More Booms In A Railroad Boomtown: The Fastest Growing Hamlet In New Mexico

August 1st, 2014 No Comments


Union Pacific's huge new train yard in Santa Teresa, New Mexico

Union Pacific’s huge new train yard in Santa Teresa, New Mexico

I visited Santa Teresa, NM earlier this year for this story for Al Jazeera America on the massive new train yard Union Pacific has constructed in a barren expanse of desert a few miles north of the New Mexico border with Mexico and 13 miles west of El Paso.

In a place where there was little more than mesquite and scrub brush a few months ago, the railroad hastily constructed a yard 11.5 miles long and a mile wide, greased along with substantial tax breaks, re-written regulations and special economic incentives paid for the state government. In fact, so cozy and congratulatory was everyone at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the end of May, New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez asked the audience to stand and applaud the railroad, which they did happily.

The pro-business atmosphere in the new railroad boomtown of Santa Teresa was upbeat too. As local entrepreneur Jerry Pacheco said when he was driving me around the train yard a few weeks before it opened, Santa Teresa and San Jeronimo, its sister city directly across the border, were “a blank slate where business can do practically anything it wants.”

More than that, this project appeared to me to be a huge channel through which global capital could flow.  Double stacked trains taller than a two-story building now could travel at speeds up to 70 miles an hour directly from the Port of Long Beach without stopping to pass customs.  Up to two miles long and traveling over tracks Union Pacific has spent hundreds of millions to upgrade, the cargo would travel swiftly to  Santa Teresa, a short drive from the maquiladores in Juarez. At the FoxConn plant just across the Mexican border from Santa Teresa, where all of the Dell computers used in the U.S. are manufactured, company vice president Pancho Uranga told me that he was negotiating with U.S. Customs to establish a pilot project where U.S. customs agents would set up operations inside the FoxConn plant, able to clear cargo there  before it left the factory. It wouldn’t have to stop at the border either.

My reporter’s hunch then was that there was much more of this border busting for global capital soon to come to this desolate place. This proved true yesterday when, at a ceremony in Beijing, the Chinese development company China Hyway Ltd. announced that it had signed an agreement with the state of Chihuahua to build a rail line from a port on the Pacific coast of Mexico directly to the border crossing south of Santa Teresa.

If this deal is real, goods from Asia could bypass the Port of Long Beach and enter the United States through Mexico. The U.S. railroad companies would still get their piece of the action. The two major Mexican railroads– Ferromex and Kansas City Southern de México — have been owned in whole or in part by U.S. rail companies since the Mexican government privatized the railroads in 1998. Ferromex is a joint subsidiary of  Grupo Mexico and Union Pacific, which owns 26 percent of the company. Kansas City Southern de México is a wholly owned subsidiary of Kansas City Southern.

Union Pacific trains at Santa Teresa

Union Pacific trains at Santa Teresa

The governor of Chihuahua César Duarte and Roberto Sandoval, the governor of Nayarit, the Pacific Coast state where the new port is supposed to be built, were on hand to announce the deal in Beijing. Although there are many obstacles ahead for this project (such as getting the cooperation of the Mexican railway companies) China Hyway said construction was slated to start on the new port and the rail line by the end of this year.


President Annouces NIH Campaign To Fight The Crippling Epidemic of Affluenza

July 23rd, 2014 1 Comment


WASHINGTON DC –Declaring the rampant spread of Affluenza “a national state of emergency,” today President Obama signed into law a new $212 billion National Institutes of Health initiative to fight the nation’s crippling, and often fatal, epidemic of Affluenza.

President Obama announcing the Affluenza initiative in the East Room

President Obama announcing the Affluenza initiative in the East Room

Affluenza has long been a problem in the U.S. but recent advances in early detection have determined that it is much more widespread than previously believed. While studies show that 47 percent of Americans are inoculated from it by a pre-existing condition known as poverty, this leaves more than half of the country vulnerable.

Researchers define Affluenza as a serious cognitive disorder that alters the way our bodies respond to widespread prosperity. As the Affluenza hormone floods the bloodstream unchecked it distorts sufferers interaction with objective reality, as evidenced by a lack of empathy and generosity, and general anti-social behavior. Instead of driving down anxiety, general prosperity fills Affluenza sufferers with a desperate craving for more possessions and bigger tax breaks. This can lead to manic acquisitions of jewels and luxury properties, delusions of wisdom and, in the most acute cases, a run for national public office.

President Obama praised the bi-partisan support for the bill.

