Once again, Congress thinks it's above the law

I can't believe the arrogance of some of our elected leaders. First, they tell us they intend to grant amnesty to millions of non-citizens who have broke our laws. Now, Congress is attempting to force our own law enforcement officials to hand back evidence in a blatant case of corruption involving one of its own -- and President Bush seems to be going along with it!

At least law enforcement is showing some backbone; the New York Times reports that important Justice Department people -- including F.B.I. director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- are ready to quit if G.W. forces them to return evidence in the Congressional corruption case.

Borderline's take: Mueller and Gonzales are absolutely right. No one is above the law. It doesn't matter if you are an illegal immigrant or an elected official of either major party. If there is evidence that you broke our laws, you should be investigated, prosecuted, and sentenced accordingly. No amnesty. No favors. No backroom deals.


Newton Tab has a blog

Yay! The local mainstream media finally pays attention to this blogging thing. The writers are still trying to figure out a good blogging style and focus, but it's a start. Check the Newton Tab blog here ...


Saying No To National Lumber

Borderline is going to steer contractors who work for us to other suppliers, after reading about National Lumber's policies toward the victims of a unscrupulous contractor named Dennis Bartel.

As described in the Needham Times (and reprinted in the Newton Tab) Bartel was contracted to do work for a bunch of homeowners in Needham. He took money from them to get started, but then never did the work. National Lumber, which allegedly supplied Bartel on some type of credit arrangement, was also stiffed. However, unable to recover money from Bartel, National Lumber has placed liens on the homes of the victims in an attempt to force them to pay for Bartel's cheating ways. In other words, the homeowners are being victimized twice, first by Bartel, and now by National Lumber.

National Lumber is a big company with local roots. It has 450 employees, and $125 million in sales in 2002, according to this Prosales article. Yet they are ruining innocent people's lives over someone else's debt, totalling in the thousands of dollars for each homeowner?

According to the Tab article, the lawyer orchestrating National Lumber's campaign is Mark Barnett, but in Borderline's opinion, the executives of National Lumber are ultimately responsible for the company's policies. They are co-CEOs Steven Kaitz, and his sister Margie Kaitz-Seligman. Both apparently have Newton connections -- Steven was raised in Newton, and the company has an office on Needham Street.


Misguided teenage pranks, or gang signs?

These tags appeared on a wall next to the Riverwalk off Calvary Street in Waltham sometime last year. They were still there as of this morning. The person who did it, "Chino" or "Chano", obviously has some artistic talent. Too bad his talent has to manifest itself through this type of activity.

What really bothers me is not the destruction of someone's property (the wall is part of a building that houses a heavy equipment rental agency) or the vandalism to a great community resource (the Riverwalk). It's the message conveyed by the words "Mexican Power" (in the first picture, to the right of the clown's face). Being proud of your ethnic or national background is one thing; asserting that background with words that suggest militancy at others' expense is another. It's no different than "Black Power", "White Power," etc., in my mind.

There's another disturbing possibility as well: the tags could be the calling cards of some local gang marking its territory or announcing its presence. Just last week I saw a similar "Mexican Power" tag on the sidewalk next to the playground at Lowell and Chestnut, with the number "13" added below it, and a skull next to it. When I saw that number, I instantly thought of MS13 ("Mara Salvatrucha"), a terrifying El Salvadoran gang which has been responsible for violence in Somerville and East Boston. Are the "Mexican Power" and "13" tags a sign that the gang has set up shop in Waltham, or allied itself with another immigrant gang with Mexican roots? Or is it just some local kids searching for/asserting their identity, using terms designed to intimidate?


Brandeis and its Jewish identity

Following a brouhaha over a Palestinian art exhibit, there's been a bit of a debate taking place over at Brandeis, as described in the Boston Globe:
The clashes highlight the tricky dual role the university plays, as both a majority Jewish school, drawing the bulk of its support from Jews, but one not formally associated with or governed by tenets of the Jewish religion.

Jehuda Reinharz, president of Brandeis, insists that the school is better for the duality. In an interview, Reinharz described Brandeis as having a ''discrete obligation to the Jewish community," which he said means research and scholarship in areas of Jewish interest. Yet he said it also is committed to maintaining a diverse student body, which is, among other groups, roughly 20 percent Catholic and 10 percent Muslim.

''Brandeis is not a Jewish university; it is a great American university," he said. ''But it is an American university with a particular flavor."

