To Save One Species of Brown Owl, the Feds Want to Shoot Hundreds of Thousands of a More Adaptable Similar-Looking Species of Brown Owl

Isn’t it interesting that many in the Pacific Northwest and in the federal government want to take guns away from self-defending citizens at the same time that they want to use large-bore shotguns to shoot hundreds of thousands of brown owls whose only sin is that, unlike the spotted owls who they resemble, they are not picky eaters?

(p. D1) In the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, the northern spotted owl, a rare and fragile subspecies of spotted owl, is being muscled out of its limited habitat by the barred owl, its larger and more ornery northeastern cousin. The opportunistic barred owl has been moving in on spotted owl turf for more than half a century, competing with the locals for food and space, outnumbering, out-reproducing and inevitably chasing them out of their nesting spots. Barred owls have also emerged as a threat to the California spotted owl, a closely related subspecies in the Sierra Nevada and the mountains of coastal and Southern California.

. . .

(p. D5) In a last-ditch effort to rescue the northern spotted owl from oblivion and protect the California spotted owl population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed culling a staggering number of barred owls across a swath of 11 to 14 million acres in Washington, Oregon and Northern California, where barred owls — which the agency regards as invasive — are encroaching. The lethal management plan calls for eradicating up to half a million barred owls over the next 30 years, or 30 percent of the population over that time frame. The owls would be dispatched using the cheapest and most efficient methods, from large-bore shotguns with night scopes to capture and euthanasia.

. . .

The agency’s plan, outlined last fall in a draft report assessing its environmental impact that is due for final review this summer, has pitted conservationists, who say it will benefit both species, against animal supporters, who consider the proposed scale, scope and timeline unsustainable.

Last month, a coalition of 75 wildlife protection and animal welfare organizations sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland urging her to scrap what they called a “colossally reckless action” that would necessitate a perpetual killing program to keep the number of barred owls in check. Wayne Pacelle, the president of Animal Wellness Action and an author of the statement, said it was dangerous for the government to start managing competition and social interaction among North American species, including ones that have expanded their range as a partial effect of “human perturbations” of the environment. “I cannot see how this succeeds politically, because of its price tag and its sweeping ambitions,” he said in an email.

Mr. Pacelle questions whether barred owls, which are indigenous to North America, truly meet the criteria for an invasive species. “This ‘invasive’ language rings familiar to me in our current political debates,” he said. “Demonize the migrants, and the harsh policy options become much easier from a moral perspective.”

The signatories argued that the current predicament warranted nonlethal control, and that the agency’s approach would lead to the wrong owls being shot and to the death of thousands of eagles, hawks and other creatures from lead poisoning. “Implementing a decades-long plan to unleash untold numbers of ‘hunters’ in sensitive forest ecosystems is a case of single-species myopia regarding wildlife control,” the letter said.

. . .

At first sight, it’s easy to mistake a spotted for a barred: Both have tuftless rounded heads, teddy bear eyes and bodies mottled brown and white. They can interbreed to produce chicks called sparred owls. But they differ in their habitat requirements. Up to four pairs of barred owls can occupy the three-to-12 square miles that one spotted couple needs, and barred owls aggressively defend their terrain. “The closer spotted owls live to barred owls, the less likely the spotted owls are to have offspring,” Dr. Wiens said. Barred owls also produce four times as many young.

Spotted owls are extremely picky eaters: In California, they eat only flying squirrels and wood rats. “Barred owls devour anything and everything,” Ms. Bloem said, . . .

For the full story see:

Franz Lidz. “The Lethal Cost of a Rescue.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 30, 2024): D1 & D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 29, 2024, and has the title “They Shoot Owls in California, Don’t They?” Where there is a difference in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

Most Illegal Immigrants to the U.S. Correctly Believe That They Will Be Able to Stay Forever

(p. A1) Today, people from around the globe are streaming across the southern border, most of them just as eager to work. But rather than trying to elude U.S. authorities, the overwhelming majority of migrants seek out border agents, sometimes waiting hours or days in makeshift encampments, to surrender.

. . .

In December [2023] alone, more than 300,000 people crossed the southern border, a record number.

It is not just because they believe they will be able to make it across the 2,000 mile southern frontier. They are also certain that once they make it to the United States they will be able to stay.

