Can You Hear Me Now?

Jonathan Weisman reports that Democrats have lately been doing linguistic research just like Republicans.  The results are on the right:

When Mr. Obama told grass-roots organizers last week that the mandatory purchase of health insurance would "be affordable, based on a sliding scale," the phrasing precisely mirrored language that had been poll-tested and put before batteries of focus groups by Democratic consultants over the past few years.

The words had been carefully chosen in an effort to take away the rhetorical targets of health-overhaul foes and replace them with terminology that would bring ordinary Americans on board. But under steady attack from opponents using more-emotional language, some of the president's allies are rethinking the linguistic strategy.

Yeah, I'd be rethinking it too.  I mean, public instead of government is a no-brainer.  Hell, Sean Hannity only figured out a few days ago that he ought to stop using the president's language and instead call it a "government option."  So no problem there.

But sliding scale?  I don't care how well that polls, it's ridiculous.  Nobody over sold anything by saying it was priced on a sliding scale.  It sounds like classic doublespeak.

The other stuff seems pretty questionable too.  Choice is good, of course, but are rules really better than regulations?  If you're talking about an institution people generally like (say, schools), then maybe the softer sounding rules is better.  But if you're talking about something that people loathe, like insurance companies, wouldn't they rather hear that you're putting in some toughminded regulations?  Something that really bites?  And what's wrong with competition and universal?  Those are nice, strong words that really say something.

The guys who created this list have focus groups on their side, and I don't.  So maybe they're right.  But it looks to me as if their main contribution has been to sand off the edges of the language so much that they're practically lulling everyone to sleep.  I understand they're trying to avoid scaring people, but you need to inspire them as well.  You need to appeal to their emotions.  You need to fire them up not just to accept change, but to demand it.  Language as relentlessly technocratic and boring as this doesn't do the job.

On Monday night the Car Allowance Rebate System, otherwise known as Cash for Clunkers, rolled off the lot for the last time. While everyone from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to climate change expert Joe Romm has praised the program—which offered drivers up to $4,500 to scrap a gas guzzling vehicle for a more efficient one—many questions remain about its implications for the environment and the US economy. Let's look at the CARS American taxes paid for.

Will CARS jumpstart Detroit?

Not likely: While the popular program was never intended to rebuild the US auto industry, some commentators worry that the tune-up could actually backfire. Just as no one predicted that the program would burn through its initial billion-dollar allotment in a week's time, everyone is unsure what will happen to auto sales now that the incentives have been phased out. In 1997, the end of a similar program in France led to a severe drop in auto sales—a hit that the fragile US economy could struggle to withstand.

The short-term boost for Detroit may also cost it customers in the long term. The top ten clunkers were all American made, but only four of the top ten new vehicles purchased with CARS cash were from the Motor City. The Economist warns that the Big Three, in particular GM and Chrysler, "may find that cash-for-clunkers, by turning more American heads towards Asia's carmakers, is a present they regret receiving."

Iraq has dropped out of the news:

Today, however, we actually do have some news from the 51st state. The Washington Post reports that the major pro-Iran Shiite parties in Iraq have formed a political alliance that excludes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (also a Shiite). This is both good news and bad news, according to the experts the Post contacted. It's bad news because it means that Maliki may be an underdog in the coming elections, making it more likely that a supporter of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reprehensible regime in Iran might come to power in Baghdad. It's good news because it means that Maliki may ally himself with Sunni and Kurd groups, enhancing Iraqi unity:

Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Rasheed Flahe Mohammed, commander of the Samarra Operations Center, said he was thrilled to see politicians willing to cross sectarian lines, as Maliki may end up doing. Mohammed said that although he is a Shiite, he would vote for a bloc that would put a Sunni in power if he determined that person was the most qualified leader.

"I'm optimistic about this—Sunnis are allying with Shiites," he said as he watched the Shiite alliance's announcement on television. "This is something good for Iraq."

Does that seem right?

Lots of people have highlighted this passage from the 2004 CIA Inspector General's report:

Glenn Greenwald has a good rundown of some of the other most damning passages. Here's what I'm wondering: which country is "widely believed" to include "sexually abusing female relatives in front of the detainee" as part of its interrogation practices? And do we send people there for torture?

Need To Read: August 25, 2009

 

Today's links are heavy on the torture stuff, light on the Michael Jackson stuff. Don't like the mix? Try cable news.

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content like the stuff above. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So are my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Thompson explains details of a sniper rifle to major league baseball players Albert Pujols and Ryan Franklin during a tour of Naval Special Warfare facilities. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dominique M. Lasco/Released)

Blue Marble-ish news from our site and beyond:

Another one bites the dust? Why Tennessee Blue Dog Rep. Jim Cooper could be among the dems to lose their seats if the healthvcare debate drags on.

Safety dance: A spokesman for EnCana Corp. says "the notion that operators don't do everything they can every day [to ensure safety] is ludicrous." So why don't Wyoming's oil workers have the right to sue?

Same old schtick: RNC chairman Michael Steele really really loves Medicare. He just hates government-run healthcare programs. What else is new?

Two packs a day by age 10: Child tobacco pickers in Malawi are exposed to nicotine equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

Corporate hustle: In order to avoid catastrophic climate change, 100 of the world's largest companies must reduce their carbon emissions at twice their current pace. 

Ice cream, hold the ice: Could freeze-it-yourself products help the ice cream industry reduce its carbon footprint?

The delicate and distinctive Mission Blue Butterfly was first discovered in San Francisco's Mission District around 1937. Since then, the city's layout has changed considerably, rendering much of the iridescent butterfly's urban habitat inhospitable. Although the Mission Blue has been on the federal Endangered Species List since 1976, its recovery has been slow. The butterfly has only a handful of habitats (San Bruno Mountain, San Francisco's Twin Peaks, Marin headlands) and its larva eat only three kinds of lupine plants. Add to that fact that adult butterflies have only a week to live and breed, and you've got a bit of a conservation challenge.

However, California wildlife professionals are not easily discouraged. San Francisco's Mission Blues have been suffering due to El Nino-fueled climate change, so this year the city introduced pregnant females to Twin Peaks, hoping to drive up population for 2010.

 

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I have good aluminum foil intentions: I try hard to use a sheet for more than one sandwich. But no matter how careful I am, it ends up shredding. I might as well carry my lunch around in a doily. Luckily, AltUse.com has a few ideas for using unpristine foil:

1. Soften fabric: Create a ball of aluminum foil about the size of a baseball. Place it in your clothes dryer and with laundry. Use again and again.

2. Sharpen scissors: Layer foil and cut through the pile to sharpen your scissors. Six to eight layers of foil should do the trick.

3. Moisten brown sugar: Wrap a chunk of brown sugar in a sheet of aluminum foil and heat in a 300 degree oven for 5 minutes.

4. Iron fast: Place a sheet of aluminum foil under your ironing board cover to help transfer the heat to the items you are ironing and quicken your work.

5. Increase radiator efficiency: Use heavy-duty aluminum foil, tape to cardboard with foil's shiny side facing out, and place behind a cast-iron radiator. Instead of being absorbed by the wall behind the radiator, the heat will reflect off the foil and move back into the room.

Four More Years

President Obama announced today that he plans to renominate Ben Bernanke for a second term as Fed chairman.  That's change we can believe in!