Robin Abcarian
Commentary, news and analysis
Domestic violence: Would it kill Roger Goodell to say 'I was wrong'?

One hates to be the proverbial skunk at the garden party, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hardly deserves to be lionized in the wake of his decision to tighten up the league’s rules about players who beat their wives.

The man’s values are so out of kilter that it took weeks of relentless public outrage to get him to stop defending his paltry punishment of Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens running back who was suspended for two games without pay after an altercation with his soon-to-be-wife in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February.

A widely viewed video shows Rice dragging a stone cold unconscious woman out of an elevator, trying to lift her, then dropping her like a sack of potatoes onto the floor. After about 40 seconds, she struggles to come to, as he walks away from her.

TMZ, which posted the video, called it a “mutual attack.” I don’t care what the victim, Janay Rice, told police, or the NFL. You watch that video and tell me if you think what happened is the result of a...

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Should Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand out the man who called her 'porky'?

Part of me is really enjoying the silly discussion on Twitter this morning about whether Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is morally obligated to reveal the identities of the Senate colleagues who made insensitive remarks about her wildly fluctuating post-baby weight. Or, as I like to think of it, were acting completely normal.

Show me a woman who has never heard an insensitive remark about her weight and I will show you … well, actually, I can’t think of anything to show you, because such a woman does not exist.

Show me a unicorn?

This kerfuffle began Wednesday, when People magazine posted a tease to its interview of Gillibrand on the occasion of the publication of her new memoir, “Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice to Change the World." People reporters Tara Fowler and Sandra Sobieraj Westfall write:

“Gillibrand, 47, shares a sobering incident in the congressional gym, where an older, male colleague told her, ‘Good thing you're working out, because you wouldn't want to get porky!’...

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Hey anonymous critics, enough with the fat shaming of Nikki Finke!

I have never understood the bizarre power that entertainment reporter Nikki Finke holds over Hollywood. She has the ability to make people quake in their boots, pee in their pants and open their laptops with dread.

It’s puzzling to me that an entire industry of rich, powerful people has allowed one woman to burrow so far under its skin.

That said, I don’t often read Finke’s work because I am not especially interested in the nuts and bolts of Hollywood business. I don’t care about box office, or which studio exec is in or out, or who just got cast for what movie.

When I do read her, I see that she can be nasty, abrasive and vindictive. I see that she trumpets “exclusives” that are no such thing. She is a prolific name-caller, a practice that is beneath the dignity of such a talented writer. She is not snarky, the way Perez Hilton was before he got nice. She is frankly bilious.

And she is always the hero in her own personal drama, as you can see here in the official bio on her blog,...

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Supporters of ex-Marine jailed in Mexico should get facts straight

It's probably nice for the morale of former Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi that some California legislators are trying to take his case directly to the Mexican president, who is visiting Sacramento this week. But I fail to see how their actions will really help Tahmooressi, the former Marine who is on trial in Mexico on gun charges.

Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, the failed gubernatorial candidate, boycotted a luncheon with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday and held a protest outside the Capitol instead. He said he did not wish to dine with Tahmooressi’s “captors,” a charged word that has no place in this discussion.

Andrew Tahmooressi is not, after all, a prisoner of war.

He is a very unlucky young man who crossed the border into Mexico at San Ysidro last spring with three loaded weapons and at least 400 rounds of ammunition, all legal in the U.S. Mexican customs officers pulled him over and arrested him once they discovered the weapons, which...

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His shining moment: Al Sharpton's eulogy for slaying victim Michael Brown

If you were able to watch the memorial Monday for Michael Brown, the unarmed young black man slain by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., you would have seen the Rev. Al Sharpton at his very best.

Sharpton was the final speaker at the service in St. Louis’ Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church. They definitely saved the best for last. The Rev, as he's often called, was compassionate, godly, scolding and wry -- qualities that have served him well as he has transformed himself from a cartoonish promoter of racial justice (the track suits, the medallions, the giant paunch, the Tawana Brawley debacle) into a respectable leader with a pipeline to the president.

Many times over the years, I’ve heard people snicker at the mention of Sharpton’s name. Often, they expect me to be in on the joke. But I don’t laugh at Al Sharpton. I can't help but respect him, warts and all.

He is a flawed man, for sure, but if you want to trot out Tawana Brawley, I will trot out the Central Park Five,...

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Why are police bothering so many young black men in the first place?

Have to hand it to Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul. On Thursday, in an essay for Time magazine, he nailed one of the major problems with the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the unconscionably militarized police response:

“If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off," Paul wrote. "But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.”

As a libertarian, Paul blames “big government” for the disproportionality of the police response: “Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies — where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most Americans think of as law enforcement.”

And that is certainly a part of the problem. When you are a hammer, as they say, every problem looks like a nail.

But Paul is also refreshingly realistic (for a...

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The details of Robin Williams' death should not be covered up

A predictable cycle has emerged from media coverage of traumatic events like mass shootings or the suicides of famous people: first the news of the terrible thing, then the rush to report as many details as possible, then the backlash to the publication of those details.

