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Robin Abcarian
Commentary, news and analysis
Yes, you can check your cellphone while driving -- but is it worth it?

Last September, Andreas Sundquist was on his way to San Francisco International Airport to pick up his girlfriend when traffic on Highway 101 near Redwood City suddenly came to a stop. Fearing he'd be late, he picked up his smartphone to check the GPS map. Was it road work? Had there been a fender bender? Or something worse?

A CHP officer who saw Sundquist, 35, look at his phone pulled him over and gave him a $162 ticket for violating Section 23123 (a) of the California Vehicle Code, which prohibits using a cellphone while driving. Sundquist was confused. He thought he had read that it was OK to look at a GPS map while behind the wheel.

"But since this person in authority was giving me a ticket," he said, "I was like, whoops, I guess I messed up."

Except he hadn't. And it didn't take him long to find proof he'd been ticketed erroneously. Sundquist, a Palo Alto biotech entrepreneur, decided to fight. Two months later, his verdict arrived in the mail.

Before I tell you what it was,...

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The return of foie gras to California menus offers food for thought

Chef Ken Frank, one of California's most outspoken proponents of foie gras, opened the door of La Toque's walk-in refrigerator. All sorts of wonderful aromas hit me in the face — mushrooms, savory reductions, the iron smell of raw meat. Frank bent down next to a dangling pig carcass, looking for foie gras. No luck.

A few minutes later, executive sous chef Daniel Gomez Sanchez wandered over holding a small lobe of foie gras that he found in the prep kit of one of La Toque's line cooks. Wrapped in plastic, it was pale yellow, almost as firm to the touch as cold butter. The rest of the restaurant's stash had already been portioned out for the evening's $80 four-course tasting menu, where it would be served seared, with persimmon and cherry vinegar oolong broth, for a supplement of $15.

On Jan. 7, a federal district court judge unexpectedly ruled that California's ban on foie gras conflicted with federal law, which regulates poultry ingredients. And just like that, after an absence of two...

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Hey, GOP: Using Carly Fiorina to attack Hillary Clinton could backfire

After watching some of the speeches delivered by would-be Republican presidential contenders over the weekend at Iowa Rep. Steve King’s conservative confab in Des Moines, I got to wondering how long it will take Republicans to field a female presidential candidate who actually has a shot at winning.

Women seem to be tokens in the GOP presidential stakes, serving the party's strategic needs more than anything else. For 2016, it’s become an article of faith that the GOP needs a woman to immunize the party against charges that attacks on presumed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton are sexist. (“The most effective way to criticize a woman is to have another woman do it,” a California GOP strategist told Time’s Jay Newton-Small in November.)

So who can help?

Not Sarah Palin.

The former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate trekked to King's inaugural Freedom Summit to deliver a disjointed speech that focused mainly on settling scores with people who have attacked her for,...

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Revisiting the Romneys' La Jolla beach house -- and its car elevator

You remember Mitt Romney's California beach house? If you don't remember the house, surely you remember plans for that infamous car elevator?

In March 2012, Politico revealed that Mitt and Ann Romney's renovation of their $12-million beachfront home, one of three they owned, would include a two-level, four-car garage with a mechanized lift: "The cars," Politico reported, "will have their own separate elevator."

Romney was a rich Republican presidential candidate already having trouble convincing voters he understood the struggles of everyday Americans. The elevator would feed that perception until the end of the race.

In reality, though, the car elevator was a nifty — if expensive — design solution for the house on Dunemere Drive, a narrow street of pricey homes jammed together on overbuilt lots with jaw-dropping ocean views. The location would have made for a picturesque Western White House, something the country has not had since the days of Ronald Reagan with his mountaintop ranch...

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Is Mitt Romney's La Jolla home fair game for a column? But of course.

If there was any doubt that the 2016 presidential campaign is already upon us, all you had to do was read about the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in Coronado over the weekend.

Not only did political reporters write reams about Mitt Romney’s last-minute appearance, but newspapers also wrote the sort of ancillary news features that are a staple of full-blown campaign season coverage.

My colleagues Mark Barabak and Seema Mehta interviewed dozens of Republican activists to gauge their response to Romney's newfound emphasis on fighting poverty and income equality. (While Romney has an admirable history of personal philanthropy and charitable giving, as a candidate in 2012, he was hardly a champion of the poor.  “I’m not concerned about the very poor," he said. "We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”)

The New York Times had an entertaining story about the importance of Ann Romney’s imprimatur on a new campaign, since she swore up and down after they...

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A bullet train from L.A. to San Francisco? Have a little faith

Tuesday's groundbreaking for California's bullet train was sort of like having a christening with the baby still in utero.

Strike that.

It was like having a christening for a baby that's still an embryo in a Petri dish.

As exciting as it is to think about whizzing between Los Angeles and San Francisco in two or three hours, we are still many years away from riding on a high-speed train.

How many years?

Let me put it this way: If you were in kindergarten right now, you would be able to expect to take your first ride on a bullet train about the time you were declaring your college major.

"I will make sure we do everything we can to get there quicker than that," said an ebullient Gov. Jerry Brown, 76, who popped down to Fresno for the groundbreaking the day after he was sworn in for his historic fourth term. "I'll be 92 in 2030. So I'm working out and pumping iron and eating vegetables."

Brown swatted aside the most potent criticism of the $68-billion project — that no one really knows...

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