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This shows the scale model of  what YIMBYs would like to build in North Berkeley.  Yes, that's a 31 story building.
This shows the scale model of what YIMBYs would like to build in North Berkeley. Yes, that's a 31 story building.



Conn Hallinan
Wednesday February 14, 2018 - 11:21:00 AM

Italian elections are always complex affairs, but the upcoming Mar. 4 vote is one of the most bewildering in several decades: the right is resurgent, the left embattled, and the issue drawing the greatest fire and fury has little to do with the economic malaise that has gripped the country since the great economic crash of 2008.  

These days predicting election outcomes in Europe is a fool’s game because the electorate is so volatile, a state one hardly can blame it for given the beating it has taken from the almost decade-long policies of the European Union (EU). The organization’s rigid economic strictures for dealing with the debts incurred from the 2008 crisis—social service cutbacks, tax hikes, massive layoffs, and privatization—have sharply increased economic inequality throughout the continent and created a “lost generation” of young people: poorly educated, unemployed, and locked into low paying part-time jobs (if they manage to find one).  

There has been a surge of right-wing parties throughout the EU, but the analysis that voters are turning right is too simplistic. Voters in Germany did put the Nazi Alternative for Germany in the Bundestag, but mostly because they were fed up with the “stay-the-course” mainstream parties that offered them little more than austerity and more austerity. Dutch voters demolished their social democratic Labor Party, not because it was left, but because it was timidly centrist. Much the same was true for the French Socialist Party. 

When center-left and left parties challenge austerity, voters reward them, as they did in Britain and Portugal. It is not so much that the compass is swinging right, but rather that it is spinning. 

The Italian elections are a case in point. Italy has one of the highest debt ratio in the EU, distressing unemployment figures—11.4 percent nationally, and up to 36 percent among the young—a troubled banking sector, and a deteriorating infrastructure. Garbage—quite literally—is overwhelming Rome. But instead of seeking solutions, most parties are talking about African and Middle East immigrants, a focus that is revealing an ugly side of the peninsula. 

Hate crimes have risen 10-fold since 2012, and 20 percent of Italians admit to being anti-Semitic. The anti-fascist organization Infoasntifa Ecn has recorded more than 140 neo-fascist attacks since 2014. 

Italy currently plays host to some 620,000 immigrants, and since France, Austria and Switzerland tightened their borders, Italy is stuck with them. The EU has been little help. While Brussels was willing to shell out over $6 billion to Turkey to deal with the flood of immigrants generated by the wars in Syria and Yemen, Italy has been left to deal with the problem by itself. 

Immigrants not only have virtually nothing to do with the crisis in banking, the slow growth of the economy, or the persistently high numbers of unemployed, they are a solution to a looming “apocalypse”: Italy’s extremely low birth rate, the lowest in the world after Japan. 

Italian women give birth to 1.39 children on average, but the replacement ratio for the developed world is 2.1. “If we carry on as we are and fail to reverse the trend, there will be fewer than 350,000 births in 10 year’s time, 30 percent less than in 2010—an apocalypse,” says Italian Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin. “In five years we have lost more than 66,000 births [per year]”Lorenzin told La Republica, or a city the size of Siena. “If we link this to the increasingly old and chronically ill people, we have a picture of a moribund country.” 

A major obstacle to increased birth rate is that Italy has the second lowest percentage of women in the workforce in the EU, only 37 percent. The EU average is between 67 percent and 70 percent. An 80-euro a month baby bonus has flopped because many schools let out at noon and childcare is expensive. 

The problem is EU-wide, where the average replacement ratio is only 1.58. The Berlin Institute for Population and Development estimated that Germany would need at least 500,000 immigrants a year for the next 35 years to keep pensions and social services at their current levels. 

But Lorenzin’s warning is a cry in the wilderness. 

Immigrants are a “social bomb that is ready to explode,” says former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose rightwing Forza Italia Party is in coalition with the xenophobic Northern League and the fascist Brothers of Italy. The coalition is currently running in first place, with about 36 percent of the vote. “All these migrants live off of trickery and crime,” he told Canale 5, a station he owns. 

Not to be outdone by Berlusconi, Giogia Meloni of the Brothers calls for a “naval blockade” and “trenches.” Meloni launched her campaign for prime minister in Benito Mussolini’s city of Latina, and the late dictator’s granddaughter is a party candidate. 

Matteo Salvini, the Northern League’s candidate for prime minister, kicks it up a notch: immigrants, he says, bring “chaos, anger, drug dealing, thefts, rape and violence,” and pose a threat to “the white race.” 

Nationwide, crime rates are falling in Italy. 

The Five Star Movement—polling at 28 percent—is less bombastic, but it has taken to immigrant bashing as well. Its candidate for prime minister, Luigi Di Mario, also calls immigrants a “social bomb,” and the party was conspicuously silent when a neo-fascist recently gunned down six African migrants in the town of Macerata. 

The Democratic Party was initially open armed to immigrants, but it has since pulled up the welcome mat and started returning refugees to Libya.

Italy is very much a country of regions, a prosperous north, a generally well-to-do center, and an impoverished south. 

Five Star is doing well in the south, but so is Berlusconi’s coalition. Five Star’s call for a minimum wage is popular in Calabria, Puglia, Basilicata and Sicily—the so-called Mezzogiorno, but Berlusconi won last spring’s elections in Sicily, just edging out Five Star. 

The Northern League—which is polling at around 15 percent—has dropped “Northern” in an effort to appeal to voters in central and south Italy, but the latter are not likely to cast ballots for Salvini. Up until recently Salvini routinely referred to southerners as “terroni,” a derogatory. Southern Italians have long memories. 

It is the left and center-left that is in trouble. Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s wing of the PD moved to the center, and is now paying the price for that maneuver. While critical of the EU’s austerity policies, the PD nevertheless implemented them, bailed out banks, and did little about joblessness. The PD’s Minister of Labor, Giuliano Poletti, encouraged unemployed young Italians to immigrate “rather than get under our feet,” not a comment likely to endear the Party to the young. 

The PD is not xenophobic like Five Star and Berlusconi’s coalition, but neither is it willing to directly challenge the myths around immigration. The PD is allied with Free and Equal, representing the left of the PD, but the party is brand new and it is not clear how well it will poll. 

There is, as well, a center to center-left coalition of eight parties built around Popular Civic and its candidate, Health Minister Lorenzin. But Popular Civic is also a new party, and how it will do Mar. 4 is uncertain. 

There is also a new electoral law that combines proportional representation with first-past-the-post results, and it is not clear how that will translate into seats in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies and 315-seat Senate. A party needs 3 percent to be represented in the parliament. 

It is doubtful that anyone will “win” outright. Five Star may get the most votes, but it will have to ally itself with another party to form a government. In the past it has rejected doing so but recently has moderated its opposition to joining with another party, possibly the Northern League. 

Berlusconi’s coalition might take the largest number of votes, but enough to win a majority? If the South goes Forza Italia rather than Five Star, maybe. There is a caveat here: rightwing parties tend to do better at the ballot box than they poll. 

Forza Italia has positioned itself as the defender of the EU against the “populists” of Five Star, but most of the anti-EU parties—Five Star included—have trimmed back their threats to withdraw from the Union or abandon the euro currency. 

In the end it might be a hung government, and “fractious” would be an understatement. Whoever comes out on top will still have to tackle the underlying crisis, on which immigration has no bearing. The central problem is the economic policies of the EU, whose austerity-driven solutions are losing the organization support. Only 36 percent of Italians have a favorable opinion of the EU, and that viewpoint is not restricted to Italy. Faith in the EU has fallen from 38 percent to 32 percent in France. 

As for the immigrants: not only are they not the problem, they are a long-term solution to Italy’s –and the EU’s—looming demographic crisis 


Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com 









Yes, In Your Backyard!
YIMBYs Plan for Berkeley

Tuesday February 20, 2018 - 09:17:00 PM
This shows the scale model of  what YIMBYs would like to build in North Berkeley.  Yes, that's a 31 story building.
This shows the scale model of what YIMBYs would like to build in North Berkeley. Yes, that's a 31 story building.

Tweet of the Day, from East Bay for Everyone (formerly East Bay Forward, aka Yes in Your Back Yard):

"Come celebrate our second birthday at Spats tonight and you can see this amazing scale model of North Berkely [sic] Bart!" 

Maybe by next year, if they're still around, they might even learn how to spell Berkeley.

New: Snowflakes
In My Back Yard:
San Francisco Planning Department's Take on SB 827

Bob Silvestri
Monday February 19, 2018 - 06:49:00 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece, reprinted from the Marin Post, has a much longer introduction than the usual Planet article, but keep at it, because it's well worth the time it will take to read, and is very entertaining as well. Just click on "more" to see the whole story in one place. 

In the early 1970s, my “budding” career designing residential bathroom additions (“Will those be granite or marble countertops?”), took a detour when I spent nine months working as a psychotherapist-in-training at the Primal Institute in Los Angeles. This somewhat inexplicable happenstance was the result of me building bookshelves at the Beverly Hills manse of Arthur Janov: the then rock star, “on the cover-of-the-Rolling Stone” psychologist whose wizardry had recently inspired John Lennon to compose his John Lennon Plastic Ono Band and Imagine albums.

I had been on my lunch break, sitting by the pool overlooking Benedict Canyon, when Janov himself emerged from the house, beside himself, because he’d been unable to soothe the soul of his lovely but quite enraged girlfriend, and in a fit of exasperation asked me if I would go in and sit with her and try to help out.

More than shocked, but having nothing to lose, I spent the next two hours conducting an ad hoc, private therapy session for someone who was clearly in a great deal of emotional pain (about their relationship, it turns out, which explains why his efforts to “therapize” her were futile).