That third arc of the cycle is relatively new. In 2012, after a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, victims’ loved ones asked the media to withhold the the perpetrator’s name, lest he be covered in perverse glory, or inspire other crazies to create mayhem.

“If you keep making these people infamous,” the father of a victim in Colorado told me a few months ago, “you should be sorry for the next people who die. Are you willing to take that risk -- that children will die because of what you do?”

I tried, respectfully, to disagree. But he was adamant. “The only reason you keep doing it is for money,” he said. “You are just as bad as the people who do the blood diamond thing.”

I don’t see it that way, but I understand...

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Are abortion rights equal to gun rights? Yes, says a federal judge

Last week, a federal court judge in Alabama produced a ruling that should bring joy to anyone alarmed by how Republican legislatures have been trying to regulate abortion clinics out of existence. They know they can't make abortion illegal, so they have thrown up every roadblock they can think of to reduce access to the procedure.

Well, not so fast, said Judge Myron H. Thompson of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. In a 172-page decision, he wrote that Alabama's new law requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges is unconstitutional. It would put three of the state's five abortion clinics out of business, he found, which would impose "severe and even, for some women, insurmountable obstacles" to abortion in Alabama.

Using legal guidelines established in the Supreme Court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision, he found the law puts an undue burden on women, which is unconstitutional.

Thompson also said he was struck by the...

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The shocking link between diapers for poor babies and jobs for moms

Babies need diapers. When impoverished babies don't have enough diapers, bad things happen -- not just to them, but to their parents.

Sounds kind of weird, right?

But “unmet diaper need” -- a phrase that is new to me -- can impede a parent's efforts to break the cycle of poverty. A rough analogy is the “broken windows” theory of criminology, where small, seemingly insignificant problems ripple out, leading to greater breakdowns in the social order. 

Diapers, as any parent knows, are incredibly expensive, and cost an average of $100 a month. If you receive public assistance, you can’t use food stamps to pay for diapers. That hundred bucks takes a huge bite out of money meant for rent and other necessities.

We require poor parents on public assistance to demonstrate they are willing to lift themselves out of poverty by conditioning their checks on job training or school. And we sometimes help pay for child care. But we deny them a fundamental tool they need to get off public assistance....

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The willfully ignorant women who post on 'Women Against Feminism'

Two seemingly unrelated stories about feminism, sexism and social media caught my eye this week.

The first is a kerfuffle over American Apparel’s back-to-school campaign, which featured -- at least briefly, on its Instagram account in the U.K . -- a young model in a plaid mini skirt leaning into the open window of what looks like an American muscle car. Shot from behind, her skirt is hiked, offering the viewer what is essentially a suggestive crotch shot. One critic said the ad fueled "sexism and Lolita fantasies."

The second is a conversation that’s been swirling around the Internet about a Tumblr called “Women Against Feminism,” where women post photos of themselves holding up notes explaining why they “don’t need feminism.”

Maybe it’s a stretch, but it strikes me that these stories are fundamentally about similar things -- the way women are treated and how women’s power over their own lives is often subverted in the service of forces (capitalism, patriarchy) that have little...

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The story and spin behind ex-Marine Tahmooressi, jailed in Mexico

Although many things about the case against former Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi are murky, one thing is clear:

We should all be so lucky to have such a fiercely devoted mother.

Jill Tahmooressi's deft plucking of American heartstrings has been amplified by the Fox News echo chamber, helping turn her son's story into both a conservative cause celebre and a minor political headache for the Obama administration.

What we know about her 25-year-old son is that he acquitted himself with valor on the field of battle during two tours in Afghanistan, and made some whopping mistakes upon his return, including driving across the border on March 31 with three loaded guns in his truck, a serious violation of Mexican law, for which he is now on trial.

Thanks to the ruckus his mother kicked up, he is now receiving the kind of special treatment that his fellow prisoners can only dream about. More power to her.

Tuesday, at a news conference in a tavern half an hour north of San Diego, Jill...

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No resolution for 'wrong turn' Marine who entered Mexico with guns

TIJUANA -- Andrew Tahmooressi, the former Marine who has been charged with violating Mexican gun laws, arrived at a federal courthouse here Monday morning in a dramatic, and slightly ironic, motorcade of armored vehicles, blaring sirens and black-clad men toting very big guns.

Were Mexican police escorting him from El Hongo prison in Tecate expecting trouble?

Maybe. After all, there was so much Fox News-whipped hysteria around Tahmooressi’s arrest that his mother, Jill, had to finally ask folks to calm down and stop pushing idiotic ideas like breaking her son out of jail, a la SEAL Team Six.

Reporters were not allowed inside the courtroom where Tahmooressi's hearing took place. They weren’t even allowed inside the building. Instead, they camped out next door, on the shady lanai of a Starbucks appointed with ceiling fans and a generous number of electrical outlets.

And the sidewalk of Paseo de los Heroes, a wide boulevard studded with heroic statues (Abraham Lincoln,  Cuauhtemoc...

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