Life in the Not So Fast Lane—The French Have a Different Approach

The French have a different take on road travel from the Germans and most of the rest of Europe for that matter.  For one they have speed limits no matter where you are the max being 130 kph (or 78 mph)—not intolerable even if you are in a hurry but not the daredevil approach of the Germans either.  The dominance of Mercedes and BMW is replaced by Peugeot and Renault so my little red Peugeot 208 stood a good chance in the “speed” lanes with the rest of France.  Road etiquette remains somewhat the same when it comes to passing—in general no one passes in the right lane and the slower cars and trucks always occupy the right.  So far so good.  There are, however two very big differences in traveling the roads of France versus Germany.  One, is the “invisible lane” and, two, is the “tolls-from-hell” that exist in much of France—make sure you bring a lot of cash and don’t assume that American Express (or Visa or Mastercard) will suffice. Continue reading


Good Fences Make for Good Neighbors–Cultural Challenges in a Microcosm



Newly finished homes and back yards in housing development outside of Frankfurt, Germany

Newly finished homes and back yards in housing development outside of Frankfurt, Germany

In Frankfort I spent time with a young friend and his wife.  They had recently bought a brand new home in a new development just northeast of the city center.  Only a year ago the area had been made up of rolling hills, farm houses and luscious crops. The development is so new that many of the small yards associated with the new homes are still unplanted and construction of new homes is ongoing all around their home. In my friends’ house they are part of a eight unit row of attached homes (similar to our row or town houses) with shared walls and contiguous yards.  To date no fences have been built between the back yards still in the process of development.  Therein lies the rub. Continue reading


Gone With The Wind–The Asarco Stacks Are No More

A belching giant among pigmy water cannons

A belching giant among pigmy water cannons

On April 13th, early in the morning, a major portion of El Paso’s skyline for almost fifty years, the Asarco stacks,  disappeared and,  literally, were “gone with the wind.”  First the 620 ft. smaller stack and then the larger 828 ft. iconic stack were felled within seconds of the detonation of hundreds of pounds of dynamite placed in both of them.  Hundreds (if not thousands) of witnesses got up early for the pre-dawn event, occupying key points around the Asarco plant to watch the historic demolition of these majestic stacks.  For some it was a moment of joy, a closing of an era with bad memories of pollution, bad smells and an old, dirty industry.  For many of us though it was a sad occasion, signaling an end to an era rich in history, good and bad, but also removing from our landscape a major symbol of that history and the cultural heritage it represented.   For those of us who wished to preserve the stacks it took away an opportunity to not only celebrate our past but to use the stacks as a lodestone to point our way forward into a new, vibrant future.  Unfortunately, it also continued a legacy by many associated with Asarco, including some of our local officials, as well as state and federal agencies to misrepresent, to obfuscate and to outright withhold facts and information from the public critical to their well-being, health and long-term safety. 

Despite pronouncements to the contrary, the felling of the stacks did not go well.  It was not a “clean drop” as predicted.  Continue reading


Made in the USA – The Prison Industry and Its Profits

4796934The prison population has grown nearly-exponentially in the last few decades, and the US now holds 25% of the world’s prison population, yet has only 5% of the world’s population. The incarceration rate per capita is far higher than any other industrialized nation.  According to the World Prison Population list, the United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, 743 per 100,000 of the national population. The next closest is Rwanda at 595. Why is this?  Is there something about US society that produces such massive numbers of criminals, or is something else going on?  Former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia tried to ask this question, by establishing a commission to recommend changes to the criminal justice system, only to see his efforts blocked in the Senate, despite widespread support from law enforcement groups as well as civil liberties organizations such as the ACLU. Continue reading


Save the Stacks–Last Chance!


Conceptual vision of mixed use of ASARCO property

We wrote in an earlier article (“Save the ASARCO Stacks–Create a Sustainable Future“) of the historical and economic importance of preserving the smoke stacks associated with the now closed industrial complex just off Interstate-10 near downtown El Paso, TX.  We discussed possible mixed uses of the property, including academic research,  a “Green Technology” research park, an international cultural heritage museum,  and outdoor recreational uses of the property all centered around the cultural and historical heritage represented by the stacks.  A small, non-profit organization—Save the Stacks –has led the fight to keep these iconic structures as part of our border skyline.  Made up of concerned El Pasoans  with no political or commercial interests in the stacks or the approximate 400 acres on which they stand, Save the Stacks has advocated using the stacks as part of a monument dedicated to all the individuals impacted by the regional industries and activities represented by them.  However their backs are against the proverbial “wall” as they must convince authorities to stop current plans for the stacks imminent demolition in early April.  This is the last chance to save the stacks or they will be destroyed and a bit of our border’s history lost forever! Continue reading


The War on Drugs–Societal Costs

This is the third of a multi-part series on illegal drugs and their impact on our society with a special emphasis on the US-Mexico border region, exploring how we got here, what are the economic and social impacts of our policies, and exploring alternatives to our current policies going forward.

