Matt's opinion

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I'm all in

Folks, I'm about to do something I've never done before. I am giving my full and unwavering support to the jr. Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, for the office of president of The United States in 2008. I would encourage everyone to listen to what Sen. Obama's comments regarding the exploratory committee and his future plans by clicking on the link below.

Why am I making a big deal out of this? Because this is the first time I feel so strongly that a particular candidate can not only win the election, but be a great president. In 2004 I paid attention to the primary races but did not get involved because I didn't really see profound policy differences in any of the viable candidates and when Kerry was nominated I only gave half-hearted support because (let's face it) he was a pompous idiot. This time around is completely different.

What makes Obama presidential material? Well, a lot of things, but I want to focus specifically on his sound judgment and real world grounding. I was really impressed with the description in his book on how he carefully approaches issues, finds the underlying problems creating a particular issue, and then his approach to policy or other changes he believes necessary to address the issue. This kind of straightforward yet thoughtful process to decision making is something that is currently lacking right now in how we approach politics now a days. Obama's approach to politics could actually start a thought provoking national conversation on hard issues like abortion, poverty, race, and faith in spite of the current trend of divisiveness and talking heads shouting at each other until everyone simply changes the channel. I think his thought process is in large part due to circumstances and issues he dealt with as an organizer and civil rights lawyer on the South side of Chicago. He's been through the hard knocks of life, just like anybody else, and was able to stay humble throughout his previous campaigns in and service for the people of Illinois.

Beyond all the politics and excitement of the moment I'm supporting Obama for a far more personal reason. Obama's life story so far is one I identify with on a personal level. There are a few parallels, like his parents splitting while he was young (although my father was around one night a week and every other weekend);and his moving to several different locations throughout his early years (I lived in 3 states and at least 5 different homes before graduating high school, but I never made it to Africa or Indonesia). But more importantly his life so far exemplifies what I think I want mine to be. To be able to make a difference in the world and yet still have a close knit family and social network keeping my moral compass straight. We can all be idealists right? At least in the blog-o-sphere anyway.

Link to Obama's statement:

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Presidential Address on Iraq

First of all, for those of you who did not watch the address last night, please click on the title of this post and either watch or read the transcript of the President's address. Don't just listen to what you're friends are saying about it. Watch it and form your own opinion.

I also want to acknowledge how difficult this issue is for everyone involved. This isn't just a policy issue, there are people's lives at stake and we should all take that into account when discussing this situation. This realization was evident on the President's face last night and in the tone with which he spoke. I know the President's position and actions in Iraq reflect his sincere desire to democratize the Middle East and provide for the security of the United States and our allies.

Having said this, I must disagree with the President's position and the escalation of the war effort. I disagree with the President because I feel that increasing the number of troops in Baghdad will only add to the dependence of Iraqi troops on American forces. Training Iraqi troops and national police has been one of the primary goals since ''major combat" in Iraq ended. During the last few years trained Iraqi soldiers have accompanied U.S. forces on patrols, raids, and other counter-insurgent exersizes with the understanding that as Iraqi forces stand up, U.S. forces will stand down. It is time for U.S. forces to begin standing down. This does not necessarily mean immediate troop withdrawal but does mean that if Iraqi forces prove to be proficient enough to stabilize their own country we should start redeploying troops throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, it must be recognized that stabilizing Iraq is not solely dependent on trained Iraqi military forces. A far more important factor is the secession of sectarian violence in the form of warring militias and death squads. The only solution to these complicated problems lie with reconciliation between religious and ethnic groups within Iraq. Nothing in the United States' arsenal can solve the religious and ethnic divides within Iraq, and so far Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has proven unable and unwilling to start the reconciliation process. Until this process is well underway and sectarian violence slows dramatically U.S. troops in Iraq will be stuck in the middle of a civil war.

This is why the President's plan is so troubling. The President has ordered roughly 17,000 more troops into Baghdad to accompany Iraqi forces in patrolling the streets of the city. While the hope of stabilizing the city is a noble one, I believe it is bad policy to allow U.S. military forces to patrol foreign nations as if they were local police forces. The trained Iraqi military and national police should be forced to use their new training and get out on the streets to stabilize their country. American forces can only provide so much training, and so much support before they unintentionally hold back the Iraqis from doing what we trained them to do.

While I have many more problems with the President's plan, in the interest of everyone's attention span, I will only discuss one more. I think the biggest problem of this plan is that there is no end in sight. I was watching the Senate Foreign Relations Committee grill Secretary of State Rice this morning on C-SPAN 3 (give me a break, i start my new job in a week) and this issue came up repeatedly. I want to specifically mention the line of questioning from Sen. Barack Obama. His questions revolved around a previous SFR Committee meeting when the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq was being interviewed back in Dec 2005. During that meeting Obama asked the Ambassador what will happen if the proposed plan to win in Iraq did not work in 6 months like the Ambassador had suggested earlier in the meeting. The Ambassador went on to say that the plan will work and that if it didn't we would be in trouble. In reality there was no plan on what to do if that plan in Dec 2005 did not work, and we are suffering the consequences of that lack of planning right now.

