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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Robert Downes

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Bailing out America

Random Thoughts Robert Downes Are you kicking up your heels at the thought of your tax rebate this spring?
Yeah, sure.
But do you think the extra goodies in the mail are going to solve America’s economic problems? Probably not.
Congress has crafted an economic rescue package which will provide tax rebates of $600 for each taxpaying American, with $1,200 for married couples, plus $300 per child. That will mean a check in the mail to 117 million families.
Monday, January 21, 2008

Wrapping it up

Random Thoughts Robert Downes There’s not much left to tell: I spent a week kicking around Malaysia in the horrible heat and humidity, lounging on the beaches on the isle of Penang and enjoying hikes in the jungle with my monkey and butterfly friends. Then came the urban jungle of Singapore, alleged to be the “most boring city in the world.”
Monday, January 14, 2008

All Aboard

Random Thoughts Robert Downes Clickety-clack, down the track. If you ever go to Vietnam, the Reunification Express is a good way to see the country, running some 900 miles between Hanoi and Saigon.
The tracks were bombed to smithereens during the war, but were rebuilt with help from the Russians in the late ’70s. India donated some hand-me-down trains, some of which are still on the rails. Today, the train is packed with both western tourists and Vietnamese, poking along at around 40 mph.
Monday, January 7, 2008

Good Morning Vietnam

Random Thoughts Robert Downes A young soldier waves to me at the 1,000-year-old Temple of Literature in Hanoi and asks if he can have his photo taken with the funny looking Westerner wearing a cowboy hat. Hell yeah.
Soon, I’m posing with half a platoon of Vietnamese soldiers with our arms over each others’ shoulders in a grip & grin shot. They’re all smiling from ear-to-ear. It’s an eerie feeling, because a generation ago, these kids would have been mortal enemies of the gringo in their midst.
Monday, December 31, 2007

The Missing

Random Thoughts Robert Downes You hear American music everywhere you go in Asia, and see American films and TV. There’s a “Texas Hold ’Em” pinball machine in the restaurant at my hotel, and a McDonald’s right downstairs. But one thing I haven’t found are any living, breathing citizens of the United States.
There were mobs of us in Prague, back in the Czech Republic, but after that, it was as if the people from Tennessee, Texas, Alabama and Ohio all dropped off the map. I saw a tour bus of them in Egypt, with my countrymen hidden behind black windows and sheltered in the fortified Hilton on the Nile behind armed guards -- they might as well have been traveling in a Thermos. But I haven’t found any mingling with the hordes of Swedes, Germans, Russians, Finns, Spaniards, Aussies and New Zealanders that you find everywhere here in Backpacker Land. So far, I’ve met just two others: nurses Helen and Jason, who were on my tour in Egypt.
Thursday, December 27, 2007

Paradise lost & found

Random Thoughts Robert Downes If you go traveling around the world in search of paradise, you are likely to be sadly disappointed. Every time you see a beautiful beach or a waterfall in a travel brochure, all it means is that the photographer was able to sweep thousands of tourists out of the way long enough to grab a shot before they all came flooding back again. We travelers tend to love beautiful places to death.

Such was the case at Patong Beach on the island of Phuket in southern Thailand, where I’m continuing my slow journey around the planet. I had expected Patong to be a bustling place, but thought there would at least be some sandy lanes and secluded beaches to enjoy. Instead, there are thousands of shops and restaurants here, packed like a train wreck into a two-mile strip of beach, with tens of thousands of tourists from all over the world: Russia, England, Germany, Australia, India -- but again, no Americans that I’ve seen.
Thursday, December 20, 2007

Life on Planet Backpacker

Random Thoughts Robert Downes What could be finer than riding an elephant up a jungle trail under the cool green mountains of northern Thailand? The elephants stretch out in a long line down the trail, their ears flapping and bodies swaying in the sun. Far below, a river crashes in a wild torrent through a jungle canyon. And the palm trees along the trail explode with the green fire of the sun. I’m swept away by a vision beyond my wildest dreams.
It’s just another day on Planet Backpacker, and one of the best, I might add. They’re not all this good: sometimes you’re covered with mosquito bites, wondering if you’ll contract Dengue fever (aka: “bone-crushing fever”), or stuck for 16 hours in a dismal airport lounge. Or scrambling around after midnight in a strange town and an unfriendly neighborhood, looking for a place to crash.
But that’s the gig, and I’ve gotten to know the backpacking brotherhood (and sisterhood) quite well in the past three months on my way around the world. Life on Planet Backpacker is a world with its own customs, capitals and highways.
Thursday, December 13, 2007

The World‘s Biggest Birthday Party

Random Thoughts Robert Downes There’s something spooky about being jammed like jelly into a crowd of more than a million people. I decide that if all hell breaks loose, I’ll climb the nearest tree and wait for it to all blow over.
By dumb luck, I’ve arrived in
Bangkok, Thailand on the eve of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 80th birthday. The Thai people are nuts about the king -- even more so now that there was a military coup here last year and he represents a sense of stability. There are billboard-sized posters of his face all over town and arches over the main roads that are foiled in gold with his picture. The king is not exactly Mr. Charisma -- he’s a bookish-looking old man in gold-framed glasses -- but to the Thai people, he’s got more pizazz than a rock superstar.
Monday, December 3, 2007

