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Robin Abcarian
Commentary, news and analysis
Brother's death in Bakersfield haunts critic of Sheriff's Department

Chris Silva slipped a disc into his computer, then stepped back to watch as the deposition of a Kern County sheriff's deputy began to play on his TV.

On May 7, 2013, just before midnight, Jeffrey Kelly was the first deputy to respond to a call about a man lying on a grass strip across the street from Kern County Medical Center on the east side of town.

The man was David Silva, Chris's big brother, a father of four. Kelly testified that he tried to wake Silva up using a "knuckle rub" on his sternum. He had not been trained to perform it.

Silva, 33, woke up, disoriented. Kelly decided Silva might be on PCP and tried to handcuff him. Silva never hit or kicked him, Kelly testified, but kept trying to move away.

Worried that the 260-pound Silva might stand up, Kelly released his dog, Luke, from his patrol car by remote control. Silva became even more agitated as the dog attacked him. He screamed and grabbed Luke by the neck. The dog also bit Kelly.

Then things got even more chaotic.

Over 20...

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Arrogance in Uber's top ranks hurting company: Who's the boober now?

The first time I saw anyone use Uber was in 2012, on the campaign trail.  I was with a bunch of reporters who were peeling off the Paul Ryan bus for a few days of down time. The Ryan team dropped us off after midnight at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station. No one was looking forward to getting a cab at that hour.  Reporters began chattering about Uber. One by one, private cars pulled up, and reporters were whisked into the night.

No wait. No hassle. Incredible.  

Since then, I’ve used the smartphone-based car service a few times. I almost deleted the app last summer when I got a taste of Uber’s “surge pricing” -- Uber wanted to charge me $100 for the two-mile trip between the Venice and Santa Monica piers. As if.

This morning, though, I deleted the app for good. I just can’t patronize a company whose executives show such disregard for customer safety, customer privacy and the right of journalists to pursue their work free of dirty tricks and retribution.

Uber, after growing like crazy...

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Berkeley's soda tax a sweet victory

Three years ago, Richmond City Councilman Jeff Ritterman became aware that about a third of his city's fifth- and seventh- graders were obese, and that the numbers were getting worse.

A retired cardiologist who got into politics to improve public health, Ritterman began researching the issue. He concluded that sugary drinks were a culprit. The empty calories made kids fat and susceptible to incurable illnesses, such as diabetes.

"It was clear to me that it was a crisis," he told me.

In 2012, he persuaded the council to put a measure taxing sugary drinks on the city's November ballot. "Consumption taxes" have proved effective in reducing smoking rates and lowering tobacco-related ailments such as heart disease and lung cancer. Why not do the same to soda?

Two weeks later, then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed his infamous 16-ounce limit on soft drinks. While that ultimately doomed fight captured headlines, Richmond was quietly becoming an important front in the fight...

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Internet rage pushes 'America's Dad' Bill Cosby off his pedestal

I have no trouble believing that a beloved national figure who has brought joy and laughter to millions of people is a pervert in private.

Do you?

In the last couple of years alone, we’ve seen a string of stellar reputations shredded to bits after allegations of sexual improprieties broke into the open after years of whispers, rumors, investigations and even lawsuits. It's hardly an overstatement to say that societies are rocked when these things happen.

Last month, Canada recoiled when it was revealed that the country’s most high-profile interviewer, Jian Ghomeshi, was abruptly fired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. after several women came forward to accuse him of brutalizing them during sexual encounters.

In 2012, Britain dropped its jaw to learn that BBC host Jimmy Savile of “Top of the Pops,” who was known for his extensive children’s charity work, had been sexually abusing children for more than 40 years. Savile, who had been the subject of several abortive investigations, was...

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Neutrality will only take GOP controller candidate Swearengin so far

The mayor of this town is young, telegenic and smart. And she has — please forgive me for using this phrase — gone a little bit rogue. Republican Ashley Swearengin has bucked her party on California's high-speed rail (she supports it). She has refused to say whether she would vote for the GOP's beleaguered gubernatorial candidate. She is an evangelical Christian who was for gay marriage, then against it, then for it again.

Now she's running against Democrat Betty Yee, 57, for the obscure job of controller, the state's accountant, auditor and bookkeeper. Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization, has out-raised Swearengin and benefits from the state's lopsided registration, which favors Democrats.

To win, Swearengin, 42, must appeal to the huge swath of "decline-to-state" voters as well as disaffected Democrats. Even minor displays of GOP partisanship, in other words, are not helpful.

If Swearengin pulls off a win on Tuesday, she becomes the California GOP's hottest property. But...

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A poignant tale from ex-Marine held in Mexico, but not the whole story

Andrew Tahmooressi, the former Marine sergeant who spent seven months imprisoned in Mexico, will spend a quiet Veterans Day at home with his family in Florida. He was released by a Mexican federal judge on Oct. 31, after a finding by both defense and prosecution psychiatrists that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that it should be treated in the U.S.

It’s not clear if this was the result of a change in strategy on the part of Tahmooressi's Mexican attorney, Fernando Benitez, or political pressure applied by American elected officials, who actively pressed for Tahmooressi’s release, even holding a congressional hearing where talk show host Montel Williams, a former Marine, testified about the dangers of PTSD. Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, an experienced negotiator, played a role as well, helping coordinate Tahmooressi’s release, and arranging his transportation home to Florida by private jet.

However it happened, this was an excellent outcome for...

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