Thoughts on “The View From Flyover Country”

When I picked up The View From Flyover Country by Sarah Kendzior, I thought the book was going present a conservative or at least rural perspective on life and politics in the United States. I’m bombarded with the liberal and progressive viewpoint every day in almost every single news broadcast and social media post. The right-leaning viewpoints that do get airtime seem to be too far to the right of the political spectrum to be worth listening to. I was hoping for something center right, or traditional right, I guess.

Unfortunately, this book is written by a liberal from a Midwest city. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. It’s just not what I wanted. The book is a collection of essays and, after having finished reading the book, they come across as kind of mixed bag. The most impressive point of the book so far is how prescient some of the author’s insights were, considering that she wrote most of the essays prior to the 2016 election cycle for Al Jazeera.

Kendzior’s diatribe against gentrification is well-intended but comes across as shallow and offensive. She had an opportunity to look at how class differences and the concentration of wealth were playing out in urban environments. Instead, she uses the issue to present whites as evil oppressors of minorities, forgetting that not all gentrifiers are white because not all wealthy people are white. “Hipsters” are a visible and catchy way to present gentrification but it ignores economic realities. Gentrification isn’t a race issue; it’s an economic issue and a class issue. Kendzior could have used gentrification as a segue into a discussion of income inequality but she chose to go the easy and provocative but less informative route of blaming white people.

The section on underemployment and low pay are masterful. Kendzior isn’t saying anything that I haven’t heard before, but she said it before it was common discourse and her arguments are clear and well made. The situation she describes is maddening. Kendzior’s essay sounds more like she’s describing the plot of a dystopian fiction than reality.

How does an adjunct lecturer work for a college for decades and die making penniless while still only making $10k a year? It sounds like the money in universities, like in the rest of US society, is being funneled into bureaucratic bloat instead of into paying educators. It should be illegal for companies to pay wages so low that costs are shifted onto taxpayers in the form of social welfare programs.

But how can we implement a system of enforcement that won’t result in companies further reducing their workforces and overworking those who remain? It is something that will have to be forced. And it can be done. Companies paid living wages before. We had living wages and dignity. We can get there again. Will it take massive riots and strikes before our aristocratic Congress finally acts on behalf of the American people? Before they remember that they work for us and not for corporations?

Regarding how Islam is portrayed, she writes under the assumption that US news organizations want to tell the news in an accurate and unbiased way, but they don’t. Of course, she probably had her suspicions about that when she was writing, but the true extent of the news industry’s dishonesty didn’t become apparent until after the 2016 election, when people simply couldn’t reconcile Hillary’s guaranteed win with the actual outcome. It’s almost as if the media industry was trying to create reality and expected the American people to act according to the narrative that they had presented.

The disillusionment and shock people felt after the 2016 election cycle was heightened all the more by the clash between what they thought the US was, what they thought it stood for, and the reality of the country’s situation. Honesty and complex reporting don’t get clicks. It doesn’t generate ad revenue. It doesn’t sell because most people don’t want to read the truth. They don’t have time. With the wealth disparity in this country, most people spend so much time working or thinking about working, that they can’t find the energy or will to engage with social or political discourse in any meaningful way. So, they look for cheap entertainment that doesn’t require thought. They want to hear about Snooki’s butt implants, so news producers have turned reporting news into another form of reality entertainment. The more spin there is, the better for ratings, ad impressions, and revenue.

For me, there were two big takeaways from The View From Flyover Country. One, the impact of income inquality, the wealth gap, on US society has far reaching consequences. Combined with a failure by our news organizations to maintain journalistic principles and keep the public informed can undermine our republic and cause more damage to US society than any foreign attacker.

Podcasts Addressing ISIS returnees to Western countries

A screenshot of the BBC iPlayer page for "Back Home from ISIS", a podcast about an ISIS returnee to the UK

A screenshot of the BBC iPlayer page for “Back Home from ISIS”, a podcast about an ISIS returnee to the UK

Podcasts on ISIS Returnees

Back Home From ISIS” is a BBC documentary podcast. Along with the Caliphate series by Rukmini Callimachi at the New York Times, it is a great introduction to the problems that Western governments and societies face when ISIS members (former and current) leave the war-zone and return to their countries of citizenship. In the podcast, the BBC interviews an ISIS widow who returned to the UK after spending time in the Middle East and a Turkish prison.

The Caliphate podcast series focuses on an ISIS returnee to Canada. Abu Hussayfa, as he prefers to be called, discusses the time he spent in Syria and how he is trying to reintegrate into Canadian society. The podcast goes on to cover interviews with victims in the Middle East and an exploration of ISIS documents discovered while in the field.

As, or if, I find more podcasts related to the topic, I’ll come back and list them here.

Thoughts on ISIS Returnees

What do you do with ISIS when the Caliphate collapses? I had a conversation about this with members of a Facebook group called Muslims for Progressive Values. MPV is essentially an interfaith group with members who are Muslim, non-Muslim, agnostic, atheist, and/or secularist. The group discusses primarily Muslim and Islam-related issues. Someone posted a link to a story about a Glasgow student who had her UK passport stripped from her after the UK determined that she had traveled to Syria to be the wife of an ISIS member.

