Saturday, October 20, 2007

Extreme Makeover: Blogging Edition

Extreme Makeover: Blogging Edition

I have redesigned and revamped this blog. Please check out An Ordinary Person over at the new location.


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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Welcome to the Machine

Welcome to the Machine

I started this blog to explore the question of the role of the ordinary person in politics in America. The main question in my mind being does the ordinary person matter at all anymore? In a country which touts itself as the beacon for democracy and democratic participation is the ordinary person's political voice truly relevant or even needed?

Of course my ruminations were primarily subjective and based on my own impressions and experiences. I am an ordinary person, after all, and am as much a subject of my explorations as I am the observer.

I am coming to the conclusion pretty quickly that the ordinary person is politically powerless and without influence in this society. Now I am not sure how exceptional that conclusion is—how earth shattering the news given that I am probably only stating what is probably obvious to most people. The idea that America is the best democracy money can buy where those with most money have the best (sometimes the only) access to politicians and policymakers is a cliche after all.

So I am at a crossroads right now on whether or not to continue this blog. After all, if the ordinary person is irrelevant, what on earth can one blogger do about it? What more can I say and observe about the powerlessness of the ordinary person without sounding like a scold or a broken record week in and week out?

I’ve also started to explore the reform movement community. Those who are involved in electoral reform and other activist activities of some sort to explore the issue of who is doing something to make the average person and ordinary voter relevant again. While the first few months were heady and inspiring in discovering new organizations and meeting new people and activists in person and online, I quickly discovered that the reform community is rife with its own divisions on which types of reform are favored by which group, and my endorsement of one group over the other briefly had me caught in a particularly nasty and partisan bickering going on in the Internet (which is instigated more by one side than the other).

I thought to myself: who needs this crap? I started this blog to have fun and to learn and educate myself about politics and activism. I didn’t start it to instigate fights or to choose sides and if I happened to choose a side, to make enemies because of it. I had the illusion that just because we were all outsiders to the system and powerless, that there would be solidarity and a feeling of common purpose. Turned out I was wrong.

In any case, this is not a goodbye letter. I am just feeling a little bummed out and will be doing some deep thinking on which direction to take this blog, given what I have found out for myself on the state of politics and activism for the ordinary person. You can still catch me making posts over at Mirror on America and perhaps will post something here once in a while. In the meantime, I have to take a little break to find a way to make this blog a fun and worthwhile activity again.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

E is for Empowerment III

E is for Empowerment III

A recent response to my blog post E is for Empowerment II by Angry Independent bummed me out. Not because he was attacking me or anything like that. But because of the implications of what he said if he is right.

In my blog post I talked about political empowerment for the average working and middle class person.

He said:

But you bring up political empowerment... as a way for the masses to see some kind of economic/social justice. But I don't see much hope there either. Especially in this era where we are living under the "best Democracy money can buy".... Where money gets you access to the political candidates and to the policymakers.

It's ironic that the U.S. Capitol was once thought of as the peoples house. But the average citizen has almost zero access to their Congressional reps. But a lobbyist from a multinational corporation has all the access in the world. See the PBS documentary Capitol Crimes.

Therefore, I don't know how much political power the average citizen can have, particularly with two largely corrupt political parties controlling the game. As long as we have a two party system, the average citizen will have little influence over either domestic or international policy. It's almost as if we are locked out of the system altogether. Yes... there are elections every couple of years...and every 4 for the Presidency... But voting in a broken election system equates to very little power for the average joe. Especially when you can't even be sure that your vote will be counted. Elections have become almost ceremonial in nature in this country.

Always astute, hard-hitting and honest, I appreciate Angry Independent’s comments. Of course he is right. The average citizen has very little to no influence on domestic and international policy and the ordinary person is locked out of the system altogether.

Rather than wallow in despair or become cynical, I would like to explore the question—what can be done about it? Who is currently engaged in the work of “doing something about it” – that is, making the ordinary citizen and voter relevant again in politics?

