Saturday, May 09, 2015

Inexplicable Sentiments

The "U visa" program allows undocumented immigrants who are the victims of certain crimes the opportunity to normalize their status in the U.S.. It is designed to encourage the reporting of crimes; obviously, persons fearing deportation are much less likely to call the police if they have to worry that instead of pursuing their attackers, the cops will seek to expel them from the country.

One North Carolina prosecutor, though, is reading in a Latino exception to the law:
[Gaston County District Attorney Locke] Bell said that if a crime victim is Latino and the accused is also Latino, he will not certify visa applications that come through his office. Evelin came to North Carolina from Honduras, and her ex-boyfriend is from Mexico.

Without confirmation from Bell, Evelin and other victims of domestic violence, rape, human trafficking and about two dozen other serious crimes cannot obtain U visas.
This policy came to light in a very explicit manner: after a Honduran immigrant was assaulted by her Mexican ex-boyfriend, she filed a police report and sought a U visa. The request was rejected in quite straight-forward language: "“Assault on a Latino by a Latino is not the rationale for the statute" (needless to say, the statute says absolutely nothing about determining the race of the perpetrator or the victim). Who doesn't care about minority-on-minority crime now?

Now, I know what you're thinking: This sounds a little bit racist! But don't worry! It's not!
Told that some people may view his U visa policy as discriminatory, Bell defended his position. He said he did not understand how anyone could conclude it was racist.

“In my position, I have to make decisions that people don’t like,” Bell said. “This is one of them.”
Well, I'm glad we got that squared away. Honestly, I'm not sure what came over me, thinking that a policy that explicitly discriminates against Latino victims of crimes based on the race of the perpetrator might be racist. It's inexplicable how that thought even entered the mind.

Other people not myself can inquire as to whether Mr. Bell's act constitutes a criminal violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Canelo Alvarez vs. James Kirkland: Preview

Ah, to have a big fight on the horizon where the most serious conviction of one of the participants is "just" armed robbery where we can reasonably expect electrifying action. Tomorrow, junior middleweights Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (44-1, 31 KOs) and James Kirkland (32-1, 28 KOs) square off in a bout that could definitively establish the #1 154 pounder not named Floyd Mayweather.

Alvarez is a fighter I respect in spite of myself. For one, I tend not to like fighters who are declared stars before they earn stardom, and Alvarez -- with his boyish charm, matinee good looks, and distinctive red hair -- got the big star push very early in his career. I also tend not to like fighters who get decisions I disagree with, and while Canelo is 3-1 in his last four fights, on my scorecard he'd be 1-3.

So why do I respect him? Simple: He goes after the big fights. He does not duck challenges. And a corollary to my desire for top fighters to face other top fighters is that I don't discount them even if I think they lose, so long as they're competitive. And Alvarez has been competitive in all of his top challenges (save one). His last four fights -- against Austin Trout, Floyd Mayweather, Alfredo Angulo, and Erislandy Lara -- are illustrative.

The Trout fight came about because Canelo actually had his eye on a lucrative match-up with Miguel Cotto. That was derailed when Cotto was upset by the relatively unknown Trout, and rather than seeking out easier money Canelo insisted on fighting Cotto's vanquisher instead. I had Trout narrowly winning that fight, and didn't recall being super-impressed with Canelo's performance. But I admit it was razor thin, and Alvarez still deserves credit for going tooth-and-nail with with a very slick fighter who was widely considered the #1 (non-Mayweather) man in the division.

Alvarez then scored the twin blessing and curse that is a Floyd Mayweather fight. There's no two ways about it: Alvarez was thoroughly outclassed bell-to-bell. His caused was not aided by the unwise decision to try and box with Mayweather, but it hardly mattered. It also hardly matters to me that a 23-year old fighter was soundly defeated by the best fighter on the planet.

Alvarez returned against straight-ahead brawler Alfredo Angulo, and simply had his way with him. Angulo -- who himself had a brutal war with James Kirkland -- was never in the fight and got busted up en route to a 10th round stoppage. That set up yet another high-risk low-reward fight against Cuban slickster Erislandy Lara. Once again, I had Lara winning the fight; once again, it was generally agreed (by me as well) that the fight was exceptionally close. And so the fact is that Alvarez was close and competitive with top fighters that he insisted on facing. Whatever else you can say about him, he is not coasting on stardom. He genuinely wants to earn his place in boxing's elites.

