Payment Status Not Available – The drama continues

I kept hearing about more and more people getting their Trump Bucks, but I haven’t seen a damn thing so far. I’ve been checking my account regularly. I’ve been scouring the internet for clues. I’ve been trawling through Twitter for hope.

Then I thought I’d found my salvation.

The IRS released their Get Payment web app early. It wasn’t supposed to be available until the 17th. I clicked the link and waited for my turn…

…but the IRS screwed me with “Payment Status Not Available”.

Bro. I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrated I was. Better on time and working than early and broken.

I know they have my info and I know I qualify. The IRS is quick to take money from people when they owe extra on their taxes and will screw you with fees and penalties on a daily basis if you’re late, but when it’s their turn to pay up, they pretend like they’ve never heard of you.

A few thoughts on the impact of coronavirus in the USA

I’ve heard that there are conspiracy theories floating around that the US created the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. I haven’t bothered to read them, though I know it began with China denying the virus started there, as if their denial can change reality. We all know the first cases of the virus were from people working in a wet market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, and last time I checked, Hubei is part of China.

What’s the point of pushing culpability onto the US? I saw a news headline that mentioned a group of lawyers filing a class action lawsuit against China regarding the coronavirus. Again, didn’t read it, but I imagine it alleges that China tried to cover up the outbreak by silencing/killing doctors who spoke out, and is continuing to downplay the actual numbers of infected and dead. So, I guess China is worried about financial liability and wants to muddy the waters? Are they trying to “save face”? Is it just to maintain some sort of propaganda within China?

Should a country be responsible for a viral outbreak that starts within its territory? I’m inclined to say yes, but only if that outbreak started because the country wasn’t enforcing proper sanitation protocols regarding contact with animals. I don’t even know what that would mean or how you would enforce that, though. What happens if a salmon virus outbreak starts in Japan because people eat sushi, for example? Eating the fish raw is the whole point.

And what kind of sanctions could you impose that wouldn’t cause the offending country to implode? On the one hand, people would like to have a country that caused massive deaths punished, and maybe some would be ok with the country falling to pieces. On the other hand, having a country disintegrate would be dangerous in many other ways, especially if it’s a country like China which supplies so much of the world’s raw materials.

A lot of people have pointed out that this situation shows the dangers of having so much of the world’s production tied up in one country. I agree. I think it’s dangerous for the US to rely so heavily on China for raw materials. It’s obvious why we do, though. The labor there is cheaper so the materials are cheaper. It lets companies price products lower so that companies can also keep wages in the US depressed, allowing for greater wealth concentration.

That’s a pretty dangerous mindset, really. Corporations, with the tacit approval of the US government, have allowed wages in the US to stagnate and fall for decades while allowing an ever greater concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands. It’s a danger to the entire country. If people have no spending power, the economy will collapse. And “the people” aren’t just the rich few. It’s everyone. Capitalism relies on a strong middle class to function properly.

I don’t understand how people can be so strongly in favor of undermining the source of their wealth. Do they think that if the US economy tanks they’ll be ok? Aren’t they worried that the value of their wealth will tank as the US dollar tanks? I’m not an expert in stocks and markets and all that, but it just seems bizarre to me that people who have a vested interest in the economy wouldn’t push harder on legislators to even things out a bit. Or I guess much more than a bit now, considering how severe the income inequality in the US is.

Maybe it’s ok that the US is going through this huge crisis. Maybe it’s even ok that on the other end of it we might not be a superpower anymore. At this point, the only thing super about the US is the US military. Everything else is falling apart. We’re not number 1 in anything. It’s embarrassing and it’s something we should address instead of trying to hide it behind false bravado pretending to be patriotism.

Maybe this is the wake-up call that the US needs to reinvest in the American worker and the American Middle Class. Maybe this is the wake-up call that the US needs to hammer home how important it is to have a national healthcare system that provides services to everyone. A national healthcare system that can act as a single entity, devising emergency plans for pandemics and natural disasters, creating warehouses of emergency inventory that is regularly cycled to maintain its freshness and usability.

Corona Virus Update – Bronx, New York City

I went outside today for the first time since Thursday. It was quiet. Unusually quiet. There wasn’t even much traffic on Jerome Avenue, which was strange for that time of day. It was just me, a guy in a mask and gloves in front of the liquor store, and two people begging for money by the train stairs.

I think the bubonic plague could hit New York City and that woman would still be sitting by the subway stairs asking if anyone has a quarter, though. She’s something special.

Antillana on Jerome Ave has toilet paper. It has paper towels. There are plenty of canned goods too. But there’s no bottled water, which I thought was weird because even in China, Italy, and Spain, the hardest hit areas of the world, they never cut off the water. At least, I never heard that they did. I don’t understand the obsession with buying toilet paper either. Toilet paper isn’t going to save anyone from the virus. And you can wash your butt in the shower if you run out of TP.

