mug_milan_simonich

Milan Simonich

Ringside Seat

If you believe state government, gambling must be a dirty word.

New Mexico legislators and bureaucrats often debate about ventures dependent on gambling while calling them something else.

They created the state Gaming Control Board. Its mission is “to uphold the integrity of gaming regulations at licensed racetracks and nonprofit organizations, and to monitor tribal gaming activity.”

How nice. The scrupulously clean world of racetracks and casinos is all fun and gaming.

Of the many weasel words used each day avoid truth and clarity, gaming is the most insidious.

It’s standard to see news stories about gaming that have nothing to do with arcade games such as “Pac-Man.”

The gambling industry that builds its Taj Mahals on losers has made “gaming” its signature word. Governments have gone along, using a sorry euphemism instead of the word “gambling.”

Other weasel words haven’t done so well.

“Revenue enhancers” never replaced taxes in our vocabulary, despite the efforts of Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

“Pre-owned” vehicles are no more likely to fly off the lots than used cars.

A few other weasel words have gained a certain traction. Two of them are “right-to-work” laws and “person of interest.”

Many law enforcement agencies have used the term “person of interest” as a tactic to put heat on suspects.

“Person of interest” sounds damning, which is the desired effect. Yet it still might be nebulous enough to spare police from embarrassment if they end up arresting someone else.

The term can also help governments stave off lawsuits by the wrongly accused. Instead of calling a suspect a suspect, police can tightrope their way through a smear campaign with “person of interest.”

Some will insist that a police department or federal agency would never apply unfair pressure on someone in this way. But it has happened — with disastrous results.

Anonymous law enforcement sources used the term “person of interest” against Richard Jewell, an innocent man whose life and reputation crumbled after bombs exploded at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Jewell was a private guard who found a backpack containing the bombs. His alertness enabled police to move crowds out of Centennial Olympic Park, possibly saving lives. When the bombs exploded, one person died and 111 were injured.

Jewell initially looked like a guard who did his job well. Federal investigators, though, wondered if Jewell had planted the bombs so he would look like a hero when he discovered them.

They floated the idea in return for anonymity, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution printed it. This made Jewell the first widely known “person of interest.”

With the help of his lawyers, Jewell cleared his name before dying at age 44 in 2007.

Plenty of others — some guilty and others who might have been innocent — have been labeled as “persons of interest” since Jewell.

The most nonsensical weasel words are “right-to-work” legislation.

A group calling itself Americans for Prosperity-New Mexico distributed a statement last week saying it “applauds McKinley County for supporting right to work.” In truth, one McKinley County commissioner was carrying the advocacy organization’s misleading proposal.

Politicians spouting the term “right to work” really mean they want to outlaw fees for employees who choose not to join a labor union but still share in the raises and benefits it negotiates on their behalf. Federal law established long ago that no worker can be compelled to join or remain in a union.

Even so, many use the weasel words “right-to-work law” to deceive the public.

Most people see through it. They know residents of McKinley and the other 32 counties in New Mexico have had the right to work for as long as there was air to breathe.

Organizations campaigning for laws packaged in the phony “right-to-work” term lost in the New Mexico Legislature. Now they are trying to have their way with select county governments.

Almost nothing rivals the “right-to-work” campaign for duplicity, unless it’s the pervasive use of “gaming” and the reckless term “person of interest.”

After this column, I will try never to write any of those words.

Weasels are best avoided, in print and elsewhere.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.