Joe Biden and the Segregationists

A group of Democratic politicians have decided they have the right to judge 20th-century senators by the ethics of the 21st century.  Nice idea, but Joe Biden and a lot of others would have served very short careers if they had followed that lunatic course. After all, in those days the southern states were known for electing politicians to the Senate and then leaving them for decades on end. By the time Biden—and other senators of his generation—arrived in the Senate, it was the segregationists who had the power.

Donald Trump is pretty ignorant about the issue—immigration—that he keeps popping off about. The same was not true of Ted Kennedy. He learned the issue in part because one of his first three subcommittees was Immigration.  He got it shortly after being sworn in as a senator in 1963 by quickly responding to a summons to the office of the vicious racist James Eastland, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who plied him with scotch in the morning and gave him his three chosen committees. Should Kennedy have disdainfully kept his distance from the distasteful old bigot and thus screwed his constituents and migrants of all types?

I have little admiration for Joe Biden. He was the worst of the Democratic drug warriors. As Judiciary Committee chair, he discouraged some of Anita Hill’s supporting witnesses from testifying.  But he’s getting a bum rap from Cory Booker and others who are trying to apply post-20th-century morality to the society that existed decades ago.  Consider, for example, who the segregationists were.  Should the Vietnam doves have kept their distance from segregationist J. William Fulbright, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the most effective critics of the Vietnam war?  Should the members of the Senate Watergate Committee, and other political reformers, have refused to cooperate with the chair of the committee, Sam Ervin?

By attacking Biden for working with segregationists, Booker and company are attacking other senators who did exactly the same thing: Mike Mansfield, all three Kennedys, Estes Kefauver, William Proxmire, Albert Gore, George McGovern, Thomas Kuchel, Phil Hart, Hubert Humphrey, Joe Tydings were all cooperative with segregationists.

Today’s group of amateur political journalists are just as bad.  CNN’s Stephen Collinson wrote that Biden “can’t seem to get out of his way” because the “backlash Biden faces from his rivals is less about his record on race—he has long fought for racial equality—and far more about whether he truly appreciates the changes that have taken place in his party during a career that began in the early 1970s.” Collinson fails to realize that the biggest change is not involved with race but with the polarization and dysfunction in Congress that Newt Gingrich and other Republicans intentionally engineered into the system. Biden is speaking right to the most important new issue on the scene and in the Democratic Party, which has never found a way to end the polarization.

NPR’s Scott Detrow dug up the most vile quote he could find from Eastland (“In every stage of the bus boycott we have been oppressed and degraded because of black, slimy, juicy, unbearably stinking niggers”) to show the kind of person Biden was cozying up to.  How can Biden or anyone defend against that?  Could Detrow not know that because politicians of competing views—Kennedy and Hatch, McGovern and Dole—are pals, it does not mean they embrace each other’s opinions? The technique Detrow employs is sleazy and designed to inflame. Is he suggesting that Ted Kennedy—whose biographer wrote of Kennedy and Eastland, “They hardly ever voted alike on an important issue, but they genuinely liked each other”—sympathizes with that quote?

Those kinds of political and journalism tactics may be why the Congressional Black Caucus is backing up not Booker, Kamala Harris, and others, but Biden. “I worked with Strom Thurmond all my life,” U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina said, referring to the governor and senator from Clyburn’s home state who ran as a white supremacist candidate for president in 1948.

Democrats can’t have it both ways.  Either people work with their adversaries and Congress works—or they don’t, and it doesn’t.  They can’t complain about congressional Republicans not wanting to work with Democrats and then turn around and complain that Biden worked with segregationists in an era when that got things done, something Democratic senators are not doing today in the dysfunctional Senate.

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US Electrical Grid Vulnerable

Retired admiral Lee Gunn was in Reno in March to speak to the National Security Forum of Northern Nevada. Gunn’s remarks to the Reno group were wide-ranging, raising some issues about which the public has seldom heard. He said the nation’s electricity system works well given the fact that it wasn’t designed. Rather, it is a patchwork of systems. In the early days of electricity, he said, lines were stretched to a county line and then stopped there. It would be picked up by another jurisdiction months or years later.

Retired Admiral Lee Gunn

That system is pretty vulnerable, he said. The leading source of attacks on power facilities is—squirrels. There are also more than 200 annual incidents of what he termed “mischief”—non-political attacks on such facilities. As an example, he said, rifle shots were fired at the Metcalf transformer station near San Jose on April 16, 2013. The Silicon Valley and its region was without electricity for half a day, and the Metcalf station was shut down for half a year because of the damage to the transformer. Power companies, he said, do not keep spare transformers on hand because they are so expensive, and it takes months to build replacements.

One exotic issue the public knows little about is that the U.S. power system is vulnerable to an electromagnetic pulse attack. He compared it to the Sept. 1, 1859 “white light” solar flare that lasted about five minutes, the impact reaching Earth the next day and lasting two days, lighting up the northern hemisphere with green, blue and red auroras, killing and injuring telegraph operators. Telegraph lines caught fire. Teletypes scorched paper, printed gibberish and continued to function for hours after being unplugged.

Gunn said he does not know whether the United States can wield an EMP as a weapon because he had no need to know when he was in the Navy, but the Pentagon believes Russia has such a weapon, and “right now there is no solution.”

An EMP attack “absolutely could … take down the United States,” he said.

In December, the Air Force released a report that received greater attention overseas—the London Daily Mail called it “shocking”—and said the U.S. is largely unprepared for such an attack, that it could eliminate all electricity, kill 90 percent of the people on the East Coast and lead to chaos worldwide. North Korea, Russia and Iran have been developing such weapons, the report said.

Few facilities that need to be protected against an EMP with “hardened” exteriors are so outfitted, Gunn told the Reno audience.

Boeing is working on developing an EMP weapon for the United States and is also developing aircraft that can ward off EMPs—each of which is expected to have the price tag of an aircraft carrier—including a new Air Force One. Trump has said several times that he is working on reducing the cost for the new Air Force One, but a transportation trade website has said Trump’s “assertions have repeatedly proven to be hollow and now it is becoming clear that the program’s price tag has actually leaped considerably.”

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