Antillana was pretty empty. It felt like an ordinary Sunday evening, though the customers seemed a bit edgy. They had everything I was looking for except bananas. Their bananas were there on display but they were all brown and rotten. Not sure why they left them out. I figure even people who are panic buying aren’t going to buy something that’s rotten. Probably.

Key Food up the hill was quite a bit busier than usual, but still not all that crowded. Not like how I expected it to be. I found some nice bananas there. They seemed to be low on red onions, which struck me as strange. I bought a sweet onion. Not because I was panic buying. We’re just low on onions.

I’m not sure what I expected. You’d think the world was ending based on the images of empty store shelves, fights over toilet paper, and all the closures. I got an update while I was out saying that the public schools are going to be closed through the end of April. The libraries are closed too. I had this feeling while I was on the street that at any moment, a zombie horde might show up and start chasing me. I’m not used to seeing the streets that empty.

I guess this is all about “flattening the curve”.

I saw a politician on Twitter saying that all the restaurants and bars in New York City should be ordered closed, but I don’t see that happening. Not unless the city agrees to discount every business a month’s property taxes or reimburse a month’s rent, plus lost income. And the city would have to agree to reimburse all of the employees for lost wages or something.

A lot of people in New York City and, I imagine, the rest of the country, live paycheck to paycheck. That’s probably especially true here where rent is about $1500 a month even in poor neighborhoods.

You close a business for a month and you make a bunch of people homeless or at risk of homelessness. You cause people to default on credit card payments and miss an electric payment or car payment.

Corona virus hasn’t even hit New York City that hard but it’s already emphasizing the wealth disparity that exists and how dangerous it is for the economy as a whole. You can’t hoard wealth at the top if you want to keep making money. Money has to flow through all segments of the society to keep the economy moving. That’s just how it is. Does it matter how many yachts you can buy if your actions tank the country’s economy and your money no longer has value?

Anyway, I’m going to be heading downtown tomorrow. I’m excited to see how things are in Manhattan.

Reading Response: Nish, Duus, and Mitter on why Japan invaded China

Image by U.S. Army – United States Military Academy, West Point, Public Domain, Wikipedia

 

Ian Nish, “An overview of Relations Between China and Japan, 1895-1945,” The China Quarterly 124 (1990): 601-623.

Peter Duus, “Introduction, Japan’s Wartime Empire: Problems and Issues,” in The Japanese Wartime Empire, 1931-1945 (1996): xi-xlvii.

Rana Mitter, China’s War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival (2013), 1-118.

 

All three authors are presenting arguments about what led up to Japan’s invasion of China. Like LaFeber, Duus focuses primarily on the economic aspect of Japan’s invasion.

Nish promotes the idea that Japan’s expansion into China was strategic and was intended to create a buffer between Japan and the USSR. This point also comes up in Mitter’s work and is interesting because it paints the situation in the Pacific as a sort of preamble to later Cold War politics between the US and the USSR, which would also impact China and Japan by reversing their positions vis-à-vis Western powers. According to Mitter, the US’s preeminence in the region through Japan after the Pacific War would create lasting resentment in China.

Mitter examines the details of internal Chinese politics in an attempt to show that China was more than just a passive victim of Japanese aggression. LaFeber barely touched on China’s role in the war. Nish and Duus both present China as being weak and fragmented, consistently encouraging outside intervention into the conflict. Mitter clearly shows that Chinese nationalists took an active role in shaping China’s future, but internal conflict coupled with external aggression or indifference crippled the country. According to Mitter, China did not become truly unified until active hostilities with Japan broke out. Was the conflict with Japan really the creation of a new national identity based, or simply a convergence of interests among disparate parties? And does a national body have to be unified to be legitimate?

Duus brings up the point that the myth that GEACPS was legitimately for the good of Asia lives on in Japan because people are trying to reestablish a national identity. Guilt is shifted away from Japan onto external forces that supposedly made Japan’s actions necessary. How much of a role did Western colonialism and expansionism play in China’s weaknesses as a country and Japan’s drive to become economically self-reliant? Were there other options available to Japan and what factors prevented those paths from being explored?

Response: Cem Behar’s “A Neighborhood in Ottoman Istanbul: Fruit Vendors and Civil Servants in Kasap Ilyas Mahalle”

In A Neighborhood in Ottoman Istanbul: Fruit Vendors and Civil Servants in Kasap Ilyas Mahalle, Cem Behar attempts to reconstruct the life of an Ottoman Istanbul neighborhood through the use of an exceptional collection of records that he claims are unique to Kasap Ilyas. The records he uses as a primary source for his reconstruction of the mahalle are the notebooks and records of the neighborhood’s imam and (later the) muhtar, which he supplements with data from the 1885 and 1907 censuses and Islamic court records from 1782 to 1924. Additionally, the author attempts to recreate the atmosphere of the neighborhood in the late Ottoman, early Republic period, by interviewing elderly residents of the modern neighborhood.

When considering the information used to create this account, one has to wonder how representative of Istanbul life in general it can possibly be. Behar is careful to point out that Kasap Ilyas’s history and circumstances are certainly unique, and while his findings cannot be used to generalize about Istanbul life, it can be used as a tool to essentially guess at what life in other parts of the city might have been like, given similar circumstances. How many other neighborhoods were there that could have replicated the situation in Kasap Ilyas, however? It does seem to have had many peculiarities, including the large public bath, the nearby wharf, and later the influx of a large population of immigrants from Arapkir. Certainly other parts of Istanbul must have had immigrant populations who were incorporated into society in a similar manner (claims of lost identity papers glossed over by local sponsorship), but how many other neighborhoods also had access to a wharf and warehouses, or to large gardens that provided work opportunities and properly accommodated a working class population? Certainly the elderly inhabitants of the modern neighborhood felt that there was something unique about their neighborhood when they bitterly complained about the destruction of the warehouses and the ‘upper mahalle’ as destroying something essential to their neighborhood.

The unique combination of people and resources (the wharf, gardens, and bath) created a sustainable neighborhood in a city where neighborhoods were routinely absorbed into neighboring mahalles. What I found most interesting about the structure of the neighborhoods, however, is both the diversity of economic classes and the living arrangements. Coming from a Western society, I took for granted that the division of neighborhoods by economic class was a universal occurrence. What factors influenced social norms in Istanbul that made it ok to live in socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods, with beggars living right next to mansions? What made Western society so different? Behar mentions that socioeconomic divisions of neighborhoods didn’t occur until the twentieth century, in response to Western influence. Was it really just as simple as people from similar ethnic and religious groups living together, as a priority over people of similar economic classes living together? Was this common in Islamic cities, or just Ottoman cities, or just in Anatolia? Regarding living arrangements, it was interesting to see that people would often list their business as their residence, but that speaks directly to the economic situation in the neighborhood.

Behar used the itinerant vending of fresh fruits as an example of an informal trade network and then used it to describe the difference between the common activities of recent immigrants from Arapkir to Kasap Ilyas and the more established Istanbulites who had stable businesses governed by regulations and guild organizations. He described an informal network as requiring little or no skill, no permit or license, and little to no startup costs. The only true requirement is that one have a customer base, which Behar describes as a “solid network of personal relations” (115). Behar’s point was probably to show what factors made Kasap Ilyas such an attractive point of entry to Istanbul for the Arapkir immigrants. The Arapkirlis had previously established a system of patronage through the retinue of a pasha who brought his household back to Kasap Ilyas. Alone, this would not have been enough, but because of the presence of the large vegetable gardens, like the Langa gardens, the Arapkirlis were able to incorporate themselves into the larger Istanbul economy through “entry-level” work. Certainly many maintained that lifestyle. Behar describes fathers and sons performing this work together, but Behar also describes other Arapkirlis using fruit vending as a starting point for upward mobility through civil service. I’m sure that there are many cities in many parts of the world that have experienced similar patterns of immigrant exploitation of a resource to establish an ethnically homogenous presence in a city where greater opportunities for social mobility are present. Considering the high rate of population turnover in the neighborhood, it is likely that not only the Arapkirlis were taking advantage of the neighborhood’s usefulness as a socioeconomic stepping stone.

One area of Behar’s work that I found problematic was his assumption of familiarity with foreign language terms. Of course, when writing this type of history, it would be fair to assume that the reader has some familiarity with ‘Islamic’ terms, but Behar’s text is liberally sprinkled with Latin phrases and words that have been borrowed from German. He places these phrases in Italics, signaling their rare usage, but then fails to give a definition. Admittedly, a reader could simply pick up a dictionary to learn the meaning on his own, but if Behar knew the usage of those phrases was problematic and put them in italics, he could have gone the extra mile and defined them at their first usage as well. There were also instances where he deliberately used a Latin word where an English word would have sufficed, like on page 40 where he uses nomenklatura instead of “nomenclature”. Given the context, it is unclear whether he is using the Latin term to replace the English term or if he is making a reference to different statuses within the elite classes of Communist bureaucracies. Another problematic use of language is on page 90, where Behar indicates that the ‘surname’ “binti Abdullah” is significant in connoting conversion to Islam, but does not explain why.

Overall, Cem Behar’s work does an outstanding job of using records to create an image of what Kasap Ilyas might have looked like over the course of Ottoman control of Istanbul. It helps the reader to understand the social and economic dynamics at play in the neighborhood and the city in general, as well as how neighborhoods operated internally.