Here’s some links and posts that encourage me enough to give me hope:

New America Foundation
Creating a Progressive Movement
Rock the Debates
National Popular Vote
Fusion Voting
Instant Runoff Voting
Ten Steps to Repair Democracy
Electoral Reform
Fixing a Broken System

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

E is for Empowerment

E is for Empowerment

I’d like to share a couple of great articles I read today. First is a blog post by Registered Independent which rightly asserts the limitations of politics as a vehicle to make the world a better place. He finds a better vehicle through the notion of empowerment in its various forms

I came to this blog and to my love of politics with a desire to see the world become a better place for the people. I have now come to realize that politics alone cannot accomplish this goal. A view of the evening news on any night of the week proves this fact.

Instead, I think the answer is empowerment. The people need to become more empowered in order to make the world a better place and empowerment comes in many forms.

For example, the people can become empowered philosophically, technologically, spiritually, scientifically, holistically, athletically, mathematically, and artistically, as well as politically. The empowerment from each of those disciplines often does increase the effectiveness of all the rest. It’s like they all work together in some way.

I think empowerment of the people in any way is the answer. And, it shouldn’t matter whether you are independent, conservative, liberal, progressive, libertarian, centrist, black, white, yellow, red, or whatever, empowerment is for everybody, with the only exception being those in government entities and corporate conglomerates who would prefer the people to be less empowered (not all of them do) so that they can exercise more control.

Registered Independent hits the nail right on the head when he talks about empowerment as the main goal why people get involved in politics and get active in political activity. Empowerment can mean any number of things: economic, social, political, personal, etc.

The main reason why I chose to start a blog in the first place comes from the belief that politics or being active in it can be one avenue to empowerment. That can mean empowerment for me as an individual, for my ethnic or cultural group as an Asian-American, for all citizens as Americans, and the group I persist to identify with the most, social class—empowerment for the working and middle classes—my definition of who an “ordinary person” is in America.

Why I consider myself an Independent is, itself, a result of my observations on empowerment. I have come to a personal conclusion that voting for either Democrats or Republicans does not result in the empowerment for the average, ordinary person. This blog is a running chronicle of my quest of trying to understand the world better so as to answer the question: what should be done—and more specifically, what should I do—about it?

This brings to mind a recent exchange of blog comments I had with another blogger called Constructive Feedback. I consider myself a liberal and a self-professed Progressive. He comes from a point of view that is critical of much of what I believe and policies which I support. Whether he is truly opposite of me I truly didn't know and asked him what he believes given that he is so critical of Left or Progressive perspectives. His answer surprised me. In a recent blog post he responded:
I must also note that my criticism against Liberals/Progressives/Democrats should not be taken as a desire for Black people to vote Republican. It is simply an attempt to hold those who have a monopoly majority hold upon my community accountable rather than having the masses gear up for another election cycle in which the Democrats gain further control over more Black districts but the districts and the people living within receive little benefit (except the knowledge that yet another Democrat has been victorious).

I am calling for Black people to STOP living VICARIOUSLY THROUGH DEMOCRATIC VICTORY. We need to take back our own yolk and place it back inside of our communities. Most of our problems are APOLITICAL in nature and only require a clearer goal and then management to achieve a more directed end.

He surprised me in the sense that despite our divergence in opinion on political stands and policies we support, that we actually do stand in common ground in regards to the deeper, fundamental issues that we ask and are after in why we choose to blog about politics. For him as for me, the fundamental issue is one of empowerment.

For him, he focuses on the African-American community and is asking critical questions on whether or not being for the Democratic Party and being elected as liberals and Democrats is truly empowering for the African American community. He demands that those who believe in this route to empowerment to show him the goods. What have the African-American community gained for their dependable loyalty to the Democrats and liberalism as constituents? A truly provocative stance but I believe a very valid question to ask.

So the word for today is Empowerment. A truly radical notion when you think about it. Once you get over its status as a cliché and apply it to how you view yourself and the world and interact with people you can really appreciate its meaning and implications as being, well, empowering.

Political empowerment is only one form of empowerment. There are many others. This blog is primarily about politics but I’d like to think that it can also be about empowerment for the individual and ordinary people in other ways.

Here is part 2.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Conservative Philosophy

The Republican Collapse

I don't consider myself a conservative but I found this op-ed by David Brooks at the New York TImes to be illuminating and thoughtful. What struck me the most about it is that he makes the point that the traditional notion of conservatism that he adheres to is most definitely not the creed that free-market capitalists, religious conservatives, and political neoconservatives espouse. And most interesting of all is his assertion that the Bush administration's policies run counter to the conservatism that he favors. All in all a good read.

