Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 12, 2006

It’s simple, really: Eschew obfuscation

“All our work, our whole life is a matter of semantics, because words are the tools with which we work, the material out of which laws are made, out of which the Constitution was written. Everything depends on our understanding of them.” ~ US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter

One of my favorite sayings is emblazoned on a sweatshirt I own: Eschew obfuscation.

Quite often the folks who most need to heed that advice are politicians – at both the local and national level.

Recently, I’ve been wanting to tell a couple of members of the Morgan Hill Unified School District School Board to eschew obfuscation.

A few months ago, the school board violated the Brown Act, California’s open meetings law, when, according to reporter Marilyn Dubil’s article, “they gave their new superintendent a salary increase in a closed-door meeting.”

Trustees acknowledged the violation and corrected it by voting again on the salary increase in public session. So far, so good.

But at least two trustees insist that because they corrected the violation, they did not violate the Brown Act.

Huh? The attempt at spin makes my head spin.

If John Doe is caught stealing a car, appears before a merciful judge who allows him to make restitution and clears John’s record, does that mean that John never stole a car?

Of course not. John simply avoided penalties.

By correcting the Brown Act violation, trustees avoided penalties that could otherwise be imposed. But, much as they wish it to be different, they did not erase the fact that they violated the Brown Act in the first place.

Otherwise, what the heck did they correct?

It reminds me of the to-do that erupted in the national media when NBC and other major news outlets finally decided to acknowledge the obvious: that the violence between armed factions seeking to control the Iraqi government is a civil war.

Calling it “sectarian violence” might make President Bush and his neo-con cronies who advocated invading Iraq more comfortable, but it sheds no light on what’s occurring there. And as many have noted, we can’t begin to fix what’s gone wrong in Iraq without an honest assessment of what’s actually occurring there.

The decision of major news outlets to use those two small but important words – civil war – was followed closely by the release of the Iraq Study Group’s report. The bipartisan group’s findings included a clear-eyed assessment of the situation in Iraq, something the Bush Administration has shrouded in politically motivated doublespeak; that is, spin.

The Iraq Study Group’s executive summary starts with these words: “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.” It documents “significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq.”

Whether you agree with some, none, or all of the Iraq Study Group’s 79 recommendations, you have to be relieved that at least our politicians must now talk honestly about what’s happening in Iraq.

Business philosopher Jim Rohn said, “Words do two major things: They provide food for the mind and create light for understanding and awareness.”

When it comes to understanding the situation in Iraq, we’ve been starving in the dark. A couple of MHUSD trustees would like us to do the same, it seems, about that embarrassing Brown Act violation.

Instead of trying to shroud the Brown Act violation or the reality of the situation of Iraq in obfuscation, I strongly recommend that politicians follow the newspaper approach to mistakes: publicly acknowledge and correct them. Note that the newspaper model doesn’t include denying that the mistake occurred. It doesn’t include using obfuscating language to try to confuse the issue.

It’s the model that Gilroy Police Chief Gregg Giusiana followed when he recently met with The Dispatch editorial board. We asked about a six-week delay in notifying the public of a rape near downtown Gilroy. His refreshing response: “We screwed up.”

He explained how the notification should have been handled and that the GPD has redoubled its efforts to make sure a delay never happens again.

How much better it would be for the MHUSD community if every trustee and high-level administrator had followed the newspaper model for dealing with mistakes. How much better it would be for our soldiers, their families, our country, Iraqi civilians and the world if an unobfuscated assessment of the situation in Iraq had been done years ago.

Spin never helps. It only clouds, confuses, obfuscates. Whether it’s locally or nationally, let’s eschew obfuscation.

“Clarity affords focus.” ~ Businessman Thomas Leonard

“Words are all we have.” ~ Irish Playwright Samuel Beckett


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