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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No more $63 tickets -- and other ideas to reform parking in L.A.

The group we represent, the Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative, appreciates The Times' editorial board for addressing the unfolding parking reform process taking place in Los Angeles, where even minor parking violations will set you back an outrageous $63 or more.

We'd like to take this opportunity to expand upon and clarify certain points raised by The Times and the issues we think voters should decide if City Hall fails to act.

First, our group's proposal to cap some parking fines at $23 should be viewed as a stopgap measure until a better, more rational system can be put in place. With regard to parking meters and other violations, we strongly agree with The Times that some kind of graduated fine structure should be adopted. The paradigm of fining all violators — first-time and serial violators alike — the same draconian amount is antiquated and needs to be replaced.

One suggestion is to adopt a more "proactive" approach that prevents expired-meter violations from happening in...

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Social Security adds to the deficit; stop saying I said otherwise

In two recent online columns, The Times' Michael Hiltzik claimed that I, in testimony before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on May 10, 2011, supported his argument that Social Security "can't contribute to the federal deficit." 

That assertion is untrue.

My testimony was unambiguous that Social Security adds to the deficit. In my written testimony, I stated, "Social Security operations are currently adding to the unified federal deficit and will add substantially more in the years to come."

In response to oral questions, I reiterated, "In terms of its actual annual impact this year ... [Social Security] is adding to the annual deficit."

Hiltzik misrepresented my later statement during this hearing ("I do agree with that") as supporting his position that Social Security cannot add to the deficit. The statement with which I agreed was actually a different one. Here it is:

"[Witness] Nancy ALTMAN. So that $14.3 trillion debt that we are at, the limit that you are going to have to...

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In defense of electing judges

Just as surely as election season comes regularly in California, once again the public is debating the appropriateness of electing our judges, as evidenced by Jessica A. Levinson's May 9 Op-Ed article in The Times, "Why voters shouldn't be electing judges." Critics such as Levinson advocate for eliminating judicial elections and instead having the governor or some special type of committee appoint all judges. 

As a judge in the L.A. County Superior Court, I would like to present a different viewpoint: California's judicial election system not only works, but in some ways it is preferable to an appointment-only process.

The biggest issue is transparency. Judicial elections are inherently transparent to the public, while the appointment process is not; in fact, by law the formal vetting process performed by the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE) is cloaked in secrecy. The JNE holds any information on a nominee that it receives in the strictest confidence, and its rating for...

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Closing California's CEO-worker wage gap won't kill jobs

Jon Healey's Opinion L.A. post "California Democrats seek to lower CEO pay" paints our bill to address the growing disparity between chief executive and worker pay (SB 1372) as a job-killing measure that will drive business out of California and hurt our economy.

We could not disagree more. The current disparity between CEO and worker pay threatens our economy, and it threatens our democracy.

The idea that subjecting companies with extremely high CEO-average worker wage gaps to slightly higher taxes will make them decide to no longer do business in California is misguided. Our state is the world's eighth-largest economy. It is a huge market and remains the hub of technological and entrepreneurial innovation.

SB 1372 is about recognizing that the true engine of our economy is the middle class. Virtually all of the economic gains of the last several decades have gone to the very few at the top, while many working families continue to struggle. Our bill seeks to incentivize responsible...

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Lilly Ledbetter wasn't lazy; she -- and all women -- just want equal pay

Regardless of Opinion L.A. guest blogger Charlotte Allen's ridiculously inflammatory contention that "Despite its cute graphic, Paycheck Fairness Act was evil spawn of Lilly Ledbetter," the facts remain discouraging for women when it comes to equal pay.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, women in America earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Women of color earn even less: For African American women, the figure is 69 cents, and for Latino women, it's 58 cents. In 2012, the median income of American women working full time year-round was $37,791; for men, it was nearly $50,000. 

This year will be the worst for income disparity in U.S. history, likely only to be bested by 2015. This comes at a bad time: Increasingly, low- to moderate-income families in America must rely on women's income and benefits to make ends meet.

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Wage disparity -- which exists in every state and in nearly every occupation -- is, in the end, not a women's...

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Smoke weed, turn into a pothead? Not so fast.

Los Angeles Times Opinion LA blogger Paul Whitefield argues that a just-released study reporting differences in the brain scans of marijuana consumers versus non-users may just validate the stereotype that those who ingest the substance become "potheads."

However, a careful review of the study finds nothing of the sort.