Unlike federal budgets and other statistical economic data, trying to measure the societal costs of illicit drugs is not as objective or always easily demonstrated.  It is however no less real and in many senses far more important given the broad impact these costs have on entire regions and even nations, e.g. the current drug cartel war being waged in Mexico today.  Entire books and volumes of  literature have been written on social costs of illicit drugs and it is not the purview of this writer to try to cover all of the possible issues but simply point to a couple of areas that seem particularly relevant to our border region and our relation with Mexico.

Drugs  and the illicit drug trade have been a way of life in the US-Mexico border region for many generations but it has been only in the past five years or so that it has raised its ugly head in such a way as to suggest the drug cartels could threaten not only individuals or border towns or even states but entire nation states.  The recent book by Congressman-elect Beto O’Rourke, co-authored with El Paso City Council Representative Susie Byrd, “Dealing Death and Drugs–the Big Business of Dope in the US and Mexico”1–highlights a number of key issues related to drugs, drug cartels and their impact on our border region with a particular focus on marijuana. Continue reading


Re-Energize the Americas–Focus on Border Energy, Water and Economic Development

The Water-Energy Nexus

Over two hundred attendees are expected at next week’s Re-Energize the Americas conference being held in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  The event being held on October 17-18 will not only focus on important facets of energy issues, including most aspects of conventional and alternative energy important to the border region, but will discuss the important interlinks between energy and water as well as opportunities for innovative economic development critical to the Americas. Continue reading


Energy, A Major Challenge for the Future?

The following article by guest contributor Dr. Abbas Ghassemi is part of a series of articles focused on energy issues of importance to our region and as part of a lead up to the 2nd Annual Re-energize the Americas conference being held on Oct 17 & 18th, 2012 at the Las Cruces, NM Convention Center.


By 2050 the demand for energy could double or even triple as the global population rises and developing countries expand their economies. All life on earth depends on energy and the cycling of carbon. Energy is essential for economic and social development but also poses an environmental challenge. We must explore all aspects of energy production and consumption including energy efficiency, clean energy, global carbon cycle, carbon sources and sinks and biomass as well as their relationship to climate and natural resource issues. Continue reading


Follow-Up to our Post: “Build It and They Will Come”

A number of developments have ocurred since the publication of our post on July 19th, “Build It and They Will Come”.  Apparently, opposition to tearing down City Hall in order to build a new Triple-A baseball stadium has led to new efforts related to the Quality of Life bond as well as groups looking to petition a referendum on the entire issue.  Some of the stories:

  • New PAC to promote quality of life bond, Opposition to Downtown Ballpark speeds up plan— Organizers are accelerating efforts to form a political action committee to back the proposed $468-million quality of life bond, concerned that growing opposition to a new Downtown ballpark might spill over into the bond election. Story by Bob Gray, El Paso, Inc. July 29-Aug 4, 2012.
  • Petition seeks vote on ballpark, quality-of-life plans–A petition submitted to the city on Tuesday by a local group is proposing an initiative that could have ramifications for the $50 million Downtown ballpark approved earlier by the City Council.The group, Quality of Life Voters for Democracy, was spurred to gather signatures for the petition by the lack of involvement in the decision to approve the Downtown ballpark.They submitted more than 2,300 signatures to the city clerk and ask that all quality-of-life projects get voter approval before the City Council funds them. The petition also states that change be retroactive to June 26, when the Downtown ballpark was approved by a 6-2 City Council vote.–Story By Evan Mohl El Paso Times, 08/01/2012
  • Paul Foster: Baseball almost a done dealEvents surrounding El Paso’s efforts to bring Triple-A baseball to the city are moving fast. This week, the city received formal notification from the Pacific Coast League that it had approved MountainStar Sports Group’s purchase of a team. Though the team has not officially been named because the parties are bound by confidentiality agreements, it is known that MountainStar is attempting to buy the Tucson Padres for $20 million and bring the team to El Paso and a stadium the city has committed to build–Story by David Crowder, El Paso, Inc. July 29-Aug 4, 2012
  • El Paso very close to Triple-A baseballCity manager: Deal is ‘moving forward’–The sounds, fun and excitement of Triple-A baseball is close, very close, to coming to El Paso.

    On Monday, the Pacific Coast League, one of three leagues that play Triple-A baseball, informed the city that the league had approved the sale of a team to a group of local investors known as MountainStar Sports Group of El Paso.

    The letter sent to City Manager Joyce Wilson says, in effect, that the sale of a team to the El Paso group is all but a formality.

    “Basically, they’ve given approval to close the transaction,” Wilson said. “It’s pretty clear the next phase is kind of a formality. It’s moving forward.”–Story By Bret Bloomquist El Paso Times, Aug 1, 2012

A final note:  A careful view of the artist’s rendition of the proposed stadium shows that the fans along the first base line are in for an additional treat–that section of the stadium apparently sits directly over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks!  Should make for an interesting afternoon and/or evening.–Paul Maxwell



Getting Old on the Border

An Alma de la Casa in Mexico

The US-Mexico border region has long been known as a region with a young and rapidly growing population.  But the border population is aging, a reflection of national trends in both the U.S. and Mexico.  Given population aging we must re-examine most of what we think we might know about border region development, trans-border interaction –including cross-border trade, and regional environmental issues.  The following looks at these population trends and some of the consequences that follow1. Continue reading