Wednesday, September 14, 2005

They Mean To Govern Well...

It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions, real or pretended.... There are men in all ages who mean to exercise power usefully—but who mean to exercise it. They mean to govern well; but they mean to govern; they promise to be kind masters, but they mean to be masters. – Daniel Webster (ht: Jim Leth)
There was considerable outrage last week when Mayor Nagin directed the remnants of the New Orleans Police Department to confiscate legally-owned firearms from law-abiding residents of New Orleans. Nagin justified the move as a means of re-establishing control over the city and avoiding resistance to his policy of forcibly evacuating city residents. In order to carry out the Mayor's policy, the NOPD, assisted by federal marshals and military police, have forcibly entered private households without probable cause or a warrant and seized lawfully-owned private property.

The uproar over this policy was immediate and widespread. DavidKopel, a noted constitutional attorney, quickly pointed out that the Mayor's order was illegal on both procedurally and constitutionally. The NRA got into the act a few days later:

"The NRA will not stand idly by while guns are confiscated from law-abiding people who’re trying to defend themselves," he [Chris Cox, NRA-ILA director] said.

"We’re exploring every legal option available to protect the rights of lawful people in New Orleans," Cox said, "and we’re taking steps to overturn such laws in every state where they exist."

Here we are, a week later, and after considerable furor, it seems that the confiscation policy has been effectively, if not explicitly, rescinded. No more confiscations are occurring, and the federal government announced that it would not allow its military or civilian personnel to assist the city forcibly evacuate non-willing residents. Hopefully, they have also been told to refrain from any other type of constitutionally dubious actions. Of course, under Louisiana state law the Mayor would have to repeatedly re-issue his order (there is considerable doubt whether he legally issued the order in the first place) every five days. Thank God the state legislature realized that one way to reign in out-of-control officials who enacted idiotic policies during emergencies was to give those policies a very short lifetime.

What's next?

This is America! Time for a lawsuit! A massive lawsuit against the Mayor, the City of New Orleans, and any federal agency that was involved in this clearly unconstitutional policy is the proper, legitimate means of discouraging future acts of stupidity by panicked, incompetent officials. Contact everyone who suffered under this odious policy and make it a class-action suit.

Oh, and something else needs to happen: gun owners in New Orleans should organize a petition drive to recall the Mayor and call for new mayoral elections. Set up a website to contact evacuees, and get this ball rolling ASAP.

What's that, you say? The mayor was trying to do what he thought was best for the city? Doesn't cut it; the mayor has legal advisors that should have been consulted and that should have strongly advised him against such a policy. Incompetence, ignorance, or capriciousness... none are a valid excuse.

Here in America the ends don't justify the means. New Orleans is a beautiful city with a unique and vibrant culture that has been woefully mismanaged for decades. Many areas are effectively lawless, and the police literally will not go into certain neighborhoods unless they move in with overwhelming force to handle a specific complaint. These neighborhoods are effectively ceded to the control of the thugs who terrorize innocent residents, and the city's murder rate makes it the Homicide Capital of America for two years in a row. Yet we don't solve the problem by cordoning these areas off and napalming them. To any reasonably-informed and thinking American (which, it seems, excludes Mayor Nagin), kicking people's doors in, lining them up against the wall at gunpoint, searching the household for guns, and taking the guns without probable cause is obviously unconstititutional and equally repugnant. Mayor Nagin's approach seems to be "So much for the rule of law if it gets in the way of what I think is a good idea."

America is what it is because it was the first nation-state in the history of the world to govern itself by the rule of law, and to declare individual rights as inviolable: all men are created equal under the law and are guaranteed certain rights, among them the right of freedom of speech and thought, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right against self-incrimination, the right to due process, and lastly the right to keep and bear arms. The anarchy following the complete disintegration of civil authority in New Orleans after Katrina is a prime example of why, in order to protect their right to life and property, law-abiding residents needed to exercise their right to keep and bear arms.

The stories coming out of the city about how people were able to protect themselves and drive off looters speaks volumes for the relevance of the Second Amendment and the wisdom of our country's founders. Sadly, the story of police-state tactics and the trampling of fundamental rights speaks volumes, too... and it's all bad.

