Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

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Reading, writing & reality in Iraq

Anne Stanton - July 28th, 2008
You often hear the policy debates about the Iraq war, but ever wonder how the people of Iraq manage to shop, work and go to school with a war blasting down the street?
That’s the idea behind Baghdad High, a new documentary directed by Laura J. Winter. The movie will be shown Friday, August 2, at the Traverse City Film Festival.
Winter came up with the novel idea of giving four high school boys their own video camera to document one year of their life.
In an email interview from England where she now lives, Winter explained that she wanted to take a fresh perspective on Iraq. She found inspiration from a film titled The Women’s Story, which featured two Iraqi women who journeyed around their country and filmed what they saw.
“It was very good, but it really struck me right then, that all these documentaries coming out of Iraq were done for or by adults. Iraqi children had not been more than a UN statistic about the dead, kidnapped or injured,” Winter wrote. “As I watched that film I knew a story about children in Iraq, in Baghdad, was just screaming to be done. I thought of high school students because they would be old enough to be articulate, yet innocent enough to be unbiased, not yet politicized. Plus everyone can sympathize with the troubles and triumphs of being a teenager. It’s just that our teens happened to be growing up in a war zone.”
Winter herself arrived in Bagdad shortly after the invasion to report and shoot photos for the New York Daily News. After a couple of months, she began to freelance as a field producer for CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes.
Here is her excerpted email interview on Iraq and filmmaking:
NE: You reported on the war from Iraq for the Daily News. Tell me about that experience.
Winter: I was in Iraq from April 2003 through to the end of November of that year. … When I arrived in Baghdad the battle was still raging. The city was on fire. If you blew your nose, soot would come out. It was also a desperate time with hordes of looters roaming the streets, stripping all of the government offices of anything valuable. There were street battles at night outside my window. But when the sun rose, it seemed like the fighters just melted away. And everywhere you looked there was a picture of Saddam Hussein. Saddam the iron fisted general. Saddam the well dressed hunter. Saddam the cosmopolitan Arab leader. Saddam the desert sheikh.
I roamed around the palace area, now the Green zone, at will and in my driver’s car. I could walk the streets in Faluja. I drove around Sadr City without too much care. And when I felt my spirits were low, I would go to the Hewar Art Gallery to have lunch or tea with the owner.
At the time I left, Saddam’s sons had been found and killed in a shootout. People were simply waiting to find Saddam so they could close that chapter and move on. There was some terrorism. The use of improvised explosive devices had just started. But it was not in chaos. Despite the depravity, people were positive. Even my driver and translator, both Republican guards who had lost their positions and livelihoods in the army, were hopeful about the future. They were going to start a mobile phone business. One of them had just bought a new car. That was the Iraq I left… But then that all changed so fast and so hard.

NE: Did you have any frustrations as a journalist?
Winter: … I get frustrated about the lack of resources and respect for intrepid freelance journalists. … I’m talking about my band of merry news gatherers who, in spite of the lack of insurance, body armor, cash on hand and fair pay (which never seems to keep up with inflation), still get out there in the wilds and get the story, and sometimes do it far better than the big boys. And I don’t think that situation is going to get any better, especially when economically times are very tough. … So what does that mean? Less and less coverage from fewer voices.

NE: Did your attitudes shift toward the war or the Iraqi people while you were there?
Winter: … I don’t think my attitudes toward the Iraqi people ever changed. You see, when I enter a conflict area, I’m entering a foreign country that simply happens to be experiencing the most heartrending tragedy a people can suffer - war. The only thing comparable to it is 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Good people suffering from inconceivable and, I mean really beyond imagination, horrific tragedies.
The thing is, no matter how you feel about the invasion and occupation, for the Iraqis, their unnatural disaster started in March 2003 and continues to this day. No matter whether you are red, blue or purple, can you imagine what it means to have lost a million people? I’m talking about civilians. I can’t, but I try. So try and see that cold number this way: the number of Iraqi civilians killed in the past five years would be like all of the people in Detroit being killed in five years.
So what may have changed inside me is perhaps the emergence of an intense feeling of being terribly ineffectual. At the same time I try desperately not to borrow trouble, but I have a heightened sense of trepidation for my Iraqi and my fellow American friends who are there.