My technique consisted of muttering whatever laconic comments came to mind: things like, “Wow, that sounds bad,” and “Gee, how did that make you feel?,” which resulted in her emerging from her girl cave euphorically proclaiming that she had never felt better in her life and demanding that Art put me on the staff at the Institute immediately – which is exactly what happened.

The lesson here, of course, is not that I possessed some great skill, but it speaks volumes about the power of allowing someone a safe place to just spill all their tear-drenched truths that they’ve been holding inside for a long time. In any case, in this Forest-Gumpian reality, then, “I was a therapist.”

In fairness, I had spent some months trying the therapy myself so I knew a bit about it – in those days, if you wanted the cutting edge of self-discovery, it was Primal, EST, Gestalt, Transcendental Meditation or jumping into Orgone boxes.

In any case, one of the first things you’re supposed to learn as a therapist is that “everyone’s pain hurts, bad.”

This meant that as a therapist, contrary to the obvious truths before you, whether you’re listening to a suicidal patient who had been physically beaten, malnourished and psychologically abused as a child, or a run-of-the-mill, middle class neurotic -- who had never known want and whose parents had paid a fortune for their Ivy League education and summer sabbaticals overseas, but who were nonetheless “depressed” because they were “never really understood” or seen “for who I am!”-- you had to act as if each of their personal definitions of the “pain” that they described as “really bad,” were somehow equally worthy of your time.

This is in no way said to make light of anyone’s pain. There are a million reasons why one person’s annoyance can be another person’s Waterloo. Some of us are far more fragile, while others are almost impenetrable, regardless of the circumstances.

Most practicing therapists are really good at this kind of cognitive dissonance, otherwise they’d probably lose half their patients by perhaps suggesting they stop ruminating about their troubles and take a risk and change their lives, if they're so unhappy with it… and by the way, on the way out, get down on their knees and kiss the ground and thank the Universe for their good fortune to be able to pay $400 an hour for the session.

Needless to say, I had trouble with this therapeutic “technique." It tends to enable a person's dysfunctional view of the world rather than free them from it. It's a counterproductive remedy. It didn’t take too long before the Institute and I parted ways. To this day, I still have a problem with the “everyone’s pain hurts, bad” concept, particularly when it manifests itself as political correctness.

Surely, there is such a thing as objective degrees of “bad,” right? For example and without condoning either men’s actions, to declare an equivalency between Al Franken’s oafish and sophomoric behavior and the notorious, felony menacing of people like Harvey Weinstein is sort of absurd, isn’t it?

In any event, this all too human tendency to base our beliefs and perceptions on subjective, false equivalencies seems to be somewhat epidemic today. We see this even when it’s obvious that every crisis is not really a “crisis,” but perhaps more just a difficult situation we find ourselves in, which needs to be addressed.

Understanding the difference may be the only way to make sense of what we’re seeing in our body politic, which brings me to Senator Scott Wiener and his YIMBY constituent’s remedy for all the “pain” they see in the world: SB 827 -- a similarly counterproductive remedy that enables a dysfunctional world view. 

Things are tough all over 

As I’ve noted in past articles, young, educated, urban professionals do face some housing challenges in the Bay Area and in fact, in pretty much every major city in the Western World (London ain’t cheap). At the same time, the cost of living in general, with our seemingly endless layers of fees and taxes and special charges has gotten burdensome for everyone in spite of the fact that inflation is supposed to be tame, at least according to government “statistics.” And, in California, being the highest taxed population in the country (state & local income, sales and real estate taxes and fees), it’s an even bigger problem. 

However, none of this justifies the accusatory rhetoric and just plain mean-spirited tenor of the pro-SB 827 campaign. 

Scott Wiener was recently quoted in Wired Magazine saying, 

“It makes me nuts when I see wealthy Nimby homeowners in Marin and elsewhere suddenly becoming defenders of low-income people of color. These are communities that fought tooth and nail to keep low-income people out.” 

Race-baiting allegations such as this, constantly repeated by Wiener and his supporters, imply that public opinion against high density development is racially motivated, rather than being based on what the record shows are the real objections: traffic congestion, environmental damage, lack of water supply, impacts on infrastructure and public services, etc. And, if his allegations were true, why are communities of color in major metropolitan centers against SB 827 and other such pro-gentrification legislation? (Click here to read a letter in opposition by 37 major progressive, grassroots community groups in Los Angeles). 

The biggest irony here, of course, is that SB 827 doesn’t even require that low income housing be built for all those low income people that Wiener claims to care so much about. In fact, his legislation reduces (SB 35) or removes (SB 827) local inclusionary zoning as a requirement. Wiener just likes to use low-income families as a useful talking point. 

Following his lead, well-organized supporters of SB 827 have even demanded that the state “outlaw single family zoning” and pass laws that “force seniors to sell their homes (to young urban professionals) and move away.” I wonder where they would have all those “evil” seniors go: to internment camps, perhaps? 

The nonsensical nature of these demands notwithstanding, this new American “Red Guard” is encouraged by Senator Wiener (whose quest for political power is fairly naked) and emboldened by copious amounts of funding from tech companies, which are eager to have the state (i.e., taxpayers) pay for the impacts of their voracious, profit making juggernauts. 

Elected officials in almost every city and county in the San Francisco Bay Area have written letters to Senator Wiener, stating their objections to SB 827. That’s a good thing. Unfortunately, those letters tend to be filled with fairly insipid comments, the tone of which is more akin to asking permission to be excused from participating, than outright opposition. Even more dangerously, municipalities are attempting to negotiate with the Devil on this and trying to coach their comments in a politically correct way, but in the process are giving away the store and putting themselves and their communities in a lose-lose situation. 

This is not an “SB 827 needs to be changed” situation. This is a “Hell, no!” situation. There is nothing about this proposed legislation that is worthy of discussion. It is based on ignorance and hatred, and corrosive to communities, disadvantaged populations, the principles of our State Constitution and the sovereignty of local elected government and their General Plans. 

It shouldn’t be on the table for discussion in the first place. 

Who’d ‘a thunk it 

Many people, myself included, have enumerated the fallacies embodied in this developer’s wet dream legislation that Wiener is proposing. But, since being a taxpaying resident who owns a single family home immediately makes one’s comments somehow tainted and dismissible, the current battle of rhetoric quickly devolves into a pointless and tasteless standoff. 

In these truly dim times, however, there are voices speaking up that are above reproach. 

As a child of the 60s, I never would have imagined that I would be rooting for the FBI to save us from Washington DC politics. More ironically, I never would have imagined myself being grateful to planning staff in San Francisco, for being a voice of reason. 

Their recent comments on SB 827 are a case in point. Those comments, submitted to the SF Planning Commission, show what a clueless, planning neophyte Wiener really is, even when it comes to his own city. It helps unveil Wiener’s complete ignorance about what a General Plan is, how and why cities conduct planning and anticipate outcomes, or the variety of planning regulatory challenges and nuances that exist in the most populous state in the Union with the 5th largest economy in the world. 

The February 5, 2018 comments by the San Francisco Planning Department are not a public policy response. Clearly, the staff is being respectful of the fact that turning their comments into public policy positions is the purview of the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. So, they tread carefully in their language. However, there is no doubt that they believe SB 827 is divorced from the City’s planning realities and would do far more harm than good. 

In their initial summary they note: 

The bill would have its greatest impact on the State’s core metropolitan regions with more extensive transit service. In San Francisco, this would be virtually the entire city. In the rest of the Bay Area, large swaths of Oakland, Berkeley, and San Jose would be affected, as would all areas right around Caltrain, BART, and SMART stations, various singular corridors along both sides of the Bay… and areas around ferry terminals. 

They go on to point out that the bill would also prohibit the enforcement of 

Any design standard that restricts the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code. 

It’s important to consider that cities such as San Francisco are supposed to be Wiener’s base: the places you would think would be most supportive of his vision, because they generally share the overriding goals of providing more housing near public transportation in their General Plan and Housing Element, and because they share his belief that aggressive housing development will bring down housing costs. So, why aren’t they supportive of SB 827? 

As they explain 

Although the General Plan, as the embodiment of the City’s guiding policy document for the evolution of San Francisco, shares these key objectives with SB 827, the General Plan also explicitly emphasizes the importance of planning for land use change in consultation with communities and in consideration of a variety of relevant factors in the context of each area—urban form, open space, historic preservation, and other factors. [Emphasis added] 

And that it’s important to consider 

the practicalities of implementing the bill and other key inconsistencies with General Plan policies, particularly the importance of maintaining key urban design standards related to livability, walkability, and context. 

It is telling that these observations are essentially identical to the objections voiced by every city council and planning agency in suburban counties, such as Marin. 

The SF Planners go on to point out that SB 827 does not address the demolition or removal of existing affordable housing units, potentially opening the door to runaway gentrification, and that the bill would significantly up-zone most of the city (by their calculation 96% of San Francisco would be affected). This would have the impact of over-riding their typical 45 foot height limit and increasing it to 85 feet on almost all major streets in San Francisco. 

In addition to that massive up-zoning, they note that development would be covered by the State Density Bonus Law, 

Hence what is proposed as 45', 55', and 85' heights could actually be 65', 75'-85', and over 100' respectively. 

This again echoes the comments made by suburban cities and counties. The obvious question is how can someone be a State Senator and former San Francisco Supervisor and not be aware of this? Or, is Wiener aware of it, but he just doesn’t care. 

But it gets worse. The SF Planning Department continues: 

SB 827 appears to eliminate the ability to enforce Planning Code standards or other adopted Design Standards that are the backbone of livability, walkability and urban design quality. The bill’s provision regarding design standards is dramatic. …SB 827 as proposed, completely eliminates all design standards related to building envelope… This would preclude the ability to maintain any standards regarding rear yard, lot coverage, exposure, open space, setbacks, and bulk controls of any kind, to name a few …these planning controls establish basic housing and neighborhood livability standards such as access and connection to daylight, openness in urban density, and natural spaces. [Emphasis added]. 