What did the study find? Using high-resolution MRI imaging, scientists identified specific changes in aspects of brain morphometry (specifically gray matter density, volume and shape) that was correlated with marijuana exposure of more than 10 joints per week. (Because researchers  performed only a single MRI session, they could not say definitively whether these changes were, in fact, caused by cannabis or whether they existed before subjects' use of the plant — a key point that the study's lead author recently felt the need to publicly reaffirm in light of numerous media reports that erroneously claimed otherwise.) Notably, however, these changes did not appear to be...

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski: Alaska 'road to nowhere' is actually a lifesaver

To a non-Alaskan unfamiliar with the harsh realities of living in remote corners of the nation's largest state, the proposed link of two small towns whose populations barely total 1,000 people may seem like a "road to nowhere."

Unfortunately, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's March 11 commentary in The Times reflects this unsympathetic thinking. His delusive comments don't change the fact that this small, lifesaving road would provide the people of King Cove, Alaska, with access to medical care in emergencies.

When the federal government created the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge 54 years ago, it cut off the traditional land route between the Aleut community of King Cove and the World War II-era outpost of Cold Bay on the Alaska Peninsula. The 965 residents of King Cove have been trying to get road access to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay ever since.

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It's not hard to understand why: Nineteen people have died, either in plane...

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Why 'retarded' deserves to be retired

Michael McGough's March 4 blog post, "Is 'retarded' really worse than 'mentally disabled'?" gives the impression that Americans ought to turn back the clock on decades of progress in how they think about -- and treat -- people with disabilities. 

Criticizing recent media coverage of a U.S. Supreme Court case involving a Florida death row inmate, McGough laments how many writers avoid the use of the term "mentally retarded" to describe people with intellectual disabilities. In McGough's view, this change reflects "the wishes of advocacy groups" seeking a shift away from language that has been codified as insulting over the years. "Language evolves, and sometimes words that are neutral in their meaning acquire pejorative connotations," he writes. "All the same, I've always been puzzled about why 'mentally disabled' is preferable to 'retarded.'"

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Let's solve this puzzle together. For starters, the word "retarded" is a lazy, imprecise way to...

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Ted Rall got it wrong on tenure and 'underpaid' teachers

Ted Rall's Feb. 6 blog post and cartoon, "Stop tenure tyranny and show some love for our hardworking teachers," is long on demagoguery and little else. Even the title of the piece misses the mark.

Contrary to what Rall writes, teachers in California's public schools do not get tenure. What they achieve after two years on the job is "permanent status." What other job affords workers something called permanence? And getting rid of an underperforming teacher who has reached that lofty perch is just about impossible. But Rall makes the claim that "tenure doesn't prevent districts from firing teachers. It makes it hard. (Not impossible: 2% of teachers get fired for poor performance annually.)"

The 2% figure is a half-truth. During the first two years on the job, a teacher can be let go relatively easily for poor performance. Maybe 2% of newbies don't cut it. But what Rall doesn’t tell you is that, in California, due to the permanence and byzantine dismissal statutes enshrined in the state...

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A lefty millennial activist takes on columnist Jonah Goldberg

"In America," I once quipped, "the old are always ready to give those who are young the sad news that history, with its opportunities for fresh ideas, is over." And they often do it in the columns of Jonah Goldberg.

On Monday, The Times posted a throwback Cold War prose poem titled, "A millennial's Rolling Stone rant offers up some tired old 'solutions.' " In it, Goldberg takes time out of his busy schedule as a professional colonialism apologist and perennial Democratic crypto-fascist hunter to condescend to a slightly lesser white whale: millennial Rolling Stone contributor Jesse Myerson.

Myerson's sins, it seems, are twofold: First, he has the audacity to call for an expansion of the welfare state to counteract the disproportionate impact of widening income inequality on young people. Second, to condemn what he doesn’t like, he insists on using hip lingo like "blows" -- a word on which Goldberg fixates with a bizarre discomfort.

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Yet it...

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5 better ways to enlist U.S. Muslims in the fight against terrorism

As someone who has been involved in counter-terrorism for more than 20 years, I was intrigued with former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman's Op-Ed article Monday on effective strategies to combat radicalization.  

I appreciate Harman's suggestion that we build bridges with Muslim communities, but prominent counter-terrorism thinkers like Harman come across as out of touch with those communities when they suggest that we in the U.S. need to be more effective in arguing how Muslims need to convert to the right side. This is pretentious and full of pitfalls.  

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What I was hoping to read from Harman was how the U.S. government can offer a healthy role for American Muslim communities in these efforts.  

American Muslim leaders cannot be an extension of law enforcement. In fact, our communities have proved effective in pushing back against Al Qaeda rhetoric and shunting radicals out of mosques. Unfortunately, this creates another problem: lone wolves like...

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