That ''creates a tension on campus," he said. ''. . . I think it is a healthy debate."
I would agree with this statement. Brandeis may not have a charter that requires a heavy Jewish enrollment, but the fact of the matter is that there is a very strong Jewish-American community which is continously refreshed by the attendance of new Jewish students from elsewhere. It's no secret that many of these students are attending because of this community -- as well as Brandeis' strong academic profile and its location. I was associated with the Brandeis radio station, WBRS, in the 1980s (they allowed non-student members of the community to have programs at that time) and got to know a fair number of students and get a feel for the campus.

Anyway, back to the current situation. Matt Brown, a student at Brandeis, questions the university's Jewish character in a recent opinion piece in the Justice. At one time, he says, it was necessary to have a safe haven for Jewish students (at many other universities, there used to be quota systems limiting Jews, or outright discrimination) but that's not needed anymore, and Brown feels that the University's Jewish character is too strong. He asks: Is a quota system limiting the number of Jewish students a solution?


The Deluge

The North Shore got the worst of the rain, but even in Waltham we got many inches, especially on Saturday. The trash barrels were about 40% full with water when I emptied them on Sunday morning, and we had puddles in one corner of the basement.

Also on Sunday morning, I drove over the Newton Street bridge, and the Charles River was almost touching it. When I checked the falls at the Shaw's parking lot on River Street, there was a lot of volume, but hardly a crisis -- except for the ducks and Canada geese, whose nests were likely washed away.


Borderline isn't the only one alarmed by out-of-control development in Waltham

Just a few days after posting my last rant against developers and the Waltham city councillors who support them, I spotted a letter in the News Tribune written by Judy Derle of North Waltham, lamenting the changes that have turned North Waltham into a developers' playground. Here's an excerpt:
... I am apalled at all the construction that is going on in North Waltham. It used to be a refuge from the downtown area -- a nice, quiet suburban landscape. Now we will be just as or maybe even more congested as downtown. All that is left for City Council to do is to allow another Shaw’s Supermaket and CVS somewhere in the residential area of Trapelo Road and that will make it complete. It’s something I wouldn’t put past them to do. Thanks for the article and the update with the trees. Thanks for letting me vent. Is it too late to sell?
City Councillors, Mayor McCarthy, and the Planning Department, take heed: The citizenry of Waltham is fed up with development. What are you going to do about it?


Councillors Tarallo, Logan and Kelly and their pro-development zoning proposal

Borderline has slammed unrestrained development in Waltham before (see "The News Tribune sees 'potential' in development. Borderline sees something else"). There's more news today about developers getting a zoning boost from the city in the News Tribune.

This time it's not just the Planning Department advocating for more development -- it's our own city councillors! The article lists City Council President Edmund P. Tarallo, Robert G. Logan, and Robert S. Kelly supporting a zoning change which would benefit developers.

The justifications they use are amusing. President Tarallo seems to thinks the fact that office buildings are old justifies them being overlaid with new condos:
"The Rte. 128 corridor that helped Waltham's tax base to grow is now over 50 years old in some locations," said City Council President Edmund P. Tarallo, who spoke in favor of a new commercial revitalization overlay district during a public hearing last night.
Kelly's take: More tax money (potentially):
Ward 1 Councilor Robert S. Kelly, in whose ward the proposed overlay district would lie, said he does not think mixed-use development would harm the few residential areas surrounding the Rte. 128 office parks. On the contrary, he said, economic development would benefit residents by potentially lowering tax rates.
Unfortunately, Logan was unable to attend the meeting, so we couldn't learn about his reasoning, but the article says he authored the proposed zoning change.

Borderline's message to city councillors: You represent citizens and our interests, not the interests of developers. And Waltham doesn't need more condos, strip malls, or Frankenstein projects that combine the two!


River herring swim free -- or do they?

At one time, the only people you'd see catching alewifes along the Charles were immigrants and a few catch-and-release fishermen, but in recent years an ugly trend emerged: Commercial fishermen who would come with giant tanks and nets, scoop up all the fish they could, assumedly for bait or even resale.

The Mass Division of Marine Fisheries finally cracked down, making this announcement last November:
Three-Year River Herring Moratorium on Harvest, Possession, & Sale (322 CMR 6.17):
In response to recent drastic declines of many river herring spawning runs, the harvest, possession or sale of river herring in the Commonwealth or in the waters under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth by any person is prohibited through 2008. To accommodate the bait harvesting fisheries, the MFAC approved a slight tolerance (up to 5%, by count, of a batch of fish may be
comprised of river herring species)
There are now notices all along the river telling people of the new rules. Unfortunately the division website doesn't say who should be contacted if you see a violation, and it's unclear from the announcement what the penalties are for breaking the rules.