The SF Planners also point out that, as in other cities, the bill would undermine all of their current affordable housing incentive programs and initiatives, which tend to hold density out as a carrot to coerce developers into building affordable units: SB 827 simply gives this bonus density away with no affordability requirement attached. Worse still, 

The bill provides potentially huge additional value to property owners throughout the state, without concurrent value capture. 

In other words, what does the City get back for this property rights give-away and how do they monetize this so they can provide all the infrastructure and public services these new developers will instantly demand? 

How is this in any way equitable to existing residents? 

Finally, they point out how completely impractical it is to tie density (a long-term planning tool) to the timing or bus routes or the bill’s other definitions of what constitutes a “transit rich” opportunity site, when those transit options are in constant flux. 

The minimum standard for a corridor to trigger the major rezoning is a single bus line that runs four times an hour during peak morning and afternoon commute hours (i.e. a couple of hours per day). This bus could run only during these peak hours (such as an express bus) or have much lower headways at other times of day (e.g., 20-30 minutes). It may not run at all on weekends and there may be no other transit that serves other destinations other than that one bus. [Emphasis added] 

Additionally, the bill refers to transit “corridors,” but it is true that many bus routes that meet the peak hour service definition are commute express buses that may not stop for miles along their journey, stopping only at the ends. However the proposed this bill would appear to up-zone the entire path taken by such a bus (for example, in San Francisco the areas adjacent to Highway 101 would be up-zoned, because of bus use along the Highway;  

[In Marin, this would include the entire length of highway 101, regardless of the actual transportation options available] 

However, bus routes are not a fixed form of transportation like trains are: their routes and schedules change, adapting to real time demand. So, how exactly does that work for zoning, which is a permanent planning device? 

As the SF Planners point out, under SB 827 

The zoning map would be dynamically tied to constantly shifting factors and would require constant monitoring of transit service levels and routes to maintain an updated zoning map. This could mean that zoning could fluctuate somewhat dramatically over time as service levels increase or decrease due to transit budgets, ridership, travel patterns, or agency service strategy. Under the proposed bill, if an operator were to cut service from 15 minutes to 18 minutes, that would trigger a sudden rezoning for 1/4-mile around the bus route; similarly minor increases in transit service could trigger dramatic rezoning. 

They go on to ask, what happens when other regional transit agencies, such as Golden Gate Transit, decide to change their schedules or add or eliminate bus routes? SB 827 will put local zoning (and de facto changes to the city’s General Plan) in the hands and at the whim of these outside agencies. How does that work? 

To cut to the chase, it doesn’t. SB 827 may be one of the most amateurish attempts at legislation California has ever seen. 

Everyone’s pain hurts, bad 

Let’s go back to the problem that we should all want to solve: how do we provide housing for those most in need in our communities? That’s the democratic, egalitarian goal we should all be embracing, first and foremost when it comes to housing issues. It’s the basic principle that motivated the federal government to create the FHA in 1934 and addressing it is the path to socially just city planning. 

You’ll notice that doesn’t include picking favorites or building housing for those who just want more. That means that if major tech companies create major housing shortages, while they’re piling up their hundreds of billions in profits, it’s not our civic responsibility to make sure their employees have housing. It’s really their problem to solve and if that requires moving their headquarters somewhere else or paying everyone who works for them a lot more money (and that includes third party service providers like cleaners, gardeners and trash haulers), that’s still their problem. 

This brings me back to Wiener and his band of snowflakes.[1] 

Weiner’s knock on Baby Boomers--all those seniors who should be forced to sell their homes and go “away.” -- is that Boomers had it easy and are selfish. 

But, is there any truth to that? 

In past articles, I wrote about how much luckier I was than my parents or grandparents, to have been able to grow up in what was then called a middle class family in the 50s: a family of four in a 920 square foot house, owning one family car, having one party-line phone and neighbors who were mostly working class—house painters, electricians, insurance salesmen, etc.—with stay at home moms and if anyone vacationed anywhere further away than Florida, it was a really big deal on the block. 

But, the 50s have been over-rated. We spent our youth ducking and covering under our school desks preparing for the atomic bomb everyone seemed pretty sure the Russians were going to drop on our heads any day now, and learning about the “Commie” threat that was somehow everywhere around us. 

Later, we went off to college just in time for the reinstatement of the military draft and the Vietnam War. Everyone who lived through that time lost friends or family or saw someone come home crippled and broken. Many promising careers got cut short. 

The 60s are glamorized today, but the abiding tone was non-stop tension. It was a time when you could go to prison for life for possessing a single joint and thrown out of school for having long hair. I’m not complaining, but that’s just how it was. Was it unfair? Yeah, I guess you could say that. 

And, if your parents didn’t have the money to pay for college, which many didn't, it forced you to find a way, work nights and weekends, then find a place to live, close to school, which brings us to the issue of housing. 

But, housing was much cheaper back then, right? Well, let’s see about that. 

It’s true that you could live many places in the country then and spend very little on housing, but that is still somewhat true today. But, that has never been true for anywhere you really wanted to be. And, in the 1960s, New York City was the epicenter of the world, career-wise. It was the place to be, even more than Silicon Valley is today. 

In 1969, a small one-bedroom apartment in a crappy old building in a dangerous neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (Avenue B or C) cost you about $250 a month, if it wasn’t rent controlled (hard to come by back then because people with rent controlled units never moved – generations of families grew up in the same apartment). 

As a graduate architect at that time, I made about $5 per hour doing drafting work. A graduate architect today probably makes about $50 per hour doing CAD. So, based on that, the rent for that apartment should be about $2,500 per month, today, which is pretty much exactly what it is[2], except that there are no longer any run down neighborhoods on the Lower East Side and the streets are safer than they’ve ever been... and the countertops are now Corian not ugly, speckled Formica. 

Real estate values have an uncanny way of keeping parity with wages and inflation over the long run, even if there are long periods of transitions where that is not the case, such as now. 

Okay, but there’s more to life than just rent, right? What about other lifestyle opportunities? Surely, everything else was still much easier for Boomer college graduates, right? 

In the late 1960s and 1970s, when the bulk of Boomers graduated college, the country went through the longest period of stagflation it has ever known. Then the mid-70s “oil shock” turned it into a full-blown recession with cars waiting for gas, in lines around the block. The Post WWII boom came to an abrupt end. 

Cities like New York teetered on the verge of bankruptcy and crime skyrocketed. Jobs were scarce, competition was fierce (too many Boomers seeking too few job opportunities) and the jobs you could find certainly didn’t offer climbing walls, sushi bars and fitness centers. And, there was no Internet or cellphones with apps to help you locate a job or an apartment. 

So, I’m sorry, but I’m honestly baffled by Wiener’s anti-Boomer generation rhetoric. Heck, if you want to attack the Boomer generation, why not do it for giving up on environmental and social justice causes and trading in Water Buffalo sandals and tie-dyed t-shirts for Guccis and Zegna suits and wrecking the world’s financial system? 

That notwithstanding, regarding the allegation about being selfish, I’ve yet to see any generation that’s cornered the market on that. But, I keep wondering these days, what is it going to take for people to start to feel grateful and lucky for all we have? 

Coming full circle 

How about we get back to the point of all this, where the whole discussion of affordable housing started? What about the poor and those who are really in need, who don’t get to go to college, whose children go hungry at night, or who have disabilities, or whom police and federal agencies racially profile, and who work manual jobs and live crammed into crappy old apartments? Those are the people in our communities who really have a housing affordability problem. What about them? 

Why aren’t they even a footnote in Wiener’s agenda? If we believe we have any social responsibilities at all, isn’t this one of them? 

SB 827 is an awful idea promoted by those who crave the power of top down, authoritarian government and corporate socialism over bottom up, one person one vote participatory democracy. It's based on fear-mongering and self-serving, small-minded politicians, the greed of major corporations and our unquestioned mantra that privatization and unbridled growth will solve everything: San Francisco’s housing needs, climate change, the national debt, peace on earth, you name it. 

It’s nonsense. 

Frankly, if we can’t do better than SB 827 to address our housing challenges, we should dissolve the State Legislature and start over. 

Just say, "No." 


[1] Wikipedia: A person who has an inflated sense of their own uniqueness, has an unwarranted sense of entitlement, or is easily offended and unable to deal with opposing opinions. 


[2] Apartments.com 

SF Planning Department Comment on SB 827  


Bob Silvestri is president of Community Venture Partners, Inc.,the sponsor of the Marin Post, where this article first appeared. He is a licensed architect (retired), is NCARB certified and holds a Bachelors of Architecture with honors from the Cooper Union School of Architecture in New York City. 



Press Release: Undercover Operation Nets Six Laptop Thieves

From the Berkeley Police Department
Monday February 19, 2018 - 10:22:00 AM

In response to an ongoing series of laptop thefts and robberies which have spiked in recent months, the Berkeley Police Department Patrol Division has begun placing undercover officers in a number of cafes citywide. Those efforts paid dividends on Saturday evening at approximately 7:54pm, when officers observed 4 subjects get out of a car and walk into the café. Seconds later, two of the men stole two laptops and the foursome ran back to the waiting getaway car. One of the victims chased after the suspects and attempted to recover his laptop. The suspect vehicle fled and the undercover officers directed a large number of officers into the area to affect the arrest. 

Responding officers quickly stopped the getaway vehicle on College Avenue near Russell Street where they conducted a felony car stop. Recovered from the getaway car were the two laptops which had just been swiped from Café Strada as well as additional stolen property not related to this evening’s event. 

