More about town courts

[Update: I changed the link to reflect the new location for that resource, though it doesn't seem to be working today]

The State Comptroller’s website has a page that allows you to review revenue for all the town and village courts in New York State. Interesting how courts with major highways running through them have dramatically higher revenue, even when the town may have much lower population. The system creates a windfall for those towns and results in an unjust disparity for those left out.

Stop Wasting Money with Alan Chartock on WAMC

I was honored to be interviewed by Dr. Alan Chartock, who heads up Northeast Public Radio and radio station WAMC. The interview apparently aired on 9/21, 9/22, and 9/25. I’m uploading the file as an attachment (though I’m not sure Blogger will allow a 20 megabyte file), and I’m also including the link to the page on WAMC where you can download the interview. It’s composed of three 8-minute segments.

The interview is on this page: WAMC Congressional Corner

Your candidates. Your health.

An organization called “Your Candidates. Your Health.” did a survey of candidates. I responded, as did the incumbent in this race. Our reponses are completely opposite of each other. Short comparison: He wants to spend our money. I want to stop wasting our money.

It’s easy to look at medical research in isolation, but consider the whole panoply of issues. McNulty has consistently voted to spend more of our money on everything. I have consistently opposed having the government decide how our money should be spent.

This survey is one example of the way elections are tilted toward spending money. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a survey from a group that wanted anything other than to have government spend money on their pet cause, whether it’s Social Security and Medicare for old people, or student loans and college grants for young people. The voices for less spending are few and far between.

They all talk about lowering taxes too, but how can you claim to support lower taxes when your main thing is to ask for more spending. It’s baloney and it’s time the voters stood up and said something about it.

Criminal “Justice” – New York Times series on local courts in New York

The New York Times did a series recently on local courts in New York State: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/25/nyregion/25courts.html

As a lawyer in New York State, I visit many local criminal courts on speeding tickets as well as for criminal defense. As a side business my brother and I are developing a directory of local traffic and criminal courts. I also practice in “higher” courts, such as County Court.

There are serious flaws in the system. I have seen many cases where judges, especially non-lawyer judges, disregarded their responsibility in ways that were detrimental to innocent defendants. The problem with the NY Times piece is that it assumes that lawyer judges in local courts, and judges in the higher courts are so much better.

There are certain realities. First, most judges do a very good job in most cases regardless of whether the judge is a lawyer or not. Second, while non-lawyer judges may sometimes know less about the law than lawyer judges, there are plenty of excellent non-lawyer judges and more than a few terrible judges who are lawyers.

In my opinion, anti-defendant bias is typical. This does not necessarily mean the judge is biased against the defendant directly. Often judges are biased in favor of the police or the prosecution, and this has an adverse impact against the defendant.

One of my favorite examples of this bias is the location of most local courts. More often than not they are housed in the same building as the police. The local police generally provide security for the local courts that have security. The prosecutor has an assigned room. The judges see the same police and the same prosecutor all the time. The defendant and often the defense attorney are both new to the Court and the judge is likely to have an inherent bias in favor of those he/she knows, and thus an effective bias against the defendant.

Many local judges are not affected by this bias, but for me it certainly bends toward an appearance of impropriety.

This problem is also not limited to the local town and village courts. Take Albany County. The DA’s office is in the same building as the County Court, where felonies are heard. The public defender’s office is in another building, perhaps a mile away. Private defense lawyers are not provided with an office. ADAs get a special ID tag that allows them to go through secure doors. I believe public defenders can get them, but I was told I couldn’t get one.

Albany City Court is another good example — and by the way I know all the judges in that court and have never felt that the judges allowed themselves to be affected by any such bias. The main courtroom has a big glass wall separating the area with the judge from everyone else. This appears to be for security purposes. Inside the wall is the judge, court clerks, one or two ADAs, a few police officers, and maybe someone from the public defender’s office who does the paperwork to see if someone is eligible for the public defender. Defendants and private attorneys sit outside the wall. I remember in one case I had a dispute about something with an ADA and he went inside the wall and talked to the judge where I couldn’t hear the conversation – but I did hear him mention the name of my client. I stood up to protest and was ordered to sit down and be quiet by the officer.

You also often see the prosecutors controlling the agenda (usually called the calendar) in the courtroom. They review the cases and then give the file to the court clerk who gives it to the judge to be called. I can’t understand why a court would allow one side to control the agenda like that. Most ADAs do not abuse this power, but why should they have that power anyway?