Forever.

And by and large, they are not wrong.

For the full commentary, see:

Miriam Jordan. “Most Migrants Arrive Believing They Can Stay.” The New York Times (Thursday, February 1, 2024): A1 & A13.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 31, 2024, and has the title “One Big Reason Migrants Are Coming in Droves: They Believe They Can Stay.”)

Social Security Administration Is Lax in Stopping Fraud and Slow in Aiding Fraud Victims

(p. A1) For the past two decades, Liz Birenbaum’s 88-year-old mother, Marge, has received her Social Security check on the second Wednesday of each month. It’s her sole source of income, which pays for her room at a long-term care center, where she landed last October after having a stroke.

When the deposit didn’t arrive in January [2024], they logged into Marge’s Social Security account, where they found some startling clues: the last four digits of a bank account number that didn’t match her own, at a bank they didn’t recognize.

“Someone had gotten in,” said Ms. Birenbaum, of Chappaqua, N.Y. “Then I hit a panic button.”

It quickly became evident that a fraudster had redirected the $2,452 benefit to an unknown Citibank account. Marge, who lives in Minnesota, had never banked there. (Ms. Birenbaum requested to refer to her mother by her first name only to protect her from future fraud.)

Ms. Birenbaum immediately started making calls to set things right. When she finally connected with a Social Security representative from a local office in a Bloomington, Minn., the rep casually mentioned that this happens “all the time.”

“I was stunned,” Ms. Birenbaum said.

. . .

(p. A18) It can be a lucrative fraud, and a devastating benefit to lose. An estimated $33.5 million in benefits — intended for nearly 21,000 beneficiaries — were redirected in a five-year period ending in May 2018, according to the most recent audit from the Office of the Inspector General, an independent group responsible for overseeing investigations and audits at the agency. Another $23.9 million in fraudulent redirects were prevented before they happened over the same time period.

“Fraudsters were able to obtain sufficient information about a true beneficiary to convince the Social Security Administration that they were that beneficiary,” said Jeffrey Brown, a deputy assistant inspector general at the Office of the Inspector General, who analyzed the issue in 2019. “Once they were in the front door, they were able to change their direct deposits.”

. . .

Just months before Marge’s benefits were redirected, the O.I.G. issued a report that said the administration’s portal, called my Social Security, did not fully comply with federal requirements for identity verification: It said it didn’t go far enough to verify and validate new registrants’ identities, in all cases.

. . .

The issue would have been impossible for someone like Marge to rectify on her own. It was challenging enough for Ms. Birenbaum, a marketing consultant, and her brother, based near their mother in a Minneapolis suburb, who worked together to recover the benefits and secure Marge’s account.

Ms. Birenbaum — who reported the crime to the O.I.G. and the F.B.I. and alerted her state and federal representatives — once spent two and a half hours on hold with the Social Security Administration before connecting with a regional case worker. The rep was able to see that her mother’s direct deposit information had been altered in early December, the month before the benefits vanished.

Ms. Birenbaum’s brother visited their mother’s local Social Security office and became Marge’s “representative payee,” which allows him to handle her affairs (Social Security does not accept powers of attorney). They had to find ways to make the correction without bringing Marge to the office, which Ms. Birenbaum said would have been a “herculean task.”

Marge received the missing money on March 1, [2024] about a month and a half after they discovered the problem.

For the full story, see:

Tara Siegel Bernard. “Internet Thieves Drain Social Security Accounts.” The New York Times (Saturday, March 9, 2024): A1 & A18.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed years, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “How Fraudsters Break Into Social Security Accounts and Steal Benefits.”)

As Threats Increase, Jewish New Yorkers Embrace “Their Right to Self-Defense”

(p. A17) It’s Sunday morning at Manhattan’s Westside Rifle & Pistol Range, where I’ve come for a safety class as part of my application for a license to carry a concealed firearm. I’m one of at least 10 Jewish men in the class, many wearing yarmulkes. Some wouldn’t have dreamed of setting foot in this place a year ago.