Stripping Citizenship

Stripping former (and probably current) members of ISIS of their citizenship for engaging in terrorism is a pretty solid move. It effectively prevents those people from entering a Western country that they’re ideologically at war with and carrying out attacks. It’s also a great punishment. If you don’t like “the West”, then why should you have the privilege of being a citizen of a Western country? And why would we give you access to a place you want to destroy?

I found out later that the UK is only doing this to people who hold dual citizenship, which is also fine, but that leaves the problem of what to do with people who only have UK citizenship (or single citizenship of any country). I believe that terrorists should be denied re-entry to their country of origin and should be returned to Iraq or Syria to be tried and sentenced for the crimes they committed there. Why should they get to avoid what could and should be a harsher sentence by being tried under the laws of a Western country?

Extraterritoriality and Justice

Another commenter in the MPV group disagreed and said ISIS members shouldn’t be left in Syria or Iraq because of the lower quality of the justice systems there, which seems absurd to me. In a way, it reminds me of when the Taliban refused to turn Osama bin Laden over to the US for trial and insisted that he be given a trial in a neutral third-party country instead. The same MPV commenter also expressed concern about Western countries “dumping” ISIS members on Syria and Iraq, though I don’t think Iraqis and Syrians see it that way. Perhaps I’m just projecting, but I believe they’d be happier having the ISIS fighters remain there so they can seek justice.

The idea that someone shouldn’t be subject to the laws and judicial system of a country where they’ve committed crimes is a colonialist mindset. It’s a status called “extraterritoriality”. It was weaponized and used against the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s to undermine the government’s sovereignty. Plus, it’s just common sense that you would face charges in the country where you committed a crime. It’s also an accepted international practice. If you commit a crime in a country and manage to flee, the government of the country where the crime took place requests that you be extradited for trial.

The quality of the judicial system where the crimes took place or how the penalties stack up compared to what’s common in Western countries shouldn’t matter. These terrorist jackasses traveled to the Middle East and tried to build a terrorist state on the burning remains of Iraq and Syria. They committed murder, rape, ethnic cleansing, theft, destruction of cultural heritage, and who knows how many other crimes against both individuals, groups, and the countries themselves. Why would they not be made to face justice in those countries for crimes committed both in and against those countries?

Let them hang

Why would we not want to allow victims to get justice? These days, the only people with a form of extraterritoriality are diplomats, who have diplomatic immunity from lawsuits and prosecution unless that immunity is waived by the diplomat’s home country. Michael Fay got caned in Singapore for theft and vandalism in 1994. He didn’t get a pass. Why should terrorists? If they get hanged, they get hanged. If they’re beaten to death by a mob that drags them out of the jail, well, that’s not a great way to die, but for an ISIS member? I don’t really have any pity.

A Look Inside the Caliphate: A podcast about ISIS by Rukmini Callimachi

I started listening to this podcast a few weeks ago and I can’t get over how great it was. I was really disappointed when it ended at only 10 Chapters. I was hoping it would go further and that Callimachi would keep following up on the aftermath of ISIS in the Middle East.

I’d like to hear more about ISIS fighters that are returning to Western countries and trying to avoid prosecution. I’d like to learn more about how Western countries are dealing with this problem, like, for example, how the UK is stripping some ISIS members of their UK passports. I’d also like to hear more “human interest” reports from people on the ground that were affected personally by ISIS. I’d rather hear it in an interview and investigative audio format than read about it later. Somehow, it seems more real and it’s certainly more engaging.

The Caliphate podcast itself is well done, engaging, and informative. If you have any interest in the Middle East, I highly recommend it. I do need to warn you that most of the episodes contain descriptions of extreme violence, sometimes narrated by the perpetrators of that violence in interviews and sometimes by their victims. It starts out with interviews of an ISIS member who returned to Canada, Abu Hussayfa (nom de guerre), and then moves on to other topics, including scouring the front lines for documentation.

I suppose what intrigued me the most about the podcast is how normal “Abu Hussayfa” sounds, considering what he did in Syria. I was also interested in how he tried to justify and excuse his actions. That seemed to be a trend among the people interviewed, which isn’t surprising in and of itself. The religious justifications he chose to use were what I found interesting.

I was surprised to find out just how bureaucratic and organized ISIS was. I had this idea in my head that it was organized in the sense of being a good fighting group, but the fact that they kept careful financial records, criminal justice records, and had a hierarchical administration was unexpected. I suppose it’s hard to picture ISIS, on the one hand, destroying historical sites for being “haram,” and on the other hand acting like a modern bureaucratic state.

Anyhow, again, if you have an interest in the Middle East you should really find time to listen to this podcast.