Fundamentally, what it all comes down to is that the so-called criminal justice system stinks. That is somewhat inevitable considering the problems that it addresses. And the solution is to remove as many things as possible from that system. Marijuana is a good example. There are nearly 2 million arrests a year for marijuana in the US. That places a tremendous burden on the system. Stop arresting people on marijuana charges and you remove a lot of pressure, making it easier for the courts to do better work on the cases that remain. Speeding tickets are mostly an unnecessary burden. It would be a huge relief to the system if a lot fewer tickets were written.

The criminal justice system should return to its focus on dealing with real criminals. Every time you hear a politician talk about how the system should be tougher on crime, what they’re really saying is they want to waste more of your money pursuing regular people who get dragged into an overwhelmed system.

Incumbency Advantage and The Matrix

I’m going a bit over the top with this, but I just watched part of The Matrix: Reloaded, so it’s in my head a bit.

Political Science is full of papers discussing the incumbency advantage. In the midst of my second run for Congress I have become well aware of many aspects of that advantage. It is a matrix of factors, each of which helps incumbents and/or impedes challengers. This matrix is not an evil computer program running society. It is not a malevolent conspiracy of evil geniuses a la the fantasies of the John Birch Society. Rather, to paraphrase the first President Bush (I call the current one Bush Lite), I see a thousand conspiracies of idiots. Chomsky is a much better source to understand the failings of our democracy.

Gerrymandering is the most well-understood aspect of this problem, though it doesn’t help incumbents much in primaries. The biggest problem in my eyes is media bias against covering challengers, as I discussed in a previous post about media bias in elections. Parties are also a major factor in the matrix. Parties nearly always support incumbents — the Republican Party consistently has supported its most liberal incumbents against conservative challengers. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island is the latest example, but Arlen Specter and Sherwood Boehlert also fit. In 1996 in this district the Democratic Party supported McNulty even though he was Newt Gingrich’s favorite Democrat.

There are many other factors that support incumbents and inhibit challengers. It’s a long list. Underlying all of these is the fundamental difficulty facing challengers – voters don’t know who the challengers are. This has become so extreme, as incumbency reelection rates near 100%, that we do not really live in a democracy. If voters in a particular race only know who one of the candidates is, then they are not really making a choice.

Theoretical models of “social choice” (I’m referring here to such concepts as the voting paradox of the Marquis de Condorcet as well as Downs, and to Kenneth Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem) look at democracy as a system of aggregating individual preferences. That’s pretty thick. A simple example is to think of a majority vote between A and B. If 51% of the voters prefer A to B, then A is chosen over B by the system.

But what if the voters don’t really prefer A to B? What if they’ve never even heard of B? That is the reality of most modern elections. You, the reader, right now probably cannot name the challenger running for state legislature in your district. If you can you are the rare exception. I confess that at this moment I don’t know who’s running as challenger in my district (I suspect there is no challenger since I was just at a Republican county meeting and no challenger in that race spoke). I do know who the incumbent is (Jack McEneny – he’s a good guy — but see below about good guys).

Sophisticated campaign teams routinely poll voters to determine how much name recognition each candidate has. They also poll to see whether voters have a positive or negative impression of each candidate. Often those polled know little or nothing about the candidates, but they have formed an impression one way or another — usually through biased media. If the voter thinks A is a good guy (remember McEneny), and the voter doesn’t have an opinion one way or another about B, the voter is likely to choose A.

One simple solution to this problem is to make voting in each race a two-step process. First the voter would have to choose the names of the two candidates from a list of four or five in a multiple choice test (or three out of seven if there are three candidates, etc.). Then the voter would be presented with a choice between the two (or three) candidates he chose. If the voter chose the correct two candidates, then his vote counts. If not, his vote doesn’t count.

Okay, we all know that’s never going to happen. But it is an interesting idea.

So what can we do about this matrix? I’ll offer my opinion (it is my blog after all): Whoever you are, whatever the issues are that motivate you, if you are dissatisfied with the current state of our government, you should commit yourself to destroying this matrix. Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, for or against the Iraq war, pro-union or anti-union, etc., nothing of significance will happen with your issues until the anti-challenger matrix is destroyed.

Before your substantive issues can be addressed, you must first focus on this problem. The first step is to stop supporting incumbents. You must never do anything to support an incumbent, ever, until the matrix is broken. Incumbents are inherently biased against reforms that would help challengers.

You should support free postage for candidates, even if you are a libertarian who opposes there being a government post office. Free postage for candidates means that libertarian candidates will have a voice. Once voters recognize the wisdom of libertarianism and we obtain the libertarian utopia you seek, then you can end the free postage. But it is necessary now.