Modern conservatism begins with Edmund Burke. What Burke articulated was not an ideology or a creed, but a disposition, a reverence for tradition, a suspicion of radical change.

When conservatism came to America, it became creedal. Free market conservatives built a creed around freedom and capitalism. Religious conservatives built a creed around their conception of a transcendent order. Neoconservatives and others built a creed around the words of Lincoln and the founders.

Over the years, the voice of Burke has been submerged beneath the clamoring creeds. In fact, over the past few decades the conservative ideologies have been magnified, while the temperamental conservatism of Burke has been abandoned.

Full article here from the New York Times

Letters to the Editor in response to Brooks' column

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Why Democracy?

Why Democracy?
by Stanley Fish

Democracy is a form of government that is not attached to any pre-given political or ideological ends, but allows ends to be chosen by the majority vote of free citizens.

What this means is that democracy is the only form of government that, at least theoretically, contemplates its own demise with equanimity. Democratic elections do not guarantee that the victors will be democratically inclined, and it is always possible that those who gain control of the legislative process will pass laws that erode or even repeal the rights – of property, free expression and free movement – that distinguish democracies from theocracies and monarchies. (Some would say that this is exactly what has been happening in the past six years.) Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes captured the fragility of a form of government that can alter itself beyond the point of recognition when he said that if his fellow citizens want to go to hell in a handbasket, it was his job to help them, even if he deplored the consequences. Democracy, then, can be said to be its own biggest threat.

Full article here from the New York Times blogs

Enter the conversation directly at and

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Thoughts of an Outsider

Thoughts of an Outsider

I am an independent: an outsider to the two-party system. I could very easily join one of the two major parties—either the Democrats or the Republicans—but I won’t feel right with myself if I do. Today, nearly 40 percent of the electorate self-identify as independent, rejecting party labels.

I have been reading a lot about people like me—political independents—in the media and primarily via web sites like the Hankster and the CUIP. I’m learning a lot and it is a comforting thought to know that I am not alone in treading this path outside of the two-party system in the U.S.

There is a great diversity among political independents in political opinion and ideologies. The CUIP expressed it best when it cites that what independents have in common, despite its diversity, is a sense that the political system in the U.S. has gone awry. That there is something deeply wrong and askew with democracy as it is currently practiced in America.

Moreover, independents are in agreement that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans hold the answer to fixing our broken System. The key to positive change is not to be found operating within the confines of the two-party system. In fact, for independents, much of the problems of American democracy can be laid to the very fact that we have a two-party monopoly in political participation in this country.

What makes the future so uncertain and a bit exciting for me is that the diagnosis of what ails American politics thus made, the prescription of what to do about it is still wide open and up for grabs.

The CUIP advocates the formation of a social movement among political independents to act as a third force to fill the political void that is not filled by either of the major parties. Other independents are advocates and members of various third-party organizations.

Myself personally—I am a supporter of electoral reform efforts such as Instant Runoff Voting and the National Popular Vote—efforts designed to encourage wider and greater participation among the electorate in politics and which seeks to expand democratic participation beyond the two major parties.

So as the political horse-race of the national Presidential elections come to a head in the coming year and most people start considering once again for whom to cast their vote, I feel an odd sort of excitement about politics.

An odd sort excitement because although I know that the horse race is still going to be between Democrats and Republicans, I have a perception that major change in American politics will be coming in the next decade. This change is going to be driven by political independents—people like me—for whom the two party system does not adequately reflect their beliefs, concerns and democratic aspirations. Sooner or later, something has got to give. A solid third of the electorate self-identifying to reject the two-party label has the potential to change the way the game is played in politics. This population is becoming organized and is starting to realize the potential for change that it wields.

So if you care about democracy, democratic participation for the ordinary citizen, and the relevance of politics to our lives in America, the blossoming of the independent movement is worth observing. Reports from the mainstream media like this one indicate that the presence of independents are being felt by the insiders. The fact that the report primarily viewed independents according to how they relate to either of the major parties, I feel, is a big mistake and misses the true picture of what it means to be an independent. I have a feeling that a report much truer to political independents and where they stand—on their own terms and not primarily vis-√†-vis the two party model of American democracy—is coming sooner or later. To read it would mean only one thing: the political independent movement has come of age in the mainstream.

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