When the dust settled three adults and three juveniles were arrested and booked for strong armed robbery, grand theft person, possession of stolen property, and probation violations (5 of the 6 were on some form of probation). 

The Berkeley Police Department will not be releasing the names of the suspects at this time as the investigation remains ongoing. The department’s undercover efforts are slated to continue for the foreseeable future until a decrease in these crimes are noted. Despite this arrest community members are still encouraged to: 

  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Do not leave your valuables unattended (especially electronic devices)
  • Consider using a locking device to secure your property to the table
  • Back up your work to either an external hard drive (not kept with the computer) or to the cloud
  • Purchase tracking software so that you can be reunited with your device if it becomes stolen
  • If tracking software came with your device, remember to activate it and safeguard your logon & password
  • Make note of your electronic devices’ serial numberi
  • If you see something suspicious, say something immediately (call 9-1-1)
With your help we can reduce the number of these events from occurring in our community.


Public Comment

New: Ban the AR-15 Now

Jagjit Singh
Monday February 19, 2018 - 06:48:00 PM

Following the mass shooting in Parkland Florida, “Health Affairs” ranked the United States the most dangerous wealthy nation in the world for children. Shooting deaths are 49 times higher than other rich countries. The teenagers slaughtered in Florida had the gross misfortune of growing up in a society that cares more about gun owners rights than their safety.The pro-life Republicans are fond of declaring the sanctity of the unborn child but withdraw such concerns once they are born. 

The NRA has a chokehold on US lawmakers silencing them with large donations. President Trump is a prime example, providing cover for the crimes of the NRA by falsely conflating the Florida and other massacres with mental illness and not the proliferation of guns. A report by McClatchy revealed that the FBI is looking into whether Russian bankers with Kremlin ties funneled money through the NRA during the 2016 election. The NRA is complicit in all mass killings. 

What a grotesque legacy to bestow on future generations of our children. We don’t love them enough to effectively protect them. It is time to open the windows of our souls and scream loudly so that our voices reverberate across the land and reach our stone- hearted lawmakers who have sold their souls to the devil incarnate – the NRA and their enablers. 

The AR15 is the weapon of choice for all mass killings. It must be banned immediately.

New: Reducing Mass Shootings in Our Schools

Mike Weimer
Sunday February 18, 2018 - 10:27:00 PM

In the wake of the Florida school shooting, conservative media (writers and TV journalists) has offered 3 major proposals to reduce such incidents: 1) concentrate on mental health, 2) if you see something suspicious report it, 3) arm and train school personnel in addition to present security personnel. All three are problematic.  

I assume advocates of the mental health viewpoint want one of two things to happen, or possibly both. Either they want to keep firearms out of the hands of mentally ill individuals or they would like to know in advance if an individual is disposed to do harm to others and assist them in correcting that tendency. If either of these ideas is to become reality, several questions need to be answered. 

1) How is "mentally ill" defined? 2) How is "disposed to do harm" defined? 3) At what point in an individual's lifespan is a determination to be made and by what method? 4) Who would make the diagnosis? 5) What are the qualifications of the diagnostician and what kind of training should they have? 6) Who does the diagnostician report to and in what period of time? 7) After the diagnosis is reported what actions are permissible? 8) Who is responsible if an individual is determined to be mentally ill or disposed to do harm and between the time a diagnosis is made and action is taken the individual obtains a firearm and kills someone? 9) How are individuals in the business of selling firearms to know if an individual is diagnosed as mentally ill or disposed to do harm and what is their responsibility? 10) What is the cost of diagnosis, training, monitoring, and enforcement? 

Those advocates who believe if you see something, say something must also grapple with important questions. 

1) Who, exactly, are they supposed to say something to? 2) Is the individual who appears to be acting suspicious actually doing something illegal? 3) Legally, what is the person or institution that receives the report required to do? 4) Do the people or institutions who receive reports of suspicious activity have the capacity to follow up? Are they actually able to prevent the reported individual from causing further harm? 5) What is the cost of personnel, equipment, and monitoring? 

There is one final question regarding either of the above approaches: Are we as a nation willing to live in a society where each of us might be under suspicion or subject at any time to mental fitness testing? 

The proposal to arm personnel in addition to any security personnel present on a campus or other public space is the most problematic.  

1) How are additional personnel to be selected and how many are needed? 2) Who should make the decision? 3) What type of firearms are said personnel allowed or required to possess? Are handguns sufficient against rapid-fire assault weapons? 4) What other equipment should said personnel possess ­ body armor, safety vests, etc? 5) Where are the firearms to be kept? 6) How does one control access to the firearms so that unauthorized persons cannot access them? If in a central place will that give the armed personnel enough time to counter the attacker? 7) Do we really want non-security personnel to open carry in a school? 8) What procedures need to be put in place to assure that non-security personnel (or security personnel for that matter) do not use the firearms in unauthorized instances? 9) What is the cost of arming, training, storage, and maintenance? 

My personal preference is for a complete ban on any firearms except those used for hunting which should be kept at a club site with trigger guards. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that firearms can be possessed for private use in the home for traditionally lawful purposes. In the absence of any further guidance from the Supreme Court or from Congress individuals have interpreted the decision to mean that they have the right to own and use any type of firearm and today rapid-fire arms with multi-bullet magazines and equipment to modify arms for rapid-fire capability are common. In addition, absent further guidance, states have developed a variety of laws and regulations around permits and uses of firearms which has resulted in confusion and the ability of individuals to evade state regulations by going across borders. One practical solution then is to standardize firearm regulations and laws at the federal level so that there is no confusion.  

One promising step is what is variously referred to as a gun violence restraining order or risk warrant adopted by 5 states. It allows family members to submit to a court evidence that a particular person in the family may be likely to cause harm to other humans and to restrict that individual¹s access to firearms. In some cases, it allows law enforcement to search a home for firearms and confiscate them as necessary. There are some loopholes in this process such as what to do if family members don¹t think anything is wrong or the individual simply moves to another state where the order is not enforced. Unfortunately, such an order would not have stopped the Florida incident because everyone, including the FBI, thought the perpetrator was low risk. Nor would it have stopped the Las Vegas shooting because he was an adult. Again, it would help if the whole process were federally standardized and loopholes were closed.  

Another procedure that would assist in reducing firearm deaths is to place the permit process in the hands of local law enforcement. No individual could possess a firearm unless they first obtained a permit for specific types of weapons which must be shown to any dealer prior to purchase, just like a driver¹s license or ID must be shown before purchasing alcohol or cigarettes. The permit would be subject to periodic renewal.  

Finally, I cannot think of a single earthly reason why anyone would need anything other than a simple handgun or single-shot shotgun or rifle for any traditional lawful purpose. I believe that a total ban on the manufacture, sale, distribution, and possession of rapid-fire weapons and any equipment which could be used to modify any weapon for such use, for anyone not in law enforcement or the military, must be enacted. Even with such a law one cannot guarantee that such weapons and ammunition will not slip into the wrong hands. No country in the world has succeeded in eliminating the possibility of mass murder nor single killing by firearms ­ or for that matter any other weapon. But we owe our children and young adults the promise of a world in which they have the best chance to live a life free from harm at the hands of another. We only need the will to put it in writing.

Open Letter to Mayor Arreguin Regarding Community Benefits and Development Concessions

Charlene M. Woodcock
Friday February 16, 2018 - 06:17:00 PM

Dear Mayor Arreguín,

It was very disturbing to hear you say almost offhandedly, as we were leaving the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Downtown Community Benefits meeting last Thursday, that paragraph F, Alteration of Community Benefits Package, should be dropped from the Resolution.

The majority of Berkeley voters elected you and other council members who ran as progressives because we wanted the city to reverse course from the extremely pro-developer policies of Mayor Bates and the previous council majority and focus on serving the city’s needs. But here is an instance where we’re not seeing the more careful consideration of the implications of policy that we voted for.

At the heart of our concerns was Bates and his council majority's seemingly unthinking approval of huge disruption downtown, damage to existing businesses and public services like the High School, the YMCA, the Library, and the Post Office, especially during the construction process, and ever more market rate housing instead of the low and moderate income housing we need. The community benefits proposal approved for 2211 Harold Way was an insult to the city of Berkeley. For developer Joseph Penner, no doubt advised by former Planning Department employee Mark Rhoades, to propose eight replacement theaters as a significant community benefit after the demolition of our beautiful, comfortable, successful existing theaters was like a black joke. 

If we mean to ensure that city residents share in the benefits developers will derive from their projects that use valuable space downtown, we must make sure the proposed community benefits are commensurate with the developer’s expected profits and serve the needs of the community. If a package is approved and then the plans change, we must ensure that any alteration in the benefits package is appropriate. This is too important to leave to staff, who have a conflict of interest. We have seen that planning staff, dedicated to ensuring the flow of income into their department from developers’ fees, work to support and serve developers’ interest. Thus the loss of the promised Fine Arts Theater, the Gaia Bookstore, and the extension of the 2211 Harold Way project. 

I hope you will support inclusion of paragraph F, Alteration of Community Benefits Package in the Resolution to clarify and set standards for Berkeley’s Significant Community Benefits program.

Repeated Horror

Bruce Joffe
Sunday February 18, 2018 - 03:20:00 PM

I am so sick-and-tired of the same horror being repeated again and again and, tragically, once again. Hundreds of mass shootings, killing thousands of children, women, and men, and still, Republicans in Congress refuse to enact strong gun control. They say it would not be effective, that it would be unconstitutional. It would endanger their funding from the National Rifle Association. 