“Members on both sides of the aisle see Affluenza every day. More than half of your representatives — your congressmen, your senators — have symptoms. It’s rampant among my cabinet appointees, heads of think tanks, lobbyists, CEOs, limousine liberals and union bosses. This is a first bold step to eliminating Affluenza and the stigma that surrounds it.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called “groundbreaking” the new public/private partnership between the NIH and the Donald Trump Capital Preservation Institute, home to cutting edge research in this field.

Affluenza has long gone undiagnosed. Until as recently as 2007 it was common for Affluenza sufferers to be labeled as sociopaths, psychopaths, or narcissists. When virulent clusters first were detected in Darien, Connecticut and Palo Alto, California in 1998, researchers believed the disease targeted only white male Americans. As scientists from the Trump Institute isolated Affluenza’s symptoms, they identified undiagnosed cases throughout the NBA, in Kim Jung-Un’s family and among most of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, proving that Affluenza strikes all races and genders.

The Trump Institutes initial case-control study of the pathology paired individuals who suffer from Affluenza with a control group of asymptomatic individuals, nicknamed “suckers” by the researchers. The researchers plotted subjects’ activities of daily living on a six-pronged matrix consisting of general douchebaggery, insufficient tipping, number of Malcolm Gladwell books read, teeth whitening, frequency of attendance at destination weddings and times the charges were dropped without having to go to trial. At the conclusion of a six-year longitudinal study, Trump scientists identified two types of Affluenza: the rare Type One and the more widespread Type Two, comprising 95 percent of the cases. Type Two sufferers have the same acquisitive impulses as Type One but do not have the money to pay for their purchases.

“We used to think of these people as the backbone of our economy,” said President Obama. “Now we understand they are suffering too.”

Aversion therapy for Affluenza suffers has met with limited success.

Aversion therapy for Affluenza suffers has met with limited success.

The research grant will fund a clinical trial on a new drug, The Donald, that is a competitive receptor for the Affluenza hormone. This psychoactive topical medication can be transmitted trans dermally through a hairpiece, or applied directly to the scrotum by specially trained masseuses. The NIH will also be funding research on a different drug delivery system being tested at the Mitt Romney Research Institute and Equestrian Center at the Cayman Islands. The Romney team is experimenting with distributing the medicine through the climate control systems of all luxury vehicles with a list price above $46,000.

The mood during the signing ceremony in the East Room was one of triumph after the long hard fight for the bill. President Obama handed out memorial pens to Koch Brothers, 25 members of the Walton Family, the Clintons, Larry Ellison, Robert Redford, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Elon Musk, and Oprah. All in attendance sported plump gold moneybags on their lapels, the worldwide symbol of Affluenza awareness. At the close of his remarks, Obama reached into his suit jacket pocket and affixed one to his lapel.

“Ich ein bin Affluenza,” he said with moist eyes.

The room erupted in applause.

I’m A Little Sexpot, Short And Stout — Shirley Temple and Graham Greene

February 14th, 2014 No Comments

Shirley Temple’s movie studio 20th Century Fox successfully sued author Graham Greene for libel when he described her in a 1937 review of Wee Willie Winkie as “a fancy little piece . . . her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance; her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry . . . watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity.”

When I wrote about Shirley Temple Black in 1989, on the publication of her bestselling autobiography Child Star, I was shocked that anyone could label her a “totsy.” Every weekend of my young childhood her movies beamed out from the tiny black and white set my mom had in the living room of our shabby apartment. I was deeply in love with the little girl who was portrayed by Shirley Temple.

Shirley was everything I wanted to be, starting with the fact that she usually played an orphan. Cast loose from adults, she freely chose her companions from rogues: sailors, gamblers, soldiers and down-at-heels Vaudevillians. These ruffians got her into one fix after another, but with pluck and charm, she got out of every scrape. When I read Greene’s review in 1989 I was sure he had been joking. How could anyone accuse my sweet Shirley of coquetry? Particularly if his example was Wee Willie Winkie where Shirley played a brave little girl in the British Raj.

In 2014, though, we have YouTube and people can make up their own minds about Greene’s intent, as I have.

He cited Shirley’s first performance as a four-year-old in “Baby Burlesks”, short films that satirized big box office hits. In War Babies she was a pint-sized Dolores Del Rio in an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse, a rose behind her ear, super short padded diapers and a garter just below the knee. The other actors are  shirtless boys all under the age of five in similarly overstuffed diapers. As the boys belly up to the bar tossing back big glasses of milk, they all appear to want to make sweet love to Shirley. She dances around the barroom pausing from time to time to shake that well-developed rump in a twerking performance that is part Honey Boo Boo with a dash of Miley Ray Cyrus.

