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August 16, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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[There is a discussion of rape in paragraph 12.]

Three big stories today. First of all, the Democrats are taking a victory lap on the anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a law that has transformed the U.S. economy and for which not a single Republican voted. 

The IRA was the eventual form President Joe Biden’s initial “Build Back Better” plans took. It offered to lower Americans’ energy costs with a 30% tax credit for energy-efficient windows, heat pumps, or newer models of appliances; capped the cost of drugs at $2,000 per year for people on Medicare; and made healthcare premiums fall for certain Americans by expanding the Affordable Care Act. 

By raising taxes on the very wealthy and on corporations and bringing the Internal Revenue Service back up to full strength so that it can crack down on tax cheating, as well as saving the government money by permitting it to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, the IRA was expected to raise $738 billion. That, plus about $891 billion from other sources, enabled the law to make the largest investment ever in addressing climate change while still bringing down the federal government’s annual deficit.

“This is a BFD,” former President Barack Obama tweeted a year ago.

“Thanks, Obama,” Biden responded.

The law has driven significant investment in U.S. manufacturing. Indeed, the chief executive officer of U.S. Steel recently said the law should be renamed the “Manufacturing Renaissance Act,” as manufacturers return previously offshored production to the U.S. That same shift has brought supply chains back to the U.S. These changes have meant new, well-paid manufacturing jobs that have been concentrated in Republican-dominated states and in historically disadvantaged communities. 

Scientists Alicia Zhao and Haewon McJeon, who recently published an article in Science, today wrote that the IRA “brings the US significantly closer to meeting its 2030 climate target [of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 50–52% below 2005 levels], taking expected emissions from 25–31% below 2005 levels down to 33–40% below.”

While Republican presidential candidates took shots at the IRA today—former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley called it “a communist manifesto”—Democrats have pointed out that Republicans have been eager to take credit for IRA investments in their districts without mentioning either that they voted against the IRA or that they are still trying to repeal it.

If the Democrats are taking a victory lap for passing this transformative law a year ago, the second big story today showed the effort to steal the 2020 presidential election was fully formed earlier than had been established previously. That story came from MSNBC’s Ari Melber, who revealed a video taken by Danish filmmaker Christoffer Guldbrandsen of Trump ally Roger Stone plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election on November 5, 2020, two days before the election was called for President Biden. 

In the video, Stone dictated to an associate a statement saying that “any legislative body may decide on the basis of overwhelming evidence of fraud to send electors to the Electoral College who accurately reflect the president’s legitimate victory in their state, which was illegally denied him through fraud. We must be prepared to lobby our Republican legislatures…by personal contact and by demonstrating the overwhelming will of the people in their state—in each state—that this may need to happen,” he said. 

This video, recorded while the election was not yet decided, recalls the statement of Trump ally Steve Bannon, who told a group of associates on October 31, 2020—before the election—that Trump simply planned to declare he had won, claiming that the expected wave in favor of Biden was fraudulent. “What Trump’s gonna do is just declare victory. Right? He’s gonna declare victory. But that doesn’t mean he’s a winner,” Bannon said. “He’s just gonna say he’s a winner.”

The third big story of today shows how Trump Republicans think about women. It hits hard in the wake of this week’s story in Time magazine of the 13-year-old Mississippi girl who just gave birth after being raped by a stranger in her yard. She was unable to obtain an abortion because of Mississippi’s abortion ban. She is scheduled soon to start seventh grade.

Yesterday, far away from the home of that Mississippi girl, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit handed down a decision about the use of the abortion drug mifepristone in the case of Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Last year, as soon as the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision recognizing the constitutional right to abortion, antiabortion doctors tried to get mifepristone taken off the market by arguing that the FDA should never have approved it when it did so in 2000. The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine was incorporated just after last June’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision overturned Roe v. Wade.

In April 2023, Trump appointee and longtime abortion opponent Texas judge Matthew Kacsmaryk issued a preliminary ruling invalidating that approval. The federal appeals court yesterday said the drug should be legal, but significantly limited its use by saying it could not be sent through the mail or prescribed without an in-person visit to a doctor, cutting midwives and other healthcare providers out of the process. 