When the 2nd amendment was written, people were guaranteed the right to bear arms, implicitly to resist a totalitarian government. BUT that right is guaranteed ONLY in the context "of a well-regulated militia." It does not give every crazy asshole the right to shoot-em-up whenever and wherever he wants. 

Gun use should be licensed, like driving is, with periodic background checks and proficiency (safety) tests. Usage can be regulated, as distinct from ownership. 

Those who oppose licensing gun usage because it wouldn't stop criminals, are sacrificing the doable at the alter of perfection. It takes time for gun regulation to take root. It took about 12 years before Australia's gun restrictions reduced gun deaths, but slowly, the new system worked. 

If gun licensing prevents even one deadly carnage, wouldn't that be worth it? As the sages taught us, "when you save a life, it's as if you have saved the entire world."

The Taliban Asks the American People to End this Deadly War

Gar Smith
Friday February 16, 2018 - 06:22:00 PM

In an unprecedented 17,000-word letter released on February 14, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (a.k.a., the Taliban) has appealed directly to the American people and "peace-loving Congressmen [sic] to put pressure on your authorities and demand an end to the occupation of Afghanistan."

"[I]t is not the duty of America to draft laws and suggest systems for other countries," the letter states—especially when doing so entails the deaths of "3,546 American and foreign soldiers" and the killing of "tens of thousands of helpless Afghans, including women and children."

In 2001, George W. Bush claimed the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to accomplish three goals: (1) to establish a legitimate government, (2) to eradicate the narcotics trade, and, (3) to eliminate the Taliban resistance.

In its letter, the Taliban notes how this plan worked out.

• Today, the U.S.-backed government in Kabul in known largely for its greed and incompetence—widely acknowledged as one of the world's most corrupt regimes and a leading violator of human rights.

• The opium poppy trade—eradicated under Taliban rule—has exploded since the arrival of Western forces, expanding from 185 hectors to 328,000 hectors. In December 2017, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crimes reported that drug production in Western-controlled regions of the country had increased 87 percent in that year alone.

• After 16 years of fighting, the Pentagon has failed to "secure" the country. In September 2016, Donald Trump's generals carried out 751 deadly air strikes in the county but gained "not even a single inch of land." According to the UN, 60 percent of the country remains firmly under Taliban control.

Declaring that "Having a sovereign country free from any foreign occupation is our natural and human right," the letter argues that "[e]stablishing an Islamic system conforming to the creed of our people can never be called terrorism by any law of the world."

Unlike Washington, the Taliban writes, "[W]e have no agenda of playing any destructive role in any other country and we have practically proven over the past 17 years that we have not interfered in any other country." 

Instead, the letter continues: "War is imposed on us, it is not our choice. Our preference is to solve the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogues. America must end her occupation and must accept all out legitimate rights, including the right to form a government consistent wit the beliefs of our people." 

"[I]t is not too late for the American people to understand that the Islamic Emirate . . . can solve its problems with every side through healthy politics and dialogue. Needless use of force only complicates the issues . . . . [T]he Islamic Emirate understands its responsibility and can play a constructive role in finding a peaceful solution." 

This remarkable letter could offer the promise of a resolution to "America's longest running war." If anything, the Afghan war has demonstrated that the Pentagon—despite the expenditure of hundreds of billions of tax dollars—is incapable of winning foreign wars. 

The Taliban's letter offers a rare opportunity to tell the Pentagon to "stand down" and rely, instead, on diplomacy as offering a better—and proven—path to securing a just and lasting peace. 

Action: Read the letter and consider share it with your elected representatives. 


Letter from the Taliban to the American People! 

https://alemarah-english.com/?p=25640>The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan 

The American people, officials of independent non-governmental organizations and the peace loving Congressmen! 

(February 14, 2018) -- With the hope that you will read this letter prudently and will evaluate the future of American forces and your profit and loss inside Afghanistan in light of the prevailing realities alluded to in the following lines! 

The American people! 

You realize that your political leadership launched a military invasion of our country 17 years ago. This invasion was not only contrary to the legal and national norms of our own sovereign country but also a violation of all international rules and regulations, but still the following three main points were put forward by your authorities to justify this illegitimate invasion: 

  1. Establishing security by eliminating the so-called terrorists inside Afghanistan.
  2. Restoring law and order by establishing a legal government.
  3. Eradicating narcotics.
However let us analyze how successful your war-monger leaders were in achieving the above three slogans in this illegitimate war? 

Increased insecurity and fighting: 

In 2001 when your ex-president George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan, his justification for that felonious act was the elimination the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) and Al-Qaeda. 

But despite continuing this bloody war for seventeen years and accepting huge casualties and financial losses, your current president Donald Trump—to continue the illegal 17-year-old war in Afghanistan—acknowledged increased insecurity and emergence of multiple groups instead of the single unified Islamic Emirate (Taliban). 

This was stated by Trump while declaring his new war strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia on 23rdAugust 2017 and seventeen years later, again ordered the perpetuation of the same illegitimate occupation and war against the Afghan people. Since your authorities admit the presence of multiple warring factions inside Afghanistan, it verifies our claim that by invading Afghanistan and overthrowing a unified responsible government of Taliban, the Americans have merely paved the way for anarchy in the country. 

No matter what title or justification is presented by your undiscerning authorities for the war in Afghanistan, the reality is that tens of thousands of helpless Afghans including women and children were martyred by your forces, hundreds of thousands were injured and thousands more were incarcerated in Guantanamo, Bagram and various other secret jails and treated in such a humiliating way that has not only brought shame upon humanity but is also a violation of all claims of American culture and civilization. 

In this lopsided war and as confirmed by your own military authorities, 3546 American and foreign soldiers have been killed, more than 20,000 American forces injured and tens of thousands more are suffering mentally but in reality the amount of your casualties is several times higher and is deliberately being concealed by your leaders. Similarly this war has cost you trillions of dollars thus making it one of the bloodiest, longest and costliest war in the contemporary history of your country. 

Chaos and the most corrupt regime: 

Even though it is not the duty of America to draft laws and suggest systems for other countries but nevertheless, the second excuse of George W. Bush for the invasion of Afghanistan was to establish a supposed legitimate government. But despite seventeen years of war costing thousands of American and coalition lives and billions of dollars, such a system has taken root in Afghanistan which has achieved the following administrative, legal, military and political records: 

Number one internationally in administrative and financial corruption. 

Number one internationally in violating human rights. 

Number one internationally in usurping of land and embezzling international aid. 

Number one internationally in violence against women, etc. etc. 

The latest example of the corrupt regime formed in the wake of American invasion is the presence of a two-headed system, which is unparalleled in the established laws of forming a government throughout the world. 

Production and expansion of narcotics: 

The third justification of George W. Bush to invade Afghanistan was the prevention and eradication of narcotics. Let us examine the amount and levels of production and expansion of the narcotic trade in Afghanistan after seventeen-year war effort? 

According to the data provided by UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes)—prior to the American invasion—poppy was cultivated only on 185 hectors land of Afghanistan and only in areas controlled by anti-Taliban forces whereas the level of heroin addiction among Afghans was next to nil. But following the American invasion of Afghanistan, poppy cultivation skyrocketed from 185 hectors to 328,000 hectors while under the shadow of seventeen year occupation, the number of drug addicts has reached 3 million people. 

On 21st December 2017, the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes) reported that drug production increased by 87% and poppy cultivation increased by 63% during the year 2017, thus mounting the total production of narcotics to 9000 metric tons. 

The American People! 

You proclaim to be a developed and civilized nation of the world. Since the imposed government in Afghanistan is established by you therefore we leave it to your judgment to decide—according to your logic and conscience—whether the present system and its pertinent changes, insecurity, chaos and 87% increase in narcotics are reforms or crimes against humanity? 

Your authorities proclaim that tens of billions of dollars have been spent on various reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. Of course this is the same money which is collected from you as taxes and revenues, but here it has been distributed among thieves and murderers. 

Do you agree that the hard earned money of your labor should be wasted on such a corrupt system where in only one criminal case, $900 million were stolen from Kabul Bank by corrupt officials? 

Do you consider it the rule of law in American culture and lexicon where the first deputy of a government is a person involved in the felonious act of sexual assault on a 70-year-old man besides hundreds of other crimes against humanity? 

Is this the civilization, modernity and rule of law proclaimed by you in the world? 

Were your 3546 forces killed in Afghanistan to establish and empower such a system? 

Can your scholars, intellectuals and unbiased analysts produce an answer to our questions? 

You must understand that our people are living, watching and closely analyzing all these calamities and that is why the regime working under the shadow of your military support and the corrupt elements assembled therein are not looked upon as a legitimate government rather they are considered a band of usurpers, looters, mafia warlords and drug-dealers while at the same time, the resistance against them is considered their legal, moral and national obligation. The people working alongside you to impose this system are committing treason against our nation and national interests. On the other hand, the people who waging armed resistance against your corrupt regime are the defenders of their homeland, national interests, sovereignty as well as their dignity and they are revered by the Afghan masses as their heroes. That the American media is propagating against the Afghan resistance and labeling them as foreign terrorists instead of Afghan freedom fighters, all of this is baseless propaganda aimed at concealing their own humiliating defeat. To repudiate this propaganda, we only want to say that had there been any chance of success in Afghanistan with foreign support, the American invaders and their coalition forces would definitely have succeeded due to enjoying the political and military support of a powerful country like the United States of America as well as the support of a well-equipped military alliance like NATO. 

The People of America! 

We would like to summarize our message to you in the following words: 

The Afghans who are fighting your forces and any other invader today, this is their legal, religious and national obligation. However mighty and well-equipped your forces might be, even if supported by the entire world, this resistance will be sustained by the Afghan people due to their religious, legal and national obligation. This resistance is considered by Afghan masses as a sacred responsibility of defending their creed and country. To relinquish this sacred obligation is considered by them as abandoning Islam and all human values and this disgrace is never acceptable for any valiant Muslim Afghan individual. 

