Robin Abcarian
Commentary, news and analysis
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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Was Richard Alarcon rightly convicted for lying about where he lives?

Home, as it turns out, is where the Chihuahuas are.

Jurors this week said they were persuaded to convict former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca Alarcon, of lying about where they lived in the San Fernando Valley after hearing evidence about wildly disparate utility bills at the family’s two homes.

Over a two-year period, power and water use at the Panorama City home the Alarcons claimed to live in were nil. But it was much higher — at least a hundredfold — at the Sun Valley house they said was not their real domicile. So either the Alarcons were model conservationists. Or, as the jury concluded, they were liars.

I had a feeling they were going down when I read that a city investigator, who had both homes under surveillance, noted that the couple’s Chihuahuas were present at the larger, nicer Sun Valley home.

Also when neighbors told my colleague David Zahniser back in 2010 when Alarcon was first under investigation that the Panorama City...

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Anti-abortion fanatics invade a church service. Where's the outrage?

On Sunday morning, the Rev. Deanna Vandiver was leading a service at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans, a graceful, Gothic-style brick building in the city's Freret neighborhood. The sanctuary, with 70 or 80 people, was nearly full, and included a group of teenagers who had just finished a week-long training in social justice.

The room was silent, as the congregation prayed for a young mother of two who had just lost her battle with cancer, for a social justice lawyer who had recently died, and for peace in Gaza.

That’s when the shouting started.

At first, Vandiver told me Wednesday, she had no idea what was going on, as “we were in the deeply sacred collective space” of silent, communal prayer. She thought the noise might be coming from, oh, maybe a visiting Quaker, someone who didn’t understand the congregation’s tradition of silence during meditation.

Then she heard what they were shouting: “Abomination!” “You are going to hell!”

Anti-abortion protesters had...

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Ever heard of 'pine nut syndrome'? Neither had I, until I got it

To the bartender at Father’s Office in Culver City, who graciously replaced my California chardonnay with an Italian white on Monday night because the chardonnay tasted rancid: I apologize.

Weirdly, the replacement white was funky, too. I was too embarrassed to complain again. But when my Father’s Office burger arrived, topped with the restaurant’s signature onion-bacon compote, arugula and melted mix of gruyere and Maytag blue, I was befuddled.

This was just not possible.

A Father’s Office burger is the standard by which all other gourmet hamburgers are judged. This burger is so good that The Times Test Kitchen once spent days developing a replica recipe, because chef Sang Yoon refused to divulge it. And yet, I could barely choke down half.

As it turned out, Father’s Office, it wasn’t you. It was me.

Tuesday morning, after drinking a cup of coffee that tasted even worse than the “bad” chardonnay from the night before, I became alarmed. So I did what anyone with a medical problem and a...

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Questions of bias swirl after NBC removes, reinstates a Gaza reporter

It's not clear why NBC’s talented foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who witnessed the killing of four Palestinian cousins in Gaza on Wednesday, was removed from his post later that day, then reinstated tonight.

NBC, which did not respond to a request for comment, has not specifically addressed the question, and Mohyeldin, whose Twitter feed had been silent for two days, offered no explanation other than to announce tonight that he's happy to be back in Gaza.

It is unclear whether the network was responding to accusations that had circulated on the Internet that Mohyledin was yanked out of Gaza because some thought his coverage was too sympathetic toward Palestinians. 

Glenn Greenwald, who shared a 2013 Pulitzer prize for his NSA spy scandal coverage, is among those who whipped up suspicion about NBC. Thursday, on the Intercept website, Greenwald wrote:

"Over the last two weeks, Mohyeldin’s reporting has been far more balanced and even-handed  than the standard pro-Israel coverage...

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Break California into 6 states? How uncool

As a native Californian who was born in Oakland, raised in the San Fernando Valley, schooled in Berkeley and now living in Venice, I’d like to say one thing to Timothy Draper, the Silicon Valley kajillionaire pushing the idiotic breakup of the Golden State:

Please go away.

Recently, Draper announced he is on track to gather enough signatures to get his mind-blowingly stupid measure on the November 2016 ballot. To that end, he has spent — well, wasted — $4.9 million of his own money, a sum that could certainly have been put to better use if he really cared about the welfare of Californians.

Draper has proposed dividing California into six states: Jefferson (Redding, Eureka), North California (Sacramento, Marin County), Silicon Valley (San Jose, San Francisco), Central California (Fresno, Stockton, Bakersfield), West California (Los Angeles, Santa Barbara) and South California (Riverside, Anaheim, San Diego).


“California needs a reboot,” Draper writes on his website,

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An overdue response to the frenzy of state restrictions on abortion

In the last few years, state legislators around the country have been busy with an onslaught of antiabortion legislation aimed at making it impossible for women to exercise what is still (despite the opposition’s best efforts) a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

And while it’s unclear exactly why there has been such a frenzy of activity — conservative victories in 2010? Reignition of the culture wars sparked by the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate? — we do know that more than four times as many bills aimed at limiting abortion access (93) were passed between 2011 and 2013 than had been passed in the previous decade (22).