Judge James Ho, who was sworn into office by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in his billionaire benefactor Harlan Crow’s library in 2018 (Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz was also there), wrote his own opinion in the case in order to expand on what he sees as “the historical pedigree of Plaintiffs’ conscience injury, and to explore how Plaintiffs suffer aesthetic injury as well.” 

Antiabortion doctors suffer a moral injury when they are forced to help patients who have complications from the use of mifepristone, Ho wrote, because they are forced to participate in an abortion against their principles. 

Those doctors also experience an aesthetic injury when patients choose abortion because, as one said, “When my patients have chemical abortions, I lose the opportunity…to care for the woman and child through pregnancy and bring about a successful delivery of new life.” Indeed, Ho wrote, “It’s well established that, if a plaintiff has ‘concrete plans’ to visit an animal’s habitat and view that animal, that plaintiff suffers aesthetic injury when an agency has approved a project that threatens the animal.”

In cases where the government “approved some action—such as developing land or using pesticides—that threatens to destroy…animal or plant life that plaintiffs wish to enjoy,” that injury “is redressable by a court order holding unlawful and setting aside the agency approval. And so too here. The FDA has approved the use of a drug that threatens to destroy the unborn children in whom Plaintiffs [that is, the antiabortion doctors] have an interest.” 

“Unborn babies are a source of profound joy for those who view them,” Ho wrote. “Expectant parents eagerly share ultrasound photos with loved ones. Friends and family cheer at the sight of an unborn child. Doctors delight in working with their unborn patients—and experience an aesthetic injury when they are aborted.” 

The decision will be on hold until the appeals process is completed.

Notes:

https://home.treasury.gov/news/featured-stories/the-inflation-reduction-act-and-us-business-investment

https://www.propublica.org/article/clarence-thomas-scotus-undisclosed-luxury-travel-gifts-crow

https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.ca5.213145/gov.uscourts.ca5.213145.543.1_1.pdf

(Ho’s argument begins on p. 64.) 

https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-how-the-inflation-reduction-act-narrows-the-gap-to-us-climate-goals/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-07-28/us-steel-ceo-hails-ira-as-a-manufacturing-renaissance-act

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2023/08/16/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-anniversary-of-the-inflation-reduction-act/

https://www.thedailybeast.com/msnbc-airs-new-footage-of-roger-stone-working-to-overturn-2020-election

https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2022/07/leaked-audio-steve-bannon-trump-2020-election-declare-victory/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/feb/22/climate-spending-republican-states-clean-energy-funding

https://time.com/6303701/a-rape-in-mississippi/

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/16/us/politics/biden-inflation-reduction-act.html

https://www.nytimes.com/article/supreme-court-abortion-pill-ruling.html

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Your Constitutional Right To Zyn Kiran Sampath

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Photo illustration by The Free Press

According to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, they are a “sinister new threat to the health of young Americans.” Vox says they explain “the new ethos of conservative young men.” Business Insider frets that its users belong to “a subculture on the right that doesn’t just tolerate nicotine use, but venerates it.” 

A new front has opened up in the culture war, and the fight is over inch-long nicotine pouches called Zyns. The product was developed as a cleaner, healthier alternative to “Snus”—moist tobacco pouches tucked inside the gums. Zyn pouches offer all the nicotine without the sticky mess. In other words, Zyns are to Snus what Juuls are to cigarettes—and the latest wave in the push for ever more refined, automatic, and hassle-free nicotine delivery.

And they are popular. Nicotine pouches debuted in the U.S. in 2016 and sales grew by over 540 percent between August 2019 to March 2022. Brands like On! and Velo have played their part, but Zyn, the brand born in Sweden in 2014 and acquired by the tobacco behemoth Philip Morris in 2022, commands 75 percent of the market share as of 2023.

“Part of the appeal is the name.” says Wilson Nesbit, an economics student at Yale University. “It’s short. It’s sweet. And you can put it in a lot of words.” 

In other words, it’s memeable. “Monica Lezynsky,” Nesbit offers. “Zyn-Manuel Miranda. Qui-Gon Zyn.”