Afghans have continued to burn for the last four decades in the fire of imposed wars. They are longing for peace and a just system but they will never tire from their just cause of defending their creed, country and nation against the invading forces of your war-mongering government because they have rendered all the previous and present historic sacrifices to safeguard their religious values and national sovereignty. If they make a deal on their sovereignty now, it would be unforgettable infidelity with their proud history and ancestors. 

Afghanistan is a country which has maintained its independence throughout its several thousand year history. Even in the 19th and 20th century when most Muslim countries were occupied by the then European imperial powers, Afghanistan was the only country in the region to preserve its independence and despite an eighty year imperialistic endeavor, the British failed make them accept occupation. It is the same inherent zeal and historic succession in the hearts and minds of Afghan masses which presently inspires this empty-handed nation to continue protracted resistance against your occupying forces. This is not exaggeration rather irrefutable reality that today the valiant Afghan self-sacrificial attackers are competing among themselves to carry out martyrdom seeking attacks against your invading forces. 

This national religious resistance of the Afghans is not a futile war, rather it is progressing everyday as various parts of the country are liberated. At this moment the head of SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) acknowledged that sixty percent of Afghan territory is under the control of Taliban (Islamic Emirate). 

In 2001 during the American invasion of Afghanistan, a number of world countries came under the influence of misleading propaganda by your officials and supported the warring strategy of the then president George W. Bush. But today we see that your government has lost that international support as a number of your coalition partners have withdrawn their forces from our country by discerning the prevailing realities and they are currently seeking a political solution. The international community at large is now backing our justified resistance against the illegitimate American occupation. If your government is still insisting on perpetuating the war in Afghanistan by conjuring excuses, it will further undermine American prestige in the world. 

The People of America! 

In the American society where the main source of power is the masses and the authorities are elected by public votes, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan—as representatives of the will of Afghan nation—asks the American people and the peace loving Congressmen to put pressure on your authorities and demand an end to the occupation of Afghanistan because stubbornly seeking the protraction of this war and existence of a corrupt and ineffective regime here in Kabul will have dreadful consequences for the region and particularly for the stability of America herself. 

The Afghan masses feel pity for the whole American nation because they are being sacrificed and are losing respect through the world with each passing day solely due the war-mongering policies of a few war-mongering officials. 

Your intellectuals, peace loving Congressmen and independent chiefs of civil organizations should question your authorities as to why the American people are so insecure and detested at home and abroad despite their international prestige? 

For how long will your modern country and your children continue to be sacrificed for the war-mongering policies of a few war-mongering officials? 

And what eventual benefit will these warring policies bring for your country? 

The American People! 

Your president and his military and political officials following his war policies still speak the language of war in Afghanistan. They intentionally release fake statistics for the sake of their vested interests and misguide you and the world by throwing dust in your eyes. The reality is that in contemporary world, the use of force and arms has been replaced by peaceful dialogue and wars cannot be won with lies. 

Only in past September—in accordance with Trump’s new strategy—American forces used all their new powers and carried out 751 air strikes. You should ask your Generals that despite using such force, have you retaken even a single inch of land from the Taliban or have they become even more powerful. 

If you do not understand the inexperienced policies of president Trump and his war-monger advisors, then look no further than his irrational decision of shifting the American embassy to from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which brought America in opposition with 128 countries of the world. 

Truly it is humiliating for a civilized people like you to be confronted with such a decisive international majority. It was only due of the pursuit of policies of force which pitted majority of the world countries against America, and your authorities are still insistent upon that ridiculous policy!! 

The Islamic Emirate had asked America from the very beginning to solve her issues with the Islamic Emirate through talk and dialogue. The use of force has adverse consequences, and you might have now discerned the bitter consequences of American aggression against Afghanistan. If the policy of using force is exercised for a hundred more years and a hundred new strategies are adopted, the outcome of all of these will be the same as you have observed over the last six months following the initiation of Trump’s new strategy. 

According we still believe that it is not too late for the American people to understand that the Islamic Emirate—as representative of its people—can solve its problems with every side through healthy politics and dialogue. Needless use of force only complicates the issues by creating new dimensions which gradually move out of the realm of control. The Islamic Emirate is a regional power with deep roots which cannot be subdued by sheer force. The chances of dialogue however are not exhausted. The American people must understand that the Islamic Emirate understands its responsibility and can play a constructive role in finding a peaceful solution for issues but this can never mean that we are exhausted or our will has been sapped. It is our policy that logic should be given a chance before the use of force. Whatever can be achieved by logic, should not be relinquished due to the use of force. It is the moral obligation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to inform you, the American masses, about these realities. 

We must state that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan undertakes legitimate efforts for the independence of our homeland. Having a sovereign country free from any foreign occupation is our natural and human right. Seeking freedom of our homeland and establishing an Islamic system conforming to the creed of our people can never be called terrorism by any law of the world. It is worth mentioning that we have no agenda of playing any destructive role in any other country and we have practically proven over the past seventeen years that we have not interfered in any other country. Likewise we will not allow anyone else to use Afghan territory against any other country. War is imposed on us, it is not our choice. Our preference is to solve the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogues. America must end her occupation and must accept all our legitimate rights including the right to form a government consistent with the beliefs of our people. After gaining independence, we would like to have positive and constructive relations with all countries of the world including our neighboring countries. We welcome their assistance and support in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of our country. We want to play a beneficial role in regional and world peace and stability, provide high standard education and employment opportunities for our people and guarantee all human and legal rights of every child, woman and man, secure our youth from drugs and all other moral indecencies, provided job opportunities to every individual such that they not leave their homeland or seek refuge abroad. 

In brief, insisting on prolonging the war in Afghanistan and maintaining American troop presence is neither beneficial for America nor for anyone else, rather it endangers the stability of the entire world. This is irrefutable reality which is only rejected by your arrogant authorities. If you want peaceful dialogue with the Afghans specifically and with the world generally, then make your president and the war-mongering congressmen and Pentagon officials understand this reality and compel them to adopt a rational policy towards Afghanistan! 

This will be the most constructive step for the stability of your people, the Afghans as well as the whole world. 

Our only obligation is to convey (the message) to you! 

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan 

28/05/1439 Hijri Lunar 

25/11/1396 Hijri Solar  

14/02/2018 Gregorian 


THE PUBLIC EYE: Forecasting the Midterm Elections in the West

Bob Burnett
Friday February 16, 2018 - 06:09:00 PM

The 2018 midterm elections will occur on November 6th. Democrats have been predicting a "blue wave," but recently there's been an uptick of support for President Trump and, as a result, Democrats are nervous. Nonetheless, the eleven western states look positive for Dems. 

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll suggests why Democrats look forward to November 6th: "Democrats lead by 14 points among likely voters... But that reflects a vast 38-point Democratic lead in districts already held by Democratic members of Congress. In districts the [GOP] holds, by contrast, it’s a tight 45-51 percent Democratic vs. Republican contest." Democrats also lead in enthusiasm: "They lead very widely among those who say it’s especially important to vote this year." 

A "blue wave" is predicted because experts believe that Democrats are more motivated to vote than are Republicans. Because most Democrats deplore Trump and his Republican Party, Dems are eager to curtail Trump by taking back the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. 

Intensity of feeling should play a critical role in the November 6th elections. In the latest Quinnipiac Poll 57 percent of respondents disapproved of the job Trump is doing (38 percent approved). 49 percent of the poll respondents disapproved strongly (29 percent approved strongly). 

Notably, Trump is losing the support of women. The most recent Washington Post poll indicates that 65 percent of women disapprove of the job Trump is doing. 

What is clear from the polls is that there is a big difference in how Trump is viewed in Red and Blue congressional districts. Red district voters support Trump: they feel he is doing a good job, ignore his lies, and believe the investigation into possible collusion with Russia is a hoax. Blue district voters have radically different feelings. This suggests that the 2018 outcome is going to be decided by swing districts. The balance of this article examines the swing districts in the west. 

California: Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is running for reelection and is likely to win her sixth term in office. The real excitement is in the House races where, according to the Cook Report, at least 10 races are competitive. 

CA 4 McClintock (R) -- Likely Republican.
CA 7 Bera (D) -- Leans Democrat. (The one Democrat seat in jeopardy.)
CA 10 Denham (R) -- Toss up.
CA 21 Valadao (R) -- Likely Republican but Dems outnumber Republicans.
CA 25 Knight (R) -- Toss up.
CA 39 Royce (R) -- Leans Democrat; Royce is retiring.
CA 45 Walters (R) -- Leans Republican.
CA 48 Rohrabacher (R) -- Toss up.
CA 49 Issa (R) -- Leans Democrat; Issa is retiring.
CA 50 Hunter (R) -- Likely Republican.
(There's a lot of interest in Republican Devin Nunes seat (CA 22); the Cook Report rates it as Solid Republican.) 

Because of California's "top-two" primary system, it's likely that on November 6th, California voters will chose between two Democratic candidates for Governor and two Democratic candidates for Senator; this should depress the Republican vote. 

Nevada: Republican Senator Dean Heller is up for reelection and the Cook Report rates the race as a tossup. (Heller's likely opponent is Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen.) There's an open Governor's slot because the existing Republican governor is term-limited out; Cook rates this Governor's race as a tossup. There are two House races of interest, both currently occupied by Democrats:
NV 3 Rosen (D) -- tossup; Rosen is retiring to run for Senator.
NV 4 Kihuen (D) -- Leans Democrat; Kihuen is retiring. 