These films were meant to be broad comedy, but it’s hard to ignore the sexuality when Shirley is playing a character named “Morelegs Sweettrick” a play on Marlene Dietrich, in Kid N Hollywood .

And  Mademoiselle Cradlebait in the outrageously racist Kid N Africa.

I didn’t see these films when I was a child. They weren’t part of the weekend matinee fare available on local television. After Shirley Temple died Wednesday I searched out my favorite Shirley film, Poor Little Rich Girl, which I must have watched 20 times when I was young. From the first frame I saw on YouTube, I was back in that little girl feeling of wonder that Shirley was free in the world and very much on her own.

In Poor Little Rich Girl Shirley is only partially orphaned. Her mother has died leaving her in the care of her dashing leading man father, played by Michael Whalen. They live in an Art Deco world right out of a Noel Coward play with sweeping staircases and evenings spent in formal wear sipping cocktails. Shirley is hovered over by a fussy staff that sends her to bed each time she so much as sneezes. Those of us who were forced to stay home alone when sick could only dream of such restrictive affection.

At one point in Poor Little Rich Girl she and her father are listening to a radio program when a love song comes on. (The duet I’m referring to starts at 14:47 and ends at 18:02) Her father holds her inches from his face as he lip synchs, “Every street I walk along becomes a lover’s lane when I’m with you/I can see the sun though we’re out in the rain when I’m with you.” As he mouthed these romantic sentiments to his little girl, I was swept right back to being that fatherless girl in a grey apartment who yearned to have a dad whose world lit up when I walked in the room. How could anyone see this as sexual?

That was until Shirley responded with lyrics her character claimed she’d made up on her own.

“An ordinary day becomes a holiday
When I’m with you.
I have lots of toys but I don’t want to play
When I’m with you.
Oh daddy how I miss you.
You’re busy all your life.
I long to hug and kiss you.
Marry me and let me be your wife.”

When she proposes to her father, she places a pudgy hand on his chin and draws him centimeters from her lips.
At this point in my screening of these films I was sitting up in my chair in horror at the naked pedophilia expressed in this scene. In the recovery phase, though, I remembered singing love songs to my own children when they were toddlers and how I kissed them on their little bellies and held them tightly, as if I was clinging on to their very innocence as it slipped away. That was affectionate and not in the slightest bit sexual.

It seemed pretty clear to me that if directors and producers were manipulating Shirley as a sexual object, she wasn’t in on the joke. The power of Graham Greene’s writing, be it a joke or not, is that once read it forever colors the way you see this bit of popular culture. As my friend Jeremy Larner noted, “It’s a particularly empty, non-evocative kind of sexuality, if sexuality it be.”

Shirley portrayed a genuine little girl, just the sort of girl I was when I watched her films as a child. As she expressed affection for her daddy the camera held on her wide, high forehead, tight curls, narrow chin and bow mouth that made her look just like a baby doll. Even the cheapest dolls you could pick up at the drug store mimicked that cherubic face, cute and sweet and bland enough that the audience could project onto it yearnings, as I did for a father and, I suppose, Graham Greene did when he saw nothing but sex in her adorable sashay.

Or perhaps he was really having us on, in an essay so well written that writers seventy years later are still trying to parse out what he really meant.

What innocence is and how it is expressed is subjective, as demonstrated by the difference between what I saw as a childhood fan of Shirley and what I see now as an adult whose head has been crammed with thousands of hours of crime shows, child porn exposes, Amber Alerts and stories about pedophilia.

I had an image of Shirley I carried in my mind, one that West magazine used to illustrate my Shirley Temple story. It is of her standing facing a big white sphere that comes up to her shoulder level. Her hands rest on the top rim as she looks over her shoulder with a sweet-yet-knowing smile. Most of what I pick up from that image now is how short her skirt is, purposely cut up to her rump by the studio’s costumers who were instructed to expose as much as possible of her chubby legs to keep her looking like a toddler.

I used to see that image as one of Shirley happily playing with a big ball. Now I see Shirley as Mae West, and I wish I that was not the case. Along with Shirley, that innocence of mine was just hanging by a thread, or as Greene put it, “Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood skin deep.”

(My consideration of her career and her work as a diplomat is on Al Jazeera )