NE: How did you choose the four boys in the film?
Winter: … I asked my former translator and driver [in Iraq] where he went to high school, knowing he was from Karada District, a mixed middle class neighborhood east of the Tigris. He attended Tariq bin Ziad High School for Boys. … The principal of the school and a science teacher introduced our Iraqi staff to eight boys. After four months, by February 2007, four boys remained dedicated to the film. It was really more by chance than design that we ended up having a Shia, a Sunni-Shia, a Christian and a Kurd.

NE: Why didn’t you choose any girls?
Winter: The short and easy answer is, that while we had a girl’s school on board and families who wanted to participate, the then minister of education said, “No.”

NE: I read that you instructed the boys not to film violence. Did you feel that it skewed the reality of their world since it was something they had to live with?
Winter: I think you misunderstood the directive. We did not instruct them not to film violence. What we instructed them to do was to film only in their school, homes or places their parents approved, such as the car. What they were told was that if anyone attempted to play the part of a news cameraman, they would be kicked off the project.
I do not think these directives skewed reality in the least. You see, they are not paid news cameramen, and that was not the point of the film. Would they normally be running down the street toward a firefight to film it? No. Would they run toward a bombing, knowing that there could be a secondary explosion or a group of soldiers, who could start, at any second, firing wildly into the crowd, to film a piece of video? No. That’s not real life for any Iraqi civilian.
Being in your bedroom, unable to focus your mind on studying for the next day’s Arabic test because different armed groups are having a battle a block away, which could come to your door at any minute… Now that’s real Baghdad life. Confinement, anxiety, powerlessness, fear, apathy. But what there is, although perhaps not in equal measure, but it’s there, especially with the kids, who have not quite taken on the responsibilities of adults, is happiness, friendship, ambition, and hope and love.

NE: One of the big phrases in journalism is “Show, don’t tell.” What were some of the telling moments in the film?
Winter: … Every moment has something telling. Every half-minute counts. Whether it is Ali and Mohammed Ra’ed mucking around, acting like terrorists, or Anmar being afraid that if the wrong people find out he is a Christian, they might just kill him, or Hayder’s mother being exasperated with the state of her city, they are all telling.

NE: The film isn’t political, but did it have an underlying lesson?
Winter: I think this film reflects on almost any place that is in the midst of a violent conflict. While militants are shooting at each other, blowing each other up and terrorizing the population to force their allegiance, people go on living. Kids try to go to school. Birthdays are celebrated. Teens hang out and dance to music. Exams are taken. All of these are normal things, all in the midst of incredible violence. Really this film is about the triumph of the collective human spirit.

NE: As you look at Iraq and the upcoming election, what kind of advice would you give to the presidential candidates?
Winter: Take care. Don’t be drawn into simple solutions. And don’t make promises you can’t or shouldn’t keep. We’re all listening around the world. Don’t leave too soon, but don’t stay too long. Many Iraqis have told me that their biggest fear is what will happen after U.S. troops leave. The words “bloodbath” and “massacre” have been used.
It’s great that our candidates meet with the U.S. military and our men and women serving there. It is equally heartening to see them meet different Iraqi faction leaders behind the walls of the Green Zone. But I want more.
I know it is simply too dangerous for the candidates to go out on the street in Baghdad and talk to people in any meaningful sense. But I challenge them, Obama and McCain, to think out of the box here and go to Jordan and listen to Iraqi refugees talk about what they need to happen before they feel it is safe enough for them to return home. I want them to listen to and speak with normal regular Iraqi people, not just the stakeholders.

NE: How much say do you feel the Iraqis themselves should have about the American presence? And what do you believe is the prevailing opinion?
Winter: I think Iraqis should most definitely have the overwhelming say about the American presence. But they should also have a say about the presence of armed militias and corrupt officials. … All of this is a step-by-step process. It can’t really be rushed. And it can’t be done on the cheap either.

NE: If people miss your movie at the Film Festival, is it possible to see it sometime in the future?
Winter: HBO is broadcasting our film on August 4 at 9 p.m. There are no plans for it to be released theatrically, although, I have to admit that is my true dream.

Laura Winter and Ali Shadman, one of the boys in the film, warmly welcome your own questions at the Traverse City Film Festival. They’ll appear at the showing of Baghdad High: Friday at noon at Lars Hockstad Auditorium, and at 9 p.m. at the Old Towne Playhouse.

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