Humpty Dumpty founded the art of spin when he told Alice, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

PR flaks, including yours truly, have made a not-bad living from that advice ever since. But nobody took that aphorism to heart quite the way the American right did. They’ve strip-mined the dictionary to find pretty words for ugly concepts: “family values” for intolerance, “states rights” for slavery and racism, and “wise use” for environmental exploitation.

Apparently our friends in the resource marauding sector have sucked the English language dry, discarded its withered husk and moved on to Latin. I’m inferring this from Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, President Bush’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

At a news conference announcing his nomination, Gov. Leavitt described his adherence to a philosophy he called enlibra. He said it means balance among interests.

Now, there’s a lot to be said for balancing interests in pursuit of sustainability as a way of ensuring broad public support and lasting solutions; the achievements of Mike Harcourt here in B.C. attest to that. But the balance has to be genuine and not, say, a smokescreen for a dramatic shift away from environmental protection and toward the short-term interests of polluting industries. Since that kind of shift has been the hallmark of Bush II’s environmental approach, you have to be a little suspicious about just what “enlibra” means.

Don’t expect to be reassured if you visit Gov. Leavitt’s web site, where you’ll discover that the first principle behind enlibra is not in fact balance, but the need to “assign responsibilities at the right level.” (See “states rights,” above.)

Apparently enlibra also means leaving environmental protection to the market instead of government, performing cost-benefit analyses, and a number of other approaches that you’d also find supported by – please, contain your shock – the wise-use movement.

“Enlibra” sounds like the name of a prescription medication (“side effects may include drowsiness, blurred vision and the disappearance of huge tracts of virgin forest”), and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Pharmaceutical companies market-test the bejeezus out of new drugs’ names (“Which do you like better: ‘Paxil’ or ‘Panicka’?”), and it’s not hard to imagine that more than a few focus group participants earned their $50 cheques and free sandwiches by helping Gov. Leavitt choose between “enlibra,” “copascetica” and “stump-a-riffic.”

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