Respect notwithstanding, I'll be rooting against Alvarez tomorrow night. One reason is pragmatic: If Alvarez wins, one boxing star leaves the ring, but if Kirkland wins, two do. Alvarez doesn't need a win to get (or preserve) mainstream popularity, but this is an opportunity for James Kirkland to really burst onto the scene like he seemed destined to do only a few years ago. The other reason is personal: James Kirkland is one of my favorite fighters. He is, and there is no better way to put it, in the hurt business.

To describe James Kirkland as a brawler isn't to do him justice. When I think of brawlers, I think of a crude hack-and-slash approach typified by wide looping shots. What makes Kirkland special is that he's actually relatively technically sound ... on offense. He puts his punches together nicely, and compactly, and has a devastating and varied attack to the head and body. What he shares in common with brawlers is that he is 100% offense. His defense isn't bad so much as it is irrelevant -- he has no objective in the ring but to deliver as much pain as possible in as short an amount of time. Often, this leads to him being knocked down -- indeed, it's rare to see a James Kirkland bout where he isn't at least rattled early in the fight. But he fights through it and eventually breaks nearly all of his opponents down.

The problem with James Kirkland is that he's inconsistent. His one loss is not to the greatest fighter on the planet, it's to entirely unheralded Nobuhiro Ishida, a light puncher who nonetheless dropped Kirkland three times in the very first round of their 2011 fight. Many blamed the loss on Kirkland lacking the presence of long-time trainer Ann Wolfe. After Ishida, he got back together with Wolfe and rattled off 5 straight victories. Two of those were phenomenal action bouts (against Alfredo Angulo and Glen Tapia). One of them has a serious question mark (Carlos Molina, who was beating Kirkland before getting controversially disqualified in what to my eyes was a clear misapplication of Texas rules). But all of them saw the Kirkland/Wolfe team clicking on all cylinders, which made it all the more eye-brow raising that Kirkland and Wolfe again parted ways. This story on ESPN is the first one I've seen where Kirkland actually gives an explanation for his decision to move on, and it's not superficially ludicrous (Wolfe specializes in a particular skill-set of strength and conditioning, but Kirkland felt like he needed to improve his game in other areas). But it remains to be seen whether Kirkland can win at a high level without Ann Wolfe in his camp.

And that is a large part of the drama of this fight. It is the rare fight where I can see any outcome. Canelo Alvarez is far better than Nobuhiro Ishida, and if Kirkland isn't in the right mindset its easy to imagine an early stoppage. I can also see Alvarez simply being better than Kirkland -- too strong, too tough, too versatile -- and either winning a decision or scoring the late KO. But when James Kirkland is on, he has the ability to tear through anyone. It is not inconceivable that he could lay a beating on Alvarez similar to what he did against Tapia or Angula. It's also perfectly plausible that Alvarez -- who has never been down in his career -- can survive the punishment better but simply be busted up over the course of the fight.

If I was a betting man, I still wouldn't put money on this fight because there is so much in the air. The safer money is with Canelo Alvarez, who is more consistent, has fought higher-quality opposition, and is the a-side fighter here. But when things are clicking for James Kirkland he has a spark inside him that I haven't seen in any fighter since Mike Tyson. It makes for brutal action and high drama. And this Saturday, I expect it to make for a very interesting night.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XVIII: Black Politicians Endorsing White Politicians

There is an open Senate seat in Maryland, precipitated by the retirement of long-time Senator Barbara Mikulski (D). Since Maryland is a safely blue state, this seat has drawn a lot of high profile attention, and right now the main contestants to succeed Mikulski are D.C. area Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Donna Edwards (D). Van Hollen is White, Edwards is Black, but both are staunch progressives. The main difference between the two is that Van Hollen is more of an establishment-type (being former head of the DCCC), while Edwards has more of an insurgent's profile (attaining office by successfully primarying an old-school boss style politician in Albert Wynn). Edwards is also on the J Street side of the pro-Israel spectrum, while Van Hollen straddles the normal Democratic line of being both a staunch defender of the Jewish state while also urging it towards productive steps towards a peaceful two-state solution.

There's no question that Van Hollen has been more attentive to the constituent services element of his job than has Edwards, and has for a long time been very attentive to the needs and desires of local politicians around the state (no doubt in part with an eye on a race like this in the future). Edwards has considered to be somewhat lackluster in this field, and the result is that Van Hollen has been far more successful on the endorsement front than has Edwards. Two of his most important endorsees are Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker. Both men are African-American, and while Montgomery County forms the heart of Van Hollen's base, PG County is Edwards' territory, so Baker's endorsement in particular is a major pickup for Van Hollen. And, well, some folks are less than pleased:
A flier alleging Jewish control of black politicians was distributed at a budget meeting in a Maryland suburb of Washington.