Stranger in a Strange Land

Random Thoughts Robert Downes If any of you are weary of winter’s chill in Northern Michigan, I invite you to jump on a plane and join me on the beaches of Goa in southern India, where -- I must confess -- it’s a bit lonely going it alone under the pulsing sun.
After two-and-a-half months of constant travel on my way around the world, I’ve left my backpacking chums to roost for 12 days on the Indian Ocean as a respite from being constantly on the move.
The village of Calangute in the state of Goa is hardly the paradise it’s cracked up to be. I half expected to find 20 miles of high-rise hotels, similar to Cancun, but instead it’s much the same squalor and anarchy as the rest of India, with hotels, restaurants and shops (and hundreds of hustlers) packed into narrow lanes paralleling the beach.
Thursday, November 29, 2007

On the Road in India

Random Thoughts Robert Downes A fruit bat the size of a cocker spaniel wheels overhead in broad daylight and flaps off into a grove of coconut palms on lazy wings.
Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Faraway Land

Random Thoughts Robert Downes The women of India are like wildflowers, each one dressed in colors to make a garden blush.
Canary and tangerine salwar suits; saris in coral, turquoise and royal purple, ribboned with silver and gold or spangled with sequins. Colors of sapphire, topaz and electric red... Most women here dress to kill, dripping with heavy, intricate jewelry of silver and gold and often wearing the tikka powder spot on their foreheads which marks them as Hindus.
Thursday, November 15, 2007

On Holy Ground

Random Thoughts Robert Downes The last 750 steps up the Stairs of Repentance are straight up the crags of Mt. Sinai, but once at the top, you find yourself at one of the holiest spots on earth -- the place where God delivered the 10 Commandments to Moses.
It’s a 4.2 mile hike up the mountain which is the second highest in Egypt at more than 6,000 feet. There was no trail here when Moses made the climb thousands of years ago. You can imagine him clawing his way up through the loose rock on his hands and knees, searching for a way up through the cliffs. He must have been bleeding from head to foot and covered with flies by the time he reached the summit. But here, in a state of exhaustion and ecstasy, he spent 40 days and nights communing with God.
Thursday, November 8, 2007

Walk like an Egyptian

Random Thoughts Robert Downes With the full moon rising behind the ancient Temple of Luxor, I find myself in what was once the heart of Egypt, far down the Nile on a trip that is taking me around the world.
Arriving in Cairo a week ago put me into a state of culture shock. This is one of the world’s ‘supercities’ with a population of more than 20 million, and most of the people in Egypt are dirt poor. The city itself is the filthiest I’ve ever been in, owing to the fact that it only rains three or four times a year, so there’s nothing to wash away the grime. Then there’s the insane traffic, with no rules and few stoplights, and temperatures in the 90s. But I’m cheered to think that the grunge will prepare me for even scruffier places down the line.
Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Invaders

Random Thoughts Robert Downes Word has it that less than 20 years ago, the citizens of communist East Europe were still standing in line, waiting for potatoes and beets at truck depots. Maybe that was just Cold War propaganda, but it’s true that the museums here can’t seem to say enough bad things about the bad old days of life under communism.
Today, all that has changed. I walked out of the grungy, grimy train station in Krakow, Poland and through a tunnel into a huge three-story mall as big as the Grand Traverse Mall in TC. It had your typical mall babes walking around in the latest styles and many of the same stores found in the U.S. If it weren’t for the great Polish food and generous beer steins in the food court, you’d swear you were in Grand Rapids.
I’ve spent the past two weeks barnstorming around Central and East Europe on an extended trip around the world. Vienna, Austria. Prague in the Czech Republic. Krakow, Poland. And now, Budapest in Hungary. The streets of each town are filled with invaders -- foreign tourists from all around the world. In Prague, I heard more American voices downtown than those of the Czechs. East Europe is the new ‘in’ place to visit, owing to the (slightly) cheaper prices than France, Britain or Germany.
Thursday, October 18, 2007

Biking to Budapest

Random Thoughts Robert Downes Greetings from Prague, the “Capital of Cool” in Europe during the ‘90s. I’m happy to report that it’s still pretty cool with its cobblebrick streets, mammoth castle, clock towers, coffeehouses and cheap beer. Also, hordes of travelers from every land crowding its colorful streets.
After biking 225 miles down the Danube in Austria and bushwhacking various ‘bandit’ campsites along the river, I now have the benefit of regular showers and meals. The downside is losing the privacy of my soggy pup tent, which means sharing hostel rooms with up to seven strangers.
As mentioned in previous columns, I’m fulfilling a lifelong dream of traveling around the world -- close to the edge -- starting out with Europe on a bicycle. So far, I’ve biked up the lush coast of western Ireland and from sea-to-sea across England; then down Der Donau, as we call it in Austria -- about 700 miles.