right to life is bestowed by our Creator. It is
the responsibility of government to protect that right. The right
to life exists from the moment of conception until natural death,
and every human being deserves protection under the law."

I find no
qualifying condition to this clear statement. There is no reference
to revocation of this belief as regards certain individuals or groups,
such as perpetrators of violent crime. And what of the citizens
of other countries that we have waged war on? Is their life not
sanctified? By any estimates, and many are severe, far more civilians
have been slaughtered brutally than have the "enemy".
How is this reconciled with the above statement of principle?

The truth
is, this statement sounds good and is a matter of pride for those
who adopt it in word, but it has strong and far-reaching implications
that the vast majority of Americans are unwilling to consider.

Why are we
overseas killing people? George Bush says they are bad and we are
good. He has offered no proof, save some vague notion of "terrorist
threat", but no proof and plenty of documented un-truths if
not outright lies. I ask, why do we not demand evidence? Shouldn't
proof be provided and thoroughly verified before the killing begins?
And since we are facing absolutely monstrous unfunded liabilities
in the form of Social Security, Medicaid, and federal pensions,
and we already are nearing a ten trillion dollar deficit on a 3.1
trillion dollar budget, why on earth do we think we can afford this
course of action even if we were to carefully determine that it
was prudent?

But we get
no answers.

We can't be
for states’ rights and a strong national government simultaneously.
We can't spend money we don't have because Dick Cheney has suggested
that deficits no longer matter. We can't secure liberty for a few.
It is for all of us or none of us. And as a wise person said to
me recently, "To be a strict constitutionalist, you have to
defend it all and no more. If you don't like part of it, then change
it, with one of the two methods it provides. A living constitution,
or the notion of interpretation to meet the current judicial mood,
is no constitution."

I went to
the convention to make these points. I was not on the national defense
committee, fortunately, for I discovered afterwards that no discussion
was allowed on the subjects of war/Iraq/Afghanistan/terrorism/ fiscal
suicide, except in support. How is this possible, considering the
national and international climate on this monumental subject? Reportedly,
60–70% of the country is against the wars for many different
reasons, and in Alaska in GOP caucus we can't have an open debate?

On Saturday,
the committee work went before the floor and it was at that point
that I objected to the National Defense platform plank that reads,
"We support an active, aggressive worldwide war against terrorism
and support military action in Afghanistan and Iraq as a part of
this war."

Mr. Chairman,

I move to
strike "and Iraq" from the first plank of the Alaskan
Republican Party platform on National Defense.

Mr. Chairman,

Whereas sons
and daughters of people in this room and hundreds of thousands of
brave American women and men are risking their lives, their bodies,
and their sanity,

Whereas trillions
of dollars we do not have are being spent on war with the only reasonably
attainable objective being semi-permanent occupation that we can
not afford,

Whereas Jesus
Christ, himself, has clearly commanded that we do unto others as
we would have done unto us,

I move to
strike "and Iraq" from the party platform.

This was met
with an immediate moving of the question, which only requires a
simple majority to end debate and move to vote. My motion was resoundingly
voted down with enthusiasm and vigor.

Next committee.

The Value
of Challenging all things Unjust

The next committee
to come before the floor was Constitutional Rights. One of the primary
reasons for the renewed interest in national politics is that a
growing body of Americans believes that President George Bush and
the complicit Democratic Congress are dismantling the Bill of Rights
with their "war on terror".
After the passionate denial of my motion the room was ripe for the
passage of the following new plank:

“We recognize
the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers,
and effects as guaranteed in the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution;
recognize the right of the people to be secure from any search or
seizure that violates the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination;
and oppose legislation that violates these two Amendments including,
but not limited to, any infringements that may be contained in the
Patriot Act, the Real ID Act, NAIS Act, and the Violent Radicalization
and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act. Furthermore, we propose
that these acts be repealed immediately.”

And it passed,
just barely. I'm pretty sure the room was not completely sure what
they were voting on, but once they discovered what had happened,
the question was called back to the floor under the guise of new
information. Ultimately, a division of the house was called for
to get an accurate vote count and it still passed. YAHOO for Liberty!

I was on the
Judiciary, Law, and Crime committee and we had an honest, lively
and principled caucus. It was a joy to participate. We made many
changes to the platform, including removing opposition to the legalization
of hemp and strongly supporting a defendants rights to argue both
the facts of the case and the merits of the law under which the
charge has been made. This very old tenant of English Common Law,
known as jury nullification, has itself been essentially nullified.
The judiciary has repeatedly, nation wide, threatened to de-bar
defense attorneys who attempt to educate the jury as to their right
to release a defendant solely on their verdict that the law is without
merit.

YAHOO for
our civil liberties!

New planks
and resolutions from other sections of the Party Platform were also
passed on the floor, including abolishment of the IRS and the Department
of Education and a firm stand against implementing action of the
Real ID act of 2005, demanding its immediate repeal.

I am going
to start growing Bonsai Trees

If after an
exhaustive rational inquiry into the nature of government and the
consequences of letting it grow at a pace it determines, we were
to discover that indeed, the liberty of each one of us is dependent
on our collective willingness generation after generation to prune
and trim the sovereign, would we do it? Would we be up to the task?
Are we women and men enough to stay this kind of course?

I
was very disappointed and impressed, encouraged and concerned, by
what I witnessed in those two and half days. I saw individuals behave
both admirably in defense of principle and like zombies who can
not even recognize their own self-interest; so many times that it
became obvious what a mixed bag we all are. Sometimes we are willing
to take a stand against tyrannies and sometimes we are willing to
cover our eyes and ears and let oppression wash over us.

But mostly
I came away hopeful. I saw very clearly the connection between rational
thought and liberty, between critical thinking and the dedication
to VERY small government. 119 voting delegates were not seated.
You could have been one of them. The sad truth is that all things
that are wrong with our government are wrong largely because we
don't go to the meetings.

April
14, 2008

Jeremy Keller
[send him mail] is president
of the reluctant local council in McCarthy, Ak, where he and his
wife Alison and son Bjorn are developing a small sustainable farm.

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