The flier distributed Monday in Prince George’s County uses Photoshop to depict three Maryland Democrats in the U.S. Congress — Sen. Ben Cardin and Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Steny Hoyer — standing over two dogs bearing the faces of County Executive Rushern Baker and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, both African-Americans.
“Van Hollen will run against Donna Edwards and other African-American candidates chosen and financed by the Israel lobby for the purpose of splitting the African-American vote in the primaries,” the leaflet said. It accused Leggett and Baker of selling out Edwards “for a few doggy treats.”
To be clear, Edwards (and Van Hollen, of course) have condemned the flyer (which is of unknown origin). And the Black community time and again has demonstrated that it does not find this sort of hate-mongering remotely compelling. So I'm not worried. There are valid reasons to pick Edwards over Van Hollen, and vice versa. But the decision by Black politicians to endorse Van Hollen is attributable to nothing more sinister than the fact that Van Hollen is a proven progressive voice and leader who has been a successful advocate for all sectors of the Maryland community. To allege, as the flyer did, that folks like Leggett and Baker are taking their position in order "to ensure Blacks don’t get political power in the Senate" is grotesque. But it demonstrates one of the great truths of contemporary anti-Semitic discourse: that there is something foul about Jews playing the political game and winning. Politicians being responsive to a minority community's preferences in the political arena? Lapdogs!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Sleeping in Fear, Part II

The other day, I noted the abject paranoia of some Texans convinced that a U.S. army exercise in the southwestern United States was a cover for a military takeover leading to the seizure of their guns and their internment in FEMA concentration camps. My snarky comment was that perhaps this fear would give these residents more empathy towards the far more reasonable fears that many people of color have towards the armed governing authorities, which pose a far less speculative threat to their lives and livelihoods.

But I also admit sharing Digby's sentiments, which were to marvel at just how disrespectful this is towards the men and women who serve in our armed forces. This conspiracy-mongering relies, at its root, on the presumption that the young people who volunteer to risk their lives in defense of America will, at the drop of a hat, just elect to destroy their own country as tools of oppression and despotism. That is a statement of contempt, and entirely undeserved contempt, and it really is shocking that prominent politicians from a party that perceives itself as "pro-military" would indulge in such ugly sentiments.

Supreme Court To Review Demand-Response

The Supreme Court has granted cert to review a challenge over FERC's efforts encourage "demand-response" policies. As incredibly dry as that sounds, this is a significant deal in energy/environmental area. The NYT article linked above actually gives a pretty decent summary of the issue, but I'll give my own quick take.

"Demand-response" refers to policies which give consumers price breaks when they consume electricity at off-peak times (as opposed to those times when energy usage is highest, like mid-day). In of itself, this doesn't "save" energy -- it just shifts usage around -- but it matters from an environmental standpoint because of the way power dispatched. Electricity supply and demand must be matched perfectly and instantaneously -- we produce exactly the amount of power that we need to consume. Functionally, that means that certain base generators are (more or less) always on, and then as demand rises additional generators come online to meet peak demand. Typically, these peak generators are older, more expensive, and dirtier than the base load generators -- hence the environmental benefits of demand-response. It also comes with reliability benefits -- reducing the peak electricity spikes means lessening the chance that the system will be overloaded. The losers, of course, are the operators of the expensive and dirtier peak-load plants.

The legal challenge here has to do with how the regulatory authority over electricity is allocated between the federal government (FERC) and the states. The Federal Power Ac, the main federal statute on the matter, grants FERC the authority to regulate wholesale (sale-for-resale) power transactions while preserving retail regulation to the states. Demand-response intuitively is more retail than wholesale -- it relates to when end-use consumers use their power -- but FERC attempted to structure its regulation in such a way that it created a wholesale-based demand-response framework. The D.C. Circuit didn't bite, ruling 2-1 that the program was actually impermissible retail regulation, and that is the decision under review by the Supreme Court.

Hence, as a legal matter this is less an "environmentalism: yay or nay" case than it is a "federalism/administrative law" case. Still, ideologically speaking the Court often has a left-right breakdown regarding the extent of federal power and the degree to which the judiciary ought defer to federal agencies. On that note, one encouraging sign for FERC is that Justice Samuel Alito is recusing himself from the case.