You should oppose limits on campaign finance, even though the process corrupts elected officials. This corruption is trivial compared to corruption that arises from having a safe seat. Without having to worry about challengers, incumbents can disregard the will of the voters and that corruption is far more dangerous. When your ideas win over the voters and we reach your liberal utopia, campaign finance will no longer be necessary since all of the voters will be well informed thanks to your enlightened education policies.

On a more practical level, you should pester media at every opportunity to report on challenger campaigns. At the least you should do so for challengers whose positions you support against incumbents whose positions you detest. And you should help challenger campaigns as well.

As for me, I have recognized my new purpose in politics. Getting back to the parallel with the movie The Matrix, I just might be The One. Okay, probably not, but maybe I’m Morpheus or just some bit player helping them. And no, I’m not Trinity.

To carry out my new purpose, I realize that I must destroy my current political self. I will close this campaign with my own immolation. Stay tuned. The fireball will explode in late October.

Letter to Editor from an RPI student

In response to my request for letters to editors, an RPI student submitted a letter, which follows. Please note that many newspapers will not print something this long. Ideally letters should be less than 300 words, and should be submitted along with a phone number where they can call you to confirm you wrote it. Thanks to Matt Newman for writing the letter.

—————-

Ignoring McNulty

I’m a graduate student at RPI and have been living in this area all my life. I keep myself as aware if not more than the average person on the local political scene and yet until recently I did not know that there was anyone challenging Mike McNulty. I finally found the campaign site of Warren Redlich from a political webpage I frequent; until that point, I thought McNulty was going unchallenged this season and, frankly, I didn’t have a clue as to why.

Since first elected in 1988, McNulty’s Congressional seat has been relatively safe. He has been primaried twice, in 1996 and this year from a candidate who received no press coverage. Why is McNulty’s seat so safe and why does the press tend to ignore his opposition? Looking at McNulty’s record, it’s hard to find a real reason to strongly support him. He has not written much in the way of legislation since the early 90s and certainly none that has passed through Congress. Much of his recent legislation are direct copies of bills that were previously sitting in the Senate. In the past year, the few new bills written by McNulty include a bill to tell people how to display a flag properly on a one-way street (HR2897); a resolution to have Congress discuss who they feel is the appropriate author of Yankee Doodle (H.CON.RES.51); an expired bill with no cosponsors discussing hydroelectric power (HR4375); and a bill to force certain arsenals to start work on projects before payment of the money they may very well need (HR570). McNulty claims to have brought a great deal of money into the district. I pose one question for you – the last time federal money was brought into the Capital District, who was the person who all over the news discussing the groundbreaking new legislation which they wrote bringing money to the area? Was it McNulty? It wasn’t for me, because more often than not I see Senators Clinton and Schumer standing alongside Congressman John Sweeney; interesting considering that Sweeney’s district barely covers any of the Capital District. Now after thinking about all of this, one question remains — has McNulty, once referred to by Congressional Quarterly as the “Chair of the Obscurity Caucus,” done anything to help or represent our region? I think the answer to that is fairly simple.

This brings me back to my original point – Mike McNulty has a challenger. This challenger comes from a man named Warren Redlich. In late September I was able to meet Redlich when he stopped by a College Republican meeting at RPI. He impressed the room filled with undergraduate students discussing issues we really cared about, from the economy to as simply as how much money our government wastes yearly. He participated in our meeting, Redlich honestly cared enough about us as potential voters and as his constituents to take time out of his schedule to sit, talk about the issues, and just listen to the banter of college students. That’s something you don’t see everyday – that’s something I’ve never seen from Mike McNulty.

So, McNulty has a challenger; a real challenger who is ready to get out there and talk to the people of this district. What’s the problem? No one is talking about him. I have yet to see any of the local newspapers discuss Warren Redlich. Where’s the coverage in the Times Union or the Troy Record? Where’s the coverage on our local ABC, Fox, and NBC affiliates? Where’s the coverage in any of the local news outlets? You can’t turn on the television without hearing about how Sweeney’s district is competitive and how Gillibrand is closing in on him. That race is all across the news, despite the fact that every poll coming out of that district show Gillibrand losing to Sweeney with anywhere from a 7 to 20 point margin. Why does she get all the press? Does he need to be a Democrat? That can’t be the case since Thomas Raleigh, the Democrat who primaried McNulty, received less press than Redlich. Does Redlich need to get MoveOn.org to begin funding his campaign in order for the press to honestly take a look at his candidacy?