I grew up in small-town south Louisiana and spent several years living in New Orleans and Baton Rouge during and after college, so I think it's fair to say I have a reasonably good idea of what's wrong with the state, and how to fix it. To my friends in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana, I say this: you deserve better! Fix the problem. Get rid of the idiots and quit electing them! And hold the current idiots responsible for all of their lapses, constitutional and otherwise!

Update (19 Sept 05): Michelle Malkin has some comments on the subject that are worth reading (read the referenced articles, also). And, it looks like the idea of holding leaders responsible is gaining popularity. But don't forget about Nagin! (ht: Instapundit)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Lies, Damned Lies, and Polls... er, Statistics

John Zogby has this to say about the results of his latest poll:

In our new poll, every president since Carter defeats Bush. But Kerry still loses to Bush by one point. What am I missing here?

Glenn Reynolds adds:

It says a lot about what a weak candidate Kerry was, doesn't it? It also underscores Bush's weakness. I said from the beginning that he was a weak candidate, and vulnerable in 2004, but the Democrats managed to put up a guy that he could beat. (I was prophetic in 2003: "I'm always hesitant to disagree with Barone -- but I think that Bush is far more vulnerable than most commentators suggest. The real question, I guess, is whether he'll be vulnerable to whoever the Democrats nominate." Survey says -- nope!)

I'll answer Zogby first: the reason your poll numbers are where they are right now is because of the non-stop lambasting that Bush has taken in the press over the past six weeks (really, over the past five years). Much of the lambasting has been unsubstantiated by the facts, and most of it has been unfair. What your poll is really reporting is the effectiveness of the MSM attack machine at its peak.

Also, concerning Kerry, you have to consider the comparison. Kerry's political career ended back in August 2004; the November presidential election was merely the sound of dirt hitting the coffin. What does it say about a political party when John Kerry, an arrogant, immature, self-aggrandizing bullshitter, is the best candidate they can come up with? What does it say about a candidate when he still can't beat Bush at Bush's lowest point?

And then, on to the Instapundit: Bush's weakness as a candidate is more a reflection of perception than reality. Need I point out that Bush's numbers were a lot higher in the late summer and fall of 2004 than they are now? Every Republican president either knows going in, or comes to understand, that the press really isn't impartial. Not when 90% of the press simultaneously declare their objectivity and their identification as, and agreement with, Democrats. How else do you explain the resounding silence on Kerry's war record (he has yet to fully disclose his military records to the press as he promised repeatedly, as recently as last January)? How else do you explain the rush to bring forth the Texas National Guard "memos" supplied by Bill Burkett, that were so obviously false that casual observers on a blog could spot the forger's mistakes?

Glenn doesn't think much of Bush as president either:
Bush is, in my estimation, adequate as President, but not much more. I've thought that all along -- which is why you've never seen the kind of lyrical praise of Bush here that once appeared at Andrew Sullivan's place, or the kind of disappointment with Bush you see at Sullivan's place now. But in a world of goofy-looking yet pompous empty suits, the adequate man is . . . President. And the Democrats made sure that this was the choice we had in 2004.
Everyone's entitled to their opinion, especially someone who self-identifies as the InstaPundit. However, I think it's fair to ask Professor Reynolds about his grading criteria. After all, Bush is the first president since his father (back in 1988) to win a majority of the popular vote. Bush is the first president since FDR to see his party's lead in Congress increase during a mid-term election. Facing a bitterly divided Congress and a hostile Senate for his first term, Bush still managed to get his major legislation passed. Contrast this to the Clinton Administration, their reneging on all of their major campaign promises before the first inauguration, and the stunning losses among the Democrats in Congress that reversed control of that branch of government for the first time in 40 years. All of Bush's successes should go into the 'plus' column.

