JOURNAL Doublespeak strikes in Fort Hancock waste dump trial El Paso Orwell would have understood. In the language of state officials hoping to foist a lowlevel radioactive waste dump on western Texas, words that once meant the Fort Hancock site was off-limits have been miraculously redefined to mean just the opposite. Fort Hancock and El Paso citizens have sued the state to prevent the location of a radioactive waste dump in the area. \(TO, 5/5/ floods, earthquakes, and other natural hazards, seemed the ideal political terrain: It was located in an isolated and poor Hispanic community that barely had the resources to keep itself afloat, let alone take on Austin. In an early analysis of locations for the site, Fort Hancock was placed in a gray zone on the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal maps, meaning that because of a variety of factors it was considered “less preferential” as a location for the waste dump, and should therefore be excluded from further evaluation. In other words, it was not in the running. But one by one, the sites that the state had labelled “more suitable” wielded their political clout to block the Authority from building a dump site that would store the state’s radioactive debris for tens of thousands of years in their backyards. Apparently, that’s when the Authority began tinkering with the English language. Suddenly, “less preferential” took on a whole new meaning, and thanks to Authorityspeak, Fort Hancock was back on the charts. The case went to trial at the end of September before District Judge William Moody, and Ruben Alvarado, chief engineer at the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority, was given the unenviable task of explaining to the citizens of Fort Hancock and El Paso how the Authority came to its determination that Fort Hancock was the only place in the state that had the right stuff. Darcy Frownfelter, representing the county, incredulously asked Alvarado, “Is it your opinion that these “less preferable” sites are really “more suitable”? Without missing a beat, Alvarado answered “Yes.” It wasn’t the first time Authorityspeak had reared its twin faces at the trial. Earlier in the week, lawyers for the county learned that “exclusionary” now meant “inclusionary” at least according to Jim Hussey, of the Authority’s consulting firm Dames and Moore. The Authority had originally put together a rather comprehensive list of criteria that would exclude a potential site. But now it needed a way to throw these “exclusionary” criteria out in order to back up its claim that Fort Hancock was an appropriate place for the facility. The Fort Hancock site had nearly a dozen qualities that would have excluded it from consideration. It could have taken a lot of explaining, but Hussey merely told the judge that “exclude is just another way of saying include,” according to Frownfelter. Suddenly, the fact that the Fort Hancock site sits atop a sizable earthquake zone, is in the middle of a 100-year flood plain, and is near five different aquifers \(a single non-existent but proposed aquifer had kept the facility from an earlier site in East Hussey admitted to the judge that his reasoning sounded funny, but Frownfelter wanted to show that it was downright absurd. He asked Hussey to read aloud from Orwell’s 1984. “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words… After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself.” War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Exclusionary is Inclusionary. Doublespeak, which was once thought less preferable in American political discourse, now seems to be more suitable for state agencies trying to override the will of the people. The judge’s verdict in the trial isn’t expected until the end of the year. ELLEN HOSMER Ellen Hosmer is an El Paso writer and editor at large of the Multinational Monitor. AFL-CIO sponsors regional health care hearings Austin Who is more important: a working parent or a sick baby? Can a physician ethically deny treatment to an indigent patient? Is health care a right for everyone? For workers? For children and infants? These are the issues that drew more than 200 people to the AFL-CIO’s Austin headquarters for a hearing on October 25. The labor federation sponsored this and seven other regional hearings as part of its campaign on behalf of national health insurance. For two hours, a panel of national union officers heard the testimony of workers, medical administrators, local officials, and state representatives. A rally for national health insurance and the state Democratic ticket followed, featuring a speech by Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower. “We don’t have a health care problem in this country,” Hightower said. “We have a health care delivery problem. Our health care system today is designed to make sure that profits are delivered to the insurance conglomerates before babies can be delivered in our maternity wards. It’s time we turned this country’s health care system completely around, putting the people before the big insurance companies.” As these hearings illustrated, the system needs turning around. We spend just over one-tenth of our GNP on medical treatment, but 16 percent of our citizens have no medical insurance, and a third are underinsured. Texas is much worse off than the rest of the country. Between 20 and 26 percent of all Texans under 65 lack health insurance and many more are underinsured. For this group, even a minor medical problem can explode into a catastrophe because they lack the resources for prevention. And the problem is getting worse. Democratic state Representative Nancy McDonald of El Paso, a registered nurse, said the number of uninsured people in the state grew by 46 percent during the 1980s, even though the population under 65 grew by only 20 percent. Of the uninsured, 36 percent work full or part time, and 87 percent come from families with one or more working members. The health care crisis is not a welfare crisis, or a matter only for the unemployed, the aged, or the seriously ill. It is a broad social problem rooted in the economic policies of the eighties, a time when government and corporate coverage were being cut even as medical costs skyrocketed. Take the case of Mariana Moreno. For 10 years, she has worked full time at the Justin Boot Company in Fort Worth. On $9 per hour, she supports three children. She says the money is fine, as long as she has work; during weeks when there aren’t enough orders, the managers shut down the plant. Even worse, Justin employees \(who used to renow required to make a $7 a week co-payment on their health benefits. Coverage for dependents can run as high as $36 a week, whether there’s work or not. After monthly rent, food, child care, clothes, gas, and car repair, she doesn’t have $144 for insurance co-payments. “So I don’t cover my kids. It’s not that I don’t love my kids. I just worry about what would happen to them if I got real sick or hurt.” Jose Benavides has worked for the housing authority in El Paso for eight years. In 1988, he discovered he had cancer. He had a pituitary tumor removed and went through radiotherapy. His medication made him ill. Because of his high rate of absence, he was demoted and shifted into a part-time position. Not only was his pay reduced, but he lost his health insurance. Now he is saddled with thousands of dollars in medical bills and other debt, and collection agencies constantly THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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