“I was born and raised a Jew, and I’ve lived in Brooklyn and Manhattan my whole life,” says Yoni Ben Ami, who declines to give his age or profession but looks to be around 30. “I’ve never been uncomfortable going around town being visibly Jewish until Oct. 7 [2023] and its aftermath.” Darren Leung, owner of the Westside range, says he’s seen an “exponential” increase in Jewish permit-seekers and members.

We’re thousands of miles from Gaza, but the FBI has warned that threats to American Jews are at an all-time high. Anti-Israel protesters regularly march through the streets, and some commit acts of intimidation and vandalism.

. . .

Minorities of all sorts have availed themselves of the Constitution’s guarantee of self-defense. The Pink Pistols, a gay gun-rights organization, was founded in 2000; the National African American Gun Association in 2015.

. . .

. . . Jewish New Yorkers have come to appreciate how fortunate they are to live in a country that protects their right to self-defense.

For the full commentary, see:

Max Raskin. “New York Jews Embrace Gun Rights.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023): A17.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 14, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

FDA Delays Apple Offering Consumers Quick and Convenient Blood Pressure Readings

Doesn’t the FDA do harm by requiring that Apple watch blood pressure monitor be equal in accuracy to a standard clinical blood pressure monitor? Many people will not take the time and effort to get frequent readings from a standard blood pressure monitor in a clinic. But many of them would check their blood pressure conveniently on their watch. Isn’t a less accurate reading better than no reading at all?

(p. A1) Apple’s widening effort to turn its nine-year-old watch from a luxury timepiece into the ultimate all-in-one medical device is taking it into territory that is legally treacherous as well as potentially profitable.

. . .

(p. A2) “The studies that we’ve seen are not yet reassuring that they’re ready for prime time or for clinical use,” said Jordana Cohen, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania.

To secure Food and Drug Administration clearance for selling a blood-pressure monitor, companies must demonstrate through the FDA’s 510(k) process that their device’s accuracy is comparable to an existing, already cleared device, she added.

Similarly, tracking glucose through noninvasive skin sensors is generally less precise than direct blood analysis, with factors such as skin tone and temperature affecting accuracy.

For the full story, see:

Dalvin Brown and Aaron Tilley. “Tech and Legal Hurdles Hinder Apple’s Quest for Medical Watch.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Dec. 29, 2023): A1-A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 28, 2023, and has the title “Apple Keeps Chasing the Ultimate Health-Tracking Watch—but It Could Take Years.”)

Modern Law Tries to Rule Out Error and Accident at the Expense of Individual Freedom

(p. C9) Philip K. Howard’s “Everyday Freedom: Designing the Framework for a Flourishing Society” is a slim book propounding a colossal, sometimes unwieldy, thesis. Beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Howard argues, American law was transformed from a system designed to guard individual freedom and accountability into one in which bad outcomes are impossible. Modern law, he writes, is “an elaborate precautionary system aimed at precluding human error. Anything that goes wrong, any accident or disappointment, any disagreement, potentially requires a legal solution. Instead of charging officials to do what’s sensible, modern law presumes that the gravest risk is to leave room for judgment of people in positions of authority.”

The consequence, he observes, is a society of people who feel they can’t make decisions without thick rule books explaining best practices and legal protections if their decision turns out badly.

For the full review, see:

Barton Swaim. “Bring Back the Smoke-Filled Rooms.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 2, 2024): C9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 1, 2024, and has the title “Politics: ‘The Primary Solution’ by Nick Troiano Plus ‘Everyday Freedom’ by Philip K. Howard.”)

The book under review above is:

Howard, Philip K. Everyday Freedom: Designing the Framework for a Flourishing Society. Garden City, NY: Rodin Books, 2024.

“MSNBC’s Business Model . . . Is Flaying Trump 24 Hours a Day”

Maureen Dowd, a leading opinion columnist at The New York Times, is left-wing but sometimes refreshingly blunt, as in some of her comments from right after the Iowa Republican caucuses.

(p. 2) . . . MSNBC refused to carry Trump’s victory speech at all and CNN cut away from the 25-minute remarks after 10 minutes. Fox News, of course, played it all.

Rachel Maddow said her network’s decision was “not out of spite.” It’s not personal — it’s strictly business, as Michael Corleone said. MSNBC’s business model, after all, is flaying Trump 24 hours a day.