I also think it's fair to point out that Bush has also made mistakes. A big mistake was not housecleaning the Executive Branch in the manner of the Clintons; much of his agenda has been attacked, and sabotaged, by administration opponents who work in the administration. Appointing Colin Powell as SecState was, in hindsight, another mistake, albeit one that was quickly rectified after the '04 election. However, the biggest mistake (and it is an ongoing one) is the absolute failure of the Bush Administration to use the power of the bully pulpit to push their agenda and to respond to critics' attacks. A major strength of Bush's character is the fact that he really doesn't care what people think of him as long as he is doing what he believes is right; that is admirable in a person but potentially fatal in a politician.

Bush is the type of person that everyone always claims to want in the office: reflective, principled, and more concerned about doing the right thing than being popular. He is virtually the anti-Bill Clinton, and historians will undoubtedly find it interesting that the electorate turned from one to the other. However, he is also a skilled politician who has benefitted from the combined arrogance and ignorance of his opponents who tend to continually "misunderestimate" Bush to their detriment. I think that history, and hindsight, will be far kinder to him than Glenn Reynolds is today.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Surviving Calamity

Image © 2005 AP via DrudgeReport, 'fair use'

Who among us isn't looking at the cataclysm that New Orleans has become, and hasn't wondered what things would be like in their neck of the woods should a similar catastrophe strike? Sure... not everyone lives in areas prone to hurricanes, but Nature has a veritable smorgasborg of disasters on an epic scale from earthquakes to tsunamis, volcanic eruptions to massive meteor strikes. Science fiction writers have made millions writing about the death and destruction that would ensue from such calamities and the ensuing chaotic aftermath. And then there's disasters of the man-made variety: epidemic, war and its aftermath, or terrorist attack.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been like a disaster novel come alive. Fierce winds pummeled the Gulf Coast and left widepread destruction. A tremendous storm surge washed away buildings and roadways, altering the topology perhaps permanently. Most of us thought that, on the day after Katrina passed northward, God or fate or call it what you will had once again spared New Orleans, and that the worst case had not happened. We were wrong: New Orleans dodged one bullet but she relaxed too soon, only to run smack into the followup shot when the levees failed and the city slowly yet inexorably flooded.

Is your community ready for a similar disaster? Are you ready for a similar disaster? What does "being ready" mean? It means that your household is ready to survive for a minimum of seven days in complete isolation from society, without the availability of utilities such as electricity, phone, and natural gas, without access to grocery stores or pharmacies, as if your household were transported to a deserted island.

• Being ready means stockpiling sufficient food and water for your household to last seven days

At a bare minimum, you should have one-half gallon of drinking water per person per day (that means 3.5 gallons per person for seven days of sufficiency). This water will be used for drinking only, not washing or cleaning. An easy way to obtain a water supply is to thoroughly clean your used one-gallon plastic milk containers as your family normally consumes the milk inside, and fill them with tap water. Do this for a few weeks until you have enough water stockpiled. Once you have sufficient water stockpiled, empty and refill one gallon every week as you rotate through the stockpiled water, ensuring that the water remains fresh. Additionally, keep pure chlorine bleach on hand as an expedient way of purifying water (16 drops of chlorine bleach per gallon should be sufficient to purify filtered water) as well as a water purification system although remember that these are adjuncts to, and not substitutes for, stockpiled water. Note that one-half gallon a day will lead to eventual dehydration under severe conditions, so you might want to stockpile even more water.

Military MREs make good survival food; they come in environmentally-resistant packaging, they contain balanced, nutritious meals that have enough calories to sustain moderate to intense physical activity, and they can be eaten as-is and are provided with a means of heating them. No, they are not gourmet meals and yes, under normal conditions you will tire of them... but in an emergency you will devour them with gusto. MREs are bulky, but are fairly inexpensive and excellent for a limited duration stockpile that will be used to get your household past a short-term crisis of a week or two. I recommend that you stock a minimum of two MREs (2400-2600 calories total) per person per day for seven days (you can always eat less to prolong your food supply if necessary). Google the Web to find vendors.

Don't forget necessary prescription meds. A good, stocked first-aid kit is also a necessity.

• Being ready means stockpiling sufficient simple utilitarian tools and equipment to facilitate your survival

Anyone who camps should have items such as tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, sturdy boots, and portable stoves that greatly facilitate surviving under extreme conditions. If you don't camp, you should consider buying such items and trying them out by camping out (in your backyard, at least). I guarantee that those folks who are still in New Orleans and who have tents and camp stoves and fuel are a lot better off than those who don't.