All I know is this – I want to see fair and adequate coverage for all campaigns in the area. I want the press to begin discussing the exciting Comptroller’s race. I want the press to discuss all of the Statewide races and not merely describe them as a crowning of the Democratic ticket. I want my local media to discuss my local race for Congress. It’s disappointing to see how dismissive media has been to the campaigns of the honest men and women looking to serve their community.
-Matt Newman

A simple request

So far the media will not cover this campaign. There appears to be a deliberate policy of not covering challengers except in rare circumstances. What kind of a democracy do we have if the voters don’t know who the choices are?

If you think newspapers and other media should cover challengers, please contact the appropriate people at the media outlet of your choice.

For the Albany Times Union: http://www.timesunion.com/forms/emaileditor.asp

For the Daily Gazette (Schenectady): opinion@dailygazette.com
or
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
c/o The Daily Gazette
P.O. Box 1090
Schenectady, N.Y. 12301-1090

For the Troy Record: newsroom@troyrecord.com

For the Leader Herald (Fulton County): http://208.15.24.251/vnr/add_submission.asp?categoryID=625&publicationID;=47

For the Recorder (Amsterdam): news@recordernews.com

Thanks,
Warren

Campaign update

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m taking a non-traditional route to the campaign. Rather than “running” for Congress, I’m blogging for Congress.

I monitor traffic to the campaign website. The largest source is regular searches on Google (i.e. ones I don’t pay for). Another big source is politics1.com. The two biggest paid sources are Google ads and ads that I’m running on the Times Union’s website, through a company called adsonar.com.

An interesting question about the paid ads is whether the “impressions” are worth anything. If someone clicks on the ad and comes to the website, you’d hope that means they know more about me and my campaign. But the paid sources also measure impressions, meaning how many times my ads have been displayed to people. The mere fact that the ad shows up on the page doesn’t mean a whole lot.

Anyway, I’ve had over 300,000 impressions on my main Google ad campaign, and over a million on the Times Union. These have led to a few hundred clicks to the website.

If we get over 2 million impressions by election day (which looks pretty likely), and only 2% stick, that’s still 40,000 people. Maybe that’s not a bad approach.

All of this for well under $1000. We’ll see if that means anything in November.

Farm subsidies: pork for pork

The Economist has a great article on US farm subsidies in the 9/9/06 issue. The federal government gave $20 billion last year to our poor starving farmers. Correction: to our rather wealthy farmers. 72% of the money is concentrated on 10% of the farmers, generally large commercial farms. These are sophisticated businesses that have huge tracts of land (note the Monty Python reference).

I’m all for ending corporate welfare. Getting rid of subsidies for large agribusinesses is a good step in that direction.

And for those who want their congressman to bring home the bacon to the district, you should recognize that this money is not coming to our district. Mike McNulty consistently votes to give our money to wealthy landowners in the midwest who happen to have farms on their land.

Wasting money: Defending South Korea

Great material on the whole money wasting topic in the media. In this post I’ll talk about defending South Korea. Next post: farm subsidies.

There was an opinion piece in yesterday’s (9/14/06) Wall Street Journal from a South Korean politician, opposing any reduction in the US presence there. The article was more specifically about the status of command over the Korean troops.

In a previous post I talked about the US defending rich countries. We’ve maintained troops in South Korea since the 1950s, i.e. for roughly 50 years.

Let’s compare South Korea with North Korea. South Korea has a GDP of about $900 billion. North Korea: $30 billion. South Korea has a population of 48 million, while North Korea has 22 million. South Korea has twice as many people and 30 times as much money. Why does South Korea need us?

The WSJ article argues a few points:
1. The security situation is more fragile than ever, because “North Korea poses a variety of threats to regional and global stability” and “North Korea is still trying to develop ICBM missiles and nuclear weapons.”

–I don’t see where the “more fragile than ever” comes from, except paranoia. The North may pose threats to stability on the peninsula, but it doesn’t threaten the stability of China and Japan as these countries are both quite stable and N. Korea is a hiccup to these relative giants. The threat to global stability is a joke. I doubt people in South America and Africa are spending much time worrying about Kim Jong Il. The “still trying to …” reference might make the situation “as fragile as ever” but not “more fragile than ever.”

2. A “transfer might encourage North Korea to step up its rogue tactics.” The “transfer” refers to transferring control of South Korean troops to South Korean command.

–North Korea might “step up” its tactics? Let’s see, for some time now they’ve been developing nuclear weapons and missiles, kidnapping Japanese and South Korean citizens, etc. What on earth would they do if they stepped things up?

Reality check — South Korea can stomp North Korea anytime. Double the population and 30 times the economy. They don’t need our help. It’s long past time we brought our troops home and stopped wasting our money there.