For the full commentary, see:

Maureen Dowd. “Can the MAGA Shrew Be Tamed?” The New York Times, SundayOpinion Section (Sunday, January 21, 2024): 2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 20, 2024, and has the same title as the print version.)

Thiel Says British Public Supports National Health System Because They Suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome

Peter Thiel claims that the British public supports their National Health System because they suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome. The claim is amusing, thought-provoking, and may be partly true. But I suspect that there are other reasons for the British public’s support. I suspect they assume that future advances in health care inevitably will be more expensive than they will be able to afford. They do not understand that in a laissez-faire health system substantial incentives would exist to develop effective low-cost cures and therapies.

(p. 8) It began with a £1 contract.

In the hours after a pandemic was declared in March 2020, Palantir, the secretive American data analytics company, was invited to 10 Downing Street along with other tech groups, including Amazon, Google and Meta, to discuss how it could help the British government respond.

Within days, Palantir’s software was processing streams of data from across England’s National Health Service, with Palantir engineers embedded to help. The company’s services, used by the C.I.A. and Western militaries for more than a decade, were deployed to track emergency room capacity and direct supplies of scarce equipment.

Palantir charged the government just one pound.

The deal provided the company with a valuable toehold. Since then, Palantir, which is chaired by Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor and one of President Donald J. Trump’s major 2016 donors, has parlayed the work into more than £60 million in government health contracts. Its biggest reward may be yet to come: a seven-year contract worth up to £480 million — about $590 million — to overhaul N.H.S. England’s outdated patient data system.

. . .

Palantir declined to comment on its bid but said it was proud to support “the world’s most important private and public institutions.” The company defended the quality of its work and said, “We are now helping to reduce the N.H.S. backlog, cut the amount of time nurses and doctors need to spend on administrative tasks and speed up cancer diagnosis — all while rigorously protecting data privacy.”

. . .

Speaking at Oxford University in January [2023], Mr. Thiel went off script. The N.H.S. makes people sick and should embrace privatization, he said in response to a question. The British public’s support for the service, he said, was “Stockholm syndrome.”

For the full story, see:

Euan Ward and Adam Satariano. “Uproar in U.K. Over Data Giant’s Push for Heavier Role in Health Care.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, October 1, 2023): 8.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 29, 2023, and has the title “How Peter Thiel’s Palantir Pushed Toward the Heart of U.K. Health Care.”)

Economists’ Models of Growth and Inflation Predicted a Recession That Has Not Happened; So “Economists Can Learn a Huge, Healthy Dose of Humility”

(p. B1) Many economists spent early 2023 predicting a painful downturn, a view so widely held that some commentators started to treat it as a given. Inflation had spiked to the highest level in decades, and a range of forecasters thought that it would take a drop in demand and a prolonged jump in unemployment to wrestle it down.

Instead, the economy grew 3.1 percent last year, up from less than 1 percent in 2022 and faster than the average for the five years leading up to the pandemic.

. . .

(p. B3) . . . what is clear is that old models of how growth and inflation relate did not serve as accurate guides.

. . .

“It’s not like we understood the macro economy perfectly before, and this was a pretty unique time,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard economist and former Obama administration economic official who thought that lowering inflation would require higher unemployment. “Economists can learn a huge, healthy dose of humility.”

. . .

Many economists previously thought that a more marked slowdown was likely to be necessary to fully stamp out rapid inflation. Mr. Summers, for instance, predicted that it would take years of joblessness above 5 percent to wrestle price increases back under control.

“I was of the view that soft landings” were “the triumph of hope over experience,” Mr. Summers said. “This is looking like a case where hope has triumphed over experience.”

. . .

“I would have thought that it was an iron law that disinflation is painful,” said Laurence M. Ball, a Johns Hopkins economist who was an author of an influential 2022 paper that argued bringing down inflation would probably require driving up unemployment. “The broad lesson, which we never seem to completely learn, is that it’s very hard to forecast things and we shouldn’t be too confident, and especially when there’s a very weird, historic event like Covid.”

For the full story, see:

Jeanna Smialek and Ben Casselman. “How Experts Got It Wrong On Economy.” The New York Times (Saturday, January 27, 2024): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 26, 2024, and has the title “Economists Predicted a Recession. So Far They’ve Been Wrong.”)