Arizona: Republican Senator Jeff Flake is retiring and the Cook Report rates this race as a tossup. (The likely Democratic candidate is congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.) The Republican Governor, Doug Ducey, is running for reelection; Cook rates this race as likely Republican. There are three house races of interest:
AZ 1 O'Halleran (D) -- Leans Democrat
AZ 2 O'Salley (R) -- Leans Democrat; O'Salley is retiring to run for Senator
AZ 9 Sinema (D) -- Likely Democrat; Sinema is retiring to run for Senator. 

New Mexico: Republican Governor Martinez is term-limited out. Cook Report shows race this as leaning Democrat. There are two open house seats of interest (both incumbents are retiring.)
NM 1 Lujan-Grisham (D) -- Leans Democrat
NM 2 Pearce (R) -- Likely Republican. 

Colorado: Democratic Governor Hickenlooper is term-limited out. Cook Report shows this race as leaning Democrat. There is one congressional seat up:
CO 6 Coffman (R) -- Toss up. 

Montana: Democratic Senator John Tester is up for reelection. Cook shows this as likely Democrat. There is one house seat, Gianforte (R), which Cook shows as likely Republican. 

Washington: There is one house seat of interest: WA 8 Reichert (R); he is retiring. Cook rates this a toss up. 

Oregon: The Democratic incumbent Governor, Kate Brown, is up for re-election; Cook shows this a likely Democrat. OR 5 Schrader (D) rates as likely Democrat. 

Thus in the west there's an opportunity for Democrats to pick up 2 Senate seats, at least 8 House seats, and 3 governorships. 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and activist. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net

ECLECTIC RANT: North and South Korean Olympic Games mini-detente

Ralph E. Stone
Friday February 16, 2018 - 06:14:00 PM

Vice President Mike Pence represented the U.S. at the Olympic opening ceremonies in PyeongChang, South Korea. Athletes from North Korea and South Korea marching under the same flag in the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games was a significant symbolic moment for many. The North Korean delegation was led by Kim Yo Jong, the trusted younger sister of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un 

Feeling the Olympic spirit, Pence — who stood only to cheer for Team USA — otherwise remained seated. In addition, Pence delivered a blistering attack on North Korea’s regime and threatened new sanctions. It was almost as if Trump and Pence do not want any kind of detente to happen. 

Clearly, North Korea’s Olympics-related propaganda offensive had a two-pronged approach — belligerence toward the U.S. and an olive branch to the progressive government in South Korea. Kim Jong-un was appealing to a sense of Korean brotherliness as he tries to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea. 

South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in early on declared willingness to meet Kim Jong Un "at any time, at any place" -- circumstances permitting. During the Olympics, North Korean representatives will met with Moon Jae-in, but did not meet with Pence.  

The North Korean delegation left on February 11, with an invitation to Moon Jae-in to meet in P’yŏngyang for future talks. 

Whether the visit to the Games and invitation for future talks are propaganda ploys or not, the U.S. has little to lose by letting the mini-detente play out. The alternative is more back-and-forth bellicose rhetoric that could lead to a nuclear confrontation. But perhaps that’s what Trump wants.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Shortened Lifespan of Mentally Ill People

Jack Bragen
Friday February 16, 2018 - 06:34:00 PM

According to numerous sources, schizophrenia reduces life expectancy by about twenty years. Heavy smoking reduces life expectancy by about ten years. Put those two together, and it adds up to parents much of the time outliving their mentally ill offspring. And I have seen this happen as I've lived among persons with mental illness. I could name a dozen or more mentally ill acquaintances, and some friends, who met this fate.  

I heard of and had met a man in his thirties who woke up in the middle of the night with what he believed was an upset stomach, drank a bottle of antacid, and then collapsed and died on his back porch. I've known others who have died early from other "natural causes."  

For a mentally ill person, it is an accomplishment to live past sixty.  

Psychiatric medications are hard on the body. They cause a whole gamut of physical illnesses. Some can cause kidney failure, while others can cause weight gain, diabetes, stroke and heart attack. Physicians will not do as much for mentally ill patients who have medical issues. To an overweight patient with medical issues, a doctor said, "Stop and smell the roses." This doctor had essentially given up and had adopted the belief that the patient was going to die. That attitude doesn’t do much for a patient's morale. 

One factor of the shortened lifespan of mentally ill people is the high frequency of suicides. However, even if this is factored out, mentally ill people still do not live nearly a normal lifespan.  

The bitterly irony is this: Many people with schizophrenia go through their youth in a fog of the mind because of this illness. When young, women and men with schizophrenia have a lot of symptoms, and the consequences of this vary. When we reach our fifties and sixties, symptoms subside and this yields better life conditions because we are thinking more clearly making better decisions, and in many other ways, we are doing better. Unfortunately, a large number of people with schizophrenia never make it that far.  

Solutions? Those who experience mental illness need to have a better diet, should exercise, should avoid street drugs, should not drink alcohol, and should not smoke tobacco. Drug companies should put work into finding substances that help treat mental illness that do not harm the body or cause diabetes and/or weight gain.  

Sound simple? It is. Why is it not being done? Because the mental health treatment system in the U.S. does not have an incentive to help mentally ill people live longer, in better health. At treatment venues, high calorie, sugary, fatty salty food is being given to mental health consumers, there is no encouragement to get exercise, and places and times to smoke tobacco are provided.  

Secondly, people with psychiatric disabilities often don't have as much to look forward to in life; and this is fertile ground on which to germinate substance abuse. This is because we are discriminated against in work attempts, and we are routinely underestimated when we express a desire for a career; and instead we are presumed to have "delusions of grandeur."  

When the highlight of one's day is a piece of pizza and a slice of chocolate cake, followed by fruit punch, and then a couple of cigarettes, longevity is out the window. When we are discouraged in our meagre ideas of having a little career, there are not as many reasons to stick around longer. Can this be changed? No, I don't think it will. It is up to we who have a mental illness to think highly enough of ourselves to do more, and to take better care of health. The "system" isn't going to do it for us.

Arts & Events

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar: February 18-25

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Sunday February 18, 2018 - 02:29:00 PM

Feb 21 Deadline to register for the Feb 28 EPA hearing to repeal the clean power plan, There are three hearings on Feb 28 morning, afternoon and early evening. https://350bayarea.org/event/oppose-clean-power-plan-repeal 


City Council Agenda for February 27 available for comment. Curbside EV charging, 739 Channing appeal, U1, Ballot measures, Wildlife Urban Fire Safety and Education, undergrounding utility wires, 

Email council@cityofberkeley.info 



Indivisible Berkeley list of actions you can do from home, https://www.indivisibleberkeley.org/actions 


The meeting list is also posted on the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition website. 



Sunday, February 18, 2018 

No announced meetings or demonstrations 

Monday, February 19, 2018 – President’s Day holiday 

Public Works Commission – Watershed Management Plan Subcommittee, Mon, Feb 19, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm, 1930 MLK Jr. Way, Café Nostos,, https://www.cityofberkeley.info/uploadedFiles/Public_Works/Commissions/Commission_for_Public_Works/Watershed%20subcommittee%20agenda%202_19_18.pdf 

Tax the Rich Rally, Mon, Feb 19, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm, top of Solano in front of closed Oaks Theater 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018 

Berkeley City Council - Worksession, Tues, Feb 20, 2134 MLK Jr Way, City Council Chambers, Agenda: Ballot measure survey, Council Disaster training, Undergrounding utility wires. https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2018/02_Feb/City_Council__02-20-2018_-_Special_Meeting_Agenda.aspx 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 

Human Welfare & Community Action Commission, Wed, Feb 21, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Funded Agency Financial reports, BAORP, Community Gardening, Free Clinic, Homeless Policy, Alta Bates, 


Planning Commission, Wed, Feb 21, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Cannabis Ordinance Regulations, Local Density Bonus 


Animal Care Commission, Wed, Feb 21, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1 Bolivar Drive, Berkeley Animal Shelter, no meeting notice or agenda, normal schedule every 3rd Wed 


Commission on Aging, Wed, Feb 21, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm, no meeting notice or agenda, normal schedule every 3rd Wed 


Thursday, February 22, 2018 

Community Health Commission, Thur, Feb 22, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, 2939 Ellis St. South Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Smoke-free Multi-unit Housing Ordinance, Cannabis and impacts, Ban BPA receipts 


Mental Health Commission, Thur, Feb 22, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: HOTT (Homeless Outreach Treatment Team), Mental Health Service for Homeless, 


Zoning Adjustments Board, Thur, Feb 22, 7:00 pm – 11:30 pm, 2134 MLK Jr. Way, City Council Chambers, staff recommend approve for all projects 

840 Page – add 3rd story, increase bedrooms from 5 to 7, non-conforming to residential density 

2740-2744 Telegraph – enlarge hotel by 4 rooms to 40, 22 parking spaces 

1626 Tenth Street – construct detached 2-story dwelling with 2-bedrooms, increase bedrooms on parcel from 4-6, 

2009 Addison – demolish 1-story commercial, construct 7-story, mixed use Berkeley Rep floors 3-5 rent-free dwellings (45) 


Black History Celebration (All ages) Thur, Feb 22, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm, Frances Albrier Community Center – San Pablo Park 


Wellstone Democratic Club, Thur, Feb 22, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 390 27th St., Humanist Hall, potluck followed with meeting at 6:45 pm, agenda Alameda County DA candidates, Nancy O’Malley, Pamela Price 


Friday, February 23, 2018 

No city meetings found, no announced demonstrations 

Saturday, February 24, 2018 

Children’s Trust lawsuit on Climate Change, Sat, Feb 24, 3:00 – 4:30 pm, 1901 Russell, South Berkeley Tarea Hall Library, meet-up to support 21 youth 


Sunday, February 25, 2018 

Indivisible East Bay – all member meeting, Sun, Feb, 25, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm, 2727 Milvia, Sports Basement, 





Nicola Benedetti’s Valentine’s Day Concert

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday February 17, 2018 - 06:43:00 PM

Performing with London’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on Valentine’s Day at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, Scottish-born violinist Nicola Benedetti gave a thrilling rendition of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61. Presented under the auspices of Cal Performances, this concert also included Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60. These two works were written by the composer about the same time in 1806 that he was working on preliminary sketches for his Fifth Symphony. Interestingly, both the Fourth Symphony and the Violin Concerto offer unusual opportunities for the timpani. 

In the Violin Concerto, five beats from the timpani open the work, creating a foundation that will anchor everything that follows. What comes next is a lengthy orchestral peroration. The first theme is introduced in the woodwinds, as is the second theme, though the latter is quickly taken up by the violins. Beethoven delays the entry of the solo violin as long as possible. When the soloist is finally heard, it is with ascending octaves, dramatically played here by Nicola Benedetti on her Gariel Stradivarius of 1717. There ensues a monumental working out of the main theme by the violin and orchestra, with the solo instrument often embroidering on the melody. A cantabile style prevails in this movement, establishing a mood of lyrical reflection. However, the technical demands on the solo violinist are many and challenging. Nicola Benedetti handled these demands with artistic aplomb. When it came to the cadenza, she played a version involving her in a dialogue with the timpanist. Here, timpanist Adrian Bending was a superb partner for Nicola Benedetti. I don’t think I have ever heard the cadenza treated this way, but it was extremely effective, especially on an evening when the timpani was already featured prominently in both this work and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. 

The second movement, a slow Larghetto, offers a contemplative melody from muted strings. The solo violin embroiders a filigree over soft pizzicato from the strings. Ms. Benedetti’s handling of the extremely high tessitura of this Larghetto was a thing of beauty, softly played and infinitely poignant. A serene purity of line predominates in this movement, though it rises to a fortissimo outburst at the end. The finale is a Rondo featuring an exuberant theme played in many different variations, though always recognizable. Here, too, Nicola Benedetti displayed technical virtuosity in the difficult fingering required of the soloist. Two brief but lovely solos for bassoon are heard in the finale, here excellently performed by Meyrick Alexander. When the familiar, much-loved theme is repeated one final time, the work comes to an abrupt and dramatic close. After taking her bows and sharing bows with concertmaster Michael Gurevich and the orchestra, Nicola Benedetti took the microphone and thanked the audience for sharing Valentine’s Day with her and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and she commented on the beauty of the Paramount Theatre. Then Nicola Benedetti and the orchestra played a lovely Largo from Giuseppe Tartini as an encore.  

Before intermission, the concert opened with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60. Written between his Third Symphony (“Eroica”) and his Fifth Symphony, the B-flat Major Fourth Symphony is probably the public’s least favorite Beethoven symphony. It is neither heroic nor tragic. Indeed, it is hard to categorize the Fourth Symphony, except to say that here Beethoven seems to embark on a moment of repose and reflection. If the Fourth harks back more to the Second Symphony than to the heroic, ground-breaking Third, one might say, as the French do, that this is a case of reculer pour mieux sauter.  

This said, however, one notes right from the outset of the Fourth Symphony that Beethoven does not proceed in any conventional way. The orchestra opens with a slow introduction, then breaks out in an Allegro vivace. When this boisterous music begins to fade, we suddenly hear the timpani begin a 23-bar rumble full of suspenseful expectation. What follows is a return of the opening slow music. In the second movement, marked Adagio, we hear a plodding motive interspersed with some airy flights. Then the timpani intrudes again, this time offering a strong pulsebeat that strikes me as almost a stomping motive. Surely, this is as unusual a slow movement as Beethoven ever created.  

The third movement features dance music, though with a twist. Beethoven subverts the dance elements with cross-rhythms and syncopation. The fourth and final movement reintroduces themes heard earlier, now reworked. A bassoon offers a boisterous, rapid solo. Then the orchestra resumes its treatment of the main themes. However, mysteriously – and some might say, confusingly – the orchestra seems to lose its way, and this happens twice. The second time, the music comes to a momentary halt. Then the violins play the main theme very quietly and at half speed. The bassoon does likewise. At last, the full orchestra rouses itself to bring this work to a triumphant finish.  

Playing on period instruments, the London-based Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, now in its fourth decade, displayed admirable restraint, never overplaying Beethoven’s music, as so often happens these days. Concertmaster Michael Gurevich deserves our special appreciation for his discreet yet sure-handed direction of the orchestra.  

Herbert Blomstedt: A Ninety Year-Old Wunderkind

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday February 18, 2018 - 02:53:00 PM

This weekend, February 15-17, Conductor Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony Herbert Blomstedt wound up a two-week visit during which he conducted two great works by Beethoven, a great symphony by Mozart, and a rarely heard symphony by Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar. Now age ninety, Herbert Blomstedt never ceases to amaze us. Eons ago, Blomstedt led the San Francisco Symphony from 1985 to 1995, and during his decade-long tenure here he raised the orchestra’s standing and led the Symphony on prestigious international tours. Known for his modesty and good-natured humility, Blonstedt had a way of getting what he wanted from an orchestra while never hectoring them as some conductors do, but also, and more surprisingly, by making his orchestra members respect , revere and even love him. 

San Francisco Symphony audiences feel the same way about Herbert Blomstedt, as was evident by the standing ovation and shouted Bravos they accorded Maestro Blomstedt at the close of the Friday evening, February 16 concert I attended at Davies Hall. I would even venture to say that Herbert Blomstedt is the recipient of more heartfelt love and appreciation from San Francisco audiences than Michael Tilson Thomas, who will have led the Symphony twice as long as Blomstedt when Thomas retires in 2020. With Thomas, there are high notes to be sure (his interpretations of Mahler, first and foremost). But with Thomas there are also many low notes, most notably his misguided penchant for gussying up music with Hollywood-style video special effects. With Herbert Blomstedt, however, there is nothing but high note after high note, in a career lasting well into old age. Moreover, I would hazard to say that, as good a conductor as Blomstedt was during his 1985-95 tenure here, he is an even better conductor today; and this is so because Blomstedt has never ceased to grow in his understanding of the music he conducts. 

In my review posted last Saturday, February 10, of Blomstedt teaming up with pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, I noted Blomstedt’s attention to dynamics. Both Blomstedt and Ohlsson made us keenly aware of how much delicacy and softness underlies a concerto that many musicians treat as an invitation to hammer away thunderously from beginning to end. (Take Jonathan Biss, for example.) I also noted, when comparing Garrick Ohlsson and Jonathan Biss, that a key moment in Herbert Blomstedt’s growing awareness of the importance of acknowledging Beethoven’s softer side no doubt came when Blomstead in February 2016 conducted the San Francisco Symphony with pianist Maria João Pires in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. Pires offered a Beethoven Third Piano Concerto that was so refined, so delicate, that it brought tears of admiration to the eyes of Herbert Blomstedt. Now, two years later, Blomstedt did not fail to honor Beethoven’s softer side as well as the composer’s thunderous side, and Blomstedt held both sides in equilibrium, not only in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto but also in his “Eroica” Symphony. The “Eroica” Symphony I heard on Friday evening, February 16, was a model of dynamic equilibrium. Softness was given its due, as was the thunder. Everything was in place in a performance that was taut, yet by no means one-dimensional. 

But Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony was not even the highlight of this concert. In my opinion, Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, was this concert’s highlight. This is perhaps my favorite among Mozart’s symphonies. Eric Blom states that “the G minor Symphony is the work in which classicism and romanticism meet and where once and for all we see a perfect equilibrium between them, neither outweighing the other by the tiniest fraction. It is in this respect at least the perfect musical work.” Mozart’s G minor Symphony opens with a gentle, slightly sad melody in the strings. Yet this melody is also achingly beautiful. Only a Mozart could follow this gorgeous theme with a second that was equally inspiring and beautiful. This second theme is shared between oboe and clarinet on one hand, and the strings on the other. As these two themes are developed, we find ourselves leaving behind all eighteenth-century notions of courtly formalism. Here we are in a new musical vein, one that anticipates Beethoven in its drama of emotional unrest and inner conflict. Yet all the while Mozart keeps these agitations just below the surface of extraordinarily beautiful music.  

The second movement, marked Andante, offers a serenely slow melody that always reminds me of the ditty, “In Dublin’s fair city where girls are so pretty, twas there I fist met my sweet Molly Malone.” This simple melody offers Mozart material for the whole movement, and there are moments of heart-melting beauty in this theme’s development. Conducting without a score and without a baton, Herbert Blomstedt used his hands to elicit wonderfully poignant music from his orchestra in this Andante. The third movement, a Menuetto, strikes a vigorous note for full orchestra, though the trio offers a pastoral melody shared between strings and woodwinds. 

The finale fairly explodes. It begins with an electrifying theme in the violins, with contrasting rhythms. This leads to a complex development. When a second theme is introduced, it is almost as achingly beautiful as the first movement’s opening theme. When this theme’s development is thoroughly worked out, its final cadence is an expressively poignant chromatic descent, once again hinting at emotional tensions just below the surface. There is much polyphonic presentation in the working out of both themes. Yet Mozart does not call attention to his polyphony. Rather, he simply – if that is the right word for something that is by no means simple – integrates his polyphony into music of the utmost beauty and consistency. In spite of undercurrents of unrest throughout this work, Mozart’s G minor Symphony closes on a note of triumph. Beauty is victorious. 

I think this performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, will forever be etched in my memory; and henceforth this wonderful work will be associated with the sensitive, intelligent conducting of Herbert Blomstedt. Bravo, Maestro Blomstedt!