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Frida Berrigan, Living with World’s End in Plain Sight

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This editor’s note introduced the single article that took up almost every inch of space in the August 31, 1946, New Yorker magazine:

“TO OUR READERS: The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city.  It does so in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use. — THE EDITORS”

That article was, of course, journalist John Hersey’s account of the destruction of the Japanese city of Hiroshima by an American atomic bomb and the stories of six survivors of that devastating single blast.  It caused a sensation at the time and was recently memorialized in Lesley M.M. Blume’s riveting book, Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World.

Sadly enough, 76 years later, I think it’s clear that we Americans (and we’re hardly alone in this on Planet Earth) have yet to take in the full and “terrible implications” of that bomb’s use or of the second war-ending atomic weapon, code-named “fat man,” that devastated Nagasaki.  In fact, when the leaders of Russia and the U.S. recently met in Geneva, nuclear war, unlike cyberwar, wasn’t even at the top of the set of topics they so grimly discussed for several hours, despite the fact that, of the nine nuclear powers on this planet, theirs are the two most staggering arsenals.

Or think of it this way: in the pandemic year 2020, the U.S. alone spent $37.4 billion improving and updating its nuclear weaponry, even launching the production of an all-new intercontinental ballistic missile. Reportedly, this country is planning to spend something like $1.7 trillion over the coming three decades on “modernizing” that very arsenal.

We’re talking not world-ending but worlds-ending potential here. For most of us, this is a sadly distant subject, but not for TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan.  As she explains today, she lives in the midst of just such preparations for producing a world that, at least in human terms, would be no more. Tom

Meatball Subs, Not Nuclear Subs

Or How to Deliver 16,128 Hiroshimas

Groton and New London, Connecticut, are home to about 65,000 people, three colleges, the Coast Guard Academy, 15 nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarines capable of destroying the world many times over, and General Dynamics’ Electric Boat, a multi-billion-dollar private corporation that offers stock options to its shareholders and mega-salaries to its top executives as it pockets taxpayer dollars and manufactures yet more of those stealthy, potentially world-ending machines. Whew!  That was a long sentence!

Naval Submarine Base New London stretches along the east side of the Thames River, straddling the towns of Groton and Ledyard. Occupying at least 680 acres, the base has more than 160 major facilities. The 15 subs based there are the largest contingent in the nation. They're manufactured just down the river at Electric Boat/General Dynamics, which once built the Polaris and Trident nuclear submarines, employs more than 12,000 people in our region, and is planning to hire another 2,400 this year to meet a striking “demand” for the newest version of such subs.

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Liz Theoharis, A Tale of Three Reconstructions

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As lives at work and home were thrown into chaos by a devastating pandemic that’s killed a globe-leading 600,000 Americans (and possibly far more) amid fear, conspiracy theories, and anti-vax propaganda, working-class stress rose immeasurably — or perhaps I mean measurably.  In 2020, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, “U.S. and Canadian work forces saw the highest levels of daily stress globally” at 57%. And if American workers were indeed among the most stressed out on the planet, you can count on one thing — even if Gallup doesn’t measure it — this country’s billionaires weren’t.

America’s ever-expanding billionaire class raked in an estimated extra $1.6 trillion in the worst of the pandemic months. Not so surprisingly, then, as Inequality.org notes, by April “America’s 719 billionaires, this country’s .001%, held over four times more wealth ($4.56 trillion) than all the roughly 165 million Americans in society’s bottom half ($1.01 trillion).” And as ProPublica recently reported, having “obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people,” unlike working-class Americans, many of them essentially paid next to no, or no (yes, that’s right, no) taxes at all. Sometimes, quite literally not a cent.  Oh, unless you want to count as a form of taxation (with representation) the rather generous contributions some of them have made to favored politicians.

This is the world of ultimate inequality and turmoil that Americans find themselves in at a moment when, as TomDispatch regular and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign Liz Theoharis suggests, this country may be in the early days of a new era of Reconstruction, the third in our history. If so, how appropriate, since who can doubt that, facing such a surge of Republican extremism and repression, ranging from the suppression of the vote to the suppression of what can even be taught in a classroom, a wave of genuine reconstruction couldn’t be more in order. Tom

When You Lift from the Bottom, Everyone Rises

Have We Entered America’s Third Era of Reconstruction?

West Virginia, a state first established in defiance of slavery, has recently become ground zero in the fight for voting rights. In an early June op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin vowed to maintain the Senate filibuster, while opposing the For the People Act, a bill to expand voting rights. Last week, after mounting pressure and a leaked Zoom recording with billionaire donors, he showed potential willingness to move on the filibuster and proposed a "compromise" on voting rights. Nonetheless, his claim that the filibuster had been critical to protecting the “rights of Democrats in the past” and his pushback on important voting-rights protections requires scrutiny.

After all, the modern use of the filibuster first emerged in the 1920s and 1930s as a response to civil rights and anti-lynching legislation. In 1949, senator and southern Democrat Richard Russell, then a chief defender of the filibuster, unabashedly explained that “nobody mentions any other legislation in connection with it.”

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Rajan Menon, Vaccine Nationalism

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The other day, for the first time in a year and a quarter, I walked into a movie theater. It was admittedly for a special screening (to see a film my daughter had been involved in making).  The seating was limited and, like me, everyone allowed in had been vaccinated. Still, it felt like a different planet than the one I had been living on at least since March 2020 and that, I have to admit, was a thrill.

Unfortunately, as TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon reminds us today, if you were to truly take in the world as a whole, you would know that it simply wasn’t true — or rather that the planet I was on was indeed “special” in all sorts of grim ways.  If I had been living in, say, India or Brazil, both still with unmasked, Trumpian leaders, or so many other countries that simply don’t have the wealth and power of the United States, the odds that I would have been vaccinated were next to nil and I might well have been gasping out my last breath in a bed at home (hospitals being so overwhelmed that I wouldn’t have even had access to one) or, for that matter, on the street.

With almost four million people on Planet Earth officially already dead from Covid-19 (and that number undoubtedly a significant undercount) and the toll on the poorer parts of the planet rising fast, the saddest story of all is the tale of vaccine nationalism that Menon tells in a world in which neither the words “fair” nor “share” seem much in fashion, but “profits” and “patents” certainly are.  And sadly enough, it could have been different. Tom

The Pandemic Is Us (But Now Mostly Them)

Power, Wealth, and Justice in the Time of Covid-19

Fifteen months ago, the SARS-CoV-2 virus unleashed Covid-19. Since then, it's killed more than 3.8 million people worldwide (and possibly many more). Finally, a return to normalcy seems likely for a distinct minority of the world’s people, those living mainly in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and China. That’s not surprising.  The concentration of wealth and power globally has enabled rich countries to all but monopolize available vaccine doses. For the citizens of low-income and poor countries to have long-term pandemic security, especially the 46% of the world’s population who survive on less than $5.50 a day, this inequity must end, rapidly -- but don’t hold your breath.

The Global North: Normalcy Returns

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