If you live in a flood-prone area, then common sense indicates that you may be trapped in, or on, your house. Having some common tools, like a hatchet, a crowbar, and a hammer, could mean the difference between drowning in your attic or escaping. A folding shovel is an exceptionally useful item to keep in your vehicle (here's my favorite). It can save your life.

You also need flashlights with sufficient batteries to last for at least a week of several hours-per-day usage. Consider obtaining rechargeable batteries and a source of power (such as a generator), and perhaps contacting an electrician to install a cut-out circuit that will allow you to power several circuits in your house from that generator while isolating your residence from the power grid (so your generator doesn't waste fuel attempting to power the neighborhood or endanger utility crews). Consider also alternate means of power generation (such as a solar cell) or getting a recharger that can utilize a car's 12-volt electrical system that can be used to recharge batteries.

Dry storage for supplies is also important. I have many large Rubbermaid containers that I store camping gear in, that I grab for my camping and hunting trips. Each container is labeled so I know what is where, and I keep them stocked. In an emergency, I can grab a couple of these containers, bungee the lids closed, and toss them in the back of my pickup truck knowing that I have everything I need to survive living outdoors. I keep a couple of extras around that we store blankets in, to be used to store clothing (heavy jackets, extra trousers, shirts, socks, footware, etc.) and MREs in case we have to quickly leave our house. You know what? These float, too, meaning you can tow them behind you with little effort if you have to traverse a flooded area.

• Being ready means acquiring sufficient weapons and training to defend yourself from those who would steal your stockpile or otherwise do you harm

If you don't own firearms, then make the decision today to learn how to handle and use them safely and effectively... and buy a gun. If you truly believe that the government will always be able to protect you, and that ownership of weapons is a sign of sexual inadequacy, please save my bandwidth for more intelligent readers and skip reading the rest of this because your stupidity has condemned you to be one of the first victims of post-disaster anarchy.

If you're still reading, then there's hope for you. All responsible law-abiding adults in your household should have at least one handgun, in a caliber and configuration suitable for self-defense (4" .38 Special revolver or 9mm pistol minimum), and should have had the minimum training necessary to be able to pass your local police qualification course. Additionally, your family should have at least one defensive rifle (16" AR-15 or Mini-14 or lever-action rifle in .357 Magnum, minimum) for every two adults (better to have one for each adult, and they should be identical) with a 'basic load' of magazines and ammo (210-300 rounds loaded in magazines if appropriate) and every adult should know how to load, fire, and maintain these rifles, and be able to hit a basketball-sized target at 50 yards at a minimum.

Firearms are useless without ammunition. Obtain at least 300 rounds of ammunition for each firearm and at least four spare magazines per firearm (for those firearms that take detachable magazines). Obtain cleaning kits for each firearm as well and keep them stocked. A gun that won't fire due to inadequate maintenance is useless.

Chances are, you'll never need these weapons. Good. If disaster strikes, and looters see that you can defend yourselves, chances are they'll bypass your household and look for those readers who skipped this section. If worse comes to worse, you'll most likely prevail... and if you don't then you are no worse off than if you never owned a gun in the first place.

• Being ready means possessing sufficient means of communication to enable your household to stay in contact if neighborhood separation becomes necessary, and to communicate to areas outside the disaster area, without having to rely on the public communications infrastructure

Cell phones are modern miracles of technology... that invariably fail when disasters hit. You can't rely on them in an emergency. Get a Technician-class amateur radio license ASAP and upgrade from Tech to General-class as soon as possible. The Technician license lets you own and operate two-way radios that transmit on frequencies above 30 Mhz which are excellent for local and regional communication. The General license lets you operate in the HF bands (1.8 to 30 Mhz) where you can communicate around the world on as little as 5 watts of transmitted power. Contact the ARRL for more information on amateur radio in the US.

