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October 9, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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The crisis in the Middle East has continued to escalate. Since I last wrote on Saturday, October 7, the contours of the attack on Israel by Hamas have become clearer. More than 900 Israelis have been killed in the fighting, and dozens more have been taken hostage and are now being held in Gaza, with Hamas threatening to execute them if Israelis target civilians without warning. At least 11 U.S. citizens were killed in the attack.

In retaliation, Israel has struck the Gaza Strip from the air and restricted food, electricity, and fuel. Around 680 people have been killed in Gaza, and more than 187,500 have been displaced. Thousands more have been wounded on both sides.

Rumors are flying about how deeply Iran backed the attack by Hamas, and whether Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu knew ahead of time about the attack, but there is little analysis yet that is verified. At the same time, the volume of disinformation spreading suggests that the crisis is being used to destabilize the U.S. by increasing the already strong feelings about the conflicts between Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East.

And, over all, the conflict is deeply steeped in centuries of history both in the region and elsewhere as well as in longstanding cultural antisemitism, which had been on the rise and which is now, in some countries, at fever pitch.

For my part, while I am willing to try to keep people abreast of key players and events in the present crisis, I am trying to be cautious and not speculate in areas about which, as a scholar of the United States, I am not versed. The volume of hate mail about last Saturday’s letter, pretty evenly divided between those accusing me of backing one side and those accusing me of backing the other, is about the highest I’ve ever received, but I was trying simply to present the verified events of Saturday alone, with a focus on how they affected the United States.

While I can’t say much about the internal meaning of events in the Middle East, I can reflect on what is happening, on a day-to-day basis, in the U.S. in response to the crisis.

President Joe Biden has been in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu throughout the last few days, and this morning met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall, and White House chief of staff Jeff Zientz about the situation, directing them to act with their Israeli counterparts on all parts of the crisis but focusing primarily on the missing hostages.

This afternoon, Biden called the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom to coordinate support for Israel. After the call, the leaders issued a rare joint statement, expressing “our steadfast and united support to the State of Israel, and our unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its appalling acts of terrorism.” They reiterated that “the terrorist actions of Hamas have no justification, no legitimacy, and must be universally condemned. There is never any justification for terrorism. In recent days, the world has watched in horror as Hamas terrorists massacred families in their homes, slaughtered over 200 young people enjoying a music festival, and kidnapped elderly women, children, and entire families, who are now being held as hostages.”

They emphasized that their countries would support Israel against such atrocities, and again warned other countries against trying to exploit the chaos after the attack to gain an advantage.

At the same time, the statement continued, “All of us recognize the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and support equal measures of justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike. But make no mistake: Hamas does not represent those aspirations, and it offers nothing for the Palestinian people other than more terror and bloodshed.”

The U.S. is facing this crisis with a weakened diplomatic corps, a weakened military, and a weakened government.

Because of holds Republican senators have put on the nomination process, the U.S. does not have a Senate-confirmed ambassador to Israel or Egypt, the two countries that border the Gaza Strip. The nominees for U.S. ambassador to Oman and Kuwait are similarly waiting for confirmation, as is the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has held up several of the Middle East nominations, claiming that the “nominees keep lying to Congress and the American people, testifying publicly that they are committed to countering Iran and deepening the U.S.-Israel relationship then implementing the opposite policies in secret once confirmed.”

The military is also down critical leaders, as Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) is refusing to lift his hold on more than 300 uncontroversial military promotions, a hold he says is to protest Pentagon policy of permitting military personnel time off to obtain abortion care.

And the House of Representatives is without a speaker, making it unclear what, if any, business other than electing a new speaker it can conduct. The two candidates in the race for speaker—Representatives Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH)—apparently hope to be elected from within the Republican conference, but neither has shown any sign of being able to find the necessary votes.

Scalise is saddled with his own declaration years ago that he was like Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke “without the baggage,” and—in addition to old accusations of turning a blind eye to sexual abuse of the Ohio State University wrestlers on the team of which he was the assistant coach between 1987 and 1995—Jordan is closely associated with the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Republicans from more moderate districts are likely to be reluctant to back either of them.

Today, former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) suggested he would be willing to return to the speaker’s chair and noted that he had more votes than any other current Republican candidate when the extremists ousted him last week.

This evening, House Republicans met in private to discuss the speakership. They are expected to hold a candidate forum tomorrow and a private vote on a nominee Wednesday. They then hope to have a candidate to take forward for a floor vote.

Notes:

https://www.cnn.com/2023/10/08/europe/israel-hostages-hamas-what-we-know-intl/index.html

https://apnews.com/live/israel-hamas-war-live-updates

https://www.politico.com/news/2023/10/08/tuberville-blockade-israel-military-00120525

https://twitter.com/WhiteHouse/status/1711528257017807294

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/10/09/joint-statement-on-israel/

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/white-house-pushes-senate-confirm-us-ambassador-israel-rcna119511

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/06/politics/jordan-osu-wrestlers-strauss-invs/index.html

https://thehill.com/homenews/house/4245857-mccarthy-speakership-israel-turmoil/

https://www.murphy.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/murphy-calls-for-swift-confirmation-of-key-state-department-officials-in-the-middle-east

https://www.businessinsider.com/israel-gallant-announces-complete-siege-gaza-no-electricity-food-fuel-2023-10

https://apnews.com/article/israel-palestinians-gaza-hamas-airstrikes-hostages-4377e096f62bf535bebcdff38cf16049

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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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