Regarding Open Borders

I’m all for helping genuine refugees and asylum seekers, but just opening up the US borders and letting everyone in the world that’s a “good person” come flooding in just wouldn’t work. It shouldn’t even have to be said that it wouldn’t work. It’s obvious. It’s common sense. Just on the face of it, how many “good people” do you think are out there that would pack up and move here? Hundreds of millions, more than likely. And you have to ask yourself, can the country actually support that many people? Is there space to just let everyone that wants to come here show up and claim a spot? What spot are they going to claim? What jobs are they going to take? Who’s going to support them all while they get settled in?

The US is only so big and only has so many resources and there’s no reason that this country, out of all the countries in the world, should take a fat dump on its citizens and prioritize foreigners or create unnecessary competition…just because they’re good people. Countries are established for the citizens of that country. Governments are established to promote the interests of citizens of the country, not the citizens of other countries while using its own citizens as a piggy bank. The United States of America is a country. It is a country. It is not a destination for everyone in the world that is looking to make a better life for themselves. The US is not obligated to take in everyone in the world. The US is not obligated to let someone remain in the United States just because they’re a hard worker. Being a hard worker doesn’t qualify someone for citizenship unless it’s a skilled job category that the US has identified a domestic shortage in, and even then someone in the country illegally wouldn’t qualify because they are in the country illegally

The United States has an immigration system that prioritizes skilled labor and family members and accommodates actual asylum seekers and refugees. It has a 100% fair, flat quota (which, by definition is not racist or prejudiced because it doesn’t prioritize or favor any one group), for every country in the world. It doesn’t play favorites. Everyone has an equal chance if they have a skill that’s needed. If they don’t, why is that our problem? The US isn’t here to provide shelter to everyone in the world.

No one is entitled to come to the US. No one. Immigrants, legal or illegal, do not have a right to citizenship. It is a privilege granted by the US government to desirable candidates. Those desirable candidates are defined in the Immigration Act of 1965. Take a look at the 1965 Immigration Act if you’re not sure what our immigration system is supposed to achieve. If you don’t think it’s fair, open a book (or even Wikipedia) and look at what it replaced. Also, open a dictionary and look up the definition of the word “fair”.

This country is falling apart and is far from #1 in any category except military power and that’s not ok. We need to get our own country together and stop worrying about foreigners who should be working to make their own countries better instead of putting all of their efforts into finding loopholes to bypass our immigration process.

The amount of money and effort and time being spent on frivolous asylum and refugee claims and deportations could be redirected into our education system (because it obviously needs it, judging by the state of public discourse on social forums), infrastructure, and caring for this country’s needy citizens. There are thousands of homeless people that could use programs to help them get back on their feet. There are thousands of school children that don’t get enough to eat each day. Countries need “me time” too, and this country needs time to focus on self-repair.

I believe that every immigrant that arrives here legally through the regular immigration process is entitled to pursue their interests with all the rights, obligations, and privileges that come with permanent residency and, if they choose, citizenship. I am 100% for legal immigration from all corners of the world and in favor of taking in genuine refugees and asylum seekers. However, I just cannot support illegal immigrants, no matter how good they are. Yes, the US is a nation of immigrants.

Yes, people migrated here before there were set borders and established immigration laws. However, this isn’t the 1600s. This is 2018. We have immigration laws and restrictions, like every other country in the world, and we have them to make sure the US continues to prosper economically.

My Norfolk Island Pine isn’t dead so I committed to a new pot

Just before Christmas, I was in Trader Joe’s in Edgewater, NJ, getting groceries and I saw that they had small Norfolk Island pine trees for sale. We have a small apartment and we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of getting a real tree for Christmas, so we got a fake 3-foot tree that I could stuff back into a box and put away once the holiday was over. It’s not really the same, though, and I wanted something evergreen in the house, so I bought one of the Norfolk Island pines.

Plants in a Raskog utility cart from Ikea

Plants in a Raskog utility cart from Ikea

It’s really small. There are actually five different plants, all planted close together. It doesn’t have a very strong pine smell. At first, I was disappointed by that, but if I’m going to keep the pines all year long, that’s probably a bonus. The smell of evergreen tree might get old after a while, like using the same air freshener in your car for too long.

Before last summer, I’d only had two cacti as plants. The first died when I went to basic training for the Army in 1998 and I forgot to ask someone to water it. The second died in 2013 because the apartment we were in just didn’t get enough light and I wasn’t savvy enough to know about plant growing lights and little plant aquariums for succulents. I wanted to make our current apartment more green, though, both to improve the air quality and to try to connect our concrete-jungle life to nature in some small way. Besides our cats, that is. So, I picked up a vine plant that I already forgot the name of but seems pretty hardy and does well in low. I got three stalks of lucky bamboo. And, the Norfolk Island pine was our latest addition.

The vine and bamboo are pretty hardy. I feel like I’d have to try hard to kill them. I wasn’t sure the pine tree was going to make it though, especially since there isn’t that much light during the winter here. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see it still hanging on at the beginning of this month. I decided to commit to the plant and got a new pot, good potting soil, a clamp lamp and a grow bulb to offset the low winter light.

I think it looks great. One of these days, if we decide to buy a house, maybe I’ll be able to plant it in the ground. I wonder how fast they grow?