The new abortion-hostile laws generally fall into four categories — the targeted regulation of abortion providers (so called TRAP laws), limits on who may provide pills that induce abortion very early in pregnancy (medication abortion), bans on the ability of private insurers to include abortion services in coverage and bans on abortion after 20...

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Return of conspiracy nuts: Obama's secret immigration reform 'plan'

In the quest for simple answers to complex problems, one irrational explanation for the humanitarian crisis at our southern border demands an unqualified refutation.

That would be the conspiracy theory being peddled by conservatives that President Obama purposefully engineered the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America to pressure Congress into enacting immigration reform.

The idea is absurd bordering on Palinesque.

The theory’s most prominent adherent is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who expounded last month on Fox News:

“We either have an incredibly inept administration, or they’re in on this somehow or another. I hate to be conspiratorial, but how do you move that many people from Central America across Mexico, then into the United States without there being a fairly coordinated effort?”

Perry has not elaborated on what the president’s “fairly coordinated effort” would involve, but his pandering to immigration hardliners is to be expected.

As my colleague Cathleen Decker...

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An extraordinary win for the Raiders' cheerleaders

On July 1, about six months after being hit with a wage theft lawsuit that generated worldwide attention, the Oakland Raiders shipped out a new contract to the 40 members of its Raiderettes cheerleading squad, who call themselves "football's fabulous females."

The two-page document represents something almost revolutionary in the world of NFL cheerleading: a guarantee that the Oakland Raiders will no longer rip off the women who enliven its sidelines and work as team ambassadors when they are not performing.

The cheerleaders will now be earning $9 an hour.

Yeah, hardly a pretty penny, but a whopping raise.

In past seasons, Raiderettes earned $125 per game for 10 games, and virtually nothing for the hundreds of hours they put in for mandatory practices, rehearsals and public appearances. (Although cheerleaders can earn extra money at sponsored appearances, the money does not come from the team and such assignments are often doled out as favors to preferred members of the squad.)


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Mom of imprisoned ex-Marine in Mexico tells supporters to chill out

Looks as if Andrew Tahmooressi, the former Marine jailed in Mexico after blundering across the border last spring with three loaded guns and 400 rounds of ammunition in his truck, will not be coming home any time soon.

On Wednesday, Tahmooressi faced a Mexican federal judge for the first time since his April 1 arrest at the San Ysidro border crossing on suspicion of violating Mexican gun laws. As my colleague Tony Perry reported, during a seven-hour hearing, Tahmooressi was finally able to explain how he took a wrong turn out of a border parking lot and ended up in a country that essentially outlaws guns.

“We feel the hearing was a success, and we feel we are finally on the right track in order to achieve what every one of us is ultimately hoping for,” said Tahmooressi’s attorney, Fernando Benitez, who spoke to reporters in Tijuana.

But the judge did not issue a ruling, and Tahmooressi, 26, will remain imprisoned in Tecate until his next scheduled court date, Aug. 4.


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Sarah Palin, demanding Obama's impeachment, descends into caricature

Sarah Palin has finally lost it.

Today, in an essay on, Palin demands the impeachment of President Obama.

Her piece starts off loopy, and devolves from there.

“Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president,” she begins. “His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, ‘no mas.’ ”

I'm sorry, what? Why the switch to espanol? Is she implying that Obama is a wife beater? That America is a battered, Spanish-speaking esposa?

No idea, but by the end of her essay, I felt positively battered by her battiness.

She accuses the president of orchestrating illegal border crossings (a favorite canard of the loony right) and “obstructing any economic recovery” in order to provide “cheap foreign labor.” 

Disingenuously, this privileged celebrity--with her seven-figure cable and book contracts, her family sea plane, her boats and her multiple homes--describes herself as an “average" American.

"Have faith that average American workers –...

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Poor, poor pitiful Donald Sterling

Oh dear. Someone help me.

I’m starting to feel a teensy glimmer of sympathy for struggling Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the blowhard “philanthropist” whose reprehensible conversations about race got him banned from the NBA for life last spring.

It’s not that I think Sterling should be able to keep the team. He shouldn't.

Microsoft kajillionaire Steve Ballmer is standing by, with $2 billion in hand. And a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has already hinted that Sterling was appropriately removed from his family trust, paving the way for a sale despite his objections.

Nor do I think he deserves to retain his high-profile spot on the public stage. It’s been a pleasure being able to open up my favorite newspaper and not be visually assaulted by those full-page ads proclaiming his righteous generosity.

It’s just that the whole Sterling scandal has rested upon a series of intimate betrayals.

Sterling was first betrayed by his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, who recorded his rambling,...

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