September 26th, 2005

Voted for Dean

Who Knew How Good We Had It?

It's been illegal for Americans to fight as mercenaries, to join non-governmental armies for pay, for something like a hundred years. Of course, that doesn't mean it never happened. There will always be people willing to go to any lengths to fight in other people's wars, as long as they get paid. There always have been. But for Americans, it has been illegal for a very, very long time. When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s, there were fiction stories and rare first-hand accounts, usually in semi-sleazy men's magazines and gun magazines, of Americans who'd run away to some god-forsaken hellhole in the 3rd world to hire on with some foreign-run mercenary company, to fight for money, to fight for fun, to fight because they thought they had something to prove to themselves that could only be proven in war. (Oddly enough, for most of that time, real American soldiers were fighting and dying, and drawing a perfectly legal salary for doing so, but that wasn't good enough for these few crackpots. So they joined other, but equally doomed, causes.)

When various minor officials in the CIA and the NSC under the Reagan administration, as part of his "Low Intensity Conflict" strategy for fighting communism in Latin America, were caught openly encouraging Americans to join mercenary companies, some of us were shocked, and openly disgusted. It was a clear violation of the Neutrality Acts. If a clearer violation of the Neutrality Act can be found that a CIA-backed American mercenary company nearly-openly waging war on a country with which the United States officially had peaceful diplomatic relations, I can't imagine what it would be. We longed for the good old days, when everybody but a few crackpots understood that being a mercenary was not only illegal, but actually shameful. Who knew that 20 years later, we'd wish we still had it so good? Because under Reagan, at least the mercenary companies were only allowed to fight against foreigners. Ah, those were the days.

In the first few days after Hurricane Katrina hit, several survivors told reporters stories of unmarked black SUVs, with opaque black windows, cruising around town. Multiple eyewitnesses (and many, many more people passing on word-of-mouth, whatever that's worth) described those SUVs stopping periodically to roll down the windows and fire burst-fire or fully-automatic assault rifles into unarmed crowds; on one occasion, foragers, but on at least one other occasion, just refugees camped out. The reporters who passed on these stories assumed that it was some kind of organized criminal gang of looters. Well, sort of, but not really. They might well have been working for Blackwater Security, under contract to the Department of Homeland Security. The vehicles, weaponry, and equipment in The Nation's article match the witness accounts. Blackwater mercenaries, freshly back from their (illegal) combat duty in Iraq, proudly described their mission in New Orleans as "confronting criminals." Or they might have been from some other private security firm, like the one hired by Decatur Hotels CEO Patrick Quinn III to escort him around town. They provided this first-hand confession:
On his second night in New Orleans, Quinn's security chief, Michael Montgomery, who said he worked for an Alabama company called Bodyguard and Tactical Security (BATS), was with a heavily armed security detail en route to pick up one of Quinn's associates and escort him through the chaotic city. Montgomery told me they came under fire from "black gangbangers" on an overpass near the poor Ninth Ward neighborhood. "At the time, I was on the phone with my business partner," he recalls. "I dropped the phone and returned fire." ¶ Montgomery says he and his men were armed with AR-15s and Glocks and that they unleashed a barrage of bullets in the general direction of the alleged shooters on the overpass. "After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped. That was it. Enough said."
Now, I don't know Louisiana law. But having been a private security officer in Missouri, I know Missouri and Illinois law well enough that this account stinks to high heaven to me. Not one bit of that is legal. Not one bit. Private security officers can, under some circumstances, be licensed to use handguns, not rifles or shotguns or assault rifles! Private security officers are permitted to use those weapons in defense of their own safety, or the safety of others -- but only on the private property of the person who hired them, not on city streets! And (for all that I admit that it does happen), it's not even legal for police to lay down suppressive fire! The law requires even the police to have a hostile, armed target clearly acquired before they pull the trigger.

Right wing death squads, some with government backing and others hired by wealthy right-wing citizens, operating openly on the streets of an American city. If indictments aren't forthcoming, then as far as I'm concerned, the conversion of America into a banana republic is now officially complete. If they get away with this then no matter who wins the 2008 election, even in the best of all possible cases, even if it isn't yet another Republican who'll let corporate death squads prowl our cities, it will take us generations of effort to turn this country back into a great nation, one that can look itself in the face in the mirror each morning, again.
Brad @ Burning Man

I Win

"When something goes wrong, I'm the first to admit it.
I'm the first one to admit it, and the last one to know.
When something goes right, it's likely to lose me.
It's apt to confuse me, you know it's such an unusual sight.
Oh yeah, I can't get used to something so right."
-- Paul Simon, "Something So Right"
I win.

My god, I never hoped in a million years to get news this good. The Social Security approval letter arrived today. Now I know why there was a disparity in the amounts I was given. The lower amount was the standard, flat-rate for all citizens Supplemental Security Income amount. Well, guess what. I don't get SSI. They went straight to Social Security Disability Insurance approval, with no further hearings, no need to appeal, no waiting period, no SSI first! 100% disability, so I get my full SSDI amount, based not only on the crap odd jobs I've worked since I first broke down back in 1996, but also in part on my real wages as a computer networking engineer before that. Starting October 19th, and then on the 3rd Wednesday of every month thereafter for the next 5 to 7 years, and renewable after that indefinitely, I will receive a smidgen over fifteen yards of potatoes per month. Tax free. With no daily work-related expenses.

Edit: Oh, and I forgot to mention: by law, on April 19th, I'm automatically enrolled in Medicare. I don't care how bad Medicare sucks, it's better than the (non-existent) health insurance I have now.

Which means, depending on whim, whimsy, and context, I can describe what I do for a living now in either of two ways:
  • I made a lot of money back in the dot-com bubble, and took early retirement. I'm on a fixed income now.

  • I'm crazy for a living. I'm a professional crazy person.