Once you get your Tech license, get a 5-watt handi-talkie (HT) that can be opened to operate outside the amateur radio bands, and open it. Do not operate outside the ham radio bands unless and until you are in a true emergency where you need to communicate in order to save lives or property from damage and have no other means of communication. Your HT should also have scanning and monitoring capabilities so you can listen to AM or FM radio, emergency Public Service frequencies, and National Weather Service broadcasts.

Get enough FRS walkie-talkies for everyone in your household. Get everyone in your household familiar with using the FRS radios, and their shortcomings. In an emergency, your 'opened' amateur radio HT will be able to communicate with your (and others') FRS walkie-talkies, you will be able to stay in touch with everyone via FRS radios and frequencies, and you can use your HTs to obtain news and valuable information and to contact the authorities to arrange for rescue.

Make auxiliary battery packs for your HTs that can utilize common, inexpensive 12-volt gel cell batteries. Unlike a $40+ factory battery pack, which only lasts a couple of hours, your homemade pack will cost under $20 and last for a couple of days.

After you obtain your General license, get a portable HF transceiver and make your own antenna out of wire. This small setup will allow you to communicate outside the region, if necessary, to arrange for help or to share information. If Tom Hanks had packed one of these in his briefcase he never would have spent four years on a desert island and lost Helen Hunt to an ex-"Law and Order" detective cum dentist.

• Being ready means possessing a viable means of transporting your household out of the disaster area if, and when, you determine that leaving your current location is necessary to ensure your survival

Everyone mocks SUVs, but the best vehicle for emergency travel is a big honkin' SUV with four-wheel drive. You can tow a trailer behind it... or rescue someone else's car. You can haul all of your stockpiled food, water, supplies, and weapons, as well as your entire household. You can cross damaged roadways, traverse minor flooded areas, ram your way through looter roadblocks, and withstand gunfire better than with just about any other vehicle. If you live in a city like New Orleans and you know a flood is coming (say, the news alerts you to a levee breach), then load up the SUV and head to a highway overpass. Set up your tent outside, establish watches, and be ready to flee the area when the waters subside.

If you live in flood-prone areas, such as river flood planes or, say, cities that are below mean sea level, perhaps a small johnboat or canoe might be a good idea... but only if you can store it at your house and where it won't be destroyed or rushed away by strong winds or flash floods.

Whatever vehicle you have, keep at least a half-tank of gas in it at all times. Most natural disasters strike without warning, and you will not be able to pump gas from underground tanks when the power is out.

• Being ready means not waiting until the last minute

Don't wait until a couple days before a major hurricane is predicted to wipe out your city before starting to prepare. If the National Hurricane Center starts issuing press releases with words like "horrible" and "devastating" don't wait for your mayor to give the word. The majority of Orleaneans didn't wait for Mayor Nagin and his belated call for a mandatory evacuation; they listened to the urgent warnings from the National Hurricane Center and got out of Dodge before Katrina struck. Some might have felt a little silly on Tuesday morning, when the aftereffects of Katrina didn't seem too bad... just a little wind damage. I'm sure they feel a lot better now about their decision. They're alive.


Watching Katrina approach, and then overwhelm New Orleans and south Louisiana, where I went to high school and college and lived for more than a decade, has been particularly disturbing. As of today I still cannot contact many friends who live in the affected area, and my thoughts and prayers are with them. I am saddened and disgusted by the dregs of society who are taking advantage of the situation to wreak havoc on the city and its innocents, and I am heartened and encouraged by the numerous acts of courage and compassion by those in the maelstrom that is New Orleans, and by those outside who are expending considerable time and energy (and money) to help save the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama who have been so devastated by this storm and its aftermath. Please, donate to the organizations that are rushing to help. My suggestions: The Salvation Army, The American Red Cross, and Mercy Corps.

You can learn more about the Blog for Relief Day at Instapundit. Michelle Malkin also has information about how more than just New Orleans has been affected. And, Brendan Loy has done an outstanding job of Katrina-blogging; his sentiments on the performance of the city's leadership echo mine exactly.

Update: Ed at Captain's Quarters has a post on how the primary responsibility for disaster planning lies with local governments. I would (and have) extended that line of thinking: the primary responsibility for disaster planning lies with each of us (as described above).

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