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    The Birds

    I noticed something strange while at DC’s St. Patrick’s Day parade this weekend.  After the third or fourth dancing middle school had passed by, my attention started to wander, and I decided to do something much more stimulating than watch the procession – feed wild animals!

    I crumpled up a bag of potato chips that my friend Alyson had brought along, and in seconds we had an audience of a dozen chirping sparrows.  And then I saw it – nearly all of the sparrows had a little colored tag around one – or both – of their legs.

    We took some pictures. Here are a few of the birds:

    The first bird has an orange tag, the second a black and purple tag. The third has two tags: one orange and purple, the other black.

    How did the tags get there? I still have no idea. Is it some sort of scientific study? Part of a disease control program? Are the tags just little bits of garbage that have gotten stuck on the birds? I tried to Google my way to an answer but didn’t find anything.

    How many sparrows in DC are tagged this way? There must be tens or hundreds of thousands of House Sparrows in DC. If the majority are tagged, like the majority of the (random?) sample that I saw, then someone has been doing quite a lot of work. Readers, let me know if any of you can solve the mystery – I’m dying to know more.

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    Eric Posner on Signing Statements

    Eric Posner’s recent post on signing statements is too cogent not to be excerpted:

    Signing statements have almost zero practical effect. Courts don’t care about them. If a former Bush administration official is ever hauled before court for torture, it will make absolutely no difference that Bush issued a signing statement that said a statute restricting torture will be interpreted so as not to interfere with the president’s commander in chief power. Whether such a statement existed or not, a court would consider the constitutional argument and either accept or reject it on the merits. Nor is it legally novel that a president might refuse to enforce a statute that he believes to be unconstitutional.

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    Heritage on Health Care

    I noticed this Reuters article on the coming health care battle while at work yesterday.  Reuters mentions the proposed “public plan” and Heritage analyst Robert Moffit responds:

    Robert Moffit, a health policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, said he believes some proponents of a new public program see it as a first step toward a full government takeover of the healthcare system.

    “It’s a Trojan Horse for national health insurance where you basically rig the competition against private health insurance and you set up the economic incentives to encourage employers to dump people into the public plan,” Moffit said.

    The concern is that a public plan would either offer more benefits or charge a lower premium for insurance, undercutting all private competition and making up its revenue shortfall with subsidies.  This is simply a slower way of killing the private system – slower than banning (as previously in Canada) or making it redundant with universal government insurance (elsewhere).  It isn’t likely that a government plan advanced for political purposes and unconstrained by budgetary limits or profit incentives would offer more expensive health care with fewer benefits – what constituent would be impressed?

    But the plan leaves out what, to my untrained eye, seems even more insidious – the demand that all plans (including the public one) cover pre-existing conditions.  While a public plan would slowly strangle competition in the health care market, public plan coverage of pre-existing conditions will instantly create de-facto universal insurance.  Since anyone can sign up for (cheap, subsidized?) government insurance after they get sick, it would be a waste to pay for a (public or private) policy while still healthy.  Perhaps this particular proposal is just too outlandish to ever pass, or perhaps I don’t understand it properly.  But it bothers and worries me that such a disastrous measure has disappeared in the greater flood of complaints against the Obama health care proposal.