Reagan’s “Dogged Support for Human Rights” Helped Advance Freedom and Peace

(p. C7) Reagan’s confidence that the Cold War could be won made him unusual. At the time, both Republicans and Democrats believed that America was in decline. Communism was on the march in Afghanistan, Africa, Central America and the Caribbean. Then, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter seemed hapless and ineffectual after he failed to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran. The CIA mistakenly believed that the Soviet economy was growing. The policies of arms control and détente —or direct negotiations—were ascendant.

William Inboden’s masterly diplomatic history “The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink” reveals the qualities that made Reagan an extraordinary president who established the conditions for the collapse of Soviet communism. . . .

At almost every juncture, Reagan rejected the advice of former president Richard Nixon, whose realist worldview privileged China over Japan, geopolitics over economics, equilibrium over victory, and stability over human rights. Reagan envisioned a future where high technology, a universal commitment to freedom and dignity, and a willingness to risk confrontation with the enemy resulted in a global democratic revolution and the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons.

. . .

Reagan’s horror of nuclear war led him to envision a world where nuclear weapons would be obsolete. Woven into Mr. Inboden’s story are the many times that Reagan saw the potential for nuclear catastrophe. In 1979 the commander of the North American Air Defense Command, or NORAD, told him that the U.S. had no defense against a Soviet missile strike. In 1981 he took a flight on a special Air Force One called the “Doomsday Plane” that had been made to withstand nuclear fallout. In 1982 he became the first president to participate in a continuity-of-government exercise, codenamed “Ivy League.” Reagan watched helplessly as a simulated nuclear exchange destroyed his beloved country.

The following spring Reagan proposed the development of technology that could intercept nuclear missiles before they hit their targets. Both his secretaries of defense and state were against his plans for a Strategic Defense Initiative. They were not alone. The many critics of Reagan’s antiballistic missile shield followed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in calling it “Star Wars.”

Scientists said SDI wouldn’t work. Arms controllers said it would increase the chances of nuclear escalation. None of them understood that Reagan had redefined the arms race to America’s advantage. “It put the Soviets on the defensive,” writes Mr. Inboden, “fueling the Kremlin’s perennial fear of America’s technological prowess.”

. . .

Reagan’s opponents said that his dogged support for human rights and missile defense was both counterproductive and a distraction from good relations with the Soviets. Rather than conform to the accepted interpretation of reality, he sought to establish new facts on the ground that favored the expansion of freedom.

For the full review, see:

Matthew Continetti. “We Win and They Lose.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 25, 2022, and has the title “‘The Peacemaker’ Review: Ronald Reagan’s Cold War.”)

The book under review is:

Inboden, William. The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink. New York: Dutton, 2022.

Britain’s Socialized National Health Service (NHS) Stripped Parents of Control, Leaving Indi No Choice but to Die

(p. A13) Indi was born with mitochondrial disease, a degenerative condition that prevents cells from producing energy. When her parents and the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, England, disagreed over whether she should be kept on life support, the NHS turned to the courts to strip the parents of decision-making authority. The U.K. High Court agreed, overrode the parents’ wishes, and ordered life support removed.

. . .

While the NHS thought continued treatment would be futile, other experts disagreed, including at the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital. As part of its religious mission, Bambino Gesù specializes in treating children with rare diseases. Doctors there offered a treatment plan they thought could help Indi, free of charge. The Italian government even made her a citizen so that she could be airlifted from England.

. . .

For the U.K., the offer of free treatment by willing doctors ought to have been the end of the story. The government didn’t have to pay another penny. The grateful parents simply wanted the freedom to take their daughter to the experts in Rome.

Instead, the NHS went back to the same court and judge to insist it remained in Indi’s best interests to die in the U.K. The court again agreed and overrode the parents’ desire to take Indi to see the experts in Rome. The judge ordered that they could take her only to one place: to the hospice to die.

The parents had no choice but to comply. Lest they try anything else to save their daughter, the parents were sent to hospice with a security escort and police presence.

Deprived of treatment and with her parents forbidden to help her, Indi died within two days, under the watchful eye of the government that said all along it was looking out for her best interests.

For the full commentary, see:

Mark Rienzi. “Britain’s NHS Left Indi Gregory to Die.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 20, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)