The Strategic Importance Of Verbal Camouflage

The Strategic Importance Of Verbal Camouflage

August 8, 2003 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

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There was a company operating out of Roswell, N.M., called High Energy Access Tools Inc., HEAT for short. It was a private military training school for foreign special forces. When federal agents raided HEAT, the “high energy access tools” they seized included 2,400 shoulder-launched missiles.

Only in the defense industry world of verbal camouflage would the case of the Los Alamos purchasing agent who bought a new car on a lab credit card make sense. She claimed that she actually ordered pressure transducers, but due to a phone-number change, her call went to a Phoenix high performance car company and that the company made a logical mistake: They sent her a hopped up Ford Mustang.

Verbal camouflage in the defense industry, however, is an innocent art compared with the creative labeling that goes on in politics these days. Business merchandisers have to be mindful of laws against deceptive labeling, but not the politicians who make those laws.

Take the Bush administration’s “Healthy Forests Initiative,” a set of logging policies that will bypass environmental reviews, limit public appeals and eventually shortcut the Endangered Species Act. It’s not totally unrelted to its label — thinning can create “healthy forests.” Right. And shoulder-launched missiles can be regarded as “high energy access tools.”

Republicans don’t have a monopoly on creative naming. It was practiced in its modern form by New Deal Democrats 70 years ago. One of the current tricks by politicians of both parties is to attach the word “initiative” to the same old prposals to make them look new. Initiative used to have a specific legal meaning: a law originating with the people. Now it has become convenient way to suggest novelty and high activity. Initiative is frequent in the literature of school reform – and there’s another word, reform, that promises more than it delivers.

The partisans of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s constitutional amendment proposals in the Sept. 23 special election are calling them reforms. Former legislator David Townsend argued in an op-ed piece that the proposals have an unassailable pedigree as products of the “Educational Initiatives and Accountability Task Force” and the Legislature’s “Subcommittee on Educational Reform.” Who could be against accountability and reform in education, particularly if it’s an initiative?

More concretely, one amendment increases distribution from the State Permanent Fund (the century-old endowment from federal land-grant revenue) by 20 per cent a year – namely, from 4.8 per cent of the five-year average market value to 5.8 per cent in the second and ensuing years. The other eliminates the state school board as we know it, transferring its powers to the governor.

The opponents of the Permanent Fund amendment, represented by former State Republicana Chairman John Dendahl, call it a “raid.” Which creates the ugly image of an attack on the treasury by banditos brandishing — I don’t know — high energy access tools.