Robin Abcarian
Commentary, news and analysis
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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As immigration roils GOP, it's worth asking: What would Reagan do?

Watching the Republican implosion over President Obama’s request for money to deal with Central American minors at our southern border in particular, and the party’s inability to craft a rational approach to immigration in general, two words spring to mind: How unReaganesque.

What would our 40th president think of the disarray in which his beloved Republican Party finds itself? What, to quote many Republicans, would Reagan do?

Of course, we don’t know what he would do. But we know what he did.

In 1986, President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (a.k.a. Simpson-Mazzoli), which allowed some 3 million immigrants who were in the country illegally to come out of the shadows and become full-fledged members of society.

“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” Reagan said in 1984 during a debate with his Democratic challenger, Walter Mondale.

Was the law a success...

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GOP message: Impeach the president! But don't tell anyone we said so!

At the moment, chatter on the right sounds an awful lot like this:

President Obama should be impeached.

If the president acts by executive order to legalize the status of anyone in this country illegally, he should be impeached.

Since the president unilaterally decided to delay implementation of the Obamacare employer mandate, he deserves to be impeached.

DON’T GET US WRONG. WE ARE NOT SUGGESTING THE PRESIDENT SHOULD BE IMPEACHED. DEMOCRATS ARE MAKING IT ALL UP TO RAISE MONEY.

Try as they might, Republicans cannot escape the fact that conservative politicians and pundits have been calling for the impeachment of President Obama for years. The idea of impeachment is preposterous, of course, and no one really thinks it’s going to happen.

But Democrats did not hallucinate the idea that Republicans are making threats. They have simply turned it to their advantage, which has outraged their political foes.

Sarah Palin has been out stirring up impeachment talk. She ratcheted up the...

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Sunset Boulevard flood raises serious questions about city leadership

It may be too much to hope for, but now that Sunset Boulevard in Westwood is a giant sinkhole and UCLA is underwater, could the fragile, aging infrastructure of Los Angeles finally get the upgrade it needs?

Sunset Boulevard, after all, is no ordinary street. You could argue that it is the street. Yes, we have other, famous thoroughfares -- Pacific Coast Highway, Hollywood Boulevard, Laurel Canyon, Mulholland Drive, to name a few -- but no street embodies the meaning of Los Angeles quite like Sunset, which begins in the heart of downtown and stretches 22 miles to the sea.

Beyond its geography, Sunset has a pull on our collective imagination that no other street in L.A. can match.

In fiction and in real life, Sunset Boulevard is where Hollywood dreams come true or make wrong turns, then fester and die. They die face down in swimming pools, like William Holden’s character in “Sunset Boulevard.” They die of drug overdoses, like John Belushi in a swanky Chateau Marmont bungalow. They die...

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Republican calls to impeach President Obama? Great news for Democrats

Political enemies of President Obama have pretty much been calling for his impeachment since shortly after he took the oath of office in 2009.

But this month, the volume of impeachment chatter rose a few notches, goosed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was so incensed by the influx of Central American children at the Texas border that she compared the border to a battered wife and declared “no mas.”

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FOR THE RECORD

July 29, 12:46 p.m.: An earlier version of this post stated that Wisconsin Rep. James Sensenbrenner raised the specter of impeaching President Obama over the botched gun running program known as Fast and Furious. In 2011, Sensenbrenner raised the idea that Obama administration officials could be impeached.

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I suspect that Palin, who has willfully drifted to the fringes of the American political conversation, had a double goal in mind. The first was to kick up some attention by posing as the only conservative courageous enough to call Obama on his...

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Finally, a story about underage drinking with a happy ending

Imagine attending culinary school and never being allowed to taste the food you cook. Or music school, and never be allowed to hear the music you make.

That, basically, is what it’s been like for undergraduates at California’s public colleges and universities who choose to major in winemaking and beer brewing. If they are under 21, they can't sample the very substance to which they have devoted their academic lives.

It's ironic, given that any college kid can get falling-down drunk any weekend without much threat of legal repercussion.

But in classrooms, drinking is illegal, even when the student is trying to produce the perfect Zinfandel, or at least understand what goes into making wine taste good or bad.

“I suppose one or two students over the years may have tasted wine illegally,” said UC Davis enology professor Andrew Waterhouse.  “But when we are teaching classes we have to follow the law, that’s the way it is.”

The law will change in January. It is long overdue, but California...

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