Nesbit lives on Lynwood Place, a small street just off Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut. Lynwood is home to two churches, three fraternities, two secret societies, one Chabad house, and a boatload of nicotine. Hence the block’s new nickname, Zynwood. 

“It’s been known as Zynwood for two years,” says Nesbit, who lives with six boys in a house on the street. “The guys who lived here before us had a tent with the Zyn brand stamped across it.” More recently, he underwent an artistic project to solidify the community’s identity, collecting the empty Zyn tins from throughout the neighborhood—277 of them—and spelling out ZYNWOOD on the wall of their living room. 

The Zynwood sign. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Nesbit)

But Zyns aren’t just for college kids. Twentysomethings in corporate jobs now see them as a sophisticated way to get a nicotine hit.

“Vapes are unprofessional,” Andrew Schuler, a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, former vaper, and Zyn user, tells me. “We need nicotine to cope with our jobs because they are extremely stressful,” says Schuler, who goes through three to four pouches a day. “But you’re not going to rip a clunky-looking, purple-colored vape at your desk.”

It’s also about optimization, he said. “Smoking a cigarette requires a break.”

“The guy who used to work at the desk next to me used to take meetings with a Zyn in his cheek,” says one friend, a former Goldman Sachs banker. 

For some, nicotine delivered via Zyns isn’t a nasty addiction, but something of a macho life hack. Arch-techbro Peter Thiel claims nicotine raises your IQ 10 points, while Tucker Carlson (Carlzyn?) proclaimed on Theo Von’s podcast, “Zyn is a powerful work enhancer” as well as “a man enhancer.” (Last December, the Nelk Boys podcasters gifted Carlson the world’s largest Zyn, delivered via helicopter.) But it isn’t neccessarily just right-wingers who use Zyn: a recent picture of Squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed a Zyn pack-shaped bulge in her white jeans. 

Tucker Carl-zyn with the world’s largest Zyn, and a regular-sized packet for scale. (Image via X)

In January, Chuck Schumer called for a crackdown on Zyns. “Amid federal action against e-cigs and their grip on young people, a quiet and dangerous alternative has emerged and it is called Zyn,” Schumer said, warning that Zyns “lock their sights on teens and use social media to hook them.”

As part of his crackdown, Schumer wants to investigate how Phillip Morris has marketed Zyn, and whether the firm has targeted minors. In 2023, Juul agreed to pay $462 million to settle lawsuits into the marketing of vaping products to children. But, rather than investing in social media influencers or extensive advertising campaigns, Zyn has relied on organic viral traction in the U.S. 

A spokesman for Zyn says the company’s marketing practices “are focused on preventing underage access and set the benchmark for the industry.” 

But even Nesbit says Schumer is right to worry about young people getting hooked on the pouch. “It’s an easy introduction for youths that haven’t used nicotine,” he told me over the phone from Zynwood. “Mitigating youth usage should be a top priority, but finding the right approach is another story.” 

Others see ingesting Zyns as a constitutional right, and Schumer as an enemy of freedom. As Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene recently exclaimed on X about his crackdown : “This calls for a Zynsurrection!”

Kiran Sampath is a researcher and reporter. Read her last piece about the temple in New Jersey that took 12 years and $96 million to build.

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South Korea Is Running Out of Kids. Is This America’s Future? Anna Louie Sussman

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In January, more than 150 schools in South Korea had no new first graders. (Photo by Busà Photography via Getty Images)

If you’ve been on TikTok in the last few weeks, you might have seen that American women are talking about 4B. The South Korean feminist movement gets its name from the “Four Nos” its adherents commit to: no dating, no sex, no marriage, no childbirth. In short, 4B, which began around 2019, encourages women to actively avoid men as much as possible. That it’s now trending in the U.S. raises an uncomfortable question: Are our gender politics starting to look like Korea’s? And if so, will the demographic consequences be as extreme?

Right now, South Korea is running out of kids. Last week, it was reported that the Education Ministry plans to reduce the number of teacher training places, citing the precipitous decline in students, which is so extreme that in January of this year more than 150 schools across the nation had no new first graders. Six years ago, the average number of children a South Korean woman had in her lifetime was 0.92, a figure rarely seen outside wartime; since then, it’s fallen all the way to 0.78, with a projection of 0.65 in 2025. In Seoul, the capital, it’s already at 0.59

When I visited Seoul in 2022 to report on why Koreans aren’t having babies, I often found myself wondering: Could this happen in America? Our nation’s fertility, though significantly below the replacement rate of 2.1, is currently higher, at 1.8. But, in the course of dozens of conversations with Koreans of reproductive age, I heard more extreme versions of sentiments I’d started to observe at home. 

Today, Americans who want a good old-fashioned heterosexual relationship struggle to find someone who shares their values. Analysis has shown a gigantic mismatch in the nation’s dating pool: for each single liberal woman, there exist 0.6 single liberal young men. Conservative young men have it even worse, with just 0.5 single conservative young women available to choose from. At the end of last year, the pollster Dan Cox found that this divide is particularly intense among American members of Gen Z, whose oldest members are now 27, the average age of a first-time mother in 2022. 

In Gen Z, Cox showed, women and men are much further apart on fundamental questions of gender equality than the generation before them: whereas 52 percent of millennial men say they’re feminists, compared to 54 percent of women, the equivalent figures for Gen Z are 43 percent and 61 percent. In 2019, a third of adult men under 30 said they face discrimination based on their sex; only five years later, that number has increased to almost half.

Recent data suggest this gender divide is global—and growing. In January, a Financial Times report showed the wide, and widening, divergence in political values between young women and men. This is true in South Korea and the U.S. but also in China, Germany, and the UK.

Americans haven’t given up on having a family to the extent that South Koreans have. In 2023, about 35 percent of Koreans said they don’t think having children after marriage is necessary, a figure that rose to more than 57 percent among 19- to 24-year-olds. By contrast, a recent Gallup poll found that the vast majority of Americans under 30 “either already have children (21 percent) or hope to someday (63 percent).” 

But young American women haven’t just been making TikToks about 4B out of curiosity—an increasing number are genuinely swearing off male partners, with the hashtag #celibacyjourney racking up tens of millions of views. A New York Times op-ed published in February described going “boysober” as “this year’s hottest mental health craze.” Meanwhile, men who identify as “involuntarily celibate” are retreating to online echo chambers that, one 2022 study suggested, now harbor eight times as many instances of degrading language toward women than they did in 2016. In the twelve months after December 2022, self-described misogynist Andrew Tate’s following on X increased from 3 million to 8.5 million.

Conservative politicians across the globe are capitalizing on these divides. Not long before I arrived in Korea, the president Yoon Suk-yeol had coasted into office in May 2022 on a wave of anti-feminist campaign promises, in what multiple observers described as an “incel election.” For the first time, young men describing themselves as anti-feminist were seen as an influential voting bloc, with Yoon promising to abolish the nation’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. (He has not yet succeeded.)

In the U.S., the Republicans also appear to be aggressively courting the male vote. Since the fall of Roe, the Republican Party has become actively hostile to women’s reproductive rights, pushing female voters left. And some of the party’s most influential members are now stoking a war between men and women.

In a breathtakingly offensive comment last January, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz called for the Republican Party to all but forget about female voters, saying that “For every Karen we lose, there’s a Julio and a Jamal ready to sign up for the MAGA movement.” Fox News host Jesse Watters has been even more explicit in singling out liberal single women as the GOP’s nemesis, alighting, somehow, on matrimony as an electoral strategy. 

“Single women are breaking for Democrats by 30 points,” he said after the 2022 midterms. “We need these ladies to get married,” he warned, following up with an order: “Guys, go put a ring on it.” 

And yet a recent poll found that 40 percent of Republicans said they don’t believe marital rape should definitely or probably be prosecuted, suggesting the party’s not overflowing with eligible bachelors. 

All signs point to an ever-widening rift between the sexes. And if women and men become sworn enemies, America is going to start running out of kids, too.

Anna Louie Sussman is a journalist covering gender, economics, and reproduction. She is a 2024 Alicia Patterson Fellow

For more on America’s gender divide, read Rikki Schlott’s piece, “When It Comes to Sex, My Generation Is Screwed,” and become a Free Press subscriber today:

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April 15, 2024 Garamond

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