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Opinion L.A.
Observations and provocations from The Times' Opinion Staff
Why it's objectionable to describe Ferguson's Michael Brown as 'no angel'

Was the New York Times wrong to write that Michael Brown was “no angel”?

“I read the profile and didn’t find the ‘no angel’ line objectionable,” wrote Times editorial board member Michael McGough.

It’s unfortunate that McGough is unable to see the phrase “no angel” as unobjectionable. It had nothing to do with the sum total of Brown’s life, and subtly suggested that he was a “bad boy” and was directly responsible for being shot and killed.

Picking one incident out of someone’s short life and using it to say, “See, he was headed for trouble,” is always reductive thinking, and, in the life of a black man, is something we have been combating since the 1600s. Until you abolish it from your vocabulary — and your spiritual nature — you will always be able to justify thinking that about anyone, whether black, white, female, transgender.

People like to be able to reduce others into a box so they can feel they’ve afforded the person all the “moral” goodness they have within themselves....

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Ridesharing companies prevail over taxis in Sacramento -- again

The pitched battle in the state Legislature between ridesharing companies and taxicabs is over, at least for now, and the smartphone-enabled services have emerged little worse for wear. The clear winner, though, was the California Public Utilities Commission.

At issue was the degree to which the Legislature would overwrite the regulations the PUC had adopted for "transportation network companies" such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. One proposal, AB 2293, at one point called for ridesharing drivers to have more than four times as much insurance during idle periods as the PUC had called for -- in fact, more insurance than they would have been required to carry when they had passengers. Another, AB 612, would have imposed a second set of requirements for driver background checks, drug testing and record monitoring on top of the PUC's driver-safety rules.

After weeks of negotiations, the Legislature amended AB 2293 to mandate insurance coverage similar to what the PUC had proposed. The bill...

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Why Americans support both unions and right-to-work laws

A new Gallup poll has some interesting data for pro-union folks to contemplate over this three-day weekend celebrating those of us who labor.

While a slight majority of Americans – 53% – say they support unions, a full 71% say they support right-to-work laws, which make it illegal to require employees in an organized workplace to join the union.

At first blush, those would seem to be contradictory beliefs. But a closer look offers some suggestions for ways the union movement might recast itself.

I’ve written before about the union movement’s problem with public perceptions. In a sense, they have lost the PR battle for the hearts and minds of the nation’s workers. Too many people distrust unions, buying into the perceptions of corruption – does anyone really think thievery among union officials is more pervasive than among Wall Street and corporate executives? – and loss of workplace flexibility.

The Gallup poll, though, also found that many Americans just don’t like being forced to...

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Hey, Bureau of Land Management, why the rush to frack?

Citing a report that even its author says is based on incomplete information, the Bureau of Land Management wants to resume issuing oil and gas drilling leases on federal land in California. So in the absence of clarity, BLM officials plan to gamble with some of California's water supplies. 

No.

The issue here centers on hydraulic fracturing – fracking – and related drilling techniques that inject mysterious liquid compounds into the ground to create cracks in oil-and-gas-trapping rock formations, making it possible to recover deposits that have been hard or too expensive to collect under previous technologies.

And if the federal government needs better data on the effects of fracking, it can go visit Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, which found at least 200 water wells had been contaminated by nearby fracking operations in the massive and gas-rich Marcellus shale bed.

"The 243 cases, from 2008 to 2014, include some where a single drilling operation impacted...

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Could a bill to help franchisees raise fast-food wages?

The Times' editorial board urged Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday to veto a bill (SB 610) that would give franchise operators more protection in contract disputes with their chains. Hours later, the editorial board of the New York Times called on Brown to sign the measure.

Who says all liberals think alike?

The other Times appears to have been persuaded by the same argument that swayed at least some of the legislators who voted for SB 610. The Service Employees International Union, which is trying to unionize fast-food workers, has framed the measure as a way to help those low-paid Californians organize and win raises.

"By improving the legal rights of franchisees, the bill would begin to offset damaging trends in antitrust and contract law that have given corporations ever more control over franchisees," the N.Y. Times editoral states. "Equally important, by proving that significant reforms to the franchise system are possible, the bill could provide momentum in the fight to raise the...

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Is Big Brother the best way to build trust between cops and citizens?

Do people behave better when Big Brother is watching? In Rialto, Calif., the answer would appear yes. “A 2012-13 study at the Rialto Police Department showed that police used force less often and received fewer citizen complaints when wearing body cameras,” reports The Times, pointing to the promising results.

Now LAPD is giving it a try. From Richard A. Serrano and Joel Rubin’s report:

" ‘Having a video record of events not only deters the use of excessive force, but it also helps dispute or demonstrate claims of police brutality,’ said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who is leading an effort to provide Justice Department grants for body cameras nationwide. …

“Schiff said the cost of cameras would more than pay for itself because the videos would discourage false lawsuits against the police. ‘The savings can be quite dramatic, through improved community relations and decreased litigation,’ he said.”

So, too, is the Denver police, which is reportedly planning to equip 800 officers...