During the Senate hearing this morning Sec. Rice was asked by Obama the exact same question he asked the Ambassador about a year ago, what do we do if this plan fails. Sec. Rice answered by saying that this plan will work, it must work, or we will be in more trouble.

My point is that there are no consequences for the Iraqis not carrying out their end of the deal. Obama is correct in his proposition that the only leverage we have in Iraq is our military forces. If the Iraqis don't perform we need to start sending the message that we will not hold them up in perpetuity, giving the current plan the weighted consequences it needs to actually provide results one way or the other.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Heisman my AS#! and book review

HOW ABOUT THAT HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER!!!! Eat it Troy Smith and all of you damned Ohio State Buckeyes! Ever since I watched OSU trounce Northwestern in Evanston a few weeks ago I've been waiting for the moment the Buckeyes get their due. Granted OSU's football team was impressive throughout the season and got a big win against Michigan, it was due time to see them unseated as #1. This almost seems devilish but watching the faces of each of Ohio State's players last night during the fourth quarter of the game and then after the game agonizing over not only the defeat but how big the defeat was gave me great pleasure.

I don't really understand intensity of my pleasure in seeing their defeat seeing as though I'm not at all a Florida Gators fan (I mean, come on, they gave us Rex Grossman), but it just seems like OSU is constantly on top of the Big Ten and teams I actually like (Michigan, Minnesota, and maybe MSU) can never get past them. Having said that, now that the season's over, it's time to make predictions for next year. Wait, I hear something.....a low pitch a heard stampeding this's the USF BULLS. You heard it here first folks, the University of South Florida Bulls will be the 2007-2008 Division 1 football champs!!! I feel so confident I'm going to go ahead and call the Division 2 champs the Grand Valley State Lakers (which isn't really a stretch as they've won I think the last 4 out of 5 D 2 titles).

Now on to other things.

I've just finished a book I think everyone and all their relatives should go out and read right now: "The Audacity of Hope" by Senator Barak Obama. In this book, Sen. Obama manages to combine policy discussion with real people and issues in a way that simply can't be done in a speech or town hall meeting. While I was reading this book, it honestly felt like I was sitting down and having a face-to-face conversation with Sen. Obama and he actually talked in depth about issues that don't get much attention.

What I enjoyed, and learned from, the most in this book were the chapters on faith, race, and family. These are sides of people, much less politicians, that you don't often get to see or hear about and the insightful comments he makes on each subject really struck accord with me. I would specifically recommend this book to those of you who have given up on politics and government (but if you've given up on politics why are you reading this blog?). Yes a lot gets lost in government, particularly concerning the disconnect between people and their leaders, but it's worth every effort to try and re-establish that connection. I really think Sen. Obama is one of the people trying to make Illinois and the nation as a whole a better place.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Why raising the minimum wage is important

For those of you who don't know, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed HR 2, which would raise the minimum wage from $5.15/hr to $7.25/hr over a two-year period. I can't emphasize how important this increase is for everyone from full time minimum wage workers trying to support a family to part time teenage workers trying to save for college. Raising the minimum wage will give these workers roughly $4,000 more per year to pay their rent, healthcare, or to pay for tuition at a local community college so they can get a better job.

It's absolutely unconscionable that this wage has not been increased during the past 9 years and even more unconscionable that Republicans are opposing a rise in the minimum wage due to the limited but increased burden on small businesses. It may be true that due to the rise in payroll costs small businesses might be forced to either raise prices or skimp on other benefits for themselves or their employees. However, I think these costs will be compensated for by the increased buying power of workers, who've just gotten their first raise in 9 years, and the increased productivity resulting from employees being able to not have to make as many difficult choices between paying rent, feeding a family, and staying healthy. Of course these difficult choices will never go away as long as someone is forced to work at the lowest legal wage.

I came across an article recently that brings home the importance of helping low wage workers rise from poverty. The article (link below) describes how a middle class woman lost her job and was forced to work for $6.50/hr and try to survive. What's incredible is that this woman was still able to pay the mortgage on her house and most of her bills on such a small salary. Most others making similar wages aren't so lucky. The current federal minimum wage is $5.15/hr and a person working at this wage full time grosses $824/mo and takes home ~$660/mo assuming a 20% tax rate (which is a conservative estimate, Melissa and I are subject to a tax rate of ~30%). How can anyone possibly live on that?

Here in Illinois the current minimum wage was just raised to $7.50/hr with subsequent raises of $0.25/yr planned until 2010. At the current wage, using the same assumptions as before, a worker would come close to taking home $1,000/mo, far more than the current federal minimum wage. While this still isn't anything close to what most would consider a middle class income, when combined with any other income from a second job this could be enough to help lift someone out of poverty and help them to become more self sufficient instead of relying on programs like Welfare and Medicaid.

Article link: