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Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
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Journal Archives

Most of the World Doesn’t Like Our Unaccountable Flying Death Robots By: Jon Walker



Amazingly, American flying robots that can rain death down on almost anywhere on Earth, with very little accountability, are not popular among the people forced to live on Earth. From Pew Research:

Widespread Opposition to Drones

Nothing wins hearts and minds like flying death machines.

How to clean up a broken CFL bulb


If a fluorescent light comes crashing down onto your kitchen floor, releasing the mercury trapped within, you don't need to panic. Just follow these steps to safely get things cleaned up...
First things first, you don't need to panic. While mercury is nothing to play around with, the amount contained inside a standard CFL is only about 1 percent of the amount that you'll find inside an old-fashioned mercury thermometer. Still, to be safe, you'll want to be sure that you clean the mess up correctly -- here's how to do just that, per EPA standards.

Step one: Air out the area

As soon as that bulb breaks, you'll want to let the room air out for about 15 minutes. Get everyone out (especially pets, who might be inclined to investigate the mess), then open the windows and shut the doors. You'll also want to be sure and turn off your central air -- the last thing you want is to circulate that mercury throughout your home.

Step two: Find a sealable container

While you're avoiding the area in question, go ahead and take a moment to find something capable of containing that broken bulb. A glass jar with a metal lid is ideal, but if you don't have one handy, a plastic food container or even a sealable plastic bag will do the trick.

Step three: Pick up the pieces

You'll be tempted to sweep everything up with a broom -- but don't. Anything that rifles through the broken bits of your bulb is going to risk mercury contamination. You'll also want to be sure not to use your vacuum, as doing so will risk kicking mercury back up into the air.

The best bet is to carefully scoop up the larger bits of glass with a piece of paper or cardboard, something you can easily dispose of along with the broken bulb. Once the big pieces are up, try using a piece of duct tape to easily lift the tinier bits, along with any white powder that you see. You could also use a piece of bread -- just don't eat it afterwards.

Step four: Wipe the floor clean

Once you've gotten the glass up off of the floor, you'll need to wipe things down with a damp paper towel. You'll want to go over the area fairly liberally, making sure not to leave any of that white powder from the bulb behind...Once you're done, add that used paper towel to the container with the paper, the tape, and the broken glass. Go ahead and seal it up, then take it outside. Now would also be a good time to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.

Step five: Let the room air out for another few hours

You've gotten the floor spic and span, but there still might be trace amounts of mercury vapor left in the air. If you're able to, leave the windows open and the air conditioning off for another couple of hours. Better safe than sorry, right?

Step six: Dispose of the broken bulb

Depending on your local regulations, you might not be required to take the broken bulb to a recycling center. It's a good idea nonetheless, as you don't want that mercury sent off to a landfill, where it might slowly leech into the ground. The waste management section of your local government's website should have info on which facilities will take hazardous household materials off of your hands.


A new American political order? By Burkely Hermann


Recently, pollsters found out, via ‘We Need Smith,’ which is a self-declared “movement of Americans who believe we need new leaders because our country is badly headed in the wrong direction” and not relying on the “usual politics,” what they called the “battlelines of a new political order.” I’m not sure how I feel about this whole ‘We Need Smith’ movement, and as a result I will continue to be critical. This article will not only debut my new chart, the ‘People Policy Counter,’ but it will include charts and data on overarching views of the American public presented by the said pollsters, and other polls. And if you have any suggestions, please share them below.

The People Policy Counter

Basically, the People Policy Counter is a list of 100 issues that a majority of the American people believe, which is then compared to the positions of politicians (hopefully) and political parties. From my tabulations, I found that (numbers ordered by amount of agreement with the American people):

  1. The Green Party agrees with the American people 79% of the time
  2. The Justice Party agrees with the American people 61% of the time
  3. President Obama agrees with the American people 28% of the time
  4. The Democratic Party agrees with the American people 25% of the time
  5. The Libertarian Party agrees with the American people 24% of the time
  6. The Constitution Party agrees with the American people 21% of the time
  7. The Republican Party agrees with the American people 6% of the time

These results are not trying to advocate for any of the said parties, or President Obama. I tried to take my bias toward certain issues out of the equation, and I mostly just searched on the Gallup website, snatching up poll results as I went. Rather, taken from a number of polls (probably over 50), it is meant to show how in line these political parties are with the opinions of the American people. As it turns out, only the centre-left Justice Party and the Green Party agree with the American public most of the time, more often than most. There were also a number of issues that I did not know the opinions of the said parties, so I did not fill them out, meaning that the percentages came out of the total of 100 issues. Hopefully, I can expand this to other politicians in the future. Here are some interesting positions that NONE of the parties took (to my knowledge) but the American people believe:

  • national referendum on key issues if voters request it
  • shorten primary season to five months
  • have a nationwide primary election, not individual state primaries
  • term limits for politicians in US Senate and US House
  • Super PACs should be illegal and there would be less corruption in the political system if there were limits on how much could be given to Super PACs
  • attack social problems as a way to lower the crime rate

Before I get to the polls conducted by ‘We Need Smith,’ here are some polls which I didn’t use in my People’s Policy Counter but are still interesting, adding questions about a ‘new political order’ emerging in the United States:


Results from a recent poll by Rasmussen, which is usually a conservative polling organization:

Here’s a graph from Gallup showing Americans are losing confidence in ALL branches of federal government:

Polls by ‘We Need Smith’

Now for some of the polls from ‘We Need Smith’ which I turned into a graphic:

Further analysis

Yet, while these poll results are encouraging, one must remember that it is only applying to American voters. What about the Americans who don’t vote! That’s what makes this polling troubling. Americans in general, one should not forget still view socialism negatively, even though 36% view it positively, including a good amount of liberals, and even some conservatives and moderates. Still, as Gallup notes,

“Socialism” is not a completely negative term in today’s America. About a third of Americans respond positively when they hear the term. Some of this reaction may reflect unusual or unclear understandings of what socialism means. Reaction to the term is not random, however, as attested by the finding that positive images are significantly differentiated by politics and ideology.

However, what Gallup says about an “unusual and unclear understanding” of socialism is silly as they provide no evidence to back up that claim, and criticizing those who think of the word positively just reinforces their moderate position as a polling organization.

There is more. It is clear that Americans are wary of Big Business and rightly critical of it. After all, US banks and financial institutions are trusted more than two times less than small business, as noted in a Gallup poll. Similarly, Americans do not have a great of confidence in other parts of American society as well: big business, the U.S. Supreme Court, the criminal justice system, the medical system, newspapers, the presidency, the healthcare system, public schools, television news and news on the internet, and Congress. Even organized religion/the church does not have a great deal of confidence from the American people. Sadly, there is low confidence in organized labor while there is high confidence in the military (74% have confidence) and a majority having confidence in the police (53% have confidence).

With the American people having a great deal of confidence in the military and the police, two of the institutions in established society which work to maintain the existing order, makes me question that we are on the “battlelines of a new political order.” Yes, the American people clearly believe in policies which I would say are overwhelmingly social democratic and yes, this is a basis for a transpartisan coalition (a ‘left-right coalition’) against the powers that be. After all, Americans do in some sense or another constitute a “silent radical majority” compared to those currently in power. But, this does not mean that Americans want to overturn the existing system and put in something like, say ‘modified socialism’ as Martin Luther King mentioned once. Rather, the people want reforms that would tweak the existing system. There are definitely some ideas that should be pushed forward, like single-payer healthcare and ending the wars (and general anti-interventionism) that the American people definitely support. However, no one should be fooled into thinking that these polls evidence a new political order, but rather that they show the need for the removing of the shackles of capitalists in order to confront the climate catastrophe and capitalist system itself.

Weekend Economists' Bad Boys' Review: Benedict Arnold July 18-20, 2014

So, what was the story with the Egg Man? (Eggs Benedict is my favorite breakfast, with the exception of chocolate waffles...)

Benedict Arnold (January 14, 1741 {O.S. January 3, 1740} – June 14, 1801) was a general during the American Revolutionary War who originally fought for the American Continental Army but defected to the British Army. While a general on the American side, he obtained command of the fortifications at West Point, New York (future site of the U.S. Military Academy after 1802), overlooking the cliffs at the Hudson River (upriver from British-occupied New York City), and planned to surrender it to the British forces. After the plan was exposed in September 1780, he was commissioned into the British Army as a brigadier general.

Born in Connecticut, Arnold was a merchant operating ships on the Atlantic Ocean when the war broke out in 1775. After joining the growing army outside Boston, he distinguished himself through acts of intelligence and bravery. His actions included the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, defensive and delaying tactics despite losing the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain in 1776, the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut (after which he was promoted to major general), operations in relief of the Siege of Fort Stanwix, and key actions during the pivotal Battles of Saratoga in 1777, in which he suffered leg injuries that ended his combat career for several years.

Despite Arnold's successes, he was passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress while other officers claimed credit for some of his accomplishments. Adversaries in military and political circles brought charges of corruption or other malfeasance, but most often he was acquitted in formal inquiries. Congress investigated his accounts and found he was indebted to Congress after spending much of his own money on the war effort. Frustrated and bitter at this, as well the alliance with France and failure of Congress to accept Britain's 1778 proposal to grant full self-governance in the colonies, Arnold decided to change sides and opened secret negotiations with the British. In July 1780, he was offered, continued to pursue and was awarded command of West Point. Arnold's scheme to surrender the fort to the British was exposed when American forces captured British Major John André carrying papers that revealed the plot. Upon learning of André's capture, Arnold fled down the Hudson River to the British sloop-of-war Vulture, narrowly avoiding capture by the forces of George Washington, who had been alerted to the plot.

Arnold received a commission as a brigadier general in the British Army, an annual pension of £360, and a lump sum of over £6,000. He led British forces on raids in Virginia, and against New London and Groton, Connecticut, before the war effectively ended with the American victory at Yorktown. In the winter of 1782, Arnold moved to London with his second wife, Margaret "Peggy" Shippen Arnold. He was well received by King George III and the Tories, but frowned upon by the Whigs. In 1787, he returned to the merchant business with his sons Richard and Henry in Saint John, New Brunswick. He returned to London to settle permanently in 1791, where he died ten years later.

Because of the way he changed sides, his name quickly became a byword in the United States for treason or betrayal. His conflicting legacy is recalled in the ambiguous nature of some of the memorials that have been placed in his honor....

And as for the egg dish:

There are conflicting accounts as to the origin of eggs Benedict, including: In an interview recorded in the "Talk of the Town" column of The New Yorker in 1942, the year before his death, Lemuel Benedict, a retired Wall Street stock broker, claimed that he had wandered into the Waldorf Hotel in 1894 and, hoping to find a cure for his morning hangover, ordered "buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a hooker of Hollandaise." Oscar Tschirky, the famed maître d'hôtel, was so impressed with the dish that he put it on the breakfast and luncheon menus but substituted ham for the bacon and a toasted English muffin for the toast.

Refuting the claims of Oscar Tschirky/Lemuel Benedict, prior to serving as Maitre d’hotel (1893 to 1943) at the Waldorf, Tschirky was "on the staff of the old and famous Delmonico’s," along with the renowned Chef Charles Ranhofer.

This reflects an earlier claim to eggs Benedict as evidenced in Chef Ranhofer's 1894 cookbook, The Epicurean which includes "a selection of interesting bills of fare of Delmonico's from 1862-1894", in particular a recipe for eggs Benedict (Eggs à la—Benedick / Eufa à la Benedick):

Cut some muffins in halves crosswise, toast them without allowing to brown, then place a round of cooked ham an eighth of an inch thick and of the same diameter as the muffins on each half. Heat in a moderate oven and put a poached egg on each toast. Cover the whole with Hollandaise sauce (No. 501).

During Chef Ranhofer's Delmonico years (1862-1899), Captain and Mrs. Le Grand Benedict (born 1843, Emma Frances Gardner) were frequent diners. Five generations of Benedict family history, including Mabel C. Butler (descended through Mrs. LeGrand Benedict's daughter Florence), author of a 1967 letter to the NY Times, and great-great-granddaughter Emily Benedict (born 1962, descended through Mrs. LeGrand Benedict's son Harold) independently cite similar stories from the late 1860s, that frequent patron Mrs. Benedict became uninterested in the usual Delmonico menu offerings and inquired for the Chef to create "something new". He replied asking if she had any ideas, to which she suggested what is now known as eggs Benedict (although her original version included a truffle on top.) Thereafter the creation made its way into Chef Ranhofer’s The Epicurean.

Oscar Tschirky quite possibly learned of eggs Benedict from Chef Ranhofer during their crossover Delmonico years together. While Lemuel Benedict may indeed have requested the egg concoction from Tschirky at the Waldorf in 1894 as a hangover cure, in that same year, the recipe was already printed in Chef Ranhofer's The Epicurean.

Further reading in line with Mrs. Le Grand Benedict's story - as retold by her descendents - can be found in "More New York Stories: The Best of the City Section of The New York Times".

A third claim to the eggs Benedict fame was circuitously made by Edward P. Montgomery on behalf of Commodore E.C. Benedict. In 1967 Montgomery wrote a letter to then NY Times columnist Craig Claiborne and included a recipe he claimed to have received through his Uncle, a friend of the Commodore. Commodore Benedict's recipe - by way of Montgomery - varies greatly from Chef Ranhofer's version, particularly in the hollandaise sauce preparation - calling for the addition of "hot, hard-cooked egg and ham mixture."

I like to use hash browns instead of English muffin, and a shot of lemon juice in the hollandaise...and now, I'm hungry....National Eggs Benedict Day is celebrated on April 16!

Was He the Eggman?

Bad debt cannot simply be “socialized” By Michael Pettis


...while debt plays a key role in understanding the recent evolution of the Chinese economy and the timing and process of its upcoming adjustment (as it also does for all if not most major economies), there seems to be a remarkable amount of confusion as to why debt matters. In much classical economics debt, or more generally the structure of the liability side of an economic entity, doesn’t even fundamentally matter to the growth of that entity. The liability side of the balance sheet is treated mainly as the way in which the cashflows associated with the management of the asset side of the balance sheet, which we can call operating earnings, are distributed, and it is the growth in operating earnings that ultimately matters.

But even if this is all there were to debt – and in fact in my classes at both Peking University and, previously, at Columbia University I propose to my students that one way to think of the liability side of the balance sheet is precisely as a series of formulae that distribute the operating earnings of a company (or the total production of goods and services of a country) – this would still make it singularly important in understanding the functioning of and prospects for an economy. After all the way you distribute earnings is a major part of an institution’s incentive structure, and changes in the structure of incentives lead almost automatically to changes in the ways economic agents behave. Investors usually take the topic of debt much more seriously than economists. They have no choice, I guess. Their conceptual failures cost money. This is probably why until very recently brilliant economists like Hyman Minsky, Irving Fisher and even Marriner Eccles were far more likely to be read by thoughtful investors than by academic economists (I myself was introduced to Minsky in the early 1990s by Bob Kowitt, and well-known institutional investor with a great bookshelf in his office).

At any rate for several years I have been arguing that the main reason analysts have managed to get China so wrong is because of their failure to understand the basic distortions driving the economy and one of the major consequences of these distortions is the creation of debt, which itself further impacts the evolution of these distortions. All rapid growth, Albert Hirshman argued in the 1960s and 1970s, is unbalanced growth, and in many if not most cases the kinds of imbalances that result from rapid growth may be acceptable and even necessary in a growing economy. But as the economy changes, the nature and extent of the imbalances change too, and it is inevitable that eventually the system forces a reversal of the imbalances. This is especially true in countries, like China, with highly centralized decision-making. In these countries the imbalances can be taken to extremes impossible in other countries, thus creating all the more pressure for a reversal of the imbalances.

This means that in China, if you can figure out how the growth model works and how the model generates imbalances and debt, you can pretty much figure out logically, albeit fairly broadly, the various paths that the country must follow in order the reverse the imbalances. I tried to this in my most recent book, Avoiding the Fall, in which I listed the six different ways that China can rebalance, ranging from the catastrophic to the orderly. These were not predictions. They were simply a list of the various ways in which China could rebalance, and none of these various rebalancing paths included, for example, the possibility that China could maintain average GDP growth rates of 7-8%, or even of 5-6%, during President Xi’s administration except under very specific, and unlikely, conditions. According to the logic of the model, it would require a massive transfer of wealth from the state sector to the household sector, on the order perhaps of 4-5% of GDP annually or more, for China to rebalance at growth rates significantly higher than 4-5%. Without this transfer, however, it simply cannot happen. Analysts, then, who expected two or three years ago that China might be able to maintain growth rates of 7-8% through the rest of this decade were going to prove wrong, even if they hedged by accepting the possibility that conditions might change and growth rates slow sharply. Their analysis fundamentally confused the sources and consequences of Chinese growth...




Edward Snowden should not face trial, says UN human rights commissioner


The United Nations's top human rights official has suggested that the United States should abandon its efforts to prosecute Edward Snowden, saying his revelations of massive state surveillance had been in the public interest.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, credited Snowden, a former US National Security Agency contractor, with starting a global debate that has led to calls for the curtailing of state powers to snoop on citizens online and store their data.

"Those who disclose human rights violations should be protected: we need them," Pillay told a news conference.

"I see some of it here in the case of Snowden, because his revelations go to the core of what we are saying about the need for transparency, the need for consultation," she said. "We owe a great deal to him for revealing this kind of information."


America Fails the 'Rule of Law' Test



The U.S. doesn't even come close to meeting the standards articulated by its own army. Why isn't establishment Washington alarmed? The U.S. Army field manual* defines "the rule of law" as follows:

"The rule of law refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency."

Going by that definition, the U.S. government does not operate according to the rule of law. A panel of former executive-branch employees, many of whom served in the U.S. military or the CIA, made this point bluntly in a recent report on drones.

"Despite the undoubted good faith of US decision-makers, it would be difficult to conclude that US targeted strikes are consistent with core rule of law norms," they declared. "From the perspective of many around the world, the U.S. appears to claim, in effect, the legal right to kill any person it determines is a member of al-Qaida or its associated forces, in any state on Earth, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret evidence, evaluated in a secret process by unknown and largely anonymous individuals—with no public disclosure of which organizations are considered 'associated forces,' no means for anyone outside that secret process to raise questions about the criteria or validity of the evidence, and no means for anyone outside that process to identify or remedy mistakes or abuses."

Just so.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government violates "rule of law" norms in other areas too. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does not operate with "procedural and legal transparency." The Office of Legal Counsel adopts highly contestable yet totally secret interpretations of statutes that dramatically affect policy outcomes. Citizens and corporations are served with secret court orders and often feel confused about whether they are even permitted to consult with counsel. Laws against revealing classified information are not enforced equally—powerful actors routinely leak official secrets with impunity, while whistleblowers and dissidents are aggressively persecuted for the mere "mishandling" of state secrets. The director of national intelligence committed perjury without consequence. President Obama has blatantly violated a duly ratified, legally binding treaty that requires him to investigate and prosecute acts of torture. He also violated the War Powers Resolution by participating in the military overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi without securing the approval of Congress. And he won't even clarify exactly what groups he considers us to be at war with!

That is only a partial list.

The rule of law's erosion in post-9/11 America was begun by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama administration. Congress has failed to stop it. The Washington, D.C., establishment has done far too little to object. Partisan voters all across America have excused the transgressions of their side.

This cannot go on indefinitely without causing serious harm to our country.

Unlike the Civil War, World War I, or World War II, there will be no definitive date when the War on Terrorism ends. The pattern of wartime abuses followed by a peacetime course correction will not automatically reassert itself in coming years. If the rule of law is to be recovered, lawbreaking officials must be held accountable for their actions, rather than presuming that they can invoke terrorism and do what they please. Congress must stop abdicating its responsibilities as a check on the executive branch. Transparency must once again govern what the law is and how it is applied. All this will require changing the attitudes of at least some respected Washington insiders. If you have constructive thoughts on such a project I invite your emails.


*Update: A lieutenant in the U.S. army writes (as a private citizen, not in his official capacity):

In the first sentence of the article, you state that "The US Army field manual defines..." and proceed to lay out the Army's doctrinal definition of "Rule of Law." This is inaccurate and misleading to the lay reader who has no knowledge of how Army policy and doctrine are published and communicated. In truth, there is no one Army "Field Manual." Instead, there are a plethora of different publication series which lay down everything from standardized training practices to official Army policies to doctrinal tactics, techniques, and procedures. These consist of constantly-updating field manuals (FMs), Army Regulations (ARs), Army Doctrinal Publications (ADPs), Army Doctrinal Reference Publications (ADRPs), and countless other Training Circulars, Handbooks, and Journals which the various branches of the Army publish. The publication you reference in your article is a handbook published by CLAMO (Center for Law and Military Operations), which is an organization that is a part of the Army's Staff Judge Advocate Corps and thus is a valid reference. There is nothing wrong with using it as a source for your article. However, I would suggest referring to it as a "Handbook published by the Army Staff Judge Advocate Corps" as opposed to "The Army field manual."


Weekend Economists American Bad Boys Part 1 July 12-13, 2014

Sorry for the delay...I have contracted a cold or flu in Boston, and I was sneezing my head off during euchre. This evidently broke the opponents' concentration....my partner and I split 2nd and 3rd place. We would have split 1st and 2nd, except another player got one point more...it was an exciting night...no doubt heightened by flashes of fever.

Catching up with life after a vacation is exhausting. I'm going to need another vacation.

So, onto the Weekend Topic: Bad Boys

William Walker (May 8, 1824 – September 12, 1860) was an American lawyer, journalist and adventurer, who organized several private military expeditions into Latin America, with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as "filibustering." Walker became president of the Republic of Nicaragua in 1856 and ruled until 1857, when he was defeated by a coalition of Central American armies. He was executed by the government of Honduras in 1860.

Early life

Walker was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1824 to James Walker and his wife Mary Norvell. His father was a son of a Scottish immigrant. His mother was a daughter of Lipscomb Norvell, an American Revolutionary War officer from Virginia. One of Walker's maternal uncles was John Norvell, a US Senator from Michigan and founder of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

William Walker graduated summa cum laude from the University of Nashville at the age of fourteen. At the age of 19, he received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and practiced briefly in Philadelphia before moving to New Orleans to study law.

He practiced law for a short time, and then quit to become co-owner and editor of the New Orleans Crescent. In 1849, he moved to San Francisco, where he was a journalist and fought three duels; he was wounded in two of them. Walker then conceived the idea of conquering vast regions of Latin America and create new slave states to join those already part of the United States. These campaigns were known as filibustering or freebooting.

Expedition to Mexico

In the summer of 1853, Walker traveled to Guaymas, seeking a grant from the government of Mexico to create a colony, using the pretext that it would serve as a fortified frontier, protecting US soil from Indian raids. Mexico refused, and Walker returned to San Francisco determined to obtain his colony, regardless of Mexico's position. He began recruiting from amongst American supporters of slavery and the Manifest Destiny Doctrine, mostly inhabitants of Kentucky and Tennessee. His intentions then changed from forming a buffer colony to establishing an independent Republic of Sonora, which might eventually take its place as a part of the American Union (as had been the case previously with the Republic of Texas). He funded his project by "selling scrips which were redeemable in lands of Sonora."

On October 15, 1853, Walker set out with 45 men to conquer the Mexican territories of Baja California and Sonora. He succeeded in capturing La Paz, the capital of sparsely populated Baja California, which he declared the capital of a new Republic of Lower California, with himself as president and his partner, Watkins, as vice president; he then put the region under the laws of the American state of Louisiana, which made slavery legal. Fearful of attacks by Mexico, Walker moved his headquarters twice over the next three months, first to Cabo San Lucas, and then further north to Ensenada to maintain a more secure position of operations. Although he never gained control of Sonora, less than three months later, he pronounced Baja California part of the larger Republic of Sonora. Lack of supplies and strong resistance by the Mexican government quickly forced Walker to retreat.

Back in California, he was put on trial for conducting an illegal war, in violation of the Neutrality Act of 1794. However, in the era of Manifest Destiny, his filibustering project was popular in the southern and western United States and the jury took eight minutes to acquit him.

Conquest of Nicaragua

Walker's Nicaragua map

Since there was no inter-oceanic route joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the time, and the transcontinental railway had not been completed, a major trade route between New York City and San Francisco ran through southern Nicaragua. Ships from New York entered the San Juan River from the Atlantic and sailed across Lake Nicaragua. People and goods were then transported by stagecoach over a narrow strip of land near the city of Rivas, before reaching the Pacific and being shipped to San Francisco. The commercial exploitation of this route had been granted by Nicaragua to the Accessory Transit Company, controlled by Wall Street tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt (see also Nicaragua Canal).

In 1854, a civil war erupted in Nicaragua between the Legitimist Party (also called the Conservative Party), based in the city of Granada, and the Democratic Party (also called the Liberal Party), based in León. The Democratic Party sought military support from Walker who, to circumvent U.S. neutrality laws, obtained a contract from Democratic president Francisco Castellón to bring as many as three hundred "colonists" to Nicaragua. These mercenaries received the right to bear arms in the service of the Democratic government. Walker sailed from San Francisco on May 3, 1855, with approximately 60 men. Upon landing, the force was reinforced by 170 locals and about 100 Americans, including the well-known explorer and journalist Charles Wilkins Webber and the English adventurer Charles Frederick Henningsen, a veteran of the First Carlist War, the Hungarian Revolution, and the war in Circassia.

With Castellón's consent, Walker attacked the Legitimists in the town of Rivas, near the trans-isthmian route. He was driven off, but not without inflicting heavy casualties. On September 4, during the Battle of La Virgen, Walker defeated the Legitimist army. On October 13, he conquered the Legitimist capital of Granada and took effective control of the country. Initially, as commander of the army, Walker ruled Nicaragua through provisional President Patricio Rivas. U.S. President Franklin Pierce (ANCESTOR TO BARBARA BUSH, FOR THOSE WHO SEE SOME CONSPIRACY HERE) recognized Walker's regime as the legitimate government of Nicaragua on May 20, 1856. Walker's first ambassadorial appointment, Colonel Parker H. French, was refused recognition.

Walker's flag of Nicaragua

Meanwhile, C. K. Garrison and Charles Morgan, subordinates of Cornelius Vanderbilt's Accessory Transit Company, provided financial and logistic assistance to the filibusters in exchange for Walker, as ruler of Nicaragua, seizing the Company's property (on the pretext of a charter violation) and turning it over to Garrison and Morgan. Outraged, Vanderbilt dispatched two secret agents to the Costa Rican government with detailed plans on how to deal a death blow to the filibusters. They would help regain control of Vanderbilt's steamboats which had become a logistical lifeline for Walker's army.

Walker had also scared his neighbors and potential American and European investors with talk of further military conquests in Central America. Juan Rafael Mora, President of Costa Rica, rejected Walker's diplomatic overtures and instead declared war on his regime, the Campaign of 1856–57. Walker organized a battalion of four companies, of which one was composed by Germans the other by French and the other two by Americans totaling 240 men placed under the command of Colonel Schlessinger to invade Costa Rica in a preemptive action, but this advance force was defeated at the Battle of Santa Rosa in March 20, 1856. In April 1856, Costa Rican troops entered into Nicaraguan territory and inflicted a defeat on Walker's men at the Second Battle of Rivas, in which Juan Santamaría, later to be recognized as one of Costa Rica's national heroes, played a key role.

From the north, President José Santos Guardiola sent Honduran troops who went side by side with Salvadoran troops to fight William Walker under the leadership of the Xatruch brothers. Florencio Xatruch was named General-in-Chief of the Allied Armies of Central America. He also led the combat against the filibusters in la Puebla, Rivas. Later, for political reasons, Juan Rafael Mora was left in charge. Several Central American countries recognized Xatruch as Brigade and Division General. On June 12, 1857, Xatruch made a triumphant entrance to Comayagua, which was then the capital of Honduras, after Walker surrendered. The nickname by which Hondurans are known popularly still today, Catracho, and the more infamous nickname Salvadorans are known today, Salvatrucho are derived from Xatruch's figure and successful campaign as leader of the Allied Armies of Central America, as the troops of El Salvador and Honduras were national heroes, that played a key role, fighting side by side as Central American brothers against William Walker's troops. As the general and his soldiers returned from battle, some Nicaraguans affectionately yelled out "¡Vienen los xatruches!", meaning "Here come Xatruch's boys!" However, Nicaraguans had so much trouble pronouncing the general's last name (a Catalan last name) that they altered the phrase to "los catruches" and ultimately settled on "los catrachos".

Walker's house in Granada

Walker took up residence in Granada and set himself up as President of Nicaragua, after conducting a fraudulent election. He was inaugurated on July 12, 1856, and soon launched an Americanization program, reinstating slavery, declaring English an official language and reorganizing currency and fiscal policy to encourage immigration from the United States. Realizing that his position was becoming precarious, he sought support from the Southerners in the U.S. by recasting his campaign as a fight to spread the institution of black slavery, which many American Southern businessmen saw as the basis of their agrarian economy. With this in mind, Walker revoked Nicaragua's emancipation edict of 1824. This move did increase Walker's popularity in the South and attracted the attention of Pierre Soulé, an influential New Orleans politician, who campaigned to raise support for Walker's war. Nevertheless, Walker's army, weakened by an epidemic of cholera and massive defections, was no match for the Central American coalition. On December 14, 1856, as Granada was surrounded by 4,000 Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan troops, Charles Frederick Henningsen, one of Walker's generals, ordered his men to set the city ablaze before escaping and fighting their way to Lake Nicaragua. An inscription on a lance reading Aquí fue Granada ("Here was Granada") was left behind at the smoking ruin of the ancient capital city.

On May 1, 1857, Walker surrendered to Commander Charles Henry Davis of the United States Navy under the pressure of the Central American armies, and was repatriated. Upon disembarking in New York City, he was greeted as a hero, but he alienated public opinion when he blamed his defeat on the U.S. Navy. Within six months, he set off on another expedition, but he was arrested by the U.S. Navy Home Squadron under the command of Commodore Hiram Paulding and once again returned to the U.S. amid considerable public controversy over the legality of the Navy's actions.

Death in Honduras

After writing an account of his Central American campaign (published in 1860 as War in Nicaragua), Walker once again returned to the region. British colonists in Roatán, in the Bay Islands, fearing that the government of Honduras would move to assert its control over them, approached Walker with an offer to help him in establishing a separate, English-speaking government over the islands. Walker disembarked in the port city of Trujillo, but soon fell into the custody of Commander Nowell Salmon (later Admiral Sir Nowell Salmon) of the British Royal Navy. The British government controlled the neighboring regions of British Honduras (now Belize) and the Mosquito Coast (now part of Nicaragua) and had considerable strategic and economic interest in the construction of an inter-oceanic canal through Central America. It therefore regarded Walker as a menace to its own affairs in the region.

Rather than return him to the US, Salmon delivered Walker to the Honduran authorities in Trujillo, who executed him near the site of the present-day hospital by firing squad on September 12, 1860. Walker was 36 years old. He is buried in the Cementerio Viejo, in Trujillo.

Walker's grave in the Old Trujillo Cemetery, Colón, Honduras

Influence and reputation

William Walker convinced many Southerners of the desirability of creating a slave-holding empire in tropical Latin America. In 1861, when U.S. Senator John J. Crittenden proposed that the 36°30' parallel north be declared as a line of demarcation between free and slave territories, some Republicans denounced such an arrangement, saying that it "would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and State owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego."

Before the end of the American Civil War, Walker's memory enjoyed great popularity in the southern and western United States, where he was known as "General Walker" and as the "grey-eyed man of destiny". Northerners, on the other hand, generally regarded him as a pirate. Despite his intelligence and personal charm, Walker consistently proved to be a limited military and political leader. Unlike men of similar ambition, such as Cecil Rhodes, Walker's grandiose scheming ultimately failed.

In Central American countries, the successful military campaign of 1856–57 against William Walker became a source of national pride and identity, and it was later promoted by local historians and politicians as substitute for the war of independence that Central America had not experienced. April 11 is a Costa Rican national holiday in memory of Walker's defeat at Rivas. Juan Santamaría, who played a key role in that battle, is honored as one of the two Costa Rican national heroes, the other one being Juan Rafael Mora himself.

Cultural references

Walker's campaign has inspired two films, both of which take considerable liberties with his story: Burn! (1969) directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, starring Marlon Brando, and Walker (1987) directed by Alex Cox, starring Ed Harris. Walker's name is used for the main character in Burn!, though the character is not meant to represent the historical William Walker and is portrayed as British. On the other hand, Alex Cox's Walker incorporates many of the signposts of William Walker's life and exploits into a surrealist narrative; from his original excursions into northern Mexico to his trial and acquittal on breaking the neutrality act to the triumph of his assault on Nicaragua and his execution.

In Part Five, Chapter 48, of Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell cites William Walker, "and how he died against a wall in Truxillo", as topic of conversation between Rhett Butler and his filibustering acquaintances, while Rhett and Scarlett are on honeymoon in New Orleans.

In S. M. Stirling's Emberverse Nantucket Books, a young Coast Guard lieutenant, William Walker, steals a ship loaded with modern technology from the timelost Nantucketers. Like the historical William Walker he embarks on a campaign for conquest and carves for himself a personal empire – in this case, in the Bronze Age, first in Britain, then fleeing to Greece. There he eventually overthrows Greek King Agamemnon, who commits suicide rather than be a puppet leader, and then proceeding to carry out his own brutal version of the Trojan War.

A long early poem by the Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal, Con Walker En Nicaragua, translated as With Walker in Nicaragua, gives a historical treatment of the affair.

Nate DiMeo's historical podcast The Memory Palace featured an episode on William Walker entitled "Presidente Walker".

See also

Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society interested in annexing territories in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean to be added to the United States as slave states

Golden Circle (proposed country)

Nicaragua Canal

Panama Canal

Gaston de Raousset-Boulbon



I'm going to do one Bad Boy each weekend, unless or until I run out, or some overwhelming issue preempts it. If you have a candidate, post or PM me....first come, first served. I'm sticking to Corporate/Private Citizen types, at least for now. If there's enough interest, we can go after public servants/political hacks and their hangers-on, supporters and lackeys later.

The Hubris of Trying to Eliminate Cash


People like hard currency and use it every day. It is a check on centralized power. It is private and peer-to-peer. And despite or because of that, some want to get rid of it...While investigating Bitcoin, Antonis Polemitis once poked fun by imagining how the media would react to the introduction of cash. He titled his parody, "Bizarre Shadowy Paper-Based Payment System Being Rolled Out Worldwide." Cash has been dubbed "bills" among "the shadowy community of anti-banking libertarians who have been the primary users of cash to date," the article explains, and "though hard to imagine, cash operates with no consumer protection at all. If your ‘bills’ are stolen or lost, they are gone forever."

A later section of the article is titled "Perfect for Criminals":

The launch of cash has provoked a reaction from law-enforcement agencies worldwide that universally condemned the development. “Cash is a 100% anonymous and untraceable payments technology. It is like a weapon of mass destruction launched against law enforcement,” said Mike Smith, the recently confirmed FBI Director. “It is the perfect payment mechanism for criminals, drug cartels, terrorists, prostitution rings and money launderers. We don’t know how we will be able to combat such a technology and fully expect that a new generation of super-criminals will emerge, working in the shadows of a world where they can conduct their illicit affairs without leaving a trace.”

Polemitis quotes the fictional banking superintendent of New York State: "I can’t think of any reason that a law-abiding individual would want to use cash," he declared. "At a bare minimum, we believe there should be a licensing procedure for individuals or businesses that plan to use cash, a ‘Cash-License’ as it were. This license will limit ‘cash’ to trust-worthy individuals who keep detailed auditable records of all their cash transactions in order to keep New York safe from criminals.”

At the time, I laughed.

Today I worry that the parody is prescient. Kenneth Rogoff, a professor of public policy and economics at Harvard University, is as good a place to begin as any. Under the headline, "Paper money is unfit for a world of high crime and low inflation," he declares in the Financial Times that "it is time to consider whether paper currency is vestigial, or worse," in part because "phasing out currency would address the concern that a significant fraction, particularly of large-denomination notes, appears to be used to facilitate tax evasion and illegal activity."


Wolf Richter: Housing Hit the Wall of Wall Street in May


It always starts with a toxic mix. Last fall when sales that had been predicted to continue their miraculous ascent were suddenly swooning, soothsayers dealt with it by developing a whole plethora of excuses. At each new disappointment, they dragged out new excuses. But in May, the toxic mix came to a boil, and now there are no more excuses: sales plunged and inventories jumped. The housing market is buckling under its own inflated weight...And what excuses they’d come up with! Last fall, the fiscal cliff, the threat of a government shutdown, the possibility of default that was belittled by everyone supposedly made home buyers uncertain. But these issues were swept under the rug, and sales continued to drop into the winter. Polar vortices were blamed, though in California, where the weather was gorgeous, sales dropped faster than elsewhere. Then the spring buying season came around when massive pent-up demand was supposed to sweep like a tsunami over the land. But sales continued to decline. So tight inventories were blamed. There simply weren’t enough homes for sale, it went. Alas, in May, new listings rose 6.5% from a year ago to a four-year high in the 30 markets that electronic real-estate broker Redfin tracks. People were dumping their homes on the market; new listings soared 25.5% in Ventura, CA, 15.8% in West Palm Beach, and 15.4% in Baltimore. This is what it looked like for all 30 markets combined:

The onslaught of new listings added to the unsold inventory and pushed up the total number of homes for sale by 9.1% to the highest level since August 2012. And in this elegant manner, the final excuse of tight inventories causing the plunge in sales went up in smoke. This rise in inventory has been going on all year. Yet, as Redfin pointed out with a soupçon of irony, it was “surprising to some, given the speculation about extremely low inventory creating intense pent-up demand among buyers who have been waiting for months with low interest rates burning holes in their pockets.”

Real estate is local. During the last housing bust, some areas started to crater in early 2006, while others hung in there for a while longer. San Francisco’s bubble hit its peak in November 2007, and everyone thought that the city, being so unique, would be immune to the pandemic of housing mayhem. A month later, it cratered. So this time too, it isn’t impacting all markets equally. In 10 of the 30 markets, inventories were actually down. But in some of the hottest markets a year or two ago, inventories skyrocketed: up 14.6% in Los Angeles, 15.5% in Washington, DC, 16.2% in San Diego, 23.1% in Sacramento, 27.9% in Orange County, 30.9% in Riverside-San Bernardino, CA, and up – I’m not kidding – 33.4% in Phoenix. And this inventory isn’t selling: in the 30 markets, sales in May plunged 10% from a year ago. Now that homes are coming on the market in large numbers, buyers, faced with sky-high prices and higher mortgage rates, went on strike:

In some of the hottest markets of 2012 and 2013, sales are falling off a cliff: down 11.6% in Las Vegas, 12.2% in Chicago, 12.3% in Seattle, Orange County, and Los Angeles, down 12.5% in Washington, DC, 13.1% in Long Island, 13.5% in San Francisco, 14.6% in Sacramento, 20% in Phoenix, and down 20.8% in San Diego. These are ugly numbers. But, but, but… the median sales price still rose 8.2% in May from a year ago, though that’s down from the 14.5% increase in May 2013, and from the 20% at the peak of 2012. Redfin reported that its agents had observed “the shift away from a sellers’ market, with buyers having more power and less competition.” But apparently, “many sellers still haven’t read the memo.”

Since early 2012, Wall Street players, armed to the teeth with the nearly free and limitless money that the Fed in its infinite wisdom has made available specifically for these purposes, piled into the market, buying up hundreds of thousands of homes helter-skelter and turning them into rental properties. It switched these homes from for-sale lists to for-rent lists, where many languished unperturbed, and it drove up prices in record time. Current homeowners welcome that. But first time buyers, the natural force in the housing market, were effectively pushed aside and are now priced out of the market. Even many current homeowners who want to sell are locked into their homes as they cannot afford the next home, given higher mortgage rates and sky-high prices. At these prices, even investors can’t buy these homes and rent them out at a profit. In many areas of the country, that business model is kaput. So they pulled back too. This is how the Fed fixed the housing market. The only thing lacking in this “fixed” housing markets are willing and able buyers. So inventories are piling up, and someday sellers will “read the memo.” Then prices will be whittled down to where they make economic sense in this economy. We’ve been through this before. Only this time, it’s different: the Fed, which so eagerly took credit for having “fixed” the housing market, is going to be hard-pressed to cut interest rates further, or do anything else it isn’t already doing.
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