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NYT regrets calling Michael Brown 'no angel,' but was the newspaper so wrong?

The New York Times is expressing contrite second thoughts about a profile of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., that described Brown as “no angel.”

Here’s the paragraph in context:

“Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.”

Margaret Sullivan, the NYT’s public editor, called the “no angel” reference a “regrettable mistake,” agreeing with the “many” Times readers who were angry and...

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Are Supt. John Deasy's days numbered? They should be after cozy iPad deal

It sounded like a great idea at the time: L.A. would give students a boost into the 21st century by putting tech directly into their hands. The Los Angeles Unified School District would buy an Apple iPad for every student,  more than 600,000,  each loaded with educational software supplied by Pearson, a major education services company. 

"In June 2013, the [Los Angeles] Board of Education approved a deal with the Apple/Pearson team after senior staff assured members that its proposal was both the least expensive and highest in quality, Pearson provided curriculum; Apple was to supply iPads," Howard Blume writes in The Times.

Apple's sleek tablets appeared in 47 Los Angeles public schools during the 2013-14 academic year. Right out of the gate, however, it became clear that there were problems with the $1-billion contract. At a time when the district had been through years of drastic budget cuts and brutal teacher layoffs, Apple charged L.A. more per device than other districts had paid...

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Burger King boycott: How long can you stick to sticking it to BK?

So, Burger King’s bugging out on the United States of America.

Henceforth, Burger King Worldwide Inc. will be a Canadian company; the fast-food King is taking up official residence in a country with a queen. The company headquartered in Miami will have to swap Grey Goose oceanfront cocktails for Canada Goose-brand winter coats.

Burger King’s executive chairman, Alex Behring, protests that this is "not a tax-driven deal," like other tax inversion businesses decamping from these shores — companies President Obama has called “corporate deserters.”

Burger King's overall effective tax rate last year was 27.5%, while the effective tax rate of Tim Hortons, the Canadian doughnut-and-coffee chain BK is buying to plant its flag in the Great White North, was 26.8%.

To this country, where fast food is elevated to a lifestyle and an industrial scale, the defection seems like betrayal.

Twitter and Facebook are ringing with pledges of BK boycotts to teach the company a lesson. Ohio Democratic Sen....

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ESPN's exploitative instant reporting on Michael Sam's showering habits

In May, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted into the National Football League as a seventh-round pick of the St. Louis Rams. Unsurprisingly, since then, Sam has drawn plenty of media scrutiny -- some of it thoughtful, much of it less so. On Tuesday, ESPN aired a report on Sam’s showering habits with his teammates that fell into the latter category.

A charitable description of ESPN’s report would be to compare it to the scene in the Jackie Robinson biopic “42” in which Robinson, the first African American player in Major League Baseball, refrains from showering with his white teammates so as to avoid making them uncomfortable.

That film, however, was made with the benefit of 60-plus years of hindsight. The scene worked because the idea of white angst over interracial showering is ridiculous to us now. The scene was a time capsule intent on showing how far we’d come as a nation in such a short time. ESPN’s instant reporting on Sam’s showering habits, on the other hand,...

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Sofia Vergara's Emmys 'turn' was no more sexist than the red carpet

I’m giving TV star Sofia Vergara a pass for her turn — literally — on a slowly spinning pedestal Monday night onstage during the Emmys telecast. I don’t think it was particularly sexist, as outraged viewers tweeted it was. I think it was meant to be parody — and it worked. The idea of sending anyone the least bit distracting out onstage to vamp during the obligatory and predictably dull speech being delivered by the head of any “academy” during an awards show is an inspired bit.

As Bruce Rosenblum, CEO and chairman of the Television Academy, dutifully droned on about how “our academy is more diverse than ever before, both in front of and behind the camera,” Vergara slowly rotated around in a stunning form-fitting white Roberto Cavalli gown that accentuated her every physical asset. “No matter the device or platform, television has and will always be about great storytelling,” Rosenblum pledged as Vergara hammed it up for the audience, lightly patting her butt to emphasize its great...

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Is it really a wonderful time for women on TV, as Julianna Margulies says?

Julianna Margulies, in her Emmys speech Monday night, noted, “What a wonderful time for women on television.”

Margulies plays a smart, successful lawyer on “The Good Wife” (even if she didn’t have the sense to leave her rotten, cheating husband). The characters played by the rest of the Emmy-nominated drama series actresses hold dream jobs we want for our daughters: CIA agent, Beltway power-broker, academic researcher, heir to a gorgeous English estate.

And that is good news. As Gail Mancuso, “Modern Family” director and Emmy winner, says, “Seeing is believing.” Seeing women having success in ways women haven’t traditionally done so opens the way for girls to think they might grow up to be such successes too.

MORE EMMYS: Show recap | Quotes from the stars | Best and worst | Winners room | Complete list

But, really, why does Alicia stay with Peter, in a circumscribed, compromised marriage? Can you imagine a male protagonist lawyer sublimating and hanging on like that? Or, why is a woman...

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